“Wait! There’s a third. Ed, wake up!”
Ed’s eyes flutter.
The Riddler slaps his face and hisses. “Wake up!”
Ed opens his eyes and looks into a vast darkness as he feels The Riddler step up beside him. Standing far in the distance, he sees a little boy wearing short pants just like he used to wear on summer days back in elementary school.
“Who’s that?” he asks The Riddler. “And who’s he talking to?”
“One of us.”
“He’s talking to one of us?” Ed asks, confused.
“No, you misunderstand. Come, I’ll show you.”
They start walking towards the scrawny little kid, who turns back to eye them warily. He’s sporting the same glasses Ed wore in elementary school - the ones with the heavy lenses that would incite the other children to make fun of him. Coke bottle glasses. Ed gasps in recognition of his younger self - The Riddler is right. There are three of them now.
“What’s your name? Who are you?” A booming voice echoes out through the darkness.
The little boy turns back to face the direction the voice had come from. “It’s Eddie, Sir.”
“No! Don’t!” The Riddler growls and jumps in front of the boy, pushing him back into Ed’s arms. The little boy looks up at the man that looks an awful lot like him as understanding quickly dawns upon his face. Smart kid.
“Yes,” Ed says gently. “You’re one of us. But stand back here with me and do not engage that man who just asked you who you are, understand? The Riddler’s in charge now. He’ll keep us safe.”
“Don’t what?” The sinister gleam in Professor Strange’s eyes is all too familiar to The Riddler as he leans over him.
Where is he? He should be dead. He jerks his hands up only to find them cuffed to some fancy gurney that he’s lying on, in some room that looks like a cross between a formal dining room and a hospital ward – Wait! He recognizes the place. The Van Dahl estate - Penguin’s former residence. His former residence when he was chief of staff to Mayor Cobblepot, well when Ed was anyway. What the hell is he doing here?
“I asked you a question, Ed. Or is it Eddie now?” Professor Strange asks.
“It’s not Eddie,” he says lowly, his eyes darting around. There are monitors about but he’s not hooked up to any of them. And beside him lies . . . her.
Professor Strange clucks his tongue and says, “My, you’re calm. I wasn’t expecting that .”
“Calm?” he practically yells, his eyes still darting about. “You think I’m calm? What have you done to her? What have you done to Lee?”
The Riddler tugs at his cuffs while Professor Strange stays calm, taking it all in stride. It’s obvious that the grotesque mad scientist is evaluating him as a specimen and he wonders what hideous science had been performed on him and Lee.
Strange says, “Hmmm . . . I was expecting you to be a little less . . . lucid . A a bit more . . . fractured .”
“But I suspect your mental incapacities have given you an advantage in this case, an edge if you will. You’re in familiar territory.” Strange turns to face Lee, places a hand on her belly. “I don’t expect her to fare as well.”
Seeing his hand on her belly turns something in his own.
“It’s a good thing you cut her where you did,” Strange says. “Nice and high. I may not have been able to save her otherwise.”
The Riddler feels sick as Ed screams in his head, his raw emotions making it difficult to think. “Shut up!”
Strange gives a little snort, “I don’t think you’re in any position to tell me what –“
“I was talking to Ed,” The Riddler says nastily.
“Ed. Oh, I see. Then who are you?”
“Your worst nightmare!” The Riddler growls as he overturns the gurney, taking Professor Strange down with him.
“Lee,” The Riddler whispers, patting her cheek. “Lee, I know you’re alive. Wake up. We’ve gotta get out of here.”
She’s non-responsive. “Lee!”
He hears the pendulum swinging side to side within Oswald’s huge grandfather clock, pestering him, reminding him that they don’t have much time. Professor Strange is unconscious for now, but that won’t last. He removes her restraints and tries to pull her off the gurney, but her dead weight is too much for him. He’s become too weak. Panting heavily, he lifts up his shirt, looking for the scar that should be there. Is his wound holding him back? Is it not quite healed?
It is not a scar. It’s an open wound that’s bleeding a bit. Panicked, he pulls up Lee’s shirt to look at her scar . . . But he finds two, when he was expecting just one. Just like Eddie. He should only have two personalities, but inexplicably, now there are three.
He hears a noise in the hallway. No time. He’s going to have to wheel her out unconscious, gurney and all.
As they move along the side of the estate, Lee comes to, yelling.
“You can’t make me into what you want. You can’t force me to do anything!”
“Lee, shh!” The Riddler says urgently. He stops pushing the gurney. “We need to be quiet. I’m getting us outta here.”
She’s not quiet. Not at all. She blurts out the next three sentences in quick succession.
“I am the Queen of the Narrows!”
“Your children shouldn’t be suffering this way. Have them come to my clinic.”
“Where’s Pooky Bear?”
She utters the final sentence in a little girl’s voice that chills him to the bone.
She looks up at him from the gurney, her eyes big and round with something akin to fear. “Who are you, mister? I’m Leslie. I don’t think I’ve ever met you.”
Still the little girl’s voice. Something is seriously wrong.
“Lee, you do know me.”
“No, I don’t!” She shakes her head and pouts, fighting off tears, her chin quivering. She’s definitely scared now. “Why are we here, mister? What’s happened?”
And then suddenly, before he can answer her, she has an adult voice again as she clutches at her stomach and then the tears do come. “Something’s missing.”
“Lee, it’s okay,” The Riddler says, relieved, placing a hand on her shoulder as she sits up. That weird kid voice is gone. Maybe she really will be okay. “Do you think you can walk? We’ve gotta be stealthy, but we gotta get out of here - and quickly.”
She nods, wipes away some of her tears and gets off of the gurney. “What’s going on, Ed?”
Oh, good she recognizes him. The Riddler lets out a breath he didn’t realize he was holding. “I’ll tell you what’s going on, trust me. But after we get to safety.”
“Trust you?” Her face contorts.
He wonders if she’s remembering what happened. What he did. What she did. Why they are here in the first place. He hopes not - she’ll have time for remembering later. He holds out a hand and she smirks at his gesture, but takes it anyway.
They hear a noise – it’s someone opening a door in the back, just around the corner from them. She suddenly grabs him around the torso and says, “Mister, I’m scared.”
He groans as he realizes he’s not going to know if he’s dealing with child Lee or adult Lee at any given moment. He is seething – he wants to kill Strange for whatever he’s done to the woman he still loves despite what had passed between them in their last waking hours in The Narrows. At the very least, Strange has obviously broken her brain. But right now, they need to go. Getting them both away from the estate is likely futile – at least for now. He thinks about the layout of this place.
“Shh… I’m thinking.”
She just grips him tighter.
The pool house! It’s their best bet, so leaving the gurney behind, he extracts her from his chest, takes her hand, and leads her to it through the dark of night. The patio surrounding the pool is getting damp as the dew is settling.
What in the world has Oswald been up to? Why were he and Lee brought back from the dead by Professor Hugo Strange? At Oswald’s old family estate of all places?
What madness is going on here?
"Let me out!" Ed demands.
"No," The Riddler growls through a building headache, fighting him.
"You do realize what's going on, don't you?"
"I don't need a dummy like you to patronize me," he snarls. "Of course I do."
"You know good and well that I'm no longer mentally incapacitated. We're sharing the brain and I will no longer let you monopolize it," Ed says firmly. "Let me take control - I have more experience with this anyway. I can help her."
The Riddler takes off his glasses – his headache is getting worse. Once again, weakly, he says, "No."
"Look, if you're afraid of the competition – "
"I am NOT -"
" - then you have nothing to worry about. She fell in love with you, remember?" Ed says a bit forlornly. "Not me."
As they are arguing, Lee collapses to the floor of the pool house, clutching at her stomach and wailing that something's missing again – that something has been taken from her. The Riddler is by her side in an instant, Ed forgotten for the moment.
She looks up at him with the most broken, pitiful look in her eyes. The tears stop for just a second as she puts both hands to each side of her head and presses.
"I think she's switching," Ed says.
"I can see that," The Riddler answers him. "Thankfully, it's slowing down. Maybe we'll be able to tell who we're dealing with here soon. Each individual."
"I wonder how many she has?" Ed says.
"Each individual what?" It's the little girl voice again.
The Riddler growls in frustration and tells Ed, "Fine. You win. You deal with this."
His fingers pinch his nose tightly and the headache is blinding as Ed takes over. And then he's through it.
"Hey, are you okay?" Ed asks the little girl now inhabiting Lee's body.
"I think so. Why is it so dark?" She looks around the spacious pool house. In the dim light, one can barely make out the bar for entertaining, the lounge chairs, and the little guest cubbies filled with towels and other swim gear. But somehow, the large white wicker sofa is quite easy to see. She gets up and walks towards it. "And why are you sitting on a lousy lounge chair when this sofa looks so comfortable?"
"We're in the dark because we're hiding out."
"Oooh… from bad guys?" she asks. Excitedly or anxiously, Ed can't tell.
"Yes," Ed says solemnly.
"Don't tell her that," The Riddler hisses from the reflection in the mirror behind the bar.
"Yeah," Eddie pipes up, suddenly by his side. "She might get scared."
"I can't believe that now I have to deal with two of you," Ed grumbles.
"Two of who?" the little girl asks, glancing back at the mirror he had just been talking to, but obviously not seeing what he sees within it.
"Two other people inside of me. You've already met one of them - The Riddler."
"Oh, how exciting! I've got two, too!" She enthusiastically bounces onto the large L-shaped sofa. She covers her mouth and giggles while Ed smiles at her unintentional, yet childish repetition of a homophone pair. "So, are you Ed? Or the other one?"
"I'm Ed." He smiles at the unexpected progress he had just made and asks her, "Can you tell me who your other two are?"
"Sure. Lee and The Doc. And I'm Leslie." She smiles wryly. "But I think you might already know that."
"I might." He nods. "Thank you, Leslie."
And then suddenly her mood changes.
"Mister, where's Pooky Bear?" she asks with sorrowful eyes. She grabs a pillow off of the sofa and hugs it tightly to her chest. How quickly this one can go from happy to sad. Even though the spans of time when she's been inhabiting Lee's body have been brief, they've been quite trying because of her mood swings. "If I can't have Mommy - if she's no longer here - I want Pooky Bear!"
"Pooky Bear isn't here, but if you tell me what he looks like, perhaps I can find him for you."
"Yay!" he hears Eddie say while The Riddler asks him warily, "Ed, what are you doing?"
Ed ignores both of them and just joins Leslie on the couch as she enthusiastically describes Pooky Bear to him.
“I can do this, you know,” Ed growls at The Riddler, who seems to be catching his ugly mug in every reflection he passes as he heads over to the house to break in. “You didn’t need to take over.”
“Of course I did, Ed. You’re the weak one. The one who’s afraid to get caught. I live for this.”
“It’s for Lee. I’d risk it.”
“So would I. Obviously,” The Riddler answers matter-of-factly. “Except I’m more competent than you are and I enjoy the thrill.”
Ed grumbles. Eddie’s just confused and about to ask a question when The Riddler interrupts.
“Oh come on, Ed, you know I’m more competent. There is no contest.”
“C’mon, Eddie,” Ed says and takes the little boy’s hand before he can protest. The house is approaching. “Let’s leave him to it.”
“Thank you,” The Riddler whispers in relief as they both disappear from his consciousness. He prefers it solo anyway.
Dawn is threatening to break as he easily lets himself in and finds the wing of the estate where Oswald’s old bedroom is located - the one he probably hadn’t slept in since Ed had shot him all that time ago - after he had killed the woman he loved. Isabella. The Riddler hadn’t exactly been around during that time, but that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t feel the sting of old wounds as he lets himself in and takes a good look around. He has a full accounting of Ed’s memories from that time. And, of the deep, unrelenting pain that eventually spawned him . . .
The Riddler gulps. In the pink tones of the nearly risen sun, the room looks exactly as Ed remembers it. Oswald’s nicely made plush bedspread, his ornately decorated wood paneled closet … The Riddler runs his hand over both, letting sight, smell, and touch take him back in time…
But he shouldn’t linger. He needs to find Oswald’s closet collection of stuffies. He finds one buried secretly under the covers of his bed as expected. A penguin his mother had given him. The Riddler knows that is untouchable. Anything Oswald’s mother had given him is absolutely off-limits. He wonders why Oswald had left this one here. To his recollection, he had taken over the Falcone Mansion in Gotham City and made that his residence. Has he resumed living here?
It only serves to make The Riddler wonder just how much time has passed.
Perhaps not too much, because his and Lee’s wounds are still relatively fresh - his scar having broken open and wept some blood just last night when he had awakened and fought to get himself and Lee out of Strange’s clutches.
So far The Riddler and Lee have made it all the way to the pool house, far away from the main house. Now he just needs to get her mentally stabilized so that they can be entirely free of this place without accidentally alerting someone to their presence as they attempt to flee. But Leslie’s frequent dips into melancholy over her missing mother and Pooky Bear and adult Lee’s incessant crying over something that is lost just won’t do. Both of those personalities of hers are inconsolable. Thank god she’s asleep right now. It had been risky to even leave her alone.
Yet The Riddler wonders about her Doc personality. He must have encountered her at some point when she was cycling through personalities quite rapidly after she had awakened. But he’s not really sure if he had truly engaged with her himself - Ed had been in charge for part of that time. Even so, his loins stir just thinking about her. Given that she’s going by 'The Doc,' she’s likely to be the part of Lee that he’s irresistibly attracted to - only in concentrated form. “The woman I love,” as he told Jim Gordon. God, he wants to fuck her. He takes a seat on Oswald’s bed as his mind wanders to all the naughty things he’ll do to The Doc once she surfaces, Ed be damned. He’ll take over the body just to be with her whether Ed likes it or not.
“No skin off my nose,” the Ed in his head says and shrugs. “I remember what she did to us - or more specifically to you. Just hurry it up, bud. Remember what we’re here for.”
The Riddler doesn’t want to remember that right now. He really doesn’t. Such a low point. He growls back at Ed, but has to admit that he’s right - he needs to hurry. He has more than one thing to do here.
He finds Oswald’s stash of stuffed animals buried deep within the wood-paneled closet - stored away lovingly in a large basket that his mother had given him and covered in a piece of cloth that she had sewn for it. In fact, a good portion of the stuffies he encounters are from Oswald’s mother, but some that he had thought he might find there - the oldest ones - are missing. That is the only clue he needs to deduce that Oswald currently resides elsewhere. He knows that Oswald would never part with the stuffed animals that he’s had since infancy.
The Riddler continues to rummage through the basket, and as expected, he finds that most of the stuffies are penguins and that a few of them are indeed brown baby king penguin chicks - the ones he’s looking for. He grabs a few of those and then goes foraging for a couple of other non-penguin stuffies that he hopes are still there.
As he does, his hand alights upon something green.
He pulls out a stuffie of the most unusual shape.
It is a question mark in bold and vibrant green.
The mark of The Riddler. His signature.
“Oh, Oswald,” he sighs. “Why?”
He sits down on the bed and cradles it in his lap, just looking at it, running his gentle fingers along its curve, poking at the dot.
“You know why,” Ed says softly. He is sitting beside him on the bed.
“No,” The Riddler says lowly.
“He obviously acquired that sometime after you emerged. After I destroyed him - after I intended to end his life. After -”
“He still loves us.”
“Yes . . .”
Feeling like some kind of twisted Santa Claus as he carries a sack full of baby chick penguins and other stuffies - ‘Pooky Bear parts’ - The Riddler makes his way to another part of the estate, looking for a stapler, a pair of scissors, duct tape - anything he can use to pull apart these stuffed animals and put them back together in some arrangement close enough to resemble Leslie’s lost stuffie. Along the way he hears it . . .
. . .the whirring of various pieces of medical equipment.
The noise is coming from just down the hallway that he’s sneaking past and it gives him pause - there’s probably supplies down that way that he can use. It’s dangerous, though . . . and he grins wickedly at the thought.
“Figured you’d like that,” he hears Ed say in his head. Since when is Ed always so present? It’s annoying, but it’s probably just a side effect of whatever Strange did to him.
From the looks of it, Strange’s operation is bigger than just something to handle the resurrection of him and Lee. Again, he wonders what Oswald is up to . . . and why has he allowed Strange to set up shop here?
The Riddler sneaks into a room that is relatively quiet, except for the soft hum of a compressor and the occasional gurgling or surge of bubbles coming from some large, dark tanks along the wall. He shivers, but wonders what creatures Strange may be growing and incubating in there - they are not large enough to hold human beings. His curiosity is killing him. He steps closer -
“You wanna check the Galavan-Gilzean?” he hears a sharp female voice ask, as heels click along the parquet floor, coming around the corner and into the room.
The Riddler ducks behind a screen quickly without being seen as his heart begins to race fast. A smile creeps across his face as he feels the rush. NICE. . .
“Sure, I’ll check the Nygma-Thompkins,” a male voice answers.
The Riddler wills Ed to shut up because he needs to listen, to observe what’s going on here. He can’t have more than one consciousness right now. So Ed agrees to back down and just observe along with him. But even though he’s no longer sharing his anxious thoughts, The Riddler can still feel Ed’s utter panic within him, coursing through his veins. And worse, Ed can’t enjoy the rush, so it's not a great feeling and just serves to dampen his usual response to precarious predicaments like this one. He really wishes Ed would step aside entirely - this is becoming intolerable.
It’s not safe to peer around the screen just yet - The Riddler must stand absolutely still and hope that his feet aren’t seen beneath it. So he stands there and listens to what the two who have just come in say to each other, hoping for a clue as to what is going on. But most of what they say is medical jargon he’s not overly familiar with - and the stuff that he does know has to do with checking vitals and such. Useless information. Well, except that now he knows that the subjects are being treated like human beings, which they obviously are not. But then . . . why is one of them named after him and Lee?
His head starts to spin.
“You okay, buddy?” Ed asks.
He wants to growl, but must remain silent. He needs to see what’s in those tanks.
“You don’t need to see what’s over there,” he hears Ed caution. “Even now, we’re almost caught. When they leave, just grab some supplies quickly and get out of here. Seriously, Riddler. Be smart. Like me.”
Again, he wants to growl at Ed’s presumptuousness. But he’s right.
As soon as the two leave, The Riddler locates some cabinets in the room and it doesn’t take much rummaging to find the surgical supplies. Most importantly, he finds a suture kit - Pooky Bear’s doppelganger won't assemble itself - with non-dissolvable sutures. Perfect! For good measure, he grabs a scalpel and a stethoscope, too.
“Why are you grabbing a stethoscope. . . ?” Ed starts. “Oh, yeah. Makes sense. Lee probably wanted to be a doctor when she was a girl. Little Leslie can practice medicine on her new bear, stethoscope and all. That should make her quite content and keep her out of trouble for a bit.”
“Yes,” The Riddler answers Ed very quietly. “But, I think I’ll encourage her to wield the scalpel when you’re in control of our body.”
Ed just laughs at him.
The Riddler walks over to the tanks. What in the world is in them?
There are no windows in the room and Professor Strange’s specimens are enshrouded in almost complete darkness within their tanks - he can’t even tell what color the liquid is. He’s standing right in front of the one labeled Nygma/Thompkins. He reaches out -
“Hey buddy!” Ed interrupts him, trying to hold back on the fright. But it is still evident in the tone of his voice.
“I hear those two coming again,” Ed says in a panic. “We gotta get outta here.”
The Riddler growls lowly. Ed is right. AGAIN. He shakes his head. SO annoying.
The Riddler opens the sliding glass door to the pool house and almost drops his sack. There she stands in all her glory at the bar, looking like a fresh drink of water.
"Doc Thompkins," he drawls like the cat who's just caught the canary, as he leans against the metal frame and crosses his arms. A toothy smile graces his face, wide and smug.
The Doc downs the drink she has in her hand and slams it down onto the bar before popping a hip and donning a smug, sly smile of her own. "Hey, Sailor, are you new in town?"
That's all it takes.
The sack hits the floor with just a mild tinkling noise as some metal instrument inside of it bangs against the cool, hard tiles of the pool house. He rushes her, smearing her lipstick as he hungrily devours her lips. Her hands in turn grasp the side of his head, his neck, pulling him in, wanting more.
Then she breaks, panting. The look in her eyes is deadly serious. He gulps. She looks like she wants to talk about . . . it. "Ed -"
He growls, suddenly angry. He's not Ed. She of all people should know that. He spins her around and presses her against a nearby wall, smushing her breasts. Her palms go flat against it.
She'd gotten into the habit of calling him Ed even when she knows who is in charge. No matter. Apparently, he's going to do the same to her. He knows that she's the darkly delicious Doc right now, but to him, she's going to be Lee.
Let's see how she likes it.
"Lee," he growls in her ear, tugging at her slick, straight hair. "Not now."
Her head falls back onto his shoulder in compliance and in an instant his teeth are at her neck, biting. Biting hard. She moans. "I need you to fuck me then, Ed."
"In due time . . ."
"Don't make me wait," she growls and pushes back at him, spinning him around.
Before he can even protest, she's grabbed him by his shirt and pulled him back into her, her lips hungrily drinking in his.
"I think you're overdressed for the occasion." She starts tugging frantically at his waistband, groaning with frustration. "Ed, it's been too long."
He smirks as he removes her hand. "How long has it really been for us? A day?"
"We've been dead. Don't play coy with me," she says with a note of warning.
So she knows . . .
"I'm not," he says quietly and cups her face for a brief moment, his brown eyes going warm. Then his hand trails down her neck slowly, agonizingly . . . he rests it briefly between her breasts and his thumb makes a small circle over the exposed little mole there. He loves that mole . . .
Right as her mouth opens to protest just how slow he's going, he rips her shirt clean off and his teeth are at her nipple in an instant. She grasps the back of his head as her eyes roll back into their sockets. "Fuck. . ."
His hand reaches out for her other breast and begins to work her nipple in an opposite rhythm to what his tongue and teeth are doing with the first one. She starts to squirm.
He chuckles. "Patience."
She pushes him away and removes the rest of her clothes with a flourish as he just stands there, blinking. After throwing her garments down onto the ground, she puts her hands on her hips and says, "Ed, stop fucking around with me."
She stares pointedly at the bulge in his pants.
It takes him almost no time at all to undress and spin her around again, holding her tightly from behind, swaying, the two of them completely naked now. One of his hands is on her throat - but not too tightly - as the other descends lower. It's a dangerous game that they have liked to play, but now that he's only interacting with her dark side, he wonders what new twists might be in store for them and smiles wickedly. She had always been drawn to his dark side . . . far too much for her own good . . . and he had always been fascinated by hers.
His fingers find the tiny nub within her tender folds and she bucks against him as he presses it. She moans and starts to writhe in his arms as he holds her firmly and strokes her gently there - it is the only place he's gentle. His grip tightens on her neck.
"Please. . ."
"Please, what?" he growls hotly into her ear and she shivers.
"I need you inside of me."
"Like this?" he asks roughly as he spins her around to face him again and shoves her back up against that wall. Returning a hand to her throat, the fingers of his other hand slowly plunge deep inside of her.
"Hmmm . . .?" He strokes her at a furious pace, all the while keeping his thumb pressed to the tender spot that he had been manipulating just moments earlier. She is getting so wet. Dripping . . . All over his hand. And, she smells amazing. He is rock hard.
"I need . . . I need. . . " She is moaning.
"You need WHAT, Lee?" He pulls her away from the wall and bends her over the back of the sofa. Then he slams his rock-hard cock into her and growls, "This? Is this what you need?"
"Oh, FUCK!" she almost yells. "YES!"
As his bulging cock plunges deep inside her over and over again at a rapidly increasing pace, it's his turn to moan. He feels like he's going to burst. Stars are beginning to form at the corner of his eyes. He needs release. It really has been too long. FUCK.
He withdraws, panting. This needs to last.
"Problem?" she asks.
"No," he growls.
She raises a skeptical eyebrow. "Okay, Ed. Two can play at that."
He soon finds out.
"Lie down." She pushes at his chest.
"Just do it."
"On the couch?"
"No. On the floor. Now."
He complies, and within mere moments of taking his place upon the cold tiles of the pool house floor, he feels her warm mouth on his cock. The contrasting sensations are divine. But . .
"Lee, I don't think that's such a good idea."
He's so close.
She removes her lips to look at him and says, "Trust me."
And when she returns them to his cock, swirling her tongue over his head, picking up the glistening drop that had so quickly formed there, and then plunging down . . . ever so far down . . . he's ready to come. So ready.
Just as he starts to feel it, it stops. Almost as if it's choking, trying to get out but can't.
One of her fingers is pressing low on his shaft as she strokes it languidly.
"Ready?" she asks.
"Ready for what?"
She doesn't answer him, just works him into another frenzy so quickly his head spins and water leaks from his eyes. "Lee. . ."
And there it is again. The halting. The jarring stop.
"Ugh, Lee. What are you doing to me?" he asks in agony.
"Why I'm toying with you," she says with a wicked grin on her face. "Isn't that what you like, Riddler? To toy with your victims?"
"I'm not your victim," he growls, sitting up, not even noticing that she had finally called him by his proper name. He pulls her down onto his lap. "And you're not mine."
He settles her hips just so . . . and then penetrates her smoothly. She lets out a sigh as her head falls back. The silky strands of her dark hair get caught up in his hand as his fingers dig into her upper back. He holds her tightly so that they can rock together. As one.
Eventually, he feels her start to shudder and reaches out to cup her face, tilting it back down so that he can see her eyes before she –
And there she goes . . . bucking hard against him, a stifled scream on her lips. He grips her hips tightly, holding them down, staying deep inside of her as she pulsates around him. By the time she collapses against him, he's moaning against her himself, his head buried deep into her neck. She strokes the hair at the base of his head just as a rush of hot liquid explodes from him and he cries out too.
They sit there panting, forehead to forehead, the tension he hadn't even known had been building finally released. He kisses her softly and then pulls away. "I love you."
She strokes the side of his face and says, "I know you do, Ed. All of you."
He nods. He's okay with her referring to him - or rather them - as Ed in that context. He knows what she meant - both he and Ed are totally smitten with her – and it seemed like they always had been. And in his little kid way, Eddie admires her too. He only wishes she felt the same. He hangs his head.
"Oh, do you think we were too loud?" she asks in what sounds like an excited panic as she tries to catch a glimpse of the outside world from over the back of the couch.
"I don't think so," he answers. "The pool house is quite far away from the main house and the rest of the estate. But if we're discovered, we'll just hide."
She grins wickedly. Yeah, he can tell that she likes this hiding out business as much as he does. He touches a strand of her hair. They're so well matched, the two of them. The Doc and The Riddler. Why doesn't she see that?
"Hey, come on," she says and extracts herself from him, holding out a hand to lift him from the floor. "I'm beat. We should rest."
"I'm beat, too," he says with a sly smile, standing up.
"I'll bet you are," she says, looking down at his nether regions and then back up at him with a smug twist of her lips. She brings her fingers to them, coming away with dark lipstick. She looks like she finally realizes just how badly he has smeared it all over her mouth in his passion. Ed wonders why Professor Strange would have refreshed it for her after all this time - and perhaps she does too. "Let's clean up and get some sleep."
"Okay," he says. "Ladies first."
She heads to the pool house's multipurpose changing room/shower room/bathroom and closes the door behind her. The sun is just peeking over the horizon now so The Riddler walks around the pool house, drawing down the sunshades against it. Most of its length is made up of full glass window panes and sliding glass doors. The shades are only meant to cut glare, not block the light, so it won't get very dark. But boy, does he need to sleep. He's been up since they first escaped the main house last evening, helped Lee as she rapidly switched between personalities, and ventured back into the house to find "Pooky Bear" supplies . . . Not to mention the romp they just had. Time to look for some thick towels so they can at least cover their eyes and try to get decent quality sleep.
He's finds a variety of towels - some to act as blankets, and some to shield their eyes from the sun - and has them stacked on the coffee table in front of the L-shaped sofa when The Doc comes back out.
"By the way, Ed, don't ever call me Lee again. You know who I am."
He laughs in triumph but then crosses his arms and says seriously, "So now you finally know how it feels."
"Yes, E -"
"Uh-uh." He puts up a finger. "You know who I am, too."
"Okay, Riddler." She grins. "Just checking."
He growls, "Like hell you were."
The Riddler returns to the sofa after cleaning up, wearing nothing but his underwear and his white dress shirt, complete with the tear and the bloodstains where Lee had stabbed him. Had Strange even bothered to change their clothes while they were in his care?
His clothes don't smell like they'd been on him for days on end, though. Had Strange taken the time to dress him and Lee back up in the clothes they'd died in? If so, why?
He looks over at The Doc and thinks she might be asleep, cocooned up against the back of her little leg of the L of the couch. He remembers how she would cocoon against him just like that and smiles softly. He silently takes the other leg of the sofa after grabbing a few towels to cover himself, trying not to wake her.
But just as he settles in, she asks, "What are you doing?"
He can feel that she hasn't changed positions - the couch hadn't even moved a millimeter. She's been awake the whole time. "What do you mean?"
"What are you doing so far away?" she asks, kicking his toes with her own. He's so tall that they have easily spilled onto her leg of the couch, even though he has the longer side. "Come sleep with me."
"No?!" She flies up into a seated position. "What do you mean no?"
"You come here," he insists.
The next thing he knows, she's jumped on him as the wicker makes a disturbing creak.
"Did I hurt you?"
"No," he says, wincing. He knows it's never polite to imply that a woman is heavy so he won't say it, but she's crushing him. He's not as filled out as other men she's been with, apparently. Their chests can probably handle her weight better than he can, so she probably has no idea what she's doing. But, he's having a really hard time breathing with her on top of him like this - especially after her pounce had nearly knocked the wind out of him.
"You're lying," she says.
He looks away.
She re-positions herself a bit, sliding most of her body weight against the back of the couch and off of him, yet still resting her head and arm on his chest. Good. He can breathe again so he tries to let out a long breath without it being too obvious.
"Better?" she asks.
"I'm fine," he answers.
"You know, I'm really glad you're here, Riddler. I've missed you."
Really? How much time had passed for her? For him it seemed like no time at all since that fateful day in The Narrows.
"I'm glad you're here too, Doc." He kisses her forehead. "You sexy beast."
He can feel her delighted smile form against his chest.
"I love Ed, but he can be bit annoying, you know? You're not like that." She sighs. "You're a breath of fresh air."
Wait. She loves Ed? Shouldn't she love him? Her words unexpectedly stab at his heart.
"Oh! Oops!" Her head lifts from his head in a panic. "Oh my God! Ed's not in there with you right now, is he?"
For once, he's actually not. "No."
"Oh good," she says in relief and puts her head back down on his chest. "You're lucky. These other two in my head haven't left yet. Seems like they're just stuck - forever destined to be privy to everything I think and do, you know? It's very annoying."
Tell me about it.
His rapid switching and often having to share a consciousness with one or both of the ones in his head wasn't normal either - plus, it was a bit trying. How easily any one of them could lose control to another now. Fuck Professor Strange. This was a nightmare. For both him and Lee.
"You've gotta promise not to tell Ed that I said I loved him, okay?" The Doc says desperately, looking him in the eyes again. "That was just a slip."
Sure it was.
"Sure." Like he would even want Ed to know that. He sighs and kisses her forehead, suddenly as depressed as the other two in her head always seemed to be. "Let's sleep."
Eddie wakes up giggling. A lady is on top of him.
"Ed, what's so funny?" she asks groggily, her fringe of black hair obscuring her face.
"Pokey. Pokey," he says and giggles again, thrusting his hips into her so she can feel it, too.
"O . . . kay . . ." She's fully alert now.
"Pokey. Pokey." Now his giggles are high pitched.
"Ed, what is wrong with you?"
He feels the blush creep up his face at her admonishment. But then he shrugs, 'pokes' her again, and smiles devilishly.
"Ed, stop!" she commands, holding him down. "What are you, twelve?"
"Yes," he says innocently.
"Wha - ?"
"Eddie, let one of the big boys play now," he hears Ed say. Then The Riddler pitches in, "Yeah, either of us. Pick."
Lee's brows knit as she stares at him. He stalls. "Uh . . ."
"You're scaring her, bud," Ed says firmly. "Let it go or we won't let you out to play again."
Eddie pouts. "Fine."
"Hey, Ed… Are you okay?" Lee is concerned at seeing his scrunched up face. But it's just the usual headache as Ed comes through, pinching his nose to alleviate the burst of pain that accompanies the process.
"I'm fine, Lee," he says. "That was just Little Eddie there. Sorry about that."
"Little Eddie? You mean the other one inside of you besides the Riddler that you told Leslie about?"
"Horny little devil, isn't he?" She smiles through a not-very-well contained chuckle, still in the same position she woke up in - lying on his chest.
"We all are," Ed says. And then talking pointedly to Little Eddie and The Riddler in the mirror over the bar he says, "It's just that some of us are gentlemen about it."
Lee laughs heartily. It's good to see her this way. Every other time she's been out she's been distraught.
"Yeah, you'll have to forgive Little Eddie. I don't think he really understands what goes on in a man's body. . ." He pointedly looks at the mirror again for emphasis. ". . . in the morning. Even though it's not exactly morning right now. Sorry about that."
Little Eddie protests. "Hey! I'm not a little kid. I'm twelve! Riddler, tell Ed to tell her I really am twelve! I'm a big boy."
"Nope. Don't think that's gonna work, kid." The Riddler looks down at him. "And hey, next time that happens, keep our member to yourself, okay?"
Little Eddie pouts. "You get to use it."
The Riddler laughs and laughs.
"Hey, shut up," Ed says to the mirror. "It's getting too noisy in here."
The Riddler chastises Little Eddie, "Well you see there, bud - as Ed would say - I'm not exactly twelve so I get to use our member. You don't. End of discussion."
"Awww…" he hears Little Eddie whine as they thankfully fade into the distance.
"You, too?" Lee asks Ed and smiles. "It's so crowded in my head now."
It's so nice they can share this understanding. He has never felt like less of a freak in his entire life. It makes him want to love her again - as if he ever truly stopped. It feels so natural to have her lying on his chest like this as his arm strokes her back. Yet . . . she's not really his, is she? In truth, isn't she really The Riddler's?
He pulls her into his lips for a kiss and she offers no resistance. And it is delicious. He's been vaguely present occasionally when she and The Riddler would kiss - or more - but it's never been like this for him. She's knowingly kissing him - Ed Nygma - not The Riddler - for the first time. And they're both enjoying it.
Lee breaks from the kiss with a sigh. "Ed, you promised you'd tell me what's going on. What you've got planned. All I've been able to piece together is that somehow we've been brought back from the dead and are now hiding out from 'bad guys.' First of all, where are we? And who's after us?"
"Well, I'm not sure anyone is truly 'after us.' But I suspect Professor Strange wants his research subjects back." The corners of his mouth pull down into a frown.
"Professor Strange? Ed, this is a fancy pool house we are hiding out in, not Indian Hill. So, where are we exactly?"
"Oswald's family estate."
"Oswald's? Does he know we're here?"
"If he does, he and I are going to have to have a very serious conversation. Something odd is going on here at the old Van Dahl place. More than just your usual run of the mill resurrections."
She almost laughs. How Gotham is that? Ed smiles. Yes, the two of them are basically zombies. He hopes they're not actually under anyone's thrall, subject to their whims.
"What's going on, Ed?"
"I don't want you worrying about it." He sits up, effectively pushing her off of his chest. "I've got it handled."
"Got what handled?"
"My curiosity." He grins like a Cheshire cat, hoping she can't read him too well. "We need to get out of here, Lee, before they find and capture us, take us back to Professor Strange. That should be our number one priority. But you've been -"
"I've been what?"
"Not exactly mentally stable."
"Says the man with the split personality."
"Sorry, Ed. I should know better - I've got three personalities now. I too have fractured." Quietly, she adds, "Just like you did. . . many years ago."
Now that is something he definitely doesn't want to talk about. "Lee, that's not what I'm talking about. You can function with more than one personality just fine."
"How?" she protests. "It's -"
He holds up a hand. "It's doable. I can help you figure that part out. No, I'm just worried because two of you guys keep dissolving into near-hysterical levels of sadness and we won't be able to escape undetected if that happens when we make a break for it. Little Leslie -"
"Needs her Pooky Bear, yes. Mom is dead."
Ed didn't know that and just looks at her, momentarily stunned. "Your mother?"
"It's okay, Ed. What else?"
"And then there's you, Lee."
"Uh, yes." There's a long pause between them. Why can't he just come out and say it? "'Something's missing?'"
And there she goes again, clutching at her stomach. She whispers, "Yes."
"What is it, Lee? You haven't told me."
"I can't describe it." Tears are shining in her eyes. "But something's missing. Something important."
"May I?" Ed lifts her shirt carefully. "Do you think it has anything to do with that?"
He points at the scar below the one he had made when he had stabbed her in the gut and thrust upward so that she would die as quickly as he did. Lee gasps and rubs at it, as if noticing it for the first time. It wasn't a difficult leap for him to make - to link it to her recent distress. She has an unexplained scar and keeps grabbing at it each time she breaks down.
"What do you think it is?" He asks her. "What's missing?"
She just looks at him with tears running down her cheeks. "I don't know, Ed. I just don't know."
He pulls her head down onto his chest and just lets her cry. She may not know what's missing, but he's formed a theory of his own . . . 'Nygma/Thompkins' . . . dark tanks likely filled with monstrous humanoid forms . . . small ones. The more he thinks about it the more his own stomach twists into knots.
Professor Strange is going to die.
What a crazy short day. Their sleep cycles are totally out of whack.
Lee's sleeping again as the sun makes its descent towards the horizon. Her rapidly switching personalities must be wearing her out, especially because she is not used to having two, let alone three - and they're all conscious at once. That would drive him mad - in fact, the increase in the Riddler's presence in his mind is definitely driving him crazy. It had never been comfortable for him when The Riddler would appear in the first place . . . and Little Eddie? Ugh.
But currently, Ed is refreshed. Refreshed and curious.
What the hell is in those tanks?
Ed starts to get up, planning to go back to the main house, when he inadvertently stumbles over the bag of materials to make a new Pooky Bear for Leslie. Damn. He really wants to investigate what's going on in that house but . . .
"Then go," he hears the Riddler say.
"Yeah," Eddie says. "He needs to make a new Pooky Bear for Leslie!"
"Ed, we need to know what's going on in that room," The Riddler says firmly. "Something in those tanks is a part of us - a part of her. You know this."
"Why? Because you're afraid?"
"No, I'm not afraid," Ed counters. "I can't go back to the main house right now no matter how much I may want to solve that sick riddle. And you know I want to as much as you do, b -"
"Apparently not," The Riddler interrupts.
"Look, our number one priority is getting out of here. And while Lee is still asleep, I should stop talking to you and start working on making Little Leslie a new Pooky Bear so at least she will calm down and not hinder our efforts to escape."
"YAY!" Eddie exclaims as The Riddler just groans in frustration.
Ed gets to work.
"And then what did she do?" Eddie asks eagerly.
Ed is still using the curved needle and non-dissolvable sutures to piece together penguin parts and make this thing look as much like Leslie's description of Pooky Bear as he can.
"Well . . ."
He's been regaling Eddie with tales of how nice Doctor Thompkins had been to him when she was the medical examiner at the GCPD. She had been one of the only ones who was kind to him when he worked in forensics there. And since he's been suturing, he's been telling Eddie all about how she finally let him work on corpses for no other reason than his sheer curiosity as long as she had completed her autopsy on them first. And as long as he stitched the corpse back up, of course, which was something that she had taken time out of her busy day to painstakingly coach him through on more than one occasion - often causing her to have to work late on those particular nights.
"She sounds like a really nice lady." Eddie sighs.
"She is. That's why you can't do what you did today, do you understand? That's considered rude and inappropriate. I know she seemed to take it well, but that kind of stuff makes girls uncomfortable."
Ed can't believe he's actually lecturing someone on appropriate behavior. His early life - until fairly recently in fact - had been peppered with inappropriate behavior that kept him on the fringes of society, made people see him as a 'creep.' He doesn't want Eddie to bring all of that back with just a few careless actions while he's in control of the body. Especially if it somehow taints things with Lee.
"I don't want to make her feel uncomfortable," Eddie says.
"Good, neither do I. Look bud, I'm sorry you're stuck in my body. My very adult body. Just . . . don't publicly react to sensations that happen down there, okay? Don't let anyone know you're having them. They may feel exciting, but -"
"They're very private. Try to hide it when we get a boner okay? Don't flaunt it."
"So, I've gotta keep it in my pants?"
Ed smirks. He's never had a child in his head before. It's kinda fun. "Yeah bud, please. Keep it in your pants."
Ed works on the finishing touches of the bear, plucking one more button from an Emperor penguin's Napoleon-style coat - where did Oswald find these things? - and sewing it onto the new Pooky Bear. The buttons have to come from that coat. Pooky Bear's eyes are blue - Leslie had been adamant about that.
He finishes the last stitch and looks at his handiwork. There hadn't been enough material for the ears. He frowns. He hopes they're not too disappointingly small.
"Can I give it to her?" Eddie asks.
Ed thinks about it and decides 'Why not?' He looks over at Lee sleeping on the sofa. She is tossing and turning, mumbling a bit. She's probably just starting to wake up.
"Sure bud, give me a sec. Then you can blaze on in here," Ed quips, referring to the blinding headaches they get while in the midst of a switch. He sits down beside Lee on the sofa and rubs her shoulder to wake her. Except it's not Lee who's inhabiting her body when she awakens.
She squints into the rays of the setting sun that are somehow still streaming through the sunshades and asks, "Can you get me a drink?"
"Hello, Doc! Aren't you a sight for sore eyes!" He is really happy to see her. He's missed this part of her - the part he's gotten to know best. Yet . . . how long has it been? Less than a day since they were resurrected?
"Hey, Sailor," she says with a sultry smile.
"Uh uh, not going to work on me," Ed says. "You already played that game with The Riddler last night. You'll have to try something else with me."
He chuckles in a way that almost turns into The Riddler's signature laugh. Where the hell did that come from? "Nope. Not quite, Doc. I'm far from a prude - I'm a tease."
Okay, this isn't working. He's getting way off track here and he's truly not in the mood for sex right now, although the thought does make him grin. No, he's in the mood to give Leslie her new Pooky Bear so that they can get to exploring the main house that night without any major chaos raining down on them.
"Doc, can you let Leslie out? We have something for her."
She sighs dramatically as if she's very put out. "Fine Ed. For you."
"No, for you. I want control of this body right now. I've been in the shadows for far too long. Be sure she returns it to me when you're done, okay?"
The Doc sits up, presses her palms to the side of her head for a moment, and then Leslie emerges.
"Mister?" she asks looking up at him.
"Hi!" Eddie says cheerily. He had made the switch from Ed's consciousness quickly as Leslie was emerging. "I'm Eddie. I'm twelve. We haven't met yet."
He holds out his hand for her to shake. She eyes it warily.
"You look way too old to be twelve."
He harrumphs. "Then, how old are you?"
"Well, you look way too old to be ten," he says and sticks out his tongue. "You're an old lady."
"Yes, you are. But it's okay. As Ed keeps reminding me I'm in an adult body. Whatever that means. . ."
Leslie looks down at herself and pouts. "Guess I am too."
"We'll make the best of it, no worries. Ed and I made something for you."
"You did?" She gets on her knees and bounces a little on the sofa in her excitement. The wicker doesn't appreciate her very adult weight and creaks in protest. It's really not made for that.
"Yeah, hang tight," Eddie says and runs to grab a sack from behind the bar.
"What's that?" she asks, trying to grab at it once he returns to the sofa.
"Why?" she asks and gives him an impish grin.
"Good question," Eddie says and gets caught up in a thought.
"Stop daydreaming and gimme!" Leslie screeches, grabbing at the bag again. The contents - Ed's rendition of her Pooky Bear and a scalpel and stethoscope - fall out. Miraculously, the scalpel falls to the floor without managing to cut anyone on the way down.
Eddie can hear Ed exclaim to the other one in his head, "Why did you put that in there?"
"So she can cut you."
"Yeah, it's not," The Riddler says and then hisses. "She cut me, not you. Remember that."
"Shut up, you two!" Eddie says, annoyed. "Nobody cut anybody."
He hadn't been there to know any better.
"Yes, they did," Leslie says ominously.
"What are you talking about?"
"I - um, I guess we're a 'we' now . . . We -" She stops suddenly, tilts her head, and sighs dramatically. "Okay, fine I won't."
"Won't what?" Eddie asks.
Leslie looks back at him. "She doesn't want me to talk about it with you. She says only she or The Doc can have that conversation with one of the adults inside of you. But not with you."
"I'm not allowed to say? Oh, come on!" Leslie says in utter frustration to someone in her head. Turning back to Eddie she says, "It's a no go. Mum's the word."
She draws a finger across her lips and then pantomimes throwing away a key.
"You know we rob banks, right?"
She just looks at him.
"A key means nothing to me."
"I'm going to make you talk." He jumps on her and starts a tickle fight. Now the wicker's really protesting.
And their screeching is getting on The Riddler's last nerve. "Eddie!"
He's itching to get back to the main house now. Leslie hasn't even noticed the teddy bear that Ed had jury-rigged for her. What the hell were they doing wasting time like this?
"Eddie, knock it off right now or else I'm coming in there!"
"Apparently you're not enjoying having a little kid with us as much as I am," Ed says smugly. "The little one's sure getting under your skin."
The Riddler snarls. "I'm fine with it, Ed. He's just - just - Oh, Eddie just hurry up and give her the bear!"
Somehow that gets through to him. The Riddler and Ed watch as Eddie stops tickling Leslie, graciously admits that she has won the tickle fight, and then scoops up the bear in his arms to present it to her.
Her eyes go wide as she reverently holds her hands out for it.
As Eddie places it gently into her hands she coos. She actually coos. Eddie's smile brightens up the whole room. He's delighted. "See, Ed? We did good."
"Pokey Bear!" Leslie exclaims.
"Excuse me?" Ed says in his head as Eddie tries to stifle a giggle. An inappropriate giggle. He knows better now, but still, he has to bring a hand up to cover his mouth and hold it in.
"Well, I can't call him Pooky Bear, Eddie. He's still alive, I just know it, so they can't share a name, but they can be similar. Like you and Ed or me and Lee."
"Yes, but 'Pokey' Bear?" Eddie asks, raising his eyebrows.
"Sure, wasn't that fun this morning?"
Eddie blushes to the roots of his scalp and nervously pushes his glasses up the bridge of his nose. He's so confused. What is he supposed to say?
"Looks like Little Leslie's as perverted as the rest of them in there, eh?" The Riddler jests, smugly crossing his arms and shaking his head. "Unbelievable. From the mouths of babes . . ."
The Doc paces, trying to explain to Ed what's going on in her head at that very moment. "Look, Ed, Lee really wants to go on this little mission with The Riddler to explore the main house tonight and I don't think I can stop her. She'll just follow him if he leaves without her."
"Then stop her. You're The Doc. Keep control of the body. Don't let her go."
"Yeah, well, apparently being more powerful when I'm out doesn't necessarily translate into being more powerful in my own head. Or having more power over this body."
Abruptly Ed says, "The Riddler says it's a no-go, then."
The Doc puts her hand on her hip and demands. "Why? What for?"
"He says that he only wants you or else he goes alone - which he would prefer anyway - Lee's too soft. And frankly, Doc, in my opinion, neither of you should be tagging along tonight." Ed looks back at the mirror over the bar. "Right. You're right. I just told her."
"Well, if he shows up while I'm still inhabiting this body - that pervert - we'll likely spend the entire night fucking. I think he has ulterior motives." She gives a warning glance to the mirror.
Ed snorts and stops himself from laughing. She looks pretty fierce - and she's so beautiful like this. He wonders when he'll get his chance with her . . . if she'll let him . . . and if he even still wants her. Despite the kiss he had shared with Lee, he's not sure he does. After all, the darkest manifestation of her chose the darker one within himself, even though he was the one that loved her first and he was the one who had helped her rise to power - not the other one.
Also, how can he forget the pesky fact that after lying in wait, she had sprung forth and stabbed him? To death.
"Er, me," The Riddler corrects him.
"No, it's not. Her beef was with me."
Ed frowns. "Yes, but she killed both of us. She knew I was in there."
"Ed, you had no idea who she had become."
"Yes, I -"
"No, you really didn't," The Riddler says firmly. "That's why you still can't comprehend what she did to us. The darkness that murdering Sofia unleashed in her was delicious. But you can't even begin to appreciate it. Only I can."
"You don't have a monopoly on her."
"Oh yes," The Riddler taunts. "I do."
"Hey!" Lee grabs his face. He hadn't even noticed her switch. "Neither of you have a monopoly on me. No one does. Understand?"
"Yeah," Ed says roughly, pulling away. He wonders if any part of Lee actually cares about him - not just the dark one that had emerged within him in the belly of The Narrows and fascinated her endlessly since their first kiss.
"You ready for him?" Ed asks. The Riddler's chomping at the bit to take over - he doesn't want to waste any more time.
"I'll take care of Lee," The Riddler says to Ed. "Don't worry."
Lee takes a deep breath and rolls her shoulders a bit in preparation. "Yeah."
"Are you nervous?" Ed asks, surprised. "For him to come through?"
"No, I'm fine."
He knows she's lying.
So what exactly did their earlier kiss even mean if thinking of The Riddler could get to her this way?
Ed sighs, resigned to his fate. It doesn't matter if he wants her or not, he'll never have her. But that doesn't mean he won't be watching the entire time. Enjoying what he can of her. He can do that so easily now - The Riddler can't banish him from his own mind so readily anymore.
"Just do it, Ed."
"Hi there," she says almost shyly as he just stands there, arms crossed confidently, penetrating her with his gaze.
"I'm not her, you know."
"But I'm still attracted to the danger. . . "
"I know." He smiles softly.
"The danger that is you."
"I know." He closes the distance between them and takes her face into his hands.
"I'm scared," she says, yet he can see the excitement building within her.
"I know." He leans down to kiss her.
She puts a hand on his chest to stop him before he succeeds. Looking down, she blushes and blinks furiously. "But I'm the soft one. You said so yourself."
"That doesn't bother you?"
"No." Then his lips are upon hers as he says between kisses, "Not in the least. I love you, Lee. All of you. Including this part."
She whimper-moans beneath his touch.
"So now I know," she says with a touch of sass and a happy grin - so different from the other one's all too frequent smirk. He groans and pulls her down onto the sofa with him. Time to make love. That's what he wants to do with this one. Make love, not sex. But come to think of it, he doesn't just fuck The Doc either, no matter how kinky they may get. In his heart, all he wants is to make love to her as well, regardless of what they do. And that's what this is. Love.
"Can you be honest with me?" he asks Lee, breaking away from her for a second.
"Do you love me?"
"You really need to stop calling me Ed." He sits up, beyond disappointed, and says, "I should just go."
"Riddler." She places a hand on his forearm, preventing him from rising.
He just looks at her, waiting anxiously through her pregnant pause. Just what does she have to say to him?
"I'm sorry. I know you're not Ed. That you're The Riddler. It's just a habit."
He waits for more, but there is no more. He enmeshes his fingers tightly, then steeples them under his chin. "That's all you have to say to me?"
Her brows furrow and she shakes her head in confusion.
She's not that dumb, she's stalling. Now he's pissed. "Look, Lee. I think we need to talk about it - about what happened. Because you told me you were offering me something real and now when I ask if you love me you can't even give me an answer."
"No." He yanks his arm from her grasp. "I'm leaving. Without you. There are some things I need to figure out on my own."
Then he grabs her from behind to put her in a sleeper hold and lays her down gently once she's passed out.
"Well, that's one way to do it," he hears Ed say as he runs out into the night, determined to confirm his suspicions in regards to exactly what is floating in that Nygma/Thompkins tank.
"Well, Nygmakins is doing quite well, Professor," a woman's voice says and The Riddler, ducking away in a nearby alcove, thinks it sounds like the woman with the heels from last night.
Professor Strange corrects her. "Dr. Greene, please refrain from using these truncated names that your generation seems so fond of, especially when referring to our specimens."
"Well then," a man jests. "I guess we better stop calling the other one Galazean."
Before anyone can laugh, Strange warns, "That would be wise."
"Nygmakins?" Ed says in his head. "That sounds ridiculous."
"Lee's likely to find us soon," Ed warns. "Sleeping holds don't last indefinitely."
No they don't. Only long enough to escape. It won't be long before she figures out where he's gone and follows him here. Good thing the Van Dahl estate is large and it will take her awhile to find him. He only hopes she's smart enough to evade the notice of the scientists as she comes after him and that he's done with his mission before she finds him.
He is conflicted about what to do next. Should he stay hidden here, learning what he can about what Strange is doing with his specimens, or should he see for himself if his theory is correct about what's in the Nygma/Thompkins tank?
He involuntarily shivers because he already knows what's in there - he's had enough clues. But he just wants to see for himself what Professor Strange has done.
"If you want to see the tank, you're not likely to get a better chance," Ed says wisely. Sometimes it's a good thing that they're sharing the brain again.
The Riddler leaves the scientists to their meeting and silently creeps down the hallway.
He is absolutely horrified at what he sees before him. He places a shaky hand on the cold, clammy glass of the tank. "Baby . . ."
Her eyes fly open, startling him, and he steps back. But only two of them open. The vertical third eye in the middle of her forehead remains sealed. She swims towards him like some mutated starfish, her six limbs propelling her as her black hair flows behind her.
A baby this small shouldn't have such long hair . . . But there she is.
He places his hand on the glass again and whispers, "Daughter."
One of her hands matches its placement. And then the other one from the same side joins it. He can't tell if she's smiling because the mask on her face that allows her to breathe in whatever murky substance she's swimming in obscures her mouth, but she appears to be. She places another hand where his face would be if it was touching the tank. He knows what she wants and obliges, moving his cheek to the glass. She rubs it with the two hands that aren't already 'touching' the hand he has pressed to the glass. His baby has four arms.
He looks back at her in amazement again.
He has a baby. He knew it.
And then it hits him. She's a monster. Professor Strange specializes in making monsters. What has he done to his little girl?
That's when he notices Ed.
"Ed," he hisses in alarm, not wanting to speak too loudly. Who knows who can hear them in here?
Ed is curled up in a fetal position, almost in a fugue state. Oh no. He can't split again.
"Ed, give it to me," The Riddler commands.
"No. You have too much already. Isabella. Os -"
"Ed. We need one of us to stay calm, cool, and collected. You know I can handle this and you're about to split. That's the last thing we need."
"I don't want to split," Ed says weakly, rocking himself.
"I know. But you're going to if you don't share the burden. You're on the verge, Ed. This is what I was made for. Please."
And there it is.
All of it.
It hits him like a ton of bricks and he falls forward onto the glass, palms flat against it, startling his daughter. His beady brow is slick against the coolness of the tank. He's shaking incredibly hard, barely holding on. Through the glass his baby frantically claws at the area in front of his eyes, trying to get his attention.
But it hurts too much. He closes them.
There is no rage - he's left that with Ed so he can do what needs to be done. No this is just pure grief at encountering the horribly mutated mess that Strange has turned his child into - his innocent, helpless baby. His heart aches.
"Baby," he says softly one more time, bringing his hand to the glass. He opens his eyes to see her match it with one of her own and then pukes all over the tank. Now weaker than ever, he breathes hard against the unyielding glass, leaving breath prints over his streaks of vomit.
Is this worse than losing Isabella? Or the same? His heart twists in the same way Ed's had. He remembers that. He also remembers Ed shooting Oswald and losing his best friend - his compass. Aren't those losses greater? His child is still alive.
But in what condition? There's no way his child hasn't suffered. And it absolutely kills him. The guilt is overwhelming. He hadn't even known that Lee was pregnant before they died. Had she? He wouldn't have stabbed her if he had known that she was carrying his child, no matter what she had just done. He was sure of that.
And just how long had they been dead? His child looks like a one year-old. But there's no way . . .
"Are you ready, buddy?" he hears Ed say. "For a good long rest?"
"Yes," the Riddler whispers in relief. He needs to relinquish control.
Ed says solemnly, "I didn't give you all of it, you know. I refuse to forget what Strange has done to her."
The Riddler looks up at Ed's reflection, now in the tank. "Are you sure?"
"Yes," Ed says. "That . . . And I didn't want to break you."
Ed is frantically looking for anything useful in the room he is in. A medical chart, experimental data, anything. Eerily, his daughter floats in her tank and watches him as if she knows what he's doing.
He takes a quick break from his search to turn to her and say, "Don't worry. Daddy's gonna get you out of here. Professor Strange won't hurt you anymore."
Ed smiles reassuringly and kisses his fingertip before putting it on the glass . . . and just as his daughter is reaching for it, he hears a gasp from the doorway. He quickly folds and stuffs the papers he has found into the deep pocket within his suit jacket and then turns towards the noise.
She's standing there like a statue, her face gray.
"Lee. . ." he says quietly and moves towards her.
"She's here," Lee says softly. "She's not missing."
Ed notices that she's touching her stomach lightly, rubbing a circle over it, but not grasping at it like she had before. She walks over to the tank and places her hand on it.
She says "Baby. . ." just like he had.
Again, their child looks like she might be smiling as she swims over to Lee, this time trying to place all four of her tiny little hands on the glass opposite hers. There's not quite enough room and they keep slipping away, one at a time.
"Why is she blue? She looks so frail," Lee asks, still in a bit of a daze. "What's happened to my child?"
Ed corrects her, "Our child."
He points at the plaque in front of the tank. "Nygma/Thompkins."
Lee touches her stomach again. "I didn't know. . ."
"You were carrying my child, Lee, when I - " he stops to correct himself. "When we killed each other."
"Yes, it's outlined in her chart. Strange removed her embryo from you at some point. I figured that part out with just a cursory glance at it, but there's gotta be so much more in here." He pats his suit pocket. "But I suspect once you woke up, that at least subconsciously you knew you had been pregnant before you died. There was always something about your scar." He points at it.
"'Something's missing,'" she says, astounded at his ability to connect the dots. Ones she couldn't connect for herself.
"Yes, something BIG was missing," Ed says.
"Yes, our child," she confirms with a nod. They both turn back to look at the baby floating in the tank.
"She's blue, Ed," Lee says worriedly. "I wonder if she's getting enough oxygen?"
"I think it's just the color of the liquid in the tank that's giving that blue cast to her skin."
Lee carefully inspects the tank itself. The baby follows her around from the inside, watching her intently. When Lee looks back at her child, suddenly she brings a hand to her mouth.
"What?" Ed asks. "What is it?"
"Oh my God, Ed. She's not just frail. She's starving!"
"She's emaciated - she's severely underweight for her age." Lee starts panicking. He realizes that it's all finally starting to sink in. "Ed, we've got to get her out of here!"
"Underweight for her age?"
"Yes," Lee says, placing one hand on the glass of the tank as she collapses to the floor.
"Lee, do you know how old she is?" The bigger question is how would Lee know? "Lee!"
Their baby tries to follow Lee as she sinks to the floor weeping, but she can't swim that deep. On the way down, her breathing apparatus snags and keeps her at a specific level in the tank. Still, she reaches out to her mother and locks eyes with Ed in a panic when she can't go any further.
"Lee, you can't do this now." Where's one of her other personalities to help her shoulder this burden? She's been noticeably weaker ever since Strange had artificially fractured her. "Doc!"
No response. He knows she's in there, dammit. Why won't she at least switch? Lee's sobbing turns to wailing as he hears the meeting breaking up down the hallway. She's putting them in danger.
"Fuck." He has no choice.
He puts her in another sleeper hold and drags her out, reluctantly leaving important paperwork - and his daughter - behind.
The Riddler having now vacated his conscious, Ed feels vaguely alone. Little Eddie isn't there either - but that's for his own good. This is how it used to be - only one of them at a time for the most part. But it's only been a couple of days and Ed's already gotten used to having one or both of them in his head. It hadn't been quiet, but he had been adjusting.
And now? Now all he hears is Lee sobbing on the wicker sofa beside him.
He thinks back to when he had first encountered her after she had returned to Gotham, shortly after he had been unfrozen, yet not quite himself. It was at Cherry's. She had just fixed up one of Cherry's prized fighter's broken nose without breaking a sweat. Ed had seen her and followed her back to the bar to strike up a conversation that quickly turned personal.
I heard a rumor that you were still frozen. Should have known it was too good to be true.
Now, you're not still mad at me, are you?
Mad at you for what? Killing Kristen Kringle? Or framing Jim for murder so that he would be in prison when we lost our child?
There was a strange pause between them when she had revealed that. And an odd smile on her face before she turned it into an uncomfortable joke - he remembers it to this day. He had been so cold, so closed off - before and after the ice. But in that moment a glimmer of something had pulled at a microscopic string in his heart. Was he supposed to care?
Something told him that he was, even though he hadn't been fully in touch with that part of himself for a good long while.
But now he is.
Looking over at Lee, he sees her crying quietly in the recesses of the sofa, her knees drawn in, cuddling Pokey Bear as she holds him tightly against her chin. In a way, he has lost a child. Their baby had been turned into something that isn't even human anymore. But Lee? She's lost two. Turns out she's not as weak as he thought. She's crying, but she hasn't broken down completely. He would have.
He realizes that every part of this woman is made of steel, even her deceptively soft side.
"Lee?" he asks as he scooches towards her.
She just buries her head so he can't see her eyes.
"Can we . . . ?" he asks, placing a hand on her knee.
She unfolds herself and looks at him with tear-filled eyes. "Oh, Ed."
He crushes his lips into hers. He needs her so badly right now. He didn't realize how much until their lips connect. He's been holding back - even on himself. But will she accept him? Does she actually want him? He's not The Riddler. Not even close.
She moans and arches into him, tugging on his neck so that he falls on top of her. It seems that the answer is a resounding yes. He starts to smile uncontrollably as he bends down and peppers her with kisses.
Then her legs wrap about his waist, and as he grinds into her their two bloodstained shirts meet at the sites where they had pierced each other that fateful day. It is a bit sobering - and gruesome. Their clothes need to come off. . .
In the midst of their passion, he hears her say, "Ed, I need you."
He's surprised to hear those words from her lips and slows down to a gentle pace within her. Tucking a strand of hair behind her ear, he reassures her, "I'm right here, Lee."
He trails a finger down her neck all the way to her nipple and circles it lazily as he picks up the pace inside of her again. But when his hand comes back up to her face and cups her cheek he goes back to being slow and gentle. It's amazing to finally be with her - under any circumstances. He kisses her softly and whispers, "I won't leave your side."
Again, he's quite surprised that she's showing this side of herself to him. But then he has to remind himself that this is Lee - the one he suspects holds the window to their heart - and somehow she trusts him with this. The part of her that he had known the best was mostly contained in The Doc now. And, he knows that The Doc would never ask these things, never allow her vulnerable side to be seen. Not to The Riddler. Not to him. Not to anyone.
Looking deep into Lee's eyes as dark as night he answers, "Yes. I promise."
She grasps the back of his head and moans – it almost sounds like a cry - as she bucks beneath him. It sounds like she's close, but then she relaxes back down to the couch and says with new tears in her eyes, "Good. Because I need you, Ed. I need you . . . I really do. Jim wasn't around when -"
He stops abruptly.
"Hey, Lee. Listen to me." He places a hand on her cheek. "We aren't going to lose her."
"How do you know that, Ed?" She sits up and pushes him off of her. In an instant, the mood is decidedly different. "How do you know?"
"Honestly, Lee, I don't. But . . ." His voice trails off.
"But I will do everything in my power to get our baby out of the clutches of that deranged scientist. Do you hear me? Everything." He wraps himself around her and holds her close, just rocking her. They've never been this way with each other before - in any incarnation. This shared grief is changing something between them. Something major. He whispers into her hair, "I'm willing to sacrifice anything."
"You don't have to do that, Ed." She pulls back abruptly and strokes his cheek. "Please don't."
"No, I have to. She's my child, too."
No matter what horrific things that monster has done to her, she'll always be his little girl. He wants to cry but finds that he can only contort his face because The Riddler holds his tears for their child now. But the thought of losing her . . .
"Ed, I can't go through this again. I can't lose another child." She chokes up but then places a hand on his chest. "But I can't lose you, either. I depend on you more than ever and I lo -"
Ed's heart stops for a second. She what now?
She catches herself and does not complete the sentence she started. "Promise me you won't do anything stupid."
A slow grin spreads across his face and mirth dances in his eyes. "Now why would I do anything stupid? I'm Ed Nygma, 'the smartest man in Gotham,' remember?"
"Well then, tell him - our Riddler friend - not to do anything risky."
"You hear that, buddy?" Ed says, wondering if the Riddler is even hearing them. He doesn't seem to be sharing a conscious state with him at the moment. He's been absent from his mind ever since -
"The Doc just said, 'Good luck with that.'" Lee sighs and shakes her head. "It's a losing battle with those two."
Ed laughs lightly, but he honestly doesn't think The Riddler will be up for risk-taking any time soon.
Lee turns serious again. "Ed, I need you by my side. Alive. For good this time."
They still haven't talked about why they'd died - the madness that had led them to kill each other in the first place. Neither of them wanted to go there. And Ed wasn't sure he could.
"I'll do my best," he promises, pushing her back onto the white wicker sofa, entwining one of his hands with hers as she sighs.
"See?" he says, pulling their enmeshed hands to his chest. "I don't want to let go."
"Good," she says and smiles softly as he penetrates her again. "Oh, very good."
They wake up in a sweat, wrapped in each other's arms the next morning. Ed and Lee. Neither of them had switched. Last night had been harrowing, to say the least. Lee shivers. "Ed?"
"Hmmm?" he asks, moving a strand of her hair that had gotten stuck to her face gently away with his index finger.
"I can't shake the vision of our baby strung up in that tank like that."
"Neither can I." He shivers, too.
"What are we going to name her? We can't just keep calling her 'the baby,' you know. When we get her back from Strange I want to have something to call her."
Suddenly, Lee smiles mirthfully.
Where's that coming from?
"How about Jaime?" she asks.
"You want to name our baby after Jim Gordon?" he asks incredulously. "You've got to be kidding me!"
"Who says she's your baby?"
"What?!" Agitated, he starts to sit up. "She IS. The chart said so. What are you getting at?"
"Calm down, Ed," she says and places a hand on his chest. "You're right. She's yours. I was just trying to lighten the mood."
"That wasn't funny, Lee," Ed says quietly, yet emphatically.
"I'm sorry. I know." She had forgotten for a moment just how insecure this one was. How insecure they both were.
"She's MINE, Lee. Don't you ever entertain the thought that she isn't," he says firmly.
She nods. "Okay, Ed."
"If we're going to go the route of naming a daughter after her father, then I would much prefer something like Edwina, Edith, Edna, Edwardine –"
"What's wrong with Edwardine?" he asks defensively.
Lee just shakes her head. And then it hits her. "Ed?"
"What about Kristen?" Her former friend and his first . . .
A slow and tentative smile forms on his face. His voice cracks as he says, "Lee?"
"I think that's perfect," he says in a rough whisper and pulls her into him quickly and kisses her head so she doesn't see the tears he's trying to hold back. But one of them drips onto her forehead as he squeezes his eyelashes tight and another falls onto her hair. The Riddler's supposed to hold these. Why isn't that happening right now?
"Do you think The Riddler will approve? Did he know Kristen?"
Ed thinks about how this is all so new to her. "Well Lee, you see, he - or someone - has always been with me in some form or another. They go in and out, changing roles, living out different parts of my life for me. The Riddler wasn't around back then - someone else was - but yes, he knows about Kristen just like anyone else would. She's a part of my past that he has access to. It's just that he doesn't have any direct memories or emotions from that time. Those started with Isabella for him."
"I see. So he emerged around that time?"
"No, he fully emerged after - when everything became too much for me to bear. I've never been able to face certain things alone." Ed's features contort into an ironic grimace. He refuses to tell her that the Riddler holds most of his pain for him so that he can function. Even though it may sound pathetic, it's better if she thinks he's just lonely. "As you know, I've not fared so well in the realm of human companionship."
"I know," Lee says softly and touches his cheek lightly.
"As I mentioned, different personalities have different roles to play and they often hold parts of my past that I don't even remember. The Riddler and others before him have taken away some of my memories and stored them within themselves, so it turns out that sometimes they seem to know me better than I know myself – as he certainly does from time to time. It can be quite annoying." He frowned. "At least, that's how it works for me. I'm not sure it really works that way for you, given that your single personality was split into three artificially by Professor Strange."
"What about little Leslie? Do you think she'll remember the raunchy sex The Riddler and The Doc had that one time?"
"You make it sound like it was only once." Ed belly laughs. "Those two have been going at it in one form or another since before we died. But seriously, I would guess that Leslie will remember the sex if she was there with you at the time."
"She's always present." Lee sighs. "We were both there the other night when The Doc had control of our body and took great pleasure in The Riddler."
It's obvious that Lee's quite attracted to the dark one inside of him when she shivers involuntarily at her own words. She must have enjoyed that. He frowns. But he tells himself that he can't be too upset because it's not like he never eavesdropped on their little trysts either . . . and there's no denying that he had enjoyed doing that. Immensely.
"I wonder if Leslie thinks he has cooties," Lee asks. "Or, if after last night, she thinks you do."
"She probably does."
"Confirmed." Lee laughs. "She just wrinkled up her nose. I'm fairly certain she can't fully grasp what sex IS, so it's just gross to her."
"I'm so glad that The Riddler and I can banish Little Eddie from that stuff due to the fact that he's the weakest one of us three," Ed says. "I'd hate to know his opinion on the matter."
"Ribald little scamp," Lee says and shakes her head.
"Hey, buddy. You're around. Didn't expect to see you so soon," Ed says to the man that has just revealed himself.
"Yeah, well," The Riddler says glumly. "I wanted to see what was in those papers you confiscated from the lab last night for myself. But don't worry, I have no intentions of intruding."
"Bud -" Ed starts but then notices an insistent tugging on his sleeve.
Oh no, this is NOT the time for Lee to switch. They have research and medical data to review, stuff to prep, and so on. They're getting their daughter back. Tonight. He turns his head to look at her.
"Can Eddie come out and play?" Leslie whines.
"Not right now, I'm afraid," Ed says.
Leslie crosses her arms and pouts, looking away.
"Hey, it's not that bad. I'm sure he'll be out another time soon, okay?"
Leslie just looks down, morose.
Her reaction makes Ed wonder if a playful little interlude like this might help all of Lee's personalities to cope with what they had witnessed last night and be less depressed about it. So he asks her, "Why do you want to play with Eddie so much?"
"I like him," she says, swaying side to side. A blush is crawling up her cheeks.
"Wait." Ed is starting to realize . . . "You mean you like like him?"
"WOW," Ed hears The Riddler say before he whistles sarcastically. "THIS is the one that's going to admit she loves us? Unbelievable."
"What's going on?" Now Eddie appears.
"Looks like you're in for a while, bud," Ed says and lets him take over.
"Man, those headaches never get better, do they?" The Riddler asks. "Not even with all the practice we're getting."
Ed nods and they both look out at Little Eddie, who's removed his glasses and is pressing his palm to his forehead, hard. Leslie is flitting about, trying to find ice or something in the bar for him. Like that will help. Just as The Riddler and Ed fade into the background to give them some private time, they can hear Little Eddie telling her not to bother because his headache will soon pass on its own. And it does.
As Ed is unexpectedly yanked to the front, he finds himself in the bathroom, his zipper unzipped and a raging hard erection staring back up at him.
What the . . . ?
On top of his usual blinding headache, he's horny as hell now too. Eddie!
"Fuck," he says aloud. For whatever reason, Eddie must have chickened out, causing him to be pulled to the front. That little scamp is going to need a talking to. A stern talking to.
"I'm on it," says The Riddler and begins lecturing Eddie on playing with things that aren't his.
"Awww!" Little Eddie whines. "But it's mine, too."
What to do about this erection? Well, he is alone. Who's gonna notice if he makes a little noise? He's never been able to do this quietly - not without any moaning.
He begins to stroke it, thinking of Lee - of their encounter last night. He murmurs her name again and again . . . Just one simple syllable. So smooth on the tongue. Never in a million years did the think -
"Having fun in there?" he hears a sultry voice say from behind the door and almost jumps out of his skin. In fact, he bumps into the toilet and inadvertently knocks some stuff off of the cabinet above it.
How loudly had he been moaning? He had been trying to be quiet. She must have been right against the door, listening in on him.
He hears The Doc's mocking laugh.
Yeah, there's no way she hadn't been listening.
"Who's in there?" she asks. "Is that you, Ed? Or The Riddler . . .?"
She practically rolls the R of The Riddler's name and then drags out the end of it.
"No, it's just me. Sorry to disappoint you." He frowns. He and Lee may have finally connected last night, but it's been obvious to him that this one - The Doc - doesn't feel the same way about him at all. That's always been such a let down for him - that she didn't fall in love with him - that she fell in love with the other one - the one that was more dangerous, more exciting, more confident . . . yet another one inside of him that was stronger, smarter . . . more of a man. And somehow remembering that now kind of tarnishes the memory of what he and Lee had shared last night. He wishes it didn't. But it did.
He can still hear The Riddler having it out with Little Eddie in the back of his mind.
"It wasn't about Leslie!" Little Eddie protests. "I swear. I'm not a pervert, I'm a gentleman. I would never do anything. . ."
They fade away.
"You don't disappoint me, Ed," he hears from the other side of the door and whips his head around to look at it. He hears a slithering noise and can almost imagine The Doc rubbing herself up against it like a cat. "Not in the least . . ."
Tentatively, he opens the door.
She grabs him by the collar and pulls him down to the floor on top of her. Holy shit!
"I want you, Ed," she says. "Fuck me like you fucked her last night. That was nice."
Her pelvis rolls suggestively beneath him. She must feel how hard he is. Heck, he hasn't even zipped up yet.
"Doc - "
"You were so gentle with her, Ed. You were so good. So different than The Riddler, who's hot as hell, but still. . . Ed, I want you to give me what you gave Lee." She places a hand on his cheek. "Fuck me. Love me."
His head is spinning. What exactly does she want?
"Doc, you're different people, different aspects of Lee. I can't just treat you the same."
"No, we're not. We're all Lee."
"No. Not since you fractured. You're each different parts of her - parts that make up a whole. The three of you aren't just her in different forms. Don't you understand?" Ed says.
"No. I don't. Why can't you love me like you love her?" The Doc asks. "I know you loved me before. You almost said something to me that day in The Narrows when I was more me than her . . . before you disappeared and The Riddler came back in your stead."
Ed sighs. It doesn't matter. None of that matters at all anymore. She chose The Riddler over him, boring old Ed, who's never been exciting enough. And never will be. Even his body loses interest as he processes that and his erection fades.
And why is she even asking him this stuff right now in the first place? "Look Doc, I just can't do this right now."
She gets a pained expression on her face as they sit up together. He zips up and then studies her carefully. He's confused now. Had she just been horny and thinking that he might make a decent substitute for The Riddler, who wasn't around to satisfy her every base desire at the moment? Or had she actually been interested in HIM?
Again, it didn't matter. They had urgent business to attend to. "We need to go over the records. See what they've done to our daughter."
The Doc sighs and says, "You're right. Show me what you've got."
As Ed and The Doc walk over to the bar together, without even thinking, he puts a hand on her back like it's the most natural thing in the world, but when she turns around and gives him a small smile, he removes it, suddenly feeling awkward. He's not sure he should have done that.
They each find a stool to sit on and bar snacks to munch on. Good thing this place is well stocked, even during the offseason. They certainly won't go hungry, but there's not much variety.
The papers are stacked on the bar where Ed had put them the previous night after returning from the main house. He begins to spread them out, giving the ones that look like medical charts, clinical lab reports and such to her, and taking the genetic and developmental research documents for himself.
Ed starts with the tank. Just what are Kristen and "Galazean" - oh, Butch would just love that name for his child - doing suspended in those vats of murky liquid?
The first reference to them he finds discusses limb buds. He follows that tangent, reasoning that he'll end up working his way back to the purpose of the tanks eventually. It appears that in some Frankenstein-like fashion, Professor Strange had applied various voltages to Kristen's embryo sometime during its third week to stimulate the development of four arms instead of two. The technology behind the technique is fascinating . . .
Ed shakes his head. He needs to stay on track.
It appears the tanks serve multiple purposes. In the case of Kristen's extra arms, as she developed they had fostered the growth of structures within her body that are not present in normal humans. Structures that currently allow her to use all of her arms easily, which she normally wouldn't be able to do because the mechanics just wouldn't be there. But why would Strange want to give her four usable arms in the first place? What was their intended purpose?
So many questions here.
And apparently, The Doc has one for him. "Do you know what this is?"
She hands him a sheet with a formula for making a solution. Outside of water, which is labeled "Lazarus Water," he's never seen most of these compounds in his life. Most of them look like various salts and minerals, though. Just . . . really complex ones. And their nomenclature is beyond ridiculous. Like, Ca(Li2Al)Al6(BO3)3Si6O18(OH)3F. He could look that one up, but even he doesn't recognize what kind of tourmaline that is right off the bat.
"I don't really know," he says. "Whatever it is, it's mostly a saline solution of some type. And a highly oxygenated one at that. You heard the pumps last night, too."
"A salt-water solution. In Lazarus Water. Hmmm. . ."
"Who knows what that stuff can do?" The Doc sighs. "Do you know why they put Kristen in it?"
She interrupts him because she already had an answer for him. "To heal from open heart surgery."
The Doc just looks pissed as she looks down at a document in her hand.
"Why?" he asks.
"Well, that I can't figure out. Why would you give a newborn, an infant, heck, a fetus - whatever she was at the time - open heart surgery?" She looks down at her documents and shakes her head. "There's no reason listed!"
"Yeah, Strange is strange. I can barely read these charts. It's like they were written by a moron - a moron with shitty handwriting, even for a doctor. And so much is left out . . ."
"You should see the documents I'm reviewing. All of Strange's handwritten notes are scrawled all over what his techs have recorded carefully and methodically. It's barely legible now - and it's so disrespectful. It's like he's unhinged."
"Well, he would have to be, wouldn't he?" The Doc purses her lips, her eyes cold and steely. "Messing with our daughter like this."
They both go back to studying their respective documents.
"Okay . . . They're not expecting Kristen's third eye to open just yet. Hmmm. . ." The Doc muses.
"Can you keep it down over there?" Ed jests. "I'm trying to work."
"How many people do you have in your head right now, Ed? How many are conscious?"
"Just me and . . . one other," he replies cautiously. Oddly, he suddenly feels protective of The Riddler. There's no need to tell her exactly which one is in there. But The Riddler is. And he's been observing carefully. He had remained silent as promised, just watching Ed sort through all of the various abstracts, hypothesis, experimental data, and the like. He was grateful for that. But after Ed answered her, The Riddler disappeared altogether to take care of something with Eddie.
"Yeah, well, I have two others. That makes three of us in my head. And not one of them will pipe down," she growls.
"Yeah, so you can take your 'keep it down' and shove it, Ed. I'm going to talk if I want to. Trust me, it will still be less distracting for you guys than what I'm having to deal with over here in my head right now. You do realize that I have two doctors in here? And we don't always see eye to eye."
He smiles. "Okay, okay."
They go back to their work.
Ed discovers that Professor Strange had done a lot of messing around with Kristen's embryo, specifically to chromosome 11, only two weeks after conception - when Strange had received their dead bodies. Somehow their daughter had still been alive. Alive and even thriving inside Lee's dead womb. Ed finally understood what Professor Strange had meant about cutting her nice and high now. He shivered involuntarily. Yes, if he hadn't, his daughter would likely be dead now.
Upon receiving their bodies, Strange had gotten to work immediately, keeping Lee's uterus - and Kristin within it - functional while he began his work of turning her into a monster. He had not bothered to resurrect him or Lee until after he had extracted what he wanted from her body. But why had he resurrected them in the first place? There didn't seem to be any notes on that.
Professor Strange had used various mutagens to induce point mutations along specific imprinting centers of chromosome 11 into every cell of Kristen's embryo, with the goal of causing overgrowth. Of everything. Ed turns the page on the record he was perusing and his stomach drops. Particularly affected had been the CDKN1C gene.
"Doc," he says.
"Hmmm… ?" She looks up from her reading.
"Are you familiar with the CDKN1C gene?"
"You know I'm not a geneticist, Ed. But, yes I happen to be familiar with it. I had a young patient once with Beckwith-Weidemann syndrome, which is a pretty rare condition. I remember when we sent out for testing it came back that she had a mutation in that gene."
"Yes, but do you know what it does?"
She furrows her brow, looking as if she's trying to remember. "It was a long time ago. Enlighten me."
"It's a tumor suppressor gene."
"Yes, and Strange has fucked with many copies of that gene within Kristen's body. He's turned so many of them off. Probably to grow her up rapidly into the thing that she's become."
The Doc brings a hand to her mouth in a gasp.
"Oh my God. He's fucking heartless. He just set our child up for a lifetime of horrific cancer growths throughout her body." Her eyes narrow. "He's gonna die."
"Yes," Ed agrees, a sinister gleam in his eye. "Oh, yes."
"But wait, Ed. we shouldn't panic. There is a chance - just a chance - that once we get her out of here -"
"Don't you remember? Gotham was in the midst of being reduced to cinders when we died. Whatever highly advanced medical treatment you think we'll find there, we won't. I don't know exactly how long it's been since we were brought here, but it seems to be a bit over a week, judging from the data I have been looking through. So I doubt Gotham has been restored to all of its glory just yet. Probably not even close."
"A week?!" The Doc asks. "There's no way. Kristen's much older than that. And it seems so much longer -"
"That's because -" Ed pauses.
"That's because he kept us dead for about a week before even attempting resurrection."
"Kristen was alive inside you, Doc. She held on. She's a fighter. Professor Strange kept her alive in your womb even though you were dead."
The Doc instinctively shivers.
Then she stands up abruptly, silently. As she makes her way to the sliding glass door, Ed panics.
"Hey, where are you going?"
"I need some air."
"Just - be careful. It's daytime. Make sure you can't be seen from the main house."
She steps outside without saying a word to him and Ed goes over to the sofa, plunking down in defeat. Everything seems so bleak. He needs to talk to The Riddler.
"So what happened, really? Why did she kill us? How did we ever get to this point?" Ed asks The Riddler, hoping he'll show. And when he does, he's in a bit of a mood. Eddie must have gotten on his last nerve.
"You mean you weren't present for that?" The Riddler goads him. Then he answers his own question. "Of course you weren't. You checked out the minute Jim Gordon pushed too hard."
"I didn't check out. You forced me out."
"Well Ed, we were starting to integrate, you and I - and you know that I didn't care for that -"
"But it was for the love of a good woman."
"Yes, I know - that's why I was giving in at all," says The Riddler. "But then Jim . . . Well, I knew you wouldn't let me do what needed to be done, so I banished all thoughts of letting you into me."
"Me into you?" Ed snorts. "You realize that I'm -
Ed lets out a heavy sigh. "Just tell me what you thought needed to be done to Jim Gordon."
"What do you think?" He gives Ed no time to think. "Peine forte et dure."
"'Hard and forceful punishment?'" Ed smiles gleefully. "I find myself agreeing with you on that one, buddy. After what he said to Lee - what he offered her - even after we made it clear that she was ours -"
"Mine," The Riddler corrects him.
Ed just frowns and crosses his arms. "Ours. We had started to merge, remember? It was what she wanted."
"Yeah, that's right - because she liked who I was becoming - someone more like you." The Riddler snorts bitterly at the irony of it all and shakes his head.
Perhaps it wasn't Little Eddie that had gotten on his nerves. Maybe it was something else - like The Doc not even being concerned that The Riddler hadn't been around to fuck and setting her sights on him instead. And the way that he had so carelessly touched her back without thinking . . .
Ed tries to reassure him. "Not necessarily, buddy. It was still mostly you in there. She liked who you were becoming."
The Riddler just waves a hand dismissively. "We can quibble over that later. The bottom line was that Jim didn't believe me - he didn't believe that Lee could love me - er . . . us."
"I know. That was one of the last things I remember," Ed says.
Do you really think I care if you've deluded yourself into thinking you and Lee are a couple?
You see, that is my point. You don't believe Lee could really love me, do you?
Honestly, no. You're a psychopath and a murderer. And that fact that you need me to validate your crazy fantasy means that you don't believe it, either.
"I don't remember much after that . . . except for when Jim came back to The Narrows to make her that hideous offer. Not until -"
"Until when, exactly?" The Riddler asks, his curiosity piqued.
"Well, it's kinda difficult to not notice your own death." Ed snorts. "I woke up with a knife in our belly, quite surprised to see who was on the other end of it."
"Yeah, well, I probably couldn't keep you banished to the recesses of our mind in that very moment. I was too busy dying. I didn't really even notice you there."
"I know." Ed looks down. "In the end it was real, wasn't it? Despite all of our doubts, Lee loved you."
The Riddler looks down and shuffles his toe a bit. "Well, I don't know about that . . ."
"How can you not?"
"Take what you can get, Ed. At least we know she wasn't using us."
"There has to be more," Ed says incredulously. "What the fuck happened before she stabbed you, Riddler?"
Suddenly, there's a guttural, visceral scream coming from the yard. It seemingly goes on forever - and it's chilling. Even the tiny hairs that trail down Ed's neck to the top of his spine stand on end at the sound of it.
It's her. He can feel it in his bones.
The Riddler can, too.
“I’m coming out,” The Riddler says forcefully.
“No,” Ed says, fighting off a headache. “I won’t let you out. Something serious is going on.”
“Yes, and she needs me.”
“You know why,” The Riddler says firmly.
“Ugh.” Ed sighs.
“Come on, it’s only logical. I know her - I understand her - much better than you ever could.”
“Why? Because I’ve locked away most of my darkness in you?”
“Then give it back.”
“I said , give it back, then. It’s not fair that only you get to have a relationship with her. I love her, too!”
“I don’t think it quite works that way, Ed.”
“Why not?” he asks, seething.
“Am I interrupting something?” a voice asks from the bar. He looks over and there she is, smirking. The Doc. And she’s eerily calm.
When had she let herself back in?
“A private conversation, perhaps?” she asks teasingly.
“Wait? How long have you been there?”
“Long enough,” she says sternly. “Now let him out.”
“How did you - ?” Ed’s head falls into his hand - the pain’s getting so bad he can barely concentrate.
“You know, Ed we really don’t like it when you and Lee try to control who gets to be out. Just because you’re the original -”
The Riddler comes through before she can finish her sentence, pulls his glasses off immediately, and pinches his nose. Then he hunches over as he presses his fingers into his eyes. The pain is excruciating - this time, he had to fight a very conscious and very resistant Ed to get through. Last time, that took weeks - and a lot of cunning.
“Can I do anything to help? That looks painful.” The Doc is suddenly by his side with a soothing hand on his back.
“No, I’m fine,” The Riddler gasps. “It will go away on its own, you’ll see.”
She takes his hand into hers in order to wait it out with him and then suddenly the headache is gone.
“See?” The Riddler is back in business! “Now what was that all about, Doc?”
“You mean me going outside?”
“No, I mean your screaming.”
“What do you think?” she says defensively, pulling her hand out of his and moving a bit away from him.
“Our baby.” It’s not a question.
“Yeah,” she says. “Sometimes you just have to let it all out, you know.”
He’s never had that option actually. Or maybe it comes out in the mirth he feels when tormenting people - in transferring the pain he bears to others. Like taking Tabby’s hand by guillotine and inadvertently uncovering her love for Butch, spinning the Wheel of Misfortune for his victims at the Riddle Factory in anticipation of the delectable tortures they will soon endure at his hand, crushing Jim Gordon under that hydraulic press . . . Hmmm. That last one had been promising to be particularly cathartic until Lee walked in and stopped him.
The Doc’s primal scream seemed quite innocuous by comparison.
"Yeah, I get it," he says. He was less worried now and just hopes she had been far enough away from the pool house not to draw attention to their location. "Shall we continue?"
As they both sit together at the bar in the pool house, The Doc says to him, "Professor Strange gestated our baby in my dead body for a while, triggered massive, devastating mutations in her, gave her open heart surgery for some unknown reason, and then plopped her into a tank to 'heal.' What kind of sick fuck is he?"
"I don't know," The Riddler says. "But we're going to end her torment. Tonight. I promise."
"I'm going with you this time."
"Good. I wouldn't have it any other way."
"I've still got questions, Riddler," she says.
"And I've got theories," he answers jovially with a slight wiggle of his eyebrows.
"Okay then, let me give you a question and you can provide me with a theory. How's that?"
He dons a subtly wicked grin. "Sounds like a fun game."
"Okay, so why is she still in that tank? Her open heart surgery is over and done with and she seems to be healed. I didn't even notice the surgical scar - which should be huge - and the chart makes it seem like everything's fine with her pulmonary and cardiac functioning. And as you told me yourself, the lab notes indicate that she's completely grown the structures that she needs to fully utilize her arms - and we saw her use them just fine. So, why the hell is she still in there?"
"I have a theory," The Riddler says, lifting a finger into the air like he tends to do when he has a brilliant idea.
"So I've been told," she says, smiling. "Spill it and I'll let you kiss me."
"Oh, so there's a prize now, too?"
"Yes," she smiles wickedly.
"Okay, then. Wait for it . . . " He pauses for dramatic impact and then says gravely, "I think they're trying to turn her skin blue."
She laughs involuntarily - it's so preposterous. "What?"
"Think about it. She's got a sealed eye in the middle of her forehead and her black hair is freakishly long for a human baby. Unbelievably so for one less than a month from conception."
"So we think."
"You're right. We don't know for sure," he says. "Come to think of it, it seems more plausible that Strange kept us - or more likely just you - dead for about a week. And then, given just how much Kristen has grown - albeit, at an accelerated rate, it would make more sense that he kept us unconscious for quite some time after he resurrected us. Waiting for what, I don't know."
"Yeah, that seems more likely. Kristen's awfully developed to have only been around for about a month." She pauses. "But how have you deduced that Strange is trying to turn her skin blue? I don't quite follow your logic."
"That's because you didn't let me finish." He bops her on the nose playfully.
"What's her most obvious feature?" he asks. "She has as many of them as a chair has legs, yet they are an appendage of another kind."
She snorts. "That's a riddle?"
"Seems a little bit simple to me. You're usually more -"
He side-eyes her. "Hey, I was just trying to make it easy for you. We've both just come back from the dead. Cut me some slack."
"Okay, okay." She gives him a wry grin and shrugs. "The answer is Kristen's arms. Her four arms."
"Exactly. When you think of someone with four arms, who comes to mind first?"
"Kali?" she asks, but doesn't even need to. Understanding dawns on her face almost immediately. "The Hindu goddess of destruction?"
"And she's . . . blue?"
"Bingo! Yes, she's often depicted as blue."
"Wow. What would Strange want with an incarnation of a goddess?"
"What do you think?"
"Yup. Pretty much."
"But Gotham is already in ruins . . ."
"Hey, I can't speak for the mind of a madman."
"You can't, huh?" she asks flirtatiously and swivels a bit on the barstool, entwining one of her legs between his. "As I recall, you are quite mad yourself."
How quickly that little gesture makes him grow excited. He laces his fingers through the silky hair at the side of her temple and pulls her forehead to his.
"But you need me, don't you?" he says duskily. He knows she does. That's why he fought to come through. Despite appearances, she's hurting as much as the rest of them and he knows that he's the only one who can connect with her. Ed can be such a dufus sometimes.
She responds with silence but eventually gives a slight nod.
Gently he brings his lips to hers and cups her face with both of his hands. She needs to heal this way, he knows. She wants it slow and gentle just like Ed and Lee were with each other last night. And he's more than willing to deliver.
His hands trail from her face down to her neck, and then just his fingertips as he reaches her collarbone. Then he traces them outwards. His index fingers loop under the wide collar of the low-cut shirt that she had died in and she raises her arms so that he can remove it easily. Her supple skin is now beneath his hands as they roam over her bare torso, paying special attention as they find their way over her soft curves. He bends down to kiss a nipple and she arches in anticipation, almost falling off of the stool.
They both chuckle as he catches her. Then he stands up from the stool and holds out a hand. "Shall we?"
"We shall," she says with a delighted smile, taking his hand as he walks them over to the wicker sofa. They sit down together and she silently, methodically begins undoing the buttons of his shirt. It's not like her to be this . . . still. He reaches out to stroke her hair when she's done and she places a warm hand on his chest, which he eventually pulls up to his lips to kiss.
And there they are. The tears in her eyes that he's been waiting for. The ones he knew would eventually come. But she won't let them drop. She's fighting to be strong.
"It's okay, Doc," he whispers. "You can let go. You can let it all out."
She shakes her head vigorously. "No."
"Yes," he says firmly. "There's nothing to fight for right now. Not in this very moment."
"But Kristen -"
"Will be saved by us - both of us - when we're ready later tonight. There's nothing holding you back. You don't have to be strong right now."
And finally she does it - she releases the pain within herself. Falling onto his chest, she finally allows herself to sob quietly as he cradles her head and kisses it from time to time. The Riddler doesn't quite know how to say "there, there" and comfort someone authentically with words, so his physical presence will just have to do.
And she seems to be okay with that because the next thing he knows she's kissing him desperately, despite her tearstained face. He ardently kisses her back but makes sure to keep them from working themselves into a frenzy. He plans to make love to her gently - as Ed had with Lee - because he knows that's what she's craving right now.
"Come on," he pants, almost in a whisper, stroking her hair, as he continues to move painstakingly slowly inside of her. He can clearly see the effect of holding himself back for this encounter has had. A huge climax is building within her. She's so close that she's started to shake and her beautiful eyes are squeezed tightly shut. He wishes he could see them . . .
It takes her a really long time to get there, but when she does, it seems to go on forever. Her mouth open, her soft cries, her nails digging into him . . . it feels like it never stops.
When she's finally finished, she reaches up to touch his cheek and says in a shaky voice, "Riddler, please . . ."
And he knows that it's his turn now.
And it is delicious. . . completely worth waiting for.
The Riddler collapses on top of her, elated that he could give her what she wanted, what she needed. In all the madness since taking over Ed's body, she ended up being the one thing he cared about. And in the end, being with her was the only thing he wanted. It surprised him because before he took control, he had assumed that Ed was being played the fool by her, easily led by her manipulative whims.
And he had been pissed that Lee was at least partially responsible for keeping him at bay, not allowing him to fully come into being after the freeze because she refused to help Ed regain his intelligence, where he had been lying in wait. She had been smart enough to know that, which, looking back, impressed him quite a bit.
The Riddler had taken extreme measures to keep them apart once he fully realized that Ed was falling for her. He had even attempted to kill her once he gained enough ground in Ed's consciousness to take over his body while he was asleep. And he had continued to use the threat of killing her so that Ed would stupidly give in to his manipulations and allow Oswald to eventually free him with just one word - his name.
Thank god he had not succeeded at his attempt on Lee's life back then or else he would not have had these last few relatively happy months with her. Yet, those months had not been completely blissful because throughout he had been plagued with doubts - but there's one thing he realizes with certainty now - she hadn't been using him after all. In her own words, she'd been 'offering him something real' - and he wants to do the same.
"Doc?" he says, propping himself up on one elbow to look down upon her.
"I meant what I said. When you're ready -" He coughs, clearing his throat. Sometimes he still gets stuck with Ed's difficulty communicating. It's annoying.
"Doc, someday when you feel the same way I do . . . I'll be here for you. Waiting."
She smiles softly and pulls his head down for a kiss.
They hear the faint noise of cars starting up in the distance and pull apart.
"Strange's techs. They're heading home for the day," The Riddler says, popping his head up. "How much time has passed?"
It's completely dark outside.
"I don't know," The Doc says, retrieving her clothes and getting dressed efficiently like she's got somewhere to be. Because she does. "Okay, we're going to need towels for Kristen. It should be safe to remove her from the tank because there doesn't seem to be any life-sustaining reason for her to remain there. Oh, and over there, grab that bag. Did I see a scalpel in there that you brought over for Little Leslie to play with for some crazy reason?"
He hands her the bag silently, not even bothering to answer her question, and she retrieves the stethoscope, putting it around her neck. The Riddler just stands back, crosses his arms, and smiles widely. There she is, The Doc in all her glory. Back in power again. Despite everything that's gone on, in that very moment, he feels a deep sense of satisfaction wash over him at knowing that a woman like this is his.
"What are you looking at?" she asks when she notices him just standing there.
"Beauty," he replies.
Yet he still has that stray thought that's been nagging at him the whole time - the one that pesters him to wonder why she stabbed him in the first place. But he does his best to squash it so he can enjoy the moment - there will certainly be time for that later.
Yes, that corny-ass riddle is ALL mine. LOL
The pain is blinding and The Riddler can't help but fall to his knees.
A sick, sick man in a white lab coat stands over him and says coldly, eerily, "What botched Shakespearean tragedy is this?"
As Professor Strange turns to look at The Doc, The Riddler catches a glimpse of Kristen's tank in the reflection of his glasses and realizes that they aren't going to make it. They had been so close . . .
"That's what Penguin said when he found you two in The Narrows - before he sent you to me," Professor Strange says. Then he lifts a finger to shake condescendingly and tsk at them. "You two got it all wrong now, didn't you? Romeo & Juliet committed suicide, not murder."
"Yeah, well, we're a different breed," The Doc says, pulling out the knife that that miserable little man had just plunged into The Riddler's thigh and lunging at him. Raising her arm high above his bald, oily head just as he makes a little 'o' with his lips, she slams the butt of the knife down onto his cranium and he immediately falls to the ground unconscious.
Breathing heavily, she opens up her hand and gasps. She recognizes the knife and holds it out for him to see."Riddler. . . It's the knife. Our knife."
It's the one they had used to take each other's lives. Deep down, he's glad it isn't the other one. The one he had brought with him that fateful day - the one that had clattered to the floor as she'd sunk the same knife she currently holds deep into his gut. He never wishes to see that knife again - he can't believe he'd ever held it to her neck in the first place. The thought turns his stomach as he remembers that night at The Riddle Factory.
The pain is still pretty bad and he's breathing heavy, too. He groans and squeezes his eyes shut, refusing to look at the knife she's holding out to him. It's not the time to talk about that night. Not while his hands struggle to stem the flow of blood from the wound in his left thigh. And not while they still need to get their daughter out of here. But nonetheless, a white-hot rage is boiling up within him. This has gone unaddressed for far too long.
"Riddler, be careful . . ." he hears Ed say.
"Shut up, Ed!"
Nothing ever changes.
Eddie has somehow encapsulated all of the fragments of Ed's early memories that had split off over the years and has kept them to himself for safekeeping. But he hadn't been able to keep them all to himself. No. There were some that The Riddler had found deep in the recesses of Ed's tortured mind and had held onto even after Eddie had split off from them. He had needed these fragments so that he could do his job properly. And Eddie had needed them too, so they shared them . . . with Ed none the wiser.
Looking at that knife resting so calmly in The Doc's hand utterly repulses him. The Riddler can distinctly recall the feel of his young hand covered in blood - immersed in the flesh of that pig as it spills out over the hilt. How warm the knife had been once he pulled it out, folded it in half, and tucked it away for safekeeping.
Because it was finally over. There was nothing left to feel.
"Put it away," The Riddler growls. He hates knives. But they're the only way to die.
"Why?" she asks.
"Just do it!" he yells, his eyes flying open.
"Okay, but let me . . ."
The Doc drops the bloody knife into her pocket and kneels, placing her hands upon him soothingly before removing his own hands from the gaping hole in his leg so that she can look at it. Then she takes the scalpel out of the beach bag they'd brought with them and gets to work.
The Riddler watches her turn one of the straps into a tourniquet with a few quick slices and he smiles, but not with mirth. In fact, he doesn't even know why he's smiling. The knife's blade had gone deep into his thigh, just like the first time it had entered his body by her hand that day in The Narrows.
Nothing ever changes.
"Lee?" he asks, his voice laced with ice. "When are you going to kill me again?"
"I'm not L -"
"I'm talking to LEE - all of you - and I will address you as such since you were all there," he says angrily. "And because I know you're all here now. Listening in."
"Then sit still, ED. I'm trying to get this tourniquet on you."
She's still fiddling with the strap, just starting to pull it tight across his leg, when he grabs her forearm and pulls her forcefully down towards him, close enough to grab the knife from her pocket. He jabs it up towards her throat. He has no regrets about using this knife on her.
"Why, Lee?" he snarls. Their faces are mere inches apart.
She takes in a breath but doesn't look scared, just fierce.
"I've gotta hear this," he hears Ed say in his head, now listening with rapt attention.
"You knew," The Riddler says. "You KNEW I would never kill you. And yet you -"
"How would I know that? You killed Kristen." Her voice catches on the name Kristen, now also their daughter's name, and just for a second, his knife falters.
And then they hear voices.
"Fuck," The Doc says. "I didn't realize anyone was still here."
They both look up at the tank, at their baby girl staring down at them in horror, her palms on the glass.
And they feel ashamed.
Before he knows it, The Doc has the tourniquet secure about his leg and she's helping him to his feet.
"We gotta go."
"One last thing . . . "
They approach the tank and each place a hand on it.
"Baby," they say in unison as tears come to The Doc's eyes.
"We'll be back to get you," The Riddler whispers to his daughter. "I promise."
Kristen has barely placed her hands on theirs before they are gone. They cannot afford to get caught, or else they'll never be able to get her out of this place safely.
The Doc practically throws him on the sofa when they get back to the pool house. She's pissed.
"Hey!" The Riddler protests. "Don't you have any concern for your patient, Doc?"
She just shakes her head, standing over him. "Some parent you'll be."
He gulps, his stomach drops, and he can feel Ed get very, very anxious upon hearing her words.
"What a fucking great role model you'll make for our child!" she continues.
He just looks down.
"Holding a knife to my throat? In front of our daughter? What were you thinking?"
"I wasn't." No, he was feeling. Never a good move.
"I know she looks like an infant, but you can tell how aware she is, how smart she is. How horrified she was at seeing us going at it like that on the floor in front of her. What do you have to say for yourself?"
"Like father, like daughter?" he says with a grin, trying to make light.
"I should slap you right now." But she doesn't. Instead, she sighs and takes a seat next to him. "Honestly, Riddler? I'm just so disappointed in us."
"Yeah, me too," he says, thinking of Kristen's shocked and forlorn face as they scurried out of there.
"Just like I was with you," The Doc says quietly. ". . . that day."
"You were disappointed in me?"
"Riddler, you were the one person - the ONE person - who I thought truly knew me as I learned to embrace my dark side -"
"I was. I still a-"
She puts a hand up to silence him. "That little fiasco with Jim made me think otherwise. I found out that you told him that getting rid of him would somehow make me into the person that you wanted me to be. The gall. The absolute gall. The more I had time to think about it -"
"You completely misunderstand -"
" - the more I realized that I was never going to be whatever you had plans to make me into - that you would discard me, possibly go so far as to kill me when you were done with me. Just like I had warned Grundy to be wary of when you two first stumbled your way into Cherry's." She twists her lips a bit and shakes her head. "God, I was so disappointed. I felt like you no longer knew me, so I felt like I no longer knew you. The trust that we had, everything we had built together, was gone in an instant. You became just another deranged psycho killer to me - someone I had been foolish enough to let into my life as I was descending into darkness."
Inside his head, Ed winces when she calls him a deranged psycho killer - Kristen had called him similar names right before he strangled her. "Let me ask you something, Doc."
"Don't you think this little knee-jerk reaction of yours is a bit hypocritical?"
"Yeah, remember when you told Oswald to bite you? Because you were appalled that he was daring to take credit for 'making' you?"
"For some reason, this is a hot button issue for you. I'm not going to pretend to understand it, but let me remind you of what you put me and Ed through."
"What I put you through?"
"You knew that Ed has suffered from identity issues for years. He was even locked away in Arkham for this - and yet you told him that you liked what he was 'becoming?' Not only making him fall for you - turning him into a big dopey-eyed mess - but trying to influence what that would actually look like - taking advantage of his poor malleable mind - manipulating him while keeping me at bay because I wasn't who you wanted him to be. You should know that I didn't care for that one bit."
"That wasn't all me you know - that was mostly Lee."
"Doesn't matter. It was wrong." He lets out a huff before continuing. "And what about what you put me through?"
"What do you mean?"
"Somewhere along the way, you convinced me that I should be more like Ed. So I was trying, aspiring." Trying so hard to merge with him. "For you."
"There was nothing wrong with that."
The Riddler just harrumphs and shakes his head.
Of course, there was.
"I can't believe you told me to 'be myself' when you knew I had more than one personality. How could you even say that to me? To us. There is no 'myself'!"
"I hadn't thought of it that way."
"And you're a total hypocrite, Doc, to encourage me to let go of the past and change - to be 'that guy' again - the person you were trying to influence me to become." He shakes his head. "You know that Jim was holding you to your past - don't bother trying to deny it. And yet I wasn't trying to change you like you were me. I was only trying to help you let go of that - to let go of him."
"How was torturing and killing Jim ever supposed to help me? You have to understand that that makes no sense."
"Oh, but it does. Unlike you, I never had any intention of controlling you or changing you. I just wanted to stand back and watch your beautiful metamorphosis into the darker, more fully realized you. And I loved who you were every step of the way. Can I be blamed for wanting to remove something that was impeding your progress?"
"Jim wasn't stopping me."
"I'm not so sure about that."
"Jim didn't understand me like you do. He didn't see what I was becoming. He refused to. How can he stop what he can't see?" She leans over to kiss him. "But you see me, Riddler. You were right about that. Unfortunately, I realized it all too late. I'm not above taking a life anymore, you know."
"I do," he says softly, thinking of how she had placed her hand on his neck to steady him after she had stabbed him, her other hand firmly keeping the knife in place deep within his belly. "Intimately."
"You know," she says quietly. "I was quite upset when I thought I had lost that connection with you. You had been the only one -"
He cradles the side of her head and pulls her in for a soft kiss. He whispers, "You've never lost that. And you never will."
"I know," she says, lifting a warm hand to his forearm. "I know that now."
The Riddler loves every inch of her. She's right - Jim hasn't held her back - hasn't locked her into her past, into who she had been. She wouldn't have been able to kill him if that had been the case. No, The Riddler suspects that with that action, she had finally found her true self - the darkest part now manifest in The Doc, and the lightest in Lee. He wonders what part of her Leslie is.
"Well, Friar Lawrence didn't even need to be around to botch this one up for us. We did it all on our own." He chuckles and shakes his head, thinking of Romeo and Juliet. "What a tragic misunderstanding."
She laughs but then asks seriously, "But was it all just a misunderstanding?"
"What do you mean?"
"You approached me, Riddler, your knife at the ready. It fell out of your hand when I stabbed you. I saw it - I heard it clatter to the floor. You can't tell me you weren't going to kill me."
"I know. Hypocritical me. I had a knife waiting for you, too -"
"No, it's not that. You need to understand something." He takes her hand. "You must know that it is NOT in my nature to kill the ones I love, as you said. How could you even think that?"
"It seemed inevitable."
At one point Oswald had basically said the same thing she had, accusing him of not being able to help himself - that he would always be compelled to kill the ones he loves. And that had stuck with him.
In the end, her words cut him deeper than the knife in his belly - they had cut him to his core. It was one of his greatest insecurities - one he had always fought to deny. Those two couldn't be right. He wouldn't let them be right.
"Why would you think it was inevitable?"
He hates being this perplexed. A while back, Lee had called him a riddle, but in truth, she is the riddle - one that he's nowhere near solving.
The only person he'd ever loved and killed was Kristen - and that had been an accident.
"You killed Kristen," The Doc says, almost as if she'd been reading his mind. "And she loved you."
"It was an accident."
"You were locked up for it. A court of law didn't see it that way."
"They were wrong."
"And what about Isabella? What about her?"
His eyes smart and his heart feels like it's going to pound out of his chest.
What about Isabella?
He removes his hand from hers and sits forward. Then he steeples his fingers under his chin and just sits there quietly.
"What do you have to say for yourself?" she demands.
"There's nothing to say. She didn't die by my hand. I would never -" He chokes up. "I know that now. The definitive proof was you."
"Isabella's 'accident'? You had nothing to do with that? I ran across some files at the GCPD when I returned after Mario's death - files that someone had meant to destroy. Her brake lines were cut. That's murder."
The Riddler has to look away from her. He can't revisit Isabella right now. Not after everything that had happened that day . . . and the additional burden he's already carrying.
"Are you . . . are you crying?"
"No," he says gruffly. He's lying. He carries all the tears so Ed doesn't have to. Sometimes it's too much. He gives one loud sniff and turns back to face her. Pointing a finger at her sternly he says, "How dare you imply that I would ever harm Isabella? She was my life. She was my everything. And now she's gone. Forever."
"You should be."
They sit in silence for a while, anger still emanating from him as he breathes heavily. Anger is really good at dissipating tears.
"You stay here a sec. I think I might need to stitch you up," The Doc says, standing up.
She comes back with the suture kit and a bottle of vodka, carefully undoes the makeshift tourniquet, and tells The Riddler that they need to remove his pants.
Once they're off, she looks at his thigh and says, "Looks like you were stabbed in the same place that Sofia got you. So in good news, that scar will now be imperceptible."
"Oh goody," he says.
"Gonna have to stitch up this bad boy." And without further ado, she pours the vodka over his wound as he groans. "Want some?"
"No, thank you," he says. "I easily survived Sofia and her dentist. What're a few stitches?"
The Doc gets to work cleaning the wound. "This doesn't look good. Your wound is very deep, and we're not in the most sterile of environments. I hope it doesn't get infected."
"That would be the last thing we need."
"Tell me about it," she says wryly.
His mind starts to wander as he feels the tugging of the first stitch going in. And he realizes that he has a question for her. "Hey, if you thought that I killed both Kristen and Isabella, why did you even want to be with me in the first place?"
As he poses the question, he feels a strong sense of deja vu. He had asked Isabella the same thing - why would she ever want to be with a killer like him? Specifically, one who had been convicted of murdering the woman he loved?
"You know I've always been attracted to your dangerous side, Riddler," she answers simply. "And hey, what did you mean a while back by 'the proof was me'?"
"Well . . . I, too, had once believed that some powerful compulsion resided within me. I worried that I would harm Isabella because of what happened with Kristen. I even tried to break it off with her, but she fought for me. Fought and showed me -" He chokes up again.
"Showed you what?"
"The same thing you did," he says simply. "That I wasn't destined to harm someone I cared about."
"And how did I do that?"
"Do you remember that night at The Riddle Factory when I held a knife to your neck?" He shivers almost imperceptibly.
He hopes it is now lost forever in The Narrows. Hopes that its legacy had died a cold, hard death on the floor beside them.
"Yes, I do. You were unable to kill me that night."
"Exactly. Even though I thought that I had wanted to," he said. "I was finally in full control of Ed's body - I finally had my chance - and I found that I just couldn't."
Understanding dawns on her face. "Because you loved me."
"Precisely," he says.
After a pause, she asks, "So why did you?"
"Why did you finally kill me then?"
He recalls a conversation he had had with Jim Gordon:
I can sneak up on you - or be right in front of you without you even knowing.
But when I reveal myself you will never be the same.
What am I?
I don't care, Ed.
Betrayal. It's how every friendship ends.
"Frankly, I wanted to take you down with me, Doc. One good turns deserves another," The Riddler says matter-of-factly, remembering how shocked he was when she had turned and shoved that cold, hard piece of steel into him.
The Riddler had barely noticed Ed there, but he had definitely come to the surface to join him in witnessing their shocking demise at her hands.
Where is he now?
"But why?" Lee asks. "You just said -"
"Because you pissed me off. You made gross assumptions - even after you had already taken my life. Oh, and did I forget to mention? You had just ended it with me before our macabre little pas de deux, making me feel like I had been played the fool all along . . . what was I supposed to do? Let you live?"
"I wasn't playing you. You knew that before you killed me. I had told you what you wanted to hear. Wasn't that enough?"
"No," he said, gravel rumbling in his voice. "Because if you truly loved me, you never would have killed me."
And there it is.
She stops suturing.
All of his insecurities have returned. And so have Ed's, who's suddenly fully conscious in his head. In that moment, they both realize that she never really loved him. It's the only explanation.
"Get some rest," she says quietly and leaves him alone on the sofa.
It's foggy, so very foggy that morning. But it's not cold. It's muggy. Moisture trickles from his brow.
He can hear the shore, but can't see it through the white cloud-forms billowing around him. Still, he can clearly see the bobbing head of the black haired girl in front of him as they walk along the sand. He places a hand upon her head gently. He doesn't have to reach up or bend down. Her head aligns perfectly with where his hand naturally settles.
The fog intensifies to the point he can't see anything anymore - not even the little girl - and he hears Lee's voice, faint in the distance.
"Aw, crap," she says.
But where is she?
He looks around in vain.
He hears the little girl's voice beside him say, "Thank you, Daddy. No one is being mean to me anymore. They don't call me a freak anymore."
Then he feels her head pull away from his hand and she's gone.
The fog mixes with the sweat on his brow making it so wet that he has to remove his glasses for a sec. And that's when he realizes . . .
There's only one of him. Edward. Singular.
It feels so strange in that moment. Especially because it doesn't feel like anything's missing. He doesn't feel alone, deserted. The Riddler and Little Eddie are gone . . . and yet, they're not. They're all here.
He's been here before . . . integrated . . . but there's just something different about it this time.
It starts to get warmer as the fog lets up and as the sun peeks through it burns him. His left leg especially. "Ouch!"
He focuses on guiding himself through the pain. Making it tolerable. Absorbing it into his psyche as a part of him so that it's still there but far less distracting. No one can really make pain go away - but they can delude themselves into believing it.
"Thank you for protecting me, Daddy!" He hears the little girl's voice again and puts on his glasses to see her running up the beach towards a pink bungalow, her black hair buffeted about by the breeze. There's an umbrella in the sand in front of it, providing shade to whoever is underneath it.
As he starts to walk up the beach after her, the pain makes him limp and he frowns, turning about to face the sun again. The hot, burning sun.
Everything goes white.
It's foggy again as they are cuddling, and it's a bit steamy underneath the pink umbrella. He just wants to keep kissing her. It's not enough just to hold her. He feels like it will never be enough. His hand dives deep into her silky black hair as the kiss becomes more passionate.
He hears her murmur, "You're hot, Ed," against his lips.
"No, you're burning up."
Well, his brow is still laced with sweat - that's for sure - and he pulls away from her, running a hand over it.
"Good thing we've got you in the shade," she says. "How's your leg doing?"
My leg? Oh, yeah.
"Better," he says and nods. "Now that you've got me in the protective shade of your umbrella it doesn't burn as much."
"Good," she says and lays her head upon his chest.
They look out at the waves for a while, even though they are difficult to discern through the mist. They listen to their soothing crash. Water tumbling upon sand in a rhythm only nature can provide.
"Mommy! Daddy!" they hear, but they cannot see what is barrelling towards them until she jumps on top of both of them and gives them a great big hug.
Lee looks over at him with tears in her eyes and whispers, "Thank you."
Sometime later, as Lee is adjusting a medical device on their little girl - forever the healer - he sees a father and son in the distance near the surf. The boy is holding onto the string of a kite that keeps plummeting to the sand. The father patiently instructs him on how to prevent it from happening again and again after each crash. Edward recognizes his body language and his suspicions are confirmed when the man takes just one step forward with his right leg. Oswald.
He looks down at his own leg again as the pain flares. He tries not to groan.
He hears Lee say, "It's okay, Ed. You'll be okay. I promise." Yet she's still working with their little girl, not even facing him. How does she even know he's hurting?
The sweat from his brow drips into his eyes, down the side of his nose and onto his lips. He licks at it. Salty.
"Martin!" he hears their little girl shriek as she runs out from underneath the protection of the umbrella and down towards the surf to join Oswald and his son.
Now that they're alone again, Ed asks Lee, "How old were you when your mother died?"
Somehow he had already known that would be her answer.
The mist has overtaken the beach. He can't see Oswald and Martin anymore, he can't see the surf, he can't even see the umbrella above him.
All he can see . . . is her.
And all he can feel is pain as he sweats profusely. It's the worst bout yet. How has the sun gotten through the fog - through the umbrella even - to burn him so badly? His left leg feels like it's on fire.
"Thank you, Edward, for helping me discover who I was meant to be," Lee says with sincerity. "I am at peace now."
She kisses him and pulls away right before the mist envelops her entirely and her face slowly disappears.
Even though he can't see her, he can hear her say firmly, "You're not allowed to die. Not any of you."
"Not any of us? But Lee, I'm just me now. There's only one of us. Lee?"
There is no answer and he stays in that white place for so long that he has no recollection of how much time has passed.
When he awakens, she is lying on his chest. They are still under the pink umbrella but it has finally cooled off. He can clearly see the sea. And he can clearly see something else.
Her wedding band and engagement ring.
Each side of the diamond is complemented by a small emerald. Funny, that's what he would have chosen.
He looks down at his own hand and notices a platinum band there, with tiny question marks subtly engraved upon it, circling around the band. Curious, he removes it.
He brings his hand to his mouth, shocked as he registers the words engraved along the inside of it.
You've solved the riddle.
Lee raises her head and smiles at him, her eyes twinkling. Then she speaks.
"Doubt thou the stars are fire."
He looks up at the sun. Nope, not going to doubt that. That thing is HOT.
"Doubt that the sun doth move."
Shakespeare? He gives her a pleasantly puzzled look.
"Doubt truth to be a liar."
"Every day," he answers her. Betrayal, unfortunately, is part of life. Truth and lies can get so easily mixed up.
"But never doubt I LOVE."
She pulls his head in for a kiss, then settles her forehead upon his. "Thanks for waiting for me, Edward. I know it was a long, arduous road . . . but I hope the destination was worth the journey."
"It was," he whispers, stroking her hair softly. "It was."
He stands up and stretches, feeling the sand squeeze through his toes as he does so. It feels good to be up. He walks down to the shore for a swim.
The water is chilly as the first wave crashes onto his feet, and the surge behind it goes halfway up his shins. Brrr. That first wave is always a doozy.
As he wades deeper, the water gets warmer, more tolerable. He never quite knows if it's because it's been rolling in over hot sand that's been baking in the sun or if his body just adjusts to it over time.
Once waist deep, he dives headfirst into the next wave threatening to break. As the following one rolls over him, he just lies as low as he can on the ocean floor and watches it, it's power. Then he comes up for air and gives one snap of his head to shake the water out of his hair. He realizes he's not wearing his glasses.
Hmmm. . .
He feels a tightening about his chest. Little claws, little pinchers grab at his sides. He looks down and sees that a giant crab is clinging to him, its eyes . . . curious?
The weight of the crab gets heavier and he that realizes he is now lying down, no longer in the ocean.
The pinchers tighten and constrict, yet soften. The weight feels good.
He closes his eyes. It feels like a little hug.
"Hey there, sleepy head." He feels a soothing hand on his brow, which is no longer slick. The hand glides over it as if it's coated in talcum powder. Which he distinctly smells.
He opens his eyes and is immediately greeted with a smack to the face and a shriek. "Da!"
He blinks a couple of times.
"Yes, that's Dada," he hears Lee say and grab the tiny hand that has just smacked his face. "I know you're excited to see him, but we don't hit Dada, okay?"
He is shocked to see her lying right there on his chest - his daughter. But she's so nonplussed that she just coos and then buries her face before he can get a good look at it and snuggles down, squeezing his chest even harder. With all four of her little arms. Like a crab.
"Lee. . .?" he says, turning towards her. He can't really see her too well without his glasses. She's just a blur of black hair and dark clothing. Until she leans closer . . .
As she puts on his glasses she says, "I've found that she enjoys snuggling with you. Even though you've pretty much been unconscious the entire time."
He looks at his daughter again. Her extraordinarily thick, long hair has been braided and put up into a bun. So odd to see something like that on an infant. And even though she's buried most of her face in his chest and appears to be sleeping, he can still see one of her eyelids and the slit where her third eye will open someday. He puts a hand on her back and rubs it soothingly. His daughter.
"Ahem," he hears The Riddler say. "My daughter, too. Or more precisely, just my daughter, because, as you know . . . well, I was the one . . ."
How could he forget?
"Despite having our genes, she is rather cute, isn't she, Ed?" The Riddler asks.
She's adorable. Just like her mother. But she's breathing funny.
"Lee?" he asks quietly, worriedly, pointing to her without rousing her.
"Yes, that's normal for her. A lot of oddities will be normal for our child, I'm afraid."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, first of all, she's got three eyes and four arms," Lee says wryly.
"Besides that. Is she going to be a sick child?" He asks, trying to hide the trembling that had inexplicably crept into his voice. He remembers the little girl on the beach - Lee adjusting something - and he also remembers . . .
"Whoa, buddy," He hears The Riddler say and the memory immediately dissipates. "We're not going there."
"No, definitely not!" He hears Little Eddie pipe up.
We're not going where? Ed wonders.
"That was a close call." He hears The Riddler whistle and mutter to himself. "I wonder how that happened?"
"Is that baby Kristen?" Little Eddie asks in wonder.
"Yes!" The Riddler says with a flourish and a gleeful smile. "We did good. I'm so proud of her."
"Ed, wake her up," Lee says. "Wake her up and take a good look at her face."
"Hey, Kristen," he says softly, bumping her shoulder a little bit. "Wakey, wakey."
She looks up at him with groggy eyes and then he sees it. Especially when she smiles.
Her tongue is protruding.
"It's not going to go back in?" he asks.
"Not likely," says Lee, matter-of-factly. "That patient of mine with BWS due to abnormalities on chromosome 11 had that. And it's no wonder - it sounded like there were so many mutations that Strange had performed on chromosome 11 from what you told me."
"Yeah, poor baby," Ed says, placing a hand on her head. Once again, she coos. "But apparently a happy baby."
"Yes," Lee says. "That will serve her well."
"But you know, this lolling tongue that Strange gave her only serves to make her look even more like Kali."
He shakes his head, disgusted, as he realizes that this was one of Strange's real reasons for messing with those particular genes in the first place. His daughter is likely to get cancer - for a nothing more than a protruding tongue.
"At least she doesn't have Kali's blue skin," Lee says. "She's not the monster Strange had set out to make her. At least not completely . . ."
Ed checks out his daughter carefully. She actually does have a very faint blue tinge, but it's barely perceptible because she has her mother's warmer complexion underneath and she probably hadn't been in the tank with that particular solution for very long.
"You're right. She doesn't look blue. Not really," Ed says, still pondering. "Kali the destroyer. . . hmmm . . . Just what was Strange going to do with our baby?"
"She's also the creator," Lee says.
"Oh yeah, I forgot about that."
"Well, the way I see it, Jeremiah has already handled the destruction part of Gotham," Lee says. "Our child, our Kali-like baby may one day be its savior. Breathe life back into the city."
"That's a nice fantasy Lee -"
"Shh," she says, placing a finger to his lips. "Then let me have it."
"Okay," he says and smiles, agreeing. Whatever powers Strange had imbued in their child, he too hopes they will be used for good, even though he doesn't exactly hold himself to the same moral standards as others. But this is his child and he wants a good life for her.
Villains tend to meet their demise in brutal ways.
Ed is attempting to teach Kristen some riddles when Lee returns to the sofa to debride his wound, whatever that means.
"I think she's a little too young for that," Lee says, looking down at the two of them. Kristen's got two of her hands playing with his lips. She's utterly fascinated by them and seemingly not listening to a word of his instruction.
"But she's brilliant, absolutely brilliant. You can tell. And it's never too early to start."
Lee purses her lips and shakes her head, taking a seat. "Like father like daughter."
"It's not like she doesn't have your genes in the mix as well. You and I are both intelligent but in different ways. Strange didn't have to alter anything to make Kristen this cognitively advanced."
"Yes. I'm sure of it."
"How do you even know how smart she is?"
At that, Kristen abruptly whips her head around to look at Lee and says, "Mmm!"
Kristen hadn't yet figured out how to pronounce the vowel in 'mom' when addressing Lee yet.
"F-fruh inna buh -," She shakes her head and blows a frustrated raspberry over her protruding tongue, "- buh lenDA!"
"Holy shit," Lee says. "Frog in a blender?"
"Told you," Ed says with a smug smile and pulls Kristen up from his chest and back down to his face to plant a kiss on her forehead. "Who's Daddy's smart girl?"
"Da!" she exclaims and slaps both of his cheeks with all four of her hands.
"Kristen!" Lee exclaims. Ed smiles. He knows who's going to be the disciplinarian in this family . . . "Do you always have to be right, Ed? It's annoying."
He just smiles smugly. "Pretty much."
"Well, I can think of one time you weren't."
"When was that?"
"Before you went on this little weeklong adventure to Infection Island to bliss out on fevered dreams."
"Wait. I was out for a week? With an infection?"
"Isn't that a bit . . . long?"
"Ed, we're not in the most sanitary of conditions here. We've been hiding out in this pool house and for most of that time I didn't have any real medical supplies. A stethoscope and a scalpel alone aren't very useful in fighting off infection. And that over there is all I had at my disposal to try to cool you down with." She points at a tiny college dorm-sized refrigerator which likely only had a very small freezer compartment inside of it for making ice. Shouldn't a pool house with a bar be better stocked?
"Not a lot of options during the off-season," Ed observes.
"No, there wasn't. Until I got Kristen out of there. Figured I'd pick up some medical supplies, too. I hated to leave you alone like that, but it seemed like you were pulling out of it by the time I did. Your fever appeared to be ready to break. So I was fairly certain that you weren't going to keel over on me by the time I decided to make the trip over to the main house. Or rather, when The Doc did. That kind of cloak and dagger crap turns her on." She shakes her head.
"So, you were worried about me?"
"Of course," she places a hand on his shoulder gently.
He gulps, suddenly overcome with emotion. He doesn't know why.
"I do," he hears The Riddler say. "She's playing on your hope, your desires. Don't let her get to you, Ed. She doesn't love us, remember?"
But The Riddler feels a bitterness that he doesn't.
"Ed, what you said -" she starts.
"No!" The Riddler shouts. "Do not let her play this game with us anymore! I'll kill her myself."
"No you won't," Ed says quietly.
"Excuse me?" Lee asks him.
Ed just shakes his head to clear it. "Internal conversation."
"Got it," she says and gives a brief nod. He's so grateful that he doesn't have to explain himself to her anymore when it comes to these kinds of things. She just gets it. "Ed, what you said to me before you drifted off . . ."
If you truly loved me, you never would have killed me.
"As usual, you were right," she paused. "But you were also wrong."
Wait. I was wrong?
"Ed, stop this now, or else I'm coming through," The Riddler says firmly. "And I guarantee you won't like what I do."
"Lee," Ed says, his voice faltering a bit before he is able to form his face into a cold, unreadable mask. "Please just get on with it. Do whatever you were going to do to my leg."
"You sure you don't want to talk about it?" She looks perplexed.
"Yeah," he says, and pulls Kristen closer to give her a hug, shielding his face from Lee's curious eyes because he knows he can't hold the mask forever. Kristen snuggles in and coos contentedly as he sighs, letting his face fall as his lips turn down unseen.
"Owwww. . . FUCK!"
"Fook!" Kristen yelps and slaps Ed's cheek in excitement, but then brings her hand back there, suddenly curious about its structure, squeezing it. Soon another hand joins it as he groans.
Through gritted teeth he scolds, "Pretty sure Mommy wouldn't want you to say that word, Kristen."
"Then don't use it in front of her," Lee says sensibly.
"It's kind of -" His nostrils grab Kristen's attention now because they are flaring as he puffs hard. They're doing this without any kind of anesthetic. "- difficult not to swear while you're doing that."
Lee looks up from her work, forceps raised as she pauses. Kristen has now got her fingers in Ed's nose, pulling his nostrils apart with two of her hands while her other two are trying in vain to pull his cheeks to the side of his face. They won't budge and her hands keep slipping. Lee can't help but laugh.
"What's so funny?" he growls.
"You. In pain."
"You would say that," he answers, and lifts Kristen high into the air for a second so her hands can't reach his face. "You and your sadistic little daughter here."
"You know Ed, she wasn't talking - well except to say Mmm and Da - until you woke up. But then you teach her some riddles . . . "
"Well, I'm just saying, Mommy's doing a little doctoring and Kristen's obviously using the time to learn some anatomy. On your face."
He rolls his eyes and then just gives her a withering look.
"Okay, I'm going back in there. Gotta get all this dead tissue out of your wound so that what's left of your quadriceps here can heal up nicely."
"What's left of - ?" he asks, a little panicked. "Lee?"
"Later," she says and digs back in.
He lets Kristen continue her exploration of his face, realizing that he is now a masochist. His daughter and his wife - no, not his wife - Lee have turned him into a masochist.
His wife? Wherever did that notion come from?
"Oh, perhaps a couple of tiny emeralds that you thought you caught a glimpse of once along a sparkling white sand beach. . . " The Riddler mockingly tips his hat.
The Riddler just laughs and laughs.
"Okay, all done. You were a trooper," Lee says, absentmindedly putting her stuff away. "You ready for the bad news?"
"The bad news?" Ed asks, finally sitting up and grunting a bit. He hands Kristen over to her mother.
"Well, 'mmm!' to you too, baby." Lee kisses her daughter's forehead and smiles when she giggles.
"There's a hole in my leg," Ed says. "How can it get worse?"
"Try standing up for me."
Not as easy as it sounds.
"Take a step."
Definitely not as easy as it sounds.
"Ed, just walk a little more for me."
"This will heal, right?"
She doesn't answer, just watches him move, her face in an odd deep-thought type grimace. Then she sighs. "That's what I thought."
"Go ahead and sit back down," she says and he does. "Your quad was severely damaged from the infection, Ed. You lost a lot of muscle tissue . . ."
"What are you saying?"
"Listen Ed, you had so much necrotic tissue in there from the infection that had to be removed - and you're not exactly a starfish - we can't just remove a limb and hope it grows back. So, you've gotta just live with what's left. "
"What?!" All three of them shout. Ed, The Riddler, and Eddie.
Kristen, startled, whips her head over to look at him.
"Ed, permanent damage has been done."
"Not again," Eddie whines. "I don't want to be debilitated again."
What the hell?
"Shut it, Eddie," The Riddler says. "Not now."
"I made something for you that I think you'll need," Lee says and hands Kristen over to him, standing up. She leaves the pool house and heads out to the nearby shed where the pool equipment is kept.
"What you do think she's getting for me, Kristen?"
"Da!" is her answer, complete with a little clap of her upper hands. For once, she doesn't slap his face.
Lee returns and the first thing he sees is the question mark - high above her head. Oswald's plushie. Where did she -?
"It was in the bag," The Riddler answers. "I brought it back with the penguins."
"Why?" Ed asks him.
The Riddler just shrugs and steps out of his consciousness.
"Here you go," Lee says and unceremoniously hands it over to him.
The metal pole is cool in his hand. Kristen reaches out to touch it too, utterly in awe.
"It's adjustable from four feet to eight. Here." Lee takes it from him and demonstrates. The pole is from a pool skimmer - its net part having been replaced. By Oswald's stuffie. Lee notices that Ed is paying more attention to the plush question mark than what she is doing. "Ed?"
"Here, stand up and try it. I have a feeling you'll be needing a staff or cane of some sort for awhi -" She stops herself.
"Indefinitely," Ed says bitterly. "I understand, Lee."
He puts Kristen down, snags it out of her hands, and walks away from her. And yes, it does make walking easier. More stable. He stops and looks up at the plushie again. Why would she put that there?
She comes up from behind him, placing her hands on his back. "Ed?"
"Hmm … ?"
"You like riddles, The Riddler resides within you, you're a master puzzle solver, and you had a neon green question mark sign at The Riddle Factory adorning your stage."
"This is your symbol, Ed. Regardless of who you are. In some way, I know that riddles, puzzles, and the way you think will always be a part of you no matter who's in charge. When I discovered that plushie, I just thought you needed it on your staff."
Oswald's plushie. Hmmm. He still feels weird about that.
Kristen has crawled her way over to them. She puts one hand on his leg, one on Lee's, and then puts her two upper hands on the staff and looks up at it, up at them. Even though her tongue naturally hangs out, right now it looks as if it's hanging out in concentration.
"I'm never going to be able to pick her up off of the floor," Ed says sadly as he looks down at her.
Lee gives him a light punch to the shoulder. "Sure, you will. You'll just have to coordinate it differently."
He frowns as she bends down and hands him the baby.
"See? At least for now, you can hold her while using that thing. You've already got that down."
Lee smiles at him but he just groans.
"C'mon, let's get her fed. We have a lot of catching up to do. They starved her over there."
"Form-LA?" Kristen squeals excitedly.
"Another new word?" Lee exclaims delightedly. "See Ed, you're such a good influence on her."
Lee settles in on the white wicker sofa with Kristen and says to Ed, "Come over here."
"It's dirty," he says and wrinkles his nose when he notices the stains.
Lee just laughs. "Of course it is. That's where I've been feeding her. You'll see."
"O - kay . . ." Ed picks up a towel to place over the stains that he's resigned himself to sit on.
"Ed, that's not going to make a difference."
He frowns, ignores her, and puts the towel down anyway. Once he's seated, she drapes both of them in towels, fully covering their torsos.
"Isn't that a bit much?" Ed asks her.
"You'll see." She just smiles that enigmatic smile of hers. "It's a good thing they had so many supplies for Kristen over at the main house - bottles, formula -"
"Form-LA!" Kristen cries out excitedly and claps all four of her hands.
"Yes, baby," Lee says, and rubs her nose with her own lovingly. Then she turns back to Ed. "They had diapers, extra pinafores, all that and more. I haven't had to improvise much at all. I just had to pilfer their stash when I got her out of there."
"You must have had a big bag," Ed says.
"I did." She winks and then turns back to Kristen. "And you were a good quiet girl for me, Kristen, weren't you, baby?"
"How long has it been? Since you rescued her?"
"Lee, it won't take them forever to find us once they've noticed she's missing."
"I'm sure they've already noticed," she says nonchalantly with a shrug.
"We had to wait for you to wake up."
"We need to leave."
"I know Ed. I wanted to make sure you were up and walking first. That you were okay."
"I'm fine," he says firmly. "We should go."
"I agree," Lee replies. "But let's get our little girl fed first, shall we? As I said, they were starving her over there. She's so hungry. I've been feeding her on a schedule and I don't want to leave until she's had her next meal."
"Okay," he reluctantly agrees. But every moment that they waste . . .
"Besides, it will be good father-daughter bonding time, won't it, baby?" This time Lee is the recipient of Kristen's excited slaps to the face. But she just laughs and takes it in stride. "We really are going to have to wean her of that bad habit."
Ed watches the two of them as Lee prepares to give her the bottle, observing how she cradles Kristen in her arms awkwardly at first as she tries to manage all of her limbs. Once Kristen's settled in - and after first making a total mess spitting up - Ed can see the serenity descend over Lee as she feeds her little girl. She's in a happy place he's never seen her in and she is unbelievably beautiful. His child - their child - is having this effect on her. His heart hurts just a little bit as he watches them. Mother and child.
"Okay, now your turn." Lee abruptly hands Kristen over to him as she gets up to retrieve a new bottle. Kristen cries and reaches out for the empty one that's just been plucked from her mouth. Then she looks up at Ed, and her crying turns to screaming, demanding more.
He looks up at Lee, puzzled. "She's this hungry?"
"Oh, yes," Lee says and sits back down with a new bottle in hand. "Okay, first, you gotta hold her a certain way . . ."
"I'm trying." He struggles with the baby, trying to get her into a position similar to the one that Lee had her in, but it's exceedingly difficult as she's screaming and crying - and basically pitching a fit in his arms. She keeps kicking out and straightening her legs in anger at not being fed, but that only makes it impossible for him to get her into a proper position to do so. "Ugh. Kristen, Daddy's frustrated, too. But you gotta stop doing that."
Amazingly, she does. She grasps onto him tightly with a full body hug and her screaming calms to just dissatisfied crying. Ed tries to comfort her a bit by rubbing her back, hoping her tears will eventually stop entirely.
"You've almost got her," Lee says quietly and touches her back, too. Then she leans in to kiss him softly. God, how he wishes she loved him. This moment could be so sweet, instead of bittersweet . . .
Kristen coos between them, and then settles into a proper feeding position all on her own.
"Will you look at that?" Ed says in amazement as Lee hands him the bottle with a smile. And she's full of instructions.
"She'll spit up at first . . . you gotta find the right angle so that she'll spit up less . . . Here like that . . . No, wait . . ."
His poor daughter is sputtering with every attempt he makes to feed her. He can't get it right. Her protruding tongue is in the way. She's spit up half of the bottle already. His pulse is racing.
"It's okay, Ed. Relax." Lee's hand is on his arm, attempting to calm him down. But he's panicking. She continues softly, reasonably, "It's why we have to go through so much formula for her. It's her tongue. You'll manage to figure it out, don't worry."
But he's worrying anyway. His thoughts race as the bottle practically slips through his hands, slick with sweat.
I can't do this. I'm so scared. I'm practically killing her. I can't be a father to this baby. She's sick. She needs so much from me. I can't do this. I'm sca-
"Stop!" The Riddler is in his face in an instant. Somehow he's been pulled out. Wait? Who's in charge?
"That's right. A ten-year-old is more of a man than you are, Ed."
"What you can't," The Riddler says cryptically. "But still, you know. . . So you know better."
Ed looks out to see that Eddie has swiftly handled the situation. He's cooing at Kristen himself and wiping away some stray tears from his face as she smoothly drinks from the bottle and he rocks her in his arms.
"Why was Eddie crying?" Ed asks.
"He's very upset with you," The Riddler says. "For acting like her."
"Who?" Ed asks, but a sinister pit of despair forms deep in his gut at the Riddler's words. One he is very familiar with - it was there for most of his childhood.
The Riddler touches his stomach. "You know."
"Mom," Ed whispers.
The Riddler gives one brief nod.
Ed looks out through Eddie's eyes at Kristen looking up at him, so trustingly, so lovingly. Depending on him for sustenance.
Depending on him for so much.
No, he doesn't want to be like her. Not ever. And Lee is nothing like her. She would never -
"And that's why I suspect we love her so hopelessly, Ed. Why she continues to draw us in despite our better judgment," The Riddler muses, shaking his head.
"Ready to step up and be a man, Ed?" The Riddler asks him, clapping his shoulders. "Be a father?"
"Yes," Ed says firmly and squares his shoulders. "I'm going back in."
"Wow, we really made a mess, didn't we?" Ed asks Kristen when she's all done with her second bottle.
She just gurgles up some more onto his chest before coughing and then finally laughing.
"And that's why I'm glad they were stocked with extra pinafores over there," Lee says with a flourish as she whips one out. "We don't exactly have a laundry over here."
"A pool house this luxurious and no laundry?" Ed gasps mockingly and then grins. "Shameful."
"Here, hold this." Lee tosses him the pinafore and then takes Kristen from his arms and lays her down on the sofa between them to change her. Once she has her dirty pinafore off, she says, "Ed, take a look at this. For some odd reason, it wasn't very visible when she was in the tank."
Lee points to the huge scar running down Kristen's chest. The one leftover from her open heart surgery. He traces a finger along it. "Poor baby."
"She seems to be doing fine now though," Lee says. "No murmur, no arrhythmia, nothing. I wonder why they - ?"
"Lee?" Ed asks, worry lining his features. He had just felt something. "What's this?"
Lee puts her hand where his had been and goes white as she palpates the area.
"That's not normal, is it?" Ed asks her.
"What is it?" The Riddler asks worriedly while Eddie anxiously awaits an answer, too.
"No, not in a healthy child," Lee says and sighs, closing her eyes. "But unfortunately, it is to be expected in ours."
"Yes," Lee starts to cry. "I just wasn't expecting one so soon. I just wanted a little time with her . . . some time to be a mother."
"Hey," Ed says and picks Kristen up so they can hold her together. "You are Lee. You are her mother. Forever."
Lee looks up at him with something akin to hope in her eyes. "Well, there is a chance that it's a benign tumor -"
"Lee. . ."
She puts up a hand, "I know. I know. But even if it's not, there are a few pediatric hospitals that specialize in treating aggressive cancers in Gotham -"
"You can't play with us, Edward. . . You don't have cancer. . . You're not dying. . . You don't even belong here. . . Go away."
Three boys that are so skinny their clothes are tucked in with safety pins stick out their tongues at him and jeer. One of the bald ones pushes him to the ground and then stands there panting, probably having expended his energy for the day. His friends help him walk away as they laugh.
Then someone looms over him and says, "They're probably just jealous."
"Eddie, stop!" The Riddler admonishes. "What are you doing?"
"Sorry. It's just . . . Baby Kristen has a tumor and you know it's cancerous. You know it is!" Eddie takes in a sharp breath and tries not to cry. It's doesn't take.
"Hey, Eddie, it's okay. I get it," The Riddler puts an arm around his shoulders as tears spill over the little boy's cheeks. "It's a lot to take in."
Eddie nods. "It just slipped out."
"I know," The Riddler says.
What was that? A memory? His?
Ed shakes his head in denial. He can't let himself think about that right now. There's too much else going on.
"Lee, Gotham is . . ."
She looks back at him, stricken as she realizes that there's nowhere left that they can take their daughter for treatment . . . "It's in ruins."
The hope vanishes from her face and they both look down at their daughter solemnly. Then, inexplicably, they hear a pop. It almost sounds like a broken bone . . .
Kristen gets a confused look on her face seconds before she starts turning blue.
"What's happening?" Ed asks Lee in a panic.
"I . . . I don't know," Lee answers, placing a hand on the baby's chest. "She's breathing. Why is she suddenly turning blue? Her heart's beating, but . . ."
"Fast, it's too fast." Now she's panicking.
They both look on helplessly as Kristen weakly struggles and then goes still.
"No! No, baby, no!" Lee screams and picks her up, holding her to her chest for just a second before putting her back down on the sofa and starting CPR.
Lee isn't the only one who had screamed. The Riddler had let loose a primal scream within Ed's head as soon as he realized the truth. Kristen is dead. She's gone.
Ed . . . and Eddie . . . are just frozen.
A short balding man with an atrocious swath of hair on his chin in a pale imitation of a beard lets himself into the pool house through the sliding glass door. The sound grates against the back of Ed's scalp, rooting his consciousness to the present, even though he remains rigid, unmoving.
"Excellent," the disgusting little man says and drops a remote control into the pocket of his white coat, one befitting the mad scientist that he is.
"Strange," he hears the woman beside him growl lowly. She's switched. The Doc is now in charge.
"Had to pull the plug on that one. Can't have mutants running around on the loose, you know. But it was no big loss because you two?" Professor Strange says mockingly. "Well, your genes are highly incompatible - definitely not an ideal match. You left me such a mess to work with."
"What did you do?" she demands.
"Oh, I installed a plug in her heart - between her left and right ventricle - complete with a tiny explosive, just enough to knock it loose once it was time to put her down." He pats the pocket where he had tucked away the remote. "And it was time. Turns out she was a useless child anyway - taking up resources I could have used on other projects. I must thank you for taking her off of my hands for a while."
"What?!" The Doc exclaims, vaulting off of the sofa.
Ed barely notices because just then The Riddler utterly collapses, beginning his death throes, and he loses hold of a memory. Eddie can't seem to keep it at bay either.
"You're too much for her, buddy." His father is crouching down to his level. "A burden. Do you understand what that means?"
Edward looks up at the tall woman standing in the vestibule - not in and not out. She will not look at him and he can only see her face in profile. Her proud chin is up. Auburn hair carefully coiffed into elaborate Victory rolls frame her face.
"Mommy?" he asks.
She only shifts uncomfortably and will not look at him.
"Ed!" Bloody hands grip the sides of his face. "Ed, look at me!"
Mommy wouldn't. Why should he?
"Ed! Come back to me."
Whoever that is out there, she's getting desperate. But it doesn't matter. Nothing does. The Riddler's dying.
He and Eddie crouch beside him as he shakes. They try to make him comfortable, make his passing easier, but all Ed feels is a deep sadness at what he is about to lose. And Eddie just looks frightened.
"Too much, it's too much," The Riddler whispers.
"I know." Ed tries not to cry, but the tears come anyway - The Riddler can no longer keep them. They're the first bout of tears he's cried since Kristen Kringle had died at his hand. His first love. His child's namesake . . .
He reaches out to take his dead baby's hand. She's lying utterly still on the couch - and she's the only thing he can see. Her little blue hand . . . it's so cold. But he won't let it go.
"Ed, I know you're in there. Talk to me. Please." Those bloody hands that are on his face start wiping away his tears . . .
"We're losing him," he whispers into the void that is reality.
"What?" She grips his shoulders hard, suddenly understanding. She shakes him. "No! No! No! No! No!"
"Yes," Ed says firmly, coming to the front to break the news to The Doc.
"I want to see him," she demands.
"You can't. He's too weak. He's almost gone."
"What? No. He can't be."
She furiously wipes tears from her own face. Ed notices that there's not just blood on her hands - there's blood on her face too - splatters of blood that were there before she started wiping at it.
What had he missed? Who had she killed while The Riddler collapsed and he got lost in a memory? Strange? She must have killed someone. There was so much blood on her . . .
He notices the knife on the table. Her instrument. Someone had perished all right.
"Ed, please. I need to see him."
"I'll try," Ed hears The Riddler say weakly. "For her."
He loves her. No matter what they've been through, even if she doesn't love him back, The Riddler still loves her. Ed sighs and decides to help him have this moment so he can say goodbye. He props him up, and with the help of Eddie, pushes him through.
As The Riddler takes over the body, it collapses and he loses his grip on Kristen's hand.
"Whoa there," The Doc says and tries to hold him up. She ends up holding The Riddler against her, with their baby Kristen lying blue and cold on her lap where he can still easily reach her hand. He looks down and takes it weakly. "Riddler you're not going anywhere. I'm not letting you die."
"It's too much," he whispers and shakes Kristen's hand slightly. Then tears ravage his body. He was holding so many of them for Ed . . . and he feels the need to release as many as he can before he dies. For him.
"Listen to me," The Doc says firmly, holding his head up so she can look him in the eye. "I love you. You're not allowed to die."
"What - ?"
"You heard me. Now be strong and live. I need you."
"I'm getting so weak, Doc . . . and besides, you have Ed."
"But I need you. I love you, Riddler. I need both of you." She starts to cry as she realizes just how fast he's fading. Quietly, she says. "Please stay with me. I can't lose you too."
"It's too much. I can't . . ." His voice trails off as his body collapses in her arms.
She holds him tight, squeezing her eyes shut. She knows their body is not dead. It's still breathing, it's still warm. Yet she somehow knows exactly when The Riddler passes and lets out the most desperate cry - the wail of a widow . . . and of one who confessed her love too late.
Ed leaves her with his empty body for a while as he and Eddie take a moment to grieve on their own.
Ed hears him crossing the grass from the main house towards the pool house. Oswald.
"Professor Strange has delayed this little reunion for far too long. I'm going to see him -" Oswald corrects himself. "Them."
"But sir –"
"Out of my way."
Anger flares white hot and overrides the pain that usually comes with switching as Ed comes to the front to take charge. Surprised at his reemergence, Lee pulls away from him. Apparently, The Doc has retreated and left her in charge. "Ed?"
He doesn't answer her, just grabs his staff, complete with Oswald's stuffie bobbing at the top of it, and bursts out of the sliding glass door after shoving it wide open, leaving Lee and their dead child behind on the sofa in the pool house. It was time to take care of business.
"OSWALD!" he yells at the top of his lungs and charges at the man walking towards him across the grass in a fine dark suit as per usual, regardless of the season, weather, or setting. He too has a walking implement – a penguin headed cane – but it is much smaller and shorter – weaker.
Once he's in range, Ed raises his staff and rains blows down onto Oswald, who just stares at him in shock, barely even raising his hands in defense after he's been knocked to the ground. Ed sneers and looms over him, preparing for another round.
"Ed, what are you doing?" Oswald asks, sounding wounded, betrayed.
His men have started moving towards Ed, but just then his leg gives out from underneath him, and he falls to the ground beside Oswald. He groans in frustration but continues to reach for him anyway. Perhaps he can strangle him.
Just as Ed has clawed his way onto Oswald's body, Oswald's men grab him and pull him off. He's still on the ground beside him when they finally get him fully restrained.
"You killed her, Oswald!" Ed screams, getting spittle on Oswald's face, which he wipes off in disgust. Without The Riddler, Ed finds that he's having trouble containing his emotions.
"What are you talking about, Ed? I resurrected both of you!"
Lee has just come out of the pool house, carrying the corpse of their little girl. She gives the men who are restraining Ed a withering look as she sits down silently beside him - and they do not mutter a word of protest.
Ed deflates at the sight of his child and the men relax their grip.
"My daughter, Oswald." Ed's eyes swim with unshed tears, but he will not give Oswald the satisfaction of seeing him cry. He's got to hold it in. Yet he says desperately, "Because of you - because of what you let him do - she is now dead."
"Your –" Oswald chokes up, tears now swimming in his own eyes as he looks at the blue, lifeless creature held in Lee's arms - the deformed baby that Ed claims as his own. "Ed, I had no idea. How? Did Strange do this?"
"What do you think?" Ed growls.
"Oh . . ." Oswald brings a hand to his mouth - it is shaking. "Oh my God, what a monster. Ed, I'm sorry – I only wanted to –"
He interrupts himself to wave at his men.
"FIND Strange," he says emphatically. "And bring him here so Ed can kill him. Do I make myself clear?"
"Do you want help up, boss?"
"No, you boob!" Oswald says, frustrated. "Can't you see I'm talking to my friend here?"
"Wait. Lee, didn't you kill him already?" Ed asks as both he and Oswald turn to look at her - and at all the blood covering her cheeks, her hands, her clothes.
"No. Them." She looks side to side and then bows her head and speaks quietly as though she's ashamed of her failure. "Strange got away."
"Are those . . . bodies?" Oswald asks. "In my lawn?"
Ed looks out and sees two scientists face down in the lawn to either side of them, blood seeping through their lab coats and onto the grass. Professor Strange may have given The Doc the slip, but she had still made a couple of his minions pay. Good.
"Hey!" Oswald snaps at his men. "Come back here. I will NOT have corpses out in plain sight defiling my lawn. Get them out of here!"
"Will do, boss."
Oswald turns back to Ed and his face turns white with shock as his eyes alight upon . . .
"Ed, where did you get that?" Oswald, finally noticing it, points to the plushie adorning his staff. The one he had just been beaten with.
"I . . . um . . ." Ed blushes red to the roots of his hair. He suddenly feels very uncomfortable.
Oswald starts flushing too. And stammering.
Oblivious, Lee interjects. "I assume you found that with Oswald's other stuffies that you used to make Pokey Bear, right?"
When she puts a hand on his arm, Ed notices that Oswald instinctively frowns.
"You went through my collection of stuffies, Ed?"
"Obviously," Ed says coldly. He doesn't want to explain himself, but Lee seems to have no problem.
"Yes, he did. He made a bear out of some of your penguins for -"
"For your daughter?" Oswald asks.
"Not exactly," Ed says.
"'Pokey bear,' huh? What kind of kinky shit do you two get up to nowadays?" Oswald shakes his head but then thinks of something. "You didn't take any of my mother's, did you?"
"No, Oswald, I would never."
"Good," he says, relieved. "Mi penguin es su penguin. No harm done."
He looks again at the question mark plushie, warily. Yes, Ed knows what it means. "Why did you bring me back, Oswald?"
"You know why, Ed."
Ed crosses his arms and looks at Oswald sternly.
"See, Ed. There you go. That's your problem." Oswald throws up a hand in defeat. "You don't believe that you can ever be loved. Or that you deserve it."
Oswald interrupts him. "After you killed her, you went on and on about how amazed you were that your Miss Kringle had even spared you a second glance. And Lee? You can't tell me that you believe she really loves you. You're not that delusional."
Well, she did love The Riddler apparently . . . or, at least a part of her did. Beside him, he feels Lee stiffen.
"Isabella loved me," Ed says firmly, gravel in his voice.
"Do you really believe that, Ed?"
"How long before doubts had started to creep in with this one, huh?" Oswald jerks his thumb towards Lee. "A week? Maybe two?"
Now it's Ed's turn to stiffen.
"You were with Isabella for ONE week, Ed. One week. Sooner or later you would have doubted her love for you, too. Just like you do mine, no matter how many times I've proven myself to you."
"I don't doubt that you love me," Ed says quietly, hoping that Lee can't hear him, but she's so close to him that it's unlikely. Once again, Ed looks at the plushie that Lee had attached to his staff - the one he found hidden away in Oswald's closet. He has no doubts about how Oswald feels.
"What's that?" Oswald says, mockingly placing a hand to his ear and leaning forward.
"I don't doubt that you love me, Oswald. Just your motives in having Strange resurrect us."
"Well, that should be obvious . . . if you truly believe that I care for you as you say."
But, Ed has no idea what should be so obvious. His brow furrows as he tries to think.
"Ed," Oswald says, reaching out to him, placing a hand firmly on his outstretched leg. "I wanted you to live. Death is not an ideal state. And I had options with Strange already on my payroll. No one wants someone they love to perish. How can you not know that?"
No, not Kristen Kringle, not Isabella, not baby Kristen . . . not even The Riddler. He hadn't wanted any of them to die.
Ed swallows, suddenly overcome with emotion . . . but unfortunately, The Riddler is no longer around to buffer it. His eyes dart back and forth. He doesn't know what to do.
"Hey," Lee places their baby's deceased body down gently in the grass and scootches up behind him to hug him, placing her head on his shoulder. "Hey, are you okay?"
"I'm fine," Ed says, but he's losing his breath.
"You don't look so good," Oswald says to Ed, and then looks at Lee for confirmation. She nods. He's right. "Let's get you inside. I've got a room you can stay in until . . ."
Lee raises an eyebrow.
"Until you both look better." Oswald nods. "Because I hate to break it to you, Lee, but you look like hell, too."
Ed and Lee settle into the bedroom that had been his, back when he had been Oswald's Chief of Staff. They sleep for almost a full twenty-four hours before rising. He wakes before her.
"Psst," Oswald says at the door not long after Ed has taken a position sitting up alongside the edge of the bed, taking his time to fully awaken. He feels hungover. Ed just looks at him questioningly as he says, "I want to show you something."
"Okay," Ed says, adjusting his glasses and standing up. He falters before remembering that he now needs his staff to walk. He grabs it and follows Oswald out the door.
The two of them make a matching set as they shuffle down the hallway, one with a permanently damaged right leg, the other a left one.
"We need to upgrade you, Ed," Oswald says, pointing at his staff.
Ed just grunts.
"Besides, I need my stuffie back."
"You need it, huh?" Ed grins, even though he knows he shouldn't.
Oswald grins back.
They turn down a different corridor and once they get about halfway down it, Oswald announces, "Okay, here we are!"
Ed peeks his head into the room. It's obviously one Strange and his scientists had been using. Ed enters and steps up to some long, upright tubes that almost look like coffins. They are frosty to the touch. "These look like something Fries would have invented."
"He might have," Oswald says, nodding. "I'm fairly certain this is where Strange kept you before resurrecting you so that the decomposition of your body would be minimized."
Oswald takes in a deep breath, as if preparing to tell Ed something difficult.
"Spit it out, Oswald."
"I took the liberty of placing your baby into one of these in case . . ." He trails off, nervously wringing his hands.
"In case what, Oswald?" Ed says lowly.
"In case you want Strange to bring her back."
"Like he did for -"
"Oswald, have you found that miscreant?" Ed demands, cutting him off. "Where is he?"
"No, I'm sorry, Ed. Not yet. He and some of his staff escaped. But I've got my people looking for him. It won't be long -"
"And the last time he disappeared? Don't you recall how long it was before he was found again?"
Oswald blinks, remembering. Deflated he says, "Yes. It was a year . . . perhaps two."
Ed just breathes hotly through his nostrils.
"Don't you want to see her?" Oswald asks tentatively.
Ed lets out a slow breath before answering. "Okay. Yes, I do."
Oswald leads him over to a smaller silver tube, just like the other ones, propped up on a lab bench. He touches a latch on the side of it carefully and it hisses before opening, revealing baby Kristen.
Ed brings a fist to his mouth. She's still blue. And she's so still. He bites his knuckles. Eddie has returned to his conscious mind and cries in his stead.
"I'm sorry, Ed." Oswald puts a soothing hand on his back. "Truly, I am. I didn't mean for any of this to happen. I've been at City Hall all this time and I honestly had no idea that Strange was doing anything else here than what I had tasked him with."
"I know," Ed says gruffly, accepting a brief hug from him. "But I don't think it's a good idea to bring her back, Oswald, even if there was a way to do it without Strange. She'll only suffer -"
His voice catches on that last word and Oswald looks at him with a question in his eyes.
Ed continues. "Oswald, Strange took her from Lee's womb and triggered horrific mutations within her to make her grow in certain ways."
"Yes, I noticed the extra appendages."
"It was more than that," Ed says and reaches out to touch his baby's now freezing cold torso right where . . . "Lee and I had already found a tumor."
And there it was.
"Right there?" Oswald asks, noticing his pause.
"Yes," Ed says gravely. "Likely one of many she'd have been plagued with, had she lived long enough."
"He's a monster," Oswald whispers.
Ed's now curious. "Why was he in your employ, Oswald? You said he was already working for you when you found us."
"You mean when I found you and Lee prone on that floor in The Narrows having committed harakiri 'Romeo and Juliet' style - bleeding your guts out all over the place?"
"So foolish," Oswald says softly, obviously lost in a painful memory. His voice shakes as he continues, "I thought I'd lost you."
Ed hadn't even thought about what impact stumbling upon their dead bodies could have had on Oswald. He should be kind, give him a moment, but, he feels the obsessive need to correct him on one minor point. "Romeo and Juliet committed suicide - harakiri - because they thought they had lost each other. Lee and I committed murder."
"Because you thought you had lost each other."
Ed stiffens. Oswald's insightfulness hits way too close to home. He abruptly changes the subject back to the matter at hand. "Why was Strange in your employ, Oswald?"
"Oh, because of Tabitha," Oswald waves dismissively.
"Revenge?" Ed asks, remembering the Galavan/Gilzean tank.
"Of course," Oswald replies.
"So, you let that monster mess with Tabitha's child, but it didn't even cross your mind that he would mess with mine?"
"Tabitha's child? What are you talking about?"
"Wait, what are you talking about? You said revenge -"
"I had Strange resurrect Butch - seeing as it turned out he hadn't actually been alive the entire time he was Solomon Grundy - and then I killed him in front of her. Just as they were reunited," Oswald says triumphantly. "Voila! Revenge."
"Oh." Ed's face takes on a look of concentration.
"Ed . . .?" Oswald asks. "What is it?"
"So you didn't know she was pregnant with Butch's child?"
"What?" Oswald laughs an abrupt laugh. "Pregnant? In the less than thirty seconds she had with Butch? All of them spent in front of me? Ha! I don't think so."
"Oh . . . " Ed looks even more confused for a second as he takes that all in and then it clears. "He must have . . ."
"Must have what, Ed? Spill."
"After Butch died, did Strange spend any time with Tabitha?"
"Not to my knowledge. I had my guards escort her out immediately after I shot her in the leg."
"Hmm. . . Then he must have somehow acquired a clean DNA sample from her at the very least, perhaps some from the spilled blood from her gunshot wound? Extracting an ovum from her would have been far a better choice, but if Strange hadn't gotten the opportunity to do that and only had her blood sample to work with, then where would he have gotten another ovum to use for a somatic cell nuclear transfer?" He feels a little sick as he realizes the answer to his own question. Lee.
"What are you talking about? English please, Ed."
"Oswald, I think I need to show you something." Ed kisses his fingertips and touches them to Kristen's frozen cheek as a goodbye and then solemnly closes her makeshift coffin before walking Oswald down the hallway and into the room that had contained Kristen's tank.
As he expected, the place was cleared out, the tanks drained. He walks over to touch hers.
"This is where they kept my baby, Kristen," Ed says.
"What? You're kidding."
"Not in the slightest," Ed says. "They kept her suspended in some kind of saline solution mixed with Lazarus water to facilitate the full development of her mutations."
"See this plaque?" Ed points to the plaque that reads 'Nygma/Thompkins' on the tank. "The younger scientists had a nickname for Kristen that irked Professor Strange."
"What was it?"
"Nygmakins," Ed says and chuckles.
"That is the stupidest name I have ever heard," Oswald replies.
"Stupider than Nygmobblepot?" Ed asks, and touches the tank besides Kristen's.
"N - n . . . no . . ." Oswald stammers in shock. " . . . No . . . Way."
"No, you're right, Oswald. Strange isn't that evil. But it's fun to tease you. You should see the look on your face right now." Ed laughs heartily at his friend's expense.
"Okay, okay. So this tank is where Tabitha and Butch's baby had been kept. Colloquially known as 'Galazean.' I wonder if it's still alive. If Strange took it with him . . ."
Oswald shivers. "This is getting creepy now."
"Somehow, Strange was able to create a baby from Butch and Tabitha's genetic material. And I'm sure he was growing it up to be some kind of monster, just like Kristen."
"Probably," Oswald agrees. "And I do hope that that baby is still alive out there somewhere."
"Revenge, old friend. Sweet, sweet revenge." Oswald claps Ed on the back and they shuffle out of what remains of that hall of horrors together.
"I have no intentions of leaving you, Lee."
"Good," she says, and snuggles up to him. She's been so clingy . . . and so sad. And in constant need of reassurance.
It's somehow comforting for him to realize he's not the only insecure one in their relationship. And that he probably never had been. She's afraid of him pulling away emotionally just like Jim had - he can see that clearly now. Ed strongly suspects that she had needed to make sure that he continued to care for her all along and just had an interesting way of ensuring he did just that - by planting all those doubts, pretending to string him along at first, etc. But she had buried this particular vulnerability of hers very very deep - he hadn't even been aware of it until now. But since they've lost their child, she expresses it freely through her softer personality, Lee.
The Doc, however, is still all business.
Well - he smirks - all business and all sex. He suspects that's how she's processing her grief. Human contact through the carnal act. She allows herself to lay in his arms for extended periods of time afterward - sometimes she even falls asleep in his arms post-coitus. And at other times, she just draws lazy circles on his chest as he drifts off. She doesn't pull away so quickly once it's over like she used to.
The first time they had coupled, Ed had been shocked that she had even wanted him.
They had been getting ready for bed as usual and that night The Doc was in charge of her body. She had on the briefest of silk nighties - a dark brushed navy one with lace trim that blended into her skin. He'll never forget just how much of her legs were revealed in that thing - or how much of her ass was. She hadn't bothered to put panties on. . .
Already under the sheets, Ed's loins ache from just looking at her. His rapidly engorging cock presses against the fly of his flannel pajama pants, wanting out. He wants her so badly, but she was never his. She was The Riddler's. He looks away, trying to quell his excitement.
"Ed?" she asks. She hasn't gotten into bed yet.
"Hmm?" he asks, turning back, trying to sound casual.
"Is that a banana in the bed or are you just happy to see me?"
The Doc laughs uproariously at her own joke as Ed turns bright red and pulls his glasses off and throws them onto the nightstand so he can't see her very well at all - and especially not the details like the curve of her ass peeking out from beneath soft lace. God, she's still an insufferable tease - she would do this shit to The Riddler, too. Ed grumpily rolls over in bed, facing away from her.
"Oh, I think that means you're definitely happy to see me," The Doc purrs, sitting down on the bed behind him. He can feel her warmth through the thin sheet that's barely covering his bare back as she whispers smugly, "I get to you, don't I?"
"Stop it, Doc," Ed says vehemently. "I'm not him. I never will be."
"Who says you have to be?"
He rolls over to face her without bothering to put his glasses back on and crosses his arms.
"Here," The Doc says, reaching over him to retrieve to his glasses and to gently put them on. "You don't have to be him, Ed. I want you."
"Huh?" Now he's totally confused. She had her chance back in The Narrows, when he had pined for her so obviously that everyone could see it. Even Jim had noticed it during his brief visit down there after the assassination attempt and was smugly dismissive of the whole thing. Lee had had her chance but instead, she had chosen him - the one he had tried in vain to keep at bay so she wouldn't get hurt . . . or killed - The Riddler.
The Riddler had played him - taking over with help from Oswald and surprise! absolutely no intention of killing Lee. The bastard ended up falling in love with her himself and she, in turn, had fallen for him. Ed frowns bitterly just thinking about it.
"How can that be, Doc? You fell in love with him - not me," Ed says.
"Ed, please." She removes the sheet that had been separating them and rubs her body against his. Flesh, silk, flesh . . . a touch of lace. "I want you so bad right now."
Then she whips away all the covers and straddles him, her bare . . . everything . . . covering his erection, which still desperately wants to escape his pajamas. He gulps.
"I want YOU, Ed," she says firmly as she sits up for just a second to rip open his fly before settling herself back down.
"Ohh. . ." Ed breathes out as she envelops his cock.
She smiles wickedly. "Do you feel how wet I am?"
He nods as he reaches up to touch her hair, to bring her face down for a loving kiss. Oh God, she's wet.
"That's for you, Ed. All for you."
She teasingly taps his nose and suddenly he's ready for some serious fucking. He grasps her hips and pulls her down firmly onto him as she digs her nails into his chest. He has her crying out within mere minutes, her breasts almost bouncing right over the top of her nightie.
"Take it off," he growls.
"Your nightie." He needs to see those luscious orbs.
She hesitates a second.
"Now," he commands.
"Well, well, well." She smiles wryly and it is off in a flourish. "You're not completely unlike your counterpart."
"I may appear weak by comparison, but I'm not," Ed says and flips her underneath him. "Not at all."
"No, you're not," she says touching his cheek softly. "I remember that. There were many things I couldn't have accomplished without your assistance - without the brains you thought you had lost - without the strength of your resolve. We made a great team. A strong team."
"We still can," Ed says.
"Yeah, after you make me come," she says impishly.
In response, his mouth is upon her neck in an instant, sucking hard, making her moan as his hand searches for one of her breasts, finding a nipple. She digs her nails into his back and lifts her legs over it, changing their angle so that he can thrust even deeper.
"Fuck, Ed!" She calls out.
Now it's his turn for a wry grin. "I'm trying."
She rolls her eyes as he pounds into her . . . but then he slows to an agonizing pace.
One. Stroke. At. A. Time.
But he does it hard, so fucking hard that she squeezes her eyes tight each time and looks like she's trying not to lose it.
"It's okay, Doc," Ed says reassuringly. "You can let go."
"I . . . I . . ."
He touches her cheek gently after one last hard thrust, and that does it. She arches back, hands clenched into fists, balling up the sheets, and makes a noise that sounds like she's crying softly. But she's not crying. A warm flush begins to creep up her neck and chest as he loses it himself, gripping the side of her face tightly, his forehead on hers, the very tips of their noses touching. He groans loudly with the final strokes of his finish.
His glasses are quite fogged up when it's over and laughingly, The Doc removes them.
"That was good, Ed. I needed that." She kisses him softly before rolling him over to lay her head down on his chest.
She hadn't actually articulated 'after all we've been through,' but it had been implied. From their very first encounter, Ed knew she needed more than just sex from him, even if she would never actually say it.
Leslie hasn't made an appearance since Kristen's death, and Eddie hasn't come to the front, either. It's been very quiet within his own head. All and all it feels desolate, lonely, and not at all like the peaceful silence that he had imagined, that he had craved ever since Strange had brought him back from the dead with an extra passenger in tow.
Oswald had left the two of them to their own devices - complete with staff and a driver to take care of their basic needs. Turns out the Van Dahl estate isn't his current home. Neither is the Falcone mansion - where Lee and Ed had first been brought upon Oswald's discovery of their dead bodies in The Narrows. No, Gotham had fallen and Oswald had gotten them and Strange out of there quickly and relocated them here while he tended to other matters - unaware of what Strange had really been up to in his absence. Oswald had been busy setting up his "lair" as he liked to call it, in what was left of Gotham's City Hall.
Ed smiles just thinking about it - it's fitting.
Oswald is finding his way among the ruins of Gotham, but Ed's not so sure he is finding his way through anything himself. Since The Riddler's departure, it's not just the quiet in his head that gets to him, it's that he feels so empty - like a shadow of his former self. And Lee? Ed worries about her. A lot. He worries that her grief over Kristen and her struggle to deal with having three people in her head may eventually wear her down and lead to her demise. She's still not used to it. Not by a long shot. And she hasn't even asked about the people of The Narrows since she'd been brought back to life. That's just not like her. Something is seriously wrong.
But still, there's something he needs to tell her, show her . . . something that could be upsetting. Yet, she needs to know. He takes a deep breath.
"Lee?" he asks.
"Oswald - um," Ed coughs a little, clearing his throat and trying again. "Oswald found a place to store Kristen's body. Until we are ready . . ."
"Until we're ready for what, Ed?"
"To say goodbye."
Tears swim so easily in her eyes now and this moment is no exception. "I'm not sure I'll ever be ready for that."
"I know," he says. "But I'd like to show you anyway."
"Well, that was pretty fucking harrowing, Ed," The Doc says sarcastically and downs a shot of bourbon. She had found a bottle of $3000 straight bourbon whiskey in Oswald's bar. Typical Oswald - after not having much for most of his childhood, he now only wanted the finer things in life. But the way The Doc was drinking that bourbon, you wouldn't even know that it was something that should be savored, cherished.
"It had to be done, Doc. You needed to see her. Lee needed to see her."
"Well, mission accomplished, Ed. Let's move on."
"But wait." He puts up a hand. "So, we're in agreement then? No burial just yet."
"Where the fuck would we bury her, Ed? Oswald's backyard?"
"There is a Van Dahl family cemetery on -"
"She's NOT a Van Dahl," The Doc says firmly. "You can forget about that."
"Okay. So we're in a holding position?"
"Yes," she says firmly.
"What? You don't like that?"
"No, it's fine."
They really don't have another choice. The Doc is just being practical. But him? He wants to be able to say goodbye, to grieve and move on from this horrible situation that they had woken up in. Especially because the emotional crutch he hadn't realized that he had relied upon so heavily had just died. He really didn't want to extend this pain indefinitely - he was fairly certain he couldn't handle it.
"Hey, you know what we should do?" The Doc asks, bumping his shoulder. "Before I get too drunk?"
"No, we do plenty of that." She laughs. How can she laugh after just having seen their baby girl frozen in that tube, tucked away down that sinister hallway where Strange had conducted his abominable research? "Ed, we should let the little ones out to play - Eddie and Leslie."
Ed perks his head up and smiles. "That's actually a fantastic idea."
"Then let's do it!"
They've already torn up Oswald's bedroom. Jumping on his bed, diving into his stuffie collection and pulling penguins and other such stuffed animals out willy-nilly, eventually tossing them over the bed like footballs, then crashing onto the middle of it to tackle each other whenever they think one of them is cheating. Oswald's luxurious bedding has now gotten all tangled up into obscure clumps.
Their shrieks had initially drawn the attention of Oswald's staff, but Eddie noticed that they had just discreetly slinked away after a brief observation of their bizarre behavior. Their actions would probably have been easier for them to understand if they weren't in adult bodies.
"Hey, Eddie," Leslie says, finally tired of destroying Oswald's bed. "I'm hungry."
It's 3pm. "I think the kitchen's closed."
"You ever heard of sneaking food?" Leslie asks, a devilish grin lighting up her face.
Eddie decides to use a phrase he hears Ed use often. "Enlighten me."
"You sound like such a twit when you use big words, Eddie." She sticks out her tongue. "You're such a dork."
That's it. He tackles her once more, this time onto the floor, and tickles the hell out of her stomach, eliciting very loud shrieks out of her until she begs him to stop.
"Ow," she says, sitting up, holding her tummy.
"What's wrong?" Eddie asks, suddenly concerned that he might have hurt her.
"I'm so hungry!" Leslie wails in frustration. "The Doc only drinks and Lee's so sad she barely wants to eat anymore."
"Well, we need to get your body some food, then." Eddie stands up, grabs his staff, and holds his free hand out to her.
She just looks up at him for a bit, not even making a move to take it. "What? Do you think you're some kind of knight or something?"
"Milady," he says with a bow and a smile, his arm still outstretched.
"You're such a dork, Eddie," Leslie tells him as she takes his hand and stands up. "A chivalrous one, but a dork nonetheless."
He sticks his tongue out at her, yet is happy with the situation. He knows that when she calls him a dork, it's not derogatory like others use it - it's a term of endearment - and a way for her to deny that she has a crush on him. Which is so very obvious … especially when she blushes once she realizes she hasn't let go of his hand just yet.
She starts to pull her hand out of his . . .
"No, don't," Eddie says and recaptures it. "It's okay. I like this here."
Leslie looks down demurely and sways side to side, keeping her hand in his.
Eddie puffs out his chest proudly and thinks that The Riddler isn't the only one of them who's smooth with the ladies. . .
He hears Ed involuntarily snort before they both remember that The Riddler is gone and their mood becomes a bit more somber.
Leslie looks back up at him and tugs on his hand. "C'mon, let me show you how to sneak food."
They take off for the kitchen, hand in hand, grinning like fools.
Leslie had taught him how to "wall creep" and the two of them are slinking down the corridor to the kitchen, their backs against the wall, stomachs tucked in, trying to be as skinny as possible so that they can just "blend" into the wall.
"You know we're still sticking out from the wall, right?" Eddie whispers. Heck, even his staff is - and it's quite thin compared to the rest of his body. "I mean, we're not even camouflaged."
"Shh . . ." she says. "It's so we make less of a shadow."
Bullshit. There were no shadows to be made. She just liked pretending that she was sneaking around like some kind of deadly assassin.
"Okay, do the finger thing I taught you," she says as they reach the entrance to the kitchen.
He reaches out for the door jamb and slowly curves just his fingers, then just his hand around it and into the room. Now his arm.
"You're doing it wrong!" she hisses. "Watch your elbow!"
He just rolls his eyes. This is so silly. But he'll do it. For her.
He starts over.
Once he is all the way into the kitchen, flat against the wall adjacent to the door, he waits for her to follow. As she creeps around the other side of the door fingers first, he can't help but laugh at how ridiculous she looks.
"Shhh!" she exclaims. "You're not being stealthy."
"I don't think we need to be stealthy anymore, Leslie. There's no one here."
She stops what she is doing and just comes into the room. "You're right."
"Of course I am." He relaxes his position, stepping away from the wall. "Now, let's get you some food."
She beams up at him.
He makes his way over to the walk-in pantry and she follows him in.
And then, it happens.
While they are in the midst of perusing the shelves.
Every hair stands up on the back of Eddie's neck as a chill runs up it. He turns deathly white. "Oh no."
"What is it?" Leslie asks.
"The bad men, the bad men, the bad men," he chants as his staff falls to the floor and he sinks to his knees, looking up at the ceiling, yet seeing nothing.
In an instant, Leslie's on the floor of the pantry beside him. "Who Eddie? Who?"
She looks out the open door, yet there's no one to be seen. But then gruff male voices can easily be heard by both of them, not just Eddie. Two men have just entered the kitchen - two of Oswald's cooking staff.
Instinctively, protectively, she runs to the door and closes it.
The gesture doesn't go unnoticed.
She returns to Eddie's side, kneeling in front of him and taking both of his hands into her own as he sinks down even further, onto the back of his heels. She touches his face as the tears start to stream down it. "Eddie, talk to me."
He can't. He just starts to rock back and forth chanting.
The bad men, the bad men, the bad men. . .
She hugs him tightly and rocks with him.
"Ed, I'm breaking," Eddie calls out into the void.
"Ed, I NEED YOU!" Eddie screams, then whispers, "Please."
His mother's face, her profile, keeps snapping into view and then pulling away down a long twisted hallway . . . similar to the vestibule, but longer. A stretched vestibule.
"It's okay, it's okay," he faintly hears a little girl whisper, barely feels her hands upon his cheeks. But he's not in that reality right now.
Suddenly, there are firm hands on his shoulders. In the void.
"I'm here, bud. I'm here."
He looks up at the man who looks just like the body they inhabit. "I'm breaking."
"No . . ." It is just a small breath of denial. Wispy and easily broken. Somehow, Ed knows what's really going on, and no words can change that.
"I need you."
"Okay, bud," Ed says, resigning himself to what's about to happen with a sigh. "Okay."
"There goes the butcher's wife," one of the cancer kids screeches as Edward passes by. He takes in a sharp breath, holding his school books tightly to his chest. He just wants to get to class. He's healthy enough to go that day. Why do their words bother him so much?
He puts his head down and keeps walking, not wanting to think about it.
Butcher's wife. Butcher's wife. Butcher's wife.
All the kids call him that. Is it because of what goes on in the kitchen? He is pretty sure that his dad had never done stuff like that to his mom.
"You need to remember," Eddie says to him firmly. "I have to share this stuff with you. It's too much. Please."
Ed just nods in response and steels himself, preparing for the cold hard truths of his youth, so long forgotten.
"Buddy, you're going to be staying here from now on," his father says to him gently as Edward pushes his glasses up the bridge of his nose and sniffs. He looks out from the vestibule cautiously before stepping into the foyer of a seemly grand building that had the faint underlying stench of decay about it.
"Why?" he asks his father. They had just come from Hilltop Elementary - he hadn't even realized it was to be his last day there. Did his teacher, Mrs. Musher, know about this? Edward starts to panic as he thinks of all the unfinished schoolwork. They hadn't completed the science module on molds just yet and they were only halfway through reading The Tale of -
"You're too sick, bud."
"No. I'm not," Edward whines. "I want to go home now. And I want to go back to school tomorrow."
"Listen to me," his father says to him firmly. "The people here can take care of you. Better than we can."
Edward watches his statuesque mother step back into the vestibule after clearing her throat. She hadn't said one word to him since they had picked him up from school that afternoon. He always had the feeling that she didn't like him very much.
"And there will be other kids here, bud. Ones who are sick, just like you. You won't be the only one."
"I don't care if I'm the only one," Edward says and pouts. He means it. He knows he's different than other children and that nothing will change that. "Take me home."
"Look," his father crouches down to his level. "You're too much for her. A burden. Do you understand what that means?"
Edward looks warily back at his mom. "Mommy?"
She refuses to look at him and he starts to cry.
"Edward!" his father says sharply and shakes him. "You cannot do that. Don't be such a snivelling baby. Be a man."
Edward sniffs hard in an effort to contain his tears, but utterly fails.
"Eddie?" he hears Leslie's faint voice breaking into the void. So does Ed. They both feel her crawling into his lap. Even though this is new to Eddie, he knows that their bodies have been like this before - many times - wrapped about each other in just this way when the adults were in control - except this time it's for comfort, not for coupling.
Eddie drops his forehead to her shoulder and she places her hand softly on his neck and just holds him. No one has ever given him - or Ed - comfort like this before. It's going to make everything easier as he breaks down and shares it all with Ed.
"Buddy, listen to me - you've gotta be tough and use your smarts here. I know you're a bright boy - top of Mrs. Musher's class, even."
Edward tries to smile through the tears he's still trying to wipe away. They continue to leak out of his eyes and annoyingly fog up his glasses.
"Your brain will get you everywhere, bud. Believe me. Because you and I? We're the little guys. Short, small. We must use our wits to outsmart everyone else around us, 'cause we certainly don't have the brawn." Edward's father chuckles and ruffles his hair. "You'll be fine, kid."
"Will I?" Edward asks, forlorn, doubtful.
"Only if you stop being a crybaby and find the stronger person inside of you." His father stands up to impart one last pearl of wisdom to his son. Sternly. "Girly emotions are for the weak, Edward. No one's ever going to love you if you give in to them."
"Ain't that the truth," Edward hears his mother mutter under her breath before she turns away, still having not even glanced at him.
Was that why she had never truly loved him? Was he too weak?
It was the last time he ever heard her voice.
In the void, Ed is curled up into a fetal position, cringing, shaking, and chanting "Mommy" softly, over and over again.
"I'm sorry, Ed," Eddie says, coming up to him, kneeling down to rub his shoulder comfortingly. "But I cannot hold it any longer and you need to remember this - for your own good. It was the first piece of you that I found - the first piece that broke off."
Ed nods, but remains coiled into himself. He understands. But where had these pieces been when he thought he had been integrated before? Like when he was with Kristen, Isabella, even Oswald? He had never remembered any of his childhood concretely - he only had vague notions and feelings . . . had personalities begun splitting off of him this early? How had he not noticed?
"Yes and no," Eddie answers. "Each fragment that broke off was never enough to form a whole."
"I broke off a lot of fragments, I assume?"
Eddie nods glumly.
"The Riddler found some of them, had access to the ones that would serve him well, but he never found them all - he didn't need to. But I did. That was my job," Eddie says proudly.
"And what is your job now?" Ed asks, fearful that he already knows the answer.
"To give them back to you. Without the strength of The Riddler inside of us, I can't hold them anymore. Besides, it's time."
"Talk to me," they both hear Leslie beg from the other side of the void.
"NO!" Ed screams in his head. "No, you can't tell her about Mom. NEVER. Do you understand me?"
"I would never tell her about Mom," Eddie says quietly. "I'm as ashamed about that as you are."
Ed breathes a sigh of relief.
A mother's love.
Only Oswald it seems had been lucky enough to deserve that. Ed would never reveal it to his best friend, but he had always envied him that.
WARNING: This chapter contains graphic depictions of abuse.
"Butcher's wife! Butcher's wife!" some of the boys call out when they see Edward staggering out of bed and heading down the hallway, testing to see if he's well enough to at least attend afternoon classes that day. The morning had been brutal.
One turns to the other and says, "I wonder what they're going to use on him today?"
"Ewww . . ."
That garnered some snickers.
"Oh, I got it! I got it!" One of them says exuberantly. "A meat tenderizer. You know that little hammer with a grid on each side?"
"Ooooh, I bet that would hurt."
Edward flinches. Yes, that one had hurt. But there had been worse.
The first time it happened, he had just been trying to satisfy his curiosity. The baker did some amazing things with food and he wanted to know how. So he had stolen away in the kitchen, hiding under the main sink, behind a large white bucket of something down there that he had pulled in front of himself to obscure his presence, yet still give him a decent view of the master at work.
But before the baker had even gotten started, Edward had been discovered and the barrel had been slid away.
"Come out from under there, boy!" the baker had commanded gruffly as the cook joined him to see who was there.
Edward did what he was told.
"Hoss!" the baker called out to the doorway and then crossed his arms and waited.
A huge beast of a man sauntered in, his white apron splattered with blood. The Butcher. It had been rumored that the butcher liked to eat little kids. Or so he had been told. Edward tried not to show any fear in his presence.
"Well, what have we here?" the butcher said in his deep rumbly voice, untying his apron. "Looks like I may be a bit overdressed for the occasion."
He placed a hand on his belt buckle and it clinked open.
"Now wait, Hoss," the cook had said as he rubbed his little hands together fiendishly. "We have to pick an implement."
"Yes!" the baker cried out in delight and then went about the kitchen to look for one.
Ed refuses to remember what that first implement was and Eddie doesn't force him to. It's not necessary. He only needs him to remember the horror. And he does.
Being slammed face down onto the silver prep table, two of them spreading his legs so far apart it hurt. He had protested, "My hips don't go that way." The butcher had only chuckled in response. "They do now."
That gigantic man's hand pressed firmly onto his back, pinning him down near the edge of the table, his monstrous cock bobbing obscenely in his face.
The pain of that first implement going in - his screech met with torrents of sinister laughter from the cook and the baker as the butcher began stroking himself and groaning so easily with pleasure.
When it was all over, the cook had gone back to work as if nothing had happened. So had the baker. But the butcher came up to him and slapped him on the buttocks - which only caused more of his blood to drip down onto the floor. Then he said to Edward, "Nice show."
At least the kitchen staff had been kind enough to let him wash off the sticky mess that the butcher had left all over his face before kicking him out. That stuff made him feel incredibly dirty, and he had been grateful that he hadn't been forced to show his defiled his face to the world.
It was a routine that was to be repeated again and again. Edward got used to it. It became the price he paid to watch the baker work . . . yet more and more pieces of himself broke each time he was violated.
Edward had gone down to the cancer ward. Why did he even bother trying to play here? These kids were the snarkiest, meanest, most passive aggressive of the bunch. He figured it was because they were staring death in the face every day and needed to take out their anxiety on someone. Too bad it was him.
"He obviously likes being the butcher's wife."
"No, he loves it." This elicited cackles. "I mean, he must love it - or else why would he keep letting them do that to him?"
"Oh, hey there, Edward." One boy makes a huge show of pretending to finally notice him. "I didn't see you standing there."
Right. Edward just crosses his arms and glares at him.
"What was it today, Edward? A carrot?"
No, they were usually more creative than that.
"A salad spinner," Edward says calmly and gets satisfaction at seeing their shocked expressions as they try to figure out how in the hell that would work. One of them lifts a finger to ask him a question, but he just walks out of the room.
They think he's letting them? Letting them?!
Hearing that makes him so angry that he fantasizes about killing them all before the cancer does. Scum like that don't deserve to make it to adulthood. Besides, it's the furthest thing from the truth. The only reason the stuff in the kitchen keeps happening to him is because of his curiosity. He HAS to know how the baker accomplishes certain things. He's utterly, irresistibly fascinated, much to his own detriment. He keeps sneaking into the kitchen to watch him at work and gets caught every time. But one of these days, he vows, he will find a way to get away with it. . .
"The Butcher's wife?" Leslie asks, concern lining her face.
"What?!" Eddie snaps back to the present. What had he just said? Just what had he revealed to her? His heart feels like it's going to pound right out of his chest.
"You kept saying 'the butcher's wife' over and over." Leslie pouts. "Please talk to me. Please."
"I . . . uh . . ."
And then, Leslie leans in to kiss him. Eddie is shocked and his eyelids flutter as her soft lips press into his. But, he doesn't pull away.
Deep within the recesses of his brain, Ed just smiles contentedly. He hadn't been expecting this, just like he hadn't expected The Doc to admit her love for The Riddler before his passing, but it just feels right.
Perhaps this means that someday he and Lee will truly come together. Every part of them. There's hope.
When their kiss breaks, both Eddie and Leslie just look down and blush in silence for a bit. Leslie's the first to break it.
"Eddie, I'm good to talk to. I'm a good listener, I swear." She touches his cheek. "And you're so sad . . ."
"I'd like to take her comfort, too, Eddie," Ed says in his head. "But there are things I know you'll want to share that I don't want Lee or The Doc to know. EVER. And you know they're always listening."
Eddie nods and says, "Leslie?"
"Is there any way you can ask The Doc and Lee to go away, or something? Give us some privacy? Is that even possible?"
"Let me ask!" she says.
Scotch was the first person he had killed. Ed didn't remember that, but Eddie did. And it was time to bring that memory back. Hopefully, Leslie could help to make this whole process easier - if he didn't scare her off, that was. So this was a test - one Kristen Kringle had most definitely failed.
His real name was Scott, but he made everyone call him Scotch. Edward couldn't figure out why he would want that. Scott sounded like a real name, and Scotch just sounded like a stupidly truncated name for a candy.
Scotch and Edward had one very distinct thing in common - no one knew what was wrong with them. They couldn't introduce themselves like the other children.
"Hi! I've got cancer."
"Hi! My heart doesn't work."
"Hi! My parents gave me bad genes."
That last one could mean almost anything, but at least the kids knew specifically what was wrong with them and could answer if anyone pressed further.
But Edward and Scotch?
Well, Edward suspected that Scotch DID know what was wrong with him - he just never let on to the others. Scotch was always scratching - like a balding orangutan covered in fleas and mites. Disgusting. His roommates claimed he even scratched in his sleep. He would also sometimes swell up oddly and get blotches. If a teacher called on him and he had to stand up to answer, the entire class could see those blotches form on his neck right then and there.
But legend had it that Scotch was so tough that he had beat whatever it was that had landed him here in the first place - and that's what he wanted them to think. However, Edward knew differently. He had spied on Scotch - noticed that he often took breathing treatments several times a day - but never in his room, like other kids - always in a doctor's office. Privately.
And, unlike Edward, no one DARED to pick on Scotch because of an 'unknown diagnosis.' No one dared to say he didn't belong. Scotch ruled the schoolyard. If you wanted to do ANYTHING at recess, you had to run it by Scotch and his crew first.
Edward had actually made a friend, Ryan - a 'cardiac kid' - and the two of them had inadvertently decided to play in an area of the playground that Scotch had deemed off-limits. It's just, Edward and Ryan hadn't known about that.
The grass was still wet from the sprinklers and had been freshly cut that morning, so the two boys were reluctant to sit on it. They were still deciding what to do when one of Scotch's crew noticed them and alerted him.
Scotch charged over to the two of them before they could even react. Without saying a word, Scotch's fist connected with Ryan's face, and he hit the ground. A couple of his crew kicked him in the stomach once he was down.
Edward tensed, crouched, was at the ready.
"You know you're not supposed to be here, right?" Scotch said, and then laughed through his wheezing upon noticing Edward's stance. "You going to fight me over it then, little boy?"
Someone snickered, "If he's even a boy."
What did that mean?
The kids started up a chant. Butcher's wife. Butcher's wife. Butcher's wife. Most of the kids at recess had circled round to see what was going on, except for the kids who were too tired to or couldn't quite make it that far from where they were. But still, those kids listened and observed as best they could from where they were - their interest was piqued.
Scotch lunged for him and Edward dodged. And just like that, Scotch slipped in the grass and went down.
He didn't get up.
Strange noises came out of his mouth once he began to breathe again, and when Edward bent down to examine him closely, he noticed that Scotch's face was swelling on the side that was touching the ground. So were his arms. The freckles on his forearms were stretched into grotesquely odd forms, and in no time, his arms looked like sausages about ready to burst.
Edward looked back at Scotch's face again - at the blades of grass tickling his cheek, chin, temple - and back down at his arms lying in the grass.
He wanted to try something.
So he kneeled down in front of Scotch and plucked a handful of grass. Scotch just looked at it warily, still making those odd noises, but saying nothing. Then Edward grabbed the back of his head and tightened his fingers through the rusty brillo pad that Scotch called his hair.
Then he shoved the grass into his mouth.
When Scotch tried to spit it out, Edward clamped his hand over his mouth and shook his head. No, that grass was staying in there. Scotch began to thrash about and underneath his fingers, his lips billowed to unimaginable proportions.
"Wow!" Edward exclaimed softly. He hadn't known that the human body could do that.
Scotch's face kept swelling, too - even his eyes swelled shut. But then the thrashing subsided and after a bit and Edward could no longer feel the breath from his nostrils on his hand and he removed it from his mouth.
"He's dead!" some of the cancer kids called out.
Someone else yelled, "Go get the teacher!"
These kids knew death. It was no stranger to them - and they were right. Scotch was dead.
"That kid killed him," Edward heard one of the teachers say as he was eavesdropping on the two that had raced out onto the playground and found Scotch first - found him too late.
He knew that they were talking about him.
"What should we do about it? Anything?"
"Do you think that kid really knew what he was doing? That what he was doing was going to end up killing Scott?"
"I don't know."
"And then we have to ask ourselves, does it really matter? Scott was a bully - a menace. And it's not like he has parents that will mourn his passing."
"Ain't that the truth."
Edward wondered if his parents would mourn his passing. Or if they would even be notified.
"Why?" Leslie asks.
"Why, what?" Eddie says.
"Why wouldn't your parents mourn you? And, why wouldn't your school notify them if you died? That's absurd."
"Careful. . ." Ed warns in his head.
"It wasn't a normal school," Eddie replies cautiously.
Leslie harrumphs. "That sounds like a crazy school, even for one that is also a hospital, too. But okay, continue."
"It's a good thing she's not as curious as us," Ed says. "But make sure not to let on that mom and dad just left us there and never came back, okay?"
Eddie nods and returns to his story, glad that the adults inside of her aren't listening. Leslie's taking this all in stride, but he fears that if the others were listening in, they'd be worried about Ed's state of mind. . . above and beyond the normal worry, that is. But, he's relieved that he's sharing this with Leslie right now and that she'd promised that she wouldn't share anything that he told her with the others.
Edward had been planning to go to the kitchen but got diverted when he noticed a gurney with a sheet pulled all the way over someone's head being taken to a part of the facility that he'd never explored. He knew that a sheet positioned that way meant a dead kid.
Edward was quite stealthy as he followed the gurney and hid in the room it had been taken to - he had been getting a lot of practice at being stealthy lately and it was paying off.
"Oh damn, that's the only size we have? Again?" a man who had just come in from another door asked, looking at a row of small, identical pine coffins lined up along the side of the room.
"'Fraid so," answered the one who had just wheeled the gurney in.
"And he's a big boy, too. Don't our benefactors understand that kids come in all shapes and sizes? This is getting really old." He sighs, frustrated. "I've gotta go get the saw."
"How else am I going to fit him in the box?" the other man answers, frustrated. "But first, I'm getting lunch. I can't deal with this kind of incompetence right now."
The two men leave and Edward is all alone with - not the first dead body he's seen - but the first dead body he's ever explored. He's fascinated by death, he's surrounded by it . . . and he wants to know what happens AFTER. Now's his chance.
"How exciting!" Leslie says and claps her hands.
"Wait. Really?" Eddie can't contain his smile.
"I am very interested in knowing how the body works," she says matter of factly. "Why do you think I like playing doctor to my poor sick Pokey Bear so much? It's not just because Lee is a doctor."
"Well, I think I wanted to know more about how death worked than about how life did," Eddie says, then anxiously awaits her reaction to that, his tummy tightening uncomfortably.
"Still, it's a body thing," Leslie says and shrugs. "I wish I had been there. It sounds cool."
He looks at her funny.
"I . . . uh. It's just -"
"You look kinda cute when you're enthusiastic, Leslie. That's all."
"Yes, she does," Ed says softly, remembering how it was in The Narrows not so long ago. She had really shined as Queen . . .
Eddie and Leslie blush and look down, uncomfortable. Both Ed and Eddie realize in that moment that she hadn't even been fazed to learn that he had taken another person's life. She had been way more concerned that his family and his school might not care about him.
Eddie continues with his story, telling Leslie all about the things he had looked at and explored on Scott's body. His narrative is greeted with 'oooh's, excited squeals of 'ick!' and her rapt attention. She makes him feel so proud of himself and what he had done, but that only makes him dread telling her what had happened next all the more. He doesn't want to lose her approval.
"Why did you stop?" she asks.
"Give me a minute," Eddie says. "I want to make sure I tell you the next part just right."
"Okay," she says. "I'll wait."
When he's ready, he takes a deep breath and says, "Okay, remember my friend Ryan?"
"Well, I don't know what he was doing in that corridor - the one I had never even ventured down before - but suddenly, he was there. And he pushed open the door just as I was doing my exploring - when I had my hands on Scott's dead body, studying it intently."
"And he didn't like that?"
"No, not in the least. He actually screamed and ran away. I didn't realize how bad it was going to get for me until later."
Eddie takes another deep breath, dreading to dredge up this next memory. Ed doesn't remember it yet, but even he shifts uncomfortably in anticipation.
"Shortly afterward, that man came back with the saw so I hid and watched. I learned how to properly dismember a body at age ten."
"My age," Leslie breathes.
"Yes," Eddie says somberly.
"What happened next?"
Eddie looks up at the ceiling in an effort to keep the wet tears in his eyes, thinking that perhaps gravity will help. He doesn't want to cry in front of her again - he's not a sniveling baby.
Ed puts his hands on his shoulders. "It's okay, bud. Out of all of us, The Riddler included, you're definitely the one who's allowed to cry openly. It's okay. She won't judge. She's not Mom."
Eddie looks back down at her. "During the funeral for Scotch, I sat alone. And by alone, I mean alone. No one in my row, no one in front or behind me for miles. But I didn't truly get it until I realized that Ryan had betrayed me like all friends eventually do, telling everyone what he had seen, making me sound like a creep."
The small coffin made its way down the aisle. A simple pine box without decoration. Like they all were.
And that's when the ballistics started. Some spitballs and some small sharp pencils were thrown at the back of his head, but then came the bigger balls of paper. Ones that didn't sting physically, but packed a punch in other ways.
He opened the first one:
The second one:
The third one:
Sick in the head
The fourth one:
Get help, you nut job
He knew should have stopped after the first few, but compulsively he kept opening them. Every single one.
"I don't know why their words hurt me so much. I had gotten used to being called the Butcher's Wife, but I never got used to those. And they never stopped."
"Hey, Eddie, it's okay," Leslie says, taking his hands. "You're none of those things."
He laughs bitterly through his tears as Ed just shakes his head. She is so wrong.
"Leslie, you know that I'm ALL of those things. I am literally insane, a psychopath and a killer . . . someone who needs help."
"Okay, maybe," she concedes. "But I'm not so sure about you being a full-on psychopath."
"Well, you just ask Lee about that when you let her back into your head. She used to work at Arkham - she can clue you in."
"Then maybe those words hurt you so much because . . ."
And then she says them. The words that hurt. But, she says them carefully. "Because they are true?"
He removes his hands from hers to cover his eyes and just bawl . . . and then finally to scream. "I don't want to be this way! I don't want to be crazy!"
"I know," she says and wraps him up in an awkward hug as he cries against her arms.
Inside his mind, Ed is crying too. Because once he remembered what had happened with Scotch, he also vividly recalled every word Kristen had called him right before he killed her.
Murderer. Sicko. Psychopath. Freak.
Leslie strokes his hair and says, "But none of those things make you unlovable."
Many days later, Ed and Lee take solace in each other, connecting physically, quietly, almost somberly, as they are still mourning the loss of their child. His hands entwine within hers as he slowly brings her to a soft, gentle climax. And then her hand is upon his cheek, her eyes gazing into his for just a moment before he closes them and starts his own.
Once they finish, they lie together in the plush bed in the room that Oswald had given them and just stare out into the night. The room has a view of the modestly lit pool house and Ed is glad that they are no longer hiding out there like fugitives. Besides, nothing but bad memories of Kristen await them should they ever return. Her little blue face in death, her four adorable tiny little hands in life, constantly slapping his face, now stilled forever. He sighs deeply, his heart aching, missing her more than he wants to.
"You know when I lost Jim's baby . . . " Lee begins and he turns onto his elbow so he can look down upon her. ". . . he told me to move on, and I tried."
Ed strokes a lock of her hair gently, tucking it behind her ear.
"I moved South where I ended up finding Mario because he had pushed me away. Jim thought I could only find happiness without him, even though I was carrying his child, our child." Lee begins to cry softly.
Ed kisses her forehead.
"At least, Jim said that from jail, back when things looked pretty grim for him . . ."
"I'm sorry about that," Ed says, his brown eyes dark with sincerity. "I don't think I ever apologized for how much it cost you - what I did to him."
"It's okay," Lee says and laughs lightly, if hollowly. "I clocked you in the face for it. We're good."
"Good enough," Lee says. "You see, Ed, at first I blamed you for Jim not being with me when I miscarried, but truth be told, I'm not sure he would have been there anyway. I could feel him pulling away from me before I even got pregnant, lost his own darkness, afraid of pulling me into it. Eventually, he became afraid of pulling our baby into it, too. So when I told him I was expecting, it only heightened his anxiety. And even though he tried his best to keep it from me, I could tell. So when you framed him for Kristen's murder and it landed him in Blackgate, that only served to give him justification to finally act on his fear. He ended things with me so that I could 'find happiness' without him. Away from his darkness."
"Jim Gordon? Dark?" Ed harrumphs. "His body count may be higher than mine, but he's hardly dark."
"Oh, but he is," Lee says adamantly. "You don't know him like I do. He destroys everything he touches. Like he did Mario -"
Her breath catches in her throat and she brings her knuckles to her mouth, trying to fight off a fresh round of tears. Ed waits patiently, and after a moment she succeeds and continues.
"Mario was so good to me, Ed. He was the doctor that treated me during my miscarriage. I barely made it to the emergency room because I was in so much denial about what was happening to me and he was there to steady me - to help me to face the truths that I needed to. Jim had told me to move on and it ended up being so easy to do so with Mario. I miss him."
She sighs dejectedly and snuggles into Ed's chest, hiding her face.
"I miss Isabella," Ed says woodenly. There's no emotion in his tone. The words had just come out.
"Oh?" Lee perks up to look him in the eye. "Would you like to talk about her?"
Ed looks about the room. All of his memories of Isabella should be here, he had lived here at the time - but they aren't. There are so many blanks now - many more than he remembers there ever being. Ed begins to wonder if The Riddler had taken their shared memories of her when he died - not just the ones that he had always kept hidden.
He used to have a lot of memories of Isabella, didn't he? Why would The Riddler hide those? He can't remember - he just can't remember.
He answers Lee stiffly, "Another time."
"We're both widows in our own way, aren't we?" Lee asks, softly touching his cheek.
Ed's eyes have no tears, yet his heart begins to hurt. Even though this kind of pain is something they could share, it doesn't feel right to talk to Lee about Isabella. Not at all. His eyes dart back and forth a few times before he finally issues an uncomfortable, "Yes."
"Ed, I want you to know that I love your darkness," Lee says in all seriousness, changing the subject back. "Please don't push me away because of it, because you're afraid it will somehow hurt me. You must know by now that I can take it. Please don't be like Jim - I couldn't handle going through that again."
"I would never do that to you," Ed says firmly. The thought had never even crossed his mind. If he's ever fortunate enough for her to let him into her heart, why would he EVER push her away?
Jim Gordon was an idiot.
He kisses her forehead once again. He has no plans to leave her unless she tells him to go. None.
"I'm sorry I haven't told you yet," Lee says, faltering a bit.
"Told me what?"
"That it's not just your darkness that I love."
He gulps. "What are you saying, Lee?"
"I love you, Ed. I've loved you for a long time now." She blinks slowly, deliberately, like that night when she had called The Riddler's bluff and they coupled for the first time. "I've loved you since well before you fathered my child."
"Really?" He asks incredulously. "For how long?"
"Wouldn't you like to know?" she asks, looking down as if being demure and smiling coyly.
He groans. "Lee. . ."
"Are you ready for something difficult?" Eddie asks Ed in the dead of night as Lee sleeps within the cocoon of his body.
"You mean there's more?" Ed asks him, shocked, and quite frankly a bit frightened. He holds onto Lee a little tighter.
Eddie nods solemnly.
Wasn't what he had already remembered of his childhood difficult enough? How can there possibly be more?
"Ed, there were so many pieces . . ." Eddie says.
Ed gulps. "I don't think I can handle anymore."
"You have to. You're strong now, with Lee. It will be okay."
"How are you so sure of that?"
"With Kristen, you were integrated, with Isabella you were integrate -"
"But I wasn't integrated with Lee - quite the opposite. Keep that in mind. And if I'm only remembering all of these things because of you now, Eddie, was I ever truly integrated when I was with Kristen and Isabella? I didn't remember any of the things that you've shown me until now. At all."
Eddie sighs and sits down, crossing his legs. Ed can see him as a faint reflection in the window. "You're right. There was no one inside of you to pick up the pieces until me - not entirely. You'll see - there were just too many of them. The Riddler and others picked up a few here and there - but only the ones they needed. It wasn't until Strange created -"
"Wait? Strange 'created' you?"
"In a way." The little boy shrugs. "It was a fortunate accident the way I see it."
"Of course you would think that way," Ed says and nods. "He gave you life. I've always strongly suspected that your presence was a side effect of the resurrection."
"No," Eddie contradicts firmly. "YOU gave me life. You. Not Professor Strange. But it was an accident that I appeared finally - a side effect of the resurrection. And it was fortunate for you, Ed, because now you can finally access your memories and perhaps one day be whole. I've retrieved all of your childhood ones for you and I want to share them with you - every last one. That's why I'm here - so that we can come together and perhaps you can stop breaking apart."
"Even if I don't want to?" Ed asks, too timidly for his liking. Why's he so afraid?
"I can't share them with you if you refuse me. But your fear of these memories is why they exist inside of you in all of these fragmented pieces in the first place. It's why you are broken and unable to heal, Ed. And why it keeps happening. . ." Eddie crosses his arms, looks down and pouts, severely disappointed in Ed for being so afraid. Eddie's the one who holds all of these terrible memories, and he is just a child. Ed is an adult.
After a beat, Ed says honestly, "I don't want to keep splitting."
"Then I hope that you can face the rest of this trauma and learn how to deal with it on your own without me, without The Riddler - or any of the others that have been with us from time to time."
"The stronger ones."
Eddie sighs. "You can be strong, Ed. All by yourself. You just need to realize that. Those people have been inside of you, been a part of you all along. They don't have to break off and take over for you for you to be strong. You can do that for yourself."
"But our strong part is lost now. The Riddler is dead. Gone."
Eddie sighs despondently. "I guess you're right. He is."
"How can I ever be strong without him?"
Eddie has no answer for Ed.
"Butcher's wife butcher's wife butcher's wife," Ed is whispering in his sleep, and rocking. In Lee's arms.
She is alert and still holding him when he awakens and instinctively grabs her arms around himself, forcing her to hold him tighter. She buries her head in the crook of his neck. "It's okay, Ed. You'll get through this."
"I won't. I know I won't," he whimpers.
"You WILL," she says firmly. "I have every faith in you."
"You don't even know what happened!" he protests.
"I don't need to, Ed. I know you don't want to share what happened with me but I'm here for you regardless and I know how strong of mind you are. It will be enough."
He rolls over to face her, angry. "You know nothing of the kind."
"The Dentist?" Lee asks and raises an eyebrow. Ed had survived that man's horrific torture easily enough without caving.
"I was protecting Oswald."
"Precisely. When you care enough, your mind finds a way." Lee reaches out to stroke his face. "It will find a way to get through all of this."
"What if I don't care enough?"
He just nods forlornly and looks down.
She cups his chin. "You have every reason to care."
He looks at her, puzzled. Something about that doesn't make sense . . .
And it's the first time he notices that she smells different.
Ed keeps seeing that knife - the folded one. It chases him throughout his dreams every night - ever since he and Eddie had last spoken. It hasn't sprung forward yet, but he knows it can and he feels more than just a small amount of trepidation at the thought.
He had eventually figured out how to evade capture in the kitchen of his youth, and could freely watch the baker at work by the time he was a tall boy of twelve. He was no longer 'the butcher's wife,' despite the occasional taunt from kids who wanted to expand their pejorative repertoire beyond the now more prevalent creep, psycho, killer, and freak. It was like magic for Edward to watch the baker create the most fabulous confections and pastries - total works of art. He learned such amazing things - things he had learned in secret and couldn't wait to try out one day when he was on his own and away from there.
Instinctively, he knew that he was one of the kids that wasn't going to have to use a pine box as an exit from that place no matter how sick he got. No one had ever told him what was wrong with him - no one ever really knew anyway. But he had been right - he wasn't terminally ill. And even more curious, he had completely outgrown his illness on his own. . .
Ed finds himself in the middle of a dream where he's creating one extravagant concoction after another undisturbed, in the kitchen of his youth, when suddenly Eddie is in his face, knife in hand. And this time, it springs forward!
"Are you ready?" he asks Ed.
Ed doesn't even have to say it, he just has to think it and suddenly he's sitting bolt upright in bed, breathing heavily. The Doc, or more likely, Lee, is fast asleep beside him. She had fallen asleep as The Doc, but seems to awaken as Lee every morning for some reason. Ed finds it odd how quickly she still switches but has to remind himself that she hadn't come by this condition naturally.
His motions haven't awakened her yet and so he swings his legs over the side of the bed slowly, careful to keep them from disturbing her. Ed is facing the window that has the best view of the pool house. Eddie is within his reflection, waiting for him, flipping the spring knife in his hand, over and over. The sight turns his stomach and makes him sweat.
"Please stop," Ed whispers.
Eddie does. "Let's go."
One of the guards from the back entrance guard shack stands outside of it flipping a knife idly in his hand - over and over - never once in danger of slicing himself with it. He stands within the grounds of the facility, watching the children at their lunch with keen eyes. It is midday, the sacred lunch hour, and no one ever comes to the gate to deliver items during this time.
"Hey, you!" he calls out when Edward walks close by.
"Yes?" the boy asks. He is exactly twelve years old that day. He had enjoyed the morning secretly watching the baker make the cake he was to share with the other boys whose birthdays were that week, too. And he had not been discovered. Again.
"You the birthday boy? Eddie?"
"Edward," he corrects.
"I got a special treat for you," the guard says.
"Oh?" Edward asks, surprised. There was never anything special just for him - he usually had to share.
The guard stops flipping the knife and quickly folds it into itself. Edward's eyes go wide for a second. How did he do that so deftly?
The guard slips it into his pants pocket, puts his arm around Edward's shoulders to guide him into the guard shack and says, "Eddie, let me show you my knife."
Ed sits bolt upright in bed again, drenched in sweat, heart pounding, his stomach heaving. She - Lee, The Doc - he doesn't know which - places a questioning hand on his back.
He pulls away from her and tries to make it to the bathroom as vomit pushes its way up his throat. In his panic, Ed neglects his staff and instead grasps onto various pieces of furniture to keep himself upright as he staggers erratically towards the door. He finds that he can't control the spew, can't get to the bathroom in time. It ends up all over the front of his pajamas by the time he's reached the threshold of the bathroom, making a mess everywhere.
Ed tries not to cry and frantically rubs at his eyes, but there's no tears - even his cheeks are dry. He walks toward the bathroom sink and reaching out for its edge, his knuckles turn white as he uses it for support. He stays there, breathing heavily, leaning forward into the mirror to stare into the abyss that is his two dead eyes, threatening to reveal his secrets. But he can't handle feeling messy for very much longer so he runs some water, ducks his head, and starts to clean himself up. Eventually, he gets around to taking off his pajama top.
Oh shit! He sees that the vomit had even gotten onto his pajama bottoms, too!
He gets sick once again, but this time he is close enough to get to reach the toilet in time. He leans over it while still holding onto the sink with one hand. There's a soft tap on the door frame and her face peeks in just as he is flushing the toilet - and watching his vile vomit swirl down the drain.
"Are you okay in there?"
He doesn't answer, just backs himself up against the wall facing the toilet, slides down it, and crosses his legs beneath him. Why does his left leg still get so weak? And why does it hurt so much when he does the littlest things? He squints his eyes shut, but doesn't make a sound.
"Can I come in?"
She sets something down on the edge of the sink with a clink and runs water over a small towel before crouching down next to him to gently wipe his face - he surmises that there must still be some vomit on it. Then she stands back up and rinses the towel out in the sink. No one had ever taken such care with him when he'd gotten sick before.
She joins him, handing him his glasses after retrieving them from the edge of the sink where she had put them. "Another memory?"
He nods and puts them on.
"A new one?"
His chin trembles. The tears want to come. Why don't they? Oh, yes - that's right. The Riddler is dead. And he had always held those. Even though Ed can cry, tears are so hard to come by nowadays and the loss of The Riddler just makes Ed feel so empty. And so tired. He has to bear almost everything alone now.
Instead of answering her, Ed just grabs onto her, holds her tight, and buries his head in her shoulder as if he is crying, shuddering as if he's crying. But he's not. Her soothing hand caresses the back of his neck as he sees the knife flashing. In that vile man's hand. As it's held against -
"I'm sorry," Ed says, interrupting his own thought. "I'm so, so sorry."
"I can't believe that I ever held that knife against your neck."
She pulls away and looks at him with concern. "What knife?"
"The one I brought to kill you with that day in The Narrows."
"What is it about that particular knife, Ed?"
He cannot tell her. Ever.
WARNING: This chapter contains graphic depictions of abuse.
The guard holds it to his throat . . . threatens his life if he doesn't comply . . . makes him get down on his knees . . .
Everything about the man is dirty, from his unkempt uniform, to the slimy hand that holds the knife, to his nether regions, obviously left unwashed for days. And that's where Edward is forced to put his mouth.
It's not just the knife that makes him, it's the man's hand on the back of his head, holding him in place while he shoves it into him again and again.
And this time Edward doesn't just feel and smell the sticky residue on his face at the end, as with the butcher. No, he tastes it. Like a salty, sour, pickle. Only dirty a one. So incredibly dirty.
He wants to die when he's forced to swallow it, knife to his neck. He gags at the first attempt and that man's slimy hand clamps over his mouth as his tears pour over it, holding firm until he succeeds. But once it's down, that filth deep within his body, he knows he's never going be clean again. The rot is inside of him now - and it will slowly erode him from the inside out.
When it's over, the knife clicks back into its benign folded form and finds its way back into the man's pants pocket.
"Okay, Eddie, GIT!" The man grins like a sick hillbilly as his hand idly grazes over his stubble.
Edward vows to never let hair grow so unkempt on his face like that once he becomes a man.
"You're welcome," the man shouts at his retreating back as Edward runs from the guard shack.
"I kept going back," Ed says.
"What?" she asks him.
"I must have wanted it."
Ed just shrugs, not meeting her eyes. He had kept returning to the kitchen, too.
"Ed, listen to me." She takes his face firmly in her hands. He still can't tell if Lee or The Doc is inhabiting her. Why is it so hard? It's usually so easy. "Whatever happened to you, whatever you are remembering, YOU DID NOT WANT IT."
There's the tears. Finally. His eyes get moist. But nothing falls.
"But I kept going back," he cries out in agony.
"Back to what?"
He presses his lips together and shakes his head. He's too ashamed to share this with anyone. He can't believe he had just admitted to her that he had wanted it.
"Top of the class, my ass. You must be the stupidest kid here, Eddie," the guard says to him, shaking his head. "You keep letting me show you my knife."
"Huh?" Edward had never seen his knife. What is he talking about?
He follows him inside the guard shack and gets raped. Again.
"You kept forgetting, Ed, because every time you were in that guard shack another piece of you broke off," Eddie says quietly. "So that the person that horrible stuff was done to wasn't you."
Ed knows that Little Eddie embodies the pieces of his broken childhood, so in fact, he is the person that this horrible stuff had been done to. Ed shudders, but then asks him, "Did you find every piece?"
Ed shudders again. Poor Eddie.
"Every piece?" she interrupts him.
"Sorry, I was talking to Little Eddie."
"Oh," she just rests her head on his chest, rubs a circle on it.
"He's restoring every piece of me that broke off in my childhood."
She nods. "Your memories."
He shakes his head. "No. Myself."
"That's good, right?"
"It doesn't feel good," Ed replies and sighs. "I miss The Riddler. No matter how 'evil' he could get, in the long run, he made everything easier."
"I do, too." Tears come to her eyes. "I loved him."
Hmmm… so she must be The Doc. Lee had never expressed love for The Riddler. Ed knows. He's been keeping track.
"And I think I should tell you something," she continues.
"Hmm?" He looks at her, at the tears that have escaped her eyes. She notices him looking and wipes them away swiftly. It's not like The Doc to cry.
"I didn't just love The Riddler, Ed. I loved you, too."
"I know it hurt you that it seemed like I chose him, but -"
"I already had feelings for you before you disappeared and he re-emerged in your stead. You just -"
"I never had the chance to talk to you about it. We were always so busy ruling The Narrows, you and I. Remember that?"
"Yeah." He smiles softly. That seemed like ages ago. "Are you planning to go back?"
"To what? The Narrows?"
"There's nothing left," she says forlornly. "Lee had a good long talk with Oswald about the state of Gotham a while back when you were resting one day . The city is decimated and there's truly no one left to save in The Narrows. It's been abandoned. And I know Oswald is basically a glorified crime lord, but I seriously think he's the only one who stands a chance of restoring some order to Gotham. He reminds me of Carmine in a way."
Ed raises an eyebrow. Oswald would find that to be high praise indeed coming from Falcone's daughter-in-law. But . . .
"What about Jim? You don't think that he'll try to restore some order?"
"Jim?" She harrumphs. "Oh, he'll try, I'm sure. But remember I told you that he destroys everything he touches? The city would be better off without his interference."
"Agreed," Ed says. "But that's not likely to happen."
"No, it is not."
They're still sitting on the bathroom floor when she asks him, "Why did you become The Riddler?"
"What do you mean?"
"What set you off? What triggered a split?"
Ed sighs. Lee had worked in Arkham, so even though she is not a psychiatrist, it's apparent that she knows more about this than she's been letting on. He feels a heavy dread settle in his stomach as he realizes she must know exactly why he's like this in the first place. He'd never even have to tell her any specifics, yet she'd still be able to surmise that he had been abused. Horribly.
He's terribly ashamed at the thought.
"I don't remember everything, but The Riddler started becoming his own person shortly after Isabella died and Oswald -" he stops. What little of that he remembers is painful enough to stop his breath.
Ed puts up a hand. "Not now."
"Doc, I think what your real question might be is, why did The Riddler come back when he did?"
"Yes, I was curious about that, too."
"For the love of a good woman," Ed says quietly. "Or, well, the opposite in your case."
"I was integrated once I was with Kristen - not before or after. I was integrated when I lived here with Oswald while he was the mayor of Gotham. I was integrated with Isabella. Well, as integrated as I could be. I had no idea about these lost parts of me from my childhood. And do you know why that was?"
The Doc shakes her head.
"Somehow, I felt safe. It was okay to be my whole self. One of my other parts called it 'for the love of a good woman.' But it went deeper than that, I think. I was content with Oswald, as well. He had been my best friend -"
Ed starts anxiously picking on a non-existent speck on the leg of his pajamas as a few tears drop.
The Doc takes his other hand and says carefully, "I don't think you've lost that, Ed, despite everything that's passed between you two."
"He resurrected you. Us," she says logically. "He's letting us convalesce in his house. Both of us. Despite the fact that he doesn't really care for me. Ed, you've gotta know you're safe with Oswald. And you're safe with me."
Ed looks up at her. "Don't you understand why The Riddler came back?"
"No, you hadn't gotten to that part just yet."
"The Riddler didn't think I was safe with you. Not at all." Ed sighs and looks up at the ceiling.
"I'd tell you to ask him, but -"
"But he's gone."
"Yeah," Ed says quietly. "And back then, he didn't return until I realized I had feelings for you. As far as he was concerned you were the opposite of 'the love of a good woman.'"
"I don't see why," The Doc says defensively. "I did nothing to hurt you."
Ed rolls his head to look back down at her and snorts. "Nothing? Right."
"Okay, fine," she begrudgingly admits. "But it wasn't you that I hurt. It was him."
"And despite my protests, he stepped in to protect me from just that. I hadn't realized that was what he was doing at the time and I fought him as best I could. But you know how it wasn't actually me that held that knife against your neck, it was him?"Ed shudders, wishing he could forget about that knife entirely. She nods. "It still doesn't mean I don't feel guilty about it - complicit - because I was in there too. And you shouldn't have hurt him. He didn't deserve that."
"Didn't deserve it? Ed, he's The Riddler. You know, aspiring supervillain?"
"Doesn't mean he doesn't -" Ed stops.
"Doesn't what?" The Doc asks.
"Don't you realize what he IS?"
"No," The Doc says almost desperately. "Tell me."
"He would hold all of my pain, all of my tears . . . starting with Isabella." Ed deflates and just looks at both of his hands in his lap, including the one that The Doc is still holding. "He would hold all of that so that I wouldn't have to."
"Oh," The Doc says, a bit shocked. "I had no idea."
"And now he's gone," Ed says forlornly. "I can barely even cry about his passing. He took most of that with him."
The Doc opens her arms and Ed falls into them, wanting to weep, but only able to shed the slightest of tears. He hadn't been able to shed a single one for Isabella - the earliest inklings of The Riddler had begun splitting off of him the moment he had received notification of her death - and he had expediently taken them away. After Kristen, Ed had been unable to truly face another tragedy, not even with Oswald standing by. Of course, perhaps intuitively he had already realized that Oswald was lost to him, that he was yet another friend who had betrayed him, even though the proof of that was to come later.
"Funny. . ." Ed says.
"Eventually, The Riddler and I decided to try to merge. For you."
She gives him a quizzical look.
"We had decided it was for the love of a good woman after all." He kisses her softly. "We both loved you - and we wanted to be 'normal' for you - not the split mess we had become. Besides, you kept calling him 'Ed.' We figured that was what you had wanted."
"Ed, I loved him, and I love you - the way you are."
"But you didn't love me when we worked together at the GCPD and you didn't love me following Kristen's death -"
"You behaved like a total psychopath back then." Count on The Doc to tell it like it is. "How could you expect me to?"
"Yes, but I was still 'me,' whatever that means. The one who was in front was one of my personalities that had broken off - just like The Riddler did later. Only he was different - and in your words, 'psychotic.' But he was still part of 'me.' We merged back together when I came under Oswald's care." Ed sighs. "You claim to love me for who I am, but do you even know who that is?"
"Better question, do you?"
"No. I don't think I ever have!" Ed whimpers and looks down.
"Hey, hey," The Doc says, placing both of her hands firmly on the sides of his face to steady him. "Ed, you will. You'll figure it out. I think Little Eddie's the key. A major piece of you has been missing all this time."
"Yes, but you forget, Doc . . . even as the barrier between Eddie and me is dissipating - as we become one through shared experience . . . The Riddler is still gone. He's dead! And he took Oswald and Isabella with him!"
"You haven't lost Oswald." Ed's face crumples. No he hasn't. He's just lost -
"I don't think Oswald can help me with this."
"I'm not so sure he can't, Ed."
Ed removes his hand from hers to cover his face.
"Ed," she says quietly. "You're not the only one who can see - you were able to see me for who I truly am. And Oswald and I? We see you for who you truly are. Even if you haven't found him yet."
"'A troubled man.' He called you on it. Oswald knew - you both knew - that I was troubled."
She nods. "Yes, and we both know who you really are, Ed."
A tense beat passes between them.
"Someone who's lovable."
She removes his hand from his face, revealing his eyes, and gently takes his hand in hers. She presses her lips softly against his and when she pulls away he can see tears swimming in the depths of her dark eyes.
"Someday perhaps you'll be able to love back."
"But I do -"
"Shh . . ."
She presses her index finger to his lips.
"No you don't, Ed. Not really. I suspect that The Riddler may have taken that part of you as well. But I have every faith that you'll find it again." She removes her finger. "Because you want to."
"I do," Ed replies.
I can bring tears to your eyes
And resurrect the dead
I form in an instant
And last a lifetime
“Mmm. . .” she rolls over in bed and snuggles closer to Ed, spreading her warmth to him. “I don’t know.”
“Hmmm?” Ed is still half asleep.
“What’s the answer?” She playfully pokes him in the chest.
Now he’s awake. Wait. The answer to what? He looks down at her quizzically in the morning light that has seeped into their bedroom.
“I can bring tears to your eyes and resurrect the dead. I form in an instant and last a lifetime.”
Oswald’s riddle. Or at least the one he told him all that time ago after his mother had passed and he lay distraught and hurting, recovering in Ed’s bed.
Had he been talking in his sleep?
He had just been dreaming . . . remembering those days with Oswald . . . looking for a mentor in him, thinking that killing people was fresh and new and exciting . . . because he had forgotten what he had done before.
“Memory,” Ed answers her. Such a powerful concept - and one which had always been so elusive to him.
“Hmm,” Lee answers. “Good one. I’ve never had the facility with riddles that you have - or that Kristen had for that matter.”
It just came out and now he finds that he has nothing more to say about it - the specific memories are gone. But he knew she had been smart. Very smart. Like every woman that had ever found their way into his heart. “Nevermind.”
He kisses her nose lightly. . . and she rolls him.
“Oh my!” he says. “And who do I have in my bed with me this morning?”
“Wouldn’t you like to know?” She bends down and bites his earlobe in that special way that borders on painful.
He shivers. He’s always liked that. But only one of them knows that intimately enough to do it to him in just the right way. “Doc Thompkins.”
“In the flesh!”
“I’m used to seeing Lee in the morning.”
“Well, now you’re not,” she says simply. And then with a twinkle in her eye, she says, “And who are you this fine morning? With the mood I’m in, I hope you’re not Little Eddie.”
“No,” he says quietly. “Or . . . yes.”
“I think I’m both of us now. There’s no definitive separation anymore. Not since he shared all of my childhood with me.”
He looks away from her, looking for the tell tale signs of where his glasses might be on the nightstand beside him. Creature of habit that he is, he always puts them in the same place, but every morning he tries to actually SEE them before reaching out for them. He lays his eyes on something spidery and wispy out there that may be them.
And he is correct one again! He successfully retrieves them and puts them on.
“You’ve been able to remember and face them all?” The Doc asks him. “All of the memories?”
Ed gulps. “I think so. But I don’t really know. Sometimes I feel like I’m going to split again when I think of certain things. But with The Riddler gone, I already feel like I’m not whole even though I’m singular again, if that makes sense. I find myself wondering if there’s even enough left of me to split?”
“From what I understand of your condition, Ed, yes,” she says. “But who knows how Strange’s interference may have altered you. Anything could happen.”
He sighs dejectedly.
“Hey,” she says. “Don’t worry about the future - especially because we don’t know what it holds. Right now we both need to focus on the past and heal. That’s it.”
Yes, both of them do, she’s right. He’s been so selfish - lost in his own memories of suffering. Crap. “Doc, how are you doing right now? You haven’t talked about Kristen in a while.”
“You’re right, I’ve only cried about her while you held me,” she says sardonically. “No wait. That would be Lee.”
“Seriously, Doc. Talk to me.”
With an odd smile she says, “Oh, I’m doing well. There’s hope for our future.”
She slams her lips into his before he can even react, but as he kisses her back, he sits them both up in bed so that effectively she’s in his lap, with her legs wrapped tightly around him. Damn, that dusky navy nightie needs to come off.
He breaks away from kissing her mouth and instead starts to trail kisses down her neck as his delicate fingers find the tiny strap on her shoulder and start to slide it down her silken skin.
“Didn't you just say not to think about the future . . ?” he asks.
“There’s no reason I can’t be happy thinking about a future with you,” she says with a smile and his heart swells. His fingers stop what they are doing and his lips crash into hers again as she pulls him in, deepening their kiss. The hand that had been on her strap now finds its way deep into her dark, silky tresses, while his other one works on sliding the other strap down and eventually finds its way to her her breast -
“Oh gross!” they hear from the doorway.
“Oswald,” Ed says, startled, pulling away from The Doc. “I’m sorry you had to see that.”
“I’m not,” The Doc says saucily, pulling up both of her straps and extracting herself from Ed as he gives her a warning look. She gets out of bed to retrieve their robes.
As she passes him, Oswald says, “Lee.”
She just nods coldly and flings Ed’s robe over to him, which he stands up to put on.
“Wow. What a nice, warm reception from someone I’m so graciously hosting in my own home,” Oswald says with undisguised sarcasm dripping from his voice.
“Oswald, we are grateful for the hospitality you’ve shown us,” Ed says firmly, and then looks pointed at The Doc. “Both of us.”
The Doc snorts.
“Well, Lee, I guess I shouldn’t expect anything less from someone who has a penchant for my things ,” Oswald says, getting in her face.
“Your things? Like what? Ed?”
Oswald blanches. They hadn’t even noticed what he had in his hand when he came into their room. An empty bottle of bourbon. $3000 worth of it. He brings it up to her face with a shaking fist. “I was talking about this.”
“Oswald,” Ed says, grabbing his staff to walk over to them and intervene. “It can be replaced.”
“Yeah, well can my heart be replaced?”
Ed has no idea what to say to that. The Doc just rolls her eyes.
But then, Oswald takes in a deep breath and composes himself. “You owe me, Lee. BIG time. And not just for this.”
He puts the empty bottle into The Doc’s hands.
“Now scurry along,” Oswald says, shooing The Doc away. “I’m here to give Ed some things, including a replacement for that joke of a staff you made for him. Ed deserves something much more . . . elegant.”
She twists her lips into a wry grin. “Whatever.”
"A new staff? Oswald, really?" Ed asks in amazement. He was sitting back down on the bed now that The Doc left. Prolonged standing didn't feel so great anymore.
"Yes, really. We can't have you walking around with that abomination that Lee made for you. Besides, that stuffie is mine." Oswald makes a motion for it, and Ed bends his staff forward so he can easily reach it and extract it from the end of the pole. "There, better."
Ed laughs heartily. He doesn't know why. Perhaps it's because the fearsome Penguin, major crime lord of Gotham, looks just ridiculous cuddling the symbol of The Riddler that way. But Ed would never tell him that. And in a way, it's cute . . . endearing. Even if he knows what that gesture really means and that he can never give his best friend what he truly wants - his heart. "Oh, Oswald, what are we going to do with you?"
"Hey there friend, don't pity me. You're the one that's wrecked - you're the one who's going through hell right now. Not me. Let me tend to your needs right now and support you like you've - almost - always supported me."
"I love you too, you know," Ed says, smiling.
Oswald frowns. "No you don't, not like . . ."
Ed puts a hand up. "No, you're right. Not like her."
"Good," Oswald says, sitting down on the bed beside him. "I don't want any part of that toxic nonsense that you two share."
Ed chuckles. "I don't think you could handle it anyway."
"Fuck you, Ed."
"Before I give you your new staff, Ed, I've got a couple of things for you."
Oswald reaches into the inner pocket of his suit jacket and extracts the pair of glasses he'd been holding onto since that day in the Narrows - when he had found Ed slain by Lee's hand.
Ed notices faint traces of blood upon them when he hands them over and realizes . . . "Oswald? Is this the pair I died in?"
"Yes." Oswald's voice is husky with emotion.
"I was wondering where my extra pair had gone." Instinctively Ed pats his own inside pocket.
"I think Strange found them and put them on you right before he resurrected you for me. Just like he put your original clothes back on."
"Why did I have him do that? Well, because I knew it was going to be hard enough for you to know your whereabouts when you returned from the dead, and you're such a creature of habit -"
"No, Oswald. Why did you hold onto these?" Ed indicates the glasses that are now in his hands. "A bit gruesome of a memento isn't it? The woman I loved kills me - and you want a souvenir of the event?"
"'Loved'?" Oswald asks, confused. "Past tense?"
"She says I'm not capable of loving her right now." Ed hangs his head.
"Oh," Oswald says quietly and places a hand on his back.
"I don't know," Ed sighs deeply. "Perhaps she's right."
"Ed?" Oswald says.
"Remember when you showed me Kristen Kringle's glasses - your souvenir of her death? Do you remember what you told me?"
Yes, he did. But he wasn't going to say it.
"When I told you my mother's loss was like daggers to my heart, you told me that it wouldn't be that way forever. You were holding her glasses in your hand and you told me they were something to remember her by and that you didn't feel any sadness anymore. I wanted that for myself. The ability to hold on to you and let go of you at the same time."
"But, Oswald, why would you need something to remember me by? You had Strange resurrect me. I was never truly gone."
"When I removed your glasses from your lifeless body, Ed, I hadn't yet realized that was an option. I thought you were lost to me forever." Oswald tears up a bit at the memory and removes the hand he had been resting on Ed's back to wipe them away. "Turns out I could bring you back . . . yet I still had to let go of you. But I don't need your glasses anymore, Ed - they didn't work."
"Oswald," Ed says softly and pulls him into a hug. He wants to say he's sorry, but that's not the right sentiment. He can't help how he feels. Oswald can't help how he feels. There's nothing for either of them to be sorry for . . . it's just an unfortunate dynamic that they seem to be locked in.
But Ed will not give up his best friend. For anything. Ever again. He can't live without him. But Ed also knows that he will never be able to love Oswald the way he desires.
He sighs, worried that things will forever be this way between them. Poor Oswald.
Ed returns from the bathroom, having cleaned off all of the dried blood from his newly recovered pair of glasses. He places them inside the drawer of his nightstand - right where a secondary pair should go. He rejoins Oswald on the bed since his friend had mentioned that he still had one more thing left to show him before presenting him with his staff.
But Ed gasps and practically jumps away from Oswald when he pulls the knife out of his pocket.
"Where did you get that?" Ed whispers in fright.
"Right beside Lee," Oswald says holding out the knife in its most benign position - folded. That knife. "Looks like she might have got the jump on you, eh?"
"You do realize that I wanted to kill you with that knife, Oswald." Ed says quietly.
"Really?" he asks and cocks his head. "I don't remember that. When?"
Isabella. That's all he knows. No details. The Riddler took those. Ed growls quietly, "After Isabella."
"Oh, I'm sure you fantasized about killing me a lot of ways back then, Ed." Oswald chuckles and tries to hand it to him. "What's the big deal about a little knife?"
"I don't want it!" Ed growls harshly.
"Okay, Ed. Calm down." Oswald places the knife down on the bed and takes a good look at his friend, taking in the sweat on his brow, his pale face, his carefully controlled, almost imperceptible shaking. "What's wrong, friend?"
Ed is remembering. The things he never forgot.
Oswald had once held this very knife to his neck when he had been trying to calmly explain to him that love was their strongest weakness. When he was done, it had been Oswald's hand that was shaking as Ed disarmed him and folded the knife back up into its less threatening position.
Then it had been Oswald's turn to warn him - when Ed had just started killing people - or at least what he believed to be the start.
"This path you're on leads to nothing but destruction and pain," Oswald had cautioned. But Ed had wanted to torture and kill Mr. Leonard anyway. Under Oswald's guidance . . . as if he were working out some kind of grudge.
And then Ed remembers the things he had forgotten, now that there is no barrier between himself and the personality he had called Little Eddie.
And he remembers them with clarity.
WARNING: This chapter contains graphic depictions of abuse.
"Want to see my knife?"
"Sure," Edward answers, having just watched the guard flip, fold, flip, and unfold the spring knife in his hand.
"Unbelievable," he hears the man mutter under his breath. "Taller than corn in summer and still as naive as a six-year-old."
"What?" Edward asks him. That non-sequitur hadn't made any sense to him.
"You're easy pickings, boy," the guard says, clapping a hand around his shoulder and leading him into the shack.
The inside smells of splinters and sun. Edward wrinkles his nose. He detests that smell. A ray of light shines in through the tiniest crack in the wall between wooden boards and excites and illuminates the fine dust particles within it.
Before he knows it, the guard has him pressed against an adjacent wall, knife to his throat. The shack doesn't just smell like splinters, it feels like them, too. "Unzip."
"You heard me, boy. Unzip." Edward continues to hesitate until the guard practically yells, "Now!"
He fumbles to comply. Why did the guard want him to expose himself? He's starting to get frightened and his hands shake.
"Yessss. . ." The guard practically breathes pickle juice flavored breath into his mouth. He's close. Too close.
"Please step back," Edward says politely.
"'Please?'" the guard mocks him. "Oh you're funny."
The next thing he knows, the guard has his hand on his cock. Edward takes in a sharp breath and closes his eyes. He instinctively starts to struggle, but the blade of the knife against his neck bars much movement. He's terrified that his life is going to end that very day, his blood mingled with the dirt, its spatters mixing with the fine dust particles dancing in the light.
Edward opens his eyes and watches that shaft of light. He will not let himself pay attention to what is being done to his body and how it is responding. That can't be happening.
So many particles of dust dancing. . . Wonder what they smell like?
But better not breathe too deeply. There's other, grosser smells in here.
"Okay, you're ready. Finally," he hears the guard say, snapping him back to the present. "You're not a little kid anymore, Eddie. We're going to do this the way men do it."
He looks down at his erection. Oh no . . .
The man turns him around and shoves him against the hard, wooden slats of the wall . . . even his face. And yes, Edward discovers that splinters have a distinct taste, too.
The knife is still held to his neck as the man penetrates him.
Edward makes no noise or movement. He's absolutely still. He had learned that skill in the kitchen. It made it hurt less. And compared to some of the sicker implements the butcher, the baker, and the cook had used, this didn't really hurt at all. He was just frightened for his life should the man get too aroused and let the knife cut into him. Currently, it was resting on his jugular.
"What, no more struggle left in you, boy? Does that mean you like it?"
"I think it does," the man says and reaches around to find his member again. "I'm going to show you that you like it, you twisted little pervert!"
When his hand touches him down there, Edward feels sick. Sick and unbalanced, like something's about to break. He can't hold onto it.
He vomits all over the side of the shack, which only serves to make the man laugh and laugh. Edward's tired of being mocked. By seemingly everyone. So very tired.
And then the worst possible thing happens. . .
"Looks like you made a mess, Eddie!"
. . . which elicits even more mocking laughter from the guard.
"The proof is in the pudding." The guard points at the pale, terribly viscous liquid that Edward had left on the wall. It doesn't look like pudding. "You just LOVED taking it from me, didn't you boy?"
Edward starts crying. No, no, no, no. He never wanted this. The guard can't be right about him. Edward won't let him be right.
The man has now let his guard down, overcome with deep belly laughing . . . and it takes less than a second before the knife is in Edward's palm, giving him the upper hand.
And blood does splatter.
And flecks of it do dance in the sunlight.
Only, they're not Edward's.
"You did the right thing," Oswald says.
"Huh?" Ed looks around at his surroundings. Oswald's place. Oh, yeah. That evil knife is presently on the bed nearby. He shivers.
"Ed," Oswald says firmly, pressing a warm hand onto his. "You trust me to tell you the truth, right?"
"You did the right thing."
And that's when Ed crumples, takes off his glasses, brings his hands to his face, and just bawls. Oswald pulls him in for a tight hug, knowing just how long Ed has needed to remember this fully. He quietly rocks Ed for a while, letting his tears stain his suit.
"You didn't have to say much back then, Ed, but I ascertained what had happened to you when we tortured and toyed with Mr. Leonard. You kind of lost yourself, going in and out of what had happened that day when you killed that guard. Mr. Leonard must have looked too much like him. It just wasn't his lucky day."
Oswald is sporting a sardonic grin when Ed unfolds from the hug and puts his glasses back. He smiles back weakly, spent from his tears. This must be why Oswald's always been so easy for him to talk to. . . he'd always known. . . .about the abuse, about his different personalities and his damaged mind.
He was a true friend.
Ed hugs him again briefly and wipes at his eyes under his glasses, "Thank you Oswald."
Except for when the Riddler had died along with his baby Kristen, Ed hadn't cried so openly in years. Yet in Oswald's arms, Ed had been able to shed some tears over the pain from his past. For the first time ever.
He sits calmly on the bed, waiting for Oswald to return, tired and weary, yet happy to be there. He needs to explain to The Doc and Lee exactly what happened to him the day that baby Kristen died. Himself. Not through the other one. They need to hear it from him. He needs to tell them why he couldn't –
"Here you go old friend!" Oswald exclaims as he comes into the room, wielding an elegant staff of deep purple and green.
Its shaft is so dark it almost looks black but subtly shines an iridescent purple right where the light happens to hit it directly. Purple is slowly becoming part of Oswald's motif. And The Riddler's color graces the top of the staff in the form of a gorgeous green question mark, shaped like he almost always draws it. His signature. A small gold ball separates the question mark from the rest of the staff and there is a gold colored cap at the bottom as well.
"Oswald," he breathes reverently as he stands up and takes it into his hands, and then smiles back at his friend. It's a huge, unrestrained smile. And it's not Ed's.
"Riddler?" Oswald asks. "I didn't notice you switch."
"Back from the dead!" The Riddler exclaims, then laughs his signature laugh. In that very moment with Oswald, holding his new staff, he is so happy that he can't imagine being any happier until The Doc flies into the room and leaps into his arms.
"Riddler!" She shrieks as he loses his grip on the staff and it clatters to the floor. Now she can jump up and wrap her legs about him . . . like Isabella had once done, except . . . well, he's not as coordinated as he once was. They end up falling back onto the bed.
"In the flesh!" he says as Oswald frowns and starts to pick up the fallen staff, even though bending down isn't the easiest thing for him to do.
"Oswald, wait, we can get that," The Riddler says and sits up as Oswald harrumphs.
The Doc extracts herself from him and picks up the staff from the floor. She is in awe of its craftsmanship, her hands running along its smoothly lacquered length, stopping at the top to carefully inspect the question mark. "Oswald, this is gorgeous!"
"Only the best for Edward," he replies, then turns to his friend. "Wait, you were dead? Again?"
"Yes, I was. But just this fabulous part of me," The Riddler replies with a flourish. "It's a long story."
"Well, then you'll have to tell it to me over dinner tonight. For now, I'll let you two re-unite, or whatever it is you're planning on doing." Oswald waves dismissively as the Doc smiles slyly. She definitely has plans for him.
Before his friend can walk out, The Riddler says, "Oswald, thank you. For everything."
They're back in bed, The Doc astride him. She had thrown off the sheets and the knife Oswald had tried to return to him should have clattered to the floor, yet it hadn't. Where was it?
But before The Riddler could even wonder about what might have happened to it, The Doc had jumped him again, toppling him onto the bed, ripping off her own clothes and tearing at his.
"Wait," he begs.
"I need to explain –"
"Explain it to Lee," The Doc says impatiently. "I missed you. My body needs you right now, Riddler."
He reaches up to softly touch her hair. "Don't you want to know why I left you even though I loved you? Aren't you the least bit curious as to why I couldn't stay?"
"No," she says adamantly. "All I care about is that you are right here, right now. I need to connect with you. I missed you . . . too much."
There is a tear glistening in her eye, and when he reaches up to wipe it away, she jerks her head away so he can't get to it.
“Okay,” The Riddler says and rolls her underneath him and frees his cock. “Let me love you like you want.”
“Please,” she says. There are those tears again. Her legs part beneath him. “Please. I’m aching.”
He penetrates her gently and she starts crying, clinging to him. One of her legs bends as she draws her toes up the back of his leg. He moves ever so slowly inside of her, holding her head to his chest so that her tears can fall onto it. Once she’s done crying, he releases her and they just stare into each other’s eyes for what feels like eternity.
Then they reach out to caress each other’s faces and increase their pace. A flush crawls up her chest. One of his hands drifts down to her breast, and as he caresses it, she arches beneath him and lets out a little moan. “Riddler. . .”
“Yesss . . ?” he hisses quietly.
“Harder,” she says, practically sitting up and gripping his face. “Fuck me harder.”
“Not a problem.”
He flips her over beneath him. She has gotten so slick, so wet that he easily finds his way back inside of her. He knows she’s close, that it won’t take much more to send her over the edge. He presses his hand down on her lower back, easing her into the perfect position so that his cock can find just the right place within her to pound into over and over again, bringing her to the climax that has been building.
He fucks her so furiously that his balls slam all the way forward, reaching her clit. She alternately moans and gasps in time to his rhythm. He smiles wickedly, knowing she absolutely loves to feel him there.
“Fuck, Riddler. Fuck . . .” she gasps. She’s panting, losing her breath. She’s so fucking close.
“Come on,” he whispers and that does it. She arches so far back that he can easily put a hand around her neck, pulling her close, yet keeping her pelvis pressed down with his other hand so that he can continue to fuck her hard through her climax - as she had asked.
“Do it for me,” he whispers hotly in her ear. “Come for me.”
As wetness floods his cock, she screams. Loud.
The Riddler tries not to giggle thinking of poor Oswald having to overhear their quite vocal encounter in his own home, likely looking very put out and pissy by now. Instead, he just removes his hand from The Doc’s neck and just holds her as she bucks and writhes against him. Her climaxes last so long . . .
Then she softens, panting, and leans back into his embrace. She puts shaky a hand up to his head and sighs. Her thighs are shaking, too. He smiles, knowing that he has fucked her good.
“My turn,” he says.
“Oh, yes, it is!” She says enthusiastically and turns around to face him, placing her hands on his chest. “How kinky to do you want it?”
“Not too kinky,” he answers with a wink. “I just got back from the dead.”
"Well, I was planning to serve Bananas Foster for dessert tonight. . . but, according to my staff, it seems that someone absconded with the vanilla ice cream from the kitchen," Oswald says, looking pointedly at both of them as they finish off their meal of beef bourguignon.
The Riddler smiles widely as he recalls just how he and The Doc had polished it off.
She drops spoonfuls of freezing cold ice cream onto strategic parts of his anatomy as he lies prone, and then follows up with her tongue. Swirling, sucking, licking.
"This is what passes for vanilla sex?" he teases.
She turns the tub of ice cream around in her hands, pretending to study it carefully. "'Vanilla.' That's what it says on the label."
"You. . ."
She giggles and then without warning her mouth completely encompasses his shaft and she begins to devour him voraciously. The unexpected pleasure causes him to take in a sharp breath.
Vanilla ice cream isn't all she'll be eating that day.
The Riddler tucks some of The Doc's hair behind her ear and then leans in close, his hot breath upon her lobe. "I think you already had dessert. How did I taste?"
Oswald can't discern The Riddler's words through his gravelly whisper, but he does see The Doc lick her lips in response to whatever he has said to her. Then both of them grin at each other wickedly - like two villains so deliciously in love that they can't wait to celebrate the big score they have just made off with.
"Ahem," Oswald says, interrupting their little tete-a-tete. "I can't tell if you two love birds annoy me to no end, or if you're starting to grow on me."
"Hopefully the latter," The Riddler answers him.
"We'll see," Oswald replies. "Now, vanilla ice cream and a $3000 bottle of bourbon aren't all you two have stolen from me lately."
"Oh?" The Doc asks, pointing to the water goblet near her plate. "You'll notice that I haven't even touched a single drop of your alcohol tonight, Oswald. I hope you'll take that as a sign of respect."
"Still." Oswald puts up a hand. "The two of you owe me. Big time."
The Riddler feels The Doc stiffen beside him. He places a hand on her knee.
"Of course, Oswald," he says. "I can't thank you enough for resurrecting us and opening your home to us as a refuge where we can recover from what Strange did to us. I'm forever in your debt. Whatever you need."
"One hundred million dollars."
The Doc's eyebrows shoot up.
"Excuse me?" she scoffs.
"That was my part of the score, was it not, Riddler?" Oswald asks. "I distinctly remember you saying 'One million a piece' for my assistance with Gotham Savings & Loan. . . and with Lee."
"'With Lee?'" The Doc furrows her brows and looks pointedly at The Riddler. "What the hell does that mean?"
"It was part of the betrayal." The Riddler answers quickly and then turns to Oswald before she can dwell too long on what the 'with Lee' part might actually mean. "It was distributed among the people of The Narrows before Gotham fell. There's nothing left. Quite literally."
"Sucks to be you, then, doesn't it? Cause you still owe me," Oswald says, almost triumphantly, throwing his napkin down onto his empty plate. "Seriously, Riddler, how hard will it be for the two of you to procure one million dollars? I was under the impression that robbing banks was your preferred form of foreplay."
"I can't believe you agreed with his demands." The Doc says testily as they get ready for bed that night.
"That's not exactly what happened, and you know it," The Riddler counters.
She harrumphs and crosses her arms. "I don't owe him anything."
"You owe him your life!"
She just purses her lips, shakes her head, and looks away.
"Look, Doc, I've been where he is now. And it's not a pleasant place to be, believe me. He's being extremely tolerant of your presence."
"Really?" she says with a sardonic tilt of her head.
"Yes, really." The Riddler answers. "Look, do you remember when Jeremiah's bunker blew up? And how Jim ended up in The Narrows?"
"Yes, you kidnapped him."
"That's not all that happened. I saved his life." He pauses to drive his point home. "For you."
She gives him a quizzical look.
"Despite my better judgement, I made sure my people kept an eye on him, with instructions to keep him alive during that precarious time. I knew it would absolutely devastate you if Jim got hurt . . . or killed," he says. "He had gone to Jeremiah's bunker right before the blast and the people I had trailing him saved him - got him out of there in time. So in essence, he owes his life to me."
"You never told me this," The Doc says. "I just thought you had taken advantage of all the chaos in order to kidnap him. I had no idea that you had taken it upon yourself to keep him safe."
"For all the good it did me . . ." The Riddler sighs dejectedly. "All it did was end me. At the point of your knife. I should have let him die."
"No, Riddler," The Doc says, reaching out for his upper arm. "You did the right thing."
"Yeah, I don't think so." He turns away from her. "You never would have thought those terrible things about me if Jim hadn't been kept down in The Narrows with us in the first place because I wouldn't have been tempted to inflict 'hard and forceful punishment' on him after seeing you two together, after being subjected to his taunts."
"His taunts?" she asks.
. . . you've deluded yourself into thinking you and Lee are a couple . . .
It seems so long ago. The Riddler presses his fingers to his eyes.
"It doesn't matter. Not anymore. I'm getting tired." He sits down wearily on the bed and looks at his hands. "Doc, it's just . . . Please be kinder to Oswald. Harboring the lover of the person you love isn't easy. It's a burden that wears on you as it tears at your heart."
He remembers the words he had said to Oswald not long after Isabella had died.
Love is about sacrifice. It's about putting someone else's needs and happiness before your own.
Oswald seemed to have taken his words to heart. He was living them.
The Doc joins him on the bed.
"Jim wasn't my lover at the time. It was over."
"It doesn't matter," The Riddler says again, taking off his glasses and pinching his nose. He's exhausted. "The feelings are the same . . ."
The silence stretches out between him. She just waits for more after his sentence trails off, but there's nothing. "Riddler?"
He looks kinda . . . funny to her. "Riddler?"
She strokes his arm.
Again, no response, either physically or verbally. He's still breathing though.
She realizes that somehow he's dissociated, and carefully tucks him into bed. From a far distance Ed can vaguely sense that he's being cared for, but that's about it. Right now he needs to take care of The Riddler, who's inexplicably back from the dead. Back in his mind. And he's in a very fragile state.
Ed holds him, tries to pass on the soothing care that he's receiving from the outside world. He can feel Lee snuggling up to him - he's certain she's Lee now and not The Doc.
"Can you feel that?" Ed asks The Riddler. "She loves us. She loves both of us."
The Riddler just nods weakly.
"I'm glad you're back, buddy. It didn't feel right without you here. But I hate to ask . . ." Ed pauses. "Why did you return?"
"You know why."
A shock of fear races through Ed. Oh, no. Not again. It's too soon. He had just merged with Little Eddie. It seems like just yesterday, although in truth, a decent amount time had passed since he'd begun convalescing at Oswald's estate, waiting for his leg to finish healing and get stronger. But still, he's not ready to completely integrate with him.
"Yes, you are," The Riddler says firmly. "You finally cried. Fully. Now you need to experience the rest. The great tragedies of your adult life that you split off into me."
"No," Ed says weakly as he feels Lee's arms tighten around him. It's dark out there now.
"Yes. You can't forget everything, Ed," The Riddler says. "And deep down, I know you don't want to."
"Am I?" The Riddler asks.
Before Ed can even begin to answer him, The Riddler plants the one thought in his mind that changes everything.
"Isabella," Ed whispers, wanting to cry. Why does just the sound of her name hurt so much?
"It's okay," he hears Lee say softly. "It's okay, Ed."
She's wiping away his tears as he shakes in her arms. Wait? He's crying on the outside?
Ed pushes her away from him and stands up abruptly, now in full control of his body, The Riddler banished to the deep recesses of his mind. He puts on his glasses, grabs his staff, and stalks out of the room. He needs . . . he needs . . .
Aaaahhhh . . .
Ed rises to the surface from cold, icy depths and cool water laps against his sides as he stares up into the sky at all of the constellations of stars above him through the distorted droplets that remain on his lenses. The water laps in time to their twinkling - or so it seems.
I will never forget you, my love . . .
For the first time in forever, Ed remembers placing a bouquet of white lilies on the tracks where his beloved had died and pledging never to forget her. Their scent is strong. And he will forever associate it with her death. But then he screams in agony as he realizes that his promise to Isabella is broken. He had forgotten her.
A light goes on in the house. It is from Oswald's bedroom. And Lee is standing anxiously by the side of the pool - she's been there the entire time - but he hadn't really noticed her.
"How could you? How could you take her from me?" Ed says, forcibly drawing The Riddler to the surface with him.
"You needed me to."
"No I did not!" Ed says adamantly. "I needed . . . I needed -"
"You needed what?" The Riddler presses.
Her . . .
Despite Lee's barely audible cry of "No!" Ed deliberately expels all of the air out of his lungs and his body begins the slow descent to the bottom of the pool.
The stars look different as his eyes become covered with water . . .
And there she is. Isabella. The woman he had loved. The woman who had loved him back. There were never any doubts with her.
"Edward, you're the first to measure up. You're the one I waited for."
He can see her creamy bosom in the glow of the firelight, outlined by the gently scooped neckline of her black dress. The one she had worn the night she had drawn his hand to her heart. His hand and so much more . . .
And she had been scared - he could feel it in the palpitations of her heart - it was beating as fast as a skittish hummingbird's. But it was not because of what he was - a killer. She was not afraid of him.
No, she was frightened by the intensity of their love.
Isabella had always accepted him for who he was - and she had been the only one. Not even Lee -
There's a frantic disruption of the water about him, a tugging, and bubbles everywhere as he's pulled to the surface. His glasses are gone.
"Ed, what the hell?"
Strong hands are on either side of his head, gripping it, insistent. Lee's.
"Ed, talk to me."
"I wanted to be with her."
Ed nods as embarrassing tears erupt from his eyes.
"Ed, Isabella is dead. You can't be telling me that you wanted to join her?" Lee asks in alarm.
"I - I couldn't. Not even if I wanted to." He gulps past his tears and says miserably, "Isabella rests in a very different place than I'll be going to when I die. I'll never see her again."
"Oh, Ed," Lee strokes his face. He had said a similar thing to Oswald when he had him tied to Isabella's wrecked car.
Wait? When did that happen?
"Come on, it's not exactly swimming season and the pool isn't heated right now," Lee says pragmatically. "It's too cold for you to stay in here much longer."
Ed nods and they swim together to the stairs, and just as he takes the second step up, his leg collapses beneath him.
"Whoa, there," Lee says as she catches him.
And that does it, he just lets himself collapse into her arms.
As the two of them sit there on those stairs, half in and half out of the water, he talks to the one inside of himself, while on the outside, he lets his tears fall. Onto Lee.
"Why?" Ed demands. "Why did you take away all the memories of my beloved Isabella? I don't understand. They were good memories. I had been happy with her."
"True, but how do you feel right now?"
"I'm not asking how you feel about me, I'm asking how you feel about her."
"I miss her."
"Her loss . . . it's . . ."
"It hurts to remember what you've lost, doesn't it?"
Ed thinks of his daughter Kristen immediately.
"Don't go there," The Riddler cautions. "You're not ready."
"It hurts too much to remember how good Isabella was to us. How kind. I kept that from you so you wouldn't have to live with her loss."
"I wish you hadn't."
"Well, you kinda did. You deliberately called me into being. You desperately desired for me to take over for you after what happened with Oswald. He was the tipping point. You couldn't hand-"
"Again, another time." The Riddler waves a hand impatiently. "For now, I'm releasing my memories of Isabella so that you can have her in your heart again. And just know, she never left mine so technically we didn't forget her. You don't need to beat yourself up over that."
"Okay. And thank you - Isabella deserves to be remembered. By both of us."
"Agreed," The Riddler says. "And Ed?"
"You'll be okay - you'll get through this. You'll get through all of it. We've got Lee now. We no longer have to go it alone."
We've got Lee. Yes, we do.
Ed pulls away from her comforting embrace to just look at her for a bit.
"Thank you," he whispers and kisses her softly.
"It's scary when you check out like that."
"I can imagine," he answers. "But Lee?"
"Please help me through this and . . ."
He gulps, noticing that her eyes, darker than the midnight sky above them, twinkle more furiously than any set of stars in the heavens. And they see him. The real him.
"Once I'm through all this, I think I'll be ready to love you. Completely."
"Good," she says firmly.
As Ed stands in the shower, he remembers Oswald joining them poolside, helping him up, handing him his spare pair of glasses.
How had he known?
"One doesn't just fall into a pool and come out completely intact," Oswald had said matter-of-factly, handing Ed the staff that he had discarded by the deep end of the pool before taking the plunge. "I just knew that the pair you were wearing would be lost."
That's not all that would be lost. Ed's innocence was slated to be lost, too.
When Lee had informed Oswald that his memories of Isabella were returning, Oswald had beat a hasty retreat, saying, "Well, once he remembers all of that, he'll remember to hate me too, so I think I will just bid you two adieu for now."
"Later," The Riddler says firmly. "Focus on Isabella for now. What happened with Oswald can wait. You need to process this grief and remember our beloved the way she deserves to be remembered so that she can be always in our heart."
Ed remains curious about what exactly had needed to be hidden from him about Oswald. He remembers that he had taken Isabella's life because he was in love with Ed himself. A tragedy borne of pure jealousy. What more was there to know? To remember? There was probably something to feel there, but he wasn't in touch with it.
He pushes his questions aside for now and continues to let the warm stream of water from the shower head beat down on him as he remembers each of Isabella's sweet kisses and her tender touch. He aches at the thought that she is lost to him forever.
Isabella had been so different than Lee. And she had been just perfect for him. Does that mean . . . ?
"No," The Riddler says again, firmly. "Lee's perfectly matched to us as well."
"Maybe to you."
"To both of us."
"How do you know?"
"I'm so glad you made that promise to her, Ed." The Riddler sighs, not even bothering to answer Ed's question. "Your sincerity in that will need to be tested in order for you to truly understand. When push comes to shove, hopefully it will knock some sense into that thick skull of yours."
"To never leave her."
Ed gulps. Maybe he should never have made that promise. Maybe, as had been the case with Isabella, he wouldn't be able to keep it.
"Spoken like a man who 'can't love.'" The Riddler mocks.
"I can, too, love her. I do -" Ed stops himself and thinks for a moment.
The Riddler leans back, crosses his arms, and just waits . . .
"You doing okay in there, Ed?" he hears Lee's voice just as he sees her head start to peep in through the bathroom door. "It's been awfully quiet in there for a while."
"I may have checked out again."
"It's okay," she says, letting herself in and coming over to the glass that separates her from him as he stands in the shower. "I just want to make sure you don't drown on me. We almost had a close call at the pool tonight."
Ed only gives a feeble laugh in response.
She opens the door to the shower, letting much of the warm steam escape as she reaches out for him, getting herself wet in the process. "Ed, it's okay. Whatever you need right now. I'm here for you."
"How can I not love this?" Ed asks The Riddler in his mind.
"Because love is more than just a feeling. It's borne out in actions. And a good part of you is still scared to act. Reluctant. Timid. You're too insecure to believe that you could ever really be loved and therefore you don't act on your feelings."
"But I -" Ed starts to protest.
"Not fully. You hold so much back from her, Ed. For no good reason," The Riddler says, pausing to let that sink in before saying, "She's not mom, you know."
Ed feels ice in his veins at the mention of the woman who had so callously abandoned him to that hell hole in his youth. She didn't have the decency to say goodbye to her little boy before traipsing out of his life forever without even a backward glance. At least his father had hugged him before disappearing into the night with her.
"The promise you made to Lee is a good start, Ed. If circumstances ever arise that test your resolve, just remember to hold onto that." The Riddler locks eyes with Ed. "And keep that promise to her. You're not mom, either."
"Lee, he can't come out for long. The last time was too much for him," Ed says as they sit on an antique sofa in front of a small fire in Oswald's living room.
"Yes, and that's The Doc's fault. She wore him out."
"No, he had just spent too much time in charge. But that's on him - he wanted to be out longer than he should have been. He must have missed being here." Ed pauses. "There's a reason he died, you know."
"Yes, he uh . . ." Ed scratches his head. He thought he'd already explained this to her - who exactly The Riddler was - and what role he had to play. "It just boiled down to emotional overload. The Riddler couldn't take anymore - even if it meant leaving you behind, leaving her behind . . . He couldn't help but to perish."
Lee just looks down at her hands. "But I miss him. I really do."
"I'm sorry. I guess it's more my fault than anyone's," Ed says and sighs. "The Riddler had no intentions of leaving you. Either of you. I was just too weak to handle the pain."
"Not anymore." She places a hand on his knee. "You're remembering the things you need to remember now."
"And losing touch with the present," Ed says wryly, remembering all the times he'd blanked out on her since The Riddler had been back - as they had been remembering some of the pain of his recent past together. The freshest pain.
"You haven't done that as much anymore."
"No, I guess you're right. But The Riddler's gearing up to share whatever emotional block I have with Oswald. He thinks I'm ready, but frankly, I'm a little nervous to find out what it is."
"He's my best friend. I know I used to hate him for a time after Isabella's death - and I don't want to hate him again. We're in a good place right now. And I-" He shakes his head. "I don't want to be brought back to that time. I really don't."
"Perhaps Oswald can help you through that." Lee says sensibly. "Perhaps he can provide living proof that despite the hatred you had for each other back then, you're still close."
"Not likely. You notice he's made himself scarce."
Lee looks around in mock seriousness at the vast open room they are in and whistles. "You're right."
"He's scared." Ed knits his fingers in and out of each other nervously, not even noticing Lee's attempt to make light. "And so am I."
"Hey," Lee puts her hand on both of his, making him stop.
There are tears in his eyes when he turns to look at her. The emotion is getting to him already and he's only just anticipating how everything will play out. He's terrified. "I don't want to lose him."
"You won't lose him."
"How do you know?"
"He loves you, Ed," Lee says. "As a friend, as more . . . It doesn't matter. What matters is that you guys have weathered this before and your relationship survived more or less intact."
Ed nods. "You're probably right."
"I am right," she declares. "Now, can The Riddler come out and play?"
"Just . . . don't hurt him." Ed looks into Lee's eyes in all seriousness, trying to reach the other one, too. "Either of you. I'm fairly certain he won't be able to take it."
Lee is holding one of his hands as the pain from his headache dissipates. His other hand is pinching his nose. Once the pain is completely gone, he looks up and she puts his glasses back on for him gently.
"Those are a doozy, eh?"
At the sound of his gravelly voice, she smiles like a schoolgirl unabashedly stealing a glance at her first crush. "Hi, Riddler."
Given her posture, he almost expects her to wave at him shyly, but she doesn't. "Hi, Lee."
"I'm supposed to be careful with you."
"Oh?" he asks.
"Weren't you listening in?" She interrupts herself. "Oh, that's right. Both of you aren't always conscious at once."
"Well, Ed asked us - me and The Doc - to be careful with you."
"Oh, did he now?"
"Yes," Lee says, suddenly solemn as she reaches out to touch his cheek. "He reminded me of why you exist."
The Riddler gulps.
"It's admirable how you protect Ed. Even from himself."
The Riddler nods and leans in to kiss her and it is sweet, so sweet. But he notices something. Lee smells different. Has Ed noticed this too? He'll have to ask him the next time they talk.
He pushes her back down onto the cushions of the deep, rich, antique sofa that had likely been in the Van Dahl family for years. It was a deep crimson. Red. Her hair looks so lustrous against it with the firelight dancing through it. He grins wickedly.
"Well, you know, Lee, given the reason for my existence I must caution you not to hurt Ed. Either of you." He briefly touches her nose with the tip of his finger.
"Why would I ever do that?"
The Riddler growls. "As I recall you had a penchant for stringing me along. So, don't you dare break Ed's heart. You don't want to be on my bad side."
"And why is that?" she says with the most endearingly impish grin gracing her face.
"Because I kill people."
A delighted shiver runs up her spine.
"Lee, you are . . ."
He nips at her neck.
Now he bites it. She takes in a sharp breath and arches in pleasure beneath him.
He pulls back to look at her. "And you love it."
He grabs her arms, pinning her down so that he has her just where he wants her as he bites open the buttons along her top.
"Riddler!" she says in surprise and mock indignation.
He just grins wickedly and captures her dark red lips in his again, probing deeply with his tongue as her hands entwine themselves in his hair and he loosens his belt buckle.
He has her clinging to the back of the sofa, her hair pulled back, held tightly in his fist. Her bouncing breasts are on display for anyone who happens to be standing on the other side of the delicately adorned windows that night. He smiles wickedly at the thought and at his reflection within them, pounding her from behind, the light from the cackling fire playing tricks with what he sees there.
"Say it, Lee."
"Fuck . . ."
"That's not it, and you know it." The Riddler pauses after one hard, deep thrust inside of her. He leans forward to whisper into her ear threateningly, "I'm better than him."
"Yes," she whines.
"You love me more than him."
"Yes," she says almost desperately. "You know it, you do."
"I just want to make sure."
And then Lee practically screams as he changes his angle and lowers his hand to touch her. There. She's getting quite wet, slick. And the moans of pleasure that have begun to emanate from her could probably wake the dead.
He lays her back down onto the sofa and its tiny little antique legs squeak in protest as he penetrates her once again. They touch each other's faces, intent on bringing each other to climax at the same time.
"I love you, Riddler, I do," Lee says. "And Ed, too."
"Good," he says and kisses her nose before nuzzling her, moving inside of her all the while. "Be patient with him. He needs you."
And the now time for talking is done. She throws her head back, no longer able to make eye contact with him as she squirms and grips his arms. Hard.
He clings to her and cries out loudly enough to wake the dead himself as he loses control and slams into her. Hard.
Having achieved their goal of finishing together, they now sleep peacefully, curled up together on that crimson sofa, the warm light from the fire dancing upon their bare skin.
"So confident . . . yet so insecure," Lee says, stroking his cheek.
"Huh?" The Riddler asks, barely awake. The fire crackles softly as it begins to die down.
"You," she says simply. "Ed's insecure, too. But he lacks your confidence. You're quite the dichotomy."
"Are you surprised?"
"At your dual nature? Actually, yes," Lee replies. "And you've got both a protective and an emotional role to fill - yet another duality. But I don't understand - why don't you keep all of Ed's insecurity to yourself so he doesn't have to experience it? Why do you both have it?"
The Riddler sighs. "Frankly, there's too much of it. And Jim really gets to us. Did you mean what you said? That I'm better than him? Cause we both remember how you two were and -"
"Yes," she says firmly and brings her fingers up to his lips. "The key word there is 'were.' I can't believe that came up when we were -"
"I know," he interrupts her. "It wasn't the best time to have that conversation. But you do that to me, you know."
"Make me express things I shouldn't. You've been known to fluster me to the point that I speak before thinking, thwarting my smarter nature."
"It's called letting go. Being yourself," Lee says and chuckles. "Which is okay to do with someone you love."
"Hmm." He thinks of something he's been meaning to ask. "Lee, is something different? Has something changed?"
"What do you mean?"
You smell different.
He shakes his head, knowing that's probably not something he should say aloud. "Never mind, I'll figure it out."
By the time Oswald makes his way back to the Van Dahl estate, The Riddler has shared all of their memories of Isabella with Ed, but none of his pain over Oswald.
Ed thinks he remembers all of the details, but doesn't understand what is truly being held back. Everything he knows seems logical. Oswald had Isabella killed out of jealousy and then covered up the fact. Once Ed figured out what had happened, he had attempted to kill Oswald twice - once when he chained Oswald to Isabella's wrecked car with a vat of acid dangling over his head and again at the docks when he shot him and pushed him into the bay. Oswald had survived and exacted his revenge upon him, culminating in Ed being frozen for months within a block of ice courtesy of his associate, Mr. Fries. What more was there to know?
"Why that broke you and created me," The Riddler says simply.
"I don't think I really have to know that," Ed says almost defensively and then walks to the foyer to greet his friend, who had just gotten in. "Oswald!"
Ed and Oswald hug each other warmly in greeting, the looming threat of suppressed memories and emotions temporarily forgotten.
"Okay," Oswald says to Ed as they sit in the drawing room later that day. "If we're going to get to Strange, I'm going to need you to do some work for me as I mentioned earlier."
"We need to find a way to disrupt whatever he's doing with those mutant babies -"
"We need to find him first."
"Not necessarily, Ed. You see, his research is being published and shared via -"
Ed's eyes instantly light up. "We can destroy him remotely!"
"Yes! And you're the only one smart enough to do it. Plus you have experience in the field."
Ed nods. "But I'm going to have to learn a new skill."
"Forgery." Ed smiles wickedly. "I've always wanted to try my hand at that."
"Now that could be useful, my friend," Oswald smiles conspiratorially. "And not just for taking Strange down. Can I consider you on my payroll?"
"Give me time to learn the craft first and then yes, I'm your man."
Ed frowns. "I'm not a boy, Oswald."
"Why do you have to be so serious, Ed? Lighten up. We're going to eviscerate Strange. Just humor me please."
"Tell me we're going to do more than just be a fly in the ointment of his research. I want him dead."
Oswald puts a hand up. "In due time, yes, that's the game plan. But as I recall, you like toying with your victims."
"Oh, I do," Ed says, his eyes dancing. "Promise me there will be a LOT of toying."
"Definitely." Oswald grins and pats his hand. "Now, about Tabitha . . ."
Ed walks back to the room he shares with Lee and places the notebook that Oswald had found in one of the rooms abandoned by Strange on his nightstand. He doubts it will contain anything worth reading. A cursory glance had indicated that it was a lab notebook from when Strange had just started resurrecting people. Useless. Ed had been there himself to witness what was going on at Indian Hill - Strange had made so many attempts that had gone awry back then. It would be better to have notes and data from a later time, when Strange was more competent. But perhaps one night if he got bored . . .
"You're ready," he hears The Riddler say.
"No I'm not. Go away."
"Riddler?" he hears Lee ask from the doorway tentatively.
"No, it's me," Ed says, turning to look at her.
"So you're asking The Riddler to go away then? After he's just returned to us?"
"No, it's not that. He's just pestering me. Wants to tell me about Oswald." Ed looks away. "I . . . I'm just not ready to face that."
"Let me help you then," she says, taking his hand. "It will be okay."
"What if it's . . . what if it's something private he wants to share with me alone?"
"It's not," The Riddler says to him. "It's more my secret than yours."
"Oh?" Ed asks him. That's new.
"Look, you know about Isabella now, Ed. You know that you CAN be loved. By her, Oswald, even Lee."
"I don't know about Lee." Ed gulps, looking back out at her, shaking her hand a little. She understands that he's having a private conversation in his head and just patiently waits for him to finish. He turns back to The Riddler in his head and says,"Even though she's said that she loves me, when I have time to stand back think about everything, sometimes I'm not so sure."
"Ed, once you figure this stuff out, you'll be able to love her back. She does love you . . . Us. Both of us."
"So, what's your secret, Riddler?" Ed asks firmly, returning to the original subject at hand, not letting him deflect.
"Losing Oswald. . . killing Oswald –" The Riddler chokes up and stops.
"What about it?" Ed asks.
"It didn't just create me, Ed. It broke us. It utterly broke us. . ." The Riddler trails off.
"But . . . I already know that. What's there to hide from me?"
"I'm not hiding the facts from you, Ed. I never really have. You and Oswald are close. We can't have gaps in your memory there – especially now that you're on good terms again. All you remembered when you first woke from the block of ice was our hatred towards him. I didn't share the specifics with you again until after you joined forces with Lee in The Narrows - once you were safe and had given up on any type of revenge. And when I had been in charge, I had to let go of some of our past as well. Of Isabella. I had to finally let go of some of that pain so that I could let myself love Lee. " The Riddler sighs. "And that's what I'm hiding from you, Ed. PAIN. The pain you couldn't handle from losing your best friend. The fact that you had taken his life yourself. We were so lost without him. You completely broke and I arose."
"And you want to give that pain back?"
"I have to, Ed. And you know it."
"Only if I want to remove the barrier between us."
"Why wouldn't you want to?" The Riddler asks. "I want to. I'm not strong enough by myself anymore. There's been too much –"
"- Please, Ed. Help me shoulder the burden. Let us be whole again. It's what I came back for." Tears are gleaming in The Riddler's eyes. Tears Ed knows will be his if he surrenders. And he's not sure he's ready for that.
"Don't you want to be strong enough?" The Riddler asks. "For once in your life?"
"Strong enough for what?" Ed says.
"To love her?"
"Yes . . . I do want to love her." That is said into the space between him and Lee and she squeezes his hand, gives him a soft smile of encouragement. Then he says privately to The Riddler, "Without fear."
"The you need me, Ed. I'm the part of you that is able to love. I'm the part of you that is able to give. I am not afraid of the pain."
The Riddler pauses.
"Please let us be whole again so that we can love her with our full heart, not just the part who's unafraid, the part who remembers Isabella and Oswald and our worthiness. You deserve to feel love too, Ed, not just me. Please don't be afraid anymore. Not everyone will hurt you."
Ed takes his hand and The Riddler smiles at him. Lee has his other hand.
"She's worth it, Ed."
As the barrier drops, Ed falls to his knees. The emotional pain is intense.
Lee drops with him and cradles his head. Holds him as he cries out.
"Oswald! Nooooooooo! Oswald!"
He breaks down and sobs in her arms. She holds him for as long as he needs her to.
And then he is whole again - for the first time since his parents had walked out of that vestibule and out of his life.
"You're looking different," Oswald says to him as he and The Doc join him for hot toddies in front of the fire. Well, at least he and Oswald were drinking them - the Doc had settled for some chamomile tea. It wasn't like her to forgo alcohol, but she told him she needed some chamomile so that she could get a good night's sleep after what had turned out to be an emotionally wrenching day. Especially for him. She had suggested that he try some, too. But he had opted for the hot toddy that Oswald had offered him instead.
"Well, Oswald, perhaps I look different because I am different," he answers his friend cryptically as he sips his warm beverage.
"Oh?" Oswald asks.
"Oswald, I know everything now."
"Oh." Oswald stiffens this time.
"It's okay, I don't hate you. We've already been through that." He takes in a deep breath to steady himself. "Instead, I'd like to apologize."
"Apologize?" Oswald sits forward.
"Yes. I was cruel to you, Oswald." More cruel than his friend had deserved. He had never intended to be like some of the kids who had mocked him in his youth. He's actually quite embarrassed by his behavior now that he fully remembers everything - including how cold he had been. The Riddler part of him had sure known how to bury emotions deep, including his conscious.
"Well, you did try to kill me," Oswald says.
"As you deserved, given the situation," he replies firmly, with a nod.
"It wasn't that."
"So go on. . ."
"I'm sorry I mocked you -"
"In that ridiculous farce of a show? Down in The Narrows? Ha!" Oswald tries not to laugh.
"No, not that." Again, he felt that that was something Oswald had definitely deserved, having earned the hatred of The Narrows. He had just been stirring the pot with his delightful little entertainment at Cherry's place.
"No, you brought that upon yourself, Oswald. Look, I'm sorry I mocked your love for me - that I threw it in your face just because I didn't want it." He makes sure he has Oswald's gaze steadily within his own before continuing. "That was very cruel of me."
He is surprised at how quickly liquid forms around the rims of Oswald's eyes and watches his friend as he tries in vain to resist the urge to wipe at them and sniff back some tears.
"I know that I'm alive today because you care about me, Oswald. You saved me twice. I owe my life to you."
"Three times," Oswald counters, raising his chin.
"Let's see. I stopped Sofia's men from executing you at the docks, I had Strange resurrect you, and oh yes, I stopped Fries from putting you on ice again. Seeing what it did to your brain the first time, a second time might just have killed you."
"But . . . you ordered him to do that to me!"
"And I called him off," Oswald says reasonably. "So by my count then, three."
He chuckles. "Okay, Oswald."
"Look, I trust you, Edward."
He startles. "You . . .?"
"Yes, I could tell it was you the moment you sat down," Oswald says smugly. "Edward. Just you."
"Edward" was how he had started life. It was how he planned to end it. It was his real name.
A warmth spreads throughout him. Is it having the two people he cherishes the most by his side that evening, is it finally knowing who he IS, or is it just an effect of the hot toddy?
"There is no Penguin without the Riddler!" Oswald exclaims, holding his hot toddy high.
"There is no Riddler without the Penguin!" Edward replies, holding his high as well.
"And there is no me without . . . who?" The Doc holds her chamomile tea cup up boldly, yet she's tentative as to how to end that sentence.
"You don't get to play this game with us, Lee." Oswald snarks and sticks his tongue out at her.
"Why not, Oswald? Didn't you claim to 'make me?'" The Doc retorts.
Edward is the first one to chuckle through the initial tense silence. Soon all three of them are belly laughing. He smiles over at the love of his life, realizing in that moment that somehow, some way, she and Oswald will be just fine. He can tell that someday there will be peace between them.
"As I was saying, Edward," Oswald says. "I trust you. Despite that paltry little thing you did at Gotham Savings and Loan that attempted to pass for betrayal. Like I said, I knew you were just trying to prove your love to this little minx over here."
Oswald raises his glass and winks at Lee. She winks back.
"And who am I to stand in the way of love?"
It sounds like Oswald really means it this time.
Edward smiles. He can't remember a time when he's ever been more content.
"You know," Edward says as he rubs Lee's shoulder as they are lying in bed later that night. "The part of me that remembered Isabella -"
"Yes. He was the part of me that remembered the beauty of love, yet kept it from the other part of me." He sighs. "It's why the Ed you knew that supported your rise in The Narrows loved you in his own way, but couldn't let himself go there. Not really."
"I always thought that he - no you - was just afraid of . . . " She shakes her head and chuckles. "Wouldn't that also be 'you?' Ugh. It's so odd that you're integrated now. I had truly gotten used to you being split. Like me."
"I'm just trying to let you know that I'm ready to love you now, Lee," Edward says. "All of me. I mean it."
"Good," Lee says and kisses him deeply. "Good."
"I am happy," he says. "Really, truly happy."
"I'm happy, too. For the first time since Kristen's been gone." Her soft smile is barely laced with any pain.
"Me too," Edward answers. "We don't talk about her much anymore. . ."
"Doesn't mean she's not on our minds."
Isn't that the truth? He nods.
"Edward, she'll always be our little girl. Always." Lee puts a hand on his cheek. "But I hope to make you even happier in the morning."
"Really? How?" He wiggles his eyebrows and she punches him on the arm playfully.
"Oh, I just have a little surprise for you, that's all." She winks and then gives him a quick peck on the cheek. "That chamomile's got me beat. You should have drunk some of that like I suggested so you won't be up all night wondering what I've got in store for you now."
Edward groans as she quickly rolls over.
But that night his dreams aren't sweet at all. He's being chased by the corpse of his mutant baby daughter, abandoned by his mother in that horrible vestibule once again, and killing Oswald and succeeding. Over and over again. Bang. Bang. Bang.
Edward sits up in a rush. Covered in sweat. Finding it difficult to breathe. And his heart is pounding its way towards death.
Perhaps being integrated wasn't going to be as easy as he first thought. He's developed no other way of dealing with this outside of splitting. He brings his hands to his head - the pain is blinding - but just for a second.
Did he split?
Edward breathes a sigh of relief. The demons are at bay - for now. He's fully back in the present.
He notices a light under the bathroom door. The bed beside him is empty.
"Lee?" he calls out.
"No, no, no, no, no!" He hears from the bathroom and springs out of bed to the closed door.
"Lee, are you okay?" he asks, placing his hand on it.
"Go away!" She yells.
That doesn't sound good.
He tries the knob. It's locked. He's terribly worried now.
He bangs on the door. "Let me in!"
"No!" she shouts before dissolving into sobs.
"Okay, okay. It's okay," he says splaying his hand on the door again, no longer a fist. A pit of worry is forming in his stomach. "What's going on? Please talk to me."
Before he realizes what is happening, the lock unclicks and she barrels out the door, pushing him out of the way and lunging for the phone on her nightstand. Picking it up, she says, "I need a car."
"There's only one driver on duty tonight, right?" Lee asks. Edward notices that she's holding her stomach and grimacing. "That's not a problem. Whoever's working tonight will be fine - I'm not picky."
She hangs up the phone and pushes him out of the way again as tears roll down her cheeks. She grabs a long trench coat and puts it over her nightgown before grabbing her purse and leaving the room. Swiftly.
"Lee, where are you going?" Edward calls out.
She doesn't answer him, so he just hobbles over to grab his staff on the other side of the bed and heads out into the long hallway. He catches a quick glimpse of her before she's out of sight.
And she knows it. He's never going to catch her.
But that's not going to stop him from trying.
As he finally makes it all the way to the carriage house, the car she had ordered is just pulling out of the drive.
It is a silent scream in his head. He is desperate with worry. What in the world had just happened?
Edward finds his way back to the bathroom. He smells the blood before he sees it. There's not much, but it's there.
And it smells like . . .
The change he had noticed in Lee.
He becomes so dizzy all of a sudden that he almost faints. Leaning back against the wall for support because suddenly his staff is not enough to hold him, he finds himself sliding down it.
It's there. Just a few little drops. A few little drops of life.
How had he missed this?
The most brilliant minds are blind to the most obvious truths.
He had said it himself.
Why hadn't she told him?
Probably because it was too early. But he should have noticed the signs. They'd been intimate regularly ever since they were resurrected and she had never had a menses. How could he not have noticed that she was . . . ?
Was that what she was going to tell him in the morning? Was she far enough along that it had finally made sense to?
His stomach churns with worry. She had bled. While carrying his child. And now she had run off into the night alone. It didn't bode well.
The following morning, Edward awakens in bed.
He's crying for Kristen. His baby girl.
And now there's another one . . .
It's well past 11am he still hasn't roused himself from bed yet. And Lee hasn't returned either. When he hears Martin's excited laughter in the hallway, he sits up in bed.
"Martin?" he says to himself, astonished. Martin had survived the destruction of Gotham!
Of course he had. Edward knew that Oswald would protect that little boy at all costs.
There's a knock on the door and he can hear Oswald ask, "Can we come in?"
Edward dries his eyes and puts on his glasses.
"Sure," he calls out to the door. "But I'm still in bed."
Martin races in before Oswald can even get through and jumps up on the bed. Edward ruffles his hair. "What's up?"
Martin bounces on the bed, holding up the pad he communicates with. But he's bouncing so much that Edward can't read what's written on it.
"What's it say?" Edward asks, scrunching up his nose and squinting his eyes.
"Martin, please quell your excitement a bit and show your Uncle Riddler what news we have to share." Oswald winks at Edward. "We decided that Martin will be calling you that from now on."
Martin obeys and Edward is finally able to read what is on the pad.
"What?" Edward asks.
Martin turns the page. *It's official!*
"What?" Edward looks up to see the joy, the pride, shining in Oswald's eyes before tears spill out onto his cheeks. Oswald's always so emotional.
"He's my son," Oswald sits down on the bed and gives the boy a tight, sideways hug. "He's my boy."
"Eh, it was easy." Oswald waves his hand in the air dismissively. "With Gotham all amok and having my lair located in City Hall and all that. Just a few little documents and the adoption was complete! It just took my men a while to retrieve Martin after the fall of the city. But he's here now. Snug as a bug in a rug as you would say."
Martin turns to hug his new dad full on, and lets out a noise similar to how Kristen's cooing had sounded.
"I'm so proud," Oswald says over the little boy's shoulder, holding him tight. "So proud."
Edward feels a lump in his throat. He wants to be happy for his friend, but he just can't. He's jealous.
Deep down, he knows that Lee has lost their second child and he can't see anything but green when he looks at his best friend and his new son.
"Is Lee joining us?" Oswald asks as the three of them settle in for breakfast.
"No," Edward answers tersely.
Oswald's brows furrow at the coldness emanating from his friend. "Is everything alright?"
"Fine," Edward replies, not meeting his eyes.
"Martin," Oswald says. "Could you go into the kitchen and ask Helga to give us a few minutes? I'll ring her when we're ready."
Martin hops off of his chair and happily traipses off to the kitchen.
Oswald turns to Edward. "What's wrong?"
"Oswald, it doesn't concern you."
"You seem pretty unhappy," Oswald says. "And that concerns me."
Edward sighs and just looks down at his hands. "She left."
"Wait. What?" Oswald asks, astounded. "She left you? Just last night we were having so much fun. All of us."
"What? Talk to me, friend."
"Something private." Edward feels like crying, but his instinct for holding things in is preventing it.
"She left you over 'something private?'"
"I'm not completely sure she actually left me . . ." Something tells him she'll be back.
"Yet she's not here," Oswald says logically. "So she ran out into the night, then?"
"Something like that."
"Edward, what happened?" Oswald asks insistently once again, a firm hand on his shoulder now.
"I got her pregnant."
"What?" Oswald is stunned. "Again?"
"Somehow I'm guessing congratulations aren't in order this time?"
"No," Edward says his voice finally cracking.
"You know, Edward, my dear boy," Oswald says, trying to lighten the mood. "Some girls don't like being knocked up. Especially without a ring on their finger."
Edward knocks into him, attempting to be playful to acknowledge the levity Oswald is trying to introduce into their exchange, but given his present state of mind, it's more half-hearted than anything.
But then he tells him.
"I'm worried she might have lost our baby."
"Oh, Edward," Oswald says, getting out of his chair to give him a hug, understanding the gravity of yet another loss coming so fast upon the heels of the death of their first child. "Oh my God, I'm so sorry."
Edward finally gives in and allows himself to cry a little bit in his arms. A part of him still thinks it's weird crying so openly like this. He feels like his overly emotional friend.
"After Kristen, I realized I wanted to be a dad. I wanted another chance."
Oswald pulls away a bit, looking his friend in the eye with pity.
"To be given another chance. And then to have it taken -" he starts.
"I worry about Lee, you know. Even more than I do for myself."
"How so?" Oswald is nonplussed by the abrupt change in subject.
"This will be the third child she's lost." Edward looks down at his hands. "And the first two just devastated her. I don't think she can handle another."
"I can send a car to look for her. . ."
He suddenly realizes now that he knows Lee will return. Without a doubt. It's not just a hunch.
"No, it's okay, Oswald. She's coming back."
"How do you know that?"
"Kristen's still here."
An early miscarriage.
Edward knows that if he told Oswald everything he's been turning over and over in his mind, he'd be scolded for worrying. He can just hear him now.
Nothing is ever as bad as what your mind can devise, friend.
But Edward KNOWS it is. Deep in his bones, he knows.
He continues to pace up and down the long hallway leading from the dining room to his bedroom. He's too restless to do anything else - not even watch Oswald instruct his son in the finer ways of killing.
Edward knows that roughly fifty percent of early miscarriages are caused by chromosomal abnormalities. A baby conceived with those kind of problems is just way too sick to be viable and the body terminates the pregnancy itself. And the chance of it happening a second time is rare - it's considered a fluke. So theoretically, he and Lee could have another child. And Edward really wants that - he misses the short time he had with their daughter. He had never really considered having children before, but once fatherhood was thrust upon him like that, looking back, he had experienced a deep fulfillment. It was nothing like he had ever known before. And he wants that again - with Lee. It can only be Lee. She's the only one he can imagine raising a child with. Because she's nothing like his mother. . .
But. . .
As Edward continues to pace in the hallway, he remembers Strange's words regarding Kristen's death. After snuffing out her life with one quick press of a button, he had told him and Lee that their child's life had been inconsequential, anyway.
It was no big loss because you two? Well, your genes are highly incompatible - definitely not an ideal match. You left me such a mess to work with.
And now Edward knows the truth. Lee's miscarriage proves it. His chromosomes are messed up. It's the only explanation.
"My genes are bad," as the kids used to say. Yet, Edward had never known exactly what had been wrong with him all that time ago, not like the other kids did. They knew specifics.
But, perhaps this was it. Perhaps he had some chromosomal abnormality or other genetic defect that had escaped detection in his mother's womb. He had made it out alive - only to be too sick for her to take care of. He frowns at the thought.
Then he stops.
. . . and brings a shaky hand to his mouth as he fully realizes what it all means. Oh God, this was all his fault.
Logically, he understands that he can't know for certain, but still, the guilt is overwhelming. It must have been his genes, his fault that she couldn't carry their baby to term. He feels sick. How could he have done this to her? How could he have put her through this again?
Edward resumes his pacing after he hears Martin laughing, returning him to the here and now. But he needs to keep himself distracted from those two. His jealousy isn't fair to Oswald. He can't begrudge him Martin - his best friend deserves the joy of having a son even if his own daughter is gone. . .
Time is an agony as the hours pass him by, waiting for Lee to return. Edward could have 'cut a rug' in that hallway - had there been one - with his restless feet alone.
And eventually, she does return.
Edward finds himself in the pool house, that knife in his hand. He had easily found it tucked away for safekeeping among the various knives in Oswald's armory - right where he surmised it would be. He flips it. Over and over again. It remains in its closed position.
He's seeing red, and blinded by tears. Hot, fierce tears of anger.
He stops flipping it, looks down at it and lets the knife spring open in his hand . . .
. . . and is flooded with the memory of their most recent interaction.
"You WHAT?!" he yells at her when Lee tells him. He had been prepared to comfort her, worried to death about her after she had run out into the night like that, assuming the worst.
She just shrugs nonchalantly. What a cold-hearted bitch.
"Let me see!" he demands and she complies, lifting her shirt and pulling down her waistband to show him the stitches.
He gasps and reaches out to touch them with his fingertips. They're real. She's really gone and done this to herself. He starts to shake as the blood drains from his face.
"No . . ." It is barely a whisper.
"Yes," she replies simply, dropping her shirt.
"How could you?" he yells.
"How could I what?"
"After Kristen . . ." Edward falters and tries to get ahold of himself, eventually putting up a hand before resuming. "After the fleeting time we had together with Kristen, I realized that I wanted to be a father. AND YOU KNEW THAT. You knew that I wanted to have more children with you! How could you take away my choice like that?"
"YOUR choice?" she demands. "What the hell is wrong with you? It's my body, my choice. Do you think you OWN me or something?"
"No," he blinks, having a difficult time believing she doesn't understand. How can she not get this? "But I promised -"
"You promised what, Edward?" she practically sneers.
"I promised I'd never leave you," he says sounding weak, like a wimp. And then he deflates, finding himself sitting back down on their bed - right where he had been sitting when she had first returned that evening and dropped the bombshell that she had sterilized herself. She was never going to be a mother, and even worse, she didn't WANT to be. What the hell had happened to her? It was as if he didn't even know her anymore.
"Well, if you want kids, then, you're pretty much going to have to leave me and find some other willing victim now, aren't you?" Her dark eyes challenge him. And not in the sexy way they used to.
He doesn't say a word, just crosses his arms and frowns deeply, looking up at her, stubbornly refusing to break eye contact with her even though she's looming over him, daring him to. Eventually he wins the staring contest and she lets out a sharp, frustrated sigh as she turns and leaves the room.
He lets her go.
And now, furiously caught up in a blinding rage, he drops to his knees upon the hard tiles of the pool house and pierces a cushion from the white wicker sofa with that knife . . .
"You're back!" He had leapt up from the bed and started to move towards her.
The blade slips from his hand slightly as he pulls it from the upholstery.
She had shrugged him off.
He grips it tighter, determined.
He plunges the knife into the cushion again, this time with an agonizing cry.
"Nothing's wrong. Not anymore."
No. The worst possible thing had gone wrong. Why couldn't she see that?
"What? What did you do?"
His hand slips down the blade, into the cushion with the knife this time, drawing blood.
"I'm not going to lose another child, Edward. Because I'm not having another. Not Jim's, not yours. No one's. Not ever."
Not thinking, he squeezes his fist closed, wanting to wring her neck, and the knife cuts deep into his flesh. By the time he pulls it out of the cushion, the pain is intense and he lets it drop. Then, he notices what the blood from his hand is dripping on.
His uninjured hand courses over it slowly, traces the stains on the cushion. Stains from Kristen's spilt formula.
Edward's anger is dissipated in an instant and instead, he is suddenly enshrouded in grief. He bends forward and starts weeping, not even bothering to bring his hands to his face. His tears flow freely.
He and Lee have lost two children now. Kristen and the unborn baby that she had lost that night in the bathroom. And now there would be no more . . . ever.
"Why?" he cries, remembering all those nights they took solace in each other, grieving for their little girl, and admitting to her one night within the quiet, enshrouded cocoon of the bed they shared that he wished to have another child with her when she was ready. . . and she had admitted the same. But now?
"Why did you have to take my future away from me, Lee?" he shrieks and grabs the bloody knife, not even bothering to fold it back up again before he hurls it at one of the windows. Hard. "Why?!"
The glass shatters upon impact.
As it rains down from the frame of the sliding glass door, it is spectacular in its descent, yet . . .
No one notices.
Unlike when he and Lee had made a commotion out by the pool as he was drowning in memories of Isabella, no lights go on in the house. No one's worried about him this time.
Edward lets out a primal scream.
No one cares.
The sound dies an empty death in a void of its own making.
Edward stiffly takes a seat at the dining room table where Oswald has just come in from the previous night and is waiting to be served breakfast. He hides his injured hand from his friend's view. Still stunned about the events of last night, he doesn't even give Oswald a second glance or a greeting.
"Something wrong, old friend?" he asks.
Edward adjusts the fork beside his plate, making its stem line up exactly perpendicular to the edge of the table beneath it before he says, "Lee found a way to get a tubal ligation, despite the rubble that Gotham City has been reduced to."
"What?" Oswald says, unable to keep the shock from his tone.
Edward looks over at him and says lowly, "She took away my choice, Oswald."
"Your choice?" Oswald sputters.
"Yes. I will never be a father now."
"I didn't know you wanted to be one."
"Neither did I. Not until - " Martin runs into the room and hugs Oswald, interrupting him.
Oswald smiles gleefully, his son in his arms and then says, "You know Edward, there are other fish in the sea. You can have a child with someone else."
"Don't gloat, Oswald," Edward says. "It doesn't become you."
"Oh, I think it becomes me quite well," Oswald counters and then points at a seat next to himself, across the table from Edward. "Martin, sit. Please join us for breakfast."
The boy eagerly takes the seat and then looks wistfully at the door to the kitchen. He must be hungry.
"Come now, she didn't take away your choice, Edward, only hers. Besides, it's her body, not yours."
"I know Oswald. She told me the same thing," Edward sighs. "But . . ."
"I promised her I'd never leave her. So her choices become mine. And now my future as a father has been sacrificed."
Oswald tosses his hands in the air. "Now that's just foolish. You're not even married."
"Doesn't matter. I'm not leaving her," Edward says firmly.
"Well, you should," Oswald says firmly. "Just look at all the two of you have been through. And all you have to show for it is pain? Really now."
"You would say that." Ed frowns. "But I don't think you understand what's between us."
"Oh, but I do. You have no idea." Are those tears swimming in his eyes? "Love is about sacrifice, right?"
"Lee's not sacrificing anything for you. She never has," Oswald says vehemently. "I stand by what I said – you should leave her."
He reaches over to ruffle Martin's hair.
"Find someone you can raise a child with, Edward. Someone better."
Edward stands up abruptly, even stiffer than when he sat down. Not even bothering to hide his injured hand now, he pulls on each side of his suit jacket, making sure everything is in place and then tilts his chin up before he walks away, leaving Oswald alone to have breakfast with his child.
Edward goes to the room he shares with Lee out of habit, stopping at the door frame, and just touches it softly. He wonders what she did last night, while Oswald and Martin had been in Gotham City, while he was melting down in the pool house . . . all alone.
He peers in and sees her still form lying on the bed, facing away from him, looking out towards the pool. He can't see her face, just her glossy black hair spread out upon the pillow and he wonders which one of her personalities had come up with this bright idea to make herself barren in the first place.
Shaking his head, he realizes that it doesn't matter - they had all been willing participants. He couldn't imagine The Doc just standing idly by, nor could he see Lee just allowing something like this to happen if she hadn't wanted it to. And Little Leslie? She probably didn't understand the implications, but he knew she didn't want to be sad anymore. She had had a hard enough time missing her mother - how had she ever handled the loss of a child? If she could even comprehend it.
Lee's parts didn't seem to work like his - they hadn't broken off to help her deal with pain like his had - and they didn't seem to help her in that regard in any case. So he was fairly certain that they all felt everything. That had to be a living hell.
He sees and hears Lee's body give out a long sigh, and almost lets himself feel a tiny bit of sympathy for her, but then he feels a tugging at the bottom of his suit jacket.
It's Martin, holding up his pad.
*What's going on? Is she okay?*
Edward gently places a hand on Martin's shoulder, steering him down the hallway a bit before answering him.
"Lee's going to be okay, Martin. I was just, uh . . ." Edward thinks of the first thing that comes to mind. "I was just looking for something to read. For tonight."
"Yes, I'm going to be staying in the pool house tonight."
Martin's eyes light up as he frantically scribbles on his pad. *Like summer camp?*
Beneath his question, Martin had also drawn a lake with some stars and a crescent moon above above it and a campfire surrounded by stick figures roasting marshmallows.
Edward couldn't help but smile and ruffle his hair. For a kid with innate homicidal tendencies, he sure was a good kid.
"Yeah, buddy, like summer camp."
'Buddy' . . . that was what his father used to call him. And what he used to call the other parts of himself - when there had been other parts.
Edward scoops Martin up to take him back to Oswald. As he walks, he hugs the boy close, becoming melancholy just thinking about how he's going to miss out on being a father. Oswald is so lucky.
*I thought you might want this to read*
Out by the pool, Martin holds out his pad in one hand and Strange's old laboratory notebook in the other. Edward had been avoiding Lee and their room all day. Martin must have . . .
"Martin, where did you get this?" Edward asks, taking the notebook from him with a nod of thanks.
Martin draws a picture of his nightstand from the bedroom that he shared with Lee.
"You didn't disturb Dr. Thompkins now, did you?"
Martin shakes his head and shows Ed a piece of paper on his pad laden with z's.
"Still sleeping, huh?"
Hmmm. . . it was almost sundown. Had she even gotten out of bed?
Martin hands Edward a piece of paper that says *Can we do summer camp?* The "like" had been crossed out and "can we do" was written in its place over the campfire scene he had drawn last night.
Before Edward even answers, Martin removes the backpack he had been wearing and pulls out a bag of marshmallows, some chocolate, some graham crackers. . . It's apparent that he had come prepared for Edward to say yes.
"Whoa, buddy, watcha doing there?" Edward asks.
Martin points to "summer camp" on his pad and excitedly gets to work on trying to figure out how to work the electrical switches for the fire pit by the pool. Edward stands back and watches him solve that puzzle with delight, not saying a word. Perhaps the boy wouldn't mind solving some riddles while they roasted those marshmallows later that evening. . .
"You gonna keep him here all night?" Oswald asks as he comes out to join them around the fire pit by pool. The sun had been down for quite a while.
Martin nods vigorously.
Edward laughs and says, "Only until he's sick of toasted marshmallows. He swears he can finish off the entire bag."
Martin proudly picks up the now half-empty bag to show to Oswald with one hand, but forgets he has a marshmallow on a stick in the other. It rakes through the bottom of the fire and by the time he notices, it's burst into a red-orange ball of flame.
Edward rescues it, pulling it out of the fire. He blows on it and it quickly burns down to a charred mess which he pops into his mouth, loudly crunching on the dead "shell" of the marshmallow.
Martin squirms, issuing noises of disgust.
"That burnt stuff will kill you," Oswald says.
"You sound like Lee," Edward says grumpily. "And Martin and I were just out here trying to have a good time . . ."
"Sorry to spoil the mood there, Edward, but my mother would never feed me such -"
"She coddled you."
Oswald pretends to be shocked for a second but then says, "Yeah, with EGGS."
"You're such a baby, Oswald."
They both grin at each other. And then Oswald says, "She hasn't come out of her room, you know."
"I don't care."
"Are you sure? She -"
"Drop it, Oswald."
"Fine. Martin!" Oswald waves the boy over so he can sit on his lap as he takes a seat near the fire pit. He turns back to Edward, rubbing his hands over the fire. "A little chilly for 'summer camp,' isn't it?"
"Not my idea."
The three of them end up finishing off the night with Edward standing along the rim of the firepit, bellowing out riddles for father and son to solve, just like The Riddle factory . . . except there's no punishment for failing this time.
Oswald keeps fretting that Edward might fall back into the fire, yet his leg had become much stronger than he had ever expected it to be. All he needs is his new staff to maintain his balance. Not that his best friend had as much confidence in that as he had.
"Oswald, you're going to lose your penguin status if you keep behaving like a mother hen," he admonishes his friend, following it up with a 'bok bok!' "You're being ridiculous. The rim around this pit is a good foot wide -"
"It's curved," Oswald says anxiously and Edward sighs.
"Fine," Edward says, "Just one more riddle."
"Do you have to?"
"Fine, I don't have to. Martin can give US one instead."
Edward gets down from the rim of the pit. Now that was decidedly more difficult than he had expected. Oswald just shakes his head and clucks. Like a hen.
Edward cracks a sardonic smile.
Martin starts writing on his pad.
As they wait, Oswald says to Edward, "I'm sorry I'm this way. It's the only way I know how to be. My mother, you see . . ."
"Loved you," Edward says. "She just loved you, Oswald. Nothing wrong with that."
Later that evening, Edward finds himself alone with his thoughts while Strange's laboratory notebook that he had tried to read to distract himself lies on his chest, abandoned. The pool house is now quite chilly and filled with memories of baby Kristen. She's the only one there to keep him company that night. He lies on the part of the wicker sofa that he hadn't destroyed - but unfortunately it is closest to the window that he had broken in his rage last night and the cold keeps seeping in. He doubts that there can ever be enough towels in here to keep him warm tonight. He's under quite a thick mound of them already. But NO, he is not going back to the main house even though Oswald had extra rooms. Not while she was still there.
And now that there is no future with Kristen - or any other child of his and Lee's - the future they could have had is the only thing he thinks about. Bitterly.
Pieces of that "fevered dream," as had Lee called it, keep coming back to him - chasing him like a relentless wind down the coast of that beach - or a riptide trying to pull him out of reality.
The little girl with the dark hair. Daddy's little girl. Lee doctoring her and mothering her at at the same time. His sick little girl. Just like Kristen. Just like him. Why did this fantasy future plague him so much?
Lee . . . the mother of his child.
Edward's heart aches at the thought and he takes off his glasses, bringing his arm up to cover his eyes. Even the rims of his eyelids hurt as he shuts them tightly.
In Lee, he had seen the opposite of his mother. Lee cared for sick children - she didn't abandon them - in fact she had gone out of her way to FIND the ones that no one else cared for in The Narrows and did her best to nurse them back to health. No matter what Lee had told him about her reason for being there - for it being some kind of penance for her involvement in the release of the Tetch virus - he didn't buy it. This compulsion to care for others is an integral part of her good side. No matter how attracted he is to her darkness, this is the part of her that has held his heart captive for so long.
But now that she didn't want to be a mother - now that she had gone to such extreme measures in order to prevent it - now that that part of her was absolutely GONE - did he even love her anymore?
Edward isn't sure. In the blink of an eye, with an irrevocable snap decision, she had utterly destroyed them.
He had promised to never leave her side, but why should he stay? Is there anything left to salvage? Does he even want to try?
He falls asleep fitfully on that white wicker sofa, out in the cold of the pool house, alone, with far too much weighing on his mind.
This story continues in Exile because it is FAR from over . . . (I just had to split into two stories because it's WAAAY too long and this is a good stopping point)