Chapter 1: Entrez-Vous
Jerome stared at Bruce’s text for a while after Five fell asleep, seething with discontent. If there was one thing he despised, it was feeling helpless.
We were at the Iceberg when somebody informed Penguin of your whereabouts. Full details of a casualty on the premises weren’t hard to come by. Our trust in you was misplaced. We’ll be stopping by sometime midmorning. We need to talk.
Either Bruce was ego-tripping on the Royal We, or he meant Jeremiah would be coming, too.
After the overdue conversation Jerome had initiated with Jeremiah at the Wayne Manor holiday party, he guessed he’d in some ways brought this on himself. Bruce probably considered Jeremiah complicit in the bargain now that he and Jerome were speaking.
Jerome tossed his phone on the floor, rolled over, and reached to brush Five’s hair off his face.
Whatever conflict of mind and body was brewing in Five after what had happened at Jeri’s club, it didn’t bode well. Jerome would need to make sure Five felt extra reassurance that he was loved and wanted exactly as he was—that he’d feel safe enough to express himself.
Jerome drifted, thinking about the loaded question he’d asked Five as he was nodding off.
Five was already awake the next time Jerome opened his eyes, lovely in the morning light. He reached out, smiling as he stroked Jerome’s cheek.
“Been watching you sleep for an hour,” he whispered. “I don’t usually get to do that.”
“S’okay, princess,” Jerome whispered back. “Be adorably creepy at me all you want.”
Five’s brow furrowed. “Somebody rang the doorbell ten minutes ago. I didn’t answer.”
“Well, fuck,” Jerome sighed, pressing a kiss to Five’s lips before getting up. “It’s them.”
Five sat bolt-upright while Jerome fetched them robes and pajamas. “Bruce and Jeremiah?”
“Didn’t want you to worry about it last night,” Jerome said, muddling into his pajama-set and robe. He brought Five’s kimono over to the bed, along with a pair of leggings and Five’s favorite camisole. “Someone told ’em I got stabby. Figures.”
Five tossed his leggings on the floor, only bothering to put on the camisole and kimono.
“Sweet pea, what are you doing?” Jerome asked uneasily. “You’ll catch a chill out there.”
“Gonna make them squirm,” Five said, showing off an awful lot of leg and collarbone as he got off the bed and led Jerome into the living room. He flopped down at one end of the sofa, folded his arms across his chest, and propped his feet on the coffee table. “Answer the door.”
“Knew I was crazy about you for a reason,” Jerome said, bending to kiss Five again before striding over to level one eye with the peephole. Sure enough, Bruce was standing with his back to the opposite wall and Jeremiah was restlessly pacing. “Hey,” he said, startling Bruce out of his reverie and causing Jeremiah to freeze, “that doesn’t look like much fun.”
“Are you going to open the door, or am I going to have to use my badge?” Bruce asked warily.
“Don’t see what difference it makes,” Jeremiah said under his breath. “We’re going in anyway.”
Jerome unlocked and threw the door wide, with a bellhop’s flourish. “Entrez-vous, messieurs!”
“Oh, grow up,” Jeremiah said haughtily, breezing past him, outright freezing when he saw Five.
“Thanks,” Bruce sighed, shoving his hands in the pockets of his long black coat. He side-eyed the silent standoff that was in progress just beyond Jerome. “Did we wake you?”
“Yeah, but what’s an early morning between family?” Jerome asked, slinging an arm across Bruce’s shoulders, leading him to one of the armchairs. “Anything for my brother-in-law.”
Bruce sat, giving Jeremiah a comically cryptic look until he marched to the opposite end of the coffee table and took the other armchair. Watching Jeremiah comply with nonverbal ordering-around was one of the funniest things Jerome had ever seen.
Five made clever, coaxing eyes at Jerome, patting the sofa-cushion next to him. Ha, touché.
“Why are you even here?” Five asked Bruce, entirely unimpressed as Jerome sank down beside him.
“You know damned well why,” Jeremiah said with scarcely-concealed impatience. “Last night.”
Jerome fixed his brother with a blank stare, feigning innocent befuddlement. “What happened?”
Looking as if he’d had enough, Bruce shot back, “The murder at Celestial Garden. Ring a bell?”
With calculated insolence, Five let his bare feet slip off the edge of the coffee table. He drew his legs up and propped them in Jerome’s lap, exposed from mid-thigh downward.
Jeremiah widened his pale eyes in aggravation, staring pointedly at the floor. Five’s timing couldn’t have been better, especially given he was a fourth wheel in the conversation.
“Now you mention it,” Jerome mused, absently massaging Five’s ankles, “a bouncer did say something rude to Five. I slit his throat.”
Even as Bruce covered his face in an attempt to control his temper, Jeremiah raised his head.
“You admit it, then?” he asked incredulously, not even stifling his laughter. “Just like that?”
Five folded his arms, looking sick to his stomach. “You’re not going to ask what rude means?”
“What does it mean?” Bruce ventured, seemingly regaining his composure. “Jerome?”
Jerome took Five’s hand. He wasn’t concerned with anything now but Five’s well-being.
“Precious, you don’t have to tell ’em the exact details if it hurts. That’s none of their—”
“The deceased followed me out of the restroom, expressing disappointment that he hadn’t gotten a look at certain features of my anatomy for purposes of winning a bet,” Five said, his tone flat.
Jerome watched Jeremiah school his stunned expression and go back to staring at the floor. Satisfied his brother wouldn’t say another word, Jerome gathered Five, shaking with rage, to his chest. He glared at Bruce over Five’s shoulder, a bitter challenge.
“Admittedly,” Bruce said after a moment’s silence, “it’s only hearsay you committed the crime.”
Jerome gave Bruce a curt nod, soothing Five with strokes to his hair and back. “I thought so.”
Chapter 2: Floodgate
Jeri had a few bartenders that Five genuinely liked. Avi, the newest one, was no exception. They were willing to experiment with mixers no matter how frivolous or outlandish Five’s requests.
“I like this,” Five said, taking another sip of the vivid yellow-orange drink. “What is it?”
“It’s a Mango Collins,” Avi replied, glancing warily at Jerome. “What’s your poison?”
“Dunno,” said Jerome, waxing thoughtful. “Nobody’s tried to off me that way yet.”
“Jerome doesn’t drink,” Five clarified, hoping that Jeri would finish her set soon.
“That’s valid. Straight edge?” Avi asked, too curious to mind their own business.
“Not exactly,” Jerome said absently, reaching for Five’s hand as Jeri wrapped up and left the stage. “But you could say straight bullshit had a lot to do with it. Mom was no ringing endorsement.”
“Yikes,” hissed Avi, handing Five a neon-pink straw. “That sounds super fucked-up.”
“Thanks,” Five said, taking his drink with him as Jerome led him off. “Talk next time?”
“You bet!” Avi called after him, waving before they got on with wiping down the bar.
It was Saturday night. Five and Jerome hadn’t been to the club since New Year’s, just shy of two weeks ago. While Bruce and Jeremiah helped Jeri sweep Jerome’s sanctioned indiscretion under the rug, Jerome had comforted Five at home with movies, junk food, and a ton of cuddling.
Anything that reminded them of their sort-of-honeymoon in Jeri’s safe house was grounding.
“Get in here and shut the door,” Jeri greeted, beckoning them across the threshold of her dressing room. “Five texted me to say you wanted to talk about somethin’? Sounded urgent.”
“I have a problem with your skull-cracking squad,” Jerome said, cutting to the chase. “I’ve killed two of ’em in the past year, Big Greg and…uh, whoever that was on New Year’s. Doesn’t speak too highly.”
Jeri sighed heavily, refreshing her lipstick. Her posture suggested a lack of surprise.
“No shit, Sherlock. It’s been weighing on me, too. It’s tough to screen ’em for the stuff they won’t say up-front ’cause they don’t wanna look bad. It’s not like I’ve got lines out the door when it comes to new applicants.” The eyes of her reflection met Five’s, stricken. “Kiddo, I’m so sorry.”
“Tell Jerome that, too,” Five insisted. “Greg’s the one who sold him out that night I saved you both from those hit-men.”
“Uh, yeah,” Jeri said. “Why d’you think I sent him to you guys on that one supply run while you were usin’ my safe house? He’d outed himself as a traitor. I knew you two would have fun gettin’ rid of him.” She breathed out through her nose, eyes closed. “J, I’m sorry. I failed you both.”
Now that Five was thinking about the night he’d killed those men, he couldn’t stop. Someone had sent them to eliminate Jerome. At the time, he’d been so elated to have Jerome back that he hadn’t wondered who. Moodily, he gulped his drink.
Jerome led Five over to the battered sofa so they could sit. “Maybe you need to start askin’ a few extra interview questions. We’d like to, uh, keep hangin’ out here, you know? Not like I’m perfect or anything, ’cause I never thought about this stuff until princess came along.”
“If this happened to me, it’s happening to other people. Will happen to other people. That bartender, Avi. This has been a haven for...I guess people who aren’t straight, like you, like us...for a long time. But this...” He gestured at himself. “People who aren’t men or women, people who are both, people who realize they’re not what they were always told...”
Jeri turned from the mirror, giving them her full attention. She was listening, and that counted.
“The Foxglove’s always been this city’s best bet for trans folks,” she said. “I guess you know that, since you worked there for nearly a couple years and nobody gave you a hard time.”
“Worked the job of the people who’ve been hostile to him here, even,” Jerome pointed out.
About halfway through his cocktail now, Five was feeling awful about everything at once. He couldn’t stifle his meltdowns anymore, not like they’d conditioned him to do at Indian Hill and while he was living with Kathryn, training to be Bruce. Selina repeatedly provoking him during their initial acquaintance had opened that floodgate, and he’d never bothered to shut it.
Jeri was gesturing at the glass in Five’s hand, looking expectantly at Jerome.
Jerome pried the unfinished drink from Five’s grasp. “Take it easy, precious.”
Five nodded numbly. “Somebody sent those men. Last year, when I saved you. I never thought about it before.”
Jerome shrugged. “It’s a long time since then. Jeez, it’ll be a year in May. Must’ve been Birdbrain. We’ve all kissed and made up, though. For now.”
Jeri looked heartbroken, like she usually did when Five was in distress she couldn’t instantly mitigate. She had that look she got when she was trying to think of something to cheer him up.
“Speaking of kisses,” she said, eyes lighting up, “d’you know what day it is?”
“January twelfth,” Five said matter-of-factly. “That’s not a holiday in any major calendar.”
“Maybe not,” Jeri replied, “but the internet says it’s Kiss a Ginger Day. You’ve only got a couple hours left,” she added, checking her watch.
“That sounds fake,” Jerome said derisively. “The only one I knew about growing up was Kick a Ginger Day. The other circus brats loved that.”
Five set his hand on Jerome’s cheek, turning Jerome’s face toward him. He gave Jerome an unhurried kiss, aware that Jeri had chuckled and turned back to her mirror, leaving them to it. Kick a Ginger Day must have been awful.
“If Haly’s ever comes back to town,” Jerome said, pecking Five’s lips between words, “will you kill ’em all for me?”
Five nodded, ducking his head against Jerome’s shoulder. “I don’t think it was Penguin. They got here too quick.”
Chapter 3: Mushy Stuff
Next time it happened was Valentine’s Day. Utterly rapt, Jerome watched Five make the kill.
Going to the derelict Boardwalk Circus had been Jerome’s idea. He’d begun by treating Five like royalty, giving him a narrated grand tour of the havoc he’d once wrought there. Revisiting the events of that night, when the lights went out, Jerome realized how reckless he’d been.
Five argued that the television stunt Jerome had pulled beforehand, in the very least, had been effective and necessary. He brought the footage up on YouTube so they could watch. The sight of Jerome in a pilfered GCPD uniform delighted Five to no end.
Everything had been going swimmingly—including the part where, on hearing about the fight with Bruce, Five pinned Jerome against the padlocked mirror-maze entrance. Joking about not having bolt-cutters just resulted in Five pulling Jerome’s hair with deliciously agonizing sharpness.
“You’re who you are because of it,” he’d murmured hotly against Jerome’s ear. “You’re mine.”
They might’ve gotten beyond breathless, brutal kisses sooner if they hadn’t been interrupted.
When Five realized that the security guard had been watching them a while before emerging from the shadows, drawing his club, and threatening to call the cops, he snapped. He twisted out of Jerome’s arms and ran at the guard, knocking him full-force to the glass-littered ground.
Jerome watched life drain from the guard’s eyes as Five used the club to crush his windpipe.
“We’re gonna have to do somethin’ about this, princess,” he panted, dazed as Five returned to him with a split lip where the guard had gotten in a blow. “But…wowza. You really know how to show a guy a good time.”
Five kissed Jerome happily, his entire body vibrating with triumph. “Toss him in the river?”
“We can cross to that dock behind the girls’ place, maybe, if we can find a boat,” Jerome said.
“Why?” Five murmured against Jerome’s lips. “Wait—because of the thing Ivy’s working on?”
Jerome winked and kissed Five’s cheek. “Yeah, and to give our usual cover-up team a rest.”
Five dragged Jerome onto the rusted carousel. He ignored the horses and pressed Jerome down on one of the benches instead. He straddled Jerome’s lap, stroking both of them beneath the folds of his skirt while they kissed. It felt strange not to be whirling, not to have music.
If heaven existed, Jerome imagined this was how it might feel. He thought of the quarry in Pennsylvania, what they’d done there, and how he’d had the same thought. He held Five close when the moment came, both of them gasping.
For somebody who knew for a fact there was nothing after death, Jerome was foolish to hope there might be something when his time came again. If there was nothing, then the most he could hope for was Five at his side.
After a little more fooling around—leisurely now, tender—Five called Harley and convinced her to come to them with the only vehicle she and the girls owned. The beat-up landscaping truck with a covered back was fitting transport for a corpse.
Harley bitched about Jerome’s and Five’s taste in radio stations the whole way back to the Palisades. When they arrived, Ivy was waiting. She cheerfully helped them unload, asking what the guy had done. When Five told her, she high-fived him.
Selina and Bridgit wandered into the greenhouse shortly after they hauled the dead guard there. They looked less thrilled about Jerome’s and Five’s presence than they did about the body. Not flattering, but they didn’t run for the whip and the flame-thrower.
While Ivy and Harley puttered around, gathering bottles and jars and ominous-looking tools, Five leaned close to Jerome. “Maybe they know something,” he whispered conspiratorially.
“About what?” Jerome whispered back, just in time to see Selina fold her arms and glare.
Five turned to her and Bridgit, dignified in his muddied black coat and torn designer dress.
“Somebody in the Narrows, or close to it, sent those hit-men after Jerome in May last year,” he said, impressively calm and measured. “We have reason to believe it might’ve been—”
“Accusing Lee of having tried to kill Jerome—you know that’s risky, right?” Bridgit cut in. “She was civil toward Jerome when Jeri called her in to help save your life. She succeeded at keeping you alive until Fox and Bruce could step in to help.”
“Never thought I’d agree with Firebug here, but that’s a hundred percent true,” Jerome said.
Five balked. “The ambush at Celestial Garden was before she knew I was in the picture. All she knew was that you’d escaped from Arkham and fled to the Narrows. You were a threat to her territory’s stability. So was Jeri.” Abruptly, he realized something else. “Jeri wasn’t just going to be collateral damage if I hadn’t gotten there in time. She was a target, too.”
“What’s the point of speculating?” Selina groaned, gesturing wildly. “When are you gonna learn holding epic grudges is useless? This shit happened like a year ago. Lee has proved that she’s an ally. Leave it the hell alone.”
Jerome reached for Five’s hand, but Five wasn’t having it. “I need to find out who it was.”
“Fine,” Bridgit said, waving them off as she turned to go. “And it’s Firefly, you asshat.”
“Ms. Pike,” Jerome said, tipping his imaginary headgear. “Sweet pea, listen. I don’t like this.”
“Wow,” Selina drawled, side-eyeing Jerome. “Lee wasn’t lying about the mushy stuff.”
“Last I heard,” Five said, cutting in before Jerome could speak, “Penguin and Ed are worse.”
Catching Five from behind, Jerome tugged him back against his chest. “I can share an early eyewitness account. Brucie can corroborate, if you like.”
“Fuck off,” Selina said, stalking off in the direction Bridgit had gone. “You’re about as bad.”
Five leaned back in Jerome’s arms, clutching Jerome’s hands against his middle. “Are we?”
Jerome shrugged, rocking him. “No idea, princess. Wanna watch Ivy turn this guy to mulch?”
Chapter 4: Chess Lesson
Five gave his saddest, most imploring eyes when Penguin’s butler opened the door. Her expression relaxed when she realized who was there.
“I am thinking you do not visit because we had fun dancing at New Year’s,” Olga said.
“Ms. Agapova?” Five asked, squeezing Jerome’s hand so he wouldn’t try to handle the situation with improv. “We need to talk to Mr. Nygma. It’s…important. About the Narrows.”
Olga swore in Russian, a word Five couldn’t guess at, turning on her heel. “Touch nothing.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Jerome said, eyeing the entrance hall. “Never came in the first time I was here,” he remarked, taking Five’s arm. “Better aesthetic than Brucie’s place, huh?”
“Kinda dark,” Five said, shrugging, “but cozy. It’s a statement, I guess. You like it?”
“Some stuff, we’d have to remodel,” said Jerome, winking. “We should make an offer.”
“Is not for sale,” Olga interjected, showing them into a small drawing-room with a fireplace, several armchairs, and a chess table.
They each took an armchair on either side of the chess table, but didn’t get that far into a game before Edward strode in. He looked younger when he wasn’t dressed in a bespoke green suit like he’d worn to Bruce’s party. He checked his watch.
“Never got the hang of Thursdays,” Edward muttered, nervously putting all the chess-pieces back where they belonged. “Nice offensive,” he said to Five. “You have maybe half an hour until Oswald gets home from a parent-teacher conference.”
One of the books Five had been permitted in the lab was an omnibus edition of Hitchhiker’s Guide. He couldn’t manage to dislike Edward.
“Sorry to turn up unannounced again,” Jerome said, “but, nah, not sorry. We’ve got questions.”
Edward looked from Jerome to Five, and then sat down in the empty chair. “About what?”
“Anything you might know about the attack on Celestial Garden last year,” Five replied.
“If you mean the one where somebody tried to off you two, that would be exactly zip.”
“They weren’t trying to get rid of Five,” said Jerome. “They didn’t know he was coming. They were after me, and probably Jeri, too.”
Shrugging, Edward turned stand-offish in his demeanor. “Why would I have the faintest clue?”
“Because you keep tabs on intel for Fish,” Five pressed. “You like the unusual stuff. Puzzles.”
“Listen,” Edward said, lowering his voice. “Even if I did know anything? Why would I tell? Just because I like you—” he pointed to Five, and then to Jerome “—doesn’t mean I trust him. While Olga might not mind either of you, she agreed to spy on New Year’s when I sent her and Gabe. It, uh, helped that Ivy had been spotted there, too. She and Harley have been getting cozy with some of Jeri’s bar staff.”
“Are they friends with Avi?” Five asked, wondering if that was something he could leverage.
Edward gave Five an impatient look. “I have no idea what their names are. Why would I?”
“I don’t think he can actually help us, precious,” Jerome lamented, turning on the kind of disparagement that he’d told Five the Riddler hated. “Off his game now a kid’s in the picture.”
“If you mean the gender-nonconforming one with dark skin and a nose ring,” Edward countered smugly, “then yes. If you mean any of the half-dozen generic butches and twinks, then no.”
“If you don’t know anything,” Five went on, “has Ivy heard anything? I wish I had asked her.”
“You saw the girls?” Edward asked. “That’s news to me. Thought they would’ve mentioned.”
“Yup,” Jerome confirmed, propping one ankle on his knee as he fiddled with the white queen.
Five watched with amusement as Edward snatched the piece away from him. “Two weeks ago.”
Slamming the queen back in place, Edward narrowed his eyes at Five. “What do you want?”
“The truth,” Five said earnestly, folding his arms. “Otherwise, I’ll work through Ivy myself.”
Edward glanced around again like he was afraid Olga or Oswald might walk in any minute.
“You didn’t hear it from me, but you might want to ask Lee about it. Her spies in the Narrows rival Fish’s and the Sirens’, although I can tell you she wasn’t forthcoming after conducting her own sweeps last year. She concluded it was some disillusioned former cultists of…”
“Of mine,” Jerome finished for him. “Say it. I pissed off some folks, what with coming back from the dead and instantly getting committed again.”
At even the implied mention of Arkham, Edward went hard-eyed. “The rabble are numbskulls.”
“I know, right?” Jerome said. “Just like when they chased you and the husband out of office.”
Five only heard the footfalls once it was far too late. Martín dashed into the room ahead of Oswald, rushing to Five’s side.
“Olga said we had visitors,” the boy said in rapid, soft-spoken Spanish like he’d briefly used with Five that night at the Wayne Manor party. “When I saw the car, I knew it had to be you or—”
“Martín, the agreement was that you’d head upstairs and do homework,” Oswald said firmly.
“See you later,” Martín sighed, sticking with Spanish, waving at Jerome on his way out.
“Just because you were there didn’t mean you had to bring him home early,” Edward chided.
“Your son got sent to the office today for tripping a classmate down the stairs,” Oswald said.
Jerome glanced at Five, making a face. He was likely thinking of the claim Selina had made.
“If I remember correctly,” Edward countered, “you once gave that very advice to a kid at PS 134. How do I know you didn’t give it to our son, too?”
“Of course I did!” Oswald sputtered. “I also told him not to act on it unless there was plausible—”
Martín poked his head back into the room, waving Five and Jerome urgently into the hall.
“We’ve gotta run,” Five said, rising. He took Jerome’s wrist, pulled him out of the chair, and hauled him along. “Thanks for the chess lesson!”
While Oswald confronted Edward over whether a chess lesson had occurred or not, Five and Jerome followed Martín to the front door. He let them outside, accompanying them partway down the walk.
“Hey, if you did what your bird-dad claims…” Jerome gave Martín a quick thumbs-up.
Martín turned to Five. “Tell him I did it for the same reason he killed that guy at Jeri’s.”
Jerome was already holding the back door of their ride open for Five. “What’s he saying?”
“He approves of your reasons for taking out bullies,” Five said. “Our reasons, really.”
Chapter 5: Guilty Party
As they pulled out of the Van Dahl Estate, Jerome told their driver to take them to the Narrows fight club formerly known as Cherry’s. Saying Doc’s would have gotten him a blank stare.
Falling across the seat as the sedan turned, Five kissed him. “We didn’t have to go today.”
“Yeah,” said Jerome, soberly, “but I know how it is. You wouldn’t have rested until we did.”
“When we were at the girls’ place two weeks ago,” Five pressed, “you said you didn’t like this. Why haven’t you asked me to let it go?”
“The more we find out, the more I want to know,” Jerome admitted. “Must be how Ed feels.”
The driver let them off at the mouth of the alley, insisting on finding a better place to park.
They walked all of ten feet toward the entrance to Lee’s stronghold before someone grabbed Jerome’s shoulder from behind. Five whirled and pinned the intruder to the nearest brick wall.
“Sheesh,” said Victor Zsasz, raising both hands, only one of which held a gun, in supplication.
“See, if my reflexes were fast enough? You’d be bleeding out,” Jerome said. “S’up, old pal?”
Five released Zsasz and stepped back, shrinking into Jerome’s side. “Say something next time.”
“Dunno if you forgot where we are,” Zsasz said, indicating their surroundings, “but talking out of nowhere isn’t a great idea. Long time no see.”
Jerome watched Five nod at Zsasz with something resembling respect. “You know each other?”
“Kinda,” Five said. “Zsasz was a regular during most of my weekend shifts at the Foxglove.”
Zsasz nodded, drawing another gun, keeping both at the ready. “You look better-fed these days.”
Five rolled his eyes, as if he couldn’t understand why that was relevant. “Jerome’s a good cook.”
“I can buy that,” Zsasz said, breaking into his signature loopy grin. “Kids like us learn early.”
“I love a touching reunion,” Jerome said, fixing Zsasz with a hard look, “but what d’you want?”
“Ed called me off Fish’s place,” Zsasz admitted, indicating he’d escort them the rest of the way.
“And onto us?” Five asked, stepping up to knock impatiently on Lee’s door. “Did he say why?”
“All he said was that you guys might head here and cause trouble,” Zsasz said. “Or get into it.”
“That’s rich,” Five shot back, “given how much trouble Ed’s in right now for not having Olga send us away. You should’ve seen the hell he caught when Oswald got home. Martín helped us slip out.”
Jerome continued to stare Zsasz down while Five negotiated with the guard who answered the door and asked him to state their business. Much to Jerome’s surprise, the door clanked open. Five could wheedle their way into anywhere.
“Stay out here,” Five told Zsasz, ushering Jerome inside the building. “You’ll be of more use.”
“Hey, whatever you say,” Zsasz yawned, turning his back toward the door. “I’m on the clock.”
Shocked nobody had insisted on patting them down, but grateful for Five’s sake, Jerome kept his hands in his blazer pockets. He had the straight-razor in one and the gun from his nightstand in the other.
Lee was waiting for them on the top floor, in a spacious loft-residence that let in plenty of light.
“Jerome,” she said, indicating they should join her at the round table. “Five. Glad you’re well.”
“No small thanks to you, Dr. Thompkins,” Five said, refusing the beers her flunky offered. “I’m afraid this is business, not a social call.”
Lee laughed, deceptively gentle. “What business could we possibly have? You don’t owe me.”
Pleasantries weren’t Jerome’s strong suit, at least not genuine ones. He tapped the tabletop, watching Lee’s gaze sharpen as he made his aggravation known. His words needed to sting.
Five caught Jerome’s hand, clasping it against the table. He squeezed it, indicating his approval.
“A little bird told us—well, no,” Jerome began. “A little bird’s nerd told us you know who sent those mercs to Jeri’s place last May. See, Jeri’s under the impression it was some former fans of mine with a bone to pick, but I hear the nerd’s intel doesn’t lie.”
Lowering her eyes to where her hands clasped her beer, Lee set her lips in a hard, ominous line.
“If you were almost anyone else come asking, I’d have you shot. If I tell you what I dug up last summer, you’d better promise not to do anything stupid. I sat on the information for a reason.”
Jerome had to grab Five and hold him back, gesturing to indicate Lee should continue to speak.
“Fish keeps the guilty party close specifically because she’s afraid this kind of thing might happen,” Lee sighed. “Something else like it—not quite as serious, but same perpetrator—happened not that long ago. Just about a year before you abducted your brother, got shot by Bruce during the rescue he and Ed and the girls launched, and ended up right back in Arkham. Oswald foiled the plot, hence why the precedent wasn’t as serious. I kept my mouth shut about the hit on you, because Fish finding out would’ve destabilized what, at the time, was a delicate situation.”
Five stopped struggling in Jerome’s grasp. “But…wait. Wait. How could that be? I don’t even get…”
“The how doesn’t matter, princess,” Jerome said, furious at the sheer gall of it. “Let’s go kill her.”
Chapter 6: Circus Act
Five wondered why Lee had made no move to reach for her phone as he and Jerome departed. He’d expected her to send a warning to the perpetrator. Maybe she was using them as traitor disposal, like Jeri had used them to get rid of Greg.
Five texted Ivy and, under the pretense of idle chatter, found out where they needed to go.
Zsasz didn’t seem happy as he tailed them to the mouth of the alley, dashing to catch up.
“Your driver’s about a block that way,” he said, pointing. “I should go with you in case—”
Jerome getting right under Zsasz’s chin with the open straight-razor cut his rambling short.
“No,” Five said, tilting his head at Jerome so he’d put the blade away. “We’ll act alone.”
“I don’t even know what you’re gonna do,” Zsasz said. “I don’t like it. You need cover.”
“Wrong,” Jerome said, holding the sedan door open for Five. “We’ve got everything we need.”
“Fish’ll kick my ass if you guys die,” said Zsasz, watching them get in. “You know that, right?”
“Fish won’t let us die. Won’t let me, anyway. I won’t let Jerome.” Five closed the door.
“The Sirens,” Jerome told the driver, twisting Five’s hair up for him. “How are we getting in?”
“Fish is there,” Five reminded him, “as is our target. I’ll just tell the guard we need to see Fish.”
Jerome finished clipping Five’s hair and patted his cheek. “Then we’re set, precious. Ready?”
Five nodded as they slowed to a stop, kissing him hard. “Yeah. Never a long enough ride, is it.”
Looking innocent was less of an asset at the Sirens’ club than it had been at the Van Dahl Estate. Five fought the urge to start pacing while one of the formidable women on security detail radioed to Barbara for verification.
After about a minute of dead space, it was Fish’s voice that crackled back. Send them in.
Completely unaccompanied, they took the elevator to the top floor. They used the dizzying thirty seconds to draw their weapons.
Framed against the grey February sky through the window behind them, all four women at the table goggled at their intrusion. Before Barbara and Tabitha could finish drawing their weapons, Fish raised a hand, staring directly, pointedly at Five.
Sofia Falcone folded her hand of cards, quietly setting it down, and reached under the table.
“Same goes for you, young lady,” Fish said, and, fortunately, Sofia honored the command.
However, all Five could think was that Fish hadn’t looked away. She hadn’t even blinked.
Jerome lowered his gun, leaning uncertainly toward Five. “This is real awkward, princess.”
Five lowered his knives, holding them still at his side as a compromise. “You’re telling me.”
“Everybody had better put their goddamn weapons away,” Fish insisted, essentially repeating herself, “or there’s gonna be hell to pay with Oswald.”
“Right,” Sofia muttered, tucking her gun away, bored. “As if we don’t all know that it’s you—”
Fish grabbed Sofia’s jaw, forcibly turning her head. “Less of your sass would be nice, too.”
Five tucked his knives in the back pockets of his jeans, where they’d be easier to reach than in his boots. He didn’t know what to make of the fact that Fish had gone back to staring at him. Same goes for you, she’d said—but to whom?
“If you don’t tell your young man to put that pistol where it belongs,” Fish said, “well…”
Taking the gun carefully out of Jerome’s hand, Five strode forward and pointed it at Fish’s head.
“I’m sorry, Ms. Mooney,” he said, hating the way his voice wavered, “but we have questions.”
Fish raised her other hand, turning a gesture of command into one of placation. “That’s fair.”
Barbara sighed and stared right at Jerome, dropping her cards. “Oh, look. It’s the circus act.”
Meanwhile, Tabitha had silently uncoiled her whip from where it had been wound in her lap.
“Stop,” Five said, jerking his head at the subtle movement. “Drop it on the floor, or I’ll shoot.”
Glaring, Tabitha obeyed and set her hands on the table. “You’re more of a brat than Bruce.”
Jerome cackled, stepping up to Five’s side. “You can hold your own with the best of ’em.”
Sofia moved faster than Five could track, rising as she drew her gun, pointing it at Jerome. Her expression was absolutely murderous.
“I’d think twice about asking anything,” she said, glancing sidelong at Fish, who had continued to hold her hands in the air on account of Five’s aim. “Maybe you should just turn around and leave. We can forget this unpleasantness ever happened.”
“I’m never going to forget that you tried to have Jerome killed!” Five snapped. “You’re the one who sent those hit-men to Jeri’s club last year!”
“What part of Oswald and I being the only ones to call the shots did you not understand?” Fish asked Sofia. “That’s the second time in two years we were dealing with a fugitive Jerome.”
Sofia mock-pouted. “You only put him away the first time because Ed and the girls went against orders and raided that hideout. The second time, you and Oswald failed because you couldn’t see through Bruce’s and Jeremiah’s bleeding-heart lies. If that hit had been successful—”
“FYI, your hit was never gonna succeed,” Jerome said, throat catching as he swallowed, the only sign he was nervous. “Not with Five on the way.”
Five willed his hand motionless, holding the gun steady. If he hadn’t been on duty at the Foxglove entrance that night and heard about the ruckus at Celestial Garden, he wouldn’t have known to rush there.
He would’ve lost Jerome after too little time, after a fight that they never would’ve reconciled. He would’ve lost Jeri before he’d properly met her.
“Ms. Mooney,” Five said, pretending that he was beginning to lower the gun, “I’m sorry.”
Sofia dropped her gun on a pile of poker chips as Five’s bullet struck her in the stomach.
Chapter 7: Freefall
This was Jerome’s worst nightmare, and he’d considered himself immune to them ever since he’d died and come back again. He reached the roof of the Sirens’ building via the staircase, his lungs burning. He could win a sprint, but not a long-distance.
Five had fled ahead of him, pursued by one of Barbara’s assassins that they hadn’t noticed in the far corner of the room. Fish, Barbara, and Tabitha had been too distracted with tending to Sofia and calling—well, Lee—to pursue Five and Jerome.
Jerome emerged into the open air just in time to see Five leap onto the edge of the roof with his back to a four-story freefall. Five fired at Barbara’s guard before she could fire at him, gunning her down—but lost his balance in the process.
Five fell off the edge without so much as a cry. There and gone in a heartbeat. Five. Gone.
Jerome froze, unable to propel himself forward. He ought to look over the edge. He’d once pushed people off a building across town, during the Maniax glory days. He ought to look—no.
What Jerome really ought to do was jump. Wasn’t the promise he’d made Five all he had left?
Before Jerome could propel himself forward in a mad dash for the edge, somebody grabbed his shoulder and yanked him back into the stairwell. He cursed and kicked, but a second pair of hands grabbed his other arm and helped the first party slam him against the wall.
Bruce and Jeremiah, a rock and a hard place. How dare they prevent him from joining the last thing that had ever made him smile, how dare—
“Jerome, stop,” Bruce was saying, pinning him even harder. “You need to come down with us.”
Jeremiah put all of his weight into the endeavor, too. Jerome was trapped, but pleased to note that he’d split Jeremiah’s lip with one of his blows.
“It’s worth your while,” muttered Jeremiah, with a bored, aggravated affect. “Trust us.”
“Ha! As far as I can throw you!” Jerome raged, succumbing to bitter, terrible laughter.
They manhandled Jerome down the stairs. After two flights, it wasn’t worth fighting anymore. One foot in front of the other, ever downward.
Once they were out the back, into the alley behind the club, Bruce and Jeremiah released him.
The sedan was parked there, visibly damaged. Something had bashed the vehicle’s roof in.
Five sat on the hood while the driver was pacing and making phone-calls off to one side.
“Jerome,” was all he said, hair loose and eyes wild, hopping down with arms outstretched.
Speechless, numb with raw, jagged relief, Jerome staggered to Five and fell on his knees.
“Never mentioned you could do that,” he mumbled against Five’s chest, his stinging eyes closed, wrapping his arms so tightly around Five’s middle that he risked cracking some ribs.
“It’s only the second time,” Five said distantly, raking his fingers soothingly through Jerome’s hair, scratching Jerome’s scalp. “First time I did it was…” His frown was audible. “Lucky.”
“You’re lucky the driver alerted us to a situation, is what,” Jeremiah said with poisonous disdain.
Jerome wouldn’t rise to it. He was going to stay right where he was until they made him budge.
Bruce huffed loudly enough for Jerome to hear. “Do you think you can get him into the car?”
“Yes,” Five said testily, rubbing from Jerome’s nape down to his shoulders. “Leave us alone.”
“Your transport isn’t operational,” Jeremiah replied. “I’m afraid you’ll be riding with us.”
Jerome finally turned his head, heaving a breath, pressing his cheek against Five instead.
Rather than just dropping them off at the penthouse, Bruce and Jeremiah escorted them upstairs, communicating sparingly with Five. Jerome wouldn’t look at either one of them.
“Assuming Sofia survives,” Bruce said once Five had gotten Jerome settled on the sofa with a blanket and some peanut-butter crackers, “there’s the question of retaliation. I wouldn’t put it past her.”
Five brought in a glass of water, set it on the coffee table, and flopped down next to Jerome. He wrapped an arm around Jerome’s blanketed shoulders, glaring at Bruce and Jeremiah by turns.
“Bet you’re paying for her medical care, so,” he sniffed, “she’ll survive. I aimed low.”
“The bullet’s lodged in her spine,” Bruce said. “The damage to her stomach will be easier to fix than…” He glanced at his lit-up phone. “We’ll see.”
When Five brought the glass up to Jerome’s lips, he drank. Five fed him another cracker.
Jeremiah, for some time now as ominously silent as Jerome himself, cleared his throat.
“There’s an opportunity here,” he said, glancing hopefully at Bruce. “Do you see it, too?”
Jerome wheezed at the hilarity, coughing up crumbs. His mind was starting to move again.
“I sure do. Let us stick with the vigilante thing. We’ve been takin’ out the trash, am I right?”
Five just nodded in agreement, stroking Jerome’s hair and making him drink more water.
“You’re…not wrong,” Bruce replied slowly. “You wear a lot of white. You might want to re-think that. It’s not the best for evading detection.”
“Guess I do,” Jerome deadpanned. “If I learned anything in Arkham, it’s that it suits me.”
“You’re crazy,” Jeremiah blurted, regretting the point he’d raised. “Bruce, this is crazy.”
“You didn’t want me to be the one out there,” Bruce replied. “I respected your wishes. Besides—my place is at your side. We’re best placed to handle Penguin and his higher-up associates on their own level. As for what’s happening on the streets, whether it’s connected to Penguin’s racket or totally random, Jerome and Five can...continue to do what they do best.”
“Thanks to Penguin, organized-crime-related incidents are down,” Five said. “Actually, that’s thanks to Fish. The Sirens do what Lee says. Sofia is a loose canon, but she’s neutralized for now. You’re worried about more random incidents. With your history, that’s understandable.”
Bruce nodded at Five, eyes pensively averted, while Jeremiah took a stab at comforting him.
“Not that I looked at it as being a white knight do-gooder back when I killed Mom,” Jerome said, shifting his gaze to Jeremiah, “but—if the shoe fits, what the hell. Some people in this world deserve to die. I’m getting too old for that chaotic stuff I did after coming back.”
“It’s settled, then,” Bruce said, shaking Jerome’s hand, and then Five’s. He stood up, and Jeremiah followed suit. “There’s a lot to hash out. These last few incidents demonstrate that you might benefit from some specialized support. I’ll speak to Fox.”
“Just imagine,” Jeremiah said, giving Five a nod before gracing Jerome with a withering glance. “You, finding a sense of purpose. Funny, isn’t it?”
“Hysterical,” Jerome said, watching his twin and Bruce until the moment they were out the door.
Five touched Jerome’s hand, his fingers suddenly shaking. “I’m really tired,” he admitted thinly.
“C’mere, darlin’,” Jerome said, rising. He got sufficient hold on Five to heft him into his arms.
Stripping down and showering was a comfort. Once they’d washed, they clung to each other beneath the hot spray, scarcely moving. What laughter couldn’t cure, closeness could ease.
Five let Jerome dry him off and lead him to bed. He’d subsided into a state so subdued as to make Jerome wonder if the jump had harmed him in some way. The sudden burst of tears wasn’t unexpected. Five’s emotions always got the better of him.
“I can’t stop thinking about what Fish…” He hiccupped. “What she said to Sofia, to me. Everything since New Year’s has made me feel like…”
“Shhh,” Jerome whispered, kissing Five’s damp eyelids. He wondered if Five needed him to articulate it, to acknowledge what Five was too conflicted to admit after saying, months ago, that he didn’t want to choose. “D’you wanna be, um...my girl?”
Five stopped sniffling, breath held in astonishment. “M—maybe? I mean, we’re married, so…”
“Help me,” Jerome said quietly, “help you. What do we need to do to figure this out? What’s it gonna take for my baby to smile again?”
Five stared at the ceiling, thoughtful, releasing a shuddering breath. “That’s just the thing. I’m not sure sure. Not yet. But I might be...?”
Jerome grinned and used the sheet to wipe Five’s eyes. “Precious, princess, pretty thing—Miss Thing. You’re okay with those already.”
“I never knew I was,” Five whispered, “or that I wanted to be called...until I met you, and you started to. And Jeri with the latter, I guess.”
Jerome kissed Five’s cheek. “That’s real good to know. What are we gonna do about, uh, pronouns? Do we need to switch ’em up? We can do that. What’s gonna make you happy?”
“I want to try it, like...” Five traced Jerome’s left-side mouth scar from the corner of his lips up to his cheek. “Like Avi does. Neutral, like my name. Until I am sure.”
“You’re gonna have to slap me, like, a lot of times until I get it right,” Jerome said, pressing his fingertip fondly to Five’s nose. “My brain-to-mouth isn’t great on the best of days, but you know that.”
“I don’t think that’s true,” Five replied, rubbing Jerome’s temples. “You don’t misgender Avi.”
“Yeah, but it’s habit,” Jerome sighed. “They is the only thing I’ve ever known to call Avi. I’ve never had to think about it. It’s as automatic as calling you he.”
Five gazed at him in curious fascination. “Come to think of it? I’ve only ever heard you call people by pronouns once you know which ones to use.”
Jerome took Five’s finger and used it to tap his temple. “I make assumptions, though. Up here. First impressions. Stuff I don’t say out loud.”
“What did you think I was?” Five challenged. “That night we met in the Indian Hill tunnels? You called me dollface and precious and said I was adorable, but it was a...hair thing, not a me thing.”
“I still assumed you were...” Jerome reconsidered. “I thought you were a guy for a hot second, but then I took your hair down and realized you didn’t look like anything I’d ever seen.”
“Except like royalty?” Five teased, grinning fully now. “Hair that would make a Disney princess jealous. Your exact words.”
“You found me out,” Jerome said, pulling Five in for a kiss. “Didn’t know what to think—except that you were damn gorgeous. I liked your moxie.”
“Pretty has nothing to do with anything except looks,” Five said. “Keep thinking that, keep...telling me that.”
“Nothin’ could stop me,” Jerome promised, tugging the elastic from Five’s loose braid, “short of a bullet.”
“I don’t think even that would stop you,” replied Five, with wicked delight. “This is Gotham, after all.”