|eddie likes to (riddlethem) wrote in doorslogs,|
@ 2014-01-16 12:48:00
|Entry tags:||door: dc comics, riddler, stephanie brown|
Who: Eddie and Steph
Where: Los Tacos
What: yelling, arguing, the usual.
Warnings: cussing, sads
Eddie sat in his favorite booth in Los Tacos, arm around Stephanie as he leaned back and looked at his tattoo through the protective, clear covering. It looked like a circuit board corrupted by alien technology and he liked the complexity of that statement. On one hand it was representative of what was happening to him now. The mother box wasn’t going anywhere and she had already integrated into his own tech like string woven into fabric. This was part of his life now, even if he didn’t really know what she was capable of or what to even do with it. The tattoo also represented a darker side, a warning for letting his own mind spiral- spiral and take his newfound power with him to a place he couldn’t recover from. A place that didn’t involve days out with Stephanie at Los Tacos.
On his other arm was a smaller tattoo, something that took no time at all and barely any pain in comparison. A simple question mark with bat ears. Something to remind him of Stephanie, a reminder of the good in his life.
“Taccooooss.” He said in a geeky monster voice as the waiter brought them their lunch. Eddie pulled in close to kiss Stephanie’s cheek and then moved his arm from around her so that he could start eating. Despite the ruined city, the dead bird and all the trouble that came with that, going to get tacos with Stephanie made him feel normal. Human. He liked that. After a couple bites and plenty of lemonade he sat back and looked over at her.
“How’s everything going with the GPD?” Eddie wiped his face with his napkin and leveled a look at her. Clearly more interested in helping the police than he had ever been in his whole life. “Patrols shaping up? I heard they’ve temporarily relocated, so that’s something.”
Stephanie gladly cuddled into Eddie’s embrace in the booth, one hand resting lightly on the inside of his thigh and the other reaching back to brush featherlight touches over the arm slung around her shoulders. When Eddie had first proposed the tattoo, she didn’t really believe he would go through with it, but if he was one thing, it was persistent. And, she wasn’t lying when she told him it was sexy. It was in a way she never really expected from her riddled man. So, when he got his second tattoo, their symbol, she couldn’t back out on her side of the bargain. It barely hurt all, just a little pinch. After all, when you get shot at for a living? Most things can’t really compare.
The little question mark with bat ears was now permanently inked into the inside of her right wrist, and she had her sweater sleeve pulled back enough to admire it from time to time as well. The choice of placement was easy -- somewhere where she and the entire world could see it constantly and also a patch of skin not marred by the still healing scars of the plague a year ago. They were barely noticeable by now, those marks, but Stephanie could still see them every single day. She was scared the artist might ask too many questions, and she didn’t want to have to focus on those faint marks when she wanted to look at something happy.
Her nose wrinkled when he kissed her cheek in the way it always did, a grin and faux-disgust when truthfully he could do that for an eternity and she wouldn’t mind. Munching on her own tacos, she glanced over at Eddie and savored the moment of normalcy between them. It had been rare over the past few weeks where she could feel anything normal that wasn’t attached to grief or rage or worry. This quiet calm reminded her that they could be capable of normalcy if they were given the chance.
She sipped on her grape soda, a looong slurp before aaahhh-ing and glancing over at him through the corner of her eye. “Good. Babs, Tim and I are working on patrols. Rotating responsibilities around, y’know. The usual.” She wiped her fingers on a paper napkin, then rubbed her fatigued eyes. The purple bags underneath them almost matched the same shade as her purple lips from the drink. “I don’t know what the other three are up to. Babs said Dick was upset, of course, and Helena is probably locked away somewhere. Who knows about Jason.” The blonde bat pinched the bridge of her nose. “Kara’s in Sanctuary, I’m pretty sure. I asked her to stay there for a while, and to let me or Kal know if she needs anything. But, yeah, so hopefully no more potential destruction for a while.” She sighed in frustration before picking up her food again and taking a large bite. With a full mouth, she spittled, “Jason Todd is never allowed to tell her big news again.”
Eddie knew Stephanie was still juggling a lot and frankly had plenty on her shoulders. The bags under her eyes worried him, the late night conversations that didn’t last long because one of them had something important to do, the general lack of this kind of time together. But, this was Gotham and no one was supposed to be happy in this town. Eddie didn’t mind fighting for his own happiness and he knew Stephanie felt the same. He turned his body to look at her. Nodding at the different descriptions of every facet of the bat family. “Good, I figure things should be calm pretty soon.” He smiled, clearly impressed that she wasn’t hiding away like so many other people who had been hit hard with Damian’s death.
But, that smile faded into a frowned roll of the eyes at the mention of Jason Todd. Eddie sighed heavily, eyes off into the distance like they did when he was speaking to a very, very dull individual and then he returned to eating his taco. Bite, much, bite. Sip of his lemonade. “Jason Todd is the dumbest person in Gotham City. Easily. I know we’re all children pretending to be adults here, but oooh boy does he take-the-cake.” He wasn’t as mad as he knew he should be. If Jason Todd tried to murder one of the bats, they’d all descend on him with their wings flapping in the wind screaming vengence. Eddie didn’t avenge. He didn’t really understand that word at all.
“He tried to kill Muerte. Slit her throat.” Eddie knew he shouldn’t be telling her. Machina even pinged! to remind him not to. At least not here.
“I guess,” Stephanie said of things returning back to normal as she shrugged. Truthfully, it didn’t feel very normal at all. She didn’t feel very normal these days, and she was hiding a little bit away. She put on a good front for Eddie. Trying her best to seem relaxed, agreeing to have meals with him, going out for walks with Matilda as he worked on things. And of course, there were moments of crushing, hollowing grief that took control of her, and they weren’t few and far in between. There were times where she didn’t want to get out of bed, or she laid on the couch for hours, or she locked herself in the bathroom to cry. He had done something similar, right? Hiding himself away to protect her after Arkham. She understood the hypocrisy, but didn’t have the energy to address it. There wasn’t anything calm about it, not really, and the little blonde bat didn’t really think that things would be calm for a long, loooong time after losing Damian.
Still, there were moments where she could feel it creep back cautiously, like when she swung by her grapple hook gun through the cold Gotham air or sat with Eddie and just absorbed his company. The tattoo would be a reminder of that, of the good times that Steph hoped Damian would want her to still enjoy even in his absence.
She nodded, offering him an affirmative grumble at the back of her throat. “Heyyy, hey. Jason’s got a good heart, it’s in the right place,” she defended of her fellow bird, “but he just doesn’t think things all the way through sometimes. Telling a teenage Kryptonian that her friend was killed? Not the best idea.” Oh, but clearly she didn’t know the extent of Jason’s leap before you look-itis, and she comically spluttered a bit of the soda she just sipped from her straw as Eddie continued. “He did what?” she asked, louder than necessary in a place as public as this, but Stephanie had a bad habit of not thinking either sometimes. She didn’t look and sound angry or happy. Just mostly shocked and confused. She lowered her voice, though the sharp surprise didn’t leave. “She can get her throat slit? She’s a god!” Her face flashed something incredulous, and it contorted into a funny sort of expression that mingled between confused and fascinated.
Eddie didn’t understand grief, not really. When Muerte died he took it hard and moped about more than anyone liked. That was the extent of it, though. He was too old, too crazy, too Arkham to let bad feelings hurt him for too long. He learnt how to turn them into something better, something stranger. He knew Stephanie wasn’t over the bird dying, he knew Selina and Bruce and the rest of them wouldn’t get over it for a long time. He just thought the clouds were parting because he would have riddled past the pain by now. That was why Selina was only second best at surviving in this town.
He smiled at her shock, enjoying the surprise he could shake out of her with such few words and laughed. “She’s not all god, not anymore.” Eddie sighed and shrugged. “I don’t know what he was thinking. Maybe if he kept stabbing her she would have lost all her blood before I managed to teleport over there. Luckily, he thought a slice to the neck was going to be enough. Idiot.” Eddie knew Stephanie didn’t like it when he said bad things about her family, but he couldn’t help it. He didn’t understand grief. He didn’t know what it made people think and do.
Stephanie turned and twisted her body, effectively giving Eddie her full attention and also creating a little unconscious space between the two of them. Muerte would always be a point of contention between the two of them, an invisible barrier that boiled up some tension that neither of them wished existed but both conceded that it would. She was trying to trust him, but she couldn’t trust her, and any sort of interaction would leave a bitterness in her mouth that she couldn’t just swallow away. Muerte had been there for Damian’s last moments in existence, and Stephanie would always begrudge that in a strange sort of way. Partially because she was there of all people, and partially because she shared it with Eddie, though she wasn’t quite aware of how angry that made her in light of everything else. Stephanie hated Muerte in a way that she didn’t really think she was capable of anymore -- bitter, catty, jealous. If she fell in love with a rogue, how could she be so unforgiving toward someone else?
But, she didn’t want Muerte to get hurt. Even after all of that, after all the heartache, she didn’t want her hurt. She was fully aware of how much it hurt Eddie, and she never wanted him to feel pain like that. Despite how much she hated Muerte, Stephanie had been upset when they both thought the entity was gone for good. It was an unsettling dichotomy to brew up in her brain, and it had her lip pursed and twisted, twisted like her stomach. “Jason’s…,” she started, then trailed off. Pressing her fingers to her mouth. Steph was livid with Muerte, too, but slitting her throat? “Jason’s angry about Damian. She’s a good place to lay the blame. Isn’t she?” It wasn’t exoneration of either of them, she couldn’t give that. She was trying to logic it out when there was nothing but buzzing white noise in her brain.
After a few beats, still muffled slightly by her fingers and staring at her half-eaten taco, she dared to ask: “Is she okay?” Not did you see her or are you okay or are either of you angry. She already thought she might know the answers to those, even if the questions flashed over the way the corners of her face contorted.
If Stephanie had asked if he was okay minutes after he had sewn Muerte’s neck back together, the answer would have been a shaky no. He was good at keeping things from hitting him too hard and keeping the optimism high for himself and everyone else in Gotham, but there were cracks in even the strongest walls. Eddie was the type of man who could get kicked down a flight of stairs and he’d still get up with a loopy smile at the end of it. “She’s fine.” He brushed off the very thought that Muerte could be hurt by something as trivial as a knife. The alternative wasn’t something he wanted to think about. If Muerte wasn’t okay that meant whatever sick, twisted bullshit Jason Todd put her through was enough to make Eddie do something about it. And, he didn’t want to do anything about that broken winged bird. No, he was just another crazy in the mad house, right?
“Good place as any to lay blame.” Eddie agreed simply and shook his head. “I’m just glad he didn’t do something that would actually hurt her. If getting his aggression out on some god is what he needs to do, then so be it.” He made a dismissive motion with his hand and took a couple more bites of his taco. Trying not to remember going down into that morgue to get supplies. Trying not to remember sewing her neck back up. It wasn’t that it made his nerves raw or frightened. If anything, it turned him closer to the Riddler than he had ever felt before. Riddler, who accepted everything Gotham was and did what he had to do.
“Machina helped. Helped me.” Eddie said finally and the darkness was practically gone from his eyes. “I wish you could understand her pinging. She can type. I think she goes in chat rooms all the time.” He smiled a little more genuinely.
Stephanie offered him a noise from the back of her throat, and bit back a muttering dissonance. Muerte would never be fine, not if she wasn’t fully god or whatever anymore. She wouldn’t be fine as long as she needed to reach out to Eddie for comfort and support. God or not, the blonde bat would never understand why Muerte cleaved so desperately to her boyfriend, not when she obviously knew the kind of contention it caused for both of them. She was still aware of that, even without her godlike omnipresence pressing into every inch of everyone’s minds, right? That wasn’t something you could ignore once you knew. Eddie’s dismissiveness didn’t help matters either, and she raised an eyebrow as he waved his arm, slowly dropping her hand away. In the same movement, she pushed her basket of food and drink away from her and looked at him again. “Why are you okay with that? With him doing that to her. Why is that okay with you?” She didn’t want to fight in the middle of a goddamn taco place in the daylight of the afternoon, but she couldn’t understand why he wasn’t angry. She was angry that Jason was so stupid, and she hated Muerte with every fiber of her being.
Pursing her lips, she tried to shake off the confusion and the ire bubbling under her skin. “What?” she asked for the second time that meal, eyebrows furrowed. She still didn’t completely trust a piece of technology that he could only hear speaking, especially ones that could apparently type. Chewing on her lip, she glanced at his wrist where Machina was being kept now, eyebrow cocked. “What did it--she do?” How could he be so accepting of something this bizarre? But then again, Eddie was a rogue; he was from Gotham. Gothamites always accepted the bizarre.
Eddie gave her a look like he didn’t want to turn this into a fight and came this close to whispering something to Machina who was pinging a soft told you so. He exhaled, eyes closing for a moment and then he looked at her. “There’s no point in getting angry at a bird.” Eddie could be mad all he wanted in Jason’s general direction and it wouldn’t help anyone. If anything, it’d get him in trouble with Muerte and Stephanie and the rest of the Bat family. “Come on, Steph. I can see three steps ahead of me. And, frankly getting revenge on some grief-stricken dumbass is not how I want to spend my evenings.” He paused, staring at his tacos. “Revenge.” He said the word like he had never heard it used in a context that was familiar to him.
He continued eating, picking the taco apart and then downing more lemonade before he sat back and held his wrist out to her. “She can do a bunch of stuff. Most of it- well I don’t really have control. I can ask and sometimes she agrees. She’s a mother box. Hyper intelligent super computer that has access to uh-” Eddie rolled his hand up in the air. “Really loud portals.” Machina gave a ping! that somehow sounded proud, maybe even a little bragging. “I don’t really know how to explain it. I had to stitch up Muerte’s neck, something I’ve never done before, and she helped me through it. I did all the work, but she steadied my hand.” He remembered walking out of Muerte’s place, looking down at the glowing net Mac had drawn across his arms and chest. He remembered thinking he should have felt cold and angry and Arkham, but she kept him warm the entire walk home.
“Here, give me your hand.” Eddie held his palm up. She could see transparent squares and hexagons falling from the air to bleed across his palm and fingers. If she touched his hand, she’d feel warmth. A kind of calmness that could be found in the quiet of a church or snug in her bed with him. The feeling tingled and then faded with a soft, gentle ping.
The blonde bat had always been a bundle of rage, even as a young little eggplant, and even now, years older and so many miles more mature, she couldn’t understand not being angry about something like that. Oh, there were times when she knew that anger wouldn’t solve anything -- Damian’s death was the perfect example -- but that didn’t assuage any of the burning rage within her. Logically, anger was just a waste, but Stephanie was never very good at being logical, was she? She looked down at the table, suddenly feeling so young and childish in the face of someone who could control their emotions like that. “You make it sound so easy,” she mumbled. All she wanted was someone to expend her anger on, but he could just let it go so easily.
While he munched on his food, she continued to stare at the cheap tabletop. Picked at a piece peeling away. Conversations like these always highlighted their differences in a way that she didn’t want to face at the moment. She wanted to be selfish in her grief, wanted to have him all to herself, didn’t want these barriers to build up between them when she needed him so desperately. But, it was happening, wasn’t it? Whether she liked it or not, whether she was aware of it or not, she didn’t want to burden him with everything. She didn’t understand her own grief, and she didn’t want to force Eddie to have to understand either. Not when he was still healing himself, not when he had other things on his plate.
“Mother box,” she repeated after him, as if she were learning a foreign word. Listening to him explain what happened, she pulled the cup forward to chew on the straw, a habit she developed when she was nervous or holding something in. Suddenly not very hungry, she couldn’t even touch the food in front of her. She turned to him finally when he asked for her hand and placed it gingerly in his palm. She could feel the pulsing energy, see those little pixels, and she stared on in astonishment. When the warmth fizzled away, she left her palm on top of his, but finally looked up with wide eyes. “Holy shit.” Steph was always very articulate. “What the hell is it?” she asked, despite him telling her exactly what it was. “Where is it from?” A beat, where she ran her fingers across his palm delicately. “What does it feel like?”
Eddie gave an exaggerated shrug. He didn’t really know what Machina was except the very basics and perhaps he was the only one in Gotham who was comfortable with that. A never ending puzzle box? That was a dream. “I’m from Gotham, this is completely out of my scope, too. Sometimes I think I have visions of where she’s from. She’s not exactly forthcoming about everything. And, I thought these boxes were just a legend.” He closed his hand and then sat back in the booth, looking over at her reaction. Surprised, confused and maybe a little curious. All the things he enjoyed pulling out of a person since he was a teenage carnie.
“She, don’t call her it.” He corrected Stephanie with a wag of his finger and then finished off his tacos long before she seemed to even start on hers. “I don’t know how to describe the feeling. Warm. If Gotham is a snowstorm, she’s a warm cabin.”
“Visions like what?” she asked before she could help herself, not exactly sure she wanted to know what kind of visions some weird-ass technology showed him. She hand hovered for a second longer before retracting and falling into her lap. Stephanie desperately wished that she could just feign being as unconcerned about everything going on -- Damian’s death, Muerte’s attack, this weird piece of tech -- as well as he could. But, Stephanie always wore her heart on her sleeve, and she was never very good at staying calm in most situations, especially ones like these. Times where things kept on building and building, and she couldn’t figure out how high the tower of bullshit was going to go.
The blonde bat barely repressed a roll of her eyes as he corrected her, but she did begin to worry her lower lip. “Doesn’t that worry you? Why isn’t any of this freaking you out?” Steph didn’t seem angry or panicked. Just curious and so hungry to understand why this wasn’t getting to Eddie the way this was to her. “It’s a piece of tech that only you hear talking, that can take over your body, that has...whatever, really loud portals? I don’t even know what that means. But, that would scare me, baby. It scares me.”
Eddie’s smile flipped as her confusion turned to concern. He furrowed his brow and shook his head. She was scared and he hadn’t even taken into account that she wouldn’t have been as excited about some weird piece of technology. He wasn’t a man who really felt shame about anything, was he? “Hmm- yeah. Right.” He instinctively reached for his coat and slipped it over his shoulders in the middle of the warm taco restaurant. He pulled the sleeves down over his wrists with one of his question marked smiles. No, he wasn’t afraid of it or worried or freaked out. Sometimes when he stumbled out of a boom tube or she flipped gravity on him, sure he had a hard time walking. But, it was more thrilling to the green rogue than frightening.
He looked away from her, nodding slightly as he tried his best to see where Stephanie was coming from. It could have been controlling his mind. Giving him the support and love and power he craved while blinding him from the truth. The gears turned and then he shook his head. “No, I haven’t hurt anyone. She doesn’t hurt anyone. All I’ve done so far with her is keep Muerte from bleeding out from her neck.” Eddie wondered if everyone in Gotham expected Eddie to let Death just die for a greater good he didn’t understand. “She could have healed Muerte with her weird computer powers. I know she can do that. But, she didn’t.”
Stephanie furrowed her eyebrows as he slipped on his coat and reminded herself that she did not want to fight in here. Frankly, she didn’t want to fight at all, but here they were time and time again. Because Gotham made it happen, because the batfamily had drama, because they were simply built differently. She didn’t want to fight, not like this, but it happened all the time. As she repeated her assurances to herself, she reached over to tug on one of the sleeves of his coat, silently begging him to stop. Was he planning on walking out on her right then? The idea had her stomach lurching. What had they become in their grief and arguing and readjusting to the world? Before, she was able to see who they were in confidence, but now she wasn’t completely positive anymore. And that had her more worried than anything.
Shifting a fraction away from him, she placed both arms on the table, elbows up and chin resting on her cupped hands. Blinking away that mingling sense of sadness and ire and jealousy that she felt so constantly now. She wouldn’t get upset. Her gaze lingered on the healing ink on her wrist, and she sighed. “I didn’t say you did hurt anyone, baby. I’m just saying--okay, if I just came to you and told you I found this supercool thing with a mind of its own and all these crazy-ass tricks, wouldn’t you be a little worried for me?” Without lifting her chin, she slid it across the palm of her hand to face him with tired eyes. Not tired of him, of course. Just bone tired of all the loops this door swung them through.
Eddie’s dark eyes had that youthfulness she had seen as teenagers during the Christmas party. Bright and curious and wanting something better than maybe he could achieve on his own. He shook his head at her like he didn’t want to keep causing her pain with an expression like he didn’t completely understand why he kept managing to do it. “If you found some weird tech, I’d be jealous. I’d probably want to help you find an innovative way to integrate it. Look, I understand that it’s freaking you out. I’ll put it away. Only use it for emergencies. It’ll be okay, you don’t have to be freaked out.”
He stared at that tired look and reached to hold her hand. Machina had put herself on mute. The warmth and the pinging faded into nothing. “It’ll be fine. If something goes wrong, you’ll be the first to know.” Eddie thought that would have comforted her, but really he knew the only way to make anything better was to open up a boom tube and throw Mac right into it. He wasn’t going to do that and even if she didn’t completely recognize him anymore, she must have figured that out. “Stephanie.” Eddie turned his body, arm along the back of the booth as he waited for her to make eye contact with him. She could see anger and frustration snapping at the edges of his gaze before flickering away. If getting angry at Jason Todd was a waste of energy, so was trying to get Stephanie to understand him. Besides, who could ever really understand The Riddler?
“Just forget about it, okay? Let’s just have a good time. Come on. You’re not hungry, let’s get out of here. Alright?” And, that was Eddie’s attempt at pushing it all aside for her. That bullshit about wanting to know about his life was just a fairytale. She wanted to know the nice things about Frank and Leland and trival things that didn’t make a difference. His life was a puzzle of danger and trouble and scars that no one would ever see. “Let me take you to church. I’m serious. Please baby, let’s just go walk by and light a candle inside. It’ll help.”
“Okay,” was all she said after he spoke, trying to process how and why he couldn’t think that this wasn’t strange at all. Or, that he wasn’t scared. She was a bat for fuck’s sake, why was she so scared of everything? Why was Eddie braver than her now? Was he always braver than she was and it just took her this long to realize it? Stephanie relinquished one of her hands from her chin’s little perch and gave him her hand. Resting her cheek in her warm palm, she laced her finger with his, the grooves in between his fingers a perfect fit with hers. She stared at their hands for a moment, and it felt right. Her stomach lurched, a reminder of the butterflies she felt when they first started beeping each other on the comms, and she bit down on her bottom lip. Eyes drifting down briefly to the tattoo that told her she loved him, that she would always love him. Stephanie saw the anger in his eyes and fought the urge to recoil from him or yell at him, instead choosing to look at his lips, or his chin, or their hands again.
After a second, she shook her head, flopping her other hand on the table with a thud and twisting her body towards him again. “No, I don’t want to just forget it.” She caught his chin with her tiny fingers and tugged at him. The other hand squeezed their entwined fingers tightly as if to tell him I’m here, I’m staying here. “I’m trying to get it, I’m trying to listen, I’m trying to understand, baby, c’mon.” She sounded desperate. All at once, she released his chin and his other hand and slid back a little in the booth. “I’m trying so hard, Eddie, but I’m so fucked in the head right now.” Her hands tensed and flexed in front of her, shook out in frustration as she contorted her face.
Her blue eyes trained on his browns, hurt and cloudy with mourning. “I’m allowed to be worried about you, Edward Nashton. I’m allowed. You’re messing around with alien technology, you’re hanging out with a screwed up entity. I’m allowed to be worried. After you just got out of a goddamn m--.” She stopped herself short. Stephanie hated talking about Arkham and what it really was. She sighed sharply and buried her face in her hands. Shoulders up and tense. “I don’t wanna forget it. I don’t want to go to church. I’m trying so hard, baby. Please.”
He leaned into her touch and twisted his fingers with hers tightly like he was grasping for a lifeboat. “I don’t want to fight.” Eddie tried not to like the way she tugged at him. He knew she was angry and that there was a puzzle here he simply could not solve in order to make her feel better. He wondered if this was proof he’d never be man enough for anyone to love and that thought alone made him want to curl up in Arkham until he found his razor sharp question marks again. “Baby, please. I don’t want to fight anymore. I don’t know what I did-”
Then, she was moving away from him and building that wall again brick by brick. Eddie reached for her, but stopped short when she almost said mental institution and he retreated back to his side of the booth. She didn’t have to say the words. They were bold, capital letters swirling around in his riddled mind. He could hear the sharpness in her voice. YOU’RE CRAZY. Eddie inhaled and felt his throat tighten up and his hands shake. He silently pleaded Machina to turn back on. To make his head straight with that weird computer glow, but nothing happened. Not one ping.
“You can be worried. Okay? I can’t blame you if you are. Look at me. Who wouldn’t be worried about this.” He gestured to his head and laughed. “I don’t want to talk about this anymore. I just got a fucking tattoo because I love you so damned much.”
“I don’t want to fight either!” Stephanie snapped, flapping her hands like the little bird she was for a brief time. “I just want you to talk to me, and I want you to stop faulting me for being me! For going through a rough time, for dealing with the fact that my brother is fucking dead.” The blonde bat didn’t really consider that she was doing the same thing to him. She wasn’t really giving him the time of day and wouldn’t just accept things for how they were and couldn’t deal with the fact that he was getting close to his best friend/patron saint again. She was finally learning how hard a relationship like theirs would be; it was work. A lot of goddamn work. But everything worthwhile in the world was, wasn’t it?
She fought so hard for everything else in her life; of course she would fight for the man that she loved.
“Stop it, baby. Stop it. That’s not what I mean.” Right? Steph found it hard in all the rollercoaster loops in her mind to figure out what she actually did mean. But, she didn’t want to call Eddie crazy, not ever. Sliding her body forward, her hand reached forward to brush his cheek, slip into his hair, and drag down his neck, resting at the nape of his neck. Fingers slipped around the collar of his shirt and tugged again desperately. She felt like she was on an bungy rope -- back and forth, back and forth. “I love you, too. Good fuck. I was the one who suggested these things.” She flashed her inked wrist in front of him before her hand fell in his lap to grip his thigh. “Don’t make it like I don’t love you just as much, Edward Nashton. Don’t you dare.”
Eddie shook his head when she crawled closer, barely attempting to push her off until those fingers threaded through his hair. All he could do was shake his head. It felt like they spoke different languages and the only words they shared were I love you and STOP. He had to accept there was no solution to her problem. That he’d never make her feel better after her little brother died and truthfully all he was doing was making it worse. Eddie knew he couldn’t promise to stop doing all the things he had invested his time in. He knew he couldn’t just sit at home and try to forget everything that made him the riddled man.
But, he could eliminate it from his shared life with Stephanie. If he got into trouble, he’d find his own way out. He always did.
His hands went up in surrender. “I’m sorry.” Was all he said, the words perfectly enunciated in a slow, thoughtful tone. His dark eyes dimmed, the browns turning more of an amber and he diluted himself for her. People asked him to lose the green all the time and his stay at Arkham taught him how to do just that. “You need a man who can understand. That’s not me. I connect dots a different way.” No shake in his voice. Steady, slow, harmless. “But, I’m here for you. If you want me to be.” It was an echo of what he told her the day after Damian died. A way for him to sweep his own life under the rug for her. Then, he smiled softly. He was calibrating himself to fit right for her. This wasn’t an unsolvable puzzle, Nigma. You just need to cheat.
“Look at us. Shouting at a taco place. My taco place.” His smile was small and sweet. He ran his hands through her hair and he pressed a kiss to her cheek. “This is cra-zy. Let’s just enjoy ourselves and we’ll worry about this later. Look,” He pointed to Machina which wasn’t glowing or doing anything except looking like a tiny bricked smart phone. “It’s not even on anymore. I’ll lock it up for now. We can deal with it laaaatttterr.”
She wished that she could pinpoint the exact moment where all of this went wrong. It wasn’t here in this plastic booth in this taco restaurant, or in the chair at the tattoo parlor; it wasn’t even when she yelled at him in the training center. It had to be before that, didn’t it? All the way back to Arkham, and it was easier to blame it all on that. Stephanie clearly didn’t understand that she was doing anything wrong, too (which she had and still was). Arkham City created this rift between the two of them, only to be exacerbated by his stay in the asylum. It was there that they began to misunderstand each other. There, and she wouldn’t give herself the blame. Not when she was mourning her baby bird. She was allowed to be a wreck, and she thought that she could be vulnerable around him. Maybe she was wrong.
Her hand fell away almost comically slow, stuck in slow-motion, as he tried to wriggle out of her reach. She saw him gradually shutting down like a PC into sleep mode -- the way his hands raised in defense, the darkness in his eyes fading away, the soft, unthreatening smile curling up his mouth. His bright neon green fading into nothingness before her eyes, and it just made her angrier. She jerked away from the kiss on her cheek, biting down on her lip. Chest tightening and stomach churning, she slid back again to the edge of the booth, as far away as she could be without falling off the seat all together.
“You’re patronizing me right now,” she said, shake in her voice the polar opposite of the eerie calm in his voice. “You realize that?” After a deep gulp of a breath and a swipe at her burning eyes, she scrambled up out of the booth to stand. “I don’t want to deal with it later. Stop treating me like a kid!” But there she was, stamping her foot down just like a child, and snatching her coat up just like a child. The blonde bat didn’t know what to do with all these feelings -- the betrayal, the grief, the anger all boiling up inside of her and threatening to froth over. She slipped her arms into her coat and leaned to grab at her scarf. “You wanna deal with it later? Let’s not deal with it at all!”
If Eddie was thinking clearly, he would have been happy she saw right through his bullshit. In fact, he would have been relieved that she did so because it was proof, real honest to god proof that she knew him a lot better than he thought. But, right now Eddie couldn’t get it out of his head that he wasn’t good enough for her. Groveling or not, he was nothing. There wasn’t a worse feeling for little Eddie Nigma. It was the sole reason he turned to an eccentric life of crime. That fear of always coming up short. “I’m not patronizing you. I’m trying-” He stopped when she moved away from him and sighed heavily. There was nothing he could do now. Talking things out didn’t work. Playing nice didn’t work. What cards did he have left in his hands?
Eddie rubbed his face, leaning back in the booth as he watched her put her coat back on. He watched her, darkness blooming back in his eyes as he made a show of looking at her up and down as if he were sizing her up. He got comfortable in the booth, eyebrows up and a little daring. He tapped his fingers on the table. If she was going to leave, he wasn’t going to stop her. He also was done talking for the rest of the day.
Stephanie immediately started talking over him. “Yes, you--,” she started, cutting herself off with a loud, frustrated growl and a flap of her arms when he sighed. They had loud, explosive fights before, even in public, but this one had been months and months of building tensions and burying away problems until this fatal moment. Only hours after they declared some sort of permanence of their love by marking their skins with tattoos unmistakably them. She felt the itch on her skin where the needle impressed the ink, and her hand, the one not dangling a scarf over the dirty floor, closed around her wrist.
Mirroring his expression, eyebrows raising higher and higher, she asked, “You’re not gonna stop me?” The crack in her voice betrayed how much that hurt, and she turned away with a shrug. “Fine.” Without looking back at him, she coiled the scarf loosely around her neck and made a point of not putting on the gloves he made for her. “See you at my place,” she choked out, one final blow full of angry breath and tears stinging her eyes, and turned to make her way out the door. Of course, it wasn’t as smooth and graceful as she’d imagined, slipping and banging into whatever was in her path until she slammed into a waiter bringing food to a nearby table, almost toppling him and his tray over. There were quick, frantic apologies, and she turned back to look at Eddie once more before continuing on her way.
Eddie’s dark expression cracked when he saw the hurt he was causing, mouth opening a little as if he were going to think up the right thing to say. Just think, Nigma. If she wanted baseball stats or information on how to build an elevator or a story about old Gotham he had it right there for her. But, what use did any of that have here? He dragged his fingers along the table as she left, eyes averting down as if he didn’t know her. As if he didn’t have his love for her tattooed on his arm. His chest tightened and his fingertips pressed so hard into the table they hurt.
“Machina, turn back on please.” Eddie said softly, turning his body away as Stephanie stumbled out the door.
“Machina, if you’d be so kind.” Eddie whispered through his teeth.
He slammed his hand down on the table and pushed out of the booth. Minutes after Stephanie had left. Money was thrown in the general direction of her unfinished tacos and then he took one step towards the front door, changed his mind and stomped back through the kitchen and out into the back. Not one person looked up, even if the riddled man dared the new dish washer to even fucking try to make eye contact.
Once outside, he breathed in all the dirty Gotham air he could as a small voice in the back of his head told him to either go chase after Stephanie or go straight to church. Eddie? Eddie did neither.