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Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

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He wakes up with a headache and a burning sensation in his throat; nauseous and in pain and so, so lonely, despite the way he could vaguely recollect that he’d been surrounded by people for the whole night.

He’d bought a club.

He’d kissed Grace.

He’d felt good at the time. Something had filled a void that had been left behind in his chest. Something had finally taken his mind off of the horrors that haunted both his dreams and his waking moments.

But a new day is here, and he feels even more terrible than before. Cut off from the world, too different from his peers to ever fit in, too much violence and rage inside of him to become the sort of person that his parents would have wanted him to be. He’s a disappointment, a failure, a murderer, the sort of person that only—

—that only a madman could care about.

His thoughts drift fuzzily towards Jerome, and his fingers skim against the faded scar on his hip.

Maybe it’s the lingering effects of the alcohol, or maybe he’s even crazier than he’s begun to think, but the sudden urge to see Jerome catches hold of him and won’t let him free.

It’s been so long since he’d come back to Gotham, since the virus spread through the city, since he’d hurt Alfred, since he’d felt so isolated that in a moment of weakness he’d reached out to the only person who would never turn their back on Bruce for the terrible things that he’d done.

It was a mistake. Nothing but a mistake.

But maybe his life was just a series of mistakes, so what was one more in the grand scheme of things?

He actually makes it all the way to the gates that separate Arkham Asylum from the rest of the city before he begins to realize what it would mean for him to step inside those halls. What it would mean if he actually, purposefully sought Jerome out.

He’d told Bruce that he could visit, but if Bruce went in there in the state of mind he was currently in there was no way that Jerome wouldn’t take advantage of it. He always took advantage of every foothold he could find.

Bruce stands in front of the gates, thoughts shifting quickly as if unable to settle on a single scene. The long-since healed corner of his mouth twinges as he thinks of the way Jerome would look at him, the way Jerome would speak to him, the way Jerome might touch him—through bars or fencing or even without anything in between, if Bruce bribed the right person and managed to either set him loose for a few moments or buy himself a free pass inside of Jerome’s cell—thinks about the way Jerome would kiss him—

“Name?” The security guard, clearly beginning to get a little annoyed at the teenager standing and staring through the gate with bloodshot eyes, frowns at him. “We can’t just let anyone in here, you know.”

“I’m—” Bruce croaks, thoughts snapping back to the present. His phone is vibrating in his pocket. “I’m not going in.”

The security guard gives him a look of frank disbelief, Bruce tries to ignore it by pulling out his phone and glancing down at a new message from a number that he only half remembers putting into his phone.

‘We should hang out again tonight.’

“You sure?”

“I’m sure,” Bruce tells him, not looking back up from the screen of his phone. If he looks back up, now that he’s made it all the way here, he might change his mind. And that would be catastrophic. The most terrible decision regarding Jerome that he’s ever made. Worse than the first time that he kissed Jerome back, or when he’d let himself be touched, or when he’d unlocked his window, or when he’d called and had foolishly admitted to Jerome that he was feeling lonely.

He feels even lonelier now than he did back then.

He turns and gets back into his car. He has other things he can focus on that will ease the lingering terror and darkness inside of him. Alcohol, surely, was a less destructive coping mechanism than going to Jerome for comfort.

Arkham disappears on the horizon behind him, and Bruce let’s himself believe that it’s over.

But it’s not.

Because any Maniac worth their salt remembers who Bruce Wayne is, and remembers the times that Jerome had tried to kill him. So when one such a man happens to catch sight of Bruce’s face on the security feed from the front gate, well...

Who wouldn’t take the opportunity to tell their illustrious leader that a certain billionaire brat had almost set foot inside of Jerome’s madhouse?

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Jerome doesn’t believe the security guard when he says, straight to Jerome’s face, that Bruce Wayne had lingered outside of the front gate of the asylum as if he’d been contemplating coming in. He doesn’t believe until he sits down behind the desk and reviews the footage himself.

But there he stands, Jerome’s one and only, staring at the building with glossy eyes.

“Oh, baby doll,” he whispers to the screen as Bruce snaps out of the daze he’d been in, reacting to the guard at the gate, “you should have come inside. I would have had the red carpet rolled out just for you.” He chuckles darkly as he thinks about it. His followers, out of an uncanny sense of duty, probably would have attempted to corner Bruce and force him towards Jerome’s cell. He imagines that they’d be more than a little shocked when he fought back, stronger and more vicious than expected.

Bruce had been learning new tricks before Jerome had left. He doubtlessly knew even more fun techniques, now.

His attention drifts—thinking about what it would have been like for Bruce to approach his cell alone with the blood of Jerome’s startled, stupidly unprepared followers smeared across his knuckles—until Bruce takes out his phone and stares down at the screen. He doesn’t look back once before he leaves.

But it’s still the closest they’ve been in what feels like ages.

Jerome wonders if he’s gotten taller, broader, darker. Wonders what could have possibly happened that Bruce came so close to crossing the threshold into Jerome’s territory.

And he finds himself quickly growing sick of having to wonder.

What was the point of having this place under his thumb if he didn’t take advantage of it to the fullest? He’s able to make connections and have fun without anyone putting a stop to it, but knowing that Bruce had been so close to stepping within Jerome’s reach of his own free will leaves him with an itch that nothing but Bruce himself could possibly scratch. Jerome has been locked away for so long and he’s made incredible progress, but there are still kinks that need to be ironed out, and another mad ally that still needs to be fully persuaded to join his cause.

And he wants—needs—has to—see Bruce in the flesh again.

Wants to do all sorts of fun things to him and with him. Wants to see if Bruce would still blush and go soft around the edges whenever Jerome praised him. Wants to bite Bruce hard enough that he’ll bleed. Wants to be bitten, too, by his precious good boy who was always so radiant in his violence that Jerome had gotten off to thoughts of Bruce bloodying people up more times than he could count.

The breakout—if it could even really be called that when Jerome planned to return before daylight—is easy enough to orchestrate. Getting a few sets of eyes on Bruce isn’t particularly difficult either considering how some of his Maniax already liked to keep track of the boy who got away more than once, just in case Jerome broke out and had a craving for blue blood that could only be truly satisfied by one particular person. Back when Jerome was starting to settle back into asylum life a handful of his people on the outside had offered to slit Bruce’s throat for him. Jerome had made them all rip off their own fingernails for such a preposterous idea, laying claim to Bruce in a way that they would understand by informing them that he was the only one allowed to hold a knife against Bruce’s flesh and make him bleed.

They were that lucky that he hadn’t made them cut off their own fingers.

They were lucky that they hadn’t been able to make that offer to him in person.

They weren’t lucky enough that he’d forgotten to jot their names down in his diary, along with a few fun ideas regarding what to do to them should their paths ever unfortunately cross his.

It takes a few days for everything to come together—there are still a scant handful of employees who might call the GCPD if he causes too much trouble and Jerome can’t afford their close attention right now, not when things are starting to fall into place—but he can occasionally be patient when he has to be. In the meantime he keeps track of Bruce’s nightly activities and bemusedly speculates about what could have possibly driven his virtuous boy towards the rather commonplace, practically pedestrian act of underage drinking.

Probably the same thing that had driven him to stand before Arkham’s gate.

Catching up with him again is going to prove to be as entertaining as always.

Almost a week after Bruce was on the precipice of stepping into Jerome’s playground Jerome slips out at sunset; a nondescript coat, scarf, and hat helping him turn into any unremarkable Gothamite low-life. He walks with purpose down darkening streets and smirks to himself as people skirt around him, wary of the way that he carries himself—or maybe of the latent danger he radiates—even if they can’t make his features out well enough to know why they should have their guard up.

This city is full of people who are too scared to take a closer look, too scared of the repercussions of looking directly into danger’s eyes and risk finding that its attention has now focused on them with a lethal intensity. It’s pathetic, really, but the general lack of backbone is funny in its own cruel way.

If this city had a few more people with spunk—a few more people like Bruce—then maybe it would stand a better chance against him and every other criminal that goes in and out of Arkham’s revolving door. It was too bad, for Gotham and its citizens, that Bruce seemed to be a delightful singularity. A boy with what seemed to be a lot like a death-wish standing not only unafraid but also bargaining and manipulating with an unforgettable poise when he looked danger straight in the eyes. Full of determination and stubbornness and brutality and dozens of other things that Jerome can’t help but fawn over.

There’s something dangerous inside of Bruce Wayne. He’s seen flashes of it, he’s purposefully tried to draw it out.

He wants to see it again.

But he has to be careful about tonight, lest Bruce go tattling about Jerome to his dear pal Jim Gordon. He’s going to need to share the sort of evening with Bruce where the teenager will feel like he has to keep it a secret, just like all of their most significant rendezvous.

His mouth waters at the thought of what that entails.

Jerome is going to strip Bruce down and memorize the feel of him. He’s going to press his lips to Bruce’s mouth and get a taste of whatever overpriced liquor he’s trying to drown his teenage troubles in. He’s going to make Bruce remember exactly how good Jerome can make him feel.

And if he has to kill a security guard outside of Bruce’s newfound nighttime hideaway and instruct a few of his loyal lunatics to make the body disappear in order to make it happen? Well, he’s committed multiple murders for far less amorous reasons. But one dead body is likely all that he can afford tonight—considering how he wants to keep his brief escape on the down-low—so once he’s free to slip in through the back door into the red light that illuminates the fire escape route he resigns himself to not having any fun unless his sweetheart is directly involved.

It’s too bad, though. He can already smell a disgusting mix of expensive cologne and perfume in the air, and it makes his fingers twitch with the desire to slide around his gun and make a few rich cowards beg and weep at his feet in a useless effort to sway him into sparing their life.

Bruce would play at being a hero again. Jerome would take him captive again; spiriting him away to the secondary location he’d had scouted out just in case he felt the need to move their special little party of two elsewhere. A simple hiding place; no security camera that needed to be altered and put on a loop, no door to a fire escape route that required an alarm to malfunction for the night, no security guard, no witnesses.

Just them. Just like the last time.

Maybe Bruce would make him bleed again. Maybe he would get angry enough with Jerome that he’d snap and Jerome would be able to witness him unleash his all of his grim and devastating potential, just like he had in the maze of mirrors.

It’s so tempting…

But he’s put too much effort into his work to let it all go to waste by blatantly showing off just how easy it is for him to free himself and wreak even more havoc.

Jerome silently slips through the door that leads into the fire escape and, as he’d been promised, the alarm isn’t triggered. From there he strolls down a narrow hallway that runs behind the bar, and then he finally reaches a doorway which leads to the back of the club, casting a quick glance around as he settles to a stop. The place is packed with young adults, but there’s one particularly noisy corner that his eyes are drawn to almost immediately.

And although his back is to him Jerome recognizes that hair, that posture, that bland black turtleneck.

Being in the same room as Bruce again is almost enough for him to start humming a saccharine love song under his breath while contemplating the best possible way—besides killing or threatening to kill everyone else in the room—to get Bruce alone. He skirts around the perimeter of the room, too conspicuous while fully shrouded in his outerwear to go barging out where an employee might take notice of his oddities and decide to take a closer look before promptly calling the cops, keeping his eyes locked on Bruce the entire time.

For all intents and purposes—at least to those who don’t know Bruce like Jerome knows Bruce—it looks as though he’s having a great time; a billionaire brat finally realizing the extent of what he can get away with in the city that’s kept running because of his family legacy. He’s surrounded by people his age, though not quite in his tax-bracket, who look at him with what appears to be genuine interest. They laugh when he laughs, and they drink when he drinks, and they reach out—

Something dark in Jerome’s gut prickles hotly when a girl’s hand lands on Bruce’s shoulder, almost-companionable, except Jerome knows carefully calculated actions when he sees them, knows how to use touch to manipulate, can practically see the thought-process behind the way she lightly trails her nails down Bruce’s arm before taking his half full glass into her hand and coyly downing the rest of his drink. And he’s not the only one who can all but taste the sudden intent in the air.

Bruce’s eyes flicker while his smile twitches a touch wider, and maybe someone who doesn’t know Bruce well would think nothing of those small signs, but Jerome has made a habit of reading and deciphering every little change of Bruce’s expression ever since he broke into Wayne Manor on his special night.

Bruce doesn’t appreciate the overt flirting. He wasn’t even having a particularly good time before it. And when he excuses himself from the group to get another drink at the bar, well, isn’t that just the ideal opportunity for Jerome to swoop in and save him from this poorly constructed charade of friends having fun together?

The airplane he constructs from a napkin isn’t quite as on course as he’d like it to be—it’s too heavy to make it the full distance without being scrunched into a ball, and unfortunately throwing a crumpled napkin at Bruce doesn’t quite have the flair that Jerome would prefer to be remembered for—but Bruce notices when something brushes against his calf and he slowly glances down to see the unfolding napkin. Then his eyes follow the obvious trajectory.

Jerome’s face is still hidden and it’s far too dim where he’s standing for Bruce to even be able to begin guessing who he might be based off of height and build, but he lifts a hand in a wave anyways because:

One: He’s a disreputable looking guy hanging around the outskirts of a high-class club.

Two: Bruce is the suspicious type, and there’s no way he’ll catch sight of someone wearing a full coat, scarf, and hat indoors and not have a bunch of internal alarms triggered.

Three: It’s always so fun to mess with Bruce. The way his eyes narrow and his lips purse make Jerome want to clutch his face in between his hands and coo something sweet before pinning him against a wall and ravishing him.

Jerome slips out of the main room and heads back towards the door that will take him into the fire escape route, sure that Bruce will follow. And it is so very gratifying when he casts a glance behind him and sees Bruce doing exactly what Jerome wants him to do.

He picks up his pace, knowing that Bruce will have caught his backwards glance, wanting him to think that the mysterious man he’s following is about to break out into a run once he’s out of sight. He quickly opens the door and slips through, taking only a few steps into the narrow hall before turning around and waiting.

He doesn’t have to wait long. Bruce has always been very dependable when it comes to punctuality, except for that one time where he outright ignored Jerome’s loving offer to brighten his mood by enjoying a good movie.

Bruce rushes through the door and almost careens right into Jerome’s chest before he manages to stumble to a stop, less graceful than he usually is. Less resistive, too. Jerome wonders just how many drinks Bruce has had so far tonight as he takes a few steps forward and crowds him against the door, all while taking off his hat and scarf and avidly watching the spark of recognition light up Bruce’s eyes.

“Hey there darlin’,” he murmurs, bringing his hands up to rest on the door on either side of Bruce’s head and distantly registering that Bruce has grown just a fraction taller since they last saw each other face to face. Bruce stays put for the moment, his wide eyes roving over Jerome’s face as if he can’t quite believe that Jerome is here. Reunited at long last. It’s so romantic that Jerome can practically hear the swelling of orchestral music instead of the faint racket of the club. “Did’ya miss me as much as I’ve missed you?”

As close as he is he can smell the alcohol on Bruce’s breath when he whispers, “Jerome.”

Bruce looks so lovely in the red light, sounds so sweet saying Jerome’s name, is so close and so still even though he’s effectively caged and Jerome doesn’t even have any hostages to keep him from trying to break away.

“You came all the way to my doorstep and didn’t even drop in to say hello, Bruce,” Jerome chides lightly, enjoying the startled look that Bruce is too tipsy to properly mask. Tonight is going to be so much fun. He’s not sure if he’ll get a fight—and if he does Bruce’s prior drinking might make it shorter than he’d prefer, and an easier win—but the rare candidness is almost as good as a scuffle. In the state that he’s in Bruce is all but an open book. “It’s almost enough to make a man wonder if you really care.”

Bruce’s breath hitches. The sound sends an electric current down Jerome’s spine, and Jerome feels like he’s unearthing something momentous.

“That hurts, you know,” he says, pursing his lips into a pout and fighting the urge to exaggerate the expression even further. Authenticity is what will have the best outcome. Bruce always had a way of falling to such spectacular pieces when Jerome let a little bit of the truth shine through. “Especially when I care about you so very much.”

“Jerome,” Bruce repeats, a tremor in his voice that Jerome doesn’t fully understand, but oh, how he wants to figure it out. “You shouldn’t be here.”

“As if anything can keep me away from you, darlin’, when I know that you need me.”

Bruce had come all the way to Arkham to seek him out, even if he didn’t end up following through with it. Bruce had, in that moment, needed to see him. He had thought that Jerome’s presence would bring him some kind of comfort or ease. If it happened before, it could happen again. Bruce knows it. Jerome knows it.

Jerome’s going to milk that knowledge for all that it’s worth.

He leans in for a kiss and keeps it bizarrely chaste. Soft and sweet; the sort of thing that Bruce has trouble resisting. He tastes the overpriced liquor on Bruce’s lips, flicks his tongue against the corner of his mouth where a barely-there scar extends into a half-smile, and resists the very strong urge to press a thigh between Bruce’s legs and turn him into a shuddering mess. Later. He’ll get Bruce all wound up later. He’s missed a few significant events while separated from Bruce; the first was whatever had made him feel so strongly that he had no one else to turn to that he called Jerome in Arkham, the second was whatever had brought him to stand outside of Arkham’s gate. The circumstances which lead to those moments were pivotal in keeping their connection alive, and maybe even making it stronger despite the physical distance between them. He doesn’t need to know the full details—not now at least, because there are much more interesting things to focus on with a warm and real Bruce standing in front of him, deliciously half-drunk—but it would be nice to get a grasp on the situations that made Bruce want to reach out to him.

Because the next time something like that happens…

Bruce is going to run right into Jerome’s arms, and Jerome isn’t going to let him go.

“I know you a lot better than the fake friends who’ve been flocking around you tonight, and I can tell that something’s bothering you. What’s wrong, baby?” Jerome tucks a stray curl behind Bruce’s ear, sharply taking note of the way Bruce leans against the brush of his fingers ever so slightly, and the way his cheeks take on a little more colour. He wonders just how lonesome Bruce has been without Jerome around to keep him company.

Just a little longer, and then he’d be free to make sure that Bruce was never lonely again.

“You know you can tell me anything. Another little secret between us.” He cups Bruce’s face in his hands, far gentler than he’s ever bothered to be with any other living creature, and watches intently as Bruce’s expression wavers. He makes sure to look Bruce straight in the eyes as he says, “you know that I could never hold anything against you.” And when he sees Bruce’s bottom lip tremble, sees his eyes go glossy as if he’s begun tearing up, he figures—

—he may as well go all in.

He trails his thumbs along the soft skin under Bruce’s watering eyes, and says.

“You know that I’ll love you no matter what.”

And he watches, fascinated and enamored, as Bruce’s expression shatters.

“Jerome,” he rasps, and the first tear falls. It wets the pad of Jerome’s gloved thumb, and he only just abstains from bringing the fabric up to his mouth to taste it. “I broke a promise. I failed. I’ve—” He stops. Shudders. Closes his eyes as if admitting it is agonizing. “I’ve done something unforgivable.”

Jerome’s mind buzzes excitedly with possibilities. Unforgivable. He has no doubt that in Bruce’s mind there are massive lists of actions that could be considered unforgivable, but for Bruce to believe that he has done something that cannot be excused… For him to be so obviously attempting to cope with whatever it is that he’s done…

He’s balanced on a knife’s edge, and Jerome is so eager to pull him down from it.

“What did you do,” he asks, successfully keeping the excitement from leaking into his voice even though Bruce is likely both too inebriated and too emotionally compromised to notice. “Tell me, Brucie. You’ll feel better if you tell me. Keeping everything locked away isn’t doing you any favors, baby doll.”

Bruce keeps his eyes closed and slumps back against the door, as if he can’t even bear to look at Jerome to admit whatever inexcusable sin he believes he’s committed.

“My actions have hurt a lot of people,” he says, his voice quavering in a way that would make him sound weak if Jerome didn’t have an idea of exactly what Bruce was capable of. Hurt a lot of people? Fuck, Jerome wants to press a knife into his hand and ask him to do it again. Jerome wants to give Bruce another drink, and another, until he’s too drunk to even consider keeping all of the dirty details to himself. “But I hurt someone really bad. They’ll never recover.” Bruce breathes in a shuddering breath and whispers, almost too soft for Jerome to hear, “I destroyed them.”

Destroyed them? Not killed or murdered, but ruined in a way that Bruce thought they could never recuperate from, as if they’d been ground into a fine dust that would dirty Gotham’s already filthy windows. This feels like the start of a beloved daydream. This feels like the real beginning of Bruce’s steady decline into the shadows. Jerome has to resist the urge to laugh, pleased beyond measure at the progress that Bruce has made even without him around to spur him on, because this feels like their destiny together is clicking into place.

As if Jerome couldn’t adore Bruce even more. His feelings of love are a dark and twisted, monstrous mess, and he thinks that by the time Bruce actually, really kills someone they’re only going to become stronger. There’s a power there, in those feelings, in the way that Bruce makes Jerome feel. Maybe someday Bruce will turn the tables on Jerome and he’ll be the one left reeling.

But it won’t be today.

Jerome presses a set of kisses against Bruce’s closed eyelids and says, with complete honesty.

“I wish I’d been there to see it.”

The crying isn’t unexpected; Bruce had been drinking, his eyes were already wet, and he’s obviously been keeping secrets that have been tearing him apart, poor boy. That and he likely still has morals and self-hatred for his perceived wrongs, along with other troublesome things that Jerome hopes to someday help him get rid of.

If Bruce were anyone else, reduced to tears just because they’d done something to ruin someone’s life, Jerome would roll his eyes and scoff. Depending on his mood and the amount of noise produced he’d either yawn in undisguised boredom, or he’d put them out of their misery before the inevitable wailing got to be too annoying.

But Bruce is Bruce. Is Jerome’s perfect match. His reflection. His future partner-in-crime. His darling. Bruce has been engaged in a losing battle against the darkness inside of himself for months, if not years, and Jerome has realized that realistically—outside of his favourite fantasies—Bruce would fight against himself, and against Jerome, almost every step of the way. There would be no easy acceptance. No quick turnaround. A flash of something brutal and wicked might overcome him for a short period of time, but he’d rein it in, he’d stop himself from going too far, he’d hate himself for it afterwards.

That’s what had happened an eon ago when he’d held a mirror shard aloft with the intent to end Jerome’s life. The self-loathing had rolled off of him in palpable waves as he’d screamed in Jerome’s face before leaving him behind on the floor, unaware that what he’d done had only added fuel to the swiftly rising fire of Jerome’s interest.

Unaware that what he was walking away from was their origin point as something more than what they had been ten minutes prior.

Whatever it was that Bruce had done which made him claim to have destroyed somebody; he hadn’t reined himself in, he hadn’t been able to stop himself from going too far, and who did he have in his life who could truly understand what that meant for him besides the person who he had almost killed and had seen him unravel in the immediate aftermath?

Bruce might be breaking apart under the perceived weight of his actions, but Jerome was more than capable of putting him back together. Not in the exact way that Bruce would want to be restored, but Jerome must be selfish and push his own agenda even while endeavoring to show compassion in order to pacify his one and only.

He only has so much patience to go around, and most of that has been tied up in the plan to turn the entirety of Gotham into a madhouse and finally smoke Jeremiah out from whatever foxhole he’s been hidden away in.

So he kisses Bruce’s wet cheeks and hums soothing, wordless sounds at him. He pets Bruce’s hair and guides his face down to the crook of his shoulder. He feels Bruce’s hands rise up to grip at the fabric of his jacket and revels in the sensation of Bruce giving in to the desire to take comfort from him.

“I bet you were spectacular,” he croons, and Bruce’s shoulders begin to shake. He licks his lips and tastes the faint salt of Bruce’s tears, and his mind buzzes. His heart pounds with the desire to do something drastic. The knowledge that Bruce has hurt people is enough to make his blood rush in the same way that it does whenever Bruce fights him. “And you know what else? I bet they deserved whatever you did to them.”

Bruce makes a soft, miserable noise. Jerome decides to take that as a resounding yes.

“You hold yourself to too high of a standard, baby doll,” he informs the distressed teenager in his arms. “And you don’t give yourself enough credit.” Bruce’s hands twist tighter into his jacket. His breaths are fast and uneven. His shaking is only getting worse. But this is what he needs to hear. Or rather, this is what Jerome needs to tell him. “Whatever it was you did to them, it was justice.”

Justice. Ha. Another thing that Gotham has in incredibly short supply. Punishment and retribution, now those were things that Jerome could understand. But justice…

Only someone as good as Bruce would get so torn up about doing what most of the world would likely consider a favor.

“It wasn’t,” Bruce protests, voice muffled since he refuses to remove his face from where Jerome had guided it. It’s oddly adorable. “It wasn’t. It was wrong. It’s not who I want to be.”

“But it’s who you are,” Jerome tells him, voice a little too matter-of-fact to be truly kind, though he does try to keep from sounding sharp. Being close to Bruce without having to think about how to avoid getting kicked or punched in the face is… Quaint, and he isn’t quite ready for the inevitable moment when Bruce will try to break away from him. Jerome is not a protective being by nature, but Bruce is his, and he’s hurting. Jerome finds himself simultaneously wanting to not only kiss away all of his tears and put a smile on his face, but also fervently assure him that soaking his hands in the blood of every person who’d ever hurt him would make him feel better. “It’s who you’re meant to be.”

“No.” Bruce shakes his head. “No, it’s not.” His hands clutch Jerome tighter, like he’s silently asking for Jerome to agree with him. No luck there, sorry. “That was a lie. I’ll never be like—it’s just a lie.”

“You try so hard to be good,” Jerome assures him, because that’s a truth that even he cannot deny even if he’d love to. Never be like who, he ponders as he wraps his arms around Bruce’s waist and moves to rest his chin on the top of Bruce’s curly head. Never be like Jerome? Never be like the one who he destroyed? “That’s why I know that they must have deserved it. I mean, c’mon baby doll. You haven’t even destroyed me, and think about all of the terrible things I’ve done,” he can’t hold back his laughter after that and Bruce goes very, very still.

It won’t be much longer, now.

“I don’t know how many people I’ve hurt or killed.” Jerome runs his hands up and down Bruce’s back, feeling his muscles begin to go tense. He’ll probably start trying to get away soon. It’s too bad, but someday soon he won’t recoil at the mention of a history that he’s already aware of. “I haven’t bothered to keep track.”


Bruce’s voice has a sharp edge; the soft, wavering quality born from the heady combination of too much to drink and too many emotions is suddenly gone.

There you are, sweetheart, Jerome thinks. There you are.

“Butchering my whore mother is the death that I remember the most.” Bruce makes his first attempt to break away. Jerome locks his arms around him and holds on tight. “Maybe that’s just the way it is with firsts,” he whispers in Bruce’s ear. “First kisses, first fucks, first kills.”

First loves, he adds in his head. Only love, he quickly amends. One could kiss or fuck or kill multiple people, but there was only one Bruce.


So authoritative. So angry. It’s almost enough to make Jerome break out into goosebumps.

Was this what Bruce had sounded like when he’d hurt people? When he’d destroyed someone?

“You’ll remember your first, too. This destruction. You’re trying to forget, but you won’t. It’s going to stick with you for the rest of your life, Bruce. You’re upset about it now, but someday you’ll know better. It’s who you are.”

“It.” A stomp to his left foot, not painful enough for Jerome to back off. “Is.” A poor attempt at a punch, equally as ineffective. “Not.” Bruce jumps, kicks both of his feet against the door behind him, and rams his entire body against Jerome hard enough that he stumbles backwards. His arms are still around Bruce, but there’s enough slack for Bruce to twist in his hold, then he slams an elbow into Jerome’s ribs and drops, free.

There’s a moment—a wonderful flash of anticipation—where Jerome wonders if Bruce’s inebriated state isn’t quite as much of a disadvantage as Jerome had assumed. Maybe they will get into a fight. Maybe it won’t be as short or as easy as Jerome had thought it would be. The idea makes his blood run even hotter, practically molten in his veins.

He’d been contemplating what Bruce might let him get away with if he pinned him to the door; holding a hand over his mouth to keep him from making too much noise, leaving a trail of kisses and bites along his neck and shoulders as Jerome benevolently praised him for every single deed that Bruce had ever felt ashamed of, branding him and staking his claim even more than he already had. The one security camera in the hall had been disabled just as the door had been, and it was unlikely that anyone was going to come barreling through and risk setting off the alarm and running into the now deceased security guard.

An all-out fight before moving on to the sort of bloody, passionate entanglement that Jerome often dreams about would make everything so much more exciting, but it might end up drawing attention. In the few seconds it takes for him to regain his balance he remembers his Plan B, the run-down cinema that could be the perfect spot for them to exchange blows until Bruce’s temper runs out and he gives in to Jerome all over again, all he has to do is rattle Bruce’s cage enough that he’d be sure to chase after him—

But then Bruce stumbles, as if dizzy from his own attack.

A short and easy brawl isn’t what he wants, even though the aftermaths of their fights have become a rare indulgence that Jerome burns for. He consoles himself with the unforgettable knowledge that Bruce has admitted to hurting people.

“It is so,” he urges, not nearly as provoking as he could be. All he’s saying is the truth, Bruce just hasn’t accepted it yet. “You told me before, remember? You know that you’re sick. How else could you explain the things we’ve done together despite our sordid history?” Jerome feels a twinge of excitement at the memories. Bruce kissing him, Bruce biting him, Bruce opening up his pretty pink mouth, Bruce unlocking his window to let Jerome inside. “Most people aren’t so desperately willing to be a good boy for someone who’s tried to kill them.”

Bruce hides his face behind his hands, and Jerome chuckles under his breath. He doesn’t like what Jerome has to say, but deep down inside he must realize that it’s true. Jerome uses the opportunity to inch closer.

“You’re mine, you know.” He thinks of the pin-prick scars on Bruce’s arm, the barely visible extension of the curve of his mouth, the initial on his hip, the faded line on his neck.

The matching line on his own neck, laid there by Bruce himself the last time that they’d been together. Accident or not, Jerome has taken it as yet another sign that they were simply meant to be.

“Why do you always have to antagonize me?”

Bruce’s anger has sputtered out, but he makes no move to leave Jerome behind.

“Because you’re so fun to rile up, Bruce.” Jerome takes Bruce’s wrists in his hands and pins them against the door on either side of Bruce’s head. He watches intently as Bruce’s expression shifts; as his cheeks darken, as his pupils dilate. There’s a stubborn tilt to his chin and a familiar fire in his eyes, but he doesn’t try to break away.

He wants this just as much as Jerome wants it.

“You’ll accept who you are someday, darlin’. I’m going to make sure you do,” he promises.

Dark and brutal and vengeful and Jerome’s.

Chapter Text

His days of walking on rooftops and fighting crime are over, and when someone who looks incredibly shady goes out of their way to catch his attention he should know better than to give chase, but maybe he’s followed after so many bad guys that it’s become instinctive. His thoughts are still pleasantly muddled and hazy even with his newfound surge of paranoia, enough so that it doesn’t immediately seem like he’s running straight into a trap.

Not until he’s already trapped, back pressed up against the door behind him, the man in front of him boxing him in and shedding his layers to reveal—

Bruce’s treacherous, sick heart skips a beat.

It’s difficult to focus on Jerome’s words, which are formed by Jerome’s lips, which Bruce intimately knows the feel and taste of. He tries to stay alert, but Jerome is right in front of him. And Bruce is tipsy.

And Bruce has been thinking about him. A lot. More than could ever be considered healthy.

And Jerome knows that he’d gone to Arkham. Internally he’s scrambling, trying to find the words to deny it, or to make it seem like his presence there had been a coincidence, but then Jerome says:

“It’s almost enough to make a man wonder if you really care.”

And the awful thing, the terrible and unbelievable thing, is that Bruce does care. He cares more than he should, and Jerome must realize this, must just be saying this because he likes toying with Bruce in the same way a cat will toy with a mouse before going in for the kill. And then he says:

“That hurts, you know. Especially when I care about you so very much.”

And Bruce—

Bruce probably—definitely—shouldn’t believe him. Jerome’s manipulations have not been at all subtle even if Bruce is sure that he allows some truths to occasionally slip through, especially the truths that will get Bruce right where he wants him. Still, Jerome is someone who Bruce is absolutely certain would not think any less of him even if Bruce came clean about every single dreadful thing that he’s been a part of. Almost like a friend. Almost like someone who Bruce could trust with the secrets that hurt to keep under wraps.

He knows, right in that moment, that this is going to end so badly. Jerome already has too much sway over him as it is and the fact that Bruce has been drinking, has been agonizing over his past actions, has been thinking about Jerome against his better judgment, only gives him more power.

He shouldn’t be here. He should be in Arkham. Didn’t he have a scheme that required his incarceration? Wasn’t that why he’d left Bruce all alone? Maybe if Jerome had still been running rampant around Gotham when The Court of Owls had decided to take action Bruce wouldn’t have been stolen away…

“As if anything can keep me away from you, darlin’, when I know that you need me.”

It shouldn’t make Bruce feel warm, but it does. There’s a small voice in the back of his mind screaming at him to break free, to go home to Alfred and find comfort in him instead of false friends and strong drinks, to call Detective Gordon and inform him that there’s been a break-out. But Bruce does need someone—he’d needed Jerome—and Jerome has so graciously answered the call—

The kiss isn’t entirely unexpected, and neither is the way Jerome tenderly tries to pry Bruce’s most abhorrent secret out into the open. Bruce has to stay strong, has to desperately try to keep his wits about him, has to—

“You know that I’ll love you no matter what.”

A spot inside of Bruce, somewhere that had already been weakened by Jerome months ago when he was still running free, cracks. Splits. Breaks.

When was the last time anyone told Bruce that they loved him?

He can’t remember.

Despite the state that he’s in he knows better than to tell Jerome everything. But he is so, so tired of keeping such dark secrets, and he feels frail and splintered, and all he wants is to talk to someone who might understand him, who might not abandon him afterwards, who might make him feel less isolated and forsaken. Someone who won’t look at or treat him differently.

All these elements combined together are more than enough for him to let something truly incriminating slip out, even if he uses an ambiguous term for it, and then he becomes a miserable wreck. It only gets worse from there, because Jerome knows him so well, and knows exactly what to do and say to make Bruce’s emotions get the better of him.

He wants to be good. This is not the way he is supposed to be.

It’s not.

He should have realized that Jerome would eventually try to rile him up. Jerome loved it when Bruce fought back. Loved seeing Bruce become violent even if it turned him into the primary target for Bruce’s wrath. He shouldn’t let himself fall into such an obvious ploy for a second time tonight but the anger—both at Jerome and at himself, at the raw memory of what he’d done for Ra’s and to Ra’s and the storm of emotions that come with it—burns him up inside and makes it even harder to think rationally.

He never stood a chance. Even if he hadn’t been drinking, he wouldn’t have stood a chance.

Jerome always knew what to say to make him respond in the exact way that he wanted.

Bruce hates him. He does. Jerome is awful and he’s proud of it.

But maybe that sick and crazy part of him, the one that he sometimes wishes didn’t exist, loves him a little bit. Loves the way he touches him, the way he praises him, the way he’d kissed the tear-tracks on Bruce’s cheeks and held him as Bruce broke down. Loves that Jerome had told Bruce that what he’d done was justice, loves that he’d stated that Ra’s had deserved what Bruce had done to him. And how much is Bruce’s hate even worth, now, when it seems like he finds more reasons to hate himself with each passing day?

His stomach twists.

He breaks out of Jerome’s hold, but only just. A wave of vertigo overtakes him almost immediately afterwards and as he fights to keep himself from dropping to the floor his anger at Jerome’s constant assurances begins to fade away like the light of a dying candle.


Because maybe he’s only fighting a losing battle against himself. Maybe Ra’s was right about him. Maybe Jerome is right about him. He’d killed someone, after all. He’d broken the most important vow that he’d ever made to himself.

“You told me before, remember? You know that you’re sick. How else could you explain the things we’ve done together despite our sordid history? Most people aren’t so desperately willing to be a good boy for someone who’s tried to kill them.”

Bruce feels himself go hot, and he covers his face with his hands because those memories…

He thinks about them too frequently, especially now. No one has ever made him feel the way Jerome makes him feel, he doesn’t think anyone else ever could. Bruce had given in so often, had let things go too far multiple times without letting anyone else know about it, had passed the point of no return the moment he’d decided to conceal the full truth from Detective Gordon and Alfred when Jerome had broken into his house for a kiss. Had sealed his fate when he’d unlocked his window to let Jerome inside even though he’d had all the power in the situation and more than enough reasons to deny him entry.

Jerome doesn’t just know Bruce’s weak spots. Jerome is one of Bruce’s weak spots.

“You’re mine, you know.”

Bruce thinks of the marks on his skin: the line on his neck, the dots on his arm, the curve at the corner of his mouth, the ‘J’ that he had allowed Jerome to etch onto his hip the last time that they’d seen each other.

I know, he thinks.

“Why do you always have to antagonize me,” he asks, even though he already knows the answer.

And when Jerome pins his wrists to the door Bruce feels a familiar heat kindle inside of him. He could still get away, he’s got enough room to land a solid kick against Jerome’s body and they both know it, but instead he stays still and watches Jerome watch him.

Bruce has missed him.

“You’ll accept who you are someday, darlin’,” Jerome drawls. Bruce wants to grab him by the lapels and shake him just as much as he wants to drag him down into a kiss. In the end he does neither. “I’m going to make sure you do.”

Bruce doesn’t have the energy to deny it. Not tonight. Instead he waits and watches.

Watches as Jerome’s sly eyes drift half-shut. Watches as a smirk extends one corner of his widened mouth. Watches him begin to lean in. Watches him stop, just a hairsbreadth away. Watches the corners of his eyes crinkle as his smile widens.

Remembers the night that Jerome had broken into his home, and how adamant that he had been that Bruce kiss him and not the other way around. The memory leaves him feeling far more affectionate and far less angry than it used to, months and months ago. It also reminds him of how Jerome tended to react when Bruce played into his hands and gave him exactly what he wanted.

So Bruce is the one who closes the distance, in the end. He drags his bottom teeth against the flesh of Jerome’s mouth before sliding their lips together. Jerome’s fingers briefly tighten around his wrists, but his hold begins to go slack as he presses more firmly against Bruce.

And Bruce would have to be a fool to not take advantage.

There is less grace to his movements then there should be, and in the aftermath he once again feels dizzy—his hangover tomorrow is going to be awful, even if he drinks as much water as he can stand before he finally drops into a hopefully dreamless sleep—but the way Jerome reacts when his back hits the wall—the initial flicker of surprise before something deeply satisfied crosses over his face, and his pupils blow, and the pale skin of his cheeks begins to flush. The way his chest rumbles with a laugh that Bruce is sure he can feel reverberating in his bones—is worth the effort.

He feels himself begin to smile; small and tenuous but genuine. It wouldn’t take much for it to fall from his face but feels good to not have to fake it. Important in the same inexplicable way that many seemingly minor things can be when one is not used to them.

He kisses Jerome again, skimming one hand up his neck and into his hair. It’s shorter at the back and sides than it used to be, and it rasps pleasantly against Bruce’s palm. As the kiss deepens he curls his fingers into the longer strands at the crown of Jerome’s head and tugs just hard enough to feel Jerome’s lips pull back into what is likely an amused smile, then he presses the blunt edges of his short nails against his scalp and drags them down to the base of his neck. It’s not enough to break skin or leave a mark, it’s not even enough to hurt, but it is enough of a threat—or enough of a promise—that Bruce feels Jerome react to it all the same; a slight pause, a barely-perceptible shiver.

When he digs his nails in deeper Jerome’s mouth falls open with what sounds like a pleased sigh.

Bruce has missed this. Has missed kissing like this; open and wet and hungry, with a little too high of a possibility of skin being broken for Bruce to ever consider kissing someone other than Jerome this way.

Jerome’s reaction, as predicted, is even better when Bruce drags his teeth along his lower lip and bites hard enough that it must sting. Jerome’s legs shift apart and his arms come up around Bruce’s waist to reel him in even closer. One hand skims up underneath his shirt to settle on the small of his back, warm and soothing, and undeniably possessive. Bruce likes it, though, and the sense of belonging that comes with it. He doesn’t feel alone anymore, how could he when Jerome is right here with him?

Jerome’s other hand playfully drifts down, slow and steady. It trails along the seam of his pants before coming to a stop and pressing against the cleft of his ass firmly enough that Bruce’s breath catches and his entire body jerks.

He feels lightheaded and hot.

He wonders if Jerome’s heart is racing just as fast as his is.

“Still so adorable,” Jerome chuckles roughly. He cants his hips as his fingers draw lazy circles around the spot. “Do you ever touch yourself here when you think about me?”

No. Maybe. Yes.

“Once,” Bruce admits. The stretch had been just as strange and uncomfortable as he remembered when it had been Jerome’s fingers opening him up, without any of the additional benefits of Jerome’s attention. He hadn’t bothered to attempt it again. “Do you ever…”

“Ever what?” Jerome presses a lingering kiss to the scar at the corner of Bruce’s mouth, then leans in to lewdly whisper in his ear. “Ever finger myself while thinking about you?” His hands pull Bruce closer, closer, until Bruce is sure that there’s no space left between them. He can feel his pulse thrumming throughout his entire body. His face is burning. He wants to go back to kissing. He wants Jerome to answer the question. He wants, he wants, he wants—

“Sometimes. When I’m in a particular mood.” Jerome hooks a leg around Bruce’s thigh, and Bruce is sure that the only reason he doesn’t make an embarrassing noise is because he suddenly has no air left in his lungs. “You’ve been getting stronger, haven’t you? I bet your hands could leave bruises on my hips.” He rolls his hips forward pointedly and smirks when Bruce jolts. “I bet they’d last for days.”

“You really have a thing for getting marked, don’t you?”

Jerome laughs softly under his breath. It sounds lighthearted; an ordinary laugh from an incredibly not-ordinary man. Bruce wonders what it would take to hear him laugh like that again.

“Pot, kettle,” Jerome finally says with a satisfied smile. “And only if it’s you, baby doll.”

Fair enough, Bruce thinks distantly as he settles a hand underneath Jerome’s raised thigh and leans in for another kiss.

Chapter Text

Jerome has missed this.

There’s something extraordinary about being the center of Bruce’s attention—whether it’s because Bruce is so angry at something that Jerome has said or done that he can’t keep himself from reacting, or whether it’s because Bruce is starving for all of the attention that Jerome shamelessly plans to lavish him with. Either situation makes Jerome’s blood run hot. Either situation makes his plans to someday have Bruce as his partner-in-crime seem even more idyllic.

Of course, it’s when Bruce lets go of his anger towards Jerome and gives in to all the other fun emotions that he feels that Jerome’s ambitions seem the most achievable. Jerome can live with that, though.

Bruce has so much rage inside of him, and someday Jerome is going to witness Bruce lose his temper at someone that isn’t him. Someday he’s going to be able to sit on the sidelines and watch what Bruce can do to the people who’ve stoked his ire. He thinks that no longer fighting against Bruce won’t feel like so much of a loss when he’ll be able to see Bruce tear people to shreds.

Opponent turned ally. Enemy turned paramour.

Thinking about Bruce working alongside him—all of his bravery and wit and intensity an advantage instead of an adversity—is just as exciting as thinking about all of the fun new activities they can do together. He’s gotten stronger since Jerome saw him last, in more ways than one. The obvious is the physical; the muscle underneath his soft skin is a little firmer, a little more defined. Jerome is sure that he’s incredibly agile when he’s sober; his already graceful movements even more polished, even more swift. The less obvious is the mental, but Bruce is so emotionally charged right now, so internally conflicted, that it’s not surprising. If Bruce were any less fortified he’d have already completely crumbled underneath the weight of responsibility that he steadfastly puts on his own shoulders. If Bruce were anyone else he wouldn’t fight so hard to stay good in a city like Gotham. But he’s so stubborn. So tenacious. He hangs on to any foothold he can find and takes advantage of any opening he can.

Just like Jerome.

That’s another of the myriad of reasons that Jerome adores him so much. He sees familiar components of himself reflected in Bruce, things that he knows and can understand better than any of the strait-laced, self-righteous fools who would assume that Bruce had more in common with them than an Arkham escapee.

Together they’re going to be able to cause so much chaos.

And no one will have seen it coming.

Jerome flexes his leg around Bruce’s hip, satisfaction curling in his chest when Bruce presses against him like he’s desperate for all that Jerome is willing to give him.

And Jerome is, obviously, willing to give him everything.

His hand trails up and over Bruce’s hip, his thumb slipping underneath the waistband of his pants and underwear to trail against the flesh where he’d left his last mark. He can’t feel it—he hadn’t gouged the letter into Bruce skin deeply and messily enough that it hadn’t healed well—but Bruce must know what he’s seeking out because he makes such a soft, sweet sound against Jerome’s mouth and melts against him.

Bruce must have been so lonely without Jerome, poor boy.

He’s sorry that he left him on his own for so long, really he is.

He’s sorry that he’ll have to leave Bruce again, after this.

But it won’t be much longer, now.

“Someday soon I won’t leave you alone ever again,” he softly vows between kisses. “We’ll be each other’s shadows. Nothing—” and no one “—will be able to keep us apart.”

People will try—oh how hard they’ll try, Jerome wants to cackle at the very idea of it—to keep them separated, not realizing that their actions would be too late; completely futile in the face of the strengthening bond that Jerome had been fostering ever since his special night of darkness ended with such a spectacularly unplanned struggle.

Bruce’s fingers dig in tight, as if he thinks Jerome is about to slip away right at this very moment.

As if Jerome could nonchalantly leave a situation like this behind.

“I’ll never let you be lonely,” he continues, thumb tracing over the spot where he’d left his initial. He wants to see it. He needs to see it. “We’re two of a kind, Bruce.” He drops his leg back down to the floor and he begins to twist them around. Bruce follows the motions willingly, allowing himself to be pressed back against the door all over again. “We were always meant to get caught up in each other.”

Even if he hadn’t seen in Bruce that which was reflected in himself, even if his interest in Bruce hadn’t taken a turn for the intimate, he thinks they’d be fated to haunt each other’s steps anyway—locked in some sort of eternal struggle, an ongoing exhibition of good versus evil or a game of cat and mouse where the roles were constantly switching between who was the hunter and who was the hunted.

He much prefers this, though.

He pulls back, eyes greedily scanning over Bruce’s flushed cheeks and kiss-bruised mouth, his disheveled hair and softhearted gaze. Bruce licks his lips before speaking, and Jerome tracks the movement voraciously.

“You don’t strike me as the type of person who believes in things like destiny,” Bruce says after a moment. He reaches out, the tips of his fingers brushing against the barely perceptible mark that he’d left on Jerome’s neck; so seemingly insignificant when compared to the ropey scars that lined his face. Jerome’s heartbeat thunders in his ears at the soft touch. “You’re the sort of person who decides things for yourself. Like…” He trails off, but Jerome knows what he’d meant to say.

Like me.

Jerome is, usually, too jaded to think of things like destiny with much more than derision. But there is something that connects them; the boy who can’t be killed and the boy who already died. They could be each other’s endings, maybe, but it is so much better to be each other’s beginnings.

How fitting it is that the catalysts that began to transform them into what they are meant to become were failing to kill each other.

“I said to you before, didn’t I.” He slips his hands to the button of Bruce’s jeans. “I see, I want, I take.” He pulls them open. Draws down the zipper. Watches Bruce’s eyes go darker. “I want you, so I’ve made you my destiny.”

“I don’t think that’s how it works,” Bruce protests softly as Jerome pulls the hem of his pants down low on his hips. “It’s all chance, you can’t—” He stumbles over his words as Jerome begins to ease his underwear down his hipbones, finally showing off the faded ‘J’ he’d left behind. “You can’t control it.”

“Have you played many games of chance, Bruce?” Jerome lowers himself onto his knees and presses a lingering kiss to his mark. “There’s always a way to cheat to get the outcome that you want.”

And Jerome excels at that type of mischief. He’d cheated death, after all.

“And I—” Bruce’s breath hitches as Jerome grabs at his pants again; he wants to see more skin, he wants to see everything. “I’m the outcome that you want?”

Oh, precious thing, still so uncertain even now?

“Of course you are,” Jerome assures him, pressing a second kiss to the scar on Bruce’s hip and watching avidly as Bruce’s expression shifts. He wants to memorize every detail, no matter how small. He wants to carry this memory with him. “I keep telling you, Bruce; you’re my perfect match, even if you don’t believe it yet.”

He’ll believe it soon enough.

Jerome wraps his hand around the base of Bruce’s cock—hot and hard and leaking already—and chuckles lowly when Bruce jolts, his lips parting with a sharp intake of breath. He trails his thumb around the head and takes careful note of the way Bruce leans into his touch, the way his legs shift further apart, the way his chest rises and falls quickly. This view brings back memories; hostages and broadcasts, unfinished board games and decidedly not-idle threats.

The blade of his knife cutting a half smile into the corner of Bruce’s mouth.

Bruce had fallen apart for him so spectacularly back then. Jerome almost aches with the memory of it.

He presses kisses along Bruce’s hipbones, and teasingly bites at the soft skin of his stomach, and delights in the way that Bruce’s fingers graze through his hair.

“Jerome.” The sound of his voice is like a cool drink on a hot day, or maybe like the smell of smoke after a city has been razed to the ground. “Please.”

Well, it’s not as if Jerome broke out of Arkham just to completely dismiss Bruce’s wants.

He takes Bruce’s cock into his mouth as his thumbs press firmly into the skin overtop of Bruce’s sharp hipbones. Bruce’s hand fists into his hair, and when Jerome casts a glance up through his lashes he sees that Bruce’s eyes are locked on him.

That’s right, Jerome thinks, keep your eyes on me.

His tongue glides along a vein on the underside. Bruce’s hips make an aborted jerking motion and his hand clenches tightly in Jerome’s hair before going slack, as if he’s worried about causing Jerome discomfort. Jerome can’t help but chortle, and the strangled moan that greets his ears is almost enough for him to contemplate dropping a hand from one of Bruce’s hips in order to undo his pants and relieve some of his own mounting tension. That would involve letting go of Bruce, though, which is far from ideal.

Not to mention that it would bring about the conclusion much quicker than he intended.

So he keeps gripping onto Bruce’s hips and takes him in deeper, until both of Bruce’s hands are scrambling against him and he’s shaking with the effort to keep himself still against the door. He rambles under his breath; words of encouragement, whispers of Jerome’s name, assurances that Jerome is making him feel so good, so good, so good—

He curses, out of breath, when Jerome pulls away. It’s enough to make Jerome laugh again, the sound rough to his own ears. He bites and sucks at the skin of his mark, intent on leaving at least a bruise there for Bruce to remember him by, before he rises to his feet.

Bruce is wound up so tight. Jerome wants to watch him spin out of control.

“You’re gorgeous, darlin’,” he breathes, cupping Bruce’s glowing face in his hands. He slides their lips together, licks into his mouth, traces the shape of his teeth with his tongue. Bruce presses into it, at least until he sharply exhales in response to Jerome sliding a thigh between his legs, and even though he’s likely trying not to grind himself too obviously against Jerome’s thigh he still squirms, unable to help himself.

“I’m going to take such good care of you,” Jerome promises him, and Bruce’s hands clasp the back of his neck and pull him down for another kiss.

There’s just one little thing he has to do before he gets so caught up in Bruce that he forgets that he’s not the only one who’s been noticing him. He’d always known that it wouldn’t be long until people started circling around Bruce like sharks who’d caught the scent of blood, but that doesn’t mean he’s unaffected by the knowledge that it’s begun.

He thinks of the hot twisting in his gut when that girl had laid a hand on what was his; the calculated way that she’d brazenly taken Bruce’s drink and brought the rim of the glass that his lips had touched up to her own mouth. An indirect kiss. An obvious suggestion. He wonders how many other people may have flirted with Bruce while he’s been trying to drink away the unhappy memories that have been clinging to him.

He wants to break every bone in their hands, one by one, as slowly as he can force himself to be—he’d make a proper example out of them, make sure no one even dared to let themselves think about touching what Jerome had already marked as his—before cutting them open and leaving them to suffer. He can’t do that tonight, can’t risk getting caught, but he can daydream about it when he’s back in Arkham.

And in the meantime he can mark Bruce up again. Nothing that could be so blatantly linked to him as retracing the scar at the corner of Bruce’s mouth, but there are other undeniable ways to stake his claim.

He hooks one finger into the neckline of Bruce’s shirt and pulls it down, pressing a soft kiss to the unmarked skin of his pale neck. Bruce murmurs something under his breath and tilts his head to the side in order to give Jerome more room.

And when Jerome bites he doesn’t try to pull away or push Jerome back, instead he hisses through his teeth and digs his fingers into Jerome’s shoulders.

Jerome hums, chest rumbling with satisfaction, as he sucks Bruce’s skin into his mouth until he’s sure that he’s broken even more blood vessels. Then he traces his lips up, repeating the process higher and higher, until he’s sucking a mark onto the underside of Bruce’s jaw where not even his turtleneck could possibly hide the bruise.

He’s starting to feel half-drunk himself, inebriated on the taste and smell and feel of Bruce, more impossible to ignore than ever. Such a sweet, vicious thing he is. Jerome digs his teeth into the skin over Bruce’s jaw, just under his ear, and thinks again of what Bruce had admitted to him.

Hurt and destroy, hurt and destroy, hurt and destroy.

He brings his hands to rest overtop of Bruce’s, fingers rubbing against his knuckles.

How badly did you hurt them, Jerome wonders as he brings his lip to slide overtop of Bruce’s once more. How did you destroy them? I’m so proud of you. I bet you were brilliant. I wish I’d been there to see it, to praise you in the aftermath.

What will make you do it again?

He pulls away to get a proper look at the fresh marks he’d left behind, and he feels even more intoxicated at the sight of them. If Bruce does return to his band of false friends again tonight it’s going to be obvious what he’d been up to while he was gone.

He is, unmistakably, spoken for.

Mine, Jerome thinks, something pleasantly warm and covetous unfurling inside of him.

Then Bruce darts forward to scrape his teeth against Jerome’s neck, and everything becomes hot and hazy.

It’s so easy to twist Bruce around so that he’s bracing his hands against the door, so easy to push his own pants down, so easy to lay one hand against Bruce’s flat stomach while the other curls possessively around his cock. Bruce shivers and bucks into Jerome’s hand while Jerome ruts against him.

Jerome hooks a chin over Bruce’s shoulder, eagerly taking in the sight of his hand around Bruce. This close he can hear every little shaky inhale, gasp, and muted cry that falls out of his mouth. It’s better than anything that’s he’s fantasized about Bruce saying or sounding like because it’s breathtakingly real. Bruce’s back against his chest, Bruce’s cock in his hand, Bruce’s lips forming his name and uttering it so fervently that it’s making Jerome feel absolutely lovesick.

“You’re so close, aren’t you?” He nuzzles against Bruce’s hot cheek, then turns his face to brush his lips against whatever skin that he can. “Come on sweetheart, let go. I love it when you lose control for me. It makes me wanna wind you up all over again and watch you fall apart in my hands, in my mouth, on my cock.” Bruce makes a curious sound, reedy and weak, and he grinds his hips back against Jerome. Jerome’s cock settles in the furrow between his cheeks and he’d be lying if he said his breath didn’t catch. “You want that too, don’t you baby doll? Want me to fuck you properly?” Bruce moans out an incomprehensible answer, and Jerome’s hand goes still.

“I asked you a question, Bruce,” he breathes, steadily canting his hips, savoring the slide of flesh against flesh. “Give me an answer, darlin’.”

“Yes,” Bruce admits with a rasping voice. What a darling boy he is; Jerome is going to keep him forever. “Yes, I want that too. Jerome, please, I want you.”

“Good boy,” Jerome praises, delighting in the full body shudder the nickname extracts. This must be hedonism at its finest. Fuck, Bruce isn’t the only one who’s getting close. He scrapes his teeth against the fresh bruising along Bruce’s jaw. “You’re always such a good boy for me.”

Bruce jerks and shudders, then curls in on himself as another cry of Jerome’s name falls from his mouth. Jerome can feel him release against his palm and the wet heat of it ignites a new and ravenous fire inside of him. He turns to press his mouth against Bruce’s cheek again, uncoordinated and sloppy, murmuring praise between kisses as he slows to a stop. Then he takes his slickened hand and wraps it around his own cock.

He presses his face into the crook of Bruce’s neck as he drags his hand up and down, knuckles brushing against the curve of Bruce’s back with every stroke, sharply inhaling the scent of fresh sweat, detergent, and what he expects is a ridiculously expensive shampoo—something subtly sweet but with a citrusy bite that makes his mouth water. He knows what Bruce looks like and tastes like and feels like sounds like and smells like; he wants to know more, wants to know everything—his expression when he’s content, the rhythm of his heart and the sound of his breathing at rest, the tang of his blood sweat tears and skin, the scent of him when all artificial fragrances have been stripped away. Wants to know him better than anyone else, wants to be able to look at him and know exactly what he’s thinking.

Wants to mark him up like the feral being that he is. Wants to lay claim to him in every way that he can.

One of Bruce’s hands reaches back to thread through his hair and tugs. It’s maddening and charming and exciting all at once, but it’s even better when Bruce tilts his head, the side of his mouth brushing clumsily against Jerome’s temple in an obvious reciprocation of all of Jerome’s kisses.

“Jerome,” he sighs, bucking his hips back in a way that drives Jerome even crazier than he already is. “I missed you.”

He bites into the meat of Bruce’s clothed shoulder as he comes, waves of heat cascading through his body—the fire within becoming a mad frenzy before it starts to recede, leaving him feeling lightheaded and satiated, his mind curiously quiet.

“I missed you too, darlin,” he says once he’s capable of talking without slurring the words. He pulls away slightly, looking down in fascination at the splatter of his cum along the small of Bruce’s back. He can’t seem to stop himself from dragging his fingers through it, rubbing it into Bruce’s skin. “I really do love you, you know,” he adds, as genuine as he is exploitative, and he avidly catalogues the sudden change in Bruce’s breathing. He wants to see Bruce’s face, wants to watch how his expression shifts when Jerome repeats the damning truth, but he also wants…

He slides a finger down the curve of Bruce’s ass, coating it in his own slick, and shallowly breaches the tight opening.

Mine, he thinks again as Bruce gasps like the air has been punched out of him. He presses deeper, his finger tracing circles and marking Bruce on the inside, and Bruce pushes back against him like he wants more and Jerome needs, he needs—

He pulls his hand away and Bruce quickly turns to face him; face flushed and eyes wild and so, so gorgeous—

Bruce grabs onto him to reel him in close and Jerome follows along all too willingly. The kiss feels like a promise, like a declaration, like the kind of selfishness that Jerome wants to encourage.

It feels like acceptance.

Jerome opens his mouth to Bruce’s slick tongue, his hands dragging down Bruce’s back to splay possessively over his tacky glutes.

I’ll never let you go, he silently promises.

Chapter Text

Bruce kisses Jerome while his heart pounds a staccato rhythm in his chest.

I really do love you, you know.

—love you—love you—love you—

Words bubble up in his throat, a compulsive response that he can’t afford to give, and he clamps his teeth into Jerome’s neck and sucks to keep himself from spilling anything too damning.

Jerome hums at the feel of the bite, groans when Bruce breaks the skin. The ferrous tang of blood—of Jerome’s blood—and all of the associations that Bruce’s whirring mind painstakingly links to it makes his heart beat even harder. If he doesn’t stop he’s going to get worked up all over again and Jerome will undoubtedly take advantage, and Bruce, damn it all, wants that. He wants it even though he knows better. Jerome is one of his weak spots—he has been for longer than Bruce would want to admit to anyone, especially himself—and Bruce needs to be careful.

Somehow that isn’t enough to stop him from laving his tongue against Jerome’s neck before he pulls back. That isn’t enough to make regret pour over him in a sudden wave.

He feels good. All of his other problems seem miles away, buried under a pleasantly thick haze. Jerome’s presence—especially now after all that he’s done, all that they’ve done together—is too all-encompassing for Bruce’s usually racing thoughts to get caught up in all of the other worries that threaten to consume him on a daily basis.

A thought filters through his mind, staticky and fleeting but no less intense for it.

I should have visited him in Arkham after all.

It proves nearly impossible to argue with himself over the rationality of such a nonsensical idea when Jerome cups Bruce’s face in his hands and looks down at him as if Bruce has just promised to help him make the lights of the entire world go out. Darkly affectionate. A tenderness that masks a slew of razor-sharp thorns that too many people have been shredded apart by. Jerome’s thumbs rub soft, lazy circles on his cheeks and Bruce quite suddenly wants to kiss him again. Wants to hold him close. Wants him to stay.

Everything would have been better if Jerome had stayed, the first time around.

It’s ridiculous to think such a thing of someone who has, regardless of what his current intentions are, attempted or threatened to kill and maim not only himself but people that he cares about, but Bruce knows—deep in his bones, right down to the marrow—that he would have been safer if Jerome hadn’t let himself get caught and thrown back into Arkham.

It’s an ephemeral daydream. He’ll never know exactly how the situation with The Court would have played out—whether or not he’d still be taken from home, whether he’d fall into the hands of people who wanted to control him, whether he’d give in to what Ra’s had urged him to do—if Jerome were still lingering around and watching him too closely, because Jerome hadn’t been there.

He does know that things would have turned out differently, though. Better or worse for Gotham as a whole he couldn’t possibly say, given Jerome’s tendency to turn the entire city into a maelstrom.

But better for him.

His pulse flutters when Jerome leans in to press their foreheads together. He can’t turn away from Jerome’s eyes; can’t stop himself from trying to figure out what the look in them means, how sincere it is, what the purpose of having Bruce so close with an expression so open is supposed to signify.

Can’t stop the way he feels in response to it, warm and lax, even though he realizes that he’s currently being scrutinized within an inch of his life.

“I love you,” Jerome tells him again, breath puffing against Bruce’s mouth. It’s not as startling this time around. Bruce doesn’t jerk in surprise when he hears it, doesn’t let his breath catch in his throat again, doesn’t make demands for him to repeat it again, again, again, please, please, please. Just steadily returns Jerome’s unwavering gaze and feels his throat go tight from the effort of not saying anything at all. “I’m going to miss you more than ever, Bruce.”

The acknowledgment that he’ll be leaving again is enough to break Bruce out of his self-inflicted stillness. His hands dig into Jerome’s shoulders, as if that alone could make him stay put long enough for Bruce to figure out just how in over his head he really is.

He wonders, desperate and perhaps a little heartsick, if Jerome would stick around if Bruce asked him to. Wonders what it would take to keep him close. Wonders if that’s what Jerome is waiting for, for Bruce to ask him not to go. His throat is dry and he can’t—he can’t ask, not when he’s not certain what the answer will be.

It will hurt, terribly, if he asks Jerome to stay and he goes anyway.

“You’re leaving me again,” Bruce says instead, an oddly numb feeling washing over him. His chest feels tight, like he can’t draw in a full breath, like he’s already mourning Jerome’s absence. He doesn’t think he felt this strongly when he found out that Jerome was leaving before; like he wants to withdraw into himself unhappily. Dejected and discarded. Lonely.


Jerome had come to see him, because he’d known that Bruce had needed him. He’d risked the security of whatever mad scheme was brewing in his head to track him down. He had, in his own very particular and not entirely altruistic way, offered him a shoulder to cry on. He’d made him forget, at least for a little while. It was impossible for Bruce to keep thinking about terrible deeds and unforgivable acts when Jerome’s unshakable focus settled so completely upon him that his hands and mouth and teeth followed.

And Jerome says that he loves him.

And Bruce has been lied to enough times—has even purposefully misinformed and mislead on multiple occasions himself—that he knows to trust his instincts when something doesn’t seem right.

Nothing about Jerome’s words comes across as being deceptive. Carefully calculated, certainly, because Jerome is Jerome and Bruce isn’t daft. Even if Jerome has feelings for him that doesn’t mean that he’s above using the truth to his advantage to steer Bruce along the path that he wants Bruce to follow. Still, a deliberately disclosed truth and a lie are two very different things.

Jerome loves him. Jerome will miss him.

He’d come and find Bruce again, if he thought that Bruce needed him.

The world ceases to crumble from beneath his feet. He can breathe again. It’s easier for him to think about and process everything that he knows regarding Jerome. It’s effortless to recall that, even if his current scheme requires him to be in Arkham, there was no way he would let himself be locked away for much longer. He’d been in there for so long already.

Too long, Bruce thinks softly.

“You’re leaving,” he repeats, firmer this time. “But you’ll break out again soon.”

The knowledge shouldn’t be as soothing as it is considering what that likely means for his city, but at the moment Bruce can’t summon up the energy to feel even a little contrite about it.

Jerome huffs out a laugh. “You sound so sure of that, darlin’.”

“Please, Jerome. I know you.”

Maybe not quite as well as Jerome seemed to know him, but it was impossible not to get a read on the person who had done to Bruce all that Jerome had. Bruce threads a hand through Jerome’s hair, intently studying the flutter of his eyelashes.

“Staying cooped up isn’t your style, and even if I don’t know exactly what your plans are I know they must be a lot grander than simply wrapping every inmate in Arkham around your finger so that you can play at being king of the castle.”

“Cult leader,” Jerome corrects, eyes sparking with something mischievous. “Messiah. And it’s not playing. It’s what I am.

Bruce darts forward to kiss the jagged corner of his mouth.

“I’ll find you,” Bruce whispers, tugging at Jerome’s hair again. “The minute you break out, I’m going to know about it. I’ll find you. Stop you.”

Keep you, the thought springs up unbidden.

His face feels hot.

He wants—

“Not if I find you first,” Jerome rumbles, not seeming at all displeased by Bruce’s vow to put an end to his plans. But then, that was their routine, wasn’t it?

Bruce wonders if, in Jerome’s mind, all of their fights have constituted as flirting.

It sort of makes him want to sweep Jerome’s legs out from beneath him and pin him to the floor, settling on his chest like he had in the maze of mirrors, just to see how he’ll react. It’s a tempting idea. He’s started to sober up just enough that he thinks he’d be sufficiently coordinated to do it. And once Jerome was underneath him, trapped with Bruce’s knees snug against his ribs…

But the door behind him isn’t locked and the threat of an alarm might not be enough to dissuade the sort of people who are used to having enough money that they can get away with whatever they please, which is essentially every patron in this place.

And wasn’t there meant to be a security guard patrolling around the exits—?

“Find me first, then,” he challenges instead. “If you’re so sure that you can.”

Jerome chuckles and begins to lean down, and for a breathtaking moment Bruce thinks he’s about to start something.

Instead he grabs onto Bruce’s jeans and underwear, still rucked halfway down his thighs. He slides them all the way back up, though his touch lingers on Bruce’s sticky skin like he can’t help himself.

“Oh ye of little faith,” Jerome chides, “there’s no place on earth where you could hide that I wouldn’t be able to find you.”

That probably shouldn’t make Bruce’s heart skip a beat. He’s sure that it wouldn’t, if it were anyone other than Jerome saying it to him.

If I’m yours, he thinks distantly as he leans in for another lingering kiss, does that mean that you’re mine?

“Please tell me that security camera was disabled before you got here,” is what he says in lieu of anything that Jerome could pick apart to find a hidden meaning, because even if he can afford to have footage destroyed he dearly hopes that no one will ever have a chance to see himself—or see Jerome for that matter—in such a compromising situation, and his common sense is returning to him at long last.

Or at least some of it is. He’s still here with Jerome, which is its own kind of insanity and goes against the collective common sense of everyone residing in Gotham with the exception of Jerome’s followers. And apparently Bruce.

Jerome snickers and steps back, catching onto Bruce’s hands and holding them between their bodies.

“Your lack of confidence wounds me, baby doll.”

He does have followers on the outside eager to do his bidding, then. It makes sense, considering he’d known exactly where Bruce would be tonight. Bruce phlegmatically files that detail away to be poured over later, because Jerome isn’t the only person who can wield a good piece of information like a knife.

He needs to even out the playing field. He needs to do some digging. The idea of losing himself in research and investigation is about a hundred times more appealing than stepping back into the club and getting drunk. He could set up his father’s study again—

His thoughts abruptly cut off when Jerome brings his hands up to his mouth, pressing a series of kisses onto Bruce’s knuckles. He slyly looks at Bruce from underneath his lashes as his lips trail over each bony prominence, and Bruce can feel something sputter to life in the depths of his chest as heat floods his face.

“I’ll miss you too,” he offers, voice strained. “Even though you drive me absolutely crazy.”

Jerome barks out a laugh, then twists Bruce’s hands around so that he can press his lips to the center of his palms. Bruce’s fingers twitch. He’s pretty sure that Jerome’s index fingers are purposefully nestled against Bruce’s radial artery so that he can feel the uptick in his pulse. His eyes are guileful and his smile is sharp, and still, the warm spark inside the core of Bruce refuses to go out.

His heart pitter-patters behind his ribs.

—love you—love you—love you—

Chapter Text

The moon is high and bright, and Jerome regards it from behind bars with a wicked sort of grin.

It’s a good night to get a feel for the most recent addition to his grand plan, and there’s nothing quite like a smidgen of brutal hazing to widen the smile on his face.

Oswald Cobblepot is either going to crumble or he’s going to prove himself to be just as entertaining as the whispers and gossip that have trailed behind him like a second shadow ever since he became someone worthy of being feared or respected or detested, and Jerome is willing to bet it will be the latter once he’s had a chance to get over whatever outside connection is currently keeping him so dreadfully mum and bland.

Jerome can be very compelling when it comes to helping people get over things, but he can also be blunt once the tedium sets in.

Get over it. Or else.

A good laugh is what he needs tonight. He’ll get it one way or another. And after this…

He’s so close. He can feel it in his bones, in his blood, in the depths of his chest with every breath he takes; an excited mania taking him over and leaving him restless and even more mercurial than usual. When he closes his eyes at night he sees Gotham being ripped apart, he sees his brother’s frightened eyes, he sees—


—the only thing in the world worth caring about. His partner. His darling. His Prince of Gotham.

A Prince of ruins is what he will become, but he’ll survive the decimation and grow even stronger because of it.

They’ll survive everything that comes; an unstoppable force and an immovable object joining forces. Matter meeting anti-matter; leaving behind nothing but a smoking crater.

Jerome closes his eyes thinks of the way Bruce had looked at him before they’d last parted ways. Soft and open; incredibly easy to read. So strangely sweet for someone so capable of violence and destruction. Jerome misses him.

“It won’t be much longer, Bruce,” he murmurs. “Not much longer at all.”

He thinks of Bruce’s promise to find him, to stop him, and he snickers. It’s like their own special game of cops and robbers, and Jerome can’t wait to play.

“Catch me if you can, Brucie. If you’re too slow, I’ll be the one catching you.”

And this time…

This time he’s not going to let himself be separated from his other half without a fight. He’ll drag Bruce into the dark and seal their intertwined destiny with a kiss.

He’ll do it with all of the love in his vicious heart.

Jerome allows himself another moment of looking up at the night sky—wondering just what his favourite boy might be up to on a night like tonight—before making his way out of his unlocked cell.

He has a Penguin to test.


His neck aches.

Such a small incision—the prick of a nail is nothing compared to some of the other things he’s gone through—but it wasn’t just the broken skin causing him discomfort. He should have been more on his guard, and he really ought to ensure that their security systems around the manor are up to date, because Ivy had been able to sneak up on him and nearly kill him as he was pouring over his research.

He supposes he should be thankful that she’d left as soon as she felt her business was done, evidentially not the least bit curious about the contents of the papers that Bruce had laid out before him.

Bruce feels himself break out into goosebumps at the memory: paralyzed and helpless, his body slowly beginning to shut down, his mind tripping through a dizzying formation of nightmarish visions as whatever she’d introduced into his system began to take over.

A dark figure. A terrifying figure.

A reflection of himself, born on the night his parents had been murdered in the shadows of Crime Alley.

It hadn’t been real. Nothing he had seen had been real, but…

There was something recognizable there, if not somewhat distorted. A reflection in water rather than in smooth glass. A flash of something dark behind his eyes in the moments where he lost control of his temper. Perhaps that had been what Jerome had seen, back when Bruce had him pinned to the floor and was raising a shard of mirror in his hand.

Bruce shakes his head to clear away those memories. He doesn’t have the time for them. Not when he’d been on the precipice of something right before Ivy had left him for dead.

Stacks of papers lay out before him; newspaper clippings and articles which he’d gathered through aboveboard means, as well as very different kinds of reports that he’d managed to get his hands on with more clandestine methods, as well as more expensive ones. He hadn’t set up a board like he had with his parents’ murder, mostly because if Detective Gordon happened to drop by unannounced he’d no doubt realize where some of the precious photocopies that Bruce had made had come from, and neither of them were ready for what that revelation would entail.

So he puts everything away in his father’s desk when he’s not actively shifting through them, jotting down notes and chasing theories and making comparisons: what the Gotham Gazette is willing to publish sometimes differs from online freelancers or civilians who happened to be in bad places at bad times and decided to write three thousand words about the experience. Somewhere in between the woven words of news stories, Doctor’s assessments, and police reports lay small shards of truth. And with some of the documents that he’d only managed to get his hands on courtesy of his bank account, well, they at least give him enough of a starting point for some of the indistinct to become distinct.

Strengths. Weaknesses. Histories.

Knowledge truly was the greatest power.

Jerome may be who he focuses the most attention on—for reasons that have become all too obvious to Bruce even though he refuses to say it out loud—but it would be remiss of him to ignore the other inmates currently in Arkham who had—once or twice or more—brought chaos upon Gotham.

The sort of chaos that Jerome—conveniently located within the same building as them and likely with far less supervision than he deserved, when taking certain recent events into consideration—might find amusing. Might feel like recreating.

There have been Arkham breakouts before. There will be Arkham breakouts again.

Bruce isn’t going to let himself got caught off guard. Not anymore.

With steady hands he picks up the file folder that had captured his attention so completely that he hadn’t noticed an intruder in his home until it was far too late for him to do anything but bow to her will.

He flips it open, staring at a copied set of medical documents that were not so very unusual, were it not for how taken aback he had been at the sight of them. Not even exhaustively reading over Jerome’s file from the police station had prepared him for this.

Birth certificates.

Not one. Two.

He trails a finger along an unfamiliar name that he had never seen or heard, and his thoughts begin to whirl.

“Where did you go, Jeremiah Valeska?”

Was he just another body in a grave, dead for so long that he had been forgotten by all but a few?

Or was he out there somewhere?