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You'll find it happens all the time, Love will never do what you want it to

Chapter Text

Gotham City, September 1995.

“Edward honey, are you okay?”

Edward wonders what has betrayed him. It could be the incessant tapping of his index finger against the mahogany table of the living room. Or the way he has been playing with his scrambled eggs using the tip of his fork for the past ten minutes. Or just the simple fact that the person asking that question is his mother and parents are supposed to feel these sorts of things, just like a sixth sense.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” is all she gets, because Ed feels like he might throw up if he says more than that.

He feels sick, so much that he’s pretty sure it’s not just in his head. It gets under his skin, travelling through his veins to reach his insides, twisting them and turning them into a pile of stress and anxiousness. His mother nods, offering him a thin stretch of her lips, worry written all over her features. Her concern is contagious, and Edward finds himself averting her gaze, focusing on the way her hair falls down her shoulders, her manicured nails, the sounds produced by her teeth when she bites down on an apple.

Small, insignificant details, yet so very important to him. This is how Ed copes, how he’s learned to distract himself from the incessant and terrible thoughts swimming around in that head of his. Sometimes it works, sometimes he miserably fails and is left to deal with worse than what he had bargained for. This morning, particularly, his mind seems to be hell-bent on making him go through it.

“You know you can talk to me Ed. It’s hard to get used to a new school, but I’m sure your new teachers will make you feel great. You’re just nervous, but trust me honey, it’ll be fine. At least try to eat something, will you?”

Ed wants to reply that he’s not eight anymore and that being afraid of his last year of high school to the point of spending the entire night crying against his pillow to drown out the sound of his sobbing is not fine. But his mother is trying, and he knows how unfair it would be to unleash all of his anger on her. So he just bites on a piece of toast, immediately noticing her staring at him, smiling at him.

She probably takes it as a victory, and Ed doesn’t have the strength to tell her that the toast is overcooked and barely edible, so he just finishes his plate until he’s full before standing up, throwing the last piece of grilled sausage on the floor for his dog to pick up. The golden retriever immediately rushes towards it, happily wagging her tail while chewing on the piece of meat. Ed kneels on the laminated floor to leave numerous kisses between her ears, enjoying the way she always seems to be happy no matter which day of the week it is.

“Are you going to miss me Penny?” he coos, holding onto her a bit longer than usual.

There is comfort in being home, with his dog and his mother eating her breakfast while reading the morning papers. There is warmth and safety and the assurance that he will always have this, have his family and his dog to come home to no matter what happens today at school. And Edward tries, he tries so hard to believe this, to entertain the idea that it will be fine, and that nothing bad will happen. He’s gonna learn new things, and meet new people, and after what happened this summer he deserves to experience positive emotions and nothing will hurt hi—

“Oh, and Edward,” his mother’s voice pulls him out of his fantasy so fast that he’s confident one day he’ll get whiplash from it, “don’t forget to pick up your sister on your way back. Your dad is working until late, and my friends from the book club are coming around five. Can you take care of it honey?”

Ed murmurs a soft, “Yes,” half of his face still buried in Penny’s fur.

His mother walks past him, holding a cup of coffee in her left hand, using the other to tousle his hair in the most delicate way, “Love you.”

He likes to think it’s unconditional. That no matter what he might tell her she will always love him as much she does in this very moment. Ed finds it fascinating, how appreciated he is, no matter how hard his mind tells him that he does not deserve to be happy, that life has been too easy on him, that it has turned him into a weak being. Ed thrives off of the attention of others, his own consciousness not nearly strong enough to provide the self-esteem he so desperately seeks.

He finds it in the way Penny licks his face until he surrenders and ends up on the floor, laughing so hard at the show of affection his ribs could crack open at any time. It’s in his mother’s smile and the way she hums in synch with the morning news jingle that’s playing on the radio. It’s in the screams of his ten-year-old sister who comes running down the stairs to yell at him, dressed in a pair of oversized denim overalls, holding Ed’s Walkman above her head.

“I’m gonna break this in half, I swear to god I’ll break it in half if you don’t give it back!” she screams, and Ed already knows what it’s all about.

Penny runs towards her immediately, and Ed is left alone, lying on the floor and too tired to deal with that kind of drama so early in the morning, “I can’t give it back to you, Maggie. I lost it. I already told you that a hundred times. I’ll bring you another copy from the record store, I promise. My next shift is tomorrow, it’ll be brand new, you won’t see a difference,” he deadpans before standing up to face her.

In a matter of seconds, her features go from pure anger to something less dangerous. She is still holding Ed’s precious Walkman above her head, but Ed knows he has won her approval even before she opens her mouth. Maggie has a temper, but she wouldn’t hurt a fly, and certainly not his most expensive item. Ed approaches her slowly, extending one arm towards his Walkman, the other crossing his fingers behind his back for the lie he just told her.

He wishes he had just lost her copy of The Cure’s latest album, but it’s not really the case. The memory is still too fresh, the cut too wide, too painful. And he tried so hard to kill it during the summer, burying it under false smiles, false laughs. Lies. He tried to change, bend it to his will, make it less hurtful, more meaningful. In vain. Clawing his way out of this is a daily struggle. Heart-break really is a bitch.

Maggie allows him to retrieve his prized possession before mumbling, “I’m sorry for screaming at you but this album means a lot to me.”

“Yeah, I figured that out. You asked for it literally every single day during the entire summer break.”

Ed carefully places the Walkman in the back pocket of his denim shorts, ignoring the way she rolls her eyes at him. Someone knocks on the door right as he grabs his windbreaker – just in case – and swings his emerald green backpack covered in various enamel pins over his shoulders. Maggie beats him to the door, ignoring him when he asks, “Who is it?”

He can hear her talking in a low voice from where he sits on the stairs leading to the first floor, but he’s too busy trying to lace his pair of Nikes to focus on what she might or might not be saying to that person. However, he thinks he recognizes the voice on the other side of the door, and when he literally shoves Maggie out of the way to meet their mystery visitor, he is glad to be proven right.

“Tabby,” Ed says, his smile hurting his cheeks from how genuine it is, “Fuck I’ve missed you.”

He ignores his sister screaming “Mom! Edward said the f-word”, and practically throws himself into Tabitha’s arms. She smells like bubble-gum and vanilla, her strong arms envelop him after a short beat and Ed could nearly cry with how good it feels to see her. She’s been gone for the whole summer, visiting her father’s side of the family on the west coast, and for Ed it felt like an eternity.

“I’ve missed you too, Eddie,” she says against his chest, “but you’re gonna suffocate me to death.”

Ed releases her, slightly embarrassed by his show of affection. He offers his best friend an awkward smile, and Tabitha smiles back at him, all teeth.

Ed gasps, clearly surprised by this, “When did you take your braces off?”

“Last Friday”, Tabitha smiles even more at him, showing off two rows of perfect teeth.

Her hair is pulled up in a tight ponytail and she’s wearing one of her signature graphic t-shirts, this one is white and says ‘GUUURL POWER’ on the front. Tabitha is a year younger than Ed. She’s been living on his street for as long as he can remember, but they only started hanging out two years ago, after Ed literally ran into her while he was rollerblading. They both ended up on the floor with bruised knees and a broken wrist for Tabitha. She almost killed him for making her spill her milkshake instead of complaining about her injury, but it quickly turned out to be the best accident he’d been into.

Tabitha has been the one person he can talk to, without fear of being judged or laughed at. She understands everything, from the struggles he’s going through to the reason he only eats the brown M&M’s and leaves the other ones to her. She brings him leftover popcorn from the movie theatre after her shifts, she distracts him when his mind gets the better of him and she sent him letters during the summer just like she’d promised. Ed is pulled out of these happy memories when she snaps her fingers a few inches from his face.

“So? What do you think?” she asks, smiling in an exaggerated way.

Ed leans forward, pretending to examine her mouth like a professional dentist. He can hear his sister whispering “gross” under her breath, but he doesn’t care. Tabitha is back and life just got a little bit brighter. After a careful inspection, he finally leans back, feigning disinterest.

“Yeah, it looks okay.”

The look on Tabitha’s features is too much for him to handle and he breaks into a fit of laughter, trying to form a coherent sentence, “It looks really good Tabby, you’re gonna blind everyone at school with these new pearls.”

Tabitha offers him a smug smile, satisfied by his answer, and Ed doesn’t really get the opportunity to talk to her about more serious issues for the rest of the morning, because her older brother, Theo, threatens to leave without them if they don’t get in the car “right fucking now”. Ed spends the whole ride nervously bouncing his left leg up and down, in a pattern that doesn’t make him any less nervous. Theo blasts out some late 70s music, arguing with Tabitha over which Bee Gees brother has the most high-pitched voice for the rest of the way.

Theo drops them to school on time, wishing the both of them good luck and begging Tabby not to get herself into any type of trouble. He’s just two years older than them, but his advice always seems to come from years and years of experience. Tabby says that he’s an “old soul”, but Ed thinks that Theo has just been through some pretty shitty stuff and has actually learned his lesson from it. He deeply wishes he could do the same.

Tabitha gives Ed a quick tour of the establishment. She’s been studying here since her first year of high school. The do and don’ts, the best bathroom stall to have a mental breakdown in, the nice teachers and the mean ones; she knows it all. Ed tries to remember everything she says, taking in as much information as he is able to. When the bell rings, he almost begs her to stay with him, but Tabby lightly squeezes his forearm and then she’s gone.

He stands still for too long, holding his backpack against his chest, looking in her direction until she’s just a tiny dot at the end of the long hallway. Ed doesn’t register the girl standing still in front of him, he doesn’t hear her when she speaks, he only notices her when the stranger says, “Hey, new guy, you’re gonna be late to class if you stand here like a statue.” Ed looks at her. She’s got short stylish bangs and she’s wearing a beret, her lipstick is dark purple or deep Bordeaux – Ed is still debating – and she wears round sunglasses that hide half of her features.

Ed adjusts his glasses, wracking his brains to come up with something to say, but she’s already walked past him when he comes up with something, “I – Hey, can you help me find my class? I’m new.”

She stops in her tracks, turning back to face him with an exasperated expression, “Yeah, I know you’re new, didn’t you hear me when I called you “new guy”? Probably not. Anyway, you’re clearly that Nygma kid Mr. Pennyworth has been talking about. I’m Sofia, head of the student council, nice to meet you.”

Ed flashes her an insecure smile. Talking to people he doesn’t really know makes him anxious, and Sofia is devastatingly intimidating, but he still replies with a tiny voice, “I’m Edward, you can call me Ed.”

Sofia smiles back at him, her previously cold and calculated demeanor turning less aggressive, more pleasant, “You’re starting your last year, right?”

Ed nods. It’s just the two of them now in the corridor, and he wants to ask again “can you show me to my classroom?” but he doesn’t because he’s pretty sure she has heard him he first time he asked. He glances at his digital watch, eyes going round when he realizes that he’s now awfully late. Sofia doesn’t seem to be bothered by the situation, instead she just starts walking again, and it’s a miracle he doesn’t miss what she says next.

“Follow me Ed.”

Ed is listening to Bjork’s ‘Human Behaviour’, waiting for his sister in front of her middle school. It’s in the Upper East Side of the city, quite far from where they live in Old Gotham, but Maggie insisted on attending school here when she found out they had a class which allowed them to study birds and their behavior in Robinson Park. Ed helped her convince their parents, saying that encouraging her to pursue her passions would be beneficial.

He hadn’t expected her to develop the same tendencies as some of those birds. Maggie is fascinated by all things shiny and sparkly and stealing some of them from her classmates has become a habit. Ed found a stash of earrings, old watches and other precious objects stored in a box under her bed in early July, and since then, he highly suspects her of being a kleptomaniac. When she comes out from the main gate, surrounded by a small group of friends, with an obvious piece of gum stuck to her almost white blond hair, Ed finds himself smiling. As long as she doesn’t get caught, she will be alright. He presses the pause button on his Walkman, bending his knees just enough to be on her level when she comes running towards him.

“So? How was your first day of school? Did you get smacked behind the head? Did someone throw their drink at you? Is the bully named Butch or Biff?”

Ed rolls his eyes at her, pointing at the piece of gum stuck in her hair, “My life isn’t a movie, Maggie. But yeah, the dumbest guy in school is named Butch. And you have gum in your hair, silly.”

Maggie spends the rest of the way home trying to get the gum out of her hair. She’s still struggling when they get out of the subway station at Stevensburg, and she stops complaining only when Ed buys her a can of Pepsi Blue from the convenience store around the corner of their neighborhood. Ed makes sure she gets home safely, watching her from the sidewalk opposite to their house, before walking further down the street.

Tabitha is waiting for him on the stairs leading to her apartment building, still dressed in her cheerleader outfit, “What took you so long? And also, I looked for you during lunch and I didn’t find you.”

Ed sits next to her, watching a group of kids run after a stray dog, so easily distracted by random things. He considers starting from the beginning, telling her how he met Sofia, how she introduced him to his classmates and how some of them said “Hi Ed!” when the teacher asked them to and how others just kept talking to the person sat next to them. How embarrassed he felt and how Lucius – the guy sat in the booth next to him during the Computer Lab class – kept correcting the teacher.

He wants to tell her so badly about the fact that his chemistry teacher said that his grades were impressive and the fact that that Valeska kid kept making dumb and annoying jokes during the English lesson. But he knows Tabitha has no interest in that, she doesn’t care about what happened during his classes, because there are more important matters in Ed’s life which need to be discussed. Matters of the heart. Things he feels he’ll never get over even if his chemistry teacher gives him all the praise in the world.

“I had to pick up Maggie from school. And for the record, I spent my lunch time in the library reading The Fellowship of the Ring.”

“Nerd,” Tabby jokes, looking at him with so much fondness that it reminds him of his mother this morning.

“You’re the one to talk. You’re literally wearing Princess Leia socks instead of your mandatory cheerleading ones.”

Tabby rolls her eyes at him, fighting against a laugh. And then Ed realizes he cannot avoid the subject any longer.

“Did she call?” Tabitha asks, resting her head on his shoulder, her own way of saying “it’s okay if she didn’t, I’m here now.”

“No,” the word tastes bitter on his tongue, the truth painful even after all this time.

“How do you feel about it?”

Ed wants to put an end to it. Talking about it via letters over the summer was easier. He was able to hide behind ink and a piece of paper, but now that Tabitha is here to be his confident in the flesh, he wants to change the subject.

“Fine,” he lies, and Tabitha stops leaning against his shoulder.

She looks at him with an unreadable expression, her eyes going from his parted hair falling in front of his eyes to the Jurassic Park t-shirt he’s been wearing. Her voice is non-judgmental and softer than what he had expected, “Don’t lie to me Ed. She was your first girlfriend and she dumped you. You’re not doing fine.”

Ed feels a weird sensation, similar to the one he experienced this morning. Except that this time, it hurts a little bit less. Probably because Tabitha said it in such a casual way, a stark contrast with the way his own brain has transformed this break-up into a tragedy over the summer. He spent two months dealing with it on his own, because Tabby wasn’t there when Isabella said “I don’t think we can do this anymore” on the 1st of July in between the stations Kinsley and Prosper St.

She wasn’t there when he replied “What do you mean?” and she said “Actually, you know what, I’m pretty sure I don’t love you anymore. I’m sorry Ed. I hope you’ll understand.”

And he did understand. How could he argue against that? Isabella didn’t love him anymore, after the twenty-three months, two days and seven hours they spent dating each other. It was clear enough, the way she said it still branded into the thick bones of his skull. She did not love him. It was over. She didn’t want to date him anymore, and he had no right to try and stop her from leaving. So when she said “Okay, I guess I’m gonna go now” and he didn’t reply, it was because there was nothing he could say or do.

Understanding it was a thing, accepting it an entirely different matter. Isabella left, and he cried for two weeks before even thinking about sending a letter to Tabitha. She replied with a full essay, saying that she was sorry and that Isabella should have at least waited for them to be in a private setting to break up with him. She also wrote that no matter how heart-broken he was, he had to move on, because life sucked and he would find happiness in other things. And even since he read that, he’s been trying.

“I feel like I’m overreacting. It’s been two months and I still cry about it. And she took my sister’s copy of The Cure’s greatest album with her. And I know some people have it way worse than me, but I still feel like a fucking loser.”

Tabitha leans against his shoulder, again, and there’s a level of comfort in that simple gesture that makes him believe in what she says next, “It’s your first heart-break. Believe me, I’d be heart-broken too if Barbara suddenly said she didn’t love me anymore. And you got dumped at the worst subway station, so that sucks. But I promise you, Ed, it’s gonna be okay.”

Ed replies a small, “I believe you”, and Tabitha snakes an arm behind his back to hug him. Ed leans into the embrace, and when she lets go of him, his heart feels lighter, his mind less foggy. Maybe she’s right. Maybe he does believe her. Maybe things will get better and he’ll fall in love again, and even if his heart gets broken a second time, he’s still got people like her in his life. People who care. People who make him feel like he matters.

“Thanks Tabby, I feel much better.”

Tabitha looks at him, probably trying to determine if it’s a lie or just the plain truth. When she finally comes to a conclusion she stands up, extending a hand towards him, and Ed finds it funny that it starts raining as soon as she speaks, “Wanna watch Fresh Prince and pretend to do homework?”

Chapter Text

Gotham City, October 1995.

“I don’t do parties Sofia.”

“Come on Ozzie, it’ll be fun. Plus, we’ll get to dress up.”

Oswald scoffs, “Do I look like the type who dresses up for Halloween?”

Sofia is lying on her bed, holding Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’ above her head while Oswald sits on the floor, trying to do his math homework. Trying being the keyword; he hasn’t really progressed since they started talking about this weekend’s Halloween party. Sofia sighs heavily before throwing the book on the other end of her king size bed. Oswald is testing her patience, and she wants to get to the bottom of this before he swiftly changes the subject.

“Why are you like this?”

Oswald shrugs, “I don’t know. I ask myself that question every day.”

“Seriously Ozzie, what’s the real reason you don’t wanna come?” Sofia asks, leaving the bed to sit on the floor in front of him.

Oswald chews on his bottom lip, looking at one of the posters above Sofia’s bed, as if Madonna herself could give him the strength to deal with his friend. There are several reasons he doesn’t want to attend that party. One of those being the fact that he doesn’t know the host, and going to a stranger’s house is not really his cup of tea. Oswald doesn’t trust people easily, and especially not drunk teenagers.

Reason number two is that his mother wants him to go to church with her on Sunday morning, which means that he will only get between three and five hours of sleep, since the party is on Saturday. Oswald has been going to church with his mother for as long as he can remember, and he knows that this is not nearly enough sleep to keep him awake during the pastor’s sermon.

Not that he really cares about Sunday mass, but it’s one of those rare moments he gets to share with his mother outside of their tiny apartment. Oswald has started to slowly grow extremely bothered by what he hears at church. The lack of tolerance, no matter how sugarcoated it is, makes him feel sick to his stomach. And he’s come to the conclusion, over the years, that religion is just a bunch of archaic rules that everyone’s too afraid to cross out of the fear that they’ll end up in hell.

Personally, Oswald doesn’t worry over whether he’s going to hell or heaven anymore. He stopped believing in the duality of those concepts when he was a fifteen-year-old boy dealing with his crush on one of his classmates, Jim, and one Sunday morning the pastor said “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.” Oswald remembers feeling like his world had ended. He remembers pretending to be sick for days, crying under his blanket because it felt like those words would never leave his mind.

He remembers praying every night and asking for redemption, because surely, his innocent crush on another boy turned him into a sinner. God isn’t all knowing, he’d figured, because otherwise he wouldn’t have made him like this. Everyone’s a sinner on this earth, and Gotham City isn’t exempt of this rule. So, Oswald figures, to hell with church. He sighs before looking at Sofia.

“You know what,” he says, a smile stretching his lips, “I’m coming with you.”

For all he cares, the pastor could choke on his bible verses and die. He’s not fifteen anymore, his mother will understand.

“I knew I could count on you,” Sofia says, offering him a satisfied smile.

Oswald chuckles, “You always get what you want, don’t you?”

“Sort of. What changed your mind?”

“Nothing in particular,” Oswald lies, “Just figured it would be great for me to socialize. Last year of high school and all that. I can’t hang out forever with the only other gay person in school, you know?”

Sofia laughs, real and loud, before standing to stretch her arms above her head, reminding Oswald of a panther. Her jet black hair is unkempt and she’s wearing one of Oswald’s Guns N’ Roses t-shirts and a pair of red and black striped leggings as a pajama. She looks cozy, far from the put together persona she’s always adopting outside of her father’s mansion.

Oswald feels privileged, knowing that she trusts him enough to let her guard down. Enough to be herself when he’s around, far from the expectations of Gotham’s elite society. They met when Oswald used to work at Mooney’s and Sofia would eat there with her father and her older brother Mario every Thursday. Now Oswald works for Carmine, and his life has drastically changed. He spends most of his time attending board meetings rather than going to school.

His mother doesn’t know about it, because she would forbid him from working for an infamous business man whose side activities make the front page of the Gotham Gazette every other day. But the work pays, and it is what matters at the end of the day. Otherwise he wouldn’t be able to pay for the painkillers for his leg, or for the jewelry that his mother so dearly loves.

“Talking about gay, It’s crazy how my father still thinks that I’m gonna end up marrying a man,” Sofia says, out of the blue, which highly surprises Oswald.

She rarely talks about her father, and when she does, Oswald never knows what to say. After all, Carmine is his boss. But this time, he figures, the matter is not really her father but rather her sexuality. And if they became friends so easily, it’s because of that. These huge parts of themselves that they cannot share outside of the four walls of that room, because it could destroy their reputations, their lives, their safety.

“When did you know?” Oswald asks, and Sofia stops stretching to look at him, arching an eyebrow.

“Out of all the people in this city, I never thought you’d be the one asking me that question.”

Oswald sighs, “I’m not talking about when you realized you liked girls. I meant: how did you know it was okay to like them?”

Sofia’s features relax, “If I don’t tell myself that it’s okay, who’s gonna do it? You’re the only gay person I know, Ozzie. Life sucks for us right now. Everyone thinks they’re gonna catch AIDS from kissing us or that we’re gonna go to hell, so I might as well be my number one fan. But meeting you was a big part of me being okay with it, to be honest.”

Oswald lifts his head up, trying to look for a lie in her eyes, but he only sees the plain truth, “Really?”

“Yeah, really,” she replies, her eyes sparkling with something he’s never seen, “When you told me you liked boys, I thought “it’s okay, you’re not alone, you’re normal, you’re not a freak.””

Oswald smiles, humorless, the harshness of what she just said still painfully ringing in his ears. He wants to reply, but it feels like Sofia has finally managed to put words on what it felt like to meet her. What it meant to have a friend like her. The idea that he wouldn’t have to face this with only loneliness as his companion. The idea that even if he’s never able to date anyone, it’s fine, as long as Sofia is here to remind him that his attractions are still legitimate.

“We matter,” Oswald whispers.

Sofia shoots him a smile of approval, warm and oddly reassuring. He releases a sharp breath, thankful. His secret is safe with her.

“Remind me what that guy’s name is already? I wanna know who’s the moron who decided to host a Halloween party two days before the actual date.”

Oswald had expected Edward Nygma’s house to be anywhere but in Old Gotham. With the description of their host Sofia gave him, he thought their appointed chauffeur would have dropped them in front of one of those dull suburban houses east of the city. Instead, he finds himself facing a row of tall historical brick houses, all of them adorned with various Halloween decorations on the windows, stairs and front doors. Much more charming than what he had expected.

They get there after the sun has set, but a group of children is still playing in front of the stairs leading to Ed’s house, one of them immediately screaming in a high pitched tone when he spots the fake hand on Oswald’s shoulder. They all start running in different directions and Oswald grins, self-satisfied. He notices the agitation down the street, where a little bodega is still open, and he cannot help but notice the contrast between this neighborhood and his. There is life and agitation here, when no one dares to go outside after sunset where he lives.

“This place is kinda cute,” he says to Sofia who’s been struggling to get out of the car without ruining her dress. Oswald offers her his arm once she’s standing next to him before leading the way towards the front door. He tries to look at his reflection on the tainted glass of the door, but he cannot tell if his fake moustache is properly sticking to his upper lip, so he just turns to Sofia for help.

“Do I look okay?” he asks, their arms still linked together.

“You look dashing Gomez, my dear. What about me?”

Oswald pretends to look her up, whistling lowly before clicking his tongue inside of his mouth, “You look beautiful Morticia. Now let’s get on with it.”

When Sofia presses the doorbell, Oswald is pretty sure no one inside the house notices it. Loud 80s music can be heard from where they stand, and Sofia has to press the doorbell three more times until someone finally dares to open the door. Oswald almost curses out loud when a literal child dressed in a Simba costume appears in front of them.

Instead he just says, “Sorry, I think we got the wrong house.”

“I’m pretty sure it’s the right house,” the girl deadpans, “come in, Ed will be here in a minute.”

Oswald and Sofia get inside of the house while the little girl screams at the top of her lungs “Ed! Your friends are here!” towards the empty staircase leading to the first floor, before closing the door behind them. Oswald doesn’t really know where to put his focus on, and he doesn’t really have the time to focus on anything anyway. A golden retriever comes running towards him and he tries to dodge it in vain, almost ending up on the floor if it weren’t for Sofia holding him by the arm.

“Watch out or she’ll bite ya,” the little girl says, clearly about to burst out in a fit of laughter.

Oswald frowns, looking sternly at her, a bunch of curses still waiting to get past his lips, but Sofia cuts him off before he can get them out, avoiding a scene.

“That’s a very nice dog, what’s her name?” she asks.

“Her name’s Penny. Short for Pennywise,” the little girl replies, kneeling next to her dog to leave a kiss between her ears.

“Penny,” Sofia repeats, “that’s a nice name. And you must be Maggie. Ed talks about you all the time.”

Oswald has no interest in their conversation, so he walks past the both of them to go down the hallway leading to the rest of the lower floor. He looks at the art hanging on the walls, stopping when he notices a picture in black and white. Curly hair, oval glasses, smart eyes. He doesn’t need confirmation to know that this is Edward Nygma. He looks happy on that picture and he was probably the same age as his sister is now. Oswald cannot help but wonder if he still looks the same.

If he still is happy and youthful, when he – himself – feels like he’ll never get the innocence of those years back. Time passes, and each year takes something from him, no matter how tiny it is. He will be eighteen next July, but sometimes it feels like he has already experienced all the hardships of the world. Oswald’s attention goes back to where the music comes from when he realizes how gloomy his thoughts are. He has almost reached the living room and kitchen area when someone bumps into him, almost knocking him off his feet for the second time tonight.

“Jesus, use your fucking eyes!” he mutters, remembering a bit too late Sofia begging him to behave before they got here.

“I’m so sorry, I didn’t see you. I should’ve worn my glasses. Are you okay?” asks the other person, genuine concern on his tone.

Oswald looks up, unable to hide the look of surprise on his face when he notices who almost made him end up on the floor. He might be wearing a wig and heavy make-up, but his eyes are the same as the ones on the picture. He’s wearing an Edward Scissorhands costume, and Oswald finds it quite funny if the pun on his actual name was intended. The costume is homemade, but a pretty good one still. Oswald notices the realistic scars on his face, the black lipstick covering his lips, the eyeliner enhancing his deep brown eyes.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” he finally says, tearing his gaze away from Ed’s face when he realizes he’s been staring for too long.

Ed curiously asks, “Are you Sofia’s friend? She asked if she could bring someone with her.”

“Yeah,” Oswald says, leaning against the wall to avoid putting too much pressure on his leg.

“Cool, cool,” Ed mutters to himself, clearly relieved that Oswald isn’t a stranger who just invited himself to his house party, “I’m Ed. Short for Edward. But all of my friends call me Ed. Or Eddie if you prefer. I don’t really have a favorite.”

Oswald smirks, against his own will, “Eddie’s cute, but I ain’t your friend yet, so I’ll stick to Edward if you don’t mind.”

Ed opens his mouth after a short beat, and Oswald enjoys the way he looks utterly confused by his reply, but a voice coming from what Oswald assumes is the kitchen cuts him off, “Nygma! Get your ass in here! I can’t find the Coke, there’s only Diet Pepsi in this fridge!”

Oswald is pretty sure he can see the slight hint of a blush creeping under the white makeup covering Edward’s sharp cheekbones, and he flinches a little when he screams back, “It’s on the bottom shelf Victor! I’m busy here!”

Oswald chuckles, briefly entertained by the exchange, before leaving the support the wall provides him to adjust his suit jacket. Ed looks back at him, with the expression of someone who’s extremely embarrassed. But Oswald shoots him a look full of empathy, and Ed laughs it off, the sound reaching Oswald’s ears along with the first notes of the song ‘Material Girl’. It’s sharp and light-hearted, and it ends up with a shy smile, and Oswald hates himself for noticing the details of Edward Nygma’s laugh when one of his favorite songs is playing in the background.

Ed’s voice puts an end to his self-loathing, “I didn’t catch your name.”

“It’s because I didn’t say it,” Oswald declares, playfully arching an eyebrow.

Edward bites the inside of his cheek, a flash of nervousness crossing his features, and Oswald wonders if he’s not being too mischievous for a first meeting.

“I’m Oswald,” he says, “My friends call me Ozzie.”

“Oswald,” Ed repeats, his features turning into something softer.

And Oswald truly hates how right it sounds, coming from Ed’s painted lips. Or the way Ed’s lips curl up after he says it another time, and how his heart practically leaps out of his chest, reaching for something he cannot get. And he knows, deep down, that he’s setting himself up for something truly disastrous. Because boys like Edward Nygma do not date other boys. Because there is no way this will be something else than just another one-sided crush.

Because even when Ed says, “I’ll be right back”, after hearing the sound of broken glass coming from the kitchen, Oswald thinks “It’s okay if you don’t”. And he wants to scream at himself to stop being so pathetic. That having a crush on every single guy who gives him a tiny bit of attention will get him nowhere, but when Ed quickly turns around to look back at him before disappearing at the end of the hallway, a confident smile stretches his lips, and he does nothing to make it go away.

It’s well past three o’clock when the party dies down. Oswald makes sure Sofia is comfortable in Ed’s bed, tucked under the covers between Tabitha dressed as Lando Calrissian and Lee whose Halloween costume looks like an attempt at being a zombie doctor. Ed is passed out in the bathtub of the adjacent bathroom, and Victor is recording him with an old JVC camera, while Harvey Dent tries his hardest not too laugh too loudly.

Oswald sighs, far too sober to put up with this. Ed has only provided them alcohol free drinks, and Oswald almost threw up when Victor offered him to taste his homemade cocktail. Why anyone would mix marshmallows with vodka and vanilla ice cream is beyond him. Oswald takes the stairs with a heavier limp than when the night started, regretting spending most of his time standing in a corner while Maggie told him her life story instead of leaving him alone.

It was a true relief when Ed forced her to go to bed, but Oswald didn’t get the opportunity to grab his attention long enough to resume what had started in the hallway right after their first meeting. He walks past the silent living room, now empty of any signs of life. The laminated floor is covered in pop-corn, empty pizza boxes and several cans of soda. Oswald is glad he’s not the one hosting the party, because there is no way he would’ve let anyone leave the house without forcing them to clean up after themselves.

He grabs an empty cup on his way to the kitchen, turning the faucet on to wash it before filling it up with cold water. However, when he looks for his pills in the back pocket of his pants, he cannot find them. He must have forgotten them at Sofia’s place, and he knows they’re not in his jacket which he left upstairs. Oswald tries to remain calm, opening the first drawer he sees to look for something that might help him. Painkillers are hard to come by, and the task proves to be even more difficult when you’re in someone else’s house. Oswald is genuinely considering asking Victor if he doesn’t have drugs on him to ease the pain when he gets startled by the sound of footsteps behind him.

He almost hits his head on an open cupboard while standing upright, a tired voice saying, “Sorry. Didn’t mean to sneak up on you.”

Oswald doesn’t need to turn around to know who it belongs to. It’s the second time since they met that Edward has said he is sorry, and Oswald almost finds it endearing. He does turn around however, facing a sleepy Ed, now bare faced and without his bad quality wig. He is still wearing a white shirt on top of a black turtleneck, along with dark suspenders. Oswald props himself up to sit on the counter, following him with curious eyes as he goes straight to the fridge.

“Do you have medicine?” he asks, as soon as Ed’s face disappears behind the fridge’s door.

“What type of medicine?”

Oswald shrugs, even if he knows that Ed cannot see him, waiting for him to close the fridge’s door to say, “Painkillers. Something with opioids in it maybe. Whatever you have will do to be honest, I can’t afford to be picky right now.”

Ed nods, sharp and far too serious for someone who’s holding a Capri Sun in his left hand. Oswald is extremely thankful for the fact that he does not ask him any intrusive questions about why he needs opioids in the middle of the night. He never once stops looking at him as he goes to the last drawer on the opposite side of where he’d been frantically looking for medicine moments before. It takes Ed only a few seconds to come back with an orange plastic container, half full of tiny white pills. And Oswald has to restrain himself from pulling his savior into a tight hug.

“I used to take these when I broke my arm, it should do” Ed states, opening the box with one hand while sipping on his Capri Sun with the other, casual and so extremely cute that Oswald swears he would puke rainbows if it was physically possible.

“Thanks,” he simply says when Ed drops a pill into his palm.

Ed doesn’t stop looking at him when he puts it on the tip of his tongue, before swallowing the glass of water like a parched man. Oswald doesn’t mind his unabashed curiosity, but there’s something wrong with the way Ed’s been looking at him, and he cannot really figure out what it is, but he knows it’s here and it’s only when Ed speaks that he remembers what Sofia said about Ed while describing him. Always apologizing. Even for things that do not really matter.

“I’m sorry I didn’t come back earlier. I said I was going to but Victor and Harvey broke half of my mom’s wine glasses and my sister started nagging me about it and the dog peed on the carpet and I was—”

“Busy,” Oswald cuts him off, “You were busy. I noticed. It’s fine, I get it.”

“Promise?” Ed asks, biting his lower lip, and Oswald wants to yell at him to stop being so— everything.

“I promise Edward. It’s fine.”

Ed smiles, and Oswald is pretty sure he’ll never forget what he says next, not even if he gets to live for a million years. And he thinks that missing Sunday mass to come to this party really was his best idea in a long, long time. And when Ed punctuates his sentence with a quick reach of his free hand to catch Oswald’s fake moustache before it falls onto the ground, he knows heaven is on earth, exactly where Ed stands, bathed in the purple glow of the lava lamp casting its dim light on his smooth features. And he closes his eyes, because his world is changing too fast for him to pick up the pace.

“Alright. I trust you Ozzie.”

Chapter Text

Gotham City, October 1995.

Edward likes to think that Oswald is becoming his friend, because he is sitting on the kitchen counter, in his house, in the middle of the night, drinking tap water from his favorite mug and when he calls him “Ozzie” Oswald doesn’t seem to mind it. And so, naturally, after grabbing the fake moustache mid-fall he asks, on impulse, “Do you want me to make you breakfast?”

Oswald sets the empty mug against the marble surface of the counter, the dull sound barely covering Ed’s nervous laugh. He wants to go upstairs and find a mirror and ask himself why he asked such a stupid question. Oswald probably wants to go to sleep or home, instead of eating breakfast in a stranger’s kitchen at five in the morning. But then again, life works in mysterious way, he reminds himself, otherwise Oswald wouldn’t give him such a reply.

“What’s on the menu, chef?”

Ed tries to hide the genuine excitement on his face and goes straight to the fridge to grab a pack of eggs and some butter, “Parsley omelet on French toast with a side of pickled tomatoes.”

Oswald chuckles, sharp and clear, “You spoil me like that only after the first night, wow, guess I’m a lucky guy. What’s next, a date?”

Edward is pretty sure that even in the dim light the lava lamp casts over them, Oswald will be able to tell that he has blushed up to his ears. He focuses on whisking two eggs in a bowl before pouring the mix on the hot pan. Oswald doesn’t really expect him to reply, because it was a joke, just a silly joke, and he wonders why he’s reacting like that to such a harmless comment.

It’s not even flirting, that he is certain of, or at least, he was, until Oswald adds, “Hey, for the record, I was joking.”

And then, Ed gets the confirmation that it wasn’t a joke. He sees it in the way Oswald behaves for the rest of the time they spend together, just the two of them, bathed in an uncomfortable silence because neither of them knows what to say. How jumpy Oswald gets when the rest of the party wakes up and storms the kitchen, closely followed by Penny who immediately starts barking at Zsasz when he tries to pet her.

It’s in the little details. And Ed has a talent for noticing those little details. Oswald’s left leg nervously shaking when Sofia sits next to him and starts asking him questions in a tone so low that Ed cannot understand what it’s all about. He tries to talk to Oswald, ask him if he wants more orange juice, how many sugars he takes in his coffee, but Oswald says, “I’m gonna go now.”

Oswald patiently waits for Sofia to get ready, sitting on the stairs, looking at the front door like it’ll solve all of his problems. Ed wracks his brains to find something, anything to say to him, but his usually active brain is a useless void. He knows that they’re both making too big a deal of a simple joke. Oswald plays with his loosened tie, and Ed wants to adjust it, the way his father taught him.

Oswald hasn’t looked him in the eye since he made that harmless joke. Ed blames it on the lack of sleep. At least he tries to, because the darkest parts of his mind, the ones who don’t have his best interest in mind, are screaming at him that he’s already losing a friend. That’s what he does. Driving people away from him. Without even trying. His special little talent. Oswald is sitting a few inches from him, and yet, he cannot get his attention. He has shut down, entirely, and he’s about to leave but Ed only holds the door for him, ready to close it behind someone who could’ve been part of his life.

“Thank you for everything Ed,” Sofia says, her chauffeur waiting for them next to the car.

Ed looks at Oswald, and their eyes meet for a brief moment, “You’re welcome.”

Oswald grants him a simple, “Yeah, thanks,” and then, they’re gone.

Gotham City, Halloween 1995.

Tabitha lies down on Ed’s bed, humming along to the radio. It’s just the two of them, and Ed is trying to remain as calm as possible, because she knows him too well not to notice when something is wrong. So, instead of sitting next to her while she tries to solve a Rubik’s cube, he rearranges his posters for the hundredth time since Oswald and Sofia left.

He didn’t see them at school today. Not that he ever saw Oswald attending school before he met him on Saturday anyway. And that is why, when Tabitha said that she invited Sofia to watch horror movies with them during their traditional Halloween marathon, he almost choked on his glass of chocolate milk. Of course, she specified that Sofia was probably going to bring Oswald along and Ed has been trying to keep it cool since then. But putting his ‘Gremlins’ poster above his desk instead of his bed does nothing to calm his nerves.

Ed is too busy trying to find the proper words to say to Oswald if he ever sees him again that he doesn’t hear Tabitha the first time she calls him. It’s only when she leaves the bed and starts waving a hand in front of his face that he recalls her presence in the room.

“What?” he asks, and it comes out way too aggressive.

Tabby’s brows furrow, and she grabs the poster Ed’s been holding for a while now, “You’ve been looking out the window like a serial killer for the past five minutes. What’s on your mind, Eddie? And don’t you try lying to me.”

Ed sits on the edge of his bed, defeated, “Nothing serious, really.”

“Did you hear me when I said “don’t lie to me”, or should I repeat myself?”

Tabitha sets the poster on his desk, before sitting next to him, and Ed tries his hardest not to look at her, “It’s stupid, I swear.”

“Nothing you do or say is stupid and you know it. You’re the smartest guy I know. So please Eddie, tell me what’s going on.”

Ed sighs, focusing on the pattern on Tabitha’s leggings, abstract shapes that make him forget about his sweaty palms and the eyes focused on him, “Do you know anything about Oswald?”

“What do you mean?”

“Does he even go to our high school?”

“Yeah. I mean, he used to. But I haven’t seen him that much since the accident.”

Ed worries, finally looking up to meet her eyes, “What accident?”

“With his leg. I don’t really know what happened exactly. I’ve heard rumors, that’s it.”

“What else? What’s his deal?” Ed asks, eager to know more about his one-night-friend.

“I don’t know, Eddie. Is that why you’re so out of it? You’ve been acting super weird ever since he left.”

Ed wishes he could go back in time, warn himself no to sound too interested, not to ask too many questions about Oswald. He hates the fact that he wears his emotions on his sleeve, that he lets them take over his mind and his behavior so easily. Oswald is just a friend. Not even a friend, really. Oswald is a stranger he met two nights ago and he hasn’t been able to stop thinking about.

“Ed,” Tabitha says, voice so light he misses how grounding it sounded a few minutes ago, “did something happen?”

“No,” and that’s the worst part. Nothing happened, yet it feels like the most important event of his life unfolded between him and Oswald, in the quiet hours of the night, when everyone else was asleep and unaware of their encounter. And Ed didn’t do anything to make it last longer. Fear is the worst emotion.

“You can talk to me, Eddie. I swear I won’t judge you or anything. Did he hurt you?”

Ed can almost taste the bitterness of her tone on his tongue, the way she becomes defensive all of the sudden, “No, it’s nothing like that. He just—he made a joke and then everything was awkward and I think he kind of hates me now.”

“What did he say?”

“It’s stupid, really.”

“Tell me, please.”

Ed breathes in, aware of the fact that he probably sounds overly dramatic, “I offered to make him breakfast and he asked if I was planning to take him on a date next.”

Tabby smiles, soft and warm and Ed already feels relieved, “Is that it?”

“Yeah,” Ed says, “and I guess I just panicked because I didn’t know what to say and he told me it was just a joke but it was too late. Things got awkward and I’m pretty sure it’s all my fault.”

Then again, Tabitha’s features turn serious for a split second before she grabs his right hand, her index finger forming circles on his palm. It tickles Ed, so he focuses on the sensation, “And would you mind going on a date with him?”

Ed blinks, more than he needs to, “What do you mean?”

“I mean, would you go on a date with Oswald, if he asked?”

Ed shakes his head, slowly, “I don’t—I don’t think so. I don’t really know him. And I don’t like guys anyway. At least, not like that.”

Tabitha nods, squeezing his hand once before letting go, “Then don’t make a big deal out of it. It was just a joke. I’m sure Oswald didn’t mean to scare you.”

“He didn’t scare me, I just—I guess I was just confused.”

Confusion. Ed doesn’t want to dwell on it, because he has already spent the past two days drowning in it. He browsed through his mother’s psychology books, trying to find an answer to his questions. Trying to understand why his body went ahead and reacted that way when Oswald made that joke. Why his cheeks turned red instead of letting his mind come up with a witty answer.

He read and read for hours, even this morning, before going to school, but there was nothing. Nothing to help him understand what had happened in his kitchen. Science has failed him. And right now, as he looks at Tabitha, dreading the fact that Oswald is probably coming over later and he still hasn’t figured out what he has awaken in him, Ed wants to ask for help, because she might be the only person close to him who went through what he is experiencing right now.

But his mind, always trying to come up with new defense mechanisms, beats him to it, “Anyway, it’s all good now. It’s fine if he doesn’t want to ever see me again. I don’t really care.”

Ed realizes the extent of his lie when Sofia shows up alone to their movie night. She looks great even in her pajamas, holding a grocery bag full of snacks and carbonated drinks in one hand and a pillow in the other. But even when she smiles at Ed, sunshine pouring out of her mouth, he wants to ask about Oswald. Where he’s been, why he isn’t here right now, what he is doing. Instead he just accepts her hug half-heartedly before leading her to the living room to introduce her to his parents.

His mother is on the phone and their meeting is quick. Ed wonders why she gives her patients their phone number. His father is trying to repair the TV post and Ed is pretty sure he’ll die of electrocution one day. They catch a quick glimpse of Maggie in her Michael Myers costume on her way to go trick or treating, Penny on her heels. Before they know it, they are in the basement. The girls are already lounging on the couch, eating pop-corn while Tabitha tries to explain the particulars of her long distance relationship to Sofia.

“She’s coming back next summer to visit me. I’m so excited. She’s gonna meet my family for the first time.”

Ed is busy trying to find his copy of The Exorcist in an old box, but he notices the hint of envy on Sofia’s tone, “Wow, your parents must be pretty cool.”

“It’s only me and my older brother, Theo. My mom left when I was little and my dad—well I don’t even know what he’s been up to since he got out of Blackgate.”

There’s a moment of silence before Sofia says “Oh, I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine,” Tabby says, truly sounding like she’s okay, “Theo raised me, and I think he did a pretty good job.”

Ed chuckles, and Tabitha hits him with a spare pillow, “Do you have something to say, Ed?”

Ed grunts before crossing the room to put the tape in the VCR, “Theo is something and it’s a miracle you didn’t turn out like him. I’d give everything I own to witness his first meeting with Barbara. They’re probably gonna try to out-curse each other to death.”

Ed turns the lights off before sitting on the floor, his back against the couch. Tabitha spends most of her time trying to braid his hair and Sofia keeps commenting on the fact that the movie is more disgusting than scary. Ed focuses on the screen, but it proves to be a very poor distraction. So he just closes his eyes, Tabitha’s fingers softly parting his hair soothing his busy mind.

“Where’s Oswald by the way?” she asks, out of the blue, and Ed is pretty sure he’ll break his jaw from how tense he just got.

“He said he’ll be eating dinner with his mom. But he promised he’ll try to join us after he’s done. Oswald’s mom is sweet but she can be quiet overwhelming. Is it okay if he joins us later Ed?”

Ed tries to remain calm, but he’s pretty sure the girls can sense how nervous he is, “Yeah, it’s cool.”

They’re in the middle of watching ‘Jaws’ when Oswald finally makes an appearance. Edward is half-asleep on the floor, covered in pop-corn and chips, when his mother screams from upstairs that there is someone at the door. There’s a brief moment where he wonders why his mother didn’t tell him to join them on his own, but he still runs up the stairs.

Oswald is taking off his shoes, and it’s only now, under the bright light of the chandelier that Ed notices the color of his hair. What he thought was jet black hair last Saturday, is actually a deep blue, almost purple. And then, Ed notices his eyes, so different, lined with black eyeshadow. Oswald smiles at him, and Ed feels like it’s only because his mother is looking at them.

Otherwise, Oswald would probably be avoiding him, just like he did the last time they were in the same room. Edward feels terribly dumb for thinking that they could’ve shared something, anything, as long as he didn’t feel alone. But right now, even with Oswald and his mother in the same room as him, it feels like nothing will ever feel completely warm or happy again. Ed’s emotions feel like a puzzle with several missing pieces scattered across the universe.

And he knows, deep down, that he is being selfish. He wants a specific version of Oswald. Vulnerable, just like he was in his kitchen, asking for pills or anything that would make the pain go away. He wants Oswald in ways that he doesn’t understand. They are too abstract, too different from what he’s used to. Emotions can be treacherous, and right now his mind seems to be on a path of self-sabotage. He is scared. Scared of what could happen if he listens to what his usually extremely logical mind is trying to tell him.

“Edward honey, are you okay?”

His mother’s voice brings him back from wherever his mind had wandered, “I’m fine. Just had too much pop-corn.”

“Are you sure it’s not because you guys have been mixing Coke and orange juice?”

“Yeah, you might be right. It was a bad idea in retrospect.”

Oswald laughs, and Ed can tell that it’s not genuine.

“The girls are downstairs,” Ed says, gesturing towards the door leading to the basement.

“Don’t stay up too late, you have school tomorrow,” his mother says before adding, “Ed, darling, your friend asked for a glass of water, can you give it to him?”

“Yeah, sure,” Ed replies, offering her a sharp smile before going to the kitchen, Oswald following him closely.

Ed half expects him to sit on the counter, but Oswald stands still, moving only when Ed sets a glass of water in front of him.

“Thanks,” he says and that’s when Ed realizes that they haven’t greeted each other.

“Did you have fun with your mom?” he asks, already hating himself for asking such a casual question when, clearly, Oswald wasn’t with his mother.

He can tell by the way he looks extremely pale. He’s been putting pressure on his leg, probably for hours, and it looks like he could pass out at any moment. Ed approaches him, opening the cupboard on his left, and Oswald tenses, knuckles turning white against his glass of water. He drinks from it, sipping the liquid slowly while Ed tries to find the box of pills he used last time. It takes him only a few seconds to realize what’s happening.

“I thought my sister was the only thief I knew. I underestimated you.”

Oswald finishes his drink, before putting the glass in the sink, a little bit too loud for Ed’s liking, “What do you mean by that?”

“I mean,” Ed says, smirking at the way Oswald is trying to play him for a fool, “that you should’ve asked for those pills, instead of stealing them.”

Oswald mutters something that awfully sounds like a curse under his breath, and Ed tries to understand why he’s amused by the situation instead of being furious at him.

“It’s not stealing if you didn’t use them anyway, is it?”

Ed laughs, but it dies in his throat when Oswald takes out the familiar orange plastic container from the pocket of his oversized jean jacket. It is empty, and Oswald’s fingers brush against his to leave it in his left hand. Oswald sighs, before sitting on the counter, and Ed laughs again, this time in disbelief. Not even two days have passed and Oswald has already finished half a box full of pills.

He wants to ask why, or how it is possible, but he doesn’t want to. Oswald looks at him with pleading eyes, and it feels like it’s not the right time to talk about his addiction or stealing problems. Ed isn’t in the mood to talk about it anyway and neither is Oswald, judging by the way he keeps nervously brushing away the hair that keeps falling in front of his eyes. Ed throws the empty pill container in the trash, and he’s about to say something about joining the girls when Oswald breaks the silence.

“Why is everything so complicated?”

It’s a simple enough question. Ed has read thousands of theories about the meaning of life, hours and hours spent listening to his mother rambling about the way philosophers explain humanity. And yet, he knows that Oswald isn’t talking about that. He’s not talking about their purpose on earth, or any other existential question.

He sees it in the way Oswald looks at him, his eyes already filled with unshed tears. Ed is paralyzed, unable to open his mouth to give him his insight on the whole matter. He doesn’t know if it’s the fear of the unknown, or the weight of that question. But he doesn’t move, for what seems like an eternity. Platonism. Aristotelianism. Stoicism. He goes through every single movement and possible explanation. And he tries to come up with something useful, but he’s at a loss for words.

And when he finally does move, it’s because Oswald says, “Ed, say something.”

Edward uses his words carefully, aware of the fact that he could ruin everything with the wrong phrasing, “If you’re talking about this,” he says, pointing at the two of them successively, “about us, I think it’s too early to talk about complicated.”

Oswald closes his eyes, and Ed’s trembling hands want to catch the tears falling on his cheeks but the fact that he has gotten closer to Oswald is already an improvement. And he tries, so hard to understand why everything is happening so fast between the two of them. Why Oswald didn’t take his time to process his own emotions before asking that question. He tries to rationalize it. Find the proper words to tell Oswald that it’s okay, that he shouldn’t be so fond of him because he’ll waste his time. His conversation with Tabitha comes back to him in flashes. He remembers a similar exchange with Isabella, right before they started dating, and suddenly Oswald sobs and Ed feels overwhelmed.

Oswald slides down the counter, ready to leave, “I’m sorry.”

Ed wants to lie down on the floor, against the kitchen tiles, and let his dreams take over his mind. It’s buzzing and he wants to say a hundred things at the same time, but he’s afraid Oswald will hate him even more. And that’s what he doesn’t get. Two days. It’s been two days since they met and Oswald has had the time to down a box of pills and fall for him. It terrifies him and fascinates him all the same. It scares him, it hurts him, to know that he has broken is heart without being aware of it.

“I’m so sorry.”

Ed doesn’t stop him when he leaves. It’s not like he doesn’t want to. He just can’t. So he spends the rest of the evening sitting on the floor, trying to process what just happened. He’d wanted Oswald to be his friend, and now he has hurt him because there are some truths about himself Ed is not ready to face yet. And it’s fine, Tabitha says later, when they talk about it. But Ed knows it’s a lie. He knows it’s not okay, otherwise he wouldn’t be yearning for what could’ve been between Oswald and him if he had been brave enough to embrace his new found desires on the night of their first meeting.

Chapter Text

Gotham City, November 1995.

Oswald goes to school one month before winter break, on a Thursday morning, because he has nothing better to do. Carmine is spending his time somewhere upstate, his mother is too busy participating in church activities and he’s been receiving letters from the school director, Mr. Pennyworth, almost every two weeks since the beginning of the academic year.

So, when he pushes past the double doors leading to the main hallway, he’s not surprised to provoke a few gasps and a bunch of heavy judgmental looks all aimed at him. He doesn’t know if it is because the last time he was here was last April, or because he’s wearing a black t-shirt that says ‘get off my dick’ written in a yellow font across the back. And frankly, Oswald doesn’t really care.

It’s a miracle he’s even here, standing up, instead of being in his bed. It’s a miracle he got out of his room to take a shower this morning. It’s a miracle he’s found the motivation to listen to Sofia when she begged him to at least show up to school before the start of the new year. And anyone who doesn’t enjoy this miracle can go fuck themselves or whatever else suits them. Oswald has barely had the time to reach his locker when Sofia shows up, hugging him from behind so tightly that he almost suffocates.

“You listened to me,” she says, and he can feel an overwhelming amount of happiness on her tone.

“Yeah. I listened to you and to my mom and mostly to Mr. Pennyworth saying that he was gonna kick my ass out of the school if I didn’t show up before the end of the month.”

Sofia breaks their one-sided embrace before opening his locker for him. Oswald recalls the fact that she knows the combination when he, himself, forgets what it is most of the time. And the thought that he would be lost without her crosses his mind. But he doesn’t show it on his features, because he has sworn to himself that he won’t let her see any emotions, not as long as he hasn’t figured out how to conceal the ones that keep him up at night.

Oswald doesn’t even bother looking around to see if Ed is here. It is pointless to even think about looking at him when all he’s been doing for the past weeks was avoiding him at all costs. Oswald has managed to convince himself that full recovery will only be achieved if he just ignores his feelings for him. So, when he sees Tabitha standing next to her main classroom on his way to first period, he doesn’t reply to her enthusiastic, “Hi Oswald!”.

And when Zsasz, who’s been lurking somewhere behind Oswald says, “Rude,” Oswald wants to shove him up against a wall and kindly ask him to mind his own business. But Zsasz is taller than him, and Oswald doesn’t want to create a scene so early in the morning. Besides, his leg has been killing him, and right now he just wants to sit on a chair and pretend to listen to his English teacher when she’ll ask about their impressions of Pride and Prejudice.

“I hated it,” Oswald says, when the terrible fate of being noticed by the teacher lands on him.

Mrs. Kringle is looming over him, and Oswald can tell that she’s not particularly surprised by his answer, “Can you elaborate on that, Oswald?”

Oswald leans back against his chair, playing with the hem of his jean jacket, trying really hard to come up with a valid explanation. There are two ways this could unfold. First: he gives her an answer that screams “I’m dealing with a broken-heart and I fucking hated this book because it’s about two heterosexuals falling in love and instead of dating each other they spend two-thirds of the story acting like complete idiots.”

Or two—and that’s the option Oswald chooses— “Elizabeth Bennet is way too intelligent for Darcy. I don’t think he deserves her and I think she would’ve been better off dating a woman of her own intellectual level. She should have ended up with Charlotte. Also, what was up with the whole “marrying your cousin” thing, that was gross.”

Oswald can hear a few giggles in the back of the classroom before Mrs. Kringle asks, “What you said about a possible Sapphic relationship is interesting. Would you like to elaborate on that? Do you think we would have benefitted from more representation in terms of sexuality in classic literature?”

“I’m a white male, Mrs. Kringle, maybe you should ask that to an actual lesbian.”

Sofia shifts on her seat next to Oswald, and he can feel the discomfort in her behavior. Immediately, he wants to take it back. Shut his mouth and leave the room before he entirely snaps at everyone, even those who have nothing to do with his breakdown. But then, Lucius, out of all the people who could have intervened in order to save both Oswald and Sofia’s asses says, “Mrs. Kringle, I don’t really think we should be talking about the lack of sexual representation in classic literature when even to this day we only get taught about heterosexual intercourse during sex ed.”

Oswald wants to thank all the gods he’s learned about over the years when the entire class starts debating about what Lucius just said and forgets about his dramatic interpretation of Pride and Prejudice. Sofia relaxes, and he gives her a small “I’m sorry” when she finally looks at him, her face turning less serious when she realizes that he’s genuinely apologizing. She just squeezes his hand for a brief moment, and the next second she’s participating in the exchange with the rest of her classmates.

Before fourth period starts, Oswald is already in Mr. Pennyworth’s office. The familiar room looks exactly the same as the last time he was in here, except for the fact that this time the school director doesn’t look at him with pity but rather like he’s about to explode at any moment. Oswald tries to offer him his best non-guilty expression, but he so badly wants to give up on his whole life that it’s becoming harder and harder each passing second to maintain the façade.

“I suppose you’re aware of what you’ve done this time, Mr. Cobblepot.”

Oswald looks at his hands and the black color covering his nails before looking up at the adult, “Is it because of my t-shirt? Cause really the word “dick” isn’t such a bad word here in America. I know you Brits have a different way of seeing things and all but it’s not that bad, I promise.”

Mr. pennyworth sighs, before standing up from his cushioned chair, “I see this is a game for you.”

“You see, Mr. Pennyworth, I don’t really know what I did this time, but I listened to you, I came back to school. Besides my friend Sofia kept me updated on everything we’ve been studying so I’m not even late on the program. I promise you—”

“Enough with the promises,” Mr. Pennyworth says, and the way he flexes his left fist makes Oswald shift into defense mode immediately. The advantages of working for a mob boss.

“Then what the fuck do you want?”

There’s a beat during which Mr. Pennyworth looks like he’s about to kick him out of the school and tell his mother that he doesn’t want to see him ever again in this establishment, but then he inhales deeply and Oswald doesn’t fear for his academic future anymore.

“I want you to understand that you can’t go around saying that the school program is homophobic.”

Oswald laughs, and it comes out hollow and devoid of any joy, “Wow, that’s funny. That’s so fucking funny. You’re scared, because everyone’s been talking about what Lucius said during the English lesson. About your lack of proper sexual education for everyone, no matter what their preference is. And you had to find a scapegoat, because it’ll look really bad if you prosecute a black student. But what you need to understand is that Lucius was fucking right. And I didn’t even say shit about y’all being homophobic anyway cause I really don’t give two fucks about what you think about us. Because I know—I fucking know that everyone talked about me being a faggot during the first two years of high school and you absolutely did nothing about it. So why should I care about the whole school thinking that you don't care about the kids who don’t conform to the norm? It’s the truth. You don’t care about us. You don’t. No one fucking does.”

Silence. And it’s deafening no matter how short it lasts. And then Oswald is painfully aware of the fact that he is sobbing and that his chest hurts him so much and it feels like he’ll never be able to breathe or cry properly again. It comes out like he’s going to choke on his tears and his sorrow. Like the end of the world is happening right now in Mr. Pennyworth’s over-heated office and there is nothing he can do about it. And then there’s a hand on his shoulder and a whispered, “Sorry”, but Oswald doesn’t want apologies.

He needs support and he needs to hear that everything will be alright, even if it’s a lie. He needs to know that he is not alone and that Lucius didn’t say what he said just to sound like an ally. He needs to be loved and cared for, but Sofia isn’t here and there’s no way he’s going to mistake Mr. Pennyworth’s fake show of affection for something that it’s not. So he stands up and gathers his jacket and his backpack before heading for the safest place in this wretched high school.

As cliché as it sounds, Oswald feels like whatever happens in the bathroom of a high school will always remain in there, etched on the dirty walls of each stall and hanging in the air along with the smell of weed and cleaning products. He wants to get it over with, the crying, because in a few minutes the bell is going to ring the end of fourth period and the place is going to be swarmed with a bunch of noisy students.

So he allows himself ten minutes to get it all out. It’s enough, he thinks, because he already spent the last two weeks mopping all around his apartment, and there’s no way he’s gonna do that for another month, especially not in Gotham High. So he takes out his lucky cigarette box, the one made out of pure silver that Carmine gave him after his first successful night on the job, and he tries to replace the heartache with the sweet flavor of nicotine.

Oswald is about to light up his third cigarette in a row when someone knocks on the wooden door. He rolls his eyes at whatever entity is against him today, before putting the virgin cigarette back in the silver box. It’s only been seven minutes, but apparently the universe wants him to move on and get over his broken heart at a quicker pace. But he still has a little bit of fight in him, so he says, “Fuck off,” to whoever might be on the other end of that door and tries to call it a day.

His blood turns cold when he’s granted an answer, “Oswald? I wasn’t sure it was you.”

Fuck me, Oswald thinks. Obviously God hates him. And obviously he wants to remind him that whatever he does, Edward will always be on the other end of the line. He’ll always be the one person he thinks about, because that’s all he’s been doing every single day and every single night. Eddie, Eddie, Eddie. He stands up so fast that he gets dizzy, but when he opens the door he’s determined to show him that he’s not the same loser he was the last time they interacted. It was easier in his mind, clearly, because when he sees Ed, dressed in a multicolor windbreaker too big for him, he doesn’t have the heart to sound mean anymore.

“What are you lookin’ at?”

“Are you okay?” Ed asks, and Oswald goes to the sink and turns on the water just to drown out the sadness in his voice.

“Why? Do I look like shit?”

Ed is all ramblings and stuttering for half a minute before he manages to say, “No—not at all, you look—nice.”

“Good, I was trying to impress you,” Oswald mumbles back.

His sarcasm doesn’t work, because Ed is too nervous to even listen to him. He looks at his reflection in the mirror opposite Oswald, and for a moment, they just look at each other. Oswald, with the eyeshadow running down his cheeks and almost reaching his sharp jawline. Ed, both hands safely tucked in the pockets of his windbreaker, looking like he might pass out at any moment. And Oswald knows that he has something to say to him, but it’s his third time dealing with Edward, and he knows that he’s usually the one taking care of the bold parts of their conversations and not the other way around.

“I’m truly sorry about what happened last time. I wasn’t thinking. I didn’t mean to make it awkward or whatever. Listen, I—”

“No. You listen to me.”

Ed’s voice is unusually harsh. Oswald wonders if it’s his fault. If it is because of him that someone as soft as Edward is already turning into an asshole. But then, Edward grabs his left hand and makes him turn around. He’s handsome, even under the unflattering neon lights of the school’s bathroom. And he’s tall and his fingers are soft against his skin and Oswald hates him. He hates how whatever Ed does to him, he’ll always end up running towards him.

“I don’t know how to do this. I don’t even know what exactly is going on and I’m honestly too afraid to ask myself that question,” Ed chuckles and Oswald’s heart grows three times bigger, “but listen to me when I tell you that you did nothing wrong.”

Oswald nods, not trusting himself to say something. His mouth is dry and his stomach hurts but Ed is still holding his hand so everything will turn out fine. He can break his heart and throw in the trash. He can stomp on it and feed it the dogs. As long as he keeps holding on to him, as long as he keeps talking, as long as it’s just the two of them. Because this is how things work. He has to enjoy those rare divine moments, before fate decides to turn his existence into a living hell.

“I don’t wanna make any empty promises. I don’t want to give you false hopes. I just want you to know that I don’t want to lose you over something that you can’t control. I still wanna be your friend. I don’t give a fuck that you’re gay. It really doesn’t matter to me. Not one bit. And I’m sorry if right now I’m not able to reciprocate your feelings. But please, Oswald, don’t turn away from me.”

Ed finally exhales, and Oswald realizes that he’s been holding his breath as well. He wants to laugh, because he half-expected Ed to confess his feelings, just like in some romantic movie, and he feels dumb. But then again, life sucks and he’ll never get what his heart seeks. So he thinks about it, even when Edward lets go of his hand. And he feels cold and he knows the wound is still fresh and he shouldn’t be doing that, but it’s really difficult to say no to Edward.

“Okay. We can be friends,” Oswald agrees, adding with a small shrug, “but don’t be surprised if this doesn’t work out.”

Ed smiles back at him, and Oswald would love to do the same but it’s too early to tell if their little pact is going to make him happy or terribly miserable. He can tell by the way Edward looks at him that he thinks his crush on him will go away thanks to the power of friendship. But unfortunately, life doesn’t work out that way. Oswald bites the inside of his cheek, chasing the tears away with a good amount of pain. And he thinks about how pathetic it is that his one true love is not even aware of the power he holds over him.

Gotham City, New Year 1996.

“Happy New Year Ozzie.”

Oswald barely hears him over the cacophony of screams and music all around them. They have been sitting on the floor of Zsasz’s living room for most of the party. Tabitha is half asleep, her head on Ed’s lap, but when she hears the new song that starts playing, as if on cue, she runs towards the dancefloor. So it’s just the two of them, hidden in a corner of the room, and Oswald has to get closer to Ed to be heard.

“Happy New Year Eddie.”

And then, the small, tiny moment during which Oswald really hoped for Ed to lean in and kiss him is gone, and Zsasz is screaming, “Pizza running through my mind!” while Dent and Ivy are trying to open a bottle of cheap champagne. It’s a new year, it’s a new day and Oswald really wants it to be a new life for him, but his feelings for Ed are the same, even when he tries to convince himself that they are not.

Oswald spends the rest of the night drinking vodka from a plastic water bottle, while Ed rests his cheek against his shoulder, as if the gesture could soothe him instead of hurting. But he cannot be angry at him. Because Ed is kind and gentle and Oswald has started to think that he’s just being a selfish prick who doesn’t deserve him. So he waits for everyone to be asleep to grab Edward’s hand and drag him to the kitchen. He really wishes he was drunk, but he’s pretty sure that his drink was half tap water and half very cheap vodka.

Ed is sober, as usual, because that’s Ed. Why would he ruin his health with alcohol or pills or cigarettes? Ed is perfect and pretty and his hair is soft and he lets Oswald type his homework on his typewriter and the first time they had a sleepover, not even one week after their friendship officially started, he gave Oswald his bed and slept on the floor. And when Maggie said over dinner last week, “are you boyfriends?” Ed told her to “shut the fuck up” and he got grounded for the whole weekend.

And right now, in Victor’s kitchen, Ed is ten times more appealing and heart melting. He’s wearing a golden ‘1996’ headband and he let Tabby paint his nails silver. He cut his hair shorter last week because he likes it better that way but Oswald misses the way it curls out when it’s longer. And Oswald just wants to make it quick and painless but Ed sits on the kitchen counter and looks at him with something strange in his eyes.

“I have something to tell you.”

Oswald is taken aback by his voice. How rough it sounds, like the words escaped Ed’s mouth without the approval of his genius brain. Ed is avoiding his eyes, and Oswald braces himself. It’ll be easier if Ed is the one breaking their friendship, but it still hurts an awful lot. Oswald stands in front of him, and when Ed grabs his hand, it does nothing to him. He’s grown used to the meaningless displays of affection.

Sometimes, Ed just hugs him out of nowhere. Once he even let his hand rest on his thigh, while they were working on their homework, before realizing what he was doing. There’s not an ounce of toxic masculinity in Ed, so Oswald knows it’s just the way he is, without it being driven by something romantic. Ed trusts him, after all, so obviously he got comfortable enough in the span of their one-month friendship to grab his hand in someone’s kitchen in the middle of the night.

All of Oswald’s assumptions turn to dust when Ed says, “Can I kiss you?”

Impressive how one simple question makes his brain short-circuit. Because really, he should’ve at least been able to say “Yes”. But Oswald’s chest is drowning in fear and shock. Ed leaves the counter to stand before him, and Oswald hates how tall he is, so he finds the strength to take his spot on the counter to make things fair. There, he feels safe enough to rationalize Ed’s question.

“Are you drunk?”


“Then what happened between the last time we talked about our relationship and now,” Oswald says, and he’s aware of how annoying he sounds.

“There’s something about you, Oswald. I don’t know what it is, but it keeps me up at night. And when you’re asleep in my bed, a few inches away from me, I crave it. And I know it doesn’t make sense because I didn’t reciprocate your feelings. I’m not in love with you—fuck what am I even saying. I know it’s selfish to ask that when I’m not in love with you and I don’t even know what it is exactly that I’m experiencing but I just know that right now I want you and it’s fine if you say no.”

Ed says it so fast that Oswald knows he must have rehearsed it a hundred times in front of a mirror. He sighs, because that’s the only thing he can do right now, along with reaching for the collar of Ed’s dumb ‘Zombie Barbie’ t-shirt to pull him closer. And that’s all he does. He just pulls him closer, and closer, until Ed is the one whimpering against his lips because clearly, he did not lie.

“Wow, you really want this, huh?” Oswald says, sounding so full of himself that he makes a personal note to shut the fuck up next time. If there is a next time.

Ed nods, parted lips eager to close the distance between them, “Yes.”

“Is this part of a game?” Oswald asks, allowing the doubt to settle in.

“No. It’s not,” and Edward sounds genuine, “I’m just so confused about a lot of things right now and I want to know what it feels like.”

“Why didn’t you ask someone else?”

“Because you’re Ozzie and for some reason I trust you more than anyone I know. And I know it’s silly because we’ve known each other for barely a month but if it’s not with you then I don’t want to try.”

Oswald is paralyzed. A mix of fear of the unknown and stress is dancing inside of his chest, along with his bursting love for Edward. And Ed seems to understand, because it’s his turn to rest a hand on Oswald, against his ribcage, where he can feel his heart beating so fast, so close. And then, softly, he’s the one leading their dangerous dance.

Oswald doesn’t really know what to do at first, because just this, just the feeling of Edward’s lips against his is enough to turn his legs into pure jelly. And he’s glad he is sitting right now, because otherwise Ed would have to be holding him. And what started as soft and slow turns into something less chaste. Ed is pushing against him, chasing his tongue with his, and Oswald snake his arms around his neck, grounding himself just a little bit before getting entirely lost in it.

It is clumsy and quick and Ed breaks the kiss to laugh against his neck. That’s when Oswald realizes that it’s a first for him as well. And he’s almost sorry to be such an unexperienced partner, but he doesn’t have the time to come up with an apology, because Edward is kissing his neck, and it feels like he will die tonight. Oswald tries to enjoy it, as much as possible and Edward is too busy leaving a mark on his skin to notice the way he’s blissfully smiling.

So this is what it feels like, Oswald thinks. And he wouldn’t mind it if Edward never stopped. But all good things come to an end, and he regrets not focusing on the feeling of Ed’s lips against his neck a little more. Now he’s pretty sure that in a few days he won’t remember the sensation, but Edward’s thumb is brushing against his jawline and Oswald finally looks at him instead of throwing himself a self-pity party. And he leans in, again, tentatively catching his lips, already practicing what he’s learned only a few moments before. It’s terrible how his mind has been singing the same chant over and over from the very moment he met him: Eddie, Eddie, Eddie. And it’s too good to be true, but Oswald doesn’t care about the truth right now.

Edward chuckles, and Oswald thinks it’s unfair how gorgeous he looks, “Are we good?”

Oswald tries not to sound too distant, but he’s pretty sure the look in his eyes betrays him.

“Yeah, we’re good.”

Chapter Text

Gotham City, New Year 1996.

Everything is different when they kiss again, right after Ed made sure that Oswald was okay with the situation. This time, he knows that Oswald is all his, if only for the few months this will last before everything goes to hell. And he vows to enjoy it, as much as possible. And it’s easy, so easy when Oswald moans into their kiss and grabs a fistful of his hair.

When he’s being so soft against his lips, and so needy with his hands. Ed gets closer, ignoring the fact that anyone could walk in on them. Because right now, precisely, he just wants to be with Oswald, no matter what the consequences might be. Oswald breaks their kiss only to breathe in, a chuckle escaping his parted lips, before chasing his mouth again.

And Ed gives in, hands already resting against Oswald’s thighs, his touch going less restrained with each passing second. And then, Ed gets bold and the palm of his left hand is going higher and higher until Oswald breaks the kiss for good to let out the sweetest sound. So, naturally, Ed does it again. Drags his hand against his clothed erection, just to hear it one more time. And Oswald holds on to him, grinding against his hand, his eyes full of something so indecent that it takes Ed a long, long time to realize what they are doing.

“More, please,” Oswald manages to beg, and Ed indulges him, because he makes him weak and non-logical.

Ed’s movements are clumsy, the way he brushes his knuckles against Oswald’s erection is messy, but it seems to be enough. Oswald blushes when Ed uses his free hand to brush off the hair in front of his eyes, trying to get a better look at his blissful face. Ed applies more pressure against him and Oswald lets out something that sounds like a curse. It only lasts a few seconds, before Oswald says his name, broken and high-pitched and Edward stops touching him.

Oswald whimpers against the skin of his neck, his breath coming out in short puffs, “Why did you stop?”

Ed kisses him, on the forehead, on the cheekbone, on the tip of his nose, before saying, “I think we should wait until we’re both eighteen.”

Oswald sighs, hugging him with more passion, desperately trying to sound coherent, “Yeah, you’re right. We should wait. Only kissing in the meantime, then.”

Gotham City, March 1996.

Kissing Oswald is something else. New, exhilarating, fun. Edward never runs out of words to describe what it feels like when he’s in bed making out with him. How he could get lost in it for hours, because there is nothing better than this, nothing better than what they share. And then, sometimes, the guilt gets to him. The terrifying idea that someone could find out about his little secret and burst the bubble they’ve created around themselves. And in these moments, Ed shuts down, because that’s the only way his mind knows how to deal with the situation.

And he’s painfully aware of the fact that it’s happening more and more. He precisely remembers the last time he cried about it. The last time it got too much and it felt like his mind was about to explode with how bad he felt. And Oswald tries so hard to make it easier for him. Telling him that he doesn’t need to put a label on his sexuality, that it’s a spectrum and that he doesn’t need to know for sure, that he still has time to figure it out. But Ed hates it with his entire soul.

He hates the fact that his brain hasn’t been able to come up with a word for it. He’s not gay. Not heterosexual. And his compulsive need to understand everything that’s happening around him or to him prevents him from being at peace with that fact. So, as he sits in the living room with Oswald, working on their chemistry assignment one evening, Ed thinks it’s time to put an end to his suffering.

But then again, when he raises his head to look at Oswald, who’s so focused that he’s been biting his lower lip for the past fifteen minutes, he cannot bring himself to do it. Not yet, he thinks. Not as long as they’re still in school, because it’s their last year and ending whatever is going on between them before their final exams would be really bad. Or at least, that’s what Edward tells himself every time he’s about to confess to Oswald what’s been hiding in the darkest parts of his mind for too long.

Edward is not brave enough. Not ready to call it quits. Not nearly determined enough to abandon Oswald because he knows, deep down, that the probability that he still loves him is too high. Things have been going on so smoothly between the two of them, and he would hate to be the one who puts an end to such a lovely relationship. Ed doesn’t feel trapped, and that’s what scares him the most. He feels good and safe and losing this would mean losing Oswald. And that is something he cannot afford. Not yet.

So, when Oswald finally looks up from his homework and asks, “You okay?” he lies, because that’s always easier than telling the truth.

“Yeah. I’m fine.”

“You’re sure about that?” Oswald insists, lowering his eyes to hide what’s been dancing behind his irises for too long.

The knowledge that this won’t last. Because all good things come to an end, and they are both aware of the fact that this is too good to be true. Eventually, Ed will get too scared. Things will get too hectic, and they will both move on with their lives, even if it means that Oswald’s heart will be broken and Ed will be responsible for it. But right now, it doesn’t really matter, because they still have time. At least that’s what Ed thinks as he leans forward to leave a kiss on Oswald’s left cheek.

“Yeah, I promise.”

Gotham City, April 1996.

Promises. Edward knows most of them don’t last. So when Oswald asks him to promise that they will always remain friends, no matter what happens, he hesitates. They’re both lying down in the grass, in Ed’s backyard, during the silent hours of the night, and Ed has been trying to teach Oswald everything he knows about astronomy. But Oswald doesn’t seem to care about the stars and the planets and the constellations. And when he asks the question, Ed wishes he could reply with a positive answer.

But instead, he just says, “I can’t do that.”

Oswald tenses next to him, and Edward already misses the way he was playing with his hair a few seconds before. He dreads what Oswald is going to say next, because everything in his behavior has already changed. From the usual warmth that constantly radiates from his body to the way he fondly looks at Edward when they’re alone; it’s all gone now. It is just Oswald from high school. The one who looks at bullies like he could cut their throats so fast they wouldn’t have the time to beg for their life.

Oswald who sits up and whispers, “Why are we doing this to ourselves?”

And when he finally exhales, Edward shudders, because there’s no life behind the action. Oswald looks like he’s about to throw up, and even in the darkness, Ed is able to witness how pale he is. And he feels sick, knowing that this is all because of him. It was bound to happen, he knew it, but still, Edward allows the tears to blur his vision. The stars don’t look like stars anymore and he barely hears Oswald when he says.

“Why are you crying? It’s not like you love me, Ed.”

So naturally, Ed cries even more. Loud and desperate, because it’s the truth and he hates it. And Oswald just sits next to him, doing nothing to calm him, because he’s probably already dealing with a lot himself. Or because he hates him already. Ed is convinced it’s a bit of both, and no matter how many times he says “I’m sorry” and how many times Oswald replies with “It’s okay”, Ed knows it’s a lie.

Edward stops crying, eventually, when Oswald finally says, “I should be sorry. For being stupid enough to think you could love me back,” and it’s like he’s been slapped, but he tries to remain calm.

“I wish I could. I really do.”

Oswald chuckles, and it comes out so harsh that Ed wants to burry himself under all that grass and dirt, “Save it, Ed.”

Oswald is cold, calculated. Back to the worst version of himself. One that he rarely lets Edward see. But tonight, they are not swimming in an ocean of kisses and sweet nothings. Tonight, Oswald is heart-broken and Edward tries really hard to make it easier for him, but that version of Oswald suddenly makes him want to hurt him.

“What’s wrong with you?” he asks, sitting up to look at him.

Oswald looks at the sky, smiling like Ed just said something really funny, “What’s wrong with me? You don’t know what you want, Ed. That’s what’s up with me. You’re the one who asked if you could kiss me. You’re the one who’s all touchy when it’s just the two of us. You’re the one who gets all jumpy when I talk to you at school because someone might find out. You’re the one who made me promise that I would wait for you. And for what? I have waited. I’ve done my time. I’m tired, Ed. I’m fucking tired of waiting for you to make up your mind. You like girls and boys, so what? Get over it and stop using others to figure out who you truly are.”

Edward wishes Oswald had kicked him in the guts instead of saying what he just said. It hurts, in a way that makes him want to hurt him in return. Because that’s the type of truth that Ed is not ready to hear. The one that makes you realize that you’ve been lying to yourself and everyone else. The one that makes you stay up at night, when everyone else is unaware of what you are going through. And right now, Oswald is throwing these truths at him and Edward despises him for that. So Ed does try to hurt him, with words, because they are his only weapon right now.

“You did this to me.”

“Don’t—” Oswald starts, but it’s too late.

Ed is already pointing his index finger at his chest, voice so low that he doesn’t recognize himself. It’s just the two of them, and it feels like not even the vastness of the universe can save Ed from saying what he says next. The words come out mean and full of hate. And it doesn’t matter how Oswald looks at him, it doesn’t matter that he’s the one crying now, because Ed doesn’t care. He doesn’t want to.

“You did this to me. I was fine before I met you. I was perfectly fine, Oswald. And then I fucking met you and everything changed. You did this to me. You did. You broke me.”

Ed is a rambling mess, venom pouring out of his mouth, and he barely hears Oswald when he begs, “Please, stop.”

And Ed doesn’t stop, because it’s easier for him to keep going, “You don’t get to tell me to stop. You don’t. You’ve had time to deal with the fact that you like boys, so why should I get over with the fact that I might like them too? Maybe you should be the one getting over the fact that I don’t love you! I know it’s driving you mad. I see the way you look at me. But it’s the truth, I don’t love you Oswald.”

“Shut up. Just shut up,” Oswald says, and Edward does, because he knows that this has gone way too far.

And yet, when Oswald stands up to leave, he doesn’t stop him. He doesn’t apologize, he doesn’t run after him. He just sits there, crying until Penny comes over to check up on him and it’s only the two of them. And only then, when Oswald is long gone and Edward knows that he will never be able to take back what just happened between the two of them, only then does he realize that this is the ugly, messy part of trying to deal with the fact that he’s been gradually falling in love with Oswald from the moment he kissed him on the first day of the year.

Gotham City, May 1996.

The next time Edward sees Oswald is on a late rainy afternoon. It’s a Sunday and the wind is blowing so fiercely that it gets hard for everyone to hear wat the priest is saying. But Ed doesn’t really care about it. Tabitha is standing next to him, holding an umbrella over their heads while Ed holds her free hand, the warmth of her fingers being the only thing keeping him from letting his tears fall for the third time since he heard the news.

Everything is blurry, the trees and the grass and the people surrounding him, apart from Oswald. Oswald who is standing over his mother’s coffin. Oswald who is saying his last goodbye to her. Oswald who leaves lilies next to her grave. Oswald who looks like he’ll never smile or laugh again. Oswald who spends the rest of the evening shaking hands and accepting hugs from strangers who think that their kind words will make him feel better.

And Edward’s heart breaks a little each time he looks at him. Because Oswald looks like the life has been sucked out of him. He loved his mother more than life itself. Loved her so much that something is missing from him now and Ed is aware of the fact that there is nothing he can do to help him. Not after their last conversation. Not when Oswald looks at him, at the reception in his apartment, and Ed feels the lingering hate in his eyes. Time heals all wounds, that’s what his mother told him when he asked how he could help Oswald deal with his loss.

The words of a loving mother who doesn’t want her son to feel like he’s useless. But he is. Edward knows there is nothing that him or that time can do to heal that wound. He’ll just learn to live with it. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Bullshit, Ed thinks. Oswald smiles at people who try to comfort him during the whole evening and there is not an ounce of happiness in the stretch of his lips. Sofia stands next to him, ever so loyal and loving, rarely leaving his side.

And Edward is terrified when she finally goes up to him when Oswald isn’t looking, “You showed up, after all.”

“I had to, I care about him.”

Sofia smiles at him, and Ed feels a little bit less scared, “You broke his heart, Ed. I hope you know that. But at least you had the balls to come and pay your respects to his mother so I won’t rip your heart out of your chest in front of everyone. Oswald loves you, so he’ll eventually forgive you. Just give him some time. And don’t cry, he cares about you too.”

Sofia reaches up with her left hand to swipe the tears from Ed’s cheek. The gesture lasts only a few seconds, but Oswald catches it. Ed sees him from the corner of his eyes. Looking at them while he sits on the couch, surrounded by Zsasz and Harvey who are both trying to distract him with another one of their ridiculous stories. It is so brief that Edward wonders if it actually happened, and sometimes, he really doesn’t trust his imagination. After the funeral, Oswald stops showing up to school, and Ed spends most of his time thinking that maybe their brief relationship was just a dream.

Gotham City, July 1996.

Ed receives an invitation for Oswald’s birthday party two days before the event. It’s a good thing no one is next to him when he opens the envelope because seeing Oswald’s handwriting makes him smile so hard that his jaw hurts. The card is simple. Nothing personal about the message. Just the date, time and place. Tabitha shows up to his door one hour after he’s received it, holding the exact same card in front of him, Barbara following her closely.

“I’m not going if you don’t go,” Tabby says, and Edward knows there’s no point in arguing with her.

His parents and Maggie all left for a few weeks and he decided to stay at home to get ready for college. The truth is, he spends most of his time watching TV and going to sleepovers at Tabby’s place. Ed tries to think about the pros and cons of going to a party hosted by Oswald, and so far, he only sees the negative. They’re not allowed to drink yet, but he knows that Oswald will probably be wasted when he gets there, and he doesn’t know if he has the heart to deal with a drunk Oswald after all this time.

“What if he still hates me?”

Barbara, who’s been trying to find something edible in the fridge sighs, “You really need to get your shit together, Ed.”

“What do you mean?” Ed asks, slightly offended by her tone.

Barbara looks at him before closing the fridge door, her short blonde hair covering her eyes. She’s younger than him but Ed is still intimidated by her. She looks fierce in her denim overalls and Ed wishes he had half of the confidence she owns.

“First of all, your fridge is full of rotting fruits and vegetables, so you better go grocery shopping asap. Second of all, Oswald isn’t gonna eat you alive. If you’re that scared of him, it means that you did something wrong. So, either you try to change his mind about you and you stop acting like a baby or you spend the rest of your life wishing you did something about it. Which one is it gonna be?”

Ed looks at Tabitha, pleading for help, but she just shrugs at him before high-fiving her girlfriend, “Well said, babe!”

Ed sighs, “You’re probably right.”

“What was that?” Barbara says, coming closer, “I didn’t hear you. Louder, please.”

Ed looks at her before giving up, “I said you’re right Babs. I’m gonna go there and try to at least apologize.”

“And what are you going to tell him? That you’re sorry you couldn’t love him back? Because you already did that and you monumentally failed. And I’m pretty sure that’s not the truth anyway.”

Ed frowns, irritated by her attitude, “Then what do you want me to say? Enlighten me.”

“I don’t know,” Barbara starts, aggressively popping her bubble-gum at him, “maybe start with the fact that not two days ago you admitted that you were bisexual. Don’t thank me for bringing that word into your vocabulary, by the way.”

Ed blushes, facing the truth head first, “What does this have to do with my apology?”

“Remember when you acted like a piece of utter shit and told Oswald that it was his fault you were attracted to him? Well, breaking news moron, that wasn’t his fault. That wasn’t anyone’s fault, really. You love boys and girls, just like I do. That’s how things are, and you shouldn’t be ashamed of it. What you should be ashamed of is that you blamed Oswald for this, when it’s clearly not his fault that you find him hot. So please, stop acting like you did nothing wrong and go apologize before you lose that friendship for good, Ed.”

Ed blushes up to his ears, but there is no point in denying what Barbara just said. It took him almost six months to be at peace with the fact that Oswald does attract him beyond the limits of friendship. And now that he has the opportunity to apologize and ask for Oswald’s forgiveness, it’s as if he still lacks the tools to do so. But Barbara is right. The longer it takes him to talk to Oswald, the less likely he will be able to redeem himself. So when he finally nods, silently agreeing to everything Barbara just said, Edward remembers the promise Oswald wanted him to make. Friends. No matter what happens.

Chapter Text

Gotham City, July 1996.

Oswald needs the distraction that comes with a house full of drunk teenagers. The screams and the loud music. The sound of broken plates and the smell of weed. The idea that for one night, from the moment the moon greets the night to the break of dawn, he will forget about the pain. It is like thunder in his chest, heavy rain destroying everything in its wake, his mind constantly reminding him that she is gone and he’s alone. And at night, when the entire city falls silent, the dangerous whispers of loneliness reach his ears, and it feels like he’ll never get over his grief.

So, when Sofia proposes to throw a party for his birthday, Oswald doesn’t even argue against it. Because even though he’s learned to live with the truth during those last two months, there is still a bit of hope lingering inside of his heart. Maybe Edward will show up, maybe they’ll get drunk and maybe he’ll be able to forget about the hurt for a little while. No matter how long it lasts. One night, a few days or a week. Oswald just wants to see him again. One last time before he leaves him for good.

“Do you think he’ll show up?” Oswald asks, sitting on the living room couch while Sofia tries to turn on his mother’s old record player.

She sighs, even though it’s barely audible, and Oswald notices a hint of anger on her tone, “I don’t know Ozzie. Why do you still care about him so much? He never tried to stick around after your mom—you know. After she died.”

“But he showed up to the funeral,” Oswald says, and he’s surprised by the way he so easily recalls that memory.

Edward was here. In his apartment. But they never exchanged a word, because Oswald was too busy crying and it looked like Ed had been doing the same thing anyway. And only then, no matter how difficult for him it was to admit it, did Oswald realize that he truly missed him. Their last conversation had been a disaster, they hadn’t seen each other for weeks, but there he was, in a suit far too large for him, standing in the corner of that same living room, listening to what Sofia had to tell him.

“Did you threaten him?” he asks when she finally manages to use the record player and it starts playing an old Cher record.

“Kinda. I told him I would’ve ripped his heart out of his chest if he didn’t show up. Why? Do you think he’s scared of me?”

There’s a glimmer in her dark eyes, and Oswald waits until she’s seated next to him to give her a reply, “Everyone is scared of you Sofia.”

She laughs, holding onto his arm before leaving a kiss on his cheek, it’s warm and full of something he doesn’t really understand yet, “Everyone except you.”

Oswald nods, shooting her a small smile, “You’re my only friend, if I was scared of you that would truly suck.”

“I’m not your only friend, stop saying that,” she says, frowning.

Oswald sighs before closing his eyes, trying not to sound too soft, “You’re the only friend I trust.”

There’s a moment of silence, during which Sofia contemplates the ceiling before she adds, “You trust Ed. I know you still do.”

Oswald doesn’t reply, because there’s no need to confirm nor deny what she just said. He does trust Ed, so much that if he comes back to him, begging and asking for forgiveness, part of him would want to give him a second chance. But the pain he left behind is still very much alive. The harshness in his words when he told him that everything was his fault. Oswald does trust him, yes, but not enough to be sure that he won’t hurt him another time if given the opportunity.

Because that’s what Ed does when he’s confused, apparently. He hurts Oswald, with words followed by weeks of silence. And Oswald is the one reaching out to him, in the end, because that’s what fools do when they’re enamored. But this time, Oswald knows he won’t fall for it. Not because he is stronger, but because he’s learned from his lessons. And the nights he spent crying in his bed after Ed told him that he was responsible for his torments taught him enough in that field. If Ed comes over tonight, he’ll be prepared.

Sofia tugs on Oswald’s arm, and he’s grateful for the distraction, “Come on, let’s get ready before they all show up and start trashing your place.”

Harvey Dent and Victor Zsasz are dancing on the couch, the both of them still wearing their shoes, the entire room only lit up by the Christmas lights on the plastic tree Oswald decorated with his mother. It casts a blueish light on their faces and the way they sing the lyrics of the song in unison fills Oswald with something close to melancholy.

He should have thrown out the Christmas tree months ago. He should have had the vodka Ivy offered him. He should be dancing with Ed on that couch. But there’s nothing left for him, it seems, nothing good in this world, because Ed didn’t come to his birthday party and he’s pretty sure he didn’t even bother opening that card. Why would he do that?? Why would he care? Zsasz screams before throwing himself into Harvey’s arms and Oswald stops looking because the emotion dancing inside of his mind is dangerously close to what one might call envy.

And then, the bell rings and Oswald tries not to be too hopeful about it, in vain. Something dangerously appealing comes with the hope that Ed might actually be behind that door. And that’s all Oswald has been doing for the past months. Hoping, praying, wishing. So, when the door opens on Tabitha and her girlfriend, Oswald’s heart almost leaps out of his chest because Ed is standing behind them, stupidly tall and looking like he just ran a mile.

Curly hair and oval glasses. Oversized t-shirt with Princess Leia on it. Not a lover. Not a friend. Oswald tries not to look at him for too long but he fails. Tabitha invites herself in, since he’s too busy trying to connect his brain with his mouth. When she gives him a birthday present wrapped in aluminum foil, Oswald chuckles, but it sounds alien.

“Sorry for showing up so late but Ed fell on the way here,” she says, pointing towards Ed’s feet, “he insisted on wearing these. You know him, stubborn motherfucker.”

Oswald lowers his gaze, and he’s glad Ed can’t really see his expression when he spots the rollerblades on his feet, nor hear the tremor in his voice when he whispers to himself, “Yeah, I do know him.”

When he looks at Ed another time, just to make sure it’s really him, he doesn’t understand why it still hurts. Why the pain didn’t magically disappear upon seeing him. Why it’s so hard to maintain appearances when Ed briefly touches his hand while giving him a small birthday present. Why he waits until they’re all with the rest of the party to go in his room and sit on his bed, holding Ed’s present close to his heart.

Oswald hugs it for a while, grateful that no one is here to witness how pathetic he must look. Half-smiling, half-crying over a boy who let go of him when he was desperately in love. But then again, life works out in mysterious ways, and Oswald is aware of the fact that nothing lasts forever. That gift has no value, at least that’s what he thinks as he opens it, carefully, his heart beating awfully fast inside of his chest.

The tape is simple, no useless decorations or stickers on it, just a few words written in green sharpie on one side ‘songs that remind me of you’, but it’s enough. The tape is small, it can fit in Oswald’s hand and his fingers could probably break it in two if he applied enough pressure. But he does no such thing. Instead he wishes he could listen to it right now, but the music coming from the living room would ruin the experience.

So he just laughs, whispering to himself, “You’re so fucking cliché Ed.”

Oswald looks for Ed immediately after hiding the tape under his pillow, searching for him in every empty room, every busy space. Rehearsing what he’ll say when he finally gets to him. Trying not to sound too silly or eager, because the last time he had hope about their relationship, he ended up with a broken heart. So, when he spots Ed leaning against a kitchen wall, alone and drinking from a beer bottle, naturally, he wants to run in the opposite direction.

Oswald hates the way his voice wavers when he says, “Thanks for the present.”

Ed offers him a lazy smile, and Oswald can tell he’s been drinking more than just beer, “Thanks for the card.”

“I didn’t think you’d show up.”

“I didn’t think you’d sent me a card.”

“You still have a mouth on you.”

“I’m the same as always. Haven’t changed one bit.”

Oswald knows it’s a lie. The silence that follows is awkward. He doesn’t know what to do with himself so he just stands there, trying to understand what has changed at its core. The world or Edward; he can’t tell. It’s summertime. Life should be easy. But it seems like nothing will ever be smooth between them. No more staring at the stars in Ed’s backyard. No more kisses under the covers. No more promises and secrets shared between two innocent souls.

He’s slightly surprised when Ed says, “I wanted to make sure you were doing alright.”

“I’m not sure about the “alright” part of things but I’m alive, so that’s something I guess,” Oswald replies, and he can feel the way it comes extremely strained out of his mouth.

“Is that the truth? Is that—is that how you’ve been doing? Surviving?”

Oswald chuckles, hating how Ed’s speech sounds slurred, incoherent, “It almost sounds like you care.”

A mere whisper, said more to himself, but Ed catches it and Oswald tries to prepare himself for the worst, just like he always does when things get too serious between them. But Ed simply drinks the rest of his beer, wiping his mouth afterwards with the back of his hand before throwing the empty bottle in the sink. Oswald knows he’s heard him. Knows he’s making him wait for a reply. Knows that Ed’s brain is probably working really hard not to break his heart for the second time this year.

“I loved you, you know.”

It’s a confession. And it takes the breath away from Oswald’s lungs. Leaves him speechless and unable to process anything. Those words, he has dreamed about them. Fantasized about how Ed would say them in between kisses one day, how sweet they would sound, how perfect things would be. But right now, under the yellowish hue of his kitchen lights, drowned by the sound of their friends singing to Madonna’s ‘Vogue’ in the living room, they have no meaning. Ed is not saying those words, it’s a ghost speaking, a shadow from the past. It cannot be true.

“I loved you too,” Oswald whispers, and he doesn’t even look at Edward because he’s entirely too scared of what he might see in his eyes. Rejection. Hatred. Fear.

And Oswald stands there, immobile, for a while, slowly realizing that they are confessing a love that has died by their own hands. Mourning in silence something that could have been but is now lost forever. And when Ed comes closer and grabs his wrist, just like he did in the bathroom of their high school a lifetime ago, he doesn’t flinch, he doesn’t move, he just waits until Ed finally gathers the courage to say what he has come to ask. And the answer will be the same, no matter how hard his heart weeps. Oswald has suffered once for Ed, gave his all to him, ruined the last precious months of his teenage years on him. Lost his ability to do it all again, not even for Ed, not even for his one true love.

“Do you still love me?”

Oswald inhales and the words burn his throat, but they do not come out.

He can tell, by the way Ed’s voice trembles, that he’s been crying, “Oswald, say something.”

Oh, the irony, Oswald thinks. And it’s so tempting to say that he still loves him, that he still venerates him, but something inside of him has died. His heart, still very much alive, despite all the hardships that he has endured, does not want to answer that call. Because Oswald knows Edward, so much that he can almost foresee what will happen in the following months if he gives him a positive reply. And when he looks at Ed, his hand mechanically reaching out to brush the unruly hair falling in front of his eyes, it doesn’t hurt that much to offer the plain truth.

“I don’t love you anymore. Not in the way I used to. Because that—that wasn’t love, Ed. That was something wicked. I got lost in it. Lost in that thing we shared. Right now, I need stability. I need someone who will be my boyfriend. Not a boy who kisses me only when no one’s watching. And I love you, I do, but you’re gonna go to college soon, and I’m gonna stay in Gotham. I’m a high school dropout and I’m still mourning my mother, Ed. I’m not ready to be in a relationship, and I know I probably sound insane because I got mad at you for not loving me back a few months ago. But I can’t do this, not now. And what if I said yes? Would you be able to love me back?”

Ed nods, not an ounce of hesitation in his demeanor, like he’s been rehearsing all of this as well on his side. But Oswald can’t trust him, not when he stumbles forward and he has to catch him because he’s simply too drunk to give him a verbal answer. So he just holds him, wrapping his slender arms around his chest, one last embrace before Ed goes away and everything becomes pain all over again. But it’s for good, he thinks, even when the tears threaten to expose his truth to the world.

“You admitting that you have feelings for a boy is huge and I’m so, so proud of you Eddie. But right now, I’m not ready for this. I hope you understand.”

And then he releases Ed, letting go first before his emotions get the better of him. Oswald fights against the voice in the back of his mind, who’s been screaming at him that it’s not too late. He could do it. Swallow his pride and throw himself into his arms. Drown into him and get lost forever. Die because of him, for him. Get on his knees and pray for redemption at his feet. Apologize, ask for forgiveness, for his mercy. And then comes the despair. The dreadful thoughts which whisper “he’ll never be yours again, another will have him, what have you done?”

He barely hears Ed when he says, “I do. I understand.”

Oswald blinks away the tears, and he feels light again, “You do?”

“Yeah. What I said, on that night, I wish I could take it back. I wish I had been here for you, when you lost her. And I know I’ll never be able to change what happened to you, what happened between us, and I hate myself for that.”

Oswald wipes the tears from his cheeks with the sleeve of his flannel shirt, “Please, don’t. You were confused and you didn’t understand what those feelings were. I’m just—I’m glad you’re at peace now.”

“Yeah,” Ed simply says, and Oswald wants to smile at him but he cannot, unable to add anything else.

“So, I guess this is a goodbye,” Ed states after a short beat.

Something inside of Oswald breaks a little. Not his heart, not again, but his soul, perhaps. And in that moment, he truly realizes that in a few months from now, Ed will be dedicating his entire energy to his studies, and he’ll just be someone he once had a high school fling with. So, when Edward gets closer to him and lets his thumb play along the side of his face, Oswald doesn’t listen to reason. His heart goes for it. One last time.

Ed takes his sadness and crushes it. It’s gone, for as long as their goodbye lasts. It’s just a kiss, but it’s everything and nothing at the same time. Everything because Ed tastes like cheap beer and sweet strawberry gum. Everything because it’s him and nothing will ever compare to this. His hands in his hair and the way he uses his tongue. The way he makes him melt from the inside and almost combust from all the raw emotions he feels every time they kiss.

And then it fades into nothing and it stops and Ed is unable to hear him when Oswald says his name, a whisper in the darkness, because he’s gone. Oswald’s heart does not break. Not this time. Not again. Because he’s grown used to see this. His one true love running away from him. Again. Different night, same old mistakes. Two lost souls trying to find each other and failing because fate has other plans for them.

Chapter Text

Gotham City, August 1996.

Edward never thought he’d experience that type of love someday. The kind of love that ruins your summer and leaves you unable to do anything useful. The kind of love that makes you think you’ll end up all alone with only your darkest thoughts to keep you company. So, when it hits him — and it hits him really hard — he doesn’t really know how to deal with it.

He spends the week following Oswald’s birthday watching movies in the basement, but the adventures of Woody and Buzz Lightyear are of no interest to him. Pretty soon, he finds himself eagerly waiting for his family to come back from their trip. He misses Maggie, especially, since she has proven to be a good entertainer during his last break-up.

“It’s technically not a break-up, y’all weren’t even dating,” Barbara says one night after Ed has agreed to let her and Tabby sleepover.

He kind of regrets his decision, now that Barbara seems to be determined to ruin his mood. It hasn’t really been good to start with, but her words ring so painfully true to his ears that he wants to throw whatever he can grab at her. Barbara stretches her legs in front of her, looking at him like a predator ready to consume her prey.

“I never said it was a break-up,” Ed deadpans, trying to act casual, feeling something itching inside of him.

“But you’re acting like it is,” Barbara says, and Edward goes silent for a moment, focusing on the way she smiles at him, her predatory behavior gone so easily that he wonders if it was ever real.

There is something about her manners and the way she behaves around people that makes it so easy to fall for her tricks. Ed is aware of the fact that she’s trying to make him talk and spill what’s on his mind. Let it all out, just for the sake of feeling lighter, better. But he’s smarter than that, smarter than her. Or at least that’s what he thinks when he replies with, “It doesn’t matter. The past is the past.”

Barbara scoffs, “Are you kidding me?”

“What?” Ed asks, genuinely wondering what she means by that.

Barbara squints at him, scanning his face with her eyes, probably trying to find out if he’s playing her for a fool or if he’s just being honest, “The past is the past, huh? You do realize that being in love with Oswald is part of your past, present, and future you idiot?”

Ed tries not to sound too harsh when he gives her a reply, aware that this conversation could end up in an argument pretty easily, “So you’re saying that I’m never gonna get over it, is that what you’re saying? That I’m cursed to forever cry about that one boy I fell in love with in high school. That I’ll never be able to experience true happiness or love again because Oswald left a void in my heart that I’ll never be able to fill again. Is that it Barbara, or am I reading too much into what you’ve been saying?”

Barbara shifts on her seat, looking at him with something so soft in her eyes that he misses the way she usually triggers his fight or flight reflexes, “In order to move on, you need to acknowledge your pain, Ed. Because if you keep denying yourself the chance to heal, you’ll carry that pain everywhere you go. And trust me, it is no life.”

“It’s none of your business how I deal with my emotions. What do you know about pain, anyway?” Ed says, still in defense mode, still trying to hurt her because she’s saying the truth and he can’t deal with it.

Barbara sounds older than him, older than the entire universe when she whispers, “Watch your mouth, Nygma.”

“Or what?” Ed says, pushing himself over the edge of a very dangerous cliff.

Barbara stands up, the sound of her chair dragging across the floor almost deafening in the quiet of the night, her fists balled up at her sides, looking threatening and vulnerable at the same time, “Stop it, Ed. Stop running away from your pain. And please, go get some help.”

Ed doesn’t stop her when she leaves, because he’s not yet used to people walking away from him. But it’s been happening a lot recently. Oswald saying that they cannot be together, his parents ignoring his mood swings and still going on a trip and now Barbara. So, when Tabitha comes downstairs and finds him hugging Penny and crying like there is no hope left for his heart, like he’ll never truly be happy again, whispering that he’s sorry against the dog’s fur, he’s glad she doesn’t walk away from him as well.

“Ed, listen to me,” she says after a while when Ed is lying in his bed, curled up against her and trying to find a way to breathe air into his lungs.

And Ed listens, sniffing from time to time but still focusing on her voice, on her advice, “I’m not saying this because she’s my girlfriend but Babs is right. You need to get help, Eddie.”

“I’m not insane,” Ed says, the word frightening him more than the concept itself.

“You don’t have to be insane to see a specialist, Ed. There’s so much going on in your life right now and I just—I think you need to see someone.”

Ed remains quiet for a while, listening to the sound of his own labored breathing before saying, “Are you afraid of me?”

He can feel Tabitha shaking her head without the need to look at her, “I’m not. I’m afraid of what you could do to yourself.”

“Like what?”

“Like thinking that spending your days inside of this house is the only way to deal with your heartbreak. Like going to college and dropping out after one semester because you can’t deal with your own self. Like thinking that Oswald is the only person you’ll ever be able to love.”

“He’s not the only one, I love you too,” Ed whispers, trying to act like hearing Oswald’s name doesn’t drive daggers through his heart.

“I know, I know, Eddie. But please, get some help, you’ll feel so much better. You’ll feel like yourself again, I promise,” she says, smiling at him, and in that moment, Edward wants to put all of his trust in her words.

“Okay,” it’s just a whisper, but it’s enough to make her hug him so tightly that Ed thinks she might have the ability to break his ribs.

Gotham City, Autumn 1996.

Edward goes to therapy once a week because his mother works at the facility he goes to and she wants to make sure he gets the proper help he needs. He doesn’t talk much at first, because he’s not really aware of what needs to be said and what needs to be kept to himself. His mother asks questions sometimes. They’re not really intrusive, just a few “Are you making any progress?” and the familiar “I’m proud of you, honey.”

Sometimes, when they’re watching reruns of Seinfield on TV, late at night, he wants to tell her everything about Oswald. Because she’s his mother and she should be able to understand and love him no matter what his preferences are. He feels the incessant need to spill it all out, away from the dark confines of his mind and into the world. How liberating would that be? But then, on Thanksgiving, his aunt jokes about men dating other men over dinner and Ed feels sick and unsafe and like he’s about to die from heartache.

After some time, he starts going to therapy less often because university requires him to work and work and work until night fades into day and day fades into nothing. The months pass so slowly that Edward wonders why he still feels himself getting older with each passing hour. He figures it is probably the lack of sleep and the caffeine he’s been drinking almost religiously. And for a while, things happen around him, outside of him, and he’s not sure he’ll ever be able to get a grasp on reality again.

In his dreams, he reaches out towards the darkness, only to find himself holding onto clouds of smoke and nothingness. He doesn’t realize that he’s been changing and adapting. He doesn’t see it yet because it’s too new, too recent to be seen as something other than worthless use of his time. And when the therapist asks “do you feel like you’re making any progress?” he just shrugs and focuses on one particular stain on the wall behind her.

It doesn’t really matter if he’s been progressing or not, as long as it still feels like Oswald left with a part of him. And Ed knows, he knows deep down in the crevices of his mind that he’s behaving like everyone expects him to be behaving. Sad, depressed, hollow. But it doesn’t really matter. It doesn’t truly matter. It doesn’t matter at all, in fact. Every time he’s reminded of Oswald he just wants to escape his own body, his own mind and reclaim someone else’s memories.

So, when he meets Lucius, on a surprisingly warm October day, Ed jumps on the occasion and throws himself into something that people would call a rebound relationship. There’s nothing romantic about it because Ed’s not ready, his heart still beating awfully fast whenever someone accidentally mentions his one true love’s name. But there is something undeniably attractive about the Computer Science student, something he cannot deny, not even to himself.

Of course, Lucius doesn’t notice the longing stares Edward sends his way for the first three weeks of their friendship, his eyes full of a little bit of curiosity and a lot of desire. So, when Lucius allows him to type his homework on his computer, in his tiny student room, Edward grabs the opportunity and holds on to it like his life depends on the few hours they spend confined into that room.

Gotham City, December 1996.

Edward has the audacity to act surprised when Tabitha asks, one evening, “That new guy, Lucius, you like him?”

They’re both sitting in a booth in one of their favorite Vietnamese restaurant south of the city near Saint Mary’s Street. It’s a quiet Saturday night, mostly families and young couples sharing a warm bowl of Pho or crispy egg rolls. Their chatter comforts Ed, drowning the constant buzz going on in his overstimulated mind. But when Tabitha speaks, he loses focus and her witty smile becomes his sole target.

“You’re being extremely nosy,” Ed says, trying his hardest to make his tone light and playful.

It doesn’t really work, or Tabby just doesn’t care because she continues her investigation, “What’s his study field? I bet he’s a nerd like you.”

Edward chuckles, playing with his chopsticks for a moment before giving up, “He studies Computer Science. Happy?”

“Not really,” Tabitha says, in between sips of her now lukewarm vegetable broth, “I need to know where he lives, who’s his favorite character in Star Wars, and most importantly if you like him. Cause, you see, that was my initial question and you didn’t answer it yet.”

Edward laughs, truly amused by her detective-like behavior, “He lives on campus, his favorite Star Wars character is Yoda — boring, I know — and yes, I do like him, but it’s not what you think.”

Tabitha looks at him with round eyes and Edward wonders which part of what he just said surprised her the most until she formulates a reply, “Are you fucking kidding me, Yoda isn’t boring, I’m so disappointed in you. Also, please Eddie, stop lying to yourself. You have a crush on him and it’s totally fine, he’s kinda cute. Nerdy but cute. Just like you, I guess.”

Ed hates the way he blushes, hates the way she knows him so well that she can tell whenever he has a crush — small or big — on someone. Tabitha knew about Isabella way before him, she knew about Oswald all along and now she knows about Lucius and she just said it to his face, ending her sentence with a clever click of the tongue. He tries not to look at her, afraid that something in his eyes might betray his misery.

Falling for Lucius is easy, too easy, and Edward would never forgive himself for going all the way through. Because even though he hasn’t seen him in months, his heart still yearns for Oswald. And in the darkest hours of the night, it’s him that he thinks about. It’s his soft but often defensive tone he wants to hear, his arms he wants to be comforted by, his heart he desires.

Tabitha is slurping on her noodles when he finally asks, out loud, too loud, “Why do I still miss him so much? What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I just move on?”

She looks up, a bunch of noodles falling from her mouth to end up right back into her bowl, splashing some of the broth on her white t-shirt. The scene would be funny if she didn’t say in the most pitying tone, “You still love him, you still love Oswald.”

It’s not a question, just a fact. Something he’s been trying to fight against for months now. The sad, sad truth about himself. He cannot let go of him. No matter how hard he tries Ed still cares about Oswald, so much that it scares him. When Tabitha reaches out to touch his hand in a comforting gesture, he just bows his head, looking at the way his tears fall on the table, forming tiny puddles of salty liquid on the wooden surface.

It’s the desperate type of crying. The kind no one wants to perform in public. At least not at a restaurant. But Ed doesn’t really care about the few clients looking at him. There’s no need to fight against the tears because he’s learned that they will always sneak up on him in the lonely hours of the night, when he’s lying in bed breathless, looking for a way out.

A book, a memory, a riddle.

Something that will distract him from the pain. Something soothing but complex enough to drive him away from him. From his demise, from his love, from the hurt which burns his lungs like fire would a majestic forest. And he hates himself. Again and again and again. For not loving him sooner. For not being able to be at peace with himself. For not being ready, open like a wildflower Oswald would have picked and cared for with so much love, so much devotion.

And it pours out of his mouth, tasting bitter and heavy with regrets, “I ruined everything. I fucking ruined it. He believed in me, even when I didn’t believe in myself, and I let him go. I didn’t even try to stop him. I just stood there like a fucking idiot. Barbara was right, I don’t know how to deal with this. I can’t do this. I just can’t.”

Tabitha murmurs something that Edward cannot understand in his state. Something reassuring and encouraging. Probably along the lines of “You’ll get over this, I trust you”. A sentence he’s heard too many times over the pasts months. Ed has learned to shut down and deny himself the chance to grow and heal and finally move on. He doesn’t want to.

Moving forward means forgetting about Oswald. Moving forward means slowly but surely trying to remember what his lips felt like on his and not being able to. Moving forward means healing, eventually giving his heart and soul to another. It means smiling and laughing when all he’s been capable of is wondering every hour of every day what Oswald is doing. If he’s happy or sad. If he’s eating, breathing, living.

And then, Tabitha says something that he fully hears, his brain choosing to focus on her for his own sake, “It doesn’t need to be this way. It doesn’t have to be all pain. You are allowed to be happy, Eddie. Don’t beat yourself up over something you cannot control. It happened, it just—it’s life. People fall in and out of love. People stop being friends. You, unfortunately, don’t get to chose when it happens and that’s okay. Allow yourself to feel. Allow yourself to move on.”

“What if I don’t want to? What if I spend the rest of my miserable life crying about him? What then?” Ed asks, voice a simple murmur.

Tabitha smiles at him, melancholy striking her usually cheerful features, “I promise you; it’ll get better. Don’t you trust me?”

Edward uses a napkin to dry the tears on his cheeks, breathing in, relief washing over his soul. Even if he does spend the rest of his life crying over Oswald, at least he’s got her. He just nods, not trusting his faltering voice to formulate a proper answer. It’s a silent pact, between two best friends, something sacred and precious. He finds it somewhere deep inside of his heart, the strength to offer her a tiny smile, his very own brand of infinite trust.

Gotham City, March 1997.

Ed crashes his mother’s car the day before his birthday. It’s nothing serious, just a few scratches and a good scare but he swears his father is close to having an aneurysm with how loud he’s been screaming at him for the past thirty minutes. It rarely happens, his father being mad. He’s usually the quiet type. A calm soul who enjoys reading a good book after a long day at work. Sometimes he’ll take Maggie to the movies or ask Edward to plant some flowers in the garden with him.

But right now, sheltered inside of his favorite room, his adored library, Ed swears he’s never seen him so furious, “You do realize you could’ve killed yourself?”

Edward simply nods, looking at a shelf full of ancient books behind his father. He doesn’t look him in the eyes because he knows that as soon as he does that, his father will go soft on him, and right now, he truly deserves to be yelled at. It’s only fair, he got it coming, and he wishes his mother would have done the same thing to him when she picked him up at the ER. Just a little bit of yelling, just enough to make him come down from the adrenaline rush caused by the accident.

“You could’ve killed your sister,” his father adds, his voice breaking near the end of the sentence, heavy with a mix of fear and sorrow.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I just—I didn’t see the other car and I was distracted and—”

“Distracted,” his father says, his right foot nervously tapping against the carpeted floor, a nervous reflex, “you’ve been distracted for months, Edward. You wouldn’t talk to your mother, you wouldn’t talk to me, not even to your little sister. Please, just tell me what’s going on. What’s wrong, Edward? Tell me.”

Ed looks at him, surprised that it took his father so long to break. He’s always been kind and understanding, but not enough for Ed to spill out his secrets to him. And now that he seems to be ready to hear whatever he has to say, with the type of unconditional love that very few parents truly have for their child, Ed is terrified. How do you tell someone who’s loved you your whole life that you are not who they think you are?

How does one say, “Dad, I’ve been struggling with my sexual preferences for months and you didn’t really notice anything because you’re always in your little world, and I love you, really, but it’s a bit too late to get all sentimental on me, no? I’m fine, I’m actually getting better, and that accident has nothing to do with my mental state. I was just tired and Maggie got on my nerves, that’s how we ended up crashing against another car and almost got killed.”

One simply does not say that to a father who’s clearly not entirely ready for the truth. So Ed shrugs, biting the inside of his cheek until it hurts and his father gives up, pulling him into a tight hug, whispering against his sweater, “I’m just glad you’re alive.” And it’s a simple fact, but it settles inside of Ed’s very bones, chilling him to his core. His parents almost lost their children tonight and there is no amount of apologies, no amount of wishful thinking he can do to erase that.

On his way to his bedroom, he tries to check up on Maggie, his darling little sister, but his mother advises him to just go to bed and get a good night of sleep. It’s past midnight and when she whispers, “Happy Birthday, honey,” he just wants to burst into tears but she hugs him and it’s so warm and motherly that he just lets out half a sob before going to bed. It still breaks his heart, knowing that his first thought when they hit that car was for Maggie and the one following immediately after was not for his mother nor his father but for Oswald, always.

Gotham City, June 1997.

Edward wakes up to the sound of Maggie knocking against his door in morse code. He knows it’s her because his father is still in the process of teaching her how to master it, and she still makes some mistakes, but it’s pretty good for a debutant. It’s a Sunday afternoon and he’s been sleeping for the past hour, enjoying a quick nap before going to work. He’s still trying to figure out what she’s trying to communicate to him when she opens the door, wearing at least twenty snap bracelets on her left forearm, Penny on her heels.

“What do you want?” Ed asks, his head going back under his pillow to block out the light coming from his broken blinds.

“Someone’s here to see you,” Maggie declares in a sing-song voice.

Edward curses under his breath, “Tell them to come back later, I’m trying to sleep.”

“I told him already, he says he needs to talk to you.”

Ed emerges from under the pillow with a frustrated grunt, sitting on his bed, allowing Penny to lick his face, “You should’ve told me earlier it was Lucius. Tell him I’ll be downstairs in a sec.”

Maggie laughs, high pitched and childish, and what she says next stuns Edward so much that he wonders if he’s not dreaming, “It’s not Lucius, you dumbass. It’s Oz. He’s been talking to Mom for like an hour so you better hurry up before they become best friends. His hair is green now, it looks so fucking cool.”

Edward doesn’t even take the time to scold her for using bad language. He’s running down the stairs in no time, stopping before the kitchen door when he hears his voice. And he’s almost disappointed his sister did not lie because he would have taken the time to wear something else instead of his grey sports shorts and an oversized t-shirt. Oswald is sitting on a chair and not on the kitchen counter for a change, wearing what looks like a GCPD t-shirt, drinking apple juice and telling a story that makes Ed’s mother laugh out loud.

He’s always been so good at this. Talking to people. Making them feel like they are the most important person in the room. It’s one of his many tricks, one that doesn’t work with Ed. For a very simple reason. In his eyes, Oswald will always be the most important person in a room. He only has eyes for him, only him, and when Oswald finally dares to look his way, he can already feel his love blooming from the inside. A wildflower once dead and now revived.

Chapter Text

Gotham City, June 1997

Nothing has changed. Edward is still the very same. Curly-haired and impossibly tall. Awkward looking yet handsome in a way Oswald will never fully comprehend. It’s only now that he’s looking at him, standing near the entrance of the kitchen, that he realizes it’s been almost a year since the last time they’ve been in the same room. The air quickly grows hotter, clinging to his skin and his lungs, the anxiety reaching his core in a matter of seconds.

Edward’s mother says something which Oswald ignores. He’s only able to focus on her silhouette when she leaves the kitchen, offering them some privacy. And suddenly, he wants to run after her, beg her to stay and hold his hand because her son still has an influence so strong on him that he might not find the strength to resist his siren call. Edward hasn’t said a word to him, and yet the look in his eyes has already told him everything he needs to know.

“You’ve changed,” Ed finally says, taking a seat at the opposite end of the table, shielding himself from Oswald with an invisible barrier stronger than anything physical could ever be.

“I know,” Oswald replies, running a nervous hand through his green hair, “you haven’t.”

Ed chuckles, low and slightly different from what Oswald is used to. It becomes clear to him that if Ed hasn’t changed one bit from the outside, it’s a different story when it comes to what lies inside of him. They fall back into a deafening silence, something made out of discomfort and months of not seeing each other. Oswald wants to say something, anything, but he only looks at him, studying the way his hair falls on his forehead, the curve of his lips, his oversized t-shirt.

Edward has not even fully looked at him yet. He just casts him a few glances here and there, but it doesn’t last more than a few seconds. Oswald wishes they could already go back to the way it used to be. Simple and straightforward. But nothing’s easy in this world, he’s learned it over and over again. It occurs to him that Edward isn’t cut from the same cloth as him. The fibers of his soul, heart, and mind are much more complex than his. Life did not leave the same scars on their skin.

Oswald is the product of years and years of survival. The city raised him alongside his mother, sharing custody of a kid who learned that life could break someone before he even learned how to read. Losing her was one thing learning how to move forward with that pain still clutching his chest is another. But Oswald is resilient. He’s learned how to deal with it on his own, bare-fisted and without any help. Sofia was here, yes, but he did not rely on her to bring happiness and joy back into his heart.

Despite all the hurt and the terrible things that have been going on in his life, Oswald always finds himself going back to Edward. He has waited almost a full year. Long enough to notice the change in Ed, not enough to know if it’s permanent or just the result of months spent away from the one he loves. Love. Oswald hoped the feeling would go away after being neglected for so long, but time has done nothing to what he experiences when he’s in the same room as Ed.

Sofia told him to stop beating himself over something that he could not control. He can still hear her voice saying “You do not deserve to suffer for someone like Ed Nygma, Ozzie.” But still, he did not find the strength to shake this feeling off. Let it go and lock it in the darkest confines of his mind to be dealt with much later in his life.

Edward speaks, breaking the silent spell which had fallen over them, “Why did you come here?”

“I wanted to see you,” Oswald whispers, rather matter-of-factly.

“Why now? After all this time.”

Edward looks at him and Oswald can taste the bitterness of his tone in the back of his throat. He’s not the only one who’s been suffering from their separation. He can feel his ego swelling up, replacing the hurt and the longing with something less somber. Edward flexes the fingers of his left hand, focusing on the way they move. Oswald wants to hold them and kiss his knuckles until there is nothing left to say. They’ve already been through the apologies and the crying and the goodbyes.

Oswald inhales, playing with his empty glass, coming up with an answer at last, “You said it was just a goodbye, remember?”

Ed does seem to remember but he simply nods while Oswald waits for an answer which does not come. He doesn’t really mind Edward’s silence. It must be hard to wake up from a nap to find your ex not-boyfriend talking to your mother in your kitchen. His gaze follows Edward when he stands up, observing the way he pinches the bridge of his nose, looking like someone who’s ready to make the declaration of a lifetime.

“Look, Oswald,” he says, calmly, “I think we should talk about this somewhere else. I have to be at work in half an hour and trust me, I really do appreciate your surprise visit, but I’m gonna need to re-schedule our little talk.”

Oswald lets out a laugh, “As I said, I just wanted to see you, no pressure here.”

“Is that it?” Ed asks, his voice dangerously sharp, “You just wanted to see me. And then what, exactly?”

Oswald keeps his mouth shut, observing Ed as he paces in front of him, almost too fast for his liking. He’s still very much the same when it comes to dealing with his emotions. Oswald waits until he comes to a halt, nervously fidgeting with the hem of his t-shirt, looking out the window right above the kitchen sink, so lost in his thoughts that when Oswald speaks, he appears shocked, as if he had already forgotten his presence.

“I’ve missed you, Eddie. Don’t you get it?”

His voice is barely a whisper, just enough to be audible, to let his truth out in the open. He has missed him. Almost a year. The earth has revolved around the sun, people have been born, others have died, and yet the only thing he could think about was Eddie, Eddie, Eddie. All over his mind and his heart. Painted across his eyelids when he closes them at night, overtaking his thoughts first thing in the morning. And now that Eddie is here, all flesh and bones and beating heart, it seems like he’s never been so far away.

“I can’t—I can’t do this now. I need to go to work. I just—I can’t do this,” Ed doesn’t even look him in the eyes, his gaze steadily focused on a bird flying in the sky, or a flower blooming in the garden.

Oswald doesn’t really know. He doesn’t need to. He came here for one thing, and it seems like Edward is too terrified of his own feelings to let him have it. Closure. Just a few words between former friends, something that will close Oswald’s wounds and let them heal. But he gets it. Or at least he tries to. It’s not an easy task to openly speak about what they had, what could’ve been. Sometimes, he finds himself wondering if it truly happened, or if it’s not a trick that his memory likes to play again and again until he’ll learn to avoid it and lock it somewhere far from his reach.

“Was it true?” he asks, out of fear, and a little bit of mistrust, “What you said?”

“What, Oswald?” Ed retorts, his tone showing how on edge he is.

“Did you truly love me? Or did you just think it would sound cool in that moment?”

Edward bites his lower lip, hands shaking against the counter. Not a word. Not a sign. Nothing. Oswald gets nothing and when Edward leaves him standing alone in that kitchen, painfully reenacting what happened not a year ago, he wants to rip his own heart out of his chest and offer it to him. A sacrifice to a deity who does not answer his prayers, yet he still persists, desperately.

When he tilts his head back to let the familiar copper liquid burn down his throat, Oswald doesn’t even pretend to enjoy it. The taste is sour, but he already goes for another shot, and another after that, because he would rather deal with a hangover tomorrow than with the fact that he got rejected by Edward Nygma for the third time in almost two years today.

No one really pays him any attention. Probably because half of the people attending Sofia’s little house party are too busy thinking about what they will attempt to steal from her father’s collection. Chandeliers covered in pure gold, paintings from the 18th century, even the simplest plant holder would probably get them a hundred bucks on the black market. Oswald scoffs when he overhears the couple arguing next to him; Zsasz and Dent have never been famous for their discretion.

“I told you already,” Zsasz says, sounding exasperated by his partner, “we need to find a better way to make money. Besides, I’m not crazy enough to steal from Falcone. I’d rather be working for him if I’m being honest.”

The dark-haired boy looks at his boyfriend, raising an eyebrow at him, “You wanna work for Falcone? Since when?”

The pair sits on the couch opposite Oswalds’, and despite the fact that it’s only the three of them in the drawing-room, they seem to be oblivious to the fact that he is perfectly able to hear everything they say. Zsasz clicks his tongue against his palate, leaning back against the couch to get more comfortable, boldly crossing his arms behind his head.

“I need a change of scenery. I’m tired of flipping burgers at McDonald’s.”

“Still better than handling guns and dead bodies,” Dent says, opening another bottle of beer before getting closer to his boyfriend, resting his head against his chest like it’s the most comfortable place on earth, “I hear Falcone’s employees are a little trigger happy.”

“Oh yeah?” Oswald cuts in, stretching his legs above the mahogany coffee table, not caring much for the crystal ashtray he knocks over, “Where did you hear that, exactly?”

Harvey turns to him, acting slightly surprised —as if he hadn't seen him sitting there for the past thirty minutes— his brows knitting together for half a second before the law student regains his composure. Zsasz barely looks at Oswald, being too busy trying to light something that does not look like a regular cigarette.

“People tend to talk when they’re drunk,” Harvey replies, frowning further, like someone who hates being questioned.

“Yeah, that’s true, people love running their mouths about stuff they don’t know shit about. What about you, McDonald’s?” Oswald asks, gesturing towards Zsasz, “What did you hear about Falcone’s employees?”

Zsasz exhales, a cloud of smoke rising above his head, smiling like an idiot, “Heard some of them are legends, some of them are dumb as a post. But mostly they all make good fucking money.”

Oswald grins at his sugarcoated answer. The sad truth is that most of them are high school dropouts who don’t know what they would do without the few dollar bills covered in blood Don Falcone gives them at the end of each month of faithful services. But he doesn’t really have time to think about his career choices much longer. Zsasz extends a friendly hand holding the joint towards him, a dopey smile forever pulling his lips upwards.

“Wanna try? It’s not the disgusting stuff mixed with camel shit and whatnot that college students smoke. That one’s the real deal.”

Oswald blinks a few times, startled, before accepting his offer, “Yeah, sure.”

He drags on the joint, the familiar smell bringing back memories of the bathroom breaks he used to take during his first year of high school. And so, easily, he falls back into his old habits. His mind loosens up just enough for him to enjoy the rest of the night. Victor and Harvey are unaware of the fact that he’s one of Falcone’s employees, Edward is relegated to the back of his mind, and seeing his friends being so openly in love gives him the tiniest of hope about his future relationships. Maybe things do get better, just like Sofia keeps saying to him.

“What up with your t-shirt?” Harvey says, head resting on his boyfriend’s lap, while wrestling to take off his pair of burgundy Vans to end up throwing them at the opposite end of the room, “I didn’t know they sold merch at the police station.”

Oswald looks down at what he’s been wearing, grinning at his GCPD t-shirt, “Oh that? The story is dumb.”

Zsasz snorts, “It’s your lucky day, we love dumb stories.”

“Well, remember Jim from high school? Three years older than us I believe.”

“Yeah,” Harvey says, smoking the rest of the blunt like a king in his palace.

Oswald doesn’t even get the chance to start a new sentence, Zsasz blurting out the words like he’s been dying to get to the bottom of this story, “Waaaaaaaaait? You fucked him? I knew he wasn’t straight. I fucking knew it.”

“What?” Oswald asks, confusion written all over his features, “I didn’t fuck him. He arrested me you, idiot. The bastard went straight to the police academy after graduating.”

“That doesn’t explain how you got your t-shirt,” Harvey says, and Oswald cannot help but notice how sober he sounds and looks even though he’s had at least three of four more shots than him.

“Yeah, well, I got it from the station. They have to give you a chance of clothes when you spend more than twenty-four hours there.”

“True,” Harvey confirms, “it’s written in the law.”

“That’s cool,” Zsasz says, “what did you get arrested for?”

“I can’t tell you.”

“Why not?”

“I just can’t.”

“Just cut it off Vic,” Harvey says, playfully nudging his boyfriend in the ribs.

“Ouch, alright,” Zsasz sighs, and Oswald is surprised at how easily he gives up, “but I might try to get arrested just to have one of those t-shirts, that shit is too cool for me to pass on.”

“So you wanna work for Falcone and get arrested over a t-shirt? You know I’m studying to be a lawyer, right?”

“Yeah, and what about it?”

“Nothing,” Dent says, rolling his eyes at his boyfriend’s denseness.

And for the following hours, Oswald forgets about his heartache. Zsasz gives his boyfriend a scandalous lapdance to the rhythm of ‘Pony’, Oswald almost dies of laughter when they both try to replicate the ‘Wannabe’ choreography, and they finish the rest of a bottle of expensive champagne while singing along to ‘What’s up?’ at the top of their lungs. Zsasz dangerously stands on the couch, while Harvey and Oswald are both half-lying on the Persian carpet, slurring the lyrics until Zsasz’s stomach finally gives up and sends him running towards one of the many bathrooms of the mansion.

Harvey runs after him, worried about his boyfriend’s well being, leaving Oswald to his own self. He lays on the floor for a while, nursing the rest of a forgotten beer bottle, carefully listening to the muffled music coming from the living room. ‘Dancing Queen’. The saddest upbeat song in the entire history of music, Oswald thinks while finishing his bottle before sitting to look around the now empty room.

He actually finds himself enjoying the loneliness. A sense of calm washes over him when he realizes that despite all the hurt and the pain, he’s still able to fight for those tiny moments of pure happiness. Oswald stands up, letting his hands run over the leather of the couch, the wooden frame of the door, the embroidered tapestry in the hallway. He walks past a bunch of people; most of them he does not recognize or care for.

Soon he finds himself standing in the main hall, looking at the chandelier hanging from the ceiling. No matter how many times he has spent in this house, Oswald always tilts his head up to observe it. And to this day, he still remembers the thought that crossed his younger mind when he saw it for the first time. His mother would’ve loved it, very much, and still, tonight, he can feel her presence deep inside of his chest, stronger than ever, unwavering, no matter how intoxicated her son might be.

“I miss you,” Oswald says out loud, a whisper entirely drowned by the sound of a crowd forming next to him, circling someone doing the Carlton dance.

Oswald immediately recognizes her. The crowd goes wild when she flaunts her killer moves, and he can clearly tell that she’s drunker than he’ll ever be when another song comes up and she’s left alone, awkwardly standing in the hallway with only him for company. Oswald wonders if she’s asking herself what she’s doing here, just like him. The only difference is that he knows exactly where he is, whereas Tabitha seems utterly lost. Oswald waits until she spots him to walk towards her, offering her half a smile.

“Are you okay?” he asks, catching her elbow when she trips on her platform shoes and saving her from a nasty fall.

“Hey, Oswald, my buddy, my pal! Wow, your hair looks great! Green, I love green, that’s cool. Cool. Cool. Cool. Oh, you know who else loves green? Edddddddddd—“

“You know what?” Oswald says a little too loudly, “I think we should go outside. Get you some fresh air. You’ve had too many drinks. That sounds good to you?”

For a minute, which flows like an eternity, Tabitha looks into his eyes, as if she were searching for the true meaning of life. Oswald feels naked, under the scrutiny of her gaze, but he doesn’t show how uneasy it makes him. Instead, his eyes just flicker from left to right, until Tabitha offers him a blinding smile and leans against his shoulder.

“Yeah,” she mumbles, “sounds good.”

They both step into the night, Tabitha holding onto Oswald’s arm like they’ve been doing this forever. If Sofia’s mansion is large, it’s nothing compared to the gardens surrounding her family’s estate. Oswald leads Tabitha to a wooden bench placed right under his favorite sycamore tree, conveniently hidden from any prying eyes. He’s positive no one will disturb them here.

They sit, and Oswald allows himself to close his eyes, trying his best to ignore the way Tabitha keeps whistling ‘The Simpsons’ theme over and over. She gives up after a minute, complaining to no one in particular that this show isn’t even that good anyway. Oswald sighs, fumbling in the back pocket of his jeans for a while before finding a decent cigarette which he lights up in a hurry, already chasing the relief coming after the first hit of nicotine.

“Have you ever considered stopping?” Tabitha asks, stretching her arms above her head before letting out a yawn.

“Why would I wanna do that?” Oswald deadpans.

He doesn’t find the strength nor the tiniest bit of will to have a conversation about his smoking addiction with Edward’s best friend. At least not at two in the morning, while he can still feel the damage left by his altercation with him a few hours before. He’s not in the mood for that. A day has not passed, and yet it feels like he’s been through all the stages of grief. Tabitha pretends to be offended, but it doesn’t last long. Oswald knows exactly what’s on her intoxicated mind even before she opens her mouth.

“I was wonder—”

“Don’t.” Oswald cuts her even before she finishes her thought, holding up a hand between them.

Tabitha blinks once, twice, before standing up, “Wow. Rude.”

“Why don’t you ask him yourself, huh? I’m pretty sure Eddie has a lot to say about the situation.”

Tabitha walks before him, pacing back and forth, and Oswald can see, in the way she nervously hisses under her breath, that there is something she wants to say. Probably a fact he hasn’t thought about yet. Something potentially dangerous. But what’s a little danger even done to him? A few scratches and a good deal of pain. He can stomach it.

“Spit it out,” Oswald says, crushing the rest of his cigarette against the surface of the bench, on the same old spot he’s been using for the past couple of years during his night shift.

“I can’t,” Tabitha replies.

“Okay then, pretty please, will you stop pacing like that? You’re giving me a headache.”

Tabitha ignores him, and Oswald closes his eyes again, focusing on the sound the thousands of leaves above them produce whenever the wind makes them sing in unison. There’s something weird about the whole situation, but he’s come to the conclusion that this whole day was meant to go sideways from the moment he decided to get another shot at his relationship with Edward. In the distance, he can hear crickets, someone singing, a motorcycle roaring.

The summer heat seems to have calmed down. Granting them a few hours of fresh, pure air. Tabitha stops pacing. Oswald can feel her presence next to him. He does not open his eyes. They have betrayed him so many times. He does not trust his own self when it comes to matters of the heart. And then she says it. As if it were something casual. Oswald can only focus on the way his heart wants to burst out of his chest.

“Eddie has been in love with you since the very first time you met.”

Oswald fights against the way his tone almost betrays how this declaration makes him feel, broken and vulnerable, “Please. Don’t.”

He does look at her, allowing his eyes to say what he cannot form into words. Tabitha seems to understand. She does not speak another word, not until he has finished smoking his third cigarette in a row, not until he has shed all the frustration her words have provoked with nervous tears. Tabitha and her golden heart. That’s what Ed used to say about her. Oswald wonders what part of her heart is truly gold. Perhaps, the one that makes her hold his hand until he can finally form a coherent sentence.

“What makes you think that he loves me?” Oswald asks, feeling all of his insecurities creeping around him, hidden in the shadows, behind the trees and the perfect roses of the Falcone’s garden.

Tabitha is very careful with her words, “He keeps running away from you. That’s what Eddie does when things get too serious. One day he is like “Oswald this, Oswald that” and the next he doesn’t even dare to speak your name out loud. It took him a long time to admit that he had feelings for you. I think he was just too stupid to figure it out sooner.”

Oswald laughs at the bluntness of her words, almost choking on the sound. Tabitha smiles at him, and it makes him warm despite the already high temperatures. Maybe, he considers, every single part of her heart is made out of gold. Unaltered, raw. But Oswald knows that it is not just kindness. Edward is her friend, and she must hate seeing him so tormented, especially over a guy like him.

“I know what you do for a living Oswald,” she states, and he realizes she has now entirely sobered up, her tone steel cold against the night, “I know what it does to people.”

“How?” Oswald finds himself asking, almost begging her to tell him that he’s not the only one who had to turn towards illegal activities to make a living.

Tabitha draws her knees up to her chin, looking at a patch of grass on the ground, or maybe nothing at all, it is hard to tell under the pale moonlight. Oswald wants to reach out to her. Take his innocent question back. Pull her out of the memories which suddenly twist her features and make her look like she has experienced all the violence and misery that the world can hold.

“I just know,” she simply says, and Oswald wishes he had never asked.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to pry,” he says.

“Don’t be. You know what? You seem like one of those guys who actually could make it out alive and in one piece if you wanted to.”

Silence. Oswald gives himself some time to steady his tone.

“What if I can’t?”

“You always have a choice,” she whispers, absent-mindedly brushing a strand of hair from her forehead.

Oswald considers this. Having a choice. A way out. But it doesn’t make much sense to him.

“It’s the only thing I know. I’m used to it. This is my life.”

Tabitha sighs and Oswald can feel her shivering beside him, “You remind me of my brother. Always saying that it is how it is. That it’s not gifted to everyone to be working in an office, wearing a suit and tie. But you know what I think?”

Oswald hesitates, “Tell me.”

“Bullshit. I think it’s bull fucking shit,” she says, “you both knew what that line of work was all about way before you got in. And now, you lie to yourselves, pretending that there is no way out.”

Her brother. It doesn’t take much longer for Oswald to make the connection between their last name. Theo Galavan. He wants to laugh when he realizes that Tabitha’s brother is one of Falcone’s favorite right-hand man. Someone so proud he sometimes wants to punch him. One of the trickiest minds he’s ever had the chance to meet.

“Wait, your brother is Theo? I can’t believe this.”

Tabitha warns him with her piercing eyes that there is no need to dwell on the subject much longer, “I didn’t come here to discuss my brother. Falcone is the devil and you both willingly work for him.”

“The devil? Wow, that’s pretty ironic coming from someone who’s attending a party under his roof, hosted by his beloved daughter, drinking alcohol bought by his dirty money until she almost passed out, don’t you think?” Oswald asks, grinning at her.

Tabitha remains silent, and he can tell that he struck a chord, something inside of her that she hadn’t planned on bringing out tonight, not around him at least. But Oswald knows his way with words, how to weave them and spin them around someone’s mind until they start speaking of what lies deep inside of their souls. But with her, he doesn’t even need to use his talent. He slowly starts to understand that everything, even fate herself, has led them to this moment.

“I came here to talk to you, initially. Eddie asked me to do it. He got Sofia’s invitation too, but he refused to come. Said he doesn’t even know what he wants, that you wouldn’t want to talk to him after the way he acted when you showed up at his house.”

Oswald remains silent, encouraging her to keep going with a simple nod.

“I said no at first, y’know? I was kinda getting tired of your drama. But I know how much he loves you so I said fuck it, and I got drunk because I didn’t know how you’d take it. Eddie sending his best friend to talk to his ex-whatever. That’s some premium high school bullshit.”

Tabitha shivers, again, and Oswald takes his jean jacket off to put it around her shoulders, still smiling at her words.

She shoots him a smile, “See? That’s probably the type of shit that made him fall in love with you.”

Oswald laughs and this time it sounds different. Edward Nygma loves him and yet, he’s not here in person saying these precious words to him. Coming from Tabitha’s mouth, they are not as meaningful.

“I need to talk to him. I need to tell him—”

“Tell him what?” Tabitha’s voice is soft like a feather, “Tell him that you love him? Again? Listen, Oswald. Eddie is the kind of person who doesn’t understand the power of love. For him it’s just something that comes and goes. Like sadness or jealousy. And it scares him, knowing that your love for him is real and not the product of his own psyche. Love is not enough. That love can hurt you. Both. That’s what scares him. That’s what’s making him act like a dumb fuck when you’re around. He’s scared of waking up every day with you by his side, knowing that whenever the both of you will cross the door of your little private paradise, you won’t be able to flaunt your love for the whole world to see.”

“Who cares about what people think?” Oswald says, and he knows already how she’s gonna respond to that statement, from the way she frowns at him.

“Come on Oz, you know exactly what they think about people like us. What they do to us. We can’t even get legally married to the person we love for fuck’s sake.”

Oswald bites the inside of his cheek, her words ringing so painfully true in his mind.

“Fuck,” he finally says, exhaling like he hasn’t been breathing for several minutes, frantic in the way he fumbles through his jeans pocket, craving another cigarette, his fingers brushing past the cold metal handle safely tucked between his bare skin and the fabric.

“Oswald,” Tabitha says, her voice grounding him just enough to make him stop, “I know you carry a gun. All of Falcone’s employees do.”

“I’m not a killer. I’ve never used it. It’s for self-defense only, Falcone ordered me to carry that gun whenever I’m around Sofia. He’s afraid someone might try to harm her. I’m not a killer, Tabitha. Fuck.”

“I know, I know.”

“How can you possibly—”

“Theo told me everything about every single gang in Gotham. From the two-bit thugs to the Dons who practically run the city. After I discovered what he does for a living, he had no choice. I didn’t offer him any other option. No more lies, I said. So I asked him questions about you, he told me that you weren’t really keen on using your gun. You look tougher than you tuly are, he said.”

“Sounds like something he would say,” Oswald mumbles, his nerves loosening a little bit.

“But I also know that you wouldn’t hesitate to put a bullet in between’s someone’s eyes to save your life or Eddie’s. But he doesn’t know. He doesn’t need to know. He’s too caught up in his studies and in his normal life to understand that someone he loves as much as you could be potentially harmful. I closed my eyes on my brother’s criminal activities for years. And now that I know, now that I’ve seen what he can do, I’m telling you, if you tell him the truth, it will change the way he sees you. So it’s pretty simple, Oz. Either you cut it off now and you will both eventually get over it, or you tell him the truth and it’s all up to him to decide what happens to your relationship.”

At first, it runs through his veins like acid. The fact that if he wants to keep Edward, he will have to expose himself to him. All of his faults, his vices, his sins. Oswald hates this. Hates what Tabitha is implying, or maybe just the way his mind is translating her words. He feels trapped, unable to untangle himself from the mess that this whole situation is. And then, something flashes before his closed eyelids. Zsasz and Harvey together on that couch. How he knew from the way they looked at each other that they trusted each other not to become monsters.

“So, what are you gonna tell him?”

Oswald has waited a year for him, dyed his hair green for him, went back to church and prayed to a God he doesn’t fully trust for him.

“The truth.”

“So you wouldn’t mind losing him?”

Oswald doesn’t mind her hand carefully holding his, he doesn’t find it strange but rather calming, “If I lose him because of the truth, then be it. That’s how much he matters to me. I owe him the truth, Tabitha, not a sugar-coated version of reality. Does it even make sense?”

“Yeah,” and she smiles at him with the most blinding and comforting pull of her lips, “it makes perfect sense.”

Chapter Text

Gotham City, July 1997.

Edward gets out of work feeling like someone has spent the entire day beating the inside of his brain down to a pile of mush. His head hurts more than usual under the scorching sunlight. He has always thought that Gotham was a city that scarcely met the sun, but his theory has been destroyed to a pile of ashes by the particularly hot summer they’ve been experiencing this year. No matter how lightly he dresses himself, his clothes still manage to cling to his skin, ever so stubbornly.

Today was bad, and he wonders why he forces himself to work almost every weekend when he should be studying his manuals for the next academic year or at least sleep all day long and wait for something remotely exciting to happen in his very dull life. Work, sleep, work, sleep, work. Ed wonders why he didn’t drop his job when his parents asked him to come with them on their yearly grand tour of the country.

Probably because, deep down, he’s been wishing for something very specific to happen while they were away. Tabitha has been very optimistic about the fact that Oswald could and would talk to him again that Edward has been obsessed with the idea ever since she mentioned it. But it’s been three weeks already since Tabitha talked to Oswald, and there is no sign of him reaching out. Only silence, so deafening it makes him realize how bad it hurts to be unaware of Oswald’s whereabouts.

Edward understands it, though. He even thinks that he truly, fully, deeply deserves it. And every day, the same wave of emotions almost drowns him. It always starts with the longing, which makes him wonder why he even rejected him in the first place, why he kept doing it over and over until Oswald probably changed his mind at the last minute and decided he deserves better. When he stops thinking about it, for the briefest moment, it feels like he can actually keep his head out of the water, breathe a little, enjoy some long-awaited peacefulness.

But when he goes back under, the tide pushing him into the depths of his own despair, he wants to claw at his memories, destroy them, reduce them to nothingness. Because they’re all about him. All about Oswald and the way Ed always found his hands to be the coldest living things he’d ever touched. About the way Oswald used to pronounce his name, Eddie, with the slightest touch of fondness, barely audible above the surface. How it felt to be loved, the simplest thing, yet so powerful. How it hurts now to even think about the last time they exchanged words.

Edward gets on the subway, careful not to touch anything because the poles and the windows and even the seats are probably home to a thousand bacteria. He just stands next to one of the automatic doors, sulking in his corner because that’s all he can bring himself to do in public these days. People annoying him, for no specific reason. He just cannot stand their presence, nor their eyes, looking at him even when they’re not really looking at him.

He feels like everyone is aware of the way he feels inside, yet paradoxically, he’s pretty sure he’s the most invisible individual in this city. Gotham is full of fabulous people, why would anyone give him a second glance? A loser who’s unable to deal with his emotions, someone who will forever carry the weight of his secrets until he’s laid down in a grave where his worries will not matter anymore. Edward tries to stand smaller than he actually is, avoiding any chance of eye contact with the other passengers. He listens to Elton John’s ‘Honky Château’ album for the rest of the ride, mouthing the words to his favorite lyrics in order to focus on something lighter than his own thoughts.

When he gets off at his stop, twenty minutes later, his mood is still the same. Edward is nervous, every single cell in his body begging him to stop thinking. Just stop, for a moment. Let his mind rest and his body relax. Be kind to himself, for once. But Ed doesn’t know how to do that. He doesn’t know how to stop thinking about Oswald, how to go on with his life and pretend that nothing has ever happened between the two of them.

He has tried, countless times, but these attempts have done nothing to improve the situation. Edward is still deeply attached to Oswald, impossibly tied to someone he hasn’t seen in weeks. When he finally gets home, Penny celebrates by jumping on him. Ed allows himself to smile, grimacing every time she licks his face.

“Okay, okay,” he says, “I’ve missed you too.”

His dog reluctantly stops showering him with love when he gently pushes her away to take off his shoes. He sits at the bottom of the stairs for a long time, holding his head with both hands, breathing deeply. Exhaling with enough force to push all of the negative thoughts away. Maggie swears it works, but Ed doesn’t really believe in the power of meditation. He trusts logic and concrete numbers. Yet, somehow, he feels a little bit lighter every time his breath comes out of his parted lips.

It occurs to him that he has been so caught up in the act of self-destruction that he might have to force himself to get better, or otherwise he’ll be doomed. But it’s not easy. Nothing is. If things were easy, Ed would just think happy thoughts and all of his anguish would disappear in a cloud of smoke, simply getting replaced by more appealing emotions. Happiness and hope and all these things he wants to believe he’ll get to experience again, once he gets better.

He almost jumps out of his skin when his sister sits next to him, “You’re home.”

For the first time in thirteen years, Maggie chose to stay at home instead of going with their parents on their annual summer vacation. She argued that she was too grown up to go on a road trip. Edwards knows she stayed to check up on him and make sure he does not get lost in nostalgia for too long. He just nods before pressing the palm of his hands against his eyes. The pressure in his brain subsides and he focuses on her. She has grown taller, her hair wilder and now several shades of platinum blonde, dark blue and burgundy.

“Did you miss me too?” Ed says, going for light banter.

Maggie pretends to think about it, her thumb and index finger slightly pinching her chin, “Um, not really.”

Ed sighs, “You’re the nicest sister in the entire universe, you know that?”

“Yeah, I do. So, did you get to check out the mail recently?”

Ed frowns, “No, why?”

Maggie studies his features as if thinking about the best way to formulate her next sentence.

“There’s a letter for you, really fancy handwriting, really fancy envelope. It’s probably nothing important but I figured you should know. I left it in dad’s off—”

Ed doesn’t even let her finish, he just knows. So instead of wasting any time, he runs to his father’s office, scattering a pile of accumulated mail across the desk, stopping only when he notices a purple envelope, not much bigger than his hand. Inside, a single piece of paper. Not the lengthy letter he expected, but then again, Oswald doesn’t owe him anything after all of the things he has put him through.

Still, when he opens it, only to find a single piece of paper with the words “call-me” followed by a number, his heart almost misses a beat. It’s not much, really, but it’s enough. The idea that Oswald might still want to talk to him washes over Ed, wave after wave of relief. The emotion so raw it makes him dizzy with happiness and hope. Ed holds the note close to his chest, smiling to himself, completely oblivious to the fact that his sister has been calling his name for a while now.

He comes down from his little Oswald induced high when she shows up right in front of him, suspicious, “Why are you smiling like an idiot?”

“It’s—none of your business,” Ed replies, a little bit too on the defensive.

Maggie’s eyes dart to the letter, her features relaxing, “Is it from Oswald?”

Ed considers lying, for half a second, before settling for the truth, “Yes.”

“What does it say?” Maggie asks, expectantly, making her now nervous brother a mumbling mess.

“Um—it’s nothing. He just wants—I mean; you know what? It’s really none of your business,” Ed blurts out before storming out of the room, Penny still on his heels.

He goes straight to his room, chastising himself for being so flustered by just a few words scribbled on a random piece of paper. Ed sits on his bed, trying to come up with a plan and something to say if he ever finds the courage to call Oswald. After half an hour spent coming up with nothing but empty thoughts and cuddling his dog, he entirely gives up on the idea that he will be the one doing the productive talking. Surely, if Oswald wants him to call, he probably has something to say.

Ed makes the logical decision to stop stressing about it, or at least tries to. His hands start shaking from the very moment he dials Oswald’s number. He finds himself praying. The self-sabotaging part of his psyche hoping that Oswald won’t respond. He finds it strange, the way he so desperately needs him, yet always hopes for rejection and heartbreak. It’d be easier for him to deal with the mean version of Oswald, rather than the sweet and gentle one he fell in love with. Perhaps, he thinks, opposites do attract each other. But right now, fear is ruling him, and he’d rather deal with someone who acts like him, instead of being so enamored with someone so different.

He’s way past the point of denying it. If it ain’t love, Ed doesn’t want to know what it is. The longing and the restlessness. The sleepless nights spent looking at the void, or his ceiling in most cases, wondering why he always pushes Oswald away whenever he tries to get too close. The way his brain seems to be focused on one single task, over and over, Oswald’s existence, floating around in his dreams, constantly reminding Ed that he will forever be bound to him no matter how hard he tries to run away from his feelings. It gets tiring after a while.

Oswald’s voice is so soft, and he sounds so tame Ed barely recognizes it, “Hello?”

“Oswald,” Ed says.

An affirmation, his name coming out of his lips with a painful edge to it.

“So you got the letter, huh?” Oswald asks, and Ed swears he hears something different on his tone, distress perhaps.

“Yeah, I did. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be calling.”

“Why do you always have to be such a smartass about literally everything?” Oswald says.

“I don’t know. I’m nervous I guess?”

“Oh. Nervous.” Oswald ponders the word for a moment, “Well, I’m sorry if I’m making you feel this way.”

“It’s not you, Oswald,” Ed clenches his fist, wishing he hadn’t said something so stupid, a mere defensive reflex.

Oswald’s breath gets caught in his throat, the way it always does when something rubs him the wrong way, “Then what is it? Tell me, Eddie.”

Ed breathes in, closes his eyes and tries not to let Oswald hear the despair on his tone, he fails though, just like every single time Oswald pronounces his name the way he just did, “I can’t—I can’t talk about it over the phone.”

“Yeah?” Oswald’s voice goes back to neutral, “I have a proposition for you.”

“Shoot,” Ed says, so stressed out that beads of sweat start forming on his forehead.

“I wanna take you out.”

Ed’s brain short-circuits for a moment, “You mean, as in a date or you wanna kill me?”

Oswald chuckles, his laugh raw and so genuine Edward’s eyes start watering, he’s missed this way too much for it to be healthy at this point.

“Gosh, Eddie. I’m asking you on a date. No strings attached though, I don’t wanna freak you out. I just wanna talk, as friends.”

Ed doesn’t reply at first, he’s too overwhelmed by the fact that Oswald is on the other end of that line, asking him on a date. His first instinct is to flee, run away just like he always does, a coward so afraid of love he sabotages their relationship every time it starts going somewhere serious. And then the logical part of his brain kicks in. Friends, Oswald said. No commitment. Just a casual date.


Ed doesn’t need to see him to know that Oswald is wildly grinning, “Cool.”

“Where do you wanna go?”

“Um,” Oswald hesitates, “To be honest I don’t really have a plan. I figured you’d say no.”

Ed doesn’t say a word. He’s still trying to breathe in and out at regular intervals, struggling not to start bawling because he cannot believe Oswald is giving him another shot at making things right.

“You know what,” Oswald finally says, “what about I come pick you up around 7pm? It’ll give me enough time to come up with something.”

Ed glances at his alarm clock, realizing it’s only two hours from now, “Okay, fine, I’ll see you then.”

There’s a beat. Silence for eons and eons it seems like, and Ed wonders what’s going through Oswald’s mind.

Then he says, “And, Eddie?”


“Thank you.”

Edward spends the rest of the afternoon getting ready, running between the first floor’s bathroom and his room to check his reflection in the mirror every time. It is still so hot outside that he opts for a pair of denim shorts, loose-fitting, with a mid-thigh hem. As for the rest of his outfit, he’s hesitating between two almost identically plain t-shirts when Maggie knocks on the door of his room.

“What?” Ed asks, slightly irritated because Oswald is supposed to be there in 30 minutes and he still hasn’t done anything about his messy hair.

Maggie pushes the door open, not waiting for an invitation to come inside, as usual, “So you’re going on a date with Oz?”

Ed’s heart drops to his stomach, a surge of panic turning him so pale he might as well be sick, “What—what are you talking about?”

Maggie offers him a tight smile, “I just know Ed. It’s obvious.”

“What’s obvious? I don’t have time for your nonsense,” Ed says, dropping both t-shirts on the floor, facing his little sister, pure fear written all over his features.

Maggie raises her hands in front of her, a peace offering of some sort, “Hey, I’m not saying it’s wrong. You two actually look great together.”

The tension in Ed’s body releases at once, and he exhales, a distressed sob escaping his lips. Maggie doesn’t wait for him to say a word, she’s already hugging him, the top of her head reaching her brother’s chin, her face squished against his chest. Ed doesn’t really understand what’s going on. All he knows is that he’s been so afraid, so terrified that his family might find out, that he never considered the option that maybe, just maybe, they wouldn’t mind him falling for a boy.

When Maggie speaks again, her words come out muffled, “I won’t tell anyone, Eddie. I promise.”

“Thank you,” Ed says, his shaking arms wrapping around her, fighting against his desire to let himself crumble to the floor in order to let it all out.

“So, you’re going out with him tonight, right?” Maggie asks, breaking their embrace.

“Yeah. Is it okay if I leave you alone for a while? I’ll come back before 10 pm, I swear. If anything happens while I’m gone, you know where the baseball bat is, right?”

Maggie nods approvingly, “Yeah, sure. By the way, I don’t need you to protect me, you’re too much of a mess to be able to do that. And there’s Penny, she’ll bite their fucking faces off if anyone tries to hurt me.”

Ed sighs, running a hand through his hair, “What did I tell you about cursing?”

Maggie pouts, before plopping down on Ed’s bed, imitating his voice, “Wait until you’re in high school or people will think you picked up that habit from me,” she frowns, pointing an accusatory finger at her brother, “The thing is, what’s the point of knowing all these curse words if I can’t use them? You’re the one who said I should expand my vocabulary.”

Ed rolls his eyes at her, wondering how and when his little sister became smarter than him, “Gosh, you’re annoying.”

Maggie shoots him a smile, mischief written all over her features, “You know what?”


“I think,” she says, slowly, “that Oswald is probably gonna look super good tonight, he always does.”

“Yeah, he does” Ed blurts out, his cheeks burning bright pink, “I mean—yeah, I guess. So what’s your point anyway?”

“My point is,” Maggie says, “You can’t possibly show up wearing shorts and an oversized ugly ass t-shirt and hope that he’ll give you another chance. Cause I know you can do better.”

Ed doesn’t even try to argue. Maggie acknowledging out loud the fact that Oswald is giving him another chance makes his heart grow ten times bigger. He glances at his watch, opening his mouth in shock.

“Shit, he’s supposed to be here in ten minutes.”

Maggie tilts her head to one side, resembling an excited bird discovering a new shiny object for her collection, “Which means that I have ten minutes to make a proper heartthrob out of you.”

Maggie puts on the last finishing touch by wishing Ed good luck, before pushing him out of the front door and leaving him exposed to the outside world. The sun is still high in the sky, shades of orange and light blue blending in together to create one breathtaking painting. The street is silent, except for a couple of old ladies lounging on a bench, enjoying the late afternoon breeze while their tiny dogs run after each other.

Ed spots him immediately. Oswald does have a silhouette that cannot be mistaken for someone else’s. He sits against the hood of a neighbor’s car, a cloud of smoke rising above his head, resembling memories trying to escape the confines of his mind. Edward knows he’s the reason Oswald looks so tense and he already wants to apologize again and again, until he’s blue in the lips and there’s nothing left to say. But Oswald would hate it, that much he knows.

Maggie was absolutely right. Oswald does look extremely good. His green hair, now slightly dark at the roots, covers his eyes just enough to hide the expression they convey when he sees him. He’s wearing a pair of dark jeans, the fabric shredded around the left knee — Ed can tell he’s been wearing them for a long time — but they look so good on him it’s almost unfair. Edward wonders why the sight of him in these and a simple white t-shirt makes his heart flutter like a high schooler.

They’re both twenty now, yet Oswald looks so much mature. Edward wants to reach out and run a finger along his sharp jawline, feel the weight of his moody eyes against his bare skin, hear the sharp edge of his tone, soothing yet so dangerous. He feels strangely attracted to him, yet very much shaken. Not afraid, but rather humbled by his aura. Oswald doesn’t give him the opportunity to dwell on his feelings much longer.

He smiles at him, ditching the nervous look twisting his features a second before, “Hey, Eddie. It’s good to see you. I—”, Oswald grins even more at him, gesturing towards Ed’s chest with the hand that’s holding remnants of his cigarette, “I kinda dig that look on you.”

Ed doesn’t know how to act, doesn’t know what do to with himself. It’s been ten seconds and Oswald is already playing with his feelings, the worst part being that Edward knows he is not doing this on purpose. Oswald is just naturally inclined to make him feel all types of ways. And right now, he feels flattered and shy and so conflicted he’s afraid his heart is going to betray him. If only Oswald could feel how hard and fast it is beating.

His sister convinced him to wear a short-sleeved Hawaiian shirt, and even though the color is a dark shade of blue, he still doesn’t know if the flowers and tropical birds combination is a good look on him. However, she let him keep the denim shorts, so he does feel a little less out of his comfort zone. As for his hair, it’s so hot and humid outside that it’s already sticking to his skin, a few unruly curls forming here and there.

Ed realizes he hasn’t said a word yet when Oswald fully stands up, flicking the butt of his cigarette on the floor, “It’s good to see you too, Oswald. That’s your line, Eddie.”

“It’s good to see you too, Oswald” Ed finds himself repeating, still taking in the compliment he previously got, “So, where are we going?”

Oswald offers him a smug smile, before pointing to the Italian deli at the end of the street, “Right there. Theo told me they make the best sandwiches in town. And, you know, I want you to be able to run away if I say something too real for you.”

Ed doesn’t take offense, he’s too busy frowning at Oswald’s earlier words, “Theo? As in, Theo Gallavan?”

“Uh, yeah,” Oswald says, suddenly turning paler than usual, “that’s him.”

Ed tries to understand how Theo and Oswald could possibly know each other, but Oswald beats him to it, “I can tell you everything over a good glass of wine and some delicious pasta or whatever. How about that?”

Ed relaxes a little bit, following Oswald as he walks down the street. It’s such a nice evening that he’s pretty sure no amount of weird stories about Theo and Oswald’s friendship could possibly ruin it.

However, he still finds something to comment on, “I’m too young to drink.”

“Oh please,” Oswald says, eyeing him with a playful look, “you were shitfaced the first time we kissed. And they’re not gonna ask for your ID, trust me. The Italians in this city don’t really care about the law if you catch my drift.”

Edward blushes from his cheeks to his chest, and he suddenly turns even more self-conscious about the low cut of his shirt’s neck, “Yeah? How do you know that?”

Oswald tries to light another cigarette, his own version of answering a question, apparently. He fumbles with the lighter for too long. Ed can tell he’s nervous, so naturally, he reaches out, gently grabbing the lighter from Oswald’s hand, their fingers barely brushing against each other. Oswald looks up at him, his blue eyes so piercing Edward feels like the whole world truly does revolve around no one else but him. There’s a beat, during which none of them moves. Oswald waits patiently, his cigarette dangling between his lips. Ed, holds the lighter close to the cigarette, waiting for it to catch fire.

And then it does. Oswald inhales, the smoke filling his lungs, shutting his eyes, his features so beautifully relaxed it makes Edward want to worship him. Edward feels some sort of melancholy, knowing that he’s the only one staring at him so intensely, while the other people on the street walk past them without noticing how stunningly beautiful this moment is. Suspended in time. So precious he wants it to last forever. But Edward knows good things are not meant to last forever.

They just happen and then they’re gone. Oswald retrieves his lighter, and despite how much of a pessimist he is, Edward notices how he allowed his fingers to brush against his on purpose, stealing another reaction from him. This time it sends a shiver running down his spine. Oswald breathes out, parting his lips just enough to let the smoke escape his mouth. He truly does look so handsome Edward feels unworthy of his attention.

“There’s a lot we need to talk about, Eddie.”

Chapter Text

Gotham City, July 1997

As soon as Oswald sees Ed, he considers not telling him the truth. Why would he do something so careless? Something that could possibly sever the already fragile line which binds to two of them together. He knows it’s still there because from the moment Oswald lays his eyes on Ed, a fiery warmth starts rising inside of his chest, pulling him forward.

Edward’s cheekbones are sharper, it seems. His face appears to be sun-tanned, his hair shorter, probably cut by his mother or his sister. He wears a Hawaiian shirt and Oswald doesn’t allow himself to form a smile; it would betray how fond he is of him. After Ed lights up his cigarette, and their fingers brush against each other, Oswald knows he’s an idiot for even trying to think straight.

“So,” Ed says when they’re both sitting at a table, in a remote corner of the almost empty Deli, “what do you wanna talk about?”

“Gosh, Ed,” Oswald complains, aware of his scowl, “we’ve been here for literally five minutes. Don’t you wanna talk about the weather first?”

“Okay then. Let’s talk about the weather.”

Ed’s tone is one of agreement, instead of the dismissal Oswald had expected. But yet, something appears above the surface. Oswald knows a cornered man when he sees one. He would be a fool not to acknowledge the fact that Edward looks like a deer caught in headlights. Talking about the weather forever would be nice, but eventually, they’ll have to discuss more important matters. That’s the only reason Ed agreed to be here, he’s aware of that. But for now, he’ll settle for small talk.

“How’s university treating you?” he asks.

Edward’s answer is fast as lightning, “It’s okay.”

“Do you enjoy it?” Oswald raises an eyebrow at Ed, who’s too busy playing with his food to notice.

Ed nods, “I do. It’s fun to learn about stuff.”

“Did you get to make any new friends?” Oswald asks, genuinely curious.

Ed does have friends, but it’s a close circle and he rarely wanders outside of its boundaries. The last time he did so, Oswald was the object of his fascination. And now here they are, making small talk instead of holding hands and sharing the same food like two lovesick souls. Oswald internally rolls his eyes at himself. He doesn’t recall the exact moment he became so mellow and needy.

“A few. There’s this guy—,” Ed’s voice gets caught in his throat, half a second of hesitation flashes in his eyes, altering his features, “his name’s Lucius. He’s nice and smart. I guess I could call him a friend.”

Lucius. Nice and smart. Oswald’s food turns tasteless in his mouth.

He tries not to let his curiosity bleed on his tone, but the temptation is too grand, “Lucius Fox?”

“Yes, do you know him?” Ed asks, finally looking him in the eyes.

Oswald wishes he hadn’t done that; he cannot repress the anguish striking his features at the moment.

So much for small talk, “Do you like him?”

Edward parts his lips, pensively, tilting his head to one side. Oswald hates how handsome he is. He hates how he just wants him for himself, instead of letting go of him whenever Ed desires to drift away. It’s not just the looks. It’s everything and nothing all at once. He’s losing his tender grip on someone he hasn’t had the chance to fully love yet, and it’s devastating. He wishes for more time. He finds himself pleading for a sign that he hasn’t entirely lost him yet. Not so soon.

“I asked you a question, Oswald. Do you know Lucius?” Ed’s asks again, his voice barely audible.

Oswald tries to focus.

“Yeah. I do know him. We shared a few classes in high school. He’s a cool guy.”

Ed’s eyes leave a mark on Oswald’s skin, digging into his flesh, “It’s interesting.”

“What?” Oswald asks, bracing himself already.

“You know Lucius and Tabitha and even her brother, Theo. I find it interesting.”

“Yeah?” Oswald mumbles the rest of his sentence, hiding behind a glass of red wine, “Well, let me remind you that I met Tabitha because of you. Lucius, I met back in high school—”

“What about Theo? How did you meet him?” Ed interrupts.

Oswald finishes his drink hastily; some liquid courage for what he’s about to say. He truly wishes for a way to delay this conversation, but God does not listen to his mortal thoughts anymore. Oswald stopped bothering him with useless prayers a while ago anyway. He runs a hand through his hair, a nervous gesture meant to ground him, somewhat, and give him some more time to think.

And then he looks at Edward, who’s never been so patient, so calm, so ready to listen and not interrupt him for once. Oswald is not usually the nervous type, but tonight his hands are shaking and he stops touching his glass of wine, fearing it might temper with his emotions. There’s no need to hide between alcohol or fake smiles, not this time, not in front of Ed. He owes him the truth. Nothing but the truth.

So he starts with the easiest. How he came to work for Falcone when he was not even sixteen, swearing an oath he did not fully understand yet. He was aware of the rumors, of course. Everyone in Gotham city knows about them. Whispers of debts paid with blood and men separated from their families. It’s a story of pain and violence; one Ed has heard of. But now that Oswald is speaking this truth into thin air, giving it life, a tangible form, everything is different.

Oswald wants to reach out to him, but Edward is looking at him with such intensity he’s afraid he could get burned with a simple touch. By telling the truth, he might be flying to close to the sun. Is it worth it? Or will it make him regret this moment of honesty until the end of his days? Despite his fears, he keeps going. It’s easy to keep talking when you’ve already admitted that you work for someone who wreaks havoc on the city on a daily basis.

Falcone has saved Oswald’s life many times before, but he’s pretty sure Ed doesn’t care about that. All he cares about is why Oswald has made this choice. Why he works for someone who doesn’t value human life as much as he should. Oswald’s about to tell him that he has no choice, that he’s bound to this life, that even if he wants to leave this all behind, Falcone will not let go of him so easily. Oswald rarely gives himself much credit, but he knows that he’s one of Carmine’s most precious assets. He’d make a man spill all of his secrets with just the flash of a blade, a useful skill in that line of business.

Edward speaks up, interrupting him, and Oswald is startled when he asks, “Have you ever killed someone? I need to know.”

Oswald freezes for a moment, his eyes cast downward in an attempt to avoid Ed’s gaze. He barely glanced at him while he was talking, but he’s seen it written all over his face, Ed’s terror about the idea that he’s probably been intimate with a killer. It’s hard, he knows, the moment you realize everything you thought you knew about someone turns out to be a lie. But it’s not.

“Never,” Oswald says, his voice so low he barely hears his own answer.

He can hear the relief in Edward’s sigh and realizes how restless he is when he grabs for Oswald’s half-empty glass of wine and mumbles, “I’m gonna need this.”

Oswald smiles at him, something that comes from the bottom of his chest, but shy and still slightly scared of his reactions. It’s Ed, he reassures himself. He knows him. Ed is no idiot. He knew about Falcone; he just didn’t know exactly how invested Oswald was in his affairs. Now he knows.

“I wouldn’t allow myself to even be near you if ever take a life,” Oswald confesses, “I hurt people though, I threaten them, I scare them.”

Edward raises the glass to his lips, closing his eyelids in silent contempt.

“Say something,” Oswald pleads, “tell me it doesn’t matter, tell me I’m still a bad person for working with Falcone.”

Ed sets the empty glass on the table and looks at him with eyes full of something Oswald doesn’t understand yet, “You don’t work with him, you work for him.”

“Does it matter? I’m still the one he calls when he needs the truth to be beaten out of someone.”

Ed’s jaw sets tight, Oswald’s afraid he might snap at any moment, “Do you enjoy it?”

Oswald simply shakes his head. He does not. It takes hours to get the blood out of his hair and skin. And the noise. The sound a baseball bat makes when it hits flesh and bone, the screams of pain and distress echoing through the night. All of these details, carved into his memory forever. Oswald does not enjoy it, yet he still does it. He’s learned to think about it as part of his job, nothing more, nothing less. But sometimes, he finds himself thinking that maybe one day he’ll get so used to the violence and the blood that he might fall for it.

“I suppose you can’t give Falcone your resignation?” Ed asks, probably already knowing the answer.

“I can’t,” Oswald says, looking up to meet his eyes, “Falcone won’t let go of me so easily. I have tried, trust me.”

Ed looks frustrated, he grimaces in disgust, his features turning sour, “Mh, I see.”

Oswald frowns, his fingers playing with the empty glass of wine, “What’s on your mind, Eddie?”

Ed doesn’t reply. A waiter comes over and asks if they need anything else. Ed politely asks for the tab, goes to pay for it at the counter and doesn’t wait for Oswald to follow. He’s out the door in a matter of seconds. Oswald’s face burns bright with incomprehension and he’s surprised to find him waiting outside. Ed stands on the sidewalk, outlined by the moon that is now high in the sky, the stars barely visible because of the pollution and lights coming from the city. Oswald is so used to the nightlife that he’s not surprised by the number of people now walking down the street. The summer heat is so harsh during the day that everyone seeks out the freshness of the night.

There is laughter, groups of friends whistling at cabs and two GCPD officers running after a bunch of pickpockets. It’s loud and messy and Oswald loves it. Gotham is beautiful and wild and so chaotic and there’s nothing secret about it anymore. And then there is Ed, whom he doesn’t fully understand yet. Calm and peaceful as a river at times, fierce and troubled as a storm when life’s too harsh with him. Yet Oswald longs for him in a way he’s never longed for another man before.

“Talk to me,” Oswald says, a plea more to himself than anyone else.

Ed looks at him, a hint of pity flashing past his eyes. Oswald’s breath gets caught in his lungs, waiting for an answer. Edward only offers him a few words.

“Walk me home?”

He feels dumbstruck, “Walk you home?”

“Yeah, it’s down the block, remember? The house with the blue front door.”

Oswald fumbles for a cigarette, trying to steal time in order to look less like an idiot and more like a functioning human being, “So you don’t—you don’t hate me?”

“You make it really hard for me to hate you,” Edward deadpans, and Oswald drops his cigarette to the floor, fingers still shaking from the shock of not being rejected.

“Fuck,” he whispers, watching it disappear into a nasty hole in the sidewalk.

Edward grabs the pack of cigarettes from his hands, and Oswald doesn’t protest when he hides it in the back pocket of his denim shorts, “I’ll give it back to you, I promise.”

“Fine”, Oswald says, a grin pulling at his lips, “I’ll walk you home.”

It’s a quick walk from the Deli to Edward’s house, and Oswald wishes he could stretch time over and over just to spend more of it with him, walking in silence and basking in the city lights. But soon, they’re facing the blue door and Oswald is struck with only one question. One he’s been asking himself during the entire walk back.

“Are we done, then?” he asks, his eyes cautiously avoiding Edward’s.

Ed let’s out a sound, between a laugh and a sigh, “You can be so dense sometimes.”

Oswald doesn’t quite get it, “Elaborate.”

“We should probably get inside,” Edward says.

“Your family’s home, I’d rather talk here,” Oswald protests.

“There’s only Maggie, my parents are halfway across the country.”

Oswald shakes his head no, “I don’t want to go in. Can we do this here, please?”

Edward stands still, watching him, and Oswald does not meet his eyes.

“I get it,” Edward says, “the last time you were inside, I acted like a moron.”

Oswald freezes. He’s having a hard time reading the expression on Ed’s face. The light coming from the streetlamp does not fall on is features, his head is hanging low and Oswald understands that he is actually being remorseful. That’s half an apology, so he takes it.

“It’s fine. I just told you that I beat the shit out of people for a living, I think I’m the one who gets the asshole of the month crown no matter what you did in the past,” Oswald says, ready to leave it at that.

Ed looks at him, face full of confusion, “Is that what you asked me on a date? To tell me that you work for Falcone?”

“Yes. I just wanted to tell you the truth. I did.”

“And—that’s it? That’s all you have to say?”

Oswald nods, not sure exactly what Ed wants him to say. Of course, he’s still madly in love with him, but he will not say a word of it out loud, his heart would not bear the shock of being rejected once more.

He forces a smile, “We can see each other another time. We can still be friends, you know. Zsasz is throwing a party next weekend, I’ll probably—”

Edward sobs and everything comes out rushed, “Please, don’t. I need you right now. Not next week, not tomorrow. I need you now, Oswald. So will you please just stay for a moment?”

It’s asked so nicely that Oswald considers staying on that front porch forever. Edward sits on the stairs, so he does the same. There’s silence and he does not break it. Oswald’s mind pleads for another cigarette but it would be much too distracting. His heart is focused on Edward anyway, who does not move, save for the way he keeps biting on his lower lip, a nervous habit Oswald hadn’t noticed before. He wants to reach out and ease his mind with a simple touch. Tell him that he doesn’t need to think so hard about anything.

“Eddie,” his voice is soft, feather-like, “talk to me.”

But Ed keeps biting his lip, over and over, and Oswald reaches out at last, tentatively, so very carefully. His left-hand finds a way through Ed’s curls, his fingers soothing and caring and so tender, just the way it’s supposed to be between them. Ed is used to this. He’s used to the intimacy, used to the way Oswald would simply just run his fingers along his arm and his jawline and the nape of his neck whenever he got too nervous. A gesture full of comfort, something so safe he knows Oswald would never push him out of his comfort zone.

So Oswald does it again and again until Ed stops shivering, “Feeling better?”

Ed nods, his voice a mere whisper, “I’m so sorry.”

He sobs, again, and Oswald wants to beg him to stop, he's not sure his heart can take that any longer, “About what?”


It’s a confession. Something that comes from within Ed, Oswald can feel it on his fingertips, where skin touches skin and his nerves end up picking on the slightest movement from the other. His fingers play with Ed’s hair, still, but his mind is far away. He’d figured Edward was always too proud to apologize for the pain and the longing he’s been putting him through. But then again, he doesn’t owe him anything. If he truly doesn’t love him, Oswald wouldn’t mind it.

He says it just to break the ice, just to stop himself from wondering and because Ed looks like he’s going to be sick, and he recognizes the symptoms, “You’re in love with me, aren’t you?”

Ed’s shifts under his palm, a second later Oswald’s pretty sure it was just a figment of his imagination. He does not stop touching him though. Doesn’t want to because Ed looks at him with heavy eyes and it makes him want to hold on to him for the rest of the evening. Then Ed nods, slightly, something so shy and quick Oswald doesn’t trust his eyes. He’s going to need verbal confirmation, otherwise, he will go insane trying to convince himself that he did not dream that moment.

“Are you in love with me, Eddie?”

Ed doesn’t reply. He stops biting his lip, gives himself some time to close his eyes and breathe. In and out. Slow and steady, while Oswald looks at him, studying the curve of his neck, the way his hair falls on his forehead, his eyes, so lost he just wants to hug the sadness out of him. Ed looks fragile, yet determined to give him an answer when he finally tilts his head sideways to look at him. He doesn’t look lost anymore and he allows himself to get a little bit closer, just enough for Oswald to be able to read the answer on his lips.

“I am.”

Oswald’s not sure he’s heard him properly, “What?”

Edward chuckles, something light and breezy. Oswald tries to focus. His mind running wild with a thousand questions. Ed gets closer now; Oswald can almost taste his relief. He does love him. It’s out in the open. Tonight seems a lot less somber. Oswald was prepared for heartbreak and pain and despair, and now he’s overcome with joy. Edward loves him. He loves him and this time he does not run away from him. He’s close enough now for Oswald to get back on earth, where he belongs, right next to him.

“I’m in love with you,” Ed repeats, and Oswald’s breath catches in his lungs.

Ed frowns, confused by his silence, “What’s the matter? It’s too late isn’t it? If you don’t me anymore, if it’s too late, I’ll understand. But please, Ozzie, just say it. Just say you don’t love me.”

Oswald barely registers those words, they just hang in the air, his mind focuses on Edward’s lips and the way they move again and again. It’s a confession, a lovely one, but he’s too lovesick to comprehend what Ed’s trying to tell him. It’s Ed’s turn to reach out now, his hand gently cupping the side of his face, sending shivers down Oswald’s spine.

“Wanna know something?” he asks, sounding desperate.

Oswald’s voice is so weak he doesn’t recognize it, “Tell me.”

Ed’s smile is full of mischief, “I wasn’t drunk the first time we kissed. I was perfectly sober. I just—I wanted to kiss you.”

“Because you wanted to know what it felt like to kiss a boy. That’s why you kissed me. You were curious and—”

Ed’s smile turns into a frown, “That’s not true.”

“Then what was it?” Oswald asks, still in a daze.

“I didn’t want to kiss a boy. I wanted to kiss you, Oswald. You. Do you even understand what I’m saying?”

Oswald nods, but his mind’s still so clouded he doesn’t really know what he’s just heard, “So you mean—you’re saying that—”

“I was already in love with you back then. I was just too stupid to figure it out.”

Edward gets closer still and Oswald tries to focus on him. He’s missed this, the way Ed runs his thumb over his lips; a taste of what’s to come. He smells like apples and mint and hairspray. Oswald smiles at this, smiles at him because he slowly starts to understand that this is all true. Ed loves him, that’s a fact. No amount of denial will ever change that. There’s no need to dwell on it. Edward doesn’t give him the chance to do so, anyway.

He’s already leaning in, impossibly close to his lips, his breath ghosting over Oswald’s skin. It’s not their first kiss, there’s no need to fret, but they’re both nervous. Something breaks the moment as quickly as it has started. A car passes by, a reminder that they are not alone on this earth. Oswald only has time to feel Ed’s lips for a half a second against is before he finds himself putting his palm against the other’s chest, stopping him despite the need and want dancing in his chest.

He clears his throat, “I don’t think we should do this in public.”

Ed’s fingers abruptly stop moving again his jawline.

He sounds so hurt, “This is so unfair.”

“I know,” Oswald simply says, “I know.”

His hand gently grabs Ed’s to hold it, a gesture full of affection. It is unfair.

Ed checks his watch, he looks disappointed, “I promised Maggie I’d be home early.”

“I get it,” Oswald says, offering him a smile, “Go home, I have to be somewhere.”

“Where?” Ed asks, curious.

“Falcone asked me to get something for him downtown,” his eyes still linger on Ed’s lips.

“Will you call me?”

“I will.”

“Will you be safe?” Edward asks, leaving a kiss on Oswald’s wrist.

“I will be, Eddie.”

“You promise?”

Oswald draws in a breath, “I promise.”

Oswald’s heart is still beating fast long after Ed’s gone. His mind’s full of him, the softness of his lips, his cleverness and everything that makes Oswald so very fond of Ed. The rest of the night passes by like a dream. The violence seems so distant now, even when he’s the one inflicting it on others. Theo taunts him, says he’s never seen him so distracted before. Oswald tries to laugh it off, but he knows it’s probably written all over his features anyway. Being in love in this line of duty is a danger, but he doesn’t care about the risks. For now, he’s just foolishly playing that game, looking back would be madness.