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The Cycle of Favors

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The month of November was always unbearably cold and wet in Gotham, and this particular November had decided to go out of its way to fit in with the rest of history. Oswald loathed the cold, mostly because of the inevitable pain it caused his leg. Usually, he was lucky enough to be able to weather most of the season by the fire, with plenty of minions to do whatever he needed whenever he need it done. Those days were nostalgic, soft-edged and comfortable. Those days reminded him of times past.

This winter, unfortunately, saw the rise of petty crime, mostly small-time punks from the remnants of a gang Oswald only knew as the Mutants. Some of them were familiar, old patrons from his very first club, before the Iceberg Lounge. Clearly, the criminal activity at the club had given them their first taste of the seedy underbelly of Gotham, and some of them were still chasing their next hit.

Drug store robberies here, a new kind of club drug there, and Oswald was officially annoyed. And if Oswald was annoyed with criminal activity, the GCPD sure as hell was, too. At least, that was the way Jim Gordon pitched it a week ago when he asked for Oswald’s help in tracking down the hideout for those pesky vermin.

So track them he did, thinking he would be able to narrow it down to a warehouse in the Narrows in less than an hour. But some of the Mutants had money, drawn to crime because they could get away with it if they were caught, and those particular Mutants quickly rose in their own ranks, and their hideouts could be in any number of places, in any number of neighborhoods.

“You’re wasting your time,” Edward had remarked one day, watching Oswald pore over intel late at night, a glass of wine by this elbow. “Just let Gordon do his job without your help for once.” Ed’s presence at the mansion was purely out of convenience – he was no longer working at the GCPD, and his apartment had long ago become a crime scene. Mostly, Oswald felt like they were college roommates: they both went about their days unconcerned with the other, with only a few instances of overlap.

“We’re friends,” Oswald pointed out without looking up. “Friends help friends.”

“When was the last time Jim Gordon helped you?” Ed said with a raised eyebrow. He didn’t wait for Oswald to answer but instead left him to think on his question, off to do whatever it was he did to pass the time.

He tried to put the question out of his mind, but it lingered and rose to the surface at the most inopportune moments. When Jim called and asked him if he had any leads yet, it surfaced, so suddenly that Oswald almost blurted it out to him.

Maybe Ed was right; maybe Jim was using him.

It wouldn’t be the first time Oswald allowed a man to use him without realizing it. He was splendidly blind when it came to Jim Gordon, especially when the man asked something of him. Perhaps he was infatuated with the idea of Jim owing him something, even if that favor went unfulfilled. Perhaps it was enough to simply know that Jim needed his help. The man was, after all, completely incapable of admitting that he couldn’t save the world single-handedly.

Whatever it was, it vexed him. And it continued to vex him, even as he struck a lead on the Mutants’ home base, even as he called it in to Jim, even as he put on his coat to go watch the arrest. It lingered there, like smoke, always present yet simultaneously invisible.

He watched Jim arrest the leader of the Mutants, nothing more than a twenty-something with a blue stripe across his face and a mohawk, satisfied and yet not at all. He should call in a favor with Jim, shouldn’t he, just to test him? If he did, he could finally put those traitorous whispers that sounded suspiciously like Ed’s voice to rest.

And then Jim caught his gaze across the street.

He jogged over, his eyes carefully watching for oncoming traffic, and stopped in front of him, just out of breath, his eyes bright and alive. “Came to watch your work in action, did you?” he asked.

Oswald shrugged. “It was a slow day at the office,” he replied flippantly, wondering at the same time why he was acting so aloof. Jim blinked, but took it with grace.

“Well, I don’t want to jinx it, but it looks like we got the head honcho,” he said. “Thank you, Oswald, really.”

“Anything for a friend,” Oswald muttered. There it was, the thank you that would be the end of their interactions until Jim needed something else. This was getting terribly predictable, and as soon as he realized that he was playing into a pattern, it pressed on his patience.

“Is something wrong?” Jim asked, his eyes rising to see Harvey Bullock shoving the perp into the back of the car. “I thought you’d be happy.” Clearly he wanted to be somewhere else, overseeing the reading of that kid’s rights, chuckling with Bullock about whatever it was cops talked about.

Oswald shrugged, Ed’s voice chanting, When was the last time Jim Gordon helped you? Jim didn’t respond, but waited, probably knowing that when he looked imploringly at Oswald, the man couldn’t deny him a thing. The idea was infuriating. If, in fact, Jim Gordon knew him that well, why was he so confused by his attitude? Oswald should ask him, but the words wouldn’t come.

He was weak.

“We are friends, aren’t we, Jim?” he asked finally.

Jim looked mildly alarmed. “Of course,” he replied tentatively.

“Friends help friends, don’t they?” Oswald pressed, uncrossing his arms long enough for the cold of the winter afternoon to seep into his jacket. He regretted the movement immediately.

Jim nodded, his eyes falling to Oswald’s arms as he crossed them again to keep out the cold. “Look, if you want to call in that favor –”

“Let me guess, there’s something else you absolutely have to do right now?” Oswald snapped. “You’ll get back to me?” Out of habit, he tapped his cane on the cold concrete. His leg was so cold, he felt like it was absorbing the reverberations of his cane on the ground.

Jim furrowed his brow. “Well, I have to process this guy really quick, and I can come by the mansion when I’m finished. Is it urgent?”

He would never come by. The day would slip by, then the next, then the week. “It doesn’t matter, Jim,” Oswald tossed up his hands in exasperation.

“Oswald, I’d like to think that most of the time, I can keep up with whatever conversation we’re having. But today I think I’m missing something, so could you explain it to me?” Jim asked. “Did I upset you somehow?”

“I want you to admit it,” Oswald said firmly.

“Admit what?” Jim asked, frustrated. “I don’t even know what we’re talking about!”

Suddenly Oswald felt very tired. “You know what? Just go.”

“Oswald –”

“I mean it. Just go and do your job,” Oswald muttered, gripping his cane tightly. He dropped his gaze to the ground and left it there until Jim gave up waiting for him to explain and trotted back to the other side of the street and into the passenger seat of Bullock’s car. In moments, they were gone.

***

“I’m making tea,” Ed called through to the parlor, where Oswald was warming his leg by the fire. “Should I make a whole pot?”

That was always the way Ed asked if Oswald wanted something. He was careful to phrase it like a convenience, aware that it sounded like he was doing a chore rather than doing Oswald a favor. Usually, he didn’t mind it; surely Ed was entitled to behave that way, especially if Oswald had confessed his love to him before. But today, after his one-sided conversation with Jim Gordon, it grated.

“No,” he snapped.

“I take it your talk with Gordon went well,” Ed replied, the burner in the kitchen clicking before it lit.

“Smugness is wildly unattractive, Edward,” Oswald replied stiffly. He turned his leg as much as he could, hoping the warmth of the fire would spread over the rest of the limb. The warmth was there, but the pain would not abate.

“Oswald,” Ed was leaning against the door now, his face less self-gratified and more serious. “I hope you know that I am just trying to help you. Your deference to Jim Gordon –”

“As someone who enjoyed that deference once, I’m sure you have plenty of insights,” Oswald interrupted. “Hopefully Jim doesn’t try to end our favors by shooting me and dumping me in the river.”

Ed pursed his lips into a thin line and nodded. “I see that you will not be reasoned with today,” he muttered, turning away from Oswald and back into the kitchen.

At least there would be silence now, Oswald thought bitterly. He wondered, as he stared into the fireplace, willing it to take away some of the pain in his leg, why his attentions kept returning to Jim Gordon. His feelings for Ed had been, at the time, far deeper and more profound, and yet he had broken that connection fairly easily.

And here he was, still pining over Jim Gordon; here he was, going out of his way to do him favors, to make sure he stayed safe, to make sure he stayed alive. How often had he utilized so much effort in taking care of one person? Never, with the sole exception of his mother.

He pondered on the depth of his feelings for Jim Gordon for the rest of the afternoon, content to stare into the fireplace in silence, watching the afternoon fade into evening out of the corner of his eye. At least it was warm here, he thought, though the comfort he usually found was gone.

Night had almost settled in when Oswald heard an authoritative knock on the door. Immediately, he knew who it was.

“Jim Gordon to see you, boss,” Butch said, Jim following him in from the foyer.

“Thank you, Butch,” Oswald dismissed him with a wave of his hand. He listened to the man’s heavy, graceless footfalls as they diminished up the stairs and down the hall. “James. What can I do for you?”

“Actually, I came here to see what I could do for you,” Jim said, taking the seat closest to Oswald, though admittedly with a considerable amount of distance from him. “You seemed troubled when we spoke earlier.”

Was he only here because Oswald had been acting strangely? Or was he here because he truly thought he and Oswald were friends? Irritation welled up in Oswald’s chest, but he suppressed it.

“Have you noticed that I am the one who always does favors for you?” Oswald muttered, his eyes still on the fireplace. “Never the other way around.”

“Oswald, I – oh. Good evening, Jimbo. Is there something we can do for you?” Ed was carrying his tea tray, empty and probably ready to be washed.

“Hey, Ed,” Jim addressed him blithely.

“Riddler,” the man corrected.

“Sure,” Jim shrugged.

“Oswald, Olga says you didn’t eat dinner. Would you like for me to call her to get you something to eat?” Ed sneered in the direction of Jim, but his gaze on Oswald was kind. “You’ve been sitting there all day.”

“You’ve been sitting here all day?” Jim asked, incredulous.

“I’m not hungry, Ed,” Oswald snapped.

“Oswald, you should eat,” Jim scolded lightly.

“Oh really? Does that advice count as a favor?” Oswald ground out through his teeth, still mercifully staring at the fire. From the doorway to the kitchen, he could hear a sniff of laughter from Ed. Well, at least someone was enjoying this.

“Do you want to know why I’ve never asked you if you needed help?” Jim asked, his voice just a tad impatient. “Why I never asked you if you needed to call in your favor?”

Oswald sniffed. “Why?”

“Because you always seemed like you knew exactly what you were doing,” Jim shrugged. “You’re always three steps ahead of everyone else, you always have a plan. I feel like if I try to help, I’m just going to muck it up.”

“Three steps ahead of everyone, huh?” Oswald murmured.

Jim chuckled. “You’re out here playing chess while everyone else is playing checkers.”

“But not you.”

Jim frowned. “What does that mean?” he asked.

“It means that I’m not the only one who’s playing people out there,” Oswald said coldly. “Why do you come to me for favors? Why not Tabitha, or Selina? Why me?”

For the first time, he watched Jim Gordon falter. “I – I, well, because you’re the King of Gotham.”

“Oh please, Jim,” Oswald laughed. “There is no King of Gotham. Not anymore. But still, you come to me.”

“We’re friends –”

“But you don’t treat me like a friend, do you?” Oswald pointed out, turning toward the detective, grimacing at the pain that rocketed through his leg. “Don’t you think it’s a little obvious that you come to me because you know that I would do anything for you?”

Jim didn’t speak, but let his gaze drop to his lap.

“Of course,” Oswald muttered. “I might be three steps ahead of everyone else in Gotham, but you’ll always be a few steps ahead of me, James.” He turned back toward the fire, hissing as his leg protested at the movement.

“Are you okay?” Jim’s voice was tentative, soft.

“Don’t act like you care,” Oswald sniffed.

“Oswald, I do care,” Jim said firmly. “I’m not particularly good at showing it, but I do care.” There was a long bout of silence, where Oswald could feel him struggling to find what to say next. “Is it your leg that hurts?”

“It’s just the cold,” Oswald waved him off. “It’s not important.”

“Here,” Jim stood and kneeled beside Oswald’s chair. “Give me your leg.”

Oswald felt his face flush pink. “Absolutely not.

“Oswald,” Jim replied sternly. “Trust me.”

With an aggrieved groan, Oswald shifted in his chair and lifted his leg, dropping his foot on the top of Jim’s thigh when prompted. Jim rubbed his hands together to warm them, and rested them very gently on Oswald’s ankle, over his pants, testing. Oswald didn’t dare move; he watched as Jim considered his position, considered his hands, Oswald’s pants, and the proximity to the fire. He watched with bated breath as Jim reclaimed his hands, rubbed them together again, and gently tucked them underneath Oswald’s pant leg onto his bare skin beneath.

Jim,” Oswald’s voice was breathless, full of warning.

In response, Jim’s eyes left Oswald’s leg and met his own, lit by the fire. Oswald wasn’t sure what he found there, but it stunned him into silence. Jim’s hands very gently squeezed the muscle of Oswald’s calf, just enough that Oswald could feel the pressure, nowhere near enough to hurt.

“For a while last year,” Jim’s voice was so quiet, Oswald almost couldn’t hear it over the crackling of the fire, “you went off the grid. Just a few months, nothing that would usually trouble the GCPD, especially when dealing with a crime boss. You guys go off the grid all the time.” He sighed, his hands moving just a little higher on Oswald’s calf, pausing when he heard Oswald’s breath all but stop.

“But I knew something was wrong. I couldn’t explain how I knew, but I felt it, deep in my bones, as sure as I’ve ever felt anything. I tried to explain it to Bullock, but he didn’t understand. He said I was just crazy; but I wasn’t. I knew I wasn’t.”

His hands stopped their ministrations on Oswald’s leg and just rested on the skin, warm and strong. Oswald had been watching him work, content that he couldn’t see Jim’s face, because if he didn’t look at him, he wouldn’t feel the heat in his cheeks. He could detach himself. But something pulled his gaze to Jim’s, and the man was staring up at him like a lost child, like he had felt pain like no other.

“And then Ed started leaving riddles around Gotham, looking for a mentor. And when Lucius Fox outsmarted him, Ed admitted to killing you, to dumping your body in the river.” Jim’s eyes left Oswald’s and focused on something far away. “I wasn’t allowed to be a part of that investigation,” he admitted. “Bullock was afraid I would kill him.”

“For being an inaccurate fool?” Oswald asked, trying for humor.

“Because he hurt you,” Jim said firmly. “I knew, when you were running for mayor, that you loved him.”

“Jim –”

“And I knew, with a certainty I’d never felt before, that it was that love that made him kill you,” Jim’s hands tightened for just a moment on Oswald’s leg before they went limp. “But then you were alive, and safe, and I realized that I couldn’t be close to you anymore. I couldn’t worry for you like I had been. It was going to destroy me when something truly happened to you.”

There was something he wasn’t saying, something on the edge of the story he’d told, that made Oswald stay silent, if only so the silence would prompt him to keep speaking.

“So I picked fights with you, I provoked you in public. I hoped that if I was mean enough, if I was cold enough, you and I could finally go our separate ways.”

It wasn’t what he was holding back, but it was enough that it prompted Oswald to speak. “Is that what you really want?” he asked.

“I am a selfish man, Oswald,” Jim replied without answering the question. “I knew that I couldn’t have this job, couldn’t do what needed to be done, and have love at the same time. But still, I had Barbara, I had Lee, Vale, Sofia. And I lost them.”

His hands started their work again on Oswald’s leg, soothing and slow, the trace of his fingers tantalizing. Oswald felt his eyes flutter closed as Jim’s hands slid further up his leg to his knee.

“It took Ed’s confession to killing you for me to feel the same terror, the same unshakable rage for you that I felt for Lee when she was in danger,” Jim said, so quietly Oswald almost missed it. “I realized, when I thought you were dead, that I had loved you for as long as I could remember. A possessive, needy love that I brushed off as simply chemistry. We had chemistry, that was all.”

“I – I don’t understand –”

“We have,” he pressed his thumb gently onto the muscle of Oswald’s calf, just enough pressure that he gasped, “tension, you and I, but we have more than that.” He released the pressure on his leg and let his hand just brush the skin, delicate and sweet. “We have affection, we understand each other.”

“Jim –” Oswald’s voice was barely a breath. “I don’t mean to diminish what you’re saying, but I would be far better at listening if you weren’t touching me right now.”

Jim’s laugh was soft, almost reverent, but his hands didn’t move. “If there’s always one thing I admired about you, Oswald, it was your ability to focus.”

“Come now, James, don’t tease,” he replied, and the use of his full name spurred Jim into releasing Oswald’s leg and slipping his hands free. “I have a favor to ask of you.” He reached for him, not caring what exactly his hand landed on, and managed to find the back of his neck. Jim, still kneeling, was pulled forward, between Oswald’s legs, his eyes finally on Oswald’s own.

Their first kiss was simple – soft and reverent, a brief moment that was far too gentle. Their second was breathless, firm and commanding and just a little rough. Oswald pulled away first, his other hand running through Jim’s hair.

“How I’ve always wanted to ruffle Jim Gordon’s pretty little feathers,” he murmured. Jim smiled, leaning close enough that his lips were almost on Oswald’s again.

”Then why don’t you?”