The freezing waters pressed around him, enveloping him in their cold embrace as time dragged by at a snail like pace. Every second felt like eternity as he waited for the moment when he would finally be free of his watery prison and although he hoped it would be soon that hope was dwindling rapidly. His body, which had been being tormented with pins and needles, had gone numb with cold. This teamed with the weight of his sodden clothes made it all the more harder to stay afloat, all the harder to fight off unconsciousness as his body tried to shut down from fatigue and in an attempt to preserve heat. God, he prayed that this would be over soon.
Edward Nygma looked thoughtfully at his expanse of canvas. The painting was coming along beautifully, he was sure that all the hard work and long hours would be worth it, but he couldn't shake the feeling that something was missing. Some missing emotion perhaps. He voiced this concern out loud as he often found that it helped to clear his head and as a result provide him with a solution. Instead of being treated to the sound of his model's voice throwing a sarcastic comment his way, which was the much appreciated norm, he was met with silence.
He looked up from his canvas and felt his heart turn to ice. Over in the bathtub Oswald, eyes closed and skin eerily pale and tinged with blue, was slowly sinking under the surface of the water entirely. Throwing his brush aside Edward leapt forwards, grabbed hold of him by the waist coat and pulled with all of his might, heaving the smaller waterlogged man out of the tub with immense difficulty.
Oswald’s heavy yet limp form made a sickening noise as it hit the floor, a mixture between a thud and a wet slap, and Edward's panic rose. It all but tried to choke his as he cradled his model in his arms, shaking him violently as he searched for signs of life. He felt the ice cold, marble like skin at the pulse point of the neck and thought he detected a faint flutter but he couldn't be sure.
“Oswald! Oswald! OSWALD!”
For a few moments there was nothing but eventually, to Edward's immense relief, the other man began to stir slightly. Oswald trembled violently as he slowly opened his eyes. “Now I know why no one else will sit for you” he murmured.
Edward couldn't help but chuckle weakly at that. The fact that Oswald was still able to dish out the sass was surely a good sign. Edward pulled him in close, rocking them both slightly as he buried his face in the soaking raven coloured hair which was plastered to Oswald’s head. “I'm so sorry” he whispered, hands shaking and eyes prickling with tears which he tried desperately to hold back “I wasn't paying attention. I was so caught up in the painting that I didn't notice that you needed my help. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry.”
Having gotten this apology off his chest Edward wasted no time. He hated leaving Oswald's side for a second but having no servants which he could send in his place Edward was forced to abandon him for the briefest of moments during which a cab was called and many blankets and towels fetched. Then, after drying off and bundling up his friend as best as he could, they both got in the cab and Edward accompanied the shivering, feverish Oswald home.
Gertrud Kapelput was horrified when her son and his employer arrived on her doorstep in such a state. Her caring and protective nature could not stand seeing her little boy suffering so when Edward sheepishly explained the circumstances which had led to such a situation her normally soft warm features hardened slightly. It was a look which lasted no longer than a heartbeat but one which made it clear that the ferocity which was such a staple of Oswald’s personality was one which he had inherited from his mother. Edward dreaded to think how Gertrud would have reacted had he failed to get Oswald out of the bath in time.
For the next couple of weeks Edward refused to leave Oswald’s bedside, electing to sleep in a rickety chair next to the head of the bed rather than spend the nights on the sofa. Going back to his own flat was simply out of the question, not when a chill had settled in Oswald’s lungs and put him at risk of catching pneumonia.
It was during this time that, despite the fact that he had ultimately given up the career to pursue his art, Edward was extremely glad that he had once been a medical student. He didn’t like to think of his friend having to suffer under the hands of some random quack. Edward had never trusted the local physician and neither had Gertrud come to that. Both were in agreement that leaches had no place in any respectable household, especially not around the sick although it was an unpopular opinion with the masses.
And although Edward was by no means blameless in Oswald’s mishap, Gertrud couldn’t stay mad at him. Not when she saw how much the young man fussed over her darling boy, showing him such tender care, so desperate to make up for his mistakes. So when Oswald had finally recovered and asked to be able to go back to sitting for the painting she couldn’t find it in her heart to say no. But then she had never been able to deny her little boy anything.
Besides, the dedication the two men showed to one another warmed her heart. Oswald had few friends and it meant a lot to her to see how he happy he was in the company of the young artist who clearly cared about his muse just as much as said muse cared about him. She knew that this time Edward would be more careful, recent events having scared him into a much more attentive mind set, so Gertrud Kapelput let her son continue his modelling career with her blessing.
“Are you sure you are alright with this?” Edward asked, not bothering to mask the concern in his voice as he looked down at the currently empty bathtub. He wouldn’t blame Oswald in the slightest if he didn’t want to get back in. The painting would be exceedingly difficult to finish without a model to reference and, as no one other than Oswald would do, it would put Edward in a tricky situation but he didn’t care. When it came down to it he would rather struggle with his work than harm his friend, be it physically or emotionally.
“Of course, Ed” Oswald replied firmly “We can’t leave that masterpiece of yours unfinished. Now can we?” Smile playing on his lips and an eyebrow raised it was clear from the tone of his voice that this was the last that would be said on the matter. Oswald was nothing if not determined and as far as anyone knew he had never backed down from anything in his life. If he said he was going to go ahead with it then it was pointless for Edward to argue, whatever his own misgivings on the subject might be. He would never win.
With that it all started up again. Weeks passed with Oswald living an almost semi-aquatic life whilst Edward worked tirelessly on what he hoped would become one of the best pieces of work that he would ever produce. A part of him had worried that the time spent at Oswald’s sick bed, though necessary, would have interrupted his creative flow. Having temporarily abandoned the painting suddenly at a point when he wasn’t sure if it was going well, Edward had been terrified that when he picked up the brush again all would be lost. That the element that was missing would never come to him and that the picture would remain either unfinished or, even worse, imperfect.
However, that was surprisingly not the case. As bad as it sounded Oswald’s plight had been just what was needed to spark Edward’s imagination, giving him the inspiration he needed to finish his work. Oswald’s illness had unlocked thoughts and feelings within Edward which he had always longed to capture on canvas yet due to his own limited life experience had never succeeded in doing so. After all, it was hard to create the image of something you had never truly encountered. That had all changed now though and eventually the fruits of both men’s labours were rewarded.
Edward practically jumped up and down with excitement as he clapped his hands delightedly. It had come out better than he could ever have dreamed.
“Let’s see!” Oswald cried eagerly as he scrambled to get out of the tub, his wet clothes trying desperately to drag him back down into the water. He was more than willing to suffer for Edward’s art, to an extent, but that did not mean that he enjoyed it. Before this project he had been quite fond of bathing but now a part of him never wanted to see a bath again. Still, it would be worth it if the painting had turned out as beautiful as he hoped. Oswald hadn’t seen the work in progress, Edward not being the sort who liked showing his unfinished pieces, but he had faith in his friends talent.
Edward adjusted his glasses nervously as his friend took in the picture they had created together, trying and failing to judge his reaction from his facial expression. “The theme I was going for was loss” he explained hurriedly. It had suddenly occurred to him that the subject matter of the piece could very much be taken the wrong way and was determined to put his model at ease before Oswald could become upset.
“I know that now it probably seems in extremely poor taste but as I have said, I am terribly sorry about what happened. The lapse in my concentration on your well being is one I shall always regret and although it was always my intention to make this painting feel as real as possible I never meant for it to come so close to being actualised in real life.” Edward ran his fingers through his hair as a tense laugh escaped his lips. It was one which Oswald knew not to take personally.
“But you see, whenever I tried to picture what loss would look like and how it would feel this was all that came to mind. No matter how I approached it I was always lead back to the thought of losing you. I hope that that, and the picture itself as a result, doesn’t upset you too much.”
Oswald ignored the artists anxious babbling as he continued to stare at the painting in awe. The likeness of himself, identical down to the last freckle, had an expression of unimaginable sadness etched across his face. His eyes spoke of heartbreak, pain and betrayal. Surrounding him was the dark unforgiving waters of Gotham docks which seemed to be dragging him into their depths and swallowing him whole. The hands of Oswald’s painted self were clutched to his abdomen at a crimson stain on his waist coat, a cloud of thick blood billowing from the site and merging with the almost inky black waters of the river. Torturously powerful in its intense and sorrowful beauty it was enough to render one lost for breath, let alone words.
The lump in Oswald’s throat; however, was not brought on by the image in front of him. Not directly anyway. It was Edward’s words which had robbed him of the power of speech. He continued to gaze at the picture in front of him as he let it all sink in. This was what Edward saw when he thought of loss. In the months that the two of them had known each other Edward had become Oswald’s whole world. He was completely and utterly in love with him. The fact that he obviously meant this much to Edward, whether the exact natures of Oswald’s affections were returned didn’t matter, meant more to him than he could ever explain.
“Don’t you like it?” Edward asked finally. He watched as tears trickled down Oswald’s face and felt his heart sink like the figure on the canvas. This had been a terrible idea. Even before the bathtub incident he should have known that this project would end in disaster. How could he have possibly thought that baring his heart’s deepest fears to the man who he secretly loved was a good idea? Before Edward could curse his supposed stupidity any further; however, Oswald finally cleared his throat and spoke.
“I think, Ed” he all but whispered in a voice that threatened to break with every syllable “That you are genius. I have always thought so but this painting? This is what will finally prove to the rest of the world what they have been missing all this time. I could never have imagined anything so exquisite and I can now safely say that it was worth everything that we went through create it. I love it, Ed.” He paused for a fraction of a second, willing himself not to give the words which danced on tip of his tongue utterance. It was a battle which he was fated to lose.
“Although I love it no way near as much as I love you. Nothing could ever be held in such a high regard as that.”
Edward gasped, his mouth and eyes wide as he stared down at the shorter man. Oswald couldn’t tell what reaction it was which he was receiving. Shock, disgust, horror. All of those were to be expected, he supposed, when one took into account how society viewed and treated people such as himself. The world, mostly, saw him as no more than a perverted criminal. Oswald knew that this wasn’t true. He knew that they were the ones who were wrong. However, what did Edward think? What would Edward see when he looked at him now? That was what scared him.
Still, Oswald Cobblepot had never been a man to back down in the face of fear. Instead he took a step forwards and reached out to his friend. He took it as a good sign that Edward didn’t shrink away from his touch, the hands which gently cupped the artist’s face were allowed to remain. The space between them continued to close until they were almost nose to nose, their hot breath tickling each other’s faces, the intense gaze held between them never wavering.
Edward supposed he should have been nervous. He had never been in this sort of situation with anyone. The few times he had attempted to court previous romantic interests had never proceeded past the ‘afternoon teas accompanied by a chaperone’ stage. This was far more intimate and such an alien situation should probably have terrify him. However, all he felt was a rush of adrenaline as his face split into a broad smile.
“You’re my best friend, Oswald” he replied finally “And it is my sincerest wish that you always will be. With the fact that one of the most important parts of any friendship is honesty in mind, I think it is only fair that I tell you the true extent of my feelings. I am in love you, Oswald. Hopelessly besotted, in fact. Nothing brings me greater joy than to spend hour upon hour at your side. Even in light of our recent conversation I do not presume to know whether my affections are reciprocated but I hope that this revelation will not change anything between us or poison your thoughts against me.”
It is said that actions speak louder than words and in this instance that was absolutely the case. No matter what reassurances Oswald may have chosen to utter Edward doubted he would have believed them but the feeling of Oswald's lips against his own was impossible to ignore.
His eyes fluttered shut as hands came to rest in his hair. The ridge of his spectacles were digging painfully into the bridge of his nose but at this point in time he didn't care. All that mattered to Edward was the contented little whines his beloved companion made as he wrapped his arms around Oswald's waist and pulled him still closer so that they were pressed tightly against one another. To be able to at last show his true feelings felt better than he could ever have dreamt and Edward never wanted this moment to end.
Eventually though they were forced to part otherwise one or both of them was liable to pass out from lack of oxygen. Although if he was destined to die via asphyxiation the Edward couldn't think of a more enjoyable way to go about it.
“Well, Ed” Oswald chuckled delightedly “ I cannot promise that nothing will change between us but I have the feeling that that might not be such a bad thing.” He gazed up at Edward, his eyes sparking beautifully with open adoration and love.
“I take it that this means you love me too?” Ed asked, needing to be absolutely sure.
“Of course I love you, Ed. I will always love you and, if you are agreeable, I fully intend to spend the rest of my life with you. Helping you with your art and making sure that world sees you exactly the same way that I do.”
“I would like that” Edward whispered as his boyfriend gently brushed away the joyful tears which had leaked out from behind his glasses. This done all that was left to do was to was to seal their newly formed relationship with another kiss and that was exactly what they did.