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B-Day

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B-Day

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. 

Disgusting.

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. 

Depressing.

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. 

"Ed"

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"

Disgraceful. 

Utterly unprofessional. 

"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"

"My shift-"

"You're sick"

"But-"

"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"

"Why?"

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.

Why, indeed. 

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. 

"I'm ready"

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"

"Jim"

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 didn't. 

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"

"It's messy"

"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. 

 

Chapter Text

Post B-Day

Resisting the urge to snoop had been quite hard: Jim would have liked to blame professional deformation for his nosiness but the truth was that he had always been a curious person; it had landed him in trouble as a kid and it had gotten him discharged from the Army as a young man - and, as Harvey was fond of reminding him, it would get him killed as a cop in Gotham. 

At the beginning Jim had tuned out those words but considering the kind of things he had gotten into since becoming a detective at the GCPD, now he definitely was more inclined to believe them. 

If he was completely honest with himself, Jim didn't envision a long life in front of him.

He was more at peace with that than he should have probably been - not that he was going to tell anyone, he didn't want to be forced through therapy or kicked out of the force.

Or sent to Arkham. 

The idea was enough to made him shiver and Jim tightened his hands on the steering wheel, forcing himself to focus on the congested traffic around him; maybe deciding to go and visit Edward just after work, when chaos in Gotham's streets reached its neurotic peak, hadn't been his smartest idea. But he knew that if he had gone home first, he would have chickened out and decided not to go: he wasn't exactly a fan of social calls - Harvey didn't count because the man's flat felt like an extension of his own by now. 

But he didn't really have that kind of confidence with Ed, what with the other's innate awkwardness that made it hard to get close to him - or maybe he was just using that excuse to try and justify his own lack of trying despite the fact that he had definitely wanted to e on more friendly terms with the quirky forensic scientist. 

Jim glanced down at the bag on the passenger seat and he felt his resolve strengthen: he had bought a generic antipyretic to get Edward's fever down and a brand new bottle of ibuprofen - what if he needed the meds? Edward certainly couldn't go out and buy them himself if he still was feeling as sick as the previous day.

He was a little less sure about his third purchase: a box of supermarket donuts, fried and covered in powdered sugar; Harvey would have definitely loved them - he loved anything that was fried and more greasy than it had any right to be - but Jim couldn't recall Edward ever eating something even remotely like the trash he and his partner survived on. The most unhealthy meal Jim had ever known Edward to consume was Chinese takeaway - and even that could be quite healthy, depending on what one ordered. 

Maybe it was better if he left the donuts in the car. 

Jim made a sharp and rather arrogant turn before the cars in the other lane could line up in a queue and entered Edward's neighbourhood; so close to the Narrows, it was a little less trafficked - for Gotham's standards, at least. 

He heaved a sigh of relief when he saw that Edward's car was parked in the same spot as the previous day's afternoon: a clear sign that Edward had stayed at home to rest. Jim pushed the main door of the building open, appalled by the fact that it didn't apparently lock, and raced up the stairs with his bag - donuts included because it was the thought that counted.

Right?

He tried to convince himself of the fact as he knocked on Edward's door. 

"Who is it?"

"It's me, Ed" Jim said, hoping the other man would recognise his voice and intently listened to the sound of the lock clicking open "Hi" he smiled at the red and lucid eye that was staring at him from behind a smudged lense. 

Edward held up a finger after a few blinks "One second" to force his stupid heart from beating its way out of his chest; with trembling fingers he took the chain off - one couldn't take too many precautions in Gotham - and opened the door "Jim"

"Ed"

"Hi"

Jim raised the bag "Can I come in?"

"Yes. Yes, please" Edward flushed at his bad manners, mumbling to himself as he closed and locked the door behind Jim's back "Hmm... any reason why you're here?"

"I just wanted to check up on you" Jim admitted "And... uh, I brought meds?" He explained, suddenly realising that maybe he had overstepped a little - or worse, maybe Edward was going to think that he had snooped in his medicine cabinet "And donuts!" Jim added, trying to bury the eventual faux-pas. 

"That's-"

"Weird?"

Edward shook his head "Sweet" he couldn't remember anyone ever being so considerate of him in the past - so nice, just for the sake of it "I took the last pill I had left this morning to bring the fever down so, this will come in handy" Edward said with a smile, finding himself in the odd - and completely foreign - position of trying to reassure the other man: it usually worked the other way around, he was the one who messed up social interactions and other people had to deal with it "Tea and donuts?"

"You don't have to eat them" Jim told Edward, following the younger man to his small and cluttered breakfast table: it was covered with what looked like the entrails of a clock.

"Huh?"

At Edward's puzzled noise, Jim shrugged "I mean, you don't have to eat them out of courtesy"

"Ah" he drew the plastic box of donuts out of the bag, leaving the meds in it for now: he would carefully read the package inserts later "I don't mind donuts. They're not my pastry of choice but that doesn't mean I can't appreciate them - and there's cream in these: that's a plus"

Not knowing what to do, Jim took a seat at the table; he didn't dare trying to make space, not wanting to mess up what could be a very organized spread - even if it just looked a mess of mechanical parts to him "What's your favourite pastry?"

"It looks green, it opens red. What you eat is red, but what you spit out is black. What am I?"

Jim narrowed his eyes in concentration, turning the words in his mind "Watermelon?"

"Correct!"

He couldn't help grinning at the child-like giddiness on Edward's face "And what does it have to do with your favourite pastry?" He inquired, curious. 

"I make watermelon pie"

"Never heard of it"

Edward slid one hand under the edge of the table and yanked hard, letting out a satisfied noise when the extension came out "Watermelon jam isn't very popular here but I found a rather satisfying Italian recipe" he explained as he threw a couple of tea towels on the disassembled clock to avoid any crumbs getting into the mechanisms, blushing as he realised just how much he was blathering.

"Wait... you make everything from scratch?"

Edward nodded.

"That's impressive. I can't be trusted down not to burn down the kitchen and the whole flat with it even with something as simple as eggs" Jim admitted - maybe a little ashamed: it wasn't exactly anything to be proud of, being unable to feed himself anything more complex than warmed up readymade meals and ramen. 

"I had to learn" Edward said with a shrug, putting down a plate with the donuts on it and two mugs of tea - he didn't need to ask to know that Jim took his just like he did his coffee: black, one sugar. 

And maybe that wasn't the kind of creepy knowledge he should have paraded around so shamelessly; Edward buried his face in his own mug, ignoring every murmur of appreciation coming from the other man, clearly closed off to any questions about how he knew so well his hot drinks preferences. It was the first time they had a proper interaction - a nice, positive one: he didn't want his lack of social grace to ruin it.

Though, Jim seemed remarkably... alright.

Relaxed. 

Edward spied the detective as he relished in eating the donuts, licking the powdered sugar from his fingertips; he rarely had seen the other man so casual, freed from the weight on his shoulders that Edward had always wonder who had put there - it was a refreshing sight and Edward relished in the knowledge that he was being made privy to such a rare occurrence.

He honestly didn't think his crush on the detective could have gotten any bigger.

He was clearly wrong. 

"So, I talked with Essen and you have the whole week off"

Edward groaned.

Jim chuckled "You're supposed to be happy about that?"

"What am I supposed to do until the next Monday?"

The answer left Jim puzzled. From just a glance at Edward's flat, it didn't seem like the other man didn't have any hobbies to fill the time: there were video games and movies neatly stacked under the TV; the disembowelled clock next to them looked like it would need some work before it started working again; every shelf was overflowing with books "I'm not very good at giving downtime activities advice"

"That's because you're never off" Edward winced at how criticising his voice sounded "Sorry, I didn't mean anything by it"

Jim shrugged "It's not like you're wrong" and it left a bitter aftertaste in his mouth; he knew that the kind of devotion he has for the job was considered more of an obsession than a virtue - definitely not something to be proud of. Jim didn't understand why and he didn't think he ever would: he had just learnt to ignore as much as he could the malicious whispering and murmuring and even then, sometimes...

Sometimes it hurt. 

He just wanted to help people. 

"You just want to help people"

Jim's eyes snapped up to stare at Edward, thrilled and confused by how the younger man had managed to read his mind so easily "Yes, I do" not even Harvey realised that, not really: Jim was sure that, once upon a time, his best friend had wanted to do just the same but Gotham had beat that desire out of him - that belief that his efforts really mattered because the city seemed intent  on proving the contrary right "You're the same"

To know that Jim thought so highly of him... Edward shook his head "Partly" he admitted "Crime scenes are amongst the hardest puzzles to solve: I like the challenge" it almost felt... sacrilegious saying such a thing to a man who treated justice like a mission. 

"There's nothing wrong with that"

"Isn't there?"

"No"

Edward smiled and reached out to take one of the donuts, squishing it a little between his fingers to check its softness, curious to know the texture before he started eating it "Thank you"

 

Chapter Text

Watermelon Pie

Jim hadn't managed to visit every day of his rather short convalescence - thanks to the fact that the detective hadn't let him work himself into a progressively worse state and the meds he had brought over, he was already feeling better by Saturday - and, to be honest, Edward was neither too surprised nor upset about that: crime in Gotham was rampant, at every time of the day. 

Really, it had been more surprising that Jim had managed to leave the precinct on time a grand total of three times to come to visit - and every single time, Edward had cherished it: since he had finished college and started working for the GCPD, he had never had even a visitor.

Except for his landlord. 

Until he had bought that tiny flat; it might have been foolish - the neighbourhood wasn't the best and in the unlikely case he ever settled down with a significant other, he would have to move because the place was too small for two - but running away from his childhood home as soon as high school was over and living on campus with the constant threat that letting his grades slip would leave him homeless, it had left Edward with the itch to own his own place. 

To make sure nobody could ever kick him out in the streets.

Edward closed the door of the oven a little more forcefully than necessary, letting the loud noise chase away the bad memories and the awful feelings they brought with them. He had an important task at hand, something that required all of his focus in order to turn out perfect - a gift for Jim, for reasons that Edward would never voice out aloud to the other man.

Watermelon pie. 

Jim had seemed enthused by the fact he made everything from scratch, probably both fascinated and confused by the idea of someone spending so much time on cooking, and Edward thought that maybe Jim would appreciate trying it - hopefully, the watermelon jam wouldn't put him off; Edward was more than aware that not many people shared his taste but he didn't have any other homemade marmalade in his cupboards and not enough fruit in the fridge to make some.

He supposed he could have gone out and bought some strawberries or rhubarb but the dough was ready and he had already started pre-heating the oven. 

And it was raining: the idea of walking in that deluge to the closest supermarket wasn't appealing at all. 

So, watermelon pie it was. 

Edward put a jazz record on and, humming to himself, he started to stretch the dough; he had always found making food pretty relaxing, just as much as working in the lab was: there were precise steps to follow, quantities to measure, temperatures to respect - nothing was left to chance. 

It was a precise art.

And the results were tasty. 

As the mouth watering scent of the pie cooking started to waft around the house, Edward felt his anxiety slowly melt away and he was pretty satisfied with his idea of a thank you present as he carefully wrapped it up.

The chiming of his phone only made him more cheerful, heart fluttering in his chest as he scrambled for it: only few people texted him, usually to harass him about lab results or to order him to a crime scene. But he hadn't been at work in days and Captain Essen had already texted him to know if he was well enough to go back to work on Monday - which only left one person...

I fell into the harbour. Can I come over? JG

Did a doctor see you? EN
There's nasty things in the water.  EN

I feel fine.  JG

Jim.  EN

I do! JG

Edward sighed but, deep down, he didn't want to put up much of a protest for... well, for a couple of reasons - first and foremost being that he would see Jim before Monday and at his flat to boot, an enviroment he felt safe in; Edward was a little wary of how Jim would behave around him at work.

He was afraid that the magic spell would suddenly break and he would be alone again.

Shunned. 

Ignored. 

Taunted.

You just can say that you don't want my company, you know? JG

Edward rolled his eyes: if Jim only knew how badly he wanted to have the other man there, bundled in some warm and clean clothes, eating pie and drinking tea while he watched him play videogames on the old flickering TV screen - he wanted it so badly that he ached. 

When the answer I give is yes, it is no, and when the answer I give is no, it is yes. What is the question? EN

(Delayed) Do you mind? JG

I don't. EN
Come over.  EN
I'm making pie.  EN

It wouldn't be ready by the time Jim got there but that was fine, the other man would be able to better enjoy it once he had properly warmed up and unwound from a stressful day at the precinct, running around Gotham and ending up in the filthy waters of the harbour.  Edward shuddered at the idea of what could be found floating in there, almost more disgusted by what wasn't immediately noticeable to the naked eye; there were dangerous chemicals for sure, bodily fluids, toxins, germs...

Ugh.

Edward physically shook the thought away, shoulders jerking as a shiver ran down his spine and focused on the task at hand until the pie was in the oven and he was left with nothing to do but check that the bathroom was as clean as possible - he replaced the towels with fresh ones and put a still sealed soap bar in the dish, just in case Jim wanted to use it to shower - and he laid out his largest clothes because even if he was taller than Jim, he was considerably leaner than the other man

There was nothing left to do but to wait. 

Edward was notoriously bad at it.

He tried to focus on a crossword, hand almost flying over the grid as he filled in the white squares and his mind buzzed with the answers - they were so loud that he noticed the doorbell ringing only when someone, clearly fed up with waiting, kept the button pressed down and the shrilling sound managed to penetrate the daze Edward had lost himself to "Coming!" He shouted even as he scrambled to get to the door and his face split up in a grin when he saw the other man. 

"Did I interrupt something?"

Edward shook his head and stepped to the side "No, no.. I was just distracted"

Jim smiled, shivering as the warmth of the younger man's flat enveloped him "It smells amazing in here"

"Wait until you taste it" Edward preened a little, chest aching with the pride that suddenly filled it at Jim's remark "Though, shower first: you don't smell as pleasant" he teased "Just toss your clothes in the washing machine, I'll make it start once you get out of the bathroom" Jim's clothes would have the time to dry but Edward not-so-subtly hoped that the other man would decide to stay.

"You're my saviour" Jim murmured gratefully, squeezing Edward's forearm before delving deeper into the apartment he had gotten so familiar with in such a little time; it felt extremely strange, considering how difficult it was for Jim to actually feel like he belonged into someone else's life - but it also felt exhilarating.

Freeing.

Safe. 

Jim retrieved the clothes from Edward's bed and entered into the bathroom, the only room that it actually had some privacy in the other's house - still, whenever he had stayed over, Jim had never felt dangerously vulnerable.

He supposed that Edward had that good of an influence on him: something about him allowed Jim to relax and leave his anxiety and worries outside of the door. 

Few people managed to make him feel like that.

Actually, just another one if he was to be honest with himself: Harvey.

Jim sighed at the feeling of warm water cascading upon him, even if its pressure left a lot to be desired to - at some point, he would have to come clean to his best friend and tell him how he felt about Edward and hope that Harvey started being a little less of an asshole to him. Jim knew that Harvey wasn't purposefully mean: the man was abrasive and harsh even with those he deemed close - it was a rather excessive defence mechanism and Jim didn't know the reason why Harvey felt he needed to put a barrier between himself and Edward.

He just knew that it wasn't a conversation he was looking forward to.

Jim picked up the already opened bar soap, misshapen by use and wondered about whether claiming he hadn't opened the new one to avoid waste was only an excuse to hide the rather creepy need he felt to feel with his skin something that had touched Edward's - probably yes. Still, Jim used it and tried to focus more on cleaning up rather than the his half-hard cock.

Masturbating in Edward's shower while thinking about him seemed rather rude, afterall. 

"I was going to come in and rescue you" Edward piped up when Jim finally emerged from the bathroom, heartbeat skipping when he saw how tightly his sweater clung to Jim's chest - such a stark contrast to the way he had had to roll up the sleeves, clearly way too long for him "Cut up the pie and set us up on the couch"

"Yes sir" Jim grinned but the prospect of cuddling up to the other man as he ate pie and sleepily watched him play a video game was one of the most appealing he had had in the whole week. 

He was falling, deeper and deeper. 

Seduced by warm smiles, excessive enthusiasm and the summery taste of watermelon pie. 

Chapter Text

The Not Date

"Jim" Edward's voice was brimming with warmth when he raised his eyes to see the other's silhouette darken the entryway to his lab, leaning nonchalantly against the door frame; wondering about just for how long the other man had stood there and watched him work made Edward blush and he briefly hid his face under the pretense of rubbing his eyes "Can I help you with something?" It was late but working in a police department wasn't exactly renown to be a nine-to-five job - even less so in Gotham, the city that has earned itself the reputation as the least safe city of the United States.

Jim smiled at the other's question: how was it possible that nobody noticed that Edward just wanted to help? Sure, his curiosity could certainly be defined as morbid but wasn't it better that the man actually was passionate about his job? Everyone griped about that being an important thing - apparently until that passion involved knowing exactly how much time it would take for a body to rot or what was the perfect angle to severe an artery with a kitchen knife "Harvey and I are going for drinks, would you like to come?"

Edward blinked, repressing the urge to ask Jim to repeat himself: it was the first time in his life that he was being invited out by his peers and it was... it was shocking to realise just how much Edward had yearned for something like that to happen. Since elementary school he had been shunned, the only kid to never receive any invitations to birthday parties; in high school the few times he had spent time with other kids his age had been because of group projects that the professors had imposed on them or to tutor some kid that was desperate enough to give him money in exchange of a passing grade; in university, while definitely more accepted by his colleagues, he hadn't managed to make any friends.

He hadn't been surprised to find himself just as isolated at work as he had been during his whole scholastic career.

And now it was happening.

"If you have more work to do I understand. Maybe you can join us later?"

And he was screwing it up.

Jim's words were kind - rationally, Edward knew that: the man was giving him a reasonable out in case the idea of joining them for drinks made him uncomfortable but still giving him an excuse to join them if he changed his mind. Knowing that didn't mean that Edward's stomach didn't flip and clench in desperation at the idea of such a unique chance being ripped away from him "No!" Edward licked his dry lips and forced his posture to relax "No, I don't have any work to do" he reiterated more calmly "Give me a few minutes to gather my things?" He inquired, mind already frantically calculating just how quickly he could shove everything in his bag. 

At Edward's answer, Jim felt as if a weight had dissolved from his chest - the threat of disappointment vanishing as quickly as snow on the city's streets, succumbing to the incessant traffic "Sure. We'll wait for you out front"

Was it completely ridiculous to be afraid of the two of them leaving before he got there?

Probably.

But Edward hadn't exactly had the best experiences when it came to social interactions and considering that Bullock had probably been strong armed by Jim into letting him hang out with them... well, Edward thought he had all reasons to worry about not finding them at the concerted spot. 

He had to hurry.

Edward winced as he carelessly thrust his journal and various lab results, that he shouldn't be taking home but that he wanted to have a look at in a more private setting, into his bag; he hoped he wouldn't find them dog-eared and creased once at home but it was a price he was willing to pay. 

Just this once.

He ignored Alvarez's "Hot date Nygma?" and the consequent snickering that the idea of someone like him ever landing a date prompted in their colleagues. Had it been any other day, Edward would have been upset - no matter how many times he reminded himself that it wasn't worth it getting upset about the scathing remark of people who hadn't even ever attempt at getting to know him, they still stung. 

But he had something to look forward to this time - something exciting and he was so nervous about screwing up that his palms were sweating and dear lord, that was disgusting but he couldn't dry them on his trousers because of the tell-tale damp stains they would leave behind and he was panicking.

He was panicking so much. 

But as he stepped out of the GCPD and his eyes zeroed in on Jim leaning against Bullock's car, no jacket despite the cool evening breeze and tie loosened, Edward felt some of his anxiety abate and he managed to take a deep breath before walking down the stairs "Hello"

Jim turned around when he heard the other's voice "Ed"

"Nygma" Harvey wasn't exactly thrilled about the weird kid tagging along with them: he had never managed to get past Edward's loud interest in corpses and his frazzled personality but Jim had basically begged him - he had even admitted to be possibly interested in more than friendship with the forensic scientist and Harvey couldn't exactly blame him, considering the long pair of legs and the surprisingly rounded ass that the younger man had on him "Let's go before the banks let out all the rich kids in accounting and our table gets stolen"

Edward nodded and scuttled in the backseat, trying to ignore the detritus that seemed to fill the man's car - not that he was really surprised about the fact that there were crumbles, crumpled bottles and empty containers everywhere: he bore witness to the deplorable state of Bullock's desk every day.

"Oi, what am I? A chauffeur?"

Jim rolled his eyes as he settled next to Edward and leaned over, elbows propped on the front seats "Just drive"

"Yes, sir. Do you want to choose the music too?"

"You know, I wouldn't mind some jazz"

"Fuck no, Jimbo"

"I'm going to leave a bad review" Jim joked.

Harvey snorted "You weren't even going to leave a tip, you bastard"

"Insulting a customer?" Jim tutted "You're paying the first round"

Edward was glad that neither man had attempted to include him in their banter; he could only imagine an alternate reality in which he could trade quips back and forth with so much ease, without the involvement of any riddles - it was... bewildering. He should have been used to it since Jim and Bullock always were like that but Edward usually caught only snatches, he never had a first seat to their friendly bickering that ended only when Bullock double-parked in front of the kind of place Edward would have never set foot in out of his own volition.

Still he followed the two men inside and he blinked in disbelief when Bullock literally ran to occupy what Edward assumed to be their usual table, tucked in a corner without lightening but with a good view on both the entrance and the bathroom.

Strategic.

"The usual for me"

"Boring" Harvey snorted, as if he wasn't planning on getting his usual lager to start on "You, Nygma?"

Edward wasn't a big drinker - sure, he enjoyed a glass or two but he sadly was a lightweight so, he never pushed himself past the limit "Wine?"

"You don't want to have the wine they sell in this place, kid"

"I don't?"

Harvey shook his head "You really don't. Jim - tell him"

"Yeah, Harv's right" Jim shot Edward an apologetic smile "I presume you don't like beer"

"That would be correct" and, surprisingly, Bullock didn't mock him for it: was that outing really happening or had he fallen asleep at his desk once again?

"I've got you" Harvey reassured, innerly wondering about why Jim would ever want to shack up with someone who couldn't appreciate beer.

"Get some food!" Jim shouted after the other man "Something without onions"

So, Nygma couldn't appreciate onions either - what was next? A rabbit food obsession?

Edward flushed at the blatant proof that Jim had remembered his food preferences, basking in the other's presence as the man slid closer - so close that their knees were bumping, just like when they were sitting on this couch. But they were in public - it held a different significance and Edward's heart hammered away "I could have picked them out" he murmured.

Jim shrugged "They have a good selection, there's no need for you to waste the whole evening picking onions out of your food" he tilted his head to the side as he noticed the flush that stained the younger man's skin "You okay?"

"Yes, just.. warm" and not because he was wearing too many layers "Thank you for inviting me. This is... refreshing"

"Eating alone every night is depressing"

Edward hadn't expected such a candid statement from the other man "It is" he agreed, remembering all the listless meals he had had in front of the TV while focusing on everything but on the food "So, you do this often?"

"Nah, we usually just drink until our kneecaps don't hurt anymore"

It didn't sound as glamorous as his lonely hours had made it seem but still Edward treasured the opportunity, even if the vaguely uncomfortable atmosphere led him to drink more than he could handle - he had decided to blame it on the bright green cocktails Bullock had been steadily supplying him with: Grasshopers, he had called them.  Edward only knew that they tasted like mint and were as smooth as melted ice-cream; they slid down his throat far too easily, quenching the sting of salt on his lips leftover by the best chips he had ever tasted in his life; by the time he had realised he was drunk, it already had been too late: his head spun and his balance was threatened even when he was sitting down, Jim's solid shoulder the only anchor he could find in his exhilarated haze. 

"I think you should take him home"

Jim looked down at the younger man slumped against him, one arm slung around his waist to make sure he didn't slid off of the seat "I think you're right"

"Do you want a lift?"

"And endure your ranting if he ends up puking in your precious car?"

Harvey wrinkled his nose at the thought "The stink of vomit is a bitch to get out of the seats: I should know, I'm talking from experience" experience that he didn't exactly want to repeat any time soon - not that night, for sure. Hanging out with Nygma hadn't been too bad - mainly because the kid had kept the riddles to himself and it had been quite hilarious to watch him steadily get drunker - but he felt weary, deep in his bones.

Definitely time to go home. 

"I'll call a taxi.  Go"

Harvey clapped Jim on the shoulder "Thanks, brother. I will see you tomorrow" then he gently nudged the younger man, not sure that he wouldn't even realise he was leaving "Night, kid"

Edward grinned, fingers clumsily waving "Bye, detective!"

A goner if Harvey had ever seen one "Make sure you make him swallow a painkiller"

"Aww, you're such a softie"

"Fuck you too, Jim"

What happened after those departing words was pretty blurred to Edward; he just remembered being giddy at being finally left alone with Jim, hands clinging to him as if his life depended on it - it probably did, considering that without help he couldn't be trusted to walk out of the bar without cracking his head open on the pavement. The cold drizzle helped him a little but his coordination was shot to all hells and Edward curled into Jim's side with relief when the other man helped him to climb on the taxi "'m gonna feel sooo bad"

Jim chuckled and gently combed his fingers through Edward's damp curls, swiping them off of his forehead "Yes, you are. Bed, water and ibuprofen for you - in this order"

"Stayin'?"

It hadn't been in the plans, no. Jim didn't  have a change of clothes at Edward's place and he didn't particularly want to wake up earlier than necessary the following morning in order to swing by his flat and change - but how could he refuse those big eyes, unfocused but still bewitching "Someone has to make sure you don't choke on your vomit"

The smile that those words prompted was so wide and unchecked that Edward felt the need to bury his face in Jim's chest; he could drown in the blend of smells clinging to his creased shirt - sweat, kitchen grease, cheap bear, the last whiffs of a deodorant had stopped working a couple of hours ago. 

He didn't think he could get hard in his state - alcohol notoriously was bad for erections - but it seemed that his body didn't care about his queasy stomach and jelly legs.

"Ed?"

"Uh?"

Jim squeezed his hip "We are here"

"Noo"

He shot the driver an apologetic glance "Why not?"

"Stairs"

Right, the old building that housed the other's flat didn't have an elevator "I'll carry you"

Normally, Edward would have raged against the notion as Jim coaxed him out of the taxi - but he was inebriated and his cock gave a shameless twitch at the thought of Jim being so strong that he could literally carry him up the stairs. The most rational part of his brain wanted to argue that, with the height difference playing against them, it would be nowhere near sexy but the majority of Edward's brain didn't want to hear that: it wanted to imagine Jim's biceps bulge with extortion in the shirt, his broad shoulders tense under his fingers, his ribcage heave under his ear, his thighs swell at every step. 

Fuck. 

Edward had never been more thankful for his predilection for wearing long coats.

"We're almost there"

Thank God.

Jim grunted a little as he tugged and pulled on Edward, herding him up the narrow staircase and into his bed "Don't make me wrestle you out of your clothes" he threatened when it looked like the younger man was planning on burrowing under the sheets with his shoes still on "I want to see you naked when I come back with the water and the ibuprofen"

Edward groaned, flushing darkly at Jim's wish even if he was well aware that the detective hadn't meant it in a sexual sense, which really was all the incentive he needed to get settled under the covers before Jim tried to help him out of his trousers and discovered that he was as hard as nails.  The image - dangerously stark in his imagination - made Edward lurch up and frantically tug at his clothes, nausea swelling and thankfully starting to kill his arousal.

When Jim came back, his cheeks were green rather than red and all the energy had been sapped away from his body; he was ready to pass out in Jim's arms and he gratefully burrowed into them when they opened for him - unbidden, a half-dragged "I love you" left his lips in a sigh before the oneric world claimed him. 

Chapter Text

Beer and Advice 

"Either you start talking or you focus on the game and stop distracting me"

Jim scowled at Harvey, embarrassed by the fact that the other man was capable of reading through him so easily - and grateful too, in a way: if Harvey hadn't been so surprisingly perceptive, Jim would have bottled everything up like he always did. Sharing and opening up simply wasn't in his nature - or better: it wasn't in his nature any longer; after his father had died and his mother had started sinking deeper and deeper into depression, he had started keeping whatever he felt to himself because it was easier than feeling like he was weighing further on her grieving.

And, eventually, he unlearned how to speak about such things unless insistently prodded.

Jim supposed he was lucky that Harvey was just as stubborn as he was "I'm sorry"

Harvey rolled his eyes "Cut the crap and spill the beans" he hadn't asked for apologies, wanting to avoid giving Jim a way out from talking about whatever was bothering him: he was quite skilful at deviating from conversations he didn't want to have, which Harvey could understand but it was his duty as the other's best friend to ensure that Jim didn't self-combust from all the bottled up stuff that he didn't take out for an airing once in a while. 

He sighed and shifted on the couch, jiggling a little the half empty bottle of beer between his thighs "Uh... Ed?" Jim offered in the end, shooting the other man an apologetic glance: Harvey hadn't invited him over to hear him moon over Edward - or panic about him, as it was the case that evening.

But Harvey just turned to the side, facing him more directly and giving the cold shoulder to the game - their team was losing, anyway - playing on TV  "Did he puke on you? Did he wake you up rubbing against your ass? Did he do something weird in his sleep?"

"No, I wish and no"

"Gross"

Jim rolled his eyes but he appreciated Harvey's not-so-subtle attempt at making him relax "You would pay to watch, don't deny it" he teased before he took a deep breath and mirrored the other man, facing him after he had discarded the beer on the crowded coffee table "He did say something before he fell asleep, though"

"Raw me Daddy?"

"Harv!"

"Sorry, brother. Couldn't help it" Harvey grinned like a cat that had just eaten a nice, fat canary; it was surprisingly easy to embarrass Jim and make him blush like a schoolboy, despite the fact that the man surely had heard racier things in the army "What did he say?" He encouraged, implying that he was ready to listen without making any more silly interruptions - too many and Jim would clam up, something that Harvey definitely didn't want to happen.

"He..." Jim bit down on his lower lip, wondering about whether confiding in his best friend would automatically mean abusing Edward's privacy and confidence in him "He... uh.. he said that... hesaidthathelovesme!"

"Wow"

Jim burrowed deeper in the flat and lumpy cushions of the battered couch, unable to fight the instinct of closing in on himself now that he had told Harvey everything he needed to know.

"So, why aren't you happy?"

Or not, apparently.

"I mean, this is the confirmation you wanted: the guy is into you"

"He was drunk and on the verge of passing out" Jim pointed out, words dripping with the implication that obviously, Edward's state meant that he couldn't take those words at face value; Jim knew from personal experience how such declarations could be completely blown out of proportions by alcohol - a crush became ever lasting love, a fresh relationship became the gateway for marriage.

"Still, he's into you" Harvey observed with curiosity Jim's puzzled expression "Look, brother. I'm happy you're not running away with his confession but he wouldn't have said such a thing in the first place if he wasn't interested"

"What if he meant it as a friend?"

"Don't you think he would have told you while sober, if he meant it just as friendly love?"

Jim shook his head: Harvey forgot that not everyone was as open as he was - as confident about expressing his feelings, even when platonic "Think about it: he's shy and an outcast, why would he openly tell me that he loves me as a friend?" It hurt just thinking about it - about people treating Edward so badly that he would be afraid of being ridiculed or hurt for expressing affection. It hurt even more when he admitted to himself that, until he had steered a sick Edward home, he hadn't done much to protect him and stop the relentless bullying he was the victim of.

Edward was probably terrified of screwing up and driving away the only person in the whole precinct who didn't treat him as if he was an ugly stain that just wouldn't let itself be washed away and Jim couldn't blame him - not at all. 

But he could blame himself. 

And he did. 

"I hate to admit it but that's a point"

"Exactly"

"I still think you should do something about it"

"Like what?"

Harvey shrugged, the answer pretty obvious - at least to him "Ask the kid out" and, at the bewildered expression in Jim's eyes, he leaned over and took his face in his hands "Brother, you are unusually lucky: most people go on a date before the first kiss, okay? Take him out somewhere nice where they serve decent wine, don't talk about work and make him feel comfortable and wanted"

"I do know how to behave on a date"

"You don't: you have never had to work hard for the attention of someone you were interested in"

Jim frowned "But he's already interested in me, according to you"

"And, according to you, he might be quite afraid of showing you that so, you need to treat him with gloves and don't get all pouty if he doesn't kiss you goodbye at the end of the night"

"I'm not that kind of man!"

"You know what I meant: don't let it discourage you" Harvey gently shoved Jim back against the cushions before he sprawled himself and chugged what was left of his beer "Now let me watch the last ten minutes of this thrice damned game. Shittiest match of the season, I swear and it's just the beginning of the championship!"

Jim tuned Harvey's ranting out and picked up once again his beer, which was disgustingly warm after all the nervous jiggling and handling he had done; he had no intentions of drinking it - not when Harvey's fridge was well stocked with cold beer - but he needed something to fidget with, to help him think about the conversation he had just had with his best friend.

"Now what?"

"What?"

Harvey gestured at Jim "You have something else to say"

"Weren't you trying to focus on the game?"

"Trying clearly being the keyword there - you're distracting"

Jim sniffed "You can't blame me for your short attention span" he complained but then hunched over: Harvey was obviously right, he did have something else on his mind "How should I ask him out?" He blurted out in the end, the words tripping down his tongue all jumbled together. 

"Oh boy"

Jim didn't like Harvey's expression of mild horror - not at all "What?"

"You're gonna have to use a riddle"


Edward curiously studied the card on his table, which had been clearly cleaned out to make it stand out even more in the middle of the newly created open space amidst his notebooks and various printouts of lab results.

It was... an unusual sight.

Very unusual. 

That only meant that he was way more intrigued than he would have been if finding cards on his desk had been an usual occurrence; people tended to avoid socialising with him and they certainly didn't leave him any kind of notes - no, ignoring him was the default behaviour. 

That or bullying. 

Edward bit his lower lip and shook his head, dislodging the thought from the forefront of his mind: he wouldn't let the negative experience he had at work damper his excitement about something that had the possibility to be a positive happening, even if only remotely. Without that type of approach to anything new, Edward would have long started to languish - to disappear and get lower and lower with every horrible word thrown at him. 

Tentatively, he picked the card up and flicked it open; the outside didn't have any useful information for him to analyse, it was blank and the quality of the paper was pretty much standard - nothing remarkably expensive that would have given him any hints about where it had been bought or who would have been able to afford it on a police salary.

The inside, though, almost left him even more puzzled.

What's a day, a month and a year all together?

Edward frowned: who the hell had written him a riddle? Everyone absolutely hated it when he told one so, it made no sense that someone from the precinct would ask him a riddle - a mediocre one at that too so, it meant that they had somehow gone out of their way to invent it.

Weird. 

Or maybe not.

Edward smiled when he spied Jim's initials in the corner and he picked up his mobile. 

A date? EN

Yes.  JG

It was a passable riddle.  EN

Did it impress you? JG

Yes. EN

Enough to come on a date with me? JG

(Delayed) Really? EN

Yeah. JG

(Delayed) I would love to.  EN

Chapter Text

Build Up

Had his life been picture perfect, by that point Edward would have called his best friend and freaked out to them about what he should wear to a date with a man way out of his league; he would have soaked up every word of reassurance and dutifully followed their counsel, wearing an outfit that would score him at least a glance of pleased surprise about how well he cleaned up; he would have been ready for his date, still nervous but not to a paralysing point. 

He didn't have a best friend, though. 

He didn't have a friend, full stop. 

Edward ignored the flickering at the edge of his vision and he curled his fingers in a strand of hair at his temple to tug at it, not worried about irremediably messing it up: there was nothing that pomade couldn't fix. Edward usually didn't slick back his hair but... he knew he looked good like that, more confident and sharper. 

Different.

A cardigan or a sweater would just ruin the effect, then - besides, Jim saw him dressed like that every single day at work: there would be nothing surprising in seeing him wear something comfortable and, admittedly, quite old-fashioned. 

Edward sighed and glanced at the clock.

6:38 PM

Too late to call Jim and ask him to reschedule without seeming rude or, worse, like he was regretting saying yes to him - he wasn't! He had doubts, of course: Jim was the first friend he had had in a very long while, what if he screwed everything up at the date and lost him? Though, saying no might have jeopardised their friendship too and Edward hadn't even wanted to refuse the other's invitation, really.

Jim was... he was funny and tender; he cared about work as much as he did; he was handsome and too attractive for his own good; he was everything Edward had dreamt of when he still believed that there must have been someone for him too somewhere in the world.

Edward gave one last firm and painful tug at his hair before he turned around and faced the wardrobe once again, lips pursed in consideration; he didn't own many smart clothes, even his suits tended to have a relaxed fit or to be made of comfortable fabrics such as wool or tweed - he did have one that was slightly more sleek, dark green and a little tighter than what he preferred his clothes to be. 

What to wear underneath it, though?

He wanted to be comfortable with Jim, just like he was when they veggied out on his couch or ate takeaway together at his small breakfast table - which meant that he didn't really want to wear a shirt and a tie. 

Edward frowned and opened a drawer, studying his collection of plaids and flannels and winced: he must have had something more decent than that.

A turtleneck?

He picked up the black, soft piece of clothing and put it next to the suit on his bed - the end result didn't look too bad and he didn't really have the time to loiter longer in front of his wardrobe: he didn't want to be late on their first date, he didn't want to risk making Jim worry about whether he truly wanted to go out with him. 

Edward swallowed against the lump of anxiety in his throat and forced his shoulders to relax; now that he had made the most difficult choice, the only thing left to do was following a neat list of tasks that he needed to accomplish in order to get out of his flat - just like in the lab, when he had to follow precise steps to get to the desired result.

He could do it. 


"I can't do it"

"You have survived Gotham with that shitty attitude of yours, I'm sure you can manage to get ready for a date"

Jim huffed and turned around to glare at the other man "Why are you even in my flat?"

"To enjoy the spectacle you're making of yourself"

"And?"

"To watch the game since my TV abandoned me" Harvey admitted, completely shameless: that was what friends were for, right? To help in the hour of need and his hour of need would last until he got his TV replaced.

"What if I want to bring Ed home?"

"What did I say, Jimbo?"

Jim rolled his eyes "Bringing him up for a nightcap doesn't have to equal sex"

"You know that and I know that but do you think that someone who is inexperienced knows that?"

"We are presuming a lot, you know?"

Harvey arched an eyebrow, as if to ask Jim whether he really was being serious right in that moment; alright, maybe the younger man wasn't a virgin - even if Harvey wouldn't have bet his favourite hat on that -  but sure as hell he wasn't an expert in the messy art of dating "Even if we were, you would just put him under undue pressure" Harvey answered, deciding to humour the other man.

He wasn't trying to discourage his best friend from dating the nerd - even if he didn't understand what he saw in him, apart from long legs and a tight ass; Harvey just didn't want to see him hurt, which was granted to happen if he even accidentally made Edward uncomfortable: Jim would torture himself over it, give up trying to date the guy - not only hurting himself further but harming the other man too.

So, for once, Harvey was going to encourage Jim not to take someone to bed on the first date - which went against every single one of his principles.

"You're right"

"Always am"

Jim snorted "Don't push it" he warned playfully, throwing his leather jacket, a black tshirt and equally dark trousers in the general direction of the bed, burying Harvey under a pile of clothes "Too dark?"

"Nah, it's a change from your usual suits"

"There's nothing wrong with my suits"

Admittedly, there wasn't but Harvey enjoyed teasing his best friend, who decided to start stripping right there and then; it didn't particularly bother him, he was used to seeing Jim in varying states of undress and it made sense that, after being in the Army for a while, he wouldn't be particularly ashamed of being naked in front of someone else.

It probably helped that Jim had nothing to be ashamed of.

"Nervous?"

Jim nodded as he zipped up his trousers and stuck his shirt inside "I don't want to screw this up"

"It's not that different from when you hang out in his apartment" Harvey reminded the other man "Just instead of eating takeaway in front of the TV, you're going to eat at an actual table for once"

"Edward's table is small"

"And drowned in crap, I know" Jim had relayed every hour spent in the younger man's flat in such detail, which was weird considering that Jim was a preacher of brevity,  that Harvey was sure he could have drawn it if he had had even a drop of artistic talent in his blood "That wasn't the point.  What I mean is that you have already been spending time together, this isn't going to be awkward unless you make it so"

"But it's a date"

"And? Compliment him about how snazzy he looks, talk about the usual stuff, pay the check, take him home - easy peasy"

"Lemon squeezy"

Harvey grinned "Dork.  Get out of the house, the game starts in ten"


Jim knew that it was early - he had to be,  in order to find a parking spot in the city centre - and that he shouldn't have been sweating about the fact that Edward wasn't there yet because he wasn't supposed to appear for another five minutes. 

Four, if he was just as anxious as he was 

Six or more if he had been swallowed by Gotham's traffic.

But in that case Edward would have warned him, right?

Right. 

So, he was on time. 

Good.

That was good.

Jim buried his hands in his pockets and leaned back against the wall, trying to project a nonchalance and a calm he didn't feel; he didn't want Edward to see him as a nervous wreck and start wondering about whether they were doing the right thing because they were - they clicked together so well, they had fun, they could talk about so many subjects without ever running out of things to say. 

It was everything anyone could have hoped for in a potential partner. 

"Jim!"

His eyes snapped up "Ed!"

The fact that Jim was as early as he was, it was more soothing than all the arguments Edward had used to calm himself down on his way over to the restaurant, fidgeting in the back of a taxi and praying for his life whenever the driver made a particularly daring manoeuvre "I..  I'm happy to see you"

"I'm happy to see you too.  You look amazing" Jim straightened and reached out to take Edward's hand, giving it an encouraging squeeze "Shall we?"

Edward took a deep breath and nodded, lacing his fingers through Jim's.

He could do it. 

Chapter Text

The Date

The restaurant was everything he had hoped for and nothing he had expected - Jim's casual but still sharp attire should have clued in him on that.

"Something wrong?"

Edward squeezed the other man's hand back in a reassuring manner "No, I like it here" he admitted, not without a shadow of relief in his voice; while evidently classy, the restaurant managed to keep a cosy atmosphere with its mismatched tableware and curious black and white photographs on the wall.

It was the kind of place where they could make real conversation, laugh and mumble and ramble about anything that came to mind - it wasn't sterile and constricting, nobody would glare at him for putting his elbow on the table or ordering a wine that didn't pair perfectly with his meal. 

Also, if things didn't go as well as Edward hoped them to, the presence of families here and there across the room told him that he could afford to split the check with Jim without spending his whole paycheck: it was an upscale restaurant and it definitely cost more than ordering takeaway from the Indian place at the corner of Grundy Street or eating fried chicken wings at the diner where he had celebrated alone his graduation from Gotham-U, but it still was an affordable treat.

Jim smiled, watching his date take it all in with an attentive and inquisitive gaze "I'm glad" he murmured before asking for their table, happy when they were led to a secluded corner "Pick your seat" he encouraged.

"You prefer keeping your surroundings under control" Edward stated as he sat down; there hadn't been the need to think too hard about which place to choose, not when he perfectly knew about Jim's preferences and there simply wasn't a good reason not to respect them - did other people already know each other so well at their first date? Was it a good or a bad thing that they did? Would they get bored of one another? Would they fall back in that limbo between dating and hanging out that they had inhabited for the last few weeks?

"You can order wine here"

Edward didn't know why but he was grateful for the distraction Jim offered him "Should I order by the glass or do you want to share?"

"I'll get back at you on that when I see what's on the menu" Jim wasn't a big wine drinker - or better: he wasn't a wine drinker at all but spending some nights at Edward's had taught him that there were some types that he enjoyed, provided that they were paired with certain foods.

He was picky. 

Edward didn't mind "Have you eaten here before?"

Jim shook his head "My mother actually recommended it when I moved back to Gotham" after her tirade about how he was wasting the education she had worked so hard to afford after his father had died, his mother had sent him a list of places where to take Barbara on dates - obviously, if she had made the effort to actually get to know Barbara, his mother would have known that she would never put a foot in a restaurant where the glasses didn't match the plates.

He didn't tell Edward, though - talking about one's exes on a date was considered a bad form, right?

Right. 

"Well, she has good taste"

"She has"

The laconic answer told Edward everything he needed to know about Jim's family situation beyond the titbits that were of public knowledge, such as his father's death: the other man didn't particularly enjoy talking about his remaining family members and, most likely, their relationship was consumed through birthday and Christmas cards.

He wouldn't pry, he knew all too well how not getting along with one's family was.

Thankfully, the waiter saved them with menus and complimentary glasses of water, bread basket and what seemed to be some kind of appetizer in a spoon - curious "Fish or meat?" Edward inquired as he took one of the portions, too distracted by the brightly coloured... soup? to have a look at the menu, yet.

"Meat, I think" Jim hummed "What's that?"

"I'm not sure" Edward brought the spoon closer to his face to breathe its scent in "It's cold and I'm pretty sure there's  both chicken broth and a dash of tomato in it. Honey too, possibly" it surely wasn't a combination that Edward would have ever dared to try in his own kitchen but the smell was pleasant and he didn't detect any trace of onions.

"Honey?"

"If I'm not wrong about the chicken, it actually is a popular match"

Jim arched an eyebrow and then, without much ceremony, he tossed back the spoonful of soup "Oh.. ah.."

"Jim?"

"Spicy"

Edward was puzzled for a few seconds as he watched the other man flush rather darkly and eagerly drink his glass of water in one go - then he remembered that Jim always seemed to order the less spicy dishes on the takeaway menu and he pushed his own glass towards him in silent offer "Good, though?"

Jim nodded as he took a generous sip from Edward's glass "Yeah, I just was surprised" and he was unused to eating anything spicier than very mild curry "You're not going to have any problems" he added with a little incredulous shake of his head as he recalled the prawns Edward ordered from time to time, so spicy that they were blood red - how could the younger man handle that but not onions, he would never understand.

"Oh, this is good"

"Told you"

"Not that spicy, though" Edward teased lightly, bumping their feet together under the table.

"Edward, you could eat a whole chilli pepper and deem it not that spicy"

There was no denying it. Edward just grinned and opened his menu, finally able to pay it proper attention; the offer included wasn't too vast - which he appreciated - but it presented great variety nonetheless "I want to try the oyster stew and the salmon fish cakes"

"That was fast" Jim always was lost when confronted with a lot of appealing choices but he ended up managing to pinpoint what exactly he was feeling like eating and, after relaying to the waiter Edward's order, he spoke his own "Want to share dessert?"

That was a staple of dates, right? It was something Edward had always dreamt of such a thing happening to him - of someone being interested in him in such a way, with the purpose of steadily getting to know him better "Yes" he murmured, sneaking a glance up at the waiter and reassured by the fact that the man didn't seen surprised at all "Something simple"

"May I suggest pumpkin pie with cream cheese?"

"You like that?"

Edward nodded.

"Have you decided what to drink?"

"Can we have more water and a bottle of chardonnay?"

Jim smiled at the name of a wine he was familiar with "Thank you" he told the waiter, handing him the menus before he turned back to Edward, propping his chin on his palm to look at him - devouring him with his eyes "Did I already tell you that you look amazing?" He knew he already had but the reiteration was worth the deep blush that bloomed on Edward's cheekbones, the little embarrassed smile that curved his lips - it was endearing and utterly fascinating "Because I meant it"

Edward cleared his throat and grabbed a breadstick, more because he needed something to fiddle with rather than because of hunger "So do you. I mean..." he couldn't articulate his thoughts "..huh.. leather?"

So articulate.

Facepalm worthy. 

Jim just grinned sharply "That's why I picked it" he knew he looked good in leather and he figured that he could use every weapon to persuade Edward not to regret agreeing to dating: he really wanted it to work.

For them to be happy.

"That was... a smart choice"

"Thanks"

The arrival of the food helped: warm, smelling delicious and looking utterly mouth-watering - it put them in a familiar situation and it helped them to fall back on the camaraderie they had always easily shared in his apartment, while eating on his tattered couch. They touched one another, naturally gravitating towards the other, and offered each other bites of their dishes, commenting on the taste and Edward thinking out aloud about how he could reproduce Jim's favourites for him in his kitchen - enthusiastic, Jim offered the other a pen and watched him scribble on a napkin notes about the dishes. 

"Give me another taste of your meatball, I want to get it right"

Jim cut a morsel and speared it on his fork, putting one hand underneath to avoid staining the tablecloth or Edward's jacket when the man leaned in "Here you go. What are you thinking about?"

"Eggs - I'm wondering about whether they used just the yolks" an unusual choice that would certainly explain the creaminess of the meatball. Edward savoured the bite that had been offered him, eyes slipping closed to better focus on the taste "Hmm yes. Definitely"

"That's kind of blowing my mind" Jim admitted.

"What?"

"This thing you do, being able to pick food apart and list what's in it"

Edward blinked in surprise "Can't you?"

"Absolutely not" it was both endearing and a little sad how the younger man couldn't see just how special he was "This tastes pretty great but all I can distinguish are red meat of some kind, garlic, parsley-"

"-coriander" the other blurted "Sorry, go on"

"I don't need to go on, you proved my point" Jim said with a smile "It's really fascinating to see you doing it"

Edward shrugged and tucked the scribbled napkin back on his lap, the thought of how the restaurant wouldn't let him take it away "Are you going to arrest me if I steal it?" He asked, fingering the edge of the tablecloth.

"Not unless you like being handcuffed"

"Jim" Edward hissed, feeling the blood vessels under his skin burst into fire.

He had never been more grateful for their phones starting to ring at the same time - which, on second thought, it wasn't really good.

Jim sobered immediately "Work"

"Must be" Edward mumbled, wrestling his own mobile out of his pocket "Yes"

"Damn"

Quite "I need to go to the bathroom before we leave"

"I'm going to settle the check"

"Are you sure?" Edward couldn't help the little wave of anxiety flipping his insides: what if the other man hadn't enjoyed himself as much as he had? Though, his final teasing remark certainly suggested nothing of the sort...

"I'm sure" Jim confirmed "Do you mind if I tell them to cancel the order of the cake?" They couldn't exactly walk in on a crime scene with a swan-shaped doggy bag.

"We'll grab dessert another time"

"We will" Jim would make sure of that - for now though, Gotham claimed them back.

Chapter Text

Post Date

Jim would have really liked to buy Edward a late night ice cream to end their date, after they had visited the crime scene and done their respective jobs - but he had an actual lead to follow, the one time he wished he had none, and Edward had to bring all samples to the lab and start on analysing them before the trail got cold and they were left waiting for the next victim.

Because there would be another one.

And another.

And another. 

Until they followed the culprit in their own lair or caught them red handed. 

Gotham probably was the only city in the world where not even the police force was shy about admitting to the press that there was a serial killer on the loose; it certainly wasn't the norm - thank God - but they cropped up fairly frequently and hiding it from the population, just because they didn't want to spread panic, would only be more dangerous.

Gothamites were made of a different stuff, they were resilient and almost carelessly defiant in the face of danger - one had to be or had to leave, really: there was no other way to survive in their city.

"You look as about done as I am"

Jim snorted at Harvey's gruff remark and leaned over to dive his hand in the packet of crips in his lap: the crunching and the smell of vinegar and salt had been taunting him for a couple of minutes now, calling to him with a seductive voice. 

Maybe he was starting to hallucinate because of low blood sugar: the last proper full meal he had had, it had been the delicious dinner with Edward.

Three - no, four days before.

"I need sleep" he admitted.

"No shit" Harvey chuckled "Do you want me to take your ass straight home or back to the station?" He usually knew better than offering Jim the opportunity of getting into the precinct, where he would be promptly distracted by paperwork or some other case that could benefit of his immediate attention while they waited for more data on the other ones that were still open, but he also knew that Jim and Edward had been called in on the scene while they were on a date - one that it had taken them painfully long to finally go on to - and Harvey honestly felt bad for his best friend.

Damn, he felt bad for Nygma too.

The younger man had been clearly hoping for at least a kiss - maybe a nice groping in the car parked under his building, if the way he was dressed was anything to go by; he had admittedly looked good, cheeks flushed and hair slicked back.

Jim too for that matter, but when didn't the bastard look good? Even with livid bags under his eyes and a pasty complexion, Jim still looked like his face belonged to the cover of the kind of magazines Harvey avoided like the plague, not needing the reminder that he didn't exactly look like sex on legs. 

"My keys are in my locker"

"I'm not gonna lecture you on that"

He rolled his eyes "I do have an argument in my favour anyway"

"Oh, pray tell" Harvey snarled, dumping the half-eaten packet of crips in Jim's lap as he put the car in reverse and started making his way towards the GCPD.

Jim ate another one, the sour and pungent taste enough to make him salivate like he was actually starving: he hadn't been feeding himself well but he had snacked here and there - he wasn't that hungry "I would only lose them while I'm running around after perps"

"So, leaving them in a place where said perps often break into seems like a better option to you?"

"Changing locks is a pain in the ass"

"Brother, your priorities aren't straight"

"Well, neither am I"

Harvey barked a laugh "That was a funny one" which their colleagues would have found shocking but Harvey had been privy to the other's dry and often dark humour for a while now "Gonna say hi to lover boy too on your way to your locker?"

The other man could read minds, Jim was sure of that. He shuffled a little in his seat, filling the silence with the crunching of the handful of crisps he had rather unelegantly shoved in his mouth "Huh would it be weird if I did?"

"Jesus, Jim!"

"Yes?"

"No!" Harvey couldn't believe it - he couldn't believe that his best friend had been so blessed in the dating field that he had no clue about how to properly romanticise someone "No, it wouldn't be fucking weird: you're dating!"

"It was just one date, actually. Interrupted too"

"You've been dating for far longer than you realise" he snorted "Tell me you've been texting him at least"

"Of course" Jim retorted, indignant.

"Don't use that tone with me: I wouldn't have been surprised if you left the poor guy hanging because you thought it would be weird to text him until you could properly finish your date" Harvey raised his finger to shut Jim up before he could try to defend himself, not even needing to look at the other man to know that his mouth was open and his tongue ready to wag "Eat the goddamn crisps and listen to me" Harvey didn't think he was kidding himself when the noise of Jim biting into a crisp sounded petulant "Edward needs reassurance and honestly? That ain't easy with this job so, you gotta take every opportunity to show him you're thinking about him and shit"

"Such eloquent advice" Jim teased "But okay, got it. Take me to Gelateria Amadeo first" he was going to buy Edward gelato and while the GCPD lab wasn't the most romantic location where to eat it, at least they would finally have their dessert.


Kristen Kringle thought of herself as a good woman, blessed with an infinite well of patience and a sharp mind - still, despite that, she found her temper faltering at the sight of Edward Nygma once again kneeling in the middle of her office, sorting through the records without any sort of regard to her method. She didn't understand why he had to haunt her like that - she had been quite clear in her rejection of his romantic interest, hadn't she?

And even if she hadn't, wasn't the fact that she had a boyfriend enough of a deterrent? It wasn't exactly a secret that she was dating officer Daugherty. 

Kristen took in an annoyed breath and let the pile of paperwork in her hands fall on the desk with a loud thud, satisfaction curling in her belly when Nygma startled "What are you doing?"

Edward shot Kristen a sheepish smile, holding up one of the files he had set aside on the floor "Just doing some research"

"Conveniently taking your time and waiting for me to come back, I presume" he was always there - always consulting, always taking notes, always asking her riddles and offering her food she wouldn't eat because she didn't trust it not to be spiked with something. Well, Kristen was done with all that "This has to stop"

"What?" Edward asked, genuinely confused; he didn't think he had ever seen Kristen that angry, she usually was so polite and gentle - one of the few people at the GCPD that treated him with some kindness "I know I should make a request and wait for you to bring the files to me but you're already so busy doing that for the morons in the bullet pen" maybe Essen had reprimanded her for letting him have at it with the archive? "And I sign out every single file I take" Edward was very meticulous about that sort of thing, not wanting to make life worse for the records keeper.

Kristen didn't know why she waited for the other man to be done saying his piece: she hadn't listened to a word of it, too worked up for her tirade to pay Edward any attention "You need to stop stalking me this way. I. Am. Taken. Taken. Taken. And even if I wasn't, why would I want a pathetic sniveling loser like you?!"

Pathetic. 

Sniveling.

Loser. 

The words cut him like sharp-edged shards of broken glass, dripping with his blood. Edward swallowed against the lump in his throat, trying not to choke on it "I thought you were my friend" his voice was nothing more of a whisper but it still carried just how deeply hurt he felt.

"Do you bring cupcakes to all of your friends?" She asked, voice heavy with sarcasm "Or flowers? Or snacks? Or new sets of pencils?"

"I don't have many friends" Edward could feel his face go numb, the muscles so tense that the skin seemed stretched thin over his features "I don't have any friends" he corrected himself, standing up from the floor but he didn't walk up to her: he doubted that she would be in any way intimidated by him - her words had made that abundantly clear - but he still didn't want to accidentally use his height to his advantage "I apologise for making you uncomfortable but I'm not interested in a relationship with you, Kristen"

"You.." was it possible that she had misread the signs to such a point? The anger an annoyance were slowly flowing out of her, draining her and making her feel like a deflated balloon "It's impossible" Kristen exhaled before she could realise how bad those words would sound.

"You made that clear, yes" did she really think he was so... undesirable? So repellent? "I'm a pathetic sniveling loser, afterall - I guess that the guy I'm dating has a thing for the desperate cases" it wasn't true: Barbara Kean was an accomplished socialite and the new M.E. who Edward knew Jim had had a very brief fling with before he had introduced her to Essen, was one of the most socially adapted people Edward had ever known.

He had no doubt about the fact that he was the outlier in Jim's dating history - the dark spot. Edward wondered how long would it take for Jim to realise that he could do better than an awkward and weird forensic scientist who literally nobody wanted to even breathe the same air with. 

"I.. I'm sorry"

Edward shrugged Kristen's apology away "Signing out files J2004A54 and F2004A32" he relayed the numbers almost robotically and after he was sure that Kristen had memorised them, Edward slipped out of the office - thankful that nobody ever looked at him as he felt the tears burn hot on his cheeks as he made his way to his lab.


Jim had lost count of all the times he had walked in on Edward almost falling asleep at his desk "Ehi" he murmured in greeting, putting the polyester box full of ice cream on the cleanest patch he could find "Are you okay?"

The other man smiled and nodded "Just tired" there was no reason to tell Jim about what Kristen had told him "What's this?"

"Ice cream" Jim piped up excitedly "We haven't had our dessert yet"

"We haven't" Edward's throat was tight with emotion - that tenderness couldn't be just a result of Jim's pity, right? The other man just genuinely liked him for some reason and wanted to see their date to a proper end. He reached out and squeezed Jim's hand, wordlessly thanking him for the kind gesture - the tension that Edward hadn't even realised he had been carrying melted away when Jim squeezed his hand back "Which flavours did you pick?"

"I'm a strawberry kind of guy"

"Nice"

Jim offered Edward a spoon - minty new, bought at the home store on the way to the ice cream parlour - and opened the box "Cinnamon and mango"

"Ooh, I never had cinnamon ice cream"

"It's a little spicy, just how you like it" Jim chuckled and scooped up some, bringing his own spoon to the other's lips "Try it"

Before leaning in, Edward shot a glance at the opened door but if Jim didn't care about people seeing them, why should he? It wasn't like his social status at the precinct could be brought any lower "Hmm" Edward closed his eyes and let the ice cream melt on his tongue "I like it. It's still sweet, despite the spiciness of cinnamon" and Jim had been so thoughtful, picking the flavour because he knew it would appeal to his personal taste "Thank you, Jim. I really needed this"

"I'll be here, whenever you do"

 

Chapter Text

New Friends

"So, is it true?"

Edward was quite startled at being asked a question, apparently unrelated to work, out of the blue by detective Alvarez of all people: the man, like the great majority of their colleagues, usually ignored him unless he needed some lab results or for him to get as quickly as possible to a crime scene to gather some samples "I don't-"

"Don't play dumb, Nygma"

Edward blinked, taken aback by the harsh words - especially coming from Daugherty: he was one of the rare people who, instead of just ignoring him and letting him live his life, took a twisted pleasure in tormenting him. Edward hugged his clipboard closer to his chest, calculating with how much strength he would need to swing it into the man's face in order to put him k.o. long enough for him to make his escape - no matter that it was just a fantasy and that he would never actually do it. 

Even if he should have. 

He really was a pathetic sniveling loser, wasn't he?

"We all know that you're sucking Gordon's cock, now" Daugherty growled, face twisted in delighted disgust as he took a step closer - even Alvarez looked mildly uncomfortable now, well aware of how the man usually dealt with Nygma: the younger man's only saving grace in that moment, it was that not even Daugherty would do more than spouting hurtful words in the middle of the precinct "What is it, huh? You think you're untouchable now? I don't care about Gordon's preaching: I'm going to fuck. you. up"

"Do that and I'm gonna make you eat your own gun"

Edward honestly couldn't remember a time he had ever felt relieved to hear Bullock's voice nor to perceive his presence at his back; he dared to shoot a glance at the other man, surprised by how serious and... protective? he looked. Obviously, it probably was just because Edward was dating Bullock's best friend but still, it was more than anyone had ever done for him. 

"I'm not scared of you Bullock"

Harvey narrowed his eyes and took a step closer to the bastard, neatly putting Nygma behind him "You should be" he said in warning: clowns like Daugherty, who felt big and strong only when they had a gun in their hands or when they were picking on someone weaker than them, didn't even register as a threat for Harvey and if push came to shove, he would show the other man just what he thought of his behaviour "Let's go, Ed" Harvey encouraged, turning around after shooting both Daugherty and Alvarez a venomous glare "You need to show me those lab results"

Edward didn't need any other signs to recognise those words as the excuse they were and he started walking towards his office, letting Bullock take up his back "Thank you" he whispered once they were at a safe distance.

"Don't mention it" Harvey shrugged "Just do me a favour and keep away from that ass, okay? I don't need another reprimand on my file"

Edward bristled a little "I never purposefully go looking for him" he sniffed, opening the door and finally relaxing once he had stepped in his realm: the lab was familiar and, with the potentially dangerous chemicals strewn all over the place, it was safe.

"I know" Harvey admitted "Did you report him to Essen?"

"I have learnt that reporting bullies just makes them more violent and likely to retaliate"

The younger man wasn't exactly wrong "At least tell me or Jim if he does anything? We can hand him his own ass out of the GCPD and I can assure you that he won't go whining to the Captain: she's a woman, his fragile masculinity wouldn't be able to handle running behind her metaphorical skirts"

"Since when are you so insightful?"

"Always been, kid" Harvey clapped Nygma on the shoulder "See you around, try not to get into trouble"

Edward blinked at the man's back, wondering about just how much weirder that day could get.


It was lucky that Edward was generally hyperaware of his surroundings when at work - he had to be, if he didn't want to be ambushed by the likes of Daugherty - because otherwise he would have made a mess every time he startled at someone knocking on his door or unceremoniously walking in "Come in!" He shouted, squinting in the microscope as he tinkered with it to better the focus "How can I help?"

"Can we talk?"

Edward blinked down at the Petri dish, glad that he was giving his back to Miss Kringle and that she couldn't see his face: he was sure that, whatever was the exact expression he was sporting, it wasn't one he would have wanted her to see - too honest and raw. He cleared his throat and adjusted his glasses, turning around to offer her a polite smile "Do you need back some files, Miss Kringle?"

Kristen shook her head "No. I actually wanted to properly apologise for... well, for everything" she admitted "I have behaved abominably" it hadn't been easy to admit it to herself; yes, Nygma had been a tad creepy from time to time but she also was aware that she had been particularly harsh with the other man for no reason - dumping on him all the frustration, pain and anger she carried around even if it wasn't Nygma's  fault. She sighed and raised a bag in offering "I brought lunch, if you want to share"

A part of him was thrilled by the offer, aching with the need to snatch it up before it was too late and it was taken away from him - but another one was wary: where was the guarantee that the other woman wouldn't immediately go back to treating him poorly? "Why?"

"I could use a friend" Kristen said simply "A good one - one who doesn't tell me that some tough love is a good price for a handsome boyfriend with a steady job; one who treats me with respect but who isn't afraid of telling me the truth to my face; one I can truly count on"

Edward arched an eyebrow "And how do you know I can be all that?"

"You already showed me" even a couple of days prior, when Nygma had had all reason to yell at her, he had been still respectful in his anger - he hadn't even hinted at having any desire to raise one hand on her and yes, that really was the response she had come to expect from men in general. 

"And it took you me telling you to fuck off to realise that?"

Kristen answered with a rueful smile "I'm not very good at recognising the people who really care about me"

Edward pursed his lips, studying her with wariness: could he really trust her? He didn't really know - did he want to? Yes. Yes, he did "What did you get for lunch?"

"Pizza, beer and fruit salad - there's watermelon in it"

"Sold" Edward grinned "Drinking on the job, though?" He inquired as he pushed one chair out from under the table with his foot in silent invitation. 

"Is there any other way to bear spending time in this place full of morons?"

"Point"

He really hoped he wouldn't come to regret giving her a second chance because as soon as the pizza was divided between them and they had clinked their cold beers together, it honestly felt like talking with her was the most natural thing in the world: Kristen was witty, sharp-tongued and fun.

For the first time in a long while, Edward felt like his lunch break had been way too short. 


Rumours caught across the GCPD like wildfire and even someone usually as isolated as Edward was got wind of them very quickly - which was why he was staring at the infamous Oswald Cobblepot a mere minute after the man had made a quite surprising entrance; presumed dead by literally everyone, nobody was actually ready to see him in flesh and blood, dressed to kill and looking as relaxed as if he had been away on an extended holiday.

Fascinating. 

It would have been a lie to say that Edward had never taken an interest in the most colourful criminals of the city and the Penguin's career from umbrella boy to a boss in his own right had been one of the most curious ascensions in the city's criminal underworld. 

What exactly was the man doing at the GCPD?

His feet moved down the stairs almost of their own accord, mirroring Penguin's path throughout the precinct until he was standing right behind the man, in front of the acceptance desk after the man had found another one empty of its occupant, one Edward knew quite well: Jim's - his curiosity was burning ten times hotter than before, adrenaline flooding his system and making him feel like some giddy kid meeting their favourite celebrity. 

In a way, that was exactly what was happening. 

Of course, he had to ruin it with a riddle. 

And then with penguin facts. 

Edward really considered himself lucky that the other man hadn't slaughtered him there and then: a merciful temper wasn't what the other was exactly known for "Maybe I can help you" he blurted out in the end, feeling the strange need to make up for his rudeness.

Oswald might not have been tall - he definitely was way shorter than the bumbling guy standing in front of him, invading his space so rudely - but that just meant that he had managed to master the ability to look at everyone from down his nose and make them feel small and inconsequential, no matter their height "I sincerely doubt that, friend"

It was the second time that the man called him that and even to someone as socially inept as he was, it didn't take Edward a warning sign to notice that the friend decidedly was everything but friendly - still, he swallowed down and extended one hand between them, breaching the space that he had cleared just a few seconds ago "Is that for Gordon?"

"You know it is: you watched me stop at his desk" Oswald answered with narrowed eyes, suddenly cautious: maybe there was more to the awkward guy than what met the eye "What's to you, anyway?"

"I can personally give it to him"

"So can whoever is supposed to be manning the acceptance desk" Oswald's voice was crackling with irritation, clearly annoyed - but not surprised - by the utter lack of professionality: if the GCPD had been a more efficient institution, the city wouldn't have been as riddled with crime as it was "Why should I trust you to be better suited to the task?"

"I'm his partner" saying it out aloud felt... exhilarating.

Well, if that wasn't an interesting tidbit of information "Are you now?" Oswald filed the knowledge away, not sure yet about whether it would be of any use but that didn't mean he was going to waste it "I'm looking forward to seeing the both of you at my club's opening then"

Edward didn't know why the weight of the tastefully embossed envelope gave him such a rush "I'll try to persuade him" he murmured but the man had already turned his back on him, striding out of the precinct with the same understated grace he had burst inside the place - Edward could only dream of having such confidence and commandeering presence: he was the exact opposite of the other man, forgettable and unassuming. 

Pathetic.

Sniveling.

Loser.

He shook the words away - couldn't his own mind just leave him alone for a while? Was it too much to ask for? - and walked back into his lab but for the whole afternoon, his focus was on the envelope in his pocket rather than on the tests that plenty of officers were waiting the results of; blood and pavement dust just couldn't hold a candle to the encounter he had had with Penguin, though.

Nothing could, really.

"You're really thinking hard" Jim teased lightly as he put his arm across Edward's shoulders, gently squeezing his shoulder in a soothing manner when the other's muscles bunched and went rigid with tension and surprise "You okay? Harvey told me about this morning"

"It was nothing" Edward sighed, forcing himself to relax.

"It wasn't nothing" and it could have been so much worse: Jim was endlessly grateful that Harvey had been there and that the man had stood up for Edward "I'm sorry"

"I'm used to it"

"I'm still sorry"

Edward turned his chair around to better look up in the other's eyes "Don't be, it's not your fault" he said firmly: he didn't want Jim to start pitying him - or pity him more than he already did; the idea left a bitter taste in his mouth "Penguin stopped by" that certainly would distract the other man.

"What?"

"He's alive, yes"

"I hope you kept clear of him"

Edward was sure he wasn't imagining the red heat rising to his cheeks "Eh, not quite" he retrieved the envelope and handed it to Jim "We have been invited to the opening of his club"

"We?"

"I had to tell him that we're together to make him relinquish the invitation to me"

"Ed"

"I know, I know" it had been an enormously dumb idea to give ammunition to someone like Penguin "I was curious"

Jim sighed and leaned over to kiss Edward's forehead and toss the envelope away at the same moment "We are not going. Ready to leave?"

"Just give me a minute"

"Of course, I'll wait for you at my desk?" Yes, he wanted the whole precinct to see them together so that they would get through their thick skulls the message that Edward wasn't a lay on the side he had any intentions of hiding - maybe that would help a little to deter some of the nastiness.

"Sure" Edward smiled. 

He squashed down the frisson of guilt that twisted his stomach when he retrieved the envelope from the waste basket and hid it in his bag. 

Chapter Text

Watermelon Martinis

I'm really sorry that we have to cancel on dinner. JG

It's okay. EN
Seriously. EN

Promise me to enjoy yourself anyway. JG

I'm going to finish the videogame I purchased the other day. EN
And before you ask, yes: that's my idea of an enjoyable evening. EN

That's the important thing, then. JG
I'll see you tomorrow. JG

Bring breakfast and you can be considered yourself forgiven. EN

Will do. JG

Don't get in any trouble. EN

No promises. JG

Edward rolled his eyes but the exasperation melted away as soon as he heard a knock to his door and he remembered that he most definitely wasn't going to stay inside and play a videogame that night, despite what he had just texted Jim "You look lovely" Edward complimented Kristen as he opened the door and let her in "Thank you for coming with me"

"Of course I'm not letting you walk into a criminal's lair on your own" Kristen said, rolling her eyes as she tugged on one of the man's lapels to get rid of the creases "I still think it's a very stupid thing to do - not telling Jim is even stupider"

"He would tell me not to go"

"Alright, but that wouldn't physically prevent you from going"

"I don't want him to worry"

"He would be right to worry"

Edward huffed: he didn't like it when people other than him were right all the time, especially when they showed him just how wrong he was "Can you let it go?" He asked in the end - it wasn't as if they hadn't already extensively discussed the matter for the whole week leading up to that evening; Kristen had tried to persuade him to tell Jim that he was hellbent on showing up at Penguin's club opening or to at least reflect on why he didn't want to tell him.

Edward really hadn't needed the implied reminder that relationships, especially ones as fresh and new as their own, didn't thrive well under the weight of lies - but what else could he do? Jim wouldn't understand his curiosity even if he gave the man a chance to: Jim saw a criminal, someone to eradicate and lock up for as long as legally possible whereas Edward saw a riddle, one that he ached to solve and understand in every detail.

"Fine"

"Thank you"

Kristen didn't feel like Edward should have been grateful for her support - really, she should have snitched to Jim about his plans or locked him in the flat so that he wouldn't actually leave and go to the damn party. But he had asked for her help and Kristen knew that if she did go with him, the chances he would actually survive were a little higher - that or they both ended up at the bottom of a ditch, deader than death "Do you have the invitation?"

"Yes" Edward nervously patted the pocket, relief and anxiety flooding him as he felt the hard edges of the envelope through the fabric - somehow, he had the feeling that the thick paper had cost more than his whole suit "I'm ready and yes, I'm still sure"

"Let's go then" she snatched the keys from the other's hand "I'm driving" she didn't think she needed to tell Edward that she didn't trust him behind the wheel, as nervous as he looked.

"Do you know the road?"

Kristen hummed, expertly balancing on her heels as she walked down the stairs "I have looked it up this afternoon"

"Good"

"You can still be my navigator if it will reassure you" she added after noticing the quality of his voice.

"Thank you"

"Just relax, okay? Men like Penguin smell fear a mile away"

"I'm not afraid"

"Maybe you should be"

"Are you afraid?" Edward asked curiously, latching on the interesting topic to avoid focusing on his own jumbled feelings: he wouldn't have been able to exactly pinpoint every single one of them even if he tried and that maybe was the most terrifying thing - being unable to know himself, to see through his own smoke and mirrors.

Kristen shrugged "Reasonably so, yes" not the paralyzing kind of fear that would have gripped her if the invitation had been for a more intimate venue: she wasn't an expert of the criminal underworld politics but something she was sure of, it was that one didn't get to climb as high up as Cobblepot had if the man had murdered people in front of too many witnesses to keep track of.

"Daugherty isn't any less of a monster - are you afraid of him?"

She tightened her grip on the steering wheel, eyes leaving the street to glare at Edward "Low blow and yes, I am"

"Why don't you dump him?"

"Seriously?"

"Okay, okay" he could see how that might only make him more violent "Report him, then"

Kristen rolled her eyes "Sure, his cop buddies are going to take that kind of report so seriously" her voice dripped with sarcasm and bitterness.

"Jim and Harvey would believe you"

"They work in Homicide, Ed"

"Yeah and your case might end up on their desks one day if you don't do something"

It was the truth and it made Kristen grimace, mouth twisting at the corners as her heart started racing and her nails dug into the faux leather encasing the steering wheel, throat tightening at just how real that possibility felt: her demise was more realistic at her boyfriend's hands rather than at Penguin's - how depressing was that? "I know" she just murmured, drained.

"Kris, it's not an inevitable fate"

"Sure as hell feels like it" she snapped, immediately regretting it: the other man was just trying to help her.

"With that fire you've got? It's definitely not inevitable"

That fire was what got her in trouble in the first place, according to Tom and his personal philosophy on how women should be: pretty, subservient and mute "Then I don't see any solutions I like more than those you have proposed, how about that?"

"I'll think about some more, then" Edward said after a few moments of heavy and thick silence; he hated being so impotent - so unable to do anything to even remotely help the other woman to get out from the hell she was living through with Daugherty. He refused to believe that there was nothing they could do, the thought was... unbearable so, he shoved it aside and looked out of the window, focusing on the rain streaking the glass.

When Kristen killed the engine at a reasonable walking distance from the club, Edwards dipped his arm between their seats to retrieve the umbrella he always kept in the car; Gotham was one of the most rainy cities in the States - just as it was the most unsafe: not keeping an umbrella and some kind of weapon on hand was equally stupid "Wait inside" Edward ordered gently, so that he could walk around the car and shield her with the umbrella.

"Thank you" Kristen wound her arm through Edward's, standing closer to him and using him as a crutch to navigate puddles and the damaged pavement slick with rain "Let's try to have some fun, then"

"That's the spirit" he cheered, ignoring her heavy sigh as he steered her towards the door of the club, fumbling a little with the invitation.

"I know what Gordon looks like, you ain't him"

"I'm his plus one with a plus one" Edward answered nervously "Edward Nygma"

The bouncer grunted and looked at a list the boss had given him, wondering why the hell people couldn't just show up with their own invitations instead of making his life even more complicated "You're clear"

"Thank you" Kristen smiled and stepped into the club, waiting for Edward to wrestle the umbrella closed and leave it into the bin at the entrance "It looks more elegant than I thought"

Edward personally wasn't surprised: the man clearly had taste, even if it was eccentric from time to time "Let's find our host" it almost felt sacrilegious to talk out aloud in the refined atmosphere of the club - disrespectful to whoever was crooning to the crystal clear notes of what Edward was sure to be a real piano, not a recording.

There wasn't many people around so, spotting Penguin was ridiculously easy: the man was sitting at a table right under the stage, looking up adoringly at the woman singing on the stage.

He felt Kristen hesitate next to him - probably asking herself too whether they should disturb the man: it didn't really seem to be a wise move "Let's wait for the song to finish and get some drinks"

"Good idea" Edward agreed, even if his skin was crawling with the need to let Cobblepot know that he at least had showed up - of course, he surely couldn't fill the void left by Jim's absence, someone that the other man clearly knew.

Edward hadn't had the guts of asking how exactly that had happened yet: things between him and Jim were going so well that he was terrified of destroying everything; they spent together as much time as the job allowed them, even managing to go on a date that hadn't miraculously been interrupted, and it showed in the ease with which they now shared physical affection. They hadn't kissed yet but honestly Edward was glad that they were taking things slow: Jim was known to crash and burn through his relationship - a simmering heat seemed to be something different for the man, positively so.

"Two watermelon martinis"

"You know, I'm not that obsessed"

Kristen grinned and hopped on a bar stool, patiently waiting for their cocktails "You are" she teased.

Edward joined her "Fine, I am"

"Good boy, remember that I'm always right"

He snorted but he didn't retort with anything; he just thanked the bartender when he handed them their rather pink drinks and tried to soak up the refined atmosphere, wondering about whether it had been a good idea to keep the outing from Jim - maybe he should have told the other man, everything seemed so harmless.

"Nygma"

"Mr Penguin"

Oswald couldn't hide the satisfaction he felt at the sight of the man and his companion jump at his sudden appearance "I thought Jim would be coming with you"

The other man cleared his throat "I'm sure you know how stubborn he can be" Edward attempted, not sure about whether his words would ring true to Penguin when he didn't even know under what circumstances the two had met.

"Of course" Oswald narrowed his eyes and looked at the woman - they had seemed pretty cosy to him: had he been scammed into gifting an invitation to his club to an absolute stranger? "I'm afraid I don't know who you are"

"Kristen Kringle" she answered, not needing to be introduced by Edward like some kind of Victorian lady "A colleague and a friend. Edward asked me if I could be his plus one, since Jim is busy with a case - I hope you don't mind"

Oswald had a good nose for lies and while he was perplexed by the situation in front of him, he did trust them to be telling the truth - a damn shame "Of course not. I hope you're enjoying yourselves?"

"It's a very classy place"

"And the drinks are great"

Nothing that Oswald didn't already know, obviously, but it was a pleasure to hear his establishment praised "Please, will you join me at my table?"

"We wouldn't want to impose" Kristen said before Edward could answer with an enthusiastic yes: they had made an appearance and greeted their host, surely that was enough? They didn't need to purposefully put themselves into a more dangerous situation, right?

"I insist. My mother could use the company and, to be honest, you are the most respectable patrons in the establishment tonight"

Which meant that they were surrounded by any and all kind of criminals - splendid "If you're sure.."

"Absolutely" Oswald confirmed and gestured for them to stand up before nodding at the bartender "Bring more champagne" his mother deserved nothing less, afterall - especially after all the lovely singing she had done. Oswald confidently led Nygma and his guest across the club, a king in his realm - finally: things could only get better from there, one day he would have nobody to call boss because he would be at the top of the pecking order.

One day soon.

"Oooh, are these your friends Oswald?"

"Edward is the romantic partner of Jim, my cop friend, and Miss Kringle is a colleague of theirs"

Gertrude sniffed as she gently grabbed the young woman's wrist and made her sit next to her "Cops are pigs"

"Mother"

"It's true and if they work with them they know better than anyone else" Gertrude pointed out "Why are you in such a nest of vipers, my dear? You look clever, I'm sure you could have worked for better people"

Oswald rolled his eyes "Mother, please, stop embarassing our guests" he sat down and shot an apologetic glance to Nygma and Kringle "Forgive my mother"

"It's okay, she's trying to be helpful" or so Edward thought? The woman was quite the character, it seemed like there was absolutely no filter between her brain and her tongue: she was brutally candid - he could appreciate that.

Besides, she was right.

"My dear, what kind of brute gave you these bruises?" Gertrude leaned in to not-so-subtly whisper in the young woman's ear "Was it this man? My son can take care of him, he well never again lay a finger on you"

"Mrs Cobblepot-"

"Kapelput!"

Edward cleared his throat "Mrs Kapelput, I would never hurt a woman"

Kristen covered the other's hand, still gently wrapped around her wrist with her own "He didn't do it, Mrs Kapelput. But thank you for your concern"

"Whoever it was, cut his balls - that will teach him!"

"Mother! I really can't take you anywhere!"

 

 

Chapter Text

The Lie

Whereas Edward had cut himself off after the first drink and a sip of the champagne Penguin had ordered for the table, Kristen had kept drinking and let Mrs Kapelput talk her into trying ridiculously increasingly alcoholic drinks; the woman seemed to have the same stamina as her son and while Edward was sure that Kristen was no lightweight - otherwise, she would have cut herself off a lot sooner - and drank with the ease of someone who did it frequently, she appeared to have little to no resistance compared to the mother and son pair sitting with them. 

Thankfully, at least he was in condition to drive them both safely home.

Edward wasn't proud to admit that he knew where Kristen lived because he may or may not have dug up her files and read them, but she wasn't sober enough to bother or maybe she just didn't care and chalked it up to one of his strange and annoying quirks she had decided to endure for the sake of their friendship.

In any case, he was grateful that she wasn't yelling at him. 

He was a little less grateful for the fact that when he parked in front of her house, he saw Daugherty trying to beat the door down with his meaty fists, screaming the whole neighbourhood awake - could the man really be that stupid? If someone didn't answer, especially at that time of the night, there was only one thing he was supposed to do.

Fuck.

Off.

"Are we home?" Kristen murmured, blinking herself out of the doze she had fallen into thanks to Edward's smooth driving.

"Don't get out of the car"

She blinked faster "Ed?"

He should have kept driving as soon as he had seen the other man at the door of her house because he knew that as soon as he saw him, Kristen would want to walk up to the man and try to talk him down "He's here"

"Who?"

"Daugherty"

It took her a while to properly focus but, in the end, her eyes zeroed in on the man at her door "Tom"

"He's angry, Kris: don't get out of the car"

"He'll wake up the neighbours"

"Let him"

"Ed, let me go"

He hadn't even noticed that he had been holding her back by her shoulder; Edward slackened his grip, concerned that he had been hurting her, and she twisted free and got out of the car surprisingly quickly, given her state of inebriation "Kristen! No!" Edward hurled himself out of the car, following her.

"WHAT THE FUCK WERE YOU DOING WITH THAT LOSER?!"

"Stop shouting, Tom!"

"Take your hands off of her" Edward hissed, heartbeat thundering in his temples when he saw the way he grabbed and shook her - as if she was just a ragdoll - before he pushed her to the ground and turned on him.

Edward was almost glad for it. 

If only that bastard hadn't punched him right in the solar plexus. 

His chest refused to expand with his short and hurried breaths; pain pulsed through his ribs and stomach; a black cloud swam in his eyes; his ears rang with Kristen's screams.

Kristen.

He couldn't pass out, Daugherty would hurt her. 

Then another fist found its way past his bent knees and crossed arms, catching him square in the stomach. 

And another. 

And another.

Another.

Edward lost count after the fifth, a curtain of pain dawning on his brain and making it impossible for him to think about anything else but try to take another breath - to avoid chocking on air. 

"Leave him alone!!!" Kristen looped her arms around his neck, uncoordinated and weak but hopefully enough of a distraction to let Edward regain some of his breath; she ducked her head between Tom's shoulders to avoid his flying fists, not quite keen on getting punched in the face "Ed, do something!"

Unfortunately, his current inability to breathe properly suffocated the snarky response on the tip of his tongue but the lack of bantering did help him to remember that, like any good born and bred Gothamite, not only he never went anywhere without an umbrella but the same could be said for a weapon. Edward retrieved the switchblade and opened it, not as stealthily as he would have liked - but Daugherty was too busy screaming his head off and trying to shake Kristen away to even notice the first time the short but sharp blade plunged inside of him.

Again.

And again.

For eleven times.

Kristen held Tom as still as possible for every single one of them, raising her eyes to meet Ed's only when the switchblade fell from his hands and onto the pavement with a wet clatter - pupils huge, adrenaline and fear dancing in them.

"Oops"


Edward hadn't slept a tick that night - unsurprisingly: he was too wound up with adrenaline and, when he eventually crashed, he was too afraid of what would happen the following day.

He had killed a man and frankly, he had had the time of his life doing it. 

The evidence was still all over him - it still was in his own car; after a bout of hysterical laughter that Edward hadn't been able to keep trapped in his lungs, he had quickly and efficiently bundled up the body in the quilt he kept in his trunk before leading a shocked Kristen into her home.

His accomplice. 

She had kept the man still afterall, even after it became evident that he wasn't going to stop stabbing him any time soon. 

Would she rat him out?

He didn't know; the most distrustful part of his brain - the one that had learnt the hard way that trusting people never led to anything good - wanted to say that yes, of course she would betray him: she had been outright nasty to him until a week before, why should he place any faith in her? No matter that he had killed her abuser with her assistance. 

"Ed, are you alright?"

Jim's words penetrated in his consciousness slowly, as if they had had to breach a gelatinous barrier before he could hear them "Yes"

The other man frowned "You don't look alright"

Edward was fairly sure that the other couldn't read minds but still, he felt the nape of his neck trickle with beading cold sweat "I am"

"Care to try that while looking at me?" Jim murmured, reaching out to take one of the younger man's hand, tenderly caressing the bony knuckles with his thumb. He really was concerned about Edward: he had barely acknowledged him - or the box of pastries and the hot coffee he had brought - when he had entered his lab to greet him; he hadn't seemed to listen to a word he said nor had offered any of his own besides noncommittal monosyllabic answers; he looked as pale as a ghost, tired and sick. 

Playing videogames the whole night wasn't that destructive for one's health, was it? Edward literally seemed to have had a rougher night than his own - and Jim had almost ended up in the harbour.

Again. 

Edward knew that feeling cornered was irrational: Jim just couldn't know.  He bit his lower lip and chanced a glance up to the other's face, taking in the expression stretched across his features; there was only worry there - and tenderness. But what if it was a mask to lure him in a false sense of safety? It wasn't in Jim's style - the man wasn't one for subtlety in general, his favourite modus operandi was to loudly announce that he was with the GCPD while holding his gun up, ready to point and fire. 

"Ed?"

He looked down again, shivering as a drop of sweat started making its torturous way down the back of his neck, skin blossoming into goosebumps in its wake.

He needed for the interrogation- no, no... he needed for the questions to stop. Harmless, worried inquiries about his physical and emotional state that, as any good partner, Jim was invested in.

Edward pushed himself forward, squeezing Jim's hand to soothe any response he might have to the sudden movement, and awkwardly planted his lips on the other's; had the kiss come naturally, Edward would have kept it chaste - he would have waited for Jim to kiss him back, to cradle his face in that  calloused hands of his and maybe whisper against his lips that he loved him. But it hadn't come naturally: it just was the first idea that had come to his mind to shut the other man up in the least suspicious way.

It was working. 

After a moment to metabolise what exactly was happening, Jim kissed Edward back - momentarily forgetful of the fact that they were at work and he certainly didn't want to feed the gargantuan monster that was the GCPD gossip mill. He hadn't realised how long he had waiting for that moment - specifically for Edward's initiative; Jim hadn't been doubting about whether the other man truly was interested in him but he had started wondering if maybe they should have had a conversation about Edward's limits and boundaries, concerned that one day he was going to push too far and scare the other man away. 

It was even more satisfying when Edward relaxed into it, apparently soothed by the fact that he wasn't going to be rebuked for suddenly kissing him - quite the contrary, really. 

Jim nipped at the other's lower lip, pressing a cheeky grin against his mouth "I don't know what that was for, but it was great" he murmured, careful of not bumping into Edward's glasses as he brushed their noses together.

"I-" Edward licked his lips - the kiss had been... everything he had dreamed of: sweet, tender, with the right pinch of heat to it. And he had ruined it - he had ruined their first kiss; he swallowed against the lump in his throat and closed his eyes, trying to focus on the fact that Jim was still holding him close and didn't seem to want to let go "I have been thinking about it. About us"

"Was that what had you so worried?"

He nodded, stomach twisting into progressively tighter knots "Yes"

Jim sighed and kissed the younger man again - brief but still loving - before he hooked one finger under his chin and gently made Edward look up at him "I've been waiting for this too - how about we try being more open about us and what we want, yeah?"

"Yeah"

"Good. Now have some breakfast, you already skip enough meals as it is"

And even if Edward was sure that Jim had bought the best cannoli in Gotham, every bite felt like ashy sandpaper on his tongue.


Being suddenly caught by a sleeve and dragged into a room while innocently passing by probably was one of Edward's worst nightmares - anyone's, really: who the hell reacted with glee at being seized and basically abducted by someone they hadn't even seen? No-fucking-one, that was who. 

Realistically, the only thing that had prevented Kristen from ketting knifed with the same blade that had spilled Daugherty's blood was that Edward had hesitated a fraction of a second, trying to puzzle out who would be so physical with him when he very well knew that the most violent of his tormentors was waiting to be put six feet under. 

"Did you seriously drive here?! With your car?!"

Edward scowled at Kristen "Whose car was I supposed to use?"

"Not the one with a dead body in it!"

"I just wanted to get rid of him!"

"Here?!"

Alright - maybe Edward hadn't really thought his plan through during the long hours of a sleepless night but he had been a tad too busy violently swinging between elation and horror, while scrubbing rusty blood from under his fingernails "I don't have a lab at home" he just mumbled, smoothing away the ghost of Kristen's grip from his arm.

She sighed, pushing her glasses up her nose "What were you even going to do?" She didn't have the mental strength to even start imagining what kind of crazy ideas had been going through his head - she just was... tired. 

Tired and terrified.

"I was going to melt him in the sink with acid"

"No. No no nonono, Ed" Kristen didn't even have the words to explain just how bad of an idea that was: how exactly had Edward thought he would be able to bring the body inside the GCPD without getting noticed? They were literally surrounded by cops who had already started asking her questions about her boyfriend's whereabouts "You don't have anything planned with Jim for thai afternoon, right?" She raised her hand when he opened his mouth to reply "Rhetoric question: no, you don't. I'll meet you at Penguin's place after work"

"Why?"


"We need to get rid of a body" Kristen blurted as soon as they were led inside Penguin's office, before the man could start with some kind of villainous monologue about their presumption for seeking him out or he just ordered one of his goons to put a bullet in their foreheads.

At the other's puzzled face, Edward cleared his throat "We have... accidentally killed her abuser" he added, trying to clarify the situation.

Oswald arched his eyebrow, studying the pair standing in front of him - it really was true that it was the quiet waters that tore down bridges; he honestly hadn't thought they had a single violent bone in their bodies: he had evidently been wrong but, for once, pleasantly so "Nothing comes for free, I hope you know" and having Jim's boyfriend in his pocket? That was going to be quite the asset in the future: Nygma's crime was worth the man's weight in pure gold.

"What do you want?" A voice in Kristen's head screamed that she should turn on her heels and run: it never ended up well for those who made deals with the devil. 

"A favour"

"What kind of favour?"

Oswald waved the question away and stood up, grabbing a bottle of cognac from his liquors cabinet on his way to join them "Don't worry about it now, we're friends: you can owe me. Let's have a look at that body now, shall we?"

Chapter Text

The Aftermath

"I adore your brain but do you ever stop thinking?" Jim teased lightly, lips sliding along the sharp edge of Edward's jaw, barely stubbled despite the fact that it was late into the day.

Edward rolled his eyes, even as a familiar wave of guilt roiled in his stomach; he had to squash down on it, though: he didn't want exactly to prove Jim's point "Sometimes" he answered, tilting his head to the side to look down at Jim and his heart hurt at the evidence of the other man letting any and all walls fall when they were together, curled up on the couch in just their pyjamas. 

"Liar" Jim chuckled and leaned up for a kiss, ridiculously pleased with the fact that he could do so whenever he wanted now, provided that Edward was in the mood for it; they had become so much closer since the other man had kissed him in his lab - it felt like they had something real. 

Something with the potential of being permanent. 

Considered his bad luck when it came to relationships, maybe Jim should have been less hopeful to avoid hurting more in the future but he couldn't help it: he was a romantic at heart and Edward just made him feel safe and steady - even as the city's underworld got progressively hectic with Penguin, Maroni and Fish fighting one another and his own career was put in peril by the likes of Loeb.

In all that chaos, Edward was a peaceful island with his warm hugs and quiet love; he never pushed and he never demanded, he let him have the time to elaborate on things and waited for him to be ready to talk about them rather than prodding him.

"Who's thinking too much now?" Edward teased lightly, ignoring how the accusation of being a liar - entirely playful and innocent - had further made his nausea rise like the tide.

"'m sorry" Jim apologised with a smile, tucking himself even closer to the other's side.

"What were you thinking about?"

"You. Us"

"Good things only, I hope?"

Jim rubbed his cheek on Edward's shoulder, breathing in the scent of fabric softener that clung to the flannel "Of course. I don't know if you realise but you're one of the best things in my life right now, Ed" was it that bewildering to the other man that he could be so cherished by someone else? Jim knew that he couldn't heal his partner's self-esteem issues as quickly as he would have liked to - it would be a long process, one that might never really end.

He didn't mind, he was more than willing to put in the work: Edward was worth it.

"I think it's the other way around, actually"

"No" Jim shook his head "No, Ed. I mean it"

It wasn't that Edward couldn't see that Jim's life had taken a difficult turn: the commissioner seemed to be out for his head and saying that Gotham was spiralling deeper and deeper into utter madness wouldn't have been reductive - not with the gangs all pitted one against the other, the delicate balance the underworld had been straddling disturbed by the ripples of an earthquake called Oswald Cobblepot. Even someone blind could have seen how all that would put Jim into a rather stressful position - still, he couldn't understand how he qualified as one of the best things in the man's life: having made their relationship known to the rest of the precinct had only made their colleagues dislike Jim even more and, certainly, his own uncertainty and neediness weren't what Jim needed "I'm not anyone's dream partner"

"Maybe let me be the judge of that?" Jim offered gently, straightening up to take Edward's face in his hands - craving the physical connection, a part of his brain convinced that it would help to get his point across and make Edward believe that every single one of his words was honest "You're everything I want and need"

"Those wants and needs might change"

"Maybe. Maybe not"

Edward didn't know how to feel about that answer - it was rational, brutally honest. 

Just like Jim. 

And he couldn't deny that it was one of the things that he had always liked about the man, the fact that he was so down to earth made him hope that they truly were kindred spirits besides their differences. 

"Do you believe in fate?"

"I can't say that I do" Jim admitted "Do you?" He inquired curiously as he thumbed caresses on the other's cheekbones in what he hoped to be a soothing and relaxing manner, encouraging him to speak without fear of judgement. 

Edward shrugged, a little embarrassed that the question had even left his lips: he was a man of science and fate didn't exactly figure in the list of fundamental forces of physics, amongst gravity and electromagnetism "I... I think some things are meant to happen"

"And do you think that we were meant to happen?"

Hearing Jim speak those words only made the other man feel even more ridiculous "I think we were meant to be happy. It's stupid, isn't it?"

"Are - we are meant to be happy" Jim corrected gently "And no, it's not stupid: I think it's sweet"

"Yeah, that's another word for stupid"

Jim leaned in and pecked the tip of Edward's nose "It's not and you know it" he just said: it was another thing that the younger man couldn't be persuaded of, one that he had to internalize on his own terms "I'll have a shower before bed, if that's okay"

"Of course. Give me a shout if there aren't any fresh towels" despite the fact that they hadn't been intimate yet, Edward had seen Jim naked plenty of times: between how often he got injured badly enough that he needed help to undress or wash up without ruining his stitches and the fact that Jim simply was that shameless, Edward had come to quickly accept and deal with the other's relaxed attitude towards nakedness.

It definitely had been an exercise in restraint.

A very hard one. 

Literally.

Sometimes, Edward wondered why was he so hellbent on taking things slow - then he remembered the way he had exploited their first kiss, how he had so horribly lied to Jim, how he had compromised the base of their relationship. 

He sighed and turned off the TV, starting to clean up the remains of their dinner while Jim showered; they had grown so close - so domestic: Edward was almost frightened by how easily he had gotten used to the other man taking up space in his home, carving up pockets for himself in his time. 

It also was exciting.

Edward put an old receipt in the crime novel Jim had been picking at and closed the book, setting it down on top of the TV where Jim would easily see it and brought the plates to the sink; the washing up would have to wait until the other man was done using the water but they were few enough that Edward could bear leaving them for the morning - compromising came to him more easily than he would have ever thought. 

The same couldn't be said for honesty, could it?

The feeling of guilt was particularly intense that evening, Edward sincerely doubted that he would be able to sleep through it.

"Jim!"

"What?"

Edward squirmed away from the arms loosely wrapped around his torso and turned around "You're wet" he pointed out, firmly keeping his eyes away from the towel tucked around Jim's hips - not that the other's chest wasn't equally enjoyable. 

More than, really. 

"I'm sorry" Jim murmured, leaning up to kiss the other man in an apologetic manner.

If the other man hadn't proved time and time again that bluntness was his preferred method of communication, Edward would have accused him of purposefully trying to seduce him as his fingers met the damp skin stretched over the other's ribs, hands naturally going to steady Jim since the man had to stand on his tiptoes to comfortably reach his mouth.

"Forgiven" Edward sighed "I'm going to shower too"

Jim stepped back, out of the man's reach as a cheeky grin blossomed on his face "Don't forget the lube" he sing-songed, chuckling at how red Edward become.

"You're a monster!"

"Am not!" He shouted after the other man.

"You are!"

"I just want you to take care of yourself, baby!"

Edward opened the door of the bathroom enough to poke his head out "You're this close to sleeping on the couch, baby" he managed to retort with a little sarcasm even as the boiling blood in his capillaries literally seemed to be trying to set his skin on fire - even worse, the knowledge that Jim was aware that he had all intentions of masturbating with him in mind didn't do anything to diminish his arousal and honestly, he wasn't ready to explore the implications of what that meant.

Jim mimicked zipping his mouth shut and burrowed deeper under the blankets, the playful banter between them putting him at ease in a way he wasn't sure other people could understand.  He was halfway asleep when Edward climbed on the other side of the bed and Jim reached blindly behind himself to grab his hand "Had fun?"

Edward sighed but it was more fond than anything else "You're relentless"

"Did you think about me?"

"Who else would I think about?"

Jim yawned and turned around, happily burying his face in Edward's chest "Dunno, a sexy scientist - I think about one"

There must have been a daily quota of blushing before it became unhealthy, right? It couldn't be good for his blood pressure "Of course I thought about you" Edward reassured in the end, when he was sure that his furious heartbeat wouldn't break his voice.

"Good"

How Jim managed to sound so smug while he was on the brink of passing out Edward didn't know but it was... unbelievably endearing "Sleep now" he definitely needed all the rest he could get: Edward hated the idea of Jim going after all sort of criminals when he was tired and therefore less likely to properly focus on the dangers lurking around him.

It didn't help that Jim definitely had some kind of martyr complex that led him to be particularly careless with his own life when it came to keeping other people safe, nor the fact that Penguin currently had plenty of ammunition that Edward had naively given him. 

He just hoped that everything would be alright.

Chapter Text

Moving On

"Jim?" The alarm had already rang twice but it wasn't unusual now for Edward to basically have to drag the other man out of bed so that he could go to work; since Jim had been fired as a detective and reassigned to traffic duty, the man had been downright miserable and listless.

Edward hated to see the man he loved like that, stripped of all his enthusiasm and energy; he had tried to suggest that he found another job, something that Jim might find more satisfying than making sure nobody drove over kids getting out of school, but it hadn't gone over so well.

He supposed that moving in together after a conversation about tight money rather than after a romantic proposal hadn't helped. Edward didn't mind, of course: living together was clearly good for them both - the fridge was never empty; the bills were all met without worries; the flat they could afford wasn't in the Narrows and relatively close to work.

Though, Edward knew from personal experience that seeing the silver linings wasn't always easy and he didn't blame Jim for feeling so discouraged: he just wished he knew how to uplift his spirit a little - how to make it a little less harder to get up in the mornings "Come on, I made breakfast" Edward cajoled, hoping that the promise of warm toasts, eggs and coffee would persuade the other man to get out of bed. 

Jim sighed and turned around, arms going around Edward's waist as he buried his face in his belly "Five minutes"

"You don't have five minutes"

"Three?"

"Two" Edward negotiated, sliding his fingers through Jim's hair to massage the scalp in a comforting manner while the other man gathered the will to start his day - he would be late to work but since Jim had been fired and Daugherty had conveniently disappeared, everyone was back to ignoring him and Edward didn't really mind.

Truthfully, it was a blessing.

Kristen was all the company he needed at the precinct, their bond growing even stronger after an initial period of reciprocal wariness and mistrust after what they had done - but she hadn't betrayed him and, as the rumours and the inquiries about Daugherty' disappearance had started to dwindle and eventually fade to nothing, they had considerably relaxed in one another's presence.

Now, it was natural for them to eat lunch together in the break room and meet Jim at Bullock's bar for a beer after work - and that was all the social life Edward needed.

He looked down curiously as Jim moved, bending down to bestow a kiss on his forehead when the man finally managed to sit up "It's not raining today" another small encouragement that naturally tumbled down his tongue. 

"Small mercies" Jim roughly scrubbed his face and climbed out of bed, disappearing in the bathroom - he felt like death warmed over.

He didn't think he would stop feeling like it any time soon.

Jim washed up quickly and put on the uniform which Edward painstakingly ironed every night after he took it off - he honestly didn't know why he insisted on doing so: people didn't care about whether the traffic aid hadn't shaved or if their shirt was creased. 

He felt invisible. 

Useless. 

"I need to go to work"

"I know" Jim murmured, hugging Edward back "Thank you for breakfast. I'll see you tonight?"

"Harvey's bar?"

The other man nodded, that was where he spent his extra time nowadays: his regular schedule allowed him to build routines and those apparently included becoming a regular at a bar. 

It made Jim feel ashamed. 

Even more so when he hid behind the excuse that he was just visiting his best friend. 

At least, when Edward was there, Jim had a reason to pace himself and make sure that he didn't end up the night too drunk to even get it up - really, it was sheer luck that they hadn't been intimate yet, considering just how low he had gotten. Harvey tried to pace him too but only half-heartedly: the man understood - which probably Edward did too but... he was too positive - too determined to see the good side of things and it made Jim unreasonably bitter and angry. 

He didn't want to be angry.

Not with Ed. 

"Have a good day at work"

Edward smiled and kissed his forehead again "You too. I've already packed your lunch, don't forget to take it"

Of course Jim wouldn't forget - not when he reminded himself that Edward had likely woken up earlier in order to make breakfast and lunch for them both while he slept the minutes away, instead of sharing them with his partner. Taking the lunch Edward had so daringly packed was the minimum he could do to actually show the younger man how grateful he was for his support and care - if Jim had been in Edward's shoes, he would have told himself to fuck off and disappear. 

Maybe Edward just hadn't reached that point yet.

Maybe he har more patience than Jim did. 

Maybe.

Maybe.

Maybe.


Harvey knew how it was to touch the bottom and feel like there was no way back up; he knew how it was to think you're a burden on those around you; he knew how it was to have dreams and hopes dashed to shards so little that there was nothing left to repair. 

He also knew that alcohol wasn't the answer but still, he poured another drink for Jim: how could he deny the other man when he came in with bags so livid that it was as if someone had punched him in the face? Jim had rarely looked that bad even when he had actually gotten regularly beaten up by bad guys. 

Though, he did his best to distract him "This mutants business is getting out of hand, isn't it?"

Jim hummed, sipping on the bourbon rather than knocking it back; he knew that if he did, Harvey would seriously consider cutting him off  "Not my business anymore" though, he very much wanted it to still be his business: he wanted to be out there, keeping people safe - helping them "Neither is yours"

Harvey shrugged "I live here and that makes whatever happens in Gotham my business" and that was how it should be, unless one wanted to end up dead in a ditch "You know, the GCPD is looking for bounty hunters" Jim hadn't been particularly receptive to his - or Nygma's  - suggestions before but he wouldn't stop trying: if his best friend was unhappy, he should change his life.

Though, that wasn't as easily done as it was said. 

Jim tilted his head to the side "I'm not a killer" he had been one, though - during his service in the army.

"You don't have to kill them: just bring them in"

"Point" he didn't say he would consider it: he knew he wouldn't - the idea of going back to chasing criminals was as exciting as it was... scary. His job had been dangerous, Edward had had to patch him up more often than not - and he didn't want to risk leaving the other man alone. 

"I always have one" Harvey straightened up and went to tend to another client; leaving the GCPD and opening the bar had been a blessing for his mental and physical health - he was the happiest he had been in a very long while.

When Nygma came in, Harvey spotted him before Jim and nodded at him; over the time, they had learnt how to understand one another with just one glance and the one Harvey was currently shooting Nygma was a warning about how many drinks his partner had already had - it was subtle enough that Jim hadn't caught up on it yet "The usual?"

"Ed"

"Jim" Edward greeted warmly, caressing the back of the other's neck "And no, thank you. Just a water for me" Bullock's glance had clearly tried to communicate that maybe it was the time to cut Jim off and bring him home, which wouldn't happen if he got a beer.

"Tired?" That was the most likely explanation why Edward had stopped by just to order a glass of water - Jim appreciated more than he could put into words that his partner put in the effort to bond with Harvey, it was... reassuring: he didn't want to eventually choose between the two of them. 

"A bit"

Jim nodded "Then we're going home"

Edward bent down and nuzzled the other's cheek; he still felt a little wary about displaying affection in front of Bullock, part of him worried that the man might say something nasty or offensive even if he had been rather supportive of their relationship since its tentative beginning "Thank you, Jim"

"Don't mention it. Kristen?"

"Went out with Lee"

"And how's that fellow who was hired to work with you - Fox?" Harvey inquired - once a cop, always a gossip.

Edward wrinkled his nose, even as he thoroughly enjoyed the way Jim immediately started to caress his side in a soothing manner "He's so... helpful" the word tasted like lemon juice on his tongue.

"Nygma, you're the only person in the GCPD who doesn't want the help"

"It's my lab" his territory, his realm, his kingdom - the lab had always kept him safe and defined his position in the GCPD. It had given him some sort of authority.

"Yeah, still is even if you've got help"

Edward wasn't going to open up that much to Bullock and tell him that he was intimidated and fascinated at the same time by his new colleague - both afraid that he was training his own replacement and excited that there finally was someone who could match him in a battle of wits "Still.  I don't need help"

"But you deserve it" Jim interjected "You work so hard" and wasn't paid nearly enough by the GCPD, chronically underfunded as it was. 

"Not that hard"

Harvey snorted "Maybe you wouldn't in any other city but here in Gotham? You work hard" and he was ready to recognise it "Now, shoo.  I'll see you tomorrow for the game"

Which Edward would happily tune out while he read a book or worked on some puzzles "Your beer of choice will be there"

"Don't forget the spicy chicken wings"

"Does he ever forget anything, Harv?" Jim said, pride melting his voice. 

"If you got naked more often, you would be enough of a distraction and he would forget more stuff"

"There will be spicy chicken wings, beer, popcorn and whatever is sweet and edible in the house. Good night" Edward said firmly - if there was something he didn't need to talk about with the other man, it was what kind of effects a naked Jim had on him. 

Very, very hard effects. 

Chapter Text

The Storm

"Where. Is. He?"

Irrational as it undoubtedly was, hearing Penguin's voice sapped away at the sudden surge of fear that had flooded his system when he had felt the sharp bite of a cold blade pressed to the vulnerable and tender skin of his throat - it was a wonder how their species had managed to climb so high when they were so easily incapacitated and killed.  

His brain refused to ascribe that success just to fully opposable thumbs. 

"Nygma!"

Edward swallowed and his Adam's apple teased the edge of the knife, his skin probably bloomed puni under the dangerous friction; Penguin clearly wanted something from him and dead men told no tales, afterall - could he turn the situation to his advantage, pushing harder against the blade threatening to slice his throat open?

Could he miraculously turn the tables?

"I asked you a question, Nygma: where is he?"

Without knowing who exactly that he was and whether it was the kind of information that Penguin could have easily found somewhere else, it was unlikely that pushing the other man would actually pay off "Implied, sometimes I'm not easily understood.  What am I?"

"I don't have the time for riddles!"

Excitement and fear filled Edward to the brin, turning what was supposed to be a confident answer into an awkward stuttering "A s-subject" he breathed in deep, steeling himself despite the mix of feelings that was shutting him up more effectively than the threat of being butchered by a knife "Your question is missing a subject" he managed to specify. 

"Jim!" Who else would Oswald be inquiring about? It wasn't like they had many common acquaintances - even less notables ones "Where is he, Nygma? I'm getting tired of repeating this question and my patience already is quite short" all of his nerves were thrumming, strung tight like violin strings close to snapping - when they did, Oswald would burn the city down and salt its ashes.

Nobody would be able to contain the bloodlusty fury once it was unleashed - the streets would be awash with blood. 

"I'm sure you know he's been fired from the GCPD"

"I'm sure you know better than giving me information I'm already privy to"

Yes, Edward did know. 

That didn't change the fact that he liked toying with the other man, getting high off the surge of adrenaline that pounded in his temples and made the tips of his ears ache with the sudden rise of his blood pressure "I don't know in which part of town he's minding traffic today"

Oswald slid his hand under the other's labcoat, clinically patting him down until he found the other's phone in the inner pocket of his jacket "Call him"

"He's working"

"Do you think I care?"

"No. No, you don't"

"I'm glad that you're once again showing  how smart you are" Oswald presser the knife a little harder against the other's neck; the fact that he still hadn't nicked the skin was a testament to his skills - anyone with better self-preservation instincts than those belonging to the man trapped in his arms would have been trembling at the realisation and started to be a little more cooperative "Call him, now: invent an excuse that will get him here as fast as humanly possible, if you need to" he really hoped that Nygma was a convincing actor: Oswald would have hated to waste the leverage he currently had on the other man.

Edward licked his lips, the chapped skin catching against his tongue: he knew exactly what to say - he just hoped that Jim heard his phone ring and answered to it. 

"Ed?"

"Hello, Jim"

"Taking your break?"

"A forced one" the none too gently way Penguin tightened his grip on him was a clear sign to cut the crap and hurry the fuck up "Could you come here?"

"Is everything okay?"

"Splendid. Penguin is holding a knife to my throat"


Jim couldn't remember the last time he had been so terrified for the life of a lived one - maybe when the car had crashed and his father hadn't answered to his increasingly desperate cries; maybe when he had learnt that Barbara had disappeared with the Ogre; maybe when Harvey had told him just how dangerous things were for Edward in the precinct.

The only thing he knew, it was that seeing Oswald Cobblepot hold a knife to Edward's throat was even more terrifying than hearing the words "Get away from him"

"With pleasure" his arms ached with the effort of keeping the other man trapped to his chest for so long - considering how much taller the other man was ut har been quite the feat of resistance on his part "He's awfully chatty"

Jim easily ignored the quip and lunged over to grab Edward's wrist and tug him closer, fluttering fingers anxiously tilting Edward's chin back to check whether he had been injured - the skin looked red and definitely irritated but whole. 

Though, the evidence that Edward was unharmed didn't erase his worry nor did it quench his anger. 

He protectively pushed the younger man behind his back: if Oswald dared to touch him again, he would have to stomp all over his corpse and, judging by the extreme measures he had taken to attract his attention, he doubted that it would happen any time soon - at the moment, he was an impenetrable wall that would keep Edward safe. 

And starting from the following day, Jim was personally going to teach his partner how to defend himself even if he didn't have a weapon on him - which he actually needed to make sure Edward could do: maybe booking some time at the firing range was a good idea too; he was going to talk the matter over with Harvey, he was sure that the man had good advice for that situation too. 

Later, though - after he had put the fear of God in Cobblepot's skinny bones. 

"What do you want?"

"You owe me, Jim"

That was the kind of words that nobody actually wanted to hear from Penguin "What do you want? Spit it out, I got the impression this was a time sensitive situation" he spat out, not denying the fact that he owed something to the other man, even if he had a feeling that he would come to regret agreeing to help Oswald with whatever scheme he had come up with. 

"Galavan has my mother"

Edward barely managed to restrain himself from gasping out aloud, not wanting to accidentally reveal to Jim that he had accepted Penguin's invitation to the opening night of his club - really, he was surprised that the other man hadn't outed him yet.  He remembered Gertrude Kapelput vividly, the memory put in even stronger focus by what had happened after leaving her son's club and her words about Daugherty echoing throughout his mind in an endless and almost hypnotic litany. 

She definitely would be proud of them. 

Edward wanted her to live and to know all about it.

"Why am I not surprised that you managed to get on Galavan's bad side?"

"I'm not joking here, Jim - not with my mother's life"

There were plenty of things Jim would have liked to tell Oswald - how it was his fault that his mother was in danger; how he had put her on everyone's radar with his thirst for power; how he should have been more honest with her about how he made a living so that she would have known to be careful - but none of them really mattered: Mrs Kapelput wasn't to blame for the crimes of her son and Jim felt obligated to help her.

To help an innocent. 

"I need a gun"

"You'll have plenty of choices in the car"

"Let's go then"

Seeing the energy cracking in Jim's eyes almost was enough to keep Edward from worrying.

Almost. 


Jim couldn't deny that feeling the adrenaline once again rush to his head was intoxicating; he had been languishing for a seemingly endless stretch of time and now he was reborn, back into the thick of a game he had missed for far too long - Harvey had always accused him of taking pleasure in playing the saviour. 

He hadn't been wrong. 

He didn't really know where that attitude of his cane from: his mother definitely wasn't the self-sacrificing type and while his father had cared about helping people, be hadn't been a martyr - maybe it had all started because he hadn't been to save him or maybe it just was him. 

A natural disposition. 

"Keep an eye on Tabitha"

"I will" Jim confirmed "Do you have any news about your mother's state?"

"Scared but unharmed as far as I know" and she had better be; the Galavans weren't getting out of that warehouse alive - Oswald had already sentenced their offence to be too great to let them live - but he would at least make it quick if his mother was safe and sound. 

If she wasn't...

Oswald didn't even want to think about that. 

His mother couldn't be anything but fine. 

He cocked his gun as he let Butch lead them inside, ignoring the nervous glances the man kept sending them; they were kind of ridiculous, really: the man wasn't green, he had seen plenty of executions during his career as a goon in Gotham's underworld - maybe he was afraid of seeing him explode if anything had happened to his beloved mother. 

The questions would have to wait, though. 

"Oswald, I don't recall saying you could bring a friend"

"You didn't say not to either, Theo"

"I admire a man who can take advantage of semantics" Galavan hummed "Just think about how much we can accomplish together"

"Can we talk about that after I've got my mother back?"

"But of course"

Jim nodded in reassurance to Oswald as Galavan started to lead them deeper into the warehouse, wondering about where Tabitha was - Mrs Kapelput's sudden screams might have been a clue to the answer of that question, though. Jim clenched his jaw and tightened his grip on his gun, steeling himself for whatever they were going to find ahead of them. 

"Mother! Mother, are you harmed?"

Gertrude shook her head, reaching out from behind bars to grado her son's wrists and squeeze them: she was acting more panicked than she actually felt in order to protect herself - but Oswald would understand and focus on getting the both of them safely out of there: she knew him better than anyone else and she trusted him to do what was necessary. 

Her son was a survivor.

A king in the making.

Oswald nodded and turned around, squashing the impulse to demand his mother freed: she was safer in her cell "She's safe"

"I'm a man of my word"

"Of course you are"

The only sign that something was about to go down that Jim had caught, it was the seemingly careless but evidently assessing glance that Oswald had thrown around the room before the bullet pierced Galavan's throat. 

While he could understand why Oswald had kept him in the dark, Jim would have appreciated a preview of the plan rather than suddenly finding himself in the middle of a shootout, facing Tabitha Galavan foaming with grief and rage like a tempestuous sea.

"We need to go!"

"You traitor!"

"Butch, let me go!"

"Oswald!"

It was chaos. 

There was a cooling corpse on the floor and a mother and a son reuniting in the puddle of congealing blood at their feet, words in a foreign tongue slipping past their lips. 

And Jim didn't care - not about the careless murder, not about the fact that Tabitha was going to come after his hide, not about the danger they had all been in. 

He just knew that his life couldn't go back to gaping emptiness.

Maybe he should really consider a change of career: the life of a bounty hunter didn't sound so bad.

 

 

Chapter Text

The Bounty Hunter

Everything hurt and ached but it was that sort of exhaustion that derived from a good and intense workout - at least in Jim's opinion. With a groan, he shocked his leather jacket and abandoned it on the table before he slumped on the sofa, unsure about whether there was any blood that could have stained it: if possible bounty hunting was even a dirtier job than it had been policing the streets in the name of the GCPD.

Jim loved it.

Tired, he grabbed the newspaper that had been abandoned on the coffee table - though, the headline made him want to throw it back down and bury himself deep in the middle of the sofa: Oswald Cobblepot had announced in rather dramatic fashion his candidature for the mayoral run; the loud headline was accompanied by a rather simplified summary of Oswald's criminal history, a picture of Oswald grinning down at his mother and another one of Aubrey James looking like he had opened the cookie jar only to find it empty.

If alternative realities existed, Jim was sure he existed in the most fucked up one.

Jim lazily read the whole article, unsurprised that Oswald had lapped up the chance to cash in on people's fears: if there was something the other man could do well, it was reading a room and making it dance to its tune - more than ruthlessness and determination, it had been Oswald's emotional intelligence and an uncanny sense of timing that had propelled him right to the top of the criminal underworld.

Apparently, that wasn't enough.

Jim wondered if it would ever be enough.

What made the news worse, it was that even Jim could recognise and admit that Oswald would make a way better mayor than James had ever been - it was in his interests to keep Gotham thriving, afterall: organised crime flourished only on a stable infrastructure. Oswald would make sure that the Narrows were requalified in order to gain their trust and gratitude; he would approve projects to better connect the different districts of Gotham, which would create jobs; he would definitely bring under his heel the criminal underworld, paradoxically giving the impression that the city had been cleaned and make it a palatable touristic destination once again - it sounded like an appealing future for Gotham.

Jim knew for sure that its citizens wouldn't mind paying the price of an even more eradicated corruption in order to get it.

Deep down, he couldn't blame them either: some people couldn't afford keeping to the higher moral ground when there was a shorter way to take, no matter if it was a little tainted - that was how the Penguin had been created, afterall: a mix of desperation, necessity and the stubborn need to show up everyone who had said he would never amount to anything that he was a force to be reckoned with.

Jim folded the paper and stood up, momentarily shaking the news away: it was high time he cleaned up and properly welcomed Edward home - in the past few weeks, he hadn't paid the other man the attention he deserved.

Hell, they had barely been both home at the same time.

They definitely were long due a nice night in.


"I don't like this"

Edward sighed as he parked the car in front of Penguin's club; despite the fact that it was still relatively early, the parking space in the city centre was already dwindling almost to nothing "Me neither" he admitted: no matter how one thought about it, being summoned by Penguin after the man had just announced he would run for mayor could only mean that he knew he had some favours owed to him and that it was the right time to cash them in. 

They just hoped he wouldn't ask them to kill anyone. 

Kristen got out of the car, eager to get it over with; since they had gotten the call that morning, she had been assaulted by waves of anxiety that had made it almost impossible to do her job - how could she, when the consequences of her actions fully were catching up to her? It had been her idea to go to Penguin's for help, afterall - sure, only because Edward had had the brilliant idea of bringing the body to the GCPD but still...

She was very much at fault. 

"Let's get this over with, then"

"He said to enter from the back, didn't he?"

Edward hummed and started walking towards an alleyway; he hadn't been that surprised by the instruction: Penguin probably didn't want any journalists to stick their noses in his private affairs and publish their wild - and potentially harmful to his campaign - speculations.

A tactician at heart. 

Edward had a feeling that the other man would make a terrific chess player, one that might even make him sweat for his victory.

"My friends! This is such a joyous day!"

"Congratulations on your candidature" Kristen said politely, trying to avoid retorting that maybe it was a good day for him but for them? Hah! If that was what a good day looked like, Kristen was going to lock herself in the house and never again put a foot outside - nowadays, one could even get the groceries delivered to their doorstep.

"It was quite the surprise"

"I can bet!" Oswald grinned brightly. No surprise could be greater than the one he himself had received when his announcement had been broadcast all over the news: recognizing his mother standing next to him, they had received a call from a certain Elijah Van Dahl. 

His father. 

And even if it had been quite the initial shock to discover that his mother had lied to him for all of his life about such an important thing, he had forgiven her after listening to her story: what mother would want to admit that she had taken the money and disappeared? She just had wanted Oswald not to hate her or his father for not standing up more to his own parents.

He couldn't blame either of them, really. 

Though, he couldn't wait for his father's odious wife and her children to leave the house and the divorce practice to start: they had lost so much time as a family - Oswald wouldn't stand for being cheated out of more.

"Huh... so, what do you need us for?"

"So clever"

Kristen squirmed a little, uncomfortable under the other's vaguely leering gaze "It isn't a great leap of imagination"

"My dear, you would be surprised by the depths of people's stupidity" Oswald chuckled "I want you both for my mayoral campaign"

Edward blinked, confused. 

Kristen stared, speechless.

"Why?"

"I need intelligent people to win this campaign and then organize my duties as mayor" Oswald answered simply "Besides, employing honest people who used to work for the GCPD can only boost the public's trust in me"

"We would have to resign" the idea made Kristen slightly nauseous: she had spent her whole adult life working for the GCPD and while it didn't pay handsomely and it wasn't a particularly gratifying job, it was safe - stable.

"Yes, you would"

"And what happens if you don't win? Or when your run as mayor ends?" Edward inquired bluntly, even as he realised that the other man wasn't offering them a job: he was calling in the favours he was owed - they didn't have a choice in this. 

Edward couldn't say that he minded, though: nobody really appreciated him at the GCPD, his job was a tiring and thankless one. 

His talents wasted. 

"I don't intend on losing nor to ever step down as mayor" Aubrey James had managed to hold onto his seat for a solid decade because nobody had ever come close to seriously threatening him and the man was... average, dull, inefficient - Oswald was so much better than that, the people would never want him to step down once he started showing them the good he could do for Gotham "But I can promise you that if I get only a single run as mayor, I'll make sure you won't be out of jobs"

"Will we owe you for that?"

"Did I already mention how smart you both are?" That Miss Kringle was a sharp one, even if it was less apparent "No, you won't owe me for that"

That was a relief "Well, it's not like we have an actual choice"

"You don't. Welcome to you both, my Chief of Staff and my PR manager - I'm sure we're going to accomplish great things together"


Jim perked up when he heard the key turn in the lock, a bright smile already plastered on his face; the shower had done miracles for his tired muscles and getting the rusty smell of blood and sweat had greatly improved his mood: he felt cheerful, ready to spoil Edward with warm takeaway and cuddles.

Then he saw the other's face, the wide and stupefied look in his eyes - Edward looked like he was floating back and forth amazement and shock.

Jim already didn't like whatever had put that expression on his partner's features "What's happened?"

Edward looked at the other man with wide pupils, an hysterical laugh threatening to tumble down his tongue and past his teeth "I resigned from my job"

"What? Why?" Jim walked up to him, hands firmly but gently grasping his forearms; as far as he knew, Edward hadn't been looking for a better job and he hadn't published anything in scientific journals in a long time so, it was unlikely that he had received a sudden offer for a better paying job "Is it because of some bastard at work? Harvey and I will take care of them - you just need to give me a name"

"No, no" Edward shook his head and swallowed "Everybody has been nice to me" well, they had actually been ignoring him but Edward had absolutely no problems with that.

"What is it then? I can't help you if you don't tell me"

"You can't help me in any case"

"Ed... you're worrying me"

And he was right to worry. Edward didn't feel like laughing anymore - the impulse had transformed itself in a solid lump and lodged itself firmly in his throat, turning swallowing into some kind of herculean effort "Let's sit down" the words scraped against the roof of his mouth "Please"

"Okay, okay" the other man looked like he was going to keel over, the strange giddiness Jim had noticed had faded away - was Edward still metabolizing what had happened? It was recent then. Sudden "Whatever it is, we can find a solution together" just like they had found a new home together, faced not-so-welcome changes together, weathered the hard times together - they could do it: they had already been forced to and they still were going strong. 

"I..."

"Deep breath"

Edward nodded and closed his eyes "I'm going to be Penguin's Chief of Staff"

Jim frowned, trying to understand whether it was a joke but no, Edward didn't make jokes: he relayed funny facts or crafted play on words but he didn't tell jokes. He just didn't "What?"

"I owe him"

"Why?"

Edward's skin crawled - he was almost afraid that his moles were rearranging themselves into a loud accusation across his forehead as long-gone blood resurfaced on his hands and stained his cheeks "Why did you owe him?"

"Nothing you should worry about"

"Exactly"

"Ed... are you seriously not going tell me?" The other's shrug was all the answer he needed; Jim stood up rather abruptly and grabbed his leather jacket from where he had abandoned it earlier, barely pausing to check that he was armed. 

He couldn't look Edward in the face.

The smashing of the door against its jamb was a stab right to the middle of his heart. 

Chapter Text

The Mayor

Jim nervously waited in the car outside of Van Dahl manor, fingers restlessly tapping against the steering wheel in a fractured rhythm that changed constantly as it fluctuated together with his emotions. 

Storming out of their flat had put quite the strain on them and Jim knew he shouldn't have done it: he should have talked with the other man; he should have made him understand that he could trust him with whatever Oswald was holding up over his head; he shouldn't have lost his temper, especially since he had no right to - it wasn't like he wanted Edward to know about all the times he had had to stoop down and make deals with Penguin. 

He was trying to make it up to him, though.

Jim couldn't really say if it was working. 

Edward appeared... changed - more confident, sharper, assertive. Theoretically, Jim was happy to see his partner finally stand straighter and recognise his own worth, no more willing to let other people walk all over him; practically, Jim was concerned about Oswald's influence tainting the other man, swaying him towards criminality.

God only knew the things he had already had to do in order to help Oswald during his campaign; just the idea was enough to make him feel like there was an army of ants crawling under his skin, making him itch to do something - anything - to keep Edward safe. 

To keep him away from Blackgate. 

Or worse - Arkham. 

Jim closed his eyes and squeezed his fingers around the steering wheel until the knuckles turned a bloodless white, aching with the ghosts of past fistfights etched in his bones, and he took a deep breath - it didn't do anything to actually calm him down but there was no harm in trying, right?

Right. 

He had to trust Edward to be careful and come to him if things escalated; his partner was a smart man and, more importantly, he hadn't exactly lived s sheltered life until the day before Oswald had recruited him: Edward had witnessed first hand what people could do, what kind of darkness Gotham had to offer.

Still, Jim worried.

"I'm sorry, these last days are the worst"

He forced himself to relax, turning around to greet Edward; despite how different he looked, the smile the other man bestowed upon him was always the same - the man he had loved was still there, wrapped up in a tougher armour but fundamentally unchanged.

Jim hoped that he wasn't fooling himself "It's fine"

"How did the hunting go?" Edward quickly changed the topic: talking about the work he was doing tended to put Jim in a bad mood and while frustrating, it wasn't worth it to push the issue - besides, he was more interested in knowing whether Jim had gotten injured rather than eviscerating the finest details of setting up an interview.

Priorities and compromises. 

Jim shrugged and put the car into gear "Clayface went underground again"

That explained why the other man seemed even more tense than he did as of late: Jim never dealt well with losing a trail, it frustrated him and it cut his temper short; Edward had never seen Jim like that during his days as a detective - sure, difficult cases hadn't exactly put him in a good mood but Jim had been able to turn the failure into motivation. 

As a bounty hunter, failure only turned into bitterness. 

Whereas Edward was thriving in the new grey area he found himself in, straddling the thin line between legality and illegality, Jim seemed to be spiralling; he was closing in on himself, hardened by hunts that often left him bloodied and beaten up. 

Hollowed out like a seashell. 

"I'm sure that in a couple of days a new trail will emerge" it always did - Edward was sure that Jim's rough hands had a lot to do with it; they always seemed to be livid and swollen nowadays, adorned with red scrapes and jagged cuts. Edward had taken to icing them every night before bed, massaging them gently with a salve to help the bruising reabsorb faster and wrapping them up whenever necessary, provided that Jim had enough patience to let him or that the man didn't have to go on a hunt after dark.

Those always concerned Edward the most.  He rationally knew that Jim was more than capable of defending himself but it still would have been dangerous with common criminals - how much more perilous would it be when there were scared metahumans involved?

"Sure"

"The traffic light was red"

Jim's shoulders bunched up, tense "Sorry. Is there anything in the fridge?"

"I'm not sure" Edward admitted "If you stop by the supermarket-"

"We can just order in"

"Again?"

Deep breaths - he knew that Edward was complaining only because it was bad for their health and not because he probably had been eating gourmet meals every single day at work for the past few weeks "I'm tired"

"I know. I'll just buy a box of pasta and some kind of sauce" he wouldn't spend much time in the supermarket and it wouldn't take him too long to cook it either "You can wash up in the meantime"

"Okay"

"Thank you"

Jim shrugged: it hadn't been a fight worth fighting, anyway.


Edward slid into bed and opened the first aid kit, fingers already picking up what he needed to medicate Jim's hands; unlike many routines they had established together, Edward didn't cherish that particular one because it was the blatant proof that Jim was pushing himself way too far. He gently picked up one hand and then other, swiping a cotton ball imbued with alcohol all over them "Does it burn?"

Jim shook his head, eyes following the other's precise and careful movements: Edward managed to be delicate and efficient at the same time, something he honestly hadn't thought possible "Not too much, don't worry"

"You have an incredibly high pain tolerance"

"Or maybe yours is unbelievably low?"

Edward chuckled "One doesn't exclude the other" it was true that he didn't have a high pain tolerance but that didn't erase the fact that Jim had ignored for a week straight a couple of cracked ribs, as if it hadn't been more than an easily forgettable nuisance "Maybe you should take a couple of days off"

"I don't get paid vacations, remember?"

He rolled his eyes "I know but we're not struggling, you can afford taking a little time to yourself until the next paycheck"

Jim sighed. His partner was obviously right - he felt drained - and he wasn't particularly bothered by the idea of the other man being the breadwinner but what was the point of resting right when Edward would be the busiest with work? Being home alone would drive him insane with boredom and hanging out at Harvey's bar would only encourage him to drink more "Maybe"

Edward pursed his lips "We've also been invited to an intimate post elections party at the manor" he said in the end, never taking his eyes off of the other's hands - unsure about whether he wanted to see Jim's reaction at the implied request. 

"And you want me to look presentable?"

"I want you not to be pain and be able to enjoy yourself"

As if he could do that in Oswald's presence "Isn't it bad luck to already think about celebrating?" Jim didn't care if Edward cottoned in on the fact that he was temporarily avoiding giving an answer: he needed some time to think about it.

"Officially, it's an informal family dinner. You've never met Oswald's father, have you?"

"No"

"He's a good man" Edward started wrapping up the other's knuckles "I think you would like him.  And Kristen is going to be there too"

If his partner had morphed into a more confident version of himself, Kristen's transformation had been even more radical: gone was the meekness that had seemed to follow her around like a cloud, she was all sharpened edges "Still rocking the platinum blond?"

"Yes, even if she bitches about having to redo her roots every two weeks or so" her annoyance at how fast her hair grew was kind of hilarious, to be honest - it definitely lifted up his mood when there were way many tasks to complete and the majority of the staff consisted of morons "So?"

For a moment, Jim was tempted to play stupid but it wouldn't be respectful to his partner nor to the hard work he knew he was doing - and that he was proud of too "I'll come"

"It means a lot to me"

"You mean a lot to me too"


Oswald Cobblepot officially was the mayor of Gotham city - by a landslide, something that had happened before only under duress because nobody else but Aubrey James had actually signed up for the task. 

Despite how reasonable that outcome was, it still was difficult for Jim to believe what his eyes and ears were telling him: all around him there were people celebrating and popping bottles of champagne, drowning out the reporter's voice on TV; a trusted journalist who had received the honour of an invitation was hastily setting up a camera, probably itching to be the one to bring to the public Oswald's first official interview as mayor; Edward's grin was bright and giddy as he excitedly talked with Oswald and what he assumed to be the man's father, whereas Kristen was weathering through Mrs Kapelput emotional response to her son's victory.

Still as he was, standing in a corner with a brand new suit that felt too small and the knot of his tie slowly chocking him with every passing breath, Jim felt out of place.

Undesired. 

Easily ignored. 

"Jim, my friend!"

Or maybe not "Congratulations, Oswald"

The mayor beamed, uncaring that the other man looked like he was attending a funeral and would have definitely liked to be anywhere else but there "Thank you but our dear Ed was instrumental to this success, I wouldn't have been able to do it without his help"

At least, someone was appreciating him - even if that someone had coerced Edward into working for him, blackmailing him like the snake he was.

Whoever had nicknamed him Penguin hadn't been particularly inspired - or maybe just too ableist to see just how the man was more than his limp.

"He is brilliant, yes" Jim concurred, leaning back against the wall.

"So are you"

If that wasn't suspicious, Jim's middle name wasn't Worthington "I don't owe you anymore, Oswald"

"I still want to offer you a job"

"Oswald! You said you would wait for me to talk with him" Edward reproached, easily putting his arm through Jim's and sliding closer to the other man - eager to share in the excitement "Did he already tell you what kind of job?"

"I didn't"

"Oh, good"

Jim frowned as he looked up at Edward, trying to understand why the man looked so... happy "Ed, I'm not going to work for him"

"But-"

"No. Why are you even enjoying working for him? He forced your hand" the other's excitement didn't make sense. 

Edward frowned and inclined his head towards the rest of the room "I'm appreciated here"

"Is that worth it?"

"Yes. Yes, it is"

"Why are you working for him, Ed? What did you do?"

Edward pursed his lips, stubbornly keeping them sealed - not expecting Oswald's outburst, adorned by a deep-throated chuckle "He didn't do anything worse than you do, in the name of the city's safety: he killed a man"

 

Chapter Text

The Truth

He killed a man. 

He killed a man. 

He killed a man. 

Edward was a killer. 

"Not here, Jim. Please"

Jim looked up at his partner, wondering about when and why had he moved to block out his sight of Oswald: was he protecting the mayor from bodily harm or a scandal?

Both?

Both was likely: in that moment, Jim just wanted to wrap his hands around Oswald's throat and push him up against the wall to shake him until the bastard revealed that he had been playing with them - prodding them around for his ends like an expert chess master did to their pieces, aiming at victory - and Jim had no doubts that his intentions were laid bare in his eyes for Edward to acknowledge. 

"Tell me he's lying"

"I said not here, Jim"

"Where then?!"

Edward briefly looked over his shoulder, betrayal and anger written all over his face: why had Oswald done such a thing? Edward had genuinely thought they had formed a bond, that they had become friends during the long weeks of the mayoral campaign; clearly, he bad been fooled by late nights spent chatting together over tea and shopping trips around the city - he had been fooled by normalcy "We are taking your studio" Edward sentenced without leaving any room for the other's retort - the studio was the only soundproofed room of the whole house, it would only be to Oswald's advantage if they locked themselves up in there. 

"Be my guests"

Edward reached down to take Jim's hand to lead him out of the crowded ballroom, but his fingers grasped the empty air.

"Where is it?"

He tried to push down the hurt, nails digging in his palm: he didn't want to accept that Jim didn't want to feel his touch anymore "Upstairs, last door on the left" Edward couldn't remember the last time his throat had felt so tight. 

Jim slid past his partner and the mayor, head bent low to avoid any sudden and unwanted interaction as he made his way out of the room, slipping amidst the still partying people completely clueless about the fact that not only their mayor was a criminal but so was his Chief of Staff. 

He could feel Edward's gaze burn between his shoulderblades, a searing mark that didn't let up even as the doors closed behind his back and he could finally let his hands shake - his whole body agitated by a whirlwind of denial, shock and fury. 

Breathing was an impossible task but he forced himself to anyway, climbing up the stairs despite how uncollaborative his legs were; Jim focused completely on every single step, counting them as he had done during his service in the military in order to keep going even when he was exhausted and there was nothing he wanted more than just rest, drink some water, feel like a human being again rather than like a machine for a few minutes. 

Edward's appearance at his back shouldn't have been a surprise - he had invited the confrontation, afterall - but Jim's mind had systematically excluded his surroundings, until the warmth of the other's body had pierced through the veil sheltering his consciousness "I presume you have the key"

"Yes" Edward leaned over and slotted it into the lock, turning it with ease despite how slippery the key felt in his sweaty hands "Do you want a drink?" He offered as he locked the door behind them - not even Oswald would be able to come in unless he picked the lock and Edward knew that the other man would hesitate doing it since his lock picking skills were rather rudimentary, lacking all finesse: he could open a door but leave an irremediably broken lock in his wake.

"I want the truth, Ed"

In a way, he owed it to them - to their relationship; to that first kiss that had been tainted; the the foundations that had been marred.

Even if it would ruin everything. 

Edward leaned against the door and took off his glasses: looking at Jim in the face while admitting to his sins would be easier if he couldn't put into focus those piercing light blue eyes "I killed a man" he had never imagined that a confession would feel just as addictive as the deed "I killed a man" his heart was going to burst, unable to keep up with the thrill "I truly did it"

"Who" the word left his throat in a gasp as his brain still tried to wrap itself around Edward's excited admission "Who did you kill"

"Tom Daugherty"

Jim didn't know if he should be relieved that there had been a blatant motivation behind Edward's actions, rather than the man he loved revealing himself to be a mindless murderer - he just felt... guilty. 

If only he had been more vocal against the bullying he had always known Edward was the victim of.

If only he had clocked Daugherty in the face, like he had promised he would. 

If only he had taken better care of Edward. 

Still, there was something missing - fundamental detail: why had the other man gone to Penguin of all people? "What happened"

At least Jim was giving him the chance to explain: it was more than Edward had ever hoped he would get, even if he felt like he was sitting in one of the GCPD interrogation rooms, the ghost of the smell of humidity clinging to the roof of his mouth "Kristen and I went to the party"

Jim barely remembered the invitation, with its embossed paper "Why"

Edward shrugged "I was curious" it was as simple as that "We had a nice time too up to when I parked in front of Kristen's house and Daugherty was there, trying to beat the door down" he had wanted to drive away, to get Kristen as far away from that bastard as possible "Did you know he abused her?"

"No" before Kristen and Edward had started to regularly hang out, Jim couldn't say he had had many interactions with her. 

"I hadn't known for long either" the younger man reassured "She was very good at hiding the bruises" if only she hadn't been... but maybe the other officers wouldn't have believed her anyway - not over their friend, who hated freaks and treated women like real men did. Disgusting "She was very drunk and she got out of the car before I could turn the engine back on and get the hell out of that situation: I had to run after her"

"If you killed him to defend yourselves, why didn't you come to me? Edward, you could have pleaded self-defence" instead of going to Penguin for help to hide the body - that could be the only reason why edward had sought the other man out. 

"I stabbed him-"

Jim nervously paced up to the other man - maybe... maybe the truth was better than Oswald had implied "That would only have definitely convinced the jury: you could have used a knife only if he had been physically assaulting you, since it's a short-range weapon"

Edward shook his head "You didn't let me finish" he was going to shatter what little hope he could see in the other's eyes - he hated it "I stabbed him eleven times as Kristen held him still" he swallowed "Considering where I was stabbing him, I'm fairly sure he was incapacitated and unable to hurt us further after the second stab - already dead after the fourth"

"Why did you keep going?"

"I liked it"

Jim abruptly turned around, not knowing what to say or do "It's nothing like what I do to keep Gotham safe" he stated in the end, remembering Oswald's words 

"Isn't it?"

"I don't kill for pleasure"

"You kill innocents, though" only that those hunts were sanctioned by the government and therefore nobody dared to point their finger at Jim and accuse him of doing something wrong "You know that most of them are just scared; that they act out because of fear; that they turn to crime because society has cut them off"

"Most of them can't be contained safely either"

"I know" Edward shrugged "It doesn't change what you do" or what he had done in the army. At least Edward had killed someone who had been a real danger - someone who hadn't deserved to live "What now?"

"I don't know"

"Are you going to the police?"

"With what proof?"

"I confessed"

Jim showed Edward his empty hands "I didn't record you and even if anyone at the GCPD decided to follow up on my claim, I'm sure that Oswald has thoroughly gotten rid of the body"

Edward thought about the badge he had wanted to keep as a memento - how both Kristen and Penguin had gotten angry with him and had lectured him for a solid hour about the dangers of collecting keepsakes.

He really should have been more grateful back then.

"What about us?"

Jim shrugged.

"I need a more articulate answer than that"

"I don't have one"

Edward detatched himself from the door and tentatively walked up to the other man "Are you breaking up with me?"

"I don't know"

"How can you not know?!"

"BECAUSE I LOVE YOU!"

"I love you too"

Jim looked at Edward with eyes brimming with grief "I don't know if it's going to be enough" he admitted, squashing down the need to reach out and kiss the other man - to reassure that everything would be okay even if it was a lie "I'm sorry"

Edward slumped on the chair as he watched Jim turn the key he had left in the lock and leave, taking his heart and his lungs with him - all he had left was a gaping hole that he was afraid would end up consuming him, eating away at what was left of him.

Heartbreak was a parasite he wasn't going to survive. 

Chapter Text

Query and Echo

"Let's go out"

Edward arched his eyebrow down at the documents stacked high against his knees and emphatically pointed at them with his pencil "Busy"

"I'm not blind"

"You technically are"

"No, not with my contacts on" unapologetic, Kristen pushed Edward's feet off of the settee "Those aren't for work: those are your hypothetical plans to rob the museum"

"Still busy" Edward sniffed but his concentration was broken and his eyes were roving over meaningless lines of painstakingly curated notes.

"Busy crying over your ex boyfriend, you mean"

Edward scowled up at Kristen, raising one finger "First, I'm not crying" not in that moment, at least; the first few nights had been... hard - he had gotten used to sleeping next to the other man, basking in the warmth that radiated from his skin "Second, he's not an ex - not officially" he added, raising a second finger.

Kristen's raised eyebrow didn't need to be accompanied by any words in order to convey what exactly she thought of Edward's last statement "How long has it been since you and Jim talked?"

He swallowed "Since the fight"

"I don't want to be brutal but-"

"Don't be, then" Edward blurted out, stopping her from finishing the sentence "Just... don't" he didn't like how his voice took a pleading tone but... he just couldn't bear thinking about it - about Jim being truly done with him. If only Oswald had kept that big mouth of his shut; Edward didn't really care that, in his defence, the other man had wanted to help him out so that he would stop agonizing about the precarious state of their relationship.

At least he still had had a relationship to complain about.

"Okay" Kristen murmured, caressing the other's thigh "We don't have to talk: let's go and have a couple of drinks" she slid closer to her friend, sliding her arm across his shoulders and drew him close to her side to offer him some comfort "Please?"

Edward knew that Kristen was more than capable of defending herself now - they both were: Oswald had put them through a rather intense self-defence course and he himself had taught them how to properly fire a gun - Kristen's aim was perfect.

His own? Not so much, he was going to stick to using blades even if that meant having to get a little too close to whoever was looking forward to harming him - admittedly, not so many people since he had become the mayor's Chief of Staff but that only meant that those few who did try to hurt him, they were far more dangerous than the bullies he had encountered throughout his life.

The thought wasn't enough to diminish the thrill of a fight - of getting away victorious.

Kristen was far more careful and pragmatic than he would ever be - still, he didn't really like the idea of her going clubbing alone; he might not have been particularly intimidating but having company of the male variety would still help to ward off the worst of the nuisances "Fine. Fine, where are we going?"

"Pandora's Box" Kristen grinned "You'll need an alias"


"You said you're a regular here?" Edward asked, a little dumbfounded as he looked around the club without trying to stare at the people dressed up in all kinds of interesting attires - he had never seen so much leather, harnesses, latex and fishnets outside of the raciest porn movies he had dared to watch before establishing that no, the BDSM scene wasn't exactly for him. 

He honestly hadn't expected it to be Kristen's either.

He hadn't even suspected she owned killer stilettos that high nor a red lipstick that bright.

Edward had to put all of his focus into restraining himself from bombarding her with questions, ignoring the burning need to know everything and avoid embarassing her in a place where she probably had friends around - one didn't become a regular to a club without getting at least familiar with someone, right?

He wouldn't know: he didn't exactly have much experience in socializing. 

Kristen hummed as she led her friend to the bar "What do you want to drink?"

"Whatever's good?"

"Everything is good here" the barmaid commented, sniffing a little "Who's your friend, Deidre?"

"Patrick" Kristen immediately answered before Edward could flounder over hearing her alias for the first time; nobody went by their real names at Pandora's Box and it was a tacit rule that even if someone recognizable stepped into the club, mention of their presence was never made outside of its premises - after getting employed by Oswald and ending up on the regular on the newspapers, that particular rule was what had attracted Kristen to the club: she knew that whatever she did there, it would never put the mayor in an embarrassing situation "And he'll have a Grasshopper"

"A lightweight, isn't he?"

He might have been but Edward wasn't going to let the other woman mock him for it "He also doesn't appreciate being talked about as if he wasn't in the room"

"Oh, he speaks!"

Kristen rolled her eyes and took the drink handed to her "Nina, be nice. Please"

"As you wish, my dearest" the barmaid leaned over the counter and offered the other man a hand "Nina Damfino, an absolute pleasure to finally meet you?"

"Finally?"

"Oh, Deidre. You're so naughty"

"There hasn't been a good moment to tell him about it, believe me"

"Tell me what?"

Nina grinned, sharp and amused "I'm Deidre's girlfriend"

Edward blinked, his hand still in the other's grip "You know what? I'll take a whiskey. Neat" he said in the end before he turned towards Kristen "And you are going to tell me everything"

All in all, it could have gone worse.


It couldn't have gone worse.

"Ed, my tongue is going to dry out and fall if I have to answer to another question" Kristen hissed, slumping against the plush seat of the booth; it had been nice sitting down with Edward and sharing with him one of the best things that had happened to her in the past months, rather than talking about work, but she was quite done with the interrogation.

Edward raised his hands in a placating manner and followed her suit, finally relaxing too "I can't believe you didn't tell me sooner about her - you didn't think I would freak out just because she's a woman, right?"

"If you had, you would have been an hypocritical ass and I would have punched you in the face until your brain switched gears"

"Good, good"

He still looked at her rather expectantly.

Kristen shrugged "The election has been hectic and then you and Jim started having problems... it didn't feel right to tell you I am having sex on the regular"

"That's bullshit" Edward took Kristen's hands in his and squeezed them "No matter whether I'm going through a rough patch or not, I want to know about your life. Alright? I'm your friend, Kris"

"Thank you"

He shook his head "I should be thanking you: knowing you're doing good has really cheered me up" knowing that Kristen was happy and that her life was going well, after what she in particular had gone through with Daugherty... it filled Edward with relief "So, do I get to actually get to know her or are you too embarrassed of me?"

"Don't even joke about that!" Since they had become close, she had never been embarrassed of being able to call him a friend "Her shift is over in ten, actually" she informed him, cautiously hopeful that he would take up the chance now rather than schedule a meeting at a later time.

"Great. I'll treat you both to some food" obviously, it wasn't just courtesy on his part: he had all intentions of grilling this Nina Damfino - if it even was her real name - and make sure that she was deserving of Kristen "Are there any good restaurants around here?"


Kristen has a girlfriend.  EN

A biker girlfriend.  EN

She's nice.  EN

You would like her.  EN

Answer me. EN

Jim. EN

Please.  EN

I miss you.  EN

Chapter Text

A Helping Hand

Edward sighed heavily as he walked out of city hall, one hand curled up against his temple and eyes glaring down at the steps that reverberated the sunlight directly into his glasses and temporarily blinded him.

Sunlight.

In Gotham.

What a travesty.

To add insult to injury, he had been locked up in his office with a bunch of dumbasses who clearly hadn't read the materials that had been forwarded to them prior to the meeting and had spent two whole hours asking him rather asinine questions.

Edward was about done with that day and it barely was lunchtime.

He couldn't be blamed for not noticing the men lurking by a van parked right in front of the car that Oswald had put to his disposal, nor could he be blamed for not readily defending himself when he was holding rather important documents in his bag - no matter that it was the first thing his kidnappers took away from him, quickly followed by his glasses and his mobile phone.

What.

A.

Joy.

Frustrated, Edward kicked the wall of the van, nerves stretched thin by the shitty driving - he didn't really know in what part of the city he was in that moment, but either Oswald was going to do something about the condition of the city's roads or Edward was taking the matter in his own hands - and the refusal of his kidnappers to answer his... well, demands to know who the fuck they were, whether they knew who they were dealing with and what intentions they had.

His ankle was starting to ache because of all the kicks he had delivered to his moving prison - he couldn't even throw those right, apparently: he would have to tell Oswald that all of his self-defence classes hadn't yielded any concrete results - and he hadn't gotten any information in exchange.

Except for a gun carelessly pointed at him from between the two front seats that had delivered one loud message: whoever they were, they weren't playing games.

They had probably hoped that it would shut him up but Edward could be a reckless and relentless bastard when he wanted to - it was what made him an efficient Chief of Staff - and the kidnappers had picked him up on a rather bad day, his foul mood a result of long and bad weeks: Edward wasn't going to hold his tongue just because he had been threatened with a gun.

No, he was going to scream his head off until they hopefully decided to rough him up and Edward could show them just how stupid they had been when they had forgotten to pat him down, missing the sharp knife tucked close to his belly under his shirt, and had deemed him harmless enough to avoid tying up his hands: he might have seemed rather harmless but he had killed a man and Edward wouldn't hesitate to do it again.

On the contrary, he really could have used some bloodshed to unwind.


"Is it true?!"

Oswald raised his eyes from the latest police report regarding the disappearance of his Chief of Staff that had landed on his desk - another sheet of paper full of empty and useless words that had already been typed before, just rearranged into slightly different combinations to make the information seem fresher than it was "Yes. Yes, it is" there was no use in running in circles around the issue.

"Why didn't he have any security with him?" Jim barked as he stalked up to the other man; slamming his hands down on the surface of the desk wouldn't produce any useful results - on the contrary, it just was more likely to annoy Oswald and make the other man stubbornly clam up - but the immediate burning of his palms felt good "Why didn't you let me know?"

Oswald sniffed, leaning back a little - just enough to momentarily put himself out of the other's reach "I didn't honestly think you'd want to know, since you haven't been texting him back"

The barbed answer hurt; it got stuck in his heart and left behind a mess of torn flesh and warm blood - he fully deserved it but it didn't mean Jim was going to admit it in front of Oswald; the man probably was already smug enough about the wedge he had managed to drive between the two of them "That's none of your business"

"He's my friend"

"If you care so much about him, let me help then"

There was no need for the other man to say that despite having been fired, he still was ten times the detective his former colleagues were. Oswald pushed the various reports - official and not - towards Jim "He was taken by two men wearing masks right out of City Hall"

"Any controversial bills going on?" It would only make sense for Edward to have been abducted because of some law they were trying to pass - otherwise, Edward didn't have any enemies of his own.

Not so vicious anyway.

Or maybe he had and Jim didn't know - after discovering that Edward had killed a man, Jim wouldn't have been surprised if his... if Edward had any more secrets.

Oswald fished a copy of Edward's schedule of the past week "Not really - unless there's a bunch of rich Gothamites with their panties in a twist about giving as many children as possible the opportunity of going to school" Oswald had lived it on his own skin, the difficult choice of having to drop out in order to help his mother keep a roof on their heads - it obviously had meant turning to a life of crime.

"You know there are"

Oswald shrugged "To the point of getting an elected official kidnapped off of the streets?"

"Maybe"

"I won't get into detail, but the impact on the complaining rich assholes will be minimal"

Jim arched an eyebrow "I believe you, I'm not against this. I'm trying to understand if you remember anyone being particularly vocal against this law - it might give us a lead"

"Honestly? No"

Jim pursed his lips; he couldn't not believe the other man since protecting Edward's potential kidnappers was only going to damage himself "Anything else, then?"

"Jim, he hasn't been the most open with me-"

"You ruined our relationship, Oswald!"

"I was helping!"

"How did that help?!"

Oswald shook his head and rapped his knuckles against the surface of his desk, needing to hit something but not quite willing to lose control in front of the other man "He was constantly agonising about having lied to you and I thought you would understand"

"He said he liked it"

"So? Do you love him any less?"

Jim had been tormenting himself with that question, wondering over and over about an answer that his brain refused to produce - or better, one that his brain refused to accept. He gathered all the documents strewn on Oswald's desk, holding them close to his chest like the anchor they were "I'll find him"

Oswald nodded "Think about what I asked you, old friend"

The door closed behind Jim's back with a low but firm thud.

Is the trail in place? OC

Yes, sir. [Blocked number]

Good. OC


Hadn't he been used to the general ineptitude of the majority of Gotham's criminals, Jim would have been surprised by the fact that Edward had been so easy to find and that only a couple of men had been standing guard - presumably the same two individuals who had kidnapped him and that was the justification he was going to use if anyone asked him whether it really had been necessary to rough them up so badly. 

He wasn't surprised either by the fact that the door was locked behind his back as soon as he had knelt by Edward's side to make sure that the man was alright, worried at the sight of his bound wrists and rather rumpled appearance: Gotham's criminals had always loved to throw shit at him and make his life as complicated as humanly possible. 

"Fuck"

"We're trapped"

"Thank you for stating the obvious, Ed"

Edward scowled and shrunk against the wall; he hadn't heard from Jim in weeks and Jim talked to him like that - the fleeting moment of worry and tenderness had dissipated together with their chances of escape "You didn't have to come, you know?"

"Of course I had to"

"No, you didn't"

Jim leaned in closer, unapologetically forcing himself into the other's personal space "Don't be daft"

Edward bristled "Don't send mixed signals, then"

"I'm not!"

Was the other man for real? "You have ghosted me for weeks, then you come running like knight in shining armour - what am I supposed to think, Jim?" He knew that they both were awkward with feelings but surely Jim could see how he wasn't making any sense, right? Either the man still loved him or he didn't - and Edward needed to hear the words: he couldn't let himself hope, it would hurt too much. 

It still did.

He missed Jim more than he would ever thought physically possible to miss anyone; he missed the little and insignificant things, the way they fit so nicely when they curled up together and how they knew by heart the way they respectively took their coffee.

He missed the companionship - the knowledge that he would always have his partner to turn to. 

Edward looked up into Jim's eyes, well aware that he wouldn't be able to divine an answer in his irises but trying to anyway: he needed an answer - clear-cut and sharp and no muddling around the edges. 

Jim didn't have one "I have texted Oswald our location" he said instead, averting his eyes to avoid seeing the torn expression on the other's face. 

He definitely hadn't been expecting the other man to kiss him hard, the edge of his glasses digging into his cheekbone rather painfully; Jim didn't push him away, though: he just reached out to steady the younger man, knowing that his bound hands must have been making things rather difficult for him, and followed Edward's example, easily deepening the kiss.

It felt familiar. 

It felt like home.

Edward tasted like blood - he must have accidentally hurt himself, because there weren't any signs that he had received a blow to the face - and coffee so bitter to be decidedly unpleasant. Despite that, Jim wasn't going to break the kiss any time soon; not until their lungs were burning and their lips were bruised and swollen. 

The younger man moaned, almost in agreement - as if he had been able to read Jim's mind.

Though, reading his body was infinitely easier. 

Edward retreated with a gasp as he twisted his hands as much as he could, knotting his fingers into the other's t-shirt to keep him close and stop him from leaving - much to his satisfaction, Jim ducked his head low and attacked his neck: Jim was going to bruise him way more than the kidnappers had dared to. 

He couldn't deny that his insides twisted with satisfaction at the idea of having those marks to slowly cherish as they faded and as they hopefully started to mend things. 

Because they would, right?

Otherwise Jim wouldn't be kissing him - not with that burning passion and that neediness at least; it must have meant that the man still had feelings for him: confused, most probably, but Edward could work with that. As long as there still were embers to breathe life back into, Edward could try to remind Jim of how good they had been for one another; how supportive and well-balanced their relationship had been; how many more things they still had to experience as a couple.

Suddenly, Edward regretted having wasted so much time taking things slow - even if he knew that it had been the best course of action for them both.

He shoved the thought down, not willing to waste more time, and kissed Jim until Oswald's men broke the door down.

Things would be okay.