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Not the way you think

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“You disgusting, vermin-infected, wheezing, pathetic example of a quadruped organism!”

The dog did not care about Ed’s insults, he didn’t move an inch from where he was lying. Right on one of Ed’s blueprints for the submarine. Ed’s blood pressure was skyrocketing. Raising his hand in a threating gesture Ed let out a sizzling noise. “Give it back!”

That canine waste of space and breathable air didn’t even turn its ugly face into Ed’s direction. It continued ignoring him and looking completely stupid. Just its mere presence was enough to drive Ed up the walls and now that it was actually hindering his work, Ed was ready to do something that would make every PETA member in the world want to hunt him down. And rightly so.

“I am just going to say this one more time, so you better…”

“Are you threatening the dog, Ed?”

Spinning around Ed faced Oswald who was standing in the door way, back from running his errands, frowning in mild confusion. He didn’t seem angry or upset, rather surprised to see Ed engaged in a conversation with the animal that he usually ignored. Avoided even. Honestly, Ed would prefer trying to build a submarine in the canalisation to sharing a room with this walking flea-ball.

“It is interfering with my work.” Ed spat out, glaring at Oswald to dare him to do something about it. Immediately.

Oswald huffed in patronizing amusement, like he did when someone was trying to negotiate with him. “Edward is a he, Ed and since he enjoys staying in the same place the entire day, I think it would be very hard for him to manipulate your work in the slightest.”

The reminder that he and that beast were sharing the same name had Ed grinding his teeth and if he weren’t doing that, he would probably grab a gun and start shooting around. “It is lying on the blueprints which I cannot work without.” Ed purposely put all his repugnance in the very first word, gesturing at the dog which couldn’t care less about what was happening.

“Really, Ed? Edward is hardly capable of grabbing them off your table. You must have misplaced them or they fell off the table. Blaming the dog is ridiculous.”

Ed was fuming while Oswald was limping toward the dog. “Now be a good dog and let me have the blue prints. We need them so the three of us can get out of this city, so I can build a new empire. There you go, that’s a good boy. Such a good boy.”

With a triumphant expression on his face Oswald held out the blueprints and Ed grabbed them, scowling. “I swear if I contract some dog-related disease I will throw it out of the window.”

“Don’t listen to Ed, he is always in such a bad mood. Come on, Edward, let’s get you something to eat. Follow me, good boy.”

Ed watched Oswald limping out of the room, the dog stupidly following his command and Ed’s cheeks were burning from embarrassment and humiliation. His hand was twitching to grab a knife and turn that dog into goulash. Granted, it would make a lot more sense to gut Oswald, because he was the one who came up with this perverted form of punishment. This time Ed didn’t even understand what he was being punished for. It spoke volumes though that Oswald had got himself a dog and named him ‘Edward’.

Now Ed would never have to ask how Oswald saw him or how he thought about their friendship. About the hierarchy and power dynamic. Did other people see him like that to? Was this how they perceived him? A mindless idiot who could be ordered around or pleased with a pat on the head. Ed knew Oswald long enough, both of them were in this for themselves, the partnership only a means to an end. That didn’t man though that Ed didn’t deserve respect. Right, he might be dead if it wasn’t for Oswald, but this also worked the other way around.

Ed had a mind so brilliant Oswald could only dream about. It was him who was building this submarine and Oswald would be stranded here forever if it weren’t for Ed’s ideas. Ed couldn’t be ordered around or be tamed. Oswald may think so, but he was going to find out how very wrong he was.

Impulse control wasn’t something Ed was particularly known for. Sure, his was still better than Oswald’s, but there was no guarantee that Ed would be able to keep his cool the next time that disgusting, wheezing, flat-nosed excuse of a dog would rub him the wrong way.

***

Next time came way sooner than expected.

“That’s it! You despicable, underdeveloped, overbred, foul canine! It will be my pleasure to scrub your entrails off the wall!” Grabbing his gun from table Ed pointed it at the dog which was still happily drooling all over Ed’s working tools. “Bye!”

Just as Ed was pulling the trigger, somebody forcefully grabbed his arm and the bullet didn’t go through that pathetically small brain, but through the bookshelf on the wall.

“Ed! Are you mad!?” Oswald was screaming, his voice high-pitched as he was scrabbling for words. “Why are you shooting at Edward?”

The gun still in his hand, Ed was one second away from putting the next bullet right through Oswald’s head. For using his name again. Instead Ed furiously cast the gun away, turned around to face Oswald and shouted out all his frustration and anger. “Stop calling him that! Every time you do that I want to strangle you until you stop breathing, just for saying that!”

“It’s his name, Ed! Stop acting so ridiculous! If Edward is distracting you from your work, then why not tell me and I take him outside for a while?”

Ed’s heart was beating so fast, it almost hurt and all desire to hold anything back had sailed out the window. Oswald would not ridicule him a second longer, he had gloated over Ed’s humiliation long enough. “You call this dog Edward one more time, I swear I will end both of your lives, Oswald!”

Oswald took a step back, but Ed could tell that he was not intimidated. Maybe he had decided to give Ed some space or he wanted his own space to dramatically portray his confusion. “What is wrong with you?! Is this some kind of Riddler-temper tantrum that I do not understand? Fine, I can do that too! You point your gun at my dog again, I will hit smash your head in so hard that you will long for a chip in it!”

“That doesn’t make any sense!”

“I know! Neither do you!” Oswald yelled back. “Your dislike of my dog is insane and rather pathetic, Ed!”

There was Oswald, still making fun of him. “I don’t care about your stupid dog! I will not let you use it to make fun of me anymore!”

In response Oswald frowned before giving Edward that frustrated gaze that he had no right to. “Okay, I know I will regret asking. But please, Ed, go ahead, explain to me how I am making fun out of, because right now I have still no idea what you are talking about.”

It set Ed off in the worst way that Oswald was acting like there was nothing despicably cruel going on here. That he hadn’t called this dog ‘Edward’ in front of so many people, that not every single one of Oswald’s goons wasn’t aware that this was the worth attributed to Ed – the worth of a dog. Not even a smart dog, but the one which was drooling all over its owner’s stuff.

“You named this filthy animal after me! Do not act like that doesn’t mean something!”

Finally Oswald winced and that agonizing expression of superiority vanished from his face. For a second he parted his lips and it looked like Oswald was going to say something. Eventually he closed his mouth again without uttering a sound and Ed felt so much better, because it was written all over Oswald’s face that he felt trapped and caught doing something very wrong. That success didn’t mean Ed had calmed down or already forgotten and forgiven what Oswald had done. “Is this giving you some weird sense of satisfaction? To have a way to mock me even when I am not around? Let me tell you, Oswald, I am nothing like a dog! You cannot order me around, tell me where to go or let me sleep on the floor! You are not better than me!”

By the end of this Ed’s voice had almost broken from these words with all the force he had into Oswald’s face. As if the volume could convince him. Ed didn’t even want an apology, he wanted that dog to go away forever and Oswald to realise that he had the wrong idea about Ed. The Riddler was not looking up at anybody, he didn’t have a master or someone who could kick him if he felt like him.

Ed was nothing like that.

Oswald didn’t get it. Ed needed one glance at him to know for certain that Oswald had no idea what he was talking about and that was just infuriating.

Almost completely calmly Oswald shifted his weight onto his cane and exhaled slowly before addressing Ed again. His voice was even, just shaking slightly around the edges. All in all he was a lot more composed than Ed. “Please tell me that you are pretending, because there is no way that a man who can single-handedly build a submarine is possibly this stupid!”

Taken aback Ed faltered, not expecting that kind of reaction. “I don’t…”

Now Oswald was the one who was shouting and he clearly wasn’t lacking any passion. “You think I named the dog after you to spite you or to make fun of you?! Have you ever seen how I treat this dog? He gets to eat steak while the rest of this city is starving! He is sleeping in a bed almost as big as mine! I have shot people over this dog! He was the thing in City Hall I cared mostly about, including the treasure!”

Ed’s mouth was running dry as it became blatantly obvious that he had pushed a button and sent Oswald into frenzy. “I don’t…”

“Are you really this incapable of understanding the most evident things, Ed?” Oswald cut him off and he almost looked liberated, shouting these things at Ed. “I didn’t name this dog Edward to kick him around or treat him like dirt. I call him Edward, because this way there is an Edward I can take care of, that I can protect. This way I can say ‘Edward, I love you’ and the one I say it to cannot run away or tell me why I am a fool. A bit sentimental and fatuous, I admit, but not as foolish as you for not realising that.”

Ed was dumbstruck. The seething anger had vanished in an instant to be replaced by bewilderment and most of all embarrassment. A very different kind than before. Now Ed was standing there, not knowing what to say or even what to do with his hands. “I… uhm… oh dear, I didn’t think of that.”

Oswald shifted, straightened his back and cleared his throat. “Well, you should have thought about it before trying to fire a gun at Edward. Oh, by the way, do that again and I will fire a gun at you.”

Unable to move Ed just kept standing there while Oswald was limping towards his dog to pick him up. “I know that was a scary moment, let’s leave the mean Riddler alone to cool off a bit. I am sure he can work better on the submarine if he calms down a bit.”

By the time Ed had got a grip at himself Oswald was almost out of the door with the dog in his arms. “Oswald?”

“Yes?”

Despite all his flamboyance and wordplay Ed had run out of words. “Sorry for… shooting at the dog.”

“I will consider forgiving you.”

***

They didn’t talk to each other for the rest of the day, Ed was actively trying to avoid Oswald for hours until he had to admit to himself how ridiculous that was. After all they were supposed to escape this sitting together in a submarine, locked together in a very tight space. Ed would rather be uncomfortable now than when he wasn’t going to be able to escape.

Nervous to the point that he was fidgeting Ed approached the table where Oswald was sitting, eating dinner. The dog, Edward was lying by his feet, gnawing on a big piece of meat. There was a plate for Ed on the table and he should probably be happy that Oswald was not angry enough to not let him have something to eat.

“Hey.” Ed said softly when he sat down and Oswald barely glanced at him. “How is the submarine getting along?”

Alright, no personal chat then. “Good. I made a lot of progress today…”

“Good.”

Swallowing softly Ed tried to figure out what words to use since Oswald wasn’t going to offer him any help. Well, he probably deserved that. “I am sorry for misinterpreting your… motives, Oswald. It should not come as a surprise that I am not an expert at… reading social cues.”

Oswald snorted, still not looking up. “That is quite the understatement.”

“I am making an effort, Oswald. I thought… that you weren’t… I mean… after the ice…”

“Do you know that when you were in the ice I was talking to you constantly?”

Ed shook his head and Oswald kept poking his food with his fork.

“I told you everything that was happening around the lounge. I complained when one of my businesses went wrong. I boasted when things were going great. Sometimes I even said that it’s a shame that you couldn’t see it. Only half of that was spite. I felt on top of the world and I would have liked you to be there to see that. Why do you think that I put you there?” Finally Oswald met his eyes, completely unafraid and Ed swallowed deeply. “I cannot stand the idea of you not being around. Even when I hated you I need you to be there. That hasn’t changed. After the bridges came down you were gone and I still wanted you around. Be able to talk to you. Since I can’t and don’t want to force you to be around all the time, I came up with a way to talk to you without you being there. I am very good at talking to someone without getting an answer.”

So much had happened since that day both of them had claimed they would do anything for each other. During a brief period of them they had done pretty much anything to hurt or destroy the other one. In all that time something had never changed though, they had always had strong feelings about the other one. There had never been a moment when they hadn’t cared about what was happening to the other one. The good and the bad.

Ed couldn’t pretend that he didn’t care now.

“I am here, am I not? I don’t intent to go anywhere. Why not talk to me?” Ed thought he sounded a bit hoarse and ridiculously nervous. Not his very best moment.

Oswald kept looking at him and Ed’s heart was once again beating a bit too fast and off rhythm. “I love you, Ed.”

That was not a new piece of information. They had been in this place years ago and yet Ed held his breath as he experienced it again. When he began to understand what it meant. All his intelligence and brilliance suddenly didn’t mean anything, Ed had no idea what to say or do. He didn’t have to say anything.

Edward started barking, as if in protest. Ignoring his food the dog looked up at Oswald. Almost accusingly. It was so bizarre and somewhat funny that Oswald and Ed started laughing. It took both of them about a minute to calm down again. “I guess that means he is jealous.”

“It seems that way.” Oswald agreed, smiling softly at Ed.

Sure, it was odd, but Edward couldn’t deny he felt content and even relieved that the ‘I love you’ had definitely been addressed to him and not to the dog. No, he didn’t quite understand the warm feeling in the pit of his stomach, but the submarine wasn’t going to be finished tomorrow. There was enough time to figure this out.