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?”
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.”
“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.
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.”