After a long day at work Edward returned to their one room apartment in Metropolis. It was a crummy little thing with a bad view and horrible smell, but it was better than the streets. He took off his shoes and quickly undressed down to his undershirt and boxers. He didn't bother to put anything else on, or fold his work clothes, for that matter, leaving them scattered on the floor instead. He was too exhausted, both mentally and physically, to care about anything. He pulled out a chair, placing it near the open window, and sat down to rest his tired feet. He observed the people in the building opposite theirs, each busy with their own lives, unaware of Edward’s tale of woe. They all had their personal stories, sorrows they had to overcome, dreams that would never come true, hopes that would be shattered, fears that would consume. Ed sighed. Was that all life was about? A bunch of creatures suffering in their own private little hell, desperate for the smallest glimpse of joy?
The light was turned off so the apartment was nearly dark, but Ed liked it that way. Dark and quiet, save for the distant sounds of the city and the multiple lights from the windows of the neighboring building. He inhaled deeply, then let the air out in what sounded like another sigh. He had to admit this was not how he envisioned his new life. Then again, he had imagined he'd share it with Oswald Cobblepot, the man he fell madly in love with. But life rarely went according to plan. In Ed's case, not even remotely close to the plan. But Ed was learning to live with it.
It's been six months since he and Foxy left Gotham in Foxy’s car, and still no sign of Oswald. Ed had expected the Penguin to come after him. Hell, he had expected him to have found him by now! They changed several cities and towns for the last few months, Edward always expecting Oswald to be right behind him. But he wasn’t. Yet Ed kept coming up with silly reasons why he and Foxy had to move again, and Foxy just went with it. Foxy always indulged Edward’s peculiar requests. But Metropolis was different. It was a big city, like Gotham, so they could easily blend in. Nobody paid attention to the two teenage boys, and Lucius was almost eighteen now. For the last two months they’ve been here (their longest stay in one place thus far), no one seemed to mind them. They were invisible, and Ed was still not certain if he liked it or hated it.
There was also no sign of Oswald. Could it be that he was actually dead? Edward had left Penguin’s life in the hands of Fate. He had texted Zsasz that early morning six months ago, giving the man a chance to save Oswald’s life. But perhaps Zsasz was too late and Oswald didn’t survive? Edward could easily check. Surely the Gotham newspapers would have written something about Oswald if he had died. All Edward had to do was get his hands on a Gotham Gazette and read. But he refused to allow himself to do that. It was bad enough as it was. He didn’t want to let thoughts of Oswald consume him again. This was supposed to be his new life and he didn’t want to taint it. He wouldn’t give Oswald the satisfaction. Oswald disappointed him. He hurt him with his rejection. Edward no longer wanted to be Penguin’s lovesick puppy. He was his own man now. If anyone would be tortured by memories of the past, it had to be Oswald, not Ed. If Oswald was alive. Which he apparently wasn’t… Edward had to make peace with that thought and allow himself to move on. Yes, life did not go according to plan.
"I’m flattered. You seem to miss me terribly.”
Ed flinched at the sound of the familiar voice. It was Oswald’s voice, but Oswald wasn’t really here. Oswald was most likely buried six feet under in Gotham, next to his parents. This was just a hallucination, created by Edward’s mind to torment him. He refused to look at it.
“Eeeedwaaaaard,” the vision sing-songed, “pay attention to me.” Edward remained silent, ignoring it. “Edward? Edward, Edward, Edward, Edward, Edward, Edward--”
“Enough!” Ed snapped. He caught his temper in time and relaxed back into the chair, rubbing his temples tiredly. “Not now, please."
He didn’t expect the plea to work. It never did. He was almost used to the specter of Oswald following him around to the most peculiar of places for the last few months. Like a constant companion, designed to upset Edward’s peace. He just had to deal with it.
He looked the hallucination in the eyes and commanded, “Leave me alone.”
Hallucination Oswald pouted. “But why? I thought you wanted me around. Perhaps you’d serve me some delicious ice cream and we could--”
Ed groaned annoyed and jumped from the chair.
“What are you doing?” Oswald asked.
Ed wordlessly put on some music, loud enough to hopefully shut his mind off.
Hallucination Oswald laughed amused at the fruitless effort. “You know this won’t work, right? I’m in your head. You can’t not hear what’s in your head.”
Ed increased the volume even more. The neighbors would hate him for it, but he didn’t care.
No need to speak, no need to sing,
When just a glance means everything,
Not a word need be spoken,
In our language of love.
“Very romantic, you know,” Hallucination Oswald nodded approvingly. “I like your choice of music.”
Ed pursed his lips.
I'll touch your cheek, you'll hold my hand,
And only we will understand,
That the silence is broken,
By our language of love.
“Just admit you miss me and I’ll leave you alone.”
It's clear to you, it's clear to me,
This precious moment had to be,
Other moments outclassing,
Guardian angels are passing.
“Fine. Be grumpy at me. But we both know what’s really in your heart.”
Ed inhaled deeply and ran his fingers through his hair. “Yes, fine! It’s true. I do miss you. And a part of me regrets killing you,” he confessed bitterly. “I didn’t mean for you to die, Oswald. I just wanted you to remember me. I wanted the scar on your flesh to be a constant reminder of our love. You had to realize that I mean more to you than Jim Gordon ever did.”
“Stabbing me really conveys that message of love perfectly,” the hallucination said sarcastically.
Ed groaned. “Why am I talking to you?”
“Because you miss me.”
Ed swallowed, looking into Oswald’s nearly transparent eyes. “Yes. I miss you,” he whispered.
The hallucination smirked cleverly at him. “Was that so hard?” The cheekiness slowly disappeared from its ghostly face, replaced by a rather sad smile. “I’ll see you soon.”
That said, the vision dissolved into the darkness of the room, leaving Ed alone with the gentle melody of the song swimming around him.
No words will do, no lips can say,
The tender meaning we convey,
"I love you" is unspoken,
In our language of love.
Ed exhaled. He really did think he and Oswald had their own language of love. No one else could understand it but them.
Lost in thought and the sounds of the song, Ed didn’t hear the front door, until he was no longer alone in the apartment.
“Someone’s in a romantic mood. Care to dance?”
Ed chuckled softly. “Welcome home, Foxy,” he greeted, turning around.
Foxy's arms gently wrapped around Edward's waist, careful not to overstep any boundaries. Foxy was always very mindful not to frighten Ed, knowing full well that his experience with physical contact was traumatic thanks to what Mayor Cobblepot did to him.
“Is this okay?”
Ed nodded and rested his head on Foxy’s shoulder, as the two gently swayed to the music.
"How was your day?" he asked.
Foxy let out a small chuckle. "It's as you'd expect. I'm just glad I got the job, but being an intern really does not pay well."
Ed smiled fondly at him. "I know. But it'll get better. They'll soon see what a clever guy you are."
"Well, currently that’s not working in my favor. My colleagues seem to hate that a kid is smarter than them. But the big boss is coming to the lab soon and I hope to impress her! Then she can give me some real work to do."
“I’m sure you’ will! And then she’ll have to acknowledge the fact that she has a young genius in her team.”
Lucius actually blushed at that. It was adorable.
"I wouldn’t call myself a genius, but thanks,” he said. “And how was your day?"
Ed shrugged and looked away. "Just a regular day, I guess," he said.
Lucius noticed the clown wig tossed in one of the corners of the room. It was all the answer he needed. Ed hated his job. But he was forced to do it to get money because Foxy was not making enough yet. He cursed himself for putting Ed through all this.
"I'll get promoted soon. I promise," he vowed. "I'm working on a device, a power generator. She has to see how good it is. She won't let me be surrounded by those morons in the lab anymore."
Ed chuckled. "You're beginning to sound like me," he said fondly.
Foxy grinned and kissed Ed's forehead. "Thank you for the compliment. You're rubbing off on me, I guess. We're birds of a feather."
Ed's smile faded.
Foxy paled, letting go of Ed and internally cursing himself for his stupid remark. Birds of a feather , really! “I didn't mean to remind you of-- damn it!"
"No, that's alright. You didn't remind me of him. It's just--" Ed exhaled, "I'm always thinking of him anyway. I can't quite forget what happened. All the pain is flooding my mind like a slow motion train wreck." He shook his head. "I should be over this by now but... I'm not. I still see him." Quite literally, too. Ed received regular visits from Oswald’s annoying hallucination at least twice a week.
"It's PTSD," Lucius’ voice snapped him out of his thoughts. "It won't just go away if you don’t do anything about it. What that monster did to you... You need a therapist."
Ed snorted. Oh, Foxy! Just like Oswald!
"I mean it, Edward,” Lucius insisted. “Don't knock therapy, it helps."
"Yeah, right,” Ed busied himself with picking up his work clothes from the floor and finally folding them. Anything to get away from that conversation. He really didn’t need a therapist after what happened with Lee Thompkins.
"It does help! At least, it makes it easier to go through what happened with a professional. They'll be your beacon in the sea of--"
"Despair and hopelessness?" Ed supplied, teasingly.
Foxy rolled his eyes "I was going to say mess ."
"In the sea of mess?" Ed tried out the sound of it and laughed. He was surprised to find it was a genuine laugh, not a pretence. "Why, I'm amazed at your poetic genius, Mr. Foxy."
Lucius blushed and his eyes involuntarily glanced down at Ed's mouth. He licked his own lips, breath becoming a little shallow without him realizing it. Ed, however, did notice that and stiffened a little.
"Lucius..." He made sure to sound apologetic.
"I know, I'm sorry!" Foxy took a step away, folding his arms over his chest protectively.
"No, I'm the one who's sorry. I'm not making things easy for you, am I?" Ed sighed, back in performance mode. "I'm just not ready for physical intimacy after my experience with Oswald..."
"No, I absolutely understand!” Lucius cut him off quickly. “I didn't mean to pressure you into-- into anything. I won’t deny there are things that I can’t help wanting. But I can control myself, and my urges. You're safe with me, Edward. I promise."
Lucius had the tendency to make a lot of promises. The weird thing was, he actually kept them. It gave Ed a strange feeling on the inside, like a spreading warmth. He ignored it.
"I'll go take a shower, okay?"
Ed nodded. "Okay."
Lucius retreated to the bathroom. He went in there fully clothed, and Ed knew he’d emerge out of it fully clothed. Unable to afford a two bedroom apartment, they’ve been sleeping in one room for the last six months, but Ed had yet to see more of Foxy’s uncovered skin. The young man was extremely careful not to alarm Edward in any way, after the ‘trauma’ of being ‘systematically raped’ by Oswald Cobblepot. It was very thoughtful of him, yet slightly annoying. This insane story was getting out of hand, but it got Lucius to do exactly what Ed told him to, and Ed liked the control. All he had to do was feed Lucius a few gory details every now and then, and Foxy was like putty in his hands. Ed kept convincing himself having an obedient puppet was the only reason he kept Foxy alive all this time. What other reason could there possibly be anyway?
The world was a funny place. It didn't matter if Edward had a genius level IQ or not, he still had to work a stupid low wage job at a stupid ice cream shop, wearing the same old stupid clown wig and outfit every day, and serving with a smile. On top of everything, he had to spend his days with his insane redheaded coworker who was enjoying the whole clown themed ice cream shop business way too much. The kid had to be psychotic to actually like this job! No one in their right mind would be this happy to waste their time in this dump. Especially a 15-year old who probably had better things to do with his life.
This day, like every other day, the ginger sap was in a great mood. Laughing at his own silly jokes, entertaining the children in the shop, and selling ice cream as if it were frozen happiness, Jerome Valeska kept sneaking a lick or two of the delicious desserts for himself when no one was looking.
“You could get fired for that, y’know,” Ed finally observed.
“If I ever get fired, I’ll set this whole shop on fire,” Jerome said, looking serious for just a moment before bursting into cheerful laughter. “But I won’t! I’m just doing my job.”
“Your job is selling the ice cream, not eating it,” Ed said, but he was at least a little bit amused at Jerome’s antics.
Jerome’s grin widened. “Never heard of testing the goods? I’m merely making sure what we’re selling is good quality.”
“You don’t need to taste it every ten minutes to know it’s good, though.”
Instantly Jerome was way too close into Edward’s personal space, his nose nearly touching Ed’s. “Aww, why so serious, friend-o?” he tilted his head curiously. “Lighten up! Life is a funny roulette! You never know what joke you’re gonna get!”
“I heard enough jokes for one day,” Ed replied, putting more distance between himself and Jerome.
Jerome only shrugged. “You should look more cheerful, though. Or you’re gonna get in trouble with the boss. ‘Ice cream’s a joy dream!’ ” he sing-songed the stupid motto that graced the walls of the ice cream shop. This whole place was created in Hell. “You know he wants us to serve with a smmmmile.”
Ed rolled his eyes. “I’m doing just fine, Jerome. You smile all the time, and it’s just creepy.”
Jerome seemed rather amused at the remark, sitting cross legged in one of the chairs they had behind the counter for when there were no customers. “You’re fun, Ed. I like you.”
Ed , of course, was short for Edwin Nashton -- the name Edward decided to use for their stay in Metropolis. He was beginning to regret choosing his father’s last name, but when he first used it he never expected to remain in this city for a long time. It was supposed to be just a casual stop, but then Lucius got this internship at S.T.A.R. Labs, and Ed couldn’t find it in himself to ask for them to move again. The internship was a good opportunity for Foxy, Ed didn’t want to blow it for him. Of course, he could just leave alone, let Foxy enjoy his own life and be out of Ed’s for good, but… There was something about being all alone again that didn’t quite sit right with Ed. And Foxy wasn’t such a bad company.
Lost in thought, Ed didn’t notice the changed expression on Jerome’s face until the ginger youth jumped up from the chair and put away his apron.
“I’ll be right back,” he said distractedly, and headed for the backdoor exit.
Ed frowned. This had been happening a lot lately. Suddenly Jerome would just disappear for half an hour or so with no explanation. Then he’d be back, rather breathless and slightly more quiet than usual. Should Ed be concerned? Did it even matter to him what Jerome was up to? The kid was clearly disturbed, but whatever trouble he had gotten himself into, it wasn’t Ed’s business. They weren’t friends. Ed had no friends. Not even Foxy was truly a friend. More like a tool for Edward to use as he pleased.
Unexpectedly, thoughts of Selina and Ivy flushed through his mind for a brief moment, leaving something heavy in his chest. Ed would never admit it, but a part of him missed them. He wished he could talk to them again, hang out with them, check how they were doing. But it was unwise contacting them. Not after everything that happened in Gotham. Ed didn’t want to get Ivy and Selina involved in his messes. Gotham was in the past now, and he had to move on. That meant, forgetting all about Selina and Ivy. Or Bruce. Or anyone really. Ed didn’t need people. Ed was fine on his own. He didn’t care what happened to Jerome either. They weren’t friends, and Ed didn’t want them to be.
There was not a customer in sight. Before he could register what he was doing, Ed locked the front door of the shop and followed Jerome to investigate what the crazy ginger weirdo was up to.
The backdoor led straight into a dirty small alley where they usually took out the trash. It was also a good place for dealing drugs, or so Ed assumed. He expected to find Jerome there, with his dealer, trying to negotiate a better price for his narcotics. Cliche as it was, it made total sense that Jerome would be involved with drugs. He definitely acted like he was high all the time, so drugs were the perfect explanation for his behavior. But as Ed walked further into the alley he discovered something completely different. He’d been expecting to find Jerome hands up to his elbows in cocaine, instead he found him locked in a passionate embrace with some guy whose face Ed couldn’t see. The stranger had Jerome pushed up against a wall, as his hands roamed frantically all over the 15-year-old’s body.
Ed froze in place, staring dumbly at the filthy display in front of him. Logically, he knew he had to leave, but his feet wouldn’t move. As if he were glued to the ground.
Unaware that he was being watched, the stranger continued his erratic, almost animalistic movements, while Jerome gasped words of encouragement in his ear. Jerome was moaning like he liked it, but something in this whole picture didn’t sit right with Ed. He examined the stranger more closely, careful not to make a sound and alert the pair of his presence. He couldn’t see the other guy’s face, because it was buried in Jerome’s neck, but he could tell it was an older man. A wealthy older man, judging by his clothes. He didn’t show much consideration for his partner’s feelings either, and despite their activities, Ed could swear this wasn’t Jerome’s boyfriend. There was something else going on here, but before Edward could get to the bottom of it, Jerome’s eyes snapped open. He fixed his green gaze on Edward, as the stranger continued to rut against him, grunting louder than before.
Ed swallowed. He expected Jerome to make an angry scene at being caught in such a private moment. Instead the ginger boy only made a slight inclination with his head, a gesture signaling for Ed to get out of here before the older man could see him.
It made no sense. And Ed couldn’t explain why, but he was scared. Too scared to remain there. Heart hammering like crazy in his chest, he turned around and ran from the alley as fast as he could, without looking back.
Eventually he had to return to work. His coat was there, with his wallet and his apartment key in it, so he needed it to get home. He was also still wearing his stupid costume. People were casting funny looks in his direction, expecting him to perform, and then looking away disappointed when all he did was stare at them blankly. He realized he’d somehow gotten to the park near the shop. To the other side of the park, to be exact. He had a lot of walking back to do, but he could still make it in time before closing time.
What happened to him? Why did he freak out like that? He couldn’t come up with a logical explanation and he didn’t want to think about it right now. All he wanted was to go home and snuggle in bed with a warm blanket.
When he opened the front door of the Ice Cream Shop he heard the familiar cheerful bell that announced a customer, and felt sick. There shop was full. There were customers, waiting for their orders, and Jerome was dealing with all of them with remarkable speed. Ed swallowed around the lump in his throat. What was this kid mixed up with? Ed took his place behind the counter and wordlessly started serving the customers, aiding Jerome as much as he could.
When they were mostly alone, Jerome looked at Ed for a long moment, curiosity written all over his face. Then finally he spoke, “You ran off like that, you almost got me worried.”
“I’m fine,” Ed said, avoiding Jerome’s gaze. He didn’t want to see those acid green eyes, looking at him again. Not after what happened in the alley. Not after Ed ran off instead of stopping whatever was happening there. He swallowed, making sure he looked busy with putting the ice cream away for the night.
Jerome groaned. “Come on! Don’t be Mr. Grumpy Pants! We’re buddies, aren’t we? We spend every day together, we have to be buddies. I got your back. You don’t have to worry. I-- I covered for you.”
Ed couldn’t take it anymore. “Who was that man?” he asked.
“What man?” Jerome asked innocently.
Ed gave him a look, finally meeting his eyes. “You know exactly who I mean, Jerome. The one in the back alley.”
Jerome burst into a merry laughter. “Oh, that guy?” he snorted, then shrugged nonchalantly. “He’s just a friend. One of many.”
Ed frowned, confused. “I don’t understand.”
Jerome was suddenly in Ed’s personal space again, an arm wrapped around Ed’s shoulder conspiratorially. “Do you have any idea how many middle aged men would pay really good money for a few moments of passion in the arms of handsome teenage boys? I’m just giving them what they want.”
Ed paled. “This guy… was paying you?”
Jerome snorted. “As if I would’ve done it for free!” He scooped some ice cream from the ice cream display and licked at it with a pleasant hum. Edward did not reprimand him for eating the merchandise this time. “These old bastards can go fuck themselves for all I care,” Jerome shrugged. “But they pay well and I need the money. What else can I do? Rob a bank?”
Ed felt like he was going to be sick again. “But this… this isn’t nice.”
“ Nice ?” Jerome grinned. It was very unsettling. “Well, of course, it isn’t nice . The world isn’t nice. We just need to see the funny side of the bullshit that happen to us.”
There was a lump in Edward’s throat again. How could Jerome be so cheerful about this?
“You know, I grew up in a circus,” Jerome said, thoughtfully. “Perhaps that’s why we look at the world differently. You’re all serious and logical, I can tell. But I’m a fun-lover at heart. I grew up fatherless, and practically motherless, too, because she never paid attention to me anyway.” A spark of something indescribable glistened in his eyes for a moment before it was gone again. “Too busy being a whore to spend time with her son.” Ed was listening silently. Jerome smiled at him widely. “So you see,” he continued cheerfully, “I’m not surprised I turned out the way I did. Like mother, like son, right?” he snorted, amused, as if it were the funniest joke he had ever heard. “I despised her for being a whore who never paid attention to me, and now I’m a whore who never pays attention to her. She can rot in our small apartment for all I care and now I’m the one too busy to notice!” he laughed some more. “Now do you get it, Ed? About life being funny?”
Was everyone's life a mess? Ed still could not find the funny side to any of this, but he was relieved that it was time for them to close the shop. As he locked the front door he noticed Jerome getting into someone’s car. Ed narrowed his eyes as he recognized that same suit. The stranger in the alley.