Some days it was easier than others for Edward to become overwhelmed - when he didn't sleep well and too little; when his old toaster burnt his bread; when the M.E. was particularly nasty to him; when the noises of everyday life just seemed too loud and buzzed in his ears like a swarm of angry bees.
It was one of those days: Edward felt like he was way too close to snapping, his hands trembled like an elastic band stretched to the limit as he moved a Petri dish from his desk to the microscope and desperately tried to ignore the sweat dribbling down his temple.
A shiver shook his spine.
Edward grimaced as he leaned back against his chair and mopped up his forehead with the sleeve of his labcoat, trying to bring himself some relief.
It didn't work: he doubted anything short of nesting in his bed with a warm cup of tea and a videogame would make him feel better.
He glanced at the clock on the wall - rubbing the pads of his fingers together to chase the itch away when he noticed that it wasn't hanging straight - and heaved a resigned sigh; it was too early to leave and Edward had noticed that while everyone was quite happy to ignore him, they seemed to suddenly realise he existed whenever he was about to do something wrong - like leaving before his shift was over.
Or sneaking into the M.E.'s office to have a look at the bodies - though, it wasn't his fault if the man couldn't do his job properly, was it? He just wanted to help, no matter that he wasn't paid nearly enough to bother wasting his time on tasks that weren't under his competence.
His colleagues just didn't understand, they only saw an awkward freak who seemed a little too enthusiastic about corpses.
Maybe he could play the birthday card, no matter how he had never done so in the years before; birthdays were just... hard - hard on the heart, on the mind, on the soul. Some of his worst memories were tied to the occurrence and his father's insistent reminders that he had ruined everyone's lives, his mother's sobbing a grieving agreement to her husband's words.
Edward was pretty sure it - his role in tearing their happiness to shreds - was the only topic on which they didn't have diverging opinion.
Another shiver shook his spine.
Edward pushed his glasses up his forehead and buried his face in his crossed arms, breathing in deeply the grounding scent of chemicals and of the detergent he used to wash his clothes; he just needed a few minutes to find his focus again - to restore enough of his mental balance to get back to work, until he could finally flee for his cosy flat.
Just a few minutes.
He jolted awake as if he had touched a naked wire, keyed up by the nervousness that had been pervading his veins for the whole day.
Jim raised his hands in the air, slow but firm - not an hint of trickery in his whole body; behind the smudged lenses, Edward's eyes were huge and brimming with the kind of panic he had only seen in cornered wild animals before "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to startle you" he had just peeked in the lab to ask the other man about some results and he had seen Edward slumped on the desk, exhausted; Jim had fallen asleep often enough in uncomfortable positions to recognise one when he saw it, he just had wanted to spare the younger man a pain in the neck.
Edward blinked a couple of times, the fog of panic slowly fading away and letting his brain process what the detective was saying "I fell asleep"
"Happens to the best of us" Jim reassured at the sight of the embarrassed flush creep up Edward's neck and reach for his cheeks - deep, almost purple in its violence, blotchy "Are you okay?" His complexion didn't look healthy at all.
"Yes.." he nodded "Yes, I'm fine. How can I help you, Detective?" More sweat beaded on his forehead and Edward frowned: April had just started, it usually was cold in Gotham - it hadn't been unseasonably warm, had it?
Jim shook his head and tentatively reached over, fingertips tingling with the need to touch the other's skin and feel his temperature; Edward froze as he did, but he didn't move away and Jim took that as a sign to do what he wanted as quick as possible "You're burning up, Ed: you need to go home"
"No buts" Jim gently wrestled Edward out of his lab coat - not an easy task, considering that the younger man was still sitting in his chair - and ignored how the other's badge detatched and clattered to the floor, focused on putting his suit jacket on Edward's shoulders in an attempt at keeping him warm.
It wasn't soaked with sweat, at least.
Jim bent down and picked up the badge, absentmindedly reading over it to give the other man a semblance of privacy as he shyly snuggled in his jacket - and then a detail snagged his attention, forcing his eyes to go back and re-read the few bits of information printed on the laminated card "It's your birthday"
Edward couldn't help flinching, almost as if the word had been made all of razor sharp edges that had slashed deep in his flesh "I don't care much for it"
On good days, his father had hurled drunken slurs at him - on bad ones, he had put more bruises on his skin than his bullies had.
On good days, his mother had ignored him - on bad ones, she had sobbed and mourned his existence.
Edward just shrugged.
Jim sighed and straightened up, the badge still clasped in his hand - for some reason, he couldn't let go of the fact that the other man would let the day pass without notice "I'll drive you home"
"It's not necessary"
"Consider it my birthday gift, okay?" He said, promising himself he would have a real one for the following year.
Edward pursed his lips, thumb rubbing against a lapel to soothe himself "You're not relenting on this, are you?"
"That's right" someone needed to take care of the other man: he was thin, tired, sick. It was a tad hypocritical, considering how much Jim pushed himself, but he had Harvey to help him when he fell too deep into the rabbit hole - Edward had no one "Do you need help packing your stuff?"
"I have a system" one he didn't want Jim to mess with. Regretfully, Edward slid the jacket off of his shoulders and handed it to the detective "I have a coat" he explained when the man wouldn't take it.
"Keep it anyway: you can use the layers to keep you warm"
He wanted to argue that a suit jacket wouldn't add that much warmth but the smell trapped in the fabric was still in his nose: sweat and grease - he probably had bought lunch at the kiosk at the corner of the street, the one that despite committing hundreds of violations to the health code was still standing because of the cops who lived on the food sold there. Edward personally had never bought his lunch there - he was too fastidious, too picky - but he had caught Harvey and Jim plenty of times standing by, hands dripping with fat and sauces running from their panini.
He had ached to be part of their clique - one of the popular boys.
Jim politely ignored the way Edward's hands shook "Let's go before Harvey comes back from his break and asks us a thousand questions" he coaxed the man out of his lab, fingers anchored to his elbow as he led him outside the precinct and to his car "Where to?"
Edward shrunk against the old seat, fraying underneath his fingertips "Grundy Street"
"That's a bad neighbourhood"
"I usually take my car" it was undoubtedly safer - he had left it parked in front of his building only because he hadn't already been feeling well that morning "I can still take a taxi"
"Shush" Jim put the car into gear and drove straight into the traffic; Gotham's streets were a literal nightmare, nobody ever used public transport - not that Jim could blame his fellow citizens: it wasn't like public transport worked particularly well in their city, service sparse and spotty as it was. He drove as carefully as any Gothamite did, groaning with relief when he finally parked the car in the alleyway Edward had made him turn into.
"Thank you, Detective"
Edward's heart missed a beat "Thank you, Jim"
"Don't mention it" Jim reassured and opened his door "Let's get you somewhere cosy, then"
"You..." Edward followed the man outside, shivering "You don't have to come up" he didn't want Jim to come up - well, he did.
He was torn: Edward didn't want Jim to see all the geeky things his flat was full of; he didn't want him to see how small his home was, an open space that basically put his bed in the dining room; he didn't want to let the man in and risk being hurt - but he also wanted to show Jim who he really was, beyond the riddles and his facts about anything and everything.
"And risk you getting mugged while you fumble for the keys to open the door? I don't think so" Jim retorted, mainly teasing as he took a hold of Edward's elbow once again.
If he had to be honest, at least with himself, Jim was quite curious about what kind of place the younger man called home; quirky as Edward was, he expected a flat as eccentric as its owner - and it was, in a way. But not creepily, as Jim had imagined: just... childish? It almost looked as if Edward had never moved on from the place he had been squatting in as a college student "This is nice"
"Nah. My place is messy - you just have a lot of stuff and not enough space for it" Jim reassured and then nodded towards the bed "Are you going to lie down, if I leave?"
Edward considered the bed he had neatly done that morning and the quilt folded at its foot: they seemed to call to him, a siren song he had no intentions of resisting to. Still, Jim's evident concern about whether he would rest or not set his veins on fire with... Edward didn't know how to describe what he was feeling, he just knew that his heart stuttered whenever the other man was near and showed him kindness "I am tired so, yes"
"Good" Jim nodded "I'll make you tea and then I'll be out of your hair"
"Jim, it's too much"
"Let me be the judge of that, birthday boy"
If there was something Edward knew for sure, it was that nobody could stop the detective once he had set his mind to something; he shrugged and let Jim have at it in his kitchen while he clumsily maneuvered his way under the covers, still wearing Jim's jacket. Edward's eyes fell closed, tiredness threatening to swallow him despite the noises the other man was making.
The kiss to his forehead and the clinking of a mug against the surface of his cluttered table were the last things Edward felt before falling asleep.