His plot with the gas—one bad day, one bad spray, one fun way to turn a man into a monster—falls through, and Jerome feels a storm brewing inside of him in the wake of the news; frustration and impatience and something a little like amusement that Jeremiah had managed to dodge a trap that Jerome had been so proud of, and that the game between them had only just begun.
He doesn’t know if it’s better or worse that Bruce confirms that the reason why Jeremiah had felt wary about opening the package was ultimately because of Jerome’s impulsive decision to take Bruce from the stage. He doesn’t regret it, of course, because he’d never regret any time spent with Bruce.
Still… To have that particular scheme fall through after so much planning—and so much time spent away from Bruce—makes him feel like being a little reckless.
If his plan had gone off without a hitch he would have cornered Jeremiah some way or another; just to see him, just to test the waters, just to figure out if he hated Jerome for what he’d done or if he appreciated the fact that Jerome had given him a reason and a way to become more than he was when he was hiding himself away like a coward afraid of his own nature.
He goes to the bunker.
He wonders if Jeremiah is awake, he wonders if Jeremiah is watching the monitors, he wonders if Jeremiah is afraid.
“Hello, brother,” he says up to the camera, idly dragging his fingers along a keypad. “How did it feel, being stuck underground for years because you were so scared that I would come after you?” He punches in a set of numbers, stolen from the proxy’s head by Jervis, not expecting anything to come of it but unable to stop himself from the whimsical notion that Jeremiah might want to see him face to face after knowing what Jerome had almost done to him. “How did it feeling knowing the real reason why I would bother with coming after you after so many years apart? I love you, Jeremiah,” he drawls. “But I hate you, too.”
He tries the handle, just in case, and it doesn’t budge. He doesn’t allow himself to feel disappointment as his hand falls away.
Then he hears a muted click.
His fingers twitch.
Jerome grabs onto the handle again and this time the door swings open.
Jeremiah is many things, but he is absolutely not an idiot. Jerome looks up at the camera mounted outside of the door and he feels as though he can sense Jeremiah’s eyes on him.
This is an invitation.
Perhaps Jeremiah means it to be an invitation to his death. Perhaps Jeremiah has cops waiting inside. Perhaps Jeremiah had lied to Bruce that the trap had failed and he’s turned into something truly mad and unhinged; more like Jerome than he ever would have wanted to admit that he was, all that twisted wretchedness that Jerome knows is inside of him finally brought to the surface without shame.
Jerome is intrigued. And kind of entertained.
He opens the door fully and he steps inside.
Getting out had been easy. Getting in is even easier. In a matter of minutes he steps into the office. He sees a figure standing in front of the light cast by dozens of monitors. Jeremiah is facing him. Jeremiah has a gun.
Jeremiah raises the weapon to point it at him, and Jerome feels a spark of something almost like pride.
He’d felt it up on the stage too, when Jeremiah came at him with the knife. He’d felt it distantly, years ago, when he realized how cunning and ruthless Jeremiah had been in his bid to run away towards a better life all by himself.
“Do you think you can do it,” he asks, curious. In the back of his mind a voice that sounds an awful lot like Bruce is telling him not to provoke Jeremiah into action. He doesn’t ignore it, and he stays where he is on the opposite side of the room instead of following his impulse to walk closer, closer, so that he could look right in Jeremiah’s eyes as the barrel of the gun was pressed against him, but he also doesn’t leave, which is what Bruce would undoubtedly want him to do if he knew there was a gun involved. He feels a spark of warmth, thinking about it. “Do you think you can pull the trigger?”
“Do you think that I can’t?” Jeremiah’s voice is firm, his eyes are shuttered. It’s difficult to get a read on what he must be thinking, but even after all these years apart Jerome knows him well enough to make an educated guess. If Jeremiah really wanted to kill Jerome right now he would have tried to shoot him already. There was something that he wanted; answers, maybe? If that was the case then he could damn well wait until his turn, because Jerome had thought of plenty of questions for him over the years.
“You never hurt me yourself before,” Jerome eventually says, watching intently as Jeremiah’s expression shifts for a fraction of a second. “Your lies were enough for other people to do it once you were gone, but you never got your hands dirty.”
And maybe that is another reason why Jerome had ultimately decided not to kill him, or even to cut out his liar’s tongue and make him eat it. Jeremiah’s lies had hurt him, but he’d never actually caused Jerome any pain himself, not the way their mother or her fuck-buddies or their uncle would once he was no longer around.
Not that those instances of violence only happened after Jeremiah had left. They’d become worse, afterwards, but they hadn’t been new.
That thought drags a memory up to the surface. One that hurts, and can be used to hurt. Jerome has his own weapon—he’s not an idiot, either—but he can wield their sad history like a knife anyways, pressing it in and twisting hard, making Jeremiah ache with a story that he might have tried to forget. Jerome won’t let him forget.
He doesn’t deserve to forget.
“Do you remember our ninth birthday?” The year before he’d disappeared like a thief in the night. “Do you remember what the fortune teller—our goddamn biological father, by the way, in case you’d missed the news of that cluster-fuck of a punchline—said to me when he saw me, bruised and crying?”
Said to us, he wants to say, because Jeremiah had been beside him in the aftermath. But the words, even if Jeremiah had heard them as well, had been meant for Jerome. He was the one who’d been hurting, that day. He always seemed to be the one that was hurting. Jerome had been wild and loud, an easier target for provoked tempers, and he’d always borne the brunt of the abuse.
‘This world doesn’t care about you or anyone else, Jerome. Better to realize that now.’
Jeremiah grows pallid, the cast of light in his office gives him a sickly appearance.
“I do,” he answers, and his voice is softer than before.
Seeing him again for the first time in fifteen years Jerome had wanted to both hug him and hurt him, and he feels the same, now. There is hate and love coiled inside of him, twisting in a way that makes him feel more erratic than usual. They’d been close, once, a lifetime ago. Maybe the reason why he hates is because he loves. If he didn’t care about Jeremiah, then maybe the lies wouldn’t have been worth wasting emotion over. But Jeremiah had been the closest one to understanding Jerome back when they were children, too similar to him to be ignorant to it even if he presented himself as being softer, quieter, more in control. Jeremiah had been the one that Jerome was closest to, period.
Jerome knows Jeremiah, even after all these years. He’s sure Jeremiah still knows him, too, even if he’d like to pretend otherwise.
“Did you think that you lying, that you leaving, wouldn’t make everything even worse for me?” Everyone who he’d ever loved, even if they never seemed to love him back the way that they should have, had lost any affection that they might have once had for him. Maybe that was inevitable, considering the downs and downs of his childhood, but Jeremiah had at the very least accelerated the process. “Were you banking on me getting accidently killed one day so that I wouldn’t be able to come after you?” Jeremiah twitches, the gun in his hand wavering for a few damning seconds before his grip steadies. “Or were you really stupid enough to think the stories you told in order to get away wouldn’t have consequences?”
The gun is still pointed at him but Jerome is absolutely certain, now, that Jeremiah wouldn’t be able to stomach getting his own hands dirty. Not as he was now, anyways. Not when he was still trying to actively deny his true nature. Better for him, since he didn’t actually want to die even if it meant proving that Jeremiah was just like him. He couldn’t leave Bruce alone. He’d never leave Bruce alone.
“I was a child, Jerome,” Jeremiah whispers, and anger quickly sparks underneath Jerome’s skin.
“Funny you should mention that, since I was too,” he snarls. “But I grew up fast once you were gone, and now I have become something more than just a man.” He is something greater than anyone ever would have expected of him. A leader. A Messiah. A philosophy. And more than that, better than that: he is loved. “I have killed our mother, and our father, and our uncle. I have killed all the family that I have. Everyone except for you,” his voice softens to become deceptively gentle. “Why do you think that is?”
“Because what you want for me is worse than death,” Jeremiah answers so lowly that Jerome can hardly hear him. The fear is seeping into his expression, now, and Jerome revels in it.
“I suppose it might seem that way to you,” Jerome says. He chuckles roughly, anger beginning to wane as he remembers his trap. Oh, it would have been brilliant. “But it’s because I know you, just like you know me. For a long time you were the only person who understood me, until—” He cuts himself off before his mind can trip into thoughts of Bruce. “Until you left,” he recovers, “and left me without anyone. We made sense of each other, because we were cut from the same gruesome cloth.”
The same face. The same blood. The same insidious madness.
“I’m not like you, Jerome.”
“You are,” Jerome tells him, not unkindly. He’s had years to stew over the disorderly feelings brought about by the brother who left him behind. “That’s why you lied about me in order to get away, that’s why you tried to attack me with a knife on that stage, that’s why you’re pointing a gun at me right now.”
Jeremiah starts at the mention of the gun, as if he’d forgotten about it. He still doesn’t drop his arm.
“Leave me alone, Jerome.”
“No,” Jerome refuses with a roll of his eyes. As if he would let things be so easy. “You don’t deserve to be left alone. You don’t deserve to live a carefree life. You don’t deserve to work with—” The most important boy in the world. The one person who had ever tried to save Jerome. The only person who could save Jerome. “—Wayne Enterprises and have all your dreams come true without ever having suffered even a fraction of what your lies put me through.”
“How much will I have to suffer for it to be enough for you to finally leave me alone?”
Jerome pauses, tilting his head to the side curiously.
Interesting way to word that considering that Jeremiah still seemed to want him to think that the gun in his hand was an actual threat and not a prop; a piece of set dressing that was there for looks without meaning to be used. Jeremiah doesn’t feel like killing him right now, and maybe Jeremiah doesn’t think he wants to kill him ever. They were the only family they had left, but there must have been more to it than that because Jeremiah had been perfectly content to be without any family for fifteen long years.
We’re still alike, Jerome thinks softly.
Maybe inside of Jeremiah, too, there is something like hate and something like love fighting inside of his chest. Maybe when Jeremiah looks at him he wants to be rid of him—of the evidence that he’d ever done anything wrong in his life, of the person who knew just how twisted he could be, of the person who understood him better than anyone—just as much as he wants the inherent friendship of two brothers who’d had to grow up too fast together in order to survive.
“I don’t know, yet.” If Jeremiah had fallen into his trap Jerome might have greeted his brother with open arms, after a bit of hazing, of course. “I suppose you’ll find out, since it’s obvious you don’t have the nerve to kill me.”
“I’ve only refrained from shooting you because I’m expecting someone in the morning, and I’d rather there not be any traces of blood left behind for them to stumble upon,” Jeremiah tells him snidely, and Jerome feels a smile stretch across his lips despite himself.
“You keep telling yourself that, baby bro.”
He walks towards the desk, he stares straight into Jeremiah’s face as he pushes the button for the exit.
I know you, he thinks, on the verge of feeling fond. Never forget how well I know you; mazes and escape plans and camouflage and lies. Intelligence and cunning and—
—small, small hands carefully moving Jerome’s wrist to make sure it wasn’t broken. Cautiously applied bandages and an unsmiling face with pinched, worried eyebrows. ‘If you hid, maybe they wouldn’t go after you.’
Jerome had never been good at hiding, and they would have come after him even if he’d been trying to. Even when they were children people thought that Jerome and Jeremiah were polar opposites. Jeremiah was allowed to hide himself away, because he was quiet and soft and never made trouble. If Jerome tried to make himself scarce people would assume it was because he’d done something wrong.
“Don’t worry,” he calls over his shoulder as he goes. “I remember the way out.”
I still know you.
You still know me.
Bruce awakens to a faint sound, instantly alert. His awareness stretches out, mind backtracking to identify the noise that had woken him up: not a door closing or a floorboard creaking or a voice or a cough—
He hears it again.
Something small hitting against the glass of his window.
He rolls out of bed, already sure of what he will find when he looks out into the yard below. He waits for one more click of a stone against glass to sound out before he opens the window, lest Jerome accidentally hit his face.
The window pane slides up, he braces his hands against the sill, he leans partway out.
It is inky black outside, barely two in the morning, but the faint illumination of the moon and the Manor’s muted exterior lights allow him to see the dark figure below.
“Jerome,” he projects, trying to whisper and yell at the same time. He’s glad that Alfred sleeps on the opposite side of the house. “If you come here so often you’re going to get caught.”
They had only just seen each other last evening; Jerome breezing in through the windows of the office in a way that made Bruce distantly think of how Selina used to always slip inside of his home. Bruce had had to scramble to close the office door, though Jerome had assured him afterwards that he’d made sure Alfred was up to his elbows in work in the kitchen before coming inside.
After a week’s separation Bruce found it very easy to forgive Jerome for his lack of tact. It’s possible that even without a week’s separation he would forgive Jerome for his lack of tact. They’d missed each other. It had been exhilarating to see him, to sit with him, hold his hand and talk to him, even if it had been brief because Alfred wouldn’t be busy forever and Bruce very rarely shut him out of anywhere, and especially not the office.
Bruce had told him about Jeremiah, about the failed trap, because Jerome would find out sooner or later and it may as well be Bruce to break the news, because then he could be sure that Jerome didn’t throw a fit that ended up killing people. He’d taken it better than Bruce had thought he would, all things considered. Bruce made the assumption that his reaction meant he would be planning something else for Jeremiah, but he hadn’t had it in him to make any demands to know why Jerome had tried what he did in the first place.
As close as they were they still held some secrets from each other; Bruce’s history with Ra’s and the ending that came of it was something he still held back, even now. He cannot begrudge Jerome for the motivations behind his most private scheme when he himself has not disclosed information that he knows, without a doubt, is something that Jerome longs to hear. He could, however, wonder if they would someday reach a point where they knew each other as well as they knew themselves.
He can, and did, tell Jerome to his face that he would still try to protect his bother.
Jerome accepted the information easier than the first time Bruce had told him as such, no jealous insinuations about ‘good twins’ and ‘bad twins’ and unscarred faces that made Bruce’s chest ache at the idea that there was any doubt where his affection would always lay. Bruce had traced the rough line of his mouth with his fingers and Jerome had leaned into the gentle touch as if it were a kiss.
Jerome had left not long afterwards, pressing a lingering kiss of his own to the side of Bruce’s mouth before he went, and Bruce hadn’t expected to see him again for perhaps another week.
It hadn’t even been seven hours.
Jerome drops his handful of pebbles and grins up at him, and Bruce has never before thought of them as being star-crossed as much as he does right now, with Jerome standing in his yard in the dead of night throwing rocks up at his window to get his attention when Bruce knows very well that he can climb all the way up here and that he has done it several times before.
He leans his elbows onto the sill, upper body stretching further out into the air, and he can’t help but smile down at him in return.
“You’re not going to start serenading me, are you?”
“Well, if you plant ideas like that in my head…” Jerome takes a deep breath and, laughing softly, Bruce waves a hand to shush him before he has the chance to start.
“I can come down, just stay there,” he orders, and Jerome straightens out and gives him a jaunty salute. Bruce can feel his smile widen.
He pads through the house, stopping by Alfred’s room in order to be absolutely sure that his guardian is asleep, and when he steps out into the yard Jerome is exactly where he left him.
Bruce steps into the circle of Jerome’s open arms and tucks his face into the crook of his neck.
Jeremiah slumps against his drafting table, hands shaking and mind racing. A small part of him is surprised that Jerome didn’t try to attack him. A larger part is still reeling from everything else that happened over the course of a few minutes.
‘Were you banking on me getting accidently killed one day so that I wouldn’t be able to come after you?’
It was chance that he was awake and saw Jerome lingering outside of his door. He felt brave in the moment; memories about standing up to terror and following in the footsteps of someone who seemed fearless spurring him on, and Ecco had insisted upon bringing him something to defend himself after the last home invasion even though he silently didn’t know if he could bear to use it, so his hand had lingered on the switch to his door as his mind began to whirr.
‘I love you, Jeremiah, but I hate you too.’
Even if Jeremiah would deny that they were similar in all other ways, in that sense he and Jerome were very much alike. Jeremiah detests Jerome—or maybe he detests the fact that he knows, deep down, that Jerome was always the person who came closest to fully understanding him—but there’s something else there, too, buried by years upon years of isolation and purposefully trying to forget.
He’d opened the door.
Perhaps he shouldn’t have.
Sleep doesn’t come easily. He drifts off and wakes from nightmares, chest so tight he can scarcely draw breath. When he closes his eyes he sees nothing but death; his mother and uncle and father and police officers and faceless civilians. He sees himself, too.
But when he sees Jerome’s fixed expression and blank eyes, that’s when he feels the worst.
‘Were you banking on me getting accidently killed one day so that I wouldn’t be able to come after you?’
He’d watched the broadcast when Jerome was stabbed. When he was murdered. The person who Jeremiah had begun to fear more than anything—because even as a child he hadn’t thought the things he’d said to get out would be without consequences, although he hadn’t known just how much worse it could become because he hadn’t really understood, back then, that not even if Jerome hid away would he be safe from violently flaring tempers. It wasn’t until years after he left that those awful thoughts solidified in his head, and by then it was too late to turn back, too late for apologies—was no longer a threat.
Jeremiah, eighteen years old, more alone than ever before, hadn’t felt relieved or safe or triumphant upon the death of his brother. There had been a sharp ache in his heart and a sting in his eyes that had lingered until Jeremiah pulled off his glasses and covered the oncoming tears with a shaking hand.
A year and a half later Jerome had come back, madder than ever, and the only pieces of Jerome that Jeremiah had left were the lies that he’d told. The lies he would have to continue to tell because it was far, far too late to stop.
Morning comes, and Jeremiah is no better rested for it, but he forges ahead with as much determination as he can muster because he hadn’t been lying when he’d told Jerome that he was going to have a visitor.
He wasn’t entirely sure what to think about Bruce Wayne; not at first, not even now. Jeremiah hardly remembers him from Jerome’s death broadcast, he’d been too focused on his brother for anything else, so his first impression is the message that Bruce left for him.
‘Something is going to happen. I think it may be soon. I won’t let him hurt you.’
What an exceedingly odd thing to be told by a stranger. Jeremiah hadn’t put much stock into the promise, at least not until his brother wanted him up on a stage and the boy who he’d only ever seen on a screen was standing in front of him, bravely speaking about standing up to terror.
Jeremiah had been hurt, but he hadn’t died, and he hadn’t fallen into Jerome’s trap, and instead of forgetting that he existed after their shared ordeal was over Bruce had come to see him and to offer him everything that Jeremiah had ever dreamed of. Jeremiah had begun to tentatively hope that there was a possibility that they could become friends despite the web of lies that he would eternally be ensnared by.
But Jeremiah cannot only think about bright futures and grand plans, not anymore, not when he knows that there’s no way that Jerome is done with him. Not when he still feels a wretched sort of guilt for the hurt that he’d begun to cause years ago when the first of many damning lies began to tumble out of his mouth. Not when he, at times, hates himself just as much as he hates Jerome.
Movement on one of the monitors catches his eye and he startles, but he relaxes when he sees it’s Bruce, slightly ahead of schedule.
Jeremiah unlocks his door again.