“Barbara,” Peter greets, rising from his seat at the outdoor cafe. “So good of you to come.”
“Of course,” she says, and laughs as he takes her hand in both of his, bowing over it like a gentleman in an old film. The smell of fresh-baked muffins mixes with exhaust from idling traffic. “You know, any friend of Jim's.”
“Thank you, thank you.” He squeezes her hand tight. “It's an honour to be counted a friend of yours as well as his. Sincerely.”
She laughs again, charmed. “Well, I don't know if I'd call it an honour-- oh no. No, please sit,” she says as he hobbles around the small table to pull out her chair, her hand still clasped in his. She can only imagine what sort of injury would turn a man's leg like that. With obvious reluctance he returns to his chair but waits to sit until she's settled. “I'm glad you called. I’m so sorry you couldn’t stay at least for a drink the other night. Jim’s been, well.” She shrugs, trying to keep her smile steady. “I've been worried lately about Jim. And his... his work.”
Peter nods, his lips pressed to a thin white line before he speaks. “He wouldn't be happy to know you're here.”
“Is he in trouble?” Barbara leans over the table, intent. “Peter, tell me. Please.”
With a furtive glance around, Peter leans closer too. “I'm helping him gather information on some rather unsavoury characters. Dangerous one, yes,” he says as her face falls. “But he's a good man, Barbara. A truly good man. He's doing what's right.”
That's the Jim she knows, the one she loves. She'd never seen him hesitate to do the right thing before he became a detective. She'd never dream him capable of even considering doing something so terrible as murder. Wherever Montoya got her information about the poor Cobblepot man, Barbara's sure she must be wrong.
“Please don't think he doesn't trust you,” Peter says. “I'm sure he's doing it to protect you.”
“Protect me from what?”
“I can't-- I'm afraid I can't tell you that.” Peter reaches for her hand as she draws back from the table. His fingers, so warm only moments ago, feel clammy and spindly against hers. “No, please. I promised Jim.”
“Now you sound just like him,” Barbara says, swinging her purse onto her shoulder as she shoves her chair back. She’s tried and tried to get Jim to open up to her, and he has about so much, but about this maybe it’s a mistake to push. Maybe she should trust Jim as much as she keeps telling everyone she does.
“Sometimes we must lie to those we love to keep them safe,” Peter says, his focus shifting to the street behind them, his grip tightening as she moves to stand. “Not that I think he's lying to you about anything, no, that's not it at all. Omissions. Secrets. For both your sakes.”
Annoyed, Barbara twists to follow Peter's gaze. Everything is absolutely normal. The couple by the cafe window, the three women loaded with shopping bags near the corner, the group of business people in sharp-cut suits hurrying to catch the light and the homeless man begging near the street lamp, all perfectly safe.
“You're afraid,” she says slowly.
Peter bursts into sharp laughter. “Afraid? Of course I am! If you knew who Jim was... but no.” With a shake of his head, Peter drops her hand and sits back determinedly in his chair. “There are things Jim must do for this city, and my job is to help him do them. Your job,” he stresses, “your job is to let him.”
“No!” Peter shouts over her. Immediately, he follows it up with a stumbling, “I apologize, I'm so sorry. Please don't go.”
Barbara folds her arms. “Tell me why you really called.”
“Yes, yes, of course. Again, I apologize.” Clearing his throat and straightening his shoulders, he signals the lone server. “Let me buy you something warm. It's so cold out.”
“No, thank you. I'm fine.”
“Please,” Peter insists, painfully earnest as the server waits. “Something fun. A mocha?” His head bobs quickly. “Yes, a mocha. Thank you.” He watches the server wander off through the tables out of earshot, then turns back to her. “You must understand Jim's only trying to do his best for Gotham. I want what he wants. This is my home.”
Despite her firm intentions, Barbara softens. And admits, “I don't know how to help him,” to Peter far more readily than she'd been able to admit it to herself.
“A good man,” Peter says, with a brief tight-lipped smile, “but at times a very stubborn, hard-headed--” He glances around dramatically and leans closer to share a conspiratorial whisper under the cover of one hand, “--ass of a man.”
“Yes!” A laugh frees up some of the stress sitting on Barbara's chest. “You've only got to work with him, try living with him.”
“Oh, some days,” Peter says, his nose wrinkling as he chuckles.
“Coffee for breakfast,” Barbara says, “hot dogs for lunch. I think if he saw a vegetable on his plate, he'd shoot it.”
Peter breaks out into full laughter. “Probably!” He makes a finger gun and points it at the table. “Bam!”
More relaxed in her chair, Barbara shakes her head and smiles. “You know him pretty well, huh?”
“I do,” Peter says, sobering. “A side of him you don't see. But maybe, if you let me, I can help you appreciate it a little more, even if he'll never show it to you.”
Never's a long time, and the truth of it is she’s not ready to give up on him yet. The server swoops by with a steaming mug and sets it down with a small plated cookie. She picks up the cookie--a ginger snap, her favourite--and flicks Peter a glance. He shrugs, his smile small and pleased.
“I'd like that,” she says, and takes a bite.
“You must be Bruce,” says the man, and holds out a hand. “My name is Peter. I'm a friend of Jim Gordon's.”
Peter's hand is thin and long like his face, no obvious calluses but the skin dry as if he uses his hands quite a bit regardless. He's certainly not part of the police force. “Nice to meet you. What do you need?”
“What do I need,” Peter echoes in a tone of awe, his free hand flying to his chest. “The Wayne's generosity lives on.”
“It's a very long way to come when you could've telephoned,” says Bruce reasonably.
“But I couldn't,” Peter whispers with a dramatic lean close. He smells strongly of spiced stewed tomatoes and unwashed hair. “There are people who wish most strongly to--”
“You!” bellows Alfred, thundering through the foyer. Peter recoils, pale in his shadow. “What're you doing here?”
Peter begins to stammer, “I simply want--”
“Do I look like I give a horse's arse what you want?” Alfred's arm comes down between them, scooping Bruce into the house. Bruce sighs. He's asked Alfred seven times now to please stop being so rude to callers--not all uninvited guests are unwelcome, and Selina Kyle hasn’t been back to the manor for weeks. But he does suppose Alfred's under quite a bit of pressure. It's not every day one inherits the responsibility of raising a child. “Get offa there right now.”
Peter scuttles down the steps, hands held up palms-out as Alfred advances. “Please, sir. I-I'm a friend of Detective Gordon. I--”
“I'll just bet you are.” Alfred turns to level a finger at Bruce's chest. “You, inside.”
“Alfred,” Bruce says disapprovingly.
Bruce makes a show of backing into the house, counting off eleven and a half steps before Alfred's satisfied. The moment his attention turns back to their visitor, Bruce halts. The window in the gray parlour would be an excellent spot to eavesdrop, as the window opens just beside the drive and would have none of the distorted echo of the foyer, but the conservatory offers a far better view unobstructed by decorative hedging. Given Peter's cloak-and-dagger mannerism, he doubts the usefulness of whatever he might overhear. A solid memory of Peter's appearance might go further in locating the man later, and in questioning Detective Gordon as to his intentions.
Decision made, Bruce sprints for the hall. By the time he reaches the conservatory, Alfred's herded Peter halfway down the drive and Bruce is pleased by his decision to spy. That far from the front entryway, and with how close they're standing, he wouldn't have caught a word. This vantage point also allows him to see more than Alfred's broad back.
Peter speaks quickly, with short, sharp gestures. He seems less panicked than passionate; whatever he's telling Alfred, he believes it very deeply. That Alfred disbelieves it as strongly is equally clear. Bruce reconsiders his earlier assumption that the two were strangers. Where they could've met is nothing but a guess, but something in the way Peter positions himself as small and vulnerable but stays well within reach, almost touching Alfred at times, makes Bruce wonder. He must be certain Alfred won't truly harm him without direct provocation, and that is a very intimate thing to know about a person.
Barely a heartbeat later Bruce's deduction is put to the test: gravel flies as Peter twists about, one of his arms flailing and the other caught, pinned. He goes still as his back comes to rest solidly against Alfred's chest. Bruce frowns as Alfred ducks his head, speaking calmly and quietly into Peter's ear. Lip-reading is not a skill Bruce posses. He makes a mental note to look into it while he squints uselessly at the subtle movements of Alfred's mouth and the far more exaggerated ones of Peter's. He thinks he may have caught Detective Gordon's name at least twice, though chances are greater his desire to know more about his parents' death and the detective’s dogged pursuit of its truth is putting words in their mouths.
He leans closer to the window as they both stop speaking. His breaths fogging the glass, he catches and holds the next, then loses it on a sharp gasp as Alfred gives Peter a rough shake that sends more gravel sailing into the grass. “Alfred!” he shouts, slamming his palm against the window. But Peter's yell is much louder than his.
Bruce's socked feet skid on the hardwood as he runs into the foyer. “Alfred!” he shouts again, bursting into sunlight. “Alfred, stop!”
“I told you to stay inside!” Strong hands land on Bruce's shoulders, stopping him with a jolt on the second stair. “Should bloody well learn to heed me, Master Bruce.”
“Where is he?” Bruce asks, shielding his eyes from the sun. “Alfred?”
“Sent on his way.”
Alfred sinks into a low couch, eye-to-eye. “Master Bruce,” he says levelly, “that man is no friend of Jim Gordon's.”
“Do you know him?”
A moment's hesitation before Alfred's even, “No,” tells Bruce he hadn't wanted to admit it, but again Bruce can only guess at why. “But I know the like of 'em and he's got no business 'round here.”
Which clearly means no good business according to Alfred, and anything to do with his parents’ murder is Alfred’s very definition of bad business.
“Alright,” Bruce says. “I’d like lunch now, please.”
Alfred’s eyebrows rise sharply, deepening the wrinkles on his forehead. “You would?”
“Please,” Bruce repeats.
“Well.” Alfred straightens and rights his crooked left cuff. “I’d best make some then, Master Bruce.”
Bruce smiles, says, “Thank you, Alfred,” and as Alfred vanishes into the dim of the manor, he casts one last glance down the drive. His stomach is twisted it a tight knot, not exactly a pleasant sensation but neither one he can label bad.
He has a lead.
From the slightest chemical tang on the air, the maid has come and gone for the day. The living room is as tidy as a showhome, and only interesting in that none of the decor reflects Jim’s personal touch. Oh, he’s certain Jim likes it well enough and wouldn’t dream of ousting the bleached-bone white sculpture on the coffee table that vaguely resembles a copulating couple, but he can clearly imagine the look Jim gives it every now and then. A slight pause as he rises from the loveseat, a small shake of his head and an indulgent smile. More than Barbara adores the hand-smoothed stylised curves that drew her to the piece, Jim adores her appreciation of it.
He’s glad Barbara seems more settled of late during their weekly luncheons. While it’s true she knows as little of Jim’s affairs as before her ultimatum--which is exactly as much as Oswald assumed Jim would divulge--she’s complaining far less about his hours and far more about his diet. It’s good for Jim too, as he's not a man well-suited to standing alone despite how often he tries.
The hallway is more of the same, as well as the small den off to the right. The stairwell is by far the most Jim-like feature of the home, strong and sturdy metal curved about a vintage fireman’s pole leading steadily upward. Here the smells of daily life are stronger, warmth lingering from the shower and in damp cotton from fresh-used towels, soap and shampoo and the deeper hint of shaving balm.
Expecting a simple disposable razor in a puddle beside the sink, Oswald finds instead a shelf of grooming tools clustered about a sleek electric razor. He hunts through the vanity, pushing aside bottles of lotion to come up with a half-empty bottle of shaving cream, a well-worn razor and several replacement blades. He smiles in satisfaction at his reflection. Obviously the electric razor is an expensive gift from Barbara. Like the sculpture, Jim indulges her extravagance, but like his choice of drinks, he keeps to his own preferences.
While Jim’s desk at the precinct is by all means tidy, the walk-in closet is as meticulously organised as the seldom-used shaving gear; again, Barbara’s handiwork. Oswald’s gaze lingers on the neat line of colour-coded suits to his left but he moves right, skipping over the equally-coordinated lines of dresses and women’s wear. A lesson he learned well under Mooney is everything interesting is always tucked away in cupboards and drawers and secret hidey-holes. Barbara’s skimpy, lacy choices in underthings is no surprise, but the glossy wooden box holding wrapping papers, an intricate glass pipe and filters, and several sizeable baggies of marijuana is one of a sort. Predictable given her profession and societal stature, but surprising in that Jim either tolerates or doesn’t know about her habit.
Not as surprising though as what Oswald finds after searching the shoes laid out neatly on display and then the stacked boxes beside them. Crammed into the toe of a ski boot shoved far into the back of the closet in a box still taped shut with the retailer’s logo is another baggie, the plastic dusted white from the seven small rather worse-for-wear pills inside.
“Oh Barbara,” he utters, and tsk-tsks as he carefully stuffs the baggie back into place. Jim would be so, so disappointed.
Straightening the boxes neatly, Oswald stands, whirls about on his heel and claps his hands together. There will be no secrets so dastardly in Jim’s side of the wardrobe, but searching it will be just as fun.
“Forget it,” Harvey says, holding up a hand. Cobblepot’s teeth clack when his mouth snaps shut. “Just remembered: I don’t give a shit.” He levels a finger at the stairwell. “Scram.”
“But I have something of great importance to tell you!” Cobblepot shouts. Harvey makes a grab for the little rat, missing by a hairy inch as Cobblepot scuttles under his arm and around to the stairwell he just climbed. “I understand your ire, Detective. Trust me, I do.”
“Yeah,” Harvey drawls, folding his arms across his chest, “somehow I doubt that. Get lost.”
Cobblepot grasps the railing as he backs down a step. “We’ve all been manipulated.” He leans forward entreatingly, voice lowered. “Some more than others.”
“How about you tell me something I don’t know,” says Harvey. “Or better yet, get your scrawny ass down those stairs before I throw it down.”
“I miss him too, Detective.”
“I oughta…” Harvey pulls his fist back, ready to let fly. He’d put the weasel in his trunk before. It’d serve him right to get tossed into the river a second time.
Cobblepot’s hands come up to protect his face. “Please, please, I can help!” He trips on the next stair as Harvey advances, arms windmilling as he stumbles down several more. He’s still yapping when his back hits the wall. “You and I, we’re not like him. We know how this city works, we know how to work with it. But not him. He’ll never bend, Detective. Even surrounded by Arkham’s madness he’ll stand sure and sturdy as a rock until he’s ground to dust beneath a political heel.”
“Still tellin’ me shit I already know,” Harvey growls, gut clenching as his fist loosens. From day one everybody knew Jim wouldn’t make it in Gotham. Hell, one look at the kid and Harvey knew damn well the city was gonna spit him out like stale chewing gum. Only guy that never seemed to get that was Jim.
Harvey takes the last few stairs at an easy saunter to give Oswald time to really think about what shit’s gonna come outta his mouth next. “What you ain’t tellin’ me,” he says, leaning in close enough that the musty, mouldy smell of the first floor is tainted with the greasy kitchen stink clinging to Oswald’s ugly-ass suit, “is what you think you’re gonna do about it.”
Oswald beams. “Nothing.”
For the first time since he found out Gordon didn’t cap Oswald on the pier, Harvey’s glad. It’ll be a pleasure to clean up this slimy slick of oil himself.
“You haven’t been to see him,” Oswald says, smile turning smarmy.
“What’s that to you,” Harvey growls.
“I know he misses you.” Oswald cringes when Harvey shifts just a little, but ploughs on with the sincerity of a two-buck suck. “Of course he’s faltering without a partner’s support, a partner he’s come to depend on. Not only have they taken her from him, but they’ve taken you as well. And let’s be honest, Detective, who of the two of you really knows Jim Gordon?”
“Watch it.” Ain’t like it’s a thought that hasn’t crossed Harvey’s mind before--hell, he told Jim straight up more than once that the job don’t leave much room for being honest with his woman, and he was a damn fool if he tried. But that ain’t exactly a truth he’s happy about, either.
“I don’t mean to judge, oh no. Not me.” Oswald presses a hand to his chest, fingers splayed. “But you remember what happened the last time she tried to help him. She simply can’t, I’m afraid. Not the way he so very much needs. Not the way--” Carefully, Oswald touches fingertips to Harvey’s jacket. “--you can.”
Harvey fixes Oswald’s spindly fingers with a warning glare.
“Go see him,” Oswald says, drawing himself up to his full height. His gaze meets Harvey’s as he edges along the wall towards the exit. “You’ll find I speak the truth.”
The door opens on a shrill creek as Oswald reaches for the handle. “Oh, excuse me,” he gushes, stepping aside for old lady Hannis in 3B. She smiles on a light thanks, then cocks a nosy eyebrow at Harvey while she fusses with the mail in her dropbox. “I’m sure I’ll see you soon, Detective,” Oswald calls on his way out. “Do give Jim my best!”
“I’ll give him your best alright,” Harvey mutters, keeping a close eye on the exit until he’s sure Oswald’s long gone.
“Strange visitor for you,” says Harriet Hannis as casual as a heart attack.
“Nah,” says Harvey, heading back up the stairs, “had to slip him a few bucks to get him gone just like everybody else.” So much for sitting his ass on the couch with a couple beers and the boob tube. There’s no telling where Oswald stuck that beak of a nose, and now he’s gonna spend the whole goddamn night going over his place looking for every last one.
Shouldering open the apartment door, he fishes his phone out of his pocket. “Yeah, Bernat. Bullock.” He flicks on the lights and takes a good long look around while Bernat cusses him out for that thing in Warehouse 22 last week. Like it’s his fault butterfingers dropped his piece. “I’m cryin’ inside. Look, you still got a girl on that hospice committee, the one all het up about Arkham?”
“Ma’am,” Jim starts, gearing up for a repeat of the the whole song and dance that got him through the door.
“My Oswald, he is a smart boy,” she interrupts, and sips at her unsweetened tea. “But naive. Too kind. Many many weeks ago, he tells his mother he has found a man he can trust. A policeman.” Over the cup’s chipped gold rim, she skewers him with a look worthy of one of Harvey’s interrogations. Daring him to ‘fess up.
“Detective Jim Gordon, ma’am.” He reaches again for his badge, setting it down this time beside his own untouched tea. While fancy china is something he’d gotten used to being with Barbara, he’s not so sure the tiny delicate cup with its faded pattern and crazed surface won’t crack in his grip. Given the amount of drama that happened in the seven and a half feet from the door to the couch, the last thing he wants to see is the show she’d put on if he broke a family heirloom. “We met at the club the other night.”
Her chin lifts. “My son’s club.”
“Yes,” Jim says on an indrawn breath, “your son’s club.”
“He is with designers now, so many of them,” she says, her gaze drifting sideways, softening. ‘Must spruce the place up’ he says. A gilded palace he has, and still he works to make it more.”
Jim glances down at his badge and counts briefly to five. The smile fixed on his face cranks a notch tighter. “That’s great. Mrs. Kapelput-”
“He says you did not go.”
She waves a dismissive hand. “Many people did not go, this I know. But you.” Her beady gaze zeros in on him. “He helps you, he does favours for you, he brings you his invitation to deliver it from his own hand. ‘Friend,’ he calls you, and you did not go.”
Jim hangs his head and hopes he looks more contrite than frustrated. Oswald’s shown up at the precinct only once since Jim told him not to, but three times at crime scenes. The first time, Jim caught him grilling Nygma about the victim. The second, handing out coffees to loose-lipped uniforms. The last straw was this morning, when Jim showed up at a scene to find Oswald standing over the body with his goons holding back the lookie-loos. No one has touched the body, Jim, I promise. I made sure of it, he’d said, eager and self-satisfied. Apparently he’d handed the first responders a fifty each and told them to treat themselves to a fine breakfast from the restaurant on the corner, which is exactly where Jim found them.
“My job is… dangerous,” Jim tries on a hunch. He lifts his head at Gertrud’s snort. “For me and for the people around me. Friends, family, those kinds of people.” He pauses, gives it a moment to sink in. “Other kinds of people notice that sorta thing.”
“What are you saying?” she asks slowly, suspicion dripping from every syllable.
“Look,” he says, scooting to the edge of the cushions, “I tried telling him not to get involved and he won’t listen to me.” Which isn’t a lie at all, though his stomach squirms like it is. “But he’ll listen to his mother, right?”
“Of course he listens to his mother!” she exclaims, hand fluttering to her chest.
“I asked him for a favour,” Jim says, intent. “I shouldn’t have. I know he thinks he’s helping--” He lowers his voice, grave, and ignores the sick twist of his gut. Nothing he’s said is a lie exactly. “--but someone’s gonna get hurt.”
Gertrud’s mouth falls slack. Her thin, wrinkled hand clutches white-knuckled at her dress. A light thump at the door brings her breath in a startled rasp.
“Mother,” Oswald calls.
“Oh, and here he is!” In a flurry of satin and lace, Gertrud sets down her cup so quickly it sloshes onto the table and bustles up to the half-open door. “My beautiful, brilliant boy.”
“I can’t stay long,” Oswald says, pecking her lightly on her upturned cheek, “I have urgent business--”
“But we have company!”
The smile--one part indulgence, one part impatience--turns to a tight, thin line on Oswald’s face. “Jim,” he says. “Old friend. You should’ve told me you were coming.”
“Surprise visit,” Jim says, plastering on a big smile of his own. “You know how those go.”
Oswald steers his mother back to the settee, prompting her to sit. “Yes, I suppose I do. If you have some business to discuss, might I suggest we--”
“Oh, no,” Jim says. He scoops his badge off the table as he stands, hooking it onto his belt. “It can wait. I’ve got to be going myself. Mrs Kapelput, d’you think I could use your washroom before I head out? Gonna be cooped up in the car for awhile.”
“Please do,” Oswald jumps in. “First door on the left.”
As Jim heads for the hall, harsh hissing whispers start up in the living room. He leaves the bathroom door open a sliver, ear to the crack for a moment before he gives up on making anything out. Might as well take advantage since he’s here.
Given the size of the rest of the apartment, he’s not at all prepared for the lavish spread when he turns. Big clawfoot tub, a dressing valet, privacy screens, half a dozen little tables and stands and towel racks, paintings on the wall, the whole nine yards all ornate and antique and jumbled together exactly like one of the old paintings Barbara sometimes brought home. The toilet at least looks like it’s from this century.
Resisting a detective’s urge to snoop pretty much because he’s not at all sure he wants to find what he might find, he toes up the toilet seat. His face in the mirrored cabinet stares back at him grey and sallow-eyed. Maybe he oughta lay off the street food for a bit. Or try something with more than lettuce and a pickle on it.
“Christ, Oswald.” Scalp prickling, Jim hurriedly shakes off and zips up. The bathroom door clicks shut. “What the hell’re you doing?”
“I was hoping you’d tell me what you’re doing,” Oswald says, folding his hands behind his back. “You’ve made it abundantly clear I’m the very last person you want to see, and yet here you are.”
Jim sets his shoulders. “You need to quit showing up at crime scenes.”
“I’m merely a concerned citizen,” Oswald says, shrugging crookedly.
Oswald’s lips pinch tight. “You never believe me,” he says, shaking his head. “Gotham isn’t my only concern, Jim. I don’t understand why you won’t let me help you. You know I can help you.” He takes a few shuffling steps forward, eyes wide and as painfully sincere as the night he waved a broken bottle in Jim’s face, begging him to take it, to end Oswald’s life the same as he’d spared it. Not that he’d really believed Oswald then, either.
“There are things I can do that you simply can’t,” Oswald insists. “And I’m glad of it. Oh, I am so very glad of it. To keep your hands clean of Gotham’s filth, don’t you think I’d do anything? For you, Jim,” he says, his grasping hand seizing Jim’s, tugging Jim’s palm to his cheek and pressing it tight, “for you I’d do anything.”
Jim’s elbow hits the cabinet as he tries yanking his hand back, but Oswald hangs on for the ride, stumbling bodily into him. “Oswald,” Jim snarls, giving his arm a rough shake, “get off me.”
“You wound me, Jim Gordon!” Oswald cries, definitely loud enough for his mother to hear. “Again and again you say you don’t want my help, yet again and again you come to me. You’ve come into my very home, and yet you stand there saying you want nothing to do with me!”
Jim tries another rough shake but only ends up backed up against the toilet for his trouble. “For god’s sake,” he snaps, and yanks Oswald in close instead. “Shut up, just shut up for once, okay?” When Oswald presses his lips together and nods quickly, Jim breathes out slowly. “Okay.”
Hunched over, Oswald lifts his eyebrows high.
“If you’re gonna help me again,” Jim says, ignoring the way Oswald’s eyes brighten, “you do it on my terms. When I ask for it. No more bribing uniforms, no more hanging around crime scenes, no more dropping by the precinct, and definitely no more threatening anybody. Not suspects, not witnesses, not cops, nobody. You got it?”
“Yes,” Oswald says softly, “yes, Jim. I’ve got it.”
“You sure you got it?”
“Cross my heart and yours too,” he says, placing a hand lightly on Jim’s chest. He leans up on his toes, putting his face so close Jim jerks back. “Thank you, Jim. You don’t know how much this means to me. I--”
A fluttering knock on the door brings Oswald’s breath in a hiss. “Mother, please!”
“The drinks are ready!” she calls happily.
“Yes, thank you, we’ll be there in a moment!”
“Drinks,” Jim says flatly. This time when he pushes, Oswald grudgingly gives ground. He’s still too close while Jim buckles up his belt but it’s an improvement.
Oswald lets out a stuttering laugh. “It would seem mother is quite taken with you.”
Again Jim says, “Uh huh,” as he shoulders past Oswald. He rattles the doorknob a couple times before he figures out it’s locked, and he definitely regrets the look he shoots Oswald when it prompts a shrug and smirk. He makes a beeline down the hall for the front door.
A foot past the couch, Gertrud swoops in to cut him off. She presses an Old Fashioned into his hand, beaming as she gathers up his other. He winces; Oswald had been blocking the sink. “Always I have to worry about evil, nasty women. Never a nice man like you. He is a sensitive boy, you will take care of him.”
“I-- What?” Mouth agape, Jim turns in a half circle to face the hall.
“It’s alright, mother,” Oswald says, shuffling in. “Detective Gordon must be going, as must I.”
Gertrud makes half a dozen unhappy noises, pouting spectacularly and clinging to Jim’s hand as Oswald makes his way around the couch. She relinquishes it with a mutter when he’s close, attempting to push a drink on him too. He dodges it smoothly to kiss her cheek again.
“I promise we’ll stay next time for these delicious drinks you’ve made,” he says, somehow deftly relieving Jim of his and occupying Gertrud’s hand with it instead.
Freed, Jim sidesteps the two of them, intent on the door again. “Thanks for the tea, Mrs Kapelput.”
Oswald says, “I’ll walk you out,” and scurries ahead, reaching the door first to hold it open with a flourish. “After you.”
The second the door shuts, Jim turns on his heel and grates, “What the hell was that?”
“An old woman’s fancy,” Oswald says on a nervous laugh. He waves a hand. “It’s nothing, Jim, truly. Thank you again for giving me a second chance to prove myself to you.”
A chance Jim has zero intentions of ever letting happen. His gut is pleasantly still when he crooks a smile and lies, “Yeah, don’t make me regret it.”
Oswald presses an earnest hand to his own chest. “No, never. Never, ever would I do such a thing.”