“For the love of--Edward, we don’t have all night. Hurry up.”
Edward shoots a look of extreme annoyance over his shoulder at Oswald.
“Babies are ticking time bombs!” Edward whispers angrily, his entire posture coiled tightly. “If she starts crying we have no chance of pulling this off!”
He tip-toes over to the crib rather comically and peers into it with a look somewhere between disgust and trepidation. Oswald would laugh if the situation wasn’t so urgent.
Slowly, very slowly, too slowly, Edward reaches inside and scoops up the newborn, along with her blanket. But instead of cradling her or holding her to his chest, he holds her out in front of him, as if she is a literal ticking time bomb. Oswald rolls his eyes, long past having the patience for any of this; his nerves have been shot to bits. He frantically beckons Edward back over to the doorway.
They creep around the corridors of the hospital, slowly making their way to the staff entrance at the back of the building, Edward still holding the child in his ridiculous manner. Oswald checks the coast is clear, before they hurry across the street to their car. Before they get inside, Edward hands the baby to Oswald with no small amount of obvious relief, then quickly gets in and starts the engine. Oswald, now holding the tiny baby against his chest, gets in more delicately. Somehow, despite Edward’s disastrous handling of her, she is still asleep.
Once they arrive at the warehouse in which they are currently residing as Edward makes final preparations to the submarine for their escape, they head into the rooms they have made somewhat liveable for their last few days in Gotham City. It is not, however, especially suitable for an infant.
Oswald sits down on the couch of the abandoned office he has been calling home for several days now. He lays back against the arm of the chair, so he can make himself more comfortable for the baby to lie on.
“You need to go and get supplies,” Oswald says, propping his legs up on the couch.
“Why do I have to go?” Edward asks petulantly.
“Do you want to stay here with her?”
Edward gives him a very brief look that’s a mixture of fear and disgust. “I’ll be back within the hour.”
“Do you know what she needs?”
“I’m not an idiot, Oswald.” Edward responds, continuing to mutter angrily as he goes out the door.
Once Edward is gone, Oswald looks down at the baby, still sleeping peacefully on his chest. He cannot believe how tiny she is, considering how big Barbara’s bump had been. He regrets that train of thought immediately, cringing at the memory of his part-witnessing the horrific process that brought Baby Gordon into the world.
Shaking his head, he lifts his hand and touches one of the baby’s tiny fists with his index finger. Oswald smiles when it twitches in response. He covers her up to her neck with the blanket then; the warehouse isn’t exactly well heated, and so he tucks the blanket more tightly around her. He wishes he could use one of his jackets to provide more warmth, but he doesn’t want to disturb her any further. Given the eventfulness of the last twenty-four hours, it’s not long before Oswald finds himself drifting off too.
When Edward returns with a bag full of baby necessities, he starts complaining about how difficult it was to obtain the items in a city suffering shortages of everything--until he looks up and sees both Oswald and the baby are asleep. He stops abruptly, hardly daring to breathe, the loudness of his own voice still echoing in his ears.
The little bundle moves up and down on Oswald’s chest with his breaths, and Edward stares, trying to process what he is seeing. He frowns, not able to fully understand why the sight should disturb him, and decides not to waste more time thinking about it. Edward deposits the bag beside the couch and retreats to the warehouse to go over the safety checks again.
Edward is still agitated when he goes back to the office three hours later, this time finding Oswald sitting up, cradling the baby in his arms as she cries.
“Ed, thank god,” Oswald says over the racket, sighing with relief. “Can you take her for a while? I have to use the bathroom, and then I’ll need to make her a bottle.”
Edward stares at the wrinkled pink thing that seems like it should be too small to make that much noise, and tries not to recoil. Staying with her is an unfortunate necessity--she cannot be left alone.
He approaches slowly, wishing he had thought to bring his earplugs--the pitch of the wailing feels as though it’s piercing his eardrums. Edward sits beside Oswald so he can hand the baby over more easily. Once in Edward’s hands, she continues to scream bloody murder, and Edward gives Oswald a wide-eyed look.
“Are you going to be alright with her for a few minutes?”
“Honestly Oswald, I don’t know, but the sooner you go, the sooner you can come back, so get going!”
Having had last part shouted at him, Oswald nods and hastily gets to his feet. He pauses in the doorway. “You should try holding her against you. Babies like to be held.”
“Are you still here?” Edward hisses.
Oswald rolls his eyes and turns on his heel.
The baby is relentless in her screams, and very cautiously, he holds her against his chest, so her head is against his neck. On instinct, he carefully gets up, and starts to bounce on his feet, hoping the motion will calm her. To his immense surprise and relief, she does calm down, but continues to whine.
He doesn’t know why he does it, but he starts to rub circles on her back, and it does seem to soothe her. And since Edward is going for total and utter humiliation, he starts to hum as he walks around the room. He is on his third circuit of the room when she goes slack and her eyes start to droop. He grins and celebrates inwardly, too afraid to make any other noise.
“Do you want to feed her?”
Edward looks up so fast he almost cricks his neck. He can feel his cheeks heating with embarrassment before he can stop it. “How long have you been standing there?”
Oswald is leaning against the doorframe, arms crossed, bottle in one hand.
“Long enough,” Oswald grins, entirely too pleased. “You’re a natural.”
“Come and take her.” Edward says angrily.
Once she is safely in Oswald’s arms, Edward tries to regain some semblance of dignity. “If you even think about telling anyone about this, you’d do well to remember that the pier is outside.” With that he turns and stalks out of the room, followed, irritatingly, by Oswald’s laughter.
Dale is recalled to their service; diaper changing high up there on Oswald’s list of things he never wants to see again, and he knows Edward would never even consider doing it. So with Dale on burping and diaper duty, they fall into a routine. Or, as much routine as one can have with a baby whose sleeping habits are unpredictable at best, downright masochistic at worst.
Edward manages to procure a bassinet from somewhere, and they keep it in their room with them, where they share a double mattress. This is an arrangement Edward quickly comes to resent, when on the third night, she starts wailing at three in the morning.
“Oswald. Please make her shut up.” Edward mutters grumpily against his pillow.
“I got the last one. It’s your turn.”
“I need to sleep. I’ve been working non stop these last few months on our escape from Gotham, and not only that, I now have to make sure it’s safe for a baby--”
“How many more times are you going to play the submarine card, Ed?” Oswald says, and Edward can tell he is building towards a complete meltdown.
“Do you want us all to drown?”
The baby’s cries become even more shrill then.
Oswald looks towards the ceiling and shouts an expletive. Edward buries his head in the pillow. Oswald then sighs dramatically and gets up, shoving the duvet over to Edward’s side angrily, leaving him under a mountain of blankets.
“This is why no good can come from having sex with Jim Gordon!” There’s a moment of quiet as Oswald picks up the baby. “Oh yes it is!” He adds in the ridiculous voice he also uses to talk to Edward the Dog.
All of this is entirely too much for Edward the Human.
He pulls the duvet up over his head.
Two nights later, Oswald is for once not awoken by the baby, but by painful spasms in his leg. When he and Edward finally leave, Oswald is going to set fire to this damned cheap mattress. He looks behind him, and sees that Edward isn’t there--he must be calming the baby. How exhausted must Oswald have been that he didn’t even hear her crying?
Deciding walking it off is the only way the pain is going to abate, he gets up and heads towards the kitchen, seeing a soft glow coming from the office, where the door is very slightly ajar. Oswald pads over as quietly as he can and looks into the room.
“I’m afraid gurgling is not an acceptable answer,” Edward is saying. “Let’s try another.”
There’s a bottle on the table next to the couch, indicating that Edward has fed her. Oswald’s eyes go wide; Edward has refused to have anything to do with the baby and any kind of fluid. Thus far, Oswald and Dale have handled all her feedings.
“What can point in every direction, but can’t reach the destination by itself?”
The baby simply stares up at him sleepily from her place nestled in his arms.
“A finger!” Edward chirps, tapping her tiny little nose twice with his forefinger.
Oswald cannot believe Edward is asking a baby riddles. There's an alarming feeling of endearment brewing in his chest at the thought that this is Edward's way of trying to bond with her. He is sitting there, in his pyjamas, clearly not uncomfortable, hair in complete disarray--he looks different, as though his sharp edges have been sanded down a little. He looks happy, relaxed, and Oswald wonders--is this the life he wanted for himself with Miss Kringle, or Isabelle? Does a part of him still yearn for that normality, that stability?
Her eyes slip shut then, finally tired of Edward’s ridiculousness, and he smiles down at her. For the briefest of moments, it’s like watching a precious moment between father and daughter, so unfamiliar to Oswald is the smile on Edward’s face. He had no idea this side of him existed. Perhaps even Edward himself didn’t know.
Oswald knows he has seen something immensely private, that Edward wouldn’t want Oswald to know about. He doesn’t even have it in him to mock Edward for this at a later stage, either. As he heads back to bed, leg quite forgotten, he knows he’ll keep this secret. Even if he and Edward find themselves at odds again one day, he’ll never use this against him.
“She needs a name,” Edward says a few days later. “We can’t keep referring to her as ‘the baby’.”
“Or ‘it’ in your case,” Oswald mocks.
Edward rolls his eyes. “Any ideas?”
“I think Barbara was considering naming her after Tabitha.” Oswald grimaces. He really hopes that’s not the name she ends up going with. He watches the baby flail her arms minutely from her place lying flat on Edward’s legs. For now she is happy to lay there and wriggle as she gazes up at Edward and Oswald, who are sitting beside each other on the couch.
“Definitely no to Tabitha,” Edward agrees. “It doesn’t really matter what name we use, since it’s unlikely it will end up being what Barbara chooses.”
“We could just call her Barbara junior.”
“That’s not what I was expecting you to say,” Edward comments, not looking away from the fidgeting bundle on his lap.
Oswald knows what Edward is thinking, and isn’t surprised. He decides to ignore it for now. “She looks like Barbara.”
Edward tilts his head analytically, studying her face. “You’re right. She does favour her mother. Barbara it is.” He takes hold of Barbara’s fists in a thumb and forefinger grip, and moves her arms about as if he is dancing with her. “Do you like that, Barb?”
She seems to smile up at Edward then, and his mouth falls open. He looks at Oswald, shocked. The expression on his face is so rare, that Oswald doesn’t have the heart to tell him it’s probably just wind. This is the first time Edward has looked after the baby without any trace of discomfort in front of him (at least knowingly), and Oswald isn’t about to ruin that. The way Edward is with her in this moment stirs old feelings in Oswald. The self proclaimed “cold logician” is slowly but surely forming a bond with their charge. Oswald knows he would sooner have that chip back in his brain than admit it though.
“How much longer until the SS Getrud is ready?”
“Two days,” Edward says, pulling the ends of the onesie back over her feet. She somehow always manages to kick them off. “I have a couple of tests to run, but I don’t anticipate any problems. I have gone over everything far more times than necessary.”
“Good. The sooner we leave the better. It’s only a matter of time before Jim finds us. When he is on a righteous crusade he is unstoppable.”
“No one is unstoppable.” Edward looks much more like that cold logician as he meets Oswald’s eyes. “If he tries to take her against Barbara’s wishes, I won’t hesitate to shoot him.”
“Admirable while that sentiment may be, you and I both know Jim has a nasty habit of surviving, and what’s more, getting what he wants. It’s a confrontation I would prefer to avoid. We stand a much better chance if we can get back to the mainland and put as much distance between us and Gotham as possible.”
Edward nods absently, watching Barbara as she begins to drift off again. “If you can take her for the afternoon, I’ll see if I can get a head start on those tests. Maybe I can have it ready for departure for tomorrow night.”
“Alright,” Oswald says, preparing to hold the baby. Edward lifts her gently, supporting her head, as he places her in Oswald’s arms. She kicks her legs a little, but otherwise doesn’t stir.
“I’ll have Dale bring in some dinner for you. Make sure you remember to eat it. You’re no good to us if you pass out and run the sub into one of those mines on the bottom of the river.”
Edward rolls his eyes but mock salutes him before he gets up and leaves, and Oswald finds himself smiling. This whole situation is very dangerous for his heart; he’s come to realise he enjoys working with Edward to protect baby Barbara. They’re no longer working to simply save themselves--they have a tiny life depending on them, forcing them to work as more of a team, rather than Edward carrying the majority of the workload. Oswald wonders if it should concern him how easily they have adapted to the situation (well, after the terrors of the first few days), and have somehow managed to keep Barbara alive for almost the first two weeks of her life.
It does alarm him that he wouldn’t mind if this situation ended up being permanent. Outside the war zone of course. But would Edward want to stay with him, after they reached the mainland? Their plans only extend as far as escaping Gotham. What if Edward has his own plans once they reach the other side? There is every possibility he may end up raising Barbara alone--and that idea doesn’t worry him as much as it should. He had planned to raise Martin, though he was already ten years old when he unofficially adopted him. These few days may be the only ones he gets to spend with Edward as a hastily thrown together family. Oswald leans back on the couch and resolves to enjoy that feeling while he can. They’ll worry about what comes next when--and if--they break free of Gotham.
In retrospect, Oswald supposes there was only ever one way things were going to play out, and he was deluding himself by thinking otherwise. The city of Gotham doesn’t allow happy endings.
“I’ve got her things. Is she asleep?” Edward asks, looking around for items he might have forgotten.
“Yes, could you go and get the bassinet?”
Edward nods and turns to hurry to their bedroom, but stops in his tracks when he hears an all too familiar voice.
“Ed! Oswald! Where is my daughter?”
Edward turns around to face Oswald, panicked. “We can go out the back--”
But Oswald doesn’t move. He simply looks sad and resigned. “It’s too late for that.”
“We can at least try…” But even as he says it, he knows it’s a lost cause. Jim bursts into the room at that moment. Lee is right behind him. Once he spots the baby in Oswald’s arms, he makes directly for him, but Edward steps into his path, pulling out his gun. Jim is radiating fury and worry.
“Does Barbara know you’re here?” Edward asks, holding his gun against Jim’s chest.
“Get out of my way, right now.” Jim says, leaning into the gun, his face mere inches from Edward's.
“Jim, calm down,” Lee says, putting a hand on his arm. “The baby is fine. Let’s talk without all this alpha male energy.”
“Fine,” Jim concedes, relaxing his posture a little and taking a step back. Edward slowly lowers his gun.
“Barbara knows we’re here. She told us where to find you. We have come to an agreement concerning raising the baby.”
From what he can tell, Lee is speaking the truth. There are no obvious tells that she is lying. And despite what has passed between them, he can see she is different now. She would not manipulate him again, at least not for this reason.
“She is going to stay with us until reunification,” Jim answers, unable to take his eyes off the tiny bundle in Oswald’s arms. “Then we will work something else out.”
Edward doesn’t trust Jim. Not one bit. He looks to Lee for confirmation, who nods.
“Please let me hold my daughter,” Jim says then, and Edward has never heard his voice like that. Shaky with emotion, both pleading and earnest. It occurs to Edward that this will be Jim’s first time meeting his baby, and he knows that once he has held her, he isn’t going to let her go.
Lee takes hold of Jim’s hand then, waiting together for their daughter to be handed to them.
Keeping his expression carefully cold and emotionless, he puts his gun back in his belt and turns around. He approaches Oswald, who isn’t looking at any of them. He is simply sitting there quietly, watching Barbara sleep. When Edward crouches in front of Oswald, he looks up and meets his eyes. There’s a look of sadness there, which Edward feels is likely reflected in his own. Wordlessly, Oswald hands the baby to Edward. It comes more naturally now to pass her between them, for Edward to take her and hold her safely, and it seems surreal that he will never get to do this again. Oswald looks at Barbara one last time, before pursing his lips and resolutely looking away. He returns to Jim and Lee, and Jim holds out his arms preemptively.
Edward, however, is not forthcoming in handing her over.
“I want you to give me your word that you will take care of her.”
Jim lowers his arms and frowns in confusion, before laughing incredulously. “You have only ever cared about yourself, Ed. Don’t act like you care about my daughter.”
It takes a tremendous effort to keep his facial expression indifferent. “I don’t,” he says as flippantly as he can manage. “But Oswald does, and I care about Oswald. So I am going to need your word.” He lowers his voice for this last part, so Oswald doesn't hear.
Jim glances at Oswald then back at Edward. “This is absurd. I’m her father. Of course I will take care of her.”
Edward can hardly think for the sheer amount of ignorance in that statement. Of course Oswald is not the only reason Edward needs this assurance. “Being a father does not automatically equate to being a good parent.”
“You have my word, Ed.”
It will have to do. Lee looks at him like she sees through him, and her expression is hideously sympathetic. Edward has a strange moment of disembodiment--does Lee perceive him as being as changed as she is? The fear in her eyes from their first meeting since Oswald saved them is no longer present. Edward wonders what is so different about him now to the person he was before. He looks down at Barbara’s sleeping face one last time before he carefully places her in Jim’s waiting arms.
Jim is lost from that moment, unable to take his eyes from her. Flawed as Jim may be, Edward thinks he will try his hardest to keep his word.
“What have you been calling her?” Lee asks, after a while of them all standing in silence.
“Barbara,” Edward answers, picking up the bag of baby paraphernalia and putting it inside the bassinet. “You may as well have these. They are hard items to find in the city at present.”
Jim looks up then, at the items as Edward hands them to Lee. He can see it dawning on Jim that Edward and Oswald have been putting in more than a minimal effort to keep Barbara alive. Jim and Lee look at each other, and Lee raises her eyebrows.
Edward wrinkles his nose at the sight of them. Silent communication. Just because Jim and Lee are happily married now, doesn’t mean he wants it flaunted in front of him. He wishes fervently they would stop standing around and leave him and Oswald in peace.
“Thank you for taking care of...Barbara.” Jim says. Edward’s eyes widen slightly at Jim’s acceptance of the name he and Oswald chose, but otherwise doesn’t move or speak.
From behind him, Oswald says, voice tired and sardonic, “anything for you, Jim.”
Jim looks at them both strangely then, as if trying to figure out what’s going on--why would two narcissistic criminals devote any of their time to caring for a child? Or perhaps it’s simpler than that. Perhaps he's wondering how on earth Riddler and Penguin ended up together again.
Even if Edward wanted to explain it, he is not sure that he could. Fate doesn’t seem like a big enough word.
Once Jim and Lee finally leave the warehouse, Edward turns around and immediately goes over to Oswald. He sits down beside him, knowing he will be taking this much harder than Edward. Oswald is sitting with his thumb and forefinger across his eyes, clearly trying to stifle his emotions. Edward’s bottom lip twitches as he watches the tension build in Oswald’s frame. Edward frowns; he isn’t sure why Oswald is trying to suppress his emotions. It has never been his way; why would he try to hide it now? Watching the conflict makes him feel uncomfortable, troubled. His hand hovers momentarily over Oswald’s knee--he withdraws it seconds later, adjusting his glasses instead.
Needing something to do, Edward pours a glass of whiskey, and nudges the hand on Oswald’s face with it.
He lowers his hand slowly, looking at Edward tiredly. “Thank you,” he says, accepting the glass. Edward expects that he will say something further, but he simply stares at his glass in silence.
Eventually, once the glass is drained, Edward ventures, “shall we get going?”
He picks up his duffel bag, even though a feeling of apprehension has taken root, and is about to stand up, when Oswald speaks.
“There’s going to be a war. I’ve seen it coming for a long time now.” Oswald twists the glass in his hands. “There will be chaos, rivers of blood in the streets. And I am going to be on the front line.” He pauses for a few moments, before looking up at Edward, his eyes bright. “I can’t go with you, Ed.”
Edward lets his duffel fall to the floor. He stares at Oswald, utterly dumbfounded. Misgivings he expected. But this?
“I hope you will find a better life for yourself across the river.” Oswald adds.
Edward looks at him incredulously. “Oswald, if you stay here, it is very likely that you will be killed.”
Oswald looks resigned to this idea, and it makes Edward clench his fists, nails digging into his palms.
“Gotham is my home. My fate is entwined with this city.”
There’s that word again. Edward has never hated it more. He looks away.
“You’ve worked so hard on that submarine, Ed, you deserve to go. I want you to be safe.”
The idea of them being separated again is extremely repellent. Oswald’s fate may be entwined with Gotham, but Edward’s is entwined with Oswald. They were so close to starting a new life together--they would have made it, Edward is certain of it.
But it is very much like Oswald to want to stay. Ultimately, he may falter, but he runs from no one. Edward breathes in sharply through his nose and meets Oswald’s eyes again.
“We can call the submarine plan B, in the likely event that the military takes control and hunts us down like animals.”
Oswald looks confused for a second, before giving a bemused little laugh. “Plan B?”
Edward looks to the ceiling and sighs. “I can’t leave you here to get yourself shot. Someone has to make sure you keep your temper in check and don’t go blundering into a situation unprepared.”
Despite having just been insulted, Oswald’s eyes look a little glassy. Edward feels somewhat overwhelmed himself--the certainty with which he knows where he needs to be is unexpected. He looks at Oswald and gives him a tentative smile. “Where you go, I go.”
Oswald smiles back, and the happiness reaches his eyes. Edward marvels, as he has often done, at the amount of heart they hold. Oswald can never conceal anything, try as he might.
Filled with warmth at the affirmation of their alliance, Edward says, “well I suppose now I don’t have to navigate a riverbed full of mines, I can have a drink.” He wrenches his eyes from Oswald’s enamoured gaze. He refills Oswald’s glass before pouring his own.
They raise them in a toast, and Oswald says, “to our deaths, and beyond.”
Edward rolls his eyes at Oswald’s overly dramatic turn of phrase, but clinks his glass and drinks anyway. A feeling of exasperated fondness makes itself known, and he smiles to himself.
“Nobody’s dying, Oswald,” He says. “After all, going to war will be easy after taking care of a newborn.”
For a moment, they stare at each other in silence.
And then the room is filled with sound of their laughter.