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Domesticity Does Not Become Him

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Oswald twists his ring where it still encircles the wrong finger as he stares, unseeing, at the paperwork before him. He is supposed to be going through the contractor bids on the Iceberg Casino and Hotel, but his heart isn’t in it today. That particular muscle is feeling quite strained lately, as a matter of fact, and he only has himself to blame.

Oswald is, for all intent and purposes, hiding at the lounge because Jim is at home. In Oswald’s home. Where he now lives because Oswald asked him to move in and Jim accepted. It was an impulsive offer, not that he wouldn’t have made it eventually as often as he’s thought about it. He’d simply lacked the foresight at the time—morphine is a hell of a drug—to understand just what sharing a home with a romantic partner entails.

Jim already lived there most of the time besides, and Oswald had figured it wouldn’t change much. Indeed, it had been easy to incorporate Jim’s things. Oswald had already partially cleared his closet when Jim began staying over more regularly, and so it had been easy to make room for the rest of his wardrobe. Though, Oswald did have an additional dresser brought in for the rest of Jim’s clothing. Oswald’s armoire is already over-burdened with his ever-growing collection of lingerie, willing as he would be otherwise to share that space as well.

The bathroom too, is largely unchanged except they no longer keep Jim’s toothbrush in a drawer or his other cosmetics hidden away. Instead, all of Jim’s things now sit within easy reach on the counter or inside the medicine cabinet, where anyone can see them.

It’s comfortable and comforting—having Jim moved in properly—no longer flitting between two homes and knowing they are both equally vested in making this work. Before, Oswald often feared the ease with which Jim could cast him aside and while Oswald had been given every reassurance to the contrary, the symbolism surrounding a shared home means everything to him.

Of course, he isn’t the only one feeling comfortable with their new arrangement. Abstractly, Oswald has always known Jim to be a bit of a…bachelor. He loves the man more than life, but truly living with him has been enlightening. Bachelor, he thinks, is the polite term for what the man actually is, which is a complete slob.

Used to be, Jim would at least pretend to be a civilized adult with a base appreciation for tidy spaces. Now that Oswald’s home is his own, however, Jim seems inclined to mark his territory with a variety of unsanitary habits.

Every morning, for instance, Oswald finds Jim’s clothes tossed on the bathroom floor—right next to the hamper, as if the effort to lift the lid and drop them inside is simply too much. It’s such a small thing, if only it were the only example available. Unfortunately, there are several.

Jim isn’t happy unless there’s coffee nearby, and he will take his mug with him all over the house so as never to be without it. However, the mugs don’t return to the kitchen until they are discovered in any number of dubious places—window sills, on top of the washing machine, on the back of the toilet. Oswald even came across one in the study, growing its own terrarium, acting as a bookend on a shelf in the library.

Yet, Jim is exceptionally good at returning empty containers—take out boxes, milk jugs, the spicy mustard—to the refrigerator. Who puts an empty container back on the shelf? What greater disappointment is there than to get excited over French Silk ice cream only to reach in and recover an empty pint?

Oswald pities his staff, for surely their tasks have doubled in the past weeks. Not one to withhold his tongue, Oswald did try to raise the issue, gently chastising Jim for his slovenly behavior, only for the man to make a joke of it, saying, “Don’t you pay people for that?”

As if that’s the point. Oswald may have a paid staff, but it certainly isn’t within their job description to go around wiping a grown man’s ass all day. Oswald hires them to take care of the menial tasks Oswald doesn’t have time to do himself. Such as take out the dry cleaning, maintain parts of the estate and do the shopping. Occasionally, he will hire a cook, but he and Jim mostly enjoy cooking together so that’s rare anymore. Oswald’s staff is not the point, okay? The point is…it’s—Well, it’s just gross.

Jim is gross.

Perhaps that would be a cause of major contention to some, but Oswald mostly ignores these things. He is relieved, in all actuality, to find these minor flaws in someone Oswald knows is otherwise far too good for him. True, Jim’s flaws are nowhere near as great as Oswald’s own, but their relationship feels equal in ways it hasn’t since the start.

Jim came in with all the high ground, in everything from experience to morality. Oswald is closing in on the first, but he’s certain he’ll never manage the latter. He just doesn’t see the world the same way as most people and accepts that he likely never will. Perhaps, with Jim to guide him, he’ll get closer, but Oswald doesn’t believe in an afterlife, and he wasn’t born to wealth. He has only one life, and he refuses to waste it in mediocrity. Some of his methods are unethical; Others, outright deplorable.

In truth, there are days Oswald wonders how Jim manages to justify being with someone like himself. He knows these things are based on mutual attraction, but it’s easy enough, Oswald assumes from observation, to have a physical relationship with someone and not vest oneself emotionally. Oswald would have understood, if Jim had decided once was enough. There was even a week where it appeared as though Jim had walked away. He could have left Oswald without a backward glance, then.

He didn’t.

Now, on days like today, Oswald is at a loss as to why. And also, how? How can Jim profess to love him when everything Oswald is stands at odds with everything Jim upholds? The crux of Oswald’s concerns is not their new arrangement, but this truth of who they are as individuals and how it conspires against their happiness as a couple.

There was a time, Oswald would have cast it all aside if only he could have with someone what he now shares with Jim. He was younger then, and more naïve, blind to the realities of the world—unrealistic about the nature of people and their propensity for betrayal. It’s important, he knows now, to have something for oneself. Oswald’s business, his ambitions…these are as much a part of him as his love for Jim and losing either would split him apart.

That isn’t to say that Oswald hasn’t made changes for Jim, and he’s done so without much thought or the expectation of reciprocity. He hasn’t personally murdered or otherwise maimed except in the circumstance of self-defense since their first weeks together. Oswald has adopted the method of managing from the outside—unless the situation truly calls for his attention. In which case, he is extremely judicious regarding time, place and witnesses.

Even with his latest business endeavor, he has cut no corners, legally or otherwise, all to ensure that Jim can claim complete innocence. Not every facet of the casino is above board, but Oswald has refrained from flaunting his clever skirting of the law, unwilling to invite trouble. His investors are entirely private as well, though they include far more felons than is probably acceptable. Oswald could have just as easily retired on his father’s money, but he sees no value in coasting off the success of others.

People change of course, and perhaps one day he will want different things, but Oswald lives in the now. And right now, he is in the process of opening a casino, and Jim is suspended with pay while the GCPD audits all of his cases from the time Jeremiah Valeska was incarcerated over a year ago up to now. All as a result of his unfathomable decision to be in a relationship with a crime lord.

Oswald is trying very hard to be supportive in the ways he best understands. For the past two weeks, since Jim handed in his badge and service gun, Oswald hasn’t complained. Not about any of it. He allows Jim free reign of the manor, agrees to whatever Jim wants for dinner, provides whatever Jim asks for in the bedroom, but as the days wear on and the GCPD continues to delay his return, Jim only continues to grow sullen and more depressed.

Oswald has been there often enough to recognize the signs, but he’s never been good at managing his own dark moods, let alone someone else’s. Not that Jim would ever ask Oswald for help. No, his lover prefers to suffer in solitude, pretending he doesn’t feel anything until everything becomes too much. Hence, their argument this morning.

Oswald had noticed Jim brooding on the couch, grinding his jaw as he watched the news. Jim is not one to take advantage of time off, preferring instead to dwell in guilt over the things he cannot actually change while away from his desk. Like a string of murders in the city that he is unable to personally solve while on suspension, as if Harvey or any number of others aren’t perfectly capable of doing their jobs. Oswald doesn’t expect this to change. Jim may be a Captain now, but he has issues with control and delegating burdens. Which is why Oswald had sought to distract him by suggesting he find a more productive way to spend his time off.

So, when Oswald had seen Jim glaring at the TV, he’d made the mistake of asking, “I’m sure your suspension will be over soon, Jim. Why not do something to pass the time more pleasantly?”

Jim had arched a brow. “Like what?”

Oswald remembers smiling, thinking he had struck gold and found some way to pry Jim away from his sulking. He’d helpfully suggested, “There must be something you enjoy other than solving crime. Why not take up a hobby?”

Jim’s reaction had been immediate, and unexpected. He’d snorted before replying, voice dripping with derision, nose scrunched in distaste, “Like you?”

It wasn’t so much the words that thrust Oswald into anger so much as the way Jim had then casually dismissed him after, by returning his attention to the television, so he could get on with his misery. Though, admittedly, the words didn’t help. They’ve always operated under the idea that business was dropped at the door, and now suddenly Jim is unable to do his job, so he thinks it’s okay to treat Oswald as little more than dirt on his shoe? Granted, he may well be the only ‘dirt’ around for Jim to crush beneath his great boot of moral justice, but Oswald was under the impression Jim would refrain himself, given how often he likes to roll in this particular dirt.

So much for that.

Oswald had gritted his teeth against a surge of ugly feelings he’d thought long buried, now suddenly unearthed by Jim’s attitude so similar to that of their unpleasant past. He’d taken a calming breath, bit back every malicious retort, but even defeating the anger, the hurt lingered.

“Like me,” Oswald had quietly repeated, feeling gutted. He had known from the start this would only end in heartbreak. They’d made it a grand total of five weeks living together and, already, it’s one step forward, fifty giant leaps back. Jim always ever backing away when he remembers just who it is he claims to be in love with. Who he happily crawls into bed with and lays himself bare.

Oswald had found himself nervously fidgeting with his ring, still on the wrong finger for an engagement, making way for another more painful doubt taking root.  

He’d blurted, “Let me know when you finally decide it’s morally acceptable to give me more than consolation prizes, James.”

His intention, this morning, had been to distract Jim with something productive and fun, but apparently the man’s temper is the only action incurable these days. Jim’s eyes had snapped to him immediately, brows knit in frustrated confusion.

“Consolation prizes?” He’d asked, affronted. “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

Oswald is a master at diffusing confrontations, unless they serve to benefit him personally. Arguing as a couple benefits neither of them, but Oswald has never been able to resist where Jim is concerned. He can push Oswald’s buttons, knows exactly where they are and maybe it had been unintentional this time, but Jim stepped all over this one and he’d not been one ounce apologetic. It’s a conversation they’ve needed to have for a while besides, though he admittedly envisioned it with less shouting.

Instead, Oswald had gestured to the room at large, implying the house around them, “This,” he then wiggled his finger and added, “this. Would you have ever considered giving me either if you hadn’t been made to feel guilty first?”

“Is that what you think?” Jim answered, incredulous before narrowing his eyes and replying, incensed, “Or, is it what you counted on?”

Oswald’s stomach had fallen to the floor because, angry or no, he has found that the truth most often reveals itself when emotions are allowed to run unchecked. Some part of Jim must actually believe those words and so…

Oswald would have loved, at the time, to summon some measure of indignity, but the longer they stood there staring at each other in mutual shock, Oswald found that he couldn’t answer immediately.

Instead, he had turned away, silently, and left. Jim hadn’t even tried to stop him, which is telling enough. Oswald doesn’t remember the car ride into the city, a fact that is concerning on two levels. One, he’s only recently recovered from the majority of his injuries at the hands of his latest kidnapper, and two, there is never a moment where someone of his notoriety should let their guard down so thoroughly, especially to distraction.

Yet the question had plagued him.

Had he?

Was it possible that Jim’s actions were, at least in part, due to some manipulation of Oswald’s? Obviously, it would have been inadvertent, but what does intent matter? These things, they have always come easily to Oswald from the moment he learned that crying earned kindness, and in the case of his mother, cookies before supper. He is self-aware enough to at least acknowledge that there is a constant background stream of observation he uses to outwit his rivals on a frequent basis. It’s how he managed to get where he is today, after all.

But has he done this to Jim? Has Oswald somehow undermined the fabric of their relationship via simple thoughtlessness? How much of it, if so? It would make a certain kind of sense, actually. Why else would Jim go to such lengths just to please him?

Now, sitting behind his desk at the Iceberg Lounge, Oswald twists the ring on his finger before he pulls it off entirely. He stares at it as if it holds all the answers to his concerns. It is hard to say if Jim would have agreed to move in if Oswald had managed to muster the courage to ask before getting abducted by Black Mask. Though, he doesn’t doubt that Jim’s ever-present guilt played a role. The question is, did Oswald recognize that moment as one weighted in his favor before asking?

He tilts his head, brows knit as he tries to recall the exact circumstances. The drugs make his memories of that day somewhat hazy. He was half delirious on morphine, but Oswald isn’t sure that absolves him of manipulation.

He focuses again on the ring, frowning. This, however, is an entirely different matter. Oswald is a hundred percent certain that Jim would not have given him this ring if Ed had not revealed it. Yes, Jim was thinking of Oswald when he bought it, but he also admitted that the purchase was impulsive. Oswald has done a lot of things purely on impulse. That doesn’t mean the results of an impulse decision are inevitable or conclusive. This ring could have stayed hidden for years before Jim finally made a decision one way or the other.

Oswald at least remembers having misgivings when Jim offered it to him. It’s why he hadn’t shoved it immediately onto his left ring finger and reveled in elation. Rings between lovers are symbolic, and that is what Jim’s gesture was meant to be, but of what? Can it truly have symbolism if the intent is abstract to being with?

Oswald thinks not. Only one thing is certain: Jim should have been granted the opportunity to make that decision without interference. Oswald had been selfish in accepting it, and if he’s having doubts about it now, then he only has himself to blame.

***

Jim is no longer home when Oswald returns from the lounge late in the evening. Instead, he finds a quickly scrawled note on the counter which reads:

Out with Harvey, don’t wait up. –J  

Oswald grits his teeth, frustrated with himself for the way his eyes sting. His mother always used to say, ‘Never go to bed, angry, Oswald. Don’t let a fresh wound fester.’ He wonders, if she were here, what advice she might give.

He snorts at the thought. His mother would have hated Jim, if for no other reason than for taking Oswald away from her. He feels a tiny smile creep around the corners of his mouth, and sniffs. He then sucks in a fortifying breath and tosses Jim’s note into the small waste basket beneath the end table.

He leans heavily on his cane as he makes for the kitchen, briefcase in tow. Oswald still has plenty of bids to sort through, but he’d left the club at a reasonable hour anyway, intending to resolve he and Jim’s earlier spat. As that’s no longer an option, Oswald hefts his case onto the granite countertop of the kitchen island and pulls up a stool. He then selects his favorite vintage of wine and pours himself a drink as he gets back to work.

He busies his mind by selecting his contractors with a jaundiced eye. He isn’t concerned with cost so much as discretion, and he arranges an orchestra of architects, all tasked with designing specific bits of the floating casino, revealing his full schematics to no one.

It is, perhaps, inefficient, the way it slows the progress of construction. It is certainly a convoluted method of building. However, Oswald is taking no chances. When Jim is finally reinstated as Captain over the GCPD, he will be scrutinized more closely than ever. Oswald would rather waste ten years building this resort to his paranoid specifications than risk so much as a whisper of ‘Jim Gordon: crooked cop.’

It’s easy to lose himself in the plans for the casino, his excitement escalating each time he reaches a decision regarding the construction of a new level of the super yacht. By time he hears the front door bell ring, it’s already past midnight, and Oswald’s back cracks as he sits up in momentary alarm. He is still a little jumpy after his most recent abduction, doesn’t appreciate how the unexpected interruption has caused his heart to spike.

Wary, he grabs his revolver from its hiding place as he makes toward the door. Oswald is halfway to the foyer, when the door swings open and Harvey drags a half-unconscious Jim across its threshold. Oswald picks up his pace, but he isn’t quick enough. Bullock is clearly drunk himself, Jim hanging off him in such a way that his balance is precarious at best. When Jim sees Oswald approaching, however, he lunges toward him from Harvey’s grip, and promptly trips over his own feet.

In an attempt to keep Jim from crashing to the floor, Harvey then bangs into the small table by the door, sending it clattering to the ceramic floor. His stepmother’s prize tiffany bowl soars through the air before landing with an ominous crash, shattering on impact.  Harvey’s momentum carries both himself and Jim into the opposite wall and they knock against it with a blunt thud before sliding themselves to the floor in a heap.

“Tha’ was prob’ly esspensive, huh?” Harvey blurts, leaning his head back against the wall, breathing heavily.

Oswald’s lips press together into a tight line, his eyebrows knit with the force of his vexation. “Yes,” he grits out shortly, “it was. Lucky for you, it belonged to my stepmother, who I detested.”

“Great!” Harvey exclaims, clapping his hands together as he declares, “I’ll ged’you sommin nice to replace id wiv from I’Kea.”

“Please, don’t trouble yourself,” Oswald deadpans.

“M’sorry, baby,” Jim says, eyes glassy as they peer up at Oswald from beneath heavy eyelids. “I didn’ meannid.”

Oswald pinches the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger. “If that’s true, you can save it for when you’re sober, James Gordon. I’m going to bed.”

“I’ll come wiv’ you,” Jim offers, trying and failing to push up from the floor.

Oswald sighs, making no effort to conceal his upset. “I think not,” he says coldly, forcing himself to remain stern in the face of Jim’s mournful puppy-dog eyes. “You can sleep on the couch, if you can manage to crawl to it.” He then gestures to the destruction wreaked upon the foyer and adds, “I expect this mess to be cleaned up before Suzanna and Winifred stop by tomorrow.”

Harvey rolls his head over to look at Jim. “Whossat?”

“S’maids,” Jim slurs in answer.

Harvey finds this information hilarious, devolving into cackles that grate Oswald’s every nerve. Thoroughly exasperated, he turns on his heal and starts toward the stairs.

“Baby,” Jim calls and, despite himself, Oswald turns to look over his shoulder. “I real’love you, Oss. Please don’ be mad a’me.”

Oswald sighs with the gravity of a thousand very old, very tired Earths. “We’ll talk about it tomorrow, should you choose to be here for the conversation.”

With that, he continues his journey across the sitting room and up the stairs. Oswald is exhausted enough that sleep takes him easily, despite his annoyance. There is much he and Jim need to discuss, but it’s been a long day and so Oswald thinks, as he closes his eyes, it can all wait for tomorrow.

***

Apparently, Jim can’t read between the lines and actually believes being present the next day is a choice. Oswald wakes alone which, admittedly, he did demand the night previous by exiling Jim to the couch. However, the man is not on aforementioned couch when Oswald enters the sitting room that morning, nor is he anywhere within the manor that Oswald can detect.

The foyer, at least, has been tidied though Oswald sincerely doubts it is due to any effort by either Bullock or Jim. At the end of his patience and feeling more than a little vindictive, Oswald extracts his phone from the inside of his suit jacket and taps off a quick message to Jim.

Will be working late tonight, don’t wait up. –O

See how Jim likes it when the shoe is on the other foot.

He then mutes the conversation, so he won’t be tempted to respond, and calls Butch to pick him up. He refuses to mope, though his stomach flutters with unease the longer things linger unsettled between them. The fingers of his left hand move to fidget with his ring, only to be met with naked skin.

He’s forgotten his ring on the nightstand, damn it all. Oswald had been distracted while he dressed, preparing for a conversation he apparently isn’t going to be having any time soon. He starts to take a step toward the stairs, then pauses. He’s planning on returning the ring to Jim anyway, isn’t he? Perhaps this would be a good opportunity to get used to its absence. Still, Oswald is reluctant to leave it, his spiteful nature demanding he keep the ring now—as recompense at the very least—for Jim’s recent deplorable behavior.

It’s that one errant thought, and all the ugly emotions it represents, which pushes him to leave without it in the end. It is true that Jim has been an unholy terror since his suspension, but he’s still Jim. And when this audit is finally over, no matter what happens in the meantime, Oswald will still love him.

Confident in his decision, Oswald is able to wear a genuine smile for much of the day as he and Butch take on their errands. Oswald will be mailing his rejection and acceptance letters to the contractors before heading to the docks to negotiate the building site. He wants absolute discretion, and if he has to threaten a few suits to achieve it, he’ll gladly hold a literal fire to the backsides. Of course, it shouldn’t come to that.

The trick will be to avoid the press, which is becoming more and more difficult as certain licenses and permits become public information. He’s been biding his time on calling a press conference, worried he’ll have to field questions regarding Captain Gordon’s necessary hiatus from the GCPD, given his past vociferous opinions on the station as a whole. He regrets so many life choices, especially the ones he flamboyantly broadcasted to the entire city.

That thought does bring with it a reminder, however, and Oswald lifts his head to see Butch’s eyes focused on the road in rearview mirror.

“Did you handle the…business matter we discussed on Thursday, Butch?”

“Yup,” Butch confirms, popping the final consonant with a grin.

“You spoke to them directly?”

Butch snorts. “Of course not,” he says, with a tone that suggests ‘what do you take me for, an amateur?’

Oswald ignores the man’s indignation, pushes impatiently for a straight answer instead. “And?”

“And,” Butch replies, confidently, “they’re aware that if so much as one word from any of those dossier’s sees the light of day, all their little piggies are gonna get roasted like braised beef.”

“Braised beef isn’t roasted,” Oswald informs, brows knit in consternation. He is surrounded by philistines.

“Whatever.” Butch rolls his eyes. “Point is, they can’t confirm.”

Oswald straightens in his seat, smiles victoriously. “Good.”

“They’re not cutting your boyfriend any breaks, are they?” Butch asks, effectively deflating Oswald’s cheer. He then adds, chortling, “James Gordon: Police Captain, dot-dot-dot, and Mafia Wife? The Globe thinks he’s secretly married to Sophia Falcone!”

Oswald groans. “Spare me, I beg you.”

“Don’t be so dramatic, Penguin.” Butch chuckles. “It’s not so bad.”

“Not so bad?” Oswald repeats, exasperated. “They’re defaming his character based on nothing more than conjecture! They don’t even have dossiers!”

“And they never will.” Butch winks at him in the mirror, then says, “They aren’t far off the mark though, are they? How long ‘til you think it all comes out, dossiers or not?”

“I don’t know,” Oswald admits, heaving a heavy sigh. “Not long enough.”

***

Things finally come to a head with Jim later that evening. Oswald, long having forgotten about his vindictive text and subsequent silent treatment, is tittering away at the lounge. Butch managed to strongarm the dock’s owners into freeing up the space necessary to build the yacht for a fraction of the price without resorting to any permanent physical maiming.

After their negotiations there, Oswald then paid a visit to his investors to give them an update and collect their monthly installment. Oddly enough, no one had so much as dithered upon their obligation, and even Barb seemed welcoming…in her way. He isn’t sure if it’s the promise of return on investment or some lingering pity from his public shaming at the hands of Roman Sionis, and Oswald doesn’t care. So long as the money keeps flowing, Oswald stands to make them all—and especially himself—a literal boatload of cash.

“How badly did I fuck this up?”

Oswald is shocked from his thoughts at the sound of Jim’s voice. His head shoots up to see him standing there, eyes wide, hair disheveled. He appears quite winded. Oswald is momentarily thrown by his sudden appearance. 

“You never take it off,” Jim states, sounding hollowed out as he approaches the desk and places his ring over the document Oswald had been about to sign.

“Where have you been?” Oswald questions, his shock abating now that he has context.

Jim furrows his brow, clearly not wanting to deviate from his most immediate concern. Oswald refuses to cede any ground here, however, having been waiting to have this conversation for over two days. It’s a little insulting that Jim only now, in what he believes is the ninth hour, deigns it an appropriate time to address their unfinished argument.

Perhaps sensing Oswald’s mood, Jim finally answers. “I took your suggestion,” he says, sheepishly. “Harvey helped me pick up some of the supplies I needed for a project yesterday after he got out of the station, then we stopped to eat at O’Malley’s and maybe had a few too many drinks.”

Jim winces. “Sorry about the bowl. Thing. And not being home before you left today. We forgot a couple things and I wanted to get started. I meant to be back before you got up, but I guess I missed you.”

Oswald’s lingering anger is abated with the knowledge that Jim hadn’t purposefully slighted him—had even taken up a hobby, apparently—and he finds himself smiling. “No harm done. Tell me about your project.”

“It’s something like what my dad used to do in his spare time,” Jim confesses, coming around to Oswald’s side of the desk, leaning his backside against the edge.

Oswald recalls a conversation they’d had last Father’s Day, after visiting their fathers at the cemetery together. “Woodworking?”  

“Sort of. I’m doing my own thing with it,” Jim hedges, niggling at Oswald’s curiosity.

Before he can inquire for more details, Jim returns to addressing the ring-shaped elephant in the room. “Why’d I find your ring on your nightstand? Is it…” Jim’s jaw works as he swallows back whatever emotions are currently clawing at him. “Do you still want it?”

“It means a great deal to me,” Oswald admits, leaning back in his chair so he they can lock eyes.

“Oz, I’m sor—”

“No,” Oswald interjects, “please don’t do that.”

Jim’s mouth shuts with a click, his eyes pleading. Oswald lets the silence settle between them, choosing his words carefully so as to not accidentally influence the response. He eventually decides, there is no delicate way to phrase the question he needs to ask.

So, he asks it plainly, “Do you want it back?”

“What?” Jim’s voice is quiet and shaking, but Oswald knows that, sometimes, asking painful questions is necessary.

He doesn’t like seeing Jim so upset, tries to offer comfort as he takes up Jim’s limp hands into his own. Oswald stares up at him imploringly, can’t deny that he loves Jim so very much as he kisses his knuckles.

Oswald steels himself and explains, “You asked me, yesterday, if I had counted on your guilt.” He has to get through this without letting his own emotions get involved, so he bites the inside of his lip to detract from the ache in his chest, swallows the lump in his throat and continues.

“The truth is, Jim, I don’t know.”

Oz,” Jim says, voice dripping with such remorse, “I didn’t mean what I said.”

Oswald meets Jim’s gaze head on, though he feels his eyes stinging with the effort. “Yes, you did. Some part of you suspects.”

Jim is shaking his head, but Oswald squeezes his hands. “It’s alright. Your suspicion is perfectly logical, all things considered.” He shrugs, trying to affect some form of nonchalance. “It may even be valid.”

Jim pulls one of his hands away to rub anxiously at his mouth. He’s pensive as he asks, “What are you saying?”

“It’s what I do, Jim,” Oswald replies quietly, thinks for a minute he’s going to make it through this conversation without breaking, but as he says the next words, everything he’s been holding at bay the past couple days spills over his lashes to fall down his face as he smiles with false cheer and declares, “I’m a psychopath.”

“At least, that’s what I’m told.” The admission costs him greatly, shrouded in old pain. “I can’t love…right.” Oswald shifts his gaze back to where the ring now sits on his desk. He can’t bear to see Jim’s reaction as he finishes what he set out to say. “I don’t think I meant to manipulate you, Jim, but I can’t say I didn’t either. I—”

“Goddamnit, Oswald, enough!” Jim fairly yells. He clutches Oswald’s shoulders, leans forward and ducks his head to force eye contact, to make sure he has Oswald’s undivided attention. “You’re not a fucking psychopath and you didn’t manipulate me. I was frustrated, and I took it out on you,” Jim argues, voice laced with remorse, “because guess what? I’m an asshole!”

“And you’re...God, Oz, you’re a ruthless fucking kingpin, and you put me to shame every day.” Jim turns to the side and snatches up Oswald’s ring from the desk, then holds it up between them. “You look at me like I hung the moon sometimes, Oz, like you can’t fathom any reason I would stoop to you. 

“You think I’m so far above all of this,” he swings an arm out to imply the club, “Why? Because I don’t murder people to get ahead? Oh wait, yes, I did.”

“That was once, and I—”

“I’ve benefitted from it more than once. Don’t make excuses for me, and don’t take my actions on as your own. You’re a fucking robber baron, Oswald, but you’re not a psychopath, I doubt there’s even a term that describes you.

“But you can’t be who you are to me and be incapable of feeling emotions, I don’t believe it. Not for a second. I know you feel, deeply. More than the rest of us, probably.”

Oswald sighs, touched by Jim’s sincerity as he wipes at his tears, regaining his composure with some effort. The words give Oswald comfort, the knowledge that Jim accepts him. He prefers Jim’s analogy to that of the therapists at Arkham or Ed at least, that Oswald is something undefined. Still, he is determined in this. “Jim…”

“This,” Jim insists, holding the ring out to Oswald, “is not a consolation prize. I wanted you to have it. Still do.”

“Be that as it may,” Oswald demurs quietly, placing his hand over Jim’s, covering the engagement ring from view. “I think you should take it back—Not forever,” he adds when Jim’s eyes go wide with hurt, “Just until you’re sure. I shouldn’t have accepted it to begin with, not with the way it happened.”

Oswald removes his hand, forces himself to abstain from looking at the beguiling sapphires set against the gold band, unbearably sad but somehow also relieved. He doesn’t want it unless Jim freely gives it, and for the express purpose rings of its nature are intended.

Jim’s lets out a shaky, sardonic laugh. “I’m such an idiot,” he laments. “I’ve been horrible the past few weeks, and you…you just…”

“You’re worried about the audit,” Oswald comforts. “An audit you wouldn’t be subject to if not for me.”

“That’s not…” Jim’s sigh is weary, the curve of his frown contrite as he shoves away from the desk and climbs precariously into Oswald’s lap, his legs draping over the arm of the chair as he lays his head against Oswald’s shoulder. Bewildered by Jim’s unpredictable behavior, he barely keeps them from toppling over, spreading his legs and planting his feet on the floor at the last second as he wraps an arm behind Jim’s waist to steady him. His other hand is captured by Jim’s, their fingers tangling together over his lap.

Carefully, Oswald rolls them gently, until the chair is braced against the wall behind them, then leans back slowly so they can both adjust to this unfamiliar position more comfortably. Jim’s been dour as of late, but he is exceptionally unpredictable these past couple days. Lashing out one minute, docile the next. It makes these necessary discussions all the more difficult, but he isn’t one to judge when it comes to being moody. So, he accepts it all with a sigh, lets Jim tuck his head beneath Oswald’s chin, and squeezes his hands in solidarity.

The silence is weighted, but comfortable and Oswald closes his eyes, body relaxing in stages as he revels in the closeness. It’s only been a day, but Jim has been so distant lately that Oswald has missed this intimacy. He feels drunk, almost, on Jim’s scent, his warmth, the sound of his quiet breaths. In this moment, this is all he could ever want.

“I’m not afraid of the results of the audit.” Jim finally says, “It just made me…” He breaks off, shrugs. “I love you. I love being with you, but I used to think…if it came down to choosing between you, and the job, that I could choose the job. I could do what my badge demands, because that’s what good soldiers do, right?”

“Jim…”

“Fact is, I don’t know if that’s true anymore.” Jim confesses, “I can’t give you up, and I can’t keep lying to myself that I can be objective when it comes to you. And it’s eating at me because I used to be so sure about where I stood, but now I don’t know how I’m supposed to keep face while demanding my officers uphold a value system that I’ve carved exceptions into for myself.”

“For me,” Oswald whispers, quietly insistent.

“No.” Jim shakes his head. “It would be easy to blame you, but the truth is, I made all the choices that led me here, and plenty of them had nothing to do with you at all. And I know I’ve been a miserable shit lately, but if I had to do it over again, I wouldn’t change anything.”

“Then, what can I do?” Oswald asks, kissing Jim’s forehead consolingly.

When he looks down to see Jim’s face, he is regarding Oswald with an expression that is equal parts amazed and sad. Whatever Oswald expects him to say, it isn’t, “Oswald, who told you, you couldn’t love?”

He isn’t expecting the question, which is the only reason Oswald can’t check his reaction. He can feel his own face crumple, tears spilling over. He tries to turn away, doesn’t want to talk about it now. Or, ever.

Jim prevents his retreat with a gentle, but firm hand against his jaw. “Hey, come on, look at me.”

Oswald sniffs, clenches his jaw, as he acquiesces. Jim kisses the back of Oswald’s hand, then his wrist, a wordless apology. He looks up at Oswald, a soft smile playing at the corner of his lips, and Oswald can’t help but be charmed.

“Didn’t mean to bring up bad memories,” Jim says. “It’s just—whoever it was—they were wrong about you, Oswald.”

“Well.” Oswald huffs. “You’re biased.”

“Maybe,” Jim allows, then adds, “but it doesn’t add up, sweetheart.”

Oswald’s heart flutters at the endearment, settling his upset. “What doesn’t add up?”

“That you can spend all this time worrying about whether or not you coerced me into giving you something I wasn’t willing to give. Just because I made some jackass remark.” Jim opens his left hand, revealing the ‘something’ in question. “And then give it back—even though we both know what it means to you—and claim you aren’t capable of good, aren’t capable of loving me. Oswald, that’s the definition of the word.

“I would even argue that it comes more naturally to you,” Jim suggests, “where most of us have to analyze how a gesture will be received, you don’t hesitate because it’s logical to you what should follow.”

Oswald furrows his brow. “I never thought of it that way. You don’t think it’s…weird?”

“It’s different, but I don’t think it’s weird. Or bad.” Jim smiles. “I like it.”

Oswald can feel a tiny smile tugging at his lips. “Thank you, Jim.”

“I’m sorry I’ve been such a jerk.” It’s likely taken vast amounts of restraint for Jim to have kept himself from apologizing this long, and Oswald is impressed.

He rolls his eyes anyway, tightens his grip around Jim’s waist. “You can make it up to me,” Oswald offers, teasingly.

Jim grins, his voice suggestive when he asks, “How’s that?”

Oswald leans in, caresses Jim’s face with his free hand, as he hovers his mouth over Jim’s. Their lips brush when he replies lowly, in a voice he normally uses to issue sultry demands, “Stop leaving your goddamned mugs all over the fucking house.”

Jim blinks, eyes widening before he erupts into raucous peels of laughter. He then surges forward, slides his fingers into Oswald’s hair and kisses him soundly. Oswald responds in kind, placing his free hand at the base of Jim’s neck and pulling him closer so that he can take control.

Jim cedes to him easily, groaning when Oswald pushes his tongue into his mouth, uses his other hand to slip up beneath Jim’s shirt. He loves the play of skin over the muscles of Jim’s back, presses his fingers firmly along his spine as he pushes up.

Jim leans into the touch, pulling his lips away so he can guide Oswald’s mouth onto his neck instead. Oswald allows it, hums as he nibbles a path back behind Jim’s ear before sucking the lobe into his mouth and biting gently. He slides his hand from Jim’s neck down to his chest as Jim writhes helplessly, unable to find any leverage in his position.

An idea strikes Oswald as he rubs a circle over the fabric where he feels Jim’s nipple hardening. He reaches into his pocket to retrieve a couple items he’d forgotten about—a bit of a struggle considering the cargo draped over his lap, but he manages it without dislodging his burden.

Jim is distracted, his hands working clumsily to peel Oswald from his shirts, whimpering when he discovers what’s underneath. Oswald’s hot pink, mesh bra gives Jim something to fiddle with while Oswald stealthily pushes Jim’s button-up open. He slides the tank underneath slowly upward between messy kisses. Jim tries, more than once, to push Oswald’s hand down where he wants it most, growing more frustrated by the minute when he doesn’t get what he wants.

“Please, Oz,” Jim begs, panting when he pulls his mouth away. “Please touch me.”

“But you’ve been so naughty,” Oswald chastises. “Won’t you be a good boy for me now, Jim?”

“Oh, God.” Jim closes his eyes. His voice is breathy when he asks, “Here? Now?”

“You’ll have to be very quiet,” Oswald lies. Jim can be as loud as he wants so long as the door is closed. His office at the lounge is sound proofed. “Can you do that for me?”

Jim’s eyes are already unfocused as he nods. “Yeah. I can do that.”

Oswald sighs. This is what Jim needs, he realizes. To stop thinking for a while and let himself exist in the moment. He never asks for it, but Jim is so clearly desperate for it, that Oswald is concerned about his apparent reticence. It’s another conversation they’ll need to have, but Oswald sets it aside for now as he presents the clothespins he’d shoved into his pocket earlier.

They’d come attached to his dry-cleaning, securing a garter to its hanger. It had been a distant consideration as he detached them from his clothes, but Jim has been throwing signals since he climbed into Oswald’s lap, wordlessly begging to be held. Possibly, Jim has been throwing signals for weeks and Oswald has mistaken them for petulance. Now, Oswald drags the clothespins down Jim’s chest, lightly scraping over his nipple, watching for his reaction closely.

Jim does not disappoint.

His eyes snap to Oswald’s, before they roll up into the back of his head as the pin drags back up over the nub once more. His hips thrust up jerkily into empty air, nearly flinching himself onto he floor in his desperation for contact. They’ve never tried anything like this before, nothing like what is beginning to take shape in Oswald’s mind, but it seems only natural to take it there.

“I’m going to give you everything you need, Jim,” Oswald promises, “but I need you to be good, and cooperate. Can you do that?”

Jim’s breath stutters, his jaw clenching and eyes screwed shut as he nods. Oswald abandons Jim’s chest to run a soothing hand up and down his arm, kissing his forehead.

“Color?” Oswald demands, gently.

Jim nuzzles into Oswald’s embrace, sniffing as he relaxes. “Green.”

“Good. You’ll tell me if it changes, even for a moment.”

Jim nods. “Yes.”

Oswald smiles, and says, “I want you to get up and undress. You’ll fold your clothes, neatly, and put them on the desk. When that’s done, go kneel on the couch, with your hands braced on the back. Can you do that for me, Jim?”

Jim grins knowingly, coming back to himself just a bit, before he agrees to Oswald’s terms. “Yeah.”

“Yes,” Oswald corrects, eyes meeting the challenge in Jim’s gaze unflinchingly.

Jim tongues the inside of his cheek before ducking his head and sighing. “Yes.”

“Get to it then,” Oswald orders, keeping the chair steady as Jim climbs off and begins to strip. It’s always a sight, watching as that beloved body is slowly revealed. Oswald feels his cock twitch as Jim folds his shirt, his biceps and forearms working to do Oswald’s bidding. The slight tremble in his fingers is Jim’s only tell regarding how anxious he is over what’s to come.

Oswald forces himself to look away and go about his own preparations. He’ll see them both through this, make it so good for Jim that he never hesitates to ask for it again. That he feels comfortable telling Oswald what he needs rather than making him guess.

Determined, Oswald tables his own arousal as he gathers the supplies he keeps hidden. They’ve fooled around in Oswald’s office before, and while Jim is always paranoid about it at first, it’s happened often enough that Oswald keeps a few things in the bottom drawer of his desk.

When he next looks up, Jim is already kneeling on the couch with his head resting between his hands, waiting patiently for attention. Oswald’s mouth runs dry as he clumsily starts shucking his own clothing, stacking them not-so-neatly on his chair, his focus consumed entirely by Jim’s naked flesh, posed and displayed to his will.

Oswald’s hands shake, grip tight around the clothespins and lubricant, barely feeling the chronic pain of his right foot as he closes in. He places the items on the small table beside the arm, before he rests his hands over Jim’s hips. The man responds to his touch by snapping to attention, bringing his head up and straightening his spine. Oswald leans in against his back, rests his chin on Jim’s shoulder so he can whisper against his ear.

“There will never be anything or anyone as beautiful as you, Jim,” he praises. He reaches over to the table, grateful Jim has perched himself near the corner of the chair rather than in the middle, to retrieve one of the clothespins. “You’ll tell me if this is too intense for you.”

Jim hums, then says. “I will.”

Oswald places a reverent kiss to his temple, before he wraps his arms around Jim’s front, tilting his chin downward so he has a clear view. He teases the nub of Jim’s left nipple, circling it gently before he plants the pad of his thumb just above the areola, and his forefinger just below it. He pinches them together only far enough to elevate the sensitive peak where he needs it.

“You need to be very still,” Oswald instructs. Jim nods his assent, breath coming up short.

Carefully, Oswald raises his other hand, opens the clothespin and brings it up to slowly ease it closed over the raised nipple and part of the surrounding skin. Jim is fairly panting by the time he withdraws his hands, sensitive flesh pinched securely between the wooden prongs, chest flushed an attractive scarlet that reaches all the way up his neck.

“Color.”

Jim is shaking, his throat working as he breathes heavily through his nose. “Green,” he manages to answer, the word gravelly as he grinds it out from behind clenched teeth.

Curious, Oswald gently wiggles the pin, pleased when Jim arches back against his chest and practically wails. He shushes him patiently, cradling him as Jim shakes and whimpers, hips grinding back eagerly against Oswald’s erection.

When Jim has calmed down again, recovering what he can of his composure, Oswald reaches for the second pin. “You’re being so good, James,” he praises. “Should we do the other one? Is that something you would like?”

Jim nods immediately, his mouth open and pliant. Oswald wants to slip his fingers inside and make him beg for it, but not this time. Jim is already strung out, and Oswald is wary of pushing him too far. Instead, he repeats his careful application of the clothespin to the second nipple, open palms dragging up and down his flank as Jim begins to let loose a ragged moan with every exhale.

The sounds he’s making are unlike anything Oswald has ever elicited from him before. And he knows Jim is completely lost to sensation, his guard entirely relaxed, blissfully unaware of the racket he’s making or the needy way he moves against Oswald’s body, begging to be touched.

Oswald doesn’t delay. He uncaps the lubricant and slicks his fingers, using his other hand to guide Jim forward and down until he bends his elbows and is somewhat draped over the couch between the back and the arm. The few times Oswald has done this, he’s coaxed Jim open by lightly stroking his cock in tandem, but he fears touching Jim’s penis at all will end this before either of them would like. So, Oswald lays his middle finger over his index, and narrows Jim’s focus where Oswald wants it by spearing the digits inside with one, smooth push.

“Ah, shit!” Jim exclaims, verbal once again as Oswald draws him out.

It isn’t that he doesn’t want Jim to enjoy himself, but there’s a fine line here. One that he doesn’t have enough experience toeing to feel entirely confident dragging Jim across it. He wants Jim relaxed, rather than innervated to the point of despair, which Oswald has seen a few times at the hands of Fish. Some seemed to enjoy the crash at her hands, others not so much. He doesn’t know if it would come as a welcome release to Jim, though, who still dithers between wanting it and feeling awkward about wanting it.

Too, Oswald himself doesn’t know how he feels about escalation. The thrill, for him, comes not from domination but the implicit trust Jim exhibits when he relinquishes himself in this way to Oswald’a care. Oswald doesn’t think the idea would hold much appeal for him if it were for anyone other than Jim. Certainly, the lopsided nature of their relationship, in the early days—not to mention Jim’s need for control in all other aspects of his life—lends it a particular allure.

He dwells on this all while steadily fingering Jim’s entrance until it’s open and pliant enough to take three, then four, and Jim is back to begging. Oswald has worked him into a state, taking so long to prepare him.

“Please, Oz,” he entreats, so polite, spreading his thighs and bearing down onto Oswald’s fingers to display just how ready he is. “I need it…need it…”

“Yes,” Oswald agrees, withdrawing his fingers. “You do, don’t you? And you’ve been so patient, too.”

He sits himself down onto the couch next to where Jim’s knees dig into the cushions. He takes in the way Jim is panting, eyes drinking in every detail from his face, flushed with exertion, to his beet-red nipples, held fast by their makeshift clamps. It should look silly, but the sight only serves to make Oswald burn hotter. The very idea that Jim lets him do this.

“Come here,” Oswald commands gently, “let me take care of you properly.”

Jim eagerly shifts his position so that he is straddling Oswald’s thighs with his hands braced on his shoulders, he doesn’t hesitate to lower himself down. Jim bends forward, seeking a kiss which Oswald happily provides, careful of putting any pressure onto the clothespins as he impales himself inch by inch.

Those expressive blue eyes are hazy when he pulls away, but they regard Oswald with an alarmingly worshipful quality. It’s a heady feeling, but Jim is so sweet like this, like he hasn’t got a care in the world, that Oswald will gladly bear the burden of its significance.

He runs his fingers through Jim’s untidy, blonde strands, rocking his hips when Jim bottoms out. Those blue eyes disappear then, rolling up behind eyelids shut in apparent euphoria. Oswald, for his own part, cannot withhold his own vocalizations.

That first time, it had taken everything to keep himself from coming immediately. Being inside Jim in this way is wholly different from any other. He is all tight muscle, and slick heat, clenching around Oswald, pulling him in deep and taking his pleasure as surely as he gives it. At the moment, however, Oswald’s enthrall is torn between the sensual sway of Jim’s body, and the way the clamps seem to beg for attention.

Oswald’s hands, seemingly always a few paces ahead, slide up from Jim’s backside where he’d been caressing Jim’s ass as it clenches and releases, to circle around his hips and up the firm sinew of his ribs. Jim’s eyes fly open, his mouth gaping as Oswald pinches the end of one pin—just holding it—testing its grip. He pulls lightly, delighting in the sob-like groan it elicits before pinching the pin open and soothing the sore nub with his lips and tongue.

Jim becomes frantic, then, as he clutches Oswald’s head to his chest, moaning in cadence as he arches into the caress.  

“Oh, God, Oz…” Jim’s tone is pitched into a higher register than Oswald has ever heard it. “S’fucking crazy!”

Oswald chuckles—perhaps enjoying Jim’s reaction a little too much— before freeing Jim’s other nipple and lavishing it with the same attention as the previous. He flicks his thumbnail, with just the barest hint of pressure, over the other and that’s all it takes.

Jim pulls Oswald’s hair as he comes, not intentionally, but it spurns his own reaction. He bucks up into Jim, all that clenching, convulsing heat and he’s gone within an instant. He lets his eyes roll back, climax washing over him as Jim rides them through it. When it’s over, Oswald collapses against the back of the couch, pulling Jim along with him.

Jim likes feeling Oswald go limp inside him, likes to hold him there as long as possible. It gives Oswald ideas and, as well as this one has seemingly worked out, he may just have to order a few items.

“D’you think anyone heard us?” Jim asks a little while later, head resting comfortably against Oswald’s shoulder.

Oswald giggles, one hand set idly at Jim’s hip while the other lightly strokes his spine. “This office is sound proofed, silly.”

Jim snorts. “Now you tell me.”

“You seemed to like the element of danger,” Oswald responds, matter-of-factly. “How are your…?” He gestures to Jim’s reddened nipples.

“They’re…a little sore?” Jim blushes scarlet. “I don’t—I mean, that was…something.”

“Something good, I hope?” Oswald teases.

“Don’t make me say it.” Jim groans against Oswald’s neck before he sits up, looking far more relaxed than Oswald has seen him in days. His lips curve up into a slow grin.

Oswald leans forward, as if he’s going in for a kiss, only to duck at that the last second and gently close his mouth over the closest of those rosy peaks. One of Jim’s hands moves to cradle the back of Oswald’s head while the other cards fingers through his hair. He flinches when Oswald moves over to afford the same tender attention on the other nipple.

“Alright, alright,” Jim concedes breathily. “Yes. I liked it very much—fuck—you made your point.”

Oswald pulls off with a tiny parting kiss to the center of Jim’s chest before he suggests. “I’d like to order something for you.”

Jim knits his brow curiously, still blushing furiously. “Like…clamps?”

“Not quite,” Oswald answers, tapping Jim’s rump affectionately. “Are you ready?”

Jim nods, lets Oswald help him find his footing before they’re both up and heading toward the en suite bathroom. They clean themselves perfunctorily, Oswald lending a hand to some of Jim’s more difficult to reach places, before they’re back out in the main room tugging on their clothes.

Oswald is buttoning his shirt when he finally says, “I’d like to get you a plug, Jim.”

Jim pauses where he’s clasping his belt to look up at Oswald like a deer in headlights. “You mean…like a—” he clears his throat uncomfortably.

“Yes, Jim.” Oswald snorts, rolling his eyes. Honestly, the things they do together, and Jim can’t even talk about any of them without going red in the face. “I want to get you an anal plug. Maybe a whole set.”

“What, uh, why?” Jim swallows.

Oswald grins, the kind of smile he knows resembles a shark, as he replies sweetly. “Why do you think?”

Jim licks his lips, nostrils flaring as he inhales sharply. “Yeah, okay.”

Pleased, Oswald turns his attention to straightening his cravat in the mirror. When he finishes, he turns back around to find Jim standing at the desk, Oswald’s ring pinched between his forefinger and thumb. He turns remorseful, beseeching blue eyes onto Oswald as he says, “Please don’t make me take it back.”

“James—”

“I understand why you think I was reluctant, but you didn’t see your face when Ed gave it to you,” Jim explains. “You looked so scared, I panicked.” Jim scratches the back of his head nervously as he adds, “I thought maybe if you wore it a little while…you might warm up to the idea.”

Oswald arches a brow, blinking. “You…”

“It wasn’t intentional, not really,” Jim admits as he crosses the distance between them, so they’re less than a foot away. “Just a passing thought, but it was there. The point is,” Jim says, taking up Oswald’s left hand, “everyone has the capacity to manipulate the people they care about, a lot of time without even thinking about it—it’s a survival instinct. You might excel at it, but it isn’t just you, and intent matters.”

Jim goes to one knee, then, and Oswald’s heart goes into overdrive. He feels lightheaded as Jim holds the ring up, eyes sincere as they gaze back at Oswald with complete devotion. “I’m sorry I didn’t ask it right the first time,” Jim says, “and I’m sorry if I made you feel like it was a consolation prize.”

“What are you doing?” Oswald hears himself ask, voice tight and breathy with shocked confusion. This can’t be real, surely, he’s hallucinating. Perhaps, the entire afternoon has been a fever dream?

“I’m trying to tell you that I know there’s never going to be anyone else who can love me as well as you do,” Jim says, “and I’m never giving you up. I promise, if you marry me, Oswald, I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to be worthy of it.”

Jim kisses Oswald’s left hand before he raises the ring just to the tip of its intended finger. He brings his gaze back to Oswald’s and asks, “Will you?”

“I—” Oswald is dumbfounded, as Jim peers up at him expectantly. He isn’t sure what his face is doing, mostly because he can’t feel it currently. “Y-yes,” he stutters.

Oswald watches, his throat tight with overwhelmed disbelief, as Jim slips the ring onto his finger. He is swept into an embrace when Jim rises back to his feet, and Oswald clings to him tightly. Can’t bring himself to let go, even when Jim attempts to pull away.

“Oz,” Jim asks, “are you alright?”

Oswald nods, taking a deep breath before finally finding his words. “I’m okay. I just…I never thought in a million years you’d ever want more from me than reluctant favors.”

Oswald,” Jim chastises.

“Jim, are you really sure?” He presses. “Even if we get married out of state or in front of a Justice of the Peace, it’ll be a matter of public record. People will find out, they’ll talk.”

When Jim pulls back this time, Oswald meets his eyes, reassured by the happy determination he sees there.

Jim kisses him, then says, “Let ‘em.”