The first time Harvey took Jim to visit Fish Mooney at her club, he took him aside before they even left the precinct to give him a strict warning.
“Look, the first rule of visiting Fish Mooney is do not talk about anything you see or hear in relation to her umbrella boy . Got it?”
“What?” Jim asked, blatantly not getting it.
“Weird shit happens around that guy. Even by Gotham’s standards, it's weird. So just… don't say anything about the animals and try not to sing, okay?”
Harvey looked so serious that Jim did nothing more than nod as if he understood perfectly. How hard could it be to not sing, anyway?
Harvey filled Jim in on more details on the way over, but nothing could quite prepare Jim for the sight of Oswald clubbing someone over the head with a weary sigh.
“Whoa, what the hell?” Jim exclaimed.
“Oh, you're new, aren't you?” Fish asked, amused.
“He'll be fine,” Oswald said dismissively of the man now lying on the floor, groaning. “A little knock on the head won’t do him any harm. If anything, it will help him. Don't worry about it.”
Butch picked the man up and dragged him out.
Jim had so many questions, but at a look from Harvey, managed to contain himself. Harvey questioned Fish, while Jim kept shooting curious looks at Oswald and kept his mouth shut.
It had taken Oswald years to realise that animals and birds didn't flock to anyone else he knew, or that nobody else could make other people sing by being in the same room as them. In his defence, it had been going on for as long as he could remember, so it was normal for him, even if it wasn’t for other people.
When he asked his mother about it, one day when he was seven, all she told him was, “You are blessed, my little Cobblepot.”
It didn’t feel much like a blessing when his school teacher screamed about the rats that followed him everywhere, and tried to chase them all away. Oswald tried to defend them, and was accidentally knocked to the floor. His mother was called in, and Oswald had to tell his furry friends that they couldn’t come to school with him anymore.
Because that's mostly what it meant to be followed by animals and birds in Gotham. There were an overabundance of rats and pigeons, but sometimes Oswald got to go to the park to meet the ducks and the squirrels too. His classmates, who had at first found it fascinating, soon found it strange and off-putting, so it didn't help with making actual human friends.
But that was okay, Oswald told himself, because he still managed to sneak Twitch, the rat, into his bag sometimes, and who needed people when he had all the animals and birds to talk to anyway?
As he grew up, he noticed something else too. Charming people seemed to be drawn to him too. It was nice, being wanted like that, until he realised that their affection was usually shallow and meaningless.
“I love you,” they would say, and then when Oswald asked why, they would reply with some variation of, “I don't know, I just do.”
It quickly stopped being flattering, and soon grew to be annoying and then lonely.
But Oswald was nothing if not adaptable, and he soon learned to make the best of his situation. He categorised his would-be charmers into three categories.
Firstly, there were the Users, who loved him because they wanted something from him. He hated these people most of all.
His first crush had been in this category, and it had been devastating to learn that the handsome older boy who had loved him at first sight soon fell out of love after getting to know him. It might not have been so bad, had the boy ended their fledgling relationship soon after that realisation, but he strung Oswald along for weeks. Oswald, young and naive, didn't notice the signs, but in hindsight it was glaringly obvious that his boyfriend was using him, because he didn't want to be seen in public with the oddest boy in school, but was happy enough to study in private ‒ actually study ‒ because Oswald was helping him improve his grades.
But at least the experience had taught Oswald many things, including just how useful his ability to make people sing their feelings could be and that he should be more careful about who he let himself care for.
The second group were the Useless. Oswald disliked these people for the way they wasted his time with empty promises. After his first disastrous experience with romance, Oswald looked for ways to turn his irresistibility to his advantage, but it wasn't possible to find a use for everyone. These people saw him, and fell in love, and were more or less content to follow him and flirt with him, but that got irritating, especially if he had things to do. People to kill. That sort of thing.
Which brought him to the third group, his favourite group: the Useful. Useful people were the best, until they had served their purpose in furthering Oswald’s goals. They were especially helpful when it came to securing a place in the mob, and later, when he started working his way up the ladder.
Fish was amused by his ability to make people sing, especially when she’d ended up singing herself.
“I got lots of jealous lovers that all wish they had me back, Got a pistol for a mouth, my own mama gave me that,” she sang, with Butch providing backup vocals. “Making my own road out of gravel and some wine, And if I have to fall then it won't be in your line.”
Oswald had been fond of her, at the start. But then he realised she was using him and his curse for her own amusement, and lost all hesitation when it came to betraying her.
Falcone was won over almost as easily as his chickens. In fact, that's what secured Oswald in the old man’s affections. The chickens flocked to Oswald, who treated them kindly and talked to them as though they understood what he was saying. Nobody seemed to realise that Oswald could understand them, and they inadvertently spilled so many of Falcone’s secrets to Oswald.
Maroni fancied himself to be a charming man and tried to win Oswald over, partially because he felt Oswald was useful to him and partially because he wanted to have something no one else had managed to gain – Oswald’s love. Too bad for him that Oswald was used to people like him, and found Maroni to be repellent. But Maroni was also useful, so Oswald grimaced through his affections, using him just as he had used so many others, until Maroni had served his purpose and Oswald was finished with him.
From there, it was simple to rise to being King of Gotham. He had new properties to run his operations from, but found that he preferred his club still. It had served a purpose in his rise to power, and now helped him stay there. If people around him were going to sing, it was handy to have a stage for them to perform on.
But the problem with keeping the club and working there, was that there were more people who came, claiming to love him. Far too many of them were persistent people who didn’t like taking no for an answer, but Oswald had developed several methods of dealing with them. He’d had to. If a firm ‘No!’ wouldn’t get through to them, then he had no choice but to resort to violence.
But for all the advantages of his blessing, Oswald still looked on it as more of a curse. Only the people drawn to him saw any appeal in the ability to surround himself with the wildlife of Gotham. Other people were repulsed by the rats and the pigeons. There was also the fact that no one drawn to him could be trusted to be sincere in the affections.
And, of course, that meant Oswald had to fall for the one man he couldn't have.
It was, on reflection, a good thing that Jim resisted all of Oswald’s attempts at friendship — not that Jim’s resistance put Oswald off at all. Oswald had never had a genuine friend (unless you counted the animals and birds), so he was a bit clumsy. He'd hoped it would seem endearing, but Trudy, Twitch’s descendant, and one of his most faithful animal companions, told him it was a bit creepy.
But still, he was drawn to Jim, and it was no surprise that he started revealing parts of his curse to Jim that he hadn't shared with anyone before.
“I don't really know how to explain how I understand them,” Oswald said, when Jim finally gave in to his burning curiosity. “When they communicate with each other, there's body language and scents to identify each other, and sometimes it’s awkward for them to talk to me, because I haven't got a tail or whiskers or ears to twitch — that kind of thing.”
Jim took a moment to picture Oswald with cat-like ears and a tail.
Oswald narrowed his eyes. “You're imagining me with a tail, aren't you? Stop that.”
“But you're adorable,” Jim blurted out before he could stop himself.
There was a pause.
“Um. I mean. You would be, with ears and and the tail… and people wouldn't call you Penguin anymore,” Jim said awkwardly, blushing. He wondered if Oswald was about to kill him.
But Oswald made no move to hurt him. Instead, he looked just as awkward as Jim felt, blushing pink. Then he cleared his throat and continued on as though nothing had happened, to Jim’s neverending relief.
“My classmates used to like it, sort of,” Oswald said. “At least, until we had a trip to the zoo that ended with the entire school being banned. I really don't know how I could have been blamed for so many of the animals escaping their enclosures. I was only eight.”
“So this has happened all your life?” Jim asked, desperately latching on to the new turn in their conversation.
“Oh, yes. Even now, they like to break out and come to find me.”
They both stared at the penguin in the middle of the club, that had prompted their conversation in the first place. It honked at them hopefully.
“Percival, I keep telling you, no. Go back to the zoo,” Oswald told it firmly.
The penguin lowered its head and shuffled out, looking back hopefully once it reached the door.
“Go, before you get me in trouble again,” Oswald said.
The penguin left.
Jim downed the drink Oswald had poured for him. He hadn’t meant to accept it, but then the penguin had appeared and sometimes, there was nothing else you could do.
“I feel almost sorry for it,” Jim said. “It can’t be much fun, being cooped up at the zoo all the time.”
“Don’t say that where they can hear you!” hissed Oswald. “I’ll never get rid of them!”
Jim was glad to be known as the most stubborn bastard in the GCPD. It came in handy to have that reputation and be so determined to keep it, because sometimes it was really, really hard not to start singing around Oswald, or mentioning things like how pretty his eyes were and how nice his hair looked when it spiked upwards. Because Jim really didn’t want to get hit over the head with whatever was nearest.
So far he had seen Oswald use his umbrella, his cane, a baseball bat, and, when nothing else was handy, a wine bottle. He’d become used to seeing it at least once a month when cases took him to the club for one reason or another, and knew by now that Oswald had managed to more or less perfect his technique when it came to hitting someone over the head without causing permanent damage.
“Sometimes, the only thing that quells insincere romantic notions is a mild concussion,” Oswald had said once, weary and subdued. He’d managed a smile for Jim, though, even as one of his men dragged the latest victim away to be seen by a doctor.
But that didn't prepare Jim for the sight of Oswald stabbing his knife through a man’s hand, pinning him momentarily to the bar.
Oswald pulled the knife out, wiped it off, and put it away. “Sadly necessary, old friend,” he said, over the screaming of his victim. “And I get special allowances from the GCPD for this sort of thing these days,” he reminded Jim.
It was true. There was only so many times they were willing to process Oswald for assault before they gave up. It happened so often, always for the same reason, and someone always showed up with bail money within the hour, after the lovelorn victim refused to press charges, so it really wasn’t worth it anymore. But the stabbing was new.
“What the hell? You couldn’t just hit him like the others?” Jim asked, aghast.
“He mentioned playing football in school. I assumed he would have a history of head injuries,” Oswald replied, shrugging. He gestured for Butch to get rid of the man, who was crying now. Not pretty crying either, but ugly sobs of pain. “They’re so common in a contact sport, after all, and I really didn’t think he could risk scrambling his brains more. Drink, Detective?”
“I’m on duty,” replied Jim.
Oswald poured him one anyway, because he had seen Jim give in plenty of times, regardless of his initial refusal.
Sometimes, around Oswald, accepting a drink was the best course of action. Jim couldn’t start singing when he was swallowing, after all. So far, he had managed not to embarrass himself like that, but it wouldn’t last forever. Jim was determined that today would not be the day he gave in, though.
He managed to get the information he’d come for and get out with Harvey without downing the drink left on the bar. Still, it was a close thing and he was humming when they got to the car.
“Jim, please tell me you’re not about to start singing,” Harvey groaned.
“Drive me home,” Jim said in a tight voice. “Now, please.”
Harvey stared at him for a moment, then decided he really didn’t want to know what Jim could possibly find to sing about in Oswald’s company and started driving. “Just tell me you’re not falling for him, Jim. You know what happens to guys like you.”
Jim opened his mouth to deny it, only what came out was very different. “ I knew you were trouble when you walked in, So shame on me now- ” He clamped his hands over his mouth and glared at Harvey. Music played on from nowhere in the background.
Harvey stared. “Shit.”
“Drive!” Jim insisted. “ Flew me to places I'd never been, Now I'm lying on the cold hard ground.” He pressed his hands over his mouth again.
“I’m driving, I’m driving. Geez.” Harvey looked like he didn’t know whether to laugh at Jim or curse him for being so stupid as to develop feelings for the city’s strangest gangster. “I can’t believe you’d go for someone like him. You know what he's like, what he's done.”
“ Trouble, trouble, trouble ,” Jim sang miserably.
“Yeah, buddy, trouble is right.”
They stopped outside Jim's apartment building. Jim jumped out of the car and dashed inside, hand clamped over his mouth, because singing in front of Harvey was humiliating enough. His neighbours didn’t need to see it as well. Or hear it.
Behind him, he could hear Harvey howling with laughter in the car.
Jim wasn't the only one to leave their encounters in a musical mood. Oswald dismissed his staff, rather than have them witness what he knew was coming.
He took to the stage, adjusted the mic, and let the music take over. There was no point in resisting, it would happen whether he liked it or not.
“ If there's a prize for rotten judgement, I guess I've already won that,” Oswald sang to his more or less empty club.
There were no people, but rats crawled out of hiding, drawn by his singing. A couple of urban foxes slinked through the door, then held it open for a flock of pigeons. Raccoons climbed onto the bar. At least Oswald could sing all of them into cleaning up after themselves.
“ No man is worth the aggravation, That's ancient history, been there, done that!”
By the end of the song, Oswald felt better. At least he could be sure that Jim wasn't in love with him. Oswald had thought once that Jim would have been affected by his curse, loving him despite himself, but after months of being treated with utter contempt for Oswald’s criminal lifestyle, Oswald could be sure that he wasn't.
It was a relief. Loving Jim would be so much worse if he loved him back. He could never have trusted that Jim was truly sincere.
Of course, unrequited love was painful to suffer through, but Oswald managed to cope.
His mother noticed the change in him. Of course, she did.
“What's wrong, Liebchen?” she asked, when he called on her the next day.
“What's the point of this curse if none of the people who love me are genuine?” Oswald asked, frustrated. He'd just slammed the door in the face of someone who had followed him all the way up the road and up the stairs, refusing to listen when Oswald demanded that he go away.
His mother frowned at him. “It's a blessing , not a curse,” she corrected. She patted the sofa beside her, waiting for him to sit down close to her. “Tell me your problem, my darling,” she said.
“It is a curse,” Oswald insisted. “Well, not all of it,” he added for the sake of his animal audience.
The raccoon at the window gave a wave to show he was forgiven. Gertrud did not like the animals coming into her home, so they gathered at the windows and doors where they could, reluctant to leave Oswald alone.
“Every other day, I have someone new tell me they love me, only to fall out of love with me later. They don't mean it. What's the point? Why try to drag me into one meaningless relationship after another?” Oswald asked. “There’s no blessing in that.”
His mother frowned. “Oh, my poor, poor darling. Such cruel people you attract. Had I known what this would do to you…” She looked away guiltily.
“What do you mean, Mother?” Oswald asked slowly. “Are you telling me there’s a reason for all… for all this?” He waved a hand expansively, trying to indicate his entire life in one gesture.
“I wanted you to have a good life,” his mother replied. “That’s all.”
“Mother. Explain,” Oswald said firmly. If she had something to do with the animals, the music, the strangers falling in love with him, then why had she not said anything sooner? And what could she possibly have done to cause anything like this?
Gertrud drew back. “There was this woman across the hall. You remember Mrs Arany, yes?” she asked.
Oswald nodded. “Of course.”
He remembered Mrs Arany. She had been a bit odd, but he’d liked her. She used to make gingerbread, and would invite him into her apartment sometimes to eat some while she told him stories from her native Hungary. It had been a nice way to avoid the bullies who liked to torment him for talking to animals.
Then she’d moved away, and there had been no more gingerbread and no more stories. Oswald had missed her terribly for a long time after she had gone.
“Well, when you were born, she looked at you and said ‘This one will have a hard life, but I can make it easier.’,” Gertrud said. “What was I to do? I let her, of course.”
“What are you talking about?” Oswald asked, baffled.
“She blessed you. Gave you gift with animals, to watch over you wherever you are, gave you song to charm others, and have others fall for you that you might know love.” Gertrud sniffed. “As if I could not give you that. But Tünde, she said she knew what she was doing. Had done it before. Things will work out, she said.”
“You’re telling me she cast a spell on me?” Oswald asked. He didn’t know why he was surprised. Perhaps it was because his mother had allowed it.
Gertrud nodded. “Yes, it’s a spell. You could try to find her, ask her why, if you think it’s wrong.”
“She moved years ago. Do you even know if she’s still alive?” Oswald asked.
Mrs Arany had been old when he had last seen her, more than ten years ago. A lot could have happened to her in that time.
“Only way to find out is to try,” Gertrud told him. “I’m sure you will succeed. You have her gifts to help you, after all.”
Oswald wasn’t sure how. None of his current animal companions had been around to know Mrs Arany, so they couldn’t track her down for him. Singing wouldn’t make her appear out of the woodwork. Probably not, anyway. It had never worked like that before.
That left his charming followers. If he could find someone to search for Mrs Arany for him – someone with access to databases of people, who could look up such information easily, who was used to doing such work. He didn’t have any would-be Useful people hanging about lately, but he did have a friend in the GCPD.
“Tell me everything you can remember about Mrs Arany,” Oswald said. “I think I know just who to ask for help with this.”
Gertrud smiled broadly, and began listing off all the things she could remember about her old neighbour, useful information or not.
“Hey, Jim,” Alvarez called. “You got a visitor.”
Jim looked up from his desk, following Alvarez’s pointing finger. Oswald stood at the entrance to the Bullpen, looking around. Jim sighed, hoping that whatever Oswald wanted this time wasn’t illegal.
Oswald lit up when he saw Jim, smiling brightly. It had been a while since Oswald had looked quite so happy. Lately, he had seemed down about something, but he hadn’t confided in Jim.
Which was a good thing, Jim told himself. They were on opposite sides of the law. They couldn’t be friends, no matter what Oswald said, let alone anything else that Jim may or may not secretly want, shouldn’t want and definitely did not want. No matter what the songs he ruthlessly suppressed tried to express.
“What do you want, Cobblepot?” he asked brusquely.
“Jim, old friend,” Oswald greeted, not put off in the slightest by Jim’s tone. “I need a small favour. Nothing bad, don’t worry about that. But it is something rather personal, and I need someone I can trust to help me.”
Jim refused to let his mind conjure up all the ways he could help Oswald with ‘personal favours’ and focused all his energy into being irritated by him. “What kind of favour?” he asked.
“I need to track down one of my mother’s old neighbours. She moved when I was a child, and it’s imperative that I find her quickly,” Oswald said.
“You can’t get any of your men to do this?” Jim asked. Surely tracking down some random woman would be easy enough for someone with Oswald’s resources.
“Well, yes, but this requires a more… delicate touch. My men aren’t always known for their subtlety, and I don’t want to accidentally scare an innocent old lady,” Oswald explained. “This is all above-board, you see. A personal errand, not related to any of my business dealings.”
Jim considered it for a moment. “Why is this so important to you?” he asked.
“She may be able to help with my… predicament,” Oswald said. “The curse. As it turns out, she may have been the one to cast the spell that causes the unusual events around me.”
“And you want her to break it?” Jim guessed.
Oswald shrugged. “Or modify it, perhaps. At the very least, I plan to demand an explanation for the hapless fools who keep throwing themselves at me. I’m more than sick of being followed around by morons with grand declarations of love that they take back the moment they get to know me.”
“Are you sure they’re not taking it back because you hit them over the head?” Jim asked dryly.
“That just speeds up the process, really,” Oswald replied. “So will you do it? Will you help me?” He looked up at Jim beseechingly. “I cannot carry on like this all my life, Jim.”
Jim considered for a moment. Certainly, the hospital staff would likely appreciate a sharp decrease in the number of patients they received from Oswald’s club, or wherever he happened to meet the latest follower.
“Okay. I’ll do it. What’s her name? I’ll see what I can find out for you,” Jim said.
Oswald gave him a blinding smile. “Thank you, Jim! I knew I could rely on you.” He grasped Jim’s arm, squeezing gratefully, and for a moment, Jim thought Oswald might kiss him.
“Her name is Tünde Arany. I’m afraid she didn’t leave a forwarding address when she moved away, but it may be helpful to know she’s Hungarian, and moved to America around thirty years ago. That’s as much useful information as my mother could remember,” Oswald said.
“Hungarian immigrant, Tünde Arany,” Jim repeated. “I’ll let you know what I find out.”
“Thank you again, Jim. You don’t know what this means to me,” Oswald said.
“Thank me after I find her,” Jim replied. “Now, is there anything else?”
“No, but if there’s anything you need from me, you just need to ask,” Oswald replied. “You know where to find me, old friend.”
“Of course. I’ll let you know as soon as I find anything about your old neighbour,” Jim said, with a genuine smile.
It wasn’t often that Oswald needed a favour on the right side of the law, and though he had reservations about being seen with Oswald, tracking down a neighbour was innocent enough. Jim was just glad that he hadn’t been asked to cover up a crime or anything like that.
Oswald left, smiling, and Jim tried not to watch him go. Judging from the look Harvey gave him when he returned to his desk, his behaviour hadn’t gone unnoticed.
“What does Penguin want now?” Harvey asked.
“He needs some help tracking down a neighbour, a woman named Tünde Arany. I said I’d see what I can do,” Jim explained.
Harvey gave him a look. “He’s asking you for favours now?”
“It’s what friends do,” Jim replied helplessly.
“Just be careful, okay? I don’t think tracking down some lady is going to have him falling into your arms in gratitude.”
“That’s not why I’m doing this!” Jim hissed, looking about in alarm. It was bad enough that Harvey knew he felt something other than disgust and contempt for one of the most powerful gangsters in the city. He didn’t need the rest of the department finding out as well.
Harvey held up his hands. “Alright, alright. They won’t hear it from me. If anything, they’ll figure it out for themselves, even without you bursting into song about how much-”
“Shut up!” Jim snapped, glaring.
“Just stop being so obvious in a room full of detectives,” Harvey retorted.
Jim glanced about nervously, but no one was paying them any attention. Why couldn’t he have fallen for anyone but Oswald? His life would be so much simpler if he didn’t have these feelings.
But there was just something about him. Despite the crimes he’d committed, and would doubtlessly commit in future, there was something that drew Jim in. Maybe it was the strange power that drew all the others in, the would-be Prince Charmings ready to sweep Oswald off his feet, but Jim didn’t think so. Either way, he wasn’t about to tell Oswald. While he wanted to think Oswald might be more gentle with someone he wanted to be friends with, Jim still didn’t want to risk the concussion or possible stabbing that might follow.
Though he didn’t think Oswald would actually stab him.
Well. Probably not.
Oswald was in such a good mood after leaving the precinct he didn’t immediately send the escaped penguins back to the zoo when they sneaked into his club. Instead, he sent one of his men out to buy some fresh fish and fed them, letting them gather closer.
He might actually get some answers about his life soon. Though why Mrs Arany couldn’t possibly have told him anything when she lived across the hall, he didn’t understand. There would be time to get all his answers when Jim tracked her down, though. Oswald had faith that he would manage it.
Percival nudged closer, sliding under his arm, and looked up at Oswald adoringly. He honked softly at Oswald.
“No, you can’t stay, I haven’t got the means to look after you all,” Oswald told him, as he had told them all too many times before. “Besides, the keepers will get annoyed with me again, not to mention all the people who come to the zoo to see you will be horribly disappointed.”
Percival was undeterred. Oswald sighed, shook his head, and resigned himself to being surrounded by penguins, until the zoo rang him to ask for them back.
At least it was only the penguins that came to him, he thought. He would hate to think of the panic the lions and tigers would cause, or the chaos the elephants would undoubtedly leave in their wake.
After a while, one of Oswald’s men came in to remind him that it was almost time to open the club. Oswald was surprised to have his penguin companions for so long, and shooed them away.
“Gabe, please see to it that they arrive safely back at the zoo,” Oswald said.
Oswald watched with no little amusement as Gabe herded the penguins out of the club so they could open.
It took some time to track down any reference to Tünde Arany, and then double-check and make sure the information was as up to date as possible. Jim didn't want to lead Oswald on any wild goose chases to follow up false leads.
When he was finally satisfied that he had the right information, he gave Oswald a call.
“Hello, old friend.”
“Oswald, I think I've found Tünde Arany for you,” Jim said.
There was silence on the other end, then Oswald said, almost breathless with excitement, “Oh, I knew you wouldn't let me down! Where is she?”
“The address is on the outer edge of the city somewhere, in the woods,” Jim said. “I think I can find it.”
“When can we go?” Oswald asked.
“You are coming too, aren’t you? You’ve gone to all the trouble to find her for me. Don’t you want to know what she has to say about my curse?” Oswald asked, as if he was confident that Jim would be more than willing to drive him up there and sit in a stranger’s house while Oswald asked her questions.
“I guess,” Jim said. “Are you sure you want me there, though?”
“Jim, old friend, there’s no one else I would want to accompany me more,” Oswald replied.
Jim was glad Oswald couldn’t see him. He was sure he was blushing, and he didn’t want to explain why. That was also why he was hiding in the locker room to make the call. He didn’t want anyone else to see him talking to Oswald, if he really was so obvious about his affections.
“In that case, I’ll pick you up when I finish for the day,” Jim said. “I should get out around six. I’ll let you know when I’m on my way.”
“I look forward to it,” Oswald said. Jim could hear the smile in his voice.
Later, after Jim’s shift had finished and he had begged the use of Harvey’s car, Jim picked Oswald up outside his club. It had started to rain as he’d set off and was coming down steadily now. Jim hoped it wouldn’t last too long, or the clouds would blow over, but a little rain wasn’t going to stop them heading out to find Oswald’s old neighbour.
Oswald was waiting outside the club when Jim pulled up, his ever-present umbrella sheltering him and the raccoon by his side from the rain.
“Is… he coming with us?” Jim asked, indicating the raccoon.
“Yes, PC is coming too, as is Trudy.” The rat in question poked her head out of Oswald’s pocket and squeaked.
“Right. Okay.” Jim tried not to sigh. He really should have expected this. Animals loved Oswald, after all. “No mess,” he warned all three of them. “This is Harvey’s car and he wants it back in one piece.”
“Of course, of course,” Oswald agreed easily.
He opened the car door and let the raccoon in first. The creature hopped over the front passenger seat and made himself comfortable in the back. Then Oswald himself slid into the passenger seat beside Jim, folding his umbrella and stowing it by his side. Trudy scampered up to his shoulder while he buckled in.
Jim looked up at the darkening sky, and prayed to every deity he could think of that there would be no singing on this trip.
“Let's go, shall we?” Oswald smiled at Jim, bright and hopeful.
Jim felt his heart skip a beat. “Yeah, okay,” he said, ignoring the feeling. He handed a slip of paper to Oswald. “Directions. I'll need you to help me navigate past a certain point.”
Oswald accepted the slip of paper and unfolded it. He was visibly brimming with anticipation.
Somewhere far above, thunder rumbled and the rain started pouring down in earnest.
“Great,” Jim sighed as they set off.
They managed to get out of the inner city without incident, then past the suburbs and into the woods, even with the raccoon scampering around in the back. He was darting from one side to the other, looking out of the windows.
“Settle down, PC,” Oswald said, watching him in the rear view mirror.
The raccoon looked at Oswald, then slumped down on the back seat.
“Why can't he sit up front with you if he wants to look out the window?” Jim asked. “You've got Trudy with you, after all.”
PC perked up, scooting forward hopefully.
“You are a terrible influence on my friends,” Oswald scolded, but without any heat behind his words. He gestured and PC scampered over the seat and settled in his lap.
Jim watched out of the corner of his eye as Oswald began absently petting the raccoon.
It had taken him a couple meetings to get used to the ever-present animal companions. But they seemed the least problematic of Oswald’s other gifts. They didn't inspire random acts of violence, or musical numbers. They seemed to have a calming influence on him as well. The few times Jim had seen Oswald without some furry creature following him around or peeking out of a pocket, he had seemed tense. It was only when one of them reappeared that he relaxed.
Lightning flashed in the sky. PC chittered in alarm.
“Don't worry, PC. We're perfectly safe,” Oswald reassured him.
A deer leaped out of the trees into the road, then froze in the headlights.
“Fuck!” Jim slammed the brakes on, turning the wheel to avoid going into the animal.
Oswald grabbed for PC and Trudy, clutching them close as they jerked to a sudden stop.
“Everyone okay?” Jim asked shakily.
Oswald looked anxious, but he nodded. Trudy and PC looked a bit shaken as well, as far as Jim was a judge of animal behaviour.
“What the hell was that?” Oswald asked.
“A deer, I think. Storm might have spooked it or something. I'm going to check that we didn't hit it or anything. Stay here.” Jim climbed out of the car into the pouring rain.
He didn't see any sign of the deer, which was good. Hopefully, it had just leaped back into the trees and was perfectly safe. But when he checked the car, one of the tyres was flat. Harvey wasn’t going to like that.
He got back into the car to share the bad news.
“What are we going to do now?” Oswald asked.
“We can either sit here, and wait for the storm to pass, or try to go on foot,” Jim said. “The storm shows no sign of stopping though, so who knows how long we would be out here.”
“Mrs Arany can't live too far, right?” Oswald asked. “A couple of miles up the road, maybe?”
“We'll get soaked,” Jim warned. Though he was already wet. At this point, it didn't matter much what they decided to do.
“I have come this far to find her. I won't let anything stop me now,” Oswald said stubbornly.
“Okay,” Jim agreed. Both choices were pretty bad, but Oswald was right. They couldn't be too far from their destination.
Oswald couldn't use his umbrella in the strong winds or it would turn inside out. Trudy settled in his pocket again, and Jim offered to carry PC in case they lost the raccoon in the dark.
PC held his paws up like a child asking to be carried, so Jim picked him up carefully. Then he noticed Oswald watching them.
“It's nothing,” Oswald said. “Let's go, shall we?”
They had barely left the car behind when the deer returned. It was a stag, Jim realised, with white fur that seemed to almost be glowing. But that was ridiculous. Stags don't glow.
He looked at Oswald.
Well, maybe a glowing stag wasn't too far out of the realm of possibility.
Oswald stared at the stag, awed. “Csodaszarvas…” he murmured.
“Choda- what?” Jim asked, baffled.
“Csodaszarvas,” Oswald repeated. “It means ‘miraculous stag’. Mrs Arany told me stories of him.”
Jim looked at the stag, who was standing a short distance away, unphased by the rain. “So… go talk to him?” he suggested uncertainly. “Do your Doctor Doolittle thing and see if he knows the way to Mrs Arany’s place.”
Oswald stepped forward, but before he could open his mouth to speak, the stag turned and stepped back into the trees. He stopped just past the first row of trees and looked back at them. Then he made a definite beckoning sort of motion with his head.
“I think he wants us to follow him,” Oswald said, eyes bright with excitement. “Just like in the stories.”
Jim looked from Oswald to the stag, then down at the raccoon in his arms. He wondered at the state of his sanity that following a possibly magical stag that Oswald seemed to think was a legendary creature and had run them off the road into the forest seemed like a reasonable idea. Perhaps it was just Oswald’s influence.
“Let's go. Stay close, though. I don't want to lose you in the dark, and you might stumble,” Jim said.
“Aw, you do care,” Oswald teased. He waited for Jim to fall into step beside him and slid a cold hand into the crook of Jim’s elbow.
Jim looked at him, with his wet hair in disarray and plastered to his forehead. His coat was soaked, and likely the suit underneath was too. They both looked like drowned rats – no disrespect to Trudy, of course – and Jim had never wanted to kiss him more.
Instead, he turned his focus to Csodaszarvas, who waited patiently for them to follow him.
The trees provided some shelter from the rain, but not much. They were still soaked to the bone. PC looked miserable, shivering in Jim’s arms. Jim called a halt to their walk for a few moments.
Figuring that since he was already soaked and there was no harm, he unzipped his jacket and tucked the raccoon inside, so only his head was poking out the top.
“Is that better, little buddy?” Jim asked.
PC made a happy little noise, then chittered something at Oswald.
Oswald was giving Jim a strange look again.
“What? What did he say?” Jim asked.
Oswald ducked his head. “It's… nothing. Don't worry about it.”
“Okay.” Jim wasn't convinced, but let the subject drop. Standing in a forest during a storm wasn't the best place for a conversation anyway.
Csodaszarvas led them onward, through trees, over a gushing stream and past clearings, until at last they emerged into a small, tidy garden. A path led up to a cottage that could have come straight out of any fairy tale Jim cared to think of. It was small, with a thatched roof and white painted walls. Lights illuminated the windows, spilling light on the roses planted beneath them, and a lamp was lit by the door.
The stag stood beside them.
“Uh, is this where we should be?” Jim asked uncertainly.
“Yes, I'm certain,” Oswald said. He looked at Csodaszarvas. “Thank you for your help,” he said gratefully.
“Yeah, thanks,” Jim said, still uncertain.
Csodaszarvas bowed, then bounded away into the forest. He made no sound, and vanished from sight within moments, as though he had never been there at all.
Oswald released his grip on Jim’s elbow and set off up the path, umbrella tapping on the crazy paving.
“Well, I guess this is where we're meant to be,” Jim said to PC.
PC chittered at him. Jim had no idea what he was trying to say, but set off after Oswald.
He caught up with Oswald as he knocked on the door.
“Nervous?” Jim asked.
“A little,” Oswald admitted quietly.
The door opened, spilling golden light out into the night.
“You are late, my dear,” said the old lady, smiling kindly. “No matter, though. I expect the storm held you up.”
She was an elderly lady, with a wrinkled face and a bent back, but her eyes were as blue as anything Jim had ever seen, and there was a youthful air about her, despite the other signs of age. Her white hair was tied up in a complex braid.
“Mrs Arany?” Oswald said, wide-eyed.
“Hello, Oswald. Why don't you come in and introduce me to your friends?” Mrs Arany stood aside to let them in.
“Thank you,” Jim said, glad to get out of the rain.
“Mrs Arany,” Oswald began, once they were inside.
“Please, call me Tünde,” she said. “I've never technically been a Mrs anyway.”
“Tünde,” Oswald said. “These are my friends, Detective Jim Gordon, Trudy and PC.”
“It's a pleasure to meet you, Tünde,” Jim said, holding out his hand.
Still tucked into his jacket, PC mimicked the action.
Tünde laughed, delighted, and shook hands with both of them. “Oh, you are delightful, aren't you?” She offered a small bow to Trudy as well, who had climbed up to Oswald’s shoulder. “You seem to have made some good friends, little Oswald.”
Oswald turned red. “Tünde, I have some questions.”
“They can wait until you're warm and dry. Take these and get changed.” She handed them each a bundle of soft towels and a robe, and ushered them through a door on the other side of the room. She also took the opportunity to take PC and Trudy from Jim and Oswald. “Give me your wet things when you’re done and I’ll hang them by the fire to dry.” She shut the door behind them, and they heard her walk away, talking to the animals in her arms.
Jim and Oswald looked at each other. They were shut in a small-ish bathroom, with most of the room being taken up by the large claw-footed tub against the opposite wall. There was a small sink as well, beside a bench and a toilet.
Jim didn’t waste any time in beginning to peel off his wet clothes. His jacket hadn’t done much to keep him dry, especially after he’d carried a wet raccoon tucked inside it. He’d unbuttoned his shirt and was peeling it off his shoulders when he heard Oswald make a quiet noise, and then knock something off the bench beside him.
“Are you okay?” Jim asked, turning to him without thinking about it.
“Fine, fine,” Oswald said, trying to stand the bottle he’d knocked upright again. A blush spread across his cheeks and turned the tips of his ears red. “Just… knocked these over by accident.” He set one upright, but it wobbled and fell again.
Jim noticed that his hands were shaking, though he wasn’t sure if it was because Oswald was cold or because he was feeling flustered about knocking over the bottles.
“Let me help.” Jim dropped his shirt on top of his jacket and stepped over Oswald’s own discarded coat to help him set the bottles upright.
“Really, it’s not necessary,” Oswald said hurriedly. He reached for a bottle at the same time as Jim, and froze when their fingers touched.
“Shit, your hands are like ice!” Jim exclaimed, taking Oswald’s hands in his own.
It was only as he took in Oswald’s slightly stupefied expression that he wondered if he was overstepping his bounds. They weren’t meant to be friends. He had been trying to keep his distance after realising his feelings. Oswald didn’t help, with such adoring looks and his willingness to do anything for Jim, but he’d tried.
“Um, is this okay?” Jim asked.
Oswald wouldn’t meet his gaze. He seemed focused on their hands. “Yes, this is… this is fine,” he replied in strangled tones.
Jim wasn’t convinced, but he’d committed to warming up Oswald’s hands now and stopping would seem strange. He rubbed his palms over Oswald’s slender fingers until they seemed warmer.
“Much,” Oswald replied breathlessly. “Thank you.”
He smiled, and Jim had to step away quickly before he did something stupid, like kiss him.
“We should finish up, before Tünde comes looking for us,” Jim said.
He turned away to give Oswald some semblance of privacy as he finished taking his own clothes off. It was a little strange, undressing like this with Oswald in the room, but after years of being in varying states of undress around other men, both in the army and in the locker room at the GCPD, Jim didn’t have much body-consciousness left. Besides, he wanted to be out of his wet clothes as soon as possible, and it wasn’t like he was stripping completely. He kept his underwear on.
He donned the soft, fluffy bathrobe, wondering at how it fit him perfectly, and started folding up his clothes neatly. Oswald still hadn’t finished undressing by the time he was done, fumbling with the buttons of his shirt, though he had managed to take his waistcoat off and fold it.
“Are you okay? Are your hands still numb?” Jim asked without thinking.
Oswald jumped a little. “Fine. I’m fine. Just… not used to getting undressed with someone else in the room, that’s all.”
“Oh.” Jim could have kicked himself. He hadn’t stopped to consider how Oswald felt about their situation. At least Jim had turned away and resisted the urge to sneak a peek at Oswald while he was undressing. Who knew what Oswald would have said to that?
“I… uh, I’ll go see what Tünde’s doing, I guess? I’ll, uh, leave you to it,” Jim said awkwardly. He left the bathroom, catching a glimpse of Oswald’s pale shoulders as he turned to shut the door, and told himself that he hadn't intended to, hadn't hoped for a peek at the body constantly hidden beneath fine suits.
“He's lucky to have you,” said Tünde.
Jim jumped, not expecting her to be so close.
“He's...uh…” he began.
“You are friends, yes? That is good,” Tünde continued, ignoring his stammering. She took his folded clothes and hung them up in front of the fire across the room.
Jim followed awkwardly. “We're not really friends,” he said. “He's… and I'm…” He didn't know how much Tünde knew about Oswald’s criminal career, or how much he should share.
“Then why are you here?” she asked, turning to him. She stepped in close before he had a chance to move away and grasped his chin.
Jim froze, letting her look into his eyes.
“You like him, but you think you shouldn't. Maybe you should stop thinking,” Tünde advised.
“It's not that simple,” Jim replied weakly.
“It could be. Work it out.” Tünde let go. “Now, sit.” She indicated a soft armchair by the fire. “Gingerbread?”
As the door clicked shut, Oswald let out a sigh of relief. Not that he’d especially wanted Jim to leave, but if he stayed, it was only a matter of time before Oswald did something stupid, like kiss him.
The man had stripped down to his underwear, for god's sake! Oswald only had so much self-restraint. He’d looked, of course he had. Only a fool wouldn’t. All that bare skin, just begging to be touched.
His hands shook, and Oswald remembered how it had felt when Jim had tried warming them up. It seemed a miracle that Jim hadn't noticed the way Oswald’s heart was pounding. To prevent himself from doing anything embarrassing, he'd just stood and stared at their joined hands, trying not to focus too heavily on the sight of Jim’s bare chest.
Oswald stripped out of the rest of his clothes quickly, glad that Jim hadn't seen his own too-pale frame, scarred and ugly in comparison to Jim’s. He wasn't looking forward to going back out in the robe with bare legs.
The bathrobe was long enough to pass his knees when he put it on, though. It was soft and warm, which was a relief after his cold, wet clothes.
Jim was sat by the fire when Oswald left the bathroom, and Oswald wished he'd looked when Jim had put it on, if only to prepare himself for the sight.
Jim, all wrapped up in the fluffy fabric looked downright cuddly .
It wasn't right. Jim was a homicide detective. He wasn't meant to look cuddly.
Oswald wanted to climb into his lap and see if Jim really was as cuddly as he looked. He restrained the urge, focusing all his attention on Tünde as she took his clothes, to hang them beside Jim’s.
“Tünde, I —” Oswald began.
“Sit, my dear Oswald,” Tünde said. “My, you've grown.” She smiled at him, just as fondly as she always had. “Your friend, Jim, was telling me that your car has a damaged tyre. You will not be able to get back to the city tonight, so I shall find a room for you here.”
Oswald glanced at Jim, all too aware that he usually denied any claim to friendship, and was surprised to find him accepting for once. PC and Trudy were in Jim’s lap, but when Oswald sat, Trudy abandoned Jim in favour of him. PC stayed where he was, apparently completely won over by Jim’s compassionate behaviour in the woods. PC wasn't the only one.
All too often, Oswald’s animal friends proved a stumbling point in forming real connections with people. Yet Jim, after some initial reservations, had accepted them. At first he had merely tolerated their presence but now, he would acknowledge them. Maybe he wasn't able to understand them, but he would say hi or nod to them. Oswald had always appreciated that.
Then Jim had gone and kept a cold, wet raccoon warm in his coat and it had been simultaneously one of the most ridiculous and adorable things Oswald had ever seen. They had both been soaked through, but the way PC’s head had poked out of the top of Jim’s jacket had Oswald internally melting. That really was the only word for it.
That feeling was returning as Oswald watched Jim run his fingers through PC’s fur, helping him to dry off.
Tünde handed a plate of gingerbread to Oswald, then pulled up a chair to sit by the fire with them.
“So you have questions?” she said.
Oswald nodded. “Yes. This… spell. The animals, the singing, the strangers falling in love at first sight — it’s all very… entertaining. But I need to know why,” he said, picking his words carefully. If she had had the power to cast a spell on him that was intended for his benefit, she probably wouldn’t take too kindly to him calling it a curse.
“To help you, of course,” Tünde replied, smiling. “I looked into your future, you know. I saw hardship, and loneliness and pain. So I helped. Now you are not alone. Though the people who love you — that was for your mother’s peace of mind. While she worries you will be taken away from her, she also does not want to deny you love. She… well. It is up to her to tell you of her experiences.”
Oswald ate his share of the gingerbread while she was talking. It was still slightly warm from the oven, and tasted just as he remembered. For an instant, he was transported back to Tünde’s old apartment, sitting at her table aged ten all over again.
“Well, I must admit that there are… benefits,” Oswald replied. “Some animals have been truer friends than most people I’ve met, and the singing… well. But it’s the people. The ones that say they’re in love with me. Can you make it stop?”
“You want people to stop loving you?” Tünde asked.
Oswald hesitated. “Not… exactly. I want the part where strangers fall in love at first sight to stop,” he said. “They don’t mean it. If they stick around long enough, they all get sick of me, or disgusted or afraid.” By the time he had finished speaking, Oswald’s voice had dropped to a whisper. He was baring far more of himself in front of Jim than he had ever meant to. He was almost afraid to look at him for fear of what he might see in Jim’s face. Indifference, perhaps, or pity, or a dismissive eye-roll.
But when he chanced a look past Tünde to Jim, all he saw was unhappiness, perhaps sympathy. Jim wasn’t looking at him. He was stroking PC still, looking down at the raccoon, but Oswald could still see the way his lips turned down slightly at the corners, the wrinkle of a frown on his forehead.
“I see,” Tünde said. “This love, it is not what you want. It is shallow, wears off. That is my fault, perhaps. Wrong magic.” She stood up and began bustling around the room. “I can help, but it may take a little while. Magic is unpredictable. While I thought this would make it easier for you to find happiness, perhaps I was wrong.”
“It’s been useful,” Oswald admitted. “But just once…” He stopped. Wishing for a sincere love in front of Jim was revealing just a little too much, even if Jim would never use it against him.
Trudy nudged his hand in an attempt at comfort. Oswald gave her a little smile.
“So, you want a love that is strong, yes? And will last through thick and thin.” Tünde pulled some jars out of a cupboard and put them on the table.
“Um. I suppose,” Oswald said.
Tünde turned to him with a serious expression. “You must be sure,” she said. “When there is magic, you must be sure, especially when something as powerful as love is involved. Now, think very carefully about what you want. Concentrate on it with all your heart. What do you really want?”
Oswald closed his eyes. What did he want? Love, obviously. Loyalty, the kind he didn't have to buy. Someone who wasn't afraid of him. Someone who could be gentle, but wasn't always. They had to accept his animal friends and not just tolerate them. If they were going to be around him for any length of time, they would sing eventually, so a good singing voice was preferable. He couldn't duet with someone who couldn't sing.
And was it too much to ask that his love be handsome as well?
A vision of Jim floated across his mind, and Oswald banished it instantly. He was trying to be realistic, and while Jim could fill many of Oswald’s desires, it was impossible.
Tünde said he had to be certain of what he wanted. Could her spell target only Jim? Could he have that effect on it?
And if it worked, what then? Jim would love him, and they would date and talk and kiss and…
And it wouldn't be real, would it? Because the only reason Jim would love him was because of a magic spell, and Oswald didn't want magic to be the only reason he was loved. That much, he was truly certain about.
“You know what you want?” Tünde asked. He could hear her still bustling about, gathering things she needed.
There was a sharp pain in his hand. Oswald yelped, jerking away and opening his eyes.
Tünde held a needle, the tip red with his blood.
“Whoa, was that necessary?” Jim asked, shocked. He sat forward, ignoring that the movement disturbed PC.
“Yes, of course. There is power in blood. If Oswald wants something specific, then this ensures he will get it.” Tünde dropped the needle in a soup pot on the table. “One way or another, anyway.”
“So… what do we do now?” Jim asked.
“You leave the magic to me, there's still a bit left to do and I don’t need you for the rest of it, but it's late and you won't get back to Gotham tonight,” Tünde said. She pointed to a door on the opposite side of the room to the bathroom. “There's a bedroom through that door. You'll have to share, I don't get many guests up here so there’s only the one bed.”
Oswald tried not to outwardly react. He had to share a bed with Jim.
His heart skipped and jumped, flopping between panic that he would embarrass himself and elation that he could be that close to Jim.
“Oh. I see,” was all Oswald managed to say.
“It'll be just like a sleepover,” Jim said, flashing an uncomfortable smile at Oswald.
PC chittered, looking up at Jim and tugging on his robe. Jim looked down, then gave Oswald a helpless look.
“Um, can you… translate?” he asked.
Despite his mixed feelings on the situation, Oswald smiled. “He wants to know if he gets to join the sleepover too.”
Jim looked down at PC. “Of course you can, and Trudy too,” he added.
Trudy squeaked. Of course she was coming. Oswald would never leave her behind. Oswald petted her reassuringly. Leaving her out had never been in question, but he appreciated Jim remembering her.
Tünde clapped her hands. “Oh good, I'm glad you won't have any problems. Now, I will get on with the spell and you two feel free to go to bed whenever you like. Your clothes will be dry in the morning, and then you can make your way back to Gotham.”
It felt like a dismissal, a subtle hint to go to bed and leave her to work. Even without that, Oswald was feeling pretty tired. Between his work earlier and the unplanned trek through the woods to find Tünde, sliding into bed sounded wonderful, with or without Jim.
“Sleep does sound good,” Jim said, standing up. He held PC to his chest, so the raccoon didn't fall to the floor. “Are you coming, Oswald?”
“Yes, that sounds good. Right, Trudy?”
Trudy squeaked at him, telling him how not subtle she thought he was.
Oswald blushed and glanced at Jim. Thankfully, Jim wasn't looking and didn't understand Trudy anyway.
“Goodnight, Tünde,” Oswald said, echoed by Jim as they headed to the bedroom.
“Goodnight,” Tünde called after them, already adding things to her soup pot and stirring it.
Oswald was just behind Jim as the door opened into the bedroom and found the light switch. It was a fairly large room, furnished with simple but sturdy wooden furniture. The walls were painted white, as were the floorboards where they were visible. A patterned rug lay between the door and the bed, providing most of the colour in the room. A small vase containing a handful of purple flowers on the windowsill opposite the door was the only other colour in the room.
The bed was wide, Oswald noted, so they didn't have to press up against each other. Unless Oswald rolled over in his sleep and clung to Jim.
Maybe if they kept PC and Trudy between them, Oswald could keep from embarrassing himself. The raccoon was already making himself comfortable after squirming out of Jim’s arms.
“I think you've made a friend for life,” Oswald murmured to Jim.
Jim smiled bashfully, but he couldn't hide how pleased he was. “He looked cold. What else could I have done?”
“He was also soaking wet,” Oswald pointed out.
“So was I,” Jim pointed out. “So, which side do you want?”
Oswald shrugged. He really didn't care. He didn't often share his bed with other people and usually slept in the middle.
“Whichever is fine,” he answered.
Jim shrugged and sat on the side by the window. PC crawled up his back and over his shoulder. Jim caught him before he tumbled forward and fell on the floor.
“Oh, you're full of energy,” Jim grumbled good-naturedly. “You got a ride through the forest. I had to walk everywhere.”
PC squeaked and chittered, gesturing.
“Oswald?” Jim asked, looking over his shoulder.
“He’s saying thank you,” Oswald translated. “You were very warm and he’s glad you came with us.”
“It was nothing, really,” Jim said, rubbing the back of his neck.
“It means a lot to us,” Oswald said.
Jim looked back at him. “Oswald?”
“I mean it.” Oswald sat on the other side of the bed, not looking at Jim. “Others look at PC and Trudy and they see pests, vermin. You're kinder than most. It's something I admire about you,” Oswald finished quietly.
Jim was silent at that, and when Oswald risked a glance behind him, he could see the tips of his ears had gone red. PC climbed up to Jim’s shoulder and chattered at Oswald.
“PC! That is inappropriate!” Oswald hissed, scandalised. He was not going to kiss Jim on the suggestion of a raccoon.
“What did he say?” Jim asked.
“Nothing!” Oswald replied.
He ignored the way PC was still gesturing. The raccoon tumbled over Jim’s back and rolled over the bed.
Jim turned around to make sure he was alright. “You know, I've already wondered about their names,” he said to Oswald. “Do they tell you their names or do you name them?”
“They have their own names, but it's hard to pronounce the noises with human vocal chords,” Oswald said. “So I gave them other names, with permission, except for the zoo animals and birds. They were named by the keepers.” Oswald held Trudy to his chest. “Trudy was named for my mother, Gertrud.”
“That's short for Pudding Cup,” Oswald said, ducking his head, feeling a little embarrassed. Mostly he chose sensible names for his companions.
Jim snickered. “Pudding Cup? You're named for pudding?” he asked the raccoon.
PC bobbed his head, looking quite proud of his name.
“I'd been having a bad day and… well, I was sneaking a pudding cup in the alley behind the club when he came up to me and begged half of it,” Oswald explained, embarrassed to admit to his habit of comfort eating.
What kind of mob boss gave in to comfort eating? It was awkward enough, even though he hadn't been anyone of note at the time. He'd been humiliated by Fish and Butch again, not in any power to do more than steal a pudding cup and eat it quickly. PC had made him feel better with his antics, though, and they had been friends ever since.
When he looked at Jim, there was no mockery in his smile. Oswald’s heart beat painfully. Why couldn't Jim love him? It would be perfect.
“We should get some sleep. I don't know about you, but I'm exhausted,” Jim said, yawning. He took the bathrobe off, as unconcerned as he had been about undressing in the bathroom earlier. Oswald tried not to stare, he really did, but when so much of Jim was on show, how could he not?
“Are you sleeping in the bathrobe?” Jim asked.
Oswald startled, realising that he probably would have to. He'd managed to avoid being almost naked in front of Jim until now.
“I might,” he said. He tugged at the belt around his waist as if that would make him feel less vulnerable. It probably wouldn't be comfortable, but he wouldn't be almost naked.
“Well, make your mind up so we can sleep,” Jim said. “Get into bed, and I'll get the light.”
While Jim’s back was turned, Oswald slid into bed, still wearing the robe. Then the light turned off and the room was plunged into darkness. Without streetlamps or moonlight, it was almost pitch black. Oswald considered taking the robe off after all while Jim stumbled around the bed. It was dark enough that Jim wouldn't be able to see him. Oswald could barely see Jim, which was a mixed blessing. Jim could no longer see him staring and couldn’t see his body, but neither could he properly appreciate Jim’s state of undress.
There was some shuffling about, and then Jim managed to find his way around the bed to slide under the blankets beside Oswald. Trudy curled on the bed by Oswald’s pillow. PC waited for Jim to settle, then curled up beside him, purring loudly.
“I should be jealous,” Oswald said. “He’s never warmed up to anyone else the way he has to you.” But being jealous of a raccoon was ridiculous, even by the standards of his life.
“At least we'll always need you as a translator,” Jim teased.
“I'll start charging for my services,” Oswald said, smiling in the dark.
“Do I get a discount or do we need to negotiate favours?” Jim asked.
Oswald’s heart jumped. That sounded almost like flirting. But that was ridiculous.
“I'm sure we could come to some arrangement,” Oswald replied, trying to keep his tone light and his voice steady.
“I'm sure we could,” Jim replied, voice low.
That was flirting. Oswald was almost sure of it. Feeling braver in the dark, Oswald rolled to face Jim.
“So what are you offering?” he asked, immediately panicking. Was that too forward?
“What do you want?”
You . Oswald almost said it. The word danced on the edge of his tongue until an unexpected yawn took over.
“Sleep,” he lied. “That’s all I want right now.”
Jim yawned too. “Yeah, me too,” he said. “Goodnight, Oswald.”
He settled down in the bed and was asleep in minutes. Oswald rolled over to face him in the dark. Quiet strains of music started, not loud enough to wake Jim. Oswald sighed, but knew that Jim wouldn’t wake up. It was like being part of a musical montage sometimes.
“ I'll put a spell on you, You'll fall asleep ,” Oswald sang quietly. “ When I put a spell on you,
And when I wake you I'll be the first thing you see, And you'll realize that you love me… ”
Jim awoke feeling well rested for a change, as though he had finally slept just enough. He was warm, and not inclined to get up just yet if he didn’t have to. He could feel fur behind him, and guessed it was PC curled up against him after he had rolled over in the night.
But if PC was behind him, what was tickling his nose?
It was at that point that Jim knew, without opening his eyes to confirm it, that he had rolled over and was now hugging Oswald close to him. At some point in the night, Oswald had taken off the bathrobe, so his bare back was pressed to Jim’s chest. At least Jim had managed to keep his hands above the waist, and Oswald didn’t seem to be awake.
If Tünde’s spell worked, Oswald would find his true love soon, or something like that. There wouldn’t be any more mornings like this, waking up spooned against him. It was unexpectedly nice. With the sunshine coming in the window and the birdsong outside, the morning felt so utterly peaceful that Jim gave in to the urge to close his eyes and simply enjoy it a few moments longer.
He would have to find Harvey’s car and then see if there was a spare tyre or get it towed back into the city, but that was a problem for later on, after Oswald woke up and pulled away.
Quite without meaning to, Jim drifted off to sleep again.
The next time he awoke, Oswald was gone, but the space he had left behind was still warm. There was no sign of Trudy or PC either. Judging from the conversation he could hear through the slightly open door, he had been abandoned in favour of breakfast.
Jim stretched out his limbs, enjoying the feeling of being rested and relaxed while he could. No doubt the feeling would soon vanish once they returned to Gotham.
His clothes were neatly folded on the dresser, looking like they had been freshly laundered. They should have been creased and dirty from the trip through the woods the night before, smelling of sweat and raccoon, but Tünde had cleaned them thoroughly. Jim wondered how for a moment, then thought that if she could cast love spells over Oswald, then maybe cleaning spells for laundry weren't completely out of the question.
After dressing, Jim joined the others for breakfast. Oswald, dressed as smartly as ever in his own freshly laundered suit, smiled brightly at the sight of him, pink dusting his cheeks. Jim blushed, remembering how it had felt to hold him in his arms. He had meant to only hold him a while longer, then move away before Oswald woke up to prevent any awkwardness. But he had fallen asleep, and had continued sleeping through Oswald’s awakening. Perhaps he could feign ignorance if he was asked about it, if Oswald thought he had never been aware.
“Good morning, Jim,” Tünde greeted cheerfully. “I hope you slept well.”
“The best night’s sleep I've had in a long time,” Jim replied. He slid into a chair at the table beside Oswald.
“Oswald tells me you like coffee, so I put a pot on,” Tünde said. “There is toast, eggs and bacon if you're hungry as well, just help yourself.” She handed him a plate, waving at the piles of bacon and eggs in the middle of the table.
Trudy and PC had their own plates too, but when Jim helped himself to the bacon, PC edged closer to him.
“You have your own,” Jim pointed out.
PC looked at him beseechingly.
“He just wants to know how far you'll go to keep him happy,” Oswald said. “Don't let the little con artist fool you.”
PC pressed a paw to his chest in a gesture meant to convey how hurt and offended he was. It was so clearly an action he had learned from Oswald that Jim couldn't help but laugh.
Trudy squeaked something that had Oswald giving her almost the exact same look before he realised what he was doing and smoothed out his expression.
“I have no idea what you're talking about,” he told her.
Jim, thoroughly confused, glanced between them.
“It's nothing,” Oswald told him. “Don't worry about it.”
Jim shrugged it off, used to it by now, and changed the subject. “So, did you sleep well?” he asked, keeping his tone neutral. He buttered some toast to give himself a reason not to look at Oswald but still stole a glance out of the corner of his eye.
A blush spread across Oswald’s cheeks to the tips of his ears. “Yes, thank you, I did,” he replied.
He had definitely woken up while Jim was still holding him then, and was probably trying to forget about it. Jim didn't press the issue and moved on.
“We'll have to find Harvey’s car this morning. I don't know how far it is, though,” Jim said.
“Oh, it's not far,” Tünde said. “The journey here always takes longer than the journey home.”
“That makes no sense,” Jim said, then winced when Oswald elbowed him sharply. “Um, I mean —”
“I know what you meant. Despite spending so much time with dear Oswald, you still don't understand magic,” Tünde replied. “I'm not offended by it.”
After breakfast, during which Jim resisted PC’s imploring gaze, they set off to find the car. Tünde pointed them toward the road and wished them well.
“You should start to see the effects of the spell soon,” she said to Oswald. “A lasting love, yes? One that will not waver.”
“Right,” Oswald said. “And next time I visit, it will be purely a social call.”
“Bring your handsome lover, when you sort things out with him,” Tünde said.
Jim wondered at the look she gave him after she said that. Did she know how he felt about Oswald? Did she know that Oswald finding his true love was going to break Jim’s heart?
Jim wouldn't stand in the way, though, however much he might want to. It wouldn't work between him and Oswald anyway. A cop and a criminal could never make a relationship work. He would just have to watch while Oswald found someone perfect for him, and then hope that he was so lucky himself.
As they walked away from the cottage, Jim glanced back. Perhaps if this magic really did work to help Oswald find someone who truly loved him, he could ask Tünde to work a similar spell for him.
It only took fifteen minutes of walking to find Harvey’s car. One moment they were in Tünde’s garden and the next, they were back in the forest, with the road just visible through the trees.
The tyre was still flat, though, so Oswald sat in the passenger seat while Jim called for a tow truck. After being reassured that the truck was on its way, Jim called Harvey to let him know what was going on.
“You find his old neighbour?” Harvey asked.
“Yeah. We ended up staying overnight with her while she did whatever it was she did for Oswald,” Jim said.
“And is Oswald okay?” Harvey asked.
“Yeah, he's fine,” Jim replied, frowning.
Harvey sounded a little strange, and not just because he usually referred to Oswald as either Penguin or Cobblepot, never as Oswald.
“Oh, good,” Harvey replied. “You'll be back soon?”
“Yeah, once we get the tyre sorted out, I'll drop Oswald wherever he needs to be and bring your car back,” Jim said.
He hung up, still wondering at Harvey apparently caring about Oswald.
Or maybe he was trying to prevent another mob war or something. Who knew what had been going on in Gotham while they were gone?
The tow truck arrived with a spare wheel, and an overeager man all too happy to get on his knees in the mud to change it when Oswald smiled at him.
Jim frowned, leaning against the car. He had thought that whatever magic made people fall in love with Oswald was supposed to be over now. Oswald seemed to be ignoring the mechanic, though, texting on his phone.
“I swear, I need to start hiring people capable of independent thought,” Oswald muttered. “I've been gone one night. That shouldn’t be cause for alarm.”
“Did something happen?” Jim asked. “Harvey sounded strange too.”
“No, not as far as I can tell. They just want to check on me,” Oswald said, baffled.
“And that's unusual?”
Oswald gave Jim a look of disbelief. “I pay them to remain loyal and obey me. This is… I don't know what this is.”
“Maybe they just care about you,” the mechanic piped up from beside the tyre. “I do.”
“Are you done yet?” Oswald asked him. “I have a business to run, you know.”
“Nearly!” the mechanic said quickly. He rushed to finish, then stood staring stupidly at Oswald afterward.
“Right, well, we’d better be off,” Jim said, inexplicably feeling like a third wheel. It wasn't as though Oswald was paying attention to the man anyway, too busy sorting out the situation with his henchmen, and he wasn't the sort of man Oswald usually paused to give a second glance to either.
Jim set off, leaving the mechanic still standing by the side of the road.
Things still seemed to be normal after that. Jim dropped Oswald at his club so he could check how business had been in his absence. Trudy and PC rode on Oswald’s lap again, and when they parted, PC waved goodbye to Jim sadly. Jim gave him a little wave and hurried over to the precinct to return Harvey’s car.
The precinct was the usual bustle of activity when Jim arrived. Then people noticed that he had arrived, stopping and staring at him.
Jim paused, wary. When no one said anything, he continued on to his desk. Whispers broke out as he passed.
“What's going on?” Jim asked Harvey quietly.
“Word got around you and Oswald were together last night,” Harvey replied. “And the rumour mill has been at work.”
“Nothing happened!” Jim whispered. “We had car trouble, we found his old neighbour, we spent the night, and then we came back.”
“She had room for both of you?” Harvey asked, leaning closer.
“She had a spare bed,” Jim replied warily. “Wide enough that we could share it, but all we did was sleep, I swear.”
“That’s all? Why would you waste a chance like that?” Harvey asked incredulously. “Man, do you know how many people would kill to have been in your position?”
Jim drew back, frowning. “Harvey, are you feeling alright?”
“Never better, Jim,” Harvey said. “So… what was it like?”
“What as what like?”
“You know! Sleeping next to Oswald,” Harvey said. There was a strange, dreamy sort of look in his eyes that made Jim feel uneasy.
“It was… It was sleep. I don’t know what you want to hear,” Jim said helplessly. There was no way he was going to tell Harvey about waking up, curled around Oswald, the warmth of his body, the way his hair tickled his nose. That would only lead to mockery.
Except right now, Jim wasn’t so sure.
“Did I hear that right? You slept with Oswald?” Alvarez popped up seemingly out of nowhere.
“ Beside him,” Jim hissed, trying to keep his voice down. Why was Alvarez even interested, anyway? “That’s all. It wasn’t planned, nothing happened and I don’t want to talk about it anymore!”
“Man, you are so lucky ,” sighed another officer.
Jim didn’t dare respond, especially not to agree. “You know, I have a lot of work I should be getting on with,” he said gesturing to his desk. “So I’m going to get on with it.” He opened the first report on his desk and stared at it intently until everyone else started moving away.
Not that that made it any easier for him to focus. He was too busy wondering just what the everloving fuck was with everyone this morning.
Oswald was used to a certain amount of strange behaviour, and mostly it went unnoticed now, but even he could not ignore the over-friendly greetings from his staff. He expected a polite greeting as befit someone of his status as their boss, and some grovelling from those who wanted to gain his favour, but this was going so much further.
Everyone had greeted him cheerfully, as if genuinely overjoyed to see him. The usual sycophants were more sycophantic than usual and those who weren't had started fawning over him in the same way. No less than five different people had brought him a cup of tea after he had settled in his office, but none of them had got it right. It was either too milky or not milky enough, too strong, too weak, and one person had heaped enough sugar into the cup that Oswald was surprised there was any room for liquid.
It was, quite frankly, getting really creepy.
And that was before Butch tried to grope him.
“Whoa, hey!” Oswald backed away, startled. “What the hell was that?”
“Sorry Boss, couldn’t help myself,” Butch said, smirking lewdly at him.
“Well, control yourself better in future!” Oswald snapped. “I’m going to my office. I have work to do, and I don’t want to be disturbed for any reason!”
He turned and hurried as fast as he could to his office, and locked the door securely behind him.
Jim was slowly becoming aware of a feeling of hostility in the precinct. The whispers and stares hadn't abated, but whenever he looked up, people hurriedly turned away.
He had been at his desk long enough to feel like he had earned a break, though he'd hardly managed to do any work. The way people kept looking at him was too distracting.
“I'm going to go get a coffee,” Jim said. “You want anything?”
“Get me one too,” Harvey replied.
There wasn't anything of Harvey’s usual friendliness in his tone, and when Jim glanced at him, Harvey hastily put on a bland expression.
Deciding not to question it and just get coffee, Jim hurried through the bullpen to the break room. The precinct coffee machine wasn't particularly great, but it would do. As he passed by other officers, he heard snatches of their conversations, not unaware of how they fell silent as he approached.
“I heard he slept with Oswald last night!”
“But he hates Oswald, doesn’t he? Oswald could do so much better…”
“Yeah, he's always so rude to Oswald, pushing him around.”
“What did he ever do to deserve Oswald’s love?”
Jim shut the break room door, grateful beyond all measure that the room was empty. It sounded like they were jealous or something, which was ridiculous. It had been a subject of mockery before, the strange arrangement he had with Oswald. Now though, even the officers and other staff that Jim knew had absolutely no interest in men were sighing over Oswald, wishing for his attention and… other things.
He turned the coffee machine on, and then pulled out his phone. When things got strange, there really was only one thing Jim could do.
He phoned Oswald.
“Jim, I wasn't expecting to hear from you so soon,” Oswald greeted. Beneath the cheer, Jim could tell he was strained.
“Yeah. Uh… is everything alright?” he asked, then winced because that sounded friendly and they weren't friends, not really. They just did each other favours and shared a bed one time.
“Everything is fine, Jim. Why wouldn't it be?”
“Because everyone here is acting strangely,” Jim said. “If it was just Harvey, I would assume it was just because I didn't return his car last night. But everyone is affected.”
“You know… now that you mention it, things have been a bit odd…” Jim heard Oswald pause as someone banged on the door. “They won't leave me alone, Jim!” he whispered urgently.
There was some muffled shouting, and then Oswald shouted back for whoever it was to go away. Then the banging got louder, and more insistent.
“Jim, I think I need help,” Oswald said urgently.
There was a crash, and more voices, and Oswald screamed.
“Oswald!” Jim shouted, but there was no reply. Just the sounds of a struggle and then everything went quiet.
“Is everything okay, Jim?” Harvey asked.
Jim jumped, having not heard him come in. But it wasn't just Harvey he saw when he turned around. It seemed like the entire department was behind him.
“Everything is fine, Harvey. Why wouldn't it be?” Jim said warily.
“I don't know, Jim. We just wondered why you would shout at Oswald like that,” Harvey replied. “What did he ever do to deserve all the trouble you give him?”
“You mean besides run pretty much all the organised crime in Gotham?” Jim asked, baffled.
“We all have our little flaws,” Harvey said.
“He's a murderer,” Jim said in disbelief. “That's a bit more than a little flaw.”
“And yet you've fallen for him anyway, haven't you?” Harvey said. “But you don't deserve him.”
“He just wants to be your friend, but you just use him for favours, and then you suddenly drop everything to run off with him last night, after refusing him at every turn, and honestly, you don't deserve any of his affection,” Harvey continued.
This was beyond strange now, and into the realm of incomprehensibly bizarre. Jim started looking for a way out. The trouble was the only door was blocked by Harvey and the people behind him.
“I didn’t know you cared so much,” Jim said carefully. “Usually you can't stand him.”
“You could never understand the way I love him!” Harvey cried.
There was definitely magic involved in this. If nothing else convinced Jim, that statement from Harvey did the trick.
“Okay.” There was no training for what to do when your partner was magically in love with a hardened criminal he had despised the day before. “Why don't we go get some coffee in that diner you like so much, the one by Oswald’s club, and we can talk about it?” Jim suggested, thinking quickly.
Not that Jim had any intention of discussing anything. Oswald’s scream still echoed in his ears. He had to get to the club as soon as possible, but first, he needed to get past the entire police department.
At the mention of Oswald’s club, Harvey perked up. He shut the door, indicating to the crowds behind him that he was going to talk to Jim privately.
“Maybe we can call in and see Oswald,” Jim suggested. “I dropped him off at the club this morning.”
“I suppose we could,” Harvey said. He stepped closer, speaking quietly. “But just the two of us, yeah? We don't need the whole precinct coming with us.”
“Definitely not,” Jim said with feeling.
“Right. So I'll go out there, tell them we’re going to get coffee or something, talk about how you're going to treat Oswald better in future,” Harvey said. “They don't have to know what we're really doing.”
“Sounds good to me,” Jim said, forcing a smile.
Harvey did exactly as promised, sending their colleagues reluctantly back to their desks. Jim breathed a sigh of relief that he wasn't going to have to fight his way out, and followed Harvey down to his car.
He just hoped Oswald would be safe until he got there.
Unfortunately, Harvey did insist that they had to talk about how Jim had to treat Oswald better from now on, so they stopped at the diner. Jim was itching to get to the club, but he also didn’t think it was a good idea to argue with Harvey at the moment.
“He likes you, though after the way you've dismissed him and used him, I don't know why,” Harvey said, once they were sat down. “You need to stop pushing him around. What if you hurt him?”
“I don’t mean to hurt him,” Jim said. “I just… he aggravates me, and I can’t have him knowing how I really feel, and I can’t show him any preferential treatment. Not to mention, the fact that he’s still a criminal.”
“He's just trying to survive,” Harvey said. “This is a tough city, and you've got to be tough to live here.”
“Plenty of other people get by making a living without murdering other people,” Jim pointed out.
“Oswald’s had a tougher life than most,” Harvey said. “You've got to cut the guy some slack, Jim. He's doing the best he can.”
Jim stared at Harvey dumbly. Clearly nothing he could say was going to get through to him. All he could do was hope this spell wore off. Until then, he decided that maybe it would be better to play along.
“You know what? You're right,” Jim said, forcing a wide smile. “I'll be nicer to Oswald from now on. When we see him today, I'll apologise for my behaviour.”
Harvey gave him a broad smile of approval. “That's the spirit,” he said cheerfully.
Since Harvey seemed to be on his side, regardless of whatever magic was affecting him, Jim decided it was time to tell him the truth about the phone call he had overheard.
“I need to tell you something,” he said. “The phone call you heard at the precinct? I wasn’t shouting at Oswald. I could hear that he was in trouble but I didn’t want to alarm anyone else.” Not with the creepy way they had been acting about Oswald all morning. He could only imagine what kind of chaos it would have caused if the entire department knew the truth.
“Oswald’s in trouble?” Harvey stood up, alarmed. “And you didn’t tell me?”
“Why do you think I suggested we come here?” Jim said.
“I bet you were just waiting for the opportunity to slip away,” Harvey said. “Go play the hero, win him over and take the credit, and then hurt him all over again because you just can’t accept how you feel!”
“Harvey, I just told you he might be in trouble. Why would I do that if I wanted to rescue him on my own?” Jim asked.
“Or maybe, you wanted to make sure that he stays in trouble,” Harvey said. “Maybe you want him hurt.”
“You’ve said you have feelings for him, but when have you ever really acted on them? Why would you hide it? Doesn’t Oswald deserve to be loved?”
“He’s hurt Oswald?” asked the waitress. Jim was fairly sure he had never spoken to her, except to order coffee once or twice, and he was almost certain that Oswald would never set foot in a diner like this, so how did she know Oswald?
Then Jim looked around, noticing all the other hostile glares being sent his way from diner staff and patrons alike. There was no way that all of them knew Oswald, surely. It had to be the magic. There was no other explanation.
The cook behind the register reached under the counter and pulled out a shotgun. “No one hurts Oswald and gets away with it,” he said, pointing it at Jim.
Jim did the only thing he could do when surrounded by a bewitched crowd of Oswald fans. He turned and ran.
Shouts followed him, but he was out of the door before anyone could stop him. He had to find Oswald, and then get them both back to Tünde’s cottage to put an end to this madness.
The club was eerily silent when he arrived. The usual doormen were nowhere to be seen, and there were no staff lingering behind the bar or cleaning up after the previous night’s business. It was possible that they had all gone home, but as Jim moved through the club, he spotted coats and bags still hanging in the staff cloakroom.
Jim pressed on, heading to the back of the club and up the stairs to Oswald’s private office.
The door to Oswald’s office was smashed, hanging off its hinges. The office beyond was a mess, with Oswald’s chair overturned and papers scattered all over the floor. There was no blood, which could be a good sign, but Jim still remembered the way Oswald had screamed.
He moved further into the room, intending to look for clues, some indicator of who had done this and why. He found Oswald’s phone behind the desk, the screen cracked but still functional. He slipped it into his pocket to return it later.
Rustling paper caught his attention, something moving under a fallen book. Jim carefully lifted it to find Trudy curled underneath.
“Oh!” Jim carefully picked her up. “Hey, are you okay? I was looking for Oswald, but I guess he’s not here.”
Trudy squeaked and twitched her whiskers. She looked up at Jim, and seemed to slump in the face of his lack of understanding.
“We’ll find him,” Jim said to her. “But if you can help at all…”
Trudy seemed utterly calm in Jim’s hands, the same way she was with Oswald. She rested a paw on his thumb, and Jim knew that she trusted him. It was a strange feeling, to be trusted by a rat, oddly touching because he had never seen her interact with anyone other than Oswald.
With Trudy carefully settled in one of his pockets, Jim quickly searched the rest of the club. It was entirely abandoned, though. After checking the back rooms that he technically wasn’t supposed to know about, as a cop, he turned to leave and found the way blocked.
Harvey had caught up with him.
Jim froze, staring down the barrel of Harvey’s gun.
“You're not good enough for him,” Harvey said. “You always hurt him. That's unforgivable, Jim. I hate to do this, but there’s no other way.”
“Harvey, let's talk about this,” Jim said, putting his hands up. “Nobody has to die.”
“You don't really care about him,” Harvey said. “If you did, it wouldn't matter that he's a criminal.”
“Will you listen to yourself?” Jim asked. “You're irrational!”
“Love is irrational!” Harvey exclaimed, wild-eyed.
There was a thump in the air duct overhead. Harvey glanced up, and Jim took advantage of the situation to disarm him, grabbing his wrist and twisting the gun out of his hand. Jim stepped back, out of Harvey’s reach, and then watched helplessly when a panel came loose from the air duct and a penguin fell on Harvey’s head with a squawk.
“Percival?” Jim stared dumbfounded while the penguin shook himself off.
Harvey groaned, lying on the floor, wincing in pain. Regardless of the fact that Harvey had just been holding a gun to his face, Jim kneeled beside him to check him for injuries, shooing Percival off Harvey’s chest in the process.
“It's a good thing you're a small penguin,” Jim muttered. Harvey was bruised, but that was all, so Jim had no reservations about handcuffing him while he was still confused about what was going on.
“I'm sorry about this, Harvey,” Jim said. “But I can't let you kill me. I need to find Oswald and find out how to reverse this to get you back to normal.”
Harvey groaned in response.
Jim turned to the penguin. “Oswald’s not here, but I'm looking for him. You can come with me if you want.”
Percival honked at him, looking rather pleased with himself. Jim took it as an affirmative. Trudy poked her head out of Jim’s pocket and squeaked.
“Let's go, then,” Jim said.
He left the club, a rat in his pocket and a penguin waddling behind him.
Their first stop was Oswald’s townhouse. They took Harvey’s car, Trudy hopping up onto the dashboard for the journey. Jim let her climb back up his arm after they arrived so that she could cling to his shoulder. Percival was happy enough following behind as long as they were going to find Oswald.
Oswald’s home was similarly wrecked, but with Trudy’s guidance, Jim found a safe in his study.
“I don't know the combination,” Jim told her helplessly.
Trudy made gestures downwards, then tried to climb down his arm when Jim looked baffled.
He had to stop her from taking a tumble to the floor. Then he realised she was trying to get to the badge on his belt.
Eying her curiously, he unhooked it. “You want this?”
Trudy waved a paw at the badge, then at the safe. Jim looked between the two, then said in a rather stunned voice, “My badge number?”
At a loss for what else to try, Jim carefully keyed in his badge number.
The safe door opened.
“Wow.” He didn't know what to make of the fact that Oswald had memorised his badge number.
Inside the safe was a slim notebook, filled with Oswald’s careful cursive script. It was full of addresses, Jim realised. Safe houses, where Oswald could seek refuge in the event of an emergency.
“You think he's at one of these places?”
Trudy squeaked in a way that Jim assumed meant yes, and bobbed up and down.
“Right.” Jim examined the list again. They were scattered across the city, though, in every district, from the poorest neighbourhoods to the richest, some close to places where Jim knew Oswald had business and some where he did not.
One of the addresses was in the theatre district, probably the closest to the club. If Oswald had fled anywhere, he had likely gone there, so that was the first on the list.
“I don’t suppose you know if he had any specific plans for the entire city going mad about him?” Jim asked Trudy.
Trudy blinked her little black eyes.
“Thought not. Right, Percival, let’s go.”
The penguin was wandering around the study, as if he expected Oswald to just fall out from behind a potted plant or something. He turned to Jim at the sound of his name, though.
The first address yielded no results, nor did the second. Jim didn’t want to trail all over Gotham, looking for Oswald. It would take far too long, and it seemed that word was beginning to spread about him. More and more people were giving him strange looks, verging on hostile. No one had caused trouble, though, but everyone — literally everyone — that Jim had passed, had been talking about Oswald, proclaiming their love for him.
There was no way Oswald knew even half of these people. It was entirely likely that many had never even seen him before, but now they all wanted him. They were obsessed.
Jim parked the car in an alley, and pulled out the notebook. Maybe there was some clue in there as to which safe house Oswald was most likely to use or something. Percival was restless in the back seat, impatient to be out looking for Oswald, but Jim ignored him.
“How do we even know he got to one of these safe houses?” Jim muttered, more to himself than to his companions. If they answered, he wouldn’t understand them anyway.
Trudy squeaked anyway, resting on his lap.
Jim looked down at her. “If something’s happened to him…” He sighed. “I need a better way to find him.”
But there wasn’t anything he could think of. He couldn’t rely on anyone in the precinct to help him, because they were all apparently jealous that he got to share a bed with Oswald one time. None of Oswald’s thugs were available to help anyway, and they were all likely just affected by the spell over the city as everyone else.
Trudy suddenly sat up, then scampered and climbed up onto the dashboard. In the back, Percival was suddenly much more alert too, trying to climb awkwardly into the front passenger seat.
“Whoa, hey, what are you guys doing?” Jim asked.
Then he heard it, echoing over the city.
There were no words, just a few notes repeating, echoing off the buildings. Oswald was singing.
Some of the tension drained out of Jim. Oswald was definitely alive, and if he was well enough to sing, then perhaps he was unhurt. Now all Jim had to do to find him was follow the animals and birds attracted to his voice. It should be easy, with two of them in the car.
“Show me the way,” he told Trudy as he started the engine.
Unfortunately, Jim wasn’t the only one who realised that following the urban wildlife would lead directly to Oswald. Everyone who knew Oswald had come to the same conclusion, and so there was a crowd by the time Jim turned onto the street. He stopped the car at the corner to observe the people gathered around a seemingly ordinary Victorian townhouse.
Well, it would have seemed ordinary it there weren’t hundreds of pigeons gathering around it. Some were perched on the roof, or on the window ledges, but dozens more were dive bombing the people gathered outside.
“We need to sneak past them somehow,” he said. “Or…” He looked at Trudy. “You could take a message,” he said. “You could get in there and tell him I’m outside, that I’m not affected like everyone else.” He eyed her speculatively. “Could you take his phone with you?” He still had it in his pocket, after all.
Trudy squeaked, and Jim assumed again that it was a yes. If not, she would surely find a way to correct him.
He rummaged in the glove compartment, and came out with a length of string, which he used to tie Oswald’s phone to Trudy’s back. Trudy held perfectly still until he was done, then experimentally ran the length of the dashboard and back.
“Looks good,” Jim said. He opened the car door and carefully set her down to the ground. “Good luck.”
He watched her scamper away, keeping close to the curb.
Percival honked at him.
“I’m sure Oswald will be fine,” Jim said to him, sitting back in the driver’s seat. There was nothing to do now but wait.
Oswald was having possibly the worst day of his life. It had started so well too, in Tünde’s cottage, with Jim wrapped around him. That had been pretty amazing. He hadn’t wanted to move at all. He’d indulged himself for a short while, pretending that it was normal to wake up like this, but then Trudy and PC had stirred and he’d forced himself to slip away without waking Jim. He hadn’t wanted to see Jim pull away from him, awkward and embarrassed at best and utterly disgusted at worst.
By the time Jim had joined them for breakfast, Oswald had felt better, and he hadn’t wanted the morning to end. But he had a business to run and underlings to order about, so they’d come back into the city and everything had gone downhill from there.
He’d thought at first that it was just his men who had been affected, but after escaping from Gabe’s clutches after the man had broken his office door down, Oswald had soon found out that everyone was after a piece of him. He’d been chased by every man and woman he’d passed until finally he had managed to reach one of his safe houses. PC had kept up, but in the panic and confusion, Oswald hadn’t realised that Trudy was gone, or that he’d left his phone behind, until he was safely behind the locked door.
There was a phone in the safe house, but Oswald didn’t know who to call. If everyone in the city was affected, then would Jim be the same? He’d acted the same as usual at Tünde’s, but perhaps the spell had taken effect after their return.
He wanted Trudy with him, safe and sound. She’d been on his desk — had she escaped unharmed or had she been hurt somehow?
PC had offered to go back and look for her, but Oswald didn’t want to be left alone. He had eventually taken the risk of singing to summon the creatures of Gotham, though, knowing that some people would be smart enough to track them to find him.
What he hadn’t expected was for Trudy to appear at a ground floor window with his phone strapped to her back.
“Trudy!” He hurriedly opened the window, then slammed it shut again before anyone outside could see and try to come in. He’d been avoiding being seen at the windows since asking the pigeons not to let anyone near the building.
Trudy scampered inside, then waited patiently while he untied the string around his phone.
“How did you get here?” he asked.
Trudy squeaked a story of Jim coming to find him at the club, and finding her instead, and their search for him.
Hearing that Jim was waiting out in the street, Oswald immediately called him, needing some kind of reassurance that he wasn’t crazed like the others. “Jim?”
“You know, my life was perfectly normal before I met you,” Jim said conversationally. “There was no magic, or singing like we’re part of some wacky Broadway show, or sitting in a car, having a conversation with a penguin I don’t actually understand.”
In the background, Oswald could heard Percival honking. “...He says you were missing out, before,” he translated.
“Are you alright?” Jim asked, and if Oswald didn’t know better, he would say Jim was actually concerned about him.
“I’m…. I’m fine. Well, apart from being traumatised. Butch has groped me, and Gabe tried to kiss me,” Oswald replied. “It was deeply disturbing, and I never want him that close to my face ever again.” Gabe was a good and loyal underling, and absolutely the opposite of everything Oswald wanted in a romantic relationship.
“It must have been terrifying,” Jim agreed, sounding amused. “No wonder you screamed.”
“It was a manly yell of surprise,” Oswald replied primly.
“I suppose it’s a good thing you weren’t around for Harvey to declare his love to you as well,” Jim said. “He told me I’m not nice enough to you.”
“Well, he does have a point,” Oswald replied. “You do manhandle me rather roughly at times, Jim.”
“Then he threatened to shoot me.”
“Oh.” That was a bit more serious than Oswald had expected. “Jim, you must understand that I would never condone such actions against you,” he said, the urge to reassure Jim too strong to ignore. “Yes, you sometimes act harshly, but you’ve never caused me any injury.”
“Harvey seemed to think it was an unforgivable crime,” Jim said. “So you might want to tell him, and everyone else, that it’s not a big deal.”
“Of course,” Oswald agreed. “Though given how… irrational everyone is today, I’m not certain it would work.”
There was a crash outside, and Jim swore. Oswald dashed to the window to see what was going on.
A fight had broken out among Oswald’s admirers. He could hear them all shouting insults at each other, declaring themselves to be the only one worthy of him.
“Oswald, if this is what you wanted when —”
“Of course this isn’t what I wanted!” Oswald snapped, cutting off Jim’s accusation with genuine outrage. “I wanted…” He paused. “I thought I knew what I wanted, but then I wavered. I wasn’t sure. I just knew that I didn’t want people to love me because magic compelled them to.”
“And yet somehow the entire city is now is in love with you,” Jim said.
“Not the entire city,” Oswald said. “You’re clearly not affected.”
There was something off in Jim’s tone, but Oswald didn’t have time to think about it. One of his ‘fans’ had just pulled a gun on another and was firing wildly. It was chaos out there, and Oswald dropped to the floor, out of sight.
“You can’t stay in there indefinitely, Oswald,” Jim pointed out. “We need to go back to Tünde and have her undo this spell.”
“Yes, I agree. Where are you right now?” Oswald asked. He peeked out of the window, but couldn’t see Jim.
“In Harvey’s car, parked up at the end of the street.”
Oswald risked making himself more visible at the window to try to see him. “I think I see it. Stay there, I’m coming to you,” he said.
“What? How —” Jim began.
“What good is a safe house if it just becomes a prison, silly?” Oswald replied, smiling as he made his way across the room. “I’ve fully prepared each one to keep people out, as well as give me an escape route if necessary.”
He pressed a switch, and a bookcase against the back wall swung open to reveal a dimly lit hallway. With Trudy in his pocket and PC following at his heels, sneaked out of his own safe house, emerging in an empty alleyway. It didn’t take long to find Jim, and the crowds didn’t notice him at all as he climbed into the rear passenger seat.
“Let’s go,” he said, feeling far more cheerful than he had since Jim had dropped him at the club that morning.
Percival scrambled in his ungainly fashion to join him, squeezing between the front seats and falling to the floor. Oswald took pity and rescued him from making more of a fool of himself.
“Is this what you intended when we went to Tünde?” Jim asked as he pulled away from the curb, careful to avoid attracting attention from the mob down the street.
“Of course not!” Oswald protested. “This is the opposite of what I wanted! Her spell must have gone wrong somehow, or…”
Tünde had said he had to be sure of what he wanted when she had cast her spell, but he had wavered just before she had taken his blood. Could his moment of doubt have caused all of this? Surely not. He’d been certain at least that he didn’t want people to magically love him.
“Let’s just go back to Tünde and get her to reverse this,” Jim said.
Oswald slumped in the back seat, relieved to have a human ally in all the madness. Percival snuggled into his side, trying to offer comfort. Trudy emerged from his pocket to crawl up to his shoulder. PC was more interested in getting up front to greet Jim.
“Hey, buddy,” Jim said, flashing the raccoon a quick smile.
Oswald took advantage of the moment of peace to simply observe Jim. While he was focussed on driving and not attracting attention, he still acknowledged PC, further cementing him in the raccoon’s affections.
“What are you smiling about?” Jim asked suddenly.
Oswald blushed, not realising that Jim had noticed him and was now watching him in the rear view mirror.
“It’s nothing,” he said hurriedly. “Just thinking that I’m very lucky to have you on my side. I don’t know what I would do if you were crazy in love with me too.”
Jim grimaced uncomfortably. “Yeah, that would be bad, wouldn’t it,” he replied.
PC chittered that no, it wouldn’t be, a sentiment echoed by Trudy. Oswald had never been so glad to be the only one who could understand them. Jim looked between them, confused.
“It’s nothing,” Oswald said. “They don’t understand, that’s all.”
PC crawled up the back of the front passenger seat to give him a dirty look. Oswald glared back at him.
“It’s true” he said. “You don’t understand.”
PC chittered at him rudely and slid back down to sulk on the seat.
“Children, I will turn this car around if you don’t stop arguing,” Jim joked, stopping the car at a red light.
Oswald glared at him incredulously.
Usually, Oswald’s thugs cowered when he glared at him. Rivals returned his glares with equal venom. Even Jim usually glared back, with that stubborn lift of his chin that Oswald privately thought was endearing — after his irritation with Jim had worn off.
This time though, Jim laughed.
It was such an unexpected sound, one Oswald had never witnessed before in all the time of their friendship, that he couldn't even bring himself to be offended. The grin transformed his face, leaving no trace of the surly detective Oswald was used to dealing with.
His heart thumped painfully in his chest.
Something thumped against the window. Oswald jerked away, startled.
“Christ!” Even Jim was startled.
“Oswald! Oswald, I love you!” cried some woman that Oswald couldn't recall ever seeing before. Maybe at the club, but Oswald couldn't remember everyone who came in.
Percival reared up at the window, flapping and honking, ready to defend Oswald if need be. It was sweet, he supposed.
“Jim, we need to get out of here!”
“Working on it,” Jim said.
The woman was beginning to draw a crowd now. The light was still red, but Jim pulled away anyway, putting his foot down and accelerating across the intersection.
The crowd tried to follow. Oswald turned to watch them chase the car until they couldn't keep up and fell behind.
“Are we going to be able to get out of the city like this?” Oswald asked “If they keep finding me, if they find out we’re leaving the city, they’ll want to keep us here.”
“We can try,” Jim said.
Jim’s phone rang, starting them both. He pulled it out of his pocket, glancing at the caller ID and swore. “It’s Harvey,” he said. “I left him handcuffed in your club, but I guess he’s managed to free himself somehow.”
Jim made no move to answer the phone, letting it ring insistently. It stopped when the call was transferred to voicemail, then started up again.
“You’re not going to answer him?” Oswald asked.
“Nothing I say will convince him that I don’t want to hurt you, even though…” Jim paused. “I tried to talk sense into him, but he’s irrational, just like everyone else.”
Sirens sounded somewhere nearby, which wasn’t unusual. Then a couple of squad cars fell in behind them, lights flashing.
“Fuck.” Jim reached for his phone, finally answering it. “Harvey, call them off.”
Oswald couldn’t hear the reply, but knew instinctively that it would be a denial. Indeed, Jim’s face in the rear view mirror told him all he needed to about Harvey’s response.
“Harvey, I told you I wouldn’t — yes, of course I meant it. I know how it looks from outside, I’m well aware, given how much effort I — damn it, will you listen to me?” Jim snapped, casting a glance at Oswald.
Oswald wondered how much Jim wasn’t saying, what he would be saying if Harvey wasn’t interrupting.
“Tell him I’m with you,” Oswald said suddenly. “If they’re after you for a perceived slight against me, then I can speak in your favour. Surely they’ll listen to me.”
Jim looked doubtful, but then Harvey was speaking again, and Jim’s attention switched to him.
“Huh? Yeah, I found him. What, no, I didn’t kidnap him! He’s with me because he chose to get into the car, Harvey.”
Oswald turned to watch the squad cars behind them. They weren’t coming closer now, but they weren’t falling back either. Jim wasn’t making any effort to lose them, just driving straight on while he talked to Harvey. Oswald hoped he was paying enough attention to the road not to crash, but at least the sound of the sirens had the other vehicles pulling over to get out of the way.
“Okay, fine,” Jim said. “We’ll come to the precinct, but call off the officers behind us. You don’t really want me arrested, Harvey.”
Oswald’s stomach sank. What was Jim getting them into now? They couldn’t go to the precinct. They had to go to Tünde’s cottage and have her undo her spell.
Jim hung up the phone, casting a brief apologetic look at Oswald over his shoulder. “Sorry. In exchange for Harvey calling off the chase, we have to stop at the precinct so he can see you himself. If we don’t go, we’ll have the police on our tail the whole way up to the woods and given how Harvey reacted earlier, I’m not sure it would be smart to risk antagonising a bunch of armed police officers.”
Oswald nodded. “I suppose not,” he agreed, but he wasn’t happy about it. “Let’s go then. The sooner we get there, the sooner we can get away again afterward.”
After all, how long could it take to reassure Detective Bullock of his own health, and Jim’s good intentions? Then Jim could get them out of there, and they’d be on their way to get the spell removed. Simple. What could possibly go wrong, Oswald thought wryly, even as his brain supplied an endless list of all the ways it probably would go wrong.
The police cars stayed behind them, all the way back to the precinct, where they were met by a crowd of GCPD officers in the GCPD parking lot.
“This isn’t good,” Jim muttered.
“Really? I couldn’t tell,” Oswald sniped. “What made you think coming here at all would be a good idea?”
“I didn’t think he’d tell the whole precinct that we were coming,” Jim hissed. “I thought he’d want to be more discreet.”
“What is it about Detective Bullock that made you think he could ever be discreet?” Oswald asked.
Jim grimaced, but didn’t reply.
“Get out of the car, Jim,” called Detective Bullock.
Jim didn’t move. “Stay here, alright? I don’t think they’ll hurt you, not if they love you, but I don’t want you to risk it. Get out of here, if you can.”
Jim glanced back at Oswald one last time, then got out of the car.
Almost immediately, he was grabbed and dragged away. A few officers reached for the car doors, but Oswald hurriedly locked them from inside. PC chittered at him in alarm, pointing to where Jim had been surrounded. Oswald saw the first fist come flying at Jim and then watched him fall.
Trudy, watching from Oswald’s shoulder, squeaked at him.
“Of course I’m not going to leave him like this!” Oswald snapped.
He unlocked the door and slammed it open, catching a couple of officers off-guard. He hurried forward, swinging his umbrella cane at anyone who came too close. PC and Percival were quick to defend him as well. Percival may have been a small penguin, but he had a sharp beak and the GCPD soon learned to give him space. Likewise, PC had sharp teeth and claws, and didn’t hesitate to run at the people beating up Jim, biting them until they backed off.
A hand grabbed Oswald and spun him around. Oswald swung his umbrella around, only to have it knocked from his grasp.
“Butch!” he gasped, shocked and angry.
Butch looked at him through tearful eyes. “Hey, Boss. I’m real sorry about this, you know?” he said, pointing his gun at Oswald. “But if I can’t have you, no one can.”
“Butch, you don’t want to do this!” Oswald said, struggling against Butch’s grip. He had to get to Jim, had to get away. He hadn’t thought for a moment that he would ever be the target of this violence.
“Of course I don’t,” Butch replied. “I love you, but I can’t bear to see you with anyone else. Especially not Gordon. That guy never respected you, never treated you the way you deserve. So I have to do this.”
Trudy launched herself from Oswald’s shoulder to Butch’s arm, ran up his sleeve before he had a chance to react and sank her sharp teeth into his ear.
Butch cried out, letting go of Oswald while he swatted at the rat. A glancing blow knocked her to the ground, where she scrambled to avoid being stamped on and ran under a car.
Oswald looked around for her, and saw her hiding behind a wheel. She squeaked at him, barely audible over the chaos, but it was enough to reassure him that she was okay. She was small enough to hide, and the crowds weren’t concerned with her, so he followed her instructions to save Jim.
PC and Percival were doing their best to clear a space around Jim, but they clearly needed help. Oswald grabbed his umbrella again and swung it at the nearest person, uncaring of anything else but saving Jim.
Once Oswald had a clear route to Jim, he dashed forward and pulled him to his feet.
“Thought I told you to get out of here,” Jim mumbled. “Not that I’m not grateful or anything.”
“Shut up and run. Thank me later,” Oswald snapped.
They ran together, past the crowds, into the precinct. Jim slammed the door shut behind them, but there was no way to lock it or barricade it against the people chasing them. Jim tugged Oswald down the empty corridor and out of sight of the doors before the crowds outside had a chance to get in.
“What now?” Oswald asked.
“We can’t stay here, and we can’t get back to the car. We could try to lose them in the precinct, then double-back and make for the car, or just make a straight run to the main entrance at the front and find alternative transport from there.”
“When you say alternative transport…” Oswald began warily.
“The entire city is in love with you,” Jim said. “I’m sure someone out there will give up their car if you smile for them or something.”
“James Gordon, are you suggesting I use this curse to for nefarious purposes?” Oswald asked, scandalised. He grinned, though, having no trouble whatsoever with the thought of hijacking someone’s car if it meant getting out of this situation.
“It’s hardly nefarious if it’s done with the aim of getting out of this situation so we can find a way to undo all this,” Jim said, waving a hand vaguely. He had an answering smile on his face, though, despite the seriousness of the situation and the bruise blossoming across his cheek.
“I say we hide, get our breath back, and then we can decide what we’re going to do,” Oswald said. “Besides, you should probably have that bruise looked at.”
“I’ll be fine. Besides, everyone here only wants to inflict more bruises,” Jim said. “Unless you’re offering?” He looked at Oswald, who couldn’t stop the blush spreading across his cheeks at the thought of tending to Jim’s wounds.
It wasn’t like it was even the start of some bedroom fantasy — though there had been a few that started in a similar way. It was the level of trust involved for Jim to let him do that.
“I would, if you needed me to,” Oswald replied, breathless, and not just from running down a corridor with an angry mob searching for them.
Jim flushed, but that was probably just from the exertion, Oswald reasoned.
“In here,” Jim said gruffly, dragging Oswald through a door.
It seemed to be a records room, though one not used often, judging from the dust Oswald could see on top of some of the filing cabinets. Jim shut the door behind them quietly, so as not to attract attention.
Together, they sank to the floor, leaning against the door. They heard footsteps in the corridor outside, and Oswald hardly dared to even breathe until they had passed by completely.
“I think we’re safe for now,” he whispered.
Jim nodded. “Stay here while I check the room, though,” he whispered, getting to his feet quietly.
Oswald nodded once, in no hurry to move. All the running around had his leg aching, but at least he still had his umbrella cane to help him move. While Jim disappeared into the shadows of the records room, Oswald rested his head against the door and hoped that Trudy, PC and Percival were alright.
Jim couldn’t believe how bloodthirsty the crowds had become. He knew Oswald would never have intended for this.
He wasn’t sure how they would get past the crowds now, not when almost everyone was out to kill both of them. At least they hadn’t discovered their hiding place, but with so many of them all searching for Oswald, surely it was just a matter of time.
He checked out the rest of the records room, but there was no one around. He hadn’t thought there would be, this being one of the older archive rooms, and there wasn’t much reason for anyone to come in. There was also no alternative way out. There was only the door they had come in by, and no windows, save the one in the door.
He returned to Oswald and sat down beside him again.
“We need a plan to get out of here,” he said.
Oswald thumped his head back lightly against the door, rolling his eyes. ”I know. I’m not dying in some dusty records room of the GCPD. But in case you haven’t noticed, we’re two people, a rat, a raccoon and a penguin against the entire city. So tell me, what brilliant plan has the GCPD’s finest detective come up with to get us out of this mess?”
Jim tried not to be hurt by the overly sarcastic tone. He was doing his best, and the day had been ridiculous even before his colleagues had started trying to actively kill him.
“I’ll draw them off,” Jim said. “You get down to the parking garage and take one of the cars there. Get to Tünde and get her to reverse this.”
Oswald shook his head. “There’s no way I could get there before they catch you and tear you apart!” he said. “They’d have you before I even got to the car. No, I can’t let you do that.”
“Oswald, unless you know how to break this spell, there’s nothing else we can do,” Jim said.
“I won’t let you throw away your life for me,” Oswald said. “Why would you even —” He broke off abruptly, hearing a noise in the corridor.
“Jim! I know you came down this way!” Harvey yelled.
Gesturing silently, Jim indicated for Oswald to move away from the door. If Harvey tried to find them, perhaps they could hide behind the filing cabinets and sneak past him that way. Jim didn’t really want to hurt his partner after all. It wasn’t his fault he was caught up in the ridiculous spell.
Oswald complied, slowly moving away along the dusty floor, getting out of sight of the window before getting to his feet and moving behind a filing cabinet. Jim followed as quietly as he could.
Harvey came closer, calling out to Jim again.
”I know you don’t really love him, Jim, not like I do,” Harvey said.
Jim froze, swallowing hard. Of all the things for Harvey to be shouting about, it had to be that.
“If you did, you’d have let him know by now. You wouldn’t be running out of Oswald’s before the songs take over, you’d have sung them for him.”
Jim closed his eyes, as if that could make it all stop. As if it could protect him from Oswald’s reaction.
“Jim, is that true?” Oswald asked quietly. “Have you been caught up in the spells, just like the rest of them?”
“No!” Jim protested, keeping his voice to a whisper. He turned to Oswald, pleading. “At least, I’ve tried not to be,” he added.
Oswald stepped back, giving him a sceptical look. “I think you should explain, Jim.”
There were so many emotions flitting across Oswald’s face that Jim couldn’t tell what he was feeling, but he left Oswald back away as much as he wanted.
“I suppose it was too much to hope that you wouldn’t find out how I feel,” Jim said, sighing. “I’ve seen you fend off too many unwanted advances. I didn’t want you to feel I was the same as all the rest.”
“So what does that mean?” Oswald asked. “Are you really that noble?”
Jim shrugged. “I don’t know about noble. I mean, part of it is that I don’t want you to whack me with your umbrella, and part of it is that it could never work, because you’re a criminal and I’m a cop, and how can I investigate crimes if they might be linked back to you? What do I do if I’m looking into a murder and it turns out that you’re involved and I have to arrest you and watch you get put away for years in prison?”
“I think you really underestimate just how much money I have and the effect that has on the Gotham justice system,” Oswald replied dryly.
Jim grimaced. “And that’s another thing. You’re almost shameless about being a criminal. It’s not just you trying to get by, by any means necessary. You enjoy it. It’s your calling in life. It’s perverse, but it’s true. You’re one of the many things wrong with this city, and god help me, but I love you anyway.”
Oswald had a strange look on his face now. Jim had thought he would be angry for his observations, for his feelings, but instead, Oswald looked disbelieving, then thoughtful, and then a look of dawning realisation spread over his features.
“Oh,” he gasped breathlessly.
“I'll leave you alone after this, if that's what you want,” Jim said, not sure if that was a good reaction or not. “But we have to survive first, and break the spell over the rest of the city.”
“I’m an idiot,” Oswald muttered, looking at Jim like he’d never seen him before. “I really am.”
Jim frowned. “Oswald?” he began, then paused. There was music playing, Oswald’s bizarre gift kicking in yet again. “Is this really the time?” he asked, glancing nervously at the door.
But once it began, Jim knew there was no stopping it. He just had to ride it out, and hope that Harvey didn’t hear it.
“Don't want another heartbreak, don't need another turn to cry, oh no.”
Jim turned to him, a confused frown on his face.
“I don’t want to learn the hard way, oh baby hello, oh no, goodbye, But you’ve got me like a rocket, shooting straight across the sky.”
The look of confusion began to clear, and Jim stepped closer to join the song, the urge impossible to resist. The lyrics spilled out of him uncontrollably, though he felt embarrassed to be singing in front of Oswald. His voice was nowhere near as good.
“It's the way you love me, It's a feeling like this, It's centrifugal motion, It's perpetual bliss.”
Now they were singing in unison, staring into each other’s eyes. Oswald really did have beautiful eyes.
“It's that pivotal moment, It's, ah, impossible, This kiss, this kiss, Unstoppable, This kiss, this kiss.”
Oswald gave a little gasp when Jim pulled him into his arms. Jim took full advantage of his parted lips to kiss him deeply.
There were no fireworks, like in the books Barbara had sometimes read and that Jim would deny ever looking at, or any flashes of magic. It felt more like coming home, like a warm blanket on a cold day, like safety and security.
At last, thought Jim.
They didn't notice that the world around them went quiet, barring the music that played on in the background, and then —
“Oh my god, really? In the precinct, Jim? Go have your make out session in his club at least,” Harvey complained.
Jim pulled away from Oswald, but didn't let him go. He didn’t want to ever let him go, not now they’d finally come together.
“Harvey? Are you —?”
“Am I what? Horrified to find you making out with a mob boss in the middle of the precinct?” Harvey asked. “Yes, yes I am. This really isn’t the time or the place.” He turned to leave, then paused. “But, uh, congratulations on sorting your shit out at long last. I'm not going to have to listen to you literally singing his praises in the car any more, am I?”
A slow smile spread across Oswald’s face. “Jim?”
A dark blush coloured Jim’s cheeks, to the tips of his ears and spread down his neck. “Shut up, Harvey,” he said, not meeting Oswald’s eyes.
“You know what? I'm just going to go now,” Harvey said. “Don't do anything I wouldn't, and if ...things —” He gestured vaguely. “— progress, lock the door, yeah?”
“We’re not going to — not here ,” Jim protested helplessly.
Oswald giggled, attracting Jim’s attention. “I don’t think you have to worry about that, Detective,” he said turning a disarmingly sweet smile on Harvey. “I fully intend to have Jim in my bed, the first time things… progress, as you say.”
“Oswald!” Jim groaned, while Harvey grimaced and looked horrified.
“Maybe we should go now,” Oswald asked huskily, leaning up to nip at Jim’s neck.
“Okay, okay, I’m leaving!” Harvey exclaimed, all but running out of the door. There was a pause, then the door opened again. “By the way, there’s a penguin out here looking kind of pissed off with me. Friend of yours?”
Oswald snorted a laugh against Jim’s chest. It was the most undignified sound Jim had ever heard him make and he adored it.
“Yeah, he’s a friend of ours,” Jim replied, grinning like a lovesick fool. Which, he supposed, he was.
Percival waddled into the room, honking when he saw them. PC was close behind, with Trudy riding on his back. Jim couldn’t deny the relief he felt at seeing they were all okay. Oswald relaxed against him at the sight.
“Yes, yes, you were right,” Oswald told them. “Don’t rub it in,” he added, a touch grumpily.
Later, after everything had settled down, it seemed that everyone was content to pretend the entire day had never happened. Harvey claimed to have no memory whatsoever of the event, and Jim pretended to believe him.
Later, they made arrangements to visit Tünde again, which turned out to be a lot more difficult without a magical stag guiding the way. Jim swore they were going in the right direction at least three times, only to find that they had completely turned around. Eventually, Oswald had to sing to summon the forest animals to guide them to the cottage on foot.
When they got there, Tünde explained that there were misdirection spells in place to keep people away. As for the spell she had cast on Oswald, all she did was shrug.
“Things worked out, didn’t they? You found each other in the end. True love’s kiss broke the spell I cast.”
“You could have just told me it was Jim I was looking for,” Oswald said. “It would have saved so much trouble!”
“But then you would not appreciate it,” she replied. “True love doesn’t just fall into your lap, young man. This isn’t a fairy tale. True love must be earned and earned and earned.”
Oswald still grumbled, Jim supposed he understood what she meant, sort of. It wasn’t easy to keep the respect of his colleagues while dating the criminal King of Gotham, but he was willing to try and so was Oswald, and there were many ups and downs as they settled into their new relationship, arguments and bickering, soothed later with soft kisses and gentle touches.
Jim began spending a lot more time at Oswald’s club after work, and lingering a little longer when time allowed during cases. PC and Trudy were still hanging around, and while Trudy was still firmly attached to Oswald, PC had attached himself to Jim’s side. Jim had even persuaded Oswald to take in Percival too, after the penguin had saved him. Oswald had given it some thought, and eventually made arrangements with the zoo, since he was so determined to hang around Oswald anyway.
Other animals came and went, of course, still drawn to Oswald, and people still burst into song around him, and, irritatingly, would-be prince charming types were still turning up to try to woo Oswald. Most listened when Oswald told them he was taken now, but there were still some persistent people who wouldn’t take no for an answer.
Jim had learned how to deal with them, though.
“I said no!” Oswald snapped, glaring poisonously at the man who had grabbed his wrist. “And I strongly suggest you let me go, before —”
“Before what, sweetheart? Surely you wouldn’t let anything happen to —”
Jim hit the man across the back of the head with Oswald’s cane. He fell to the floor groaning.
“Jim, not that I don’t love you defending my honour, but I hadn’t figured out yet if it was safe to do that to him,” Oswald said, though judging from the smile, he hardly disapproved.
Jim looked down at the would-be rival for Oswald’s affections. The man moaned, rolling over with a pained look on his face.
“He’ll be fine,” Jim said with a shrug. He crowded Oswald back against the bar and kissed him possessively, not caring that the other patrons of the club could see them and were almost definitely watching.
Unnoticed, Butch rolled his eyes, tried not to think about his magically induced feelings for his boss, and dragged the latest victim away.