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This Flightless Feeling

Chapter Text

It arrives on a Tuesday, the emerald parchment smooth and elegant beneath Oswald’s fingers. There are royal purple accents along the folds, only noticeable when he flips the envelope slowly back and forth beneath his desk lamp. He allows himself a moment, a brief inhalation, before he finds his letter opener and takes it to the flawless top edge. The invitation itself is a fine, cream-colored cardstock set beneath royal purple cursive.

The front reads:

A Declaration of Love,

The Beginning of a Journey,

With Vows and a Ceremony.

What Am I?

 

When Oswald flips it over to read the back, his jaw clenches.

 

You and a guest are cordially invited to

Witness the marriage between

Edward Nygma and Leslie Thompkins.

 

He doesn’t bother to read the rest; doesn’t need to know the when or where because he will not be attending. His schedule is already overwhelmed by fashion week, taking place in just a few weeks at the Giordano Botanical Gardens. The show is set to put Gotham back on the map for culture and enterprise after five long years of being ignored by the rest of the nation. Written off as a lost cause among the general, law-abiding public let alone any outsiders of greater means and influence.

Oswald follows the gossip column of the Daily Planet rather closely, and it’s rumored that the young playboy, Lex Luthor, plans to be in attendance. His own sources report the man is interested in viewing a few local real estate options while he’s in town. He doubts the validity of either report, but preparation is key. Oswald is determined to be at the ready, come what may, whether it’s trouble or opportunity. There just isn’t time for anything as frivolous as a wedding.

Besides, Oswald hasn’t anything to wear which is just another item on his already lengthy to-do list. Calmly, he replaces the invitation inside its envelope, then pulls out the top drawer of his desk and slips it beneath his calendar. Out of sight, out of mind. He pours himself a glass of Chardonnay and takes a long sip. His eyes wander a moment until they alight upon his own reflection, caught in a decorative mirror hung just so on an adjacent wall. He turns abruptly from the sight, spilling his drink slightly.

He’s nothing to wear, because nothing fits. Of course, he’s already set appointments with his tailor, but there’s no fabric in existence capable of slimming the soft flesh behind his chin. He places the palm of his hand beneath it, pulls the skin taut to flatten it before sliding his palm down his neck, until his hand rests against his collar. These years of isolation, a hardship to those less accustomed to navigating chaos, have been good to him by compare, and…it shows.

There was once a time when a few extra pounds were a symbol of beauty the world over. It was an indication of wealth and status but, more, a telling sign of good health. In an age where famine and starvation were common, thin bodies were considered sickly. It feels as though, in many ways, Oswald was born in the wrong time—too late to be a robber baron, to be seen as beautiful or be revered in the way that is intrinsic to a man of his nature.

Instead, Oswald spends most of his time delegating tasks to facelessly maintain his many endeavors within the city. He isn’t…it isn’t hiding—the Penguin hides from no man. Oswald just prefers to plan his public appearances carefully, present himself as a commodity to the press rather than a beggar for their attention. Since the collapse of the bridges and their slow rebuilding, Oswald has cultivated a reputation as a rehabilitated knight of the people.

This is a valuable perception, one that he maintains with layers of distance between himself and his most profitable businesses. It’s therefore only natural that he makes public appearances only when he can spin it to this end; such as playing host to fashion week, and his cooperation with the GCPD to apprehend the city’s more destructive rogues. He is now part of the face of a city reborn, which is very lucrative indeed—if not all that flattering when the camera adds ten pounds.

Still, it isn’t hiding. He isn’t a recluse, and he certainly would attend this wedding of his long-time, if often insufferable…acquaintances, if only there were time. Which there isn’t, so it doesn’t matter. Oswald finishes his drink with a flourish, then pours himself another.

He truly hopes Edward and Lee are very happy together. Frankly, he can’t think of another two people who deserve each other more.

--

Fashion week comes and goes with nary a complication, his rivals knowing all too well the danger of disrupting his plans. Luthor doesn’t show, but his publicist does. He invites Oswald to visit LexCorp in the coming months to discuss the potential of an unspecified future venture. He accepts the glossy black business card, carries it in his wallet like a chance card from Monopoly. Outside partnerships offer less control, but the lure of its opportunity is tempting. Metropolis is fertile land with a booming economy, both above ground and below. Still, the Luthor reputation is not to be taken lightly.

He’s running his thumb over the glossy face of Lex’s card when the doors to his office are unceremoniously thrown open. His secretary, looking harried and flushed, follows behind a stone-faced Captain Gordon. She turns to Oswald, apologetic and fearful. He can sympathize with her position all too well.

“I tried to stop him, Boss,” Gloria fretfully explains. “He pushed right past me.”

At this, he fixes Jim with a frown. “I believe you owe Miss Tyson an apology, James. Wherever the fire is, it’s no excuse to harass my innocent employees.”

“I didn’t actually push her,” Jim argues grumpily.

Oswald clicks his tongue, eyes his receptionist who sniffs and straightens her shoulders under his assessing gaze. “We’re waiting,” he says, straightening his own tie as he tucks the business card into his top drawer.

Jim huffs exasperatedly, before turning to Gloria. “My apologies for ignoring you,” he flatly states.

Gloria tosses a glance towards Oswald, waits for his nod, then clears her throat. “The boss will see you now, Captain Gordon.”

“Thank you,” Jim replies from behind a smile full of clenched teeth.

Gloria closes the door on her way out, and Oswald motions for Jim to take a seat. “I know the past few years have been hard on you, Jim, but we mustn’t forget the importance of manners in a civilized society.”

“Is it true?” Jim asks, rudely dismissive.

“As loquacious as ever, I see.” Oswald huffs an exhausted sigh, propping his elbow on the desk so he can rest his chin in his hand. “I’m afraid you’re going to have to be more specific.”    

“I had an interesting exchange with your old friend, Nygma, this morning,” Jim tells him. “Apparently, he’s getting married next week. To Lee. At the Metropolis Institute of Arts?”

“How prosaically jealous of you.” Oswald rolls his eyes. “Still carrying a torch for that dreadful woman? At least Barb had style.”

“Dumb doesn’t suit you,” Jim accuses. “You know damned good and well this wedding is a cover for something. What are they after—you’ve spent enough time up Nyma’s ass, you must know something.”

Oswald bristles. “Go to hell, Jim.”

He knows he can’t force Jim to leave, his leg has only worsened over the years, but that doesn’t mean he can’t abandon the man to annoy the furniture in his imminent absence. Of course, Jim is relentless. He sees Oswald’s intent and catches him up as he rounds the desk. Jim corrals him against the edge, a hair’s breadth between them but even so, Oswald refuses to meet his gaze. Steels his jaw, watches Jim from the corner of his eye only.

He expects Jim to bombard him with a stream of outlandish accusations, demand to know what Oswald’s role in whatever scheme Ed and Lee are planning. Undoubtedly, Jim is correct about that at least. Married at a museum, those two? Please. Still, it doesn’t have anything to do with Oswald, and he’ll make that very clear once Jim is done with whatever righteous soliloquy he’s prepared.

It never comes.

Instead, there’s a gentle hand around his elbow. “I’m sorry,” Jim says quietly. “That was out of line.”

Oswald hates him.

He can handle Jim’s anger, the callous way in which he usually regards him, but it’s this…this mercy. His kindness. Never expected, so rarely given these days, that it never fails to lance through his defenses. Oswald strangles the shadow of that long-dead, quiet nameless hope. He blows it all out with a weary sigh.

“What do you want, Jim?” he asks succintly, forcing himself to meet the eyes of this impossible man.

“Did you know?”

“I received an invitation,” Oswald confirms.

“And you didn’t think the venue was a little odd?” Jim presses.

“I didn’t read it,” He confesses, rolling his eyes. “Not beyond that ridiculous riddle, at any rate.”

“Oh.” Jim blinks. “You’re not going?”

“No.”

Jim rubs his chin, takes a step back, much to Oswald’s relief. He looks so defeated, and it’s no secret that Jim’s been trying to catch Ed for years. Ever since the subway incident. Oswald hates himself, even has he retakes his seat and retrieves the envelope from its hiding place beneath his planner.

“Do you want to see it?” he offers.

Jim regards him with solemn surprise before stepping forward to gently accept it. He raises a brow at the envelope, as if discerning some clue from its fancy embellishments before pulling the invite free and carefully skimming its details. His brow furrows, tongue pushing against the inside of his cheek. When his gaze returns to Oswald, there’s a dangerous glint behind it.

“Sounds like a fancy affair,” Jim informs, his voice carefully devoid of any inflection. “An all-expenses paid, week long retreat in the heart of Metropolis.”

Oswald hums apathetically as he pours himself a finger of scotch and takes a sip. He hid that blasted invite for good reason—he doesn’t want to know what it says! He has no desire whatsoever to sit alone in his office and think about ‘what could have been,’ eating himself alive with regret and jealousy and all the horrible feelings he’s spent years locking away. Of course, it’s ridiculous to feel so envious—he hasn’t actively thought of Ed in that way in several years, it’s just…

Well, there’s no one else, is there? Ed’s the closest he’s ever come to love. All for naught, and for the best. It’s safer this way, besides. At least, that’s what Oswald tells himself as he takes another swig of his drink.

Jim chooses that moment to add, “For you…and a guest.”

He’s halfway through rolling his eyes again when Jim’s meaning dawns. Oswald starts violently, spits his drink across his desk, helplessly choking. Jim pats him on the back ineffectually, reaches over and grabs some tissues from the box on his desk.

“Easy,” Jim says and, surely, he must know it’s anything but.

“You can’t possibly be serious,” Oswald chastises the moment he’s collected himself. He hastily works to wipe up the misted drops of liquor painting the surface of his desk. Anything to avoid looking Jim in the eye at present. “No one would buy it—not in a million years!”

In his peripheral, he sees Jim stubbornly cross his arms. “I can be convincing.”

Oswald snorts.

“It’s not that unbelievable,” he doggedly argues, finally picking up on the correct thread leans himself against Oswald’s desk. His gaze is unwavering. Oswald finds himself combatively staring back to meet it.  

“Alright let’s, for a moment, put aside our volatile past,” Oswald allows. “You aren’t gay.”

“No,” Jim agrees, far too casually, as he shrugs. “I’m bisexual.”

Oswald blinks, mind flatlining for a moment. “What.”

“I said, I’m—”

“I heard you,” Oswald snaps. “I just…how did I not know this about you?”

Jim chuckles. “It’s not in my file, huh?”

He feels his own eyes widen. No one is supposed to know about the files. “Whatever,” he deflects. “My point stands. You could have anyone. Do you honestly expect people to believe I’d be anywhere on that list?”

Jim tisks. “What the hell happened to you, Oswald?” He leans into his space. “You’ve never shied away from a challenge in your life, especially when it involved someone snubbing you.”

“I fail to see how Edward marrying his on again, off again hussy is a personal slight to myself,” Oswald is quick to rebuff.

Jim fixes him with a bland stare. “Come on. They’re planning something, and the fact that you don’t know what it is; that Ed didn’t ask you join on the take? That doesn’t feel like a snub to you?”

Point, Detective Gordon. Bastard.

Oswald sucks his teeth. “As a hypothetical,” he hedges, “let’s say I allowed you to tag along as my…date. What exactly would we tell people?”

Jim sighs. “I don’t know—”

“Uh-huh, I see—”

“We have three days to figure something out,” Jim persists. “You’re telling me the once and future King of Gotham can’t spin a tale about our illicit affair?”

“I’m beyond the point of caving to cheap flattery, Jim,” Oswald intones.

“I’m running for commissioner in another year, uncontested so far,” Jim tells him then. “I’d owe you a personal favor.”

Oswald purses his lips, rubs his chin thoughtfully. “This sounds hauntingly familiar.”

Jim sniggers, eyeing Oswald with something oddly close to fond. It’s…unsettling. “Come on,” he cajoles. “Don’t you want to at least see the look on his face when we show up? Together.”

Oswald isn’t stupid. He knows the second Jim finally catches Edward, his focus will shift back to him, tracing every dead end until he finally finds one that leads directly to the ‘reformed’ Penguin.

On the other hand…

Oswald finds himself grinning despite his reservations, lips wobbling as he restrains the giddiness he feels as he pictures it: Ed, gob smacked and furious. It proves too great a temptation in the end, and he levels Jim with a genuine grin—the first in too long to recount.

“Who am I to stand in the way of justice?” Oswald asks facetiously. “Just don’t blame me when it all blows up in your face.”

A wide smile weaves its way onto Jim’s face, white teeth breaking up the ever-growing stubble of his untrimmed beard. It makes him look rascally, and far, far too attractive. It’s then that realization strikes, the nature of what he’s just agreed to do. He feels his pulse tick up a notch, a new clamminess crawling along his skin as he tries to picture it. He can’t.

Oh, God.

He glances at Jim, who’s busy tapping out a text. No doubt, he’s informing Bullock of his plans. Oswald takes advantage of his distraction, though he can’t precisely discern a reason for why he’s suddenly obsessed with the man’s lips. He’s seen how they kiss, used to…think about it much too often, but now the very thought terrifies him to the core.

Those lips are going to kiss his own. He swallows the growing lump in his throat, pushes his growing hysteria back into the locked vault he keeps all such unproductive emotions under chain and key. Slowly, the rush in his ears recedes, and his breaths come evenly as Jim flips his phone closed and makes to stand.

“I’ll drop by again tomorrow,” he says. “We can come up with a story and schedule our flights.”

Oswald shakes his head reflexively. Absently, he says, “I’ll have Gloria handle the logistics.”

“Right.” Jim places a hand on his shoulder then, sincere blue eyes entirely focused onto Oswald’s own. “Thank you. I promise I’ll make it worth your while.”

Oswald silently nods his acceptance, forces himself to keep his eyes from traveling…anywhere. He cringes inwardly at his own poor word choice even as his mouth shapes his reply. “I’ve no doubt that you will indeed, James Gordon.”

Chapter Text

“Your luggage?” Oswald’s secretary eyes him coolly as Jim approaches her desk.

“I—” Jim clears his throat, awkward as he remembers the ill-mannered way in which he’d treated her the day before. “Yeah. As ordered.”

Gloria rounds the desk, ignores Jim in favor of his rolling suitcase. She affixes a tag onto the handle, and Jim can just barely glimpse his own contact information in neat, blocky letters. He shifts his feet as he waits for her to finish. When she straightens, he gently reaches out but is careful not to actually touch.

“I’m, uh…” Gloria waits him out, expression blandly expectant, while Jim finds his footing. “I’m sorry for how I treated you yesterday. It—”

“No need to fuss,” Gloria asserts. “Boss told me you could be a little—how did he put it—ham-handed, at times.”

Jim frowns at the description, can picture the mean little smile Oswald dons when he’s being particularly haughty. Gloria seems to sense the direction of his thoughts, lays a consoling hand over his forearm. She glances around, checking that they’re truly alone before she leans in slightly.

“Oh, don’t take it so hard,” Gloria whispers. “Most of the time, after you visit, he can’t stop singing your praises.” She leans away then winks. “Makes sense, I guess, now I know you’re a bonafide couple an’ all.”   

He feels his face heat, isn’t sure which of her comments he finds more unnerving. He’s prevented from having to think about it when Gloria’s desk phone rings. She gives him a sympathetic smile before picking up the receiver.

“Yes, sir. Right on time,” she says, flipping through her planner. “Of course. I’ll send him in.” Gloria hangs up and waves a hand toward Oswald’s office. “He’s waiting for you, Captain Gordon. Oh! And don’t worry about your bags—they’ll be delivered to the airport ahead of your flight.”

“Right,” he mutters. “Thanks.”

Oswald isn’t behind his desk when Jim lets himself into his office. Instead, he’s sitting on the left side of his immaculate black leather couch along the far wall, his side leaned against the cushions, elbow propped over the arm. He graces Jim with one of his customary, polite smiles.

“Jim,” he greets, casually straightening up as he gestures for him to take a seat in the chair opposite the coffee table. “You seem much less churlish today. Looking forward to our week away?”

“Why does your secretary think we’re a couple?” Jim asks, ignoring Oswald’s direction and plopping down right beside him instead. His weight knocks Oswald’s comfortable sprawl akimbo, and he sighs frustratedly, as he adjusts to accommodate.

“She handles all of my itinerary, James,” Oswald says once he’s resettled, turning to Jim with a glare that could make Victor Fries shiver, but it’s more honest than his smiles at least. “I had to tell her something.”

“Which was…?”

“I told her you were my date to the wedding.” Oswald sighs. “She knows better than to ask questions, but I can’t keep her from jumping to conclusions.”

“No, you just ensure they’re the right ones,” Jim teases.

Oswald shrugs, unapologetic.

Silence settles between them for a moment. He can’t help but think back to Gloria’s comments, wonder what made it so easy for her to make such assumptions. Jim doesn’t drop by often, though it is with a certain degree of regularity.

Still, he wouldn’t describe their exchanges as particularly friendly—though nowhere near as antagonistic as they once were. Since taking strides to at least appear legitimate, Oswald works with the GCPD far more cooperatively than ever. Jim may know the inside of this office fairly well as a result, but the nature of its owner remains aloof. Jim can’t fathom what praises Oswald would deign to sing about him.

“Have you given any thought to our cover?” Oswald asks next.

Jim shrugs, grateful to think of something else. “I was thinking something along the lines of it being a recent development. I asked you out to dinner and you said yes?”

“No,” Oswald tells him, point blank.

Jim frowns. “Why not?”

“Honestly,” Oswald returns snidely. “Because, Jim, it doesn’t answer the question, ‘Why?’”

“Why, what?” He presses. “You’ve gone legit,” Jim explains, his tone disbelieving to his own ears, but he continues, “and we work together often enough.”

“Yes, but we can’t simply discount our history,” Oswald replies, more patiently this time. “Given what we’ve been through, there has to be a catalyst. Otherwise, it's too sudden.”

“That’s fair,” Jim agrees. “So, what’s your take on it then?”

Oswald’s lips twitch, as if tempted for the barest of moments to display a genuine feeling. “Like all the best jokes, a believable lie must contain an element of truth.”

“Trade secret?”

“Hardly.” Oswald snorts, sobers again quickly before he continues. “After Jeremiah took out the bridges, you came to me for help in apprehending Scarecrow.”

Jim’s brow furrows, as he considers it. “That long ago?”

“Change doesn’t happen overnight,” he replies. “But that’s where it started. Neither of us are fans of anarchy, and as we worked together to rebuild the city, we found a common ground.”

“And what, fell in love?” Jim asks, chortling slightly.

“Naturally.” Oswald bats his eyes dramatically. “It’s your influence, after all, that allowed me to see the error of my ways.”

“Sure you want to give me the credit for that?” Jim asks. “You worked really hard to renovate the fashion district.”

“You as the catalyst for my entirely legal business ventures is far more exciting than the reality,” Oswald admits. “No one wants to hear me drone on about economical politics and cost-benefit analysis.”

“I might, actually,” he confesses with a chuckle. He looks up just in time to catch something fond in Oswald’s gaze before its diverted to the manilla envelope on the coffee table.

Oswald leans over to pick it up and hold it out in offer. “Your plane tickets,” he says. “I should pick you up from your apartment so we arrive at the airport together. Ed has eyes all over the city, after all.”

Jim nods. “I appreciate…all of this, Oswald. I can reimburse you for the flight.”

“Consider it part of the favor,” he replies, using the arm rest to push himself to his feet. Jim conspicuously eyes the man’s bad knee, figures it’s gotten worse the last few years. Maybe it’s part of the reason he’s stepped away, at least seemingly, from the limelight of the underworld.

“Now,” Oswald says, causing Jim to jolt from his musings, “if that’s all, there are a few small preparations I need to finish before tomorrow.”

“Aren’t you forgetting something?” Jim asks, rubbing the back of his neck. He didn’t want to be the one to bring it up, but there are a few, finer details they need to cover. It’s clear, by the blank expression on Oswald’s face, that they’ve not even crossed his mind.

Oswald frowns, skeptical as he prompts, “Like…?”

Jim sighs before he climbs to his feet and crowds into Oswald’s space. He finds one of his hands with his own and tangles their fingers together. Then, slowly, he raises his other hand and rests it against Oswald’s hip.

“W—what are you doing?” Oswald asks, when Jim pulls his stiffened body closer.

“According to our story,” Jim reminds, “we’ve been seeing each other for just over a year, Oz.”

“Oz?” He parrots, incredulous.

“Honey, sweetheart, darling, p—”

“Call me pumpkin, and I swear to God, I will carve you like one,” Oswald threatens, heatedly.

Jim sniggers. “Whats wrong with pumpkin?” he teases.

Oswald pulls away, turns his back to Jim as he reaches for his cane, clearly unamused. “I don’t like it, that’s what.”

His misstep dawns on him then, watching Oswald draw himself up. He immediately feels like an ass. “I wasn’t…I didn’t mean—”

“Oz is acceptable,” He interjects, saving Jim from his fumbling apology. “Though I fail to see how any of this is necessary. How hard can it be, honestly.”

Jim crowds up behind him, slowly rests his hands over Oswald’s hips. “We have to get comfortable with one another,” he says, because it’s true. “If you flinch every time I touch you, tense up—”

“I’m not tense,” he denies.

“Really?” Jim asks, winding his arms all the way around Oswald’s middle. He nods toward a mirror, a stylish antique, that stands decoratively in a nearby corner. “I look like I’m hugging a statue.”

“Well, what do you expect?” Oswald questions rhetorically. “I wasn't prepared for this, i—it’s unnatural!”

“Is it the position?” He asks curiously. “Maybe if you turned around—”

“No, it is not the position, Jim!” Oswald snaps. “It’s you, and me, and—”

“Hey,” Jim soothes. “Calm down, alright? Just close your eyes and lean into it...”

Oswald remains unmoving for a handful of moments before he heaves a reluctant sigh. His body unwinds in stages, shoulders lowering, spine cracking as he leans slowly back.

“That’s it,” Jim says encouragingly, reaching down momentarily to find one of Oswald’s hands and wrap it up between his own. “Not so bad, right?”

“Still feels awkward.”

Jim hums. He doesn’t want to press the issue, definitely understands where Oswald is coming from, but it’s a crucial element to their deception. They’re going to be spending a week together under close scrutiny. He just wants to make this as comfortable for them both as possible.

Besides, Oswald may think it’s awkward—and it is—but it doesn’t feel unnatural at all. Jim enjoys the closeness, has always been very tactile. It’s not their typical dynamic, but Oswald isn’t a stranger, and they’ve dragged one another out of enough shitty situations that holding him isn’t altogether unfamiliar either.

“Been awhile, huh?” Jim asks when Oswald finally seems comfortable.

Oswald grunts.

“Yeah, me too,” Jim tries to commiserate. He’s been a little preoccupied the past few years, to say the least.

“Please,” Oswald derisively replies. “You’ve had more partners than I can count on all my fingers.”

Jim feels his face heat, recalls an instance a few years back where Harvey lovingly referred to him as the town bicycle. He’d been chagrined at the time but unbothered, so he isn’t sure why hearing it from Oswald makes him feel so uneasy—ashamed, rejected—but it does. Jim isn’t…he doesn’t mean to be easy.

“You’re right, this is…” He clears his throat, moves to step away.

“I’m sorry!” Oswald whirls around, face so stricken it stops Jim in his tracks. “I shouldn’t have…it’s none of my business.”

Jim shrugs, rubs his neck self-consciously. “I guess I don’t really have the greatest track record.”

“At least you have a track record,” Oswald asserts, then mumbles, “I barely have a footnote.”

“Wish I didn’t sometimes,” he admits, surprising himself. He doesn’t get personal very often, has suffered for it in the past. “It’s not all it’s cracked up to be.”

“I suppose that’s true for most things.” Oswald takes a deep breath, exhales it slowly before taking the few steps required to close most of the distance Jim put between them. “Let's try again.”

“You’re sure?” Jim asks, because he still looks so apprehensive.

It’s a little surreal seeing Oswald so openly unnerved, been years since Jim’s seen him exhibit an emotion other than apathy or fury. He’s witnessed the depths of the man’s feelings, knows he’s capable of other settings, but he supposes they’ve both learned the danger of indulging. It makes it easier, in some ways, to draw necessary lines, protect themselves from pains others might wreak.

Oswald inches forward then, drawing Jim’s full attention. He leans his cane against the side of the couch, removes his jacket and lays it over the arm. He then turns back to Jim expectantly, waits patiently while he follows suit.

“Clearly, I’ve been overthinking this,” Oswald admits, then opens his arms slightly, a silent invitation.

Jim chuckles softly, nodding as he raises his eyes to be met with a charmingly bashful gaze. Oswald’s cheeks, a bit fuller now than they used to be, are just slightly pink, his lips pressed into a nervous line masquerading as a smile. It reminds Jim of a time early on in their acquaintance when Oswald used to perk up at the sight of him, rather than draw himself away, bright eyes closed off and cold. Is it odd to be so relieved to catch a glimpse of something familiar there, lurking behind the façade?

It’s easier somehow, less clinical than before, to wrap his arms around Oswald’s waist, rest his chin against his temple. There’s only a moment of hesitance this time, before Oswald relaxes into the embrace, one arm winding around Jim's neck, while the other wraps around his bicep. He drops his forehead against Jim’s shoulder and quietly breathes, and it’s…

It’s nice.

Comfortable.

Oswald’s body is soft and warm against his own, his hold firm but not too clingy, ready to allow Jim to move away when he wishes. After a few long minutes, he slides his hands around to Oswald’s pleasantly wide hips. He can feel endorphins flooding his own body, that sleepy feeling rising to his limbs. He presses a kiss into gelled black hair, drags his nose along his temple. Oswald shudders against him, tensing slightly as his breaths go shallow.

“Relax,” Jim whispers, as if speaking to a small, injured animal that might scurry away any second. “You’re allowed to like it.”  

Oswald’s swallow is audible, his voice quietly unsure as he asks, “It’s not…weird?”

“Nah,” Jim shakes his head slightly. “Most natural thing in the world, sweetheart.”

He feels a hand slip upward along his shoulders, followed by a hesitant, “Can I…”

Jim isn’t certain what he’s after, but he runs his own hands up and down Oswald’s back in encouragement anyway. Nods as he says, “s’Okay.”

Slowly, fingers slide up along his neck and into his hair. He hears a soft inhalation, followed by an eager exploration of his scalp, until Oswald’s fingers are playing with the strands, as if testing their softness. Jim can’t stop the grin that pulls at his lips, because no one would dare describe Oswald as sweet, but that’s what this is—undeniably, achingly sweet. His touch is so innocently curious, enthusiastic and careful at once.

He really must not get many opportunities, Jim reasons. For a guy who owns more than one late-night entertainment venue, Oswald doesn’t get out much. At least, Jim’s not seen him just out and about in years for anything other than a press conference or other publicized event. He’s caught himself more than once, passing by this huge, newly renovated building Oswald calls home, wondering what he’s up to behind its closed doors.

Being lonely, it would seem.

Jim can’t explain the reason for it, but the thought makes him pull Oswald closer, and it’s nothing to duck his head a little lower and kiss his forehead. The fingers in his hair pause abruptly, and Jim hums. In for a penny, in for a pound, he thinks, bringing a hand to the side of Oswald’s face. Jim leans back slightly, flashes his eyebrows2 playfully at Oswald’s wide-eyed stare, then dips back in to kiss his parted lips.

Oswald is still against him, until Jim applies gentle suction to his slackened lower lip, tongue questing forward to just barely meet with another. The sound he makes then, the vibration of it against Jim’s lips, is a wounded, desperate thing. Jim has to plant his feet to keep them from barreling over at the force with which Oswald surges forth to meet him. Their teeth don’t clash, but it’s a near thing which Jim circumvents by gripping Oswald’s hair and holding him still.

He doesn’t pull away, though he wonders if perhaps he should; if maybe this isn’t taking things too far. Yet, Oswald clings to him now in a way he hadn’t been before, fingers buried in Jim’s hair, his other hand twisted in the fabric of Jim’s shirt and he…well. Why not? It’s just a little kissing, clearly something Oswald needs, and frankly, Jim does too. If they’re going to have to put on a show for the next week, they may as well enjoy it, right?  

Jim’s about to cross the line, already has one foot edging there on the cusp, when Oswald pulls away with a shudder. His hands unfurl from their respective death grips as he slowly steps away from the embrace, head ducked. Jim watches Oswald straighten his appearance, assessing the way he imagines a lion might stalk a deer and shakes himself.

The hell is he thinking?

“Well.” Oswald says, fingers pressing unconsciously against his lips before he catches himself and quickly pulls them away. “That was…”

“Convincing.” Jim says, dumbly, then coughs. “Er—”

“That, yes.”

Oswald is nodding, a touch of hysteria to his expression as the color on his cheeks goes from pink to rosacea before he turns to snatch Jim’s jacket from its resting place. He then presses it to Jim’s chest and hands him the envelope containing his plane tickets. Jim tries to catch his eyes, wants to somehow reassure him, though he isn’t certain of what.

“Ed won’t know what hit him,” Oswald says, his light-hearted tone ringing false, as he ushers Jim toward the door. “You should get home and get some rest. We have an early flight, after all, and you want to be…rested.”

Oswald opens the door, fairly pushes Jim through it before bidding him a hasty, “G’night, Jim!” and shutting it in his face.  

Jim stands there, blinking at the dark walnut for countless, silent moments. He hears a throat clear behind him and, sheepishly, he stuffs his hands in his pockets and turns to see Gloria. She wiggles her fingers at him, a cutesy approximation of a farewell, as Jim gives her a nod on his way into the elevator.

It isn’t until he’s closed himself inside of his car, engine turned over and hands wrapped around the wheel that it strikes him. He can still feel those fingers in his hair, quiet, shallow breaths breaking across his face, handfuls of soft pliant flesh as Jim held him still. He can taste expensive whiskey, though he hasn’t had a drop himself, remembers the greedy push of an unskilled tongue against his own, recalls the lethargy of wanting and the high that comes with being so wanted in turn, and Jim knows.

He’s in trouble.

Chapter Text

They arrive at the hotel where Ed and Lee are hosting their wedding guests just before noon. Oswald’s ankle is tired after hoofing it from one end of the airport to the other followed by the lengthy commute through what is a very bustling city. It’s been quite a while since Gotham played home to a similar population and he’d forgotten just how many people and cars could cram together within a limited radius.

“Here,” Jim says, offering his arm as they exit the taxi.

The offer gives him pause; it’s one of several courteous gestures Jim has bestowed this morning. He’d been standing on the curb with two coffees and a newspaper when Oswald had pulled up in front of his apartment. He’d been ready to politely decline, when Jim informed him that his cup actually contained hot chai. He doesn’t remember ever telling Jim about his dislike of coffee, wonders if he keeps files of his own apart from the GCPD.

Of course, that had set the tone for the rest of their early morning travel. At the airport, Jim handed over the business pages from his newspaper while they waited for the gate to open. He didn’t say a word when Oswald dozed off on the plane either, though it was Jim’s shoulder he accidentally used as a pillow. He even saved Oswald a bag of peanuts to eat on the ride over from the airport.

There’s a sharp whistle from a bellhop, flagging down a taxi for an older couple, that jolts Oswald from his brief reverie. He takes Jim’s hand, grateful for the assist despite his general discomfort with relying on anyone for any kind of support. Jim ducks back into the taxi to retrieve Oswald’s cane, casually hands it off before passing their driver a tip. Inconspicuously, he watches Jim chat the man up, trading jokes as their driver provides recommendations and tips for which areas of Downtown to avoid.

It’s always difficult not to get caught up in Jim’s effortless charm, though often made easier when the man is trying his best to be abrasive. Of course, it’s been a while since he’s had to bear the brunt of Jim’s ire. For the most part, Jim is more relaxed around him these days when he comes calling for information. Every so often, Oswald can even tease a quiet little grin from the hard line of his mouth. It’s nothing like the smile he wears now, however, or the surprisingly bright pitch of his laugh as their cabbie animatedly retells his adventures with drunken passengers.

“Ey! Move it, fat ass!”

Oswald feels his pulse kick, looks up reflexively toward the direction of the shout. Two lanes over, there’s an attractive, curvy black woman dressed in a cropped leather jacket, denim mini-skirt and pink furry Louis Vuitton pumps. Her hair is curled to perfection with platinum streaks running vibrantly throughout, and she flips the bird to a car full of crowing imbeciles. They’ve got their bumper about five inches form her knees, and she pats her backside provocatively.

“You fucking wish, you piece’a shit!” she taunts before taking up her bag and proudly sashaying into the hotel.

Slowly, his own hackles begin to lower, though his face is still warm with the rush of humiliation he’d felt in response to the initial shout. He’s always on alert in Gotham, always waiting for his adversaries to draw attention to his appearance. It’s low-hanging fruit after all, and therefore, he’s always ready to enact swift retribution either with a sharp tongue or a tightened purse. This isn’t Gotham, however, and he’d been caught off guard.

An arm lands across his shoulders and Oswald turns to see Jim’s face, mere inches from his own, as he asks, “The hell was that all about?”

Oswald clears his throat, shrugs noncommittally. “People.”

Jim snorts.

“Did our cabbie have any pearls of wisdom to impart, aside from how to remove vomit stains from upholstery?” he asks meanly as they enter the lobby.

To his surprise, Jim actually laughs, the sound of it bouncing off the marble walls of the entryway. The arm around his shoulders tightens, and Jim leans in to speak directly into Oswald’s ear.

“If I didn’t know where you came from,” he says, “I’d tell you to wrench that silver spoon outta your ass.”

Edwige doesn’t accept returns on flatware, I’m afraid,” Oswald haughtily returns.

Jim chortles, a wheezing hysterical thing, that he hides by resting his forehead against Oswald’s shoulder. He knows Jim’s lowered inhibitions, the blurred lines between personal space, his easy affection—they’re all conscious efforts to make them appear more authentic as a couple. Still, it feels like the most natural thing in the world to turn his head and press a kiss into the soft hair at the crown of Jim’s head. He catches himself quickly, passes it off as a playful gesture.

“You should get out of our fair city more often,” he says flippantly, ignoring Jim’s gaze as he takes a seat on one of the hotels artfully arranged leather chairs. “Vacationing clearly agrees with you.”  

A rueful smile slips over Jim’s lips then as he ducks his head. “Yeah, well. Last time some bad weather followed me home…”

Oswald hums. “Hurricane Sophia.”

“Yeah.” Jim sucks in a breath, blows it out with a heavy sigh. He turns his attention to the front desk. “Think they’ll let me pick up our keys?”

Grateful for the change of subject, and the space it will afford them both, Oswald nods. He reaches into his breast pocket and retrieves the invite and its reservations. Before he can finish handing them over, Jim bends down and steals a quick kiss before heading off toward the front desk. There isn’t a moment to ponder its meaning as a heavy weight drops unceremoniously onto the seat beside him.

“Oswald.” Ed’s tone is flat but for a subtle dark hint of perturb.

“Edward,” he greets pleasantly, turning away from his view of Jim at the counter to face his tenuous ally. “This is a lovely venue—”

“What are you doing here?” Edward demands.

“You invited me.” He arches an eyebrow, exasperated. “Hello.

Ed leans in, tone biting as he confesses, “I didn’t actually think you’d come!”

Oswald bristles. “Why invite me if you hoped I wouldn’t show?”

“I invited all of our mutual acquaintances!” Ed sniffs. “I was being polite. You still haven’t apologized for ripping me off!”

His jaw drops, air whooshing out in incredulity. “Ripping you off?” he repeats, incensed. “You were paid a more than fair sum for your contribution, less what you owed me in damages to my establishment—on opening night, I might add!” Finding an exact match for the destroyed section of marble on the main bar at the lounge had been murder, almost literally. “I have a reputation to maintain, Edward.”

“Fine!” Ed huffs, then narrows his eyes. “But perhaps you’d like to explain why you were accompanied to my wedding party by Jim Gordon.”

A smirk pulls at the corners of his own lips before he can control it. Not that it’s necessary; in fact, he feels quite like smirking indeed. Proudly he lifts his chin and declares, “Jim is my date.”

Edward blinks, the moments ticking by silently, before he throws his head back and guffaws. Oswald grimaces, the man’s laugh far too close to that of a braying jackass. Fitting, actually, since that’s precisely how he’s behaved since the start of their conversation. Oswald patiently waits him out, unflinching in the face of his clear skepticism.

Edward catches on, sobers. “Oh, you’re serious.” He clicks his tongue and rolls his eyes. “I knew you were desperate, but this is beneath even you, Oswald.”

He feels heat gather in the tips of his ears, but tightens his jaw and replies, “Excuse you.”

“I know he’s been ‘courting’ you,” Edward informs, “visiting you during office hours at least three times a week for the past few months.”

Oswald feels his eyes widen at that; brow furrowing as he attempts to cross check his own memory against Edward’s claims. Surely, it hasn’t been that frequent. Jim visits, but Oswald doesn’t keep track—they’re never planned and always for business—though Oswald will admit the man at the very least accepts a drink here and there upon occasion. As he’s worked to mold his reputation into something favorable for the public, working closely with Jim is nothing less than mandatory. That’s not to say it’s painful to spend time in Jim’s company, on the contrary, Oswald enjoys challenging the man’s political opinions, the few times their conversations have veered off-course, that is. Actually, come to think of it, their conversations don’t exactly veer so much as…

Well, it’s obvious Jim is exhausted. As much as there is between them, Oswald never could quite bring himself to hate the man. Besides, he understands all too well the stress of navigating their very unique situation in Gotham. So, it does happen, from time to time, that he’ll allow Jim to linger in his office. Share a drink. Perhaps, make idle conversation. Even so, it’s more akin to commiseration than the illicit picture Edward is trying to illustrate. Oswald isn’t going to correct him, however, as it’s all too convenient for he and Jim’s cover.

“I fail to see how that is any of your business,” he says instead.

“It becomes my business when he endeavors to use you in order to get to Lee,” Edward accuses. “Think about it, Oswald. He finds out that Lee and I are engaged, and then presto! Here he is, with his nose up your proverbial skirt. Why else would he be with you?”

His words smart, though not because Oswald isn’t fully aware that Edward is technically correct. Though his facts are wholly confused; Jim’s true purpose is to apprehend Edward, and he seems ambivalent towards Lee these days by compare. He’s never asked, it isn’t any of his business and, frankly, Oswald could care less. No, the hurt stems from the deeper truth of Edward’s sentiment, which isn’t really about Jim, but anyone. Why would anyone choose to be with Oswald?

He couldn’t rightly say. No one ever has.

“Unlike some people,” he finds himself replying, “Jim knows when to let go of a lost cause.”

“Funny, I remember when hubris was your least attractive feature.” Edward smiles cruelly, runs his eyes slowly up and down Oswald’s person.

It isn’t fair.

Ed’s gotten weedier over the years, but no less attractive. Meanwhile, Oswald is forty pounds heavier—at least, he mentally bemoans—with an ever-worsening limp. And really, the disgust he reads in Edward’s gaze is nothing he doesn’t see staring back at him from his own face whenever he looks in the mirror, but he thought they’d moved beyond the point of petty barbs. He recalls the time Edward mocked him before the denizens of the Narrows, treated him as little more than fodder for his own entertainment. They’ve never since been at such odds, and so Oswald feels his blatant distaste like a physical slap.

He doubts Edward realizes the depth of his strike, but this is no longer a game he’s willing to play. Calmly, Oswald takes up his cane and rises to his feet. Edward does the same, and it’s clear he intends to wring some sort of concession from this conversation. He’ll have to learn to live with disappointment.

“Jealousy does not become you, old friend,” Oswald says. His voice is saucy when he adds, “You’re an engaged man, Edward, and this ship has sailed.”

“More like a freight liner,” Edward sneers.

Oswald meets him with a sneer of his own, and a menacing step into Edward’s personal space. “Do me a favor, Edward,” he scornfully replies. “When your latent homosexuality finally catches up with you—lose my number.”

With that, Oswald turns toward the front desk with the intent of storming off only to be caught up short by a persistent hand around his elbow. Edward crowds into his space, expression contrite as he huffs.

“Oswald, I’m not trying to hurt your feelings,” he insists.

“I don’t have feelings,” Oswald vehemently denies.

Ed fixes him with a look that says they both know that’s a lie, but Oswald resolutely clenches his jaw and averts his eyes. Like Hell is he going to give anyone the satisfaction ever again.

Impatiently, he sighs. “Don’t you have other guests to bother, err—I mean—‘greet,’ Edward?” 

“No, actually,” he replies, then hastily adds, “You can’t trust him, Oswald.”

“Honestly, you’re beginning to bore me.” He yanks his arm from Ed’s grasp, only to have it caught by someone else from behind.

“Ed,” Jim greets, grip sliding down from Oswald’s elbow to capture his hand as he steps up behind his back. Tension bleeds out of him, grateful to have someone in his corner, circumstantial though it may be. He can’t actually see Jim’s face, but he can feel the iron in his stare when he asks, “Everything alright?”

Oswald sighs. The short answer is ‘no,’ but he sees the way Ed bristles at Jim’s tone, so he moves to diffuse. “Edward was just saying hello. I accepted his invitation less than expediently, and he was kind enough to enquire about our arrangements.”

Jim sniffs. “We’re all set,” he replies, a bit too terse to be considered amicable.

“Good to hear,” Ed returns flatly.

“Right. Well.” Oswald squeezes Jim’s hand and dips his head in Edward’s direction. “If you’ll excuse us, it’s been an eventful morning and I need to rest my leg.”

“There's a buffet on the other side of the lobby,” Edward says then, and Oswald stiffens in response, biting the inside of his lip rather than beat Ed to death with his cane.

“Contrary to what you might think,” he fairly spits, “I’m not always interested in stuffing my face, Edward!”

“Lunch!” Ed hysterically amends, as if it isn’t own fault Oswald has mistaken the context of his comment. “I—I just meant. It’s…it’s past lunch. Most people eat around this time, not—”

“You trying to make a statement?” Jim interrupts, has let go of Oswald’s hand and crossed the space between them, to seize Ed by the lapels.

“Jim,” Oswald frets, voice hushed but frantic, checking to make sure they aren’t being observed lest they get themselves tossed out of one of Metropolis’ premier hotels.

Jim turns to him, Ed still struggling against his grasp, and asks, “He say something to you?”

Oswald can’t name the emotion that washes through him in that moment, equal parts humiliation and thrill. His lips press into a thin line—he’d rather die than recount his uncomfortable conversation with Edward—and his eyes water, because no one’s ever stood up for him this way. And he knows it’s just a convenient excuse for Jim to rough Edward up a little, but it shakes something loose inside of him nonetheless.

He feels unsteady, but his words reflect none of it as he calmly replies, “There’s no need for violence, dear. I can handle myself, you know that.”

“Wonderful,” Ed interjects. “Now let me—”

Jim pulls Edward close, teeth grit as he says, “Congratulations on your upcoming wedding, Ed. Now piss off.” He releases Ed with a rough shove, stares him down as he skulks off toward the elevators.

Jim huffs as he watches Ed retreat, then turns to wrap an arm around Oswald’s waist and leads him toward the concierge. “Ignore him. Let’s get our bags and order some room service. I’m fuckin’ starving.”

--

“Typical,” Oswald laments not much later, as they wheel their luggage into their room—their very tiny, double bed-walk-in shower-budget room.

“Edward puts on a good show, but he is irredeemably cheap.”

Jim chortles, plopping down onto one of the doubles. “You wanna tell me what the hell that was all about earlier?”

“Not particularly, no.”

“Fair enough,” Jim allows. He sits up, braces his elbows on his knees and sighs. “This does feel a little... claustrophobic,” he admits, reaching forward to touch the dresser from where he sits at the foot of the bed. “Lived in worse though.”

Oswald hums, considering as he runs a finger along the curve of the room’s telephone receiver. Without giving it too much thought, he asks, “Jim, how comfortable would you be sharing a bed?”

Jim’s eyebrows climb up toward his hairline, and then he sniggers. “Wouldn’t that make us seem ungrateful?”

“Possibly.” Oswald purses his lips. “Rude, even.”

“I’m in.”

Oswald picks up the phone and dials the front desk. Twenty minutes and a finely negotiated fee later, he and Jim are stepping into their upgraded suite on the fortieth floor of Luthor Tower. Jim whistles as they cross the threshold.

“Holy hell!”

“Yes,” Oswald agrees, pleased with himself. “This is much better.”

Jim, again, goes straight for the California King on the other side of the sitting area. Oswald snorts as he watches him fall onto it, face down, arms spread wide. His head lands in the blankets, just shy of the mountain of pillows lining the headboard.

“You are a ridiculous man,” Oswald teases, flipping the switch in the bathroom and stepping in to observe its amenities.

It is easily the size of their entire former accommodations, happily abandoned twenty floors below them. The toilet sits behind a separate door, adjacent to the walk-in shower and perpendicular to the sink and counter. Just inside the door is a floating bamboo shelf and rack, filled with oversized, fluffy towels, assorted toiletries and two cashmere robes that hang temptingly.

Finally, across from the sink, on the far opposite end of the marble floor, is Oswald’s true motivation for the upgrade. It isn’t simply a jet powered bath, but a fully enclosed, oversize low-profile jacuzzi that stretches from one end of the room to the other. Clear water glistens like pearls over its black granite basin when Oswald activates the mechanism from the wall.

It’s built to accommodate up to four people, with ergonomic stone seating built in and a decorative faucet that creates a tiny waterfall to fill the tub. It’s most attractive feature, however, is the outer wall which is a floor to ceiling window that overlooks the city of Metropolis below.

“I found the menu!” Jim shouts from the other room. His voice draws closer as he adds, “I’m thinking steak and bake potat—whoa.”

Oswald smirks as Jim takes it in with the kind of awe born of a life spent among few comforts. “Trying to catch flies?” he teases, sniggering as Jim rubs a hand over his slackened jaw.

Jim gestures, hysterical, at the hot tub. “That thing is half the size of my apartment! I—” Jim flounders, shakes his head. “I don’t know what to say. It’s too much. Thank you doesn’t seem... you didn’t even want to come here—”

“I know this has always been a difficult concept for you to grasp, James, but it’s okay to derive a little joy from life, every once in a while!” Oswald exasperatedly exclaims. 

Jim’s shoulders slump. “You’re right. Sorry, I just…” he gestures to the room at large. “This place is incredible.”

Oswald hums his agreement. “Worth it though, am I right?”

“Yeah, it…” Jim chuckles, then outright cackles before he leans back against the counter, grinning like a loon. “Does this make you my sugar daddy?”

Oswald rolls his eyes but his heart stutters in his chest. He means to sound coy, teasing, but the words come out all too sincerely as he replies, “I certainly hope not. You’d be underselling yourself, Jim.”

There are high-class hookers that sell for less, and the implication of his words hit him like a brick to the temple. He ignores Jim’s nonplussed expression and makes his way back out into the main room. Jim follows, but stays quiet, and the silence is mostly comfortable between them as they go about unpacking their things. Oswald soon loses himself in the task, careful to check each of his suits for creases as he hangs them. Fortunately, whoever Gloria hired to handle their luggage did an excellent job. He retrieves his phone to shoot off a quick text directing her to save their details for future reference.

When he next looks up, it’s to see Jim idly tossing his underwear into a drawer while once again perusing the menu. Oswald quietly huffs, lips twitching as he shakes his head in silent dismay. Did no one ever teach this man how to fold? Even his undershirts are wrinkled, as if pulled from beneath a heavy pile of linen. In fact, he’d bet good money that’s exactly how Jim stores his clean laundry—dirty things in one pile, less smelly things in another, labeled: good enough.

Oswald quietly chuckles, earning himself a glance from Jim.

“What?” he asks.

“Nothing,” Oswald replies, holding his hands up diplomatically. He averts his eyes, only to have them land on Jim’s suits, frowns. “Where’s your tux?”

The vacant stare he receives is answer enough, but Jim emphasizes the point with a helpless, “Uh…”

“You didn’t bring one.”

“No.”

Oswald runs an exasperated hand over his face, draws in a lungful of air then expels it as a long-suffering sigh.

“I can get one while we’re here,” Jim suggests. “They’ve gotta have a Men’s Wearhouse around here somewhere.”

“Absolutely not,” Oswald protests on reflex.

“What’s wrong with Men’s Wearhouse?” Jim huffs, incredulous.

“Oh, I don’t know…let’s see—everything?” is Oswald’s easy rejoinder. He then begins to tick off a list of the many and varied ‘wrongs’ associated with the suits peddled by just such a retailer. “Their ‘designer’ suits are all ‘handcrafted’ in two hours—max—on a sewing machine, using the cheapest fabrics to hand. Polyester. Nylon. Which are both perfectly acceptable fabrics—for hospital scrubs and baby bibs.

“The underlining is glued—not sewn as is proper—glued. Which explains why you’re always so sweaty when I see you in public, by the way, because the glue doesn’t allow the fabric to breathe, which causes the wearer to overheat. Finally, the worst sin of all, they’re all staffed by inexperienced college students that don’t know the difference between hand basting and turkey basting.”

He’s out of breath by the time he finishes, Jim staring at him wide-eyed, and far too amused. Oswald straightens his shoulders and lifts his chin. “Besides, people will think I’m neglecting you if I show up in a bespoke suit while you’re dressed in some stiff, ungodly hundred-dollar monstrosity from a goddamned strip mall. I have standards, Jim.”

“You’re going to make me stand still for an hour and a half while some old guy gropes my balls and stabs me with a thousand tiny pins, aren’t you?”

Oswald huffs. “Don’t be dramatic,” he accuses, then adds, “And, yes. Yes, I am.”

--

Gloria finds them a reputable tailor, courtesy of a referral from Lex Luthor’s publicist. Oswald is a little embarrassed by her bold request on his behalf—a man’s personal tailor is typically as closely guarded as a magician’s secrets. More surprising still, Gloria claims Luthor’s publicist asked if there might be time for Oswald to sit down with the man himself, provided his schedule around the wedding allows.

Oswald isn’t sure he’s comfortable with the idea, given the unfamiliar territory and spontaneity of it all. He prefers to walk into these negotiations with all eyes open, and at least two exit strategies in place. It’s as much a formal greeting as it is a dare; the question being, is it simply a test of his mettle or an outright ambush? He can’t discern any obvious motivation for Luthor to place Oswald in his sights, but he’s currently far too distracted to give the matter the consideration it deserves.

They’d had a light lunch, promptly delivered to their room, before Oswald marched Jim to the taxi line outside the lobby with an address for Luthor’s tailor. Now, the man is up on the platform, arms spread out, in plain black boxer-briefs and a cotton tank as his measurements are taken. He’s practically naked, for God’s sake, and it suddenly occurs to him that he did not think this through.

It’s been years since he’s found himself so unnerved by Jim’s presence, his skin clammy, hands unsteady. He focuses his attention on the display of silk ties, pinching the ones that catch his eye between a thumb and forefinger to trace their intricate patterns. They can’t hold his attention for long, however, his eyes inevitably drawn back to some exposed part of Jim.

Like the soft-looking hair of his legs that emerges from the band of his socks in wiry disarray, becoming sparser the further it creeps up over his knees toward where skin meets underwear. Oswald’s face burns as he snatches his eyes away, unwilling to look any higher lest he fall prey to imagining the arrangement of Jim’s most intimate parts beneath that thin stretch of cotton. Still, his eyes can’t help but return, snatching glimpses like pieces to a forbidden puzzle. They flit back and forth between bared biceps and forearms, sculpted by hard-won, usable muscle; Furling hairs that crest above the collar of his shirt, the neat line of his beard along a proud neck, where Jim keeps it neatly trimmed. Oswald even finds his armpits appealing, and how pathetic is that? To want to bury his nose there and scent the man like some desperate animal.

It’s jarring, this resurfacing of long-suppressed attraction, but not unfamiliar. He’d only fostered it at the beginning of their acquaintance, learned to navigate it as they worked together, but soon recognized it for the pathetic, lost cause it was.

Is.

Oswald still holds no illusions regarding the likelihood of his affections being returned, though he can still feel the shadow of Jim’s quick kiss from hours ago if he focuses hard enough. They might be on better terms presently, and Jim apparently isn’t as straight as Oswald previously surmised, but the idea of him ever returning the slightest romantic sentiment, genuinely, is laughable. Affection comes naturally to Jim, it’s easy for him to assume this farce as such, while Oswald struggles with it from moment to moment. He resolves to be careful, moving forward. He doesn’t want to make Jim uncomfortable, undermine their cover or ruin the small gift of his lingering company back home, on those days he comes to Oswald for information.

Time seems to drag on as the tailor presents them with a selection of materials and colors, all while Oswald does his best to avoid gawking as Jim’s tuxedo takes shape. There isn’t time for a fully customized suit, but Luthor’s tailor keeps a selection of pre-mades, all tediously crafted following a similar pattern in a variety of colors with several personalization options. The fabric is top-of-the-line, breathable wool, and Oswald admires the deft stitching around the button holes and seams. They decide on black with a deep navy underlining and coordinating vest.

Once he’s being properly fitted, it’s almost more distracting than when he was half-naked.

“Ow, fuck!” Jim swears suddenly, and Oswald’s gaze darts back to the platform.

The tailor is absent—small mercies—but Jim’s face is pinched in discomfort. “What’s the matter?”

Jim’s voice is sheepish as he explains, “I tried to scratch my nose, and I think I just embedded a few pins in my neck.”

Oswald clicks his tongue, as he joins Jim on his perch. “Don’t be a baby.”

Jim grimaces, remains still but glares down his nose. “Shuddup.”

Sighing, he investigates the pins along Jim’s collar and hums when he finds the wayward pins. He is indeed being thoroughly jabbed, the surrounding skin scraped red and a little bloody. Fearing for the suit, Oswald withdraws his handkerchief.

“Hold still,” he advises, carefully tilting Jim’s jaw up and away before quickly retracting the pins to their rightful place along the collar. He presses his handkerchief against Jim’s neck, tucks it beneath the pinned jacket to save it from acquiring any unwanted stains.

“Better?” Oswald asks, reluctantly withdrawing his fingers from his unexpectedly soft beard.

Jim sighs, petulantly complains, “Nose still itches.”

Oswald rolls his eyes, reaches up to scratch the tip of Jim’s nose with his pointer finger. “Better?” he inquires with no small amount of condescention.

In answer, Jim bares his teeth and tries to bite his finger, surprising him into a high-pitched yelp. The bastard cackles at his expense while Oswald casts him a baleful glance, his face heating. He haughtily retreats back to the tie display.

“Behave yourself,” he playfully threatens, “or I might be tempted to show you the finer points of acupuncture.”

--

By the time they return to the hotel, with a promised delivery of Jim’s tux by Thursday, they’re both exhausted. He orders their dinner, room service again but it’s been made clear that neither of them are eager to go back out, while Jim opts for a quick shower. He reemerges, swaddled in one of the provided robes, at nearly the same moment as their food.

“You look cozy,” Oswald tells him as they settle at the dining table set up just inside their suite’s modest kitchenette.

Jim hums, rubbing his beard against the plush collar of the robe. “I feel cozy.”

“Cute,” he says blandly.

Jim winks playfully, then hoists the cover off his tray to reveal the steak and baked potato he’d been fantasizing about earlier. His face lights up at the sight, and Oswald feels a wave of satisfaction at having pleased him so thoroughly. It’s silly, of course, but he doesn’t see the harm in spoiling Jim—just a little—whenever he has an excuse to do so. It’s nothing he hasn’t been doing for years anyway—keeping the man’s favorite bourbon handy for his visits, the snack bowl on his desk supplied with fresh pretzels and peanut M&Ms, and unfettered access to the building. Does he really think Oswald just lets anyone walk on in?

It’s an effort not to outwardly rolls his eyes as he admits to himself, ‘Probably.’

Instead, Oswald lifts the cover of his own plate and sighs at the beautifully arranged grilled chicken breast skewers and roasted vegetables. It’s not filet mignon, but his stomach growls enthusiastically nonetheless. He’s making an effort to at least control his weight gain, slow it down even if he can’t reverse it entirely. His doctor suggested cutting out sugar and liquor or lowering the amount of red meat in his diet. Like hell is he giving up chocolate and champagne, so chicken and vegetables it is.

“You know…” Jim says, reading Oswald’s mind by reaching for the wine to pour them both a glass. “This is way more fun than I usually have on a case.”

“Give it time,” he sarcastically forewarns. “I snore.”

“Yeah?” Jim raises his glass. “I’m gassy.”

Oswald giggles, presses his mouth to the back of his fist to stifle it. Not one to be out done, he raises his own glass and presents a toast. “To strange bedfellows, then.”

Jim barks a laugh of his own, then repeats, “To strange bedfellows.”

Their dinner is finished before Oswald is ready to dismiss their conversation, which always seems to flow so much easier when they’re both a little warm from alcohol. Still, as is the usual with them, business comes first. Except, it would seem Oswald truly is on something of a holiday, isn’t he? With a cheeky pout, he abandons Jim to his case files and happily ensconces himself in the jacuzzi.

He really should have one installed at home. The clawfoot tub is elegant, and it reminds him of his mother, but as the joints of his injured leg worsen, the less practical climbing in and out of the tub becomes. Dear God, is he seriously forty? Oswald pushes the hateful thought from his mind as he lowers himself into the bubbling heat of the bath. He stretches out along the bench in front of the window, contented by the glow of the city lights below.

His lips creep into a slow smile, and suddenly he realizes how desperately he’s needed to get away; doesn’t know why it took Jim, of all people, to drag him here. Edward was predictably suspicious, lacking in tact as usual, but even so…

This is the happiest he’s felt in a long, long while.

Chapter Text

Jim wakes up slowly, eyes scrunching to block out the sun he knows waits on the other side. He isn’t ready to move, not quite hungover but close enough; it’s been a while since he got carried away with wine. They shouldn’t have opened that second bottle, but…Oswald had exited the bathroom in his fancy black silk pajamas, damp hair combed neatly to frame his face. He’d bustled around the room without his cane, limp far less pronounced, looking happier and more relaxed than Jim’s ever seen him.

It’d been difficult to focus on his leads—an extensive list of the museum’s latest and most valuable exhibit items, informant reports on Ed’s movements the past few months, and trying to make a connection—when presented with a side of Oswald he’s never seen before. It was just curious, is all, to see him smiling without purpose; humming as he folded and packed away his soiled clothing.

Jim’s are still haphazardly piled in a corner of the bathroom, he’s sure. If his untidiness bothered him, Oswald didn’t complain. Instead, he’d popped the cork on a fresh bottle of red and seated himself beside Jim on the sofa, glasses in hand.     

“Oh, uh…none for me, thank you,” Jim had tried to refrain only to be waylaid by Oswald flipping his file shut.

“You have seven whole days to figure out what Ed is up to,” he’d teased, then rolled his eyes. “If he’s up to anything at all. You know how those two are.”

Jim had hummed his agreement. Did he ever—impulsive and troublesome as a team, volatile when at odds. He thinks back on the time they’d all worked together as part of the GCPD, can’t make sense of how they all became so broken. Sometimes, he thinks that’s all they are—a collection of fractured people, just trying to make the best of it amidst the insidious whims of their city.

When he thought of it like that, more wine had sounded like a phenomenal idea. Less so now as he slowly cracks open an eye. The blinds are completely drawn, but the suite is so high up, the room can’t help but brighten along with the morning. He takes a deep, measured breath, trying to dislodge the heavy feeling in his chest. It’s then he hears a groan that perfectly sums up Jim’s own feelings. He looks down, toward the noise, to discover that the weight he feels in his chest, is actually on top of it—an inky-black, sleep-mussed head.

Oswald snuffles against him, sleepily burying his nose against the material of Jim’s shirt, arm tightening around his ribs, as he scooches closer. Jim chuckles, because adorable isn’t a word that should ever be associated with the Penguin of Gotham, and yet.

Of course, Oswald was already halfway to waking, and the small noise Jim makes is enough to rouse him the rest of the way. There’s a muffled sound of confusion, and then Oswald freezes entirely when he realizes his position.

Jim sighs, buries a hand in soft black hair—he’s never seen it without gel and he’s curious. Turnabout is fair play, after all. Besides, Oswald’s still pretty awkward with touch, despite their efforts to ease him into it.   

“Morning, Sunshine,” Jim greets casually, voice groggy to his own ears. “Relax,” he adds, when Oswald tenses further, “I can think of at least four positions that would be way more awkward to wake up in. This one’s not so bad though, is it?”

Oswald doesn’t respond immediately, but he doesn’t pull away and, after a short while, his spine slowly uncoils, body no longer poised to flinch away. The only indicator that Oswald hasn’t fallen back asleep is the way his fingers fidget with the hem of Jim’s shirt. It tickles a little, but it’s easy enough to ignore if the alternative is either of them moving. Sharing a bed isn’t a necessary component of their ruse, Ed having apparently booked every guest in a double to save money, but there’s a reason Jim hadn’t argued.

He’s always liked sharing a bed—during sleepovers when he was a kid, huddling close in sleeping bags in the Marines, or wrapped closely around a lover. It’s been a long time since he’s had the latter, and Oswald isn’t really his, but he’s warm and soft, and…well, Jim likes his company. This whole thing might be a farce, but he can’t deny that it’s nice to pretend, for a while, that he has someone. It could be worse, he could be stuck here with Harvey, and Jim wrinkles his nose at the thought. Much as Jim loves the guy, the idea of kissing him makes him shudder; the man’s too close to family.

That thought gives him pause as he looks down at his own fingers, combing through soft hair. Shouldn’t the thought of kissing this man, of all people, be even more appalling? Oswald’s list of crimes and misdeeds is long; their history…spotty. It would be easy to write him off as a murderer, cold and heartless, except that Jim isn’t one to lie to himself. Sometimes, he closes himself off from the reality of the truth, but it’s been a long time since stepping down from his high horse. The fact is, they’ve beaten and murdered men together, and every other item on Oswald’s list of transgressions pales in comparison to that.

Broken people, in a broken city. They’ll always make exceptions for each other, it’s just the way they are. In all the chaos, the noise and uncertainty, Jim knows that for the moments that really count, the matters that make or break them entirely, Oswald is on his side. Maybe that’s why it’s so easy, then, to lay here and hold each other. Because it’s convenient…

That thought doesn’t sit well with him—more, it’s just…nice. Good in a way that a lot of things between them haven’t been. Comfortable how it is when they’re sharing a drink in Oswald’s fortress of an office. Jim thinks back to that night a couple days ago; to that kiss. It makes something uncomfortable settle in his stomach because it should have been detached, perfunctory. Instead, he’d almost—

“Jim?” Oswald asks, breaking his train of thought. “Did you read today’s itinerary?”

He grimaces. “Unfortunately.”

Oswald giggles, and Jim can feel the shape of it against his hip. “Not a fan of the sport, I take it.”

“No, I love croquet,” he states drily, then snorts derisively. “It’s what country-clubbing assholes do when they aren’t busy bankrupting welfare and evading their taxes.”

“Spoken like a true man of the people,” Oswald teases. “Maybe you should run for mayor.”

“Fuck off,” Jim replies, without heat. Quieter, he adds, “Although…”

Oswald tilts his head up at him then, chin resting on his ribs—all curious, wide blue eyes, when Jim doesn’t finish the thought. “You were saying?” he prompts.

He licks his lips. He hasn’t told anyone his plans, but it isn’t like he’ll be able to keep it a secret once he submits his bid for the position. “I’m thinking about running for Commissioner next year.”

Oswald’s eyebrows raise toward his hairline before they furrow. “Just thinking about?” he questions.

Jim shrugs, averts his eyes, suddenly inexplicably nervous about what Oswald’s opinion might be. There’s a reason he hasn’t told anyone, knows he’s not always lived up to his own ideals. It feels arrogant, running for an office on the platform of change when things have gotten so much worse on his watch already. It’s just…there’s been a lot of instances where he’s thought that with a little more say, he could have been more effective in preventing certain scenarios. Maybe not all of them, but some. Enough to make a difference.

“You should do it,” Oswald tells him, and Jim’s eyes dart back to see that he’s sincere. “The people would support you and, well, I don’t think endorsing you publicly would earn you any favors, but you’d have my vote too.”

“You sure about that?” Jim teases. “I won’t go easy on you.”

Oswald graces him with one of those cheeky little smirks, raising up onto his elbow so he can press his free hand to his chest in startled offense. “I am a reformed man, Jim.”

He licks his teeth. “Uh-huh.”

It’s barely a twitch, but the corners of Oswald’s mouth tremble, as if he desperately wants to laugh at his own absurd claims. Granted, he’s gotten subtler over the years, managed to distance himself from his former reputation, but they both know better. The only reason Jim doesn’t actively pursue him is that he knows what’s in line to usurp the man if he does. Like hell does he want someone like Ed or, worse, Joker calling the shots in the underworld. The people of Gotham don’t need to find themselves caught in the crosshairs of another turf war.

Oswald rolls onto his back, and Jim is jolted from his musings by the sudden absence of his warmth. He looks over to see him sat up, massaging circles around his knee. The urge to reach out and help is strong, but Jim pushes it down. It’s difficult to know, right now, where the lines are. They never really put them in place, and as much as touching is necessary, Jim hadn’t expected the wanting that came along with the having.

There’s always been some kind pull there, a sort of unacknowledgeable attraction. Jim remembers when they’d first met, looking down at a beaten little thug and wanting desperately to save him. Not that he ever needed it, the little shit. Now, Jim looks at him and sees the ally Oswald always claimed to be even when he was playing them all like a fiddle. He’s railed against it for a long time, this kinship they have and now…

Well, it’s never come up. The boundaries thing. Jim waltzes into Oswald’s fortress like he’s entitled, and he never gets thrown out even when he’s spoiling for a fight. If he tried that maneuver with anyone else—Barb, Joker, the Narrows—he’d be carried back out on a gurney. Hell, he’s seen men dragged across Oswald’s foyer and dumped into the elevator just as he was stepping out of it. He’s never given it much thought, not really. Just chalked it up to one more exception they make for each other, but this thing they’re doing?

It’s supposed to be difficult, uncomfortable. They’ve garnered a certain mutual rapport over the years, but they don’t eat dinner together. Oswald doesn’t try to give Jim gifts anymore or persuade him to attend events at his venues. They don’t go chasing one another through the streets either, mostly because Jim knows where to find the man when it’s necessary.

Which is a lot.

Now that he thinks about it, it’s possible he seeks Oswald out even when it isn’t necessary. Jim shakes his head, because yeah, he can source leads on his own but going to Oswald is faster and, frankly, far more enjoyable. They don’t hang out, per se, but…

Shit.

They hang out. A lot.

Huh.

“Hey, Oz?” he starts, nickname rolling off his tongue, and it—well, it’s easy. It fits. Jim wants it to fit. It’s a bit of a revelation, though maybe it shouldn’t be. “Are we…”

Jim clears his throat as Oswald glances at Jim over his shoulder, gaze expectant. He presses, “Are we…what?”

“Are we friends?”

Oswald’s face slackens, his eyes widening before he looks away, shoulders hunching up slightly. His tone is carefully pitched neutral, but his words sound as if they’re dragged out of him, slow and hesitant. Like it’s a question he is certain he doesn’t want the answer to:

“Do you want us to be?”

Jim swallows, something hurt in his chest as he watches Oswald’s shrinking posture, head bowed to hide his face. He’s afraid—Afraid of Jim’s answer, and that’s...

Christ.

“Well…yeah.” He responds gently, repeats more firmly. “Yeah, I do. Pretty sure we have been for a while, actually.”

“Oh.” Oswald finally looks at him, mouth slightly open, eyes wide with something like wonder. He then presses his lips together into a smug little smile and sniffs. “Always knew you’d come around eventually, Detective.”

Jim grins, then reaches for him, offers his hand like he has countless times in the past. Except, this time, there’s no posturing when Oswald slowly takes it.

Croquet is set for eleven in a large, courtyard park behind the hotel in between the U of its towers. It’s there that they meet the other invited guests, all dressed in white slacks and skirts with matching polo shirts. Jim sighs, figures he now understands the odd side-eye he’d gotten up in the room. He’d just thought Oswald was dressing in his typical eccentric flare but turns out there’s some sort of dress code he managed to overlook. Again. He feels like a smudge of untidy blue ink, dressed in dark jeans and a comfortable white t-shirt beneath a navy zip-up.  

He catches Oswald by the elbow as they come up on the entrance to the park. “Why didn’t you tell me there was a dress code?”

“White is customary for croquet, but it wasn’t explicitly stated on the itinerary,” Oswald replies with a sigh. “I thought maybe some of the other guests would dress more casually. Besides, there’s nothing wrong with your outfit; you look very smart.”

“I look like an uncultured idiot—” He’s interrupted by a hand fitted carefully along his jaw, fingers gently raking his stubble. They’re in plain view of the courtyard, though Jim isn’t certain who may have already seen them.

“You know,” Oswald says, drawing his undivided attention, “it’s honestly a little refreshing to find that you actually do have some insecurities. I always just assumed you swaggered out of the womb.”

“I don’t swagg—"

“Why do you care what they think?” Oswald forges on, his cheeks coloring as he continues, “You’ve arrested most of them more than once and, frankly, you could walk out there in a potato sack and still, none of them would ever come close—” He averts his eyes then, clears his throat before he teasingly adds, “It’s infuriating for those of us who actually put in effort—”

Jim kisses him, finally caving to the impulse. He can’t remember the last time anyone’s ever paid him such a compliment. He means it to be chaste; something he can dismiss later as an affectionate show for whoever might be watching. What it really is, when Oswald’s lips press back imploringly against his own, Jim could only describe as necessary.

A curious tongue prods against his lips, a shy request too sweet to deny, and Jim opens to it easily. His hands find Oswald’s hips, a new fascination he can’t seem to shake. Jim wants to sink his fingers into flesh, settles for a gentle approximation, as he steps forward to eliminate the space between them. The hand at his jaw slides back behind his neck, possessive. Yet, the tongue that slips into his mouth is tentative and exploratory, and irresistible. Jim lets Oswald taste him, meets his curious strokes with gently encouraging ones of his own, keeps his lips pliant and inviting as Oswald’s play against them.

A throat clears behind them, and Oswald flinches, though he manages to keep from wrenching away. Instead, his hand slides down to Jim’s shoulder as they both turn toward the intrusion. They’re met with a wide-eyed Bruce Wayne and a grinning Selina Kyle.

Bruce collects himself quickly. “Sorry to interrupt, we were just…well, on our way to knock on your door, actually. Everyone’s waiting to play, and you weren’t answering your phones.”

“Sorry,” Jim replies, turning it sheepish when Oswald stays silent. “We were a little…preoccupied.”

Selina giggles. “I’ll say.”

“Selina!” Bruce chastises quietly, casting her a look. For a man well into his twenties now, grown to a height that dwarfs Jim these days, it’s amazing how young he still looks when his nose and cheeks turn scarlet.

“We’re right behind you,” Jim mercifully dismisses them, chuckling as Bruce quickly ushers Selina back out into the courtyard.

He releases Oswald’s waist to take a step back and reach for his free hand instead. “Alright?” Jim asks.

“Of course,” he replies shakily. He then straightens his shoulders and plasters a genial smile onto his face. “You must have eyes in the back of your head, I didn’t even notice them coming.”

Jim blinks as Oswald leads them out into the park, torn between correcting his assumption and taking the out. It’s what he’d counted on initially, isn’t it, but there’s no time to resolve his conflicting interests. The sun hits his face, and suddenly they’re surrounded by a group of familiar, inquisitive faces. In his peripheral, he sees Barb roll her eyes as she withdraws a twenty from somewhere in her breasts before conspicuously passing it to Lee.

For her part, Lee’s smile is beatific as she steps forward to greet them. “Jim, Oswald. It’s good to see you two have finally figured things out.”

Jim is rescued from having to reply by Ivy, who pipes up with, “Yeah, yeah, they’re adorable. Everyone owes Lee twenty bucks; can we please get started?”

Grinning, Ed claps his hands to get their attention, and starts rattling off the rules. Jim is distracted, however, by the death grip Oswald still has on his hand. He seems uneasy, revealing their ruse to his…friends? Peers? Whatever way Oswald views their merry band of miscreants, it’s clear he’s uncomfortable with their scrutiny. At least, in this context, which is understandable in a way; it’s a lot like bringing home a new boyfriend to meet the family—a very, very dysfunctional family. In a bid to ease him, Jim untangles their fingers and raises his arm to drop it around Oswald’s shoulders instead, their sides pressed together.

He angles his head until his lips are just hovering beyond the man’s ear, quietly bids, “Relax.”

As if a switch has been flipped, Oswald snakes an arm around Jim’s waist and leans in against his side. He side-eyes Jim a few moments later, chastises, “Pay attention.”

Jim tries, he really does, but he can still taste honey and chai on this tongue, still feel insistent fingers pressing against the base of his scalp. There’s a familiar siren song low in his belly, a slow, creeping discomfort. It only heightens when a light breeze rustles through the park, carrying along Oswald’s subtle cologne. He recalls catching hints of it here and there in the past, never could pin down the individual notes. Up close, there’s something woodsy about it, dark and velvety. Jim wants to bury his nose there, just behind his ear and breathe it in.

“Jim!” Edward calls, his grin far too wide as he suggests, “Why don’t you…be a dear, and set up the wickets?”

“Uh…” He coughs into his hand. “I, er—”

Somewhere behind him, he hears Barb snigger.

“I’ll help!” Bruce volunteers, coming up alongside him to give Jim’s neck a companionable squeeze. “I used to play at my family’s club in middle school.”

“Thank, God,” Jim mutters gamely. “Think I fell asleep on my feet there for a minute.”

“Late night?” Lee asks, suggestively.

Oswald bristles against him, and Jim shoots her exasperated glance. She puts up her hands placatingly as Jim presses a kiss to Oswald’s temple. Jim’s concerned by his silence, worried that maybe this plan of theirs is more than either of them can handle. Reluctantly, he lets himself be pulled off toward the pile of croquet equipment, following Bruce’s instructions for setting up his half of the hoops, careful to arrange them in the appropriate pattern. When he returns, Oswald is waiting with their mallets, seemingly engrossed in a heated exchanged with Barb. He doesn’t know what they could possibly be at each other’s throats over, assumes it’s something to do with one of their joint ventures, until he gets closer.

“…do the thing with his tongue?”

“What I do in my bedroom is no business of yours—”

“Oh, come on, Ozzie. It’s Jim! His moves are practically public knowledge.”

Oswald leans into her space menacingly. “And just what the hell is that supposed to mean?”

Barb rolls her eyes. “It means he’s slept with over a third of the people here—welcome to the club, by the way. We have survival patches.”

“You mean your gang murderous exes?” Oswald replies bitingly. “No thanks. I prefer my men with a pulse.”

“How would you know?” Barb giggles. “Last I heard, you were still a big ‘ol vi—”

“What’d I miss?” Jim interjects, stepping up behind Oswald’s rigid back to rest both hands over his shoulders.

“Just comparing notes,” Barb replies, simpering. “Or we would be, if your boyfriend weren’t so tight-lipped. It’s almost like he doesn’t have any information to share.”

Oswald splutters. “How dare you—”

“Hey,” Jim soothes, pressing a kiss to back of his head before addressing Barb. “That’s enough,” he tells her, mindful of the others as they line up behind Ed to start the game. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d almost think you were jealous, but that couldn’t be true. You’re far too good for that, aren’t you, Barbara?”

She works her jaw for a moment, then sniffs before stomping off to join the others with a haughtily uttered, “Quite.”

“I hate that woman,” Oswald mutters as he turns around to hand Jim his mallet.

Jim chuckles. “She’s your business partner.”

“Unfortunately.”

“You two gonna be alright?”

Oswald hums dismissively as they start toward the rest of the group. Jim watches carefully, trying to get an idea from the others’ examples on just what the hell he’s supposed to do when his turn rolls around. They end up behind Bruce and Selina—thank God for small mercies—who end up explaining an abridged version of the rules to Jim while they wait for the others to go.

“I’ve never played either,” Selina admits. “S’not the kind of game we’d play in the orphanage.”

“Jim thinks it’s pompous,” Oswald says, causing Bruce and Selina to laugh conspiratorially.

“Agreed,” Bruce admits. “Hated it when I was a kid. Everyone else was playing baseball, and I was stuck swinging mallets with a bunch of senior citizens.”

  Jim chuckles, as Selina tuts. “That must have been so hard for you,” she teases.

Bruce blushes, rubs the back of his head awkwardly. “They smelled funny.”

“I learned while I was mayor,” Oswald professes. “It was a dreadfully dull charity event at the Bristol Country Club, something that Ed roped me into attending.” He turns his focus to Jim, then, as he says, “Public offices are where good times go to die, Jim. But croquet isn’t terrible. Maybe you’ll learn to love it.”

He does not love it.

The game progresses awkwardly at first, and while everyone eventually gets the hang of it, it’s mostly a lot of waiting. There are too many rules, too much time between plays and it’s just as dry and boring as its name implies. He keeps his opinions to himself however, seeing how clearly Oswald, who nearly won but for a foul stroke, enjoyed himself. Ultimately, Barbara wins the game, touting her natural prowess. Jim comes in dead last, but he never found his stride, so he doesn’t take it harshly.

“Congratulations, Barb!” Ed says, tossing her a wrapped box, before gesturing for everyone to gather around. “Lee and I wanted to thank all of you for coming.” For a moment, Jim notices how his eyes slip toward Oswald as he says it.

“Thank you for having us,” Bruce replies politely.

Lee smiles at him warmly, then says, “Tomorrow, we’ll be hosting a private tour of the venue. We’ll need to meet inside the lobby of the museum at one to sign in with the guide.”

“Now, please enjoy the rest of your evening!” Ed finishes, dismissing them all before winding an arm around Lee’s waist. “We certainly will,” he adds lewdly.

Jim rolls his eyes and takes up Oswald’s hand to guide them expediently away from the others. He’s starving, is fairly certain his nose is sunburnt, and has gleaned nothing from this encounter except that Ed is exploring new and unexciting methods of torture. Happily oblivious to Jim’s boredom with the subject of croquet, Oswald bemoans his loss all the way to the elevators.

“I was so close; you have no idea how badly I wanted to see that woman lose,” he says, then pauses as he gives Jim a long, assessing once-over. “You hated every second of it, didn’t you?”

“No, I—” Jim cuts himself off when his denial is met with a look of absolute disbelief. “God, so much. It’s so boring, there’re too many rules.” He feels guilty the second the confession is out of his mouth, doesn’t mean to cast a shadow over Oswald’s enjoyment. “Sorry. You seemed to like it, at least.”  

“It’s about strategy,” Oswald tells him, “and patience.”

“And I’m terrible at both, yeah, yeah.” More to himself, he mumbles, “Nothing I haven’t heard before.”

“I don’t think you could be as good a detective as you are if you were terrible at either of those things,” Oswald tells him matter-of-factly as they step onto the lift. “I imagine physical sports to be more your speed.”

“Hey, some of those physical sports require a bit of strategy,” Jim defends.

“If the next sentence out of your mouth starts with football, Jim, I really will have to stab you,” Oswald threatens.

There’s a bench built into the carriage, and Jim plops down onto it, elbows propped on his knees, so he can rub the tension gathering at his temples. Too much time spent in the company of frustrating individuals. Thank God Bruce came along as Selina’s plus one or he’d have felt like a complete outcast. Oswald surprises him when the doors slide shut, by materializing alongside his flank and taking over, thumbs and fingers rubbing soothing patterns in a repeating circuit across Jim’s forehead, along his temples and down behind his ears around to the back of his head.

Jim hums, eyes growing heavy with lethargy. “You’re good at this.”

“My line of work induces frequent migraines,” he returns, then asks, “Feeling your advancing years, Captain Gordon?”

“Something like that.” Jim sighs, and leans toward him. Doesn’t give any thought to the action, but there’s an inviting curve to Oswald’s hip. It looks like a comfortable place to rest his head, and so he does. The fingers in his hair pause for a moment before they retreat, returning instead to pet him like a favored cat.

The lift dings, and they both start, Oswald breaking away with a cough.

“Are you hungry?” he asks as they make toward their suite, and Jim would buy his nonchalance if it weren’t for the sudden color in his face, the nervous chitter of his laugh.

“Sure, yeah,” he answers, his own voice pitched a little too high for casual. He brushes it off, takes full advantage of the excuse to avert his eyes as he retrieves the key card from his wallet. “You wanna go out and do some exploring? Maybe find somewhere interesting to grab dinner?”

Oswald instantly brightens as they cross the threshold, then glances down at his croquet appropriate attire. “Let me change first?”

Jim reclines into to the nearest chair and closes his eyes. “Take your time.”

He doesn’t think he imagines the fond fingers that slide through his hair as Oswald passes behind him.

--

They stumble upon a diner featuring a tuna melt just two blocks from their hotel. Jim can smell the lure of greasy onion rings, spies through the window at least three different pies sitting in countertop displays. He grabs Oswald’s hand and fairly drags the man toward the entrance.

“This’ll do!” He happily declares before turning to see Oswald warily assessing the dining room. “Or not. Uh, we can find somewhere else,” he offers, embarrassed yet again by his own shitty manners.

“Don’t be ridiculous.” Oswald sniffs. There’s a teasing glint to his eyes as he says, “This is fine, but I expect there to be no complaints when I choose the next one.”

“That’s fair,” Jim concedes, heat flaring along his neck. He grins despite himself, gestures at the street sign. “I mean, who can say to no to the city’s finest tuna melt?”

“Party for two?” They’re asked then, by a waitress in a pink, knee-length dress and a white apron. The restaurant name, ‘Charlie’s,’ is embroidered on the left just below her shoulder, a nametag pinned to the opposite reads: Joyce.

“Yes, please,” Oswald answers politely. “And a beer for my friend here, if you would.”

“Of course! Follow me.” She leads them to a booth along the windows, waits for them to seat themselves before setting their menus down on the table. She places their silverware, then excuses herself to grab that beer and a hot tea for Oz.

“Do you play chess, Jim?” Oswald asks, when they’re alone again.

“Bruce has roped me into a few games over the years,” he admits with a grimace, recalling how frequently he loses those matches.

“You don’t like it then?”

“I didn’t like losing to a fifteen-year-old; it’s a little less embarrassing now that he’s older.” He smiles ruefully. “Why?”

“There’s a toy store next door,” Oswald informs. He grins smugly as he adds, “I was wondering if you might like to lose a few rounds to me.”

“Mighty full of ourselves, aren’t we?” He huffs, leans forward to accept the challenge. “You’re on.”

Their drinks arrive then, and they place their orders—Jim skips the tuna melt for a burger and fries, while Oswald opts for a chicken Caesar. They’re quiet as they eat, though Oswald doesn’t seem much interested in his salad. He pushes the lettuce around on his plate for a while before setting his fork aside altogether. He folds his arms over the table and stares out the window.

“Not the best salad in Metropolis, I take it?” Jim observes.

Oswald shrugs, a minute shift of his shoulder. “It’s perfectly fine, just…”

“Not what you want? Tell the waitress to bring you one of these,” he says, pointing to his own plate.

“I said it’s fine!” Oz snaps, mood shifting suddenly to impatience. Testy, he replies, “It doesn’t matter. I’m not hungry.”

Oswald sighs then, deflating as he reaches up to irritably rub his face, though Jim isn’t sure which of them Oz considers the irritant. Before Jim can assess where the misstep occurred between them and how to fix it, Oswald produces his wallet and lays his card on the table. He scoots free of the booth and retrieves his cane.

“I need some air,” he claims. “I’m sorry for—I’ll be next door.”

He’s out of range before Jim can process. Defeated, he leans back against the booth with a weary sigh instead. Their waitress returns, a sympathetic smile creasing the crow’s feet around her eyes.

“Everything alright?” She offers, collecting their plates. “He barely touched his meal.”

“I don’t think it was the food,” Jim replies dryly.

The waitress clicks her tongue, hums knowingly. “Dieting can be frustrating, especially when you’re on a date.”

“What did you say?” Jim asks, a bit too forcefully, if Joyce’s startled expression is any indication.

“I didn’t mean any offense—I just, he ordered everything lite—”

“You know, I used to be a decent detective,” he laments, taking up Oswald’s card and throwing a few twenties on the table. “Keep the change.”

--

Oswald doesn’t notice him right away, when Jim enters the store. It gives him a moment to observe, take note of his slumped shoulders; the way he hunches into himself as if under attack by some unseen force. He seems taken with the display of chess boards he’s perusing, a gloved finger running lovingly along the detailed frame of one of the more ornate sets.

 Jim approaches him quietly, keeps his voice carefully neutral as he remarks, “That’s a nice one.”

“Oh—” Oswald still flinches slightly, head whipping to find Jim at his side before he quickly looks back to the display. “Yes. I was considering it.”

Jim sighs.

“I’m sorry.” They say in unison, before eyeing one another, chuckling at themselves.

“You could have told me, you know,” Jim says. “That you’re—”

“Why?” Oswald fitfully demands. “It’s none of your business. I just get…frustrated sometimes. There are only so many ways one can enjoy what basically amounts to a stack of leaves drizzled in vinegar oil.”

Jim sniggers, then asks, “When’s your cheat day?”

Oswald blinks. “My what?”

“You gotta have a cheat day, Oz,” Jim lectures, “one day a week where you eat whatever you want, guilt free.”

“I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what got me into this mess,” Oswald returns, gesturing to his reflection caught in the glass of a display case off to the side. “Look at me, Jim: I’m fat! So much for Penguin—more like a whale!”

“You do not look like a whale,” Jim adamantly denies. “And, look, I know it’s none of my business, but is it really so bad? I mean…you were so scrawny—”

“Scrawny?!”

“Scrawny!” He confirms, unapologetic. “You looked like a fifty mile an hour wind could sweep through and carry you away any second.” Jim smirks, leans in as he adds darkly, “I used to pray for tornados.”  

Oswald’s laugh sputters out of him, like he doesn’t mean to find it funny but can’t deny that he does. He covers his mouth with one hand, shoves Jim playfully with the other. Jim can’t help but join him, throws a companionable arm over his shoulders as he pulls down the set they’d been admiring earlier.

“You’re not funny,” Oz assures him, when he’s recovered.

“I think that’s debatable,” Jim returns. “But you are definitely not fat.”

“S’easy for you to say,” he replies, poking at Jim’s ribs. “You look exactly the same as when I met you. Must be nice.”

“You’re just not looking hard enough,” Jim tells him matter-of-factly.

Oswald grunts, but doesn’t say anything. Though, Jim wonders at the fresh blush that accompanies his silence. He’s distracted too, when they reach the counter where a large display of playing cards is on clearance. Jim snags one and adds it to the pile. Oswald might be a formidable strategist, but Jim’s willing to bet he can out-bluff the man.

There’s a small grocer across the street from the hotel, and he convinces Oswald to stop in on their way back. The kitchenette in their room is small, but well equipped, with a compact oven, microwave and small refrigerator. If they’re going to be here a full week, it’s a good idea to have a few essentials on hand.

They haul their bags across the street when they’re finished, engrossed in a fierce debate over who makes better pancakes. It goes on all the way up to their room, and beyond, while Oswald sets up the board over the coffee table and Jim puts the groceries away.

“I’m telling you, I will change your mind,” Jim promises. “Prepare to experience the highlight of your cheat day tomorrow.”

Oswald tuts. “I’ll try yours if you try mine.”

“Challenge accepted.” Jim yawns as he folds up the emptied bags, tiredly proclaims, “Damn.”

“Perhaps we should play tomorrow,” Oswald offers, stepping away from the table. “I was thinking about soaking my ankle.”

“Ah,” Jim scratches his neck. He’d been thinking about trying it out himself. “How is that thing in there?”

“You didn’t try it?” Oswald asks, disbelieving. Hesitates, then adds, “Did you bring swimwear?”

Jim shrugs. “What for?”

“Well, I was going to suggest we share—the thing was made to fit at least four people,” he reasons. “Besides, it’s late and, I don’t know. Never mind, I wasn’t think—”

“Okay,” Jim interjects hastily, before Oz can finish changing his mind. “I brought shorts.”

“Oh.” He blushes. “I’ll just…get everything in order then.”

Jim surreptitiously watches as Oswald gathers his things, thinks maybe he didn’t realize the implications of his offer before Jim accepted it. He drops his toiletries bag, twice, before closing himself inside the bathroom. Jim makes sure to take his time getting changed, grabs up a couple glasses and a uncorks two bottles of wine from the rack before knocking gently on the door.

“You decent?” Jim asks.

“I…suppose,” comes the muffled reply.

Jim pushes the door open and Oswald’s eyes immediately dart toward the window. He’s sitting on the far side of the tub, in a black shortsleeved t-shirt. There’s a kernel of disappointment he doesn’t want to overthink at the sight. Jim didn’t bother with a shirt, wouldn’t have bothered with shorts if Oswald hadn’t insisted. He got used to being naked in front of his friends during his service. Nudity isn’t a big deal to him, but clearly Oswald is unaccustomed to it despite being the one to suggest this.

He pushes those thoughts aside, places the wine and their glasses on the rim of the tub. The water is just this side of scalding and Jim’s resounding moan bounces off the walls around them. It seems to ease some of Oswald’s tension at least, smiling, as he scoots a little closer.

“You came bearing gifts, I see,” he says cheerily.

Jim hums, crouching down to let the water close over his shoulders. He finds the bench alongside the back wall of the tub and slides onto it. The wine is well within reach and he plucks the glasses from their perch, hands one over to Oz.

“I should be working on an angle for tomorrow,” he confesses as he takes up a bottle next, pouring for them both.

“Please.” Oswald clicks his tongue. “How many angles can there be? Ed excels at puzzles, but he’s too obsessed with winning to heed due caution. If there’s something he wants to steal, I doubt it will be part of the tour.”

“What do you mean?” Jim scoots closer, intrigued.

“Lee won’t risk tempting his ego,” Oswald confidently insists. “Besides, often the most valuable items in a museum are the ones that aren’t held on display. Museums keep the vast majority of their collection in storage—for safe keeping.”

Oswald sips his wine, as Jim sighs in exasperation. “How the hell do I find out what this one has in storage?”

“That’s the easy part—every museum keeps an archive of items in their possession. The true challenge is time,” he informs. “A museum of this size, Jim, there could be thousands of items off exhibit.”

“Well, that’s just great.” He throws back the contents of his glass.

Oswald giggles. “I’m not convinced this wedding is a front—if it is, it’s a very expensive one.”

Jim grunts, goes to pour himself another drink, brings the bottle with him this time when he returns. There’s a conveniently located curve to the basin, where it juts out from the wall to form a little peninsula of fine masonry. Jim uses it as a table for the wine, rather than a shoulder rest as probably intended.

“You think they have a sponsor?” he concludes.

“Someone who wants something very specific and is willing to pay handsomely for it,” Oswald confirms.

“Sounds pretty convincing to me,” Jim argues. “Why aren’t you certain that’s the case?”

“As much as I think they’re horribly suited, they seem to be genuinely drawn toward one another,” Oswald says with a sigh. “Perhaps they’re using it as an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. Or, maybe it truly is just a wedding.”

“I guess we’ll see,” Jim concedes. “I hope…well, it’d be nice to be wrong in this case, I suppose.”

Oswald’s eyebrows disappear beneath his damp bangs. “Impressive personal growth,” he commends, tone just this side of surprised.

“Come on, not you too.” Jim groans. “It’s been…God, over half a decade. Why does everyone think I still—”

“Probably because, for years, you were so certain you could save her,” Oswald supplies. “You’re saying that’s changed?”

“I’m saying it isn’t my responsibility to save her.” He leans back against the bench, his shoulder resting against the soggy cotton of Oswald’s shirt. “Not anymore. I used to want to; I felt like it was my fault she changed the way she did.”

“She made a choice—well, several choices,” Oswald says with a cheeky giggle. He holds out his glass. “Top off.”

“Salud!” Jim sniggers. “S’good stuff.”

“Luthors spare no expense, or so I’m told.” Oswald hiccups, as if to illuminate his point.

The wine runs out long after Jim’s fingers have gone pruny. They climb out, sopping, on unsteady limbs, and somehow manage to find towels. Oz doesn’t bother with modesty, strips out of his shirt and tosses it onto the floor with a wet squelch. Jim thinks maybe it’s a test, but he’s too drunk to think too much about acing it.

Instead, he quenches his curiosity as they shuffle out into the main room, eyes roving over pale skin, the soft curves of his body as he keeps his back to Jim. There are scars Jim recognizes from injuries sustained in shared experiences, several others he doesn’t. He’s still staring when Oswald turns around with an armful of pajamas.

Jim tries to glimpse whatever isn’t covered, eyes drawn to the moderate swell of belly partially obscured by the pajamas. Oswald clears his throat, and Jim blearily snaps to awareness. He lifts his gaze to see a dusty, red blush along the bridge of Oswald’s nose and cheekbones.

“Sorry,” Jim says. “I was just…” He taps his own shoulder. “I remember that one.”

Oswald reaches up to feel his own shoulder. His eyes are glassy as he smiles and says, “You’ve got more than me.”

Jim hums tiredly. “Possibly, I have more enemies.”

“Well, lucky for you, they aren’t all still alive.” Oswald crosses the room, back toward the bathroom. “You should get dressed. You’re dripping.”

“Kay.”

It takes effort to stay focused, but Jim manages to get dried off and find his deodorant before Oswald emerges again. There’s a gasp behind him as he searches for underwear. He turns his head to see Oswald, wide-eyed and staring. Jim straightens from where he’s bent over an empty drawer.

“My underwear’s gone.”

Oswald blinks then, like Bruce’s computer, appears to reboot. “That’s…not your drawer.” He giggles. “You ridiculous lush.”

Jim frowns, looks down at the dresser and sniggers. “Oh.”

Oswald sighs, and gestures back toward the bed. “Go…sit down.”

“I can sleep naked,” Jim offers as Oz makes a beeline for the dresser.  

“I don’t think that will be necessary,” he replies, voice pitched an octave higher than usual.

“I’m making you uncomfortable,” Jim observes as he trudges toward the bed, feeling exposed now he thinks about it. He’s a bit too buzzed to feel the full brunt of his shame, though he apologizes, “I’m sorry.”

Oswald finds him a few minutes later, half dozing, where he sits on the edge of the bed, waiting. He hears a soft, rueful sigh and then there’re gentle fingers sweeping his bangs aways from his face.

“I’m not uncomfortable,” Oz says. “I’m fairly drunk but you—you are very drunk, Jim. And very naked.”

“I know,” he laments, looking up to see a pair of his underwear and a t-shirt draped over Oz’s arm. He reaches for them. “Thanks for helpin’ me.”

“It’s alright, just…put some clothes on.” Oswald goes to brush his teeth while Jim makes himself decent.

When he returns, he brings a plastic cup containing a bit of mouthwash. Jim gratefully accepts the offer, limbs too heavy to walk as far as the bathroom. He swishes the Listerine for as long as he can bear it, then spits it back into the cup. He sits it clumsily onto the nightstand, catches Oswald around the waist when he makes as if to retrieve it and he doesn’t have a motive, really. His thoughts are fuzzy around the edges, and all he knows is that Oswald looks soft, and warm and that’s what Jim wants too.

The sudden movement throws Oswald’s balance, however, and he drops his cane, body pulling toward the floor with a startled yelp. Jim doesn’t let go, strengthens his hold on instinct and pulls the both of them back toward the bed to counter balance. He over does it, and they end up heaped atop the mattress, Jim’s face buried in Oswald’s armpit. It smells nice, clean from their bath and a fresh application of whatever deodorant Oz uses. Jim nuzzles in for a closer sniff, only to have his head yanked back by a firm handful of his hair.

He frowns. “Ow! Wha—”  

“Jim, that’s enough.” The look on Oswald’s face, when Jim opens his eyes is one of barely contained fury. He’s braced over Jim on his elbows, one hand palm down on the mattress, the other trapped in a fist beneath Jim’s skull.

He feels guilty, obligation pressing down on him with the need to soothe. So, Jim reaches up and cups the side of Oz’s face, strokes his fingers apologetically along his jaw and cheek.

“Don’t be mad, sweetheart,” he pleads. “I just wan’ a hug. Like bein’ held. Don’ you ever miss bein’ held, Oz?”

Oswald’s face—it does something horrible then; crumbles around sorrowful eyes that fill with tears. They drop onto Jim’s nose and chin and he knows he must have said something wrong. He always says the wrong thing when it matters most, doesn’t have a filter much when he’s sober, let alone right now. When his thoughts are jumbled, inhibitions lowered.

The hand in his hair releases, pulled away to swipe at errant tears. Oswald sniffs. “You can’t just…do that. Can’t just say things like that, Jim.”

“Can’t we just…lay down together?” Jim offers. They’re both way too drunk to find the blurry lines that lay between them—lines that only get blurrier the longer the alcohol settles in his blood—to redraw them more clearly.

Oswald nods, agrees with a trembling whisper. “I…okay.”

“Come on.” Jim encourages, leading them through a series of convoluted maneuvers until they’re both somewhere in the middle of the bed. He reaches up and yanks at the blankets, tugs them down so they can shimmy underneath. They’re both back to giggling, amused by their own drunken antics before settling on their sides facing one another.

Oswald’s smile is shy and a little sad. “This’s much better,” he says.

Jim raises his arm. “Can I?”

At his nod, Jim scoots closer until there’s barely any space left between them. He lays an arm over Oswald’s waist, presses their foreheads together and closes his eyes. After a few moments, he feels an arm snake around his own hips. Then, suddenly, a soft press of lips against his, followed by a gasp.

Jim tightens his arm before Oz can roll away, leans forward and pecks him back. It’s a sweet exchange, fills him with a contentment that ushers him quickly into sleep. The next thing he knows, it’s morning.

Oswald hands him a glass of orange juice with an anxious smile. “So, how about those famous pancakes of yours?”

Chapter Text

Oswald concedes, standing in the shower, shoulders braced against the wall while he strokes himself, that last night had been a very, very bad idea. He’s not awakened so heavily aroused in years, sack heavy between his thighs, cock rigid and oversensitive. He’d been lucky to rouse first, Jim still happily ensnared in slumber where Oswald left him beneath the duvet. 

He can’t stop thinking about it, the needy way in which Jim had reached for him. He can still feel the ghost of a touch along his jaw, recall those sweetly offered entreaties. Tempting Oswald with such kind intimacies, a multitude of new experiences all bundled into a package he’s fantasized about far too many times. Fantasized, but never dared hope to attain.

It’s his fate, it seems, to long for the unattainable. It’s unthinkable to have come so close to having it. A beautiful dream and a waking nightmare, like flying too close to the sun. And here he is, burning with damn near a decade of repressed desire. How quickly he’s come undone by this prolonged exposure.

Oswald bites his lip, scalding waters beating down onto his chest and stomach, as he pumps more conditioner into his palm. Impatiently, he seeks his release; a necessary balm to ease his frustration. How can a man kiss the way Jim kisses and yet be so insincere? How can he be so kind and so goddamned careless? It isn’t his fault, he knows this.

Jim is a virile man, Oswald has always been aware. It must be difficult for him to be alone for any length of time, while Oswald is accustomed to isolation. And he must be truly lonely to seek those things from the Penguin, desperate for the easy affection Oswald assumes comes between lovers. It’s wrong to take advantage of it, he knows this too, and Jim is his friend.

Jim is his friend.

Oswald loves him. Is in love with him. Has loved him, from afar, all these long years. It sounds so hopelessly romantic, the kind of thing his favorite novels love to depict as a worthwhile torture in the event that it will one day be recognized and returned. A selfless, hopeful love that is nothing like the selfish, hopeless torch he bears for Jim Gordon.

Because it’s been safe, this nonsense he willfully fostered. Safe because of its impossibility, easy to ignore in the face of their natural adversarial roles. Though, admittedly, not so much these days. Still, it hasn’t been problematic, that hope burned out long ago or so he’d thought. Agreeing to this charade was a hasty, impulsive decision, one that has proven all too enlightening.

Release comes, but there’s no relief to accompany it. His stomach is leaden, burdened by the weight of the truths he carries. His heart aches and just briefly, he considers packing up and fleeing to the safety of his city. It’s a fleeting survival mechanism, one he immediately casts aside. A man is only worth his word, and he made an agreement. For better or ill, he will see the week through to its end.

Resolved, Oswald turns off the tap, and goes through his regular routine. He notices, when he emerges dressed in all but his shoes, that Jim is finally starting to stir. He takes a deep breath, determined to avoid the subject of the night before altogether, and pours them both a glass of orange juice.

He forces a smile that feels like plastic taped to his face—stiff and unnatural—as he offers a glass to a hazy-eyed Jim. “So, how about those famous pancakes of yours?”

Jim doesn’t bring it up either, even when the morning slows and they're both lethargic with full bellies. It feels like blasphemy, to even so much as think it, but Jim was right. His pancakes are far, far better than even Mother’s recipe. Even if it’s cheating—banana pancakes with chocolate chips should not be a thing—but his traditional flapjacks are no match for Jim’s messy abominations.

Not that he’ll ever admit it, not that Jim even bothered to ask. He didn’t need to, had sat across the table from Oswald with an expression so smug it ought to be illegal. When Oswald had raised a single, challenging eyebrow, Jim grinned widely.

“Looking forward to your rebuttal tomorrow,” he’d said.

Oswald had pressed his lips together, sniffed. “You mean next week. Tomorrow, my cheat day will be over.”

Jim had thrown his head back and fairly howled. “Well played, but don’t think for a second that I won’t come knocking.”

Bastard. Still, his good mood had been contagious and by the time they were due to leave for the museum tour, Oswald had forgotten to feel sorry for himself. It’s hard to be miserable when Jim reaches for his hand as they walk into the lobby.

Lee is waiting for them just inside the revolving doors, speaking to an older gentleman Oswald assumes is their guide. He can’t help but feel inadequate in her presence, especially dressed as she is; in a simple black dress with an elegant, white motif stripe that runs in a curvy line along her figure. Ed is nowhere in sight, but he must be nearby. Combative as he was the last time they spoke candidly, Oswald craves the buffer of his presence.

“Lee,” Jim greets, as they approach.

She seems to catch onto Oswald’s curiosity as she replies in kind, “Jim, Oswald,” smile unfaltering as she supplies, “Ed’s in the men’s room. This is Michael, our tour guide.”

Michael shakes their hands before excusing himself to collect their headsets. Apparently, there are several interactive exhibits. Oswald thrills despite himself; the Metropolis Institute of Arts is world renowned, and Oswald has long wanted to explore it.

“It seems we’re early,” he says, in an attempt to cover his excitement and break the awkward tension swiftly settling between them all. “Though it gives an opportunity to fully appreciate the building itself,” he adds, leaning on his cane whiel he looks around.

The main lobby has a domed ceiling, with an impressive fossil display suspended overhead in a prehistoric scene that circles the entire room. The ceiling itself is a mural dedicated to the city’s founding colonists, their tale depicted in the baroque style, complete with gilded moulding and ornate accents carved into the marble walls. 

The visitor desk sits in the center of it all, it’s façade a continuation of the ceiling’s theme. There’s a bulletin board set behind the woman sitting there, noting special exhibits and open tour hours. Along the wall that leads to the gift store, are several placards dedicated to the Metropolis Historical Society’s many donors.

“This place is huge,” Jim observes.

Oswald hums, as Lee says, “You should see the botanical garden behind the building. I think Ivy’s still back there.”

“Pass,” he declines flatly. “No garden is safe if that woman’s touched it.”

Jim sniggers. “You’re still made about the fly trap, aren’t you?”

“It nearly ate poor Ed,” he laments. He was such a silly animal, but Oswald misses him terribly, still. Never again, he’d vowed like so many other painful lessons he’s learned.

As if sensing the direction of his thoughts, Jim rests an arm across his shoulders, hugs him to his side. “He survived,” Jim says. “Got to be pretty old, too.”

“You never got another one, did you?” Lee asks, not unkindly. “You seemed to enjoy being a pet owner.”

“I liked Ed,” he answers succinctly, “but pets, in general, are more trouble than they’re worth.”

“Ah, but Jim makes a fine replacement,” Edward says, materializing behind Oswald with a companionable clap against his back.

“Ed,” Lee chastises calmly.

“I only tease,” Edward simpers, as he moves to wind an arm around her waist.

“That’s alright,” Jim assures. “I can think of worse fates, for an old dog like me.”

Oswald tuts, his face heating as he turns to meet Jim’s eyes. “You’re only in your forties,” he argues, “and still as handsome as ever.”

Jim grins, leans forward to peck him on the lips, then jokes, “People are gonna think you’re sweet on me, you keep talking like that.”

Before he can reply, Edward groans in clear disgust. Oswald blinks, knows he’s blushing, as he realizes they still have an audience. Lee rolls her eyes and slaps Ed against the back of his head.

“Ow!”

“Leave them alone,” she tells him. “I think it’s sweet.”

Ed grimaces, as if it physically pains him to think of either of them as ‘sweet’ yet he presses his lips into tight line and, wondrously, says nothing. Lee smirks, pats his arm.

“Good boy,” she tells him. “Now help me round up the others. I want to see the mummies.”

Ed sniffs, casting a glare at them both before following Lee out toward the gardens. It presents the perfect opportunity to inquire about the archive, so Oswald squeezes Jim’s hand, and tells him as much. He wanders over to what looks like a carved structure of a veiled woman while Jim goes off to acquire his list.

Oswald still firmly believes that Jim’s quest is more likely to end in disappointment than vindication. The Queen of the Narrows uses him as a fence often enough for Oswald to acknowledge the likelihood of Jim’s suspicions. However, if this wedding is a scheme, the museum is far too obvious a target. If Oswald wanted to pull a heist in Metropolis, he’d employ a similarly huge decoy, and he wouldn’t put himself within a hundred yards of the item itself. That’s what goons are for, after all.

Lee rules an entire army of goons. If she and Ed are planning something, it’s obviously her operation. Perhaps Jim doesn’t love her anymore, but he certainly seems to ignore the glaringly obvious where she’s concerned. Oswald sighs, casts aside his petty jealousy, as he admires the sculpture.

It’s an eerie figure, appropriately titled ‘The Veiled Lady,’ carved from marble over a hundred years ago. From the ghostly impressions of the face beneath the veil to the intricately carved sandals and toe nails of the figure’s feet, the artist—Giovanni Maria Benzoni, according to the placard—spared no detail. Perhaps he should case the place himself; this statue would look magnificent in his office.

“Don’t even think about it.” Jim’s voice is very close to his ear, and then hands are laid over his hips as he rests his chin over Oswald’s left shoulder. He hears the sound of quickly approaching heels tapping against the marble floor as Jim whispers, “They’re going to print me a list of their archives and have it sent over to the hotel.”

Oswald hums. Saucily, he asks, “Did you have to flash your badge?”

Jim chuckles. “They're public knowledge, apparently. It’s part of how the historical society maintains accountability for the keeping of their collection.”

“Shame,” he laments, impish as he adds, “I do so enjoy watching you throw your weight around.”

“Is that right?” Jim questions, voice playfully flirtatious. “I think I’d remember—”

“Oi, lovebirds,” Selina calls, causing them both to start—when the hell did she get here—as her voice bounces jovially off the walls of the lobby. “Train’s leavin’ the station!”

They glance up to find themselves the center of curious attention for all the bystanders within the vicinity. Bruce has his face buried in his hand as the rest of their party sniggers inelegantly at their expense. Jim presses a kiss to his temple before pulling away entirely to take up Oswald’s hand and lead them, sheepishly, over to the rest of their group.

Their guide clears his throat and, perhaps sensing the auras of those who surround him, gently requests, “Please, i-if you would, as we explore the many wonders of the museum, keep your conversations and voices to a courteous volume so that all may enjoy the collection peacefully.”

Lee shoots Selina a reproachful brow, though any true rebuke is undermined by the way her lips fight against a smile, as she soothes their guide. “Our apologies, Michael,” she says. “We don’t get out much.”

He and Barb titter simultaneously, before casting each other a conspiratorial glance. Oswald clears his throat and straightens his posture when Jim fixes him with a flat look, arches a knowing brow in their direction. Edward taps his foot impatiently, head tilted off toward one shoulder as if his neck just isn’t strong enough to bear the weight of his massive intellect. He appears bored by everything around them, only brightening slightly when the tour finally sets off toward its first destination, Lee tugging him along.

He and Jim are at the back of the ‘train,’ as Selina dubbed their procession, and Oswald’s mind engages in its typical habit of observation. It’s impossible not to notice the inherent differences in body language between Selina and Bruce—practically snuggling—as they follow along, both engrossed with the recitation of ancient Roman weaponry, and that of the bride and groom to be. In contrast, Edward stands almost as rigidly as the armored knights on display, his arm bent to gentlemanly accommodate Lee’s hand.

When Lee reaches up to pat Edward’s arm it rings more as indulgent rather than affectionate. Granted, he’s no expert on the body language of couples, but the more he observes of them as they pass through the next couple of exhibits, the more he sees Jim’s perspective. Of course, he’s always thought the pair of them were a terrible combination, but it’s almost painful to watch them awkwardly navigate one another’s space this way.

Then again, Edward possesses a natural sort of awkward grace that makes him seem as if his soul was charged with the task of driving a body it isn’t quite comfortable piloting. He’d thought it an endearing personal quirk at one time, the queer way in which he presents himself, something he viewed as common between them. Both set apart as outcasts for their inherent, unique dispositions. It’s difficult, therefore, to tell if Ed is sincere when he isn’t covered in blood, incensed with some righteous determination.

As for Lee, well. Oswald has underestimated her before, but she’s never been particularly difficult to read. She’s tolerant, her body language masterfully crafted, and it is affectionate. Just not in the overt way in which Bruce and Selina are with one another. Of course, there’s the age difference to consider. Frankly, he hasn’t the experience to rightly judge what is or isn’t common among couples at different ages. He’s never been part of a couple.

It makes him wonder if he and Jim have been convincing enough. If this is a scam, it could be dangerous for them—but especially Jim—if it comes to light that his fake date is investigating the wedding party. His eyes drift to an antique mirror, framed by gold, carved wood, where he sees their combined side profile reflected. Jim’s engrossed with a painting by Degas, his arm thrown casually around Oswald’s shoulder, and while the bottom half of Jim’s face is obscured the lines around his eyes indicate a certain happy contentment.

For his own part, Oswald’s arm rides low around Jim’ waist, allowing the man to bear some of his weight. They’ve already covered most of the second floor by now, and his knee and ankle are beginning to tire. He’d not even realized he’d been doing it, and he flushes at the sudden awareness. That, and the glaring truth that they don’t look half as ridiculous together as he’d imagined they might. It makes his chest ache with longing, because it isn’t real but also, no, it isn’t obvious.

For one long, desperate moment, his mind whirs with a host of elaborate schemes to somehow prolong their pretend affair. Everything from blackmail to kidnapping is considered within the space of a breath, dismissed just as quickly when he exhales. His only hope is that maybe, if he doesn’t misstep, Jim will think of him again if he ever has need of a fake boyfriend in the future. For now, he once again resigns himself to simply enjoying it while it lasts.

So, Oswald lays his head against Jim’s shoulder and closes his eyes. He revels in the warmth of the body so close to his, the way Jim’s breath tickles against his forehead as he breathes. How he turns toward Oswald and the arm around his shoulder becomes two across his back, their easy hold merging seamlessly into a full embrace.

“Alright?” Jim asks him. “You want to sit down for a minute?”

Oswald shakes his head, though he very much does. None of the others in their party have complained, however; they’re all perfectly capable of walking the entire square footage of the museum, and its garden besides. He can’t keep up with them, is the bald truth, and it smarts.

“Well, do you mind joining me if I do?” he asks then, and Oswald huffs. He isn’t stupid, knows when he’s being manipulated. Still, it’s too good an excuse to deny.

He sighs. “Alright, yes. Let’s…find a bench or something.”

They find a simple, wooden bench in the corridor just beyond the gallery where their tour continues without them for a moment. They sit shoulder to shoulder in companionable silence. Jim’s hand is warm in his, thumb idly passing back and forth across his knuckles.

“I’m ready to go back in that hot tub,” Jim announces.

“I’m ready for a nap,” he admits. “I don’t…I’m not as hands on as I used to be.”

“Hard to run an empire—legal or otherwise—from the ground level,” Jim replies. “How many ventures is it, now?”

Oswald yawns. “Five, well. Technically, there are two casinos, so…six.”

Jim whistles quietly. “How the hell do you keep up with it all?”

“By never leaving my office, basically.” He relinquishes Jim’s hand to reach down and rub at his sore knee. “Unfortunately, not all of my gains have been beneficial, as you can see. I used to be capable of outrunning even you, bad leg and all, before I—”

“Stop,” Jim gently interjects, then huffs an unexpected laugh. “Besides, you have a heli-brella. Why walk, when you can fly? You know, we still have dibs on who gets the first the spin if we ever manage to snag it.”

Oswald rolls his eyes. “For the last time, it is not called a heli-brella.”

“Try telling that to Harvey,” Jim insists. “Did you bring it? We could tour the whole city on that thing.”

Oswald giggles, then carefully denies, “I’m certain I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Fine, keep your secrets,” Jim tells him, pushing to his feet. “I’m dying of thirst. Think I saw a machine back by the elevators. You want anything?”

“Water, please,” Oswald replies, grateful, blushing when he is graced with a peck against the forehead. Fondly, he watches Jim retrace the progress of their tour, until he turns a corner out of sight.

“You know, he never struck me as the honeytrap sort but needs must, I suppose.” Barb takes up the space Jim has just vacated, her posture straight even as she angles herself toward him, leaning against the back of the seat to prop her elbow atop its frame. “Ozzy, what are you doing?”

Oswald sniffs, turning up his chin as he finds an interesting pattern in the swirling marble along the opposite wall to consider. “Funny, I don’t see anyone asking that question of either Ed or Lee. Seems a bit like a double standard, don’t you think?”

“Ed and Lee have a history, at the very least,” she insists.

“Jim and I have a history; longer than those two I might add.”

“A history of mutual aggravation—”

“Oh, please!” Oswald interjects. “I admit that Jim and I have had our squabbles, but neither of us have ever stuck a knife in the other’s gut.”

“But plenty in one another’s backs,” Barb argues. She leans forward into his space then, places a careful hand to his wrist. “I know how you feel about him—believe me, I get it—but can’t you see what he’s doing?”

He rolls his eyes. “Did Ed put you up to this?”

“Ed seems to think Jim is using you to somehow appeal to Lee,” Barb admits, but when Oswald goes to yank his arm away, she tightens her grip and pulls him closer. “I disagree with him, but his instincts aren’t wrong.”

“Whatever you came here to say,” he urges impatiently, “just say it.”

Barb's eyes soften in a way that Oswald is unfamiliar with, genuine sympathy, and it succeeds in getting his attention. Conspiratorially, she whispers, “Think about it, Penguin. Who really holds the power in Gotham? It isn’t City Hall, or the GCPD and it certainly isn’t our star-crossed hosts. Everyone knows there’re a very select few of us capable of pulling the strings, and if you think for a second Jim isn’t aware that you’re the biggest player in that arena…Well. You’re not half as intelligent as you think you are.”

Oswald feels the weight of her conviction pressing down upon his chest. Are Jim’s motives truly what he claims or is this all just a way to infiltrate his organization? Could Oswald himself be the true object of this scam, Ed and Lee simply a convenient cover for its true purpose; to expose his empire and take him down as Jim’s tried to do so many times before. Thinking back on the past year, he sees now that the timing is rather suspicious. Jim began coming around more often after Oswald reopened the Diamond District, in partnership with Barb. He remembers the words Jim had uttered that day, as he’d cornered Oswald in his office afterward.

‘I will figure out what you’re up to, Penguin,’ he’d promised, angrily, ‘and when I do, every brick in your empire is going to come crashing down around your feet.’  

He’d responded by telling Gloria to allow the good captain access to the building, a move intended to goad rather than prove they had nothing to hide, but Jim had taken full advantage. He’d waltz into Oswald’s office, unannounced during meetings—some of them quite sensitive—and demand his time. It was always some thin excuse, some bid for information, anything for an opportunity to snoop around. It went on like that for weeks, and Oswald enjoyed the game, if he’s honest.

Only, as the months wore on and Jim’s priorities shifted to more egregious threats within the city, his visits began to linger. Oswald took to pitying him, noting the worn lines around his eyes, the graying hairs at his temples, and the tired slump of his shoulders as he began asking for help outright. Oswald started keeping bowls of pretzels, in deference to Jim’s preference for salty snacks, alongside bottles of Kentucky Bourbon stocked in his office in anticipation. Sometimes, he'd insisted that Jim have some water.

Lately, they’ve been…friendly, Jim dropping in without much of a reason at all, save for the exchange of information both of them already have. They’ll sit on Oswald’s sofa and watch the news, sometimes quietly, other times while taking pot shots at politicians. Still, it’s quite a leap from convenient acquaintances to Jim actively calling them friends.

Of course, hindsight is twenty-twenty, and he feels humiliation settle beneath his skin. Was Ed right; has Jim been courting him, waiting in the wings for an opportunity to strike? It feels like the walls of the corridor are closer than they were a few moments ago as he ponders the possibility.

It can’t all be a lie, can it? Every smile, every kindness…all for deceit?

“No,” he decides. “No, that’s not possible. Jim would never be so cruel.”

Barb’s expression is stricken when Oswald meets her gaze determinedly. “Oh, honey.” She clicks her tongue. “You really are in love with him, aren’t you?”

He’s saved from having to answer when their group emerges from the gallery, ready to proceed to the next exhibit. “Michael’s taking us to see the Ancient Egypt collection,” Bruce informs as they all file out into the corridor.

“They’ve got a Sphinx replica!” Selina exclaims excitedly under he breath.

Barb hums with forced enthusiasm. “Joy.”

“Don’t let me keep you,” Oswald tells her, then turns to the group as he adds, “Jim and I will catch up.”

Huffily, Barb accepts the dismissal for what it is; an unequivocal end to their conversation. She gracefully climbs to her feet and wraps both her arms around one of Selina’s. “Fine,” she says with a pout. “May as well go see your ancestors.”

He’s lost in his own thoughts after that, which is why he doesn’t see it coming. Why there’s no way to defend against it, when Jim plops down beside him, drops an arm around his shoulders and hugs him close.

Oswald is frozen, heart pounding, as Jim produces a bottled water. “Miss me?” he asks.

“Terribly,” he replies blandly, accepting his beverage before pulling away slightly. “The group’s moved on to the Egyptians.”

“Oh.” Jim stiffens against him, awkwardly removing himself from Oswald’s space. “Sorry.”

“You were gone a while,” he says, ignoring Jim’s apology and the sudden discomfited tension between them. “Was the machine out of order?”

“No, actually—” Jim pauses to look around, then leans in as he says, “I bumped into one of the curators when he was coming out of the elevator.”

“Did he survive?” Oswald quips.

Jim snorts. “He’s fine, but we got to talking—well, more like he ranted about the logistics of moving an item from storage just so some,” he raises his hands to make air quotes as he recites, “‘pretentious socialite’ can gawk at a priceless work of art he has no hope of understanding.’”

Intrigued despite himself, Oswald prompts, “Did he name the item?”

“I didn’t catch the whole thing,” Jim confesses, grimacing. “Something like Igor Schteely?”

Oswald giggles. “Egon Schiele,” he corrects. “He was an Austrian expressionist painter. Several of his drawings are part of various museum collections, not one of them is on display.”

“How the hell do you know all this?” Jim asks, tone impressed.

“Honestly,” he bemoans, “I’m surrounded by philistines. One of his pieces sold at auction recently, for over two million dollars.” He shrugs nonchalantly. “I considered bidding just to see one of his works in person, but much of his art is…sexual in nature. It wouldn’t fit with the rest of my collection.”

Jim’s expression turns sleazy, “No interest in the artistic value of vintage pornography?”

“You’re incorrigible.” He grips his cane and pulls himself to his feet, enquires, “What do you plan to do with your suspicions?”

“Here.” Jim offers his arm when Oswald flinches at a spasm that rockets up along his leg. Gratefully, he accepts, as Jim answers, “I’m not sure. I was considering stopping by again in the morning. See if I can’t ask around, find out who’s trying to see it.”

“Detective work sounds exhausting,” he observes. “I’ll offer my moral support, but if you wake me up before eleven—”

“Yeah, yeah, slow death,” Jim flippantly finishes. He winds an arm around Oswald’s waist as they follow the signs for Ancient Egypt. He doesn’t bother mentioning again that no one is around to witness it; Jim is lonely too, after all.

It is a masterful deception, he reasons, if Jim is playing him. His smiles, these casual touches, the fond banter they share—all of it so sincerely exchanged—makes him anxious with the looming threat of yet more heartache. Once again, it occurs to him that he should return to his own city, sequester himself within the safety of the fortress he built.

He just…can’t. He isn’t strong enough to do as he ought.

This is as close as he’s ever going to come to actual romance. And perhaps that makes him pathetic, desperate even, but Barb isn’t wrong—this insidious thing he’s carried around for years, this ridiculous torch for a naïve detective—and he can’t outrun it. Oswald loves him so completely, and while this horrid fantasy only indulges his foolishness…

He can’t regret it.

Even if it is a lie—if Jim takes whatever he learns while they’re here and uses it to set Oswald up for the fall of the century…

It’ll be the happiest tragedy of his life.

--

The tour finally ends just before the museum is set to close at five. Oswald is dying for something to eat, but before they can make their escape, Bruce suggests they all find a place to share dinner. Together. As if an entire afternoon spent in one another’s company isn’t more than enough. The objection is right on the tip of tongue, but he sees how Jim smiles at the closest thing he probably has left to family and finds himself agreeing instead.

Damn it all.

There’s a nicer restaurant about a block from the museum and, perks of a weeknight, it isn’t busy enough to require a wait. A waitress leads them to a long table near the back where they all find themselves uncomfortably staring at one another. Croquet is one thing, apparently, but a table full of oscillating adversaries?

Awkward.

Oswald sighs, rolling his eyes in exasperation. “So,” he says to Lee in an effort to break the ice, “who’s your designer?”

Barb leans forward onto her elbow, smirking at Oswald as she interjects, “Assuming Edward spared no expense the way he did on the rooms.”

“We upgraded,” Oswald admits with a sniff.

“Same,” Ivy confesses.

“I don’t think sleeping in a tree qualifies as an upgrade,” Barb returns.

“Subjective,” Selina defends.

Lee startles them all when she answers the original question, voice raised to be heard over the sudden chatter. “Vera Wang.”

Oswald finds Barbara’s gaze as she declares, “Nailed it.”

“It was not cheap!” Edward argues, then proudly grins. “But it was on sale!”

Lee hides her forehead in her hand, sighing, and Oswald can’t help but pity her a little. They aren’t friends, but apart from Jim—and recently at that—he isn’t sure he could claim any of the people seated around the table as such. So, he straightens his posture, and rallies to her defense.

“Wang is a household name, Barbara,” he declares haughtily, drawing the attention of everyone at the table, “and bridal design is her specialty.”

Barb guffaws, turns to Lee and says, “No offense, with regard to what I’m about to say—I’m certain your dress is lovely, however,” she turns to Oswald and fairly spits, “Ever since she began to stray away from her ‘specialty,’ it’s clear she’s forgotten how to innovate, even in completely unrelated arenas.”

“So that wasn’t a Vera Wang scarf you wore on the opening day of fashion week?” he questions.

Barbara narrows her eyes, scathingly replies, “I never said she wasn’t stylish, Penguin, but nothing in her recent lines deviates too far from her overplayed raw edges and black netting!”

“Why fix what isn’t broken?” he insists, though it pains him to say it. “A motto, I should think, more of us could do to appreciate.”

“Is that why you hauled your boy toy down to the tailor post-haste upon your arrival?” she begs, earning a gasp from Selina and a snort from Ed.

“Please,” Oswald gamely replies, “Jim’s suits are broker than every glass window in the Narrows.”

“Hey!” Jim protests, while the rest of the table cackles at his expense.

He picks up Jim’s hand, brushes an apologetic kiss against his knuckles. “I’m terribly sorry, darling,” he says, playfully condescending, “but you know it’s true.”

“How did you two get together?” Ivy asks, then. “I don’t know about anyone else, but I did not see that coming.”

Oswald clears his throat. He knew someone would ask eventually, aside from those who believe he’s being duped altogether, and he’s happy to get it out of the way sooner than later. He opens his mouth to deliver the opening of their cover, when Barb throws her head back and laughs. For a single, horrible moment, he fears she’s going to recite to the group at large those same suspicions she confided to him earlier.

His fears are nothing compared to the mortifying reality.

“Are you kidding?” she finally says, when she’s composed herself and captured the attention of every living thing within radius. “Ozzie has always been in love with the great Detective Gordon.”

Bitch.

She bats her eyes at Oswald cheekily, and his skin grows hot beneath the scrutiny of their peers. He can feel Jim’s eyes on him, can just see the curve of his uneasy smile in his peripheral. It takes a monumental effort, their cover dependent upon his reaction, but he manages to push aside the bitter sting of humiliation.

“Well, who could blame me?” he teases, turning to rake his eyes over Jim’s form; all whilst studiously avoiding his gaze. Salaciously, he asks, “What’s not to like?”

Edward tuts. “Well, duh. I’m more interested in your perspective, Jim. When did you realize you were gay for Oswald?”

He feels himself tense at the question, furious at Ed’s lack of tact. Even if Jim weren’t bisexual, if even that too were a fabrication of their design, Oswald would be stricken by the clear lack of respect for individual privacy. A person’s sexuality is deeply personal, and whether a person is out or not, asking them so indelicately about it is highly inappropriate. 

“How dare you—”

 Jim calms him with a hand against his forearm. “It’s alright,” he says, then turns to Ed and patiently explains, “The first time I realized I was attracted to other men—in more than a 'passing glance' sort of way—was in the military. But I think I’ve always known, on some level.” He waits until Ed takes a sip of wine to add, with a blasé chuckle, “I mean, you don’t just blow your squad leader by accident.”

Ed chokes on his drink, narrowly missing the waitress as he spits it across the floor, coughing uncontrollably. The rest of the table is equal parts shocked and amused by Jim’s unrepentant overshare. Ivy is slack jawed, Bruce blushing furiously beside her as Selina gleefully enjoys the show. He notices, too, that Barb and Lee share a silent, knowing exchange as Lee ineffectually pats Edward’s back.

For his own part, Oswald can feel the magnitude of his own Cheshire grin. Edward, sputtering like an idiot for all the patrons of this lovely establishment to see. He couldn’t pay for better entertainment. Of course, Ivy chooses that moment to wake from her stupor.

“So, what about it then,” she prompts. “When did you fall for Pengy?”

“Pen-guin,” Oswald enunciates in her direction.

Jim chuckles, regaining the table’s attention. “Well, he’s been a thorn in my side since the day we met,” he says matter-of-factly.

Oswald frowns. He’d prefer to skip this part, doesn’t know why Jim doesn’t just stick to the script. His hand is captured suddenly, gaze drawn instinctively up to meet sincere blue eyes.

Jim says, “But he’s always had my attention.”

Oswald’s skin feels brittle as the moment stretches on, and eventually he has to look away; For the sake of self-preservation, for fear of spontaneously combusting, as Jim utters those words. And that’s all it is. It’s just a line, just—just words; pretty, pretty words.

Mercifully, Jim turns his gaze onto the rest of the table, as he adds, “When we started working together to find Scarecrow, I guess, you could say it started there. At least, that’s when I think we became friends.”

Oswald clears his throat, nods when Jim looks to him for corroboration. They take turns telling different parts of their lie, and it’s easy to get caught up in the deception, once they’ve caught their stride.

“It just…felt like a natural progression,” Jim says at the end of their tale, before turning to Oswald and adding, “for me at least.”

He can’t help but smile, happily taken with thoughts of ‘if only’ and the aching hope that perhaps, in some alternate reality, this is how it truly happened. That, somewhere, there’s a version of him that gets to genuinely experience Jim’s affection. He supposes it’s this flight of fancy that spurs his heart to run away with his mouth.

“What can I say,” he rambles fondly. “In true Penguin fashion, my heart always seems to find its way back to Jim Gordon.”

--

He isn’t sure how it happens, exactly. There’s a tension between them through dinner; something that grows with every affectionate touch they exchange as part of their performance and it follows them back to the hotel. His stomach is turbulent as they lean against one another in the elevator, but he’s all smiles and so is Jim as they fumble along down the hall toward their room.

“That was…not horrible,” Jim says as he fishes through his pockets for their key.

Oswald cackles. “A ringing endorsement if I ever I heard one.”

“Where the hell did I put the key?” Jim muses, tiredly searching his wallet.

“You mean this key?” Oswald enquires cheekily as he withdraws it from his inseam pocket. He only just recalled being the one to grab it on their way out. Jim reaches for it, and Oswald giggles mischievously as he snatches it away at the last second.

“Don’t poke the bear,” Jim warns.

“You’re no fun.” Oswald rolls his eyes, offers the key with a sigh. When he whisks it away a second time, Jim catches his arm and backs him up against their door.

He’s chuckling as he says, “You insufferable, little shit.” Jim reaches for his ribs and Oswald bats his hands away.

“What are you—”

Jim tickles him, ruthlessly, until Oswald bangs his elbow against the door and drops his cane. Jim snatches the card with a victorious ‘Ah-ha!’ before bending to retrieve it. Suddenly, a burly man emerges from the room across the hall, his face ruddy with fury.

“Keep it down out here! Decent folk are trying to sleep, for Chrissakes!” he righteously nags, before stepping back inside and slamming the door.

They stand there, blinking owlishly at the door, and then one another, until finally they both crack. Oswald presses a fist to his own lips in an attempt to stifle the giddy laughter that bubbles up all at once. Jim buries his own chortles in Oswald’s shoulder.  Affectionately, Oswald brings his free hand up to cradle his head consolingly.

“I blame you for that,” Jim says, when they’ve finally composed themselves.

Blandly, he returns, “So very sorry.”

Jim leans back, expression fond as he accuses, “Liar.”

Oswald smirks, responds with a tiny, apathetic shrug.

After years of wanting, it seems every detail of this moment should stand out in stark clarity. He should be able to recall the exact second the air swept from the hall, the instant that unnamable tension snapped, and which of them reached first. Yet, there was no dramatic pause, no warning and, obviously, he’s been missing key elements of data, didn’t have a realistic expectation of his mental acuity. It’s a forgivable error; he couldn’t possibly have accounted for the way higher thought would so quickly flee in the presence of unfettered bliss.

And that’s what it is, when he and Jim stumble into their hotel room, pulling desperately at one another. The door slams behind them on its own, and Oswald can’t fathom how they went from laughing to frantically kissing. Except that perhaps he’d lost his mind a little, with Jim so close and smelling so lovely.

“Fuck…Oz,” Jim says, voice shaking, as his hands practically dig at the flesh beneath his clothes. “Can we do this? Is it…”

“We can do whatever we want,” he hears himself say, and his own voice sounds foreign to his ears, words spilling forth with little thought to how they might sound. “It’s good, isn’t it? Not being alone, I—Jim, I don’t want be alone anymore, I don’t want to stop...I want you so much. Please," he shudders. "Please don’t stop touching—”

“Okay, hey. I'm not gonna stop. I'm not, don't-don't cry,” Jim tells him, hands sliding into Oswald’s hair as he brings their mouths together again. 

Is he?

Is he crying? What madness is this—is it supposed to feel this way? He can’t think—can’t breathe for how desperately he wants. No one has ever touched him this way, reduced him to such a humiliating state. Or it would be humiliating if he weren’t too thrilled by the urgent thrust of Jim’s tongue against his own to feel anything else.

He tries to answer in kind, instinctively mimicking Jim’s touches, his bold advances as they blindly stumble across the room. Until Jim pushes him onto the mattress, and Oswald doesn’t fight it. His legs fall open of their own accord, and Jim takes his place between them without a single hesitation. As if it’s normal, as if they’ve done this a hundred times before.  

The air punches out of his lungs at the press of another man’s penis—Jim’s penis—against his own. Even through all the layers of their clothes, he can feel him there, hard and insistent, as they rut against one another like animals. Everything about this is brand new, yet it’s the most natural thing he’s ever done. It’s innate; as if Jim’s awakened some feral instinct inside him and it raises up to take possession.

Mindlessly, he runs desperate hands all along Jim’s arms, his back, and shoulders, sinks fingers into that gloriously soft hair. There’s no finesse in his greedy appraisal, only the desire to feel as much him as possible. How often he has thought of this, only more since that first kiss.

Jim’s mouth breaks from his own, and Oswald whimpers when it attaches instead to his jaw, biting and sucking a path down his neck all the way to the collar of his shirt. His trimmed beard is soft and prickly at once where it rubs against his skin. He hardly notices it when Jim kisses him on the lips or brushes it against his forehead but, here, he feels it. Hopes it leaves a visible mark, one he can see and find reassurance in later.

Encouraging, he holds Jim’s head against his neck, a silent plea for more as impatient fingers tug at his cravat. Jim is unfamiliar with the knot, and he growls his frustration against his neck—a wholly different sensation that sends Oswald’s eyes to the back of his head. Jim leaves him bereft a moment later, with a frustrated grunt, to lean back so that his face is suddenly there, hovering above him, and—  

Dear God, this is real. They’re about to have sex—he is about to have sex with Jim Gordon. Blood rushes in his ears, heart pounding in his temples as Jim’s mouth twists into a roguish grin.

“I’m two seconds away from ripping all this fancy shit to pieces,” Jim tells him, flicking Oswald’s lapels. “Why don’t we do each other a favor, and just get undressed?”

He feels his own eyes widen, reality creeping in with the absence of Jim’s dizzying proximity. Insecurities, old and new, begin to filter in as Jim slides off the mattress and strips out of his jacket. Oswald slowly sits up, his legs hanging over the side of the bed as he unties his cravat with trembling fingers.

He forces himself to breathe slowly, mentally chants, over and over, that he wants this. He wants this more than anything, and he is not going to get in his own way. Not this time. It takes effort to blank his mind, focusing intently on each piece of clothing he removes, to keep the shadows of his doubt at bay.

He can’t bear to look at Jim, note all the differences between their bodies, as he stands to remove his own trousers. He’s been stalling a bit, folding his clothes as Jim shuffles around, in search of something. He takes advantage of the man’s distraction to hastily strip them off, along with his underwear. He kicks them away and hastily climbs under the covers to curl up on his side. Slowly, his momentary anxiety swings back toward anticipation.  

Jim joins him there scant seconds after, crawls into the bed behind him, and sucks a kiss into his neck before sliding his hand up and down along the soft swell of his flank. Jim’s body is warm and solid against his back and Oswald is caught somewhere between panic and surrender.

“Hey there,” Jim greets huskily, between soft, tickling kisses placed behind his ear. “Tell me what you like?”

Oswald bites the inside of his cheek. He doesn’t know what he likes, he’d never been kissed—aside from the time his stepsister accosted him—before Jim. Let alone done anything more, but he can’t bring himself to admit it. Doesn’t want to make Jim uncomfortable or be treated like a child though he isn’t sure how to avoid either without lying. Jim abhors such lies, one only has to spend twenty minutes with Barb and a bottle of Tequila to learn how much. Deflection, however—deflection is not the same as lying.

“I sincerely doubt there is anything you could do that wouldn’t please me,” he admits carefully, “but if you somehow manage it, I’ll let you know.”

Jim hums. “I can work with that.”

Oswald feels removed from his own body, like he’s watching himself from somewhere near the ceiling. His limbs are shaking, coltish, as he forces them to cooperate when Jim guides him onto his back. Nerves have been steadily gathering in his stomach and they roil with a fever pitch the second their eyes meet. He feels his throat tighten, hands trembling as he reaches to slide them along the bare skin of Jim’s back, his arms.  

Slowly, Jim nudges a leg between his thighs, and his breath falters at the first press of it beneath his sack. Jim bends down to lick into is open mouth, blunt nail of his thumb dragging slowly over his nipple. There’s no room left to be self-conscious. Jim is there, touching him, and nothing else has ever mattered this much. He is cast adrift by a wave of foreign sensations and brand-new experiences.  

It doesn’t feel awkward, his own hips surging up to meet Jim’s, as they pick up their rhythm from earlier. As pleasurable as it was in that moment, it is nothing compared to the friction between their naked skin. Jim’s cock is nestled snugly against his thigh, making his own hardness all the more apparent. As if reading his mind, Jim reaches down and strokes it loosely.

“Like that?” he whispers, breath is hot against Oswald’s ear.

He bites his lip, nods helplessly.

“Yeah?” Jim releases his cock, reaches down to grip a handful Oswald’s ass instead as he pushes his hips down against the meat of his thigh. “Bet you like getting fucked, too.”

 Oswald’s barely tried to finger himself, and only a couple of times. He’d not been able to get the angle right, and he realizes Jim isn’t actually asking but none of that seems to matter. If this is all he ever gets of this man, then he will take everything on the table. Panting, Oswald finds himself nodding.

“Yes, yes. I want—” he bites his lips when Jim strokes him again, his voice raw as he begs, “Fuck me. Please, Jim, I—I want you.”

“Jesus, Oz.” Jim drops his forehead against Oswald’s shoulder and groans as he reaches down to press a hand against his own cock. “We really shouldn’t—”

“Jim.” Oswald reaches up to cup the side of his jaw, meets his eyes but he doesn’t know what to say. Doesn’t know what words to use in order to convince him, but he opens his mouth and pleads, “Jim.”

Jim’s eyes lids droop as he leans down to take Oswald’s lips with his own, as if he’s drawn there by some unseen force. Gently, he kisses him for long minutes until finally he pulls back and presses their foreheads together. Disappointment flares when he sees the apology lurking in his eyes.

“I want to,” Jim tells him, “but we don’t have any of the things we need. Unless you happened to bring a box of condoms and some lube?”

Oswald shakes his head, bites the inside of his lip in an effort to keep himself from crying out right. Once is damning enough. Jim softens his dismay with gentle kisses against his forehead, his cheeks and the bridge of his nose.

“Besides, there’s no way I’d last,” Jim confesses. “I’m already on the edge as it is, it’s been so long.”

Oswald blushes, eyes downcast as he admits, “I—me, too.”

 Jim hums, repositions himself so that he’s knelt between both of Oswald’s thighs. Slowly, he lowers his hips until the tip of cock just barely brushes against Oswald’s shaft. He watches, rapt, as Jim grasps his own length and slowly slides it down along his balls, and beyond. He moans as he feels the head of it trace along the cleft of his ass.

“Oh!” His head falls back against the pillow, hips undulating against the mattress in invitation as he moans.

“The way I see it,” Jim says, grabbing a bottle of lotion—the item he must have been looking for earlier, and coating his hand, “we’re here for the whole rest of the week. And we can either keep pretending we’re having sex—or we can actually be having sex.”

Jim doesn’t wait for his answer, drapes himself over Oswald and reaches down to grip both of their cocks. He forgets what words even are, forgets everything that isn’t the slick slide of their shafts pressed together in Jim’s hand. Distantly, he can hear his own whimpering moans, but there’s no room for reserve when Jim’s own mouth is busy teasing his nipples with sucking bites and soothing swipes of tongue.

“Oh!” he cries, body shuddering. “Jim…Jim, I’m—"

“Yeah.” Jim pants. “Come for me—fuck! Let me see you—”

Jim breaks off with a low moan, and Oswald’s already coming but he looks up to see Jim’s face drawn in pleasure. His brow creased over eyes that look tortured and drugged at once, mouth open as he works his hand furiously between them. Incensed, Oswald grabs a handful of his hair and crushes their mouths together. He’s not the most experienced kisser, but he’s always been a quick study. Boldly, he drinks his fill, invading Jim’s mouth with a possessive tongue until all at once the urgency leaves his limbs. The kiss morphs into something less frenetic, slow and deliberate, as Jim guides his head back down against the pillow.

Jim breaks their kiss to rest his head somewhere between Oswald’s neck and shoulder. His own grip on Jim’s hair has slackened, and he takes to absently sifting his fingers through it instead. He drifts for a while, caught in an odd state of quiet disbelief. There’s a narcissistic part of him that wants to shout from the roof tops, as if this is some grand achievement that normal people don’t do every day. Simultaneously, he longs to shut himself away, take this singular, beautiful moment along with him so that it can’t ever be tarnished by reality.

Jim doesn’t understand the value of the gift he’s given to Oswald, offers it simply for the sake of convenience. It’s a mutually beneficial proposition, and Oswald isn’t so proud that he’ll demand all or nothing. It will hurt, in the end, but that’s what love is, isn’t it? Sacrifice?

“Hey, Oz,” Jim finally upsets the silence, raising up on his elbow so they can see one another. “Were you, er—do you still want me to…y’know?”

Jim is…blushing, and Oswald doesn’t understand why it’s suddenly so hard for him to say. Had they not set the terms clearly enough?

“Do I want you fuck me?” Oswald asks bluntly. “I said so, didn’t I?”

“Well, yeah, you did, but…” Jim sighs. “You know how it is, when you’re all worked up.”

Oswald hums, as if in agreement but he doesn’t know. Not at all, though he supposes he understands well enough. He’d not been prepared for just how disorienting sex is, apparently. He supposes he should really think it over carefully, but he already knows he meant every word.

“Yes,” Oswald says quietly, battling his fraught nerves. “I meant it, if—if you want to.”

His bravery is rewarded with a lingering press of lips. “Good.”

It occurs to him later, after they’ve cleaned themselves up and Jim’s snoring quietly beside him, that he will never recover from this. When this is over and he’s back home, alone in his bed, his heart will ache for the memory of Jim’s warmth. In just three short days.

No.

Three whole days.

As impermanent as this new arrangement between them is, it could be liberating if he allows it. He doesn’t have to hold back, pretend he doesn’t enjoy Jim’s kisses, his touches, as much as he does. He doesn’t need the justification of an audience to touch in turn, doesn’t need to worry about being over affectionate when they’re alone. It’s what he’d wanted, once upon a time, with Ed but he’d never been given the chance.

Finally—finally—he can be in love.  

And it isn’t requited, no, but Jim will accept it and that’s…well.

That’s good enough.

Chapter Text

In the end, Jim manages to extract himself from bed without rousing Oswald, as promised.

Finding the motivation to do so, however, is a monumental effort. Oz is warm, body lax and happily oblivious to how Jim is draped over him like a blanket. He rolls away to snooze his alarm with a mournful groan, but there’s a satisfied curl to his lips as he immediately remembers the night before.

His eyes wander over to where Oz lay on his side, quietly breathing; he’s angled toward Jim, his usual sharp features softened in sleep. Tufts of black hair stick up on the one side, pointed toward the ceiling, and it makes Jim chuckle a little because it’s not all that different from how the man consciously styles it himself. It’s tempting to lean over and bury his nose there, breathe in the lingering notes of Oswald’s shampoo, carry it with him throughout the morning.

Jim’s playing with fire, here. Maybe Oswald is right, and they can do whatever they want—whether they’re here or at home—but should they? Jim isn’t stupid, he knows Oz is still maneuvering pawns all over the board back home, and he could find the proof. If he wanted, if it were necessary. If Jim still subscribed to that black and white endeavor of good triumphing over evil.

It isn’t anything he hasn’t done before—ripped the foundation of Oswald’s power right out from under him. Sent him packing straight to Arkham—more than once—to rid the city of his influence for a time. The results weren’t half as pleasant as he’d expected, however, and this is the crux of his guilt. Things hadn’t gotten better with Penguin out of the way, and like so many fateful tales throughout history, something much worse rose up to replace him.

Every time.

Jim has no desire to return to those days, wonders if there’s something intrinsic to the nature of their city that makes it so prone to chaos. It teeters on a precarious balance, and it took him far too long to learn just where the fulcrum lay. Of all the dark forces at play in Gotham’s undercity, Oswald understands this the most. He isn’t one to walk closely to the light, but he understands its importance, is driven by the same things as everyone else though his methods are what make him dangerous.

Abhorrent, some might say—Jim has said.

He doesn’t know exactly when repulsion morphed into acceptance, just that there are only so many times darkness can swoop in and save the day before it becomes impossible to deny its necessity. Oswald is still capricious, still ruthlessly ambitious and morally bankrupt in a lot of ways, but he’s learned to master at least some of his impulses. Jim doesn’t know if that’s good enough to justify his feelings, thinks the Batman would probably have words to say about it if he knew the depth of Jim’s proximity to the Penguin.

But that’s the thing—he’s always had more proximity than most and, therefore, a rare degree of familiarity. There are certain truths about Oswald that only Jim knows, things he keeps well hidden from everyone else that, either by choice or by folly, Jim has borne witness to over the years. A collection of gestures and exchanges to add to the nuances of his abstraction, make it impossible to categorize his character entirely.

Jim is certain Oswald keeps his own file, complete with highlighted tabs and footnotes. He’s never been half as righteous as he once believed himself to be, a realization that was too long in coming. Hindsight really is twenty-twenty, and Jim is all too familiar with its bitter taste. It was a hard pill to swallow, but he’s come to realize that he isn’t the hero in this story—the tale of their city. He’s just one man, doing the best he can, as prone to falter as anyone else.

Maybe that’s what this is: a misstep. Right now, however, it just feels like an intuitive one. Oswald’s always insisted that they were old friends, but now they really are, and Jim isn’t so encumbered by friends that he’ll deny the appeal of having one who not only knows his dark side but doesn’t flinch away from it. Maybe it’s the loneliness talking—hell.

Maybe it’s fate.

Whatever it is, being together is comfortable and this isn’t the first time he’s thought so. When they’re working toward the same goal, playing the same angle, cooperating rather than competing, it’s…they have a rapport. They get on far too well, actually; their personalities have always been a little too compatible working side by side. He’s always tried to curb it, afraid to encourage Oswald at all lest he take a mile for every inch Jim afforded. It comes as a relief now, to finally allow it.

Of course, he hadn’t predicted its trajectory; where they’d taken it last night, but he supposes it isn’t such a surprise. Oswald’s usually so reserved, even when they’re friendly, always so careful not to cede any inches of his own. There are unspoken boundaries present in every conversation, but last night…

Last night, he’d basically told an entire table of their acquaintances that he’s in love with Jim. It could have been for show, but he likes to think he can tell when Oswald is being sincere. The way he’d looked at Jim when he’d spoken, the way his own heart had responded.

All of a sudden, their fake affair had become very real, and he’d been unable to deny his own feelings. He’d paid very little attention to anyone else after that, wrapped up in the moment. It isn’t any easier now, and he wants to forget about the case, about Ed, Lee, Gotham and anything that isn’t the two of them. He wants to wrap himself up in Oswald’s warmth, explore his body with hands and mouth until he knows its dips and curves as well as his own.

Of course, that will require a few things they don’t have on hand, and so getting out of bed is inevitable, it seems. That doesn’t mean his thoughts don’t stay there, as he showers and dresses, up until he enters the lobby of the museum just after it opens. He’s still on autopilot as he makes his way toward the visitor’s desk. It’s only the sight of a familiar face that drags his thoughts into complete focus.

“Jim!” Bruce waves him over with an exuberant grin. At his shoulder is the curator he’d bumped into yesterday afternoon.

“Mister Wayne,” he hedges, as he draws nearer. The curator rolls his eyes where Bruce can’t see, and Jim tilts his head in acknowledgement. “This is a surprise.”

“Well, I noticed a few interesting things in the museum’s closed exhibits, so I called ahead to get a peek at their more select collection,” he says pompously.

“Right.” Jim forces a smile that’s all clenched teeth. “Of course, you did.”

They’ve talked about this, about Bruce’s need to play billionaire vigilante. He knows Alfred raised him to be proactive, but Bruce and Wayne Enterprises are two of Gotham’s only redeeming qualities. He doesn’t need to go sticking his neck out where anyone could just lob it right off. Jim swears the kid thinks he’s Batman or something.

The curator clears his throat then, sniffing as he plasters an insincere smile onto his face. “Mister Wayne, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll call down to our storage and ensure the piece is in the private exhibit room.”

Bruce grins, insolently flicks the man’s name tag.  “You betchya, Danny-boy.”

The curator’s eyes flash with annoyance, before his smile curdles and he quickly turns to march off toward the nearest desk phone. Jim rubs an exasperated hand over his chin before fixing Bruce with a glare. Bruce reaches out to squeeze his shoulder, his grin quickly morphing into something sincerer.

“Come on, Jim. Someone has to go where Batman can’t,” he says. “You didn’t really expect me to ignore half of Gotham’s degenerates vacationing in our sister city together, did you?”

“You know that I do,” he returns. “You’re not a detective, Bruce. You’re a goddamned billionaire CEO, and Gotham needs—I—need you to be safe.”

“I can take care of myself,” Bruce insists, not unkindly. “Besides, you’ll watch my back.”

Jim huffs, resigned. “What have you got so far?”

Bruce leans in, quietly informs, “Selina’s been keeping her ear to the ground since we got here. She’s heard some interesting rumors.”

“What kind of rumors?”

It’s more than he has to go on at least, and Jim’s intrigued despite himself. If there’s one thing he’s learned about Selina Kyle over the years, it’s that she’s got a nose for trouble and a damned good ear for dropping eaves.

“There’s a lot of buzz about some jewels,” he says.

“What museum doesn’t have jewels?”

“These aren’t your typical diamonds and rubies, Jim.” Bruce inches closer, eyes bright with an excitement Jim himself is all too familiar with. The kind that comes with a much-needed break. Quietly, Bruce explains, “Priceless shards of glowing crystals.”

Jim snorts. “That sounds…ridiculous.”

“More ridiculous than raising the dead? Or, a guy with a gun that shoots ice beams? How about an ancient dagger with the power to—”

“Okay, fine!” Jim grumpily concedes. Sardonically, he adds, “Glow-y, magic crystals. Why not?”

“They say couples eventually take on elements of one another’s personalities.” Bruce sniggers, but his eyes are sharp as he remarks, “I can tell you’ve been spending a lot of time with Penguin.”

Jim straightens, uncomfortable as he averts his eyes. The denial is on the tip of his tongue; the impulse to tell Bruce the truth. Except, he isn’t sure what that is anymore.

“Relax,” Bruce adds before Jim can become entirely distracted. “He’s your cover, right?”

Jim frowns, hesitates.

“Jim?”

He looks up to meet wide, startled brown eyes. “It’s complicated.”

His confession is met with an arched brow. “No kidding.”

“Mister Wayne,” their curator calls from the elevators, saving Jim from having to offer an explanation. “The item is ready, if you’ll follow me.”

“Excellent!” Bruce cheers. “Is it alright if my friend here tags along?”

“Typically, it isn’t our policy to—”

“I’ll just ride up with you, if that’s alright…Daniel, is it?” Jim interjects, politely, then grins cheekily as recalls Oz’s description of Schiele. “I’m not a great purveyor of vintage pornography, anyway.”   

Daniel splutters, as Bruce devolves into loud and boisterous chortles. Clearly flustered, the curator leads them to the elevator with a harrumph and a wave of his hand. Bruce claps the man on the shoulder consolingly as they file into the waiting carriage.

“Please, excuse my friend,” he says. “His tastes are a little more…Victorian.”

Jim glares balefully as Daniel seems to brighten, straightening the lapels of his own suit as his eyes sweep Jim appraisingly. “Well,” he simpers, “I suppose there’s nothing wrong with that.”

Bruce smirks, and Jim can feel the heat climbing up the back of his neck. Still, he aims a lascivious grin in Daniel’s direction, accompanies it with a wink. It has the desired effect, the curator blushing wildly. Bruce pretends to be occupied with his phone as Daniel presses the button for their floor, edging a bit further into Jim’s personal space.

Under his breath, he offers, “We do have an upcoming exhibit, a collection of pieces to represent the aesthetic movement.” He glances over to Bruce, checking that he’s still distracted, then leans in even further to present his card. “If you’re interested, I wouldn’t be opposed to scheduling a private preview.”

Jim brushes their fingers, lets them linger a moment as he takes the card. “I’ll definitely think about it,” he promises.

The elevator dings to announce their arrival, and Daniel immediately collects himself. The doors behind them open, revealing the part of the floor designated for research and personnel only, and Daniel gestures for Bruce to precede him. Bruce pats Jim on the shoulder, eyes him knowingly before swaggering out.

“Call me,” Daniel insists, then blushes furiously as he hastily stutters, “I-if you want that tour, o-of course.” He clears his throat and beats a hasty retreat, doors sliding closed behind him.

Jim huffs, presses the button for the basement floor before pocketing Daniel’s business card. The other card, attached to a lanyard he’d slipped from the man’s pocket while he was distracted, he uses to inconspicuously swipe alongside the keypad. Jim isn’t certain if all museums are the same, but he figures a basement is the most logical place to keep a climate-controlled collection.

The doors slide open a few moments later, and Jim checks the clear; there aren’t any cameras in the elevator, and there doesn’t appear to be any immediately beyond either. Still, he tousles his hair, slips his reading glasses from the inseam of his jacket and slides them on. Daniel happens to be just as blonde as he is and they’re of a height. If there are cameras, and the security guards are as lazy as most, they probably won’t even notice.

He’s banking on it, in fact, as he steps out into the corridor. He’d been expecting an open floor plan, instead, there’s a long hallway before him with several doors on either side. They’re all neatly labeled, and he figures it makes sense in a way—different types of items probably require different types of lighting and climate. At least, that’s his assumption. It’s equally as likely that whoever organized the basement storage facility was just exceptionally meticulous.

Whatever the reason, it makes his job that much easier. There’s a door labeled ‘gems and minerals’ and him slides Daniel’s card into the reader before pushing it open. The lights inside are dim but they cover the entire area of the room. Rows upon rows of stacked, gray drawers—much like safe deposit boxes in a bank vault—fill the space. It’s like a library of containers, and beyond the stacked columns, Jim can see what looks like a nook with a desk containing microscopes and open journals.

As he steps into the first aisle, he notices that each box requires a specific code to unlock. His fleeting concerns over how easy it’d been to access this level are somewhat mollified. A thief would need to know the exact box, its location, and either collect the correct code or find a way to quietly blow the lock. Getting in had been far too easy, but Jim isn’t here to offer security consultation.

Instead, he casually looks around, careful not to appear too obvious for anyone who might be watching. He isn’t sure how he’s meant to find the gems Bruce described, everything neatly tucked away inside their boxes, but then an anomaly—a splash of color among a sea of gray doors—catches his eye.

He makes a sharp left, turning down an aisle labeled ‘unprocessed,’ and carefully approaches a large, tan shipping crate. It appears to be unopened at first glance, but as he gets closer, he notices the lid is just slightly out of line. It’s already been opened, and so Jim quickly investigates, lifts the corner of the lid to glimpse its contents. There’s no chance in hell these aren’t them. Certainly, Jim’s never seen anything like it.

The crystals are jagged and thick, sprouting upward from a huge chunk of rock—dark and shimmering as obsidian. They shine with a bright green luminescence, reflecting off every near surface, and Jim bites his lips as he reconsiders the mass as a whole. It can’t be of earth, and while meteors are incredibly valuable, he can only assume one like this must indeed be priceless. He reaches in to shift the packing material, careful not to touch the rock itself—glowing usually indicates some kind of radiation, so hopefully a short-lived close encounter to this thing isn’t going to cause him to sprout an extra leg.

His hand brushes against something soft and velvety—a small, black bag. Curious, he opens it to reveal another set of crystals. Red, this time. He snatches his phone from his pocket, snaps a couple photos for future reference. Even as he does so, he can’t imagine a reason Ed or Lee would have any interest in this type of black-market item—if there even is a black market for it. There are for most things, but…seems a bit esoteric. Then again, he might just be color blind when it comes to oddities these days.

He hears the door bang open, quickly replaces the bag, before carefully realigning the lid as close to how he found as possible. He presses his back along a column of lock boxes, waiting to see which aisle the approaching footsteps will turn down before slipping into one that runs parallel. Fortunately, there’s no direct light between these stacks of storage units, offering some security in the shadows. Jim keeps his ears open for more company as he slowly retreats back toward the exit.

“I expect we’ll be moving forward as planned,” a voice says, and Jim stops short because he’s certain he vaguely recognizes it.

 “Of course,” a woman replies, her voice low and confident. “The arrangements are in place.” She adds, “And the items? You’ve verified them?”

 “As always. I’ll remind you I’m far more familiar with these sorts of acquisitions than either you or your employer, my dear.” There’s a shift of heavy material, then, and Jim knows they’re opening the same box he’d just been perusing. “As you can see, everything arrived in pristine condition.”

“Excellent.” The lid is replaced, or so it sounds, and Jim holds his breath to listen intently.

“I expect Friday’s extraction to be seamless, Miss Graves. And my payment to be prompt.”

“Certainly,” Graves replies. “A Luthor always pays his debts1.”

The man snorts. “You’d be surprised how little such reassurances weigh when one is risking their livelihood for the procurement of…odd trinkets.”

Miss Graves answers sharply. “Perhaps we can inform him of your concerns, Mister Strauss. I’m sure he’d be more than happy to grant you an audience.”

Strauss. Cornelius Strauss. It clicks in Jim’s mind suddenly. Mister Strauss is the director of the museum, and also the voice behind its interactive exhibits.

“Of course not,” Strauss says then, sniffing. “It isn’t his usual fare, is all. What on earth could he possibly want them for?”

Graves’ voice is deceptively sweet when she replies, “It’s my understanding, where these kinds of arrangements are concerned, that questions are extraneous to the process.”

“You’re quite right, of course,” Strauss humbly concedes.

“Very good.”

The click of Miss Graves’ heals accompany the pair back toward the exit, and Jim slouches against the lock boxes at their departure. He waits an additional few minutes to ensure they’ve cleared the immediate vicinity before making his way back to the elevator. He straightens his appearance, tucks his glasses away and drops the keycard at the visitor’s desk, claiming he found it on the floor, on his way out.

He texts Bruce as he hails a cab back to the hotel, tells him they’ll meet up later, but his mind is consumed with drawing the connections. Friday is the day of the wedding—it is almost certainly serving as a distraction, but is that the only angle for Ed and Lee? More pressingly, what does a Luthor want with meteors; why go to such lengths to conceal their procurement?

He’s still chewing his lip over it as he enters the CVS across the street from the towers2. It provides a welcome distraction from the case, a much-needed reprieve from his circular thoughts. It already feels like it’s been days since he peeled himself out of bed, thoughts of Oswald so near to the surface. He wonders what Oz might make of this new information, resolves to ask him once he gets back.

“You know…I almost feel sorry for him.”

Jim closes his eyes, a sigh of resignation passing between his lips. “Lee,” he says.

“Hello, Jim.” She comes to stand beside him in the aisle, hand reaching up to pluck a bottle of KY from the shelf. “Fancy meeting you here.”

Silently, Jim tosses a tube of jelly into his arm basket.

“Really?” Lee exasperatedly implores. “When did we become so uncomfortable around each other?”

“I don’t know,” he replies flatly. “Probably around the same time you decided I was more useful as a pawn than a friend.”

She clicks her tongue. “Funny. I don’t see you applying those same rules to Oswald.”

“Lee—”

“That’s alright, Jim. The two of you have always had a different set of rules. Although…” she turns toward him, leaning casually against the shelf. “I never quite imagined just what those rules might be.”

Suitably provoked, Jim turns to regard her critically. “Didn’t I hear you collecting bets in our favor just a couple days ago?”

“Seemed like a sound wager,” she responds with a shrug. “Like I said, you two have always made certain exceptions for one another. Doesn’t mean I can’t feel sorry for him.”  

“Pretty sure he doesn’t need your pity,” he says. Shamelessly, he snatches a box of ‘Ribbed for Her Pleasure’ Trojans off the shelf and tosses it into his basket.

Lee smirks. “Maybe not entirely—I’m sure he’s having the time of his life, for now. But he isn’t going to thank you for using him, and he isn’t going to forgive you this time either.”

Jim stiffens. “What the hell are you talking about?”

“Penguin’s greatest weakness has always been his heart—Ed knows it, Sophia knew it, and you definitely know it. I suppose you’ll fix that once and for all…when you rip it out.” She pushes away from the shelf. “Then we’ll all finally get to see what it looks like…when it’s open season on Jim Gordon.”

The laugh that escapes him then is edged with grim cynicism. “What part of the last decade hasn’t been open season? Do you know how many times I was shot in the Marines?” Jim asks rhetorically. “None! Since I came back to Gotham…Hell, I’ve lost count.”

He shakes his head with a final mirthless huff. “You think you know everything about me—why, because we were in love? That was years ago, Lee. I used to feel obligated to you, because I thought it was my fault you…changed.”

“Isn’t it?” Lee asks, eyes narrowed. “You killed—”

“I saved your life,” Jim interjects, “and I’ve never regretted that. Not once, but I didn’t change you. No more than you changed me. That’s what people do, so whatever you think you know about me, about how I feel, who I love—”

“Please.” Lee scoffs. “You don’t love him—you love to chase him.”

Jim furrows his brow, but before he can so much as consider a reply, Lee pushes into his space, pressing a finger to his chest.

“You’ve always been chasing him,” she tells him. “You live for it—unraveling his lies, deterring his plans, moving your pieces against one another.” She narrows her eyes, continues, “You hate it when he triumphs, but you can’t stand your own victories either—when your little birdie is locked in his cage, too far to whisper in your ear. But that’s not love, Jim. That’s codependency.”

“I guess you’d know all about that,” Jim says meanly, shakes his head and sighs. “Sorry. Look…just. I don’t have to justify myself to you, or anyone else. Think what you want to think.”

He steps around her then, is stopped short when she grasps his elbow in passing. “Gotham is relatively stable these days; you know that’s not all down to the Batman, don’t you?” Lee squeezes his arm, as if to emphasize her sincerity as she claims, “I don’t hate you, Jim, and I don’t hold the past against you.” She gestures at the basket. “I do want to be happy for you, but not at the expense of everything, and everyone, that depends on the current status quo.”

“Excuse me,” he says, as he gently shakes her hold. He remembers Bruce’s comment from the museum, and channels Oswald as he walks away. “I’m sure I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

--

“Jim! There you are,” Oswald greets when he finally makes it back to their room. He’s still in bed, sitting up against the headboard reading what must be the day’s edition of The Daily Planet. “Your suits arrived.”

Jim checks the closet on his way over toward the bed, noting a few unexpected additions to accompany the matching suit bags, namely two shoeboxes and a few expertly pressed button-ups. “What’s all this?”

Oswald hums innocently. “I took the liberty of selecting a few necessary accessories while you were getting redressed at the tailor. Don’t worry, they’ll fit.”

He should probably issue a token protest at the very least, but Oz is already nervously avoiding Jim’s gaze, jaw tight as he peers at his paper with laser focus. It’s obvious he expects some sort of reprimand, if not a flat-out rejection of the extra items. What should his complaint be, he wonders—that it was presumptuous? That it makes Jim look like a gold-digger?

Lee’s accusations are still banging against the walls of his mind, especially while standing there, staring at Oswald’s gifts while holding a CVS bag full of condoms and lubricant. He wonders if maybe she’s not entirely off base…maybe he is taking advantage of something here even though it feels a little too late for those kinds of doubts. He knows his own motives, but it’s possible it bears talking about. Just to be sure.

“Oswald—”

“They’re non-refundable.”

Jim huffs, kicks off his shoes and drops his bag onto the couch as he passes through the sitting area. He sheds his jacket and tie next, then climbs onto the bed while Oswald eyes him warily. Wordlessly, Jim carefully steals the paper from Oz’s grip, folds it neatly before tossing it to the side. He straddles Oswald’s thighs, dropping his arms around his shoulders as he leans in for a quick kiss.

“Hi,” Jim says when he slowly pulls back.

Oswald flushes, his voice scarcely above a whisper as he replies, “Hello, Jim.”

He kisses him again, lingering just a little longer. “Thank you.”

Timidly, Oz’s hands come to rest over his hips. “Y-you’re welcome.”

“You don’t need to buy me anything else though,” Jim gently adds. “Okay?”

Oswald’s lips press into a thin line, his nose wrinkling.

Jim sighs. “What. What did you do?”

“Er…” He jostles Jim slightly as he reaches over and pulls the top drawer of the nightstand open, returns with a small blue box. “You don’t…have to keep them. They can be for me, and you can just borrow them. But you didn’t bring any and so, I thought…”

Oz trails off as he lifts the lid to reveal a beautiful set of cufflinks the likes of which Jim’s never seen before. They’re entirely black, from the smooth metal to the diamonds beset about their circumference. There’s a tiny dial in the center of each—a half circle lined with even smaller diamonds. Jim quietly takes the box, tilts it side to side, watching the rotors spin over slate blue faces.    

“They’re black gold,” Oswald tells him.

Jim stutters, “That’s—they’re…”

God, he can’t begin to assume their value but knows it must be exorbitant. His heart pounds in his ears, adrenaline triggered over his anxiety for having been given such an expensive gift. They’re so lovey, and all he has to offer in return are a few different types of condoms and a bottle of ‘the good lube’ for fuck’s sake.

Something of his feelings must show in his face, because Oz carefully replaces the lid, takes the box and sits it back inside the drawer. “Like I said, you don’t have to keep them, if you don’t like them.”

“Don’t like them?” Jim parrots, chuckling somewhat manically.

“They’re not your typical style,” Oswald calmly observes, as if his knuckles aren’t white, hands determinedly folded over his lap between them.

Jim tries to explain, “I like them very much, it’s just…”

“Too much,” Oz quietly deduces. His smile is wobbly, as he nods. “I know—I knew—I just.”

He can’t seem to bring himself to say anything more or look Jim in the face, either, for that matter. He should have kept his damned mouth shut, hates the way Oz has gone stiff, features carefully reserved. Jim feels panicked for all new reasons now, like he’s just trampled someone’s carefully tended garden. No one has to know if he decides to keep them.

“They’re not too much,” Jim hastily denies, miserably tries to explain, “I’m being an ass. I, uh—fuck.”

Curious blue eyes regard him, before they sharpen knowingly. “What?”

Jim sighs, fingers playing against the hair at the base of Oswald’s neck. “I’m letting other people’s opinions color my own, I think,” he admits.

Oz slumps against the headboard, head dropping back with a groan. “You too?”

Jim hums. “Jim Gordon: Whore Extraordinaire.”

Oswald clicks his tongue. “Stop.”

“S’what they think,” he asserts.

“Yes, well, they can all go fuck themselves,” Oz vehemently declares, straightening up to wind arms around his waist. He presses the side of his face against Jim’s chest, head tucked beneath his chin, as he indignantly adds, “What kind of pathetic imbecile do they take me for?”

Jim huffs, places a few calming kisses into messy hair as he holds Oswald snugly against himself. “It’s not worth worrying about.”

“It is if they insist on interfering,” he argues.

“It only matters if we let it.” Jim extracts himself from their embrace, so he can cup Oswald’s face, kisses him soundly before reaching down to pull his phone from his pocket. “I want to show you something.”

“Your trip to the museum?” Oz surmises. “You found something.”

“Yes, and no,” Jim replies. He pulls up the photos of the meteors, lets Oswald browse through them one by one.

“What the hell am I looking at?” he asks, puzzled, as he passes through them a second time.

Jim slides off his lap, moves to sit beside him instead as he answers, “I’m not sure, except that they’re strange and…they belong to Mister Luthor, though I’m not sure which one. Yet.”

Oswald’s head snaps to his left to meet Jim’s gaze. “Jim,” he says seriously, “whatever these are—it’s none of our business.”

Jim grimaces. “Not quite. When I was poking around down there, the museum director and Luthor’s assistant arrived shortly after. They’re moving them on Friday, so…”

“You think the wedding is a ploy?” Oswald frowns. “Why go through the trouble of contracting outsiders?”

“Not sure,” Jim admits. “On the surface, it looks like a case of eccentric paranoia of the super-rich. But I just can’t shake the feeling that there’s something more sinister at play here.”

“But you aren’t Batman,” Oz tells him then, “and meteorites are hardly contraband materials.”

He isn’t wrong, but leaving it go doesn’t feel right either. “I know,” he finally concedes, then, with more conviction, repeats, “I know.”

Oswald hums. “Still, I must confess my own curiosity is piqued. Perhaps there’s a way to assuage our mutual intrigue.”

“What do you mean?”

Oswald reaches over, retrieves his wallet from the nightstand. He sifts through it for a moment before slipping a business card from its folds. Wordlessly, he passes it over.

“Lex Luthor?” Jim reads it aloud.

“He was supposed to attend Gotham’s fashion week, but he never showed. And when Gloria contacted his publicist for a referral to his tailor, she mentioned that he wants to meet with me while I’m in town,” Oz informs. “If I can spare the time, of course.”

“He’s interested in Gotham,” Jim presses. “Why?”

“Who can say, though if I had to hedge a bet, I would place my money on daddy issues,” Oswald replies with a sniff. “Lionel Luthor is cutthroat, and his own progeny is often the subject of the man’s very public criticism.”

 “Are they dirty?”

“Lionel almost certainly is, as for Lex…” Oswald purses his lips as he considers. “Well. Apples don’t often fall too far from the tree, do they?”

“We could ask Ed,” Jim suggests. “Might be less dangerous than trying to figure it out on our own.”

“Unless he or Lee decide it’s prudent to inform their employer we asked,” Oswald returns, then sighs. “No. Meeting with Lex is inevitable. May as well get it over with. Besides, there’s no telling what opportunities might reveal themselves.”

“Am I supposed to pretend I didn’t hear that?” Jim asks, chagrinned, as Oswald pushes himself up and out of the bed.

“Hear what?” He innocently replies. “I’ll have Gloria set it up, but I’m afraid you’ll have to sit this one out, Detective. You’re something of a legend these days, I’m told.”

Jim snorts. “Hardly.”

“Don’t sell yourself short,” Oz advises, gathering his toiletries. “As insular as our city seems, it doesn’t actually exist in a vacuum. Metropolis is our neighbor, and The Daily Planet reports on all of us, and especially you. Frequently, I’ll have you know.”

“Fair enough,” Jim relents. “Still, you shouldn’t go alone.”

Oswald smiles. “Oh, I’m never alone.”

--

They don’t pick up the conversation when Oz reemerges from his shower. Jim doesn’t expect him to and anyway, he knows these things take some time. Gloria will have to make arrangements with Lex’s people, and Jim will just have to trust that he’ll be kept in the loop. Of course, this is all very brackish water they’re treading, and he’s feeling less and less sure that they ought pursue it at all.

Oswald is right in his assessment; Ed and Lee may be getting paid to put on a show but neither of them have so much as dropped a breadcrumb this week. It’s likely they didn’t even ask for the details, and who could blame them—Free money for the Narrows, and an all-expenses paid destination wedding? Shady, but not illegal. They certainly seem content with the arrangement, at least; more concerned about he and Oswald’s relationship and its consequences than anything else.

 This case can be closed, as far as Jim’s duty is concerned. Still, he spent the morning chasing this investigation, and all he has now are more questions than answers. Bruce will want to pursue it, of that Jim is certain, and there’ll be no talking him out of it. They may as well compare notes at the very least.

Oswald draws his attention outward when he asks, “Want to play a few rounds before we’re stuck on that dreadful bus?”

Jim snorts. “You mean you’re not excited about ‘Metropolis’ finest hop along bus tour’?” Jim quotes the pamphlet they’d been provided.

“I’d rather jump in front of a bus than be towed around on that godawful monstrosity.” Oswald frowns. “It’s going to be in the nineties today, and those things have no cover!”

“Don’t worry,” he soothes, “I bought sunscreen. I can even help you put it on.”

Jim crowds up behind him near the table where Oswald is setting the chess board. And it’s a terrible line—they aren’t going to the beach and Oswald rarely ever bares more than his face, blue skies be damned. Still, Jim feels him shiver as he presses his nose up behind his ear.

“What, um—” Oz takes a deep breath, slowly blows it out. “What else did you buy?”

Jim kisses along his neck, just below Oz’s earlobe. “Oh, this and that,” he teases, then back away to take his seat as he promises, “I’ll show you later.”

Oswald joins him a moment after, testy. “Your paltry attempts to distract me won’t save you,” he declares, gesturing to the board. “First move’s all yours.”

 Oswald defeats him handily, but Jim is having too much fun observing the man play to mind overmuch. Oz plays chess the way he runs circles around his enemies back home—considers each move without seeming overly invested in any particular piece until it’s too late to sidestep his strategy. Playing the game with him is eerily true to life.

“This is bad for my self-esteem,” Jim finally concedes after Oz traps his king for the fourth round in a row.

“Don’t be so hard on yourself,” Oswald advises, resetting the pieces. “You just need to develop your strategy. Brute force only gets you so far.”

Jim huffs. “I feel like there’s a double meaning hidden there somewhere.”

“Food for thought,” Oswald replies dismissively, then checks his watch. “We should get to the lobby, before Ed sends the search party.”

Oswald doesn’t wait for Jim to reply, climbs to his feet and goes about collecting his wallet and vest. Jim snags the sunscreen and meets him at the door, where Oz straightens his tie and declares him presentable. He doesn’t look half as sharp as Oswald, however, dressed in a black waistcoat with a gold paisley front, coordinating striped tie, and a white button-up that’s neatly tucked into his sharply creased black trousers. He forgoes a jacket, neatly rolls up his sleeves in deference to the expected heat instead, before tucking a pair of sunglasses into the small pocket of his vest.

 Jim follows him out the door, captivated by the confidence in Oswald’s posture, fairly strutting like a runway model. He’s always immaculately dressed, but rarely so casually stylish as this. Oswald must not realize how good a look it is on him or else he’d probably do it more often. Jim’s certainly taken with it, can’t keep his eyes off the way those trousers neatly hug his backside, the way that waistcoat accents the curve of his hips. He maybe stands a little too close as they wait for the elevator, closer still as they crowd inside its empty carriage.   

“What on earth has gotten into you?” Oswald asks as the doors close and he leans forward to press the button for their floor.

Their reflection is clearly visible in the polished stainless steel, and Jim runs his hands up along his ribs. “You always look so gorgeous,” Jim tells him.

Oswald blushes scarlet. “Don’t be ridiculous.”

“I’m serious,” Jim replies, grip sliding down to grasp those hips, pulling Oz back against his groin. “Look at yourself,” he tells him, raising fingers to trace the line of Oswald’s jaw. “You’ve barely aged a day; just as appealing now as you were ten years ago.”

“Jim!”

“I wanna get on my knees and suck your—”

Oz whirls around to press a hand over Jim’s mouth, eyes startled, as he demands, “What the hell!”

Jim’s not sure what comes over him, exactly. Maybe it’s just because he can—both of them wanting for the other’s touch—or, maybe it’s anticipation for the night ahead. He’s been humming all day with low level excitement, and now he’s suddenly burning with it. Whatever the reason, Jim brushes Oswald’s hand away from his mouth, backs him up against the wall of the elevator and kisses him in earnest.

Oswald moans against him, cane thumping against the floor of the elevator as he reaches in turn. Jim licks into his eager mouth, sighing with the relief of some imperceptible burden. It feels intoxicating, the way touching is when a relationship is new, like the sudden break of a levee over parched earth. Jim wants to soak it in, but the lift dings and the doors slide open. They break apart, startled, to find their entire group standing there, just inside the lobby—all of them wide-eyed, and some of them far too interested.

“I feel like I just walked in on my parents,” Selina says, then shrugs. “You know…if I’d had parents.”

Ed clears his throat then. “Tour’s starting in ten minutes. Nice of you both to join us.”

“You’re welcome,” Jim impertinently replies, bending to retrieve Oswald’s cane. He hands it over and offers his arm, distracting the others by brandishing the sunscreen with his free hand. “It’s hot as hell out there. Any takers?”

--

“Are you mad at me?” Jim asks, somewhere around the third stop of their tour. Oswald’s been very quiet since they found their seats at the back of the bus, a careful foot of distance between them. Jim had tried to hold his hand, but Oz had stubbornly folded his arms, hidden them away in the bends of his elbows.

“I’m fine!” Oswald snaps beneath his breath.

“Really?” Jim whispers skeptically. “Because I’m two seconds away from heat stroke over here, but you’re giving me frostbite—”

Oswald huffs irritably, snatching one of Jim’s hands and pressing it between his legs. His erection pushes against the back of Jim’s knuckles and, alright, that’s definitely his fault. The tour is packed, their unruly gang dispersed among the other tourists, but he glances over the rows before them to make certain all heads are turned toward the front. Satisfied, he turns his hand to cup Oswald over his pants.

“Jim!” he protests, a frantic whispered rebuke, which only serves as encouragement, really. Jim’s already formulating a solution when the bus pulls up along the curb and the tour guide announces their next stop.

“Welcome to the city’s famous historical downtown. Along the walkway here, you’ll find an assortment of popular attractions. The bus will be parked for thirty minutes,” he informs. “Please remember to carry all personal items with you at all times.”

Everyone begins to disembark, breaking off into small groups and pairs. No one waits for them, and Jim feels a devilish grin steal over his lips. “Let’s go see if that bookstore has a public bathroom.”

Oswald seems troubled, but he hunches over his cane and follows Jim anyway. The shop is quaint, stocked with used books from floor to ceiling, shelves crammed closely together as patrons mill around between the aisles. Jim spies a sign for the bathroom and cuts a winding path in its direction.

“I’ll go in first; wait three minutes. When it’s clear, come and knock on the door,” he instructs.

“What—”

“Just trust me.”

Oswald sighs, but nods as he nervously pretends to explore a nearby shelf.

A foreign giddiness washes over him as Jim slips into the restroom. It’s a shock of nervous adrenaline, something he hasn’t felt since he was very young, full of daring and a need to push all boundaries at once. He doesn’t think too hard about what he’s about to do, or how he’s probably way too old to be doing it; distracts himself by making a few necessary preparations instead.

Luckily, the toilet has a lid which he closes before washing his hands and grabbing a wad of paper towel. He drapes some over the seat just as Oz taps lightly on the door. Quietly, Jim lets him in and then throws the lock. He catches Oz up in a kiss, guiding them both over to the corner where the toilet is, before sitting himself down on the lid.

Oz gasps when Jim reaches for his fly, flinching away. Clearly shocked, he whispers, “What the hell are you doing?”

Jim licks his lips, far more amused by Oswald’s prudish behavior than he should be. He raises his eyebrows suggestively as he dares, “Come here and find out.”

“Oh!” Oswald’s eyes grow wide as saucers, his face flushing comically. He presses a hand to his mouth. “Oh my god,” he whispers, strained, behind his fingers. Yet he takes a hesitant step forward, then another, as if his feet have a mind all their own.  “Oh, God. Oh-god, oh-god, oh-god, What am I doing?”

Jim chuckles, hooks his fingers through Oz’s belt loops the second he’s back within reach and gently yanks him between the open V of his thighs. He doesn’t waste what little time they have with teasing. Instead, he quickly works the fly of Oz’s trousers open, parts the Y front of his underwear to slip his stiff cock out into the open air between them. Jim does spare a single moment to admire it up close, however, just to note the differences between them.

Mostly, how thick Oswald is, the pointed tip of the head, as he gives the shaft a few pulls just to see how it weeps. Oz is shaking above him and Jim glances up at the sound of his muffled whimper. He’s got both hands pressed over his mouth, eyes squeezed shut as he breathes sharply through his nose.

“Open your eyes,” Jim tells him. “Let me see you.”

After a long breath, he does, and Jim presses the barest of kisses right to the tip as a reward. Oswald’s his eyes are wild, locked on his own and he swears the man fairly squeaks at the contact. Jim huffs, slips his hands around to Oswald’s full, plump backside, pulls him forward into his open mouth. There’s a whimper, then quick, frantic breaths as Jim encourages him to thrust.

Finally, Oswald’s hands—trembling and clumsy—fall onto Jim’s shoulders, gently bracing his head. He curls over Jim, practically cradling him, touches him like he’s some kind of fine, breakable thing. The way he fucks his face, too, is slow and careful—adoring—though he can feel the way Oswald struggles for control. He’s so wound up, almost stilted with it, and Jim wonders just how long it’s been since his last blow job. Has there really been no one since Ed, all those years ago?

That thought alone fuels Jim’s eagerness to please him. When Oz next pushes forward, he opens his throat and takes him in down to the root. There’s a little choked off sound of surprise, followed by another whimper. Jim moans in appreciation, swats Oz’s ass encouragingly before kneading it greedily, then deep throats his cock until he feels it tense and throb against his tongue. He backs up just enough to taste Oswald’s climax, and he’s not one for the texture usually, but he wants to give him an experience. If it really has been that long, then Jim’s going to swallow every drop.

And it’s worth it.

Oz’s expression, when his mouth drops open and his eyes become stricken with pleasure and wonder—it’s worth it. He looks like a starving man after his first bite of food, like a blind man gifted suddenly with sight, like someone who’s just stepped into the promised land. It’s all the things Oswald hides so carefully—raw emotion—laid open for only Jim, and it’s humbling.

Beautiful.

Slowly, Jim licks him clean, tucks him neatly back into his pants, and finally pulls away only to have Oswald climb into his lap. He curls around Jim as much as he’s able, arms tight around his neck, face pressed against the side of his head and Jim’s pretty sure he’s crying. He’s heard of people being touched starved, had a friend in the Marines that was certified in massage therapy. He used to talk about his experience with clients that would cry on the table, how the simplest touch came as such a relief. Jim’s just never really seen that kind of need, though he probably should have expected it.

He isn’t put off by it, if a little saddened. Jim’s not had a steady relationship in ages, but he’s not been totally celibate the past few years either. Even when he’s not getting laid, he has a circle of people around him he can trust. People who are openly affectionate, unafraid to the throw an arm around his shoulders or physically comfort him when he’s down. He can’t imagine anyone in Oswald’s inner circle brave enough, or dumb enough, to do the same and so Jim holds him back.

“Alright?” he asks after a few long moments, hands running soothingly up and down Oz’s spine.

Oswald sniffs, nods as he slowly pulls away. He glances downward, nervous as he says, “You didn’t get to…”

“I can wait,” Jim replies easily. His own arousal is a steady simmer, but he’s not feeling overwhelmed by it either. His focus had been on giving, and he’s more than satisfied with the outcome.

 He’s pretty sure Oswald is too, though he won’t meet Jim’s eyes after, unusually quiet as they wash up and sneak back out into the bookstore. Jim doesn’t ask about it, just drapes an arm across his shoulders and kisses his temple as they meander through the aisles. He feels obligated to buy a few things, a sort of unspoken apology for abusing the restroom policy.

It isn’t until they’re back on the bus, tour guide chirping away about their next stop, that Oz finds his gaze. He’s leant over into Jim’s space, his voice quietly pitched for their ears only, as he says, “Jim, I was thinking…when we get back to Gotham—”

“Quite the adventure so far, huh fellas?” Ed interrupts, plopping himself down onto the bench just before them. He gestures toward the paper bag at Oswald’s feet. “Still expanding your library, I see.”

“Jim bought them for me,” Oswald proudly reveals. He pulls a copy of Logical Chess: Move by Move from the bag. “Except this one.”

Jim snorts. “Ha, ha. Put that away,” he says, pushing Oswald’s hand back down toward the bag.

“Not an accomplished player, Detective?” Ed asks, not unkindly.

Suddenly, Bruce materializes to drop down into the seat at Jim’s side. “He’s terrible,” he asserts, “no book will save him.”

Oswald giggles. “We’ll see. With a little tutoring your games might just get interesting.”

“Wouldn’t mind playing his tutor,” Bruce challenges. “See if it’s worth getting my hopes up.”

Ed grunts. “Good luck. Oswald is a master strategist.”

Oz grins beatifically, clearly pleased with the praise, and Jim isn’t jealous; he just doesn’t think the compliment warrants quite so much appreciation. He tells himself it’s nothing to be worried about—and it isn’t—but there’s a part of him secretly annoyed all the same.

“He definitely wiped the floor with me this morning,” Jim tells them ruefully, as he throws a casually possessive arm around Oz’s shoulders. He then eyes Bruce accusingly. “Unlike some people, he’s graciously offered to help me improve my game.”

“You never asked!” Bruce defends.

“I’m sure chess isn’t the primary course of study,” Ed interjects with a lascivious wink.

Oswald blushes. “It is as far as either of you are concerned.”

Bruce claps Jim on the shoulder. “Pretty sure that’s my cue,” he says to Ed, then asks, “You got a minute, Jim? Me and Selina want a picture of us passing by the Daily Planet.”

Jim turns a saccharine, pleading glance toward Oswald, who rolls his eyes in response. “Go on then,” he says, shoving Jim’s shoulder playfully.

“I’ll be quick,” he promises anyway, kisses Oz loudly on the cheek. The look Oswald gives him as he gets up can only be described as tender.

Bruce and Selina make a show of posing in front of the Daily Planet when the bus pulls up to its curb. Jim snaps their photo, then quickly pulls up his album while everyone is distracted doing the same. Bruce frowns as he and Selina peruse the pictures.

“What does he want with them?” Bruce muses under his breath.

“We’re not sure,” Jim says.

Selina tilts her head to the side. “We?”

He sighs as they return his phone. “Oswald seems to think—”

“Out of my way!”

Jim whirls around at Oswald’s shout, finds him angrily gathering his things. Ed is hovering nearby, hands on his hips as he frowns disapprovingly. Jim blinks, confused, and then Oswald takes up his cane and whacks Ed on the shoulder, violently.

“How could you be so foolish!” Oz shouts.

“It’s a lot of money, Oswald!” Ed catches the cane as it comes toward him again, yanks it hard enough that Oswald nearly loses his balance.

 Jim moves to intervene, but suddenly everyone has moved into the aisle to gawk. For her part, Lee seems intent to step in as well, if only Barb weren’t in her way. Oswald releases the cane with a push that nearly sends Ed toppling over the bench behind him.

“Always know your opponent, Edward!” He sneers. “Or have you completely forgotten everything I taught you?”

“That’s rich,” Ed shouts, “coming from someone who doesn’t even know how to discern friend from foe anymore!”

“You’re just jealous!” Oz accuses. “You can’t stand to see me happy!”

“Jealous? I’m embarrassed for you!” Ed shoves the cane into Oz’s chest. “You’ve actually deluded yourself into believing that someone like Jim Gordon could ever fall for the likes of you! It’s pathetic, Oswald. You should know better—he isn’t one of us!”

Ed only seems to realize the implications of what he’s said a moment after it’s left his mouth. He gazes at Oswald with such regret, and if Jim weren’t already seething, maybe it’d make a difference. As it is, Oswald looks gutted. Humiliation radiates from him like waves, his eyes stricken as they search the faces of those gathered around.

All of them except Jim, and that’s the final straw, really. He pushes his way through the other tourists, blindly furious.

Ed opens his mouth. “Oswald, don’t misunderstand—”

Jim inserts his fist, Ed falls into the space between the benches. He thinks maybe someone calls his name, but it sounds so far away. He can’t hear anything over the growl of his own voice as he hauls Ed back to his feet. Jim drags him into the aisle away from Oswald, then shoves him toward the rest of the group.

“Shove your nose where it doesn’t belong one more time, Nygma, and next time, I swear I’ll break it,” he threatens.

There’s a beat of utter silence and then, slowly, clapping. He looks up to find faces both familiar and not staring back at him with stunned approval. Barb smirks, clapping along with the crowd, as Lee assesses the damage to Ed’s mouth. Jim snorts, because he’ll be fine. Pissed as he is, Jim still pulled his punches.

A body brushes against his back, Oz pushing past him and everyone else to hastily escape the scene. With an apologetic glance toward Bruce, he grabs Oz’s forgotten bags, and follows after.

“Real nice, Jim,” Lee says when he passes.

Jim huffs. He doesn’t know if it’s true, but his instincts are rarely misguided. “You think he’s just gonna let you two walk away? You’re in over your heads.” He shifts his gaze to Ed. “So, maybe don’t shit all over the few friends you have left.”

Oz is nowhere to be found by the time Jim fights his way off the tour bus. Still, he checks a few of the shops that line the sidewalk. Of course, he’d be a lot less worried if Oz would answer his damned calls. He’s been searching for the better part of an hour before his phone finally buzzes.

I’m okay. Needed some space. Meet me back at the hotel?  

Jim sighs, relieved as he taps out a reply. I get it. Just, I’m sorry I didn’t step in faster.

Not your fault. Ed and I...It was inevitable.

He wants to ask why it was inevitable, why the two of them are always so hot and cold toward one another, but that seems insensitive somehow. Jim sees a taxi, then, puts his phone away long enough to flag it down, tell the driver where he’s headed.

I’m on my way back, he types, you want me to grab dinner on the way?

The reply is almost immediate: I ordered room service. Should be here by the time you are.

Thank fuck. Jim’s ravenous, especially now his stomach is no longer tied in knots with worry. The drive doesn’t take long, and Jim’s riding the elevator up to their floor less than thirty minutes later.

“Oz?” He calls, the second he steps back into their suite.

There’s a giggle, its tone mischievous, before he hears the reply, “In the bathroom.”

The room service is neatly organized over the counter, but Jim ignores it for now. Curiously, he treads toward the bathroom, stowing his shoes and jacket in the closet before knocking at the door to announce his presence.

“S’open,” Oz tells him, words slurred, voice unusually chipper.

Jim pushes it in, and it rolls over him like fog. The smoke isn’t dense, Oz making use of the exhaust fan, but there’s no mistaking the earthy scent of marijuana. Even so, he has trouble processing what’s before him.

The tub is filling while Oz leans against the sink—the counter of which is littered with paraphernalia and an assortment of sweets—and he’s got a cake pop in one hand, a lit joint in the other. He turns a giddy stare in Jim’s direction, waves his cake pop in greeting.

“Hello, Jim,” he says, grinning widely. “Dinner came, did you see? You should eat, and then we should take a bath.” Oz sighs, followed by a giggle before he brightens and adds, “I bought all these nice soaps while I was downtown. You have got to let me wash your hair!”

Jim blinks.

“Oz…are you—is that,” Jim stutters. “Are you actually high right now?”

Oswald bites his lip, but it doesn’t stop him from grinning. “Are you gonna arrest me, officer?”

Jim tuts, exasperated, as he rubs his forehead. “Oswald—”

“Oswald,” he parrots, then blows a raspberry before pinching his joint between his fingers, flicking the lighter and taking a hit.

Right in front of him.

“It’s been a very long day, Jim,” he says calmly between drags.

“I was worried about you, and this is what you went looking for when you stomped off?” He asks, and he doesn’t mean to sound judgmental, but that is exactly how he sounds. Oz doesn’t miss it either, pushes away from the sink.

“Oh, please,” he replies unfazed, coming to stand right in Jim’s space. “I can take care of myself, Nancy3. And don’t act like you’ve never tried it!”

Jim rolls his eyes, holds up his hands to concede the point to which Oswald gasps theatrically.

“You have tried it!” He clutches his chest, woefully cries, “Say it isn’t so! Captain Gordon, smoking the devil’s lettuce! Think of the children, Jim!”

“Shuddup.” Jim sniggers. He can’t help himself, much to Oswald’s clear delight. He giggles happily, sliding an arm around Jim’s waist and leading him further into the room, back beneath the exhaust fan. There’s a covered tray sat on the counter, something he’d been too distracted to notice earlier.

“What’s this?” he asks, fingers slipping into its handle even as he does. He lifts the lid to discover a beautiful arrangement of chocolate covered strawberries, truffles and fresh fruit.

“Snacks, love,” Oswald absently replies, then splutters, hastily takes another hit.

“Hey, take it easy,” Jim says, reaches up to gently stop him.

Oz sighs then, almost plaintively, as he gestures toward the tray. “Help yourself.”

Jim pops a truffle into his mouth, moaning as it hits his tongue because, fuck, that’s good, and he’s starving. Habitually, he licks his thumb clean, then raises his gaze to find Oz staring at him dazedly.

“What?”

“Do you have any idea how beautiful you are?” Oz asks him, then sighs. “God, I hate it when he’s right.”

“Ed is not right,” Jim says, because who else would he be talking about? It chafes, more than it should, that he’s the one that’s here and yet it’s Nygma that Oz is still thinking about.

“I’m being rude.” Oswald clicks his tongue, holds out the joint. “Your knuckles are all bruised, you probably need this more than I do. Promise I won’t tell.”

Jim sighs. “Oz, you know I can’t. I’m—”

“On vacation,” he interjects, leaning closer as he takes a long pull. Smoke swirls just beyond the open circle of his lips, and this is another line.

He should insist that Oz put it out or tell him to finish it alone at the very least. He can see, even through the haze of his half-lidded gaze, that Oz is only half serious. He probably expects Jim to tell him no, is fully prepared let it go and he should.

The thing is, Jim’s tired of doing the expected. Tired of being so predictable that he may as well have ‘boring’ stamped on his forehead. He doesn’t have anything to prove, he knows that, but it’s the principle of the thing. The shift is subtle, Oz’s gaze morphing from teasing to disbelief, as Jim leans in to call his bluff.

Hell, they’ve broken worse laws together.

So, he’s doing this; eyes wide open to revel in Oswald’s impressed gaze as their lips brush, just barely.

And then…

Jim breathes it in.

Chapter Text

“This is…I haven’t been this relaxed in ages,” Jim says.

They’re sitting in the hot tub, both reclining along the stone lounge by the window. There’s an arm rest jutted out between them where an ashtray and a spent joint rests beside a thin tray of fruit and cheese cubes. Oswald rolls his head along the ledge behind him so he can see Jim’s face.

His eyes, usually so alert and burdened with purpose, are half lidded and fond as they stare back, guileless. The little crease between Jim’s eyebrows is smooth too, his lips upturned in a lazy smile. Oswald can’t remember what he’d been about to say to that face.

Instead, he blurts, “You really are beautiful.”

Jim chuckles. “Eye of the beholder, more like.”

Oswald shakes his head. “No. It’s…” He sniggers. “Everyone’s eyes.”

“Yeah, well, so’re you,” Jim tells him as he plucks a cube of mozzarella from the tray.

Oswald is no stranger to marijuana, uses it frequently to combat chronic pain. There’s no amount of weed, however, that could suspend his disbelief to such extremes.

Uncharitably, he mutters, “Spare me.”

Jim blinks, pauses mid-chew to regard him curiously. “I don’t understand you sometimes,” he says.

“Don’t talk with your mouth full.”

Jim rolls his eyes, but dutifully swallows his food before he continues, “You used to be so self-assured. You knew you were hot shit, and you liked to flaunt it. Now you don’t ever leave your tower. I don’t get it.”

“Things change,” he replies dismissively. “And I am self-assured. I just happen to also be self aware.”

“I saw you looking,” Jim says then, “back before. You looked at me.”

“Duh,” Oswald shamelessly admits. “You’re—”

Jim sits up abruptly, leans onto the partition between them. “I was too,” he says. “I looked at you—all the time. I was…” there’s a blush rising up his neck, slowly blooming over his cheeks. “You fascinate me.”

Oswald’s chest feels heavy suddenly, can’t help but look at Jim with his heart wide open. “I did?”

“You do,” Jim amends. “I know you didn’t like it when people called you Penguin, but you do look like a bird.”

Oswald snorts, cackling. “You’re really bad at this.”

“No, no.” Jim reaches out to gently grasp Oswald’s forearm. “I’m not. Just…listen,” he pleads through his own breathless laughter.

“Oh, I’m listening,” he promises, covering his mouth with the back of his hand.

Jim takes a breath, slowly lets it out. “What I mean is, you’re elegant—your face has avian like…”

Oswald sniggers. “As eloquent as a slow-motion train wreck.”

Jim sighs in defeat, then ducks his head as he solemnly mutters, “I don’t mean it to be insulting. It’s like—you remind me of those little song birds on Park Street. The ones that line up on the power lines there at the corner. I watch them from the diner across the street sometimes when me and Harvey go for lunch.

“They’re dapper little things.” Jim looks up, finally, and Oswald can’t fathom his expression. “You’re like they are—sharp and soft. All black and white and gray, but you still glimmer when the light’s just right.”

The words are clumsily delivered, like a broken train of thought rather than a declaration, yet they land on his ears like honey and silk. It makes him fall a little deeper, seeing Jim try so hard to make him feel desirable. He’s done a fine job of it today, too, acting as if he can’t keep his hands to himself.

He knows it’s all some build up to their plans tonight, unnecessary as it is. Oswald doesn’t need to be wooed any further, doesn’t need any convincing. Still, he’d rather amputate his good leg than tell the man to stop.

The mental image he has of Jim’s lips, swollen and perfect, wrapped around his cock will haunt him forever when this is over. Exquisite is the only word for the sensation; tender, the only way to describe his touch. Oswald dreads returning home, leaving this fantasy behind. Even now, the thought of this week’s inevitable end twists him up from the inside, puts a melancholy twist on his high.

He yearns to say it, long-held truths pulling at his tongue. Jim wouldn’t laugh, at the very least, but Oswald can picture the gentle reproach of his rejection. His dark blue eyes would be so sympathetic, his words kind and truly very sorry. Of course, Jim would then insist they put a stop to their arrangement, end it prematurely. Any hope of ever being relied upon to assuage Jim’s loneliness in the future would be inevitably squelched as well.

It’s nothing. He’s lived with unspoken words before, and it’s easier this time when he’s already sure of their futility. Oswald will take them to the grave, and Jim won’t ever have to feel guilty. Love is about sacrifice, after all.

Oswald quirks his lips into a smirk. “You are so very high.”

“I really am,” Jim agrees, reaching down to pinch a quartered strawberry between his index finger and thumb. “Still true though.”

“Thank you,” he quietly replies. Jim seems to light up at his acceptance, and Oswald blurts, “That’s undoubtedly the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me.”

Jim’s eyes widen in surprise before they darken with inexplicable fury. “Ed wasn’t right for you, Oswald.”

He blinks. “Well…duh.”

“No, I mean…” Jim pushes off the bench, sinking down into the water as he rounds the ledge between them on his knees.

He slides his hands up Oswald’s thighs, pushing himself between them until they’re almost pressed flush together, groin to stomach. Oswald sits up, compelled to touch in return. He slips his own hands along Jim’s arms, across his shoulders until his fingers meet with the hair at the back of his head.

“You deserve to be treated better than that,” Jim tells him. “Love should be…it should be kind, you know? It should give as much as it takes, and Nygma—he’s a taker.”

“I…” He feels flustered, suddenly, thrown by this indignation on his behalf. “I know that—”

“Do you?” Jim interjects, fingertips inching higher still as he leans ever closer.

His belly presses against Oswald’s flaccid cock, and he gasps at the contact. It’s still such a foreign thing, his body so unaccustomed to it, so sensitive to the barest touch. It’s almost too much, and he closes his eyes, but Jim’s breath blows warm and soft against his face, and he smells like strawberries and sweet kush.

“He didn’t appreciate you,” Jim tells him.

Oswald huffs. “Is that what people do?”

Jim’s kiss is a gentle pressure, his words a tantalizing promise. “It’s what I’m gonna do.”

They don’t linger in the bath, but the trek from the tub to the bed is something of a blur. Oswald relies on marijuana for pain relief mostly, but he also enjoys the high. It slows the buzz of his mind without robbing him of control. It does make it difficult to focus on more than one thing at a time, however, and he’s lost to anything that isn’t Jim.

The way he smiles when Oswald can’t keep from crying out. How it feels to be near him, crowded with the back of his knees pressing against the mattress, as Jim kisses him over and over. The way his hands roam over Oswald’s body, eager to caress even the bits he himself doesn’t like to look at.  

Oswald doesn’t know where to put his own hands, clutches Jim’s shoulders just to hang on. It’s only a bed behind him, but it might as well be some yawning abyss come to claim him. There’s no going back after this, no denying what is about to transpire between them. No forgetting it, either; not ever.

“Nervous?” Jim asks, hands a warm pressure where they now cradle his hips.

He can’t summon the words to describe the things happening within and without, isn’t sure he’d want to even if he could. He manages a small nod instead as Jim nuzzles along his neck.

“It’s alright,” Jim tells him. “I’m not gonna hurt you.”

Oswald would smile, because that’s what he does when things hurt, and nothing has ever hurt quite like this. Having and not, all at once. Jim makes it all seem so easy, bestows his words and his touch so freely, completely unrestrained. He’s having fun—they both are—seeking and giving pleasure. Is this really what people are? Is this what casual sex is?

It can’t be; no one would survive walking away from it.

Oswald is certain he won’t, and maybe that fact alone should be enough for him to put a stop to it. He closes his eyes instead, tilts his neck in silent invitation. Jim doesn’t hesitate, kisses him just there, beneath his ear, in a spot he’d never known was erogenous before this week. And that’s the price, isn’t it? A wealth of new experiences, the value of which can’t be quantified.

Ignorance is not as blissful as this, after all. It will be worth all of it to have memories of his own to draw from.

“I want you,” Oswald whispers, his desires easily finding their voice once he gives himself over to them.

Jim leans away slightly, smiling as his hands find Oswald’s and he tangles their fingers. “You can have me.”

He pulls away then, completely at ease in his naked skin as he draws back the covers, and Oswald envies him. He isn’t half as comfortable walking around nude, even at home. He doesn’t understand how Jim can still want him after seeing him naked in the light but it’s plain that he does. Oswald can’t stop himself from glancing at the man’s cock after all, thick and full and bouncing, as he smooths the blankets and sets out their supplies.

He must be terribly lonely, Oswald thinks, because that’s the only reason for Jim’s behavior he can summon. Lonely and desperate, and too long without. Still, Oswald isn’t faring much better, though he’d take everything if only it were on offer. He doubts Jim would have him, though it has occurred to him to offer more of this in lieu of a confession.

If they’re both so lonely, there’s no reason not to continue their arrangement beyond this week. He’d been about to broach the subject, had almost succeeded in rallying himself to the task, before Ed had interrupted them on the bus.

“Oz,” Jim calls him, and Oswald loves it. No one’s ever made an endearment of his name before, and that’s what it is. That’s how Jim uses it, and he’s the only person that ever will. Oswald will kill anyone else that dares try it.

“Can we go to bed now?” Oswald asks, sounding far too pleading to his own ears.

Jim hums, then sighs. “Absolutely. I’m just missing one of my bags—”

“I already used the saline wash,” Oswald interrupts. “Before you got back.”

Jim huffs, chagrined. He drapes his arms over Oswald’s shoulders, and presses their foreheads together. “Always a step ahead, huh?”

It’s not the first time Jim’s said it, Oswald remembers, and he falters. “Is that…it’s a good thing, isn’t it?”

“Sometimes.” Jim grins knowingly when Oswald’s eyes dart to his. “It definitely is right now.”

Oswald isn’t entirely sure why it was necessary to wash in that particular way, but he isn’t about to ask for an explanation. There’s a carefully reinforced misconception between them that Oswald has done any of this before, and he would like to keep it that way. The less Jim knows about his embarrassing lack of experience, frankly, the better. It’s his personal business, after all.

“You wanna lay down on your stomach for me, sweetheart?” Jim asks then, pitching Oswald right back into his body. “Unless you don’t like it that way.”

It’s sweet how he’s always, first and foremost, concerned with the comfort of his lover. Oswald can easily understand how losing Jim might drive one to commit desperate, terrible acts to reclaim him. Luckily for them both, Oswald holds no illusions of forever.  

Carefully, again, he dances around the implication that he has preferences. He pecks a gentle kiss against Jim’s lips, then wordlessly crawls onto the bed and settles on his stomach. Slowly, he bends the knee of his right leg and drags it up, casts a backward glance in Jim’s direction and gives him a wink.

“Should have figured,” Jim says, crawling in after him. “More than happy to let someone else do all the work.”

“Not someone. You,” Oswald tells him, though he knows the extent of his honesty is obscured by the context. “Besides, you did offer,” he points out, as he folds his arms beneath the pillow and finds a comfortable position for his head.  “Were you hoping I wouldn’t accept?”

He feels the bed shift and Jim moves to hover above him. He buries his nose against Oswald’s temple, rests a warm hand over the curve of his ass. It’s a bold declaration of intent, if not possession. As if, somehow, Jim intrinsically understands that Oswald is his.

“I wouldn’t do that,” Jim tells him. “It’s what I want too. I just wanna make you feel good.”

“What about you?” he asks. “Should I—”

Jim shushes him, trails sloppy little kisses across his ear and the back of his head. Down his neck, back and forth across his shoulders and slowly down his spine. A second hand joins the first when Jim’s lips reach the small of his back, and he massages Oswald’s sciatic nerve for a moment before sliding both palms over his ass.

It's a little disconcerting, that part of him being the focus of such scrutiny. His erection, roaring to life under Jim’s gentle procession, wilts slightly as Jim takes to playing with it. There’s literally no other description for the way he squeezes and releases, pushes and pulls it around like clay dough.

“What on earth are you doing?” He asks indignantly.

The playing ceases, but Jim says nothing—the air stills between them for long moments. Oswald is tempted to roll over and demand an explanation, when Jim kisses it. Literally kisses Oswald’s ass, a lingering press of lips against the right cheek before he lays his face against it.

“I love this ass,” Jim tells him, and Oswald feels his heart stop.

“Y-you do?”

Jim hums, a lazy affirmation. “You ever let anyone eat you before?”

“I—no?” He doesn’t even know what that means, if not what Jim did to him this afternoon.

Jim squeezes Oswald’s other cheek, then pushes it out; cold air rush against his skin in places it normally doesn’t, and he shudders. The urge to reach back and swat at Jim’s hand is strong, his nerves twitching with embarrassment and excitement both, rendering him a restless pool of indecision.

“Will you let me show you?” Jim asks. “Please? Promise you’ll like it, baby.”

Oswald is still skeptical, but Jim’s so close to begging that surely it must be important. If he wants it so badly. Oswald finds himself nodding against his pillow, shoulders tense with uncertainty.

“If you—we can try it,” he stutters.

Jim shifts then, hands sliding down and under Oswald’s thighs, gently nudging his legs apart with his shoulders. Oswald is draped over his arms now in such a way that his ass is just slightly angled toward the ceiling. Strong hands grasp either side of it, fingers digging possessively into his flesh to bare him entirely. Nervous, but infinitely curious, he glances back over his shoulder.

Jim licks his lips, his grip tightening. “Fucking Christ—it’s so tiny.”

It’a such a lewd thing to say, yet it’s done with such awe that Oswald feels a shock of pride wash over him. The hunger in Jim’s eyes buoys his confidence, makes him feel powerful in some primal way. Wantonly, he cants his hips further toward the ceiling.  

“Do you think you’ll fit?” he asks, tone laden with coquettish challenge.

Jim whimpers, a mournful, wounded sound, and then his face is there—right there—nuzzling the most intimate parts of him.

“I’m gonna make it fit,” Jim tells him, voice gravelly and dark the way it is when he’s being particularly crass. “Gonna get you so wet and so fucking loose you’ll be gaping for me.”

“Yes.” Oswald sighs through his nose, nerves on fire with anticipation. He pinches his eyes closed, inhales sharply at the press of Jim’s nose to his perineum. Warm air flits across his skin, followed by a long, wet swipe of Jim’s tongue that starts behind his balls and goes up, up and up.

Oswald whines at the first push against his hole, then screams outright. His face falls in to the pillow, a desperate attempt to bury the sounds he can’t contain. He doesn’t know what he’d been expecting, but this can’t have been it.

Jim’s tongue.

Is inside of him.

“Oh, oh, my God!” Oswald can’t keep his hips still for long, cock dragging against the sheets as he pushes himself back against Jim’s face. He can’t imagine how this is pleasurable for Jim, but Oswald hears him moaning—he feels it, waves of shivers crawling up his spine—and he wants more. No—he needs it, is half out of his mind with just how badly.

It goes on forever, until Oswald can feel saliva trailing down his sack. Until his cock his hot and throbbing with neglect. Until the only words he can mutter are “yes” and “more” and “please.”

It’s then, however, that Jim’s tongue recedes entirely, and Oswald shamelessly whines, “Wha—wait! Where are you going?”

“Not far,” Jim tells him, voice hoarse with disuse. “Thought you might wanna try something a little different.”

Oswald could literally ride Jim’s face for the rest of eternity. On the other hand, he figures it can’t be half as nice to have one’s face buried in any ass for extended periods of time. It just isn’t fair! When this is over, where the hell is he going to find anyone else willing to do…that?

“You’re pouting,” Jim observes, and Oswald hears the distinct sound of a plastic cap being popped. “You think I’m done?”

His heart skips. “You’re not…tired?”

“Tired?” Jim snorts, runs his hands back and forth over Oswald’s lower back and thighs. “We haven’t gotten started yet.”

Oswald grits his teeth, shifts restlessly against the sheets. He can sense the intent in Jim’s touch, finds himself arching up like a cat to meet his every stroke. He sighs in relief when, finally, those deft fingers slip into the cleft to tease once more at his entrance.

“I could watch you squirm like this all night,” Jim says. He runs the pad of his thumb back and forth over Oswald’s hole, lets the blunt edge of his trimmed nail catch along the rim, and Oswald groans impatiently.

“Please, Jim,” he begs. “I want…want…”

Jim’s finger finally pushes against his hole, and Oswald feels every millimeter of himself stretched around the minute intrusion. It’s a firmer presence than Jim’s tongue, but not completely foreign. Oswald’s been curious in the past and he’s inched one of his own fingers up there before, but it wasn’t half as tantalizing as this. He’d been uncomfortable, clumsy with inexperience and nerves. He’d given up fairly quickly, knew he’d been going about it the wrong way, but unable to discern how to make it any better.

“I could eat you all day, but we’d both starve eventually,” Jim tells him. “This is what you really want.”

“Ah!” Oswald’s breath is forced out by Jim’s next maneuver.

Another finger, wet with lube, replaces Jim’s thumb and there’s no teasing or testing this time. He pushes it in, careful but without pause, until Oswald feels Jim's fist flush against his burning skin.

“You want to feel it on the inside,” Jim whispers darkly. “Deeper.”

He strokes Oswald with a single digit, an imitation of sex that makes him ache with fresh arousal. Another finger joins the fray, and this is foreign. It isn’t painful, not like it had been when he’d tried it all alone, impatient and frustrated with himself. What it actually is, he can’t say. It’s pressure and a bit of a dare.

“Thicker,” Jim continues. “You wanna be full, don’t you?”

“Yes,” he whines. “Yes, yes.”

He does, he really, really does. Shamelessly, mindlessly, he chases the intrusion, hips working to fuck himself on Jim’s fingers, because it’s good and he wants it, but it isn’t nearly enough. He wants to feel it, really feel it. Split open on Jim’s cock, their bodies pushing and pulling together, giving back as good as he gets.

“Please…”

Jim pulls his fingers loose, then guides him onto his back. Oswald reaches for him the second their eyes meet, moans when their lips finally touch. He tastes himself there, on Jim’s tongue, smells sex on his skin and it’s heady but not unpleasant.

Jim reaches down, shoves three fingers back inside him and mercilessly strokes him from the inside. Oswald growls, grinds down onto Jim’s hands, catches his bottom lip between his teeth, then grabs a fistful of his hair and pulls. Jim’s lip is red and swollen when Oswald releases it, half out of his mind for wanting him so badly.

“Enough,” he hoarsely demands, eyes falling to Jim’s lower lip, dropped in apparent fascination. Impulsively, Oswald leans forward, licks a stripe from Jim’s chin to the bow of his top lip. “Fuck me.”

Jim doesn’t react how he expects, doesn’t rise to Oswald’s challenge with equal ferocity. Doesn’t push him down and take what’s on offer, like Oswald’s read in a hundred different bodice-ripper novels. Instead, Jim smiles at him, eyes soft, lips softer when they take Oswald’s own in a gentle kiss. His hands are reverent where they frame Oswald’s jaw, thumbs stroking patiently over his cheeks.

It’s tender.

He feels—Jim makes him feel loved.

Oswald feels it in his touch, the great care he takes to soothe and comfort, and it’s not painful here, though it should be. It isn’t real, it isn’t anything more than bodies and pleasure. Oswald isn’t delusional—so this should hurt, shouldn’t it? Because he does love Jim, his infatuation deemed safe in its unrequited state when there was no need for denial. And now...Now, it’s too late to summon any to save himself.

His body goes lax against the mattress as Jim bears him slowly down. They part just long enough for Jim to apply a condom from the box on the nearby stand, and then he’s back. Right there, pushing in, and in, and breaking Oswald in some unnameable, irrevocable way.

Yet, giving into it is so much easier than fighting it, the constant push back against his own emotions. The struggle to maintain control, in all situations, to be unaffected and invulnerable—it’s exhausting. And this…this is safe. Safe enough, and it feels good. He wants to be in this moment with Jim, and why shouldn’t he embrace it?

Isn’t that the entire point of this arrangement? They can be free here, and that single thought is all it takes for the flood gates to open. Suddenly, his hands know exactly where they want to be, enthusiastically petting Jim’s skin, the fine hairs of his arms and chest, tracking the shift of his muscles as he moves between Oswald’s legs.

“Alright?” Jim asks, and Oswald hums lazily in response.

He winds his legs around Jim’s hips, pulls him deeper with a sigh. Jim was right—this is what he wanted, though he can’t describe the satisfaction that comes with being stretched open and filled. Or why it’s so satisfying—just that it’s an odd pleasure, one that only grows and builds with every stroke of Jim’s cock, every breath shared between them.

“Like that?” Jim whispers, and his lips graze against Oswald’s earlobe.

It’s hard to summon words, his tongue thick and feeling far too loose. But Jim deserves to know something of his affection, deserves praise for gifting Oswald a taste of his wonderful talents. Gently, he turns his head to press a worshipful kiss to Jim’s temple.

“I’ve liked everything you’ve given me,” he quietly confesses, careful with his breaths and even more so with his words. “You make me feel so good, Jim. Make…make me—Oh!”

Oswald jolts against the mattress when Jim’s wet fist wraps around his aching cock unexpectedly. The pace is unhurried, but Oswald feels himself catapulting toward the precipice at an alarming rate. There’s a frisson of sensation that twinges every time Jim pushes into him and it becomes near unbearable with the added friction of Jim’s hand around his length.

“S’too much,” Oswald slurs, eyes rolling up into his head.

“So close, baby,” Jim tells him, breaths ragged as he works his hips with merciless intent. “You feel so good. Wanna feel you come like this.”

Clumsily, Oswald guides Jim’s face within kissing range and seizes his lips. He kisses Jim with abandon, takes all the tangled emotions he associates with this man and pours them directly into his pliant mouth. Jim moans in response, sucks Oswald’s tongue as he drives them both over the brink. They come like that, together, in each other’s arms.

Absently, as they trade lazy kisses, Oswald wonders if Jim will someday recall the taste of his desperation.

Chapter Text

Lex Luthor’s office is cold and barren, all sharp, glass angles and black, powder-coated steel save for the walls which are decorated similarly with various artisan blades and framed artwork. Even the art is minimalist, consisting of black and white abstract charcoals, likely exclusive prints bought directly from the artists. The daggers are utilitarian reproductions, bereft of any mars from history and thus lacking in conversation. It’s a classy statement, modern—wholly impersonal. Sterility resides where personal flavors do not, even the air Oswald breathes as he waits stings against the hairs in his nostrils. The leather-back chairs, spartan but lush, are comfortable at least.

“I apologize for the delay,” Lex says as he enters.

It isn’t necessary, of course. Oswald’s only been waiting a handful of minutes, though he appreciates the man’s manners. He cuts a striking figure in a purple button up and dark, designer jeans; the photographs in the tabloids hardly do him justice. One of the few men alive who wear premature balding well, his posture and stride suffused in power and wealth.

Oswald stands to meet him as he approaches the desk. “Nonsense,” he says as he offers his hand. “The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.”

“War and Peace,” Lex correctly identifies the quote as they shake. He gestures back to the chairs before they each retake their seats. “Tolstoy might be the one thing my father and I agree on.”

Oswald hums, squinting. “I would have pegged you as more of an Art of War fan,” he comments, gesturing to the room at large.

Lex chuckles. “Well spotted. Most people don’t notice.”

“I’ve always had an eye for detail,” he replies with a shrug.

“Sun Tzu, Machiavelli, Nietzsche…They where the voices that nurtured me after my mother died,” Lex says, and Oswald licks his teeth.

It’s a test. A personal detail offered in exchange for another. He once played a similar game with Sal Maroni, albeit with far less class than this.

“Sounds boring,” Oswald blandly replies, shocking Lex into raising his eyebrows. “Vengeance was the only voice that nurtured me after my mother died in my arms. I only knew peace when I finished ridding this world of those responsible.”

A small half-smile graces Lex’s lips as he leans forward onto his elbows. His eyes darken, “Sadly, I’ve yet to accomplish the same.”

Oswald leans forward, grins brightly as he reminds, “Patience and time, friend.”

Just like that, several of the barriers around the man seem to fall. He falls back into his chair and spreads his arms wide. “So, what do you make of our fair city?”

Oswald sniffs. “Bit gawdy, isn’t it?”

He’s graced with a boisterous laugh. “I had a feeling you might think so. I regret that I didn’t make it to Gotham this Spring. I was tied up in Shanghai—a last-minute edict from my father.”

“Sounds interesting.”

“Trust me, a sixteen-hour flight spent brushing up on Mandarin is anything but interesting.” Lex sighs. “Still, better that than spending an uncomfortable Easter at the family estate in Smallville, Kansas.”

“You make it sound so boring, and yet I hear it’s the ‘Meteor Capital of the World!’” Oswald replies with overstated enthusiasm. More seriously, he adds, “They’re quite collectible, I hear. The museum boasts quite an exhibit, but none from the most important event of them all.”

“Some are more valuable than others.” Lex stands, then quietly treads with purpose toward a mounted blade on the far wall adjacent to the door. Wordlessly, he grips the hilt and pulls. “Our museum has the world’s largest collection of space junk,” he jests.

It’s the perfect opening to insert a little bait regarding their crates of meteors, but he’s distracted momentarily when the wall shifts suddenly. A secret panel opens to make way for what can only be described as a retractable mini-bar. “Care for a drink?” Lex offers.

“I never turn down a good drink,” he answers, happily amused.

Lex winks, before pouring them both a glass which Oswald watches closely. They’ve gotten off to a good start here, but trust is a commodity he’s learned to only trade discerningly. When the younger Luthor returns, he takes up the seat directly beside Oswald’s own as he passes the tumbler over.

They each take a sip, then Lex says, “Let’s speak plainly. Why the sudden request for a meeting, Penguin?”

 Oswald carefully places his glass onto the desk with a soft clink. “I know men twice your age with half your gift for perception,” he praises. “It’s an invaluable tool in this business.”

“And what business is that?”

“Information, of course.” Oswald smiles. “It’s a special talent I seem to have, this ability to garner it, though I admit there are times, such as this, that I’m not quite sure just how valuable it is, or why for that matter.”

“Sharing is caring,” Lex interjects, clearly intrigued. “Or so I’m told.”

Oswald snorts, decides to take a chance as he whips out his phone. “I take it these do not, in fact, belong to you?”

The change is immediate, the young billionaire’s posture going from casual to rapt attention in the space of a second. “Where did you get these?” he asks, incensed as he carefully thumbs through the photos Jim took of the crates.

“You mean, where did your father get them?” Oswald shrugs. “No idea. I only just realized which Luthor is responsible for both their and my own presence in Metropolis.”

Furious blue eyes narrow in Oswald’s direction. “What?”

“Someone offered to foot the bill for a wedding between a couple of my acquaintances,” he explains nonchalantly. “Provided they hold it in a particular place on a particular day.”

“That doesn’t sound like something my father would sign his name to.”

“He didn’t.” Oswald sighs as he leans back against his chair. “Your father’s representative was overheard by one of my associates, and the Luthor name was dropped in association with that crate; specifically, its planned removal from the museum on the same day as their wedding for which, incidentally, is the venue.

“Of course, I suspected my ‘friend,’” Oswald uses air quotes to fully emphasize the loose application of the term where Ed is concerned as he explains, “was up to some sort of foolishness—as if the idea of him getting married isn’t foolish enough—but I confess this is nowhere near what I expected to uncover.”

Lex considers Oswald for a moment, digesting it all before he narrows his eyes and asks, “Why come to me with this? Why not simply allow the arrangement to carry out as planned by my father and your…unwitting associates? No harm, no foul.”

“Please.” Oswald snorts, thinking of Jim’s insistence at investigating. He isn’t dumb enough to admit he’s done all of this to impress a boy, however. Instead, he reasons, “Obviously, that would be the simplest approach, but now that I know the identity of their sponsor, I can’t dismiss the consequence of their ignorance. You know as well as I the expendability of pawns in the greater game. My associates are ruled by their desperation at times, but they can be useful. Good help is hard to find, when one finds oneself in need, and especially in Gotham.”

“What is it you want?” Lex asks then, his patience clearly reaching its peak though Oswald suspects that his anger isn’t truly aimed at him personally.  

“I can tell you what I don’t want,” he offers patiently. “A box full of troublesome space debris.”

“Money, then?” Lex confidently assumes.

“Insurance,” Oswald corrects, “in exchange for the information I’ve given you, and your guarantee of protection and indemnity for myself and all of my visiting associates from Gotham when we depart.”

Lex chuckles. “I’ve heard the Penguin described as many things these past few years, but selfless wasn’t one of them.”

 “No, it wouldn’t be,” he asserts. “Often times the most apparent explanation is the most convenient, but also the least genuine.”

“Now that,” Lex says, shaking a finger in Oswald’s direction, “I believe.” He then leans forward to rest his elbows onto his knees, turns Oswald’s phone outward so that the photo of the crate is visible and asks, “You’re not even a little curious as to their importance?”

Succinctly, he replies. “Not in the least.”

Lex huffs, snaps Oswald’s phone shut before returning it. “Fair enough,” he says, as he retrieves a business card from his wallet alongside a pen from the breast pocket of his shirt, writing on the card with neat, blocky letters. “Divert the crate to this address, and I’ll consider it a personal favor. One which I will replay immediately by assuming all responsibility for its acquisition.”

Oswald rolls his eyes. “Appropriation is an a la carte service,” he bargains. “Especially on short notice.”

“And yet here you sit, within days of entering my city for the first time and already you know more than I do,” Lex replies. “I’m certain your resourcefulness is far more extensive than you imply.”

“I never said it couldn’t be done,” he corrects, “only that it wouldn’t be done as a package deal for your blanket of protection. At the very least, I expect to be compensated separately for the logistics.”

Lex chuckles. “You do drive a hard bargain.”

“I’m certain my reputation as firm but fair precedes me,” Oswald retorts, finishing his drink.

“You know,” Lex adds as he offers his card on which there is indeed a very fair rate of offer scribbled beneath the address, “premature balding doesn’t affect my family. You may not care for the details, but those meteors are from ground zero in Smallville. I was there when they fell—I’m lucky my hair is the only thing I lost that day.

“My father thinks I’m obsessed, but I’m not the only one who’s suffered as a result of unfortunate proximity to those meteors. I’m determined to unlock their secrets, but if any of your associates come in close contact with them,” he explains, “I would make sure they didn’t touch them directly.”

--

Oswald twitches impatiently the entire cab ride back to the hotel, Lex’s words of caution ringing in his ears. He doesn’t pause to greet the receptionist in the lobby or bother with appearances as he forcefully smashes the buttons for the elevator over and over until one of them grant him entry. His anxiety is only partially abated when Jim accosts him at the door, pressing Oswald up against the wall just inside the small foyer to kiss him in greeting.

“How’d it go?” he asks when they break apart.

“Did you touch them?” Oswald blurts, and he recognizes the mania he feels for what it is—intense, mindless worry. “The meteors?”

“Hell, no,” Jim answers. “I do have some common sense.”

“Small mercies,” Oswald replies with a sigh, slumping back against the wall in relief.

Jim huffs, then asks, “What about you—is Lex their sponsor?”

Oswald smiles. “It’s taken care of.”

“Taken care of?” Jim repeats, skeptical, as he furrows his brow. “What does that mean?”

This is the part of his plan he’s been dreading all morning. If he can’t persuade Jim to stand down…Oswald may have to do something drastic to ensure his cooperation. With a sigh, he takes up Jim’s hand and leads him to the sofa.

“The engagement dinner is tonight,” Oswald says when Jim takes a seat beside him. “I’m looking forward to seeing you all dressed up.”

He feels Jim turn toward him before his gaze is guided up by gentle, insistent fingers beneath his chin. “Oswald,” Jim implores.

“They aren’t breaking any laws,” he says, as carefully as he can. “Whether or not the wedding is a convenient front for the removal of those rocks, Ed and Lee are legitimately planning to be married, and that crate is a moot point.”

“That doesn’t make any sense—”

“It does if your father likes playing cat and mouse with your favorite toys.”

This brings Jim up short, his frown deepening. “What?”

“Lionel Luthor,” Oswald explains, “is using Edward and Leslie as cannon-fodder in the war between himself and his son. He knows Lex wants the meteors—he was one of the victims in Smallville, it’s why he lost his hair. He wants to study them, badly, and so Lionel acquired them, probably to use as future incentive to control his son.”

Skeptically, Jim asks, “That doesn’t seem extreme to you?”

“Petty, yes.” Oswald concedes. “Extreme? Hardly. They’re billionaires, Jim. They probably have more yachts than either of them is even aware; so much money they’re bored for all the luxury it affords them.” He sucks in a breath and shakes his head. “The dissention there—it’s almost Shakespearian, truly something to behold.”

Jim snorts. “So…what’s going to happen?”

“Lex will acquire the meteors, and his father will forget all about the pawns he hired in exchange,” Oswald tells him, conveniently omitting his own involvement. “In the meantime, we have two days left to enjoy our vacation. I don’t see any reason to waste another minute of it on someone else’s melodrama.”

Oswald feels heat bloom across his face as he quickly backpaddles. “If you’re staying, that is. Obviously. I completely understand if you’d much rather book an early flight back home. I’m sure the department is missing you, and Edward’s idiocy has wasted so much of your time already—”

“So, you’re stealing the meteors for Lex?” Jim interrupts, entirely unaware of Oswald’s slip as his mind, of course, picks up on the details he’d been hoping to obscure the most.

Oswald sighs with all due annoyance. “Lex at least has a legitimate reason for wanting them—they’re dangerous—and his father is risking the lives of everyone that comes into contact with them,” he argues. “It seems like the right thing to do.”

“In exchange for...”

“As I said, lives could be at risk,” he reasserts. “It’s a greater moral issue, Jim. Helping Lex, helps everyone—ourselves included, yes.”

Jim frowns, looking for a moment as if he’s going to argue, but then his shoulders slump and he bows his head to expel a long a breath. “You’re right.”

Oswald blinks. “I’m—what?”

Chagrined blue eyes fix onto his own as Jim repeats, “I said: you’re right.”

“Yes, I heard you, I just don’t understand,” he admits. “It’s not like you to give this sort of ground.”

“If these meteors are dangerous, someone should be studying them, not hiding them away in some elaborate game of keep away,” Jim explains. “And if these really are from the shower in Kansas, then there’s no telling how many other fragments are out there, polluting water sources and habitats.

“But Smallville, Kansas isn’t my domain, and it’s not my problem.” He pulls Oswald against his side, presses a kiss to his temple before guiding them both backward into the plush cushions of the seat. “If Lex Luthor wants to make it his, more power to him. Besides, I’m on vacation.”

Oswald turns his head toward Jim, a well of happiness splitting his mouth into a wide grin. “You’re staying, then?”

Jim squeezes him a little more tightly for a moment as he hums an affirmation. “Harvey’s been keeping me updated. They had a little noise from Joker’s neighborhood earlier in the week, but it was a false alarm. Things have been ‘eerily quiet’ ever since.”

“That’s…good,” Oswald replies. 

He purses his lips, secretly relieved. He’d spoken to Jeremiah before leaving the city, and while he’s pleased the man seems to have kept his word, he’s curious as to exactly what that false alarm was. The sooner they get home, the better but if Jim isn’t ready to relinquish their time together, it can all go to pot as far as Oswald’s concerned. For two more days, at least. He lays his head against Jim’s shoulder, content to sit like this for the rest of the day if they must.

“Thank you for—Well. For helping me with this,” Jim says, his words suffusing Oswald with fresh warmth.

“I always want to help you, Jim,” he replies far too honestly, far too easily.

“When it’s convenient, maybe,” is Jim’s teasing rejoinder, and Oswald bites his tongue. It’d be silly to argue the point, considering they’ll soon be back to normal. The less Jim knows, the safer Oswald will be from him when this interlude is over.

Jim surprises him then, by shifting away to climb into his lap. “Sorry,” he says, leaning in to kiss away any offense.

Oswald isn’t offended by Jim’s honesty. Even when they’re spitting at one another, he’s always appreciated that gruff candor. Yet more evidence of his infatuation, perhaps, as Oswald doesn’t afford much lenience to anyone else. He only hopes his isn’t as obvious as he was ten years ago; can’t stand anyone knowing how pathetic a few days of this intimacy has made him.

He can’t help it; his body is littered with reminders of Jim’s touch—marks on his skin and a phantom caress. He feels the gentle ache of his muscles adjusting to the changes Jim has wrought upon them. This isn’t supposed to be for men like him, but Oswald is elated with each twinge of affirmation. He’ll miss that the most, when it’s over.

Jim clears his throat. “Uh, Oz?”

Oswald blinks, eyes opening to find a crooked smile on Jim’s face. “You’re uh…squeezing a little tight—”

Immediately, Oswald snatches his arms away from where they’re locked around Jim’s waist. He curls his balled-up fists against his chest, face stinging with embarrassment. How terrible this must be for Jim, stuck with Oswald of all people to ease his loneliness. He can’t even hold another human being properly, for Christ’s sake.

Warm hands close over his own, gently pulling. “You don’t have to stop,” Jim tells him as he guides Oswald’s hands to rest against his hips. “Just a little gentler, that’s all.”

Teeth clenched, he nods stiltedly.

Jim kisses him, hands soothing as they slip into his hair to cradle Oswald’s head. “You’re nothing like I thought you’d be,” Jim tells him then, foreheads pressed together, and that’s all he can take.

Oswald feels his eyes sting, because it hurts to know for certain what a disappointing lover he is. “I’m s—”

Jim isn’t finished, interrupts his mumbled apology. “Everything about this is so much better,” he whispers.

“What—” he stutters, “what did you think I’d be like?”

Jim shrugs. “More demanding, maybe,” he says, then his voice takes on a degree of shame to add, “greedy.”

It burns a little, to know the truth. “Oh.”

“I was wrong, remember?” Jim says then, framing Oswald’s bowed face. “I should have known better, but you’ve done a good job hiding behind your persona.” He kisses Oswald’s forehead. “You’re sweet.”

Oswald scoffs. “I am no such thing,” he vehemently denies.

“You are,” Jim insists. “You’re sweet on me, you can admit it.”

Oswald’s heart stutters. Can he, though? Truly?

For one, endless moment he pictures himself saying the words, waiting to hear them repeated to him in turn. Yet, he can’t imagine the timbre of Jim’s voice, the shape of his lips as they form the necessary succession of vowels. It’s fear, he knows, that stays his own tongue. If ever there were a time to take the risk, this is the moment and it finds Oswald wanting.

All at once, he gives up the notion of any inappropriate declarations. Jim is only flirting—he only means that Oswald is fond, and he is. There isn’t any denying it, and so he grips Jim’s hips and pulls him closer. He isn’t fully comfortable taking the lead in these moments, but it’s easier than confronting the turmoil of his emotions. It doesn’t matter; Jim’s lips are open to the suggestion when Oswald does his best to worship them with his own.  

It isn’t enough, however, to give attention to only one part of Jim, and so Oswald breaks off to trail kisses along his jaw next. It’s instinctive, really, the way his hands slide up Jim’s back to hold him still so that Oswald can better appreciate him. He’s mindful of his grip this time, eager to show Jim that he can learn, that he isn’t just a taker. It’s gratifying to feel those hips writhe against his belly, hear the sounds Jim makes so shamelessly in response.

He needs this, and Oswald will give it to him; it’s what Jim deserves. Every kiss, every instinctive caress can be his ‘I love you,’ and though Oswald doesn’t say it, Jim’s body seems to understand it. His arms envelope Oswald’s shoulders, back arching into his touch as his legs spread wider, an uninhibited invitation. That acceptance is more intoxicating than refined whiskey, and Oswald is quick to catch its burn.

Jim’s cock presses into the soft protrusion of his stomach, and it doesn’t feel awkward; only makes him hotter. His own cock is heavy and full in his pants, straining against the fabric for more. A slave to his body, Oswald grinds up when Jim pushes down, pulls when he pushes forward, meets him at every turn until all he hears is a litany of “Yeah” and “like that” and “fuck.”

His own mouth runs away with him, and Oswald whispers, “I can’t stop thinking about you. How you felt inside me.”

Jim growls, holds Oswald’s face with rough fingers. “Yeah? Wait til I ride your—”

Someone pounds on the door, and Jim twists away, never once breaking stride as he yells, “Fuck off!”

“Jim…” Oswald pants, feeling the tell-tale pressure gathering steadily. “Might…might be s-something important.”

“No,” Jim says, “just this.”

He silences any arguments Oswald might decide to make with an insistent tongue thrust between his parted lips. It’s as if there was never an interruption at all, and he can’t spare the focus for anything else. Oswald moans delightedly, grips Jim’s ass and shamelessly ruts against him until they’re both crying out in release.

--

The engagement dinner is held in one of the hotel’s many ballrooms, though it’s on the smaller side, the kind typically used for conferences and other business affairs. Their single, long table is set just beyond the small dance floor, food presented as a self-serve buffet off to the side. It’s an intimate affair Oswald thinks ought to have been avoided at all costs, considering the varied characters in attendance.

Of course, once this spot of business is out of the way, he and Jim can escape back to their suite and enjoy the remainder of their time together. Alone. It’s this thought that makes him impatient, but it also brings a smile to his face which, unfortunately, doesn’t go unnoticed. It’s all the provocation Barb seems to need at any rate.

“Captain Gordon, you look awfully sharp this evening,” she says. “Love the cufflinks.”

Jim coughs, clearly uncomfortable with the attention. Still, he dutifully replies, “Thank you. I, uh…they’re on loan.”

“Of course, they are,” she replies, then turns her gaze to Oswald. “Sweets to the sweet.”

“Of for the love of— ” Oswald rolls his eyes, huffily placing his napkin over his lap. Irritably, he clicks his tongue and says to the table at large, “Enough with this sugar daddy nonsense.”

“What’s wrong with being…a sugar daddy?” Bruce asks, flushing. “If that’s…you know. What you’re into…”

“Because it’s insulting to my boyfriend,” he argues, not unkindly, proud when he doesn’t so much as trip over the title. “Yes, I bought Jim a few things to wear this week but only because he doesn’t even know the difference between tweed and cashmere.”

“Do too!” Jim argues, plaintively.

Oswald shoots him a bland look, but otherwise ignores him. “The point is that there is no one in Gotham more dedicated to his good work than Jim Gordon; is it any surprise that this sort of frivolity escapes him? This was something I wanted, and he was kind enough to humor me. I won’t have anyone disparaging his good name for it.”

“I think it’s sweet,” Ivy declares. “It’s like…two old people finding love just when they think they’re time is up—”

“Old?” Oswald sputters. “I’m barely forty!”

Jim sniggers, leans over to press a consoling kiss to his temple. Loud enough for the entire table, he declares, “You’re like a fine wine, sweetheart. Better now than you were ten years ago, and better still ten years from now.”

Oswald shudders, and Edward groans. “It’s disgusting,” he says. “Can’t you be more discreet?” He gestures to Lee. “We’re getting married tomorrow and you don’t see us mauling one another like teenagers, or yelling obscenities when people knock on the door.”

“Oh, that was you, huh?” Jim asks. “Would you rather we’d answered the door?”

Ed flushes, eyes widening comically. “God, no.”

Jim smirks. “Thank you kindly for fucking off then.”

Selina snorts, and Bruce sighs, quietly shoveling as much food into his mouth as humanly possible. Oswald fears he might choke if the conversation continues and heaves a sigh of his own. He picks up Jim’s hand—easy to do now that more intimate touch is so common between them—and interlaces their fingers.

“That’s quite enough of that,” he declares. “Edward, how on earth do you expect anyone to dance to this horrid music?”

“Finally, someone says it,” Lee complains, patting Ed’s shoulder in apology. “It’s terrible, Ed. I thought you said you’d arranged—”

“I arranged for a pianist, but he dropped out last minute,” he confesses, shoulders slumping. “I couldn’t find a replacement in time.”

Bruce perks up. “I can…I could play.”

All eyes turn in his direction, and he clears his throat sheepishly. “I mean…I know a few tunes—”

“He can play,” Selina reasserts. “Like, really well.”

Jim quirks his head toward the piano on the far side of the room. “Go on and show ‘em what you got.”

Ivy claps excitedly as Bruce nervously rises from his chair to cross toward the immaculate piano. Everyone, even Barbara, angles themselves toward the billionaire as he opens the fallboard1 to unveil the keys. He starts with a simple scale, testing the tune before he takes a breath and straightens his posture. The scale then morphs into an upbeat, jazzy number that has Barb whistling appreciatively.

She grabs Ivy’s forearm and hauls them both up. “Come on, let’s tear it up before the kid gets tired!” 

Lee laughs, nudging Edward’s shoulder before they hop up to join. Oswald can sense that Jim wants to be on the floor as well, but this isn’t a tempo his ankle can easily withstand. He turns his head to meet Jim’s inquisitive stare with an apologetic smile.

“I think I’ll sit this one out,” he says, continuing even as Jim opens his mouth in some response, “but Selina looks awfully game.”

Jim’s mouth shuts with a click as his eyes dart over to where Selina leans against the piano, looking somewhere between content and bored. She catches Jim’s eye and waves.

“You sure?” Jim asks.

“Save one for me,” Oswald tells him before shoo-ing him off.

He’s more than happy to watch, especially with how perfectly that suit hugs Jim’s body. The man has never looked sharper, cutting a fine figure in black and vibrant blue as he asks Selina for a dance. Oswald sighs wistfully as they move around the floor, admiring Jim’s careful step.

“My eyes are green, my presence monstrous,” Edward says, startling Oswald as he takes the seat Jim abandoned. “What am I?”

Oswald rolls his eyes. “I am not jealous.”

“If you say so.”

“Where’s your fiancé, anyway?” he asks, looking around for Lee.

“Had to use the lady’s room.” Edward leans in, then whispers, “We need to talk, Oswald.”

“If you’re attempting to read me into this hair-brained scheme of yours—”

“First of all, it is not a scheme,” Ed insists. “The wedding is legitimate—”

“Be that as it may—”

“Which is exactly why I need you to help me get out of it.”

Oswald blinks. “What.”

Edward scoots closer, licking his lips as his eyes scan the room like a hunted animal. “I don’t think I can go through with this, Oswald.”

“Pardon my manners, but are you fucking serious right now?” he demands, incensed.

“Excused,” Edward tells him, “and yes, I’m fucking serious. Lee is…beautiful and intelligent but…”

“But, what?” His eyeroll will not be contained. “This is what you wanted—all those years ago, isn’t it? A chance at a normal life?”

Edward snorts. “We are not normal, Oswald, and…I don’t know! She’s…” he lowers his voice. “I can’t outsmart her,” he whispers. “It’s insufferable.”

Oswald grits his teeth, hand shooting out to yank Edward in by the lapel. “Listen to me, Edward. I have gone through great lengths to ensure our safe and expedient departure from this wretched city on Saturday, but those plans are contingent upon you upholding your end of the bargain you made with your nameless sponsor. Who, by the way, I happen to have identified and, no, I will not be sharing.”

“You can’t force me to get married, Oswald!” Ed argues, to which Oswald responds by stomping on the toe of his ridiculous glitter-laden boot. He snatches up his fork and presses its prongs into the soft flesh of Edward’s chin.

“So, don’t file the marriage license once it’s signed,” he retorts, “but you will be walking down that aisle, and you will—at the very least—pretend to get married, Edward. Or, so help me, I will personally deliver your lifeless body to the highest bidder!”

“But she’s bossy!” he whines.

“Of course, she is!” Oswald asserts, exasperated. “Every couple takes turns bossing each other around, that’s how it works!”

Edward scoffs. “As if you’d ever let Jim tell you what to—”

“Name a time when he hasn’t tried!” he interjects, then lowers his voice an octave, impersonating Jim’s detective monotone, “‘Don’t come back to Gotham, Oswald,’ ‘Don’t mess with the court of the owls, Oswald,’ ‘Steer the blimp, Oswald!’” Oswald tosses his fork onto the table. “Have you ever met Jim Gordon? Have you ever met me? Hel—lo!”

Edward takes a deep breath, slowly letting it out and it appears Oswald’s words have soothed him somewhat. Still, cautiously, he asks, “So…you think it’ll be okay?”

“God, no!” Oswald blurts honestly, then tiredly rubs his face. “The two of you have nothing in common—do you even have sex?”

Ed sputters. “Of course, we have—do you?”

“Yes!” Oswald laughs, and it’s practically a shout. “I am having so much sex!”

Edward groans. “How can you trust him, after everything he’s done—”

“Oh, please!”

“He’s using you, Oswald!” He righteously insists. “What is it going to take for you to—”

“Jim didn’t come here to keep tabs on me, you idiot!” Oswald happily reveals. “He came here to stop you—and I let him! If anyone is using anyone, it’s mutual using! And it’s the best thing that has ever happened to me—ten out of ten, would recommend!”

“Well that’s…” Edward’s nose pinches, lips drawn together sourly, as if he’s just bitten into something particularly rancid. “That’s just…sad.”

Oswald frowns. “Excuse me?”

“You’re in love with him,” Edward states, eyebrows pinched.

Oswald huffs, suddenly uncomfortable. “Don’t be ridiculous,” he denies.

Ed looks as if there’s more he’d like to say on the matter, but his eyes catch something behind Oswald’s back and he sighs. “I’ll go through with the wedding, but I expect you to cut me in on whatever take you manage to accrue from our nameless associate.”

Oswald sputters. “Wha—why the hell should I?”

“Because it was your idea to stick your nose in my business,” he says. “And if you don’t, I’ll tell Jim the truth about how you feel.”

His fork is still well within reach, and it’s tempting to bury it in Edward’s jugular after all, but then Jim is there, his hands rubbing soothing circles into Oswald’s shoulders. With a resigned sigh, he fixes Edward with a glare and tilts his head in begrudging agreement.

“Mind if I steal you away for a dance?” Jim asks, undoubtedly drawn here to save Oswald from this conversation.

“By all means,” Edward replies for him, grinning victoriously as Oswald climbs to his feet.

He turns to find Jim beaming with bright-eyed happiness, and whatever shadow might have been cast by Edward’s words is quickly evaded. No one’s ever looked at him this way, and Oswald finds his own lips quirking into a smile. Jim leads him onto the dancefloor, the music finally filtering through his awareness and his stomach flutters with nerves. This, too, will be a first.

Dancing with a lover. Oswald didn’t go to any dances in school, though his mother took the time to teach him the steps. She was always so optimistic, certain that there would be a line of ‘hussies’ hoping for his attention. He would lie to her, let her spend time helping him prepare for an event he had no intention of attending. It was while he was skipping prom night—wandering the neighborhood in search of an open diner—that he first saw Fish, observed her men…got an idea.

“Everything alright?” Jim asks, breaking his distraction.

“Everything’s…” Oswald trails off when he meets Jim’s eyes, reality suddenly crushing him with the weight of his affection. He shakes his head, eyes flitting to Jim’s tie. “Everything’s fine,” he finally says. “Better than.”

“You sure?” Jim just has to double check, doesn’t he? Because of course he does. “Can’t help but notice you checked out there for a minute.”

“I was thinking of my mother,” he partially confesses. “She taught me how to dance, after all.”

Jim smiles. “She did a good job.”

“I only learned to humor her,” he adds, shocking himself with his own honesty. Yet, once he starts, he feels compelled to finish the thought. “She had it in her head, no matter the fact that I didn’t have any friends, that I would somehow manage to secure a date for every dance, every family function—prom, of all things. Can you even imagine?”

“As a matter of fact, I can,” Jim says, pulling Oswald closer so that his beard gently tickles against his cheek, their dance becoming more of a sway.

“Well, you’d be wrong,” he replies, tone helplessly bitter despite himself.

“But you’re dancing now,” Jim says gently. “Was it at least worth the wait?”

He thinks of all he’s been fortunate enough to discover this week, every new experience. All of them happening in such quick progression, some of them all at once, and it will be over too soon, but the truth is simple enough. It was worth every second of loneliness, every rejection, every unrequited fantasy to have all these firsts with Jim instead, even if only briefly.

This isn’t something he can put into words or, more appropriately, isn’t something Oswald should put into words. And it’s difficult to squeeze even a one-syllable reply through his constricted throat, but he manages it with a whisper. “Yes.”

A thousand times, yes.

Chapter Text

Jim wakes up alone, feeling around sleepily for Oz’s warmth in the early morning draft. It’s very early, the hour marked by muted gray light that casts shadows behind the closed drapes of their suite. His ears are deafened by the quiet that rises to meet their strain. He cracks an eye open to confirm his suspicion, sighs when confronted with Oswald’s empty pillow.

Or, not empty exactly. There’s piece of paper, the torn edges of which are only just within Jim’s line of sight. He reaches for it with a lethargic swing of his arm, palm slapping down onto it with a papery ‘whap.’ He drags it down the pillow and across the mattress, leans up on his elbow so he can read Oswald’s neat cursive.

Jim sighs. They’d both been tired, and more than a little tipsy, when they returned from the engagement party last night. Jim had stripped himself from his fancy new suit, his final dregs of energy depleted to hang it nicely in the closet before falling into bed. Oswald hadn’t been far behind, slipping beneath the blankets to lay on his side curled up in Jim’s space. They’d exchanged a few lazy kisses, each one a temptation, but that’s all he remembers; asleep between one sweet press of lips and the next.  

God, Jim doesn’t want to go back to sleeping alone. He grimaces at the thought of leaving tomorrow, having to renegotiate the boundaries between himself and Oswald. Everything is simpler here, instinctual. When they go home, Oswald will probably want some time to himself. Jim can be…clingy, tends to hover, he knows that, and while Oz hasn’t complained about it yet, it’s probably only a matter of time. He isn’t going to want Jim over every night, it’d be bad for all that underhanded business he isn’t doing.   

Still, it’s something, at least, to look forward to when they get back. Jim’s missed being part of a couple. He can picture the shock on Harvey’s face when he learns the truth. And while he isn’t looking forward to explaining himself, has his own doubts about this new facet of he and Oswald’s relationship, Jim can’t deny that it works—really, really well. He just hopes the city doesn’t tear them apart the moment they return to it.

He’s distracted from his worries when his phone buzzes. Jim sniffs, rubs the sleep from eyes before he rolls over to pick it up from the nightstand. He’s only a little surprised to find that it’s Bruce, wondering if Jim’s seen Selina. He chews the inside of his lip as he considers his reply. There wasn’t time to discuss Oz’s meeting with Lex, or the truth behind what they’d found at the museum. Jim’s agreed to let Oswald handle it, but there’s no guarantee Bruce will do the same.

Jim licks his lips, resolves to play dumb for just a little longer as he replies: They’re picking up the bouquet for Lee.

Oh. Bruce’s reply is instant, then followed immediately by another. They?

Oswald.

His phone rings. Jim answers it with a sigh.

“Are you sure?” Bruce demands, skeptically. “Selina’s been acting…well—catty—ever since you showed us those pictures.”

Jim sighs. “Oswald left me a note this morning.”

“And you believe him?” Bruce questions. “You trust him?”

Jim frowns. “You don’t trust Selina?”

“I…” There’s a long pause, followed by a quiet sigh. “Mostly. I just…she’s got a nose for trouble.”

“Tell me about it,” Jim offers in commiseration. Then adds, “Look, I know Oswald isn’t your favorite person, and he’s definitely capable of betrayal, but yes. I trust him with this.”

The silence across the line is deafening, lingering into the point of awkward, until finally Bruce asks, “How long have you two been…er, when did you, you know?”

“It’s…complicated,” Jim tells him.

“You said that already,” Bruce replies, reminding him of their exchange at the museum the other day. “Is it…do you love him?”

Jim bristles at the tone in which that question is delivered. As if the very idea somehow tastes bad in the kid’s mouth. It feels hypocritical, given the fact Bruce had just been asking after his own ex-felon.

“I’m not sure that’s any of your business,” Jim tersely replies.

“He’s a murderer, Jim,” Bruce reminds, gently. “You know he’s not really changed. Everything about him is an immaculate deception.”

“You don’t know him,” Jim argues. “Not like I do.”

“What difference does it make?” Bruce demands. “He’s a monster—”

“No!” Jim snaps angrily. “He isn’t—you don’t…” he trails off to take a calming breath. “You don’t know what he was like, why he’s so—”

“It doesn’t matter what his reasons are,” Bruce doggedly insists, and God, he sounds just like Jim used to at that age. “Penguin only cares about himself, about how much he can take. He’ll kill anyone in his way; he always has!”

Except, he hasn’t. “If that were true,” Jim tells him, “I’d have washed up in the river a long time ago.”

Bruce doesn’t have anything to say to that, and so Jim continues, “I know you don’t understand it—I’m not sure anyone will. But I…” He closes his eyes, allows the simple truth to escape. “It’s always been there.”

“But you…” There’s a quiet shuffle, like maybe Bruce pulled the phone away from his ear so he could give its receiver the stink-eye. “That doesn’t make any sense. You’ve spent half your career putting him in cuffs.”

Jim hums an affirmation, smile pulling at his lips. “That’s the thing,” he tells him. “He’s my friend in the dark. I'd think you'd know something about what that’s like.”

“Sorry,” Bruce offers, chastised. Used to, he would rush to tell him not to worry about it, but Bruce isn’t a kid anymore and Jim's still a little miffed at the double standard.

“Yeah well, glass houses,” he replies through a yawn. “You’re probably already dressed, aren’t you?”

Bruce chuckles at that. “You aren’t?”

“I’m old,” Jim insists.

There’s a snort, followed by, “Only when you feel like it.” 

“Yeah, well.” Jim sighs. “More and more often.”

“If…you seemed happier this week,” Bruce says. “I shouldn’t have…It’s none of my business, you’re right, and if you care about him then…well, I guess he can’t be all bad.”

“That’s the hope,” Jim replies, groaning as he pushes himself out of bed, bones cracking all the way.

“Is that you? Did you break a hip?”

Jim chuckles. “Someone’s been spending way too much time with Selina.”

“Maybe,” Bruce concedes. “You really think Oswald will pull through?”

He doesn’t have any reason to believe otherwise. Oswald is a skilled liar, it’s true, but Jim likes to think he knows the man well enough to spot the difference. There’s nothing calculated about the fear that settles around them in those moments where Oswald doesn’t know where to put his hands. Nothing contrived about the way he clings when Jim’s inside him, the way he tries so hard to hide his tears when he's overwhelmed. The way he looks at Jim when he thinks no one is watching, with soft eyes and a quiet smile.

“Oz’ll pull through,” Jim says assuredly. “He’s nothing if not resourceful.”

There’s a hum, and a heavy sigh. “I still don’t like it.”

“I think you don’t like that she didn’t invite you along,” Jim remarks knowingly. “But that’s none of my business. I’ll see you at the wedding.”

“I see what you did there,” Bruce tells him, but he lets it go. “I’ll see you there.”

Jim hangs up, relieved to end that particular conversation. He treads over to the closet to find his suit already pulled out, tie folded neatly in the collar of his shirt, suspenders already buttoned into his trousers. His watch, cufflinks, wallet and boutonniere—its’s a flower Jim doesn’t recognize, but he appreciates its tiny, bursting petals and rich purple color—are all laid out on the room’s small dining table. Jim smiles as he thinks of Oswald meticulously preparing each item.

I always want to help you, Jim.

Oswald’s words from the previous night follow him into the shower. It isn’t the first time Oz has made the claim, but more and more Jim has come to find that he means it. It was Jim that demanded they come here, that Oswald attend his ex’s wedding all so he might find some miniscule shred of evidence to use against the Riddler. He could have tossed Jim out on his ear right from the start. Instead, he’d dropped everything, planned their trip, funded it entirely, lavished Jim in gifts and kindness, shared his body—and maybe they aren’t keeping score, but this relationship sure has grown lopsided quickly, hasn’t it?

Jim doesn’t have a lot of money, wouldn’t even know what to spend it on if he did. He knows the kinds of things Oswald likes—fancy ties and switch blades, mostly—but Jim’s pretty sure there isn’t anything the man wants that he hasn’t already acquired for himself. Still, when he steps out of the shower, Jim is resolved to start evening that scale. If he can’t match Oz’s generosity dollar for dollar, he’ll just have to make up for it in more creative ways.

There’s already an idea taking shape in his mind, but he doesn’t have the time to handle it all himself. If only Harvey were here—no. He’d probably sock Jim in the jaw just for asking. What he really needs is a personal assistant…

Or.

Maybe he can borrow someone else’s. Grinning, Jim thumbs through his contacts until he finds it. He doesn’t give himself time to hesitate, clicks the number with his thumb and waits. It only rings once.

“Umbrella Holdings, this is Gloria speaking.”

--

“This was very thoughtful of you, Oswald,” Ed says, his words just discernable as Jim enters the gardens behind the museum.

Oswald doesn’t see him approach, eyes focused on his task as he affixes a white rose boutonniere to Edward’s lapel. They’re stood just before the shallow steps that lead up to the wedding altar and Jim is struck with an unsettling realization. In another life, a few different choices between their present and their past, and those two might still be together. This could be their wedding day, and the thought makes him burn with jealousy. It isn’t founded, or fair, but Jim cuts a path in their direction anyway.

Up close, he can see that Oswald’s gloves are preventing him from getting a good grip on the pin. Edward stares ahead, bored, as he patiently indulges Oz’s fretting. It’s…kind. One of those things friends do, and Jim doesn’t have it in him to be a dick about it, considering how few Oswald has these days. Fucked up as his friendship with Ed can be at times.

Jim sighs. “Here,” he says, gently brushing Oswald’s hands aside.

“Jim!” Oswald smiles as he steps aside to give Jim room to work. “When did you get here?”

“Just now.” He makes a quick job it, slipping the pin into its fastener, then straightens the groom’s lapels. “There, fresh as a daisy, if not half as pleasant,” he quips.

Ed snorts. “Terrible.”

“Well, I’m no Riddler,” he replies, taking a step back to throw a possessive arm around Oz’s shoulders. Proudly, he asks Oswald, “I take it this is your doing?”

Jim gestures toward the garden at large, indicating the various floral adornments. There aren’t many chairs in the garden, lined up for their sparse party, but each one is accented with a tiny bunch of dark purple and bright white flowers tied to its top left corner. The aisle, too, is lined one either side by loose purple and white rose petals, all leading up to the big, white gazebo that will serve as the altar. Its posts are all wound with rose garlands and lace, simple and elegant and beautiful.

“I had help,” Oswald humbly informs.  

“But it was your idea,” Ed reveals. “I’m not much of a wedding planner, as it turns out,” he sulkily admits.

“It wasn’t all bad,” Jim says with a shrug. “I could have done without the croquet.”

“Only because you’re terrible at it,” Oz interjects. To Ed, he says, “Its easy to overlook the small details—”

Edward straightens, indignant, as he argues, “Small details are where I excel!”

Jim scrunches up his nose. “Except for the ones you always seem to miss.”

Oswald hums, nodding. “Like that hostage situation at Scarface’s warehouse.”

“Or the time you kidnapped the wrong senator—”

“Allegedly!” Ed splutters. “Those charges were dropped on account of a false line-up ID.”

“You were wearing a disguise—”

“I don’t recall…”

Oswald clears his throat, stepping between them. “I think that’s enough reminiscing, don’t you? Why don’t we take our seats?” He offers his arm, then pulls Jim along by the elbow when it goes I acknowledged. “Edward needs to consult with the officiator, anyway, don’t you?”

Ed flinches. “I—yes.”

Jim lets himself be led away, stubbornness ceding to his desire for a little privacy. “You look gorgeous, by the way,” he says.

Oswald shakes his head, dismissing Jim’s praise with a tisk though his lips curve into a tiny, pleased smile. “I look exactly the same as I always do,” he stubbornly replies.

Jim stops him short just as they reach the front row of seats, guides Oswald around so they’re face to face. “I know,” Jim tells him.

The soft hint of pink to Oswald’s cheeks flares to a brilliant red. “You’re incorrigible—”

He doesn’t let Oz finish, presses a lingering, chaste kiss to his lips. “I missed you this morning,” he confesses when they finally break apart.

“Yes.” Oswald sighs, leans into Jim’s space to rest his forehead on his shoulder. “I missed you, too. You look incredible, of course. You found everything alright?”

Jim hums. “I did.” He slips his hands beneath Oswald’s jacket so he can squeeze the malleable flesh at his waist. “Thank you.”

Oswald draws in a breath. “Jim—”

“Think there’s a tree out here we could hide behind for a few minutes?” he whispers. He expects to get playfully shoved away, is pleasantly surprised when he isn’t.

“I don’t know, officer,” Oz replies quietly instead, smile widening as he winds his arms around Jim’s neck. “Does it still count as public indecency if we keep our clothes on?”

“Well, well,” Barbara crows from behind. “Just whose wedding are we here for?”

“Christ,” Oswald mutters under his breath, tensing at the reminder that they aren’t actually alone.

Jim presses a kiss against the side of his head, then turns a shit-eating grin onto their audience. “We’re just the opening act,” he tells her brightly.

Barb tuts, then gestures to the gazebo. “Nice touch with the flowers,” she says to Oswald, reaching down to pinch one of the purple petals between her fingers. “They’re the talk of the lobby.”

“Clearly, they haven’t seen my date,” Oswald proudly insists, having composed himself. He drifts away, inserting some propriety between them, and Jim drops his hands obligingly.

Barb smirks, places a hand on her hip. “Or me, for that matter.”

Oswald hums, then reaches into his jacket to retrieve a small, white gift box. “Somehow, I predicted you might feel left out.”

Blinking, as if confused by the gesture, Barbara reaches out and slowly accepts it. Brows pinched, she carefully lifts the lid to reveal what looks like some kind of hair pin. It has two narrow prongs that lead up into a small bunch of white baby roses and tiny pink carnations accented with sprigs of baby’s breath.

“Not much of a bribe, is it?” she replies, nose scrunched.

Oswald rolls his eyes. “Hardly. Think of it as a gesture of good will.”

“In that case…” Barb smiles then, pleased, as she plucks the gift from its box and tucks it neatly into the complicated twist of her hair. The flowers rest at the crown of her head, and she pats it primly before turning on her heel and dismissing them both.

“Good will?” Jim questions.

“She loaned me her minion,” Oz explains, “in exchange for a promise to renegotiate certain aspects of our joint venture.”

Jim sighs, falling into his seat. “The florist trucks…”

“All part of the plan, yes,” Oswald admits, as he gracefully takes the adjacent chair. “No need to worry.”

Jim isn’t worried. If Oz planned it, there’s very little chance of it going wrong—these days, at least. The man has perfected the art of subterfuge, and while Jim has often suspected Penguin’s involvement in certain high-profile larceny cases over recent years, there’s never a shred of evidence. Not so much as a speck of dandruff to lead them to his doorstep. Jim would freely admit the man’s brilliance if it weren’t so damned annoying.

“I don’t doubt your ability, Oswald,” Jim tells him. “I just feel like I’m racking up an insurmountable stack of favors here, and it’s not just the money, alright?”

“Jim—”

“No, listen,” he insists, keeping his voice low to maintain at least some privacy. “Money is one thing, but you’ve put yourself in the sights of powerful outsiders and now you’re cutting deals with Barb. Not because you need to, but on my behalf? All to prove a theory I hoped would let me throw your best friend in prison for a while?”

“Honestly, ‘best’ friend is a bit of a stretch,” Oswald mutters, then huffs. “No one makes me do anything, Jim Gordon. You weren’t the only one serving the need for petty revenge, okay? Maybe I wanted to see Ed suffer, just a little.” He sniffs, straightening his posture. “And anyway, coming here has been…therapeutic. If I thought you’d accept it, I’d compensate you for the hours.”

Oswald blushes then, turning to Jim with wild eyes. “Not for the—the…er, I mean. You know—” he gestures manically toward Ed.

Jim chuckles, stops Oswald’s stuttering with a kiss. He pulls away and lets his shoulders rest against the back of his chair, then throws an arm over the back of Oswald’s seat. “I know. I just feel like I’ve gotten more out of this bargain than I intended, imposed on you for most of it, and I’m not sure you’re getting a fair shake.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” he denies, eyes darting to Jim’s momentarily before he quickly casts them downward. “You’ve…given me more than I can possibly say,” he adds more quietly, achingly shy with every word.

Jim drops his arm, reaches over to snatch Oswald’s hand and twine their fingers together. He brings their joined hands to his lips, then kisses Oz’s knuckles. Oswald watches him, chewing his bottom lip, before sucking in a deep breath. He draws himself up, resolve shining in his eyes and Jim tilts his head encouragingly, inviting whatever it is Oz has to say.

“Jim, I…” he trails off, seemingly experiencing a moment of intense indecision before, finally, he furrows his brow and determinedly continues. “This week has been…lovely. I hope you can agree—”

“I do,” Jim assures him, to which Oswald smiles gratefully. “Very much so.”

“Yes!” Oz agrees excitedly, then immediately reigns himself in as if somehow Jim isn’t frightfully aware of his emotional range. More calmly, he continues, “Yes, exactly, and so…well, I…I see no reason why it shouldn’t—”

They both start when the wedding march begins to play, and Oswald looks completely devastated. Between one breath and the next, however, he plasters on a tight smile and bodily turns to watch Lee progress down the garden path. Jim is at a loss, but this isn’t the time to step away and press Oswald to talk about whatever it is that’s clearly bothering him.

Instead, Jim scoots up behind him, precariously straddling the space between their chairs, to offer physical comfort at the very least. Lee ascends the stairs to the gazebo, and Edward’s mouth finally snaps shut before breaking into a wide, sincere grin. Oswald leans into him then, and Jim winds an arm around his waist in solidarity. Together, they look on as their exes—Edward Nygma and Leslie Thompkins of all goddamned people—honest-to-God get married.

Life’s funny that way, he supposes.  

--

The reception is beautiful, held inside the museum’s banquet hall which is every bit as baroque and gilded as the rest of the place, but Jim’s itching to leave before the cake is even cut. Oswald looks just as miserable as Jim feels, the air around them seeming to coalesce into a giant black hole of despair. It’s a small mercy that the rest of their group doesn’t seem to notice, happily distracted with wine (Bruce), dancing (Selina and Ivy) and the ridiculously attractive museum staff (Barb).

Ed and Lee are in their own little world, slow dancing to Thriller, finally displaying something that resembles actual affection. Jim is happy for them, truly, he just wishes Oswald weren’t so clearly upset by it. He doesn’t want to be insensitive, but if Oz doesn’t quit eyeing the groom, Jim’s gonna punch something. What the fuck is so great about Edward Nygma, anyway? Does his dick grant three wishes when its rubbed just so?

What a prick.

“Ugh.” Jim grimaces. Now that he’s thought it, the image is stuck in his brain—a giant blue genie materializing from the tip of Ed’s penis every time he comes.

It’s possible that Bruce isn’t the only one deep in his cups tonight. It isn’t his intent to get rip-roaring drunk, but Oswald keeps disappearing, apparently to handle business, and he keeps telling Jim he doesn’t need his help. No…no. That’s not what he said, Jim reminds himself.

Oswald doesn’t want Jim to risk getting his hands dirty, which is considerate, and it’s appreciated. It’s exactly the kind of boundaries they need to have, but this whole thing is Jim’s fault, isn’t it, so shouldn’t he be helping? He frowns at that thought, because he’s not drunk enough or self-flagellating enough that he’s prepared to shoulder everyone’s blame. Jim smelled a rat, and he was right. That doesn’t make him responsible for the rat’s actions. When it all comes down to it—this whole thing is Ed and Lee’s fault. So, why the hell is Oswald the one charged with cleaning up the mess?

Jim doesn’t have an answer for that—at least, not one that he likes. So, he grunts, and keeps drinking. It doesn’t help that every time he looks up, Oz is somewhere else, his eyes focused on anything, and everyone, but Jim. He’s got plans to romance the shit out of his boyfriend tonight, but the longer they stay here, the more he doubts it’s worth the effort.

Jim shakes his head. It’s worth the effort, he’s just being selfish. Oswald is preoccupied with a heist. Granted, it’s a small heist for a box of dumb items, and neither of them should be involved, but here they are. Christ, what a mess.

“Are you alright?” Oz asks with those sad, blue eyes as he finally returns from wherever the hell he’s been the past twenty minutes.

Jim reaches out to clumsily stroke a thumb along his jaw. “Are you?”

“Yes. Of course.” He’s lying. “I apologize for neglecting you,” he adds, and that’s sincere at least.

Jim sighs, and tells a lie of his own, “It’s fine.”

Neither of them is any good at deception tonight it seems, because Oswald presses his lips into a thin line. He fiddles with his cufflinks, as Jim regards him expectantly. The silence is awkward between them in a way it hasn’t been in a very, very long time.

“I just received confirmation,” Oswald tells him then. “The drop’s been made.” He offers, “I’m more than happy to call it a night if you are.”

“Please.”

Oswald smiles, but it’s strained as he helps Jim to his feet, bidding farewells as he guides them out of the hall. He feels slightly guilty, leaning on Oswald for support, people staring at him with disapproval as they progress through the lobby toward the exit. Jim would tell them all to go to hell, but he thinks that would only make Oswald even more uncomfortable. That’s not what he wants; none of this is what he intended it to be.

Jim figured they’d grind their teeth through the ceremony, and they did, but that they’d relax after. Maybe share a few drinks and a couple dances, then call it an early night, go back to the hotel and get naked. Reflect on how anticlimactic it all was.

“Are you still in love with her?” Oswald asks, pulling Jim from his wandering thoughts, and…when did they make it outside?

Oz’s words register a moment after his whereabouts, and he frowns. “What—with Lee?”

“She struck quite the stunning figure in her gown. I couldn’t help but notice you seemed…taken by it. You watched her most of the evening,” Oz replies, tone carefully neutral.

Jim furrows his brow. “Someone had to keep an eye on them. You wouldn’t let me do anything else.”

“Oh,” he says, then hastily adds, “Not that I mind…of course, you’re free to—”

“Not that you mind?” Jim parrots. “Why? Would that make it easier for you to still be in love with Ed, if I did?”

“I am not in love with Ed!”

“Oh, no?” Jim snorts derisively, pushing himself away from Oswald’s steadying grip. He stumbles, but he doesn’t fall which he considers a small victory. “Is that why you flew to his rescue this week?”

Oswald looks indignant. “If you recall, we both decided it was in everyone’s best interests to intervene!”

Jim blows a raspberry. “Bull shit! The second he has a problem, you drop everythin’—including me—so you can wipe his ass and…with the flowers, and you were up there fixing his…the fuckin’ button-thing!”

Oswald blinks. “Are you…jealous? Of Ed?”

“Maybe.” Jim shrugs, belligerently. “So, what if I am? You’re with me now—you shouldn’ be buyin’ other men flowers. Coulda borrowed a dump truck for this job—that’s what it deserves!”

“Those flowers were for the wedding!” Oswald argues. “I even gave them to Barb!”

“Yeah?” Jim crosses his arms. “Where are my fuckin’ flowers then, huh?”

There are people on the sidewalk not so subtly observing their exchange as they wait for a taxi. Oswald is still floundering for a response, mouth open in a clear expression of exasperated bewilderment. That’s okay, Jim knows how to build a case—it’s what he does, after all.

He turns to a nearby couple, drunkenly asks, “Whaddyou think, huh?” He points back to Oswald. “You think it’s okay for my boyfriend to buy flowers for his ex? Y’think you’d be okay with your boyfriend doin’ that?”

Warily, the woman looks from her partner, then to Jim and shakes her head. “No, I don’t…I think I’d find that a little worrying.”

“Ha!” Jim victoriously crows as he spins back to face his wide-eyed lover. “See? It’s not…it’s no good, Oz!”

“You keep saying that word,” Oswald quietly starts. Louder, he repeats, “Boyfriend?”

“Yeah, that’s right,” Jim irritably huffs. “Boyfriend. Me. Not him—me.” And he should stop, but he takes a step back toward Oz, and another. Distantly, he knows he’s making an ass of himself but fuck it. Oswald does it all the time, or he used to, and Jim figures he’s due for a taste of his own medicine.

Finally, when they’re nose to nose, Jim tells him, “I know…I know I can’t support everything you do, okay? I know I’m not the fuckin’ Riddler, alright? I’m not…exciting maybe, not gonna run aroun’ Gotham robbin’ banks for you, but I’m the one that’s here, right?”

Too late, Jim notices the tell-tale wobble of Oz’s lip, the wells of tears that spring to his eyes. They quietly slip free and that’s when shame finally sets in. Gently shushing, Jim reaches up to brush them away.

“Don’ cry, honey, please,” he pleads. “I’m not mad, not really. I just…I don’ like that you’re still thinkin’ about him when you’re with me. Because he didn’ appreciate you, and he’s not the one holdin’ you at night. He’s not the one makin’ love to you—I love you. Me, Oz. Not that asshole.”

Jim ducks his head. “And it’s hard, ‘cause you love me too, or—you used to, didn’ you?” He thinks of all those little moments Oswald offered Jim his friendship, a partnership, how long he fought himself about it all. “God…wasted so much time…”

“Shut up,” Oswald whispers, and he sounds like he’s just run a mile. “Shut up, shut up, shut up!”

“No!” Jim refuses. “No. I’m not gonna shut up about it. I’ll tell everyone here. I’ll tell the papers myself—Jim Gordon loves Oswald Cobblepot!”

Oswald buries his face in his hands. “Jim, please. You’re drunk. You don’t even know where you are, much less what you’re saying—”

“See,” Jim says. “Tha’s it—that right there.” He turns to his audience and tells them, “Tha’s what he does. I tell him he looks good, and he don’ believe it. I tell ‘im I love ‘im, and he blames the alcohol.”

“Why shouldn’t I?” Oswald demands. “You’ve never said it before now! You used to hate me—you rejected me over, and over, and now I’m supposed to believe—”

“I never hated you,” Jim vehemently denies, “but I couldn’ be close to you—you know why I couldn’, but I’m not the same person I was. I’m tellin’ you the truth. I love you—and yes! I’m jealous. Tell me you wouldn’ be if I paid any of my exes half the attention—”

Oswald presses his fingers to Jim’s lips. He takes a deep breath, then says, “Jim, Edward is not my ex. We never. That’s…it was unrequited. You have nothing to be jealous about.”

Jim frowns. “What?”

“I don’t…have any exes, actually,” he reveals, and Jim can see his flush even in the dim light on the street.

“Wait…” Jim licks his lips, a dozen foggy-tinted pieces clicking slowly into place. Those first sort-of-awful kisses, unsteady hands, and careful words. Quietly, he asks, “Were you, er, I was your first?”

Oz nods shyly, then panics. “Please don’t be upset—I wanted, I always wanted it to be you. I’ve always…” he breaks off with a manic giggle. “God, you’re terribly drunk, and I’ve been trying to ask you all week if we can keep…keep being together. In whatever way you wanted, because I thought…well, I thought you were lonely. And I was convenient, and I—well, I don’t—Oh, Jim, please don’t look like that!”

Jim doesn’t know what his face is doing, only that his stomach feels sick and it has nothing to do with the alcohol. “Swee-heart…”

“It’s not your fault,” Oswald tells him, voice breaking as his trembling fingers gently cup Jim’s face. “I love you so much. I’d do anything for you.”

He reaches down to Jim’s lapel then, thumb rubbing against the boutonniere that’s still pinned there. “Besides, I gave you your flower first.”

“Oh.”

“Do you know what it means?”

Jim shakes his head. “I don’ know flowers.”

“It’s an aster,” Oz tells him, sniffing as he rubs at his eyes. “It means love and patience. It’s…” he ducks his head slightly, mumbles, “…how I think of you.”

Sighing, Jim rests his forehead on the nearest of Oswald’s shoulders. “Is there a flower for cute, but evil?”

Oswald snorts, then giggles outright. “You are...actually the worst.”

“But you love me.”

“Yes.” Oswald tells him, fingers combing soothingly through his hair. “Always.”

That’s good. It’s what he needed to hear, though he’d not known how badly. He should have thought to have said it sooner. Oswald knows now, though, and Jim’s going to reinforce it the second they get back to the suite. He might be a little tipsy, but he isn’t too drunk to carry out those plans he made this morning.

“Come on,” he says, pulling Oswald toward the curb so they can hail a taxi, “I wanna go back to bed.”

Chapter Text

The trip back to the hotel passes in a blur of city lights and aimless fretting. Oswald barely registers the outside world passing them by, following Jim into a cab and right back out again in what seems like barely no time at all, caught up in the constant replay of their exchange. Tirelessly, he picks apart Jim’s words to find some indication that this is all some terrible misunderstanding. That he’s misheard, that perhaps Jim is far more inebriated than he’d originally guessed.

But Jim crowds up behind him as they ride the elevator up to their floor, breaks Oswald’s focus from the fog of his own disbelief by resting along his back. Oswald staggers a little under the unexpected weight, shuddering at the cold press of Jim’s nose to the base of neck.

“Your leg okay?” Jim asks, tired but far more coherent than earlier, and Oswald feels an unexpected frisson of relief. Maybe, with Jim sobering up a bit, things will start making sense again.

Oswald sniffs. “It’s fine,” he lies.

Jim sighs, guiding them from the elevator when it dings at their floor. He carries his own weight as they progress down the corridor, all while somehow maintaining himself as a long line of heat along Oswald’s back. Until they reach the door, that is, and Jim cheekily shoulder checks him aside so he can be the one to open it up.

“Close your eyes,” Jim tells him slyly.

Oswald purses his lips, teeth chewing the inside of his lip as he tries and fails to quell his warring emotions. He trusts Jim, and that’s…problematic. There’s a good eight years between the man he is now and the optimistic people-pleaser he was in his thirties. There’s more than one reason for his absence from the public eye, why his inner circle is more limited than ever, why he prefers the empty quiet of his office to the sycophantic praise he used to covet.

It’s safer.

This proximity to Jim—no. Captain of Police in Gotham, because that’s what he is, and Oswald is King of its underworld and he’s done everything save admit it outright. Volunteering to show Jim exactly the kind of business he’s still capable of by handling this deal with Luthor, and maybe he’s been allowing himself to indulge in this fantasy up until now. But this. This is reality, like a bucket of ice upended down the back of his shirt, because there could be anything waiting for him on the other side of that door.  

“Hey,” Jim says, his voice quiet and soothing, and it gets Oswald’s attention. It always has. “I know, okay?”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean—”

Jim cuts him off by pulling him into an embrace. “If we start apologizing to each other right now, we’ll be standing out here for hours,” he whispers. “I wanted…”

He sighs, steps back from Oswald but keeps both hands on his shoulders. “I wanted to have this conversation when we got back. Oswald,” Jim takes a breath, gives Oswald the look—the one he gets when he’s about to take a huge risk with his own personal safety—and says, “don’t freak out.”

Oswald blinks. “That is literally the least calming thing you have ever said to me.”

Jim rolls his eyes, huffs exasperatedly. “Fine, no sugar-coating.” He licks his lips. “Oswald, I know. Okay? I know you, and I’m not—I’m not fine with it, alright? I’ll never be fine with it, but I accept it—”

His heart is threatening to finally desert him as he interjects, voice cracked, “You—you accept it? Accept what—”

Jim crowds him against the door. “Gotham is safer now than it ever has been, and the papers give all that credit to Batman, but you and me? I like to think neither of us are that naïve.”

Oswald licks his lips, closes his eyes. “Just tell me there’s not a goddamned SWAT team on the other side of that door—”

“You really think Gotham can afford to fund travel for its SWAT team?”

Oswald snorts, then bursts into a hysterical fit of laughter. “That’s not funny.”

“I’m hilarious.” Jim kisses him, chastely. “I’m gonna open the door now.”

Oswald exhales shakily, resolutely keeps his eyes closed and nods.

There’s another quick kiss, followed by the sound of a handle. The surface behind his back disappears as the door squeaks slightly on its hinges and then it’s quiet. Jim guides him gently into the room, and Oswald feels the tension bleed away, only to be replaced by a giddy sense of anticipation. The door shuts with a resounding clack, and Oswald’s eyes spring open on instinct.

He gasps, then blinks.

“Gloria set it up for me,” Jim says, his voice across the room and Oswald can’t remember him moving. His gaze flies to Jim’s uncharacteristically subdued lean against the minibar. The dimmed lights—a feature of their room Oswald had been hitherto unaware of—reflect warmly off the granite surface and Jim’s disarrayed hair.

The rest of the room is similarly lit, intimately. The bar itself decorated with scattered rose petals, a bucket of ice containing chilled champagne alongside two crystal flutes. There’s a covered tray on the dining table which has been draped in a white table cloth and set with dessert plates and a small, shallow candle. Oswald can only glimpse the bed just beyond the room divider, but it’s clear the blankets have been replaced and there’s a splash of red—more rose petals, he’s sure. Faintly, in the silence, he can hear the jets running in the hot tub.

Oswald swallows. “I don’t…I don’t understand.”

“No?” Jim asks, and it’s so hard to look at him, to see all that patented Gordon compassion directed at him for a change. Clenching his teeth, Oswald shakes his head. He wants Jim to say something else, offer an explanation, but he waits Oswald out and it’s a blatant detective tactic, but it’s all too effective.

He wrenches his eyes away. “When I agreed to bring you here,” Oswald quietly tells him, “I thought you’d be…”

“An asshole?” Jim provides and Oswald huffs.

“No…” he bites his lip, risks a glance in Jim’s direction, chooses his words carefully as he says, “I know you aren’t cruel, that’s not…”

He isn’t saying this right, and how typical is that? Oswald wants to laugh, he does a bit—a small, mirthless chuckle—and it sounds hysterical even to his own ears. He winces. This…who would want this? Want him? No one ever has, and it was all well and fine when it was still pretend, but Jim said…

He said.

Oswald turns to face Jim fully then, and the words just…fall out of him. “These things don’t happen to me, Jim.” He gestures to the room at large, the situation as a whole. “Good things—they don’t. They aren’t mine.”

Jim takes a deep breath, and the way he closes the distance between them can only be described as sauntering. “Is that all?” he asks.

Oswald huffs, indignant. “I’m—I am baring my soul to you, Jim. The least you could do is—”

“You’re not cursed,” Jim tells him, then squints. “Well, you might be. It seems to me your perspective on this,” he says, gesturing between them, “revolves around the idea that I fall under some category of ‘good things.’”

“Yes,” he replies, voice drawing out the vowel to emphasize the obvious.

Jim licks his lips, smiling self-deprecatingly, as he says, “I’m not a gift, Oswald. Thinking of it that way…you might be disappointed.”

“No,” Oswald tells him, simple and honest. Jim opens his mouth, an argument on his tongue, and Oswald holds up his hand and repeats, “No.”

Jim hangs his head, releases a rueful chuckle. “Some pair we make,” he says, raising his head. “You can’t accept that I’m in love with you, and I can’t accept that you won’t eventually realize I’m not worth all that devotion.”

Oswald feels the corners of his mouth quirk. “Or…” he shrugs, lets his shoulders fall along with the rest of his inhibitions.

Jim grins, reading him like a blinking neon sign, pushing into Oswald’s space just that last tiny bit. “Or, we can get over ourselves and enjoy our last night away?”

“I have been enjoying myself this week, I must confess,” Oswald tells him, an unfamiliar confidence creeping in as he dares to let himself believe it.

“Me too,” Jim tells him. “You made sure of that, didn’t you?”

There isn’t much he can say to that. Yes, he’s been spoiling Jim a little; he certainly hasn’t made any effort to conceal it. Oswald shrugs, unapologetic. “I have no regrets.”

“I have a couple,” Jim states gently. He holds up a hand to forestall Oswald from interrupting, correctly anticipating an objection. “Mostly that I haven’t got a snowball’s chance in hell at fully reciprocating. Not that we’re keeping score,” he’s quick to add. “Just, well.” He gestures around the room. “I wanted to do something nice for you.”

Oswald tilts his head, pressing his lips into a tense line. He’s never been in a romantic relationship, not really, though he’d tried with Ed. Gone through the motions, as he’d understood them, but looking at Jim he wonders if maybe there’s such a thing as being too generous. Edward had never said that the attention or the money bothered him, or made their friendship feel lopsided; then again, the differences between Ed and Jim are as vast as the ocean.

“You don’t have to make it up to me,” he offers, words finding their way out of his mouth as he pieces together Jim’s unspoken anxiety. “You just said we aren’t keeping score.”

Jim squints. “I…did say that.”

“But you were keeping score when you called Gloria this morning, weren’t you?” Oswald surmises. “You realize I don’t expect you to reciprocate—I haven’t expected you to reciprocate at all, actually. Which is…” he sighs, face heating as he confesses, “Which is why I may have…overcompensated somewhat this week.”

“Overcompensated?”

“Somewhat.”

Jim snorts. “How much were those suits, anyway?”

He runs his eyes over Jim’s form. “Worth every penny, I assure you.”

Jim rolls his eyes, but Oswald ignores him. Jim knows perfectly well what he looks like, Oswald’s seen him use his ridiculous jawline to get his way more than once. He sniffs, pushes around his apparent boyfriend and approaches the covered plates on the bar. There hadn’t been time to enjoy the buffet at the wedding, and he’s ravenous.

Curiously, he lifts the lid from the closest plate and hums his approval at what he finds. The dishes are set onto hotplates, and the smell of perfectly seared steak hits his nose. His stomach growls and he only barely contains the moan it provokes. He glances at Jim, finds him watching with an unnerving intensity. He’s still glassy around the eyes though, a little, and Oswald thinks maybe Jim could use some dinner to chase all those shots he consumed at the open bar.

“Hungry?” Jim asks, and there’s a peculiar note to his tone that immediately sets him on edge.

Edward once told Oswald that he eats like an untrained mongrel. They’d been in a mild turf war, back when he and Barb were trying to carve out a slice of the diamond district for their fashion business. That was just after he’d commissioned his tailor to expand the waistline of his suits. For the second time. He even remembers what he’d been eating at the time, when Edward barged in on he and Barb’s meeting—grilled chicken salad. It was an obvious, exposed kidney and Edward did exactly as Oswald taught him.

He replaces the lid. “No,” he lies. “Not for food, at any rate.”

Jim hums, moves to the bar to uncover the other dish. He reaches in with his fingers, plucks a sprig of asparagus directly from the plate and shoves it into his mouth.

“S’not bad,” he says, chewing and Oswald rolls his eyes before snatching a napkin and dabbing at the stray juice on Jim’s chin.

“I thought you were starting to sober up,” he laments. “How much did you drink—”

Jim catches his hand. “A lot,” he admits, “but not so much I can’t follow through.”

Oswald feels his face heat, diverts his eyes, much to Jim’s clear amusement. He sniggers at Oswald’s expense, lifts the hand he’s commandeered to press a kiss against the back of his fingers. His free hand creeps to Oswald’s waist, pulls him closer. 

“You done?” Jim asks, lips curved into a knowing smirk. On anyone else, Oswald might find it irritating, but he’s endeared despite himself. Always has been. It’s a fantastic opening to say something coy, play the game they’ve always played, context be damned. But…

But.

“I don’t…I don’t ever want to be done,” he says, far too honestly, but he’s said too much already. Earlier. Outside the reception, and Jim might be a lush but he isn’t actually a drunk. Not the kind that suffers from blackouts or bouts of convenient memory loss.

Jim’s eyes flit over his face before he closes the distance between them entirely, his lips gentle and slow. Like he has all the time in the world, like they both do and maybe he’s overthinking, it wouldn’t be the first time, but there’s a promise in there somewhere. A promise Oswald used to dream someone—anyone—would ask him to return someday and he jumps at the chance now. It’s foolhardy, goes against every survival instinct he possesses but this isn’t a faceless someone. It’s Jim, and Oswald’s not made of steel.

He opens his mouth, surges forward to deepen their kiss and Jim moans against his lips, lets Oswald lead him back a step. That’s…unexpected, and Oswald isn’t sure if he’s ready for that, but he’s nothing if not adaptable.

“This is all very thoughtful, Jim,” Oswald confesses, “but in case you hadn’t noticed, I’m incredibly easy.”

Jim snorts, huffing a laugh, but Oswald isn’t finished. “I know you feel guilty, and this is all very lovely, but I only want you. We can eat later.”

He pushes away then and makes quick work of crossing their suite to the bed. It’s terribly forward and horribly practical, but all this tap dancing around has whittled his patience. With practiced ease, he sets about freeing himself from his suit, singularly focused on the task, lest his insecurities find some fissure in his resolve.

Jim’s voice is close when he replies, having dutifully followed along. “If you’re easy, then what am I?” he asks bemusedly, his words accompanied by the soft rustle of fabric as it drops to meet the floor.

Oswald finds himself drawn to meet his gaze. Jim’s eyes are full of mirth, and other soft things that would be better spent on softer people, and Oswald isn’t selfless enough to turn away from it, no, but if there’s one thing he needs to make absolutely clear, it is this: “Worthy, Jim.”

It isn’t a response Jim had been anticipating, that much is evident by the way his mouth drops open slightly, his widening eyes. Once again, Oswald finds himself the recipient of Jim’s quiet awe. He rolls his eyes.

“Honestly, James,” he chastises with a tut, “you’re going to give me a complex—well, what’s one more I suppose, but that’s beside the point. Is it really so surprising? Between you and me, that is?”

Jim licks his lips, reaches back to nervously scratch behind his head. It’s an effort not to coo at him as if he’s a chastised puppy, standing before Oswald in nothing but his boxers and so charmingly disarmed. Bare. Vulnerable.

Oswald’s cock twitches in his pants, and he almost misses Jim’s response while processing the seven layers of wrong his growing erection might imply.

“It’s not that, not really,” he says, loosening up again and tugging those boxers all the way off. “I just…I’ve got a pretty long rap sheet, I guess. I don’t always think things through.”

Oswald wants to ask, ‘Why start now?’ but he won’t make light of Jim’s concerns. Even if they are unfounded. Instead, he shucks his own pants and reaches for his—God—his boyfriend, and what is this, primary school? The word alone makes him feel unsteady, but he presses forward nonetheless; the semantics aren’t important. It was only mere hours ago that he’d been under the impression his feelings were one-sided. Now, here they are discussing this relationship, negotiating in terms that may as well be a foreign language for all that Oswald understands the nuance.

“Do you really think I care about that, Jim?” He asks. “Me?”

Jim shrugs, plaintive. “Do you?”

“No,” he replies honestly, but he can tell it isn’t enough. It isn’t something he can just ignore or demand Jim simply set aside, either. And for all that he’s wanted—craved—this sort of intimacy, he is clearly terrible at it. He licks his lips. “I know it seems as though I should care more about…I don’t know, the differences between our levels of experience but…” Oswald shrugs. “Well, it’s human nature, isn’t it? It’s isn’t bad, I don’t think. It doesn’t make it any less significant between us, does it?”

This at least, earns him a grin. The softness returns to Jim’s eyes as he quietly replies, “No.” He gently shakes his head, “No, it doesn’t.”

Seeing Jim set aside his worries now leaves room for Oswald’s own trepidation. It isn’t the same crippling anxiety as the past few days, tinged with self pity and despair. Rather, it’s a giddy bit of nervous energy that washes over him like a tide. His stomach flutters, breaths come shallow as he sits himself onto the edge of the bed and watches Jim crowd toward him.

He feels ridiculous, his chubby stomach squished up obscenely. At least, it feels obscene where its heft rests against his thick upper thighs. His penis is soft now, pressed snugly there between it all and he wants to squirm away with how exposed he feels this way. All the lights are on too, which doesn't help to conceal anything, and it certainly doesn't feel sexy in the least, yet Jim is undeterred.

He climbs into Oswald’s lap, knees pressing craters into the mattress on either side of Oswald’s thighs. He’s suddenly preoccupied with making sure Jim doesn’t fall, hands quick to find his waist and hold him steady. Jim’s hands land gently on his shoulders in turn and Oswald is forced to tilt his head up in order to find that reassuring gaze Jim always has at the ready. It’s there, alongside endless patience, all the kind, tender things Oswald still remembers from that very first day. The things that are all about the heart of Jim Gordon, those things that make him inherently good. Too good for the dark places where Oswald keeps most of himself tucked safely away.

Jim pushes even closer, winds his arm behind Oswald’s neck, threads fingers into his coarse hair. Oswald slides his hands around Jim’s back, can’t keep one from straying down to gently cup the curve of his ass. He can feel the hard length of Jim’s cock pressed against his stomach, cushioned by Oswald’s girth and any discomfort he’d been feeling is swiftly ousted by how badly he wants this. Wants Jim.

“Fuck, I love this,” Jim tells him, breath catching as his hips roll just slightly, cock nudging against Oswald’s belly. “I love how you feel.”

Oswald swallows, suddenly uncomfortable all over again because—how? Oswald is mystified enough by Jim’s attraction, attributes it to the compatibility of their personalities. The idea that Jim likes this body, his body, mangled and misshapen, it’s…he can’t fathom it. Not at all. Not when he himself hates it so much. His chest feels tight suddenly, and he tries to breathe through it, eyes carefully averted. This is more familiar at least, the self-loathing that comes along for the ride every time Jim touches him with intent.

“Oswald?” Jim calls his name, and he knows he’s been caught. “Hey, come on, Oz. Open your eyes.”

Oswald hadn’t realized he’d closed them. “I’m fine.”

“You’re not,” Jim tells him, but he doesn’t move away. “Tell me.”

He’d really rather not.

“Come on,” Jim cajoles, pressing feather kisses to Oswald’s temple. “I told you my worries.”

It’s a trap. One of his own making, because this is what he’s wanted but that means…sharing. In the broadest possible context, because that’s what intimacy is, isn’t it? He’d been intimate with Ed, told him secrets, told him so many fears. The idea of opening himself that way again, all these years later, lodges a stone into his gut. Constricts his throat, and squeezes his chest.

He breathes in.

Lets it out.

“I don’t understand how you can find anything about this attractive,” Oswald admits, eyes watering even as he speaks. His voice hitches, but he manages to finish his thought. “I can’t even stand to look—why would you want…”

Jim doesn’t offer him platitudes, but he does effectively save Oswald from embarrassing himself any further. He can’t keep blubbering if Jim is kissing him, after all, sweet and perfect. He moans at the first touch of Jim’s tongue, thoughts effectively silenced as his focus is narrowed completely to chasing each and every sensation.

When Jim gently breaks free, he tucks Oswald’s face beneath his chin and squeezes him tightly. “The body is just a body,” he says finally. “It carries us around, gives us a window into the world, the senses we need to experience it.

“And I can’t change how you feel when you look at it, but,” Jim pulls away, just enough to drop a kiss to Oswald’s forehead, “God, I like looking at it, at you. I like the way you feel against my body, and I like how much of it there is to hold onto.” Jim sighs, a needy, impatient humid gust of air, and his voice turns ragged as he adds, “Fuck, Oz. I want to put my hands all over you and fucking squeeze, and the only reason I haven’t is I don’t want you to think I’m a fucking perv, alright? But I wanna dig my fingers into your skin, wanna bury my face in your belly, wanna ride you like a fucking wave—”

Oswald splutters, “Jesus Christ—”

But Jim isn’t finished, his chest is heaving, face red for how worked up he’s gotten himself, as he leans back and licks his lips. “I wanna feed you with my fingers, wanna dip my cock in that peanut sauce you like and watch you lick it clean.”

“Oh, my God.”

“I know!” Jim’s face crumbles and he looks instantly wrecked. “I know it’s…it’s sick, right? I don’t—it’s not a fetish, that’s not why I—God, I can’t believe I just fucking said that—”

Oswald vacantly listens as Jim stutters through his awkward discomfort. Jim has broken him with words, taken his synapses and yanked them out at the stem. It takes him several long eternities to plug them back in, and when his brain manages to come back online, Jim is looking at Oswald like he’s contemplating a jump from the nearest window.

He’s beautiful. Perfect. Oswald loves him so much. He opens his mouth to say so, and he does, in a way.

“Go get the damned tray,” he demands.

Jim blinks, mouth dropping open before he snaps it shut with a swift inhalation. “Yeah. Yeah, okay.”

He thinks he hears a muttered, “Holy shit” as Jim launches himself from his perch and back across the suite toward the kitchen. Oswald can relate; he’s effectively shocked even himself, but he carefully rearranges into position at the head of the bed. Briefly, he contemplates the blankets and hiding beneath them, but…

Jim’s words stick with him and somehow, it feels right. Oswald isn’t his body, and even if he isn’t always comfortable with it, it’s gotten him this far. It’s enough of an epiphany that he finds maybe…he resents it a little less. Enough that he doesn’t feel such a keen need to cover it up.

Besides, he doesn’t want to get food on the sheets. Dear God, he is really about to do this. No second guessing either, because Jim is back, a hot plate in one hand and a can of Reddi Wip in the other.

“Okay?” Jim asks, tentative, though he’s grinning like a goddamned loon.

Oswald swallows his apprehension, replies, “Starving, actually.”

“That’s good, because I’ve been thinking about this for a while…”

“How long is a while?”

Jim licks his lips. “You remember a few months ago when—”

“I’m sorry,” Oswald interjects, because he just has to stop him there. “Did you just say a few months? Months, Jim?”

“Well…” Jim squints, shrugging a bit sheepishly. “It wasn’t—I mean. It just…popped in there, you know?”

“I really, really don’t.” Oswald blinks, can’t seem to keep his lips from upturning into a grin that feels unbearably smug. “By all means, enlighten me, James.”

Jim rolls his eyes, but he’s far less bashful as he sits himself and his burden carefully onto the bed. “You made me dinner.”

Oswald feels his eyes widen, his face heating. “I made myself dinner,” he corrects. “You just happened to have impeccable timing—”

“Timing that you yourself insisted upon when I called to tell you I’d be stopping by,” Jim reminds, leaning forward before he adds, “or else.”

Oswald huffs, rolls his eyes. “Anyway,” he says, brushing those details aside, much to Jim’s obvious amusement, “you were saying…about your feeding fetish?”

Jim snorts. “Cruel,” he admonishes, but it lacks heat. It’s obvious that Oswald has no intention of doing anything other than indulging this interesting new turn of events. With that knowledge, apparently, comes a renewal of Jim’s confidence. It’s a good look on him, better than all that uncertainty.

Jim sniffs, but he lets it go, continues with his explanation. “So, you insisted that I join you, which I did because I was starving, and I didn’t have the energy to argue.”

“You would have lost anyway.”

“Exactly.”

“Okay, so we’re eating dinner, and what? You suddenly have the overwhelming desire to drown me in chocolate sauce and perform CPR on my penis?”

Jim nearly barks with laughter, while Oswald sits there a bit stunned by his own candor. “No, no,” he says, shaking his head, “it wasn’t like that. It was…well. It was the way you were eating.”

At this, Oswald’s good humor vanishes, and he straightens, suddenly very uncomfortable with this line of conversation. And his nudity. He’s almost completely forgotten, and if his erection hadn’t wilted already, it would certainly be doing so now. His attention is drawn away from his own spiraling train of thought when he catches back up with Jim’s explanation.

“…and I remembered when you were still running with Maroney and Fish, how thin you used to be. You looked like you were sick, or always about to be coming down with something,” Jim tells him, eyes soft with some wistful kind of fondness. “And whenever you got a chance to eat, you did it like someone was going to steal it right out from under you.”

The words pour out of him before he can stop himself, and he confesses, “They used to…” he breaks off, but now Jim stares at him expectantly and Oswald sighs. “When I was younger, my mother would pack me lunches and it wasn’t an uncommon occurrence that they would end up on the ground. If I didn’t manage to be first in line for lunch, find a place to hide and eat quickly, I—they would…”

He trails off, shrugging slightly as he frowns at his hands. All these years, and still it hurts to remember. He pushes it aside and adds, “I didn’t realize I’d made a habit of ‘stuffing my face’ until Ed pointed it out to me.”

“We do the same thing in the military,” Jim informs, and Oswald looks up to see Jim shrugging. “Except it’s MREs and stale water, but I promise you if anyone so much as looked at my crude protein sideways, I would’ve knifed them on the spot.”

Oswald snorts. “Please. You’d offer it up from some misplaced feelings of guilt and compassion.”

Jim ducks his head, but he doesn’t deny it. Instead, he says, “Maybe. Doesn’t mean it was easy to get out of the habit of woofing it down when I got back stateside. And you don’t realize you’re doing it until someone calls you out, and it’s embarrassing, but most people don’t know what that’s like. To not know if there will be a next meal or if you’ll even be able to finish the one you have in front of you.”

“Well, this took a decidedly unsexy turn, didn’t it?” Oswald observes morosely.

Jim sniggers. “I haven’t finished my explanation yet,” he argues, removing the lid from the hotplate. It’s a tasteful arrangement of grilled steak mini-skewers, and Jim casually plucks one from the plate, pulling a nicely roasted tomato from the end and popping it into his mouth. “See,” he continues, manner-less, as he eats, “I was ready to tear into it, but then I hesitated because I thought maybe…”

“You thought I was trying to poison you,” he recalls with an eyeroll.

Jim nods. “And so, I stopped myself from eating that first bite and I held it out to you instead, and the look on your face—”

Oswald groans. He knows what his face must have been doing that night because for a split second he recalls every fiber of his own mortification from all those months ago. He’d been flustered, Jim isn’t wrong, but he’d covered for it by leaning forward and carefully eating a small portion of every item on Jim’s plate with his own fork.

“You asked me if I was satisfied,” Jim says, leaning forward as he pulls a slice of grilled zucchini from the skewer. “I wasn’t.”

Oswald opens for Jim instinctively, lets him push the morsel between his stunned lips, fingers catching slightly on Oswald’s bottom teeth as he slowly retreats. At the last second, Oswald closes his mouth around the digits, and Jim’s eyes darken as he watches with rapt attention. Jim pulls his fingers clear, thumb playing along Oswald’s bottom lip as he chews and swallows.

“Good?” Jim asks, voice barely above a whisper.

Shocked by his own thundering pulse, the flutter of arousal in his stomach, Oswald can only nod wordlessly in response. Jim grins, a smug, wholly lascivious thing, as he feeds Oswald another piece, and another, and another. Oswald lets him, takes his time to savor the meal that Jim literally finger feeds him. All the while, asking if it’s good, if Oswald is enjoying himself.

It’s…different. He isn’t lying when he tells Jim he likes the steak, or the shrimp, or the vegetables. When his eyes slip shut, mouth closing around a rich finger full of whip, and he hums at its sweetness. He hears the unmistakable release of the pressurized canister and then there’s a wet, sticky weight against his shoulder, followed by the warm heat of Jim’s mouth.

It shouldn’t be as exciting as it is, but he’s been hard almost from the start. From the first bite of food, and so has Jim though neither of them has drawn attention to their shared predicament. While he can’t discern what it is about this peculiar exchange that does it for Jim, his own motivations are less mysterious. It’s not the food Oswald is excited about, but the attention. Jim’s attention, specifically.

He opens his eyes to find Jim haphazardly pushing their empty plate across the bed. It’s unsanitary, Oswald should scold him to put it away properly, but Jim is wholly focused on his task, and he can’t find it in him to offer any distraction. Instead, when Jim tells him to lay down, Oswald instantly complies, scooting down along the mattress warily eyeing the Reddi Wip.

Jim wiggles his eyebrows. “Ready for dessert?”

Oswald giggles, his reaction born of shock. He’s seen shades of Jim’s lighthearted exuberance all week, but this is unprecedented. Many of their acquaintances boast about their hidden, unplumbed depths—Oswald can’t count on one hand the number of times he’s been subjected to a droning soliloquy—but Jim has never been one among them. Of course, it’s always the quiet ones, isn’t it?

“You are full of surprises,” Oswald tells him, tongue loose with excitement and, dare he admit, happiness.

“Good ones, I hope?”

“Better than good,” he assures, grinning as Jim shakes the canister and points the dispenser at Oswald’s naval.

Jim grins. “I’ll take it.” There’s a pop and hiss, and then Jim is drawing a spiral out from Oswald’s belly button, round and round his stomach. He stops just shy of his chest, opting to dot each of Oswald’s nipples with cream before bending forward to lick him clean in the same order.

His tongue traces the pattern slowly, and Oswald fights to keep his breaths even. He didn’t expect it to feel so erotic, presumed it would feel more than a bit silly to indulge Jim this way. However, there’s nothing silly about the look in Jim’s eyes as he lovingly cleans the mess he’s made over Oswald’s nipples. He circles each bud slowly, before finally coming up to treat Oswald’s tongue to the aftertaste of his own skin and too much sugar.

Jim kisses him with that same focused intent, setting his weight over Oswald’s body like a familiar blanket. At last, his aching cock finds a measure of relief against Jim’s own arousal, providing a balm to the heady ache of his wanting. It’s more than enough attention to see him over the edge, but the heat of Jim’s body is gone as swiftly as it materialized.

Oswald groans. “What—”

“I told you,” Jim interjects, reaching over to the nightstand to withdraw their provisions. His grin is equal parts fond and predatory. “Like a wave, remember?”

Oswald blinks, and then he stops breathing altogether as Jim’s meaning dawns. His eyes flit quickly to the round curve of Jim’s backside, partially obscured by the angle of his body, and then completely out of sight when Jim turns toward him fully, having finished with rooting around in the drawer. He catches Oswald’s stare with a knowing smirk.

“See something you like?” he teases.

Yes, is the obvious answer, but Oswald can’t make his tongue unstick from the roof of his mouth. He is equal parts intensely aroused and scared to death, not that his body appears conflicted in the least. His cock aches for how badly he wants what Jim’s offering, has kept him up at night with fantasies of what it must be like…what it must feel like to—

“Hey.” Jim is kneeling over him now, knees planted on either side of Oswald’s hips, expression contrite. “We don’t have to do anything you aren’t ready for—”

“No! I’m…” Oswald forces himself to take a deep breath. Like hell is he going to pass on this opportunity. “I’m ready.”

Jim fixes him with a dubious look, and Oswald rolls his eyes. “I’m ready; just…I’ve never done that before. I don’t want to disappoint—”

It’s Jim’s turn to be fondly exasperated. “You could never be a disappointment, not here. Okay? I promise.”

Oswald scrunches up his nose in dissent, to which Jim huffs. “Look,” he says, “even if you come the second your dick touches my ass, I promise, there will be no disappointment. I mean, I’ll be flattered, but it’s not like we don’t have time, right?”

There’s something to be said for Jim’s blunt approach to intimacy, Oswald thinks. It relaxes him, all the same, and he finds himself nodding in agreement. “You’re right.” He then waves a magnanimous hand and says, “Please, proceed.”

Jim snorts. “As you wish, Highness.”

"Highness?" This-the banter-is familiar, at least. Oswald can do this. He hums, folding his arms behind his head as watches Jim reach behind himself. “That does have a lovely ring to it.”

“I bet,” Jim replies with a bit of a grunt as he opens himself up. He eyes flutter closed, and Oswald can’t see how many fingers he’s got stuffed inside, but Jim is biting his bottom lip and breathing very carefully.

“Jim,” Oswald says, unable to dampen his concern. Jim had been very patient, very slow, when their roles had been reversed. “Do you—do you want me to…”

Jim’s eyes slide open, and there’s no pain lurking behind the arousal Oswald finds there. “I’m good,” he promises, and it’s obvious there’s something there beneath the surface. Something Oswald doesn’t have a context for, but he has a sneaking suspicion Jim is going to help him build one. Over time.

A lot of time.

Time that he doesn’t have to contemplate now, as Jim withdraws his fingers, wraps them around Oswald’s cock to spread the slick still clinging to them. He braces himself on Oswald’s chest with his other hand and slowly, slowly Oswald watches until the tip of his cock is out of sight and then he sees nothing at all.

The pressure is immediate, and all-consuming. His eyes snap shut of their own accord, body going taut with tension. “Oh—oh God!”

“Easy,” Jim soothes, though his calm is belied by the unsteady stutter of his breath. “Breathe, Oz. Come on…”

Oswald moans, but it’s almost a sob. It’s not a sound he’s ever made before, the shock of it enough to distract him from the intensity of this new sensation. He breathes again, all at once, panting as he snaps his eyes open to find Jim slack-jawed and dazed, impaled on Oswald’s cock.

“Fuck.”

Jim chuckles. “Yeah. Feels real good, don't it, baby?”

They're both perfectly still for an uncountable number of seconds, and it’s nothing like he expected. It’s hot—so unbearably hot—and tight to the point of constricting. It’s isn’t completely unlike having his cock in Jim’s mouth, but it’s also not the same. Not at all. Jim’s body is fairly pulsing around his length, and Oswald’s hips twitch upward, just a little, on instinct. He isn’t prepared for the drag, the pull, and it punches the air from his lungs. Another choked sob escapes, and he doesn’t care what it sounds like. What it says about him, about his inexperience—none of it.

Jim hums, seemingly echoing his sentiment and then he rolls his hips. Oswald cries out, because that? That’s a hundred times more intense. Dear God…how the hell has he lived this long without…without this? It’s incredible, beautiful, perfect—there’s nothing else like it and suddenly it’s a sharp ache in his chest. He’s never known…

“Right here,” Jim tells him. “I’m right here. Stay with me, Oz.”

“S’hard,” he slurs, wholly unironically, chest squeezing, eyes blurring with unshed tears.

Jim kisses him then, hands sliding up to frame his face. “Bend your knees baby. Fuck me so I can keep kissing you.”

Oswald’s body responds before his brain does. “S’too much.”

“No,” Jim disagrees, “it’s not enough. Right? You want more, don’t you?”

Dumbly, Oswald nods. “Yeah…yeah.” He gets his feet planted onto the mattress and thrusts, gently, upward.

“Fuck.” Jim moans, and now he has something else to focus on, doesn't he?

“Like that?” He asks, tentatively.

There’s a hand in his hair, an unexpected tug that forces Oswald to meet Jim’s desperate gaze. He almost looks like he’s grimacing, like he’s in pain, teeth grit as he grinds out an order in true Detective Gordon fashion. “Harder, Oswald.”

Oswald gasps, steels himself against the growing pressure in his stomach, the ache in his sack, as he pushes upward again. His hips snap, bucking Jim’s pliant body. He does it again, and again, without a thought to anything beyond what he sees building behind Jim’s unfocused gaze, what he feels building in himself. It seems like it could go on forever, like he could fuck Jim for hours but the second he thinks it, it’s over. All at once.

“Jim!” he shouts, hips bucking almost violently as he pushes and pushes into heat and friction and Jim. “Oh! Fuck! God…”

He loses awareness after that, not sleeping so much as drifting. It’s a little disconcerting, when he comes back to himself, to be thrown so thoroughly by an orgasm. Granted, a very intense hitherto unprecedented orgasm, but simple biology all the same.

“Stop thinking,” Jim complains, drawing Oswald’s attention. “Enjoy the buzz.”

“Of course,” he acquiesces. He glances down and notes the come cooling on his stomach. Then: “Jim?”

There’s a grunt, which Oswald takes as permission to speak.

“That was…” he clears his throat, decides to go for broke. “I would very much like to do that again.”

“Uh-huh.”

“Soon.”

“Uh-huh.”

“Very, very soon, Jim.”

Jim sniggers. “Need a bath.”

Oswald’s lips tilt up into a genuine smile. He’d forgotten about the hot tub. “How would you feel about helping me with a little interior design?”

“Oz—”

“Think about it, Jim,” he interjects, before the man can put up the token fuss. “A nice hot bath at the end of a long day in a hot tub like the one in the next room. Anytime you like. No need to leave town to get there.”

For a minute, there’s a frisson in the air. One Oswald expects to end in rejection, but then Jim takes a breath and says, “That actually sounds really nice.”

Oswald’s smile grows, impossibly. “It does, doesn’t it?”

“You know what else sounds nice?”

“Hmm?”

“You, right now.” Jim chuckles. “Completely fucked out of your mind.”

Oswald can't contain he answering giggle, then sighs happily. “I love you.”

Jim shuffles over, from where he’s been sprawled out, akimbo, over the other side of the bed with one foot resting haphazardly over the discarded hotplate. He buries his face against the soft curve of Oswald’s hip, kissing it messily as he cuddles closer. “Love you too, you know.”

Oswald settles in though he’s aware they’ll have to get into that bath eventually. For now, he runs his fingers through Jim’s hair, content with the realization as it comes to him.

“I know."