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A Thing You Cannot Choose

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You could never fully grow accustomed to waking up in places with know knowledge of how you got there, or this was Edward’s experience. Every time, he had to quash the initial panic, stay still try and assess the room for threats before anyone realised he was awake. He attempted to regulate his breathing, hearing the soft rustle of what sounded like paper occasionally. Its regularity suggested someone was reading a book. He was warm, on a soft surface, probably a bed, but fully-clothed as far as he could tell. One of his hands ached and stung through the middle, but he seemed otherwise unharmed. He opened his eyes ever-so-slightly so he could look around through the slits. The room he was in was small and a little on the shabby side, but very uncluttered. By his side was a woman of no more than twenty-two, maybe, leisurely reading a thick, old, hardcovered book. Red curls fell on either side of her face, her expression was calm, her dark brown eyes moving quickly from side to side over the pages. Her clothes were neat and clean, if a little worn, but with a definite vintage flair to them, incongruously bright in the drab room. She wore a white ruffled blouse, a rich purple cardigan and matching trousers. Ed’s eyes moved frantically around looking for a weapon. Noticing the glass of water on the side table he made a grab for it smashing it against the wall before moving to threaten the girl but before he could, she gave a shriek and slammed the heavy book she was reading down on his hand. He dropped the glass onto the floor where it shattered, gasping in pain.

“Damn. I liked that one.” the girl said, looking mournfully at the glass on the carpet. “Is your hand alright? I’d hate to have injured the only fully-functional one.”

She grabbed the hand in question and peered at it.

“Get off!” Ed said, wriggling out of her grip.

“Ah, I knew you’d be a difficult patient.” she said indulgently. “It doesn’t seem serious. It might bruise though. I dropped one of those books on my foot once and jeez, did it hurt! Would you like some soup?” she asked briskly, reaching for a flask that was stowed next to her chair.

“Who are you?” Ed demanded.

“Stephanie, Stephanie Brown.” she said, with a merry smile.

“What am I doing here?”

“Oh, I found you a few streets away. You were passed out and were bleeding quite badly from your hand so I brought you here before someone robbed and murdered you, or something.” she explained airily.

“Why?” painfully reminded of the last time he’d woken up in the presence of a woman who’d ‘saved’ him. At least this one didn’t have a shrine to his villainous exploits covering the walls or was claiming to be some creepy super-fan.

“Is that all the thanks I get? You’re not exactly light, you know, although you do seem a bit malnourished and well, look at me; I’m not exactly build for carrying six foot odd men around, even malnourished ones.” she said, without malice.

“What are you planning to do with me?” he asked.

“Well, I had in mind keeping an eye on you until you’re in better health, but I hadn’t really thought beyond that.” she said speculatively.

“Why?”

“I haven’t had time.”

“I meant why did you bother?”

“Because I’m an unusually nice person.” the girl shrugged indifferently. “I don’t know. I didn’t really stop to evaluate the situation in detail, if I had, you wouldn’t be nice and comfy here.”

She got up, pulling him out of the way to plump up the pillows behind him, forcing him to sit up. She didn’t seem to be of any immediate danger as she hadn’t done anything to harm him whilst he was unconscious, even if she possessed no sense of self preservation. Ed was too tired for a fight, not to mention that he was disinclined to go about attacking someone so young and slight, who seemed to have only been caring for him for some unfathomable reason, even if the situation was disquietingly similar to waking up with Myrtle standing over him, so he merely leaned away from her and glared at her mistrustfully, which only seemed to amuse her.

“Where am I?” he asked.

“The Narrows.” she answered promptly, settling on the edge of the bed and unscrewing the soup flask, offering it along with a spoon, which he pushed away.

“Argh.” he groaned.

“Oi! I’ll have you know people are very proud of what little they have around here. Besides, you’d better be grateful. It’s not everyone who would be prepared to host The Riddler in their home.”

“You know who I am?”

“Well, duh. You have broadcasted yourself on TV, don’t you remember?”

Ed did remember, and for some reason the memories made him feel queasy.

“Don’t you know how dangerous it is-” he began.

“-sheltering you here? Yes, yes. I know.” she said impatiently. “Did you know the woman who broke you out of the ice was killed by the Penguin?” she asked conversationally. “At least, that’s what I heard. Still, I live alone, I’m fairly reclusive and I have no prior connection to either you or the Penguin, so I doubt he’ll even think to come looking for you here. You’re perfectly safe.” Stephanie assured him, which he had to admit wasn’t terrible reasoning.

“Aren’t you afraid for your life?”

“Oh, yes, it’s only wise, but I could probably take you in a fight, given how weak you seem.” she said reflectively.

Ed glared at her dubiously, but then he knew that in Gotham people were often better trained in various forms of defence and attack than they initially appeared.

“I should go.” he said, shuffling to get up, but was hit by a nasty spell of tunnel vision and fell back down again.

“Where to?” Stephanie asked. “I mean, you can if you really want to, but I wouldn’t recommend it. From what I know, you don’t have anywhere to go to, or anyone, for that matter. If you’re determined to, maybe wait until you feel less like you’re going to faint every five minutes.” she suggested.

“You’re not going to stop me?” he said in surprise.

“Why would I?” she said, looking confused.

“You might... you might want to...” Ed struggled to catch the elusive words, “want to keep me for...ransom.”

“I don’t see why. I don’t fancy striking a deal with the Penguin only to have him kill me. I may be a bit on the reckless side, but I don’t have a death wish. I can’t think of anyone else who would pay a ransom for you.”

Ed’s mind fell frustratingly blank, just as he’d opened his mouth to respond. He glanced down at the hand the pharmacist had stabbed which was now clean and neatly-wrapped.

“You saw to my hand.” he observed.

“No, actually. I know a discreet doctor and she tended to it for me and gave me instructions about how to look after you. She was a bit reluctant at first. Said she knew you.” Stephanie explained.

“Dr Thompkins?” Ed asked, wondering why Lee would have possibly tended to him without immediately turning him into the GCPD. “But nobody has seen her in ages.”

“Oh, no. Dr Damfino. She bikes about The Narrows delivering treatment and medicine. Most people just call her The Doc, so if you need her you know who to ask for. Now, come on, have something to eat.” Stephanie said, forcing the soup flask and spoon into his hand.

He peered at it suspiciously. It had been a long time since he’d eaten anything, but he wasn’t about to trust a young woman he’d only known a few minutes. To his surprise she just started giggling at him.

“Oh, I’m sorry.” she said. “It was your face. There’s no need to look like that. I don’t like wasting ingredients. I don’t have any reason to poison you. If I were going to kill you I could have done that while you were unconscious.” she pointed out. “Here.”
She took the flask and poured some of the soup into it’s lid, showing its contents to Ed. She theatrically drank the contents before showing him the emptied lid.

“See.” she said. “No poison.” passing the flask back.

“It doesn’t have onions in it, does it?”

“No. The Doc specifically told me not to put any in.” she said. “Come on. Have some before you waste away.” she encouraged.

He accepted a spoonful or two and decided that the soup wasn’t bad at all. The girl smiled approvingly before re-opening her book and settling back down and falling into a strangely companionable silence. He watched her uncomprehendingly. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen someone so comfortable around him, as generally, even back before he became the Riddler, he seemed to put people on edge and they either seemed to want to get rid of him, or gave unwanted attention. The only person to actually seem to genuinely like him for who he was, was Oswald, but that hadn’t ended well. If anything, she reminded him slightly of Kristen with the red hair and the shape of her facial features and the liking for old-fashioned clothes, but younger. It made him wonder what Kristen’s children would have looked but he quickly attempted to drag himself off of that train of thought. Thinking about Kristen made him feel achingly hollow inside. That lead him on to think about Officer Dougherty, Jim Gordon and Dr Thompkins, everything that had happened at the GCPD, Arkham and Oswald and Isabella and Oswald... Oswald...

It all took on a surreal, nightmarish quality in his memory. His vision was slightly clouded and there were flashes of Kristen’s sightless eyes, Dougherty kneeling, Oswald clutching at his wound staring at him in disbelief. His ears hurt and the back of his throat stung in the effort to stay in control of things. He hadn’t felt like this before, had he? Had he been the one to do those things?

“What ever is wrong?” Stephanie’s voice broke through.

He looked up at her blurry face, unsure when he’d started crying.

“Get out.” he muttered, burying his face in his hands, mortified to be falling apart in front of a total stranger.

“Excuse me? What’s upsetting you?” she said perplexedly.

“Get out! Go!” he said angrily.

Stephanie frowned as she got up, moving across the room, turning back in indecision.

“But can’t you at least-”

“Leave!” he shouted.

Stephanie shook her head and left.

Ed watched the door close behind her before being overcome by a tidal wave of panic.

Flashes of what had happened invaded, every death and injury crowding in trapping him in a horror more overwhelming than any kind of physical pain ever could be.

“God, I thought you were over all of this!” a familiar voice crowed.

“Go away.” Ed hissed, through gritted teeth.

“Surely you’re not feeling guilty now?” his hallucination leaned against the wall smirking.

“Shut up.”

“Oh, you are. You’re so pathetic, worrying about all those silly little people.” the hallucination laughed.

“I told you to go away.”

“I’m sorry, Ed, but you should have learned by now that hallucinations don’t work that way.”

“How long before she betrays you or you snap that pretty little neck just like Miss Kringle?”

“Stop it.”

“You really are stupid. Didn’t dad always say how stupid you were?”

“Stop it.”

And you have a limited vocabulary. Makes me wonder how Oswald could ever have fallen in love with you. It was funny to see him pleading and bleeding out, though. The shock on his face was priceless.”

“Shut up!” Ed’s voice rose slightly.

“It didn’t last long though, did it? Not long before he tried to kill you. What’s it they say about true love never waning? Maybe Oswald never loved you and that’s why he did it. What were you trying to prove, getting him to give you up to find out if his feelings were real or not? You just have to have validation from people all the time. It didn’t stop him turning on you in the end. Oh well, you’ve still got me. I’m the only one you can depend on.”

“I wish I didn’t. You always ruin everything. I hate you!” Ed shouted at his counterpart.

“Well, that’s nice, I must say. You do know that I am you.”

“Well, I hate who I am, now that you mention it. I hate him so much, because thanks to you, I’ve been put in this mess and I can never undo any of it. So yes, you’re right, I hate me!”

“Well, the next time, remember that you were the one who did all of it. You killed Officer Dougherty, Kristen Kringle, Officer Pinkney-”

“I told you, shut up! Shut up! SHUT UP!”

Ed heard movement in the next room and groaned curling up into a ball as he realised Stephanie had probably heard every word of his argument. She would definitely throw him out on the street now. He broke into sobs of frustration.

Chapter Text

“Hey.” Stephanie said softly, cautiously making her way back to her chair with a mug of something.

“Have you come to chuck me out?” Ed asked, eyeing her with mistrust. He felt his face flush heavily as he thought of the earlier argument with his other self, especially how he’d broken down afterwards and Stephanie had surely heard him. He wasn’t supposed to be this emotional or sensitive. Before he’d been frozen in ice, he remembered a sort of dream-like quality, which had begun not long after Kristen’s death and waxed and waned ever since. He’d forgotten what it was like to feel things as acutely as he had since waking up in Stephanie’s home and it had all been too overwhelming.

Her forehead creased and she shook her head.

“Um, no. I came to offer hot chocolate. It’s the proper stuff, with melted dark chocolate. Did you know that dark chocolate,” she said, her voice trembling slightly, “stimulates the production of endorphins which stimulate feelings of pleasure and also contains serotonin-”

“-which is an antidepressant that can elevate mood.” Ed finished. “Yes I know.”

Stephanie smiled again slightly, her nervousness disappearing slightly.

“Yes.” she said. “Anyway, it might be a bit diluted, what with so much milk, but hot chocolate always cheers me up when I’m feeling anxious. My mom used to make it for me when it was stormy at night and she’d read a bedtime story to me, even when I was convinced I was far too old to be read to.”

“My mother did that for me too, before she died.” Ed said quietly, more to himself.

Stephanie nodded, smiling and patted his forearm.

He stared at the spot where he’d touched him.

“Why are you being so nice? What is it you want from me?” he asked suspiciously.

“Do I need a reason to be nice to someone?”

“Everyone has a reason.”

“Fine, I’ve been lonely and like having someone to look after and I know for a fact you’re clever. Maybe I’m hoping you’ll stick around out of choice. You seem like you could use a friend.”

He considered this. He wasn’t about to trust her so quickly, but she was quite right that he had nowhere to stay. The Narrows was a place where decent members of the GCPD rarely dared to tread and the place was barely on the Penguin’s radar as it didn’t have a place in the grand ambitious plans for Gotham. He still couldn’t work out why Stephanie was being so hospitable though, she must surely have an ulterior motive, but he’d need to find out more about her before he could work it out.
“Do you fancy me or something?” he asked suddenly.

Stephanie spluttered before bursting out into full-blown laughter.

“Oh, oh, I’m so sorry.” she said, stifling her laughter. “I’m sure you’re irresistibly attractive, but a), you’re too old and b) I’m like really, really gay.”

“Oh, oh right.” Ed blinked. The latter wasn’t a possibility that had occurred to him. “That’s alright then.” he decided, as it made everything decidedly less complicated if she didn’t have any romantic feelings for him to contend with.

“Sure?”

“Sure. May I have that hot chocolate now?”

She handed it to him and he took a sip. He was surprised at the richness of flavour.

“Is there cinnamon in this?” he asked. “And cream?”

“Just a pinch and yes. I may live in the Narrows, but I’m damned if I’m not going to enjoy my life while I’m here and eating well is part of that.”

“What? Do you go round robbing convenience stores?”

“Ah, you got me.” she joked, although Ed couldn’t tell whether she was joking. “I’m surprised you noticed. Most people can’t really taste things round here, as they’re too busy worrying about where the next meal is coming from to waste time enjoying food.” Stephanie remarked.

“I’ve missed cooking.” Ed admitted.

He fell quiet, remembering cooking for Kristen, which was quickly followed by memories of her reaction to finding out about Dougherty.

“Why aren’t you throwing me out?” Ed asked eventually. “Don’t you think I’m crazy?”

“Well, I’ve always thought there must be something wrong with people convinced their entirely sane. You hear voices, so what?” she said, not seeming to care and Ed stared at her in amazement. “That’s not your fault and from what I could tell, you’re not too keen on that fact either.” she continued, apparently not realising how strange her reaction was. “I once had a friend who had schizophrenia, hearing voices, you know. It was because she’d not really recovered from the trauma being stabbed. Her family had tendency towards it too. Anyways, she moved away from Gotham, saw a decent therapist and now is studying law in Miami.”

That explained her lack of concern, although, Ed was honestly still surprised she hadn’t been scared and horrified, or threatened to send him to Arkham.

"Just because you’re troubled, it doesn’t mean you can’t sort things out.” she finished.

This grated on Ed as he remembered every other time people had shaken him off with uncaring comments that he should get ‘help’. What they really meant that he should be put away, as far away from them as possible.

“I don’t want your pity!” Ed snapped.

“I refuse to apologise for feeling compassion for you!” Stephanie returned passionately, taking Ed aback with her ferocity. “What can be swallowed, but can also swallow you and make you incredibly stupid?” she asked.

Ed stared at her in confusion.

“What?”

“Pride.” Stephanie answered her own riddle. “It’s about time you got over yourself and accepted that you need help. Proper help, not Arkham or something. Admitting that fact does not make you weak, it makes you wise for not allowing your emotions to take you over, so get over yourself and let me help you! Or if not, let someone else do it.”

Ed felt himself blush again from embarrassment and annoyance.

“I’m not- I’m not-” he stuttered.

“How did you hurt you hand?” Stephanie interrupted.

“I- I- robbed a pharmacist’s.”

“Why?”

“For medicine.”

“What kind of medicine?”

“To make me smarter.”

“Why do you need to be smarter, I thought you were smart? And why do you think pills would magically do it for you?”

“I was smart before I got frozen in a block of ice! I can’t answer riddles, I can’t remember facts, my sentences get lost part way through. I’m useless!”

“Nonsense, you can remember facts about the antidepressants in chocolate.”

“Maybe, but I can’t solve riddles, or write them anymore!”

“Cloud is my mother. Wind is my father. I do down but never go up. What am I?” Stephanie asked.

“Rain.”

“I am the only organ that gave myself my own name. What am I?”

“The brain.”

“Everyone has me, but everyone can lose me. I can fall across water but never get wet. What am I?”

“I... I... Argh. I don’t know. I should be able to do better than this.”

“A shadow.” Stephanie answered. “Two out of three isn’t bad.”

“It might be an improvement on earlier, but I’m supposed to know all of them and answer immediately. I’m supposed to be the smartest man in Gotham.”

“So what if you’re not the smartest? You’re still smart.”

“That doesn’t alter the fact that I’m so over-emotional, all the time.”

“I suppose. And it’s true you do seem to keep drifting off in the middle of speaking.” Stephanie agreed. “You should see a doctor.”

“I can’t. They’ll turn me in or hand me back to Oswald.”

“Dr Damfino won’t. Nina hates the GCPD and the Penguin. She’s already treated you once and she promised not to say anything.”

“I don’t know.” Ed said, indecisively, turning the idea over.

“What have you got to lose? She doesn’t even charge for her services as nobody in The Narrows can afford it.”

“You’ll take me to her?” he asked hesitantly.

“Yes. How about we go this evening? You look like you could do with a rest in the meantime.”

Chapter Text

As it happened Ed slept right through the night and the morning. Stephanie didn’t wake him until lunch where she had mysteriously produced food from somewhere and her unwillingness to disclose its origin, more or less confirmed it had been stolen. All afternoon, Ed knew he was irritating his hostess with his restlessness until she flung a heavy book at him to stop his pacing and forced a book of crosswords into his hands to shut him up for five minutes. When Ed only got frustrated at never being able to quite complete any of them, Stephanie forced a tin of cat food into his hand.

“Feed Quiz and then there’s a lot of cat toys in that cupboard and play with him for as long as possible.”

“I’m not a child.” Ed said moodily.

“Until you can stop behaving like one, you’ll be treated as one. Look,” she said, more sympathetically, once he pouted like a five-year-old, “I know you’re getting a bit stir crazy and I sympathise, but you’re driving me mad and right now, I’d do anything to help you run off steam at this point. I have to go out.” she said before leaving abruptly.

Ed was initially unwilling to meet her demands, but as the grey long-haired cat’s opalescent green eyes remained constantly on him as it followed him about the apartment and grudgingly fed it. Afterwards Quiz continued following him until he played with it for longer than expected as he hunted a feather on a stick before falling asleep in his lap and Stephanie returned. After a quick dinner, the two of them prepared to leave.

Ed watched the young woman tuck a number pocket knifes and a loaded gun with extra bullets into a surprising number of hidden pockets in a heavy, long, dark purple coat.

“Your favourite colour, huh?”

“You can talk.” said Stephanie, gesturing to Ed’s garishly green suit, that at this point was crumpled and stained. “What do a jealous person, a dollar bill and bed of grass have in common?”

“They are all green.” Ed rolled his eyes. “Hey, don’t I get anything to defend myself with?” he said, pointing at the gun as it disappeared into Stephanie’s coat.

Stephanie only smiled at him.

“You’ll have to earn my trust first. How do I know you won’t try to kill me?”

“Fine.” Ed huffed.

“Don’t worry, I’ll protect you.” Stephanie said, lightly punching his arm as they walked away from the front door of her pokey apartment and onto the streets. Gotham was usually bleak, but the slums of The Narrows, combined with a chronic lack of street lighting cast a heavy darkness over the walkways the rest of Gotham couldn’t quite achieve. Ed instinctively drew closer to Stephanie, especially as they passed other people and glared at anyone who dared to look in their direction. Stephanie walked quite fast with one hand deep in her pocket, probably around her gun. The streets they were now on weren’t so quiet and there were a number of grotty bars and clubs with graffiti or coloured signs over them passing by.

“By the way,” Stephanie’s voice was bright amongst the gloom. “What should I call you?” she asked. “What name should I use?”

“Call me Ed. Not the Riddler.” Ed added, thinking of his earlier hallucination and hoping fervently it would stay away. “Please.”

“Then you must call me Stephanie.” she replied, chirpily. “Right here.” she said pointing to a doorway next to a basement window with a coloured light shaped like cherries in it. It lead down a set of steps into a busy basement room which smelled faintly of sweat and strongly of hard liquor. The latter was a smell Ed had hated ever since growing up in a home where that smell signalled impending violence. There was a kind of boxing ring to one side and a bar and there was heavy bass booming through unseen speakers.

Stephanie stopped at the corner of the room and moved to her tip-toes in an attempt to see over the crowds. Seeming to have seen someone she was looking for, she grabbed Ed’s sleeve and pulled him after her in the direction of the bar. She waved eagerly at an elegant woman with blonde waves wearing revealing a dark red outfit and holding a cocktail glass who raised her hand back.

“Hi D!” Stephanie fairly shouted over the din, grinning. “Is Nina about?”

“She’s patching up some idiot out the back right now.” the woman answered. “I know what you’re going to ask her Steph and I’ll tell you now that she won’t be pleased.” she warned, looking Ed up and down calculatingly.

“I can still ask her though, right? I’ll talk her round.” Stephanie said confidently.

“You can try. Look after my drink for me, wait here.” she told Stephanie, handing it to her.

Stephanie set the cocktail in front of her on the bar and hopped onto a stool, patting the one next to her, to tell Ed to sit.

“That was Diedre, Nina’s girlfriend.” Stephanie explained. “If you need to know where Nina is, she’ll always know.”

“She didn’t seem very optimistic about getting help.” Ed pointed out.

“Oh, Nina can be difficult and moody, but she likes me. She’ll help.”

Ed hadn’t time to argue the point as Deidre returned, arm in arm with a familiar woman, albeit now with long sleek black hair, heavily black made-up eyes and dark lips, dressed from head to toe in navy.

“Nina!” Stephanie jumped up upon seeing the woman.

“Steph.” the woman greeted, letting go of Deidre but looked at Ed and grimaced. “Oh God.”

“Dr Lee Thompkins?” Ed said slowly.

“Who?” asked Stephanie curiously.

“He’s talking to me, Steph.” Lee explained. “What do you want?” Lee asked abruptly, addressing Ed.

“What are you doing in a place like this?” he asked. “And what’s with the name change?”

“I’d heard a rumour you were frozen. I should have known it was too good to be true.” Lee said drily, receiving the drink the bartender automatically supplied her with.

“You’re not still mad at me are you?”

“Mad at you for what? Killing Kristen Kringle? Or framing Jim for murder so he would be imprisoned when I lost our child?” she laughed coldly, giving Ed a shove. “Ah, I’m over all that. Let’s be friends.” she said sarcastically.

“Don’t be cruel, Nina.” Stephanie scolded. “How would you like to be frozen in a block of ice and left as the centre piece in a nightclub for months on end and on top of that become convinced you’re going mad?”

“And for the record,” Ed put in, “I didn’t kill Miss Kringle on purpose and framing Jim was never intended to harm you in any way, Lee.”

“Oh, well, I suppose that makes everything alright then.” Lee said sarcastically. “And my name isn’t Lee anymore, Ed. It’s Doctor Damfino to you. I changed my name because I wanted to start anew and I didn’t want anyone from my old life to find me, for all the good that it’s done.”

“Nina, I need your help.” Stephanie said.

“No, Stephanie. He wants my help, doesn’t he?” Nina corrected. “What do you mean by sending her in here to ask for you?” she turned to Ed “Surely not the great Riddler, too scared to face me on your own?”

“No, I...” Ed began before losing his train of thought “I...”

“This, this is the problem.” Stephanie interrupted waving her hands around illustratively. “He didn’t make me come here, I persuaded him. Ever since he’s been out of that block of ice his brain has been sort of scrambled. He gets lost in the middle of sentences, can’t solve the simplest of puzzles, has been clumsy and has been overly emotional. Obviously, I don’t have enough medical training to determine whether it is due to psychological trauma or maybe something to do with being frozen physiologically influencing his brain. I mean, successful cryonics isn’t exactly a deeply researched area. I want him checked-out and neither of us can afford a doctor elsewhere.”

Ed was relieved that Stephanie hadn’t mentioned the hearing voices, but one look at Nina quashed his hopes.

“How may I put this without being rude?” Nina said pausing in mock-thought. “No. I won’t help. No, never.” Nina said, turning away.

“No, Nina, please!” Stephanie grabbed onto Nina’s elbow. “Please. I appreciate that you have plenty of reasons to be angry with him, but can’t you at least examine him? He’s unwell. He was nearly killed. He’s not his usual self, even I can see that. You don’t have to promise to treat him, just do some tests. For me.” Stephanie pleaded.

“You’re far too kind. He’ll only let you down Steph.” Nina said sadly to the girl.

“Maybe, but this is my decision to make. He’s under my care at the moment, so he’s my responsibility. He’s not well.” Stephanie insisted.

Nina sighed, seeming to struggle resisting the younger woman.

“Oh, very well. Come to the clinic at half past seven tomorrow, then I can see you first.” Nina told Ed. “You can sit some tests to assess you.”

“Thank you, Doctor.” Ed said, meaning it.

“In the meantime, Ed while you’re here, there’s something I’d like a second opinion on.” Nina said pointing in the direction she’d not long come from.

“Can I come?” Stephanie asked.

“No, you can stay here and entertain Diedre.” Nina said, not unkindly. “No offence, it’s just not your area of expertise.”

“Whatever. Just bring him back unharmed.” Stephanie said, indifferently.

Ed followed, Lee- Nina, he corrected himself, across the room and into a passageway at the top of some stairs where she immediately pushed him roughly back against a wall.

“Ow, what are you doing?”

“I think the question is what do you think you’re doing?” Lee-Nina demanded. “What do you want with Stephanie?”

“Nothing. She found me. I only met her yesterday. Like she said, it was her idea to come here.”

“You hurt her and I swear-”

“I have no reason to.”

“I mean it, Ed.” Nina said in a low and deadly tone. “Don’t you lay a finger on Stephanie. If I hear you’ve done the slightest thing to harm her, or put her in danger, you won’t be alive to worry about the consequences.”

“I understand.” he said, meeting her severe dark eyes. “I won’t.” he said earnestly.

“Good.” she said, stepping away from him.

“Have you finished threatening me or was there something else?”

“There was actually.” Nina replied. “I want to show you something.”

Nina lead him into what seemed to be a doctor’s examination room, if an ill equipped one. In the centre of the room was a large figure that looked up at them as they entered. Ed gave a cry of alarm and scrambled backwards.

“Butch Gilzean!”

“Know Grundy?” Butch asked in a low-pitched disjointed fashion. Ed observed the unusual greenish-grey tint to his skin and the overgrown pale hair, realising something was wrong. What was more, Butch had always dressed much more tidily.

“This is Grundy, Ed.” Nina explained. “That’s the name he goes by now. He doesn’t remember anything.”

“Know Grundy?” Grundy repeated, still looking at Ed.

“Well.. well I- Yes.” Ed said reluctantly.

“Ed Grundy friend?”

Ed stared at him for a few seconds.

“Yes, yes. We are the best of friends.” he said hurriedly.

“Ed!” Nina protested reproachfully.

Before Ed could say a word he was having the life squeezed out of him.

“Ah, I can’t breathe.” Ed wheezed over his shoulder.

“Softer, Grundy.” Nina told him. “He does that a lot.” she explained to Ed, standing on the tips of her toes to see over Grundy’s huge shoulder for a second.

Grundy let go and patted Ed on the head like you would pet a lapdog.

“Anyway, Ed.” Nina said. “Diedre and Stephanie found Grundy yesterday. Diedre brought him back here as she thought he’d be an excellent prize fighter and she was right, more right than she knew. I’ve taken a look at him. He doesn’t have a heartbeat and when he was wounded, look.” Nina showed the wound. “He doesn’t even have real blood running through his veins, but a sort of liquid. To me it looks like it came from swamp water. Grundy says its where he came from. Take a look.”

Ed examined the wound with interest.

“Yes.” he murmured. “Why do you need my opinion, Doctor?”

“I wondered if you might know anything about it.”

“Why should I?”

“Stephanie found you very near to where they’d found Grundy not long before.”

“And? I don’t see the significance.”

“Don’t you think it’s a bit of a coincidence that on the same day you turn up in The Narrows, so does he in this condition?”

“Butch hated me. Why would I dunk him in a swamp if I knew for a fact that it would make him impossible to kill?”

“I don’t know. The things you do rarely make sense to me!” Nina said hotly.

“Well, I didn’t. In case you hadn’t noticed, I’ve been a bit busy being frozen in a block of ice for five months!” Ed replied angrily.

“Grundy- friend cross?” Grundy said slowly looking between the two of them in apparent confusion.

“We’re trying to work out what happened to you.” Nina explained, more patiently.

“Solomon Grundy, born on a Monday.” Grundy stated solemnly.

“Yes, thank you Grundy.” Nina said, more impatiently.

“He couldn’t have been one of Strange’s experiments, could he?” Ed suggested.

“I was under the impression he was supposed to have stopped experimenting.” Nina said. “But I wouldn’t it past him. In the mean time, Diedre and I have to babysit this huge child. He doesn’t sleep for very long in the evenings.” Nina said tiredly. “Stephanie was going to help, but with Stephanie looking after you, I don’t see what can be done.”

“Steph here?” Grundy said, eagerly.

“She’s upstairs.” Nina told him.

“Grundy see Steph?” Grundy asked.

“Very well, but be very careful if you decide to hug her.” Nina warned.

“Grundy gentle.” Grundy said placing a demonstrative hand on Nina’s arm with reverence.

“Well done.” Nina said, smiling at him and he walked away looking happy.

“He met Stephanie yesterday when I was tending to you and it seems he’s taken quite a shine to her.” Nina explained.
“I can imagine. ”

“So, if you do anything to harm her, Grundy will punch first and probably not think to ask questions at all.”

“Hm,” Ed replied watching the huge figure retreat with a measure of awe.

It occurred to him that having someone who could fight and would be practically impossible to kill on your side wouldn’t be a terrible idea, which was another reason to keep Stephanie close, if Grundy was fond of her.

“If you know anything, Ed, you must tell me.” Nina interrupted his thoughts.

“I will. But I don’t. The last I heard, Barbara Kean had shot Butch in the head. It doesn’t make sense for him to have survived that.” Ed said.

“I suppose you were relieved.” Nina said coldly.

“He did try to murder me!” Ed pointed out.

Nina sighed in irritation.

“Whatever.” she said. “That’s all I wanted from you.” Nina said in clear dismissal. “Don’t be late tomorrow, I don’t have a lot of time.”

“Stephanie said you bike around The Narrows getting treatment to people who can’t afford it.”

“Yes.” Nina said. “I’m just putting things right. It’s my fault the Tetch virus was introduced to The Narrows. The least I can do is attempt to put some of the damage right. I’d suggest you try doing the same thing, if I thought you had the capacity for caring about anyone other than yourself.”

“I may have hurt and killed people in the past,” Ed began, anger flaring “Lee, but you of all people should know that anyone has the capacity to change... and for your information it’s because I cared about someone that I got this way in the first place. So I do have the capacity to care. And I’m tired, tired of...” Ed tailed off realising his tirade was getting very personal very fast and he needed to stop before she found something that could be used against him. “I...have to go home.” he said, thinking of returning to what felt like the safe haven of Stephanie’s flat.

“The last I heard, you don’t have a home.” Nina said harshly, before slamming the door behind her.

Chapter Text

“You all right?” Stephanie asked, clearing a modest breakfast away, the following morning.

“I’m fine.” Ed replied thoughtlessly.

Stephanie sat down on her dilapidated sofa next to him, placing a hand hesitantly on his arm.

“Hey, it’s alright to be nervous, you know.” Stephanie said far too understandingly. “I know you consider a low IQ to be an unforgivable weakness, but it’s not. So what if you’ve come back down to earth where the rest of us live? It’s not the end of the world. Things could be a lot worse. You could have been left like Grundy. Nina’s a good doctor and a professional one. No matter who she treats here, good or bad, young or old, rich or poor, she does her best. If whatever this is, is going to get better you need to have faith in yourself and whoever is treating you.” she said confidently. 

“I told you I’m fine.” Ed repeated coldly.

Stephanie's eyes narrowed, clearly seeing straight through Ed.

“Don’t lie." she said. "And another thing; if you have me, you want to share me. If you share me, you do not have me. What am I?"

“A secret.” Ed answered after a moment’s pause.

“Exactly." Stephanie smiled. "You’re getting better already. You can’t afford to have any of those from Nina, or me, for that matter. You know I didn’t mention the hearing voices to Nina, because as I see it it’s not my business, but you must tell her for your own good. I appreciate you might have parts of your past you would rather be kept hidden, but if your treatment in whatever form it takes is going to be successful, you need to start by being honest with us. If we don’t know exactly what is wrong you can’t be treated properly.”

“I’m not a child or a complete simpleton! I do know that.” Ed said irritably.

“I’m sure you do, but most smokers know it has a very high likelihood of being bad for their health, but they still smoke.”

“All right, I’ll be honest. Satisfied?” Ed said, putting up his hands in surrender.

“For now.” Stephanie got up, grinning. “Be good. I don’t want any messages from Nina telling me you’ve been bad and have to bring you home. Off you go, or you’ll be late.”

Ed gave an exasperated sigh and got up to leave, although part of him did like being fussed over by someone whose intentions didn’t seem at least entirely selfish.

For this journey, Stephanie had unwillingly consented to lend him a gun filled with blanks, concerned that he would lay his hands on real bullets, but decided she was more concerned that he might be attacked and killed. After all, if the worst came to the worst, he could always hit an attacker with the gun.

When he arrived at Dr Damfino’s clinic, through Cherry’s bar, there were already a few queuing patients outside, even though he was exactly on time. Most of the patients looked ragged and many were wheezing or coughing. When Nina opened the door she already looked tired. The room was as small and bare as Ed remembered.

“Good, you’re on time.” Nina said curtly.

Nina took a number of tests including blood pressure, checking breathing, drew some blood for tests and asked about any health concerns. With this done, she lead him out of the room and past the waiting crowd.

“I’ll be with you in a minute.” she told them.

She led Ed to a tiny, dusty box room with a rickety desk. She set a pile of papers and a pencil in front of him along with a stop-watch.

“I’ve got a number of tests and questionnaires I’d like you to complete.” she said. “I’ll debrief you as to their purposes after I’ve calculated the results, but I won’t tell you now, so as not to bias your answers. Some of them need to be timed, so can you write the time you too to complete those ones marked as such on the front, honestly. Bring them back to me when you’re done. If you have any questions, ask, but knock and wait. I can’t have my consultations interrupted.”

Ed nodded and Nina left him to get on.

Almost all of the tests presented some kind of struggle for Ed. Firstly, Ed began with the untimed tests which comprised of questions that required all manners of soul-searching. Ed was very tempted to scribble over the top of several of them for Nina to mind her own God-damned business, but remembered Stephanie’s advice and instead answered all kinds of questions about his health, thoughts and deepest emotions with as much sincerity as he could muster.

He was very annoyed at the person who had designed the questionnaire who seemed to believe that all emotions, no matter how complex, could be quantified on a scale of one to ten. On the other hand, Ed supposed he should have been relieved that they hadn’t asked him to explain his answers in any level of detail, as that would have meant digging up some nasty memories he was not at all ready to share with Nina and many of them with such tempestuous emotions behind them that no box on a questionnaire page would have been big enough to explain them all.

The tests that required word puzzles or maths puzzles or the matching of picture patterns were little better. Some parts he flew through, whilst others took far longer than they should have. He was left with one particular question that his mind just seemed to freeze up at. There was nothing particularly special about it, or different from the others. The paper clenched in his fist, he felt tears pricking and before he knew it he’d broken into embarrassing sobs for the second time in two days.
It was a long time since he had felt such all-consuming frustration. It reminded him of being at school and being stuck on that one question, every once in a while and being to afraid to ask for help for fear of being laughed at. The knowing that he should have known how to do it, that he was supposed to get a perfect score, be top of the class, excel at the only thing he was any good at, or sometimes got recognition for. His mind was entrapped in a restless circle of feeling defeated.

“Whatever is wrong with you?” asked Lee-Nina’s sharp voice.

Ed jumped up, knocking his knee on the table, before turning away from Nina in an attempt to hide his face, but the heaving of his shoulders as he attempted to control his breathing gave him away.

“Ed?” Nina asked, more softly, approaching slowly.

“Well, you got what you wanted.” Ed choked out. “You have it confirmed for your official diagnosis, Doctor.” he said acidly. “I am stupid.” he forcefully slapped the page onto the table, making it shake.

He pushed past Nina in his hurry to leave, her protests falling on deaf ears.

By the time Ed was back outside of Stephanie’s apartment, he was feeling very foolish. He knew it wouldn’t take Stephanie very long to work out that something was wrong and she was bound to ask how it had gone. He paused outside long enough to hear the strains of a heated argument from inside.

“Look, Steph, this is your chance to help me. We can get away from here and-” came an unfamiliar voice likely belonging to a man.

“No. I won’t be a part of this. You’ll get caught or killed. Either you give up the gang, or you lose me. The choice is yours. I won’t be persuaded otherwise and that’s final.”

“You don’t understand, the money-”

“Screw the money! I won’t take money gotten at the expense of innocent people’s lives.”

“They’re hardly innocent-”

“I don’t care!” Stephanie’s voice rose in anger. “You don’t really care about me and you never have. You only care about yourself. We are finished. Get out of here and don’t even think about coming back ever. If you do, I will kill you.” Stephanie’s voice grew low and deadly.

“Stephanie...”

“Out!”

Ed backed away into the doorway of the flat next door as a hulking man passed him whose face he didn’t see, the door of Stephanie’s apartment slamming behind him. Ed frowned, worried about how Stephanie would react to him.

Cautiously he opened the door.

“Stephanie?” he said.

Stephanie had been gazing out of the window and turned around sharply. On seeing Ed she didn’t seem hostile.

“Ed.” she said in relief. “How did you get on?” her anger seemed to have evaporated.

“Um, not too sure yet.” he said.

“Your eyes are red. Have you been crying?” Stephanie asked suspiciously, getting closer to get a better view.

“No.” Ed said unconvincingly.

“What happened?"

“Oh, what you’d expect. Lee-Nina did some tests and had me fill out some tests and questionnaires, like she said.”

“Did you get any results?”

“Um, the Doctor said she would get back to me.”

“Good. What upset you, though?”

“What upset you? You don’t seem yourself.”

“Nothing.” Stephanie said innocently.

Nothing? Nothing really upset me too.” Ed said knowingly, not meeting Stephanie’s eyes. “Why don’t you let me make us an early lunch?”

“You don’t have to do that.” Stephanie said.

“No, but I’d like to.” Ed insisted.

Ed made lunch at a leisurely place, with plenty to turn over in his head, worrying about what Nina might do, what his next move should be and the meaning of the argument he’d overheard Stephanie having. Cooking came as second nature to him and his memory of what to do wasn’t impeded at all. He wasn’t entirely sure what Stephanie was doing the entire time, but Quiz climbed on top of one of the kitchen cabinets to watch him with interest. Once he’d put the dish in the oven the cat climbed down for attention.

Stephanie watched from the doorway wearing the expression of a proud mother as Ed played with the cat and eventually Quiz settled down for a nap.

“Are you going to tell me what really happened?” Stephanie eventually asked sitting next to Ed.

“What do you mean?” Ed asked.

“With Nina?”

“Nothing really happened. I was just being stupid.” he said quietly, gently scratching Quiz behind the ears, feeling much calmer about it all.

“How so?”

“It’s like you told Nina; I feel so emotional all the time. The smallest thing is enough to upset me.”

“What was it that upset you?”

“Just this one question I couldn’t seem to answer. It was only a number sequence, work out the next number. It just- I was stuck and I just- just couldn’t.” Ed pressed his lips together before it all got too personal.

“You were frustrated.” Stephanie concluded.

“Yes.”

Stephanie nodded in quiet understanding.

“I know I keep saying this, but it’s okay, you know.” she said softly. “To struggle with mental health. We all experience it at some time or other. You’re not defective. Things are just hard at the moment.”

“If you say it often enough, do you expect me to believe it?”

“I can try.”

“I don’t think you’ve been that open with me earlier. Who was it you were arguing with earlier?” Ed asked turning to Stephanie, looking at her searchingly.

“Let’s just say a family member who has made career choices I don’t approve of.”

“Anything I can do?”

“No. I can handle it.” Stephanie said confidently.

“Okay. I think lunch is ready.”

Chapter Text

After lunch Stephanie went out to ‘work’ whatever that meant and returned in the evening. It was not long after then that a knock came on Stephanie’s door.

“Nina!” Stephanie sounded far too pleased.

“Hello, Stephanie. Is Ed here?” Nina appeared, carrying a slim folder.

“Yes, come in. Shouldn’t you be at Cherry’s?” Stephanie asked.

“I’ve been given a night off."

“Oh, in that case, it’s kind of you to come and see us.”

“Have you come here to gloat?” Ed asked, bluntly.

“No, Ed, I’ve come to talk about the test results you ran away before I could finish and give you.” Nina said patiently.

“So you have?”

“Come on, Ed. You need her help.” Stephanie said. “The least you can do it take it when it’s offered. Sit down Nina. Can I get you anything? Tea? Coffee?”

“Coffee would be good.” Nina said.

“Wonderful. I’ll leave you two to it.”

Ed eyed Nina suspiciously.

“Look, Ed I’m just your doctor here. I’ve decided to put anything that might have happened aside, at least for the time being, because I’ve been through your tests and I’m willing to help you if you’ll let me.” Nina said.

“Thank you, Doctor.” Ed said tonelessly.

“If we’re going to do this, you should call me Nina.” Nina said.

“I have results, if you’re ready to discuss them.”

“Alright.” Ed said, wiping his hands down his legs nervously.

“From what I can tell without a brain scan, not being a neurologist, there’s nothing physically wrong with your brain. Your health in general is good, although you are a little anaemic. It’s nothing rest, exercise and probably a healthy diet containing a few more foods with more iron in them wouldn’t solve. If you don’t mind, I’ll take periodic blood tests to make sure your iron levels are improving and you should get supplements just to make sure it’s from not consuming enough and there aren’t any other causes. The anaemia would explain why you’ve been feeling very tired, been getting exhausted easily and feeling faint and generally feeling weak. Anyway, I can’t find anything physically wrong with you to explain the mental issues you’ve been experiencing.”

“Then what’s wrong with me? There’s something wrong, I know there is.”

“It’s my opinion that the perceived slowed functioning that you’ve talked about is down to trauma. You’ve suffered a lot of traumatic experiences in quick succession without ever any time or the right conditions to properly recover from them. I did a lot of different tests. Now, I don’t specialise in mental health, so there’s only limited value to what I can do for you.”

“Just tell me.”

“Amongst other things I tested for IQ anxiety and depression. Your IQ is well above average, perhaps not as high as you’re used to, but there’s nothing very wrong in that area. I am concerned about your mental health in other ways. From how you answered, you do seem to be suffering from some depression and quite a lot of anxiety. Have you been feeling this way for a while?”

“Yes.” Ed admitted.

“How long?”

“I don’t know. On and off ever since I can remember.” Ed said.

“Have you ever spoken to anyone about this?”

“No, not until now."

“I see.”

Ed stared hand into his hands which were clenched in his lap, not wanting to see Nina’s face.

“Ed, there is something else.” Nina said, quietly. “I did a few other tests. They’re not one-hundred percent reliable or acceptable diagnoses, but I did test for psychopathy and sociopathy.”

Ed stared at Nina in silence.

“I knew it.” Ed whispered. “I knew I shouldn’t have trusted you.”

“Ed, please listen.” Nina said carefully.

“You want to send me back to Arkham don’t you!” Ed shouted, standing up. “I won’t go. I’m not mad. I’m not. I’m not!”

“That is not my intention.” Nina said firmly.

“What’s the matter?” asked Stephanie, appearing at the door.

“I’m attempting to go through Ed’s test results.” Nina explained calmly.

“She said I’m a psychopath!” Ed accused.

“If you would wait for a few seconds, I would have got around to saying I don’t think you are.” Nina said, irritated.

“The last I heard, that’s not even a proper diagnosis.” Stephanie said.

“No,” Nina agreed, “But I was attempting to get a better understanding of Ed’s condition, so I tested for it and related conditions, just to get a better overview of Ed as a person, but this is confidential.”

“Oh, shall I go?” Stephanie asked.

“No. Stay.” Ed said impulsively.

“Alright.”

“As I was saying, Ed.” Nina continued. “I don’t think you’re incapable of empathy... but I do think you struggle with connecting to other people and are prone to interpersonal manipulation, mainly because you struggle recognising personal boundaries. You also seem to struggle taking responsibility for your actions, but that seems to be linked to what I just mentioned and the anxiety I mentioned. I would tentatively suggest you might be on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum, although it’s not my area of expertise so I’d suggest going elsewhere for a formal diagnosis.”

“That would actually make a lot of sense.” Stephanie said reflectively.

“What?” Ed said disbelievingly.

“What’s wrong? It just means your brain works differently from a percentage of the rest of the population. I had wondered about that.”

“So had I.” said Nina, drawing a piece of paper from her folder. “I mean to I noted ‘few close friendships, struggling to empathise, struggling with or forcing eye contact, social awkwardness, special interests, literal interpretations of language, excellent pattern recognition, trouble understanding social cues, difficulty judging personal space, a heightened IQ’. None of these things are bad, they just are and might offer clues as to other areas where you seem to be struggling.”

“Did you tell Nina about... you know?” Stephanie asked quietly.

“What is it?” Nina asked.

“I- I-” Ed stuttered blushing again. “No. I didn’t.” he muttered. “Nina... sometimes I- I hear voices.”

“Voices?” Nina repeated, gently. “Disembodied voices?”

“N-not always.”

“Have you had visual hallucinations, Ed?” she asked quietly.

“Yes.” he mumbled, his hands starting to shake as he stared intently at them.

“I see.” said Nina neutrally. “Might I ask what form these take? What do you see?”

“It’s usually the same person. He yells at me, tells me what to do, or just berates me when I do something stupid. He’s like me but... not. He looks like me, dresses like me, usually, but he’s smarter and more confident and all the things I can’t be, no matter how hard I try.”

“But he yells at you and you still want to be him?” Nina challenged.

“Well, he’s not scared of anyone or anything. Why shouldn’t I want to be like that?” Ed returned.

“He’s cruel.” Stephanie chipped in.

“Steph-” Ed attempted to stop her.

“No, it has to be said.” Stephane insisted. “You know that I heard you arguing with him the other day. You were angry with him. You said you hated him and-” Stephanie broke off. “He’s not better than you.” she said decisively.

“What did he say Ed?” Nina asked.

“He- I was upset because I’d woken up and was scared and I couldn’t stop thinking about what happened to Kristen and Oswald and he was angry.”

“Why?”

“Because I felt guilty. He told me I shouldn’t. That I should get over it and that I shouldn’t trust Stephanie and that... He said she’d betray me or... I’d end up hurting her... like Kristen.” Ed felt his lips wobble and his throat close up, eyes prickling.

“Oh, for god’s sake, pull it together man.” said a sharp voice. The Riddler was leaning on the back of Nina’s chair.

“Ed?” Nina said, glancing behind her. “Is he here now?”

“He- yes.”

“Well, you didn’t expect me to stay away while I let you trash-talk me, did you?” his hallucination asked, “I know what you’re trying to do. You think you can get rid of me. That iceberg really did a number on you, pal.”

Ed glared at him.

“What does he say?” Nina asked, glancing vaguely in the hallucination’s direction.

“Oh, the lady wants to speak to me.” the Riddler preened. “I’m sure she’d like me. Dr Thompkins hasn’t half gotten feisty. I like it. It suits her, don’t you think?”

“Shut up.” Ed mumbled.

“Ah, go on, Eddie. Give me a chance.”

“He- he’s not happy about me speaking with you about him.” Ed told Nina.

“Oh, I don’t mind, but you’re so unflattering.” the Riddler huffed. “No charm. Pathetic. No wonder you can’t keep a woman for five minutes. Or maybe it’s the murdering business, sends them off. You act like you’re the innocent one, like it’s all my fault, but it wasn’t me who stuck a knife in Dougherty or choked Kristen, or put that bullet in Oswald. I bet Stephanie wouldn’t be so cosy with you if she knew all of it. Shame about Oswald. You should have forgiven him. Imagine if you had. We wouldn’t be here in this wreck, with these morons all around. No, we’d be running this city, but no, Eddie’s not gay. God, I wonder what dad would have said about it knowing you were gay on top of everything else and on top of that your only friends have all been queer.”

“I’m not.” Ed mumbled.

“What is he saying?” asked Nina.

“Probably that someone should sort you out.” his hallucination said.

“Be quiet.” Ed muttered.

“That a real man would sort these ladies out too.”

“Shut it!” Ed snapped.

“Did I hit a nerve? Oh, I forgot you’re all protective of the little one." the hallucination pointed to Stephanie. "That’ll do no good. It’s only a matter of time...”

“Leave her alone!”

“Ed!” Stephanie’s voice interrupted and she went to put a hand on Ed’s arm Ed flinched and stood up, backing away.

“If they didn’t think you’re loopy before, they certainly will now.” the hallucination commented.

“Leave me alone!” Ed shouted at the hallucination, losing all restraint, oblivious to the concerned looks both of the women were giving.

“You know I can’t do that. I only want the best for you.” The hallucination said still wearing its infuriating mocking smile. “That’s my job, to get you to do the things you’d normally be too weak to. Still, I’m tired of this.” the hallucination promptly disappeared.

“Ed?” Nina said cautiously. “Are you alright?”

“He’s gone.” Ed said, feeling himself shaking the aftermath of the panic he’d felt.

“Hey,” Stephanie said in a gentle voice, soft like a whisper, but not so quiet. “Sit down. It’s okay.”

Ed slowly forced his legs to bend and step back. He sat down, feeling stiff and puppet-like.

“I am okay.” he said quietly. “I am okay.” he repeated. “Can we carry on? I’d like to get this over with.”

“Can I ask what he had to say?” Nina asked in the same tone Stephanie had used.

“Just the usual. He doesn’t like me being friends with Stephanie. He said I’d...kill her.” Ed choked out.

“And you don’t want to?”

“No, of course not!” Ed spat viciously “I never wanted to kill anyone who didn’t deserve it, but he won’t leave me alone! I’d do anything to be free of him, but I think it’s impossible and even if I did, I’m still an insane criminal, so I’ll end up locked up anyway. He always says he’s protecting me, but everything he does makes everything worse.”

Nina waited until Ed was sat down again and seemed to have calmed down before she posed her next question.

“Is it only him you hallucinate? Is it always the same person?”

“No. I’ve seen Kristen a few times... and Oswald when I thought he was dead. Although, that could have been the drugs.”

“Drugs?"

“Yes. I’m not entirely sure what sort. Methamphetamines, maybe.”

“Have you taken any recently?”

“No. I chucked them in the river. That was before I knew Oswald was alive. I haven’t touched anything like that since.”

“Thank goodness.” Nina said. “Alright, Ed, it seems there is a lot to unpack here.” Nina said, pressing her fingers to her temples. “I can’t possibly treat this. I don’t have any of the knowledge to do this apart from which I don’t see why I should help you after all you’ve done.”

“So," Stephanie interrupted, "you didn’t blame Jervis Tetch for infecting Mario because he was a lunatic and yet Ed,” Stephanie said icily “also suffering from mental health issues you just diagnosed him with, contributing to him to committing crimes, can’t be forgiven for anything? That makes total sense.”

Nina’s expression turned sour.

“Even if you’re right, Stephanie," Nina said, "it’s a lot for me to take on and I’m not entirely sure if these problems are treatable. It will take time for us to sift through all of this and honestly right now I’m too tired and there’s just too much to take in in one go, for me to offer any advice of any use. I take it you won’t go to another doctor?”

“Like who? I can’t afford another doctor. What’s to stop them throwing me straight back into Arkham and I am not going back there.” Ed gave her a fearful look.

“No, I thought not.” said Nina tiredly. “Look, would you be prepared to take some form of counselling?”

“With you?”

“Yes.”

“I’ll try. I’m sick of being...like this.” Ed said, feeling humiliated.

“What about tomorrow morning, the same time as we met this morning?”

“So soon?”

“I think doing something about this is well overdue. I’ll see what I can do then.” said Nina and a small smile graced her face, what seemed to be the first in several years to be directed at him. “Stephanie, Diedre would like you to come over for dinner.”

“I’d like to, but I don’t like leaving Ed.” Stephanie admitted.

“You can come as well, if you like.” Nina suggested to Ed.

“I’d imagine I would be more of an encumbrance than anything else.”

“Nonsense. I’ve thought long and hard about it. Stephanie likes you and that’s good enough for me. Besides, Grundy will be there to protect us and Diedre is more likely to be fascinated than alarmed by you, for which I apologise in advance. You can sit out and have some quiet time, if it’s what you need. Would that be alright?”

Ed watched Nina closely, but she did seem to be being honest.

“I don’t know.” Ed said reluctantly. Small talk and socialising had never been his strong point, but Nina and Stephanie knew this and he’d be around people he knew, and if he stayed in it would only mean Stephanie felt obliged to stay too. “Alright.” he agreed.

Chapter Text

“Jim, why so down in the mouth?” came the purring voice from over Jim’s shoulder.

“Barbara. What are you doing here?” Jim asked.

The bar he was sat in was hardly in line with Barbara’s usual haunts.

“I heard you were electrocuted." Jim said. "Mind, I also heard you were running an illegal weapons dealership.”

“I was, electrocuted. Got knocked out. Had a terrible headache, it did something terrible to my hair, so I had to have it restyled, but it turns out I’m difficult to kill. My business interests are no concern of yours. So here I am, just having a drink, drowning my sorrows and all that. It would be nice to have a drinking partner, though.”

“Forget it.” Jim replied.

“Aw Jim. What’s got you feeling blue?”

“Back off, Barbara.”

“Like that, is it? Hey bartender! Grab the gent another of whatever he’s having and a very large dry martini for me.” Barbara ordered, settling next to Jim and waving her money around. “Now, sweetie,” she addressed Jim, “you sure look like you could use something to loosen you up. You’re all tense.” Barbara said, poking playfully at him. “Why don’t we bitch about our problems together? It’ll be just like old times!”

“My business is none of your concern.” Jim said dully.

“Alright, I’ll start, shall I?” Barbara said, not one to give up so easily. “Tabby is all uptight still and won’t trust me-”

“You did kill Butch.” Jim pointed out.

“She overreacted. She tried to kill me, so we should be square, but no, she’s still all heartbroken over that dumb oaf." Barbara rolled her eyes. "Honestly, I did her a favour. He was only holding her back. All the same... I can’t help but wonder...” Barbara's eyes glazed over, her voice becoming thoughtful.

“What?” Jim asked.

“In spite of everything, I do feel a bit sorry for what happened with Butch. Makes me wonder if I’ve chosen the right path.”

“You don’t mean that.” Jim said.

“What if I did? Still, you wouldn’t believe me anyway.”

Their drinks arrived.

“Fancy telling me what’s bothering you?” Barbara asked. “I must say I’m surprised you’ve let this deal the Mayor made with Penguin slide.”

“Well, if it keeps the innocent citizens safe and holds off a war, it can’t be bad.”

“But you have doubts.” Barbara worked out.

“Of course I don’t trust Penguin. He’s only agreed to this because he knows that he’s now got the GCPD in the palm of his hand, which means he’s got Gotham right where he wants it.”

“You think he’ll abuse his power.”

“I’m afraid, Barbara.” Jim confessed.

“I’d say something comforting, but I’m in no mood for dreaming up pretty lies.” Barbara said before going quiet. “Jim.” Barbara said thoughtfully. “Had you considered looking for another solution?”

“Like what?” Jim asked with hesitation.

“What if you could knock Penguin off his perch? What if you could take control of the gangs and stop them?”

“How? The GCPD has turned its back on Gotham. I seem to be the only one with any misgivings.”

“That’s not true." Barbara argued. "The criminals of this city don’t like Penguin lording it over them. What you need is the help of a gangster, someone with power over the criminals of Gotham, someone, say, who supplied most of their weapons and ammunition?” Barbara gave Jim a meaningful look, and took a sip of her Martini.

“Barbara.” Jim said warningly.

“It was just an idea.” Barbara shrugged. “When I woke up after being electrocuted by Tabby I looked around and what I saw, I didn’t like. People shouldn’t have to live out their lives in fear of the next criminal power struggle. It’s not fair that were all at the mercy of the whims of a few people on the top.”

“Doesn’t stop you making it all possible by supplying weapons.” Jim criticised.

“I do what I have to, to survive.” Barbara argued. “I know we’re not the only ones who aren’t satisfied with the status quo. Change is possible if we get the support we need. Still, there’s no point even discussing is as Saint Jim wouldn’t work with one of the bad guys like me.” Barbara finished dismissively. “Lets talk about something else. Any luck with the ladies after that poor reporter girl? Shame, she seemed bright. I thought she would have made a nice match for you, better than me or Lee, anyway.”

“You’ll actually admit that?” Jim said in surprise.

“I know a nice attractive girl when I see one.”

“No, there’s been nobody. You?”

“Nope. Tabby’s too hung up on Butch, and the rest of the ladies pale in comparison to her and you ruined men for me, so no.”
Barbara watched the lights dance over the lines that seemed to have gathered on Jim’s face over the past few year. She was extremely grateful that the years had been so kind to her as her appearance was still one of her greatest weapons, even if she was a very different woman from who’d given Selina that advice that day.

“Do you ever wonder, Jim...” Barbara began. “About how things might have been different, if we’d made different choices.”
“All the time.” Jim replied. “My life is full of so many regrets.”

“My biggest regret is letting you go the first time ‘round.” Barbara said quietly. “If I hadn’t... still no sense worrying about what might have been. For all we know we could have been right in the middle of a messy divorce by now.” she said with a half-hearted laugh turning away a little, as though feeling foolish. “Here I am, a dangerous and stylish gangster, you goody-two-shoes Saint Jim. It’s going to take a lot of work to make amends for all I’ve done.”

“It’s always possible to change, Barbara. I’m no saint.”

“No, but you’re the people’s hero and the horrible truth is that I’ll never be good enough for you, I never could have been. It’s to late.”

“Barbara.” Jim said, catching Barbara’s forearm. “If you really mean what you’re saying, listen to me. It’s never too late.”
Jim’s wide blue gaze latched onto hers.

“Oh, honey.” she whispered softly. “If only you meant that.”

Barbara pulled away and stood up, Martini in hand.

“I think I’d better go now,” she said, bowing her head regretfully, “before we get a little too caught up in nostalgia. But Jim, think about my offer. I meant it, you know.”

Chapter Text

The dinner Nina and Diedre had to offer was very simple, but not bad at all and the company was most acceptable, even if Ed felt a return of his old shyness at first, still a little shaken from his earlier argument with his hallucination. Nina and Diedre were looking after Grundy who was very affectionate with everyone, although mostly silent, as most of the conversation went right over his head, but Stephanie was very comfortable around anyone.

Ed was surprised to get on very well with Diedre and over time he relaxed around her. She was annoyingly inquisitive and liked teasing everyone, but was also very sharp and gave Ed an interesting insight into Stephanie and Nina and their relationships with one another.

“So, what is Stephanie’s job, exactly?” he asked Diedre, when it was mentioned in passing.

“Hasn’t Stephanie told you? We go around robbing convenience stores of all the cash and as much alcohol as we can and then sell it onto Cherry... and of course nab a few useful groceries.” Diedre said.

“D!” Stephanie said, reproachfully.

“What? Don’t tell me you’ve been keeping it from him. Come, now, Steph, everyone in the Narrows is a criminal. I doubt he’s surprised. Right Ed?”

“I had wondered,” he admitted, “given how you don’t seem to be wanting for anything, in spite of the poverty of the area.”

Later in the evening, Stephanie settled to play snakes and ladders with Grundy and Diedre gravitated towards Edward, practically radiating curiosity with Nina reluctantly in tow.

“So, how did you meet Nina? In her work as a doctor?” Ed asked Diedre.

“No. You’ve heard of Pandora’s Box?”

“The fetish club?”

Diedre nodded.

“Yes. I used to work there. One day I looked across to the bar and there was this stunning, sophisticated woman sat all alone, telling all of the men to back off, knocking back the whisky. I thought I’d try saying hello.”

“It wasn’t one of my best moments. I was a bit drunk.” Nina admitted.

“Nonsense, darling, you were charming.”

“I was messed up after Mario died. It was the first time I was able to stop thinking about him or that mess with Jim, talking to Diedre.” Nina explained with uncharacteristic openness.

“It was just nice to speak with someone who saw me as an intelligent woman rather than a sex object." Diedre said. "I handed my notice in the next day. Speaking to Nina made me realise exactly how fed up I was with my job. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a dominatrix, it was fun enough for a while, but I’d been doing it for so long and it was really boring me.”

“What about Stephanie? How did you meet her?”

“Oh, she fainted in the street and Nina and I were there.” Diedre said airily.

“Nasty flu.” Stephanie explained.

“Yes, and then Steph and I started robbing off licences together and that was that.” Diedre said.

Diedre seemed to notice Nina checking her watch.

“Everything alright Nina? I hope we’re not boring you.” Diedre asked her girlfriend.

“No, it’s just I was hoping to make a few phone calls for work before it gets too late. Would it be rude if I left you all so early?”

“Urgh, work.” Diedre groaned. “She’s just too conscientious.” Diedre complained without any real malice. “You should probably get it done now,” she told Nina, “otherwise you’ll be too tired to do your job properly tomorrow and a regular monster to deal with. Go on, we’re fine.” Diedre said, casting a glance towards Stephanie and Grundy who were still very occupied.

“Alright. Goodnight.” Nina said, kissing Diedre’s temple on her way out.

“So,” said Diedre, turning to Ed once Nina had gone. “It’s my turn to ask questions.” she said with a wolfish grin. “I’ll admit I don’t really get you, Edward. Sweet, good Stephanie likes you, Nina who hated you tolerates you and I’ve heard that Grundy who once tried to kill you thinks you’re his best buddy, and yet I hear your a mass-murdering villain who until not long ago was in bed with the Penguin.”

“Excuse me?”

“Yes, I was being indelicate.” Diedre purred.

Oswald.” Ed repeated, attempting to be incredulous but found himself blushing. Why did he keep blushing all the time?

“Yes. I saw all of the soppy gazing at one another you did. The papers were covered with it.” Diedre said,

“There was nothing!” Ed said, his voice too loud, making Stephanie and Grundy glance in his direction. “There was nothing.” Ed repeated in a whisper. “I don’t know why everyone is so obsessed with me and Oswald. We were never a couple and we never will be. I’ve had girlfriends. I’m not gay.”

Diedre gave an irritated sigh.

“See, I’ve heard that before." she said. "The last man that said that to me also said it while lusting over a man, but didn’t seem capable of realising that not gay is not equal to straight. You realise that it is possible to be attracted more than one gender. Love and attraction don’t care about arbitrary labels or complex human emotions. You should know this, especially as you know Nina.”

“Wait Lee-Nina is...”

“Bisexual.”

“Oh...” Ed said in realisation, his mouth falling open.

“What did you think? She’s dating me. As far as I’m aware, I’m female, yet Nina has been involved with men in the past.”

“Oh...”

“Why does this seem like some kind of revelation for you?” Diedre said with a laugh.

“I don’t know. I just thought that...”

“What exactly? You thought she turned gay?” Diedre scoffed.

“Well, people change. Or maybe it just took her a while to work out what she liked. Or maybe after everything that’s happened she’s gone off men. Or maybe she’s using you to get over her husband.”

“Okay. Those aren’t terrible theories, even if I do resent the last one.” Diedre admitted.

“How was I to know? I’m not close enough to Nina to discuss that kind of thing.”

“Alright. The point is that ‘not gay’ doesn’t mean the same thing as straight. You could have had a hundred girlfriends and not a single boyfriend but that doesn’t mean you’re incapable of being attracted to men." Diedre reasoned. "And there’s no need to be so offended. You’ll annoy people who aren’t gay but aren’t straight either. Nobody likes other people behaving like they don’t exist.”

“Okay. But for the record, there was nothing between Oswald and I and I... don’t know what I am. Oswald used me and he hurt me and killed someone I loved, so if I’m offended by people keeping on asking if we were together, then that’s why.”

“Okay. I’m sorry.” Diedre said, sounding remorseful. “I can’t help being curious, though. You’ve done all sorts of terrible things, by all accounts and yet here you are all soft and shy and Stephanie seems to trust you and Nina’s prepared to overlook you killing her friend and I can’t work out why.”

“I don’t know what they’re thinking. I wouldn’t trust me either and I don’t think Nina really does. I’ve not been feeling right since I got out of that iceberg. I’ve changed and I’m not really feeling the urge to go around killing people and I’m struggling to understand why I did anything I did in the past, so the last person to know who I am is probably me.”

“Ah, now I understand why Nina has accepted you." Diedre said. "I think she sees you going through some of the struggles she has what with embracing her dark side with the Tetch virus, losing someone she loved, being betrayed by someone else she cared about, realising her sexuality, forging a new identity. Yes, it’s making sense now.”

“She still hates me, though.”

“She doesn’t hate you. She just isn’t sure if she can trust you. There is a difference. Still, this is far too much of a deep conversation for this time of night. Let’s go over with the others.”

Chapter Text

“I’m concerned about a case you assigned to Alverez.” Lucius announced, on being admitted to Bullock’s office. “He refuses to investigate it.”

Bullock made a noise of annoyance as he put aside the heavy pile of reports he’d been wading through.

“What? Because the criminal had a licence from Penguin?” he asked, sounding exhausted and impatient.

“No. Because he refuses to solve it at all.” Lucius said, in his usual low, mild tone.

“Why then? What’s the case again?”

“On the edge of the Narrows, a gang leader was suffocated with a rare polymer.” Lucius explained, presenting the case folder to Bullock.

Bullock carelessly flicked through the pages, settling on the victims criminal record and the crime scene photos.

“Ah, I see. It’ll just be some power struggle on our hands amongst a gang. The Narrows is alive with that sort of thing. What’s the trouble?”

“I’m concerned it might be the beginning of a serial killer’s spree.”

“Why’s that?”

“Someone left a calling card on the body, see.” Lucius reached across the desk and turned to the card which Bullock read frowning. “What did Alverez make of this?”

“He said it didn’t mean anything, that people carry around all sorts of rubbish. He said he’d closed the case.”

“Well, case closed then.” Bullock said, uncaringly.

Lucius stared at Bullock disbelievingly.

“You can’t be serious. The killer hasn’t been caught.” he objected.

“Look, I appreciate that you mean well, but the last thing we need is to go interfering in The Narrows. That place is filled with bloodthirsty crazies. You can’t run an investigation down there. No one will talk with the police, the evidence will all have been messed up. There’s too much crime for us to tell which bits are relevant to our investigating. I’m telling you it’s pointless.”

“A man is dead.” Lucius sad severely.

“A gangster is dead, one who’s gang will have been in the middle of some power struggle. Maybe this bloke was just really into trivia quizzes." Bullock shrugged. "I don’t know and I don’t care. Fine, if you want to go sniffing around I can’t stop you, but it’s a waste of time and I’m not risking my life going down to the Narrows. Right now, I’m too busy dealing with Gordon and trying to stop him from rubbing Penguin up the wrong way not to mention all of this.” he said, gesturing to the papers surrounding him. “It’s up to you what you do about it, but I’m not putting any of this city’s best detectives a risk down there and the ones that aren’t so great will tell you the same as I have. You do what you think is best, but leave me out of it.”

“Fine, I will.” Lucius said.

 

 -------------------

 

Ed’s conversation with Diedre had made re-think a lot of things deeply. Finding out about the truth of Nina’s sexuality and discussing it had unearthed some feelings he wasn’t entirely sure what to do that with. The fact that people, even as far removed as Diedre had assumed that he and Oswald were together, and it could no longer be explained away by Oswald’s apparently obvious feelings being noticed. Diedre had clearly thought Ed not only reciprocated, but had been in an established relationship with Oswald. There was also the teasing from Ed’s hallucination earlier in the day, before anything had been mentioned.

Ed remembered too well the hallucinations of Oswald he’d had when drugged, in particular Oswald’s seductive dance number. Ed had assumed it was an effect of the drugs, but it begged the question; why had Ed’s subconscious chosen to feed him that? It could have been Ed’s brain latching onto Oswald’s feelings for him and just mocking him with them, but that didn’t explain why it had made Ed hot under the collar. That was without mentioning all of the times during their friendship Ed had felt a connection between them that he hadn’t dared to term more than friendship. That included the time sat by the fire after Oswald had saved him from being strangled by Butch that he’d been convinced Oswald was going to kiss him.

His feelings for men weren’t limited to Oswald, either, when he thought about it. When Jim Gordon had first joined the GCPD Ed had had a kind of fixation on him that, in retrospect, could only be defined as a crush. He remembered too well how Jim giving him the slightest hint of praise had made him go gooey inside. There was also Lucius Fox whose intelligence and manner made him intensely attractive – as an opponent. It couldn’t be denied that he held a kind of calm, collectedness, quiet understanding and an elegance of character that made Ed wish he could have had the chance to spend a lot more time around him. At the time, it had never occurred to Ed that any of these things feelings might be sexual attraction, but now it made so much sense.

Had Ed failed to notice anything because he was determined not to? Whenever he caught himself veering into less-than-platonic thoughts about men, he’d always forcibly reminded himself that he was attracted to women, and therefore couldn’t possibly be gay. As Diedre had pointed out, this logic was faulty and given all of the bisexual people he’d come across since arriving in Gotham, he really should have realised this long before now. Although, his father had been intensely homophobic, which would explain why he had been so purposefully blind to his own feelings.

“You’re very quiet. Is everything alright?” Stephanie interrupted his thoughts, with a cup of morning coffee.

“I’m fine. I was just thinking about something Diedre said to me.” Ed said distantly.

“How did you find Diedre? She didn’t annoy you too much, did she?” Stephanie, asked.

“No. She’s very intelligent. I like her.”

“Oh, I’m pleased to hear that. You’re worried about seeing Nina, aren’t you?” Stephanie said.

“No.”

“Yes, you are, and it’s okay.” Stephanie said with an encouraging smile.

“Alright I am. I don’t want to see him again.” Ed admitted. “ My hallucination, I mean. But I think I’ll be alright. I feel better this morning. My head feels a bit clearer.”

“Good. Remember, I’ll be right here when you get back.” Stephanie said.

“Don’t stay in on my account.”

“Why not? There are some books I want to read, anyway.” Stephanie said. “You should get going soon. Will you be alright?”

“I’ll be fine. I’m not a baby.”

“I know.” Stephanie said, teasingly ruffling his hair and giggling at his expression. “Travel safely.” she said.

 

--------------------------

 

“Make yourself comfortable, there’s a lot to discuss.” Nina said, once she let him in.

She look very tired, but her lack of staring at him and the fact that she sat closer than she had in a while made Ed think Nina was growing a little more comfortable. It was as though something in their encounter the previous day had broken the barrier between them.

“I’ve had to do a lot of research to reach any conclusions.” Nina said, her tone, quiet and calm, rather than the quick abruptness of their previous encounters that seemed to symbolise tenseness. “That’s where I went yesterday evening. I was on the phone to a friend of mine from medical college. Don’t worry, I didn’t mention you, specifically. We talked about your symptoms and he agreed that it was likely that my diagnosis of high-functioning autism might have some truth in it, but recommended seeing a specialist in that area.” she continued, absorbed in professionalism.

Ed found he was having to put more effort into concentrating than normal.

“From what I can tell,” Nina continued, “you’re managing that side of things pretty well, but I think other things have amplified it. It’s all very complicated. I would suggest that you’re suffering from schizophrenia as well, which has been responsible for your most recent problems. People with schizophrenia are rarely violent, unless they perceive themselves to be in a threatening situation. Your symptoms don’t tally with Dissociative Identity Disorder particularly, although I’d considered it at first. You know, where a person has significantly separate alters, or personalities as they used to be known. Although, alters within a DID system can suffer from schizophrenia. DID has been chronically misrepresented by the media, but people just don’t have ‘evil’ alters, although something called persecutors do exist, but they persecute the person with DID almost exclusively, they don’t go around killing people, not like the Riddler. Also, the said alters tend to be distinctly different from one another and you’ve described the Riddler as being a reflection of you, of someone stronger, more confident, but aggressive, but retaining many of your key traits. That doesn’t sound like an alter. Alters have different personalities, voices, accents and likes and dislikes in all manner of things for example, foods, music, clothes, they might even have different sexualities or genders from one another. When you speak of the Riddler forcing you to do things, you speak about your hallucination, yes?"

"Ed nodded."

"People with DID don’t tend to hallucinate because of DID. It can be a symptom of comorbid disorders, additional disorders though. Although, those with DID themselves will usually have a world inside of their heads with multiple alters with different functions, but it doesn’t usually extend to projecting hallucinations into the outside world, unless an alter is also suffering with say schizophrenia or PTSD. I remember you saying that there were periods of time where you couldn’t remember where you’d been and assumed the Riddler had been in control?” Nina verified.

Ed nodded silently, hanging onto her words.

“I can’t be sure," Nina continued, "as the brain is a difficult thing, but I’m of the opinion that you’ve been blocking out memories that you find traumatic. So you were consciously aware during certain occurrences, but your mind has made the memories of them mostly inaccessible to keep you safe from them, as it were. It's called an amnesiac wall. That’s only a theory, though.” Nina said with an exhausted sigh.

“It does make some sense, though.” Ed admitted hesitantly. “For example, I don’t remember disposing of Kristen’s body at all. I just remember her being dead and then after that it’s blank and I just woke up with my hallucination standing over me. There are other similar things like that that I can’t remember doing, but was told by others or my hallucination about what hapened afterwards, especially, as you say, surrounding traumatic experiences.” Ed said slowly, finding it very strange discussing all of his problems so clinically.

“Well, schizophrenia sounds more like what you’re experiencing, to me, although, as I said before, people with schizophrenia aren’t usually violent or dangerous, but then, everyone’s experience is different.”

“Sometimes, when I... hurt people...” Ed began, feeling his hands begin to shake, in nervousness, expecting Nina’s façade of composure to break at any moment and for her to blame him, “I don’t feel like myself.”

When no angry tirade began and Nina only waited, Ed continued.

“I don’t mean that a separate identity takes control, exactly, but my emotions are a bit uncontrollable and in between I go between finding them too much and not being able to judge my actions and feeling numb and everything is a bit surreal and when I surface from it, it’s like looking back on something someone else did.”

Nina nodded, listening raptly, seeming more fascinated than angry.

“That’s not entirely out of line with some of the symptoms,” she said slowly, “although, of course, you don’t need to have all of them. What do you think makes you more likely to have hallucinations, or your other symptoms worsening.”

“Traumatic experiences.” Ed said. “When I killed Dougherty, when Kristen died, when I was scared Jim had found me out and it brought memories back, when I thought I’d...killed Oswald. When I woke up at Stephanie’s and panicked, because it reminded me of that crazy woman who got me out of the ice. My hallucinations were around a lot at those times.”

“Hmm.” Nina said. “Would you say things have got significantly worse recently?”

“Yes, but since I’ve got to know Stephanie things haven’t been so bad, but then I don’t feel unsafe around her.”

“So, that’s when you get hallucinations most? When you feel unsafe?”

“Yes, I think so. Or when I’m worried about someone I care about getting hurt or having been hurt.”

“I see. More recently, am I right in thinking you’ve been struggling with being able to express thoughts and feelings, thoughts have been disorganised, you’ve been struggling with recall of facts and things like that?”

“Yes, definitely. It’s never been as bad as this before. Why is this happening to me?”

“I can’t give a definitive answer. It’s unclear what causes schizophrenia, but there are some theories to hereditary links, but nothing concrete.”

“What can I do to fix it?” Ed asked.

“It’s more a question of managing it, Ed. You’re not a machine with a faulty part that can be replaced. You’re a person.”

“Yes, but what can I do?"

“The two most common ways to manage it are individual therapy, and medication, most commonly antipsychotic medication.Do you know what that does?"

“Yes. They control symptoms by affecting the brain neurotransmitter dopamine.”

“Yes. Another option would be hospitalisation- not Arkham, but I somehow get the impression you won’t consider that.”

“I’m not giving myself up, so don’t even ask.” Ed said with certainty.

“My advice would be to save up as much money as possible to see a specialist and get advice that way, but in the meantime, I’ll do what I can in terms to trauma counselling.” Nina said, irresistibly reminding herself of her conversation with Barbara Kean and the trauma counselling that had gone so horrendously wrong, hoping fervently there wouldn’t be a repeat performance. At least Ed had sought her out, genuinely wanting help, rather than having to be forced into it.

“That’s all?” Ed whined.

“You’re not offering me a lot of choice. I can’t offer you medication, because there isn’t any about around here, you’d be too much at risk leaving The Narrows, you probably can’t afford it and I don’t honestly trust you to take it, not to mention monitor the potential side affects. Some things can only be solved with perseverance and looking after yourself.”

“That’s not enough.” Ed told her, angrily.

“There’s nothing else I can do, Ed.” Nina said apologetically. “Look, I know there’s a lot to take in. Here are some notes I took and I noted down some recommended reading material, if you want to know more about he various conditions we’ve mentioned, the causes, treatments and people’s experiences. I’d recommend you start by reading up on it all. We’ll meet again tomorrow and see where you are. How about it?”

“Alright.”

Chapter Text

 Every person Lucius had spoken to had told him that, if he wanted answers about The Narrows, he should go to Cherry’s.

“She’s in charge.” several of the police officers, who were unwillingly on the beat down there, had told him.

So it was that Lucius found himself that afternoon in the oppressive confines of the dark and poorly-kept club, filled with people who eyed his neat suit with mistrust. He’d purposefully chosen his shabbiest for this mission, but even the old suit made him stand out amongst the people who ranged from looking thoroughly ragged to having exceedingly exotic outfits, both sorts worn with pride.

Lucius had asked who was in charge of several people, but no answers had been fourth coming, so he hovered uncertainly in the crowd.

“Lucius?” a feminine voice came from behind him.

Lucius turned, to see an elegant woman.

“Lee.” he said, pleasantly surprised.

Although the two of them had never been close, Lucius liked Lee and they had worked seamlessly together. Lee’s new-found sense of style suited her and there was a confidence about her posture that hadn’t been there before, even if she seemed a little tired.

“It’s good to see you. I hope you’re well.” he said.

“I am, thank you.” she said with a comfortable smile. “I must say, I’m surprised to see you down here.”

“I’m investigating.”

“Oh, can I help?”

“I hope so.”

“Well, then sit down, have a drink.”

“I shouldn’t.”

“Nonsense.” Lee said, signalling the bar tender with familiarity.

She lead him over to a corner table, where she could survey the room but it was more quiet.

"Now, what's the case?" Lee asked.

“Have you heard anything about a Michael Russo, locally known as Rusty head of a gang?” Lucius asked.

Lee thought for a moment.

“Hmm. I’ve met him. Why? Are you looking for him? Isn’t that the detectives’ jobs?”

“I’ll explain, if you tell me what you know first.” Lucius offered.

“I know very little." Lee admitted. "He was the leader of a gang that robs jewellers, mainly. They tend to stick to the edge of The Narrows, but members would bring their families to see me sometimes. I didn’t know him at all well. He’d passed through Cherry’s a few times and got thrown out for starting one fight or another.”

“He turned up dead." Lucius explained. "He was suffocated with a relatively rare polymer. Alvarez was assigned the case and decided that it was just some struggle in the ranks of the gang not worth investigating, untraceable, like most of the crime that goes on in The Narrows. I went to Bullock and he said the same. I spoke to Gordon about it, but he’s been too busy worrying about pax penguina and dealing with high profile bank robberies to be of any help and he put it down to the Narrows being dangerous.”

“What is it about the crime that makes you think it was worth investigating?” Lee asked, taking a sip of her newly arrived drink and Lucius ignored his, too focussed on Lee.

“Someone left a note pinned to the body.” he said.

Lucius handed a photo of the evidence to Lee. She frowned at the printed card.

“’Which profession had its origins in ancient Greece and Rome known as iuris consulti after the time of Claudius?’” she read aloud. “What’s the answer?”

“The legal profession.” Lucius answered. “Does it mean anything to you?”

“No, I can’t say that it does.” she answered. “There aren’t many lawyers around here as everyone is too poor and most people choose to solve their disputes with their fists. Does it have any relevance to the victim’s history, his family, maybe?”

“Not that I’ve been able to find, which is why I’m making enquiries.”

“I see. I’m sorry I can’t help. I does make me think, though-” Lee broke off thoughtfully. “I know it seems more like a clue than a riddle, but this seems like the kind of thing that Ed would do.”

“Edward Nygma? He’s not been seen since he disappeared out of that block of ice.” Lucius said.

“I’ve seen him. Quite recently, in fact.”

Lucius blinked.

“In here?”

“Several times, this morning, in fact. I’ve persuaded him to get counselling." Lee explained. "A friend of mine found him unconscious and brought him in for some medical attention. Apparently he tried to rob a pharmacist’s and got stabbed in the hand and then she got worried that he’d suffered brain damage. Only, please don’t mention it at the GCPD. I don’t want Penguin getting to hear for everyone’s safety around here and I don’t want Jim or Harvey sniffing round under any circumstances, either. I came here to leave all of that behind. I’m under a new identity too, Doctor Nina Damfino, actually.”

“No, of course.” Lucius reassured her, hurriedly. “Do you know where I might be able to find him?”

“Yes, but I don’t want my friend dragged into all of this. She’s a kind, bright girl and it’s bad enough that she insists on sheltering someone so dangerous, without bringing her into a murder enquiry and possibly putting her at even more risk, or risk having Penguin come after Ed and kill Stephanie if she tries to get in the way, which she will. She’s grown attached to Ed, although God knows why.”

“All of what I’m doing isn’t strictly on the books, as I’m not a police officer so I don’t have any real authority, so you don’t need to worry. It’ll be kept quiet.” Lucius said.

“Of course.” Lee looked relieved. She frowned and swirled her liquor around in her glass, frowning and Lucius got the impression that she was going to say something. “I should warn you Ed’s been rather... odd, recently.” Lee admitted.

“How so?” he asked, in concern, remembering Ed’s last violent existential crisis and hoping that didn’t happen again.

“Of course, you never knew Ed back when he worked for the GCPD, but I expect you’ll have heard that he was very different to The Ridder.” she leaned forward, inviting Lucius into her confidence. “He was always so shy and awkward, always apologising and stumbling over his words, eager to please, still fiercely intelligent, though, so I tried to encourage him with his strengths as much as possible. Whenever I said he’d done something well, he always seemed so surprised. He seems to have reverted to being more like that, but even less trusting, if possible. At the same time, he’s latched onto us, that is Stephanie, my girlfriend and I so suddenly and is really clingy. I can’t tell if he’s behaving like it on purpose to get us all to trust him, so he can strike when we’re least expecting it, or whether it’s genuine, or whether it was ever genuine. I’m concerned about him getting too attached to Stephanie, especially after what happened to Kristen. He and Kristen seemed to be getting on so well when she disappeared. I was so convinced that what he felt for her was genuine. He’s not in love with Stephanie or anything, I’m fairly sure. At least, I hope not, as she’s very young for him, but I got the impression they share more of a bond like siblings, but I can’t help but worry.”

“But he trusts Stephanie?” Lucius questioned.

“Very much so. I’d appreciate a second opinion from someone outside as to what’s going on with him.”

“Of course. Given his history, I think it’s wise to be cautious. I’d imagine, whether he’ll accept it or not, he’s in a vulnerable situation, with mental issues, being new around here and Penguin tearing apart the city looking for him. It’s such a shame. All that’s happened to him, I mean. I think I would have liked to have known Ed at the GCPD. I’ve looked through his records – the ones that he made when he was working there - in detail and from what I can tell he was a very intelligent and meticulous forensic scientist. It’s a tragedy that he never got to work under better circumstances than Gotham has to offer. I’ve always felt that if only he’d accept help in one form or another, from someone who genuinely believed he could change, there would be no limits to what he could do.”

“You won’t make him believe that, you know.”

“I can try. Apparently nobody else has even done as much as that.”

“He’s hard to read, hard to get even slightly close to, but I fancy you might be just the man for the job." Lee said. "I think he’s at a bit of a crossroads personally. I think, I hope that he wants to change from the path he’s chosen and be a different person. We need to be careful in steering him away from the abyss. You’re on his level, though, intellectually. I’d imagine you’ll have more success than I will, and even though he likes Stephanie, I think he intends to keep her more or less in the dark about his past, so she’s not in possession of all of the facts and that puts her in danger. There’s a lot to be worried about.”

“I’ll do what I can. Thank you for your help, Doctor.”

“It was my pleasure.”

“I hope I’ll see you again soon. If you need me, ask for The Doc here. I’d suggest you talk to Cherry, as she more or less runs The Narrows and this club, but she probably won’t be cooperative.”

“I’ll try, anyway. Good day, Doctor.”

Chapter Text

Cherry, as Lee had predicted, was extremely unhelpful and wouldn’t even admit (even though Lucius was sure she was lying) to knowing Michael Russo, so Lucius made his way to the address Lee had given him.

It was a run down block of flats, which looked marginally safer and better-maintained than the rest of the Narrows. It was a young woman who opened the door, with a pale face and a riot of bright red curls which had been tamed into braids, hanging either side of her face.

“Miss Brown?” he asked.

“Who’s asking?” she said, her tone careful, but not accusatory, not what Lucius had been expecting.

Most people in the Narrows either looked downtrodden and tired, or restless and on edge. This girl was neither. She eyed him with open curiosity, not hostility, probably taking in his neat attire. She had a liveliness about her that seemed to have been eroded away in most of her neighbours.

“Lucius Fox, from the GCPD.” he said, offering identification.

At this, she opened the door slightly and leaned casually against the doorframe. She was petite and relatively slim and dressed in worn clothes that Lucius suspected were neat second-hand or third-hand vintage.

“Ah, I’ve heard of you.” she smiled, unexpectedly. “You’re the forensics expert.”

Lucius blinked, wondering if Ed had mentioned him, or else how she knew that.

“I was told I could find Edward Nygma here.” he explained.

“I don’t think you have authority to arrest him.”

“No, I just want to speak with him.” Lucius said with a smile.

“I’ll see if he’ll see you. Step in. Would you mind waiting?”

“Of course not.”

Lucius stepped into her neat, yet pokey, sitting room and sat down, looking about him. In one corner was a bookshelf overflowing with books with yellowed pages, but the rest of the room was empty but for basic furniture and a cat’s scratching post. The place was spotlessly clean, and the paintwork unmarred, although the upholstery of the furniture was very faded.

“Foxy.” Ed’s voice was excited and the speed with which he approached Lucius across the room Lucius was convinced for a second that Ed was going to grab at him.

Stephanie hovered in the doorway, watching Ed with an amused expression.

“Mr Nygma.” Lucius said.

Ed looked tired, but clean and healthy, which were good signs, and seemed calm and docile. Lucius wondered what his happiness meant and remembered Lee’s warning.

“To what do I owe the unexpected pleasure?” Ed said, beaming.

“Murder, I’m afraid.”

“How delicious. An interesting one, I hope.” Ed said, lacking some of his usual flair and the girl who had showed Lucius in rolled her eyes in exasperation, before crossing the room with a duster in her hand and began dusting the bookshelf, clearly not prepared to allow a visitor to interrupt her household routine. Or perhaps she just wanted to eavesdrop on the conversation.

“A man by the name of Michael Russo,” Lucius continued as though she wasn’t there “locally known as Rusty, head of a gang that robs jewellers on the edge of The Narrows was suffocated with a relatively rare polymer.”

There was a crash as Stephanie knocked into the bookshelf she’d been dusting. Her expression fell into alarm, but with in a flash it was gone.

“Oh, I’m sorry. I’ll leave you two to it.” she muttered, hurrying out.

“Sit down.” Ed invited, apparently oblivious, and they both settled on the sofa. “I don’t know what I can do to help.” he said, leaning towards Lucius a little, looking eager.

“I wondered if you might have known something about it.”

Ed paused for thought.

“No.” he shook his head after a moment. “I don’t recognise the name and, from what I hear, murder is very much a part of everyday life in The Narrows, especially amongst the gangs.”

“What about this?” Lucius asked, passing Ed the card with the clue on it.

“’Which profession had its origins in ancient Greece and Rome known as iuris consulti after the time of Claudius?’” Ed frowned “Iuris consulti’ – isn’t that referring to a lawyer?”

Lucius smiled when Ed solved it immediately.

“Yes. The legal profession is the answer." Lucius agreed. "Does it mean anything to you?”

“No, I can’t say that it does.” Ed shook his head again. “Why?” he asked leaning further towards Lucius, face filled with curiosity.

“I met with Dr Thompkins and she suggested you might know something about it.”

“She suggested I might have done it, you mean.” Ed said sounding more resigned to the fact, rather than angry with Lee. “Well, I didn’t and I don’t know anything about it.” he said shrugging. “It’s not really my style, either. This is more of a quiz clue than a riddle. A bit boring. Anyway, I’ve promised Stephanie and The Good Doctor that I’ll stay out of trouble and I don’t want to be sent to prison or Arkham, so I’ve been making an effort. Killing people just seems very unattractive at the moment.” the last sentence was said quietly, like an embarrassing confession and he flinched, and Lucius got the impression he immediately regretted saying it.

“How have you been?” Lucius asked softly.

Ed glanced up at him, seeming confused at the question, but when Lucius continued waiting for an answer, realised he was genuinely concerned.

“Fine.” Ed said.

Lucius watched him frowning. Ed cringed slightly under his gaze.

“Alright, not so great, but I’m working on it.” Ed admitted defensively.

“Well, let me know if there’s anything I can do to help... as long as it’s not in any way involved in a plan to injure or kill anyone.”

“What about theft?” Ed asked, his voice suddenly sharp and bright.

In spite of himself, Lucius laughed. Ed watched him, looking bemused, but eventually laughed too.

“Seriously, though, thanks for the offer.” Ed said, ducking his head in shyness. “I think you’re one of the only people who’s ever offered me help and actually meant it, up until recently.” his voice fell into a whisper. “The number of people who have done that can be counted on one hand.”

Logically, Lucius knew that Ed was a dangerous killer, but when he behaved like this it was hard to believe it. Lucius heart swelled a little in sympathy.

“I do mean it, you know.” Lucius said. “I know you’re a clever person and I think it would be a shame to waste that on thoughtless violence and revenge plots.”

“So do I.” Ed said, unexpectedly. “I mean, recently, I’ve been thinking about things and I’ve reached that conclusion too. The person I’ve become... I don’t like him. I’m having second thoughts. I only wish there was a way out.”

“There’s always a way out if you look hard enough.”

“You’re clever, Foxy, and wise and kind. I only wish I’d met you before... before...” Ed trailed off, his eyes focussing on something over Lucius shoulder. Lucius looked around, but didn’t see anything.

“Ed?” Lucius said, but Ed didn’t seem to notice.

Ed’s expression was troubled.

“Ed?” Lucius repeated and Ed shook himself.

“Sorry.” Ed said.

“Are you alright?”

“Right as rain.” Ed said briskly, with a thoroughly unconvincing smile. “Don’t let me keep you, Mr Fox.” he said in the same artificially bright voice, a clear dismissal.

Lucius stood up slowly, wondering what had caused Ed’s sudden change in demeanour.

“Yes, I should be at the GCPD.”

“Don’t let them overwork you, you’ll get no thanks for it.” Ed said, quickly, not seeming to have put much thought into the words, his uncomfortable smile still in place.

“Thank you for the advice.” Lucius said drily. “It’s been good to see you Ed,” Lucius said, meaningfully, “but if anyone asks me, I will deny it.”

Ed smiled, looking a little proud and more sincere.

“If you need to, please contact me.” Lucius said, handing Ed a card with his number.

“I will do.” Ed said. “Goodbye, Mr Fox.” he said, seeing Lucius to the door.

Lucius was half-way down the corridor when he heard a shout.

“Foxy!” Ed had rushed after him.

“Is something wrong?” Lucius asked.

“No.” Ed said, stopping in front of Lucius and fidgeting, wringing his hands, seeming nervous. “I... I- I did wonder... I wondered if maybe... maybe. It would be nice if we could talk for longer, sometime. Maybe.” Ed suggested, blushing.

“Alright.” Lucius said. “Call me.”

“Really?” Ed seemed shocked.

“Really. I look forward to it.” Lucius offered a smile before backing way and trying not to enjoy the beaming smile Ed gave too much. It seemed that he’d have something to discuss with Lee.

Chapter Text

“Barbara.” came the Penguin’s voice from the doorway, where he stood, framed by his henchmen.

Tabby stood at Barbara’s side, hand on the gun at her hip, taking up a confrontational stance and weighing up their opponents.

“I don’t recall inviting you here.” Barbara said in a faux polite tone, putting down her pen and turning over her papers, but not bothering to get up from her seat.

“You have some explaining to do.” Penguin said brightly, with one of his most dangerous false smiles. “I’ve heard a whisper that you’ve been meeting with the mayor? Care to elaborate?”

“You really should find better gossips to get your rumours from. Even if I have been meeting with the mayor, I don’t see that it’s any of your business.” Barbara replied coldly.

“I disagree.” Penguin said with a humourless laugh. “You see, if I thought you were conspiring against me, I might have to take action... such as removing your head.”

“That’s not why I’ve been seeing the mayor.” Barbara replied.

“Then, what is the reason?”

Barbara glanced down at the table top.

“You won’t believe me.” she said.

“Victor!” Penguin signalled Zsasz who advanced towards Tabitha with a knife in his hand.

“Alright! Alright!” Barbara said, raising her hands. “I’ve been helping to raise funds for an orphanage that is being in the process of being kitted-out.”

Penguin began to chuckle before falling into full-blown laughter.

Seriously? You expect me to believe that?” Penguin said.

“I can’t help it if you don’t believe me, but it’s the truth. Ask the mayor, or the association running the orphanage, or the other benefactors, or the carers. They’ll tell you. I’ve been quite heavily involved in it.” Barbara said seriously.

The Penguin stated into her face, searching for evidence of dishonesty. Apparently finding none, he frowned suspiciously.

“An orphanage? But why?”

“Because it’s the least I can do for the poor kids all alone in this hell-hole. That’s why!” Barbara said, irritably. “So go off and do your research before storming in here. Don’t you have more important things to do? Your people are supposed to be looking after this city.” Barbara criticised.

“Oh, I will check your ludicrous story and when we return it will be with an axe, rest assured.” The Penguin said.

Goodbye, Oswald.” Barbara said, picking up her pen again.

“An orphanage?” Tabitha said incredulously, once Penguin had left.

“Yup.” Barbara said uncaringly, not looking up from her paperwork.

“An orphanage.” Tabitha repeated disbelievingly.

“That’s what I said. Is your hearing alright?” Barbara asked rhetorically.

“But, Barbara. You hate children.”

“I don’t hate them, exactly. I took in Kitty-Cat didn’t I?”

“Selina is nearly an adult.” Tabitha objected.

Barbara sighed impatiently.

“Look, Tabby, I know that diplomacy and complex plots aren’t your strengths, but trust me, it’s all part of a larger plan.”

“Wait, you were serious? A plan? Like what?” Tabitha asked suspiciously.

“Don’t you trust me?” Barbara said, looking at Tabby with puppy-dog eyes.

“No.” Tabitha replied bluntly.

“Fine.” Barbara said in irritation. “Helping to fund this orphanage is all part of a plan to make Penguin and Jim think I’ve gone soft and therefore am no threat and gain the support of the people of Gotham all at once.”

Tabitha watched Barbara unblinkingly.

“I’m not convinced.” Tabitha said.

“Think about it. Penguin will hear that I’m getting chummy with the mayor and panic, thinking that I’m planning a revolt, but when he finds out my real intentions of planning to help an orphanage, he’ll assume that the electrocution has made me go soft and think I’ve given up on my desire to rule Gotham. Then, he’ll leave us alone and let us do what we please. When Jim hears about it, he’ll believe I have reformed and take my offer to help him go against the Penguin seriously, then we will be able to unify the gangs we supply weapons and ammunition to and the officers of the GCPD, and have the perfect army to take down Penguin. Then, once again, we will be on top. We can dispose of Jim and – voila!” Barbara clicked her fingers. “We rule Gotham and can rebuild it. So, are you with me or not?”

“It can’t be that simple.” Tabitha said dubiously.

“Don’t worry, I have contingency plans, but in the meantime, I need you to support me to do this. Trust me, Tabby.”

“Why? After all we’ve done to hurt each other, why do need me? Why are you offering to share this?”

“Because I love you, Tabby, whether the feeling is returned or not.” Barbara said simply. “I want you to be by my side, if that’s what you want.”

“And if I say I’m not interested?” Tabitha challenged.

Barbara shrugged and smiled sadly.

“I'll just have to manage without you, won't I? It’s your choice.”

“I’ll think about it.” Tabitha said, before walking out.

Barbara waited until she Tabby’s footsteps had faded into the distance, before reaching for the phone and dialling.

“Lazlo? It’s time.” Barbara said.

 

------------------------------------------------------------

 

“How are you today, Ed?” Nina asked when they had settled for their arranged counselling session in Nina’s office.

“Not too bad.” Ed admitted, honestly.

The chat with Lucius and the feeling of being needed had put him in a good mood, even if Stephanie had been a little withdrawn.

“So a bit better?” Nina asked.

“I suppose.” Ed said.

“Good.” Nina said, fiddling with one of her cuffs.

“Aren’t you going to mention that you sent Lucius Fox to me yesterday?” Ed asked, suspecting this was the reason for what seemed to be nervousness.

“He told you it was me?” Nina said sounding slightly guilty.

“Yes.” Ed answered.

“I thought you might have been able to help him.” Nina said, brushing a strand of hair behind her ear.

“I don’t think I could. I didn’t know anything of use. He’s bright enough to figure things out on his own, anyway. I was pleased to see him, though.”

“You were?” Nina asked.

“He’s nice.” Ed said simply.

“You’re not angry?” Nina asked.

“About the fact that you thought might have been the one to kill the gangster?” Ed asked. He thought about it for a moment, but found no particular feelings of malice towards Nina. “No. It’s not an entirely unlikely conclusion to reach, even if the crime didn’t really have my signature.”

“Why aren’t you angry?” Nina asked, seeming genuinely curious about the answer.

“I don’t see a reason to be.” Ed shrugged. “I guess I’m a bit annoyed that you betrayed my trust by letting a member of the GCPD know my whereabouts, but I suppose you thought you were doing the right thing and I don’t think he’ll tell anyone.” Ed reflected.

Ed looked at Nina.

“Why are you smiling?” he asked, noticing the slight curve of her lips.

“Nothing, just I think we’re making some progress. You’re getting to trust people.”

“I suppose, although logically I know that’s a foolish thing to do.”

“Why do you say that?” Nina followed up the question promptly.

“People all turn on you eventually.” Ed said.

“That’s not true of all people... and if you don’t ever put your trust in anyone you’ll be always alone.” Nina pointed out, not seeming to be criticising.

“It’s true of all the ones I’ve known.” Ed said sadly. “Never mind that. What are we supposed to be talking about today?”

“Did you read any of the literature I suggested?”

“Yes, all of it.” Ed answered.

“Oh, that’s good.” Nina said happily. “What did you think?”

“That psychology is very wishy-washy and inexact at times and exceedingly accurate at others.”

Nina smiled indulgently at this response.

“I meant of your experiences in relation to the material.” she explained.

“Oh, I think you’re right about the schizophrenia. It sounds very difficult to treat though.”

“It’s hard work, but not impossible.”

“Well, I hope not. There is one strange thing, though. A lot of the studies said they felt it was hereditary.”

“That’s not conclusive, you know.”

“I know and I’m not convinced mine is, or at least, I don’t know of anyone in my family suffering problems like I did.”

“We talked before about how you suffer more hallucinations when you’ve experienced trauma. Did you think any more about that?” Nina asked.

“I thought about it and I’m more convinced that it’s true. I don’t know if it’s possible, but maybe that’s what started all of this.”

“You say you’ve experienced hallucinations on and off for as long as you can remember. Was there some event that you can link the beginning of this with in your mind?”

Ed felt his insides tighten at the question and the words lodged in his throat like shards of glass.

“Ed? Are you alright?” Nina asked, gently.

“I don’t think- I don’t think I can talk about this.” Ed choked out.

“Why not?” Nina asked quietly.

“I don’t talk with people about the it.”

“What you need is to stop running from something that can bring a smile to you face, a tear your eye, a thought to your mind. What am I?” Nina said.

“The past.”

“Sometimes there are big clues in our pasts, our developing years, our early childhoods, even, that define what our minds become.”

“I know that. But I don’t talk about it.”

“Why not?” Nina repeated, in the same gentle, understanding voice, that didn’t make him feel pressured to answer, but at the same time demanded it.

“You won’t believe me.” he whispered.

“Why do you think that?”

“Nobody ever does and if they did... they’d-”

“What? What would they do?”

“They’d laugh or say I was weak, or I’d get into trouble.” he mumbled sounding strangely childlike.

“Ed, how far back are we talking about, if you feel alright answering that?”

“When I was a child.”

“I see.” Nina said calmly. “Can you tell me anything about these things that happened when you were a child?”

“I don’t think I can.”

“I need to get some idea of what I’m working with it, but we can make this a bit easier. Can I ask questions with simple answers, like options? Would that help?”

“Maybe.” Ed said.

“The events you found traumatic; where they one or two events, occasional or frequent?” Nina asked, her voice low and even.

“Frequent.”

“The trauma, was it psychological, physical, or a combination of both?”

“Both.”

“Did you witness distressing things... or was whatever it was distressing to you directly, or both?”

“Both.”

“Alright. Was this as a result of circumstances... or was this trauma inflicted by another person.”

“Mainly... the second one.”

“Was this a singular person or multiple people?”

“Mainly one person, sometimes multiple people.”

“Was this one person an adult?”

“Yes.”

Nina paused to take a breath and Ed took a steadying breath.

“Were they a parent or guardian?”

“My father.”

“Thank you, Ed.” Nina said quietly. “Where did this occur, in private or in public?”

“In private.”

“You mentioned physical trauma. If you’re able, can you tell me what form this took?”

“He hit me. That’s all.” Ed ground out.

“Was that rare?”

“No.”

“Occasional?”

“No.”

“Regular?”

“Yes.” he forced the word out, his eyes starting to burn.

“Thank you, Ed. Thank you for sharing this with me. Ed, I know this is hard for you.” Nina said.

Ed reached under his glasses to press against his eyes, attempting to force his feelings back down his throat.

“I feel stupid.” Ed spat. “It was so long ago. I shouldn’t be this upset.”

“We all have things that happened a long time ago that affect us until the day we die. It’s only normal.” Nina said, leaning forward in sympathy.

“Yes, but I’m supposed to be stronger than this.”

“How many people have you talked to about this, Ed?”

“Nobody. Not like this.”

“You’ve been hiding this, fighting this on your own for a long time and functioning surprisingly well under the circumstances. You are strong, Ed. I know it will take a lot to convince you of that, but it’s true. We’ve pieced together a lot today. Would you like a cup of coffee?”

“Coffee?” Ed said, as though the word were foreign to him.

“Yes.”

“Don’t you want further details?”

“No. Not today. This has all been draining for you – and me, for that matter. We need a break.”

“Really?”

“Yes. Although, I think it’s time we talked about what you want out of this arrangement.”

“What I want?”

“Yes. Just what you want us to be working towards.” Nina said. “Nothing to worry about. You have a think and I’ll get coffee. I’ll be right back.”

While Nina was gone, Ed took some deep breaths and found his head was mercifully silent. He gave a relieved giggle into the empty room, before shifting in his seat and making himself more comfortable and thinking as Nina had suggested.

“Here we are.” Nina said, returning with the two cups. “Are you alright Ed?” she asked, quickly.

“Yes, I’m alright actually. I feel a bit lighter.”

“Good.” Nina smiled at him. “So, did you have a think while I was gone?” she asked, taking a sip of her coffee.

“Yes. I think I know-”

“Wait, I’d like to write this down.” Nina said “Let me get a pen and paper. Okay. Fire away.”

“Well, obviously I’d like to stop having so many hallucinations.”

“Yes.” Nina nodded, scribbling.

“It would be good to stop feeling like I’m going to cry every five minutes.”

“Yes.”

“I’d like to grow to be more independent. You know, not have to rely on Stephanie for everything.”

“Yes. Anything else?”

“I can’t think of anything at the moment.”

“May I suggest something? I think it would be good if you could have more stable relationships with both parties being equal, not one using the other, with trustworthy people.”

“Alright, yes.”

“Good. You’ve done really well today, Ed.”

“It doesn’t feel like it.”

“Nobody said it was easy. We’ve got through a lot and not a single appearance from The Riddler am I right?”

“Yes, that’s true.” Ed said, brightening slightly.

Chapter Text

“Dr Damfino?”

“Lucius? Is that you?” Nina’s voice asked over the phone.

“Yes.”

“How did you get on with Ed?”

“It’s hard to say. He was cooperative, but he said he didn’t know anything about the Russo, or the clue although he solved it right away. Honestly, I think he’s telling the truth.” Lucius said.

“What about your opinion on his state of mind?”

“He’s certainly troubled.” Lucius said thoughtfully. “He seemed genuinely pleased to see me and eager to help. He’s much better than the last time I saw him. I saw what you meant about the lacking confidence. I did get worried when he completely phased-out when I was speaking to him, like he was listening to something only he could hear, but he seemed to have lid on things. Afterwards he came after me and wanted me to come back another time.”

“Do you think you will?”

“I think so. I think we should keep an eye on him. Something’s definitely wrong, but I’d like to hope we can stop him regressing.”

“So would I.”

“There’s something else, Nina.”

“What is it?”

“I wondered what you know about the girl Ed is staying with. Stephanie...?”

“Stephanie Brown. She’s a private person, I can’t say I know all that much about her. I’ve always though that she seems like a nice girl. Why?”

“She seemed very jumpy when I mentioned Russo and his cause of death. It made me wonder if she knew something.”

“It’s possible. Everyone in The Narrows has one connection to the gangs or another. I know that she has a very strained relationship with her father, because she doesn’t approve of his criminal career, but I don’t know the details. It’s a very touchy subject with her. Maybe you should ask her directly.”

“I might just do that. Thanks Nina.”

“Thank you, Lucius.”

 

-----------------------------------------------------

 

“Jim.” Barbara said abruptly.

She pushed past him. She walked over to the half-collapsed sofa and settled herself down on it. On the coffee table was a half-full bottle of whisky and a glass in a similar state. She looked up and took in Jim’s crumpled and creased shirt and scruffy hair.

“What do you want Barbara? I’m not up to chatting with you right now.” Jim said tiredly slowly making his way across to her side, not sitting down, clearly hoping to make her feel unwelcome.

“I know.” Barbara said gently. “I heard what happened. With the police officers. I know Harvey was harmed. I’m sorry. I know how much the comradeship of the GCPD matters to you.”

Jim slowly sat down and poured himself another glass of whisky.

“Well, it’s my fault, what happened.” he said swirling the spirit in the glass and watching it slip back into place.

“What about the man who killed the police officers? Wasn’t he responsible?” Barbara suggested.

“We should have been faster.”

Barbara turned to face Jim better.

“There was nothing you could have done, Jim.” she told him.

“Maybe you’re right.” Jim said. “It has made one thing perfectly clear to me. Penguin needs to be taken down.”

“Why? Surely Penguin didn’t issue a licence to that bastard.” Barbara said.

“No, but he only attacked the cops who were upholding the Pax Penguina, acting as Cobblepot’s bagmen. He seems to want to purge the GCPD of corruption. He can’t be the only one feeling that way.”

“It’s motivated you to want to take Penguin down?” Barbara confirmed.

“Legalising crime was never going to work. I should never have supported it.” Jim said, slamming his glass down on the table.

“What are you going to do?” Barbara asked in whisper.

“I don’t know where to start.”

“Maybe you should look for people who feel the same way.” she suggested.

“Barbara...” Jim looked Barbara in the eye “Is your offer still open?”

“Oh, you trust me now?” Barbara scoffed.

“Barbara, I heard about the orphanage. The one you’re helping to fund.” Jim said.

Barbara looked away in apparent embarrassment.

“What can I say? I’ve changed.” Barbara murmured her head ducked.

“It’s a good thing you’re doing.” Jim said.

“I hope so.” she said with uncharacteristic modesty. “It seems such a shame. All of those children’s potential being squandered, before they’ve even begun their lives. They deserve better. Perhaps if as children we’d all been given better chances there wouldn’t be so much greed, pain and suffering, corruption and destruction in Gotham.”

“I think you may be right.”

Barbara looked at Jim in apparent surprise.

“So you’ll accept my help?” she said, blue eyes wide and innocent.

Jim bowed his head for a second, as though steeling himself before looking back at her.

“Yes, I will.” he said, it sounding like a vow.

“Do you have a plan?” Barbara asked.

“Well, the first thing to do is to stop the GCPD from recognising Penguin’s licences.”

“I can call together the heads of the gangs I supply to and persuade them to unite against Penguin, if you like.” Barbara suggested.

“I want to be there when you do that.” Jim said.

“Sure, why not? How about we arrange this tomorrow morning? You look like you could use a night off.”

“I can’t-”

“Jim.” Barbara interrupted. “It’s obvious that you’re tired and upset. What you need is time to relax a little and then you’ll be able to think better tomorrow and make a better plan. C’mon, take off that jacket and loosen that tie.” Barbara said, reaching over to do it herself.

“I don’t need-” Jim began to protest.

“Don’t be silly.” Barbara interrupted briskly, nimble fingers completing the job. “Let someone else look after you for a change. There.” she said, in satisfaction. “Now. Pour a girl a drink, will ya, or I’ll think you’ve forgotten how to be a gentleman.”

Jim went in search of a glass and did as bidden. Barbara admired the glass of amber liquid for a second before raising it in a toast.

“To the future of Gotham.” she said. “Here’s hoping we can raise it from the mire.”

Jim looked at her uncertainly before knocking his glass against hers and they sipped their respective drinks.

“Mmm. Good liquor, Jim, I’m impressed.” Barbara commented in a would-be-light-hearted fashion.

“Um... thanks.”

“Well, I did operate a club. I do know about these things.” she said.

“Of course you do.” Jim said distantly.

Barbara tutted softly.

“Don’t look so glum.” she purred. “We’re on the brink of a new era. There’s lots to hope for.”

“There’s a lot to regret.”

“Poor Jim.” Barbara whispered, caressing Jim’s sleeve.

Jim turned his head away, pulling loose of Barbara’s touch.

“I think you should go, Barbara.”

“No one knows what it’s like to be him, to carry the weight.”

“Go, Barbara.”

“You shouldn’t be alone tonight.” Barbara said, lifting Jim’s chin gently with her hand.

“Barbara-“

“Jim. Shhh.” Barbara said, leaning forward to kiss him.

Chapter Text

“Ed, hi! Are you okay?” Stephanie asked when Ed got back.

“Yes, I’m fine.”

“How did the counselling go?” asked Stephanie perching on the chair opposite to him.

“Fine.”

“You’re not just saying that to get rid of me?”

“No, really. I talked about some difficult things, but it was fine, really.”

“Good.” Stephanie smiled. “I’m so pleased for you.”

“Is Nina good as a counsellor then? Do you think she’s the right one for you, for the time being?”

“Yes.”

“Good.” Stephanie said.

“Stephanie, there is something we need to talk about, though.”

“Why? Is something wrong?” Stephanie said, looking worried.

“No, nothing’s wrong. I just want to discuss something. Do you have a while to talk?”

“Yes. I don’t need to go out until after lunch. I promised I’d help Nina and D deliver some medication and D and I were going to do our next job.”

“Alright. I can’t help but feel that I’ve been a bit of a burden on you-” Ed began.

“No, no, Ed. I like having you around. Didn’t I say so? I should have done.”

“I know, but I would like some of my independence back.”

“You’re not talking about moving out, are you? Where will you go?” Stephanie asked, full of concern.

“No, but I do feel that I should be earning some money and contributing to your expenses, then you wouldn’t have to risk so many stealing things or things of such high value, or at all.”

“Oh.” Stephanie said in relief. “That would be good, now that you mention it. I assume you have a plan.”

“Yes, but I don’t know what you’ll make of it.” Ed said. “I think it’s time The Riddler was resurrected.” he said, watching Stephanie intently.

Ed lowered his voice and leaned forward conspiratorially.

“I know you’re a fan.” he said.

Stephanie’s eyes immediately widened, clearly caught out.

“What do you mean?” Stephanie asked, mistrustfully. “I liked the puzzles and riddles, yeah,” she admitted. “but I’m not so into the whole kidnapping and murdering bit.”

“Nobody will be murdered.”

“Or tortured, or caused any permanent harm.” Stephanie put in anxiously.

“Alright, alright.” Ed up his hands in surrender. “None of that. But I thought; what if I could steal fewer things of high value and sell them on for twice their value?” Ed suggested, his enthusiasm infecting his tone. “The only thing is, I would need help.”

Stephanie frowned calculatingly and chewed her lip for a second.

“I’m listening.” she said eventually.

 

---------------------------------------------------------

 

“What are we doing here?” asked Nina sounding bored as she crossed her arms and leaned against the wall. It was a large, mainly empty, basement room, with junk in some places, that seemed something like a disused studio with a kind of stage at one end.

“Search me.” Diedre said, delicately sifting through a box of ragged fabric, as though expecting it to explode, before moving on to finding a stable box which she brushed the dust off of with one of the rags she’d been searching through and sat down.

“Nina! D!” Stephanie said excitedly emerging from a back room, with Ed trailing in her wake.

“About time!” said Diedre. “Why d’you bring us to a dump like this? This isn’t my idea of a night out.”

Stephanie practically skipped towards them, her enthusiasm palpable.

“Between us, we’ve come up with an idea which could benefit you. Your clinic needs money and we know how to get some.” Stephanie said.

“Out of here?” Diedre said, peering around the room as though expecting to see treasure peeking out from the debris.

“In a manner of speaking.” Stephanie said. “This place, as you can see, has been abandoned a while and, as you will notice, it’s nice and close to Nina’s clinic. We’ve checked and the owner is in Blackgate, half-way through a ten year sentence, so nobody presently has claim over this.”

“Great, so what?” said Diedre.

“You know how many people come to The Narrows searching for fences, cat burglars etc. In other words, to get high value artefacts stolen for them.” Ed said.

“We thought,” Stephanie picked things up, “it would be good if we started stealing the said valuable artefacts and auctioned them off, but with a twist.”

“Instead of simply getting them to bid,” Ed continued “in order to participate, they all have to put in a contribution to the price of half of the worth of the artefact. Then one of the collectors is chosen at random and has to answer a series of riddles. If they get a majority of them right, they get the artefact and the entrance fees get paid to your clinic.”

“And if they fail?” Nina asked, eyeing Ed with suspicion.

“Well,” said Stephanie, “Several more bloodthirsty options were discussed, but, in the end, we decided that the collector would have to pay the other half of the price and we sell the object at full price elsewhere, so we get twice the money. Then we just have to locate an object for the following week.”

“Where do we get such objects from?” Nina asked.

“We steal them.” Ed answered.

“Are you serious?” Nina asked.

“Perfectly. That’s why we needed your approval. You made me promise not to put Stephanie at risk, but I could use an accomplice or two. If I can’t take her with me...”

“You’re asking me to help you to steal from the rich of Gotham.” Nina said, disbelievingly.

“Yes.” Ed replied simply. “I thought you had some sort of Robin Hood deal going on here, Doc. This shouldn’t be a problem for you.”

“You’re asking me to put myself at risk?”

“Well I think it’s a wonderful idea; count me in.” said Diedre with excitement.

“Whoa!” Nina put up her hands. “Stop right there. You can’t be serious. You can’t ask me to send my girlfriend into danger like that.”

“I shall do what I please.” Diedre said, affronted. “We live in The Narrows, Nina. We’re in no more danger robbing a house than we are here. Stephanie and I already rob convenience stores, this is the next logical step. I would have thought, like Ed said, you would revel in getting to put people with more money than sense in their places and giving back to the people who really need it. Come to think of it, the people of the Narrows would probably love to come and jeer at the idiots being fleeced by our people. How do we get word ‘round to collectors, though?”

“That’s where you come in, D.” Stephanie said. “From your days at Pandora’s Box you know all of the people that matter in Gotham and their business and have connections to people who could find out where to find them. I know you’ve got friends who routinely provided that kind of underground information and spread it about.”

“Sure, I could do that.” Diedre said.

“We’ll also need to recruit trustworthy people from The Narrows to guard the place.” Ed reminded Stephanie. “I trust your judgement there, Nina.”

“We could use Grundy.” Diedre suggested. “He may not be clever, but he’s loyal and brawny. What do you say, honey?” Diedre asked Nina.

“I’m not happy.” Nina said. “I can see a lot of problems.”

“Like what?” Stephanie asked.

“Well, how’s this going to work? The collectors won’t want to put their money upfront if they can’t be sure they’re getting the genuine article.”

“Ed’s thought of that.” Stephanie said.

“We allow them to view the item in a display case.” Ed explained. “It’s having been stolen will probably be big news, so they’ll have no reason to doubt it. They can bring people to authenticate it, whatever, and they can check it a second time when we collect the money.”

“Right, but how can we be sure they won’t attempt to steal it when it’s being viewed? Also, if they know it’s in a display case, they’ll be able to burgle us.”

“No. We get your trustworthy Narrows guards to pat them down for weapons before they view it. After it’s been viewed, we move it to a secret safe location.”

“But how can we know it’s safe in transit?”

“We vary the time we move it, so it’s unpredictable and take lots of guards for the journey and make sure the location is well-guarded. We put it in a safe only Stephanie and I know the combination to.”

“Why can’t we know the combination?”

Ed stepped forward to look Nina in the eye.

“Because I don’t trust the two of you not to run off with the valuable item.” Ed told her smiling darkly.

“Fair enough.” Diedre said smiling playfully and Nina’s mouth contorted as though tasting something sour.

“And when they hand over the money?” Nina asked sharply.

“We arrange a location beforehand.”

“And we take guards there?”

“Exactly.”

“I’m still not happy.”

“Tell you what, we’ll give you time to think about it, discuss it and come back tomorrow,” Stephanie suggested, “only we’ll have to move quickly or someone will take our spot from us. Abandoned spots don’t stay abandoned very long around here.”

Chapter Text

“Miss Brown?”

“Mr Fox. I’m afraid Ed isn’t here at the moment. He’s gone to see a Doctor.”

“Actually, it’s you I’m here to see.”

The girl raised her eyebrows and smiled.

“Ah, come in then.” she said. “Do you want anything? A drink?” she asked once they’d sat down.

“No, I’m alright.”

“How can I help you then?” she asked with such scripted ease Lucius got the impression she already knew.

“You remember I came to see Ed about a murder, of a gangster?”

“Yes?” Miss Brown said, her eyes wide and innocent.

Lucius watched Stephanie Brown, wondering why Ed had chosen to befriend her or why she’d chosen to take him in. She was well-read apparently and somehow better off than her neighbours. She was strangely out of place. She must be clever, as the Edward Nygma Lucius knew didn’t suffer anyone less intelligent than him gladly. None of that explained what an independent young woman with a lot of potential and no apparent ties to the area was doing in the poorest and most dead-end part of Gotham. Most people left The Narrows as soon as possible. Apart from Nina’s situation, it was seen as a last resort for the desperate.

“I couldn’t help but notice that you seemed upset when I told Ed about the victim and cause of death.” Lucius said.

“Did I?” she said.

“Yes. I wondered why that was.”

“Well, murder isn’t a nice thing, is it?” she said, glancing away from him.

“With respect, you do live in The Narrows. Murder isn’t a rare occurrence.” Lucius pointed out in as mild a tone as possible. “I’m investigating this as discreetly as possible, as I’m not a police officer, so you don’t need to worry about trusting me. If you know something about the murder, you could be at risk yourself, if someone finds out. The sooner we catch this killer the better.”

“I’d just heard of Michael Russo. My father has been in and out of trouble ever since I can remember and I think he mentioned him once or twice.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know. I wasn’t paying attention. We were having a bit of an argument. We don’t get on.”

“Is that all?”

“Yes, that’s all, I’m afraid.”

“I see. There was one other thing. What exactly is your relationship to Mr Nygma?”

The girl blinked and her face changed as she looked Lucius over, clearly inspecting him in disquieting detail.

“I’m not sure what you mean.” she tilted her head to the side smiling coyly. “We’re friends, if that’s what you’re asking. We’re sticking together because he doesn’t have anywhere else to go and in this area I need to make use of all the help I can get to stay alive. People tend to back off, as they know I’ve got the Riddler by my side. Why?”

“So, are you particularly... attached to him?” Lucius asked cautiously.

Attached? What do you mean? Why do you need to know?” she asked looking intrigued.

“Given his criminal history, I want to understand what I’m dealing with here.” Lucius replied with what he hoped was neutral professionalism.

“You mean you’re worried about him corrupting me, or you’re worried about me taking advantage of him while he is in a vulnerable situation, is that it?” she asked with bright directness.

“Yes, both I suppose.”

“In that case, yeah, I like him and I’d like him to stick around. I suppose I am attached in some way.” she shrugged. “If you’re worried about me being attracted to him, don’t worry, I’m not.” she said with an easy confidence that made Lucius want to believe her. “No offence to him, but he’s really not my type. I don’t want anything from him other than for him to stay out of trouble and soon start earning his keep. Does that answer satisfy you?”

“Yes, thank you, Miss Brown.” Lucius said graciously, standing up. “Please, don’t let me keep you.”

“Not at all. And Mr Fox...” Stephanie added. “If you’re looking to fix Ed, there’s no way he’ll let you if he thinks that’s what you’re trying to do. What Ed really needs is a friend, on the same level of the same intelligence, who accepts him, flaws and all. If you want to help him, you should think about that.”

“I’ll bear it in mind. Goodbye.” he said with a slight bow.

 

--------------------------------------------

 

Ed’s next counselling session was, if possible, more agonising than the previous one and went longer than planned for. Nina had chosen the heavy topic of unravelling the triggers of Ed’s hallucinations. This inevitably lead to questions Ed wasn’t entirely sure if he was ready to answer, but he was too eager to make progress and reasoned that telling Nina as much as possible now would get her to trust him and mean he wouldn’t have to spend any longer being eaten up by his anxiety at Nina’s response, if he got it all over in one go.

“When did The Riddler start persuading you to kill people?” Nina had asked, interrupting Ed’s tirade of annoyance about how his hallucination seemed intent on ruining everything good that had ever happened to Ed.

She said it so unexpectedly, so bluntly, in a way that Ed saw as accusatory, that immediately his temper flared.

“You don’t know what it’s like being terrified of your own mind,” he snapped, “feeling like you’re in danger constantly, but never being able to escape it! Being afraid of going to sleep because you don’t know what you’ll do, or what you might forget having done! Not being able to get close to anyone, because you know you’ll only end up losing them forever! You don’t know what that’s like!”

“You’re right, I don’t.” Nina said quietly. “But I would like to understand, to see if I could help you get past all of this.”

A silence followed pulled Ed down like the air around him had grown weighty. Without being aware of it he hunched his shoulders and curled in on himself slightly.

“It’s more complicated than him getting me to kill people.” he said, slowly.

When he didn’t elaborate Nina spoke.

“Could you explain that?” she said, her voice incongruously bland in the tense atmosphere.

Ed frowned, wondering how to wrap up his thoughts in a way that Nina could understand and sympathise with.

“I didn’t ever make the conscious decision to murder anyone, at least at first.” he began cautiously. “The first few people were accidental...sort of. The Riddler doesn’t usually tell me to kill people, but he’ll manipulate me into a situation where I don’t have a choice. Telling me to kill someone is a newer thing.”

“Where you don’t have a choice?” Nina queried.

“He backs me into a dangerous situation, or one where my freedom is at stake and I can’t see any other options. I’ve only ever killed people who’ve hurt me first, apart from when The Riddler talked me into becoming him.” Ed said, feeling slightly nauseous wondering why he’d ever thought following The Riddler’s instructions would end well for him.

“Could you explain that?”

“I never meant to kill Officer Dougherty or Miss Kringle.”

“Forgive me, Ed, but how do you stab or choke someone by accident?”

“Well, I won’t ever pretend I’m sorry Dougherty is dead, but it was an accident, in a way. He’d been abusing Kristen, so I told him to stop, but he said he’d treat her how he liked, that she needed a ‘firm hand’. I don’t like men who talk about women like that. You shouldn’t hit people you care about.” Ed said angrily.

“So you killed him?”

“No, it wasn’t like that.” Ed objected. “I waited outside Kristen’s house where I knew he would be. I thought I could convince him to leave town, leave her alone. I don’t know what I was thinking I could do, but I was determined to persuade him to leave Kristen alone. When I told him to leave, he punched me in the stomach and was about to again, but I managed to get my pocket knife out of my pocket and stab him... but after then I couldn’t seem to stop somehow.” Ed clenched his hands together hoping to stop them from shaking.

“And Kristen?” Nina asked, as though afraid of the answer.

“That really was an accident. You don’t know what I’d give for her to be alive and well. Everything was going so well, but I had to ruin it.” Ed said in frustration, pressing against his temples for a second, to regulate his breathing and try to approach the memories more objectively. “She was worried Dougherty would come after her. Apparently he’d said he’d killer her if he caught her with another man and she was worried about herself and me, so I told her she didn’t have to worry. I couldn’t keep it in any more. I told her about Dougherty assaulting me and that he was dead, that I’d killed him. At first, she thought I was joking, but I showed her his badge and she realised I was telling the truth. That’s when things started to go wrong.”

“So because you’d told her, you had to kill her?” Nina asked, not keeping the accusation out of her voice.

“No! It was an accident.” Ed said vehemently before seeming to deflate, his face falling into distress. “She was upset and then angry. She wanted to leave me and I had to stop her. She kept shouting at me and saying I deserved to go to prison and bad things should happen to me and that I was a sicko and psycho. I only wanted her to stop shouting and screaming and listen and stay. I wanted to explain that I killed him to keep her safe, to let her know she was safe. I promised her I wouldn’t hurt her, that I loved her and I meant it.” Ed said earnestly, fighting to keep his emotions down.

“What happened Ed?”

“She tried to run but I wanted her to listen, so I tried to stop her, but she hit me over the head with a glass and when I got up she was screaming.” Ed couldn’t quite hold in a sniffle. “I just wanted her to stop, for it all to stop, so I put my hand over her mouth, to make her listen. When she stopped struggling, I thought she’d just stared listening!” Ed’s voice rose in panic. “I didn’t know, I swear I didn’t know! I didn’t realise I’d... put my hand on her throat. It was an accident.” he finished, the words turned into mumbles by his vain effort to keep from crying.

“Oh, oh, God.” whispered Nina, putting a hand over her mouth and bowing her head in distress.

Ed turned away from Nina, unable to hold back ugly sobs. The grief and remorse he’d initially felt when he’d realised Kristen was dead had burst its dam in a tidal wave. Meanwhile Nina shed a few silent tears for Kristen and, even though she wouldn’t yet admit it to herself for Ed, while she searched the room for some tissues. She handed a few to Ed, once he’d quietened down a little.

“I’m sorry.” he mumbled under his breath. “About Kristen, I mean.” he said glancing up to Nina. “I am sorry.”

“I know you are.” Nina said tiredly. “I won’t say I forgive you, because I can’t, but I no longer blame you. You weren’t entirely in control. Thank you for sharing what happened with me.”

“Thank you, Nina.” Ed whispered. “Could we carry on?”

“Wait, are you sure?” Nina said, in surprise.

“Yes, I want to get a few things over with.”

“Are you sure? We can take a break.”

“No, I want to. There are some other things I’d like to explain.”

“If you’re sure.”

“The point is after that, most of the people I killed were just threatening me in some way. Not that I think that excuses any of it but... I don’t kill people for fun. There’s always a reason, even if now I realise almost all of the reasons weren’t justifiable. I want you to know that I meant what I said before; about never intending to hurt you by framing Jim. As far as I saw it he was a threat to me, I was convinced he’d find me out and lock me up and I knew he wasn’t blameless. I knew that he framed Oswald for a murder he committed. So as far as I saw it back then, it was justice and to some extent, I still believe it's wrong that he keeps quite literally getting away with murder without having to face any consequences. I thought he should have inflicted on him what he did to another person.”

“Ed, forgive me, but I’ve never fully understood your relationship to the Penguin. If I could ask, how did that come about?”

“Oh, I found him in the woods and he was injured and helpless, so I nursed him back to help. I thought he could be useful to me on my new path as a criminal. We stuck together and helped each other out. He was my best friend. I trusted him.”

“Why did you try to kill him? It seemed as though you were where you wanted to be.”

“I felt I had to. He killed the woman I loved because he was jealous.”

“Who?”

“Isabella Flynn. She was wonderful. She was clever and loved books, although her favourites were a bit strange. She was a librarian. She liked romances ending in tragedy; Romeo and Juliet, Othello and Desdemona. She loved riddles too. She was sweet and we got on so well straight away, even though I only knew her for a few days. The funny thing was she looked exactly like Kristen, except she had blonde hair and preferred dark clothes, but otherwise she was almost identical, she even had the same glasses.”

“She did?” Nina said suspiciously, but Ed, too caught up in memories, didn’t notice.

“Yes. I was worried about hurting or killing her. I broke up with her because of it, but she wouldn’t allow it and she proved I needn’t have worried.”

“How?” asked Nina, sharply.

“She dressed up as Kristen, and she was right, I didn’t hurt her.”

“Whoa, whoa! Hold it. Hold it right there! Did you just say she dressed up as your dead girlfriend; the one you killed?”

“Yes.”

“Right. I want to know exactly what happened, omitting no detail.” Nina specified.

“Well, I went to see her in the evening, like she’d asked, and she said she wouldn’t break up with me. She wasn’t ready to see me yet, and when she came out, she was dressed exactly like Kristen. Her hair was the same colour and she was wearing the same glasses and style of clothes. She said she’d looked out old newspapers.”

“And what did you do?”

“I tried to leave, but she grabbed me and dragged me back and insisted I look at her, but I didn’t want to, so she slapped me and forced me to look at her.”

Nina’s mouth fell open, but she didn’t interrupt.

“I couldn’t move. She put my hand on her throat, but I didn’t want to and she said my name like she was choking and I panicked, but I didn’t hurt her.”

“What happened next?” asked Nina in a tone full of fascinated horror, which Ed seemed completely unaware of.

“I kissed her.” Ed said simply.

“And?”

“We made love, then she had to go to a conference. It was the last time I saw her.” Ed added mournfully.

Nina gawped at him, opening and closing her mouth for several seconds.

“I- What-? Don’t you...? What the hell, Ed?”

“What’s wrong?”

“What’s wrong? I hardly know where to start.” Nina said, massaging her temples and fighting the urge to get out her hip flask. “Jesus. Jee-eesus! Holy hell!”

“I don’t understand.”

“You don’t-?” Nina broke off. “Okay. Okay.” she said taking a deep breath. “Don’t you see anything wrong with what she did?”

“Wrong? She helped me face my fear. She proved we could have been happy.”

“Oh, Ed.” Nina said, her face filled with pity. “I can’t believe she did that to you.”

“She didn’t hurt me. What she did was right.”

“No, it wasn’t, Ed!” Nina snapped. “There was everything wrong with what she did, can’t you see that?”

Ed met her eyes with a blank expression.

“Right, let’s start at the beginning.” Nina said, crossing her legs and smoothing the wrinkles out of her trousers, becoming business-like. “Firstly, didn’t it strike you as strange that you just happened to run into someone who looks exactly like Kristen but with exactly your personality?”

“We all have a double.”

“And yet, of all of the places in the world she could have been, she just happened to be in Gotham, happened to meet you, of all people, just happened to like riddles like you do and books, and has a job that essentially consists of filing just like Kristen, looks exactly like Kristen and has the same sense of style. How likely is it? Did none of this strike you as a little strange?”

“I... I don’t know. I suppose I thought fate was giving me a second chance with someone like Kristen.”

“Ed, nothing so good is real and Isabella was far from good for you.”

“Why not?”

“Ed, I’m going to give you some advice and I don’t want you to take offense, but I need you to listen to me, for your sake. Isabella was not good for you. She treated you despicably- no, hear me and listen. Dressing up as Kristen was the cruellest and most stupid thing she could possibly have done. Clearly she had no sense of self-preservation whatsoever. What if her plan had gone wrong? What if you’d killed her?”

“But I didn’t. I loved her.”

“She didn’t know you well enough to tell what you might have done. She’d known you for days, for Christ’s sake!” Nina got up and started pacing, without thinking about it. “What’s more, she assaulted you, not to mention how questionable your consent for kissing or sex was under the circumstances.”

“She was just getting me to stay. It was only one slap.”

“One slap is one too many slaps. Not only that, she didn’t allow you to leave the relationship when, for reasons that were very valid, you tried to leave it. She grabbed you, forcing you to stay, hit you and forced you to relive one of the most, possibly the most traumatic memory of your life. Forcing someone to relive their trauma without their express consent is never okay. There are no excuses for it. You never do that to somebody else. It’s the height of cruelty. You especially never do that to someone you profess to love. It’s utterly disgusting.” Nina said passionately. “In fact, a relationship founded on that kind of behaviour is downright abusive.”

“It wasn’t like that-”

“Then what was it like, Ed? If you heard about a man treating a woman in the way Isabella treated you what would you have said? Earlier you said you shouldn't hit people you care about.”

“I...” Ed broke off, having been backed into a corner. “Oh...” he said sadly. “Isabella was a good person, though. She was kind and gentle and forgiving for the rest of the time.”

“Ed, I appreciate that you took to her and it’s not hard to see why, but you only knew her for a few days. That’s not long enough to be able to judge someone’s character accurately. Abusive people are still capable of being kind and gentle and forgiving a lot of the time. That’s why they get away with it.”

“She put herself at risk because she loved me.”

“She did an incredibly stupid thing. Didn’t you mention she had a certain fondness for love stories full of stupid people ending in tragedy? Surely that should have been a warning sign.”

“What do you know? What do you mean by picking Isabella apart like this?"

“I’m just saying, you seem to have been pushing all of this back for some time, without ever confronting it. Your relationships with Kristen and Isabella are linked too closely. You don’t seem to have ever given yourself the chance to properly grieve Kristen and process all of the things that happened as a result of that things properly and I would say that Isabella’s appearance didn’t help, let alone her behaviour.”

“You’re right." Ed admitted. "I hallucinated Kristen. She said I’d kill Isabella and taunted me with it. I was too busy trying to control the damage done by Dougherty and Kristen’s deaths to come to terms with anything that happened and everything just kept escalating out of control. It’s only now that I’ve really realised, started to feel what I know I should have felt back then.”

“What’s that? What you should have felt?”

“Sadness, regret, remorse, pain. I don’t know. I didn’t let myself feel any of that. Like you said, I just piled it up and pushed it aside tried to push through it, because I was too worried about surviving to stop and think properly about things, let myself feel anything.”

“Had you considered that maybe that’s why you’re so emotional now?”

“Is that your theory?”

“It’s one theory. I wondered what you thought.”

“It would make sense.”

“Ed, what do you know about post-traumatic stress disorder?”

“That it’s caused by trauma. It often consists of flashbacks. Its not one of my areas of expertise.”

“Yes, well it can be caused by a variety of things including violent personal assaults or medical conditions. Complex PTSD can be developed by people who repeatedly experience traumatic situations, such as severe neglect, abuse or violence. I put your hallucinations down to schizophrenia, because you said you’ve been experiencing them all of your life, but I’ve thought it over, and given what we’ve discussed, I think it may be a combination of that and PTSD. Complex PTSD symptoms may not develop until years after the event. It's often more severe if the trauma was experienced early in life, which given your personal experiences would sound about right. It would also explain a lot of your symptoms.”

“Like what?”

“Some of the hallucinations. Have you experienced flashbacks?”

“Yes, more so recently in the daytime. And nightmares. Especially relating to Kristen and Isabella and Oswald.”

“What about physical sensations, such as pain, sweating, feeling sick. I’ve noticed you’ve been trembling on and off when we’ve been discussing things.”

“Yes, when I think about things I keep feeling nauseous.”

“Hmm. I know you’ve been trying to avoid being reminded of the traumatic events. You told me you hadn’t told anyone else about your childhood trauma.”

“I haven’t talked to anyone about Kristen and Isabella in so much detail either.”

“That’s common with PTSD. Many people with PTSD try to push memories of the event out of their mind, often distracting themselves with work or hobbies. You definitely told me you did that. Also, you talked before about feeling detached from things often. That’s a thing called emotional numbing where people attempt to deal with their feelings by trying not to feel anything at all. Would you say at other times you’ve found it difficult to relax, looking for threats and being easily startled?”

“Yes. I’d keep swinging between the two.”

“That’s called hyperarousal. It often leads to irritability, angry outbursts, insomnia or difficulty concentrating. People with PTSD often suffer with other problems like self-harming or destructive behaviour, such as drug misuse or alcohol misuse.”

“It’s true I did take drugs after Oswald died – I mean, when I thought he was dead. It meant I could hallucinate him and pretend he wasn’t dead.”

“What about any of the others?”

“I’m careful of alcohol. My father used to get drunk a lot and I hated it, so I’m always careful about drinking. When I was younger I did... I did self harm a bit, but I’m not ready to talk about that just now.”

“Alright. What about other physical symptoms, such as headaches, dizziness, chest pains and stomach aches?”

“I keep getting dizzy about now and sometimes with that my chest hurts. That’s usually when I’m having a flashback.”

“Thank you so much, for all of that, Ed. We’re certainly getting to the bottom of some things. You’ll be pleased to hear that there are several more productive things we can do to help you get over PTSD.”

“There are?”

“Yes. We have options. Like many disorders Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is frequently recommended. It aims to help you manage your problems by changing how you think and act. I think it would be good not only relating to the trauma, but maybe in helping you stop The Riddler to stop talking you into murdering people. I’ve been trained in basic forms of it and I’m confident that we can tomorrow. Something else we can try is eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing. It’s a relatively new treatment that's been found to reduce the symptoms of PTSD. It involves making side-to-side eye movements, usually by following the movement of your therapist's finger, while recalling the traumatic incident. I know it sounds strange, but at this stage with these limited resources I’d be willing to try anything if you will be. Again there are plenty of options of medication, most of them antidepressants, but for the same reasons as last time I wouldn’t suggest them, at least, not for the moment.”

“Thanks Nina.”

“We’re making progress Ed. You’re doing well. That’s all for today. Will you be alright?”

“Yes. Stephanie will be waiting for me to tell her how I’ve got on. Also, we’ll come by later today to talk about the auction.”

“I look forward to it.” Nina said. “And Ed...” she called him back. “I’m proud of you for today.” Nina gave a fleeting smile.

Chapter Text

“How did it go?” Stephanie asked, looking up from her seat on the floor where she was attempting, with little success to remove the loose hair from Quiz before he could carpet her home in hair.

“Are you going to ask me that every time I get back from seeing Nina?” Ed asked irritably, not keen to relive his conversation with Nina any time soon.

“Yes, of course.” Stephanie replied smiling and giving up on Quiz, allowing him to get up and rub all of his hairs off on Ed instead. “Answer the question, Ed.”

“I got on fine.” Ed said, picking up the cat which began purring and nestling against him.

“What did you talk about?”

“None of your business.”

“Well, that’s the end of that conversation. Did Nina give any hints about her thoughts on the auction idea?”

“She said she’d speak about it later, but I’m hopeful that she’ll agree. She seemed in a good mood.”

“I hope so too.”

“Um, Stephanie.” Ed said hesitantly. “I was wondering if you’d mind, but I was thinking of asking Lucius Fox over, if I may. I’d like to see him and I don’t want to be spotted meeting in public.”

“Well, that’ll be the third time he’s been here this week.” Stephanie said dreamily.

“The third? He’s been here since he saw me?” Ed said sharply.

Stephanie’s face made it clear that she hadn’t meant to say that.

“Um, yes. He came to see me this morning. Wanted to know if I knew anything about Russo.” she said lightly.

Ed put an unhappy Quiz down who slunk off into the shadows.

“You didn’t mention that.” Ed said suspiciously.

“I forgot.”

“So soon?”

“I’ve been thinking of other things. He didn’t stop so long.” she said distractedly.

“What did you tell him?”

“The truth. That I didn’t know much about Russo, but I’d heard of him, that’s all.”

“Hmmm.” Ed said, finding her answer thoroughly unconvincing.

Stephanie, pretending to tire of the conversation spread out on the sofa with a book. Ed watched her, frowning. The knowledge that she was hiding something from him was jarring. It reminded him of how little they really knew about each other. He’d fallen quickly into closeness with people without fully knowing them first, like Nina had said and judging by his experiences he shouldn’t have trusted Stephanie so readily. He wondered again what her motive for keeping him close was.

“It strikes me, Stephanie that you’re very difficult to get to know.” Ed said coldly.

“What do you mean?” Stephanie said looking at him, seeming concerned. “You do know me. You know my likes, dislikes, hobbies, work. You live with me. Most people don’t know five percent of what you do about me.”

“Still. You’re bright and capable. What are you doing here? How did you get here? What about your family? What about the man that came to visit you not long after you’d first arrived? You’ve hidden those things from me.”

Stephanie fell still, looking afraid, then hurt and then annoyed.

“What?” she said sharply.

“The one you argued with and told you never wanted to see again.” Ed said, crossing his arms smugly.

“It’s none of your business. I didn’t hide those things from you; I just wasn’t ready to share. I may trust you enough to let you live here, but it wasn’t yet enough to trust you not to use those kinds of things against me. I like you Ed, but I’m not entirely blind to who you are or what you’ve done. I know depending on the mood, the circumstances, you can be cunning and manipulative. That’s why you’ve been so docile and keen to follow my suggestions, isn’t it? You don’t want to be thrown out. You’re making use of me as an amenity. It’s not because of any affection towards me.”

She said it with such seriousness that Ed supressed a flinch. The fact that she sincerely seemed to believe he was using her hurt him more than expected. Then he realised that he was surprised he hadn’t thought to use her either. Someone like her; young, impressionable, living alone, a self-confessed thief with an unstable, distant family, would have been the ideal person he would have picked out in the past, to use, to help him rebuild some sort of criminal empire, or at least his image. He could have recruited her to pass messages, break into places, steal things or do any number of things, but the thought hadn’t even occurred to him until now. That was very unlike The Riddler.

“You want me to trust you and be honest with you, but you can’t do the same.” Ed said accusingly.

“You want to know? Fine.” Stephanie said, clearly aggravated. “I’m here because it’s where I grew up and I don’t know how to leave. I don’t get on well with my family. My father’s been in and out of prison all my life and when he did show up he treated my mother and I very badly and knocked my mother around. My mother is also very unreliable. She was a nurse addicted to drugs. She’d swing between being mother of the year and being absent when I needed her, but moved out of the city as soon as I was eighteen. The man the other day was my father coming to see me, trying to convince me to take him in, so of course I said no.” she snapped.

“So... you’ll take someone as notoriously dangerous as me, but won’t show mercy for your own father. I can’t help but find that strange. What is it that so important to you that you want from me?”

“Nothing. I told you I have poor judgement and now that you’re here you might as well stay, but I won’t take pity on my father because he’s an abusive jerk and I’m sick of playing his games!” Stephanie said.

As much as Ed thought she seemed genuine, couldn’t accept it. In Gotham, in The Narrows it was far too good to be true.

“I’m really not convinced that you’re prepared to keep me here and get nothing out of it.” he said.

“Alright, I just thought you could be useful to me. I don’t know how. Like you said, I was a fan of sorts and once I got talking to you, I liked you well enough and wanted you to stay. Not everyone has an ulterior motive for everything they do, you know.”

“And yet you won’t just accept that I don’t want anything out of you and you’re just my friend.”

Stephanie stared at him, seeming shocked.

“Your friend? I’m your... friend.” she said slowly.

“But it you’re not interested, I’m not sure what the point is in me staying here.” Ed said, getting up.

“Whoa, Ed stop.” Stephanie jumped up and caught his elbow. “You.. you meant it?” she whispered disbelievingly. “I thought... I thought...”

“That I was going to drop you the second I got better and do what exactly?”

“I don’t know.” Stephanie said staring at him.

“Well, you are my friend.” Ed said awkwardly, staring back, wanting to make some affirming gesture but not sure what to do.

“Oh, come here, you dimwit.” Stephanie said gruffly, pulling Ed into a tight hug.

Ed’s body went stiff before relaxing into the hug, carefully putting his hands on her back and leaning his chin on the top of her bright red curls. It occurred to him that she was the smallest person he’d hugged in a long time, not that he’d hugged many people. It made his realise how frail she was and his hallucination had been right, he did feel protective. This attachment would normally have made him panic about how she could be used against him, but for the moment having someone who liked him, someone to just talk to and be there was nice.

“Does this mean I’m your friend too?” he mumbled into her hair.

“Well, duh.”

“So, can I ask Lucius over or not?” he asked.

Stephanie drew back and Ed could see her smile, the upset quickly forgotten.

“Why do you want to see him?” Stephanie asked with curiosity.

“I don’t know. I’d like to talk to him.”

“Fine. But don’t get up to anything when I’m gone.”

“You’re going out?”

“If he’s coming over, yes. I’ll only be in the way. You can make him lunch.”

“How do you know I want to see him alone?”

“Oh, honey, I can see it written all over your face.” Stephanie teased, tweaking his nose playfully and laughing.

 

-------------------------------------

 

Lucius had been surprised when Edward had phoned him to come over and talk, but had eagerly agreed to see him during lunchtime, as he usually ended working through it anyway, so missing a meal wasn’t a worry, although he did ask Bullock to have the lunchtime extended slightly, who seemed indifferent.

This time, it was Ed who peeked from a tiny crack of the partially open door, but his face lit up when he saw who it was.

“Foxy! I’m glad to see you. I hope you don’t mind, but I made lunch.” Ed said hopefully, letting him in.

Ed was tidier and better dressed (in clothes that Stephanie had pilfered for him), but causal, a far cry from his showy metallic green suit. As he lead Lucius over to the tiny kitchen area where a table was set and straightened the already neatly-aligned place settings with nervous energy.

“Um, thank you.” Lucius said in surprise.

“Please, sit down.” Ed said, drawing out a chair politely.

“How are you, Ed?” Lucius asked when Ed had sat opposite him.

“Everyone keeps asking me that.” Ed said ruefully.

“Maybe that’s because it needs asking.” Lucius suggested as gently as possible.

“The answer is that I’m still not great, but I’m better than when you asked before.” Ed answered.

“That’s good.” Lucius said, sincerely.

At that point, a timer went off and Ed settled into working to serve lunch. As Lucius watched him, he realised how unusual it was for him to see Ed so focussed on something, but relaxed at the same time. On almost every other occasion he’d met Ed, he’d been chaotic and fuelled by some sort of nervousness, constantly trying to prove himself. He was moving about the kitchen with a graceful, thoughtless ease that made it seem he had real confidence in what he was doing.

Ed watched and waited until Lucius had taken a cautious bite. With Ed watching him so closely the thought of poison crossed Lucius mind, but he couldn’t help but feel that would have been too subtle for The Riddler. Ed could have killed him on any of the other occasions they’d met and Lucius was hungry enough to risk it.

“This is really good.” Lucius said, without having to think about it.

“It’s nothing special. To be fair. I didn’t have a lot to work with.” Ed said, waving a vague hand to indicate Stephanie’s bare kitchen.

“I mean it. It’s delicious, Ed.”

“Thanks.” Ed blushed and ducked his head.

“What did you want to talk about?” Lucius asked.

“Can we eat first. It’s a bit... well, complicated? Serious? I’d rather not ruin a good meal.” he said.

“Alright, we can talk about something else.”

As it was, their discussion during lunch was wide-ranging and Lucius found out a lot about Ed. In particular it was refreshing to talk to someone on the same intellectual level with an interest in science like his. Lucius also found out about Ed’s love of cooking and video games, how he’d been surprised to find he liked looking after Stephanie’s cat Quiz and his newfound interest in the theories for treating various mental illnesses, after Nina had given him literature to read. Ed went into more detail about the counselling sessions with Nina. Apparently Ed had been giving Stephanie details about the books and literature he wanted to read from the library.

Ed seemed attached to Stephanie, but seemed to regard their relationship seeing himself as a mentor in ways to Stephanie, Stephanie as a confidant and there seemed to be a healthy sibling-like competition between them. Lucius also noticed Ed was less inclined to spout riddles every five seconds and only resorted to a few easy ones during awkward pauses, which were few.

When they’d finished eating, they drank coffee on Stephanie’s sofa and things turned to more serious matters.

“What you said, offering your help. I’d like to accept.” Ed said.

“You would? That’s good news.”

“There’s one problem, though.” Ed said hesitantly, fiddling with his cup handle. “I don’t think I can give up being The Riddler.”

“What does that mean?” Lucius asked, with a sense of foreboding.

“Having this other persona that I can slip into has become a great comfort to me. When I’m The Riddler, it’s like I’m untouchable. I’m stronger, smarter...”

“We’ve been through this before, Ed and I think it’s time to tell you what I should have then, but was too frightened to.” Lucius said, thinking back to his lost opportunity when Ed had knocked him unconscious in his car. “What happens when things go wrong? When you fail, get emotional, get injured – which you will. Real people hurt, feel emotion and make mistakes. The Riddler, the indestructible person you want to be will never exist, because humans aren’t indestructible.”

“What choice do I have, other than going back to being him? I want to be different, but I can’t because I don’t know how. Before, when I was just Ed Nygma, that was no life to lead. In a dead-end job, with pitiful money, bowing to other people who were idiots and my intelligence was leagues above, but they still think they’re better and never thank you for any of it. Say I hand myself into the police and confess, I’ll be sent back to Arkham or Blackgate and what good will that do? I’m useless!”

“That’s not true.” Lucius argued.

“It is.” Ed said obstinately, seeming despairing.

“Of course you can change. People who say they can’t are usually just too afraid to. You’ve proven that you’re capable of changing. You’re a very different man now to the one you were before Oswald froze you and that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. It’s an opportunity to start anew.”

“But how? I may have changed, I might know myself that I’m a different person, but everyone else still sees me as a criminal and a murderer. They don’t see a person. I’m just another of this city’s villains and a failed villain, at that. I’m irredeemable in the eyes of the people that matter.”

“Does it matter what other people think?”

“Of course it does! They determine what I can do, whether I can get a job, whether I have somewhere to live, whether I can get healthcare or not, whether I can live. I want to do something meaningful with my life.” Ed said. “It’s not enough to just get by. That’s what I did before and it was pointless, such a waste. I went into the GCPD wanting to make a difference. I was stupid – naïve enough to think I stood a chance of making this city a better place, but no. The GCPD is and always has been the breeding ground of crime, corruption, mistrust and bullying, the pillars that holds up Gotham as the most...hopeless place on Earth that it is. And now look at you, doing the same job, with the same ambitions, but you’re wasting your time, because the moment you step into that building, criminal, victim or servant of the law, you’re condemned! Condemned to the irreplaceable, unchangeable system that’s Gotham’s society. Wealthy criminals on top, then the less wealthy below, then the petty criminals and corrupt including almost all of the GCPD below and honest and innocent people being trampled underneath until they turn into criminals. That’s how it works and you and I can’t change it.”

“Ed, the problem is that nobody’s properly tried to change it.” Lucius pointed out. “Like you, they’re all so convinced that the system is inescapable to even try.”

“Oh, they have and they always, always get swallowed up. I remember the day that Jim Gordon came to the GCPD. People thought he would be the city’s saviour. He had grand ambitions of cleaning up this city and look where he is now. He's carrying out the will of Penguin, a gangster’s umbrella boy turned crime lord. Gordon won’t save this city. I know how he treats criminals, because I’ve been on the receiving end. Once you break his law you cease to even be worthy of human decency in his eyes. You’re inhuman. He uses us for his own advancement and then tosses us aside having taken everything, or kills us. He doesn’t really care about the real people of Gotham because the ugly truth is, there are very few people in Gotham who aren’t criminals. It’s about him and his perfect dream world.

“Look, I want to change, to start anew, put right the things I’ve done. I know that I’ve been trying to be someone I’m not meant to be. When I think about the past, the things I’ve done, it sickens me. When I think of the good people I’ve... When I... I feel so much remorse for the things I’ve done and it hurts, it really hurts. I’m tired of being at the mercy of people who think human lives are chips to be bargained with and then I remember that I’m one of those people and it’s... too much. I’m terrified of hurting my friends, the people I care about and I want to be able to protect them from others too, but as Ed Nygma, the wanted has-been criminal, on the run, I can’t do that. I’ve been talking to Nina about my problems and she’s doing what she can to help me. This morning I told her about how I’ve hurt people I’ve cared about and how they’ve hurt me and I’m tired of it all, but I know the only reason she’s helping me is because she’s scared of what I’ll do if she doesn’t. I’m tired of living with everyone around me being frightened of me, even Stephanie, although she wouldn’t admit it. You’re the only person, not even Oswald, who’s seen me at my worst and just accepted it and not seen the mask, just me.”

“You want to let me help you.” Lucius said slowly.

“Yes. Nina’s doing well at being a counsellor, but what I really need is a friend.” Ed admitted.

“You have Stephanie, don’t you?”

“Yes, but she doesn’t know all I’ve done and still accepted me and, not to knock her worldliness, but she’s still young and I could use someone older and less likely to be shocked. I don’t want to dump all of my problems on her, especially as I think she looks up to me in some way. It wouldn’t be right. I feel that you and I are equals.”

“Ed, if you’re going to go on hurting and killing people, I can’t help you. I will turn you in, for everyone’s safety.”

“To tell the truth, I can’t stomach killing anyone at the moment and I don’t want to let you or Stephanie or Nina or Diedre down, so there’s no danger of that.”

“You mean it.”

“Yes, I do.”

“Then, I’ll do my best to help, but if you overstep my boundaries-”

“You’ll turn me in.” Ed finished in quiet acceptance. “I wouldn’t expect any less from you.” Ed said smiling. Thank you, Lucius.”

Chapter Text

That evening, Ed and Stephanie met Nina and Diedre at Cherry’s as planned, in a marginally quieter room than the fight ring. Diedre and Nine sat side by side in beautiful visual contrast, Diedre fair, colourfully dressed in bright blue and full of smiles, Nina dark, dressed in black and serious.

“I’ve decided to accept your idea.” Nina said sounding stern and Stephanie grabbed Ed’s arm so hard that he thought it might bruise as she bounced up and down, smiling widely, clearly trying to hold in the desire to jump around and possibly squeal. “But I expect to be heavily involved in the entire project.”

“How exactly?” Ed asked.

“I’ll want either myself or Diedre to be present for the stealing, the meeting with buyers, the auctioning off, but I won’t interfere unless I feel I need to.” Nina said.

Ed nodded, this being exactly what he’d expected. He hadn’t earned Nina’s trust yet, but he certainly seemed to be getting there.

“Fine. Will you help though?”

“I’ll help, but I do have other commitments and I will want to discuss where the money we get out of this goes in excruciating detail.” Nina said, clearly hoping to keep Ed out of the rest of the criminal world and worrying about him buying weapons.

“Of course you will.” Ed said. “We’ll need to decide how to split things, in terms of wages, upkeep of the building and funding of your clinic. I wouldn’t want to take you away from your doctoring. What about Diedre?”

“I’m in.” Diedre said with a huge grin. “I don’t mind helping to tidy the place up, organise security, get resources with you too. If Stephanie and I are dropping our current jobs I’ll have lots of time to help out.”

“Great!” Stephanie said.

“There’s a list of things I need to acquire.” Ed added.

“What kind of things?” Diedre asked.

“Building materials, cleaning materials and tools, mainly.” Ed said passing her the list from the folder he’d compiled which she and Nina examined.

“Steph and I should be able to get this stuff for you.” Diedre said. “If you’ll lend us the motorbike, Nina, and the sidecar.”

“I should be able to manage that.” Nina said.

“Ooh. I’ve just thought, we should probably brush-up on self-defence.” Diedre suggested. “I mean, if we’re going to be breaking into places and transporting valuable objects about, we need to be prepared to be attacked. From what I know, Steph’s a good fighter and an excellent shot and I’m even better at both, but Nina couldn’t fight against anyone professional.”

“I could do with shooting practice and although I know where to stick a knife, I can’t fight hand-to-hand very well.” Ed admitted. “Oswald- Penguin did teach me a bit, but his range of motion is a bit limited, what with his leg and stature.”

“We could probably help.” Stephanie agreed. “Although, my fighting style is more based around escaping my opponent than attacking.”

“Dare I ask you where you learned all of this?” Ed asked Stephanie.

“My parents weren’t the most reliable people when I was growing up and my mother often dumped me with a neighbour who was a schoolteacher. Helena and I got close and we still keep in touch. Helena’s entire family were in the mafia and she taught me gymnastics, marital arts and eventually about firearms when she thought I was old enough.”

“How about you Diedre?”

“A girlfriend.” Diedre said with a shrug.

“It think it’s a very good idea, even if we weren’t doing this.” Nina said. “It would probably be a good idea if we made sure our guards know the same.”

“What are we going to call this place anyway?” Nina asked.

“How about The Riddle Factory?” Diedre suggested.

“Oh, yes, lets advertise the fact that we’re hiding The Riddler.” Nina criticised.

“Well, I thought we were going to discretely get collectors to be our clients.” Stephanie pointed out. “If they don’t want to get tortured and killed by the Penguin, they’ll keep their mouths shut. If people get to hear The Riddler’s running things, they should keep away, if they don’t want to be killed.”

“We can’t go around killing people!” Nina protested.

“I’m not suggesting that. I’m just saying, The Riddler has a certain reputation.” Stephanie explained.

“That’s even more reason that I can’t be seen to be involved in something like this.” Nina said. “I’m supposed to be a figure campaigning for people to stop fighting and stealing from one another. I can’t be seen to be collaborating with a known villain.”

“So, we take on aliases and wear costumes so we can’t be recognised.” Stephanie shrugged. “Apart from Ed. No, offence, but I think once riddles are so much as mentioned they’ll know who you are.”

“So, we become The Riddler’s sidekicks?” Nina said dubiously.

“Why not?” said Diedre. “It think it’s fair to say that nobody would suspect Leslie Thompkins of working with The Riddler, Nina, and The Doc is too independent to be a side-kick to anyone. It like the idea.”

“Me too.” said Stephanie.

"Fine." Nina agreed.

“The first thing we need to do” Ed said “is to fit new locks on the place so we can keep it safe. Nina, is there chance you could get a couple of people to stay over there to make sure nobody gets hold of it?”

“I’m sure there are some trustworthy people who would be pleased to get out of the cold.” Nin said, running through the families of her patients in her mind. “In fact, I can think of a whole family who could look after the place and live here. A few of them fight in the ring here so they can protect the place. They’re good people and loyal to me, I think. One of the guys protected me when I nearly got attacked during my first week here.”

“Oh, is that the Kane Family?” Diedre asked.

“Yes.”

“Good choice, Nina.”

“It’s all very well to talk about setting up the place,” Stephanie said, “but we need something to sell. What I want to know is; what’s to be our first steal?”

“An ancient Greek vase.” Ed showed a picture from an auction leaflet it had recently been featured in before it was bought.

“Ooh! It has sphinxes on it.” Stephanie said excitedly.

“In myths, weren’t they creatures that asked riddles and attacked if their prey got the answer wrong?” Diedre asked.

“Yes, I thought it was appropriate.” Ed said.

“Who does it belong to?” Nina asked.

“Casso Cassamento. He’s in the Mafia and a great collector of old Greek artefacts, especially the ancient ones. The vase was stolen from a museum in the first place. Cassamento used to be a contract killer but inherited a lot from his family and uses the people of The Narrows to deal drugs in other parts of the city and profits from it, so he’s someone your conscience shouldn’t object to stealing from, Nina.”

“Do you have a plan?” asked Diedre.

“Oh, no, no, no. I have several plans. Never embark on Plan A before having thought up a Plan B.”

“Can we go through it?”

“I want to wait to go through it until we’re ready to go for it. I don’t want anyone forgetting things or messing up and of course I’ll need to check that Cassamento doesn’t change anything about his arrangements which might get in the way in the meantime.”

“You’re right.” said Nina. “Wonderful, when can we start?”

 

---------------------------------------------------------------

 

The next few weeks were extremely busy for the four of them. Nina was exhausted from helping out with the renovation of The Riddle Factory and a nasty bout of flu left many of Nina’s patients with pneumonia and Ed’s counselling sessions, although they made a lot of progress. They tried the CBT Nina had suggested and whether it was working, Ed didn’t know, but he felt better and the hallucinations were becoming fewer and further in-between. Nina had also researched anger management techniques, meditation and techniques to improve memory. They’d tried lots of different approaches and things were finally improving. In general Ed was feeling calmer, more in control and his thoughts felt better organised than they had done in a long time, perhaps ever.

Stephanie and Diedre had a falling out with Cherry over not being able to supply such a large quantity of liquor anymore, so Ed was forced to join them on the heists they had to fit into their busy schedule to pacify Cherry. As well as this, Ed and Nina had to work through the budgeting of The Riddle Factory and decide what should be done with the proceeds. Ed had also seen Lucius Fox several times to catch up and if they couldn’t meet, they had such long phone conversations into the night that Stephanie teased Ed that she should just send him to live with Lucius and have done with it.

Throughout that time the four of them and Nina’s trusted guards all had to practice their fighting and skills with firearms. Fortunately, Stephanie’s friend Helena Bertinelli was more than happy to help teach self defence. Helena was an excellent teacher, also being a high-school teacher in an unrelated subject, and still Ed managed to use up all of her patience. Hand-to-hand combat was inexplicably hard for Ed. To make matters worse, when fighting, Stephanie’s normally kind and bubbly personality evaporated altogether. She was a very serious and impatient and abrupt and dodged blows more than inflicting them, but still managed to do a lot of damage, whereas Diedre was vicious but a very patient teacher. Ed discovered Stephanie’s trick move when he managed to back Stephanie into a wall which she used as a springboard for a sharp and well-aimed kick in the chest leaving him winded.

There had also been lots of cleaning, painting, rewiring about the building required where Ed felt much more in control. Finally Ed managed to find time to work quietly on creating a secure space to display the vase or whatever other artefacts might be their guests alone, while Diedre and Stephanie added the finishing touches to the stage area that had been created.

“Anybody in? Will you be coming for lunch soon?” Stephanie called through the locked door.

Ed got up, hurrying to unlock the door and, seeing Stephanie was alone, let her in.

“I’ve finished!” Ed told her, buoyant with excitement.

“What is it you’ve been working on? You’ve been locked up in here for days.” Stephanie said. “I hope you haven’t been sulking because we’re better at fighting than you.” she teased.

“No. I have the brains, that’s enough for me. Come in, let me lock the door a second.”

“What? Why?” Stephanie asked watching him in confusion.

Ed pulled her across the room and removed a dustsheet with a flourish.

“A display case? You built it? Couldn’t you have just bought one?” Stephanie asked.

“Not as secure as this!” Ed told her with enthusiasm. “I did take parts of the designs of others, but this one has a few tricks up its sleeve. I’ll show you how it works, but you must promise not to tell anyone, not even Diedre or Nina.”

“I suppose you don’t want them running off with the loot. I don’t trust them not to, either, not after Nina was so cagey about getting her money. I promise not to tell.” Stephanie said solemnly.

“Good. This is a highly secure design.”

“It certainly is, I can’t even work out where the locks on it are.” Stephanie said peering at the seamless cylindrical glass case on it’s stand with geometrical designs in inlayed wood in an art deco-style pattern on the base of fans, stars, squares and circles. “It’s pretty though.” Stephanie commented.

“It’s not only pretty. It’s embellishments have a function. I was worried about how we can get our buyers to view the artefacts without having any danger of them being stolen,” Ed explained, “so at first I thought that we would have to transport them to a safe place after they’ve been viewed, but there’s a risk of them being stolen in the process.”

“Right.”

“So I thought what if we were to create the impression of them being taken to a secure location but keeping them here all along.”

“I’m not sure I follow.” Stephanie said hesitantly.

“This display case has no visible locks or door, yes? I adapted a display case with the highest hardness of glass Gotham has to offer, so it can’t be smashed or cut through without significant effort or alerting our security system.”

“I still don’t see how you get it in there if there’s no door.”

“That’s the clever bit. Pass me that screwdriver.”

Stephanie followed the instruction. She watched as Ed put on a pair of gloves and pushed in a number of parts of the woodwork pattern, that up until then had seemed seamless with the rest of the design and there was a click as and one side of the base became loose. Ed opened the panel, to reveal a cupboard lined with the same velvet as the display case on top. Ed placed the screwdriver in the cupboard and closed the door again, it blending back into the pattern of the woodwork.

“Watch.” he said, pointing to the glass display cylinder. He then pressed a different combination of the pattern on the side and the circle of the velvet base of the cylinder fell away and another circle, with the screwdriver rose up in it’s place and settled with a click. Stephanie gasped.

“That is... genius!” she said beaming.

“I know. I thought of it.” Ed said, not even bothering with a pretence of modesty.

“So, we pretend to transport the artefact to a secure location but it’s kept here all the time?”

“Exactly. They can try to rob us all they like, but if they get in here, it’s not in the display case and it’s not in the secure location. Then, we get the collector to collect it and only get it out at the last moment before handing it over, then we can’t be held liable for it being stolen in transit.”

“It’s perfect.”

“I’ll teach you the patterns to open the case and operate it and you must memorise every detail, but you can’t tell anyone else, unless, of course, something happens to me in which case you can tell one other person who you consider absolutely trustworthy.”

“You trust my judgement?” Stephanie asked.

Ed decided against answering the question.

“There’s one more thing, Stephanie.” Ed said looking gleeful, clasping his hands behind his back. “I’m made up of twelve completely different letters but you can type me with one character. What am I?”

“I don’t know this one.” Stephanie said.

Ed drew a small black box out from behind his back and presented it to her.

“What’s this?” Stephanie asked, hesitatingly.

“Open it!” Ed said, barely containing his excitement.

Stephanie fumbled to open the box.

“A question mark?” she said, stroking the tiny gold pendant, smiling.

“Yes. You’re on our team, you’re a founder member and I meant what I said before.”

“Friends?” Stephanie asked.

“Friends. If Penguin comes near you, tell him that I gave you this. He’ll know not to harm you, if he knows what’s good for him.” Ed said in a low tone.

“Thank you, Ed. It’s lovely.” Stephanie beamed, before throwing her arms around him.

“So, are we set to go?” Ed asked, when she let go.

“Well, we need costumes and to actually steal the vase, but yeah!”

Chapter Text

That evening Ed, after Nina’s shift at Cherry’s had ended, Ed called a battle plan meeting at The Riddle factory. So, Ed, Nina, Diedre and Stephanie the four of them were sat on the stage around a table, complete with an illuminated green question mark behind them.

“Right, so what do we know?” Nina asked glancing over the fan of papers surrounding Ed where he sat at the head of the table.

“Well, I do need some more research done.” Ed admitted. “At the moment, the vase is kept in an extremely safe vault at the bank. However, it is being moved very soon by armed guard to Cassamento’s home, where he is in the process of having fitted a lot of security technology. A lot of other collectors of all things Greek are gathering there and he wants to show it off. They’re all as unscrupulous as one another and all have their own plots, as far as I can tell, to steal it when it is on display. On the other hand, none of them know when the vase is going to arrive and some of them have travelled from abroad to get here.”

You do though, right?” Stephanie asked.

“Of course.” Ed said with a proud smile. “We’re going to take it before he has a chance to show it. It’s being moved in the middle of the night of the twentieth, three days before the collectors meet. We are going to steal it from his home on the night of the day following his arrival.”

“How?” Nina asked.

“The house is cleaned by a capable team of cleaners. The cleaners are from a contract company where the workers rotate. There is a vacancy on the team at the moment. We need someone to pose as a cleaner to get inside information about that room, preferably posing as someone who is a diligent worker and doesn’t speak or read enough English for them to be able to understand any important mafia plans. Cassamento likes workers like that to be sent to him.”

“Diedre can imitate almost any accent.” Nina volunteered her girlfriend. “You can’t do it, Ed because most people know your face, I’m too busy and I can’t see Stephanie carrying the act off, no offence.”

“None taken. I can’t do accents.” Stephanie said.

“Fine, whatever. I mean, cleaning up this place has given me enough practice. Why?” Diedre asked.

“I need you to get into the room in question, spy it out and photograph any plans for the safety features so we know exactly where they are.” Ed told her.

“I can do that.” Diedre said.

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Ed had put Diedre in a terrible mood with his extensive instructions about how to go about infiltrating the Cassamento household, leading to Ed’s emotions running high. When she eventually did get in the information she gained only made things more complicated and Ed spent days agonising over how he could get around Cassamento’s additional security features. So when Lucius called for a flying visit, he was welcomed into a room full of papers covered in diagrams, photographs and Ed’s scrawl with many violent crossings out and Ed and Stephanie in the middle of their hundredth argument about the state of the room and the importance of the heist.

“Foxy, hi! It’s great to see you!” Ed said, his face lighting up.

“You too. How are you Ed?” Lucius replied.

“Good thanks.” Ed said, sincerely.

“You’ve been busy.” Lucius said, pointing to the pile of papers Ed had hurriedly tossed together the moment he’d heard the doorbell ring.

We have.” Stephanie put in smiling ruefully.

During Lucius’ visits he’d got on well with Stephanie and she’d stopped for a few conversations. She was bright and well-read and had begun to swap fiction book recommendations with him.

“Hello, Stephanie! Anything important?” Lucius asked.

“Very important. Oh, wait is it a secret?” she said, looking at Ed.

“Not exactly, but Lucius wouldn’t approve.” Ed said grinning.

“Don’t worry too much.” Stephanie said to Lucius. “Nobody will get injured or killed or anything. Nina and I insisted upon it. I mean, a couple of people might get tranquilised at worst, but that’ll be all.”

“Stop talking, Stephanie.” Ed told her.

“Right. Well, I’m going. I’m expecting this to look like something resembling my lounge when I return. I’d better go. D’s expecting to have lunch with me. Bye. Take good care of him, Lucius.”

“Bye Stephanie.” Lucius said.

“Bye.” Ed said.

“Seriously though, should I be worried?” Lucius asked once Stephanie had stepped out of the door and Ed had cleared a space for him on the end of the settee and began sorting through his papers distractedly.

“No. I’ll have everything planned down to the last detail. Nina wouldn’t have agreed to be involved if it wasn’t a morally acceptable plan, you know that.”

Lucius raised his eyebrows doubtfully.

“Trust me.” Ed said more seriously.

“So I can’t ask what this project you’ve all been working on is?”

“You can, but that doesn’t mean you’ll get an answer. Don’t worry about it.”

“Do you need any help?” Lucius asked.

“Really? You’d help?” Ed looked hopeful.

“Maybe. It depends.” Lucius said, not wanting to commit himself. “If it doesn’t interfere with my work at the GCPD.”

“Urgh.” Ed sighed in annoyance. “Why do you stick with them, honestly? You’re a clever man, a wise one, someone utterly devoted to doing good, helping people. Surely you’re not so stupid as to believe you can help by going there. We’ve talked about this before.”

“You still believe that the GCPD is doomed to be corrupt and do nothing to help anyone.”

“Honestly, yes. You really should get out while it hasn’t ruined you. You should join us. Here Nina’s making some real difference to people’s lives. I do believe that it’s possible to change things in Gotham, but working as a forensic in the backroom at the GCPD is no place to do it. You must know that, Foxy.”

“If the GCPD is corrupt surely it’s the best place to start. I know there are people there who want to improve things.”

“Well, good luck. You’ll need it.” Ed said, utterly unconvinced. “But if you’re still swearing undying allegiance to Jim Gordon then you definitely won’t be able to help.”

“It’s not Jim Gordon that I’m loyal to. I know lots of people see him as a saviour-like figure, but I don’t believe in putting bind faith in any single human being to look after an entire city of people. Honestly, the state of things at the GCPD are worrying me.”

“What’s wrong this time? So, cops are corrupt, that’s nothing new.” Ed said indifferently.

“It’s more than that. There just seem to be certain private individuals in Gotham who seem to be making plans and getting things into a state where they can use the GCPD as their own private army.”

“Penguin?”

“Well, Jim’s been getting the force to turn on Penguin, trying to take back control.”

“That’s not surprising.”

“No, but the number of times Jim’s been seen meeting with Barbara Kean is worrying.”

“I thought she was dead.” Ed said.

“Evidently not. I’ve seen her around the GCPD several times myself although she seems to be keeping a low profile.”

“She’s planning something.”

“It looks that way.”

“I hope whatever it is she’s planning, that she leaves The Narrows alone. Nina’s got grand plans for getting the place back on its feet. I don’t want Oswald to find me either.”

“If Oswald’s having a battle with Barbara, it should keep him occupied. How many people know you’re here?”

“Stephanie, Nina, Diedre, you and Cherry who runs the club I sometimes meet Nina and Diedre at I guess. Also a fairly insignificant family that are looking after a property I’ve been working on. Nobody else, as far as I know.”

“None of your friends have connection to Penguin?”

“Not as far as I know. I’d hate to have all of my progress lost.”

“Ed, I’ve been meaning to ask; you often talk about the progress you’re making with Nina and the therapy you’re doing, but you still haven’t told me exactly what your problems are. I mean, I know you were worried about your brain slowing down, as it were, and the urge to kill people, but there must be more to it than that.”

“I know I haven’t.” Ed said, looking into his lap. “I suppose... I suppose I’m worried of what it’ll make you think of me.”

“Ed, I’ve witnessed you having a violent personal crisis where you argued with yourself whilst dangling an ex-co-worker over a third storey banister and yet, here I am. I doubt there’s any mental state you could be in that could shock me more than that.” Lucius said.

“Oh yeah...” Ed said nibbling at his lower lip, getting a far-away look in his eyes. “Sorry about that, by the way.” he said, remorsefully. “Oh wait, I should probably apologise to Harvey, actually... but I don’t think that would go down well.”

“No, I don’t think so either.” Lucius admitted.

“The problem is that...I have a voice inside my head, like a stronger, smarter version of me who’s not such a klutz.”

“When you talked about becoming this stronger person that night, this voice is who you were talking about?”

“Yes. I thought... I know it’s wrong, but I thought if I could become The Riddler – that’s the name my hallucination takes, which is why I took that name – everyone would leave me alone. The Riddler is untouchable, not a pushover, but Nina’s helped me to see that that doesn’t make him better. What you said, a few weeks ago, about real humans being fallible, I’ve realised that it’s true. When all you can feel is anger and hate and like you’re cut off from everyone else, I think that’s worse than being vulnerable to emotions. The Riddler isn’t better than me, he’s just latched onto all of my insecurities and past experiences where I’ve felt belittled and powerless and turned that into hate. He tells me he protects me, but he doesn’t, he attacks me for who I really am. Nina reckons I’ve got schizophrenia and PTSD and the fact that they’ve gone untreated for so long has meant all of the things I’ve been trying to push down have cumulated and are all coming out now.”

“Is there anything I can do to help?”

“No, Lucius, thanks for the offer. Being here for me to talk to is enough. It means a lot to me. That’s another thing Nina said I should do; recognise that it’s okay to be happy for things, not feel guilty for good things that come along and that I should acknowledge them.” Ed rubbed his hands down his pant legs to get rid of sweat. “Enough about me.” Ed said attempting to be brisk, his voice trembling slightly. “Any progress with your suffocated gangster?”

Fortunately Lucius took the hint.

“Nothing doing.” he said, “Unfortunately you were right. Nobody wants to do anything about it and it’s very hard to get any admissible evidence. I’m worried I’m going to have to wait until someone else dies to solve it. If that happens, I’m worried I’m going to have to go over Bullock’s head.”

“You can’t get him to do anything? You think it could get serious?” Ed asked.

“I don’t want the killer to target anyone else, ideally. Besides, if I can save anyone in this city from themselves before things get worse, I will. If you can’t go through or round, you have to go over.”

Ed went still, his eyes becoming vacant.

“Go over?” Ed said slowly. “Go over? Over! Foxy, you’re a genius!” Ed said, filled with excitement, grabbing Lucius and kissing him on the forehead between his eyes. “I- I have to go. There’s something I need to do, before.. before the thought goes!” Ed said distractedly, jumping up and beginning pacing.

Lucius got up and stepped back, feeling slightly dazed.

“Oh, I’ll be going then.” Lucius said watching Ed in confusion.

Ed looked up in surprise, before turning bashful.

“Sorry to chuck you out,” Ed said sounding regretful, “but you’ve been of more help than you know.” he added with a bright smile, taking Lucius’ hands and squeezing them before seeming how close he was standing before stepping back self-consciously.

“Phone me after you’ve completed your project, won’t you?” Lucius said.

“Worried that something will happen to me?” Ed teased.

Lucius shrugged, smiling, a little worried at Ed’s sudden shift in mood.

“Take care, Ed.” Lucius said, meaningfully.

“I will do, promise.” Ed said, hugging Lucius swiftly before slamming the door in his face and scrambling to the phone.

“Hey, Diedre.” Ed said once she picked up. “Could you and Stephanie get hold of some grappling irons, ropes and harnesses and all of the related kit, by any chance?”

 

-----------------------------------------------

 

“I have a plan, but it’s going to be difficult.” said Ed grinning widely.

“What’s the security like? What are we up against?” asked Nina frowning at the complicated plans spread across the table.

“They’ve got motion detectors, lasers, CCTV, pressure pads and a steel door with a time lock. The whole shebang.” Diedre explained. “It would be easier breaking into the Tower of London.”

“Nonsense.” Ed said. “It’s true that there’s nothing we can do about the pressure pads, we’ll have to work ‘round them, but I can see a way for us to do that and disable the rest, but it will take all of us to manage this. The biggest problem though, will be the doors. Once they shut, there’s no way of opening them until the morning.”

“Can we get in any other way?” Nina asked.

“No. It’s a sealed room with no windows, that’s why he chose it.”

“Tunnel?”

“No, that’ll set off the motion detectors.”

“And there’s no way of bypassing them?”

“If there is, I haven’t found it.”

“Are you saying it’s impossible?” Nina said in exasperation.

“No, not at all.” Ed replied. “Just very difficult and this entire thing needs to be orchestrated with the utmost precision. We need to trust each other and work together seamlessly. There’s a way. There’s a time feature on the door. The time lock has a panel on the inside in case anyone gets locked in.”

“Can we use that?”

“If we can get someone inside before they close the doors. There’s nowhere to hide though. If the power is off the electric doors are open, but they lock after thirty seconds along with everything else switching back on when the generator kicks back in. I repeat; once those doors are locked they can only be opened from the inside. What we need is someone who is small, light and highly accomplished in acrobatics.” Ed said and everyone turned to look at Stephanie.

“Oh, right. What do you want me to do?” Stephanie asked.

“Wait, you can’t send her.” Nina objected.

“Why not? I’m an adult. I can make my own decisions.” Stephanie replied hotly.

“She’s the best for the job.” Ed said. “If the lasers get switched on she’s got the best balance and coordination to be able to hop over them and/or slide under them in order to turn them off. This won’t work without all four of us. This plan needs four people and I don’t trust anyone else enough.”

“What does it involve?” Stephanie asked.

“We get round the pressure pads by going over the top.” Ed explained.

“What? I dangle over the vase and grab it?” Stephanie asked, her nose crinkling up in incredulousness.

“Exactly.”

“What? How? What if I drop it?”

“So don’t drop it!” Ed said. “You’ll have got us into the room by then and using ropes and things we can dangle you over the top of the vase and you get it. The main problems apart from the time lock on the door will be the lasers and the motion sensors. There’s no way we can bypass them and they’ll set the alarms off as soon as you set foot in the room. The only way around it that I’ve found is to cut the power.”

“But that’ll make the alarms go off.” Diedre pointed out. “That’s how most of these things are rigged.”

“Yes, but if we turn off the whole street out there will be alarms going off everywhere.” Ed said. “During that time Stephanie will have exactly thirty seconds to get in and cover up the motion detectors and get to the door panel to stop the lasers from coming back on.”

“Will thirty seconds be enough?” Stephanie asked, frowning.

“It’ll have to be. Once the generator kicks in, the lasers and everything will be back on. Diedre did help me to make up a map of the room though, so you’ll know where they are.”

“CCTV?” Diedre asked.

“I can re-route those at source during the blackout.”

“So you have a plan about how all this fits together?” Nina prompted.

“I always have a plan.” said Ed. “I’ve found a place to cut off the power, but there’s a problem. I can’t be in two places at once. At the same time the power is being cut off, I’ll need to be re-routing the feed to the CCTV footage. So, Nina, you’ll have to cut the power off.”

“How will I know what to do?” Nina asked.

“I’ll tell you what to do beforehand, but I’ll give you instructions over a burner phone. Diedre, Steph and I will come in here, through the roof.” Ed pointed to the place on the map. “There will be four guards in the control room, one will be doing his rounds. For that reason we’ll need to take a tranquilising dart gun. There’s no set time for him to get to the various parts of the building, so we might run into him. That done, I’ll give Nina the signal to cut the power which will give thirty seconds for me to re-route the CCTV and Stephanie to stop the motion sensor and lasers. Stephanie, you must get to the door before the emergency power kicks in or you’ll be trapped by the lasers. If that happens I’m relying on your acrobatic prowess to get to the panel to switch the laser off and open the door. Then we can get in. Then we dangle Stephanie over the vase-”

“And don’t drop me!” Stephanie interrupted.

“And not drop you and you can get the vase. Then we go out the way we came in and voila.” Ed said, clicking his fingers.

Chapter Text

The few days after presenting the plan to the girls had been stressful for everyone. Helena’s self-defence lessons had become incredibly intense. Diedre and Ed had been teaching Stephanie the ropes, quite literally, as they practiced lifting her up to the ceiling with ropes and down again, with some help from Helena, whose knowledge of gymnastics came in handy. Stephanie had been complaining near-constantly about feeling queasy until Ed started making her meals heavily containing mint and ginger. Nina had also been obsessively working on attempting to eliminate all the loopholes from his plan. Even on the night of the operations her anxiety had not been put to rest.

“Are you sure this will work?” Nina asked in the back of the van where she sat with Stephanie amongst a band of dummies. All of them were dressed, like the other people in the van in the same cleaners’ overalls.

The night of the operation was cold and drizzly. Everyone was on edge, so all the others gave a collective sigh of irritation at the question.

“We can’t back out now.” Stephanie whispered to Nina.

“Are you absolutely sure they won’t be able to tell this from the real cleaner’s van?” Nina asked, leaning into the front to address Ed at the wheel who merely grimaced.

“Look,” said Diedre, annoyed, turning around in her seat, “this van is the same model, with the same number plates, labelled the same way. I have a genuine badge; they know my face and the van is arriving at the same time as always. They’ll see the same number of figures,” Diedre said, gesturing to the dummies Nina and Stephanie were sat with “as usual. They never bother to check the cleaners apart from the first person’s badge. The real cleaners will be very late given that you, yourself, saw to their engine earlier. Stop worrying.”

“And you’re sure Cassamento’s not at home tonight?”

“Yes, we checked. Stop asking silly questions. You won’t even be there!” she pointed out.

“Exactly. It’s for your good that I’m worried. I don’t want anyone to get caught. The Narrows is depending on the money we’re going to make from this.”

“It’s going to be fine.” Diedre said. “We know what we’re doing.”

“It’s your stop, Nina.” Ed said, pulling in beside the electric box on the street outside of Cassamento’s house.

“Fine, good luck.” Nina said, stepping down. “Stay safe.”

“We will. For the last time, we’ll be careful!” Diedre said in exasperation. “Now get the hell out of here.”

Nina rolled her eyes and got out of the van. Stephanie stepped down too to help her unloaded a small technician’s tent to put up around the box of electric wires and hand Nina the necessary tool kit. Once Nina was settled Stephanie got back onto the van and Ed drove off.

“Thank goodness.” said Diedre as they moved away. “I do love her, but she’s been driving me mad worrying about this for weeks.”

“Me too.” Ed replied curtly, focussed on the road ahead.

“She’s just not cut out for this.” said Diedre. “She’s led too sheltered a life. How about you, Steph? How are you feeling?”

“I’m fine, actually.” Stephanie replied, looking over Diedre’s shoulder. “No more nervous than usual. A heist is a heist. So, this one is trickier, bigger than the stores we’ve robbed up until now, but we’ve prepared as much as we can.”

“Yeah.” Diedre agreed. “We just have to take it as it comes. If anyone sees us, we’re nice and stocked up on tranquiliser darts. You’re quiet, Ed.” Diedre commented. “Nervous?”

“No,” Ed replied “You’re just chattering, so I seem quiet.” he said impatiently.

“You are nervous though, admit it.” Diedre said.

Ed was silent for a moment.

“Alright, yeah, I am.” he admitted. “I’ve planned this for so long and everything should be perfect but... it’s been such a long time since I did anything like this. It feels strange. It’s not as thrilling as I remembered. It’s just nerve-wracking.”

“A bit of nerves keeps you on your toes. Stops you getting arrogant.” Diedre said. “You’ll be fine. You’re a genius after all.”

“Yeah, well...” Ed muttered, attempting to swallow his nerves.

“We’re on time.” Stephanie said, looking at her watch. “Got your badge, D?”

“Sure.” Diedre said as they drew up to the guard’s point.

The heavily armed guard only glanced at them, nodding at Diedre and let them through.

“See.” Diedre said.

The drew to a halt outside and Stephanie handed the two in the front the balaclavas they would need, before putting on her own. They all got out and began unloading their equipment and putting on their backpacks.

“Mmm. Fancy.” Stephanie murmured, looking up at what little she could see in the dark from the buildings. “Where’s this fire escape then?”

“There.” Diedre pointed. “Come on.” The three of them made their way over to the fire escape, walking as fast as they could without making a sound, Diedre leading, Ed bringing up the rear.

At the top they reached a large ledge and Diedre lead them to a padlocked door which she didn’t hesitate to cut off and they followed her into the building. Diedre drew a map out of her pocket and unfolding it and began navigating through the maze of corridors which jointed together. The room they needed was on the third floor of the house.

Diedre drew them to a stop at the entrance to another corridor.

“It’s down there.” Diedre whispered to Stephanie, pointing. “The door right at the end.”

“Okay.” Stephanie said, nodding. “See you soon.”

Ed caught her elbow, before she could walk on.

“Remember, what I told you.” he said. “Take care.”

“Promise.” Stephanie said, smiling underneath her mask.

“Come on, stop babying her.” Diedre hissed in Ed’s ear, dragging him away. “She’ll be fine.”

“I know.” Ed returned.

“This way.” Diedre said, moving more confidently now that they were on the lower floors she was familiar with. They stopped outside a door marked ‘maintenance’ and Diedre drew out a key she had stolen.

She unlocked the door and showed Ed in, closing the door firmly behind them.

Ed rushed over to a panel in the wall.

“This it?” he asked Diedre.

“Yep.” she replied. “Here’s where you can tap into the CCTV.”

Ed took off his rucksack searching for a suitable screwdriver and unscrewing the panel from the wall. He began untangling the wires inside and fixing a device to them and a screen where he and Diedre could watch the CCTV footage.

“This is live, right?” Diedre whispered.

“Yes. I’m going to record a bit now.” Ed said starting the process. “Done.” he said. “Can you pass me the phone for Nina?”

“Sure.” She said, dialling and passing the phone to Ed.

“Nina are you there?” he asked, the second it was picked up.

“Yes, I’m here and ready.” Nina’s voice replied. “There are so many cables.” she said sounding faintly bewildered, not inspiring any confidence.

“Have you found the right ones?” asked Ed in concern.

“Yes.” Nina said, sounding more certain.

“Is the box in place?”

“Yes.”

“Remember what I told you. When you put the crocodile clips on, nothing will happen, then after ten seconds, the power will cut out. Take the clips and put them both on the red wire. Got it?”

“Got it.” Nina said, sounding strained.

There was a tense pause and some rustling over the phone and the faint snap of the crocodile clips.

“Done.” Nina said.

The room fell black.

“Thanks Nina.” Ed said, ringing off and handing the phone back to Diedre as she switched on her torch. “The second the power comes on, I’ve got to put my recorded feed in and Stephanie will be in the room.” Ed told Diedre, fiddling with his machine.  The lights came on and Ed jumped to connect the feed. “Done.” Ed said.

“Yes. We’ve got to get to the other room.” Diedre said urgently as they reloaded their bags and put them back on their shoulders. On the way to the room they had to duck behind some large potted plants to avoid being seen by a patrolling security guard. Outside of the room there was no sign of Stephanie.

Ed looked at his watch in concern.

“The thirty seconds was up a while ago. What’s taking her so long?” he hissed to Diedre nervously.

“Have faith Ed.” she replied.

They waited ten more seconds before the door opened.

“What took you so long?” Ed demanded as he and Diedre dumped all their bags onto the floor.

“I got all of the motion sensors in time, but the lasers switched back on, so I had to slide under to get to the box to put in the wires.” Stephanie explained as she struggled into the harness.

“Good.” Ed said curtly and he untangled the ropes.

Meanwhile Diedre searched frantically through the bags for a can of spray paint before rushing to paint a circle around the podium the vase was on.

“Everything beyond this point is a pressure pad.” she said, pointing to the line.

“Okay.” Stephanie said apprehensively, as Ed made sure she was secured to the necessary ropes.

Deidre set up the equipment and fired the grappling iron so the ropes would be secured to the metal beams making up the structure the spotlights which lit the vase were attached to.

“Ready?” Ed asked.

Stephanie nodded and together Ed and Diedre worked to lift her up into the air before lowering her back down, so she was hovering above the vase.

“Down, down, down. Stop!” Stephanie said, her fingers a few inches from the vase, letting herself down the remaining inches.

Slowly and with reverence, her hand closed around the vase and she drew it towards her, before carefully hugging it to her chest.

“Now get me the hell down!” she said.

Ed and Diedre worked painstakingly to lower Stephanie to the ground totally undamaged. Once unhooked from the apparatus, Stephanie passed the vase to Ed with shaking hands. He more steadily wrapped it up and put it into a cushioned case before zipping it up.

“It’s safe.” he muttered.

“Good, now let’s go!” Diedre said and she and Stephanie gathered up their things hurriedly before scanning the place to check they hadn’t left anything and jogging to the door.

Together they ran to the roof. Diedre reached again for the grappling iron and fired it to hook onto the building on the other side of the street. One by one they slid across to the roof of that building.

“Come on.” Diedre said, once Ed had landed last. “Nina will be waiting.” She said, pulling off her headgear, the other two following suit.

They ran down the fire escape and down an alleyway to a backstreet where there was to slick black sports car waiting that Nina and Diedre had acquired two days ago.

“Got it?” Nina asked, the second they all fell into their seats, Diedre at her side, meeting her girlfriend with a celebratory kiss on the cheek, Ed and Stephanie in the back.

“Yes.” Ed said. “Now let’s get back before anyone finds out we were here.”

Chapter Text

The day before the opening of The Riddle Factory, a gleeful Diedre bounced into the place weighed down with shopping bags of costumes that she’d stolen from an expensive clothes store. Ed was impressed that she’d chosen a better-quality version of his favourite green one, with slight changes in exactly the right size and added glitter. Showing the collectors the vase went without a hitch, performed by Ed and Diedre in full costume, so they all prepared for The Riddler’s stage appearance.

Nina agreed to allow some members of The Narrows who were interested and she trusted to come in, providing her team of bodyguards searched them for weapons beforehand. Grundy was stationed by the stage along with Diedre, who did her best to give him simple and clear instructions about what action to take if it seemed like anyone was in danger.

Nina who was predictably worried about the evening and approached Ed just as they were about ready to start. Ed’s crew were costumed, including Nina in a mask covering most of her face, but for her mouth and was made up of a fine metallic green material creating the illusion of being a construction of lace forming occasional glittering question marks. She wore an off-the-shoulder purple, wide-legged jumpsuit with a green belt.

“Before you ask, everything is fine.” Ed interrupted her before she asked.

“As long as you’re sure.” she said, narrowing her eyes dubiously. “Is the vase safe?”

“Yes, Stephanie and I made completely sure of it ourselves.” Ed assured her.

“It got transported safely?”

“Yes, how many times do I need to tell you?” Ed asked.

He and Stephanie had gone to extra trouble to ensure that they’d been seen to go to a lot off trouble to transport the box that Nina assumed held the vase had been sent to a ‘secure location’ to make sure it wasn’t stolen.

“Very well. I’ll be keeping an eye on things.” she said abruptly, before departing to the balcony where the makeshift spotlight was held.

Ed gave Diedre the nod and stepped up to where he felt most at home; on stage.

“Good Evening. Ladies and Gentlemen, I am the Riddler, welcome to the Riddle Factory.”

There was polite applause initially.

“Tonight, we have a very special guest, our contestant of the evening, Mr Lars.” Ed said, presenting the nervous-looking man with a flourish.

“The deal is this.” Ed announced. “I’ll be asking Mr Lars here a riddle. If he gets it right within thirty seconds, he gets to ask me a riddle. If I can’t answer it within thirty seconds he’ll walk out of here with that expensive pot. If he gets my riddle wrong, or I get his riddle within thirty seconds he’ll pay up the price of the pot in cold hard cash and we get to keep it and sell it to fund Doctor Damfino’s clinic. How does that sound?”

A cheer rose from the crowd.

“Are you ready, Mr Lars?” the man gave a silent nod. “Are you ready?” Ed shouted to the crowd.

There was an enthusiastic reply.

“Okay! Enigma, are you ready on the timer?”

The woman in question entered the sage from the opposite side, blowing Ed a theatrical kiss, gleaming and glittering purple and green in the spotlights. For Stephanie, Diedre had chosen a dark purple dress of a satin-like material that shimmered with shades of magenta as it caught the light. It was accented by an emerald green belt around a clinched-in waist the clasp of which was shaped like a question mark and many layers of green petticoats the hems of which peeked out from underneath the skirt. She also wore a matching sparkling purple domino mask.

“Ready!” she replied smiling, poised to start the timer.

“I build up castles but tear down mountains, make some men blind but others see. What am I?” Ed asked.

Enigma jumped to turn the timer.

Mr Lars started sweating with nerves within ten seconds and trembling within twenty, especially when Ed stood over him giving a dangerous smile. Ed had no intention of harming him, but he remembered, to some extent, the exhilarating power he felt in knowing that another person was afraid of him, had his life in Ed’s hands. How the fear at that thought that had been supressed by Ed for so long was now sickening and Ed could feel uncomfortable heat rising under his skin.

“Ten seconds left.” Enigma called, making Lars jump perceptibly and Ed shake himself, pulling himself back to the present moment. “eight…seven…” she counted, and the crowd joined in. “Zero!” they all finished.

“Your time is up.” Ed told him grinning. “I’m feeling nice, one last chance for an answer.”

“Stone.” Mr Lars said hurriedly.

“Incorrect!” Ed said gleefully, unable to contain himself at outwitting someone. “Any ideas? Enigma?” he asked turning to his colleague.

Enigma stood for a moment in thought, posing, tapping her amethyst painted lips for a second, pretending to think.

“Hmm…” she said. “Would that be sand?”

“Correct!” Ed said and the crowed applauded and Enigma curtseyed gracefully.

“So, Mr Lars,” Ed continued, “the money if you please.”

As the man handed over the briefcase and keys, the crowd cheered. Ed passed it on to Enigma who took it away, escorted by Grundy to check the money was there in full and not counterfeit.

“My lovely friend will count it. Mr Lars, don’t you move.” he said, slightly threateningly leaning over the chair. “Ladies and gentlemen, that concludes our evening.”

There were sounds of disappointment.

“Come on now, everyone.” Diedre called. “The sooner you give us a bit of space the sooner we can use the money to help you lot!”

The guards Nina had posted started encouraging people out of the door and Diedre slipped up onto the stage.

“Ed, a word.” she said, ushering him a safe distance away from Mr Lars. “Ed, there’s a man waiting for you out the back.” Diedre said in a low voice, so they couldn’t be overheard. “He was in the audience, so Nina must have approved him, but I couldn’t place him, so I asked him who he was. He said; ‘Tell him it’s Foxy.’”

Ed had been too dazzled by the spotlights to notice any specific audience members, so this came as a shock. Ed, pulled Diedre away out of Mr Lars’ earshot so fast that she stumbled.

“Sorry.” he said hurriedly. “Where is he?”

“In the kitchenette.”

Ed ran off the stage passing Stephanie on her way to Lars.

“Hey!” Lars interrupted “can I go home yet?”

“Yes, yes.” Stephanie said, distractedly. “Hey, Ed where are you going?”

“Foxy.”

“Oh, right.” Stephanie said as Ed pushed past.

“What was that about?” Diedre asked Stephanie as Ed went out of earshot.

 

 -------------------------------------

 

“Foxy, what are you doing here?” Ed demanded immediately, anxious at the sight of Lucius. He wondered how much Lucius had gathered about the evening and was afraid of disappointing him. It was strange that Lucius never seemed judgemental, he’d always seemed accepting, but at the same time he had a way of making Ed feel guilty when he knew he’d done something wrong.

“This was where I was told you would be.” Lucius said.

Ed looked at Lucius searchingly. He found Lucius’ expression hard to determine, but he thought he seemed calm, not that that helped as Lucius was almost always calm.

“By who?” Ed asked sharply.

“Cherry. I saw the show, by the way.” Lucius said.

“You did?” Ed sour panic seeping into the pit of his stomach. “Are you angry?”

“Angry? Should I be?” Lucius asked, his brow crinkling slightly.

Ed still couldn’t tell what this reaction meant, doing nothing to ease his apprehension.

“Well…You want me to be a good citizen, all prim and law-abiding and all this isn’t exactly legal.” Ed offered timidly.

“You mean the stolen object from the mafia boss that’s just mysteriously reappeared?” Lucius, not quite hiding a smile. “Maybe I did want that for you,” Lucius said, slowly “but I don’t think that being law-abiding necessarily makes a good citizen.”

Ed regarded Lucius perplexedly.

“Who are you and what have you done with Lucius Fox?”

“Let’s just say I’m glad of the more humane modifications made to your game. It’s certainly progress.” Lucius allowed.

“I did promise you.”

“You did and I’m pleased. Do you want to get a drink?”

“I’d love to.” Ed said, smiling.

 

 ------------------------------

 

The place Lucius took Ed was on the edge of the Narrows, close enough that the GCPD still didn’t quite dare to venture there, but it was quiet, and the quality of liquor was significantly better than deeper in The Narrows had to offer.

“How are you?” Lucius asked, out of habit almost as soon as they’d sit down.

“I’m not going to answer that tonight.” Ed said, smiling playfully. “We’re always talking about me. I want to know about you.”

“What do you want to know?”

“You don’t make sense to me. You shouldn’t exist, you know.”

“What do you mean?” Lucius asked.

“I mean… there aren’t supposed to be any good people in Gotham.”

It was a mark of how far their friendship had come, that Ed was prepared to embark on such a heavy topic, especially one which could rapidly become personal, so early on.

“Why ever not? Anyway, people aren’t just good or bad, you know. There’s no clear line.”

“Which am I?”

“A combination of both, like everyone else.” Lucius answered, with a quick straightforwardness that made Ed suspicious.

“What do you want from me?” he asked suspiciously. “Why do you keep coming back here? Don’t say it’s that crime that happened that everyone’s forgotten about. You haven’t even mentioned it in ages.”

Lucius paused, seeming to be having to think about the answer, but Ed couldn’t tell if it was because he was fabricating a story or because he genuinely wasn’t sure of the answer.

“I’m not sure why I keep coming back.” Lucius replied eventually and Ed desperately wanted to believe him. “I suppose… spending time down here is… eye-opening.”

“What does that mean?” Ed asked, with honest curiosity.

“You and Nina are trying to change things around here and I can see you starting to succeed, and it makes me think. What you said before, about wanting to make a positive change in Gotham by working for the GCPD, but it not being possible, I think there might be something in that.” Lucius admitted.

“So, you want to play the hero down here? You think you can save me?” Ed scoffed. “Well, you can’t. I can’t be saved. I’m too far gone.” he said, more out of defeat than any pride.

“Don’t say that.” Lucius said, surprisingly loudly and firmly, forcing Ed to look up at him. “It’s not like that, Ed. You’re making progress. You’re not helpless. You don’t need that kind of help. Apart from which, I don’t have any interest in playing the hero. I just like you.”

“You’re just saying that.” Ed said, wanting to believe it, but not yet daring to. “You see me as broken and needing to be fixed, no matter how often you protest that it’s not true.”

Lucius seemed confused and surprised.

“When I look at you, that’s not what I see at all.” Lucius said emphatically.

“What do you see?” Ed asked, leaning forward, expression hungry.

Lucius met his gaze unflinchingly.

“I see someone clever and strong and resilient. Someone who’s been through a lot and hasn’t given up yet. You don’t need saving. You’ve got half-way there on your own. You’re not the same man who held a gun to my head that night after Penguin died and neither am I, for that matter. That night was a cry for help, wasn’t it?”

Ed gulped at the memory and all that came with it and nodded wordlessly.

“I picked up that,” Lucius continued “but I didn’t know what to do. Back then, I thought the only way to help was to bring in the law, but that’s not what you needed. They wouldn’t have helped. You’re a person who deserves to be treated like one and sending you to be locked up in Arkham wouldn’t have helped.”

“Why did you want to help?” Ed asked, having always wanted an answer to this question, but not having been trusting enough to ask it and gain an honest answer until now.

“Because that’s what you do when someone is in distress.” Lucius said simply, as though it should have been obvious.

“Is it?” Ed challenged. “That’s not what most people in Gotham believe.”

“It’s what I believe though.” Lucius said as though this should have been explanation enough, which, in a way, Ed supposed it was. “Getting to know you has been important for me, Ed. Before I saw everything as more polarised. Sometimes things aren’t simply right or wrong. I don’t think I fully understood that before.”

“Lucius, I’ve killed people.” Ed said bluntly, before drawing a breath to ask the crucial question. “Doesn’t that bother you?”

“Of course, it does.” Lucius answered promptly. “I’m not saying that it was right, but it’s not up to me to forgive you. I’ve spent a long time considering it, believe me. It’s terrible that people died, but I would argue that they weren’t all your fault. Some of them, yes, but it really your fault when you’re struggling with an abusive hallucination, or PTSD, or drug addiction to cope with grief? Especially when nobody really offered you proper help.”

Ed was overwhelmingly touched by this response. It was strange to see someone who recognised what he’d done, what he’d felt about it and seemed to quietly understand in some way and accept it. The last person to get close to that had been Oswald, but he’d never really sympathised with Ed’s struggles in quite this way.

“I don’t deserve you.” he whispered.

“That’s not true. You’re not a bad person, Ed and I’m going to keep telling you that until you believe it.”

Ed pushed off the words, before he got too emotional.

“Stop doing that.”

“What?”

“Dodging talking about yourself.”

“I wasn’t.”

“You were.” Ed said, grinning victoriously, before looking sympathetic. “You seem tired.”

“Yes, there are a lot of things going on at work.”

“Anything I can help with?” Ed asked hopefully.

“No, I don’t think so.” Lucius said, fatigued. “Someone’s attacking police officers. We’ve reached the conclusion it’s a statement about the GCPD doing the Penguin’s bidding, so I don’t think you should get involved.”

“Well, if there’s any chance Oswald is involved, I’d rather stay out of it. I’m not ready to face him yet. Are you okay, though?”

“Yes. I mean, I’m not thrilled about the situation, but I can manage.”

They talked for a while about the occupational hazards of being a forensic scientist before Ed asked about Lucius job at Wayne Enterprises which, after a few drinks unearthed Lucius’ huge crush on his former employer. Ed wasn’t particularly surprised to find Lucius was attracted to men, at this point, but he especially seemed to be attracted to Thomas Wayne’s intelligence and Ed in return admitted to his crush on Jim Gordon when he’d arrived at the GCPD to which Lucius easy reply was; “Doesn’t everyone fancy him?”

It was very rare for Ed to drink this much, the charming company made Ed grow comfortably warm inside, as the world became pleasantly fuzzy. Ed was altogether far too comfortable and then something happened that made Ed realise he was truly doomed. Lucius smiled. It wasn’t one of the soft fleeting sort he’d grown to treasure, no it was full and long and Ed could half believe that the warmth from it was making him melt completely inside.

The sight filled Ed with a fizzing kind of happiness, and he returned a glowing smile. The idea struck Ed that he desperately wanted to cover those lips with his own. Instead, he drew himself to a stop before leaning across the table and offered up a question, coyly.

“You are happy when you give me away and sad when you don’t. What am I?”

Ed watched Lucius blink, his intelligent dark eyes becoming unfocussed a second in thought, before latching back onto Ed’s.

“Um... a smile?” Lucius said. “Was there a reason for that particular riddle?”

“I-I- I just-” the words stumbled over one another as they struggled to leave Ed’s mouth. “I just like it when you smile- at me.” he mumbled.

“Oh.” Lucius said, surprised. “Thank you?”

“Um, yes. I-I think I should go now.” Ed said, too embarrassed to meet Lucius gaze.

Chapter Text

After the success of opening night, Nina was much more inclined to be friendly towards Ed. She even asked him for assistance treating the injuries at her clinic. Ed wasn’t keen to take on the role, but it turned out that he was a hero amongst the people of the Narrows for bringing the money which was helping Nina to provide better healthcare and the difference was palpable. Nina no longer looked to rushed off her feet and the hoards that crowded outside of her door every morning diminished far faster than before, as she was increasingly able to give useful help.

“Ed, it’s good to see you. How are you?” she asked when they met for another counselling session.

“I’m well.”

“I’ve got your latest blood tests back; you’re much improved and seem to be healthy.”

“Good.”

“How is your mental health? Have you been practicing the techniques I taught you?”

“Yes. It’s going fine.” Ed said honestly. “I haven’t seen The Riddler in a while. I feel… better balanced. I’ve not been so emotional, and I haven’t had any serious nightmares or panic attacks.”

“Are you…satisfied with life, at the moment?”

“Yes, thank you. Thanks for your help, by the way and letting me help with tending to injuries. It’s nice to work on living patients for a change.”

“You think so?” Nina said in surprise.

“Lots of the people here are nice. I wasn’t expecting that. I like looking after people, but I haven’t had the opportunity to until recently.”

“They’re grateful to the improvements to the clinic you’ve helped me to make. I’d never thought of you as a people person.”

“I’m not, really, but who doesn’t like making other people happy?”

Nina didn’t reply but stared at Ed wearing an expression Ed couldn’t work out.

“What is it?” he asked.

“It’s just, there are times, Ed, when I think I’ve got to understand you and then you say something like that.”

“Like what? I don’t think it’s very strange to want to look after people. It’s what you’ve spent your life doing - and Stephanie and Lucius.”

“Stephanie tells me you’ve been seeing rather a lot of Lucius.”

“Yes.” Ed said. “Actually, I’ve been meaning to ask you something.”

“Is it related?”

“Yes and no. It’s important.”

“Go on.”

“Is… is it possible to go your whole life not realising that you were attracted to more than one gender and then suddenly…I think I’m bisexual.”

“About-” Nina began, before cutting herself off. “No.”

“About what?” Ed asked, worriedly.

“I was going to say something very unprofessional.” Nina said smiling.

“What?”

“No.”

“No, say it.” Ed insisted. “You can’t back out now.”

“I was going to say…about time!” Nina said grinning.

“Oh.” he said, bowing his head and blushing. “You knew. Was it so obvious? What gave it away?”

“Yes, it was obvious. A lot of things gave it away. I remember you trailing after Jim like a puppy dog, for example.”

Ed’s flush deepened.

“There were other times when I’d seen you looking at a man and... well.” Nina continued. “What made you finally realise?”

“I have a slight crush…on a man. Well, not a slight crush. A huge crush. No…” Ed shook his head thoughtfully. "Not a crush. It’s too serious for that.”

“Oh, god no! Not now.” Nina said, seeming exasperated.

“What?” Ed asked.

“Surely it hasn’t taken you this long to realise that you fancy the Penguin?” Nina asked disbelieveingly.

“Oswald?” Ed said. “No, not him. Wait- what do you mean? How long have you known?”

“Ages?” Nina offered, seeming amused.

“Well, it wasn’t him I was thinking of. Well, I mean I- No, back to the point.”

“Who is it?”

“I- It’s Lucius Fox.” Ed said breathlessly.

Nina blinked, falling silent and when she didn’t speak, Ed began to worry.

“What’s wrong?” Ed asked.

“Nothing.” Nina said. “I’m just pleasantly surprised is all, but I don’t know why. Now I think of it, I can completely see why.”

“I know, isn’t he wonderful?” Ed gushed, before having the chance to think about it. “He’s so clever, he thinks deeply about things, is a visionary sometimes. And he’s handsome and so kind and so gentle. I haven’t known many men like that. The way he talks and listens, I can talk to him about anything. I think he’s absolutely… I can’t even think of words.” Ed said dreamily.

“Oh dear.” Nina muttered. “You like him, then? You seem happy about it. Why did you want to discuss it with me?”

“Well, when I’m with him, not having to worry, I’m so happy. Just being around him, talking to him, makes me happier than I think I’ve ever been, but when I dare to think about it…” Ed broke off “When I think about him as more than a friend I…” Ed took a tense breath and shook his head. “It’s stupid.”

“No it isn’t. It’s alright. I’m sure I won’t think so.”

“There’s part of me… that feels guilty for being attracted to him.”

“Why do you think that is?”

Ed’s hands fiddled in his lap for a moment before he spoke.

“When… when I was a kid there was another boy who I got really close friends with. I’d never had a proper friend before. I think I would have been about twelve. Most of the other children didn’t like that I was cleverer than them and I always had trouble speaking to them. I’ve never really understood other people. People do strange things and they get upset and sometimes I don’t understand why. If I tried to be friendly, they’d say I was annoying and because I was always on my own, I got picked on, but he wasn’t like them. He was quiet even and though he wasn’t as clever as me, he’d listen and could keep up better than most people and if he did something I didn’t get, or I did something he didn’t like, he’d explain why, instead of being nasty about it.” Ed sighed, seeming on edge. “Anyways, I was at his house and he had an older brother who had a girlfriend and he said that it was annoying her being around the house because he would ignore him and would sit around kissing her all the time.”

Nina nodded, thinking she could see where Ed’s story was going.

“Well,” Ed continued. “I said that I couldn’t see what all the fuss about kissing was about, that it was strange that adults made such a big deal of it and that it was very unhygienic.”

Nina supressed a smile at this.

“He suggested trying it and I was curious, so we sort of…did.”

“On each other?” Nina verified.

“Yes.” Ed said, blushing again. “Truth is, I liked it a lot and I think he did too, because we kept doing it and I didn’t realise… I didn’t realise that my dad was there.” Ed whispered.

Nina noticed Ed’s hands starting to tremble in his lap and swallowed down a sickening feeling.

“He was so angry.” Ed whispered. “He dragged me away and kept hitting me and my friend was screaming and my dad hit him too and… and…” when Ed started taking again his words were rushed as though going faster would not make their impact as bad. “He dragged me home and gave me a beating and told me I was a sick freak and that if he ever caught me doing that again he’d wring my neck and made me promise never to speak to my friend again. He broke my arm and I had to go to hospital, and he was angry at me for being too weak to take it and costing him money and I had to lie about how it had happened like usual. I didn’t speak to my friend again and he moved away.” Ed stopped to take a calming breath and when he began again, his words were slower and more measured.

“The other night I nearly kissed Lucius, but I couldn’t, because even though I know it’s not rational, part of me believes what my father said and I can’t help but worry that someone will come along and do to us what happened before and I couldn’t bear it if anything happened to Lucius.” Ed said with feeling. “The worst thing is that I think he might like me a bit too and I know he’s into men. He’s so compassionate and good and he deserves better than me. He should be with someone safe and decent like he is, but he won’t accept that. Even if he were to fall in love with someone else, I wouldn’t mind, but it’s Gotham so they’d probably be a criminal too. Or he’d do what he’s done before and fall for someone he thinks he can’t have and just watch them, and I’d hate to see that happen to him again.” Ed sped up again, trying to catch up with his many worries. “Even if we did get together, I’d worry about him missing out on the person he deserves while he’s with me and I’m worried about us being set on opposing sides. He works for the GCPD and I’m a criminal and if he gave me up to the police, I wouldn’t blame him, but I know he’d blame himself, because he’s far too sympathetic to other people.” Ed finished looking disheartened.

“Okay.” Nina said, digesting all the information thrown her way. “Right. Well… I think we can work together on the things you find triggering. I think we should probably move to your childhood and figure out what exactly it is you find triggering and try and remove the negative associations you’re having, if you’re ready, that is.”

“I think that would be helpful. I’d not fully realised until recently just how much all of that was affecting me.” Ed confessed.

“Good, so we know where to start next time.” Nina said. “With all the rest of it, we can talk through it a bit more and work things out, but honestly the best thing I think you can do is talk to Lucius about all of this.”

“I can’t.” Ed said fearfully.

“Why not?”

“What if he doesn’t like me back?” Ed asked agitatedly. “What if he’s disgusted? What if it’s all too much for him to deal with? What if he doesn’t want to be friends with me anymore? What if he does like me, but something happens to him? What if I do something to him? What if I hurt him?”

“Ed, take a breath.” Nina said gently, waiting until he’d done it. “Good. Listen. I think we both agree that Lucius is an intelligent, patient and caring person, yes?”

“Yes, absolutely.” Ed agreed enthusiastically.

“Good. This is him we’re talking about it. How likely do you think it is that he’ll find out all of this and be put off, if nothing has deterred him so far?”

“I suppose.”

“Discussing these things with him will answer all of your questions. If he’s not prepared to hear you out and be understanding he’s probably not a friend worth having, but we both know he’s not that kind of guy.”

Ed smiled unwillingly, but any response was interrupted by the door being flung open.

“Nina. I need a word.” Cherry interrupted.

“You can’t burst in here. I’m having a private consultation.” Nina objected.

“Well, this session is over. Out.” she ordered Ed.

Nina opened her mouth to argue, but realising allowing Nina to get on Cherry’s bad side, especially given that she was the one hosting Nina’s clinic would be counterproductive, Ed got up.

“It’s alright, Nina I can wait outside.” Ed said leaving the room.

Ed more than once witnessed several arguments between Nina and Cherry. Cherry, it seemed, did not like the effectiveness of the clinic and wasn’t happy Nina had chosen to spend her money there and wanted more funding for her club and from what Ed could overhear this occasion was no different. When Cherry pushed past him on her way out after Nina refused to compromise for the umpteenth time. Ed caught Nina taking a sip from her hipflask as he returned to the room.

“You want to go careful.” Ed said, having noticed Nina using alcohol to cope a few times too often.

“Oh, shut up. I get enough of that from Diedre.” Nina said.

“Why is she being like that?” Ed asked Nina jabbing a thumb in the direction Cherry had just left in as Nina tucked her hip flask away. “Surely, she should be happy that you’re looking after her people, that they’re getting better care, that they’re healthier.”

“She doesn’t look after the people here because she cares about them.” Nina said dismissively. “She does it because they offer her labour for a minimal price. If their living conditions are improving, it means they’re becoming stronger and less likely to accept what little she has to offer them. They’ll start demanding more and she doesn’t want to lose her comfortable place in the hierarchy.”

“It shouldn’t be like that.” Ed said, annoyed.

Despite the poor conditions in The Narrows, he’d grown fond of the people here, not only his friends, but several of the patients he and Nina tended to. To see Cherry lording it over them all was angering.

“It won’t be for long, I don’t think.” Nina said. “There’s a lot of unrest, haven’t you noticed? It’s not just Cherry that people are unhappy about. We’ve got the authorities not helping people and all that corruption and although Penguin stays out of The Narrows, we’re all angry with him for legalising the victimisation of innocent people. People are ready to revolt.”

“What do we do when that happens?” Ed asked.

“I wish I knew.” Nina said wearily.

Chapter Text

“Mr Mayor, thank you so much for meeting with me.”

“Miss Kean. How can I help you?”

Barbara smiled and settled on the corner of the mayor’s desk crossing her legs.

“I’ll get straight to the point.” she said with saccharine sweetness. “I need Harvey Bullock fired and for you to make Jim Gordon the Captain of the GCPD.” she said brightly in the tone you might have used to request a glass of water.

“Why would I want to do that?” the Mayor asked cautiously.

“Surely the thought has already occurred to you.” Barbara said, smirking. “I know that you bowed to Oswald over legalising crime, but you will also have noticed that the temporary peace that brought about isn’t holding too well.” she paused, and the mayor massaged his forehead, unable to contradict her. “Violent crime is rising dramatically.” Barbara continued “I won’t put on any pretences here. You know I provide weapons and ammunition to all the gangs in this city that matter. The leaders aren’t happy at having to pay licence money to the Penguin. Not at all. Jim Gordon isn’t happy about his officers walking away from crime and they’re beginning to stop honouring those licences. We’ve discussed it. We all know that when Oswald finds out what is going on, that people aren’t obeying him, he is going to throw one hell of a tantrum. We both know that a war is imminent. However, together Jim and I are in a position to minimise the damage.”

“How?” the mayor asked curiously.

“Together, with my considerable influence over the gangs and Jim leading the GCPD we have more than enough people to overcome the Penguin. What is more, with the gangs in my command, I should be able to contain the gangs and ensure that violent crime remains at it’s all time low. All you need to do, is recognise Bullock’s incompetence formally and put a more suitable person in command; Jim. However, you need to do it while most people are on our side. People, especially in Gotham, are fickle. I may have their loyalty today, but who can say what will be tomorrow.”

“So, all I need to do is ensure Gordon is appointed as Captain as soon as possible?”

“Exactly.”

 

---------------------------------

 

Selina was fed up. The second Tabitha ran off to find Butch and Barbara went to see Lee with an amorous glint in her eye, she decided that enough was enough. If the two of them were going to waste time and likely let Nygma escape and lead to their deaths at the hands of The Penguin, she wasn’t about to willingly suffer the same fate.

It transpired that catching with him was a lot easier than expected. She spotted him talking to a blonde-haired woman by the ring, followed him when he went into the back of the building crept up behind him and hit over the head. It didn’t knock him out, but he was stunned enough for her to force his hands behind his back and tie him up.

“Gotcha!” Selina said triumphantly finishing tying the knot.

“Not so fast!” a voice said from behind her.

A hard kick was delivered to the small of Selina’s back and she fell to the ground with a grunt, winded, before going to get up again and hearing the click of a guns’ safety being let off above her head.

“Shame, if you hadn’t hurt my friend, I’d say you were pretty cute.”

Selina lifted her head and shook her curls out of her face to see a girl only a few years older than her aiming a revolver at her with steady hands. Coppery curls were tied back into an approximation of a bun, and the expression on the girl’s face was more calculating than hostile.

There was a second click.

“Peek-a-boo.” came Barbara’s gleeful voice. “Look at the little go-getter.” she said grinning at Selina who dragged herself to her feet along with Ed.

“Someone had to be professional while you and Tabby were freaking out.” Selina said, moodily.

“You call this professional?” asked the red-haired girl with a laugh. “Next time check you’re not being tracked, although I can’t really talk though, can I?” she added gesturing vaguely in Barbara’s direction.

“Butch, Butch please.” came Tabitha’s muffled voice from the corridor before Grundy and Tabitha cam bursting into the room Tabitha dragging Grundy behind her.

Barbara tugged Ed away from Stephanie and Selina scrambled up to move behind Ed slightly, seeing the dangerous look on Grundy’s face.

“Ed!” Grundy shouted, looking between Barbara who was pointing a gun at Ed’s head, Ed and an angry-looking Stephanie.

“Butch!” Tabby cried when Grundy advanced on Barbara.

“Tell zombie Butch to back off!” Barbara ordered to Stephanie who glared defiantly at her.

“Grundy kill everyone!” Grundy roared.

“Butch!” Tabitha cried in protest.

“Grundy, no!” shouted Stephanie moving between Barbara’s gun and Grundy.

“Ed is not your friend.” Tabitha insisted.

“Don’t listen to her, Grundy.” Ed argued.

Grundy merely growled and attempted to push Tabitha off, making a move to attack Barbara.

“Enough!” Nina shouted from the doorway, flanked by Diedre who drew her gun.

“Everybody take it easy. Steph, put down the gun.” Nina ordered.

“But-” Stephanie began.

“Quiet!” Nina looked and noticed Selina by Ed’s shoulder. “Selina, what are you doing with these two?” Nina demanded in surprise.

“Looking for trouble.” Selina said bluntly.

“Well, you found plenty of it trying to take Ed.” Diedre snarled.

“Let him go!” Nina ordered.

“You’re such a bleeding heart, Lee.” Barbara scoffed. “I thought you’d changed, but it turns out you just got a new hairdo.”

Grundy let out a growl and moved towards Barbara.

“Code of The Narrows!” Selina cried out in alarm. “Code of The Narrows! Let’s settle it in the ring, champion against champion. The winner would take Ed.”

“So your best fighter against our best fighter?” Diedre suggested, scoffing, looking at Grundy. “Yeah, let’s do that.” she said enthusiastically.

“What? No!” protested Stephanie. “It’s not a fair fight. Grundy will tear whoever it is to pieces.”

“Good!” said Diedre glaring at Barbara.

“Yes, we’ll do it!” said Tabitha.

“What?” Stephanie shrieked. “You’re crazy. Besides, you profess to love him, right? What are you thinking of, planning to hurt him?”

“We’re doing it.” Tabitha decided.

“You’re on.” Diedre replied. “Please follow me.”

The fight that ensued was chaotic. When it became clear that Tabitha really had knocked Grundy out Barbara attempted to drag Ed away.

“Hey, not so fast!” Stephanie interrupted pointing her gun in Barbara’s face.

“Look, sweetie, don’t waste my time. Save yourself and run.” Barbara insisted, attempting to pull Ed with her under the ring’s ropes, but the angry crowd wouldn’t let her go and Stephanie let off the safety on her gun.

Barbara met Stephanie’s gaze with a humourless smile, as though seeing her for the first time.

“Oh, honey, you really don’t want to do that.” Barbara said, turning her gun on Stephanie, maniacal smile firmly in place.

“Give me up, Barbara. You’re getting out of here empty-handed.” Ed said, attempting to distract her away from Stephanie, but before he had the chance the room was flooded in orange light and filled with the sound of crackling fire. Everyone turned to face the source and there was a din of shouting and screaming.

“In the name of Penguin, everybody back the hell off!” the woman in the midst of the fire shouted.

“Oh, well. Look at that, the cavalry.” Barbara said with satisfaction.

“Not so fast. The boss gave you a deadline. You missed it.” Firefly replied.

“So what? We got Ed; we are literally champions here.” Barbara smirked.

“What you are is four courses of barbecue. Crispy skin.” Firefly smirked.

Seeing Barbara was occupied, Stephanie rushed over to Grundy, shaking him to wake him up. When he eventually got ready to attack, Firefly let off another ball of fire and Grundy cowered into a ball.

“What’s the matter, gruesome? Afraid of fire?” Firefly asked mockingly.

“Come on, Brigit, don’t do this. You’re from the Narrows.” Selina attempted to reason.

“Yeah, and I couldn’t be happier to be out.” Brigit replied uncaringly. “Penguin’s right about this place. It’s a sewer. The only way to kill the stink... is to burn it.”

Nina seemed to swell with anger as she took a few steps down.

“Hey Firefly! You’re the only one who stinks around here.” Nina shouted raising her gun and shooting her without hesitation.

“Brigit!” Selina cried in alarm, ducking down into the crowd.

“Do you know what you’ve done?” demanded Cherry of Nina. “Firefly’s Penguin’s enforcer.”

“And who’s the one who got Firefly down here, Cherry?” asked Nina before raising her voice. “She informed on Ed to Penguin.” Nina announced to the crowd pointing at Cherry accusingly.

“What?” Ed cried disbelievingly and the crowd broke into shouts of anger.

“Shut up!” said Cherry. “Shut up!” she shouted. “This is my club, it’s my turf. You guys just do as you’re told like the scum you are. They’re the ones that are the problem.” she insisted, pointing at Barbara and her crew, hoping to sway the angry crowd’s attention away from her. “They work for Penguin.”

This only seemed to incense the crowd further. Ed felt Barbara’s hold on him loosen and moved away grabbing Stephanie’s elbow to pull her with him. They only made it to the other side of the boxing ring ropes however before a shot rang out and Cherry fell to the ground. They turned back and everyone’s eyes turned to Barbara Kean.

“I would like to announce that we just quit working for Penguin!” Barbara said triumphantly, brandishing her gun.

The crowd’s shouting fell away to tense, uncertain muttering, before people started cheering, the crowd’s attention turned to Nina and somebody started chanting “Doc, Doc, Doc!” soon most of the room joining in.

Barbara looked about her and seeing nobody was paying her any attention grabbed Tabitha, scrambling to leave. Ed, noticing this, went to Grundy’s side shaking him.

“Hey, it’s okay big guy. Fire lady, she can’t hurt you.” he said comfortingly.

“Grundy safe?”

“Yeah.” Ed said before looking around for Stephanie who had slipped away somewhere.

--------------------------------

Selina fought her way through the crowd to where Firefly had fallen. She got through to the spot where Firefly’s equipment was in a mangled heap, but Firefly herself was nowhere to be found. Selina smelled the strong scent of roses and fruit close to her and felt the warmth of someone by her shoulder.

“Selina, isn’t it?” a low feminine voice said in her ear.

Selina twisted round, detaching her whip from her hip, but the girl caught the loop of the whip, snatching it away and tossing it to the floor before Selina could uncurl it, but Enigma made no move to pull a gun this time.

“They call me Cat. What do you want?” she asked coldly looking into the other girl’s face.

“Why? Because you’re so great at slipping in and out of places, or because you have nine lives?” Enigma asked curiously.

Selina rolled her eyes.

“Don’t waste my time.” Selina snapped. “What do you want with me?”

“I don’t know.” the girl said almost dreamily, eyes glinting with mischief. “I saw you running off there and you seemed the least sold on what was going on here. Also, Nina was surprised to see you with your… companions. I’m curious.”

“Nina?”

“I suppose you’ll know her as Dr Thompkins or something.”

“Right. Who even are you?”

“Enigma at your service.” Enigma said bowing in a pantomime-like expression of gallantry. “But you can call me Stephanie Brown.”

“Why aren’t you attacking me, Stephanie Brown?” Selina asked suspiciously.

“Ooh! We can fight if you’d like. I bet you’ve got some fancy moves.” Stephanie said, smiling excitedly.

“You’re Nygma’s sidekick.” Selina pointed out.

“I prefer to be seen as his colleague.”

“Don’t flatter yourself.”

“Give me food, and I will live. Give me water, and I will die. What am I?” Stephanie asked suddenly.

“What?” Selina said blankly.

“Fire. Why d’you run after Firefly? You seem attached.”

“None of your business.” Selina replied, narrowing her eyes to a scowl.

“Ah, you were friends. You’re worried about her.” Stephanie said sympathetically.

“If you already know, why bother to ask?”

“Asking questions and knowing all the answers is my job. Never mind that. I have a far more interesting question. Why is Barbara Kean working for the Penguin? That doesn’t seem like her style, from what Nina and Ed have told me about her.”

“He’s running things around here. If she doesn’t want to die, of course she’s working for him. You want to be careful. If you’re hiding Nygma, it’s only a matter of time before he comes for you.”

“Given you failed your mission, it’s only a matter of time before he comes for you. But it still doesn’t make sense. Miss Kean doesn’t do anything, from what I hear, without getting something out of it. She hates being ordered about. Not long ago she had grand ambitions to run this city and now she’s a lowly henchwoman? I don’t think so.”

“Is there a point to this?” Selina asked, impatiently, not able to shake off the feeling that Stephanie might be right.

“Just thinking aloud.” Stephanie shrugged. “I came to tell you, if you’re thinking of trying to take Ed again it won’t be so easy, especially now Nina’s in charge. Not that it would be a good idea for you to go back to Penguin, now that he’ll surely have issued orders to kill you.”

“So?”

“You could always stick around here.” the girl suggested. “It may not be the most luxurious down here, but now Nina’s succeeding pulling everyone together and once you’re a hero they’ll be very loyal. I’m sure we could arrange to have you looked after.”

“I’ll pass, thanks.” Selina replied, not about to trust The Riddler’s stooge.

“That’s a shame.” Stephanie replied sounding sincerely disappointed. “Come and see me if you change your mind. One last question; I have no feet, no hands, no wings, but I climb to the sky. What am I?”

“I don’t have time for this.”

“Smoke. Your boss Barbara is plotting something I’ll bet and something big. There’s no smoke without fire, kitten. Be careful. Bye, bye kitten." Stephanie said, blowing Selina a kiss.

Chapter Text

“What’s with them?” Nina asked Diedre in a whisper, as she tended to Grundy as best she could.

“They’re acknowledging their new leader.” Diedre said. “Well, like I said, they love you.”

Nina stared at her, before glancing at Ed doubtfully.

“Nina, think.” Ed said. “You heal their children. You stitch up their warriors. You’ve slain a fire-breathing monster and you helped topple the queen. This is your turf now.”

“No, no, no, no, no. I’m not a leader.” she protested.

“You already are. If you don’t do it, somebody else will, probably someone worse than Cherry.” Ed pointed out.

“Where do I start?” Nina asked in bewilderment.

“Don’t look at me.” Ed said with a shrug.

“Just make them happy, give them something to cheer for.” Diedre suggested.

Nina got up shakily to address the room.

“Drinks on the house!” she shouted.

The room broke into cheering.

“Yay. Get them drunk, that should clear this place up.” Diedre muttered, rolling her eyes.

“Do you have a better idea?” Nina asked under her breath.

“No.” Diedre replied.

“Ed?” Nina said hopefully.

Ed looked at the crowd fighting their way to the bar and Nina’s worried face.

“Let’s sit down and talk about it.” he said as a non-answer.

Nina finished tending to Grundy. They all made their way to a quieter part of the room.

“Wait, where’s Stephanie?” Nina asked, looking around the crowd.

“Didn’t she go after that Selina girl?” Diedre said.

“Looking for me?” Stephanie asked over Nina’s shoulder.

“Are you alright?” Ed asked. “You just disappeared. I thought Barbara might have gotten to you.”

“I’m fine, Ed. I just thought I’d have a word with the girl, Selina. She didn’t seem too thrilled to be part of Barbara’s plans and I got the impression you thought she was decent, Nina, so I thought I’d try to convince her to stick around. I’ll bet she’s smart. She’s certainly good at slipping in and out of places.”

“That wasn’t a bad idea.” Nina admitted. “Any success?”

“Not yet, but I think she was intrigued by me. I think she’ll be back.” Stephanie said confidently. “What’s the meeting for?” Stephanie asked.

“Apparently I’m the new leader of The Narrows. Where do I even start? How are we going to do it? What do I do?”

“Calm down Nina. You’ll be fine. Everyone is behind you. You’re in charge.” Ed pointed out.

“But that doesn’t mean I know what to do.”

“Look. Keep it simple. What do you want for the Narrows?” Ed asked. “What do you want it to look like in the future?”

Nina frowned in thought.

“Well, for there to be better healthcare,” she began hesitantly, “better living conditions, education and less violence.” she said.

“Right. So, what do you need to do to make those things happen?”

“Well, I could do with more trained people offering healthcare, volunteer teachers, persuading people to resolve their disputes peacefully, supplies, food.”

“Okay, so how do we-” Ed broke off as his phone began to buzz and he looked down at this. “Sorry. It’s Lucius, can I take this?”

“Yes, off you go.” Nina urged.

“Hello. Lucius?” Ed answered as he walked out into the lobby between Nina’s clinic and the club.

“Ed. I’m really sorry about this, but I won’t be able to make it this afternoon. It’s work. There’s been a case and… you know how it is.”

Disappointment swelled in Ed’s chest.

“No, it’s alright. I understand.” he said.

“We’ll arrange to meet up some other time, okay?”

“Yeah, okay.” Ed replied.

The moment Ed rung off his hallucination appeared wearing a victorious smirk.

“He’s going off you.”

“Shut up. What do you know?” Ed argued. “I thought you’d finally given up.”

“I’m always here Eddie. It was just a matter of time. Still, look on the bright side, at least if he’s far away from you, you can’t hurt him.”

“I won’t hurt him.” Ed growled.

“Yes, you will. You’re bound to.” his hallucination said in clear amusement.

“I won’t. He’s my friend.”

“Ah, buddy, see, we’ve been here before.” his hallucination shook his head, as though despairing of Ed. “You swore undying love to Kristen Kringle, and you put your hand round her pretty little neck and then chopped her into pieces and buried her in the woods.”

You did that!” Ed argued.

“Haven’t you been paying attention to Nina? That was all you, but you were too weak to take responsibility for your own actions, so you blocked it out!” his hallucination shouted viciously.

“You made me do it!”

“And did I make you shoot your dearest darling friend, Oswald?”

“Yes!”

“Oh, poor little Ed with his big scary hallucination. He can’t be held responsible for his own actions. You seem to forget that you created me. You made me and everything that I am, so every time that I make you do something, remember that.”

“You won’t hurt Lucius. I forbid it.”

“You know you can’t stop me.”

There was knocking on the door outside the lobby.

“Ed, are you alright?” Nina’s voice called.

“I’m fine.” I replied, his voice unnaturally high-pitched.

 

------------------------------------------

 

Jim wasn’t sure what to expect when he was asked to the modest apartment in one of the lower rent districts by Barbara, especially after such a harrowing day. After the orphanage dinner that Pyg had burst in on, combined with his rift with Harvey, he was very tired. When he opened the door, the room was alight with candles, around a sitting area, reminiscent of one of the evenings Barbara had welcomed him home to back when they were dating. Then it had lit him up, now it just filled him with forboding.

“Why, Captain Gordon. Here to celebrate?” Barbara offered Jim a champagne glass as he made his way in, which he waved away.

“No. Why did you bring me here?”

Barbara blinked innocently.

“I’m congratulating you, obviously.” she said. “Well, that and I need somewhere Penguin can’t find me. Why so serious? You caught that nasty Professor Pyg, saved my orphanage dinner guests and I made you captain, didn’t I?”

“You made me? Is that what you think?”

“Well, I did persuade the mayor, so yeah, kinda.” Barbara said, rolling her eyes, as though Jim were being dim.

“I’m not your puppet.” Jim snapped.

“No, you’re not. You’re my partner.” Barbara said, stroking Jim’s lapel, but Jim caught her wrist glaring at her.

“Your partner? Well, I just stuck a knife in my partner’s back.” Jim said harshly.

“Oh? Bullock?” Barbara said carelessly, sipping her campaign. “A mercy killing if you ask me. He’s far overstayed his welcome.” she set her champagne glass aside. “Look.” she said, becoming serious. “You wanted a gangster to help you get rid of Penguin. This is what that help looks like. Don’t tell me you were so naïve as to think going against Penguin would ever be bloodless.”

“Harvey didn’t deserve that.”

“That’s not what you said the other day.” Barbara pointed out.

“Whatever you think this is between us, you’re wrong. This is a working arrangement. I was under the impression that we both wanted to create a Gotham better for the citizens, where people are treated properly, where there are no victims of gang wars and power struggles.”

“I thought that’s what we were doing. Face the truth, Jim. Harvey was a liability and a crooked cop. You are going to be a far better, fairer, more intelligent and overall competent captain. It’s what’s best for the city.”

“That’s your excuse?”

“It’s not an excuse; it’s the truth and you know it. And no, you’re not my puppet, you’re my partner in all things, or have you forgotten the other night?”

“That was one night, Barbara.”

“Real classy Jim.” Barbara said, glowering at him, before sighing defeatedly. “Fine, so we had some fun. That doesn’t alter the fact that you and I are holding this city together with our hands alone. If you back out now, everything will fall to pieces. We wouldn’t want that, would we?”

Chapter Text

After resuming their cut-off meeting with Nina and Diedre, Stephanie had noticed that Ed had been very distracted although Diedre and Nina were too caught up in making achievable plans to notice. Soon Stephanie, too had become consumed by Nina’s plans to find benevolent teachers who might be able to offer their services for free, so that she didn’t notice when Ed disappeared. Nina and Diedre weren’t too worried, ash they hadn’t noticed anything wrong and Nina said that Ed had reported a lot of progress recently. Stephanie made her way back home. The moment she arrived she knew that something was wrong. She herself was a person who liked to keep a neat home, but Ed was almost obsessive about neatness and liked everything to have its place. Ever since she’d begun allowing him to cook in her kitchen, things had mysteriously begun to move, until everything had a new place. She tried to move things back, but they always found their way back to their spots. She and Nina had been attempting to get him to relax this a little, with little success.

So, when she found things in a mess, she knew something wasn’t right.

Ed was sat on the edge of the sofa, his back hunched, his head in his hands.

“Are you alright?” Stephanie asked cautiously.

Ed jumped, looking blearily up at her.

“I’m fine.” he said, sounding distant.

Stephanie noted that his suit was crumpled unlike earlier and his tie half undone.

“Why did you disappear like that?” she asked.

“I didn’t. I just wanted air.”

“Yeah, sure.” Stephanie said dubiously. “You look terrible. What was that phone call?”

“Oh, I’ll be stopping in tonight. He cancelled.”

“Why?”

“Work.”

“Was that all?”

“Yes, that’s all.” Ed said.

Ed seemed so detached from reality Stephanie was starting to worry. A thought occurred to her.

“Look at me.” she said, stepping forward to get a better view of Ed.

“What for?” Ed said impatiently.

“Look at me.” Stephanie insisted, coming closer and lifting Ed’s chin and peering into his face and reaching for one of his wrists, before tossing it aside angrily. “Your pupils. Your pulse. You’re high!”

“I’m not.” Ed said unconvincingly.

“You damned well are!” she shouted stepping back and crossing her arms.

“Whatever.” Ed said irritably, getting up to leave, but Stephanie blocked the door by closing it and standing in front of it before he could.

“What did you take?” Stephanie demanded.

“None of your business.”

“This is my home. I will not have drugs in my home and I won’t have you here in this state. Tell me what you took!” Stephanie grabbed Ed’s lapel roughly shoving him against the wall.

“I don’t know.” Ed mumbled, attempting to slip away.

“You don’t know?” she repeated incredulously. “Show me now!”

“Does it matter?”

“Ed look at me! Focus!” she clicked her fingers in front of his face, pulling his chin down to force him to look her in the eye. “Hand over whatever it was you took right now, or I will physically throw you out on the street until you’ve sobered up.” she ordered.

Not liking her shouting and glaring and wanting it to stop, Ed fumbled with his suit pockets, pushing the pots and packets into her hands uncaringly.

“Here.” he said, trying to escape her grasp again, but Stephanie didn’t let him go.

“Is this everything?” she asked, her expression not softening.

“Yeah.” Ed mumbled.

He was beginning to feel guilty and along with the strange floating feeling, it wasn’t a pleasant combination.

“Answer me properly.” Stephanie insisted.

“That’s everything.” Ed told her.

Stephanie examined what she’d been handed, before tossing them onto the coffee table, the sound loud in the room and Ed flinched.

“Holy Mother of God, Ed! What the hell were you thinking?” Stephanie shouted louder this time, her face contorting into obvious fury, tugging at Ed’s lapel in her fist.

“What’s wrong?” Ed asked, feeling horrendously wrong-footed.

He wasn’t surprised that she was upset, but outright anger was something he’d never expected to see Stephanie expressing before.

“’What’s wrong?’! ‘What’s wrong?’!” she shrieked, bypassing into hysteria. “Ed, you’re supposed to be recovering from a variety of trauma and working through several mental illnesses.”

“They were to help.” Ed protested.

“Don’t lie. I know Nina didn’t prescribe these! This combination and these dosages, there’s no way! Look at you!” she waved her free hand wildly at him.

Ed pushed her away, causing her to stumble back slightly.

“Just leave it alone Stephanie.” he said quietly, feeling a little dizzy at the exertion.

Stephanie grabbed him by the arm so hard that it hurt, dragging him closer.

“No, I will not leave it alone! You’re a self-professed genius. You were a forensic scientist expert in all areas when most people only know one or two! You should know that mixing medications without checking them properly, that haven’t been prescribed to you by a qualified GP is a bad idea, you moron!”

“It’s my life.”

“And you are my friend, and this is my home if I ever, ever catch you doing that again I’ll send you straight to Arkham and I will personally make sure they throw away the key!”

“You wouldn’t do that.” Ed said nervously.

“Oh, believe me, I would. I may have been nice so far, but you do not want to test me Edward.”

The determined glint in her eye made Ed afraid.

“Don’t.” Ed pleaded.

“I won’t this time. But you are not leaving here tonight. I don’t trust you to be safe on your own in this state.” Stephanie said more calmly.

“Alright.” Ed said meekly.

 

-----------------------------------------

 

“Lucius. Thanks for that information about Valentin.” Jim Gordon said.

“Was it useful? How did your interview with him go?” Lucius asked. “You never said. Did he say anything that might help us to catch him now he’s broken out? He was there barely a day. How did he manage to get out?”

“I’m not entirely sure.” Jim said as his phone began to ring. “Excuse me, I have to take this.” Jim said. “Hello.”

“Jim, honey!” Barbara’s voice was bright. “Come ‘round and see me.”

“Barbara I really don’t have time.”

“What? Because of Pyg breaking out of Arkham? That’s what I want to talk to you about. I have some useful information.”

“Can’t you tell me now?”

“No, I need you to come to me.”

“Fine. I needed to talk to you anyway. Where?” Jim replied.

Barbara gave him an unfamiliar address.

“Lucius, I have to go to Barbara Kean’s.” Jim explained.

“Not more trouble, I hope?” Lucius replied.

“No, I don’t think so.” Jim replied.

 

The address Barbara greeted him at the door of was another new one. Barbara lead him into a basement room filled with boxes and shipping containers.

“What is this place?” he asked, looking around.

Loaded question.” Barbara said, then laughing as though she’d told a joke.

“Zsasz blew your place sky high.” Jim said unsmilingly.

“Yes.” she said smirking.

“You’re ruined.”

“Oh, Jim. Do you really think I would be so stupid as to put all of my eggs in one basket where anyone could blow it up or burgle it?”

“You had a backup plan. A safehouse.”

“More than a safehouse. I have all the weapons and ammunition I need right here. I’ll admit, when I called, I wasn’t sure you’d come.”

“I was going to anyway. We need to talk.”

“I agree. Come through to the other room. It’s more comfortable.” she said, leading Jim through a door, up some stairs and into a dark sitting room with a fire crackling in the grate full of upholstered furniture in brushed wine-red velvet. Barbara offered Jim a glass of wine and settled in a winged armchair, sitting up straight with her legs crossed, as though sat on a throne.

“Won’t you sit down? You look so nervous all standing to attention.”

“I’m fine thank you.” Jim replied. “Before we discuss the Pyg I’m going to ask you not to do what you’re about to do.”

“Which is?” Barbara asked innocently.

“Unify the gangs and put yourself in charge of the underworld.”

“Mm.” Barbara tipped her head in an expression of confusion. “But, wasn’t that our deal? I’d replace Penguin, you’d be the law, I’d be the order.”

“No.” Jim said bluntly. “So, if you try and take over, I will have to come after you.”

“Jim!” Barbara laughed. “You’re nothing if not predictable. Now, I think it’s time you hear my proposal.” She said becoming business-like.

“I’m not interested.” Jim replied coldly.

“I think you are.” Barbara smiled playfully and glanced over Jim’s shoulder.

“Surprise!” came a familiar voice.

Jim twisted round to see the Pyg.

“I know, you thought I’d have a different face ‘cause I killed that doctor?” Valentin said. “That was just to throw you off the scent.”

“That’s not why he’s surprised Lazlo.” Barbara said, smiling.

“Then I’ll tell ‘em. You came to this beautiful woman ‘cause you had a problem... a Penguin problem. Pax Penguina was going to last. But Barbara had an idea.”

Jim turned to Barbara, staring in disbelief. Barbara remained quite calm, observing Jim with some amusement.

“I’d heard of a contract killer that was impersonating serial killers, so...” Barbara said.

“What if there was a killer, a real vicious son-of-a-bitch, hunting the police, all slice and dice?” Valentin put in.

“If I needed the police to turn on Penguin then I knew a few cops would have to die.” Barbara explained.

“So you sent this monster to my city.” Jim said in a low and deadly tone.

Your city, Jim?” Barbara said with mirth in her voice, grating on Jim’s nerves, realising this was really happening. “I suppose that just about sums things up. Anyway, I let him improvise.”

“I’ll admit I got a little carried away with the whole cookin’ folks routine. I really got into the role.” Valentin said.

This was enough to push Jim over the edge. He grabbed Valentin by the throat and punched him, hard twice.

“I’m putting you in jail. You’re going to Blackgate and you’re going to rot in there!” Jim growled.

“Jim will you just-” Valentin began to protest.

There was a gunshot and the Pyg’s lifeless body fell to the ground. Jim stared at it in amazement before turning to Barbara who was now stood up and holding a gun.

“Ah, well it’s done now.” Barbara said with a satisfied smile. “Now, you, Jim are going to take full responsibility for this killing, do you know why?”

“You’re insane.” Jim breathed.

“If you remember,” Barbara began, her tone remaining sunny, eyes glinting dangerously, “you brought me into this, so you are responsible for everything that has happened. Congratulations.”

Jim ground his teeth.

“Are you going to kill me?” he asked, eyeing up the revolver pointed at his chest. “Why didn’t you kill me before?”

“No, because I need you as the head of the GCPD. I need-”

“Someone you can control.” Jim finished. “How long have you been planning this?”

“A long time. It became clear to me that sooner or later Tabby and Selina would desert me. Selina told me she’s done and Tabby has disappeared, by the way. It was also obvious that the peace between Penguin and myself wouldn’t hold, or something else would come along to take me down from my position of power, so I made a contingency plan and it worked. Gotham is mine.”

“No, this isn’t about Gotham, this is about revenge on me. For what? Because I didn’t choose you, because you’re psychotic?”

Barbara lowered her gun, stalking forward to look Jim in the eye.

“No, Jim. This is about showing you that you and I are meant to rule this city side by side, teaching you that for you to be satisfied, you need to give in to your dark side. People are only afraid of the dark because it’s unknown, but the beauty of it is you can take what you want, and nobody need know. I know you want to make this city better, but so do I. I knew you’d never make the necessary sacrifices without a little push. If you want to arrest me, arrest me, but I will talk. The cops that died, the friend that you betrayed will all have been for nothing. The GCPD will crumble. Penguin or someone worse will take over and you will lose Gotham forever. Or take on the cynosure, keep the GCPD, let them think you’re a hero, but live knowing who you are and what you have done, embracing it. That is my aim.”

Chapter Text

Ed woke up late the following morning, feeling rough with his hallucination making unhelpful comments which he tried to ignore. His first thought was to apologise to Stephanie, but she wasn’t in and hadn’t left any indication of where she’d gone. Ed fervently hoped that she wasn’t still angry.

“She’s going to throw you out…” his hallucination said from the mirror in a sing-song voice, the moment he stepped into the bathroom. “If she doesn’t hand you in to the police.”

“Shut up, she wouldn’t do that to me!” Ed said.

“Wouldn’t she? She threatened to only last night and she looked pretty serious to me. She said you were a moron.”

Ed remembered Stephanie threatening to send him back to Arkham with a sinking feeling.

“I’ll apologise to her when she comes back.” Ed vowed.

“What makes you think she’s coming back?”

The thought of being alone and not seeing Stephanie again could only be described as terrifying. She’d grown to be an important part of his life in the short time she’d been around, and he hated to think of her upset enough to actually leave.

“She will be back.” Ed said, not even convincing himself.

“Will she?” his hallucination challenged. “She’s not here now and didn’t Lucius tire of you soon enough?”

“He didn’t.” Ed argued, even though he’d been filled with worry ever since that phone call and his hallucination had been constantly harassing him with it. It was the reason he’d taken the drugs in the first place, desperate for his hallucination to stop talking about it, for all the good it did.

“Ed everyone you’ve ever loved has turned on you.” his hallucination said gleefully, Ed’s brain cruelly supplying him with images of Kristen and Oswald and Isabella.
“Because of you!” Ed shouted, in despair.

“I’m just protecting you.”

“No, you’re not. You always hurt everyone I care about and I hate it!” Ed snarled.

“They would hurt you first.”

“I won’t let you do that. Not this time!” Ed said forcefully.

“You think you can stop me?” his hallucination scoffed.

“I will stop you.” Ed said in determination. “This is my body, my mind and my life and I won’t have you ruining it for me! I am in control.”

“Really? I hope you remember that when you have your hands around Lucius neck.” his hallucination said carelessly.

“You won’t hurt him.” Ed said his voice shaking with fear and frustration.

“He’s dragging you down. He wants you to turn back into that stupid, shy, awkward creature you were before and be trampled over by everyone else.” his hallucination said angrily.

“He wants what’s best for me.” Ed maintained.

“He wants to ruin you and I won’t allow it. It would be better if we got rid of the lot of them and I promise I will stop them dragging you down.”

Ed looked up to meet the merciless eyes of his opponent, filled with fear.

“No you won’t! I am in control!” Ed shouted.

His hallucination merely laughed.

“I am in control!” Ed insisted. “Me, Ed Nygma.”

“But why would you want that?” his hallucination scoffed. “You’re so boring, all prim and proper and so stupid, everyone says so. We had so much fun when we were me. Oh... Oh no.” his hallucination paused a look of concern coming over his face. “Tell me it’s not that.”

“No what?” Ed asked slowly, mistrustful.

“You’re in love with Lucius Fox, you pathetic loser.” the hallucination spat.

“Shut up!” Ed punched his hallucination directly in his smug face, the mirror shattering into the sink. Ed gasped in pain at the shards of glass embedded in his hand.

“You think that will stop me?” the hallucination’s voice came from behind Ed, but Ed didn’t dare to look at him, but the voice seemed to get closer, until he was whispering over Ed’s shoulder. “I have to stop him from making us weak. I am going to kill him and there is nothing you can do about it. Face it, pal. The only way you’ll get rid of me is to kill yourself.”

The voice was so determined, Ed froze up at the thought of what it was planning to make him do to his friends. He shuddered.

Ed stared down at the jagged shards of glass glinting in the sink.

“Yeah.” he muttered. “Maybe you’re right.”

-------------------------------------

Something was bothering Lucius about Valentin’s death scene. From the second he’d heard that Jim had shot Valentin at Barbara Kean’s new safehouse and that the location of this place was to be kept confidential, he knew something wasn’t right. His first thought when he received the news was why hadn’t Barbara shot Valentin herself? From what he’d heard, she didn’t have any qualms about murdering without a second thought. His second thought was to wonder how Barbara, with all of her recently acquired staff, had just allowed the much feared Pyg, who’d attacked her at her fundraising dinner, to just wander into her super-secret safe house, that even Penguin hadn’t sniffed out yet. His third thought was to wonder what Ed would have to say. Although Lucius had read a certain amount about Barbara in the files and newspaper articles and heard her mentioned on occasion, he hadn’t had any personal dealings with her, so didn’t know her well enough to read her behaviour. Ed, on the other hand, had both collaborated and fought with her before and was more likely to understand her motives. Having known Jim back when he and Barbara were engaged, Ed might also know more about Jim’s relationship with her. Lucius had been struggling to visualise a strong ruthless woman who lead gangs like Barbara standing by and allowing herself to be saved like a damsel in distress. Lucius knew what Ed would probably say to this, that he could almost hear it in his head.

“You know Jim. Always wanting to play the hero.”

Apart from which, Lucius was feeling a bit regretful about how bluntly he’d had to cancel his plans on Ed the previous evening. He knew that Ed was sensitive at the moment and he hoped he hadn't been misunderstood.

He tried telephoning, but got no answer, so thought he’d go over to The Narrows as he had the morning off it and if Ed wasn’t in, he could leave a note. He could also perhaps discuss things with Nina, if she was around, as she was another person who’d had dealings with Barbara.

None of this prepared him for what actually greeted him when he arrived at The Narrows. He knocked on Stephanie’s door and there was no answer. He waited a while. He wasn’t sure what it was, but instinctually he tried the door handle, surprised to find it unlocked. This was strange, as even when they were in, both Stephanie and Ed knew better that to leave the door unlocked, given the area. This likely meant that someone was home, but one person had left, perhaps distracted, or in a hurry, or with emotions running high, unless someone had broken in.

Lucius carefully stepped in as quietly as possible. The place was silent, and nothing seemed out of place. Lucius waited, listening intently. He thought he heard someone make a whimper in the distance, but it was so faint he wasn’t entirely sure.

Lucius decided it was time to call out and find if anyone was there. This time Lucius was sure he heard a noise of pain in the next room, so flung open the door that hadn’t fully been closed.

He fell completely still at the sight before him.

“Ed!” he cried.

“Lucius.” Ed gasped.

Ed was slumped against the wall, his sleeves rolled up to the elbow, his jacket crumpled in a heap on the floor next to him. There was a lot of blood on Ed’s clothing, much of it dripping onto the floor, and from what Lucius could tell, it was his own. There was a mess of broken glass in the sink and a single bloodied jagged shard discarded next to Ed. Ed was staring at his own wrists with a kind of detached fascination but the second he looked up at Lucius his face transformed to fear. He moved to get up, barely managing, his face crumpling into a wince and his eyes closing and his head lolling to the side, his breaths shallow and uneven. The rational part of Lucius brain supplied that Ed was probably becoming faint from blood loss.

Lucius fell to his knees at Ed’s side.

“Oh God! What did you do?” Lucius demanded rhetorically, propping Ed against the bath panel and grabbing Ed’s wrists in attempt to stem the blood flow.
“Lucius.” Ed whispered his eyelids flickering.

“Hold on Ed.”

“Wanted him to stop... scared.” were the only words Lucius could make out of Ed’s mumbling.

“You’ll be alright.” Lucius replied in an attempt at a calm voice which trembled. “D’you hear?”

Ed only whimpered in response before mumbling something else and Lucius leaned forwards to hear him, the hands that were holding onto Ed’s wrists starting to shake.

“I... want to...keep you safe.” Ed said, tears escaping from his eyelids.

“I know, Ed, I know, but this isn’t the way to do it.”

“I’m so scared…. I couldn’t bare it… if anything happened to you.” Ed gave a few half-hearted sobs but seemed too exhausted to properly cry.

“Shhh. I’m fine. Look...just hang on. Shhh... You’ll be fine. We’ll be fine. Okay?”

“Lucius...”

“It’s alright, it’s all alright.”

“I do care about you... It was real... I wasn’t playing...”

“I know. I know.” Lucius, said wanting Ed to stop talking and conserve energy, not entirely sure what Ed was talking about, but guessing.

“Ed, are you...?” Stephanie’s voice came through from the next room before walking through.

She froze in the doorway, eyes going wide in horror.

“Oh, God!” Stephanie screamed. “Oh-my-god, oh-my-god!” she said, clapping her hands over her mouth.

“Get Nina! Go! Now!” Lucius ordered.

Stephanie backed away, staring wordlessly at the two of them before turning away and haring out of her flat and  down the stairs.

 

-------------------------------------

 

Stephanie ran through the streets, not caring who she shoved out of the way. When she burst into Cherry’s club, nobody paid her any attention, to enthralled by Nina’s speech.

“I understand times are tough. I understand.” Nina was saying. “You need to make a living, but it’s time to stop punishing each other for the situation the city has put you in. Instead of stealing from those hurting as much as you, this community needs to start protecting one another.”

Stephanie began pushing through the uncooperative crowd making strategic use of her elbows, but anxious not to hurt anyone enough to start a fight which might delay her further. She tried shouting to Nina, but there was too much shouting in agreement in the crowd and she was too far back to be picked out.

“We do what we do to survive.” a man near the front shouted, which Nina heard.

“Is that what you all want? All of you? Just to survive every day? One day at a time?”

“Listen, Doc, down here, it’s every man for himself. That’s the way it’s always been.”

There was a cacophony of shouting in assent.

“How many of you have kids?” Nina was asking. “I’ve been running a clinic down here for the last nine months and I have been treating your kids for things like TB, hepatitis, pertussis, pneumonia; diseases that don’t belong in a modern city. But there are no functioning hospitals down here. And the doctors are too afraid to visit. You’re not stealing from the rich, you’re stealing from each other. You are fighting each other, and you are living in a prison of your own construction.”

Finally, Stephanie was a few rows from the front and Stephanie jumped up to be seen over the others' heads.

“Nina! Nina!” Stephanie’s screams interrupted any responses as she gained Nina’s attention.

“Can it wait?” Nina asked.

“No, it can’t. It really can’t!” Stephanie cried frantically.

Chapter Text

When Nina arrived, she’d struggled to get Lucius to let go of Ed. Lucius had frozen up altogether, partly from the awkward position and partly fearing Ed would slip away if he moved. He’d helped Nina to wrap the wounds temporarily before they’d awkwardly lifted Ed and took him through to the bedroom so that Nina had a cleaner, easier space to work in that was closer to the kitchen sink, which unlike the bathroom sink, wasn’t full of shards of glass.

Lucius would have stayed to help Nina, but she sent him away, complaining that he was getting under her feet along with Stephanie.

Stephanie, noticing Lucius swallow down a wave of nausea once he realised his hands were still covered in blood, persuaded him to wash his hands in the kitchen and remove his bloodied jacket and waistcoat, before they sat down.

“I did this to him. It’s my fault.” Stephanie whispered as they sat in Stephanie’s sitting room side by side.

“What do you mean?” Lucius asked. “You can’t be held responsible for what happened when he was alone.”

“Yes, I can. I should have known… I should have known.” Stephanie dissolved into tears turning her head away and attempting to stifle sobs in her hands.

“Hey, hey.” Lucius said, reaching out to lay a hand lightly on her shoulder to comfort her, but it didn’t seem to have any effect.

“No, you don’t understand. It is my fault.” Stephanie said vehemently.

“Why? What happened?”

“Yesterday… I got back and Ed seemed strange, then I realised he was high. He’d taken a lot of heavy medication. I… didn’t react well.” Stephanie swallowed down another sob. “It reminded me of my mom.” she admitted. “She got addicted to prescription meds. Living with that as a child was terrible.” Stephanie explained. “I saw Ed like that and panicked. Not that that’s an excuse. I was so nasty to him. This morning I woke up feeling so guilty this morning, so I went out for a walk while Ed was asleep then I met Diedre and she said she needed to save Grundy from Tabitha Galavan, that it was urgent, so I went with her and lost track of time. Do you know she was going to beat his head in? As though that was an expression of love! I knew Ed was in a bad way and I should have known better than to leave him alone.”

“Perhaps you could have handled things better, but it’s not your fault. We all thought he was doing well. You couldn’t have known he’d react like that, if it was a reaction to you. Ed’s mind often battles with itself even when things seem to be going well on the outside for him. You can’t take the blame for that.”

“What if he’s not okay?” Stephanie asked in a whisper.

“He’s strong, Stephanie. He’s got this far.” Lucius said hopefully.

Stephanie sighed sadly and leaned on Lucius shoulder.

Shortly after Nina came out of the bedroom.

“He’s going to be okay.” Nina said. “He’ll need a lot of rest, good nutrition and we’ll need to look after his stitches, but he’ll mend, physically.”

“Oh, good.” Stephanie said.

“Of course, I’ll have to get to the bottom of exactly what caused this,” Nina continued, and Lucius felt Stephanie tense, “and we’ll need to keep a careful eye on him, but I’m hopeful. We have a support network now, which is what saved him today, so with some work we should be able to continue to make progress. Do either of you know what happened to cause this?”

Lucius felt Stephanie shift uncomfortably, but he spoke before she could.

“I think Ed should be the one to tell you. We have theories, but none of us can be sure what caused it or how Ed reached the conclusion that this was the right decision.”

“I think you’re right.” Nina admitted. “You can go in now if you want. I can’t be sure, but I’d imagine he’ll wake up fairly soon.

Lucius and Stephanie looked at each other, each attempting to question if the other wanted to go first.

“I think you’ll be the person he wants to see when he wakes up.” Stephanie said decisively. “I don’t think I’m ready to face him yet and given our last conversation I don’t want to stress him out the moment he wakes up. Also, I want to clean up my bathroom.” Stephanie admitted. Lucius remembered the grotesque pink flowers of blood across the tiles and understood why.

He’d seen all manner of gory scenes in his time in Gotham, but none had made him this nauseated.

“Are you sure?” he asked.

Stephanie looked Lucius in the eye.

“I’m sure.” she said with more confidence.

------------------------

The first thing Lucius thought when he entered the room was how fragile Ed looked. Ed’s thin wrists were heavily wrapped, no doubt with Nina’s neat stitches underneath. Ed was usually very pale, but his skin had turned a pale shade of grey. With his glasses removed, it also brought into relief the boniness of his cheeks.

Lucius had always thought of Ed as a force to be reckoned with. On every occasion they’d met he’d been humming with energy, either mania, enthusiasm for subject or project, or just nervousness. To see him lying motionless, looking so breakable, was just plain wrong.

Lucius sat down at the chair situated at the bedside and reached to lightly touch one of Ed’s hands, the long, elegant fingers cold. He felt one of Ed’s fingers twitch in his grasp and glanced up to Ed’s face, seeing his eyelids move slightly. Ed’s fingers tensed and gripped Lucius hand back. Ed’s eyes fluttered open, flicking around the room, struggling to focus as he blinked several times, gaze settling on Lucius.

“Lucius?” he muttered, seeming confused.

“Hi.” Lucius said gently moving closer, so Ed could focus on him more easily.

Ed’s hand relaxed in Lucius’.

“Lucius.” Ed said more insistently.

“Hey Ed. Are you okay?” Lucius asked, softly.

Ed’s expression was puzzled for a second and he shifted, seeming to get his bearings, before his eyes widened, filling with alarm and then guilt.

“No…” Ed closed his eyes, screwing them up and turning his head to press his face into the pillow, tears escaping and giving a sob. “I’m not okay.” he mumbled. “I- I messed up, didn’t I?” he whispered in between ragged breaths, raising a wavering hand to cover his face.

“Oh, Ed.” Lucius said sympathetically, not able to find the words to comfort him, shifting closer.

Ed moved his hand from his face, instead curled under his chin, watery eyes looking up Lucius.

“I didn’t want to hurt you but… I can’t- I can’t- I can’t.” Ed’s sobs blotted out his words.

“Hey, shhh.” Lucius soothed, reaching to push an errant curl which had escaped onto Ed’s forehead out of the way. “You’re okay now.”

“No. I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” Ed mumbled, beginning to push Lucius hand away, but seeming to change his mind half-way, ending up clinging to his arm instead and attempting to curl up around it.

This left Lucius leaning down at an awkward angle, unsure what to do. After a moment of indecision where it became apparent that Ed was still very upset and not at all keen to let go, Lucius moved to sit on the edge of the bed and coax Ed into a half-sitting up position where he could put his arms round Lucius and cry into his shoulder instead.

The whole situation was heart-wrenching and Lucius would have been lying if he didn’t admit to shedding a few tears himself while Ed clung onto him for dear life. He couldn’t be sure how long they sat there but it seemed to take an awfully long time for Ed’s agonising sobs to subside while all Lucius could do was rub his back occasionally and mutter apparently insufficient platitudes into his hair. When he’d finished, Ed continued to hide his face against Lucius shoulder.

When he eventually did look up, to wipe his eyes on Lucius’ offered handkerchief, he didn’t dare to meet Lucius eyes when he spoke.

“Sorry.” he said quietly.

“Don’t be.” Lucius said gently, reaching to squeeze Ed’s shoulder.

Ed didn’t flinch, but he did shy away from the touch more slowly, as though he liked it, but didn’t seem to think himself deserving of it.

“Why are you still here?” Ed asked timidly.

“Do you want me to leave? Honestly?” Lucius asked him, seriously, withdrawing slightly, but Ed caught his hand and pulled him back, looking up at him beseechingly.

“No! No! I don’t. I just thought…” Ed trailed off, gnawing at his lower lip.

“What did you think?” Lucius asked gently, squeezing Ed’s hands.

“I thought… I know I’m too much.” Ed said, seeming forlorn.

“What do you mean?”

“I feel stupid. When you said you couldn’t see me the other day, I couldn’t stop worrying about it. I thought, maybe you didn’t want to see me anymore.”

“Why?”

“I know I’m a difficult person. I’ve caused you so much trouble. I have a lot of problems. If that was too much for you to deal with, I’d understand.” Ed said, his eyes slipping away again.

The expression Ed wore as he confessed that was truly tragic. The thought that Ed valued himself, so little was a deeply upsetting one.

“Ed… The thought of giving up on you hadn’t even crossed my mind.” Lucius said, honestly.

“I wouldn’t have blamed you if it had.”

“Ed. I’m not giving up on you.” Lucius affirmed. “You’re my friend.”

Ed stared at him, looking mistrustful and dispirited, as though waiting for Lucius to reveal he’d been lying. When no such confession came, he looked confused, his shoulders slumping, making him seem small and vulnerable.

“Are you angry with me?” Ed asked quietly, sounding frightened.

No, Ed. I’m not angry.” Lucius said adamantly.

“Why not?” Ed seemed perplexed by this.

“Why should I be?” Lucius, not wanting to believe the other man was seriously unconvinced that Lucius valued him.

“I don’t know… but I feel like you should be.”

Lucius remembered Ed’s vague mention of people in the past being abusive and realising perhaps that was why he was expecting a bad reaction. He hadn’t given him any detail about his childhood, or early adulthood. Realising he needed to negate Ed’s fears of being abandoned or of Lucius getting angry of hurting him, Lucius was hasty to reassure him.

“I’m not angry Ed.” Lucius said earnestly. “I’m worried about you and I’m very glad you’re alive and shouldn’t suffer any lasting consequences of… what happened. I won’t pretend you didn’t scare the hell out of me but being angry with you won’t help anyone, okay?”

Ed watched him dubiously for a few seconds, but eventually nodded.

“Okay.”

“But I do have to ask…” Lucius said as quietly and softly as possible. “Why did you do it, Ed?”

Ed was slow to answer, seeming to steel himself.

“I was frightened. The Riddler wouldn’t stop laughing at me. He said that I’d hurt you or Stephanie, that he’d make me. I realised he was right. Everyone I’ve ever cared about has either been killed or fatally injured. I couldn’t bear it if anything like that happened to you or Stephanie.” Ed said with fervour. “Or Nina or Diedre. I can’t ever be sure what I might do.” he said in frustration.

“Ed, you won’t hurt us.”

“You don’t know that. That’s what Isabella said, and she died, and it was my fault. I may not have been the one to kill her, but I caused it because I should have known better than to let anyone that close. Kristen… I loved her and I’d have done anything to keep her safe. I killed Dougherty because he hurt her. I told her I loved her and that I’d never hurt her while, I didn’t realise, I was choking her to death. Maybe that was an accident, but I- I- I- What I did to her… I shot Oswald.”

Lucius had to admit that he did have a point but reasoned that if anyone was going to get hurt, they surely would have by now. Stephanie had pushed Ed to his limit, by what he had described, and he hadn’t shown any signs of seriously considering harming her. In fact, he’d been prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice to save them all from himself.

“Ed, when was the last time you raised a hand to someone you didn’t care about?” Lucius said slowly.

“I threatened you.”

Lucius didn’t initially understand what he was talking about, before realising Ed was referring to the crisis he’d been having over Oswald’s apparent death.

“We didn’t know each other very well back then.” Lucius pointed out.

“It’s not just me hurting you all directly that I’m worried about. Stephanie stepped in front of Barbara’s gun the other day to save me and Barbara wouldn’t think twice about killing her.”

“You can’t control Stephanie’s actions.”

“That’s not the point!” Ed said in vexation. “The point is that what’s to stop you or Stephanie being used against me in the future? On top of that, even now, I’m not sure I can trust myself around you.”

“Stephanie can fend for herself.”

“Yes, most of the time maybe. I know she’s an excellent fighter and markswoman, but she’s not indestructible. She’s physically small and she wouldn’t stand a chance against any one significantly larger than her, or more trained than she is; Tabitha Galavan, for example. And she couldn’t defend herself against me, because she wouldn’t expect me to attack her. She’s not bullet-proofed or bomb-proof and neither are you. You’re not even trained to fight.”

“I know ji-jitsu. I took evening classes.”

“Even so. There’s a difference between that and fighting in real life.”

“Ed, this is Gotham. You can’t possibly protect us all and Gotham would certainly not be a better place without you in it. Think of Nina’s clinic. It’s full of Nina’s patients. How many patients does she see in a day? How many of them can now get better because of the money you and she raised together?”

“She doesn’t need me to do that.” Ed argued.

“Doesn’t she?” Lucius challenged. “She didn’t think of the ideas on her own. You put together complex plans and made them work, in order to raise the money to heal and, in many cases, save these people’s lives. These people are healthier and stronger because of you working together with Nina, Diedre and Stephanie. If you hadn’t teamed up with them, they wouldn’t have managed this, and you know it.” Lucius continued passionately.

Ed’s eyes were wide and focussed on Lucius and he seemed to be listening intently.

“Ed, we’ve talked about this. You have a brilliant mind. You may be troubled sometimes, but you’ve been making great progress. You can do great things when you use that brilliant mind of yours. Now, you’re not going to listen to The Riddler over me, are you?”

For a second Lucius thought he might have won, but he noticed doubt cloud over Ed’s face,

“Lucius, I want to believe you,” Ed began hesitantly. “but… I’m terrified.”

“Ed. You’re getting better. The Riddler isn’t trying to help you. He wants you to be frightened and isolated and to harm yourself. That’s all you’re doing. You don’t have to face him alone. Just because I don’t have time to see you in person, that doesn’t mean you can’t talk me on the phone or talk to Nina or Diedre or Stephanie when you’re struggling, even if the problem you’re having is because of one of us. We can talk about what we can do to help you, but I happen to know there’s a young lady waiting outside worrying about you.”

“Who?”

“Stephanie of course.”                                                                        

She’s not angry, is she?” Ed said with worry.

“No, Ed. She’d worried too and if you let her in, she’ll tell you so herself. Would you like to see her? I’m sure Nina will want to see you too.”

“Alright.” Ed said in compliance, although looking heartened at Lucius assurances.

Lucius went to get Stephanie who had finished her cleaning and was sat outside on the edge of her seat gnawing at her fingernails, Nina at her side looking a lot calmer. When he invited them in, he in a took his seat again by Ed’s side, Stephanie stood a second in the doorway, her body stiff, staring at Ed with wide eyes. Lucius watched him stare back, looking every bit as nervous.

With robotic disjointedness, Stephanie moved closer and approached Ed’s side, Ed eyeing her up like prey awaiting attack from a predator.

“Why did you do that?” Stephanie burst out with, her voice turning into a high-pitched squeak, before bursting into tears and burying her head in Ed’s shoulder.

Ed stared over the top of Stephanie’s head at Nina (who had entered unobtrusively behind Stephanie) and Lucius in bewilderment.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” he heard Stephanie mumble. “I was just terrified and I’m so, so glad you’re alright.”

She drew back to take a better look at Ed, rubbing his upper arm in a gesture of reassurance. Ed seemed baffled.

“You hated me yesterday.” he said, after a moment, in bewilderment.

“Don’t be stupid, of course I didn’t hate you.” Stephanie said with fervour. “If I made you think that, I’m so sorry!” she said her eyes filled with remorse.

Ed still seemed to be having difficulty knowing how to process this.

“Why?” he said slowly. “You were right. I wasn’t thinking about how it might affect you especially with your mother… I realised this morning. If you want to throw me out-”

“No, no!” Stephanie said shaking her head. “I don’t want you to go. Just the opposite! I didn’t want to lose you to drugs. I worried that you’d get ill with it. I remembered how distant it made my mother, how it changed her, and I panicked. I’m sorry. I realised this morning that I’d messed up. I shouldn’t have talked to you like that.”

Ed relaxed considerably, looking at Stephanie sympathetically.

“It’s not your fault.” he said.

“It’s not yours either, Ed. I was a bad friend. You were struggling and I wasn’t there to offer help. Don’t argue with me about it.”

“If I may say…” Nina interposed. “We’ve all made mistakes here that could have been avoided if we’d just talked to one another better.”

“Yes.” Stephanie agreed. “I should have said where I was this morning. I only planned to go for a short walk, but I could have left a message or something. Then I got side-tracked because Diedre found out Tabitha Galavan had kidnapped Grundy.”

“What?” Ed asked worriedly. “What happened? Is he alright? Is Diedre alright?”

“Don’t worry, we managed to get there before much damage was done. Tabitha seemed to think that hitting Grundy on the head again would bring out Butch and make him remember her, but Diedre managed to knock her out before she managed more than a single blow then we got Grundy free. He was a bit more dazed than usual and Diedre is tending to him, but we think he’ll get better. That’s why Diedre’s not here.”

“I’m glad he’s alright.” Ed said.

“So am I. And we’re all glad that you’re alright too.” Stephanie added.

“We’re going to need to talk all of this over, of course.” Nina pointed out. “I do need to talk to you Ed.”

“You can talk to me now. Lucius and I have already discussed things a bit.”

“Should we go now?” Stephanie asked, indicating herself and Lucius.

“No, I’d like you to stay. I mean, you don’t have to.” Ed added, looking between the two of them.

“Alright.” Lucius squeezed Ed’s hand.

“I’d like to stay, Stephanie said, settling on the end of the bed.

“Alright.” said Nina, getting herself a chair. “Okay Ed, what happened?” Nina asked.

“After Lucius said he wouldn’t be able to see me, my hallucination came back. I just wanted to get rid of him for a while, that’s why I took the drugs.”

“Ed.” Nina said admonishingly.

“I know, I know that now.” Ed said. “It was a stupid thing to do, but I was upset, and I couldn’t think straight, and he just wouldn’t leave me alone. I just wanted a moment’s peace.”

“I know, but taking drugs won’t magically solve all of your problems. There’s no miracle cure that can do that.” Nina said. “If you feel the urge to do that again, you can just call any of us and talk to us.”

“You were all busy.” Ed protested.

“I’m sure at least one of us could spare the time for a friend in trouble.” Nina said and Stephanie nodded enthusiastically. “Moving on, I think we’ve established how not to deal with a person taking drugs when they’re struggling with mental health.”

Stephanie blushed in response.

“Sorry again about that.” she said. “Please tell me if I do anything like that again that would upset you.”

“I think the thing that Ed was worried about…” Lucius began, looking to Ed for confirmation, “Was that you’d leave him.”

“Yes.” Ed agreed, embarrassed. “It was what you said about Arkham and when you weren’t there this morning, I did panic.”

“Oh God, I totally forgot I said that!” Stephanie gasped in horror. “I’m ever so sorry. I didn’t mean it. I suppose I thought it might scare you into staying off drugs and safe. I won’t say anything like that again. Please say if I do too far, won’t you?”

“I will do.” Ed promised. “And if I’m struggling, I’ll tell one of you.”

Lucius took Ed’s hand and gave him a thankful smile.

“If we could go onto the more difficult part, Ed.” Nina suggested. “Could you tell me what happened?”

“When Stephanie left… I worried that she wouldn’t come back and my hallucination said that she wouldn’t. When Lucius cancelled our meeting, my hallucination had said he was going off me. He wouldn’t stop going on about it. It frightened me, especially Stephanie behaving like that. It reminded me of what happened with Kristen. My hallucination keeps insisting I’ll do the same thing that happened to Kristen to Lucius and Stephanie, but I really don’t want to hurt anyone, but the thought of them leaving and Stephanie shouting at me last night made me feel the same as I’d felt on the night when Kristen left. I was scared of what I might do, so I had to stop him. He said the only way to get rid of him was to kill myself.” Ed explained.

“Ed, there are other ways to stop him.” Nina pointed out, as tactfully as possible.

“Like what?”

“I know it will seem almost impossible when it’s happening, but remember, Ed; he’s a hallucination. He may be frightening and pose a very real threat to you in the moment, but he’s still a hallucination. If you take his words too seriously, you’re giving him power. To me it sounds like you were suffering with some sort of combination of PTSD and Schizophrenia working together. Before you’ve told me that talking about things clinically, helps you to distance from your hallucination and take a more objective view of things. I know it’s very hard to do in the moment but try doing that when your hallucination appears.”

“I know. I do try, but I hadn’t seen him in ages, and I was already upset, so I forgot. It’s true I did have a few flashbacks while he – my hallucination - was talking to me.”

“And you said your emotions were a sort of flashback to what you felt during your argument with Kristen.”

“Yes.” Ed nodded.

“You know what we talked about doing during a flashback.”

“Oh, grounding.” Ed said, feeling foolish, as the moment The Riddler had appeared, everything he’d discussed with Nina that might help had left his head.

“What is grounding?” Stephanie asked.

“It’s the use of your senses to bring you back to reality.” Ed explained. “For example, focusing on sounds, things you can touch, smell, taste or see. Personally, I find things like holding something cold or warm, or something with texture helps the most. I’ve only used it for proper flashbacks after dreams so far though, not when the Riddler speaks to me in the daytime. Also, the smell of peppermint is comforting and pulls me out, for some reason.”

“And I now know it’s good for nausea, so that probably helps.” Stephanie agreed.

“I think the other thing Ed could use advice on is the fact that he’s worried about hurting us all.” Lucius put in.

Ed nodded.

“That’s the biggest thing. We were talking about it before you both came in.” Ed said.

“That’s a tricky one.” Nina admitted. “I know it’s always a possibility, but I’ll be honest. When you first arrived here, I was very worried that you’d snap and something bad would happen, but it’s been months now and there’s not been the slightest indication that it might happen. Quite the opposite, you’ve been helping to protect people and heal them and seem to like looking after us all. You said as much the other day. Honestly, I think if you spend all the time worrying about it, that’s more likely to encourage The Riddler. He seems to lurk close to the surface when you’re feeling insecure and threatened, but doesn’t appear when things are going well and you’re calm. I won’t pretend it’s impossible, but at the present time I think it’s very unlikely. I can see it’s the thing that you and I are going to have to work on the most. I don’t think there’s any problem here that can’t be worked on.” she said with positivity. “Was there anything else you wanted to discuss, Ed?”

“Not now. Later. I’m a bit tired.” Ed said.

“Do you want us to leave you to rest?” Nina asked.

Ed glanced at Lucius.

“Um, do you have a place to be?”

“No.” he lied.

The GCPD owed him a lot of time off, so nobody would be able to complain.

“Could you stay a while?”

“I’d like to.” Lucius said, honestly.

Chapter Text

On the following morning it was suggested by Nina that Ed be removed from Stephanie’s home.                                                                                            

“I don’t want any of you to get the wrong impression about what I’m suggesting here.” Nina said to quell any argument before it occurred. She turned to Stephanie.

“I have no doubt that you’re perfectly capable of looking after Ed and have the best of intentions, but there are a number of reasons why I think it would be a good idea. Out here in The Narrows, resources are somewhat limited and being in a better-equipped area of the city, with a person with medical knowledge would be a good idea.” Nina said, her eyes moving to Lucius who had dropped in at that early hour at her request, before work.

“I’d be happy to offer accommodation, but I’m no nurse.” he protested.

“You have better medical knowledge than me.” Stephanie pointed out. “I only know the most basic of First Aid. I think we’ve found out that during a crisis I have zero chill and you seem so calm and logical, even when you’re panicking. You’re far better equipped to deal with things than me.”

“I’d offer my home,” Nina explained, “but with me and Diedre and Grundy taking up half the place I’m all out of space.” Nina said. “I also think that removing Ed from the environment where he had such a traumatic experience while he’s recovering might be a good idea. It’s not easy to recover in somewhere where you’re surrounded by things which have associations with the trauma.”

“I think you’re right.” said Stephanie. “It would also be nice to have my bed back.”

While Ed had been staying with her, Stephanie had been sleeping on her sofa and let Ed take the bed. Ed had offered to switch, but Stephanie had pointed that with Ed being over six-foot tall and her being nearer five, her sleeping on the sofa was not nearly as bad a hardship for her as it would be for him.

“What do you think, Ed?” she asked him.

“I really don’t mind.” Ed said. “I’d like a change of scenery for a while, it’s true, but I don’t want to be an encumbrance. I’d imagine Foxy will be a bit busy to babysit me.”

“I could stay over during the daytime.” Stephanie suggested. “If you’re agreeable, Lucius.”

“If you’d like.” Lucius replied.

“How long do you think I need to recover?” Ed asked Nina.

“To heal physically, a week or two. Mentally, honestly I’m not sure.” she replied.

“There’s not a limit to how long you can stay, Ed. I have a spare room going to waste.”

So it was that Ed went to live with Lucius for an indeterminate amount of time.

 

--------------------------

 

Ed was initially very nervous about living in the same home as Lucius Fox, especially considering Ed’s worries about hurting his friend and about putting Lucius off him, especially since realising his not inconsiderable feelings for him. At first, he was relieved at how smoothly things went. For the first week or so, Ed’s friends were careful and patient with him and Nina gave him lots of time to talk about things in counselling sessions. For the first few days, Ed had been feeling guilty for doing so little that was productive and feeling a burden on his friends, but once Nina encouraged him to talk with his friends about this, he slowly began to realise everyone just wanted him to rest and the time off was doing them good too. He also spent a lot of quiet time with Stephanie and Diedre, reading, watching TV, chatting about nothing in particular and playing board games they all thought were silly, but still managed to get far too competitive over.

Ed’s favourite times were becoming the evenings when Lucius would get home and cook dinner and he, Ed and Stephanie would eat together. It was a strangely domestic arrangement, usually followed by Stephanie leaving Ed and Lucius to a game of chess, but Ed vowed to savour it while it lasted. After a week, Ed persuaded Lucius to let him do the cooking, enjoying the feeling of power over his situation it gave him and falling back into the familiar rhythm he’d missed.

Ed was slowly getting better, feeling more and more in control. His hallucinations came occasionally, but he was getting better at pulling himself back to reality and all the visitors to the flat made sure there was plenty of glasses of iced water to hand.

This was until a night a week and a half into the arrangement. He woke up in the early hours, screaming from a nightmare, to Lucius standing over him in the low light of the bedside light and was consumed with panic. It was not only at the content of the nightmare, but also at the sudden irrational fear that Lucius would send Ed back to Stephanie because he was too high maintenance to cope with.

Ed was entangled in the bedclothes, a sheen of sweat on his skin visible in even the darkness, very obviously hyperventilating.

“Ed!” instinctively, Lucius reached out to comfort Ed, but he flinched away.

“Lucius. No, no! Don’t touch me!” he cried, backing up into the headboard, eyes wild.

“Okay, okay.” Lucius said lowering his hands and stepping back, hoping to look as non-threatening as possible.

“I…I” Ed said, between gasps, starting to cry.

Lucius moved to Ed’s side and went to reach out a hand, but stalled, remembering himself. To his surprise, Ed’s hand flew out and grabbed his hand.

“Please don’t go.” he said, face filled with panic.

Lucius sat down, but not too close as to upset Ed and held Ed’s hands, them squeezing each other’s hands alternately and encouraging him to breathe slowly in time with him until he was calm.

“What happened?” Lucius asked softly once they’d been sat in silence for a while.

“I just had a nightmare.” Ed said.

“Do you want to talk about it?” Lucius asked.

Ed hesitated, torn between wanting to get it off his chest and not wanting to relive the memory.

“I-It was about Kristen.” Ed admitted. “At least, I thought it was Kristen.” he said, shakily. “It was just like the night when she died, but then suddenly it wasn’t Kristen anymore; it was Stephanie and it was her I didn’t want to leave, but she was the one calling me a psychopath and she was frightened when she found out what I’d done. I couldn’t stop telling her and she went to run, so I grabbed her just like Kristen and of course she fought back and I…I thought I’d killed her.” Ed whispered.

“But you didn’t. She’s fine.” Lucius reminded him, gently.

“That doesn’t mean that I couldn’t, that I wouldn’t and what would she say if she really knew what I can get like?” Ed pointed out agitatedly.

“If you want to know what Stephanie would think if she knew about your past in more detail, you should tell her.” Lucius said slowly.

“What if she hates me? I wouldn’t blame her if she was angry or frightened, but I don’t know what I’d do if I thought I might lose her.” Ed said.

He no longer seemed panicked, only forlorn.

“Ed, think about it.” Lucius said. “You thought you might lose her before, you told me. It wasn’t her you hurt, though. You never even attempted to, even though you were on drugs and not in control at the time. I’d be far more worried about what you might end up doing to yourself, at this point. I don’t think you need to worry about what Stephanie might say either. You know her, who she is as a person. You know that many people in her place would have been scared off, but she’s stuck with you. She’s lived in The Narrows for a long time and is surrounded by all manner of violent criminals, but does she let that bother her?”

“I suppose she doesn’t. So, what do I do?” Ed asked.

“What we keep telling you to do. Sit down and talk to her about it.”

“What if she-?”

“Ed, she’s your friend. She robs the houses of the mafia with you. She knows about the history of The Riddler. She’ll probably listen to you, take it in and then tell you that she doesn’t approve of your past actions, but she decided long ago not to hold them against you. Deep down you know all of this. Your dream was just your brain reacting to all of the difficult things you’ve been through.”

Ed sighed.

“I know you’re right.” Ed said. “I just don’t know what will happen and I’m so frightened.”

“That’s only natural Ed.” Lucius said gently.

Ed blinked, seeming puzzled.

“That’s it? You’re not going to tell me it’s nothing?” Ed said slowly.

“It’s not nothing, Ed, but worrying won’t do you any good. You should tell Nina about all of this tomorrow.” Lucius said.

Ed stared back at Lucius for a few seconds, before darting forwards to hug Lucius close.

“You’re right.” Ed mumbled into his shoulder, before drawing back.

“Are you alright?” Lucius asked.

“I’m better, but could I have a glass of water…and could you stop here a while?” Ed asked shyly.

“Of course, I’ll get the water and be right back, promise.”

 

-----------------------------------

 

Ed slept well for the remainder of the night, after he and Lucius continued to talk a while and Ed fell asleep on the other man’s shoulder.

When Ed woke up again, Lucius was dressed carrying a pile of toast and a cup of coffee.

“How are you feeling?” Lucius asked.

“Better. I feel good this morning.” Ed admitted, accepting his breakfast.

It was true. The light filtered into Lucius apartment, making it seem a different room to the previous evening and the bed Ed had slept in was comfortable and he felt well rested. He didn’t feel wonderful, but he didn’t feel empty or numb or full of despair either. Instead he felt comfortably calm.

“I’m glad to hear it.” Lucius said genuinely. “Nina should be here soon to talk with you, and I’ll be going to work soon.”

“Haven’t they missed you the last few days, doing reduced hours?” Ed asked.

“Maybe.” Lucius shrugged, unconcerned. “I made an excuse; a family emergency. It’s not a million miles from the truth. It’s fine. I’m owed a lot of time off.”

“What will Captain Gordon say if he finds you’re hiding a criminal in your bed?” Ed teased.

“Are you flirting with me?” Lucius asked.

Ed hadn’t had that intention when he’d said the words, but wondered what Lucius reaction would be if he thought he had been.

“Why? Is it doing anything for you?” he asked in a low voice, resting his chin on a hand and raising an eyebrow in what was an attempt at seductiveness.

“Hey, cool down.” Lucius chided, seeming amused. “You’re supposed to be resting and recovering.”

“You didn’t say you didn’t like it, Foxy.” Ed pointed out.

Lucius’ face only twisted into a smile he was unsuccessfully attempting to hide. The doorbell rang and both men glanced in that direction.

“That’ll be Nina. Be good while I’m out.” Lucius said, getting up, to Ed’s disappointment.

“Promise.” Ed said smiling back. “Do I get a kiss goodbye?” he asked mischievously.

“Don’t push it Ed.” Lucius said, openly grinning.

 

-------------------------

 

“So, Ed. How are you today?” Nina asked.

“I’m okay. I’m feel alright, actually.” Ed admitted. “I’ve felt better, but not bad. I did wake up in the night though. I had a bad nightmare. I- I dreamed about Kristen, but she turned into Stephanie and I- I killed her. Just like Kristen. I was petrified. When I woke up, I got worried I would really do that to her and I had a panic attack, but I was alright after a while.”

“What did you do that you think helped you?”

“Lucius was there. He just sat with me and then we talked a while and I fell asleep.”

“Can you work out what exactly is was that you found helped?” Nina asked.

“I don’t know.” Ed said, thinking for a minute. “He’s a very calm person. He sat with me and held my hand and told me to breathe and focus. I tried to do grounding, focus on what I could feel and hear. We did that hand-squeezing thing and I listened to his words instead of failing to keep track of my thoughts and it worked. After that, we talked about it and why it might have been, how to stop it happening in real life, then he just stayed with me. He’s good at listening to me. This morning everything seems a bit clearer. I know there’s the possibility that it could happen, but it wasn’t real and I know that I just want to keep Stephanie safe and even when she was making me panic I didn’t harm her and I haven’t hurt anyone in a long time so logically it shouldn’t happen.”

“You believe that?”

“You told me that dwelling on the things the Riddler says makes things worse. It’s true that the more I worry about things the more likely I’ll do something I regret, so I’m trying to do what you said. Acknowledge the thing that’s worrying me, do my best to reason it out and just let it go.”

“I think you’re getting there, Ed. You seem to be getting good at knowing what to do when things go wrong. Well done.”

“Um, thanks.” Ed said with a half-hearted smile.

“Is there something else that’s bothering you?”

“I- yes. Yes, there is. I just feel… The dream and Lucius being so kind made me think and the thing that’s been bothering me that I hadn’t known quite how to put into words is… that I’m not good enough for you all.”

“What do you mean?”

“I keep half-expecting everyone to tell me that it’s all been some elaborate joke or plot.”

“What has?”

This. You all wanting to be friends with me. Don’t get me wrong, I do appreciate you all.” Ed added, hurriedly. “I’ve been very happy here. I’d always wondered what it’s like to have a group of friends you just spend time with and enjoy being around and I do like it, but there’s always this doubt I can’t shake. I’ve tried to reason it out and I know logically you’re not all lying, but it just seems too good to be true.”

“Why? What about it seems too good to be true?” Nina asked curiously.

“None of you seem to have asked anything in return for friendship and everyone else I know who I tried to make friends with, I’ve just annoyed them or they were lying to me somehow, or wanted something.”

“Why do you think it was that you annoyed them?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know how people do it. Get people to like them or love them for any length of time, I mean. Ever since I can remember it’s been the one puzzle I can never solve. Even my-” Ed broke off.

“Ed?”

“Even my parents. I think my mother loved me, but I was too young to know for sure, then she was killed.”

“Killed? Ed? I thought-” Nina stopped herself, trying to be professional. “What happened?” Nina asked, more calmly.

“Oh, she got pushed down the stairs.” Ed said in what Nina found to be an alarmingly careless tone.

“By whom?” Nina asked.

“My father. They were arguing, he hit her and she stumbled and he shoved her and she lost her balance. I don’t know whether it was on purpose. I don’t think so.”

“How did you find this out?”

“I saw it happen. I wasn’t supposed to. I was supposed to be in bed asleep. When I saw it happen and I didn’t hear her get up a ran out of my room screaming. My father grabbed me by the throat and made me promise not to tell anyone, then sent me back and locked the door.”

“Did you tell anyone?”

“No, of course not. I’ve never told anyone else. Nobody would have believed me any more than they did when I let it slip that my father was hurting me and I didn’t want to risk getting hurt any more than I already was. I was a just child, more than that, I was me. Nobody ever listened.

He always told me exactly how useless I was, a wimp, a cissy, always crying like a girl and why couldn’t I take anything like a man? I wasn’t physically strong, not athletic, shy, I didn’t know how to make friends, I just loved books. They were my escape from reality. So, I thought I’d search for a way to make him proud by doing something I was good at and enjoyed. It’s why I studied so hard. No matter how hard I tried I knew I wouldn’t be good at those things, but when I was studying, I was in control. I wanted my father to be proud of me.

Once there was a test for a science competition at school. There was prize money. I was determined to win it and make my father proud, so I studied and studied and when the test came back mine was the only one that had a perfect score. I was so excited when I went home to tell my father, convinced that he’d finally, be proud of me. So, I told him… and he just yelled and yelled and said I was a cheat, stupid, stupid and a cheat and a waste of space who couldn’t get anything right all the while was hitting me.”

“I’m so sorry that happened to you Ed.” Nina said.

Unexpectedly, Ed’s face broke into a disquieting maniacal smile, stretched wide, dead-eyed and he laughed.

“Don’t be.” he said. “I did cheat.”

Nina continued to stare at Ed resolutely, then Ed blinked and, in a second, the smile fell away and his shoulders slumped, as though keeping it up had been tiring.

“I mean,” Ed said more quietly suddenly becoming defeated. “I broke into the teacher’s office to find out what the questions would be in advance so I could memorise the right information and the irony is as soon as I laid eyes on them I know I would have known all the answers anyway. I realised that no matter what I did, how hard I worked, nothing, nothing would ever be enough to make my father love me. As soon as I was an adult I ran away and changed my name. My real surname’s not Nygma, of course. That’s one of the reasons I was so shocked when Myrtle Jenkins found me. It really made me panic. I felt like a helpless child again and worried he’d find me, not that he cares about me enough to do that.”

“Ed, if you feel you constantly have to fight for and earn someone’s love and respect and they can’t love or respect you for who you are, they’re not worth trying to earn the love of. Why bother trying to earn the affections of someone who’ll never be satisfied? It’s a pointless endeavour when there are other, better people who will have affection for you unconditionally. You don’t have to earn our friendship. We’re already friends.”

“I think perhaps you’re right. Until I made friends with Stephanie and everyone here, I’d never had friends who liked me without having to constantly fight to keep their interest. That’s why this is so weird for me.

Do you know, it took me ages to get Miss Kringle’s interest back at the GCPD? I kept doing nice things for her, but she didn’t like it and the more I did the angrier I seemed to make her, and I never could understand why, until suddenly she changed.”

“What exactly did you do that you think upset her?”

“Nothing that strange. I just gave her a card, the odd present and I helped her with the archive office, although I can understand now why rearranging things upset her, but I don’t understand what was wrong with anything else. She kept saying I was being weird or creepy and I don’t see why.”

“I’m not sure how to say this… Ed had it ever occurred to you that from Kristen’s point of view you were harassing her?”

“Why? I was only doing nice things for her.” Ed said in increasing confusion and frustration.

“Well, if someone kept lying in wait for you with gifts you didn’t ask for or expect and you weren’t sure of that person’s intentions towards you, how would you feel?”

“Oh.” Ed said sadly, in realisation. “I wish she’d just said. I would have understood. It would have saved a lot of trouble.”

“She probably expected you to realise and stop when she didn’t respond.”

“Why?” Ed asked.

“Because that was her way of saying she wasn’t interested.”

“But she didn’t say she wasn’t interested. How was I supposed to know?”

“People don’t always directly say what they mean.”

“Why not?”

“They expect you to just understand.”

How?” Ed asked in frustration.

“Look, Ed… I know you struggle with social cues sometimes, but if you’re unsure why someone is upset or angry you can just ask them.”

“I know, but people are difficult. They don’t like being asked, sometimes.”

“If it’s a friend, or someone worth having as a friend, Ed, I’m sure they won’t mind.”

“It’s why I like being The Riddler. When I’m him I can pretend I’m someone strong and confident and popular who people want to be around or look up to and for the odd second I can make myself believe it.”

“You are that person, Ed. Everyone around here knows that you’re bright and can be confident and an excellent showman, so don’t worry about the other people. Some people are just jerks.” Nina said dismissively. “Remember, you don’t have to fight everything alone, even if your enemy is inside of your own head, that doesn’t mean you can’t still ask for outside help.”

“I know that now, thanks.” Ed said, meaningfully.

Chapter Text

After they’d completed their counselling and therapy, Nina issued Ed with mild antipsychotic medication to try for a while deciding that given Ed was living with Lucius, with Stephanie, Diedre and herself visiting regularly. Ed agreed that now his environment was stable enough so together they could make sure Ed was taking his medication and monitor any side effects. Stephanie had stayed awhile before going with Diedre to complete some smaller heist to tide them over until Ed was in a better state and Nina and Lucius were, of course, at work. As Ed had been doing well and was in the middle researching and planning for the next heist for The Riddle Factory, nobody had any qualms leaving Ed alone. Therefore, it came as a surprise when there was a loud knock on the front door. Ed was cautious to answer, wondering who would call on Lucius in the mid-afternoon. He looked through the peephole and was relieved, if confused to see a familiar face and opened the door.

“Grundy? What are you doing here? Did Nina send you? Or Diedre? Grundy?” Ed tried to work out why one of them had sent him.

During the day, Nina had negotiated that for most of the time Grundy be looked after by the Kane family as they guarded and tended to The Riddle Factory. The family had some children and with Grundy’s need to be looked after, instructed and kept occupied constantly like an oversized, but unusually compliant, child himself, the parents of the children had happily agreed. Due to this, it was very rare to see Grundy wandering on his own, usually preferring to stick to anyone he’d taken a particular shine to like glue.

While Ed tried to figure this out, Grundy’s nostrils flared in something that looked like anger and stepped forward and Ed realised that something was wrong. Grundy’s eyes were far too focussed and intelligent.

“Butch!” Ed gasped, backing away.

“Yeah.” Butch growled.

“Oh dear.” Ed said in alarm, freezing up when he was backed into a wall and Butch grabbed his throat.

Ed expected the pressure of his fist to increase and it took him a while to realise he was still breathing and although admittedly far too fast. Butch’s hand was holding him firmly in place, that was all he was doing. Ed had disappeared into his fear, without realising Butch was now regarding him with some confusion.

“What is wrong with you?” Butch asked.

Ed realised he was referring to the panic attack Ed was in the middle of.

“If you’re going to kill me, would you get on with it?” gasped, voice trembling.

“Calm down. I’m not going to kill you.” Butch now seemed faintly alarmed, removing his hand from Ed’s throat and raising his hands, stepping back.

Ed struggled to regulate his breathing, heat rising under his skin, making him flush, partly from fear and partly from embarrassment.

“Why not?” Ed said, doubtfully, once he’d calmed down.

“You think I’d kill you because of what? Penguin preferred you? Over Tabby’s hand? Or teaming up with Barbara against us? After all this time? It seems a bit extreme. I don’t care what The Penguin does anymore. From what I know, you’ve suffered enough, y’know being frozen in a block of ice for months is near enough to death, and I know now you really thought I’d killed your lady love. Given how desperate Tabby’s become over losing me, I can sympathise with that. So no, I’m prepared to let it slide.” Butch shrugged.

“Why?” Ed asked suspiciously.

“You’ve changed, I’ve changed. You’re not the man who did those things. I remember everything from when I was Grundy, you know.”

“You do?”

“Yeah. I know you don’t mean anyone any harm, now. I came to talk about something altogether different, though. I need help.”

“Wait, you remembered who you are. How is that possible? Wait, what did Tabitha do to you? Stephanie said she kidnapped you, that you were hurt.” Ed remembered.

Ed looked Butch up and down, searching for evidence of injury on his green-tinged skin.

“Apparently Tabby hitting me on the head made me remember who I am.” Butch admitted “Hurt like hell, but, yeah.”

“So more brain trauma- How-?” Ed began, wondering about the physiology behind it, especially given Butch didn’t even have a heartbeat to pump blood around his brain.

“That’s what I’m here about.” Butch interrupted. “I need to be fixed. My brain may have recovered, but look at me, I’m a monster.”

“Right.” Ed said, able to accept this explanation although he wasn’t ready to trust Butch just yet. “What do you expect me to do? I wasn’t lying to Nina when I said, I don’t have a clue how you got like this.”

“No, maybe not. But you’re clever and you’re close to Lucius Fox. He has access to all the files the GCPD confiscated when Indian Hill was closed. Tabby’s been asking around and she thinks that what happened to me has something to do to Indian Hill. Slaughter Swamp isn’t far away from there and she’s found out that some toxic waste from Indian Hill was dumped there. Even if the two things aren’t linked, the experiments at Indian Hill might be able to help my condition.”

“That would make sense.” Ed said thoughtfully. “What happened does resemble what happened to Theo Galavan. I suppose, if you can trace what it was that was done to you, we might be able to cure you. Or at least, if we knew what Strange was doing in more detail, we might be able to trace him, and he could fix you.”

“That’s the idea.”

“I don’t know… I can try.” Ed said hesitantly.

“Really?”

“Sure. I’ll ask Lucius. I can’t know what he’ll say, but I can try. If he’s willing to help me, I don’t think that he’d be against it. Where can I find you?”

“I’ll find you.”

“Okay I’ll as Lucius when he gets home. I’ll see you then,” Ed said awkwardly.

“Thanks.” Butch said. “I should go.”

“Butch.” Ed interrupted him as he went to leave. “I don’t know if you’ll ever believe me, but I need to say; I am sorry. About Tabitha’s hand and torturing you and-”

“I know.” Butch interrupted. “I know.” he repeated earnestly.

 

---------------------------

 

“How was your day?” Ed asked when Lucius arrived home.

“Quiet, actually. Maybe all the gangsters are taking a day off. Just a few robberies and a murder scene to see to.” Lucius said. “You? How’s your research into Ancient Egyptian artefacts and modern security systems going?”

“Well. It’s been interesting. Also, Butch came to see me. He’s recovered his memories.” Ed said.

Lucius looked up in alarm.

“Don’t panic.” Ed told him. “Apparently, he’s given up on revenge. He wants me to persuade you to look into Indian Hill’s old files for any clues as to how he came to be in his present state, so hopefully he can be cured. Slaughter Swamp isn’t far away from there and apparently toxic waste from Indian Hill was dumped there, so that might be why he’s in his present condition, or they might just offer some ways to heal him.”

“What did you say?” Lucius asked cautiously.

“I said I’d ask but couldn’t promise anything. Apparently Butch isn’t interested in revenge on me anymore. He’s convinced that I’ve changed and that enough time has passed that he can let things go and move on.”

“Do you believe him? That he’s really let things go?”

“I’m inclined to.” Ed replied. “It seems like he has far bigger worries and he said he remembers everything from when he was Grundy, so he can remember what I’ve been like since I arrived in The Narrows.” Ed shrugged. “I’m not sure. What do you think?”

“I don’t see why I can’t have a look into things,” Lucius began slowly, “but I do have concerns. I mean, I’m not sure that I should be helping a career criminal get back to health. It could do a lot of harm to my position at the GCPD if anyone finds out.”

“You’re helping me.” Ed pointed out.

“That’s different.” Lucius said.

“How?”

“I know you better, Ed. I had time to make sure you were committed to changing before helping.”

“I’m still a thief, a criminal.”

“But not an assassin, or a henchman and you do operate under some form of moral code that I can accept, now.”

Ed sighed.

“Look, I don’t care if you do it or not. It’s your choice, but bear in mind that whatever decision you make, I’ll be the one who has to suffer the consequences. Tabitha Galavan is very invested in getting Butch back and she’s no fan of mine. She won’t hesitate to kill me, if I don’t help. It’s up to you. You have time to think about it. Enough about that. There’s something else I’ve been meaning to ask, something related to that. A favour.”

“What is it?” Lucius asked.

“Well, you remember my girlfriend, Isabella, the one Oswald killed?” Ed began awkwardly.

“Yes?”

“I’ve talked with Nina about her a few times and it made me realise something. She looked uncannily like Kristen and she already shared a lot of my hobbies and interests and was interested in me immediately whereas it took me a while to get Kristen to take any interest in me.” Ed admitted. “I’ve been thinking about something Nina said about that a while ago. She said it was weird and I think she’s right. Right when Oswald had fallen for me, a woman comes along looking just like my former girlfriend, with a personality that fit so well with mine, it almost seems to have been designed for me… isn’t that odd?” Ed said.

“Yes. What is it that you want me to do?” Lucius asked.

“I didn’t know that much about Isabella, really. Her background, where she came from. Another funny thing is that I remembered was that she had me down as her emergency contact, even though we’d only known one another days. The idea that she had nobody else, not even a friend seems very strange. I was wondering if you could look into her files, find out where she came from, relatives, just that sort of thing. You have the authority to access things I can’t. I mean, if it’s too much to ask.” Ed added hurriedly.

“No, I should be able to do that. I think you’re right. It is strange. Very strange, actually. Is there any particular reason for the interest?”

“No. Just curiosity. I don’t like unanswered questions and something Nina said recently reminded me of it.”

“I don’t mind doing that. I can’t see a reason anyone should object as it’s just looking into events that are already over and done with. I’ll try, sure.”

Chapter Text

“Where is she?” Ed asked nervously again, tugging at Lucius cuff, pausing in his pacing in front of the sofa where Lucius was sat.

Fortunately, that morning Lucius had another day off, so he wasn’t needed at work, but Nina being late for Ed’s counselling appointment was now becoming worrying.

“I don’t know.” Lucius said, after calling Nina for the umpteenth time. “Maybe she’s forgotten. Maybe she’s busy. Maybe she slept in.” he suggested, not believing any of those explanations.

“Lucius, she’s two hours late. That’s not like her. She’s almost always on time.” Ed said fretfully. “Something’s wrong. I know something’s wrong. You’ve called Diedre and Stephanie and they’re not answering either. Something’s happened in The Narrows.”

“I think you’re right.” Lucius said, unwillingly. “I think I should go to The Narrows.” he said decisively, standing up.

“I’m coming with you.” Ed told him.

“I don’t think you should.” Lucius said.

Ed’s face was set in determination as he moved closer to Lucius to look him in the eye.

“If they’re in trouble, I’m not staying here, not knowing what’s going on and not doing anything and I’m not going to let you go on your own.” Ed insisted.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea. If there’s danger-” Lucius began to object, thinking Ed could do without seeing anytning upsetting for a while.

“I’m not that fragile.” Ed argued.

“I mean if there’s anything-”

“You’re not talking me out of this.” Ed interrupted. “It’s my home. They’re my friends. I am coming with you.” Ed said resolutely.

Lucius sighed, knowing Ed wouldn’t be dissuaded.

“Just stay close, okay?” Lucius asked.

“Of course.” Ed said enthusiastically. “I’m not having anything happening to you, either.”

 

-------------------

 

As they neared the club that was now Nina’s they both noticed there were far more people on the street than normal, not milling around like usual but rushing about. When they reached the street outside the back of the club they both saw the building opposite had a large hole in the side with smoke rising from it, to both of their trained eyes, the result of an explosion. Ed and Lucius exchanged a look of concern.

“Hey! Ed!” someone shouted and out of the crowd around the building came Nina walking towards them.

She looked tired, scruffy and with the occasional dusting of soot and had a white bandage around one hand.

“Are you okay?” Lucius asked.

“No, no I’m not.” Nina said with obvious ire. “Barbara Kean came to the club. I’m going to pull the trigger on that bitch myself.” she said forcefully.

“What happened?” Ed asked.

“Look what that bitch did to me!” Nina said, raising her arm to show her poorly bandaged hand.

“Are you alright? Would you like me to re-wrap it for you?” Ed asked almost immediately.

“Thank you, Ed. That would be helpful. Let’s go back to the club, I’ve set up a temporary medical station there.” she said, leading the way.

None of them said a word both Lucius and Ed able to realise Nina was running mostly on anger. The club was filled with people having their injuries tended to by a few overstretched unqualified people. Ed managed to precure clean bandages from someone, and cleaning materials, and the three of them sat down at one of the vacant tables.

There’s some stuff over there” Nina said with a tired sigh. “They killed a some of my people,” she continued once Ed had retrieved the supplies.

“Who?” Ed asked.

“Two of the Kane brothers. They were shot.” Nina said kurtly.

“The ones guarding you?” Ed verified.

“Yes.” Nina said, sadly. “Barbara came in to speak to me, had already had guns planted, had them shot then had her people grab me, issued a lot of threats and bashed my hand in. Barbara’s people turned over my clinic. On top of that, well, you saw the bomb that was set. Don’t worry.” Nina added. “Nobody was killed, but as you can see, people were injured. Not anyone we’re close to. Diedre and Stephanie are safe. They’re helping to clear out the rubble. I don’t know whether it was a related incident or separate to Barbara. It’s a miracle I got out in time. I do know that injuring me to make an example was a direct challenge to my leadership. Barbara’s planning to make us pay money to legalise crime once she takes over from Penguin as she’s planning to do.”

“She told you that?” Lucius asked.

“She didn’t have to. She did say that she wanted to take control of the Narrows, wanted a cut of the profits of the club’s operations. Apparently, she hasn’t found out about The Riddle Factory yet, which is a small mercy. She wants me to start charging my patients and get a cut of their fees! It’s ridiculous. Nobody can afford it.” Nina said exasperatedly.

“Did they break anything important at the clinic?” Lucius asked.

“Yes. Several things.”

“Will you be able to replace them?” Lucius asked.

“We need a lot more money and with Ed out of action it’s going to be hard to get it.” Nina said.

“I’ll be better soon.” Ed said. “I am better.”

“You may be back on your feet, but psychologically, I don’t think you’re ready to go on any heists. With respect, you know you’ve been suicidal. We can’t take you with us if you’re in a state where you’ll be more inclined to take unnecessary risks.”

“You’re right.” Ed admitted with a sigh. “I’m not in the right frame of mind yet. Planning is going well though.”

“Can you operate without him?” Lucius asked.

“Not really.” Nina answered. “Our heists only work with four people and sometimes that’s a stretch. I need Ed’s brains. I also could use your help to rebuild the clinic, Ed. You’ve been speeding things up a lot by tending to injuries. I’m beginning to wonder how I coped before you arrived. Ow.” Nina said in pain.

“Sorry.” Ed muttered reflexively. “Alright?”

“Yeah. Just hurts.” Nina replied, wincing.

“Sorry. I’m trying to be gentle.” Ed said.

“Don’t you have any anaesthetic?” Lucius asked.

“Not of any strength. I’ve taken a painkiller, but I don’t think it’s helped.” Nina admitted. “With all of the other injured people out there this has been the least of my worries and I haven’t been in any state to help them. There’s only limited use for a doctor with the use of one hand only.”

“Shouldn’t you get outside help – ambulances, the police, the fire brigade?” Lucius suggested, whilst Ed tied off the bandages.

“We managed to put out the fires. It’s just the smoke lingering and we can manage getting people out and clearing the rubble. I have enough people for that.” Nina said. “I can’t pay people’s hospital fees and the GCPD are too scared to enter far enough into The Narrows to offer any proper help.”

“Unless I tell them to.” Lucius suggested. “You’re not just anyone around here. You’re the people’s leader who’s doing their best to improve things, that should convince Jim.”

“The people who live around here shouldn’t be valued any less than me.” Nina argued. “If they’d have had the opportunity and the resources, they’d already have done what I’m doing. I shouldn’t be in a privileged position just because I’m higher up the primitive hierarchy that there is in Gotham.”

“I agree,” Ed said, “but if we’re to get the GCPD down here to help in a productive way, with clearing things out or catching who set the bomb, we have to convince them that it’s worth their while, rather than just another insignificant brawl in the ranks of the many gangs that operate around here.”

“Exactly.” Luicus said. “If the leader of The Narrows is being threatened, it’s the structure of Gotham that’s being threatened. Jim needs a wake-up call of exactly how destructive his partnership with Miss Kean is to Gotham and a significant leader being targeted, especially Lee Thompkins, might finally be enough to make him realise that he’s playing with fire and stop.”

“Do you think Barbara’s that much of a threat?” Nina asked. “I didn’t know you followed Gotham’s politics this closely. Surely Jim wouldn’t let her take over. He must have more sense. He knows how unreliable and power-hungry she can be.”

“In my opinion, it’s already gone too far.” Lucius said. “The number of meetings he’s been having with her are concerning. That’s without mentioning that I think Miss Kean may have had a part in the Pyg’s killing spree.”

“What do you mean?” Nina asked in concern.

“I’d rather not make accusations until I’m sure,” Lucius said “but to conclude, I think Miss Kean has far more power over Jim than many of us realise. Not that there’s anything we can do about that now. Either way, I do think it’s worth getting the GCPD’s help.”

Nina pressed her lips together, eyes becoming unfocussed as she thought for a minute.

“Alright,” she finally acquiesced. “I think I’m ready to face Jim now. God knows, we could do with the help. But you should go home, Ed. I want Jim to leave you alone.”

“But I want to help.” Ed protested. “We saw what it was like on our way here; people’s homes destroyed, people injured, and you just said the clinic was a mess. And I’ve been stuck inside for days. I’m bored.”

“You can help clear up the clinic,” Nina allowed “but I want you to keep out of the GCPD’s way. I’m not having you arrested.”

“I’ll call Jim, if nobody objects.” Lucius said.

“Go for it.” Nina agreed. “The clinic’s out of the way, so he shouldn’t bother you, Ed.”

“After that I can help tend to the injuries, if you like.” he offered.

“Thank you. That would be very helpful.”

 

------------------------

 

It was early afternoon before Jim could get away from the scene of The Narrows bombing. He’d met Lucius at the scene of the wreckage which had finally been cleared. When asked how he’d come to be in The Narrows in the first place, Lucius had been evasive, not that Jim was particularly bothered. What Lucius did in his own time was his business and he trusted the other man’s judgement. He’d been directed by Lucius to the leader of The Narrows, apparently known as The Doc and had found himself stumbling into what seemed to be a meeting in a club. He couldn’t get any of them to offer any useful information about their leader, but by the time he’d made it half-way across the room in one corner someone started clapping and cheering and gathering around a stage to one end where a young woman clad in a dark purple suit stood. Someone from the upstairs level pointed a spotlight at her and she waved and smiled at the crowd from under a domino mask.

From what Jim could tell, she was petite, pale-skinned and had a head of flaming red curls.

“Ladies and gentlemen, lovely to see you again.” she called, gaining light cheering.

“Hey, Enigma! Where’s The Riddler?” someone shouted.

“Our friend can’t be with us right now as he’s been ill.” she said, her expression temporarily sobering before returning to a vibrant smile. “However, it’s not me or him you’re here to see, is it?” she asked brightly, voice becoming louder and more confident, exuding the charisma of a circus ringmaster. “Believe in her passion 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? Ready to rock? People of the Narrows, here’s The Doc!”

She stepped back, allowing another woman to take centre stage to enthusiastic applause and cheering. This woman was disquietingly familiar to Jim. A smiling Lee, in all her glory took to the stage.

“This morning someone tried to kill me.” Lee announced, smile not faultering. “Maybe it was someone from the outside. Maybe it was one of you.”

Lee was apparently a beloved leader, for the crowd reacted in horror at her words.

“You know what, I don’t know and I don’t care, but what I do know is that someone did not like what I was saying.” Lee said, seeming to draw assurance from her people. “Now, why would the idea of a united Narrows scare people? I’ll tell you why! Because a united Narrows is a strong Narrows. And guess what. They should be scared!”

“Magnificent, isn’t she?” said a woman’s low voice and she linked her arm with his. Jim saw Lee send a wink to the woman who had just spoken to him.

The woman wore a mask the same as Enigma’s, but wore a jumpsuit in emerald green with a low sweetheart neckline with thin straps and some strategically-placed panelling allowing the bare skin of her abdomen to peek through. Jim noticed The Riddler’s trademark question mark emblasoned on her belt buckle.

“Because together,” Lee continued, “we have the power to change lives. Imagine a hospital. Imagine schools. Imagine these slums torn down! The children deserve better. Your children deserve life!”

“Fancy a backstage tour when she’s done?” the beautiful blonde woman asked, undercover of the crowd’s cheering.

“Who are you?” Jim asked her.

“I can be heard. Some use me to doubt, others to discover. I end with asking ‘Why?’. I am about to be used. Who am I?” the woman asked.

“Excuse me?” Jim said, thrown for a minute. “You work for Edward Nygma?”

With him. I just love the riddles gimmick, don’t you?” she said, with a playful smile. “Aren’t you going to answer my riddle?”

“I don’t know. A question?” Jim guessed.

“Warm, you’re close.” she praised him, with what seemed like a genuinely pleased smile, before waiting for him to guess.

“Um.” Jim said, the intense scrutiny of her sparking blue eyes making him uncomfortable. “Oh, ‘I end with asking ‘Why?’’ Is that it? The answer ends in a ‘y’?” he asked.

The woman smiled silently.

“Query?” he asked.

“At your service.” the woman said with a bow. “Let me guess, Foxy brought you here?”

“You know Lucius Fox?”

“Sure.” she said casually. “He was here earlier. He came to check The Doc was okay.”

“What was he doing down here in the first place?”

“You should ask him.” Query replied.

“So, you know Ed Nygma.”

“Oh yes!” Query said enthusiastically.

“What’s his deal down here? Why are people so eager to see them?”

“Don’t you know? He’s The Doc’s partner.”

“Partner?” Jim asked dubiously.

“He’s collaborating with her in an attempt to drag this place out of the mire.” Query explained.

“So they’re- together?”

“They’re not dating, if that’s what you’re asking. They are firm friends. They’re both with other people.”

“Oh.”

“Come out the back. She’ll be done soon.” Query invited.

“How do you know you won’t kill me the second you get me alone, or hand me over to Nygma.”

“And bring the GCPD down on us? No thanks. Ed’s enjoying the peace and quiet. Besides he’s taking a break from mischief-making. Bonus, I won’t even search you for weapons. Now, come on, before the stampede.”

“Fine.” Jim said gruffly following her to a backroom.

“Hey, what’s he doing here?” Enigma demanded disdainfully the second they entered.

“Foxy figured we should call the GCPD to help figure out who was behind the bomb.”

“What for? They’re useless.” Enigma scoffed.

Jim disregarded this comment.

“We also helped to clear up the mess.” he replied.

“Wow, good for you.” Enigma sniped. “Pity you couldn’t have been around to stop this part of the city turning into a slum in the first place.”

“You haven’t exactly helped the course of justice by harbouring a serial killer. Speaking of which where is Edward Nygma. You’re his lapdogs, right?”

Enigma glared at him.

“By rights I should bust you right now.” Jim said.

“Just you try it.” Enigma said fiercely.

“Cool it, Enigma, stand down.” Query said, putting a restraining hand on Enigma’s arm, before putting on a winning smile. “Come on, Jim, don’t be grumpy. Your ex has my full support. She’s really gonna change things around here.” Query said.

“Someone tried to kill her this morning.” Jim said sourly.

“And you’d better find out who did it, sharpish.” replied Enigma. “But I expect that’s a bit much to ask, with the GCPD being so incompetent.”

“Don’t be sore.” Query said, soothingly rubbing Enigma’s shoulder. “I’m sure they’ve been doing there best. They’re here now. We may as well make the most of it. Getting into petty arguments won’t help the culprit be found.”

At that juncture, the door opened at Lee entered.

“Jim, hi!” Lee said brightly. “I hope my lovely ladies have been looking after you.”

“I’ve done my best, but Enigma been all fisty-cuffs.”

“Shut up Query!” Enigma said tiredly.

“Enigma, they need help at the clinic. Would you mind?”

“I don’t mind. At least I’d be in better company. Great speech by the way, Nina. See you around.” Enigma said, patting Lee on the arm and leaving.

“How long have you been back?” Jim asked Lee as soon as he’d left.

“A while.” Lee replied.

“I wished you would have contacted me.”

“I’ve been busy.” she said sharing a smile with Query who walked to Lee’s side and the two of them put arms around eachothers waists, standing shoulder to shoulder.

“I can see that.” Jim replied drily. “You look great.”

“You look... the same.” Lee replied. “Are you here to arrest someone. Me?” Lee said sounding almost excited at the idea.

“I’m here because someone wants you dead. You’re not safe.”

“It’s Gotham. Is anyone ever safe? Especially in The Narrows, no thanks to the GCPD.” Lee quipped. “Honey, would you mind leaving us for a minute?” Lee asked Query.

“Okay, look after her, Jim.” Query said.

“Lee-” Jim began as soon as the other woman disappeared.

“I don’t answer to that name anymore.” Lee said.

“Fine. What name do you answer to?”

“I do not speak unless spoken to, many have heard me, but none have seen me. Who am I?” Lee asked teasingly.

“Another riddle? Seriously?”

“Answer and you’ll know what to call me.”

Jim sighed irritably.

“Can you repeat it?” he asked.

“I do not speak unless spoken to, many have heard me, but none have seen me. Who am I?”

“An echo.” he replied.

“Correct. You can call me Echo, or Dr Damfino, or Nina.”

“So you’re partners with Ed, huh? Why?”

“Why not?” Lee challenged.

“He’s a psychopath and a cop-killer.” Jim said harshly.

“No, he’s not a psychopath.” Lee replied calmly. “Also, why does everyone seem so fixated on him being a cop killer? As though cops in Gotham are angels, besides you should know that one of the said cops was an abuser, if any of you had bothered to stop and do one iota of reasearch. I don’t see that Ed being my partner is your concern. I’m a free adult entitled to make my own decisions, and so is Ed, for that matter. Unless you have anything of value to say, would you mind leaving? No offense, but we all have lots of important things to get on with.”

“I’m concerned, Lee.”

“Nina.” Lee corrected.

“Whatever.” Jim said carelessly. “He killed your friend and now you’re teaming up with him?” Jim said incredulously.

“You don’t know anything about what really happened there, Jim.” Lee said.

“What tale has he told you?” Jim asked suspiciously.

“Anthing Ed has told me, with me acting as his doctor, is confidential.” Lee replied with neutral professionalism.

“So, he’s your patient now?”

“Yes. You heard Enigma. He’s not well at the moment.”

“I want to see him.”

“You can’t.” Lee replied with equal bluntness. “He’s not well enough for your interrogation. I’m not having a visit from you upsetting him and, honestly, I don’t trust you.”

“What exactly is wrong with him? Are you sure he’s not faking to get your sympathy?”

“He’s not faking!” Nina barked, making Jim jump.

Nina took a breath to compse herself.

“Sorry, it’s just been a stressful few days for all of us here.” she said more calmly. “But he is in my care and you have my word that he is in no condition to cause anyone any trouble. I won’t be discussing anything relating to Ed until he’s well enough to speak for himself. Now, I have lots of things to do. Can you make this quick?”

“Do you have any idea who might mean you harm?”

“You’re asking me who attacked me?”

“You know who might have attacked you?”

“I know who was responsible. Barbara Kean.”

“Why?”

“How do you know that?”

“She came to see me personally. She insisted The Narrows submit to her control, that my patients pay for their treatment and that she gets a cut of that mone. I said no, she had her guards shoot two of mine then had them grab me and she personally smashed my hand in with a hammer, so yes I’m sure it was her. She admitted to trashing my clinic, but I can’t be sure that the bomb, that went off a bit later was her, so you’ll have to find out.”

“I find it hard to believe that Barbara would risk all she’s managed to build for this.”

“You think I’m lying?” Lee challenged. “Fine, be that way. Maybe you’re exactly as incometant as everyone round here says.” Lee said caustically.

“I will catch who did this.” Jim promised.

“I’ll believe it when I see it.” Lee replied.

Chapter Text

“Barbara. I’ve been told by Lee that you attacked her people in The Narrows.”

“Oh, Jim. You mustn’t take the things she says too seriously. You know she’s always hated me. It’s pitiful, honestly.” Barbara said in an off-hand fashion, only sparing a glance away from her paperwork.

“So your official position is that she’s lying?” Jim asked.

“Look, it’s true I went down there to chat, but I wouldn’t call it an attack.” Barbara said evasively.

“So the people who were shot, the bomb that went off, Lee’s hand being smashed had absolutely nothing to do with you?” Jim asked bluntly.

“Of course not.” Barbara said, sounding distant, peering at her papers.

Jim snatched them away.

“Barbara.” he said to get her attention. “It wouldn’t be wise of you to lie to me.”

Barbara sighed in irritation.

“Jim, it’s The Narrows. Nobody has cared about all of the death and destruction that happens down there, why start now? I did go down there to see Lee, it’s true, because it’s a mess down there and I’m considering on insisting The Narrows submits to outside control, for the sake of the people. There’s starvation and illness and violence all over the place and someone with the resources needs to help out. The GCPD has done nothing, so I thought I’d offer a hand. Needless to say, Lee’s enjoying her reign over those poor people and wouldn’t take my help.” Barbara sighed in disappointment.

“So you maintain that Lee is lying?” Jim asked.

“Jim, I hate to break this to you, but she’s not the woman she once was. Do you know she shot Firefly, right?”

“What?” Jim asked in amazement.

“Yes, I was there, as well as a load of other people. If you ask me, even though she no longer has superhuman strength, the Tetch virus messed her up personality. She’s not goody-two-shoes Dr Thompkins anymore, Jim, however much you’d like her to be. The latest I’ve heard she has a girlfriend and I found out her girlfriend used to be a dominatrix at Pandora’s Box. Can you imagine? I always had her down as Little Miss Straight Vanilla all the way.”

“Of course, Query.” Jim muttered, sitting down.

“You seem shocked, sweetie.” Barbara said, reaching over to masage his wrist.

“Well, I just don’t know how I managed to miss all of this.” Jim said in disbelief. “It was surprising enough that she teamed up with Nygma. Why is she doing all of this?”

“Maybe she just craves a bit of excitement after being so dull for all these years, less predictability, a bit of danger. You went to war, surely you can sympathise with such stupidity. People change, Jim.” Barbara took Jim’s hand, but he shook himself back to reality and shook her off.

“I have to go.” Jim said.

“You’re not staying tonight?”

“No.” Jim said.

“I have a very important phone call to make.” Jim said.

The second he got out into the cold side street Barbara’s safe house was hidden on he dialled the number.

“Harvey, I need your help.” Jim said gruffly. “Barbara needs to be taken down.”

 

------------------------

 

Ed had thrown himself into studying all the files Lucius had managed to acquire about Indian Hill with zeal, pleased to finally have a puzzle to get lost in. Lucius and Stephanie had trouble in getting him to remember to take breaks for meals and sleep. Lucius told Ed that information about Isabella hadn’t been fourth coming, but Ed was too consumed with what had been termed ‘The Butch Problem’ to spare the matter much thought. Ed also admitted to Nina the nature of his project and persuaded her to give some background on Butch’s medical conditions. It ended up that she, Ed and Lucius were working on it together as Nina had a lighter workload while she was waiting for her clinic to be restored. As a result, Ed arranged for himself, Lucius and Nina to meet with Butch and Tabitha at Nina’s club, a meeting which Nina lead.

Nina had her people pat Butch and Tabitha down for weapons, before bringing them to a table. Butch seemed calm, now better dressed than before and Tabitha, on edge, glaring at each of them with suspicion.

“What have you got?” Tabitha asked candidly.

“Before we begin, we need to get one thing quite clear.” Nina said. “Tabitha, who are you working for?”

Tabitha gave a sharp impatient sigh.

“What does it matter? Can’t we get on with what we’re all here for?” Tabitha asked.

“Am I right in thinking you are no longer allied with Barbara?” Nina asked directly.

“No, I don’t trust her anymore.” Tabitha replied.

“Why not?”

“She’s power-hungry, selfish, obsessed, blind because of it. She’s going to tear this city apart.” Tabitha replied.

“Is that a yes, or a no?”

“Does it matter?”

“It matters enormously.” Nina replied. “You must have heard what she did to me, how she tried to take control of The Narrows. I have to know you’re not gathering information, that you’re not going to turn Ed in to her or Penguin or the GCPD.”

“Not goddamn likely! I don’t trust any of them. I don’t care. As soon as Butch is healed, we’re planning to get the hell out of here. Look, have you got anything useful or not?”

“Yes.” Ed said. “If you’re happy, Nina, can we continue?”

“Fine, I’m happy.” Nina said.

“Okay.” Ed said. “I managed to get Lucius to get the files relating to Strange’s most beloved experiments including his resurrection of Theo Galavan. It’s taken a while for us to piece things together, but Nina thinks she knows a course of treatment that will work.”

“Yes." Nina said. "Butch, your organs have been well-preserved. As far as we can work out to cure you, your body would have to be flushed with antitoxin, slowly drain the blood in your body that’s contaminated with swamp water and Strange’s Lazarus medicine and replace it with healthy blood, then use a defibrillator to deliver a counter-shock to the heart to re-establish normal sinus rhythm.”

“Can you do that?” Tabitha asked, eagerly.

“Myself, no. I don’t have the resources, nor the expertise to create the necessary medicines.”

“Why not?”

“There are three key medicines concerned. For simplicity, Strange seems to have created what we’ll call Lazarus Water and Asclepius Solution, Soteria Water. They’re what might be called a life-giving medicine, a healing medicine and an a miraculous kind of antitoxin respectively, in basic terms. From what I’ve been able to analyse of Butch’s blood-like substance, Butch seems to have absorbed a combination of all three from the swamp water. Lazarus Water keeps cells alive, Asclepius Solution repairs injured tissue, even severely injured tissue with great speed. Soteria Water neutralises the toxins in the body. There’s a problem though.”

“When Indian Hill was raided all of it was contaminated. There’s a formula, but it would require a skilled chemist and specialist substances that are difficult to acquire, and it has to brew under very controlled conditions for an extended period of time.” Lucius explained.

“Can’t you brew it?” Tabitha asked the three of them in general, but they shook their heads.

“No.” Nina said. “It requires a level of skills and expertise, as well as equipment and chemicals none of us has.”

“Can’t you try?”

“That’s like asking me to conduct impromptu brain surgery.” Nina objected. “I’m not prepared to take that gamble with Butch’s life.”

“Your right.” Tabitha said, reluctantly. “So, what do we do?”

“We’ve managed to condense all of the information that should be needed into one file, though.” Nina said, offering up the said file. “If you can find a suitable chemist and doctor in the fields I’ve mentioned on the first page with the skills I’ve listed and can find enough money to convince them, if you issue them with the file, you should be able to cure Butch.” she finished.

“You think so?” Tabitha asked.

“Sure. It’s yours to take.”

“How sure are you this will work?” Tabitha flicked through the folder absently, not understanding a word of it.

“Of course, as a doctor, we’re rarely absolutely sure, but I am sure, enough. We’ve all spent days going through this information.”

“So,” Tabitha looked to Ed and then to Lucius. “Are you going to tell me why you did this?”

“I’ll be honest.” Ed said. “You knew where to find myself and Lucius and honestly, I’m too scared of you to refuse.”

“That didn’t stop you betraying us in the past.” she argued.

“That was then.” Ed said. “Look, we discussed it and if this stops you from handing me in to whoever and not telling anyone that Lucius had been hiding me, we thought we might as well help. Not only that, I was glad of the chance to exercise my brain.”

Tabitha stared at Ed suspiciously for a while, before snatching the folder off of the table and holding it to her chest.

“Fine. Fine.” she shrugged. “We should be going, Butch.” she said, standing up. “Thanks.” she said begrudgingly. “By the way, Fox.” she said, turning it back. “I don’t have anything against you, so I’ll warn you now. He’s a slippery bastard.” Tabitha said, jabbing a finger at Ed. “He’ll stab you in the back and leave you for dead. Have fun.”

 

------------------------

 

“Do you want some hot chocolate?” Ed said the second he and Lucius got home.

“I- no, I’m okay.” Lucius said shaking his head and sitting down, massaging his temples.

“Are you sure?” Ed asked. “Are you worried? You didn’t believe what Tabitha said, did you?”

“No, Ed, it’s not that.” Lucius said, raising his head. “We need to talk.”

“What’s wrong? Have I done something?”

“No, Ed. It’s not you. You… you remember you asked me to look into Isabella Flynn.”

“You found something.” Ed said, sitting beside Lucius.

“Ed... I’m not sure how to say this. I investigated her records and... there weren’t any. That’s why it’s taken me so long to get back to you. I looked for information about her birth, her medical history, taxes, income. I tried to find information about her early life, but couldn’t find anything. There was absolutely nothing about her until about a week before you met her. So... I had a thought. While I was looking through the information about Indian Hill and the experiments Hugo Strange had been completing, Isabella reminded me of another case. I don’t know how to say this, Ed...” Lucius said, his brow creasing with worry, before taking a breath to steel himself. “The Court of Owls created a clone of Bruce Wayne and it made me wonder. So, I looked into it and it seems that The Court of Owls commissioned Hugo Strange to create a clone of Kristen Kringle. There were detailed notes about Isabella, how they were planning to create a person with a personality and appearance that would be as attractive as possible to you. I don’t know how it was missed before. Perhaps because she was already dead.”

“Isabella...wasn’t real.” Ed whispered in disbelief. “I-I- but wait, why? Why did they do that?”

“From what I could tell, the strength of your bond with the Penguin was concerning to them. They saw that together you and the Penguin were a formidable team, with his ambition and talent for strategic planning and your intellect and both of your abilities to sway the public in your favour.” Lucius asked with as much neutrality as possible. “They also were aware of the Penguin’s growing feelings for you and were of the opinion that you returned them, but weren’t ready to admit the fact, so they had to send in a woman you would be guaranteed to be attracted to, to cause friction between the two of you and break apart your partnership.”

“The Court of Owls created Isabella to cause Oswald and I to become estranged?” Ed whispered in disbelief.

“Yes. I’m afraid so.”

“You’re lying.” Ed said, the blood draining from his face.

“I’m not, Ed. I wouldn’t.” Lucius shook his head. “I wouldn’t do something like that to you. You know that.”

“Are you absolutely sure?”

“Yes, I’m sure.” Lucius said.

Ed stared at Lucius silently for around twenty seconds slowly paling further until his skin developed a green tinge. Ed’s fists clenched, his eyes closed, face scrunching up and unsteadily he got up, stumbling forward off the carpet and promptly vomited over Lucius’ floor. Lucius gasped from alarm and a measure of disgust.

“Ed!” he said in alarm, catching Ed’s elbow and allowing the other man to lean on him as he looked like he was about to keel over.

Ed swayed and fell to his knees, managing to avoid the pool of vomit and Lucius crouched beside him.

“I- I’m sorry.” Ed hissed, seeming to swallow down another wave of nausea.

“Hey. It’s okay.” Lucius rubbed Ed’s back the way he remembered his parents doing when he was ill as a child, feeling guilty.

“No, it’s not.” Ed muttered, eyes squeezed shut. “It’s not okay. Oh dear. Oh dear.”

“Steady, Ed.” Lucius could hear Ed counting under his breath to calm down and continued to rub his back.

“I’m okay.” Ed said eventually in a rough voice, straightening up and Lucius saw tears in his eyes.

“Ed?”

“So, what you’re actually telling me is that it was all for nothing?” Ed asked, sounding choked-up.

“What was for nothing?” Lucius asked slowly.

“I killed- I thought I killed my best friend, someone I loved, I destroyed out friendship and for what?” Ed demanded with desolation. “A lie. We both went through all of that and it was all because of someone who didn’t even really exist. I should have seen it. How could I have been so blind? So blind and stupid, stupid!” Ed cried, raising his hands to rake through his hair, digging his fingertips into his scalp and giving a wordless yell of pure vexation.

“Hey, Ed go easy.” Lucius attempted to soothe him.

“How can everything be okay when everything I touch falls to pieces, and I worry, I worry that the world would be a better place without me in it if all I do is destroy everything!” Ed shouted, gesturing wildly.

“That’s not true!” Lucius said passionately, too loudly, grabbing hard at Ed’s hands to still them and Ed flinched.

Lucius took a shaky breath, forcing himself to speak more calmly.

“Ed, listen to me,” he said firmly. “That’s not true. You may be many things, but you are not stupid. I’m going to tell you again; the world would not be a better place without you in it.”

Ed snatched his hands away and shifted away, sliding back to lean against the sofa, knees hugged up against him.

“Don’t lie!” he snapped, tears escaping from his eyes. “I fell in love with a woman grown in a laboratory, programmed to find me. It’s horrible! I should have known it was too good to be true. I ignored all the obvious signs, because I just wanted Kristen back, still, but it was my fault I lost her in the first place, and I was stupid and selfish enough to think I could have everything.” he took a shuddering breath, unheeded tears rolling freely down his cheeks. “Worse than that, was what I did because of Isabella. I tried to kill someone I said was my best friend and then all those people, Lucius…Clever, innocent people, with bright futures, gone forever, because of me, because of how I reacted to that, because I was too stupid to see what was staring me in the face.” the words became more garbled as he struggled to hold in sobs. “None of that needed to have happened, if I’d stopped to think for just a few minutes. I did all of that, the man you’re looking at, the one you’re sharing your home with! Everyone I’ve ever loved, I’ve killed or driven away. Don’t lie and try to pretend I’m a good person or say they were just silly little mistakes anyone could have made; they weren’t. I made those decisions. I’ll never be able to undo them. Me!” he snapped, giving a gasping sob, head falling into his hands.

“Ed.” Lucius reached to squeeze Ed’s shoulder. “Ed.” he said, more insistently.

Ed looked up at him, lowering his shaking hands to his knees.

Was it your choice, Ed?” Lucius challenged. “You were used and manipulated by The Court of Owls, Isabella, Oswald, if we’re honest. They all lied to you and used you for their own gain. You know that. You didn’t make The Court of Owls send Isabella to you and you didn’t make Oswald fall in love with you.” Lucius said, increasingly confident as Ed’s gaze lingered on him, unwaveringly. “Ed, even if you had found out Isabella was a clone, would you have been any less angry with the Penguin? He took away your right to find out things for yourself and make your own decisions. In that case, was it really for nothing? What if you’d gone on not knowing that Oswald’s feelings for you were selfish love?”

Ed stared at him, frowning for a while.

“I’m so sick of hurting people.” he confessed. “I want it to be over. I just wanted to live a quiet life with someone I loved. It’s what I’ve always wanted. It’s what I still want. But that’s too much to ask for someone like me. If I’m as bad as I can be, maybe I’m responsible for everything bad that happens to me. At least it makes me feel like I’m the one in control. I tried so hard for so long to do the right thing and everything went wrong. If I can’t be loved, at least I’ve made that decision for myself. I think that’s what drove me to kill all those people, to try to become a feared villain. It’s the only way I could get any attention.”

“You’re not unlovable.” Lucius said vehemently. “You’re-” Lucius’ eyes widened for a second, “-just not.” he finished lamely. “You’re not to blame for everything bad that happens to you.” he continued. “Bad things just happen sometimes and it’s not anyone’s fault. Don’t blame yourself for things you can’t control. If none of that had happened, would you be here, now? I thought you liked it here.”

“I do, but no matter how hard I try I’m constantly waiting for the day I hurt you and I don’t want that to happen. I keep wondering what if I’d done things differently. There are so many things I’ve done that I regret.”

“Ed, I’m not qualified to give you advice, but truly, you’re not a bad, not an evil person. You’re a person who’s troubled, but here and now, you’re doing good things, you’re helping people, getting healthier, getting better. Sometimes you just have to let go of the past and change. Of course that’s not going to be easy. If you get lost in worrying about what might have been you won’t be present in what is happening, now. The past is gone and can’t be changed, but who you become and what you do in the future is up to you.”

“Do you really think so?”

“I do and the longer I look at you, the more I believe it.” Lucius said.

“Tell me you mean it. Even if you don’t.” Ed asked him, gazing at Lucius through watery eyes.

“I do mean it.”

 

--------------------

 

“Nice dressing gown.”

“Oh, my God. What the hell?” Stephanie gasped, pulling her revolver out of her pocket and pointing it at the dark figure leaning against her kitchenette wall.

She focused her sleepy eyes on the person, shoving her messy red curls out of her eyes, seeing Selina Kyle.

“I could have shot you.” Stephanie scolded, returning her revolver to her dressing gown pocket, before looking down at the washed-out satin turquoise robe covered in cherry blossom print self-consciously.

“Sorry.” Selina said carelessly. “I did knock, but there was someone lurking out there and I didn’t fancy waiting and being attacked.”

“I locked the door.” Stephanie objected.

“I picked the lock.”

“I mean when someone locks a door, that’s generally a polite signal that they don’t want random people wandering in.”

“It’s Gotham.” Selina shrugged. “You’re lucky I’m feeling nice; I haven’t damaged anything and I haven’t even stolen anything.”

Stephanie rubbed her eyes bemusedly and blinked several times, as though hoping to wake up from a dream, but Selina was still there, stood in her constantly confrontational stance.

“What…What are you doing here?” Stephanie asked, exhaustedly, leaning back against the counter.

“I heard what Barbara did to The Doc.” Selina explained.

“Right. And?” Stephanie said suspiciously.

“Your offer - of protection; I’ll take it. More than that, I want to help.” Selina stated.

“Help?” Stephanie repeated incredulously. “Kitty cat, I’ve heard a lot about you and the one thing I’ve heard the most is that you rarely do anything purely out of the goodness of your heart.”

“Don’t call me that.” Selina said irritably, blushing.

“I thought it was what you wanted to be called, Selina?” Stephanie teased.

“Don’t be patronising.”

The two girls stared at one another wordlessly, weighing up the opposition.

“This was a bad idea.” Selina said, reading Stephanie’s confrontational posture, seeing her hand round her gun, unnerved by her unblinking stare and edging towards the door. “I should-”

“No!” Stephanie said urgently, before removing her hand from the gun and raising both hands in surrender, her shoulders relaxing. “Stay. Please. You just gave me a shock. I’m tired, I’ve had a stressful few days. I’m a terrible hostess. Sit down. Make yourself at home.”

“Well I did sort of break in. I’m not surprised you’re on edge. Actually, that’s what I want to talk to you about.”

Stephanie lowered her hands, both girls relaxing.

“Well, would you like a drink? Something to eat?” Stephanie asked.

“What you got?” Selina asked, eyes turning bright.

“Um, coffee, tea, cookies, bread for toast. I should probably get hold of some more food for lunch.” she added, more to herself.

“Do you have jelly for the toast?”

“Yeah, sure. Blackberry and strawberry.”

“Coffee, black, and Blackberry on toast, thanks.” Selina said before making herself comfortable on Stephanie’s sofa with all the entitlement Quiz usually did.

“Right.” Stephanie couldn’t help but smile, turning to make the said toast.

Once the toast was made, Stephanie continued the conversation.

“So, why d’you want to talk about breaking in?” Stephanie asked, whilst she spread the jelly on toast.

“It’s what you do, right? You, Nygma, The Doc and the woman you call Query? Break into places, steal stuff and do your dumb riddle thing and make a lot of money. Well, I want in.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’ll help steal stuff. You know I’m good at breaking into places. I’m sick of not being taken seriously and lied to by Barbara and Tabby’s too unreliable. I’m not too happy about the state of things in Gotham either. The Doc’s making an actual difference and I want to help. Also, I want a home and money.”

Stephanie watched Selina’s scorn at her treatment from Barbara with interest.

“Why are you turning on Barbara?” Stephanie asked cautiously. “You know she’s dangerous. She won’t be happy.”

“I don’t trust her. There are rumours about things she’s done, about her plans for Gotham, to take it over and I have a bad feeling.” Selina said.

“Like what?”

“Like the rumour going ‘round that she hired The Pyg. What The Pyg did was messed up.” Selina said, nose scrunching up in disgust. “I wouldn’t usually care, but at that I draw the line.”

“You believe the rumours?”

“Well, while I’ve been around, Barbara keeps having secret meetings with people and The Penguin kept storming in with complaints. What you said about her stuck a chord with me. I kept noticing things that don’t add up.”

“I’m going to need more than that to be convinced you won’t go straight and inform on us to her.” Stephanie replied.

“I know for a fact that she had a meeting with the heads of the major gangs in Gotham the other day and I know about what she did to The Doc.”

Stephanie scanned Selina up and down, deciding she seemed genuine.

“I’ll have to clear it with Nina and Ed,” Stephanie said slowly, “but I’ll agree, provisionally.”

“Good. Now give me my toast.” Selina snatched the plate and took a huge bite. “’ey! Wherth Mygma?” she asked around the toast before swallowing it. “I heard he lived here.” she added.

“Ed? He’s staying with a friend.” Stephanie stayed, watching Selina with amusement.

“So, you’re the only one living here right now?”

“Yep. Well, me and my cat, Quiz. He’s been weird ever since Ed moved out. Meowing at all hours and searching for him. I think he misses him.”

“I like cats.” Selina said. “Can I crash here then?” Selina asked.

“Pushy.” Stephanie commented. “Um, I don’t see why not, but you have to promise not to bring Tabitha or Barbara here, or anyone else without telling me.”

“Sure. No problem. It’s a deal.”

Chapter Text

“So,” Nina began, straightening the papers on the table in front of her.

She, Diedre, Ed and Stephanie were sat across from Selina like an interview board in the cleared-out Riddle Factory.

“How come you decided to take up Stephanie’s offer?” Nina asked.

“I told her, I don’t trust Barbara, Tabby’s unreliable all caught up with Butch and I need somewhere I can stay with reliable employment.”

“So you say.” Nina said. “And yet not long ago, you came down here and attempted to kidnap Ed with Barbara on the orders of The Penguin.”

“That was before.” Selina said.

“I want protection and I’m offering to work with you in return. I’m can get into places no one else can. I’m smart. I can be useful to you.”

“What made you decide to betray Barbara?” Ed asked.

“She had no need to do what she did to The Doc. I know she’s plotting to take over Gotham, but I don’t things will be pretty once she’s in charge.”

“That tallies with what Tabitha said.” Ed said in an undertone to Nina and Nina nodded.

“It’s true. She’s having some sort of affair with Gordon, but I think she’s using it to get him to do what she wants. She keeps having secret meetings with gang leaders. She and Tabby had some row about Barbara wanting to be the Queen of Gotham and Tabby saying she’s a terrible leader, which I must agree with. She’s rubbish at looking after people. She wants people to worship her, she doesn’t care about making the city a better place to live. I’m no fan of The Penguin, but you can’t say that he’s improved Gotham in a lot of ways, even if it’s only temporarily.”

“You’re right.” Diedre said. “The problem with Barbara and The Penguin is that they’ve got no vision for an enduring legacy. They just want to make their stamps on the city and people to remember them, they wouldn’t do anything to improve things I it didn’t boost their ego.”

“Right.” Selina nodded eagerly. “But you, Doc, are doing stuff to save lives, not for your own sake. Like today, you all met me here and I get the impression you’re all equals working together to get a job done. You’re not doing it to boost your ego. I like that. I don’t want to work for people who are constantly fighting with one another. I don’t care about Gotham’s dumb hierarchy. I just want a decent life. One where I can enjoy living, not just surviving.”

“Look, I know you’re good at breaking in and out of impossible places,” Ed said, “and you’re sharp… but from your history you don’t seem to be good at loyalty. No offence, I just mean you’ve got used to working on your own, not as part of a team, for a variety people with different management styles. You’ve worked with Fish, Oswald, Barbara, Gordon and alone and for who knows who else. When we plan a heist, we have to be loyal to one another and trust each other totally. We work together to come up with an intricate plan and it only works if we stick to it. No going off on your own and improvising. No unnecessary recklessness. You do that and you risk getting us all caught.”

“What’s more, how can we be sure you won’t sell us out to someone?” Diedre said.

“I won’t do that.” Selina told her, before looking to Ed. “The only reason I’ve never stuck to a single boss is ‘cause I’ve never worked for anyone who’s loyal back. I’ll do what you say, but I do expect you to make proper use of me. I can help you plan stuff, you know. I’ll bet I know stuff you all don’t.”

Ed watched as Selina crossed her arms and stuck out her chin rebelliously.

“Speaking personally, I’m prepared to give you a try.” Ed said. “We can do a smaller trial heist and we can see how you’ll do. Do you have any further questions?” Ed asked Nina and Diedre.

“Yes.” Diedre said. “You clearly know Barbara’s our enemy. We need intel on her-”

“I’m not being a spy.” Selina interrupted. “I’ll tell you everything about her and her plans that I know, but I won’t be a spy. I can’t be doing with the risk. What would she do, if she found out what I was doing? She’d immediately be suspicious if I started trying to get close to her. I was Tabitha’s friend, not Barbara’s.”

“Oh, no we wouldn’t ask you to do that.” Diedre said hurriedly. “It would just be useful if you could tell us what you do know about Barbara, so we can get a better picture of her, so we know how to fight her better. Like, do you know if Barbara was the one who set that bomb on Nina?”

Selina glanced down into her lap, expression darkening.

“Yes, she did. That’s why I’m here. I had suspicions, so I did some investigating. Apparently on a whim, because she was frustrated when you wouldn’t submit to her, she went to some assassin called the Toymaker and had him set the bomb. She and Tabby had a row about it afterwards and Tabby walked out to leave the city and find treatment for Butch. I think Barbara regretted it, but more because she was so heavy-handed about it and was worried when Gordon came asking questions. I don’t think he has evidence to prove she did it though.”

“It wasn’t planned, then?” Nina asked.

“No. I do think it was an impulsive thing, especially knowing Barbara.”

“Okay.” said Nina. “Well, Selina, we’ll give you a try, if that’s alright with you, Diedre?”

“Yes.” Diedre said. “I think that would be a good idea.”

“Cool, can I move now?” Stephanie asked. “This whole interview thing is making me uncomfortable.”

“Go ahead.” Nina said. “Selina, do you mind giving us some privacy? We’re just going to be discussing Narrows business. Nothing that sensitive.”

“No problem. See you later, Stephanie.” Selina said, getting up to leave.

“Right.” Nina said, becoming business like. “I have an agenda.” Nina said, tapping the page in front of her with her pen.

“Too right, she’s gone all professional on us.” Diedre said. “Think of this as a committee meeting.”

“Seriously,” Nina said, “The four of us are the leaders of The Narrows. I may be the figurehead, but you three are integral to the running of things, as you know. There are going to be a lot of people; Barbara, The Penguin, gang leaders who want to take us down. We need a plan of the things we’re going to do to improve The Narrows and how. We also need to make sure the people here are behind us, so they will only want us as leaders. I want what’s best for the people here, but they don’t always know what’s best for them themselves.”

“True.” Ed said and Stephanie shot him a glare. “What?” Ed said. “Apart from you. It’s true.”

“You’re right.” Stephanie admitted, sighing.

“What’s the plan?” Ed asked.

“Well, Nina and I talked about this and as we see it there are four main issues; healthcare, safety, utilities and education.” Diedre said.

“What I think we need to do,” Nina continued, “is to work out how much money we can gather to fund everything, use any contacts we might have that will help. I think what we need to do is work to create a school, a better clinic than the one we presently have and a community group centre of sorts. For that we obviously need resources, but we also need teachers, nurses, preferably another doctor and just people in general to help out.”

“May I make a suggestion?” Ed asked. “I think we should also try to start a library which helps to teach children to read. I think one of the biggest reasons all of the people here turn to crime is because they’re not well educated enough of have any qualifications to do anything else. Also, the adults could do with some education to be honest and it needs to be separate from the school. They won’t want to be patronised.”

“I think your right.” Nina readily agreed.

“Another thing I want to do to make all of this possible is to create a kind of committee of community representatives. We all know that most people here are in one gang or another, but I don’t think having a meeting of the gang leaders would solve anything as they’re mostly in it for their own gain. They’re not that interested in the welfare of their people.”

“How do we find people that are concerned about that, though?” Ed asked.

“I can ask around.” Diedre said. “We might be able to persuade people to vote on their representative.”

“Anyway, once we do that, we can start talks about the other things.” Nina finished.

 

-----------------------

 

The first heist involving Selina went without a hitch and it was decided that Selina could continue to live with Stephanie and Ed would stay with Lucius. Stephanie couldn't guess what the problem was when Nina asked her for a private meeting, looking serious on the day before The Riddle Factory was scheduled to reopen. As she stepped into Nina’s consulting room, Stephanie could immediately tell that Nina was nervous, given all the hand wringing she was doing.

“There’s something I need you to do for me Stephanie. It’s a delicate matter.”

“Oh, why?” Stephanie asked, interested, flopping into the chair and crossing her legs at the knee.

“It’s concerning Ed.”

“Isn’t it always?” Stephanie said with a laugh.

“The thing I need you to do…you won’t like it.” Nina paused, watching Stephanie calculatingly and biting her lower lip.

When she seemed to be lost in thought, Stephanie spoke.

“Get on with it, Nina. The suspense is killing me.”

“Although I can’t go into detail, Ed is doing very well. We all agree he’s well enough to resume The Riddle Factory tomorrow, but there’s one area that’s concerning me. The Penguin.”

“Which part of the area of The Penguin? The fact that Ed was soppy on him and only just seems to have realised? The fact that the trauma of shooting The Penguin still hasn’t faded and lurks about him like a ghost? How The Penguin and Ed’s identity as The Riddler is inextricably interlinked? The fact that we’re all scared The Penguin’s going to see how strong we’ve become down here and come down on the pretext of looking for Ed, but really is looking to take over?”

“All of the above.” Nina admitted. “However, I see an opportunity for us to solve all of those problems in one fell swoop. What I don’t know is if The Penguin is still holding a candle for Ed. Whether or not that is, is crucially important.”

“What, because now Ed and Foxy are sweet on each other?”

“It doesn’t just concern them. It concerns all of us. Penguin’s rule of Gotham is nearing its end. I’ve been watching what’s going on. Lucius, Diedre’s friends who collect information, the info Tiffany gave us the other day, they’re all telling me the same thing. Barbara Kean’s been working to supply ammunition and weapons to the city’s most powerful gangs. She’s been working hard to get them to cooperate. Jim Gordon has been made Captain of the GCPD and is encouraging them to turn on The Penguin. I’ve also heard that Jim and Barbara are getting… cosy.”

“You think they’re going to put together an army of sorts and start a war against Penguin?”

“I know they will. Barbara’s cleverer than she looks. I know she wants to rule Gotham. She knows exactly how to make Jim tick.”

“I suppose you’re thinking that Ed and The Penguin’s relationship will determine where The Narrows stands in the immanent war.”

“Yes. We can’t plan for how The Narrows will survive the war until Ed and The Penguin have had their confrontation. We also need to find out where Ed stands. He’s a great friend and a valuable ally, but we need to know he won’t betray us. I’d like to think he wouldn’t, but like you said, he loved Oswald. There’s always the possibility he might go back to him. We need to get him to make up his own mind.”

“You don’t think he’d do that. Do you?”

“Stephanie, I know you like him and trust him, but you have to face facts. I know it’s not a nice though, but you have to remember Ed’s been a killer. He choked my friend, his girlfriend Kristen to death, he killed two police officers thoughtlessly, several civilians, six academics, two chess players, he stabbed an actor on stage, he tried to frame my boyfriend at the time for a crime he didn’t commit, he tried to kill his best friend, Oswald, maybe more people I don’t know about. Granted, it’s been a while since anything like that happened. We have to be realistic.”

“Even realistically, it wouldn’t make sense for him to turn back to the Penguin, at this point. So far, his relationship with The Penguin has only caused him a lot of trouble. I know how he went off the rails when he thought The Penguin was dead. That’s without mentioning how emotionally unstable The Penguin is. His temper tantrums at barely any provocation are notorious. I don’t want Ed to become a casualty. That’s without considering how dangerous the work that Penguin does is. If Ed goes back to him, I can’t help but think Ed will wind up dead. Lucius would be heartbroken – and honestly so would I.”

“I think Ed will stick with us, but I need to be sure. I want to trust him, but I dare not until I’m absolutely sure.”

“So, what do you expect me to do about it?”

“We need to bring their confrontation forward. I would have done it sooner, but I didn’t think that Ed was ready mentally back then.”

“But he is now?”

“As ready as he’ll ever be. We need to create a situation where we bring Penguin into The Narrows to meet with Ed, so he has to respect the rules of our rule of our turf, but one where I’m not obviously in charge. We’re not ready for a turf war yet. I need you to make the phone call.”

“Why me?”

“Because Oswald Cobblepot will know my voice.”

“Why can’t Diedre do it?”

“Out of the three of us, I know the only person Ed will forgive for betraying him, it’s you.”

 

---------------------------------

 

“Hello Mr Penguin.”

“Who is this?”

“Isn’t that a question!” said the voice on the other end with glee. “You can carry me everywhere you go, and I am not heavy. What am I?”

Oswald was thrown for a second by the question and paused in trying to recall if he remembered the voice.

“Are you asking me a riddle?” he asked, irresistibly reminding himself of the first time he’d met Ed Nygma. “Do you work for Nygma?” he demanded.

“Another interesting question.” said the voice, losing none of its cheeriness.

“Your name.” he answered after a short pause to solve the clue. “What’s yours?” he asked.

“Oh, I have a variety to choose from.” the voice said lightly.

“Is there a point to this? Never mind. Just tell me where the hell Ed is?” he said with growing impatience.

“Where many jobs may be on the line.” the voice answered promptly.

“Excuse me?”

“I’ll make it easy for you; a workplace, mostly satisfactory.” the voice said, a mirthful smile could almost be heard in the voice.

“You make it your mission to be irritating, don’t you?” Oswald replied, huffing. “A factory.” he answered the riddle. “What kind?”

“Well, what does Ed manufacture?”

“On first name terms, are we?” Oswald commented with interest. “Riddles.”

“Got it in one! Be there this evening at nine seventeen sharp.”

“Wait, wait, where is that?” Oswald asked.

“Come to The Narrows. The moment you arrive, I’ll have someone direct you there.”

“How do I know this isn’t a trap?”

“That’s up to you.” the voice said indifferently. “If you’re not there, you’re the one who’ll lose out. Bye, bye Mr Penguin.”

“Wait, you still haven’t told me who you are.” Oswald barked.

“I may be a person, a puzzle or a machine. I begin with the beginning of the end and end with the middle of the start. Who am I? See you later.” the voice said, the receiver being replaced with a jarring clunk.

Chapter Text

“Jeez, Ed. Could you be any more extra?” Stephanie said.           

“What?”

“Enough glitter for you?” Stephanie asked sardonically, mouth quirking into a smile.

“There’s no such thing as too much glitter. Glitter makes everything better.” Ed said with a confident smile.

“And here I was thinking my mask was a bit much.” Stephanie grinned.

“You look sensational.” Diedre assured him. “Foxy would love it.” she teased.

This time Ed didn’t argue about her insinuations about him and a man, only laughed in what could only be termed a giggle and blushed sweetly.

“It’s not him I’d be worried about.” Nina cut in, seeming worried, the crowd parting so she could get past. “We have a visitor. I don’t know how it happened but look.” she pointed over people’s heads.

“What should we do?” Ed asked nervously. “Does he have henchmen with him?”

“Women, actually and only two.” Nina said. “I don’t want him seeing me. I’m not ready for a turf war yet.”

“He won’t be interested in you. He’ll be here for Ed.” Stephanie pointed out.

“You go, Steph and I and the crowd can look after Ed.” Diedre assured her.

“Okay.” Nina said, before slipping away, making for the upper floor.

“What do you want to do?” Stephanie asked Ed as the crowd parted, booing as The Penguin’s henchmen pushed people out of the way.

“I’ll handle it.” Ed said in an undertone, before stepping into the crowd where they were reluctantly parting around The Penguin.

Ed’s posture changing, turning back into the showman the audience had grown to love and The Penguin made it through until he was stood a few feet away from Ed. The second Ed met his gaze, something strange happened in Ed’s stomach where it felt like he’d been in a lift falling many floors in seconds and it had jolted to a halt and he could hear his heart beating in his ears with nerves, but he was strongly aware of those around him expecting him to stand strong and fight, reminding himself of Diedre and Stephanie stood firmly beside him. The experience was strangely surreal. Oswald was back to his dapper self, his hair styled slightly different from when Ed had last seen him, his clothes probably worth more than cumulatively the worth of half of the people in the room.

“What brings your majesty down to our rabble?” he said in an announcement directed at The Penguin, but clearly for the benefit of the crowd.

Ed surprised himself at the Riddler’s confident voice.

“Ed, nice to see you.” The Penguin said with an uncomfortably taut smile. “Whatever the hell this is, it’s over.”

“I don’t think so.” Ed said, meeting Oswald’s eyes in challenge, before raising his voice to address the room. “Ladies and gentlemen, the good king of Gotham has just informed me he wants to shut us down. How do you feel about that?”

The room was filled with open booing and shouting garbled comments of anger. It gave Ed a rush to know his power here, how he had people who looked upon him with admiration, rather than backing away in fear, unlike Oswald.

“You hear that?” Ed said voice lowering to a purr, smirking, stepping closer to the Penguin, whose eyes narrowed crossly. “That’s the sound of democracy. The people have spoken.” he said. “And my name is The Riddler.” he added before turning to make his way back to the stage, leaving The Penguin to scuttle after him, Diedre and Stephanie acting as a barrier.

“What time is it?” he asked the crowd, once on centre stage.

“Riddle time!” everyone shouted in reply.

“What time is it?” he asked more loudly.

“Riddle time!”

“That’s right, it’s riddle time at The Riddle Factory!”

“You want to be entertained?” The Penguin interrupted, getting up behind him, leaving his henchwomen to be swallowed by the crowd. “Then I’ll beat him.” he told the crowd.

There was laughter and dubious muttering.

“Oswald, you don’t want to-” Ed said in an undertone.

“No, go on.” The Penguin said facing him, a competitive glint in his eye. “Let’s make it a challenge. I will beat you and when I win you will close this place down or offer me a significant percentage of the profits. If you win, I leave you in peace. How about that?”

Ed tugged Oswald further back on the stage by the elbow, lowering his voice.

“The people here are relying on the money we make. It’s saving their lives.” Ed protested.

“Don’t pretend you care about them.” Oswald scoffed.

“I do care!” Ed said, surprising himself by the genuine passion in his own voice.

“So, you’re too scared to take the challenge?”

“Of course, he isn’t!” Enigma interrupted who’d edged onto stage while they’d been arguing stepping forward into the spotlight, standing in front of the two men. “Ladies and Gentlemen! A gauntlet has been laid at the Riddler’s feet.” Enigma announced. “May I present our contestant, Gotham’s much esteemed, the Penguin, Oswald Cobblepot.”

This was met with a cacophony of booing. Ed hurriedly moved to the front of the stage beside her, dragging Oswald with him, before Stephanie stirred the crowd up enough to lynch Oswald, which seemed a distinct possibility.

He thinks that he knows what’s good for the city.” she shouted, not bothering to hide the anger in her voice. “He thinks that we shouldn’t be raising money to heal you and your children, in fact, I think he’d like that money for himself!”

There was further booing.

“Just get on with it.” Oswald snapped impatiently. “Get on with the show, Ed.” he said, turning to him.

“Alright, enough!” Ed shouted, calling the audience’s attention back. “Enigma, prepare the timer.” he ordered.

The Penguin jumped, peering at the girl.

“Enigma.” he muttered, smiling. “Of course.”

Enigma glared in his direction behind her mask, then nodded curtly at Ed before strutting to the timer.

“I can sneak up on you or be right in front of you without you knowing, but when I reveal myself you will never be the same. What am I?” Ed asked.

Enigma flinched for a second before flipping the timer and Ed heard her give an irritated sigh. Penguin laughed.

“You’re so predictable, Ed.” Oswald said, grinning. “The answer is betrayal.”

“That answer is…correct.” Ed said.

There was reluctant clapping. So the game continued on and Enigma set the timer for Oswald to come up with his own riddle. While they waited for him to think of a riddle, Stephanie pulled Ed to the back of the stage to whisper to him.

“Ed, are you okay?”

“Of course.” Ed said, annoyed. “You’re the one who got me into this. You know I can answer any riddle.”

“That’s not what I meant. You seem upset.”

“I’m not upset!” Ed hissed back, stepping away before raising his voice. “Okay, Mr Penguin, you’ve had enough time to think of a riddle. I hope you’ve come up with a good one.”

“I have.” Oswald replied confidently.

“Then ask away.”

“What three words are said too much, yet not enough, meant by few, but wanted by all?”

Ed supressed a flinch.

That’s your riddle?” Ed said incredulously. “You’re kidding right?”

“What’s the answer?” Oswald asked, turning to Ed, expression deadpan.

“You can’t possibly mean that after all this time.” Ed muttered, for Oswald’s benefit, momentarily forgetting the audience.

“What’s the answer?” Oswald repeated resolutely.

“Easy. I love-...” the words stuck in his throat “The answer is I love-”

“I love what Ed?”

“That’s not my name.”

“Then what’s the answer?” Oswald prompted.

“You tricked me.” Ed said under his breath, stage smile becoming strained. “You’re trying to awaken a love that isn’t there.”

“If that’s true, there shouldn’t be a problem then, should there? Just say the words.” Oswald replied stepping closer.

“I won’t say it.” Ed said obstinately.

“Time’s up!” Enigma interrupted. “We have our winner. The prize is yours, Mr Penguin.” Enigma said, with a bow.

Chapter Text

Diedre and Stephanie had been eager to send the club away once Stephanie had declared the winner as everyone had been vying for Oswald’s blood, but he’d somehow disappeared. Nina had come to see Ed and tell him that they’d discuss the problem of The Riddle Factory being shut down later before helping to attend to the crowd.

Seeing Oswald again like that in front of an audience, especially with the mental chess they’d been playing, had been unnerving. Standing so close to a man who he’d thought he’d killed and who’d as good as killed him was terrifying. It only made it clearer to Ed the difference between the man he’d been before he’d been frozen from now and being so strongly reminded of who he’d been, in front of so many people, felt exposing.

Ed stayed on the stage now that everyone had left the building, turning over the problem in his head, trying to unpick his feelings about the whole situation. When Ed heard a familiar uneven step along with the tap of a cane on the floor, he tensed.

“Why did you set up such a conspicuous club?” Oswald’s voice rung out across the room. “Selling the elite’s belongings back to the elite. Don’t tell me you honestly thought I wouldn’t get to hear about this and come after you.”

Ed heard him limp onto the stage and move right behind him and slowly turned to face Oswald.

“You wanted my attention.” Oswald said with a smirk.

“You’re so self-centred. Not everything is about you, Oswald.” Ed said, not quite masking his anger or fear, no longer buoyed by the crowd, feeling uncomfortably naked, alone with Oswald for the first time in a long time. “I did it because it was a good way to make money fast and help the people here.” Ed said with more conviction.

“Oh, please.” Oswald laughed. “You don’t care about the common people. This is about you and your ego.” Oswald prodded a finger at Ed, stepping closer, the closest he’d physically been to him in a long time. “Your restless desire to be admired, in the spotlight. I know you. We’ve been through all of this before. I’ve tried to kill you, you’ve tried to kill me, but we both know that neither us really wants the other dead. You were at point blanc range, that day, on the pier. There’s no way you should have missed my heart or head, but you chose not to shoot me there, because perhaps even though you weren’t aware of it, you didn’t want to kill me. You know it’s the same reason I froze you in ice, instead of killing you. I wanted to keep you safe. It’s clear that fate has other plans for us. I see you like nobody else can. The real you. Him. The Riddler. And I know the truth. You- love- me. You’ve loved me all along.”

Ed grabbed Oswald and pulled him, twirling him round so that his back was close against Ed’s front, flicking a knife out of his pocket and holding it to Oswald’s throat. He felt, rather than heard, Oswald gasp and his cane clattered to the ground.

“You’re wrong.” Ed said, his voice a low purr in Oswald’s ear.

He felt Oswald tremble against him, his head full of the painfully familiar musky spiced scent of Oswald’s cologne.

“Okay.” Oswald whispered back, in a faintly shaking voice, attempting to replicate Ed’s tone. “So do it.” he said, turning his head enough that he avoided the knife, but could meet Ed’s eyes with his verdigris ones, sparking in the spotlight, the pupils dark. “Kill me.” Oswald said. “Kiss me... do something.”

Ed pulled the knife closer, but the muscles in his hand locked, and his throat closed-up at the thought of slitting Oswald’s throat. Oswald gasped softly and Ed could feel the tension building up in his body as though it were part of his own. Ed remembered only too well Oswald staring up at him imploringly and then the shock in his gaze as he clutched at his bullet wound. The combination of the heat of being under the spotlight, in a suit, holding another person close and the memory made Ed feel faint.

As Ed made no further move, Oswald’s hand settled on top of his and moved over it in a gentle caress. Ed was barely breathing, but he felt Oswald relax slightly, leading against him a little.

“You can do so much better than this tiny wreck in the back of beyond.” Oswald said softly. “You could be great, you know, with the right help. Don’t you remember how powerful we were together, side by side? We ruled this city together. Wasn’t it wonderful?” Oswald whispered. “Come back and be my partner... in business, in crime, in life, in love. I know deep down, it’s what you want.”

“You’re playing a dangerous game, Oswald.” Ed replied.

“I know.”

Oswald turned in Ed’s arms, grabbing the wrist of the hand that held the knife and forcing it down and away from him.

It was hard to say who moved first, but before Ed had time to overthink, his lips met Oswald’s. He was faintly aware of the clatter of his knife falling to the floor, but otherwise all the restless activity and tearing itself to shreds that his brain always did fell into silence. Oswald’s lips were warm and soft, and sloppy and inexpert, but very determined and instinctively Ed responded, clinging to the other man. Quickly the kisses turned hungry and desperate and Ed was a little surprised to feel his back hit the wall. There was a moment where they both panted for breath for a second before Oswald continued his assault on Ed’s lips, his tongue invading Ed’s mouth and he began pawing at his jacket.

That second of pause had been a second too long for Ed’s brain, as it flung him an image of Lucius smile and how in that moment, he’d felt the magnetic urge to lean in and kiss him. It brought into relief how wrong everything about this was. Oswald was the wrong height and shape, he felt different, looked different, smelled different, and he was just trying to acquire Ed again to use him to rebuild his empire.

Oswald looked at Ed and saw the Riddler, Ed’s mask designed to protect him from the world and Oswald loved that, not Edward Nygma.

Ed pulled his mouth away from Oswald.

“Oswald, stop.” he said.

“Not now.” Oswald mumbled before leaning back in.

“No, stop!” Ed said more firmly pushing Oswald away who stumbled back, steadying himself on the back of a conveniently placed chair seeming dazed.

Ed fought the impulse to wipe his mouth as he picked up his jacket.

“I can’t do this.” Ed said, stumbling away, unable to meet Oswald’s gaze.

“What? Why? What’s wrong?”

“I just- I just- I can’t. I’m sorry. This doesn’t feel right.”

“Ed-” Oswald said, reaching to stroke Ed’s cheek, but Ed batted him away.

“I mean it!” Ed said, more loudly. “I can’t.”

“Why not?”

“I’m sorry, but I- I have to go.”

“Where? Why?”

“I need time... to think. I’m sorry.”

“Ed!”

 

---------------------------------

 

“Listen, when you said ‘Would you like to go out and fight some crime?’, I didn’t realise you meant literally, crouching on a rusty old fire escape in a dark alley, in the drizzle with you in that dumb balaclava.”

“Shh, quiet. How do you expect to catch anyone if you won’t stop talking and pay attention?”

“You look like something out of a bad spy film.” Selina continued, tugging at the dark wool covering Bruce’s features.

“I’m trying to help people here. You didn’t have to come, but you said you’d love to and all you’ve done is complain.” Bruce said, becoming irritable.

“I’m just saying that I think- oh, Bruce, look over there!” Selina pointed as she noticed a glimmer of activity by a lit window and saw the tail of a dark cloak disappearing through a lit window on a roof not far away. “Yes, let’s get ‘em.” she hissed, running up the fire escape they were half-way onto and running and jumping over the rooftops finding links many would have missed, Bruce in her wake. She crouched behind a chimney stack and peered out, waiting for Bruce to join her.

“Okay, what do we do?” she whispered to him when he arrived.

“We- oh!” Bruce broke off as the cloaked figure hopped nimbly out of the window again. “Hey!” he shouted leaping forward and the slight person twisted round in surprise, backing away. He raised a hand to grab for them, but, apparently a skilled fighter, they grabbed his wrist, pulling downwards sharply and using his arm as point to pivot and to propel themselves into the air. In a gymnastic feat, they put their legs around Bruce’s neck, using their full body weight to force him to collapse to the ground. They then kicked him out of the way, leaping to their feet and getting ready to run off. Selina rushed after them, but they jumped up onto her shoulders, sending her falling backwards with the same move, making to run. Bruce tackled them to the ground, before they could go anywhere, and they struggled reaching out blindly to something on the wall beside them. Bruce, hardly noticing the move, yanked at the person’s hood, but before he could get a look at the person’s face his head was hit with blinding pain and in a swirl of purple cloak, the figure disappeared into the shadows.

Selina, nearly tripping as she saw Bruce being hit by the brick, stumbled to his side, ignoring the figure that ran off, dropping the brick as they went.

“Bruce, are you okay?” she asked urgently, reaching out for him, where he was clutching his head, groaning in pain.

“Ah.” he attempted to get up unsteadily. “I’ll be okay.”

“Subtle, jumping out like that.” Selina snapped.

“Alright, I got hit on the head, there’s no need to rub it in.” he replied gruffly, swaying onto his feet, leaning heavily on Selina. “Come on, let’s have a look.” he said, pointing to the window.

“Well, take it easy.” Selina warned. “There’s no rush. It’s a bit late to do anything useful. We’ve lost them now.”

“You don’t know that.” Bruce argued.

They both walked over to the window, seeing it was still open and, after a moment’s hesitation, jumped in.

The room they were in seemed to be an office, or more likely personal study the back end of a well-off person’s apartment. It was mostly undisturbed, but there was a broken vase across the room. Selina caught sight of a pair of feet and carefully moved around the desk, so as not to upset anything.

“Oh, damn.” Selina said, looking at the crumpled figure on the floor.

The man had a dazed expression frozen on his face and had been stabbed in the heart. Bruce stepped up behind her, pointing at the piece of paper that had been laid across his chest.

“There’s a note.” Bruce said, leaning forward to pick it up. “‘At the World’s Fair in Paris, when the first International Congress of Electricity was held, Constantin Perskyi made the first known use of which word, which would later become a popular entertainment device? The Cluemaster.’” he read the print. “Someone’s written ‘-television. Look for the show producer Herbert Ziegler. Good luck. The Spoiler.’.”

“That would have been added later by the woman we just saw.” Selina said.

“Woman?”

“Didn’t you smell it?”

“Smell what?”

“Her perfume.” Selina said impatiently.

Her?”

“Well, it’s more likely. It smelt feminine. Roses and peach, no, not peach, maybe nectarine? I’ve smelt that scent somewhere before, recently.” Selina’s brow creased as she tried to remember.

“I was getting attacked and you were smelling her perfume?”

Selina ignored him.

“And didn’t you notice what colour she was wearing?” she continued.

“Dark purple – oh right! The same colour as this writing.” Bruce realised. “So, it follows that she didn’t commit the crime, she came here to offer up a clue, maybe stop it from happening, but was too late. Wait- if that’s true, why didn’t she just go to the police? Does she have something to hide? We should tell the police.”

“No!” Selina objected. “If we do that, we’ll be suspects. That’s probably why The Spoiler did this. Tell you what, we’ll get you home, get Alfred to look at your head, then we’ll wait until this guy is found and the police appeal for information, then we tell them we saw someone coming through the window.”

“Fine, but I’ll hold you to that.” Bruce warned.

“Right, but I’m seeing you home, before that head wound really hits you and you die on me.”

Chapter Text

Ed rushed all the way home and was wandering around Lucius appointment calling his name. Apparently, Lucius had been asleep for he emerged from his bedroom, bleary eyed and in a dressing gown.

“Ed, what is it?” he asked.

Ed came face to face with him, falling still and staring unblinkingly at him for what felt like a very long time, while nibbling his lower lip.

“Is everything alright?” Lucius asked slowly, taking a cautious step forward.

Ed barrelled towards him and flung his arms around him in a tight hug. Lucius body went stiff in surprise, but when he realised it really was just a hug, he relaxed slightly and patted Ed gently on the back.

“This is very nice, and I’m flattered,” Lucius said, his voice muffled against Ed’s shoulder, “but I’m not entirely sure what this is all in aid of.”

Ed held Lucius at arm’s length, before backing away slightly, head bowed slightly, his eyes slipping away from Lucius.

“I did something bad.” Ed said nervously.

“What happened? Nobody’s hurt, are they? You aren’t, are you?” Lucius asked with concern.

“I... I just... Oswald came to see me.”

“Penguin was here?” Lucius asked sharply in confusion.

“Well, he was in the Narrows, looking for me, at The Riddle Factory.” Ed explained.

“Are you alright?” Lucius asked looking Ed up and down, grasping him by the elbows.

“I’m not hurt.”

“I didn’t only mean physically.”

“I’m fine.” Ed affirmed. “Well, I am now that you’re here. But I’m a bit shaken up and... confused.” Ed said with embarrassment.

“I suppose you want to talk about it, or you wouldn’t have woken me up. Let’s sit down.” Lucius suggested leading Ed to his sitting area, and they sat down on the sofa, Lucius noticing how close Ed was sat.

“I- I think Oswald is still in love with me.” Ed said, his words rushed. “I’m not sure what I should do about it.”

Lucius watched Ed’s cheeks flush and the way he stared at Lucius, the whites of his eyes showing for a second as he waited on tenterhooks for Lucius’ response.

“What do you want to do about it?” Lucius asked, voice carefully metered so as not to spook Ed.

“It made me realise some things and I know what I want, but I don’t think I can have what I want.” Ed’s blush darkened.

Lucius frowned, trying to decode this statement and failing.

“What was it that happened exactly?” he asked.

This question only seemed to make Ed more uncomfortable.

“If I tell you, will you promise not to tell the police?” Ed asked.

“Was anyone killed or injured?”

“Nobody.” Ed said with calm certainty and Lucius believed him.

“Then I won’t say a word.” Lucius promised.

“And, you might be cross.” Ed said anxiously.

“You can’t know that.” Lucius said gently.

“We were doing our show and somehow Oswald got to hear about it. He came in with two bodyguards, but he didn’t harm anybody, just came right up to me.” Ed explained. “He was going to stop us, but instead he said suggested a challenge. Oswald said that if he could answer my riddle and pose one of his own that I couldn’t answer he’d get the object and close the place down and if not, we’d get to run the place without him interfering. I asked him a riddle and he got it and then he asked me one. He asked me ‘What three words are said too much, yet not enough, meant by few, but wanted by all?’”

“I love you.” Lucius answered.

Ed’s breath caught in his throat at hearing Lucius say the words aloud.

“Yes.” Ed breathed. “I couldn’t work out why he chose it. I kept wondering if he was trying to rake up bad memories, or did he mean it, was he just trying to embarrass me, or did he think that I loved him and wanted to say it to him and it was his way of acknowledging it?” Ed said, hurried words running together.

“Did you ask him?”

“No. I ran out of time to answer and I let him win. Afterwards, he came back and said that he knew I loved him and always had done.”

Do you?” Lucius asked sharply.

Ed’s eyes flicked up to meet Lucius dark gaze and found himself completely unable to look away. Ed felt almost all the muscles of his body tense, the breath seemed to have been knocked clean out of him.

“Love him, I mean.” Lucius verified.

“No.” Ed said with certainty. “I couldn’t say the words to him to answer the riddle, so he won. I couldn’t lie like that, not even to win the game. I couldn’t. I can admit that I did love him, before Isabella came along and he ruined everything, although I didn’t realise it at the time. Not anymore, though.” Ed said feelingly. “We’ve hurt each other too much. I’ll always care for him in some way, but I’m not the person I once was, or the one he wants me to be and I’ve realised that’s okay with me. I’m glad he confronted me about it though, because it’s helped me realise some things.” Ed said, sounding, if possible, increasingly nervous.

“Like what?”

“I think, no,” Ed corrected himself, “I’m pretty sure, that one of the main reasons Oswald wanted me back was that he wanted me to help him get back everyone’s loyalty back and keep running Gotham, but this time with total control. He wants to use me for my intelligence. I don’t want – I’ve never wanted to run Gotham, but what I do want is to make the city better, starting in The Narrows.” Ed said earnestly. “I thought I wanted to be remembered as a villain, but I don’t want that either anymore. I’ve built up a persona people love, and it’s a nice feeling to be up on stage and clapped for, but those people only see a tiny piece of me, a piece built on things I’ve done that I’m not proud of. It’s not enough anymore. What I really want is to work towards a world where people don’t live in fear of their lives, or being hurt, a world where people are accepted, where they get the chance to improve, things I never had. Oswald doesn’t want that for the city, so I can’t stand with him.” Ed said with conviction.

“If that weren’t true, would you want to be with him? You’re telling me this, but why do I get the impression your heart feels differently?”

“I don’t want to be his…trophy husband! I… I want… I want…” Ed stuttered, before breaking off, attempting to gather his thoughts and some courage. “There’s something else that happened tonight.” Ed admitted glancing up.

Lucius gaze hadn’t wavered.

“Oswald kissed me; you know.” Ed said shakily.

Ed waited with trepidation for Lucius response, but none came other than a slight frown, as he waited for Ed to continue. When Ed didn’t speak, only wiping his slightly hands down his trousers in self-consciousness.

“Is this what you expected me to be angry about?” Lucius asked.

Are you?” Ed asked worriedly.

Lucius hesitated.

“I’m- I’m not angry, no.” Lucius admitted. “I’m not angry at all and it’s not my right to be. It’s up to you what you do. If he didn’t force you to do something you didn’t want to, I’m not angry with him for it either.”

“I wasn’t sure if I wanted him to or not. It wasn’t bad, I didn’t dislike it, but it felt all wrong.” Ed said.

“Why? Because Oswald is a man?”

“No, it’s not that.”

When Ed didn’t elaborate, Lucius prompted him.

“Then what is it?”

“Are… are you sure you’re not angry? You seem like you could be upset. I can’t tell.” Ed said, his hands fiddling in his lap restlessly.

“It doesn’t matter what I feel about it, does it? Who you kiss should be your choice, Ed. I might not like the Penguin and I might be worried about you, but that’s irrelevant. Why do you feel it was wrong?”

“Because Oswald is not the man I’ve been wanting to kiss.” Ed paused, taking a nervous breath. “Lucius, I- I really like you.”

“Thank you, Ed.” Lucius said sincerely.

“More than I’ve ever liked anyone else. I trust you. You’re always so kind and want the best for me and my life has been so unstable and messy, but there’s one thing I do know for sure, and that’s that I’d like to be around you for the foreseeable future. I mean... I mean...”

“Hey.” Lucius interrupted, realising what Ed was going to say. “You don’t need to say anything just yet. Ed, I know things have been difficult for you recently and I don’t want to take advantage of you-”

“You wouldn’t be. I’m really sure, Lucius.” Ed said, smiling softly. “There keep being moments where I really want to get close, but every time I get scared that you don’t feel the same, or I’m afraid someone’s going to stop us, attack us or something. I haven’t had the best experiences surrounding men and right now, I’m scared, so scared that I’m-”

“Ed.” Lucius said his name to stop him, placing a hand on Ed’s elbow in the place that he usually did to get his attention to calm him down. Every time that happened, Ed looked down in surprise and blushed and now Lucius knew why. “Ed it’s okay. I do feel the same way.”

“Oh.” Ed said breathlessly, eyes wide.

“I care about you very much, but I think we should wait a little. But I want you to know, when you’re ready, I will be here for you.”

“You will?”

“Yes.” Lucius smiled and squeezed Ed’s hand.

Ed beamed.

“What is of no use to one, bliss to two, the baby’s right, the lover’s privilege, the hypocrite’s mask. What am I?” Ed asked in a hurry.

“A kiss?”

“One wouldn’t do any harm, would it?” Ed asked hopefully.

“No, I don’t suppose it would.” Lucius admitted with a tender smile.

Carefully the two of them shifted closer together, their heads tilting toward each other with well-coordinated ease and Lucius eased Ed’s chin down slightly before their lips met softly. The moment was so delicate, both of them moving their lips slowly, so as not to break it. Ed felt like he’d been walking around fractured, pieces barely held together most of the time, but right then he felt whole, strong. His hands, with new confidence, found their way onto Lucius’ arms and grasping tight, to hold on to the feeling, to help Lucius feel the same thing. With the predictable, total understanding of Ed, Lucius responded by cupping the back of Ed’s head and encouraging him deeper into his mouth meeting him with equal intensity. Lucius could feel Ed’s conviction of his feelings in what he was doing and relaxed into the kiss, instead enjoying the feeling of a mouth that moved in perfect time with his, savouring it and doing his best to memorise it.

Only when they’d both run out of breath, they allowed their lips to part, staying less than an inch away. Lucius rested his forehead against Ed’s, careful to avoid his glasses. Lucius heard Ed’s breathing catch, becoming shallow and moved back slightly to get a glimpse of Ed’s face, seeing his eyes glitter with tears and him press his lips together.

“Sorry.” Ed whispered. “I’m happy.”

Lucius only smiled, before Ed pressed his face into Lucius shoulder and Lucius held him close, hands splayed across his back in quiet understanding.

Chapter Text

Ed and Lucius had spent the rest of the evening talking, until at some point they fell asleep curled up together. Ed woke up first, but at the pleasant memories of the evening, he didn’t have the heart to move from where he lay, his head cushioned against Lucius chest. Ed nestled down against him and closed his eyes contentedly, until an unfamiliar ringtone cut through the sleepy atmosphere. Ed felt Lucius stir, but when Ed tried to sit up, Lucius held him tighter and seemed to settle again. Ed untangled himself enough to search through the pockets of Lucius’ dressing gown and find the buzzing phone. He leaned over to kiss Lucius forehead, before gently shaking his arm, until he opened his eyes and peered at Ed bemusedly for a second before smiling.

“Hm? Ed? What is it?” he mumbled.

“Phone call.” Ed said, helpfully handing Lucius his phone.

“Hello, Fox?” Lucius answered after both of them sat up.

“Took you long enough. Bullock here. I take back what I said about the Rusty case.” came Bullock’s curt faintly remorseful voice. “Another man is dead. This time it’s Ross Daren, a lawyer.”

“Oh.” Lucius pushed Ed, who was nuzzling at his neck, away and rubbed his own eyes. “What’s the note this time?”

“‘At the World’s Fair in Paris, when the first International Congress of Electricity was held, Constantin Perskyi made the first known use of which word, which would later become a popular entertainment device? The Cluemaster.’ Same font, same paper by the look of it. There’s a difference this time though. Underneath someone’s written ‘-television. Look for the show producer Herbert Ziegler. Good luck. The Spoiler.’. It’s purple ink, very fancy handwriting.”

“The Spoiler?” Lucius said.

“Yup. Means nothing to me. Get over here. I’m lost.”

“Very well. I’ll be there as soon as I can. What’s the address?”

Ed made a noise of dismay.

“What’s the crime that’s so important you’re prepared to abandon me?” he asked when Lucius rang off.

“Seems like I was right. We do have a serial killer on our hands. Does the name Ross Darren seem familiar to you?”

“Not at all. So, this is the murderer who leaves a clue, like last time? You think it’s the same person?”

“Seems that way, but there’s a difference this time. Someone’s solved the clue, apparently someone different to the one who left the clue in the first place… and it wasn’t in The Narrows.”

“Interesting.” Ed said.

“Maybe, but if only someone had listened to me the first time ‘round, we might have found the culprit before this happened.”

“The GCPD doesn’t deserve you. You’ll get your culprit, Foxy.” Ed said seriously looking at Lucius with pride in his eyes. “You’re the second smartest man in Gotham.” he added gleefully, before leaning over to kiss Lucius’ cheek.

“Who’s the smartest?” Lucius asked, grinning.

“What kind of question is that? Me, obviously.” Ed said puffing out his chest.

“We’ll see.”

 

-------------------------------------------------------------

 

That morning, Ed arranged to go to see Nina as after the previous evening she was planning for everyone to meet and trusted Ed to roam the city on his own. When he arrived outside of Nina’s partially open clinic door, he realised Nina and Diedre were in the middle of an intense conversation.

“Stephanie messed up there. Now we can’t make money from The Riddle Factory.” Nina was saying.

“Ah, come on, he only tried to stop us because he wanted to sweep Ed away.” Diedre replied.

“Maybe, but if Ed turns him down, he’ll probably come back to make us pay for it. That could be disastrous for people here. My clinic’s already stretched to its limits.” Nina complained.

“Look, you got Stephanie to lead The Penguin here, so if anyone’s to blame for what happened, it’s you. From what Stephanie and I saw when we went back to find Ed last night, I can safely say that The Penguin isn’t still carrying a candle for Ed; he’s carrying a bonfire. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out he had Ed on the floor, right there.” Diedre said with laughter in her voice.

Ed attempted to push the sickening feeling her words back down.

He was angry with himself for not seeing it sooner. He’d noticed Stephanie’s animosity towards the Penguin the previous night and the way Oswald had seemed familiar with her, once he’d heard her stage name. Ed knew Nina and Diedre still didn’t fully trust him and accepted it. Being betrayed by Stephanie was a different matter altogether. He turned to walk back out of he clinic and only made it as far as the top of the stairs when he almost collided with her.

“Um, Ed, hi!” Stephanie said awkwardly, a guilty blush spreading across both cheeks as though she immediately knew she’d been found out.

“I want a word.” he told her, dragging her by her elbow through the club and into a storeroom while her protests and confusion fell on deaf ears.

“What were you playing at getting me to play that challenge?” Ed demanded as soon as the door slammed behind her.

“Excuse me?”

“Don’t pretend.” Ed said sharply. “I saw that Oswald recognised you and someone had to have told him where I was, not to mention that you were eager to go along with his little game.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Stephanie said, face blank, cheeks still pink.

“I think you do.” Ed replied coldly, taking a step forwards barring her exit and he saw Stephanie lean backwards, away from him a fraction.

“Maybe I had faith in your ability to answer any riddle.” she said a tremor in her voice.

“Yeah.” Ed sniggered. “It would have been nice to believe that and if you’d said that to me only yesterday, I’d have bought it, but something tells me that’s not the case, so why?”

“You think I think so little of you?” Stephanie asked, attempting to imply she was offended.

“Penguin knew who you were. You brought him to us, didn’t you? I just heard Diedre saying so. Don’t dodge the question; answer me. Why did you lead Oswald to me?”

Stephanie’s eyes widened in panic at being caught, before swallowing awkwardly and glancing down at her toes.

“Lots of reasons.” she admitted. “Nina and I agreed on it. We thought it was about time you had it out with Penguin. We sort of wanted him to be made a fool of, but most of all, we wanted you to prove your allegiance to The Narrows.”

“Explain.” Ed ordered.                                                                         

“If there is one person who could make you doubt yourself, make you want to go back, cause you to regress, I know that that person is Oswald Cobblepot. We’ve all been expecting him to come down here and try and get you back. I’m told he can be very persuasive.”

“And you thought I’d drop everything to be what? His sidekick?” Ed asked disgustedly.

“I have eyes. I saw for myself your chemistry when you helped him to become mayor. I’ve seen you react when he’s mentioned. Nina was worried about his sway over you, that you’d abandon us the second he wanted you back.”

“You thought I’d just leave you all, for what? A man who murdered my girlfriend, who lied and lied to me, who tricked me and used me, who froze me in a block of ice for months and months? That’s what you think of me?” Ed demanded in fury.

“No. I thought you might go back to a man you’d loved.” Stephanie stated, meeting Ed’s eyes with determination.

Ed was struck speechless.

“Don’t deny it.” Stephanie said. “I was there last night, you know. I saw what happened. Not only that, I did happen to go back later to fin you, so I sort of saw what was going on and... When we didn’t hear anything from you after that, we sort of put two an two together.”

“I know, I heard Diedre gossiping about it just now to Nina.” Ed interrupted. “How many people have you told?”

“We agreed that it would stay between the three of us. It’s not really anyone’s business, is it?”

“I didn’t- I didn’t- Oswald and I didn’t- It’s not what you think. After I spoke with Oswald I went to Lucius’ apartment. We slept together – oh! Non-euphemistically. I wanted to talk to him. What happened with Oswald made me think some things over and I needed to talk to him, and I fell asleep.”

“You don’t have to explain yourself to me, Ed, but I’ll admit I’m relieved I was wrong.” Stephanie said quietly.

“I don’t love Oswald.” Ed said insistently. “I did once, but I don’t, not anymore. And I don’t want to leave here. I know I may not have behaved like it, but I like it here and I value my friends and I really don’t want to lose it. Of course, I’ll fight for you all, when it comes to it. Why, though, did you risk losing all that money? The Narrows will suffer.”

“I’m so sorry about that.” Stephanie said wincing guiltily. “I miscalculated. I didn’t know what he’d ask you, did I? I believe in you, Ed, really. I was so sure you’d beat him. I didn’t think he’d use your emotions against you s publicly like that. It looks like we’ll have to come up with another plan. I’m sorry I deceived you, but I had to. Everyone’s lives down here depended on it. You’re a key part of this community. With the tensions between the GCPD and Barbara Kean and the Penguin, change is coming in Gotham, probably a war, even. Where you stand, who you stand with, is important to all of us here, but most of all, I did it because I think that you needed to confront him, for your own benefit, before you could confidently move forward in your life, to feel at peace.”

“You did it for me.” Ed said dubiously.

“Admittedly, my reasons weren’t entirely unselfish, but yes. When Nina suggested it, initially, I didn’t think it was a good idea, that I shouldn’t do that to you, but then I thought about it and it made more sense. You’ve been battling with yourself for so long over so many things and I know that Oswald was a big part of all of that, that had been left mainly unresolved. You know it’s true.”

“You’re right.” Ed said.

“I am?” Stephanie asked apprehensively.

“Yes. If I hadn’t been forced to confront Oswald, I’d only have put it off and put it off. I was ready to and I’m glad I did.” Ed said, earnestly.

“Really?”

“Really. I’m not angry. I think I’d probably have done the same thing in your position.”

“Really?”

“Yes. I know what it’s like when you’re convinced that you’re about to lose someone close to you forever.”

“So we’re good?” Stephanie asked.

“Sure.” Ed said, before going to give a surprised Stephanie a hug.

“Um, anyway.” Stephanie said awkwardly, once they’d parted again. “Nina will be waiting for us to talk about how we can get more money now we can’t run The Riddle Factory.”

“Right.” Ed said. “One more thing, Stephanie.” he said, catching Stephanie’s arm to get her to turn back.

“What?” Stephanie asked curiously.

“Nina can’t know that I know what happened.”

“Why not? If you’re not angry...” Stephanie said, confused.

“I know Nina still doesn’t trust me, yet, but if I’m going to get her to really trust me in an enduring way, I need to do it over time, but I do have an idea.”

“Okay, no problem.” Stephanie said.

 

---------------------

 

“We rob a bank?” Stephanie repeated. “You’re suggesting we rob a bank. You’re suggesting we rob a bank?”

“Why not?” said Nina.

“Let me get this straight.” Ed said, brow furrowed in disbelief. “We use a smoke bomb, set off the fire alarms, just knock out the guards using tranquilising darts, grab some money and leave? That’s it. That’s your masterplan?”

“You’ll be caught.” Selina objected.

“Penguin will know we did it, it’ll be obvious.” Stephanie pointed out.

“Exactly.” Nina said shrugging.

“Exactly?” Stephanie repeated incredulously.

“We need to convince Penguin to allow us to return to what we were doing before.” Nina explained.

“There is some logic to this.” Diedre said thoughtfully. “What we were doing before fits nicely into this ‘New Gotham’ The Penguin envisions with no overt crime, everything under his control. If we rob a bank, very obviously, he’ll be forced to come and see us to tell us to stop and let us resume our former activities, because he’ll be worried about Ed. Gordon won’t want to arrest any of us if ‘his Lee’ and her girlfriend are involved and Penguin would immediately get Ed out. It’s perfect.”

“I can see that.” Ed agreed cautiously.

“I’m up for robbing places where it’s well-planned and there’s little chance of being caught,” Selina said, unimpressed, “but you can count me out of this.” she finished, crossing her arms.

“It seems reckless, Nina, and unlike you.” Stephanie said doubtfully. “And I know you like drama, Ed, but this is…too much.”

“Tell you what, we can probably do this with just Ed, Diedre and I.” Nina said.

“Ed?” Stephanie looked at Ed in concern.

“I think it makes sense. If just Nina, Diedre and I are the ones there, like Diedre said, there’s less risk of being caught. If there’s something we can do to convince Penguin to reinstate The Riddle Factory, this might be it. It also helps us to make sure Nina’s place as Queen of The Narrows is secure. We can take along a couple of Nina’s hench-people to drive and guard the van. Think about it.”

“Look,” said Nina. “You two don’t have to be involved, but we won’t do it unless we get the okay from you. Just remember how many people’s lives this money will save.”

“Why do I hear myself saying, yes, go for it?”

 

---------------------------------------------

 

“This has Nygma’s name scribbled all over it.” Harvey said, looking over Ross Daren’s dead body.

“It can’t possibly have been Edward Nygma.” Lucius replied.

“Why the hell not? The man’s a psycho. He dangled me over a stairwell until you’d answer his damned riddles in case you’d forgotten!”

“Well, he was in the midst of an emotional breakdown around then, but no. I mean the note is signed ‘The Cluemaster’ not ‘The Riddler’ and there’s no showmanship to this; this crime is dull. If he’d done it, he’d want us to know he was back after being humiliated by The Penguin. What’s more, he couldn’t have done it as he was with me at the time of death.” Lucius said, hoping that if he said it carelessly enough, Harvey would think to question it too far.

“With you? What do you mean?” Harvey asked sharply.

“I mean that he was in my presence. What did you think I meant?” Lucius answered absently.

“Wait, you were being held hostage?” Harvey asked. “Why is this the first I’ve heard of this?”

“I wasn’t being held hostage.” Lucius replied calmly. “I was sat with him, in a room, drinking tea.”

“Why? What was he doing?” Harvey said with suspicion.

“Talking and listening. Nothing else really.” Lucius admitted.

“He threatened you?”

“No, not at all.”

Why?”

“He wanted advice.”

“About what?”

“I don’t see that it is any of your concern.” Lucius said with composure.

“If you were alone with that maniac, I think it is.”

“He was perfectly rational.” Lucius assured him.

“He’s never rational.”

“I beg to differ.” Lucius replied serenely. “The point is that I know for a fact that he couldn’t have done this and you must agree, it’s not his style.”

“If he didn’t, who did? Who is the Cluemaster and who is the Spoiler?” Harvey asked.

“Well, I can confirm that this is the same paper, font ink and everything as last time. I’m not sure I can provide anything useful about The Spoiler’s contribution. I’d say they have a sense of style.”

“Yeah, purple ink and swanky writing.”

“It’s as though the Spoiler wants to help us solve this by saving us time by solving the clues.” Lucius said contemplatively.

“Then why don’t they come forward to the police?” Harvey asked.

“They must have something to hide.”

“Like what?”

“I don’t know.” Lucius admitted. “Look, so far, the answers to the clues have led us to the victims. Don’t you think you should send this Herbert Ziegler protection?”

“What for?”

“He’s clearly the next victim.” Lucius pointed out.

“You think that’ll stop this maniac? We can’t afford to get any more cops killed.”

“Well, what would you suggest?” Lucius challenged.

“We’ll send one.”

“Well, you are the detective.” Lucius said in resignation.

“Is something wrong? You don’t seem yourself.”

“I’m fine.”

“Really?” Harvey said dubiously.

“Really. If you don’t mind, Detective, I have work to do.”

 

--------------------

 

“I’m worried about Lucius. He’s not himself.” Harvey said.

“What’s wrong?” Gordon asked distractedly.

“He’s behaving strangely. Also, he happened to mention casually that he’d seen Nygma recently.”

“Really? Lee said Nygma was ill and in The Narrows, last time I checked.” Jim said absently.

That’s what you’re latching on to? How about Lucius treating meeting Nygma like it was no big deal? Doesn’t that worry you? He’s a cautious man, quiet, peaceful, opposed to violence and he treats meeting up with a crazed psychopath serial killer like it’s having a coffee date with an old buddy. Don’t you think that’s strange?”

“When the Penguin went missing, Nygma did develop a bit of a fixation on Lucius. Perhaps he’s become used to it. I can picture Ed breaking into Lucius apartment or something to bounce ideas off of him or challenge him to a battle of wits. Lucius isn’t the sort of man to get into a panic.”

“Jim, wake up. There’s something wrong here. Didn’t you say it was Lucius who phoned in about Lee being attacked? That begs the question, what was he doing in The Narrows in the first place? I’d say the thing he’s got going on with Nygma, whatever it is has been going on for some time, judging by the way he was behaving.”

“I’m sure Lucius can handle himself.”

Can he, Jim? Lucius is a kind soul and there aren’t many of those ‘round here. Nygma’s a manipulative psycho. Lucius would be the perfect person for Nygma to appeal to, play the victim, use him to get him to do what he wants.”

“Lucius is clever.”

“Maybe, but even though I’m no fan of him, so’s Nygma, maybe even more clever than Lucius.”

“Sir, Bruce Wayne is here.” A constable interrupted. “He says he has information about the murder in the Diamond District, James Street.”

“That’s this murder, the Ross Darren murder. We haven’t told anyone about that crime yet.” Gordon said.

“That’s what he said.” the constable said, shrugging.

“Send him over.” Gordon said, interest piquing. “Bruce, how can I help?” Gordon asked.

“Selina and I were close to the address where that man on James Street was found dead last night around midnight and we saw someone hopping through the window. You are investigating that case, right?”

I am.” Harvey said. “Did you see their face?”

“No.” Bruce answered. “But it was probably a woman.”

“What makes you say that?” Gordon asked.

“Selina smelled a woman’s perfume and the person was about the same height as her, so it’s the most likely.”

“She got close to this woman? Come to that, why isn’t Selina here herself?” Harvey asked.

“We tried to stop the trespasser as she was leaving, but she hit me with a brick and ran off.”

“Did you notice anything else?” Gordon asked.

“She was wearing purple. That’s all I have. I got Selina to agree to come here with me this morning, but she didn’t show up at our meeting place. She said she recognised the woman’s perfume, that she’d smelled it recently. I’m wondering if she knows something about her that she doesn’t want to come forward with. Unfortunately, I don’t know where she’s living right now, so I couldn’t find her to persuade her to come too.”

“How did you know about Ross Darren?” Harvey asked.

“Is that the victim’s name?” Bruce asked.

“Didn’t you know?” Gordon said.

“No. The trespasser left the window open, so when she ran off, Selina and I went in to take a look. We would have come forward sooner, but Selina was worried I had concussion and wanted me to go home and that you’d think we had something to do with the murder.”

“That figures.” said Gordon.

“Thanks for that, Bruce.”

“So,” Harvey said. “We’re looking for an agile woman, a bit over five foot tall, likes purple, wears strong perfume, beautiful handwriting, well-versed in hand-to-hand combat, maybe a cat burglar or vigilante.”

 

-----------------------

 

“You were in late last night.” Stephanie observed.

She and Selina had gone for a walk the posher parts of Gotham and relieve the pockets of rich people on the street, after the meeting in The Narrows broke up.

“Bruce got hit on the head. I had to see him home.” Selina said.

“Oh, is he alright?” Stephanie asked.

“Don’t pretend you care, but since you asked; he might have concussion. Somebody hit him with a brick.”

Selina felt Stephanie stiffen next to her.

“Oh dear. Is he alright?” Stephanie asked stupidly.

“You already asked that.” Selina caught Stephanie’s elbow and drew her to a halt, looking at the other girl. “Funny thing was, she was wearing the same perfume as you and purple and she was the same height as you. Interesting.”

Stephanie looked away.

“Oh, that’s strange.” she said lamely.

“Stephanie. Don’t play dumb, you know you’re not.” Selina said. “I know it was you. What’s the deal? Are you like Bruce? A wannabe vigilante too?”

Stephanie gnawed at her lip.

“You haven’t told anyone, have you?” she asked anxiously.

“It’s nobody’s business as I see it.” Selina replied. “You haven’t answered my question.”

“Selina… this isn’t easy. You wouldn’t understand.”

“Try me.” Selina returned.

“Look… I heard about the crime when Lucius came to visit. One similar to this one. The murderer left a clue, Lucius told Ed, I solved it and I thought Ross Darren might be the target. I’d been paying some of The Narrows kids to track him. They told me some other guy had been tracing him and I had a feeling he was getting close so I was watching the flat. The kids called me to say the guy was breaking in. I told them to go home and tried to get in myself, but I was too late. When I got there, he was already dead. I thought I’d give the police a nudge in the right direction, that’s all. I’ve got this in hand, Selina.”

“Why the secrecy? What’s all this ‘Spoiler’ business? Why don’t you tell the Police yourself? And who is this guy?”

“In case you haven’t noticed, I’m a criminal and I’ve been hiding Ed.”

“Do you think Ed did this? Is that why you didn’t identify the man.”

“Ed? Of course not. You know him. He’s… flamboyant. If this was The Riddler’s work, there would be little green question marks everywhere. He wouldn’t want his work to go uncelebrated. These are clues not riddles. The crimes have no flair.”

“I don’t see the difference.”

“That’s because you don’t get it. The thrill of not just being a criminal but being a villain.” Stephanie said, enthusiastically. “You do what you do to survive, not because it’s fun.”

“You say that like you agree.”

“I do, but only as long as nobody gets killed.”

“Stephanie Brown, you are an enigma.”

“That’s the idea.” Stephanie said.

“So, who is this man? The killer.” Selina persisted.

“I don’t know.” Stephanie replied.

“Stephanie.” Selina said warningly.

“I don’t know, okay? I know what he looks like, but that’s it!” Stephanie said.

“I don’t buy it.” Selina said, crossing her arms.

“It’s true and I’ve told you too much already.” Stephanie said, beginning to walk away, Selina hot on her heals. “Selina, please, please don’t mention this to anyone.”

“Why are you doing this? Why this killer that you’re set on investigating?”

“Let’s face it, he’s basically a Riddler rip-off and I’m not too keen on intellectual property theft.”

“You’re a terrible liar. What is it about this guy?”

“Selina, just leave it alone.” Stephanie snapped. “Now are we going to make that two-thousand dollars, or not?”

Chapter Text

The job was surprisingly simple. Ed and Nina walked straight in through a side door as the public walked out, nobody giving them a second glance, dressed in plain clothes as they were, Ed with contact lenses. On their way, Nina set off a smoke bomb in the foyer while nobody was looking and Ed set off the fire alarm. The place soon cleared apart from the guards. Ed had taught Stephanie how to hack the computer system far enough that she could feed in fake security footage of the bank so they wouldn’t be seen.

A few darts were enough to knock out the guards and a bullet fired from a silenced gun fired at the locks was enough for them to get behind the teller’s counters and grab as much loose high value dollar bills as possible, putting them in a bag.

“Ed?” Nina said.

“What is it?” Ed asked absently, still collecting the money.

“I can’t believe I persuaded you to do this.” Nina said.

“Why not?” Ed asked, fastening the bag with the money in and beginning to walk away.

“I still get the feeling you don’t trust me.” Nina replied.

“No, Nina, you’re the one who doesn’t trust me.” Ed returned.

Nina frowned.

“What makes you say that?” Nina asked.

Ed turned to look Nina directly in the eye.

“Stephanie told me all about how you plotted to bring Oswald to The Riddle Factory and why, but things went wrong.”

Nina’s jaw slackened in shock.

“I know you only did that and the only reason you’re keeping me around,” Ed continued harshly, “is so that you can keep on being the Queen of The Narrows. As long as I’m by your side you think nobody will dare to touch you.”

Ed went to leave, but Nina stopped him.

“Then why have you done all of this for me, if that’s what you think?” she asked.

“I’m not doing this for you.” Ed answered. “I’m doing it because I want to for the people I care about. My friends, one of whom is you.” Ed gave a sigh. “So, maybe you don’t feel the same way about me, but I’m fine with that.” he told her, going to leave again but being stopped.

“But why? What do you get out of this?” she asked insistently.

“The satisfaction of keeping the people I care about safe and healthy and happy.”

“I don’t believe you.” she replied.

“I see how deeply you have changed.” he told her. “I know that that virus woke up something deep inside of you and finally, you understand what I’ve been struggling with, on some level. Even though, logically, you know better, you empathise with that and want to help me.”

Nina didn’t interrupt, watching Ed with fascination.

“You know that we’re not that different really,” he continued, “but accepting that would mean throwing aside your polarised ideas of right and wrong and free will. You know that I’ve changed too and when you accept that, you’ll understand that I meant what I said. I just want to help people and make the world a better place, but until now I didn’t know how to do it. But when you do realise that, I will be here.” Ed promised.

Nina’s face was confused for a few seconds before melting into a smile, as though she’d just worked something out. Before she had time to say anything, distant police sirens became increasingly louder and Nina grabbed Ed’s elbow, looking worried.

“That’s the GCPD.” she said.

“This is the fire alarm going off, not the burglar alarm.” Ed said.

“They must have been passing. The bank staff must have realised what’s going on.” Nina realised.

“We can go out the back.” Ed encouraged.

“No, they’ll see the truck.” Nina argued. “One of us needs to distract them. I’ll do it. I can handle the GCPD. You take the money and with Diedre, get it to The Narrows.” she instructed.

“No.” Ed said, not wanting Nina to get arrested.

“Ed, you know they won’t hurt me. Jim will see to that.” Nina said. “He won’t keep me in long, not like you. Go on.” she urged.

“I…” Ed said, about to object, but realising the limited time they had and recognising what Nina said was true. “You’re right.” he asked. “Are you sure you trust me?”

Yes.” Nina said with certainty.

 

-----------------------

 

“Well, you finally nabbed me, copper.”

Jim watched Lee’s dark painted lips quirk into a sardonic smile. The cool expression on her face was so foreign to Jim, her hands folded neatly on the table in front of her. There was no hint of nervousness to her. Her eyes were steady, shoulders relaxed, spine straight and she didn’t fidget. There was none of the deadness behind her eyes that the Tetch virus had given her, though, in fact, they glittered as if she found the proceedings entertaining.

“What the hell, Lee?” he asked.

“Oh, it’s breakup time.” Lee said nonchalantly.

“I want to help you, Lee. Give up Nygma. Turn in the money and ask the DA for supervised probation.”

“I’m not betraying my friend.” Lee replied calmly.

Jim slapped a folder down on the desk.

“They can call you The Doc, Echo, Nina Damfino, whatever. You can rob banks, fight gangsters, but I know you. You’re Lee Thompkins and all this, this is just a... way of helping people. I understand that. Who doesn’t want to be Robin Hood? But you’re still breaking the law.” he barked, hoping a more aggressive approach would get a rise out of her rather than the present apathy.

“Jim, you don’t seem to understand what I’m doing.” she said, becoming animated, passionate. “I’m making a real difference, helping people without the straitjacket of the law. As if the law means anything in Gotham.” she scoffed.

“If the law has lost its meaning, it’s because people like you have turned your back on it.”

Lee laughed openly in response to this, standing up.

“You hypocrite.” she said viciously. “This isn’t about right versus wrong anymore. This is because I’m not being the woman you want me to be and I and people like me are standing up against your constraints which have led to marginalisation, poverty, an increase in mental health problems, people suffering. You just can’t accept that, can you? You don’t even stick to the law! What’s the first thing you did, when your precious order was being threatened by Penguin? You ran to get the help of a ruthless killer, a gangster, an arms dealer who’s mentally ill and therefore vulnerable to her manipulating her to your will. I’m sick of people like you, pretending you’re following all the rules and regulations and all the while bending them, so they suit you and all the while oppressing people. I won’t stand for it anymore! I am fighting back. Unlike you, I don’t deny anything I’ve done. You want to send me to Blackgate? Go ahead.”

“I don’t want to send you to Blackgate,” Jim hollered, slapping the desk, “that’s the last thing I want to do! Don’t you know I wish I could let you walk out that door, turn my head-”

“What’s holding you back?” Lee interrupted. “Maybe if you let me go, you’d let yourself go too.”

Jim stopped dead, bowing his head and sighing in defeat.

“There’s so many things I wish I could change.” Jim whispered. “Things I’ve done.”

“So, don’t waste time standing here arguing with me.” Lee said. “Let me go and then go and do whatever it takes to make you feel like you’ve put things right.”

Jim turned around to appeal to her.

“Leave Gotham. Start a new life somewhere else.” Jim implored her “Alone.”

Lee sighed disgustedly.

“And if I don’t?” she asked, causing Jim to hesitate.

“I can’t pretend to recognise the person I see before me, but I care about you and I always will. But you must know that I can’t just let you go.”

“Oh, Jim. I can’t do what you say.” Lee said sadly, before taking a breath. “To some a source of trust and love, to others a ball and chain. I’m a thing you cannot chose but can be lost if taken for granted. What am I?”

“I don’t know.” Jim asked tiredly.

“Family.” Lee answered. “I’ve finally found mine. I have a woman I love and people I care about to go home to. I won’t leave them under any circumstances. Not to mention the community I lead, that I tend to every day. You’re right. You have no idea who I am. I’m Nina Damfino, Diedre’s fiancé and Steph, Ed and Grundy’s friend. I’m Echo, The Riddler’s team member. I’m The Doc, the keeper and protector of the Narrows. Lee Thompkins is dead Jim.” she said harshly. “You killed her the second you put a bullet in my husband. I know who I am and what I stand for, and there is nothing you can do that will make me give that up. I’m not sorry, Jim.”

There was a knock at the door.

“Sir?” an officer poked their head into the room. “Bullock wants you, urgently.”

Jim gave a huff of irritation.

“Fine, I’m coming.” he said, glancing at Lee and leaving reluctantly, locking the door behind him.

She’d only been on her own for a few minutes when the door was unlocked again.

“Lucius?”

“Nina.” He greeted, giving her a perfunctory smile.

“What? What are you doing?” she asked.

Lucius opened the door and stood back.

“Quick, before anyone notices, you can go through the back.” he told her.

She got up and walked to his side, hesitating.

“You’re letting me just walk out?” she asked incredulously.

“Of course.” he replied simply.

“Why? What if someone realises what you’re doing? You’ll be fired. Or arrested.”

“We’ll deal with that when it comes. Hurry, before someone notices us.” Lucius said.

“I can’t. I can’t risk you like that…” she said reluctantly.

Go. Right now, The Narrows needs you.” Lucius insisted.

Nina stood still, in a moment of indecision, before, squeezing his upper arm in thanks.

“Lucius, you’re the best.” she said.

Chapter Text

“Nina, you’re home!” Diedre cried, hugging her girlfriend the moment she crossed the threshold.

“I told you I’d be fine, didn’t I?” she said, turning to smile at everyone else in the room.

“How did you get out?” Ed asked.

“Lucius, just let me go.” Nina said.

“He did?” Ed asked.

“Yes.” Nina nodded. “Don’t worry, I don’t think anyone noticed and if they did, I’m sure Jim will let him off.” she told Ed.

“Do you think Gordon will come after you?” Stephanie asked from her place next to Selina.

“No. I don’t think he wanted to arrest me in the first place, but had to, to keep face in front of the other officers.” Nina said. “Judging by our conversation, I was close to persuading him to let me out himself.”

“Thanks for doing that.” Ed said.

“You’re welcome. I know you’d have done the same for me.”

“You don’t.” Ed argued.

“I do, Ed. You’ve proven it.” Nina reminded him.

“But why? You could have been sent to Blackgate.”

“I had to stand up for what I believed in. I did what I went there to do; try and persuade Jim to split from Barbara for all our sakes, to explain my mission here and to tell him that he should leave us alone.” Nina said determinedly.

“I don’t understand why.”

“Because, Ed, I like who you’ve become.” Nina said smiling.

“Which is who?”

“Ed Nygma, my friend. Not nervous, awkward Ed of the GCPD, not the cold, cruel, lonely Riddler, but you. You’re the smartest, strongest, most selfless person I know, and I wouldn’t have you any other way.”

“You know I was telling the truth.” Ed realised.

Yes. I know it. What you said. I realised you were right. I’ve been trying to group people into heroes and villains, but the world isn’t like that, is it?”

Any response was interrupted by Ed’s phone ringing.

“Can I take this?” he asked, seeing Lucius’ caller ID showing up.

“Go ahead.” Nina said.

“Foxy!”

“Hey handsome.” Lucius said teasingly.

“Um, thanks.” Ed said awkwardly.

“I should give you more compliments. I bet you’re blushing.”

“I am not, but yes, you should.” Ed replied, trying to retain his dignity, feeling the heat in his cheeks strengthen, hearing Lucius chuckle in response, enjoying the sound.

“You’re cute.” Lucius said.

“Did you want something?” Ed asked.

“Yes. To tell you; sorry, but I’m going to be late tonight. You know the whole Cluemaster case, there’s been another murder. Apparently, the clue The Spoiler gave was correct. The officer guarding the guy was knocked out.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. They should have protected that man better.” Ed said sadly. “Was the clue solved this time?”

“Yes. ‘Around 1230 which chess piece was independently invented in Japan where it formed part of the game dai shogi?’ Again, The Spoiler solved it. It says; ‘-Queen. Look for Yelena Klimanov, a chess fanatic.’.”

“The name seems vaguely familiar, but I can’t place it. There must be some connection between the victims. Is the GCPD going to guard Ms Klimanov?”

“Yes, but I have a feeling it won’t help much. I planned to do that, but I’ve unearthed something. There is a connection between the victims, I can’t work out where Ross Darren fits in, but I traced Yelena Kliminov in the crime records. Apparently, she was abducted along with Ross Daren and Herbert Ziegler over twenty years ago by a man called Arthur Brown. Brown got out of prison recently, but I haven’t been able to trace him. Apparently, he was some sort of quiz fanatic back in the day and held some sort of grudge because he lost against Miss Kliminov and planned to kill them.”

“So presumably he’s doing that now.”

“Yes. I’m having trouble tracing him, though and I can’t figure out where the gang leader comes into things. I’ve decided to go back to the beginning. Start with the death of the gang leader and look into him more, but with the amount of records it looks like it’s going to take a while and I really need to make some progress with this, if we’re going to save Ms Kliminov. I thought I’d tell you, only I don’t want you to worry.”

“No, of course.” Ed said understandingly. “Thanks for bothering. It’s kind of you.”

“Hey, Ed!” Selina interrupted, beckoning him to the window she was stood by. “Penguin’s outside.” she hissed in a lower voice, so Lucius wouldn’t overhear her.

“Excuse me a minute, someone’s asking for me.” Ed said.

“Sure.” Lucius replied.

Ed moved to the window, eyes following the direction of Selina’s finger.

“Um. Lucius, I have to go.” Ed said, returning the phone to his ear as he saw Oswald’s figure making its way towards the building and waiting outside, speaking to one of Nina’s guards.

“Okay.” Lucius replied. “I’ll see you later, but don’t worry about making dinner. I’ll have something while I’m reading through all of this info. Okay?”

“Alright. See you later.” Ed said.

“Bye.” Lucius replied and Ed rung off.

“Penguin must have heard about the bank, Nina was right!” Diedre said.

“Don’t get too excited yet.” Selina said morbidly. “He might just be here to kill Nina for openly disobeying his rules, or something.”

“He wouldn’t dare, with the place crammed with my people.” Nina replied.

“What should we do?” Stephanie asked. “Are we all going down to meet him? Or Nina or Ed? Or both of you?”

“I think just Ed and I should go.” Diedre said. “It would be good not to show all our cards. We don’t want him to know how important Stephanie and I are in the running of things, or our major part in the crimes, or that we’re important to you two and it would be better if he didn’t know Selina was working for us.”

“You’re right.” Nina said. “But I’m taking some guards and we’ll let him into the club, but a side room. We have to show we hope to resolve this civilly. What do you think Ed?

“I think you’re absolutely right.” Ed agreed.

“Okay, I’ll tell the guards.” Diedre said.

 

---------------

 

In the side room they set up a table with drinks and two guards on the door of the room and four inside with drinks of water. Diedre persuaded Nina against alcohol, partially, because she knew it was a temptation to her girlfriend, but also because she thought it would be good to play-up the poverty and neediness of the area, so that he knew a direct attack would be seen as one on the weak.

Nina and Ed seated themselves in the higher-backed chairs behind the table, placing the Penguin’s short-backed chair back from the table in the open room, creating a more vulnerable position for him.

After he’d arrived back from the bank heist Ed had changed back into his green, suit although not the glittering version, not wanting to overshadow Nina. It was his uniform, of sorts as The Riddler and also an armour, where he could slip into another persona. Likewise, Nina had switched a low-cut off-the-shoulder top with sleeves that flared around her upper arms with light material like little wings along with pants, all in a very dark shade of purple and had touched up her favoured bold, dark makeup.

“Are you ready?” Nina asked, as they straightened their respective outfits self-consciously and settled into their chairs.

“As I’ll ever be.” Ed replied and Nina told the guard to show The Penguin in.

Oswald greeted them warmly and shook both of their hands, but although they stood up, they didn’t step forward from their seats, making him move to them instead.

“It was quite difficult to persuade your people to allow me in.” Penguin said with a false laugh. “It’s worse than getting in to see royalty.” he joked.

“They do call her the Queen of The Narrows.” Ed quipped, with a short insincere smile.

“How charming!” Oswald replied toasting Nina with his water. “Still, a bit excessive, don’t you think?” Oswald said.

“I disagree.” Nina said dourly. “I had too many attacks on my person recently. On both of our persons.” she said, giving Oswald a thinly-vailed look of disapproval.

“I can’t imagine why.” Oswald replied sarcastically. “It’s not as though you’ve done anything to provoke the people in power of Gotham.” he said sarcastically. “Robbing banks now, are we? Not very subtle.” Oswald scoffed.

“What are you doing back here?” asked Nina irritably.

“I’m here to settle things between us. Think of me as a peace envoy. Now, several of your actions, both of you, seem to be upsetting a lot of people. The GCPD, gang leaders and so on. With my commitment to a peaceful, united Gotham, the rumours that you are trying to start some sort of revolt here are very concerning. I’m sure none of us wants a war.”

“I can assure you, Mr Penguin, that is not my intention.” Nina said, as respectfully as possible.

“Nor mine.” Ed agreed.

“Our only endeavour is to protect the vulnerable people who have ended up in our care.”

“Be that as it may, you can understand that a leader who has been in trouble with the police and has also had a public altercation with a well-known arms dealer, namely Miss Kean, is worrying to a lot of people. It brings into question how responsible a leader you are.”

“Get to the point, Oswald.” Ed interrupted.

“I’m sure we can cultivate a strong relationship, where you look after your people and I help you to do so. But only once you both pay your overdue debts.”

“Excuse me?” Nina said.

Any of the faked humour at the situation left Oswald’s face.

“Face it. You owe me.” Oswald stated.

“We owe you how?” Nina asked dubiously.

“Because I made you, both of you.”

“How did you figure that one out?” Ed asked.

Oswald’s artificial smile returned.

“Without me, you’d never have become the Riddler,” he told Ed before speaking to Nina “and you would still be stitching up busted lips at the ringside. I have graciously allowed you to continue taking charge here. You should be thanking me. It seems that you are in a position to do so. I need money to fund the upcoming war against Barbara Kean. We all know what’s going to happen. Miss Kean wants to rule over Gotham as a dictator. She will do nothing to help the people who can’t defend themselves. Crime and violence will run rampant. She’s far too volatile a leader to be left in charge and her endeavours will tear this city into pieces and suddenly we’ll find ourselves no longer knowing who the enemy is fighting war on top of war, with those you seek to protect caught up in it all. All of this can be avoided, but I need help to stop her.

“Fortunately for you, I’m prepared to overlook this little poorly-judged bank heist. If you promise not to do anything like that again, I’ll allow you to reopen The Riddle Factory. I know you make a lot of money on an average night. Say we go halfsies?”

Ed and Nina exchanged a look of disbelief. Ed subtly shook his head and Nina nodded in understanding.

“I’ve heard your offer,” she said slowly. “and here’s my counter; bite me. I don’t like people coming onto my turf telling me what to do, and I don’t like threats; implicit or otherwise.” she told Oswald icily. “And I really don’t like people telling me they made me.” Nina finished disdainfully.

“Well said, Nina.” Ed said approvingly, unable to prevent the smile spreading across his face.

Oswald looked between them both with confusion, before his expression morphed into horror.

“Oh God! Are you kidding me?” Oswald exclaimed in disgust. “This is why?” he shouted at Ed, waving a finger wildly in Nina’s direction. “This was the problem the other night? I should have known! A woman. It’s always a woman!”

“What?” Ed said, nonplussed.

“Your pathetic adoration of her!” Oswald cried. “Can’t you see, she doesn’t love you? She’s using you!” he turned to Nina. “Shame on you for stringing along this troubled man.”

“You think Nina- What?” Ed spluttered. “That’s ridiculous!” Ed said emphatically. “Nina and I are not in a relationship! I don’t even find her attractive” Ed broke off, realising his mistake, turning to Nina “ – no offence, you’re very conventionally attractive, but you’re my friend and I value as one, but I’m not interested in you like that.”

“I don’t know whether to find that offensive or sweet.” Nina said, expression confused and flattered.

“I was trying to be nice, but it came out wrong, sorry.” Ed replied.

“If you two are quite done-!” the Penguin snapped.

“I wouldn’t hurt Ed like that!” Nina cut in. “I’m offended that you’d even suggest it. Regarding your offer; Ed and I are partners here and we both agree that your deal is unacceptable. My only offer is that you continue to allow us, in The Narrows, to operate independently. Do you agree Ed?”

“Absolutely.” Ed immediately.

“Or what? You have nothing to bargain with.” Oswald scoffed.

“Or,” Nina said, “we will fight your attempts to take over every step of the way. Admit it; you have almost no followers. All of them have defected to Barbara or Gordon. The people who will stand by us here well outnumber yours. What’s more, you will not hurt Ed, nor will you continue your unwanted advances. You will leave my club now, or I will have you removed. Is that clear?” she asked assertively.

Oswald bristled for a moment in anger.

“Ed?” he pleaded.

“Oswald, we have been through thick and thin and in spite of everything, I hold no grudge against you, but you come against my friends and you come against me.” Ed promised.

“You expect me to just let you go?” Oswald said incredulously.

“Oswald, this is about me, isn’t it? You’re only using The Narrows as a bargaining chip. You don’t really care about it. It was just an excuse to see me, wasn’t it? I already told you; I needed time to work things out.” Ed said firmly.

“I’m worried about you, Edward.” Oswald said with what seemed to be genuine concern. “You were nearly arrested! Your friend here was caught. You’re being reckless and idiotic. You don’t have to do this to… I don’t know; assert your independence, remind me you’re The Riddler, prove something to me, or whatever it was you were doing.”

“Look, we only robbed that bank because you took away our main source of income.” Ed explained patiently. “The people here are only alive because of Nina’s leadership. You let us reopen The Riddle Factory and let us continue to operate independently and you have my word that we won’t rob another bank, I’ll be careful about not getting caught, we’ll leave you in peace and I will come to you with my response to your offer the other night when I am ready, not before. If you meant anything you said the other night, you’ll take this offer.”

Oswald seemed to struggle with himself, not wanting to forfeit his chances with Ed, but not wanting to back down and risk allowing him the upper hand.

“Fine. Fine.” he said after a good minute, raising both hands in surrender. “But for God’s sake, stay out of trouble!”

Chapter Text

“Foxy!” Ed said happily.

“You’re still up?” Lucius asked in surprise as he arrived in his sitting room late that evening.

“Yes. I couldn’t sleep. My head’s a bit busy.” Ed said. “I thought I’d work on the plans for the library in The Narrows.” Ed said, putting the said papers aside.

“I’m not tired, either.” Lucius said.

“Are you okay?” Ed asked as Lucius sat on the sofa next to him.

“Yes, it’s just a frustrating day. I didn’t get as far as I would have liked.”

“It’s more than that, though, isn’t it?” Ed asked, knowing Lucius wasn’t normally as quiet about his day.

“I found something out about Arthur Brown.” Lucius confessed. “I’m confident he is The Cluemaster, now. I looked further into his past and his family. I found out he had a wife and daughter. His wife moved away, but his daughter is still in Gotham. Her name is Stephanie.”

Our Stephanie?” Ed verified.

“Yes.”

“Oh, do you think she knows what’s going on? Last I heard, she doesn’t get on well with her parents. Wait, her father came to visit her, when I first moved in with her and she sent him away.” Ed remembered.

“Well, I’m planning to talk to her tomorrow.”

“Yeah, I bet you have a lot of questions.”

“Such as; why the hell didn’t she come forward sooner? I thought when I first called on her about Ross Darren she knew something, apparently I was right.”

“Have you told the GCPD?”

“No. I know Gordon met her when she was dressed up as Enigma and they didn’t get on well, so he said. I know she’d try to run away and he’d try to arrest her and I want to avoid that if at all possible.”

“Of course.” Ed said.

“I’m done with that for today, though. How was your day?” Lucius asked.

Interesting.” Ed said, rolling the ‘r’ and smirking.

“Mmm. I heard you robbed a bank.” Lucius said.

“Am I in trouble?” asked Ed, grinning mischievously.

“I know you did it to raise money for The Narrows. Banks are made up of greedy crooks anyway.” Lucius said carelessly. “I know the only people injured were a couple of guards suffering from headaches from the tranquilisers. If I was all that disapproving, I wouldn’t have let Nina go.”

“About that, I had no idea you were so rebellious. I can’t believe Lucius Fox broke the law!” Ed teased, pretending to be shocked.

“I don’t see it’s any worse than hiding a bank robber.” Lucius protested, smiling.

“Shut up, I’m busy savouring getting you to admit you committed a crime on GCPD property.” Ed said, poking at Lucius. “I always knew there was a bit of the bad boy in you Foxy.” Ed said, voice becoming low and seductive as he squeezed the other man’s knee, leaning over him as though he was about to kiss him, but both erupted into laughter and Ed leaned his head on the other man’s shoulder until the giggles had subsided.

“Anyways, the other thing that happened today was that Oswald came to The Narrows.” Ed said.

“What did he want?”

“Oh, he heard about the robbery and wanted me to stop being so reckless and for Nina to pay half of what we make at The Riddle Factory, or that’s what he said. He really went there to see me. Nina told him to leave us alone and no, we wouldn’t pay and I told Oswald I wasn’t interested in talking to him until I was ready and he went.”

“Just like that?” Lucius said, surprised.

“Yes. It was very civilised. No death threats or weapons drawn. We even got Nina to stick to drinking water.”

“So, you didn’t mention us to Oswald?” Lucius asked cautiously.

“It’s none of Oswald’s business.” Ed said, holding Lucius hand.

“Yes, but you know he still has hopes that you’ll get together with him.” Lucius pointed out.

“So? He’ll have to grow up and accept it.” Ed said indifferently “He must have learned something from last time ‘round.”

“But it’s not just a question of you choosing a woman over him this time, is it? He has to accept that you are attracted to men, just not him.”

“I hadn’t thought of that.” Ed admitted

“Somehow I don’t think he’ll take it well.” Lucius said, worriedly.

“So?” Ed said, his brain doing overtime in trying to decode Lucius’ thoughts.

A nasty thought occurred to him.

“Is this a roundabout way of you saying we shouldn’t be together, is that it? Or are you suggesting I should date Oswald to pacify him? I’ll tell you now, I am not doing that, I can’t.” Ed said insistently. “Or do you think that I’m ashamed of dating a man? Because I’ll have you know, I’d tell the whole world, if I weren’t worried about putting you in danger.”

“Of course that’s not what I’m saying.” Lucius attempted to pacify him, pausing as he struggled to put his concerns into words.

“Then what is it, because it sounds an awful lot like you’re trying to get rid of me.” Ed said, quickly becoming visibly upset. “If that’s what it is, just get it over with. I can’t take all of this implying-things-without-saying-them that most people understand, that you know I don’t. Stop hedging around whatever it is that’s bothering you and get to the point!” Ed snapped.

“You want the truth? I hate it! I hate that Penguin has this power over you, the way he’s treated you. He may have professed to love you, but he’s never taken any interest in you as a person.” Lucius said vehemently. “Does he know your hobbies, or let you talk about the things you care about – no. You told me he’d get irritated when you talked about the things you cared about, he cared more about acquiring you as a possession than what would have actually made you happy and I’m sure he wants you back to strengthen his position, not because he cares about you. I know you; I’d like to think I understand you in some way. I want what’s best for you, but even my intentions aren’t entirely honourable.

“Constantly I feel like I’m trying to compete with the Penguin in some way.” Lucius admitted.

“That- that’s not true.”

“Isn’t it?” Lucius challenged. “Because it seems like it’s my role to counteract his spectre, which I feel like is constantly hovering at my shoulder. Don’t you remember why we got involved in the first place again? It was because you were having a crisis over him dying and you were trying to use me to fill that void, to be your reflection, but instead of showing all of our similarities, you chose me because of all the ways in which we were opposites.”

“I- not- that’s not.” Ed began, baffled that Lucius couldn’t understand that his beautiful nature overshadowed Oswald altogether.

“You specifically chose me because I’m not like The Penguin, because you saw me as some sort of hero to your villain, but I’m not. I’m no hero. I’m not perfect. I’m not without my flaws. I am just a man, Ed, who’s struggling through life in this city, like everyone else and sometimes I do bad things and make the wrong decisions.”

“I know, I know back then the way I saw you was distorted, but I do see you, now.” Ed insisted. “I know you’re just a person. I don’t want you to fix me, or be a replacement for Oswald, or anything like that. I want you… because you’re you. I care about you for who you are. It’s...it’s why I love you.” Ed confessed.

Lucius blinked at that, looking into Ed’s intense expression which was filled with affection combined with anxiety at his response.

“I believe you,” Lucius replied. “But you have to see I’m not that great either. Do you know what else I hate? It’s that I’m like the Penguin. I’ve tried to ignore it, but the truth is that I feel possessive of you, in some way, even though I don’t think I should. The idea of losing you frightens me. It frightens me sometimes how deeply I feel. I’ve been in love before, but I don’t like to think about what I’d do if anyone tried to get between us. If Penguin, if the GCPD or anyone else dares to come for you I’ll fight for you.” he promised.

“Oh, Foxy.” Ed murmured shifting closer and stroking the other man’s cheek.

“And I hate how Penguin makes me doubt your feelings for me.” Lucius said, the words spilling out of their own accord.

“Don’t you know? I don’t care about Oswald anymore! To hell with him!” Ed said passionately. “I have a family here. I don’t need him. I’ll always care about him in some way, he was my friend, yes, I was half in love with him, yes. That doesn’t compare, not even slightly, to what I feel for you.” Ed stressed, pulling Lucius’ face down to him and his voice fell to a whisper. “I love you, Lucius. I’m yours. Yours.” he breathed against Lucius’ lips capturing them in a kiss.

Lucius didn’t reply, but tenderly stroked Ed’s cheek.

“I know it’s too early to say,” Ed ducked his head slightly before meeting Lucius eyes with intense dark eyes, “but I don’t ever want for us to be apart, even though I know this city’s bound to try and wrench us apart. I just want you by my side for the journey. You don’t have to be everything, I don’t expect you to singlehandedly complete me, but I do feel like I am, when I’m with you I just…” Ed struggled to articulate what he meant.

“I know. I do love you and I’ll always be here for you. I promise you that.” Lucius replied solemnly.

“Lucius.” Ed breathed.

“Ed.”

The kiss that followed was so intense, the frames of Ed’s glasses poked against Lucius cheekbones, so they parted a little, and Lucius delicately removed them before their lips met again. Both could feel the sensation of something like electricity jumping where they touched, being irresistibly drawn together.

A tremor ran up Ed’s entire body when Lucius fingertips raked at his scalp and he moaned into the other man’s mouth. Ed pulled Lucius closer to him until Lucius climbed on top and Ed settled the warm weight covering his body making him feel safe, or rather, soaking up the glory of someone’s desire. Eventually Ed curled his legs around the other man’s waist to pull him closer, until they were thoroughly entangled.

Both of them were caught by an urgent need to be as close as physically possible, to remove all of the layers hiding the other from them. Lucius’ fingers found the buttons of Ed’s jacket and pulled it open, as well as his waistcoat, pulling them down his arms until Ed impatiently freed himself from them, their lips barely parting. It wasn’t long before Lucius removed his own jacket once Ed began tugging at it, whining in frustration when he couldn’t undo the buttons. Lucius pulled Ed’s suspenders down and tugged his tie free then opening the top buttons of his shirt open carelessly, before kissing his way down Ed’s chin nuzzling his neck, pressing kisses against the skin there, before finding Ed’s clavicle and running his tongue over the shape of bone under the skin. Ed gasped ecstatically, his entire body falling slack.

The noise reminded Lucius of the reality of where this was leading, and he went still, before pulling away and Ed whimpered in annoyance.

“Ed, wait. Don’t you think-?”

“Lucius, I want this.” Ed said, grabbing at Lucius tie and attempting to gently pull him back down, but Lucius caught his wrist, Ed sighed in annoyance, cupping Lucius face with his other hand, before stroking his face and looking up at him with a tender loving expression.

“I know you don’t want to take advantage of me,” he said softly, a ghost of a smile gracing his lips, “but I’ve had time to make up my mind. I’m sure I want this. I want you.” he said urgently.

“I’m not just someone handy use to work out sexual frustration on?”

“What? No!” Ed said in horror.

“Or an experiment?”

“No! No!” Ed said emphatically, raising himself to his elbows. “Don’t you understand? I mean it! I love you! I do. I couldn’t do this with you if I didn’t.” Ed said, sitting up and grabbing Lucius face in his hands so their faces were inches apart and they couldn’t help but look into each other’s eyes.

Lucius gaze flicked between Ed’s eyes searchingly.

“Lucius, please.” Ed pleaded “Don’t you want me? Have I done something wrong? Are you not ready? What is it that’s bothering you?” he said, worriedly, his hands falling away from Lucius face.

“No!” Lucius said, grabbing Ed’s hands and squeezing them. “I do, it’s just... the last man I gave my heart to... it was hopeless but... If we’re doing this, I must know that what you feel for me is real. This had better not be a game. If it is, I’ll...never forgive you.” he said gravely. “Once we do this, as far as I’m concerned that means commitment.”

“I know. It’s the same for me.” Ed replied gently, meaningfully. “I meant it. It is real. I’ll stay. I’ll be by your side as long as you’re by mine. I promise.” Ed leaned in to press a chaste kiss to his lips. “We’re in this together. You’re my partner in everything. I love how you’re always there for me and listen to me and care for me. I love when you open up to me and finding out everything about you and looking after you and seeing you happy is the best thing in the world. I just want to be close to you and to care for you and be there to support you for as long as I can. At the same time, you trust me to do what I want to do and make my own decisions. You don’t want to control me. Having someone I can rely on, who really seems to understand me, is incredible for me. You mean the world to me and I trust you completely, with my past, my problems, my feelings, my literal life. You’ve proved to me that I can do that. I can’t say that of anyone else, ever.”

Lucius stared at Ed wordlessly for a while, but in the silence Ed’s face clouded over.

“Was that too much?” Ed asked. “Is this too soon? It was, wasn’t it? I’m sorry. I messed up. I don’t want you to feel overwhelmed. You’re not obligated to-”

“No, no, no, Ed it’s alright.” Lucius soothed, voice becoming gentle. “It’s more than alright. I just… I don’t know what to say.”

“Is that good or bad?” Ed asked anxiously.

Lucius reached up a hand to caress Ed’s cheek.

“It’s good, it’s very good.” he said, beaming and Ed’s face filled with relief. “I just don’t know how to match it.”

“You don’t have to.” Ed said. “I’m not fishing for compliments, or anything. I just wanted to make you understand that I do care about you.”

“No, but I’d like to say something. I don’t think you know how much you’ve grown to mean to me about how I value the connection I feel between us, like you said, how we’ve grown to understand each other, or how I appreciate all of the little things you do to look after me. The thought of not having you by my side is horrible and I’d love you to stay, if you want to.”

“Of course I want to.” Ed replied. “Show me how much you care about me and I’ll show you.” he gently rubbed the tip of his not against the other man. “Give in, feel the moment with me. Show me.” Ed whispered.

Lucius claimed Ed’s lips teasing them open and they continued kissing until Ed was laying back entwined with Lucius again and Lucius made his way back to the spot-on Ed’s neck that made Ed moan, gaining confidence and mapping out the skin with his mouth and tongue. Ed’s hands pressed against Lucius back, sliding up, one tangling into the tightly curled hair at the back of his neck, the other grabbing at his shoulder every time Lucius caught onto a sensitive spot.

Lucius made his way back to Ed’s mouth nipping and tugging at his soft lips, them moving together to angle their heads for better access.

“I’m yours. Take me.” Ed whispered between kisses, hot breath ghosting over Lucius skin.

Without having to think about it, Lucius body moved in response to grind down and both of them groaned at the friction.

“Yes.” Lucius whispered.

Show me.” Ed whispered breathlessly in the tiny space between their mouths before closing the gap.

They continued kissing passionately until Ed eased off Lucius shirt and undershirt.

“Maybe-” Lucius began between kisses, “Maybe we should – ah – take this – to the bedroom.”

“Please.” Ed begged.

The journey would later be a bit of a blur as they stumbled through, leaving a trail of clothes in their wake and Ed backed Lucius onto the bed and encouraging him to sit in the middle of the bed before mounting his lap and shamelessly grinding downwards as they continued to explore one another’s mouths.

Lucius slid his hand under Ed’s undershirt, up his back, pulling Ed closer but felt a slight roughness to Ed’s skin which passed under his fingertips. It was a fine line and not very noticeable, and Lucius would have ignored it if he hadn’t felt Ed’s body stiffen and his breath catch in a way that was clearly from discomfort.

“Ed?”

Ed didn’t reply, and Lucius leaned back to get a look at his face, seeing Ed’s eyes screwed up tight.

“Ed, are you okay?” he asked gently.

“I- I-”

“Do you want me to keep away from there?” Lucius asked, withdrawing his hand.

“No, it’s not that.” Ed said, looking at Lucius nervously.

“Do you want me to stop?”

“No, please don’t.” Ed said with certainly, grasping Lucius’ shoulders more tightly. “I just…I just have scars and I don’t like people seeing them. It puts them off. I didn’t let Kristen or Isabella see.” Ed confessed glancing away with shame.

“I shouldn’t be put off, but I don’t have to see if you don’t want me to. You can keep this on.” Lucius said, lightly tugging the hem of Ed’s undershirt. “I really don’t mind.”

“But I mind.” Ed said, seeming conflicted. “I just- I just… for some reason it’s important to me… I really want to open up to you, but I’m scared to too. I want to feel all of you against all of me, but I’m afraid if I take this off, you’ll change your mind.” he bit his lower lip.

“I won’t, I promise.” Lucius squeezed the outsides of Ed’s thighs gently.

“You can’t know that.” Ed said with worry.

“Ed. Trust me.”

Ed looked into the depths of Lucius eyes for a minute, before sitting back and lifting the undershirt over his head. Immediately after this, Lucius was a little confused, given that he liked what he saw. There was no doubt to him that Ed was a handsome man, in good shape with just enough muscle definition for Lucius’ tastes, (thanks to the ongoing martial arts and gymnastics practice with Helena,) but not too much either. He wasn’t bony and fragile any longer, as his diet had improved, but he was slender. Apart from a small scar on one bicep, and the ones on Ed’s wrists that Lucius already knew about, there wasn’t anything to see, certainly nothing anyone could object to. Ed’s apprehension didn’t abate though.

He climbed off Lucius lap and, casting one last anxious look at Lucius, turned around. Lucius was relieved, for Ed’s sake, that it wasn’t nearly as bad as he’d imagined. They were further up Ed’s back where people were unlikely to see, but all of the scars were old so had faded a lot. Some were varying lengths of fine lines, others circular that Lucius sadly identified as cigarette burns.

Initially he wasn’t sure how to act. He felt a swell of sympathy for Ed, then anger at anyone who could treat someone as young as Ed had clearly been like this. His first instinct was to touch, to soothe Ed and show he wasn’t bothered, but remembering how Ed had reacted, changed his mind.

Instead, he slid his arms around Ed’s waist, settling so Ed’s back was pressed up against Lucius chest, placing one hand lightly on Ed’s stomach, the other over his heart in a hug. Ed tensed for a moment, then relaxed as Lucius pressed a kiss to Ed’s shoulder.

“It’s all fine.” he told Ed comfortingly in his ear, hearing Ed give a sigh of relief.

“I think maybe they feel worse under my hands than they look and of course I know how I got them, but they’re not as bad as they used to be.” Ed whispered back, words rushed, putting his hands over Lucius’ and settling back against his chest.

Lucius didn’t need to ask any questions to work out that Ed’s father had probably been the one to inflict him with such wounds.

“You mustn’t feel guilty for having been hurt you like this.” Lucius stressed. “It’s the fault of the people who did it, not yours. And for the record, you’re still a beautiful man.”

Ed laughed, blushing.

“It’s true.” Lucius insisted, pressing another kiss to Ed’s collar bone and making his way up his neck, holding him tight.

Ed hummed in pleasure, pressing back against Lucius and in response Lucius’ kisses turned from comforting to amorous.

“You still want me, huh, Foxy?” Ed asked, his tone low and unashamedly seductive.

“Hell, yeah.” Lucius replied and Ed pushed him off only to turn around, lying back and pulling Lucius down on top of him.

Chapter Text

“Ozzie, sweetie, I’ve missed you so. It’s been forever.” Barbara purred.

She had arranged to meet Oswald in a strategically chosen restaurant which neither of them had close ties to the management of.

“I wish I could say the same.” Oswald returned. “I hear you’ve been very busy what with betraying me, unifying the gangs to fight against me and getting Gordon and the GCPD on your side. By the way, how did you manage that last one. I was convinced Gordon had got it in his head to be the honourable hero in Gotham, fighting for the law. I’m impressed, honestly.”

“You seem to forget; I was engaged to Jim once. I know how he works. I could get him to do anything I want to.” Barbara shrugged, smirking.

“So, what is it you want? It was very brave of you to arrange this meeting.”

“We both know you wouldn’t dare to attack me, not out in the open, with dozens of my people watching. No, what I want is for you to sign over the running of the underworld to me. You’re going to do so nice and quietly without a struggle. We wouldn’t want a nasty war now, would we? That might look bad for you, given that you’ve been marketing yourself as the people’s hero, on the side of peace, with very little to back up that claim, not to mention that my resources rather outnumber yours.”

“I have worked hard to be in the position I am in. I’ve overcome so many trials and tribulations. What makes you think that I would just hand over my entire empire? What do I get in return?” Oswald asked.

“If you don’t hand over the underworld to me… I promise I will kill him. Hand it all over and he lives. Simple.” Barbara said brightly.

“Who?” Oswald asked.

“Edward.”

Oswald laughed.

“That’s old news.” he said, unconcerned. “It’s finished and done with. Why should I care?”

“But you do care.” Barbara insisted. “You’ve been obsessing over him for almost a whole year now. I can’t decide if it’s cute or pathetic. Either way, the fact that you’re still in love with him is convenient for me.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. He tried to kill me!” Oswald snapped.

“Don’t lie, Oswald.” Barbara replied serenely. “God, look at you. You’re pathetic. Grow up and admit it. After all he’s done to you, you’re not over him, are you?”

“He means nothing to me.” Oswald maintained. “In fact, you’ve already proven you are incapable of so much as finding him and holding onto him for any length of time. You’re too incompetent to do it, especially when Ed’s intelligence is far superior to yours.”

“If it was anyone else you’d have killed him yourself, long ago, not frozen him or sent people you didn’t trust to do the job for you like me, Tabby and Selina and then just left him to his own devices when we predictably failed. It’s blatantly obvious you don’t want him dead. You froze him to keep him safe and by your side. What’s more, Oswald, I know about the other night. Do you really think I’d let you wander around freely without tracking you? You’re still deeply in love with him and we both know it. Do you really think I’d have let Ed get away so easily?”

“You’ve been keeping him alive as leverage over me.” Oswald said slowly in realisation.

“Yes.” Barbara sneered.

“It won’t work.” Oswald said tightly, the blood draining from his face, giving him away.

“Well, whether you let him live or die is up to you.” Barbara said indifferently. “But know that if I do kill him, you will be the one responsible for pulling the trigger. I’m feeling nice. I’ll give you a while to think it over. Bye-bye Oswald.”

 

---------------------------

 

For what felt like the first time in his life, Ed woke up feeling utterly contented. He lay a while curling tighter into Lucius embrace nestling into the bedsheets and smiling at the memories of the previous night. He listened to Lucius; heart beating and feeling the rise and fall of Lucius chest under his cheek.

“Good morning.” he said, when Lucius’ eyes opened, staring into their depths hungrily.

Lucius frowned a little in confusion, but seemed to focus, his face falling into a beautiful lazy smile.

“Good morning.” he replied in a low rumble that sent what was becoming a familiar tremor up Ed’s spine.

Ed leaned down to kiss him, Lucius’ hands sliding up Ed’s back and into his hair. In truth, it tasted disgusting, but the sensation of skin on skin was too alluring and both were drunk on each other to care. Ed moved across until his body covered Lucius, shamelessly rubbing up against him and Lucius pulled him closer with a purr of approval. Their mouths met again, devouring each other with enthusiasm, hands beginning to wander. A phone began to ring.

Lucius pushed Ed back.

“Nooo.” Ed whined, before catching Lucius’ wrists and pinning them down above his head. “Let them wait.” he said leaning down to steal another kiss.

“Ed.” Lucius said admonishingly, turning his head away.

“Just this once, Foxy.” Ed pleaded, loosening his hold and looking down at him with bleary puppy-dog eyes.

Lucius looked up at him calculatingly before pulling Ed to him by putting his legs round his waist and Ed hummed in satisfaction, before yelping in surprise when he was rolled onto his back. Lucius made a grab for the phone on the bedside and Ed sighed in annoyance at having been deceived so easily before lying back to look in admiration at the physique of the man leaning over him.

“Hello, Fox.”

“This is Ed’s phone, not yours. I need to speak to him.” the person on the other end said, sounding on edge.

Lucius blinked in surprise partly at realising she was right and also at the uncharacteristic abruptness.

“That it is.” he replied, removing the phone from his ear to speak to Ed. “It’s Stephanie for you.”

Ed sighed irritably taking the offered phone. Lucius moved to sit next to him.

“What is it?” Ed asked impatiently.                  

“Hi, um. I’m terribly sorry to interrupt your…morning, but I really need to talk to you.” Stephanie’s attempt at levity was utterly transparent, given the tremble in her voice.

“Are you alright?” Ed asked.

“Well, not exactly.” she admitted, worry breaking through. “It’s urgent. Please bring Lucius, I need his help too.”

Ed frowned in confusion.

“What’s the problem?” he asked, glancing at his boyfriend who was watching him silently, curious.

“I- It’s complicated. I haven’t been entirely honest with you and I have a huge problem and need advice and…please come and see me. A woman’s life is at stake.” Stephanie said urgently.

“Um, okay. We’ll be there as soon as possible.”

 

------------------------

 

When Stephanie opened the door to her apartment, her front room already contained Nina, Diedre and Selina. Ed and Lucius joined Diedre on the sofa, leaving Stephanie the only one standing awkwardly.

“So, what’s the big get together for?” Selina asked, with boredom from where she was perched on the arm of the chair Nina settled in.

Stephanie addressed Lucius.

“That killer you’ve been looking for.” she began, sheepishly. “The one who leaves with the clues well… it’s my father.”

“Your father is the Cluemaster?” Lucius asked calmly.

“Yes.” Stephanie replied.

“Am I right in thinking you’re the Spoiler?” Lucius asked.

“Um… yes.”

“’The Spoiler’? Seriously? You named yourself after a piece of a car?” Ed said incredulously.

“It was the best I could think of at the time, okay?” Stephanie said defensively, blushing. “Besides, The Riddler, Echo, Query and Enigma are dumb names too, for the record.” she retorted.

“You called your cat Quiz!”

“If,” Nina interrupted. “We could get back to the matter at hand. I’m not sure I understand what’s going on.”

“Sorry, yes.” Stephanie said. “My father is called Arthur Brown. It’s possible you might have heard of him. Have you ever heard of Think Thank Thunk?”

“Yes, it was on the air when I was a child.” Ed interrupted. “The questions were easy. It was a game show.” Ed explained for the benefit of anyone who didn’t already know.

“Yes.” Stephanie said. “My father was one of the best contestants, a child prodigy quiz contestant. He earned a lot of prizes through various shows. Anyway, he was the reigning contestant of Think Thank Thunk for twelve weeks straight until he was defeated by Yelena Klimanov, who whilst she wasn’t a quiz contestant is a chess champion, by the way. He accused the show of being rigged and got his mother who was quite rich back then to sue the show, but the lawsuit was dismissed because Herbert Ziegler, the show producer, was friendly with a lot of people in City Hall and bribed them. My father became reclusive and swore revenge on the people who he saw as having ruined his life.” Stephanie rolled her eyes, clearly exasperated. “He planned to kidnap Yelena, Ross Daren and Herbert Ziegler and get them compete in a mock-up version of Think, Thank, Thunk. One of the prizes he’d won was a football team, so he got them to do the kidnapping. He forced them to ask him questions; if he got them right, he got a point, if he got them wrong, they got a point. 3 points won the game for that person; if they won, they were free, but if the Cluemaster won, they got dunked in a pot of burning, boiling acid. He easily outwitted the three of them, but luckily the GCPD showed up before he could kill them. Since then he’s been sent between Arkham and Blackgate like a human pingpong ball.”

“I know, I found out most of this yesterday.” Lucius said. “I was meaning to come and talk to you today, anyway.”

“Yes, well. I saw him now and again, but he’s always been more concerned with getting revenge than with my mother and I. Anyway, he got let out recently. It was him who came to see me that night, when you first arrived.” Stephanie explained to Ed. “He’d told me that he’d got work with a gang and was going to make his fortune, all the usual rubbish. I told him where to go.”

“Now I know where you got your love of clues riddles and puzzles from.” Ed interjected.

“Oh, shut up.” Stephanie said irritably. “The point is, that once I heard the gang leader’s name and that a clue had been left, I knew what would happen. I went after him and tried to save Daren, but I got there too late. That’s why I left a note. It was obvious to me from the clue who he was planning to target next. I hoped the GCPD would send people to protect Ziegler and Darren, so I solved the clues. Both times I went to where I knew they would be. I’ve been having some kids from The Narrows track my dad and when I thought he was about to attack, I went to stop him, but I keep getting there too late.”

“You’re the one Bruce Wayne and Selina saw, right?”

“Yeah.” Selina said. “I already figured it out. She didn’t tell me the killer was her father, though.”

“I have to stop my father. He’s a liability and he doesn’t care who he hurts. There’s no proper reasoning to any of his actions. He’s just a spoilt child throwing a tantrum and wants the whole city to know.”

“What’s the difference between him and me?” Ed interrupted.

“Pardon?” Stephanie replied.

“You took me in. You knew I’d done the same thing, but you helped me.” Ed pointed out.

“Because you were prepared to admit that things had gone wrong and I could see there was actual room for improvement. Unlike him; he’s a lost cause.” Stephanie said tiredly.

“That’s why you chose to help me, wasn’t it?” Ed asked.

“Honestly, yes, and I’m glad I did. This time I had the opportunity to intervene, change things and I wasn’t going to let that pass by.”

“Okay.” Lucius said. “Do you know where your father is now?”

“Yes. I know he’s planning to move on Yelena Klimanov today, in a few hours’ time, so we have to hurry.”

“Have you told the GCPD?”

“I don’t trust them, you know that. They’ll only do what they’ve done all this time, stall and stall and do nothing, despite all the huge hints I’ve given them. They didn’t even take Lucius seriously! They’ve given Ms Klimanov four police officer as protection and I know it’s not enough. Since my father killed Russo, he’s got a whole street gang at his disposal. He became the leader when he killed him, you see.”

“Why did it take you so long for you tell us any of this?” Diedre asked. “If we’d known we could have sorted this out sooner.”

“Well, you’ve all had so many things going on, with mental health and improving The Narrows and Barbara Kean and The Penguin. I thought I could handle this on my own, but I’ve failed several times and it took me this long to realise that I wasn’t really handling this well.”

“You should have said something sooner. We’d have helped. Apparently, I’m not the only one who should learn not to be to ask for help when they need it.”

“This is family stuff, though. You don’t have any responsibility to help me.”

“But we’re friends. Friendship works both ways.” Nina pointed out.

“Alright, I’ll admit it. I was embarrassed. My family is messed up. Mostly I like to pretend they don’t exist. Telling you about them is one thing, bringing you into a confrontation with them is another altogether. My father is a dangerous man. The last thing you all need is another enemy.”

“You have a point,” Selina said, “but we can handle it, can’t we?”

“So we stop him, right?” Diedre asked.

“How?” Nina asked.

“I haven’t thought that far.” Stephanie said. “He’s planning to get to Ms Kliminov’s home this morning, break in and kill her. She’s reclusive though. I was sort of counting on the GCPD figuring things out, but they’ve failed me so far. If they get an anonymous tip-off, they might be too worried for their cops after everything that’s happened. They’ll mess around waiting to check things out and there’s not enough time.”

“If we could try and get there and hold him until the GCPD arrive.” Diedre suggested.

“How long do we have, do you think?” Ed asked.

“One and a half hours.”

“Where’s Kliminov’s house?” Diedre asked.

Stephanie told them the address.

“That’s on the other side of the city. Why did you leave it so late?” Selina asked.

“I told you, it would implicate me, it’s embarrassing, and I wasn’t sure you’d have the time to help.” Stephanie protested.

“Too proud and stupid, if you ask me.” Selina said.

“Let’s not waste time.” Nina said. “What’s the plan? We just blunder in and grab him?”

“Seems as good a plan as any.” Stephanie said. “He’s a bit of a blunderer himself. He’s not expecting anyone to stop him. He’s arrogant.”

“I’ll phone Gordon.” Lucius said.

“We should start out now if we want to get there on time.” Nina said.

“I’ll get my coat.” Stephanie said.

“You can’t come, Stephanie.” Ed said.

“What? You expect me to just let you go off on your own? Anyway, he’s my father, so it’s my right to come.” she argued.

“That’s exactly why you shouldn’t come.” Lucius argued. “You’re emotionally involved in this and blinded by your want for revenge.”

“He’s right, Stephanie, I don’t want to see you make a mistake and get hurt.” Ed told her.

“I agree.” said Nina.

“Oh, fine. But be careful.” Stephanie said irritably.