Victor leans against the damp wall of his safe house, the cool breeze sharpening his senses and dulling the buzz that comes with killing. He pockets the old phone and nudges a crushed cigarette. Smoking isn’t one of his habits but he’d found one inside that Trish must have left.
The basement door leads out to a modest garden, and it is the only way into his torture room. The house behind him is simplistic, filled with some personal belongings and enough supplies to keep him alive for a few months in the unlikely event he needs to hunker down. There’s a light in the house, and the warm glow invites Victor inside.
Sitting comfortably down on a simple couch, he grabs the jacket he had tossed over the back rest and finds his knife. The blade extends smoothly and it stings sharply as he adds another mark.
The blood rises out in small drops at first, eventually gathering into a long rivulet that flows down his forearm and gathers in the crook of his elbow. He watches it for a minute, observing his body’s reaction and the sweet lingering pain it leaves behind. He cleans the knife on the hem of his shirt and puts it back in his jacket.
“What the hell was that?” Jim demands as he stomps his way into the house. His fists are clenched and he looks ready to fight. The hitman stands from the couch, huffing in annoyance.
“I told you already. They have to pay and-"
“What the fuck is that on your arm?!” The detective interrupts as he spots the blood running down Zsasz’s arm. The hitman shrugs with one shoulder, and opens his mouth to explain but Jim gets there first.
With his fist.
Zsasz recoils with a grunt, cradling his already sore jaw. He glances at Jim and observes the angry man for a moment.
When the detective doesn’t draw his arm back again, he assumes it’s safe. But Jim was counting on it. There aren’t many people who can fight Victor fairly, so Jim uses the advantage to throw another punch. It’s lower this time, striking Zsasz in the abdomen.
“Okay, Jim. You want to fight me? Fine. Do your worst!” Victor taunts once he straightens and fixes his stance as Jim throws himself back in violently.
Zsasz lands a kick straight in Jim’s chest, sending the detective stumbling back and onto the floor with a grunt. He prowls towards the fallen man and plants his boot down onto his chest, hoping the older man will give up. But Jim elbows the side of his knee and Victor gasps at the unexpected pain.
Distracted, Victor can’t stop Jim from knocking him down as well. In another scenario, having the detective straddling his chest would be heaven but not in this reality. Jim uses every ounce of strength left in him to paw at Zsasz’s shirt and lift his head up enough to crash his forehead against the hitman’s. The contact make them both grunt in pain, and Victor slumps onto the floorboards.
Jim retreats at last, standing up shakily and stumbling to the kitchen. He aches everywhere and his breathing is erratic from the pulsing in his chest where Victor kicked him. He grabs a clean glass and fills it with tap water, downing it quickly. He sputters and coughs afterwards.
Glancing back to the spot he left Victor, he notices that the hitman is gone. He spins quickly and finds the bloodied killer far too close. The last thing he sees is the man’s fist aiming for his temple.
Jim winces as he twists his head on the pillow. An unfamiliar scent fills his nose, waking him up further. It’s a mix of detergent and cologne. He recognise the hints of pine and smoke from somewhere which piques his curiosity. With a groan he opens his eyes and notices that he isn’t in his bed at all.
He’s on a couch in Victor’s safe house and the clock on the living room wall says it’s half ten. Stumbling into a sitting position, Jim searches his jacket for his phone. He flips it open and finds plenty of new messages. He presses onto Harvey’s name and scrolls down.
Harvey 10.54pm: Hows ur night going? Send pics or it didn’t happen
Harvey 11.27pm: Dude message me when ur done
Harvey 7.10am: ur not still mad at me right :’(
Harvey 8.45am: bro text me back so I know ur not dead
Jim sighs at the childish texts but types a response back anyways.
Jimbo 10.34am: I’m fine. Got a lead. All’s good. I’ll see you Monday.
Checking for any other messages, he finds one from an unknown number and hesitates to open it. Eventually curiosity wins and he opens the message.
Unknown 6.37am: nice moves last night. Way to overreact Jim. Not my fault you couldn't handle it. If you want to help Oswald, go to your apartment and stay there. I’m flying solo from now on. thanks for nothing.
Jim stares at his phone for a long time, tears pricking his eyes. Why couldn’t he have just stayed away from Penguin? He knows he can’t turn a blind eye to the kidnapping or the crimes that Oswald commits on a daily basis.
He’s lost, uncertain whether he wants to embrace what his heart demands. It means letting go of his morals and willingly allowing Penguin to continue without intervention. Not to mention he’s lost whatever chance he thought he could have had with Victor.
The sight of the new scar had just made him angrier. He wasn’t able to control it or keep it down, and it chased the hitman away.
Why the fuck did you hit him? He was right all along, his mind screams at him furiously. Jim sobs into his palm until a small beep interrupts his dark, unrelenting thoughts.
Unknown 11.47am: Hello Jim, it’s Oswald. Victor left me your number this morning and said that he was going after the culprits and that you were coming home. I don’t know where you are but I could use the company if that’s alright.
A small smile graces Jim’s lips. Leave it to Oswald to make things better... He texts back immediately after adding the number into his contacts.
Jim 11.49am: hey Oswald. I’ll be there in an hour or so. Want me to grab some breakfast for us?
Oswald 11.50am: I’m afraid I already ate a while ago but if you’re getting something for yourself, could I trouble you for some tea? You don’t have any at home. Any kind will do :)
Jim 11.52am: Sure. See you soon
Oswald 11.53am: Thank you Jim. I look forward to it. Bye.
Jim’s smile stretches across his face and he can’t help the little bubbly laugh that escapes his throat. He stands up and looks around the safe house for a bathroom. A quick shower and some borrowed clothes Victor won’t notice missing later and he’s off to his favourite cafe to pick up some breakfast and tea.
The keys rattle noisily as Jim unlocks his apartment and enters the warm living room. The place looks much cleaner and the detective wonders who bothered to dust.
“You’re back,” Oswald exclaims as he exits the bedroom.
His hair is damp and beads of water soak the collar of his t-shirt. It must belong to Victor, and the crimson cotton hangs off Oswald’s tiny frame. His pyjama trousers are folded up at the ankles so he doesn't trip over the excess fabric. Jim smiles at the adorable look and holds out the tea.
“It’s Chai. Sorry I’m late, busy night.” Oswald waves his hand to dismiss the apology and grabs the tea greedily with a small thanks. “Should you be up?”
“I’m a very quick healer, and Victor left me some wonderful painkillers. I hardly feel a thing.”
“How is he?” Jim asks as they sit at the kitchen table. He unravels the paper bag and starts eating his bagel sandwich, rejoicing in its familiar and hearty taste.
Oswald pauses to contemplate his answer. In truth, Victor came back bloodied and incredibly angry. “Oh, he’s fine. Cuts and bruises don’t bother someone like him.”
“Did he tell you what happened last night?”
“He said you both found this woman and interrogated her.”
“Jim, if you’re asking if I know about the fight... I do. He was- Let’s put it this way, I don’t see Victor angry often and he was terrifying when he came home. He told me you fought him over killing the woman and he knocked you out. Then he gave me your number and left to go find the others.” Oswald finishes with a sigh, blowing on the steaming tea before taking a careful sip.
"I thought we could resolve this without killing people. We could arrest her for kidnapping or-"
“I gave Victor the order to kill,” Oswald interrupts without emotion. “She and several people humiliated me and cut me up. Even if you arrested them, I'd find a way to kill her from within the prison or even your lockup.”
“I... I just wanted to keep this as peaceful as possible.”
“Jim. I understand your position but this is Gotham. They hurt me so I kill them. It’s the way this city works and you need to get that through your head. It hurts to see you being torn apart; but you’re playing by different rules that don’t apply to this game. I know you’re trying to help and I’m grateful. But you have to choose where you stand.”
For the first time in a long time, he glances up and sees the real Oswald staring back. Not the mighty Penguin, infamous mobster. But the true friend he always had by his side and chose to ignore.
“What do I do?” Jim whispers. He couldn’t care less how he looked, though. He just wanted to feel whole and understood.
Oswald smiles weakly. “Let Victor finish the job. He’ll probably be done by this evening and then we can all put this behind us. After that... I’ve still got a week or two of healing to do. Who knows what will happen then.”
“You’re right. Thank you.” It hurts to admit it but he needs to step aside this time. This isn’t his fight.
His phone rings loudly from within his jacket pocket, breaking the moment.
Jim apologises, rising from the chair to answer it in private. “This is Detective Gordon.”
“Jim, buddy, you gotta come down to the station immediately. Zsasz just killed three people in broad daylight and some rookies pulled him in.” Harvey practically yells down the receiver over the commotion behind him.
“I’m coming. Try to keep the place calm.”
“What do you think I’ve been doing?” Harvey hangs up after some yelling fills the station.
Jim sighs and turns to a confused Oswald.
“Victor’s been arrested. Stay here. I’ll keep you informed.” And with that, Jim sprints out to his car.
Oswald groans into his hands and sips more tea as he searches for the remote, and hopes something will keep him entertained all day whilst he waits for his two idiot friends to come back.