The snow had melted away and the skies had brightened as weak winter sun shone through before the inevitable rain clouds returned to darken Gotham City. It wasn't the harshest of winters, but there was more than enough rain to go along with the chilly wind that served as a sharp reminder that the hardest season of the year was still in force. And for Oswald Cobblepot, the chill outside, so easily shut out by the warmth of the mansion, only served to remind him that while he was warm and comfortable and lucky enough to have good health, Jax Sterling was about to face the biggest struggle of his life. Jax had recently started treatment to try and destroy the toxin that had leaked into his bloodstream. He had visited him the day before, and Jax had seemed well and in good spirits, but underneath that, Oswald had noticed how he had shivered as the front door had closed and he had felt the icy breath of winter all the way to his bones. In that moment, he had realised just how fragile Jax was under the surface. And he was afraid of losing not only his General but a dear friend, too...
Oswald limped over to the window, looking down from the window to the driveway, outside the trees were bare and the rain had just stopped falling. And soon, Julian would be on his way back from his morning run. He went out in all weathers, he ran every day, he used the treadmill every evening. The more he exercised, the steadier those unstable pathways in his damaged mind became. Julian had a great body, too. He and Molly couldn't keep their hands off him. But these days he had a heavy workload, now he was mayor of Gotham. But he still made time for him and Molly, and he was usually awake before either of them, and more than willing to share kisses with them both as the three of them shared the same bed and their love for one another. But this morning the weather was icy and he wasn't surprised Julian had got up quietly without waking them to get his run over and done with quickly.
Molly was still sleeping. Oswald turned from the window and looked at his wife, lying on her side with her dark hair fanned out over the pillow as she slept deeply. She was every bit as beautiful as the day they had first met.
As he leaned over her and whispered her name, Molly turned on her back and opened her eyes. Her green gaze looking into his icy blue as she smiled made him smile, too.
“What time is it?” she murmured.
“Seven am. The kids are not up yet. But I am and Julian had gone out for his morning run.”
“Seven?” Molly sat up, blinking away sleep.
“I should get up -”
“No, you rest, my dear – I'll bring you tea in bed this morning. And then I have business to attend to.”
Molly thought about it and then remembered:
Oh yes, with Jax off work now, all of the duties that fell to both his Generals would be in the hands of Josh, and Oswald also had plans to hire a brilliant young recruit, who would need to be trained and he wanted Josh to do that, too... Josh wasn't yet aware of these plans, either - but today, he would be - and apparently, this brilliant young guy who would be an asset to Oswald's army was also more than a little wild, too...
Then she heard Cain cross the hallway as a door opened, and he called out, Don't slam it, Felix! As the door slammed loudly as his younger brother ran up the hall.
“I should get up,” Molly insisted, “I can't sleep in late with four kids about to get up!”
Molly got up and put on her dressing gown.
“Three younger kids,” he reminded her, “Cain is seventeen.”
“And Luna is a very sensible ten year old, but Felix and Lucy are six and five and Luna won't stop in the mornings to help because she likes to get organised for school - and Cain's always in a hurry. This is why I need to get up!” she reminded him, then she briefly leaned in, kissing her husband fondly, then Molly left the room to help the younger kids get up and ready for breakfast and then school.
Oswald checked his watch and decided not to call Josh just yet. His younger General would still be waking up, he wasn't expected at the house until ten thirty. Oswald hoped a nice late start to the morning would help to sweeten the news that he would be training up his new recruit – starting today.
Oswald left the bedroom in time to catch Felix running for the stairs as Molly called out, Don't run!
“Slow down, son,” Oswald reminded him.
His energetic young son smiled up at him.
“Sorry, Daddy!” he replied, then he walked towards the stairs and went down carefully.
Molly was walking down the hallway with Lucy, and as Julian came up the stairs still flushed and slightly breathless from his run, he told her he would see her at breakfast. Then Oswald watched, waiting close to the bedroom door as he watched Julian take off a rain spattered sweat shirt, and as their eyes met, Julian smiled.
“It's all coming off!” he said playfully as he went into the bedroom.
“Now that's an offer I can't refuse!” Oswald told him, and followed him inside and closed the door behind them as he paused to slide the bolt across, locking the door from the inside.
While Molly was downstairs with the kids, she couldn't help but smile as she heard Lucy say, Where's Daddy?
“He will be downstairs soon,” Molly told her as she carried on cooking breakfast for the kids. She had turned her head as Julian had passed her on the stairs and caught the smile he had given Oswald... her chubby Penguin and their Julian would be a little late for breakfast that morning...
Upstairs, as Julian stripped off a shirt soaked in sweat, Oswald reached for him, placing his hands on his shoulders as he pushed him on to the bed. Julian's eyes darkened with instant desire as Oswald sat down on the bed, then leaned over him as he ran his hand over his hair and their gaze locked.
“It's good to see you've been taking care of yourself, Mr Lambrick. But I do think you need an appointment with Doctor Oswald very soon... just be sure you're okay.”
Julian's eyes shone with excitement as he took in a heavy breath.
“Yes, I definitely need that!”
Oswald leaned closer, his lips brushing his cheek as he spoke in a low voice.
“What do you need, Julian?”
“I need you, Doctor Cobblepot.”
“You need me to do what, Julian?”
“Say it louder!” Oswald commanded.
“Use me!” Julian said again as he started to blush and ache for Oswald's dominance at the same time.
Oswald gently kissed him as he slid a hand down his body, giving his cock a sharp squeeze that made Julian jump as he drew back, his eyes reflecting that dark desire and need for dominance once more.
“Oh, I will use you, Julian,” Oswald said in a low voice, “This afternoon. After I've concluded my business for the day. You will leave the mayor's office at one pm. Tell your staff you have an appointment with your doctor.”
Julian laughed as he slid his hand up the back of Oswald's neck, then through his hair as he ached and longed for the morning to be gone so he could be in their playroom, restrained and at Oswald's mercy.
“I hope Nurse Molly will be there.”
“She will definitely be there,” Oswald replied, then he leaned in again, kissed him and deliberately pulled back, leaving him wanting more.
“Okay, Mayor Lambrick,” he added, “Time for you to get ready for work. I'll see you downstairs.”
Julian gave a groan.
“Don't leave me with a hard on!”
Oswald got up and headed for the door, then unlocked it and looked back as Julian looked up from the bed where he was still on his back, his legs parted.
“No jerking off. Save your come for Molly and I,” he told him, “Or Doctor Oswald might have to teach you a hard lesson this afternoon. There will be consequences!”
“I think I may want to disobey that order!”
“I sincerely hope you do!” Oswald told him with a wink, then he left the room.
Julian got up and went straight to the bathroom. Moments later he was under the water and jerking hard and fast at the thought of what would happen that afternoon. As his come erupted white and hot and the water washed it away, he was leaning against the tiled wall, thinking about everything Oswald had said. He had never wanted a morning to pass so quickly, so the afternoon would hurry up and arrive...
The rain was falling again as Molly left that morning to take the kids to school. Oswald went to his study with some hot tea, sat down at his desk and then made a call to Josh. It rang twice and Josh picked up.
“Good morning, sir! I'm on my way in an hour – or do you need me right now?”
Oswald leaned back against the comfortable padding of his seat as he gave his reply.
“No need to rush, just be here at ten thirty. And by the way, I have a special job for you, Josh.”
There was a pause.
“You do? Well thank you, sir. I don't doubt this is another duty I'm taking over from Jax, and I'm more than happy to do so.”
“Actually,” Oswald replied, “This is a job I would usually give to Mr Sterling, but as he's off sick, I'm handing it to you – and I also think you may be more suited to this task than Jax.”
“Really?” Josh said in surprise, “Why is that, sir?”
“Because a brilliant new recruit has come to my attention. His name is Ronny Lee Riley. He's very young, a crack shot and a skilled driver, he's smart and has a lot of potential to become assistant to you and to Jax – I am of course hoping Jax will recover and return to work eventually. We have to assume at this stage that he will – to think otherwise would be too painful. We must remain positive.”
“Yes,” Josh agreed, “I'm hopeful for Jax, too. But on the subject of this new guy – what does he need, basic training?”
“I want you to give him hands on experience working at your side. But he needs to learn what it takes to work for me, Josh. He's eighteen years old and he's wild. You need to tame him for me.”
“I'll do my best, sir.”
“I'm sure you will. And I'll see you at ten thirty.”
As Oswald ended the call he reached for his tea, smiling at the thought that Josh would have this situation easily handled. Young Ronny would soon learn what it took to be a part of his team...
Josh told Selina about training the new recruit as he got ready to leave that morning. She was standing there in figure hugging, dark clothing, but she wasn't in the leathers that drove him wild like she wore in the old days. She had returned from taking Maria to school, then she had made coffee and gone upstairs to find Josh putting on his suit as he told her all about Oswald's phone call. She listened, her bright eyes shining as she smiled, and she kept on giving him that bewitching smile as he straightened his tie – it was so distracting he had to turn to back to the mirror and straighten it it again, and as she stood there, she suddenly spoke up.
“I have a new assignment for you too.”
Josh was ready to leave as he turned from the mirror and looked at her in surprise.
“What do you mean, Selina?”
She stepped closer and slid her arms around him, something magical dancing there in her eyes as she gathered her thoughts.
“I was going to tell you while Ivy was here, then I decided I'd wait until it was just the two of us, and then we could tell her together...” she smiled, pausing again as she saw the confused look on his face, “And I know you have a heavy workload now Jax is sick and that's fine, I know you can handle this... So I have a very important assignment for you, too, Josh... Nine months from now, you're going to be a father of two instead of one! I think you're ready for this!”
He stared at her. The words were sinking in. She saw him start to smile and then pulled him closer.
“Yes!” she said, giving a little squeal of delight.
“That's wonderful!” Josh held her tightly and kissed her, fighting back tears of joy. It had certainly been a challenge, trying for a second child while Jax had just gone off long term sick and his workload had increased meaning late nights and early starts - and now he had a new recruit to train too... But at this moment, none of that mattered as he kissed her and then looked into her eyes. He was smiling, he felt like he had just won the lottery. He had a great job, his own home, no money worries – and most of all, he had Selina. And now they would have two children! A brother or sister for Maria.
I'm the luckiest guy in the world! Ran through his mind as he looked at his wife and wanted to do nothing more than stay home all day, making love with her to celebrate the wonderful news.
But he had to leave for work.
“I'm sorry I have to work today,” he said as he remembered he couldn't let Oswald down.
“I know, and that's okay!” she reminded him, “We have tonight, Josh.”
The time was moving on. He knew he had to leave. He leaned in, kissing her again.
“I love you both. I'll see you tonight.”
Selina's eyes sparkled as she smiled.
“We'll be waiting for you, Daddy!”
Josh laughed as he turned for the door, feeling sure he would have a smile on his face all day long. He left the house in a daze of happiness as he headed for his car.
The drive up to the mansion was a good one. The rain had stopped, the sun had broken through the clouds and it was shining down on the city making the buildings catch the rays just like it shimmered brightlyon the calm waters of the Gotham river. And Josh was still smiling as he thought of Selina's good news. He had left early in case the traffic was bad, but today it was a straight run and he had time to spare. Then he slowed the car, waiting for the lights to change. A car pulled up along side him and revved the engine several times. Josh turned his head, saw a gleaming black sports car and as the driver slid down his window, Josh did the same.
“You work for Oswald Cobblepot, you're his General, I've seen you on TV.”
Josh smiled as he he looked at the young man in the sports car. He was in his late teens, his dark hair was partly combed back but fell unruly over his brow as his dark eyes regarded him intently. He wore a leather jacket and as the wind shifted direction, he caught a hint of not so subtle aftershave in the air – costly, but he couldn't quite define the brand. Then the guy spoke up again.
“Thanks,” Josh replied. He had been expecting what was sometimes said when he was recognised in public, Good work, General, or I support the underworld. You all do a great job...
But he didn't say anything like that.
“It is a nice car. But mine is faster.”
Josh looked to the lights then back at the driver.
“What?” he said in surprise. He wasn't used to a stranger seeing the crest on his tie and being anything less that appreciative or respectful of what it stood for...
The young man spoke again.
“I guess Mr Penguin only employs the best. So you must have great driving skills.”
“What's this about?” Josh said as he glanced at him.
The guy smirked as he indicated to the lights.
“We go straight across, turn off and head up to the peak. All the way to Dead Man's Hilltop. Right to the end of Wreck Alley. I know I can beat you.”
The lights were about to change. Josh shook his head.
“No, I can't do that. I work for Mr Penguin, you're challenging the wrong guy.”
As he said that, he thought about the challenge – it was notorious for accidents up there... but just a short drive from the mansion, too...
No, he couldn't take a risk like that.
But he took risks when duty demanded it...
No, he was decided. Not today...
“You don't have the guts?” the guy asked him.
“It's a dumb idea. No thank you.”
The young guy smirked.
“I'm really surprised the Penguin employed a pussy for a General.”
Josh glared at him.
“What did you just -”
“Pussy!” he said again as the lights changed, and flipped a middle finger. The engine fired up and he was across the lights like a blur.
“He called me a fucking pussy and flipped the finger?” Josh fumed.
He shot across the lights, catching up with the car as they turned off the highway. As the two cars headed up the road and towards the lane that was a steady uphill climb all the way to the top, Josh knew he had the skills to handle this. He also knew he was fuming at the young guy who had been so disrespectful to the underworld. People just didn't talk like that Penguin's men and get away with it...
They passed the road that led to the mansion. The hill was climbing. The black sports car was ahead of him. Josh sped up as the skeletal trees either side of the road became a blur. He wanted to do this, but he was worried. He had heard about this stretch of road that led to nothing but a dead end. He had never accepted a challenge like this before, either...
He was level with the car, then it inched ahead as he tried to gain speed but the sharp turn that led to the end was in sight in the distance now.
Selina. Maria. The new baby.
What the hell am I doing?
It all ran through his head as he slowed the car and braked, then he watched, wide eyed as the young guy in the black car sped towards the sharp turn. He slammed on the brakes as tires squealed, then took a turn that was half a skid, as the car disappeared from sight and Josh waited for the impact. This guy was crazy...
There was no impact.
Moments later, the car had turned around and drove a short distance back down the road, then flashed its headlights at him.
“Ass hole!” Josh muttered, then he reversed his car and drove away, heading for the mansion.
On the other side of town, as Jax Sterling sat at home in his favourite armchair, the needle River had set into his arm was burning a little as the fluid slowly fed into his blood stream. But so far, he felt able to handle this easily. He had recently started his treatment, and the first phase was intravenous and could be given at home. Carol had made tea and set it on the table, paused to grasp his hand, then she had taken a seat close by as River sat on the sofa, talking to Jax.
“You'll need this first step of the treatment every day for three hours, for ten days. This is the easy part and you may get headaches and feel tired, but it should be simple to handle. Then the second part is simple too – you'll come to the clinic and the solution in your body will be activated by a powerful light that will wake it up. That's when you'll start to feel worse than the toxin makes you feel. But the hardest part is the third phase. After the solution is activated, I will put an implant in your shoulder. That will give out a daily dose of the powerful stuff that makes the anti toxin seek out the poison and kick its ass. It will also kick yours, Jax.”
As she said that, Jax looked at her calmly.
“I'm ready for this,” he told her, “I've seen two of Oswald's men go through the same. One survived, the other did not. I'm under no illusion. I know how hard this will be.”
“We both know,” Carol added quietly as she twisted the diamond engagement ring on her finger, looking at Jax, who sat there with his shirt sleeve rolled up as the drugs were pumped into his body. He still looked as he always did, strong and more than a little chubby with a look in his eyes that said he feared nothing. But he had told her about the risks of connection fluid leaking, he had seen two former employees with robotic limbs go through the same. He had told her, he expected this to get rough and she didn't doubt that it would...
River spoke again.
“Once the implant is in place it can't be removed until six weeks are up, because the two agents together have to burn themselves out. At the end of that time, there's a good chance the toxin will be eliminated. If it's not, we can try other drugs to counteract the worst of the symptoms and hopefully keep you going for a while, but this treatment is your only real hope. I want you to remember that when it gets rough. And I need to talk to you about the third phase, about the pain levels you will experience with the implant.”
Jax gave a sigh.
“River, I'm fully aware of what this will be like. And before you ask, I do not want morphine. It's common knowledge I was a heroin addict in my youth. I want mild to moderate pain relief only.”
River gathered up her paperwork and put it in her bag.
“Jax, the pain will get heavy. And if you're weak, and you can't handle it, you could die. At least agree to effective handling if you hit a crisis point.”
Jax looked at Carol, knowing in a heartbeat it would not be fair to force her to choose for him if it came to it.
“Only if my life depends on it,” he replied, “For the rest, I will endure.”
“I was afraid you might say that,” River replied.
Jax looked at her with a hint of apology in his eyes.
“I realise you know what's best as a specialist, River – you know what's best for me medically - and I'm determined it do this the best way for me personally. I'm thinking about the chance of recovery and a future. Don't underestimate how strong I am, or how much pain I can tolerate. I'll soon let you know if I'm struggling.”
As he said that, he looked at Carol, who managed a smile as she looked in admiration at Jax. Her heart ached for him, but all she could do was be there and support him and hope that he made it through this ordeal. He seemed to know she was thinking that as he saw the look in her eyes and spoke up again.
“I'll get through this,” he told her, “Don't worry, dear. I've decided, I'm going to get over this thing, and then we can get on with life. I believe I can do it.”
I hope you're right, River thought silently as she said nothing in reply as Carol and Jax began to speak as he sat there and the drug fed into his body. This was a huge gamble and he knew it – the survival rate for cleaning out this kind of toxin was not great, but if anyone could beat this, River was hopeful Jax was the one to do it.
As Josh parked his car outside the mansion, Oswald opened up the door, leaning lightly on his cane as he limped out to meet him. Josh switched off the engine, got out of the car and as he joined Oswald, he had a smile on his face again.
“Good morning, Josh,” said Oswald, “I'm expecting Mr Riley to show up soon...” he checked his watch, “He's a little late...”
“So what exactly do you want me to teach him?” Josh asked.
“How to be the kind of gentleman I am willing to employ,” Oswald replied, “You're perfect for this task, you're younger than Jax, I'm sure Ronny will get along with you very well. Had Jax been here, he may have gone a little too hard on him – but you can take a more brotherly approach. But don't let him get away with mistakes, don't be too easy on him... Here he is now!”
Oswald turned to the gates as a familiar looking black sports car rolled in. Josh stared at the car, then at the driver – it was the same guy who had challenged him to the race. As the car stopped, Ronny looked over at Oswald, recognised Josh and muttered Oh shit, as he paused to whip a comb from his jacket and comb his hair in the mirror, then he got out of the car and walked over with a swagger and all the attitude of James Dean.
“You must be Mr Penguin!”
Ronny held out his hand, Oswald accepted, and as they shook hands, Ronny avoided looking at Josh.
“Josh,” said Oswald, “This is Ronny Lee Riley – Ronny, I'm sure you've seen Josh in the news, he's the younger of my two Generals and I've asked him to take on the task of training you.”
Ronny let go of Oswald's hand, his face turning scarlet as he looked to Josh. Oswald had told him he would be handing his training to a trusted member of staff, but he had never imagined one of his Generals would be doing it – least of all Josh, who had offended and then left behind in a cloud of dust on the deadliest stretch of road in the city...
“Wow... I didn't think l'd be working for you, sir!”
“Well, you are,” Josh told him, briefly shaking his hand, “And this will certainly be interesting!”
Back at Jax Sterling's place, River had already left. She had checked Jax over, confirmed he was doing okay and left Carol with instruction for removing the IV and watching out for side effects. Now it was just the two of them, Carol took care of the line in his arm as Jax got up cautiously, feeling the room spin for a moment, then he moved over to the sofa, where he sat back, giving a sigh as Carol sat beside him. Her hand closed over his and as she turned her head, he met her gaze.
“Don't worry so much,” he said softly, “I've been through worse, Carol.”
As she looked into his dark eyes, she noticed he looked tired. His arm was bruised from the needles, and he was already feeling dizzy from the first phase of the treatment.
“What could possibly be worse than this?” she asked him, “You've seen it first hand. You told me, a few years back, you visited two of Oswald's people before they died because robotic connections leaked... you said it was a terrible way to go!”
“One of them died,” Jax reminded her, “The other lived. And many years before that, I went through the worst pain I'll ever know, when I was a thief and a drug addict... Oswald said he'd give me a chance, a new life, a job – if I got clean. So I came off the heroin. I went cold turkey because I wanted to remember that trash I'd put in my body had caused me pain. And I never went back to it, Carol. There are worse things in this world that taking the cure for connection fluid poisoning. I think River underestimates that too – she doesn't know first hand the agony, the sheer horror of coming off heroin. Addiction is a complicated beast – everyone's monster is different. But I slayed my dragon. And if I can beat that, I can certainly beat this too.”
She said nothing for a moment as her hand tightened in his grip.
“I believe you can,” she told him.
Jax leaned closer, briefly kissed her and then pulled back as he let go of her hand.
“Some more tea would be nice while I sit here for the next hour.”
Carol smiled as she got up, lifting the tray from the table. As she left the room, Jax looked to the line that ran into his arm, thought about the agony he had seen others suffer when robotic tech went wrong, and refused to give in to the flicker of fear that knotted tight in his guts. He couldn't think about dying, he had Alicia and Carol, he had too many reasons to live to even think for a moment that he might not make it through this...
Back at the mansion, Oswald had led Josh and Ronny through to the study, where he sat at his desk as Josh took a comfortable seat by the window and Ronny sat the other side of the desk, slumped casually in the chair as he unzipped his leather jacket. Oswald had started to talk to him about his impressive gun skills and his driving skills, too. Ronny smiled and nodded, pride shining in his gaze as he agreed that yes, he was a great shot and could easily handle a fast car.
“But you could sit up straight while I'm addressing you!” Oswald added sharply.
Ronny sat up, looking across the desk at Oswald.
“You are expected to reflect the values of the underworld while you are out with Josh. That means no pausing to preen in the mirror to check your hair and no swaggering around like you have the largest penis in the city, do I make myself clear?”
Oswald had said it so seriously. Ronny looked away as he laughed, but when he looked back, Oswald was glaring at him. Josh looked on saying nothing. The kid would soon learn...
“I do not have the biggest cock in Gotham!” he exclaimed, “Oswald - Mr Penguin, sir – I don't think about the size of my prick. Size doesn't matter. It's what you do with it, right?”
Oswald's glare intensified.
“NO foul language is allowed, Ronny! We do not say cock or prick, we say penis – if we must use the word! And while I'm on the subject, NO cussing is permitted while you wear the suit of an underworld man. You're going to learn how to be a gentleman, Mr Riley! Now... do you have any questions before I send you off to observe Josh as he goes about his day?”
Ronny leaned back against his chair.
“When do I get a suit and a tie with the umbrella on it?”
“When you've earned the right to wear it with pride,” Oswald replied.
Ronny slowly nodded. Then he paused for thought.
“Sir, I couldn't help but notice there's a severe lack of girls around here – I noticed a female guard at the gate, but that's your security staff. I was hoping I'd meet plenty of women when I join your elite squad.”
Oswald had reached of his tea. He drew his hand back and looked sharply at Ronny.
“While you are on duty you will show females the same respect you would show my late mother!” he told him, indicating to the portrait on the wall, “That means no flirting! And while I employ male and female security staff, I do not employ women in my army.”
“That sounds a bit...behind the times,” said Ronny, and he spread his legs wider, giving his balls a casual scratch through the fabric of his jeans.
Oswald's eyes widened as his face flushed with anger.
“Stop that! Sit like a gentleman and have the respect to not scratch your balls in my presence, young man!”
“Sorry, sir,” Ronny said, sounding anything but, then he looked intently at Oswald.
“You don't employ women to fight for you? In this modern age? I'm sorry, I just don't get it.”
Oswald fell silent for a moment as he gathered his thoughts. Clearly, this young man had a lot to learn if he wanted to land the job, but maybe if he explained his reasons, Ronny would start to realise the sacrifices his people had made over the years to help secure the underworld and make it what it was today...
“The year before I met my wife Molly,” he said, “There was a shooting – an attempt on my life. A female bodyguard was killed. She left behind a husband and children. That made me decide, I would not put mothers in the line of fire, from then on, my bodyguards would be male. But I still employed women in my army, Ronny... until something else happened that same year...”
As he spoke in a hushed voice, Josh looked on, knowing what he was about to say. He was about to speak of a tragedy that he had heard about long ago. It was a terrible story, and after hearing it, he was sure Ronny would fully understand Oswald's reasons.
“One of my finest people was a lady named Cassandra Collins,” he said, “Cassie was beautiful and smart and one of my best operatives. We had serious trouble with a rival gang who wanted to undermine my position of power. They made an attempt on my life, it was in a public place and shots were fired and sadly some civilians were killed, along with two of my men and a member of the GCPD. I had to take the matter in hand, sending my best people out to track down this gang and their leader.”
Ronny was listening intently.
Oswald took a deep breath, hating to relate this tale, because time did not diminish the pain he felt as he told the rest:
“I had to stay out of sight while this was happening, because no one wanted their people trying to kill me again and causing another bloodbath – so I was waiting for Victor or Cassie or one of my other people to come back to me with the information I needed to take the gang down. And Cassie found them...” he paused again, briefly closing his eyes, then he shook his head and looked back at at Ronny.
“But they captured her. And over two days, they beat and tortured her. She only had to disclose where I was, but she refused to talk. So they put her face through a window, they blinded one of her eyes, they burned her with boiling water and still she remained loyal to me and my underworld...” Oswald looked away towards the drinks cabinet. After relating this tale, he knew he would need something much stronger than tea... He looked back at Ronny.
“They cut off three of her fingers. But she wouldn't betray the underworld she believed in. So as she lay there on the floor in a pool of her own blood, the gang leader stamped on her head. She was still on the floor when Victor and my men burst in and they kept the gang leader for me and as for the rest, Victor Zsasz really enjoyed his work that night. He skinned those men alive...”
Oswald stopped talking for a moment, hit by a flood of painful memories.
“Josh,” he added, and gestured to the drinks cabinet.
Josh got up and poured him a generous scotch and placed the glass in his hand. Oswald had taken a big swallow of it by the time Josh had sat back down, then he carried on relating the story to Ronny:
“And I spent hours with that gang leader. I put his face through a window and blinded him and scalded him and did all the things to him that he had done to Cassie! And it helped me to take revenge - but it didn't change the outcome for her. She was alive when they got her to the hospital but she had terrible brain injuries. She was so smashed up Hugo Strange couldn't do a thing for her either. The doctors said she was clinically dead. I was there when they turned off her life support. I held her hand as she slipped away. She left behind a baby daughter, she was a single parent. I provided generously for the baby and she was taken out of the city by an older cousin to start a new life. Cassie lived for her daughter, she passionately believed that she was helping to build a shining future for Gotham – and she was, until she was taken from us.” Oswald paused to blink away tears, “She was the second female operative I had lost in a year, Ronny. Both mothers. So maybe now you understand why I won't put women in the line of fire – and why this great city and its unity pact was built on sacrifices made by remarkable, courageous people like Cassandra Collins!”
Ronny had listened to every word. He nodded, his eyes filling with determination.
“You want to know if I would lay down my life for you? I would, sir. You're Oswald Cobblepot, the man who built the new underworld and formed the peace pact with the cops. We all owe you a huge debt of gratitude!”
Josh looked at Ronny in surprise.
Oswald raised a dark eyebrow.
“Now that's the kind of loyalty I expect, Ronny!”
“I'm your man, sir!”
“Well you can prove that by working alongside Josh – just observe him, and help him when he asks you to. And listen to him, Ronny!”
I will, sir.”
“That's all. You can go now.”
Josh headed for the door. Oswald smiled and Ronny smiled back, got up from the chair, gave his balls a scratch and turned to leave.
“And don't scratch your balls!” Oswald added as annoyance flashed in his eyes, but it was too late, Ronny had already left, closing the door with a clumsy, heavy handed slam behind him.
Molly had reached the hallway as Josh and Ronny were leaving. As a knock sounded at the door again she passed them quickly, accidentally brushing shoulders with Ronny.
“Hey, Mrs Cobblepot, love your hair!” Ronny said as Molly's long hair bounced dark and glossy as she looked back at him.
“Thanks, and you are...?”
“Ronny Lee Riley.”
“Oh yes, the new recruit! Nice to meet you...”
Molly hurried on to the front door. Josh shot Ronny a look of alarm.
“Did you just try and flirt with Molly?”
“No, I was just saying she looks good -”
“You don't do that to Oswald's wife!” Josh told him firmly.
As they walked up towards the front door, Molly had already opened it. Penguin stood on the doorstep wrapped in a warm winter coat as he opened up his flippers and smiled broadly.
“Hello Molly! I was on the way to the park with Little Penguin and he wanted to stop by and say Hi! Is my Dad home?”
“Yes Oswald's just finished up some business...”
As Penguin entered the house and they turned from the door, Little Penguin dashed in, his shiny shoes tapping on the floor as he waddled fast up the hallway, then he stopped, looking up at Josh and his friend.
“Oh! Hello Josh, hello friend!”
Ronny looked down at Little Penguin, who stood there in a suit like his father's, with his flippers open and his small dark eyes wide as he looked up at him.
“Awe, you must be Little Penguin! Hello, little guy, how are you today?” Ronny said kindly.
Little Penguin gave a gasp.
“How did you know Penguin's name?”
Josh laughed softly.
“This is Ronny,” he told him, “He's learning to work for Oswald. And he knows all about the family, too.”
“Ronny meet Ozzie?” he said, “Penguin find him for you!”
“I just met Oswald, he's a very nice man,” Ronny said, smiling down at Little Penguin, “And its a pleasure to meet you too.”
He extended a hand, shaking his small flipper as he looked up smiling broadly.
Just then Penguin waddled over.
“Come on, son – let's say Hi to my Dad and then we're off to the park.”
Little Penguin waddled on ahead as Penguin hurried to keep up with him. Molly had gone back towards the front room. Josh looked at Ronny in surprise.
“You're great with kids!”
“I hope to have my own family one day,” Ronny replied as they left the house, and then he laughed, “If I ever find a girl who can pin me down! I like the single life too much!”
Then they headed to the car. It was then Josh realised, after Oswald talking to Ronny about Cassie's death, all thoughts of breaking happy news about the baby had slipped from his mind. He would tell him tomorrow. But now, he had to take Ronny into the city, to show him what a General did to take care of business on an average day...
Molly was heading for the front room when her phone rang. It was security. She stopped and listened, feeling a prickle of unease:
Anton Velaska was back, clearly, Oswald telling him to leave at the party had not worked. He had just showed up at the gates, politely asking to speak with Oswald again... Molly gave a heavy sigh.
“I need to speak to my husband,” she said, then she went into the front room, where Penguin was sitting chatting to Oswald as he bounced Little Penguin on his lap and the little boy threw his head back and laughed loudly.
He stopped bouncing Little Penguin as he saw the look on his wife's face, she was pale, she looked... haunted all over again...
“What's wrong, Molly?” he asked.
Molly took a deep breath, fighting off a horrible, old familiar chill.
“You'll never guess who's back at the door,” she said, “Anton Valeska wants to speak with you.”
Oswald stared at her, then he set Little Penguin on his father's lap and got up as he reached for his cane.
“The nerve of the man! I told him, I'd never employ a Valeska! Clearly that wasn't enough. I'll speak to him -”
“Don't let him in!”
He turned back to her, a look of surprise on his face.
“He's not Jeremiah!”
“He's still his son!” she said in a low voice.
Oswald dismissed her fears with a wave of his hand.
“And his son will soon be on his way, I just need to make things clear – he's not welcome!” Oswald told her firmly, then he limped off towards the front door as he called security saying, “Send him in,” as Molly felt that sense of cold dread grow heavy at the thought of Jeremiah's son setting foot in their home after the hell his father had put the family through, a hell they would never forget...
Expect slight delays with chapters as I'm currently working on a four book horror serial, Book 1 is already on Amazon so I'm writing fan fic in the evenings and working on the books in the day time. But I'm aiming to get at least one chapter a week up on here while I'm working - more if possible. Enjoy the fic, Love Davina XX
As they drove along the road that led away from the house, Josh looked up at the mirror, catching a glimpse of the route behind them that led all the way up to Dead Man's Hilltop.
“We should have took my car,” Ronny said as he flashed a smile, “It's a little faster than yours... maybe.”
Josh remembered his position here. There was no way he was going to indulge in any more of this nonsense about beating Ronny to Wreck Alley. A part of him wanted it try again, for the surge of adrenaline, and for the sense of victory he would get when he took that razor sharp bend at the top, leaving Ronny in the dust... But it wouldn't work out that way. He knew he would crash, like many others had back in the old days. As a boy, Josh had heard stories from his father about that place – thirty years back, a lot of people used to drive up there, keen to take the challenge... He thought back, recalling something his Dad had told him many years ago...
“Ronny,” he said, glancing at him as they headed for the road that led into town, “Isn't there some kind of saying about that place... something about angels?”
“There is indeed.”
“So what is it?” Josh asked.
Ronny settled back comfortably in his seat as Josh drove on.
“What are we doing today? Will I see you handle a gun? Will I need to handle a gun, because I can, and I haven't been issued a weapon yet. When can I do some guard duty -”
“Ronny,” Josh said firmly but patiently, “Enough questions! You won't be doing any of those things yet. Today we're going up to the head office of Cobblepot Industry and we are going to check through any paperwork that needs stamping and anything that needs Oswald's signature will be brought back to the house. He doesn't often go to work at the company any more, he has trusted people to run it for him. Sometimes, as General, me – or Jax Sterling, can sign on his behalf, but it depends what it is. Oswald rarely attends to so called legitimate business, he is hands on with underworld matters, but often, I step in for him, or Jax, so that Oswald can spend time with his family. As you probably know, he has a big family and likes to spend a lot of time with both his partners and the children.”
“Yes he's a real family man,” Ronny agreed, “And I think he does a great job of it, too. I've read the articles and interviews.”
Josh glanced at him again.
“You're a big fan of Mr Penguin?”
“I have great admiration for him,” Ronny replied, “And I'm not much good at being a gentleman, I've never had to learn – I know his men are expected to be well dressed and polite at all times and I will try my best. I just want to get through all this training and pass and get the job of my dreams. Maybe we can help each other.”
They had just turned on to the motorway. Josh looked at him suspiciously as Ronny gave a sly smile.
“Here's the deal : You pass me on everything with top marks, you praise my ass to the skies so Mr Penguin hires me – and I'll tell you The Secret.”
Josh shook his head as he glanced at Ronny again.
“I'm not doing any deals, Ronny. If you screw this up now or later - if he hires you - Oswald will very quickly fire you, so you might as well learn properly from the start. Working for Mr Penguin is a very coveted job and not many make the grade.”
“How did you do it?” Ronny asked.
“I met Oswald through Selina Kyle. My father fought and died in the first war against Bane. I begged Oswald for a chance to fight in his honour at the battle of the Monolith. And I ended up helping him to finally defeat Bane once and for all. He gave me a job working as Jax Sterling's assistant. Then he made me General in Mr Sterling's absence, and then, he decided to have two Generals. Now I'm doing the work of two people because Jax is off sick.”
“I heard something about that – Jax Sterling's dying?”
Josh took in a sharp breath. Those words had cut deep. He resisted the urge to snap at Ronny, the young man had heard rumours, which always travelled around the city fast when one of Oswald's elite were involved. It wasn't his fault he had been fed the wrong information.
“Jax is a very good friend of mine and he's sick but thankfully not dying – he's got connection fluid poisoning and he is fighting it.”
“Oh no, I'm so sorry!” Ronny looked at him apologetically, “Really, Josh – that's what I heard, I didn't know it wasn't true.”
“It's a very serious condition and some who have it, don't make it,” Josh admitted.
“I've heard of it before,” Ronny told him, “There's a small risk with a robotic limb replacement, if the connecting fluid goes into the bloodstream it can be fatal.”
“And Jax is having treatment and we have to hope for the best., I just want him well again and back at work.”
“What's he like?” Ronny asked.
Josh was still feeling an ache in his heart at the thought of Jax so desperately ill. He switched his thoughts to better times as he gave his reply.
“Jax is a gentleman, very old school, too. Hopefully you'll get to meet him when he recovers. When you do meet him, call him Mr Sterling or sir. Be polite at all times, he expects that. He's the kind of standard Oswald expects from all his men. He taught me everything I know, too.”
Then as they drove on approaching the city, Josh thought about what Ronny had just said about a deal.
“And by the way, I still have no interest in making a deal, Ronny. You have to learn what's expected of you properly. But what exactly were you talking about, what's The Secret?”
“I'll tell you this much, The Secret is the difference between life and death when racing at Dead Man's Hill. An old saying goes, When the speed's climbing you'd better pray you see the angels first – or you'll be meeting your maker in Wreck Alley.”
“What does that mean?” Josh asked.
Ronny looked at him knowingly.
“That, my friend, is The Secret!”
“You can keep your secret, Ronny! My job is to train you – and we're starting with paperwork.”
By now they had reached the city.
“Do we have to do boring office stuff?”
“No, nothing is boring, Ronny, it's all necessary.”
He parked up around the back of the building and shut off the engine.
“But I wanted to do something exciting!” Ronny complained.
Josh got out of the car and Ronny did the same.
“Please?” Ronny begged.
“Paperwork.” Josh said again, and led the way into the building as Ronny followed.
Back at the mansion, Oswald was in his study with a stiff drink in his hand, waiting for security to show in Anton Valeska. In the front room, Little Penguin was eating a pile of cookies and watching TV as Molly sat on the sofa beside Penguin, who saw how tense she looked and reached for her hand, grasping it in his warm flipper.
“Molly, he said in a soft, but gruff tone, “I know he's a Valeska. But he's not Jeremiah. He had nothing to do with his father while he was growing up, he said so last time he came to call here!”
Molly turned her head and met his gaze.
“It doesn't make me feel any better about it,” she said as she kept her voice low, aware that Little Penguin was watching TV a short distance away, “But I keep thinking back – nothing will ever wipe out the memory of what Jeremiah did to my Oswald all those years ago! We'd only just met and fallen in love and suddenly he was taken from me and when I found him I thought he was gone...” tears had filled her green eyes, “It doesn't matter what else happened over the years, even taking on Bane – nothing could ever be as bad as the day I found him smashed up by Jeremiah! We had to take him to Hugo Strange to save him, did you know that?” as she spoke tearfully, Penguin listened, his dark eyes looking intently at her as she told him all about it, “People think I can handle myself – and I can, I could again if I had to – but that day... “ she shook her head, “That day was the worst day of my life... Oswald on life support, my Dad praying for him.... and now his fucking son wants to walk in here like none of that matters? Jeremiah almost killed my Oswald, my husband, the father of my kids!”
Penguin gave her hand a gentle squeeze with his flipper and then let go as Molly quickly wiped her eyes, aware that Little Penguin was still a short distance away, oblivious to the conversation in whispered tones as he watched cartoons.
“Molly, I too have bad memories. Of my days as a boy, in the lab. But then,” he smiled broadly, “Ivy saved me! As you saved my father from Jeremiah. You were a hero that day. Maybe bad memories are the price you pay for it, but my Dad is a strong person and he won't be thinking about Jeremiah when he speaks to Anton. Leave him to talk to the young man alone, don't worry.”
Molly managed a smile as she looked into Penguin's kind eyes.
“I'm trying not to worry.”
Little Penguin tossed the empty plate aside and looked around.
“More cookies for Penguin!” he called out, then he belched, and as his father laughed, so did he, throwing his head back and chuckling loudly as he threw his arms wide and opened up his little flippers.
“I think someone needs more cookies,” said Penguin.
Molly got up from the sofa.
“I'll get them for him,” she said, then she left the room and headed for the kitchen, hoping Penguin was right, that Oswald could handle this meeting – if Anton was not the threat his father had once been...
As Oswald met with Anton Velaska, he declined his offer of a handshake as he gestured to the seat in front of his desk. Anton sat down and smiled at him but all that did was remind Oswald how this guy was the image of his late father. He didn't look at Anton with adrenaline rushing and a gun close at hand, he didn't think about all Jeremiah had done to him and the threat he had posed multiple times. Instead he saw this for what it was:
Anton wanted to meet him, maybe even get to know him, possibly to understand why his father had done the deeds he had committed. Or maybe the apple didn't fall far from the tree and the kid did have bad intent, either way, he was suspicious and whatever Velaska wanted, he wasn't going to get it...
“Thank you so much for meeting with me,” Anton said as he looked across the table, “I appreciate this, Mr Penguin. Or can I call you Oswald?”
“You may not,” Oswald replied.
“That's understandable,” Anton told him, “And I would like to apologise for my father's actions – all of them. I have no admiration for him. He was a violent psychopath and he planted bombs in this great city of ours. I find that abhorrent. I love this city, Mr Penguin. I also support its independence from the mainland, and I fully support the unity pact. And I voted for Mayor Lambrick, too. So you see, I'm nothing like my father.”
Oswald paused to sip his drink, regarding Anton with suspicion he didn't bother hiding.
“That's good to know. But I don't wish to have any association with you, because you're a Velaska. That's never going to change. If you want to support the underworld, I suggest you carry on voting for Julian Lambrick in future elections, and support all laws passed by the underworld branch of the city council. But I really can't help you in any way, Mr Velaska.”
“You could at least hear me out, please?” he smiled again.
Oswald gave a sigh of impatience. He glanced at the clock, silently consoling himself with thoughts of the coming afternoon. He and Molly and Julian would be in for a very hot afternoon indeed - he just needed to get this shit out of the way first...
“I'm listening,” Oswald replied.
Anton leaned on the table, eyes shining with enthusiasm.
“I want to make up for what my father did. I realise nothing I do can ever truly erase it, but I'm nothing like him and I want a chance. I want to work for you, sir.”
Oswald looked back at him coldly.
“Why would you want to do that?”
“Because I believe in the underworld's mission to work in harmony with the GCPD and keep this city of ours stable.”
“Believe me when I say this city will do just fine without a Velaska having a hand in it,” Oswald replied, then he sipped from his drink again and set it down heavily.
“You will never work for me, Anton.”
Jeremiah's son leaned back in his chair as in that moment, Oswald spotted a flicker of bitterness in his eyes that reminded him of his late father.
“Is that so...” said Anton.
“It's a fact.”
“Well maybe you're employing the wrong people,” Anton replied, “Before I showed up here this morning, I was driving up to the mansion and I saw two cars heading for Dead Man's Hill at top speed – boy racers, I know the kind, because I love to speed too, although I must admit, that hill is a something of a challenge for me... I wouldn't want to attempt it too often because luck can run out...” now his eyes were cold and he was the spitting image of Jeremiah as he added, “These two cars – one belonged to your younger General and the other is the same sports car that is currently parked up in your driveway. They were acting like a pair of teenage boys racing hot rods. Not exactly the kind of behaviour expected from your men and for the record, as much as I love a race, I have common sense, Mr Penguin. And I would never behave like that whilst working for you.”
Oswald glared at him. Had Josh and Ronny been racing that morning? He was sure he would get to the truth later but right now, getting rid of Anton was priority.
“I doubt my men would behave in such a way, but that's none of your concern,” Oswald replied, “And our business is concluded. Perhaps you are deeply sincere in wanting to work for me, but I could never employ a Velaska. And if you have that much common sense, you will understand why.”
“Because you can't forgive?” Anton said as he rose from his seat.
“Because the city can't forget the deeds of your father - and neither can I!” Oswald replied, “Now if you'll excuse me, I'm a busy man.”
“I'm sure you are,” Anton replied, and as he headed for the door, his gaze lingered as for a moment, Oswald wondered if he needed to call security, or reach for the gun he kept under his desk. But he needed to do neither as Anton left the room, and then security escorted him towards the front door.
Over at Cobblepot Industries, Josh had run through some papers and what usually took an hour on an average day had taken two as he showed Ronny how to handle the office work. Then as he placed some papers that needed Oswald's signature into a folder, their work was done.
“We can leave now,” Josh told him as he placed the file on top of two letters waiting to be signed by his boss, “We'll run these papers back to the mansion, and if Oswald doesn't need anything else done today... Ronny? I said, we can leave now.”
“Yeah, in a minute...”
Ronny was standing with his hand in his pockets looking at framed photographs on the wall. His gaze had lingered on an old picture of Oswald, who looked younger and a little slimmer, back in the days before he met Molly, before his missing eye had been replaced. In the picture he stood beside two people, one was Victor Zsasz, and the other was a tall woman with long dark hair. Oswald stood there proudly posing beside them both wearing his monocle and top hat. Josh walked over to join Ronny and took a glance at the picture.
“Isn't that Victor Zsasz?” Ronny said with interest, “He used to be a hit man for Penguin, then he took over running the Iceberg Lounge for him, he's married to River Mooney, Penguin's daughter?”
“Yes, that's Victor,” Josh replied.
“And who's the lady? That's not Molly.”
“That's the late Cassandra Collins,” Josh replied, “That picture was taken outside the Iceberg Lounge three months before she died. Oswald told me all about it the first time I came up here.”
“He likes to keep her memory alive. Was there... anything between them?”
Josh smiled as he shook his head.
“No, Cassandra was a colleague and a friend,” he replied, “But Oswald will never forget the way she died, or why.”
“It's a shame he doesn't employ female staff alongside us any more,” Ronny remarked, then he laughed as he met his gaze, “We all need some hot ladies around the place, right?”
Josh laughed too.
“I'm happily married. Me and Selina are in three way relationship with Ivy Pepper, that's enough commitment for me – and I'm a father, too.”
“You're young to be a father,” Ronny replied as they headed for the door.
Josh paused to pick up the folder, then he turned back to Ronny.
“I was lucky enough to meet the right woman, I fell in love with Selina, then Ivy came into our lives and everything just fits so well.”
Ronny laughed as he nudged him with his elbow.
“I bet it does! Threesomes every night, that sound so hot!”
Josh looked at him with a bemused expression.
“You'll have to curb that crude sense of humour if you want to make the grade, Ronny. But you'll really get along well with Penguin, Oswald's son. He's got a filthy sense of humour!”
Ronny's smile faded.
“I was almost a father. I got a girl pregnant last year -”
“Last year? You're the one who is to young to be having kids, Ronny, you're still in your teens!”
“I know,” he replied sadly, “She said she didn't love me and the next thing I know, she's left town with another guy. I still think about my kid.”
Josh felt instant sympathy for him.
“Well,” he replied, “If you pass training okay and land the job – and this is off the record – you can access certain channels to trace computer records. You might be able to get an address. Then if you speak to Oswald about it, I'm sure he will be sympathetic, he'll help you to get access to your child, he's a family man, he'll understand.”
Ronny shook his head.
“No,” he said quickly, “I got over that loss, I don't want to force her to make me see the baby, she's probably happy -”
“But this is your child!” Josh reminded him, “You have rights as a father, Ronny.”
“Let's just see if I get through training first,” Ronny replied, then he changed the subject, “Can we get some shooting practise in tomorrow? I want to show you how good I am.”
“No, you don't get a gun yet,” he replied, “Oswald has given permission for you to carry a weapon, representing the underworld, but not until he decides to allow you to have it, understood?”
Ronny gave a sigh
“Okay, what ever,” he replied, and scratched his balls.
“And don't say what ever, you say yes sir, and try not to scratch like that in front of other people.”
“Sorry, I told you I have a lot to learn.” Ronny replied as they left the office.
“You'll get there,” Josh assured him, “Just be patient about the gun. We're a long way off from target practise.”
“I can't wait for that, I'm a crack shot!”
“So I've heard,” Josh replied, and then they left the building together, to return the folder to the mansion and await further instruction.
After Anton Valeska had left, the mood became relaxed once more. Oswald had chased away Molly's fears with a big hug and a smile as he told her Velaska had pestered him for a job, insisting he was nothing like his father, and he told her it was a closed matter, the young man had left and would not be returning. Penguin was on the phone to Iris, and making arrangements to meet her in town for lunch. Then he ended the call and turned to Oswald and Molly, as his dark eyes shone with excitement.
“I was thinking... after meeting Iris in town for lunch, I might take her home for a romantic afternoon! Could you watch Little Penguin for me, I could pick him up around three thirty?”
Molly and Oswald exchanged a glance, both thinking the same thing:
Oh no, their afternoon of hot, kinky games with Julian would be cancelled!
Just then, the door opened and Josh walked in accompanied by Ronny.
“I left your paperwork on your desk, sir,” Josh said.
“Thank you, Josh,” Oswald replied, “How did he do?”
Josh glanced at Ronny and then to Oswald.
“He did fine, sir.”
“Excellent,” Oswald said, then he paused for thought, “I don't have anything else for you to do today and I know you're taking on extra work since Jax is off sick, but would it be okay if you took Little Penguin to the park until two forty five? I would also require you to pick the kids up from school too – after that you can go home early. You can take my car.”
“No problem, sir,” Josh said, “Can Ronny come too?”
“Yes, I don't see why not,” Oswald replied with a smile.
Josh looked to Little Penguin.
“Would you like to go to the park today?”
Little Penguin got up and waddled over with excitement shining in his small, dark eyes.
“Penguin loves the park! Josh goes park, Ronny goes park?”
“We all go park,” Josh said with a smile, then Little Penguin waddled about the room saying Bye bye to everyone in turn, leaving his dad until last, then he raised his flippers.
“Up up!” he said.
Penguin lifted him into his arms and fondly kissed his cheek.
“Be good for Josh and Ronny.”
“I will Daddy!” he said, and Penguin set him on the floor again and helped him wrap up warm in his coat, then he waddled fast over to Josh, who held out his hand as Little Penguin took hold of it with a small flipper.
Josh and Ronny left the house, and Ronny watched as Josh put Little Penguin in the back of Oswald's car and patiently and carefully strapped him into his car seat as the little boy waved his flippers about excitedly.
“Penguin go park!” he said again.
Josh took the wheel and Ronny was beside him in the front as they drove away from the mansion.
“Is this part of the job description?” Ronny asked in surprise, “You're his General -”
“And if you land this job, you will be assistant to me and Jax and that means you will often be at the mansion. The closer you are to Oswald, the more likely it is that he will ask you, as you are in a position of trust, to sometimes help out with the kids when work is quiet. He has a big family – River's his oldest daughter, then there's Cain, he's almost your age, Luna is ten and Felix is six and Lucy – Molly and Julian's daughter - is five years old. Penguin is Oswald's eldest son, he was conceived in a lab experiment without Oswald's knowledge many years ago – and Little Penguin has his birth defects and he's a little slow to learn. He doesn't go to school yet. But he's a great kid, he gets along so well with my daughter Maria – and Alicia, Jax Sterling's little girl. Sometimes, all the kids come over to the house to play.”
“Sounds like fun, I get along well with kids. I don't mind helping out at all.”
Josh glanced at him.
“You really should think about tracing your girlfriend.”
Josh tensed as he looked away.
“I've accepted I won't see my child. I can't go through any more. I've moved on, for my sake.”
Josh let the subject drop, driving on in silence. When they reached the park, Little Penguin gave a cheer and started to get impatient as he struggled in his seat. Ronny got out and waited as Josh lifted the little boy from the car.
“We're going to sit on the bench over there,” he said, indicating to the nearby play area, “Go and play, Penguin.”
“Yay! Penguin loves park!” he cried, and then he waddled off towards the playground, keen to join the other kids as Josh and Ronny went to the bench and sat down. It was going to be a peaceful, easy afternoon as Penguin happily played with the other kids he often saw at the playground. The sun was out, the rain had held off, and Penguin was having fun. And Josh couldn't wait for his working day to be over, because wanted to get back to Selina and celebrate their good news properly.
While Josh looked forward to returning home to Selina, Oswald and Molly were waiting for Julian to return from the mayor's office. They all had something to look forward to that day – but over at Jax Sterling's house, the mood was very different. Jax had been upstairs lying down since his treatment, as Carol tried not to worry. River had said, this was the easiest part. But Jax had aches and pains and dizziness that kept coming and going. They were under no illusion it would only get harder as the weeks went on. As his headache started to throb again, Carol closed the curtains, shutting out the light that hurt his eyes.
“I want to get through this,” Jax said quietly as he rested on top of the covers, “But if I don't, I need you to promise me you'll stay here at the house and bring Alicia up for me. I don't want her life to change if I die, Carol.”
His words had made her heart ache as she turned from the closed curtains and went back to his bedside. His shirt was off, his arms were bruised from the needles he had taken over the past few days. And he looked worn out already.
“If it makes you feel any better,” she told him, “We could change your will so you know Alicia will stay with me – even if you didn't, Oswald wouldn't want her life to change. You set everything out how you wanted it before we started a relationship. It's obvious Alicia should stay here with me, and she would still see River and Victor and Oswald's side of the family too. She will see all her family... Why are we even talking about this? You're still here, Jax!”
He saw a look in her eyes that said maybe she would start to cry – not now, but when she left the room. She was trying to stay strong for him, and now he wished he had never mentioned the subject. He reached for her hand, holding it gently.
“I'm only trying to be practical. Being so sick, I have a lot of time to do nothing but think, and maybe I'm thinking too much.”
“Yes, you are,” she agreed, then she leaned in and gave him a brief kiss.
“Try and get some rest,” she told him, “ I've got an hour to finish up around the house, and then I'm off to pick Alicia up from school. Will you be okay on your own?”
“Carol dear, I've been in many dangerous situations alone whilst serving Mr Penguin! I'm sure I'll be just fine resting here in the safety and comfort of our home! I just feel a little unwell. Please stop worrying.”
“I'm trying,” she told him, “But it's not easy.”
“Life never is,” Jax replied quietly as she left the room, and then he gave a sigh and closed his eyes, waiting for the pain relief to kick in so he could grab some more sleep.
Molly and Oswald's afternoon was finally underway. The kids were at school, Oswald had sent Josh off with Ronny to take Little Penguin to the park, and as soon as they were alone together, Oswald had turned to Molly with a look in his eyes of rising desire as he thought about their plans and said, “Could you go and make the treatment room ready for Julian, my dear?”
“With pleasure, Doctor Oswald!” she replied with a smile, and Oswald pulled her close and they shared a deep and lasting kiss.
As he let her go, Molly felt a flicker of desire that made her instantly wet. One look at him was all she needed to know his dominant side was coming out to play, it was already there, his eyes had darkened with desire and now as she made her way up the stairs to the locked door of the playroom, her legs felt like jelly. It was going to be one hell of a hot afternoon...
Julian arrived back at the mansion on time, he was keen to get started, but as he took off his coat and called out to Molly and Oswald, he got no reply. Julian walked to the staircase and looked up.
“Molly?” he called again, and still there was no reply.
Then his phone received a text message. He read it at once, it was from Oswald:
Are you sure you want to go hard today?
Julian smiled as he sent his reply back:
I want you to scare me. Take me over completely. Then I want to fuck and be fucked.
He sent the reply and Oswald answered with one word:
Julian hurried up the stairs, laughing as he reached the top, excited that the game had started so differently. Last time they had fooled around, he had told them both, he was so much more confident now. He wanted to relive more of what he recalled from Ashecliffe, he had barely been able to handle the first time Oswald had dominated him, gone too heavy and given him a flashback. But that had been five years ago. Now they were well practised at toying with him, and he knew how much he could take. His trust in Molly and Oswald was unshakeable and that bond they shared went a long way to making their sex games more intense.
He felt his excitement mounting as he began to climb the stairs. It was a heady mix of nervousness and willingness to walk into what ever they had planned for him. They had talked a lot lately about their games – games that were rarely played because the house was not often empty – and he took a slow breath as he walked up the hallway, seeing every door closed except the door to his old room, where beyond, lie the door to his kinky playroom...
They were in there waiting for him. He knew it as he went inside, but as for the rest, it all came unexpectedly...
As Julian walked into the room, Molly stepped out from behind the door, twisting his arm behind his back as she restrained him.
“Don't struggle, Julian,” she said, “Remember where you are, stay calm...”
He was breathing heavily as she held him pinned, as she pulled him closer up against her body, he looked down and saw she was wearing a white uniform. She had tied her hair back and as she whispered in his ear, he was instantly hard as a mix of pleasure and fear ran through his body.
“You've been a bad boy, haven't you?” she said to him, “No one tries to escape from this asylum and gets away with it!”
Then as she kept his arm behind his back, her other hand slid around his waist, feeling his erection through his clothing as he gave a low moan.
“You're so cute... It's such a shame you're going to be used for experimentation, but orders are orders!”
“Yes...I...I know that...” he stammered as she pushed him towards the open door of the play room, where the table was ready and the restraints were open.
He put up no resistance, stripping naked and leaving his clothing on a pile in the corner of the room, then Molly led him over to the table and he laid back, spreading his legs willingly as she restrained him with soft leather straps. Then Molly stood back, drinking in the sight of Julian, naked on that table, toned and gorgeous and breaking a sweat as he breathed hard, feeling a mix of nervousness and arousal. Molly walked to the other end of the table, leaning over him as their eyes locked.
“Please don't hurt me!” he begged, and she ran her hand over his chest as she kissed him deeply. He was trembling as she drew back.
“Let me see...” she said, slowly and deliberately running her fingers through his hair as she paused to trace a fingertip over an old scar, “I think we're going to open this one up today... then shove some of that experimental Tetch virus into your head and wait and see what happens...”
She reached to the table behind her. As Julian saw the electric razor in her hand, he felt a jolt of panic as memories of his real torture at the asylum threatened to take over. Molly ran her hand over his hair, the razor still at a distance from his head as she switched it on.
“No no! Shit, no – stop, please don't...” he yelled in panic.
“Yes, stop - for now,” said Oswald as he entered the room, “We have other plans for you first, Mr Lambrick...”
Julian was still breathing hard as he looked up at Molly, remembering that razor was not going anywhere near his head, and this wasn't Ashecliffe. This was a game, this was reliving his trauma and playing on his kinks and today they were going to go hard at it...
Oswald stood over him as Molly stepped back.
“You look scared. You should be, I'm going to show you what happens to people who try and escape from this place,” he told him, and then he leaned in closer, his breath hot on Julian's face as the look in his eyes made his cock achingly hard, “We're going to do something to you, Julian. To make sure you obey...”
He straightened up and looked to Molly.
“Handle his cock very carefully, we don't want him coming yet,” he told her.
Molly ran her hand over Julian's smooth skin, stroking just above his cock as he caught his breath, then she gently took it in her hand, spraying the head with a burst from a small can that made his sensitivity begin to fade out.
“Now you won't come for a while,” Oswald told him, “Not until I'm ready to allow it. Say thank you, Doctor Cobblepot.”
It was hard to focus. Molly was fondling his balls as his cock went just numb enough to ensure he didn't come too quickly.
“Yes Doctor Cobblepot... thank you...”
“I'm going to need a lot of lube for this,” Oswald remarked as he rejoined Molly and they stood over Julian as he watched them. Molly poured lube into Oswald's palm and he started to slide it up and down his fingers as he looked down at Julian, already high on the sheer buzz of knowing he had absolute domination.
“I'll have to stretch you wide open,” Oswald told him, and Julian gave a gasp as he slid two fingers into his ass, working them in and out slowly as he watched him lying there, tied down, unable to move.
“I'm not sure if you know what's happening to you today,” Oswald informed him, adding a third finger and sliding it deep, pausing to watch as Julian's ass began to stretch, “But you're going to have a very intense experience, Mr Lambrick. The kind of experience only my cock can give you.”
Julian tensed in his bonds as he closed his eyes, thrusting against Oswald's fingers as he gave a whine of impatience.
“I want to, but your cock is big...”
“And your ass will be too after I've fucked you.” Oswald reminded him in a matter of fact tone.
His gaze was dark, his pupils blown wide with arousal as he turned to Molly and tugged at his belt, unbuckling it.
“Suck my cock, Molly,” he ordered.
She dropped to her knees, tugging at his zip, then pulling at his clothing, sliding down his underwear as she took his solid cock, every long, thick inch of it deep into her mouth until all she could smell was the scent of his pubic hair as her nose and mouth were up against it. Molly sucked him gently, not daring to take him over the edge – Oswald rarely ever did this, Julian always struggled to take him because he was so well endowed... but his fingers were back in Julian's ass, and as he drew them out and then slid his cock from her mouth and she looked up at him, Oswald smiled down at her.
“Thank you my dear. Now I have our patient to attend to.”
He reached beneath the table and unlocked a front section, folding it down. This left enough room to step closer and his cock would be perfectly lined up with his lover's ass.
“You are taking every inch of this all the way,” Oswald ordered, “And we will stay here all day if we have to, but you are getting fucked, and then we are taking you to the next floor, where you will be used in our experiments. Do make the most of this, Julian. It's your last fuck.”
Wow, Oswald, that was extreme! Molly thought as Julian gave a gasp as memories of the asylum hit him and he was just about on the brink of panic – then Oswald slid his cock deep into his ass with a single, firm thrust. Julian gave a loud cry and tensed, Oswald buried deep inside him as he placed one hand on his parted thigh and the other on the table to keep his balance, and started to thrust.
“Oh no... it's too much... Oswald...fuck... yes...”
Molly was up the other end of the table now, she stroked Julian's hair as he looked up at her, caught on the brink of a flashback, but pulled back at the last minute by Oswald thrusting into him, reminding him of reality.
“That's right, take Doctor Cobblepot's cock all the way,” Molly said softly.
Julian was breathing hard and fast and his body was shaking with every thrust as Oswald's movements got more urgent.
“I want to come!” Julian begged.
“Not yet, sweetheart,” Molly said, and leaned over him silencing his cry of pleasure with a deep open mouthed kiss.
As she pulled back, Julian's face was flushed. He was damp with sweat and Oswald was perspiring heavily too as he thrust into his again, angling his cock just right to hit the spot inside him that made him gasp. He pounded into him again and again, holding back as long as he possibly could as he drew back slowly, staying inside him, now barely moving, just enough to remind him he was still there as Julian's cock stood rigid and leaking and glistening under the lights above them. As he thrust in again, Oswald did it much harder, pounding against him in a merciless rhythm that made Julian cry out and shake as the flush returned to his face.
“Molly, attend to out patient,” said Oswald, and as he thrust in again, he threw his head back, closing his eyes as he gave a gasp and orgasm flooded his senses and flooded into Julian too.
Molly wrapped her hand around Julian's cock and began to jerk him firmly.
“I'm coming!” he yelled, “Yes, oh fuck yes!”
His come shot in spurts over Molly's hand, spattering his flesh as more come pulsed out, then Julian fell back against the head rest of the table and gave an exhausted sigh. Oswald withdrew carefully from him, and as he went out of the room to get cleaned up, Molly took wet wipes and cleaned away the lube and the semen that ran from his body, then she wiped his come from his belly. Julian's eyes were still closed as he started to recover. She freed him from his restraints, and as Oswald returned to the room, he reached for Julian, who sat up and then sank into his arms, resting his head on his shoulder.
“I think you need to rest now,” Oswald told him with a smile, “You look exhausted!”
“That was so intense!” Julian said as they left the room and Molly locked the door.
It was Oswald who folded the covers back and helped Julian into bed, then she joined them and he reached out to her as he lay there still exhausted, and now, emotionally overwhelmed. That was one thing that had never changed since his rescue from the asylum: Julian always got tearful after mind blowing sex.
“I love you both so much!” he said as he gave a sob.
Molly reached for him and pulled him close as he hugged her, then as she let go, he turned to Oswald, who laid beside him on top of the covers, pulling him into a loving embrace.
“We love you too, sweet Julian,” Oswald said softly, and then he drew back, and as Julian looked at him with gratitude in his eyes, Oswald let go and paused to wipe a tear from Julian's cheek. As he got up he looked to Molly.
Sit down next to Julian and cuddle up again,” he said.
Molly smiled as she got on to the bed and Julian put his arm around her.
“Now,” Oswald added as he sat further down the bed and parted Molly's legs, pausing to admire her swollen arousal as her sex gleamed wet, “I think we should do one more thing before this game comes to an end. I need to attend to Nurse Molly's clitoris.”
Julian laughed softly as he saw the look of surprise on Molly's face.
“That's a good idea, Doctor!”
Molly spread her legs wider, clinging to Julian as Oswald's mouth connected with her pussy and he sucked hard, then lapped at her core. She gave a loud cry and thrust against him, he slid his fingers inside her then out again, and pushed one finger into her ass as the other went back into her pussy, and as his tongue danced over her clit firmly and relentlessly, Molly came with a gasp.
“Oswald!” she yelled, and then she was silenced as Julian kissed her and Oswald gently nuzzled his mouth against her body, feeling every last pulse of her orgasm as wetness rushed out and soaked him. Then Oswald shifted up the bed, leaned over Molly and Julian and kissed them each in turn.
“I would love for us to spend all day like this,” he said, “But we have to get showered and changed and pretend this never happened – the kids are home soon.”
Molly gave a sigh as she slipped from Julian's arms and got up.
“That was the best afternoon ever,” Julian said as he lay there in bed with a smile on his face.
“And you can stay there,” Molly told him, “It's me and Oswald who have to be up and dressed – I'll tell Alicia Daddy was tired after work and needed a lie down.”
“Thanks Molly, you know how I get after one of our games.”
“Yes, you get lazy!” Molly remarked fondly with a smile, then she followed Oswald out of the room as Julian settled back in bed, feeling completely satisfied and very, very loved.
A short while later, Josh returned with the kids. And while they ran inside, Oswald came out of the house to thank Josh for helping out with the family that day. Ronny was beside him, and Oswald smiled warmly at him.
“And thank you too, Ronny,” Oswald added, “You can go home now, as Josh has finished for the day, I won't need to see either of you until tomorrow....”
He stopped, distracted by the sound of a car speeding through the open gates of the mansion. With the kids home, the guards had just left to change shift with their replacements, who were turning up at any minute. But not at this moment, as Anton Velaska skidded to a halt then jumped out of his car,
“Hey, Oswald!” he yelled, “Surprise!”
And he pulled a gun and swung it around, pointing it straight at Oswald, who stared at it in horror as Anton laughed and sounded just like Jeremiah....
Josh went for his gun. Something obscured his view in a flash of leather jacket, and he realised it was Ronny as he dived forward, pulling Oswald to the ground and covering him. Josh fired a shot. Velaska ducked, then jumped up unharmed as Josh stared at him in disbelief:
Anton was standing there holding a fake gun in his hand. A white flag had come out the end of it, with the word BANG! on it.
Oswald struggled to his feet, bleeding from a scratch to his face where he had hit the gravel. He stumbled and Ronny grabbed his arm to steady him, then he glared at Anton.
“What the hell are you playing at, young man?” Oswald fumed as anger bordering on murder filled his eyes.
“Unlike my father, I'm not violent,” said Anton, “And I have a sense of humour!”
He started to giggle. Then he stopped as he saw Oswald and his men were glaring at him.
“Get off this property,” Oswald said as his voice darkened, “If I ever see you again I'll hand you over to the GCPD, and you'll see what they'll do to a son of Jeremiah, you little ass hole!”
“No, no, I can handle this...”
Molly had just stormed out of the house, having seen the stupid prank and heard the laugh that reminded her of Valeska, and she had rage in her eyes as she marched up to Anton and slammed an iron fist into his face. The blow knocked him on his back as Molly dealt a kick to his ribs.
“You're dead you piece of shite!” she yelled.
She kicked Velaska again before she heard Oswald call her name. She stepped back from Anton, who staggered to his feet, bleeding from his nose and clutching at his ribs.
“It's not me you have to watch out for – you're the psychos!” he yelled, jabbing an accusing finger, then as security ran to their aid and Oswald held up a hand, shaking his head, Velaska got in his car and drove off at speed, kicking up gravel as the tires spun fast and he shot out of the gates.
“I was defending your life!” Molly exclaimed.
Oswald stared at her.
“He's not Jeremiah, he's just a kid!”
“Well just now,” Molly said as she blinked back tears, “He was Jeremiah. And if he comes back, I'll, do it again! If I see him again, he's a dead man!”
As she turned away and went back inside, Oswald had a bewildered look on his face as he wondered, would Molly ever get over the trauma Jeremiah had caused? As she had laid into Anton, he had just seen a side of her he had not seen since they had taken down Bane...
“Are you alright, sir?” Josh asked.
Oswald's thoughts were still on Molly.
“Yes, I'm okay... it's Molly I'm worried about,” he replied, and then he limped quickly back inside, in search of his wife.
Two weeks passed by.
After the incident with Velaska's son, life seemed to settle back down – Anton did not dare to return to the house after the stunt with the fake gun. It had taken Molly two weeks to slowly lower the mental red alert that had been impossible to switch off after Anton had pulled the gun outside the house. But he had not come back, and her sense of safety for Oswald and the kids was returning to a normal level once more. Molly had spoken to her Dad about what had happened. Even he had said, after she had worried and spoken about her fears for more than an hour on the phone, that Anton was probably just a kid who was desperate to prove he was nothing like Jeremiah.
Molly had heard the phrase You're obsessed from more than just Kane. Oswald had said it, too. He had also said that he didn't like the young man, and that he had pulled an incredibly dumb stunt – but that was no reason to have him killed or consider him a threat - especially as they had a son close to his age.
The difference fatherhood had made to Oswald Cobblepot...
Molly had tried to explain, but he's a Velaska, and Oswald had given her that same look he always did when something rattled her nerves over old, bad memories. For Molly it was more than a jolt to her nerves. She felt as if those buried memories were jumping back life like zombies from the grave as the very mention of the name Velaska brought back flashes of the terrible days back when she and Oswald had first become lovers, and Jeremiah had abducted him and left him for dead.
Memories like that never truly faded away.
But today, as the weather stayed chilly and the kids came in from the garden to take off warm coats and have hot drinks, she wasn't thinking about Velaska. She smiled as she watched Alicia and Lucy helped each other to hang up their coats. Felix was in the kitchen first to grab a warm drink, and then Maria hurried in from the garden. She took off her coat and then Josh and Selina's little girl ran up to her quickly and pointed to the open door.
“Little Penguin threw his gloves in the tree!” she said.
“Don't worry about Little Penguin,” she told her kindly, “You go in the front room and get warm by the fire with the other children, and I'll help him with his gloves.”
Maria was still looking up at her.
“Molly, they are special gloves for flippers. He needs them back or his flippers will get cold.”
“I know that, go in the other room and get warm, I'll sort this out,” she told her.
As Maria hurried off to join Felix and Lucy and Alicia, Molly gave a weary sigh. It was one of those days when Maria came over to play and Little Penguin came too – to day they also had Jax's daughter - and with Felix and Lucy at home, she suddenly had several small kids to supervise. They always played well together – and Little Penguin was going through a phase of throwing things high into the air to see where they would land. He had managed to get a shoe on the garage roof. Then his scarf had got tangled high in the branches of a tree. Now he was tossing his gloves about... Molly was warm in her jeans and boots and thick winter jumper as she went outside and crossed the patio, then took the path around the side of the house. There she looked up, then looked away briefly as she hid a smile. One of Oswald's security staff was up a tree, reaching for a glove as Little Penguin stood there on the ground, small and round and clasping his cold flippers tightly. It was always her Oswald's staff who had to go up and get stuff back when Penguin did these things...
“What did you do?” Molly asked kindly as Little Penguin looked up at her with small dark eyes.
“Penguin threw gloves, whee! Into the air - and one fell on the ground but one is in the tree. Stuck!”
He gave a little frown.
“Like Penguin's shoe, last week, on the garage.”
“And how did it get there?” Molly asked.
“Penguin threw it.”
Molly smiled as she leaned down, taking his cold little flippers in her hands to warm them up.
“Try not to throw things because you could lose them,” she told him.
Then the security guard scrambled down from the tree and handed Molly Penguin's blue knitted flipper shaped gloves.
“Thanks,” she said, and as he walked away she felt sure retrieving flipper gloves from a tree had not been in the description when the guy had taken on this job...
She led little Penguin back inside, he waddled quickly into the warmth of the kitchen and Molly closed the door.
“Let's get your coat off,” she said, and Penguin held out his arms with flippers open as she helped him to take off his coat.
“Where is Maria?” he asked.
“She's in the front room with Lucy and Felix and Alicia. Do you want a warm drink, sweetheart?”
“No thank you, Molly - Penguin find everyone!” he said and turned around and waddled off as his little shoes tapped quickly on the floor.
Molly looked down at the kitchen floor and the many muddy shoe prints that the kids had left behind, and gave a sigh. While they were quiet in the front room, she would clean up the mess.
Penguin waddled into the front room. The fire was burning warmly and Alicia was sitting on the rug talking to Felix and Maria.
“My Daddy is sick,” she said sadly, “Carol is worried about him. She told me not to worry, but I do.”
“He will get better,” Felix told her, “My sister River is his doctor. She makes everyone better.”
Little Penguin looked about the room.
“Lucy is not here. Friend is missing.”
“Lucy went upstairs,” Maria told him.
“Penguin find Lucy!” he announced, and then he waddled out of the room again.
Lucy Lambrick had gone into Mommy's room. She had been planning this for several days, ever since she had seen Mommy open up her wardrobe and there it was: a beautiful shiny sequin dress in shades of blue and green... It was far too big for her, and she had been told she was not allowed to play with it, but Lucy still wanted to try it on....
And now she stood in front of the mirror in her mother's dress, wearing high heels that didn't fit as she gave a sad sigh. It was okay for pretend, but Mommy wouldn't let her wear it – and she would be in trouble if she was caught. But Mommy was downstairs, Daddy was at work at the mayor's office and Daddy Oz was out at a business meeting... this was her only chance to wear the dress! She looked back at her reflection and gave a sigh.
“I wish I was a grown up,” she said.
And then she felt something, she knew something, just as she had known all her young life how to heal others by touch... it wasn't just others she could change with her ability. She could make changes to herself, too, she just knew it. Determination burned in her eyes as she looked at her reflection.
“I want to be all growed up!” she said.
And she felt that familiar surge of energy that had been with her all five and half years of her whole life, it was like the feeling she got when she healed another person, but... different. And she was getting taller and suddenly, Mommy's shoes were a perfect fit!
She looked to the mirror and gave a gasp, staring wide eyed at her reflection: She was a young woman, with long fair hair and a slim body, and she looked more like her Daddy than her Mommy, same eyes, same nose...
“Oh!” she exclaimed as she wobbled in high heeled shoes, “I'm a grown up!”
Then she turned from the mirror to see Little Penguin in the doorway, staring up at her.
“Lucy turned into a grown up! Penguin saw it!” he opened up his flippers in surprise.
“Don't tell anyone!” Lucy urged.
Penguin was wide eyed as he looked up at her.
“But... LUCY IS A GROWN UP!”
“Shh! No, no, don't tell anyone... I'll get in trouble, I'm five years old... I can't be a grown up...”
Then she started to smile as excitement shone in her eyes.
“I can go out like this! People will think I'm a real grown up!”
Penguin looked unsure as he gave his reply, touching the tips of his flippers together.
“You still talk like little Lucy. You're just bigger.”
She clapped her hands together with glee.
“I'm going to have so much fun! I can be all growed up and do grown up things!”
Penguin looked at her in confusion.
“But you're not really growed up, Lucy.”
She wobbled in her Mom's shoes as she paused for thought.
“But I can pretend. I look like a grown up...Oh! I like my hair!”
She paused to swish her hair in the mirror, then she studied her reflection, not recognising her five year old self at all as she looked at the young woman she had turned into.
“Lucy?” Molly called out.
Lucy gave a gasp.
“Don't say it!” she reminded Little Penguin.
“Don't say Lucy is a grown up?”
Penguin's flippers trembled as he fought the urge to yell it out. He wasn't good at keeping secrets and this was so exciting....
“Smaller, smaller. Be little again...” Lucy said as she closed her eyes, and as the world around her got bigger, the dress swamped her and she stumbled in her mother's now too big shoes and tumbled to the carpet just as Molly opened the door to see five year old Lucy wearing her new dress and shoes, the outfit she was planning to wear to the Lounge next time she went there with Oswald...
“Lucy!” she scolded, “I told you, don't play with my clothes or my shoes!”
Little Lucy looked up at her apologetically.
“Get changed,” she told her, then she felt a tug on her sleeve and turned to see little Penguin standing there.
“LUCY IS A GROWN UP!” he said loudly as his eyes widened and he opened his flippers, then he ran to the door and spun around and then waddled, making a little dance.
“Lucy is a grown up, Lucy is a grown up!” he chanted.
“No, she's not a grown up - she's a naughty little girl to wear my new dress, she knows that's not allowed!” Molly told him, “Go downstairs and see Maria, Penguin.”
He was still chanting Lucy is a grown up as he waddled off.
Molly picked up the dress and started to smooth it down as Lucy grabbed her own clothing and began to get dressed.
“Please don't do that again, love,” Molly told her, “My stuff is too big for you. But you can have clothes like this when you are bigger.”
“Okay, Mommy,” Lucy replied as she finished dressing, and as she left the room she smiled, secretly deciding she didn't have to wait to do anything – now, she could be a grown up any time she wanted to...
Penguin had waddled into the front room and looked at the other kids.
“Lucy is a grown up!”
They all looked at him in confusion. Then Lucy returned to the room and shot him a look of annoyance.
“But you did the all growed up thing!”
“What's that?” asked Maria.
“Lucy can be a grown up,” Penguin told her.
“I was just wearing Mommy's dress and she caught me,” Lucy said, glancing from Felix to the girls, then glaring briefly at Little Penguin, who didn't get the hint.
“Lucy turned into a grown up!” he insisted in his small, gruff voice.
Then Molly returned to the room with Penguin's little thick brown coat in her hand.
“Maria,” she said, “Iris is here soon to take Penguin home. She's going to take you home on the way, you'd better get your coat while I help him get ready to leave.”
Penguin looked about the room, flinging his flippers wide.
“Oh no! Penguin has lost his gloves - again!” he wailed, “No gloves for Penguin -”
Molly held up the long, flipper shaped gloves.
“I have them right here, did you forget we left them in the kitchen? Let's put them on,” she said kindly.
Oswald's afternoon had been taken up by a gang leader's meeting. It was the usual business, and a lot of chat, and tea, and matters were far more civilised than they had been in the days of old. Not once had he fired a shotgun into the ceiling – they didn't even bring weapons to meetings any more. But the underworld was running smoothly and as they gathered and talked in the board room at Cobblepot Industries, the very last thing Oswald had expected to do was leave early. But then a message had been passed to him, and he was forced it reach for his coat and hastily make an exit.
“Sorry, I must leave early – Miss Mooney can take charge in my absence,” he said, casting a glance to Fish.
Her two tone eyes of blue and brown looked at him questioningly.
“Family emergency,” Oswald added as he glanced about the table.
“Jax?” Fish said discreetly as she walked up to him, ready to take his seat at the head of the table.
“Jax,” he confirmed quietly, then he turned away from the meeting and hurried out of the room.
Jax had taken the first phases of the treatment well, but now the third phase was kicking in, he was struggling. Overnight his temperature had shot up and he had slipped into unconsciousness that was briefly broken as nightmares woke him, before slipping away into deep sleep once more. River had decided for now, he did not need to be admitted to the clinic – but it was clear he was in for a rough time, and the side effects were starting to kick in early, which was worrying. That suggested maybe he wouldn't survive the six weeks of brutal treatment as the side effects hit him hard. It was difficult to predict how he would come through this. River had called her father, keeping the promise she had made to Oswald that if Jax was struggling, she would let him know. Then she had gone to her office, locked the door and sat down in tears and called her husband. Victor, who was busy at the Lounge, took time out from his day to listen as River tearfully told him she felt she was failing Jax.
“You're not,” Victor had gently assured her, “You're the best doctor to handle his condition – and you're doing your best. It's all you can do. You know how unpredictable these cases can be. Don't feel bad about anything, River. He really is in the best hands, everyone knows that. I love you.”
“I love you too,” she had replied, then she had ended the call and left the clinic, taking a drive over to the Sterling house, with her medical bag packed with everything she could think of that she hoped would work to counteract the side effects that Jax could not fight alone.
Now she was at the house, as distraught Carol looked on as she gave Jax a shot of a combination of meds that she hoped would bring down his fever and help him to feel well enough to return to full consciousness. Jax didn't feel the needle go into his arm as she injected him.
“This should help a lot,” River said as she watched Jax sleeping heavily as perspiration soaked his hair, “I'll stay until he wakes. If he's still struggling tomorrow I'll need to admit him for a few days, just to be sure he can get through this. He might stabilise on his own once his body gets used to working with the anti toxin.”
“And if it doesn't?” asked Carol.
“I don't know,” River told her honesty, “So much is uncertain with this kind of condition.”
Just then, they heard a car pull up outside. Carol went to the window and looked out.
“Oswald's here, I'll let him in,” she said, then she left the room.
Jax was breathing hard as he turned his head, giving a low moan as his fever burned up, reminding him of the heat of battle. In his mind, he was back there beside Oswald, looking on in horror as Bane's trap was set and the Monolith went up in flames, taking hundreds of lives with it as the blaze ripped through the building.
“No...” Jax whispered, “They're gone... Sir, your men are gone... fire... screaming...they're on fire!”
“Shh,” Oswald said as he sat down on a chair placed next to the bed.
He took hold of his hand and held it gently, rubbing the back of it in a soothing way as he spoke softly to his sick General. Jax gripped his hand tightly, still locked in his nightmare of a battle long since past.
“They're burning up!” he sobbed.
Oswald spoke again, trying to comfort Jax.
“No, that's all over, it was over long ago, they are at peace now, General Sterling,” he said quietly, “They're with God now, rest easy, Jax...”
Then Oswald looked on, deeply concerned as Jax burned with fever and breathed hard, a tear ran down his face as he lay there with the covers up to his chest. With his robotic arm removed, the way his arm ended in a stump lined with a neat scar was all Oswald needed to see to wonder if perhaps Jax had sacrificed too much over the years. He was determined that if he recovered he would not be placed in the line of fire again, no matter how much his General insisted on taking part in active duty. He could just as easily defend the city in times of crisis by plotting battle strategies far from the scenes of trouble. He never wanted Jax to risk his life again, not after witnessing this.
“Thank you for coming over,” Carol said as she stood there looking on as Oswald held his hand. Jax seemed to sense his presence now, becoming more aware of his surroundings as he breathed easier, then gave a sigh, and held on firmly to Oswald's hand. As he gave his reply to Carol, Oswald kept his voice low, taking care to let Jax rest.
“It was no problem.”
“I hope it wasn't inconvenient.”
Oswald thought about the gang leader's meeting.
“It was no inconvenience at all,” he assured her, “And I want to stop by tomorrow too, see how he's getting on.”
River was examining Jax now, and he turned his head, giving a sigh.
“Leave me alone...” he whispered, “I just want to sleep...” he gave a shiver, then Oswald reached for the covers, pulling them up to his shoulders as Carol fetched another blanket and placed it on the bed.
“He seems to be over the worst – for now,” River said as she stepped away from the bed, “He will wake soon, he might be thirsty, he may or may not want to eat, and we can't switch this treatment off because it's at the implant stage. If he struggles to cope, call me right away.”
“What else do I need to do?” she asked.
“Just be there for him, you're doing a great job,” she assured her, then she said goodbye to Carol and Oswald and left the room.
Carol went downstairs to walk River to the door, and while she was gone, Oswald looked down sadly at Jax as he slept on. He was pale and shadows were starting to deepen under his eyes. He looked so weak, and that was a shock - this was something he had never expected to happen, not to Jax Sterling, and it seemed to be hitting him so hard and so quickly...
“Oswald...” Jax whispered, but his eyes stayed shut.
Oswald patted his hand.
“Yes, I'm here for you, my dear old friend. Rest well, get your strength back.”
“Yes sir...” he murmured, still thinking of Oswald as his boss and not family, because in his nightmares, he was still locked somewhere back around the time they had fought Bane for a second time.
Oswald leaned over him, swept his hair from his face and noticed strands of his General's thick black hair were starting to break off. Jax was always so well groomed, he knew this would be another hard blow to handle when he woke up. As Carol returned to the room, she saw Oswald brush the strands from the pillow.
“He wouldn't tell you this,” she said, “But he was so upset when his hair started breaking. He's planning to go and see his barber as soon as he feels well enough, he's getting it all buzzed off.”
“My hair was very brittle when I was fighting a toxin,” Oswald told her, “That was so long ago – Cain was a little boy back then. He's seventeen now. At the time I didn't think I'd survive to see him grow up, but here I am! I'm sure Jax will see Alicia grow up too. He's strong, he can get through this – and when he wakes up, please tell him to cancel that appointment with his barber. I'd rather make him an appointment with my personal stylist, I'm sure he can come up with something for Jax that will save much more of his hair than a buzz cut would.”
“Thank you, Oswald,” Carol said, and then she checked her watch.
“Would you mind staying here with Jax? I need to go and fetch Alicia -”
“There's no need,” Oswald said kindly, getting up from the chair and limping over to her. He placed a hand on her shoulder as kindness shone in his gaze.
“I have a better idea, Carol. I will go home and tell Alicia she's having a sleep over tonight with my kids, and Molly or Julian will bring her home in the morning. And I'll tell her not to worry about Daddy, he's resting.”
“I'll tell her the same when she calls me later,” Carol replied, “And Oswald, your support means so much.”
Oswald smiled warmly as he wrapped his arms around her, giving her a fond hug.
“I'm happy to help,” he reminded her, “And don't worry about Alicia – she will be fine. I'll have her call you before bed, she can share Lucy's room tonight. Between Julian, Molly and myself I'm sure we will be able to keep her busy and ensure she has a happy evening with no worries about her father. And you get some rest while she's away,” he paused to glance back at Jax, whose fever had cooled now as he slept peacefully, “Be sure to rest – at least while he's able to sleep well. You must look after yourself too, Carol.”
“I will, Oswald,” she told him as they left the room, then she walked him to the door as he promised to return the next day to check on Jax.
Later as evening slid into night, Alicia was fast asleep on the other side of the room while Lucy was still awake with her night light on. Tonight it was Julian's turn to check on the kids before bed, as Molly and Oswald prepared to retire for the night. He sat on the edge of Lucy's bed, talking quietly, taking care not to wake Alicia.
“Is Alicia okay? Mommy said she was worried about her Daddy.”
“Alicia is scared he might die. Daddy, I feel so bad! I could help him, I can cure people -”
“You can't help Jax, you can't help anyone who has a poison inside them, it will lift out of them and go into you!” Julian reminded her, “I used to be just like you, Lucy – I could heal people -”
Lucy looked at him intently as sorrow filled her eyes.
“But you didn't choose it. People hurt you, they locked you up and did bad things, you used to cry every night!” she gave a sob as she blinked away tears, “Why do I know this, Daddy? I can see it, you're in this place and it's like a hospital or a jail or -”
“Stop thinking about it!” Julian told her, grasping her hand as he looked into his daughter's eyes, “Lucy, you have a gift, it's very powerful but you're far too young to use it. I think part of it means you can know things about people, maybe that's how you sense their pain. I used to be able to do that too... Let's talk about something else,” he smiled, “Want to hear what I'm working on with the city council?”
Lucy nodded, feeling instantly brighter as her thoughts were switched from all the sad things she had sensed from her Daddy's past.
“I'm working on a project to get better lighting in the parks at night, so people are safer in the dark,” he told her, “And I'm also talking with the planning department, about work that's happening to make the hospital bigger, so they can help more sick children.”
She paused for thought.
“I could help the sick children, Daddy.”
Julian gave a heavy sigh.
“Yes, you could and I would love you to do that – but Lucy, you're only five years old! It would be very dangerous for you if word got about your healing abilities. This is why we have to keep it secret until you're bigger.”
“But I can be bigger.”
Julian looked at her in confusion.
“I don't get what you mean.”
“I can be a grown up, I just have to think it, and I grow, and when Mommy caught me in her dress, I thought little and I was little again!”
Julian stared at her. He didn't doubt for a moment that Lucy, with her vast ability, could do that if she wanted to. And if she could do that, his worries had just increased heavily...
“You can actually become a grown up?”
“But I have to get in grown up mood first. I need one of Mommy's dresses. I have one under the bed.”
“You stole it?”
“It's just a summer dress. She won't miss it in winter, Daddy!”
Then she threw the covers back, snatched a yellow dress from beneath the bed and raced across the hall and went into the bathroom.
“Wait till I call you!” she said excitedly.
Julian reached the bathroom just as she closed the door. He thought about what she had just said and ran his fingers though his hair as he took a deep breath.
“Please don't let this be what I think it is...” he whispered, as the thought that his five year old could change into an adult at will filled him with dread – it was a dangerous world out there, dangerous enough for adults, let alone a five year old who could disguise herself as an adult...
The door opened a fraction. Julian stood there in the hallway, staring at the person behind the door, hid behind it and as her shadow fell across the bathroom, he could see she was not little Lucy any more...
“Oh shit...” he whispered.
She opened the door.
“Peekaboo!” she said, and laughed.
Julian was speechless as he looked at Lucy – not his little Lucy now, but a woman in her early twenties. She was slim as a willow and had long, straight fair hair that fell to her shoulders and as she smiled her hazel eyes sparkled.
“Look Daddy! I'm all growed up! I told you, I can be a grown up! It's so much fun!”
“No, it's not!” Julian said in alarm, and went into the bathroom, closed the door and locked it.
“Are you cross with me?”
Now she was standing there, an adult in body and a child in mind as she started to frown and look deeply upset.
“You mustn't do this,”Julian said to her, “People will think you're a real grown up - and you're five years old! It's a dangerous world out there, for a kid – I know you want to have fun with this but you can't go anywhere as big Lucy! This has to stop!”
Then he paused, looking at the grown up version of Lucy.
“I always thought as you got older you'd look more like Molly. But you actually look a lot like me! I can see it in your face!”
She smiled, and her smile matched his, along with the kindness that shone in her eyes.
“But you mustn't do this again,” he reminded her, “You're a kid, stay a kid, Lucy!”
She paused for thought.
“But no one knows I'm Lucy when I'm like this.”
“All the more reason not to do it!” Julian told her firmly.
But she was still thinking about their conversation about his work, and a sudden idea had come to mind.
“I think I can help the sick children. I can heal them all, Daddy! Like this, as big Lucy! Then we go home and I change back.”
Surprise registered in his gaze.
“That could work! You're a clever girl, I would love you to do that too!”
Now Julian was thinking hard, making a plan. He understood her wish to help others completely, he had once had her gift and now it was gone, and he knew if he still had it, he would want to be out there changing lives for the better. He couldn't do that any more – but Lucy could... It wasn't hard to decide. Weighing up hiding this from the two people he loved, and having the chance to save lives with her healing gift, was something he didn't need to think about. They would explain to Molly and Oswald later. He didn't doubt Molly would be furious, so would Oz – they both wanted to protect Lucy and her special gift. But Lucy could do this, anonymously – as her adult version, and her identity would still be safe...Just this once, some sick and dying kids would get a miracle. They had to do this...
“Okay, tomorrow afternoon, we'll go to the hospital together and you can go and see the sick children. But as soon as you've healed them, we have to leave! And don't speak to anyone, don't tell anyone your name!”
“And now you should change back,” he told her, “It's bed time.”
Then she closed her eyes whispering smaller, smaller, be little as Julian's eyes went wide. He was watching adult Lucy shrinking, it happened so fast, and there she was again, his little five year old daughter swamped by one of her mother's dresses. He leaned closer and gave her a hug.
“Why are you worried, Daddy?” Lucy asked as he let go and she looked up at him, sensing his unease.
He looked down at her, feeling afraid for exactly what those powers of hers were capable of. Maybe there was more. Maybe they didn't know the half of it yet, and she was so very young to handle this...
“I just want you to be safe,” he told her.
“I will be, Daddy!” she said brightly, then she said goodnight and walked out of the bathroom, gathering the dress in her hands so she didn't trip as she headed back to her own room. Julian began to walk towards the master bedroom, where Molly and Oswald were ready for bed. He was sure he wouldn't sleep that night, not keeping a secret as big as this, and all the worries that went with it were his alone to carry, at least for now...
As morning broke over Gotham City, the weather was dry and the sun was out, banishing the worst of the chill from the air. In a few weeks spring would be here, and in the greenhouse just outside of town, the plants were reaching skyward and some were already blooming, thanks to Ivy's love and care. Ivy had been thrilled when she had learned Selina was pregnant again. She loved spending time with Maria, and was keen to offer to help out when the new baby arrived, too. But Ivy spent a lot of her time with her plants, and she had been gone for almost a week as she worked on tending to new species. Selina had been laid up in bed that morning, feeling weak and tired and even after kissing slowly down his body, she had turned away, then rolled on to her back and looked at Josh and said, I'm just not in the mood for cock, even your tiny little thing! I'm sorry, honey... go and see Ivy. Tell me about it later. Have fun, enjoy your day off work!
Josh had insisted on making breakfast for her, and Selina had tried to eat, then told him she needed to sleep. Josh understood completely, she had been like this with Maria too, the first few months were always the hardest when Selina was hit with exhaustion and morning sickness. But she had been resting comfortably when he left the house. He was looking forward to seeing Ivy, even more so because she and Selina had an arrangement now: when Selina was too tired with the pregnancy, Ivy could help out in another way, by taking her pleasure with him...
On the drive over to Ivy's place, he listened to his messages. Oswald informed him that Jax had been very unwell, but was through the worst of it - for now. He said not to disturb him, perhaps to call Carol later, but right now, all Jax needed was rest... Then he had a message from Ronny. He said he was spending the day at home, and looked forward to work tomorrow. That message made Josh smile – that kid was good. He had never seen anyone hit the target first time, so many times at the firing range. He handled a weapon like he was born for the job. And recently, he had bumped into Cain more than once when they had been over at the house.
Ronny and Cain seemed to get along very well. They had talked about his car, and Ronny said he liked to push the machine to its limits. He asked Cain if he had ever raced to Dead Man's Hilltop, and Cain had shook his head, saying his Dad would kill him if he tried something so risky. Those two guys had stood together talking for a long time on the driveway yesterday when Josh had dropped paperwork off at the house. It looked like the two of them were going to be friends. He had already decided tomorrow, he would talk to Ronny about not mentioning dangerous stunts with the car in front of Cain. He couldn't have Oswald's son getting up to anything risky...
Josh soon reached Ivy's place out in the woods, just outside of town. The greenhouse was thriving and she smiled warmly as she invited him inside, and then led him through a maze of pathways where vines reached out, brushing against them in greeting. They came to a door and she opened it up, inside was her living area where she stayed when she was away from home. The bedroom was wide and the ceiling trailed with vines that reached down, wrapping around a four poster bed.
“Is Selina okay?” she asked as she stripped off her dress and it fell in a delicate, shimmering heap against a bed of greenery that seemed to instantly blend with it.
Josh stood there hard and unable to hide it as the bulge in his pants got bigger. She stood there perfect with her bare flesh smooth and flawless, as her red hair tumbled to her waist. Her rounded breasts were high and firm and her nipples rosy. That perfect bare mound between her legs was ever so slightly swollen as within, pink wetness glistened. He felt like mother nature herself was demanding a fuck, and he was ready to comply.
“She's tired, but okay,” he said with a smile.
He thought about his wife, getting up a little later, reviving herself with peppermint tea to fight the nausea so she could get on with her day and be up for Maria when she woke. Selina would be just fine, she just needed plenty of rest.
“Take your clothes off,” Ivy told him softly.
Josh hurriedly stripped naked, as she watched him with a smile on her face.
“I'm so glad Selina said we could have fun... I want us to fool around with the Licker plants!” he said.
“The Lickers are in a separate area, they need a lot of heat in winter...” she had her back to him, and then she turned around, with lube in her hand.
“Selina told me exactly what to give you, Mr Tiny Cock! Now bend over that fucking bed!”
The sharpness of her tone made his aching cock leak as he obeyed, shivering with anticipation as she pushed lubed fingers inside him and gave them a twist. His ass opened up willingly, quickly – and she wasted no time grabbing a dildo and strapping it on.
“Suck it, Josh!” she commanded.
He felt dizzy with excitement. There was something about Ivy taking over, and being alone with Ivy while she was dominant gave him a huge thrill. It was like toying with creation itself, a powerful force – and he was a willing slave, and those plants could do so much to him, too. Later, when he returned home, Selina would be feeling better. She would rub her clit like crazy, hearing about this...
He barely had time to suck the dildo. Ivy drew it back, then ran her cool fingertips down his back before lining up with his ass and entering with a firm thrust. It was a hard ride, she had no mercy in her as he cried out and she went harder. His come spilled on her sheets as her face flushed, the thrust of the base of the dildo hitting her clit one last time after so much friction had sent her over the edge. She buried deep inside him, as they panted together.
Ivy's hair trailed his back and made every nerve in his body tingle as she withdrew from him. Then she gave a sigh as he slumped down on the bed. The trialing vines snaked out, curious to stroke at his bare flesh, and it felt good. Ivy took off the strap on, then reached for her dress.
“You're good to go again, Josh. I need more. If you can't manage it yet, I have a potion for that.”
Josh was laughing as he rolled on his back, then he sat up on the bed as the stroking vines retreated.
“I want to have some fun with the Licker plants! I want their tongues all over me, and then, I want to see one of those things eat your pussy!”
Desire was warming up in her eyes once more as she took a step back towards the door and beckoned with her finger.
“Let's go and wake them up together!”
Josh got up and reached for his clothing.
“Leave your clothes, you won't need them yet!” she reminded him, and then he followed her out of the room as they made their way out of the living area, taking a path that led to the other side of the green house.
Ivy went in first.
“NO!” she screeched.
Josh hurried in, as she looked on in despair and he stared at the ground where the Licker plants used to sit:
They were all gone...
Ivy gave a sob and started to panic.
“Find them, Josh! I need my plants back! I have a contract, an agreement stating I won't let my plants loose! They won't believe me, the cops will think I'm hiding them! They'll put me back in Arkham! Go and find my plants NOW!”
“I'm naked!” Josh exclaimed, it was all he could think to say as he looked at her in alarm.
“So get dressed and then go and find them!” fear shone in her eyes, “I'm not going back to Arkham! I didn't move them, Josh - someone has stolen them!”
Then another thought hit her.
“If Oswald thinks I did this, he'll send Firefly to burn the greenhouse!”
“No, he won't do that. I'll think of something, please calm down, it's going to be okay.”
“The GCPD take turns with the underworld to check on my plants once a month! We have three weeks to find those plants, Josh!”
“And we will find them,” he promised her, as he silently hoped he was not making a vow he couldn't keep – he didn't know where to start, the plants had simply vanished with no sign of a break in... Right now, finding those missing plants seemed impossible, and if they were not returned, Ivy was in trouble, deep trouble that she would not be able to get out of again – the kind of trouble that would see her sent back to Arkham, forever...
As he woke from a deep sleep unbroken all night, Jax slowly opened his eyes, saw sunlight streaming through a gap in the curtains and breathed a relieved sigh. The headaches had gone, the light was not hurting his eyes and while he was sure yesterday he had dreamed terrible dreams, the sleep he had enjoyed since had been peaceful and the fever was gone now. Carol was stirring as he turned on his side and kissed her cheek.
“Good morning, dear,” Jax said softly, putting his arm around her as he drew her closer.
Carol blinked away sleep. He had recovered rapidly since yesterday, she knew River had said, he would have good and bad days with this implant - but she had not expected him to come back from this so quickly. It was a relief but also, very surprising.
“Jax, you look so well!”
“I ache all over but I feel a lot better,” he said, giving her a reassuring smile.
Carol ran her hand over his shoulder where below it, nothing remained but a stump and buried in his upper chest on the same side as his missing arm, was the implant beneath a healing scar. Bruising radiated outward from it and River had said that was normal. But nothing was normal any more and sometimes Carol feared it never would be again - but this morning, it was almost possible to forget how sick he was as Jax leaned closer and kissed her fondly. She caught the look in his eyes and hesitated.
“Are you sure?” she said softly.
“At this moment I feel well enough, so yes my love, I am sure,” he said.
Then he kissed her again and pulled her closer as slowly and gently, they began to make love, moving together carefully as Jax remembered his aching joints. For the next few moments the room was filled with the sound of soft breathing and careful movements, then Jax caught his breath and closed his eyes, holding her tighter as he slowly breathed out in deepest satisfaction.
“Oh Carol, I do love you so very much,” he whispered, kissing her again then drawing back to look into her eyes.
“I love you too,Jax,” she said, and suddenly it felt like an ordinary morning with time allowed, precious time, to forget the reality of their situation.
Half an hour later Jax was up first, he went downstairs to make breakfast for Carol, making the most of this precious gift of sudden good health that had briefly been restored.
As they had breakfast together, Jax called Oswald, thanking him for his visit. The message went to voicemail and he didn't doubt hearing him say he felt so much better would bring a smile to his face when he checked his messages. By now Carol had mentioned Oswald's plan, and Jax asked him to come over, he said maybe later that day they could visit his stylist - he was keen to save as much of his hair as he could, as it was breaking badly now. Then Jax had laughed and added, “I can't be that sick – I'm even up before you this morning!” Then he thanked him for allowing Alicia to have a sleep over, and said he couldn't wait to see his little girl again - she would be so surprised he was feeling better! As he ended the call, he looked across the table at Carol.
“I think I know the reason why I'm fighting this so well,” Jax remarked, “I have so much to live for – and most of all, I have you and Alicia.” Then he smiled as he reached across the table, giving Carol's hand a fond squeeze.
The rain had held off that morning. Julian was up early to go for his run, Molly was in her dressing gown hugging a mug of coffee and Oswald was still asleep in bed, on his back and snoring softly. She saw the text alert pop up on his phone and placed the phone on the pillow beside him, then she quietly left the room to get the kids up and make breakfast.
Cain was already up and dressed. He threw on his jacket and headed quickly for the door as Molly came downstairs followed by Felix as up stairs, the two girls laughed and chatted as they got ready to start the day.
“Where are you going, Cain?” Molly asked as he reached the front door.
Cain turned back to her, his dark hair spiked like his father, wearing a dark blue suit that had Oswald's style all over it, from the slim cut of his dark waist coat to the diamond stud he wore in his tie pin.
“I'm waiting for Josh and Ronny to arrive. Ronny said he'd let me go for a drive with him. He's got such a cool car!”
And he likes to drove too fast, Molly recalled, making a mental note that Oswald would have to talk to Ronny about his love of speeding - today.
“He's not here yet, and it's cold out there!” she reminded him.
Cain reached for his long dark coat and put it on.
“I'm warm now, Mom!” he said with a smile, then he hurried out the door and Molly went on to the kitchen to fix breakfast for the family.
By now Oswald was up, he had showered and then sat down on the bed and checked his messages. Hearing Jax sound so well again made him smile. He decided he would take Alicia home early that morning, it was the perfect time to see Jax again. He dried his hair, carefully spiking it and spraying the spikes so even the wind wouldn't dare challenge them, then he got dressed and went downstairs to join the family for breakfast.
As he limped into the kitchen leaning lightly on his cane, Oswald had a smile on his face.
“I have good news, Alicia,” he said as he took his seat at the table, “Your Daddy called to say he's feeling much better today!”
As her eyes lit up with joy, in that moment, Alicia reminded him of April.
“Is Daddy better?”
“No, he's not better,” Oswald told her, “But he's having a much better day than yesterday. He will get good and bad days – I did when I was sick. Your Daddy and I had similar conditions, but I didn't get sick because of a robotic arm.”
“And you're okay now,” Alicia said hopefully.
“Yes, I am fully recovered I have been for many years,” Oswald replied, “As I hope your Daddy will soon be recovered too. I'm taking you home this morning, Alicia. Please be ready to go as soon as you've finished breakfast.”
Molly smiled as she looked at Oswald. It was so good to see him happy again, knowing Jax was having a good day had really lifted his spirits.
“When Julian gets back I'm taking Felix and Lucy to the park with Julian,” Molly said, “Luna won't be back until later – Fish is bringing her home at five.”
“And I shall spend a few hours with Jax today,” Oswald told her, “I need to call my stylist – Jax needs a haircut, his hair is breaking, I'm sure we can do something to help him out with that.”
Molly looked across the table at her husband.
“I'm so glad Jax has a friend like you,” she told him, “You're such a great support to him and Carol.”
“I try my best,” Oswald told her, then he got on with breakfast, as Alicia hurried off to get her coat, keen to leave and go home to see Daddy, who was feeling so much better today.
Just then Julian came into the kitchen, his hair was damp with sweat and his face was flushed from his run.
“I can't wait to hit the shower and go back to bed until noon!” he said, opening up the fridge, grabbing some juice and drinking it straight from the carton.
“Kids, park, this morning?” Molly reminded him.
”Yes Daddy, we're going to the park!” Lucy reminded him.
“Sorry, I forgot. Okay, I won't be five minutes, Molly – I need a shower!”
He hurried out of the room as Molly smiled, shaking her head. Julian would always be a little forgetful. And if they didn't have so much to do this morning, she would have run up those stairs to join him in the shower. But it was the weekend, and those days were all about the kids. Molly heard giggling, and looked down to see Alicia had just scraped the last of her breakfast to the floor, and now their bulldog Edward was tucking into grilled bacon.
“Not on the floor!” Oswald said in dismay, and Molly laughed.
Molly and Julian were ready to leave with the kids as Molly recalled she needed to say something to Oswald. She hurried over to his car, keeping her voice low as she glanced back at Cain, who was waiting by the porch and checking his watch.
“Please call Ronny and remind him, no crazy stunts with the car around Cain,” she said, and Oswald nodded. Then he drove away, keen to take Alicia home and see Jax once more.
Molly crossed the driveway, glancing to Cain.
“Behave yourself while I'm gone!” she called to him as Cain laughed.
“I always behave, Mom!” he said with a smile, then she got into the car with Felix and Lucy in the back as Julian started the engine and they drove off towards the gates.
As the car turned on to the road and drove away, Cain checked his watch. This was perfect. The house was empty for at least two hours, and Ronny was coming over... he felt nervous and excited at the same time. He also felt a little confused but he always did when ever he bumped into Ronny when he was over at the mansion.
Cain had never been attracted to a guy before. He had almost got himself punched in a fight over a girl at the Christmas party, he was always looking at girls... He had considered himself straight. Until Ronny. He didn't know why his heart skipped a beat when he looked at the guy, but there was just something about him and he couldn't name it, or even begin to work out what it was. He was starting to think, he was probably bisexual like his Dad, and he wanted to have a chat with him about that. He was now wishing he had already had that talk, because Ronny was here soon, he would turn up with Josh, and there was a stack of papers for Josh to take back to the office. Ronny could stay here with him, they could talk some more... and then what? Cain felt a little out of his depth, but it was not a place he didn't want to be, no matter how unknown it was...
Then the black sports car rolled into the drive. Cain couldn't help smiling at the guy who was only six months older than him, yet drove such a cool machine. He loved everything about Ronny Lee Riley, from his car to the way he dressed to that swagger he had every time he walked...
Ronny shut the engine off and got out of the car. He paused to lean against it, running a comb through his hair, then he smiled as he swaggered over towards Cain, who was smiling as his face flushed and his heart skipped a beat.
Be cool, Cain told himself, You're Oswald Cobblepot's son, heir to the empire, stop turning to mush and say something cool! Impress this guy!
Just as Ronny reached the porch, Cain pushed open the front door and gestured inside.
“Welcome, Ronny, do come in! Mi casa es su casa, as my father would say!”
Ronny smiled as he stepped inside.
Cain's heart skipped a beat yet again as he wished his face would stop flushing so warmly.
“Where is everyone?” Ronny asked.
“Dad took Alicia home, and then he's going to visit Jax. Mom and Julian took Felix and Lucy to the park and Luna is staying the weekend with Fish Mommy, so apart from Edward the bulldog who is curled up by the fire, it's just us today.”
“Right,” Ronny replied, and he smiled, trying to hide his tension.
They had spoken a lot since he had started his training, and there was no denying he was attracted to Cain Cobblepot, but this gave Ronny a huge problem - because as much as Ronny wanted to take Cain in his arms and kiss him, as undeniable as their mutual attraction was, it posed a huge problem for him, one that he felt sure Cain would not understand. He carried too many secrets around, and now, it looked like this would be the price for it, meeting Cain, liking the guy so very much - and having to turn him down, because to explain his real reason for wanting to work for Oswald might be too much for Cain to take...
“Where's Josh?” Cain asked, suddenly wondering why his Dad's General was absent.
Ronny looked at Cain, hating to lie, but not wanting to land Josh in the shit. He didn't know where he was. He wasn't even answering his phone, and if Oswald found out he hadn't showed up for the paperwork without a good reason, he would be in big trouble..
“Morning sickness. Selina was really unwell this morning. He called me and said he's running late.”
“Okay,” Cain replied, then he gestured to the front room, where the fire was flickering warmly and the bulldog was dozing on the rug.
“Shall we?” he said with a smile, and Ronny smiled back as he nodded.
The two young men went through to the front room, and as Cain sat on the sofa, Ronny sat beside him, leaving a small space between them.
“Well, this is nice. It sure beats talking out in the cold on the driveway!” Cain laughed, and laughed again as his eyes sparkled like his father as he felt awkward. Ronny was so hot. He wanted to kiss him...
“So, tell me more about yourself,” Cain said as he turned his head and their eyes met.
“There's not much to tell,” Ronny replied, “Honestly, I'm just a guy who happens to be a great driver and a crack shot. I'm so fortunate to get the chance to work for your father.”
In that moment, Cain was holding him in his gaze much like Oswald did when he looked across the table at gang leader meetings, waiting for someone to elaborate on a reply to a question.
“And...You really look like your Dad,” Ronny added with a smile, “I mean, when he was younger...slim, sharp dresser, great hair...”
Cain smiled too.
“Thanks Ronny, but you don't have to flatter me, I know how much the job means to you. And I can not wait to take a ride in that beautiful car of yours!”
Just then, Ronny's phone rang.
“Hello sir,” he said, and then he listened as Oswald told him, he was on the way over to visit Jax, and he was just calling to remind him that if Cain showed an interest in the car, exceeding the speed limit was out of the question.
“I will be sensible, sir,” Ronny replied.
“Is Josh with you?” Oswald asked.
“No, he's at home with Selina, she's feeling unwell. I think he may be late in today.”
“That's understandable,” Oswald replied, “She does suffer in the first few months of pregnancy - my wife was like that with our third child. Is Cain there?”
“Yes he is, sir.”
“Put him on the phone, Ronny.”
Ronny handed the phone to Cain.
“Dad?” he said, “What's up?”
“With Josh absent I need you to take my paperwork to the office. Ronny can drive you. And be sure he sticks within the speed limit!”
“I will, Dad, and say Hi to Jax for me.”
“I'll do that. Speak later son,” Oswald ended the call.
Cain handed Ronny's phone back.
“Well, it seems you're trusted enough to accompany me to the office to put back some paperwork,” he said, “We don't have to leave yet – we could go in an hour or so...”
He stopped talking, his gaze locking with Ronny's.
“Is there something you want to say to me?” Ronny asked softly.
Cain nodded, fleeing that flush heat up his face once more.
“Maybe actions will speak louder than words,” Cain told him as he gathered up his courage to make a move, and he leaned in, closing his eyes as he claimed Ronny's mouth with a kiss. Ronny reached for him, running his fingers through his hair, then Cain kissed him deeply, his hand slipped from his shoulder and started to slide down his body.
Ronny pulled back sharply, with almost with a look of panic in his eyes. This moment, for Cain, had gone from being amazing to utterly shit in a split second.
“What did I do wrong?” he demanded.
Ronny shook his head. Then he took his comb form his pocket and ran it through his hair.
“Nothing, you did nothing wrong. I like you too, I want you too – but I can't!”
As he put his comb away, Cain sat there staring at him. Ronny's eyes were wide as he made that statement - as if what he wanted was impossible, yet just now, they had kissed and it had been great for both of them.
“Let me think...” Cain said, desperate to salvage the situation, “You work for my Dad. You think seeing the bosses son could get messy if things went wrong – no, my father is not like that! He wouldn't fire you! And the age gap.. it's six months. That's no big deal....” he paused as another thought hit him, “Ronny, are you afraid my Dad would be mad about us? Because he won't be, he's very open minded, he's in a three way relationship with my Mom and Julian! He's bisexual. And sexuality is not an issue around here, this city is a very diverse and progressive place. No one would make a big deal out of us seeing each other! Is that what it is, you're not sure about being open?”
Ronny was looking at him wide eyed.
“No,” he said honestly, “It's nothing like that.”
“Then what is it?” Cain demanded, “Ronny, I'm crazy about you! I have never been attracted to a guy before in my life – then you changed that! I don't have a problems with how I feel about you, and by the way you responded just now, you don't have a problem either! So why did you push me away?”
Ronny gave a heavy sigh.
“You don't know me well enough yet, Cain. There are things you need to know about me before we even think about a relationship - and now isn't the time for it!”
“Do you have a girlfriend?”
“No,” Ronny replied.
Ronny looked at him sadly.
“I wish! And if I did, that boyfriend would be you. But not right now, it's a bad time.”
“Why?” Cain asked.
Ronny shook his head.
“I'd better take that paperwork to the office for your father.”
He got up as Cain got up too and grabbed at his wrist. Ronny turned back sharply and pulled his hand from his grip.
“Please don't do this, Cain!”
“What did I do wrong?” he demanded.
Ronny shook his head.
“Nothing. It's not you – it's me. And I really do mean that! I would love to take you in my arms, but I just can't, I'm sorry!”
Cain got up and left the room, then returned with paperwork. He handed it to him sharply as he looked away.
“You'd better run that errand for my Dad.”
“Cain, listen -”
“Let's just forget it, Ronny – like you said, it's not a good time.”
Cain turned away and left the room, heading for the stairs. Ronny looked down at the paperwork in his hand, blinking away tears as he remembered he had a job to do. Of course he did. And maybe, this was the price for a achieving his ambition. It wasn't a price that Ronny wanted to pay, but as he had said to Cain, there were reasons, and now was not the right time... Edward the dog padded over to him. Ronny smiled down at the friendly dog and paused to kneel beside him, stroking his wrinkled head as he looked into his eyes.
“It's not fair, Edward,” he said quietly, “But I can't explain anything to Cain – not yet. And I do like him a lot, I really do... you're a cute dog.”
He gave the dog a hug. Edward looked up, eyes shining brightly and if he could have smiled, he would have. Then Ronny got up and took the papers in his hand.
“I have to go now,” he said, “I've got to do a job for Oswald.” Then he left the house, still thinking of Cain as he wished circumstances were different. But Ronny had a secret, and now was NOT the right time to explain...
Ivy Pepper was distraught. She had been tearful all the way back to the city as Josh told her to calm down, and promised again, he would think of something to solve this.
“Everyone knows you wouldn't conceal any of your creations. You have an agreement with the underworld and the GCPD to abide by the rules - and Oswald certainly knows you wouldn't do anything to screw that up! Why would you go against that, Ivy? You'd go straight back to Arkham! It's obvious you had nothing to do with it!”
Ivy's eye make up was running as she looked at him tearfully.
“Try telling that to the cops - they'll want to lock me up again, and if they put pressure on Oswald -”
“We're not telling him yet.”
As Josh said that, Ivy's eyes went wide.
“You're hiding this from him? Oh no, this is going to make it worse for both of us, Josh! Maybe even Selina too, she could get dragged into this, and she's pregnant -”
As Josh said her name sharply, she fell silent, looking at him tearfully. Josh looked back at the road, taking a turn into a street that led towards home.
“Calm down! We will tell Oswald - just not yet, because I think we can resolve this without him finding out you have missing plants, losing his temper and -”
“And Firefly burning my greenhouse?” she said as her voice trembled.
“It won't come to that. We only have to tell one other person about this - my wife.”
Josh stopped the car outside the house. Ivy wiped her eyes, then stared at him.
“You think Selina can solve this? Josh, I love her as much as you do, but we both know when she falls pregnant she crawls exhausted into her bed and turns into Little Miss Nausea for three months! How is telling Selina going to achieve anything, except perhaps worrying her, when she doesn't need to be worried, while she's coping with the first trimester of pregnancy?”
“Have you finished, Ivy?”
“Yes Josh, I have!”
“Then let's tell Selina what's happened,” he said as he shut off the engine outside the house, “She might not feel up to doing much right now, but she can certainly use that brilliant mind of hers and right now, we need her help - and she won't tell Oswald or the GCPD.”
Josh got out of the car. Ivy got out too, wiped her eyes again and then as Josh opened up the gate, she followed him up the garden path, blinking away more tears.
Selina was on the sofa resting as she listened as Josh explained everything. She was up and dressed she had managed some breakfast, and now Maria was in the kitchen, on the floor with paper everywhere as she painted colourful pictures. She had run in to hug Daddy and Ivy, then Josh had briefly looked at a picture she had made of the garden in winter, all brown with black lines of paint for trees, then he had told her it was great, and could she please make another one while he talked with Mommy?
As soon as she had left the room to return to her painting, Josh kept his voice low and told her everything. Selina sat there with a look of alarm on her face as he finished speaking and Ivy sniffed and wiped her eyes.
“I swear I know nothing about this!” Ivy insisted, “You know I would never breach the terms of my agreement – I'd be straight back in Arkham. And why the hell would anyone steal my Licker plants?”
“Money,” said Josh, “But all your plants are all different - and no one would know what they can do, unless they're close to your project. How many people know the details of your creations and what they can do?”
She paused for thought.
“Only people I've had to work with, linked to the underworld and the GCPD – and I very much doubt Jim Gordon stole them!”
Josh smiled at the thought: Jim Gordon, stealing Licker plants? No, that wouldn't happen...
“Is anything else missing?” Selina asked.
Ivy shook her head.
“Everything else is in the main greenhouse, nothing was disturbed. I'd only moved the Licker plants three weeks ago – they have fast growing roots, they can shift around, they needed their own space, so I made a separate area in the extension to the greenhouse and I had to fill out a lot of paperwork and it all had to be checked, by the GCPD and the underworld... Papers had to be signed for both sides to acknowledge that my plants were moved to a secure area.”
Josh was silently thinking, and what he was thinking did not add up to anything positive: Oh shit, if the underworld were somehow involved in this, it either meant someone on Oswald's side had decided to try and make money from the plants, or they were trying to make Ivy look guilty to get rid of her... He wasn't sure which theory was right, but didn't care to share either with Ivy, she was too upset and it was the last thing she needed to hear...
Ivy went upstairs for a lie down. Maria tried three times to go up there to show Ivy some of her paintings, and eventually, Josh told her to go up, because he hoped that spending time with Maria would bring a smile back to her face. While she was upstairs and Maria was showing her the pictures she had made, Josh sat down on the couch next to his wife and spoke quietly to her.
“I can't go out behind Oswald's back and trace these plants. He would want to know why I withheld information. We know that's a serious offence in underworld law to hide something this big from Oswald. So we need to bring someone in who we can trust to do it for us.”
Selina had been thinking about this too. She nodded in agreement.
“Someone in the middle, not underworld and not GCPD, who can take neutral ground on the matter?”
“Exactly,” Josh replied.
“Bruce Wayne,” Selina said, “I'm very sure he would want to look into this, or get his people to look into it... I'll call him, ask him to come over and I can explain everything. I know he's a busy man, it might take a few calls before he gets the message, but he will want to help. He can get on to finding the plants, and you don't have to explain anything - Ivy can explain when the plants are safely back home.”
“I'll still have to tell Oswald.”
“Yes, but afterwards, when he won't have a reason to get angry and burn the greenhouse. None of this is Ivy's fault and it's hit her very hard. We can get her though this smoothly if we ask Bruce to find the plants. Trust me, Josh - it's the best way.”
As their eyes met and their gaze lingered Josh smiled as Selina smiled too, looking bewitching as her soft curls fell around her pretty face and her eyes shone with love. Josh took her hand, pulling her closer.
“I do trust you, Selina,” he said softly, “And it's a great idea. We can do this, all we have to do is work together.” Then they kissed to seal the deal, both feeling optimistic now they had a plan.
Oswald's visit to the Sterling household was very different to the day before, when Jax had been desperately ill.
“He's a lot better today, Carol said with a smile as she opened the front door.
She invited him in, then paused to hug Alicia as she told her she had fun at the sleep over, then Carol turned from Alicia and mentioned Jax was up and dressed this morning and in the front room, then she led Alicia off to the kitchen so Jax and Oswald could talk.
Oswald went through to the front room, where Jax was sitting in his favourite armchair. He was wearing a dark suit, with his shirt open at the neck and wearing no tie, and he looked well – certainly, so much better than yesterday, when he had been barely aware of his presence.
“Oswald!” he said with a warm smile, and Oswald limped over to him, paused tp hug his close friend, then he took a seat and looked intently at Jax.
“You look so well today!” he remarked with a bright smile.
“I'm told I'll have good days, and clearly this is one of them,” Jax agreed, then he paused as his eyes briefly clouded with worry.
“What was I like yesterday? I don't recall you being there...I think someone held my hand, I thought it was you... I kept having terrible dreams and I couldn't wake from them.”
There was a brief flash of fear in his eyes, then it was gone. Oswald understood, Jax had been having terrible nightmares about the monolith tragedy, and to see that all over again and not be able to wake from it must have been hell.
“I was beside you the whole time, while you had terrible nightmares,” Oswald said softly, “And I did hold your hand and I did not let go until you were peacefully recovering once more. I will do it again any time you need me, my friend. It's an honour to help you in this time of need.”
Gratitude shone in his eyes as Jax nodded, managing a smile despite recalling snatches of his nightmare.
“Thank you for that, Oswald. Friends like you are rare and so very precious.”
Oswald smiled too on hearing that, then he changed the subject, not wanting Jax to praise him to the skies simply for being there when he needed a friend. Of course he would be there for him, he wanted to help in any way he could and get him through this ordeal.
They spoke together for more than an hour, and then Oswald informed him they could go and see his stylist today. Jax thanked him and said it was a good idea, as his hair was breaking at an alarming rate, becoming dry and brittle and he really didn't know if anything could be done with it. Oswald had promised him it wasn't beyond saving, and then they left the house together, as Oswald drove him across town to visit his stylist, who was usually closed today, but had opened up his salon just for Mr Cobblepot's General.
While Molly and Julian were at the park with the younger kids, and Oswald was sitting there in the salon waiting for Jax as he got his hair cut, Cain was at home, worrying about the situation with Ronny. The paperwork had been taken to the office. Now Ronny was out the front, in his car, just waiting for his Dad to return so he could find out if he was needed for work today. Cain couldn't go out there to him. He felt awkward and upset, and kept asking himself why Ronny had pushed him away. He needed to talk to his Dad about this, because it felt like the best thing to do. His father would have some great advice, he felt sure of it...
Oswald had left the salon with Jax, and now they were in the car. Oswald was about to turn the key in the ignition to start up the engine to drive Jax back home, but in that moment he sensed something wrong, and as he turned his head he saw tears in his General's eyes. Oswald drew his hand back from the keys, instead placing a hand on Jax's arm as he spoke kindly to him.
“What's wrong?” he asked.
Jax shook his head.
“I can't believe I'm falling apart like this!”
He paused to run his hand over his hair. Oswald had felt an ache in his heart as he had sat there in the salon, watching Jax visibly tense, just for a moment as the scissors had sliced through his hair. Now it was shaved close to his head around the back and sides, and had short spikes on top. It suited him, and would ensure he had no more breakage, too. And Jax had been pleased with the result, saying Carol would love it. But now he couldn't fight back his tears as he met Oswald's worried gaze.
“I don't think I'm going to come through this, Oswald. I think I'm going to die.”
He gave a quiet sob, and Oswald reached for him, pulling him into a tight, supportive hug as Jax wept on his shoulder. Then he pulled back, wiping his eyes as he apologised for his emotional mood.
“It's fine,” Oswald assured him, “It's okay to be upset and scared. I felt that way when I was sick. But please, Jax – whatever you do, don't give up hope.”
Just then his phone rang. Oswald pulled it from his coat and gave a sigh.
“Sorry, my son's on the phone...”
He took the call as Jax sat there, breathing slowly as he fought to compose himself once more.
“Dad,” said Cain, “Can I talk to you about something -”
“Is it urgent?” Oswald said as tension crept into his voice, “Because if not, you will have to speak to me later. I'm in the middle of something right now and it's important.”
Cain gave a heavy sigh.
“No, it's not urgent, Dad.”
“Then talk to me later,” Oswald replied, “Sorry son, I have to go.”
He ended the call and turned back to Jax, placing a hand on his arm as he gave a gentle squeeze.
“You will get through this,” he promised him, “I will be with you every step of the way. I won't let you face this alone, and if you need to cry and speak of your fears, and you don't want to upset Carol or Alicia, you can always come to me, and cry on my shoulder. I've been through a very similar experience, I know how you feel and I will help you through this.”
Jax nodded. He felt stronger now.
“Thank you, Oswald, “ he replied, “I'll do that. I need to do that, I don't think I could get through this with out you.”
Oswald drove Jax home, then headed back to the mansion. When he returned, he found Ronny parked in his car. He told him to go home and take the day off. Then he went inside and Cain came downstairs asking if he had five minutes. Oswald had just had his General sobbing in his arms, bringing back memories of his own health problems years before, and it had stirred up a lot of bad memories. He wasn't in the mood to speak to anyone at that moment.
“Later, son, it's been a tough morning,” he replied, then he went off to his study to console himself with a stiff drink until Molly and Julian got back with the rest of the family.
Cain went upstairs to his room, deciding to leave the chat with his father for another day. It wasn't as if there was any rush - as it probably wouldn't change the situation at all. Ronny had pushed him away, and he couldn't figure out why, but he guessed he wouldn't be changing his mind about that decision any time soon...
Later, as night fell, Julian felt tense. He was lying to Molly and Oswald. Well, not exactly lying, but he was keeping a secret. It didn't matter that when news of the miracle hit the media, it would be time to explain, because for now, he was hiding the truth from those he loved, and it hurt him more than he could ever describe - but Lucy had said she wanted to heal the sick children. Who could turn down an idea like that? Of course she would do it! He would just have to live with the guilt weighing heavy in his heart until he explained everything, and hoped Ozzie and Molly could forgive him. They were so protective towards Lucy, and he was glad of it, too - she had ability that was vast and she needed to be kept safe because of that, and also, because she was only five years old. But what she wanted to do was something he couldn't deny her. He wanted those sick children cured, too...
And now they were getting out of the car, and walking towards the entrance to the hospital. And Lucy wasn't little any more. She was wearing Molly's dress and shoes, and a long, thick coat that he really hoped Molly wouldn't miss that night. Julian zipped up his coat and pulled up the hood, keeping his head down as they entered the building.
“Follow me, and I'll show you where to go,” he told her, “You go in there, you do the healing thing, and you come straight back out again - then we get out of here!”
In her adult form, her long, straight fair hair fell forward as she lowered her head, obscuring her face from security cameras.
“Okay Daddy!” she said, and Julian led the way towards the elevator, to go to the third floor, where some dying children were about to get a miracle...
Julian waited a short distance down the corridor as Lucy sneaked in. As he waited for her, he thought back to all the times he had healed the sick while he had the ability to do so, and in that moment, he knew he missed those days. But Lucy's power was far greater than anything he had ever possessed. And she was five years old, disguised as an adult and the fact that she could do that worried him – but not today, not knowing what she was doing as she went from room to room, working quickly. She was gone for ten minutes, then as he heard her voice up the corridor he gave a gasp, turning his head in time to see her talking to a nurse who had asked who she was visiting.
“Um... my sister,” Lucy said with a bright smile, “And I'm all done now, I'm going home... or I might go out somewhere, you know, have ice cream or maybe a burger. Or burger and ice cream – I can do what I like, I'm a grown up!”
As the nurse looked in confusion at the strange young woman, Lucy laughed, then she turned away and hurried off up the corridor. Julian ducked around a corner as she caught up with him, then he took her by the hand, walking her quickly towards the elevator.
“Time to go, we have to leave now! I told you, don't speak to anyone!”
“But she was nice!” Lucy exclaimed, then she glanced back, unaware her hair had just tossed over her shoulder, and half her face had been caught on camera. In the morning, when news of the sick children who had been cured by the miracle worker hit the headlines, the questions would start:
Who is the young woman who saved the children?
Who is the Angel of Gotham?
Jax Sterling woke that morning feeling tired but able to get up. His shoulder was too painful to wear his prosthetic arm, and he was getting used to the fact that he would have to live for a while without it – although it wasn't much to miss, considering it was an ordinary prosthetic and nothing like his robotic arm, but that was gone now and he could never have another. Anything else was, for Jax, merely cosmetic. He got up and showered and dressed and then lingered by the mirror, running a hand over his new haircut. It suited him, it was like a much shorter version of Oswald's style, and he could live with that. Carol came into the bedroom, saw he was up and walked over to him and kissed his cheek and then she paused to admire his new look as she ran her fingertips over the short soft hair that ran into small spikes.
“You look very handsome. You could be Oswald's brother with that hair!”
Jax smiled warmly, slipping his arm around her as he looked into her eyes.
“And that is a high compliment,” he replied, “Thank you, Carol.”
Just then Alicia ran in, and she looked up at Carol and her father as she spoke urgently.
“Carol, did you tell Daddy about the magic lady?”
“What's this about?” he asked.
“Apparently a young woman walked into Gotham General last night and cured fifteen terminally ill children – she cured them by touch, laid a hand on each of them in turn and healed them. They caught her face on camera... it's odd but she seems familiar, but I don't know why – I'm sure I've never seen her before.”
“A healer?” Jax said as he felt his hopes rise, and Carol caught the look in his eyes.
“Don't,” she said quietly as Alicia left the room and she followed, heading for the stairs as Jax did too and they began to make their way down together, “It's well known that the Resurrected can heal injuries in times of disaster – but even they can't lift out poison. It was said Messiah couldn't touch poison, either. This woman healed diseases in sick children. Maybe she's a new miracle for this city, but it doesn't mean she can help you. Please don't get your hopes up.”
They followed Alicia into the front room, where the TV was on and the news report was still running. As the sideways view of the woman's face caught on camera flashed up, Carol studied the image.
“It's odd, I do feel she's familiar, But she can't be. I don't know her.”
“It's not a very clear image,” Jax replied, “And you're probably right about her ability – she can heal the sick, but most likely only organic disease or injuries. She wouldn't be able to lift out chemical poisoning. There's never been one with such a gift able to do that as far as I'm aware.”
Carol smiled as she looked at Jax, staying strong for him as she spoke again.
“Oh well, we can rely on River to save you, Jax. Your treatment is tried and tested and in most cases, successful.”
“In some,” he reminded her quietly, and then as Alicia asked who was taking her to school that day, Jax turned to his daughter and smiled warmly.
“We are both taking you today!” he said brightly, as Carol resisted the urge to weep as she thought about what Jax had just said. It was a painful but honest reminder - some survived, but not all. Jax was under no illusions about his chances.
Over at the apartment where Penguin and Iris lived, the family had been having breakfast when the news broke of the miracle that had happened at the hospital. Little Penguin was sitting at the breakfast table eating scrambled eggs, and as the report showed a blurry, side view of the face of the healer, he gave a gasp. His little flippers twitched and he flung his spoon upwards and over his shoulder as scrambled eggs hit the kitchen cupboard behind him with a splat.
Penguin looked at his son and laughed.
“Little Penguin!” Iris exclaimed, “That's so messy! I have to clean that up now!”
Then her attention was drawn to the news as she and Penguin listened to the report.
“That's amazing!” Iris said, “What a wonderful thing to do for those children!”
“It is wonderful indeed,” he agreed with a nod of his head, then he looked to his son, who had left his food.
“If you don't want it, I'll have it!” he chuckled as he patted his round belly, “Always room for more!”
Little Penguin looked at his parents, small eyes shining as his flippers shook excitedly.
“What is it, sweetheart?” asked Iris.
Little Penguin could hold it in no more, because it was hard to stay quiet when Lucy had said he had to keep a secret - and it was about to burst right out.
He had to let it go.
“LUCY IS A GROWN UP!” he yelled, then he stood on the chair, flung his arms wide and opened up his flippers, doing a little dance as he waved his arms about and started to chant.
“Lucy is a grown up, Lucy is grown up, Penguin can't keep a secret, Lucy is a grown up!”
Iris had just got up to clean the mess off the cupboard. She stood there staring at her son as he chanted, then she and Penguin exchanged a glance as Penguin shoved another spoonful of left over scrabbled eggs in his mouth.
“What is he going on about?” she said in confusion.
Penguin swallowed, belched and then shrugged.
“I don't know, our boy's just singing today. I'm still hungry. Got any more bacon, Iris? Or you could give me a chunk of that salmon steak in the fridge – no need to cook it.”
Their son was still chanting.
“Please don't eat raw fish, its so gross!” she said to Penguin as she served up some spare bacon, then she reached for her Little Penguin, sitting him down in his seat as she poured him a glass of milk.
“Don't dance on the chairs.”
“But Lucy is a grown up!” he exclaimed.
“Lucy is the same age as you!”
Little Penguin looked up at his Mommy with small dark eyes wide and truthful.
“Lucy is on TV,” he said, indicating to the screen with his flipper as the reporter spoke to a grateful family whose child had been saved, and in the corner of the screen was that side view shot of the miracle worker.
Iris stared at the image, then looked to Penguin, who was also thinking the same as Iris: That young woman did look a bit like a Lambrick...
“It can't be,” Penguin said with dismissive wave of his flipper, “Lucy's just a kid.”
Iris stared at the screen, then looked sharply to Penguin.
“Julian used to be Messiah,” she reminded him in a hushed voice.
Penguin blinked, chewed on the bacon that hung from his mouth, swallowed it and reached out with a flipper and grabbed another slice.
“But Lucy is a regular kid.”
“Maybe not,” Iris reminded him, “Every time Little Penguin's had a cold and played with Lucy, the cold goes away.”
Penguin ate the other piece of bacon, shaking his head as he thought about it.
“No, they would have told us if she could do the things Julian used to be capable of.”
“Maybe not,” Iris replied, “If she has his gift, they would want to keep it quiet.”
Penguin drank down his coffee then set the cup back on the table.
“Iris,” he paused to belch again as on the other side of the table, Little Penguin copied and laughed and clapped his flippers, “Julian lost that ability after Bane got his hands on him. Oswald told me all about it – Fish used to have the same gift, she lost it all saving Julian's life. What ever that power was, burned itself out. It's gone.”
There was the scrape of a chair then a thump as Penguin got down from his seat, then he waddled quickly into the front room to watch TV. The news report had ended. Iris was still thinking about it all. That woman possibly looked like... a grown up Lucy?
“I can solve this,” she said to Penguin, then she hurried from the room. Penguin got up from the table, grabbing a left over slice of toast, and waddled after her into the front room.
Little Penguin was sitting on the rug watching TV. Iris went over to him and knelt beside him.
He turned his head.
“When you said, Lucy is a grown up, what did you mean, how is she a grown up?”
Penguin thought about what he had seen on the night Lucy transformed, and he gave a shrug, explaining in the only way he could.
“She puts on her Mommy's dress - Auntie Molly's dress and then... Lucy is a grown up!”
“Okay, thank you for telling me that.”
Then she got up and turned back to Penguin.
“Obviously that's all there is to it. She plays dress up.”
“Obviously she does,” Penguin concluded, then he bit into the toast, “I still want that salmon,” he added, and waddled out of the room again.
Josh had left for work with his thoughts on Ivy's situation. She had barely slept the night before. Bruce would be coming over to the house later that evening after work, and he hoped Selina was right when she said she felt sure Bruce would be able help with the matter of the missing plants. Ivy would have to return to check on the rest of her greenhouse soon. He knew she was worried about her plants, desperately worried – in case she returned and found more of them missing... But he had to go to work, and now Josh switched his thoughts to his working day as he headed over to mansion. The drive was easy and the traffic was flowing smoothly.
He reached the mansion just before eight am, and Ronny's car was already in the driveway. Ronny was sitting in his car, and he stayed there even after Josh had parked his own vehicle and got out. He went over and tapped on Ronny's window, and Ronny jumped, turning his head with a startled look in his eyes, then he opened the door and got out of the car.
“You looked a thousand miles away!” Josh said, “Is something up?”
“No, I was just daydreaming,” Ronny replied, then he changed the subject, “So, what are we doing today?”
“Today you are meeting early with Oswald because he wants to talk to you about your progress,” Josh replied.
There was a flash of worry in Ronny's eyes.
“I hope it's going to be good news, I mean, I still have a lot to learn, I'm not perfect...”
“Don't worry,” Josh told him, “I'm sure it will be okay. He seems pleased with your progress, he hasn't complained since I started training you.”
Ronnie looked at him hopefully.
“So that's good news?”
“I assume so, I really don't know what Oswald's thinking, only he knows that,” Josh replied, then he checked the time.
“We'd better go inside,” he said, and Ronny followed as Josh led the way to front door.
When he heard the knock, the kids were having breakfast before Molly took them to school. Julian had barely slept all night and even his punishing fitness routine had done nothing to take the edge off his fears as he thought about the confession he had to make to the two people he cherished most in this world. He had kept a secret from Molly and Oswald, and he hated himself for it, even though they had both talked about the news report on TV this morning and said how wonderful it was that those sick children had been saved. He told Josh and Ronny to go and wait by the study, and that Oswald would be along shortly, then he walked off, waiting for Lucy to finish her breakfast. He could barely look Molly and Oswald in the eye. He was so happy with them, their lives had been going so well, with no problems, they never quarrelled.. and now, he feared what he had done, to let Lucy use her secret ability, could break them up forever.
What if Molly hated him for it?
What if Oswald couldn't forgive him?
He was due at the mayor's office by nine that day. He decided, he would wait to say goodbye to Lucy when she left for school then he would leave for work, and work until late. He had told Lucy they would confess together, after he came back from work, because Mommy and Daddy Oz needed to know the truth, and he was the one who should explain, because he had let her do it, all of this was his fault... Julian blinked away tears, managing to hide his worry as he rejoined the family in the kitchen. Lucy had just finished breakfast. She left the table and walked out of the room and as he followed her, she reached for her coat.
“Don't worry, Daddy,” she said with a smile, and he smiled too, hiding his fears that maybe, his decision to let her do a good deed might have wrecked his happiness. Molly and Oswald wouldn't forgive this...
Molly left shortly after, to take the younger kids to school. Soon after, Cain wandered out of the house alone and headed for the gate after seeing Josh and Ronny standing in the hallway by the study. Ronny had glanced at him and looked away. Cain still wanted to talk to his Dad but wasn't sure when the right moment would be, apparently he had been quite emotionality all evening yesterday after visiting Jax, and he didn't want to choose a bad time to talk about this. Julian left the driveway soon after, his thoughts still on Molly and Oswald and that confession he had to make as he made the morning drive to work.
Oswald finished his tea and then left the table last of all and made his way to the study, ready to speak to Ronny about his progress. Today was a special day for Ronny, but Ronny didn't know that... and he went into the study as Josh followed, as Ronny was told to wait outside for a moment. Ronny stood there, watching through the half open door as Josh stepped forward, said Good Morning Mr Penguin, sir, and then Oswald spoke to him about papers that needed taking over to the office. Ronny glanced about the empty hallway, then stepped closer to a mirror on the wall, putting his shoulders back and stepping forward just like Josh.
“Good morning Mr Penguin, sir,” he said, then he tried it again, mirroring Josh as he glanced in again, noting the way he stood in that finely cut suit and how he was in the habit of keeping his hands at his sides and his shoulders back as he spoke to the boss.
“I can do that...” Ronny muttered, then the door opened and Josh told him to come in and Ronny ran a hand over his hair, turned from the mirror and went into the study, shoulders back and hands at his sides.
Josh stood back by the door, waiting for Ronny and Oswald to have their meeting. He knew what was coming next – he had never been through this, because Oswald had taken him on under different circumstances, but Ronny was unaware he was about to face a very tough situation indeed... But Josh knew the bottom line. It was all up to Ronny's attitude now...
Ronny walked up to Oswald, took a step forward and smiled.
“Good morning Mr Penguin, sir,” he said politely.
“Good morning, Ronny, have a seat.” Oswald replied as he looked through paperwork and Ronny took a seat and looked at him across the desk. Oswald pushed the notes back into the file and laid it aside, then he looked across his desk at Ronny.
“I've heard stories about you racing up at Dead Man's Hilltop. That's highly irresponsible.”
Ronny stared at him.
“I didn't do it in working hours, Oswald!”
“That's sir or Mr Penguin to you!” Oswald said as anger blazed in his eyes, then he paused, drawing in a slow breath as he contained his temper, “You spend at least ten minutes every morning sat in your car with a comb in your hand, grooming! You also sit like you have the world's largest testicles and you're in the habit of scratching your nuts every twenty minutes! And you may be an excellent shot, but when you went to the firing range last week you waved that weapon about with arrogance! A gun is a weapon to be used when necessary and with skill, Mr Riley!”
“I was just proud of my scores!” Ronny protested.
Oswald breathed slowly, briefly closing his eyes, then he looked sharply at Ronny as he drew a gun and placed it on the table.
“This a weapon capable of defence, capable of blowing a hole in another person, capable of killing them. Your gun is like your penis, Mr Riley – you only get it out when it needs to be used, you do NOT wave it around excitedly for the whole damned world to admire!”
Ronny glanced back at Josh, who looked down at the floor. Then he turned back to Oswald.
“Sir, I'll improve. I'll do anything, l please give me this job, you don't know what it means to me! I want to work for you, it's all that matters to me!”
Oswald looked at him coldly.
“You didn't make the grade,” he replied, “Josh will see you out.”
“But Mr Penguin -”
“Go, Mr Riley,” Oswald replied, “I don't have time to debate this, I'm a busy man,” then he reached of his cane and got up and limped out of the room.
Ronny got up from his seat, his eyes wide as he looked to Josh.
“Help me out here, Josh! I need this job, it's all I want! Please!”
“I can't,” Josh replied, “I'm sorry, I did my best...”
Josh turned away and left the room. Ronny turned to follow him out, then heard shots fired and the sound came from the front of the house.
“Ronny!” Josh yelled, and Ronny looked back at the desk, snatched up the gun and dashed out of the study and up the hallway. The front door was wide open, Josh was leaning against it as he clutched at his side.
“I've been hit!” he gasped, “Lone gunman...two security staff down... he's got Oswald!”
Ronny checked his weapon and ran outside, seeing Oswald held by a masked gunman who had wrapped an arm around his throat as he put a gun to his head, nearby two armed guards were on the driveway and not moving, one still with a gun in his hand as the other lay beside his dropped weapon.
“I said I'd kill the Penguin and I will!” the intruder raged.
Ronnie strode out, eyes set on the gunman.
“Let him go,” he ordered.
The gunman shifted the weapon from Oswald's head and aimed it straight at Ronny.
“I'll blow you away, kid!” he shouted.
Ronny strode towards the gunman and with lightning precision fired off a shot, as the attacker let go of Oswald, yelling out as he was hit in the shoulder. Oswald leaned against the car as he regained his balance, in time to see the attacker drop to his knees, crawling along the gravel as he made for the gate. Ronnie marched up to the masked man, grabbed him by the shoulder and tugged him to his knees, fury blazing in his eyes as he took the gunman by the hair, jerking his head back as he pressed the gun to the base of his skull.
“You'll die for this!” Ronny said, and pulled the trigger.
The weapon clicked.
He pulled the trigger again, and it clicked a second time.
Then he heard a voice behind him as a hand rested on his shoulder.
“You passed,” said Josh.
Ronny looked down in confusion as the attacker got up, with no bullet wound to his shoulder. He took off his mask and he recognised him at once – this guy was one of Oswald's security staff.
“If that gun was loaded, you would have shot Mr Penguin's assassin,” he said, “And the cops will find out there's been an incident. What do you do?”
Ronny was still stunned as he recalled his training.
“I... I call Article Five. I was acting in defence of the underworld, defending Mr Penguin, ultimately defending the unity pact and therefore I am immune to prosecution.”
“Correct,” he confirmed, then he turned away and walked back towards his post. The other guards had just got up from the driveway and one of them said, “Nice job, Ronny.”
Ronny looked at Josh.
“You're not shot, no one is shot...”
“No one has been shot,” Josh confirmed, “It was a test and you just passed!”
As Oswald limped over, he smiled warmly at Ronny.
“When Anton Velaska pulled that stunt with the gun, you put yourself in the line of fire to save me,” he said, “I had no doubt in my mind you would pass this test today. I value loyalty above all else, Ronny. You walked out here willing to take a bullet for me even after I'd yelled at you and sent you away and told you the job wasn't yours. You still defended me. And the job is yours, Mr Riley! You are now assistant to both my Generals. Welcome on board.”
Ronny still felt stunned as he held out his hand and Oswald shook it warmly.
“You're my youngest recruit,” Oswald added, “Several years back during the second war with Bane, when the monolith building went up in flames and six hundred of my men lost their lives, three of those men were only a year older than you. And I see the same courage and determination in your eyes as I saw in them when I took them on. I'm truly happy to give you the job. You've earned it.”
Then Oswald glanced to Josh.
“Ronny can take the rest of the day off. I want you to pick up his suit from the tailors and Ronny can collect his weapon tomorrow. And then I would like you both to go over to visit Mr Jax Sterling, it's about time you met him,” Oswald added, glancing at Ronny.
“Thank you so much, you will never regret taking me on, sir!” Ronny said as gratitude shone in his gaze.
“I know I won't,” Oswald replied, “That's why you've got the job!”
Then he turned away and limped back towards the house.
As Josh and Ronny walked towards the parked cars nearby, Josh noticed Ronny was shaking.
“I was so sure that was real!” he exclaimed, “It was so ….I can't explain it. I just knew what I had to do, I had to save Oswald.”
“We'll take my car,” he said, “You can come back for yours later - we can pick up your suits, and the umbrella tie – you got your tie, Ronny! You're one of us now!”
Ronny laughed as he blinked away tears. They got into the car, with Josh at the wheel. Then Ronny took in a sharp breath.
“Sorry... I think I'm going to cry! I actually thought that guy was going to kill Oswald, I thought he shot you, too...”
“I knew this was coming today, as soon as Oswald said he wanted to test your loyalty I had a feeling you'd pass,” Josh told him, “I've seen a lot of people go through this process. They don't all get the job...”
Ronny was fighting back tears. Josh tried to relax him by relating tales of past experience of the loyalty test, as he laughed and added, “I remember, there was this one guy who heard shots and jumped out the window and ran! Oswald didn't even have to tell him he'd failed - we never saw him again!”
Ronny started to smile as he shook his head.
“And then,” Josh added, “There was this other guy, he seemed really tough, he could handle a fire arm, he had the right attitude to everything - then we did the fake gunman routine... He heard shot, and came out into the hallway and I faked taking a bullet and said the gunman was outside... and the guy shit his pants. Literally. I mean, it went through his clothing and all over the floor... Molly was furious, she came back from the school run and the mansion sunk of shit! Of course, the guy didn't get the job!”
“I bet Oswald was furious too!”
“He was, Ronny - and he didn't come back inside until the floor had been cleaned! I've seen so much during the selection process for staff, but today, you were magnificent... Ronny, are you okay?”
He had turned his head away as he gave a sniff and his voice trembled.
“I'm just glad Oswald's okay... I'm glad about the job, but I really thought that guy was going to kill him... sorry, it's all been a shock...”
Josh put hand on his shoulder, Ronny hastily brushed away a tear and met his gaze.
“You've got the job!” Josh reminded him, and Ronny smiled.
“And it's all I've ever wanted!” he replied as joy shone in his gaze.
“Let's go and pick up your suit, and then we can go and meet Jax,” Josh added, then he started the engine and they drove away from the mansion.
When Carol got the call to say Ronny had got the job, she went upstairs to the bedroom to tell Jax the good news. He was back in bed, resting as he started to feel weak again. His shoulder was sore and his temperature was up again. But he smiled when he heard the good news, and assured her he was well enough to receive visitors. He had been fine, until they were on their way back from the school run and the pain had started to flare up. Now he was
sitting up in bed resting against pillows and wearing his dressing gown, and he was still in bed twenty minutes later when Josh and Ronny arrived.
While Carol made tea for their guests, Ronny and Josh sat at his bedside as Jax congratulated Ronny.
“I'll bet today was tough,” he said.
“It was!” Ronny replied, “But I passed, sir.”
Jax leaned back against his pillows and gave a tired sigh.
“There's no need to call me sir when I'm off duty. You may call me Jax. But when I'm back at work, if you call me Jax I'll soon correct you!” he laughed weakly, then patted Ronny's arm.
“Good work, young man. I know how tough it is to get a job working for Oswald, especially a high ranking one. He told me he had high hopes for you and he's always right about these things...”
Jax closed his eyes, pain before registered on his face as his shoulder throbbed and the pain seemed to echo through his body as it stabbed at his bones. He tensed as he gave a low moan.
“I'm sorry about this... Oh no, Jesus no, not again... god help me...”
Josh felt a flicker of panic. Jax was in chronic pain and struggling as he gave another soft cry and clutched at the sheets as pain coursed through his body.
“I'll fetch Carol,” he said, and hurried from the room.
As Jax turned on his side and gave another cry of pain, Ronny looked on, then he got up and leaned over him, placing a gentle hand on his shoulder.
“It's okay, Jax. Take a deep breath and let it out slowly.”
Jax trembled, closing his eyes as he focussed on the sound of Ronny's voice, and he took a deep breath, breathing out slowly as the pain flickered sharply, then started to fade out.
“And again,” Ronny said, patting his back,”Keep doing that when the pain hits, it will make it easier...”
As Carol returned to the room with a glass of water, she indicated to a pill bottle and Josh hurriedly opened it, tipping out two pills. Carol helped Jax to sit up and take the pain relief, then he laid back again, breathing a sigh as the medication started to kick in.
“Thank you for your help,” Carol said to Josh, then she looked to Ronny.
“You did so well to help him control the pain. Have you had any medical training?”
Ronny shook his head.
“No, but my Uncle Darren used to have a robotic hand. He was one of the unlucky ones - got connective fluid poisoning. That was two years ago. He came through it and now he has a regular prosthetic and he still misses the cyborg hand. When he was sick I used to help him.”
Jax was sleeping now, oblivious to the conversation going on around him.
“Your Uncle's okay now?” Josh asked.
“He made it,” he confirmed, “And now he's back to inventing his smart gadgets for cars... he lost his hand in an accident with a saw blade many years ago, back when he was starting out and building his inventions. As soon as robotics came along, he wanted a robotic hand. I guess most people would want an advanced limb if they lost their own. And they cost a lot of money, too. But that's something you and me don't have to worry about, Josh,” he added, then as he sat there he spread his legs wider and gave his nuts a scratch.
Josh stared at him.
“What do you mean, we don't have to worry about the cost?”
Ronny looked at him in surprise.
“Didn't you know? All of Oswald's men are automatically listed as receiving a robotic replacement if they lose a limb on active duty. I know connection fluid poisoning is a rare, so I wouldn't hesitate to become a cyborg if I needed to - those limbs are almost like having a flesh and bone replacement - but better.”
Josh looked at Jax, who was sleeping soundly, recalling how he had cried out in terrible pain. He looked so tired and worn out by the treatment. His hair was shorter now, and the lines around his eyes seemed to be much deeper now, due to the pain. And there was a significant risk that Jax would die during the treatment, not to mention the fact that in half of all cases, the treatment would fail even of it was completed...
Josh was thinking about the fact that he was on that list, to have one of those robotic replacements if he ever needed it. And he knew as soon as he spoke to Oswald tomorrow, he would ask to be taken off the list. If he ever lost a limb, he would make do with a regular prosthesis, he never wanted to run the risk of going through the agony poor Jax was suffering...
They stayed for a while, talking to Carol. Jax woke up again and seemed out of pain, although he was drowsy. Josh said a fond goodbye to him and then they left to go and pick up Ronny's suit, and all the while it was on his mind: Josh never wanted to go through the pain Jax was suffering. He wanted to opt out of the offer of a robotic limb if it was ever needed, and he hoped Oswald would understand...
Cain caught up with his Dad when he was coming out of the study. He had just made some business calls and now his afternoon was free, he wanted to talk to him, alone.
“I heard Ronny got the job,” he said, and Oswald smiled.
“That young man will be an asset to us all,” he replied, “He most certainly does have the job.”
“And I need to talk to you... alone...” Cain added.
Oswald caught a look in his eyes, realised his son was worried about something and then recalled he had tried to speak to him about this yesterday but at the time, Jax had been having a tough day...
“Of course,” he replied, and led him through to the dining room where the fire flickered warmly and closed the door behind them.
“What's this about, son?” he asked.
Cain took a deep breath.
“I think we need to sit down... this is a bit... awkward.”
“Then let's sit down, I'm all ears,” Oswald assured him, and he sat in his usual seat at the head of the table as Cain pulled out a chair close by and sat down and looked into the eyes of his father.
“It's a romantic issue. I like someone and I kissed them and they pushed me away. I don't know why, it was going so well and then they just... said no, I can't.”
Oswald smiled fondly at his teenage son.
“Oh Cain, I don't doubt you'll soon be chasing after another girl, and this one will probably not turn you down!”
“It's a guy.”
Oswald looked in surprise at his son. Cain had always been crazy about girls, he had never mentioned guys before...
“This is the first time you've ever been attracted to a guy?”
“Just the one guy. Only him... Only Ronny Lee Riley.”
Oswald arched a dark eyebrow.
“Ronny?” he paused for thought, “Well, he is only a few months older than you, and he's a decent young man, I'm happy to employ him – he passed his loyalty test with flying colours. And I have no objection to you dating him. But, perhaps Ronny isn't into you. I always look into the background of my employees for security reasons and Ronny is a single man - but he may not be a gay or bisexual man. And even if he was, he may not be attracted to you. And you can't change that.”
He paused, giving a sigh as he thought back to past heartbreak of his own.
“You know I once had a relationship with Ed Nygma?”
“I loved Ed, but love wasn't enough – he couldn't stay away from women. And now he's been married for many years to Lee Thompkins. I was alone for a long time after we broke up, I missed him, I cried over him – please don't be like me, son. If Ronny isn't attracted to you enough, nor doesn't have the feelings there for you, all you are doing is setting yourself up for heartbreak.”
“You think me and Ronny are like you and Ed, that it can't work out?” he asked.
Oswald looked fondly at his son.
“Oh Cain, you have years to find the right person! But if Ronny doesn't want you, then you can't change that.”
“But he kissed me, he said, he wanted me, but he just couldn't... and he pushed me away.”
Oswald saw confusion in his son's eyes.
“Maybe he's not into you,” he replied honestly, “Or, it could be that he's worried about dating the bosses' son. If that's the case, I'll soon find out. I'll talk to him tomorrow, I'll let him know that if he wants to see you, I have no objection. And I shall also say, if he's not into you, he certainly doesn't have to date you to please me, and I will understand no matter what he chooses to do! And this is all I can do, son. I can only have a friendly word and let him know I have no objection to your friendship.”
“Thanks,” Cain replied, and Oswald smiled kindly at his son.
“Don't worry,” he assured him, “I'll speak to Ronny tomorrow.”
Later, as the afternoon drew towards evening, Lucy got a bad feeling. It made her heart ache and she knew at once, Daddy was upset. He was on his way home from the mayor's office, and he had been crying. He was worried about telling Mommy and Daddy Oz about her being a grown up and helping those sick children...
She knew what to do.
Daddy got upset easily, and she didn't want him to be the one to explain... She went upstairs, took the dress from under her bed and put it on, then she gathered up the skirt so she didn't trip, and went across the hall to find Mommy in the bathroom, where she was tidying up because Felix had just had a bath and splashed water all over the floor.
“Mommy,” she said as she stood there in the doorway, “I need to tell you something.”
Molly finished cleaning up the water and turned around. Lucy was wearing her white summer dress.
“Lucy!” she scolded, “I told you not to wear my clothes!”
“It was me,” Lucy said as she looked up at her, “I was the lady who went to the hospital and made the sick children better. I can be a grown up. Daddy let me do it because he wanted the kids to get better. Please don't be mad at him because he will cry. We just wanted to help the children. So I was a grown up, so no one knew it was me who did it.”
Molly stared down at her.
“What do you mean, you was a grown up?” she said in a hushed voice.
“I'll show you,” said Lucy, and she took a deep breath.
“Bigger, get bigger...” she whispered.
And she did.
She shifted right before Molly's startled eyes, transforming into a woman in her twenties as she stood there wearing a dress that now fitted her perfectly. She smiled as her eyes shone with glee. Molly stumbled and caught hold of the sink, hit by the shock of what she had just witnessed:
Lucy could change into adult form?
Her five year old, their little Lucy Leprechaun could do this?
“It's me, Mommy!” she said excitedly, “I'm all growed up! This is my big Lucy trick!”
“Christ almighty...” Molly whispered, staring in alarm at her five year old, now in an adult body. Her voice trembled as she drew in a breath.
“Oswald,” she called out, “Come here, please, love...”
Then she carried on staring at the smiling woman who looked at her with the innocence of the five year old that she really was. The shock was still sinking in:
Their gifted Lucy who could heal the sick could also turn into an adult?
No, she couldn't let her do this again, she was five years old!
“Say something, Mommy!” said Lucy, “Please don't be mad at me. And don't yell at Daddy, it was all my idea to help the sick children.”
Julian had gone along with this? Molly was sure she was angry with him for letting little Lucy go out in her adult form, but right now, she was still in shock as she stared at her daughter:
Little Penguin had been telling the truth that day when he had said it.
Lucy really was a grown up...
Oswald and Molly were not over the shock of discovering Lucy's new ability. Oswald had gone upstairs, taken a confused look at the young woman who stood next to his wife, and when Molly had said, she's Lucy, he thought it was a joke. Until she had got smaller in front his eyes, shrinking until that dress swamped her. Oswald''s face had drained of all colour, he had reached out, grasping Molly's arm as his damaged leg almost gave way beneath him.
Now they were both in Lucy's room, she was back in her own clothing and the dress, folded up and left on a nearby chair was forgotten about as her shocked mother and Daddy Oz stood together, staring at her as they wondered what else she was capable of that they didn't know about...
“You must never do that again!” Oswald said in a hushed voice, “The world is a dangerous enough place for kids without you disguising yourself as an adult! You must never, ever do it again, Lucy. I mean it! You will be an adult one day - but not for many years to come!”
Lucy sat down on her favourite chair, picked up a doll and toyed with its hair tied in a pony tail, then she looked up sadly.
“But it's fun being Big Lucy!”
“And it could be very dangerous,” Molly said, “And about what you did for those children...” she paused, glancing at Oswald, recalling how she had broken the news:
She had told him, This is the woman who saved those children. It's actually our Lucy. She disguised herself. And then Lucy had added, Daddy helped but only because he is kind! He wanted to help the children too, please don't yell at him!
And now Oswald felt too shocked at learning his daughter's new trick to think about yelling at anyone. He was truly shocked that she could transform like that. He had known she had healing ability, a very precious gift, but this? This, was something to worry about. She must never do it again, he and Molly were worried sick for her safety. Lucy could take on adult form. And she was only five years old.
“We understand what you did was wonderful,” Oswald added as the look in his eyes softened, “You saved those children's lives, Lucy! They all have a future thanks to you - and thanks to your Daddy allowing you to do this. But, as much as you want to help others, you can never do anything like this again - not until you are much older. You have a special gift and if the wrong kind of people found out -”
She gave a sigh.
“Daddy Oz, I'm safe!”
“Yes, but some day you could get kidnapped, or taken from us and we might never see you again!”
She gave a gasp as Molly caught Oswald's arm and as he looked at her, she saw panic in his eyes.
“Don't, love,” she said softly, “Don't scare her like that!”
“I'm scaring myself!” he exclaimed, “Never do this again, Lucy. No more turning into a grown up, and don't go out there healing lots of people - your face could get seen on camera. You can still do wonderful things, but you must wait until you are older.”
Lucy nodded slowly.
“I agree with Daddy Oz,” Molly told her, “He's right, Lucy - you're only five. You have to stay safe. But it was a kind thing to do and we can't be angry about you saving those kids. Just promise us both you won't do anything like this again, not until you're older - and no more Big Lucy?”
“Okay,” she said quietly, and then she looked at them pleadingly.
“Please don't yell at Daddy. He's worried. He thinks you won't love him any more. He's been crying.”
“When was this?” Molly exclaimed.
“Today, at work. I felt it. I always know how Daddy feels. Sometimes, I see his bad dreams too, about the asylum. He thinks about the past and gets sad.”
Oswald's eyes widened in alarm. He had always known Lucy could sense how people felt, but he had not realised it went this deep.
“I hope you don't see anything scary when you feel these things, Lucy.”
She shook her head.
“No, I just see how Daddy used to feel when he was locked in the room and he was hurting.”
Molly stepped closer and looked into the eyes of her daughter.
“You have some very special abilities and sometimes, you feel sad things from people close to you. But you need to tell us about it if it worries you.”
“It doesn't worry me,” Lucy assured her, “I know Daddy is safe now, he's with you and Daddy Oz. He's okay.”
Just then, they heard the sound of a car pulling up outside.
“That will be Julian,” Oswald said, “I'll talk to him - and don't worry, I won't yell.”
As he left the room, worry flickered in Lucy's eyes.
“Daddy Oz mustn't shout at my Daddy,” she said, “It will hurt him in his heart and he will cry again!”
“He won't shout,” Molly promised her, “It's okay, we both understand.”
Julian had entered the house, now he stood there in the hallway fighting back tears as he took off his coat. He had been dreading this all day, expecting to be confronted with a furious Molly and Oswald as they accused him of putting Lucy in danger. But he had to tell them, and he wanted to do it before Lucy said a word, because it wasn't her fault. He could have said no, he could have stopped her, but he didn't, and he couldn't keep this from the two people he loved any longer...
“Julian,” Oswald said as he limped over to him.
As he said his name, Julian's back was turned and he had just raised a hand to wipe his eyes. Oswald's heart ached, he knew there was nothing he could say, no matter how loud he yelled or how angry he got – nothing could hurt his sweet Julian more than Julian was hurting himself over this.
“Julian,” he said again, and he turned around, meeting his gaze with tearful eyes.
“Oswald, I have something to tell you and Molly - this can't wait, where's Molly -”
“She's with Lucy, who told us everything,” he said, placing a hand on his shoulder, “And yes, we are very worried about this ability she has and you know you shouldn't have let her do what she did -”
Julian gave a sob.
“Oswald, I am SO sorry! But she wanted to help those kids and I couldn't say no to that!” tears ran down his face, “I couldn't say no to her saving those kids!”
“I understand that,” Oswald replied, keeping his voice soft as he spoke. In that moment he fully understood exactly how upset Julian felt, he was looking at him like he was heartbroken.
“Obviously, we can't have Lucy taking a chance like that again, she's far too young to risk her identity being discovered. But we both understand why you did it, Julian. Come here, please don't cry.”
He held out his arms and Julian stepped into his embrace, pressing his face against his shoulder as he wept. Oswald stroked his hair, talking to him in a soothing tone as he said again, that everything was okay.
“I feel like I lied to you both!” Julian wept.
“No, you did not and it's over now,” Oswald told him softly.
Molly had just come back downstairs, and as she saw Julian weeping in Oswald's arms, any urge left to tell him he had taken a huge fucking risk with Lucy evaporated. She went over to join them, embracing them both as Julian sobbed and apologised again.
“It's okay, I know you're sorry, but we can't be angry about her saving those kids,” Molly told him as she drew back and he let go of Oswald and wiped his eyes.
“I know I should have told you both,” Julian said as he blinked away the last of his tears, “But she wanted to do it and I wanted her to do it too. I told her I'd tell you both tonight, and I'd take the blame.”
“It's not about blame!” Oswald reminded him, “We think it's wonderful that she saved those kids. But she can't take such a risk again. Never again while she's so young and she must never do the Big Lucy thing again!”
“I know that, I've told her, she can't be a grown up again.”
He still looked heartbroken. In that moment as she looked at him, Molly remembered all he had been through at Ashecliffe, and the struggle he had suffered to get where he was today. None of his life had been easy, and what he had now, sharing her and Oswald's lives, was the only happiness he had ever known, he must have been terrified of losing them over this... She placed a hand on his cheek, brushing a tear away.
“You couldn't refuse her because you have a kind heart. And you also know how wonderful it feels to lay your hands on someone and take their pain away. You couldn't have denied her this, Julian. But we have to work together now to make sure she stops this Big Lucy trick before she puts herself in danger.”
“Yes, I know that.”
A stair creaked, they looked over to see Lucy standing there. She smiled as she looked at Julian.
“It's okay, Daddy. Nobody is mad at you.”
He smiled too and as she hurried over to join them, he looked down at her fondly.
“And we were just saying, you mustn't ever be Big Lucy again!”
“I know, because I might get kidnapped!”
“Yes, you might,” Julian said, and as he saw worry reflect in his eyes, Oswald placed a hand on his back, giving it a gentle rub.
“I think you should go upstairs and have a lie down, Julian. I'll come with you.”
“I am tired,” he agreed as they made their way to the stairs.
Molly looked down at Lucy.
“Daddy's okay, he's just a little bit tired, he can get very worn out when he worries. Daddy Oz will look after him - and you need to go and sit in the front room if you want to watch TV with Felix and Luna before supper.”
“Are you cross with me, Mommy?” asked Lucy.
“No,” Molly said softly, “It's all sorted out now, Lucy. Now, go and find your brother and Luna and I'll get supper ready.”
“What about Daddy and Daddy Oz?” she asked.
“I think they're both having an early night, they're both tired,” she told her, then as Lucy accepted her explanation and went off to find her brother, Molly turned towards the direction of the kitchen, pausing to look back up the stairs. It was all quiet up there. She didn't doubt Oswald was doing his best to reassure Julian, in the best way he knew how.
Upstairs, the door to the main bedroom was locked. Inside, Oswald was undressed now and resting in bed, and Julian was warm in his arms curled up naked, his head on his chest as Oswald stroked his hair.
“Have I disappointed you?” Julian asked quietly.
“No,” Oswald said softly, “No, you have not disappointed me, you could never do that. We've talked this over, and we're going to keep a close eye on Lucy from now on. The matter is closed, please let go of it now.”
“I feel so upset.”
Oswald held him closer. Julian was trembling. He hadn't stopped shaking since he had walked through the door. He had no doubt expected a huge quarrel to blow up, and for Julian, it would be more than he could bear, to know he had hurt those he loved.
“Go to sleep, sweet Julian,” Oswald said, stroking his hair as Julian closed his eyes, soothed as he rested with his head on his chest listening to the sound of Oswald's heart beating.
In minutes Julian was sleeping soundly. Oswald shifted closer, placing a kiss in his hair as he slept on, then he gave a sigh as he thought about the situation with Lucy. She had incredible gifts, but was far too young to start using them. They would have to watch her very closely from now on. He got up carefully and unlocked the door, so that Molly could get in, then he got back into bed as Julian moved instinctively closer as he slept, then his arm was around Oswald's broad waist once again. Oswald watched him sleeping, glad that he was finally resting after how much upset he had been through. And as the lamplight gowned and darkness began to fall outside, he turned his thoughts once again to Lucy: It was an evil world out there, and she had to be protected. After finding out about her Big Lucy trick, he never wanted to let her out of his sight again.
Over at Josh and Selina's place, Ivy was sitting on the couch looking worried as they sat beside her and Selina explained everything again, as their guest sat in the armchair and listened thoughtfully. Bruce had apologised for turning up at this hour, but he was tied up with work at Wayne Enterprises, and now was the only time he could make to come over because Selina had said she needed help with something. He had not realised how serious this was until she had told him the plants had gone missing. Now as she explained everything again, he paused for thought, then looked to Ivy.
“Who ever took them must have known they were valuable.”
Ivy ran her fingers through her long red hair as she sat there in a dress that clung like a second skin and shimmered by the soft lamp light. But the worry in her eyes was deep, Bruce knew how she felt about her plants - they were her kindred. She wouldn't rest until they were found. She wasn't just worrying for herself, she was worried for them, too.
“I can't begin to list who knows my plants are there – it's common knowledge that I am allowed to cultivate them, in a safe location by permission of the city and the underworld, and I'm bound by the contract Oswald asked me to sign to assure they won't get out of control.”
“But specifically, what plants went missing? How much are they worth?”
She looked to Josh and Selina, who exchanged a glance as Selina briefly smiled and looked away and Josh felt his face flushing.
“They're... sex plants.” Josh said.
“Licker plants,” added Selina with a smile, then all amusement left her gaze as she saw the look on Ivy's face.
“You'd better explain,” she added.
“They're cultivated ultimately to respond to hormones,” Ivy replied, looking to Bruce without a hint of a blush, “They can sniff out sexual arousal, they have tongues, they can invade orifices and tongue fuck...”
“Oh yes, I see,” Bruce replied, hoping he wasn't blushing as he recalled getting his cock stuck in what he had assumed at the time to be a blow job plant...
“Those plants?” he asked, and now he was sure he was blushing, recalling how Ivy had found him with his cock stuck in one of them in her greenhouse.
“Yes, those plants,” she confirmed.
“And who knew about them, about what they can do?” Bruce asked quickly, hoping by moving the conversation along, Josh and Selina would not figure out that he seemed familiar with the Licker plant species.
Ivy paused for thought.
“Anyone who has handled the paperwork I had to submit to the city authorities, Oswald's staff would have handled the identical paperwork... but Jax Sterling dealt with that.”
Bruce nodded, knowing at once he would have no suspicion regarding Jax, he was loyal to Oswald.
“I also transferred some of the paperwork,” Josh added, “But it was in a sealed document and I didn't open it.”
“I don't doubt either of Oswald's Generals are less than honest,” Bruce assured him, “I'm thinking about people who have handled the paperwork, who have seen the contents, who would have maybe had some knowledge of plants -”
Bruce looked at Ivy in surprise, she had sounded very sure about that.
“No,” she said again, “No one understands the nature of my plants, but me. I had listed what the plants were ultimately being cultivated for, so it was clear none were grown to cause harm. The Licker plants were listed as sexually responsive, hormone fed plant life, their ultimate purpose some day will be to detect hormone changes and their sap will be capable of adjusting that, thus helping women going through a rough menopause without the need for hormone replacement drugs.”
Bruce thought about it.
“So who ever stole these plants wasn't looking for a quick thrill, or they would have just taken one of them. They took them all because... They think they can make money out of them, selling sex plants?”
Her eyes went wide.
“If you're right about this, people could be in danger! They grow when they get horny, hormones and semen and vaginal fluids make them grow and if someone is having sex with one of those plants, they won't realise how big everything can suddenly get – including the tongue!”
“And if they mistake it for a blow job plant, they will be in trouble!” Bruce exclaimed as Selina smirked and looked away, shaking her head. She had just spotted the look on his face as Josh had stared at Bruce.
“How did you know that?” asked Josh.
Bruce felt his face heat up again.
“So what do you think, Bruce? Can you look into this?” Selina asked.
“I'll try,” Bruce replied, “It shouldn't be too hard to track down rare plants... Word will soon get out if someone is trying to sell them. Ivy, have you considered maybe telling the GCPD about this theft? Maybe talking to Jim Gordon might help.”
She tensed, shaking her head as Selina's gaze turned to one of concern. Ivy was terrified to tell anyone in authority about the missing plants.
“No, I can't,” she said, “Let's remember it was the GCPD who wanted to keep me in Arkham in the first place – it was Oswald who got me out. I'm not trusting the cops.”
“But Jim would consider your situation,” Bruce reminded her.
She was getting worked up. Josh reached over his pregnant wife and grasped Ivy's hand briefly.
“It's okay,” he said reassuringly, “This will get resolved.”
“Can you think of anyone who had access it those papers, who might have been tempted to steal the plants for profit?” Bruce asked.
“No,” Ivy told him as worry reflected in her eyes, “No one at all, Bruce! Only senior people handled the paperwork – there was a quite a lot of legal stuff that needed handling, that was done at Harvey Dent's office.”
“He's made a very successful career as a lawyer, he's one of the biggest in Gotham, his business is thriving,” Selina added, “Why would Harvey do this?”
“Because he's still Two Face?” Bruce suggested, “Or I could be wrong. This is all theory and until I look into it, we won't be any closer to an answer. I have some business to tie up tomorrow, and then I'm free to do all I can to help with this. And I will help you, Ivy.”
She nodded, looking at him gratefully.
“I just want this resolved. I'm so scared I could be blamed, I could be arrested over this!”
“And if that happens, I'll be the first to comes forward and explain the situation as it really is,” Bruce assured her, “Don't worry, Ivy. It will be okay.”
“I hope so,” she replied, and as Bruce got up so did she and he paused to hug her.
Josh and Selina thanked him, and he said he would be in touch, then Bruce left and Ivy sat back on the sofa, resting her head on Selina's shoulder.
“I have to take care of the plants tomorrow. I can't leave them alone for too long. I'm almost afraid to go back in case the rest are gone!”
“They won't be!” Selina said softly, placing her hand on Ivy's cheek, turning her head as their eyes met.
As they exchanged a smile, Selina glanced at her husband.
“Maria's asleep upstairs. Lock the door, Josh, this won't take long...”
He had a smile on his face as he locked the door, ensuring privacy. Watching his wife kiss Ivy was mesmerising. Selina pulled her close, claiming her mouth with a deep and lasting kiss as her hand slid up the shimmering fabric of Ivy's dress, then went straight between her thighs as she gave a sigh and parted her legs wider. Josh was off the sofa, kneeling on the rug as he tugged at his zip and freed his hard cock, stroking it slowly as he listened to the wet sound of Selina's fingers rubbing gently and then harder at Ivy's clit. She came with a thrust of her hips as she gave a gasp and her face flushed, then Selina drew her fingers away from her swollen heat leaving juices trailing as she paused to suck her fingers, then she tugged down her clothing, opening her legs as she looked to Josh.
“Dinner time...” she said in a commanding and sweetly seductive tone.
Josh crawled forward, dipping his head between her legs as she thrust against his mouth and he tasted her juices and while he was doing it, Ivy was running her fingers through his hair as Selina gave soft moans of pleasure.
“Oh yes, that's right,” Ivy whispered “Make my kitty purr, Josh!”
Selina was coming as Josh lapped at her sex, and her wetness soaked his face as she gave a soft cry. As she slumped back panting on the sofa, Ivy climbed off and pushed Josh to the carpet, and as he fell on his back, she was between his legs, the length of his cock buried deep in her mouth as she sucked him firmly.
“Do it hard!” Selina said as she sat up, her face still flushed, and a few more moments in Ivy's mouth was all Josh needed to come hard, as Selina looked on and Ivy swallowed every last drop.
For a brief time, Josh was still on his back as Ivy got up, then he got up too as Selina rose from the couch, and she noticed that worried look was back on their lover's face once more.
“Ivy, let's just forget everything for one night,” she said.
“I can't,” Ivy replied, “I love you guys so much, but my plants... I can't stop thinking about them.”
“Then maybe we should have an early night?” Josh suggested, and Ivy nodded.
“Good idea,” added Selina.
She took Ivy by the hand and led her out of the room and towards the stairs as Josh followed. It almost felt like a normal night when the three of them shared their passion – and it would have been, if not for Ivy's worries over her plants. But it seemed until the situation was resolved, that matter would overshadow everything, Ivy would not relax until the plants were found and she could be sure she would not go to jail for their loss...
Cain Cobblepot felt sure being Oswald's son had its many advantages, and he had certainly used that privilege tonight, waiting for his Dad to go upstairs with Julian before he went into the study, grabbed his address book and searched it. The effort had paid off, now he was outside the apartment of Ronny Lee Riley. The place was so ordinary, nothing special, and he had only got in because a lady carrying shopping had needed a hand with the door. And now he was on the second floor, outside Ronny's front door, about to surprise him...
He didn't know why he was doing this. Maybe he just wanted to know more about him, or maybe that kiss was still lingering on his lips as much as it lingered on his memory. Ronny was driving him crazy, even after rejecting him. Had that been a rejection? The way they had kissed had said that he wanted him too, it made no sense he had pushed him away... Cain took a deep breath and knocked.
“Who is it?” Ronny called out.
“It's me, Cain,” he called back.
There was a pause. He saw the spyhole in the door and looked into it, smiling, anticipating Ronny opening that door and... then what? Another kiss wasn't impossible... Cain was feeling optimistic.
But the door stayed shut.
”What are you doing here?” Ronny said from behind the door, sounding surprised.
“I just wanted to talk to you,” Cain replied, “Can I come in, please? Just for five minutes.”
There was a pause.
“No... not right now, it's not a good time.”
Cain's optimism had just crash landed at rock bottom.
“Oh... okay then... I'll see you another time... Sorry.”
“Don't be sorry!”
He had just turned his back to leave, and hearing the urgent tone in his voice made him turn back again. This was confusing.
“Do you want me to come in?”
“No, not right now, I'm tired and I just got out of the shower... another time would be great, just not today.”
What the hell was that supposed to mean?
“Okay, I'll see you another time,” Cain replied, and then he walked away and headed for the elevator.
Behind the closed door of the apartment, Ronny slid down the wall and breathed a sigh of relief and also regret. Cain was so hot. So easy to fall in love with too, and sending him away was the last thing Ronny wanted to do, but it was true that now was the wrong time...
Back at the mansion, Lucy's night light was on as Molly looked in on her daughter, who was not yet sleeping.
“Don't worry about Daddy,” she told her, “He's fast asleep. And you should be too, Lucy.”
“And no more Big Lucy,” her daughter added, “Don't worry, Mommy – I won't ever worry you again,” and she smiled up at her.
“I know you won't, love” Molly agreed, and then she was about to say goodnight when a thought crossed her mind.
“Lucy, you know you said you sometimes see what happened to Daddy years ago?”
“It doesn't give you bad dreams, does it?” Molly asked.
“No,” Lucy replied, “But sometimes when I'm locked in the dark room it's scary. But that's not about Daddy and it hasn't happened yet.”
Molly's blood turned to ice as her eyes went wide.
“What?” she said in a hushed voice.
“It's just a dream I have sometimes,” Lucy replied, “I'm in a dark room with a little window high up and I can't reach it....What's the matter, Mommy?”
“Nothing,” Molly said quickly, “And that was just a bad dream, don't think about it, okay?”
Molly was shaking inside as she said goodnight to her daughter and left the room, leaving Lucy's night light switched on. What the hell was that about, being locked in a dark room? It had to be a nightmare and nothing more, Molly told herself – because if this meant Lucy could dream of the future, she felt sure she would never sleep again for fear of what that dream meant... Molly had often dreamed of things to come. Maybe this was something Lucy had inherited from her. She hoped it wasn't the case as she went quietly off to bed, in the softly lit room where Julian lay sleeping in Oswald's arms.
The morning was bright, unusually so for Winter. While it was true Spring was around the corner, it seemed odd that the room seemed so bright as the sun shone in... Molly sat up in bed and turned her head, smiling at the sight of Julian sleeping in Oswald's arms. They both slept on as she got up and put on a dressing gown, then she left the bedroom, planning to grab a coffee before the kids woke up. And that was when it hit her, something was wrong:
It was a cold, sick feeling.
The deepest dread she could ever feel, pure terror.
It was the worst feeling a parent could ever have. She didn't know why she felt so sure, but one of her children wasn't there.
Someone was missing...
The answer came to her in a heartbeat :
Molly ran down the hallway, tore through the open doorway and looked in horror to the open window, where the curtains were dancing on the breeze as the morning air came in. She looked to her bed, it was empty.
“Lucy?” she said as her voice began to raise in panic.
She said it over and over as she opened the closets, looked under the bed, ran out and then searched the other rooms as her confused children looked on, Lucy, Lucy, Lucy, where are you?
She was gone.
Her daughter was missing.
Molly sat up sharply in bed, drenched in sweat. She turned her head as Julian woke sharply, jolting Oswald awake and they both sat up, blinking away sleep and looking at her in confusion.
“Lucy's gone!” Molly exclaimed.
“What?” Julian looked at her in panic, as Oswald felt utterly confused.
“Molly, she's in bed...it's early...”
“No, she's gone, she's not in her room!”
Molly got up and grabbed her dressing gown, throwing it on as she ran to the door.
Julian was putting on his underwear and reaching for a t shirt as Oswald told him to slow down.
“Lucy's fine, Molly was dreaming!” Oswald said firmly.
“No, my Lucy's missing, Molly said so!”
Julian was in a panic now, but Molly had not looked back as she ran down the hallway and straight into Lucy's room. She stopped sharply after wrenching the door open:
Lucy was sitting up in bed, her fair hair was a mess and she looked half asleep.
“What's the matter, Mommy?” she asked.
Relief flooded through her as Molly drew a breath and looked at her daughter, still in her room, safe as ever.
“Nothing, Lucy. Sorry, Mummy had a bad dream.”
Lucy's expression suddenly changed. A look of worry came to her face.
“Oh no,” she said, “You worried Daddy. I think Daddy needs his pills.”
At that moment, Julian had dashed down the hallway as Oswald limped after him.
“Lucy?” he yelled, and as he reached the bedroom door, he clutched at the door frame, breathing a heavy sigh of relief. His face was pale, he was sweating, and Molly had just realised her nightmare had scared him so much he was on the brink of a panic attack...
“I'm okay, Daddy!” Lucy said.
“Don't worry about Daddy,” Molly told her, watching as Oswald reached him, he stood there in a padded silk dressing gown, putting an arm around Julian, who was breathless and shaking and sweating so hard it was coming through his t shirt.
“Back to bed,” Oswald said, speaking softly as he quickly led him from the room, “I know it was alarming, but Molly just had a nightmare. I told you Lucy was fine... Lie down, Julian, I think you need a tranquilliser.”
“I can't stop shaking!” she heard Julian say, then the bedroom door closed at the end of the hall and Molly hid her upset at the panic she had caused by telling Lucy she was about to start breakfast, and it looked as if they were all getting up early today.
“What's the yelling about?” Cain called out.
“Nothing, Cain,” Molly called back.
Luna had just come out of her younger brother's room, telling Felix it was time to get up, and Molly forced a smile.
“Morning, love!” she said brightly, then she walked away, heading for the stairs.
Molly felt terrible about giving Julian such a fright, but in that moment when she had woken, she was sure Lucy was missing. She desperately hoped it had just been a nightmare, and not a warning of what was to come – the thought of Lucy going missing was more than terrifying, it was unthinkable...
Since Anton Valeska had pulled the stunt with the fake gun, his thoughts had not left the matter of Oswald Cobblepot. He knew he had been rivals with his father years before, their battles had been the stuff of legend in this town, and if Oswald thought he was nothing like his old man, he was very much mistaken... But before he could take him on and start a war, he needed cash, and he knew how he was going to get it, too...
Anton thought on that fact as he parked his car at the roadside at the top of Dead Man's Hilltop as the morning sun broke through cloud. He reclined the seat at a comfortable angle, and then smiled at the attractive brunette with dark eyes who sat beside him. Her name was Lyla, and he had met her in a club. As soon as she knew his second name was Velaska, she had been all over him, and she gave great head, too.
“Tell me again!” she urged as her pupils went dark and she bit her lip, watching as he slid down his zip and freed his erection.
“I'm the son of Jeremiah Velaska, Mr J... I'm the Joker's son, Lyla!”
She slid her hand up his thigh as he gave his aching cock a stroke.
“Tell me how rich you are!” she added.
“Well I'm not rich yet - but I will be soon. With a little business venture I have in the bag, and also... the kidnap plan!”
Her eyes went wide.
“What kidnap plan?”
He smiled, and in that moment he was the image of his late father.
“We are going to track down that gifted lady - that chick who healed the sick kids – and we are going to hold her prisoner until she agrees to use her gift to work for us. Then, we make people pay for her services – no money, no cure.”
Her hand was still on his thigh as she looked at him in alarm.
“What do you mean, we?”
“You're my accomplice, Lyla.”
She looked at him, saying nothing.
“We're in this together,” he reminded her, “You've been dating me for six months, I said you would be at my side when I take over the underworld.”
“Yes I know... but can we get away with kidnapping?”
He smiled brightly.
“I can do anything, I'm Jeremiah's son!”
She still looked hesitant.
His smile faded.
“You're going to do this?”
“As long as I don't get caught.”
“And you still want to suck my cock, right?”
Now he sounded worried.
“It's just the kidnap thing...”
“You and I will be the next Mr J and Ecco!” he said, and as her eyes lit up with joy, he laughed as he gave his cock another stroke, “Hurry up and suck it – I'd do it myself, but I can't reach! Don't think I haven't tried – just be glad I can't get there, or I wouldn't need a girlfriend!”
She looked at him in confusion.
He laughed again.
“What?…That was a joke... Hurry up, I'm turned on! Suck me off, future partner in crime and in every other sense of the word!”
Her lipstick shone as she smiled.
Her head went down.
Anton gave a sigh as finally, Lyla took him in her mouth and started to suck. And while she sucked, it was hard to know what to concentrate on, his plans for taking over the underworld, or the way she was sucking on his cock like it was a lollipop... All Anton knew for sure, was Oswald was going to get a hell of a shock some day soon when he realised there was a new rival in town, and his name was Anton Valeska...
Molly's nightmare about Lucy going missing had started to fade away. The days then weeks passed by and life went on as it always did, Cain was still glancing in Ronny's direction whenever he was over at the house, and Ronny would look away and Cain would have that sad expression on his face as he went upstairs alone. Oswald had mentioned more than once to Ronny that if he wanted to date his son, he was fine with that. Ronny seemed to dance around the question instead of meeting it head on – if he did want to date Cain, maybe even assurance from his boss wasn't enough – he seemed career minded, and perhaps no reassurance would make a difference when it came to Ronny fearing dating his bosses son, having it go wrong and end badly and then worrying forever that his job might be in jeopardy...
But today, for Molly, Julian and Oswald, there were no worries to darken their day as they spent time together that morning, just the three of them, thoughts of bad dreams and Cain's teenage issues and even the worries for Lucy with her new found ability, did nothing to ruin the precious time they spent alone together while the kids were at school - the mansion was silent, only the three of them were home, and everything that had happened lately had slipped from their thoughts.
This was a beautiful day as Springtime approached, the sun was out, the sky was almost cloudless and they had even opened a window in the playroom, that secret place where desires came true – and if security heard sounds coming from up there, they knew not to say a word because that was Mr Lambrick's private room, and thanks to him yelling out fuck almost every time he had an orgasm, everyone who patrolled the estate knew what went on in that upper floor room, the one with the frosted glass at the windows...
Molly had been wearing high heels. Bedroom shoes, Oswald called them and he loved to see her in them, on her back while he fucked her. But not today, not in here, she had kicked them off and she was watching as Oswald's two fingers pushed into Julian's ass, then a third went in and Julian gave a low moan and panted softly. His cock was hard and leaking, its head glistening under the light that shone down harshly above the table where he was strapped down naked on his back with his legs parted. And Molly was watching Oswald dominate, something that had more power than he would ever realise, as she watched him speaking in a low voice to Julian, who looked up at him, breathing hard. He was so aroused he could barely speak. Oswald knew it. Her Oswald was an expert at this stuff, and seeing him dominate another man made Molly's thighs sticky as she ached to rub at her sex and relieve the tension. But not yet, this was Oswald's game, and Julian was having so much fun...
“I think you can take a little more...”
His ass glistened with lube as Oswald drew back, then pushed into him again, tapering his hand as Julian gave a gasp.
“No, I can't take any more, Ozzie...”
“My name is Doctor Cobblepot, and you do not question what is best for you,” Oswald told him as he leaned closer, at the same time slowly pushing his fist deep as Molly felt wetness run down her thigh at the sight of Julian opening up on hearing Oswald's low spoken, velvet toned words.
“I think you're ready now,” Oswald said softly, “Would you like to come in Molly's mouth, Julian?”
Julian could only nod as he breathed hard, feeling pressure as Oswald moved his hand slightly, carefully, his fist buried deep inside him. Molly's fingertips brushed Oswald's wrist, it was shiny with lube and the sight of his hand swallowed with Julian's ass so tight around it made her ache for release as she leaned over Julian, gently taking his hardness into her mouth and starting to suck.
Julian breathed hard, his body was shaking as Oswald moved his hand a fraction, so carefully, not letting up on the firm but gentle fisting. He was close to the edge now. As she sucked him, Molly recalled the day she and Oswald had spoken to him over dinner when just the three of them had been present, and Oswald had said in a commanding tone, You're taking my fist tonight, Julian. It's time I stretched you wide open... Julian's face had flushed as his pupils went dark with arousal. Moments later Oswald had told him to give in to his arousal, and Julian had pushed the chair back sharply and Molly had watched as Oswald had stood beside him, his arm around him as he spoke to him, urging him, don't stop, as he watched Julian very quickly bring himself to orgasm...
He was close now, and as Oswald gave him permission to come speaking softly as he said, you may come now, Julian, his body trembled in his restraints as he cried out Fuck!, coming into her mouth in a sharp spurt as Oswald waited for the last of his orgasm to fade, then he gently withdrew his hand, pausing to watch as his ass closed up, then as Molly drew back, Oswald grabbed some wet wipes and stared to clean him up.
“Was that nice?”
“Yes, Doctor Cobblepot...” Julian whispered his eyes were closed, he was so wiped out by that orgasm that he could barely move.
Oswald left the room to get cleaned up while Molly freed Julian from his restraints.
“Feel better for that?” she said with a smile.
Julian looked up at her, laughing softly as he nodded.
“That was wild!”
Suddenly his expression changed, he was overwhelmed now by the experience, by the intensity of it and by his own feelings as he became tearful.
“I love you both so much!”
“We know that, sweet Julian, we love you too,” Oswald said as he returned to the room, then he went over to him as Molly looked on, watching as Oswald tenderly embraced him.
Julian was exhausted, Molly and Oswald helped him up and into the next room, where he thoroughly enjoyed being put to bed to rest for a couple of hours. As she leaned over him to kiss him, Molly felt her skirt being raised from behind.
“Yes fuck me, Oswald!” she gasped,
And he did, he fucked her hard and fast, his hands on her hips as he took her from behind. Molly was still leaning over Julian when her sticky fingers grazed her swollen clit yet again, just as Oswald came hard inside her and she gave a gasp, her face flushing. Julian reached up, placing his hands on her shoulders to steady her, then as she weakened, he pulled her close for a kiss. Then Oswald turned her around and as she sat weak on the bed, as she felt Oswald's mouth on her pussy and felt him suck at the tender flesh she threw her head back, legs shaking.
“Oh yes...” Julian whispered, entranced at the sight of Oswald on his knees, grabbing his wife by the hips and turning her over so she sat with her legs spread on the edge of the bed as he licked and sucked, tasting her juices mingled with his own come.
“Come here,” Oswald ordered, and Molly leaned in and as he kissed her, she tasted them both on her lips.
As he leaned on the bed and stood up, he paused to gently push a finger into her swollen sex, drawing it out glistening.
“No one is leaving you out, Julian,” he said with a smile, and gently smeared the shining fluid on his lips as he lay recovering in bed.
“Oh no, I'll get hard again!” Julian said as he laughed.
Oswald's eyes were still dark with desire as he looked down at him.
“You've had enough for one day, rest now,” he said with tenderness, then he kissed him softly before stiffly walking out of the room.
“You heard Oswald, get some rest!” Molly said with a playful sparkle in her eyes.
“Okay Molly, what ever you say,” Julian replied with a smile.
She paused to kiss him and then she left the room too as Julian turned on his side, feeling a flicker of arousal all over again. Oswald's fist had stretched him good, he would be reminded of this for days, every time he moved...
In the time that had passed since Anton Velaska had pulled his fake gun in the driveway of Oswald's family home, his name had been forgotten by the Cobblepot family, who were unaware that Anton had a plan and was patiently biding his time. It had been several weeks since Molly had experienced that terrible dream. That too had faded from her memory, just as the horrible recollections Anton had stirred up with the gun stunt had faded too.
But Anton was as determined as ever. It was only a matter of time before that chick who could work miracles would show up again. And when she did, he would abduct her. He would make a fortune from her abilities. There were not many places a woman with talents like that could hide in a city like this one... Anton thought of his plans as he stood in the bedroom of his apartment, naked and still wet from the shower as his red hair dripped water and he looked into the mirror with a smirk that mirrored his Dad's. He had only met his father once, a few years back when someone had said there was a clown faced guy in hiding in a safe house that used to belong to Jerome:
He had found his way there, and the door was open. He had walked down a dark hallway and into a room where the curtains were closed and a dim light that shone from a lamp on the table seemed to make every scar on his face jump out monstrously as Jeremiah had regarded him thoughtfully.
“You're my son?” he had asked.
In that moment, as he nodded Anton had realised he had been found and set up for this meeting by Jeremiah, it was no coincidence he had been told where he was hiding...
“Yes I am your son,” Anton confirmed with a smile.
Jeremiah paused for a moment, looking at him in confusion.
“Which one?” he remarked, sounding bored as hell...
As Anton recalled the memory, anger swirled in eyes that looked so like those of the father who had brushed him off like he didn't matter.
“I will be someone in this town!” he raged, and as his fist connected with the glass, the mirror shattered.
While Ivy still worried for her missing plants, she did have some good news – Bruce Wayne had turned up a clue: Someone had searched around online to find hire equipment to move the plants three days before they were stolen. And they had specifically searched for the cheapest hire equipment.
“Maybe it's Harvey Dent...” Bruce had said to Selina as he sat in her front room that afternoon.
“The cheapskate part fits,” Selina agreed, “But why would Harvey steal them? He makes more than enough money as a lawyer!”
“Maybe someone talked him into it – said he could make even more money selling sex plants,” Bruce replied, “Also those plants are rare. People would pay a fortune to try them out!”
“And not realise how fast they grow or how dangerous they are,” Selina added sadly, then she got up from the couch looking pale and tired, she paused to stretch her aching back and placed a hand over her belly where a swelling was just starting to show.
“I can't wait to be over this first three months!” she exclaimed, and Bruce smiled fondly.
“Then you'll be a lot more active again,” he reminded her.
“I hope so,” Selina said, “It's tougher this time, maybe it's because I have Maria to look after too and this is my second pregnancy – I feel exhausted!”
“And you're a great mom,” Bruce replied, smiling fondly as he briefly thought back to their years spent growing up together, “I always thought you'd be a wonderful parent.”
“Thanks,” she replied, and a little colour returned to her face as she smiled.
“How did Ivy get on with the latest inspection of the greenhouse?” he asked.
Selina's smile faded on hearing that question.
“Ivy resorted to using her perfume to influence the cops not to check the back room,” she replied, “And that's not a stunt she can pull twice – Jim Gordon sometimes comes over to do the checks, she was lucky he wasn't there, he got wise to that trick years ago!”
Bruce finished his coffee and got up.
“I'm not done with this, Selina. I will look into Harvey and see if I can find a link. But I have a ton of business waiting back at the office and tonight -”
Selina got up too, understanding in her gaze as she looked at her close friend.
“And tonight Batman needs to be patrolling the streets as usual, I understand, you can't be everywhere,” she said.
Bruce paused for thought.
“These plants have been missing for several weeks, yet we've not heard anything about plants getting out of control... maybe who ever had them is still hiding them, waiting for the right buyer, at the right price?”
“We can only hope,” Selina replied, “We barely see Ivy these days, she's always at the greenhouse, she's scared someone will steal more of them – or the cops will come unexpectedly and realise there are plants missing.”
“By the way, how's Jax getting on?” Bruce asked.
“He's having good and bad days, but spending a lot of time in bed lately,” Selina replied, “Josh has been to see him, he gets upset if he talks too much about it.... He said Jax is in a bad way, he's very weak now.”
Bruce gave a sigh.
“Well, he's tough. If anyone can beat this, Jax can. How's Josh getting on with Oswald's new recruit, you said he got the job?”
“Ronny Lee Riley? Oh, he's doing just fine. Josh said he's learning fast.”
Bruce frowned. He thought about it, then shook his head.
“I'd hate to raise an issue where there is none – but could Ronny be something to do with these plants going missing?”
“Ronny? No way, Bruce! He's a nice guy, all he wants to do is work for Oswald. He's dedicated, he's genuine – he wouldn't be linked to this.”
“But how much do you know about him?” Bruce asked, and now it was Selina's turn to pause for thought.
“I only know him through Josh, but if he says he's okay then it's good enough for me, why?”
“I was just wondering how Oswald does his checks before he employs new people.”
Selina was able to answer that right away.
“I know how he checked Josh out before he employed him, he had a basic background search done for criminal activity, came up with nothing but a few thefts and that one time he got caught on a robbery with me way back – then he asked around, well his people did – Oswald cares about the word on the street, who people are loyal to, who they are linked to. If they are clean and no enemies come up, he knows there's not a trust issue.”
“What about detailed files?”
“He knew Josh was with me, so that wasn't a problem. He also knew his father died in the first war with Bane, so that was good enough for Oswald. He's never had a reason not to trust Josh. And that's how Oswald checks out his staff, Bruce.”
Bruce looked at her intently.
“I'm not saying Ronny is anything to do with the missing plants – I'm just saying, maybe there's something I'm missing here. I've heard about this guy, he's the best at everything, maybe he's too good to be true.”
Her green cat like eyes widened.
“What are you saying, that he's a spy or something? This is Ronny we're talking about, Bruce! He's a nice guy!”
“I'm sure he is,” Bruce replied, “I'm just trying to cover every possibility.”
“Ronny's at work right now, with Josh,” she told him, “You can speak to him if you like! He's not involved, I'm sure of it!”
“Okay, I believe you,” Bruce replied with a smile, “Don't worry so much, Selina – I'm just being thorough with this. I'll keep working on the Harvey Dent possibility, we don't seem to have anything else to go on.”
Selina thanked him, and then she walked him to the door.
As Bruce left, his mind was made up on something:
He had a gut feeling about Ronny. Whether he was involved in the theft of the plants or not, he knew he wouldn't be happy until he looked into his background himself – and he would do that as soon as he got home, using his own tech, which was smart enough to break into all the records he needed to make a very thorough background check indeed...
Jax Sterling was resting in bed, the curtains were closed because the light hurt his eyes yet the muted glow from the bedside lamp didn't, so it stayed on and offered a sense of comfort as he lay there feeling weak and aching to his bones. Food was becoming impossible to tolerate. He had lost count of the times he had thrown up after eating, and now he could just about manage to hold down a glass of water. Carol had anxiously spent hours at his bedside, talking to him, urging him to keep strong. But Jax felt as if he was slipping away. He had just over a week until the implant came out, just over a week until he knew if this hell he had been through had been worth it. He had his doubts, but had not voiced them aloud. Carol had just returned from the school run. Now she was preparing a meal for Alicia and he was thankful the door was closed because he was still catching the scent of the cooking and felt as if he could no longer tolerate the thought of food of any kind. Then the door opened briefly and he turned his head away from the smell that would usually see him looking forward to dinner and as the door closed again, he breathed a weak sigh.
“Daddy, how are you today?” asked his daughter.
As he reached for her hand, he managed a smile.
“I'm not feeling so good today, Alicia. But don't worry, River is taking good care of me, we just have to hope the medicine is working.”
Alicia looked doubtfully at her father. His face was pale, he was weak and tired and had dark shadows under his eyes.
“Will you eat some dinner tonight?” she asked, “I think you should eat, Daddy.”
“I can't do that right now, maybe later on,” Jax whispered, and then he closed his eyes.
Alicia patted his hand. Then she shook his arm, and Jax did not wake.
“Daddy!” she yelled as tears filled her eyes, and as she heard her shout, Carol hurried up the stairs, fearing the worst for Jax.
After what had been a pleasurable morning and then a cosy afternoon cuddled up with Molly and Julian, Oswald had enjoyed the rest of the day, spending time with the kids, reading a bed time story for Lucy, then helping Felix with his homework while Molly was making alterations to a party dress for Luna, who couldn't wait to wear it at her friend's birthday celebrations – the party was being held at the Lounge in the day time, for one of Ed's boys and it was a week away, and Luna, just like her biological mother, loved to look good in a nice dress. Cain was upstairs after taking a call from Ireland, he had chatted to Grandpa Kane and then passed the call to his Mom, then he had walked over to the window in time to see Josh and Ronny talking in the driveway beside their vehicles before they went home for the night. Ronny seemed to sense something as he turned his head and Cain stepped back from the window, then he recalled how Ronny had rejected him and turned away, wishing he could just forget the guy because clearly, he wasn't interested – but Ronny was hard to forget.
Oswald was downstairs in the dining hall, he had just finished a late dinner after going over paperwork Josh had brought from the office. Now he was on his second scotch and thinking about a third before retiring early for the night, as at the back of his mind he recalled how wonderful it had been today, the three of them together... Julian had to be at work tomorrow, and he would miss him. He wanted tonight to be special, he craved the feel of him in his arms and to see the look in his eyes as he whispered that he loved him. He was also looking forward to watching as Molly kissed Julian deeply. Oswald had already planned exactly when he would slide his hand down Julian's hip, then go lower. He wanted to make him come while Molly kissed him deeply. The three of them would share everything tonight...
And then his phone rang, and his plans were cancelled.
Oswald took the call quickly and then got up, knocking his drink over on the table as the glass hit the wooden surface with a crack and booze ran across the table and started to drip to the carpet just as his wife walked in.
“Oswald?” Molly said in alarm, “What's the matter, love?”
As he met her gaze he looked close to tears.
“Jax is getting worse. He's been taken to the clinic, River's looking after him. I have to go, Molly.”
“Mom?” Luna called from upstairs, “I want some more lace on the bottom of my dress! Can you do it for me now please?”
“The kids...” It was all Molly could say.
“I know,” he replied as they left the room together and headed for the door as Oswald paused to grab his coat, “You stay here with the children. Don't say a word about Jax, there's no point upsetting them... just say I had to go to the office... And tell Julian not to worry, he's had a tiring day and he's done an hour on the treadmill tonight, he needs rest.”
“Julian doesn't need rest, I'm fine!”
They turned to see Julian hurry down the stairs, his blue jeans hugged his hips and his pale shirt was slim fitting, showing off his muscular body beneath the fabric. He had a smile on his face as he reached them, then he noticed Oswald looked upset and his expression changed.
“What's wrong, Ozzie?”
Oswald lowered his voice, not wanting the kids to hear the bad news until they had to.
“Jax has taken a turn for the worse, Carol said he's been rushed to the clinic, he's had a procedure but he's weak, he may not get through this...”Oswald blinked away tears, “I said I'd go and see him -”
“I'm coming with you,” Julian told him, “And I'm driving.”
Oswald breathed a sigh as gratitude shone in his tearful gaze.
“Thank you, Julian.”
“It's no problem, I'm always here for you both,” he replied, and then he put an arm around Oswald as they turned for the door.
“We'll call later,” Julian added as he glanced back at Molly, and then they left the house.
As the door closed Molly stood there in the silent hallway, feeling shocked even though she had known Jax Sterling's condition was serious:
Was Jax dying?
She couldn't imagine Oswald's General no longer being around, he was family, too... It just didn't seem possible that Jax, who had fought alongside Oswald in so many underworld disputes and even wars could be dying now, from a toxin caused by his robotic implant. And he had Carol and Alicia too, a family who needed him... But she didn't have time to reflect on how harsh life could be, because at that moment, Luna called from upstairs again saying she didn't want lace on her dress at all now, she wanted sequins, she wanted it to sparkle. Just like Fish Mommy, Molly thought to herself, then she went upstairs to help Luna with her dress.
As dusk settled outside Ronny was still talking with Josh as they stood beside their parked cars.
“I must admit,” Josh said, “I am still curious about it... What is the secret of Dead Man's Hilltop? How the hell do you take that car all the way up there at top speed and clear that corner?”
“It's a secret,” he said, “No, I'm not saying a word...”
Just then they both turned to see Oswald and Julian hurry from the house. As Julian opened up the drivers side, Oswald looked tearful as he limped around to the passenger side.
“Sir, is everything okay?” Josh called over.
Julian had just turned the key in the ignition. Oswald looked over at Josh and Ronny.
“Jax Sterling is very ill,” he said, “I'm sorry, I have to go.”
Then he got into the car and the two men watched as it drove away, heading for the road.
“Jax must be getting a lot worse. Maybe I should call Carol,” said Josh.
“But she called Oswald first - so it must be serious, and I'm sure you will get a call later,” Ronny replied, “I know this hard, Josh. But it's a difficult time.”
“You're right,” he said, “I can't just go over there when he's sick and needs Oswald.”
Ronny patted his shoulder.
“I hope Jax will be okay too. I don't know him like you do, but I do like the guy. I hope he pulls through.”
Then he got into his car and started up the engine.
As he drove away, Josh was about to get in his own car when his message alert sounded. It was Selina. Miss you, are you working late? She wrote.
No, I'm on my way home - and I've missed you all day long! Josh wrote back, then he sent the message, got in his car and started it up and headed for home, feeling exhausted. Even though he had Ronny's help, he was still doing all of Jax Sterling's work, with Ronny assisting. On top of that Ivy was scared for her missing plants and they still hadn't been found. Adding to that, Selina was sick and tired in her first trimester of pregnancy, and they had lively Maria to look after, too. He was tired, he wanted two weeks off. No, four would be better, with maybe a two week vacation thrown in somewhere hot, preferably with a beach and warm water rolling to shore...
But Josh pushed aside those thoughts as he headed home, knowing the best he could hope for in the middle of this hectic life was a precious evening at home with his wife and their daughter and maybe, that was all that really mattered because when life got hectic, his family were there for him.
He held that thought as he drove home, now and then sparing a thought for Jax who may not have much longer to live, or have any time left to be with Carol and Alicia. By the time he got home he felt emotional and the first thing he did when she opened the front door was hug Selina tightly, then he went inside blinking away tears as he told her Jax was getting worse, and she hugged him again.
After they arrived at the clinic, Oswald went straight in to see Jax. Julian sat in the waiting area, trying to fight off bad memories of the time when he had been held in this place against his will after attacking Molly. Then he remembered why the scar tissue had reactivated, and memories of his time at the asylum flooded back. It was the smell of the place, antiseptic in the air... He was sitting with his head in his hands when River approached him, she saw him try to take a deep breath, and as she said his name he drew his hands from his face and looked up at her.
“Would you feel better if you waited in my office, or outside?” she offered.
Julian got up sharply, determined not to the let the flashbacks win.
“No, I'm here for Oswald,” he replied, “I can handle this, River.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, I'm very sure,” he replied, then he walked off towards the room where Jax Sterling was weakly clinging to life.
As Julian entered the room he stood back close to the doorway, knowing his presence would be enough to remind Oswald he wasn't handling this alone. Carol was sitting one side of the bed, Oswald on the other, and he was holding back tears and determined not to weep as he saw his close friend and General lying there looking pale and weak. Jax was hooked up to monitors and had more than one line running into his arm, and now, as River had just explained, he had just been through a procedure to have a tube fitted to run to his stomach. In his condition he weakened easily, and where food had been a struggle, he had got weaker very fast. But she hoped the tube feeding would resolve the issue. Jax had ten more days to go before the implant could be removed, and she hoped, whether the treatment had worked or not, that once the implant was out, he would regain some strength and make a recovery – even if it was for a short space of time in the worst case scenario...
Alicia had just wandered back into the room and River called her out again, saying quietly that Daddy needed to rest, and then she led her away to the office where she planned to talk to her carefully about exactly how sick her Daddy was, just so she was ready in case the worst happened.
As Jax breathed slowly and then opened his eyes, he saw Oswald at his beside. Then he recalled passing out at home and briefly waking when River had showed up and told him he needed to be in the hospital now. She had said something about a tube because he was making himself weak by not eating, and now as the room came into focus, he felt sure he was a little stronger already.
“Don't worry, I'll be fine,” he whispered as he turned his head and looked at Carol, then he looked back at Oswald.
“How do you feel?” Oswald asked.
“Terrible, but most definitely alive,” Jax said, managing a smile as he gave Carol's hand a squeeze, “The implant is making me weak, I stopped eating. This is my fault.”
“No, it's not your fault, Jax,” Carol was saying, and as she and Jax spoke together Oswald paused for thought: It was ten days until the implant came out. Then a wait of maybe a few days before Jax would know if he was going to make it or not. And he needed something to look forward to regardless of the treatment working or not...
“Jax,” Oswald said as Jax turned his head and looked at him, “I was thinking... you and Carol have been engaged a long time and you've never got around to having a wedding. Maybe you should start planning for that when the implant comes out.”
Jax took a slow breath as his hand stayed in Carol's grip.
“I've been to busy with work and raising Alicia to think about that,” he reminded him.
“And Jax is very weak, Oswald,” Carol added, “He would need to be stronger to think about that. I just want him to get well.”
“And we both know that might not happen,” Jax reminded her, then he turned his head and met Oswald's gaze.
“I think that's a great idea – if I'm well enough. I don't want to get married like this...” he looked to Carol, “If I marry you, I will be well enough to stand at the altar to say my vows.”
“And you will feel a lot better when the implant comes out, regardless of the ultimate result,” Oswald reminded him, “Let's not think about how long or how short time may be – do you want to get married, my friend?”
Jax looked at Carol and smiled as he gave her hand a squeeze.
“I think it's time we did this,” he said weakly, “Would you like to be Mrs Sterling?”
“Yes, Jax, of course I do!” Carol leaned over him and they shared a kiss as Oswald looked on, smiling.
As Carol drew back and Jax turned his head towards him, Oswald spoke again, now feeling hopeful because he knew from his own experience that in times of desperation, hope was something everyone needed, and Jax needed something to look forward to regardless of the result when the treatment stopped.
“I suggest you rest and focus on getting your strength back,” Oswald told him, “Leave the arrangements for the wedding to me – I will handle everything and I insist on taking care of the cost, too. It's my gift to you both.”
“That's very generous of you, Oswald!” Carol said in surprise.
“You both deserve a wonderful day to remember,” Oswald replied with a smile, and then he rose from his seat, “I shall leave you to rest, Jax. Hurry up and get stronger, you have a wedding to look forward to!”
As Carol thanked him again, she hugged him. Then as he stepped back, Jax said his name and as he turned around Jax caught hold of his hand briefly, giving it a squeeze as he looked up at him.
“Thank you, Oswald,” he said weakly and as he smiled, there was a definite sparkle back in his eyes.
“You're welcome, my dear friend,” Oswald told him fondly, and then he limped out of the room as Julian followed.
Back at the mansion, Molly had spent more than an hour adding some sequins to Luna's dress. And while she did that, she was unaware that Lucy had not gone to bed, because Lucy wasn't tired, and she knew Daddy and Daddy Oz had gone out, and at first she had wanted to wait up for them to come home, and then she had remembered Mommy was busy down the hallway helping Luna with her dress, and so she went down to her parent's bedroom and opened up the wardrobe and took out Mommy's shiny dress and put it on, then she went back to her own room, grabbed a dress of her own and a pair of shoes and stuffed them into her Dora the Explorer backpack, before stepping into Mommy's high sparkly princess shoes.
She knew it was wrong.
She had promised never to do it again.
But Lucy wanted to sneak out at night as a grown up and have one more adventure... She wanted to go to the Iceberg Lounge and party, because that was what grown ups did...
She willed herself to grow and suddenly the shoes fitted her and she stood there in front of the mirror, giggled and gave her long fair hair a flick with a toss of her head.
“I'm a grown up!” she said with glee, then Lucy, in the form of a young woman who wobbled in her high heels, hurried out of the bedroom and along the hall, then down the stairs and out the front door, where she walked a little better in the shoes as she swung the back pack at her side.
“Goodnight, guys!” she said brightly to the confused guards on the gate, who let her out, assuming the young woman was a friend of Mrs Cobblepot's...
Lucy had started on the long walk down the hill away from home. And it was dark and she didn't like the way the trees swayed all spooky and their branches shivered. She wanted her coat, too and that was back at the house...
“Maybe I should go back and do this another time,” she said aloud, “And money, I need money for a taxi... can't walk, it's too far...”
She gave a sigh and turned back as in the distance, headlights cut through the night as a car headed back down from a breakneck drive up to Dead Man's Hilltop...
In the car, Anton had been smirking at the way his girlfriend had screamed and clung on to the seat in fear as they had hurtled up that hill – but he knew the secret of the hill, and they were not in danger. She had given him good head too, and he was planning on taking her home for more of the same when his plans were suddenly changed as in the distance, he saw her in the headlights.
“I don't believe it!” he exclaimed, “Look who it is!”
“Who is it?” asked Lyla.
“It's that chick with the healing powers! Let's grab her!”
She looked nervously at him.
“Okay, let's do it... I'm your accomplice!”
Anton chuckled as he moved the car forward on a slow crawl, heading towards the woman in the distance.
Lucy didn't notice the car. She was cold and scared and missing a warm coat and couldn't focus on staying in her adult form any longer. She gave another shiver and started to shrink.
Up ahead, Anton's eyes went wide as he saw the woman shrink to a little girl swamped by an oversized dress.
“What the fuck?” he murmured.
“Oh my god... what is she?” gasped Lyla.
The car had pulled up as she walked towards it now, unable to avoid it on her way home. Anton's bright eyes were staring at the child who he recognised...
“I don't believe it... That's Lucy Lambrick... Oswald's daughter... She can shape shift into an adult? She's the one with the healing hands?”
Lyla was jittery as she spoke up.
“Actually, she's not Oswald's daughter, she's Julian Lambrick's daughter with Oswald's wife Molly, they have a three way marriage..”
“Shut up, that doesn't matter!”
Anton smiled slyly as he looked towards the child walking alone on the path.
“This is even better – I wanted to kidnap the healer chick to get enough money to take over the underworld... change of plan!” he laughed manically, “Oh, this is going to be so much fun! Oswald will go frantic with worry – he will pay any ransom we demand! We can forget about using her powers, let's just kidnap her and exchange her for everything Oswald owns! Then I'll be more than able to take his place as head of the underworld!”
Lyla's eyes went wide.
“But she's a kid, Anton.”
“So what? Are you my accomplice or not? Open the damned door, offer to give her a ride home...”
“Why me?” she demanded.
“Because you're a woman and kids trust strange women more than strange men,” Anton reminded her, “Think of the money, Lyla!”
“The money!” she agreed, and then she slid down the window and called to Lucy, who looked up as she approached the car with startled eyes.
“How do you know my name?” she asked as she stood there shivering in her mother's dress.
“Because we know your Daddy,” Lyla said, “We know Oswald and Julian and Molly... We were just about to go up to the house to say Hi. You shouldn't be out here on your own. Get in the car and we'll take you home.”
Lucy hesitated. The lady smiled.
“The back door's open, it's warm in here... and we won't tell your parents you sneaked out,” she added, “I know what it's like, wanting adventure. I used tp sneak out too.”
“Did you get caught?” Lucy asked.
“No, and neither will you!”
The lady smiled again. Lucy wanted to escape the cold, and these people knew her parents. So she opened up the passenger door and got in, then the lady got in the back with her, closed the door and carefully put on her seatbelt.
“Got to look after you,” she said as a cold shine came to her eyes.
“You're worth a lot of money to us!” Anton said with a chuckle, and then the car sped off as Lucy realised they were not heading for the mansion, and that was when she screamed.
The thought jolted through Molly's mind. She had just left Luna's room and now she looked towards Lucy's open door as the night light shone from within.
That feeling was still there and it was slowly building as Molly quickened her pace along the hallway, heading for her room.
“Lucy?” she said in panic as she walked into her empty room.
She called her name again, then ran out and began to search every room, as Felix woke in confusion and Luna stepped out into the hallway with a confused look on her face. Cain was in his room watching TV and when she went in and asked if he had seen Lucy, he shook his head.
“Lucy!” Molly yelled as her voice echoed about the upper hall, then she hurried down the stairs, frantically searching for her missing daughter. But even as she made the call to security, she knew she wasn't going to find her on the grounds of the mansion.
This was her nightmare come true:
Lucy was missing...
Oswald had returned home hoping to feel thankful for home and family and good health as he silently worried for Jax. Julian had been looking forward to a peaceful evening and then bed, wrapped in the arms of the two people he loved. Neither man expected the shock that hit them on arriving home, to be told by a frantic Molly that Lucy was missing.
Julian hadn't listened when Molly said she was not in the house. He had run upstairs yelling for her, then come back down and gone outside, yelling her name again, then he had shoved a security guard who said Lucy was not on the grounds.
“Yes she is, fucking find my baby!” he yelled as panic shone in his wide eyes and his heart raced with fear.
Oswald had spoken with security, and then he had showed Molly footage sent over from the camera at the gates that showed a young woman playfully walking out.
“Shit!” Molly said as her eyes went wide, “Shit, shit shit, what the fuck, Oswald? Where is she? How could this happen? She promised us she would never do this again!”
Then Molly started to cry as Oswald put his arm around her. His eyes clouded with worry as he thought of five year old Lucy, out there looking to the rest of the world like a grown up – it was too frightening to think about, but it had happened, this was their worst nightmare...
“I want my daughter back!” Julian yelled, and then he sank to his knees sobbing on the carpet as Oswald drew back from Molly and placed his hands on her shoulders. This was tough, they were all going through hell but it was Julian who was falling apart and Molly needed to realise that.
“I have every available member of my security team out searching for Lucy, and also for the unknown woman who left the house an hour ago,” he told her, “We don't have to tell anyone they are the same person – we'll either find her as our Lucy, or she's still big Lucy. Think, Molly – where would she go?”
Molly shook her head.
“I don't know...” she wiped her tears away and tried to focus on finding her daughter, pushing past the awful cold fears and the terror that gripped at her of what could be a worst case scenario, “She was wearing my sequin dress... Luna was yelling for sequins for her party clothes and Lucy loves mine, it's a party dress....”
Oswald reached for his phone, then as he heard a sob and incoherent rambling, he handed it to Molly.
“Call Fish at her club, tell her to watch out for Lucy. And then call the Lounge... Give me a minute?”
Molly nodded, taking the phone and starting a call to Fish Mooney as Oswald went over to Julian who was sobbing hard.
“My baby... I want Lucy home, where's my Lucy?” he wailed as tears streamed down his face.
The kids were up and gathered in the doorway.
“What's wrong with Lucy?” Cain said.
“Where is she?” asked Felix as he stood beside his older brother.
“Lucy's not in her room!” Luna said in alarm.
“Lucy is missing, we know she sneaked out and we have to find her. Please don't worry, we will find her very soon!” Oswald insisted, as he put an arm around Julian and helped him to stand.
Julian was unsteady as Oswald led him over to the sofa, where he sat heavily and carried on sobbing. Oswald glanced to Cain.
“Julian needs his meds,” he said quietly, and Cain nodded and left the room.
Molly had just finished a call to Fish and was about to call the Lounge when she looked over and saw Julian sitting there in a state of absolute shock. It was times like this that reminded them both of how fragile he was, a legacy of his years of torture in the asylum. Lucy was everything to all of them, but this was breaking him.
“Look after Julian,” Molly said to Oswald, “I'm going to go out and drive around -”
“I already have many people doing that!” Oswald said as a flicker of panic shimmered in his gaze, “We need to stay here and wait, my people have fought wars and won, I'm sure they can find our daughter! And she could be back at any minute!”
“You think so?”
“Yes,” Oswald said desperately as he clung to the hope, “She will come back... she has to!”
“Maybe we should call the cops?” Cain suggested as he returned with pills and a glass of water that he handed to Oswald, who paused to help Julian take the pills as he drank from the glass with a shaking hand.
“That is a very last resort,” Oswald said as he put an arm around Julian and looked over at his son, “Because if word gets out that Lucy is missing -”
“Every opportunistic enemy you ever had will claim to have kidnapped her,” Cain cut in, “I get it, Dad – it could make the situation complicated, it could lead us right off any real trace of where she is.”
“You're a smart young man, Cain,” Oswald replied, and then as Julian trembled again and sobbed quietly, Oswald kept his arm around his shoulder.
Molly placed the phone on the table.
“It's going to ring soon, and someone will say they've found her and they're on the way back with her.”
“And if it doesn't happen in the next fifteen minutes, I'm out there myself looking for her. I can't sit here, I know she could come home but I need to do something!”
“So do I,” Molly reminded him, “I'm her mother, I have to do something too!”
Oswald snatched up the phone and got up from the sofa.
“I'm calling Josh and Ronny, explaining the situation and I want them out there looking too,” he said, and then he limped out of the room to grab a stiff drink to steady his nerves and quiet his fears as he remembered he had over a hundred of his men out already searching for Lucy and soon there would be a hundred more – but he still wanted Josh on the case. As the minutes ticked by, he was also deciding he and Molly needed to go out and search too, even if it meant Lucy suddenly came home to a house where her mother and stepfather were missing and her Daddy was sobbing on the couch...
Lucy was in a dark room with a barred window set high up on the wall. It was a cellar in an old building, she knew that much – she had missed the rest when she was pulled from the car and bit the lady's hand as the man yelled at her to stop hurting his girlfriend. They had left her down there in the dark where the only light that came in was from the street above. It was chilly and she shivered and huddled up in her mother's dress, wishing she could focus on becoming big Lucy so she could try and reach that window and get out of this place... She heard voices above, he was saying something about calling her Dad and mentioned the word ransom. Lucy was still wondering if there was a way out when she suddenly felt something reach her, and it worried her greatly:
Daddy was crying. He was really upset, so upset he was hurting in his mind. She could feel it, and she knew it was her fault. Lucy closed her eyes, knowing she could reach him if she concentrated.
I'm okay, Daddy, she thought inside her head, Please don't cry, I'm in a dark room but no one has hurt me, they just want ransom...
Upstairs in the empty shop at the end of a boarded up street in the Narrows, a third person had joined the kidnappers, and as he closed the door behind him and walked across the room where counters were dusty and shelves were empty, Harvey Dent looked in confusion at Jeremiah Velaska's son.
“What the hell was your phone call about, Anton?” he demanded, “The deal was, I remove a few of Ivy's plants, we sell them to the highest bidder on the black market and then we split the profit – no one gets hurt, they're just plants, Ivy can always grow some more... So what the hell are you doing kidnapping some woman who has healing ability? Kidnapping was never part of my plan!”
“Tell him the rest,” Lyla said nervously as she glanced at Anton, who smiled as he regarded Harvey coldly, looking just like Jeremiah as he gave a manic laugh.
“It gets SO much better than that, Harv!” he exclaimed, “That woman isn't a woman. She's a shape shifting kid! And she's not just any kid – she's Lucy Lambrick! Now we can hold her for ransom. Oswald will give everything he has to get that kid back!”
Both sides of Harvey's face reflected the same horror.
“Are you insane? You've kidnapped a kid? A Cobblepot kid? You've just signed our death warrants!”
Anton dismissed his remark with a wave of his hand.
“This will bring the head of the underworld to his knees. You need to see the bigger picture here, Harvey.”
He shook his head.
“No. No fucking way, I'm not being a part of this, not kidnapping a child, I do have standards, Anton!”
There was a click as Anton raised a gun.
“And those standards might just get the other side of your face blown off if you don't shut up and remember who is in control here!” he raged.
Harvey had raised his hands as he looked in alarm at Anton, who still had the gun aimed in his direction.
“You're as crazy as your old man!”
“I'll take that as a compliment,” Anton replied.
“Look, I don't want to mess this deal up – and I'm the only one who can find you a suitable buyer for those plants! Just let me see the kid, let me know she's okay and then we can carry on with the plan to sell the plants... the rest is your business. I'm not getting involved.”
“Okay,” Anton said as he lowered his gun, “Come with me, she's in the cellar.”
And as he led him out the back, Anton paused to cast a sly glance to Lyla. She didn't know what he was thinking but clearly, he was up to something...
Anton opened up the cellar door and turned on the light. He raised the gun as Harvey looked down into the basement where Lucy stood by the wall, looking up. Then she gave a shriek of alarm as Anton smacked the gun over the back of Harvey's head, and as he tumbled down the stairs and landed hard, Anton glanced to Lyla who stood behind him.
“Get down there and cuff him,” he told her, and as she hurried off to fetch the cuffs, he kept the gun trained on Harvey as he looked over at Lucy.
“You'd better not try anything, kid,” he said in a low voice, “You're worth a lot of money to me and I really don't want to shoot you!”
Lucy looked up at him, sensing everything she needed to know about her kidnapper.
“You're just trying to be as mean as your Daddy was,” she said, “You can't do it, you're too dumb!”
Anger sparked in Anton's gaze as Lyla pushed past him then hurried down the stairs to cuff unconscious Harvey Dent.
“You know nothing about me!” he raged.
Lucy was doing it again. She was tuning into something invisible, some ability she couldn't define that told her all about the people around her... She saw it flicker through her mind, and she started to smile.
“It doesn't end how you think it will,” she sad darkly.
“Shut up you freak kid!” Anton yelled, and as Lyla left the stairway and joined him, he closed the door and locked it firmly.
Lucy sat down on the dusty floor looking over at Harvey Dent, who was still out cold. At least Anton had forgotten to switched the light off, so it wasn't dark in here any more... She closed her eyes, thinking about her Daddy as she tried to send her thoughts to him again and hoped this time, the message was received.
It was received.
That inexplicable link between Julian and his daughter was still working despite Julian's distressed state. He heard her words run through his mind and looked sharply to Molly as she finished the phone call to the Lounge.
“She's alive! But someone's kidnapped her, she said ransom, I heard her!”
Oswald turned to Julian, who was sitting on the couch with tears streaking his face.
“I think you need to let those pills kick in and calm down. Molly and I can handle this.”
Julian's eyes went wide as he stared at Oswald.
“You don't believe me? You know I have a link with my daughter, so does Molly!”
“I had a nightmare that Lucy was missing,” Molly reminded him, “ And she said to me a while back that she didn't like the dark room but she said it hadn't happened yet!” fear was rising now, a deeper fear than the thought that her daughter had simply sneaked out for an adventure.
“I knew, I felt it, Oswald! I knew her room was empty! If Julian says he can hear her, he's telling the truth, you know they have a bond that can't be explained!”
Oswald looked at Molly as his gaze matched the same fear reflected in her eyes.
“Lucy's been kidnapped?”
Julian nodded, then he closed his eyes, trying to reach out to his child who had power beyond anything he would ever fully understand.
“Come on Lucy Leprechaun, talk to me...l where are you, baby?” he whispered as his voice choked with tears.
The answer came back right away.
Daddy, I'm in a basement. I'm okay. Anton and Lyla have me and they hit Harvey Dent.
Julian gave a gasp as he felt the link slipping away.
“Where are you, Lucy? Where did they take you?”
Nothing reached him now, and he gave a sob as he looked to Molly and Oswald.
“She says she's in a basement, they haven't hurt her. And she said Anton has her and Harvey Dent's there too!”
Oswald eyes quietly darkened with murderous rage.
“Dent's involved in this?”
“I don't know, she said they hit him.”
Molly looked at her husband, sharing his same thoughts:
Jeremiah's son had taken Lucy and Harvey was somehow involved?
Just then, Oswald's phone rang. He glanced at the number, did not recognise it, and answered at once - then he certainly recognised the voice on the end of the line.
“This is Anton Velaska,” said the caller, “I have your daughter, Oswald! She's safe for now - but if you want her back, it comes at a high price for you.”
“Name it,” Oswald said as murder shone cold in his eyes and in his mind, he had already spilled Anton's blood a thousand times over for taking Lucy.
Valeska laughed and Oswald's stomach churned at the memory of his many encounters with Anton's maniac father. The boy was equally crazy, certainly not as smart – but he was insane and he had Lucy, and that was enough to make him feel sick with fear...
“I want the keys to the kingdom,” Anton stated, “I came to you considering maybe a partnership when the tide turned – but you treated me like shit! Now the whole of the Gotham underworld will bow down to me, or Lucy gets a bullet in the head! You have twenty four hours to decide. I'll be in touch.”
The call ended.
“Velaska and Dent are dead when I find them,” Oswald said quietly as he contained his rage, then he walked out of the room to load up a gun.
Molly looked to her eldest son.
“I need to go out,” she said, “Take care of the kids...” as she walked past him she whispered, “Look after Julian.”
“Will do,” Cain replied, then Molly hurried off towards the stairs to load up her Desert Eagle while Oswald made calls to his men, who were out searching.
“What's going on?” Luna asked as she looked up at her older brother.
“I think Dad just got a call from the kidnappers,” he said quietly, turning his head away from Julian, who was on the couch on the other side of the room, shaking and tearful, “Mom and Dad know what to do. We need to look after Julian, he's having a breakdown.”
Luna turned to Felix.
“We have to look after Julian, okay? He's upset,” she explained, and Felix nodded, then the three of them went over to join him.
“Julian,” Cain said gently, “Don't worry about Lucy, Mom and Dad are going out to find her. Until then, we will all wait with you, okay?”
Julian nodded, he was still shaking as he wiped his tears away again. Then Felix jumped up on to the sofa and sat beside him.
“We can all wait for Lucy together!” he announced, “I'm here, don't worry Julian, your little leprechaun is here!”
“And so is your other leprechaun!” added Luna as she sat the other side of him.
Cain managed a smile as he sat down on the armchair and looked across at Julian, who seemed stronger now, thanks to the kid's support.
“And me,” he reminded him, “The grown up leprechaun's here too. We're all here for you.”
“Thanks,” Julian said quietly, and then as he sat there, he was lost again in thoughts of his daughter as he worried desperately and silently felt deepest anger over the years he had spent suffering in the asylum, years that had damaged his mind and body a left him like this, a shaking, weeping wreck, useless in a crisis. He just wanted Lucy home... He stayed silent, hoping he would sense her voice reaching out to him again, but he heard nothing more.
Molly's fear for her daughter's safety had settled somewhere beneath the rage that was building as she checked her weapon in the bedroom and then threw on her leather jacket.
“I'll kill him, I'll fucking kill the bastard myself!” she raged as she looked to Oswald with eyes blazing.
Oswald was equally enraged and afraid for Lucy, and he wanted to kill Anton too, but most of all, he wanted Lucy home and safe once more, and when he knew she was safe, he could take his time with Anton, he would torture him first, kill him slowly... he already had that planned out.
“I called Victor. I told him to go over to Harvey Dent's place and turn it over, see what he can find.”
“What the fuck does Harvey Dent have to do with this?” she exclaimed, “He's a lawyer, he works for you, he's got money -”
“And he's a greedy bastard,” Oswald reminded her as he holstered his weapon and put on his coat, “We'll find Lucy if we have to tear this great city of ours apart to do it! And when I find Dent, he's as dead as Velaska!”
Molly had just tucked her gun out of sight beneath her jacket.
His gaze of pale blue met with hers of green fire.
“There might be another way,” said Molly.
“If you can think of a better way than tearing the city apart without the GCPD stepping in and trying to run the no negotiation with kidnappers rule that will rip the treaty apart when I defy it, I would love to hear about it, my dear!” Oswald said as desperation shone in his gaze.
Molly took a deep breath.
“We just want Lucy back. Whatever Dent's involvement, I can't see him being part of a kidnap plan. I think Anton did this on his own, maybe...” her eyes suddenly widened as the pieces fell into place, “Oh shit, she was out as big Lucy, she had my dress and shoes, Oswald! He must have recognised her as the woman who healed those sick kids – he wanted to kidnap the healer!”
Oswald's jaw briefly dropped.
“And he must have realised she was actually Lucy and then he took her and turned it into a straightforward kidnap for cash scheme...”
“And Anton is immature and stupid, he's nothing like his father he just wishes he could be the next Mr J,” Molly reminded him as she stepped closer and placed a hand on the arm of his coat, “Oswald, all we have to do is get Anton alone and make him talk! We'll soon find Lucy and whoever is holding her!”
Oswald nodded, then tugged his phone from his pocket.
“I'm calling Velaska!” he said.
While the Cobblepot family were in chaos over missing Lucy, Bruce Wayne was at home at Wayne Manor unaware of the trouble that was unfolding. He had run some checks on his high tech system to check out Ronny Lee Riley, and then he had made a call to the GCPD, asking Jim Gordon for a favour, explaining that Oswald had a potential employee that needed a police check. Jim had got back to him within the hour, and as he spoke, Bruce listened. What Jim told him certainly was a surprise. He thanked him, then taking the only piece of information that had proven to have a ring of truth to it, he began to check another name... He had already decided, this couldn't wait. But when he had put the pieces together he wouldn't be calling Oswald, because Ronny posed no threat to the Cobblepot family. It was quite the opposite in fact – Bruce was willing to bet Ronny would die for Oswald if he had to... But Josh needed to know, and then he had to talk to Ronny, because the truth needed to come out, and soon...
Josh had received the call from Oswald about Lucy's kidnap and got dressed and kissed Selina goodbye as he hastily told her there was a gangland issue, and then he was gone out the door, hating to skim over the truth, but he knew the routine. When Mr Penguin needed urgent assistance, he had to go and the less his family knew, then better in case it went badly wrong. He didn't know if he was about to walk into a war zone or simply be required to shoot some failed kidnappers in the back of the head. They might be captured by now, Lucy could already be safe at home once more... He didn't know anything for sure as he drove through the night, heading for the mansion. Then a car sped up behind him, flashing its lights and sounding the horn. He took a glance in the mirror. It was Ronny. Josh sounded his horn back and carried on driving as Ronny followed on behind, clearly Oswald had called him too, wanting them both in on the kidnapping situation. At times like this, Josh wished Jax Sterling was here, because this was a crisis he wasn't trained for, and he just hoped Jax had taught him enough to handle it right...
Molly had listened as Oswald spoke to Anton. He was shaking on the inside as he feared for Lucy, but he was keeping it together, carried on by his rage and the thought of what he would do when he finally got his hands on Velaska.
“You have my assurance, we will come alone. My people are out searching for Lucy and I don't doubt you have someone guarding her, all we want is her safe return. My wife and I will be alone by the gates of the mansion, my guards are not here, I'm aware Lucy's in danger and you will not be tricked, Mr Velaska. I don't care for this city as much as I care for my family. You can have the damned place! I'll be waiting. We can meet and make a deal.”
There was a pause.
“I'll be there,” said Anton, and then he hung up.
Oswald breathed a relieved sigh as he turned to Molly.
“Now all we have to do is wait for him to show up, take him down but take him alive and leave the rest to me, I'll torture the truth out of the little bastard!”
Molly nodded, her heart and arms aching to hold her daughter once again.
“I'll tell the remaining guards to take the family upstairs and watch over them,” she said, “Then we're going out there to wait for Velaska.”
Oswald met her gaze, speaking low as he made a vow:
“We bring Lucy home tonight, no matter what it takes.”
Josh was heading for the mansion, taking the short cut that led down the hillside through the quiet roads, and Ronny's car was behind him. He took the turn that led down towards the main road and then he slowed, indicating to Ronny to do the same. Then just behind them turning out from a quiet lane, a car pulled out slowly.
Ronny's eyes went wide as he spun the wheel and tires screeched and he came to a halt in the middle of the road as Josh pulled over and jumped out. His heart was racing as headlights cut through the icy fog that was creeping up the hillside that evening, and now he saw who was driving the other car:
It was Valeska.
Anton had a brief look of panic on his face as he pulled his car to a halt, seeing the road at the bottom of the hill blocked by two cars owned by Penguin's men. He turned and said something to the girl sat beside him, then he stopped the car a short distance away and they both got out. As they began to walk closer, as they cut through the rising mist, Josh saw Anton was carrying a gun, but had not yet raised it.
Ronny shot him a glance and kept his voice low.
“Just do it!” he muttered, then he stepped back towards the roadside, into the mist as Josh stood there alone, wondering if he ought to draw his gun.
He slowly reached for his weapon, his hand resting on it, ready to draw as he met the bright and icy gaze of Jeremiah's son.
“And what the actual fuck is this?” Anton asked in a menacing tone as he raised his weapon, “Oswald told me to meet him a mile from here, near the house, he said he wanted to make a deal. So, do I shoot you and.. where's the other guy?”
As Lyla stood next to him she looked about the foggy road in panic.
“Where's the other guy?” he demanded again, raising the gun towards Josh, who said nothing, keeping a hand on his own gun as he kept looking hard into the eyes of Anton.
“I'm right here,” said Ronny, and he stepped out of the mist and ran a hand over his hair and looked Anton up and down.
“What kind of a pussy kidnaps a kid to make a fast buck? You're a special kind of coward, Valeska – even your old man wouldn't have gone so low!”
Anton glared at him.
“What did you just call me, asshole?”
“A pussy!” said Ronny as Josh felt a creeping sense of dread that saw him close his grip over his holstered gun ready to pull it fast – Anton's aim had just switched to Ronny, who swaggered closer.
“Where's the kid?” he demanded.
“You think I'm going to tell you?” Anton laughed as Lyla stood close by looking nervously at the drawn weapon, “And I didn't kidnap the kid, Lyla did, do you really think a kid would get in a car with a strange guy? Of course not, my girlfriend tricked her into the back seat!”
“Where is Lucy?” Josh added, “Just tell us where she is, you can call this off and we'll let you go – just tell us where that little girl is, Anton.”
He laughed again, waving the gun carelessly as he shook his head.
“No, no, I'm not stupid! This is an opportunity for me! Oswald's desperate to have her back and I'm the only one who knows where she is! If he wants her, he will have to pay MY price.”
Josh wanted to put a bullet in him. But if he died, and if the girl didn't talk, they would be no closer to finding Lucy... Then Ronny spoke up again.
“I've seen you cruising up and down this hill. I bet you can't even take that hilltop in that shitty crate you call a car!”
Anger fired up in Anton's eyes.
“I can take that hilltop and leave you in the dust, prick!” he said angrily, “And I'll be there before you, watching and laughing as you slam into the curve!”
Ronny stepped closer, oblivious to the gun that Anton wielded.
“You think so? Let's do this... I beat you to the top, you tell me where the girl is.”
Anton looked to Lyla and then back at Josh and Ronny and laughed crazily.
“You're going to fucking die!” he exclaimed.
“Maybe,” said Ronny, “But at least I've got the guts to try. It's just a stretch of road, how hard can it be?”
“Let's do this...And he's going with you,” Anton added, glancing to Josh as he started to laugh, “An easy way to kill you both! You pair of pricks, you're gonna die!”
“What did you call me?” Ronny said, giving him a shove.
The gun clattered to the road as Anton fell back and Ronny leapt on top of him as the two men traded punches. Josh drew his gun and took aim through the fog as Ronny and Anton rolled in the mist, then to his horror Josh saw Anton pull a knife from his pocket, the blade shone briefly in the moonlight as he lunged downward. Ronny gave a yell as the blade connected with his chest and Josh heard a rip of fabric. Then a fist slammed into Anton's jaw and he was thrown back as Ronny got up, dragging his tattered shirt closed as blood ran down his knuckles.
“You're a dead man!” he raged.
Anton rolled and grabbed his dropped weapon, then staggered to his feet as he glared in fury at Ronny and Josh.
“Get in the fucking car, let's do this, I can't wait to watch you crash!” he yelled, then he wiped blood from his nose and got into his car, as he called to Lyla who shook her head as fear shone in her gaze.
“We'll take my car,” said Ronny as he opened up the driver's door.
Josh shot him a look of alarm.
“Have you gone crazy?”
“No, get in the car,” was all Ronny said in reply, then as Josh got in and hurriedly put on his seatbelt, he glanced at Ronny with a worried look.
“Velaska stabbed you.”
“I'm not bleeding.”
“You must be! And you want to challenging him to a race?”
“If it gets us an answer, we might find Lucy. In fact, I'm very sure we will...”
Ronny slid down his window, “Hey Velaska, you'd better keep your radio on!” he called out, “You might hear some news – like the cops have found Lucy already!”
He smirked as he saw a flash of panic in Velaska's eyes, then he swung the car around.
“Ronny, this is crazy!” Josh exclaimed as he sat there wondering why he was in a car about to take a notorious stretch of road, in a race, at night in the fog. He had Selina and Maria at home, Selina was pregnant and he wanted to live to see that baby come into the world...
“Call it off, this is nuts! I'll put a bullet in him, hope for the best, aim for the leg or the shoulder -”
“Don't worry,” Ronny said with a smile, and he pulled a small device from his pocket, “I told you my uncle makes high tech gadgets... I just rigged Anton's car.”
“You did what?” Josh said in alarm, “What's going on, Ronny?”
There was no time to explain as Lyla stood in the glare of the headlights with a scared look on her face as she glanced to Anton's car and then to Ronny's.
“Three... Two....” she hesitated, “I don't want you to do this, Anton!” she yelled.
“ONE!” Anton shouted in defiance, and then he took off as Ronny did the same, leaving Lyla standing there in the misty road as she turned with a look of panic in her eyes, then she began to run up the hill as in the distance, the tail lights of both cars vanished into the fog.
In the basement, Lucy had managed to focus her thoughts and now she was Big Lucy again, and as she reached for the barred window and gave the old, loose catch a tug, she let go, realising even being big Lucy couldn't get that window open... She could see a deserted street level with the glass pane, but no one was about to hear her shout for help and Harvey Dent was on the floor passed out cold - and he was going to get a huge surprise when he woke up...
“Oops,” she said, looking down at him.
He wasn't Harvey Two face any more. He was Harvey One face now, because when she had touched him to heal the cut to the back of his head, she had healed the scars on his face, too.
“I hope you don't mind, Harvey,” she said, “I didn't mean to change your face...I kind of feel you liked your scars because they scared people. But you don't have them any more... and I know you didn't want to kidnap me...but you have to give the plants back... did you steal them from Ivy?”
Then she paused, gave a gasp and snatched up the cell phone that had fallen from Harvey's pocket. But her hopes were dashed as she saw the screen was dark and shattered. She gave a sigh and looked back to the window. Suddenly being a grown up wasn't fun, not when it got her locked in a basement with no way out...
“I want to go home!” she said tearfully.
Harvey Dent slowly raised his head, saw his cuffed hands in front of him and then as he saw his face reflected in the metallic shine, his eyes went wide.
“My face...what happened to my face?”
“I healed it by accident.”
He looked up to see Lucy Lambrick standing there but she wasn't a kid any more. Now she was a grown woman.
“Why did you do that to me? I'm Harvey Two Face!”
“Don't yell at me,” Lucy said, “I'm five years old!”
He gave a sigh as he pulled himself upright and leaned against the wall. He paused to gather his thoughts. Lucy had just healed his ravaged features. It would take some getting used to, but now wasn't the time to think about how much it meant to him to look normal again – right now, he didn't even know if he would live to appreciate that fact, not if Oswald blamed him for Anton kidnapping Lucy...
“Sorry, I keep forgetting you're a kid...Listen, I knew nothing about Anton kidnapping you, I swear!”
“I know that, I heard him!” Lucy replied as she looked about the room, “We need to get out of here.”
He got up and looked to the window.
“I can't do a damned thing, we're locked in and my hands are cuffed. I don't suppose you've got super powers to break me out of these things, have you?”
Lucy looked at the cuffs on his wrists and shook her head.
He gave a sigh of defeat.
“We can't get out....” then an idea came to mind as he spoke hopefully, “I can lay on the floor and pretend to be out cold, and then I can try and grab Anton when he comes back...I might be able to get the gun off him!”
“In handcuffs?” asked Lucy.
“I can try... But please when we get out of here, tell your Dad I had nothing to do with the kidnapping! Please, Lucy!”
Lucy paused for thought.
“Okay, I know you're not to blame. But you have to promise to give Ivy her plants back?”
“Yes, anything you say. Do we have a deal?”
“Yes, we have a deal!” she told him, and then she went back over to the window, trying to rattle loose the bars in front of the glass as she made another attempt to get the window open.
Far away on the road known as Dead Man's Hilltop, the two cars were speeding through the mist as the climb uphill began to rise and the fog thinned. And Ronny had just hit a button on the device in his hand. Josh looked to Ronny and then back to the road ahead, they were slowing speed as Anton took off into the distance. He heard Ronny chuckle and shot him a confused glance.
“What are you going to do?” he asked.
“Make him talk,” Ronny replied, and then he raised the device and began to speak as through his radio, Anton heard Ronny say the words, Surprise mother fucker, I have control of your brakes...
“What the hell?”Josh said as he stared at him.
And Josh could hear his phone ringing in his pocket. He let it go to voicemail as he looked in alarm at Ronny. Now as they headed up the hill the message was recorded, and if Josh had accessed it, the first words he would have heard would have been from Bruce Wayne, delivering a message:
“Josh,” he had said, “I need you to listen to this, it's important... Because I ran checks and doubled checked them and came back with the same result. He's not who you think he is - Ronny Lee Riley doesn't exist...”
As their car slowed, in the distance, Anton's car was heading for the top of the hill, but showing no sign of losing speed. Josh sat there in the passenger seat staring at Ronny, who clearly had control of the situation as he spoke again:
“Let me see.. you have something like twenty seconds before you need to kill those brakes... WHERE'S THE KID, ANTON?”
As he yelled that question, Ronny was clutching at his shirt as he held the ripped fabric together and there was blood staining it that might have come from his cut knuckles, or from a slowly bleeding out chest wound.
The static crackled and Anton's panicked voice came through:
“What the fuck have you done? I can't slow the car!”
“Where's the kid?” Ronny demanded again.
“An old clothing store opposite a derelict factory, at the end of Vine Street... Stop fucking with my car!”
They were still cruising along the road as Ronny hesitated, glancing to Josh who looked back at him wide eyed.
Ronny's gaze hardened as he looked to the distance and spoke into the device again.
“You've got maybe twelve seconds left... eleven now... or is it ten?”
“You're going to KILL me!” Anton yelled.
“And you should have thought of that before you kidnapped a child! Brakes are all yours, asshole!”
Ronny hit a button and lowered the device, then grabbed the wheel as his bloodstained, torn shirt fluttered in tatters as the breeze came in sharp through the open window and they picked up speed.
Far up ahead, there was a screech of brakes and then a shattering boom as Anton's car hit the barrier as in the distance, a ball of flame erupted skywards, burning down to a tangerine glow as smoke trailed up to the darkened skies. And they had picked up more speed now as Josh shot Ronny a horrified glance.
“Josh,” said Ronny as they headed up the hill, “Look to your right.”
Josh turned his head seeing five white concrete pillars speed past.
“The angels,” said Ronny, “And now I'm slowing my speed. You see, that's the secret of Dead Man's Hilltop – you have to see the angels first, to slow down in time, so you don't meet your maker at the top... By the way, we're already at the the top - the way the landscape climbs is an illusion, it just looks like you've got to go higher. It's a straight ride all the way from here to the curve. I learned the secret from my Uncle, he used to race hot rods up here back in the day, way before my time!”
They were approaching the burning wreckage now. It glowed against the darkened night as flames flickered and clearly, there was a dead body slumped over the wheel as it burned. Ronny stopped the car a distance from the wreck and got out and Josh followed, staring at the wreckage and Anton's burning body, then he turned away and looked to Ronny.
“What did you plant in his car?”
“A gadget my Uncle was working on, I told you he makes smart gadgets for cars... I was saving this one for the right time and it was certainly useful. Velaska's taken care of. He won't be a threat to Oswald and his family again. Now we need to check out that address in the Narrows - I doubt Anton was lying. Let's go and find Lucy, then we can take her home.”
As he heard her panicked voice, Josh turned to see Lyla standing there, looking on in horror at the burning wreckage.
“You're coming with us!” Josh told her firmly as he reached for his gun.
She turned and started to run, but Ronny passed him so fast he was like a blur as he caught the fleeing woman by the shoulder, spun her around, and glared at her.
“You abducted a child, you fucking bitch!” Ronny yelled.
“Ronny,” Josh said sharply, “Remember the rules – at no time should a man working for Penguin strike an unarmed woman -”
“Rules don't apply to me!” Ronny fumed, and he dragged Lyla closer and muttered something, then slammed a fist into Lyla's face as she sprawled backwards.
“Ronny, stop!” Josh yelled, and as he hurried over, Lyla was scrambling to her feet.
“You're not taking me anywhere!” she shouted, and as she pulled a gun from her coat, Ronny drew his own, fired once and she fell on her back at the roadside, bleeding out from a fatal shot to the head, a neat between the eyes shot that left a small leaking hole as blood pooled on the roadside.
“Ronny...” Josh stepped closer, “Put the gun away.”
Ronny holstered his weapon as he looked at Josh with his eyes blazing.
“She deserved it, can you imagine how frightened Lucy must have been when she forced her into the car? That poor kid, Josh!”
Ronny was blinking back tears, then he clutched at his tattered shirt with a blood stained hand as he turned back to the car.
“Let's go,” he said, “I'm driving...”
They were heading towards the Narrows when Josh accessed his phone. He listened silently to the message Bruce had left, then turned his head and stared at Ronny as suddenly, so much fell into place, everything he had missed before that made perfect sense now... Ronny glanced at him.
“What?” he said.
“Bruce Wayne was looking into the theft of some valuable plants belonging to Ivy Pepper. He checked out everyone linked to the greenhouse and the paperwork and then he checked you out...”
Ronny's eyes widened.
“You need to talk to Oswald when we get back, you can't keep this from him any longer,” Josh told him.
“I know that,” Ronny replied, “But I just want to find Lucy first. I want her home and safe... we're here now.”
They had driven down a darkened street with boarded up stores where across the road, stood an abandoned factory looking dark and haunted by moonlight. As they parked next to the store at the end of the street, a light was glowing from a basement level window and as they both got out of the car, relief flooded through Josh as he saw Lucy Lambrick, now small and swamped by her mother's dress as she jumped up and down.
“Josh, Ronny, we're in here!” she called out.
“We see you!” Josh called back, and then he went up to the old, decaying door and the frame splintered as he kicked it in.
Anton sure was dumb, Josh thought as he and Ronny made their way to the back of the store, he and Lyla had left their prisoners locked in, but unguarded, making rescue easy. They went through a doorway that led to a kitchen area, then he slid the bolt back on the basement door and Lucy scrambled up the steps and out of the basement unharmed as Harvey Dent followed in hand cuffs... and Harvey wasn't Two Face any more. His scars were gone...
Ronny raised his gun.
“No!” Lucy said quickly, “He didn't know they took me! He was only trying to make money from Ivy's plants!”
Ronny lowered the gun and holstered it.
“Are you okay?” he asked, leaning closer to Lucy, who nodded.
“It was scary when they took me – but I'm not hurt.”
“Can someone help me with these cuffs?” Harvey's voice trembled as he held out his hands.
Josh snatched up a key from the table.
“Anton wanted to make some money – he approached me about Ivy's plants and said we'd split the profit. I thought it wouldn't do her any harm, she could always grow some more! Then I showed up here and he tells me he's kidnapped Lucy!”
“And he wanted them to let me go,” Lucy added, “But Anton hit him with his gun and pushed him into the basement. That's why his face has changed. I healed him, but accidentally took his scars way too.”
Gratitude shone in Harvey's eyes.
“Thank you, Lucy,” he said, and then he looked to Josh and Ronny.
“Please believe me, I knew nothing about the kidnap – and I'll give the plants back! Please let me go, I'll do it tonight , I'll return them...”
Josh glared at Harvey as he unlocked his cuffs.
“You return those plants tonight,” he said darkly, “Or you're a dead man!”
“Yes, yes, I'll do it now, I'll put them back... Can you give me a ride? I have the plants in a warehouse on the other side of town-”
“That's your problem, start walking!” Josh said sharply, and Harvey turned away and bolted for the door, dashing off into the night as he made frantic plans to return the stolen plants.
“I'll call Oswald,” Josh said, and then as he left the room to make a call to give him the good news that Lucy was safe, he also planned to explain to his boss that there was a message from Bruce Wayne that he needed to hear, because it was about Ronny, brave and clever Ronny who had just taken out the kidnappers and found Lucy, because he needed to understand something about Mr Riley...
Ronny went over to the kitchen sink, turned on the tap and cautiously bathed away blood from bleeding knuckles. Lucy stood there, watching as he tugged open a stiff drawer, finding nothing, then another, and found a plastic bag of clean dish cloths, took one out from the bag, ran it under the water and started to clean the blood from a cut to his face.
“I'm so glad we found you,” Ronny said, “I had to find you, Lucy. Your parents love you so much. And you never need to worry about Anton and Lyla ever again. They're dead. I got the bad guys, okay? I got the bad guys, I kept you safe, sweetheart...”
“Yes, you did,” Lucy said in surprise as she stepped closer and looked up at Ronny... Who looked different now:
Ronny always had a shadow on his face like he was in need of a shave. But now as he wiped his face, that shadow came off, along with the dirt from the road and the blood from the fight. And his face looked softer, his eyes wider, and as he turned around she realised he had a big slash down his shirt that had cut through the fabric but it hadn't hurt him, instead it had partly slashed through the thick layer of bandages he wore about a chest that was now shaped more like her Mom's than either of her fathers...
“Why do you look like a girl?” she asked in surprise, “And your voice is different now, you sound like a girl.”
Ronny looked down at Lucy and spoke softly.
“That's because I am a girl,” she said, and as Josh rejoined them, Ronny turned to him.
“Let's get Lucy home – and then I have to tell Oswald the truth.”
Josh stared at her. Now she had washed off the make up, and he could see that knife had sliced through a chest binding instead of her flesh, he was still stunned to think she could have pulled off her act so convincingly. Now it all made sense:
The way Ronny and Selina had laughed and talked for hours – like two female friends. And then there was the time Ronny had told Molly he loved her hair. He wasn't trying to come on to her, she had been complimenting her...And the way Ronny had cried after he had passed his loyalty test, he had sobbed with relief to know it had all been a set up, sobbing more like a girl than a guy, at the time Josh had put it down to sheer relief, but now, he saw it in a new light. And then there was that moment right before Ronny had punched Lyla, when he had yelled at him, saying Oswald's men did not strike an unarmed woman. Ronny had dragged Lyla closer, muttering something... Yes, Josh realised he had heard it right. At the time he had thought he didn't quite catch it, or had misheard. But he had not. Just after he had yelled the rules didn't apply to him, he had taken a swing at Lyla as he added, I'm a girl...
“I have so many questions!” Josh exclaimed as they left the kitchen and walked through the store, heading for the open doorway.
Ronny glanced at him.
“Oswald wont employ women on the front line. I decided a long time ago I wanted this job, working for Oswald, defending the underworld, even if I had to pretend to be a man to do it. So my Uncle helped me.”
“I know he did, he told Bruce everything, about how he taught you to behave like him – I'm guessing he scratches his nuts a lot?”
“Probably too much!” Ronny agreed.
They had reached the car. Ronny opened up the back and Lucy got in, then as they stood together by the car, Josh spoke again.
“I don't know how you pulled it off, Ronny! You had me convinced, you had everyone convinced... what about your girlfriend, and the baby?”
Ronny smiled as she shook her head.
“Josh, there was no girlfriend or baby! My uncle said, have a backstory that validates your cock. If you say you have a kid somewhere, you definitely fathered a kid! I just had to make everyone believe I was a guy.”
“I think Oswald will understand,” Josh replied, “He knows who you are. I sent the message from Bruce to Oswald's phone, explaining everything.”
Ronny nodded slowly.
“I hope you're right,” she said, then she got in the back with Lucy and Josh took the drivers side, started the engine and then they drove away, heading back to the mansion.
Molly and Oswald had been outside the gates of the mansion when the call came through. Oswald had shed tears of relief as he told Molly that Lucy was safe, and then as she had hurried inside to tell Julian, Ronny had explained the rest, adding there was a message from Bruce, and he needed to hear it right now...
By the time Molly returned as Julian hurried alongside her, Oswald had heard the message. He blinked away tears and handed the phone to Molly.
“It's about Ronny, who just saved our Lucy,” he said, “Just listen to it, Molly...”
In the distance, the car was heading towards the mansion, bringing Lucy home safely. As Oswald and Julian hurried out to wait for the car, Molly accessed the message from Bruce:
“Ronny Lee Riley doesn't exist. But Veronica Rylee Collins does. She's the daughter of Cassandra Collins, his brave agent who died at the hands of a rival gang many years ago. Veronica – Ronny – wanted to follow in her mother's footsteps and work for Oswald, but she knew he no longer employed women in high risk jobs because of the terrible way Cassandra died. So she disguised herself as a man to get the job. Maybe Oswald should rethink his policy. He never needs to doubt her loyalty or her ability. She went to great lengths to get that job. Her uncle told me all about it – he's not actually her uncle, he's her much older cousin, he adopted her and raised her after Cassandra died. He said all she ever wanted to do was defend the underworld, specifically, to defend the Penguin and his family, just like her mother did...”
Molly lowered the phone as she blinked away tears, recalling the story of how Cassandra had been tortured and eventually died from her injuries after refusing to give away information to a rival gang who wanted Oswald dead. She had given her life for him and for the underworld, and no one had ever forgotten her sacrifice... The car had just pulled up, Julian rushed towards it as the door opened up and Ronny lifted Lucy from the car as Josh got out the drivers side.
“Lucy!” Julian said as he lifted his child into his arms, and as she said I'm okay, Daddy, and hugged him, Oswald looked to Lucy, then thanked Josh and shook his hand before before hugging him, then he let go and as gratitude shone in his eyes, he had added, “You can go home now, Josh. Thank you so much for your help tonight.”
Josh glanced at Ronny then back at Oswald.
“What about her?” he said quietly.
“I will speak with Miss Collins later,” Oswald replied, then he and Molly took turns to hug Lucy as Julian held on to her, and as they turned away towards the house, Oswald looked back at Ronny.
“Is it Ronny or Veronica?” he demanded.
“Everyone calls me Ronny,” she replied quietly.
“Ronny,” he said frostily, “Go and wait in the study. We need to talk!”
Then he limped off to rejoin the family as they headed for the house.
Josh was about to get back into the car and he saw the anxious look in Ronny's eyes.
“Thanks,” Ronny replied, and then Josh drove away, keen to get home to Selina and Maria as his thoughts stayed with Ronny. She had gone to such great lengths to land this job and tonight had more than proved her ability – he hoped Oswald would understand that too, and let her keep her job despite the deception...
An hour later, Oswald limped stiffly into the study, tired but relieved that Lucy was home safe and unharmed. He had heard about the plants and Harvey's involvement in their theft - and he was aware Dent was returning them, and if he wanted to carry on working as a lawyer in this town, he would be providing his services for free to the Cobblepot family for the rest of his days to make up for this, Oswald was already decided on that...
Now Lucy was safely tucked up in bed, and Julian was still with her, sitting there at her bedside watching her sleep as Molly put her arm around him, she too not wanting to take her gaze off their daughter for fear that she might vanish again. The kids were just glad she was home and the nightmare was over – but for her parents, it was an ordeal that would take a while to recover from.
Oswald was still recovering from the shock of it all too and now, as he closed the study door and went over to his desk and sat down, he paused to pour a drink and take a sip from it before looking across the table at Ronny, who, without the make up, looked very different. He had heard about the knife and he could see Anton's attack had sliced through her shirt and some of the bandages. But thankfully, she was unharmed apart from a few cuts and bruises that would probably hurt a lot more tomorrow...
“I'm sorry, sir,” Ronny said softly, “But I wanted to work for you, and you wouldn't have employed me as assistant to your Generals if you had known I was female. You changed your policy after my mother died and all I ever wanted to do was be like her! I wanted to serve you and the underworld. I still do.”
Oswald paused for thought.
“You look more like your father than your mother,” he said as warmth crept into his voice.
She blinked in surprise.
“My father was a loser who took off when my Mom was pregnant!”
“No, he wasn't,” Oswald told her, “Michael Gray was one of my best people. He worked alongside Cassandra. We had a situation, serious corruption deep within the GCPD and I sent Michael in to work with Jim Gordon to wipe out the threat to the underworld and the unity pact. It was secret work, so secret that when your father was killed on active duty, he had to officially disappear with no explanation. The story was, he took off. That's not true, Ronny. He died a hero, defending the underworld. He was cremated and his ashes were scattered in the Gotham River. I was present, so was Jim Gordon, and so was your Mother.”
Ronny blinked back tears.
“I never knew...”
“It remained a secret,” Oswald explained, “But you had a right to know. And he would have been as proud of you as Cassandra would have been today. You saved Lucy, and you took out Anton and his accomplice.”
Ronny took her phone from her pocket and accessed a video.
“I want you to see this,” she told him, “I don't know if she had a premonition, but a few months before she died, my Mom made a recording for me to watch when I was older, in case something happened to her, so that I would understand. I keep a copy of it on my phone, and you really need to see this.”
She handed the phone to Oswald, who began to play the recording. As he saw Cassandra on the screen, memories flooded back and he smiled as he blinked away tears.
“Hello, old friend,” he said fondly, and then as the recording played, Cassandra began to speak:
“Ronny,” she said, “If you're watching this, I died serving the underworld, and you're seeing this recording much older than the little girl you are right now... I want you to understand that I died for what I believe in, to uphold the future that we all deserve to have under the unity pact. Know that I gave my life for a better future for all of us, and for the city of Gotham. And leaving you was the last thing I ever wanted to do. But understand that I lost my life doing the job I love and fighting for what I believe in. Don't blame Oswald, don't resent all that he stands for because I'm gone – understand that I'm on the side of those who keep this city together, who can build a better future. I've done this for you, too - so that you can one day live in a world that's peaceful. Oswald is a great leader, I have faith in him. I hope some day you will be proud of me and what I've done and remember the reason I'm gone and keep me in your heart with pride. I love you, Veronica...”
The message ended.
Oswald blinked away tears as he passed the phone across the table.
“Please don't fire me,” said Ronny, “You don't know how much it means to me to be doing this job, working for you -”
Oswald briefly held up his hand for silence, then as he looked at Ronny, he smiled fondly.
“I fully understand why you pushed Cain away. I could tell you had some kind of conflict over the matter, I believe it may have been due to the fact that he would have learned of your secret, and it would have been too much, to expect a son to keep such deception from his father?”
“Feel free to explain the truth to him,” Oswald said, “And by the way, Ronnie - executing Velaska for the kidnap of one of my children is acceptable, I have no problem with you taking out Anton and his accomplice - but please, no more brawling at the roadside with enemies of the underworld - I don't expect that from the men who serve me. And I won't be expecting it from the women, either.”
She stared at him, then as she realised what he had just said, she started to smile.
“You're going to change your policy?”
“I don't see why not,” Oswald told her with a warm smile, “ I've just realised that barring women from the front line would have been the very last thing your mother would have wanted. So yes, you can keep your job and in future, I will be employing women in my service. And I am immensely grateful to you and Josh for bringing Lucy home safely. Now go home and get some rest, take some time off to let those cuts and bruises heal, you've earned it.”
As he rose from his seat Ronny did too, and he paused to shake her hand.
“Welcome to the family - again, Miss Collins!” he told her warmly.
“Thank you, sir,” Ronny said, as she thought of her late parents, and pride shone in her gaze.
The days that followed were oddly settling, in a way that the family should have felt calm and secure, safe in the knowledge that Lucy was home and okay – but Julian worried for her, not wanting to leave her side. At night he got up and paused by her doorway, watching over her as she slept, now and then nervously looking to the window as he saw movement outside, only to realise it was the sway of the trees in the wind. He knew Valeska was dead, he knew he wasn't coming back and security was tightened up purely for reassurance – but he was still afraid for Lucy. After knowing the fear of her being kidnapped, he felt as if he could never let her out of his sight again.
Molly felt a little easier about the situation – Velaska had done this, and he was dead now. That, to Molly, meant the threat was gone. Oswald had talked about the idea that maybe they should go back to Ireland for a while, take some time out with the kids to just be a family and get away from everything for a few weeks. Molly had agreed at once, and called Kane and said they would be coming over to Ireland for Easter. But even making plans for the holidays didn't lift out that sense of shock over what had happened – they knew it would take a while to get over Lucy's kidnap, and for sensitive Julian, it would take a very long time indeed...
Over at the house where Selina and Josh lived, the mood was light. Ivy had gone over to visit Selina on the night Lucy was kidnapped, after Selina had called her sounding worried, when Josh had left in a hurry because Oswald had said there was an incident. Ivy had left her plants and come over to keep her company. And when she had gone back in the morning, she had stepped into the green house - and there were her Licker plants! All of them, safely returned!
“I don't know how they came back... I know their roots can move... do you think they found a way out and went for a walk? They're so intelligent, nothing is impossible with those plants!” Ivy had exclaimed.
Then she had given a squeals of joy and kissed Selina, then leapt at Josh and wrapped her arms around his neck and her legs around his waist as she kissed him too.
“ My plants are back!” she said again joyfully...
Josh had waited to talk about the kidnapping of Lucy. It wasn't a pleasant subject and Selina was starting get over the awful nausea and tiredness the first three months of pregnancy always hit her with, and she was happy for Ivy and he didn't want to raise the subject of Lucy being terrified as Anton drove her away into the night, nor did he want to recall Velaska's corpse burning in the wrecked car. He had decided he would talk them both about it, gradually. It took him a few days, but by then, they had guessed something was up because they were both happy and playful and Ivy wanted to get naked every time they were alone together, but Josh was unusually quiet. He eventually explained all that had happened on that night, and both the women in his life listened with understanding in their eyes. It wasn't easy, working this close to Oswald and being in such a position of trust sometimes meant seeing and doing stuff that was far from pleasant.
“But at Least Lucy's safe,” Ivy had reminded him when they sat together that evening, after Maria had gone to bed.
“And that's all that matters,” added Selina, “And Anton got what he deserved! I'm glad that crazy bastard went up in smoke, imagine how dangerous he would have become if he had carried on in his fathers footsteps, if he had got away with this?”
“I really don't want to imagine that, not even for a second,” she replied.
And as much as he hated to kill the mood after a few glasses of wine as Ivy and Selina sat either side of him on the sofa, Josh had to speak up – because his boss had asked him to deliver a message...
“Ivy,” he said, “Oswald knew the plants were missing. It came up when Bruce mentioned his reason for looking into Ronny's background...and Lucy heard Harvey say something about the plants, so Oswald's made a deal with Dent, from now on, he works for free for Oswald – forever. It was Harvey who returned the plants.”
Her green eyes reflected hurt.
“Harvey stole my plants?”
“Apparently he thought you could always row some more, he didn't realise how special they were to you personally – and it wasn't his idea, it was Anton. But he did help Lucy and he made it very clear he was nothing to do with the kidnapping and Lucy confirmed it. So now it's all sorted out, Oswald is coming to see you the day after tomorrow, to talk to you about the security issues with the greenhouse. I don't think he's mad at you -”
“Of course he is, he's Oswald! He's going to be furious those plants went missing! Why did he have to find out?”
Poor Ivy looked frantic with worry.
Josh put his hand over hers as he looked into her tearful green eyes.
“It's okay, he won't yell or burn your plants or take the green house away. He just wants to be sure everything is locked up safely, and he also wants to talk to you about what happened.”
Ivy still looked worried.
“He's going to be furious.”
“No, he won't, he just wants to talk to you.” Selina added as she glanced at her husband, hoping they were both right about this, because she had known Oswald for many years, and his temper was legend in this city...
Apart from Ronny, who was overjoyed t be keeping her job, the only other person who was truly happy right now was Ed Nygma. Oswald had called him to say that a senior staff member at Arkham would be taking his place for the next two months, meaning Ed could take some leave from the job he hated so much – being governor of the asylum.
But there was a condition to this. Oswald wanted Ed to plan Jax and Carols wedding, because Jax was still sick and yet to receive his final results, and Carol was too worried to think about making arrangements. So Ed had worked hard on the plans, and when Lee arrived home from work, he had a big smile on his face as he led her over to the sofa and opened up a folder.
“Let me show you how the plans are going!” he said excitedly.
He passed Lee the folder, and she began to look through it, seeing bridesmaids dresses and ideas for the flowers and as she glanced at the rest of his plans, she gave a heavy sigh and put the folder down, then she closed it and shot Ed a look of disapproval.
“Take me through this wedding verbally, Ed.”
Ed smiled as he looked at his wife.
“Well, I thought first of all, when everyone is gathered in the church forty minutes early, I can stand up and entertain the guests, maybe bring the wheel along and do a bit of light hearted Riddle Time, and then -”
“Please stop!” she exclaimed, “No, Ed – NO! It's not the Riddle Factory. This isn't your show, it's their big day! And why are the bridesmaids all in green? Why do you want the floral arrangements in church in the shape of question marks?”
“I thought it would be nice,” he said with a shrug as he looked at her apologetically.
“Leave it to me,” Lee told him, snatching up the folder, “I'll let Oswald think you did all the arrangements, but really, it's best if I do it!”
Ed looked disappointed. She softened at once, leaning in and kissing his cheek.
“I know you tried,” she told him, “But this is something you need to leave with me.”
While Lee was busy making arrangements for the wedding, Cain was slowly coming to terms with the fact that Ronny wasn't the person he thought he was – in fact, knowing she was actually a woman was a lot to get used to. Ronny had called him, and Cain had said they could talk later, maybe in a couple of weeks, because he needed space to think. Ronny had said she was sorry and she hadn't wanted to deceive him, and he had said he understood. But Ronny didn't stop by the house for a few days after the Valeska incident, Oswald had given her some time off because she had got injured brawling with Anton, so for now, both Cain and Ronny were taking time apart.
Josh had carried on as General in the absence of Jax Sterling, and by now, Jax was due to receive his final test results. Oswald didn't call River in advance, he wanted to know desperately if his old friend would make it through, but out of respect to Jax, he waited, knowing Jax should receive the news first, even though the wait was a painful one...
Carol had taken Alicia to school that morning, with arrangements for Iris to meet her after school, then Alicia would go home to her and Penguin and spend the evening playing with Little Penguin, because whether the news was good or bad, they needed time to let it sink in. Alicia didn't know what today meant for her Daddy because no one had told her. She wouldn't know anything until the news was definite, one way or another...
Jax was sitting up in bed resting against his pillow and Carol was at his bedside. He had been in the clinic since he had lost consciousness at home, but in the past few days had improved greatly now his eating issues had been addressed. He looked tired and he was still weak, but he was ready to hear what River had to say.
“I gave it my best,” Jax said as he took hold of Carol's hand, turning his head as he looked at her, “I know this kind of poisoning is hard to beat and I don't have any illusions about the odds. If it hasn't worked -”
“Please don't say that!”
Carol sounded upset. Jax didn't want to say it, but now seemed the best time to do it, before they found out the results.
“This must be said now,” Jax reminded her, “I have the implant taken out this afternoon whether it's worked or not – I've had the six week dose of anti toxin. That's all there is. And even if it's failed, I should have a few months left, we can still get married and make the most of that time...” he held her hand a little tighter, “And if I don't have long, I want to go like my Dad did. I want to die at home, Carol. I've been away from you and Alicia for over ten days and I hated every second of it even though I had to be here – I just want to be at home with my family.”
Carol blinked away tears and nodded, unable to speak as tears choked her voice. Then the door opened and River came into the room. She was holding some papers in her hand, and as she looked at him, Jax sat up in bed and met her gaze.
“I'm ready to hear it,” he said, “Just tell me, River.”
And River smiled.
“I won't bother showing you the details just yet,” she said, “Because you need to process this information,” as she said that she looked from anxious Jax to tearful Carol, and then back to Jax again.
“As I explained before, the treatment cant wipe out the toxin completely. But you can safely live with a trace of it in your body with no ill effects for the rest of your life, as long as the level is below four percent. And your results have come back as showing less than once percent of toxin, and that level will not rise. You're going to live, Jax.”
He struggled to hold back his tears as he nodded, then he tugged on Carol's hand, pulling her closer and as she held him, he sobbed tears of relief.
“Thank you,” he said as he drew back and looked at River, “Thank you so much!”
River smiled again as she placed the paperwork next to the bed.
“When you've both let the news sink in, you can take a look at the copy of those results - I'm going to leave you to enjoy the good news, but remember you're having the implant taken out later this afternoon Jax, and I think we should also take the tube out of your stomach too, do you feel ready to try to eat again?”
Jax laughed as he wiped a tear from his face.
“I feel ready to do anything, River! I can't believe it, I'm going to live!”
As he looked to Carol and joy shone in her eyes, River left the room, closing the door quietly behind them. Then she walked away with a smile on her face, feeling almost as emotional as Jax and Carol did. She was going back to her office to call Victor, as she always did when something good happened. She knew her husband would say he wasn't surprised Jax had made it, because she was an excellent doctor. But she wasn't calling him to hear praise. She just wanted to hear his voice. Later when she got home she wanted his arms around her, as she always did when she felt emotional. Jax wouldn't be going home yet, he would need to have the tube and the implant removed, then he would have to start eating again to keep his strength up. But she felt sure he would be home very soon, possibly within the next five days. River was still smiling as she went into her office. She hadn't just saved her father's close friend and General today, she had saved her late daughter's husband. She had saved Jax, and he was family.
Ivy Pepper was at the greenhouse tending to her plants. She had been there all day because she was worried about tomorrow and Oswald coming over. She watered the potted plants, fed the Licker plants their plant food and then she pruned some roses in the main greenhouse, and while her back was turned as she stood there in a dress that shimmered green and clung like a second skin, the door closed quietly and she stopped pruning the roses and turned around, her green eyes going wide in alarm as she saw Oswald standing there. He was looking at her coldly, thinking about the deception over the plants. She looked back at him, saying nothing as he limped over to her looking immaculate in a dark suit that fitted well to his broad frame, and as he reached her, he finally spoke.
“You're surprised to see me?”
“Josh said you were coming tomorrow,” Ivy replied, stepping back as she thought of his threat to burn her plants if they were ever removed from their secure environment.
“I decided to call on you today,” Oswald replied frostily, “So, now I'm here I think you should explain why you decided to stay silent about you breaking our agreement. You know those plants have to remain secure! Why did you withhold this information from me, Ivy?”
As he glared at her, she looked back at him in alarm. Oswald looked furious and she was expecting Firefly to walk in with her flame thrower at any minute...
Jax Sterling woke up slowly, on coming back to awareness the first sound he heard was Carol's voice. She was talking to him softly, and then he gave a slow sigh and blinked lazily as the dugs began to wear off enough to allow him to look up, then he felt her hand in his grip and he held on, giving a reassuring squeeze.
“Please tell me that implant is gone.”
“It is gone,” she said with a smile, and Jax smiled too as he closed his eyes again.
“That's good, I'm so glad to hear it,” he murmured, then he slipped back into a deep sleep.
As Jax slept on Carol spoke quietly to River, who told her that he would need a few days to recover and start eating again – then, he could go home. He would need a great deal of rest and it would take time, it would be a long recovery because that anti toxin was almost as volatile as the poison that had almost killed him, but now Jax was on the road to recovery.
This room was no longer a place of worry and desperation. Jax was getting well, and Carol's thoughts had turned to the future. It was still sinking in that they had a future to look forward to now. She had good news to tell Alicia and then, when his daughter knew her Daddy was going to be okay, she was going to make phone calls to Oswald and Josh to share the good news with them, too. But right now, as she spoke with River she talked about the wedding, because now there was much to look forward to. and the joy of knowing the future was bright, like a light coming on again after months of darkness.
Just outside of the city, in the carefully maintained greenhouse where Ivy stood fearing for her precious plants, her eyes were wide as she looked at Oswald. Her gaze darted to the door and then back to him again, there was no sign of Firefly – yet...
“I'm sorry I covered it up. But Oswald, you must understand – I had no control over what happened! To my knowledge this place was safe and secure -”
“Harvey stole the access card to the main door and had it copied. He's a lawyer, he has so many contacts in the criminal world I couldn't begin to count them. I know it wasn't your fault, Ivy....”
He stepped closer.
“Please don't burn my plants!” she said as her heart filled with fear for every one of her precious living creations inside the greenhouse.
Oswald looked at her intently, recalling all the years he had known Ivy Pepper.
“I'm going to ask you a question and I want you to be truthful,” Oswald told her, “Are you afraid of me, Ivy? Because you shouldn't be.”
She briefly looked towards her plants as she sensed the vines close by knew her emotions were in turmoil, and they would have reached out to enfold her in comfort – but they also sensed this was a matter to keep out of, because Oswald was a powerful man.
“I'm not afraid of you, Oswald,” she told him honestly, “But Mr Penguin, head of the underworld, one of the most powerful men in Gotham – you control one half of the unity pact and that is a scary thought when I know I broke a rule that could have got you into trouble politically. That scares the shit out of me!”
Oswald's expression softened as he shook his head.
“Ivy,” he said kindly, “I fully understand the facts and I do not hold you responsible. And I will certainly not be asking Firefly to burn your greenhouse. But I will be ensuring security is tightened up around here – for you and the plants, and to keep me out of the shit with the GCPD! Please don't ever feel unable to come to me if there is an issue, Ivy. I'm on your side.”
Her shoulders relaxed as she breathed out slowly, then she nodded.
“I will never keep any issue from you again.”
“I'm happy to hear it,” he told her, “And now I should be on my way, I'm waiting for an important phone call, I'd rather be at home when it comes.”
He had turned to leave, but as she said his name he turned back.
“Thank you for understanding,” Ivy said, and she hugged him tightly as surprise registered on his face.
“Take good care of these plants, Ivy,” he added with a smile, and then he stepped out of her embrace, turned away and limped out of the greenhouse.
Oswald had finished the drive home and had just pulled up outside the mansion and shut off the engine when the call came through from Carol. As soon as he answered, she told him, Jax is going to be just fine, Oswald! And he smiled as joy shone in his gaze and he told her that was wonderful news. They spoke for a brief time, then she said she had to go, because Jax was waking up again. Oswald was still smiling as he ended the call, and then he got out of the car and paused to wipe away tears of sheer relief before going inside to tell Molly and Julian the good news.
“Jax is cured!” he announced as he went into the front room to find Molly on the sofa, she was taking a quiet hour by the fire to simply relax, and Edward the bulldog sat at her feet as she paused to stroke his wrinkled head, then as the dog trotted over to Oswald, he leaned down and made a fuss him too.
“That's such good news!” Molly exclaimed, and as Edward padded off towards his favourite spot by the fire, Molly got up and as Oswald limped over to her, they met in the middle of the front room and embraced. It was so good to see Oswald smiling again, to see that weight of worry for his close friend lifted from his heart at last. There was a sparkle in his eyes as he spoke again.
“He had a very tiring meeting with the city council this morning, then he came back and did an hour on the treadmill and now he's resting,” Molly replied, then she checked her watch, “I'm picking the kids up from school soon, you go up to Julian and tell him the good news -” she paused to kiss him fondly, “It is good news, it's bloody wonderful!” she said joyfully, “I'm so glad Jax is okay!”
“He's cured,” Oswald added, “And he could be returning home in less than a week from now – but he will have to have complete rest. He won't be back at work for at least four months, and when he does come back, he won't be able to resume fully active duty, he can't have the robotic arm replaced, he has to use a regular prosthetic instead and he will always have a degree of weakness because of the treatment. I have to keep him away from physically active duty.”
“Does he know this?” Molly asked.
“Not yet,” Oswald replied, “But I'm sure he will realise that soon enough when River talks to him about the long terms consequences of the treatment. But he's still one of my Generals.”
Molly smiled as she nodded in agreement, silently hoping that Jax would accept the situation – he had fought alongside his boss in every volatile situation that had occurred since the new underworld had been formed, and to step away from that now might be hard to accept after all these years. But Jax had his family and a future to look forward to, and he was also planning on getting married as soon as he was back on his feet. She felt sure having so much to look forward to would be enough to soften the blow about the alterations to his role as Oswald's General, because as much as Jax loved his job, she was sure he loved his family more...
Oswald went into the bedroom to find Julian relaxing on the bed.
“You look too delicious to be lying there alone,” Oswald said softly with a smile on his face as he limped closer and then sat down on the edge of the bed.
“Keep me company, then,” Julian replied with a smile, and he turned on his side and put his arm around Oswald as he kicked off his shoes and lay beside him.
“Molly tells me you had a very long morning today at the meeting, she said it wore you out.”
As he said that, Oswald's hand ran lovingly over his shoulder, brushing against bare flesh. Julian was lying there in just his underwear, his hair was damp from the shower and he smiled again as he saw the sparkle in Oswald's gaze.
“It was a lot of work this morning. It was about the male birthing implant business, and how it's getting more commonplace in the city... more guys are having babies by implant, so we have to tighten up the rules to make sure it's safe,” he gave a sigh, “It's not just about the doctors fitting them who have to prove their qualification, it's also about the people who want the implants – right now, anyone can have one – even you, Oswald, at your age! We have to set precautions in place, set an age limit and ensure the person receiving the implant is in good health – mentally and physically. That applies to men who want them and women who need an artificial womb.... and then I started thinking...” Julian paused, reaching out to run a hand over Oswald's spiked hair, “I know it sounds crazy, because we have a house full of kids but this is an eight bedroom mansion. You, me and Molly share one room, Cain and Felix have their own rooms and so do the girls... and the nursery is empty...”
He stopped, shyly smiling as he met Oswald's gaze, “So, what do you think, could I maybe have one of those implants and have your baby, Oswald?”
Oswald blinked as surprise registered in his gaze. As they lay together, athletic and toned Julian against his older, chubby frame as they embraced, he felt such love in his heart for his sweet Julian who was so willing to carry his child.
“Male birth is said to be very painful. Why did you suddenly come up with this idea? Men have had the option to carry a child by birthing unit for several years now, you never mentioned it before.”
Julian turned on his back and then looked at Oswald.
“I was in the middle of that meeting and I suddenly realised, once these new laws go through, I will be banned from ever carrying an implant because of my medical history. It's not even the anxiety that puts me at risk - it's the fact that I suffered five years in the asylum, and the risk that I might associate extreme pain with torture and go into shock, or see my Ptsd worsen... I don't think any of that would happen, I know the difference between then and now and it takes a lot for me to have a flashback. I was more likely to have had a breakdown over Lucy going missing!”
“Do you think River would agree to you having an implant?” Oswald asked.
“I hope so,” Julian replied, “I don't see why not. I'm in good shape and until the new laws go through – which won't happen for at least twelve months – I'm still entitled to have the implant. I would love to carry your baby, Oswald!”
As he heard those words, Oswald smiled as he pulled him closer, his heart filling with joy at the thought of Julian having his child.
“You are an exceptional man, my sweet Julian!”
“No I'm not,” he said with a shy smile, “Lots of guys are using these birthing units, I won't be the only one.”
“But you're the only guy who loves me enough to give me a child,” Oswald replied as his voice softened, and then the pulled him closer, holding him tightly as he kissed him.
As Molly walked in, she laid eyes on the two men in her life embracing and in the middle of a passionate kiss. She closed the door and went over to the bed just as Oswald loosened his grip and Julian pulled back, his face flushed as he breathed hard. Oswald's eyes were dark with longing and she knelt on the bed, just sitting there, enjoying the sight of her chubby husband and almost naked Julian getting close and passionate.
“Don't start without me!” she said with a smile on her face.
“Julian has just told me he would like to have a fertility implant, so that he can have my baby,” Oswald said with a proud smile.
Molly's expression changed to one of utter disbelief.
“Have you gone mad?” she exclaimed as she looked at Julian, who sat up and looked at her in protest.
“No I haven't, Molly - what's wrong with me using an implant? Other guys do it, so it's not as if I'd be the first!”
“Why are you against this?” Oswald asked as he sat up too, then paused to loosen his tie and take off his jacket, “Molly, we are a wealth family. There's no reason why we can't have another child, we can afford it!”
Molly had got off the bed. She stood there blinking back tears as she looked at Oswald.
“ But he can't,” she said, and she glanced at Julian, “You haven't thought this through! Those damaged pathways in your brain that don't quite stay fixed need to constantly learn, you have to run every morning and use the treadmill at least once a day to stay fit and active, when you're heavily pregnant and you can't exercise any more, those pathways will collapse all over again and you'll be in a wheelchair until you start teaching yourself to walk - again! I don't want to see you go through that! Oswald, tell him!”
Molly was tearful as she looked to Oswald, who stared at her, knowing she was right - in his excitement, swept away in the moment, he had not realised the physical impact it would have on Julian, who had to keep up his active lifestyle if he wanted to stay on his feet.
“I didn't think of that.”
He looked at Julian, who glanced from Molly to Oswald and then shrugged.
“I don't actually give a fuck if I have to struggle to walk again after the birth. That's no big deal, we know these pathways respond to repeated exercise, so I'm not in danger of long term disability! I want this baby, I'm not going to let the tiny bit of damage left in my mind, left over from the shit I went through in Ashecliffe, stop me having a kid if I want one!”
Oswald looked to Molly.
“I think maybe we should all take time to think about this before any decisions are made.”
“Ozzie, I know what I want!” Julian said, sounding very sure about it.
“Fine,” Molly added as tension crept into her voice, “You do that, Julian. You have that kid, and pay the price when you can't walk and you're struggling to get back on the treadmill to take a few stumbling steps all over again. You let me and Oswald watch you struggle - and the kids, too. Let them see you struggle and get upset over it - all over again!”
She walked out of the room and closed the door firmly. Oswald and Julian looked at each other, both stunned at her reaction.
“I didn't realise the thought of me becoming less able for a short time would be so upsetting!” he exclaimed, “I'm not worried, are you worried?”
Oswald hesitated. Molly had made a valid point...
“Oz?” Julian said as worry crept into his voice, “Please don't say you don't want to do this! I know you want this as much as I do!”
Oswald gave a sigh.
“I think we should let the matter drop for now,” he said, fondly kissing his cheek and then reaching for his cane as he got up, “We can discuss this another time – you get some rest, I'll go and talk to Molly – about anything but babies!” Then Oswald left the room as Julian laid back on the bed, alone and quietly worrying as he wondered if this idea to have a baby was something he should pursue, or not. He had never expected Molly to react the way she did, but everything she had said made perfect sense, as much as he wished it didn't...
A few days later, with Springtime in the air, and a blue sky above dotted with small white clouds, two people met down by the Gotham River. Cain stood there by the waterfront wearing a long black coat and as his spiked hair defied the breeze, he smiled proudly. Today, he was the image of his old man when he was younger. But he felt a flicker of nervousness as she walked over to join him, Ronny looked different now, without her disguise. Her face was soft and pretty and her eyes were wide and dark and she wore jeans and a leather jacket that made him think of Ronny as a guy – but she was definitely a girl, and it struck him as ironic that when he had thought she was man he had decided to make his move, yet now he was looking at her he felt nervous, as if he was meeting her for the first time. But this was Ronny. She didn't make him feel like he was being led by his cock. He was being led by his heart... And he still felt nervous. Then as she reached him she smiled, and all his shyness faded away as their eyes met.
“Wow,” he said as he blushed, “I thought you were handsome as a guy but as a girl... you're so beautiful!”
Ronny laughed softly.
“I think I'm average – but I can take a compliment! You don't look so bad yourself, Cain.”
Suddenly he wanted to say so much, but the only words he could find were the ones that mattered most.
“I've had more than enough time to think about what you did and why. I know it was part of a bigger plan and you had to do it your way. And I was as crazy about Ronny Lee Riley as I am about you, Veronica Collins. So now that's all clear...”
He paused, stepping closer as from a distance, as he stood there with his spiked hair, wearing a dark suit, he looked a lot like his father back in the days when he had dreamed of one day becoming king of Gotham. Except that Cain didn't have Oswald's shyness. Cain was more like his mother, whose confidence had brought love and family and joy to Oswald Cobblepot's life, and Cain knew the moment was right, and he knew exactly what to do about it.
“I do have one complaint,” he added, “You still owe me something.”
As the breeze from the river ruffled her short dark hair, Ronny looked at him in confusion.
“What do I owe you?”
“I'm still waiting for my kiss,” he informed her with a smile.
She leaned in, then his arms were around her waist, and then their lips touched as finally, Cain and Ronny shared a deep and lasting kiss as they stood there at the river side as beyond it, across the water, the city of Gotham looked shining in sunlight.
At Josh and Selina's house, there was a Licker plant in a pot sat in sunlight by the window. It raised its head, sniffing at the air, but it was a growing plant, yet to develop roots that creaked as they extended, and while it sat there in its pot sniffing at the hormones rising in the air, upstairs Josh was face down on the bed, groaning into the pillow as Ivy fucked him from behind. Josh turned his head and saw Selina sat on a chair close by, her legs open as she rubbed at her clit and juices ran as she watched that lubed up dildo go in and out of his ass.
“Fuck him good!” she panted.
Josh watched her face flush, he was trying to hold back, but Ivy was merciless with her aim as she hit him inside, right where it mattered most, over and over and suddenly he was coming hard, spilling on to the sheets and himself as she pushed the dildo all the way in, watching as his ass contracted around it. Selina gave a gasp and sat back, all pink and swollen and wet as the last of her orgasm ran from her body, making her thighs shiny and sticky. She looked so beautiful, her breasts bigger, nipples pinker, everything down there seemed so much more flushed, and her belly was showing a small swelling now where the pregnancy was heading into its fourth month. She always looked beautiful when she had an orgasm – but watching her like this, like she held the power of all creation in her hands, was even more intense than being fucked in the ass by Ivy, who drew out of him slowly, then slapped his ass as Selina giggled.
Having the girls join him on the bed as they lay either side of him was bliss, and he took turns to kiss them both and then Ivy got up to grab a shower and Josh turned over and pulled Selina closer.
“I love you watching me.”
“And I love coming over you being fucked, so that makes us a great team!” she said with a smile, “Oh, it's so good to have everything back to normal! I love seeing Ivy happy!”
“And I love her being happy too, she's constantly horny!”
“And she's not worried about the plants any more,” Selina added, then she turned on her back, smiling as Josh ran his hand over the curve of her belly.
“I can't wait to see the next scan! I wonder what we're having?” he said.
“A baby, obviously!” she laughed.
“I don't care, boy or girl – I just want our baby to be healthy and happy and thriving.”
“So do I,” she agreed.
Love shone in her green eyes as she kissed him. Josh held her close, sharing another, deeper kiss with his pregnant wife. Her twenty week scan was close now. It wouldn't be long before they found out if they had a son or another daughter. It was an exciting time. And with no more worries to cloud the horizon, life, for now, felt as perfect as it could get.
The weeks went by.
Jax Sterling had left the clinic a week after the implant had been removed, and within three weeks was at home sitting up in bed insisting he wanted a say in the planning for the wedding buffet – his appetite had come back and Carol was glad to be cooking for him again. He had lost some weight while he was sick but that weight was creeping back quickly, it wouldn't be long before he was almost as chubby as Oswald once more... By now Oswald had explained that Jax would not be able to resume all his former duties – and he was relieved that Jax agreed with him. He would take a while to recover from the treatment, and he knew when he was back at work he would have to take on lighter, less demanding duties. But he was just thankful to be recovered and to still have the job that he loved, and most of all, he was looking forward to the wedding which would now take place in Summer, almost five months after the implant had been removed.
While Jax and Carol looked forward to their wedding, Molly and Oswald had sat down and had a long discussion with Julian about the possibility of him using a fertility implant. Eventually, Molly had been persuaded that if Julian wasn't worried about his mobility being compromised for a few months before and after the birth, it really wasn't a problem.
River had confirmed that Julian would have to slow down by the time he was four months pregnant, and with lack of exercise, those unstable pathways in his damaged mind would start to fail once more. She estimated he would be walking with a cane by the time he was six months pregnant, and definitely in a wheelchair by the time he gave birth, and would have to work hard once he recovered to regain his ability to walk and to get back to the same level of fitness he enjoyed now.
But there was no risk of long term damage. Those pathways would always be dependant on Julian's punishing exercise routine, and this was something he could get back to with Molly and Oswald's support. And he was fully prepared to take time off as mayor while he was recovering from the birth because, he said, where birthing implants were becoming more accessible now, it was important for a city leader to be seen to use one, as he hoped it would inspire other men to do the same.
Molly had deicide to talk to the kids about it first. Cain was fine, he said these days anyone could have an implant, and there was no reason why Julian shouldn't do it. Luna had smiled and hugged Julian as she told him she was glad he was going to have a baby. Then Felix had said sometimes he saw pregnant Daddies at the school, mostly it was ladies who had babies but sometimes, men did too. Lucy had smiled as she looked at her Daddy and told him not to worry because everyone would love the baby, and he would be so happy to be pregnant. Julian knew Lucy was giving her confirmation that everything would be okay – she just knew these things.
Later that day, Molly and Oswald had talked everything else over with Julian – agreeing that if this child had the same abilities as Lucy, at least this time they would be ready for it, this time, it wouldn't be a shock.
Suddenly it didn't seem such a bad idea.
They were ready for this.
Julian made an appointment to see River to get the implant fitted. A week later he had the implant, it took thirty minutes and then he went home and spent the next two days resting because he was in mild pain as the birthing unit settled into his body. Molly and Oswald had been with him for the procedure and they spent as much time with him as they could as he rested, getting over the pain in his ass that radiated up just below his ribcage. The implant had been inserted and punctured through a complicated path avoiding internal organs, where it would start to draw in his DNA to create the egg that would be fertilised by conception via anal sex. Julian couldn't even try for the baby for at least two weeks after the procedure because the scar inside him was closing up as the implant grew a birth canal down towards it. When the baby was born, the implant would release chemicals that would encourage stretching to help him open up, then the baby would be born and the implant, by then turned to a silvery, soft skin, would shed along with the birth canal, leaving the internal scar to close up. Julian had already joked that he doubted he needed anything to help his ass open up after the way it had been fisted. But Oswald wasn't amused, remaining a little nervous about the whole thing, keeping in mind the fact that sensitive Julian had been through a lot in life, and male childbirth was said to be tremendously painful. River had already assured him she would carefully monitor Julian after the birth in case the pain triggered flashbacks or traumatised him in any way. But Julian was confident about the whole thing. Now he was impatient to conceive, and Molly had noticed how happy he was, too. He was excited about this, and when Julian was excited about something, it was hard not to be excited with him, as he talked about plans for the nursery and started making a list of names.
But it didn't happen right away.
River had reminded him these implants took an average of four to six months to conceive, but Julian was growing impatient. By now Oswald wasn't so worried, he was enjoying Julian's constant demands for sex, and so was Molly...
It was a warm morning in Summer.
The roses were blooming by now, and their scent carried up from the garden as in the play room, Julian lay naked and restrained on the table. Molly watched as Oswald limped over to him bringing with him the scent of his cologne as he paused to looked down at Julian's body, smooth and shaved and perfect. His legs were open, his ass was exposed and wet because he was aroused and the implant was sending a signal to lubricate the route to the birthing unit.
“Do you know what I'm going it do to you today, Mr Lambrick?” Oswald said in a dominating tone as he leaved over him and gripped his face lightly.
Julian gave a nod, his eyes wide as he started to perspire, anticipating what would come next.
“I'm going to use you for an experiment,” Oswald told him, then he let go of him, stepped back and took off his jacket and handed it to Molly, then opened up his shirt and finally, unbuckled his belt.
“You're not my patient, you're my prisoner and you will never leave this asylum!” Oswald told him darkly, “And I'm going to use your body for my pleasure.”
Julian took in a quick breath. His cock was hard, aching for release already.
“I'm yours. Do what you want, I have no say in this!” he gasped as his cock started to leak making the head shiny.
Oswald stepped closer, then leaned right between his legs and licked firmly at his wet ass as Julian's legs trembled. Molly felt like her clit was about to explode as she slipped a hand down there and gently rubbed at the throbbing ache, slowly, because she didn't want to come yet. Oswald straightened up once more, then gave his cock a stroke and kept on stroking it as he met Julian's gaze.
“This might be painful. I'm going to fuck you and you will take every inch of this big cock. I'm going to inseminate you, Julian. I'm going to make you pregnant.”
“What ever you say, yes Doctor Cobblepot...” he whispered, and then as Oswald pushed his cock into his ass, Julian gave a gasp.
Molly's rhythm quickened its pace as she rubbed at her clit, watching as Oswald fucked Julian hard, she watched his cock slide in and out and bury deep as Julian yelled out and spurted come all over Oswald's belly, spattering his own flesh in the process. Oswald gripped the table as he closed his eyes, and two more hard thrusts and he buried deep inside him again, throwing his head back as he gave a soft cry of release. Molly was on her knees as she came hard, her gaze still on the two of them, joined together.
For a moment, all that could be heard in the sound proofed room was soft breathing as the three of them regained composure, then as Molly got up, Oswald gently withdrew from Julian, and then he leaned over him, all trace of his dominance gone as he cupped his face in his hands and kissed him lovingly.
“Perhaps today was the day we made our baby, Julian,” he said with a smile.
Molly had just opened up Julian's restraints, and as soon as he was free he was sitting up, putting his arms around Oswald.
“I love you so much!” he said as tears choked his voice.
“And we love you too,” Oswald told him softly as he held him close, then Molly stepped closer and held him as they shared a kiss.
A short while later, Julian was in bed resting while Oswald grabbed a shower with Molly, where they shared kisses under the water. Then Oswald went back to the bedroom to get dressed and then embrace Julian, who was always emotional after intense sex. Molly didn't have that luxury of cuddle time with Julian – she had offered to do the school run that day.
She didn't realise something was about to happen that at the time seemed at the least bizarre and at the worst, a possible blackmail attempt by an amateur who perhaps knew nothing about her family at all... She also didn't know that there was much more to come, and this was just the beginning.
It was ten minutes before school ended. Molly had just parked her car and got out when a woman walked up to her and said her name. Molly turned around with a smile on her face assuming she was a parent she knew from the school run.
But she was wrong.
Molly looked in confusion at the woman who was tall and slender, the summer dress she wore looked faded and she had a nervous, tired look about her face. Her hair hung lank and fair at her shoulders and her eyes were dark brown, with shadows beneath them. She was not a parent whose child attended this school. She didn't look like she belonged around here, on the nicer side of town, and she looked rough, perhaps she was a junkie, maybe a street thief... Molly's guard was up as she looked hard at her as she said Molly again.
“Who are you?” she asked coldly, remembering being the wife of the Penguin could mean an enemy might target her anywhere, even here...
The woman's gaze darted left and right as other parents left their vehicles and headed towards the gates of the school.
“I realise I look a mess,” the woman said, “That's because I'm tired, she won't let me sleep until I deliver the message. I'm just the messenger...”
Molly looked intently at her.
“What the fuck are you talking about?” she demanded, her temper rising. The kids would be out of school soon, and this woman was rambling on like she was deranged...
The woman ran her fingers nervously through lank, greasy hair and set her sleep deprived gaze on Molly.
“I don't want to do this but I have to. She ordered me.”
“Who did?” Molly said, wondering if maybe this woman had escaped from somewhere - like Arkham, perhaps.
“No names,” the woman replied, “Just listen to me – your husband Oswald... You think you know everything about him, you don't. It's common knowledge that Mayor Lambrick is using a fertility implant to have a baby with your husband -”
“And he's got every right to do that, we're a three way marriage, if you don't like it, fuck off!” Molly said sharply, “I'm not going to listen to your ranting – you're one of those anti birthing unit people, aren't you!”
She shook her head.
“ No, I'm not! This isn't about your plans for the baby. It's about his eldest daughter. I have to deliver this message, Molly. It's an order.”
Now she had Molly's attention. Molly stared at her, caught between wondering if she was crazy, or if someone had sent her, maybe an enemy of Oswald's...
“What's this about?” she said as she looked at her intently.
The woman took a deep breath.
“She knows all about the fuss over the baby, the excitement about the head of the underworld planning a kid with his Mayor husband...”
“What's this got to do with River?” Molly demanded protectively, “River implanted Julian, yes that's right, you said this was about his eldest daughter – oh no, you are one of those anti fertility unit nutters...”
“No, I'm not!” she insisted, “I'm just the messenger. She will kill me if I don't deliver the message to you!”
“What message, and who is she?” Molly asked, still undecided if the woman was crazy or genuine.
She fixed her tired gaze on her.
“All this fuss over your Oswald wanting another baby... What about his eldest daughter?”
Molly was utterly confused.
“If this is some kind of attempt at blackmail it won't work. Everyone knows River was adopted because Fish was unable to raise her at the time – Oswald was reunited with her many years later. It's not a secret, so your employer can piss off!”
“It's not about River,” the woman said, “It's about his eldest daughter. He has another daughter. She was born long before he worked for Fish Mooney. And Oswald betrayed her mother and left the girl to be sent to an orphanage.”
Molly stared at her.
“River is his eldest daughter, he doesn't have another one!”
The woman just looked at her, shaking her head.
“He has a daughter, she grew up in Gotham, while he was working his way up to be king of the underworld, she was in poverty. Her name was Rebecca Cobblepot... I have proof.”
She reached into her pocket and opened up a faded piece of paper yellowed by time, thrusting it towards Molly. She snatched the paper, seeing little that proved anything.
“This is a missing persons report for someone called Rebecca Cobblepot – the paper's torn, I can't see any more details. Anyone could have made this up. I don't believe you, I know my Oswald!”
“No. You don't,” she stated, “And I have to tell you, I have my orders! By the time he was king of Gotham, Oswald knew where his daughter was. He did nothing about it! And if you try and search for Rebecca, you'll be told she doesn't exist.”
Molly smirked as she shook her head.
“This is fucking desperate shit! And you're Rebecca, trying to grab some cash, are you? You're Oswald's fictional daughter?”
“No, I'm just the messenger.”
“Oh, so you're working for his fictional daughter, is that what I'm supposed to believe?”
She saw a flash of fear in the woman's eyes.
“I'm not working for Rebecca! She knows nothing about this!”
Molly shook her head.
“I can smell bullshit a mile off and you stink of it!”
The woman paused, then took a breath to steady her shattered nerves and spoke again.
Molly knew that name. But everyone knew the tale of how Sofia had betrayed Oswald back in the old days...
“He never slept with Sofia. And she's dead... Oh, this is so desperate and so poorly executed too! I don't know who put you up to this, but there's no money here for you, fuck off!”
As Molly glared at her, the woman stepped back.
“Sofia is nothing to do with this. She's not Rebecca's mother – I'm just telling you about Sofia so you know Oswald keeps secrets from you. Sofia Falcone isn't dead. She was shot and left in a coma and when she eventually woke up she was brain damaged. Oswald went to see her, planning to kill her but when he saw her, he forgave her instead. He goes to see her once a month, he talks to her. She can't talk back but she seems to like his visits. He's been doing it for years. Fish Mooney isn't the only former rival he kept alive, Molly. Go to a place called Willow Tree, it's a nursing home just outside of the city and it's very exclusive. Ask to see Elizabeth Wallace. That's the name she's listed under. You'll see it's her. It's Sofia. If you go there in the afternoon on the last Friday in the month, you'll see Oswald visit her.”
Molly stared hard at the woman who looked back at her with shadows beneath her eyes.
“You'll see it's true,” the woman added, “She wants you to know about Sofia so you understand it's possible for Oswald to keep more than one secret from you. She ultimately wants you to know about his daughter. You need to ask him about Rebecca.”
“Who is she, this woman you keep referring to?”
“I can't tell you that!”
Now Molly was feeling a flicker of suspicion, as crazy as it seemed - because she remembered he had kept Fish alive while she had been in a coma, and he had kept that secret for several years before the truth came out... if it was possible he was visiting Sofia, was it also possible that he had a daughter somewhere?
“ And this daughter of his, if she exists, is nothing to do with Sofia?”
“Nothing,” she confirmed, “Rebecca was born many years before he met Sofia – many years before he rose to power in the underworld. He was yet to meet Fish Mooney and conceive River, he was in his early twenties -”
Molly started to laugh. Oswald had been a virgin back then, he had told her that a long time ago, he didn't lose his virginity until he was almost thirty...
“ Fuck off and take your lies with you!” she said, and then she checked her watch, adding, “I have to pick my kids up now -” she leaned in closer, “If you're still here when I get back I'll knock you the fuck out! I never want to see your face again!”
Anger flashed in her eyes, then she turned away and began to walk towards the gates of the school, wanting to dismiss all she had heard, but at the same time, she was suspicious there might be some truth to it - at least to the part about the Falcone woman being alive. Molly glanced back over her shoulder, but now the woman was gone...
It stayed on her mind.
A part of her - the common sense part - kept nagging that it was all ridiculous. But Molly couldn't let go of her suspicions. It was the part about Sofia that seemed to have a ring of truth. The more she thought about what Oswald had once done for Fish, the more it seemed possible that at least the part about Sofia Falcone might be accurate...
But even if it was, it didn't mean the unrelated stuff about Oswald having an older daughter was true. Anyone could take a secret and add on something fictional to make lies seem true...And considering the wealth and power of the family she had married into,it wasn't surprising someone would come along and try and swindle something out of her. Thankfully, she wasn't going to fall for it.
But she still wondered...
She wanted to ask him.
But to walk into Oswald's study, or catch him alone in the bedroom and say, By the way, do you secretly visit Sofia Falcone? I thought she was dead, seemed a little too much. As for mentioning this daughter he probably didn't have, she could only imagine the hurt that would cause, she could picture the look in Ozzie's eyes as he asked, Why would you believe such a thing, you know me, Molly!
She couldn't do it to him, not over the lies of some suspicious stranger who was probably making the whole thing up to try and grab some cash for her next fix or whatever else she needed... It had been a poor attempt at blackmail by an amateur, and a desperate one at that. And there was probably no truth to any of it...
And now it was the day before Jax and Carol's wedding. And Josh had just called Oswald to say he wouldn't be coming into work because by now Selina was nine months pregnant and was showing the first signs of going into labour. It was the wrong time to ask Oswald about the past, Molly kept telling herself that. But it was there, at the back of her mind, nagging away...
That morning, Julian had gone to the gym. He still wasn't pregnant, and was determined to keep up his exercise routine more than ever, hoping it would delay the inevitable loss of mobility later on when the baby did come along. It was summer holidays, the kids were off school. Cain was over at Ronny's place. The younger kids were out in the garden. Oswald was sitting at his favourite spot on a bench on the patio, keeping an eye on the children as Lucy and Felix took turns on the swing and Luna sat on the lawn sketching the nearby trees. When Molly said she was going for a drive because she needed to pick up some last minute stuff for tomorrow, Oswald had smiled and told her to take her time, there was no rush...
She felt guilty as she hurried to the car, she had actually said specifically that she wanted some lipstick for the wedding tomorrow - she had a ton of make up at home, she didn't need any more - but she was in the car now and heading for the open gates...
Molly drove into town, then she parked her car outside the GCPD and as she walked into the building and asked for Jim Gordon, she felt uneasy. All this fuss over stupid lies thought up a desperate crook trying to make a few quid, she thought to herself, but then she was being directed to Jim's office, and as she walked in and closed the door behind her, he greeted her with a smile, gestured to the chair on the other side of his desk and invited her to take a seat.
“Molly!” Jim said warmly, “It's good to see you, and yes, I will be at the wedding tomorrow, so will Barbara. We wouldn't miss it! We're both so happy for Jax and Carol, they've been through so much, it's great to know they have so much to look forward to now.”
She briefly smiled back, feeling slightly ridiculous.
“I'm not here about the wedding, Jim.”
“Then what can I do for you?” he asked as he paused to sip his coffee and then lay paperwork aside, “It's always a pleasure to help Oswald - or you - or any of your family.”
“This may not make any sense to you, but I have to ask, because someone said something to me and I can't forget about it, and it's going to sound daft!”
“Molly, just tell me what the problem is, I'm sure I can help.”
She paused again, running her fingers though her long dark hair as she thought how ridiculous she would sound, then she fixed her green gaze on Jim and spoke up.
“I came across a piece of paper – it was old, torn... it would have been a missing persons report from before you came to work here Jim, it was a long time ago...Would you still have records that go that far back?”
Jim looked at her with interest.
“We used to have a sea of paperwork here, all paper files... then we went computerised with tech from Wayne Enterprises and Bruce advised us to keep everything on file, even old records. It took five years to transfer to the data banks – of course, your husband's former crimes in the days before the peace treaty was signed have been wiped, anyone associated with leadership of this united city has no worries about their past coming back to haunt them now we jointly run the city together... What's this about, Molly?”
She gave a sigh.
“I don't want to mention it to Oswald, in case it's all bollocks!” she laughed, but Jim just looked intrigued.
“Talk to me...”
“I just want to know if a child went missing... many years ago, before Oswald was king of Gotham... I think he might have a relative somewhere, she would have been a young kid, very young at the time the report was filed... Her name was Rebecca Cobblepot.”
Jim looked at her. He was still looking at her. Molly got the creeping feeling there was more to this, Jim was staring at her... and then the moment was gone.
“Rebecca Cobblepot? I've never heard of her. Oswald's mother was called Gertrud Kapelput... Oswald had no other relatives apart from his father, but his name was Van Dahl... You say the missing person was a child?”
“That's all I have to go on.”
Jim rose from his seat.
“Wait there,” he said, “I'll run a check through the system, it goes back years. If such a report was ever filed, there will be a note of it somewhere... it won't take long to access.” Then he left the room.
Half an hour went by.
A cop came in and brought her coffee and then left again.
Molly checked her watch.
Jim had been gone almost forty minutes now...
Then the door opened and he returned and as she rose from her seat, he spoke up.
“I did a thorough check through historical records, all the missing persons reports that went way back... and there is no trace of a Rebecca Cobblepot listed as missing – in fact, there's no record of her anywhere, no birth or death certificate. I'm sorry, but I think who ever gave you this information got it wrong, Molly. Or maybe you misheard the name. She doesn't exist, there's no trace of her in Gotham.”
Molly looked back at Jim, whose gaze was unwavering.
“You'd best forget about it,” he added, “I'm sure it's just a misunderstanding. She doesn't exist.”
Molly nodded slowly, suddenly feeling more than a little uneasy. It was the way Jim had told her to forget about it... Was he covering something up?
“Thanks for your help,” she said, forcing a smile, “I probably did get the name wrong.”
“Do you still have the piece of paper?”
“No,” Molly said instinctively, “I just saw it for a second...”
“And who gave you this information?” asked Jim, “Because it's completely untrue.”
Molly shook her head.
“Just a stranger I bumped into, they recognised me as Oswald's wife and asked if I knew a Rebecca Cobblepot...she looked rough, I think she was trying to get some cash out of me... obviously she didn't succeed. I had a feeling it wasn't true,” Molly replied dismissively.
“Would you mind taking a look at some images on file of possible suspects, you might recognise her, this woman sounds like a con artist.”
“It doesn't matter,” Molly said quickly, “And I don't have time, Jim! It's the wedding tomorrow, I have a thousand things to do. Thanks for the coffee and for your help,” she smiled again, “I'll see you tomorrow.”
Then Molly left his office, walking quickly towards the route that led to the exit. She had come here to lay her fears to rest, but now her suspicions had rose higher... Jim had reacted when he had heard that name, and had been way too curious about the person who gave her the information. Something was going on, and she needed to get to the truth...
Over at Josh and Selina's house, Ivy had just put Maria in the car, she was going over to visit Penguin and Iris to spend some time with Little Penguin until the baby was born. Upstairs, Selina was on the bed, resting as she felt another flicker of pain pass through her body. Josh was breaking into a sweat, recalling how fast Maria had made her entrance into the world. But this time the labour was slow, the pains had just started and Selina could cope just fine.
“It's not time to call the midwife yet,” she assured him as he looked at her nervously, then took off his jacket and tie. He had already called Oswald to say he wouldn't be into work because Selina had just gone into labour.
“Are you sure?” Josh asked.
Selina nodded, then she placed a hand on her round belly covered by a light t shirt as she lay on top of the covers, pausing to breathe through a mild contraction.
“I'm fine, honestly... it's going to be a few hours yet...”
Her hair was lightly damp with perspiration as he swept his hand over it and looked into her eyes.
“I know you're right, but I still want to time those contractions. I don't want this baby rushing to get here like Maria did!”
Selina laughed, then breathed through another contraction.
“No, really, it's fine... It's different this time, much slower, believe me!”
“And I'm right here, I'm not leaving you,” he reminded her.
“I know that,” she said as she took hold of his hand, “I'm okay, Josh... it's barely started yet...”
Molly had arrived home just as Oswald was coming in from the garden.
“At last!” he said, and he checked the time, “I'm sorry but I have to go into the office for a while – I'll be back soon, Molly, I need to go over some paperwork.”
“Okay,” Molly said in surprise, then Oswald hurried out the door just as she realised it was the last Friday in the month...
Where was he really going?
Now it was burning away inside her, the desperate need to know if any of what she had been told was true. Jim's reaction to the name Rebecca had been odd, and now Oswald claimed to be going to the office, today of all days? Julian had just reached the bottom of the stairs as Oswald hurried out the door, he was back from the gym, had just grabbed a shower and had been planning to spend some time in the garden with her and Oswald, but Ozzie was leaving, and now Molly was about to do the same...
“Watch the kids for me,” Molly said, again feeling guilty, now about lying to the other man she dearly loved, “I have to go back out, I forgot something!”
“What did you forget?” Julian asked.
“It's nothing...” she muttered, “I'll see you soon, love.”
Molly kissed his cheek and then as she heard Oswald's car leave the drive way she headed for the front door, snatching up her car keys on the way.
She wondered if she was going mad as she drove through the city then crossed the bridge and carried on driving out of town, tailing her own husband. She wondered why she was doing any of this – but clearly, he wasn't going to the office.
Maybe he changed his mind and went for a drive instead, she told herself, No, Molly. You know that's bollocks. You know where he's going...
He stopped off a short distance away from the bridge, buying a bouquet of flowers that were sold at the roadside. Then he got back into the car and carried on driving. Molly followed his route, all the way to an old but charming building set in a wide plot of land surrounded by peaceful gardens. It was a nursing home called Willow Tree...
She waited until he had left the car and gone inside, then she parked her car in the space beside his and got out and took a deep breath, then she went inside too. Molly smiled as she approached the reception desk, saying she was Mrs Cobblepot, here to meet her husband, they were visiting Elizabeth... The nurse smiled back and told her that her husband had just gone outside because Lizzie was taking some air in the garden.
What the fuck are you doing behind my back, Oswald? Ran through her mind as she left the building, following a path around to a rose garden. Molly looked about the place and saw patients here and there resting in wheelchairs or sat on comfortable seating as nurses tended to their needs. Then she looked over by the trees, where Oswald stood by a woman in a wheelchair. She had long dark hair and was wearing a summer dress. Her head was resting on a pillow and she turned her head, smiling, then she caught his hand, and he held her hand as he talked to her. Molly recalled old pictures of Sofia from the old days, she had seen lots of old press reports about gang warfare and all of the trouble that had happened long ago, and as she stepped closer, leaving the path and going into the shade of the trees, she could get a better look at her face:
It was Sofia Falcone...
“I hope you like the flowers,” Oswald said kindly, “And did I tell you that Julian is hoping to carry my baby soon? I told you men can have babies now, by birthing implant... Molly is happy about this too, we're both hoping it will happen soon...”
Sofia smiled and raised a finger tip, tapping at the back of his hand. Molly watched as he asked her what she wanted to say, and she looked to the flowers, then started to trace something on his hand.
“Thank you for the flowers?” he guessed, and she squeezed his hand. Oswald spoke to her softly, kindly, with patience and sympathy. Clearly, there was no affair going on here. And after the way Sofia had betrayed him, it was wonderful to think her husband was able to forgive her and see to it that she was cared for in this place, for all these years. It would have been an admirable thing to do, had he not fucking lied to her about it, she thought as she glared at Oswald, watching as he spoke softly to Sofia. As he carried on speaking, Molly headed back to the car, where she stood and waited for her husband, waiting to confront him about this secret he had kept for all of their marriage, for all of these years...
As short while later, Oswald limped over to the car briskly as he leaned on his cane. Then he stopped, staring in disbelief: His wife' s car was parked beside his own, and she was standing there, looking back at him...
“Why the fucking secrecy, Ozzie?” Molly demanded, and Oswald glanced over his shoulder as two nurses headed back into the building and stepped closer to Molly.
“Please don't make a scene,” he said as he looked at her with wide eyes, “I can explain... That woman I visited is a former enemy of mine... I told you all about how she betrayed me years ago, and you said it was a good thing she was dead, so I left it at that, because you wouldn't have cared to know she was still alive.”
“ Sofia Falcone, I know – I recognised her...So you didn't tell me she was alive purely because I said I was glad she was dead?”
“Yes, that's right!” Oswald insisted, looking into her eyes with honesty, “And she had many enemies – it's better this way, if no one knows she's still alive. The poor woman needs constant care, Molly! When I first tracked her down she was in a coma, she was expected to die. And I went there planning to put a bullet in her, but when I saw her I changed my mind. It's not a crime to have compassion! I did not deliberately lie to you! As soon as you said it was a good thing she was dead because she betrayed me, I decided it was better to let you think she was dead – that's what the rest of the city thinks, and she's no threat to anyone any more, but there are plenty who would harm her, even now, if they found out she was still alive! It was an act of kindness Molly! I am capable of showing mercy to my enemies! I'm not a monster!”
Molly took a deep breath, feeling all tension leave her as she looked into Oswald's worried gaze.
“I know that, love,” she said, “And I get why you didn't tell me, because I wanted her to be dead because she betrayed you. But, I've seen her and I know you're just doing the decent thing for someone who needs care. But you have to answer this question, Oswald...” she looked at him pleadingly, “Tell me the truth. Did you have a relationship with her? Did you have a kid with her?”
Oswald stared at her, then he laughed as he shook his head.
“No, Molly, of course not! I told you all about Sofia many years ago, at the time, for a while I adored her – at a distance! I never laid a hand on the woman! And we most definitely do not have any children together!”
Molly knew he was telling the truth. She had known her Oswald enough years to know the look in his eyes that reflected absolute honesty.
And it should have been a relief, but it wasn't:
The messenger had said, Sofia was not linked to Rebecca in any way. She was not her mother...
And Oswald had just confirmed that.
Did this mean everything else she said had been true, that Rebecca was real?
If that woman who had told her about Sofia was being honest, maybe Oswald did have a daughter somewhere.
And if he did, who the hell was her mother?
And why was Jim so evasive, denying knowledge of Rebecca's existence?
What the fuck was going on?
But she couldn't ask him, because Oswald looked upset now.
“I am so sorry I didn't tell you the truth! I just thought it was something that didn't affect us, I mean, it absolutely doesn't, Molly – she's just a poor soul who deserves my forgiveness. Her life was destroyed when she got shot. I pity her. All I want to do is help to keep her comfortable.”
“And do you think she would have done the same for you if the situation was reversed?” Molly asked as she looked thoughtfully at her husband.
“Probably not, Molly. But that's the difference between me and many of my enemies – I am capable of compassion.”
“That's true,” Molly agreed, and then a thought crossed her mind that maybe, she had misinterpreted Jim's reaction to her question. Perhaps that messenger woman had made up the rest, perhaps Oswald didn't have a daughter... Clearly, all she knew for sure was Oswald had paid for the medical care of his former enemy – and keeping her alive was an act of kindness. It was true she had said many years back she was glad Sofia was dead when Oswald had told her the official version of events. No wonder he had never shared the truth about it, and him being kind wasn't something she could be angry about, she understood - maybe the messenger had hoped to cause trouble over this, perhaps the person employing her had hoped to break up their marriage, Oswald probably still had a few enemies out there who would go so low...
And if that was the case, they wouldn't win this one...
“I wish you'd told me everything, but even though I detest what she did to you in the past, I think you're incredibly kind to help her like this. I love you, sweetheart.”
Molly put her arms around Oswald and hugged him tightly, as over her shoulder Oswald blinked away tears of relief. He had never told Molly about Sofia being alive – the entire city thought she was dead – and he was hugely relieved she understood why he had decided to help her like this.
“I apologise,” he said as he stepped back, “I won't ever keep anything from you again – I have nothing else to keep from you!”
He laughed and she smiled, then she hugged him again, then they got into their cars and drove away together, and now Molly was smiling. Later he would ask her how she had found out, and she would say she left the house just after he did, and decided to surprise him and join him at the office, but when he took a different route, she had simply got curious... She didn't want to tell him the rest, because even though every word the messenger had said was true about Sofia, she believed the rest had to be a ridiculous lie – a twist in a plot to get some money out of her, perhaps... But she wasn't worried about that now. It was over now, Molly decided, there were no more secrets. And she had a smile on her face as she drove towards home.
But she would soon be proved wrong about that, very wrong.
It most certainly wasn't over yet...
The hours passed by.
The pain got stronger.
Ivy and Josh worked together to help Selina through the labour.
By now the midwife was with Selina and Josh sat there beside her, holding her hand as she gripped so tightly the tips of his fingers turned white. She cried out as another contraction ripped through her body, she had been given pain relief but wanted to keep it minimal – it was expected to be a problem free birth, and she wanted to do this her way, confident after Maria's easy entrance into the world five years before. It was starting to look like the fact that second births often happened quickly was accurate – just not as fast as Maria's birth, when the labour had happened very fast indeed. Now Selina had been in labour for seven hours, Ivy was downstairs taking a break, and the sun was starting to set as she gave a sharp cry and her thighs shook as she pushed again. Suddenly, it was all happening fast. She panted hard as the head crowned and Josh kept hold of her hand, encouraging her to keep going.
“This is harder than before...” she gasped, bracing herself for another wave of pain as the midwife told her to push when she was ready.
“You can do this,” Josh said, putting an arm around her shoulders as she sat up a little, then took a deep breath and pushed as her body tensed and ran with sweat. She cried out as she pushed and fluid ran on to the pad beneath her, mingled with a streak of blood.
“One more time,” the midwife said, as Selina breathed hard.
“We're almost there, Selina,” Josh encouraged, wiping a trickle of sweat from her face as her hair hung in damp curls.
Her face was flushed and shiny with the effort of several hours labour. In that moment Josh wished he could change places with her, to take this pain instead of her, but it was almost over now. She pushed again and the midwife delivered the baby as he took his first cry, loud and healthy as tears of joy ran down Selina's face as Josh shed tears too, kissing his wife and looking in wonder at their newborn as the baby was placed in her arms. His eyes were open and he looked up at his parents, taking a first look at the world as Selina put him to her breast and he started to feed. He was a healthy baby boy weighing seven pounds nine ounces, with hair the same shade as Josh and eyes like Selina. They named him Nathan, a brother for Maria, their second child was here in the world at last, safe and sound and strong and alert. Just as he had given a first cry, Ivy had rushed up the stairs. They took turns to hold the baby. They all felt wrapped in a warm glow of love that brought with it the joy only a new baby could bring.
Two hours later, Selina was resting in clean sheets as she slept off her exhaustion, and Josh cradled his newborn son in his arms and he couldn't stop smiling. He felt his life was truly blessed, he had a wife, they had Ivy too, and and they had two children and a great home and he had a job that would keep his world secure – their world secure – forever. He didn't want to think about the dangers that might lie ahead or about the fact that he carried a gun most days when he went to work. The danger of his job was a small price to pay for the world he had made for his family. As he walked the floor with the sleepy boy in his arms, he smiled down at him.
“I wonder if you'll be an underworld man when you're older?” he said softly as he looked down at his baby son who was sleeping soundly in his arms, long eyelashes framing closed lids as Josh could only wonder what the newborn was dreaming about. Then he placed him in the crib next to the bed, leaving smiling Ivy to quietly sit with mother and baby while he left the room to take out his phone and share the good news with his boss, and then with Jax Sterling.
At the Cobblepot mansion, Julian had sat quietly on a bench in the garden while the kids played and listened as Molly had sat beside him and Oswald had, once again, explained the Sofia situation.
“I had to explain to you too, Julian,” Oswald said as he stood there leaning on his cane, “It wasn't a dark secret – I just didn't think it was relevant to us, that I was paying for the care of a former enemy. I pity the woman. I had to do something to help. And it really had no impact on us. I hope you can understand.”
Julian paused for thought and then sipped some iced tea and placed it on the table beside him.
“This is old gangland business,” he concluded, “It's not as if you were having an affair with her! I bet there's a lot of stuff we don't know about, like how many people you killed in the old days? And that has no bearing on the present, either!”
Oswald breathed a relieved sigh, thankful that both his partners had understood the situation.
“You're right, I couldn't tell you how many people I killed in the days of war or the days of gang warfare,” he replied, “I lost count! And it does have no bearing on anything relevant to us at this present moment in time.”
Then as Oswald sat beside him, Julian hugged him, then said it was a good thing he had done for Sofia, who couldn't take care of herself. Molly sat there at the table, looking on as the two of them talked as she said nothing, lost in her own thoughts:
Of course Julian would be understanding, he had gone through a huge battle to recover after the damage caused to him in the asylum. He knew how caring Oswald could be, and so did she... But Rebecca was still on her mind.
Maybe the rest was all lies.
Or maybe not.
She was getting that burning urge to ask him, just to set her mind at ease once and for all. But she resisted that urge, because he had been though enough shock for one day, seeing her turn up at the nursing home and confronting him like that... Molly stayed silent for now. And then the phone rang and Oswald's mood lifted joyfully at the news that Josh and Selina's son had arrived safely. After speaking to Josh, he paused to make a call to order some flowers to congratulate them, then the conversation turned to Julian's hopes to conceive via the birthing unit, and Molly stayed silent about her curiosity about Rebecca. But it lingered, remaining there undeniably:
She needed to know the absolute truth, and the only person she could ask was her husband...
Much later that night, the kids were in bed and Julian was still downstairs, apparently watching TV. Molly had stood there in the doorway, looking fondly at Julian as the thought crossed her mind that he had never lied, about anything – he had no secrets. Julian was honest, painfully so, he never held anything back... and now he was slumped on the armchair, his head turned and his eyes closed as he slept deeply. She went in quietly, turned the volume down and left the room again, deciding now was the best time to speak to Oswald, just her and him and one question that had to be asked to settle her mind once and for all...
As she went upstairs, she was reflecting on all she had been thinking :
Julian was honest. But so was Oswald – as honest as he could be for a man with such a dark past, but she understood why he had not mentioned that Sofia was still alive. And it did change nothing. It just meant that he had made a compassionate choice, and it wasn't the first time Ozzy had done that. He had a kind heart underneath all the ice and fury that was seen by his enemies and talked about with respect by those who served him and recalled Oswald from the old days – he was so much more than just the head of the new underworld – he had once been Oswald the criminal, Oswald the villain, then Oswald the war hero, and as a man who had lived such a life, of course he had secrets, many buried and forgotten in the mists of time. She didn't doubt that Oswald didn't want to recall half of the things he had to do, back in the old days. But this was something she had to ask about, because she needed to put her mind at rest. She needed him to look her in the eye and tell her there was no truth to the matter. Or at least, to laugh and say how ridiculous it was, to think he would have a daughter he had never mentioned. She wanted him to laugh and say it was nonsense...
Molly opened the door and went into the bedroom. Oswald had just left the bathroom, his hair was damp and neatly combed and he was wrapped in a light, padded silk bathrobe in a shade of dark purple. He limped over to a seat by the open window, sat down and reached for a glass of scotch over ice and sipped it then set it down and smiled as he looked to his wife.
“Is Julian joining us?”
“He's asleep on the sofa, I didn't want to wake him just yet,” Molly replied, and as Oswald looked at her fondly and patted the space beside him, she went over to the window to join him and sat down, as Oswald began to speak again.
“It's been a hell of a day. I'm so glad you understand, about Sofia. I have no intimate feeling for her, Molly. Just compassion for another human being. All the hatred and rivalry burned out long ago. I've done some terrible things over the years, to maintain my position of power in this city. But I haven't lost the ability to be human. I'll never let this city turn me into a monster.”
“I know that, Oswald,” Molly replied, and as she met his gaze, she reached for his hand, briefly squeezed it and then let go again. If Oswald had been expecting a loving kiss, he didn't get one, and confusion reflected in his gaze as he looked back at her, sensing there was something amiss.
“Molly, you look troubled by something. What's wrong?”
She gave a heavy sigh and shook her head.
“Nothing, I hope!”
All that reflected in his pale blue gaze was concern as he looked back at her.
“Is something wrong, Molly?”
“I hope not, Oswald,” she laughed softly as she shook her head, “Oh, I hope this is as ridiculous as it sounds... I think someone tried to scam me or con me... maybe blackmail of some kind... she knew about you paying for Sofia's care. She told me about it. Oswald, I didn't want to worry you, but when I picked the kids up from school this woman came up to me, she looked a mess, I thought she was a street thief or a junkie... she said some very weird stuff, about someone not letting her sleep until she delivered the message to me.”
Oswald stared at her. He drank more of his scotch and set the glass down heavily.
“Why the hell didn't you tell me this before?”
“Because you had enough of a shock when I showed up this afternoon! But the more I think about it, if someone is trying to scam our family, we all need to be aware of what's happened... I've never seen her before, she's probably someone from way back with a grudge.”
“What did she look like?” Oswald demanded.
“In her thirties, long fair hair, looked like she hadn't slept for a week... needed a bath and a change of clothing, too. And she told me about you taking care of Sofia. She said she wanted me to know that, to prove she was genuine, she wanted me to believe other stuff -”
“What other stuff?”
Molly blinked. Oswald's voice had taken on a sharp, urgent tone as he looked hard at her.
“What other stuff, Molly? Because if this is about the war years, you already know when I was manufacturing bullets and dealing weapons, it was a struggle to keep my workers going. I know some say I didn't do enough for them, but we all have our own way of surviving the worst, Molly! I did what I could at the time, we all did back then!”
“No,” Molly said firmly, shaking her head, “It's not about the war, Oswald! I know some people say shit about you, but there's plenty who speak well of you and how you and your people fought for Gotham, and at the end of the day all I care about is the fact that I know you, I know who you are and I know you did your best at the time! No one could have got through the shut down of the city and survived like you did and done everything perfectly. You did what you could and I understand that.”
Oswald looked utterly confused as he looked into her green eyes.
“So what the hell is this about?” he exclaimed.
Molly looked at him apologetically.
“I'm not entirely sure! This woman said she was working for someone who wanted me to know things about you that you'd kept hidden. She said she had to tell me, that she was just the messenger. When I asked her who she worked for, she just said she wouldn't let her reveal that information. She said she would kill her. She was probably making that part up, and maybe the paperwork she showed me was fake too.”
“What paperwork?” Oswald asked.
Molly took a deep breath.
“Oswald, I'm sorry, I know this is going to sound stupid and I never should have mentioned it, but I wanted to clear this up - she showed me a torn piece of paper, a very old police report, missing persons, it was about a child. The woman claimed that you had a daughter many years ago, way before you ever worked for Fish. She claimed you abandoned the baby, turned your back on her... She said her name was Rebecca Cobblepot....”
Molly stopped right there, feeling as the world had just stopped turning as a sense of dread hit her hard and cold. Oswald stared at her. His jaw briefly dropped. He carried on looking at her, in absolute shocked silence.
“Ozzie?” her voice trembled as she spoke, “Say something, tell me it's bollocks! Tell me none of this is true!”
He reached for his glass with a shaking hand, drinking down the rest of that scotch quickly, then he set the glass down again, his gaze turned away and down towards the table and the bottle and the empty glass, then he shakily poured another drink.
“What else did she say, Molly?” he asked in a hushed voice.
Molly was staring at him.
“Ozzie...is it true? Just fucking answer the question, man! I'm your wife, I need to know if you've got a daughter out there somewhere!”
Oswald looked back at her sharply.
“Come with me,” was all he said, and then he got up and limped out of the room as Molly got up too, for a moment just staring after him as her head spun:
Was it true?
Why wasn't he denying anything?
She followed him out of the room.
Oswald led her down the upper hall, then he paused by the doorway to a room he kept locked, reached up to the top of the door frame and took down a key. As he stiffly turned it in the lock, she felt confused:
This was the smallest spare room, it was also the place where he kept all his mother's belongings, her favourite books on dusty shelves, her clothing in an old wardrobe, her photograph albums, her perfume bottle, her dressing table where he kept her jewellery box. This was a room of old memories, not so much a shrine, more like a precious place where the past could still live, even if he seldom went in there.
He opened up the door and went inside and she followed, then he closed the door behind them and went over to the only piece of furniture he had taken from his mother's old apartment, a mirrored resisting table in dark varnished wood. The rest of the furniture was back at home, he had bought the block after he became king of Gotham and taken good care of the place. These days it was refurbished and the only apartment left untouched was the heavily locked door of the late Mrs Kapelputs home, the place where he had grown up, sealed like a time capsule...
But here at the mansion, he kept the most precious of her possessions. And as Molly stood there, she watched as Oswald unlocked a drawer in the dressing table and it slid out stiffly, then he took out an old metal box and paused to unlock that with a key he retrieved from the back of the drawer. He opened up the box and set it on the dressing table, then he took something out of it, turned back to Molly and his hand shook as he passed it to her. Molly took hold of the object in disbelief:
It was a gold bracelet, made for a small child. There was a name engraved on it:
She looked at her husband, he was tearful and his voice shook as he spoke.
“It's true, Molly. I did have a daughter. But I did not turn my back on her, she was torn from my arms!” tears choked his voice, “I can't do this now. I know you have many questions and I will clear this up, but please, not tonight...” he reached out and took the bracelet back, put it in the box, closed the lid, put the box away and locked the drawer.
“Not tonight,” he said again as he shook his head, then he left the room and Molly hurried out after him.
“Ozzie, just talk to me! I want to know what happened!”
He locked the door and replaced the key, then as he looked to Molly a tear ran down his cheek.
“We have a wedding to attend tomorrow. I'm the head of the underworld and my General is getting married. Everyone who is anyone is the underworld and the GCPD will be there. Now is not the time to talk about my little girl!”
He turned away and started to limp back to the bedroom. Molly stared at him in shock and disbelief:
He was just going to walk off, no explanation?
She needed to know everything!
She hurried after him, catching the sleeve of his dressing gown. He turned sharply as tears burned in his eyes.
“Not now, Molly!” he said firmly, “It's getting late. And I don't feel tired. Julian will be upstairs soon. I can't talk to either of you about this, at this moment, I'm not ready.... I'm going back downstairs...”
He turned away and headed for the stairs.
Molly called his name and he gave no reply. She went downstairs, calling to him again, and as she went down the hallway she saw him limp into the study. She heard the door close and the lock turn and by the time she got there, she headed the clink of bottle against glass, then the smell of cigarette smoke coming from under the door.
“Ozzie... talk to me...” she tapped on the door, leaning against it as she ached for the lock to slide back and Oswald to open it up and just talk to her, but the door stayed closed.
“Good night, Molly,” was all she heard from behind the locked door, and as she turned away and headed for the stairs Julian came out of the front room, ran his fingers through hair messed up by sleep and looked at her in confusion.
“Is Ozzie in the study at this time of night?”
“Yes he is,” she said as she blinked away tears, “Something has happened, we can't talk down here. Let's go upstairs.”
“But Ozzie -”
“Leave him, he needs to be alone,” she said, “Just come upstairs and I'll tell you what's been going on.”
“Okay,” Julian replied, sounding as confused as he felt. He had fallen asleep in front of the TV in a house where the three of them got along happily, and woken up to Oswald locked in the study and refusing to let Molly inside.
He followed her up the stairs, Molly said nothing until they reached the bedroom, and then she tearfully explained everything as Julian listened, and she shed tears as she wondered if her marriage would ever be the same again:
Oswald had walked off, now he had locked himself away, he was refusing to answer her questions. They had always had clarity and now, she wasn't sure what this meant for their future - it was almost as if she didn't know her husband at all...
The wedding was an emotional time for everyone who knew Jax Sterling. As he stood at the altar and exchanged vows with his bride, Oswald blinked back tears as he looked on, feeling thankful Jax had made a full recovery and was able to enjoy this day and look forward to the future once more. Molly put everything aside for the wedding, leaving her many questions about Oswald's daughter for another time. This was Jax and Carol's day, and they looked so happy as they stood together at the altar, Carol in a knee length close fitting dress of silk and white lace and Jax in a dark suit that looked decidedly Edwardian.
When the vows were exchanged, Jax drew her close and kissed her for the first time as his wife. Jax was well known in underworld circles and beyond because of his close role serving Oswald, and there wasn't a single person present at the vast gathering who didn't know of his difficult struggle back to health, and when the ceremony was over and they turned back to walk down the aisle together, everyone rose from their seats and applauded loudly. Jax and Carol glanced at each other and smiled, then Jax walked his bride back down the aisle to start life together as Mr and Mrs Sterling.
The wedding reception was held in the grounds of the mansion, amid tight security. There were privately taken photos outside the church, and then back at the house as the family gathered for pictures. Oswald had decided there would be no press allowed, and the GCPD had agreed to help out, ensuring no photographers got close to the couple or the guests at the church or on returning to the mansion. Oswald led the guests into the garden, where he made a toast to the bride and groom, wishing Jax and Carol many happy years together, adding as he looked to Jax that he hoped those years would be blessed with joy and good health. As they stood together, Julian had put his arm round Molly.
“Don't worry about all that stuff about Ozzie's daughter,” he said as he glanced at her, “Let's just enjoy today.”
“I'm trying,” Molly replied.
While the grown ups were gathered outside, Little Penguin had slipped away from his parents, waddling quickly through the open doors that led into the dining room. The vast space had been cleared for the buffet, and he opened his flippers as wide as his small round eyes as he saw the feast laid out on the table. But what had caught his eye the most was a very big wedding cake. It was ten tiers high, and the taller it went, the smaller it got and it was white and decorated with pale yellow iced flowers. Around the base was a garland of fresh flowers that matched the edible ones on the cake.
It was big.
Penguin was hungry.
He grabbed a chair and pushed it up to the table, then he climbed from the chair to the table and reached up, his little dark suit brushing against cake as his flippers reached up...
“Up... up again...” Little Penguin said as he stretched, and then his flippers closed around the goal and he plucked the top tier from the wedding cake. He placed it on the table, climbed down, then reached for it, pausing to pull off the bride and groom figures and toss them across the buffet, where they landed together in the coleslaw. Then Little Penguin sat down on the floor with the top tier of the cake in front of him as a broad smile came to his round face.
“All for Penguin!” he said excitedly.
Outside, Iris was looking about, noticing her son was missing.
“Where's Little Penguin?” she asked her husband.
Penguin Cobblepot was reaching for another glass of champagne.
“Probably playing with the other kids,” he said with a shrug, “I wonder what time the buffet opens...”
Maria had gone to the wedding with Little Penguin, because Mommy's baby had just been born the day before, and Daddy and Ivy were both at home helping out while Mommy rested. And now her flipper handed friend was missing... Maria looked about the patio, where the grown ups stood. Then she looked over to the lawn. Alicia and Lucy were there and so was Felix, he was going for the slide while the girls played on the swing. Luna was near the edge of the lawn, wearing a sparkly dress almost as bright as Fish Mommy's. River was with Victor, and they were talking with Jax and Carol as River said she was sorry they couldn't go on honeymoon just yet, and reminded Jax that he had to have his recovery carefully monitored for a few more months, and would still need medication to help him stay strong until he was completely better. But Jax and Carol didn't seem to mind as they smiled and Jax put his arm around his wife. Everyone was so happy today...
But Little Penguin was no where to be seen.
Then she heard Oswald say to Ed and Lee that the buffet was inside, and the bride and groom were going to cut the cake shortly...
“Penguin!” Maria gasped, and she hurried inside through the open doors, then she stopped, hearing munching, then a belch, then more munching.
“Where are you?” she said quietly.
Little Penguin leaned out from the back of the table, his smiling face covered with sticky cake and butter cream, just like his flippers and his little suit...
“What have you done?” Maria said in alarm as she watched Little Penguin eat the last piece of the top tier of the cake.
“Cake is good,” he said to her, and he got up, climbed on to the chair again and stepped on to the table.
“Penguin get cake for Maria?”
He was reaching for another tier.
“No!” she said as her eyes went wide, “That's not allowed, Penguin!”
Just then a gruff voice spoke up.
“What the fu – I mean, what have you done to the wedding cake, son?” Penguin said in alarm as he waddled over.
“Cake is good!” said his small round son.
Penguin looked to the open doors, then quickly gave the second tier of the cake a poke with a flipper to set it back in place where his son had tried to remove it, then he lifted him from the table and set him down on the floor.
“There you are!” said Iris as she walked in, and then she looked from her cake covered son to her husband with his cake smeared flipper and her jaw dropped as she looked to the missing tier.
“What have done to the wedding cake?” she said in alarm, “Oh my god, that's Jax and Carol's cake!”
“And I fixed it,” Penguin said, pausing to lick cream from his flipper before swiping up a whole tray of salmon and starting to eat it, “relax, they won't notice...”
“Yes, they will!”
Penguin stuffed more smoked salmon into his mouth.
“Our boy's right, Iris... the cake's good.”
“I don't believe this!” she exclaimed.
“Come on, son. Let's get you cleaned up,” Penguin said, taking the little sticky flipper of his son as together, they waddled out of the room.
Iris stood there, wide eyed as she looked to the table. The top tier of the cake was gone, and if she wasn't mistaken, the bride and groom figures had been tossed into the coleslaw at the other end of the buffet...
And Jax and Carol had just walked in.
“What's happened to our cake?” Carol said as Iris turned to her and Jax apologetically.
“I am so sorry! Little Penguin found the cake and he couldn't resist, you know what he's like with food... I feel terrible about this!”
“And someone ate a whole tray of smoked salmon!” Jax said in surprise.
“That would be my husband,” Iris admitted.
Jax and Carol exchanged a glance as amusement shone in their eyes.
“It's alright, Iris, we know how much Penguin and Little Penguin love their food. We don't mind if anyone gets started early,” Carol told her.
“Really Iris, it's okay. We know how much Little Penguin loves to eat!”
“I am so sorry!” she said again.
“It's okay, Iris,” Carol added, and she smiled as she saw little Penguin waddle back into the room.
“No sticky flippers!” he said with a smile.
Jax leaned closer to Little Penguin.
“Was the cake good?”
“Yes!” he said brightly.
“Would you like some more?”
“Yes!” he said again giving a little jump for joy.
Jax and Carol exchanged a smile as Jax went over to the cake and reached up, taking off the second top tier, then he put it on a plate and cut it into slices and handed the plate to Little Penguin.
“All for Penguin?” he said excitedly.
“No, for you and Maria to share,” Jax told him as he handed him the plate, “I completely understand why you started early. I have something in common with you and your Daddy – we all love our food very much indeed!”
“Thank you Jax and thank you Carol!” he said with a smile, then as Iris told him to follow her outside, Maria, who had waited by the door, hurried off to join them.
As they stood alone together, Jax put his arm around his wife and pulled her closer.
“I have a surprise for you when we get home!” he said as his dark eyes sparkled playfully.
Carol ran her hand down his silk tie as their gaze met.
“I can only imagine what that might be!”
“No,” Jax told her mysteriously, “Actually, anything that may be on your mind will be for later tonight, when Alicia's fast asleep and we are alone... I was thinking of something else. I have something special for you, dear.”
“What is it?” Carol asked him.
“Wait and see,” he replied softly, and then as they shared a kiss, they broke it off and turned around at the sound of more munching.
Now Penguin had returned and was leaning across the table, filling a flipper with food.
“Sandwiches...” he said as he chewed on more salmon, then he waddled off outside again.
As he held her, Jax and Carol laughed softly.
“Like father, like son!” she exclaimed.
“Indeed!” Jax replied as amusement shone in his gaze.
Then the guests began to come in, and Jax and Carol prepared to cut what was left of the cake, before returning to the garden to share a first dance together as the music played.
Much later, after the sun had set and the sky had turned dark and the summer air was filled with drifting music and laughter and chatter, the reception came to an end. Jax was tired, he still tired easily, and he and Carol left before midnight, pausing to speak with Oswald before leaving. Carol was first in the car, then a very tired Alicia, and Jax lingered back, talking to Oswald as he noticed that while his boss and close friend was happy for him on this day, there was something about his gaze that said perhaps he had something on his mind...
“Is everything okay, Oswald?” Jax asked quietly as they stood together in the darkened driveway.
“Yes of course, I'm just tired, it's been a long but wonderful day,” Oswald replied.
“Are you sure?” Jax looked at him intently, “You seem rather preoccupied. I'm always here for you, not just professionally. We are friends.”
Oswald smiled warmly.
“And family, we will always be family,too” he said fondly, pausing to give Jax a hug.
Then Jax got into the car and moment later, he drove away heading for home as Oswald stood alone on the driveway. He heard laughter and turned his head to see Cain embrace Ronny and kiss her by the glow of the porch light, then he took her by the hand and led her inside. The thought ran through his mind that at least his son and Ronny could be happy. They had no secrets, Cain would never lie to Ronny the way he had lied to Molly. But Cain's life was safe and no danger of any kind lurked. No mistakes from the past to rear up and destroy the present, and for that, he envied his son.
Jax and Carol were gone now but Oswald just stood there, looking to the open gates, feeling selfish for the fleeting wish that today had not been his wedding day, because if Jax had asked him that question on any other day, Oswald was sure he would have dared to share his troubles, even though he knew to tell the tale of the child he had lost back in the days before he had ever become king of Gotham would be a hell of a risk to take. Rebecca's story was concealed for a reason - to protect her as much as the rest of the city. He gave a heavy sigh as he thought about the agreement he had made long ago - a terrible price to pay to be able to walk away from a situation that back then, had been a major crisis – caused by Rebecca's mother.
Rebecca was out there somewhere, living her life, a grown woman with a life of her own, with no knowledge or memory of her tragic past...
And that was how it had to stay, to protect her.
He could never walk up to her and say, I'm your father...
And that thought still broke his heart and always would.
He knew Molly and Julian both wanted answers, but he wasn't ready to talk about it, not today, when everyone had been so happy and the air was filled with love and joy. He turned back towards the house, feeling an ache in his heart for the child he would always miss.
The kids were upstairs and the youngest were already asleep. The last of the guests were leaving the mansion now, and Molly was upstairs with Julian, looking out the window as she watched Oswald walk back towards the house.
“I need to talk to him!”
“No, not tonight!” Julian told her.
She turned from the window, looking at Julian, who was wearing a light coloured suit and was yet to get ready for bed. He looked back at her pleadingly, lowering his voice as he spoke again.
“I know you want to know everything about Rebecca – so do I! But maybe, it's way too much for him to talk about. Maybe she died, did you think of that? What ever happened still causes him pain, let's just agree to drop the subject until he's ready to talk, okay?”
Molly gave a heavy sigh and nodded.
“You could be right. I hope you're not, but I never thought of it like that. If she's dead, that explains a lot. I don't want to drag up sad memories for Ozzie.”
“We won't,” Julian assured her, “Let's just hold him tonight and remind him that we love him.”
Molly nodded, then she and Julian headed for the bedroom, where they waited for Oswald to join them, knowing that tonight he need not fear more questions that dragged up painful memories. Tonight they would both hold him and simply remind him that he was loved, because that was what he needed.
At Jax and Carol's house, Alicia had gone off to bed and was now sleeping soundly. Jax had smiled as he told Carol to wait downstairs and give him five minutes because he had a surprise for her, and would be waiting in the bedroom. She giggled as she pulled him closer.
“I think I know what it is, Jax!”
His gaze looked deep and soft by the lamp light as he looked into her eyes playfully and arched an eyebrow
“Well, if you've guessed my penis is involved, yes, later – but not yet!” he laughed as he blushed, “ Nothing intimate yet, my love. I have a gift for you. A special gift that I know you will cherish...” playfulness sparkled in his eyes.
“And my penis is definitely yours before we sleep ! It's always yours!” then he laughed softly as she did too, “I'm yours... all of this portly frame and let's remember one of my arms comes off before bed, so maybe I should be apologising instead of making it sound exciting, your wedding night with me, very much damaged goods.”
The flicker of apology she saw in his eyes made her heart ache.
“Jax, I love you! And your battle scars are something to be proud of! You're a hero, my hero.”
He smiled shyly.
“Thank you for such high praise.”
Their gaze locked, then he pulled her closer and they shared a kiss, but he stepped back and let go of her, and now a smile was back on his face.
“Wait here for a few minutes, then come up and join me,” he told her, “I really do have something special for you!”
Then he left the room as Carol stood there wondering what he had planned. He had said a few times that he was sorry they couldn't go on honeymoon just yet, because he still had to see River and he had pills to take and scans to under go, he needed to be monitored while he carried on recovering from his treatment. It meant honeymoon plans wouldn't be happening for a while yet. But he had something in mind, and she couldn't wait to find out what it was...
A few minutes later, she made her way up the stairs.
“Jax?” she said softly.
“Wait by the door and close your eyes,” Jax replied, and Carol stood by the bedroom doorway as within the light glowed softly, and she closed her eyes.
Jax came out of the bedroom and joined her.
“Hold out your hands,” he added, then he chuckled, “No, it's not my private parts!”
She laughed too as she kept her eyes closed.
“What is it, Jax? I can't imagine what you've got me!”
“Something precious, from me to you, with all my love,” he said fondly.
Something soft and warm was put into her hands, then she was cradling the warm bundle as it mewed. She opened her eyes as the kitten looked up at her, dark and fluffy with wide eyes. She had a small soft collar with name tag on it and Carol smiled down at the kitten, then looked into the eyes of her husband.
He smiled as his dark eyes shone with love.
“I knew we couldn't go on honeymoon because I have to stay in the city to have my recovery monitored, so I thought I'd give you something else instead, something living that we can both care for. Alicia adores her! She named her for you too, she called her Cindy.”
“Hello, Cindy,” said Carol as she held the tiny kitten, then Jax lifted Cindy from her arms and paused to place the kitten on soft bedding on the other side of the room.
“Shall I turn out the light?” he asked as he rejoined her and started to unbutton his shirt.
“Don't you dare, I want to look at you,” Carol told him softly.
There was a flicker of a smile about his lips, then he started to undress. She watched him, talking in every scar, every reminder of the life he had lived that had left him with the scars of battle – both from his years of service to the underworld, and from his fight to survive after the toxin incident. He took off his artificial arm and suddenly didn't care about his imperfections any more, because he was in her arms, and then he took her to bed, and made love to his wife, whispering softly that he would love her forever as he quietly caught his breath and reached climax. It was the start of their married life, and it was a wonderful start.
Next morning, Molly woke early. Julian was on his side and snoring softly into the pillow, and the space on the other side of the bed was empty. She put on a silk dressing gown and quietly left the room, going downstairs in search of Oswald. He had been quiet last night, retiring when the lights were out, and giving a sigh as he shifted closer to her and then draped an arm over her hip as his hand joined with Julian's. He had said nothing about Rebecca, and she had decided to take Julian's advice and say nothing more on the subject. It caused Ozzie pain, and neither of them wanted him to suffer over a tragedy from the past. He would explain everything, she didn't doubt it – but in his own time.
When she reached the bottom of the stairs, she was surprised to see Oswald was up and dressed and heading for the front door.
“Where are you going?” she asked.
“I'm going to stop by Josh and Selina's house,” he said with a smile, “I want to personally congratulate them.”
Molly smiled too as she walked with him to the door.
“Give them my love,” she told him, and she fondly ran her hand over his hair as she leaned in, kissing him softly.
As she drew back, Oswald slowly met her gaze.
“And I know I said I'd explain, about my daughter – but I can't just yet. I'm not ready, Molly. It's a very painful memory. Sometimes the only way we can carry on when something terrible happens is to bury it, not forget, just to keep it buried deeply where it can't cause pain, because some pain is so deep it has the power to destroy. I chose to carry on with life instead.”
Molly saw such grief in his gaze.
“I won't ask about her, neither will Julian. We both know you're not ready – and you don't have to be, Oswald. It's your past, your pain. You don't have to share it if it's too painful to talk about, sweetheart.”
“Thank you, Molly,” he said in a hushed voice, then he took a deep breath and forced a smile and suddenly he was her Ozzy with no trace of the past sadness haunting him.
“Anyway, I'm off to visit my younger General and his wife to congratulate them. I'll give them your fond regards too, my dear.”
Oswald kissed her cheek and then left the house. Molly closed the door and headed for the kitchen to make coffee and grab some breakfast before the kids got up.
Oswald didn't go straight to Josh and Selina's place. Instead he drove down to the river and got out of the car and took a walk alone, needing space to think and put his emotions back into their rightful place. He still felt shaken up over Molly learning about Rebecca – the pain of losing his oldest daughter, his first child, would stay with him forever. As he looked out across the water it played through his mind again:
He was sitting there in an office at the GCPD, Oswald Cobblepot, a young man who had never been in trouble, who had just helped the authorities put away a woman so dangerous she could have destroyed the city... And he had held his daughter, his two year old daughter who sat there on his lap looking wide eyed at the strangers who went about their duties, filling in paperwork and discussion the closure of the case. The woman who had become known as the Shadow Lady was in Arkham now, she was captured, the city was safe...
“It's okay, sweetheart,” he said to Rebecca as he sat there, “You're safe now... I'm your Daddy, you're coming home with me to meet Grandma...”
And then a cop had come up to him and unexpectedly lifted Rebecca from his arms. Oswald had looked on in horror as she was passed to a woman wearing an ID badge, who carried her out of the room. He had yelled her name, fought against the cops who restrained him as he was told, Rebecca couldn't live with him, he couldn't raise her, because if her mother ever escaped, she would come looking for her. She would hunt the pair of them down. Rebecca could never know the monster her mother had become, she needed protecting from all of this. She was going into the care of the state, and Oswald had no say in the matter...
“I'M HER FATHER!” he had yelled as tears streaked his face...
Oswald closed his eyes, taking a deep breath as the pain of those events so long ago stabbed at his heart like it was yesterday. Then he blinked away tears, pushing memories of the past away as he focussed instead on the fact that his General had just welcomed his second child into the world, and now, after the wedding of Jax and Carol had delayed this visit for a day, he was on his way to Josh and Selina to congratulate them. He had a life to get on with here and now, in the present, and had no business looking back into the past like that, where so much pain lurked, ready to hurt him all over again. Oswald headed back to his car, the past firmly filed away somewhere deep and dark in a corner of his mind where he could trap it, closing the door on old misery once again.
By the time he reached the house and Ivy opened the door, Oswald was smiling, focused on congratulating Josh and Selina. Josh was already up and Selina was resting in bed feeding the baby. Josh smiled as he thanked Oswald for the flowers, and then he invited him up to say hi to Selina.
“Oswald!” she said brightly as he entered the room, and he looked from Selina to Josh with a smile on his face as warmth shone in his gaze.
“I just wanted to congratulate you both in person,” he said, “A new baby is always such a joyful time...”
“Would you like to hold him?” Josh asked, and Oswald sat down on a chair by the window as Selina handed their baby son, who was sleepy after his feed, to his father, who placed the baby in Oswald's arms.
“There you go, son,” he said proudly, “Meet my boss, Mr Cobblepot.”
Oswald smiled down at the baby and then looked up at Josh.
“He looks like you,” Oswald said, “And I think he has your eyes, Selina!”
Selina was positively glowing with joy as she rested in bed.
“How are things going for you, Oswald?” she asked, “Has Julian conceived with that birthing unit yet?”
Oswald gave a sigh.
“No, not yet,” he replied, “But we're hopeful it will happen soon.”
“It probably will,” Josh added with a smile, “You're already a father several times over - how many kids have you got, Oswald?”
Oswald briefly felt a flicker of pain in a hidden part of his heart as he thought of Rebecca, then he spoke up, banishing old memories as he gave his reply.
“Penguin Cobblepot is my eldest son – conceived by stolen DNA in a lab, as you know... and then I have River and Luna by Fish and Molly and I have Cain and Felix and Lucy is Julian's, but we both think of ourselves as her fathers. So I have seven kids.”
“Oswald, I think you mean six?”
There was a brief look of confusion on his face.
“Six, yes of course!” he laughed, “ Three grown up children, Luna, Felix and Lucy are still young. But it will be seven when Julian conceives.”
They carried on talking. The baby slept deeply in his arms, then Josh put his son back in his crib. Selina wanted to grab more sleep, so they went downstairs, and Josh made tea for Oswald and they talked about their families for another hour.
In all that time, it was on Oswald's mind: He had counted Rebecca when he had said seven kids. Thankfully Josh had accepted he had made a mistake, and he wanted it to stay that way. Rebecca was his secret and his secret loss, and nothing was to be gained by dragging up the past now. He was glad Molly and Julian didn't intend to pressure him for information, too. Thinking about the past hurt enough, without talking about it to add to the pain... Oswald left an hour later, and the past was still on his mind.
While Oswald was out, Molly and Julian had got up and got dressed and now the kids had just finished breakfast and were outside in the garden, making the most of the sunshine. Julian had promised to take the younger ones to the park later, and Cain was sleeping in late while Ronny left to go to the office to pick up paperwork for Oswald. Later, Luna was going over to spend the rest of the weekend with Fish.
It was just an ordinary day, until Molly got in her car to go into town to pick up some groceries. On the way, she got a text from Oswald to say he was on his way home. She smiled as she gave her reply, then she parked the car and got out and headed for the grocery store. She was about to cross the street when someone said her name.
Molly turned sharply.
There she was again, that fucking messenger who knew way too much about her Oswald...
“I need to speak to you!” she said urgently, and her eyes were wide as she stood there shaking, looking as if the devil might be chasing her.
Molly glared at her as she marched up to her, grabbing her by the shoulder and shoving her up against a fence, and as she pushed her beneath the shade of an overhanging tree, the woman's eyes went wide.
“No, keep me in the light, she can hear me better in the dark, NO, don't do this!”
“Shut up you stupid cow!” Molly said sharply, glancing about as she checked the quiet road: It was early, they were a distance from the heart of the city, this was not a busy area. No one would see if she landed her a punch...
“Start talking!” Molly said as anger blazed in her eyes, “You have NO idea how much pain you've caused my Oswald!”
“She tricked me..” the woman stammered, “She told me to put my hand on the glass....”
She closed her eyes, recalling how after many visits to Arkham, it had happened:
The prisoner was on the other side of the glass, in her cell where the walls gave off a signal to block her abilities. She had sat there looking delicate with her high cheekbones and bright eyes with wavy blonde hair touching her shoulders, and she had placed her hand on the glass and told her to do the same. She had trusted her, they had been talking for six months... She still recalled the tiny crack in the glass and the feel of something sliding under her flesh.
“There you are,” the female prisoner had stated as the glass cracked and her red lipstick smile had crept wider, “and here I am... I'm under your skin!”
“Fucking talk!” Molly demanded.
The woman was struggling now, trying to breathe as she desperately tried to shift back into the sunlight away from shadow.
“She's going to kill me! I'm no use to her now, she used me and she lied, she won't let me go! No shadows... don't make it easy for her!”
“Stop talking bollocks! Who sent you?” Molly demanded.
Then as the messenger started to choke and a look of panic came to her eyes, Molly stared in horror at her throat:
It was partly in shade, and now something was moving under her flesh, like... fingers, squeezing?
How could that be?
She gave her a shove and the woman stumbled out into sunlight, coughing as she grasped at her throat.
“What the fuck is going on?” Molly demanded.
But the woman just shook her head, then turned around and broke into a run, darting across the street as cars sounded their horns, then she ducked up an alley and was gone. Molly was staring after her.
She wondered, had she just seen that?
No, it had to be a trick of the light...
She began to walk back to the store. She got half the groceries on her list then returned to the car and started on the drove home, still feeling uneasy.
What had she just seen?
Was it shadow?
Was the woman simply panicking because she had grabbed her?
There couldn't have been a hand under her skin grabbing at her throat.
If that was the case, who the fuck was doing this? Was it Rebecca's mother? What was she, the invisible bloody woman?
Molly shook her head.
No, it had to be trick of the light, she decided.
But worry still nagged at her...
Molly returned home and left the bag of groceries in the kitchen, then she went out into the garden to join Oswald and Julian, who were standing together on the patio. Molly smiled as she watched them embrace, then Julian reached for a glass of iced water and turned back to the lawn to watch the kids. Molly went over to join Oswald and as he looked at her, he smiled.
“I was just saying to Julian, I hope that implant works. I'm ready to welcome a new life into this family. I was thinking today when I visited Josh and Selina and held their son, there's something so hopeful about new life... new hope, another reason to carry on.”
Molly forced a smile.
“Yes, you're right,” she said softly, deciding to say nothing about encountering that strange woman again.
As she stood there looking into the eyes of her husband, he was smiling again, he had hope back in his heart. All the pain of the past had been eased by hopes for another child to come into the family. She couldn't ask him about Rebecca or her mother, not after seeing him weep over his lost daughter. They had to look forward, she decided, and that was what they would do.
As for the rest, if Ozzie wanted to leave the past alone, she respected that. And what she had seen today had to be a trick of the light when she had struggled with that woman under the tree. Sunlight through leaves, that was she saw, she told herself – because to think otherwise would be just too terrifying, and it didn't seem possible. Oswald had his secrets, and they were all about pain and loss. She wasn't going to stir that up now, because that woman was probably crazy, and desperate for money – and they had a happy marriage and she wanted it to stay that way.
Molly watched as Oswald walked over to join Julian, then as she went over to the lawn where the kids were playing happily, she glanced back at her husband as he put an arm around Julian and they spoke some more about their hopes for the success of his implant.
We're going to look to the future, Molly thought to herself, As for the rest, if anything goes wrong, we will handle it when the time comes. I'll handle it, I'll do anything to protect you and Julian and the kids...And if something bad is coming we will get through it together, because that's what families do. We can handle anything as long as we stick together. I know you have secrets, Ozzie – but they can stay buried, as long as you're happy, as long as we are happy, that's all I care about - our family comes first...
End of Part 7.
This fic will continue with His Irish Angel Part 8 : Dark Matter, coming soon :-)