There was a slight chill to evening air, it had rained all day and now the fire crackled warmly, lighting the room with a cosy glow as Edward the bulldog lay snoozing on the rug. The house was silent, it had just gone nine pm. Gertrud had gone off to bed early and the children had been sleeping since it got dark. Jeremiah stood by the window, listening to the tick of the clock as worry weighed heavy in his heart. Oswald had gone out. He had said, he was going to the office at the Lounge, but when he had called the club simply to say he was working too hard these days, he had been stunned to hear from a staff member that Oswald was not at the club, and had not been seen there for a while. Yet he claimed to have been working odd hours for weeks...
It was unthinkable that his beautiful Oswald could be having an affair. Yet that thought gripped Jeremiah's heart sharply and refused to let go as he stood there looking out to the darkened garden, wondering why Oswald had lied to him. He didn't want to fly into a rage. He loved him too much for that. If it was true, if he was right, he wanted to fall to his knees and weep and beg him to stay. He still couldn't understand why Ozzie would do this to him.
They had everything, they had two kids to raise, they had wealth and comfortable life, they were deeply in love...And they had the time machine. They could do anything with that machine, the possibilities were endless and powerful and, in a way, scary. But the only thing they had done was go forward by twenty years to check on the kids, and then they had taken advantage of a formula - by then widely available - that arrested the ageing process. That meant his handsome and plump Penguin who was young for sixty-five would stay sixty five for many years to come, just as he would stay in his late forties, they had bought time together, to live longer, to be together for many more years...
And Oswald was having an affair?
It was unthinkable....
Then there was a knock at the door. Jeremiah turned towards the sound as his bright eyes blazed with fury. He was highly suspicious of a caller at this time of night, and he was ready for the worst. Was this Oswald and his lover, waiting at the door as Oswald told him he would not be coming home again? Jeremiah shook his head as he walked up the hallway, wondering if his insanity had every truly been cured if he could let himself think in such a paranoid way. Of course Oswald wasn't seeing someone else, why would he do that?
He opened the door. Paranoia slapped him in the face tenfold as he looked at the visitor who stood on the doorstep in a dark green suit with his hair tied back in a ponytail. The ex. Ed Nygma. Was Ozzie seeing Ed?
“Jeremiah,” said Ed with a smile, “Is Oswald around? Zara's having a big opening night on Saturday and I thought you guys would love to join in.”
Jeremiah blinked. His mind was still whirling like a cyclone. His first thought was, Ed and Zara, the kinky swinging Nygmas, what sort of party was this? A sex party? Was he still trying to get his hands on Oswald?
Stop it! He told himself as his red lips formed a tight smile and tension made his neck stiff. No, of course Ed wasn't seeing Oswald...
But maybe somebody was.
“What's this about?” Jeremiah said.
“Her new art exhibition? Kai said he'd mention it to Jerome, but Jerome's staying over with Kai tonight, the boys were the garden, sitting by the fire, they lit the chiminea and Kai rolled a fat one and when I left the conversation was getting pretty deep. I said I'd hang with them later,” Ed chuckled, “Nothing like getting mellow with my son and his best friend to make a perfect end to the day... They were talking about time travel.”
Jeremiah felt a flicker of alarm. While Ed knew all about the time storm that many years from now would take grown up Penguin back in time, he didn't know about the time machine and he desperately hoped Jerome would remember to keep his mouth shut...
“Thanks for letting me know. We might show up, depends if Oswald has plans for the weekend.”
“Where is Oswald?” asked Ed.
Just then the sound of heavy little feet came running down the hallway.
“Oh! Hello Ed!”
Little Penguin pushed past his stepfather, standing there small and round in Penguin patterned pyjamas as he raised a flipper. He looked up at Ed as his small dark eyes shone as he smiled. Ed smiled back at him, unable to picture this child one day being the man in his thirties who would be swept up by a time storm, taken back into the past. For Ed, his Penguin had died many years before, he existed only in his memory, and as the weathered statue that stood in the rose garden. But this would be the same man one day, and he couldn't think about that because time could be so very cruel. He would never see his Penguin again...
“Hello Little Penguin,” Ed said kindly, “Shouldn't you be in bed?”
“No, Penguin wants Daddy!”
Then the little five year old waddled off down the hallway. Jeremiah glanced back and gave a sigh.
“You might as well come in, I have to watch Penguin. He won't sleep until his Daddy gets back.”
Ed followed Jeremiah into the house. It was most unlike him to be so welcoming, and Jeremiah looked worried, too. And Oswald was absent... Now Ed was worrying for his former lover, too...
“Is everything... okay?”
Ed had asked that question with caution as they entered the front room. Edward the bulldog – who looked exactly like the Edward that Oswald had owned in wartime – got up from the rug, padded over to his comfortable dog bed and curled up, ready to snooze the night away. Little Penguin had waddled quickly over to the bed and hugged the bulldog.
“Doggie for Penguin, Penguin loves Edward!” he said, letting go as Edward gave a sigh and closed his eyes, then Penguin went over to the rug and sat down, blinking sleepy eyes.
“You should be in bed, young man,” Jeremiah reminded him, “Your sister is fast asleep, she doesn't get up and come back downstairs.”
“Penguin wants Daddy,” he said.
Jeremiah gave a sigh.
“I'm not sure when he will be back,” he said, lowering his voice as he took a seat in a comfortable armchair near the fire and reached down, fondly ruffling Penguin's dark hair.
“Where is he?” Ed asked again, feeling a creeping worry start to rise as he saw it plain in his eyes now - Jeremiah was worried sick...
“I...I'm not sure, I just hope he's okay,” Jeremiah admitted, as he looked at the ex and thought how crazy this was, he was sitting here, worrying himself sick and confiding in Ed Nygma, who he had always imagined to be a threat to his relationship – yet Ed didn't know where Oswald was either, so maybe, the ex was no threat at all...
“You look worried,” replied Ed.
“I am! I just need to know he's okay. I don't know where Oswald is tonight.”
“Penguin knows. Don't worry, Father.”
Jeremiah looked down at Penguin as he sat there on the rug looking up at him.
“Penguin, this is important, you must tell me where Daddy is!”
Little Penguin touched the tips of his flippers together as he thought about his father's request.
“Daddy said don't tell you...”
Jeremiah looked into his small dark eyes as the chubby little boy with flipper hands sat there by the fire, looking up at him, unaware of the importance of what he had just said.
“It's okay to tell me, Penguin.”
“Daddy said, don't worry father.”
Jeremiah reached down, gently closing his hand briefly over his small flipper.
“It's okay, son. You can tell me.”
Penguin got up from the rug, his flippers touching together as he paused for thought.
“Daddy got in the car and Penguin wanted to go with Daddy, so he let me.”
Jeremiah thought about it.
“This was last week, in the morning?”
“Penguin had to wait outside.”
Jeremiah was confused.
“Outside where, Penguin?”
“Outside the room because Daddy said there was a scary needle.”
Jeremiah's fears had just trebled, as all thoughts of an affair had flown far away. It was much, much worse than that, it was... No, it was unthinkable...
“Daddy had to have a needle?”
Jeremiah blinked away tears as little Penguin nodded, and patted his flipper against his arm.
“It hurt Daddy's arm.”
“He said that?”
Penguin nodded again.
Jeremiah was struggling to speak as emotion choked his voice. Ed was looking at him across the room with the same tearful expression.
Oswald was having treatment?
Oswald was sick again?
“Where did Daddy go that day?” Jeremiah asked in a hushed voice.
Penguin paused for thought, then he opened and closed his flippers excitedly.
“Oh! Penguin knows! He went to see Hugo! And Penguin waited outside the room...”
Penguin was still talking. He hadn't noticed Jeremiah brush away a tear.
“Hugo let Penguin sit in his office! Penguin found his lunch! Sandwiches, they were good!”
Jeremiah managed to smile through his tears. Little Penguin was oblivious to the situation, he just didn't know how sick his Daddy was, again...
“Peanut butter sandwiches,” Penguin said, “All for Penguin!”
“You ate his lunch?”
“Did he mind?”
“No, father. He was kind to Penguin.”
“Come here,” Jeremiah said fondly, giving Penguin a gentle hug.
Ed looked on, blinking away tears. Little Penguin would take a few years to catch up with the other kids, he would have a hard time grasping how sick his Daddy was, and he couldn't even imagine how Oswald and Jeremiah would explain it to him. Their other child, little Mabel, had no birth defects except for one flipper hand, and she was bright and a quick thinker. She would realise what was happening. But Little Penguin? It was a heartbreaking situation.
As Jeremiah let go, Penguin gave a big yawn and then sat down on the rug blinking sleepy eyes.
“No bedtime yet. Penguin wants Daddy to come home.”
He flopped back against the soft rug, fighting sleep as he slowly closed his eyes. Moments later, his flippers went up and he was snoring softly, as Jeremiah and Ed sat there in silence, both shocked by the news. Oswald was sick again...
Ten minutes after Penguin had fallen asleep on the rug, Ed heard Oswald's car pull up outside as headlights briefly shone against the window.
“He can't do this again,” Jeremiah said as he got up, “Strange cured him once, but clearly it wasn't enough. No more experimental treatment, he won't survive it a second time!”
Ed got up too.
“Maybe I should leave?”
“No!” Jeremiah's bright eyes burned with worry, “You should stay! You've known him for years, you even have a history with him! Maybe it will take both of us to persuade him to stop this insanity! Strange can't cure him. Oswald needs proper treatment, Ed!”
Just then Oswald entered the room. He stood there looking chubby but elegant in a dark suit, and rather dismayed to see Jeremiah looking tearful while Ed stood there looking bewildered and young Penguin was fast asleep snoring on the rug, oblivious to what ever had just happened.
“What's going on?” he demanded, leaning hard on his cane as he crossed the room to join his husband.
“You guys sit and talk, I'll make some tea,” said Ed, and he darted out of the room, hoping Oswald would listen to his husband, because he didn't have a clue how to intervene and persuade him if Jeremiah failed.
“What's the matter, Mr J?” Oswald asked, standing in front of Jeremiah as he tearfully looked back at him.
Jeremiah kept his voice low, as little Penguin snored on his back on the rug.
“Penguin told me. I know everything!” Jeremiah blinked back tears as he gently cupped Oswald's face in his hands, then he pulled him close and hugged him tightly, stifling a sob. As he let go again, Oswald's jaw dropped as his wide eyes reflected the glow of the firelight.
“What do you mean, everything? And why are you crying?”
“Penguin told me you're seeing Strange for more treatment,” he reached for him again, putting his arm around him as he pulled him close, “Oh my sweet Ozzie, my poor Ozzie... Strange can't cure you, it's come back, his treatment has failed! You need conventional treatment, bone marrow -”
“Mr J, I'm not sick!”
He pulled back from his embrace, smiling as Jeremiah looked back at him with a confused expression.
“I'm not sick!” Oswald said again, “But I am having a treatment. Three more sessions and I'll be twenty-five years younger! Strange wanted his time machine back and he wouldn't give up on it. He figured out that you and I are not getting any older, and I told him, we used the machine to go forward and take an anti ageing formula. So he did a deal with me.”
Jeremiah stared at him.
There was a sparkle in Oswald's eyes as he started to explain:
“Strange said he could use a sample of my blood to isolate the anti ageing formula, then he could work on it to enhance it, so instead of stopping the ageing process, it could turn it back by twenty five years. Look at me, Mr J!”
He did. He leaned in, peering closely at Oswald, who gave him a radiant smile.
Then he noticed it. The lines around Oswald's eyes had become less noticeable, and his skin looked softer...he hadn't noticed before, but now, he saw it...
“Oh my god....”
Oswald nodded as joy radiated from his pale gaze.
“Three more sessions, then he puts me under a lamp that activates the formula to full effect. My body will rejuvenate, I'll be forty five years old again!”
Jeremiah was smiling too. Joy and sweet relief had just filled his heart. He grabbed Oswald's hands, pulling him closer as spoke again.
“This is the deal? You get to take the formula and get younger, and we keep the time machine?”
“There's more!” Oswald said excitedly, “You can take it too – we can both be younger! And then I can have another baby!”
He froze, seeing the confused look on Jeremiah's face as he realised in his excitement, he had said too much.
Oswald let go of his hands.
“I...I mean, I'll young enough to have a baby, to carry your baby, Mr J.”
Jeremiah saw it at once. Oswald was holding something back and now he saw tears in his eyes that were not tears of joy...
“You said another baby, what's this about?”
“No!” Oswald's voice was tearful as he looked away.
“Leave it please, Jeremiah... Look at the time, and Little Penguin should be in bed! Was he waiting up for me?”
Jeremiah said nothing in reply as he looked at Oswald, seeing through his avoidance. Oswald met his gaze at last, and pain reflected there, and Jeremiah wanted that pain to be gone.
“You said, another baby. That you could have another baby. Talk to me, I'm your husband!”
Oswald fell silent as the fire crackled warmly and Little Penguin softly snored on the rug. Oswald limped over to the window, his tearful gaze reflected in the glass as he looked to the darkened window, avoiding Jeremiah's gaze as he stood beside him, waiting to hear the truth.
“Many years go,” Oswald said sadly, “When male birthing units were first invented, I decided to have a child. An heir to my empire. At the time I was king of Gotham, I felt invincible... I had an implant inseminated with donor sperm....”
As he explained, Ed paused in the doorway, watching as Oswald spoke and Jeremiah listened. Oswald carried on talking, unaware of his presence.
“...And it grew, I had all the usual problems, nausea, tiredness, I felt it move...” he paused, blinking away tears, “But in those days, when the implants were a new concept, they were also dangerous. A lot could go wrong, and it often did...” Oswald took in a slow breath, dragging out the words to air a subject he had never spoken about before, to anyone, “They couldn't scan the old style units. My due date came and went and nothing was happening, so I went to the hospital and they felt the bump below my ribcage and said it was too hard, then they put a needle in and took fluid out... then they told me... “ he stifled a sob, “They told me...”
Oswald couldn't speak as tears blurred his vision. Jeremiah put a hand on his shoulder, turning him towards him as he brushed a tear from his cheek.
“Just tell me once, share it so we can move on together, my love. Just talk to me.”
Oswald blinked away more tears.
“They said it was a failed pregnancy. But I still had to give birth. I couldn't feel a thing as I pushed because of the spinal anaesthesia, but I remember the blood and I remember seeing this silver sac, it was big enough to have a full term baby in there, but they put it on a trolley and I didn't get to see what was inside. I just saw this sac still shiny with my blood, they left it in the room with me, because they said the doctor who dissected the failed pregnancies wasn't on duty until morning... It was still there when I woke up, after they finished repairing my birth injuries. Then I fell asleep again, I cried myself to sleep...and next morning, it was gone. They tried to tell me it wasn't a baby, but I don't believe that!”
Tears ran down his face as Jeremiah held him close and stroked his hair.
“Oh Oz, I'm so sorry! I never knew! Why didn't you tell me before?”
As he pulled back, Oswald shook his head.
“What would it have changed?” he said tearfully, “I lost my baby.”
“Actually, you didn't, Oswald.”
They both turned around to see Ed set the tea down on the table. He paused to push his glasses up the bridge of his nose, then he went over to the window to join them, and began to explain.
“In the early days of male birthing implants, very few were successful,” Ed stated, “And a failed pregnancy didn't mean a lost baby. There was no baby. They didn't lie to you, Oswald! Old style units were impossible to safely monitor, the sac was too thick. A failed pregnancy meant, the unit absorbed your DNA and the inseminated sperm would have been destroyed before it reached the created egg because the chemicals contained inside had leaked. This would have encouraged the host DNA to carry on growing – not a baby, but a toxic tumour. That movement you felt was the growth getting bigger. I'm guessing after you expelled it, they gave you an IV treatment to destroy the trace of toxin left in your blood, but it was almost as dangerous as the chemicals that leaked from the implant. I assume they warned you it could cause health issues later in life, such as leukaemia?”
“You knew why you got sick and you never told me?” Jeremiah exclaimed.
Oswald wiped his eyes then he looked at him sadly.
“At the time, the cause didn't matter. But Hugo cured me and I'm not sick now, Mr J! Let's just look forward to his experiment working and then I'll be younger and I can have another baby!”
Jeremiah's eyes flashed with alarm as he looked from Oswald to Ed.
“How much of this conversation did you just hear while Oswald was too distraught to remember to use discretion, Ed?” he asked as tension crept into his voice.
Ed looked to Oswald.
“Before I answer that question, you wasn't pregnant Oswald. There was no baby.”
Defiance shone in his gaze as he blinked away the last of his tears.
“In my heart, it was my child!”
Ed gave a heavy sigh.
“Clearly they offered you no counselling. Oswald, it wasn't a baby!”
“You didn't answer my question!” Jeremiah said, glaring at Ed.
“I heard all of it, basically,” Ed admitted, “Hugo Strange, fountain of youth...part of a deal to test his new invention. I guess selling a way to turn back the clock on ageing will make him more money and be easier to guard than the time machine that you stole... By the way, can I see this time machine?”
Oswald gave a heavy sigh as he exchanged a glance with Jeremiah.
“He knows, it's too late to change it,” Jeremiah said.
“I'll call you on Friday, we can make arrangements,” Oswald replied, “But... it's our time machine, Ed! You're not using it!”
Ed smiled warmly.
“That's fine, Oswald! I just want to see it!”
Suddenly Ed sniffed the air and briefly covered his nose.
“Wow, your dog stinks! What do you feed him?”
Edward raised his head as he sat in his dog bed, his wrinkles deepening as he shot the humans a look of indignation. Just then Penguin rolled over, and farted again, this time it wasn't silent.
“It's not Edward. It's little Penguin,” said Oswald.
Jeremiah looked back at his husband.
“He knows about the time machine - he needs to know everything now.”
Oswald understood at once. He hoped Ed would understand too as he explained.
“Kai and Jerome have known about the machine for a while.”
“How long?” asked Ed.
“What?” Ed fumed.
“Let me explain,” Jeremiah added, gesturing to the table where the tray was set with the tea ready, “This is going to take a while.”
Oswald smiled as he looked down at his sleeping son.
“But first, I should put little Penguin to bed.”
He set his cane aside and limped over to the rug, leaning over his son as he snored softly with his flippers flung up at his sides.
“Come along, my heavy little boy, time for bed.”
As Oswald lifted him, Penguin's eyes opened and his flippers twitched as he smiled.
“Daddy is home!” he said with a big smile.
“Yes, Daddy's home, and now you're off to bed,” he said softly, then he carried Penguin out of the room, limping heavily as he headed for the stairs.
Ed sat down on the couch as Jeremiah took a seat opposite, waiting for Oswald as he poured the tea.
“There's a lot you don't know, Ed,” he told him, “But I'll wait for Oswald before we both explain. It's a long story – and before we begin, I will say this : My son Jerome and your son Kai are very brave. In another version of events, back on the night of the fire, Ecco didn't just put a bullet in me. Without their intervention, she would have wiped out the whole family. Our boys changed all that.”
Ed stared at him... Kai had gone back to the night of the fire and saved everyone? Now he wasn't angry his son had kept the time machine a secret, now, he just wanted to know everything...
Oswald's crippled leg was aching as he laid Penguin in his bed and folded the covers down as his little flippers rested on top of them.
“Go back to sleep, Penguin,” he said softly, turning on the night light next to the bed that shone with moons and stars.
Penguin blinked tired eyes.
“Is it okay that Penguin told Father about Hugo?”
Oswald smiled kindly.
“Yes, of course it is. Father isn't worried, I've explained everything. And maybe I should tell you something too. Daddy's not sick, Penguin. I'm having a treatment that will make me look younger. I will have more energy, I will be slim like I was many years ago. And I might have a baby with your father. What do you think about that?”
Penguin smiled sleepily.
“I hope the baby is like Penguin,” he yawned then opened and closed a flipper, “I love you, Daddy.”
“I love you too, son,” Oswald said.
Penguin closed his eyes, instantly relaxing as his flippers went up. Then he was snoring softly. Oswald left the room quietly, heading for the stairs, ready to begin a very long and complicated explanation regarding the time machine, because now, Ed needed to know everything...
While Penguin slept deeply by the glow of his night light, Oswald and Jeremiah told Ed everything. He listened, in awe of his brave son as he learned how Kai and Jerome had gone back in time to save Jeremiah and the kids on the night Ecco had gone crazy.
Now everything made perfect sense.
Gertrud hadn't aged, because Kai had pulled her out of the timeline to stop Tabitha from killing her. And the bulldog who looked like Edward, was Edward, because Kai had pulled him out, too...
It was almost midnight when Ed left the house. Oswald and Jeremiah had made him promise to keep the secret of the time machine to himself. He knew come morning, he would speak to his son and tell him how brave he was. Tonight, Kai would be crashed out in bed and his best friend would be sleeping on the floor nearby, just like when they were kids and had sleep overs. He wouldn't talk to his son until morning.
But he wasn't ready to go home yet...
Jeremiah had joined Oswald upstairs as soon as Ed had left, and he made his way quietly to the bedroom, closed the door behind him, and then paused for a moment fondly watching as his chubby love rested his cane next to the bed then took off his jacket and began to unbutton his waistcoat. As Oswald got down to his shirt and took off his tie, he paused looking over to see Jeremiah standing there. His red lips looked bright crimson against his pale face as he smiled, his bright eyes shining with deepest love.
“I understand why you didn't tell me about the deal with Hugo. I would have worried, I would have been over protective. I know how I can get sometimes. But can you blame me?”
As Oswald smiled too, Jeremiah went over to the bed, kneeling before him as he took off his shoes and then his socks and paused to gently grasp his damaged ankle as he kissed his foot and then looked up at him.
“My Hungarian prince is soon to be young and even more beautiful! Oh Oswald, you have no idea how deeply I adored you from afar in the old days!”
Oswald's face flushed as his eyes sparkled.
“I know you said you used to lay next to Ecco and jerk off thinking of me!”
“I was crazy about you. I still am. I always will be!”
Oswald's gaze stayed locked with his Mr J as he unbuttoned his shirt and stripped it off. Suddenly worry clouded Jeremiah's eyes.
“This treatment to make you young again... are there risks?”
Oswald was able to set his mind at rest at once.
“It is just as safe as the formula we used to halt the ageing process! Have no fear for me, Mr J, all will be well.”
As Oswald stripped off the last of his clothing, Jeremiah hastily undressed and then got in bed beside him, pulling him close as he looked into his eyes.
“Was Ed right, what he said about the failed pregnancy? It wasn't a baby?”
Sadness shaded Oswald's pale gaze as in that moment, Jeremiah wished he had never raised the subject.
“The doctors told me that too,” Oswald said quietly, “But to me, it was a baby, it was mine. I can never see it any other way.”
As Oswald turned on his back, Jeremiah shifted closer, running his hand over his hair, then gently touching Oswald's cheek as their gaze locked once more.
“When the treatment is completed,” he vowed, “You will carry my child, Oswald! I love you, I want to give you everything and if this makes you happy, if this heals an old wound, so be it! Let's have another child together... you will look so beautiful carrying my baby!” he started to smile, “I will be the proudest man in Gotham!” he leaned closer, wrapping him in a tender embrace, then he kissed him softly.
“I love you so very much.”
“I love you too, Mr J!” said Oswald as joy and hope for the future shone in his eyes.
Then Jeremiah turned out the light and they slept in a warm embrace, Oswald drifting off to sleep with the trace of a smile on his face as he dreamed about a bright tomorrow that would bring such hope with it.
Ed saw the lights go out after he left the mansion, then he cut around the path that led to the back of the house and followed it to the rose garden, where he stood looking up at the statue of Penguin, who smiled down with his flippers open. Tears stung his eyes as he remembered the man he had loved, Kai's birth father who had died too soon while Kai was still a baby, he had been poisoned by the toxic water and wounded from his fight with Batman before the time storm had brought him from the future, and their time had not been long enough together - and he would do anything to see him once more.
“It's not goodbye, I have time now,” Ed whispered as he looked up the statue and his heart ached, “I will see you again. I have a time machine...”