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Birthday Bash

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The situation had started very much in control.

Lucius had a plan.

Jeremiah had agreed to come with him and Bruce had managed not to stare at him too hard when he saw him in person for the first time. Bruce had managed to speak to him as if Jeremiah wasn’t the brother of the man who Bruce would do all manner of terrible things for if it meant keeping him safe. Bruce had managed to fool everyone into thinking that he and Jerome were no more than enemies who were intent on ruining opposing situations that they would separately consider to be a good time.

Bruce was going to stop Jerome, but he was also going to dig in his heels and put up a fight if anyone tried to hurt him; although how he would get away with such a thing was a mystery even to him. Really, though, Bruce isn’t overly surprised when it starts to spiral out of control. Jerome was always so much better prepared than people wanted to think that he was. They comforted themselves with the knowledge that he was crazy and conveniently forgot that he was also a charismatic cult leader who was more than capable of turning Gotham upside down.

Bruce feels guilty for bringing Jeremiah along with him the moment that it becomes obvious that they played right into Jerome’s eager, waiting hands. The man obviously did not want to come, and Bruce couldn’t blame him, and even if Bruce couldn’t be exactly sure if Jeremiah had gotten his message because his reaction to Bruce’s introduction hadn’t given anything away Bruce had promised to protect him.

He had meant to protect him. And Bruce didn’t make promises that he didn’t intend to keep.

So yes, he does feel the usual amount of remorse for a situation which is not technically his fault which Jerome would no doubt tease him for endlessly while calling him ‘valiant’ and ‘precious’ and other sweet things.

But he feels even guiltier that, when Jerome’s fingers graze his throat as he personally affixes a bomb collar around his neck, movement slightly stilted because one hand is still clutching onto the dead man’s switch, his heart flutters. Jerome has hurt people with these hands, he’s killed people with these hands; the most recent of which happened less than an hour ago and there are irrefutable traces of gore left on the stage from it. Bruce cannot ignore what he’s done, he’s never tried to ignore what he’s done. Bruce should detest him. Bruce should want to never see him or be touched by him again in any capacity. Bruce should want him to get thrown into Arkham and be locked away for long enough that the people of Gotham could forget about the horrors that he’s personally caused.

But Jerome smiles at him, eyes dark, and if he could get away with it right now Bruce would kiss him.

“I’m so messed up,” he admits under his breath, because it’s not as if Jerome doesn’t already know just how twisted Bruce has become. He’s pleased that there’s at least one person in the world who he can talk to about it. He knows Jerome must be pleased about it, too. “You really do bring out the worst in me,” he doesn’t have it in him for his voice to be cutting or accusing. One of Jerome’s greatest strengths was that he was able to bring out the worst in anyone.

Hands that have killed people touch him so softly, and it makes him feel strangely adored.

“Oh, Bruce.” The buckle snaps shut, but Jerome’s hands don’t fall away quite yet. He hooks one finger underneath Bruce’s chin, as if he’s forcing Bruce to meet his eyes even though Bruce had already been gazing there of his own volition. A ploy to further unnerve their audience? Or because Jerome didn’t have it within himself to stop touching Bruce when he was within arm’s reach? Probably both, Bruce decides. Jerome wanted a show, but he also wanted Bruce. “The bedroom talk is gonna turn me on if you’re not careful.”

Bruce bites his lip—he cannot afford to forget that they are not alone, here—but Jerome is able to read him just as well as ever. He leans in quickly, close enough that their noses almost brush, and Bruce jerks back not because he is afraid but because he’s hyper-aware of the muffled gasps from the crowd at his back.

“You deserve a present,” Jerome tells him lowly, “for the lovely little care package you sent me.” He pauses for a moment, lips twitching as if he’s trying to hold back a smile for once in his second-life. “And for your sweet little love-note. Lots of serial killer vibes there, Bruce, you’re lucky that you’re already the most dramatic person that I know. I realized that it was from you right away.”

Bruce blinks. “I’m not dramatic,” he protests, but the ghost of a smile plays across his lips.

He’s glad that Jerome got it.

He’s glad that Jerome liked it.

“Honestly, Bruce, with your level of theatrics? The only person in this city with more stage-presence than you is me. It makes me wanna see if I can make you break character.”

Jerome pushes Bruce roughly into a chair, hands splaying possessively over Bruce’s shoulders once Bruce’s wrists have been tied to the arms. There’s a whole damn live audience of civilians in front of them—and the GCPD, and the Maniax, and other hostages which unfortunately include Jerome’s brother—and cameras are recording and broadcasting the entire thing. Jerome is the opposite of subtle, but if Bruce didn’t know any better even he would think of his looming as a constant threat. They can’t know, there’s no way that they can know, just why Jerome can’t seem to keep his hands off of him. They would never be able to guess that it was because Jerome loved him.

The hand not holding the dead man’s switch moves. A few people in the audience don’t bother with trying to muffle their screams.

The blade of a knife presses between his lips. Starts pushing against the corner of his mouth where a nearly invisible white line already acts as an extension of his rare smiles.

Bruce’s breath hitches, but it’s not from fear.

“Gotta make sure people know that you’re mine,” Jerome whispers into his ear. “That they know I’m the only one allowed to spill your precious blue blood. Not just my Maniax, but everyone in Gotham.” His skin starts to split, he can taste the first tang of blood on his tongue. It brings back so many memories that the sting of pain and the blatant exhibitionism isn’t enough to flood him with dread. If anything it makes his insides clench hotly. “They won’t realize the true significance, pathetic losers probably think I’m marking you for death, but I’m sure they’ll get the overarching point. Besides…”

The angle of the knife changes, the cut turning superficial instead of tearing right through the entirety of his cheek, not that anyone in their audience is close enough to see that Jerome isn’t happily sawing right through him. Blood drips down his chin. More people in the crowd scream. Bruce resolutely keeps his eyes on the sky and tries not to squirm. Fuck, this brings back memories. Jerome’s knife in his mouth, Jerome’s tongue in his mouth, Jerome’s cock in his mouth. Jerome shushing him and soothing him and praising him.

“You know what it all means, don’t you, Bruce?”

“I understand,” he says, feigning detachment because he cannot let anything show on his face right now. The knife cuts just a little deeper into the corner of his mouth as he forms the words. It hurts. It makes his breath catch. It makes him want—

“Such a serious boy,” Jerome sounds so unbelievably fond. Bruce almost wants to lean into the cut of his knife just to see if that would be enough to break Jerome’s composure, but he can’t. He presses his thighs tightly together and holds back the embarrassing noise that’s building up in the back of his throat. “The notoriety of killing anyone is overshadowed by the infamy of being the one who put a permanent smile on your face.”

If he doesn’t stop soon Bruce is actually going to get hard on stage, and that would be…

Jerome’s knife slides out of his mouth, the blade dragging against his skin and making the wound deeper. It must look worse than it feels, or maybe Bruce’s hormones are making the pain more manageable, because he’s sure that Jerome has hurt him worse than this before—and he’s certainly hurt Jerome worse than this before—but the crowd’s reaction seems over the top.

Of course, they probably thought of him as some pampered little darling. They didn’t know anything about him, not really. They were seeing him on stage at the mercy of someone who’d he’d been at the mercy of before, and they were acting as if he were still the child that he used to be. He’s grown up so much since then. The sea of strangers before him had no idea about the things he’s lived through, the things he’s done. Jerome’s laceration was nothing.

Except in that it wasn’t nothing at all.

Bruce feels hot. Maybe, if he’s lucky, people will think that he’s flushing with anger over whatever terrible things they must believe Jerome is saying to him.

“What do you say, Bruce,” Jerome whispers in his ear. Even without looking back at him Bruce knows exactly the sort of smile that must be on his face. Fuck. He wants to kiss him so badly, but he can’t. Jerome was such a tease, doing stuff like this when Bruce couldn’t respond to it without facing the worst backlash in Gotham’s history. “Wanna boost our ratings?”

“Not here,” Bruce murmurs, trying to keep his expression as neutral as possible. If Jerome took things too far he was going to have a whole lot of uncomfortable questions to answer, and Alfred and Detective Gordon might start questioning those instances an age ago where he and Jerome had spent time one-on-one. Might start wondering just how honest Bruce had been with them about what had happened on their second and third dates, as Jerome would undoubtedly refer to them as. “Later,” he says. He thinks about it for a beat before adding, “as long as you don’t make me too mad.”

Jerome chuckles softly. Bruce can feel it rustle his hair. Jerome is still very, very close, and people are still watching, and Bruce isn’t sure how much longer he’ll be able to fake aloofness.

“I do absolutely adore you when you’re angry, darlin’.” He ruffles Bruce’s hair fondly. Then he fists his hand in the curls tightly and draws back Bruce’s head, showcasing the sliver of vulnerable skin at his neck that isn’t concealed by the latest deadly play-threat. If he hadn’t had to put his knife away in order to grab onto Bruce’s hair he’d probably be resting the blade of it against his throat. Bruce feverishly wishes that the bomb-collar weren’t covering the scar that he’d left on Bruce at their first meeting. “But I suppose I like it when you’re all soft and tenderhearted, too.” His rough lips press against the skin just behind Bruce’s ear, a private little kiss that makes Bruce feel like melting, and then he draws away to focus on his brother.

All keyed up with nowhere to go, all that Bruce can do is watch.

There’s a very calculated sort of animosity in the way that Jerome speaks around Jeremiah; it’s more predatory than it is playful, but Bruce knows Jerome well enough—he probably knows Jerome better than anyone—to come to the conclusion that if he really wanted to kill his brother right now he’d be more violent than this. Bruce decides to take a small amount of comfort in that, at least before Jerome’s eyes flit knowingly over to him as he offers out the blade that is still swathed in the red of Bruce’s blood to Jeremiah.

Bruce’s mind momentarily trips up. What exactly was the plan, here? Would Jerome really allow himself to be stabbed to prove a point? Or was there something else—

—did he want to see what Bruce would do if Jeremiah hurt him right in front of his eyes? Did he want to see if Bruce would be just as overcome as he had been in the diner? Did he want Bruce to show everyone that; just as Jerome was the only one allowed to draw his blood, he was the only one allowed to draw Jerome’s?

Did he want Bruce to prove that Jerome was his?

He watches Jeremiah’s fingers curl around the handle of the knife. He holds his breath. Jerome catches his eye and winks in a conspiring manner.

Bruce isn’t sure how he’ll react if—

Jeremiah yells, and heaves himself upwards, and—

Bruce needn’t have worried, Jerome obviously had everything under control. He still feels awful, though, because no matter what he feels for Jerome he’d wanted to protect Jeremiah and he was failing, failing, failing.

And then it all goes very, very wrong.

Jerome gets shot, and Bruce feels dread claw viciously at his insides as his body hits the stage.

Chapter Text

Everything was going so perfectly: his brother had come out of hiding, the GCPD had fallen into his trap, every eye in the city was either watching him live or on a screen.

Bruce was there.

Bruce understood.

Bruce was his. Everyone must have known it after watching Jerome lovingly retrace the scar he’d left on Bruce long enough ago that it had healed to the point where if he didn’t know to look for it he wouldn’t see it at all. He’d felt Bruce’s breath hitch, and he was sure if he had one finger on his pulse he would feel Bruce’s heart start to race. Their familiar banter, their inside jokes, their illicit flirting; it was intimate in the greatest way. The audience had screamed, horrified at his actions, and it was so hard to hold back the laughter. Idiots had no idea what was really going on. He would have focussed even more attention on him—Bruce always bloomed so beautifully under the care of Jerome’s covetous hands—but he didn’t want to make Bruce too mad.

Not when he had the promise of ‘later’.

Oh, how far they’ve come. Jerome feels both fond and mischievous as he recalls when he’d had to goad and coerce Bruce into action. He remembers having to threaten harm onto him and the people he loved just to get what he wanted. He remembers that first kiss; the way Bruce had dutifully pressed his closed mouth against his own, so boyishly chaste that Jerome had found it hilarious. The boy who had very nearly lost control and killed him was amusingly naïve about so much. The boy who had left Jerome behind as if their fight had meant nothing instead of meaning everything—who had acted as if casting aside the mirror shard was an ending instead of a beginning—was even sweeter than Jerome had thought he would be.

He was a precious little blank slate that Jerome wanted to carve his name into.

He was an unexpectedly dangerous, lionhearted sweetheart that Jerome didn’t think he’d mind being marked by in return.

Provoking him into action—into biting and fighting and spilling Jerome’s blood just like he had when he was at his most vicious and beautiful—was so fun, so exhilarating, so titillating. He’d taught Bruce how teenagers were supposed to kiss. He’d taught him other fun things, too, and Bruce had soaked up the knowledge like a sponge, precious boy. So eager to learn. So eager to be touched. So eager to be loved.

Longing to be loved by somebody who would never turn their back on him for the things that he did when he was pushed too far. Longing to have that sort of undying loyalty directed at him.

And who better to give him that than the person who he’d almost killed? The person who had seen him—up close and personal—during what he would undoubtedly consider his worst moment? The person who adored his rage and violence just as much as he’d eventually come to adore other things that he’d once thought of as boring?

Even now, Jerome thinks of what he admitted; hurting people, destroying someone. It’s enough to make him ache with the desire to see it happen.

Bruce is precariously balanced on an edge that he’s been standing on ever since he lost control in the maze of mirrors, or maybe since even before then. He is ruthless, and he is vengeful, and he is Jerome’s, but there is so, so much good in him. He is virtuous and kind and loving. He wants to help people, he wants to save people, even those who no one else would bother with. A warm brilliance has been building up inside of him—blinding and golden—but the darkness is still there, waiting for an opportunity to break free. Eventually something’s going to give and he’ll lose control of his temper again. He will hate himself for it, and he will try to make up for it, and the war within him of darkness and light will continue on as it has been for years.

Jerome has dreamt about waiting with open arms to catch him as he falls into the shadows, kissing the tear tracks on his face and his battered knuckles, welcoming him into the dark with relish and all the love that his twisted heart is capable of.

Their time together before this, though…

Bruce was vicious and gentle, violent and attentive. His temper only ever flared to life when people he cared about were being threatened. Jerome has begun to wonder if—despite his best efforts, despite their continued connection, despite all the odds—the light in Bruce still outshines the dark.

He holds his knife out to Jeremiah, Bruce’s blood still gracing the blade, and he cannot stop himself from looking over at him.

It’s always a pleasure to watch his mind start whirring.

It’s always a pleasure to be the reason behind it.

It’s always a pleasure to provoke him into action.

But maybe he’d been a little too caught up in Bruce, and maybe he should have gotten the show with Jeremiah started earlier, because he’s not even close to being done when he hears gunshots that he didn’t order start up.

He twists. Spies Gordon approaching the stage.

Gets—

Pain flares up, abrupt and brutal.

—shot.

He falls to his back, hissing a curse from between clenched teeth.

Firefly lets out a stream of fire as everything starts dissolving into chaos. He scrambles along the stage to lay in front of the Mayor and smiles as he presses the switch to blow off his head. He’s eager to do this; to mess with Gordon and Gotham as a whole even more than he already has, to turn the city into a madhouse, to make his Prince of Gotham into a Prince of Ruins.

Nothing happens. His smile starts twisting into a frown. He presses the switch again.

It doesn’t work, fuck, his fun was always being ruined by the humourless cock-blockers in the GCPD. His eyes drift back, and Bruce is—

Staring at him, doe-eyed. Pale and pained. If Jerome were holding his hands right now he’s sure they would be trembling.

Firefly releases another blast of flame in a wide sweep and the heat seems to snap Bruce out of whatever daze he’d been caught up in. He slips his wrists out of the bindings that kept him held to the chair quickly, his hands fumble for the clasp keeping the collar around his neck, his eyes don’t fall away from Jerome for a single second.

But Jerome has got to keep moving. He slams the dead man’s switch just a few more times to be sure, and by that time Bruce is already on his feet, already racing towards him—

Gordon is trying to disarm Firefly. People are screaming even louder, now.

—Jerome kicks out a leg, sweeping Bruce’s feet out from under him, and he stumbles onto his hands and knees.

This hadn’t been part of his original plan, but; when life gives you a truly precious boy within arm’s reach shouldn’t you thankfully take what has been freely offered? Thus Jerome feels absolutely no guilt as he grabs onto him and drags him off of the stage. Not even the pain at the movement is enough to make him regret it.

What was pain when compared to the joy of having Bruce with him again?

Nothing.

“Hey! Hey! Look up in the sky!”

With everyone staring in fear up at the blimp no one notices Jerome slip away with Bruce until it’s too late.

He wrenches open the back door to his getaway car, the closed partition window likely muffling his voice as he yells for the driver to floor it. They’re not even settled properly in the seats before they’re rearing back, leaving the chaos of the music festival behind.

Jerome cackles, victorious and alive and vindictively pleased even if he hadn’t managed to blow up the mayor. He’s had a few sneaking suspicions about whether Oswald would fold like a poor hand of cards, but he knows that Jonathan won’t let him down.

The music festival wasn’t the only plan he’d had in the works. Somewhere underground a special package was being put into position. One bad day. One bad spray. Sometimes he really cracks himself up. He turns to Bruce and smacks a kiss against his temple.

“Kidnapped again, baby doll,” he murmurs delightedly. “It’s just like old times, isn’t it?”

“This is,” Bruce starts, sounding out of breath, “by far, the worst date that you’ve ever taken me on.”

Jerome wheezes out another laugh. “So you admit that we’ve been on dates?”

Jerome knew that Bruce—his perfect little match in every way that mattered—would see things his way eventually.

“Yes, yes, it’s all very funny,” Bruce says, sounding the exact opposite of amused. Oh, how Jerome longs to put a real smile on his face to go with the upward curve that his knife had bloodily engraved at the edge of his mouth. “Now could you—” The car turns abruptly, and they crash together in the back seat. Jerome can’t hold back a pained curse and Bruce knocks firmly against the roof. “Could you not?!” He yells through the partition, looking about ready to bruise his knuckles on someone’s face. Unholy hell, Jerome can’t believe how lucky he is. Maybe once they’ve reached their destination Jerome will let Bruce punish the driver however he sees fit.

Satisfaction rumbles through him at the very idea of it.

“You.” Bruce’s voice gentles as he turns his attention back to Jerome. “You need to take it easy.” His hand hovers over the spot that’s blooming red, just like his hands had uncertainly hung in the air a hairsbreadth away from Jerome’s face in the diner. It’s all so charmingly sweet, and something that he would only ever accept if it came from Bruce. His care, concern, and compassion were not fabricated in the slightest, he was too good to fake those sorts of things. Sometimes it was almost enough to make Jerome wonder what might have happened if he met Bruce earlier in life, though he prefers to think of the future and not the past.

Bruce would have been too young to do much of anything back then. He would have attempted to help him despite the insurmountable odds, though; so morally upright and virtuous even as a child. Jerome thinks he might have secretly appreciated the gesture just as much as he would have found it hilarious; a stubborn little Gotham Prince trying to talk sense into Jerome’s assailants. Jerome’s own, personal white-knight. It makes him think of the diner again, makes him think of the ‘my hero’ that he hadn’t been able to hold back, makes him think of the few moments of vulnerability he’d shown before he managed to pull himself together, and Jerome is suddenly reminded that they never did have a proper goodbye kiss.

“Hospitals have to report gunshot wounds.” The sound of Bruce’s voice draws him back to the present. “I don’t suppose you’ve got a medical doctor waiting for you wherever we’re going?”

“Bet I could have someone find one real quick,” Jerome says. “But at the moment; no.”

“Right,” Bruce’s voice cracks as he shakily undoes the button keeping his jacket closed, then his hands are pushing it down Jerome’s shoulders, and then he’s undoing the buttons of Jerome’s dress shirt. “Let me see if there’s—” He pushes the fabric aside, going even paler as he eyes the bloody mess that is Jerome’s shoulder. “—an exit wound.” He pushes the shirt further down, the tips of his fingers getting slick and red, and he cranes his neck to get a look at Jerome’s back.

“Oh, there’s definitely one of those,” Jerome hisses from between his teeth as fabric is peeled away from him. “Felt it going out. Guess that’s better than it rattling away inside of me, huh?”

“Yes.” Bruce’s fingers graze around the unbroken skin beyond the edge of the wound. “Otherwise we’d have to dig it out.”

Jerome hums thoughtfully. “Kinky.”

His phone starts buzzing. He really should answer it now; give the order, release the gas, turn the entire city into an asylum, but…

They’ll call back.

Bruce pulls back to glare at him. “Not me. Some sort of medical professional, licensed or unlicensed, depending on which one is more likely to keep their mouth shut.” He’s speaking fast, like he’s panicking. Odd. Bruce hardly ever panics, or if he does he hides it very well. Jerome would know, he’s almost killed him more than once. “Even if the bullet’s not in there this needs to get cleaned and packed properly or you’re going to get an infection.” He settles back, hands twisting uneasily in his lap, and Jerome feels pleasantly fluttery as he zeros in on them.

“You look so good with blood on your hands, darlin’,” Jerome tells him sincerely. “I do wish it weren’t mine, though.”

“Yeah,” Bruce’s voice cracks again. “You bleeding all over me is pretty much the worst birthday gift that you could have possibly given me.”

Jerome goes still.

What?

“And I swear on my parents’ graves, Jerome, that if you so much as start having a low-grade fever I am dragging you to an actual hospital. I’ll bribe whoever I need to. I’ll buy the entire hospital. I am not going to let you go septic and die from a gunshot wound.” The pitch of his voice is high and brittle—he’s probably the only person on Earth who would ever truly be afraid for Jerome and not afraid of Jerome—and maybe Jerome would focus on that a little more if not for the way his mind was snagged on something else.

“Wait. Wait, wait. Back up.” Jerome grabs onto Bruce’s hands, the blood on his gloves transferring and staining Bruce even more, and stares into his eyes. His phone is buzzing again, he ignores it. “Did you just say—”

The car screeches around another turn and Bruce falls against him. It would have been incredibly romantic, Jerome is sure, except instead of Bruce suggestively pinning Jerome against the back seat their foreheads just clunk together as if they’re in the midst of some awful comedy bit. Bruce curses and wrenches one of his hands away to press against his forehead, and this time it’s Jerome using a fist to slam the roof of the car.

“Hey! I am trying to stealthily kidnap the Prince of Gotham, here!” He shouts at the partition as Bruce scrambles to finally buckle himself in. “You driving like this is going to make it pretty obvious that we’re up to no good!”

Honestly, of all the sneaky followers that he knows he has his get-away driver is somehow the one who wants to incite a police chase when he’s got Bruce Wayne with him? If Jerome gets caught he’s going to slaughter the guy himself.

But: focussing on more important matters.

“Brucie,” he croons, shifting to be right next to him. “Baby.” He reaches one hand over to press against the glass of the window. Bruce stares up at him as if he can’t believe that Jerome is alive after one measly bullet happened to hit him. There’s fresh blood smeared against his forehead. There’s drying blood trailing from the corner of his mouth down his chin. Pale and dark and red; a horror-story version of Snow White. Jerome wants to lick the blood off before kissing Bruce nice and deep. “Love of my life, did you just say that it’s your birthday?”

Bruce’s eyes open just a fraction wider, then he grits his teeth. “That is literally the least important thing right now. Jerome,” he annunciates lowly, eyes suspiciously glossy. “You have been shot.”

He’s getting all emotional again. This is even better than what had transpired between them in the diner. Bruce cares about him so much, Jerome could get drunk on the feeling.

“The likelihood of me getting away scot-free was never in my favour,” Jerome tells him. “But a man has got to go above and beyond to make an impression in Gotham, these days.”

He had to make sure that he stood out from the horrible crowd he was running with. Ha.

“Taking over a music festival, beheading people via bomb, revealing in the most malicious way possible that you have a twin brother, and having a blimp full of what I’m assuming was Scarecrow’s toxin cruise above the city wasn’t enough for you? You could have died.” Bruce grips at Jerome’s shoulders. His hands are trembling. “A few inches to the side and you likely would have!” His voice steadily rises. He sounds like he’s fighting a losing battle with his emotions, but there are unfortunately no targets for him to subject to his endearing wrath because Jerome is pretty certain that he’s completely off-limits, now.

Jerome wonders how Bruce would react if he asked him to kiss it better. The thought leaves him momentarily dizzy and wanting—red lips, red smiles, red kiss-marks being pressed against him—but perhaps now was not the best time for such teasing, though loving, suggestions. Bruce was likely a little too volatile right now, considering the whole history of people-he-loved-murdered-in-front-of-him thing. With a gun, to boot.

Ah, Jerome thinks belatedly.

Ahh.

So maybe his overreaction wasn’t really that much of an overreaction after all. In Jerome’s defense it was really easy to forget how Bruce’s parents were murdered in an alley when he had so many fun schemes going on. The music festival, the bombs, the toxin, the package, getting his filthy hands all over Bruce again. His racing thoughts tended to focus on the now and not the then, especially regarding occasions that he wasn’t even personally a part of.

“I could have,” he agrees, attempting consideration for someone who was troubled by memories of their parents’ deaths rather than excited by the opportunity to get their hands dirty with the ensuing bloodshed. He’s not sure he hits the mark. A long time ago, before Bruce, he might not have minded dying so long as he left his legacy of madness behind. But, as he’d told Bruce before during a phone conversation that he would never let either of them forget; even just the sound of Bruce’s voice was enough to make a man want to live to kill another day. Jerome couldn’t let himself die, not when that would mean leaving Bruce behind. “But I didn’t.”

“You’re awful,” Bruce snaps. “I can’t believe I love you.”

Time slows to a crawl.

Bruce lets go of Jerome’s shoulders and lifts his red fingers over his mouth, as if the action could somehow take back the words. His eyes, once sparking with anger and sadness over something that he’d had absolutely no control over, are wide with surprise. His cheeks slowly begin to burn.

Jerome licks his lips, thoughts racing so fast they are rendered almost incoherent. He’d known, of course he’d known, because Bruce had essentially told him so the last time that they’d seen each other even if he hadn’t said the actual words.

But now he had said the actual words.

And it’s so much better than Jerome had imagined it would be.

Getting shot was so worth it.

“Bruce,” he whispers, “I love you too.”

Bruce’s eyes flit over his face—he always looked at him so intently whenever Jerome told him the truth, anxiously searching for any signs of deceit. Jerome knows him too well to be upset by it—and his mouth moves without sound for a few seconds. Then he reaches out, bloody fingers tracing the line of Jerome’s jaw, and Jerome leans into his touch greedily.

“Jerome,” his voice is soft, but he no longer looks like he’s on the verge of crying. Maybe he’s starting to realize that Jerome’s not in danger of bleeding out in the back seat. “I saw you get shot.”

“I’m sorry?” Jerome tries out the phrase with as much authenticity as he can muster. It’s not much.

“No, you’re not.” Bruce sighs as he weaves his arms around Jerome’s shoulders and neck, bringing him in close, apparently no longer caring about Jerome bleeding all over him on his birthday. One hand cradles the back of Jerome’s head, and Jerome doesn’t fight against the way his face is guided down into the crook of Bruce’s neck even though this feels like a strange swap of their usual roles. It’s kind of nice to be held, he finds himself thinking. Different, but not at all unpleasant. “You’re sorry that I saw it, maybe, but you’re not sorry that it happened.”

It’ll take way more than one bullet to kill me, he wants to say, but he thinks that might ruin the moment. And this is a lovely moment, he’s got to admit.

“I’m not leaving until I’m sure you’ve been taken care of,” Bruce tells him firmly. Jerome laughs delightedly against his neck.

“Bruce, please, who do you think kidnapped who in this situation?” He pulls back just enough to look Bruce in the eyes. “You’re not leaving until you either escape or the GCPD rips you away from me.”

As if he would turn Bruce away on his birthday. As if he would turn Bruce away ever.

As if he wouldn’t happily keep him for eternity.

“Promise?”

“Cross my heart, Bruce.” He’s more aware than ever about their lack of a proper goodbye kiss at the diner. About the amount of time that’s passed since they’ve properly kissed, period. He really, really wants to rectify that. “The next time I take you out on a date we can do something you like.”

Bruce chuckles, a wry sort of smile pulling at his lips. Jerome isn’t ashamed to admit that he absolutely adores him.

“It’s about time,” he says. Then his eyes drift down in a very telling manner, though he doesn’t make any move to do what he’s obviously thinking about. Probably because he doesn’t want to accidentally hurt Jerome, which is both sweet and entirely unnecessary.

Jerome doesn’t mind being hurt by Bruce.

“If you want me to rate my pain on a scale of one to ten before we get down to business, hmm.” What was being shot compared to being burnt? What was being burnt compared to being stabbed? What was being stabbed compared to having to staple his face back on? What was stapling his face on compared to being punched so much that his skin slipped right off? “I’d say we’re at a solid seven, but I bet we can discover a few fun ways make that number go down.” He leans in, stopping short of reaching his target only because Bruce lifts a hand in front of his mouth. Jerome pouts at him.

“Medical attention first,” Bruce tells him. It is not a request. “Making out later.”

“Bold of you to be making demands,” Jerome grouses, “when I’m the one with the power, here.”

“Bold of you to think that you’re the only one with power, here.”

Huh. Well.

He’s not wrong.

“Just one kiss to tide me over.” Jerome grabs onto both of Bruce’s hands, interlocking their fingers and pressing them down onto Bruce’s thighs. “One little smooch to soothe my aches.” He leans closer, reveling in the way Bruce doesn’t attempt to back up—not that he has anywhere to back up to, trapped beside the window as he is. “And then I’ll see a doctor and get patched up, and then we’re going to celebrate your special day, birthday boy.”

“Oh really?” Bruce’s breath drifts across Jerome’s mouth. His eyes are dark. Jerome can feel his blood start to rush in a familiar way. “How?”

“You and I are going to have a very good time together,” he promises. “You’ll see.”

He can see Bruce’s resolve start to melt—Jerome has gotten so good at persuading him into doing things that go against his better judgement—and Jerome knows that he’s won.

He leans in, rough lips sliding over Bruce’s soft ones.

Kissing Bruce is one of the greatest victories of the day.

But the most illustrious triumph of all had been those three little words slipping unintentionally out of his mouth.

You’re mine, Jerome thinks as he slowly pulls away to gaze upon Bruce’s almost unbearably affectionate expression, and I’m yours.

Chapter Text

Once the car had jerked to a stop Jerome had zip-tied Bruce’s hands together in order to play the part of kidnapper a little more convincingly, though he had also given Bruce a very knowing, secretive sort of glance that Bruce had interpreted as ‘you know how to get out of these, don’t you?’

To which the answer was: yes, obviously. Bruce has been kidnapped far too many times, and not only by Jerome. The unfortunate precedent that those instances spelled out for his life meant that Bruce has spent plenty of time over the years learning a few tricks to break free from common restraints, and zip-ties were fairly easy to get out of when they fastened your wrists in front of the body as opposed to behind the body.

Bruce might have smiled serenely at Jerome’s unspoken question just to watch his eyes spark up with obvious interest were it not for the red of Jerome’s blood still staining his hands.

Too close, he’d thought. Too close, too close.

He’d been glad to get an opportunity to wash it all off before the doctor came.

One bullet was enough to end a life, and even if Jerome didn’t seem to be showing any symptoms of hypovolemic shock Bruce was watching him like a hawk even as a doctor was finally brought in to assess him. He’d watch him like a hawk once the doctor was done, too, because he had absolutely meant that comment about dragging Jerome somewhere to be treated if his temperature spiked even a little. Maybe he’d even attempt a pointed conversation with the doctor about the pros and cons of using prophylactic antibiotics when it came to treating gunshot wounds...

He stares hard at Jerome’s bare back. He’d stripped of his bloody jacket and shirt before the doctor came in and as he’d taken off his waistcoat he’d hissed something under his breath. Bruce’s heart had surged with the fear that he was more wounded than either of them had realized, but when he’d asked Jerome what was wrong he’d held up a piece of paper for him to look at, a third of it red and damp, and Bruce had instantly recognized the cut-out letters.

“Ruined your love-note,” Jerome had said, sounding more emotional about that than he had about getting shot in the first place.

I love you, Bruce had thought as his heart began to ache, momentarily struck with the strength behind his own emotions. Another wave of distress washed over him at the memory of how close Jerome had come to meeting his end and his fingers spasmed with the desire to reach out, touch him, provide any comfort that he could. He’d thought about what he would have felt if Jerome hadn’t pulled him from the stage and had instead left him behind, and the very notion of knowing that Jerome had been shot but not knowing the extent of his injuries left him in agony. He’d stared at the note, at the blood, at the blood, at the blood—

The heavy door that hid Jerome and himself from the few Maniax lingering in the building had started to slide open and broke his cycling thoughts of misery, and he’d quickly pushed himself to the edges of the room although he could not, for the life of him, attempt to fake fear at his falsified hostage situation.

He was afraid enough as it was for reasons that no one in this city, not even the people who he was closest to, would be able to guess. He’d rather keep them all unaware for as long as he could; his friends, Jerome’s Maniax, the general public. So he’d tucked himself away in a corner and had watched, uneasy and wishing that he knew enough beyond the basics of wound care in order to tend to Jerome personally, as Jerome took a seat on the only chair in the dingy room, as the doctor opened up sterile packages of wound dressings and donned sterile gloves, as Jerome gritted out curses from between his teeth while the doctor got to work cleaning the wound.

Each rough sound of his voice—he’s hurting. Bruce hates that he’s hurting. Bruce never wants him to hurt again—makes Bruce’s chest feel tight. Even though the process is grim Bruce cannot seem to look away for a single second, at least not until he starts to recognize the feeling of being watched. He leans back against the wall and widens the field of his focus to include more than just Jerome’s back and the doctor’s steadily working hands.

When the doctor in question glances at him for the tenth time in less than five minutes Bruce feels more than a little upset that any attention is being focused on him because Jerome has a gunshot wound. He’s already worked up from this awful situation as a whole, but this is just making it worse.

“Can I help you?” He asks from the corner that he’s standing, on the side furthest from the door. His tone is flat, because if he allows any emotion to seep through it will be too telling, too genuine. Bruce must show nothing, or else Bruce will show everything. He can hear Jerome choke on a startled laugh. “You keep looking at me.”

The doctor darts a quick look over to Jerome, as if asking permission to speak. One of his Maniax, then. Bruce shouldn’t be surprised. Bruce should probably be thankful that the person patching Jerome up was doing so because he wanted to and not because the lives of the people he loved were being threatened.

“Is there a reason why he’s here?” He directs the question not at Bruce, but at Jerome, and Bruce’s ceaseless dismay is tempered with a bloom of irritation that he’s far too on-edge to bite back.

“He,” Bruce starts pointedly, “is very good at getting away after getting caught up in a mad scheme. He obviously cannot be left alone or else he would escape.” The doctor is looking at Bruce as if he’s shocked that Bruce hasn’t been gagged. It makes him angrier, but the anger is a welcome change from sorrow, so he chooses to embrace it. “And there’s no one better suited to preventing him from vanishing than your Messiah.” Jerome’s shoulders being to shake as he attempts to hold back laughter. “If Jerome weren’t actively threatening everything and everyone I loved I’d be ripping this place apart with my bare hands and making so much chaos that every cop in Gotham would be deployed here in a matter of minutes,” he finishes with a conceited air that he assumes Jerome’s followers would expect of him.

Jerome twists to glance back at him. Bruce wants very badly for him to be patched up and for the doctor to be gone.

Bruce wants very badly for Jerome to never be shot again.

“Brucie has a tendency to leave just when things are starting to get interesting,” Jerome says in amused support of Bruce’s statements. His eyes are filled to the brim with mischief. “Thankfully I’ve gotten to know most of his sweet little weak spots over the years. He’s so easily exploitable. If I left him with anyone else he’d just end up knocking them unconscious before spiriting himself away, and then I’d have no one fun left to play with.”

That’s a little too on-the-nose and Bruce glares at him for it, though there’s very little real heat behind the expression, and Jerome winks at him before turning back around.

“Right,” the doctor says, probably assuming that by ‘play' Jerome meant something that involved a lot more knives and a lot more blood than what Bruce had been subjected to up on the stage. “Almost done.”

Thank fuck.

After several more minutes the doctor finishes, then devotedly tells Jerome that he’d come back the next day to redo the wound dressing. He throws one last harsh look over his shoulder at Bruce, perhaps wishing that he had been invited to see exactly what Jerome had planned for the Prince of Gotham who all of the Maniax undoubtedly wanted Jerome to finally kill.

Bruce barely resists the urge to make a rude gesture at him.

The heavy door slides shut.

“Alone, at long last.” Jerome sing-songs as he rises to his feet. “My precious darlin’ acting the part of a caged bird once again. What should I do with you?”

Bruce raises his arms high above his head, opening his elbows to allow room for them to go past his hips on his next move, then swings them down while spreading his hands apart. The momentum and weight are enough for the ties to tear on the first try.

“I don’t know,” He says, watching Jerome watch him and feeling jittery with anticipation. He doesn’t want to hurt Jerome. But he also really wants Jerome. Wants the sound of Jerome’s voice to drown out the terrible echo of a gunshot. Wants to forget the terror that had consumed him the moment Jerome’s body had hit the stage and Bruce’s racing thoughts had urged him to move, move, please, move, even if it’s so you can kill the Mayor. He’ll attempt to keep things gentle, though considering his partner he’s not sure how successful he’ll be. At least he can console himself with the knowledge that Jerome had received actual medical attention, and that he’d seen Jerome take a pill from what he assumes was the prescription bottle that Bruce had sent him. “What should you?”

In a few quick strides Jerome is right in front of him, is winding a hand through Bruce’s hair.

And then they’re kissing. They’re kissing, and Jerome is warm, and Jerome is alive, and Jerome wants him. Bruce’s hands scrabble against his lower back to bring him closer, closer, closer because he needs to feel his heat, his breath, his heartbeat after the dread that he’d felt not only when the gunshot had rung in his ears but in the aftermath of it.

Jerome’s tongue darts out of his mouth, and Bruce’s lips part with a sigh.

He is warm, and alive, and he is Bruce’s just as much as Bruce is his.

Jerome has killed people. Jerome has tried to turn the whole city crazy. But Bruce loves him, and if he’d died Bruce thinks that he would have never recovered from it; caught up in a grief that he couldn’t explain to anyone. In a way it would have been even worse than when he was mourning his parents, because at least back then every stranger who lived within the city knew all about the tragedy. His heart would be broken, and he’d have to pretend that he was okay—or even worse; pretend happiness to fit in with every other Gotham citizen who would rejoice in Jerome’s downfall—doomed to play a role that he didn’t want.

The police couldn’t keep him locked away, Arkham couldn’t keep him locked away.

Bruce wishes he could keep him, but he doesn’t think can. Jerome is not someone who could be happily kept by anybody, not even by the person who he loves. But if Bruce had him he could stop Jerome before he ever did anything that would throw the public—or himself—into danger. If Bruce had him then Jerome would certainly never get shot again.

Jerome pushes him back against a wall. Jerome slides a thigh between Bruce’s legs. Jerome’s tongue presses against the cut that he’d left with his knife, and Bruce feel dizzy with the memories that these actions bring back.

He’d thought about that time up on the stage, too, and his blood had begun to run hot.

He’s burning up, now.

His fingers press into Jerome’s back, and he is careful not to dig in his nails even though he knows exactly how Jerome would respond to such a thing.

“I’d tell you that you don’t have to worry about being gentle with me,” Jerome says between lingering kisses. “But I guess I’ll allow it for now, since you’re so obviously shaken up.”

“How kind,” Bruce utters. He wants his tone to sound wry, but instead it’s high and warbling. He means to say more, but then Jerome’s thigh moves against him and his breath hitches. Jerome chuckles roughly at his reaction, and rather than ruining the mood it just makes Bruce feel hotter.

“Is it really kindness?” Jerome muses, pressing even closer. Bruce bucks against his thigh, and Jerome’s ensuing inhalation is sharp. “Or is it just rewarding good behaviour?”

“Good behaviour?” The topic is nearly enough to give him emotional whiplash as his perseverations about Jerome’s fall on the stage are forced to come to an end. This might actually be the worst thing he’s ever done, bar killing Ra’s. He’d fallen into Jerome’s hands and let himself get kidnapped while the entire ordeal was being broadcasted. Everyone in Gotham was going to be on the lookout for him, not just Detective Gordon and Alfred. Everyone in Gotham was going to think that Jerome was ripping him to bloody pieces.

“You were very good for me up on that stage.” Jerome grinds against his hip, his kisses turning wet as his hands drag down Bruce’s sides. “Receiving my attentions so charmingly in front of our unsuspecting audience.” He flicks his tongue against the stinging corner of Bruce’s mouth. “Everyone knows who you belong to now, don’t they?”

Bruce’s hips jerk. His hands lift to twist into Jerome’s hair. He has a fleeting recollection of a conversation like this, and he’s pretty sure that back then his response was that Jerome didn’t own him. This time, though…

“You weren’t exactly subtle.”

Jerome’s hands pause their current effort of undoing Bruce’s pants. He laughs fondly against Bruce’s mouth.

“How could anyone be subtle with you at their mercy? It’s always such a rush.” He peppers kisses all over Bruce’s face, and his hands get back to work. “Besides, do you have any idea how many criminals in this city want to open up your veins and bathe in your blue blood? I gotta make sure they know that you are off-limits.”

“So possessive,” Bruce remarks, though he’s mostly unbothered by it. He’d be a hypocrite to pretend offense considering how often his thoughts had tripped into the cycle of finding Jerome, stopping Jerome, keeping Jerome over the past several months.

“Always have been,” Jerome tells him without shame as he pulls Bruce’s pants and underwear down as far as he can with his thigh still in the way. “Always will be.”

That probably shouldn’t make Bruce smile. Oh well.

Jerome’s fingers wrap around his cock, and Bruce pulls him down into a kiss.

Fuck, he’s missed this. His own hands never seemed quite able to bring about the exact same reactions as Jerome’s, not even when his mind was filled with endlessly cycling thoughts of him. Bigger and rougher and far more deadly, the hands of someone who would gladly tear the whole world to pieces just to watch and laugh at the fallout. He thrusts into Jerome’s fist and has to consciously stop himself from biting—Jerome always reacted so passionately whenever Bruce dug his teeth into him, whenever Bruce drew blood—and instead of using teeth to drive Jerome crazier Bruce drags his tongue against Jerome’s lips, tracing the scar as far as it goes. Jerome murmurs something, tilting his head to bring their lips together again, licking into mouth, his hand finding a rhythm, his thumb pressing against Bruce’s slit with every upstroke.

“Should have known you’d be too restless to wait for me to bring you to the room with the bed,” Jerome sighs happily, fingers clenching in a way that makes Bruce’s entire body jolt. “I’ve missed you.”

“I missed you, too.”

Jerome hums, free hand starting to tug at Bruce’s jacket. Bruce untangles his hands from Jerome’s hair and quickly strips it off, letting it fall to the floor in a heap, and his sweater follows soon after. Jerome takes the opportunity to kiss his way down Bruce’s throat, then he sucks and bites bruises along the base, all the while his hand winds Bruce tighter and tighter, until Bruce can hardly breathe.

“Gonna make you come so hard,” Jerome promises, grazing his teeth against Bruce’s collarbone. His fingers pause to wrap tightly around the base of Bruce’s cock, and Bruce shudders as his climax is abruptly put on hold. “I want to make you see stars, baby doll.” He takes a small step back. His smirking face would seem triumphant, were it not for the very telling flush of his cheek and the darkness of his blown pupils. He always wanted everything just as badly as Bruce, if not even more so. “I want to see you lose control. I love it when you lose control.” His teeth skim down Bruce’s chest, then down his stomach, as he slowly drops to his knees. “Don’t take your eyes off of me,” he says.

“I won’t,” Bruce promises. He doesn’t think he could look away even if he tried.

Jerome’s smirk widens. “Good boy,” he says, lowly and approvingly, and he watches avidly as Bruce flushes. “You’ve still got such a praise-kink,” he adds, sounding thrilled.

“I—I do not.”

“Hmm.” Jerome gives him a deliberate look. “Yeah, no, I don’t believe you at all.”

And Bruce can’t protest because the air is punched out of his lungs when Jerome’s tongue laves against the head of Bruce’s cock. It’s an underhanded tactic, but really, it’s also exactly the sort of thing that Bruce expects from him. He’d snort at the predictability if it weren’t for the way Jerome’s lips were wrapping around him, pulling him in deeper. Instead his hands scramble to grip Jerome’s hair and he tries really, really hard not to fuck right into his hot mouth.

He’d already gotten so close just from Jerome’s hand on him, so it’s only a matter of minutes before Bruce comes with a soft cry of Jerome’s name. Jerome pulls back, panting, his eyes even darker. He leans in to bite bruises on the inside of Bruce’s thighs, on his hipbones, on the mark that he’d left before he’d been captured and taken away to Arkham. It makes a warm sense of belonging fill up Bruce’s chest. It makes it easier to forget all the times that he’s felt alone.

His fingers run through Jerome’s hair, and eventually Jerome’s seeking mouth pauses so that he can rest his chin on Bruce’s thigh, gazing up at him. There’s a sense of power, here, with Jerome knelt before him. If Bruce were cruel or vindictive, and also not so terribly in love, he might attempt to take advantage. Jerome’s guard is down. He’d be easy to pin. Easy to break away from.

Bruce’s fingers trail down Jerome’s brow, grazing against his cheek. He can feel the words building up in his throat again—I love you, I love you, I love you—but it’s much harder to say it a second time without having his overwhelming emotions being the driving force behind the declaration.

Jerome moves to press a kiss to the pads of Bruce’s fingers. Bruce slides down the wall, spreading his legs and settling them on either side of Jerome’s still kneeling form.

One hand stays on Jerome’s cheek and guides his face closer, the other reaches forward to undo the zipper of his slacks.

“Jerome,” Bruce murmurs, pressing a kiss to the corner of his mouth while his fingers slide into Jerome’s beltloops, impatiently tugging. “Tell me how we’re going to celebrate my birthday.” The pants are down, the underwear soon follows, and Bruce wraps his hand around Jerome’s cock. “Tell me, please?”

“Fuck, Bruce.” Jerome thrusts into his hand. “Precious birthday boy,” he croons, sliding his rough lips along Bruce’s smooth cheek. “You know I’ll always take such good care of you. There’s so much I want to do to you. So much I’ve dreamt about,” he whispers.

“Like what?”

“Kissing and biting you everywhere, making sure there isn’t a single spot that hasn’t been given attention,” he rumbles, and Bruce rubs his palm against the slick head of his dick until Jerome shudders. “Fucking your thighs, letting you get used to what it’s going to feel like when my hips are slamming against your ass, when my chest is pressed tight against your back, when I’m filling you up so nice and full,” he rasps, forehead falling onto Bruce’s shoulder. “Gonna come on your back, slick my fingers up with it, and finger you open just like that. You’ll take it so well. I know you will. I’m gonna play with you for hours so that I can find every one of your weak spots.” He pants against Bruce’s skin, hips jerking unsteadily. Bruce twists to press a kiss into Jerome’s hair, and Jerome lifts his head back up so that he can press a sloppy, wet kiss against Bruce’s mouth. “We just both have to get the edge off first, yeah? It’s been too long, darlin’.”

“It has.” Bruce’s fingers are full and slick, and that combined with Jerome’s words are making heat build up inside of him again. It’s been way too long.

“I’m going to make you squirm,” Jerome promises him, and Bruce absolutely believes him. “I’m going to make you fall to pieces, I’m going to put you back together, I’m going to—” His breath hitches, his cock jerks in Bruce’s hand. He must be so close. “I’m going to call you my good boy, because that’s what you are.”

Bruce’s fingers twist around the head of his cock.

“That’s what I am,” Bruce agrees, and Jerome comes against his fingers with a hiss of his name.

He’s not a boy anymore, and he’s not nearly as good as he wants to be—twisted up in Jerome as he is; even if he ignored the death of Ra’s his one vice in life was something so terribly unforgivable—but if he liked it, and Jerome liked it, then what did the semantics matter?

“I want those things, too,” he admits lowly. “I want it all. You’ll give it to me, won’t you? You were gone for so long again, we’ve got to make up for lost time.”

“Insatiable,” Jerome murmurs, pleased, as he presses kisses to the tender skin underneath Bruce’s eyes. “I’ll give it all to you and more, since I’ve got to make up for getting shot in front of you.”

Bruce pauses in the act of pulling his sticky hand away. His chest feels tight again, like he can’t draw in a full breath. “Jerome,” he starts, voice wavering. “You… You’re really going to destroy the mood if you mention that. You’ll make me sad.”

“Got it. Lips are sealed.” Jerome mimes zipping them shut.

“Good.” He wipes his fingers on Jerome’s pants, and Jerome pointedly raises his eyebrows at him.

“If I give a statement after I escape, or get rescued, or whatever, and someone notices that I’ve got come on my clothes they’re going to start putting two and two together pretty swiftly.” He dreads the idea of it, but such a big secret couldn’t possibly be concealed forever. Especially since Jerome’s displays were getting more and more expressive, especially since certain people already knew that Jerome’s interest in him hadn’t ended on the night of his mad carnival only to suddenly spring up again now. “I wonder if they’ll lock me away in Arkham, once they figure it all out,” he murmurs under his breath.

“No.”

“No?”

“Absolutely not,” Jerome grits out, voice a like subterranean rumble. Dangerous. “The cops in this city? They hardly know how to properly handcuff a perp. No one’s going to figure it out unless we want them to know.”

Bruce tilts his head, eyes roving over Jerome oddly serious expression.

“I would have thought—I would have thought that you’d like to be found out by everyone, eventually.”

It seemed very in-line with Jerome’s type of possessive behaviour. Bruce was his, and he obviously wanted everyone to know it.

“Maybe I’ve considered it, one or two hundred times, but there are facts that you obviously haven’t taken into account.”

“What facts?”

Jerome leans against him, pressing their foreheads together, staring into Bruce’s eyes. “You? Bruce, you’re too important and have too many connections to be put into a place as clearly corrupted as Arkham is. They’d send you away,” Jerome’s voice goes soft, and Bruce’s heart aches. “They’d send you to a place where doctors actually tried to treat you and cult leaders would never be able to get to you. Some kind of sterile, bleached-white, rich-person facility that has enough security to stop breakouts and actually does background checks on their employees. They’d take you away from me, away from the city where they know I have power and influence, maybe even out of the country. I might never see you again.”

Bruce’s fingers clench into Jerome’s pantleg. Two years ago the idea of never seeing Jerome again would have been a relief. Now even the idea of it makes Bruce feel sick; the one person who he could be completely open with, the one person who would always love him no matter what, gone from his life forever.

“I’d rather be in Arkham, then.”

Jerome rasps out a hollow laugh.

“You wouldn’t get a choice.” He leans back onto his heels, tucking some of Bruce’s hair back into place. “And you talk to me about ruining the mood,” he chides, but his voice is fond.

“I’m sorry,” Bruce apologizes weakly.

He’d never thought of it like that.

“Hey, no frowning.” Jerome’s fingers skitter across his cheeks. “Outside these walls, even if I didn’t manage to gas the city, there’s still enough chaos going on that they can’t devote too many cops to finding one teenager, even if you are the most important teenager in Gotham. We’ve got time and, perhaps most importantly, we have a news van.”

Bruce furrows his eyebrows. Jerome flashes him a charming smile.

“Excuse me?”

“It’s always important to have a spare set of broadcasting equipment just in case, y’know?” His hand is in Bruce’s hair again, brushing it out of his eyes. “You’re worried someone’s going to find out about us because I’ve kidnapped you again after making a very grand, very sexy, very public gesture. We may as well act like I’ve kidnapped you again. It’ll frankly be way more suspicious if I don’t brag about having you trapped in my clutches.”

Well, that was true enough. Jerome loved getting an opportunity to gloat.

“And then?”

Jerome presses their foreheads together again.

“And then it’s just you and me, baby doll,” he promises softly. “Livin’ the dream.”

Chapter Text

Bruce in Arkham, ha. Jerome would be lying if he said he’d never thought about it; his perfect little match keeping him company on the inside. Raising hell with him. Starting fights with him. Drawing blood with him.

Breaking out with him.

They’d be partners-in-crime, in all senses of the phrase. Nothing could stand against them, especially not law enforcement in Gotham. It was really enough to make a man’s heart race, but the more Jerome had fantasized about it, the more unlikely it had seemed.

Bruce wasn’t just any regular Gotham citizen, he was Bruce goddamn Wayne. There was power in his name, power in his company, power in his money, power in his connections. People wouldn’t want him to get thrown into Arkham. Especially not if they had even the slightest idea of what Jerome and Bruce were to each other. They may not allow it even if they didn’t know, citing the amount of times that Jerome had tried to kill him in order to keep them separated for Bruce’s ‘safety’.

Jerome wanted Bruce to give in to his dark side, but there were ways to do that without their relationship becoming undeniably factual to the general public. That wasn’t to say that he wouldn’t love an opportunity to gloat about everything to the entire damn world, but not if the end result lead to their being separated, which is what the entire damn world would attempt to do if they knew anything. Jerome wasn’t strong enough, yet, to stand against the entire world. Once Gotham was in ruins, maybe, but until then…

Bruce had money and power, which was exactly how other people in this city who deserved to be thrown into either Arkham or Blackgate stayed on the outside. Bruce could, quite literally, get away with murder, and no one would have to know.

He would know. Jerome would know. It would be another precious secret between them.

Bruce could be a philanthropist to deal with his ongoing feelings of guilt for all Jerome cared; he could build orphanages and donate medical equipment and whatever else rich people did to make themselves important, except Bruce—good, virtuous, stupidly kind Bruce—would actually do that sort of thing out of altruism.

But Bruce could not get caught, could not get locked away in a place where Jerome wouldn’t be able to reach him, because then—

What would Jerome have?

Nothing that really mattered. Sure, he’d have his cult and his schemes and his allies, but those things all paled in comparison to the connection that he and Bruce shared.

Jerome had thought, briefly, when he’d broken out of Arkham to figure out what Bruce was drinking his teenaged troubles away for, that there was a power in the way that Bruce made him feel. That someday maybe Bruce would turn the tables on him, and he would be the one left reeling for once.

It seems even more likely, now, with their time together at the diner still so fresh in his mind.

Bruce was the first person in years and years to touch Jerome kindly. Bruce was the only person who Jerome would permit such soft touches, soft looks, soft emotions from. He wouldn’t be able to stand it from anyone else. He wouldn’t allow it from anyone else.

They had almost killed each other. They had survived each other. They were meant for each other.

“Sometimes I wonder,” he muses aloud as he sets up the camera equipment that he’d ordered to have brought inside just before he’d commanded the remaining Maniax in the building to go out and create a bit of chaos on the opposite side of the city. “What would have happened if I was dragged to Arkham after my special night and I never broke into your room to give you a souvenir from our first date.”

Behind him Bruce is silent for a moment.

“Well.” His voice is thoughtful and even, and Jerome waits for some sort of profound observation. “I definitely never would have masturbated while thinking about you touching me.”

Jerome barks out a startled laugh and he whirls around. There’s a little smile on Bruce’s mouth.

“And I certainly wouldn’t let you get away with calling me pet names all the time,” he continues as Jerome strides towards where he’s seated in the chair Jerome had occupied while the doctor was looking him over.

“I still would have tracked you down when you broke out of Arkham, though,” Bruce says, tone becoming less humorous and more earnest. “I still would have found you,” he whispers. “I still would have tried to save you.”

Jerome cups Bruce’s face in his hands. “I know you would.”

It makes him feel warm in a way that he likely would have scoffed at two years ago. That same fondness that he’d experienced when he saw Bruce’s love-note and care package fills him up at the idea that, even if Jerome hadn’t dug his claws into Bruce and dragged him into the circle of Jerome’s influence, he still would have done something.

So many people would have walked away. Would have looked the other way. Would have pretended to have never seen anything. It had happened enough to Jerome as a child, it would have happened to him again as an adult. Maybe the world wasn’t full of people who wanted to hurt him, but it was full of people who didn’t want to risk helping him.

Bruce, as always, was a delightful singularity.

The first person who had ever really tried to help Jerome, to save Jerome. The only person who would be afraid for him instead of afraid of him. They’re tightly tied together now, but they still would have been tied together in some way or another even if Jerome hadn’t followed along with his besotted impulses to sweep Bruce off of his feet and into the firm, unyielding hold of his arms. He knows it, somehow, deep in his bones, in the depths of his heart.

Even if Bruce didn’t love him, he would have done something—so resilient and just—Jerome thinks that maybe he loves that about him just as much as he loves the smoke and fire that fills him up when his temper is on the verge of erupting. Not that he’d ever admit to it.

“I love you,” he says, thumbs grazing gentle circles along Bruce’s warm cheeks. Bruce doesn’t say it back, but Jerome can see it in his eyes and that’s enough for now.

Eventually Bruce will say it to him because he is ready to say it to him, and it will be even sweeter for being said on purpose.

And then they’ll be one step closer to their inevitable future.

Jerome zip ties Bruce’s wrists to the chair, and he ties a blindfold over his eyes. The blood from his cut has been washed away, and newly-formed clots are stemming the flow. He entertains the thought of picking away the scabs to get the blood running again, because Bruce would make such an impossible to ignore picture with the red still so starkly evident against his ashen face, but he can’t quite make himself do it.

“Sit here and look like the pretty and vulnerable young Prince that all of Gotham thinks you are,” Jerome teases him, and Bruce’s lips twist in a frown. “I’ll do all the work.”

x-x-x

The lighting is dim and the footage is grainy, but that isn’t enough to obscure the striking features barely concealed by a black blindfold or the telling cut seen at the corner of his mouth.

Gotham, as a collective, holds its breath.

“You know,” a voice from off camera that every Gotham citizen recognizes begins. The sound causes excitement for some, but for the vast majority all that they feel is dread. The last time that a broadcast like this had happened—a secret location, with someone in the background tied up—all the lights had gone out. “As much as I love having one piece, I do wish that I’d gotten my hands on the set.”

Bruce’s mouth presses into a firm line and his fists clench, but the view of him is suddenly obscured as Jerome Valeska steps into the shot, still in the bloody clothes from his broadcast at the music festival. He looks bizarre, unstoppable, monstrous; he looks as though getting shot was nothing but a minor setback. He looks as though he could survive anything and manage to come back crazier and more powerful than ever.

Jerome bends down to grin at the camera.

“Hello, brother,” he coos, eyes flashing in a way that sends chills down everyones' spines. “Hello, Gotham. Hope my little gang of Maniax aren’t getting too rowdy out there, but you know how we are when we get excited.” His grin stretches wider, his hands curl into fists before opening, fingers spreading. “Boom,” he intones with a chuckle. “Having one hostage is nice, but having two would be nicer. Maybe I’ll come out to play and find some lucky, lucky citizen out there to drag back here and keep Bruce company before I make him fall into spectacular pieces. What do you say, Bruce?” He casts a glance over his shoulder, and when he looks back at the camera his expression in an exaggerated pout.

“Bruce is such a stick in the mud when he’s got nobody to nobly throw himself in front of.” His voice lowers to a whisper. “Kid’s got a saviour complex or something. To really make him scream I’m going to have to find someone out there for him to want to protect, and then fail to protect.” His smile is vicious. “Any volunteers? No? Too bad. I’ll be seeing you real soon, Gotham.” His eyes shutter. His face is suddenly, terrifyingly void of emotion. “Brother.”

The broadcast abruptly cuts off.

People all over the city scramble for cover, and the GCPD prepares itself for an attack that won’t come.

The Maniax are out causing havoc, but Jerome?

He’s not leaving his special love nest, not for anything.

Not even to get his hands on Jeremiah.

x-x-x

“Are you planning on killing him?”

“Killing who?” He rarely makes plans to kill anyone anymore. His mother, his father, a bunch of nameless cops, Bruce, Theo Galavan, Bruce again—Bruce again, Bruce again, Bruce never again—his uncle. But mostly the people who died because of him are nothing but collateral damage, not worth making plans for.

“Jeremiah.”

“You think I would let myself get carted back to Arkham, away from you, and stay there for as long as I did just to let it end with death?” Jerome undoes the blindfold from around Bruce’s eyes. “No. I’m not going to kill him.”

“Are you going to hurt him?”

“Well, I hurt everything I touch, don’t I?” Jerome lifts a hand, gently tracing unbroken skin underneath the cut he’d carved into the side of Bruce’s mouth. “Some people don’t mind it, though.”

“Jerome.”

“I’m not planning on maiming him or mutilating him or desecrating his corpse, if that’s what you’re so worried about.” He cuts the ties binding Bruce’s wrists to the chair. “What’s the big deal, anyway?”

“I… I promised that I wouldn’t let you hurt him. And I won’t.” His gaze is unwavering. If he were anyone else Jerome would scoff. “I’m going to protect him, even if it’s from you.”

“Why?” Because Bruce is too good. Because Bruce cares about people. Because Bruce wants to save them. Jerome knows this, but he also can’t help but feel jealous that he’s not the only one who Bruce would throw himself into the line of fire for. “You see his unscarred face and figure he might be the better option?”

Bruce blinks abruptly, hurt flashing across his features. Jerome feels—bad, guilty, like he should have kept his mouth shut—but he stubbornly refuses to apologize. Not for something that seems so reasonable. Who wouldn’t want the good twin rather than the bad twin? Never mind that Jeremiah wasn’t nearly as good as he wanted people to believe.

“Jerome,” Bruce’s voice is firm, unyielding, as he stands. He reaches out for Jerome’s hands and interlocks their fingers. “He’s not you.”

Jerome’s heart flutters, traitor that it is. There was a time in his life that soft reassurances like this would be something for him to uncaringly laugh about. That time is over, now.

“There has never been anyone like you,” Bruce continues, gripping Jerome’s hands harder. “There will never be anyone like you. Not to me.”

Such a declaration should be sickeningly sweet. Such a declaration should either make Jerome want to cackle—because of course there will never be anyone like him—or make him consider whether or not the person saying such a thing could be a useful pawn for him to command. Neither of those things happen.

“There won’t ever be anyone like you for me, either,” Jerome tells him, squeezing back. “Come on, the doc left behind some steri-strips. I’m gonna fix up your mouth so you don’t end up opening the cut back up when I make you scream for me.”

“Another reward for good behaviour?” Bruce murmurs.

“No, it’s just me wanting to take care of my favourite boy.” Jerome leans down to press a kiss to his forehead, to his cheek, to his upturned mouth, before turning and moving past the mounted camera to scour over the supplies that the doctor had left. “You take such good care of me, you deserve some reciprocation every once in a while.” He finds the small, flat packet of steri-strips almost immediately, and he peels the package open as he turns.

“It’s nice to be appreciated,” Bruce says dryly, watching him come closer. “You’re practically turning into a romantic.”

“I’ve always been a romantic.” He states as he comes to a stop directly in front of Bruce. “What did you think all of our dates were?”

“At the time they felt an awful lot like some kind of punishment for nearly killing you.”

“Oh, Bruce,” Jerome sighs, lovesick at the mere memory of that dizzying time full of incredible realizations. Gods, but he wants to watch Bruce murder someone in cold blood. He knows he can do it, he knows he’s capable of it, all he needs is a push and someone to take the blame for it, at least at first. Jerome takes out one steri-strip and lines up the adhesive edges with the unbroken skin on either side of the cut. “If I had wanted to punish you I would have slit your throat with that mirror shard instead of asking for a goodnight kiss.”

“I wouldn’t have let you. I would have wrestled that shard out of your hand.”

Jerome hums, eyelashes fluttering as he applies a second strip. “And then what would you have done to me?”

“Held you immobile as I yelled for Alfred to call the police.”

Jerome barks out a laugh. “You were a bit of a stick in the mud in the beginning,” he says fondly. “If I didn’t know better I would have thought that you were boring.”

Bruce reaches up to lay a hand over top of Jerome’s own, and he turns his head to press a kiss against his palm. He looks up from underneath his eyelashes, more sweet than coy, and his lips graze against Jerome’s palm as he says, “But you knew better.”

“I did.”

Even before Bruce had lost control of himself in the maze of mirrors he had firmly affixed himself as one of the least-boring people that Jerome had known; his reaction to Jerome’s reappearance, his demand for an audience for his death, the way he had handled himself as Jerome toured him around the mad carnival. Nothing about his reactions were what they should have been. Obstinance instead of fear, poise instead of anxiety, anger instead of tearful begging or acceptance. All of that combined with the brutality he had shown when his composure snapped? Bruce was the most interesting boy in Gotham.

The boy who was meant to be his.

Thinking about that time makes his blood rush in an achingly familiar way, and Jerome was never one to curb his impulses.

If he hadn’t been recently shot he might have scooped Bruce up in his arms, or maybe even slung him over his shoulder in a fireman’s carry, but he doesn’t want Bruce’s first action after he gets them into bed to be worrying about Jerome straining himself before they even got started. He loops an arm around Bruce’s shoulders instead, forcing him close.

“Want me to sing you happy birthday?”

Bruce laughs under his breath, and Jerome wants to hear the sound of it again immediately after it stops. “No, thank you.”

“You’re missing out,” Jerome goads, leading Bruce out of the room that they’d been enclosed inside of ever since their arrival. “I could be serenading you right now.”

“I’d rather you not.”

Jerome hums the tune instead, and Bruce huffs out another laugh.

Jerome wants to watch him laugh and cry and scream and smile. Wants Bruce to never conceal his emotions from him, no matter if they are 'good' or 'bad'. Wants to watch him grow; winning some battles and losing others, sometimes falling apart only to put himself back together even stronger than before. Wants to sink inside of him and leave traces of himself behind in ways that could never be forgotten or washed away.

Wants to know what Bruce would have done to Gordon if the bullet that had gone through him had been just a few inches off course and Jerome’s life had actually been in danger.

He shudders at the idea of it as he pushes a door open.

It’s not much—this is just a hideout, after all. The original plan didn’t involve kidnapping Bruce, Jerome just wasn’t able to help himself when his boy was so close and so weak with emotion—but it’s a bed, and the sheets are clean, and the door can be locked, and the building is empty except for them.

They’d taken the edge off, yes, but heat bubbles up beneath his skin as the door swings shut behind him, as Bruce turns so that he can engage the lock.

Jerome has entertained so many sweet, gross, beautiful, disgusting fantasies in Arkham. His mind has tripped from one to another, scenes stitched together haphazardly, as his mind cycled around Bruce—the feel of him against Jerome, the weight of him on Jerome’s chest, the dig of his teeth, the cut of his nails, the impact of his fists, the inexperience of his kisses, the warm wetness of his choking mouth, the softness of his skin, the taste of his blood and his tears, the brittle sound of his voice, the fire in his eyes, the easy acceptance when Jerome had left a mark on his hip to be remembered by—

He is not always able to be a patient man and the desire for Bruce constantly lingers inside of him, waiting to crash over him like a wave. Jerome allows himself to be swept away.

He presses Bruce up against the locked door, linking their lips together and stealing Bruce’s breath away. His hands settle on Bruce’s hips, then drag down the backs of his thighs. Bruce responds quickly, hooking one leg up around him like an invitation. If they were naked, if Bruce weren’t too unversed and too tight to slip inside of without any prep, Jerome could be sinking into him right now. He’d press in, watching Bruce’s breath hitch, watching his eyes tear up from the stretch, and once he was fully inside Bruce’s legs would clamp around his waist and Jerome would just stay there for a moment to revel in the perfect, constricting heat of him.

He presses closer, blood rushing.

Bruce has grown, but Jerome was still broader, taller. Bruce has such deceptively delicate wrists and bone structure; he looks like someone who’d break if you handled them too roughly. But Jerome wouldn’t break him. And he would handle Bruce just roughly enough. Soft and sweet could be fun, later, but fast and messy—and sometimes bloody; his blood, Bruce’s blood, the blood of some nameless, faceless puppet who Bruce had killed either as a declaration of love or as a way to show that he’d fully given in to his dark side—was what he’d mostly been dreaming of in the time that they’d been parted.

They kiss, and Bruce’s hands scrabble against his back as his mouth opens. Jerome pins him harder against the door, fingers digging pointedly into Bruce’s other thigh until he finally raises it up and locks it around Jerome’s hips.

Jerome is going to do everything that he said he would—how could he not give Bruce everything for his special day?—but he’d be getting just as much out of it.

“Gonna make you squirm,” he promises again. “Gonna give you everything you need. You’ll take it all for me, you always do. And I won’t even make you beg for it, birthday boy.” Bruce’s arms hook around his shoulders for more support, and Jerome finally pushes away from the door.

“Jerome,” Bruce pants against his open mouth, “I’m yours, you’re mine.”

I love you, I love you.

“I know, baby doll. I understand.”

Thoughts of Bruce’s goodness and darkness, thoughts of whether or not Bruce would ever really give in fully to the shadows, flutter out of his mind as he takes him to bed. His knees brush against the mattress, and he’s too eager to be completely gentle as his hands drop away from Bruce’s thighs. Bruce slips down onto the bed, and with his hands now free Jerome starts stripping away the layers they’d had to put back on for their special broadcast; the imposing coat and the soft sweater. He quickly strips out of his gloves, eager to get his bare hands on bare skin again. Sloping shoulders and elegant collarbones and pretty, pretty, almost unmarked skin; a blank canvas but for the scars that Jerome had left upon him.

Bruce’s hands grip at the lapels of his jacket and he pulls Jerome down into another kiss, he pointedly tugs on the fabric until Jerome is stripping it off, then his waistcoat, then the tie, then the dress shirt. Everything is left in a heap on the floor, and Bruce pushes himself further onto the bed, kicking off his shoes before Jerome follows suit and then follows after him.

An electric charge is running wildly through him.

He wonders if he’ll have it in him to let Bruce leave, after this.

He wonders if Bruce would fight to get away, after this.

A caged bird is not what he wants. He wants Bruce to stay because he can no longer keep himself away. He wants Bruce at his side because Bruce knows that no one would ever love him or understand him the way that Jerome does. He wants Bruce’s soft, protective nature to stop extending to so many people who don’t actually matter. Jerome knows that he cannot be the only one who Bruce would ever try to keep from harm, no amount of corruption and manipulation could be enough to accomplish that monumental task, but he wants the number of people to diminish to something less than the entire world, less than all of Gotham, less and less, until it was perhaps just Jerome and the people who he himself has threatened in order to get a rise out of Bruce.

His lips trace against the bruises he’d left on the base of Bruce’s throat nearly an hour ago, and he sucks new marks into his skin to link them all together; a little collar for Bruce to remember that he belonged to someone, to remember that even if Jerome wasn’t with him he was still thinking of him, to remember that he was Jerome’s and Jerome was his and they were meant to be together because Jerome would cheat fate in order to make it so. Bruce was his destiny because Jerome had made him his destiny, and nothing had the power to rip them apart indefinitely.

If they were found out—if Bruce was taken away from the city where Jerome had strength and authority and an ever-growing cult—Jerome would find him again; no matter what he’d have to do, no matter how long it took.

Bruce’s hands wind into his hair, Bruce’s legs spread apart to give Jerome room to settle between them, Bruce is accepting all of Jerome’s attention, and Jerome hasn’t even had to threaten to kill anybody. It makes him feel hazy, like he’s in the midst of a dream, or like a nurse has given him an injection of a really good sedative. His palms settle on either side of Bruce, his lips skim up the column of Bruce’s throat, his teeth graze against his jaw, he kisses him again.

Bruce presses up against his mouth, still not biting or scratching—still trying to be so gentle, even now. It kind of makes Jerome feel flustered but it also kind of makes him want Bruce’s hands wrapped tightly around his throat—and Jerome allows himself a few moments to inwardly marvel at how far they’ve come.

And how far they’ll go.

Outside these walls, even if the plan with the toxin ended up falling through, his followers would be stirring up all the latent crazy and wickedness in this city. It’ll be like his first big night except even better because he already knows that Bruce is too interesting to kill, and that there is something dark and dangerous inside of him, and that he is everything that Jerome did and didn’t know that he wanted and needed.

He pulls back to look at him; his sparking eyes and flushed cheeks and kiss-bruised mouth.

The possessive side of him—which is, if he were to be honest, all of him—rumbles in something like contentment.

“Jerome.” Bruce drags a thumb up the side of his mouth, following the ropey scar until it settles against the corner of his eye. “I missed you so much, while you were gone.”

He cannot bite back his smile.

“Oh, darlin’,” he breathes. “I missed you too.”

Chapter Text

A kiss is pressed against his ankle before a hand firmly encircles it. Lips rapidly skim up his calf as his leg is raised and moved to hook over Jerome’s shoulder. Teeth playfully dig into the skin behind his knee.

So far Jerome has been quite faithful in his promise to make sure not a single spot on Bruce’s body hasn’t been given attention. The quick but intentional regard—even towards places where he is not particularly sensitive or patches of skin that he’s never particularly fantasized about Jerome kissing—makes his heart trip in his chest.

Nails scratching, teeth catching, an open, wet mouth ceaselessly assailing him—it’s almost enough for Bruce to get so lost in the moment that he forgets that he wanted to be gentle even though it’s impossible not to notice the white padding taped over Jerome’s shoulder.

A hot tongue laves against the scar on his hip and Bruce’s leg jerks, slipping off of Jerome’s shoulder. Bruce whines lowly when, instead of turning his attention to the flushed head of Bruce’s cock, Jerome’s tongue trails up his abdomen, all the way to his sternum, before he starts nipping at the skin overtop of Bruce’s collarbones. It’s fast, but it could be faster. Wetter. Messier. They’d been apart for too long, taking the edge off hadn’t been enough. Bruce loves the attention, but he hates having to wait when he’s waited so long already. Bruce rocks his hips up, but Jerome is braced on his knees and Bruce can’t reach him. He digs his fingers into Jerome’s hair—gently, gently, he wants to do it gently—and reels him in. Jerome laughs softly against his mouth, and Bruce’s knees clamp around his thighs.

“Jerome.” He maybe lets his voice go a little higher, a little more thready. Never let it be said that Bruce hadn’t started to figure out how to get what he wanted. “Touch me.”

“I am touching you,” Jerome tells him, which Bruce probably should have expected. “I’m going to touch you everywhere, Bruce, mark you everywhere.” His voice is rough, it sends sparks down Bruce’s spine. It makes even more heat pool inside of him. “I’m not going to leave a single inch of you alone. I promised, remember?”

“I remember,” Bruce says with a lovesick sigh. “But I missed you, I want you, I’ve been good. I’ve been—” He flushes harder, and Jerome’s eyes stare down at his hot face avidly. “I’ve been a good boy,” his voice cracks, and it’s not just for show or to urge Jerome faster, “for you. And I’m yours, and you’re mine. Please, Jerome, touch me, touch me—” His breath catches in his throat when he feels fingertips graze low, skimming into the hair at the base of his cock. “Please?”

“I told you that you wouldn’t have to beg,” Jerome rasps as he presses kissing along Bruce’s cheekbone.

“I’m not begging,” Bruce protests. “I’m just—” He gasps as Jerome fingers wrap around him again, though they keep still. “Asking nicely. I’m ready. I want everything. I want you.” He wants so much. His thoughts skitter to the things that had started setting him off back on the stage. Jerome’s knife in his mouth, Jerome’s tongue in his mouth, Jerome’s cock in his mouth. “I get to touch you too, right?”

“You’re already touching me, darlin’,” Jerome says through another soft laugh. He sounds kind of breathless, charmed, adoring. Bruce loves it. “Why?”

“I want you in my mouth,” he says, bold despite how much admitting it makes his cheeks burn. “Just like the first time you cut me like this.” He tilts his face just-so, to show off the cut at the corner of his mouth that he’s inwardly hoping will scar more conspicuously this time around. “I want that, I want it.” Lips stretched wide, blood and drool dripping down his chin, Jerome speaking to him lowly, Jerome praising him, Jerome coming on his face, marking him in a sort of primitive, vulgar, possessive way that had made Bruce’s blood rush even back then when he was trying to resist the feelings Jerome brought to life inside of him. It makes him dizzy just thinking about it. “You told me—” He thrusts against Jerome’s unmoving fingers, unable to stop himself, feeling worked up with memories. Jerome’s gaze is full of heat and want. “You told me that if you had the patience you’d let me keep your cock in my mouth so that I could get used to the feeling of it. I want to get used to the feeling of it.”

“I remember,” Jerome says hoarsely, his fingers grip Bruce tighter. “You were so precious, so stunning. I remember that you got hard again while you were full of me. So eager to please, so eager to be praised, so eager to be loved.”

“Only if it’s you,” Bruce breathes, “Just you. No one else will ever have me the way you’ve had me. No one else could break me apart the way you do.”

Jerome makes a low sound in his throat, his composure finally starting to crack from Bruce’s relentless nature.

“You wouldn’t deny me what I want on my birthday, would you?” Bruce implores, though he’s fairly certain that Jerome wouldn’t deny him anything, ever. He’d just occasionally take his time getting around to it. “I’ve thought about it a lot. I was thinking about it when you were with me on the stage. I couldn’t stop myself from thinking about it, even though there were so many people watching us.”

“Precious little manipulator,” Jerome says, enamored. His teeth nip at the shell of his ear before he whispers, “How do you want it? Will you go to your knees for me, will you lay between my legs the way you did before I went to Arkham, will you stay on your back and take whatever I give you?”

Bruce’s thoughts fuzzily drift to the first time; the wall behind him rendering him unable to back away, Jerome’s fingers twisting into and petting his hair. He’d been caught, motionless, unable to do anything but take what Jerome gave him.

“I want it all,” he rasps, because he does. He wants to kneel between Jerome spread legs the way Jerome has for him what feels like countless times. He wants to lay on his belly and rub himself against the sheets as he takes Jerome in his mouth. He wants Jerome to push him further than Bruce would ever dare to go on his own, all while praising him and lovingly directing him. “But this time I want to be on my back.”

“Is that so?” Jerome kisses him again, teeth skimming across Bruce’s lower lip before he pulls away. “I think we’re going to end up reopening that cut after all.”

“I don’t mind,” Bruce tells him. “It has a better chance of scarring if it doesn’t heal well.”

Jerome’s exhalation is a hiss of air. “I was trying to be nice. I was trying to take care of you. I was trying to be gentle.”

“I know,” Bruce says, looking up at him and feeling suddenly and utterly lovesick. How many people had Jerome ever tried to be gentle with? Bruce is pretty sure that answer begins and ends with himself. “I know, and you were so good to me. You did so well.” Jerome flushes darker, and Bruce licks his lips. “It’s my turn, now,” he says lowly, feeling hot.

Jerome’s knees settle on either side of Bruce’s shoulders. Bruce cannot help but reach up to him, hands grazing up the back of his thighs, over his hips, nails lightly skirting along the curve of his back.

“Look at me,” he requests, voice barely above a whisper, before his mouth begins to part. Jerome reaches down with both hands. One settles upon the side of Bruce’s burning face, his thumb stroking a soothing circle against his cheek. The other encircles his cock. Jerome glides the wet head against his bottom lip and Bruce cannot seem to help but open wider, sticking out his tongue.

He wants.

“My precious good boy,” Jerome praises. Bruce’s fluttering hands settle against his thighs. He drags the head over Bruce’s exposed tongue to smear precum there, too. Bruce’s breath hitches, his untouched cock strains between his legs. “As if I could ever look away from you.”

Bruce fights back a high, embarrassing sound, his legs shifting restlessly. He wants, he wants, he wants.

Jerome slowly begins to press inside, even slower than the first time. Bruce’s breathing turns quick and shallow and he instinctively swallows, the flat of his tongue pressing up against the underside. Above him Jerome shudders, and he does it again on purpose.

“That’s it,” Jerome tells him, a warmth in his tone that Bruce is devastatingly familiar with by now. Fond. Loving. “Remember to relax, darlin’. You can take everything that I give you, I know you can.” He draws back until only the head is inside and Bruce’s lips purse around him and suck lightly, as if trying to draw him back in. Jerome chuckles, but it’s a raspy, crackling thing. “You always exceed even my expectations. Sometimes it’s enough to leave me breathless.” He pushes in again, deeper, stretching him wider. The corner of his mouth aches sharply and Bruce’s cock twitches against his belly.

He could reach down and touch himself, he fuzzily realizes. He could wrap a hand around himself and fuck into his fist, matching the pace the Jerome fucks into his mouth. He could easily come like that, from just the sensation of his hand and his full mouth. But that would mean not touching Jerome. Bruce cannot not touch Jerome right now. His hands trail up and down Jerome’s thighs, instead, and Jerome’s thumb trails against the cut at the side of his mouth. It stings, even though the touch is light. Bruce can taste the faintest metallic tinge. It reminds him so strongly of the first time that he stops breathing for a second.

“You’re so stunning, Bruce,” Jerome tells him, his fingers grazing against Bruce’s mouth. “Even more than the first time you had me like this. Even more than when you wanted to kill me.” His fingers unwrap from around himself and they slide up Bruce’s face, eventually anchoring into his hair. “I always knew you wanted this, wanted everything, just as much as me. But when you ask me for it?” His hips hitch, he delves another inch deeper. He brushes against the back of Bruce’s throat and Bruce’s chest lurches as he fights his gag reflex. “Makes me want to give you the whole fucking world. I could never say no to you, darlin’.”

His gaze is hot. His fingers are winding tighter in Bruce’s hair. Bruce can hardly inhale, even through his nose. He swallows again, breath snagging. Jerome makes a low, pleased sound.

“I love you,” he breathes, and Bruce whines.

He draws back slowly; hot, hard skin gliding against the inside of Bruce’s mouth and swollen lips. He’s just as slow as he thrusts back in, stopping just at the point where Bruce jerks, mouth flooding, on the verge of heaving. He pulls back again, Bruce weakly coughing around him, and he pushes in a second time, shushing him and praising him and adoring him in a way that had always left Bruce feeling weak. He pulls back, almost slipping completely out of Bruce’s mouth, and the next time he glides inside he stays still.

“Keep me wet and warm,” he instructs lovingly, fingers momentarily untangling from Bruce’s hair to cup his face. His thumbs rest on either side of Bruce’s mouth, and once again he traces along Bruce’s fresh cut. “Get used to the feeling. Someday—” his eyes flutter shut briefly, when they open they’re even more intense, and Bruce wouldn’t break their gaze for anything. “Someday you’ll take it all for me, won’t you?”

Bruce makes an unintelligible answer, high and garbling. Needy.

“I know you will,” Jerome tells him. One hand lifts back up to brush Bruce’s hair out of his face. “I show you what you need, and then I give you what you need. Aren’t I always so good to you?”

Bruce’s thoughts are blurry, his chest is hitching with a demand for more air than what he’s managing to take in. He’s so full but there’s still more to take, more that he wants inside. Blood is dripping into his mouth, precum and saliva are pooling at the back of his throat. He swallows it all down and Jerome shudders, fingers clenching down on him, fingers keeping Bruce still. He cannot move closer, he cannot retreat, he’s stuck going along with whatever Jerome wishes.

He loves it.

He loves Jerome.

Jerome’s thumb slides a half-circle around Bruce’s mouth, spreading blood and spit. His breathing is heavy and he’s not quite able to stay still anymore, wavering slightly as if he cannot decide whether to pull back or push in even deeper. Every small movement drags him against Bruce’s tongue, and when his fingers move to dig back into Bruce’s hair they’re trembling with the effort he’s taking to stay as motionless as possible.

Time stretches on. Bruce slowly becomes used to his own quick, shallow breathing. Jerome’s eyes never leave his.

“That’s it,” Jerome whispers. “Just like that, Bruce. You’re doing so beautifully. So perfect. You can take more, can’t you?” He nudges a fraction deeper and Bruce twitches underneath him, mind hazily cycling: full, full, full. “I’ve fantasized about you like this, but it’s even better when you admit how much you want it. You’re always so pretty, baby doll. Pretty pink throat, pretty pink mouth, pretty pink dick. You’re still hard, aren’t you? Even without looking, I know you too well to even think that you’re not. You’ve always loved everything I did to you, even if you didn’t want to admit it at first.” He starts to draw back again, and Bruce lurches as he’s finally able to take a full breath for the first time in several long minutes. The movement causes his teeth to skim against Jerome’s cock, and Jerome’s breath audibly hitches before he drives back inside, his patience starting to wane.

He thrust shallowly, the slick, wet sound of him fills Bruce’s head. Bruce’s chest is tight, his heart is racing, his vision is hazy. Precum is pooling against his own stomach. Precum is coating the inside of his mouth. Jerome is waxing lyrically about him, not stopping, voice low. Bruce squirms, his thighs clench together, his nails dig into Jerome’s skin.

He forgets that he wants to be gentle.

He scratches deep enough to leave red welts behind.

Jerome curses and fucks into him, further than he’d ever gone before, and stops. He’s still not all the way in but that doesn’t seem to matter because Bruce can’t breathe at all.

He feels dizzy and excited, even as some distant part of him starts to panic. He digs his fingers even deeper into Jerome’s skin. He gets Jerome’s blood under his nails. Jerome is speaking to him, but Bruce can’t make out what he’s saying. Bruce’s chest hitches with a need for air, Bruce’s heart is racing faster than it has in a long time, Bruce’s vision is going dark at the edges.

Jerome pulls all the way out and Bruce goes limp underneath him, gasping.

“You did so well, Bruce.” Jerome tells him, his eyes are dark, his cheeks are flushed, his breaths are uneven. Bruce would do almost anything for him, so long as he kept looking at him like that.

“Thank you,” he manages, voice rough, and Jerome groans before moving back, grabbing onto Bruce’s reaching hands and pulling him upwards.

“Next time I’ll come in your mouth and over your pretty face,” he promises hastily. “Mark you as mine, just like that first time, but I’ve got other plans too, Bruce. Get on your hands and knees for me, darlin’, quickly.”

Bruce obeys, twisting over, and Jerome’s firm body rests overtop of his almost immediately.

“Push your legs together, that’s right, just like that,” Jerome pants, pressing uncoordinated kisses across Bruce’s shoulders. The slick heat of his cock presses between Bruce’s legs, slides against the underside of Bruce’s own dick. Bruce’s breath catches in his throat even before Jerome’s hips are flush with his ass. “Always so good for me.” One of his palms settles firmly over Bruce’s wildly beating heart, the other presses low on his belly, Bruce’s cock barely grazing against his fingertips.

He fucks between Bruce’s thighs roughly, his kisses become sloppier, wetter. He feels so good, every movement nudging him tight against Bruce. Bruce feels breathless again, and his head falls forward. Each slap of skin against skin is sending electric shocks up his spine. Each slick movement of Jerome’s cock against his own makes him push back, arcing his spine, hungry for more.

“I’m close,” he’s mumbling. “So close, so close.”

He’d been close just from Jerome pushing into his mouth and staying there.

Jerome’s name trips across his tongue, over and over, at least until one of Jerome’s hands raises, two fingers pushing into his mouth. Bruce sucks on them, eyelashes fluttering, as his toes start curling.

Distantly he wonders how it will feel when Jerome fucks him.

Jerome curses and pulls back, both of his hands move to clench on Bruce’s hips as his cock thrusts against the furrow between Bruce’s cheeks. After just a few moments Bruce can feel the warm splatter of come shower over his lower back.

“Jerome, please.” He’s so hard, he’s so close. “Jerome.”

“Shh, I’ve got you, Bruce,” Jerome promises him ardently. He drags his two already-slick fingers through the mess he’d left behind and he leans back down to press even more wet kisses over Bruce’s shoulders as he pushes the first finger halfway in. Bruce keens, jerking, wavering; the stretch isn’t nearly as unpleasant as the first time Jerome had done this to him but it’s still not entirely comfortable. Jerome’s finger works in and out of him, fast, graceless, and before long the second finger slides roughly alongside the first. Bruce is left crying Jerome’s name, hard and full and aching, while Jerome’s other hand clumsily wraps around his cock and tugs.

He finally comes, rocking into Jerome’s fist and back onto his fingers, clenching down on them in a way that punches the breath out of his lungs.

“So good for me,” Jerome praises, sounding nearly drunk on the knowledge of what they were able to reduce each other to. Lovestruck in the greatest of ways. “I’ll always take such care of you, darlin’.” His fingers slide out, and Bruce is left feeling a strange mixture of sore and empty. “Marked you up so nice inside,” he slurs. “But it’ll be even better, later.”

Bruce burns.

Bruce wants.

He turns. He takes Jerome’s face into his hands. He kisses him again.

Jerome sighs against him, pressing eagerly against his mouth before peppering softer kisses along the freshly bleeding cut. A pleasant electric current rushes through Bruce, even if the contact stings. When Jerome pulls back to gaze down at him his lips are smattered with bright red and it makes Bruce’s knees feel weak, as if he’s on the verge of swooning. Being kissed by him now would leave little marks behind, and even if they would be easily washed away Bruce loved whenever Jerome marked him.

“It healed so well, last time,” Jerome tells him lowly. “Are you sure you want it to scar this time?”

“Yes.” Bruce lifts a hand up to Jerome’s face, his thumb trailing along the extended curve of Jerome’s smile. “Don’t you?”

“Of course I do.” Jerome leans down to press a kiss to his forehead, and when he pulls back he smirks at the lip-print he’d left behind. He twists, coming down to lay beside Bruce. “Every time someone in this forsaken city looks at you they’ll see that trace of me, and even if they won’t fully understand the intention behind it they’ll know that I’ve marked you as mine. My own personal target,” he coos delightedly. “My precious nemesis who always manages to get away.” His hand drifts up to play with Bruce’s hair. His gaze becomes soft, unfocussed. “You’ll get away this time, too, won’t you?”

“I have things I need to do.” If Bruce were anyone else, he might have just given in fully by now. Then again, if Bruce were anyone else he would have died on the night of Jerome’s mad carnival. If Bruce were anyone else, Jerome wouldn’t love him. “I can’t stay.”

The last times they’d parted it was Jerome who’d had things to do, Jerome who couldn’t stay. At least he was out of Arkham, now, and likely with very little intention of getting dragged back there again after spending so long inside of that easily corrupted, wretched place. Even if he did get caught again Bruce knew that he had enough influence in there to escape far too easily.

“It would be suspicious if you kept me and kept me alive, and I can’t just hide away in the shadows, only ever seen by you. Someone would catch on eventually.”

And, even if he loves Jerome, there are people in his life that Bruce could not bear to leave behind or have worrying about whether he was living or dead.

Just like they were right now.

A sudden stab of guilt pierces his heart.

“What are you looking so glum for, baby?” Jerome presses closer, their bare legs tangling together. Bruce feels the stirrings of desire and feels guilty again for allowing people to think his life is in danger when the reality is that—even if he’s competent and more than capable of defending himself as well as others—he’s safest when he’s with Jerome, because Jerome was far too possessive and adoring to allow anything to happen to him. Or at least, anything that he wasn’t directly involved in.

“People are worrying about me,” Bruce tells him. “It’s easy to forget all about them when I’m with you. You know that you get into my head, Jerome, and when you do I can’t seem to think about anything else. You take me over.” Jerome attempts to school his expression, but it’s easy to see how pleased he is at the confirmation. “But my friends—” His family. “—are missing me right now, and they don’t know if I’m okay, and they’re going to worry about me every time that you steal me away.”

Because Bruce would continue to allow himself to be stolen away.

Jerome's expression shifts, like he doesn’t quite understand, but then… There probably weren’t many people who he cared enough about to bother being considerate of regarding their distress. How many people’s emotions did he likely trouble himself with?

Again, Bruce thinks that answer begins and ends with himself.

“I don’t want you to be sad on such a special day.”

“I’m not sad.” Just guilty, and almost sorry that he didn’t seem to feel remorseful enough, considering that he would allow this to happen again and again. “I just wish things were easier.”

It was impossible to find a balance between Jerome and everything else. It’s almost enough to leave Bruce feeling like he’s caught up in a game of tug of war. The dark in him on one side, the light in him on the other. Pulled in two different directions at once. Perhaps someday the middle of him would start to fray and tear from the constant opposing pressures.

Perhaps someday Jerome would succeed with what he so obviously wanted, and Bruce would be pulled away from the light and brought fully into the darkness.

Jerome’s thigh purposefully nudges between his knees, and Bruce’s heart starts hammering in his chest all over again.

“Tell you what. Since you’re always so very, very good for me, and since you are, technically—at least according to everyone else—my prisoner, I’ll let you have a phone call. You can say I’m running loose in the city but I’ve very pointedly told everyone that I’m the only one allowed to kill you. You can say that you’re okay, that you don’t know where you are but you’re slowly freeing yourself, that you can’t talk long because a guard is coming back. You’re resourceful and you’ve survived me multiple times before, they’ll believe you.”

Bruce darts forward, pressing a quick peck to Jerome’s chin.

“Thank you,” he says again. His knees clamp on either side of Jerome’s thigh to keep it from nudging any higher, lest he get caught up in Jerome and forget everything all over again.

Eventually Jerome lazily crawls to the edge of the bed and digs through his pockets, pulling out a cell phone and handing it over. He settles back down beside Bruce and watches as he makes the call to Alfred.

Bruce wonders if he should feel even guiltier about lying, but then, he’s been lying to Alfred about Jerome for two years, now. And at least Alfred knows that he’s still breathing. Bruce can hear the relief in his tone, the desperation to find him, and before Bruce hangs up he tells Alfred that he loves him.

Internally he apologizes for making him worry.

The phone slips out of his fingers, and Bruce finally turns to meet Jerome’s gaze.

“I haven’t paid attention to every inch of you yet,” Jerome tells him, reaching over to turn off the power and then carelessly throwing the phone back onto the pile of his clothes. “Turn around for me, darlin’, I want to press kisses all the way up your spine and leave imprints of my teeth in your thighs before I fuck you.”

Bruce’s breath catches in his throat. His heart twinges. He feels a curious mix of sore and empty.

He kisses Jerome, dragging his tongue across his rough lips, and Jerome makes a muted sound of amusement before kissing him back, hands clasping either side of Bruce’s face.

“Or we could kiss some more,” he remarks under his breath. “And I’ll sink my teeth into you later. You’ll love it,” Jerome says with absolute confidence.

Bruce knows that he will.

Chapter Text

Jerome feels besotted, pulled under the influence of Bruce’s kisses and touches and his sweet, hushed noises. Bruce has been so careful, except for the one moment where he’d slipped up and had scratched at the back of Jerome’s thighs hard enough to draw blood. Rather than Jerome feeling hurt he felt oddly faint—and who wouldn’t swoon, at least a little, if they knew with such certainty that they were able to overwhelm someone like Bruce enough that they forgot to hold themselves back when that’s what they were so determined to do?

He thinks of the faint white line on his neck, invisible in comparison to the much more obvious scars on his face, and he wonders if Bruce would ever scar him with the explicit intent to do so.

Jerome wouldn’t mind being marked by him. In fact, Jerome would love being marked by him on purpose. A little token of affection. A way for Jerome to remember that he belonged to someone, too, on lonely nights when he and Bruce were parted and his favourite boy seemed so very far away.

Jerome drags his lips down Bruce’s chest to suck a nipple into his mouth, mind whirling.

His knife is somewhere in his pile of discarded clothes, and unless he wants to put a pause on things to rummage around for it—which he does not—he won’t have it on hand for any fun, heat-of-the-moment bloodshed. Maybe, afterwards, if he asks Bruce nicely…

Bruce would be so careful with every little slash. He’d be so gentle, even if Jerome wouldn’t care if it hurt, even if Jerome had a higher pain tolerance than a lot of people, even if Jerome tried to urge him to cut deeper, just to be absolutely sure that it would linger.

He’d be so gentle, and that’s why Jerome would let him do it.

His hands grip at Bruce’s waist and Bruce pliantly follows his silent urging to roll onto his stomach. Jerome hovers over him, pressing a kiss to the crown of his head simply because he can, and then he scrapes his teeth down the entirety of Bruce’s spine.

Maybe, afterwards, instead of digging out his knife he could find a mirror to shatter. He’d take the biggest piece and he’d lovingly place it in Bruce’s hands before rolling onto his back and letting Bruce settle over top of him. The very idea of it turns him on, makes his thoughts spiral.

Makes him remember when he had been in Bruce’s room and Bruce still had the shard of mirror that Jerome had given him as a keepsake after their first date.

Jerome sinks his teeth into the skin of Bruce’s thigh and wonders if he still has it stashed away somewhere. He hopes so. It was a broken piece of glass, but it was their broken piece of glass. The makeshift weapon that could have spelled Jerome’s end. The makeshift weapon that helped spark their beginning. Jerome’s thoughts flicker wildly, flashes of fantasies springing up behind his closed eyes as his lips drag down the back of Bruce’s leg. He thinks of the maze, of Bruce’s weight resting on him, of Bruce holding the shard aloft. His thoughts split, then; Bruce riding him, rocking in Jerome’s lap and so happy to be stuffed full; Bruce fucking into him, Jerome fully at his mercy and unable to do anything but take what Bruce gives him. The intensity of the brief scenes makes his teeth dig even harder into Bruce when he bites his other thigh.

Bruce makes a started, strangled sound. His hips jerk, pressing firmly into the sheets below.

“Do you still have the mirror shard I gave you?” Jerome huffs against skin, pressing a kiss to the slight curve that marks Bruce’s waist. Bruce turns to glance back at him, and Jerome cannot resist the urge to press his lips against his bared cheek.

“Of course I do,” he says softly. “Why?”

Because Jerome wants to feel those jagged edges skim across him and cut into him as they participate in an erotic recreation of their fight in the maze of mirrors; Jerome’s favourite fantasy setting. Less punching, more kissing, maybe the same amount of blood spilling if Bruce thought he could handle it. He’d been so miserable to have Jerome’s blood on his hands during their trip here, but Bruce wasn’t the one who had drawn it out of him.

“Thinking about something I want you to do to me,” Jerome says, grabbing onto one of Bruce’s hands and turning him back over. He presses kisses to his knuckles, to his delicate wrist, all the way up his arm until he reaches his shoulder. “Not now, though, later.”

Now was all about Bruce.

Bruce settles onto his back, cock just starting to fill up. The bruises Jerome had assembled around his neck are stark against his skin; pretty in a way that so many things about Bruce were pretty, and leaving him marked in a way that made Jerome want to show him off. He sticks two fingers into his own mouth, coating them as thickly as he can before he leans closer, and then he draws them up the underside of Bruce’s cock, smiling at the way he jolts at the sensation.

“Now is all for you,” he vows before leaning over to reach into the drawer of the bedside table. Kidnapping Bruce may not have originally been in the cards for today, but Jerome had been planning to use this hideout for at least a week so long as no cops started lingering around, and he’d known that sooner—rather than later—he wouldn’t be able to resist getting his hands all over Bruce again.

Especially after the diner; the first person who had ever tried to help Jerome, to save Jerome, caring for him in such a gentle way. ‘Of course I care. Because you’re mine. If I’m yours, then you’re mine. Do you understand?’ Especially after the care package; the warm feeling suffusing through Jerome’s chest while an incredulous smile took root on his face as he surveyed what Bruce had sent him.

He spreads slick between his palms, warming it with his hands, a jittery excitement keying him up even more in response to the soft look that Bruce is directing at him.

He’s slower than he had been while in the heat of the moment—still burning with want even after he’d come on Bruce’s back, so incredibly in love, so fixated on the idea of marking him where no one else ever would—and he’s glad that they’re angled like this, because now he gets to see the way Bruce’s breath hitches, the way his concentration breaks, the way heat begins pooling in his cheeks as the first finger slides in.

“I’ve wanted this for so long,” Jerome tells him openly. “I’ve wanted you for so long.” Bruce’s hands grab at his shoulders and Jerome allows himself to be pulled down into a kiss. “For my entire life, really, if you think about it.” He presses deeper, crooking his finger, and Bruce exhales sharply against his mouth. “You were the first person I thought about when I came back from the dead, did I ever tell you that?”

“Something like it,” Bruce says between breaths, “you didn’t word it as sweetly, though.”

He kisses Bruce again before he pulls all the way out, then the second finger lines up with the first, gliding around Bruce’s rim teasingly. “I couldn’t get you out of my head, baby doll. Never could.” Never would want to.

“Jerome,” Bruce sighs against him. “I could never get you out of my head, either. You—” The words catch in his throat as he’s breached by two fingertips. “You drove me crazy.”

“I know,” Jerome says, equal parts proud and adoring. “We’re so alike, you and me. From the first conscious moment of my second life I wanted you; maybe not for this, maybe not for anything good, maybe not because I loved you.” He presses in halfway, curling his fingers and sharply watching Bruce’s expression flicker between discomfort and pleasure. He keeps his fingers hooked as he draws back; Bruce’s eyebrows furrow and his legs tremble and his hands thread into Jerome’s hair. “But I still wanted you because you were all my scrambled mind could seem to focus on for more than five seconds at a time; my memories a mess but for our moment up on that stage when you were a frail slip of a thing caught in a cruel spider’s web. And then a few hours pass and I want you even more, even better. And it never stops. It never will stop.” Jerome is going to be caught up in Bruce forever, no matter how the future unfolds. He may not know with certainty how things will play out, but he does know that he and Bruce are tied too tightly together, now, to face what lies ahead without each other.

There’s simply no way. Jerome wouldn’t allow it. Bruce wouldn’t allow it, either.

And that spurs him on like nothing else.

He thrusts his fingers all the way in and Bruce makes a soft, reedy sound as he clenches around Jerome as if his body is trying to hold him tightly and keep him locked inside. He feels so good, so hot, so perfect, even around Jerome’s fingers. It makes his heart pound, it’s almost enough to make him start rushing—pushing Bruce further and further without giving him a break to recover; he’d take it so well, he always did, and it makes Jerome want to do all sorts of terrible, wonderful things to him—but he’d been hasty enough when he’d been fucking Bruce’s thighs before fingering him with nothing to ease the way but spit and come, and this is…

Well, this is special. Jerome allows himself to be sentimental when it involves the love of his life, and even if they’ve made beautiful messes of each other before this is still technically their first time. And on such a momentous day, too. It’s so romantically sweet that it almost makes Jerome’s teeth ache. It almost seems like he’d planned it this way.

It almost seems like fate is getting tired enough of being cheated that it’s given in to Jerome’s demands in order to give him exactly what he wants, because he’s far too capable and far too stubborn to stop rigging the game in his favour.

And after today… Jerome hasn’t put much stock into new schemes, because this was the culmination of everything that he’d been working towards. Outside these walls, even without the gas, the city must be going crazy. Jerome was more powerful now than he had been two years ago, and there were even more who had fallen under his influence since then. He has more than just a few dozen Maniax holding the city hostage, now, and he’s sure they’re doing all that they can to turn the place into a madhouse, uncaring about the fate that will befall them once they get caught because none of them were scared of the GCPD or of going to Arkham; Jerome’s personal playground. Gotham’s getting ripped up and twisted up, and Bruce is here with him, and after today—

—Had Jeremiah opened the package as soon as he’d seen it, lured towards it like a mouse to a trap?—

—he’ll still have more fun schemes to concoct, but none that were so important that he’d let himself be parted from Bruce for so long.

“I’ll never stop loving you, Bruce,” he says, and he means it. Maybe normal people could fall out of a love like this, but Jerome and Bruce were far from ordinary. “And there’s nowhere in this world that you could be hidden away where I wouldn’t find you eventually.” He thinks of their conversation on the floor, of Bruce’s obvious distress at the thought of being parted from him, at his own awful feelings towards the very idea of it. He wasn’t strong enough, yet, to take on the entire world, and he doesn’t want them to ever be parted more than the furthest points of their mad city, but if something happened, if Bruce was taken away, Jerome wouldn’t stand for it. He wouldn’t accept it. He’d hold the entire fucking world hostage to get the most important person in it back. He’d burn it all down around him. He’d shut off all the lights, everywhere. “No matter what I had to do. No matter how long it took.”

Bruce’s eyes are glossy and his expression is almost enough to make Jerome’s heart hurt; loving and hopeful and trusting. They are the sweetest of contrasts; the untamed beast with one weak spot and the stalwart defender who loves him despite everything.

“Promise?”

“I promise, Bruce, I promise.”

He slides a third finger in and Bruce’s expression pinches. Jerome presses a sloppy kiss to the broken skin of his extended smile before he drags himself down, finally getting his mouth around Bruce’s flagging erection.

Bruce jolts, crying Jerome’s name, unsteadily thrusting his half-hard cock up into his mouth. Jerome works his fingers into him, swallowing around him to give him something to help forget about the sudden, aching stretch. He indulgently laves his tongue against him before he delves further down, taking all that he can just like Bruce had done for him before. Bruce surges, unable to control his movements, when Jerome hums around him. His cock once again becomes rigid underneath the passionate care of Jerome’s mouth. His fingers dig into Jerome’s hair, and even if he doesn’t push Jerome all the way down it’s so, so obvious that that’s what he wants. Jerome feels particularly hedonistic as he takes him to the root while fucking into him with his fingers. Bruce is tight, clamped around him, friction is slowing down the continual thrusting of Jerome’s hand but he’s taking it so well. This is the most of Jerome that he’s ever had inside of him, and soon something even better and thicker and hotter than fingers would be driven into him.

Bruce’s hips rise and fall shallowly, fucking himself on Jerome’s fingers just as much as he fucks into Jerome’s mouth. Jerome takes it all, feeling strangely blissful even though he sometimes can’t quite breathe. It makes him think, again, about Bruce’s hands wrapping around his throat, and he can’t hold back a moan as his fingers work faster, nearly frantic to lessen the resistance of Bruce’s body.

“Jerome,” Bruce is saying under his breath. “Jerome, please. I want it, I want you, I need you.”

Jerome drags his mouth off of him, and Bruce’s hands fist in his hair—too tight to be gentle, Jerome was so good at driving Bruce wild—and pull him back up. “Fuck me, I’ve waited for so long,” he says between quick, desperate kisses. Jerome’s fingers slip out of him and he makes a low sound that might just drive Jerome crazier than he already is. “I’m yours, I’m yours, show me that I’m yours.”

As if Jerome needed any more encouragement. He slathers the lingering traces of lube from his hand onto himself.

“I’ll show you, Bruce.”

His hands drag a firm trail from Bruce’s hips to his thighs, spreading his legs wider and hooking one around him, just like it had been when Jerome was pressing Bruce up against the door. He leans over Bruce, one hand bracing his weight beside Bruce’s head, the other wrapping around his cock so that he can trace the slick head around Bruce’s rim, just like he had with his fingers. Bruce’s arms come up around him, hands interlacing behind his neck. He looks so disheveled, so unlike the way he usually presents himself, so open and beautifully candid.

If anyone else ever sees Bruce while he’s looking like this Jerome is going to have to kill them.

As brutally as possible.

He starts to press inside.

Bruce’s eyes fall shut, Bruce bites his lower lip, Bruce’s body is giving way to him—slowly, sweetly, perfectly—just like Bruce himself had given into him. There’s something poetic about that thought, but Jerome’s racing mind cannot linger on it for too long, too focused on cycling endlessly about how Bruce feels around him, enfolding the head of his cock while tenderly holding Jerome within the circle of his arms. It feels like true love, not that Jerome had expected it to feel any different. He draws back slightly, watches Bruce’s eyelashes flutter, watches his mouth part open with a soft exhalation, watches his eyes snap open when Jerome thrusts halfway inside.

Hears him curse, tone more heated than pained. Feels his muscles clench. Tastes the lingering metallic tang of Bruce’s blood and the salt of his precum on his tongue. When he leans in close he can smell the faint, sharp scent of his citrusy shampoo and the intoxicating traces of him underneath, just as he is.

Bruce, Bruce, Bruce. He takes control of Jerome’s senses in a way that nothing else ever has.

He draws back again, not as far, and slides in halfway a second time to let Bruce adjust while Jerome still has enough control to be considerate. Already he can feel himself fraying; torn between wanting to break Bruce apart slow and sweet and gentle, and the gluttonous need to be engulfed inside the taut warmth of his willing body immediately. He retreats until just the head is inside, Bruce clenching around him as if he cannot bear for Jerome to go any further. He thrusts inside in small increments, delving deeper and deeper, watching Bruce’s flushing face closely. Jerome is saying something under his breath, but he honestly wouldn’t be able to repeat it if asked. It’s all just an instinctive jumble, words spilling out of his mouth because they cannot stay locked in his head. He draws back again, Bruce whines lowly as he goes, and Jerome’s heart surges with the need to give him everything that he does and doesn’t know that he wants and needs.

His free hand grabs the back of Bruce’s thigh to bring his leg higher, open him up wider. Bruce’s hands creep tighter around him, fingers wrapping around his own wrists instead of being linked together, bringing Jerome a few inches closer.

“Jerome,” his voice wavers in a way that Jerome is going to dream about—dulcet and wanting, all honeyed-gentleness that Jerome wants to lick directly out of his mouth until none of that benevolence was left for anyone else to hear. All for Jerome. Only for Jerome—as his eyes bore into Jerome’s, bold and unashamed and decadently lascivious. “You’re mine.”

“Of course I am, baby doll,” he manages, surprised at his own coherency though he’s sure the words are slurred, love-drunk as he is. “I love you, Bruce.”

Bruce’s eyes shine, his breath hitches, he turns his mouth upwards for a kiss and Jerome cannot deny him that, cannot deny him anything in this moment.

He kisses Bruce, and his fraying control erodes to its last thin string.

A soft murmur reaches his ears. He feels Bruce’s lips shift against his own.

I.

Love.

You.

Jerome.

The string snaps.

He drives in hard, only stopping when his pelvis slams against Bruce’s body and it’s impossible to go any further, any deeper. Sheathed inside of him—inside of him, inside of him, his mind buzzes repetitively, unable to focus on much else—Jerome can feel Bruce’s gasping exhalation rustle the air between them, can feel it brush against his face like the sweetest of kisses. He’s perfect, perfect, perfect; Jerome had always known he would be. Shifting underneath Jerome, shifting around Jerome, his leg and his arms and his tight, hot ass. Watching Jerome with starry-eyes, panting and twitching, patiently waiting for him to do something while Jerome revels in the moment. Then Bruce rocks against him, eyelashes fluttering so pretty against his cheeks at the motion, and Jerome’s burning core turns molten.

He draws back and fucks into him. Bruce’s breath hitches, his arms wrap tighter around Jerome, he makes such a cute sound that Jerome has to hear again immediately. He thrusts inside and is so sweetly rewarded for his efforts. Bruce jerks and shudders, his cock presses a wet trail against Jerome’s stomach. He lifts his hips to meet Jerome’s, to eagerly accept all that Jerome plans to give him.

Which is everything, everything, everything. Jerome’s entire heart and soul. Gotham in ruins. The whole world gone mad. Jerome will give and give, and Bruce will take and take. They’ll cycle around each other in an endless loop, leaving chaos and ash in their wake every time that they cross paths because together they are inextinguishable.

He rams into Bruce, again, again, each impact shaking him down to his own churning center, leaving him wild and wanting. Bruce opens his mouth as if he means to speak, but every motion seems to leave him lost for words, hardly able to breathe.

Jerome is the one doing this. Jerome is the one stealing his voice and driving him crazy and making his heart race and making love to him. All Jerome. Only Jerome.

“Waited my whole life for you, Bruce,” he rasps, feeling as close to devout as a person like him could ever be. Below him Bruce is lit-up, vivid and brilliant—a rare spark of something beautiful in a grey, boring city in a grey, boring world—his hair is a dark halo around his head, his gaze is full of a fire that could burn someone alive, all-consuming, beautiful in its capacity for destruction. Jerome has a fleeting thought of the bliss of worship, of being knelt before an alter to offer sacrifice. “My first and my second.” Everything that had happened had led him to Bruce. “You were waiting for me too, weren’t you?”

“Yes,” is the soft answer that rings in his head. “I didn’t know it at first.” Bruce rocks up against him and Jerome meets him in the middle. Bruce inhales sharply, Jerome can practically see him scramble to stay lucid enough to speak. “But yes, yes. Jerome.” His other leg lifts, wrapping tightly around Jerome, his heels locking behind Jerome’s back. “I was waiting for you.” He arcs his back, and Jerome presses his face into the crook of his neck as he plunges.

Bruce holding him tight, Bruce’s hand fisting into his hair, Bruce pulling him closer.

Bruce sighing his name, over and over, until the ‘Jer’ and ‘ome’ are split apart by shaking inhalations, and eventually even that seems to become too much.

“Jay,” he whispers, pressing desperate little kisses to the side of Jerome’s face. “Jay, Jay.”

It makes Jerome think of his initial at Bruce’s hip.

Of the other marks he’s left; both visible and imperceptible.

Of the marks that Bruce has left on him, even without Jerome being fully aware of it at first.

Makes him think of Bruce, Bruce, BruceBruceBruce—

The heat in him coils, compresses, folds in on itself as the pressure builds. Bruce’s legs are wrapped around him so tight that Jerome can hardly pull back. Bruce is perfect, he’s perfect, they’re perfect together; gunpowder and a spark; gasoline and a flame; fireworks waiting for detonation. He’s talking again, words spilling against Bruce’s warm, soft skin. He presses his hands into the mattress on either side of Bruce and lifts himself up enough to see his face.

“Jay,” Bruce says again, Jerome ducks in to press a kiss to the side of his mouth while one of his hands delves between them to wrap around Bruce’s leaking cock.

Bruce’s orgasm crests over him like a wave—he tenses and shudders and calls Jerome’s name and he’s so, so beautiful—and Jerome, entangled and entrenched as he is, is swept away with him not long after. They ride it out together; hips rolling, eyes locking, planting urgent, quick kisses wherever their mouths can reach, until the frantic cadence of their bodies begins to slow and settle and their kisses start to linger.

Bruce’s hands cup the back of his head, the constricting circle of his legs loosens, Jerome falls against him, braced on his elbows, and tilts his head as Bruce guides him into another kiss before they part.

Bruce holds him, gazes up at him, makes Jerome feel like he’s alive—looking upon the face of someone truly brilliant that had been hidden away in a grey, boring city in a grey, boring world, waiting for the right person to find him—and it all rolls together to leave him pleasantly content, the tension in his body eroding away until he feels as if he could melt against Bruce, boneless. His body settles against Bruce, only elevated by his forearms and elbows pressing into the bed, and he cannot stop himself from leaning in to kiss Bruce again.

Bruce sighs happily against him, his fingers sliding through Jerome’s hair in a way that’s almost like being pet, as if Jerome is a cat stretched out enjoying a sunbeam, and then one hand very, very slowly—as if he thinks Jerome won’t notice, sweet, sweet, precious boy—runs down his neck, along his shoulder, then reaches behind to trace his fingers around the taped edges of the wound dressing as if to make sure it’s still in place.

“Before you can ask,” he starts with a hushed laugh, his chest full of a now-familiar warmth. “On a scale of one to ten my pain is at zero.”

Bruce’s hands link behind him—Jerome feels strangely safe, wrapped up in Bruce’s arms like this. He wonders, vaguely, when the last time he felt so secure was—and Jerome presses his face into the crook of Bruce’s neck, smiling against his shoulder when he feels Bruce twist to press a kiss to the patch of skin behind his ear.

“Jerome,” Bruce says softly, then, “Jay.” His voice is all warm fondness, it almost makes Jerome feel flustered. “It’s about time I had a nickname for you. Do you like it?”

“I love it.”

He thinks, again, of the initial on Bruce’s hip. He thinks, again, about the letter he’d like drawn out on his own.

Bruce presses another kiss into his hair. “Jay,” he sighs, and Jerome can tell from the sound of his voice that he’s smiling. “Could we stay like this for a little while?”

“Of course, Bruce.”

Anything for you, he thinks.

Chapter Text

Jerome can tell that their time together is coming to an end as if he can sense the change in the air. The longer Bruce stays the more suspicious it will be if he makes it home almost completely unscathed and, even though Jerome dreads saying goodbye again and wonders how many more times he’s going to have to say it, Bruce could only afford so much mistrust being directed his way. Jerome has not been subtle. Jerome cannot be subtle. The cops in this city might be morons overall, but Bruce was buddies with the only one who’d ever given Jerome a run for his money and undoubtedly Bruce’s butler wasn’t just going to forget the things Jerome had done to his charge, or the times that Jerome had taken him before.

Jerome cannot keep him. Not yet. Not until he’s strong enough to make sure that he can continue to keep him.

He doesn’t ask Bruce to stay.

He asks for something else instead.

Bruce kisses the flat of the blade; he looks so sweet, so provocative, so fearless. Then he kisses Jerome’s hand. Then he takes the knife.

“I don’t want to hurt you,” Bruce tells him lowly. “You’ve been hurt enough.”

“I wouldn’t mind being hurt by you,” Jerome says, and he sees Bruce begin to waver. “Please? Think of it like—” He trails his fingers over the faded white line at his own neck, and the faded white line along Bruce’s. Both are practically invisible, now. Jerome wants something that matches Bruce that will last. “Matching marks. Because we’re each other’s. You had my mark while you were missing me, give me something to have when I’m missing you.”

He watches, wonderstruck, as Bruce’s resolve crumbles to dust.

“Okay,” Bruce tells him, ducking down to press a kiss to a bared shoulder. “Okay.” His lips skim a trail across one of Jerome’s collar bones, down his sternum, along his ribs, down, down, until Bruce is kissing a patch of skin that, on his own body, has been marked.

“You’ll tell me if it gets to be too much and you need to take a break?”

It’s absolutely crazy how a little bit of concern from Bruce is enough to make Jerome flustered.

“If that’s what’ll make you happy,” he says, and Bruce presses a fleeting kiss to his lips before drawing back, carefully setting the tip of the knife against Jerome’s skin. It begins to dig in, just enough for a tiny bead of blood to begin welling up, and Jerome’s breath catches in his throat.

“I think that maybe in a perfect world we wouldn’t have an opportunity to miss each other,” Bruce says softly.

“A perfect world? Ha. In a perfect world we never would have met,” Jerome tells him. In a perfect world Bruce wouldn’t have been orphaned. In a perfect world Jerome… Wouldn’t have become the person who he was.

“Maybe in a perfect world we would have met sooner,” Bruce answers. The knife begins to drag down, and through the dizzying, heart-fluttering sting Jerome thinks of what might have happened if someone, even if it were just a stubborn child even younger than he was, tried to save him when no one else bothered to back before everything wrong with him began to multiply and magnify. His own personal white-knight. His own personal hero.

The only hero in Gotham.

“Maybe you’re right,” Jerome whispers, fighting to stay motionless, not wanting to mess up Bruce’s initial.

But Gotham was far from an ideal place, and the world was far from perfect.

Still, something must have gone right for them to have crossed paths, even if the first time was because Jerome was planning on becoming a star by murdering Bruce on a stage at the behest of a man who had decided to use him as a pawn. Even if the second time was because the first thing Jerome could think about upon his resurrection was resolving his unfinished business. It’s like he was cheating fate even before he was aware of it.

Or maybe like fate had always meant to bring them into each other’s orbits, somehow.

Jerome forces himself into stillness as the path of the knife curves once, twice, ends. He looks down at it and he feels a sense of warm belonging already. He’s determined that someday he’ll never miss Bruce for any more than a few hours at most, that someday they’ll always be close, but until then…

“Thank you,” he says, and he means it.

Bruce kisses him again.

x-x-x

It takes a few days for the lingering chaos in Gotham to die down enough that Bruce thinks he can go to where he feels he needs to be. He approaches Jeremiah’s bunker alone, just as he did the first time, and he looks up at the camera and wonders—not for the first time and not for the last time—how bad of a person he is for not doing more to keep Jeremiah from being dragged into a situation that had spiralled out of control so quickly.

He really did mean to keep him safe, even if it was from Jerome.

He licks his lips, trying to find words that won’t seem hollow or overly calculated, but he hears the click of the door unlocking before he can start. He’s surprised at the wordless invitation, because he’d thought that after the fiasco at the music festival Jeremiah wouldn’t want to see him ever again and he’d have to make his proposal outside, speaking into the eye of a camera.

He steps inside and he follows the only path that he knows which had been shown to him by Detective Gordon on the day of his birthday. He stands in front of the office door, feeling more nervous than he thought he would.

He knocks. A voice from inside beckons him in. He opens the door.

Jeremiah is facing his monitors, his back to Bruce. He seems to take a moment—maybe to gather himself before facing the teenager who had not very subtly been the driving force behind Jeremiah ultimately deciding to face his brother—before he turns. Bruce isn’t entirely sure what to expect from his expression, but it isn’t anger, and it isn’t suspicion, and that’s enough for some of his nervousness to settle.

“Mister Valeska,” he greets, and something he doesn’t quite understand filters over Jeremiah’s features. A sort of amusement, maybe.

“Call me Jeremiah, please,” he says, pushing his glasses further up the bridge of his nose and looking at Bruce intently from underneath his pale lashes. “I feel as if facing death together should put us on a first-name basis.”

I wasn’t almost killed, Bruce thinks, and neither were you.

“Jeremiah, then. I’m sorry for dropping by unannounced.” If he’d had a number he would have called ahead, but alas, they hadn’t really had the time or forethought to exchange personal contact information the last time they’d been in this room together. “But I had something that I wanted to speak to you about.”

“Oh?” Jeremiah’s eyes flash, something like interest making itself known before disappearing under a dispassionate look. “Well, I do hope that it’s not about trying to use me to find my brother, because I’ve already told everyone that asked that I have no idea where he might have run off to.”

I know where he ran off to, Bruce silently admits, I wonder if he’s still there.

“I haven’t seen him at all since he—” Jeremiah stops. Looks away. Folds his arms as if he’s uncomfortable. “—since he dragged you off the stage.” He looks at Bruce again, lips pursing together in displeasure.

“It’s not about Jerome at all.”

Jeremiah blinks at him, eyes wide behind his glasses, as if he’s shocked that anyone would want to talk to him if Jerome were not a part of the conversation. Bruce remembers, again, the empathy he’d felt when standing outside of Jeremiah’s bunker for the first time. Bruce has felt incredibly scared and incredibly alone, yes, but he’d never been as cut off from the world as Jeremiah had been for literal years. There are slight similarities, echoed inside of them both. He thinks that maybe they could understand each other, if they got to know each other.

Perhaps it’s greedy of him, but he hopes that there’s a possibility that they could be friends despite the secret that Bruce keeps locked deeply within his heart at all times.

“I meant what I said about your work being of importance to this city,” he starts, walking closer. Jeremiah is staring at him in a way that feels familiar—in the way that he’d stared at Bruce when Bruce was talking to him about standing up to terror. Jeremiah must have realized how brilliant he was, but perhaps there were precious few people in his life who realized it, too. “Let Wayne Enterprises fund your work with a grant.”

Jeremiah stares at him, something like happy surprise flashing across his features for a moment before he reaches out to offer Bruce his hand. Bruce takes it.

“I’d be delighted, Bruce,” he says, and his eyes dart somewhere beyond Bruce’s shoulder before his hand slips out of Bruce’s grip. “It’s an offer that I wouldn’t be able to refuse,” he continues under his breath, as if he doesn’t actually mean for Bruce to hear him.

Bruce’s eyebrows furrow.

“If you don’t want to—”

“No!” Jeremiah’s attention snaps back onto him, and he looks startled by his own outburst. “No,” he repeats, softer. “It’s not that. It’s… When I came home, after being up on that stage with you, there was a package left here for me. It was stupid of me, but when I saw it I was almost compelled to opened it.”

“A package?”

“Yes.” Jeremiah walks past him and Bruce turns to watch him dig into a drawer at his desk and pull out a box tied up with a bow. When Bruce takes a closer look he can see that the tag reads ‘Wayne Enterprises’.

An offer he wouldn’t be able to refuse. A gift he wouldn’t be able to resist opening.

Jerome always was excellent at finding out what made people tick, and he probably knew more about Jeremiah—or at least, Jeremiah as he once was; that little boy with the serious, unsmiling face that made Bruce feel crestfallen to gaze upon—than anyone else. But how… How could he have known that Bruce would want to make Jeremiah any kind of offer?

Was it a wild guess? Was it another way to stack the deck in his eternal game against fate? Was he so sure that Bruce would want to get to know the only living relative of the person who’d turned his entire world upside down?

Was he so sure that Jeremiah wouldn’t be able to resist something with a heavy implication that it was from Bruce?

“I didn’t send you that.”

“I figured,” Jeremiah begins stiltedly. “What with you being kidnapped and all.” He tries to be subtle about it, but he’s obviously looking at the cut on Bruce’s face. Bruce has to avert his eyes briefly, because it’s what he tends to look at first whenever he catches a glimpse of himself in the mirror and the sight of it makes him feel something very, very different than what everyone else feels when they look at it. “Are you… Alright?”

“It’s nothing that I haven’t dealt with before,” he offers, and Jeremiah’s expression twists between concern and bewilderment. “This isn’t the first time that Jerome has tried to hurt me in front of an audience, or that he’s kidnapped me, for that matter.”

It wouldn’t be the last time, either.

“You shouldn’t have to have gotten used to situations like that,” Jeremiah tells him, tone a strange mixture of consolation and anger. He didn’t have a lot of faith in the GCPD’s ability to keep Jerome under control, from what Detective Gordon had told Bruce on the way over here.

Smart. Because, even if Bruce looked up to Detective Gordon, it was becoming pretty obvious that the police in this city simply weren’t a match for Jerome.

He’s distantly proud, in a way. As if his reaction to seeing police scramble would be to internally croon, ‘That’s my Jay.’

“We both should have been kept safe. Neither one of us should have been up on the stage. You were braver than I was, though.” Jeremiah’s gaze is full of something like wonder, and Bruce feels utterly undeserving of it. “Talking about standing up to terror. How much terror have you stood up to, Bruce, to feel so fearless in the face of it?”

It is not Jerome that strikes terror into Bruce’s heart nowadays; it is the thought of being without him.

“I didn’t have a very conventional childhood,” he offers vaguely, which is absolutely true, and Jeremiah laughs softly under his breath. He looks different when he smiles, however slight a smile it may be, but the subdued curve of his lips eventually fades away.

“You left a message for me on the night Jerome broke out of my bunker. You told me that you wouldn’t let him hurt me.” He doesn’t word it like an accusation, but guilt stabs at Bruce’s heart all the same.

“I did. And I’m sorry that I couldn’t.”

“I appreciate the sentiment, although I must admit I didn’t the first time that I heard it. Now that I know you a little I feel like… If anyone was truly capable of it, it would be you. But I don’t think anyone can really protect me from him, from what he wants to do to me.” Jeremiah looks down at the box again. “Not even someone who can look terror in the eyes like you can.”

“What do you suppose is in it?”

“A trap. A scheme meant to drive me mad. Jerome said something to me, the first time that we were face to face. We could all go insane with just one bad day,” he murmurs under his breath. “For me it would be one bad spray.”

Bruce feels a sudden chill.

He doesn’t want to kill you, Bruce thinks, but why does he want to change you?

He’s not entirely sure he’d get a straight answer from either brother if he asked.