Disclaimer: I sing the lament electric: If only, if only, if only they were mine…
A/N: I've been trying to write this story for a long, long time—since 2008, as a matter of fact—but it's only just now sprung into being. You wouldn't think a little over a thousand words would take so long, but it was stubborn in the coming It takes place in the same horribly depressing future Gotham as my stories 'Paper Hearts' and 'Chance'—a lighter piece to balance out the soul crushing despair—but it can stand alone.
Frost covers every surface in the park, a sleek, shimmering coat of chill that makes the whole world sparkle. There is no snow, not yet, but the grass is crisp beneath the boots of passersby and several patches of treacherous ice adorn the walkways. Winter proper will be here soon, and the citizens stand at street corner newsvendors and gossip amongst themselves about how desperately cold the coming months will be—"Worst winter in Gotham in thirty years," they say in varying tones, from disbelieving whispers to indignant bellows—but for now, it is merely late October and only the promise of bitter cold lingers in the air.
Jack 'O Lanterns sit in windows, sending beams of orange light dancing along the concrete, most made of plastic but some hand carved, and fall fashions shine forth from the shop windows that face the park. Families and tourists and homeless men and meter maids stride up and down the avenue, most not even bothering to glance at the old man sitting on a park bench, alone. The elderly are still as invisible as they ever were—time cannot change man's instinct to ignore that which he fears he'll become—but it doesn't bother him.
He is thin, practically drowning in his overcoat. It's a patchy brown affair, muddy along the bottom, the elbows held together with squares of ugly gray. His hair is white, as well it should be, considering that he is nearing seventy-five, but it's impossible to see that because of the tweedy hat he wears. Delicate wire rimmed glasses—one of the lenses long ago cracked, never bothered to be repaired—perch on a sharp, beaky nose and blue eyes, milky with age, glare out at the world. The only color on this man in varying shades of brown is his scarf: long, royal blue, the ends frayed from nearly a decade of use. He is not a happy looking man and it is doubtful he ever was, but he looks at the park and the street beyond it with an unmistakable air of disdain.
When an unassuming newspaper blows through the grass and catches itself on the toe of his shoe, it too falls prey to his glower.
The sound comes from his left, but the old man doesn't bother to acknowledge it in any fashion. Internally, he catalogues the sound as obnoxiously self-satisfied. He settles a little more fully into his coat and buries his hands in his pockets. Were he a few years younger and his hands a bit more spry, he would clench his fists.
"And a good morning to you, Jonathan."
He does not reply, merely grumbles like the stereotypical curmudgeon.
His new companion, a man of roughly the same age, sits at the opposite end of the bench, an ornate cane in one hand, resting lightly on his knees. He wears black, head to toe, save for the forest green hat band adorning his bowler derby—a hat which has long ago gone out of style. His glasses are also wire rimmed, but the lenses set into them are a quarter of an inch thick, obscuring his eyes, making him look like a caricature rather than a real human being.
"How are you today?"
Another series of near inaudible grumbles, punctuated by the word 'Edward'.
"Doing as well as ever," Edward replies, tugging his gloves on a bit more securely. He smiles a smile that might have made him handsome in his youth. "I have a riddle for you."
"Of course you do."
Edward clears his throat and begins. "Ten fish I bought without an eye and nine without a tail, six without a head and half of eight I weighed upon the scale, now answer my question as I ask it, how many fish—"
"The answer is zero," Jonathan growls.
Edward frowns, the wrinkles around his mouth becoming deeply set instead of mere creases. "I've already—"
A man on a bicycle rolls past the two old men who sit in silence, a pair of stony faced gargoyles, and he thinks nothing odd or extraordinary about them. One of the gargoyles grumbles low in his throat, a soft, rasping sound, colored by the hint of an oncoming cough, but that is all the indication they give that they are living beings and not artistic curiosities. Only the sounds of the city—car horns, shouts, the general hustle and bustle of Gotham—are to be heard now.
Once the cyclist is out of earshot, the conversation resumes.
"How's retirement treating you?" Edward asks conversationally.
"As well as my career did," Jonathan replies, a slight acidic bite to his tone.
For the first time, Jonathan turns his head and fixes a stony glare on his companion. He is wise enough to change the subject.
"So, what shall we discuss?"
"We've been doing this for a long time. What's left to say?"
Edward is ready for this question and beams, "Can analysis be worthwhile? Is the theatre really dead?"
Jonathan turns his head, returning it to its former position. "Do shut up, Nygma."
Silence descends again. They sit, like a pair of badly mismatched, crotchety bookends, looking at nothing, thinking great thoughts—or maybe mediocre ones—without bothering to share what they might be. This continues for several minutes until Edward once again breaks the hush.
"Say, whatever happened to—"
Edward makes a face. "You don't even know who I was going to ask about."
"Whoever it was, they're probably dead. They're all dead. Or dying. Or destitute."
"A cheerful companion as always, Jonathan," Edward sighs.
"No one's forcing you to stay."
Edward removes his hat and scratches his head. "Did you hear about Jervis?"
"Oh, so you did hear."
"No, I was simply making an assumption," Jonathan responds dispassionately. "Everybody interesting is dead."
"I'm still alive," Edward reminds him.
Another withering look is his reward.
Edward shakes his head. "Walked right into that one."
"So you did."
"One would think I'd know better by now."
"One would be wrong."
Edward shifts on the bench and opens his coat, retrieving a small thermos from the deep inside pocket. "Soup?"
"It's clam chow-der," Edward sing-songs, shaking the thermos back and forth enticingly.
"You, of all people, should know not to turn down a free meal."
"I don't need your misguided attempts at charity."
Edward shrugs and sets the thermos down between them. "An eight letter word meaning obstinate beyond all measure, reason or sense."
"Stubborn," Jonathan replies without pause.
"Jonathan." Edward stands with some effort, straightening his coat, leaning heavily on his cane and making no move to retrieve the thermos. "Queen to Bishop's Pawn three."
"Humph." Jonathan shifts his eyes to glare at some unspecified spot on the horizon to his right.
"I do believe that's check."
Jonathan makes a noise deep in his chest, a sound that straddles the line between a grumble and a muttered curse.
"So." Edward replaces his hat, tapping it once to set it firmly into place. "Same time next week?"