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Penguin's gambit

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"Shall we get to work?" Edward couldn't stop smiling at his once again best friend. 

His body was still trembling slightly from the adrenaline rush, caused by their almost fatal embrace. For a minute there Ed thought he was really going to have to kill Oswald. It was safer this way. Friendship, just like love, was a weakness and ended with betrayal anyway. He saw and felt Oswald's dagger and was sure that he'd feel a sharp pain in a few seconds. Killing Riddler was safer for Penguin as well. They both were too dangerous to each other. 

Might as well do it first and get this over with. Survive by stabbing his friend first. It was a logical thing to do. 

He couldn't do it. And Riddler in him just didn't wish to. He didn't want safety or boredom. Their relationship with Penguin always was and will be anything but. Now Ed wasn't even sure that he would've reciprocated if his own heart was stabbed. Thankfully, it didn't. He was only pulled closer to his friend's chest as they relaxed, safe. They both took a leap of faith and survived. 

Ed still couldn't believe that Oswald trusted him so much and fully accepted him yet again. Even after his speech about taking Gotham for himself, Penguin still found it in him to share his personal claim on this city with Riddler. Fascinating. 

Truly remarkable that such a ruthless man is the only person who still showed trust and forgiveness despite knowing Riddler at his worst. Nobody else did. Even Lee, a good person at her core, stabbed Ed when she had no more use for his skills and didn't want to risk the danger he posed. Oswald was the only one who always stayed by his side even when Edward didn't deserve his loyalty. It feels incredible to have such a friend.

Oswald smiled and nodded, his one healthy eye shining with joy. "We shall, Ed. But first, let's have a drink. This was a very long day, and I think I saw a few bottles of wine here somewhere." 

"And here I thought I could hide alcohol from you," Edward joked. "However, before that, we need to change your bandages. And first thing tomorrow I'm taking you to Lee." 

Oswald frowned and opened his mouth to protest so Ed quickly interrupted his attempts: " No Oswald, don't even try to talk your way out of it. I don't like it any more than you do, but she is the most competent doctor currently left in this hellhole. I'm not risking your life again, you need professional treatment." 

Penguin tried to put in a few words again, but Ed will have none of that. " And I already made her promise to help you. At the very least as payment for you saving her life after our… parting. She owes it to you for that. Also for your help against Bane."

He took Oswald's resigned sigh as an agreement and went to the bathroom. He thoroughly washed his hands and paused in front of the mirror, bracing himself for the gruesome image of Oswald's injury, for which he still blamed himself. In all the time he worked as a forensic scientist Edward never thought of any crime scene as too gruesome or at least mildly disturbing. He found them fascinating and always studied each gory trauma with gleeful curiosity, eager to solve their puzzles. 

This was different. Even the memory of thick blood leaking from Oswald's ravaged eye raised bile to his throat. Chopping up Miss Kringle's body didn't have that effect on Ed. Isabella's mangled corpse didn't cause his insides to turn. Nothing else did, actually. It's probably a good thing that they haven't eaten anything since the morning. He took a deep breath, filled the glass with water, gathered first aid kit, and left after one last glance at his reflection.

Edward returned to the view of Oswald sitting on the green mattress substituting for a bed. The fearsome Penguin was cradling his bulldog in his arms like a newborn baby. 

"My brave boy, you've fought your way from the clutches of that vicious witch, didn't you Edward? I'm so very proud of you," he cooed and pressed a gentle kiss on top of the dog's head. Ed shook his head in disbelief. How can Oswald be so loving and sweet toward that drooling mutt? Which was sharing his name of all people. That troubled him on some deep level he still refused to analyze. 

Oswald, oblivious to Ed's presence, hugged the dog tighter and murmured tenderly: "I'm so happy you're safe. I love you, Edward." 

Ed sharply inhaled at those words. Why did they cause piercing pain in his chest all of a sudden? He frowned and took a moment to compartmentalize his body's reactions like he usually did. 

Physically it felt like someone drove a long thin needle through his heart. Painful and unexpected. That's weird. 

Emotionally the feeling was akin to a longing or a heartbreak. Ed knew both of those very well, having felt one with Miss Kringle and the other with Isabella. Lee was both in some sense, but mostly she was just disappointment. But why did those feelings resurface now, after hearing Oswald say those words to the other Edward? 

Perhaps they stirred some bad memories from the time he heard Oswald say those words to him? Maybe they caused him to remember the hurt after losing Isabella? No, that's unlikely. Strangely enough, he never really missed her as much as he expected. Or was expected to. Even that blazing obsession with revenge on Oswald was mainly based on Edward's anger at his best friend's betrayal rather than the painful loss of his beloved girlfriend. 

Why then? Interesting. Ed made a mental note to analyze it more thoroughly later. He softly cleared his throat to announce his return.

"Oh, Ed, you're here." Oswald looked startled and… was that a blush on his cheeks or just a firelight illumination? How curious. He quickly but gently put the dog on the floor, straightening in his seat. "I want to thank you again for bringing Edward back from the docks unharmed. I don't know what I would've done if that wench took him away too."

"No problem," Ed smiled. 

Oh, but it was a problem when he thought that Nyssa took the mutt with the submarine and the treasure. He went to the docks alone to secure the place with traps he didn't have time to set before - Oswald was left to rest at the library - and was shocked to see their sub gone. Ed was seriously considering running away and hiding from Penguin's wrath if the dog was lost because of him. But even more than Oswald's rage Edward would hate to be the source of his disappointment. After all, the dog was supposed to be safe with 'the man in green' according to his friend. He had never been happier to hear the gruff barking of an overweight bulldog before this evening on the docks. 

"Drink this. It's not enough for this kind of injury, but it will numb the pain a bit." He passed two pills of Percocet and a glass of water to Penguin. He took them without a fuss which means his pain is close to unbearable. 

Ed sat beside him and opened the first aid kit. He carefully removed the bandage and the bloodied handkerchief; Oswald winced from the pain but didn't voice his discomfort. Gory mess became visible. Ed suppressed a shudder and willed his hands to stop shaking. To do this properly, he needed to distance himself emotionally from his patient. Right . There, it's just a patient in front of him, not his best (and only) friend, who probably lost an eye saving him from a grenade. Damn it. 

Then just think of this as our first opportunity to start repaying for Oswald's sacrifice , Riddler's steady voice inside his head suggested. Ed subtly nodded to himself, took a deep breath, and put latex gloves on. 

He soaked a cotton swab with peroxide and very carefully started cleaning dried blood from Oswald's cheek and around his eye, not daring to touch the wound itself; it's better left undisturbed until tomorrow. At least it stopped bleeding. Ed thought he still saw some shrapnel in there. No way to say for sure without proper lighting: you can see only so much with candles and fireplace. And he wouldn't risk removing them without at least an adequate anesthetic anyway. 

Lee promised to get all the necessary medication from the military by the morning. Let's hope she won't mix personal feelings toward Penguin and me with professional help, he heard Riddler's voice full of disdain. Edward was about eighty-seven percent sure she wouldn't.

Oswald's endurance was astonishing. Ed knew that this was agonizingly painful for the man when he involuntarily pulled at the skin with dried blood on it, bothering the injury. But the only signs of his suffering were occasional quiet whimpers, strained muscles of his jaw, white knuckles when he braced the edge of the seat too hard and a few silent tears, spilling from his healthy eye. Oswald's whole body was taut, eye focused on one spot above Edward's shoulder, breath deep and deliberate. It took several minutes to clear his skin around the wound.

"There, clean as a whistle. Hold this right here please," Ed waited for Oswald's shaky hand to hold the edge of a fresh folded gauze against his wound. "Tell me if it's too tight." With swift, practiced motions, Ed wrapped a new bandage around his friend's head. His hand lingered in soft black hair a few moments longer than necessary, almost caressing to comfort them both. 

"You did excellent Oswald. But I wouldn't advise mixing alcohol with painkillers, it -... "

"Ed, with that amount of pain I need to either have a good drink or kill somebody. Seeing how you're the only other person here, I have just one viable option," Oswald gritted through his teeth, swiftly wiping remaining tears from his eye. 

"Okie-Dokie. Then relax and let me fetch that drink."

"Thank you, Ed. For everything," he murmured, much more softly now. Ed decided against voicing all the reasons Oswald should not be thanking him and instead just gave a small smile with a nod of acknowledgment. He cleaned up the mess, threw bloody gauzes and his latex gloves in the trash and packed first aid kit back. Then went to fetch the wine, two glasses and last pack of cheese crackers. They'll need to find some food tomorrow: all their sparse reserves of canned food gone with the sub.

When he returned, Oswald was visibly more relaxed, stiffness of his posture gone, breathing calm and steady. The dog was resting at his feet. As he heard steps, he looked up, smiled at Ed with gratitude, and took both glasses while Ed poured the wine and opened crackers. 

"To the new beginnings!" Oswald proposed the first toast as they sat so close that their knees were almost touching. 

They drank to new beginnings, to old and future victories, to their continued partnership, to Nyssa al Ghul blowing up on one of the mines and sinking with their sub and their gold, to Iceberg Lounge and Riddle Factory rebuilt, to restoring Penguin's empire and instilling fear of the Riddler into the hearts of Gotham's citizens. 

Ed tried to take smaller sips, he was not as practiced with drinking as Oswald. At the end of the second bottle, they both were equally tipsy and relaxed, cheese crackers long gone. Ed sat cross-legged on the mattress while Oswald pulled his left leg under him to better face him; both men's suit jackets, vests, and shoes discarded.

With that amount of alcohol, it became even more evident how hungry they both were. The fact was further confirmed by the grumbling of Oswald's empty belly. He frowned and gave it an accusing glare, which Ed found adorably hilarious.

"A ham sandwich walks into a bar and orders a beer. What did the bartender say?" he asked out of nowhere and barely contained laughter at Oswald's dumbfounded look. 

It took his friend a few moments to even comprehend what was asked of him. 

"I literally have no id-"

"Sorry we don't serve food here," Ed answered gleefully without letting him finish. 

Apparently, a simple eye-roll wasn't enough to convey his frustration, so Oswald actually rolled his whole head with an exaggerated deep sigh. " Seriously , Ed? You went from riddles to bad jokes now?" he asked with a put-on grimace. "Oh, how the mighty have fallen!" he lamented. 

Ed giggled. "Jokes can be riddles if you think how to interpret them," he remarked with forefinger pointing upwards and smug know-it-all look on his face. "Like this one. What did the scientist get when he crossed a chicken and a cow?"

"I'm not gonna even attempt to dignify this with an answer," Oswald's feigned resentment was betrayed by an amused smile tugging at the corners of his lips.

"Roost beef!" Ed's cheeks started to hurt from the wide grin he couldn't contain. Oswald gave him his trademark eye-roll but soon gave up his facade and laughed. Ed gladly joined him and then promised: "That's what I'll cook for us when I get the chance." Those words caused the other man to lick his lips and gulp.

"In that case, I might even forgive you these terrible jokes," Oswald shook his head, still smiling. "But now you'd better stop teasing me with food images before I choke on my own saliva."

"Oooh, wouldn't that be a fascinating sight," Ed giggled and got a playful jab to the knee.

It was very nice to sit with Oswald like this. It reminded Ed about the simpler times when their friendship had just begun, and they both lived in his apartment lit by green neon, drinking cheap wine and eating Chinese takeout, joking and talking all through the night sometimes. It almost felt like they were back there again, without physical and emotional scars they gave each other throughout the last few years. 

During the months of building the sub, they became good friends again, but there was still some level of apprehension and occasional tension between them. Plus they didn't have much time to rest and talk between building the sub and trying to stay safe. 

Now, after they've survived the war and the pact, Ed felt that they finally broke free from heavy shackles of their hurtful past. Both men have learned from it and moved on. At long last, they were able to just enjoy each other's company with nothing in their way. 

They went from toasts and jokes to mulling over at least the first steps on their way to the top of Gotham's power.

"It's going to be particularly challenging this time, Ed. Taking over the underworld was never a walk in the park, but at least there was an organized crime to take over. Now that all systems and families had crumbled, even a simple task to find a trusted henchman became near impossible," he huffed a humorless chuckle. "You know, sometimes I miss the time when I had people like Gabe and Butch by my side. Brainless apes they were but loyalty was not a foreign concept for them. These days, not even money can keep people on the leash."

"But you killed them both anyway."

"Yes I did, no need to remind me, Ed," Oswald muttered, frowning. "Gabe paid for his betrayal and Butch…" He sighed, seeming almost regretful for a moment. "Well, in hindsight, maybe killing Butch was not such a wise decision in the long run. Felt too satisfying at the time, though." 

"Why did you kill him? I guessed it was your way to get back at Tabitha, correct?"

"Revenge on Tabitha was the main reason to do it, yes. She took someone I love. Of course, I had to return the favor, and it was long overdue. Now my beloved mother can finally rest in peace, her death fully avenged," Oswald seemed forlorn, as always when he had to recall Gertrude's untimely demise.

"It was not the only thing, though. Butch was useful, and I considered him a friend, sort of. Perhaps I would've thought of some other way to punish Tabitha properly," he took a sip of wine. "But his involvement in my mother's murder, piled up with his other numerous attempts at turning on me, however reasonable they were, could no longer go unpunished. Alas, betraying and throwing you to the wolves, for Sofia Falcone to torture and kill, was the last straw," he shrugged, no longer looking bothered by the loss of his trusted henchman. 

Well, that was definitely a piece of new information for Ed. He didn't even consider taking his own revenge against Butch for that. Probably because his thoughts at the time were too preoccupied with his failure of a romance with Lee. 

"Thank you, Oswald. I didn't know you still cared, not after my less than honorable actions in the bank. Sorry again, that was uncalled for." Oswald nodded his acceptance of the apology.

"Well, I intended to tell you the news about Butch when I went to check if you were safe after the bridges blew and propose an alliance, perhaps. Yes, I was still mad at you about the bank, but mostly I was angry at the Doc for manipulating you in such a cruel way," a scowl full of disdain twisted his features for a second. "That's how I found out that you went all Romeo and Juliet on each other. Thankfully you both were unconscious and not dead yet, just slowly bleeding out on the floor. Strange was the only doctor available to me at that time, unfortunately," he gave a sympathetic smile. 

"You saved my life, Oswald, guess I really can't complain. But I was meaning to ask, why didn't you find me after Strange fixed us? I don't even know what happened and how; I presume I was being controlled at the time," Ed frowned at the memory of waking up alone on the cold street near the library, which he later turned into his personal hideout. 

Oswald seemed tense and a little uneasy as he contemplated his answer. Ed knew that even with more than a full bottle of wine in his system Penguin would still be too careful with his words and not sincere enough. This conversation required a different approach. Oswald is a businessman at his heart, he believes in fair exchange. This might work. 

"Hey, I've got an idea. Let's play a game!" Riddler exclaimed and eagerly clasped his hands. "We ask each other a question and answer as honestly and elaborate as possible. Whoever refuses to answer - loses. The winner gets to ask the loser for anything, and he has to comply. Of course, the request should be doable. What do you say? "Ed smiled with barely contained excitement. 

Oswald looked at him apprehensively for a few moments but then conceded and chuckled. "You and your games, Riddler. Alright. Even though it's not much of a game but I would also prefer to get the full picture. I'll even answer your question first," he sighed and continued. 

"When Strange finished working, I had both Lee, and you brought to a temporary residence while I was busy preparing the City Hall and ammo factory as my main bases of operation. You both were unconscious for almost a week and then just disappeared. My people didn't try to stop you because you were not my prisoners. When you just left without saying a word, I assumed you made up with the Doc and ran away together," Oswald sighed. 

"Despite my anger and disappointment, I decided to try and find you. It was a war zone after all, and you were unarmed as far as I could tell. There had been no traces of you on my territory or even beyond it, and eventually, I stopped looking. I knew that you would be nearly impossible to track if you wanted to stay hidden," Penguin paused to sip his wine. "Now I wish I'd continued the search but can't change the past."

So his friend refused to give up on Ed that easily. Still did ultimately but who wouldn't in his place? "You did everything you could, Oswald. Damn, it really looked like I was an ungrateful bastard, didn't it. Even pointed a gun at you and almost pulled the trigger after everything you've done for me," he frowned. Waves of guilt washed over Ed again as he recalled their tense reunion. The last thing he expected was for Oswald to laugh. 

"It's not a big problem, Ed, really, I forgive you. There was hardly a day when somebody didn't point a gun or some other weapon at me. You didn't shoot, and that is what matters in the end," easy forgiveness from Penguin was also something Ed didn't expect. "My turn to ask now. What happened after Haven had exploded? Why did you remember those words about me fixing you only then?" 

Ed told him everything that happened since that morning when he woke up with a clue written on his palm. His investigation with Foxy and the following events, however humiliating it was to recall them. Edward had to follow the rules of his own game.

"That's not funny!" he playfully chastised Oswald when he snorted at Ed being captured and tortured by a crazy family of dog-lovers. 

"Oh but it is, Ed! What's with all the simpletons trying to kill you? First, an old lady in a wheelchair, then those hillbillies?" he was giggling and barely restraining from full cackling. Ed decided he wanted to hear his friend laugh, so he continued with a put-on pout. 

"She said I had to die for killing their dog, said their Jojo always had a smile on his face!" Oswald burst with laughter. Ed was glad to be the cause of that. "Such utter nonsense, dogs are anatomically incapable of smiling," he muttered.

Penguin slightly frowned, confused, but still smiling.

"Umm, yes they are," he reached his hand and scratched behind his bulldog's ear. "Edward, sweetie, don't worry, he didn't mean that. My good boy, show Ed here how adorably you can smile." 

The bulldog's gaze traveled from Oswald to Ed. The animal was loudly panting with its tongue out and wagging its stubby tail. The mutt looked content and comfortable, but there's no way you could call this expression a smile. Right? Although corners of the dog's mouth did stretch upwards just like a human being's would when they smile… And dark eyes glistened merrily, similar to Oswald's own right now... Well, there would be no talking Oswald out of this particular delusion, so better to just let him have it. 

"Nevermind," Ed sighed and shook his head at Oswald's victorious smirk. "Anyway, electrical jolts did something to the chip in my brain, and I remembered some fragments of being under its control and before it, while I was barely conscious. Terrible misunderstanding of your words. You know the rest," he paused to sip wine. 

The dog gave happy grumbling as Oswald scratched behind its ears. "So Oswald, I know I asked this before, but your answer wasn't especially convincing. Did you name your dog after me, or was it indeed just a coincidence?"

"Yes. It's the answer to both. I didn't lie to you before, it was a coincidence, but he has your name, not just any other Edward's." 

"You have to elaborate on that Oswald, remember the rules," he had to remind after it became clear that there was no more information coming. 

Oswald released a deep melodramatic sigh. "Very well, I suppose. When I said I was looking for you after you disappeared, I didn't mean that I only sent my people to find you. I was personally involved whenever it was possible between organizing my workers, obtaining more help, and pretending to be locked up in City Hall for the sake of vengeful Tabby's prolonged suffering. One of those times, I was passing a vet clinic and heard a noise coming from inside. I called your name. And then this little beauty appeared," he tenderly petted the dog's head and got his fingers licked in response.

"He had a bandage around one of his legs," he continued. Perhaps that's why Oswald was carrying his dog so often despite all its legs being perfectly healthy now. "He was probably left there by his former caretakers. The poor baby boy was so sad, lost, and scared, I couldn't leave him alone. So I took him with me. And since he answered the name Edward, I continued calling him that."

Seems reasonable enough, no matter how weird. But there was still one glaring issue at hand.

"Oswald… You do realize that your dog is a female, don't you?" Ed asked carefully: who knows what other delusions about canine anatomy his friend has.

"Of course I know that, Ed! I'm not stupid; I'm aware of what parts of the body are different for males and females. Still, that does not mean I can't call my anatomically female dog 'my good boy Edward '," he mischievously smirked when Ed cringed at those words. "That gave me an idea for my next question. Why does it bother you, really?" 

That was a tough question. Ed supposed he could answer with something like 'it is demeaning, embarrassing and humiliating to be associated with a drooling fat bulldog' or 'it's inconvenient to have two Edwards in the same room.' But while all of it was not a total lie per se, it wasn't a complete truth either, so it would be cheating. And Edward Nygma does not cheat, ever. There was no other way but telling the truth. 

"I don't know Oswald," he admitted quietly. Those words were so uncommon for him, even speaking them felt unnatural. 

"That's not really an answer, Ed," he chuckled. 

"But that's the most truthful one I have. I'm not even sure I'm too bothered by the fact, now that I think about it." 

Ed decided against confessing that he actually found it pretty flattering that Oswald craved his company so much that he had to fill the void with another trusted Edward friend. Even though his means were unconventional, to say the least. It was rather lovely, really. Now that Ed learned the whole truth, he concluded that he actually liked that. 

But Oswald didn't need to know that; he didn't ask how Ed felt about it, he just assumed that Ed was bothered. Finding loopholes wasn't cheating so this omission was alright. Still, he decided to go easy on Oswald. "Fine, since you didn't get a proper answer, I'll allow you to ask the next one out of turn," Ed refilled their glasses, the second bottle stood empty on the floor now.

Penguin pondered his next question and asked it with a sly smile, "Why did you really stay in Gotham?" Oh dear, that question. "I know the sub doesn't need two people to operate it. You wouldn't tolerate such a flaw in the system. And Nyssa had confirmed it unless she managed to clone herself with limited resources and time which is highly unlikely," he averted his gaze for a moment and frowned. 

That was odd. Why did Oswald even bring up clones - of all crazy things - as an option? It didn't seem random, more like a slip of the tongue. But human cloning was impossible. Right? Was Oswald not telling him something? However, he quickly continued before Ed could interject and ask him to elaborate. Ed made a mental note to question his friend about this some other time. "Besides that, just a little while ago you said that you didn't care about Gotham. So that excuse about the city was hollow as well. Why then?" he asked and sipped his wine with a triumphant grin. 

Oh Oswald, Oswald. He knew the answer to his question. He knew perfectly well that Ed had stayed only for him. Not for Gotham and its people or revenge against Bane and Nyssa. This morning on that fateful pier Edward understood with clarity that he would have never forgiven himself if he had run away and Oswald died in that fight, all alone among the enemies. There would be no peace of mind, no happiness, no forgiveness for him after that. Ed couldn't lose his best friend again. 

The bulldog didn't help either with his (her? Its?) nonstop whining and grunting after Oswald left them. Besides, Ed didn't even know what to do once he got out of Gotham. He had planned to decide their next steps with Oswald and hoped their paths on the mainland wouldn't diverge too much. 

So yes, Ed stayed to fight only for his friend. But if Riddler said it out loud, it would show his vulnerability and weakness, give voice to the extent of control Penguin has over him.

Alas, Oswald knew him too well; he was the only one who could always predict what would the Riddler do. It was equally terrifying and thrilling. Too dangerous and too enticing at the same time. Just like the man himself. Absolutely fascinating. Oh well, Oswald also was the only person Ed didn't mind losing to. Trust Oswald to beat him at his own game, as always. Ed returned his smile and nodded. 

"I refuse to answer that question, Oswald," strangely, it didn't feel wrong to just admit his defeat so easily. Not the sentiment he's used to.

"Then I believe I'm victorious," Oswald proclaimed cheerfully; he didn't bother pretending to be surprised. "But don't worry Ed, I won't make you do anything you would be too opposed to doing on your own," he added. Ed knew he could trust him with that, they were friends enough to respect each other. 

"Fine, cheers to your victory then," he raised his glass, smiling at Oswald's joyful mood. Edward was pleased to see his friend distracted from the pain and troubles of today. They clinked glasses and finished their drinks. "It's getting late, we should get some sleep. Lee will be waiting for us early in the morning."

"You're telling me that after this hell of a day you won't even let me sleep in? How typical of you, morning people," Oswald groused mirthfully and sighed. "We're out of wine anyway. I'm gonna take a shower, I think I can still taste the dust and gunpowder," he stood up with a grunt and started limping toward the bathroom.

"Try not to get too much water on your bandage. I'll bring you a towel and some clothes," Oswald glanced back and nodded with a small smile. 

"Oh, and what's at least six inches long, goes in your mouth, and is more fun if it vibrates?" Ed asked, casually.

Oswald abruptly halted and slowly turned to him. He had probably the most scandalized expression Riddler had ever seen on him, face beet-red. He opened and closed mouth a few times, more fish than a penguin. Then his initial shock was replaced by outrage. "What are you-…"

Ed burst into laughter and hurried to interrupt Penguin's furious tirade. "Toothbrush! It's a toothbrush, Oswald. You can find a spare one in the cupboard above the sink," he managed through his giggles. "Wait, what did you think the answer was?"

Oswald's wrath turned into embarrassment, which he failed to hide behind irritation. "Do not test my patience, Riddler. I knew the right answer, I was just confused by your snickers!"

"Of course you knew! And confusion is known to cause such a deep blush," his thick sarcasm and shit-eating grin earned him a frustrated growl from Penguin and a small cushion thrown into his face. 

"Shut up, or I'll use my victory to demand an explanation for the mirror above your toilet," Oswald snarked back, smirking impishly. 

"That's simple: I didn't install it," Ed shrugged. 

"Yet you never removed it either." 

"Well..."

"Exactly!" Penguin huffed, looking awfully smug for getting the upper hand. 

Ed pursed his lips and wanted to retort something, but Oswald was already limping into the bathroom, a smile tugging at his lips. Ed could only shake his head and let the man have it this time, he'll find a chance to get back at him later. Friendly banter with Penguin never gets old. 

Soon Edward heard water being turned on. He ruffled through a few of his belongings stored in a dresser and got a fresh towel and clean clothes for Oswald, then placed them on the edge of the sink in the bathroom. He couldn't help but smile when he heard Oswald humming some vaguely familiar cheerful melody quietly. 

Ed glanced at the steam rising atop the shower curtain and suddenly felt the yearning to join Oswald under the hot water. Wait, what? Where did that thought come from? Ed shook his head to chase weird desires away. It's probably just because he also wanted to shower after a long and hard day, Edward reasoned. Nothing more. He quickly left the bathroom.

He added more wood to the fireplace. He knew how cold Oswald always got at night and how much it affected his injured leg, which was probably killing him now after a day like this. Ed then realized a slight problem: he didn't even have an actual bed here. The mattress he used to sleep on was the only suitable soft horizontal surface. Obviously, he will insist Oswald take it, any other option with the man's injuries - old and new - would be just plain cruel. 

While he contemplated sleeping on the floor or in one of the armchairs, Oswald emerged from the bathroom. Raven black hair was noticeably ruffled with a towel but still damp and slightly dipping water. Edward's grey t-shirt and sweatpants were hanging loosely on Oswald's thin frame. Ed was instantly reminded of the scrawny wounded bird he nurtured back to health in his apartment all those years ago. Penguin was looking probably even more vulnerable now, with a bandage over his head and tired slouch of his shoulders. Ed wanted to wrap him in his arms, plant a kiss onto the mop of black hair, protect him from the cold, cruel world, keep him warm and safe. No, wait, stop it! He didn't want to kiss his friend. That's not what friends do, right? Right. Just ignore that thought and move on.

Ed realized he was staring at Oswald for quite some time now, and the man was starting to look uneasy under his gaze. Ed quickly took his own clean clothes and retreated to the bathroom before doing or saying something inappropriate. 

Chapter Text

The hot water somewhat helped Edward clear his mind and focus on thoroughly analyzing his thoughts and feelings. 

Alright, first of all, by this point he had to admit to himself that he cared for Oswald. A lot. So much as to risk his own life and fight his wars. It was rather inconvenient but not unexpected: Oswald was his best friend after all. Friends care about each other; it's normal. 

Although it didn't explain his unwelcome impulses to hug or kiss his friend, which were arising more often as the weeks passed by alongside Oswald. Ed even had to stop himself from staring at Penguin's well-shaped backside a few times, embarrassed by his own body's betrayal. He scolded himself for those moments and had to write them off as effects of stress, hard work, and a long time since he was intimately close with another human being. His body was simply touch-starved, that's all. 

But what if it wasn't just that, hypothetically? After all, Ed didn't have those passions toward other people. Not even to Lee when he met her; not a single sensual thought flashed in his mind at the sight of the woman he once desired. Why then? Was Edward attracted to his friend? But that doesn't make any sense. He doesn't like Oswald in that way, does he?... He can't...

Then it hit him. Suddenly and very hard. Ed almost lost his footing when it all came crashing down on him. What if it wasn't only physical attraction? What if he had romantic feelings toward Oswald? It's that simple. Oh dear. He is in love with Oswald Cobblepot. Oh dear, it's true, isn't it? Oh dear, oh dear… 

There was only chaos now in his head: images, thoughts, memories stumbling over each other, spinning in a dizzying vortex, confirming over and over this one simple truth. One picture replaced another like on a broken TV screen; all of them brought only heartache and regrets. 

 

His trembling hands, wrapping a makeshift bandage over Oswald's injured eye even as everything inside him turned at the memory of what was underneath it. 

His sideways glances at Oswald and touches that lingered just slightly longer than necessary. 

'I trust you, Ed.' The warmth in his stomach when Oswald said that. His trembling hands and aching heart as everything inside him rebelled and fractured all over again after he broke that trust in the bank later. 

'I need you, Riddler.' His heart fluttering as Oswald whispered his chosen name almost like a prayer. Feeling of being whole, being accepted, finally. 

How lost and hopeless he was after being freed from his icy prison. No friends, no purpose, no power. Alone

But not nearly as alone and lost as he had been after shooting Oswald. When every little thing in that mansion reminded him of his dear dead friend: Oswald's favorite china set, the only coffee brand Oswald tolerated and his herbal teas, Oswald's unread book on the coffee table in the library, Oswald's dark bathrobe with golden embroidery, a small cushion Oswald used to place under his bad leg to give it a rest after a long day. Each moment spent in Van Dahl mansion after that fateful day at the docks felt like a thousand needles stinging deep inside the bleeding remains of his heart. And still, he didn't leave the place. Endured the pain because he deserved it. Because it allowed him to keep that fragile connection to Oswald. He was addicted. And not to the pills he took to keep invoking his dead friend's image.

The hallucination of Oswald singing for him seductively in the luscious red haze. Oh dear God. He actually imagined Oswald seducing him — quite successfully at that — and didn't give it much thought? Didn't understand what his own twisted brain was trying to show him? What kind of a 'genius' was he?! 

How alluring and powerful Penguin looked covered in blood after their escape from the Court. Magnificent in his primal fury. How much he wanted to shut that smart mouth with a kiss but swiftly ground that thought to dust and convinced himself that a bullet would work better.

Waves of relief washing over him when he met Oswald inside the birdcage. His friend was alive! Except they weren't friends anymore. Relief shifting into anguish. 

'This will be a cold-blooded murder of someone you love.' Broken voice of heartbroken Oswald, desperately pleading for his life. Rain drizzling, hiding their tears. 

'It will change you.' And it did. He became the Riddler. And still, he missed Oswald, wanted Oswald, needed Oswald. 

'I don't love you.' A lie, tasting bitter on his tongue.

'Ed, I love you.' He didn't believe it then. Didn't dare to believe. 

'I love you, Edward.' Oswald's soft voice earlier this evening, words directed to the dog. So that's what he felt then. Jealousy. He wanted Oswald to say those words to him and him alone. But he didn't deserve them anymore.

'I would do anything for you.' His own tender voice repeated in his mind. Feeling warm and safe being wrapped in his friend's arms, silently dreaming of staying there forever. Oh God, for how long was he in love with Oswald? Even before Isabella? How blind could he be?

'Why are you being so kind?' Sweet gifts, puzzles, and soft sweater were the only things keeping him warm and sane inside Arkham. Oswald's admiration for his intelligence and appreciation of his advice, echoing with the fluttering of his heart. Oswald's attentiveness and care after he got Ed released, rendering him speechless sometimes. 

'Do you believe in fate?' His younger version asked Mr. Penguin, eager to please. His steady hands stitching the wound on his feathered friend's shoulder.

'Fate has different plans for us.' Their reconciliation. 

Working together. Saving Oswald from that lunatic ventriloquist. Joking and friendly bickering. 

Staying to fight for Oswald because Ed listened to his heart. 

'I won't let you hurt him!' Oswald refusing to give him up to Barbara, protecting him even after betrayal. Ready to give his life for Ed back then just like he was today. 

'Eddie!' Oswald shielding him. The sacrifice. The agonizing scream. The blood.

'It was the least I could do.' What did he mean?

'Together.' Their pact. Their trust. Their acceptance.

'We're brothers.' Oh dear. Oswald called them brothers . Oh, no, no, no, no, no . He was too late, Oswald didn't love him anymore. Of course , he didn't.

'I'm going to follow my heart.' Oswald said that right before leaving Ed with the dog, submarine, and treasure. Ed wasn't his heart, just an ally. Penguin truly didn't love him anymore. Why would he, after everything? After all betrayals and heartbreaks? After all the pain Oswald had suffered because he had the misfortune to fall in love with the biggest ignorant fool in Gotham. Ed had missed his chance, nothing left to do now except…

 

"Ed? Ed, are you alright?" 

It took him a few long moments to realize that this was real Oswald's voice calling to him with sincere concern, not another memory resurfaced in his head. Ed was pulled out from his frantically whirling thoughts bordering on panic. In times like these, he wished he didn't have his eidetic memory with all the vivid images his restless brain supplied. 

"Y-yes." 

Why was his voice shaking? Why was his whole body shaking?

"You were in the shower for quite some time; I think I nodded off for a bit. The water must be cold by now. Is everything okay?" 

Oh, that's why. Water was freezing. How long has he stood there?

"F-fine. Be there, s-soon." Ed turned the water off. He barely felt his hands. Seems like Oswald has saved him. Again.

Ed forced his trembling limbs to cooperate and get out of the tub. He rubbed himself with a towel, trying to make the blood circulate again, but it didn’t help. He put on his sleep clothes and glasses. Before returning to Oswald, Ed stopped to look in the mirror. It wasn't even fogged anymore, all steam long gone.

"What should I do?" he asked his reflection. It stared back, expression unchanging from terrified wide eyes and quivering pale lips. There was no one but him on the other side. 

Edward braced his hands on the wooden surface on both sides of the mirror. He barely sees his other half anymore. All their interactions lately were down to occasional internal banter when Ed was too stressed out or deep in thought. Aside from that, he was whole, psyche more or less intact, both his sides working together, without the need to dissociate completely or fight about every step. There was a time when Ed dreamed of not seeing anyone else in the mirror, be it his stronger or weaker self. But he needed someone to talk to right now. His distress could turn into a full-blown panic attack at any moment. And obviously, he couldn't tell Oswald about that. 

"P-please t-talk to me," Ed stuttered and closed his eyes, silently pleading for his stronger half to appear. The one that always saved him in critical situations. Whether he wanted it or not. 

Oh, come now, Eddie. Why the long face? Riddler's smug voice cooed mockingly in his head. Ed opened his eyes, and there he was, staring back at him from the mirror in all his shimmering green glory.

"I think I-I'm in l-love with Oswald," he mumbled, feeling like a child asking for advice from an elder brother he never had. 

Oh, you think ? Riddler snorted. Took you long enough, Eddie, I assumed you'd never come to your senses. 

"You knew ?" he asked incredulously and recoiled from the mirror. Riddler raised an eyebrow and chuckled.

Obviously. I'm you. But smarter. Edward's green-clad reflection grinned from ear to ear, pointing at his temple for emphasis.

"Why didn't you t-tell me sooner? We lost so m-much time and opportunities," in the back of his mind Ed registered his teeth clanking and body shaking violently but couldn't be bothered right now.

I tried to tell you, but you were stuck too deep in your pathetic delusions about being in 'love' with the librarian and then the Doc . He did air-quotes as he spoke and spat out Lee's title. Riddler had every right to resent her, Ed supposed, after her attempts to keep him locked up and powerless.

"But what should we d-do now?"

That's easy, Eddie. Let's go to our little bird, kiss him, and make him love us again.

"No! I'm not gonna make him do anything," Ed was repulsed by the mere notion of forcing Oswald. "And he's n-not our bird." 

Riddler scowled, visibly annoyed. Not with that attitude. He released the most dramatic sigh. I didn't suggest forcing him, you idiot. Ed gritted his teeth but let the insult slip; he was used to them from his other-self. I love him as much as you do, if not more. We're whole now, remember? He said in a softer tone. 

Ed wondered why Riddler said he 'loves' Oswald so naturally. Love is a weakness, and he was created to be anything but. Riddler only smirked, knowing perfectly well what Ed was thinking.

"Yes, we are," despite insults and bickering, Edward Nygma and the Riddler were one now. More often than not lately, he couldn't even tell what part of him was dominating at the moment. They just seamlessly switched and changed without standing in each other's way, usually saying and doing what both of them wanted without the need to separate and cause a memory loss like they used to. They both realized the importance of each other for their whole being and embraced it, thus becoming one. 

"B-but how do we m-make him love us again?" he stammered with a note of desperation in his tone. 

"Ed, I can't hear you. Are you talking to me?" Oswald's distant voice was calling from the room.

"No, Oswald, just m-myself," he answered honestly, not expecting any judgment from his friend. 

"Well, you both need to rest, so finish up and come here."

'You both.' Dropped so casually, like it was nothing abnormal to him. Come to think of it, Oswald always saw and readily accepted them both, Ed and Riddler together. Not counting those times he refused to speak Riddler's name to spite him. Which already was an acknowledgment in on itself. 

Penguin was the only one who saw him whole, didn't try to appeal to only one of his sides while ignoring - or destroying - the other. Unlike Kristen, who would've never accepted his darker side. Unlike Isabella, who was strangely fixated on invoking and manipulating his killer tendencies, all the while appealing to Ed's softer personality with silent promises of a 'normal' life. Unlike Lee, who tried to tame him and keep him docile, harmless. Unlike everyone else, who treated him like a weird freak at best or a depraved psychopath at worst. Oswald knew all his sides and treated them with the same affection and respect. 

Edward's spontaneous inner trip down memory lane not only confirmed his previously unrecognized feelings for Oswald but also showed how poorly Ed treated him, stomping all over his battered heart, bit by bit destroying the only man who ever cared for him. It's about time Ed recognized and fully appreciated his friend's unconditional acceptance. For far too long he had taken it for granted.

Ed glanced in the mirror one last time. 

Let's start by making our lovely bird feel safe and comfortable. Riddler winked at him and disappeared. Ed nodded, took a deep breath, and returned to the room. He felt better, more confident. Or at least less panicking.

Oswald was sitting in the armchair beside the fireplace and flipping through a book about unconventional chess strategies. Good thing Ed remembered to disarm all his traps when they returned here. Edward the dog — oh dear, so he finally accepted its name, didn't he? Oh well, if it would make Oswald feel better then Ed was ready to call the female bulldog by his own name all day long; — was already snoring in a pile of blankets next to his owner's armchair. No doubt Oswald made this cozy nest for his canine friend by himself. Ed found it adorable and didn't try to deny or find excuses for those thoughts anymore. Feels good to be honest with himself finally. 

" At last , I thought you fell asleep in there..." Oswald put the book away and glanced at Ed. His irritation instantly switched to concern. "Oh God, Ed, you're shaking." Does he? He stopped noticing it, too preoccupied with much more pressing matters on his mind. 

"Come here, sit by the fire." 

Before Ed could do anything, Oswald abruptly stood up and ushered him into the warmed armchair. Then took the quilt lying folded on the mattress and wrapped it around Edward's shaking shoulders. 

"Pull your legs up." Ed obediently pulled his knees to his chest. He was rendered speechless and pliant under this onslaught of caring. 

His heart ached from the tenderness of Oswald's hands as he gently but efficiently tucked him into the quilt, locking him in a soft cocoon. Ed tried his best to hold back tears slowly but surely creeping in. Why did he suddenly want to cry? 

Because nobody ever cared for us like this. Even Riddler's voice inside his head was serious and soft, lacking his usual detached cold flare. They both were stunned by this almost motherly display of affection.

Meanwhile, Oswald brought another dry towel and covered Ed's damp hair with it, taking off his glasses before that. Ed instantly felt warmer as cold drops of water stopped sliding down his neck. 

"What were you thinking, soaking in freezing water like that?" As soon as he finished fussing over Ed, Oswald switched from concern to chastising. But there was still more worry than irritation in his voice. And his hands, gently rubbing Ed's hair with the towel, showed his true intentions better than words ever could. Edward smiled, closed his eyes, and melted under Oswald's tender care. "And stop smiling, I'm trying to scold you here!" Oswald poked his shoulder but again, too softly to be at least a bit painful, which made Edward's smile grow even wider.

" 'M s-sorry, Ozzie, just got l-lost in thoughts." 

Oswald's hands atop his head trembled and withdrew, taking the now damp towel with them. Oh no, did he do something wrong? Did Oswald dislike being called Ozzie? Ed used to call him that occasionally in private during their political career but never after Isabella incident. Did it bring bad memories to Oswald? Oh dear, he needed to fix it right now. 

But before Ed could do or say anything, Oswald's delicate touches returned. This time on his shoulders, massaging gently through the quilt. It sent pleasant shivers down Edward's spine, and warmth to his head as blood started streaming faster. Ed hummed appreciatively. "Thank you for your care, Oswald; you just saved me from freezing to d-death in my own shower," he murmured.

"I-I'm, um… Well, I'm not letting you get sick and make me go to the GCPD alone tomorrow," Oswald mumbled defensively, trying to keep his composure. Ed wasn't fooled by his facade though; he didn't even need to look at his friend's face to know he's blushing. It was Ed's fault: too often he neglected to acknowledge Oswald's support, receiving it without giving a single kind word in return. Now even a simple 'thank you' could throw the powerful kingpin off balance. Ed swore to make sure Oswald always knows how much he's appreciated from now on.

Soon enough, Edward's body slowly began to relax as he almost stopped shaking, and hints of blissful warmth spread all over him, tingling through the numb muscles. But he was still rigid cold, and also felt terrible for taking Oswald's seat. That gave him an idea. 

"Come here, sit with me, your leg must be killing you. And you can help me get warm faster," Ed lowered his feet on the floor and opened the quilt, inviting Oswald to join him on his lap. Penguin stopped rubbing Ed's shoulders and hesitated. 

"Come on, Oswald, I'm freezing here," he waved the edge of the quilt to emphasize impatience. 

That worked somehow. Oswald sighed, limped around the armchair and very carefully and awkwardly lowered himself on Ed's lap. He was stiff and clearly uncomfortable. Ed knew Oswald didn't allow other people to get so close to him physically. Because usually, it meant they got close to him emotionally as well, which granted them the power to hurt him. There was a time when Ed could easily get even closer if he wanted to. Now he needed to break all Penguin's scar-crafted barriers again. 

Ed delicately put his hand on Oswald's waist and slightly tugged the man closer. "Oswald, you're not even remotely heavy enough to cause me any discomfort. Sit closer so I can cover us both. I'm not gonna bite you, I promise," he teased to lighten the mood. 

Oswald huffed defiantly: "Of course not, you don't want me to bite back," and in a swift motion situated himself wholly on Ed's lap, pressing left shoulder to his chest, leaving legs hanging over the armrest and arms lying crossed on his own thighs. Riddler smiled: there's that fiery bird he loves so much. Oh dear, how had he gotten used to that thought so fast? 

Ed wrapped them both in the quilt as best as he could, which was pretty good considering that only their feet were left uncovered. Oswald was still noticeably tense as Ed hugged his slender frame closer to his chest. The right arm wrapped around Oswald's back and rested on his narrow waist, the left laid over his thighs closer to knees — both supporting and fixing Penguin's warm figure snuggly in place. 

Edward felt Oswald's heart fluttering behind his ribcage where their chests touched. Why was it beating so fast? Did Oswald not trust him to be so close? Was he afraid of a sudden attack? But they didn't even have knives at hand and had no reason to hurt each other anyway. How odd. Perhaps he just needed time to adjust to the cold temperature of a body next to him. Yes, that's probably the reason.

Oswald sucked in a sharp breath and shivered. "God, you're like a living popsicle, Ed. Don't ever hug me after a freezing shower again," he muttered, frowning.

"Did you know that Emperor penguins can endure temperatures lower than forty degrees Fahrenheit below zero?"  

"Edward Nygma, you dare talk to me about low temperatures right now?" Penguin hissed, and Ed's giggle earned himself a faint swat on the chest. 

"Ow," he murmured without bothering to feign hurt before continuing his trivia. "They minimize heat loss by keeping the outer surface of their plumage below the temperature of the surrounding air. Neat, huh?" 

Oswald huffed. "That is pretty neat, indeed. At times like these, I actually wish I had feathers like my namesakes," his body shuddered, confirming the point.

"Be careful what you wish for: this is Gotham, after all. Anything can happen." 

Penguin snorted. "What, you're saying that somebody could turn me into a bird?" 

Ed giggled at that thought. "To be honest, I wouldn't even be too surprised. But if that happens, be sure to waddle to me: I'll feed you fish, do some experiments, it'd be fun." 

"I'm afraid we have very different definitions of fun ," Oswald huffed sleepily and gingerly rested his head on Riddler's shoulder. "Get warmer faster, would you?" he muttered into Edward's collarbone. His feathery hair tickled Ed's neck; they were almost dry and quite ruffled now. 

They remained like this, snuggled close together in comfortable silence. Minutes flew by, and the only sounds were fire beside them, Edward snoring in his nest of blankets and steady breathing of each other. 

Penguin was surprisingly light and even skinnier than his clothes showed. They had to cut their rations drastically these last few weeks, even Barbara's storages emptied once she decided to help Gordon feed the remaining refugees. And Oswald insisted on sharing only his share of food with his four-legged friend. Ed made a mental note that as soon as he gets his hands on some ingredients, he must cook a nice meal for Oswald and make sure he grows more meat on those bones. It will be even more pleasant to hug him, Ed mused. 

Ed barely caught himself before drifting into sleep. Oswald's drowsiness was also getting better of him, judging by his deep breathing, relaxed body, and closed eye. The last thing Edward wanted was to disturb their cozy cuddling, but his friend's comfort came first. 

"Oswald, perhaps you would prefer to sleep on the mattress? I think it would be better for your leg," he whispered.

"No, Ed. You placed me here, and I'm staying right where I am," Oswald mumbled sleepily but defiantly. "Don't even hope that you can move me from this spot so easily now that I've finally gotten warm." 

To emphasize his point, Oswald shifted, wrapped his arms tightly around Ed's middle, and snuggled even closer, practically sprawling on top of him now: head rested on Ed's chest, any signs of hesitation and tension gone. Ed beamed happily, hummed and hugged Oswald tighter in agreement. 

Edward too has warmed up by now, no more numbness in his limbs. Blissful warmth spread all over his body, and he suspected that it wasn't only physical sensations but also from finally being honest with his feelings and having this lovely bird snuggled in his arms. Ed still felt terrified of the moment to confess his feelings to Oswald. Maybe he should just tell him now? No, they needed to rest; this day had more than enough developments already. What if Oswald doesn't love him anymore after everything that happened? What if he'll hate Ed for admitting his feelings too late? What if he'll leave him, forever this time? Edward would lose not only his love but also his best friend. 

Ed shook his head to chase unpleasant thoughts away. He wondered if Oswald had felt this anxious when he first realized his feelings. He remembered vividly how hard Oswald was trying to tell him something but simply couldn't get the words out of his mouth. And when the man had finally found the courage to come clean, Ed stood him up so carelessly. All for a second chance at 'normal' life he was supposed to have. Ed felt waves of regret wash over him again. How could he even consider himself smart if he was too ignorant to notice his own and Oswald's blooming feelings? 

Edward was drawn from his self-flagellation by Oswald's sleepy incoherent mumbling and nuzzling of the hooked nose at the crook of his neck. He didn't even notice how the man nestled in his lap had fallen asleep. He remembered how Oswald used to talk in his sleep after emotional or stressful events. Ed tried to discern his quiet mumbling but couldn't pick out much apart from 'no' and 'run'. And then Oswald breathed 'Eddie' oh so tenderly and tightened his embrace, burying his face even closer into Ed's neck. So close that he could feel long eyelashes brushing him slightly. 

Oswald had called him 'Eddie' for the first time in a very long while right before covering him from the grenade explosion. He couldn't resist planting a feather-light kiss on the mop of unruly black hair, softly tickling his face as he did so. Perhaps, if fate indeed meant for them to be together, someday he'll be able to kiss this beautiful man on the lips and when they both were awake and willing. If only Oswald will be able to love him once again. Ed promised himself to do anything to earn Penguin's affections, to become worthy. He sighed dreamily, rested his cheek on Oswald's forehead, and dozed off to the sound of deep breathing at the base of his neck.

?

He woke up to restless fidgeting and whimpering in his arms. Judging by the candles, they slept like this for less than three hours. The sky was dark, still a long time until sunrise. The heat from the fireplace rustling next to their armchair was matched only by the burning body pressed close to Ed.

Oswald was asleep, but a frown creased his brow, and a tear flowed from his healthy eye onto Edward's t-shirt. His whole body was overheating; beads of sweat covered pale skin. Fever. Mild. Not unexpected.

"Oswald, you need to wake up," Ed murmured and gingerly stroked Oswald's thigh. He woke with a start and stared at Ed, panicking.

"Ed, r-run," he whispered frantically. Ed wondered what he saw in his sleep. Nothing happy, it seems.

"It's alright, Oswald, we're safe. It's just a dream. Let's get you to bed," he placated and waited for Oswald to calm down. Then carefully snaked his left arm under his friend's knees with his right supporting under shoulderblades and got up in one fluid motion. Oswald yelped in surprise and wrapped his arms around Ed even tighter. Riddler smirked at that reaction and carried the sleepy bird to his green mattress. 

He gave Oswald more painkillers and placed a cool washcloth over his forehead. He had no medication for fever; the only thing he could do was keep the wet washcloth cold and make Oswald drink more water. Ed pulled the armchair closer to the makeshift bed.

Slowly fever dropped, and Oswald drifted to sleep again. Ed considered joining him on the mattress or dozing off right here in his seat. But then he noticed that Edward woke up and was sniffing at his empty bowl. The bulldog stared at Ed with the most pitiful pleading puppy eyes he had ever seen. No wonder Oswald couldn't leave the dog in that clinic if he was met with the same or even sadder look. 

Whew, Riddler whistled in the back of their mind. If I had a heart, it would've melted under that puppy stare. Edward can handle the hunger, though; he's fat enough. 

Doubt we can find a proper steak for him anyway, Ed giggled. Riddler snorted in response but continued more seriously.

But Ozzie is too weakened by malnutrition and injuries as it is. Get up, Eddie, chop-chop. Let's go find some food for our skinny bird. 

Ed yawned, got up from his seat and switched into one of his last spare green suits and a clean dark grey shirt, fastening a purple tie with swirling black patterns around his neck. He checked one last time that his feathered friend was sleeping peacefully and had a normal skin temperature, prepared a glass of water and two pills for the morning, and left the library as quietly as possible. 

 

Chapter Text

Oswald never was a morning person. Especially when in said mornings he couldn't get some much-needed coffee to kickstart his brain. Even more so when said brain was screaming in agony after yesterday's events and injury. Oswald groaned in pain as he realized that he couldn't even open his one good eye. His right leg was also throbbing, but that ache was old and familiar, Penguin was used to live with it. Pain from his most recent injury was new and searing, burning half of his face. 

He felt a warm hand on his shoulder. "Oswald? I'll get you painkillers and water." Ed's voice was thick with concern, and thankfully his friend was considerate enough to speak quietly.

Just a few moments later, one of Oswald's fists was gently unclenched and two pills put onto his palm. He hurriedly swallowed them without water — anything to stop that pulsating pain spreading from his eye to the whole right side of his face and then his entire head. It felt like his skin was slowly peeled off. When Oswald struggled to pull himself higher, he felt a strong arm snaking its way around him under shoulderblades as Ed carefully and slowly helped him to sit. 

"Here Oswald, drink. It's just water." 

Smooth glass surface pressed at his lips, he obediently opened them and took a few big gulps of cold water. He finally felt alive enough to blink open his eye. The first thing he saw was Ed's face frowning with care and sympathy. He was so close now, his hand still supporting Oswald's back. 

"Hello, sleepyhead," Ed gave him a small smile. "Lie back for a few minutes, wait for pills to start working. I'll get our breakfast," he gently helped Oswald ease back on the pillows. 

Slowly the pain started to numb. It still hurt like hell, but at least Oswald was able to think again. He slowly sat up. Ed was not in the room, but there were empty plates and cups on the table. Did Edward really say breakfast? But they didn't have any food left here. Maybe Oswald misheard him because of the pain. 

He went to the bathroom. Cool water helped freshen up a little but did nothing for his mood. It all weighed down on him now: the missed opportunity to escape and start life anew, the fight and explosion, waking up early to the searing pain, the fact that he didn't even have food for his four-legged Edward... Oswald sighed deeply and fixed his hair as much as he could with what product Ed had here before leaving the bathroom.

As he returned to the main room, Oswald caught an unmistakable scent of canned food and… coffee? Ed was indeed setting the table with food for them. He was pulling chunks of meat from cans and dividing them between plates evenly. Their cups were full of barely steaming coffee. The dog Edward was already loudly chomping something from his plate, rumbling happily.

"Ed? Where did you get this? I thought we brought all remaining food to the sub," he asked incredulously. 

"Yes, we did; I wish I stored some of it here. But alas, this breakfast I had to steal earlier today. Sorry about the quality," Ed shrugged with a sheepish smile. "That was a particularly stupid pack of looters I found a few blocks from here. They  actually  believed that toxic mutants were chasing me. Idiots didn't even take their stuff when ran away screaming," he laughed smugly. 

To think that Ed went through all the trouble of procuring food for the three of them in the middle of the night. What a wonderful man. 

"Thank you, my friend, you're a lifesaver," Oswald decided Ed deserved to be smug about himself just this once. "I think I could kill for a cup of coffee," he sat at the table and took a sip from his cup. It wasn't remotely good coffee, but right now for Oswald, it tasted heavenly. And he doesn't even like coffee in the first place. He closed his eye in bliss and hummed appreciatively. 

"I would've liked to see  that ," Ed chuckled. He finished organizing their plates with shared meat from cans and sat opposite Oswald. 

"Well, I  did  kill a man for a sandwich once," he huffed.

"Citizens of Gotham, beware! The hungry Penguin is on the loose!" Ed exclaimed in a deep growl, holding his fork like a microphone and menacingly waving knife over his head for dramatic effect. Oswald was glad that he swallowed his coffee before that as he burst into laughter at this ridiculous scene. He appreciated Ed trying to lift his spirits and distract him from pain. It definitely worked. 

"Only the fearless Riddler can stop him from wreaking havoc onto innocent food-owners!" Oswald supported Ed's theatrical flare with his own. Ed joined him in laughter.

"Nope, I'd rather watch" he smirked and shook his head. "Alright, please enjoy your breakfast, oh dreadful Penguin, before Edward and I have to defend ourselves," he chuckled. 

Oswald couldn't hold his pleased grin at the fact that Ed called his dog by name for the very first time. He decided against mentioning it, though. Instead, he dug into the meat on his plate and hummed appreciatively. 

Ed has been so kind and almost affectionate these past few weeks. Even before the fight and the grenade. Penguin was trying so hard for so long to block his old feelings for the man and thought he finally managed to get over him when Riddler had disappeared with the Doc. Oswald even got himself a new friend Edward, hoping to fill the void in his lonely heart. Oh, how wrong he was! As soon as they started working together on the plans to escape Gotham, his old fondness for the brilliant Riddler returned. After the Penn incident, they became even closer, and Oswald couldn't lie to himself anymore. He still loved Edward with his whole heart. 

But when he gave up that inner fight and acknowledged his reborn feelings, Oswald discovered that somehow they have evolved. Where once was a burning need and longing to have Edward - burning enough to get his competition killed - now it was replaced by a deep warm feeling of pure fondness and tender affection. Unconditional acceptance and readiness to do anything for him.  Love . Ed taught him how to love genuinely and purely. Just Penguin's luck that after he had learned what true love meant, he could never again present his heart for the man who gave him this lesson.

Oswald knew now what it meant to be willing to sacrifice and do anything for the person he loves. And since that person will never love him back, the only thing he can do is sacrifice his own desires and wishes. Be just Edward's friend, his brother even. Pretend that his love and fondness are solely platonic. Forget his dreams of them being together in other, more romantic and intimate ways.

This kindness and commitment Ed expresses now do  not  help at all. Neither did falling asleep nestled in his arms last night. Granted, they did hug before and even shared a bed, but  that  was something else entirely. Oswald hesitated to agree sitting in Ed's lap. He's not used to be so close to another person. Especially if he has romantic feelings toward that person and can't let him know it. 

But he had to help Ed warm up somehow, and bodily warmth was the best tool he could use. Oswald just wanted to help his friend. He knew that this was a one-time thing, momentary weakness; they both were too exhausted to think clearly. Wine on empty stomachs didn't help either. At least those were his excuses for having one of his dreams come true. 

But that turned out to be a completely different kind of torture for Oswald. Trying to relax was unspeakably hard with Ed's strong arms hugging him and his hot breath ghosting on Penguin's neck, with Edward's lips so close he could just lean slightly and taste them if he dared. It took all of Oswald's power to control his breathing and act casually. He prayed Ed didn't notice his tension and frantic heartbeat. However, when he did manage to relax, all he felt was pure heavenly bliss. The warmth of Ed's body enveloped him even better than soft quilt around them. Oswald felt at peace. Safe.

He will cherish those moments for the rest of his life. He shall make a special room in his heart for the memories of that cozy cuddling on the armchair by the fireplace and keep them locked up in there, private and secure. Someday they will probably help him endure the sight of Edward's another pretty girlfriend or boyfriend even. Whenever he has to watch them cuddle and kiss, he will remember what it felt like to fall asleep nestled in Ed's embrace. Although he fears that it might hurt even more. 

Still, if the day comes when Ed suggests something similar to this, Oswald will have to make some excuse and decline the invitation. It would be unfair to use Ed's purely platonic touches when Oswald perceived them oh so differently. He won't allow himself to disrespect his friend like this again by taking advantage of his unawareness of Oswald's more than friendly feelings. Or, God forbid, make them known once more. Penguin swore to never betray Edward's trust again by overstepping his boundaries. He will do anything to keep their friendship this time.

Last night has further confirmed that they were indeed friends and could trust each other with their lives. Oswald had initiated their pact and hug as a test to see if he can be confident that Ed won't stab him in the back even when his own life is in danger. Obviously, he knew that Ed had seen the knife, that was his intention. He also heard an unmistakable click of Riddler's switchblade. 

Stepping in potential death's embrace was admittedly scary. Despite their friendly interactions these past months, Riddler could still easily stab him and dispose of the only person who knew him so well, who could be most dangerous. Oswald wasn't sure if he would've used his blade in return. He would probably want to but almost certainly wouldn't be able to. How could he ever kill the love of his life? 

The relief he felt when Ed hadn't struck was indescribable. Edward passed his test. Oswald had his best friend back, for sure this time. No way he would risk losing him again, even if it meant enduring sharp stinging in his heart from not being able to kiss those smooth lips each time his gorgeous friend smiled or asked a riddle with childish glee. But pain was an old friend. Penguin will survive it. 

They were eating in comfortable silence. Oswald glanced at Ed and noticed him scowling at his reflection in the mirror. He wondered what about his friend was arguing with himself this time. Penguin was so used to Ed having some sort of split personalities that it didn't seem even a bit odd. He considered Riddler an integral part of Edward Nygma as a whole. Maybe it was wrong to think that mental issues could be natural for a person. But this is Gotham; it's a lot like Wonderland: they are all mad here. Some more than others. Borders of normality were blurred so much that almost everything could be considered normal if you look at it from the right angle.

Of course, it goes without saying that if Ed ever expressed a desire to change himself, Oswald would be there for him, finding the best doctors and medicine there is. He will always support his friend; however he can. For now, though, Edward and Riddler seemed to be comfortable with what they were, and that's what matters. Oswald was delighted that they've found a way to coexist since they both were precious in their own unique manner. 

He knew for sure that he loved all Edward's sides equally and deeply. Oswald loved Ed's sweet kindness and endearing dorkiness just as much as he loved Riddler's blazing power and calculated ruthlessness. He loved their smugness, flair for dramatic, ingenuity, endless curiosity, sense of humor, and even riddles. He'd never admit it out loud though. 

"Thank you again, Ed," he said after they finished their meal.

"You're welcome," Ed smiled back, gathering plastic plates into the trash bag. "We should get going. Lee said she'll be there at seven. I'm also hoping to discuss Jeremiah's generators with Foxy if I get a chance." 

Oh, of course Ed wants to hang out with his 'Foxy', they're both brilliant minds with so much in common. Oswald sighed, fully aware of his lack of any scientific knowledge. He'll never be able even to hope to match Mr. Fox's level of expertise. Let alone Edward's.

"Only one small device managed to drop the Wayne tower! It'd be most helpful if Foxy shared at least a bit of the information on the bomb's mechanism. Of course, I'll discover it on my own someday and recreate it even without his input. Perhaps change some things: like size, color, and most importantly, remote control. I already have a few design improvements in mind..." he was excitedly rambling, and Oswald found the sight achingly endearing. He loved Riddler's passionate desire to know everything. And even his obsessive compulsion to show off his remarkable intelligence was oddly adorable.

They had to stop at the City Hall to get Oswald's remaining suits and other possessions before it gets reclaimed by the city. And to change his today's attire. Under no circumstances would Penguin appear at the station wearing Edward's pajamas or his own yesterday's unwashed clothes. He was in desperate need of a tailor though; Oswald couldn't even find an undershirt among his sparse garments not lost with the sub. 

After that they were driving to the GCPD. Riddler behind the steering wheel, Oswald in the passenger seat with Edward in his lap. He refused to leave the poor creature alone again. Ed was dead set against the idea, and after long minutes of bickering, Oswald had to invoke his right to demand favor from their little game yesterday. It caused a long-suffering sigh and a grudging promise to keep the bulldog safe if Oswald couldn't. 

He was absentmindedly scratching behind the dog's ear and miserably failing to concentrate on Ed's explanation of every possible chemical reaction Scarecrow's fear toxin might have when mixed with nicotine, alcohol, heroin, acid and other destructive substances.

"I'd be thrilled to meet Mr. Crane someday. As fellow scientists, we could make an effective team. It'd be dandy to learn his insight on the inner workings of human's mind under the influence of his ingenious toxin," he sounded like a real mad scientist now. The only things missing are bloodied lab coat, cracked glasses, and unkempt long hair, Oswald thought and suppressed a giggle as he imagined it.

"Well, I don't know anything about chemical reactions behind his toxin, but I can assure you that it feels like your whole world has been narrowed down to only this one horrifying image before you. And you know you can't do anything to get away from it, no way to save yourself. So besides terror you also feel overwhelming hopelessness," Oswald vividly recalled that day in the Iceberg Lounge and shivered.

"Wow, you sound almost like you're speaking from experience."

"That's because I am. I've been personally  acquainted  with Mr. Crane's work."

"What? When did that happen? What did you see?" Oh, that was an uncomfortable topic.

"I was subjected to the Scarecrow's fear toxin during the opening night of the Iceberg Lounge. I saw some creepy distorted images, reality mixed with fears. It all was so disturbing that I actually sought refuge in the figure of Jim Gordon who stood nearby," a sidelong glance told Oswald that his friend was shocked and almost furious at that, which was surprising. He continued before being asked to elaborate on that shameful episode. "I was also drugged with an altered version of Mr. Crane's father's chemical as a part of Strange's 'therapy' during my first stay in Arkham. I learned about that part later."

Ed was silent and seemingly upset for some reason as he adjusted his glasses, gaze fixed on the road. Perhaps that wasn't what he anticipated to hear about Crane's 'fascinating' experiments. Oswald wondered  what  he was expecting in that case. 

"As for Jonathan himself, I had to work alongside him for a short amount of time. He was still a very young man, barely out of his teens. But already he was determined and very dangerous. Too easily influenced, though, like most young people. But loyal. I also heard he gathered quite formidable force after the bridges blew. His band had even raided the GCPD and the clinic, successfully, according to my informants. What I mean is I suggest you be careful when you contact the Scarecrow. If you still want to. He doesn't fool around."

"Neither am I," Riddler smirked. "But thank you  so much  for your concern, Oswald, I'm  sooo  flattered," he drawled, sarcasm dripping with each word and mocking grin splitting his face in half.

Oswald scoffed. "Oh do as you like, Riddler. But don't say I didn't warn you," Ed only snorted in response. "To be honest, when it comes to mad scientists, I prefer working with Victor Fries."

"Of course you do, Mr. Freeze is so much  cooler  after all," he looked awfully smug for that remark as he glanced at Oswald to gauge his reaction.

"Ice puns now, Ed? Really?" Oswald couldn't hold his eye-roll. 

"Hm, I bet he's a type of guy who gives the  cold shoulder  everyone at first," Ed was visibly struggling not to laugh. Oswald released a deep sigh. 

"Do you by any chance have a piece of advice on how to  break the ice  when I meet him?" Riddler's shoulders were shaking from suppressed giggling. How did Oswald manage to fall in love with this man-child, again? Oh, to hell with it!

"You know, I had some thoughts, but they just  slipped  my mind," he grumbled. There was a pause, and then Ed exploded with laughter, throwing his head back and almost steering them into a lamppost in the process. 

"I knew you had it in you!" he exclaimed between laughs. Oswald realized it was pathetic, but he couldn't help feeling proud of earning Riddler's praise. "That was  an ice  one, Penguin!" Now even Oswald couldn't hold back his laughter any longer. Dog Edward looked between the two cackling men, not understanding what the whole commotion is about. 

They were almost at the GCPD now. 

"Thank you, Ed, really," Oswald said after they stopped giggling. He felt so grateful to his friend for lighting the mood again.

"For what? Driving you and Edward around?" that sly devil.

"Now you're just fishing for compliments!" Oswald playfully chastised and continued more seriously, "For constantly making me feel better today. I even forgot about the pain and our destination for a few minutes."

"That's the least I can do," Ed echoed his words from yesterday. His tone was solemn; eyes fixed on the road. 

Oh. Was Ed still blaming himself for freezing at the sight of that grenade, for not jumping away? Oswald brushed his apologies away yesterday because they were completely unfounded, bordering on absurd even. He would jump on ten grenades if it meant his beloved friend was safe. It wasn't even a choice but rather an instinct. Oswald decided to do everything in his power to make Edward realize it wasn't his fault. 

But before he could say anything, the car came to a stop in front of the GCPD. People were shuffling around the entrance even at this ungodly hour: civilians, military, police officers, doctors. Seems like reunification has already begun as helicopters with help were arriving one after the other, bringing rations, medications, and specialists. 

Oswald wouldn't have made it without Ed saving him numerous times from bumping into people or objects due to his loss of depth perception as they made their way to the station through the crowd. This will require some getting used to. Learning to shoot with one eye probably will be like learning to shoot from scratch. But there's still hope that he might not lose his eye after all. For now, though, the only silver lining was Edward's steady hand, supporting and correcting his movements. 

They entered the building. The commotion inside was bordering on chaos. Oswald spotted Jim Gordon speaking with some military officials, presumably arrived from the mainland to help. Jim looked like he was about to drop dead on the spot but tried to mask his exhaustion with polite smiles and loud orders he was occasionally barking to his detectives, desperately trying to organize this chaos. Penguin decided it's better to leave Gordon to his devices for now; there'll be time to talk later. Besides, his head was throbbing with pain again, and all this noise didn't help. 

"Ed, you do know I'm still alive, don't you?" he joked when Ed led him to the morgue. The small room was empty. Oswald placed Edward on the floor; he had to carry the pet all the way from the car.

"I'm aware of the fact, yeah," Riddler sounded distracted as they found the Medical examiner's office empty as well. "Lee said to meet her in the GCPD, but I didn't see her in the bullpen. She'd better keep her word, or I-" 

"Or you'll what?  Stab  me?" Lee mocked as she emerged from the door behind them. 

"I was going to say 'shoot her in the head this time.' Hi, Lee," Ed grinned. 

"Hi, Ed. Oswald," she nodded politely and glided past them to the metal desk in the corner of the office to apply disinfectant and put on latex gloves. "Sit down, face the window." 

Oswald gave Edward's leash to Ed and sat on the chair. He tried his hardest not to flinch when Lee carefully pulled the gauze, and some dried blood was torn away with it, disturbing the wound. He released the shuddering breath he was holding when the bandage was removed entirely. 

Oswald couldn't help but notice the way Ed winced and averted his gaze at the sight of injury. He tried to hide it behind straightening his glasses, but Oswald saw right through it. Edward was obviously disgusted. As if the man needed more reasons to be repulsed by Penguin, he lamented silently. The Doc pulled out a small flashlight from her lab coat and directed it at his injured eye. He didn't see the light with it. 

"It's good you came here so soon. Hopefully, I'll be able to remove the remaining shrapnel shards without damaging surrounding tissue," her tone was clinical but not detached. "It'd be better if you were fully sedated during the procedure." 

"No!" he quickly refused. "Just give me some anesthetics." 

"Oswald, you'll be safe here. Maybe yo-" Ed tried to convince him to agree. He still didn't look at him, intently staring at the floor instead. 

No, Penguin wasn't going to give himself into the mercy of Dr. Thompkins so wholly. No way he would willingly subject himself to such a weakness. Being in pain is better than being helpless. 

"I'll be fine, Ed," he interrupted firmly. "I've had a bullet removed from my already hurting knee without any medication at all. Courtesy of  Jim Gordon ," he couldn't stop his accusing glare at said man's wife. She just shook her head and sighed in response. "I can bear a few stitches on my face with some strong painkillers. That's my final decision on the matter." 

"As you wish. You'll be drugged enough not to squirm too much," Lee smirked as she continued her inspection. Was that supposed to be reassuring or threatening? 

"From what I can see, the eyeball seems to be intact. But I can't be certain until the shards are removed. Also, it's too soon to make any predictions about the sight," Lee said and turned the flashlight off. "Pretty sure you'll be able to afford a prosthetic even in the worst-case scenario. I can recommend a doctor if that'll be needed," she tried to sound supportive, and Oswald was grateful for the attempt. 

Lee began gathering instruments on a plate next to the metal table covered with a white sheet. Ed was still staring at his own feet, long fingers fumbling with the leash. Penguin decided that now was his turn to lift his friend's spirits. 

"Well, prosthetic or not, I think I'd look  dashing  with a monocle," Oswald said in a light and almost dreamy tone. Ed only shrunk his shoulders even more, like he was trying to curl in on himself. 

"You totally would. Or you can go full pirate style, what with your leg and all," thankfully, Lee saw the real purpose behind Penguin's words and supported his endeavors with a joke. She was aware that sulking Ed could become a problem. Oswald glanced at the woman with gratitude. Maybe she wasn't that bad after all. 

"You are so right! I could even get myself a parrot! Teach him to command my employees. It would require a proper name though…" he pretended to mull it over, pleased to see that Ed slightly perked up with curiosity. 

"Oh, I know! I suppose I'll just call my parrot Penguin!" A small smile tugging at the corners of Edward's lips was a relief. That's better but still not enough. Oswald cringed internally but carried on.

"Now if only your husband turned a blind  eyepatch  on Penguin's crimes..." 

If there was a way to draw Ed out of his inner guilt trip, puns and wordplay were a good bet. Riddles would've worked undoubtedly, but Oswald couldn't think of one fitting the situation. This heinous pun clearly worked as the gorgeous man in green giggled and looked at Oswald with something akin to admiration and pride. 

"Where do you take a sick pirate ship?" Riddler asked with an enthusiastic grin, his back proudly straightened once more, dark eyes sparkling with mirth. There he is.

"To the  Dock, " Oswald and Lee groaned the answer in unison. They exchanged glances and shook their heads, resigned. Alright, saving her life was definitely not a bad decision.

"Correct!" Ed clapped his hands with glee and Oswald exhaled a light chuckle, unable to keep his fondness for the man contained. It was deeply satisfying to see his friend smile again.

"So,  Doc , how can I assist you?" he eagerly asked Lee and started to undo his jacket buttons. "I should go get a coat. And gloves. Oh, I can help you with stitches, or-" Riddler rambled, ready to jump into action. 

"Ed, calm down," Lee sharply turned to look at him. "I'd rather you left the room before we begin. I don't need your shaking hands or panicked babbling distracting me. Get the dog out of here and wait outside. This shouldn't take longer than an hour or two." 

Ed started to protest even as she was finishing. "How  dare  you doubt me. No, I must stay, assist you, I-". 

"Ed, I'm pretty sure Leslie won't kill me here, at least intentionally. And if she does, I'm confident you'll avenge me later." She rolled her eyes at that. "For now I need you to watch over Edward and let her do the job. That's why  you  brought me here, remember?" Oswald tried his best to sound gentle but firm. 

He didn't need Ed panicking and doing something irrational now. Then he remembered: "You said you wanted to see Mr. Fox here. Why don't you go find him in the meantime?"

Ed awkwardly shuffled in place and mumbled: "Okay. Go find Foxy, check. Alright. You're right, Oswald. 'Kay. I'll go. Find him. Talk to him. Ask him about-..." the man was obviously stalling and it was almost too adorable to handle. 

"Ed? Out.  Now !" Lee suddenly appeared threatening. Riddler glared at her defiantly but after a few moments scoffed and turned to move. He nodded at Oswald with a small reassuring smile, then left the room with the bulldog on the leash. 

Lee chuckled and shook her head. She hid her hair under a medical cap and was taking a surgical mask out of its sterile pack. "I never imagined I'd say that, but you two look surprisingly cute together," Oswald felt a blush creeping on his cheeks while she continued. "I'm glad he has someone who accepts him whole, even the Riddler. Everybody deserves to be happy no matter what some people may say."

"You make it sound like we're a couple or something," Oswald huffed a humorless chuckle as he began to removed his jacket, waistcoat, and tie. Doc stopped her movements and stared at him incredulously. 

"Are you  not ?" she seemed sincerely shocked.

Penguin scoffed, annoyance building slowly into anger. " Of course  we aren't! We're friends. I'm not a gorgeous woman who can just charm him. Especially now that he can't even look at my face without gagging," he felt a lump in his throat.

Why the hell was he telling her that? Damn doctors were always more comfortable to open up to. It was reckless and pathetic to show his vulnerability like that. He should've confided in Edward instead, canine one of course.

Lee sighed and shook her head. "Oswald, he doesn't get disgusted by the injuries. Ever. Yours doesn't even begin to compare to ones he'd seen here or in the Narrows. But you already know that. You simply don't want to believe that he's not repulsed but rather terrified for you. Ed cares for you, more than he would for a friend."

What can she possibly know about them? This is infuriating. 

"He's not interested in me like that. He doesn't love me and he never will," he practically snarled at the end, angrily hanging his clothes over the back of the chair. "And it's not like I want him to. I don't," Oswald added but it didn't sound convincing even to his own ears. And that just irritated him even more. 

She quirked an eyebrow at him. "You're kidding, right? You're both obviously smitten with each other. I can understand that Riddler might be a little slow when it comes to human interactions, but you're supposed to know what people think and feel." 

Oswald felt anger getting the better of him. What right does she have to tell him about Ed's feelings? After she used and almost killed the man he loves more than life itself! All too familiar rage boiled and threatened to burst out in the form of harsh words at best or sharp dagger at worst. 

Still, it would be most unwise to lash out at a person who's about to pull metal shards from your eye. He took a deep breath and mentally counted to ten to calm himself. "Look, I don't want to talk about that. Especially with you. No offense, but you're not exactly a relationship counselor. Particularly so when it comes to Edward."

"Fine," Doc raised her hands in surrendering gesture. "But I sincerely hope you both figure it out before it's too late. Not for your sake but for the city. You both are more stable when you have each other," Lee huffed a small chuckle. "Aren't we all," she muttered barely audible behind her surgical mask, more to herself than him. 

"Take your shirt off too if you don't want any blood on it. We don't have hospital gowns yet, you can wear this," Lee handed Oswald a plain white t-shirt. It was too big and hung loosely on his shoulders when he put it on. 

"Lie down on the table and try to relax. It'll hurt. A lot."

Oswald complied and watched as she pulled some thick substance in a syringe.

 

Chapter Text

Foxy wasn't there. Apparently, he went somewhere with Bruce Wayne, and nobody knew when he'd return. So now Ed stood staring out the window of the precinct, watching people running about their business outside, like agitated ants in a stirred anthill. 

In an attempt to find a distraction from his worrying thoughts, Edward started forming a mental checklist of things they'll need to do today, depending on Oswald's condition after the operation. Get food, possibly take rations brought from the mainland. Find a new hideout. The library will be reclaimed by the city soon enough, better to clear it out before the officials take everything. Maybe Van Dahl mansion wasn't destroyed during this year, so they can recover and plot there. Will Oswald agree to let Ed stay in his father's house again? Doubtful, considering how it ended the last time...

"Edwaaard! My cute little thing! You've been a good boy, I hope?" 

The hell?!  

He turned around to glare at Barbara Kean. She was stalking closer, shining a predatory grin, and carrying a bundle of blankets with her baby tucked inside. 

"Do you have a death wish?" Riddler growled in his most threatening low voice. 

"Ugh, I'm not talking to you, Nygma," she smirked mockingly and crouched to talk to the dog. "Hello there, Edward, you adorable baby-boy. Daddy's getting his face fixed and left you to suffer the company of this green grump, huh?" 

Oh, that again. Riddler almost forgot that he was not the only Edward here, the canine one now grumbling and panting happily under the woman's attention. Her cooing continued in a similar fashion for a few minutes. Ed sighed. No wonder Oswald had a soft spot for Barbara. Love to this drooling pooch seemed to be just another thing they both had in common. 

"So, were you a good boy, Eddie?" Barbara stood back up and snickered at his unimpressed eye-roll. "Guess I'll have to ask Ozzie about that. Is he still with Lee?" 

"Yes, for forty-seven minutes already." 

"Okay, we can wait, she's sleeping anyway," she gave the bundle a gentle shake. Then eyed Ed up and down, a crooked smirk playing on her lips. Oh, what now? 

"You don't look so hot. Didn't get much sleep last night, eh?" Correct, but Barbara didn't appear too well-rested herself; like pretty much everyone who got mixed up in defending this worthless hellhole. "I bet Pengy wore you out with 'the celebration'? That rascal, even a grenade to the face couldn't stop him from getting some," she winked at him and giggled. 

Ed furrowed his brows. He had a feeling she was insinuating something, but couldn't figure out what exactly. Somehow he knew he wouldn't like it. Barbara rolled her eyes at his lack of reaction. 

"Jeez, Nygma. I mean your no doubt wild sex to celebrate the victory, of course." 

The what?  

The what???  Riddler echoed.

"I-I'm… I don't… We didn't... You're wrong!" he sputtered, scandalized by her crude assumptions, and also taken aback by a few not exactly innocent images his quick mind and vivid imagination unhelpfully supplied after hearing about sex with Oswald.

"Ooh, seems like you're human, after all: look at that blush," Barbara cooed. Edward indeed felt his face burning, damned imagination. "It's okay, honey, no need to keep it a secret. Everyone knows already anyway."

"W-what? Knows? Everyone?" Ed felt like an idiot mumbling these questions and having absolutely no idea what's going on. He hated not knowing.

Barbara sighed. "About you and Ozzie, obviously. That you're an item now," she explained like it was a common fact.

"We-we're not an 'item' ! I don't know what you got into your little head and why, but you're wrong. We're friends," he bristled, outraged. With a sharp gesture, he nudged glasses upper on his nose.

Barbara stopped smirking and looked genuinely shocked. 

"Oh my God. You're serious," she shook her head in disbelief. "Really, Nygma? Friends ?" she spat the word like it offended her personally. "Can't believe I'm saying that, but I actually feel kinda bad for Pengy." 

"And why is that? I can be a good friend, you know."

"I highly doubt that, but it's not the reason. I mean being just friends with someone you love. It's hard, believe me, I know. Kinda like what I had with Tabby when that oaf Butch was around," she looked forlorn for a short moment. "Although our friendship had some benefits if you catch my drift," she winked at him, Ed frowned. 

"And you are wrong yet again, Barbara. That must be some kind of a record, I think," he smirked and continued solemnly. "Oswald doesn't love me. Not anymore." 

"Oh, for fuck's sake!" she rolled her eyes. "Are you telling me I have to spell it out for you? Again?

"You don't have to say anything because guess what? You're wrong ," Ed laughed in her face. 

Barbara shook her head. "No wonder Pengy is a walking ball of nerves: he has to tolerate you every day. Only the person head over heels in love can stand your presence for so long and not blow your skull off." 

"I told you already: he doesn't lo-" 

"Jeez, Nygma. Get your head out of your ass and look around for once," he opened his mouth to spit some sarcastic retort back, but Barbara continued quickly. "The guy drops everything and runs to you whenever either of you is in trouble. He saved not only your life but also your lady's, learned his lesson by the way, good for him. Named his doggie after you to kiss it and have an excuse to say 'I love you, Edward' every day," she did air quotes with one hand, holding baby bundle with the other. "He caught a fucking grenade for you, for crying out loud! What more proof do you need? And don't even get me started on how desperately he avoids talking about you when we hang out, and occasionally wipes away tears when he thinks I'm not looking. You know how sentimental he gets after a few drinks too many. I mean, I thought you just had a fight, and he didn't want to share, but now I know the real reason."

She paused for a bit, then chuckled: "Edward, you glanced at me and knew in a second that I was pregnant because I was 'glowing'  as you put it. How blind can you be towards a guy who clearly adores you so much? And not only in a platonic kind of way."

They stayed silent for a few minutes, both buried in their own thoughts. Riddler shook his head, still not convinced. 

"All of that, it doesn't mean anything; it's what a good friend would do. Oswald had so many opportunities to say he still loves me. But instead, he called us 'brothers', Barbara."

Her eyes widened, and she shook her head. "That poor feather-brain. How the hell did he manage to fall for a total idiot?" 

"How dare you-" 

"Oh, shut it already. Remind me, what happened the last time he told you he loved you, hmm?" 

Oh.

"I… um… I sh-shot him and… and dumped his body in the river…" he mumbled and lowered his gaze. Remembering that day was physically painful now. 

"Exactly. Now, be a good genius and guess why he might be cautious of doing it again." 

Edward was at a loss. Barbara couldn't be right, could she? But she sounds so confident, and she was right about those matters before. He was convinced that he had to earn Oswald's love again, but what if he already has it? 

She's just messing with us. Probably wants to get something out of it like last time.  Riddler warned.

But what does she have to gain? It's not like I have a reason to kill him now. Ed cringed at the memory. 

Don't be stupid. Barbara hates you, and she hates Ozzie even more for all that Tabitha shit. She wants you to mess up somehow and spoil everything with your sudden inappropriate confessions. Then he'll hate you. And you both will be an easy target, separated and alone.

That doesn't make sense. She-... 

Barbara clicked her tongue and rolled her eyes, "Just be a man and tell him you love him, jeez. 'Cause you obviously do." 

"How is that obvious to you?" He didn't even know it himself until last night. 

"Are you for real now? You mean besides the fact that you spent nine months building a submarine for him? Or the fact that you're constantly checking him out when he turns his back to you?" 

Ed felt his cheeks burn, "I do not-

"Oh, don't even try to deny it. Pengy has a fine butt, there's no shame in admiring the view, sweetie," she teased and snorted when Ed cringed in discomfort. "I swear to God, you both are like two horny teenagers: devour each other with your eyes but are too dumb or scared to approach and have some real deal. Your unresolved sexual tension is actually quite distracting, you know that?" she huffed a chuckle. 

Ed shook his head in disbelief. Her assumption about his feelings was correct, no matter how much he loathed to admit it. Still...

"To reach my height, you must stoop low. Betray a friend with killing blow. What am I?"

Barbara gave an exasperated eye-roll. It couldn't even begin to compete with Oswald's though. "No riddles, Nygma. Just say what you mean."

Riddler sighed with disappointment. Barbara wasn't stupid, but she didn't even try to solve the riddle or play along. Boring. "The answer is ambition, Barbara. What are you trying to achieve? What's in it for you?" 

She shrugged. "I can see why you could be suspicious. I haven't forgiven Penguin for Tabby, and I don't think I ever will. But forgiving and not actively trying to hurt are different things. You may choose not to believe me, but I actually want you two goofballs to have something true and good for once. I mean, I thought you were already together. Was mentally preparing myself to have a very steamy journey in sub with you two," Barbara smirked. 

Then sighed and continued earnestly, "I'm not plotting anything against any of you now, Edward. I have everything I need already, right here in my arms," she smiled at her sleeping child. 

So motherhood indeed does change a person. She seems so much softer than the vicious woman Riddler used to know. He's not sure how to feel about it yet. 

"I… I'll think about what you said, Barbara." 

"Well, don't take too long, smarty pants. From what I can see, you've lost plenty of chances already. Looks like Ozzie's really close to giving up on you if the 'brothers' drop is any indication." Ed frowned, that damn word, it's not what they are. 

Barbara continued musingly, "You know, Pengy might even take more drastic measures than that. Find someone to take his mind off of you, to preen his feathers and whatnot. Fly away to someone who would genuinely appreciate him." 

Barbara smirked and looked around, "There he is!" Ed followed her gaze. Oh, Gordon. The baby under the blankets began to stir. "Let's go say hi to your daddy, little princess," she turned to go.

"What belongs to you, but other people use it more than you?" Ed asked out of pure curiosity. And to take his mind away from disturbing images of Oswald kissing someone else, someone strong and smart and handsome, who understands him and has something in common with him. Riddler glared at Gordon again. Someone like him. Who shares Oswald's love for Gotham…

"Be a dear and translate it into human language."

Riddler sighed, "What's the baby's name?"

"Oh, how rude of me!" she turned to Ed again and tilted the baby so that he could see her face. "Please meet Barbara Lee Gordon!" she introduced cheerfully.

Ed huffed. "So you tease Oswald for naming his dog after me even though you called your daughter with your name?" 

Barbara laughed, "True that, Eddie. Notice how Ozzie and I named our young after people we love the most?" she winked at him and went to Gordon.

Ed huffed and looked at the dog sitting at his feet. So this is where all of Oswald's love confessions went now, huh? 

It's not the worst replacement for you, let's be honest, Eddie boy, Riddler snickered. 

For us both, you mean?  

He didn't name the dog Riddler, now did he?  Riddler's faint reflection in the window smirked. 

So, when are we going to get our hands on the pretty bird?  He clapped hands and grinned excitedly. 

Not yet. Even if Barbara is right and he does love me still, I'm not ready to tell him about my feelings right now. The timing must be perfect. 

True. Oswald must at least get out of that room in one piece.  

Ed suddenly felt short of breath from overwhelming anxiety. What if something went wrong? What if Lee decided it's better to let Oswald die on that table? What if Gordon asked her to get rid of the terror of Gotham? Lee shot Sofia — she is capable of killing Penguin.

He was a ball of panic and tried to pace around, but the bulldog soon slumped on the floor and refused to get up no matter how insistently Ed pulled him. No way in hell would he carry the smelly animal like Oswald usually does, so Ed was limited to walking in circles around him, muttering under his breath and staring at his feet as he strode. Three circles clockwise. Three circles counter-clockwise. Three circles clockwise. Three circles counter-clockwise… 

"So the dog Edward is walking you on the leash now?" Lee's lighthearted teasing didn't decrease his panic level. Ed ran to her, not paying attention to Edward's grumbling at the sudden pull of the leash. 

"How is he? Is it over? Is Oswald alive? What about his eye? Did you leave him alone in there? Is he unconscious? What did you do to him? " he assaulted the woman, rapidly spitting his hail of questions. Last one he tried to make sound threatening.

Lee raised her hands in surrendering gesture. "Oh my God, you both are gonna drive me crazy today," she shook her head. "He's fine. I removed all shrapnel." Ed breathed a sigh of relief. 

"It'll leave some scars but not too deep, nothing a good makeup can't fix. Thankfully the eyeball stayed intact; though it received severe damage from impact and heat. I can't predict if he will regain at least some sight in this eye. We'll have to wait and see how the healing progresses. The infection didn't develop yet but better safe than sorry, so I'm prescribing a course of antibiotics. Along with strong painkillers cause it'll hurt like a bitch for at least a few weeks. I'll tell the supply manager to give you all the needed medicine."

"Thank you, Lee. I mean it," he said earnestly. 

"Well, it's as you said yesterday. I did owe Cobblepot my life. Although you're probably the only reason he had me saved," she quirked an eyebrow at him pointedly. 

"So are you gonna try and tell me that Oswald and I are in love as well?" Riddler rolled his eyes. Barbara did say that 'everyone knew' after all. 

"As well, hm?" she smirked. "No, I'm not gonna tell you anything, Ed. You're smart enough to figure everything out on your own." 

Apparently not,  Riddler's spiteful laughter was deafening in his ears. 

"Is he awake? Can we leave now?" 

"He should be falling asleep in about twenty minutes. I just gave him a sedative to help with it."

"You did what? He specifically told you he would prefer pain over full sedation," Ed was beyond himself with anger. 

"Would you prefer him to scream in agony for the better half of a day?" she asked sternly. That lowered his rage but only a bit. 

"Why didn't you just sedate him straight away then? Did you enjoy his suffering?" It would be shocking to learn Lee was capable of intentionally torturing a person for no reason in particular, but the world now was even crazier than before. 

"What? That's nonsense, Ed. I'm still a doctor, you know," she huffed and crossed her arms over her chest defensively. 

After another offended glare, she explained, "Honestly, I underestimated the damage at first inspection. And later it proved to be more convenient to let him stay awake for the procedure. He didn't feel too much pain and certainly won't remember any of it after. But it's better if the effects of drugs wear off while he's unconscious. That he would definitely feel and remember otherwise. I'm not so cruel as to let him go through it while awake, homicidal Penguin or not. So no, Ed, I don't enjoy my patient's suffering. I'd let you take him now, but I'll need to check if everything's fine when he wakes."

Edward sighed, all anger gone under the sound logic in her words. "Alright, I didn't mean to offend you. I'll go see him while he's still awake," he rushed towards the M.E. office but was stopped by Lee' s firm grip on his arm. 

"Ed, it's better to let him rest for now. He's drugged out of his mind and doesn't know what he's saying. And he's saying a lot. More than I signed up to hear, actually," she frowned and released his arm. 

"What did he tell you?" he was curious now. 

Lee huffed, "It doesn't really matter, Ed. Everyone knows Penguin has issues; consider persuading him to go to a psychiatrist to sort through his rant about void swallowing us and such."

"I'm sure you're exaggerating," Riddler shrugged.

"I don't," she insisted, frowning. "Even under drugs, it's not entirely healthy for a man to claim that, I quote, he got ripped from his mother's breast by a wild cat and thrown from the edge of the world with a hole in his heart. This nonsense is better be dealt with professionally. Consider it free advice."

"It's not nonsense, Lee," Ed said with a deep sigh. "It's basically what happened."

She stared at him incredulously. "Huh, you really are two of a kind. Okay, go on, but I warned you. And leave the dog here." After his questioning look, she explained: "You don't want Penguin to jump down to cuddle him and fall and hurt himself in the process, do you?" 

Ed hesitated. He was responsible for the bulldog; he made a promise. Lee groaned in frustration. "Fine, give me the leash. I'll be with Barbara and watch over Edward. Come get him when you're done." 

"Alright, don't lose him or we're all dead," he was only half-joking as he passed her Edward's leash. 

Riddler made his way into the office-turned-operating room. He walked to the sight of his friend sitting on the edge of the autopsy table and staring intently at… the floor? 

Oswald's hands were gripping the edge of the table hard, crumpling the white sheet. He had a fresh bandage over his head, and was wearing a too-big white t-shirt of unknown origin; drops of blood drying on it, sharp collarbones sticking out from its loose neck. Penguin's face seemed even more pale than usual, dark circle under his downcast eye was so pronounced it resembled a bruise. He looked so small and lost, like a child who got separated from his parents in a theme park and doesn't know what to do. 

"Oswald?" he asked cautiously. Who knows what's going on in his drugged mind right now. 

"Edward! Real human Edward!" Oswald's grin was too wide to be natural. Even somewhat creepy because he was also crying as he lifted his head slightly and glanced at Ed. Dilated pupil of his eye almost entirely covered icy green iris. 

Penguin then frowned. "Oh no, you're not real. You're floating. The real Edward's with Edward now," he giggled. "Talking with hallucinations is more his forte, but I'll humor you, fake Ed. Hello!" he grinned even wider and waved his hand but then quickly braced the edge of his seat again, as if afraid to lose balance and fall. 

Ed decided against trying to explain he was real, no point in it: Oswald will fall asleep soon anyway. Come to think of it, no point in talking to him now at all; he was alive and well enough, and it's all that matters. However, Riddler couldn't deny it's a very curious and unique opportunity to glance at the inner workings of such a beautiful mind. So he decided to talk to his drugged friend and see what fascinating things he has to say. 

"Hello, Oswald. Why are you crying?" 

He huffed. "Why does anything exist? Why are humans so fallible? What is the purpose of death?"

Riddler was taken aback by those sudden questions. Then his eyes lit up. It was a puzzle! Seems like drugs weakened Oswald's rationality and for now he relies more on his abstract thinking. Which means he didn't need a straight answer to those questions; he was leading with them to something else. Ed could relate to this mindset. 

But why those themes? Creation, life, death. They were all deep philosophical questions that neither religion nor science could answer. Or maybe that was the point? Sometimes a simple solution is best.

"I don't know." 

"Exactly!" Oswald seemed relieved that Ed succeeded in understanding the meaning. He looked at the floor again, his knuckles white from the force of grip. "I don't know why I'm crying. I don't know if I should jump down. I don't know what will happen if I do," he sounded desperate, and more tears spilled from his healthy eye.

Edward knew the best way to keep him talking was to play along with his illusions, just like with patients in Arkham or drug addicts he sometimes encountered in the Narrows. But first, he needed to get into Penguin's world. "What do you see, Oswald?"

"You're gonna pretend you don't see it?" he released a dramatic sigh. "Fine. The edge of the world and endless void beyond. It has no color. Or all colors at once," he squinted at the floor before glancing at Ed. "You're floating above it, looks funny. What do you think, fake Ed? Should I jump?"

"Why would you want to jump?"

"There might be a second chance, even for me. I think," he frowned. "Or maybe it'll be even worse. Maybe it won't be anything at all."

"What's so bad in this world? What second chance do you want?"

"I lost everyone who loved me. I lost my chance of love, ruined everything. I just wanted not to feel so cold. But I'm alone now, nobody loves me and no one ever will," he sobbed, more teardrops staining white t-shirt.

"love you," Edward blurted out before he could stop himself. Oh dear. He really said it, didn't he? Oswald only shook his head and chuckled humorlessly. 

"Well, fake Ed, this joke of yours doesn't even make any sense. If you started liking men all of a sudden, you would've loved the light of righteous, your clever trickster. Not me. Never me."

Light, trickster? "Lucius Fox? And where did you get that idea?" Oswald only shrugged. Edward sighed, "Foxy is… Foxy. We can't even be normal friends: he's a good man and I'm not."

"No, you're not good. You're perfect," mellow look of pure adoration in his dazed eye. Feels nice to know Oswald still thinks highly of him. "Oh God, I do hope you really are a fake Ed. I'm not supposed to be telling you all that," he loudly whispered like sharing a poorly concealed secret. 

"Why not, Oswald?" this is getting more and more curious.

"Because you'll hate me again," he stated matter-of-factly and shrugged. Where did that come from? "And I won't even have a friend in this world then. But it's okay, don't worry, I won't tell you anything. Not you you. The real you." 

That quickly escalated from curious to unsettling. "Oswald, why would I hate you?"

He sighed deeply. "Because you don't love me and never will. You said so, many times. And showed, many times. You pierced my heart and gave yours to Maid Marian. Showed what you wanted. She's very nice and pretty. Very not me," he was staring at the floor again, and slightly tilting forward.

Ed realized he also had tears gathering in his eyes and a dull ache in his heart. Before now he didn't even comprehend just how much damage his mistakes inflicted on Oswald, how many deep scars he left on his best friend. Both physical and emotional. 

Seems like this particular wound was still fresh, scar tissue barely covering it. The wound Edward had made when he chose Lee over Oswald. Oh dear God, the way he acted back then! The betrayal. It was like he was actively trying to rub it in Oswald's face how much he didn't love him, didn't need him, how happy he was with someone else in spite of him. 

I'm sometimes white, and always wrong. Can break a heart and hurt the strong. I can build love and tear it down. I can make you smile, but usually bring frown. What am I?  Riddler asked angrily in his head.

A lie.  All of that was a lie Ed was desperately trying to believe in. But with his attempts to convince himself, he had hurt Oswald much more than he realized. Not only his lies were bought, but they also multiplied Oswald's already severe insecurities, broke his fragile heart all over again. 

What have I done?

"No wonder Lionheart loves her too," Oswald lamented after a short pause. "And all I have is a friend who secretly despises me and an almost friend who hates me openly," his chuckle was more like a sob. 

Does he honestly believe Ed despises him? Why? He was about to ask when Oswald continued, getting more and more distressed. 

"Well, at least I got to wear both of their t-shirts. It's everything a pathetic, despicable freak like me can ever hope to get," he spat angrily.

"Oswald, you're not a… Wait, you said both? Is this Gordon's t-shirt? The... Lionheart's?" Penguin nodded meekly. "How do you know?" Riddler almost growled.

The man actually had the audacity to giggle. "Silly fake Ed. It's so obvious. It smells like his aftershave. Like something with a ship on the bottle."

What the hell?!  

Why does Oswald know what Gordon's aftershave smells like?  

Edward's whole being protested against that horrible fact, which didn't make it any less real. How in God's name did that moron weasel his way back into Oswald's heart? That pig doesn't deserve even to be looked at by the magnificent creature that is the Penguin! Why after everything he did, after every backstabbing and humiliation, he still gets his damn aftershave recognized by Oswald? 

You're the one to talk. How many times has Oswald forgiven our betrayals?  

We deserve his kindness no more than Gordon. I can't believe I even compare us to him. But when it comes to Oswald, both Jim and I treated him like dirt. It should never be forgiven. 

Yet here we are, alive and friends again. He still cares for Gordon, that much is clear. They were often cooperating during the war, even after that scumbag shot Oswald's already injured leg.  

Riddler's rage against Gordon started to boil anew. He wanted to go and stab him a dozen times right now in the middle of Captain's beloved GCPD. To gouge his blue eyes with his bare hands. To rip out his 'lion heart' and feed it to actual lions. 

But instead, Edward took a deep breath, unclenched his fists and willed himself to concentrate on the only person who mattered at this moment.

"Oswald, that doesn't explain why you think I would hate you. What reason would I have?" Ed couldn't understand; he needed to know for sure. He had a nagging inkling in the back of his head. Does Oswald have something to hide like that time with Isabella's murder? Did he do something behind Riddler's back again? Better to find out now while he's drugged and compliant.

Oswald gave a vague shrug with one shoulder. "You'd hate me if you knew I still love you." 

Oh dear. He still…? But how? It's impossible! After everything... 

Ed instantly felt guilty for his previous suspicion. And even more guilty for pulling that confession from drugged out of his mind Oswald. It wasn't fair, using his weakened state like that, especially when his friend was so determined to keep that a secret. But there's no way back now. 

"You think I'd hate you for loving me? Why?" 

Oswald sighed. "You'd know just how pathetic I am for being unable to get over it. You're so good at dealing with your emotions. And I'm powerless to control mine. Real Ed would despise me even more if he knew. He was so disgusted…" his trembling voice trailed off. Oswald sat hunched, head hanging low, quietly sobbing occasionally. Probably reminiscing that day when Ed tricked him into confessing his love. Edward recalled it too. Oswald looked so relieved and happy that he wasn't alone in his affections. Only to have his hopes crushed and his heart broken.

"Oswald… I want you to know that I don't despise you. I'm in awe of you. And I wouldn't hate you for loving me, I never did." The man may not remember this conversation later, but hopefully, he'll remember the feeling of reassurance, of not being alone. 

Oswald looked at him with a glassy eye and smiled. "You're so nice, fake Ed. I almost envy the real Ed now; he gets to talk to a friend like you all the time. He's never alone," he sobbed and tilted his body forward even more. "One more reason why he wouldn't care if I jump. Nobody would. I think I'll take my chances."

With that, he let go of the table and dived forward. Edward lunged to his friend and barely managed to catch him mid-fall, only his feet hit the floor. He was holding Penguin's limp body with both arms now, no resistance from the man. Oswald looked up and met Ed's eyes. He had almost vacant expression now. 

"Huh, you feel pretty real for a fake Ed. Guess you two had that in common too," he huffed and then let his head drop on Edward's shoulder. 

Riddler had to admit he had no idea what that meant. He was great at keeping up with Oswald's metaphors so far. But that last remark was a riddle he had no answer to. Not yet, at least. 

What he did have was an armful of Penguin's limp body. Edward pulled him up easily enough and laid him down on the table. He looked at his friend's sleeping face and silently replayed the conversation they've just had.

Is this what Oswald truly thinks deep inside? That nobody, not even Edward, would care if he was gone? But he seems fine on the outside. Does Oswald even realize the depth of his suffering? Or is he that good at hiding his depression? Walking and talking every day, pretending he's alright when in fact he's crumbling and almost ready to fall over the edge. And to think how much of Oswald's deep-seated insecurities were put there by none other than Ed himself. 

Oswald was severely damaged, almost broken by all the betrayals and heartbreaks he had suffered. Under his meticulously created persona of ruthless Penguin hides a very fragile, sensitive and lonely person. Beneath the layers of his expensive suits, under all that battle armor beats a bleeding heart, all bruised and battered, barely held together by rough stitches.

Ed observed the sleeping man's face. It was sickly pale with dried tear stains on the left side. Closed eyelids were red from crying, which was especially noticeable because of his lack of eye makeup today. Light freckles weren't covered by concealer and added even more vulnerability and uncharacteristic innocence to his relaxed expression. 

Edward was overwhelmed with tender feelings towards his injured feathered friend. He straightened a strand of black hair on Oswald's forehead: it was uncomfortably stuck under the bandage. 

"I love you, Oswald. And I'm so sorry for everything I've put you through. God, I'm such an ignorant idiot. Please, Oswald, please don't leave me. You are  not  alone."

Ed could've lost him. Of course, Penguin would never commit suicide literally; he's too strong and stubborn for that. But there are other ways to escape the constant heartache. Giving up on love altogether is one of them. Oswald could shut everyone out, tear stitches on his heart, let it bleed out and die so it would never be hurt again. Kill Oswald Cobblepot part of him and leave only truly heartless Penguin. Like he tried to before.

Edward remembered the way Penguin gazed at him right before letting Freeze put him in a block of ice. Cold, sharp eyes, devoid of any softness he used to bestow on Ed at every glance before everything went wrong. Only hollow disappointment was left in them to pierce Edward's soul and witness his downfall. A gaze of two icicles that chilled Riddler's insides even before Victor aimed his gun. 

Still, Oswald found his way back to himself, he had managed to find love in him and gave it to Martin. By some miracle, he even still loved Edward as it turns out. But constant blows from fate and people around Oswald could destroy his heart forever. 

Maybe that would be for the best.  Riddler mused. He appeared on the opposite side of Oswald's 'bed', mirroring Ed. 

"No, his heart is not only his weakness. It fills him with passion for everything he does. From climbing the steps of power to love or hatred," he reasoned aloud. 

Yeah, a lot of good it did to him.  He huffed a humorless chuckle.  Oswald wears his heart on his sleeve, which makes it too easy to break. If we care for him, shouldn't we help him reveal this better, stronger version of himself? Like he did for us when he broke your heart.

"His actions helped to reveal you, but we both know neither of us is better off alone. I mean, you almost killed Oswald for the second time when you were on your own. And you were too reckless. Your overconfidence made you predictable: the great Riddler got captured by the Court and played like a fiddle first by your 'allies' and later by Penguin alone."

Riddler scowled.  Well, and you alone were just worthless, stupid, and weak. Had to depend on the likes of Doc or Grundy. No wonder Oswald named a dog after you!  He pointed forefinger at Ed's face.  Because that's exactly what you were for your 'Queen of the Narrows': performed tricks for her amusement, desperate for your mistress's approval. Worst of all, allowed yourself to be fooled by Lee, and even managed to drag me into your idiotic delusion about feelings for her. How utterly pathetic! 

Ed only nodded at that, Riddler was right. "Precisely my point. We need each other. We are at our best when we work together. Same with Oswald and Penguin. They're even more inseparable than us. They are one and the same person. A person that we love and have almost destroyed."

Oh, stop it with self-reproach already. You can feel bad all you want, but it won't give us the answer to what to do next with this new information.

"Well, that much I thought was obvious. Even though we're not worthy of it, Oswald still loves us by some miracle. We love him. We can just tell him and be together, at last."

Should we though?

"Whatever do you mean?"

I mean, you said it yourself, love is a weakness. And you've seen it firsthand, as did Ozzie. Do you really think it would be wise to weaken him and us like this intentionally?

"I… Well... No?.. But he's hurting; we need to help him, show him he's not alone."

And we shall, have no doubt. Ozzie has our friendship, loyalty, and trust. And I will never let you throw that away for some pesky book-worm again,  he added sharply.

It all seemed logical. But something still didn't feel right.

"But didn't you want him too?" 

Of course, I did. Still do. But love is a sacrifice, again your words. Shouldn't we sacrifice those desires for Oswald to let him stay strong, unencumbered? 

"I didn't expect to hear it from you. You're a man of whim, you always take what you want, no matter the cost to others. What's the catch here?" 

Riddler only scoffed.  Yes, I'm an egoist, and would never sacrifice anything for anyone. Anyone but him.  He sighed and looked at the sleeping man with softness in his usually distant, calculating eyes.  I want him safe more than I want to have him. 

Ed thought this over. Even though Riddler might as well play some of his games right now, it didn't diminish the truth of his words. Both Edward and Riddler had broken Oswald's heart on several occasions and would do it again, even unintentionally. It's what they do: hurt and kill people closest to them. Oswald deserved better. Ed sighed deeply. 

"… You're right. Oswald suffered more than enough already. I don't deserve to have him, not after everything. I have to let him go because I love him."

Riddler sighed as well.  Well, at least we're on the same page here. Don't cry, Eddie. He'll be fine. He'll be better off without love. As will we. 

Ed huffed a chuckle. "You've changed. Isn't it the first time you do something for anyone but yourself?" 

Riddler grinned.  Nothing's changed, Eddie-boy. I do it for myself. I can't allow us to succumb to that weakness again. Besides, unlike you, I'm not as delusional as to think we won't cause the death of our fourth lover. As I told you, I want him safe. And I do what I want, as always.  He winked smugly and disappeared. 

Edward wiped away tears from his eyes. He leaned down and pressed his lips to Oswald's warm forehead for a few long moments. 

"I love you, Ozzie. And I promise to do everything in my power to protect you. At least from myself," he stroked sleeping man's cheek one last time. "I'll see you soon, my feathered friend." 

He left the room and went to find Lee and get Edward. He found them in his old lab, Barbara with the baby also here. The women were crooning over the child, apparently having just finished taking her measurements. 

"Oh, Edward, your human is here," Barbara chirped when she saw him approach. Riddler didn't dignify it with a retort and just took the dog's leash. 

"So, did he say anything coherent, Ed?" Lee inquired. 

"Yes, he's been perfectly clear except some easily understandable metaphors. I don't see how you could have a problem keeping up." 

"Maybe he just didn't mind you understanding him; you seem to be the only one he trusts," Lee shrugged. "Please tell me you didn't use your friend's drugged state to withdraw some information he wouldn't tell you otherwise?" she frowned. 

Ed felt another pang of guilt, and it must've shown on his face because Barbara grinned at him. 

"He sure did, such a naughty boy. So, what secrets did Pengy whisper to you? Did he tell how much he still loves you and you confessed your feelings too? Knowing he won't remember it. How cruel of you, Eddie." 

Were they both really so easy to read? That Barbara and Lee, who were not even their friends, saw right through them. It could be problematic. Edward felt anger starting to ignite inside of him.

"Are you actually that feeble-minded as to assume I'll tell you anything? And stop it with the whole 'love' nonsense. Oswald and I are friends. That's it." 

An incredulous look from Barbara and a sympathetic one from Lee irritated him even more. 

Lee sighed. "I have no clue why you both are being so stubborn. And honestly, it's not my business. But please try to get a hold on the situation. The last thing Gotham needs right now is two dangerous criminals waging war on each other again because they couldn't admit their feelings."

Riddler scoffed. "We'll do what we want. And I don't remember asking for relationship advice from either of you. You were right about one thing though: all of that is not your business. So stay out of it, both of you. For your own good." 

"Jeez, Nygma, take it easy. Believe me, nobody here wants to get mixed up in your boyfriend drama again," Barbara gave an exaggerated eye-roll. "Do take care of Edward though. I'd rather not listen to Ozzie whine after he kills you for losing his lovely puppy," she turned back to wrap her baby in blankets. 

Ed could only shake his head at that. "I'd better go back; he's a much better company, even in his sleep. How long till he wakes, Lee?"

"You don't have to stay and wait, Ed. He's under my protection here. And Jim's. Nobody will even try to come close, I promise you. I'll even leave him my office and won't move him to other patients as a bonus favor."

"Forgive me if I find it hard to believe. I can count at least twenty-four people in this building personally interested in seeing him dead. Your husband is the top three on that list. She's the top one," he pointed at Barbara, who just huffed. 

"Are you kidding? Jim had plenty of chances to get rid of Penguin and the other way around. Same with Barbara. But here we are, saving each other's lives left and right. I owe him my life, and I would prefer to repay that debt now rather than later." Lee glanced at her watch. "He'll be out for at least twelve hours if I assess his physical condition correctly. I'm pretty sure you have more important things to do. I'd suggest getting the rations; they've just arrived. You both seem to be half-starving, and you know your friend needs the energy to recover faster. Or you can go and get some sleep yourself; you look like a ghost," she eyed him up and down.

Edward still wasn't convinced. He glanced at the bulldog at his feet, almost hoping to get some advice from the pet. The only answer was panting and drooling. Wonderful. 

Lee sighed. "Look, do what you want, Ed, I'm not stopping you. But believe me when I say that I do realize you can be a dangerous enemy if you have a reason for revenge. It would be extremely stupid of me to provide you with that reason, wouldn't it?" she smirked and turned back to assist Barbara with the baby.

Ed contemplated her words and found them logical enough. Lee is far from stupid; she wouldn't kill Oswald or let others do it in such a blatant fashion. He decided to do something productive with this time.

Before he left the room, he noticed the two women speaking to each other in hushed voices and giggling like two schoolgirls over a new gossip. 

Since when those two are besties?  Riddler wondered as he was walking through the bullpen towards the exit.

Giving birth to a child in the middle of a warzone seems to be a particularly efficient bonding experience.

That, or sleeping with his holiness Jim Gordon gave them some common ground. Perhaps some poses to discuss or even some fantasies since all three of them get along so well now. 

That is disgusting. Did you absolutely  have to paint that picture in my brain?

Gotta use all I can to cover up other images you've conjured. You know, about Ozzie and us…

I know, shut up. Better stop thinking about it altogether.

Precisely, Eddie, well done. You're not totally dumb sometimes, eh?  Riddler cackled. 

Let's just focus on our task, shall we?

He did. The day flew by almost without Ed noticing it. Before he knew it, ten hours had passed since Oswald fell asleep. Lee said he'd be out for at least twelve, but Ed wanted to be there when his friend wakes up. It'll take an hour to get back to the station. He sat Edward in the back of the car and started the engine.

 

Chapter Text

When Riddler entered the GCPD building once more, he couldn't find any familiar face at first. The place was still jammed with the military, doctors, and lots of civilians looking for shelter or medical attention. Apparently, they've crawled out from every little hole of the ravaged city now, not only from the Green zone and its surroundings. Finally, he spotted Lee in the crowd; she was finishing wrapping a bandage over some guy's arm. Edward approached the woman.

"Lee. Is Oswald alright? I decided to come earlier."

She turned to him; a severe lack of rest and food evident in her exhausted face. "Good thing you did. He turned out to be much tougher than I anticipated and had already woken up more than half an hour ago."

"What? Where is he now?" Ed was devastated about letting his best friend down again. He failed to even be there for him in this hard time.

"Exactly where you left him. He was still dizzy from sedation when he started one of his tantrums about being put to sleep against his will. I did a checkup and let him stay there to be mad at me alone. I think I saw Jim on his way there some time ago though, so Penguin is probably even more pissed off now," she shrugged to indicate her utter lack of concern for Penguin's mood.

"You left him alone with Gordon?!"

Lee quirked an eyebrow at him. "Why not? I trust that my husband won't slaughter an unarmed, injured man, even though he probably wants to."

Riddler was fuming with fury as he stormed in the direction of the M.E. office. He knew he shouldn't have trusted Lee. How could he leave Oswald all vulnerable and helpless in the building full of their enemies? And now he's alone with that bastard, doing God knows what for almost half an hour already! What was Ed thinking?! 

He burst through the door and froze in place. He was expecting to see two corpses and blood splashed all over the walls in a worst-case scenario. Or at least witness loud shouts, and items being thrown around by his furious feathered friend. Somehow what he saw instead was even worse than anything he had imagined. 

Oswald was in a similar position to what he had found him earlier right after the operation — sitting on the table with disheveled hair and a bandage over his eye. Gordon's white t-shirt hanging loosely on Penguin's thin shoulders still did not cover his pale neck and elegantly shaped collarbones. Legs dangling over the edge of his seat didn't reach the floor, and hands rested calmly on his lap. 

Worst of all, Oswald was beaming at the policeman standing in front of him. He looked absolutely relaxed and comfortable. Gordon was towering over him with his broad frame and military posture and smiling back at Penguin. 

What the hell is going on here?!  

"... I'm sure you will, Jim. Good luck with that," Oswald chirped as he was looking up and shamelessly batting his long eyelashes at the bastard. They both didn't even spare a glance in Ed's direction!

Riddler cleared throat pointedly to get their attention and stop this madness. 

"Hey, Ed, didn't expect you to come earlier. And you brought Edward, thank you! How are you, my beautiful boy?" Oswald grinned even wider when he saw his puppy yawning and slouching lazily next to Riddler's feet. 

Gordon's smile faded as he looked at Ed. "Nygma, you came back."

"Great job stating the obvious, Jimbo. Did you think I would leave Oswald alone in your company for too long?" Riddler bristled. He didn't even care how possessive or unreasonably riled up he sounded. 

Gordon raised his eyebrows and sighed. "I'll leave you two. Get well, Oswald," he patted Penguin's shoulder in a friendly manner. 

Too friendly for my liking. How dare he see Penguin in such a vulnerable state. And wearing his t-shirt! We should just kill him right now.  Riddler suggested spitefully. 

Ed ached to oblige but resisted the urge and allowed Jim to walk past him to the door freely, killing the cop with his glare instead. Oswald watched the scene with bewilderment and seemed at a loss, tilting his head adorably, akin to a real bird with sleep-ruffled black feathers. And that pig observed and touched Riddler's soft bird like he had any right to!

"Leaving us alone is what you do best!" Riddler spat before the door closed after Gordon. Blinding fury still overwhelmed him each time he recalled every worthless GCPD swine leaving injured Oswald to die yesterday.

Edward willed himself to take a deep breath and calm down. The feeling was too much like when he saw that lunatic with the dummy Penn straddling Penguin shamelessly. If Gordon stayed here for a few more minutes, Riddler might've just slaughtered him. Consequences be damned. 

We'll let him live for now. We just won't let him get close to Oswald. 

We sure as hell won't. We need to keep Ozzie safe exactly from people like Gordon, who would use him and throw him away with a broken heart. 

Ed sighed. Yes, Oswald may never be ours, but that doesn't mean we'll let just anyone have him. 

Nobody will have him at all. 

Now that's just mean. Oswald deserves to be happy and openly loved. 

He can be happy without love. He has our friendship; he's not alone.  

Let's agree to disagree. I'm not gonna stay in the way of his feelings if they are towards someone worthy of it. 

And who would that be? Ed could hear venom dripping from Riddler's tongue. 

Nobody, not yet. He might meet someone. 

And that someone would still be not worthy. I won't let some pesky nincompoop take my Penguin. I'd rather kill them all for his own good like he killed that librarian for us.

"Shut up…" Ed muttered under his breath. 

Oswald squinted at him with concern. 

"Ed? Is everything alright?" he asked carefully. 

"Right as rain," Ed shook his head and smiled with what he hoped looked like reassurance. "Sorry I wasn't here when you woke up."

"It's quite alright, you're here now, and that's what matters," Oswald shrugged and carefully got down from the table. Ed resisted the urge to support the bird when he staggered a little on unsteady legs. "Jim kept me company after Lee lost her patience," he huffed a chuckle. 

"You seem to have enjoyed that company quite a lot. What did you two talk about?" Riddler demanded, adjusting his glasses sharply. 

Oswald glanced at him incredulously and quirked an eyebrow. After a few moments, he decided to answer. 

"This and that. I tried to negotiate our full pardon, not sure if it worked yet. Then we moved on to other things like rebuilding the city and all," he furrowed his brows. "Why are you so disgruntled? What happened?" 

"Nothing," Ed answered quickly. Oswald didn't seem convinced but thankfully didn't pry further. Ed wouldn't know how to explain that display of jealousy and possessiveness without giving up his true feelings. And that's simply not an option. 

"How are you feeling? Ready to leave?" he changed the topic before silence got awkward. 

"Yes, I'm good enough. Just let me change back to my clothes," Oswald said and started to tug the bloodied t-shirt over his head. 

Ed watched how Oswald's narrow waist and flat stomach became visible inch by inch. Gradually his eyes studied Penguin's protruding ribs and light-brown nipples on hairless chest. Edward took in all the scars scattered all over the thin pale body. His gaze stopped on one in the top of Oswald's abdomen, mere inches below where his heart is beating. The scar Ed's bullet left. It was big and rugged; the wound hadn't even been stitched properly by whoever helped Penguin survive. Ivy, was it? The scar tissue wasn't the natural whitish color either; instead, it had a light-green hint to it, not too stark but noticeable on the surrounding smooth white skin. Breathing suddenly became difficult for Ed because of unbearable tightness in his chest from memories of that fateful day, and the weight of guilt they brought back to the surface. 

He was drawn from regretful thoughts by Oswald clearing his throat softly. Ed felt a blush spreading on his face as he realized he'd been staring at his friend's naked upper body for a while despite the plain fact that he was supposed to leave the room or at least turn away to give Oswald some privacy. 

Edward felt embarrassed like a kid caught watching grown-ups kiss. He was looking for some way to fix this awkwardness but got saved by Oswald turning around to pick up his shirt. At the last moment, Ed noticed his friend's face was a bit redder than usual. 

Ed knew he should look away, but he couldn't. Oswald's back was also riddled with scars. Before his friend put his silky white shirt on, Ed noticed there was no scar from the exit wound of his shot. So the bullet got stuck inside this delicate body and had to be dug out by a person clearly without any medical knowledge and probably without proper equipment. Edward felt bile rising in his throat as he imagined the amount of pain his dear friend had to suffer because of him. 

"Did… Did it hurt too much?" he asked, voice weak and barely above a whisper. 

Oswald turned back to face Ed. He finished buttoning the shirt and began fastening his tie. 

"I'm not sure, to be honest. Thankfully, I don't remember much at all; Lee gave me a powerful dose," Ed was actually relieved that Oswald misunderstood his question. "I also had some weird hallucinations to distract me." 

Oh, crud.  

Ed's heart dropped. What if Oswald remembers their conversation? What if he finds out how Ed dishonorably pulled his drug-induced confession out of him? 

"What do you remember seeing?" he tried to keep his tone steady. 

"Not much at all. Everything's like a distant bad dream. Just separate odd images, nothing makes sense, and it's probably for the best." Ed released the breath he was holding. Oswald chuckled, "I think I saw Maid Marian from the old Robin Hood series my mother and I used to watch on TV." 

Ed huffed a laugh, "Yeah, that is weird." He decided not to mention it was Lee who got turned into a fictional character by his friend's drugged mind. 

Oswald put his waistcoat and jacket on. When he was done with buttons and cufflinks, he straightened his clothes and fixed his hair as well as he could without a mirror. 

"I suppose I'll go talk to Jim and demand some rations for us. Don't know about you, Ed, but I'm famished. And Edward hadn't eaten proper food for months." 

"By proper food for Edward you mean some grade-A stakes?" 

"Of course, at least that," Oswald nodded with absolute seriousness. He picked the dog from the floor and kissed the top of its plushy head. 

Ed huffed a chuckle. "Well, sorry to disappoint Edward, but he'll have to wait a bit for that kind of treats. But guess what? You don't need to ask Gordon for anything. Let's just get out of here," he winked and went back through the door confidently. Oswald followed closely behind with bulldog in his arms. 

"You procured us some food?" he asked, voice full of hope. 

"I didn't leave you here alone for no reason, Oswald. I'm still surprised you're not mad at me for that." They were walking side by side now, with Ed subtly correcting Oswald's movements lest he bumped into something or someone. 

Penguin huffed. "Well, I was when I woke up. Not anymore. Where are we going?" he asked when they got out of the precinct and into the crowded street. 

"It's a surprise!" Ed said with a grin and opened the car door for Oswald still carrying Edward in his arms. 

"I'm not a fan of surprises," Penguin muttered. 

"It's a good one, I promise." 

Oswald sighed and offered a weak smile. "Fine, I suppose. If it leads to some food, you can take me anywhere, my friend." 

They drove in comfortable silence. Not even ten minutes into the drive Oswald nodded off; bulldog in his lap did the same. Ed's lips stretched into a smile against his will whenever he glanced at the peaceful picture. He almost wished he didn't have to wake them up when he parked the car. Alas, the bird is still hungry, so Ed called him quietly and patted his arm. 

"Hm? We there already?" Oswald rubbed his eye, looked around, and squinted at Ed with suspicion. 

"Ed? Why did you bring us to the mansion? Sorry to disappoint, but it was probably dismantled completely during this year. I didn't have a chance to protect it," he said with a sigh. 

Edward got out of the car and opened the door for Oswald. "It was looted, but thankfully it's far enough from the city and wasn't in too bad shape." 

"You were right, Ed, I'm starting to like this surprise," Oswald said as they walked to the front door of the Van Dahl mansion. His limp was more pronounced than usual, and he didn't hold Edward anymore, leading him by the leash instead. 

"Welcome back home," Ed announced as he gracefully opened the door for them. 

Oswald's bright smile was worth every effort, his amused chuckle echoing in Ed's raised heartbeat. However, that smile faded when they both heard an unmistakable click of a shotgun. They turned to the sound and were faced with a suspicious-looking Olga aiming at their faces. She lowered the gun as soon as she recognized the intruders. 

"Olga?" Oswald seemed to be relieved and irritated simultaneously. "What are you doing here? Do you even know how to use that thing?" he pointed at the shotgun. 

"Nyet," Olga's voice was stern as always. "Door lock not working. He call and I go help clean house," she nodded at Ed. 

Oswald was speechless, just stared from her to Ed in bewilderment. Ed smiled and softly nudged him forward. 

"Come see for yourself: the mansion is in good enough state. There was a dead body right at the entrance. Presumably, it kept the most nervous looters from trespassing." 

Olga left in the direction of the kitchen, muttering something in Russian. 

The living room was filled with warmth and light from the big fireplace, flames lazily licking at the wood. The couch and armchairs were covered with clean blankets; it'll have to do until they're replaced or thoroughly cleaned. Some chairs were broken, and debris placed next to the wall for later use as firewood. The floors were cleaned, and all cobwebs removed from the corners. The chemical scent of cleaning products was prominent but not unpleasant. 

Oswald let Edward from his leash, and the dog waddled straight to the heap of blankets Ed had prepared for him next to the hearth. Oswald beamed happily at the adorable scene of bulldog sniffing it a few times and collapsing into the soft bed. Again, totally worth it. 

They stopped in the library. Luckily, most of Oswald's father's collection of books had survived. Most furniture didn't, but it will be relatively easy to replace. A lot of books were stacked on the floor, their bookshelves destroyed by whoever raided the place. The room was softly illuminated by a few candles and the fireplace a bit smaller than one in the living room. 

"I… I don't know how to thank you, Ed," Oswald murmured as he noted that all of his ancestor's portraits remained intact if a bit dusty. 

"A simple 'thank you' will suffice," Ed smiled, warmth coiling in his chest. 

"Thank you, Edward. It means so much to me," he said earnestly. His voice was quiet, almost a whisper. 

Ed was overwhelmed with the irresistible urge to come closer and hug this adorable bird. He stepped forward, entranced by the lights dancing in the green ocean of Oswald's eye. The man stared at Ed, seeming equally captivated by the shifted air between them. He was looking at Edward with the same open adoration and honest unveiled emotions like he did on that couch in the living room all that time ago, after the Butch incident. For a moment, Ed thought he could taste the ginger and honey on his tongue, scent Oswald's rich cologne enveloping him in a cocoon of safety, hear the soft shuffling of hand-crafted dressing gown Oswald tucked him into, and feel solid warmth of his friend's body embracing him in more ways than just physical. 

Both men seemed to hold their breath, trying not to ruin this fragile tether created by their eyes, which was drawing them closer, closer, closer. So close now that Ed could feel Oswald's warm breath on his chin and neck. Very slowly he lifted his hands, ghosting them over his friend's lower arms, nearly touching but not quite sure if he should, or could. His gaze shifted from the magical pale green eye to the smooth pink lips. They were slightly parted, so soft and inviting...

"Uzhin gotov!" Olga's sharp voice from the hall made them jump from each other, literally. Both men looked startled; their bubble burst suddenly. Their eyes met, and both looked away instantly like they got burned.

Ed took a deep breath, straightened his back, and suggested with a polite smile. "Let's go eat, Oswald. You can check upstairs later; it's supposed to be a bit better than here. The stairs were blocked, no idea why." 

Oswald only nodded and went in front of him. 

Do you realize we almost kissed him just now?  

No shit, Sherlock. You should write Olga a thank you note for stopping that disaster from happening.  

Why didn't you stop it?  Ed barely kept himself from screaming it aloud. 

Simple: I didn't want to.  Ed didn't see Riddler's image, but he could hear him grinning.  The bird looked too alluring, those smooth lips, feather hair, delicate white neck… God... 

I thought we agreed to keep our feelings secret, be just a friend to Oswald. In fact,  you insisted on it. What were you thinking?! 

Well, it's like you said — I'm a man of whim and do what I want. And back there I wanted to kiss Ozzie. Simple as that. It didn't need to be anything more than just a kiss, no feelings besides physical.  

For you, perhaps. But not for Oswald, and you know it. I don't want to lead him on.

Oooh look at you, all fluent in human feelings all of a sudden, are you, Eddie boy?  Followed by his loud cackling.  Fine, do as you like. But don't count on me stopping you from getting our hands on the sweet hot birdie. 

I'll handle it. I don't deserve him; it must never happen again.  

They reached the dining room. The table was already set for two. The setting was ridiculously poor compared to what they were used to before. The main — and only — course was chicken noodles with toasts. They didn't even have vegetables for a proper dish, and it wasn't real chicken but a set of chicken-flavored condiments. Nevertheless, Oswald's stomach grumbled a little as they sat and breathed in the best Olga could make with severely limited ingredients. 

Instead of the usual silverware they had to use plastic cutlery, everything remotely valuable had been stolen during the year. However, neither of the men minded as both started to devour the contents of their plates ravenously. They didn't even speak until initial hunger was sated and they could finish the rest at a slower pace. 

"I have no idea how you managed to find Olga and persuade her to come here, but I'm so glad you did," Oswald sighed with a sated smile. He told Ed some time ago that Olga had fled the City hall when Penguin was taken by military and police.

"Finding her wasn't hard: she was among other refugees. Persuading… Well, let's just say that I now know at least a few more swear words in Russian. Namely 'idi nahui' and 'mudak'," Ed frowned. That was not a pleasant conversation he had with the woman today. Even less pleasant drive to the mansion in awkward heavy silence under her accusing glares. She appeared to still hold a grudge on him for betraying Oswald and everything after that. Ed couldn't blame her.

Oswald laughed. "I often used to be a target of those and other words during the short time I spent working with the Russian mob back in the days. I'm sure Olga didn't mean it though. She was just being careful." 

"Sure, no hard feelings. Especially since it only took me mentioning your name to get her reluctant attention." 

"Olga is loyal and too stubborn to let others define her opinion. You were wise to call her; we'll need people we can trust aside from each other." 

Ed was pleased to hear another confirmation that he was trusted. Well, now seems to be as good a time as ever for the hard question. 

"Oswald, there is something I've been meaning to ask you..." Ed hesitated, not sure how to choose the most polite and appropriate words for his request. 

"Alright, Ed, I'm listening," Oswald didn't seem to notice the uncertainty as he finished his remaining food. Edward sighed; here goes nothing. 

"Uhm... I was wondering if you would be amenable to allow me to... well, to stay here for a while," he muttered, trying to keep his tone steady, his gaze locked on the knot of Penguin's tie, not daring to try direct eye contact. Oswald furrowed his brows and stared at Ed with profound confusion. 

Oh no, he's gonna make me leave! Of course, he is! He might love me still, but I don't deserve this place anymore; I ruined every good memory we had here, stained everything with Oswald's blood... 

"I mean not for long, of course, just until I find some hideout instead of the library since it…" his rattling trailed off because Oswald started to giggle. 

"You're joking, right?" it was Ed's turn to furrow brows and tilt his head questioningly, finally daring to meet his gaze. "Oh, God, you are serious." 

Oswald stopped smiling and put his plastic cutlery down. He turned fully to face Ed and spoke, not breaking eye contact. 

"Edward, you don't ever need to ask that. My home is your home. And not just for a while. For as long as you want to stay, I'll be delighted to share it with you," he emphasized by patting Ed's hand gently. The touch was short, but it warmed Edward's heart almost as much as Oswald's words did. "You always have a home here with me." 

Home. 

Ed felt a shiver running through his spine, leaving goosebumps in its wake. The feeling then settled as a pleasant warmth in his stomach that had absolutely nothing to do with the food he ate minutes ago. 

Oswald has just said that Ed has a home. He was definitely not talking about just this mansion: even Edward, with his lacking skill of reading people, could see as much.

Come to think of it, he never actually had a place he could confidently consider home before. Not really. 

Certainly not during his childhood. His parent's house was even less of a home than a local library he used to sneak into at night. It was everything opposite to what a home should be. It was dangerous, lonely, suffocating. 

The loft on Grundy Street with a green neon sign outside was just a place to sleep and work on side projects. He rented it since he entered Gotham University and up until the point when he went to Arkham. The place started to resemble a home only when the wounded bird was living there, recovering from his injuries. Waiting for Ed in the evenings and pestering him with phone calls during the days. But that time was cut too short, and Oswald had been a rather insufferable roommate, albeit pretty endearing at times. 

He was a perfect host, though. Oswald did everything possible to make Edward feel at home in this mansion during the mayoral campaign and after. And Ed did. At first, he couldn't help but feel like he was intruding in this big old house with luxurious rooms, especially in contrast to cold Arkham devoid of any personal space. But Oswald had been so considerate, that it didn't take Ed long to relax and feel like he belonged there. It felt like home. All their meals and evenings spent together in friendly conversations and planning the future of the city. On some days he couldn't wait to get back home, to see his dear friend in an informal setting outside of their offices in the City hall. That was before he met Isabella. Before that one week had destroyed his home and friendship. 

Narrows never felt like home. Try as he might, Edward couldn't see the exact reason why. It wasn't the poor conditions. It wasn't even the people there: alcoholics, junkies, cheap prostitutes, thieves. All of them would gladly slit the throat of anyone if it meant getting some cash for another dose. Not the most pleasant company but they were outside of his one-room apartment. It was the emptiness he felt inside of it. Lee couldn't ever compare to Oswald in terms of being a fitting company for Ed. Yes, she was witty and funny and gorgeous, but something was amiss. 

He didn't see it back then. Couldn't allow himself to see it. He can see it now and be honest about it. 

Oswald was his home. 

Only in his company Ed could be himself and not be alone. He felt safe and loved with this man. That's what home was for Edward. And Oswald has just promised to provide a sanctuary for him whenever he needs it. It was somehow even more significant than a love confession to Ed. More sacred and more intimate. 

There was no way Ed could ever put into words all the spectrum of emotions he was experiencing. At the very least, he had to try and show it with action. Riddler put down his cutlery, slowly rose from his chair, and stepped closer to his stunned friend. Not paying attention to Oswald's gasp of surprise, Ed leaned down and wrapped him in his arms. 

"Thank you, Oswald," he quietly rasped in soft feathery hair. 

After a moment, Oswald relaxed in his embrace and returned the hug. 

"You're always welcome, my friend," he murmured back. 

Edward subtly wiped a tear that escaped his eye before pulling back. It wouldn't do for the great Riddler to show any more weakness than he already had, even though Oswald was the only person Ed trusted enough for that. 

Still, he straightened his back and asked with a bright smile: "I take you by night, by day take you back. None suffer to have me but do from my lack. What am I?" 

Oswald hummed and found the answer quite quickly. "Sleep! And you're absolutely right, Edward. This was a hard day, for you especially since yours began yesterday morning. You should get some proper rest for once. Feel free to claim your old room here. Or any other, if you wish." 

"The old one would be perfect."

Oswald rose up, and they went towards the stairs, leaving empty plates for Olga to clean. 

"I'm not sure what state your bedroom is in. Olga wouldn't let me in there to help. I think she hates me even more nowadays," Ed frowned.

"I'm surprised she let you help her at all. She's usually very territorial about her work." 

"Guess she didn't have much of a choice: there wasn't enough time to clean the whole mansion alone. And I spent a lot of it disposing of the body." 

They entered the master bedroom. It was surprisingly intact, almost untouched by the looters. The only signs of invasion being a broken chair and a broken mirror on the nightstand. The bed was freshly made with a fluffy indigo duvet covering it, and the array of candles softly lit the room in lieu of electricity. No cobwebs or dust anywhere. 

"She did an excellent job, I'm impressed," Ed had to admit. 

"Only the best work for me for so long and survive," Oswald agreed smugly. "Let's go see if your room is in proper condition."

"Doubt it. I can take the couch; it's not a big deal." 

They entered his old room, and Ed froze on the spot, shocked. The place was cleaned as thoroughly as the master bedroom. Flames of candles danced slowly, reflecting subtly on the silky green covers of the freshly prepared bed. 

Oswald chuckled at his dumbfounded expression. "See? She doesn't actually hate you. And nobody in this house even thought of a possibility that I might deny you and turn you away," he huffed, shaking his head.

"Huh," was all Ed could say right now. 

When Oswald started to turn to leave, he remembered, "Oswald, Lee gave me your medication. Take one pill from this box before going to sleep and two pills from this before breakfast tomorrow," he pulled two pillboxes from his jacket pocket. 

"Is this really necessary?" Oswald frowned. 

"It is unless you want to give chances to the infection." 

"Fine," he accepted the pills with a dramatic sigh. "Thank you, Edward. Have a good night." 

"You too, Oswald." 

They exchanged small smiles, and Oswald left the room. 

All the events from the past two restless days took their toll on Riddler. He barely made it through the quick shower, put on his pajamas — also brought to the room by Olga — and slumped down on the soft mattress. 

As he closed his eyes, he noted that it's the first time he sleeps in this bed since his time as Oswald's Chief of staff. After the docks, he tended to doze off on the couch in the living room, when his sleep-deprived body refused to function any longer. Edward never believed ghosts to be real, but during those days he couldn't help but feel judgmental looks of Oswald's ancestors from their portraits. Even the fact that he returned Elijah Van Dahl's remains back to his grave didn't reduce the weight of guilt for murdering his beloved son. 

Ed had mixed feelings about being back here in this room. He felt like he didn't deserve it; like he was intruding and abusing Oswald's trust. Rationally he knew that wasn't true. But it didn't stop the flood of memories this place brought back. He could almost hear the gunshot and see crimson blood flowing through his friend's trembling fingers, as he drifted to sleep. 

 

Chapter Text

Oswald couldn't fall asleep. Try as he might, his body was too well-rested after sedation and a nap in the car. The hot bath helped him to relax but did nothing to bring him even remotely close to sleepiness. Distant throbbing pain in his bad eye didn't help either. 

He still couldn't wrap his head around everything Ed did for him. He was so caring and thoughtful, even restored the mansion as well as he could between helping Oswald with the injury and getting them food. And what was Edward going to do back there in the library hadn't Olga distracted them with dinner? Was Ed going to hug him? Or?... No, better to not even consider it. Hope can be a cruel weapon; he got hurt by it too many times already. 

Oswald sighed deeply and turned to the other side. It was even worse: his soft pillow didn't prevent discomfort from the pressure on his right eye. He got up with a groan. No use wasting time in bed if he couldn't sleep anyway. He decided to go down to the library and pick a book to read. That might lull him. 

As soon as he opened the door, he heard muffled noise coming from Ed's room on the opposite side of the hallway. Oswald strained his ears. Only a few moments later the sound repeated, it was Edward's sleepy mumbling of 'no, please, no'. He's having a nightmare. 

Ed used to suffer them quite often right after he was brought here from Arkham. Whenever Oswald heard it, he used to come to Edward's room and comfort him until he would go back to sleep again. Ed did the same for him when Oswald called for his mother after Galavan had her killed or when tortures he suffered at the hands of Professor Strange resurfaced in his dreams. 

But all that was before the whole Isabelle thing. Would it be appropriate for him to do the same now? He stood still while contemplating his dilemma when he heard a muffled plea 'Ozzie' from the other room. That settled it; he should at least wake his friend up. 

Oswald knocked on Ed's door for good measure. As expected, it didn't wake him. Nightmares always grasped him tighter than normal sleep. Oswald opened the door and approached his friend's form. 

Ed was visibly trembling, covers bound his body tightly so he couldn't move much and it probably made whatever he saw even worse. His brow was furrowed and dim candlelight reflected in the beads of sweat on his temples. 

"Edward," Oswald called quietly. He sat down on the edge of the bed and carefully brushed curled strands of hair from his friend's clammy forehead. "Ed, it's just a bad dream. You're safe here. You need to wake up." 

He kept murmuring words of comfort to his friend and slowly stroking his arm through the covers. It seemed to calm Ed down just a bit; at least he stopped thrashing so hard. 

"Oz… 'm sorry…" he slurred still deep in his nightmare. 

Oswald wondered what Ed might apologize for. Was he still feeling guilty about the grenade? Doesn't really matter right now. 

"It's okay, Eddie. I forgive you," and he meant it. Whatever it was, Oswald has forgiven Edward for everything that happened in the past. "Please wake up now. It's only a dream." 

He squeezed Edward's hand through the covers a little bit, and that finally got him out. With a sharp inhale Ed opened his eyes wide and laid there blinking at the ceiling for a few seconds before looking around. 

"Oswald?" Edward whispered as he focused his gaze on him. Breathing still uneven, he squeezed Oswald's hand back to ground himself. "Did I wake you?" 

"No, I couldn't sleep. Heard you having a nightmare and decided to help you wake up." 

"Thank you," he croaked. 

Oswald was relieved. He wasn't sure how Edward would react to his intrusion. 

"No problems, my friend. Are you alright? Do you want to talk about it?" Oswald asked, genuinely concerned and also curious as to why his name was called at least twice during the nightmare. Sometimes in the past, Ed would describe what he saw. Usually, it helped him process it. 

"No. Not yet," Ed answered and pulled his other hand from the covers to wipe sweat from his forehead. His breathing was steadier now. 

Oswald still feared he was intruding Ed's personal space too much; like he was unwanted here. 

"Alright, I'll leave you to rest then. Goodnight, Ed," he tried to dislodge his hand and get up but was stopped by Edward's more firm grasp now. 

"Wait…" Oswald eased back and waited for Ed to find his words. "Could you stay here?" Edward asked, not looking him in the eyes. "If it's okay," he added, barely audible. 

How could Oswald deny him anything? He smiled, relieved that his company wasn't unpleasant after all. 

"Sure, Ed. Scoot over," he waited for Edward to shuffle farther on the bed and sat next to him, back to the headboard and one of the pillows behind his waist. Ed laid curled on his side facing Oswald.

It was their customary position for late-night comforting each other after a bad dream, nothing new for them, only return to old habits. They both were damaged people, and the horrors they have survived tended to come back and haunt them at night. Two friends sought refuge and peace in the company of each other, discovering that simply being close was enough to chase nightmares away. Although usually, Oswald would also slowly comb his fingers through Edward's hair, it was one of the best ways to bring him peace of mind. Oswald wasn't sure it would be welcome now though. He hovered one hand over his friend's head for a few seconds but decided against it and placed it in his lap. 

"I'm not contagious, you know," Ed huffed sleepily. Cheeky bastard. 

Oswald chuckled, "I sure hope so," and put his hand on top of Edward's head. 

He gently caressed him for a while and then ran his fingers through the slightly damp curls, just like he knew Edward liked. Maybe it was his imagination, but Oswald thought Ed even leaned into the touch a little. He definitely didn't imagine his friend's content sigh and a small smile tugging at the corner of his lips. 

Oswald smiled too. It felt nice to have their little ritual fully restored. Of course, he didn't like the cause of it; he would prefer Edward never to have nightmares. Still, he was glad they managed to return to this level of trust. 

His steady repetitive movements worked as good as expected, and within only a few minutes Oswald could see and feel his friend relaxing, his breathing deepening. Penguin rested his head on the headboard and enjoyed the comfortable silence, this pure feeling of tranquility he never expected to return in their relationship. 

Oswald was so happy that despite all the hatred some things have stayed sacred and untouched by the war between them. Things like this mutual help in coping with nightmares, or their singing together, or personal secrets and tales they shared. Neither of them had brought up these moments of vulnerability once, pretending to be spiteful acquaintances instead of hurt best friends. 

Even when Ed tried to destroy Oswald's world, he used his father's memory against him. Never his mother's. Because her memory too, was sacred. It was one of the first threads that had bound them together. Entwined deep in their relationship in the form of all stories Oswald had told Edward, her lullaby they sang along, and the lilies Ed had been bringing to her grave while Penguin was in Arkham. 

This intimate personal connection between them was never targeted by anyone, even in their darkest hours. That's probably what saved them both in the end. 

Oswald was so deep in thought he lost track of time. His serene meditation was interrupted by a very quiet muffled sob that escaped his friend. Only then did Oswald notice Edward's shoulders were shaking ever so slightly; he was obviously trying to stop himself from crying, but seemed to have lost this fight. 

Ed was the kind of person who tried never to show their tears to anyone; he had some ingrained notion they were a shameful sign of weakness. Oswald wasn't sure it was his place to try and help, but he couldn't just pretend not to notice his best friend silently sobbing right next to him. 

"Ed?" he whispered as softly as he could. 

Edward's defenses seemed to have broken down completely as he started to weep uncontrollably. He curled in on himself, pulling his long legs close to the chest. He buried his face in his hands and could barely draw breaths because of hectic sobbing. 

Oswald's heart ached from seeing his beautiful friend so broken down by whatever he saw in his dreams. Oswald stopped stroking silky hair and just rested one of his hands on Ed's head to ground him and try to convey all his support and care. The other one he placed on Edward's shoulder and from there started to rub big soothing circles into his back as far as he could reach. 

"Shh, it's alright, Eddie. It was just a nightmare. Whatever you saw isn't real. You are safe. You're home now," he tried to comfort his friend as best as he could, but it seemed only to make the sobbing worse. 

He needed a different approach. Something logical, perhaps.

"Maybe telling me about what you saw there would help you deal with it. What do you think? It always did," he tried to sound reassuring and reasonable even though inside he was ready to burst into tears himself from the pain he felt at seeing Ed in a state like this. 

"Y-you… I s-saw you," came a croaked answer from behind Edward's hands. He continued after another sob, "At the d-docks." 

Oh, God. Of all their events at the fateful docks, only one ended tragically for Ed. 

Oswald's hands trembled and stopped. He suddenly felt freezing in this well-heated room. Like a beam from Victor's gun put him in icy prison now, not Riddler. 

This was all Oswald's fault from the very start. And now his best friend had a mental breakdown because his nightmare reminded him of the moment when he lost his fight to the Penguin. 

That's why he said 'sorry' in his sleep. Edward probably would've tried to apologize back then, but Oswald denied him the chance and put him in the ice instead. Granted, Riddler did try to kill him again, but it was only due to his obsessive compulsion, he couldn't stop himself. Not on his own. 

And Oswald knew it, knew he could've helped his friend focus on something else, direct his logic away from that manic need. If only he had bothered to give Ed another chance, ask Ivy to question him with her perfume perhaps, settle it differently than intentionally baiting him on that cursed pier again. But he didn't. Penguin was too lost in his own pain and vengeance to allow himself to care. And that had doomed his dear friend, robbed him of what he held most dear. Apparently, it still gave him nightmares. The weight of guilt for that has never crushed Oswald as much as it did now. 

Penguin withdrew his hands from his friend's sobbing frame. He was a monster and had no right to touch the person he had hurt so deeply. He wrapped them around his own middle instead, trying to shield from the biting chills. It didn't help. 

"Edward. I'm so, so sorry about that. I was a coward and an idiot. Too afraid to let you go and too stupid to ask Freeze about possible side-effects," he mumbled over the lump in his throat. 

"W-what?" Ed sobbed. 

"I'm not looking for excuses. What I did is unforgivable. But I swear to you I will never betray you again. I'd rather die than put your life at risk because of my cowardice once more," Oswald finished with full certainty. He angrily wiped a tear that escaped his eye. 

"N-no. Not that d-day. When I... oh God..." a sob. "When I sh-shot you," Edward stuttered barely audible. 

"What?" it was Oswald's turn to be surprised. "I... I don't understand, Ed." 

Edward took a shuddering sigh and muttered between the sobs, "I k-killed you. Again. The shot, your b-blood.. You d-died in my arms.. I killed you again... Oh God, I'm so s-sorry Oswald. I t-tried to stop b-but couldn't. I sh-shot you... I  lost  you again!" 

Oswald was stunned by that revelation. He never even suspected Ed might feel regretful about that. Or was it just a recent near-death experience laid on top of the past events and made worse by his vivid imagination? No way to say for sure, dreams are always weird. 

Oswald still had nightmares about that disastrous morning himself. Pain from the gunshot mixed with pain from 'I don't love you' stated by Ed with deadly cold certainty. It always made him wake up in agony and tears, gasping for air and scratching at his scar, trying to hold the blood inside. Usually, after such dreams, he couldn't fall asleep alone in his big bed again for the rest of the night. 

The reason for Edward's nightmare is not essential right now, though, only his condition matters. Oswald needs to use a different approach, a more blunt reassurance. 

"Ed, please look at me," Edward predictably refused by rapidly shaking his head still buried in his palms. "Whenever you're ready. I'll wait, it's okay," Oswald said patiently like he was trying to appease a scared wild animal. 

As expected, the sobs gradually reduced soon. Even in this state, Edward's innate curiosity was bound to take the upper hand and overcome his distress. Oswald subtly smiled to himself, amused by his friend's adorable nature. 

When Ed could no longer ignore his piqued interest in what Oswald wanted to show or tell, he wiped his tears on the corner of the comforter, took a steadying breath and slowly pulled himself up to a sitting position. He rubbed his face again with the sleeves of his pajamas and finally turned to face Oswald. 

"There you are," Oswald said with a small smile. Ed managed only a slight nod in response. His eyes were red from crying, hair an unruly mess of dark curls. Oswald's heart painfully clenched at that sight. He had to fix this. 

"Edward, I need you to hear me. Right now, in this present moment, I'm sitting next to you in your room, on your bed. We both are safe here. I am alive and well. You did not kill me, not then and certainly not now," he was glad to see the spark of familiar calm logic in Ed's eyes. 

Of course, Oswald knew that if Edward truly wanted to kill him that day, he would've aimed for the head or the heart. Not below it and narrowly — some could say surgically — avoiding all vital organs. That just doesn't happen accidentally, especially with a brilliant forensic scientist. But he decided against pointing that out to Riddler and risking reopening some old wounds. 

"We've both come this far, and we are friends now. Right?" he waited for Edward to nod. "Right. And if that wasn't obvious already, I forgive you, Ed. For everything." 

Ed inhaled sharply, his lower lip trembled and a few more tears spilled from his eyes. He suddenly seemed to be on the edge of another breakdown. Oswald started to inwardly curse himself and look for other words when Ed shook his head vigorously. 

"N-no. I don't deserve it," he punctuated it with another shake of his head, not meeting his eyes. 

Oswald's heart melted even more. It was physically painful how desperately he wanted to show Edward how much he was truly loved, cherished, and adored, how much happiness he deserved. Kiss his tears away and protect him from any horrors this and other nights might bring. Alas, it was not Penguin's place to do that. All he was allowed were friendly, brotherly gestures. And, honestly, he was grateful even for that opportunity; more than happy to be there for Ed at least in that role. 

He huffed, "Come here," and opened his arms in the invitation to a hug. Ed hesitated for a moment but then shuffled towards him and hugged back. 

They weren't pressed too close because of the awkward angle. But it was enough for Oswald to hide his smile in Ed's shoulder. Amusing how this sweet man now claims he doesn't deserve something nice with fragile childish innocence when at other times his tremendous ego declares the whole world unworthy of his genius. 

He stroked Edward's back slowly and said quietly but with confidence, "Ed, you and I have put each other through hell. And for that, I am truly sorry. I started that vile circle. The fault is mine," he pulled away to look Ed in the eyes. "You have nothing to blame yourself for, you hear me?" 

Edward slowly shook his head and huffed a chuckle that sounded more like a sob, "Look at us, two of the most egocentric criminals blame themselves and not others for once." Oswald chuckled too. They really did change, both of them. "And in case you didn't know it already, I forgive you too, Oswald. For everything." 

He studied Ed's face closely, trying to find some trace of deception or doubt. He didn't. Ed was sincere and determined. Oswald's heart panged and a lump formed in his throat from the rush of emotions. Ed has just forgiven him! He had long since lost all hope to get his forgiveness anymore. 

Oswald couldn't help but reach out and draw Ed into another hug, overwhelmed by the softness he felt for the man. 

"Thank you, Edward," he whispered and blinked away the tears that veiled the vision and threatened to spill from his eye. 

They pulled away; Ed looked much more composed. 

"Now lay back down and go to sleep. You need your full night's rest." 

Ed nodded and gave him a small grateful smile. It was more than enough to warm Oswald's heart and drive away chills from his bones. They returned to their usual positions, and Oswald ran his fingers through Edward's silky locks once again. 

Ed still didn't relax enough to fall asleep; his agitated mind wouldn't allow that anytime soon without some assistance. Usually, in the past, when their positions were reversed, Ed would read a book out loud. It always managed to send Oswald to sleep, lull him with Ed's soft voice and monotonous words he didn't pay attention to. It never worked with his friend, though. Edward's insatiable curiosity prevented him from relaxing, and instead, he would focus on the information from the book. 

Oswald decided on another method: he started to hum his mother's lullaby under his breath. Ed sighed and gave a slight appreciative nod under Oswald's hand. It was their song now as well, connecting them on so many deep personal levels. This time Oswald definitely didn't imagine the way Edward pushed into the touch of his hand. 

"Did you know that houseflies hum in the key of F?" his friend murmured sleepily when the lullaby was over. 

Oswald huffed a chuckle. "No, Ed, I didn't. And I sincerely hope you did not just compare me to a housefly." 

Ed giggled. "Of course not, your pitch is much better. Ow," he said just to indicate that he had indeed noticed Oswald tugging his hair slightly as a punishment. 

"Did you know they can taste the food with chemonsensilla receptors on their lower legs and feet?" 

"Edward, that's disgusting. I suppose I shouldn't have complained about your penguin facts." 

Ed chuckled. "Penguins can sleep sitting in the water, standing up, lying down or just sitting," he mumbled with closed eyes and a small smile playing on his lips. 

"I'm not gonna sleep sitting here, Ed, my leg won't appreciate it. Hush now, I'm trying to make you fall asleep, and the facts are not helping." 

"No facts, check," he murmured drowsily and sighed, relaxing even more. 

"Thank you, Ozzie. Goodnight," Oswald cherished that warm feeling inside of him whenever Ed used that pet name. 

"Anytime, Eddie. Sleep well," he hoped Ed liked his pet name as well. He would've surely told him otherwise. 

Soon after that, Edward's breathing deepened, his body fully slacked. Oswald kept up his steady gentle movements for a few more minutes to make sure Ed indeed drifted off. He was moving more and more slowly until he finally stopped entirely and just held his hand on top of Edward's head for a while. 

Then carefully stood up from the bed, fixed the place where he sat, and pulled Ed's comforter higher on his shoulders. Oswald glanced one last time at his friend's peaceful sleeping face, smiled at the adorable man, and quietly left the room. 

Emotional vortex followed by sleepy coziness worked even better than any book would've; Oswald returned to his bedroom and dozed off almost as soon as his head touched the pillow. 

 

Chapter Text

Only less than three weeks have passed since the reunification had begun and already Gotham had a steady flow of essential supplies, medications, and rations. Everything was given out on reasonable requests to anyone in need. Money wasn't necessary to survive for now, which was inconvenient since Penguin wanted to make a small fortune from selling overpriced goods. He still did, but only with more extravagant things like alcohol or high-quality food he was smuggling from the mainland. After the loss of their treasure, Oswald and Edward will have to work twice as hard to keep their preferred luxurious lifestyle and satisfy their ambitions. They weren't completely broke, of course. Thankfully, Oswald was wise enough to not put all eggs in one basket, or a submarine in this case. He still had his offshore accounts and quite a few assets here. He also stored some hard cash in case he ever needed to return to Gotham. It was more than enough to live a good, even prosperous life, but not nearly adequate for their grand plans. 

Of course, there was always an option to rob some of the rapidly reopening banks. Alas, much to Riddler's dismay, they had no choice but to lay low for a while. The military was helping the police to clear the streets, and they had a shoot-to-kill order for all criminals posing any danger or resisting the arrest. The order was active until Blackgate Penitentiary and Arkham Asylum are rebuilt and at least partly functional once again. The remnants of the underworld are either in hiding now, or dead. With the very few exceptions like Riddler, Penguin, Lee, and Barbara — all publicly assisting with rebuilding the ravaged city.

Oswald was still working on getting them a full pardon so they won't be arrested and convicted for their past crimes straight away after the GCPD prepares a place to contain all criminals, even currently peaceful ones. The key figure in negotiating for it was Jim Gordon, of course. Rumor has it, he's likely to get a promotion for saving Gotham, or what's left of it. Figures. And quite predictably, he doesn't disclose any information about the possibility of the pardon to Oswald. 

Which was the reason and the main topic of Penguin's current tantrum. They returned to the mansion almost an hour ago, and after the dinner moved to the living room and decided to open some fine wine Oswald had smuggled. 

They were sitting next to each other on the couch by the fireplace: their jackets and waistcoats long discarded, wine glasses in hands. The dog Edward curled in his 'bed' and didn't seem to mind Oswald's loud outbursts, too used to his owner's temper by now. The human Edward was barely listening to his friend's furious tirade at all: he was quite tipsy already and had other things to focus on. 

Things like the way Oswald's whole posture was tense, ready to jump at his enemy at any second and tear them to shreds with his bare hands and teeth, similar to a wound up panther striding in its cage, waiting for a careless victim to come closer. 

Or the way his knuckles were white from how hard he clenched his fist. Riddler could vividly imagine how those knuckles would have broken all the bones on Gordon's pretty face. They would be crimson instead of white then. Hands of a killer. The same hands that could be so tender towards people close to the person underneath the Penguin persona. 

Edward watched mesmerized how Oswald's black leather sleeve garters wrapped around his upper arms and wrinkled the midnight-grey silk of his shirt. They had absolutely no right to make him look so much more alluringly dangerous and downright hot. Neither did his void-black tie with red patterns like splatters of scarlet blood and a small razorblade adorning it. 

Ed admired how meticulously Oswald's raven black hair had been freed from under the bandage and styled around it in such a peculiar manner that the dressing looked more like a crown. True King of Gotham, even injuries are worn with pride and used to adorn his magnificent being.

Penguin's hooked nose, so often used as a feature for mocking, gave him positively predatory vibes, combined with his angrily furrowed black eyebrows. The thin skin on his nose bridge created wrinkles as Oswald spat his agitated tirade. Ed wanted nothing more than to smooth them out with his lips and rub his own nose with Penguin's beautifully curved one. 

And oh how brightly the uninjured ocean green eye flared. It seemed like the flames reflecting in it were coming from inside the eye, sent there by Penguin's heart blazing hot with passion. That fire threatened to devour Edward whole, burn him like a helpless sacrifice to this primal fury. He had to look away to save his life just for a little longer. 

His gaze fell on delicately shaped pink lips. Ed wondered, enthralled, what their flavor is like. If he leaned down and tried them with his tongue, would he taste the wine? Or even the sweetness of tiramisu they had for dessert, perhaps? Would Oswald kiss Edward back or push him away? Would he bite or kiss gently? 

The alluring lips parted and revealed the row of sharp white teeth. Riddler guessed that considering his carnivorous temper, Penguin would most likely bite him until he drew blood. And then lick it away gently because besides being ruthless, Oswald was also soft and tender. 

Ed swallowed. His thoughts were straying too far; he will lose control if he continues staring and admiring his friend's unique beauty. Ed didn't appreciate how his own mind and body were repeatedly betraying him, making him fall into more and more desperate longing for Oswald as the days passed. On more than one occasion it led him to act almost suggestive around the bird. Sometimes his touches lingered noticeably longer than necessary. Or he sat unreasonably close to his friend so that their knees and thighs brushed, despite there being more than enough free space. Or casually whispered a compliment into his friend's ear, that never failed to bring the sweetest blush to Oswald's cheeks. 

Edward hated it when he couldn't stop himself from showing his affection. It felt like he was leading Oswald on, which was plain cruel and not his intention at all. And it became increasingly harder to pretend that Ed didn't notice hurt and disappointment shading Oswald's features each time their almost intimate moment led to nothing. But he couldn't help it, couldn't keep away. 

Ed ached to touch him, kiss him, have him, love him. 

He sighed, straightened his glasses, and tried to focus on his friend's speech instead. Riddler took another sip of wine, bringing warmth to his throat and lightness to his head.

"... And he dares to come in the room while I was being bandaged only to tell me that we should behave," Penguin spat the word, "until the official statement." 

Riddler couldn't even find it in him to be infuriated with Gordon at the moment, too entranced by his friend's unbearable beauty. Penguin always looked glorious when enraged. The only thing able to compete with his deadly looks was the way he would kill some fool who dared to annoy him in the heat of the moment. Ed was safe, though, and free to lose himself in admiring this marvelously dangerous bird. 

"'Behave', Ed! Like we're some naughty brainless teenagers," Oswald sharply placed his glass on the table. Probably to avoid hurling it into the wall. "Oh, we will make him pay for every indignity he made us suffer. Whatever we have endured he'll get tenfold." 

Yes, that was one of the main reasons why Edward admired Oswald so much. In everything — be it love, friendship, caring for a mute boy, revenge, business, ruling the underworld — he always went to the end and always with full dedication. Go big or go home. No half measures. 

"I will rise again and hold this city in my grasp once more. He doesn't realize yet that this situation is merely a minor setback." 

Yes, the Penguin always gets up and fights for what he wants. He's the very picture of a man who makes lemonade if others keep throwing lemons at him. And then sells that lemonade to his tormentors by outrageous prices. Probably even adds some poison to teach the fools a lesson. Oswald might stumble, fall and crawl, but he never retreats, not in the long run.

"I will not lose to the likes of Jim Gordon." 

Exactly. Always fighting, never giving up. Unbreakable. Uncontrollable. Unstoppable

"That's why I love you," Ed breathed out, lost deep in the blazing green ocean of Oswald's eye. Both men completely froze as soon as the barely audible words escaped his mouth. 

Ed tried to think of any easy way out of this situation. Maybe turn it into a joke? Or pretend Oswald misheard him? Perhaps correct himself that he meant 'like you', as in 'like working with you'? But no, it was too late. The words have already sunk in, and thick silence filled the room, disturbed only by the soft crackling of the fire. 

It seemed like Ed's brain just short-circuited after the sudden unintentional confession. He couldn't move, couldn't even breathe. In the back of his mind, he registered the way different emotions replaced each other and merged on Oswald's face as minutes crawled by in deafening silence. 

Shock. Surprise. Incredulity. Disbelief. Joy. Suspicion. Hope. So much hope. Then doubt. And denial. Anger quickly morphed into confusion and hurt. Raw desperation then settled as last flickers of hope were fading away and transforming into tears in his eye. 

Ed recalled how confident Oswald was when he had tricked him into admitting his feelings. 'One cannot deny love', he said back then. So certain Ed could truly love him that there was not even a glimpse of disbelief. Only relief and happiness. 

And now he was the opposite of confidence. He doubted the truth of Ed's confession because of all his heartbreaks and deep-seated insecurities, for which Edward had only himself to blame. Another wave of guilt washed over Ed, and he was finally able to break through his trance. He hastily placed his glass on the table and pulled Oswald into his arms. 

"Oh my, I'm so sorry, Oswald," he hugged his beloved friend tightly. He never meant to hurt him so much and break his self-confidence so severely. Even though Oswald had granted him his forgiveness, Ed still couldn't forgive himself. He wasn't sure he ever will. 

Oswald stiffened in his embrace. He didn't hug him back —just sat still as a statue. After a few moments, he firmly pushed Ed away with both hands and leaped from his seat. 

"What the hell, Ed? Is this some kind of a sick game to you? What have I done to deserve your mocking now?" 

What? Did Oswald think Ed was making fun of him and teasing him with fake confession? 

Yeah, it kinda looks like it when you say 'sorry' right after 'I love you', dimwit.  His voice spat angrily in the back of his mind. 

I would never do such a thing!

Never again, you mean? Well, tell him that, you moron! 

Ed abruptly got up as well. "No, wait, I didn't mean-..." but he was cut off by completely enraged Penguin now. 

"I know you didn't mean it! No need to rub it in my face again. You're not as cold and heartless as you pretend to be, Riddler, but that was too cruel, even for you. A shame that I don't even know what I did wrong this time," a tear escaped his eye and was aggressively swiped away. "Now if you'll excuse me," he swiftly fled upstairs, scooping the almost empty bottle of wine on the way. 

Ed stood motionless in his place for a couple of minutes, trying to process what just happened. 

What are you waiting for, genius? A sign from above? Go to him and apologize.  Riddler's low voice spat behind him. He looked furious when Ed turned to face the illusion. 

"It won't work. He hates me now," Ed mumbled. 

Do you realize how childish that sounds? He'll forgive you. He forgave you for worse. 

"Exactly. And I just hurt him again. It will always be that way. I have to put an end to it." 

What the hell are you babbling about? 

"Better to be lost and homeless than destroying our home. am the problem. And I know how to fix it." 

Ed almost ran out of the living room. 

STOP.  Riddler appeared right before him when he opened the front door. They both froze face to face in the doorway. 

What are you doing?  Rhetorical question, considering they share one brain, but Ed humored him anyway. 

"Isn't it obvious? The problem needs to be removed from the equation. I'll leave this place and never come back. Leave Gotham. I'm going to protect Oswald from myself." 

That is just too stupid. Even for you. Can't you see you'll hurt him even more if you leave now just like that? 

"How so?" he still stood in the doorway. 

Riddler scoffed.  And you dare call yourself smart. You leave now, and he will be even more heartbroken. Because his best friend just teased him with a fake love confession for no particular reason before leaving him for good without even saying goodbye. 

"I didn't mean to confess; it just slipped. I never wanted to hurt him. Especially like that." 

You're pathetic, Ed! Stop whining here and go fix the mess you've made.  Riddler growled.  At least explain to him what you meant and then decide about leaving. He deserves to know the truth. 

As an affirmation of his demand, there was a loud crash of broken glass. Presumably from the wine bottle being thrown into a wall. 

Oh, don't be scared, Eddie. It could've been your head, but hopefully, Ozzie is out of bottles for the moment.  Riddler cackled mockingly. 

Seriously though, don't just stand here talking to yourself. You have an angry bird to calm. Come on. 

Riddler's image faded, and Ed closed the front door. He took a few slow steps towards the stairs. Dead silence was pressing him, preventing him from moving further. 

But what should I say? How can I fix this now? 

Ugh, you're so worthless.  Riddler groaned.  Tell him everything, obviously. 

Everything? The whole truth? 

What, were you going to lie to the man who can see right through you?  He scoffed.  Explain it, make him understand. And we'll see what happens next.  

We should make a plan for every possible outcome of this conversation. 

Usually, I wouldn't have it any other way. But Ozzie has always been the exception. No plans this time, Eddie. Knock, knock. 

Riddler's laughter faded as Ed found himself knocking on Oswald's door. He didn't even realize he had been walking to it the whole time. Damn it, Riddler. Oh well, no turning back now. 

After a minute of silence and muffled shuffling behind the master bedroom door, Ed heard a quiet: "It's not locked." 

He took a deep breath and opened the door. The room was dimly lit by candles; their dancing flames reflected in bottle shards next to the wall. Oswald stood unmoving with his back to the window, facing Ed, hands crossed over his chest. There were no tears in his eye and no anger in his expression — only a well-crafted mask of polite indifference. 

Ed knew this look. It was Oswald's way to try and distance himself from something that was getting dangerously close to hurting his heart. It was one of his shields, along with too wide forced smiles and fake cheerfulness. He wore those masks often when Ed was dating Isabella and then Lee. But Ed knew what Oswald's sincere emotions looked like, which made these disguises painfully obvious. At least now that he finally paid attention to his friend's feelings. 

"Please accept my apologies, Edward. I overreacted. You obviously meant it as a joke, but I misunderstood. It won't happen again," Penguin's tone was deliberately flat and emotionless, so very uncharacteristic to him. 

It was a way for Ed to move past this. He could play along with Oswald's charade and pretend those words were merely a joke indeed. 

That would be lying though. And cowardice. The cruelest deception of your best friend, whom you love with everything that you are. Would you really do that to him? 

"No," Ed said quietly, and Oswald tilted his head slightly, carefully studying Ed from behind his hollow mask of a face. That gaze made him itchy with uneasiness. He took a steadying breath before speaking. 

"It wasn't a joke, Oswald. I meant what I said. I didn't intend to say it though, it just slipped." 

There was a glimpse of something on Oswald's face, but it faded as fast as it appeared, hidden again behind his mask. 

Silence. Ed tried to keep his breathing steady under Oswald's scrutinizing gaze. Penguin's face betrayed no emotion. Sometimes Edward wished his friend wasn't such a good actor. 

The silence was deafening. Penguin just stood and watched like a blinking and breathing statue of an angel wordlessly judging the sinner before him. Ed felt even more anxious; he wanted to run away, to hide from this blank gaze. But more than that he needed his lively feathered friend back. Not this emotionless shell. 

"Please, say something," he pleaded and didn't even care how desperate he sounded. 

"Explain," Penguin demanded barely audible after a few more minutes. 

Ed sighed and locked his eyes with Oswald's. He can do it. He has to.

"I love you, Oswald. I really do. And I want to be with you more than anything," he said with absolute certainty. A sharp inhale from Oswald, almost a gasp, but nothing more. 

"I think I've been in love with you for a very long time now. Admittedly, it took me a while to realize that. And for that, I am truly sorry. But when I did, I also came to the conclusion that I should not act on my feelings because I need to protect you. I am not a good person, and I would only hurt you again if we were in a romantic relationship. I don't want to be the cause of your pain anymore. Besides, love is a weakness, and I want us both to stay strong," he released another deep sigh. "I hope you understand now."

He finished and took a deep, steadying breath, waiting for his friend's reaction. Oswald remained impassive. Edward adjusted his glasses and fumbled with his tie, not knowing what to do with his hands. To try and distract himself from the itching anxiety, Ed started to think about the ways this can end. 

The most convenient would be if Oswald just agreed with his logic so they both could move on without any issues in the way. Somehow he felt it was the least likely outcome. 

A much more possible reaction would be fury. The Penguin is a very short-tempered and quite merciless person. Perhaps he would just make Edward leave and never come back. It would be painful but acceptable; Ed was going to do that anyway. Hopefully, it won't come to physical fighting. 

Or he might try to persuade Ed to follow their hearts and give their love a chance. Edward would simply have to make him understand his rational arguments then. His logic is steadfast; it has much more power than reckless feelings. 

Oswald finally gave a sign of life. He balled his fists and furrowed his brows, jaw set, and lips downturned. Oh crud, the second way it is. 

Then Penguin's impassive mask shattered completely; he crossed the distance between them with frightening quickness. They stood face to face now, Oswald somehow towering over Ed despite their height difference. Edward's first instinct was to jump away or shield from the inevitable attack. But his pride and self-control won, and he didn't move an inch. 

From the gaze Oswald was giving him, Ed prepared to receive a solid punch in the face. It was well deserved, he supposed. The thought flashed that he probably should've removed his glasses, but it's too late now. 

"You are such an  idiot !" Penguin shrieked. Oh, here it comes. Ed winced slightly in advance. 

But Oswald surprised him yet again when he grabbed his tie and yanked him down to firmly crush their lips together. Ed gave an embarrassing squeak in surprise and after a moment attempted to turn whatever that was into a kiss, but didn't even get a proper taste when Oswald pulled away. He looked at Ed with much less fury now. The bird was still fuming but at least didn't seem like he was about to rip his face off. 

"Edward Nygma. That was the dumbest thing I've ever heard from you. And that's including those godawful rap riddles," he snarled into his face, still clutching his tie, and Ed winced involuntarily. "What  exactly  gave you the impression that I need to be protected?" 

"I-…" 

"No! No more excuses, Ed! I am not a damsel in distress, and I will not stand being treated as such. I appreciate you trying to be protective, it's rather flattering really, but do not ever do that against my will or behind my back. Do I make myself clear?" emphasized by a harsh tug of the tie.

Oswald could be remarkably threatening sometimes, even without a weapon in his hands. Edward felt thoroughly intimidated and could only nod a few times in response. Oswald let go of Ed's tie, took a deep breath, and continued. 

"Now tell me, whatever twisted logic made you think you would hurt me if we were together? Do you even know what did hurt me?" 

It was probably a rhetorical question, but Ed still answered with a slight shake of his head. 

"Knowledge that I can never be loved, Ed. That's what hurt me. Seeing you fall in love with beautiful women who only saw you as an achievement or a tool. That's what hurt me. Understanding that I can never express my feelings for you and show you how much you mean, how deeply you are loved. That's what hurt me the most." 

Oswald's anger faded and was replaced by sad determination. He shook his head as if trying to chase the thoughts away. Then sighed deeply and continued, looking Ed straight in the eyes. 

"Love is only a weakness if you make it such; if you don't let it evolve. You were wrong back then. Love can be a source of strength for anyone, even people like us. True love is not a weakness because it's never a liability. It never holds you back, doesn't restrain your potential but helps realize it." 

Ed didn't know what to say. He had nothing to disprove Oswald's words. His seemingly sound logic shattered to pieces just like that. All he had left in the way now were doubts, insecurities, and fears. Oh, how he wanted to overlook them and leap right into Oswald's embrace. Still… 

"Oswald, I've been in three relationships before — all ended with the death of my partners. I don't want to hurt you. Never again." 

Oswald smiled at him with sympathy. "Edward, I appreciate your concern, but that's not exactly a correct comparison. Lee brought that on herself when she decided to lead you on and use you. Isabel..la," he gave a slight eye-roll. Ed was grateful for the effort to say her name right. "was my fault. Well, and hers too,  mostly hers. You are not guilty of what happened. Kristen Kringle — from what I know — didn't realize who she was dealing with until it was too late. And judging by what you told me, I sincerely doubt she could ever appreciate the true beauty of your being."

He raised a tentative hand to stroke Edward's forearm and softly smiled, never breaking eye contact. "I know and accept who you are, Ed… Riddler. I love you. And I'm not afraid." 

Ed felt a shiver running through his bones and breath hitching in his throat. He knew Oswald felt this way but hearing him consciously say it was something else entirely. His arms tingled with the burning desire to wrap Oswald and show him just how much his feelings were reciprocated. 

Edward was losing this battle, and he didn't even want to win. But he had to try and latch onto the familiar safety despite his urge to dive into the unknown excitement. 

"But I don't deserve you, Oswald. And you… you deserve so much better." 

Oswald scoffed. "Oh please, Ed. It's never a matter of what we deserve. What we want and what we can get is what matters. So, what do you want, really?" 

"You," Ed breathed without thinking for even a second, truth escaping his lips on its own. All barriers shattered, masks ripped off, and feelings laid bare. 

Oswald swallowed and smiled coyly. "Well, you can have me, Ed." 

It was as clear an invitation as ever. Edward stopped fighting his desires and put his slightly shaking hands on Oswald's waist. He glanced at the soft lips before him. 

"Can I… May I kiss you?" his voice was trembling. Ed had a hard time believing this is happening; it felt like a dream, but he wasn't waking up. And never wished to. 

"Please do," Oswald murmured. He placed his hands on Ed's shoulders and tilted his head back a little. 

Ed leaned down and carefully pressed their lips together. Their very first real kiss was slow and gentle. Edward didn't feel electricity running through his spine, and butterflies in his stomach didn't flap their wings. The feeling was something else altogether. Sublime and tranquil. It felt like coming home at last. He marveled at how shockingly natural and right it was to kiss Oswald — like it was always meant to be this way. The feelings of completion and finality overwhelmed Ed, made his head spin, and filled his body with heavenly warmth. 

Oswald was obviously not very experienced in this, but he compensated it with enthusiasm and tenderness. Ed deepened the kiss and couldn't hold a whimper when Oswald carefully bit and pulled his lower lip. Ed felt gentle fingers running through his hair while his own hands were exploring Oswald's back through too many layers of clothing. 

They pulled away after what felt like a lifetime spent in paradise. Oswald rested one hand on Ed's shoulder and the other on the nape of his neck. Riddler held his Penguin close, determined never to let him go. 

Edward opened his eyes and noticed a tear running down Oswald's cheek, glistening in warm candlelight. He wiped it away with his lips, which made his bird giggle a little and more tears to escape the most beautiful sea green eye. All of them ended up on Ed's caring lips. He was dead-set on his task to stop Oswald's tears. Now and forever. 

"Shh, it's alright, Ozzie. I've got you," he whispered and dried one more salty drop. "I love you, my sweet, sweet bird." 

"I love you too, Eddie. So much," he sobbed and shed another tear, which was immediately swept away by Ed's gentle lips. "I never stopped. Tried but couldn't," his hand traveled from nape to cup Edward's face, fingertips gently exploring and caressing oh so carefully, like treating a priceless piece of art. 

"I know," another warm drop intercepted. "I may or may not have accidentally pulled that information from you while you were on drugs after the surgery," Ed confessed. He still felt a little guilty about it. 

Oswald gasped. "How could you, you vile creature!" He said with no real anger in his tone, and silky lips stretched in a playful smirk. Ed pecked those sweet lips just because he could do it now. Tears stopped forming in Oswald's eye glowing with pure happiness. Perfect. 

"I said it was accidental. Besides," Riddler placed a kiss on the beautifully shaped nose, "that's what you get for recognizing Gordon's t-shirt by the smell of his aftershave." 

"Oh," Oswald's cheeks became dusted with the sweetest slight blush. "Well, I know yours too," he admitted with eye downcast. 

"I don't want you to know anyone else's," Ed was surprised to realize he was only half-joking. 

"Getting possessive already, are we, Riddler?" Oswald huffed with a cheeky smile. 

"Perhaps," they shared another kiss, this one more heated and deep, it elicited the sweetest mewling sounds from Oswald. Ed couldn't wait to find out what other new sounds his precious bird can produce. "You knew what you were signing up for." 

"Oh, yes, indeed. And I'm loving it already." 

"Wanna know what you'll love even more?" Ed suggested in a low voice, brushing his lips over his bird's ear. Oswald's whole body shivered in his arms. 

"Very much so, my love," he murmured, and now it was Edward's body that trembled at the term of endearment. Oswald sighed. "But I'd prefer to not step in the glass shards in the morning. So why don't you go get ready for bed while I ask Olga to clean up this mess?" 

Edward was equally thrilled and terrified to realize that already he couldn't deny this man anything. Still, he won't resist fondling and cuddling him a little longer. 

"I don't wanna let you go, Ozzie," he squeezed Oswald in his arms, their bodies pressed flush. "Ever." 

Oswald stood on his tiptoes with arms wound around Riddler's shoulders, rubbed his cheek against Edward's, and murmured smoothly: "I'm not allowing you to. You're stuck with me now, sweetheart. You also knew what you were signing up for," he planted a gentle kiss before biting on Ed's earlobe. Riddler gasped in surprise and whimpered as Oswald licked the pain away, clutching at the man's body tighter. What a positively thrilling reminder that his sweet bird was a bird of prey!

Penguin chuckled, looking very pleased with Ed's reaction. He pecked Edward on the lips and placed hands on his chest. "Now go unless you want to hear a tirade of Russian swearing for distracting Olga from her novels at such a late hour." 

He nodded his agreement, softly kissed Oswald one more time, and released him before they got too lost in passion. 

Ed proceeded to his room, light on his feet and with the happiest smile playing on his lips still sweet with Oswald's taste. 

He took a brief shower. Only when Edward got dressed in pajamas, put on his glasses, and prepared to return to his beloved bird did he notice that his reflection in the mirror was grinning like a cat that caught the canary and didn't bother repeating all of Ed's movements precisely. He wasn't even dressed like Ed, that cocky bastard in his immaculate green suit and bowler hat. 

"Why are you so chipper? I expected you to be all grumpy that your perfect logic failed so miserably." 

Eddie, oh silly Eddie,  Riddler snickered.  Why would I be angry if everything went exactly according to my plan and maybe even better? 

"Your plan? But you said... No... No, wait, it can't be..." Edward's stunned whispers drowned in the thunderous laughter of his reflection. 

Oh yes, it can, Eddie. I told you I want my Penguin and I  always  get what I want. 

Ed was startled by the revelation. "But then why did you convince me to hide our feelings from him in the first place? We could've had him for weeks now!" 

Perhaps. But where's the fun in that?  He cackled, throwing his head back. 

It's been  so  long since we did something wicked, and who knows when that'll happen again. Might as well have fun with little old you for the time being. I played you like a puppet and oh how wonderfully you danced!  He applauded, still laughing mockingly. 

Ed felt age-old boiling irritation towards his other-self. 

"It must've been very amusing for you to watch me squirm and suffer. Nothing new here. But don't you see that it hurt Oswald as well? You said you wanted to protect him!" he balled his fists but restrained from physically releasing his frustration on a mirror.

Of course I do. And I did. Always will.  Riddler stopped giggling and said with full conviction which resonated with Edward's own. 

"Still, you made me tease him, hurt him. That was not very kind and protective of you." 

But it was necessary.  Riddler shrugged with arms spread wide.  I decided it's best to wait until both you and Ozzie were too wound up and frustrated to spoil everything with your mutual 'I don't deserve you' bullshit.  He did air-quotes and smirked mockingly. 

"But I really don't. I-..." 

Stoooop.  You  might not deserve it, but  deserve only the very best. My Penguin is just that. And he deserves to be loved and cherished by the very best as well, which is where  fit in perfectly.  He haughtily straightened lapels of his green jacket.  Well, and you too, by association.  He smirked. 

Edward took a minute to process that. All this time he had a nagging suspicion deep down that Riddler could've been playing a game of his own, but he didn't even begin to grasp the whole picture until now. 

"But what about love being a weakness? Didn't you want to stay stronger without it?" 

Riddler scoffed.  As I said before, it was your words, Ed, not mine. Words of a man trying to cope with the fact that he just killed his girlfriend. This delusion was useful for a while. Not anymore. Now you have someone who can show what real love means. And you finally came to your senses and now ready to accept and return it. 

"But I tried to love and be loved before. And, as you said, I brought only pain and death to the ones I loved. Why do you think this will be any different?" 

Edward felt undeniably happy about being together with Oswald at last, but the mere thought about unwittingly hurting his precious man froze his insides.

You mean besides the fact that unlike those fragile goody-two-shoes girls you chose to date Penguin can actually kick our ass in close combat if it comes to that?  Riddler snorted. Ed did not appreciate that joke at all. 

His reflection let out an exasperated sigh.  Eddie, your 'love' with them — if it even was love — was built on half-truths and half-acceptance. All of them tried to hold you back from being your complete self, from realizing your full potential. That 'love' was a weakness indeed — it literally made you weaker by restraining your strength, by shutting half of you out. Your better half, I might add.  He smirked, Ed only rolled his eyes. 

Now Ozzie is a different matter entirely.  He said with a dreamy smile and hungry glint in his eyes. He accepts you and me together. Even his friendship and support was enough to shape us into what we are, help make us whole. You know what I'm talking about, don't you, Ed? 

"Yes. I've never known myself as well as I know myself when I'm with him," he had to admit. 

Precisely. Just imagine what we'll have now that there are no more barriers between Oswald and us. Nothing to stand between our love. 

A shiver ran through his spine at the sheer grandiosity of everything coming together so perfectly at last. Like all pieces of a giant puzzle finally fit in their rightful places. 

"Did you really plan all that so perfectly? From the moment we learned about Oswald's feelings, you tried to talk me out of confessing my love to him. Everything you said against it was only for me to prove wrong and see how right it was to follow my heart this time," Ed shook his head in disbelief. 

Riddler gave a theatrical bow, puffed his chest proudly and laughed.  Oh, don't look that surprised, Eddie. You know my level of ingenuity, and you clearly needed a push there. Well, I did think it'll take you a little longer to slip up inevitably. The alcohol helped, I guess.  He huffed. 

"But how did you calculate Oswald's actions? He can be unpredictable sometimes." 

Yep, he usually is, always a mystery, our vicious little birdie. Riddler licked his lips. But since we learned he still had feelings for us, it was easier to predict his attitude. Despite his bristling independence, deep inside Oswald craves to be loved. I knew he would give us a chance. 

"So you also didn't know he still loved us?" Ed smirked mockingly. It gave him some perverse pleasure to reveal Riddler's flaws sometimes. 

Pfft, a minor inaccuracy, nothing more, no big deal.  Riddler scoffed, crossing arms over his chest, but soon relented under Edward's skeptical gaze. 

Okay, fine, we both were equally blind, Ed! Happy?  He threw his hands up.  His feelings are illogical; who knew he still could love us after everything?!  He growled, clearly irritated at having his mistakes pointed out. 

"Just a friendly reminder that you are not as impeccable as you always want me to believe," Ed shrugged with a cocky grin. 

I hope you feel better about your own pathetic cluelessness now.  Riddler sneered at him, words dripping with sarcasm. He huffed.  You have to admit, my plan worked flawlessly. Although I was confident Ozzie would punch us at least once today. Even prepared to take some pleasure in the process.  He winked at Ed suggestively. Edward rolled his eyes.

Speaking of pleasure. Enough chit-chat with the mirror, Eddie. I want my Penguin. Let's go get him. 

"Don't you think we should take it slow?" Ed mused. Riddler's appalled glare full of disdain was a clear answer. 

"Right, okay. We've all been waiting long enough," he nodded with the widest of smiles and walked out of his room. 

 

Chapter Text

Ed found Oswald in the master bedroom standing before the nightstand, holding something in his hands. He was dressed for the night, and his black hair was slightly damp — probably took a bath while Olga was cleaning the floor. A few candles had burned out, and the ones still alive created a soft atmosphere, casting a warm glow on the burgundy bed dressing. 

Ed tried to peek at what Oswald was holding, but the man apparently heard footsteps and hurriedly put whatever it was in one of the drawers of his nightstand, quickly turning to face him. 

Edward couldn't hold back his curiosity. "What was that?" 

Oswald huffed a chuckle. "Not important, my dear," they shared a quick kiss when Ed crossed the distance between them. Nevermind, Ed will find out everything soon enough, no need to rush it. 

"You seem a little different," Oswald mused as he studied him closely. 

"Oh? How so?" Riddler grinned. 

"You seem more relaxed now, more at peace even? And can't stop smiling," he gently brushed the back of his forefinger over Ed's lower lip, inhaling a small gasp when Ed moved to kiss his knuckles instead. "I'm loving the sight, but I admit I'm curious about what caused it." 

"Two reasons. First, I finally have my Penguin and can do this," he placed his hands on Oswald's waist and leaned in for a kiss. 

"Still can't believe it's real," Oswald hummed in agreement when they pulled away. 

"Oh, it's real alright, my love," God, how naturally that rolled off his tongue. How in the world did he not call Oswald 'my love' before?

"What's the second?" Oswald's hands traveled up his shoulders and rested on the back of his neck. 

"Second, I just realized how genius I actually am." 

Oswald cackled. His laughter wasn't mocking at all but rather amused at Riddler's shameless self-praise. That's why he wasn't offended and even preened a little with a proud grin. 

"You are, indeed, my dear. I believe your brilliance can only be rivaled by your enormous ego," Penguin shook his head affectionately and caressed the side of Edward's face. 

"I'm not so sure about that. There's too much competition to it: my creativity, ingenuity, curiosity-..." 

"I sure hope modesty is not on the list," Oswald snorted lightly. 

Ed pretended to consider it. "Hmm... nope, no such nonsense here," he grinned. 

Oswald chuckled and gazed at him with unabashed adoration. "Oh, how I wish I could take at least one glimpse of what's going on in that amazing mind of yours." 

Riddler tilted his chin and placed a kiss on the palm of Oswald's hand still cupping his face. "I can assure, you're the only one who got this close to understanding," he murmured. "And also the first one to not turn away horrified by what you saw." 

Oswald rolled his eyes with a huff. "I'm not so easily frightened, Riddler." 

Now, that sounds like a fun challenge. 

Ed shifted his hands to have a firmer hold of Oswald's torso and whispered tenderly in his ear: "Of course not, my brave Penguin." 

And then suddenly tightened his grip and lifted his bird up from the floor. After a second he was laughing from Oswald's startled yelp. 

"Oooh that's the sound of a scared flightless bird in the air," he mocked. It was totally worth the pain from how hard Penguin's firm fingers dug into his shoulders. 

"Ed, let go!" he squawked, not daring to ease his grasp on the shoulders and helplessly dangling feet in the air. 

"Nope!" Ed made sure to pop the 'p' sound. "Ask nicely!" 

"Release me this instant!" Oswald cried out through his thrashing and giggling. He seemed to be ticklish. Perfect weapon. 

"Now, that was rather rude, Mr. Penguin," Ed chastised and pushed his fingertips further into Oswald's ribs where he was holding him. The bird squealed and kneed him in the thigh. Riddler's shoulders will probably bruise from Oswald's desperate grip; he rather liked that thought. 

"Ask nicely !" he demanded, not willing to lose but already feeling a little strain in his arms. 

Oswald wiggled in his hands for a few more seconds, but then yielded and whimpered breathlessly: "Ed, p-please…" 

Riddler's breath was punched from his lungs by the sound of that plea. It had a powerful and unexpected effect on him. Hot flare in his lower stomach made him abruptly turn to bed and place his Penguin on it with vigor but consideration to his injuries. Edward threw his glasses on the pillows, not bothering to fold them neatly. 

He crawled on top of the man who still tried to catch his breath, trapping him underneath. 

"Verrry good, my sweet birdie," he praised, momentarily startled by the sound of his own guttural purr. Ed wasn't expecting things Oswald's presence would do to his body now that all barriers between them have been shattered. He never felt such an all-consuming desire towards another person, such a passionate yearning to melt together into one whole being. 

Oswald appeared to have caught up with the effects his words had on Edward. He smirked coyly. "Kiss me, Riddler…" he lifted himself on his elbows high enough to whisper in Ed's ear, "please." 

It seemed like Edward's body started acting on its own volition, and he could only observe in awe as he pushed Oswald's shoulders back into the mattress with an animalistic growl and claimed his mouth in the desperately ravenous kiss.  Now all the fireworks and lightning flashes surged through Edward's body with the force of a tornado. The kiss was far from soft, all tongue and teeth, mixed with their lewd moans as they devoured each other with equal vigor. It was nothing short of divine

Riddler left his bird breathless and moved on to worshiping any other part of his skin not covered by clothes, all the while working on undressing them both. Oswald was trapped under him and could only whimper and grab onto his pajamas, meekly trying to help, breathlessly moaning Ed's name. 

All flushed and disheveled, lips swollen from their fierce kissing, green eye glazed with lust, and delicate pale body coming undone under his hands — undoubtedly the most breathtaking scene Edward has ever witnessed. 

"So marvelous, my Ozzie," he purred before lightly pressing the nub of a nipple between his teeth. Oswald's hiss turned into a whimper when Riddler licked the sensitive skin before moving lower. 

Edward paid particular attention to the scar he had left on this perfect silky skin years ago. He kissed it thoroughly and tenderly as if trying to erase it from this lithe body blazing hot under him. Trembling fingers threaded through his hair, stroking soothingly, conveying Oswald's comforting, understanding and forgiveness as effectively as his words did when Ed had that nightmare after almost losing him again. 

He nuzzled at the scar one last time and moved on to claiming his lover further, kissing a trail down the soft stomach and lower, lower still, until his mouth and hands started to extract deliciously obscene noises Oswald didn't bother to hold back. The most glorious symphony to Edward's ears. 

Oh, what an exhilarating way to use his vast knowledge of human anatomy! Each stroke, caress and pull discovered more ways to bring his Oswald to new heights of pleasure. Ed was learning how to play this perfect body like a unique musical instrument. Oswald's breathless high pitched moans combining with his own low groans created an unforgettable duet.

Edward's sounds of pleasure became even more intense when Oswald started to tug at his hair, pulling them on just the perfect edge between too painful and not hard enough. 

Riddler glanced up and groaned from delight at the state he brought his Penguin into. Chest heaving frantically, one free hand desperately clawing at silky burgundy sheets, eyes clenched shut, brows furrowed under unruly strands of black hair sticking to the damp forehead. Milky skin reddened by passion rising from within; the trail of love marks left by Riddler's mouth so prominent now and will definitely stay to adorn the pale skin for the next day only to be joined by new ones he'll create, marking his precious lover, claiming this perfect body for himself. Swollen and bitten lips opened in bliss and not even trying to form words anymore besides occasional 'Ed' and 'please' which only spurred Edward into doubling his efforts aimed to extract more moans and pleas. Penguin's whole body laid exposed on dark red silk, entirely and willingly submitted into Riddler's power, like an offering for a deity placed upon a flaming altar.

Perfect. Beautiful. Mine. 

Immaculately supercilious Oswald Cobblepot with his eloquent speeches and prim demeanor turned into an incoherent trembling mess by Edward's skillful mouth and tricky hands. What a deeply satisfying work he has done, Riddler was exceptionally proud of himself. 

"Ed.. ah.. I.. mn.." Oswald attempted and miserably failed to form a sentence. But Ed understood him anyway and didn't stop savoring his delicious Penguin. 

Oswald tried to pry him away, and when that didn't work, he lifted his head to look at Ed. Their eyes met, and that's what did it for him. Oswald cried out and shuddered in ecstasy under Riddler's firm hold. Edward waited for him to relax and melt back into soft mattress and pillows, soft moans silencing with his coming down. 

Only then Ed noticed how painfully aroused he was himself, so excited by his work and its delightful results on his gorgeous lover. He crawled up to lay beside his blissed-out Penguin and started to caress his warm body, nibble at his earlobe gently and ravish his jaw and neck with open-mouth kisses. 

Slowly Oswald started to return from his high. He moaned softly and brought his one hand to Ed's chest, the other raised to support him from behind, both stroking and caressing, leaving a blazing trail of desire in their wake. Oswald turned to face him, looking at Edward with  so much  love and mesmerized awe that it almost sent him over the edge. He held back though, not wanting it to end so soon. 

Ed reached to kiss Oswald deeply. He moaned into the kiss, biting and whimpering when Oswald pinched, pulled and stroked his sensitive nipples. 

Then the soft hand left his chest and started slowly caress him, traveling lower, towards where he wanted, where he needed it. Oswald stopped just out of reach and murmured, breaking their kiss. "Eddie, how do you want it? Should I-.." 

"Just to-touch.. ah.. Ozzie!.." Edward hid his moans in the crook of Oswald's neck, desperately clutching at his side, hips, arms, wherever his hand could reach and grab. 

Somewhere in the farthest corner of his mind, a thought flashed that it would be fantastic if his bird had more of a body to grab a hold onto. The thought vanished as quickly as it appeared, now completely drowned in scalding waves of pleasure coursing through him. 

"My sweet Riddler, so good, so beautiful, so perfect," Oswald's velvety voice purred into his ear. Ed could only whimper in response, melting under his touches. He never expected that his chosen name could be uttered with so much tenderness before. He never knew the ecstatic trembles it will send to his body, shivers even more pleasant than those he secretly cherished each time Oswald called him Riddler.

"I love you so much," murmur followed by nuzzling, kissing, and licking under his jawline and around it, as far as Oswald could reach. Then his burning face got peppered by kisses that seemed to leave scalding marks Ed desperately wanted to never fade.

"O-Ozz…ple-ease…" he didn't know what he was asking for. At this moment he didn't know anything at all. Everything narrowed down to the almost unbearable pleasure pooling in his lower stomach and his beautiful man holding him, basking Ed in his love. 

"Yes, Eddie. Tell me what you want," whispered sweetly in his ear. It sent more shivers down his spine, nearly pushing him over the edge. 

Ed wanted a lot of things. But right now all of them could be described by one simple word. "You ..." he breathed between moans and whimpers. 

"I'm right here, my love. I've got you. I'm  yours ." 

And that was the last drop that spilled his cup, painting all his world into blissful white nothingness. 

Ever so slowly Edward returned to his senses after this absolutely transcendent experience and found himself slumped down on top of Oswald, who was lazily rubbing big circles in his back. As Ed blinked open his eyes, he noticed that he bit on Oswald's collarbone quite hard, so lost in the white heat of his ecstasy. He carefully licked at he hurt spot, murmuring a quiet 'sorry' between kisses. There was no blood but it still gonna bruise and hurt. He felt guilty for accidentally bringing pain to his sweet lover already. 

Oswald chuckled. "What for, my dear? I rather enjoyed it, to be honest." 

Ed lifted his head in surprise to look at his bird. Penguin was smirking mischievously and apparently being sincere. How curious. 

Ed reached his lover's sweet lips, and they shared a deep kiss. This time gentle, slow, and cozy. Tongues sluggishly rubbing on each other, exploring in no rush at all. Soft caresses of their hands added even more tenderness to the experience. The kiss was slow enough to let them breathe without completely withdrawing from each other. Ed stroked short feathery hair on the nape of Oswald's neck and softly moaned into the kiss when Oswald gently grabbed at his backside. 

They pulled away eventually. The deep kiss turned into smaller pecks on each other's lips. Both men couldn't seem to get enough of that blissful intimacy they finally found together. 

Both drunk on oxytocins and endorphins, they pulled away from the lips, pressed their foreheads together, and stared deep into each other's loving eyes. They giggled at absolutely nothing in particular, just as an outlet for the excessive happiness they couldn't contain. 

"I love you, Ozzie," Edward murmured because that was the one and only truth that mattered here and now. This feeling filled his whole being to the brink, and words formed themselves. 

"Love you too, Eddie," Oswald whispered before pressing his lips to Ed's forehead. "Rest now, my dear," he nudged Ed to lie down and covered them with the soft duvet. 

Edward noticed they both were cleaned and his glasses laid neatly folded on the nightstand — probably Oswald's doing while Ed was too blissed out to properly register his surroundings. 

Edward rested his head on his lover's steadily rising and falling bare chest, listening to the strong heartbeat and purring when delicate fingers slowly threaded through his hair. He made sure not to put all his weight on Oswald, nestling snuggly at his side instead. Although Riddler couldn't resist it and after a few minutes possessively wrapped his arm and leg around his cuddly Penguin. The bird didn't seem to mind, judging by the kiss he pressed on top of Edward's head. 

"Can't believe it's real. Is this real?" Oswald murmured and hugged him tighter as if worried Ed would disappear the moment he lets go. 

"I sure hope so. Otherwise, I don't know if I should be devastated, or impressed by my imagination," they shared a breathy laugh. 

Ed tenderly stroked his hand up and down Oswald's warm side. "It is real, my sweetest bird. You are mine now. And I am yours," he heard Oswald's heart skip a beat and turned his head to press a kiss to silky skin under his cheek. "Your... boyfriend? Since we're not friends anymore-.." 

"What?!" his sudden squawk startled Ed, and he lifted his head to look at Oswald's stunned expression. "What do you mean we're not friends anymore? Ed, we don't stop being friends only because we became something more," he gently cupped Edward's face and looked him in the eye. 

"You are my best friend, and that fact did not change at all. And I am still your feathered friend," they both smiled and reached for a quick kiss. "But we're also so much more than that now. Boyfriends, lovers, companions, associates, partners-.." 

"Do not even dare to say 'brothers'," Ed interrupted and winced at the word even now. "That's been bugging me for weeks. I'm not a fan of incest at all. And it's not funny!" he chastised Oswald's mirthful giggling. 

"Oh, but it is, bro. Hilarious actually," he grinned. His snickering quickly changed into a squeak when Riddler jabbed a finger between his ribs. 

Ed found it extremely adorable how Penguin, with his high pain tolerance, turned out to be the most ticklish thing that started to squirm and squeal helplessly, as long fingers played on his ribs. His feeble attempts to swat Ed's unyielding hand miserably failed, much to his amusement. "Ed, mercy!" Oswald howled after only a few seconds of uncontrollable giggling. 

"This is what I find hilarious," he snickered and stopped his little torture. They both were too exhausted to move much anyway. Ed soothingly patted skin he was tormenting moments ago, and slim body under him relaxed back. He placed a hand under his chin to avoid causing discomfort as he lounged on Oswald's chest once again, looking him in the eye now. 

"I was so sure you had no more romantic feelings for me left after that remark. I've never considered you my brother, Oswald, what made you call us that?" he frowned.

"I thought that's what you wanted us to be," Oswald shrugged as much as his position allowed. 

Ed supposed it wasn't too unfounded. He did rebuke Oswald's affections on multiple occasions, usually quite harshly. His heart clenched painfully as he imagined what Oswald must've felt being unwanted and pushed away over and over. 

"And you were ready to step over your feelings to be just what wanted us to be?" 

"Anything for you, Ed," he confirmed with full confidence. 

"I'm so sorry you had to wait so long for this idiot to realize the truth." 

"I would've waited forever if I had to. It was well worth it," he gave an affectionate ruffle to Ed's hair. "And don't you dare call my boyfriend an idiot again. I've killed for less, you know." 

"But  you  call me an idiot," Ed reminded. 

"I do. That's my privilege and mine alone," Penguin stated with prideful self-confidence like he wasn't the one who helplessly squirmed and giggled under his tickling fingers only minutes ago. "And now I want you to kiss me before we go to sleep," he demanded with a cheeky smile. 

"So bossy, my Mr. Penguin," Ed murmured and crawled up a bit to make them absolutely comfortable as they pressed their lips tenderly, both unable to stop smiling into the sweet kiss. 

They withdrew, and after a few more slow pecks Ed sighed happily and rested his head in the crook of Oswald's neck, hugging his waist under the covers. 

"Goodnight, Ozzie. I love you," Ed mumbled, sleepily nuzzling at Oswald's soft skin. 

"Sweet dreams, Eddie. Love you too," Oswald pressed a kiss to his temple and sighed contentedly. Ed wondered how had he survived going to sleep each time all these years without those words whispered to him, so simple but infinitely meaningful.

Ed was sleepy and spent, but he couldn't fall asleep no matter how hard he tried. The events of the day kept repeating on the loop in his head. He was filled with so much happiness that it just spiraled in him, twisting and turning on itself until it transformed into a terror. A crippling fear of losing this heaven he just found. 

He was almost trembling with dread now. What if Oswald changes his mind and leaves him? Ed hurt him so much, what if he decides it's not worth the pain after all? Or what if they are separated because of their crimes? He can't stop being the Riddler and is bound to be caught someday; he has no delusions about it. Now that he found his place with Oswald, how is he supposed to live alone if they are torn apart for one reason or another? He won't survive alone now; it would be like learning to live without air. He won't make it without Oswald, he'll just fade away, slowly suffocating on his bitter loneliness...

"Edward. I can almost hear you thinking," Oswald groused and stroked Ed's arm wrapping his waist. "What's bothering you, dear?" 

"I'm afraid to wake up alone," he blurted out before thinking his words over. 

It was only a small portion of his fears, but Oswald seemed to understand the real meaning behind them. He hummed thoughtfully and answered quietly after a few minutes. 

"You're never alone now, Eddie, I'm always by your side. Even if we're not in the same place, we have our love together. We shall make it our strength, our sanctuary, our resistance. A safe place only you and I can reach anytime from anywhere, even if we're apart," he whispered and shifted his hand to stroke through Edward's hair. "We might be physically separated from each other by circumstances, but our love is indestructible, it'll keep us together no matter what.  Nothing  can stand between us. I've got you, and you've got me. Always remember that," he finished with a long press of his lips to Ed's temple. 

Edward's heart melted at those words. All fears dissolved and deep soothing warmth settled in their place, bringing peace and comfort. He felt tears forming in his eyes from the sheer power of emotions coursing through him. 

"Thank you," he croaked, his voice suddenly shaking, throat tight, and vision veiled with unspilled drops. 

He hugged Oswald tighter, unable to say anything more to even remotely convey the depth of his love to the man who was his home, his sanctuary, his salvation. 

"You're very welcome, my love," Oswald intertwined their hands, slowly stroking Ed's knuckles with his thumb. "Go to sleep now. I promise to be here when you wake up."

Ed nuzzled at his warm neck a little more, breathing in the clean flowery scent of Oswald's lavender soap. He didn't even notice how he'd drifted away into a peaceful dreamless sleep. 

?

Oswald kept his promise. As Edward slowly resurfaced from his slumber, he registered the warm body in his arms nestled close, and steady deep exhales of hot air at the base of his neck. Next thing he noticed were feathery strands of hair slightly tickling his lips and nose as he breathed. The two lovers were pressed close to each other, arms wrapped around waists, legs intertwined, two lives forming one. 

Edward smiled and opened his eyes to the bright sunlight that woke him up. Both men were too out of it yesterday and have forgotten to close the curtains. Ed did not regret it for a second, as the view that greeted him was beyond divine. 

Early morning sun spills through the window freely on the floor, the bedsheets, and Oswald's refined pale shoulder sticking from under the covers. His velvety skin is stark white; it almost shines under the bright sunlight. Ed felt another rush of tenderness as he noticed that Oswald's collarbones and shoulders are dotted with barely visible rare freckles, just like his cheeks and nose. 

Oswald's head is tucked under Edward's chin, slightly opened lips almost brushing at his bare chest, using Ed's upper arm as a pillow. Long dark eyelashes tremble ever so slightly and drop light shadows on the freckled cheek. Perfectly shaped ear sticking out from the mop of ruffled black hair looks red and almost transparent from the sunlight shining on it. His expression relaxed and uncharacteristically innocent. 

Ed always cherished how peaceful and young Oswald looked in his sleep. No trace of the malicious Penguin, only a gentle, sweet man. Naturally, Riddler took particular pleasure in the display of his avian friend's cruelty and power; he could watch him discipline his minions and punish his enemies all day long. But this heavenly creature in his arms was pulling at the exceptionally sensitive strings of his heart, reaching the chords he didn't know existed. Ed wasn't even aware that he was capable of feeling such deep, tender, and real love mixed with an insatiable hunger, an irresistible pull towards the other person. This vortex of feelings made his head spin and chest tighten from the endless love pouring over him. 

Riddler noticed that smile never left his lips while he was admiring the pure heavenly beauty of his boyfriend. He stroked his hand over Oswald's back under the cover, relishing how the sleep-warm velvety skin felt under his fingertips idly traveling over the bumps of his spine. The movement evoked a soft sigh from his sleeping bird. Oswald instinctively tightened his arm wrapped around Edward, pulling him closer, and the hooked nose rubbed deeper at the base of his neck. As expected, his adorable Penguin was an aggressive cuddler even in his sleep. Ed's happy grin widened without his control. He tilted his head to bury his nose in the black feathery locks, breathing in the traces of shampoo and the odor that was unique to Oswald: warm, soft, and sweet. He smelled like sunshine. 

Ed had an insurmountable desire to see his bird fully bathed in this morning sun so rare for Gotham. He started to pull the covers down Oswald's delicate shoulder slowly. Despite how small and scrawny Penguin looked in his expensive suits, his arms had fairly developed muscles underneath. No matter how soft he was with Edward, he was a killer, a fighter, a survivor to the rest of the world. These arms were the murder weapon too many times to count. Although muscles were probably from carrying heavy guns and his overweight bulldog all the time rather than elaborate training. 

Edward was delighted to see that pale freckles didn't stop on shoulders and continued to adorn upper arm with rare barely visible small spots as well. Ed wanted to kiss each one of them. Hopefully, he'll have that opportunity once Oswald wakes up. Until then, Edward was more than happy to stay here with his love peacefully sleeping in his arms. He had half a mind to get up and prepare some exquisite breakfast for his boyfriend but quickly dismissed that idea. They didn't have the necessary ingredients for something extraordinary, and he wouldn't risk letting Oswald wake up alone. God only knows what his impressionable short-tempered bird might think. Edward knew perfectly well his Penguin would require a lot of reassurance that he was indeed truly loved, especially at first, and he'll be delighted to provide it. 

Riddler ghosted his hand over Oswald's arm, barely touching thin hairs, evoking the prettiest goosebumps in the process. However, he had to stop when a soft moan of protest escaped his bird's slightly parted lips. Ed caressed the disturbed skin gently, and goosebumps disappeared while his love remained sleeping peacefully.

He slowly pulled the comforter lower, inch by inch exposing Oswald's milky skin to the kisses of the morning sun. The covers were almost at their waist when he felt hooked nose nuzzling at his neck, then a soft press of lips to his skin and a very sleepy slurred mumble: "Wat'r u doin'?" 

"Never resting, never still. Moving silently from hill to hill. I do not walk or run or trot. All is cool where I am not. What am I?" Edward murmured all the while drawing invisible swirling question marks on Penguin's back with his forefinger. 

"Mmmh 'm sleepin'," a barely audible drowsy grumble. Then after a long pause and a sigh, "S'it death? Plague?" 

"What? No-o! Why?" Ed laughed, taken aback by the stark contrast of this angelic creature nestled in his arms and his grim answers. "It's sunshine, Ozzie," he revealed and kissed the mop of black hair. 

"Hmmm, what 'bout it?" he nuzzled at Edward's neck more insistently and pressed more warm kisses to his chest, not even opening his eye yet, warm fingertips softly caressing Ed's back. 

"I love how it lights your skin," Riddler gently squeezed Oswald's shoulder, watching closely as thin pale skin sank in under his fingers and created soft shadows. "Wanna see you whole under daylight," he tried to pull the duvet down their hips but was stopped by Oswald's hand holding it behind Edward's back. 

"I'd rather you didn't," he whispered and pressed their bodies even closer together. 

"Why is that? I need to study every inch of my lovely Penguin." 

"Well, frankly, I don't wanna lose my boyfriend less than a day after I got him," he mumbled into Edward's chest. "Let's sleep some more." 

So his insecurities run that deep. This needs to be fixed. 

"Ozzie," Ed called gently and waited until the sleepy eye peeked at him. In the warm sunlight and burgundy bedding, it was colored pale blue with slight hints of sea green. No cruel cold spikes resurfaced inside his gaze yet, only soft shining in this state of drowsy coziness. 

"What if I say please?" Ed tried hard to make the saddest pleading puppy eyes he was capable of. As expected, Oswald's defenses crumbled in mere seconds. 

"Now, that's just not fair, Edward," he huffed. "How am I supposed to deny when you look at me like this?" 

"That's precisely the point, my love," Ed placed a kiss on his bird's forehead. "Refusal is not an option." 

He slowly disentangled their limbs and nudged Oswald to lay on his back. Edward was giddy with how soft and pliant his lover was in his sleepy haze. He could place his boyfriend's body however he wanted, like a warm, pliable plush bird. Riddler reveled in being the only person who ever saw Oswald like this: soft, compliant, and on display for him under the morning sunbeams. 

Ed propped himself on one elbow and hovered above his boyfriend's body, studying in detail every vein, every bone, every scar, and every love mark left after last night. Oswald laid bare, duvet covering his body below the hips. 

Bathed in the sun, his pale skin seemed to be shining, so thin and almost translucent with light blue veins underneath. Ed absentmindedly traced their intricate patterns with his fingers, smiling when he noticed the goosebumps on white skin appearing under his gentle touches. 

"You're so beautiful, Oswald," he breathed, unable and unwilling to contain his sincere admiration. 

Silky pale skin gained a pink tint to it as Oswald blushed at the compliment. So cute. Edward caught his gaze full of fond amusement. Blissful warmth spread in his chest, and he reached for a quick kiss before continuing his inspection. 

"Although I do need to feed you better," Ed mused as he slowly caressed protruding ribs and sunken soft stomach. Only recently they were able to steadily procure some proper food; Ed imagined his lover's body was even skinnier before that. 

Oswald huffed. "Honestly, I wouldn't mind it at all. Your roast beef last week was to die for." 

"You've had more than enough attempts already," Ed mumbled as he started tracing his fingertips over his lover's scars. 

Oswald had a lot of them. Some old, barely visible, some new, and some even still healing after the year of survival in a warzone. Ed frowned as rage boiled inside of him, a wave of burning anger at everyone who left those painful marks on delicate skin. 

"You're not too bothered by them, are you?" Oswald asked with slight worry in his voice. 

"No, no, of course not. They show just how strong you are to have survived all that pain. I'm just thinking about how much I want to kill everyone who hurt my sweet little birdie," Oswald snorted at that.  Present company included, Ed thought to himself as his fingers traced the green-tinted ragged scar on his abdomen. Under the sun, it turned out to be much less gruesome than Ed saw it before, discoloration not so pronounced. 

"You don't have to worry about it, my dear," Oswald said with a sly smile as he covered Edward's hand with his, intertwining their fingers. "Your sweet little birdie has already killed most of them himself. And forgiven those who deserved it." 

A slight pull told Edward his boyfriend wanted a kiss, and he was more than happy to oblige. Penguin's soft lips brought him peace and warmth. Oswald is here: alive, loving, and loved. His hand was pressing them close, and when the kiss ended, it didn't let Ed get back up. 

"But I haven't finished admiring the view yet," Ed tried to protest, but the strong warm hand held him firmly in place until he gave up his meek fight, relaxing next to his boyfriend's chest instead. 

"You have all the time in the world to finish your inspection. Allow me to maintain at least some level of mystery while I can." 

"Well, I did see you fully naked under proper lighting before. The setting was less than romantic, though," Ed huffed. "But speaking of mystery, what did you hide so hastily yesterday?" 

Oswald laughed. "Ever the curious creature, are you, my Riddler?" Ed batted his eyelashes innocently and nodded. Oswald chuckled fondly and shifted to reach into the nightstand. 

What he produced from there took Edward's breath away. It was the origami penguin he made for Oswald with gold-dotted black gift paper back then in Arkham. The bird was wrinkled and shabby, but still perfectly recognizable. It clearly had been folded flat quite often before, but now it was restored to its original three-dimensional state, it's little beak proudly held high and flippers neatly bent. 

"You've kept it? All this time?" Ed gasped in disbelief as he carefully took the paper bird from Oswald's hand. 

"What can I say? You know how sentimental I can sometimes be," Oswald chuckled. "It's a miracle that I managed to keep it intact throughout all the madness happening in this city. Unfortunately, I couldn't save the second one. Not much I could do against Jerome and his minions," he lamented. 

"I can make you a new one," Ed suggested. "It's all rumpled and barely held together anyway." 

"No!" Oswald quickly snatched the penguin from Edward's hands as if afraid that he would have crushed it. "This one is important to me," he gently stroked origami bird's head before putting it back in the drawer. Ed only shook his head fondly, endeared by Oswald's sentimental affections. 

Penguin then curled back into Edward's chest, exposing his back to the sun. He nuzzled at Riddler's neck, pressed a kiss on his collarbone, and sighed happily. Ed felt delightful shivers from hot breath against his bare skin. 

"Can we just stay like this?" Oswald murmured dreamily. "Preferably forever." 

"Hmm, as much as I love the idea, I'm afraid I have to refuse. I'm not letting you skip your breakfast, Oswald. Today is an important day, remember?" he gently stroked sun-bathed warm skin of Oswald's back. 

"How could I not?" he mumbled. "But right now, this is much more important to me," he said as he uncurled and reached for a long deep kiss, holding his hand on the back of Ed's head, pressing them closer. 

Today was a big day, indeed. After weeks of nonstop work on the restoration of the power lines, Gotham will finally get electricity back. This means Oswald's workers will be able to start building the Iceberg Lounge in full capacity. Penguin and Riddler have already designed all blueprints and plans; everything is thought through to the last detail. It will be a magnificent two-stories high establishment, with a big scene and a penguin-themed waterfall on the first floor, Penguin's private booth overlooking the whole place from the second, a large office, and, most importantly, several secret emergency escape routes. All stairs, tunnels, hidden doors, and concealed underground rooms will be built by a very few selected workers from Blüdhaven, Central City and Metropolis. Oswald is still considering if he should kill them afterward or pay them handsomely for their silence and future assistance in building other hideouts. 

Riddler is planning to start working on his own separate headquarters; he will need a spacious and safe workplace to design his schemes. Of course, he still has his laboratory here in the mansion, Oswald had it built for Edward during his mayorship, and it was barely touched since Ed moved out. But it's not big enough to make something truly spectacular. Not to mention the risk of blowing up the whole building if one of the experiments goes wrong or equipment malfunctions. 

Thankfully, Riddler has managed to clear out some of the remaining small banks while there were no cameras and no police during the first days of the reunification. There was no money left, but the foolish looters failed to steal something much more valuable - land deals, transfers of property. By now, Oswald has succeeded in officially claiming some of Gotham's land as his and Edward's own. Most of it under fake names, of course. Now they have legally owned property in almost all parts of the city. It's not much, but enough for a few hideouts or storages.

More than two hours later, they entered the dining room, hand-in-hand together. All morning they couldn't keep their hands away from each other, and both agreed that, as long as they wake up together, lazy morning lovemaking in the bed and refreshing one in the shower later must be a requirement before breakfast. Even if that meant listening to Olga's grumbling about reheating the food and remaking the coffee that had gone cold. It was well worth it. 

As they sat together at the table, they still couldn't resist holding hands while eating. When Olga entered the room with steaming cups of freshly made coffee, she rolled her eyes and muttered under her breath something like, "Nu blyad nakonetsto trahnulis' golubki." Oswald almost choked on his food and blushed furiously. 

"What did she say?" Ed asked him because asking Olga would be useless; she'd just ignore him. 

"Something like 'finally the lovebirds fucked', I think," he mumbled, and Ed also felt the heat coming to his face. Oswald cleared his throat before addressing the maid more loudly, "Olga, I don't appreciate your crude comments, even if they're spoken in Russian." 

The woman only huffed and smirked a little, not even a bit phased that her words were understood. She placed their coffee on the table and said, "Priyatnogo appetita, golubki," before leaving the room after another pointed glance at their entwined hands on the table and a slight fond roll of her eyes. 

"Unbelievable," Oswald grumbled and shook his head before continuing to eat. 

"Well, we wouldn't be able to hide it from her for too long anyway," Ed reasoned. "But do you think we should conceal the truth about our relationship from the public?"

"Honestly, my dear, I want to climb the highest building left in Gotham and proclaim to the whole world how much I love Edward Nygma. And of course, brag that he loves me back," he smiled cheekily, and Ed nodded because he wanted to do the very same thing. 

"But alas, I cannot allow myself to risk it yet," he sighed and squeezed Edward's hand. "If anything goes wrong, I'm not sure we have enough resources to repel attempts to using our love against us. So yes, unfortunately, I have to suggest we do not show our affection publicly. Not yet, at least." 

Ed nodded solemnly. Oswald is right. It's bad enough their friendship can be weaponized by their enemies. Their love could easily become their undoing now that they had no money, no power, no reputation, and no trusted allies. 

"Alright, I can't promise to keep my hands away from my lovely Penguin at all times, but I'll try. Although Barbara mentioned some time ago, she had thought we were already in a romantic relationship. She also stated that apparently, everyone thought that."

This time Oswald did choke on his food and coughed a little. "Everyone? Who everyone?" he croaked. 

"She didn't elaborate. But Lee was vaguely insinuating the same," Ed shrugged. 

Oswald rolled his eyes and sighed. "Fine, let them speculate and gossip further, I'm pretty sure they don't pose any danger to us for now. Barbara could, but she's too preoccupied with buttering up to Gordon so he would ensure she gets a full pardon and stays free to raise her daughter." 

Oswald sipped his coffee and frowned. Then added two more spoonfuls of sugar and stirred it thoroughly. 

"Speaking of buttering up, I'll have to visit the station today; I promised to provide my money and assistance with the bridge's construction, an upstanding, honest citizen that I am," Oswald rolled his eyes. 

"You don't sound too happy about it. Don't you want a faster transportation system than air and water to get more stuff more quickly?" 

Oswald smirked, "No, I really don't. I get too much profit from the boats I have coursing back and forth between Gotham and the mainland, smuggling all kinds of goods as well as rich people too impatient to wait for the much slower public transport." 

"Your ability to make money from literally anything never ceases to amaze me, Oswald," Ed admired. 

Penguin beamed at the compliment and shrugged with feigned humility. "I take what I can get." 

?

Even on their way to the station, they didn't separate from each other. The recently hired driver allowed Ed to give his undivided attention to the sweet bird and drape himself fully over Oswald. During the ride, Riddler was lounging on his lap, and they were alternating between soft cuddling and luscious kissing on the backseat, safely hidden behind the tinted windows and the privacy partition. 

At the station, they had to act like only friends, and already Edward felt the urge to hold on to his bird more openly, to wrap around him so that everyone knew who exactly this magnificent Penguin belongs to. Keeping his hands away from his boyfriend's body turned out to be much harder than Ed expected, but he managed for now. All they could allow themselves were fleeting moments when their shoulders touched or fingers brushed and lingered just a second longer than necessary as they were moving through the bullpen side by side. 

Still, it only took one glance from Harvey Bullock to start snickering and sending lewd jokes their way, which they both chose to ignore. However, ignoring the subject became impossible when Barbara chimed in and stated that Selina owes her a hundred bucks for losing a bet on how long it'll take Penguin and Riddler to finally hook up, much to Bullock's glee. The man himself has lost to Lucius, just like detectives Alvarez and Harper did. Harvey thought the two criminals would get things going much sooner, while two other detectives were convinced they would stay friends. Gordon's bet coincided with theirs, and Ed was at least pleased to know Captain lost quite a bit of money for that. Some people even put money on the two unstable criminals to kill each other. The closest one to the truth turned out to be none other than Lee Thompkins. And, as Barbara said before, a lot of people still believed they were already together for quite a while. 

Both Oswald and Edward were blushing and sputtering furiously at the outrageous discovery that apparently there was an actual poll going on where people placed bets on the development of their relationship.  Unbelievable. They refused to either confirm or deny the scandalous assumptions, but evidently, that fact alone was enough to consider those assumptions correct. Bullock's shameless teasing about them shining like two teenagers who just lost their virginity made matters only worse. 

Welp, so much for hiding their relationship. 

Chapter Text

So this is what real happiness feels like. To love and be loved, to have two separate lives combined into one, to see fates so intimately intertwined. Oswald has never been happier than during the last month and a half spent together with the love of his life. For a few weeks after his first night together with Ed, he felt honestly overwhelmed by their new dynamics; it all seemed too perfect to accept that it was happening to him. Penguin couldn't help but anxiously wait for the other shoe to drop. It never did. And eventually, he stopped waiting, fully diving into his radiant feelings, allowing himself to be happy at last.

Edward Nygma loves him back! He truly does, and Oswald feels his head spin each time he's reminded of the fact, which happens quite often. From the passion and tenderness they share when they are near to the small gestures when they are apart. 

Penguin never imagined he could feel so much bliss from physical interactions with another person. Each moment in Edward's embrace is like a drug for him; he just can't get enough. And Ed is eager to provide him more. They are almost always touching in one way or another when they are close. Publicly their relationship is still only speculated — they didn't confirm it but never outright denied it as well. It didn't feel right to renounce each other even if it was just a lie. Playing that game turned out to be mildly amusing, and they did have to keep their secret for now. Privately they were almost constantly in contact: be it passionate lovemaking, heated kissing, cozy snuggling, innocent hand-holding, or just fleeting small gestures like pressing a kiss to the temple or ruffling the hair as they passed by. 

Inevitably, they both were busy with their own projects and couldn't always spend their time together. But even when Ed comes home only for a few hours or gets up to leave after an idea strikes him in the middle of the night, Oswald usually finds some small reminder that he is loved and not alone. Sometimes it's a sticky note on the mirror with a green question mark inside a heart, anatomically correct one, of course. At other times it's a flower on the nightstand — flowers were different, and Oswald translated their meaning via the book on floriography. Often it's a cute riddle hastily scribbled on a napkin on the dining table or another small piece of Edward's creative attention. Sometimes it's only a glass of water and painkillers on the nightstand for Oswald to take when he wakes up. And sometimes he doesn't find anything at all, which is part of the game as well: Riddler would loathe becoming too predictable. 

When Edward doesn't come home at all, he sends text messages with various kinds of sweet things, almost always hidden under the puzzles. Once Oswald had to spend nearly three hours to decipher the message only to get a 'your hands are beautiful' in the end. He couldn't imagine a better way to spend that time aside from being with his lover himself. Every little reminder of Edward's affections filled his chest with heavenly warmth and never failed to put a happy grin on his face. 

The business was going well enough. One of the bridges was restored, but its capacity wasn't nearly enough for the rapidly restoring city; therefore, Penguin's boats still generated sufficient income. The Iceberg Lounge was mostly built already. All that's left now was interior work and hiring the remaining staff. Penguin wanted to get his club up and running as soon as possible. Quickly resurgent Gotham was attracting all kinds of rich people to do business and investing; what better place to make deals and spend quality time than the luxurious Iceberg Lounge, a classy yet modern club in the heart of the Diamond District. The establishment is due to be opened in two weeks if everything goes right. 

Illegal business was not as good, though. The GCPD and the military were working tirelessly on cleaning up the streets. More and more thugs are being caught or shot each day. Thankfully, Penguin and Riddler were safe for now while they were publicly helping to restore the city, providing money, resources, and information needed. Oswald's generous donations to the cause were matched only by Bruce Wayne's, which was not surprising to anyone. That kind of publicity allowed them to stay in good graces with the people and hopefully added a few points in favor of granting them a full pardon. Although that didn't help them with the criminal reputation at all: some remaining free criminals outright refused to work with Penguin, blaming him for being Gordon's lapdog. None of them survived to spread that opinion, but it did nothing for Oswald's underworld standing. Not that there was much of an underworld left.

Still, it was necessary at least for Oswald to stay free and decent so he could get Lee's medical help with his eye. On his latest visit to the hospital, his bad eye actually saw a very thick red haze, unlike the total blackness it was before. It gave some hope that his sight could still be partially restored with time. The eye itself looked terrible: it was entirely red with popped up blood vessels and burned eyelids, not even iris or pupil were visible. Still healing wounds covered cheek and forehead. Oswald was grateful for Leslie's steady hands: stitches were small and precise, closing his wounds tightly. Some of them won't even leave scars, and others will be barely visible and easily covered with makeup. 

Remarkably, Oswald has stopped worrying about the eye too much after Edward assured him that his reaction earlier was caused by the fear, guilt, and regret only — never he was even remotely disgusted by it. Lee gave him permission to change Oswald's bandages and clean the wounds at home with only monthly check-ups at the hospital. The first time Ed did it, he intently studied Oswald's injury for a few minutes, then leaned closer and very carefully placed tender feather-light kisses to his scars and closed eyelids, whispering quiet 'thank yous' between gentle touches of soft lips. When he pulled back, all Oswald saw in his expression was pure admiration, gratitude, and love. Ed never winced at the sight of his injury again, and that allowed Oswald to make peace with it. Whatever happens, he'll just learn to live with it like he accepted his permanently twisted and hurting leg. Penguin already got used to moving without the depth perception and managed to fire semi-decent shots when there was time to practice. His beloved boyfriend's acceptance and absence of disgust was all the confirmation he needed that everything will be alright in the end.

Recently Oswald began to notice Riddler getting more and more restless. He was nervous, cranky, lashing out on others. Even Oswald wasn't an exception. His own volatile temper sometimes prevented to resolve the matters without little quarrels, which thankfully never lasted for too long. Once, Ed almost lunged at Bullock with a knife after another snide comment from the detective. Another time, Oswald had to physically step in between his enraged boyfriend and Jim Gordon, interrupting whatever it was they didn't agree on. Good thing he was nearby because Ed's hand was mere inches away from his hidden gun handle.

The cause was simple: Riddler's manic itch to show off his genius intelligence wasn't satisfied enough by his help with rebuilding the city. Edward's input was highly appreciated by the officials and by Lucius Fox personally. Even Jim stopped staring daggers at him after his idea of dismantling the fallen Wayne Tower by strategically placed explosives actually yielded results. The workers cheered and applauded Edward Nygma when they realized he had saved them more than a year of hard work. Ed didn't look impressed or pleased by it. All those tasks were barely challenging for his eager mind and lacked that spark of danger both he and Penguin craved. Riddler felt restricted and suffocating without being able to do what and how he wanted.

That's why Oswald suggested making a little field trip. They both needed a change of scenery, a vacation at least for a few days. The choice quickly fell on Blüdhaven for several reasons. First of all, it was initially their destination in the plan of escaping the warzone. Oswald and Edward believed they could find a place in the city almost as deep in the crime as Gotham. Secondly, Oswald had business there; no way would he miss a chance to expand or make profits even on vacation. Penguin had to establish some connections within the local underworld and meet with the head of the rising criminal family. He also didn't mind wreaking havoc together with his partner in crime; Riddler had developed several heist plans and was excited to execute them. Besides entertaining it was useful: they would be close to running out of money soon if Penguin kept wasting it on charity in such amounts.

Most importantly, Oswald and Edward wanted to meet with Martin there. One of the last times he saw his boy was more than a year ago after Sofia had been dealt with, and he needed to get rid of charges that placed him in Arkham. Jim at least had the sense to look remorseful when he saw Martin alive and well and fiercely defending Penguin's name. Oswald couldn't contain his proud grin when, instead of shaking Gordon's offered hand, Martin kicked him right in the nerve under the kneecap. The boy's movement was quick and precise, just like Penguin had taught his brilliant conspirator. By the look of Jim's startled grimace and clenched jaw, the lesson was learned on the A+.

Oswald cared deeply for his boy. Somehow through all the madness that happened, they managed to forge a connection. More than once, he contemplated keeping Martin as his apprentice and future successor, giving him home and a long, happy life. That last part was problematic, though. In the short time Oswald had Martin under his protection, the boy's life was in grave danger several times, and the ten-year-old child witnessed the horrors that not many grown-ups did during their whole lifetime. Just being close to the Penguin painted a huge target on Martin's back, and he probably wouldn't have survived the year of constant battles. Oswald himself barely did. 

That's why he was convinced that the decision he made when Martin had been freed was the right one. For once in his life, Oswald acted selflessly and with the purest intentions at heart.

Penguin had two ex-assassins released from prison. The couple were former employees of Carmine Falcone and decided to retire when he did, living in peace away from crime until they were found and arrested by the GCPD. That suspiciously coincided with Sofia's return to Gotham. Their incarceration was most probably her punishment for refusing to get back into the business and work on her side. As expected, the city denied two ex-criminals a second chance and sentenced them to decades in prison, where they would've probably died without seeing each other again.

That's where Penguin intervened. After Sofia was no longer a threat, he broke them out, provided them with new identities, money, and a place to live in Blüdhaven. Not as an act of charity, of course. He needed people capable of protecting Martin but unwilling to get messed up in criminal deeds ever again. Who would be better for the job than a couple of middle-aged assassins turned away from the business and starting a new peaceful life? Besides, if the money he paid them wasn't enough motivation to take good care of the boy, then the threats to them and their loved ones certainly were. 

When the couple met Martin, Oswald was pleasantly surprised that they knew ASL and could teach their young ward to communicate by other means than writing and sketching. Oswald never even considered sign language as a useful tool for silent conversations between non-mute people before. Then again, Penguin was never a high-class assassin whose life depended on the silence and synchronized cooperation. 

The three of them seemed to get along very well, which was further confirmed by Martin in letters he and Penguin exchanged in secrecy. Among the first things Oswald did after the reunification, was checking up on his young conspirator. Martin was greatly relieved to learn that both Penguin and Riddler had survived the war. 

Edward was also delighted to reconnect with Martin; he never missed a chance to sneak a riddle or two inside Oswald's letters. Oswald wouldn't be surprised if Riddler was exchanging separate messages with Martin; both his boys were mischievous little devils, and could always be up to something ridiculous together. Over the short time Edward was keeping Martin safe, and these two months since the reunification, Ed seemed to grow almost as attached to Martin as Oswald was. Something was definitely special about that boy if he managed to melt even Riddler's cold heart and somehow meet his sky-high standards. Ed was asking Oswald when will they see Martin almost as often as the boy did.

All of them agreed to meet soon, but Oswald forbade Martin and his guardians from returning to Gotham, at least until some order is restored. 

Now Edward was trying to hastily teach Oswald to understand ASL on a basic level while they were sitting in the backseat of their car on the way to Blüdhaven. They've started these lessons since they decided to meet, and Oswald wished he had more time. Unsurprisingly, his genius boyfriend was fluent in sign language, having learned it when he was in Arkham — there was a textbook on it and a half-intelligible mute inmate. No rest for Riddler's restless mind. Alas, Oswald didn't have such a sharp memory and had a hard time following Edward's quick hands. He silently cursed himself for not finding time to study it earlier. 

Thankfully, Riddler was patient enough, and aside from a few sassy remarks about Oswald's questionable awareness, he was a great teacher. As they were closing to the park they chose as a meeting place, Oswald was able to understand slow signing and even sign a few words himself. He only hoped this knowledge wouldn't disappear as soon as he meets Martin. 

Their limo stopped, and after a short argument about leaving the cane in the car — which Oswald won by stating he can always lean onto Ed for support — they entered the park hand-in-hand, Oswald leading his both Edwards beside him. They've decided to allow themselves to act like a couple, at least during this little vacation. Oswald was already delighted about it — holding Riddler's hand in public sent pleasant shivers down his spine and made his heart flutter faster. The feeling was apparently mutual as Ed leaned into the touch even more, and they walked side by side as almost one inseparable being. They stuck out with Oswald's bandaged head and unusual gait and Edward's shining green suit, but it didn't bother them in the slightest. After all, they both reveled in the spotlight, especially when they had a chance to share it. 

They approached the fountain, and there he was — Martin, together with his guardians, smiling at them and chatting via sign language. Two former assassins looked happy and peaceful, like simple citizens. Although that was nothing new for them. A naturally inconspicuous appearance was one of their greatest weapons during their days of paid murders. They used to get very close to their targets due to the innocent demeanor. That is, when they weren't donning creepy animal masks and storming bullets all around them.

The man — who now lived under the name Adrian Nelson — was big and kind-looking. He resembled a teddy bear with his ample belly, pink cheeks, soft grey eyes, and curly brown beard. The woman — Janice Nelson — looked almost as innocent as her husband. She had a bright smile, dark skin, and dark hair in a bob cut with the fringe at the front. To any onlooker, they seemed to be just a middle-aged couple with their son on a walk this sunny afternoon. Oswald knew better. It would take them mere seconds to kill anyone threatening them or Martin, with or without the weapons they undoubtedly had hidden in their neat casual clothes. They even taught the boy some moves aside from ASL as well, which was good. 

To avoid startling the dangerous couple, Oswald called them from a respectful distance. They paused their silent conversation and turned to face Penguin and Riddler. 

They were instantly recognized, and Adrian waved at them with a kind smile. "Heya Mr. Cobblepot, Mr. Nygma!" he called. Janice smiled and nodded her hello. 

Martin didn't bother with greetings and just leaped into Oswald's embrace, pushing air from his lungs in the process. Oswald happily reciprocated the hug, ruffling his boy's thick curls and pressing his smaller frame close. 

"Martin, I'm so glad to see you!" he squeezed the boy's shoulders when they pulled away to look at each other. 

Martin looked well. His rounded cheeks were healthy pink, a glint in dark eyes still mischievous and lively, boyish smile happy, brown curls unruly in the soft wind, and his whole frame slightly taller than Oswald remembered. He wore a well-crafted blue coat and striped light-grey suit pants. Penguin was immensely pleased to see that Martin kept some of the immaculate fashion tastes he tried to instill. 

"Look at you, so handsome! You've grown so much. In a few years, you'll be taller than me!" Oswald gushed. 

Ed beside him snorted. "Not the hardest feat, let's be honest here." Penguin gasped and swatted his cocky boyfriend on the arm. 

Edward and Martin exchanged equally mischievous grins, giggled, and shook hands like good old partners in crime. Except their greeting didn't stop at the handshake. They also bumped their fists, tugged their momentarily entwined fingers, and then spread them apart as if imitating a silent explosion. The scene reminded Oswald of best friends saying hello after a summer break at school. He couldn't contain his touched smile and relished at the warm tightness in his chest, silently wondering when did they start doing that. 

Riddler signed something to the boy, and Martin rapidly nodded with excitement. His guardians, who approached and stood behind their ward, also saw it and nodded approvingly. 

Oswald didn't see Edward's hands clearly from this angle, but he managed to understand Martin's answer, *Great! Right now?* He then looked at Oswald and started to withdraw his notepad from the inner pocket of his coat. 

Oswald stopped his hand, took a deep breath and clumsily signed: *I can understand if you sign slowly.* At least he prayed he didn't mess up, and that was indeed what he said. 

It appeared to be the case as Penguin found himself once again with his arms full of happy Martin. The boy pulled away and signed, much slower this time, *Thank you for giving this a time, it means a lot to me.*

Oswald only wished he had studied it earlier and better. "Unfortunately, I can't sign properly yet, so it'd be best if I spoke aloud." 

*Sure, you all don't have to bother. It's cool you can understand me.* Martin beamed at both Ed and Oswald. Only then he noticed the dog Edward lying lazily behind Penguin, apparently having deemed this place fit for a quick nap. 

*You have a dog?* he asked with an excited grin. 

Oswald picked his yawning bulldog up and proudly presented him to others. 

"Edward, meet Martin, Adrian, and Janice. Friends, please meet Edward." 

The boy and his guardians all stared with bewilderment and almost accusation at the human Edward. 

"For real?" Adrian asked incredulously, and the other two shook their heads in disbelief. 

Ed looked comically appalled and embarrassed. "No! I.. I mean yes but no! I mean, I didn't name him!" he sputtered. Others didn't look convinced; Martin raised an eyebrow skeptically. Oswald burst out laughing at Riddler's scandalized expression. "Oswald did it! He named the dog, not I! Oswald, tell them!" he demanded defensively. 

Ed could be such an adorable man-child sometimes. Oswald was torn between laughing at the hilariousness of the situation and the desire to kiss his cute pouting boyfriend. The second would be difficult with a rather fat bulldog in his arms, so he just kept giggling and buried his face in Edward's green shoulder. 

"Wonderful," Ed grumbled, pouting even more. "Now they'll think my ego knows no bounds at all." 

"It's fine, Eddie, that's common knowledge already," Oswald reassured; they all giggled at Riddler's over-the-top gasp. Oswald decided to take mercy on him. "Oh, very well, it's true. I named my dog after Edward because I missed him too much," he admitted honestly. 

That was met with Adrian's 'aww' and Martin's nod of understanding. He knew better than most how deeply Oswald cared for Ed and how hurt he was after their downfall. The boy started to stroke bulldog's plushy head and got his fingers curiously sniffed and licked in return. 

Riddler hugged Oswald by the waist and placed a light kiss on his temple. Janice whispered something to her husband's ear, he waved his head no and wrapped a hand around her shoulders, reassuringly as it seemed to Penguin. He wondered what that was about. 

"Alright, let's go get ice-cream," Ed announced and clasped his hands with excitement. Honestly, he looked more thrilled by the idea than Martin. Although Adrian seemed to be sharing his sentiment. 

They went to the nearby café. Oswald noticed how Martin kept glancing at the dog, so he offered him to take the leash. The boy beamed at him and practically ran with the overweight bulldog in tow. Edward seemed shocked at the sudden intensive pull but obediently followed at a faster pace, hastily waddling on his short legs and grunting loudly. Martin's guardians laughed at the sight. 

"He wanted a dog for a while now," Janice commented. 

"A good opportunity for him to see if he's really interested," Adrian agreed. 

Oswald huffed a chuckle. "Edward is not exactly what you call an exemplary man's best friend. He's young, kind and cuddly but too lazy for an active young man such as Martin, I'm afraid." 

As a confirmation of his words, the poor pup just gave up on running after the boy and dropped right in the middle of the street, panting heavily and refusing to give in to the pull of his leash. Oswald smirked and moved to pick up his tired little friend when Martin beat him to it, lifted the animal, and pressed a kiss on Edward's plushy head. He was positively giddy when he approached the grown-ups, cuddling the dog close to his chest. He held Edward with one hand and started to sign with the other. Oswald was impressed by Martin's strength — the bulldog wasn't the lightest thing to carry. Especially with the extra pounds he's gotten over the last few months of proper feeding by Olga. 

*I don't want a pug anymore. I want a bulldog like Edward.* 

Janice laughed and scratched behind the dog's ear with her long nails. Edward whined, tilted his head and closed eyes in pleasure. 

"We'll discuss this at home, alright, hun?" she asked Martin with warmth in the voice. This is the first time Oswald saw her being so tender and kind. She was usually the more stern and vicious of the duo. 

Martin nodded enthusiastically and skipped towards the entrance of the café, still carrying the tired dog in his arms. 

Warmth settled in Oswald's chest at the sight of his young conspirator being so happy and carefree. It was apparent that his two chosen guardians loved their ward like a son. That's what Oswald always wanted for the boy: loving people to care for him and a relatively safe environment. His decision to let Martin go was once more proven right. Penguin had a lot of love in him to share, but the danger was waiting around every corner for him and his loved ones. Even if not mortal danger, then all inevitable publicity would've weighed on the young boy, rob him of a carefree childhood. He wouldn't be able to go to an ordinary school and have simple honest friends, being always under the scope and questioning the sincerity of everyone around him. Martin deserves better. 

They bought their ice-cream and sat at the small round table, Martin with his new four-legged friend resting at his feet. They spent some time catching up. 

Oswald and Edward told shortly about their one hell of a year. Martin asked if he could see Penguin's injured eye, and he had to decline politely but promised to show it next time when it heals better. Adrian snorted when Ed told about waking up in a dumpster, claiming to know what it feels like. Janice was especially delighted to hear how Zsasz had almost lost his head; she had some old quarrel with the assassin. 

Martin told about his school. Compared to Sofia's orphanage, this school had stricter rules about bullying, so it wasn't such an issue for him now. There was one attempt to demean him for his inability to speak, but it was cut short by his clever setup of his offenders. Martin lured them in a situation where exactly their tongues and loud voices got them into big trouble. Nobody ever tried to bully him physically, especially after they saw his wrestling practice with Janice after classes. He even made a friend who cared enough to learn ASL for him. His marks were good but not perfect, though only because he found school classes to be too dull and easy. Still, Edward couldn't stress enough how much he was impressed by the boy's intelligence and creativity, as he determined from their letters. Martin beamed at his compliments, and his guardians and Oswald puffed their chests proudly. Everyone knew Riddler didn't give praise for nothing. 

The Nelsons needed something to occupy themselves with now that they were unemployed ex-assassins and also had to support their civilian disguise. Janice started working as a physical education teacher at Martin's school. That way, she was almost always nearby and ready to protect him if needed. It was also a convenient place to teach him self-defense after school. Martin always laughed at how much other children were intimidated by her. Adrian was working at the pub as a bartender and sometimes replaced its manager, he also became the local champion in bowling. Both didn't miss the old murderous days at all but still had practice sparrings from time to time, resolute to stay in form.  

Oswald silently mused what he and Edward would do when — and if — they retire. He supposed he'd just run his club like an honest businessman, maybe even turn it into a franchise. Edward probably could open some sort of PI agency; he's always been good at detective work. People would compete to have their cases investigated by the great Riddler himself. He'll definitely never leave his brilliant mind unoccupied; no age or law restrictions would prevent Edward from showing off how much smarter than others he is. He might even like it better, to be a massive pain in the back of the dumb GCPD and not get arrested for it. 

He was drawn from his daydreaming by Edward giddily asking a riddle in response to Adrian's inquiry about what else they plan to do here in Blüdhaven. 

"In wealth I abound; in water I stand; as fencer I'm valued all over the land. At Venice I'm famous; by farmers I'm prized; respected by law, yet by huntsmen despised. What am I?" 

Martin started to sign even as Riddler was finishing his question. *A bank? You gonna rob a bank?* His eyes lit up. 

Ed leaned forward and signed with a wide conspiratorial grin, *Yes. Three banks, actually.*

"Daamn..." Janice shook her head.

Adrian whistled, impressed. "Ain't it a tad too ambitious?" 

Riddler huffed smugly. "Oh, please, I've done more. It's actually a humble plan, and only because my blueprints could be outdated. Had to leave some room for improvisation." 

*Will you tell us how it went?* Martin asked with hope in his big eyes. 

"Oh, he definitely will," Oswald assured with a huff. "Police have been notified already, I assume." 

"They will be, in two hours and twenty-three minutes," Ed confirmed, still grinning, and apparently not noticing his sarcasm. 

Martin gazed at Riddler in awe while his guardians failed to mask their criticism. Oswald just shook his head and chuckled, having made peace with his lover's manic quirks a long time ago. 

The dog Edward at Martin's feet started to grumble and whine, probably noticed the humans were eating and dared to not share treats with him. 

*Is he hungry?* Martin inquired when his pats and scratches behind the bulldog's ears yielded no results. 

"Not at all, but he'd be delighted to eat something anyway," Oswald chuckled. 

*Can I get a hot-dog for him?*

"He can certainly appreciate the sausage from it. No mustard, though." 

*Awesome! Be right back,* the boy hopped from his seat and pulled the leash, causing more grumbling from the bulldog. 

"Martin, wait up!" Ed called after him and reached the boy in only a few strides with his ridiculously long legs. 

After they left, Janice looked at Adrian questioningly once again and finally got a nod in answer. 

"Umm… So, Mr. Cobblepot…" Adrian began tentatively and hesitated, not sure how to continue. Janice rolled her eyes. She usually lets her husband negotiate significant deals, claiming that nobody would say no to a human teddy bear. And if they do, that humble-looking man can always use 'other' methods of persuasion. But this time, he seemed to stumble for some reason.

By now, Oswald realized they wanted to discuss something with him for a while, and it seemed to be important for the couple. He decided to have mercy on the guy before silence got even more awkward. 

"Please, just Oswald is fine, you know it," he gave a small encouraging smile. "What did you want to ask?" 

"We were wondering if you would be against us... Umm..." Adrian faltered again. 

"We want to adopt Martin as our son officially. Would you be okay with it?" Janice lost her patience and asked quickly, ending her husband's misery. 

Oswald didn't expect this kind of question. He supposed it would be about moving back to Gotham or requesting more salary but not adoption. He pondered it, thinking over all the pros and cons, weighing the consequences and implications. 

It could be beneficial for Martin to have actual loving parents, not just hired guardians. And they do love him; there's no doubt. Anyone could see this is honest and pure parental love, not merely fondness or temporal attachment. And they never pitied Martin for his inability to speak. They reasonably accepted it as a part of him but never treated him as less of a person or a sick, disabled child. Both Adrian and Janice respected the boy and tried to help him grow up a capable man with all the useful skills, even besides martial arts. For instance, Janice taught him how to waltz and shared some tips and tricks of cooking even with limited ingredients. Adrian took him fishing, taught him how to swim, and played baseball with the boy. In one of his letters, Martin wrote that the three of them live kinda like a family, and now Oswald witnessed it himself. 

On the other hand, their past could still reach them and put Martin in danger. It was the very reason Oswald had to part with the brilliant boy himself. But they did leave the criminal life behind, cut all ties with the Gotham's underworld, besides the Penguin. Blüdhaven wasn't much better in terms of crime level, but still, it was safer, with stable power balance inside and outside of the law. No gang wars or deranged psychopathic clowns running around with explosives. And if there were, Martin would have two parents, ready to give their lives to protect him. Not only because they were hired to do so but because he'd be their son. It would also be more convenient to have legal family rights in case the guardians' status won't be enough. But what if they ever decide to have a child of their own? Would they be able to love both children equally, despite blood connections? 

Both ex-assassins shifted uncomfortably under his scrutinizing gaze. Penguin realized he was silent for a few minutes and was blankly staring at them. 

"Look, we know we have a questionable past, we aren't the most conventional parents for an eleven-year-old boy. We also know you got us out of prison and hired us only to be his guardians, not to get too attached and become his family," Adrian said, suddenly regaining his confidence. "But we care about him deeply. We love Martin and would love to call him our son." 

Janice nodded, "Yes, I personally never thought of having a child before meeting him. I never even liked kids to begin with. Maybe you remember how tentatively I agreed to protect him, and I did only because you were good to us, and the job didn't entail anything illegal." Oswald nodded; he did remember. "But only just a few weeks later, I realized that I've never been happier. Martin is a wonderful young man, brilliant and endearing. It's the first time I've ever felt something that's usually called a maternal love. We want Martin to be happy, have a lovely childhood, and support him in whatever he chooses to do with his life."

Adrian nodded readily, his mellow smile mirroring his wife's. Oswald was honestly touched by their words. He certainly understood what Janice meant; he also never thought possible for himself to get so attached to a child until Martin. The same was true for Ed. After a few moments, Janice spoke again, a bit more hesitantly.

"And I think he'd be glad to stop thinking about himself as an orphan," she looked down and added after a short sigh. "Martin never talks about it, puts on a brave face like he always does," she chuckled fondly. "But even with loving people in his life, it's important for a child to have someone he can call parents. Blood-related or not. Believe me, I know," she added quietly. Oswald read her file, Janice lost her parents when she was six, and never got adopted.

Adrian covered her hand with his own, and two ex-assassins smiled at each other. The way they spoke and behaved, the way Martin was at ease with them — everything confirmed they all had a real opportunity to become a happy family. 

Still, the more Oswald pondered, the more he was sure of one simple truth: it wasn't his decision to make, he shouldn't even have a say in the matter, to be honest. The most important thing was Martin's opinions and wishes. None of Oswald's beliefs or doubts mattered in this case. His only hope for Martin to be happy couldn't be settled by logic and reasoning. 

"I understand. Did you already speak to Martin about this?" he asked the most crucial question. 

"No, we didn't know what our boundaries were in this case," Janice admitted. "We are your employees, after all, and we are professionals first and foremost." 

Oswald nodded. "Good. Then talk to him, ask his opinion. It's the only thing that matters. I only want him to be happy, loved, and safe. If he agrees you can provide all that for him and accepts you as his parents, then I'll be delighted to call him Martin Nelson." 

They hugged each other, barely containing their excitement and relief, tears shimmering in their eyes. Oswald chuckled. So much for cold deadly assassins. 

"I also want you to know that my continued financial support won't stop if you three become a legal family. Whatever happens, you'll still have access to that account I made for Martin. As long as I'm able, I'll ensure he has everything he needs." 

"Thank you, Mr. Cobblepot, Oswald," Adrian said whole-heartedly. "We won't fail you and Martin." 

"No need to thank me, it's his decision to make," Oswald smiled and noticed Martin returning with both Edwards. The dog one in his arms once again, delightedly licking around his mouth and panting loudly. The human Edward held a huge pink cotton candy in one hand, opening the door for them with the other. 

Martin put the dog down and signed with a roguish smirk playing on his lips: *I take you high into the sky, but you don't have to fear. I'll give you view from a bird's-eye. Sit back and feel the atmosphere. What am I?*

"Oh, good Lord," Oswald groaned. "Ed, we left you alone with Martin for only a few minutes! What have you done to our boy?" he lamented. 

"Oof, you're wrong to think it's his first riddle," Adrian huffed and shook his head fondly. 

"You're getting better at this," Janice praised, and Martin beamed in response. 

"That's what I said," Riddler nodded, grinning like a particularly proud Cheshire Cat. "All credits for that riddle go to Martin," he gestured at the boy with a slight bow like presenting an esteemed performer. 

*Do you give up?* Martin tilted his head, still smirking that oh so familiar Riddler's giddy smirk like he caught his victims off balance and gained the upper hand. 

Oswald groaned and dropped his head onto his arms resting atop the table, feigning resentment. But in truth, he was subtly wiping the tears that never failed to appear at the sight of his two boys getting along so well. Others giggled at his charade. 

"Ferris-wheel?" Penguin grunted from his hideout and lifted his head to look at happily nodding Martin.

"Correct! There's one on the other side of the park. Anyone up for a ride?" Ed asked in a tone that didn't suggest a refusal possible. They left the café together and headed towards the rides.

Turned out, Ed bought that pink cotton candy for Oswald, and it was considerably plucked from one side already, which he adorably tried to hide with a sheepish smile. They ended up swatting each other's hands from the last sweet lumps until Martin sneaked up behind them and snatched the rest of the treat for himself, smirking haughtily at two stunned criminals. His smirk grew into a full proud grin when Adrian congratulated him on a nice catch.

The walk was quite long, and by the end of it, Oswald was leaning heavily on Edward's arm, trying to ignore his sassy remarks about 'smart' decision to leave the cane in the car. Martin and dog Edward got a ride on Adrian's shoulders; the big man didn't even seem to notice their added weight. Martin, from his high position, joked that Oswald was now technically the shortest person of the whole group. Indeed, Janice was taller than him by a few inches, and even Ed didn't reach Adrian. Penguin huffed and pouted but had nothing to contradict the statement, much to everyone's glee. 

Adrian stayed on the ground with the dog while others boarded one booth on the ferris-wheel. Oswald was never a fan of heights, but Edward's steady hand on his waist managed to keep him calm and even enjoy the view without unpleasant associations with flying on a similar level in a blimp full of the deadly toxin. Martin didn't seem to be bothered and claimed he would never get tired of this view, each time he's here feels like the first. 

They spent the rest of the afternoon on the rides. Oswald carefully avoided too crazy ones, unlike Ed, who turned into the most adorable creature, gushing over the fantastic feelings of adrenaline and endorphins affecting him each time he felt like he was about to die there. The man was also rattling about the real chances to die on the rides, which was more than a bit disturbing for Penguin but somehow made things more exciting for his boyfriend. 

It turned out Edward had never been to an amusement park before, as he quietly confessed to Oswald, who gave him a long tight hug and promised to take him to the Gotham's park when it's functional again. He still remembered his own joy when they visited it with his mother; especially those few times when she had managed to scrape up enough money for at least one or two rides. 

When it was time to part, Oswald offered Martin and his guardians to take the dog with them, seeing as the boy couldn't get enough of him. Martin eagerly agreed and hugged Penguin, promising to take good care of Edward until they meet again the day after tomorrow. 

 

Chapter Text

Riddler went on his first heist of the night while Penguin had to meet with business partners. The meeting was predictable and uneventful yet productive enough. It won't help him with illegal activities in Gotham, but it'll secure a base of operations here, which is always helpful. Oswald couldn’t wait until he joins his lover for the remaining two heists. If he was honest with himself, he also missed the thrill of the game, that irreplaceable adrenaline rush after being almost caught or killed, even though such incidents during his operations were usually considered a failure. But even more than that, he craved to see his brilliant boyfriend in action. It's been too long, and their last joint bank heist didn't bring back fond memories to either of them. 

When they finally met at the backdoor entrance to the second bank, Oswald noticed Edward's obvious disappointment in the Blüdhaven police: they didn't increase security or show up to try and stop him at all. He muttered that even Bullock probably could've solved his clues within that amount of time. And it's not like they didn't believe in the seriousness of Riddler's intentions; he did send them a severed human hand covered in golden glitters and holding a note, after all. They just turned out to be too stupid to figure it out or too incompetent to care. Well, at the very least Ed had fun planning and executing the heist itself, it was evident by how giddily he placed tricky contraptions before patrolling guards could spot him, and how excitedly he grasped Penguin's arms or shoulders every time his traps got sprung.

Oswald listened to his boyfriend's grumbling about the idiotic BPD while clearing out the safes in the vault. He suppressed a laugh at the fact that Ed was indeed complaining about robbing a bank too easily. Penguin could barely relate; he liked it when such a crime was committed silently and without a hitch. But for the sake of his beloved partner, he supposed he could afford some amount of risk: Oswald wanted Riddler to have fun during this little vacation first and foremost. The money wasn't essential, just a nice bonus. 

That's why he 'accidentally' tripped a wire on his way to the last safe, while Ed was already carrying bags full of money to one heap in the center. Oswald saw a red light blinking as a sign of the silent alarm going off. According to Riddler’s research, local police usually arrived within nine minutes; at this time of night, they'll be here in six. 

Riddler was finishing spraying a huge swirling green question mark on the wall when they heard distant wailing of the police sirens. 

"Oswald, do you hear that?" Riddler asked in wonder. "They came! They solved it!" his face lit up akin to a kid who just found Santa's presents under the Christmas tree. 

"I believe so, my dear partner," Oswald agreed. "Let's get going then, shall we?" 

"We won't be able to make it with all the money," Ed nodded at the stacked bags full of cash and even some gold. They were planning to carry them to their car in no rush at all. The bank guards were all dead or unconscious after getting into Riddler’s electrical traps. Usually, Penguin would hire some muscle to do all the heavy lifting for him, but this time Ed wanted it to be only them, plus a driver outside. And Oswald long since came to terms with his inability to deny this man anything.

"No, dear, we won't. Let's grab what we can and get out before the police surround us," Oswald had no intention of getting caught here. His little stunt was just for Riddler’s excitement, not to give the BPD any real chance. 

"Wait a second, Ozzie. Are you suggesting we just leave it here for them?" Edward asked in disbelief. 

"Do you have other ideas, Edward?" Oswald suspected where this was going. 

"I guess I do," he murmured with an excited grin, stalking closer to Penguin. "If I drink, I die. If I eat, I'm fine. What am I?" Ed asked, flamboyantly gesticulating until he stopped inches from him. 

Yep, his suspicions were correct. "You want to set it on fire," he answered, withdrawing matches from his pocket with a sly smile. 

"So smart, my little bird," Riddler praised before claiming Oswald's lips in a quick but heated kiss that stole his breath in a matter of seconds. Ed also managed to snatch the matchbox from his hand in the process. He lit one after the last peck on the lips. 

Oswald's head was spinning after this display of passion, but he willed himself to focus as Riddler threw the burning match right into the pile of money. They took a few heavy bags each and approached the emergency exit — Edward insisted it's the only one, besides the main door, that opens automatically when the fire alarm goes off. The one they used to enter was most probably overrun by the police now. They waited and watched as fire was quickly devouring the bank's treasures until thick smoke reached the fire alarm sensor on the ceiling. The next moment Oswald heard the door click open as water started sprinkling all over the place. 

Penguin and Riddler stumbled outside, both laughing maniacally because right as they blocked the emergency exit door behind them, the shout of 'BPD! Hands in the air!'  reached their ears. Oswald peeked in a small barred window of the door and caught a glimpse of cops running around the pile of still actively smoldering bills. 

The heart was beating frantically in Oswald's chest when they reached the car and dropped their loot in the trunk. He had to admit that adrenaline rush and tension he felt from almost being caught sent all kinds of electrical shivers down his spine. It was unspeakably delightful to experience such a relief right after narrowly escaping danger. 

He tried to steady his panting as they slumped on the backseat, and their car moved towards the last bank for tonight. Or at least he attempted to draw a breath but was stopped by the hungry lips pressed flush against his. Riddler's heated body quickly straddled his lap and long nimble fingers threaded through his hair, probably ruining the haircut beyond repair. Oswald wouldn’t have it any other way. All too soon, though, he had to withdraw to get at least some air in his burning lungs. Two lovers pressed their foreheads together and looked into each other's eyes, still giggling and breathing frantically, sharing the electrified hot air between them. 

"Well, well, Oswald. I believe you are due to be thoroughly punished tonight," Riddler drawled sultrily, a dangerous yet lusting glint in his dark eyes behind the glasses.

Oswald lost his ability to speak for a few moments, only capable of gulping at his lover's tone and implications, feeling his face going beet-red. He was almost ready to suggest skipping the last bank and going straight to the hotel to fulfill Riddler’s threat instead. 

"Alright. But why?" Oswald asked and didn't even care how small his voice suddenly sounded. 

"Oh no, Mister Penguin, you didn't actually think your little diversion would go unnoticed, did you?" Ed mockingly cooed. 

Oswald rolled his eyes. "That's just not fair, Edward, you're too smart for your own good," he huffed at Riddler's smug nodding. "What gave me up?" 

"It was a nice attempt, but silent alarm lights and your calm demeanor showed me the truth. Hence, punishment," Ed whispered to Oswald's ear and bit on the earlobe. He couldn't hold a surprised gasp and pathetically whimpered when hot tongue licked the damage after sharp teeth. "Are you going to explain yourself, little bird?" he asked in a low, threatening voice that sent blood rushing right to Oswald's lower stomach.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Riddler. I just wanted you to have fun," Oswald played along and looked in his boyfriend's lusting eyes with the most innocent expression he could muster at the moment, batting his eyelashes and smiling timidly. 

It got the desired effect as Riddler growled and hungrily claimed his lips once again, licking inside his mouth possessively, hand in his hair tugging his head back for better access, and lithe body pressing Oswald deeper into the seat. Oswald moaned into the kiss and sucked onto his beautiful lover's sweet tongue, running his hands up and down the obscenely long slender thighs straddling him. 

They withdrew to catch a breath. "And oh how much fun I had, my love, thank you," his gloved hands cupped Oswald's face, a hint of warmth seeping through the material as Ed gazed at him with mesmerized adoration. 

"For almost getting us caught? You're always welcome, Riddler dear," he chuckled breathlessly. 

After a few more moments of stunned gazing, Ed seemed to have broken through his trance and grinned like an overjoyed shark. "Did you see their faces when they ran around the pile of burning money like a bunch of headless chickens?" he cackled and buried his face in Oswald's shoulder. 

"Did I ever!" Penguin laughed too. "What do you think they tried to do first, save money, or try and run after us?" 

"I bet money is more important to those excuses of higher primates than the people who tried to steal it," Ed chuckled, snaking his long arms around Oswald's waist and relaxing on top of him more comfortably.

"You're amazing, Eddie," he placed a kiss on Edward's temple before resting his own head on his lover's shoulder. He also wrapped his arms around Riddler’s narrow torso and melted into the hug, sighing contentedly. 

"We both are, my lovely partner," Ed murmured and pulled his arms tighter, securing both men closer together. 

The car soon pulled to a stop. They reluctantly disentangled their limbs, and Ed jumped out, eager to get started. Oswald got out more carefully; his leg was giving him a hard time ever since the park walk. Perhaps the decision to forgo the brace and leave the cane wasn't too wise after all. Then again, running with heavy bags to the car wasn’t part of his plans at that time.  

"We're a bit ahead of schedule, but we can get into the building and wait in the staff offices, there should be no cameras or guards on the way, and all clerks no doubt are gone already," Ed said as he picked the lock with practiced movements. Oswald made a mental note to ask his boyfriend to teach him some tricks of lockpicking someday; his own skill was shamefully lacking as he usually preferred destroying the lock, too impatient to fumble with small tools. 

They walked through the dimly lit maze of corridors, carpeted floors muffling their steps. Generic cheap landscape paintings hung on the beige walls and failed to make the passage any less monotonous. Oswald was about to ask if Ed was confident they were going the right way when they suddenly crashed into a guard, who stood stirring his freshly made coffee right around another corner. The middle-aged guy looked startled and stared at them in shock swiftly transforming into fear, which was comically contrasting with his gruff face and bulky frame. 

"Ey! Ya ain't supposed to be in'ere," he rasped, dropping the plastic coffee cup he was holding and hunching defensively, like preparing for the attack. The steaming brown liquid got rapidly soaked into the carpet, leaving only a fading scent behind. He furrowed his brows after a second. "Ain't ya Gotham freaks? From papers?" 

Oswald scowled at the derogatory term. Edward standing slightly behind him scoffed, probably at the stupidity of the guard, who didn't think to keep this realization to himself. They would've killed him anyway, but it still was tremendously idiotic of him to admit recognition of the notorious criminals openly. 

The guy started to reach behind his back with one hand. Instantly Penguin lunged at him, pushing the bulky man to the wall and elbowing him in the chest. The guard's strength matched his oafish appearance as Oswald learned when the brute grabbed and painfully squeezed his arm. He winced and was expecting a punch, but it never came. Instead, he heard gurgling sounds and saw blood gushing from the wound in the guard's neck after Edward pulled his switchblade out of it and drove it in the idiot's guts next. Oswald successfully wrestled his arm from the weakened grip and stared in awe at his magnificent partner, admiring his savage grace. 

Riddler was scowling and growling something unintelligible as he repeatedly stabbed the guard's abdomen, his whole posture akin to a raging lion tearing its victim to shreds, ruthless and unrelenting. Blood splatters covered his beautiful face and glasses; perfectly shaped cheekbones looked deadly sharp in dim light. A seething wildfire in his eyes threatened to set the whole building ablaze any second. He was gripping poor oaf by the collar with one hand, repeatedly driving the blade in and out of his guts with the other; thick blood washing over Edward's green gloves appeared to be almost black. Pristine haircut got noticeably messed, and separated locks stuck out from under the tilted bowler hat; glasses went slightly askew. 

Oswald was so mesmerized by his lover's merciless glory that he missed the moment when their victim's meek attempts to struggle stopped and limbs slacked. He forgot to count how many strikes it would take to put down this particular brute. He had no doubt Ed didn't bother to do it either; the man seemed to be entirely consumed by his primal fury. 

"Don't touch my Penguin! " Riddler roared into the dying moron's terrified face, baring his perfect white teeth in a wolfish grin as his victim slowly sank to the floor. 

This is probably the most feral state of his lover Oswald had a pleasure to witness. His breath hitched at the realization that Riddler became so enraged only because the oaf grabbed Oswald’s arm. Marvelous. Such a murderous display of possessiveness caused his heart to flutter wildly, threatening to break out from the ribcage; it felt unbelievably thrilling to be wanted and protected so furiously. Oswald got lightheaded at another glaring reminder that he really means a lot to Edward, he matters, he's treasured. 

Soon Penguin realized that the guard's wheezing and gurgling stopped, as serene silence filled the corridor like the calm before — or after? In between? — the storm. The only sounds were Oswald's frantic heartbeat thumping in his ears and Edward's heavy breathing. He noted Riddler’s frown was still in place, and nostrils were flaring angrily. His enraged boyfriend then turned to face Oswald, and he was momentarily consumed by the whirlwind of emotions boiling in Riddler’s eyes. Nobody ever looked at him like that. Like he was the most precious person in the world. Like only his well-being mattered, and his magnificent lover would do anything for him. 

Red splatters adorned Edward's perfect features, making him look even more dangerous. An apex predator.  His predator. This deadly power had an immense pull on Oswald. Like a moth to the flame, he was drawn closer to his boyfriend, stopping mere inches apart, tilting his head back to keep gazing in the voids of dark eyes behind the bloodied glasses, hot breath ghosting on his face. 

"Riddler…" he breathed, feeling like a mouse in front of a snake. Completely mesmerized, enthralled by the sweet danger. 

He didn't get a chance to say anything else as Riddler crushed their lips together in a brutal kiss, teeth clinking and tongues invading other's mouths. Oswald's heart raced even faster from the coppery taste of blood, which might be one of the splatters he licked from Ed's lips, or it might be his own blood drawn by sharp teeth biting him. Either way, it only added to the feeling of irresistible deadly menace. 

The bloodied switchblade made a muffled clang as it hit the carpeting when Edward's hands moved to hold Oswald, squeeze his shoulders and run through his hair, undoubtedly leaving blood all over him. Not that Oswald could care about that right now. All that mattered at the moment was the strong, tall body bursting with combustive energy and firmly pushing him to the wall opposite of where their victim's limp body sat. His own hands could only latch onto the lean muscles of Riddler’s shoulders through the green suit while his legs shakily complied and shuffled backward. 

One of the paintings dropped to the floor after the harsh impact with Penguin’s back. But even in this delirious state, Ed was considerate and caring as his bloodied hand gently saved Oswald's head from hitting the wall too. And only seconds later, that hand fisted in his hair, pulling Penguin’s head further back and down as they deepened the kiss more than he thought possible. Oswald's bitten tongue and lips hurt from the brutal treatment, and he loved every second of it. The passionate love for his deadly lover threatened to tear his chest apart and was escaping in the form of moans and whimpers at each lick and bite. 

They reluctantly pulled away, breathing heavily, lips still inches apart, and stared into each other's eyes. The fire in Riddler’s merciless gaze burned brighter still, now with passion instead of fury. His lips swollen and bright red, glasses slid almost to the tip of his nose. Oswald had to summon all remaining self-control not to claim those lips again and remind them of their current setting. 

"Shouldn't we rob a bank, my dear?" he inquired, still panting, and adjusted Edward's glasses with both hands. 

"I said we were early; you have some time to make better use of those delicious lips of yours, little Penguin," Riddler smirked smugly at the blush Oswald felt spreading over his face. They were really going to do it here, didn't they? Or did Ed mean just more kissing? Well, in that case, Oswald will blame his sassy boyfriend for not being specific and giving him ambiguous ideas. And for being so damn irresistible. 

"Very well," he murmured as he snatched Riddler’s bowler hat and put it on his own head, smirking slyly. 

His lover's gaze became even hungrier, and he started to reach for Oswald's lips again. Penguin had different plans, though. In one swift motion, he switched their positions, so Riddler’s back was now pressed to the wall. Breath left his boyfriend's lungs with a huff at the impact, and he stared at Oswald with surprise that quickly transformed into a swirl of emotions, forming an utterly besotted expression. He shivered at the thought that this look on Edward's perfect face was reserved for him and him alone. 

"God, you're beautiful, Ozzie," Riddler muttered huskily with a profoundly reverent look in dark eyes, his hands trembling where they rested on Penguin's back. Oswald couldn't hold back a pleased smile. He was hesitant with accepting Edward's compliments at first, but by now, he had no more room to doubt their sincerity. Ed didn't just say those things to make Penguin feel better, he truly meant them, and for a few weeks already, Oswald has started to believe his every word.

Penguin didn't waste more time and moved his mouth to ravish his lover's angular jawline and impossibly long neck, instantly rewarded with delighted deep sounds resembling a mixture of purr and growl. Penguin swallowed every little groan and encouraged more of them with occasional bites and licks between open-mouthed sloppy kisses. All the while, his hands were blindly unbuttoning the shimmering green jacket and velvety waistcoat, proceeding to release the patterned dark shirt from trousers. Riddler threw his head back in pleasure, which gave Oswald even better access to his sweet neck. 

He stopped his teasing when the suit and shirt were successfully out of the way. Edward's impatience was showing in the hectic desperation of his grip on Oswald's hips. After the last lengthy lick along the pulsating vein, Penguin stood on tiptoes to whisper sensually right into his lover's ear, "I hope you realize, you're the only one who can make me kneel with just a glance, Riddler." 

Oswald chuckled at the deep feral growl that escaped his ruthless partner's throat. That, combined with the ravenous look in scalding dark eyes and firm grip of long fingers, was just the reaction he was going for. Oswald knew how to turn on his manically possessive boyfriend beyond measure with the help of his words. Remind him just how much power he has over someone as powerful as the Penguin. He was very much the same in that regard, relishing in his ability to turn the smugly marvelous Riddler, this haughty ‘cold logician’, into a helplessly trembling mess begging for his mercy. 

Completely satisfied with his work, Penguin smirked and slowly sank to the floor, not tearing his gaze away from the predatory dark eyes above him. His bad leg ached in protest of another endeavor, but he learned to ignore that pain long ago. Especially in similar situations, it was more than worth it. 

He hastily fumbled with the belt buckle, unzipped and lowered green trousers down the gaunt thighs, getting closer to his target. Oswald tugged his gloves off, desperately needing as much skin-to-skin contact as their current predicament allowed. Penguin ran his now bare hands up and down the warm skin, relishing at how it trembled under his touch. He was looking up through his eyelashes, breath hitching from the raw, unmasked hunger in Riddler’s gaze. Oswald was drunk on being the reason for such behavior. He was so much wanted, desired, loved

"So tell me, Mr. Riddler," Oswald smirked at the sharp inhale caused by his sultry tone and the exalting title. He knew how Ed still secretly shivered inwardly each time he called him Riddler. Sometimes Penguin would even tease him, refusing to speak that name, although never for too long, and definitely without any spite he had years ago. "What got you so riled up, hmm?" he asked, knowing the answer but eager to hear it all the same. 

Oswald placed a few wet, open-mouthed kisses on the tender silky skin close to Ed's inner thighs, relishing in the impatient groan the action caused. His fingers crooked behind the waistband of dark green underwear, slowly tugging it lower. 

"He hurt you, put his dirty paws on my Ozzie. Nobody touches my bird and lives," Riddler practically growled in a deep voice and gently cupped Oswald's jaw, tracing a thumb over his cheek in a swirling motion, probably smearing the remaining blood like a warpaint. Penguin leaned into the touch and smiled at his lover with gratitude. He shall wear this mark with pride, as an evidence of the extent of Riddler’s love for him. 

"That's right, darling. I'm yours as much as you are mine," he murmured right before busying his mouth with pleasing his sweet lover, eliciting wanton groans — a glorious melody to his ears. 

Thankfully, the soft carpeting reduced the strain on his bad leg. It also prevented Edward's moans of pleasure from echoing through the hallway; they didn't want to attract the attention of another wandering late-night worker. Not right now, at least. 

Oswald pinned his boyfriend's bony hips flush to the wall, not letting him move too much and helping him find support for his shivering legs. One of Ed's hands laid on his shoulder, fingers digging hard in pleasure. Another hand he felt on the back of his head right under the snatched bowler hat, guiding and helping but not controlling and not preventing him from setting his own pace. Oswald was grateful for the support; he still wasn't completely confident in his skill. Although, according to Ed's trembling body and sounds of pleasure, he was doing a pretty good job. 

"S-so good, mmmy Oz-zie," husky slurred praise was the best reward Oswald could ask for. He hummed appreciatively and heard ecstatic moan in response. And could there ever be a music more divine?

Before Edward, he never expected to be so thrilled by the fact that he belonged to someone. Even the mere concept seemed completely foreign and unacceptable to Penguin. But now, feeling Riddler’s power surge through him, strong hand holding the nape of his neck, Oswald didn't feel threatened, degraded, or oppressed. On the contrary, he felt blissfully safe, loved, and cherished. Perhaps it was due to the fact that Ed belonged to him in equal measure. It was mutual and open codependency, one they both loved. 

He glanced up through the eyelashes and couldn't help but feel pride at Edward's positively ruined appearance. Cheeks flustered red, swollen lips slightly parted, and wild eyes locked with his. The great deadly Riddler was coming entirely undone under Oswald's delicate touches. Dangerous wildfire in his eyes slowly transformed into an overwhelming tenderness and protectiveness. It enveloped Oswald in the safe, warm blanket of Edward's infinite love, and he felt himself mewl in delight. 

Penguin decided to tease his beautiful lover a bit more. He stopped his motions, leaned back a little, and asked in the most lascivious voice he could muster, "Do you enjoy the view, Edward? I'm on my knees for you and behind me the body of a man you killed for me." 

Ed sucked in a sharp breath as his eyes widened, he looked behind Penguin’s back for what seems like the first time since it all started. From how intently he kept eye contact before, Oswald wouldn't be surprised if his lover truly grasped the whole picture only now. Riddler looked at the bloodied corpse of the unfortunate guard and traced his awestruck gaze back to Penguin’s form at his feet. Oswald noticed that the man was still holding his breath, mouth slightly agape as he probably tried to commit this picture to the memory. Oswald gave him time to grasp the whole situation and slowly worked with his hands while giving his mouth a brief rest. 

"Yes, I-I do... En-enjoy it, that is... I love you, Oswald," Ed croaked earnestly, seemingly on the verge of tears from the overwhelming emotions. 

Oswald will never get tired of hearing those words. He beamed and leaned forward, deciding that his actions shall speak of his love for now. Once again, he drowned in heavenly sounds escaping his beautiful Edward. Oswald was losing himself in Ed's pleasure; he absolutely loved it, loved making his boyfriend feel ecstatic, and so blissed out that he would lose the ability to form coherent sentences. Penguin wanted to worship this godlike body for hours. He'll definitely have a chance later tonight. Riddler was all his: gorgeous body, brilliant mind, and loving soul — all given solely to Oswald, and he will never tire of cherishing this treasure. 

He tried to maintain eye contact, only briefly closing his eye in pleasure; they both enjoyed the extra intimacy it added to the whole process. The brim of the hat was barely allowing it though, blocking his view occasionally, so Oswald moved to take it off. However, his hand was stopped by Riddler’s shaking one. 

"L-leave it.." he rasped and adjusted the hat, tilting it back slightly, enough to get it out of their line of sight. Oswald smirked to himself. Did he just accidentally discover another one of Edward's kinks? How curious. He'll need to 'research' it more thoroughly. 

Edward's gloved fingers pushing his shoulder back told him that his lover couldn't hold back any longer. Oswald hummed his understanding and pinned Ed's hips flush to the wall to support him in case his knees would buckle. Riddler’s sweet groan of ecstasy was almost deafening in the empty hallway. If there was anyone else here, they no doubt heard it. Penguin found that notion amusing. He also moaned in pleasure as Ed fisted his hand still holding and tugging his hair. The pleasant pain only added spice to the whole euphoric experience. 

Oswald placed a few last tender kisses on Ed's trembling thighs before slowly rising to his weary legs. The ache in the bad one was close to unbearable after prolonged strain; he'll have to take painkillers in the car if he wants this night to last. Edward gently helped him get up, caressing his face, not saying a word yet in his blissful afterglow. He pulled Oswald into a long sweet kiss, nothing like their desperate biting before. Oswald melted in his boyfriend's loving embrace, wrapping arms around strong shoulders for support. With Ed, he wasn't ashamed to show his weakness or lean on to him. No masks needed with the person he loves and trusts unconditionally. 

Penguin felt nimble fingers starting to fumble with his suit's buttons, and he gently stopped Edward's advances. Ed broke the kiss and gave him a puzzled look. 

"Ozzie? Don't you wanna-.." but Oswald silenced him with another kiss, he couldn't get enough of Riddler’s soft lips. 

Oswald had an extreme desire to comply and let Edward have his way with him. However, Penguin didn't want to mess up the second robbery before they even reached the vault. Besides, he was getting nearly as much bliss from bringing his boyfriend over the edge as from being pleasured himself. Probably even more. He cherished every second he was able to play with Riddler’s sensitive lean body, providing him immense ecstasy that reverberated in himself, overwhelming him with pure happiness and satisfaction at Ed's delight he caused. 

"Later, my love," he murmured in between tender pecks. "We have a bank to rob."

"But-.."

"Shh," Oswald hushed his sweet boyfriend with a forefinger on swollen soft lips. "No buts, Edward. Or I might decide to punish you for disobedience."

"Was that a threat or a promise?" Riddler purred, licking his lips and really pushing Oswald's self-restraint to the limits. 

"Both, my dear. We have a long night ahead of us," he gave a playful wink and chuckled at how Ed’s eyes lit up at the prospect. 

He put his gloves back on, helped Edward fix his clothes, and returned the bowler hat to its rightful owner, reaching up for one more kiss in the process. They quickly searched the body of the guard. Turned out the man had been trying to reach for the gun tucked behind his belt before Penguin lunged at him on instinct. The keys they got from him will spare Ed from the necessity of lockpicking and provide them crucial moments to catch up with the timing. Riddler retrieved his switchblade and wiped the blood on the guard's uniform. 

Getting to the vault was mostly uneventful thanks to Edward's meticulous planning. He selected the perfect route and time to sneak past the surveillance cameras and bored guards. The layout of this bank prevented him from placing his traps like in the previous one, and sneaking provided more adrenaline from the constant danger of being discovered, thus was more fun, according to Riddler. Oswald could barely relate, but who was he to judge his partner's definition of entertainment. 

Inside the vault, they separated to gather the cash into as many bags as they could carry in one go. They had some time to fool around before they could return the same way they came. But sharp blaring of the alarm broke their deep kiss. 

"It wasn't me this time," Oswald shook his head at Ed's questioning look. 

Riddler’s eyes lit up. "They came! My clue, they solved it!" he was almost jumping in excitement. "Sure, I had to add another one inside the previous bank's vault but still. Seems like Blüdhaven has at least one cop with an IQ above fifty after all." 

Penguin released a deep resigned sigh but didn't bother to hide his fond smile. "I suppose you have another escape route planned for this situation?" 

"Even questioning that is offensive, Ozzie," Riddler smirked smugly. 

"Getting caught during a bank robbery is offensive, honey," Penguin huffed. "Shall we?" 

They picked up the bags, and Edward led the way through the abandoned underground tunnel he discovered in blueprints. They had to shoot the heavy rusted lock on the door hidden behind the shelves in the storage room to get inside. The shot was definitely heard by the guards or the cops, who must be already swarming the main hall by Riddler’s estimate. Once again, they had to run with the heavy bags towards the exit, except this road was much longer. Penguin was gritting his teeth from deep pulsating pain in the right leg, silently cursing his lover's obsessive compulsion to leave clues for law enforcement. It was amusing and even endearing but so very inconvenient sometimes.

"Just a little further, Oswald," Ed reassured quietly so that his voice wouldn't echo in the empty tunnel. Not that they had too many chances of hiding: Oswald could already see faint flashlights around where they entered when he glanced back. They had a decent head start, but their pace was nowhere as fast as that of the trained cops.

"Who in their right mind even builds a tunnel under a bank?" Penguin grumbled. 

"In times of peace, you build me. In case of war, you need me. What am I?" Riddler asked with familiar glee. 

Oswald rolled his eyes but still decided to humor his boyfriend and gave it a thought. 

"An armory?" he tried. 

"A good one, very nice, dear! But not exactly," cheerful pride in Riddler’s smug voice was totally worth the effort, as always. "According to my sources, it wasn't always a bank. This place was planned as a bunker; its construction was financed by the government in case of nuclear war. The vault was supposed to be a waiting room, reinforced to protect refugees from outside danger before they would be checked in and sent down into the living quarters," Edward explained in a hushed voice as they hastily stepped along. 

"That explains its unreasonably thick walls," Oswald remarked. 

"Indeed, it does. A shame that construction had barely commenced when some complications with the property deals were discovered, and the land went into private hands. Still, it was adequately challenging to decipher the military blueprints. I have to admit I wasn't one hundred percent sure this tunnel still existed. It was supposed to be sealed off years ago," Edward confessed casually. 

Oswald almost stumbled. "So you're saying that right now we might be stuck between the police and the dead-end?!" he demanded in disbelief. He wasn't excited by the idea in the slightest, and it instantly sparked his irritation. 

Riddler giggled, skipping a little as he strode. "We'll just have to wait and see, my avian friend."

Oswald gaped at him. "I cannot believe you sometimes, Edward Nygma."

"I know! I'm unbelievable!" Riddler exclaimed, dramatically spreading his long arms with the bags. He was clearly in a very chipper mood, and it was contagious. 

"Remind me, why do I love you, again?" Oswald sighed at his infuriatingly adorable partner.

"Oh dear, I'm afraid there's just no time to count all the reasons..." Oswald couldn’t help but fondly shake his head and huff a chuckle at Edward's shameless flamboyance. "But, here's one." 

Riddler managed to lean down and peck Oswald on the cheek before skipping a few steps ahead and pointing at the bland iron door, with a graceful bow. "After you," he murmured with his irresistible charming smile that instantly melted Penguin’s heart. 

This lock was also too rusted and old to pick. Both men winced at the piercing sound of the shot echoing through the hallway. Oh well, their pursuers won't be here on time anyway, no need to be sneaky anymore. The car was already waiting for them when they emerged a few blocks away from the bank, probably instructed to drive here by Edward. 

Oswald couldn’t hold a groan of relief when he finally collapsed onto the backseat, carelessly throwing bags of money on the floor. He really should've taken his pills before their midnight escapades. 

"Oswald, drink up," Edward's kind voice brought a smile to his face, and Oswald gratefully took the pills and water from his caring boyfriend's warm ungloved hands. "My dearest Penguin had to put so much strain on your leg today. I promise I'll make it up to you," he murmured before placing a tender kiss on Oswald's temple. 

Oswald melted under his boyfriend's sweet touches, feeling blissfully happy, content. Who cares about some pain when this magnificent man looks at him like an adorable lovestruck puppy. 

At the hotel, Ed fulfilled his promise flawlessly. He ran them both a hot bath with scented oils, gently washed away all the blood and grime, basking Oswald in his love and care. A luxurious dinner had been brought by the hotel service despite the late hour. After that, Edward gave his bad leg the best relaxing massage he had ever experienced; nimble fingers kneaded his cramped muscles, bringing delightful relief and effectively chasing soreness away. By virtue of Ed's delicate treatment, Oswald's leg was more than capable of sustaining their remaining night. They had a lot of bottled up adrenaline and excitement to work out after all. 

—☂—

Oswald woke up to soft kisses on his shoulder and a warm hand gently caressing his stomach and chest under the soft duvet. His back was pressed to Edward's lean chest so close he could feel his boyfriend's steady heartbeat. Waking up in Riddler’s loving embrace always felt like heaven. All treasures and power pale compared to the ecstatic bliss overwhelming Oswald at being basked in Ed's tenderness. 

They skipped breakfast completely, preferring to spend more time in bed and their large bath together. It wasn't every day that they could devote all morning to themselves, with their busy schedules. This little vacation presented a perfect opportunity for worshipping each other's bodies, drowning in heated passion and tender cuddles. 

During the lunch brought to their suite, Oswald was once again practicing ASL with Ed when his phone rang. The screen displayed 'Jim Gordon', and instantly Oswald felt waves of irritation and anxiety emanating from Riddler. 

"You think he knows?" 

"Hush dear, let's find out," Oswald covered his boyfriend's hand with his own. Then accepted the call, putting it on the speaker and placing the phone on the table between them so Ed could hear the whole conversation. 

"Jiiim, hello, old friend! It is so nice of you to call and not wake me up at six in the morning," Penguin feigned cheerfulness and added a bit of venom in that remark. He was still sore about Jim waking them up early to borrow a boat from Oswald once. "To what do I owe this pleasure?" 

"Are you out of your mind? What do you think you're doing?!" Jim made the best impression of a scream in a hushed voice. 

Oswald and Ed exchanged glances; they both knew what this was about. Edward frowned, probably worried that they might have jeopardized their pardon with last night's exploits. Oswald just shrugged and smiled at his boyfriend reassuringly. 

"I think I'm having a delicious lunch right now, thanks for asking. What are you up to this fine morning?" Penguin asked nonchalantly like he was indeed having a casual conversation with a good friend. Ed smirked and shook his head with fondness. 

"Don't play dumb, Oswald. I know what you and Nygma did last night." 

"Oh Jim,  we did a lot of things last night," he didn't miss the opportunity to wink playfully at now blushing Edward. "But I believe it's none of your concern." 

"Cut the bullshit, Penguin," oh, Jim was really pissed if he wasn't phased by his innuendo and even used the nickname. "If it's not my concern, then why do I get a call from the Blüdhaven police in the middle of the night, asking me to help them with a riddle?" 

Oswald and Ed started at each other with equally dumbfounded expressions. Riddler mouthed 'They did what?!', emphasizing it with ASL signs of his one free hand. 

"I'm afraid I have no idea what you're talking about, Jim. Do you need help with a riddle? I have to admit it's not my strongest suit. But I can call Edward. I'm sure he might be persuaded to give you a hint, if you ask nicely, of course."

Ed bit his lower lip to restrain from laughing out loud. It took all of Oswald's willpower to keep his voice steady and serious. 

"Is this all a joke to you? People died, three banks had been robbed last night, the BPD had received clues and riddles about the crime in advance. Does that sound familiar to you?" 

Jim was fuming with anger and basically growling at the other end of the line. Penguin was pretty sure that if they were in the same room, he would've been roughly pinned to the wall by enraged Jim Gordon at this point. He wondered in what manner Riddler would've maimed or slaughtered the unfortunate police Captain if that were to happen. 

"It sounds like an awfully lousy job by the Blüdhaven police," Penguin decided to keep to himself the remark about just how familiar that poor execution was to him: the GCPD was no better most of the time. "Not to gloat or anything, but don't you think they deserved that if they failed to solve a riddle on their own and had to wake you up?" 

Riddler gazed at Oswald with pride and squeezed his fingers in support. Oswald lifted his other hand to brush a strand of soft hair from his gorgeous boyfriend's forehead and straighten his glasses slightly, sharing equally mischievous smiles with the love of his life. 

There was a deep sigh full of suffering. "Oswald, you asked me to negotiate a full pardon for you and Nygma. I told you to behave, and what do you two do? Rob three banks in a neighboring city, leaving a trail of bodies behind!" 

Oswald gritted his teeth at that word. Behave. Like he was some stupid dog on a leash in need of training. Penguin was so very close to shouting everything he thought about that pathetic hypocrite and his worthless, corrupt GCPD. 

But then he saw Edward lifting their still entwined hands and gently pressing his soft lips to Oswald's knuckles. The man was wearing the warmest loving smile, full of tenderness and understanding. It was like a fresh air for fuming Penguin, it calmed him and allowed to breathe without the lump of anger in his throat. 

Oswald nodded gratefully at his boyfriend and managed to continue to speak in the same cheerful manner. 

"James, I have a feeling you're trying to insinuate that Edward and I had something to do with those robberies you mentioned. That is just preposterous!" he huffed loudly for dramatic effect. 

"Is it, Oswald?" 

"It is, Jim, you know I would never jeopardize our pardon for the money," he stated, all the while caressing Edward's face to convey the message, 'but I would for you'. Riddler’s grateful smile was a clear indication that the sentiment was understood. 

"Why are you so dead set on accusing us anyway? Could it be that the local police found some concrete evidence of our involvement?" 

Jim groaned in frustration. "You know they didn't. You both are too good to be that sloppy," Ed visibly preened, smug grin adorning his beautiful face. "But you have to admit that the green sprayed riddle including a line about 'wicked feathered friend' is a bit too specific to be just a coincidence." 

That was news to Oswald; he didn't read all of Riddler’s writings. Edward's grin transformed into a sheepish smile, he ducked his head a little and blushed, forming one of the most adorable pictures Oswald had ever seen. He mouthed  'aww that's so sweet, Eddie',  knowing that his brilliant partner could read lips. Oswald cupped one side of Edward's face to caress him tenderly, absentmindedly tracing perfectly sculpted features with a thumb: his sharp cheekbone, smooth cheek, angular jawline, round chin, silky pink lips...

"That sounds very intriguing, Jim, but I have no idea how or why you connected it to us. Ed and I are-..." 

Penguin’s calm speech was cut off mid-sentence because Riddler opened his soft lips and sucked Oswald's thumb in, hollowing his cheeks and half closing his eyes in silent imitation of erotic bliss. Oswald gaped at the arousing display and barely contained the moan when hot wet tongue swirled obscenely around his thumb. He did fail to stop himself from exhaling a small whimper when sharp teeth grazed his skin playfully but threateningly at the same time. Riddler’s dark eyes were two pools of lustful promises, and Oswald wanted nothing more than to drown in them. 

"Oswald? You still there?" Jim's gruff voice brought a little clarity back to Penguin’s short-circuiting brain. 

"Yes, Jim, forgive me that stumble. I got distracted by Edward nipping and licking my fingers," he explained nonchalantly and apparently shocked both men. Ed's eyes widened in disbelief, and mouth fell open, releasing Oswald's thumb, which he slowly extracted and traced over Riddler’s lower lip, pushing it down slightly, exposing the lower row of perfect white teeth before letting it return to the natural state. 

Jim seemed to be experiencing similar shock if the stunned silence on the line was any indication. After a few long seconds, he cleared his throat and hoarsely uttered. "Oswald, I really don't need to know what you two are... Oh, wait. You meant your dog  Edward?" there was an audible relieved exhale. 

Ed realized what was happening and already was grinning wildly, bringing his hand to cover his mouth. Oswald wore a matching grin: it was a special kind of pleasure to make Jim Gordon uncomfortable, and causing his lovely boyfriend to laugh was a priceless bonus. 

"Why, did you think that human  Edward was lapping at my finger as we speak?" he made sure to sound as scandalized as possible. "Well, well, Captain James Gordon, who would've thought you had such obscene fantasies underneath that holy righteous facade of yours!" 

Ed hid his face in the crook of his elbow to stifle laughter; his shoulders were shaking wildly. Oswald fondly shook his head at the endearing picture and ruffled soft curly locks. 

"I don't-..." Jim growled in frustration. "Stop trying to derail this conversation! I know you're in Blüdhaven right now, Oswald," he revealed like it was some incriminating evidence. 

"I never said I wasn't. I don't recall visiting another city being a crime."

"What are you doing there?" Gordon growled. 

"I don't see why I should explain myself to you, Jim," Penguin let a bit of threatening edge to his voice, it wouldn't do to let Gordon forget his place. He then released a deep sigh. "Are you alone or someone else is listening?" 

"It's only me here, Oswald. It's not exactly permitted for the police Captain to discuss an ongoing investigation with one of its main suspects." Even without seeing Jim's face, Oswald could imagine the man was pinching the bridge of his nose and regretting some life choices that led him to this moment. 

Oswald sighed loudly again, faking more exasperation than probably was necessary. "Very well, Jim, since we're old friends and you're keeping this conversation between us, I suppose I can tell you. If you must know, Ed and I are visiting Martin here in Blüdhaven." 

Ed looked shocked, he tensed and frowned at that admission. Oswald stroked his hand in a calming manner and nodded with reassurance. It seemed to work as Ed visibly relaxed and kept listening to the conversation with interest rather than worry. 

"Martin?" Jim echoed, clearly confused. 

"Yes, Jim. Martin. Do you remember Martin? The same boy Martin, whose death I faked to save him from Sofia. For which you threw me into Arkham to be tortured by Jerome and other lunatics, putting Martin's life in danger again," he added resentfully. Penguin needed to invoke Jim's remorse right now. 

"I remember," Jim mumbled, defeated. "Did you move him to Blüdhaven? Why?" 

Oswald scoffed. Jim wasn't stupid, but some of his questions were beyond naive. "It would be rather cruel and downright idiotic of me to make the poor boy live in the city where he got almost killed on at least three occasions, wouldn't you agree, Jim?" 

There was a small sound, like Jim was holding back an angered defeated groan. It made Oswald smile triumphantly and preen under his boyfriend's adoring gaze. 

"You're lucky Blüdhaven is outside my jurisdiction, and I have more than enough problems here in Gotham, or I would've gotten to the bottom of this."

"Jim, you can't just blindly accuse us of a crime only based on an M.O. similar to the Riddler’s. And why are you calling me about his alleged crimes anyway?" 

There was a moment of uncertain silence before Jim replied. "Because you're friends, and I assumed you knew what he's up to. And reports said robberies were done by a small group of people," Jim probably realized how unconvincing that sounded since he sighed deeply and added, "And also because Nygma blocked my number." 

Ed made a theatrically abashed face, raising his eyebrows and hovering his long fingers over his open mouth in the fakest shameless  'oops' . Oswald burst out laughing in earnest both at his boyfriend's exaggerated expression and the fact that Jim was so done with Riddler that he preferred to call Oswald rather than dial from a different number. 

"Oh, Jim, I'll make sure to tell Ed you asked him to unblock you," he said between giggles. 

"Don't bother," Jim grunted, and Ed smirked condescendingly. 

"As you wish. Is there anything else I can do for you?" 

He heard a deep, resigned sigh. "No, that would be all. Have a good day, Oswald." 

"At last, some kind words from you! Thank you, Jim. And good luck to you too!" 

Jim didn't reply and ended the call. Oswald exhaled with relief; this went much better than he expected. 

"Wow," Ed breathed a chuckle. "My clever Penguin, you never cease to amaze me," he gracefully rose up and slowly glided to Oswald. 

Penguin froze in his chair as he watched Riddler’s lithe body getting close and straddling his lap with fluid motions, trapping him in the embrace of strong lean limbs. Their lips were almost brushing when Ed mumbled, "If a chicken says, 'All chickens are liars', is the chicken telling the truth?" 

Oswald scoffed and pressed their lips together instead of an answer. Edward didn't seem to mind at all and returned the kiss in earnest, caressing his back and shoulders. Oswald was melting in their closeness, resting his hands on his boyfriend's slim hips, when Riddler broke the kiss, leaned back slightly, and asked with sly glee, "So, do you give up?" 

Penguin tsked and shook his head. "That's not even fair, Ed. You're asking me a variation of the liar's paradox; there's no right answer to it," he complained. 

He could see it in Edward's gleaming eyes that he wanted him to give up. Oswald learned to distinguish between the riddles Ed genuinely waited for him to guess and the ones where he just wanted to show off his creativity and tricky mind. 

Riddler’s grin was as complacent as ever when he retorted smugly, "Oh, but there is, darling. Chicken said nothing: they can't talk!" 

His triumphant laughter was interrupted by Oswald's firm grip on his round lean backside. "Oow, someone's in the mood again already I see," he purred and made a thrusting motion with his hips, causing Oswald to bite his lip as he was indeed almost in the mood even after their eventful night and morning. He just couldn't get enough of this perfect lithe body currently squirming lewdly on his lap. 

"Chickens can't talk at all, but this devious bird," was punctuated by a tender kiss on the tip of Oswald's nose, "has an incredible skill of concealing the truth without speaking a single lie. How on earth can you be so frustratingly cunning that even righteous bullheads like Gordon have to resign?" 

Penguin felt the blush spreading over his cheeks at the genuine admiration in Ed's soft voice. 

"Years of practice, my dear Edward," he shrugged in feigned modesty. "Truth is a liar's best tool." 

"Why did you tell him about Martin, though? Don't you worry that he might get the boy involved in the case and attract unnecessary attention?" 

Penguin shrugged. "Jim Gordon is not a difficult person to read. He's driven by a desire to protect the innocent and to do what he thinks is morally right. If those two goals become contradictory, Jim inevitably chooses to defend people, even if it means doing something wrong or reckless," Oswald played with his lover's shirt buttons absentmindedly. "Besides, he has a lot of guilt about the whole Sofia and Martin situation; it'll appeal to his compassion and sympathy. Thus, he won't pursue this case, and he'll keep Martin out of any consulting he might provide for the local police."

Ed shook his head in admiration. "So wise, my Penguin," he praised, and Oswald couldn’t hold back a purr when the soft lips pressed shortly onto his own. 

"Still can't believe they called Gordon to solve my clues," Ed pouted adorably. 

"Well, clearly no worthy opponent for the Riddler here," Oswald agreed. "You could try testing Metropolis police's wits next time; crime level there speaks highly of their skill." 

Riddler’s eyes lit up. "Next time? You mean it?" he wondered like a kid who got promised a visit to a theme park barely after leaving a zoo. 

Oswald stroked his adorable partner's soft dark locks. "I don't see why not. We might organize another little vacation there some time. I was considering proposing a partnership with Mr. Lex Luthor; he seems to be an up-and-coming businessman. LexCorp is already a huge player in Metropolis, but it lacks representation and partners in Gotham to compete with Wayne Enterprises properly. Of course, I won't be representing him myself, merely provide a platform for the future arrangements, become an essential link in his operations there..." Penguin trailed off because he got lost in warm hazel eyes, studying him with fond amusement from behind the lenses. 

"Do go on, Mr. Penguin," Ed murmured, threading his long fingers in Oswald's hair. "I do so love to hear you scheme." 

Oswald pecked his lover's sweet lips. "There's not much to say right now. Alas, all scheming will have to wait until the final decision regarding our standing with the law."

"Do you think we blew it?" Ed asked quietly, casting his gaze down like a cutest guilty puppy. 

"No, I think we're good. It was a courtesy call more than a real threat. As Jim said, Blüdhaven is out of GCPD jurisdiction, and we left no evidence. If it comes to this, we can spin it like somebody tried to set us up using your modus operandi," Riddler frowned at his words. Of course, he would hate to outright renounce his elaborate crimes. He took pride in them, and Penguin hoped he wouldn't have to deny his devious partner his achievements. 

"And besides, there's still an ace up my sleeve that I hold against Gordon," Oswald reassured his lover and was pleased to see the worry in his eyes being replaced by curiosity. He didn't need to be asked to elaborate. 

"I suppose you know that Sofia came to Gotham only because Gordon paid a visit to Don Falcone looking for help against my licensing system?" Riddler nodded frowning. "As you probably recall, her appearance suspiciously coincided with the Pyg killing crooked cops on my payroll." 

"Oh my..." Edward's eyes widened as he saw the full picture. Oswald didn't need to explain further. "But how did you find out? When?" 

"Remember my bookkeeper Penn?" Ed nodded. "He had to bring me something especially worthy if he hoped to keep his head after working on both Don Falcone and Sofia behind my back. I supposed that such a piece of delightful dirt on his holiness Jim Gordon was good enough reason to allow him one last chance to redeem himself," Oswald smirked. 

"Do you have any evidence? Does Gordon know?" Riddler’s eyes burned bright like two sparks lit up at the prospect of a guileful setup. 

"Unfortunately no, there's absolutely zero proof of a connection between Jim and the Pyg. There were never any official deals or money transfers, and all who could attest this are now either dead or, you know, Sofia." Ed snorted. "Nevertheless, Jim doesn't need to know that. He is aware I know of his little misadventure, and that should motivate him enough." 

"How 'friendly' of you," Riddler chuckled and did air-quotes. 

Oswald shrugged. "Try as I might to not admit it, Jim turned out to be a fair-weather friend. I suppose he deserves this treatment." 

"Still, a shame we can't show everyone what a hypocritical fraud he is under that white cape." 

"It's not that bad, really. If Jim was punished for this, he would've been a martyr, a brave fallen angel deserving sympathy and forgiveness. No, redeeming his sins — that would've been too easy," Penguin shook his head and huffed. "The real torture for him is to live his life, knowing he caused the death of so many people and not only wasn't punished but got rewarded instead. He basically reached his title of the Captain by paving the road with heads of his dead fellow officers. It might not seem like too big of a deal for us, but for Jim Gordon, whose whole world is built around the yearning to be a good man, this is a real punishment."

Riddler’s cruel smirk, mirroring his own, was all the confirmation Oswald needed to know that his words were heard and accepted. Ed pressed himself closer, wrapping his arms around Penguin and nuzzling into the crook of his neck. Oswald happily returned the embrace, breathing in his boyfriend's warmth, safely locked between the back of the chair and Edward's lithe body. They had some more time to cuddle before going out.

 

Chapter Text

When they left the hotel, their second driver was already patiently waiting. Yesterday's driver was tasked with delivering stolen treasures to Olga. Oswald supposed he'll have to increase the guy's salary for being so trustworthy and not running away with the car full of money. Sure, Penguin knew where the driver's family and friends lived; it probably was a deciding factor in his loyalty. Still, being kind and generous aside from threatening towards employees wouldn't hurt. 

They had a few things planned for today

First of all, a business visit to the company providing diving and salvaging services. All marine companies Oswald worked with before, failed to find any trace of SS Gertrude on the mainland. Edward calculated the exact distance the sub could've taken Nyssa. All shores and docks in the area have been thoroughly searched yet every attempt yielded zero results, which led to the conclusion that perhaps they should look for their treasure underwater.

In this Blüdhaven diving&salvaging company, Oswald had hired divers almost two weeks ago, but they still didn't send a single report despite what the contract guaranteed. Penguin chose to take it as a personal offense and blasted through their doors like he owned the place side by side with severe-looking Riddler. They stormed right into the director's office and locked the door, both wearing grim expressions. The man apparently recognized his visitors, if his panicked trembling and sweating were any indications. He miserably squirmed before their forms looming over him, desperately trying to come up with pathetic excuses only to get silenced by short-tempered Penguin hitting him square in the jaw with the base of his cane. Failure to solve Edward's riddle was another mistake the man had made and will regret for as long as it takes his broken bones to heal. A few more mild but painful injuries did the job. The terrified director kneeled, begging for his life and promising to come to Gotham with reports on the results personally. He made a call in their presence, giving the order to throw all teams into the searching of the possibly sunk submarine. After a few more colorful threats to the man and his family, Penguin and Riddler left with satisfied smug grins which turned into maniacal laughter as soon as car doors closed behind them.

Later they paid a visit to Oswald's tailor. He left Gotham before the bridges blew, but was delighted to have one of his best-paying customers back. Both Oswald and Ed were desperately running out of fresh costumes and wanted something new; they took measurements and talked about what they wanted to get in terms of materials and colors. The elderly tailor knew Elijah Van Dahl personally; Oswald always had a bittersweet time in his company, reminiscing about his deceased father. 

Next, they went to the concert hall to watch the local symphonic orchestra concert. It was Edward's wish to visit this particular place due to its historical importance and architectural intricacies. During the performance, Oswald positively drowned in the breathtaking sounds and atmosphere. Edward's trivia about each composition and its author was very educational, although Oswald doubted he'll remember at least half of what Ed told him. 

They finished the day with a nice dinner at one of the most luxurious restaurants this city could offer. They both were delighted to have so much time devoted only to each other with no distractions. Despite how well they knew each other, they still could talk for hours and never get bored. Perks of being boyfriends with your best friend, Ridler joked about that once, and Oswald couldn't agree more. Edward chose a delicious vintage, and the food was astounding; Oswald even contemplated hiring the chef for his Iceberg Lounge later. Their somewhat secluded booth provided enough privacy when their conversation strayed into the more sensual side, and simple small touches weren't enough. Relatively hidden from everyone else around, they were free to pour their love into deep, slow kisses. 

Before going to bed back in the hotel, Ed changed Oswald's bandage. Lee said to check if he sees the light each time, and go to her as soon as he does. Oswald hoped he would see something more than a dark red haze soon, but for now, his eye was still hopelessly bloodshot. At least the surrounding bruising had subsided considerably, and swelling was gone completely. All in all, the healing process was going well, according to Oswald's personal Dr. Nygma. 

—☂—

Next day's morning papers sported scandalous reports on their front pages about three bank robberies in one night, supposedly perpetrated by the same person. The titles ranged from extremely stupid to ridiculously hilarious, all of them utterly degrading towards the local police much to Riddler’s satisfaction. He particularly liked 'Gotham's Riddler outplayed the BPD?'. The most absurd one was 'BPD: 0, Riddler(?): 1. Who will win?' —  they basically tried to encourage him to do another daring heist. Clearly, the police also failed to keep the classified information from leaking to the press. The articles confirmed once again that the BPD had no progress in their investigation, and all connections to the Riddler were purely hypothetical, based only on his trademark M.O. 

They once again left the hotel only after lunch, right on time when Martin's school classes were over. This last day of their vacation, Oswald and Edward decided to devote to Martin and offered him to choose the entertainment. Adrian and Janice left him under Penguin’s and Riddler’s protection and went to have some time to themselves. They loved Martin with all their hearts, but for more than a year, they could barely afford to be alone, too concerned about the boy's safety. 

As their first stop, Martin chose the vast aquarium with all kinds of sea life presented inside huge tanks. Ed was their self-appointed guide, pouring numerous facts about fish and animals they saw. Martin was devouring new information with heartfelt attention and kept asking more questions, which Riddler was delighted to answer. Oswald desperately tried not to tear up too much at the touching sight of his two most loved people having such a good time.

Edward the dog was surprisingly lively and happier than Oswald had ever seen; stubby tail never stopped wagging with excitement. He even trotted around Martin on short legs instead of lazy waddling, and he managed to walk quite a lot before eventually sitting down and refusing to move on his own. When that happened, Martin picked him up and kissed the top of his head, proceeding to carry the heavily panting bulldog around. Riddler snorted and commented on how painfully familiar that looked. 

They stopped to have a break at the built-in restaurant with a beautiful view of the seal tank; Martin was delighted to observe the aquatic mammals gracefully floating around. They ordered seafood dishes, which was somewhat weird, seeing as they came here to admire the sea life but now were going to consume it. Nevertheless, the cooking was excellent.

Martin remarked that their heist made the front line in the morning papers. Ed giddily told him about the heists, mostly using sign language in case there were some curious ears. Of course, his tale didn't include their little action in the hallway of the last bank. Martin listened with his mouth hanging open in wonder and his big eyes sparkling with awe, asking more questions about Riddler's electric traps and how he was able to time all of this so perfectly. Unsurprisingly, the eleven-year-old boy managed to solve Edward's riddles in a matter of minutes and a few hints, while Blüdhaven police had to call Jim Gordon for help after hours of unsuccessful pondering. 

After dessert, Martin showed them a few tricks he taught dog Edward, specifically how to sit down, stand up, roll around and stand on the back legs. He was working on teaching the bulldog how to feign dead, but out of four attempts, Edward humored the boy only once. Oswald watched the scene in pure shock; he could barely make the dog follow him without the leash, much less perform tricks. And what's more remarkable, all commands were silent but correctly understood by the happily panting dog gruffly barking to demand a reward for his efforts. 

"You taught him all that in less than two days?" Penguin gaped at smugly nodding boy.

"Wow," Ed seemed to be equally dumbfounded. "I thought this dog was too stupid to ask for a walk on its own." 

*Hey,* Martin frowned at him accusingly. *Edward is very smart, playful and active.*

"Active? " Riddler cackled. "Are we talking about the same dog? Well, well, it seems he just had an awfully lazy owner before." 

"Hey!" it was now Oswald's turn to be appalled. "I tried to teach him commands, but it would appear my patience wasn't quite enough," he had to admit. 

"Patience? So you are familiar with the concept after all?" Riddler teased with a sly smirk. 

"Well, you're still alive, aren't you?" he snarked back. 

Martin watched their friendly banter with fond amusement and then started to sign, hesitantly at first. 

*I have some news.* 

Both men instantly turned all attention to the boy. Oswald had a guess what Martin was about to say, and Edward probably knew too. Penguin told him about his little chat with Martin's guardians the other day, and Ed was as excited for the boy as he was. 

*Adrian and Janice offered to officially adopt me,* he signed not giving away any emotion. Probably wanted to gauge their reaction first. What a smart, cunning young man he was growing up to be. 

"Alright. Is it good news or bad? You seem to get along well," Oswald inquired cautiously. 

Martin's face lit up with a bright smile. *It's awesome! I never thought somebody would ever want to adopt me, that I would have actual official parents. And such cool ones!* he gestured excitedly. 

Oswald released a breath of relief. He was starting to worry Martin would be distressed by the proposal. 

"So, you said yes?" Ed asked with a wide smile. 

*Of course! I could barely answer, my hands were shaking so much,* he giggled, eyes shining with happiness. 

*But you don't mind, do you?* he asked Oswald. *Them being your employees.*

"I don't mind as long as they love you, and you love them. This is your decision, Martin. Have you considered it thoroughly?" 

Martin nodded. *Yes. After I agreed on impulse, they told me to think again, consider my rational opinion as well as emotional. The answer was the same even after a few hours of pondering.*

"That's amazing, Martin! I'm so happy for you."

*Thank you! I can't express how grateful I am for all you've done for me. You became my first friend and gave me a family,* Martin signed with tears shimmering in his bright eyes. 

"I'm glad it worked out so well," Oswald was almost tearing up himself. He felt Edward's warm hand covering his and was grateful for the support. 

*So since I'll now have official parents, can you be my uncles?* Martin asked with a wide grin. 

Oswald could only suck in a sharp breath and nod vigorously, afraid to burst into sentimental tears if he started speaking. Martin considered them a family, the closest, dearest people in his life! Thankfully, Ed was more composed with his emotions and gave a proper answer for both of them. 

"Of course, Martin. That'll be an honor and a pleasure. Whatever you need, we're always here for you. I'll be your cool uncle, and Ozzie will be your fussing uncle, more a grandma really-... Ow, hey there," he chuckled at Oswald bumping him with a shoulder. He pressed Oswald's frame even closer instead of bumping back. 

Martin beamed at them, jumped from his seat and wrapped his thin arms around Oswald's and Edward's necks, bringing them all in one snug embrace. The trio wrapped arms around each other, blissfully happy and carefree at least for a short while. 

"Ooh, I have an idea. Wait here, guys," Ed drummed his fingers on the table excitedly and ran off somewhere after they disentangled from the hug. 

"That can't be good," Oswald chuckled and shook his head fondly. 

He noticed that Martin seemed more serious suddenly as he looked at Riddler’s green figure disappearing behind the corner. 

"What's on your mind, Martin?" he encouraged the boy. 

*I see you’re close with Ed again. He’s awesome, I like him so very much, but do you trust him now?*

Oswald was so profoundly touched by Martin's concern. He knew it was not out of any ill feelings towards Ed — Marting clung to him like to an elder brother, it was obviously not faked — but from the boy's sincere caring about Penguin's heart.

"Yes, completely. Ed and I have been through a lot. I didn't think I'll ever be able to trust him again, but here we are, ready to give our lives for each other," Oswald shrugged. 

Martin tilted his head, contemplating. *How can you be so sure? You used to say friends always stab in the back.*

Oswald vividly recalled the lesson he had taught Martin about how to use other's friendship against the enemies. He inwardly chuckled at how eerily foreshadowing Martin's drawing of two hugging friends with knives behind their backs turned out to be. He didn't even think about it until now. 

*Or do you trust him only because you're a couple now?*

Penguin was impressed with the boy's perception. Oswald and Ed didn't hide their relationship during the last three days, but they didn't even kiss once in front of Martin. Usually, kids his age wouldn't pick up on more subtle cues. But then again, Martin was more than a usual kid. 

"No, that's not the reason. Edward and I have managed to find our way back to each other, to forgiveness and truce, become friends again before even considering becoming a couple. We both showed we can trust each other with our lives and be honest about any rising issues. Whatever happens, there shall be no more backstabbing between us."

*Do you love him?*

"Yes, with all my heart. And I know he loves me just as deeply, there's no doubt."

Martin nodded and asked after a brief pause. *How do you know that for sure? How will I know if I ever meet someone?* he furrowed his brows in confusion.  

"I think you'll know for sure when you meet that person. If you both ready to put each other's needs before your own, sacrifice your happiness for each other's sake if needed — this is probably true love."

*And what should I do? Should I trust them?*

"Trust is a different matter entirely; you shouldn't trust most of the people, it might be used against you. You can trust your family, those few people you choose to include in it." Martin gave a nod of understanding; living previously as a boy without family, the concept was probably even more sacred to him. 

"As for what to do..." Oswald sighed. "I'm not sure I'm the right person to give relationship advice; I almost doomed my own," he shook his head. "But I'll tell you what I learned from my mother. She used to say, 'Life only gives you one true love. When you find it, run to it.'  She was the wisest woman I've known, and I believe she was right about that, as always." 

*Did you follow her advice?*

Oswald released a humorless chuckle. "I did, but my impatience and insecurities got in the way when everything went not how I was expecting." 

Martin nodded and seemed to mull it over, but then his eyes widened, and mouth fell open when he glanced in the direction where Ed had gone. Oswald followed his gaze and froze, not believing his eye at first. 

Riddler was approaching them with his confident, flamboyant gait, grinning madly, pure wonder and joy sparkling in his eyes. He was carrying a penguin.  An actual live penguin.  Black and white bird with pink patches on its face and feet, shining curious black eyes, feathers visibly moist, and flippers spread as if it was trying to keep balance in Edward's hold. 

"Ed?!" was all that Oswald managed to croak in shock. 

Edward came closer to their table and carefully sat down, placing the penguin in his lap, supporting it with hands a little so the creature wouldn't waddle off. 

"Do you like him?" Riddler asked giddily. 

Oswald was still gaping like a fish out of water. Martin didn't appear to have this problem; he hopped from his chair and approached them slowly, careful to not startle the animal. He cautiously stretched his hand and was about to pet the penguin when Oswald finally regained his speech. 

"Wait, Martin!" the boy instantly pulled away and looked at him, puzzled. "What if it bites? What were you thinking stealing a penguin, Ed?" he reprimanded furiously. "It's not a pet; it can be dangerous. Not to mention, it might be uncomfortable. Do you want to endanger this poor creature's life?!" he was getting more and more worked up. 

Ed listened to Penguin’s outrage calmly and then addressed Martin. "See? Like I told you. Cool uncle," he gracefully placed a palm on his own chest. "And a grandma," he finished, smirking at Oswald. Martin burst out laughing, covering his mouth with both hands to not agitate Penguin even more. 

"Edward,  be serious for once!" Oswald screeched. The dog Edward sitting next to the table whined and looked up at him with guilty confusion, not knowing what he did wrong. "Not you, Edward, you're a good boy," Penguin addressed the dog in a soft tone. "You,  however, are not," he jumped up and limped to still infuriatingly grinning Riddler. 

The penguin in his lap spread its flippers wide and honked at Oswald, apparently perceiving his sudden movements as a threat. Oswald took a step back and uttered in a hushed voice, not wishing to attract more attention or startle more animals: "Ed, release the bird this instant! I'm being dead serious right now." 

Riddler’s maddening grin transformed into a placating kind smile as he probably realized this was no time for jokes. "Ozzie, I need you to calm down. Do you trust me?" 

Warmth and calmness in Edward's dark eyes worked soothingly on Penguin’s flared nerves. Indeed, why did he get so worried? His boyfriend is a genius; he wouldn't put Martin or the bird in danger. Surely Edward knows what he's doing. Oswald released a deep sigh and nodded, admitting his defeat. "Yes, Ed, I do. Now please tell me why in the world did you kidnap this unfortunate creature?" he asked much more peacefully. 

Edward's wide grin returned. "Because it's fun, obviously!" Oswald could only roll his eyes and shake his head, resigned. "And he's far from unfortunate, in fact. This handsome bird happens to be only the second penguin to sit in Riddler’s lap, verrry lucky," Ed purred, and Penguin couldn’t help but chuckle. How his ridiculous boyfriend can be so infuriating and charming at the same time, he will never know. 

Martin signed something, Oswald couldn’t see from his angle. 

"Yes, Martin, of course, don't be shy. Just don't do any sudden movements and be ready to pull your hand away any second, just in case." 

Oh, dear Lord.  Oswald tensed as his boy slowly lifted and stretched one hand towards the penguin. The bird didn't show any signs of offense, its pearly black eyes curiously studied slowly approaching boy's fingers. Soon Martin reached the penguin's head and petted him gently. The creature didn't move at first but then slightly nuzzled its black and white beak into the touch. Oswald released the breath he was holding during the act. 

"Meet a Humboldt penguin," Ed announced proudly. Martin seemed to be entirely lost in studying the bird, wide smile not fading from his face as he gently stroked feathers on the penguin's head and neck. 

"Oswald, you can come closer, too, slowly. Don't be scared," Riddler had the audacity to tease. 

Oswald huffed. "I'm not scared of a bird, Ed. I'm worried about what it can do to Martin's fingers or your face," he started to approach cautiously, not tearing his gaze from the bird to see its reactions. The penguin didn't seem to mind another human closing in while the boy was now slowly stroking its back, grinning in wonder. 

"We'll be fine, I promise. This adorable bird had been fed just before I lured him with reflected light and snatched him. He's used to humans; these penguins are bred here, they're not too wild." 

*Is it a boy?* Oswald was now close enough to glance at what Martin signed with one unoccupied hand. 

"There's no way to say for certain since penguins are not sexually dimorphic. Boys and girls look basically the same," he explained after Martin's quizzical glance. "But I'm assuming it's a male because he was slightly bigger than another penguin that was nearby, which is a usual feature to determine their sex without closer inspection." 

Oswald admired the bird patiently enduring the touches of human hands. The penguin was undeniably adorable: crisp white belly with rare black spots, the intricate coloring of the neck and face, a strong beak with tiny feathers around it on the bare pink skin. Webbed black feet with pink patterns and pointy black nails found a delicate balance on Edward's slim thighs with the help of slightly spread thin wings. At the base of one of the flippers, there was a grey tag with a number.

"Fascinating, isn't he?" Ed probably noticed the admiration in Oswald's gaze. He could only nod in response. "You can touch him, Oswald," Ed offered. "I doubt he's gonna allow it for too long. Usually, humans mean feeding, and we don't have any fish for this little fella." 

Oswald was indeed fascinated by his namesake. He slowly lifted his hand and caressed the bird's chest with the back of his fingers. When penguin didn't show any signs of aggression, Oswald gently stroked its chest and white belly. The creature was very soft and warm to the touch, so smooth, almost like a short-haired cat but not that fluffy. Feathers weren't wet as it seemed before but rather slightly oily. From numerous penguin facts Ed told him, Oswald knew that it made the plumage waterproof. The bird tilted his head, studying the new limb touching his belly, and then suddenly pecked at Oswald's shining cufflink. Thankfully the trinket endured the attack of a sturdy beak. Martin and Ed giggled, probably at Oswald’s stunned expression and his quickly retreating hand. 

The dog Edward whined and pawed at Martin's shoe with his blunt claws. Much like his human namesake, the bulldog craved to be the center of attention and loathed being replaced in the spotlight. Martin smiled fondly and picked the dog up, wisely taking a few steps back from Ed with the bird. 

"Upsy-daisy, guys. I guess we'd better return Mr. Penguin Junior to his home," Edward said. Oswald followed his gaze and noticed three aquarium guards slowly making their way through the restaurant, clearly in their direction. "Perhaps you would like to carry him, Martin?" 

The boy shook his head and signed with one hand, *I don't want Edward to feel neglected.*

Oswald huffed a chuckle. Martin seemed to genuinely adore the bulldog if he refused such a unique opportunity for his sake. And the boy didn't even appear to be upset about it in the slightest, tenderly hugging his canine friend close to his chest. 

"What about you, Ozzie? Wanna cuddle with your little counterpart?"

"No, thank you. I'd prefer not to have my last eye pecked out." 

"Oh come on, you're the Penguin, not a chicken," Riddler winked playfully. 

Before Oswald could retort back, he found himself with arms full of the warm feathery animal. He froze in place. It was as terrifying as the first time Oswald held baby Barbara Lee when he had to assist her mother unexpectedly. He wasn't sure if he was holding this small creature correctly. What if he hurts the bird?

But the penguin appeared to be utterly indifferent to the human's worries. He only fidgetted a little to find the most comfortable position and sat still, gazing at Oswald with curious eyes. They turned out to be brown with small black pupils, not completely black, as he previously thought. The bird didn't seem to have any objection to being carried around, and Oswald breathed a sigh of relief. 

"Let's go, shall we?" Edward gently nudged him with a hand between his shoulder blades. Martin beamed at them and led the way toward the penguins' enclosure, still carrying the dog. 

Oswald moved slowly, not tearing his gaze from the precious creature in his arms. The penguin was lighter than he looked, probably less than ten pounds. The bird held itself proudly, acting as humans existed only to feed and carry him around, and the haughty penguin was the one in charge here. Oswald huffed a chuckle at the animal's nonchalance and grandeur despite having been lured away and kidnapped from his mates. The bird sat in his arms with beak held high, and for a second, Oswald truly felt like he was only a servant to the real penguin boss here. Such a small creature yet magnificent nonetheless. 

"So, do you like him?" Ed repeated his question, and Oswald didn't even need to look at the man to know he was wearing his smugly pleased smirk. 

"Eddie, I wanna penguin," Oswald confessed unexpectedly even for himself. 

Martin turned to stare at him incredulously, and Ed outright laughed. 

"What? Can't we take him home? He seems docile enough," Oswald reasoned. 

"We can't, Oswald, unless you want this little feathered friend to be lonely and miserable. Penguins are social creatures." 

"Then let's take a whole family of penguins. Oh, I know!" he even stopped in his tracks as an idea struck him. "We can make a living area for them at my club. With snow a-and water and fish. Imagine the Iceberg Lounge with actual live penguins waddling around!" 

Martin seemed to appreciate the idea as he gazed at him with dreamy eyes full of childish wonder, showing his support with a thumb up and excited nodding. 

"Hmm," Ed actually pondered the possibility. "I guess it could be arranged, in theory. Not right now: the club's current layout won't be applicable for a proper imitation of penguins' natural habitat. But some time later we might renovate it, provide a necessary territory for the pool and nests and…" he trailed off. Oswald realized that he had been staring at his boyfriend with awestruck expression and mouth hanging open. 

He could vividly imagine everything Ed was describing. Oswald always was fond of birds. The small aviary on the roof of a neighboring building had been his second-best sanctuary from the sufferings of a harshly bullied kid. First and main safe place being his mother's loving embrace, of course. But when she wasn't at home, only birds kept company to little chubby Oswald after another day of pain and humiliation at school. It was one of his dreams as a boy to have his own aviary. To imagine that he can someday have it as Edward theorized was simply breathtaking. 

"But for now, let's store it away for the future 'Iceberg Lounge 3.0'. We really should get away from those guards," Ed glanced at rapidly approaching bulky figures. 

The penguin in Oswald's arms poked his chin slightly as if nudging him to keep moving. He obliged and noticed Martin signing to Ed. *How did you sneak with him before?*

"That's easy. I didn't," Riddler smirked and stretched his long arms, shrugging theatrically. Martin's quizzical look prompted him to elaborate, although Oswald had no doubt his cocky boyfriend wouldn't miss a chance to brag anyway. "You don't have to sneak if you act naturally, be confident. People won't even think to question you if you appear to know what you're doing. That's how I carried a dead body inside two huge suitcases through the GCPD to dissolve it in acid and wasn't stopped by a single one of more than a dozen cops who saw me."

Riddler puffed his chest proudly under Martin's astonished look. Oswald only huffed a chuckle. A normal uncle would've probably tried to keep such information from the child's ears, but none of them were normal. And this child had witnessed people eating people pies; disposing of a body could be basically a bedtime story for him. And might even prove useful in the future, who knows what roads Martin will choose in his life. 

They approached the penguins' enclosure. The bird in Oswald's arms was still sitting unperturbed, allowing to be carried a little longer. Martin let Edward sit on the floor and gently stroked the bird's feathers on the puffed white chest to say goodbye. 

"Oz," Ed pointedly hinted it was time to let the bird go if they didn't want to cause a scene with approaching guards. 

Oswald carefully placed the penguin behind the waist-high steel fence. The creature didn't seem to care about his little adventure and just leisurely waddled towards his fellow penguins like nothing unusual happened. 

"Excuse me, mister," Oswald heard a gruff voice behind them. 

He turned around with his most threatening scowl to glare at the aquarium guards. He narrowed his eye and stared them up and down, demonstrating how pathetic and unworthy Penguin found them even to address him. He looked down on them, towering over three large frames despite his shorter and slighter stature, using his unrelenting presence to discourage them from messing with his vacation.

"Can I help you?" he spat harshly, the deadly sharp edge of his tone implied that he didn't appreciate being pestered by simpletons in the slightest. 

The guards looked disconcerted and confused when they were met with such a severe attitude from the dangerous bird-kidnapper. The one who addressed Oswald swallowed nervously and shook his head, taking a step back. 

"Uhm... No, sir, sorry to have bothered you. Have a good day, sir," the guard bowed his head a little and hastily walked away with his colleagues. 

"You almost had me threatened for a second there," Ed whistled, and Martin nodded empathically, gazing at Oswald with awe. 

"Nobody messes with the Penguin and his family," Oswald stated proudly. He felt Edward pressing himself a little closer and saw Martin beaming at them with unabashed adoration. "Now, let's watch these magnificent birds some more and get going, shall we?" 

After the aquarium, Martin decided to take them to a shooting range. Oswald had to admit, it was quite an unusual choice of entertainment for an eleven-year-old boy, but neither of them objected. He was actually secretly glad to have an extra opportunity to practice his aim, which got noticeably worse due to the injury. Aiming with only his left eye was the second skill Penguin set himself to master, after learning to move unperturbed by the impaired depth perception. And practice makes perfect. Besides, he could teach Martin some tricks he learned from experience. 

His vast knowledge came in handy when it turned out that Martin already had basic skills of wielding a firearm. Ed and Oswald were equally stunned to see their boy taking a few decent shots with different low-recoil guns. Martin looked adorably smug when he bragged that Janice took him to the shooting range a few times and even taught him how to use a bow. She claimed it was necessary to know how to defeat your enemy using any weapon available if subtlety and cunning fail him. Oswald couldn’t agree more. 

Riddler taught Martin how to throw knives accurately. Sure enough, he also didn't miss the chance to boast how amazing he was when he threw a whole meat cleaver across the room right in one of Bane's guy's faces. Oswald listened to the tale for the second time with equal pleasure as the first. Riddler had this ostentatious giddiness about him; it was infectious, impossible to stop admiring this haughtily beautiful man. 

To wrap up the day, they decided to visit Nelson's home since they all — including Martin now — insisted so much. And admittedly, it's privacy was much more preferable to the wary sideways glances they've been getting all day. The police didn't seem to look for them intentionally but would surely take them in for interrogation if given the opportunity. Oswald did not find that ending to their vacation appealing and so he found himself standing hand-in-hand with Ed at the doorstep of a two-story house, Martin proudly inviting them inside. The house was curiously inconspicuous and outstanding at the same time. It managed to be just humble enough not to scream that mafia-connected people live here. The interior was modernly stylish, clean, and neat. 

Adrian and Janice met them with bright smiles and ushered everybody to the spacious dining room. Ms. Nelson cooked an excellent three-course dinner: cooking was a passion of hers, and it was evident she was a professional not only in silently killing people. Adrian joked that it was the main reason he fell in love with that woman, aside from being a kickass assassin that was always challenging him to step up his own game. Mr. Nelson demonstrated them a skill of his own by making perfect cocktails for everyone, non-alcoholic for Martin, and a 'put anything you want in there but make it green'  for Edward, of course. 

Oswald and Janice both lost the line of conversation when three others started talking about video games, although they enjoyed watching them play in the living room later and cheering. Martin was glowing with happiness at having two capable opponents to challenge on a virtual battlefield. Oswald found it achingly endearing when Ed intentionally but subtly lost to Martin, despite his own competitive nature. Well, he did beat Adrian later; he did not go easy on the man. They were playing some sort of fighting video game; it was bloody and cruel, but Martin didn't seem to be either disturbed or impressed by the creative ways the characters were crushing each other's bones, maiming and mutilating the opponents in various gory finishing moves. Instead, the boy appeared to mostly enjoy the spirit of a contest, being proud of his wins and growing more competitive with each occasional loss. 

The doorbell suddenly rang, and the next second, both Adrian and Janice visibly changed, tensed in preparation for the fight, switched into their assassins personas. They both moved towards the door, hands inches apart from weapons hidden in their clothes. Even their gaits changed, steps light and silent, akin to a pair of prowling big cats in the jungle. Oswald expected Martin to be worried at least a bit, but the boy just shrugged and signed that he knows what to do in case it's not just neighbors. He has a few escape routes he can walk blindfolded, plus there are three guns hidden under the cushions of the couch, not mentioning all other weapons spread around the house in inconspicuous places. Soon they heard the door open and Adrian's cheerful voice greeting whoever came to them. Martin wasn't bothered by anything and kept on beating Ed's character in their virtual fighting. Janice returned and said it's Adrian's bowling buddies, came to invite him to their next games. Oswald was once again relieved to see that he was right to entrust Martin's safety to a couple of experienced assassins; they indeed had everything under control. 

Later Martin dragged Ed upstairs into his room to show more video games and ask him about school science projects they previously discussed in letters — as Oswald suspected, separate from his own, those sneaky devils. Edward the dog followed them, comically climbing the steps on his short legs. Oswald was happy to see his little canine friend so uncharacteristically energetic. During the whole day, he acted more attached to Martin than to Oswald, demanding his attention and asking him for treats, which the boy dutifully provided. The bulldog was noticeably more clingy, not leaving Martin's side for more than a minute. That gave Penguin an unexpected idea that appeared more right the more he thought about it. 

"Martin, I was wondering," Oswald started when the boy finally returned, holding Ed's hand in one of his and Edward's whole canine form in the other. Riddler wore a bright smile and was shining with cheerfulness. Martin sat on the armchair and turned his full attention to Oswald, after placing the bulldog in a small dog bed nearby. 

"You seem to be getting along well with Edward. I mean the dog," he clarified. 

Martin eagerly nodded, smiling at the bulldog and leaning to pet him a little. Edward, clearly exhausted, still found the strength to lift his head and lick the boy's palm. 

"He also seems to be much more active and lively with all your care and attentiveness." Martin gave a vague shrug, indicating he didn't consider it before. 

Oswald took a deep breath before asking, "What would you think if I offered you to take care of him from now on?" 

All turned their surprised eyes on him. Everyone here knew how dearly Oswald loved his Edward. Not as much as the human one but still. 

*You mean it? Why?* Martin signed with slightly trembling fingers. His expressive face showed pleasant astonishment and eager anticipation but also a desire to understand and get the whole truth as if he expected there to be some catch. Definitely a good habit, always dig to the deepest layers of people's motivation. Penguin was proud of his smart boy. 

"Yes, I've thought this through. Only in just these three days, you've shown how good of a caretaker you are, better than I ever was, I'm sorry to admit. You try to make Edward better, push his limits, whereas I just treated him like a comfortable creature to pour my heart into, an outlet for my loneliness," he gratefully accepted Ed's warm supporting hand giving a gentle squeeze to his shoulder. "But Edward deserves better. I love him deeply, and I want what's best for him."

After a short pause, he added. "But it's only an offer. It goes without saying that it's up to you three to decide whether you want to accept it. I'll love and care for Edward either way. Please don't even think I want to get rid of him; this was not an easy decision to make at all," Oswald gently picked up the bulldog and placed him on his lap, stroking the short plush fur. 

He had a hard time coming to terms with saying goodbye to his little four-legged friend. But he had to admit he was neglecting Edward lately, giving most of his affection to the human Ed and his business. He'll surely take tips from Martin on how to be a better friend and teacher to the dog if his offer is declined. 

Martin gaped at him like he couldn't believe his ears. *Of course, I want that. I've been dreaming of a dog for ever, and Edward is perfect, he's the best! Please can we keep him?* he addressed his parents. 

"Sure, Edward's cool. It's kinda weird that he's a she, but I’m not judging. I like him, always wanted a dog too," Adrian nodded readily. 

"He's adorable. I don't mind at all as long as you promise to take good care of him like you've shown you can do these past three days," Janice agreed, smiling fondly at vigorously nodding Martin. 

Martin hopped to Oswald and wrapped his hands tightly around him, careful to not disturb the dog resting in his lap. He even placed a light kiss on his cheek as he was drawing back, which made Oswald smile stretch even wider, and his heart pang from the overflow of tender feelings. 

*How can I ever thank you for everything you've given me?* his boy signed with tears of happiness in his big brown eyes. 

"Just keep being such a good friend for Edward. I only want what's best for both of you," Oswald smiled, subtly wiping a tear and masking it behind fixing his hair and bandage. 

They spent the rest of the evening chatting, laughing, and drinking cocktails. They even snapped a few pictures in different poses with each other. The very first photo of happily beaming Martin with his soon-to-be legal parents hugging him tightly. The first time Oswald and Ed got captured on camera in a cozy embrace like a happy couple they are. Hopefully, someday, they can frame it and display openly along with their other shared memories. And Oswald will forever treasure the group photo of him, Ed, Martin, and Edward all cuddled together. He'll cherish it along with his other most precious possessions: his ragged origami penguin, his mother's jewelry box, and his father's vintage tailoring kit and the love letter to Gertrude that Elijah never sent since he didn't know her whereabouts. 

It was very nice to just relax in this peaceful domesticity, forget all the troubles and challenges for a short while, spend time with friends and family without a care in the world. However, like all good things, it was bound to end. The night came and with it Martin's bedtime, which already was postponed greatly in favor of their dear guests. Oswald couldn’t hold a few tears from escaping when he was saying goodbye to his lovely bulldog Edward, who licked his face and whined a little before waddling to his new young human best friend for comfort. Even more tears spilled when Martin privately confessed that he thinks of him as even more than an uncle, that Oswald is like a godfather for him. Ed, Oswald, and Martin shared another tight hug before the boy went to bed, followed by his dog trotting behind and wagging his stubby tail. 

Adrian drove them farther away from the house to avoid drawing attention to their black limo which would take them back to Gotham. He warmly bid goodbye to the couple, eagerly inviting them to come over as often as they like. He also asked Oswald to stop paying him and Janice for being Martin's bodyguards, since it would've been weird for parents to get paid for caring about their son. Indeed it probably was, now that Oswald thought about it. Not like that money made too much of a difference to anyone: the assassins had more than enough savings, not to mention the account Oswald made on Martin's name. Whatever might happen, Penguin's godson will never struggle with money. It was probably the best way he spent them so far.

—☂—

"Do you regret it?" Ed softly asked him while they were leaving Blüdhaven, on the backseat next to each other, their hands intertwined between them. "That we don't have this kind of life?" 

Oswald hummed thoughtfully. He did have a wonderful time during the vacation, but it was just that, a vacation. He was confident that if they tried to lead a normal life now, they would've gone insane sooner or later. It was good in moderation. 

"No, I don't. We’re not suited for this lifestyle, not right now, at least. We are what we are, right? Ambitious criminals craving power and glory, eager to bathe in the blood of our adversaries." Riddler's approving smirk confirmed the sentiment. "We have no place in this peaceful environment and would just drag our innocent loved ones to their doom if we tried to fit both lifestyles in one... At least we have each other in all of this," he sighed and smiled a bit melancholically at his handsome partner. 

"Indeed, my love. I once had a delusion that I must lead a 'normal'  life with a wallflower wife, kids, and a white picket fence in the suburbs," he frowned, expression darkening for a passing moment. "But now I know it was never even a choice for me. As you said, we are what we are. I'm the Riddler, and I'm happy I have my precious Penguin to walk this path in darkness together."

Ed gently lifted their entwined hands and placed them in his lap, inadvertently pulling Oswald closer. He was delighted to comply, nestling next Riddler’s frame. 

"I'll miss Edward, though. But I know he'll be happier and safer with his new friends," he sighed. 

"Hey, don't be greedy, you have one Edward already, let Martin have another," Ed playfully bumped him with the shoulder a little. "A boy his age becomes eighty-five percent happier with a loyal dog around."

Oswald chuckled. "Another one of your 'cool uncle' wisdoms?" 

"What can I say? I'm a natural in this role," Ed huffed smugly. 

"Fine, I'm not going to argue that," Oswald agreed. "You're the best uncle I could've wished for Martin," he stroked Ed's hand with his thumb, savoring the smooth rises and falls of his perfectly sculpted knuckles.

"What? Penguin gave up his fight to be the top one so easily?" Ed teased. 

Oswald huffed. "I just got removed from the competition." Ed hummed in question. "When we were saying goodbye, Martin called me his godfather. Can you imagine that?" Oswald's heart melted all over again at the memory of Martin's sincerely loving eyes as he slowly signed the word. 

"I can, actually. Guess who hinted him towards that concept?" Riddler asked cockily. 

Oswald gasped in disbelief. He was deeply touched by the sentiment and pulled his caring boyfriend in a tight embrace, wrapping his arms around Riddler’s narrow waist. 

"Thank you, Eddie," he murmured into the green chest. He almost purred at warm lips pressing a kiss on top of his head and steady hands holding him close. 

"Well, I didn't want to crush you too badly in claiming the place of Martin's most awesome uncle," he chuckled. 

"I wouldn't stand a chance," Oswald agreed. "So, what else did my two boys secretly plotted?" he asked playfully, not actually expecting to get a proper answer. 

"Hmm. I can't share everything, of course. But I can tell you that I've never thought I could be truly intimidated by an eleven-year-old boy's threats. Alas, Martin is full of surprises, as always," Ed chuckled. 

"I'm not sure I follow," Oswald furrowed his brows and sat up to look Ed in the eyes; he must be joking. But no, the man was apparently telling the truth. 

"Good thing I have no intention of breaking your heart ever again, or I would've been in serious trouble in a few years," Ed continued with a kind, honest smile without even a hint of mocking. He was indeed taking it seriously, which was surprising to Oswald. "Martin cares for you, Oswald, deeply. He sort of gave me his blessing to date you after I promised that I really, really, really love you," he shook his head with fondness. "I didn't even realize how much I needed that until tonight." 

Oswald felt an overwhelming warmth spreading in his chest. To think that young Martin cared and wanted to protect Oswald so much that he even threatened Edward — who he clearly adored and looked up to — was unbelievably endearing. 

Riddler chuckled at his undoubtedly touched flabbergasted expression, and gave a playful ruffle to Penguin's hair, effectively dismantling his haircut. Ed seemed to relish doing that and later watch Oswald meticulously put his strands back in place. Riddler then ran his hand up and down Oswald's back, and it made him want even more contact. 

"Well then, you'd better treat me nicely, Edward," Oswald murmured coquettishly, slowly moving to straddle Ed's lap. His actions caused the intended effect as Riddler’s eyes sparked with desire and hands hungrily dug into Oswald's backside. Penguin gasped softly and claimed his lover's sweet lips, licking deeply in that delicious mouth. 

A few seconds later, Ed giggled into the kiss, and Oswald drew back to look at him perplexedly. He ached an eyebrow, demanding an explanation for this improper behavior.

"I just remembered. Do you realize that you literally called me a bad boy today, Oswald?" Ed asked between his giggles, blushing adorably. 

"I did, didn't I?" Oswald snorted, recalling his unfiltered heated words at the aquarium. "Well, you were rather naughty today," he murmured, brushing his lips against Edward's, pressing their heated bodies flush. He savored the sweetest mewl escaping his gorgeous lover when he tugged his lower lip with threateningly sharp teeth before letting it go. 

"Are you thinking of correcting my behavior now, Mr. Penguin?" Ed breathed, snaking his warm hands under Oswald's shirt, exploring his back with long spidery fingers. 

Penguin couldn't hold a guttural purr. "That's right, Eddie dearest. I'll make a good boy out of you yet," he whispered, grasping Edward's hair, pulling his head back and looking deep into lust-glazed dark eyes. 

He removed Riddler’s glasses and made sure the partition was lifted, securing their privacy. Together with sensual jazz playing in the background, it'll save their driver from seeing or hearing something he shouldn't. They had a long road back home.