WHO Stephanie and Eddie (Pt 2 of 2). WHAT birthday plans gone bust. WHEN Stephanie's birthday, last Sunday. WHERE around Gotham. a bar, then another bar. WARNING sads. seriously. so much fucking sads.
Stephanie rumbled out something pleased when he pulled her close, and she visibly relaxed in him arms, sighing and digging her fingers into him some more. She laughed at his story, something quiet and really charmed by him in ways no one else could even dream of doing to her. She loved that years and years later she could still learn something new and fresh about her riddled man. That things could never get dull, even if they didn’t have either Gotham in their lives. Sure, it helped, but oh god, did she think that they only really needed each other in the grand scheme of things. She was goddamn positive that they could get through anything, live through the world ending as long as they had each other.
“Me too, baby,” she assured him, tugging at the bottom of his hair to ground him there with her instead of that awful Gotham where they were so far from themselves it disgusted her. “Me too. I would never, ever go back to that shit.” She pulled again before sliding up flush against him and kissing his jaw. “Even if we were happy there, which we weren’t I know that, it was fake happiness. For everyone.” She makes a noise, something sad and a little frustrated that people would still be dealing with the fallout of a perfect Gotham when they put their lives on the line for years in-between.
“I’m sure a lot of them. Maybe not Bruce.” Her arms slid across his shoulders, down his arms, then back up his chest. One arm slung over his shoulders again while the other dragged across his jaw. “But probably a lot of them. They were all so happy, and isn’t that what everyone wants here?”
He closed his eyes when she kissed his jaw, enjoying the warmth of her body pressed against him mixed with slow, bittersweet music. The affection made him dip his chin down and kiss the side of her mouth as she talked, almost as a tease. He thought about how upset he was when he realized Leland died. How distant that sorrow was now. How every face was distant in his mind, buried under the bones of lost comrades in a different Gotham all together. He wondered which ones he wanted to bring back. Which ones he’d like to keep buried. His eyes opened slowly, dazed from the booze and finding a sweet spot in the city with her.
“Happiness.” Eddie repeated and pulled away from her a step, turning her around to the music slowly so there would be minimal clumsiness (he didn’t care what she said, Steph was still his blonde klutz) before pulling her back towards him. “In Hawaii, a lot of their old proverbs are about sticking together. A lot of canoe rowing analogies. E lauhoe mai na wa’a; i ke ka; i ke hoe- and so forth. Now, what you have to ask yourself is how big is your canoe?”
Stephanie pulled a slight face when he kissed the corner of her mouth, but didn’t let it distract her like it might have once before. She told him once that they could be productive while they were fooling around, and she did mean it. She could pull on his clothes, press her body against his, push against his mouth for a kiss and still be serious. For a second she lost herself in thought, even as she continued to touch him, coincidentally considering the same thing that he did. Who she actually wanted back in her life or not, whose toxic sort of draining couldn’t she deal with anymore? As much as she missed her family over the years, was it really worth it?
She rolled her eyes at the slow pace, but didn’t fight the smile crawling up her lips when he pulled her back. Hand sliding up his arm to rest at tip of his shoulder, swaying them a little more playfully for a second before slowing down to consider his question. “Honestly?” Stephanie’s arm found its way around his shoulder again, and she brushed delicate fingers over that streak of gray in his hair that she loved so much. “I think that if there’s more than us in my canoe, I might start taking on water. Right now, at least.”
Eddie grinned right back at those rolled eyes and let her lead, taking exaggerated steps after her like they were two kids who were dancing together for the first time. As the pace slowed back down he inched her hips towards him, one after another in a swaying motion. They were no stranger to serious conversations, but antics were usually thrown in if quipping wasn’t already.
Suddenly, he hated his jacket coat (it wasn’t the coat’s fault, Eddie just wasn’t used to wearing one anymore) and let go of her so he could unbutton the front. “Tell you what, baby. If we see another canoe taking in water, we’ll hand them a bucket.” He leaned into her fingers as they grazed across his hair like a dog who loved getting scratched behind the ear. “Hell, if we like them enough, we’ll help them toss water out.” He pulled away from her, taking his coat off and draping it on a nearby chair and rolling up his sleeves. “If I’m feeling charitable, I’ll even stick a cork in the leak. I’m just that nice of a guy.” He handed her his now loose thin tie as an invitation to pull him back to the dancefloor.
Stephanie pooouted when he pulled away, no stranger still to light shades of the playful needling that defined the earlier year or so of their relationship. But, things were different now, and if anyone who had known them before Earth-3 would see them now, they could spot it immediately. Sure, Steph and Eddie claimed to be partners back in the day, but that was nothing compared to right now. Now, they were two halves of one functional, beautiful whole.
“You are such a kind, giving person,” she teased over the quiet swell of the saxaphone, stepping forward to catch the thin black tie loosely hanging from his neck. “Don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise.” She pulled him back towards the middle of the dancefloor, amongst the scattering of couples here and there. Bright little stars lost within swirling galaxies on the dancefloor. There was a slow, seductive smirk that crawled up Stephanie’s lips as she settled on a spot in the universe of the dancefloor, creating their own little Milky Way full of turns and sways and beauty.
“So, are you saying that your canoe only has enough room for the two of us, too?” She pressed flush up against him without shame or prompt, rumbling a tiny sound that was just for them. She paused for a second, taking his hands and guiding them to her hips, where those slits in her dress cut horizontal peaks of skin. Permanent ink spread across her shoulders, hinted underneath those slits, and coiled down her legs, and maybe in another part of Gotham she would have caused heads to turn because of those and the scars on her body and down her neck. Here, they were just allowed to lose themselves in each other.
Eddie wiggled his eyebrows at her when she pulled his tie, following obediently deeper onto the dancefloor as if he had no chance of escape. Not that he wanted to. He was fine if this meant they were momentarily stuck in a cosmic black hole, watching the stars and music get eaten up in a vortex along with them. His gaze traveled over the ink across her skin that he knew so well, that he could trace with his eyes closed. The lights that dotted the walls and hung from broken chandeliers above left touches of light and shadow across her body like searchlights across the Gotham sky. He breathed in her perfume and let her move his hands as if he were her coin-operated man.
“I’m saying that for now,” Eddie inched his fingers across her bare skin and then hooked them under the fabric as if touching just an inch below a hemline was scandalous. “I think that’s all our canoe can handle.” He brushed his nose against hers, daring her to kiss him. “Everyone on Earth-3 could appreciate that and we still kicked plenty of ass. People here can see that, too.” But, Eddie didn’t seem too concerned one way or another. They’d always race to help the Dark Knight, they’d always jump at the chance to save Gotham and work on a team, but at the end of the day they were a duo.
Stephanie’s smirk flipped into something more affectionate and adoring for a second. “I like that you say our canoe, Nashton,” she told him, voice warm as honey while she wrapped her arms around his neck a little tighter. He earned a quiet rumble in her throat, something between a whimper and encouragement, as thieving fingers slid just barely under the fabric of her dress. “You know people in this Gotham don’t really care about stuff like that.” As his fingers snuck underneath black fabric, she slid hers into his curled black hair, and though another Stephanie would have made him wait, she obliged him immediately with the kiss he dared from her. Unapologetic and unabashed and so full of want.
“But really, I don’t think I care enough.” A mostly true confession against his lips for a Gotham she wanted so badly to be home. She wouldn’t have admitted it in the bright light of their apartment or on a nice stroll in the park, but here in this dim jazz bar, she was drunk off the slow music and the booze and him. “Except for Bruce. Maybe Dick,” she amended, because that was an obvious. “And if they want to make an effort, they can make an effort, but baby, I’m so tired.” Before he could attempt to diffute or comfort her in any way, she stole another kiss, this one a little slower and more exploring. Clearly intoxicated on a mixture of him and everything else in this bar that actually made her feel good instead of that messy mix of dread and misery in that tacky bar.
There might have been words said between the two kisses, but Eddie was having a hard time paying attention. She didn’t just kiss like she wanted him (though that would be enough for the riddled man years ago), there was something knowing and accepting in a way no one else ever would. It was so easy to judge the green man from here all the way back to Earth-3 and no one, not one person in the entire parallel, double parked universes loved every inch of him. Eddie believed with all his heart there would never be anyone like her again. That even if he found a woman who loved parts of him, they’d never accept the springs and cogs that sometimes sent his clocks ticking backwards. Stephanie saw all of it. The scars, the question marks, the little boy who was thrown down a flight of stairs and she loved it all.
“I don’t, either.” He whispered, piecing together words said and stuttered to a swaying standstill on the dance floor as he deepened the kiss. Fingertips pressed into her skin, daring to go farther under the fabric of her dress like he had never even touched her there before. “You’re all I want.” He whispered and then pushed for another kiss, no longer asking but demanding instead. “You know that, baby. You’re it.” And, that was an echo of Earth-3 when they had to talk about priorities, about who lived and who died. Maybe it was selfish, but he’d save her before anyone else in their Underground Justice League. He’d even let someone die for her and that wasn’t going to change here anytime soon.
Stephanie rocked on her heels in his arms, grateful for the stock-still sway of their hips. As much as she prided herself in being able to get things done with him around, when she wanted to lose herself in him, oh did she ever. It was easier now more than ever to dive into the green, riddled man when they both knew each other so intimately, so desperately, so fully. She knew, too, that she would never find anyone else like him either. She had loved before, sure. Birds that broke her heart and boys that made her a mother, but nothing to this extent, this consuming, entire-being kind of love that left her breathless even on their worst days. He accepted her, scars and damage and everything she had ever done, and she would always do the same with him.
She rocked against him once, a tiny twitch of her hips as if egging him to dip further, as far as he dared. Buzzed enough to completely forget that they were out in public, and shame left pretty much dead on Earth-3 next to the piles of bodies that signified how close they came to losing each other. “You’re all I want, too,” she murmured against his mouth, giving into that demand and pushing back just as much. One hand wrapping around his tie while the other dragged across his jaw to catch his chin. Jerking his face away so his mouth was just shy of his, she pressed kisses across his jawline before nipping at skin here and there.
“Tell me you love me. That no matter what. No matter what I do, or what I say, you’ll love me.” An odd demand against skin from a younger Stephanie, surely, but he understood the meaning behind all of it. Everything she’d done on Earth-3: the maiming, the regrets, the lost lives. Would he always forgive her for that? She knew the answer, of course, but that didn’t mean she didn’t want to hear it now and then. A birthday wish for her sins to be absolved, even if they already had by the man who mattered most.
An almost aggravated noise rumbled from his throat as he pulled her closer, fingers dragging off her skin so that he could wrap her up in his arms tightly. The feeling of his tie closing in around his throat, her soft brush of fingers across his face and that neverending, intoxicating kiss made everything spiral. The other people on the dance floor, Wonder City below them, the bats and the birds and rogues out there, none of it compared to her. That’s what Earth-3 taught him. Yes, he wanted a home and friends, but Eddie learnt a long time ago how to live without that just fine as long as she was by his side.
“I love you, Stephanie.” Said almost desperately as he kissed her face, her neck, her shoulder. The second part held a new meaning this Gotham hadn’t heard whispered. A riddle that was unspoken between them for a long time because she had hurt him in the thick of battle and yet he stayed like an obedient battle hound. His lips stayed on the curve of her shoulder, teeth grazing the exposed skin. This wasn’t an oath based on what she did, what he forgave her for. This was what she might do and that made his poor riddled heart race.
He turned his head to look at her, dark eyes locked on her blues in a silent question. Would he? Eddie gently touched her face, his other hand sliding down to the small of her back and he swayed with the music again. His eyes never leaving hers, his stare going on a little longer than it should. “No matter what.” He finally whispered and kissed her softly, nothing like their desperate frenzy before. Eddie wrapped his other arm around her. “Even if you find a new restaurant you like that I hate.” His voice lightened just a twinge. “And, despite the terrible music you listen to.” He looked up and offered her smile, the kind that told her not to worry.
The words had slipped out before she thought about it, and she twisted her mouth up in regret as his mouth found her shoulder. It had been pretty much silently agreed that they would leave some things shattered on a battlefield or in the refuge of their underground home with the UJL, but Stephanie was overwhelmed with all the emotions from the last week until it finally came spilling out like that. “I love you, too,” she responded, echoing his affections one-by-one, arms looping under his and wrapping around his body. She regretted her demands, a noise vibrating from her throat and the clench of her fingers in his shoulderblades betraying herself as he dragged teeth over her skin.
He could see the tension in her eyes as clear as day when he pulled back, and she leaned into his fingers against her face. Eyes drifting half-closed at the tenderness that was always there between them, but sometimes got muddled in the heated passion they fell into at any given moment. She couldn’t keep away from his eyes though, and she stopped her idle swaying. Breath caught in her throat. She pulled him against her, hands quickly moving to cup his face and stole another kiss. An apology in actions for bringing up something that caused them both so much pain, a mea culpa for any heartache she’d ever caused him then, now, or in the future. “Even if I get fat?” Stephanie asked, taking the lift in his voice as a hint. She smiled softly, one hand drifting to tangle in his hair again. “Or if I make you sleep on the couch?” Her other hand caught his chin and forced him to keep looking at her. “Even if I adopt twenty more cats and dogs for the farm?”
Eddie knew she regretted bringing it up at all and in a way he felt a little sorry for responding even a little bit. Years ago, such a request would leave him distant and unsure. That was then. His scars had healed. He still loved her more and more every day. The wound wasn’t fatal and he wanted her to know that. Eddie had survived and they would, too. He kissed her again, almost like he was trying to heal a fresh cut on her lips and smiled as they swayed with the music. “Even if you get fat. Even if you occasionally make me sleep on the couch.” His gaze steadied on hers and softened. Trying so hard to make her bury that guilt she carried around in her belly.
“If you adopt more animals, I’ll build us a real farm. A house with a yard and a barn and a white picket fence. Would you like that?” He reached for one of her hands, intertwining his fingers with hers and holding their hands up in a more traditional dancing form, like something from a movie about princesses and all the trouble that awaited them outside of their castle.
While his scars had certainly healed, Stephanie knew they wouldn’t fade away; scars always lingered, after all. She was astounded that he hadn’t left, and many days she woke up with guilt bubbling in her chest that she just couldn’t shake despite his years of reassurance. His years of still being there in spite of how he should have stopped loving her a long time ago and drop her like a bad habit. Stephanie and Eddie never worked that way, though. They never did do well with following the norm even when they did, and that was what made them so perfect for one another.
“You’re a truly good man, Edward Nashton,” she assured him softly, blues dazed by his affection as she readily acquiesced her hand and began to sway along with his step. “Can something like that even exist in these parts?” A hint that no matter what, she would never want to leave Gotham. She had once before, years ago, and she always came crawling back. A warm smile crawled up her mouth. “And do I have to have the excess animals to get it?”
Eddie automatically shook his head when she called him good, a response he didn’t even notice. It didn’t matter how many lives he saved, how many times he stopped the Syndicate, or how loyal he was to the people he loved, here he’d never be good. Just a man covered in question marks who tried to do good. That would never be enough for this Gotham. “I can build anything in this Gotham. That part of me will never, ever change.” He assured her and smiled faintly at the idea of a farm somewhere on the outskirts of their city. It actually didn’t sound so bad at all.
“And, I’m afraid I can’t tell you what you have to do for the farm.” He winked. “That’s a riddle you’re going to have to figure out all on your own.” And, that much was true. Eddie usually laid out what he wanted from Stephanie, but in this case, it was all on her to put the puzzle together. “Are you up for the challenge, Stephanie Brown? There’s no cheats on the internet for this one.”
“Yes, you are,” she whispered when he shook his head, fingers curling into the back of his neck and insistent with a tug towards her. She knew Eddie would never think of himself as a good man, hell most people here in Gotham wouldn’t either, but she would make it her life duty if she had to do let him know that he was good. No matter what people here might think or say, Stephanie knew that her riddled man was up and down good. So fuck what the rest of them thought. They would never know all the things Eddie had gone through, all the sins he forgave, all the times he saved her life. Steph, of course, knew all the cogs and springs better than anyone in any universe, but that didn’t excuse other people from being plain blind and stupid.
“Anything?” she asked with a wiggle of her eyebrows to rival his as if she were cooking up a challenge right then and there. She screwed her face up, mimicking a brainstorm session before he totally broke her heart. “What?!” Stephanie looked astounded, as if he never, ever denied her anything in her entire life. That wasn’t the case, of course. Pouting, she tried to turn on the charm. “I’m still bad at riddles, baby.” Her hand curled into the bend of his shoulder, and her nose wrinkled in affection. “Think about how nice it would be though. Grass. A garden. A place for Matilda to play.” Her voice sounded entranced, dream-like, and didn’t all of that just sound like a fantasy? A quiet oasis they could escape at the end of the day when Gotham began to take its toll. “We could have a porch to sit on all day. To read or work on or just enjoy us.”
He laughed and then in a rush, dipped her in a sweeping motion, his hand loosening on her back enough that she’d lose her balance to fall back and then caught her long before she could actually hit the dance floor. Eddie grinned at her and slowly pulled her back up. “It does sound nice. Picturesque even.” He shrugged, as if the idea was only a distant possibility. As if he wasn’t sold on a happy little farm at all. “But, how do I know you won’t get bored after pulling weeds and feeding the animals every day? How could I possibly guess if you won’t run off with some young farm hand?”
Eddie shook his head sadly. “I’m not convinced you’re the kind of girl for a farm.” Then, lofty, eyes to the broken chandeliers above. “Maybe one day when you’re too old to wander off into a more exciting life. But, by that time I’ll likely be dead.” He sighed regretfully. And, maybe he was dancing a little too close to the point of the matter, but it felt better to make light of the situation instead of spearhead it directly.
Stephanie squeaked when he dipped her down and practically dropped her, heart jumping to her throat in a way that only he could cause. “If this is your way of trying to prove I’m still clumsy,” she said with a glare in her eyes and a smirk on her lips despite herself, “this is really, really fucked up, okay.” She tried to look angry at the grin, but she softened immediately, perpetually a sucker for him in ways she could never be for anyone else. “That’s what Gotham’s for, baby.” She rolled her eyes up to high heaven, taking in that decrepit ceiling for a second before landing back down on his face. “Young, sexy farmhands won’t take me away from you. Look at you, war hero.” Her new favorite nickname for him when she was teasing or needling him. “You’re all buff now. I can’t let you get snatched up by some cute farmer’s pretty, yet completely sexually frustrated young wife.”
A frown replaced her grin, and she stared at his jaw as it turned up to the ceiling. “I could be whatever you want me to be here,” she confessed, and in there hung so much meaning to that. They could be anything they wanted. “A farmer, if that’s your new kink,” Stephanie teased, trying to press away the seriousness in her voice. “All dirty and mucked up from soil and whatever else.” She reached up to trace a singular finger down his jawline with barely there touch, then snag his chin then tug him towards her again. “Or,” she raised an eyebrow, soft smile and light in her eyes betraying a slight nervousness, “we could just have a tiny house. With the white picket fence and a smaller garden and neighbors to combat instead of sexy farm hands or wives.”
Eddie hadn’t looked afraid in a long time. Even after Jokester was shot and killed right in front of him, even when Owlman had them in his talons, fear was not something a Gotham rogue like himself felt very often. Brushing against certain death was a hobby by now, it was in his blood and he always looked at it straight on. But, this scared the shit out of him. He lowered his chin to look at her, dark eyes wide with that fear she hadn’t seen in years. His fingers twitched on her back and she could feel his shoulders shake as he tried to blink away that twisting feeling in his gut.
He tried to laugh and the sound came out pathetically. “Stephanie.” A whisper and a hard swallow. Eddie shook his head and brought her hand up to kiss her fingers before pulling her into his arms, head on her shoulder as it was too hard to look at her and think about all that. His hold on her tightened, as if he were trying to keep those scars from bursting open. A long moment passed and then he nodded, recovering as he kissed her neck and then pulled back to look at her. The fear was replaced by bittersweet happiness and he played along. It was her birthday, why not give in to the fantasy? “We wouldn’t know what to do with a farm, anyway. A house is enough. We could barbeque in the summer, build our own snow robots in the winter. You could yell at me for taking over the garage with my projects and then we could snuggle it out by the fire. It’d be perfect, baby.”
His fear reflected in hers, and she knew that she had gone too far even if she had told him something true. Wasn’t this place exactly what they were waiting for? A way to start anew, or as anew as they would ever get? Stephanie wasn’t lying when she told him they could be anything they wanted. She believed it wholeheartedly. Finally they had the chance to start a life that they wanted instead of fighting to make sure that other people were assured theirs. Didn’t they earn that? After years and years and years of putting themselves on the line for others, didn’t they deserve a little something for themselves? Maybe she shouldn’t have admitted it then and there, but she danced around it enough. She didn’t say outright look, we can fix all of our problems now, and maybe that was enough. Maybe.
She knew by the way he looked at her and clung to her closely that she’d opened up an old wound until it stung fresh and hot. Her hand tangled in his hair, closing her eyes with a sigh. She whispered an apology that hopefully got lost in the swell of the music. God, she was such a fuck up sometimes. Another apology voiced in a whimper that escaped her her throat and how tightly she squeezed him back, still allowing him the time to stitch himself back together. She cupped his jaw with one of her hands, thumb delicately brushing against his cheekbone, and she tried so hard not to get upset. To force a smile.
“Perfect,” Stephanie agreed, thumb sliding to brush against his bottom lip. “Running in the morning. We could even get bikes to ride through the neighborhood. Frankie and Isabella can come up to play on weekends.” Her eyes flickered away from his face for a fraction of a second before looking steadfast in his puppydog browns. “If that’s something you want.” It was daring, and probably too hurtful, but she wanted to know.
He inhaled sharply as she dug that knife in further, the hurt in his eyes betraying any surface daydream he could riddle up for her. “Birthday parties and Christmas. Long weekends where we never even see Wonder Tower on the horizon.” Eddie whispered, squeezing his eyes closed as he rolled his lips together in an attempt to keep himself from asking her everything he wanted to hear. He looked away from her and laughed dryly again, trying so hard to exorcise a demon inside of him. “Of course it’s something I want.” He said eventually and slowly looked back at her. Pain, love and loss all pouring out of him.
Eddie leaned closer, tapping his forehead against hers and gritted his teeth to keep all of it from bleeding into his words and then shook his head. “What if there’s an electrical fire? What if we get thrown into another door? What if we go back?” He had told himself a long time ago that there was no white picket fence for him in the future. There was no happy, fairytale ending where he got the life he wanted with Stephanie. And, he learnt to make this enough. More than enough. “I don’t need a house, I don’t need a farm.” Eddie said almost like a nursery rhyme, touching her face and kissing the side of her mouth. “You’re it. That’s all I want. That’s all I need.” And, maybe that was a lie that helped him sleep at night, but he had repeated it to himself enough times that he believed it.
Her thumb stayed on his bottom lip as he began to speak, moving back and forth idly until it stilled against it. Her other hand slid up his chest to rest where his heart thump thumped, where words corresponding to hers stained permanent marks on his skin. Tracing over fabric the words that she memorized years ago but she liked to remind herself of time and time again. Where pain, love, and loss hung in his browns, Stephanie’s blues returned a sea of regret that he could dive into and drag whatever he wanted out of it. If he told her he hated her, she wouldn’t say he was wrong for doing so. If he started to treat her like shit, she would tell him to keep going. For all the pain she caused him, all the twisting of his heart and destruction of hope, she could go through a thousand lifetimes now and never feel good enough for him anymore. Never feel deserving of his love and adoration and commitment.
Most days, it was easy to forget that in the mess of her own love for him. But, the booze and being so close to him clouded her judgement and bubbled up that old pain left dormant for so many years.
Stephanie wanted so badly to argue with him, but what was the point? He was right, after all. They could just get blinked back again or tossed into fucking Wonderland or something, and what would be the point of all of that fantasy then? Just another thing to tick off that they’d lost? Stephanie shivered in his arms, squeezing her eyes shut while he continued on. “But baby,” she whispered finally, voice thick and sorrowful and so ready to give him anything in the entire universe, “just because you want that doesn’t mean that’s all you deserve.” Her fingers curled into his shirt, jerking him once as if to jolt him out of it, and she slid the other hand into his hair. “You deserve the world, Eddie. You do.”
A shaky sigh, and she buried her face into the crook of his neck, inhaling the scent of his cologne like it could stop her from bursting into tears right then and there. She murmured more declarations about how much she loved and needed and wanted him, too, but also how much he deserved.
Eddie had hoped this particular song and dance would have been left on Earth-3. The problem was that Stephanie seemed willing to give him anything he wanted to take the pain away, that blue look in her eyes practically a servant to fixing the parts of him that were broken. But, she didn’t understand that even if he got what he wanted, it’d only be farce, a lie like so many parts of his life before he met her. Maybe when they were younger he’d get some gratification from hurting her back. These days he didn’t see the point in throwing a wrench into the one thing he needed more than anything else. He shook his head when she jerked his shirt and suddenly every part of him felt heavy. “It doesn’t matter what I deserve, Stephanie. It never has.” He said with such clarity it almost didn’t sound like him and he returned her tight embrace.
Each little declaration made his heart stop and start like a toy car running out of batteries. “Stop it, baby. Please. Stop it.” He pleaded and then leaned back to look at Stephanie, holding her face with his hands. “We’re done building. Alright? We have each other and that’s enough. We can’t add on any more rooms, we can’t build a slide to the front hall and we can’t move to a new house. I’m never going to give you something new you’re afraid to lose. This is it.” Eddie’s eyes were red and watery now, teeth grinding to fight back any tears from falling. “You said I was enough. You told me.” He grabbed her shoulders and shook her once, begging her to either stop pushing him for something he couldn’t give her anymore or admit she’d never be able to handle it once she got it.
Stephanie and Eddie had a tendency to lose themselves into each other so badly that the rest of the universe could collapse around them and they wouldn’t notice. It didn’t matter that this place, a warm, quiet jazz bar with couples trying so hard to lose themselves as well, was wholly inappropriate for this conversation. They were never really good at being appropriate no matter what they were doing. Fighting, fooling around, talking about serious things usually left behind closed doors. Luckily, no one else seemed to notice the heated, sad conversation the lovebirds were having. Not that Stephanie cared, of course. She just jerked his shirt towards her again when he shook his head before lightly hitting his chest with her tiny fist in frustration. All of this would have been so much easier if Eddie loathed her after what she’d done, but neither of them would have survived.
Her eyes closed, and her face screwed up. Not uncomfortable with him holding her close, but almost angry that he still wanted to touch her. That he felt the need to console or whatever. “It’s not fair, Eddie, it’s not--.” But the shake of her shoulders cut her off and threw her into a completely different train of thought. Shaking her head and tugging his tie until it hurt, she pleaded, “You are enough, baby. You’re more than enough. You’re all that I ever need, don’t you get that?” She yanked against the pencil-thin tie, and then seemed to deflate immediately. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, Eddie. I don’t-- you’re always going to be more than enough. I promise.” She paused, licking her lips nervously before letting go of his tie, ceasing any sort of contact. “I’m just still scared you’ll wake up one day and realize that I’m not enough. That you deserve better than me and what I did to you.”
Swallowing hard, her blue eyes reflected his uncried tears, and she waved a hand dismissively. “I’m being--stupid, I’m being so fucking stupid, I’m sorry.” She tried at a shaky smile. “This is supposed to be a happy day, right? I already cried on enough birthdays to last lifetime.”
Eddie leaned away from her when she tugged on his tie, making that fabric close around his throat until it left a pink little mark. Pain woke up him, it always did and it was a lot more subtle than her slapping him hard across the face with the palm of her hand. He exhaled like she had been holding his head under water when she let him go and rubbed his eyes with the back of his tattooed hands. He stared at her as she apologized, letting the rest of Gotham come crashing back into view like they were in the middle of a set change on a giant stage and he shook his head at her.
“Baby,” And there was a smile there, an attempt to tell her it was okay. A wag of his tail to say that he didn’t mind she stepped on his paw. “Ever since we started dating I was afraid you’d wise up and leave me. That’s no secret.” His voice trembled and he sniffed before making a small noise like he was working through the pain of slamming his big toe in a wall. A soft ahhhgh that was followed by a real laugh. Something small and shaking. “I don’t want to make you cry on your birthday. Come on, Stephanie Brown. This was supposed to top cake-from-a-box and now I think it might be bottom two.”
He reached for her, trying to pull her back into his arms. “Let’s go to the training center and play some ping-pong. You can let me win a couple rounds and I’ll get over all this.” Eddie had promised that before and she knew it was a lie, they both did, but what else could he do? Tell her every day that she had broken a part of him that he couldn’t fix? How could he possibly admit to to something like that? “Ping pong and beer that I hid in my secret fridge that I keep behind a trick wall.” He wiggled his eyebrows, trying to smooth all that pain away.