Jerome leaves the cuffing to his lackeys.
They’re waiting in the darkness, trained as dogs, their faces white with paint. Stationed behind the largest tent in the circus, they stand still as Gotham’s gargoyles until Jerome gives them a nod and they come hurrying closer.
This progress, however, does little to ease Jerome’s grip. One hand, still alarmingly hot, rings the nape of Bruce’s neck, while the other twirls his switchblade like a toy. Still humming swooping, soppy love songs under his breath, Jerome articulates points of the tune with jabs at the air or slick spins of the weapon between his fingers.
Bruce, unnerved by his own warring, lingering emotions, finds this particularly annoying. Especially because he’s sure the lyrics are improvised. He grits his teeth, unwilling to give in to the obvious baiting, until he hears Jerome murmur very deliberately, “This is a bad town for such a pretty face…” and his composure, finally, snaps.
“Your singing voice leaves much to be desired,” Bruce murmurs snidely, wanting some kind of petty revenge for the sick, eroded way Jerome makes him feel.
“ Desired , you say?” Although he doesn’t look, Bruce can hear the grin in Jerome’s voice and the telltale way he taps the tip of the blade against his teeth in delight. “Well. At least you’ll admit it out loud.”
Instantly, the childish need to argue swells inside his chest, but Bruce ignores it in favor of regaining some of his regality. In his mind, he tries to summon the likenesses of Jim Gordon, of Alfred, of Lucius Fox, of Gotham, hurting but shielded from the source because Jerome is right by his side. Right by his side, with one hand petting Bruce’s neck between vice-like entrapment. Right by his side, close enough to smell the decay coming off him in waves. Close enough to remember with thrilling, unforgettable clarity the way he had touched Bruce so softly, had threatened him so gently, had promised with honeyed devotion, “I’ll hurt you so good. So sweet.”
Bruce’s mind reels and a wave of dizziness falls over him.
“Boys,” Jerome greets his Maniax with a winning grin, interrupting Bruce’s conflicted spiraling. “You wanna show Bruce Wayne the gift I got just for him? It is our first date after all, and I’m nothing if not a romantic.”
A quick glint of moonlight on metal, and his wrists are handcuffed together. Beneath the hazy churn of his mind, Bruce tries to swallow his mounting dread as the tables turn ever in Jerome’s favor instead of their constant, customary, near-equal tilting.
With a showy flick of his wrist, Jerome pockets his switchblade and hooks a finger between the handcuff links. (Smart, Bruce thinks distantly, because he would have crushed Jerome’s fingers if he had taken his hand.) Jerome tugs on the chain until it rattles and his wrists clink together, sparking moonlight. “Suits you, baby. Just like my lipstick.”
“You’re deranged,” Bruce hisses.
“Oh, don’t be like that. You didn’t pout when I was touching you.” Jerome laughs breathily, a thought just coming to him. “Actually, it looked like I’d punched the wind outta you. Poor thing.”
Even in the night air, the drying greasepaint feels tacky against Bruce’s skin, worse now from the bitter flush heating his face. In that moment, he despises the part of himself Jerome had unlocked - had seen shocked onto his reflection in the vanity mirror, or before that in the quiet, calm intimacy of his face painting, or even further back to their firelit reunion at Wayne Manor, Bruce knowing Jerome and reading him just well enough to send his whole plan spinning. And, he could go back further still. A crowd laid out before him, white stage lights. Jerome’s chest at his back and a knife pressed to his throat like a promise. All of Gotham at their feet.
Jerome had seen Bruce’s affection sometime along the way, festering unacknowledged like rot, like necrosis. Had noticed it and exploited it all before Bruce started fumbling towards epiphany.
He shouldn’t be feeling moony over these memories. Shouldn’t be staring Jerome right in the face and wondering if this horrid spark of attraction had always been in him, waiting to be found. (He wonders if this feeling is similar to madness or cruelty. He wonders if Jerome had felt this mounting realization before he had taken a life. A latent, sleeping urge. A malignancy.)
“You’d have ruined all your hard work if you’d punched me,” Bruce says, meaning to sound snide yet his voice sinks with softness.
“Too true,” Jerome agrees, eyes darting to the twin hearts on Bruce’s cheeks. “And what a shame that would’ve been. Guess you had to settle for a smooch instead, Brucie.”
Behind the Maniax standing rigid and expressionless in their face paint, comes the clap of a closing door. Slumping directly behind the grand tent is a long trailer, damaged and worn as the rest of the carnival. Rust creeps like moss across its surface. Wind whistles through peppered bullet holes. Where once there might have been wheels or a set of stairs leading to the door, there is only warped, twisted metal, torn away in the long gone past.
A scrawny, masked man stalks towards them from the doorway, falling in line expectantly beside the other two Maniax.
“All yours, boss,” the man squeaks, unable to hide the fear in his voice. “Got it all set up, just how ya asked.”
Jerome doesn’t even look at him. Instead, he motions to the trailer with one hand and tugs the chain of Bruce’s handcuffs with the other. “Shall we?”
Inside, the trailer is barren and dim. The metal floor is caked with dirt, and the smell of greasepaint lingers in the air. Tangles of string lights litter the floor, glowing golden. Bruce takes in these details quickly, scanning the little space. To his left stands a wooden contraption, tall and threatening, like the post to a hangman’s noose. To his right, a mess of shattered mirrors encompases the entire back wall, floor to ceiling. They stand in jagged stacks surrounding even the side walls. Small shards litter the floor like debris. In them, Bruce sees his own face multiplied endlessly. Snatches of his painted eyebrows and messy mouth and wide, wired eyes return to him from every angle - and then hundreds of arms appear at his back, and he is being yanked away.
The three Maniax shove him into position as quickly as they had surprised him. One moment, Bruce is kicking at his attackers, not pausing to watch where his blows land, and the next he is pinned to the rack with his arms above his head. The Maniax’ hands fall away. He hears the men groan and curse and spit.
Jerome enters with a smirk, hands folded behind his back as he eyes Bruce and his Maniax, each one scuffed and breathing heavily. “Got a few hits in, I see. Can’t say I’m too surprised.”
Jerome saunters over to a folded pile of red cloth Bruce had missed, placed on a flat stack of mirrors at the floor. He twists the fabric between two fingers and turns to examine the walls of mirrors. In them, Bruce sees Jerome’s eyes flicker madly before settling on his face.
“It’s perfect,” Jerome says, none of the familiar sickly sweet charm to his voice. “Now scram . Me and pretty boy got some unfinished business.”
The Maniax leave without another word, closing the door behind them. Much like before, Bruce is trapped before a large, spidering mirror and Jerome’s decimating gaze.
Bruce fiddles with his handcuffs wringing his wrists as Jerome’s eyes crawl over him. He feels, all at once, like a bug pinned under heavy needles, being slowly speared open second by second. His heart aches, his eyes sting, and Bruce feels recognized in a way he hates more than he has ever hated anything - more than he hates Matches Malone, or his benefactor, or even Jerome himself, he loathes being seen. Because he knows, with a single look, Jerome has seen through to what is most weak and false in him and what he cannot absolve himself.
“Don’t look at me like that,” Bruce almost hisses, feeling the fury and shame boiling on his tongue. “Don’t look at me like you know me.”
“Alone at last,” Jerome murmurs on the tail end of a sigh. He turns to face Bruce, arms open wide and inviting. “Here in the light you look even more stunning than I’d imagined.”
Bruce shakes his head, not trusting himself to respond to that in a way that doesn’t sacrifice his dignity. Instead, he raises his chin towards the mess of jagged glass. “What is it with you and mirrors?”
“So glad you asked.” Jerome saunters over and takes his time choosing a shard from the pile. He nudges them with the toe of his shoe until one catches his eye. It’s long and thin as twine, though sturdy enough that he uses it to shred the very first latch hanging low off his straightjacket. “These,” he tosses the shard to the ground, which shatters in a brilliant mess of light. “Are for you. A little gift. A little mercy. One last bit of pleasure before I end it all. And theeeen ! Lights out!”
“Pleasure?” Bruce drolls, thrilled and terrified in sick, equal measure. It seems to be the only word in his mind, a constant question to an unfathomable answer. He rattles the chains of the handcuffs pinning him in place. “I’m not particularly enjoying this.”
“Little liar,” Jerome chides, picking up another shard of glass to saw through the last two straps. “I can see right through you.”
And then Jerome is standing tall, eyes boring into Bruce’s as he slowly drags the zipper at his throat. Through the reflections on the wall, Bruce can see the way the straightjacket’s waxy shoulders start to sag at Jerome’s back. He can see to each of his sides, the fabric crumpling at his biceps the way Bruce feels his heart crumpling - terrified, enraptured, half in love and half in misery.
“You’re - ” Bruce sputters, because he cannot quite grasp the absurdity of his present situation. “You’re really going to strip in front of me?”
“Call it an outfit change if that’ll make ya feel better,” Jerome replies with a wink. “Like I said, I’ve got a show to put on. And a ringleader in a straightjacket just won’t do. Nah, I’ve gotta look the part.”
The zipper drops to navel and through its metal teeth, Bruce can see the hard lines of Jerome’s muscles, his freckled stomach, his smattering of hair dripping to his beltline. And - it makes his chest seize. His gut clenches and his hands spasm and Bruce cannot tear his eyes away from Jerome, too overcome with foul, loathed wanting .
He is ashamed of himself. He is too far gone to care. He is a pillar of inconsistencies and self-deprivation.
He is half hard in his pants already.
“Like what you see, Bruce? Ah, why do I even ask. Of course you do,” Jerome is fiddling with the straps at his wrists, taking his time being admired. “After all, I did promise to touch you in any way you’d like, as repayment for being such a good, willing little hostage. I can understand some excitement.”
In the dim, Jerome takes a few steps towards him, letting the straightjacket fall away, intentionally dramatic. His boots echo against the metal floor. He stands shirtless, lit from the glow of the string lights, reflected endless and intricate in the walls of shattered mirrors to his sides. Bruce can see every scar, every muscle, every freckle reflected back at him. For his pleasure .
He understands now.
“You’re letting me see you,” Bruce says, voice low and carefully neutral. “This is my gift. All these mirrors.”
“Look at the brains on you,” Jerome croons for the second time that night, smirking. Bruce can see the rise and fall of his chest as he breathes, can see the happy, vicious warmth in his eyes, and again feels lightheaded with desire. “I wanted to make sure you could see every bit of me. Every time I touch you. I wanted to make sure you could see your own face when I take you apart.”
Cold as death, Jerome’s purpled fingers rise to slip up the slit in Bruce’s sweater. They brush across his navel, which is already trembling with anxiety and delicious tension. Bruce flinches, gasps, and twists his hips away but, evidently, not soon enough. Jerome laughs and it rings wildly between the cramped metal walls.
“Y’know, I wish you’d be honest with me, but I know you, Bruce. If I asked you how you’d like to be touched, you’d say something heroic and boring about uncuffing you and how you’d make sure I never hurt the people of Gotham ever again. You wouldn’t tell me what you really want from me. How you really want me to touch you.” His fingers drop to Bruce’s beltline, fingering the button of his trousers. “Lucky for you, I’ve got a pretty good guess.”
“You’re wrong,” Bruce hisses through grit teeth. He has surprised Jerome before and it has kept him alive, has bought him enough time to save himself and others. Being boring isn’t a way to survive, it isn’t who Bruce is, and it does not make him valuable to Jerome in the slightest. Bruce summons the haughtiest, most demanding look he can. Stern, commanding, princely. “I’m Bruce Wayne . I get what I want all the time. I’m the - billionaire brat prince of Gotham, just like you read in the Gazette . Anything I ask for. Anything at all, I can have. You think I want you?”
Bruce forces his eyes to roam Jerome’s body - flushed and golden and so very alive - and tries to keep the heat from his gaze. “Look at you, Jerome. You’ll touch me without even making me ask.”
Jerome grins, speechless, rapturous for a moment before he cackles. “Bruce! There you are! There’s that valor I missed oh-so much. I knew I could knock it outta ya.”
Relief floods his chest, instant and sweet. Even handcuffed with a painted face and his cut sweater hanging open, Bruce feels slightly more in control. If he can read Jerome, he can survive him. If he can read Jerome, Gotham can survive him.
“Well, go on then. Tell me. What can I do for you, Mister Wayne?” Jerome purrs before sinking to his knees. Bruce has been half hard and in agony since his face painting and now seeing Jerome kneeling shirtless is almost too much. He bites back a whine that comes out garbled and throaty, watching wide-eyed as Jerome’s hands drift from his button to the bulging front of his trousers. Grinning as if he has just heard a precious secret, Jerome palms him very gently. The sensation is so foreign, so perfect and yet so utterly wrong, that Bruce cannot hold back a soft, low moan.
Awed and measured, Jerome’s fingers pick at the tab of his zipper and drag it down. It only occurs to Bruce then, watching Jerome’s fresh face focus on him so wholly, eyes bright and flaming, that his feet are free. He could kick Jerome away, plant the heel of his boot right to the center of his face. He could fight back. He could regain some control. He could pick the lock of the handcuffs with the staples in his arm. He could do something .
Every thought falls straight from his head as Jerome tugs his clothes away. His trousers and underwear ring his knees with one harsh yank. His cock, fully hard now, juts away from his body. Bruce gasps, the air cool on his exposed skin. Seeing himself half-naked and aroused in such a bizarre situation feels like something from a dream or a nightmare or a fevered hallucination. Not reality. Not something that could be happening to him when he was so used to tragedy and complicated, tricky happiness. A moment of pleasure - desired and suppressed in equal, bone-deep measure - felt unworthy of Bruce. Like even having his worst enemy staring open-mouthed and adoring at his body felt somehow too convenient, too good, because it is exactly what he wants.
Jerome’s hands rise like he wants to touch him but a thought sparks in his eyes and he puts them back in his lap. He stares for several moments, for far too long in the silence of the trailer. The only sounds are Bruce’s ragged breathing and the squeak of the wooden stake as he moves.
Just as Bruce is about to break the tense, sweltering silence, Jerome beats him to it. He positions himself right beneath Bruce’s cock and looks up at him, as sweet and serene an expression as Bruce has ever seen him wear, even while sporting a wretched smirk.
“Would Mister Bruce Wayne like my hands? Or would he prefer my mouth?”
Bruce is silent, grimacing. His mind flounders. His cock throbs.
Jerome hums, debating. In his lap, he’s wringing his hands like he’s trying to strangle his compulsions. “I knew you’d be lovely. Pretty and pink as your perfect little throat,” he murmurs with a besotted sigh before his eyes, suddenly urgent, return to Bruce’s. “C’mon, Brucie. Gimme an answer. You said you’d tell me just what you wanted, so go ahead and - ”
“Your mouth,” Bruce grunts, abandoning dignity for the man at his feet, staring up at him with disfigured adoration in his eyes. Then, embarrassed, “Anything to shut you up.”
“Oh baby,” Jerome murmurs, his voice suddenly throaty and hoarse. His tongue darts out to wet his lips, smearing the lipstick from their shared kiss. “You always know just what to say.”
Gentle as when painting his face, Jerome runs a single finger from the base of his cock all the way to the head. Bruce whines like he’s been punched in the gut, breath leaving his lungs.
“Watch me in the mirrors, Bruce. I had them made just for you.”
He had forgotten about the mirrors. Bruce’s eyes snap up, seeking his reflection. He only gets a moment to look himself in the eye, seeing the haze of desire on his face, his bitten lips, and the nervous sweat dimpling Jerome’s careful paint, before his eyes screw shut on reflex as Jerome takes him into his mouth all at once.
Garbled sounds fall from Bruce’s lips as Jerome simply holds him there, his eyes closed as if in prayer. Beneath his cock, Jerome’s tongue is spasming. He hums in satisfaction and Bruce has to bite down on a shout.
“Jerome - ” Bruce pants. His mind feels crazed with static and overwhelming sensation. “Too much - breathe ! T-too much - ”
Jerome opens his mouth and lets the entire length of Bruce slide down his tongue before pulling away. He watches as Bruce shudders and trembles and goes weak in the knees as he slides past his lips.
“I was going to use my mouth on you anyway. No matter what you said. Couldn’t resist,” Jerome’s face is slack, his eyes starry and dewy. He looks as if he’d be satisfied with even that little taste of Bruce alone. For the rest of his life, if it came right down to it.
“You don’t have to resist,” Bruce murmurs. In the mirror, he can see the muscles in Jerome’s shoulders shift as he uses both hands on Bruce’s cock, pumping him as tactlessly and mercilessly as he had taken him into his mouth.
“There’s no use sweet talking me now,” Jerome rasps. “Still gotta show to put on.”
When Bruce forces his eyes away from the mirrors, he sees Jerome’s mouth open and wet, his cheeks red all the way up to his ears. His heart constricts like a strangled thing in his chest. Sentimental nonsense builds his throat, forced down suddenly by a pained shout. Jerome’s fingernails are catching at his skin and he’s squeezing just a bit too tight to be comfortable.
“You want this to hurt,” Bruce squeaks in accusation. He is torn between the blind desires to buck into Jerome’s hands or lean as far away as possible. “To be - almost - too much .”
“You can handle it,” Jerome purrs, sweet and demeaning. “Besides, you strike me as the type to enjoy a little pain. What do you say? You want me to go easy on ya? Well...”
With a dip of his head, Jerome takes him into his mouth much more gently. The slick, easy slide of his cock between Jerome’s lips feels better than anything Bruce has attempted alone up until this point, and already he is panting, knowing he is close.
It is only when Jerome really starts to try instead of punishing or teasing Bruce, that he feels his orgasm cresting too fast, too soon, too much, too much . He only has a minute or two to savor the feeling of Jerome’s lips and tongue and the deep hum of his voice, (and his likeness in the mirror, bare skin and muscles and tousled red hair, and, and, and - ) before his pleasure rises to a dizzying degree.
“Jerome, you’re, uh, I’m - ” Bruce sputters, interrupting himself with a grunt as Jerome’s nose grazes his navel. “You’re going to - I’m, oh , I’m gonna -”
Jerome pulls his mouth away, hands still working every inch of Bruce, to look him in the eye. No malice or bloodlust darkens them, only carnal desire, cavernous and infinite.
“Come for me, baby, and maybe I’ll let you live.”
In the distant, logical part of his mind, he knows Jerome is lying about his survival, and still the perceived danger only tips him more quickly over that cresting edge. Only sweetens his touch and sharpens his words. (The only time he remembers Jerome playing honest was when he had gushed about Bruce bleeding out in his arms. Or perhaps before - I won’t leave you wanting. Promise. Or perhaps before that, still. You really think I’d like to see a pretty thing like you without a single stitch to hide behind? Well…You’re absolutely right! )
It takes only a few seconds of Jerome’s tongue again, and Bruce is falling, is flying, is screaming his throat raw as his orgasm is ripped from his body.
Beneath him, he can hear Jerome breathing hard through his nose as Bruce empties into his mouth. Seconds pass. Nearly a minute. He hardly notices Jerome slip away through his frayed nerves and the blank drone of his mind. The numb, postorgasmic mindlessness lasts longer than he wants and still, he comes down rapidly, crashing hard and fast.
Bruce wishes his hands were free, if only to press his palms against his eyes to block out the lights and help bring him down even further. He sags on unsteady legs, knees buckling as he tries to stand. He is exhausted. He is relieved. He is ashamed and terrified and so happy he could cry.
Jerome changes into his ringleader costume while Bruce gradually recovers. Rough hands against his own clothes, tugging them sloppily into place, is what finally allows Bruce to focus his attention. His skin is still tingling with shed tension and his mind still feels a little too nebulous and far-off, but when he glances in the mirrors, he sees that Jerome has not quite fixed his pants properly. His top button hangs open undone, and his sweater is still rucked up even with the slit. Just like after their kiss, Bruce thinks that this time, especially, he looks taken. Ravished. Ravaged. And he cannot find it within himself to mind.
A smug grin seems stained onto Jerome’s face, even as he straightens his bowtie in the shattered mirrors, tugs on his boots, and examines himself from every possible angle.
You brute , is all Bruce can think as he watches, unsurprised that the title feels affectionate instead of insulting. Brutish man.
As if sensing Bruce’s revival, Jerome turns and regards him with a smile. He has fresh gloves on, black leather, and they feel so cool that Bruce sighs when fingers brush his cheek.
Several thoughts come to Bruce at once. Part of him wants to thank Jerome. Part of him wants to spit with disdain, You hurt me so sweet . Another part wants to beg to be released so he can return the favor. Of course, like so many other soft moments, the opportunity passes him by.
“Hear that?” Jerome asks, his hands petting Bruce’s sweat-slick hair.
Only once he holds his breath does he finally hear it. Past Jerome and the trailer and the massive tent, a crowd is forming. Screaming Gothamites have given way to a collective rumbling of footsteps and voices. Not one siren. Not one gunshot.
Very gently, with the tenderness of surrendering to an inevitable fate, Jerome kisses Bruce’s damp forehead. Against his skin he promises, “I’ll hold you the whole way through. You’re gonna look so beautiful.”
Then, with a showman’s twirl, he heads for the doorway and kicks it open to where his Maniax are waiting, trained and silent as ever.
“Grab Brucie for me, boys, and wheel him out when I give the say-so,” Jerome demands into the darkness. He turns and gives Bruce one last charming wink, painful as a kick in the ribs. “It’s showtime!”