"It's okay, Edward," Oswald says as Edward slumps down onto the coffee table in front of the sofa. He places a small hand on his back. "It's okay."
"No," Edward replies. "It is decidedly NOT okay. Not at all. This shouldn't have happened."
"Can you leave us?" Oswald asks William.
"Sure," he answers and motions for two of his men to come over and remove the body from the white wicker sofa.
"Wait. What are you doing?" Edward asks, alarmed.
"She's gone, now, Edward," William says. "I just laid her out so that you could see her before we bury her. So that you would understand."
Edwards eyes narrow. "Understand what?"
William doesn't answer him directly. Instead he says, "I've changed my mind. I'll leave her here until you've had time to say a proper goodbye."
William gives Oswald a look, which is returned with a nod.
"Excellent idea. Thank you," Oswald says.
After William and his men have vacated the pool house, Edward turns to Oswald and demands, "What the hell is going on here?"
Jeremiah Valeska had thrown down the gauntlet. In the form of a dead body.
It's all so senseless.
William had already started assembling his troops and laying out his strategy with Oswald. The top men in his Scarab Army are currently standing by, awaiting his orders.
The Pharaoh and The Joker are going to war. Imminently.
And that's why Edward had been called - not to say goodbye to Query - but to help William and Oswald plan their strategy.
William should have been less cryptic. Edward had responsibilities down in The South. Now he'd have to get in touch with Lee or Leslie and see if they wouldn't mind handling rehearsals in his absence - even though he really didn't want to engage with them right now.
Sighing, he decides to put off the call he needs to make and instead walks to the window in his bedroom and stares out at the pool house. He had told Oswald he needed a minute before joining them - and it's true. He needs time to think about what to do next.
Query shouldn't be dead. Well . . . at least not again. Something about all of this business is unnatural and he shivers, despite the warmth of the house.
Edward finds himself effectively "wall creeping" down the hallway like Little Eddie used to do with Leslie and spies Oswald and William. They are having a heated debate over how to handle a particular strategic maneuver in the dining room turned war room, complete with a huge map of Gotham spread over the table.
Watching them, Edward notices that something is very different about his friend - and even William. It's subtle and he can't quite put a name to it, but their passionate argument definitely has undertones of something else . . . something stilted and not necessarily pretty.
It's obvious they're going to be occupied for a while so Edward continues on his mission. He heads to the kitchen to grab the buttermilk he knew would be there now that William has moved in. He also grabs a bowl and puts both into his oversized backpack.
He sneaks back down the hallway to William's room - which is easy to spot - he has two Anubis guards standing watch on either side of the door.
"Hey, uh . . . guys?" His query is met with silence. "Uh . . . yeah. The Pharaoh wanted me to to get something from his room."
"Uh. . . for a ceremony."
They don't even move. Hmm.
Tentatively, Edward reaches forward and places a hand on the doorknob.
Not a peep.
He lets himself in without incident.
After he shuts the door to William's bedroom behind him, he leans against it for a moment and shivers again. But why? Is it because those guards out there are the embodiment of Anubis, the ancient god of embalming? Or is it the fact that they live very close to death themselves?
And what exactly does that say about William that he chooses to be guarded by those who straddle the living and the dead?
Or him? Ironically, Edward's in here looking for embalming materials himself - to raise the dead.
Which he easily spots. There's a huge chest adorned with bodies in various stages of mummification - it's almost as if it's decorated with a step by step how-to guide. He finds the gauze in there.
But his backpack is only so large - how much gauze will he actually need? Hmm.
Edward does a quick calculation based upon what he remembers of Query's size and the fact that she likely won't need to be wrapped in more than one layer of gauze. Except for a small leftover patch to maintain thrall, the gauze is only meant to be temporary. A way to connect the dead body with its living soul and bind it in with buttermilk.
Now, where is that magical flute?
Edward searches a dark corner of William's room that is adorned with many hieroglyphs of -
"Aaagh!" Something fierce jumps out at him.
"That's not a cat!" he screeches.
The Anubis guards finally break their silence as Edward flees from the room.
"Goddamn panther . . . or whatever that was," Edward grumbles to himself. "No matter, I remember the notes - I can hum them. Not sure the flute is that important anyway . . . just ancient mumbo jumbo"
Edward leaves for the pool house with his bag of goodies, hoping that William's men had left Query's body there. And they have.
He sets down his bag and unshrouds her.
She really does look worse for wear - crumbling purplish skin, black blood pooled beneath her fingernails . . . She just looks so . . . fragile.
"Remind me never to die twice," Edward says to himself.
The chipper greeting of a silver tabby cat that had found its way into the pool house almost causes him to jump out of his skin. Since when has Oswald kept cats on the estate?
"Hope you're not one of The Pharaoh's eyes," Edward says.
Immediately the cat lifts a leg and begins licking his balls.
"Yeah, I'm guessing not."
Edward begins to remove various items from his bag. He's got everything he needs for a resurrection except for that flute - but he's fairly certain he won't need it.
Once Edward has Query all wrapped in gauze and buttermilk - that was a stinky job - he accesses the tones that he has programmed into his handheld device. He had memorized the scale that William had played on his flute that evening in his basement back in Beachview, so he had easily been able to program in just the right sequence of five notes to wake Query once more.
He presses the button and waits.
The first note plays. . .
Query's eyes spring open.
They are the same beautiful violet shade that they had been before. Yes! So far it's working without a hitch.
Edward turns to see that annoying little tabby cat standing right behind him, staring at him.
"Shh," he chastises him, worried that loud meowing might interfere with the tones Query needs to come back to life.
The next thing he knows, William bursts into the pool house.
"What are you doing?" he asks, alarmed.
"Raising Query from the dead," Edward says matter-of-factly. "Something YOU should be doing."
"Turn that thing off."
"What thing?" Edward feigns innocence.
The cat has run over to William and begins weaving in and out through his legs. As William walks forward it's as if the two of them have choreographed this little dance. Neither of them step on the other or impede each other in any way.
Once William stops besides Edward, he bends down and picks up the tabby and lovingly cuddles it, stirring up the purrs. "Hey there, Rex."
"Rex?" Ed asks in astonishment. "You named your cat after yourself?"
"Rex, Pharaoh, King . . . I'm comfortable sharing the title."
"At least he's not one of your eyes."
"Actually, he is."
Edward shakes his head as if clearing water from his ears. "Did I hear that right? You have a pet zombie cat?"
William chuckles deeply and Rex's purring grows even louder as if he wants to be heard over it.
"Yeah, okay," Edward says. "Now, I've heard everything."
"Excuse me?" Edward realizes that he had stopped playing the notes at some point, but has no memory of it. Must have been the power of William's 'suggestion' or rather 'command.' Edward wishes he had The Pharaoh's formidable people skills. Sometimes.
William points at the device in his hands. "Keep playing the notes."
"But didn't you say -?"
"Yes, we shouldn't. It's taboo. But I, too, am a scholar like you and I am curious about what will actually happen, unnatural though it may be."
"I think raising the dead in the first place might be considered a bit unnatural."
William laughs again. "Then it's doubly so to do it twice, don't you think?"
Edward shakes his head and presses a button to resume the tones. "It's your funeral."
Query's resurrection continues, following the same pattern as before, starting on the third note. She's already breathing by then, so Edward hurriedly removes the bandages from around her mouth. He must not have noticed that she had begun to do so - William had interrupted him just as the second note had started to play.
With the third note, her extremities start to twitch . . .
As the fourth note plays she pushes herself up . . .
But then the fifth note plays . . .
Edward is in hysterics, laughing like a madman and clapping his hands together in delight.
"What kind of a sick creature are you?" William asks, his brows coming together as he watches Edward double over in stitches. "She's in thrall to you. Help her!"
Edward comes up for air to say, "No can do, buddy. This is too good!"
"Let me put her out of her misery then," William says and takes the woman into his arms. She's incoherent, speaking in tongues, and trying on a different personality each second.
William lays her on the floor and steps back. It turns out that Rex is also a panther.
"I thought you cared for that woman?"
William's booming voice from across the table irritates Edward as he's trying to think. All three of them are in the war room.
"You went out of your way to resurrect her," William continues. "Why would you -?"
"Because she's the key to everything," Edward snaps. "Oswald!"
"Yes, Edward?" his best friend replies, not more than three feet away from him. "You don't have to yell, you know."
"Okay, I need -"
"All the materials for your puzzle boxes, I know," Oswald impatiently interrupts him, rolling his eyes. "You don't need to ask again. I got everything you requested the last time we spoke - for The Riddle Factory - because you told me you wanted to change things up the next time you're in town. But William and I are talking WAR here. Against Jeremiah. Do you remember that? Or has Query's resurrection rattled your brain?"
"My brain is fine," Edward answers quickly, dismissing Oswald's concerns. "And I AM talking about war. Our first battle actually. Query has shown me the path to defeating Jeremiah - or at least how to start. The rest will be up to you two."
"Oh, do tell." Oswald says, getting a conspiratorial look in his eyes.
William puts his fists on the table and leans in, ready to listen. Edward sees Oswald notice his rippling forearms. It's just a glance, but still . . . Oswald gulps.
"I need all my puzzle boxes completely assembled per my specifications except for one - the purple one," Edward says. "Please deliver it, its parts, and any remaining unused pieces from the other boxes to my room. It's time to make our move against Strange . . . and Tabby."
Oswald's eyes glow.
"Hopefully this first strike will wipe out most of Jeremiah's mutant army." Edward turns to William and asks, "We still know where they are, right?"
"They haven't relocated," William confirms. Damn, his 'eyes' really do come in handy sometimes.
"Good," Edward says and nods. "Then let's get started."
As Edward assembles the purple life-sized puzzle box in his room, Oswald flits around, trying to distract him but not succeeding. Edward does a fine job of ignoring him until the phone rings and his head briefly pops up from his work.
"Let me guess. You're expecting me to get that, aren't you?" Oswald asks as the phone continues to ring.
His sarcasm is lost on Edward. "Of course, I'm working."
"Why do I even bother with a staff, when I can have the privilege of waiting on you myself?" Oswald says. He moves past Edward to get to the phone.
"Thank you, Oswald."
"The Van Dahl Estate, Mr. Nygma's room. What do you want?" Oswald listens for a second and then turns back to Edward. "It's the old ball and chain."
Edward has gone back to the puzzle box and doesn't respond.
"Edward, are you here?" Oswald asks, exasperated.
"Fine." Oswald turns back to the phone. "Yeah, Lee, he doesn't want to speak with you."
"Oh, but do be a gent and ask her about the play for me," Edward says with a smile, taking another brief break from the box.
"Fine," Oswald says grumpily. "But you should be the one talking to her."
"Nope." Edward ducks his head back into the box. End of discussion.
"Yeah, Lee. About that Satanic play -"
Edward growls from inside the box, "It's not Satanic, Oswald!"
"Yes, he's been here with me the whole time. No worries. I mean, where else would he have gone?" Oswald laughs and then says, "Now about that play of Edward's . . ."
Edward pops his back out of the box once more to remind his friend, "Not the Satanic one."
Oswald just waves him away. "Ed's not going to be back down there for a while, so he was wondering -"
Edward can hear how upset Lee sounds on the other line. Best not to think about it - he goes back into the box.
"I need him here. With ME," Oswald says firmly. "You don't have a monopoly on his time -"
It goes silent for a bit.
"I understand he has responsibilities down there but I can't put an exact time on how long I'll need him. So, never mind that." Oswald changes the subject. "Now, about this play - this non-Satanic play as somehow Edward insists it is, even though your little girl is only playing the Prince of Hell herself - he wants to know -"
"It's called Paradise Lost, Oswald," Edward growls from inside the box.
After a moment of silence, Oswald speaks again. "Okay, Edward, she'll cover for you. Anything else?"
"Goodbye, Lee," Oswald says and unceremoniously hangs up the phone. "Well, that's done."
"Thank you, Oswald."
"Is everything okay with you guys?" Oswald asks.
"Just peachy." Edward says in a clipped manner.
"Are you and Lee still -"
"We're fine," Edward says. "What ever gave you the impression that we weren't?"
The puzzle boxes are complete - including the special one - and Martin is hovering around the three men in the dining room-turned-war room as they continue to debate the best course of action for their strike against Strange’s facility - and ultimately Jeremiah. The young boy is holding some of Dini’s mail in his hands.
“Look, we need to follow MY plan. I’m the brains of this operation,” Edward insists.
William straightens up, crosses his arms, and challenges that statement with his piercing gaze.
Edward puts up a hand and corrects himself. “The brains of this part of the operation. I concede that you’ll be in charge of our strategy moving forward, William.”
The imposing man nods and relaxes his stance.
“What about me?” Oswald protests.
“Uh . . . You’re not the brains of this operation. . ?” William chuckles at Edward’s unintentionally blunt reply to Oswald, but then he tries to soften the blow.
“We’re not implying that you’re not smart, Ozzie. It’s just that we think you should let us handle this part.”
“Don’t you dare ‘Ozzie’ me!” Oswald says, shaking a finger at William. Edward is perplexed as to why William’s use of the nickname reserved solely for him should suddenly be a cause for anger. “We’re business partners.”
Edward senses a shift between the two men as they lock eyes and breathe heavily into the tense silence between them - and he’s fairly certain that the term “business partners” is loaded - just like it had been between him and Oswald.
But then Oswald straightens himself out - he always gets his feathers a bit ruffled from his own outbursts - and once he has a lid on his emotions, he turns to his best friend and says, “Edward, it has to be you.”
Oh please, not this again. Edward sighs.
Before he can even protest, Oswald presses something into his palm. It’s a small remote with a seemingly innocuous name printed on its label. But it’s not.
“It has to be you,” Oswald says again with emphasis.
Please don’t ask this of me! every bone in Edward’s body screams, yet he remains silent.
“For my mother,” Oswald says and the tortured look on his face makes Edward want to cry himself.
“Fine. I’ll do it,” Edward whispers. “For you, Oswald.”
After William and Edward have agreed upon the best entry point into Ace Chemicals - Jeremiah had been foolish enough not to move his operation from the facility that he had left Edward the plans for - Edward finally notices that Martin keeps tugging on his father’s tails.
“WHAT is it, dear boy?” Oswald finally asks, exasperated.
The boy, undaunted by his father’s outburst just calmly lifts up a piece of Dini’s mail.
“Poopdeque” it reads at the top of the page.
Below that are a myriad of drawings, including a building that is probably meant to represent Deque Discovery in BioTech Bay. It’s an utter mess. How could even a bright 8-year-old boy like Martin make out what Dini is trying to convey?
“What do you want to know about poopdeque, Martin?”
Oswald bends down to his son and then turns back to Edward, beaming. “My brilliant son wants to know why Poopdeque isn’t distributed here in Gotham. He thinks it would be a natural money maker, and so do I.”
“Well, from what I have come to understand, Poopdeque isn’t stable up here. One of the main theories is that it needs the salt air to maintain its potency - that somehow it degrades without it. It’s postulated that there’s something about the lattice structure -”
“Blah blah blah. Insert scientific mumbo jumbo here,” Oswald says impatiently, interrupting him.
Edward looks over at William and they share a grin. There must have been countless times that concepts flowing from the professor’s overly educated mind had also fallen on deaf ears and been dismissed outright by the ignorant. He hates to think of his best friend that way, but Oswald is no scientist - nor is he versed in history. Nor does he care to be.
As he gets ready for bed, Edward can’t help but think about Dini and the mail that she had asked him to bring up here for Martin. The boy had been going through it all day - over and over. He seemed to spend the same amount of time with each piece - including her nuclear family drawing, as if it wasn’t anything special. But it was the piece that stuck out the most in Edward’s mind.
“Why are you so enamored by the idea of a nuclear family, Dini? Families can have just one parent.”
“Yes, but I’ve always craved two. Even when I was still with my mom.”
“So they can temper each other.”
“‘Temper each other?’ That’s another big word you’ve learned there, kiddo.”
She proudly smiles a grin full of teeth. “It means to balance each other out. Like if I had a father and my mom started drinking too much one night, he could get her to stop.”
“I’m sorry to say this kiddo, but that’s not the way that works.”
Edward thinks about The Doc and wishes he could have found the key that would get her to stop drinking. He hadn’t been able to solve that particular puzzle and now he’s not even sure she’s even coming back. He may never have the chance to try again.
Sitting down on his bed, he runs his hands through his hair in despair. He can’t seem to put Lee back together again either. Humpty dumpty is real. He feels like the most useless of all the king’s men.
“Oh hey there, Rex,” Edward says and the friendly cat jumps up onto his bed. He’s in his more innocuous form - the silver tabby.
Edward scratches him under the chin and he purrs before pulling his head away at a noise out in the hallway that only he can hear. When he turns back to Edward, Rex gives him a little side bump to his arm in parting and then jumps off the bed before scampering out into the hallway.
When Edward gets up to shut the door behind him, he notices that no one had been out there except for Oswald, who’d just shut the door behind himself, complete in his robe, his father’s stocking cap, and his portable night light shaped like a candle set in a golden holder. Edward smiles, thinking about how Oswald’s always seemed to fashion himself like someone from a bygone era - similar to the one Dini seems to be overly fond of. No wonder they get along so well.
Impatiently, Edward knocks on Oswald’s door the next morning. They’re running late.
Where’s William? He can’t be asleep, too, can he? There's no sign of him in the hallway.
There’s a groan of assent that comes from Oswald’s room that almost sounds like, “Come in.”
Edward pushes open the door and finds Oswald tangled up with . . .
. . . a panther.
His heart skips a beat. Is he okay?
Apparently so. He snuggles deeper into the cat, and the cat - Rex to be precise - licks his forehead. Oswald purrs like a kitten.
“Wha -?” Oswald almost knocks off his sleeping cap as he disentangles himself from the cat and starts to sit up.
Rex is now a tabby. Blink and you’d miss it. Edward had.
“Now that . . . is freaky,” Edward muses.
“What?” Oswald asks.
Rex meows innocently.
“Hey there,” Oswald says and takes Rex into his arms once again.
Suddenly, William is at the door of Oswald’s bedroom dressed in nothing more than an oddly fashioned white linen robe, so thin that it’s practically see-through - and it’s quite apparent that he’s not wearing anything underneath it. Oswald’s definitely not the only one who slumbers in a different era.
“Hey, William,” Edward greets him before Oswald can. He asks almost casually, “Say, isn’t Rex one of your eyes?”
Oswald’s mouth pops open and he turns bright red as it dons on him what Edward is implying. He and William exchange almost uncomfortable looks. But then Oswald closes his mouth and snaps at his best friend, “Don’t overthink it, Edward.”
“It’s as innocent as it appears to be,” Oswald says, chin up, defending William.
It doesn’t appear to be innocent at all. Edward gives William a look. William’s averted gaze and nervous shuffling tells him all he needs to know.
“Let’s going guys. We’ve got a mutant army to annihilate,” Edward says crisply and walks away.
"What's the big deal? So what if I didn't assume that he could feel me through that sweet innocent cat?" Oswald says. "I like sleeping with Rex. He's comforting."
He and Edward are eating a quick breakfast as William is preparing himself for battle, full makeup and all.
"Oswald, he cuddled you without consent!" Edward protests.
Oswald just chuckles. "Yeah, I'd like to see that hold up in court."
"I know, friend," Oswald reaches out to pat his hand. "Thanks for looking out for me, but I can handle myself around William."
"Sometimes I really don't like him," Edward growls.
"I know." Oswald sighs.
"He takes liberties."
Oswald doesn't respond, just delicately munches on some toast.
"Those are PEOPLE he's going to sacrifice today, Oswald."
"No, Edward, they're corpses."
"No!" Edward leans forward and points a finger at Oswald. "William's Scarab Army is full of people. He restores their souls and then binds them to himself."
"At least he's giving them a second chance at life."
"He's using them."
"Edward," Oswald says, trying to be patient. "How many times have I used someone to get what I want, to turn a situation to my advantage?"
"Countless times. Why?"
"Well as I've noticed, you don't judge me for that."
Actually . . .
"So, please don't pass judgement on William for it either. We're of the same ilk."
Unbelievable. Edward just shakes his head. This was something they'd never agree upon.
"Tell me something, Oswald. The truth."
"You're not planning to sell William down the river in exchange for using that remote that Jeremiah gave to us, are you?" Edward could never complety trust his best friend's loyalties. They seemed to change as quickly as his moods.
"Why not? It can't possibly be your budding friendship," Edward says bitterly.
Oswald chokes a bit on his poached eggs when Edward says 'friendship.'
"Your feelings for me never stopped you from betraying me."
Oswald replies in a clipped tone, "I find William to be more useful than Jeremiah. That is all."
Edward can't argue with that. Oswald is right. He is.
The driver drops Oswald off at a location a discrete and safe distance away from Ace Chemicals so they he can lie in wait until it is time for him to deliver the coup de grace. Oswald's already extending his spyglass to get the lay of the land before Edward is whisked away to the Sirens' territory.
It's a bit of a drive and Edward finds himself nodding off. . .
"What am I to you?"
She had been using him - he just knows it.
"I was offering you something real."
Instead of the knife to gut that he had been expecting she slaps him. Hard.
Her knife clatters to the floor with the force of her hand. Her breasts heave between the deep cut of her royal blue blouse as his cheek stings and pulses with the heat of the blood that rushes to the red handprint on his face.
He bows before her to pick it up.
"I'll take that."
The knife - no the spoon - is suddenly yanked out of his hands by his impatient mother before he can even rise.
His parents are arguing in the kitchen, his mother raising her hand with the wooden spoon in it - the one she would use to nudge him, just nudge him. She would never hit him. She would never -
But she has never had any qualms about using the spoon on his father.
Now a small oval mark is forming on the same cheek as his son's. They both reach out to touch each other's shame.
Little Edward bows his head.
"Da!" a slap to the face awakens him. It's from an incredibly small hand, so it doesn't hurt at all. He puts the tip of his index finger inside its tiny palm and pulls it forward to kiss all the little fingers on it. His daughter giggles in delight and the bun holding her incredible amount of hair slips to the side of her head, but thankfully doesn't unravel. Putting it all back up isn't always easy, given that she likes to grab at it and play with it - and she has more than two hands to contend with.
"Mo!" she shouts and proffers her three other hands for him to kiss. So many to choose from . . .
Wait? Did his daughter just say, "More?"
"'More?'" he asks her. "You want - ?"
"Mo!" she shouts once again and wiggles the fingers on three of her hands - the ones that he hasn't kissed yet.
"Well, I'll be damned." He whistles.
He's never heard her say anything before except 'Mmm' and 'Da' - her version of Mom and Dad.
She's not there. She must be getting something in the main house. Ugh, his leg really hurts. He hopes she can find something for that - and soon.
"Yes, 'Mmm.'" He smiles. "'Your ma is who I'm looking for but she's not here."
Suddenly three of her arms rise above him and there's a devious gleam in her eyes. Her fourth arm supports her in her attempt to push herself up from his chest to get even higher. Suddenly, all the fingers poised above him start to wiggle menacingly.
"Mo!" she screeches, and when he doesn't comply they all almost come down to smack his face, except -
He's lifted her off of his chest and now she's cooing and gurgling. And now here comes the slobber . . .
"Oh, ick! Kristen!" he says as a big drop of saliva lands on his face and he instinctively squeezes his eyes shut.
There's more giggling from the infant and threats of more slobber.
"Alright, alright. Back down here, baby," he says and brings her back down to his chest, wiping her slobber off his face.
He finds a part of his shirt - the collar to be exact - to wipe her mouth and chin with. It's difficult because he doesn't quite know when to stop because of her protruding tongue. It's always going to be wet.
"Now you're just lucky that I'm your father so you're allowed to drool on me. Anyone else . . ."
At that, she snuggles into him with all four of her little arms clutched onto his chest and promptly falls asleep. He drifts off too, the rhythm of her tiny little heart against his leading the way.
And then it was bursts . . .
"Aaahhh!" Edward breathes in with a gasp and finds himself in a car, its rhythm soothing enough to fall asleep to.
But instead, he's suddenly awake.
He leans forward and feels the tears on his eyes - yes, they are tears for his daughter. But he doesn't wipe them off - instead he folds his hands and makes an oath.
"Today isn't just about mommy and me, baby. Today is also for YOU. You will be avenged - I promise."
Edward has plans to ensure no other mutant will ever be created by Professor Strange. And the last known mutant of her kind will be wiped from this earth with the passing of her 'brother,' Cyrus. Hopefully, after he is gone, she too can be at peace.
"For you, Kristen," he whispers. "This is for you."
“You’re a psychopath and a murderer,” Jim had declared to Edward one day as he expressed his utter disbelief that Lee would actually choose to be with him. And when Jim had basically said the same thing to Lee earlier in regards to their budding partnership, she had flippantly replied that they all had their flaws.
Well, today they aren’t flaws. They’re advantages.
As Edward comes upon the purple puzzle box that William's people have placed inside Professor Strange’s private lab at the Ace Chemical facility, his heartbeat slows way down and his every sense focuses on that box, anticipating who is to find his way into it.
Tabby’s request for further instructions is barely discernible - it sounds as if her words have sludged through a deep swamp just to reach his ears. He waves her into position, then lies in wait for that tottering little professor with the ridiculous fringe of hair aspiring to be a beard to come sauntering by, stroking it, deep in thought.
And Professor Hugo Strange does not disappoint.
As curious - and stupid - as a cat, he locks himself inside of the hideously purple and green box without delay, ignorant of it’s aposematic signals - or disdainful of them. Such vibrant and contrasting coloring in nature often signals toxins.
“Oh my!” his soft muffled cry hits Edward’s ears without any interference. And unlike Tabby’s voice, it’s as clear as day. Oh my, indeed.
Edward allows himself just one smug grin - then he gets to work.
“Hello, Professor Strange,” Edward says through the slat he’d left open for communication with the victim inside his Box ‘O Toxins.
“Edward Nygma,” the professor replies with his strangely deliberate cadence.
“You do realize you’ve walked into a trap, right?”
“It would appear so.” Hugo Strange smiles smugly. “But knowing you, you’ve given me a way out.”
Edward just grins in return. The grin does not make it all the way to his eyes.
“I’m assuming you’d like me answer some riddles? Come come, dear Riddler, do you even know what variety is? Or are you destined to repeat the same patterns over and over?” Hugo strange shakes his head, mocking disappointment. “Forever destined to fail, are we?”
“Riddle me this -” Edward begins, then puts up a finger. “No, wait. Wrong crowd. It’s just you and me, Strange. There’s no riddle for you here.”
Edward presses a button and clamps from within the box hold Strange in place. A smaller one unbuttons his lab coat and pulls the top of his pants just a few inches down.
“What is the meaning of this!” Strange asks in alarm.
A purple Tygon tube housing a syringe with a long needle at the end of it inserts itself deep into his belly.
“You ever heard of a little something called Shiga toxin?”
“Of course. It causes hemorrhagic colitis in those who have eaten contaminated food and, in the unlucky, hemolytic-uremic syndrome.”
“Bloody diarrhea and kidney failure - all poop and no pee! Sounds like fun to me!” Edward laughs diabolically. “Let’s get started, shall we?”
“Started doing what?”
“Oh yeah, sorry, my bad,” Edward says, not sounding sorry at all. “See that tube right there?”
Strange looks down at his stomach.
“Well, the needle at the end of that tube has burrowed directly to your intestinal tract and is ready to pump you full of Shiga toxin.” Edward rubs his hands together in gleeful anticipation.
Strange struggles against the restraints. “But, but . . . you could kill me if the dose is high enough -”
“That’s the plan!” Edward laughs with mirth and then puts up a finger once again. “Oh! But only if you answer my questions incorrectly.”
“Firstly - and answer carefully professor -” Edward brings his fingers to his lips and pauses . . . in remembrance. “Why did you consider my daughter - Kristen - expendable? Why did all of your resources go to the boy? They were part of the same project.”
“Well, you see, Kali - Kristen if you must call her that - was conceived naturally before I could get my hands on her embryo. So many flaws when you mate that way, you know.” The professor shakes his head and tsks.
“You can’t possibly tell me that Tabitha Galavan and Butch Galzean’s starting DNA was better than ours,” Edward protests.
“Of course I can,” Professor Strange answers menacingly. “And that is exactly what I am saying. Even though I could pick and choose the traits for Cyrus myself from Butch and Tabitha’s chromosomes, your genetic material was incompatible with each other from the start. I wouldn't have been able to pick out anything decent from that mess anyway.”
“Wrong Answer!” Edward shouts as he presses the button for the release of the Shiga toxins. HARD.
The deranged professor starts gurgling as the rush of liquid pumps through the tubing and into his body. Fast.
“Oh that’s nothing, dear professor! Just wait - it will be shit city in there in a matter of minutes.”
“Please . . .”
Edward growls, “Oh no! We’re not stopping now - we’re just getting started.”
Two more Tygon tubes latch themselves onto the professor’s body. One inserts a needle into his neck, the other into his lower back. He winces.
“Ever heard of Spasmogenic toxin?”
The professor’s eyes dart back and forth in fear, but then he clenches them shut as he moans and -
“Yeah, that doesn’t smell so good,” Edward says and wafts his hand in the air. Peeking into the box, he can see that the professor is now covered in runny shit from the crotch down. Soon it will turn bloody. No time to waste!
He pulls away.
“Okay, Spasmogenic toxin is derived from our good pal Clostridium tetani - yes, that’s tetanus if you weren’t paying attention - and it does just what it sounds like it might, given its name. But because Spasmogenic toxin is considered the second most deadly toxin in the world, I will be administering it to you in lower doses. Just enough for excruciating pain - but not enough for the sweet release of death. Oh!” Edward snaps his fingers and grins. “But only if you give me an incorrect answer.”
Could the wetness streaking down the professor’s face actually be tears?
Edward smiles before leaning his face closer to the slat in the box and whispering, “I just want to remind you that the damage Spasmogenic toxin does to the body is permanent.”
There’s gasping coming from inside the box . . . and more poop. . . and . . . ah, there’s the blood. Yeah. Edward pulls away yet once again.
Something’s been bothering him. For a long time. And he’s on the cusp of getting the answer from Professor Strange - he can feel it.
“So, here’s the $64,000 question, ‘good’ professor. WHY were our chromosomes incompatible? Lee’s and mine.”
“Well, the both of you were moderately intelligent, so that trait was likely to pass on . . .” Strange takes a break from talking to moan and pass more blood. “But nothing else of any merit really did. Not into your daughter anyway. Together, you two easily created a ‘worst of breed.’”
The professor pants through a new round of stomach cramps as he awaits Edward’s response.
The right corner Edward’s lip lifts in a barely discernible sneer, yet no words pass his lips. Cool as a cucumber, he presses down on both buttons that control the release of Spasmogenic toxin into the tubes connected to Strange's spinal cord.
And, as predicted, the man’s body spasms and tries to bend against the restraints, writhing in agony. Absolute agony.
It’s enough to bring a smile to one’s face. Professor Strange’s is an eerily forced one, brought on by facial spasms, but Edward’s is large, toothy . . . and genuine.
As Edward had told the professor, he can’t exactly turn that one off. Spasmogenic toxin binds irreversibly to the neurons its attached to.
“Okay, one more question, professor. And I do hope you answer it correctly.” And he means that.
One more tube comes out from the wall and inserts a needle into the vein it finds in Strange’s inner elbow, which is now being held immobile by an additional restraint as the rest of his body is continually racked with spasms. The professor may be in pain, but he still has one last question to answer. One Edward knows only HE can.
“I’m not even going to tell you what’s in that new syringe, Strange. You’re just going to have to trust me that it’s not something you want in your body.”
Strange shakes his head vigorously.
Edward’s going to take that as his complete understanding of the situation.
“You need to think very carefully about this next question. I expect a detailed answer, despite the delicate position you currently find yourself in.”
The man moans loudly and his body jerks hard against the restraints, but he still manages to pant out an “Okay" between spasms.
“Good. I’m glad we understand each other, Strange,” Edward says.
This really is the $64,000 question - it could uncover the reason behind his horrific childhood. “What exactly is wrong with my chromosomes?”
What had made him sick? He desperately needs to know the answer to this question - to solve this riddle. “What is it about my DNA, my genes -”
Strange starts laughing along with his spasms - and somehow that starts up a foaming in his mouth.
“You wish for a genetic reason for your failings?”
“I’m sorry, but I can’t provide you that. You’re as normal -”
Edward takes in an impatient breath as the professor lets loose some more bloody stool.
“You’re as mundane as anyone else, Mr. Nygma." There's a pause as the professor is racked with spasms he can't speak through. "You’re not special in anyway.”
Edward stares the man down as he presses the final button and watches him die the way Kristen had - suddenly, and without warning.
Sepsis. Endotoxin shock. It’s too good for him.
Strange had mutated his daughter to the point of terrible suffering and then taken her life prematurely. He and Lee had less than a week with their baby girl before that evil man had literally pulled the plug on her life. As Edward watches him turn blue just like she had, the startled and confused face his infant daughter had borne in her final seconds flashes in and out of his vision.
But then Professor Strange passes without even a whimper.
“I did it for you, baby,” Edward whispers, reaching towards an ethereal vision of his daughter Kristen with her beautiful mermaid hair, swimming free at least. “You’re finally avenged.”
“But as for you. . .”
Edward returns to reality, reaching for a lever on the side of the purple and green box - the final modification to the Box O’ Toxins that he had made specifically for this momentous day.
“I’m not done with you just yet,” he growls at the monster who had haunted him for far too long.
He pulls the lever and buttermilk rains down and splashes over the corpse still restrained within it.
Thank you for indulging me in what I like to call Gotham crack science. Those are all real toxins I mention ... it's just that I'm fairly certain they wouldn't work in the exact manner they do here given those conditions (ie - with that kind of speed and without their normal bacterial host, one of which I have great familiarity with due to past work experience), but I had fun postulating it. And hey, Lucius Fox (not even a virologist by his own account) still somehow discovered and produced a cure for a previously unknown virus (the Tetch virus) for all the afflicted victims in Gotham within a week. So yeah, I don't mind taking liberties with known science here. As I think I heard Ed say once, "Only in Gotham . . ."
Chapter 7: Chapter 7
After the dead professor had been completely doused in buttermilk and metallic arms from within the Box ‘O Toxins had started to wrap him in gauze, Tabby pokes her head in and says urgently, “You done yet, Nygma? My boy . . .”
“It’s almost time to get your boy, Tabby, don’t fret. The ‘good professor' here is about ready to help us. We just have to -”
“Make it quick,” The Tigress snaps, her whip swinging around and following her out the door as if it were her tail.
Once she’s gone, Edward leans into the slat of the puzzle box as the smell of buttermilk and fresh death - among even more distasteful things - assault his senses.
“We’re going to get YOUR boy, aren’t we, Professor? Your PREFERRED progeny.”
The words are bitter in his mouth. Perhaps Oswald’s request - it has to be you - will end in dual satisfaction. Both Tabby and Strange will lose their child that day. Double revenge. Double loss. Perhaps that will make it okay.
Edward pushes the thought from his mind and sighs deeply. As his shoulders droop, he presses the button on his mobile device to start the sequence of notes he had programmed into it.
“Wakey, wakey,” he whispers.
Once the process is complete, Edward opens the box and lets Strange fall face first to the floor - still fully wrapped.
There’s a loud groan from Edward’s first buttermilk zombie as it jerks around on the ground beneath him. Ugh. Spasmogenic toxin - the toxin found in tetanus. Yes, it really does like to stay attached to those neurons - even in death.
The professor starts gasping for air and Edward pushes him over with the end of his staff. Some of the gauze comes undone, but unfortunately, not around his mouth or head. Edward must do that for him.
Strange complies and Edward bends over to whip the loosely wound gauze from around his head, revealing his mouth and eyes, keeping a small patch on the back of his neck to maintain the thrall. The professor’s face is still in that oddly contorted grimace from before. Edward’s face sprouts a smile of its own at the sight of it. But then he pinches his nose tightly. Damn, Strange definitely smells worse now that he’s outside of the box.
“Stand up,” Edward commands.
The professor jerks to an upright position.
Edward doesn’t even bother to soften the jolt of being torn from death like William does for his zombies. He doesn’t tell Strange that everything is going to be okay - because it won’t. Instead, he gets right down to business.
“Bring me Cyrus.”
“Who?” Strange asks.
“Shiva. Your son,” Edward says brusquely. “Or more accurately, Tabby’s son.”
“No, he’s mine. I made him.”
“That doesn’t make you his father,” Edward growls and then turns his mouth down into a frown as he wonders how it would have been for Kristen if this monster had presumed he was her father.
“Tabby,” Edward calls out the door. “Show’s on.”
“What?” Professor Strange asks, watching Tabby walk through it.
“What happened to him?” she says, looking at Strange and wrinkling her nose in distaste.
She still has no clue that buttermilk zombies even exist - and Edward has no intention of enlightening her. “Oh, he just got what he deserved.”
“Good,” Tabby says firmly, her eyes traveling up and down the twitching professor’s body - nice and slow. “I want to take him out when we’re done.”
“Already taken care of,” Edward says.
“What’s already taken care of?”
“You’re obviously too dumb to comprehend what I just said if you have to ask me that question.”
“Whatever, Nygma,” Tabby snaps, losing patience. “I want my boy. Now.”
“Good professor, I do believe you can bring him to us, no?”
“No,” Strange says weakly, yet despite voicing his refusal, his body begins creeping towards the wall. And when gets there, he starts to call someone. He whimpers quietly as he waits for that someone to answer, “Not my boy. Please not my boy.”
“Cyrus isn’t your boy, Strange,” Tabby growls. “He’s mine.”
“Well then, today perhaps, the professor will finally learn his lesson,” Edward answers cryptically before he notices something red scuttling across the ceiling.
He looks up to see a large red beetle with a giant human eye on its back and he shivers - some manifestations of William’s eyes could be so creepy. Once it realizes it’s been seen, it fades back up into the ceiling. No wait, that’s camouflage. Ingenious. William’s eyes were also chameleons. Damn.
“You heard me correctly, doctor. Please bring Shiva to my office.” Professor Strange’s cadence is normal despite all his jerking around due to the spasms still wracking his body. Having him in thrall is fantastic - Edward truly understands the appeal of having buttermilk zombies now. Just listening to Strange's voice, no one would even suspect that anything odd is going on.
The professor finishes the call and then begins the tense silent, wait.
Tabby paces, her ‘tail’ dragging along the ground. Edward notices it still has some of Cyrus’ white goo on it. A piece of her son and a tangible reminder that he can be resurrected. A piece of hope.
Strange tries to steady himself in a corner to quiet his spasms as Edward shoots daggers at him. If looks could kill.
But that won’t be necessary . . . Edward’s got other plans. He touches the remote in his pocket. The one labeled ‘Shiva.’
“What the fuck are you two doing here?” Tabby yells as Oswald and William enter the room.
“Oh, just a little viewing party,” Oswald says smugly as Edward’s chest tightens, knowing what he has to do.
It has to be you
Before things can get too ugly between Tabby and Oswald, a tall, broad man walks into the room. He’s got ashes on his dark chest and his black hair is coiled into an intricate bun. His most distinctive feature remains his four arms. They are more muscle-bound than even the Pharaoh’s.
“Kristen,” Edward whispers inaudibly to himself, gazing in awe at this man - this young, but fully grown man. This is how old Kristen would have looked by now.
“Cyrus!" Tabby practically screeches and leaps forward to cling to her cub. There's a brilliant smile on her face as she pulls away to say, "You look just like your father.”
“Butch wasn’t that tall,” Edward reminds her snidely.
“Good one,” Oswald says and cracks a smile.
“Well, he’s got my genes, too,” Tabby retorts. “Don’t you son?”
She is absolutely beaming as she looks back at him.
“Yes, mother,” Cyrus answers and hugs her again.
“And none of yours, Strange,” Edward says, accusingly pointing a finger at the man still huddled in the corner.
“Edward!” Oswald exclaims, clearly not understanding the context. “We have no time for any of your convoluted -”
“I know,” Edward says. “We need to leave. Come, Professor.”
Oswald looks absolutely delighted as he witnesses Professor Strange obey Edward’s command. “You didn’t . . .”
“He did,” William says, and casually puts a hand on Oswald’s shoulder.
Tabby’s eyes narrow as she witnesses the gesture. “I should ask Cyrus to assist me in killing your companion right now, Penguin. For Butch.”
“You could,” Oswald says, walking towards her, leaving William’s hand behind. “But it wouldn’t have the same effect.”
“Despite his . . . familiarity with me . . . William is most certainly not my one great love and he never will be. Somebody else is,” Oswald says without giving anything away - not even sneaking a quick glance at Edward.
Even so, Edward’s heart starts beating faster and he struggles to maintain a poker face. Despite Oswald’s caution, Tabby still stands a chance of figuring out his heart - Jeremiah had - and then all could go to hell here pretty quickly. Edward looks over at William who is now standing with crossed arms, glaring at Oswald. His little exchange with Tabby must have really hit a nerve. A deep one.
“We need to get out of here while we’re still under the cover of your army, William," Edward says. "I take it this part of the facility is secure enough for us to start heading out?”
“Certainly.” William unfolds his arms and nods at Edward, getting back to the task at hand.
“Cyrus, we’re taking you home, baby,” Tabby says to her son reassuringly, even though he’s far from a baby.
The young man glances back nervously at the professor as they all file out the door, William in front, Edward in back - as planned. “Will he come with us, too?”
“What?” Tabby asks, not understanding.
“Will Father come with us too?”
“What?” Tabby whips around to face her grown child, causing everyone to stop walking. She squeezes his cheeks together with one hand. “What did you just say. . . ?”
“F-father?” Cyrus says uncertainly, glancing over at the man who is still in thrall to Edward. Despite all his involuntary twitching, Edward can clearly see the desperation in Hugo Strange’s gaze as he looks at his creation. Good.
“That man is not your father,” Tabby says sternly. “BUTCH GALZEAN was your father. We’ve talked about this. That man over there warped you - tortured you - made you into this.”
“But, he was the only one who played with me, let me out of my cell.”
Tabby groans, walks over to Strange and drags him over to her son. Shaking him in Cyrus’ face she yells, “This man is not your father. He killed Vasuki just to make you into what HE wanted you to be - don’t you remember that? You loved that snake. This man is a monster. LOOK.”
Tears form at the corner of her boy’s eyes just as tears start to fall from Strange’s.
“So, he’s not coming home with us?” Cyrus whines.
A sick feeling forms deep in Edward’s belly. This could have been Kristen’s fate - enamored and grateful to her captor, her tormentor.
He positions Strange back in line and gruffly tells Cyrus, “No. Walk.”
Chapter 8: Chapter 8
Warning: This chapter contains disturbing content. If you are sensitive, please proceed with caution.
They find their way to a chemistry lab.
“What are we making a pitstop for, Nygma?” Tabby demands. “We’ve gotta get out of here.”
“All part of the plan,” Edward says in a clipped tone before turning to Professor Strange. “I need you to prepare some lactic acid solution.”
Some of the chemists are so intimidated by The Penguin, The Pharaoh, The Tigress, and The Riddler all suddenly descending upon their lab at once that they instinctively hop down from their stools to do Edward’s bidding.
“No,” Edward says, lifting a finger in the air to halt them. “This is a task for Professor Strange alone.”
“What concentration do you want?” Strange asks, sighing in defeat.
“0.5 grams per 100 mL,” Edward replies. It’s the usual concentration of lactic acid found in buttermilk. “Make me a liter of it.”
“Is this absolutely necessary?” Tabby growls quietly.
“Patience, dumb one.”
“Look, I’ve had quite enough of -” she starts.
“He’s just performing a dilution. Piece of cake,” Edward snaps. “But I wouldn’t expect you to know that. You’ve obviously spent more time standing in a ring than using a ring stand.”
Her face scrunches up quizzically and she shakes her head, not comprehending. A few of the chemists titter at her confusion. Not a good move. She turns to face them with menace flickering in her eyes.
“I’ve got it!” Professor Strange calls out, hurrying back to Edward, effectively distracting Tabby from attacking any of them.
As Strange passes by the chemists at their benches, every single one of them involuntarily wrinkles their nose - and most chemists smell bad things everyday. Edward smiles delightedly at how disgusting he's made Strange smell by this point. It can't be pleasant for the doddering professor either.
He hands over the beaker of lactic acid that he had prepared and immediately Edward turns it over and douses him with it.
“Now I want you to take a scalpel -”
“A scalpel?” Strange protests. “This is a chemistry lab.”
Edward points to the pocket protector tucked into the breast pocket of his white coat.
“Oh.” Strange pulls the scalpel out of it. He must have forgotten it was there.
“Good thing you don’t care a lick about hygiene.” Edward shudders, wondering how many specimens - er, people - he had cut into with that thing without sterilizing it first.
“You okay, Edward?” Oswald asks.
“Yes.” Edward squares his shoulders. “Now, shall we continue with the show?”
“What show?” Tabby asks.
Without missing a beat, Edward pulls the ‘Shiva’ remote out of his pocket and holds it aloft for everyone to see. Professor Strange gasps as Oswald’s eyes dance. Otherwise there is complete silence. . .
Edward presses the button and his eyes bore into the professor’s, cold and hard as steel.
The simultaneous “Nos!” from Tabby and Strange merge into a strange, mournful harmony. Both watch in horror as Cyrus -
Edward can’t watch. He won’t.
Even as Strange runs to the boy, Edward puts his arm out, blocking him from reaching Cyrus. Restraining Strange distracts him so that he can’t fully witness what is happening to Kristen’s, well . . . essentially her brother.
There is weeping from Tabby once the boy is dead, but she hasn’t jumped up to attack Edward for killing her son yet. Remotely, he wonders why.
But then he turns to Strange and says, “Now that you’ve seen ‘your’ precious boy die by my hand, I will allow you to slit your own throat. End it all - all the pain, all the misery that you carry.”
Edward smiles once again - a fake smile that never quite reaches his eyes, knowing that he’s offering the man - the monster, really - an empty promise.
Strange lifts the scalpel to his neck and hesitates.
“Do it,” Edward breathes into his face.
Oswald starts up his planned grandiose speech about mothers and sons for Tabby now that Edward has fulfilled his duty. But Edward can’t let himself think about that anymore. He’s got one more mission.
“Do it,” he breathes again.
A thin red line forms along Strange’s neck.
And now he’s hit the jugular!
Edward’s signature laugh erupts from his mouth as he watches Strange fall forward - still twitching from the spasmotoxin. And now a most satisfying pool of blood quickly forms around his body. It is marvelous to behold! My, how much blood the human body contains. But -
Edward wonders if it’s washing away the lactic acid that he had just made the professor so carefully prepare. Crap.
“William, please help me,” Edward pleads to the large man standing behind Oswald as The Penguin prepares to deliver one final mercy to The Tigress as she lies slumped over her dead son’s body. “Quickly.”
William’s brows furrow.
“Help me get him up!” Edward says, pointing to Strange’s body. Even with his staff for support, he knows he won’t be able to lift it on his own - or even more likely, not at all.
“But isn’t he -?”
“Dead, yes,” Edward says impatiently. “Twice now. But I know what I’m doing.”
“Ahh!” William says, finally comprehending and coming over to lift the corpse of Professor Strange from the pool of blood that surrounds him, careful not to slip in it. “You are one sick man, Edward. But I like your style.”
“Thank you,” Edward replies. Once Strange is propped up, he says, “Now for the music.”
Out of nowhere, William pulls out his double flute.
“Wha -?” Edward had planned to do this part himself with the notes he had already programmed. Wait. Where the hell had William been storing that thing? It’s huge.
William drops to one knee and begins to play a familiar tune.
And exactly what Edward had wanted to happen happens.
Strange comes back.
Just like Query. Unable to make sense of his environment, muttering gibberish . . . but burdened with thousands of personalities. Edward’s hypothesis had been correct. Just using lactic acid instead of buttermilk with no bandages to maintain thrall had split his personalities spectacularly this time around. Even more so than Query. Wonderful.
Edward grabs man who now smells worse than death by the collar and says in a low voice, “You’re going to live the rest of your life like this, you bastard - paying penance for what you did to Lee.”
Since Strange isn’t in thrall to anyone this time, he’s on his own. Forever. Edward releases his collar, wipes his hands in disgust, and strides to the door. Once at the doorway, he pauses for a moment. And then with a turn of his head and a hand to his hat, he says to William and Oswald, “Let him live.”
Chapter 9: Chapter 9
And then he comes apart - or at least he tries to.
Oswald’s nervous, “Edward, where are you going?” as he staggers down the hallway goes unanswered.
All he can see is Kristen.
She is still struggling . . . eternally struggling. Her eyes look so surprised as she looks up at her parents, helpless to help her, as Strange’s low, satisfied chuckle permeates the background.
Edward can feel her little hand go limp in his and his heart breaks once again. And again. And again.
That very hand now smacks the side of a wall, trails down it as he slumps to the floor. He could barely hold it together long enough to take care of Strange once he had killed that boy. Cyrus had slumped forward himself, bewildered, not understanding. At that point, Edward could no longer watch. Cryus had expired without producing any of the white goo that could coalesce and bring him back into being.
Just a little press of a finger and the plug in the boy’s heart had popped, just like Kristen’s.
But had he really done it? Was that him? Had he really pressed the button that had ended that boy’s life?
And for what, exactly?
Edward draws his knees up to his chin even though it strains his leg just as much as dropping to the floor had. And then he leans into the wall, assuming an upright fetal position.
It wasn’t me - I couldn’t have done that to Kristen’s -
His hat threatens to tip off as he pulls even tighter into himself and his knees bump it. But he catches it, placing it in front of them as he buries his face and lets loose the tears he’s been holding back. His fingers can barely hold onto the brim, they are shaking so much.
“Please,” he whispers to personalities of his that are no longer separate, staring into the darkness, unable to bear what he’s done. All he can see is Cyrus’ young face and his own daughter’s merging in and out of each other through time - growing up in a different reality forged of different choices where they both might have had the chance to live full lives.
But, there’s no one to answer him. No one to split off from him. No headache heralding a switch. He can’t share the burden of his pain, his guilt, with his other selves because they are all one - singular. Now and forever. Thanks to Hugo Strange, he’s stuck with just one identity.
And a most painful one it is.
Edward crawls into himself.
Through the din of battle noises that have begun to fade, Edward barely registers Oswald’s voice.
Both William and Oswald are shaking him. But he can’t see anything. He can’t move.
“He’s just been sitting here all this time?” Oswald asks in dismay.
“Yes, and he’s been rocking back and forth like this since my eyes first found him,” William answers. “They’ve been keeping watch.”
“Why didn’t you tell me sooner?” Oswald asks, clearly exasperated.
“I was too busy, ahem -” William falters for a moment before continuing on, “- rescuing you.”
“Oh,” Oswald says quietly.
Edward swears he can feel Oswald blush. His face is close enough.
After a pause, Oswald’s attention is back on Edward. “Why isn’t he responding?”
I can hear you, Oswald. Can’t you tell?
“Ozzie, I think we need to take him home.”
Oswald must have nodded in assent, because the next thing Edward knows he is swept up into the larger man’s arms. As they begin to walk, one of Oswald’s hands is on his back - while the other one carries his forgotten staff.
There’s a commotion out in the hallway. Edward can tell that he’s at the Van Dahl Estate now due to the familiar scent of his surroundings, but he doesn’t know much else.
“What did you do to him, Oswald!?!” A woman’s voice demands.
There’s a deep rumble of a male voice, but no discernible words.
“Yeah, we’re not sure you should see him right now,” Oswald says clearly. “He’s not in any state to see you.”
“But, you called me up here,” she counters. “You didn’t send one of your golden cars to come get me for no reason, William.”
“Look, you’ve got more booze than blood in you,” Oswald reasons. “I’m not sure he needs -”
“Like Edward’s never seen me drunk before. He can handle it.”
Another rumble of a man’s deep voice can be heard.
Then there is a plaintive meow.
Edward recognizes his meow immediately.
The woman answers, “I’m not afraid of a cat!”
Now there’s the soft roar of a panther.
“Oh!” The woman is startled. Startled but brave. After a tense minute, Edward hears her proclaim, “I’m still not afraid of your cat.”
And then he hears the door to his room crack open even wider and can feel her enter it. The way she disturbs the air is familiar. She’s the mother. The mother of the child he -
She sits down beside him and sighs, “Oh, Edward, what are we going to do with you?”
She takes his unmoving hand and he can smell her natural scent clearly, even though it's almost completely obliterated by the sharp notes of her body excreting the products of excess alcohol through her pores.
Once he fully recognizes her as the one he’s dearly missed, and not the one he’s afraid of, he relaxes his hand into hers and sighs with relief.
Finally they can be together in their grief.
Chapter 10: Chapter 10
“Don't hate me," The Doc says.
"Never," Edward whispers, squeezing her hand. It's coming into focus. He's making his way back with her as his lifeline.
"I think I might 'ave drank too much," she says, pulling something out of her large black bag and placing it in his hands.
It's an empty bottle of hard liquor and it's clearly in focus now. No, suddenly everything is. Edward turns to look at the black fringe of hair she's using to hide her face from his gaze.
But he's alarmed.
"The entire bottle?!?"
She shrugs and frowns.
"Please don't tell me you drank the entire bottle," Edward says, squeezing her hand again in a bit of a panic.
"Don't be silly," she answers. "It wasn't entirely full."
"How full was it?"
She finally looks up at him. One of her eyes is drooping and fluttering as he moves a fringe of hair off of her face gently. As his fingers brush her forehead, her cheek, he can feel how cold she's become. Ther alcohol's starting to hit her. Hard. He waits for her to answer, but she doesn't. It looks like she's about to pass out.
He gets up from the bed and helps her to get into it instead, propping her up into a seated position, before pulling a chair over so he can sit beside her and keep watch over her.
"Damnit, Doc, you've really done it this time,” he says under his breath. He runs his hand through his hair. “You could have alcohol poisoning.”
Edward turns towards the door to see William standing there in his ancient sheer night shift with Rex balanced on his crossed forearms.
The silver tabby jumps from his master's arms and runs over to pounce on Edward's lap. Edward strokes the cat in greeting and he immediately starts purring loudly.
"I think he wants to sleep with you two tonight," William says.
"You're not going to spy on us are you?" Edward says pointedly with a sour look on his face.
William lets out a belly laugh. "No, you're not Oswald."
Not funny. Edward's eyes narrow.
"Good to see you back," William says sincerely. Rex moves over to lay on The Doc's chest. "You know, I found Rex in The Narrows."
"Yes, he had been drowned, poor thing. Not yet fully grown."
Rex is now batting at The Doc, trying to rouse her into playing with him. Sleepily, she bats back.
"Yes," William says. "At times, he seems more kitten than cat."
“I can see that.”
“As I was bringing him back to life, I learned that he had desperately wanted to grow up to be one of the bigger cats in The Narrows so that the others wouldn’t push him around.” William chuckles. “I made sure he got what he wished for in death.”
Rex growls like a panther yet doesn’t change form. The noise is quite unsettling coming from such a small beast.
The Docs eyelids flutter and threaten to close all the way.
“Stay with me,” Edward says taking her hand. “Don’t fall asleep.”
“She’s too much into her cups,” William says. It is not a question.
“Yeah. I don’t suppose you’ve got some magical, mystical cure for that,” Edward says sarcastically.
“No, but she’ll be okay. I can tell.”
“How can you -?”
“She’ll be okay this time,” William says ominously. “Keep her hydrated.”
“Meow!” Rex calls out to his master as The Pharaoh turns to leave the room.
“I - ugh,” Edward doesn’t manage to get a word out before William is gone. Instead, he growls resentfully at the now empty doorway. “Of course I’ll keep her hydrated. I don’t need you to tell me that. I'm not an idiot.”
It’s not until well after the dawn breaks and a night filled with many trips to the bathroom and even more glasses of water that Edward decides that The Doc is sober enough to try to have an actual conversation with. Not that she’s really sober, but she appears to have returned to her “functional” zone.
He holds a sleeping Rex in his lap as he asks her, “So, what happened?”
“What happened?” She chuckles. “I came here to ask you that. It sounded like you needed me.”
“We’ll talk about that. . . ” Edward shudders a bit at the prospect. Admitting to her what he had done to Tabby’s child is going to be difficult. She’s Kristen’s mother after all. Mother to Strange’s other mutant -
“You drifted off there for a bit.”
He removes his hand from his pants pocket. Without thinking, his fingers had made their way to the remote he still carried from yesterday. The instrument of Cyrus’ destruction. Twin to Kristen’s.
“Doc, what’s with all the booze? How did that happen? Why did you decide to come back? How much did you drink yesterday? How’s Dini doing? Where is she while we’re both up here in Gotham?”
The Doc grabs her head, pretending - or perhaps not pretending - to be dizzy. “Enough, enough. One question.”
Edward sits back and lifts up a sleepy Rex to his chest. The cat’s head flops onto his shoulder as if in sleep, but his purrs are mighty.
“Only one, huh?” Edward smiles. “Okay, you pick it.”
“Okay, I’ll start with ‘Why did I come back?’ then. That’s the easiest one to answer. In fact, think you already KNOW the answer.”
“Because you guys thought I needed you specifically,” he says, referring to all three that are inside of her.
“Yes, otherwise do you really think they’d let me out?”
“It wasn’t them keeping you at bay,” Edward says firmly.
“Touché,” The Doc replies lightly, but she won’t meet him in the eye. “Anyway, they weren’t happy when I came back because the first thing I did was -”
Edward points to the empty liquor bottle he had placed on the dresser. “Guzzle that?”
She snorts. "Yeah.”
“How -?” He had been about to ask her how much she had actually drunk because the completist in him needed to know, but she offered other information.
“You know, I tossed that into my bag after dropping off Dini. Poor little thing was so distraught when I took her back to the orphanage to stay for a bit while I came up here. She thought I was giving her back, abandoning her, that I’d changed my mind. I couldn’t convince her otherwise. She kept asking about you, too. You know . . . because you’d been gone.”
Hearing that makes Edward’s heart lurch and he cuddles Rex a little tighter. He can feel Dini's utter terror, her desperation, remembering what it felt like when it happened to him. But he doesn’t say anything.
“Anyway, when Leslie got off the phone with Oswald, she lamented the fact that I wasn't around even though I was the best choice of the three of us to handle this. Lee volunteered, but then Leslie told her absolutely not. . .”
Internally, Edward sighs with relief. After what had transpired between him and Lee before he left, he lauded Leslie’s judgement. Lee was the last person he needed to see right now. He could still feel the imaginary slap to his face that had never happened.
“. . . so I had to come back. I wasn’t sure that Leslie was equipped to handle what little we understood of your situation. And Lee -”
“Yeah, thank you for that,” Edward says quickly.
“What happened there?” The Doc asks sharply.
Edward’s eyes go wide. “You don’t know?”
The Doc’s eyes look off in the distance over his shoulder and he knows she’s conversing with the others. Then she leans forward and puts a warm soothing hand on his cheek. A loving hand, not an angry one.
“Lee says she’s sorry. She didn’t kn -”
Edward jerks away from The Doc’s hand and abruptly stands up, accidentally dropping Rex onto the floor. He looks up at Edward and gives him a grumpy “meow.”
“Sorry Rex,” he says to the cat and then turns back to The Doc and says angrily, “It’s not about knowing anything. It’s about -”
“It’s about what?”
“Nevermind,” Edward stares at her with steely eyes. Eyes meant for Lee. He knows she’s listening, watching. “Don’t worry about it. Lee didn’t.”
At breakfast, Oswald and William keep leaning into each other at the other end of the long table to have little private conversations. They are punctuated by deep crinkles along the sides of Oswald’s eyes formed by sincere smiles and William’s trademark belly laugh - although a more subdued, quiet version. Occasionally they grasp one or the others’ hands excitedly to make a point.
“Do you think they realize they are doing that?” The Doc asks Edward.
“Doing what?” Edward asks puzzled.
The Doc clears her throat loudly to get Oswald’s and William’s attention.
“So, are you two together or what?” she asks.
Oswald looks like he’s choked on something. William smiles softly and looks down at his plate. It’s the same self-conscious smile Edward remembers from the first day he encountered William coming from this very estate. He realizes that Oswald had gotten to him from the very beginning.
Oswald takes a sip from his glass and once he recovers his voice he says firmly, “No. But we are what we are.”
What’s that supposed to mean?
“And that is . . . ?” asks The Doc.
“Look, I’m still in love with someone else,” Oswald says firmly, knowing that everyone in the room knows exactly who he’s talking about. “And that’s not going to change.”
After that declaration, Edward doesn’t dare look at William’s face, instead he holds it steadily on his best friend. “Os -”
“Don’t say anything,” Oswald says, holding up a hand and rising to his feet. “We’re fine. We’re all fine here. Everything is status quo. The way I want it to be.”
“I prefer status quo to quid pro quo anyway,” William says, hiding his teasing smile quickly as he lifts his tumbler to his lips.
Oswald closes his eyes and blindly swings a dismissing hand William’s way.
William just chuckles.
Oswald opens his eyes, turns to William, and hisses, “You know that’s not true.”
“Not true enough,” William says, raising an eyebrow.
“Ugh!” Oswald sits down, frustrated. and fusses with the tails of his coat over the back of his seat and then reaches for his collar, putting everything back into place before he says quietly, “Willie, not here.”
But not quietly enough. Edward and The Doc can still hear him.
“Okay, Ozzie,” the large man says, surreptitiously placing one of his large hands gently over one of Oswald's smaller ones. “Okay.”
Edward and The Doc are headed to the pool house on a mission. She hadn’t been there since . . .
“What was all that about at breakfast?” she asks him.
“What do you mean ‘what’? You’ve been up here in Gotham with those two. When did Oswald give in to his feelings for William?”
Edward stops walking abruptly. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Wait.” The Doc is having a terrible time holding back a smirk.
“Oh my god, Edward. Are you really that vain?”
“Are you making fun of me right now?”
“Oh, my god, did you think he would be in love with you forever?”
“Yes,” Edward says succinctly. “What’s so funny about that?”
“It’s not funny. It’s just . . .”
Edward crosses his arms waiting for her to continue.
“It’s okay to let people go, Edward," she says. "Especially if you don’t love them back.”
Edward purses his lips, remembering the time he spent with Oswald at that bar in Sandy Point when he realized something had happened between him and William. She had known nothing about it. He starts walking again. “I already gave him my blessing.”
“Yes.” But Oswald had refused to take it.
“Well then, I don’t understand,” She shakes her head. “Why did he make that declaration at breakfast?”
“He’s not going to let go of me, Doc.”
Edward realizes with sudden clarity that she will never understand him and Oswald - what they really are to each other, lopsided though it may be on the romantic front. The Doc, Lee, and Leslie will never get it. So he decides to keep his explanation simple.
“He said he’s going to love me forever and I believe him.”
“Well, maybe you should force him to let go of you. For his own good.”
The bitter thought can’t help but race through his mind . . .
Yeah, and maybe you’re just jealous, knowing you'll never be able to feel that kind of undying love for me yourself.
“Not going to happen, Doc. I would never do that to my best friend.”
They’ve reached the pool house. Both of them take a deep breath as they stand in front of a sliding glass door.
She takes his hand. “Do you think the bar is still stocked?”
He groans and opens the door.
Chapter 11: Chapter 11
Sorry guys, I had to post this a touch early . . .
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“Edward, I can’t breathe.” The Doc grasps her chest upon seeing the familiar place. She seems overwhelmed.
Edward, hit with the same emotions upon seeing it in a new context - with her - has somehow fallen to his knees and his staff clatters across the floor. His leg hurts like mad and . . .
. . . just being with her - the mother of his child - in this place - is making him lose his mind.
His signature laugh has turned into an unrecognizable cackle.
It takes her a while, but eventually The Doc is able to calm herself and catch her breath. She joins Edward on the floor once she notices that he needs her help and tries to stop him from rocking back and forth as he laughs.
She holds him tight, tries to soothe him. Gently she says, “Edward, your leg. That can’t feel good.”
The laughter doesn’t stop.
Finally, it stops abruptly as he turns towards her. He gathers that he must have quite a strange expression on his face if her reaction is anything to go by.
“Mom, can I get twenty dollars? Does it look like I’m made of money? Well isn’t that what M.O.M. stands for?” Edward says in a rush.
“Why is a computer so smart? Because it listens to its motherboard. HA!”
“What do you call a mom who can’t draw? Tracy!”
He slaps his knee. His good one.
“What did the mommy broom say to the baby broom? It’s time to go to sweep!”
“Perhaps it is. We didn’t sleep at all last night, did we?” The Doc replies, laughing and joining in.
“Nope! Poor Rex. Okay, what did the baby Egyptian say when he got lost?”
“Wrong! He said, ‘I want my mummy.’”
The Doc laughs a bit more. She can’t help it.
“Why did the baby strawberry cry? Because his mom was in a jam.”
“That’s actually kinda sad . . .”
He’s got one that’s even sadder and is more than happy to share it with her. “The only time your mother smiled when you were crying was when you were born.”
That statement was not true in his case - his mother enjoyed it when she made him break down. Immensely. Edward hangs his head, finally silenced, remembering.
Then The Doc bursts out into sobs. And it brings him back to the present. Now she needs him. Painfully, he comes down from his knees and finds a sitting position, pulling her into him.
“I never gave birth to any of my children. I never gave them life.”
“Shh. . .” Edward strokes her hair as her tears fall onto his shoulder.
“Now, I’m just an empty vessel.”
He winces, yet bites his tongue. She had made that choice, not him. Yet, he still finds himself saying, “I’m sorry.”
Surprised, she looks up. “For what?”
“I . . . I killed -”
“Who did you kill?” She looks slightly alarmed as he removes the remote from his breast pocket. He had kept it on him since he had used it on Cyrus.
“I killed your - your -”
“My child?” she asks.
He nods and looks down. She takes the remote from his hand and inspects the lettering.
Edward tries to hold it together, but things are starting to blur again. Fade and blur. “I didn’t want to. . .”
The Doc places both of her hands firmly on either side of his face. “Edward, you did not kill my child.”
He shakes his head. “Yes, I -”
“Edward, listen to me.”
Her voice is strong, but it’s fading away nevertheless.
“You didn’t kill your child either.”
That snaps him back into the present.
“You didn’t kill Kristen. Judging by the name on this remote, you killed Tabby’s boy.” She holds it up for him to look at.
“Shiva,” he says, pulling it down into his hand.
“Yes. Shiva. The Galazean baby.”
“Yes,” she whispers, tears in her eyes. “Oh, Edward, how could you have ever thought that you killed our baby?”
The expression on Cyrus’ face as the plug in his heart had popped. . . It had been identical to Kristen’s. Cyrus had also looked up at his mother for help even though she was helpless to save him – the same way his daughter had. And Tabby was the mother of one of Strange’s experiments - just like Lee was - and he had taken her child’s life, just like Strange had taken Lee’s. Exactly like.
Edward tries to shake the memory of both children from his mind.
“I don’t know.”
“If you didn’t want to do it, then why did you?”
It has to be you.
“Oswald asked me to.”
“Oswald?” The Doc’s voice is shocked. “Why that nasty little - I can’t believe he did this to you - I can’t believe he even ASKED that of you!”
“Look, he gave me a reason, but I don’t really understand why he wanted me to do it,” Edward looks down. “Not really. He should have done it himself.”
“I’m going to march over there right now and kick his ass!” Fuming, The Doc starts to stand up.
Edward grabs her hand. “No, Doc. Please, let’s just do what we came here for.”
The look in his eyes deflates her in an instant. “Okay.”
Edward sits on the white wicker sofa in the pool house as The Doc searches various cabinets, wine glass in hand. He had tried to tell her that she didn’t really need a drink - especially because it was obvious she was still buzzed - but she had insisted she needed it to prevent a hangover.
“Have you found it yet?” Edward calls out to her.
“No,” The Doc calls from the bathroom. “But I know it has to be here.”
“Oswald has housekeeping staff you know. They could have -”
“We can’t be that unlucky.”
He chuckles. They’ve got to be two of the unluckiest souls in the world.
“Found it!” she exclaims and comes back to the wicker sofa to join him. She places the old suture kit they had used when they were last here on the glass coffee table in triumph.
“Excellent,” he says, rubbing his hands and leaning forward.
The Doc reaches down into her bag to pull something out. “Now, I told you he was in pretty bad shape -”
Edward gasps and brings a hand to his mouth.
Pokey Bear is mostly a lump of stuffing, some fabric, and very little stitching. He’s completely lost his form.
“What happened?” he asks.
“I don’t know. Perhaps Dini gave him too much love?”
“Or perhaps we all fell apart,” Edward says morosely.
“Yeah,” The Doc says softly. “That’s probably what it was.”
Edward runs a finger behind her ear and pulls her in to kiss him. She sighs and Pokey Bear finds his way to the table as Edward plunges his entire hand into the hair at the nape of her neck, deepening the kiss as she arches against him. Her hands find his buttons and soon she has both his jacket and shirt off.
She pushes him back onto the sofa before she dips her head down to the top of his belt buckle just to tease him . . . and then she trails kisses all the way up from the fine strands of hair below his belly button all the way up to his heart.
He groans and pulls her back up to his lips - pulls her right on top of him. He is hard now. She smiles like the devil when she feels him move against her. Then her lips are rough against his, demanding, her teeth giving him little bites.
His hands navigate their way under her silken blouse and then down into her slacks to find the small of her back. She is so warm there. He pulls her pelvis into him as he grinds into her from below.
It’s not long before she sits up and begins undoing her own buttons. Halfway through, she stops and places her fingers on his belt buckle.
“Wait,” he says, knowing this is not what she really needs.
She tilts her head to the side quizzically.
“We don’t have to do this.”
She seems almost . . . happy.
“Yes. I love you, Doc. YOU. Not just your body.” He smiles shyly, feeling almost embarrassed to say what he says next. “Can we just hold each other?”
She collapses into his arms, and sighs with content.
And she doesn’t refill her drink.
The mother jokes I reference in this chapter are from Jokes4Us.com! :-)
Chapter 12: Chapter 12
Edward and The Doc snooze so long they lose track of the time. They wake up a sweaty, sticky mess in each other’s arms.
The Doc finds herself laughing as she has to rearrange one of her breasts that had gotten stuck oddly in her blouse due to the humidity. “Check that out.”
“I am,” Edward says naughtily. “It’s areola appreciation day.”
She picks up a white arm pillow from the sofa and chucks it at him. “You.”
“Me,” he replies, smiling devilishly.
The Doc shakes out her hair and runs her fingers through it while Edward re-buttons his shirt. Then they both fully sit up and look down at the coffee table.
“Ready to put Pokey bear back together?”
“Yeah. Poor thing.”
“You know, Edward, what Strange did to us wasn’t 100% bad.”
“What are you talking about?!”
"There’s always some good that comes out of every situation.”
“And what good came out of ours!?!?” Edward asks, alarmed, setting down the mostly patched up Pokey Bear. He wonders if this is still The Doc he’s dealing with. She sounds more like Lee. His heart begins to race.
“Well . . . if his manipulations -”
“Raising us from the dead, you mean.”
“Yes, that,” she agrees. “If that hadn’t happened, Little Eddie never would have existed and you -”
“Where are you going with this?” Edward interrupts, even though he pretty much knows the answer.
“Well, without Little Eddie, you would still have more than one personality. He was the catalyst that integrated you.”
“Lee, I think you need to understand something -”
She gasps and puts a hand on his forearm. “Wait. . . How did you know it was me?”
He pulls his arm away like a reflex, only in slow motion. She looks disappointed at the dissolution of their connection.
“Edward, I didn’t mean it.”
“Didn’t mean what?” he practically growls.
“Look, I wouldn’t have raised my hand in anger like that if I had known -”
“Known what?” His tone is just as nasty as before.
“That it would affect you like this.”
He snorts in disbelief. “My reaction isn’t the problem.”
“Than what is?”
“That you would so easily hit someone you supposedly loved.” Edward stands up from the sofa, grabs his staff, and starts pacing in agitation.
“I wouldn’t -”
“YOU WOULD!” He shouts, pointing a finger at her.
“Okay, Edward, I’ve had just about enough of your nastiness -”
“Oh! You’ve had just about enough of MINE?” He scoffs.
“Look,” Lee counters. Her voice is level but firm. “I was angry but I didn’t hit you.”
“But you wanted to.”
“Reflexively, yes. But I -”
The sliding glass door swings wide open, letting in some cool evening air. The stuffiness of the pool house dissipates almost immediately.
“Well, hello there, friends!” Oswald says. “Did you sleep the day away in here?”
“Kind of,” Edward replies.
“Well, I take it you’re staying for dinner then, which is being served momentarily." Oswald waves. “Come along.”
“Gladly,” Edward mutters. When he pushes past Lee he says quietly, “It better be The Doc or Leslie who joins me at the table. I’m not having YOU as my dinner companion.”
Without saying another word, he leaves her standing there and catches up with Oswald.
It’s The Doc that ends up accompanying Edward to dinner that evening. Oswald offers her a very rare vintage of red wine before the meal is served - everyone knows she loves red wine – and yet she struggles, giving Edward a lot of side glances. He takes her hand under the table. He knows that this is her decision to make - even though the other two must be pressuring her - and he doesn’t say anything.
Tentatively, almost as if asking a question, she turns it down.
Edward squeezes her hand and leans in, his warm lips brushing her ear as he says, “You’ll be fine. Your body has been without alcohol long enough while you were away that it doesn’t need it anymore. And I can help you get through the rest - I promise.”
The Doc pulls away in order to draw his face to her lips and then she kisses him gently.
“Oh, YUCK!” Oswald protests, still standing at their end of the table.
The Doc and Edward then watch as a flustered Oswald returns to the other end of the table where William awaits him. The Doc smirks as she watches him, a mischievous glint to her eyes. Martin doesn’t have a big enough stomach for a full three course meal, so he isn’t scheduled to join them until after appetizers - a fact that obviously doesn't go unnoticed by The Doc. As soon as Oswald takes his seat, she stands up and immediately starts undoing her blouse.
“Would you care if Edward and I gave you a show right here, Oswald?”
“On my DINNER TABLE?” Oswald exclaims.
Edward panics and stands up, hissing at The Doc, “WHAT are you doing?”
“What’s wrong with a little show?” The Doc challenges Oswald, ignoring Edward and sauntering down to the other end of the table, continuing to unbutton her blouse even further. William and Oswald shrink away as if burned, mockingly putting up their hands to shield their eyes as if they’ve been blinded.
Edward is frozen in shock. What the fuck is she doing?
When she gets to the end of the table, Oswald slams his fist down and declares, “I will NOT bear witness to some sick and twisted hetero sex show on the table where I eat my food!”
“Why not?” The Doc asks casually before she leans into him and says, “Maybe then you can see with your own eyes why it will never work out between you and Edward.”
Edward is now recovered enough to speak. Or so he thinks. But when he opens his mouth, he only produces dry, gravelly mutterings.
“You’re a shitty friend, Oswald,” The Doc sneers.
“What are you talking about? I would do anything for Ed -”
“NO!” The Doc yells, pointing a finger in his face and towering over him even more, her tits threatening to shake loose. William gets to his feet.
“Please put those things away,” Oswald says in reference to her breasts, a look of disgust on his face. “Do you have no decorum?”
“Fine.” The Doc grabs both sides of her blouse together with one hand and says to him, “But you and I both know that you would never do anything for Edward.”
Oswald just sputters, refusing to admit to any such thing.
“How many times have you betrayed him?” The Doc demands.
“That’s between me and Edward.”
“Is it?” she taunts. “Think again. I know firsthand that you are a devious little bird who takes advantage of everyone in your orbit. And I’ve had just about enough of you taking advantage of my husband!”
Husband? All the men are shocked by her words, but she doesn’t seem to even notice the slip. She just keeps going even though Edward has now made it to her side and taken her elbow, a gesture meant to slow her down. But he had frozen at the word “husband.”
“He killed Cyrus. FOR YOU,” The Doc exclaims. “Do you have ANY idea what that did to him?”
“It has to be you.”
Please don’t ask this of me!
“For my mother.”
Edward wants to cry.
“Fine. I’ll do it. For you , Oswald.”
Oswald looks up at Edward and gulps, looking guilty as hell.
“I’m sorry, Edward.”
Edward just nods with an odd grimace on his face. He looks like someone trying to hold back tears, but that’s not exactly what’s going on. He’s remembering it all. Everything.
“You know I didn’t mean to hurt you . . . I -” Oswald starts before Edward puts up his hand to silence him.
“Never mind that. Just remember, I know who you really are, Oswald," he says, cold as ice. "Deep down inside."
“What does that mean?” Oswald’s blue eyes dart in confusion.
“You always think of yourself first, no matter who you claim to love,” he replies. Oswald starts to protest, but Edward, his anger finally rising, leans in and says nastily, “You would let Jeremiah torture your own mother if you thought it would give you an advantage.”
“Why you -” Oswald finally bolts to his feet, ready for a fight. He tries to punch Edward in the face but William is able to restrain him before his fist makes contact.
“Ozzie, no. You don’t want to do this,” the larger man warns.
“See what you’re entangled with William? Your little ‘Ozzie’ here is as slippery as they come.”
“Oswald has been 100% loyal to me from the start,” William says firmly as his eyes shoot daggers at Edward. “Since the beginning.”
“Wonder how long that will last,” Edward replies snidely.
“He could have done what Jeremiah wanted him to do and betray me,” says William. “And he didn’t. I quite think it went the other way.”
Edward grinds his jaw. Jeremiah’s proffering of Cyrus’ remote wasn’t necessarily a peace offering, a bargaining chip in exchange for William. Deep down, Edward knows that it was meant for him. To torture him. After all, Jeremiah went through great lengths to give it directly to him, not Oswald. He must have known that Oswald would make him detonate it and kill the child so much like his own.
“You’re a terrible friend, Oswald,” Edward says coldly before addressing his best friend’s other, more current ‘friend.’ “Watch your back, William. He’ll tell you he loves you with one face and destroy you with the other. Sad thing is, he believes what he says.”
“OUT!” Oswald shouts. “I want you two out of my house NOW. And frankly, Edward, William and I have this little war handled. We won’t be needing any more of your help.”
Oswald gives him tiny little dismissive waves with both of his hands.
“Against Jeremiah you won’t be needing my help? At all?” Edward scoffs. “I find that hard to believe.”
“There’s really nothing you could bring to the table that William doesn’t already possess,” Oswald says with his chin up, briefly touching Edward’s lapels before pulling away, looking smug. “Now OUT!”
Unexpectedly, Edward feels jealous. Suddenly, he doesn’t care for the idea of William supplanting him in Oswald’s life.
Then out of the blue, the doorbell rings.
“Are we expecting anyone?” William asks Oswald. Edward bristles at the use of his term ‘we.’
Oswald’s eyes narrow. “No. We're not.”
Chapter 13: Chapter 13
“Hold up,” Edward whispers to The Doc as they head down the hallway to their room. Quietly, he leads her back to an alcove where they can spy on Oswald and his unexpected guests.
“Jim,” The Doc whispers from behind Edward and he stiffens.
She places soothing hands on his shoulders and says quietly, “Nothing to worry about there. I’m just surprised he’s here is all.”
Edward relaxes under her touch, but lets in a startled breath of his own when he sees who’s come along with Jim Gordon to the Van Dahl Estate.
His body starts to tingle with excitement. Something is afoot. And he knows with certainty that Foxy is here for him.
Leslie pokes her head into Oswald's office as Edward is rummaging through some of his files.
“Hey, um, weren’t we supposed to have left by now?”
“Not necessarily,” Edward says succinctly. “I need to do something for Oswald.”
“WHAT?! You’re going to help Oswald even after all that mess in the dining room?”
“Well, it isn’t just for Oswald.”
I know Edward Nygma is behind this, Penguin. It’s got his signature all over it.
He’s not even IN Gotham, Lucius. Have you even seen him? How do you know he’s still alive?
I’ve heard rumors. . . And I’m pretty sure he’s working for you .
“I’m going to send Lucius Fox and Jimbo down a rabbit hole.” Edward says with glee, sporting a gleaming grin at the prospect of besting Lucius.
Leslie can’t help but laugh along softly with the insane laugh that follows.
But then she says in all seriousness, “Just so you know, Edward, I’m worried that the temptation of booze is still too strong for The Doc.”
“What do you mean? She resisted it at dinner.”
“That doesn’t mean she still didn’t want this.” Leslie pulls a $2000 bottle of bourbon from her bag, courtesy of Oswald’s private liquor cabinet and places it on his desk. “She stole this while you weren’t looking. I think you need to keep an eye on her unless you’re okay with Lee coming out instead because I don't intend to let this body to get drunk again. I am so over it.”
Edward doesn’t know what to say, so he decides not to answer her at all - he just tucks some of the files he had been working with in a place that he can access later and says, “Hey, you want to help me out? I need to find some of the property deeds for the Wayne Estate to take back to Beachview.”
“Sure. Where should I look?”
How had he not seen it before? It was camouflaged, yet still . . . green and purple. Insanely disguised to match its surroundings, yet once seen, it couldn’t be unseen. It could be booby trapped.
“I need you to leave. Now.”
“Now,” Edward says firmly, his eyes squarely on the message that could have only come from Gotham’s resident Joker. “Please.”
“Sure,” she squeaks, a little terrified once she understands the situation. Placing a hand on his arm and giving him a kiss on the cheek she says, “Be careful.”
Once she’s gone he exhales and examines the almost three dimensional message. Where can he open it that’s safe?
It doesn’t matter - It suddenly pops to life. But what triggered it?
The “letter” opens up its wings to reveal a tiny screen below.
The screen displays a triangle before Jeremiah’s voice declares, “Ah, the triumvirate!”
Then there’s a swirl of three heads. Oswald’s, William’s, and Edward’s.
“Who’s allegiance was broken, Penguin? The Pharaoh’s or the Riddler’s?”
Now Jeremiah himself is front and center. With a certain little harlequin dancing around in the background. . .
“Who did you HURT? Who did you BETRAY?”
The sickening curdle of Jeremiah’s voice only reinforces what Edward had feared. Cyrus’ remote was meant for him. And now he knows why. He slams the desk in frustration. “Dammit!”
“Not so easy taking Gotham without both of your trusted men -” Jeremiah laughs at that “- now is it? But what is trust anyway? From what I hear, it’s in quite short supply at the Van Dahl Estate these days.”
Jeremiah snaps his fingers and Ecco stops dancing to come forward and stand by his side.
“If you want to win, Penguin, I suggest you be more like me. My followers are utterly devoted,” Jeremiah looks up at Ecco. “Aren’t they darling?”
Ecco nods and bends down to kiss him. Jeremiah reaches up to pet her. Edward shivers in utter revulsion.
“I’ll find out soon enough which one of your allies fell from your good graces, Penguin. And then the war will truly begin. Because now you are WEAK!”
As Jeremiah’s psychotic laughter gets louder and louder, he leans into the camera so far that he is now out of focus - not much more than one white glob. In a way, it reminds him of Cyrus.
And then the entire device blows up.
But Edward is not hurt. And the papers he had set aside are safe. They’re the medical records from the facility he had been incarcerated in as a child. He takes them and leaves.
“Oswald, we need to talk,” Edward boldly strides into Oswald’s bedroom as he’s preparing for bed. The panther-size Rex is lounging on his pillow. He can’t believe he has to do this.
“I told you to go home,” Oswald snaps. “I don’t even know why you’re still here. Do I have to have you thrown out?”
Edward reaches out to touch his shoulder. “Oswald, you need to listen to me. Our rift was orchestrated.”
Edward produces what’s left of Jeremiah’s greeting card. Mainly ash, some paper, and melted plastic.
“It blew up,” Edward says casually.
“I can see that,” Oswald replies. “But can you please tell me what IT is!?”
“Jeremiah left you a little message - in your office -”
“What were you doing in my office?”
Edward puts up a hand. “Oswald, we need to focus on what’s important here.”
“And that is . . . ?”
“Jeremiah was trying to break us. Our allegiance. The ‘triumvirate’ he called it.”
“That’s why he gave you the remote? Because he knew I’d end up messing things up with either you or William?”
“Oh, Edward, I’m so sorry for that -”
Edward puts up a hand. "Please don’t fuss about that anymore, Oswald. I accept your apology and I’m sorry about dinner tonight.”
He gives Oswald the briefest of hugs.
“Yes,” Edward says curtly. “So, moving along -”
“I will never understand you, Edward Nyma.” Oswald shakes his head, yet he is beaming. “But this is great. I accept.”
“Again. Moving along,” Edward says firmly. “I have no idea why Jeremiah thinks I’m important to your war.”
Edward waits for Oswald to enlighten him. After what he had said about William at the dinner table, Edward really wants to know if it’s true that he’s redundant to their little operation or if that was just said in spite.
Oswald doesn’t enlighten him.
"Anyway,” Edward says after a brief pause. “You guys can’t look weak. None of us can ever give any indication that there’s strife between the three of us - or that there ever was.”
Oswald puts out his hand. “Deal.”
Edward shakes it and says grimly, “I just don’t want to see you hurt, Oswald.”
And it's true, despite their recent hostilities.
Chapter 14: Chapter 14
Oswald had graciously granted them another night at the Van Dahl Estate, so Edward and Leslie get settled back in the guest room.
“I hope you don’t mind that it’s me tonight,” she says. “I haven’t been in charge of my body in a while and I’m usually -”
“It’s fine,” Edward says.
And it is - until he starts to dream.
Kristen is floating in her tank, her beautiful mermaid hair behind her. He’s so proud of his little girl and reaches up his right hand for her to match. And she matches it with one, two, three, four - ALL of her hands.
Unfortunately, when he reaches up with his left hand, it comes into his field of vision.
To his horror, before his very eyes, his thumb presses its sinister button.
And now his baby is pulling in hard breaths on her respirator. But it is all for naught. She turns blue before she goes still and turns -
“Ed, what have you done?” Lee shrieks. “Our daughter! What were you thinking?”
She pounds on his chest as she cries, while he just stands there numb, taking her assault. It ends with her falling into him, clinging to him, racked with tears of defeat.
But when she pulls away, she wields the face of his mother. “Come Edward, we need to take you to the hospital. Let the doctors take care of you.”
As he takes her hand, he notices that she towers over him now. All he can really see is her longish red hair and a plaid skirt. The skirt is eye level.
There is no vestibule this time. He goes straight into the kitchen and witnesses unspeakable horrors. He flees, but is caught.
As punishment, the baker holds him up by his ankle over a gigantic boiling pot. He’s being steamed as two other men look on, laughing.
“Please no, it’s too hot,” Eddie says, wiping sweat from his brow.
“Well, it’s about to get hotter!” the baker snarls and drops him into the pot.
As he sinks to the bottom, a multitude of painful blisters breaking out upon his searing skin, he hears one of the men taunt from above, “Hot enough for you?”
But once he gets to the bottom of the tank, he finds himself immersed in goo. Healing goo. He knows it's the goo his daughter would have turned into had she ever had the chance, and he lets her wrap about, consoling him, cooling him, healing him.
He can’t help but wonder . . . Could she have cured him of whatever had ailed him in childhood?
He wakes up in a pool of cold sweat - totally drenched. Frantically, he sits up, wipes at his wet face, and then grabs his glasses.
She’s up with him in an instant. The Doc.
She wraps her arms around him to steady him. “Breathe, Edward. Just breathe. Everything’s going to be okay.”
He shakes his head adamantly. “It’s not.”
“Because I can’t split anymore!” Edward sounds like a desperate man. Because he is. These nightmares are going to continue to be be relentles, he just knows it. He’ll never get over the grief of losing his child, his guilt at killing -
“Wait? Why is having just you in there - whole - a problem?”
“You and I are different, Doc. You want to integrate, understandably - but I’m regretting it. Not that I had a choice in the matter.” He twists his lips into a frown.
“Regretting it how?”
“When Strange introduced Eddie into my system, he picked up all the broken pieces of my childhood, showed them to me, and allowed me to merge. But I’m not so sure that’s a blessing - I’m haunted by everything - I remember everything now. And the newer it is, the worse it is. Kristen, Cryrus, you . . . my personality won't split to funnel away the pain anymore.”
“Wait. Me? What about me?”
“The choice you made after you lost our second baby.” He looks at her pointedly.
“Oh.” The Doc looks down at her hands.
She’ll never understand. She can’t. Edward ducks his head and clucks. “You and Lee.”
“What about Lee?”
Edward sees her hand come down to slap his face, sees the red trails his mother’s hand leaves behind on his father’s face.
Edward’s eyes snap shut as he recoils with the imagined hit. When it comes to Lee, he’s still having trouble separating himself from his father.
“Hey.” The Doc jostles him. “What’s going on there? Could you please explain why this stuff with Lee is bothering you so much?”
“No,” Edward whimpers, crumpling into himself, pulling away from The Doc. “No.”
Suddenly he feels like a child and just weeps, rocking himself into a little ball. He can’t take how similar Lee seems to his mother. It hurts too much.
“Why, Edward?” The Doc whispers. Her hand is on his back.
“He still loved her,” Edward says unwittingly as all the times his father had kissed his mother, entertained her and her friends, and capitulated to her flash through his mind. His father had loved her so much that he had chosen his wife over his own son.
Edward’s tears come even faster now as he realizes that he still loves Lee and probably won’t be able to stop loving her. The thought is so terrifying that he begins to shake. He doesn’t want to be abused again. He wants to leave that in the past.
"Come here," the Doc whispers gently.
She pulls his head onto her lap and strokes his hair.
“Edward, you’re such a mess over this.” She leans down to place a kiss on his brow. “But, I love you. So much. Will you let me help you get through this?”
Edward nods, finally feeling like a child should feel in a mother’s arms. Loved. Secure.
And he’s so bitter that he never felt that growing up.
Somehow her comfort leads to his need to connect with her and he sits up in her arms, probing her lips with his own to see if she feels the same way. After a final kiss, he places his forehead upon hers and sighs.
They just pause like that for a moment.
Then he reaches up to stroke her hair and when he reaches the end of it, she guides his hand lower.
She wants him, too. But he takes his time, savoring every part of her with his fingertips and then his lips. By the time he enters her, she lets out little moans of frustration because he only gives her an inch at a time. And very very slowly.
Their love making is soft, passionate. Not their usual.
It’s what she needs.
It’s what he needs.
As they lay in bed, The Doc says, “Can I tell you something?”
“It’s about Lee.”
Edward goes a little stiff in her arms, but manages to say “okay” anyway.
Edward lifts his head from her chest. Softly, he says, “What?”
“She misses you. She really does.”
“Doc, I can’t.”
“I know,” she replies and puts his head back down. “I know. It’s okay.”
He can’t believe he’s going to say this, but he does.
“I still love her.”
The Doc hugs him tighter and kisses the top of his head.
“But that’s all I can give her right now.”
His mind goes back to the botched dinner they had with Oswald and William. The complete disaster. . . the one with the Freudian slip. He looks back up at her.
“Hey, Doc, why did you call me your husband?”
“I didn’t do that.”
“Uh, yes, you did. We all heard you, but were too busy fighting to call you out on it.”
“Oh,” she says, blushing. “Now I remember.”
“So what was that?”
“Um. . .” She tucks a part of her lower lip between her teeth before continuing. “I guess I like to. . . um. . .”
Edward raises an eyebrow.
“Look, to be perfectly honest, when I disappear for a while I have these fantasies -”
“You do? YOU?”
She bats his shoulder playfully. “Don’t worry, I’m not going to marry you. I promised.”
Chapter 15: Chapter 15
“I feel so safe when I’m in your arms,” Lee says dreamily, curled up in Edward’s. She’s so warm. “Did you know that?”
“Yes. It’s like we’re in our own little world and it makes me feel like together, no one can hurt us.”
“Who do we need protection from?”
Edward awakens with a start. The sheets are wet with his sweat yet once again.
Lee, or The Doc, or Leslie - he can’t tell - sits bolt upright in bed beside him. She’s sweating too.
Then she switches, placing a hand to her forehead briefly against the pain.
“Sorry about that,” The Doc says.
“What?” Edward asks.
“Leslie, didn’t mean to let her out.”
So, it was Lee who had woken up beside him. Interesting.
“What’s that smell?” The Doc asks, wrinkling her nose. She and Edward hadn’t finished getting ready for the day yet. They hadn't even started packing to go home.
“It smells like it’s coming from outside,” Edward says, and whips open the curtains.
“Are those bodies?” The Doc asks, staring at a burning pyramid on the lawn near the pool that looks to be made out of . . .
“Yes, I think they are,” Edward says. “Let’s find out what’s going on.”
As Edward and The Doc make their way out to the lawn, the wind changes direction and they are suddenly blasted with smoke. It is putrid. They both possess a high tolerance for the smell of human remains, but this stench is still almost unbearable. It’s different.
“Oswald!” Edward calls out and the man heads toward them through the grass and emerges clearly through the smoke.
“Shh,” he says as soon as he arrives, and shuffles them over to the patio, away from the overpowering smoke. “Please, now is not the time, he’s . . .”
Oswald looks over at William, the Pharaoh, his mighty shoulders deflated, standing in front of the pyre as more and more bodies are added to the top. Buttermilk zombies.
“William’s in mourning for the ones who were sacrificed during our battle with Jeremiah. His connection to each and every one of them is broken and he -” Oswald stops himself. “It’s just . . . now is not the right time for visiting - you two should just go back home. Quietly.”
“Will do,” Edward says and watches as Oswald finds his way back to William and places a comforting hand on his shoulder. Oswald nods as William turns to him and then falls into his arms.
Oswald holds him close as he cries.
A stab of pain jerks its way through Edward’s heart. Oswald had done almost the same thing with him after Isabella had died - except Edward hadn’t cried. All his tears had dried up with Kristen’s death. He hadn’t any left to mourn her.
“What is it?” The Doc asks.
“Isabella,” Edward hisses, his eyes narrowing at Oswald.
The bitterness courses through him, black and insidious - that bitter ire that only Oswald had ever been able to rouse in him. He knew that the comfort Oswald offered to William was real, yet when he had offered the same thing to Edward, it had been disingenuous. Oswald didn’t care about his pain - he was the cause of his pain. He had killed Isabella himself.
“Let’s go home,” The Doc urges, putting her arm through his. “I’m so ready to leave this godforsaken place.”
It finally sinks in that Gotham will never be his home again. Watching William and Oswald continue to cling to each other, it is now crystal clear that it hadn’t been for a very long time.
Edward decides that Gotham will just be his playground from now on - a place for him to play his deadliest games. The city of deception and lies is in for a real treat.
As Edward and Leslie sit in the golden car on their way back down to Biotech Bay, he finds himself relaxing finally. The South is a place where he can be his best self - the man he’s always aspired to be - strong, powerful, confident, with people in his life who love him - who appreciate his genius and flair. Lee had always seen that man inside of him, the one she knew was there all along. Now he wonders if she had somehow seen a glimmer of his merged self. But she couldn’t have. Back in The Narrows, he had been broken, only ever showing her one piece at a time. Ed or The Riddler.
Right then and there, Edward makes the decision to leave what he can of his dark side in Gotham and focus on who he wants to be in The South. He thinks about what roles he might want to take in the lives of The Doc, Lee, Leslie, and Dini, trying some on. Husband, Soulmate, Friend . . . Father.
As he watches Leslie skim through a magazine she had brought with her, one leg crossed over the other, he takes note of her mannerisms and realizes something.
“You’re not a teenager anymore are you?” She hadn’t been rebellious in a while - among other things.
“What does that mean?”
She puts down the magazine. “How am I supposed to know? My body isn’t going through any changes - it never has.”
“What about your mind?”
“The adolescent brain -”
“Wait, let me guess. You’re going to give me a data dump about the prefrontal cortex and rational thinking, aren’t you?” She purses her lips.
“Well, yeah -”
“Save your breath, Edward. According to current scientific thinking, I’m younger than 25. Still irrational as hell.”
Edwards lips quirk up. “So, that means you still don’t find me irresistible?”
Leslie practically looks down her nose at him then picks up her magazine again. “Definitely not.”
That stings. But only for a second. “Yup. Definitely irrational.”
Leslie sticks out her tongue at him and he can’t help but laugh.
Chapter 16: Chapter 16
Sorry this is a couple days late everyone! I've been dealing with multiple medical issues.
The Doc pops her head into Edward’s study early the next morning and notices what’s on his desk.
“Oooh, medical records. Do you need my help deciphering that?”
Edward slams the folder closed on his own medical records and then files them away expediently, his heart racing. “No, I’m good.”
The Doc cocks her head to the side. “You sure?”
“Fine, yes.” Not fine. No. But she of all people can’t know that. “Just stuff for Oswald.”
“You’re forging medical records?” The Doc asks, placing a hand on her hip and raising an eyebrow.
“No, not that.” Definitely not that. “I’m uh . . . changing the names on the records.”
“Okay.” She seems to buy that. “So, we’re going to get to see Dini again at school today and hopefully take her home with us. I wonder how that’s going to go?”
“Depends,” Edward answers. “How did you leave it with her?”
“Poor thing - she was clinging to me and screaming at me not to leave her, not to abandon her,” The Doc says. “The headmistress had to pry her off of me eventually - I didn’t really want to let go either - and no amount of assurances that we’d come back for her even registered with her. She was so distraught.”
As he listens, Edward’s heart aches for Dini. And he thinks of the boy he was once. If only his mother hadn’t wanted to let go of him . . .
“Did you tell Dini when you’d be back?”
“Of course not. I had no idea what was really going on with you - how much time that would take. But I promised her we’d return and take her back home with us.”
A sick feeling grows in Edward’s stomach - children need specifics, not promises. No wonder Dini hadn’t trusted the assurances she’d made. Of course she thought they'd grown tired of her, wanted to be rid of her. You can't just drop a kid off at an orphanage with some vague promise to return. A vague promise is no promise at all - not for something like that.
“She’s going to be pissed.”
“You think so?” The Doc asks.
Edward is setting up the auditorium for rehearsal that afternoon when he gets a call from Lee.
“Well, you were right. Dini’s not happy.”
“Lovely.” Edward sighs as he places another script on the table where he’s arranging them alphabetically. ‘Edwardine Rankin’ it says. They should all be off script by now - these are only for their reference should they need them. Dini hasn’t touched hers in ages.
“She broke into the TB wing.”
“What?” Edward’s hand pauses.
“Yeah, broke quarantine protocol and everything - just marched right in. And just when I thought I had this situation under control -”
“Why would she do that?”
“To get back at me.”
“Obviously,” Edward says. “But what what was her excuse?”
“To visit Lila.”
“Lila?” That’s curious. Why would she want to visit the girl who used to have her part - even if it was just an excuse to get Lee in trouble?
“She’s six,” Lee says. “When you’re that age, friendship exceeds the bounds of common sense.”
“They’re not friends.”
“No?” Lee asks. “They looked pretty chummy to me. Something must have changed.”
The door at the side of the stage bursts open and tons of kids barrel in. Lee can hear the noise over their connection. “Good luck with her today. Like I told you, she’s in a bit of a mood.”
“Oh, and it probably goes without saying, even though I think there’s a low risk of her catching anything from Lila at this stage, but if you notice her showing any signs -”
“Got it,” Edward replies. “I gotta go.”
As soon as he’s off the phone, he’s peppered with questions from the little girls:
“Why were you gone?”
“Where did you go?”
“Did you go to Gotham?”
“Were you committing crimes with The Penguin?”
“Ooh, what about The Pharaoh?”
“Did you almost die?”
Edward notices that Dini is slumped in her usual chair, facing away from him. She emits a “Huh!” and an odd little jerk when she hears that last question.
He walks over and asks her softly, “Do you have any questions you’d like to ask me?”
“No,” she says so quietly he almost can’t hear her.
He puts a hand on her shoulder and says, “Okay.”
She still doesn’t look at him.
He starts rehearsal.
Before Dini takes the stage, she inexplicably picks up her script of Paradise Lost from the table. Edward is perplexed because he knows that she has every last line memorized and she couldn't read that much anyway. But he soon finds out why.
“Dini, the audience needs to see your face.”
Two green eyes peep over the top of her script. “Will this do?”
“No,” Edward says patiently. “Lower.”
Now a nose.
“Dini . . .”
She pulls the script all the way down and facing away from the audience, begins her lines.
“Dini,” Edward says once again. “Entertaining as this is, the audience needs to see your face.”
“Why?” she counters. “I’m talking to Eve. She can be behind me, here.”
Dini reaches out to the girl playing Eve, changes the blocking, and starts up her lines again.
“Dini, can you come to the front of the stage please?” Edward says, crossing his arms.
She comes forward and sits down cross-legged at the front of the stage, her script completely covering her face again. Edward approaches her slowly and they talk in whispers. The other girls are curious and remain silent, hoping for a chance to hear what they say.
“Hey, Dini, what’s going on with your script here?”
“I don't want to look at you!”
“Okay, but you shouldn’t deprive the audience.”
That should have elicited a chuckle, but instead it only elicits silence.
“Okay,” Edward changes tactics. “Why don’t you want to look at me?”
“Because I’m mad.”
He could have figured that one out.
“Because you got sick.”
“Because I got -?” What?
“Doc Thompkins said she had to leave because you got sick and then neither of you were around and then -” Dini starts hyperventilating.
Edward puts his hand on her back. “Breathe, sweetheart, breathe. Nice and slow. Deep breaths.”
After a while, her breathing calms enough so that she can just cry softly. Edward has been shielding her from most of the other students so they can’t see what’s going on. He calls out to them, “Time to take a quick intermission. Everyone outside. It’s a nice day.”
Once they’re all gone Dini wipes her eyes and says, “Thank you.”
“I’m still mad at you.”
“It’s odd having a weekend without Dini here,” Leslie muses as she drinks her coffee at the kitchen table.
“It is,” Edward agrees, nodding over his newspaper. “Whatever are we going to do with ourselves?”
“I have half a mind to head out to Driftwood Island, march right into her dormitory, and drag her out myself,” Leslie grumbles.
That wouldn’t be wise. “Sounds like you need some more coffee.”
“I’m not as addicted to the bean as Lee is.”
Edward raises an eyebrow in doubt, not that she can see it with the newspaper blocking his face again.
“Or The Doc for that matter, with her alcohol,” Leslie says and sets her mug down. Leaning forward, she says, “Please tell me you’ve noticed she’s drinking again already. Little nips here and there from her stashes.”
“It’s your fault, you know.”
Edward puts down the paper and looks her squarely in the eye. “Why?”
“She started feeling neglected by you as soon as we got back here. She finally opened up to you about all the grief she’s been holding inside and you’re pulling away from her, after you just promised -”
“What? How can she possibly think that?”
“You’re keeping something from her.”
“Oh.” That. Edward lifts up the newspaper again. That information will never be shared.
Leslie pulls it down. “What is in that file Edward? We already know it’s a medical file. Don’t you need our help?”
“Since when are you a doctor, Leslie?”
“I’ve been learning.”
Edward gives her a doubtful look.
She returns it with a hard stare. “We know it’s your file. ‘Edward Nygma.’ The Doc saw it with her own eyes.”
“How?” Edward narrows his.
“You weren’t fast enough putting it away.” Leslie reaches out and puts her hand on top of his. “Please Eddie, we know that you were sick as a kid. What happened? What are you keeping from us?”
Edward blanches when she calls him Eddie. She knows. Of the three of them, Leslie knows the most. She knows about the guard and the knife - even though she can only guess as to what had truly happened to him. But no matter what, he won’t let any of them know that his own mother discarded him.
“No,” he chokes out and then bolts upstairs before Leslie can utter another word and slams his office door behind him.
He’s had the file out for a good twenty minutes, trying to make heads or tails of it. What in the world had made him sick?
Nowhere is there a diagnosis, just many many notes on symptoms - some Edward can’t even make out. But when he looks at the dates, occasionally he remembers quite vividly why certain notes had made it into his chart in the first place. . .
The day after his intake, one of his sickest
The first day he had been trapped in the kitchen
. . . and subsequent ones
He slams the folder shut and puts it in his locked file drawer. He’s smart, but he’s not an MD. He really does need Lee or The Doc to help him figure this out, perhaps offer him a reason he had been so sick when he was young. And most importantly, he needs to know if it is something that will come back and possibly kill him - or if it is over.
Sighing, Edward removes some of the other files - property deeds from the Mayor’s office, most of them Wayne properties. He needs to make some changes . . . help the Fox find the rabbit hole.
After carefully erasing or covering up some of the signatures that he needs to, Edward hangs the various papers up to dry and sits back down at his desk with steepled fingers.
He shakes his head, wishing things had been different for Dini - that she was here right now instead of hurting and alone. It’s so easy to visualize her holding onto Lee tightly, not wanting to let go. . .
A red and gray plaid skirt swishes by. “Mommy!”
Edward squeezes his eyes shut. He had been a good boy, a strong boy. He had let her go.
But Dini hadn’t.
Edward looks back up at the papers, touches a few. They will take a while to finish drying. He heads to Kristen’s bright yellow room, finding Pooky Bear cuddling the almost-all-back-together Pokey Bear on the twin bed and some of Dini’s things that had unintentionally been left behind. It’s a sad testament to a girl who is dearly loved, but no longer there.
Lee had had no intention of casting Dini off - and neither had he. And it was time she knew it.
Edward opens the vanity drawer and removes the remote - Kristen’s remote. Then he goes downstairs, puts on his hat, and heads out to Driftwood Island.
Edward finds Dini in her room alone, even though all the other children are outside playing on this warm afternoon. According to Jean, most of them are out by the water looking for baby squid. The native species on Driftwood Island and the nearby shore grew fast, even for squid. Their total lifespan was less than one year and they were currently in the juvenile stage. But squid season - when they were large enough to fish - would be upon them shortly. Just one more season . . .
Edward raps on her doorframe. Dini tells him to come in without tearing her gaze from the window.
“Hey,” she says forlornly.
“I brought something for you.”
Now she looks at him.
He pulls over a tiny chair from one of her roommates’ desks, turns it around and sits down in it, facing her.
Dini can’t repress her giggle, even though she tries. “You look funny.”
“Do I?” he asks, pressing his glasses up his nose and pulling on his lapels.
“You look like a praying mantis.” More laughter.
“Is it because my knees go up to my ears?” He’s definitely going to need to use his staff to stand back up.
“Yes. You’re too tall.”
“And you’re too small.”
They both smile and enjoy the silence for a bit.
“I miss Beachview,” Dini says and the tremble in her chin is unmistakable.
“I know, sweetheart, that’s why I came.”
“But I’m not going back,” she says stubbornly and crosses her arms. It’s what she had told the headmistress when he and Lee had first returned. Although it had been a bit perplexing to them at first, they were hoping everything would go well once she saw them again the next day. Which it hadn’t.
“You don’t have to go back. Not if you don’t want to,” Edward says.
He fishes for the remote in his pocket, finds it, and places it into her hand gently.
"But won't you allow me to tell you a story?”
This chapter is dedicated to my friend Skittle479, who unlike Edward is actually an MD. ;-)
Chapter 18: Chapter 18
“Kayley?” Dini asks, looking at the label. “Callie?”
“It’s pronounced ‘KA-lee.’”
“KA-lee. Okay.” She frowns and hands the remote labeled ‘Kali’ back to Edward. “I don’t know.”
“Don’t know what?”
“I don’t know if I want to hear your story.”
“Ugh,” she groans and slumps in her seat. “Why do you always ask all the hard questions?”
“Okay, how about I answer one that you might have?”
“Doc Thompkins didn’t make it clear that we had every intention of bringing you back home with us, did she? That the orphanage was only babysitting you?”
Dini bursts into tears and shakes her head.
Edward puts a comforting hand on her shoulder. “Staying here was only meant to be temporary. Very temporary.”
“Everything’s temporary!” Dini squeaks through her crying. “Beachview, here, the social workers, even my MOM!”
Edward can’t promise that staying with him and Lee in Beachview will be a permanent thing either. He and the three personalities inside of Lee hadn’t ever had a serious talk about taking this little girl in. Not really. And the way things have been going with Lee . . . He wants to promise Dini stability . . . but he can’t. He can only promise her love and understanding.
“Hey,” Edward says softly. “I understand what it’s like to be cast adrift.”
Dini stops crying and wipes her face with her sleeve.
“My parents left me at a place similar to this, remember?"
Dini bobs her head in assent.
“I had no one else to look out for me for the rest of my childhood. But you have us, if you want us. Doc Thompkins and I love you very much.”
Her tears start up again but she leaves her chair to come over and hug him.
Edward and Dini find their way down to the beach where the other girls from her dormitory are looking down into the water, searching for baby squid and squealing whenever they see one. A rapid-fire cacophonous mess of a exclamations always seems to ensue regarding what colors they had seen on the squid. At some point or another Edward had heard them call out every color imaginable. The squid they’re finding must be rainbow colored.
Edward and Dini find chairs underneath an umbrella. The season is turning hot, and even brighter than before. Dini swings her legs in the chair for a while, but eventually turns to Edward and says, “Okay, you can tell me your story now.”
“Alright,” Edward says. “Once upon a time, there were two villains in Gotham that had lost their way and were doing some good for a change -”
“Uncle Oswald and Uncle William?”
“No. But they’re definitely villains. Good call.” Edward chuckles. “Who do you think the two villains were?”
Dini scrunches up her face in thought. “Hmm . . . well, one was you, of course.”
Dini shakes her head. “I really don’t know any other villain from Gotham. It’s sure not Martin.”
“No, it’s not Martin, you’re right. He’s a good boy,” Edward says. “No, the other villain was Doc Thompkins.”
“No, it wasn't,” Dini replies. “She’s not a villain.”
“You’re right, she’s not any more,” Edward says even though he knows her dark side still lurks within each of her three personalities. “But there was a time that she was a villain - back when she was the Big Bad Queen of The Narrows.”
“She was a queen?” Dini’s eyes go wide.
“Yup,” Edward replies. How had this child been sheltered from all the sensational news about the two of them? Lee had always been referred to as “The Queen of the Narrows in the news. “But like I said, she had lost her way. Even fallen in love with another Big Bad of Gotham.”
“But that’s not evil. To love someone.”
Edward smiles softly. “No, it’s not.”
“So what happened?”
Dini gasps. “Does that mean you guys are . . . Zombies?” She whispers the last word.
“Yes and no.” Edward knows her familiarity with the term comes from William’s buttermilk zombies. “We’re not Uncle William’s creatures. We’re no one’s creatures.”
“What does that mean?”
“We were resurrected by an evil scientist, who goes by the name of Professor Strange, but he l doesn't control us.”
He shudders at the thought.
“That’s strange.” Dini giggles.
“Excellent pun. You’re very good with words, Dini.”
She smiles with satisfaction. Words are her favorite thing.
“Now, you know who baby Kristen is, right?”
“Yes. I like her yellow room. It’s pretty.” Dini looks sorrowful for a moment. “I’m sorry she’s gone.”
Edward almost winces at her unexpected words of empathy. He reaches out to pat her hand. “Me too, sweetheart.”
Then he takes a moment to turn away and wipe at the corners of his eyes. When will this end? It’s like a fresh knife to the heart every time.
Once he composes himself and steels himself to tell the story he wants to tell, he turns back to the little girl beside him.
“Baby Kristen came to life in a very unexpected way.”
“Yes, she was extracted from Doc Thompkins’ womb -”
“It’s where mommies carry babies while they are growing inside of them.”
“And what does ‘ex-tra-ta-d’ mean?”
“Yeah, that one. Extracted.”
“It's a fancy way of saying to remove or take out.”
“Ooooh. I like that one!”
“Good. It's a pretty big word for a six-year-old.” Edward smiles. “Anyway, Kristen was extracted from Doc Thompkins' womb while she was still dead, before she was resurrected.”
“Quite so,” Edward agrees. “And that evil Professor Strange performed horrible experiments on her. Both before she was born and when she was just a little baby.”
“‘Experiments?’” Dini asks. “That’s another ‘ex’ word!”
Edward wants to make sure he explains this part correctly for Dini - without getting too choked up about it. What Strange did to his child still makes him angry. He takes a deep breath before continuing.
“Professor Strange changed her. He wanted to make her into his very own monster - but what he tried to do to her hurt her.”
“Oh no,” Dini says.
“Yes. He performed multiple surgeries on her. You haven’t had any of those, but you do have an idea of how much they can hurt, right?”
“In the end, Professor Strange made Kristen into something very different than she was supposed to be.” Edward takes another deep breath. “When Doc Thompkins and I found her, she was swimming in a tank - and she had four arms.”
“Four?” Dini asks in awe.
“Her hair was very long - mermaid-like - and black like yours.”
“I’ve seen mermaids.”
That’s unexpected. “You have?”
“Out at Sandy Point, during the annual surfing competition.”
“Yeah, under the pier.”
“Interesting.” Edward wonders if that’s a myth or her imagination - or both, and keeps going. “Well anyway, poor baby Kristen’s tongue also stuck out, so it was difficult to feed her. And she tried to talk but -”
Nope, he can’t make it. He starts to choke up.
This time it's Dini who puts her hand upon his. “It’s okay, Mr. Nygma. I know you miss her very much.”
And that opens the floodgates.
“Watcha guys doing out here?” Lee asks, coming up to Edward and Dini’s beach chairs and sitting cross-legged in front of them in the sand under the umbrella.
How did she find them?
“I figured you went out to Driftwood Island today, Edward,” Lee says, answering his unasked question. “And when I got here, Jean told me that you two were down here with the ‘squid patrol.’”
Dini laughs at Lee’s name for the gaggle of girls still searching for baby squids in the water. “They’re so shiny. And have so many colors. But I’ve already been down here today - before Mr. Nygma even came to see me. I saw purple and indigo and sky blue and emerald and magenta and orange and peach -”
Lee laughs. “That many squid, huh?”
“No, just two of them,” Dini says and shrugs.
“Well, that sounds like two very colorful baby squids,” Lee says.
“They were. They all are. And shiny too - kinda like silver, but with a bunch of colors. But each one is different, you know?”
“Yes,” Edward says. “No two alike.”
“Not ever,” Dini says adamantly. “Just like people.”
“What exactly is snow? The girls from Gotham talk about it . . .”
Before Edward can answer her and get lost in a tangent, Lee asks, “What were you two up to out here, if you weren't on ‘squid patrol?’”
“Mr. Nygma was telling me about Kristen.”
“Oh,” Lee says, becoming quite still.
Edward studies her downturned face. It's so obvious that she’s hurting so much. It’s the first time he’s truly felt anything except rage and a deep-seated fear within himself in her presence in quite a while. “It’s okay, Lee. I can stop.”
“No,” Lee says, and lifts her head, her fringe of black hair swinging back from her face. “She should know so that she understands . . .”
She leaves the phrase hanging for so long that Edward has to ask, “What, Lee?”
“What's going on with us,” Lee replies. “I don’t want to be unfair to her anymore.”
Dini looks a little panicked and sits upright in her chair. “Is everything okay?”
“It’s fine, sweetheart,” Edward says to her. Then he asks Lee, “Should I continue?”
“Okay, where were we?” Edward says. “Oh, yes. I was telling you everything that Strange had done to baby Kristen.”
“Yes,” Dini said quietly.
Edward turns towards Lee before he says carefully. “So, it’s probably time I told you how we lost her.”
Silent tears start streaming down Lee’s face.
Dini gets out of her chair to kneel beside her in the sand and just as the little girl reaches out to her, Lee says, “No, it’s okay, Dini. I’m okay. Go back to your chair.”
Dini shoots Edward a puzzled look. But he just nods at the chair and she returns to sit in it.
“Okay. Now Dini, remember I just told you about Professor Strange?”
“Yes. He's the one who wanted to make Kristen into a monster?”
“Yes,” Edward confirms. “Well, Doc Thompkins and I rescued our baby girl from his clutches. We villains are nothing if not protective.”
“That’s good,” Dini says.
“And we had her with us at Uncle Oswald’s estate - in the pool house.”
“His pool is so big it has a house?”
Edward chuckles. “More or less.”
“We were there with baby Kristen -”
“What did her bathing suit look like?” interrupts Dini.
“Well, if you guys were in the pool’s house, you must have been swimming and her bathing suit must have looked different because she had four arms.”
Surprisingly, Lee lets out a little chuckle through her tears. “I would have liked to see that, Dini. But we weren’t swimming. The pool house at Oswald’s is beside the pool.”
“Oh!” A sudden light of understanding shines in the little girl’s eyes. “Okay. What happened in the pool house?”
Lee looks up at Edward. He nods.
“Sweetheart,” Lee says, not really holding back her tears as she explains. “We were holding Kristen - trying to change her - get her out of her soiled pinafore because we had just fed her. She had such a difficult time eating and not making a mess.”
“Because of her tongue?”
Lee looks back up at Edward, seemingly surprised that he had told her that detail for some reason.
“Yes, that’s exactly right.”
“Anyway, we had her in our arms,” Lee’s voice caught, but she took a deep breath to get through it. “And she started turning blue. She was breathing but she wasn’t getting any oxygen.
As a doctor, I should have been able to tell what was wrong with her - Why couldn’t I? - but as a mother I just panicked. Our baby girl died in our arms!”
Dini starts crying along with Lee.
Edward takes out the Kali remote again and says gravely, “And this is why.”
Lee looks at it briefly, then she turns her head away as if she’s been burned just from looking at it. But Dini wipes her eyes and takes it.
“Kali,” she says, the tears on her fingers making it slippery in her hands. “But how?”
Edward continues the story once again. “Professor Strange had installed a plug between two chambers of Kristen’s heart -”
“I didn’t know hearts had chambers!” Dini exclaims.
“They have four,” Lee says dully.
“Like Kristen’s arms.”
A mournful sob breaks free from Lee. “Edward, I’m sorry, I can’t -”
“It’s okay. Go,” he replies.
Lee gets up and heads towards the shore. Edward and Dini watch as she just stands there, looking out into the vast emptiness of the sea as if she’s waiting for something to come back to her.
“Is she going to be okay?” Dini asks.
Edward sighs, trying to think of a way to answer her. He decides on the truth.
“I don’t know, kiddo. Doc Thompkins has been through a lot and she’s broken right now.” He feels a tightness in his chest as he decides to admit one of his fears to the little girl. Softly, he says, “I’m not sure she’ll ever be fixed.”
“That’s sad,” Dini says.
“It really is,” Edward replies somberly.
“But why is she broken? Is it just baby Kristen? Or . . ?”
Smart kid. She knows something more is going on with Lee.
“Can you keep a secret?”
“Always,” Dini says proudly.
“Of course you can.” Edward smiles. “You’re still keeping mine. Thank you.”
Dini smiles back at him with a wide toothy grin.
“But this is one of Doc Thompkin’s secrets this time.”
“Then why are you telling it instead of her?”
“Because it hurts her.”
“That’s why it’s a secret - it’s not because she’s hiding something, but because it hurts her to talk about it. Do you understand?”
“I think so,” Dini says. “But that’s a weird reason to have a secret.”
“It’s an adult thing.”
“Okay.” Dini shrugs. “I promise I won’t say anything.”
“Good,” Edward says with a nod. “I think you should know that Doc Thompkins has been a mother three times - or at least almost a mother three times - but that she’s lost all of her babies.”
Dini looks horrified.
“And it’s really hard to lose a child.”
“That’s so sad. Poor Doc.” Dini looks down and says glumly, “It’s really hard to lose a parent, too - even if they’re mean to you.”
A tightness grips Edward’s throat and his vision blurs with the tears that he’s suddenly fighting. He manages to get out a whispered, “Yes.” And in that very moment, he hates his mother even more for making him feel this way.
“But Dini, there’s more you need to know.”
“Because of all the heartache that losing her babies has caused her, Doc Thompkins doesn’t want to be a mother.”
The little girl looks stricken. “Are you sure?”
Edward nods solemnly. After all, she had sterilized herself. The message was pretty clear.
“But what about you? Don’t you ever want to be a father?” Dini asks meekly, cringing in her chair as if waiting to be rejected.
“Actually, yes, I do,” Edward replies and the little girl relaxes some. Not that it will ever happen.
“I really thought Doc Thompkins wanted a little girl in the house.” Dini pouts. “She sure made it seem that way.”
“Doc Thompkins is going through a lot of things right now, sweetheart. We lost Kristen less than a year ago. I think she’s been confused.”
Tears well up in Dini’s eyes. “Did she think I was a replacement for Kristen? Cause I’m not!”
“No, sweetheart, I don’t think so.” Edward says. “And you’re not a replacement to me either.”
“No. No one can take Kristen’s place. But I’ve got room in my heart for another.”
Okay guys, I'm taking a month-long hiatus with this fic. It will resume the first week of December, though not necessarily on Monday. Stay tuned!
Dini had left to go back to the dormitory. Edward looks out onto the sand. Lee is still there, her arms crossed as she walks through the surf, letting the warm water flow over her toes without really noticing it. She keeps her gaze on the horizon. Looking for something.
But she’s not coming back.
Not Kristen or any of her other babies.
Edward pushes himself out of the chair and arduously navigates the sand, staff in hand. By the time he gets to Lee, she has stopped walking – she’s just standing there, looking out at the water. She must have heard him making his way towards her. Her chin lifts as he comes up behind her.
Wordlessly, he puts his arms around her. Encircling her, he places his head on her shoulder, his gaze following hers to the deep blue sea. Teeming with so much life.
“Aren’t you angry with me, Edward? Afraid maybe?” she asks him bitterly.
“No. Don’t ruin the moment,” he says, not wanting to think about that right now.
“Why? It’s not going to last,” she whispers.
His heart squeezes tightly at her words, knowing she’s right.
That night, they find themselves seeking comfort in the dark. Lee lay within the sheets of their bed naked, which he discovers upon pulling them back to get in himself. She rolls over to him instinctively, tucking herself into the hollow beneath where his shoulder and his arm meet. It just feels right.
Holding each other skin to skin, eventually their lips meet. Softly at first, and then more passionately. Edward breathes down her neck to her collarbone, where he leaves a trail of light kisses that make her moan.
It’s not long before they find themselves in a familiar place – stoking each other’s fire. But their cries of ecstasy that night are fringed with sorrow. A shared loss. And a deeper loss than Edward can even fathom.
The Doc resurfaces just as Edward is drifting off and heads downstairs for a drink.
When Edward meets Lee downstairs for breakfast the next morning, he smells her before he sees her and is confused for a second.
“Nope. Just me,” Lee says, about ready to pour herself some coffee. The scent of alcohol is even stronger when she speaks. “She just left me in this state and took off.”
“What? Why?” Edward asks as he sits down at the breakfast table.
“Jealousy,” Lee says and shrugs. “As usual, she somehow thinks you care more about my feelings than you do about hers. It's getting old." Lee turns her attention back to the coffee pot. “I made extra. Want any?”
“No, thank you,” Edward replies. “I’m good.”
“Why not?” Lee asks, exasperated as she tosses the coffeepot back into the coffee maker. “Do you still think I still have cooties or something? Even after night?”
“Edward, you’re pissing me off.”
“You know, yelling at me is not going to remedy that.”
“I’m not yelling!” Lee takes a deep breath to calm herself and waits a moment before continuing. “This is not how I meant to start this conversation.”
Her tone makes Edward nervous. “What conversation?”
“Edward, I know you think I’ve been callous.”
“When it comes to Dini - or rather you - and the experiences you’ve had being bullied.”
Edward sits up straighter, while simultaneously looking down and adjusting his glasses.
Lee takes a seat beside him. “Look, Edward. I’m a medical doctor. I’ve had to learn to stay somewhat detached from my patients’ suffering. I HAVE to. Look what happened in The Narrows when I lost perspective? It doesn’t mean I don’t care . . . I’ve just - I’ve learned my lesson. And I’m not turning a blind eye to Dini, I’m not downplaying what’s happened to her, I’m just -”
“Just what?” Edward challenges, looking up at her again.
Lee places a hand on his gently. “Edward, I never went through the same things that you did growing up - so you’re right, I can’t understand. But I want to. Please talk to me . . .”
Edward removes his hand. A pained look flits across his face as he recalls what he said that almost made her strike him. How he had thrown her ignorance in her face. And how she reminded him of her own suffering . . . yet stayed her hand.
He flees the room.
Before Edward rounds the corner to the auditorium to begin rehearsals, two girls - undoubtedly a couple of Clarissa’s old pals - are talking loudly to the group of kids waiting to be let in. Apparently, the day he had dumped Clarissa into the garbage can in front of her peers hadn’t been quite enough to stop this kind of thing entirely.
“Hey Dini, what did your mom do for a living?” the first one asks.
There’s a round of catcalling and other disrespectful noises from some of the girls. Dini doesn’t answer - the second girl answers for her.
“She worked in a bar,” she declares triumphantly. “In Sandy Point.”
Many - but certainly not all - of the girls laugh at that. The words 'Sandy Point' are always said as if the place alone is something to be ashamed of.
“Yeah, but was Dini's mom serving the drinks or just drinking them?” the first girl asks.
More laughter erupts - peppered with snickers this time.
Edward rounds the corner, a fierce look on his face. He can’t tell which of the girls had just been talking about Dini’s mom, so he just claps his hands loudly and tells all of them to follow him, making it clear that he’s not happy with the situation he has just come upon. A few of them look sheepish and avert their gaze, saying, “Sorry Mr. Nygma.”
Dini doesn’t look like she’s in much of a forgiving mood and glares at all of them, holding her book bag tightly to her chest and lifting her nose in the air as she passes them by to enter the auditorium first.
At least Dini’s showing a strong face and not giving anything away that those sharklets can use to further humiliate her. Perhaps they will grow tired of picking on her and eventually find somebody else to work out their aggression on. Edward sure hopes so. He also hopes that one day she’ll be able to make another friend besides Martin, who’s all the way up in Gotham and not around to play with on a regular basis. He doesn’t for a second believe she’s actually friends with Lila like Lee does. Dini must be very lonely at the orphanage. Like he had been at the facility.
After everyone else has left rehearsal, Dini comes up to Edward with a deep pout on her face and tells him that he was right - she was a fool to ever think that Lee wanted another daughter. He notices that her chin quivers right before she looks down.
He gets down to her level and takes her hand. “Hey -”
“I went to go see Lila - to see if Doc Thompkins would let me into her room - but instead she took me aside and told me why she left for Gotham - why she left me here in the orphanage. She told me what was wrong with you.”
Dini gulps back a sob as Edward nods. “I was very sad after I took revenge on Professor Strange for killing our Baby Kristen. I suddenly had these memories -”
“Of all the bad things,” Dini finishes for him.
“And so you got sick - unable to move and stuff - and Doc Thompsons had to go up to Gotham to doctor you.”
“Something like that, yes.”
“But unlike you, she just - she just doesn’t have any room in her heart for another daughter. She misses Baby Kristen.” Dini gulps back some tears that she tries to talk through. Her voice comes out in squeaks. “She doesn’t want me. I would make her too sad. I just know it."
“Perhaps she doesn't have any room now . . ." Edward says carefully and gives the little girl a hug. “But you know, some people heal in time.”
Dini shakes her head vehemently as she pulls away from him. “But some people don’t. My mommy didn’t. She only got worse and worse.”
“Doc Thompkins isn’t your mother.”
“I know,” Dini says with a sigh. “But I worry about her anyway.”
“I do, too, sweetheart.” Edward stands back up. “Perhaps you should come back to the house with me today.”
“Why?” she scrunches up her little face as she looks at him.
“Because regardless of what Doc Thompkins and I have been through - and the healing we need to do - we both still care about you immensely and we miss you. It would mean the world to us if you came over today.” Edward’s eyes twinkle with mischief as he bends over and says enticingly, “We could work on some forgery . . .”
“I don’t know,” Dini replies, grabbing her elbow and swaying from side to side.
“I’ve got letters from Martin . . .”
“You do?” Her eyes are like saucers. Edward almost laughs. She hadn’t expected that.
“Hmm. . .” She adopts a look of serious concentration, even bringing her thumb and forefinger up to her chin to stroke it. She really is quite the little ham. After a moment she says, “Okay, I’ll do it.”
“But only for Martin,” Dini insists with a pointed finger.
“Of course, sweetheart.” Edward smiles and places a loving hand on her head.
Sorry that took a little bit longer than I thought it would (a half a week longer) . . . But this fic will start posting weekly again. Stay tuned!
Chapter 21: Chapter 21
The Doc returns to Beachview a bit later than Edward and Dini and comes up to his study to say hello to them. They appear to be working on forgeries together.
“No!” Dini contradicts. “Invisible ink. See?”
She holds up a piece of paper that appears to be blank.
“I see,” The Doc says. “Or rather, I don’t.”
Dini beams as Edward places a hand on her shoulder like a proud father.
“I’m going to be just like Mr. Nygma someday,” Dini says. “He knows all these cool tricks. Someday, I will know them all too.”
“Well -” Edward starts.
“He knows way too many things, doesn’t he?” The Doc says.
“Hey, what’s that supposed to mean?” Edward asks her.
The Doc just responds with a wink, apparently in better spirits. Must be Dini’s presence back in the home. Perhaps she’ll lay off the booze for awhile.
“So, Dini,” The Doc asks casually. “What did your mother do for a living?”
Edward goes white. From behind Dini, he starts motioning across his neck, signalling to The Doc to cut off this line of questioning. Today is not the day . . . not after those girls at school had just teased her about it.
“She went to a bar.” Dini shrugs.
“She poured drinks there?”
“Yup,” Dini says with a nod and returns her gaze to the blank piece of paper, apparently unfazed. But Edward’s not so sure. She’s no longer looking at The Doc.
After an awkward pause, The Doc says jovially, “Guess I will too, then.”
“No,” Edward mouths and shakes his head, panicked. Today is REALLY not the day for her to pull this kind of thing. They’re so close to getting Dini back into their lives - she’s just starting to trust again.
“Yes,” The Doc whispers back a bit angrily and leaves the room.
Dini remains focused on her paper, pen in hand. She’s been making marks with it, pretending not to hear their exchange.
“Doc -” Edward says. He strides for the door.
“Please don’t go.” Dini’s voice is forlorn and Edward turns back to see her sad face. "Please? I want to tell you a story."
“It’s the story I’m telling Martin, here.” Dini points at the page of dried, now colorless ink. “With your invisible ink.”
She starts to write again and the ink is a light yellowish brown before it fades. Edward watches her write, “This is what happened at Jilt Beach.”
It takes forever. She's only six.
“Sweetheart, why don’t you just tell me and then you can go back to writing your letter to Martin.” Edward is a bit worried about what The Doc may be doing downstairs. With their liquor cabinet.
“Sure!” Dini says, and tells the story.
An evil hag - a master of potions - had a son but she didn’t want him. When she grew bored tormenting him, she gave him over to the sea urchins, but being a human boy he didn’t really fit in with them and was miserable.
But then one day, her son found a princess - one who wanted him for her own. He wasn’t used to being wanted and fell deeply in love with her, proposing marriage right away.
It wasn’t until the day before the wedding that the evil hag discovered what had happened. He was happy and it made her angry because she hadn’t been happy since the day he was born. She worked up a potion to remedy the situation.
As the princess was preparing for the wedding, a gift arrived for her. The bottle said it was a perfume - a present from her groom. She eagerly put it on and then went out to the beach - Jilt Beach - to wed him.
Now she was a daughter of Poseidon and his strong presence was felt in the sea that day. He created a glorious spectacle of waves just for his daughter’s nuptials all along Jilt Beach. Everyone was excited to attend the royal event and marvel at the waves. The beach was packed.
But as the princess came down the aisle, her groom suddenly screamed.
He shook at the mere sight of his bride.
She looked just like the hag, his mother. " It can’t be. Please, no.”
“Darling -?” the confused bride started to reach for the man she loved, but he panicked, picked her up and threw her into the ocean as the wedding guests just stood there, gasping in shock.
“NO!” He screamed at her, “I can't believe you tricked me like this. You don’t love me. You never have.”
The princess only sputtered in response, trying not to drown as he held her down in the waves. But it was in vain.
The entire wedding party heard his final scream as her final breath was sacrificed to the ocean, “Damn you, MOTHER!”
Then Poseidon’s first devastating wave hit, killing the groom instantly and taking out more than half of the guests in his rage.
As the soaked survivors scrambled up the rocks to safety, they heard the evil hag’s cackle, saw her circle above them in the air and say, “That’s what you get for trying to be happy.”
Ever since then, Jilt Beach has been haunted by the souls of those who were killed there - the most famous being the jilted bride, who can sometimes still be seen wandering around confusion and throwing dead sea urchins up onto the beach. People wonder if she’s just trying to find her lost love - or if she’s planning to take vengeance upon him when she does. But, he is never anywhere to be found.
Poseidon has deemed the place of his daughter’s shame off-limits, especially to lovers.
It is an unlucky place.
“So, what do you think the moral of the story is?” Dini asks Edward.
“I’m not good with morals," Edward laughs at his own joke. "But if I were to guess -”
“'Trust your heart,'” Dini interrupts with an emphatic little nod. “The groom’s eyes deceived him.”
Edward can’t help but think that’s what’s wrong with The Doc - she’s not trusting her heart. He really should go downstairs and check on her.
Chapter 22: Chapter 22
“Please don’t go,” Dini implores one more time as Edward tries to go downstairs to check on The Doc. Her eyes glance fearfully towards the door.
“What is it, sweetheart?” Edward asks.
“It’s your turn to tell me a story,” she says with fake brightness.
“Okay,” Edward says, trying to think of a short one.
“Tell me how you got revenge.”
“Tell me what you did to that mean professor. That mad scientist guy. To protect Baby Kristen.”
“Baby Kristen was already gone, Dini. It wasn’t for her protection.”
“Okay, but what did you do?”
Edward hesitates, thinking that this story isn’t for a child - but he doesn’t hesitate for long - instead, foolishly he dives right in.
“And then, I turned him into a buttermilk zombie!” Edward exclaims and claps his hands together. He’s so lost in bragging about his part in taking down Jeremiah’s operation as he exacted his own personal revenge on Strange that he doesn’t notice that Dini’s eyes are as wide as saucers. “He was in thrall to me. He would do anything I told him to. Even kill hims -”
“Hey there, Sailor.”
Edward’s eyes flick to the door and he’s instantly pulled out of his recollection. The Doc is leaning against the doorframe, having adopting a sexy, if uncoordinated pose. She’s wearing a racy red dress and impossibly high heels to match. She holds a brandy snifter in her hand.
“Doc, what are you doing up here?” Edward asks warily. This is definitely not the time. “I’m having story time with Dini.”
As The Doc saunters over to Edward’s desk precariously, the look of fear on Dini’s face only intensifies and she cringes away from her. As The Doc walks, she trips over her own heels and spills a bit of her drink on Dini’s shoulder.
“Oops, sorry,” she says casually.
Dini springs away as if she’s been burned.
Then she starts yelling at them in a fast, high-pitched squeak that is barely comprehensible.
Edward is able to make out “YOU ARE A VILLAIN” as Dini’s finger points at him accusingly, but he can’t make out any of the words she says to The Doc, they are so impassioned and peppered with tears.
Both of them are so stunned that before either of them can react, the little girl runs out of the house.
Once the gravity of the situation hits Edward, he goes to the window . Looking out at the dock he sees Dini pleading with Miles. The good man nods and leads her to his boat. Dini has clearly chosen to go back to the orphanage over staying with them. Edward stands there for quite a few minutes, his fists clenched. He can hear the veins in his temples pulsating.
He turns around to face The Doc.
“You. . .” His voice is deep with menace, a dark growl.
“What?” she asks casually and downs the rest of her drink.
“You’ll probably need another one of those,” Edward sneers. “When you sober up and realize what just happened here.”
He stalks out of the room and heads for the dock, planning to sail over to Driftwood Island himself as soon as Miles returns.
Edward is barred from seeing Dini by the headmistress. “Now is not a good time for you to see her.”
That’s for sure. “Look -”
“It doesn’t matter what you say happened right now, Mr. Nygma. All that matters is that the girl has obviously been traumatized by something from her recent visit to your home. I don’t think you - or Dr. Thompkins - should have any contact with her for a while. I’m suspending rehearsals of Paradise Lost .”
“It’s in the best interest of the child. And that’s my foremost priority as headmistress. The well-being of all of these girls.”
“Of course,” Edward says glumly.
Of course, he doesn’t want to upset her anymore, but he wanted . . . what did he want, really?
The answer comes to him quickly, like it always does. Answers. He wants answers.
“Can you tell me more about Dini’s life before she came here to Driftwood Island?” Edward asks calmly, quieting his mind in preparation to discover things he knows will only make him furious. He needs to start with a clean slate so he doesn’t explode. He knows this girl’s been hurt and he realizes that he never knew the complete story - her reaction to The Doc’s drunken demeanor had been quite extreme - and unexpected.
“Certainly,” she replied. “What do you want to know?”
Edward is quiet on the boat back to Beachview. Miles’ chatter stops when he realizes the foul mood his passenger is in. And it doesn’t get any better when he arrives back home.
“Doc?” he yells up the stairs after he takes off his coat and puts his hat on the rack by the door, taking note that she doesn’t appear to be around.
“Up here,” he hears her reply in a lazy, slurred voice.
“Lee?” he asks as he makes it to the landing, realizing that it was not The Doc who had answered him, hoping that it hadn’t been Lee.
Turns out it hadn’t been.
“No, Edward. It’s me,” Leslie says.
“I need to speak to The Doc. NOW,” Edward’s nostrils are flaring.
“No. You’ll hurt her.”
“What?” Edward growls. “How dare you? Unlike Lee, I would never lay a hand on -”
Leslie puts up a hand. “No, it’s not that. It's just, The Doc knows you're angry because she’s done something and -”
“Let her through,” Edward says firmly. “I need to talk to her. To all of you, really. But her the most. Can you do that for me, Leslie?”
“Fine,” Leslie says, rolling her eyes. Then she says to The Doc, “You’d better not drink while you’re out.”
“Agreed,” Edward says.
“She’s been getting stronger,” Leslie warns him. “Take care of her.”
What does that mean?
As soon as The Doc takes over, Edward’s previously hot fury towards her turns cold . . . and eerily calm.
“Hey there,” she says in a slur, trying to be sultry.
“Not going to work, Doc,” Edward replies and gets to the point. “Did you know Dini’s mother was an alcoholic?”
“No,” The Doc says, the light in her eyes deadening as she sits down in one of the soft coral-colored chairs that they’ve placed near the window on the landing. She brings a hands to her forehead. The window faces the sea. Behind it, over the railing, one can see parts of the first floor. It’s usually a cozy place, but today it is most certainly not. Edward takes the chair opposite her.
“Not only did she abuse that little girl horribly, she neglected her. Her mother was known to pass out from drink often, which terrified Dini - she thought she was going to die. And that woman went on days-long benders. Dini had to fend for herself, Doc. Just like you did after your mother died.”
Water fills The Doc’s eyes, and she looks around, probably searching for the drink that Leslie had the foresight to hide from her.
“But Dini was only three, four, five at the time. She wasn’t ten - like you. ”
“I should slap you right now.”
“But I’m not Lee,” The Doc continues with a jagged, mean-spirited laugh. “I’ll leave it up to her to stoke that fear of yours.”
His anger is back in a white hot flash as he realizes that The Doc isn’t who he had thought she was if she could so easily taunt him about something like that. He had truly believed that she was the one who had understood him best. Now he can only sit there in silence, shaking with rage and betrayal.
“Why are you so afraid, Edward? I couldn’t harm you, Lee couldn’t harm you. Leslie certainly wouldn’t even try. What happened to you?”
“Never mind me,” Edward growls, standing up from his chair and pointing down at her sternly. “You hurt that little girl. You scared her today. And for what? A cup of solace?”
“Fuck you, Edward.”
“No, Fuck you, Doc,” Edward yells. “Dini was a baby when this all started. Helpless. Left to starve. Sick. She has NO memory of a sober mother. None. How could you do that to her today?"
Tears begin to flow down The Doc’s face. He’d finally gotten to her. Clumsily she wipes at them. “Why are you telling me this?”
“Because you’ve gotta stop drinking!” Edward yells. “For her.”
“Try,” Edward says gravely and walks to the stairs. Before he starts down them, he turns back to her and says, “You still want another child. You ALL do, even Leslie. I can tell by the way you interact with that little girl.”
“I think you’re projecting.”
“YOU are the one who wants another child. You haven’t lost two others like I have!” The Doc practically screams. “And I can’t go through that again. None of us can. Just remember, Edward, Dini came to us. She showed up on our doorstep uninvited - we didn’t seek her out.”
“Uninvited?” Edward remembers it quite differently. They had wanted her to spend that first night with them so they could observe her in case anything went wrong with her insulin pump.
“A child can’t heal us, Edward,” The Doc says, deflating into her chair and turning away from him.
“Are you sure about that?” he asks.
“Yes.” Her eyes are dead as she turns to look at him one last time.
Edward has no reason to go to Driftwood Island anymore since rehearsals for Paradise Lost have been postponed. So he stays home and works on forgeries for Oswald instead.
“Oh, Foxy, I’m going to get you good.”
Edward grins wickedly, delighted with himself. He had concocted a masterfully convoluted goose chase, whereby Lucius Fox would know that Edward was behind the massive transfer of Wayne Properties to Oswald – he just wouldn’t be able to prove it. It would look like a maze of other people were involved – the clues would never lead back to him. He could easily outwit the Fox and keep Oswald happy – and drowning in excess wealth. It was never a bad thing to be in that cantankerous man’s good graces. How William had managed to stay there all this time confounded him. Edward kept expecting some kind of rift to form between them, like it had between him and Oswald shortly after he stared as his Chief of Staff a couple of years back, but it never did.
A call comes in for him, but he ignores it. He’s not at a stopping place.
And then it rings again. Agitated he picks up. “Yes.”
“Is this Mr. Edward Nygma?”
“Yes, it is me, the infamous Riddler!” Edward makes a little flourish that no one else can see. But then . . . “Wait. Who is this?”
“Sir, I’m sorry to inform you, but your wife –“
He can hear her protest in the background. “Hey, I told you that I was his mistress!”
“Your WIFE,” says the man on the other line, correcting her in error. “Has been admitted to the hospital.”
“What?” The forgeries are forgotten.
Edward’s heart sinks at the man’s next words.
“For alcohol poisoning. We almost lost her.”
Chapter 23: Chapter 23
"I don't know why you are so hell-bent on drinking yourself to death," Edward says in frustration, after striding into The Doc's hospital room and taking a seat.
How in the world did she get like this? He knows Leslie hadn’t wanted this to escalate to alcohol poisoning. How come she hadn’t been able to take back control of her body sooner?
She’s getting stronger. Take care of her.
And then it hits him. She no longer had control of The Doc. At all. That's what Leslie had meant. Dammit.
"Why are you doing this to yourself, Doc?” he asks the shell of a woman recovering on the hospital bed. She looks like she's just been through hell and back.
The Doc just shrugs and looks away. Then she mutters, “It’s sad you don’t know the answer to that one. Aren’t you supposed to be the brightest man in all of The South and Gotham?”
Edward decides to let that slide. “I love you, Doc. Why isn’t that enough for you?”
She doesn't look at him, despite his impassioned plea. He’d been supportive and not made any more assumptions about her ability to handle things - or not. Yet still, everything had gone to hell since their return from Gotham. He doesn’t know what more he can do for her. This timing . . .
“Why now, Doc? Dini was just coming back -”
“Because you slept with Lee.” The Doc spits it out like an accusation, a nasty tone in her voice.
So that’s what this is about? Jealousy? Unbelievable. What’s next? Had he ever been this unreasonable when he was split?
Edward stands up with his hat in his hand, suddenly coming to a decision. He can't do this anymore. He thought they had all loved him at one point, and he them, but -
“I think it's over, Lee,” he says, looking down, meaning all three of them.
“What?” The Doc exclaims, shocked, pushing herself further up in her hospital bed. “But you said -”
“That I’d never leave you?” Edward asks, and then answers himself before she can. “True. But we agreed that we would stick it out together no matter how hard it gets, just so as long as there’s love between us. Not abuse. I believe it was you who brought that up. I’m not obligated to stay around for that.”
“Look, Lee’s come close to crossing that line already. Perhaps too close. I’m not sure why we even made love that night. I don’t know what I was thinking.”
“You weren’t thinking, Edward. You were feeling.”
“Fine,” He concedes the point with a small nod. “But as far as you and me are concerned, Doc, we’ve been close. Very close.”
Her face brightens a bit as she looks up and nods.
“But you’re out of control,” he continues roughly, dashing what tenuous hope she had. “I can’t believe what you have just done to Dini. That poor little girl.”
Edward interrupts her. “You’ve hurt her and you’ve hurt me.”
“How could I have possibly hurt you, Edward? It was just a little drink.”
He doesn’t answer, he just clenches his jaw in silent fury. It hurts because he feels an obligation to protect that sweet innocent child - like any father would. He cares for Dini too much to see her traumatized like that. How can The Doc be so soundly missing that point?
“I shouldn’t have to spell it out for you, Doc.”
All she does is answer him with silence. And a frown.
“It’s over until you’re sober,” he says pointing his index finger at her, shaking with barely contained rage.
The Doc gulps and nods in acceptance, looking back down.
He needs to say more, but the words get stuck in his throat and his Adam’s apple bobs. But eventually they find their way through. “You’ve broken my heart, Doc. Driving that girl away when we were so close to having her back . . .”
“I’m sorry,” she whispers.
“You’d better be.”
Edward stalks out the door, his mind a mess, trying to process what had just happened. But he knows with clarity that he will not be like his father - he refuses to be. He will not stay with a woman who’s hurt the child he loves and has no intentions of changing her ways. Nor will he allow himself to stay with someone who has within them the capacity to fly off the handle and haul off and hit him. He just can’t.
Walking down the corridor, he remembers the shame and sting of Lee's punch from the day she socked him in the face, angry with him for killing Kristin Kringle and ruining her life. And he sees his father’s bloodied face, his mother’s red claw marks puffing up in streaks upon it. He stops walking and closes his eyes, taking in a deep breath to banish the sight.
He decides to return home and not wait for The Doc - or whoever will be around - to be discharged.
She can find her own way home. He’s done.
When Edward arrives back at the house in Beachview he notices a benign looking package sitting on the porch. He removes the card without picking it up.
Your Majesties ;-)
Dini’s bathing suit is finished! I know you two had wanted to give it to her as a special present, so I’m leaving it here for you for when the time is right. Have faith and be patient. She’ll come back. She loves both of you very much.
Your humble Narrows subject (LOL),
Edward walks upstairs to place the package and card down on the bed in Kristen’s room, noticing a faint trail of fluff arranged like breadcrumbs leading from the edge of the bed, out the door, and to the top of the staircase. Checking the bed once more, he notices that Pokey Bear is missing and a bittersweet smile graces his lips.
He and The Doc had never quite finished patching up Pokey Bear before bringing him back home to Beachview.
Leslie bursts into the guest bedroom to find Edward lying on the bed. She’s shocked but relieved to see him. He watches her as she carefully takes in all of the stuff he's set about the room. His stuff.
“I thought you were leaving.”
“I am . . . and I’m not,” he says casually.
“What do you mean?”
“Oh, make no mistake about it, I’m leaving YOU,” All of them. He sits up in bed. “But I’ve decided to stay here in Beachview.”
Leslie looks confused, so he spells it out for her.
“We’re not in a relationship anymore. Any of us. None of you can have me.” He pauses for a second, realizing that he never thought he’d be the one to end it . . . He always thought he was the one who would let her down in some way - or that she’d finally realize that he’d never been good enough for her in the first place. But now . . .
“But why -?”
“Look, Leslie.” Tears are forming in her eyes. This situation could prove to be difficult. “The Doc is non-functional at this point and is turning nastier with each passing day due to her little habit. And Lee -” He stops, bringing a hand to his chest. This line of conversation could end up touching the heart of the matter.
“What, Edward? Just say it.”
“Fine. I just never realized how mean and cruel you all are - I never saw you that way before - not even when you stabbed me in The Narrows. I’ve been so blind,” he says, shaking his head. His heart aches just putting it into words and he fights the urge to clench his fingers, still lying against his breastbone.
“Mean and cruel?” Leslie scoffs. “Just how many people have you tortured, 'Mister Riddler'? How many people have you tormented with horrific mind games with before you dispatched of them, huh? You’re the villain, Edward. You’re the one that’s cruel at your core. Even Dini can see that, so don’t you dare deny it! Deep down you know it’s not just The Doc’s behavior that drove her away. You had a part in it, too.”
“I could never be so cruel to someone I loved,” Edward says defensively, his chest heaving. I'm not Oswald.
“Oh, so is that why you’re sticking around then?” Leslie asks smugly as she heads for the door. “'As long as there's still love between us' . . .”
Edward feels outsmarted somehow. It’s not a comfortable place to be.
But had she really called his bluff? Does he still love them? At all?
That night he notices her sneaking out - it’s a pattern that repeats itself almost every night. Normally, her whereabouts would pique his interest - he’d follow her to the ends of the earth to solve the mystery of where she was going each night, she’s been so secretive. But he finds he isn’t even remotely interested.
He just doesn’t care anymore.
Chapter 24: Chapter 24
Happy Tuesday! Here's an early (and extra) little treat. A second chapter will post this week - I'm aiming for Thursday as per usual. Enjoy!
Life hadn’t been a lot of fun ignoring Lee these past couple of months, but Edward’s been getting by. Sometimes he finds himself watching her sleep after she returns from wherever it is she’s been disappearing lately. But he doesn’t know which one he’s looking at as he sits by her bed and finds it to be disconcerting.
One day after checking some finishing touches that he’d added to various city hall documents for Oswald, Edward arranges the dry ones in a stack. A few are still left hanging on a line in his office, attached by wooden clothespins. He hums a little tune as he drums his fingers on his chin, wondering if Oswald could satisfy Jim Gordon’s recent curiosity with just the dry ones. Oswald had been getting antsy ever since the commissioner had demanded proof that he actually owned of some properties that he’d moved his various enterprises into - properties that Jim knew full-well rightfully belonged to Bruce Wayne among others. Oswald hadn’t waited for Edward to finish the property deed forgeries in those cases - work that always took precision, time and care to produce excellence. No, impatient as ever, he’d just moved right in. So now Jim’s waiting like a wolf at Penguin’s door for him to produce the deeds. Time is of the essence - he can only stall him so much longer.
“Oswald you brought this onto yourself,” Edward grumbles, talking to no one, as he makes a decision to only pack up the dry ones and not wait for the others to be ready. “You can make do with these for now.”
The house is quiet when Edward leaves for BioTech Bay and the golden car William had sent. Lee or The Doc is probably still on Driftwood Island, tending to the children, given the time of day. He locks the door behind him and gets behind the wheel of her all-too-hot car instead of driving his own. He’d been taking liberties like that lately, but she had yet to confront him about it.
After depositing the property deeds and other documents into a secure safe within the empty car that William had sent, and sending it back, Edward heads back to the parking lot of Deque Discovery. He’s not yet back to his car when he is startled to hear her voice around the corner.
“I’ve already TOLD you, Dr. Ewing, the toxin works as described and is stable as far north as Gotham. It doesn’t need to be fresh like the stuff everyone down here is chewing for weight loss.You can review the data presented in my paper on systemic deque toxins for the specifics. I shouldn’t have to explain it to you any further.”
It is a nasty, gnarling voice. It twists Edward up inside and he freezes, closing his eyes. A painful memory comes to him, unbidden. He is once again in that vestibule, just a little boy. Against his face, he can feel the air that is displaced by the quick swish of her plaid skirt as he sees it disappear just out of reach of his pleading hands.
“I doesn’t matter if my data is over twenty years old, the extracted toxin’s properties won’t have just ‘magically’ changed over time, Ewing. My data stands.” She huffs. “Look, who’s running the Toxin Division, here, huh? Me or you?”
She must be on the phone, because Edward doesn’t hear a reply, but he’s not sure he would have been able to over his own gasps of fright. And he’s suddenly gotten so lightheaded that it feels like he’s going to hit the ground any second. What is he going to do when she rounds the corner and sees him? He can’t move.
“That’s right, Ewing. I can’t believe you dare question my authority.”
Edward can hear the fast click-clack of her heels on the pavement as she picks up her pace and starts to briskly head his way. His heart rate escalates and intensifies to the point that he can feel it pulse in his throat. The potential of being caught usually thrills him, but not this time. This time it is terrifying.
“Eliza!” someone calls out.
“What!?” Edward can hear her screech impatiently. “Can’t you see I’m on a very important phone call?”
There’s a muffled ‘sorry’ and a ‘thank you,’ and then her walking resumes. Edward is able to make it into the passenger seat of Lee’s car – he had become unfrozen for just a moment while she had been distracted. Once settled, he puts on his hat and pulls the brim down, waiting with dread for when he’ll catch a glimpse of the woman he hasn’t seen since she’d left him behind at that facility, sick, terrified, and alone. His mother.
Edward’s alarmingly uneven breathing resumes as he hears her sharp heels get closer. He tilts his head back a bit and underneath the brim of his hat, he notices that her heels are red - an exact match to the color of this car. But he’s not ready to look at any more of her. He closes his eyes.
“We need in vivo studies to prove its geographical stability?” he hears her ask the person on the other line, mild shock apparent in her voice. Edward can just imagine her raising one of her eyebrows. “Are you sure about that? This toxin can’t be tested on animals for efficacy. None are analog -”
Edward dares to take a more comprehensive look at her in the brief silence that follows. He peeks under the brim of his hat once more and sees that she’s a bit further away from him than he had originally thought - she has a voice that easily carries. He can only see her fierce profile, but he notices that she looks exactly the same. Well . . . except for a bold white streak or two that have found their way into the soft auburn waves of her hair.
“Well Dr. Ewing, you should know that in vivo studies aren’t a problem.” She raises her chin with pride. “It just so happens that I tested it on my son years ago in Gotham. I’ve got the data.”
After a short pause, she says, “Yes. I left him in a facility to die. Never saw him again.”
The world turns as Edward slumps forward in a dead faint.
Chapter 25: Chapter 25
Leslie comes home to find Edward slumped on the floor of his office, his hair askew, his glasses -
What’s that on his chin?
“Please?” he asks pathetically, holding out a beaten and battered folder. He sounds like a little boy. He sounds like more like Eddie than Edward.
Leslie can’t remember the last time they’d spoken. She crouches down to his level and takes the folder from his hands. Upon closer inspection, she can see - and smell that it’s vomit on his chin. “What happened to you?”
“Please, I need a doctor,” he replies, indicating the folder with his eyes.
“I think you need more than that, Eddie,” Leslie says, standing up and handing the folder back to him. “Stay here.”
When she returns, it’s with a warm cloth to wipe down his chin and the front of his shirt. Then she combs through his hair with her fingers and straightens his glasses. When she’s done and holds out her hand for the folder again, he flinches.
“Oh my god,” she says with frustration, retracting her hand.
“What?” he asks meekly, drawing his knees in a little.
“No, it’s not you, Eddie,” she says softly and then sighs. “I’m not mad at you. I’m just having trouble understanding why you are like this. I know it’s not just what happened with Lee – you know I’m not her so we’re beyond that now.”
“I want to help you so that you can get past this.” Leslie’s eyes narrow. “Tell me who in the hell did this to you? I’ll kill the bitch myself.”
He just looks at down at the folder.
“Who hurt you, Eddie?” Leslie asks him gently once gain. “You know you can talk to me.”
“I need a doctor.”
Leslie sighs, acquiescing. “Of course, Eddie. Anything for you.”
“Are you a doctor, though? I know you’re all grown up now, but . . .”
“I’m not sure. Maybe? But Lee and The Doc have more experience than I do, regardless. Do you mind if we all take a look?”
“No, go ahead.”
He hands over his medical file and they sit in silence for a while as Leslie reviews it, not saying a word about how shocked she is to learn he’d spent the vast majority of his youth in a facility for sick children. One she’d never even heard of. Eddie had told her that he’d been sick as a kid, but she had no idea the extent of it, just how many years he’d spent in that place.
For his part, Edward bears the silence between them with his head tilted up, fighting the occasional tear, fighting off the memories.
“Come here,” Leslie says at one point, indicating her lap, and, taking off his glasses he puts his head into it. She idly strokes his hair from time to time. “I can’t make heads or tails of this, Eddie. I get the impression your doctors had no idea what was wrong with you. Lots of diagnostics were done . . . but there were no diagnoses.”
Edward gulps and nods. Sounds about right. But . . .
He rotates his head in order to look up at her. “Are you sure they weren’t collecting data on me? Do you see any secret codes in the margins or anything? Something only doctors would know. Because I couldn’t find a pattern or anything, but perhaps I don’t kn -”
Edward sits up and nods, putting his glasses back on.
“Aren’t we being a bit paranoid, Eddie?”
He doesn’t answer her directly. If there aren’t any secret notes within his records indicating that he had still been under observation, there’s only one conclusion to make.
“She just left me there . . .” his voice trails off at the implication. His mother really had just left him there to die. Experiment over.
“Eddie, hey,” Leslie says to get his attention. “Who just left you where?”
He won’t answer that question. He can’t. Instead he just looks her dead in the eye. There’s a chill in his voice as he asks, “Was I poisoned?”
“What?” Leslie wonders how he’d come to that conclusion. Certainly not from a layman’s examination of his medical file. She skims through it briefly once more. “Well, unless it was a systemic toxin -”
“A systemic toxin. . .”
The world spins briefly and the floor comes up to meet him as yet once again, he passes out. But thankfully, like the dashboard, the floor isn’t too far away and almost no damage is done to his face, mostly because Leslie had caught him in time to minimize the impact.
Edward wakes up in bed with Leslie’s arm securely around him, holding him tight. He doesn’t remember making it back here - and Leslie couldn’t have dragged him there herself. He rolls over to face her, but she doesn’t wake up.
He remembers Dini telling her, “Don’t press, Doc Thopmkins. It’s his secret.”
His secret . . .
“His mother abandoned him.” The little girl continued, “But I’m good at keeping secrets, aren’t I, Mr. Nygma?”
Oh, no. Leslie had gotten too close. She’d found out about -
Wait. Had Dini really been there? No. That had just been a dream. An anxiety dream. But still, he really had let Leslie get dangerously close to the truth.
And then it hit him. Hard.
He had to sit up to be able to breathe at all.
HIS MOTHER HAD POISONED HIM
All these years, he’s wondered why he had been sick, if his illness would come back, if he would pass it on to his offspring. But now he knew the truth. And she was down here in The South. In BioTech Bay.
Edward is terrified but fascinated. He needs to learn more about this toxin - and that requires that he has another encounter his mother, if only to shadow her research, and it makes his heart race with fear.
What time is it?
Early. But still, it never hurts to get a head start when stalking someone. He pulls off the covers with one swift motion, amazingly still bwithout disturbing Leslie, and gets ready for the day. He finds that he needs to adjust his glasses with a repair kit to make them fit just right again. Landing on them twice in one day from a dead faint hasn't been good for them.
He leaves for BioTech Bay without realizing he has a shadow.
Edward sits in his car this time, not Lee’s, in the parking lot of Deque Discovery and bides his time, waiting for the sun to come up. And, early as she ever was in his youth, his mother arrives right when he expects her to – before anyone else. It’s barely dawn when he spies her. Tall, willowy, smug smile and all.
Any carefully laid plans he had made are thrown to the wind as soon as he sees that smile. Suddenly, blind rage is the order of the day.
Without missing a beat, he finds himself standing against a damp cement wall, lying in wait to ambush her as she rounds the corner to head in to work.
The icy coldness of his controlled tone effectively conceals his boiling fury as he grabs her by the neck.
Chapter 26: Chapter 26
His mother had always played games with his mind - games with so few clues that it was impossible to win. Edward had always wished the tables were turned. And now they were. Kind of. He's determined to get information on the toxin that she had used on him even if he has to wring it out of her.
Holding her by the neck he makes her walk backwards. His brown eyes bore down into hers. They are the same. Except one of them can be kind. He can tell it makes her uncomfortable - she had never liked looking at him directly.
He pushes open one of the doors to Deque Discovery’s huge chemical inventory warehouse, grabbing her ID card and snapping it from the lanyard clipped to her suit so that he can use it to gain entry.
Once inside, he quickly disables the surveillance system - still holding onto her by her neck - before turning his full attention back to her.
“Where is it?” he growls.
“What?” She coughs a bit in an attempt to look pathetic so he’ll let her go.
“You know exactly what. . . Mother.” Edward sneers.
For a brief moment, a look of fear and something that could be guilt crosses her face and he relaxes his grip on her neck in triumph, but that look is quickly replaced by superior indignation as soon as she pulls free.
“Let me go,” she croaks, clutching her throat and looking pointedly at the door.
“Not a chance,” Edward says. Not until she tells him what toxin she had used on him. “Show it to me.”
She remains silent. Neither of them notice that someone had followed them in and is watching from the shadows.
“The time for games is OVER. I know what you did to me.”
“Oh, that,” she says flippantly. But then she continues in a more detached tone, “You know, it was quite frustrating trying to find a dose that would kill you - once my research was done. After you’d outlived your use as a specimen.”
Edward just stands there and blinks, shocked at her brazenness - at just how unabashed she is as she casually admits what she’d done to him. But then again, he always knew she had never loved him.
“I observed you for as long as I could take it. Thank god I didn’t have to care for you. Your father handled that part.” She shivered.
Edward was quite aware of her lack of love for him, yet he had no clue that he had made her feel that way. “Why?”
“Why? Because I couldn’t stand the sight of you.” She’s not even looking at him. He remembers that well. All the icy rejection from her. Again and again and again. “I refused to even give you a name. Nash finally broke down and named you after his father, who was named after his grandfather. So technically you’re Edward Nygma the third or some other such nonsense.”
She still hadn’t answered the question to his satisfaction. Edward steps even closer to her, nothing but menace in his heart, towering over her despite her own great height. “WHY?”
“Well besides the fact that having you was going to ruin my career -”
Edward rolls his eyes. “Oh, please. Women work and have children all the time. You’re not that incompetent- I’ve heard that you’re running the Toxin Division here. What little time you lost raising me couldn’t have been more than a blip in your career. Especially because Dad did all the work.”
“FINE. But don't you want to know what I gave you?” she asks to divert him from his present line of questioning. “I can show it to you. We’ve got a small vial of it stored in our R&D reserves.”
“No tricks,” Edward says, pushing her forward in the direction she’d indicated.
A shadow follows them.
“DQ Toxin α-1.” Edward’s mother reads the bottle’s slightly faded cyanic, hand-printed label. He wonders if it’s her handwriting. It easily fits into the palm of her hand and her fingers comfortably close over it and roll it around a bit. “This is all we have left of it right now, but if the board can see that my research supports what I think it does, our manufacturer is sure to be setting up for full-scale production of it quite soon. It won’t make any of us rich, but it should produce a pretty penny. Poisons mainly only sell on the black market and can never really be runaway successes like our more above-board products - unless there’s a run on assassinations.”
“Keep dreaming. I’m not going to let you attain any glory at the expense of my childhood - not for performing research experiments on your own son!” Edward snatches the bottle away from her. It is still cold. Her hands hadn’t done much to warm it up.
She laughs. “Oh, there’s no glory to be had in this small achievement. My discovery and extraction of this toxin was minor compared to most everything else I’ve done.”
“Minor? I almost died at your hands.”
“Yes, and that was a worthy endeavor," she says and narrows her eyes. “I can see that now. Too bad I failed.”
She just shakes her head and tsks. “My son, The Riddler. I knew it.”
“Knew what?” Edward asks, deadly quiet. How dare she mock his identity, who he has become.
“You are a bad seed. Just like my mother.”
Grandma? What? Edward’s ire quiets just a bit.
“The first time you opened your eyes, I knew. I saw her in there. I saw the devil.”
“But Grandma had blue eyes,” he replies, confused. He has brown eyes - just like the woman standing before him, his mother.
“The very devil . . .” she continues, unhearing. “You’re impossible to love, Edward. Destined to become a villain. I tried to do the world a favor but my mistake was trying to get some data out of you first instead of eliminating you from the start. Deque Discovery had been looking for people to test out the stability of potential deque toxins up in Gotham - not much derived from that intractable crab seems to maintain much potency for long when it’s away from the ocean. They contacted me after I had earned my first PhD since I was from The South. I understood the deque crabs' mercurial nature and was less likely to give up on my efforts than outsiders. But they hadn’t needed to take such precautions - the toxin I found and extracted worked like a charm. That first dose I gave you was . . .”
She looks off into space in rapture.
“You’re sick,” Edward says flatly.
“Am I?” she challenges. “Saving the world from yet another Edward Nygma? And from a child descended from the hell-spawn that was my very own mother? I was the conduit for so much evil and I needed to rectify it. You needed to be sacrificed so that the world could be safe.”
“No, mother. I’m not -”
Suddenly, she rounds on him and her sharp red nails dig into his face. The vial of toxin drops from his hand, unnoticed. It doesn’t shatter. A cold shock races from the top of his throat down to his belly as she makes contact, as his anger turns to primal fear in less than a heartbeat. His eyes bulge.
Please don’t . . . I don’t want to be my father!
“Listen to me, Edward," she spits. "Even your father - that weak, pathetic man who loved you for some inexplicable reason - even he understood what needed to be done.”
Edward shakes his head in disbelief. There’s no way his father had agreed to her scheme . . . His father loved him. Tears swim in his eyes upon feeling the unexpectedly sharp pain of his mother digging in ever deeper, drawing blood as she pulls his face down closer to hers. But he will not cry. Not in front of her.
“You are a weed, Edward. That last dose should have been fatal. Multiple organs had started to . . .”
But Edward isn’t listening anymore. He pries her fingers off of his face and shakes his head free from her grasp, regaining control of the situation.
"No!" He points his finger at her sternly. “You are wrong about Dad. He did not condone you doing this to me. He couldn’t have. He loved me . . .”
“Your father loved me more than he ever loved you,” she replied, her voice slick like oil. “He discarded you at that facility so easily when I asked him to. He disposed of you FOR ME.”
In that moment, Edward loses all-self control and finds himself knocking her to the ground and straddling her beneath him. He doesn’t hear the tiny gasp from the shadows or the side door to the warehouse opening just moments later. But his mother does and smiles smugly, assuming that she’ll survive all of this now.
“Tsk tsk tsk. See? It just goes to show that you are made of evil, that you can do this to your own mother. Pure evil." She pauses to let that sink in. Then she purrs, "RIDDLER.”
“Who broke you, huh?” Edward asks. She’s as broken as he had ever been. His grandfather? Her mother? Her answer surprises him.
“You did,” she declares.
He just stares at her in silence, his eyes darting back and forth, trying to process that.
“You broke me, son. So surely you can see now why I had to stomp out your seed, stop this atrocity in its tracks. Good thing that toxin made you infertile, even though apparently it wasn’t effective enough to kill you. There will only be one more Edward Nygma on this earth. You. And then no more.”
“Begone devil!” She spits in his face and he recoils in shock.
He wipes at her disgusting spittle furiously. Then he screams, “No! No! You broke me !” as his hands fly to her neck. He doesn’t even notice the clatter of the knife falling out of his pocket over the sound of his voice. It's the one he had brought to torture her with. That knife.
But slow torture isn’t on the docket for today. She had just voluntarily spilled the information he had planned to pry out of her anyway. So now today is about death - and right now he is focused on wringing the life out of her. His hands ache in the webbing between his index finger and thumb as they press upon her windpipe. He wonders if there could be a better technique, and adjusts his hands slightly to see if he can get some relief. He refuses to look at her ashen face, so instead he gauges his progress by paying close attention to the rigidity of her body beneath him as she struggles. She’s still alive.
Edward had somehow missed the fact that Leslie had come in and sat down right in front of him above his mother’s head, until she says calmly, “Edward who is this we’re strangling today?”
“My mother,” he growls, not looking up. He’s still hyper-focused on trying to get a more ergonomic grip on her neck.
“I see.” He hadn’t noticed that Leslie had picked up the knife either. She watches him for a while, observing a barely controlled ferocity that she's never seen in him before. Ever. “Why?”
“She poisoned me when I was nothing more than an innocent boy!" Edward cries out in anguish, lifting his gaze to meet her dark, empathetic eyes. He silently pleads with her and cries without tears because suddenly, he finds he’s all out of those. But Leslie isn't. Her tears join his absent ones. Edward tightens his grip around his mother's neck beyond all reason and her body begins to shake violently.
“Eddie, stop!” Leslie says suddenly.
Edward does not release his grip. “Why, Leslie? Why? She needs to die. She needs to pay.”
“You can’t kill your own mother,” Leslie reasons, reaching out for his forearms and placing her hands upon them gently. “Stop.”
Edward sits back, feeling defeated. His shoulders sag as he watches the color slowly return to his mother’s face.
After a few moments, with a voice full of gravel, she manages to say to Leslie, “He’s a bad seed. At least I was able to stop the line with him. He can’t create any more hell spawn . . .”
“Is that so?” Leslie challenges, her eyebrow raised. “Hmmm . . . I find that to be quite interesting since Edward has already produced a beautiful little girl - with me. I think it's perfectly clear that his line WILL continue despite whatever it was you have tried to do here. You failed."
Edward just stares at her in confusion. Just what is Leslie saying?
“Edward still needs to die,” his mother chokes out.
“And obviously, so do you.”
The warm blood from his mother’s suddenly slit throat rushes out over Edward's hands and he stares at it in wonder. Someone had finally protected him. Leslie.
He wants to weep but finds the life blood of his mother too . . . interesting.
Chapter 27: Chapter 27
It’s less slick now and starting to get sticky on his hands, but he still marvels at its brightness. His mother’s blood.
They always say that a child is made up of the blood of his mother and his father. Does that mean that this vile blood runs in his veins?
What in the world are you doing here, child?
The voice is shocked. But it’s in another world.
However, the child is not. Edward can feel her. She presses in, hugging him tight, smearing blood all over herself. “I’m sorry. Your mommy is really mean.”
Yes, she is. . . Was.
It’s over now.
“Meaner than my mommy.”
But weren’t all mothers mean?
Tiny hands grab his, sharing in his mother’s blood.
“What’s wrong with him?” the child asks.
Come away . . . There’s that voice from another world again.
They depart and he’s left alone with memories. Memories and nightmares.
Hot cinnamon chips are in the cookies now. Burnt. crispy. Destroyed. He assumes that it's the little girl’s head that had been twisting in them this time - before the intense heat had choked the life out of her. And now they are just left on the counter, broken. Abandoned.
No one would want to eat those.
He wants to weep for them, but his mother bats him on the head with a wooden spoon for even looking. In the end, no tears come. But that's okay - there’s really nothing to cry about anyway.
Strange, his mother never called him Eddie . . .
“Eddie, please,” he hears an urgent whisper, feels something touch his ear. “How many of you are in there right now?”
Is there more than one of me?
He looks around.
He hears a relieved sigh when he raises a single index finger. But he doesn’t see it. Instead, he sees those who had been a part of him in the past all lined up in a row. He counts them off:
The Riddler, The Psychopath, Ed, Eddie . . .
Eddie blurs in and out of his vision because he’s made up of so many shards that Edward can barely keep him in focus.
“I don’t want to be broken anymore . . .” Edward says in a sad little whimper to anyone who might hear him . . .
. . . but especially to no one. Because there’s no one there besides himself.
He feels the cold descend and curls up into a fetal position, rocking himself. He feels so deserted, so utterly alone without even one of his broken personalities to keep himself or another one of them company. He knows that no one will ever show up in that great darkness again - they're all inside of him now. He also knows that no one on the outside will ever truly want him either.
Because SHE hadn’t.
It’s okay sweetheart, he’ll come back to us.
Edward hears a little girl crying. “I don’t believe you.”
He does this sometimes. It’s okay.
“But I want my daddy!” He can almost feel it. A tiny person jumping onto his chest.
Goddamit, Dini, you’re getting blood all over yourself. What did I tell you about disturbing him right now?
There’s a soft whimper that fades away into nothingness.
He’d had one of those. He hadn’t loved him either. He'd chosen HER. Edward thinks he’s supposed to cry about that, but once again, there’s nothing there.
So instead, he tries to crawl into himself, just like he had before, but he's restrained.
Nope. Not yet. I haven’t gotten it all.
He feels warm water and a soft cloth massaging his hands. Running over his palms, and down his wrists to his forearms and back up again. He hears the sound of soft dripping as the cloth is dipped back into warm water. Then it returns to his hands. Ahhh. . .
Villains can’t be loved but they can love others.
Villains can’t be loved but they can love others.
Villains can’t be loved but they can love others.
“You’re almost right.” Edward feels a small hand slip into his and he opens his eyes.
He turns his head away from the ceiling and his eyes settle upon -
The little girl from the dream. She’s sitting by the side of his bed with an eager look in her sharp green eyes.
Her eager look quickly turns to confusion.
“What is it?” she asks innocently, splaying her fingers. “My hands are clean. We got all the blood off them.”
“You can’t be my daughter.”
“Why not?” she asks, hurt swimming in her eyes.
“You just -” Something feels wrong. Something feels very, very off.
“But I’d like to be the next Edward Nygma,” she says earnestly.
“Someday, if you adopt me -”
He breathes a sigh of relief. So, this stranger wasn’t his kid.
“I can go back to using my whole name, Edwardine. And then I could take your last name.” She rambles on excitedly, “- and then I’d be Edwardine Nygma. And then we could beat your mom!”
Edward stops breathing for just a second. “And just how would we beat my mom?”
“She said you were the last. No more Edward Nygmas. But we can prove her wrong. I can be the next!”
Seeing her joy at that thought only saddens him and he releases her hand, rolling over in bed and turning his back on her. His mother would never be beaten. She’d be in his head forever.
The next morning Edward finds a couple of suits, shirts, underwear, and his shaving kit, and then packs up his garment bag. On his way out the door, he walks past a yellow room. A very yellow, very frilly room. Somehow, he knows it will be found in the vanity and he’s right.
He packs his last item.
The one that had killed his mother.
Chapter 28: Chapter 28
Okay, just like I did this week, I'll do one more week of posting an extra chapter on Tuesday next week as well. Then back to our regularly scheduled one chapter every Thursday. Thanks for reading! :-)
Edward arrives at the Van Dahl Estate promptly at 7am. He pulls into the drive and a sleepy Oswald answers the front door in his most elegant robe, Rex twining himself around his satin slippered feet.
“Well, hello to you, too,” Edward says, bending down to greet the tabby. “Where’s your doorman, Oswald?”
“Perhaps you might recall that he doesn’t start this early in the morning on weekends, Edward. It’s bad form to come calling at this hour.” Oswald rubs his eyes and squints up at his friend, backlit by the morning sun. “What in the world are you doing here?”
William emerges from the shadows behind Oswald, in great need of a robe. Edward averts his eyes politely as he greets him, “William.”
Rex jumps up into his master’s arms.
“Oswald, I need a venue,” Edward says.
“Now?!?” Oswald sputters. “Edward, it’s seven o'clock in the morning. Never mind that it’s a Saturday. No one’s going to want to see The Riddler perform this early. What were you thinking?”
“Well . . .” Edward looks nervously at the both of them. “I was hoping I could stay with you guys.”
He lifts up his bags and smiles with what he hopes is a friendly smile.
Oswald, pissy as ever, says, “Well, apparently you’ve already brought your stuff, so why not!” He waves him in.
“Sorry to disturb your little love nest,” Edward says as he crosses the threshold.
“We’re not -”
Oswald snaps, “That’s right, we’re not together.”
Edward looks around at all of William’s stuff right there in the foyer. There’s a huge urn covered in hieroglyphics, Oswald’s regular mirror had been replaced with one that had the golden wings of Horus spread over the top of it, and tall, palm frond fans stood at the ready for summer. Yet Edward had barely convinced Oswald to let him store his umbrella by the door when he had first moved in a few years back because it hadn’t quite been up to Oswald’s standards.
Edward can’t stifle his smug smile fast enough. Sure, they’re not together. “Clearly.”
Edward heads back to his old room.
Later that afternoon, Edward is lying on his bed, planning for his next glorious show. He’s thinking he might just mix things up a bit. Perhaps do a World of Puzzle Boxes show instead of the Riddle Factory. After all, he’d gotten Oswald to get a bunch basic puzzle boxes assembled for him already back when he'd wanted to use one on Professor Strange. He wondered how the war with Jeremiah was going. Oswald seemed to have been more focused on acquiring property lately than any city-wide war. He’d have to ask him about that.
A super-friendly ball of striped gray fur jumps up onto the bed and walks up to his hand, bumping his head into it. "Meow!" Rex is trying to gauge if Edward is up for petting him. He lifts him up over his chest. “Okay, big guy.”
Rex gives the roar of a panther and Edward becomes concerned that he’ll morph right then and there.
“Not that big, okay?”
Relieved, Edward puts him down upon his chest and strokes him idly. “Puzzle boxes . . .”
“You read my mind,” Oswald says, coming into the room. “I was going to suggest we put those to good use. They’re taking up space.”
Edward grins. “I’d be delighted to.”
Just as Edward is about to decide exactly which box he should debut with, Oswald sits down at the side of his bed and asks him gently, "How's Lee?" There's a small a touch of condescension in his voice.
There’s a knock at the door. “Edward, Ozzie, mind if I come in?”
“No, come on in,” Edward says.
“Hey Rex,” the large man says.
Rex looks up at him and then puts his head back down on Edward’s chest and starts up a contented purr.
William laughs softly. “Guess we know who he’s sleeping with tonight.”
“I would guess he missed me,” Edward replies as if it’s the most logical thing in the world.
“We all did,” Oswald says, placing a hand gently on his. William looks away.
Yes, there’s definitely something going on between those two.
“Oswald,” Edward says, raising his hand to pet Rex, leaving Oswald’s hand behind on the bed. No point in hurting William’s feelings on his very first day if he’s going to be staying here. He hadn’t come to drive a wedge between these two. But he knows that it’s best not encourage Oswald in any way, not that he ever really had. Well, except for during his campaign for Mayor - but that had been calculated - it served a purpose. And it had served Oswald.
But it got her killed.
The errant thought runs through his mind. Got who killed?
Edward shakes the thought out of his head. “Oswald, I think I’d like to start with my Honey Bee puzzle box tonight. So I’ll need lots of caution tape - preferably stolen from the GCPD. Then we can pick a venue where I can set everything up.”
“The GCPD’s pretty strapped. Not sure they can handle a burglary right now.”
Edward grins evilly. “I know. All the better.”
Oswald thinks about it, then nods his head a bit. “Okay, I might know a few people who would enjoy doing a little B & E downtown.”
“Wonderful.” Edward turns to William. “So, how’s the war?”
“It’s been won,” William says boldly.
“Won?” Edward turns to Oswald. “Why didn’t you tell me? That’s great news.”
Oswald looks down and says quietly, “That’s because it really isn’t -”
“What are you saying, Ozzie? Are you disagreeing with my assessment?” William almost looks hurt.
Oswald rolls his eyes, leans into Edward and says quietly, “Here we go again,” before standing up to face William.
But before Oswald can even say anything, William tells him firmly, "Jeremiah has been routed."
“I know, Willie.”
Oswald walks over to him and gently places a hand on his chest. “Not necessarily, my dear. There are remnants that are still fiercely loyal to him.”
William’s face clouds.
“And there always will be.”
As the two of them leave the room Edward wonders if that little conversation had even been about Jeremiah at all.
“WOW! You were deliciously vicious tonight!” Oswald exclaims with glee, patting Edward joyously on the back as they all sit down for dinner.
William looks a little uncomfortable.
“What?” Edward asks him.
“I don’t like bees.”
Oswald laughs with drunken delight and says casually, “You two! You’re hilarious. I love you both, you know that?”
Edward and William glance at each other uncomfortably across the table. Oswald better have meant that in two different ways. But he doesn’t clarify - and Edward knows the truth. Oswald, oblivious to the tension he’d just introduced, continues to gush on and on about Edward’s ruthlessness.
“Well, that man earned it,” Edward says emphatically at one point.
“How?” William replies. “How could he have possibly earned THAT? What a horrible way to die. All bloated and itchy, unable to see. . .”
“He slighted Oswald,” Edward says casually and shrugs.
Oswald nods enthusiastically. “Yeah, and I don’t care to be dissed.”
“I’m beginning to see the appeal,” William says gravely, looking at Edward. He’s most definitely not happy. At all.
Crap. He needs to fix this.
“Where’s Lee?” William asks out of the blue as if he’s accusing Edward of something rotten.
“Never mind that, William,” Edward says, waving away whatever he was going to say next. He looks over at the bar. “Why don’t you and I have a little drink. We can -”
“Sounds good!” Oswald says enthusiastically. “But I doubt this place could possibly have a better liquor collection than I do.”
“I meant just me and William, Ozzie,” Edward says.
“I told you never to call me that!” Oswald snaps. “That name is reserved for William’s use alone. How dare you!”
Good. At least Oswald remembers that he still cares about William in some way.
Edward smiles inwardly. But it’s only a small victory because he never does get the chance to have that private drink with William. Oswald had made sure not to be left out and wouldn’t let either of them out of his sight to ‘have a good time’ without him that night. He’d have to try to talk with William another time. Let him know that he’s truly not a threat.
But overall, Edward feels good. He had needed to release some righteous anger on a few unsuspecting citizens of Gotham. He had no idea why he needed to, but the pain and death he had inflicted that night was glorious - it had made him feel strong, powerful. Invulnerable. And vindicated.
Mere hours later, he finds that he can’t sleep so he decides to go for a drive, intending to see the old haunts. But he finds himself driving through unfamiliar parts of Gotham instead. There’s so many of them. Quite a few areas seem like they could be familiar at first, but upon closer inspection, no, they’re not.
He parks his car under an elevated train in one of those unfamiliar parts of town and decides to go for a walk. It’s the middle of the night so no one else is out and about. But then he notices some motion in a window - someone is setting up a jeweler’s display case. Hmm. Must be early enough to start putting out their wares. It’s fully stocked by the time he finds his way over there to peer inside of it.
On the left side there’s a ring that grabs his attention.
And once he sees it, he doesn’t see anything else. It is quite unique. In its center, there’s a French cut diamond that looks to be about two carats, flanked by two trillion cut emeralds on each side. It’s all very angular with the diamond shaped face of the French cut stone echoing the points of the emeralds.
Has he seen this ring before? It’s absolutely breathtaking. He finds he can’t look away.
But he must.
Edward eventually pries himself away from the case and heads back home to Oswald and his possibly broken love nest, feeling like a bad friend for not being able to set anything to rights that evening.
Chapter 29: Chapter 29
One evening after Edward thinks the other two have settled down for bed, he heads to the living room with a book to read before the fire. As he approaches the red velvet sofa, he suddenly has memories of having sex on it.
Pulling back her black hair roughly.
His palm firmly on top of her sweet round hip and buttock as he -
Wait? Is that moaning?
“Oh, keep going, Willie, don’t stop. Ohhhh . . . That feels so good.”
Edward blinks. It is. It’s Oswald’s.
“Please, right there, Willie.”
He can hear William’s deep chuckle in response to Oswald’s noises of pleasure. “Anything for you, Ozzie.”
Uh oh . . . he had walked in on something very very private. Edward adjusts his glasses uncomfortably and spins in his slippers to head back the other way.
Edward freezes as if he’s been caught Tom peeping when he hears his best friend’s cheery voice. But that wasn’t really what he had been doing. He turns around slowly, trying to look innocent, not guilty. “Oswald, I-”
“Come join us!” Oswald says in an eager voice, his chin resting upon the arm that’s now draped over the back of the sofa. William’s face comes into view as he sits up behind him.
“Oswald, that’s not really my thing,” Edward says firmly.
Oswald and William look at each other for a second before they break out into laughter.
“What?” asks Edward.
“It’s not -”
“It’s not what it looks like.”
“Or sounds like.”
Oswald holds up a slipper so that Edward can see it.
“My foot, Edward. Willie was just helping me with my foot. With his glorious hands I might add.” William looks down with shy pride. “You know how much it can pain me.”
Edward narrows his eyes at William, suddenly suspicious. Yes, he most certainly seems know about that particular shortcut to Oswald’s heart. His best friend had even succumbed to the charms of a woman once - Sofia Falcone - when she had massaged his poor foot one night. It had led to a mostly one-way alliance until Oswald had come to his senses, which thankfully happened fast. But in the case of William . . . he’s getting too entrenched. Edward doesn’t want to see his best friend get hurt - or used.
“William, can I speak to you?” Edward says sternly. "Alone."
“Edward, I really don’t see -” Oswald protests.
“Oswald, please,” Edward holds up a hand to stop him. “I’d like to use your office, where we can have complete privacy if I may.”
“Um. . .” Oswald looks at William with confusion. “Sure, I guess.”
“Thank you,” Edward says. “William, come with me.”
“What is this all about?” William grumbles as Edward shuts the door to Oswald’s office and makes sure it is firmly latched so that the room is completely soundproof. He doesn’t need Oswald overhearing this conversation.
“Have a seat,” Edward says, indicating one in front of Oswald’s small fireplace, which he lights before taking a seat in the other.
William crosses his imposing arms across his mostly bare chest. “I’ll stand, thank you.”
“You know, I lit the fire because it looks like you forgot your robe again and this may take a while," Edward says in a snippy tone. "I wouldn’t want you to get cold.”
“I don’t wear a robe.”
“So, I’ve noticed.”
William sighs. “Okay, what is it, Edward? Just tell me why you dragged me in here.”
“Oswald.” William nods. “Okay.”
“What are your intentions with him?”
“Excuse me?” William asks, astounded.
“You heard me,” Edward growls.
“I’m not even going to stoop to answer that question from you.” William scoffs. “You’re unbelievable.”
Edward stands up so he can tower over the well-built man. “I swear, if you double-cross him, break his heart, or hurt him in any other way, I’ll have you killed so fast you’ll never see it coming.”
“Is that so?” The muscles on William’s huge chest bulge as he takes a step closer.
“You may have superior strength, William - and an army - but I’m better than you are where it counts. I can best you without even lifting a finger.”
“And where’s that?”
Edward taps his temple. “Right here.”
William deflates a little and mutters, “Stupid Oswald,” looking away towards the fire.
“What did you just say!?!”
“I said ‘stupid Oswald’ because for reasons I can’t even fathom he still prefers you to me. And you don't even want him.” William’s nostrils flare in anger, his chest heaving.
“Well, that’s just because I’m smarter than you.”
“NO, you’re not! You’re just smarter than me in different ways. Ways he appreciates more.”
“I am too smarter than you.”
“I ran a department at the university, Edward. I can hold my own with you any day. Just not in every aspect of science. Or convoluted logic-based linguistic tasks. But I DARE you to best me in philology or archaeology. I built my career on them.”
“Yes,” William says nastily. “It better have been.”
“So then back to my point. What are your intentions towards my very best friend?”
“In this matter, Edward you are an idiot.” William sighs, rubbing his brow. "You can't even see . . ."
“Then enlighten me.”
“I love him, Edward. I LOVE him. Can you even comprehend what that is? Because sometimes I look at you and I wonder.”
“Of course I know what love is. I miss my wife! How dare you.”
“Wife?” William looks startled at his words, but then, so does Edward. “I didn’t know you had a wife.”
“Well, I do,” Edward snaps defensively. Right?
“Fine. Then you know what it’s like. You’d do anything for the one you love. Even wait.”
“For Oswald to get over you.”
“But there’s no ‘us’ to get over. We never -” Edward starts.
“Believe me, I know. But that doesn’t mean you still don’t own his heart,” William says with a touch of anger - and frustration. “I just have to wait until the day Oswald’s eyes uncloud enough that he can see what’s been waiting right here for him. Me." William sighs and says quietly, "And then hopefully he will find me worthy enough to love back.”
He sounds so insecure about his prospects it makes Edward feel bad. There’s a small stretch of sober silence between the two men as they both finally stand down and settle into their respective seats before the fire.
“I’m willing to wait indefinitely for that chance, you know,” William says. “Oswald’s that special to me.”
Edward nods. It’s good that someone besides him can see Oswald’s value. Almost everyone else in Gotham City only sees him as a villain who likes to throw temper tantrums.
“But I’m pissed off that you keep putting yourself in the way,” William says.
“I don’t -”
“It is pride or something? The glory of having someone who will always love you that you never have to love back?” William asks bitterly. “Because Oswald deserves better than that, you know.”
“Yes, he does. And that’s not my intention, trust me. I love him, too.”
William frowns and looks down at his hands.
“But not in the way that you do, William. He’s the best friend - the only friend - I will ever truly have. And that’s special. I won’t let him go just because some romance comes along and messes things up - for either one of us.”
“But you already did - once.” William looks at him pointedly. Edward has no idea what he’s talking about. “You know, I plan to wait for Oswald forever if that’s what it takes,” William continues. “It’s just . . . I wouldn’t have to if you would just let him go.”
“It’s not that simple.”
“Oh, I think it is.”
“William, you’re intentionally misunderstanding the situation. You know good and well that I’m not the one who needs to let go.”
William steeples his fingers and stares into the fire in deep contemplation. Quietly, he says, “He can be so foolish sometimes, can’t he? Holding onto what’s not even there.”
“Well, Oswald’s always been led by his emotions, not by his better judgment.”
William sighs. “Well, unfortunately for me, love isn’t logical.”
“No, it isn’t,” Edward says softly, remembering Isabella telling him the very same thing as tears swim to his eyes. “I should go.”
He excuses himself and leaves for the solitude of his bedroom, making sure not to forget his book.
Chapter 30: Chapter 30
“I . . . I . . . I . . .” Edward mutters to himself, looking for the section of authors’ last names that began with the letter I. He strokes his finger along the spines of the books in the bookshelf in his room. Originally, the book had been found in the wrong place. Isabella would be disappointed in him if he didn’t put it back where it belonged.
Edward gulps. There’s no book where his finger had stopped. In fact there is no section for authors whose last name begins with I. No, instead there’s a hair pin wedged between the books.
A golden hairpin.
Edward removes it carefully and holds it up to the light.
She must have left it here before she died. He brings a fist to his mouth.
“No. No no no no,” he whines. “Please no.”
The first sob hits him unexpectedly and he almost doubles over. By the time Edward reaches the bed, his Isabella’s precious pin cradled gently against his chest, his sobs are a torrent.
He misses his wife.
“Everything okay, Edward?” Oswald asks him gently as he takes a seat for breakfast.
Edward looks straight at him and says evenly. “Everything’s fine.”
Oswald and William exchange a worried glance.
They must have heard him lose it last night. He remembers how Oswald had been when he had openly grieved for Isabella right after her death, just how much it had scared him.
“It appears that I miss my wife,” Edward says crisply. “Forgive me. It won’t happen again.”
“Wife?” Oswald mouths to William, who just shrugs.
Oswald doesn’t say much for the rest of breakfast - he just stares open-mouthed at Edward from time to time. William and Edward converse as if nothing’s amiss.
The doorbell rings as the breakfast table is being cleared. The three men have already retired to the drawing room.
“Who could that be?” Oswald says and then looks at Edward like he’s fishing for something. “Lee perhaps?”
Edward’s brows furrow. Who is Lee?
The butler comes in to announce Jim Gordon “and friend.”
Oswald says, “I’ll receive them.”
“Foxy,” Edward says, standing up with excitement when he sees his nemesis - the only man smart enough to best him at his own game. “If I had known you’d show up here, I would have put on my thinking cap.”
Lucius Fox looks him up and down. “Oh, I’m pretty sure you never take that off, Ed.”
Jim breaks the spell. “Oswald, we’re here to discuss some serious business.”
“Well then, do sit down, all of you,” Oswald replies. “I insist.”
“I’m not here for pleasantries,” Jim says sternly. “I’m here to warn you.”
“Then warn away, Jim.” Oswald replies with a tight smile.
“We’re on to you,” Jim says before flicking his eyes up to Edward. “Both of you.”
Edward crosses his arms. “On to what, Jim?”
“Your friend Oswald here has somehow commandeered various properties, mostly from Wayne Industries, without paying for them.”
“Oh!” Oswald gasps, bringing a dainty hand to his mouth. “No. . .”
“You’re going to have a real hard time proving that,” Edward says, walking up to Lucius so slowly that it’s downright creepy.
“Ed, what are you doing?” Lucius asks.
“Oh, just making sure you’re up for the task,” Edward says, brushing away imaginary lint from his lapels.
Lucius bats his hands away. “Hey, stop that.”
“Nope, you don’t appear to be up for it,” Edward says and briskly steps away from him, unsuccessfully trying to hide his glee.
“Where’s the money, Oswald?” Jim grumbles.
“What money, JIM!?”
“When properties are legally bought and sold, money changes hands.”
“And you think it didn’t?” Oswald bluffs.
Edward hadn’t thought to set up a paper trail for the money because the banks had been in chaos ever since the fall of Gotham when everything had gone to barter. But now that some of the banks are back on line again, he figures he should at least create a money trail for Oswad’s most recent acquisitions to get Jim off their backs.
“Are you calling Oswald a thief?” William stands up. Oswald stares up at him adoringly.
William raises an eyebrow. “It sounds like you’re questioning the integrity of my friend here.”
“That’s not what’s going on -”
“I think it is. And you need to leave now,” William says firmly. Oswald puts his hands together in his lap primly and smirks at Jim.
“This is official police business, Professor -”
“Not in my kingdom it isn’t!” William roars.
Jim, startled, takes a step back as Oswald takes in every muscle on Williams body, tight with tension, and can't help but find himself blushing.
“Yes, Jim. I think we should leave,” Lucius says calmly, reasonably. “Leave The Pharaoh alone.” He tugs on Jim’s sleeve to pull him towards the door.
“This isn’t over, Oswald,” Jim says.
“Oh, I rather think it is,” Edward says coldly.
Jim just stands there shaking his head. “To think she chose you.”
“Lee,” Jim practically spits. Then he shakes his head. “I don’t think I’ll ever understand why.”
There’s that name again.
“You mean to tell me that you beat out Jim Gordon for her affections?” William asks incredulously after Jim and Lucius leave. He looks utterly amazed and positively defeated at the same time. “You must be quite special there, Edward Nygma.”
“Oh, he is!” Oswald nods emphatically.
William continues, “Can anyone ever hope to compete with you then?”
Edward feels a bit uncomfortable having this conversation. He really doesn’t have that much sexual prowess and he knows it.
He clears his throat nervously. “I guess there’s more to life than pure animal magnetism.”
That gets a deep belly laugh from William.
“There must be, Edward,” he says, clapping his back. “There must be.”
“Well, I’m impressed, Oswald,” Edward says, clapping William right back.
“Why?” Oswald asks.
“In William here, it looks like you've finally found someone to really stand with you against Jim Gordon and his GCPD, against Jeremiah. . . heck, I bet William would stand with you against anyone.” William smiles at Edward and nods. Hopefully pointing that out did some good. But then Edward can't help but tease his old friend as he traipses out of the room. “You’re going to need it with all the messes you like to make.”
Chapter 31: Chapter 31
“Knock knock,” Oswald says. He’s at the threshold of Edward’s door. “Is it too late to come in?”
“No, come on in,” Edward says.
“He’s too restless to sleep with me tonight.” Oswald enters with Rex in his arms. “I think he’d rather be in here.”
Rex jumps down to Edward’s bed and he sits up to catch the tabby in his arms. After stroking behind his ears and rubbing his nose with his own, Rex jumps from his arms, assumes the form of a panther and curls up behind him.
“Mind if I sit?” Oswald asks.
“Not if Rex does,” Edward replies and Oswald settles in with nary a protest from the cat. “You look ridiculous in that get up, you know.”
“Oh this?” Oswald asks casually and bats the pom pom hanging from his nightcap behind his head. “You know this ‘get up,’ as you say, was my father’s.”
Edward looks him up and down, chuckling. “You look like some Dickensian skinflint.”
“Please,” Oswald says with a dismissive wave, looking pleased with his nocturnal fashion sense nonetheless. “I’m no miser.”
“All you’re missing is the candle.” Edward laughs.
“And all you seem to be missing is Lee.”
“Where is she, Edward? Did something happen? I heard you in here crying your heart out last night. William and I both did.”
“Yes. Sorry about that.” Edward pushes his glasses up his nose before reaching for something on the nightstand. He hands a small hair pin to Oswald. “I miss her.”
Oswald twirls it in his fingers, trying to figure out what’s going on. “Ed -?”
“I miss my wife, Oswald,” Edward says, choking up. “I miss her so much.”
The color drains from Oswald’s face. “So you really did it, then?”
“When did you marry Lee?” Oswald's voice is suddenly harsh. “And why didn’t you tell me?”
Edward doesn’t have a chance to answer because Oswald abruptly stands up.
“You know what, never mind. I . . . I . . . I need something,” he stammers, looking back and forth between Edward and the door. “Just not in here.”
When Oswald leaves, Edward must walk over and retrieve the hair pin he had dropped to the floor in his haste to get out of there. It is not an easy thing to do with his leg, but it’s the only piece he has of his dead wife so he grabs his staff for extra support and makes the effort.
“Oswald, I’m not sure it is what you think it is,” William says earnestly.
“How can it not be? You haven’t heard from Lee - so you don’t know - and Edward’s up here in Gotham, doing what? He’s never told us.”
Edward is eavesdropping at Oswald’s bedroom door, the black panther behind him, standing watch. Oswald sounds distraught.
“Ozzie, I’m not sure he even knows who Lee is.”
“How can he NOT!?” Oswald screeches. “He married her, Willie! Married her! You know, ‘Til death do you part?’and all that jazz?”
“Ozzie, please. I hate to see you like this.”
“Then kill the bitch!”
William chuckles. “That’s not going to make anything any better with Edward - and you know it.”
“I know, I know” Oswald says with a pout in his voice. “I didn’t mean it. But somehow I thought I’d be okay with it when this day came, when I learned that he’d -” There’s a slight pause. “But I’m not.”
“I know,” William says.
And then there’s silence. And possibly some soft crying.
Edward decides to leave, they’re obviously having a moment. At least his best friend is okay and in good hands. He had been worried there for a moment.
The next day, Edward doesn’t run into Oswald until nearly noon. He notices that his eyes are bloodshot as he’s leaving the drawing room.
“Are you okay?” Edward asks.
Oswald just gives him a long-suffering look before walking away.
“What . . ?” Edward shakes his head and then spies William in the hallway. He nods. "William.”
“Edward,” William greets him back with a sober nod of his own. “I wanted to let you know that it may be a bit uncomfortable around here for a few days while Ozzie processes things.”
“What does he have to process?” Edward asks, not understanding. Then he snaps his fingers. “Oh! You two have finally played hide the obelisks, have you? Gone all the way down the Nile -”
“No,” William stops him right there. “While I appreciate your euphemisms, Edward, this is a serious matter. Oswald is really upset.”
“Willie!” Oswald snaps.
William and Edward whip their heads around. Oswald is standing not very far away.
“Don’t,” Oswald whispers loudly at William. He looks mortified. “Come along you, too. Brunch.”
“Finally,” Edward mutters and William jabs him in the ribs as a warning.
What? He’s hungry.
Everything on the table is cold. How late are they? Edward looks down at his timepiece. Right on time for lunch. But there are breakfast items on the table. How long had they been sitting out?
“Cold enough for you?” Oswald taunts.
“Apparently, yes,” Edward answers, mulling it over. “So you -?”
“Ordered our meal to be served cold?” Oswald asks. “Yes.”
Okay, Oswald is in fine form today. Leading with passive-aggressive bullshit. But why?
“They say revenge is a dish best served cold,” Oswald declares.
Edward looks down at his plate, relieved he hadn’t touched anything yet.
“Are you telling me that this meal is poisoned?”
As soon as he says the word poison, Edward sees blood on his hands and can smell the aroma of freshly baked deque crab. It is overwhelming.
The blood won’t come off.
But it’s shared.
The blood won’t come off.
“But it’s shared,” he murmurs.
“Edward!” Oswald is leaning over his face as he opens his eyes. “Hey there,” he says quietly.
“Why are you speaking so softly, Oswald?” Edward asks, confused at the gentle tone of his best friend’s voice. “Weren’t you just trying to poison me?”
“He’s back!” Oswald cries with relief to absolutely no one.
“Back?” Edward discovers that he’s lying on a leather sofa. And the sun is starting to go down outside. His stomach aches with hunger.
As he sits up, Oswald pulls him into a tight embrace. “You had me worried there.”
“Where’d brunch go?”
“Nina!” Oswald calls out to a nearby servant and waves her over. “Edward needs some dinner. Something warm.”
“Yes, Mr. Cobblepot.” Nina nods and heads to the kitchen.
“I’m missing time, aren’t I?” Edward asks, hanging his head.
“Yes, I would imagine so,” Oswald says.
“That’s not good.” Missing time usually means that he’s fractured and one of his other personalities had taken over for a bit. If that had happened, he has no memory of it. “How long ago did we sit down for that cold brunch you tried to serve me?”
“Uh . . . about eight hours ago.”
“Only eight hours?” Less than a day. Far less than a day. What a relief.
“Was I . . ?” Edward wonders who had been in control, if anyone. “What was I like?”
“Ugh . . .” Oswald rolls his eyes. “You just stared at the salt shaker as if your life depended on it. William finally had to move you to someplace more comfortable. It was creeping out my staff.”
Edward is relieved to learn that no separate personality had emerged and done things he wouldn't remember. “Thank you, Oswald. I’m sorry you have to deal with me when I’m like this.”
“No, Edward,” Oswald says, placing a comforting hand on his shoulder. “It’s okay really.”
“I just miss my wife so terribly. I’m sorry.”
“That’s okay, Edward. I know you -” Oswald chokes up a bit at Edward’s mention of his wife once again and his breathing gets a little shaky. “I should . . . I should just go.”
Oswald pats his shoulder and leaves, heading off to let the kitchen staff know that Edward will be eating dinner in his room that night. Alone.
Chapter 32: Chapter 32
There are voices whispering right outside of Edward’s bedroom door as he prepares for his debut performance of the World of Puzzle Boxes. All the underworld of Gotham is abuzz wondering what delightful treats - or horrors - The Riddler has in store for them.
“I told you, I don’t think he even knows who Lee is,” one of them whispers.
“Yes, but he keeps saying he misses his WIFE. Who else could he be talking about?” the other one answers. “I’m worried that something happened to him down there in The South. Has Lee contacted you at all? It’s been awhile.”
“It’s not been much longer than a week.”
“Well still, that’s awhile. You should try to get ahold of her. It’s been too long.”
“And you, my dear Penguin, should just go in there and ask him about Lee already. Point blank. See what happens. Hopefully you'll get something more substantial than the type of response I tend to get.”
“A blank stare before he just moves on as if I’d never even mentioned her. It’s unnerving. Really Ozzie, you should talk to Edward yourself and see if you can make any headway with him. Give it a try.”
“And learn all about how my best friend got married without even telling me? Hear him gush about how wonderful Lee is? How much better she is than I could ever be?”
“I thought you had moved past all of that. I thought you had accepted that he’s with her now. For good.”
There’s a moment of silence.
“Apparently not.” There's a deep sigh. “Look, I guarantee you he won’t gush. He keeps saying that he ‘misses his wife.’ Something's happened - and you know it. Something heartbreaking. You need to talk to your friend, Ozzie. He obviously needs you right now.”
“Guys!” Edward flings open the door, unable to stand their distracting conversation any longer. “I’m right here. Come in and talk to me, don’t just stand out there in the hallway.”
Oswald can’t help but stare at Edward as he takes in the outfit he’ll be wearing for the show that night. He can’t hide the admiration as his eyes, appreciative and hungry, move over him from head to toe.
“You like?” Edward asks, showing off the subtly glistening green suit with a flourish. It’s the one Oswald had given him.
“Always,” Oswald breathes, then regains his composure. For once, William looks like he’s trying to restrain a laugh instead of getting caught under a rain cloud of jealousy. Good. Things must be better between them.
“Well, what is it that you two worried, clucking hens have been discussing?” As soon as Oswald opens his mouth to answer, Edward puts up his hand to stop him. “Wait. Before you start, I want you to know I’m fine. I just get sad from time to time - which I think is normal, given the circumstances.”
“And what circumstances might those be?” William asks.
“Why? Didn’t he tell you?” Edward says, looking at Oswald, perplexed. “I’ve been widowed.”
Oswald gasps. It couldn’t be . . . “She’s dead?”
“Of course, silly,” Edward says, turning back to the mirror, and straightening his tie. Good, it looks like his tears are in check for once - there’s only a slight shine to his eyes right now.
“Oh, Edward. I’m sorry,” Oswald says and turns him around to give him a hug. “No wonder you can’t bear to hear or say her name.”
“It’s okay, Oswald. You were so good to me in my time of need.”
Oswald nods, just accepting that, but William doesn’t. He crosses his arms as he watches the two of them, contemplating for a moment before saying anything.
“Who was your wife, Edward?” William asks after a bit. “I’m not sure I know -”
“Isabella,” Edward says decisively, and then removes a golden bobby pin from the breast pocket of his suit with reverence. “I found this here at your estate, Oswald, in the bookshelf over there. It was Isabella’s. I'm so glad I have this tangible reminder of her.” He encloses it within his palm gently and takes a deep breath, filled with longing. “She was absolute perfection . . . I miss her so much.”
Oswald’s mouth has fallen open - he’s speechless.
“How exactly did she die?” William asks gently, and suddenly Oswald is in a panic, waving at him to shush. Though he’s familiar with Oswald’s side of the whole Isabella affair, William had never been privy to that particular detail.
“In a car wreck,” Edward says, his eyes glassy - and suddenly very far away.
“Uh huh,” Oswald says nervously.
Edward remembers going to the morgue with him, seeing her body on the slab, the shards of glass shot through her face. It’s almost too much and he brings a fist to his mouth. Oswald had assured him that she hadn’t felt any pain during the last few moments of her life, but he’d never been sure that he actually believed that. Just remembering how her life had ended, Edward almost loses it right then and there. He pulls his best friend in for a tight hug before anyone can see the turmoil on his face.
“Thank you for everything, Oswald.”
“So you don’t remember what I did?” Oswald asks tentatively as he pulls away.
“You were there for me Oswald. How could I ever forget that?” Edward finds he has to wipe his eyes despite his best efforts to hold it all in. “You even found that Vivaldi record for me to remember her by. I’m so sorry I annoyed you with my repetitive listening.”
“Oh no, no. Don’t be sorry.” Oswald says. “It was understandable, given the circumstances. . .”
“Given the circumstances back then, yes,” William says and then tries to pull them both firmly back into the present, and hopefully reality. He is well aware that Isabella had never been Edward’s wife, so he couldn’t possibly have been widowed, even if he thought he had. He knew their affair had been very brief. “But why are you here, now, Edward?”
“Why are you here?” William repeats. “Why did you come up to the Van Dahl estate? To Gotham?”
Edward looks like a deer caught in the headlights for a moment. Then he says, “Oh, yes. We should get ready for the show. Shoo shoo!”
“We?” Oswald asks.
“Yes, all of us. You, me, William.”
“Okay,” Oswald grins. “You had me worried there for a second. Like there was another one of you in there.”
“No, just me,” Edward says and watches them leave. “Only me.” He turns back to the mirror and sighs. “Only ever me.”
From all the way out in the hallway he can hear Oswald say worriedly, “We really need to do something about him.”
“Agreed.” William replies.
And they try to.
On the way to the premiere of the World of Puzzle Boxes, Oswald can’t seem to leave Edward alone.
“Who is Lee, Edward? I know you know her. Just tell me who she is.”
Originally, it had only been William pestering him, but now it’s both of them. It’s giving Edward an extreme headache.
“No one!” he finally shouts. “Please, just leave me alone so I can prep for the show.”
“What could you possibly have to prepare?” Oswald asks. “The puzzle boxes were designed months ago, you finished them up just a few days ago, I had them set up onstage for you, and you just finished all your last minute adjustments last night. What else could you possibly have to do right here in the car of all places?”
“I need to mentally prepare.”
“To go onstage?” Oswald asks incredulously. “You live to be onstage. I don’t believe you for a second. Seriously, Edward. What happened to Lee? Where is she?”
“You don’t even know who she is, do you?” William asks, trying to call his bluff.
Edward just looks down his nose at him, hoping he’ll realize that answering that question is beneath him and just back off.
Finally, Oswald bursts out, “I killed Isabella.” He just can’t contain the ‘secret’ any longer.
“What?” Edward asks, stunned. “Why would you joke about such a thing?”
“Listen to me!” Oswald grabs him by the lapels and shouts, “I killed her!”
“No, you didn’t,” Edward says, trying to tug free. Oswald is suddenly making him very uncomfortable. “What motive would you even have to do such a thing?”
“Because she sucked, Edward.”
William tries to control a belly laugh but fails.
Oswald glares at him. “Not helping.”
“What?” Edward asks, his eyes blinking slowly.
“She was bad for you, Edward. Terrible. I did you a favor,” Oswald says adamantly. “Heck, I never even tried to kill Lee. Not once. That should tell you something.”
Edward’s face falls. In a small voice, he says, “Isabella wasn’t bad for me.”
“Oh. My. God,” Oswald exclaims, completely out of patience. “She looked just like Kristen - who you felt guilty about killing, remember? You were worried that you’d do the same to your precious Isabella. You were so torn up about it. Don’t you remember any of that?”
Oswald had kept talking after he said, ‘Kristen,’ but all Edward can see is a four-armed baby with black hair floating around her. There’s way too much for her tiny little body. And she’s in a tank. . . she must be a mermaid. He reaches out his hand.
It is summarily slapped and he’s brought back to the present by Oswald. “Earth to Edward.”
“Are you sure?” Oswald asks.
“Yes, I -”
“Good. Now listen to me. Isabella died in a car wreck - do you remember that?”
Edward gulps and nods, seeing the glass on her face. He begins to count every shard.
“Pay attention. I had one of my lackeys cut her brake lines. She hit a train.”
Suddenly, Edward hears the roar of a train, sees himself placing a bouquet of white lilies on the track. And then he’s hit -
“I’m going to be sick.”
“Pull over,” Oswald calls out frantically to the driver. “He’s as green as his suit.”
Edward jumps out before the car even comes to a complete stop.
“Don’t get any of that on your nice suit!” Oswald calls out as William just laughs and laughs from deep inside the car. Edward doesn’t understand what’s so funny about him barfing his guts out in distress.
Oswald hands Edward a handkerchief when he’s done and getting back into the car. “Thank you,” Edward says.
William is still laughing - Edward glares at him.
“Shut up,” Oswald says harshly. “This is not a laughing matter.”
“Sorry.” William looks away, contrite.
“Okay, now that we’re all feeling better, let’s get back to the subject,” Oswald says. “Compared to Isabella, I much prefer Lee if you insist on being with some woman, Edward. But there's no accounting for taste.” Oswald shakes his head. “At least she’s a regular villain like the rest of us. Isabella was sooo achingly sweet - and so perfectly 'made-just-for-you' it was creepy.” Oswald shivers. “There was definitely something wrong with her. But just so we’re clear, I don’t really like to see you with Lee either. She's just the lesser of two evils, you know?”
Edward just stares at him like a stone, unmoving.
“The Queen of the Narrows?” Oswald prompts.
“‘So what?’” Oswald says. “Does that mean you recognize her name now? Lee?”
“Sure,” Edward says just to get him off his back.
“And?!?!?” Oswald asks.
“‘And’ . . . what?”
“Well, what happened?”
“Look, I really need to mentally prepare for my show and I just about threw up all over this amazing suit that you were generous enough to give me. So could you please give me some space?” Edward says testily.
“Sure,” Oswald says, relenting. “Whatever.”
Oswald turns to William and whispers quietly, “I think we need to get her up here.”
“She comes when she comes,” he replies simply with a shrug.
“Willie, you’re killing me, here.” Oswald groans, and then has a thought. “Wait. What if he did something to her?”
William just shrugs.
“Ladies and gentlemen! May I present you with my latest, greatest, most brilliant invention to date . . .”
A young woman that could pass for being alive, wearing a bejeweled collar to cover up the bandage that ties her to William, rips off the cover of Edward’s first puzzle box. The crowd goes wild and she shakes the fringe that barely covers her hips in time with their excitement.
“Now,” Edward says. “Many of you may remember that I introduced these during the last Riddle Factory . . .”
There’s a few scattered ‘whomp’s from the crowd.
“But it sounds to me that for many of you this particular treat is ALL BRAND NEW!”
Now the entire crowd applauds and shouts.
“Welcome to The Riddler’s World of Puzzle Boxes!!!”
People jump to their feet, whooping and hollering - and the show hasn't even begun. Edward smiles widely beneath the brim of his bowler hat. Apparently his reputation in Gotham has grown by leaps and bounds in less than a week. Excellent.
“On with the show!”
Edward had just presented his third puzzle box to the crowd when he spies Jim Gordon and Lucius Fox enter the auditorium and take seats behind William and Oswald on the balcony. The house had been full when the show started - those seats are only available now because the fate of the victims of the first two puzzle boxes had been quite gruesome. Neither contestant had successfully solved the puzzles and escaped scot-free. And that had pleased Edward to no end.
Unfortunately, the crowd hadn’t been as pleased. A lot of the audience had been steadily thinning out. Some people had left in sheer terror - others, to go outside planning to empty the contents of their stomachs only to end up deciding not to return at all. William's certainly not the only one in Gotham who’s squeamish. Too bad. Edward’s having a grand time.
As his most recent victim is removed from the box, the man’s skin having been stripped and fried in front of him, a gurney is brought onto the stage. The man had been unable to solve the problems Edward had devised for him within the box and one long strip of skin had been removed and fried for each failed attempt. The man had repeatedly protested that there were too many variables - that he just hadn’t been given enough clues to solve the problems.
“Welcome to my world,” Edward had replied gravely. The same had been done to him in his youth.
Once the man had attempted a certain number of problems that resulted in failure, the puzzle box opened up to spit him out, still alive. He had been shamed good and plenty and proven worthless - it had no more need of him.
Strangely though, Edward feels . . . odd . . . as he watches the gurney take a contestants off the stage and into a waiting ambulance for the second time that evening. But isn’t a hospital the proper place to dispose of human garbage? The dumb . . . the weak . . . those who aren’t able to anticipate danger and thus find themselves continually at the mercy of it’s inscrutable desires?
“I’d like to volunteer,” Edward hears Jim Gordon call out from the balcony and sees Oswald grab onto him, in an obvious attempt to stop him from heading down to the stage. When he breaks free, Oswald shakes his head in panic.
Edward doesn’t quite understand why, but obviously, his best friend wants Jim Gordon to survive intact and relatively unharmed.
“Lucius Fox, please come down and join Jim if you will,” Edward says. Partnering with Lucius is the only chance Jim has to escape the box unharmed while still leaving The Riddler’s World of Puzzle Boxes show with some semblance of its integrity intact. Edward sighs deeply and buries his competitive instincts.
Anything for Oswald.
“Thank you for sparing Jim,” Oswald says to Edward on the way back to the Van Dahl estate. “That would have been the kind of trouble we just don’t need right now with him already digging around into my real estate holdings.”
“Jim told me on the way out that he thinks I just might have broken the law with my show tonight and that he’s seriously considering arresting me,” says Edward, tilting his head. “That’s still trouble.”
“But he won’t,” Oswald replies with a small smile. “Willie and I will make sure of it.”
“But did I actually break the law?” Edward asks like an innocent child.
“Let’s see. . . You tortured people to near death tonight - two of them are in an ICU right now struggling for their life and may yet die. Hmmm . . . I certainly think that counts as breaking the law, yes,” Oswald says.
“Really?” Edward asks. “But they wanted it.”
“No one wanted that,” William says grimly.
“But they asked for it.”
“Oh, Edward,” Oswald says, patting him on his knee. “Sometimes I worry about you.”
Unworried, Edward sits back in his seat for the duration of the ride back to the Van Dahl estate and dreams up new types of torture for his next show, mostly using kitchen utensils. Between that and various ways that he can use scorching hot cookies, he comes up with many novel scenarios for how he can use his puzzle boxes in the future.
“Cockeyed Cooking with the Riddler,” he mutters to himself and grins.
Perhaps he should have a culinary show. Hmmm . . . he'll have to find some red and gray plaid to redecorate the puzzle boxes with. That should most definitely be the show’s theme.
Edward is already tucked into bed, Rex the panther cuddled up beside him, when he hears Oswald knock tentatively.
“Are you asleep?” he calls out. “Can I come in?”
“Yes, Oswald, can’t you see the light under the door?” Edward had been up reading. He closes the book and tucks it into the nightstand.
“Yes, yes, I could see the light, otherwise I wouldn’t have bothered. I think.” Nervously, Oswald asks, “Can I sit down?”
“Of course,” Edward replies, sitting up. Rex turns into a tabby cat and slinks down to the foot of the bed, all put out by the interruption. “What’s wrong?”
“I’ve been worried about you.”
“Oh? How so?”
“Well, your shows are getting more and more gruesome. . .”
“I thought you would have liked that.”
“Well . . . They’re just not you, Edward. You used to be so . . .”
“The Riddler used to be more cerebral, more of a psychological, intellectual torturer. Not a butcher.”
Edward’s face darkens. Is his best friend criticizing him? “Are you saying that my new puzzles weren’t difficult enough? Not up to my usual standards?”
“No, quite the opposite. They’re too hard - almost impossible really. It’s like your objective is to hurt people, not to best them intellectually.”
“What are you saying?”
“You know I don't have a problem with you hurting people, but I'm left to wonder where you are, Edward. Because this isn’t you.”
“What do you mean?”
Oswald pokes his chest. “Are you in there, Edward? Or you, Riddler? Or Ed? Is there anyone inside of you that I might recognize? At all?”
“So am I!” Oswald throws up his hands muttering, “You don’t even know who Lee is.”
“I do too know who Lee is.”
“Then who is she?”
“The Queen of the Narrows,” Edward says smugly with a nod. He had surmised that from their previous conversation with William.
“Oh, Edward,” Oswald looks so disappointed. It’s clear he hadn’t bought that. “I’m so worried about you.”
“Well, for one thing, I can’t believe what William and I found in your stuff last night,” Oswald digs around in his robe for something.
“You two were going through my stuff?”
“It was accidental.”
Oswald pulls out a knife. It’s collapsible.
Edward keeps his face a mask. But his senses are suddenly assaulted with the smell of warm wood. He sees flecks of it floating in the sun.
“Why do you have this of all things?” Oswald asks, shaking it in his hand accusingly.
“Excuse me, I need to use the restroom.” Edward scampers out of bed, and shuts the bathroom door behind him. His senses are still being assaulted, but now not just with the scent of warm wood and other more unpleasant things, but with pain - horrible pain. He can’t remain standing - not even holding onto the bathroom counter - and lets himself crumple clumsily to the floor. He curls up on the bathroom rug. He’s in utter agony but has no idea why. It feels like hours pass, but they haven't.
There’s a soft knock at the door. “Hey are you still alive in there?”
Edward grits his teeth and focuses on steadying his voice. “I’m fine. You should just go back to bed, Oswald.”
“Are you sure?”
Once it sounds like Oswald has truly left, Edward allows himself to groan a bit with the pain of it all.
He hears a soft thump against the door as Rex settles in for the night.
Chapter 33: Chapter 33
This chapter is dedicated to my regular Gotham beta doomed_copper who said to me awhile ago (when I was writing Exile) "You know, it would be nice to see Edward, Oswald, and William have a night on the town." (or something along those lines) She gets her wish in this very chapter!
Oops! Was that a spoiler? Sorry guys. Please enjoy anyway.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Edward staggers to the breakfast table the next morning in nothing much more than a robe, half of his hair standing on end like Alfalfa from the Little Rascals.
“Morning,” he says to everyone: Oswald, Willam, Rex in panther form, who’s sitting in his chair, and Olga, Oswald’s head of household staff, who’s serving them poached eggs and salmon that morning. They’d all been amazed at Olga’s cockroach-like ability to survive the fall of Gotham and resume her employment with Oswald seamlessly. Her presence has been a pleasant and reassuring constant for everyone, even if her demeanor never is. Rex moves to another chair as Edward approaches so that he can sit.
Looking down at the fish he’s just been served, Edward wrinkles his nose. He doesn’t want to think too hard about which river in polluted Gotham City his salmon might have come from. Instead he just pushes the plate with the fish away in disgust.
“How are you feeling?” Oswald asks him carefully. “I noticed that you didn’t dress for breakfast.”
“I had a rough night.”
“WORTHLESS! You’re as worthless as he is! Weak! Pathetic!” Hot cookies slap his face, flung from a spatula across the kitchen. Edward hears a woman screaming at him as he curls up on the kitchen floor, trying to avoid their assault.
Oswald’s question hangs in the air, floating unanswered. Edward samples some poached eggs silently.
“You know, Edward,” Oswald puts down his fork. “I feel like I don’t even know who you are anymore. I mean, I know that you . . . sometimes do things like this . . .”
Like switch personalities perhaps?
“It’s just me now, Oswald. Or can’t you remember that?” Edward puts his fork down and stares at his best friend. Hard. “Drop it.”
“Yes, of course I remember. But do you even know who you are right now?”
“Of course I do,” Edward snaps, standing up and collecting his plate, planning to take it back to his room. “I don’t have to sit here and listen to this.”
“Like it even matters.” Oswald huffs bitterly. “You wouldn’t remember a thing I’d have to say anyway.”
“Of course I would.”
Oswald scoffs. “I seriously doubt it. You have so much memory loss right now, Edward, your brain is like a sieve.” He rolls his eyes. “Living with you two is like living on Fantasy Island.”
William had been silent this whole time, but listening. He crosses his arms and frowns when Oswald says that.
“Fantasy Island?” Now it’s Edward’s turn to scoff, placing his plate back down on the table to loom over Oswald, who is nonplussed. “What does that even mean? Fantasy Island was a premise for -”
“You know exactly what it means,” Oswald interrupts him testily, giving both Edward and William knowing looks. “William is delusional -”
“Fantasy Island -” Edward interrupts “- was a premise for people to figure out whether what they thought they wanted was what they really wanted at all. A fantasy was used to -”
“Sounds perfect.” Oswald purses his lips. “It sounds like just what you need, Edward. No wonder you’ve checked out and gone there for a little visit.”
“Unbelievable.” Edward just shakes his head and tsks, picking up his plate again, preparing to leave.
“Hey.” Oswald stops him before he can. “Answer me this: Why exactly does Lee seem to be missing from your vocabulary, huh? Is that what you're doing up here? Trying things out without her?”
“Who the FUCK is Lee?” Edward screams, nostrils flaring, tired of being pestered by all this Lee nonsense.
His unexpectedly harsh outburst is immediately followed by an awkward silence that is only punctuated by the sound of Edward’s breath escaping in heavy puffs. His heart starts to constrict.
“Told you so,” William says smugly to Oswald.
“That’s it!” Edward throws his plate down onto the table and stalks out. He’s done with this.
The last thing he hears is, “Well, my dear Willie, I guess you were right.”
Edward spends the rest of his time that day in his room sulking, with Rex coming in and out periodically to check on him. In order to keep his mind busy, Edward had spent a good chunk of that time investigating exactly what kind of money trail he needs to create so that Oswald’s acquisition of certain properties in Gotham City looks legit.
At one point, Edward discovers that he can't find all of the property deeds that he knows he’d recently forged for Oswald. He has an image in his mind of them drying on a clothesline, so he knows he’d finished them. He just can’t fathom where they are exactly.
There’s a soft knock on his door shortly after sundown.
“Hey,” Oswald says. “Can I take a seat?” he asks, indicating Edward’s bed.
“Sure.” Edward remains seated at the room’s make-shift desk, trying to keep his focus on the task at hand for just a moment longer despite his friend’s interruption. Once he's ready, he turns to face him. “How can I help you?”
“William and I were thinking you might want to come out to the club tonight. Perhaps you’ll meet someone,” Oswald says lightly, utterly failing in his attempt to mask his eager smile. “Oh, and I’m sorry about breakfast.”
“William’s place?” Edward asks, not even acknowledging the apology.
Edward sets down his pen and frowns, steepling his fingers. “You know, Oswald, All the King’s Men isn’t exactly my kind of place.”
“Live a little." Oswald leans forward with a naughty smile. “Try something different for once. I don’t understand why you’re always chasing after the ‘fairer sex’ anyway. Women SUCK, Edward - haven’t you learned that by now? How many more times -?”
“Isabella didn’t suck, she DIED!”
“Who is Lee again?”
“Oh my G -!” Oswald barely stops himself from falling into a minor tantrum. That’s not why he’s there. “Edward, it’s decided. You’re coming with us.”
“Fine,” Edward grudgingly agrees. “If you say so.”
“Great, my own personal mother hen brigade,” Edward says with a downward smirk. “Will you two stop fussing already? Let’s get this over with and just go.”
William and Oswald have already spent a good five minutes just messing around with a multitude of tie pins to complete his look. What are they so nervous about? He’s not debuting a new show or anything, they’re just going out for the night. Every little piece he’s wearing doesn’t have to mean something. Edward appreciates pageantry as much as either of them, but this is getting ridiculous.
“I’m not liking his hat,” William says.
Oswald crosses his arms and inspects Edward’s head, eventually nodding in agreement. “I’m not liking it either.”
“There’s nothing wrong with my hat, Oswald.” Edward growls. “You gave it to me.”
“Yeah, it’s gotta go.” Oswald waves his hand dismissively and William plucks it off his head.
Ten minutes later . . .
In the car on the way to the venue, Oswald continues to straighten Edward’s lapels, mess with his shiny question mark tie pin, brush imaginary specs off his pants -
“Oswald!” Edward practically shouts. “Enough.” He loosens his overly restrictive tie as Oswald gasps in horror. “You’ll just have to start over with all this fussing when we get out of the car anyway. So stop.”
“Chariot,” William corrects him.
“Forgive me, Almighty Pharaoh.” Edward tips his head in deference. “Your chariot.”
William nods magnanimously, resplendent in everything but his headdress, which is beside him on the empty seat.
Yes, they really are riding in something that resembles an ancient chariot, but it still has all the comforts of the modern world, including an invisible canopy so Oswald’s elaborate hairdo doesn’t get mussed along the way.
“Oh . . . My . . .” For the first time, Edward catches a glimpse of the newest spire in Gotham City as they pull into what’s left of what used to be the downtown area.
Appearing to jut forth from atop All The King’s Men is a huge obelisk in the shape of a phallus, complete with detailed carvings along its shaft and a pronounced head.
“Is that yours?” Edward asks in amazement.
“Yes,” William says with pride, lifting his head.
Oswald turns to Edward to explain, “It’s modeled after his own, um . . .” He falters for a moment, searching for the perfect word. “. . . obelisk.”
“Is that so?” Edward asks, eyebrow raised.
Oswald blushes deeply and looks down. “Not that I would know.” He plays with his hands nervously in his lap, waiting for Edward to look away.
“Well, congratulations, sir,” Edward says, turning away and nodding at William.
William nods back.
Edward leans into William with a mischievous smile. “But one would hope it’s not built to scale.” Oswald elbows Edward to stop even though his statement has just elicited William’s famous deep belly laugh.
“All kidding aside,” William finally says. “I had it erected -”
Oh no. Oswald and Edward both crack up and start giggling like little boys when William says that. But once everyone quiets down, he continues with his explanation.
“You see, I’ve just opened a fertility room. All The King’s Men is on its way to becoming a superclub.”
“A fertility room?”
“Yes, The Blue Lotus,” William says. “I had to redecorate appropriately for both my venues.”
Oswald snorts. “Well, I’ll say this for you, William, you are certainly no shrinking violet. I still can’t believe you used your own penis as the template for a phallic symbol you erected for all the world to see.”
“Does that please you, Ozzie?” William’s eyes are suddenly intense, boring into Oswald’s.
Edward feels a bit out of place and his gaze shifts down, no longer looking at the two of them.
“You know it does, Willie,” Oswald replies softly.
Yup. Definitely a private conversation that Edward knows he should not be privy to. He clasps his hands in his lap and closes his eyes.
Gotham’s three most fabulous men, The Riddler, The Penguin, and The Pharaoh arrive at All the King’s Men in their respective green, black, and golden splendor. Oswald loops his arms into both William’s and Edward’s and whispers excitedly, “I’ve always wanted to do this!”
They are true sons of Gotham - villains forged within the harsh heart of the still festering city - three men hardened with pain and loss.
The crowd excitedly assembles along each side of a petal strewn pathway meant for a king, greeting them all with cheers. William steps forward to begin the procession, taking in all of their praise along the way. It’s obvious that he lives for this. Edward and Oswald follow behind him since they are merely his honored guests.
Edward asks Oswald quietly, “What’s it like to follow in his wake everywhere you go?”
Oswald just stares up at William, a rapt look on his face. “Glorious. He’s -”
“You can't actually want to see him rule over you one day, can you?” Edward interrupts, taken aback at this seeming change in his friend. He can’t recall having ever having seen Oswald idolize anyone . . . easily forgetting how Oswald had been with him once. Totally smitten.
Oswald dismissively shakes one of his hands in the air. “It’s not like that at all - I’ve never had a power struggle with William. In any way. Surprising, huh?”
Yes. It is. Edward had heard the two of them fiercely arguing over tactics from time to time when they had been up against Jeremiah. By definition, hadn’t that been a power struggle?
“I can tell by your face that you’re overthinking this,” Oswald says. “Willie and I are a team, Edward. A solid team. We can disagree about basic strategies without running each other over. And unlike so many others I’ve dealt with, I don’t have to manipulate him to gain authority over him, he willingly lets me take charge when I need to and vice versa. Plus, no matter what, we always do what’s best for each other. Like you and I have learned to do.”
Edward’s head is swimming. How does that work? Switching up the power structure like that? Doesn’t one person always have to dominate? Like that Queen of the Narrows they’d mentioned earlier? Besides, William actually believes he is a king, so how can he possibly view Oswald as an equal and not just as a subject?
Oswald snaps his fingers in front of Edward’s face to bring him back to the present.
“You’re getting worse. Worse than you were before.”
“Halt!” William says, holding up a hand when they reach the entrance of the Blue Lotus. The entire procession stops.
Alongside the path is a beautiful pond that has huge blue lotus flowers floating among lily pads upon its surface. Edward can hear children laughing - a girl and a boy - splashing about in the water and playing with a couple of huge white lotus flowers that dwarf them. But that’s got to be nothing more than a distant memory - for there are no children here - and the flowers most certainly aren’t white.
Edward turns his attention to the building they are about to enter. It’s painted a light blue - a pretty periwinkle that looks like a washed out blue lotus petal. Small motifs are stenciled all over it - tiny little looped crosses - the keys of life - otherwise known as ankhs by the Ancient Egyptians.
“Are you ready?” Oswald asks Edward, a bit of nervous excitement in his tone.
“I told you I’m not going to meet anyone,” Edward says flatly.
“I know,” Oswald says, placing a hand gently on his back. “But you should check out this place anyway.” He turns to William, “Has she finished giving her fertility blessings for the night, yet?”
William checks in with one of the Anubis guards assigned to the door before turning back to his friends. “It looks like she’s been done for a while. So that means, the main event is about to start!”
“The main event?” Edward asks.
“Well, after she helps out all the poor couples who come to her door -” Oswald starts to explain.
“Heterosexual couples,” William clarifies.
“Yes, those poor misguided, unfortunate souls,” Oswald continues, shaking his head and clucking. “Anyway, after she shoos them out the real party can begin.”
“And that is?”
“Just come inside and see for yourself,” Oswald beckons.
“Fine,” Edward says with a tip of his hat. “Don’t mind if I do.”
But who is this "she?"
The place is not what Edward had expected even though William had explained to him on the way in that the Blue Lotus is a fertility room where heterosexual couples come to this mysterious "she" - this Ankh person - for help getting pregnant or to get a basic fertility blessing - before the evening’s entertainment begins. Yet still, Edward is shocked to see that there are women in attendance that night - at a nearly a fifty percent ratio - especially because according to William, Ankh had handed out her final fertility blessings quite awhile ago. All of the people who had come to see her earlier should be gone by now.
Edward has to ask. “Wait, William has opened up a club for -”
“Straight people?” Oswald replies. “Yeah.”
“How can that possibly work in concert with his business model for All the King’s Men?”
“Not everything is about business, Edward. Sometimes it is about so much more - like the Riddle Factory or your World of Puzzle Boxes. You’ll see.” Oswald claps him on the back. “I’ve gotta catch up with William for a second. I’ll be right back.”
“Okay,” Edward says.
And here he'd thought that Oswald had just been pressuring him to meet some guy. Turns out he just wanted him to meet someone. There's so many possibilities here. Oswald is a good friend.
Edward orders an appletini from a nearby server, checking out the venue as he waits for it to be mixed. The floorboards of the stage look like they belong in a dance studio and are arranged with at least one sweeping crescent stacked upon another. However, they’re covered by a curtain in the back, so he is unable to determine just how many crescents there are for now. That curtain is the same vibrant blue color of the lotus flower, with floaty, gauzy, gossamer strands in front of it, which are fully transparent in some areas and unevenly spaced. The curtain has the ankh symbol embroidered in gold along its hem, repeated over and over again. Eternal life.
Oswald soon returns to the Blue Lotus and settles into a booth with an old-fashioned and beckons Edward over.
“So you really don’t remember her, do you?” he asks Edward.
“Now please don’t get defensive the second I mention her name . . . but I’m talking about Lee.”
Edward sighs, in frustration, in defeat. He has no idea. “No Oswald, I don’t know who Lee is. I’m sorry.”
Before Oswald can respond, the lights in the house go down and the stage is softly lit, highlighting the gossamer strands' ethereal effects in the light. Slowly, to the sound of music that sounds like it could be emanating from a snake charmer’s pipe, a woman emerges from between an opening in the lotus blue curtain.
She has a fringe of black hair framing her face and a large ankh on her forehead, which mirrors another one resting upon her chest, suspended from her neck by a strong chain. An almost familiar scent assaults his senses as she takes one solemn step forward - and then another.
“Oh, my god,” Edward whispers. “She smells amazing. What is that wonderful perfume?”
He doesn’t realize it, but he’s started to rise. Oswald clamps his hand firmly down upon his forearm. “You need to stop listening to your nose Edward, and pay more attention to what’s actually going on.”
Edward continues to rise and remains standing, his mouth still agape, assisting his nose in processing her scent. Who is she? And what is that intoxicating perfume?
Watching her walk forward in her gossamer and frankly quite see-through gown and not being able to reach out and touch her is pure torture.
“Oswald, I need to. . .”
“Sit!” he commands. “In due time, Edward. Just watch how this works.”
Edward finally deflates and sits down. “But -”
Oswald can’t contain his bitter chuckle.
“Yes, Ankh is very pretty. Believe me, I'm well aware of how much you might find yourself attracted to someone just like her. But then again, you’ve always been a sucker for the pretty ones, haven’t you?” He shakes his head. “Unfortunately, some things never change. But that’s exactly why we’re here, hoping that history will repeat itself.”
For more information on the ankh visit: https://www.ancient.eu/Ankh/
I'm going to start posting chapters 2x/week (or more) for the next month or so and try to keep that up, health permitting. Enjoy!
(Oh, and I changed the summary of this fic to be more descriptive of what it's actually about - finally)
Ankh makes it to centerstage, opening her arms wide. “Come forth, virile men of Gotham and try your hand at seduction tonight.”
“What does she mean?” Edward whispers to Oswald, unable to pull his gaze from Ankh’s eerily mesmerizing eyes, outlined in outrageously thick black kohl. She looks like an Egyptian goddess and he’s not the only man entranced. Many stand up and walk forward to join her.
“Uh. . . Uh huh," Oswald admonishes as Edward starts to stand up. “You stay here. We just talked about this.”
Edward pouts. “But I . . .”
“But you what?”
“I’m virile,” Edward almost whines. “The data must be wrong. . .”
Oswald cups a hand to his ear. “Come again?”
“Data?” Oswald asks.
“Exactly. What data?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Edward replies.
Oswald groans and shakes his head. “Fine, then. Back to the show. This is how it works: Each night that she’s here at the Blue Lotus, Le - ahem,” Oswald stops himself just short of saying her full name because, on the whole, Edward hadn’t been reacting well to that. “Our lovely Ankh sets up this seduction game to help William with his enemies. Quite the little devil she is. A nice addition to Gotham’s Rogues Gallery if I do say so myself!”
“How is this seduction game played?”
“Well, only the worthy advance to certain positions within her inner circle. You see all the men that are gathering with their pillows along the outer edges now?”
“i most certainly do. But what exactly is the prize?”
“I’ll get to that. Be patient my friend," Oswald says.
Edward nods and he continues.
“Each man will try his hand at impressing her as she wanders around the outer circle. Those that fail get off easy.”
“What do you mean?”
“They are ejected from the game. Dismissed.”
“Rejected,” Edward says forlornly.
“Oh, but they’re the lucky ones,” Oswald insists. “Because the ones who advance -”
“The ones who have charmed her -"
“The ones who believe they’ve charmed her make their way into the second circle. That’s where William has trapdoors set up.”
Edward nods in understanding. “I see. She lets the insignificant ones go in the first round. And the rest -”
“Get interrogated, tortured, or worse by William and his people, yes,” Oswald says succinctly. “It’s an entertaining way to publicly thwart your opponents. The people of Gotham find it quite fun.”
“Okay, but there’s one thing I don’t get. How do Ankh and William manage it?”
“A game with no winners.”
“You should talk, Mr. World of Puzzle Boxes.”
“Yes, but I set a precedent with the Riddle Factory. Sometimes, though rarely, I will let a contestant escape my clutches without harm and win some cash. I have some incentive to keep them coming. But I don’t see any upside here.”
“Oh, there’s plenty of incentive, believe me.”
“A prize that’s never won? How so?”
“The prize is her.”
“What?” Edward blinks, suddenly overcome. “But she’s m . . .”
Edward’s mouth hangs closed over the beginning of an “m” sound. He had almost said “mine.” Why would he say that? Oswald’s ogling him in anticipation, rolling his hand around, trying to drag out what he had been about to say. But no. Edward won’t let himself say something so foolish. He doesn’t even know her.
“Ugh,” Oswald groans. “So close. You know, William thought it would be a good idea to bring you here when he received news that Ankh would be performing in the club tonight. You’d better not prove him wrong.”
“And how would I do that?” Edward asks, perplexed.
“Shh,” Oswald says. “The show is starting.”
The lights dim now that all of the men have taken their places around Ankh and a hush falls over the crowd. Oswald turns his head back to look at Edward and notices that he’s gone.
“Fuck!” Oswald grabs the nearest server. “Call The Pharaoh over to the Blue Lotus NOW! It’s an emergency. You should be able to locate him at the main club.”
The man starts to walk away to do Oswald’s bidding, and he drums his fingers against his lips, muttering worriedly to himself, “She doesn’t know who Edward is right now and he’s not on the pass list. She’s not going to know that she needs to reject h -”
Impatiently, Oswald grabs onto the man’s sleeve once more - just before he’s out of range. “Wait. We may not have time. See that man over there - with the glasses?”
The server nods as they watch Edward select a green pillow and belatedly join the other men in Ankh’s outer circle, under a spell that Oswald well knows cannot be broken.
“See to it that whatever trapdoor he’s lands on won’t open. Find whoever you need to in order to get that done.”
“How do you know he’ll even advance? Ankh rejects almost everyone.”
“She won’t reject him. My friend is in real danger!”
“How do you know?”
“Just look at him,” Oswald says. “Who could ever, ever find it in their hearts to reject that precious man?”
The closer Edward gets to her, the stronger her intoxicating scent. Is this what it had been like for Caesar when he first encountered Cleopatra? Or for Antony? He smiles softly. Isabella had loved the tragedy of Antony and Cleopatra, two lovers ruling the world together, destined to be torn apart by those jealous of their power. Isabella saw him as her Antony, but had she really been his Cleopatra? In that moment, he has a nagging feeling that it's someone else. Someone he’d forgotten.
He clutches the soft green square pillow to his chest as Ankh strolls past him and his mind screams
pick me pick me pick me
Any warning Oswald had given him about how this game was played is lost in the wake of her hips. Edward just wants her. It’s the only thing he knows.
His hands ache to touch her hair. The feel of it is like a memory. Soft, silken, yet strong when tugged. It takes great willpower, but he keeps his hands at his side.
She stops and then slowly turns back to him, a delicious smile tugging at the corner of her lips. “And who might you be?”
“The Riddler,” Edward looks down, suddenly shy, his fingers clutching the top of his pillow tightly in front of him as he shifts his feet from side to side. “Ma’am.”
She gently reaches out to touch his chin, lifting it so that she can get a good look at him. “You seem like a sweet one. A gentle one.”
“Only sometimes,” he says and then looks down again, an embarrassed, yet somehow smug smile flicking on and off his face.
She chuckles deeply in response and when he looks up he finds himself mesmerized by the deep dimple that her smile has tucked into her cheek. “I like you.”
“I like you, too,” Edward whispers.
She gives his cheek a perfunctory kiss and moves on. That tiniest touch excites him beyond measure. This is going to be agony. Especially if he doesn’t win her.
And if anyone else does, he’s got a nice puzzle box just waiting for them.
It had only taken the slightest interaction - that exchange of fondness between them - for Edward to move up to the next round. He places his pillow upon a designated square in the second circle and then attempts to kneel as he and the other men had been instructed to. He struggles a bit, relying heavily on his staff.
Ankh notices his difficulty and immediately comes over to him, grasping his free arm to steady him. “Are you hurt?”
“No,” he grunts, still in a bit of pain from the effort. “But there’s a reason I have a staff.”
She looks up and examines the finely crafted question mark on top of it. “And here I thought your staff was just an accent piece to go along with the rest of your impeccable sense of style.”
The wry look on her face is delightful. William and Oswald’s over-attention to the minute detail of his look earlier that night is suddenly very very appreciated.
“But you shouldn’t have to kneel,” she says. “I’ll get you a chair.”
“No,” Edward says, almost growling.
She cocks her head, questioning.
“There should be an even playing field. I can figure it out.” Edward’s chin juts up. “I plan to win you fair and square.”
“While I appreciate your spunk,” Ankh says. “I also refuse to let you suffer for no practical reason. Chairs for everyone!”
She claps her hands and assistants Edward hadn’t even noticed scramble to bring three chairs to the stage, placing them over the square outlines that Edward knows are trap doors.
“A level playing field,” she says and nods with satisfaction.
The other two men who have made it thus far take their seats. Edward gives them the look.
They just laugh at him.
Edward narrows his eyes. He’ll show them.
I got the inspiration for Lee to become Ankh from this brilliant analysis here: https://perfect-ginger-maniac.tumblr.com/post/174009777155/im-probably-wrong-but-i-think-lee-is-gonna-be.
Would have been awesome if that had actually happened on the show, huh?
I had to wait sooooo long to be far enough into this fic to finally do this, and now she's here! :-) The antipation was just killing me! (I've kept this under wraps for well over 100 chapters, guys - pretty sure I didn't even tell my usual beta).
As the second round of the game commences, Edward starts feeling less and less competitive.
Ankh is with the man sitting to the left of him, both of them flirting audaciously. It’s disgusting, but there’s nothing he can do about it right now. He has to wait his turn.
He feels the burn and stick of a hot cookie thrown at his face right from the oven.
“I made these for you!” the voice screeches as more assault his face, head, and arms. “For YOU!”
He starts to cower.
“You can’t even do this right! It’s such a simple thing, Edward, to do as you’re told.”
“Hey, hey, Eliza,” a deep male voice joins in. Edward’s eyes are closed tight. “He’s only four.”
“I don’t care, he should know better. Now they are burnt! Look!”
Another cookie smacks him in the back this time. It’s not as hot. Still, he startles when it hits him.
He doesn’t understand what he did wrong.
“You’re never going to amount to anything, you good for nothing kid!” that voice screeches again, standing over him. “No one is ever going to want to put up with you. No one! Do you hear me?”
“Hey,” the voice is soft, gentle. And it’s in the present, comforting, and familiar. “Can you open your eyes for me?”
Edward squeezes them shut a little tighter to banish the lingering remnants of whatever that was. He doesn’t want to be there anyway. And when he opens them, Ankh casually puts her arms around his neck and sits down in his lap.
There’s some “oohs” from the audience. They’d never actually seen Ankh have so much contact with one of her suitors.
On the screen behind her is the man who had been seated to Edward’s left. It looks like he’s being torn to shreds by huge blades as he falls to the bottom of a pit. Edward gulps. So that’s the price for failure. He wants her so badly, but suddenly he’s not sure he wants to play anymore. Especially because he knows he’s worthless - that no one will ever truly want him - least of all this beautiful creature seated upon his lap.
He sighs deeply and she curls her arms around his neck, leaning in to whisper into his ear, “Are you alright? I’m worried about you.”
“I’m fine,” he says stiffly.
She leans back and says, “Oh, I doubt that.”
When she chuckles, he can’t help but laugh along with her, and the scent of her perfume is so very close now, intoxicating, allowing his troubled mind to relax . . .
Ankh cups his chin. “Show me what you’ve got,” she says and bounds off his lap.
Edward just stares at her for a while, not exactly sure what to do, not remembering anything about how to seduce a woman. Well, except for Isabella. And she had made everything so easy - she had loved him for himself. Unconditionally. He could do no wrong.
“I . . . I . . .”
Ankh waits patiently, staring into his tortured brown eyes, swimming with desire and fear. Finally, he reaches out his hands for her reverently.
“I just want you,” he says with all honesty.
“You’re very sweet.” Ankh leans into him, allowing his palms to land on her hips as her sultry red lips land on his . . .
He wants to drink her in forever, but she eventually pulls her face away with a smile that is somewhere between wicked and shy. That scent under her heady perfume. . . It must be her true scent. It’s intriguing . . . and alluring.
Edward notices the warm the skin of her hips beneath his hands and marvels at how sheer the fabric is that’s covering her. This close he can see right through it. He can clearly see the deep V where her legs intersect. He wants. . .
As Ankh lifts the hem of her garment, he finds his hands traveling downwards. The crowd makes more excited noises, but the two of them don’t hear it - they are lost in their own little world. He touches her there, gently, tentatively, and he can hear her breathe, “I want you . . .”
Does that mean he’s won?
“Please,” she says. “More.”
“Are you sure?”
He leaves one gentle hand were it is as the other softly touches her thigh and travels along the inside of it.
“Mmm, yes,” she says with lust in her eyes. “Keep going. Oh -”
Moving slowly and paying attention, he had easily found right where she liked to be touched. Or was it intuition? In a way, it felt like both.
Her fingers urgently find their way into his hair, almost knocking off his glasses as she pulls his head back in order to kiss him quite deeply this time. She can’t help but moan right there on his lips before she makes herself pull away. Edward smiles, no longer insecure. Deep down, even if it isn’t official, he knows he’s just won.
He takes her to the brink of climax with both of his hands and then stops, leaving her breathless.
“You . . .”
He just gives her a wicked smile.
“You need to take me NOW!” She almost looks angry, but he knows she’s not.
The crowd goes wild. Oh yeah, they have an audience, he’d forgotten that. A wolfish grin spreads across his face.
“Follow me.” Ankh pulls away from him and sashays closer to the inner circle, near a place partially hidden by gossamer drapes. He stands up and follows her as she moves the gossamer out of the way to reveal a pole. It takes Edward a moment to realize that it’s a bedpost.
“Are we going in?” he asks, indicating the vibrant blue curtain that conceals her bed.
“No, you’re going to have to earn that,” she says, putting her hand on her hip and tilting her head.
Edward’s confused. Perhaps he hadn’t won.
“How do I do that?”
Ankh removes the headband that had been holding her symbol of life to her forehead and sinks to her knees in front of him. She eyes the front of his pants hungrily and it doesn’t take words to tell him what to do. He begins to undo his buckle and within seconds her red-lipsticked mouth is around him hungrily. He grabs onto the pole for balance as his staff falls to the floor, unnoticed. His eyes close and soon he begins to breathe harshly, rapidly. Her mouth, her lips, her tongue feel so . . . he wouldn't be able to describe it in words - his mind is too preoccupied with the sheer pleasure she’s eliciting from him.
Once Edward begins to moan, she suddenly stops, standing up. He glares at her through a haze of lust. He needs . . .
“More. . . ” It comes out raggedly.
“Show me,” she says and turns her back on him, removing her gauzy garments. She’s completely naked now except for the symbol of life weighing heavily on her chest.
Edward moves a hand down her back, caressing the swell of her hip softly. Then he starts nipping at her neck and growls. “Bend over.”
Ankh reaches for the pole herself as she complies and agonizingly begins to slowly arch forward. He’s aching with anticipation just watching her. Once he can see that she’s glistening, ready for him, he obliges her and finds his way into her gently, his hand steady upon her hip.
“Yessss . . .” she breathes as he fully penetrates her.
The crowd is in an uproar as he pulls her hair back and they begin to couple with abandon.
Oswald had long since left, and William has taken his place now. The Pharaoh smiles widely at all his subjects, happy to finally be able to give them the live sex show they’d all been waiting for. And to give her the reunion she’s craved, even if she doesn’t realize it just yet, locked in the haze that is Ankh.
Edward finds he can no longer tolerate any distance between himself and this lovely creature, so he lifts her up completely from the pole, and cradles her from behind, careful to stay inside of her. For this moment at least, she is his and everything feels right. He clings to her, wanting to hold on to her - to hold onto them - forever.
She looks back at him with softly shining eyes. “Will you give it to me?”
“Anything,” Edward whispers. Anything for her. Even that. Especially that . . .
Ankh smiles, untangles herself from him, and parts the blue curtain. As Edward passes inside, there are boos from the crowd, but she just laughs and shakes her head, smiling and waving goodbye to them. It’s time for privacy. He’s earned it.
Ankh is different behind the curtain. They both are. Neither of them are as gentle with each other as before. Or as patient.
After they sink into the satin sheets together, he entwines their fingers together and firmly pushes her hands up over her head to get more purchase as he roughly penetrates her yet once again - and she demands that he thrust harder almost immediately.
“I’m trying,” he growls.
“You can do better.” Her voice is silky, firm, and irresistible.
Fine, he’ll try. For her. He releases their hands to grip her hips instead - hard - and she squeals and then laughs in delight. Her laughter is cut short however, when he changes angles.
“Oh. . .”
“Yeah,” Edward says salaciously, watching her start to writhe, her undulations starting from where he’s made contact with her, buried to the hilt - and moving all the way up to her shoulders. “‘Oh.’”
She throws her head back as she grasps at his forearms, her nails digging in.
And then he thrusts hard, so very hard. Pausing after each dramatic plunge, he waits for her moan.
“Please,” she pants at one point. She can't take it any more.
“Please what?” he demands.
“Give it to me,” she breathes, her eyelids half closed, hooding the sultry depths of her boldly outlined eyes.
“And what exactly is it that you want, my dear?” he asks teasingly, staying immobile inside of her. He knows exactly what she wants.
She doesn’t like his teasing and sits up, grabbing both sides of his head. “I need your seed, Riddler.”
“Is that so?” he asks, and gently lays her back down among the soft, silken sheets. Cradling her head, he finds his way back inside of her. There’s that scent, underneath her perfume once again. It smells like home.
“Yes,” she says in a quiet whimper, reaching up to touch his face lovingly.
Who is this exquisite creature?
“Please.” No one else can hear that ‘please.’ It is for his ears only - said so quietly behind the blue curtain.
He rocks inside of her gently as she lifts her legs over his back.
He purrs with pleasure, kissing a trail down her neck to her collarbone and finally lands upon her breast. He nips at her nipple gently with his teeth and suddenly her hands are in his hair, demanding once again.
“Now, Riddler. NOW.”
Again, he begins to thrust hard, but this time fast too, at a pace that takes him to the brink quickly. Sweat pours off his forehead and drips down onto her.
“Okay, that’s enough!” He hears the Pharaoh call out, sees the curtain start to open.
“No!” Edward growls, jumping away to tug it closed, making sure they still have some privacy. He can hear William’s loud belly laugh from the other side of the curtain, keeping the crowd entertained.
Ankh still lies on the bed, and there’s a smirk on her face as she admires his member.
“Like what you see?”
“Oh, yes,” she purrs. “But I preferred how it made me feel. So get over here and finish your work.”
He chuckles. She doesn’t have to tell him twice.
Edward pulls the satin sheets over the both of them, even covering heads. No more public sex show. This is not for anyone else. It’s just the two of them now.
As he runs his hands through her silky hair, he realizes with clarity that she’s the type of woman he could fall for. And fast.
Gently, he enters her once again and she sighs as she receives him. He caresses her lovingly as they begin to move together, as she rolls beneath him in a sea of satin.
“Riddler,” she pants. “I think it’s time. I’m going to . . .”
Her chest suddenly flushes a deep red and she moans as she tries to maintain eye contact with for as long as she can, but eventually she fails. Throwing her head back, she cries out softly in ecstasy.
It’s too much for him. He, too, squeezes his eyes shut. So tightly. The skin covering his eyelids starts to pulse as the pressure builds to almost unbearable levels.
And then -
His mouth parts as he, too, throws his head back, and his eyes stay closed as he savors the sensation of each pulse.
“Yes. . .” she breathes beneath him. “You’re so beautiful, Riddler.”
A warm hand touches his chest as he relaxes with exhaustion.
“Thank you for your seed.”
He feels the liquid warmth between them, they share it as he stays inside of her. Life-giving warmth. She feels so much like home - he can’t shake it.
“Take me home,” Edward almost whines, placing his forehead on top of hers. “Please take me home.”
“Okay.” She nods and reaches down to touch her belly, and that’s when he sees it.
A large, noticeable scar.
Curious. It’s almost in the same place as his. He touches his too. We’ve both been hurt.
“I meant what I said,” Ankh tells him with sober eyes. “I want your seed. I want to have your babies.”
Edward looks down and notices some smaller scars on her abdomen and wonders what they are. But then he looks back up at her in amazement after he digests her words, at the kohl that’s heavily outlining her eyes now smeared with sweat following their rough and gentle lovemaking. He smiles knowing that she had chosen him. No one else had done that except for Isabella.
In that very moment he realizes he’s in love. He traces a sweaty tendril from her brow. He never believed it could happen again.
Edward leans down to kiss her and she pulls him all the way down and cradles him in her arms until the world around them grows still.
Chapter 36 wil post on Sunday.
“Okay, you two!” they hear William bellow. “Upsie-Daisy!”
Edward wonders if that’s a Scottish brogue he hears coming from the Almighty Pharaoh and shakes his head. That sounds weird.
The curtains are pulled wide.
“Hey!” Edward shouts, grabbing at the silk sheets. “Ankh’s naked! I'm naked! What the hell, William?”
“Club’s closed, Edward. Everyone’s left. I’m glad to see you’ve had such a good time, but it’s well past time to go home now.” William holds out a hand to Ankh. “Are you ready darling?”
Edward watches as she whips on a light robe and stands up in one graceful motion. She goes over to stand before William, taking his proffered hand and nodding solemnly. And then -
He conks her on the head and she drops to the floor.
“What the hell are you doing?” Edward jumps out of bed, neglecting to put on any covering. It’s not like he hasn’t seen his share of William prancing around Oswald’s estate in his sheer 'nightie.'
“Ankh!” Edward gets down on the floor to cradle her head in his lap gently. He looks back up at William. “What did you do to her?”
“She’ll come around,” he replies with confidence. “We discovered this little trick, this ‘happy accident’ if you will, when she first came to me for help with an ancient remedy. She’ll be back to herself in no time. Just you wait.”
Her eyes start to flutter and she looks up at the man holding her so gently. “Edward?”
“Yes, it’s me,” he replies as she sits up.
“Oh,” she says, and turning away from him, she begins to undo the chain holding the heavy ankh to her chest. “It’s Leslie,” she tells him without turning back around.
“Leslie,” Edward says, trying out her real name. “Here, let me help you with that.” Their fingers meet behind her neck and she pulls hers away almost shyly, letting him finish the task.
The heavy ankh sinks into her waiting hands and she stands up to hand it to William. “I believe this is yours.”
He nods. “I’ll give you two some privacy, but just so you know, our chariot awaits.”
“We won’t be long,” Leslie replies.
“Wait.” Edward asks, “Does that mean you'll be staying at Oswald’s tonight?”
“Uh . . . yes.” Hmm. She and Oswald must be close friends.
“I’m spending the night at the Van Dahl estate, too.” Edward smiles. “It will be nice to get to spend some more time with you.”
“Really?” Her tone is hopeful but cautious. “Is that why you came to the club tonight?”
“I didn’t even know you’d be here.”
“Well, William didn't really know until the last minute either - I kind of sprung it on him today. So I get it,” Leslie says, sounding a bit disappointed despite her attempt at a casual tone. “Staying at Oswald’s, huh? Is that a permanent thing?”
“It doesn’t have to be,” Edward replies, thinking about her offer to take him home. He really would like that . . . He’s beyond smitten at this point.
“Good,” she says, looking resolved. She takes his hand and starts to lead him out of the club.
They’re almost to the door when Edward notices - “Oops! I forgot to put my clothes back on.”
They share a spattering of warm giggles as they head back to her bed on the stage and she tosses him one piece of clothing at a time, commanding him to put each one of them back on.
He never realized that performing a reverse strip tease could be such fun.
During the chariot ride home, Oswald won’t look at Edward and Leslie, he only looks out the window, occasionally bringing a fist to his mouth as if he’s biting back words - or tears.
Eventually William takes that very hand and says softly to him, “I know it’s hard to watch, but you did the right thing.”
“Even if I hadn’t, it wouldn’t have made a difference,” Oswald says quietly, bitterly - and just for William's ears. “I know that now. When he arrived without her, I stupidly held out hope that there was somehow a slight chance for us even though there’s never been, really. I was hoping that the two of them might have been on the rocks.”
Oswald finally brings himself to look over at the happy couple and sees Leslie with her head tucked into Edward’s shoulder, his head resting peacefully on top of hers. They both look like they’re blissing out just being in each other’s presence.
No, they’re just fine.
“Ozzie, you know he was having great difficulties. Something had to be done.”
“I know. And that’s why I agreed to stage this little reunion at all, Willie.” Oswald pouts. “That doesn’t mean I have to like it.”
He looks out the window again as William pats his hand and begins to disengage.
“No,” Oswald says softly. “Stay.” He grabs William’s hand back and tucks it into himself, hugging it like one of his stuffies as he closes his eyes. “Please stay.”
William and Oswald retire to bed after their long night at the club, leaving Edward and Leslie alone in the drawing room. She’s restless now that the bliss has worn off. Up and pacing about.
“God, I need a drink,” she says.
“What would you like? I could make you some -”
“Are you serious?!?”
“What?” Edward asks innocently.
She gets into his face. “Are you serious right now? Or are you just testing me?” Her eyes narrow.
“Les -” He reaches for her elbow, but she yanks it away. “Hey, what’s wrong with you?”
She goes back to pacing for a bit, but then stops, putting her hand to her forehead. “Do you have any idea what just happened tonight?”
“Uh . . . We had sex in public?”
“It was ME, Edward!”
“I know that.”
“I was conscious.”
“Until William conked you on the head,” A smile tugs at Edward’s lips as he tries to lighten the mood.
“Ugh. No, Edward, when I was Ankh. I couldn’t help it. When we’re her, we’re one. Singular. I can’t shut it off.”
“So?” He has absolutely no idea what she’s talking about - some detail about her performance he assumes, but he doesn’t press her - she seems frustrated with him enough already.
“SO?? You had sex with ME." She points to her chest. "Leslie.”
“I know,” he says and takes her hands in an effort to reassure her that everything’s alright. “And it was glorious.”
She can’t help but smile at that, looking up into his eyes. But then she gets serious again. “Edward . . . it was my first time,” she whispers.
He remembers what Oswald had told him about her never having taken a suitor yet. He had been her first. “That’s okay,” he says, moving closer to her.
“I don’t think you get it, Edward. Even though the others have had you, I’ve never really paid attention - I always tried my best to shut all that out. This was the first time I was fully aware. It was the first time I have ever . . .”
“Had sex onstage?”
“No, it was my first time. EVER.” Leslie tries to drive the point home. “But yes, it was onstage. With you.”
Edward realizes that somehow she sees this as a bad thing. She backs away from him, tugging on her elbow. “It was weird.”
Something akin to rejection pierces his heart. Someone, more than someone, had called him weird before. And it hurt.
“But Leslie, I love you.” He can’t help but say it - he feels compelled to fight for her, to fight for whatever this is, despite the sudden wound.
“What?” She looks utterly shocked. "You love me?"
Chapter 37 will post on Tuesday. :-)
Chapter 37: Chapter 37
“I know we had a strange beginning, Leslie, and I’m sorry. But I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable. Please don’t push me away.” Edward holds out a shaking hand.
She steps forward slowly, anxiously, and then finally takes it. “I won’t.”
Edward’s breathing increases and so does the pounding of his heart as he waits for her to continue. He can tell Leslie has more to say and he’s worried that it will be bad. But it isn’t.
“I won’t push you away, Edward, I promise." There’s a shine of unshed tears in her eyes as she looks at him.
He hopes they’re tears of happiness. She looks down.
"Because I love you, too," she whispers.
He pulls her to him and they sway for a bit. He buries his face in her hair. She smells more like home than ever, the heady scent of Ankh mostly faded. As their sway turns into a dance, he leads her slowly around the drawing room with his staff as a counter balance - it feels so natural - and they whisper sweet nothings to each other to the beat of an invisible drum. The salted air of the sea fills his nostrils and he hears the soft crash of a not so distant surf. It feels like he’s done this a million times before in a cream colored bungalow by the shore . . .
But when they part for the evening, Leslie says the strangest thing to him. “I’ve been so worried for so long that you would only ever see me as a child and not the adult I’ve grown into. Thank you, Edward.”
She kisses his cheek and heads off to bed.
Edward wakes up with her scent on his sheets - it’s very subtle. He hadn’t taken off his clothes from the night before - they must have rubbed it into them. She smells like. . .
He wonders who she is and where she’s gone.
“Kind of odd you two sleeping in separate rooms,” Oswald says accusingly to a woman seated at the table as Edward enters the dining room for breakfast. “Do you two have something you’d like to tell me?”
Edward only sees the back of her head as she answers, her fringe of black hair shaking vehemently. “No, it’s not that. I just didn’t feel -”
“Hello,” he says, placing a hand on the back of her chair in greeting, before pulling out his own chair out to sit beside her. “And who is this?” he asks.
It’s suddenly so silent you could hear a fork drop. Oswald’s.
Right after it clatters, he exclaims, “Edward, this is Lee!”
“Leslie,” she corrects him, a confused look on her face.
“Leslie. Fine then,” Oswald says snarkily. “But most of us call you Lee, you know.”
“Lee?” Edward asks quietly, his breath almost gone. This is the infamous Lee? She smells like his sheets - it’s as clear as day now. He’s going to be sick.
Edward leaves the room stiffly as Oswald cries out. “What the hell was THAT?!?”
Lee. Lee. Who is Lee? And why is she important?
Edward throws up and clings to the bowl for a moment afterwards. It’s as cold and pointless as his mother.
Where did that thought come from?
He sits up and flushes the vomit down the drain. He hadn’t even eaten breakfast yet, so there wasn’t much of anything but liquid to expel. Still, his stomach feels awful. He’s been poisoned hasn’t he?
He turns and sits back against the tub, his head in his hands, elbows resting on his knees, shivering. Occasionally he dry heaves in terror as it continues to sink in that he’s been poisoned and is unable to get it out of his system.
How long does he have to live? He’s not sure he’s ready to die yet.
“Hey there,” a deep voice says gently. “Rex let me know that you needed some help.”
“I’ve been poisoned,” Edward says pathetically, looking up at the bronze-skinned man with hair the same color as that Lee person. William.
He looks confused. “Really?”
Edward nods and suddenly there's tears in his eyes. “I think I’m going to die.” He doesn't want to die.
“Well, we’ll have none of that, now will we?”
Edward can hear a small meow from behind the big man. Rex.
William gently lifts Edward up from the bathroom floor and takes him to his bed, the silver tabby underfoot.
He tucks him in and says gently, “Whatever you’ve been poisoned with Edward, I, The Almighty Pharaoh, have an antidote for it. I always do.”
Edward doesn’t answer him, just pulls the sheets all the way up to his neck. He starts shivering again when he hears them come down the hallway. Oswald and that woman.
“Oswald! Lee! In here," William calls out to them.
“No no no no no . . .” Edward says. Suddenly there’s blood pouring from his hands and down onto the bedspread where he’s clutching it. He sits up frantically.
“No, not Lee,” he whispers. “Leslie.”
“What’s wrong?” William asks him.
“The blood, it’s everywhere!”
Edward jumps out of the bed and frantically starts wiping down his hands and forearms just as Oswald and Leslie come in. “The blood the blood the blood.”
Everyone’s looking at him like he’s batshit crazy.
“Leslie!” he screams out. He’s not even looking at her. Just his hands.
“She’s gone,” he suddenly cries out, looking up as his frantic movements cease, speaking to absolutely no one. Looking at absolutely no one.
“What the hell is going on here?” Oswald demands.
“I think I know,” Leslie says calmly. She walks over to Edward and takes his hands. “Yes, she’s gone,” she says to him gently. “For good.”
He looks up at her with the most pitiful eyes. “Is she really? Her blood . . her poison . . . It won’t ever go away.”
“Shh,” Leslie says, wiping his brow. “Yes it will. It’s already . . .”
But Edward’s not there - he’s no longer present. All he can feel is the warm blood on his hands. It grows sticky and then cold.
“What the hell did you do, Lee?” Oswald demands.
“I killed his mother," she says without any further explanation.
“You heard me.”
“Are you sure?” Oswald asks, stunned.
“Of course I am.”
“But Edward doesn’t have a mother,” Oswald challenges, his eyes narrowing. Edward had grown up an orphan as far as he knew. How would Lee even know who his mother was?
“Of course he does,” Leslie replies, nonplussed. “Everyone has a mother. Or did your teacher fail to mention that when they got to the reproductive unit in biology?”
Upon hearing the word ‘mother,’ Edward looks up at the dark-haired woman who had uttered it, but he can’t see her face to matter how hard he tries. All he can see is blood gushing forth from a wound, absolutely coating his hands. The wound is a deep slit that looks like it’s breathing as blood pulses through. There’s a head - and a face just above it - but he can’t bear to look.
He’s hiding under the bed, covering his ears. But still he can hear her.
“You’re such a chump, Nash! You would let anyone -”
His father’s voice interrupts her but it’s so low, he can’t make out what he’s saying.
She continues, speaking over him. “You’re so much less than a man, Nash. Weak, timid, ineffectual. USELESS.”
He can hear the sharp sounds of her open-handed slaps when they land on his father, matching the cadence of each damning word. He can also hear his father’s firm, but ineffective pleas for her to stop and it makes his heart ache. He tries very hard not to cry.
“Our son has more of a spine than you do and he’s not even six! Pathetic, the both of you.” She storms out of the kitchen.
He curls up into a ball, making himself tiny, hoping and praying that his mother won’t find him like that.
She can be so mean.
“Whoah, I got you.” William’s strong arms catch Edward just as he’s about to drop to the floor.
“Did you see that?!” Oswald screams at Leslie. “You’ve broken him.”
“What? How could I have possibly -?”
“Just by being here, Lee,” Oswald wrings his hands, feeling helpless. “Just look what you’ve done!” he cries. “And here Willie and I thought your presence would be good for him, he’s been in such a state lately, forgotten so much about who he is. I had high hopes that you might be able to bring him back to us, back to reality. But look how wrong I was? JUST LOOK AT HIM. He’s so much worse now.”
“But last night he asked me to take him home . . .” Leslie says, confused. But then she takes a good look at Edward staring at her from the bed, terrified, ashen, and shivering. She hangs her head.
"I hate to admit it, Oswald, but you’re probably right." Leslie nods, holding back tears. "Edward's not doing well at all.”
It's clear he doesn't know who she is - and he probably never had. Why hadn't William and Oswald told her what was going on? Why the cloak and dagger?
“I am. You need to leave.” Oswald tugs on his suit, a bit calmer now, having gotten his way. He touches her arm, gently. “William and I will find a way to help him, I promise. Set him in his right mind.”
“I hope so.” Leslie hates to leave him like this, but even she has to admit that her presence is upsetting Edward this morning. She goes over to kiss his forehead and he pulls away from her. She can’t stop a few tears from falling and turns away from him to wipe them from her cheeks.
“So you really killed his mother?” William asks.
“Yes.” Leslie heads towards the door, taking one more look at the man on the bed who stares back at her as if he’s looking at a complete stranger.
“Take care of him, Oswald. I want to see him functional soon or else I’ll be back up here -"
“But you’ll trigger -” Oswald starts to protest.
“Don't worry, we'll see if you’re right first." Leslie says, holding up a hand. “Let’s see if my absence helps. I’ll give you some time to help Edward find his way, but I’m not going to let him suffer like this for long if he needs more help than the two of you can give him.” She gives them both a pointed look.
“Thank you,” Oswald says graciously. “You know we care about him as much as you do.”
Leslie gives him an almost doubtful look and then turns to William and says, "I think I’ll be going into the city for a bit before I leave, clear my head. I’ll call you when I need a golden car to The South.”
“Bye,” Both William and Oswald reply.
Edward weakly lifts his hand from the bed - it’s so much less than a wave - and then returns to his nightmares.
William had given Edward something to help him sleep after Oswald had a nice big breakfast brought to his room, but he only sleeps for a few hours before waking up from a nightmare. He wakes up screaming, but Rex the panther puts a firm paw on his chest, bringing him back to the present and letting him know that he is loved.
He relaxes back into the bed, wanting to cry with relief. Rex had released him from one nightmare, Leslie had released him from another one.
Wait. Who’s Leslie?
Edward shakes his head. Why is everything so difficult? For a smart man, so much of the world isn’t making sense right now. Except for Rex. He pets the big cat’s soft, slick fur and elicits a deep rumbling purr of satisfaction.
“You’re not just William’s creature, are you?”
Rex nuzzles him.
“You’re so much more than that.”
Right now, Edward can’t imagine William using Rex as one of his eyes to spy on him - not like he had been doing with Oswald. Somehow he trusts William now - more than he ever had before. Perhaps it's because he realizes that he has no intention of hurting his best friend - quite the opposite. He knows that Oswald is safe with him, and that's comforting.
And as for himself, he's safe with . . .
Edward can’t complete that thought and it troubles him. Why did he have it in the first place?
“Hey there,” Oswald says, knocking gently on the door. “I heard you scream. Is it safe to come in?”
Edward reaches over to the nightstand for his glasses and puts them on. “Sure, come on in. Sorry about the sheets.”
“The sheets?” Oswald takes a seat on the bed.
“They’re soaked,” Edward says and laughs a bit. “Must have been a scary one.”
And yet they still contain a trace of the most alluring scent. A feminine one.
“I don’t remember it,” Edward says. “The dream,” he clarifies.
“That’s okay,” Oswald says and then looks down at his hands. He looks sad. “That’s not really why I came.”
“Oswald, what is it?” Edward asks, sitting up.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Oswald’s eyes are red-rimmed. It’s obvious he’s been crying. “I thought we were close.”
“Tell you what?”
“That you knew your mother. That you weren’t orphaned at birth as I was led to believe.” Oswald had put the pieces together without Leslie having to spell it out.
One startling truth inserts itself firmly back into Edward’s mind. Mommy. He had forgotten all about her.
“Oh, my god, Oswald, I’m sorry. I didn’t realize that it would affect you this way.” He reaches out for his best friend.
Tears plummet down Oswald’s face. “Affect me? Me? Edward, she had the privilege of knowing who you were.” Oswald places a hand over Edward’s heart. “You.”
Edward gulps as Oswald continues.
“How could anyone knowingly have someone as precious as you in their life and even think of abandoning them?”
Now the tears begin to streak down Edward’s face and he reaches out to hug his best friend tight.
“I can’t believe she took you there, to that horrible facility.” Oswald sounds like he’s squeaking as he speaks - his voice is so high with emotion and tears as he clings to his best friend. “My sweet precious Edward. You didn’t deserve that.”
Edward buries his head into Oswald’s shoulder and cries even harder.
“You poor thing.” Oswald strokes his back and whispers, “She must have been a vile, wicked monster.”
Once Edward pulls away, once he’s done crying, he looks down at his lap and begins to tell Oswald all about her. It’s nice to finally have someone he can talk to about the fear, anxiety, and uncertainty he knew as a young child growing up in his parents’ care without his strength, masculinity, or worth being called into question.
He loves Oswald for this. He really does.
“Oh, Edward,” Oswald says, sighing. “I wish you had known my mother.”
“From everything you've told me, it sounds like she was wonderful,” Edward replies.
“She was. If I had known you back then - say, if I brought you home after school with me when your mother didn’t want you anymore - she would have taken you in, broken wing and all, and mothered you well,” Oswald says with confidence. “Smothered you, truth be told. But still, she would have given you a good dose of the Cobblepot love you needed - patched your heart right up. She was a saint.” He pauses. “We could have been brothers, you know.”
“We ARE brothers.”
“Indeed we are,” Oswald smiles softly.
There’s a brief silence as both of them think.
“So what happened?” Oswald asks Edward. “How exactly did she die?”
Edward sees blood on his hands - and the deep, gaping wound in his mother’s neck, her life blood seeping out of it and saturating her almost perfect hairdo, turning it redder than it had ever been. And he also sees the vial lying on its side so innocuously on the ground beside him . . .
“She poisoned me.”
“What!?!” Oswald is alarmed. “Edward, no. Are you okay?”
“Yes, Oswald. It was years ago. It’s why she sent me away.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I was her lab rat. She poisoned me and when the sickness it induced was no longer interesting to her, she sent me to that facility to die.”
“But instead you got raped and tortured - and survived despite it all,” Oswald says vehemently. “That bitch lost, Edward.”
“Please don’t say those words,” Edward says in a small voice.
“Not saying them won’t take away the fact that you were horribly abused. You can’t hide from that anymore. I know your brain won’t let you.”
Edward’s not so sure about that. He knows some things have gone missing lately. He pinches the bridge of his nose.
“What a vile cunt,” Oswald says. “Pardon my French. But if Lee hadn’t already killed that woman, I’d have a nice, slow, torturous death planned out for her. Just like I did with Tabitha. Of course, I could involve you if you’d like, or shelter you from it. Either way. I mean, you know your way around killing, that’s for sure. First Kristen, then . . .”
As Oswald rattles off the long list of people that Edward has killed, he finds himself stuck on the name Kristen.
He sees that beautiful girl with the long black hair floating in the water again. No, that’s incorrect. She’s swimming in the sea like a mermaid, no longer locked up in a tank like a lab experiment. She’s free now and she’s -
“Under the pier,” he hears a little girl say excitedly.
He looks down at his hands and sees that they are coated in blood again, except that now he also sees two small hands put themselves into his. His mother’s blood is getting all over them. His heart starts to race in alarm.
“Daddy? Are you okay?”
Edward snaps back to the present.
“Oswald, I’ve got to go do something,” Edward says urgently and gets out of bed, starting to get ready, to get dressed.
Oswald stands up with him and asks, “What?”
“Get my sperm checked out.”
“You heard me.”
“Where in Gotham City are you going to find a doctor to do that?" Oswald protests. "We've barely gotten our banking system back on line, so I doubt you’ll find any working fertility clinics in the city right now. That’s why Ankh and The Blue Lotus are flourishing."
They most certainly are.
"Why people are so desperate to make more humans immediately following an apocalypse is quite beyond me." Oswald shakes his head. “But even though demand may be up, I doubt you’ll find any reproductive specialists in Gotham right now, Edward. If they were smart, they probably would have fled when Jeremiah destroyed the city.”
“I’ll find a dumb one, then.”
Oswald groans. “That’s not what I meant.”
“There’s always something shady going down in The Narrows. I’m sure I can find someone there. Not every rat left this sinking ship.” Edward gives Oswald a pointed look.
“That better be irony.”
Edward smiles, grabbing his hat and staff after pulling on his jacket. “Of course, brother.”
Edward parks his car under the elevated railway and takes a brief look around. He knows he knows this place. And yet he doesn’t. He steps out of the car and notices a dark-haired woman staring out of a huge window. She’s utterly dwarfed by it, yet her spirit takes up the entire frame.
For some reason he’s drawn to her and decides to follow his instincts and look for her. She hadn’t noticed him as he approached the abandoned building because she had been looking in a different direction. But she probably heard him when he had tripped over something near the entrance and swore. It’s the remnants of a neon sign. Yuck. Everything had always been so gaudy down here in The Narrows.
Edward finds her easily upon entering the building because she’s already come down a tall flight of stairs in order to greet him. She seems surprised to see him - happy - but surprised.
She knows his name.
But he doesn’t know hers. Which she figures out quickly. Holding out her hand, she says, “Leslie.”
“Pleased to meet you,” Edward responds, shaking it.
“Let me show you around,” she says. “Did you know this place once had a queen?”
“I did not.”
“There was also a man who supported her as she tried to make a better life for the people of The Narrows. He loved her very much," she tipped her head towards him. "It was actually quite inspiring.”
“Come,” she says and beckons him to follow her into the depths of the building. They stop in front of an abandoned fighting ring. “This is where it all began.”
“Wait!” He snaps his fingers. “You’re Leslie! Ankh.”
She turns to him and smiles.
“I’m so sorry I forgot,” Edward says. “I remember you now.”
“‘Anything else?’” he asks her.
“Well, we had a wonderful night last night - even back at Oswald’s after we came home from the Blue Lotus,” he says quietly. “And my sheets still smell of you,” he adds shyly.
“Stop it right there,” she says sternly, putting up a hand. “I did not sleep in your bed last night.”
His brows furrow. “I know. But we did share a dance . . .”
“Wait a second. Did you sleep in your clothes?” she asks him.
“Damn, that perfume I use for the show is way too strong apparently.” She laughs. “It has pheromones -”
“It wasn’t your perfume,” Edward says firmly.
After an awkward silence, Edward says, “So how about that tour?”
Two more chapters next week guys! (Tuesday & Thursday)
Chapter 39: Chapter 39
“This is the fighting ring where it all started,” Leslie says to Edward. “The queen’s rise to power, the beginning of their partnership.”
“Well, there was a bounty on his head.” Leslie conveniently leaves out the fact that it was Oswald who had put it there. “And the goons had come to collect.”
“They were pretty fierce, huh?”
“They were pretty - but I’m not sure all of them were that fierce. There was this one blonde who had been the future queen’s romantic rival from back in the day -”
“How salacious! I like it.” Edward grins a toothy grin. “Sorry, go on.”
“Well, that woman most certainly had a bone to pick - she would have been more than happy to take the queen’s future lover away for that offense alone, but no one knew what the future held, least of all her.”
“Sure,” Leslie says. “But this wasn’t a soap opera. This was real life.”
“But it reads like a soap opera.”
Leslie sighs. “Crap, I guess I shouldn’t tell you about the star crossed lovers who had to fight each other in this very ring then.”
Edward guffaws. “That’s way too melodramatic, yes. You should definitely leave that out.”
They share a wry grin and then take the four dilapidated steps up into the ring together and find debris strewn all over the floor, most of it having fallen from the ceiling. The ropes and the poles that had supported them are all gone. They must have been worth something and stripped during the chaos of the city’s fall.
“Careful not to trip,” Leslie says, taking his elbow.
“Always looking out for others, aren’t you?”
She gives him an odd look before she says, “Yeah. Probably.”
“You remind me of a doctor - or a nurse,” Edward says and then frowns as he thinks about his youth. He decides to amend that statement. “But a nice one.”
“You know a lot of mean doctors?” she asks him.
“Yes.” He shivers involuntarily. She looks at him quizzically but he just waves dismissively. “Just proceed with your story.”
“Fine. I will,” Leslie says with a nod. “So, these goons had begun to abscond with the queen’s future lover, attempting to drag him from The Narrows, when they were interrupted by a fire breathing monster - as someone I know once called it." There's that dimple in her cheek again. "It descended upon them all right here in this very ring.”
“Oh no!” Edward says in mock shock. “A dragon, the great beast of legend! Can I take over the story from here?”
“Go for it,” Leslie says. Then she mutters to herself, “This should be enlightening.”
Edward points up to a set of stairs leading down from the catwalk above them. The same one Firefly had descended. “The great silver beast sauntered down from there.”
He lifts his staff, tracing her path in the air. Then he whips it and an arc and declares, “Then she spread her wave of fire over the crowd to frighten them into submission. Turns out, the dragon had come for the queen’s future lover as well.”
Edward points his staff down at the floor of the ring, right at the space where Grundy had fallen and cowered. “The great hero of the land, the queen’s future lover’s steadfast knight and protector, lay right here, paralyzed with fright, his mind gone numb and still.
“Now there was no one to protect that man who was destined to be with the Queen of the Narrows. He was left raw, vulnerable, and angry. He had to rely upon his wits if he was going to survive.”
“His knight had discarded a chain in the center of the ring before he fell, right here.” Edward points with his staff and then mimics picking up that very chain from the floor with the tip of it, and snapping it back into his other hand. “It had been the knight’s weapon. The queen’s future lover had no training in how to wield such a weapon and had little time to think, as the beast was already in the ring with him. He knew fire wasn’t the dragon’s only weapon. She could also throw poisoned darts from her throat.”
“The future queen was worried about his safety as she watched from the catwalk, her heart astir.”
Leslie smiles when he says that.
“Once the beast was close enough and began to raise her array of stingers from about her throat, the man knew it was time. He threw the chain around her neck, pulling tight so that the array was trapped underneath, unable to open.
“The beast roared as loudly as she could, given that her throat was being constricted, and her eyes bulged red in his face.”
“BUT - the man could not gain purchase on that chain - he could not hope to hold it in place indefinitely or even try to tighten it any further because he was a man of the mind and had always left brute force up to others. ALWAYS.”
Leslie smirks and Edward continues.
“The beast sensed this and roared in strangled triumph as she lifted her head high, dangling the man from the chain, his eyes now bulging in fear.”
“He didn’t realize it until that very moment, but he didn’t even need to ask for help - his future queen, the future love of his life, jumped upon the beast’s back without hesitation in order to save him.”
“They both heard the slice - the most audible thing in the room - as she unsheathed her sword and completely severed the dragon’s head from her neck in one fell swoop.”
“And that was the day she became queen,” Leslie says anticlimactically.
“She saved us all from the silver dragon. She was everyone’s protector,” Edward whispers, ashen.
“Hey, are you okay?” Leslie touches his forearm gently, noticing the rapid change in his coloring.
Edward looks over to where the imaginary beast had fallen. “The queen’s slice left open a wound.”
“The poison poured out,” Edward says, anxiety lacing through his voice, one of his hands twisting nervously at his side.
He knows he’s not talking about the dragon anymore. And so does she. He stumbles to the side of the stage.
“Be careful!” Leslie cries out, sure he is going to trip. But he doesn’t. She just watches him vomit over the side of the ring through his sudden tears, her own heart aching.
Edward wipes his mouth after throwing up over the side of the ring and upon seeing the blood on his hands, he knows it’s his mother’s. On the chessboard, the Red Queen had been ousted by the Black Queen, that he knew, but what does that have to do with this?
Had his mother been the Red Queen? He thought it had been Cherry. There’s a broken neon sign outside commemorating her demise. So who is this Black Queen? Who rules now?
And who exactly rules his heart? He knows someone does, he can feel it . . . but he can’t touch it.
“Hey,” Leslie comes up from behind him, rubbing his back softly. He startles. “You okay? You were frozen there for a bit.”
Edward notices the blood on his hands dry up without getting sticky before it fades. “I’m fine.” He looks up at the windows of this place, wondering which one was the one he had seen her standing in.
“Where’s the window I saw you in earlier?”
“You saw that?”
She sighs deeply.
“Take me there?” he asks softly.
“That was where they had their grand finale, the queen and her lover.”
“Oh no!” Edward gasps. “I was just beginning to like them. They didn’t last?”
“The jury might still be out on that.” Leslie says, and frowns before looking down.
What an odd thing to say. Didn't she know?
The two of them remain quiet and still for a while.
Finally, Edward breaks the awkward silence and asks her again if he can see the window - the one where the lovers of The Narrows had their grand finale. “Leslie please, I’d like to see it.”
“Too many stairs for you. Even if you could manage it without your leg giving out, at the very least you’d be in too much pain after climbing up and down the equivalent of four steep flights. And there’s no other way up. We stay down here. Doctor’s orders.”
Edward tilts his head to the side and gives her a little smile. “C’mon, I can handle a few stairs.”
She looks at his leg appraisingly, not convinced. How does she know what he is or is not capable of?
Then she says something . . . different.
“There’s too many blades up there, Edward,” she says gravely. “And that wouldn't be good for you right now.”
Blades. The dragon - the queen’s sword. The folding knife. That knife.
“Okay, doc,” he agrees quickly, not wanting to dwell on it. “We’ll stay away from the window.”
Leslie leads Edward to another part of the building. “This is more your speed, I think.”
Edward looks at a wide staircase that hits a landing less than one flight up. There’s a window behind the landing that looks similar to the one Leslie had been looking out of, but isn’t.
“The Queen of the Narrows gave a speech here once on this very platform. She was trying to unite her people, to make them strong so they could fight for their rights and have better living conditions.”
“Yeah, this place was a slum,” Edward says, wrinkling his nose. “I’d gather that not much has changed.”
“I would think so, too. But I wouldn’t know.”
“You’re not from Gotham?”
“No,” she replies cryptically. “Not anymore.”
That’s intriguing. “Where’s your home?” He still longs to go home with her.
She places a gentle hand on his cheek. “I think that should be saved for later.”
Edward smiles, completely misunderstanding her intentions.
“So,” he says, placing the tip of his staff carefully onto the first grated step, “Shall we go up?”
When they get to the top of the landing, she turns to him and says. “Now, the queen’s future lover -”
“He’s still her ‘future lover’? They weren’t together yet? Not even after they slayed the dragon?”
Leslie laughs. “Not even close.”
“Poor guy,” Edward muses.
“Yeah, but don’t worry, things will start to change. Shall I continue the story?”
“Okay. One day, the queen had to give a speech right here where we are standing because there had just been an attempt on her life the day before. Her future lover was standing about where you are now, and he was the one who announced her to the crowd.”
“Oh! Oh! Let me!” Edward says.
“Be my guest.” With a flourish, Leslie steps out of the way.
Edward thinks for a moment and then begins, holding up his hands as if he’s addressing a large crowd.
“Thank you for waiting - it’s worth it, you’ll see.” He turns to smile at Leslie, and then back at the invisible crowd.
“Believe in her passion.” He pulls a hand down to his heart. “And your champion, she’ll be.”
“Bombs can’t stop her - Nor bullets, too.
‘Cause she’s here to speak out and fight for you!
Ready to battle? Tired of this scene?
People of The Narrows, give it up for your queen!”
Leslie stares in wonder as Edward flings his hands towards her as if he’s introducing her - perhaps even remembering that she had been the Queen of the Narrows once. Maybe . . .
“Amazing.” It truly is. “How do you feel, Edward?”
“I’m ready for you to get over here and give your speech.”
Hmm. . .
Leslie stands just where she had back in the day when she was Queen of the Narrows, addressing her people from this very platform. She tries to remember exactly what she had said to the crowd. Edward had. Practically word for word. She knows she won't even get close to that.
“You know, someone just tried to kill me. But I don’t care if it was someone from down here in The Narrows or someone from the outside. Do you know why?”
Edward makes small “why?” vocalizations through his cupped hands, trying to make it sound like those “why”s are coming from different directions, simulating an excited crowd.
“Because something I said threatened them. And do you know what that was?”
Edward is now making “what” vocalizations.
“They were afraid of us coming together, presenting a united front. They were afraid that it would make us strong. Do you know why?”
“Because a UNITED NARROWS IS A STRONG NARROWS!”
Edward claps hard and calls out his delight.
“Did I do good?”
“I don’t know, you tell me. It sounds like you were there. Like you knew them - the lovers.”
Her eyes catch in his gaze for a second and cease moving. He goes still as well.
“What?” he asks.
“It’s nothing, really. The Doc is just getting restless from being down here in The Narrows. Rattling around in my head.”
It’s clear from the expression on Edward’s face that he has no idea what she’s talking about.
“So what happened next?” he asks. “Was there another attempt on her life?”
“Actually, it’s funny you should ask about that since I think you rather like soap-opera worthy dramatic twists and turns.”
“I’m on the edge of my seat.”
“Well, the queen’s ex was in attendance.”
“Not quite,” Leslie replies. “She put him on notice - in a way.”
“Really? How so?”
“She told him she was partnered up with her future lover, even told him that it hadn’t been her first choice, but there it was. Her future lover wasn’t happy to hear her say that, not understanding that the queen was communicating something very specific to her ex.”
“Which was what, exactly?” Edward says.
“Well, it was true that he hadn’t been her first choice. She had chosen her ex over her future lover at first and hadn't even really noticed him. He’d been right under her nose the whole time.”
Edward’s breath catches for a beat. He knows exactly what that feels like. He's reminded of the early days with Kristin Kringle. It had taken so much work to get her to even see him as a man. “Go on.”
“Well, the universe has funny ways and once the queen found her lover down here in The Narrows, she knew she was never going back to her ex, even before they came together. She was making sure her ex knew that times had changed.”
“So who was this ex of hers?”
“A cop named Jim.”
“Like Jim Gordon?” Edward asks.
“Very like him, yes,” Leslie replies, hopeful that something will shake loose in Edward’s mind and drop into the present.
“Hmm . . .” Edward says. “I wonder if he still works at the GCPD, if he works for Jim Gordon. Not everyone survived the fall of Gotham.”
“No,” Leslie says. “But I have a feeling he did.” She shakes her head and laughs. “Even though he was a cop, he wasn’t the one who saved the queen from her assassin. Even though that was his job.”
“No, her future lover did. As you accurately surmised, he was more brain than brawn. MUCH more.”
Edward grins widely.
“Literally - right after her speech on these steps - and under the nose of Jim, her future lover nabbed the guy. Just like that. Jim had to make the actual arrest, obviously. But still. He saved her . . .”
Something’s buzzing around in Edward’s head. Something’s not accurate, and he knows it - it’s quite irritating. He bats it away, needing to think about something else.
“So Leslie, how did the queen and her lover finally come together?”
She smiles indulgently and taking his hand, kisses his cheek. “I think the tour should continue. Shall we?”
Edward answers her by capturing her lips in a kiss before she can get away. “We shall.”
“What’s this thing doing here?” Leslie complains.
“The dumbwaiter?” Edward asks.
“Yeah.” They both inspect the lift, barely big enough for two people, open at the top. “I don’t remember ever seeing it when we were here.”
“Yes,” Leslie says. “All of us here in The Narrows. Back when this was Cherry’s place - and after, when the Queen ruled. Before the bridges blew . . .”
She trails off and looks up almost 4 stories overhead. Edward peers up with her, not understanding what’s so interesting - it’s just a gangway.
“It’s your lucky day, Edward.”
“Hop in the dumbwaiter. Pretend you’re a big bucket of sodium hydroxide.” Leslie laughs at his confused look. “This was a chemical storage facility before Cherry got her hands on it for her fighting ring. That's probably why this is here at all.”
“Ah,” Edward says, stepping onto the platform. “Guess that’s why this lift looks so unsafe for humans.”
“Probably. It wasn’t meant for people, only buckets of chemicals.” Leslie hops in with him and figures out the controls. “I think I’ll be nitric acid.”
Knowing full well what would happen, Edward mockingly puts his hands to his face and gasps. “But what if our containers break on the way up and we spill onto each other . . .”
“Then we’ll neutralize each other,” Leslie says with a grin. An acid and a base. “Nothing wrong with neutralizing each other, Edward. We’d no longer be dangerous. We’d be safe.”
Hmmm. That is something to ponder.
Soon, they are slowly lifting high above the ring. It looks even more broken up the more perspective they get. When the dumbwaiter reaches the top, they carefully step onto the gangway. Some of the metal grating is twisted right where they get out.
“You wanted to know how the queen and her lover got together?”
“Well, look around.”
Edward peers over the railing.
“No, not there,” she says as she walks down the gangway a bit, away from the dumbwaiter. "Come down a ways."
He follows her, using the railing for support - his staff is useless here, given the large open spaces in the grate beneath him. Strangely, it feels like he’s lost something, but he doesn’t know what. He finds himself disappointed because he’s certain he’d been able to manage something like this before, but knows now that he’ll never really be able to again - at least not comfortably, not like a “normal” person. Leslie had been right about the stairs a while back. Had he tried that, this feeling of disappointment in his body - in himself - would probably be even stronger. But hadn’t his staff and this injury always been a part of him? So what was wrong here?
“Edward, hey,” Leslie says gently, touching his elbow. He must have stopped without knowing. He looks down and focuses once again on what’s below his feet. It’s nothing but a big old mess. “Let me know when you’re ready.”
“Proceed,” Edward says and makes his way further down the gangway - it's only a few more steps.
“This is where the queen professed her feelings for him. Kinda. Right here.” Leslie slowly rotates him into a very specific position, facing a particular way. “Her future lover was standing right here.” She backs away to a particular spot herself. “And the queen was here.”
“How do you know this?”
“Hmm,” Edward studies her. There’s something here . . .
Leslie continues. “I say kind of, because she didn’t really let on, you know.”
“Let on to what?”
“That she liked him as more than just a friend, as a partner in running The Narrows. She wasn’t ready for that - she was just realizing she felt that way. Besides, it just wasn’t the right time. There was too much to be done to help the people of The Narrows and it was easier to focus on that. She’d been burned before - all too recently - and she believed that she would be able to bury what was happening between them, that it could wait.”
Can you really just bury your feelings and deal with them when you're ready?
“And was she right?” Edward's asks her.
Next week it's one chapter per day Mon-Thur!!! Woo-hoo!
“Was the Queen of the Narrows right? That love waits?”
Leslie comes up to him and strokes his face. “I think it can, yes. If there’s actually something to wait for. If there’s something’s there and it’s not just illusory. If it’s not really over . . .”
His eyes remain blank and she sighs, pulling away. “Okay, then back into the dumbwaiter.”
“Oswald can’t see that it’s real.”
Leslie uses the controls to make the dumbwaiter go down. “Can’t see that what’s real?”
“William’s waiting for him. Oswald knows he can let go of me now, but he’s having a hard time. I’m not sure if he even really knows that William's there, or if he’s afraid - or in denial . . .”
“William’s the one that’s in denial,” Leslie says firmly. “That man’s completely off his rocker.”
“That’s no reason not to love someone.”
“No,” Leslie says carefully. “But he doesn’t live in the same world as we do. This isn’t Ancient Egypt, this is modern day Gotham, and he doesn't rule over it. Unfortunately, he doesn’t quite get that.”
Her voice sounds emotional as she replies, "So, don’t you think it might be a bit difficult to be with someone who isn’t even living in the same world as you?”
Why does he suddenly feel funny? Butterflies start climbing up his throat. He grabs at his collar.
The dumbwaiter stops. A distraction. Good. They get out.
“Still want to see more?” she asks, not even looking at him.
“Of course.” Who knows how long he’ll have with her? She told William she’d be ordering a golden car to go back home at some point today. He’s lucky he ran into her at all.
They walk into a room that looks purposed to do absolutely everything. It has a kitchen, a bar, a cafeteria table, a ping pong table, a basketball hoop, a boat with oars, a comfy, if moldy, bean bag chair for seven, and so on. Just like the rest of the place, it has windows that look like they’re rotting away. Although, glass can’t really rot like that.
“It was right here,” Leslie says.
“What was?” Edward asks.
“Where he almost told her that he loved her.”
“What stopped him?”
Leslie shrugged. “I’m not exactly sure. Care to venture a guess?” She crosses her arms and stares at him hard.
“You’re putting me on the spot here.”
“Uh . . .” Edward looks around the room for inspiration, but finds none.
“Can I give you a hint?”
“I think he may have wanted to protect her from something,” Leslie says. “Just a thought.”
Where did that thought come from? He waves a hand around his head like shooing away a fly.
“Anything?” Leslie asks.
“No, uh huh.”
“Here,” Leslie says, taking his arm. “You stand right there and I’ll stand right where the queen did.”
They take their positions.
“Okay, go ahead and say it,” Leslie says softly, almost hopefully.
“Lee -” He clears his throat and tries again. “Leslie, I -” His eyes dart back and forth, but he can’t make any more words pass his lips.
“Just like before,” Leslie muses, looking down for a moment, seemingly in contemplation. Then she looks back up and walks past him towards the door. “Come on.”
But it wasn’t JUST like before. He had told her he loved her just last night. Hadn’t he?
“Oh, what’s this?” Edward asks, spying something curious as he and Leslie pick their way carefully through some rubble that had made it onto the sidewalk.
“Oh, damn,” Leslie breathes. “I had forgotten how close it was.”
“How close what was?”
“The Riddle Factory - to my lair.”
“I thought I recognized that pipe!” Edward grins down at the rusted tube that only had a few specks of paint left on it. “Let’s see what else I can find.”
“Oh, God.” Leslie puts a hand to her head and groans. “You two are way too restless. Stop.”
“What’s that?” Edward asks, distracted and not really paying attention to her.
“Guys, no!” Leslie practically shouts.
“Ah, you’ve got people in your head, too,” Edward says, nodding with understanding.
“And you do, as well?” she asks curiously.
“No, not anymore.” Edward spies something else and pokes at it with his staff. “This is so much fun, I recognize this, too. Hey, did you know this was my first Riddle Factory venue? Right here?”
“Yes, I did,” Leslie says, stepping right into his personal space.
“Oh.” Edward’s not looking for debris anymore.
“This is where the queen and her lover came together. He disappeared from The Narrows after failing to confess his feelings and came back a changed man. She found him right here at your Riddle Factory.”
“Oh?” Edward asks very quietly. Is that a blush that’s rising to his cheeks? They feel a little warm.
“Do you remember?”
“No, but -”
“She forced him to show his hand.” Leslie pulls him down to kiss her and his hand wraps around her back. Then they sway very carefully within a tiny safe circle, Edward’s staff as a counterbalance, lips locked for what seems like eternity. Even though she had initiated the kiss, she let him lead the dance. A shifting power balance . . .
When the kiss breaks, she looks at him with love shining in her eyes. But that look is soon replaced by one of disappointment, and tears fill them instead. She turns away.
“Nothing,” Leslie replies. “I’m just looking for something that isn’t there anymore.”
“What? Leslie? Wait up.” He follows her out into the street, which she quickly crosses.
He catches up to her on the other side, and they inexplicably find themselves smack-dab in front of a jewelry display case.
I'll be posting one chapter a day through Thursday because some of these are pretty short. Then I'll resume more of a 2-3 times a week thing. :-)
Chapter 42: Chapter 42
Here's a little chapter for St. Patty's day, filled with diamonds, emeralds, and sorrow! :-)
“It’s breathtaking,” Leslie breathes and brings her hands up to the glass.
He places a hand beside hers. “It is, isn’t it?”
But instead of being drawn to the diamond and emerald ring that had so captivated him just over a week ago - the one that was so enticingly angular in its design, he finds himself staring at her fingers. The curve of her nail as it descends into her nail bed makes a delicate crescent. His eyes glide along the length of her index finger all the way to the artificially filed point at the end that stops just short of being menacing and leaves him weak in the knees. She is perfection -
“Hmm?” He moves his eyes to the spot at the base of her fourth finger where it meets her hand instead of looking at her.
“I just love emeralds. Don’t you?”
“Of course I do,” Edward says, leaning in closer to shift his gaze to the ring once more, his cheek precariously close to hers. “They’re my signature color.”
“But of course.” She chuckles and he joins in. “It’s a beautiful ring, though. Unique. I don’t ever think I’ve seen a diamond quite set that way. It’s overall look is very sharp, but still pretty.”
It truly is.
“It’s going to make someone very happy someday,” she says wistfully.
Edward realizes for the first time that it’s an engagement ring. Leslie removes her hand from the glass, shaking off the spell. “Let’s go.”
“I’ve got a golden car to catch.” She takes off.
As Edward takes them back to the Van Dahl estate, he feels he should say something. Leslie’s grown quiet, and if he’s not mistaken, forlorn.
“You know, Leslie, you’re special, too. Unique. Like that ring.”
“'Like that ring?'” she sputters, coming out of her gloom. “I don’t know whether to laugh or be insulted. I’m not made of metal and minerals, Edward. I’m flesh and blood. I’m not some pretty little bauble.”
“I know.” He’s said something wrong, but he doesn’t quite know what. He thinks a bit before opening his mouth again. What would she want to hear? What would be reassuring? “Don't worry, Leslie. Someday someone will want to marry you.”
He takes his eyes off the road to look at her. Someone like me.
She frowns, looking as if she’s swallowed something bitter. “No. Don't even joke about that. That was decided long ago.”
He had fallen for her, and so quickly, too. Was the thought of someone wanting to marry her really so preposterous?
“Look, Leslie -”
“We’re here,” she says and jumps out of the car before it’s even stopped.
And they are. Kind of. They now stand together in front of the terminal that William had built on the grounds of the Van Dahl estate.
Edward asks her, “Hey, don’t you need your things -?”
“William's already brought what little I had down here for me - and I’ve said my goodbyes already," she explains matter-of- factly. "I've no need to return to the main house.”
“You haven’t said goodbye to me yet,” Edward points out.
“Yes, well . . .” Leslie nervously shifts her feet.
Her reply is open-ended, yet it feels like something’s ending anyway. His heart starts to break. “Can’t you stay?”
“No, Edward. Even if I wanted to, I’ve got a little girl waiting for my return. I’m not usually gone this long.”
“A little girl?” That was unexpected.
“Yes. Our friend Jean is watching her right now since I ended up staying overnight, but I don’t want her to worry that I’ve left for good. She gets nervous when I’m gone. Do you understand?”
Yes. Yes, he does. With clarity.
“Go,” he says to her. “Please. A child needs to be with their mother.”
A young child really shouldn’t be left to fend for themselves in this big bad world - not like he was. Leslie is a good woman for knowing that, for having the right priorities. Edward hopes that she hadn’t seen the unexpected wetness that had sprung to his eyes when she’d revealed that little piece of information. It had hit too close to home.
“Oh, Edward,” Leslie says with tears of her own now. She leans in to kiss his cheek. “I’m sorry for what has happened to you. I hope you can find healing - and your way back.”
She takes both of his hands. “When you remember - if you remember - please know that I did it for you - not to break you. Okay?”
What in the hell is she talking about? It’s really ending, isn’t it?
He desperately wants to kiss her one last time, but if she’s intent on leaving, he knows that it would be inappropriate to even try. So instead, he just opens his arms tentatively to see if she’s willing to share one final hug.
And she is.
As she whispers goodbye into his ear, he breathes in her scent one last time. And then she is gone. . .
Edward stares at the empty tube descending from the terminal for a very long time, contemplating. Her golden light had flashed only briefly before disappearing into the darkness for parts unknown.
He finds himself standing in front of that jewelry display case yet once again. There’s something here . . . some truth he’s missing. It’s almost within his grasp when suddenly -
“Hey, you! Pervert!” A burly shopkeep charges out of a side entrance of the jewelry store. “Scram!”
“You’ve been staring at my window, for too long, buddy.” The man puts up his fists and Edward instinctively raises his hands in defense.
“Get outta here!”
Edward backs away and begins to run. He can hear the shopkeep yelling after him.
“If anything goes missing from my store, Mr. Riddler, I know who to sic the cops on. This isn’t a bank.”
No, it most certainly isn’t.
Chapter 43: Chapter 43
“Ah, hell,” he can hear a familiar voice say as someone looms over him, blocking the full moon.
He squeezes his eyes open and closed, but can’t make out the man above him. “I want to go home,” he moans. He really does. But he’s not sure he can.
“William, can you carry him out of here?” Edward can feel his body being lifted up and it stirs the nausea deep within his belly. “What a nasty alleyway.”
“Ugh,” he hears the man carrying him say. “He stinks. Just how drunk is he, you think?”
“Lee was having problems with this, too, wasn’t she? That’s why she came to you in the first place?” his companion asks.
“What a pair.” There’s a disapproving tsk.
Edward recognizes that voice now. It’s his best friend, Oswald’s. Somehow that makes him very ashamed.
He doesn’t remember the rest of the evening, only that William and Oswald tuck him into bed, nice and freshly clean and showered at the end of it. He’s no longer nauseated - or drunk. Some ‘magical’ cure of William’s must have fixed him right up. “Thank you, guys.”
“Get some rest,” Oswald says gently, pressing on his hand. “You’ve had a long day.”
“Week,” William corrects and Oswald looks up at him.
“Isn’t that the truth?”
The cobwebs are thick when Edward awakens. Perhaps it’s some aftereffect of whatever concoction The Pharaoh had given him last night. As he stumbles down the long hallways of the Van Dahl estate he knows it's The Van Dahl estate, he does, yet somehow each piece of panelling seems new, like he’d never seen it before.
Damn, William. When will this wear off? It’s disconcerting.
He hears Oswald in his office berating someone. The door is ajar, so he goes and stands in the doorframe and just watches his friend. Oswald waves casually for him to come in and continues the conversation.
“NO, I want my son home by the end of the week, no later! Master Neji is coming in all the way from Kyushu -”
Oswald shakes a hand agitatedly as he listens to the person on the other line.
“YES. I know Gotham is still in ruins, but if anyone can persuade someone to come here, it is me. He’s coming. Look, he’s a renowned master of Ninjustu and my son needs his training much more than whatever your school can offer him right now. That is the priority.”
There’s a little bit of silence.
“No, I’m not removing him from your school. You’d better keep him enrolled if you know what’s good for you.” Oswald starts turning red. “Fine. How about this? Send him home with his studies so he can keep up with the rest of his class. We’ll make sure it gets done.”
Oswald slams the phone down and it responds with a short ring of it’s own in protest. “Sheesh.”
“Ninjustu. Really?” Edward asks.
“Martin’s training to become a ninja? At age eight?”
“Look, the martial arts William has been teaching him are ancient. He needs something a bit more modern.”
“Like something from feudal Japan?”
“Look, Edward, Master Neji has assured me he knows the ancient ways - the secret ways. And Ninjustu is a well-rounded practice encompassing many disciplines. He’s well qualified to give Martin the education he needs. For now.”
“I’ll probably have to send him to Japan to complete his assassin's training.” Oswald sighs forlornly.
Edward’s eyebrows rise in alarm.
“Oh, don’t look at me that way,” Oswald says. “You know he has . . . tendencies.”
“That I do,” Edward grudgingly admits.
“Best to keep those honed and in control.”
“True,” Edward replies. It’s obvious the kid had already been damaged beyond repair. By someone. It’s good he has Oswald to love him now and keep him from destroying his life. Honed and in control indeed.
He wishes he had had someone like that.
“Come on in and have a seat, Edward. You don’t have to stay in the doorway.”
“Okay,” he replies and then spots some papers on Oswald’s desk that appear to be filled with the drawings of a young child. He can tell that Martin, having used a pen and pad most of his young life had not drawn these - he was more advanced. The papers practically hang off the front of the desk and are within easy reach. Curious, Edward picks them up and takes a seat in front of the fireplace.
Oswald joins him and starts to chat him up about . . . something.
But as Edward examines the papers, William’s cobwebs begin to clear. Rapidly.
The first paper Edward examines says “Sand Bar ≠ Candy Bar” at the top. There’s a yellow lump of something surrounded by blue waves drawn in crayon on one side, a not equal sign in the middle, and a brown rectangle with lines dividing it into squat squares on the other side.
Edward touches his finger to one of the waves and hears two little kids laughing. He can almost see them running along the sand at the beach across the street from his pink house. The boy is taller than the girl, but they both have dark hair.
Wait. Something’s not right about that. He carefully sets the paper face down on the coffee table between the two chairs in front of the fireplace and thinks for a moment before picking up the next one.
It says “Tide pool ≠ Your School.” This is obviously rhyming practice for someone . . .
There’s a blue circle with a hand reaching into it towards a crudely drawn orange star on one side and on the other is a red brick school house. There’s a weird little circle followed by a carefully spelled out “Academy” written on a sign on top of it.
Edward chuckles. That weird little circle must be an apple - just like Dini’s often incorrect interpretation of Martin’s boarding school’s name. The boy must have taught her how to spell ‘academy’ though, because he certainly hadn’t.
Edward looks up sharply. Dini . . .
“What is it?” Oswald interrupts himself mid sentence.
“I . . I . .” The cobwebs start fading FAST.
Edward looks at the next letter Dini had sent Martin, finally recognizing it for what it was. The little girl loved to learn words . . . and teach them to her friend.
Coast ≠ Toast ≠ Ghost
Blue waves against a yellow shore, a burnt piece of toast with flames coming off of it, and . . . a ghost.
“I’m a ghost,” Edward whispers to himself so quietly that Oswald doesn’t even hear it.
But he had heard something and reaches out for him. "Hey,” he says to his friend.
“Lee,” Edward replies when he finally looks up and meets his eye.
“You remember now?”
“I remember everything now.” Edward worries that he’s going to cry right then and there, but he needs to hold it together. “Oswald, I’ve gotta go back.”
“Home to Beachview?”
“I don’t think it’s my home anymore,” Edward says, gulping back tears with everything he’s got. How many times had Leslie told him in one way or another that she wasn’t sure about them anymore? And he? He had dumped all three of them. “But yes, I need to go, Oswald.”
He stands up to leave the room so he can pack. At the door he turns back and asks Oswald if his car can be brought around. It won’t take him more than a few minutes to be ready. He’s got a days-long drive ahead of him. He needs to start.
William and Oswald come to Edward's room to tell him his car is ready . . . and to say goodbye. As Edward studies them standing side by side - two men of the same height, with opposite builds and different temperaments - he can see how well they complement each other.
And he also sees more . . .
They're not together - Oswald would have spilled the beans on that - yet they behave like a couple nonetheless. A good one. Partners. Equals. Each cognizant of and empathetic to the other.
Oswald and empathy. Edward shakes his head. There was a time he never would have never believed those two things could occupy the same space. But now . . . he’s seen so much of it over the past week.
“Oswald, can I talk to you?” Edward asks.
William automatically knows that means he wants to be alone with Oswald and slips out of the room with a soft hand to Oswald’s shoulder before he departs.
Edward sits down on the bed and pats the place beside him for Oswald join him. “What is it, Edward?”
“It’s okay to let me go.”
“No.” Oswald immediately starts crying. “No, Edward. What are you saying? What can you possibly be saying to me right now?”
“I want you to have the chance to be loved, cherished. And you know I can’t give you that. I can only offer you solid friendship, fierce loyalty, and the love of a brother.”
“I know. And I’m okay with that. Really I am. I’ve accepted that.” Oswald takes in a shaky breath. “But I still don’t want to let go of you. Not ever.”
“Your mother loved you - and I came into your life at the time of her loss. You wanted my love then, and you have it now. You’ll always have it. It’s just not the kind that you want, the kind you deserve.”
“Your mother is now avenged. You’re free, Oswald. Free to move on from missing her and longing for me, and what our time back then represented. Please don’t look backwards, wanting what is never going to come to pass. I don’t want that for you.”
Oswald wipes at his eyes.
“Consider making room in your heart for someone else.”
“It doesn’t have to be. But he’s a good man.”
“But I don’t want him,” Oswald protests.
“Are you sure?”
Edward notices his friend’s hands fidget instead of answering that.
“Look, it’s okay, Oswald. You don’t have to be afraid to open your heart again, to let love 'weaken you,' as you put it. I can’t see William being as much of a dick as I’d been to you about your unreciprocated feelings - and you still love me.”
Oswald kind of smiles at Edward’s kind of jest, but not really. “You really hurt me.”
“And so did you. You killed Isabella.”
“Yeah, that was kind of bad.”
“Look, I killed Tom Doherty for Kristen and I wanted to kill Jim Gordon for Lee. Jealousy seems to make both of us homicidal maniacs,” Edward says. “Thanks for not killing Lee, by the way.”
Oswald just shrugs as if it’s no big deal, even though Edward knows that it probably is.
“But you don’t see William going around and plotting my death, do you?”
“And I’m his true rival.” Edward pokes Oswald’s chest. “In your heart. He behaves better than both of us when it comes to these things. I have a feeling he’ll be careful with your heart, too.”
“I don’t know. . .”
“Please just give him a chance, Oswald. I’d like to stop worrying about you. I’d like to know that someday you can be happy with someone else.”
Oswald looks at him funny. “You worry about me?”
“Yeah, I do.” Edward pokes his chest again. “I worry about your little ticker here.”
“Okay, maybe,” Oswald grumbles. “But he’s not you. He’ll never be you.”
“No one can live up to me.”
“Well, aren’t you an arrogant prick?”
“Could I ever be otherwise?”
“No,” Oswald grumbles - and then grins. “But that’s part of your charm.”
“Seriously, Oswald, can you do this for me?”
Oswald sighs deeply and looks off into space for a while, completely dry-eyed now.
“Fine,” he says finally. “For you. But only for you.”
“It’s going to be hard, you know.”
“It’s going to take time.”
“That’s okay, too.”
“I’ll still love you.”
“It’s okay, Oswald. Just make room. I want you to be happy . . . and fulfilled. It's what I want for you - and it's something I can't give to you.”
Oswald looks down and nods.
“And hey, don’t forget that I’ll still love you, too, okay?”
The two men hug and then Edward leaves, spying William a bit further down in the hallway. It looks like he might be wiping at his eyes. But William doesn’t cry . . . does he?
Almost as soon as Edward sees him, William turns around to head in the opposite direction and a silver tabby cat races from his room.
Edward hadn’t even noticed that Rex had been there with him and Oswald.
He whistles quietly to himself. “You sly little devil.”
New chapters will post twice a week for a while now every Tuesday & Thursday!
Chapter 45: Chapter 45
Edward is inexplicably nervous as he stands at the front door of that detestably cream-colored house in Beachview. He doesn’t feel comfortable using his own key for some reason. He’s just been raising his hand to knock and putting it back down over and over. He doesn’t dare press that red button to activate that god-awful doorbell.
Ding dong doorbell ding dong doorbell.
“Edward, just knock,” she snaps, flinging the door open wide, her black hair swinging around her.
He’s startled, but so glad to see her standing in front of him - the woman he’d wanted to make a home with here - he’s missed her so much. He takes a step forward.
“Hold up.” She puts up a hand to stop him and then crosses her arms, planting her feet as if ready for a fight. Her dark eyes narrow. “How dare you?”
“How dare I what?”
There’s more than just anger in her voice as she replies, “You left me!”
“Well, I -”
“You’ve left me three times now, Edward. Even after promising -”
“Wait. Three? How do you figure that?” He can only think of once.
She begins to count off on her fingers. “You broke it off with me that time I was in the hospital for alcohol poisoning - with all of us in fact.”
He hangs his head.
“Then you took off for Gotham.”
“But that was after -”
“Let me finish,” she says sternly. “And then, once you were up there, you didn’t even want to come back with me . . ?”
Her last four words come out in a whine similar to the little squeaks that Dini would emit when she’s really upset. She sniffs hard and then turns away to wipe her nose.
And when she turns back, her face is a cold mask. Only her eyes betray the tell-tale shine of impending tears. Looking down her nose, she says, “I think it best you leave.”
There’s a small face in the window upstairs that’s parted the curtains in order to look out of them, but Edward doesn’t notice.
“We should separate,” she sniffs again and her true meaning is not lost on Edward. Shaking her head, she continues, “The way you’ve been -”
“I couldn’t help that.”
“I KNOW!” She looks sad, mad, and frustrated all at once. “But I don’t think it’s a good situation for the child.”
“What child?” Edward looks up at the window and spots Dini. Oh . . . For some reason, he hadn’t expected her to be at the house again. But then, he hadn’t expected her to be at Deque Discovery the day his mother had died either.
Leslie just shakes her head. “This instability . . .”
“Fine, I’ll just go,” Edward grumbles, giving in.
If this is what she wanted . . .
How unbelievably hypocritical of her. Unstable? Lee had been ‘unstable’ the entire time they had been down in The South and Dini had been just fine in her care - his care, too. He takes in a ragged breath, incredibly upset at her for taking away his choice in these matters once again.
“Goodbye, Dini!” he calls into the house and hears scampering feet come down the staircase calling out, “Goodbye, Daddy!”
But the woman he loved closes the door in his face with a sob before the little girl can even reach it.
When had she turned into such a bitch? Edward shakes his head at the unreality of it all.
He has nowhere to go, so he just puts his bags back into his car and then walks across the street to the beach. He has a lot to think about. . . a lot to decide.
Chapter 46: Chapter 46
When had Dini started calling him Daddy? They’d spent so little time together these past few months except for a few odd moments encased within snippets of a jagged memory he had from the time right before he’d left for Gotham that still seemed like a dream. He’s pretty sure those details won’t come back in full any time soon. . . .
So much blood . . . the feel of his mom’s lifeless corpse underneath him. . . .
He shakes his head.
He doesn’t want them anyway. It’s enough just knowing that she’s dead - and how she died. Just the facts, ma’am. It’s all his ragged mind can deal with right now anyway.
But he’s gonna lose everything now, he just knows it.
“I’m so glad you made that promise to her, Ed.” His Riddler part had told his Ed part once. “Your sincerity in that will need to be tested in order for you to truly understand. When push comes to shove, hopefully it will knock some sense into that thick skull of yours.”
“To never leave her.”
He had been worried that he wouldn’t be able to keep that promise to Lee - to the three of them inside of her. And he had been right.
“Spoken like a man who ‘can’t love.’” The Riddler had mocked his weaker part.
“I can, too, love her. I do -” Ed stopped himself and thought for a moment.
The Riddler had leaned back and crossed his arms, waiting . . .
. . . just waiting.
Both of his adult parts had been doubtful about his true capacity for love. Edward starts to cry, ashamed. He’d never deserved this in the first place. Love. A life with her, a child. A nice house on the beach. Well, except for the cream-colored paint job - that he could do without. The roar of the ocean sounds its agreement.
Edward finds a large piece of driftwood far back from the surf and sits down. He needs to think - something he’d done plenty of on his drive down here. In fact, he’d done so much thinking that every time he thought he’d used up his very last tear, he’d have to pull over yet once again because more would blur his vision.
Edward knows that he should be thankful to Leslie, grateful to her for taking his mother out, but he’s just so awfully sad about it for some reason. This whole thing had really messed with his head. What in the hell had he been doing up at Oswald’s? What had that been about?
He removes his glasses and wipes away some stray tears that had gotten trapped at the base of his lenses yet once again. Integration - or whatever this is - really sucks sometimes. He’s never known anyone else to cry this much. Will it ever stop? The tears come far too often for his liking - and they make him feel weak.
But then again, so does she - by making decisions about who he can be a father to. It doesn’t matter what the lab report he’d ordered up in Gotham may or may not say about his fertility, for all practical purposes, she’s made him impotent. But only if he decides to stick around despite her apparent desire to separate . . .
Edward has half a mind to steal that little girl away and start a custody battle with Lee and the orphanage if necessary. He had been the only one of them that had voiced any genuine interest in adopting Dini. But if he made a play like that he knows Lee would likely show her true colors and fight him for adoption rights herself because he suspects that deep down she wants to raise that little girl as much as he does. But if he does that, it might get too ugly to hope for any kind of reconciliation between them. And he doesn’t want that either.
He allows himself a small smile at the thought of a custody battle. Dini would like being fought over.
Just as he would have liked being fought for at all.
Funny, it turns out the little girl had been just fine after all. Apparently, she'd been living with them again in Beachview, despite The Doc’s drunken display that had so traumatized her. How in the world had that happened?
“Hey,” he hears someone say softly as she steps over the driftwood log and takes a seat beside him.
He turns to look at her in astonishment, not expecting to see her at all after she’d just kicked him out of the house. Yet he notices that her eyes are kind.
“That was The Doc back there,” she says by way of explanation.
For some reason he hadn’t realized it had been The Doc he'd encountered when he'd first returned. “I’m sorry . . . I didn’t, I couldn’t -”
“It’s okay,” she says with a small smile. “I’m Leslie.”
“So I gathered.” He stares at her for a moment. “She’s really mad at me, huh?”
“Yup,” Leslie says, looking away. She wraps her arms around her knees. “Royally. The Doc’s been really ticked off after what went down at the hospital.”
Then WHY did she have to make trying to keep his promise so difficult?
Edward doesn’t say that out loud. But, after a moment of just listening to the crashing waves as the sky grows gray, he asks her about Dini. “She’s okay with you now? Or more accurately with her? How did that happen?”
“It’s a long story.”
He waits. Details are not forthcoming. He sighs, frustrated. Where was this going? Anywhere?
“We’ll tell you, don’t worry.”
Right. Edward doesn’t believe her.
He studies Leslie carefully. She hadn’t been the one to slam the door in his face. No, she was out here. With him.
“Look -” Leslie clears her throat. “It’s just been hard for us - seeing you like that up in Gotham.”
“Apparently.” He’s not letting her off the hook that easy.
“What do you want from me, Edward?”
“A little understanding would be nice. I just saw my mother die right before my very eyes. By your hand.” His eyes are hard, accusatory.
Leslie makes a noise like a whimper and slides over on the log to put her head on his shoulder. “So, you remember it all now?”
She tentatively extends a hand with her fingers splayed open, hoping he’ll accept her gesture.
“Yeah,” Edward sighs and entwines his long fingers into hers.
They sit there like that for a bit.
“Thank you for killing her,” He says after breaking the silence. He can give her that at least. “That was nice.”
Leslie lifts her head from his shoulder to kiss his forehead softly. “Anything for you.”
“Tell me something. Why in the world did you guys think I would bring instability to Dini’s life?”
“Because you didn’t even know who you were up in Gotham!”
“No,” Edward says firmly. “I didn’t know who YOU were. There’s a difference.”
“Did you remember her?”
“Dini?” he asks.
“No, not at first,” Edward replies honestly. “And I didn’t remember my mother either. That whole part of my life was gone . . . for a while.”
“Because I killed her.”
“Would you have remembered Dini if you saw her?”
“But you didn’t remember me,” Leslie sounds hurt.
Not exactly. “Look, Leslie, it was encountering Dini’s letters to Martin that brought me fully back to the present and kept me there. So yes, I would have remembered her if I saw her. You don’t have to take it personally.”
“Okay,” Leslie says with a small nod, looking down at their hands.
After a moment Edward sighs, knowing that he’d been a little harsh. He squeezes her hand to give her a little reassurance. “Look, I couldn’t help who I was up there, what I remembered. Just like you guys can’t help that Lee was split into three. None of us are in control of these things.”
“Boo!” They are barrelled into from behind by a little girl jumping up onto their backs.
“Dini,” Leslie admonishes. “I told you to stay inside. Edward and I have things to discuss out here. Grown up things.”
“Are you done then?” she asks brightly.
“Are we?” Edward asks Leslie.
“No, not quite.” She sighs heavily. “But you should come back to the house anyway. I don’t want you sleeping in your car out here tonight. The marine layer's been receding so early these days, you'll absolutely bake come morning.”
How had she known that was an option he was considering?
“Like a crab bake!” Dini declares. “Right there in your car. Yummy.”
“I’m not sure I’d be too tasty after baking all morning,” Edward replies, peeling the little girl off of his back and setting her down in the sand before standing up from the log. “I’d be too ripe.”
“Awww . . . I think you’d be delicious!”