Outlandish as a circus, the ravaged face
parades the marketplace, lurid and stricken
by some unutterable chagrin,
maudlin from leaky eye to swollen nose…
O Oedipus. O Christ. You use me ill.
(The Ravaged Face, Plath)
He should be grateful for the long walk.
Grateful for the time it has already taken Jerome to lead him away from the carnival and into its fringes - forcing Bruce down a dusty dirt path, past towers of outdated rides and equipment - as the sounds of Gotham’s terrified public shrink behind them.
After all, it offers him a chance to plan. Fierce timelines and plots coil in Bruce’s mind, each one depending, then making up for, the last. Scraps of faces and names cram past one another, each one a variant, offering him a different victory. Behind his eyes, he sees Jim Gordon grimacing as he aims a gun. He sees Alfred shifting from cool, easy composure to a fighting stance in seconds, scarred fists raised in warning. He even sees Lucius Fox with a knowing tilt to his head and a daring gleam to his eye. These men could save Gotham while Jerome privated him away.
Bruce believes in them. He knows he does. But belief does nothing to ease the duty he feels to his city or the guilty rise of unease prickling beneath his skin.
He wants to be where Gotham is hurting.
Instead, the quiet progression away from the action only unnerves him more.
“You said it wasn’t very far,” Bruce accuses. His voice is short with suppressed rage, jaw clenched so tightly he can hear the gritty grind of his teeth.
At the back of his neck, Jerome’s gloved hand gives a pleased spasm. His fingers flutter in a wave, no longer tapping out of sync as he hums old love songs in the hush of their walk.
“Don’t worry, pumpkin,” he croons, pulling Bruce closer so their feet nearly tangle in the dirt. “It’s not much longer now. Can’t have ya getting too tired on me. We’ve got a show to put on!”
Bruce sighs, trying to steady himself. Discarded circus equipment towers to their sides, tunnel-like, against a backdrop of sunset. Rusty roller coaster cars guard a broken kissing booth. Stacks of rotten stilts and old food carts pile between enormous pinstripe tents, discarded for too grievous imperfections, even for Gotham.
They follow lines worn into the ground like rivers through a map, land carved down by persistent traction. Jerome’s grip feels hot enough to brand, even through the glove ringing the nape of Bruce’s neck like a lead, forcing him forward.
Flickering lights, so bright once they first began their trek, are dimming on the edges of his eyes. With every step, they leave the carnival behind, its chaos growing more faint the deeper they progress into the towering collections of castaways.
He wants to keep Gotham safe. He wants justice. For now, he can only be patient and that ratchets his frustration several notches higher. His hands shake with restraint, with cursed inaction.
Bruce, however noble, has no taste for patience.
And still, the sun keeps sinking.
“ Heeeeere we are,” Jerome declares with pride and a flourish of his open hand. Before them, Bruce sees nothing that could indicate a show. No stage, no lights, no crowd. Only a tall, pinstripe circus tent, stained and ripped and nearly useless as the rest piled around them.
At his pondering silence, Jerome grows impatient.
“It’s not much, sure.” He taps his fingers along Bruce’s spine, thumb pressing harsh into his jugular, threatening against further quiet. “I know you’re used to all kinds of luxuries, billionaire baby, but it is - ”
Bruce interrupts him, voice stern, pitching more offense than necessary. “This is it? This is where you want to kill me?”
“Private,” Jerome continues as if he hadn’t spoken, marching him towards the tent. “And intimate . Perfect for what we need.”
“I thought you wanted an audience.”
“Oh, of course I do,” Jerome murmurs, his chest to Bruce’s back as he guides him to the small slit in the wall serving as their entrance. “But any good performance requires, hmmm… preparation. Don’t ya think?”
He pushes Bruce through that ragged cut and into the tent. Smells of musty fabric and dry mud press down upon them as they enter. Where Bruce might have expected a spotlight and a stage, he finds oppressive darkness, brightened only by a broken vanity set. It sits slumped in the very center of the tent, mirror cracked like a curse, its yellowed bulbs flickering madly.
Bruce braces himself for the punchline. Waits for the crowds of sycophants and Maniax to pour in, cheering for his demise or praising Jerome, resurrected and impossible and still so brutal. He waits for the red blink of a video camera in action, ready to broadcast his coming suffering throughout all of Gotham City.
And nothing comes.
Confusion blights his impatience for one blinding moment. The privacy, the intimacy , feels so unlike anything he could have predicted Jerome might want, that Bruce is left standing shocked in an unbearable spike of discomfort.
Behind him, Jerome drops the heavy entrance flap, and every outside sound is cut like the wire to a microphone fraying mid-sentence. Other than the hum of the bulbs and the whistle of wind through gashes in the fabric, there is only still, looming silence.
“Alright, Bruce,” Jerome says, and his voice sounds wrong - too flat, too cramped, nothing like it usually does when they are surrounded by people and props, his voice bouncing back to Bruce at odd angles. Here, in the empty tent, his words are hushed and faded as their surroundings. “We’re gonna fix up that face of yours. Take a seat.”
Bruce is forced towards the flickering vanity and into an old barber’s chair, the leather peeling at his back. This close, he can see the multitudes of spidering cracks in the mirror and how they warp his reflection. Atop the vanity are several pots of greasepaint, well used, and a grungy brush with a very fine tip.
“What’s wrong with my face?” Bruce asks flatly, not quite expecting an answer.
With a clatter, Jerome sweeps an arm across the table, shoving the greasepaint aside. He slips atop it to sit so they are facing one another, grinning so widely the skin at his mouth looks close to tearing.
“Oh, nothin’s wrong with it. Surely you know that by now. Haven’t you seen all those Gazette articles? Bruce Wayne - Gotham’s sweetheart, looks just like his father, a darling boy and so handsome too! What a fine, fine bachelor he will make someday…” As if lost in thought, Jerome taps the point of his switchblade against his teeth and looks away. Bruce hadn’t seen him withdraw it, hadn’t heard its telltale click, and he wonders how long it might have been pointed at his back. “You just need a little fixin’ up. I want you to look pretty as can be. Now… stick out that tongue for me.”
In the following silence, Jerome loosens the fingers of his gloves one by one. The demand and the near-predatory way he is being watched, makes cold dread and rage churn in Bruce’s chest. Wordlessly, he refuses.
Once one glove has been removed, Jerome places it to his side without looking, takes his switchblade in hand, and presses it so suddenly against the underside of Bruce’s chin, he hardly has time to react beyond a startled gasp as it pierces the skin and a thin trickle of blood drips hot down his throat.
“Oh, Bruce. You’ve been so good. Don’t ruin it now, okay?”
Jerome lets him jerk away, and the blade tip comes back wet with gore. The cut isn’t deep, but it still bleeds in long trails to the collar of his sweater. Bruce glares, realizing it is only his sacrificed pride needed to borrow his city some time.
Slowly, he opens his mouth and looks Jerome in the face. Shallow, bitter gratitude for his blocked reflection almost makes him squirm.
“What a good boy!” Jerome chirps. His eyes are bright with delight and peculiar heat as he stares into Bruce’s mouth. After that, he whips his other glove off with much less care. Only then does Bruce notice his fingers - the very tips of them purpled as if dipped in wine, proof that he hadn’t escaped death completely unchanged.
Slowly, with the repressed eagerness of a person who has known only misery, Jerome presses two fingers into the wet cavern of his throat, not quite deep enough to make him gag, and drags them forward down the entire length of his tongue. When he pulls them away, his fingertips are wet and gleaming. Bruce spasms despite grappling for composure, his glare narrowing to a wince as his jaw snaps closed.
With a chuckle, Jerome grabs a pot of greasepaint at random and unscrews the lid. “White. A perfect start.”
He dips his fingers into the paint and brings them straight to Bruce’s eyes. It’s intentionally unnerving, he knows, and still it works to make his heart race. Even with Jerome’s touch being uncharacteristically gentle. Even with the hush of the tent and the warm glow of the vanity’s bulbs against the darkness. Even though the paint is cool against the adrenaline-flush of his cheeks. Bruce still braces himself for pain and calamity even as the color is feathered across his eyelashes.
“You know, of course, about my past growing up in the circus,” Jerome says softly, so close Bruce can feel his breath against the sticky trail of blood at his neck. “Believe it or not, I learned a thing or two, and one of those things was makeup.”
The fingers vanish from his face. Bruce opens his eyes to see nothing out of the ordinary - no villains, no traps, no tricks. Just Jerome backlit in gold with the fine brush in his hand, its tip dull and dry. “I could paint ‘em all, Bruce. The Whitefaces, the Augustes, the Harlequins. Done up in all kinds of expressions and colors…”
Slow and steady, he reaches out until his fingers, still wet with greasepaint, brush Bruce’s neck and twist, tangling in the curls at the back of his head. The action, were it not for the tight grip, could be almost loving. Jerome tugs until Bruce raises his chin slightly, the light falling across his face.
“I could paint the perfect slant to an eyebrow… Like this .” Cool, wetness glides across his face, over and above the line of his brow. When it comes away, the tip is covered in paint black as tar. Jerome dips it into a pot at his side, eyes never leaving Bruce’s face. He starts on the second brow with more patience. “I knew juuuust how to color in all that cheer . With all the practice I couldn’t help but pick favorites.”
Jerome fills in the lines of his brows, tracing individual hairs. “I’m gonna be honest. You don’t make the funniest clown. But that’s okay, I liked the sad ones best anyway.”
As always, Jerome has no problem filling the silence. He reflects wistfully on the night they met. Makes bets on Alfred’s survival against his Maniax. Offers insight into death and his experience, which is contradictory and useless. Although Bruce never speaks, he never grows impatient. It seems like his company, in whatever form he gave it, was what Jerome valued the most.
Still, that doesn’t keep him from trying to get a rise out of Bruce.
“Has anyone ever let you know that this sweater looks so good on you? Because it does.” Sharp and gleaming, the tip of the blade scrapes softly down Bruce’s chest. Against his brow, the brush doesn't waver one bit.
A grin spreads slowly across Jerome’s face as an idea takes form. A wicked gleam to his eye is all the warning Bruce gets. He braces himself as the other man purrs, “But you know what would look even better?”
With a single flick, the hem of Bruce’s sweater is split to his navel. Despite his shock and the instinctual urge to react, he is proud that he does not flinch. His scowl only deepens as he refuses a response.
“Six feet of dirt!” Jerome withdraws the blade and the brush with a wicked laugh, so loud and powerful, he nearly doubles with it. “Mountains of flowers from Gotham’s mourning public. Oh! And a nice, heavy tombstone to match Mommy and Daddy’s. I can give ya all that, pumpkin. How’s that sound?”
That nearly breaks his resolve. Fury flashes across Bruce’s face and in his gut, so familiar it is a deeply welcomed alternative to his patience. His hands wrap around the arms of the chair, knuckles white and ready to swing. He starts to stand, but that only makes Jerome laugh harder. His fury is ultimately smothered by his desire to remain as in control as possible. Jerome is trying to force him into action sooner than he wants, and Bruce won’t let him win even that little game.
“You know,” Bruce hisses, hoping to disarm, alarm, distract. Anything to level the playing field. “When someone usually asks what clothes you’d look better in, you expect their answer to be none . That’s the joke and you didn’t even use it.”
Through his surprise, it takes Jerome a moment, but he catches on. That wicked grin, somehow, stretches wider.
“And what would such a chaste and moral boy like you know about somethin’ like that? You really think I’d like to see a pretty thing like you without a single stitch to hide behind? Well…” Jerome, smirking, takes this opportunity to sloppily draw two black hearts on his cheeks. “You’re absolutely right! Look at the brains on you!”
For the very first time, Bruce is glad for the pale paint and the hearts hiding the humiliated blush staining his cheeks. Disgusted with himself, with Jerome, with his momentary powerlessness, Bruce closes his eyes.
When he opens them, Jerome is gone from the vanity. Instead, he is inhabiting Bruce’s reflection, hovering over his shoulder. With a slow shift, Jerome’s arm comes up and around his chest. His cheek brushes Bruce’s painted one, the staples dragging cold where their skin meets. Bruce tries his best to keep very, very still.
“I’m going to hurt you here ,” Jerome’s purpled hand presses flat against his heart. After several moments, it trails down between each rib to slip beneath the frayed slash in his sweater. “And here . And… here .”
Bruce’s breath catches at the feeling of the other man’s fingers on his skin, but it is cut short into a startled choke as that hand slips lower to grope his cock through his slacks.
“ Here too, Bruce,” he murmurs into his ear, breath hot, lips skimming flesh. “I’ll hurt you so good. So sweet.”
Bruce gasps wetly, body stirring with panic and bitter lust, but Jerome withdraws with a snap of his fingers.
“Oh, that reminds me! One last thing!” With a flourish, a thin tube of lipstick appears in his grip. He drops it into Bruce’s lap and slinks to the front of the chair until they are facing one another, trading the same air. Breathing ragged, Bruce glares through a disgusted grimace.
“Don’t look at me like that, honey. I’m no tease,” Jerome says softly, his wicked smirk betraying the velvet in his voice. He rests a hand on Bruce’s knee, skimming upwards. “I won’t leave you wanting. Promise. I’ll touch you anywhere, as much as you beg me. But first! Fair is fair. Come on and do my lips, won’t ya? Pay me back, Bruce?”
Shaking his head, Bruce glances away very briefly to uncap the tube. He half expects a blade to spring free or to trigger a small explosion someplace precious like a hospital or an orphanage. Instead, a simple stick of lipstick is revealed. Its end is rounded and worn with use, candy-red, like the flesh gaping between Jerome’s staples.
“It suits you,” Bruce whispers through his shaky resentment. His execution is firm but tactless. Red rings Jerome’s mouth in wobbly layers no matter how slow he goes. “It’s the exact color of your ruined face.”
There is only a faint flicker in Jerome’s dark eyes.
That is all the warning Bruce gets before he is being kissed.
It’s childishly quick and forceful, a sloppy smack of lips designed to transfer as much color as possible between them. Before he can process through his frayed nerves, Jerome has already pulled away, giggling.
“I promise you, Bruce, that I would die dissatisfied if I never once kissed you. But! Here we are. And,” he adds with a wink. “I won’t be needing to smooch your corpse later. Plus, this color looks much better on you .”
In the mirror, Bruce’s lips are smudged and wet-looking, as if they had been kissing for hours. Chapped and gleaming. He looks debauched. Seduced. Ravaged.
And completely foreign to himself.
He fumbles for words (for excuses or anger or anything but this peculiar melting at the center of his chest - ) and comes up empty.
“Now, let’s go show you off to Jimbo and the rest of the GCPD. How’s that sound, dollface?” Jerome doesn’t wait for an answer before yanking his wrists. The tube of lipstick clatters to the dirt. “Time to go!”
Bruce watches in the shattered mirror as his painted face ripples and slides away as he is dragged to his feet. He’s still recovering from the kiss, his heart racing, and in his reflection he sees something broken with realization, unsparing with affection - an epiphany of the heart.
Mind buzzing with shock, Bruce is shoved towards the fraying doorway and into the night.
Faint screams still mix with the sick cycles of carnival music and sirens not far off. Goosebumps sprout up his spine, and he shivers beneath Jerome’s grip. Somehow, momentarily, he had forgotten that his city was suffering. Forgotten it all as Jerome had taken his face in his hands and touched him so gently. It is unforgivable and Bruce is deeply, painfully ashamed.
“Oh, darling ,” Jerome sighs, nearly breathless in the starlight. His bare hand is soft and warm at Bruce’s neck, fingertips brushing the curls at the base of his skull. Without looking, Bruce feels the unholy, savage love in Jerome’s eyes tracing his body like a reverent touch. “You’re gonna look so good bleeding out in my arms.”
At that, Bruce raises a hand to Jerome’s. He presses his fingers firmly against the ones ringing his throat, a dare and a warning all in one. Bare skin on skin. He can feel every scar on the other man’s knuckles, each fissure and groove. Rage and frustration quiver in his stomach beside a dark, fierce shock of arousal.
“Lead the way.”
Dedicated to my friend Neyiea, whose writing & company I adore.
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!”