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The Prison in Your Mind

Chapter Text

The sky began to weep in earnest. Fantastic, thought Bruce as he made his way along the drenched yet somehow still bustling city avenue. As he often found himself doing these days, he was once again sacrificing warmth and safety for some sort of relentless pursuit. Honestly, doing Jim Gordon's dirty work for him was becoming a major pain in his ass. He felt bad for thinking it, and he really did want to help the detective. It was just that Bruce had been searching for Jerome long before the GCPD had gotten wind of his breakout. And predictably, Bruce had found Jerome first. That hadn't been an enjoyable evening.

The memory of that encounter was still fresh in his mind. But he didn't want to ponder on that. Maybe, when he had more time and an empty folder to file it into his mind, he'd give the peculiar memory his attention. Now was not the place, and he certainly didn't have the time.

It simply seemed unfair of Jim to demand he leave the case alone, threaten him with legal action if he continued his investigation, and then come to him, expecting his help with the exact same case without question. It was all a bit hypocritical to be honest.

But never mind that, Bruce needed to focus on the task at hand. He could do the typical teenage angst ordeal when his city was safe. He still had yet to flag down a taxi to drive him to his destination. It seemed as though even the drivers wanted to be out of the downpour.

Finally, after chasing taxis for nearly half an hour, one pulled over for the sixteen-year-old. The man driving raised his eyebrows as Bruce Wayne climbed into his backseat, his dark mustache curling upwards with his puzzled expression. Bruce just gave him the address and asked him to drive as quickly as possible. The driver shrugged and pulled away from the curb.

After speeding down the city roads at a speed that wasn't even remotely legal, the scenery eventually shifted from glittering lights and skyscrapers to rural woods and lush greenery. Bruce's destination loomed closer, and despite his outward bravery, the plan Jim had tasked him with made him incredibly nervous.

As the trees grew denser and the rain turned to mist, they arrived at the address that Bruce had specified. He paid the driver, not bothering to ask for change, and turned to take in his surroundings.

He was standing in the center of a hazy clearing. Here, Bruce could see Jim's dark Dodge Diplomat parked off to the side. However, the thing that held his attention was the concrete square building in front of him that was six feet high at most.

So this is where Jeremiah Valeska lives? A bit lacking for a man who's supposedly a brilliant architect and engineer, thought Bruce as he made his way towards the unassuming structure. There was a simple metal door marking the entrance that had a chrome keypad mounted next to it. He had no idea what the passcode could be, so he just rapped his knuckles three times against the door, hoping the noise would alert someone to let him in.

After a minute or so, the door swung cleanly open in front of him, revealing a metal staircase. Bruce glanced behind him nervously, and then descended into what he now realized was a bunker.

"Ah Bruce, there you are. I was worried you'd decided against the plan. Not that I'd hold it against you if had. It's just that we don't have much time." Jim greeted him as he reached the bottom of the stairwell.

"No detective, I just had trouble getting a ride in this weather. Where's Jeremiah?" asked Bruce while surveying the room he was in.

"He went to go run statistics on the probability of this actually succeeding. He's a bit concerned about the outcome. Whether that's concerning his own safety or his brother's, I'm not sure." Jim replied, keeping one finger on his P226 gun.

He's clearly on edge, Bruce noted while peering into the monitors lining the south wall.

"I'd guess that he's worried if he'll come out of this alive. Based on what you told me of their last encounter, he wasn't exactly overjoyed to see Jerome," he inferred.

"You're probably right, but I don't want him deciding that his own neck is too precious. There's a lot to lose tonight if he doesn't come along." Jim said, crossing his arms and looking through one of the doorways leading to the labyrinth surrounding them.

"I wouldn't worry about that detective." said a timid voice, causing Bruce to jump. He turned and saw an exact, albeit nerdier, copy of the teenager who'd haunted his nightmares for so long enter the room from the entrance Jim hadn't been peering into. "I've ran the numbers, and although this excursion certainly won't be pretty, I've decided that the risk is worth the reward. Gotham is my home as much as yours, and I'd rather not see it filled with psychopaths and murderers." He spoke lightly, adjusting his horn-rimmed glasses, as though afraid of any criticism that might come towards his words.

Jim shook Jeremiah's hand saying, "We're glad to have you on board." He gestured to Bruce. "Jeremiah, this is Bruce Wayne. As you know, he's the other hostage that Jerome requested so he'll be following the same procedure as you."

Bruce reached for Jeremiah's pale hand and shook it as well. "It's an honor to meet you Jeremiah. Any man who my father trusted is a man I know I can trust as well."

"Your father was a brilliant and kind-hearted man. I was devastated when he and your mother passed. It's clear, however, that they left a strong heir behind." Although Jeremiah's voice was trembling a bit, his words were comforting to hear, and Bruce was struck with the confusion of how this kind person and Jerome could possibly be brothers. He wanted to ask Jeremiah about Jerome and their childhood, but in the few minutes of knowing him, Bruce had realized that this was a fragile person. Any mention of his past might break him.

He turned to look back at the monitors and accidentally made eye contact again with him. His expression didn't match his nervous mannerisms at all. It was cold and curious. Jeremiah raised an eyebrow as he met Bruce's eyes, clearly asking what he was looking at. Startled, Bruce looked away quickly, staring at the screens in front of him. After a minute or so of him poring over the monitors and Jim studying blueprints of the city, he chanced another glance in Jeremiah's direction. What he saw just puzzled him further. The red-haired man was observing what was going on in front of him like he didn't have a care in the world. In fact, as soon as he wasn't being payed attention to directly, it seemed as though he observed everything going on around him with a clinical and detached eye. He was trailing his fingers thoughtfully over a 3D model of a skyscraper downtown, looking at both Bruce and Jim every now and again, as though gauging their emotions and thoughts.

He made eye contact with Bruce once more and smiled lightly this time, giving him a kind nod of acknowledgment. He was obviously a much better person than his brother. Having came to this conclusion relieved any doubts he'd been having about the man moments ago.

Jim spoke abruptly, causing Bruce to start once more. "Alright, since we've got introductions out of the way, I'll brief you both in the car. We need to move quickly to get back into the center of the city in time for Jerome's demands. Are you ready?" Jim asked, looking intensely into both of their eyes. He was putting all of his faith in them, and Bruce could see it through that one look.

"Yes detective," both him and Jeremiah replied confidently.

"Then let's go put an end to this madness, once and for all."

Chapter Text

The rain had eased by the time the trio were back within Gotham city. Jim was gripping the steering wheel of his car tightly, causing his knuckles to turn white. Jeremiah was sitting in the passenger seat, staring apathetically out the window, watching as streetlights and skyscrapers streaked by. Bruce was tapping his fingers impatiently against the left door of the backseat, ready to be in the midst of the chaos Jerome was causing.

He hated the psychopath with an almost painful might. In fact, if there was anyone to rival his disgust and fury towards Patrick Malone it was Jerome Valeska. Sure, Bruce had been singled out by Gotham's criminals before. He didn't even fault them for it really, as his family truly was the city's beacon of light and hope. But he'd never felt so sick as he had when Jerome had taken him to that carnival. Being forced to see people hurt, mutilate, and abuse their family and friends in such an open and public environment had felt like a violation of his morals. And that's exactly what the murderer had intended. He'd wanted to make Bruce vulnerable and break his faith in humanity and the good of his city before he killed him. That was comedy gold to Jerome. But in the eyes of anyone else, there was nothing funny about it. Just twisted cruelty. That's why Bruce hated him more than any other criminal he'd ever encountered.

There was a brief period of time after Jerome's resurrection that Bruce had considered forgiving him. And that just proved how incredibly naive you were, he thought with self-disgust. He didn't want to dwell on that time now, though. Not when they were racing through the streets in an attempt to put an end to his reign of terror.

"Bruce, are you okay?" Jim's question yanked him out of his thoughts.

"What? Oh, yes, I'm fine. Just going over the plan in my mind." Bruce replied, continuing to tap his fingers against the door.

"That's good, but don't overthink it. Whatever happens, we will get you and Jeremiah out of there safely. Doing your part up until then is all that matters, okay?"

"Yes, sir."

"If I may add something to ease Bruce's mind, detective?" asked Jeremiah softly. Jim nodded his consent and he continued. "Even if things go awry, I'm willing to sacrifice myself to ensure your safety. You're precious to this city and its people, and I'm sure they need you now more than ever. So don't worry. Everything will work out as it should."

"I appreciate that Jeremiah, but I don't want to see it come to you sacrificing yourself. And if the life of either one of us is demanded, I'd willingly give mine. I'm not some child that requires protecting. I'm very capable of carrying this out, thanks though." Bruce didn't mean to sound rude, and he really did appreciate Jeremiah's offer. But, he was sick of everyone in Gotham treating him like a child when he was just as, if not more, capable of executing a task of this calibre than the others. He was sure that if it came down to it, Bruce would be able to beat Jerome in a fight. Hell, he'd done it before.

"Of course. I didn't mean to imply that your actions were juvenile in any sense. I just want you to know that we're all looking out for you, and of course we expect you to do the same for us," Jeremiah added kindly.

Jim nodded at his words. They remained silent for the rest of the drive. The sounds of the approaching captive crowd were almost deafening anyways. The mixture of poorly played hard rock, screaming and crying people, and Jerome's own jokes told over the speaker system was enough to make any conversation impossible, even from the few blocks away that they were. Jim parked his car and they all got out, walking the distance between them and the show.

As they reached the massive gathering of people, they could finally get a clear view of Jerome. His admittedly handsome face, now marred by the staples holding it in place, was looking rather jubilant as he absorbed the fear of the people around him. He was wearing an eclectic suit that clearly didn't fit well on his broad shoulders. In fact, it appeared as though he'd bulked up a bit since returning to Arkham. Bruce hadn't noticed that when he'd ran into him at Zachary's diner. Fantastic, thought Bruce. Now he's muscular and crazy. That's exactly what we needed.

A pat on his shoulder from Jim signalled to Bruce that it was finally time to put their plan into action. He looked at Jeremiah, wanting to give the older man some confidence. But once again, he was shocked by his expression. Jeremiah was staring at his brother up on stage with so much icy hatred, Bruce could feel it from where he stood. He thought that Jim must have noticed too because he look at the red-haired man with concern.

"Let's get this over with." is all Jeremiah said as he began to weave his way through the crowd, Bruce close on his heels.

As they were halfway to the stage, Jerome finally saw them and laughed excitedly. "Well look who decided to show up? We were startin' to get nervous, especially the mayor here." Jerome said, gesturing to the man tied up and rigged to explode behind him. "My guests of honor! Please, take your seats on stage."

Bruce didn't hesitate as he kept striding toward what could very well be his end. Jeremiah, however, stood back nervously, evidently terrified of his twin. His fear didn't escape the watchful eye of his brother who added, "Don't be shy. We don't have all day." With some words of confidence from Jim, Jeremiah continued his walk towards the stage. The signal attached to Bruce pressed against him, reminding him of their plan.

"Hi, brother." Jerome whispered sinisterly.

Everything then went to hell all at once.

The snipers that had been positioned on the surrounding rooftops were shot as soon as Jim gave the order to fire on Jerome.

"A valiant, yet predictable effort. I had my men stake out the area last night. They watched as your little toy soldiers got into position and gossiped about how they're all God's gifts to humanity, compared dick sizes, and generally bored the hell out of us all. Now, you boys better get up here soon or the mayor's going to have a real bad time." Jerome smiled wildly, gesturing to the stage once more.

Jeremiah gripped Bruce's arm from behind him, offering support as they climbed the stairs up to the platform.

Jerome's eyes gleamed wickedly when he saw Jeremiah touch Bruce. "Oh, I didn't know you two had bonded so much! Tell me all about it, I'm just dying to know...and so are all of these people, I'm sure."

"You need to let the mayor and councilwoman go, Jerome. You gain nothing by keeping them here now that you have us." Bruce attempted to persuade the madman.

"Hmm, you're right. They're really no help now, are they?" And with a flourish of his hand, Jerome pressed the red button and detonated the explosive around the mayor's neck. Bruce winced in horror as he saw the mayor's head fly from his body, and crimson blood gushed from his exposed throat.

"My turn!" exclaimed Jerome as he reached for Bruce's hand, leading him over to Mayor Pritchard's now lifeless body. "S'cuse me, but this seat is reserved." Jerome remarked as he pushed the corpse off of the chair and pushed Bruce into it, giving him a fond pat on the head before turning to Jeremiah.

"As for you brother, I guess I'll need to make more room." Quick as lightning, Jerome drew his gun and shot Gloria Bainbridge, pushing her body off of her chair as well. "Why don't you have a seat?"

Jeremiah sat reluctantly, glaring into his twin's eyes. Jerome just continued to laugh, and then turned to address his audience once more.

"I could go on and on about how he was always mommy and daddy's favorite, how he lived a pampered life while I slaved away in the circus, and how everyone who met the little tyke thought he was just an angel, but I'm not going to. My interest tonight, folks, is in what runs through his veins, not that oh so brilliant mind of his. Isn't that right brother? You and I've got the same blood. You're just as crazy as I am." Jerome laughed, poking Jeremiah and ruffling his hair.

"Leave him alone!" shouted Bruce, although he wasn't quite sure what made him do it.

"And Gotham's prince has gone all soft for you! Isn't that adorable?" the maniac continued.

Bruce stated snootily, "It's nothing like that, Jerome. I'm just disappointed you're wasting my time gushing about your brother. If I wanted to hear a poorly written memoir, I'd read the newspaper more often."

"See this is why I like this kid so much. Always speaks his mind. Although the last time we spoke, you were sayin' much prettier things." At Jerome's words, Bruce unconsciously blushed, remembering their most recent encounter after he'd confronted Jerome at his uncle's diner.


Bruce had just saved Jerome from his abusive uncle. Helping the psycho had been the last thing he'd expected himself to do that night,  but he couldn't stand by and watch as the teenager's own relative tormented him. It was just a reminder of why Jerome had turned to killing in the first place. It infuriated Bruce. If these people had just treated their own blood with more love and compassion, so many lives would be saved...not to mention Jerome wouldn't be so broken emotionally. And so Bruce had attacked the older man, defending someone who'd attempted to take his life more than once. Jerome looked on with shock, finally coming to his senses enough to take out the other man behind him.

He wasn't going to lie. Bruce was glad for an opportunity to practice all of the combat he'd been learning. And the results didn't disappoint him. Although the man was much larger than him, he was also slower. Using one of the first tactics Alfred had taught him, he simply outmaneuvered him until the man grew tired, and then used a swift uppercut to his jaw to knock him out.

Jerome had finished with his uncle's accomplice and simply watched as Bruce brought down Zachary. "Damn kid, I didn't know you had that in you." praised Jerome, kicking the fallen guy for good measure.

"Don't let this confuse you. I didn't come here with the intention of saving your skin, so I wouldn't get too comfortable yet."

"I would never. You're so terrifying, I think I would've just stood here and cowered anyways. I mean, honestly, what's more frightening than a 5'2" preteen with daddy issues?" teased Jerome, striding over to the diner's counter. He rummaged for something to eat, finally settling on a bag of pretzels.

"Hey! I'll have you know that I'm 5'9" and I'm sixteen years old. I'm not a little kid, so there's no need to treat me like one." Bruce exclaimed indignantly.

"Sure midget, I'll take your word for it." Jerome continued to snack on the pretzels he'd found, eventually offering them out to Bruce.

"Are you kidding me? I came here to take you back to Arkham, not have a heart-to-heart."

"Dude, relax. Have a pretzel. It's good to take the little moments in life every once in a while. You have a stick shoved way too far up your ass to be any fun, so we're going to need to work on that a bit."

Bruce reluctantly reached for the bag, taking a pretzel and biting into it. He immediately spit it out. "Those are incredibly stale."

"I know." laughed Jerome, popping another one into his mouth.

Bruce stared at him in bewilderment. "Then why are you still eating them?"

The red-haired teen shrugged and said, "Being in Arkham for as long as I have really gives you an appreciation for decent food, or really any food. So stale pretzels? Easily a five-star meal in my book. Besides, it's the first thing I've eaten in awhile. The life of a psychotic genius who also happens to be an excellent cult leader barely leaves room for dinnertime. I'm surprised you haven't skiddadled on home to a warm gourmet meal prepared by your beloved butler."

"Actually I've been living on the streets. I want to understand Gotham better, and the only way to do that is to put myself in the midst of all it's ugliness." As soon as Bruce deduced that the psychopath wasn't trying to kill him, he decided it was alright to cautiously sit on the counter next to him.

"That's cute. Shame you'll be dead before Christmas, I was planning on getting you a pony."

"Haha, very funny. Don't you have somewhere better to be?

"Are you suggesting that the highlight of my day isn't a scintillating conversation with a child? Don't act like you know me Bruce. Maybe this is exactly what I wanted." Jerome looked sideways at the boy across from him, gauging his reaction.

"Once again, you always tell the best jokes." laughed Bruce, although Jerome's comment made him uneasy. Had he really intended for Bruce to be there? That's crazy, he thought. Then again, Jerome is crazy, so it really wasn't all that far-fetched.

"Well this has been fun, Brucie, but I've really gotta run. People to see, headmasters to explode. You know how it is. I'll see ya around." And with that, Jerome fondly ruffled his hair and leapt off the counter, picking his knife up from the floor as he went. "We should do this again sometime!" he cackled as he disappeared through the diner's exit.

"Wait!" yelled Bruce. That little shit. He'd been distracting Bruce from his goal the whole time. And yet, he couldn't help but reach up and feel his hair where Jerome had touched it. Stop being such a dewy-eyed moron, Bruce told himself, rolling his eyes.

But, it felt like things had somehow changed between the two of them. Instead of this relentless game of cat and mouse, it all of a sudden seemed like the playing field had leveled a bit. The disappearance of Jerome's presence made the room feel cold, and only then did his comment of "...headmasters to explode" really sink into Bruce's mind. With a jolt of fear, he knelt to wake and interrogate Zachary Trumble, who gave him the address as to where Jerome might be headed.


The snapping of Jerome's fingers brought Bruce out of his memory. "Hello? Earth to Brucie? We've sorta got a bit of an event goin' on here, and it's a rather rude time to be taking a nap. I swear, teenagers. You put all of this effort into something you think they're gonna like, you even plan it as a surprise, and they take a fucking nap like it's no big deal. This really isn't helping your case as to whether or not I'm going to blow your skulls sky high."

Bruce turned his head to look at Jeremiah, only to lock eyes with him and see the fear and worry fermenting that. He shook his head slightly to tell Jeremiah not to be afraid, and that he was okay. The other man smiled slightly in return, silently thanking him.

"Jeez, you two flirt more than a fourteen year old girl who just got her first boyfriend. It's slightly nauseating to watch, if I'm being honest." remarked Jerome.

Knowing that denying Jerome's accusations would only further confirm them in his mind, Bruce instead said "At least I don't try and force myself on anything that moves. It's crazy, you'd do a lamp if it found you tolerable enough. But we can just chalk that up to being constantly rejected by mommy, daddy, and I bet several circus boys too, just one too many times, right?"

Jerome didn't like that. Not a single bit of it. And Bruce knew he'd gone too far as soon as the smile on the maniac's face dropped.

"You think you're so clever, don't ya? I have a feeling you'd be a little less cocky without that arrogant smirk all over your face. In fact, I think we should test my little theory. Whaddya say boys?" asked Jerome to his followers, his arms open. They laughed their assent, and Jerome reached for his favorite pocket knife. "Seems like the votes are in, Brucie. It's a shame, really. I always liked that charming smile of yours." His was gripping Bruce's face now, diminishing his efforts to struggle and turn away. "You could just apologize." Jerome whispered silkily so only he could hear him. "Just say, 'I'm sorry Jerome, I won't talk back again.' and be a good boy. Then you can smile all you want."

Absolutely not. Bruce's ego screamed at him not to do so. But reason started to battle with his pride. Was getting his face permanently scarred physically worth saving face metaphorically? Not to mention that it'd hurt like hell. And he knew that Jerome wasn't bluffing. He'd really do it. No, he decided, it wasn't worth it.

He looked at Jerome stonily. "I'm sorry, Jerome. I won't talk back again."

Jerome snarled and lifted the gleaming blade up to Bruce's cheek. "Say it like you mean it!"

"I-I'm sorry, J-Jerome...I w-won't talk back a-again." Bruce whispered, humiliated with every fibre of his being.

Jerome was grinning widely. "Was that so hard, little prince?" He cackled, turning back to the stage. "Well then, now we can get the evening's festivities underway."

He was just beginning to strike the band back up when James Gordon made the call to evacuate the crowd. The people gladly began to flee, causing Jerome to fire blindly into the torrents of people. "I guess they figured out my plan," Jerome mused mildly to Jeremiah and Bruce. "It's a shame, but no matter. I just wanted things to go well for a bit of dramatic flair. So I guess this is my cue to escape before Jimbo shoots my insides out, huh? Well, it's been nice, you two. And don't worry, I'll still have the last laugh." And with that, the red-haired prophet jumped off of the side of the stage and ran to a near alleyway, leaving Jeremiah and Bruce tied to their chairs.

Chapter Text

“Y’know, your brother is kind of an asshole,” Bruce mumbled to Jeremiah as he bit at his restraints. Luckily, it seemed as though Jerome was in a rush when he tied them, as the knots of cloth began to come undone rather easily.

Jeremiah looked at him in bewilderment. “You’re just now coming to that conclusion. Jeez, you took a long time to deliberate on that one. It’s not like he’s got any redeeming qualities to change your mind.”

“I mean...he’s charismatic. And occasionally, his jokes hit home.”

“Sure. And he murders people. That’s sort of a trump card, don’t you think?” Jeremiah’s voice was no longer trembling with fear. It was shaking with poorly veiled anger.

Bruce realized he needed to backtrack quickly. “Yes, that uh...that’s definitely a big ‘no-no’ factor deciding on my list of decent human beings.”

Jeremiah looked relieved. “It’s good to know you’re making a list,” he laughed. “C’mon, I’m sure the GCPD are hunting him with bloodhounds by now. We’d better go see if they need our help.” Bruce nodded and turned to jump off of the stage, not bothering with the stairs. His foot slipped, and he went careening off the side, only to be caught by a cold hand that pulled him up and steadied him. Jeremiah was looking into his eyes curiously. “Are you alright?” Bruce nodded once more, this time simply short of breath.

“Thank you,” Bruce finally got out, breathing heavily.

“Between my brother and I, it’s almost as if you can’t stand on your own.” Jeremiah laughed his light, soft, chirping laugh again, and clung even more tightly to Bruce’s hand. “Let’s go, Fainting Frank. We have a police captain to find.”

...

After about twenty minutes of wandering the city, the pair heard shouts coming from the rooftop above them, as well as the occasional maniacal laugh. They exchanged a look.

“That must be Jim and Jerome,” Bruce speculated, already gripping the metal rungs of the ladder that lead to the roof of the twelve-story building.

“Wait! What if Jerome tries to kill Jim? I don’t want you getting in the middle of that, it’s too dangerous.” Jeremiah’s hand was once again over his, this time stopping him from climbing the ladder. He looked at Bruce with his trademark fear in his eyes, but this time it was clear he was scared for Bruce’s sake, not his own.

For some reason, Jeremiah’s touch didn’t send the same sparks of heat and electricity that Jerome’s did. Instead it was cool and calming, and it seemed to help Bruce think more clearly, instead of turn him into a blushing, blubbering mess. “I spoke with Jerome a few times before he came to look for you. Killing Jim, although always a desirable outcome for him, isn’t his goal for tonight. He wants Jim to kill him. A-And I can’t stand by and watch that happen.” Jeremiah was staring at him in disbelief, withdrawing his hand.

“I don’t understand. Wouldn’t James Gordon killing him be the best outcome? He’s a menace to society and he’s murdered more people than I’d wish to count. Why are you all of a sudden so goddamn concerned about his well-being? It’s not like he’s ever done you any favors. All he does is hurt and threaten you. And yet somehow you’re jumping to his rescue now?” Jeremiah was panting slightly, his infuriated words tumbling out.

Bruce took the opportunity to grab the next rung. “I just don’t want to see Jim diminished to his level, which is exactly what your brother wants. So no, I’m not here to defend him, I’m here to save Jim from himself.” Did Bruce truly mean that? He honestly wasn’t sure what was pulling him towards the rooftop. All he knew was that the actions he made here and now would determine his future in full. So, he kept climbing, leaving an aggravated and gaping Jeremiah at the bottom of the ladder.

As soon as he reached the last rung, Bruce heard Jim shout at Jerome to take his hand. Lifting himself onto the roof, Bruce was greeted by a shocking sight. There was the police captain, reaching off of the edge of the building, looking more uncertain of himself than Bruce had ever seen. He again heard Jim exclaim, “Jerome, you don’t have to do this. Just grab my hand. I don’t want you to get hurt, or worse.”

And stepping over to where the detective stood was a scene that made Bruce’s heart drop. Jerome was dangling from a metal rod jutting out a few feet below the rooftop, laughing. The sound sent chills down his spine. He couldn’t stop himself. Running the last few feet to the edge, he cried out “Jerome! What the hell are you doing?”

The psychopath looked up at him, the laughter dying in his eyes. “Bruce? You aren’t supposed to be here. You’re supposed to be down on the ground...safe with my wretched mistake of a sibling. You’re not supposed to see this part of the plan.” The mania in his words slowed, and for the first time since Bruce had known him, Jerome looked truly worried. Chancing a glance at Jim, all he saw was confusion in the older man’s eyes. Gently nudging the police captain aside, Bruce reached for the red-haired teenager below him.

“C’mon, Jerome. Stop hanging around.”

And he laughed at Bruce’s joke. A different laugh. Warmer, somehow, more joyful. Jerome reached for his hand, gripping it tightly. That same electricity sparked in Bruce’s skin again as he pulled Jerome to safety. A startled look from the other man told him that he felt it too. Either that, or he just wasn’t used to someone saving his ass. The second Jerome’s feet touched the concrete, Bruce withdrew his hand, embarrassed by what Jim might presume was happening between them. As he released his hand, Jerome trailed his fingertips along the inside of his palm, instantly dissolving Bruce into sputters.

“I um, so uh, w-what now?” Bruce asked stupidly, his mind not at all in the same place as it was just moments prior to that simple touch.

Jim reached for Jerome’s wrists, unlatching a pair of gleaming metal handcuffs. “Well, Jerome Valeska, you’re under arrest. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an at-”

Jerome interrupted him saying, “Jimbo, I’ve done this a few times. I memorized my Miranda rights in third grade. Thanks though, captain. I really appreciate it. Plus, I’ve never been one to shy away from a pair of handcuffs, so no need to worry about me running away on ya.” He winked at Bruce who just shook his head slightly, blushing and avoiding Jerome’s blue-green eyes. He wasn’t even sure what made him so susceptible to his charms, and yet Jerome never failed to embarrass him.

“Fantastic. I’m sure the court system will be thrilled to have you back in its circuit. Let’s go.” Jim started pushing Jerome back towards the ladder, Bruce following close behind.

As they reached the end of their descent down the metal rungs, Bruce heard Jeremiah quietly say to Jerome, “So that little goody-two-shoes saved your pathetic ass, huh? I hope you’re fucking grateful. Just remember that I’m here to lend a shoulder to him when they put you on death row. I can’t wait for your trial. Maybe they’ll even let me testify. Wouldn’t that be fun, brother?”

“Alright Jeremiah, that’s enough,” started Jim, cutting off what was certain to be a stinging retort from Jerome.

Jeremiah looked down pleasantly. “Just doing my civic duty, detective.” He folded his hands and watched as the procession of three passed him, eventually leaving his post against the wall to follow behind them.

Police cruisers lined the street connecting to the alleyway that they emerged from. Many of Jerome’s followers had already been apprehended, and were watching the arrest of their leader with wide eyes and jeering comments. Some of those eyes landed on Bruce, and he knew the faces those maniacs made at him would haunt him for a long time. Jeremiah paused in front of the backseat window of one of the cruisers, briefly conversing through the glass with the woman behind it. Seeming to feel Bruce’s eyes on him, he straightened up and stared at the sixteen year old, daring him to ask what he’d been saying. Bruce only held his gaze for a moment, before turning his attention to Jim’s car, where Jerome was now getting in to the backseat.

After making sure the teen was settled and not trying to tear holes in the upholstery, Jim looked at Bruce. “It’s probably about time you head home. I’m sure Alfred’s beside himself with worry at this point. Spare him the heart attack, please?”

He nodded his agreement, and said “Of course. Just one moment please, detective.”

“Sure Bruce, I’ve got to finish giving a report to the other officers anyways. Just don’t let this one pull anything tricky. He’s a pain to track down.” And with that, James Gordon stepped away from the car to go consult with his colleagues.

Rapping his knuckles against the window pulled Jerome’s attention away from cutting smiley-faces into the seat with his nails. Even though he knew the boy couldn’t hear him, Bruce whispered, “I’ll be at your trial. I promise.” And based on the nod he received, he thought Jerome must have read his lips. As Bruce turned away from the glass, movement from within caught his attention. Jerome was waving. The brunette looked at him questioningly, and Jerome jokingly blew him a kiss. At least, he thought it was a joke. With Jerome, he was never quite sure. Nonetheless, Bruce smiled and rolled his eyes a bit, finally pulling himself away from the cruiser and towards the direction of a nearby taxi. The only thing that dampened the spring in his step was the dirty look Jeremiah threw his way as he strode down the avenue.

Chapter Text

The clear metal doorbell rang loudly throughout Wayne Manor, bringing a kind-looking older man in a well-kept suit to the large oak front doors. The doors swung open, and a teenage boy flung himself into the arms of his welcoming butler.

"Alfred! I missed you so much!" Bruce pulled away from him, only to hug Alfred again, ecstatic to see him.

"I missed you too, Master Bruce. It's good to see you back home where you belong. I'm just happy to see you're safe after all that mess that went down in the city."

"I'll tell you all about it. Is there a chance dinner is being served soon?"

Alfred laughed and said mischievously, "Dinner was half an hour ago, I'm afraid. Guess you'll just have to wait 'till morn, then."

Bruce rolled his eyes, walking from the foyer to the kitchen. "Nice try, Alfred. Soup is fine by me."

His butler followed, chuckling. "Coming right up, Master B."

….

About halfway through his meal, Alfred finally began to grill him for the details of his recent adventures, mostly the one still being reported all over the news.

"It wasn't nearly as exciting as the media is making it out to be." Bruce mumbled through a mouthful of homemade cheddar and broccoli soup. "Really, all Jeremiah and I did was sit on the stage and look scared. Jim handled everything after that." Even though that wasn't really true, he didn't feel as though his butler needed the nitty-gritty of how he'd talked Jerome out of suicide. He hadn't even done that much. Looked worried and cracked a shitty joke. Clearly, the dude wasn't super high maintenance. So he just told Alfred the basics of what had happened onstage.

But the butler wasn't satisfied. "So what was Jeremiah like? Is he as insane as Jerome? Do they really look that similar up close? I mean sure, the boy's too young to have a combover like that, but I'm going to guess that's the only thing Jerome's one-upped him on."

Bruce lightly smack Alfred on the shoulder and laughed, "Jeremiah's hair is fine. He doesn't go out much anyways. He's a bit reclusive, honestly. The quiet type for sure, nothing like Jerome." Alfred nodded, and Bruce continued "He's an engineer, you know. And really intelligent. Cold sometimes, but really only towards Jerome, and that's to be expected, I guess. He's incredibly kind to everyone else, even if he's a bit shy. Really, just a good guy." Bruce looked up from his soup to see Alfred smirking at him with raised eyebrows. "What?" asked Bruce defensively.

"Oh, it's nothing, Master B. It's just if I were to wager a guess, I'd say you've taken quite a liking to Mr. Jeremiah Valeska." Alfred was now sipping a cup of tea, suppressing silent laughter.

"Alfred! It's nothing like that. We're friends, if anything. Besides, he's at least two years older than me and we don't have anything in common." Bruce was now staring back down at his soup, twirling his spoon nervously in his fingers.

Alfred was nowhere near done teasing him though. He seemed to have sensed Bruce's strange connection to the other Valeska. "Miss Kyle is two years older than you, and you seemed fine with that. And I thought you said he was an engineer? You should invite him to work for Wayne Enterprises. They could use a bright young man like him."

Bruce decided to ignore the first part of his statement. "That's actually not a bad idea. I'll head over to his house in the morning and offer the position to him."

"Why don't you just call him?"

Bruce laughed, "He sort of lives in an underground concrete bunker surrounded by an elaborate maze to dissuade any unwanted visitors."

"Well that's certainly unique." Alfred said, stirring milk into a new cup of tea. "I'll drive you over there tomorrow. I don't mean to assume anything, but he doesn't have any of the same...tendencies...as his brother, correct?"

"No. He didn't suffer nearly the same trauma and abuse. And I'm sure if Jerome had been treated better as a child, he'd be just as sane as Jeremiah is now." Bruce was retreating back into defensiveness.

Alfred must have decided this wasn't an argument worth having, because they remained silent for the rest of the meal.

….

That night, Bruce's dreams made little sense. Laughing clowns and strange flashes of color drifted in and out of picture while Bruce danced with a red-haired magician. He offered a rose to Bruce, and as he took it, the rose turned into a snake, which twined itself around Bruce's wrist, staring up at him with entrancing green eyes. And then the magician and snake were gone and in his place stood a pale, nondescript man. The man offered out his hand and Bruce entwined his fingers with his, shocked at how freezing his skin was. As they danced, the brilliant lights began to dim, while the features of the man in front of him began to take shape. Mad green-grey eyes were staring into his own brown ones while unnaturally red lips smiled a somehow familiar, soothing, gentle smile. And then the room around them started to melt. The clowns' dissolving flesh clung to their bones as scraps of brightly colored fabric and painted white skin turned to liquid murk, washing the floor and rising up to the dancing pair's ankles. Bruce's legs burned, and he watched in horror as his own skin began to melt away, leaving nothing but exposed bone beneath his clothes. The toxic mess continued to rise, scaling his body. And as it was reaching his throat, Bruce looked at the man he'd been dancing with. But he was expressionless. The mixture of burning flesh, fabric, and oil that engulfed them both seemed to have no effect on him. He was just watching as Bruce burned away in front of him, that calming smile wiped clean from his face. Bruce reached out to him, calling, begging for him to pull him out of whatever was killing him, but he disappeared too, leaving Bruce alone, choking as the poison finally filled his nose, submerging him completely.

….

He awoke to a bright patch of sunlight dousing his legs in warm, tingling, white light. His drapes had been drawn open to let the sun in, and Bruce assumed it was this that had caused his dream to escalate so drastically. Making his bed, he thought about exactly how to draft the position proposal for Jeremiah, feeling slightly uneasy when he thought of spending the morning alone with him. That's crazy, Bruce thought. You've spent time alone with him before. And besides, he's never done anything strange. So why are you suddenly so nervous? He guessed that his dream just had him on edge. Even though neither Valeska had technically featured in it, the similarities were unsettling. He decided that was all that was causing his stress over today's events.

When he got downstairs, a warm breakfast of eggs and toast had already been laid out for him, along with a freshly brewed pot of coffee. Alfred came through the service door, carrying a basket of hand-towels to be washed and greeted Bruce warmly. "Good morning, sir. I thought I'd put the laundry in while you ate and cleaned yourself up, and then we'd type up a swift contract for Mr. Valeska."

"That sounds great Alfred, thank you for breakfast. I'll head back upstairs after I eat to shower and change, and then I'll meet you in the study." Alfred nodded and continued on his way to the laundry room, leaving Bruce alone with his thoughts once more.

….

Gripping a manilla folder tightly, Bruce exited Alfred's 1963 Studebaker Avanti and watched as it reluctantly pulled out of the clearing, leaving Bruce alone there with the promise of returning in an hour. He walked up to the concrete structure marking the entrance to Jeremiah's bunker. It somehow looked more gloomy and threatening than it had his first visit here. At least the sun was shining today, filtering warm light through the tree branches surrounding him.

He touched the keypad uncertainly, still unaware of the six-digit passcode required to open the door. So, he knocked on the metal door once more, hoping Jeremiah was in the main room of his bunker. Bruce heard a small buzz, acknowledging that his knocks had been heard. He waited patiently for the door to open, looking absentmindedly at the nondescript structure. A bright red blinking light caught his eye, and a quick glance above him revealed a small camera attached to the top of the wall, glaring down at him. The camera's presence made him nervous, although it made sense that, paranoid as Jeremiah was, he'd want to monitor every inch of his property. Bruce even recalled seeing the entrance on the screens below. He'd just never put two and two together.

The metal door swung open, revealing the steel staircase inside. Bruce took the stairs two at a time, almost crashing into a waiting Jeremiah in his hasty descent.

"Ah! Oh, sorry, sorry. I didn't think you'd be standing right there."

Jeremiah laughed, gently prying Bruce's hands off of his sweater. "No worries. I probably shouldn't have made the staircase so narrow. A safety hazard on my part, really. I just figured I'd be the only person using it, apart from Ecco who stays here from time to time." He lead Bruce to the table in the center of the room and sat him, continuing, "I don't think you've met her. She's out purchasing supplies for my latest project; perhaps she'll return before you leave."

Bruce was a little surprised to hear the Jeremiah had a companion. He'd always figured the guy was a bit of a loner, what with the elaborate bunker in the middle of the forest and all. "Oh, is she your, um, partner, or something?" he asked cautiously, turning a prism over in his fingers, peeking to see Jeremiah's expression.

The other man's brow furrowed a bit and he replied, "Partner in what exactly? That's a rather vague title."

"Anything. You know, in work, friendship...romance."

"She assists me with my work and I'd like to think we're friends. That's the extent of our relationship, however. I met her during my studies, and we found we work well together. Results are produced much faster with more than one mind on board." Jeremiah was looking at him now, almost to see if Bruce had any sort of reaction to accompany his words.

"Ah, that makes sense. Speaking of producing sound results quickly, that brings me to what I wanted to come here and discuss with you." Bruce spoke professionally, but he noticed Jeremiah tensing.

"And what would that be?" he asked quietly, his eyes holding Bruce's gaze.

"Um," his heart started to pump blood much faster, and Bruce wasn't exactly sure why. "It's my company. My company and I, uh, have a proposition for you." He spoke quickly, trying to get the words out without stuttering too much.

"Oh is that so?" Jeremiah had relaxed now, and was sitting comfortably. "What sort of proposition?"

Bruce was glad that the atmosphere had calmed down between the two of them, although his heart hadn't quite received that news yet. "As you know, Wayne Enterprises always strives to go above and beyond our competitors. Lately, we've been trying to develop a model for clean energy production that's more accessible and affordable than hydraulic, wind, or solar. However, our team of engineers just aren't up to the task. Every prototype they bring to us is faulty. So we'd like to offer you a grant to build us exactly what we're looking for. You'd have almost limitless funds, as well as all the equipment you desire. What do you say?" Bruce was looking at Jeremiah expectantly now, hoping his offer would be well received. And he couldn't deny the fact that the idea of working Jeremiah several hours of the day sent his heart right back up to the fast staccato it had just left.

Jeremiah was smiling widely, and he looked as though he couldn't believe what he was hearing. "A-a grant to work for Wayne Enterprises? To be the first to put a true alternative energy source on the market? Bruce...this is a dream come true! I can't even imagine...thank you." It was odd to see Jeremiah exhibiting so much emotion, but it was a good sort of strange. The kind that made him feel like he was making the right choices.

"Of course," started Bruce, now smiling as well. He opened the folder he'd brought with him and pulled out a few sheets of freshly printed legal lines. "Just read through this and sign at the bottom of the last page if you accept. I promise there's nothing in there to trick you. It's simply company policies and whatnot. But I'd advise you to skim it nonetheless. I don't want you to agree to anything that makes you uneasy."

Jeremiah chuckled. "If there's anyone I trust to give me a genuine contract, it's you Bruce. But, I'll take you at your word and give it a quick read." He adjusted his glasses and buried his nose in the papers, giving Bruce a chance to recover and look around the room.

The actual room around him looked rather the same as it had when he'd been there yesterday. Was it really just yesterday? It felt like weeks and months ago, he thought to himself. It was, however, much messier. Papers were scattered about, many lying on the floor as though they'd been tossed there in some sort of fit. The 3D model of a skyscraper that had taken up the center of the table had been shattered, its wooden pieces littering the surface. Searching the room further with his eyes, he spotted a basket turned upside down on a shelf by the console with the screens mounted into it. The prism he was turning in his fingers must have come from there. The monitors themselves looked untouched, although two of the screens had gone dark, as though the cameras within those rooms had been covered or turned off.

A click of a pen brought Bruce's attention back to Jeremiah, who was just signing the dotted line at the end of the contract. He handed the paper back to Bruce. "I didn't see anything about selling my soul to Wayne Enterprises. I could have sworn I heard some of the employees state that was in their contracts when I was designing the plaza."

"Only desk clerks have to sign away their life essence to the company. You have a field job so we need you to keep that for creative purposes," Bruce joked back, once again surprised by how open and comfortable the older boy seemed. He decided to mention it to him, since they still had over half an hour together.

"Please, tell me if I'm poking into business that doesn't pertain to me, but you seem much more relaxed than the last time I saw you," he began cautiously.

Jeremiah raised an eyebrow, but answered his statement. "Well, I would put that up to two things, Bruce. Actually, make that three. I was just reminded of a third. The first circumstance I'd like to point out is the fact that the only other time you've seen me was when both of our lives were in jeopardy. You may be unaffected by the idea of having your limbs brutally mutilated, but I do not have such nerves of steel." He paused to see if Bruce had anything to say, and when he evidently didn't, Jeremiah continued. "Secondly, knowing my brother is locked up in the county jail, awaiting trial, is a weight partially lifted off of my shoulders. I won't be completely satisfied until he's suffering in Blackgate or put on death row. But for now, it's a start. After all, I've been hiding from his wrath for years now. It's rather liberating to not have to worry as much. Of course, we must still be prepared for the possibility of his breakout. However dense he may be, he's still admittedly crafty. I'd rather not be out tanning in Gotham square if he were to come gallivanting through the city with a chainsaw."

Bruce opened his mouth, possibly to defend Jerome. At this point he knew he couldn't help it. But Jeremiah seemed to know what he was going to say, and didn't stop for Bruce to comment this time, a curious dark glint in his eye. "And finally, you have a certain presence about you that puts me at ease. I'd say that if you weren't there with me yesterday, there's a chance I wouldn't have even gone. You're a fascinating man, Bruce, and I'm glad for this opportunity to get to know you better. I've always heard so much about the prince of Gotham. How he's spoiled, pretentious, and entitled. But you're absolutely none of those things and I can't possibly understand why. Anyone else in your position would be. And yet, you act as though you're an outsider to the upper-class...as if you don't belong. And I guess, I'm hoping one day I'll figure it out." Jeremiah was on the edge of his chair now, leaning much closer to Bruce than he had been when they were discussing his job. His fingers were folded, but resting on the arm of his chair, supporting his weight.

He didn't know what to say. He already knew he was turning humiliating shades of pink, but Jeremiah's words simply had that effect on him. "I-I'm flattered, really, that you think of me as such a mysterious person. But, I'm not that complex. I'm just a guy trying to figure out his place in this screwed up world. And sure, so many people tell me every day exactly where I should be. And yet I'm never content to just go to school, sit behind a desk, and waste my life away. I have no idea how much of it I have left. I've seen too many people die before the moment that everyone thought was 'their time'. I don't want that to be me. I'm hoping that by the time I take my final breath, I'll be proud of everything I've accomplished. And I can't get to that point doing what everybody else wants me to do. I just...I hope that makes any semblance of sense." Bruce took a deep breath, afraid of losing control of his emotions.

Jeremiah was looking at him with a mixture of emotions, some of which Bruce couldn't even identify. He saw a flash of respect, and for that he was grateful. Curiosity was there as well, but that was typical of Jeremiah. Bruce was beginning to realize the other man saw everything through a microscope of his own creation, but he was okay with that. It gave him a unique perspective on the world, albeit a somewhat apathetic one.

The other emotions unsettled him. Bruce couldn't explain them, at least not in a way that made sense to him. If Jeremiah had been looking at anyone else, perhaps he would have described one of them as longing or even lust...the other? Possibly possessiveness, although that made little sense in this context.

Finally he spoke. "I wish I had grabbed that pen when you began to speak. Your words sounded like prose, eloquent and passionate. I think I understand your curious habits and choices a bit more now." He paused for a minute, then asked, "Is there anything you wish to know about me? After pouring your heart out like that, it's the least I can offer. That and a drink perhaps. Do you like tea?"

Bruce nodded, and said "I love tea. Growing up with a British butler, it's almost mandatory. And I'm sure between the time you start brewing it and when you sit back down, I'll have framed my question." He smiled at Jeremiah, who returned his smile and left the room to make their drinks.

His head was buzzing. He had no idea where to even begin. Should he reflect on what just happened or should he try and figure out what he wanted to know most about the curious red-haired man in the other room. Bruce decided to go with the second option, figuring that there'd be plenty of time for the first back at the manor. But where do I even begin? He keeps to himself so much that I barely know anything about him. I don't want to talk about his childhood, he concluded firmly. So instead, perhaps I should ask about his ambitions. No. That's too boring.

Jeremiah re-entered the room then, carrying a wooden tray topped with a steaming kettle, two mugs, and containers for milk and sugar. "I wasn't sure how you take your tea, so I brought everything out just in case." He sat and filled the mugs, offering the navy blue one to Bruce and holding the purple one up to his lips. Bruce added sugar to his tea and noted that Jeremiah took nothing in his. Of course, he thought.

"So, have you decided on a question for me?" asked Jeremiah, taking another sip from his mug.

No, Bruce hadn't. He'd been too busy panicking over the best thing to learn about this mysterious character. So he said the first thing that came into his mind. "Why do you isolate yourself from people some much?"

Jeremiah seemed unimpressed with his question at first, but it seemed to grow on him as he thought it over. "Emotionally or physically?" he finally asked.

"Both," responded Bruce immediately.

He paused to think over Bruce's question again. "Funnily enough, the emotional piece is easier to answer. I become easily attached to things I care about, and people are no exception. Once I've grown fairly close with a person, it becomes difficult for me to be away from them for an extended period of time. I could go into how and exactly why I blame my mother for that, but it's really not worth it and I'm sure you're capable of filling in the blanks there. So keeping my distance when getting to know someone is essential for me, otherwise I'd never be able to keep myself away from them." He was watching Bruce's reaction with care again, clearly waiting to see how he was going to react.

"Using an educated estimate, how close are we talking?" Bruce asked casually, more invested in the answer than he'd like to admit.

"I only become so attached after spending long periods of time with someone. You only have to be worried when I want to spend more of the hours of the day with you rather than alone," he joked lightly, still waiting to see what Bruce would say.

"Okay good, so I don't have to add a second seat to my motorcycle just yet," Bruce continued the joke, letting Jeremiah know he was fine with the revelation.

"Please. If you had a motorcycle, you wouldn't have your butler drive you all over town."

Bruce laughed. "You've got me there." Jeremiah laughed along, and then went silent, pouring himself another cup of tea. "Okay, so we've covered the emotional part. What about the second piece?"

The man sitting across from him sighed. "Physically, I'm afraid of what I might become if I spend too much time around lots of people. This was only made clearer to me yesterday after my brother's little comment about our shared blood. I don't want to follow in his footsteps, so removing myself from the public is just ensuring we don't have another sociopath running around Gotham. I have no idea whether or not that would actually happen, but I'd rather not risk it." Jeremiah had set his cup down, and was looking at Bruce anxiously.

"You don't need to be afraid, Jeremiah. Yes, what you're doing is incredibly selfless. I can't imagine the amount of bravery and self-control it must take. But, I really don't think it's necessary. In only a couple of days of knowing you, you've proven to me that you're an incredibly kind and empathetic person. I can't ever imagine you hurting someone else...And besides, Jerome is locked up now. You never have to worry about his shadow falling over you again. You two are so different, I'd doubt anyone would know you're related."

"Bruce, your words are comforting, truly. You're just forgetting something rather crucial." He could see sympathetic laughter in Jeremiah's eyes, and he was confused.

"What?" he asked.

"Jerome and I are identical. So, perhaps they may not think we're brothers. But they might think that we're exactly the same person. Which could prove to be even worse." He was fully laughing now, although he didn't look incredibly amused by his notions.

"Oh. I forgot that little factor," Bruce confessed.

"How? You've been looking at me all morning."

"Well that's exactly it. I've seen Jerome's face plenty of times up close. And I've been looking at yours for quite awhile too. And in all honesty, once you start looking for differences between you two, they're easy to spot. Jerome has a wild look in his eye that never truly leaves, like he's constantly searching for something to see and do. You, on the other hand, focus on exactly one thing and give it your utmost attention. Rather than looking around sporadically, and perhaps in a manner that could be qualified as ADHD, you view things as if their very existence fascinates you. Almost like a scientist looking at a particularly interesting strain of bacteria he just discovered. Besides, your faces are different structurally too. Your jaw is a bit more angled and sharper, with a slightly longer chin. Jerome's eyes are wider. Your nose is more narrow. Jerome has higher cheekbones. Little things like that." Bruce shrugged, and took a drink from his mug.

"I'm glad to hear you've been studying us so well. I'll have to remember that you're memorizing every detail of my face and make sure I don't make any strange expressions," Jeremiah teased him again, offering the tea kettle to him.

Bruce accepted the kettle and refilled his cup, returning the joke. "Too late. You've already made some of the weirdest faces I've seen." He waited for Jeremiah's reply, but none came. Bruce looked up at him.

That dark glint had returned to his eyes. "Is that so?" Jeremiah asked. "Are there different faces that I should be making?" The proximity of the space between the two had lessened considerably, making Bruce wonder where it had gone.

"Um...no, nothing like that. I-I don't even know what I was getting at."

Jeremiah looked disappointed. "For a man that's known best for his grace under pressure, you fluster rather easily."

"Then how do I change that?"

"Well, it's a simple solution. We just need to subject you to more situations that cause your cheeks to start burning that pretty shade of pink."

Bruce wasn't sure where this was going, but his racing heart didn't want him to stop. "What sort of situations?"

A now-familiar pale, cool hand had come to rest on his cheek. "I could think of a few."

As Jeremiah leaned closer, a metallic ring echoed through the room, causing them both to jump and break apart. A quick peek at the screens across from them confirmed that it was Alfred upstairs, here to pick Bruce up. He stood up rapidly and grabbed his coat.

"That's a shame. We were just starting to break you out of your shell. I suppose we'll simply have to work on it more when we're drawing up blueprints later this week. I'll walk you up the stairs."

Jeremiah led a dizzy Bruce up the long staircase, opening the door for him and greeting Alfred kindly. "Thank you so much for letting me borrow him. I hope to see you both soon! Have a lovely rest of your morning."

It was only in the car, fifteen minutes later, that Bruce noticed the light purple post-it note sticking out of his coat pocket. It read, in a tight, neat script "In case of emergencies," and below that was a cell phone number. Bruce held it tightly in his hand, a faint rosy hue remaining on his cheeks the entire drive home.

Chapter Text

An urgent call from the police captain had Bruce racing down 3rd Avenue, back in Alfred's old Avanti. It had been four days since his visit with Jeremiah, and they'd been meeting daily since to work on their project. They'd made leaps and bounds of progress; the prototype Jeremiah presented to him yesterday was incredible. Luckily, Alfred hadn't felt the need to question him so vigorously since meeting Jeremiah, only asking about the progress they were making.

Now, his attention was being abruptly turned to the other Valeska brother, who was apparently making a scene down at the GCPD. Bruce had felt apprehensive about seeing Jerome ever since his capture, and he'd counted on that buffer of the week before his trial to prepare himself.

They pulled in to the old unkempt parking garage behind the building, and parked on the third level. Bruce led the way through the police department from there, with Alfred following him close behind. He knew that Alfred hated how often Bruce was called upon for assistance in the workings of the law, but Bruce didn't mind. After all, ensuring justice was served for criminals had been his greatest passion ever since his parents were killed. They entered through the back stairwell, so as not to draw attention to themselves, and silently made their way up to the police captain's office.

"I didn't even notice you come in," Jim said, shaking both of their hands quickly and standing up from his desk.

"We used the back entrance, detective. We didn't want to cause any disturbances," answered Bruce, motioning to the cells on the first floor.

"A smart move. You're probably wondering what I asked you down here for, Bruce."

"Your phone call gave away some information, but I still don't quite understand the situation. What's Jerome been doing?" Bruce, after a gesture from Jim, sat at the desk. Alfred followed suit, and Jim returned to his seat.

"More like what hasn't he been doing. We should've sent him to county. I didn't think keeping him here was going to be so difficult."

"He's been trying to escape?" Bruce asked rapidly.

"No, surprisingly he hasn't even asked to move from his cell once, besides occasional restroom breaks. He's just making the lives of the officers a living hell. Not to mention the amount of mayhem his remaining followers are trying to make. Officer Barren found a copperhead snake in his desk draw yesterday, along with a deck of playing cards coated in tetrodotoxin. I don't even want to know where they got their hands on a concentrated batch of that stuff, but it's Gotham, so they probably got it from the local toy store. Smaller disturbances have occurred too, if you can call them that. Officer Wright lost her pinky to a mouse trap disguised as her notepad and one of our lab techs somehow 'accidentally' spilled a sealed cup of forensic evidence, rendering it useless." Jim was flipping through a pile of reports, listing out all of the strange accidents happening around his work.

Alfred interrupted. "S'cuse me, mate, but did you just say his 'remaining followers'? What made some of 'em leave?"

"We're still looking into that. I'd say his arrest, except they've stuck with him through an arrest before. Hell, he was in Arkham for several months and they were still by his side when he got out. Maybe some of them decided it wasn't worth it?"

Bruce was musing through the reports now too. "Not likely. They've already killed for him, most people don't come back from that. I'd wager a guess that someone else in the city is offering something even more insane and chaotic, if that's possible."

Jim sighed, "Fantastic. Another psychopathic cult leader is exactly what this city needs right now." After a moment of looking around his office with discourage, he said "Anyways. Jerome's trial is in three days. He refuses to get a lawyer, and he threatened to have my officers' families killed if they tried to appoint a public attorney. He did, however, agree to immediately plead guilty if he had a request granted. Can you guess what that request was?" asked Jim, staring into Bruce's eyes.

"He wants to see me." answered Bruce without a hint of surprise. A nod from Jim confirmed this.

"Well technically, he asked to talk to you almost the second he got here. Something about wanting his phone call. Of course, we turned down his request. You'd been through enough that day. We weren't even going to ask you down here at all, except for everything that's been going on since then. I think he's been raising hell just to get us to bring you in."

Once again, this didn't surprise Bruce. Although, he was slightly angry with Jerome for getting so many people injured in his attempts to bring him to the GCPD. He met Jim's gaze. "Next time, just give him his damn phone call."

Fifteen minutes later, Bruce was sitting on a cold metal chair in the interrogation room. Drumming his fingers on the table, he wondered what Jerome had to say to him that was so incredibly urgent. Bruce wasn't really concerned with which way the prankster pleaded. He was of the mind that in Gotham, it didn't matter. If the judge thought you were guilty, or if they were paid off, his mind added, then you would be sentenced. No questions asked. The only people who escaped the law in this city already had the money or connections to get them out of the courtroom. Jerome had neither. So, Bruce wasn't sure exactly what Jim was gaining by making this deal with him. Maybe it was just to put an end to all the injuries happening around the police department.

The creaking of unoiled hinges on an old metal door brought his attention to the cuffed redhead in front of him. An officer followed close behind. She barked at Jerome to sit, and she then cuffed his wrists to the tabletop and his ankles to the chair. They must be terrified of him escaping, thought Bruce as they added a thin metal brace to his throat and attached that to the chair as well. The thought didn't occur to Bruce that all of these safety measures may have been for his benefit. For some reason he didn't register the fact that Jerome had tried to hurt him before.

He looked at the teenager in front of him, who was making faces at the officer as she tightened his shackles. "Shouldn't we have established a safeword before all this, officer?" Jerome asked innocently. She just kept silent, eventually scooting his chair forward and exiting the room.

Jerome still wasn't looking at him. Instead, he began examining his nails, methodically cleaning them with one hand. "Ah Brucie, you can't imagine how boring it's been here. None of these so-called officers want to talk to me, play games, or even look at me. It's unbelievably dull. Out in the city, that's where all the excitement is. Being cooped up in here is enough to drive anyone mad." He took his time with the last word, drawing it out in a silky voice. Jerome finally looked up at Bruce. "Y'know what I mean?"

Bruce's heart started doing that incredibly inconvenient thing where it sped up a lot and made it hard to think. Eventually, he was able to get some words out. "No. I don't know what you mean."

Jerome tilted his head sideways, grinning. "Not yet, you don't. There's still plenty of time to fix that. I see the stick in your ass we discussed a week or two back is still very firmly in place."

Bruce shook his head, motioning it slightly towards the one-way glass across from them.

"Oh? Do they not know you came to find me? That we had a very good time at my poor uncle's diner? How much we shared and connected? Were they not supposed to know about that?" Jerome's grin had gone, replaced by innocent wide eyes. "Oopsies." he said after silence from Bruce.

"That doesn't matter right now. What made you need to see me so badly that you caused enough mayhem here to make the officers afraid of coming into work?" Bruce asked coldly.

Jerome pouted, his replaced face contorting with his expression. "Maybe I just missed ya Brucie."

"I don't believe you. Try again."

Jerome's eyes rolled. "Jeez, you sure are fun today. Glad I went through all the trouble of getting you here for you to be so obviously pleased to see me."

"I'm not here to play games with you, so if you could get to the point, that'd be great."

"Y'know Bruce, some of my friends have been telling me strange things. Word on the street is that you've been spending lots of time at a little bunker in the woods. How's my brother doing? Gloating over how he single-handedly got me back in prison?" Jerome was now looking at him like he was a child he pitied. "I'd hoped you wouldn't be so easily charmed by him, but alas. The bastard's got a certain disposition that makes everybody think he's an angel. I guess I just thought you were smarter than that."

That little insult got Bruce's attention. "First of all, don't make any assumptions about me or Jeremiah. He's been contracted to work for Wayne Enterprises. That's the bottom line of it all."

"Strange, he always seemed like a top to me." Jerome interrupted with his joke.

Bruce glared at him and continued, "Secondly, he's barely talked about you since you've been arrested. If you asked me, he couldn't care one way or another." Jerome looked like he was going to interrupt him again, so Bruce pressed on. "And third, he's a hell of a lot easier to handle than you. I don't think anyone can fake his nervous tendencies, so you're probably the sibling who's better at putting on an act."

Jerome's expression was suddenly fiery. "Are you calling me a liar, Bruce? After all the honesty I've given you?"

The sudden serious nature of his question caught Bruce off-guard, and he had to think. Jerome was a master of manipulation, but this didn't feel like he was trying to mess with Bruce's mind. It seemed like he really just wanted to know if that was how Bruce saw him. So he decided to answer honestly.

"No, Jerome, I'm not. You've never lied to me before. In fact, I've always been surprised by just how blunt you are with your plans. All I'm saying is that these ideas you have of Jeremiah's behavior have never appeared to me."

Seeming satisfied with his answer, Jerome gave his own serious response. "Well, that's because he likes you. He'd never act like himself in front of you, especially not now that I'm back in the picture of his life. He wants you to think of him as the shining white knight. Basically, he's trying to be everything that I'm not. Seriously, make a t-chart sometime. The blatant comparisons will shock you."

"I'll keep it in mind, thanks." Bruce said neutrally. "Now, I want to talk about why you really brought me down here. I don't think you would've expended all that effort just to gossip about your brother."

Jerome shrugged and said, "Sure, I'll talk to ya. As soon as they let me speak to you alone. I don't like eavesdroppers, you see, and their snooping takes it to a whole new level. So, you convince them to either scram or give us a more private setting, and I'll sit here and look pretty until then." He paused, waiting. "And this is the part where you say, 'But Jerome! You always look pretty.'"

Bruce stared at him stonily, although in his head he agreed with the other teenager. "I don't think so."

Jerome looked insulted. "To which part?"

"Both," Bruce clarified.

"Ouch Bruce, I don't know if I'll be able to recover from that one. But more importantly, you won't get anything worthwhile out of me if we just sit here and chat for everyone to see."

Bruce was confused. "What do you mean, 'anything worthwhile'? You asked me here, not the other way around."

Jerome laughed. "Oh, Jimbo is tricky isn't he! Why don't you go talk with him about that, and while you do, you can mention our little negotiation." He shooed Bruce towards the door with his restrained fingers, winking at him as he passed.

Back out into the hallway, Bruce noticed how exhilarated he felt. Sure, his mind felt completely scrambled, but he felt like he could run dozens of miles, his heart already racing.

A nondescript brown door opened, and through it came James Gordon. He looked frustrated...and nervous. "Sorry Bruce, I thought this would go more smoothly. I guess he's just being uncooperative. Maybe if we try a different approa-"

"I know you're hiding something from me, detective. Not just because Jerome said so, but because you've been acting strange ever since I got here. There's no way you would have made this deal with him just for him to plead guilty on the stand. You and I both know that means nothing in this city. So, what is it?" Bruce's hands were in his pockets, the adrenaline from his earlier conversation granting him bravery.

Jim looked at him for a long time before finally answering. "Last night, four apartment buildings were burned to the ground. Eighty-two people died, and seventy-three more were injured and are recovering in Gotham General . We've asked the media to keep quiet for now because we have no leads. Jerome, however, seems to know who did this and why. Normally, we'd call it bullshit and keep the investigation running. However, the arsonist reached out to Jerome. They sent this last night, right after the fires." He pulled out a neatly-folded piece of crisp white paper and handed it to Bruce.

The note read:

Dear Mr. Valeska, I hope this finds you in good health. Please know that it won't stay that way for long; you might as well enjoy it while it lasts. My purpose for writing you today is to inform you that change is coming. This city used to bow to you and your disgusting chaos. Soon, it will serve only sanity and order. Gotham is about to go down in flames, and I want you to have a front row seat when it does. Tonight was a little bit of a test, to see how resilient the structural integrity of an old city like this is. But don't worry; it was just the beginning of a raging hellstorm, the likes of which you've never seen. Hopefully a show like this will keep even you on the edge of your seat. Feel free to pass along my message. An official announcement will be made in due time. Until then, enjoy your stay at the police department. Who knows, maybe I'll see you there soon.

~A critic

The note disturbed Bruce for reasons he couldn't quite place. The handwriting appeared disjointed, as if two people had written it. Either way, now wasn't the time to dwell on it. They needed answers, and by the looks of it, quickly. "And Jerome claims to know who this is?"

"Yes, he said he recognized the handwriting, as well as 'the fucker's nauseating pretentiousness', as he so eloquently put it. But he refuses to tell us who it is, saying it was more fun for him this way. And then I think you must have crossed his mind again, because he abruptly countered himself by telling us he'd give you all the information you wanted."

Bruce's head was spinning with all of this news. He wish he had more time because he was certain he'd be able to figure out who was behind it all. The note kept nagging at something in his consciousness, but he just couldn't place it. Getting the name out of Jerome was the fastest solution. "Jerome won't tell me anything unless you leave us alone to talk. I have no idea why this is a demand of his, but he made that very clear to me just a few minutes ago."

"I figured he would ask that, but I was hoping he'd forgotten we were there. It still seems impossible, though. The amount of things that could go wrong and place you in danger is much more than I'm willing to risk."

Once again, Bruce would have to defend his ability to take care of himself. "Jim, I know why you wouldn't let me in on investigations all of the years prior to now. I was too young and I didn't understand how the world worked. I assumed everyone ran by the same moral code that I did. But I'm older now. I've seen my share fair of danger, and I've already proven that I'm capable of handling Jerome, even a Jerome that's armed. Here, he's contained, bare-handed, and at your mercy. Let me talk to him alone. We both know that this conversation here could be the difference between hundreds of saved lives or thousands of grieving people. Please."

The police captain seemed to mull the idea over in his head. "Fine. I just hope you know how much faith I'm putting in you and how much you're telling me you've matured. Now, leaving him alone in the interrogation room is a bad idea. There's too many things that could be used as weapons, like chairs. Plus, he'd never buy that we're keeping out of it if the one-way glass was there. We could probably use the empty room by the parking garage entrance. The janitor used to store his equipment in there but we haven't seen him for two weeks now, and his replacement takes his stuff home. It's small, so the only restraints we'd be able to use are handcuffs. Are you comfortable with that?" asked Jim, who was now pacing up and down the hallway.

"Yes, detective. It might be naive of me to say, but I don't think he's going to try and attack me. And if he does, I'm well prepared," Bruce said confidently, his hand already on the handle of the door to take him back into the room where Jerome was sitting.

"Okay, I trust you. I'll go in and take care of his restraints."

Bruce opened the door to find a half-standing Jerome using the harsh light of the lamp to make shadow puppets on the walls. The thick cuffs that had been holding his wrists to the table were somehow lying open, but the standard ones still bound his wrists together. This just seemed to add an extra element to Jerome's shadow puppet game, which he was so enthralled in, he apparently didn't hear them enter.

"Jerome, they've agreed to let you and I speak in a private room," Bruce said, standing in front of him.

"One second, I almost have this pelican perfect. Move a little to the left, I'll use your hair as a palm tree."

For some reason, Bruce shifted, allowing the teenager to continue his game. A quick glance at the wall showed that Jerome was actually pretty good at making his puppets, as his two hands, plus their joining cuffs, made a clearly visible pelican. And admittedly, Bruce's hair did sort of look like a palm tree silhouetted on the wall like that.

After a few moments of admiring his handiwork (pun intended), Jerome stepped back and said, "Okay, that's good. We can go now." He turned towards the door and Bruce saw him stumble over his ankle restraints, barely catching him as he crashed towards the ground. He had one hand pressed against Jerome's chest, pushing him back up into a standing position, the other gripping his shoulder. He's a lot more muscular than I thought, even after seeing him in that suit, Bruce fleeting thought before quickly removing his hands from Jerome. The red-haired man seemed to know what he was thinking, and his grin widened.

"Sorry about that. It's weird, I don't even notice being tied up anymore," Jerome laughed, holding still while Jim unlocked his ankles.

A voice from the doorway said, "Jerome, if we have to sit through one more bondage joke coming out of your mouth, we all get to hit you with Jim's 'Detective of the Year' trophy sitting upstairs." Bruce turned and saw Detective Bullock leaning against the doorframe. Jerome just continued to smile. Harvey directed his next question to Jim. "Could I see you for minute? Something's been going down in the Narrows, and by the sounds of the dispatchers, it ain't pretty." Jim looked reluctant to leave Jerome and Bruce standing there, but Harvey's tone was urgent.

"Don't worry, Jimbo. I'll stand here and be a good boy." said Jerome, now holding very still so as to prove his point.

"I'll be two minutes, tops. You'd better be in that exact same position when I get back." Jim left through the metal door, shutting it loudly behind him.

After a moment of silence, Bruce asked "Can't we just talk now? It doesn't make sense for Jim to leave us alone and then take us to a different room so he can leave us alone again."

Jerome patted him sympathetically on the head, causing Bruce to jump a bit. "Oh, sweet naive Bruce Wayne. Honestly, I wish I thought people were as inherently good as you do. Jim and Harvey are obviously using this as a way to get us to do exactly that: say everything out loud here so they can see us and hear us. And that breaks the rules of our little trade. Which means, I don't have to tell you a word now. This is a fun game, isn't it?"

Bruce was shocked. "But you don't know that! There could really be something happening in the Narrows, it's not that far of a stretch."

"That's why it's an effective bluff, sweetheart," Jerome said, rolling his eyes.

"So, you're not going to tell me anything now?"

"I didn't say that. All I said was, I don't have to. It doesn't mean I won't. I just want them to acknowledge that I called them on their bullshit before I tell you anything." And with that, Jerome sat down, crossing his newly unrestrained ankles.

They waited in silence for a couple minutes, Jerome staring pointedly into space and Bruce fidgeting nervously by the door, unsure of what he was waiting for.

And then the door swung open again, and both detectives reentered the room. "It seems we don't give you enough credit, Mr. Valeska," Jim said, looking slightly embarrassed. Harvey said nothing, just stared at Jerome with distaste.

Bruce was surprised. He knew that Jerome was smart, but the teenager never really showed it. He tried to pass himself off as comical and occasionally dim-witted, but the second part was clearly just for show.

Jerome pushed himself back into a standing position using the table, briefly brushing Bruce's arm with his own. "So, do I get to talk to our little prince here by myself or not?"

The two detectives exchanged a look, and Jim reached for Jerome's arm, herding him out the door. Harvey motioned for Bruce to follow, so he did. They walked down two hallways, past other interrogation rooms, the locker rooms, and an unused office, until they turned a corner that brought them to the parking garage entrance and a roomy concrete closet. This closet was where Jim lead Jerome, Harvey turning to the side to make room for Bruce to join them.

"You have exactly ten minutes. We'll be standing at the end of this hallway, listening for any yells or screams," Jim said, looking at Bruce. "As soon as those ten minutes are up, Bruce leaves and we bring Jerome back to his cell. For obvious reasons, we'll be locking the door. Is everything clear?"

The two boys nodded, one a bit more exaggerated than the other. "Great," Jim said. "We'll see you in ten minutes." He flicked a light switch on and shut the door, leaving the two truly alone.

Now Bruce wasn't sure what to say, so he started with something that wasn't too blunt. "I read the note that the arsonist sent you. Something told me that they didn't like you very much. They seemed to threaten you in it."

Jerome sat on the ground, propping up his hands and resting his head on them. "Yeah, I could tell they weren't my biggest fan."

"Well, obviously not. I thought we already established that was my job," Bruce joked, trying to ease some of the tension.

"Nah, you're my favorite volunteer. Totally different. Dwight was my biggest fan. Until I blew him up, that is."

"Doesn't that mean the position's open?" asked Bruce innocently.

Jerome laughed. "I've never had the same person be both before. That's a rather prestigious honor. Then again, if I were to give that position to someone, you'd certainly be at the top of my list." He seemed to realize how genuine of a statement that was, and attempted to backtrack a bit. "I'm kidding, obviously," laughing once more.

"You know, you don't need to joke about everything. Sometimes it's okay to say things to people and really mean them," Bruce said quietly, joining Jerome on the floor.

He looked up at Bruce, and for the first time in his life, he saw vulnerability in Jerome's eyes. "For you, maybe. For a guy like me? It's much easier to keep 'em all at a good arm's length. Even if I were you, I'd stick to trusting nobody. It's safer. I wouldn't want to see my favorite volunteer get hurt."

Bruce waited for Jerome to say he was joking, but no clarifying statement came. "That wasn't so bad, was it?"

"No. It was agonizing. You have to wait for other people to get what you're saying while being concerned about their reaction at the same time. I don't think I'm cut out for this whole caring-about-what-people-think thing." Jerome groaned at the thought of doing it again, and leaned back, now lying on the concrete floor.

"Oh come on, you drama queen. It's not the worst thing in the world." Bruce waited for Jerome's response, and after a moment when he got none, he leaned over the boy, looking at closed eyes and slightly open mouth. "Seriously, Jerome. Now is not the time to take a nap." He shook him slightly, still hovering off to the side of his body. Once again, Jerome was unresponsive. He didn't appear to be breathing. Bruce was worried now, and he continued to shake him. The arsonist's statement concerning Jerome's health ran through his mind. "Jerome! Wake up!"

Suddenly, an arm snaked around him, bringing him down against Jerome's chest. Said chest began to move with small chuckles coming from the head above it. "Gotcha," laughed Jerome, still holding Bruce against him.

"That wasn't funny, Jerome," mumbled Bruce indignantly, struggling against the older boy. He was also trying not to hyperventilate from the very sudden, very close contact. He had no idea exactly when his body's reactions to Jerome had changed, but they were becoming increasingly inconvenient. Bruce decided to just give up struggling, and lay still against him.

The hand that was holding him began to comb lightly through his hair. "It was a little funny. And trust me, I know funny."

"Just so you know, I'd be really pissed if I found out you went to all this trouble just to seduce me in a dingy closet at the GCPD," Bruce said against his chest, regaining his bravery.

Jerome's laughter increased. "Not even my schemes are that elaborate, I promise." He was suddenly not laughing anymore. "Which brings me to my second promise of the evening. The identity of the person who wrote that note and murdered all of those people. I'm honestly surprised that you haven't figured it out yet. After all, I've been trying to tell you all day."

Bruce was, once again, very confused. That seems to be the theme of today, he thought to himself. "What do you mean, you've been trying to tell me? We haven't talked about anyone else all day."

Jerome continued to play with Bruce's curls. "Yes, we did. Who's the very first person we discussed?"

Bruce thought back to their earlier conversation. It felt like hours ago. "We talked about Jeremiah, but I don't remember you bringing up anybody else."

"Bingo," Jerome said quietly.

Bruce lifted his head out of Jerome's grasp. "You've got to be kidding me. I can't believe you're at this again. Do you ever stop accusing him of being behind everything wrong in the world?"

The hand that had been stroking Bruce's hair dropped to Jerome's side as he sat up, pushing Bruce off of him in frustration. "I'll keep saying it until someone believes me. But no one will until Jeremiah makes it clear he wants to be found out. So really, my saying it does nothing. I guess I was just hoping I could get someone to listen to me before he actually hurt people. But, it's too late now apparently. Those eighty-two people died because of Jeremiah's actions. I guarantee it. And he's not one to stay humble. He'll want to take credit for their deaths. We won't have to wait long for him to announce himself."

Jerome wasn't smiling now, as he sat with his back to a concrete wall. After a minute of deliberation, Bruce scooted next to him.

"Jeez, it looks like I'll never be able to get rid of you now," Jerome commented as Bruce joined him.

Bruce elbowed him in the side, receiving a small gasp from the boy next him. "You're easier to talk to than I would've guessed," he finally said, skating around the subject of Jerome's twin.

"Aw, c'mon. Give me a little more credit. You and I have had plenty of good conversations before."

Bruce shook his head. "Not like this. Usually you're trying to kill me or running away from me. The only other time we've sat down and talked was at your uncle's diner, and that was pretty brief."

"How much longer do you reckon we have left?" asked Jerome, glancing at the door.

"I'd guess around five minutes. Why?"

Jerome settled his head against the wall. "Just figuring out how long I have before returning to a life of bored pacing and toying with cops."

"Do you think people are capable of changing? For the better, I mean," Bruce asked abruptly. He waited for Jerome to respond. When he didn't get an answer, he asked again, "Do you?"

"Hold on, midget, I'm thinking." Jerome passed the idea around in his head for a few moments. "No," he finally decided. "I think that the darkness in people, all of the twisted shit that requires other people to think that they should change, has always been inside that person. Something simply broke, and it got out. And they can't put it back in."

"You think that there's no way to repair that damage?"

Jerome took another moment to think. "Maybe, it's possible. With just enough support from another person...and a lot of curly fries," he added thoughtfully.

"Curly fries, huh? Is that a universal thing or does it strictly apply to you?" asked Bruce, poking him.

"Definitely universal. Anyone who doesn't like curly fries is a robot or government spy. Hands down."

Bruce laughed. "I'll remember that."

He took a deep breath, thinking about his last couple minutes here with Jerome. "I have a new offer for you," he said eventually.

Jerome turned to look at him. "What is it?"

"Before I even say it, let me inform you right now that I already know I'm incredibly stupid for putting this on the table."

"Well this sounds promising. Okay, idiocy noted."

"I'm willing to pay the judge and jury members to let you off, if you promise to stay with me and let me help you become a normal member of society, as well as go to regular counseling sessions."

Jerome was silent for a minute.

"Is it that ridiculous?" asked Bruce.

Green-blue eyes met his dark brown ones. "Do you really mean it?" Jerome whispered.

It was only then that Bruce realized how truly terrified Jerome was of Blackgate. He had every reason to be. Even though he'd muscled up considerably, there were guys there that'd make even the strongest Arkham convict run screaming. "Yes. I mean it."

"Then I agree to your terms, Bruce...a-and thank you," he added hesitantly, for once looking at a loss for words.

"You're welcome," Bruce replied simply, laying his head on Jerome's shoulder. The excitement of the days' events had caught up to him, leaving him feeling fatigued. A now-familiar warm hand wrapped around his shoulders and returned to his head, stroking his hair once more.

Two minutes later, they heard a key slide into the door, unlocking it. They quickly moved apart and stood, facing Jim as he entered the closet. "Time's up, you two. Officer Barren will take you back to your cell, Jerome." Jim said, gesturing to the man behind him. Jerome moved to pass Jim, his cuffed hands lightly caressing Bruce's arm as he went. Jim raised his eyebrows but said nothing. After the pair were safely back in the center of things, the police captain pulled Bruce aside, asking urgently "So, what name did he give you?"

Bruce wrestled with the thought of putting Jeremiah's name in the captain's head again, especially after he'd been a great friend to Bruce. But he couldn't lie to Jim, and he didn't want to believe that Jerome was just paranoid. "He mentioned his brother, Jeremiah. But I don't really believe him. They both seem to have a grudge against one another. So you can put some surveillance on him, sure, but I don't see it amounting to anything."

That look of frustration returned to Jim's face, but he thanked Bruce nonetheless, handed him a folder, and walked him back out to the parking garage where Alfred was waiting. They got in the Avanti and headed back to the manor.

...

Hours later, in the study, Bruce was flipping restlessly through the folder Jim had given him. It was all of the information they had on the arsonist's case. He kept coming back to that odd note, reading it over and over, to the point where he had it completely memorized. The harsh light from his desk lamp was starting to hurt his eyes. Bruce shivered. He'd forgotten to light the fireplace, and the ancient room was freezing. He stuck his hands in the pockets of his light jacket in an attempt to warm them. The fingers of his right hand brushed against something, and he pulled it out.

It was the note from Jeremiah. The light green paper was slightly crinkled now, but he smoothed it out and read it once more. It was only when he saw the two notes side by side did it click for him. The reason the second one seemed so familiar. Half of the handwriting was the same.

Chapter Text

(Jeremiah's POV. Yesterday)

Jeremiah was pacing the corridors of his labyrinth. The alternating bouts of nausea and manic laughter occasionally brought him to the ground, where he curled up and remained until they passed, and then he stood once more and resumed his pacing. This had been his system for the past four hours. The toxin had fully seeped into his skin now, and the appearance of his hands made him terrified to look in a mirror.

However, his mind still appeared to be his own. For some reason, this made Jeremiah furious. Why go through all of this trouble just for Jerome to produce a gas that ultimately fails? Of course, he wasn't surprised that the absent-minded fool hadn't succeeded. Chemistry was a careful art, and Jerome had always been too eager to see things explode. Either he missed a critical element or the concentration of the dose was too weak.

Whichever it was, it had resulted in nothing substantial. Jeremiah felt more in control of his thoughts than he ever had before. He knew that if he'd been the one to produce the poison, it would have worked. Whoever had been sprayed with it would've had their entire psyche crumble within minutes. In fact, he was certain that he could carry out all of his brother's schemes better than that madman ever could. Because he could look at things rationally and use objective judgement. Too often, Jerome let his poor broken feelings get in the way of finishing what he started. Then again, his actual ideas were just as subpar as his ability to see them through.

How Gotham had been enraptured with his twin's exploits, Jeremiah had no idea. His so-called flair had nothing to it. Sure, he seemed showy at first, but there wasn't any substance to his misdeeds. He put on this big performance and very little actually ensued. Maybe a dozen people lose their lives. Pathetic, he thought. Rationally, if you're going to make the effort to commit a heinous crime, you'd think that you would try and achieve your goal on the largest scale. Why kill three people at the Gala when you could have killed forty? Why shoot two of those reporters when you could have shot ten?...Why continue to allow Bruce Wayne to evade you? But he knew the answer to the third question. Bruce fascinated Jerome just as he fascinated Jeremiah. Perhaps their intrigue was rooted in different places, but he was a rare oddity to them both. The crowning jewel of Gotham had a rather strong and gleaming outer shell, but inside he shone even brighter...and was much more vulnerable. The things that the two of them could accomplish together sent Jeremiah's mind whirring. After all, the prototype for the boys' clean energy project has already come along wonderfully. The amount of energy they'd been able to contain in those canisters was astounding, and the prototype was surprisingly stable in terms of explosive qualities. He'd hate to see the damage caused if one of them were to become...unstable. Although, the wiring itself could be changed rather easily. He wouldn't even need to alter the chemical composition.

Wait, what am I thinking? Why would I even want to turn them into bombs? he asked himself, suddenly frightened of his thoughts. "To prove that you could," his voice answered aloud. "To show them once and for all that Jerome's schemes are narrow-minded and pitiful. That you're the mastermind of the family. Then they'd stop comparing us. They'd all be too afraid to even say your name." He was making his way over to his bedroom now, eager to see his face.

He wasn't prepared for what he saw in the mirror. Jeremiah's skin had turned chalk-white. It looked unreal, as if painted on. But a quick scratch to his arm confirmed the change. His lips had changed too. They used to be a pale chapped pink. Now they were fuller, and very very red. Once again, it looked unnatural, and even garish against his albino skin. But what startled him most were his eyes. He hadn't anticipated that. They were a milky bright green-grey, the kind you only saw with color contacts. Jeremiah collapsed to the floor once more. The sinister jack-in-the-box on his dresser watched as he dissolved into another fit of laughter.

Well, at least they can tell us apart now, he thought bitterly when he regained control of himself. He really should have seen a trick like that coming from Jerome. He had just figured that his brother would be too closely monitored in jail to do anything to him. Jeremiah thought back to when he'd first received the package four hours ago.

Bruce had just left. They'd finally finished that first model, and the morning had gone well. As had become their usual, the two boys had chatted and drank tea, and then gotten to work in Jeremiah's main room. Throughout their visits, they'd joke and flirt lightly, but Jeremiah didn't think Bruce quite understood that he was truly interested in him. He could analyze the psychological reasons behind that, but he really didn't want to. Jeremiah figured that Bruce would get it eventually. There was no reason to push him.

After Bruce was gone, Jeremiah had very little to bring excitement into his day. He'd study maps and blueprints of Gotham, read as much as he could, and keep an eye on his surveillance system. So of course, after paying so much attention to security, he was extremely surprised to find a package sitting on his dresser that afternoon.

The wrapping of the box itself was relatively simple: royal blue felt tied up with a large, white, cloth ribbon. All the tag said was, from Wayne Enterprises. Maybe Bruce really had seen his intentions. It's sweet of him to get me a gift, especially after everything he's done for me already, Jeremiah thought happily. He eagerly untied the ribbon, and was surprised to find an ornately decorated box underneath. He turned the box over in his hands, searching for its purpose. Pulling the latch on the top opened a flap, revealing a grotesque clown doll. Before he could react, the doll rapidly sprayed Jeremiah with some sort of burning purple gas, causing him to drop the box in pain. He coughed as the clown began to speak.

"Hello, brother. You didn't think you could evade me that easily, did you? A little stay in the slammer can't keep you safe from me. Or, more accurately, safe from yourself. See, it's very likely that I'll die in Blackgate. But you can continue on for me! You will be my ultimate revenge. So, calm yourself. Don't fight it. Breathe it in. This gas was a special mixture I had made, just for you. Something to finally set you free. It's time to have some fun. Burn it down! Burn it all down."

Jeremiah was gripping his head in his hands; he couldn't stop laughing. His eyes itched and his skin burned, but he barely noticed. The manic euphoria caused by the gas stopped him from feeling the pain. He stood there cackling, gasping for breath, until he was hit by a sudden need to vomit. Jeremiah crawled his way over to the nearest wastebasket and retched until there was nothing left in his stomach. And then he was laughing again. This cycle continued for hours, bringing him back to where he was now.

Staring at his reflection, Jeremiah made his decision. He would take his words to heart. "Burn it all down," he'd coaxed. So that was exactly what Jeremiah was going to do. But he'd blow Jerome's wildest dreams and expectations out of the water. Unlike that madman, he wouldn't be playing around when he made his intentions clear.

He returned to the front room and gazed at the massive glowing blue canister standing there. Jeremiah brushed it lightly with his fingers before turning his attention to the exposed wires at its base. Then, he got to work rewiring it to create the most destructive explosive force his city had ever seen.

When he finished, about an hour later, he had phone calls to make. The first he sent to Wayne Enterprises, informing them that he'd be retrieving the copies of their prototype within the next few hours.

The second, he made to Bruce. Although it was still light out, he didn't answer. So, Jeremiah left him a voicemail saying "Hello Bruce, it's Jeremiah. I just wanted to inform you that I'm going to have to cancel our meeting tomorrow morning." He paused to think of an excuse, then continued "Ecco has fallen ill and I want to take the morning to settle her in to Gotham General. I hope you understand. So instead, I was thinking I could make up for it by taking us on a proper...excursion." He danced around the word on the tip of his tongue, date. "A walk somewhere pretty in the city, maybe. Call me back soon, please. Thank you." He hung up then, and placed his flip phone back in his jacket pocket.

Jeremiah pulled out a map of the city and looked for a simple test area. He wouldn't use the bombs, not yet. He just wanted to see how long it took for flames to spread in these old buildings. Settling on a section of apartment complexes uptown, he moved the map aside and began his ascent up the metal staircase to the outside world.

Hopefully, he'd be able to get Ecco to purchase him some cosmetic supplies. He didn't want to walk around with Bruce looking like this...not yet at least. But that was for him to worry about later. Right now, he needed to pay a certain teenage billionaire's laboratory a visit.

Chapter Text

It was early Saturday morning when Bruce finally saw Jeremiah's message. He'd slept poorly that night as he tried to come to terms with the idea that his friend was behind the uptown fires. He wanted to confront Jeremiah about it, but he was terrified of losing his companionship. He was one of the few people that Bruce could stand for more than two hours at a time and actually enjoy himself around. And he just wasn't ready to sacrifice that.

After hearing the message, Bruce called Jeremiah back.

"Hello?" a patient voice answered.

"Hey Jeremiah, I'm sorry I didn't see your message yesterday. I had a pretty hectic day myself," Bruce responded, relieved he'd picked up. If he were some sort of fugitive from the law, he wouldn't be running around with his cellphone on him.

"No worries, Bruce. It seems that Friday was simply out of the question for both of us. But, I still would like to make it up to you. If you'd allow me to, of course." Jeremiah's voice was cooler and sounded more disconnected than usual. This didn't help to ease Bruce's concern.

Nonetheless, he accepted. "I'd love to do something. What did you have in mind?"

"I'll buy you a coffee and then perhaps we could take a stroll around the downtown park and cemetery. It's a lovely day outside, a bit overcast but at least it's not raining. What do you think?"

The prospect of coffee had Bruce sold. "Sounds good, I'm in. What time should I have Alfred drop me off and where?"

There was a bit of laughter from Jeremiah's end. "I always forget that you don't drive. I'll pick you up myself in about an hour."

"Hey! I'm capable of driving. It's just...none of my vehicles are very inconspicuous and I'd rather not have everyone know when I leave the house. Speaking of, do you need the address?"

More laughter. "Your mansion is a historical landmark, Bruce. I think I'm rather capable of finding it."

Slightly embarrassed, Bruce ended the conversation there, afraid of saying anything else ridiculous. "Oh, right, obviously. I'll see you in an hour then."

"Bye, Bruce. I'll see you soon." And Jeremiah hung up.

The newly risen sun was shining bright through Bruce's windows as he placed his phone down on his bedside table. Suddenly, he was struck with a paranoid thought. What if Jeremiah was just luring him out to hurt him? That's stupid. You can't even be sure that the arsonist's note was from him. So what if the handwriting was similar? That wouldn't hold up in a courtroom as valid evidence, so why should it matter to you? Plenty of people have similar handwriting. Stop being such a crime-obsessed jackass and go have fun.

Bruce shook his head and made his way over to the giant walk-in closet across from his bed. As he was perusing his clothes, a perhaps even more startling thought occurred to him. What if...this was a date? He quickly replayed both Jeremiah's message and their phone call in his head. It sounded like a date. If anyone else had those words said to them, they would also assume this was a date. Oh no. Bruce was definitely not prepared to go on a romantic stroll with the guy who he was 46% sure was a murderous arsonist.

And yet, forty-five minutes later he found himself sitting on the banister of the stairs in the foyer, dressed in his nicest sweater and black jeans. No, he can't really explain where his constant need to feel in danger came from. He was combing through his hair anxiously, only sparing a brief thought for how Jerome had done the same thing for him only a day ago.

An entrance from Alfred spared Bruce from thinking about that too much. "Where are you off to, looking so dressed up?" his butler asked suspiciously.

"I didn't mean to look overdressed. Maybe I should run upstairs and change," Bruce replied nervously.

"No, you look wonderful. I'm just curious for whom, Master B."

"Oh. A friend and I are going to walk around downtown for a bit, Alfred. Nothing crazy," he answered vaguely, now straightening his shoelaces.

Alfred raised an eyebrow. "Just a friend, eh? I don't recall you caring so much about how you looked for your friends before. Are you hanging out with Miss Kyle perchance?"

Bruce looked surprised. "No. I haven't seen Selina for a few weeks now. You know how elusive she is. Although I do have a lot to tell her, maybe I'll track her down while I'm out."

"Well then who bloody is it? I haven't got all day to stand here asking you questions." The ring of the doorbell echoing through the house appeared to answer Alfred's interrogation. "Oh. I'll get it, Master B."

He crossed the foyer and opened the grand front doors, revealing a gaping Jeremiah standing on the threshold. "Sorry," Jeremiah said, entering the house. "I was just admiring the amazing architectural work put into the decor of the front of your home. Anyway, thank you, Alfred, for letting me snag Bruce again."

Alfred looked pleased to see him. "Mr. Valeska. It's a pleasure to see you, as always. And thank you. The architecture, I believe, is Swedish. I'll admit, I was surprised when Bruce didn't mention paying you a visit today. It seems as though he's neglected to tell me that the two of you were going out." A confused look from Jeremiah caused Alfred to backtrack. "Out into the city, I mean."

Jeremiah regained his composure. "Oh! Well,we both know how secretive he can be. I'm sure he was just nervous about being seen with me. After all, I am an infamous serial killer's twin brother."

Bruce interrupted. "Excuse me, I can hear you! I'm not that secretive. And you probably don't want to go around saying that." He finished tying his shoes and hurried to stand by Jeremiah. "Okay, we're going now. Thanks, Alfred. I should be home for dinner. If not, I'll call." He started towards the door.

Alfred asked, "Why don't you invite Jeremiah over for dinner?"

Bruce barely paused. "We can talk about it later, Alfred. Bye."

"Alright, have fun on your date!" Alfred got one more tease in before a blushing Bruce got out the door and shut it, practically dragging Jeremiah with him.

Bruce was surprised to see a sleek black Infiniti g35 parked outside. "This is a nice car, and in really good shape, too," he said, admiring it.

"A graduation gift from my uncle. I figured it's more subtle than your flashy top-of-the-line models," Jeremiah joked, holding the passenger door open for Bruce. After Bruce had situated himself, Jeremiah got in the driver's seat and started the car.

"You seemed rather reluctant to have me over for dinner," Jeremiah continued teasing him as he drove.

Bruce groaned. "I can't even imagine all of the jokes Alfred would make. It's not that I'd mind having you over, it's just that I don't want to sit through three hours of comments about our so-called date." He could see Gotham City coming into view now.

"Our outing that, by textbook definition, is completely classified as a date but is most certainly not a date. Right?"

Bruce gave him a look. "It seems like you want me to say that it's a date."

Jeremiah continued staring at the road. "Hm? Not at all. I just like to make sure that things are clear between us, don't you?"

"I-um...yes. Yes I do."

"Good. So, is it a date?"

Bruce took a minute to think, squirming in his seat. "I don't honestly know."

Jeremiah turned his head slightly to the side, but kept his eyes forward. "Then I guess we'll just have to figure that out by the end of our...outing."

Bruce said nothing because he wasn't quite sure what that meant either. He wasn't exactly the king of reading into possible romantic situations. The only true relationship he'd ever had was with Selina, and that was hardly something to brag about. Obviously, he was discounting Silver because that was a complete and utter disaster that he never wanted to repeat. It made him angry just thinking about it.

"Are you alright?" Jeremiah asked quietly, looking to the passenger side where Bruce was currently clenching his jaw and fists.

Oops. He hadn't even noticed. Bruce unclenched himself. "Yeah, sorry. I was just thinking about something from a couple years ago."

"This is a rather odd time to be reflecting on the past, but if you think it might help, would you like to talk about it?" Jeremiah had returned his eyes to the road before Bruce could meet his gaze.

"Um, sure. I'd like you to know more about me anyways, so this is as good a starting point as any. A few years back, this guy...actually you've probably heard of him. Theo Galavan ring a bell?"

"Yes. He was the man who ran for mayor using a group of criminally insane breakouts from Arkham, my brother included, to secure his campaign. I heard you had something to do with his eventual arrest, but the paper never went into details."

Bruce nodded. "That's the guy. I got pretty close with him and his family before I found out how corrupt he was. Apparently his family and mine had a grudge going centuries back. He basically tried to sacrifice me to 'undo past wrongs' or something. That's how I was there when he was taken into custody. But that's not the important part of the story."

Jeremiah turned his head again and gave him a look, raising his eyebrows in surprise. Bruce was taken aback by how bright his eyes were today. "Sacrificing you isn't the important part of the story? Jeez, this second half better be phenomenal."

Bruce laughed sheepishly. "Be prepared to be disappointed then."

"Oh good, another thrilling conclusion to a story by Bruce Wayne. I can't wait for this dramatic reading."

This time, Bruce's laugh was hearty and genuine. He didn't know that Jeremiah had such a strong sense of humor, albeit a bit of a sardonic one. "Yep, get ready."

Jeremiah smoothed his jacket before adjusting his hands on the steering wheel. "Okay, I believe I'm ready."

Bruce could barely get out the rest of the story, he was trying so hard to hold in giggles. "So, he had...he had a step- niece n-named Silver St. Cloud and-"

"Hold on, her full name was Silver St. Cloud? And no alarm bells or red flags went off for you?"

"Um, she appeared to be really nice...and pretty."

"Bruce, you're going to get yourself killed one day by falling for everyone that seems nice and pretty."

"I am not! I've definitely learned my lesson since then."

"Oh, so I'm not nice and pretty. Noted."

Bruce blushed scarlet. "T-that's different. It's not like...I just…"

Jeremiah laughed. "Relax, Bruce. Remember, you have until this evening to puzzle everything out. I know you're the kind of person that likes to take their time to really view the full scope of things before passing judgement. That doesn't mean that I won't tease you until then. It's much too fun for me. Anyway, sorry, please continue with your story."

At least Bruce could make his words come out now. "So, Silver tried very hard to get me to like her. She was a high-society girl and everyone who thought they knew best for me took a liking to her immediately. And I really did like her for awhile. But, another friend of mine is pretty perceptive. Her name's Selina by the way, maybe you could meet her sometime. She's kind of elusive though. Again, not relevant right now. So, Selina saw right through Silver, who was just trying to get me to sign my company over to her uncle, and tried to tell me several times. I wasn't that good at listening though. We spent a long time fighting about it until Selina finally came to me with proof and I realized how much I screwed up. Fast-forward to the part about me being sacrificed and-"

"Sorry to keep interrupting you, but that's quite the time skip there."

"Oh no, this was just in the span of a few weeks."

Jeremiah was silent for a moment, and then said "Bruce, you amaze me. You've lived more life than any other sixteen-year old, and yet it doesn't even phase you."

"Remember, the whole 'possibility-of-dying-young-thing' terrifies me. I've got to cherish every second that I get."

"Oh, right. Okay, you can go on. Sorry."

Bruce patted his arm lightly, wanting to comfort Jeremiah out of his habit. "It's okay, that's not something people usually apologize for. You apologize a lot for really little things. You don't need to go out of your way to make sure people are happy with everything you do. You don't owe them that. And most people don't deserve it right off the bat. That's the sort of thing that people should earn."

Another heartbeat of silence, and then Jeremiah reached his hand back from the wheel to touch Bruce's gently. "Thank you. I don't think I could quite explain just how much your words mean to me. It's been a long time since I've had a friend like you, Bruce. The kind that I can trust and rely on. It's interesting that I find solace in you, of all people, but I suppose that's just what the world decided I needed."

Their conversation about Silver was forgotten. "What do you mean, me of all people?"

Jeremiah smiled, still looking at the road. "I mean that somehow I'm able to feel whole around a guy that's been through so much pain in his life. It's a bit sadistic if you think about, and for that, I apologize."

Bruce wrapped his fingers around Jeremiah's slowly, trying to be cautious with his movements. "Shh, stop apologizing. And it's not sadistic at all. I'm just...I guess, really pleased to hear that I can complete you in any way. I don't have anyone incredibly close to me either, at least, someone who's not my guardian or isn't around half the time. I know you're older than me, but I feel like we have a lot in common."

"Honestly, you're so mature, I've never really thought about the age difference. Regardless, it's only a couple of years. And I didn't have the most normal childhood either, so I'm certainly not beating you to anything there." Bruce was about to reply when Jeremiah added, "We're here. This is the cafe I wanted to take you to before walking around."

Bruce hadn't even noticed that they'd parked. He'd been a little absorbed in admiring how Jeremiah's extremely bright eyes sparkled in the sunlight. The same sunlight that caused his hair to gleam with those entrancing fiery undertones.

"What are you thinking about now?" Jeremiah asked curiously, catching Bruce in his admiration.

He shook his head to clear his thoughts. "Um, nothing this time. Sorry for spacing out." He let go of Jeremiah's hand and opened his door. Standing in front of the car, Bruce took a moment to look at the quaint little spot Jeremiah had brought him to. It was a small two-story building painted light blue. It had a front porch, as well as a wraparound deck on the second level, both of which were a clean white. All of the windows had a subtle dark blue trim. Plants were growing from every little crevice and up the walls. A little sign hung from the awning that read "Dinah and Coy's Diner and Cafe". Overall, it seemed bright and full of life.

"What do you think?" asked Jeremiah as he joined Bruce in front of his car.

"I already love it," Bruce replied happily, walking up the front steps and holding the door open for his companion.

Inside, it was bustling, which was surprising considering the small amount of cars parked outside. Waiters and waitresses were flitting from table to table, patrons were sitting as well as milling around chatting, and in the center of the chaos were two older women, both barking orders and greeting customers. As soon as they heard the bell above the door chime, both ladies turned to look at them. The second they saw Jeremiah, they rushed over to the boys in a frenzy.

"Xander! Oh my sweet boy, we haven't seen you here in weeks! Me and Coy, well we thought you went and dropped right off the planet, we did!" The larger, shorter woman, who must've been Dinah, was looking at them ecstatically. The honey-blonde hair tied up in her bun seemed to be coming out with her excitement. "Oh, and who's this little peach pie you brought with you?" she asked, gazing at Bruce fondly.

Jeremiah, who was smiling broadly, nudged Bruce forward, saying "Dinah and Coy, this is Bruce Wayne. He and I are just stopping in for a cup of coffee."

Both women gasped while Bruce attempted to introduce himself. "Hello, it's very nice to meet both of you. Uh, Xander has talked of your diner with lots of love, and now I can understand why."

The taller and thinner of the two, Coy, tucked loose brown strands of her braid behind her ears and answered. "Well, I'll be! Bruce Wayne himself, in our little cafe. It's an honor. And with Mr. Wilde, too. My goodness, do you two look cute together!"

Bruce's now signature pink tint returned to his face while Jeremiah merely rested his hand on Bruce's back and replied, "Yes, he is rather adorable, isn't he?"

She smiled warmly at Bruce. "Even more handsome than you look on television!" Coy leaned in close to Bruce's ear then and whispered, "Just between you and me, compared to the fellas Xander usually has with him, you're a downright blessin'." Bruce wondered what she meant by that. She righted herself and turned her attention towards Jeremiah, who was asking what she said. "Never you mind, Mr. Wilde." She reached up to pat Jeremiah's cheek, but he stepped back nervously.

"Sorry, Coy. I just recently got over a cold and I'd rather you not catch what's left of it. I wouldn't want your customers to have to go a day without your home-brewed blend."

She didn't look offended at all, and instead thanked Jeremiah for his thoughtfulness. Soon after that, the two boys were seated at a nice secluded booth in the corner of the brightly-lit room.

Bruce gave Jeremiah an amused look. "Still going by Xander Wilde, huh? I take it those two don't watch the news or pick up a paper."

"It's much more convenient to go by Xander if I'm in public. Or at least it was, until I was forced to reveal myself on Jerome's broadcast," he replied bitterly. Jeremiah perked up within a few moments though. "It's very nice to see both Coy and Dinah again, however. If you were to ever wonder where I was if, for some unknown reason, I wasn't home, then this place would be the safest bet. I don't really leave my home for much else. Most customers come in after jogging or biking the park trail that runs behind the restaurant, so there's always a pretty steady flow of business. But it's still relatively simple to get some privacy, as you can tell."

"You were talking about having a cold. Did you mean whatever it was that Ecco came down with?"

Jeremiah looked momentarily confused, then seemed to remember something. "Oh! Yes, that's exactly what I meant. I'm sorry, I barely recalled that part of my conversation with Coy."

Dinah came by then to drop off menus, although Jeremiah had tried to make it clear that they weren't eating. And yet somehow, along with Jeremiah's cappuccino and Bruce's black coffee, they ended up ordering a raspberry danish to share. Their food and drinks arrived within the minute.

Apparently, Jeremiah decided he need to question Bruce's caffeine choice. "Black coffee? That's rather edgy. You know you don't have to prove anything to me Bruce." He smiled slyly, stirring the little foam heart within his drink.

Bruce hadn't even thought of that. He just normally took his coffee without anything extra added. It was fast and easy. He took a sip and said, "If I thought I needed to prove to you how rebellious I was, then we'd be doing something far less wholesome and it certainly wouldn't be light out."

Jeremiah looked first surprised and then intrigued. "Tell me more."

Crap. He hadn't thought this far. Bruce took another drink before answering. "I've been spending a lot of time on the streets of Gotham. I could have always taken you out rooftop-hopping."

The boy sitting across from him laughed a bit. "That's not where I thought you were going with that in the slightest, but I much prefer this direction of the conversation. Although, I think I'll have to pass on that specifically because I've already seen my fair share of Gotham's nightlife and it's never been pretty."

"Where did you think I was headed with that?"

Jeremiah raised his eyebrows, waiting for Bruce to get it. When he didn't, Jeremiah sighed. "You are the most innocent teenage guy I've ever met. What do people do in the dark, Bruce, that isn't viewed as exactly PG?"

Bruce got it now. "Oh, I uh, no...that's definitely not what I was thinking. Anyway, um, why have you seen so much of the nightlife?"

"Because, I'm an engineer. When I design something for someone that's usually worth a lot of money, they throw extravagant reveal parties and whatnot. I'm usually invited to attend. I went for the first few ones, and then I realized I just wasn't interested in all of the strippers and booze, and would have a much better time staying at home and reading." Jeremiah cut a piece off of the pastry in front of them.

"Did they know you were underage?"

Jeremiah rolled his eyes, popping the bit of pastry into his mouth. "This is Gotham. Do you honestly think they cared if a guy in his late teens was drinking a bit? I'm sure there were plenty of people at those parties that would've been much more embarrassed if half of the things they did were reported."

"That's a fair point. I suppose I have no room to talk since I own three nightclubs."

He almost choked on his pastry. "How? And more importantly, why?"

"I had an interesting phase a few months back. Basically, I just drank and partied for days on end. That lead to some even more interesting purchases."

So they talked and laughed and drank until late into the afternoon. Jeremiah excused himself to the restroom, giving Bruce a chance to think.

Mostly, he thought about one of Jeremiah's earlier statements. Regarding their relationship. There was so much he loved about Jeremiah and how they seemed to just fit together. But he couldn't get the image of himself laying on Jerome while the other boy warned him of his twin's rather sinister intentions out of his head. There was just too much deception surrounding the whole thing. Not to mention the notes that had plagued Bruce's thoughts all night. Although, he couldn't imagine Jeremiah even harming another person, much less murdering dozens of them in cold blood. Maybe the best thing to do was ask him about it. But Bruce didn't want to ruin this friendship, or whatever it was. Spending time with Jeremiah made him happy. Maybe that was all he needed.

When Jeremiah came back out, he noticed the fifty dollar bill Bruce had placed on the table. "Absolutely not. This is my treat. It's the least I can do for you." And he handed Bruce back his money, replacing the fifty with his own and leaving all of the change as a tip. "Are you ready to go?" Bruce nodded, and they made their way to the back door, saying goodbye to the two owners as they went. The sun had just begun to kiss Gotham Harbor as they walked out into the park.

Chapter Text

Bruce and Jeremiah walked alongside the river for a while, the path through the park glowing with luminous street lamps in the evening. It was incredibly picturesque, to the point where Bruce caught himself checking if he was awake. It wouldn't surprise him if his brain came up with a dream like this. After all, it had recently created a stranger one.

For the most part, they were silent. Occasionally they brought up the view or made a remark about some of the interesting characters they passed. When they passed through the wooded area, Bruce could've sworn he saw a glittering green suit and a person with wild black hair burying something. He chose not to comment on this, however. Usually he liked to stay out of whatever Oswald and his flamboyant boyfriend were getting up to. Actually, Bruce couldn't remember if they had just appeared oddly close when Oswald ran for mayor or if they were actually a couple. He thought of his own odd relationships with the Valeska twins, and decided that maybe they themselves didn't know either.

Eventually, Jeremiah softly placed his hand on Bruce's elbow, steering him towards a deviation in the path.

"Where does this lead?" he asked, his heart picking up speed with his touch.

"A quiet spot. There's something I want to talk with you about, and I'd just prefer not to be overheard."

Bruce quickly made up his mind. "That's great, actually, because there's something I wanted to discuss with you as well."

"Oh? Then I can't wait until we arrive. I think you're going to enjoy it."

After about ten minutes, the path widened until it simply merged with the grass. They'd arrived in the heart of Gotham Cemetery. It was surprisingly breathtaking. The newly-autumn leaves had just begun to change colors and many of the more resilient flowers and shrubs were still flourishing. A tiny brook babbled through some of the headstones, creating a pleasant sound of echoing water. Jeremiah continued to lead him uphill, although somewhere between the park and here, his hand had moved from his elbow to his hip. Bruce hadn't noticed, nor did he mind.

Finally, Jeremiah sat them on an intricate stone bench overlooking the hill covered in graves. For a place meant to contain death, it was bursting with an incredible amount of life.

Jeremiah broke their silence. "I like to come here when I'm having trouble thinking. It helps me to clear my head. Recently, I've found myself on this bench more and more."

Bruce turned to look at him. Jeremiah was chewing his lips nervously, a common habit of his. However, this time his lips appeared bright red, like he'd caused them to bleed. For the first time that day, he also noticed that he wasn't wearing his glasses. That's odd, Bruce thought. I very clearly remember him explaining to me how blind he is without them, as well as how much he hates contacts.

"I know this isn't what we came here to discuss, but Coy said something interesting to me at the cafe, and it's been in my head ever since," he blurted out. Bruce couldn't help himself. He was curious.

"I thought she had said something to you. What was it?"

Bruce was suddenly a little nervous, so he started to smooth the creases in his jeans while he spoke. "Well, um, she said that you bring quite a few guys in to eat there, but she doesn't like many of them."

Jeremiah's quiet laugh rang out. "That was kind of the point. Coy and Dinah were sort of like my mother figures when I was going through school. I went in to the diner almost every day. Sometimes, we got into arguments about who and what was appropriate. So, I'd go out of my way to invite the toughest looking street kids I could find in with me. They got a meal and I got to piss off Coy. Sometimes we both got a little more. The point is, that was my way of pushing boundaries. I didn't keep at it for long though. Either way, she must've been delighted to see a clean cut guy like you walk through that door with me. Now she'll write me back into her will."

Bruce couldn't tell if he was kidding about that last part or not. Sometimes, it was hard to tell with Jeremiah. His laughter didn't always reach his eyes. Bruce had noticed that a lot more today. "Well, I hope you're not just using me to get back into her good graces," he joked.

The boy sitting next to him gazed at him seriously. "Bruce, I would never use you. Not for anything. I can honestly say that you are my very best friend in the world. That's why I'm...reluctant...to share with you why I needed to see you today."

"You're my best friend too, Jeremiah. You can tell me anything."

He was staring anxiously into the distance, refusing to meet Bruce's eyes now. "Something happened to me yesterday. Something extremely unpleasant."

"What happened?"

"My brother sent me a little gift. I have no idea how he was able to orchestrate the entire process from his prison cell, much less get past my own security. However, he managed to place a package in my residence. Funnily enough, the tag stated it was from your company." Jeremiah didn't look very amused.

"He must've known that you and I were hanging out."

Jeremiah nodded his agreement and continued. "This package had fascinating contents. Instead of the lovely surprise I was expecting from Wayne Enterprises, out popped a demented clown doll stuffed with a manic recording from my brother. What he said isn't really important. The key piece is what the jester did while spewing Jerome's words." He looked more agitated now. Bruce had never seen him this way, even when they'd been preparing to confront Jerome on stage.

"Go on." he coaxed. "Tell me what the doll did."

"It was spraying something else besides his nonsense. While it spoke, it released a toxic gas, designed to drive me insane." Before Bruce could react, he continued speaking. "It didn't work. But it had rather permanent side effects."

Bruce's mind was spinning. "What side effects?"

To answer his question, Jeremiah began wiping his face. Bruce now understood why he didn't want Coy to touch him. His skin began to melt away, leaving an unmarked white expanse in its place. When he dragged a finger across his lips, the red that Bruce had begun to spot earlier became much more prominent. Against his albino face, both his bright eyes and vivid lips appeared garish to him. Jeremiah was removing his woolen gloves and unwinding his scarf, revealing that the chemical's effects went all the way through his body.

He was looking at Bruce now, trying to read his expression. "Before you say anything, I don't want sympathy. Or anger towards Jerome. Despite making public appearances even more difficult for me, he's done something useful as well."

Bruce took a second to tear his eyes away from Jeremiah's skin and meet his piercing gaze. "And what's that?"

"He's opened my eyes to an entire world of possibilities. I cannot say whether or not that was intentional. But I suddenly see everything around me so differently. It's incredibly liberating, although shortsighted on his part." There's was an icy manic edge to Jeremiah's voice that startled Bruce. It wasn't like him. His tone was always a bit cool, but that was just because he didn't have amazing social skills. This was different. It was clinical, detached, and yet somehow angry all at once.

"I...what do you mean?"

The look in Jeremiah's eyes reminded him strongly of another Valeska. The insanity was unmistakable. "Gotham is broken, Bruce. And there's no fixing it. I've analyzed every possible method of repairing the damage to our city, but the only permanent outcome results from starting completely from scratch."

"Jeremiah, you're not acting like yourself." Bruce was frightened now, and his companion's appearance only made it worse.

"Don't you understand, Bruce? This is exactly how I've always wanted to act. I'm more of myself than I've ever been. Can't you see that? Can't you appreciate how free I am now? For once, can't you appreciate something other than your own success?" His words stung like frostbite.

The conversation had very suddenly taken an antagonistic turn.

"I appreciate every goddamn thing you do, Jeremiah. At least I don't build my ego on how much people admire my work!"

"No, instead you feed it by telling yourself how much of a difference you're making in this wretched city by pitying random strangers. Clearly, it's been incredibly effective. Crime is at an all-time high. Congratulations, Bruce. What a difference, indeed. Maybe the statistics would go down if you actually let the authorities handle their own investigations instead of poking your pretentious nose in." Jeremiah's apathy made his words hurt even more, and Bruce had never hated his monotone voice so much.

"And yet somehow, the police have failed to figure out that you're the one who set those fires uptown last night," Bruce said scathingly.

Jeremiah didn't appear phased. In fact, he appeared quite pleased to take credit for it. "I've been waiting for you to bring that up. One of my people reported your little get-together with Jerome at the GCPD to me hours ago. Yes, I had those apartment buildings set on fire. And like I said in that note, they were simply a test. I plan on burning this city to the ground. And before this pleasant conversation, I had planned to ask you to stand by my side when it happened. After all, your assistance was crucial to making this work."

His last statement made chills dance down Bruce's back. "What do you mean, my help was crucial?"

Jeremiah stared at him with a slight smile. "Well you see, the canisters for our little green energy project are incredibly simple to rewire. All I had to do was set them all up for my own purpose. And now they're in place."

"You turned my invention to help people into bombs to destroy the city? How could you, Jeremiah?" He was furious.

"Your invention? I think not. The most you did was flatten out blueprints and write things down in that pretty script of yours."

"Oh right, it's not like I funded the entire thing."

"It's the little things, Bruce, that matter. Money has never been one of those things, especially not to me." Jeremiah was circling around the bench now, and he stooped to pick something up.

He turned back to look at Bruce and cocked his head to the side. Bruce saw that he was now holding a beautiful full red rose. "Sometimes," Jeremiah continued, "you just need to stop and smell the roses, so to speak." He held the rose out to Bruce. "A peace offering. I don't expect you to accept it. However, my offer still stands. Tomorrow, I demolish the city. You can either stand by me when it happens or leave Gotham. But above all else, I ask that you not remain here. I wouldn't want you to get hurt in the aftermath, although your manor is outside of the blast radius."

Bruce certainly didn't accept his peace offering. "I want you to take me to the GCPD, now. Or I can walk. Either way, I need to be there."

Jeremiah laughed. "Don't worry, Bruce. I already plan on announcing everything to them. But I want them to get a good night's sleep tonight. They have no need to worry until tomorrow. I'd like you to get a decent rest as well. Although, I'd advise that you leave tonight to avoid traffic. Let me drive you home. It's at least an hour's walk, and it's getting dark." He held is white hand out to Bruce, dropping the rose.

Bruce looked away from his hand coldly. "I'll walk, thanks."

This didn't seem to bother Jeremiah. "Suit yourself. I'd leave now though if you want to catch the last dregs of daylight. I'm going to sit here for awhile. And Bruce?"

He turned back to look at Jeremiah. "What?"

"If you change your mind, you can always call me. I'll welcome you back when you see what's right and sane. Have a good night, Bruce." His pale skin shined in the evening light as he turned his vivid gaze to the people eternally resting below him.

Bruce walked down the hill and retraced their steps through the park, not once looking back.

The GCPD wasn't taking his calls. He'd tried to contact both the department's general lines as well as Jim Gordon's direct cell and neither were going through. He'd like to think that they were just busy solving their cases, but at this point, he wouldn't have put it past Jeremiah to meddle with the signals. He certainly had the capability.

It was too late to drive there anyway; the moon had well risen by now, and Jim's shift was over. The officers on night duty were unreliable and most likely worked for Jeremiah, based on what he had revealed to Bruce.

A part of him wanted to think that it wasn't real. That Jeremiah wouldn't really do it. That tomorrow would come and go in Gotham just as the next day would. Maybe it's possible.

By the time he finally reached his doorstep, it was well into the night. The stars above his head fought against the heavy pollution in their efforts to shine. He quietly unlocked the front door, trying not to alert Alfred.

It was a futile effort, however, as his butler was sitting at the bottom of the foyer stairs waiting for Bruce.

"Oh, Alfred. Hi."

"'Hi', Master Bruce. Where the bloody hell have you been? You said you'd be back in time for supper, and yet it's nearly a new dawn altogether!" He was standing now and looking at Bruce angrily.

"I know, I'm sorry." Bruce made a selfish decision then. "Jeremiah's assistant is sick and her condition got worse, so we went to go check on her in the hospital. I forgot to text you. It won't happen again."

Alfred's anger immediately evaporated. "I'm sorry to hear that, is the little miss alright?"

"Yeah she's okay now, she's getting better." Bruce had no idea if this was true and just hoped that he sounded convincing.

"Well alright then, off to bed, Master B. It's been a late night and I'm sure you could use some sleep."

Bruce was very certain that he wouldn't get any sleep that night, but he allowed his butler to usher him into bed. There, he tried his best to ignore his racing thoughts and oddly aching heart. He tossed and turned for several hours, wrestling with anxiety and nightmarish images involving unnaturally white faces and raging infernos.

Chapter Text

(Jerome's P.O.V. the next morning)

Jerome hadn't slept in days. How could he when cops and criminals alike were gawking at him through the bars of his cell all damn day? He was pretty sure that the cells had been intentionally placed in the center of the department to give full mocking privileges to anyone that walked by. It was simply too much effort to try and scare them all off, so instead he sat in passive-aggressive silence, his trademark grin remaining on his face the entire time. Until nobody was looking, of course. Although he'd never admit it, it hurt to keep his face that way for so long.

A citizen, presumably reporting some sort of crime (as one typically does in police departments, wow Jerome, you really used your deductive reasoning skills there) was inching past his little prison. She looked terrified. Okay, there's no way Jerome was going to pass this one up. In a flash he was up against the bars, smiling madly. "Hiya, gorgeous! You look like you wanna come in here and have a little fun! Don't worry, all of my weapons are in a liiiittle box up there." He pointed to Jim's office. "Except for my incredibly pleasant demeanor that is. Although I must warn you, I do bite." He laughed maniacally as she scurried by, terrified, until an officer yelled at him to shut up. "I'd be careful, Davidson. We all know I still have some help on the outside. I wouldn't want you to...say...find your shoes filled with hydrofluoric acid." Jerome knew he'd be checking his shoes for weeks now. The thought made him laugh again. One of the cops sitting at a desk near his cell stood up and slapped him.

"Well, that wasn't very nice." He sat back down.

Jerome was used to this sort of treatment. It's how he was raised. And this past week, all the police had done was bring up memories of his childhood with how often they dragged him to the locker room and beat the shit out of him while he was cuffed and chained. He'd developed a plethora of cuts and bruises, but the long sleeved shirts they gave him each morning hid them from view. It didn't really bother him, but that didn't mean he enjoyed it.

He grinned. Now, if the violence came from a different situation, he'd like it a hell of a lot more. Sure, he was a bit masochistic. But in his mind, he was also sadistic enough to balance it out. A very healthy combination, indeed.

But there was simply nothing fun about being hit by a corrupt old man who just wanted to feel better about his own daddy issues or whatever. This is how Jerome viewed most police officers. At least, the ones who beat kids. Unfortunately, Mr. Bigshot Police Captain either didn't notice or didn't care. Knowing how nauseatingly moral Jim was, it was more likely that he had no idea what was going within his own department. At least Jerome could hold that over him if the occasion arose. At this moment, James himself came racing by, barking incoherent directions at Detective Bullock. Jerome watched as he tore out the front door, and briefly wondered where he was going in such a hurry.

He spent the next few hours imagining the various ways in which he could bring James Gordon to his lowest point. For some reason, the ideas didn't bring him as much joy as they used to. Jerome figured that he just needed a new target. Jim was old news anyway. He sat there thinking of new candidates until he heard shouts coming from the entry way. This wasn't extremely concerning to him. New perps tended to make an annoying fuss every time they got dragged in. It wasn't until he saw Harvey hurry towards the door that he became intrigued. He sat up to see the wide front doors thrown open. He couldn't see everything very clearly from this distance, but he could make out the detective talking to a very pale man. In fact, if Jerome turned his head, the man looked awfully familiar. He stood up to get a closer view.

Once he was pressed against the bars to his cell, there was no mistaking the person talking with Harvey. Sure, he'd clearly undergone some cosmetic alterations, but it was definitely Jeremiah. And he was holding something else that Jerome recognized. A dead man's switch. His invention. At least his brother knew a brilliant design when he saw one. But he had no idea why he'd be out there holding a trigger and having a less-than-friendly discussion with the second ranking officer. Unless he'd gotten his present.

Jerome grinned widely. This what about to turn into the best soap opera he'd ever seen. Very suddenly, however, the crowd outside went quiet. There was a twitch of his brother's finger. And the clocktower on the next block erupted into fire and rubble. Jerome's eyes widened. That seemed a bit drastic. Especially considering the last crime he'd committed was setting a few teensy fires. And that was like...yesterday.

Jeremiah was now walking into the building. He strode purposefully towards Jerome's cell. Obviously, Jerome was going to remain seated. There was no way in hell he'd be standing up to greet the little prick like a puppy. And he definitely didn't want the close up view of his new makeover, but he got it as Jeremiah crossed his wrists behind his back, now in front of his cell.

"Please, don't take too much time to admire your handiwork brother. The look is about the only thing that gas succeeded in."

"Interestingly enough, it wasn't supposed to make you look like a ginger snowman. Even more so than usual, I mean." Jerome began to pick at his nails, not sparing his brother another glance. This seemed to aggravate him.

"So you couldn't have even come up with that simple bit of chemistry. I'm not surprised. You were never the smart one in the family."

"On the contrary, I believe in my own brand of genius. Your boring old way of thinking just couldn't understand, much less compare. Such is the tragedy of society. One guy with slightly outlandish ideas comes along and all of a sudden he's in prison. My intelligence and charm are a curse, truly." He continued to scratch for dirt under his nails, but days of doing this left him with nothing. Oh well, it's the gesture that was important anyhow.

Jeremiah's hands twitched a bit. "You mean your psychopathic tendencies? Yes. They are a curse. And that's exactly why I'm here."

"I don't remember your degree being in psychiatry but sure. I think it all stemmed from when daddy left me and mommy hit me and-"

His twin was now gripping the bars tightly. "Quiet, fool. I'm here to show you how a truly sane person handles Gotham, instead of succumbing to your primitive nonsense."

"By giving me therapy?" Jerome asked with innocent curiosity.

"No!" Jeremiah lost his composure for a second. "No," he said again more calmly. "By carrying out the threat that lingered within the note I sent. I'm burning Gotham to the ground. I just ordered an evacuation of the city."

Jerome rolled his eyes. "You took my advice on blowtorching the mess but you're letting all of the people get to safety first? What's the fucking point then?"

Jeremiah was smiling a delicate, cruel smile. Jerome had to admit that it suited him. "And that's exactly where you and I differ, dear brother. Whereas you'd dance around in the flames and anarchy, I've decided to rebuild Gotham in my image. A sane, organized city, devoid of maniacs like you. We all know that the people on the streets won't make it out in time, which is statistically beneficial for the city."

"One would imagine with all of that boasting you do about your brains, you'd think a little. Don't you get it, Jeremiah? Those people living on the streets are the very surface of what's wrong with Gotham. And it's not even their fault. You want to build a perfect utopia? You murder every last politician, CEO, judge, lawyer, and police officer. That's the only way to make progress here. You've been living in a dark cave for too long, you can't even see what the actual problem is."

Bright green-grey eyes met his. "A compelling argument, but one my calculations disagree with. But don't worry, you'll get to watch the whole thing unfold from this cell right here. Until, you can't see anything at all anymore, that is. Enjoy the show, Jerome. These will be the last fireworks you'll ever see, and I know how much you love them." Jeremiah turned on his heel promptly and strode back out the doors.

Every officer on duty had left the station. Presumably, they were all scurrying around like rats, searching every nook and cranny for Jeremiah's bombs. The image didn't amuse Jerome, oddly enough.

He lay there, thinking, alone except for a couple of other lunatics in cages. Jerome wasn't afraid of dying. He'd already done it before. What scared him was the idea of leaving the world with so many of his dreams unfulfilled. For some reason, an image of Bruce Wayne popped in his mind. He figured that the billionaire was already out of the city, via the privileges of being Jeremiah's "best friend". Jerome had no idea why, but he felt...sad. That wasn't an emotion he'd felt for a long time. It was weird to see it back again. He decided to ignore it, rolling over on his side. He eventually fell into an uneasy sleep as he waited on the end of his world.

(Bruce's P.O.V.)

Bruce was sitting at the kitchen counter when a report came over the radio. The clocktower by the police station had exploded and been reduced to dust. Jeremiah Valeska was behind the bombing. There were more to come. He had requested that the entirety of Gotham city be evacuated in six hours. Otherwise, citizens would be caught in the demolition. His request was non negotiable. Furious, Bruce threw the radio across the kitchen. It broke into several pieces.

Alfred came racing into the room. "Master B., have you seen the news?"

"Yes, Alfred."

His butler stopped next to him, eyeing the shattered radio. "I'm not going to ask you if you're alright, because you're clearly not. If it's any consolation, I thought he was a good lad too. I've already begun to pack your things. We'll take the jet to avoid getting stuck in traffic."

Bruce looked at him in surprise. "We're not leaving, Alfred. Someone has to be here to help out in the aftermath. And besides, the manor is outside of the blast radius. We'll be safe until it's over. If we can though, I'd like to start shuttling people from the street out. I'll buy another jet, if necessary."

"Bruce, I really think we should go. I don't want you getting hurt."

"That's an order, Alfred."

His guardian appeared frustrated but unsurprised. He was expecting Bruce to act like this. "Fine, Master B. We'll stay here. But I refuse to go pick up addicts from the street to fly them out of Gotham."

Bruce sighed. "I meant people like Selina and Ivy. Maybe even Bridgit if you can track her down, I know it would make Selina happy. Find them and get them to safety. You could even just shelter them here."

"And where will you be while I go on the world's largest wild goose chase?"

"I need to stop by the GCPD and check on some things."

He heard Alfred mutter, "Check on someone more like."

"What was that?"

"Nothing, Master Bruce. Will I be giving you a ride there?" He was looking at Bruce with a bit of humor in his eyes.

"No," Bruce decided. "I'll drive myself."

Alfred looked pleased. "Very well then. I'll see you tonight. Be safe, Bruce." He pulled him into a warm hug before letting him go.

Bruce made his way to the giant garage around the side of the house. Opening the door that connected to the laundry room, he flicked on a lightswitch. There sat his sixteenth birthday present from Alfred. A sleek, matte-black Mustang. He could honestly say it was one of his favorite and most thoughtful birthday presents in the world. And despite the prospect of Gotham going up in flames around him, he was pretty excited at getting the chance to really try it out. He got in the leather driver's seat and put the key in the ignition. It hummed quietly to life. Bruce pressed a button to open the garage door, and soon he was racing down the streets of Gotham city.

By the time that Bruce arrived at the police department, the street was vacant. It seemed every officer and citizen had more important business somewhere else in town. Bruce couldn't blame them. He just hoped that not everyone had been evacuated yet. He didn't bother with the parking garage and instead just parked along the sidewalk, getting out and locking the car carefully. He'd rather not have it stolen on its maiden voyage. Bruce took the steps up to the front doors two at a time.

The second he opened the doors, he saw who he was looking for. Jerome was lying on the bench in his cell. There were two other cells that were also occupied. Bruce quickly walked over to these. The woman in the first cell looked up at him with curiosity, her pointed teeth shining. "Whaddya doin', kid?' she asked with a thick accent. In response, he dug around the drawers of the nearest officer's desk until he found a set of keys. After trying a few on the lock, it eventually clicked open. She just stood there staring at him in surprise.

"Well, go! Get out of the city," he told her, before turning to release the pink-haired man in the cell next to hers. Jerome hadn't stirred during this ordeal. Once he was sure that the building was empty, he began to unlock his cell. He slipped inside, and bent to wake the snoring teenager.

A slap in the face caused Bruce to jump back in shock. "What the hell, Jerome?"

Jerome sat up, blinked a few times, and smiled. "Oh, Brucie! Sorry, didn't imagine you'd waltz in here and kiss me from my hundred year slumber. I figured it was just one of those filthy cops trying to take advantage of the chaos."

"I hate to break it to you, but I didn't kiss you awake. I tapped your shoulder. Those are two very different actions."

"Shh, Bruce. It's my last day on earth. Let me pretend a bit."

Bruce sat on the bench next to Jerome. "It won't be your last day if you come back to the manor with me."

Jerome arched an eyebrow. Bruce had always been jealous of people who could do that. "Oh, you really are my knight in shining armor. So, I take it you and my brother didn't really work out. I would've never seen that coming."

"It's not like that Jerome."

"So do you agree with what he's doing then?"

Bruce was shocked. "Absolutely not! But he's convinced that he's making the right choices. I can't fault him for that."

Jerome rolled his eyes. "Yes, because it would be absolutely horrendous to hold your little angel responsible for murdering hundreds of people and, y'know, exploding your city and everything."

Bruce stood up. "I have every belief that Detective Gordon will stop Jeremiah before his plans are executed. I heard on the radio that he was headed to his bunker. And he's not my angel, he just...doesn't seem to be himself."

The expression on Jerome's face was one of pure disgust. "Because you know him oh-so-well, do ya? The Jeremiah I know wouldn't give half a shit about anyone, and he sure as hell wouldn't care about exterminating a bunch of people he didn't know to fit his image of what a perfect Gotham would be."

"That might be true but I don't want to stand here arguing about it. Can we go now?"

"I want you to admit that he's a monster before you take me anywhere."

Bruce couldn't believe how stubborn Jerome was being. "It's not my place to decide who he is."

Jerome was suddenly standing directly in front of Bruce. He looked livid. There was a loud crash somewhere distant, the floor shook, and they were plunged into darkness. The red emergency lights came on, but they were dimming.

"Have you looked at him?" Jerome snarled. "You thought I looked like a monster last year, but you don't give a fuck what that sociopath looks like? Why? Is it because he's just oh-so-damn-perfect that you want to see past everything that's disgusting on the outside?" Jerome had pushed Bruce up against the bars of his cell and was gripping the fabric of his sweater roughly. "No wonder you can't see how much of a lunatic he's become. You refuse to even stare at him that closely. And yet when I make one fucking mistake you're somehow there to ensure it gets broadcast to the entire world. 'Oh no, poor little billionaire Bruce Wayne is being held hostage by that ginger maniac with the fucked-up face again! I hope big ol' police captain James Gordon comes to that sweet baby boy's rescue!'" Jerome spat, looking more furious than Bruce had ever seen him.

"I'm not a child," he said quietly.

Jerome was incredulous. "What have you ever done to suggest otherwise?" he whispered through clenched teeth, still holding Bruce tightly by his collar.

"You keep talking about how weak and defenseless I am and yet I've kicked your ass before. You let go of me now, or I'll do it again." Bruce looked up to meet his gaze.

The fire in the red-haired teen's eyes was terrifying. His voice had gone deathly quiet. "Oh? Are you going to hurt me, Bruce? Is that what you're going to do?" His tone was now challenging. "Do it, then. Make me regret saying what I've said. Because I sure as hell don't ye-" His words were cut off by a swift and powerful punch to his jaw. Jerome didn't release Bruce but he met his eyes, and spit some blood from his mouth to the side. There was a knuckle shaped dent in his sewn-on skin.

"Do it again." Jerome taunted him. He was laughing. "I'm not sorry. My brother's still an unpredictable monster and you're just a child. That barely stung."

Bruce punched Jerome again, this time in the stomach. He couldn't tell if he wanted to yell, scream, or cry. More blood came up from the boy in front of him, but it didn't seem to phase him in the slightest. His hold was still ironclad on Bruce.

"Did you hit me just then? Sorry, I didn't even notice." The blood was now bubbling onto Jerome's lips, painting them a vivid crimson, reminiscent of Jeremiah's but much darker. He was panting now, but his laughter had eased, and he would no longer meet Bruce's eyes.

The lights were getting dimmer still in the evacuated police department. Bruce didn't want to keep hurting Jerome. He knew that it wouldn't make any difference. He hated causing him even more pain. All he came here to do was help him. So instead, he reached his own arms up and gripped both sides of Jerome's face, forcing him to look at him. "Jerome, please! Please! I hate this! I don't want this. And you don't either. Please just...stop. For me, please, stop." Bruce was almost crying. He couldn't help it, no matter how hard he was trying to hold it in.

The burning look didn't die from Jerome's eyes, but the violence did. The second he saw tears in Bruce's eyes, he whispered, "I-I'm so sorry, Bruce. I just...I'm such a fucking mess. I can't control myself."

Instead of answering him with words, Bruce tightened his grip on Jerome's face and leaned forward. The blood from Jerome's lips and his own still-falling tears intermingled to make a scarlet salt-flavored kiss. His lips were softer than Bruce would've expected, and his breath had an odd but intoxicating flavor of spearmint gum and cinnamon. The fire from Jerome's temper changed to something else as he continued to support Bruce's weight, but trailed his hands farther down to his waist, holding him up against the iron bars. In response, Bruce moved his now blood-streaked hands from Jerome's face to his hair, wrapping the red curls around his fingers and clinging on tightly. This caused Jerome to open his mouth slightly, which Bruce took advantage of.

It was amazing to finally get to hold him like this. He'd always thought that it would feel wrong somehow, but Bruce had never felt more like he'd made the right decision. He could tell that Jerome was holding back a bit, and for that he was both resentful and grateful. Although this wasn't how he'd imagined his first kiss with him, he knew he wasn't ready for anything more. Yet. For now, he was just enjoying the sensation of having the boy wrapped around him, as well as the taste of his kiss on his tongue.

Eventually, they broke apart. Bruce was breathing much more heavily than Jerome, although they were both flushed. To ease the tension that had filled the room, Bruce said, "I think you did a rather excellent job of controlling yourself there."

Jerome was leaning against the far bars of the cell, looking like he was struggling with something. Finally, he turned back to Bruce. "Well, that was easier. Not easy, mind you, but easier."

"Why?"

His green-blue eyes met Bruce's brown ones. "Because I don't want to hurt you. I'm terrified of hurting you. Unlike pretty much everyone else in this fucked up world."

Bruce was confused. "And yet you wanted me to hurt you so desperately just a few minutes ago."

Jerome stared at him as if he were missing something. "That's completely different. I deserved it. Still do, honestly. Making out with Bruce Wayne in a prison cell in the middle of the police department doesn't make me less of a prick. Now, if we'd done it on Jimbo's desk, maybe I'd feel better." He grinned at his own joke and stared wistfully up at the captain's office.

Bruce laughed and said, "I'll keep that in mind for next time."

That look of disbelief had re-appeared on Jerome's face. "Oh no, there will not be a 'next time'. Absolutely not."

"Why not?" Bruce asked angrily.

"Because I refuse to be seen with a goody-two-shoes midget."

"I don't believe you. What's your actual reasoning, Jerome?"

The red-haired man sighed, and turned his back to Bruce, gazing at the far side of the room. "Because...I don't want to fuck up everything you have going for you. The last thing perfect Bruce Wayne needs is to be seen with me anywhere. Much less in a relationship."

"Jerome, Gotham is about to go to hell, and you're worried about screwing up my reputation?" He couldn't believe him.

"Yes, I'm worried about that. And like I said, I don't want to hurt you. Exposing you to me in any way has got to cause some sort of contact poisoning." He laughed at his joke but it didn't feel like he was kidding.

"Well, we'll have plenty of time to analyze the toxins you think are coating your skin when we get back to the manor." Bruce held out his hand, and after a moment of hesitation, Jerome took it. Bruce led them through the almost pitch-black police department, counting on Jerome's occasional comments about where desks and potted plants were placed. They went out the doors to be greeted by a chaotic scene. The bridges were backed up by miles with cars trying to flee the city. Based on the rising moon, they had very little time before Jeremiah detonated his bombs.

Bruce pulled Jerome down the steps and over to his car. Jerome whistled in appreciation. "I should've known you'd have the sweetest ride. Honestly Bruce, if you just lead with this, you'll be able to take anyone home, if ya know what I mean." Jerome was grinning as he got into the passenger seat.

As he pulled the driver's side door open, Bruce noticed a lavender envelope sitting on his seat. He picked it up and tore it open, taking out a light green sheet of paper. The paper read:

Dear Bruce,

By now, I'm sure you're with my brother and on your way back to the safety of your home. I didn't expect you to leave Gotham like I had advised, but I'm disappointed to see that you didn't accept my offer. Your rejection hasn't sat well with me, so I decided to give you a bit of incentive to come here. I have your butler, Bruce. I want you to find him. 71 Welling Avenue. If that car can drive quickly enough, he may even be in one piece, physically and mentally, when you do. After all, it just takes one bad day to reduce the sanest man alive to lunacy. You can ask Jerome about that little saying. Hopefully, today is not that day for poor Alfred. But I'd hurry. Give Jerome my regards, and the most sincere middle-finger. And Bruce, watch your back around him. Stay safe.

With love,

Jeremiah

Bruce barely noted how much messier the handwriting was than he was used to from Jeremiah before reading Alfred's name on the note. That bastard. This...this was beyond low. Bruce's hands were shaking. Gently, Jerome placed a hand on his shoulder and asked to read the letter. He handed it over rigidly.

After Jerome finished reading, he said "Well, you know what we have to do right? We need to go to that address and rescue your butler."

Bruce nodded. "You know it's a trap, right?"

"Of course it's a trap, but what other choice do we have?"

He liked the way that Jerome said "we". It made him feel less alone. So, he switched the car into drive and let his companion navigate him to the address, holding his hand across the middle console.

Chapter Text

Gotham shook as Bruce and Jerome drove through its streets. A quick look past the harbor confirmed Bruce's worst fear. The bridges had collapsed. All of the cars parked along them, trying desperately to escape, had fallen into the icy water below. Bruce was mortified, but he had even greater things to worry about now. The address Jerome had directed him to pulled into view, but there wasn't much to see. It was a derelict old building and had nothing remarkable about it. Graffiti coated the brick walls. It looked abandoned.

"Are you sure this is it?" Bruce asked Jerome skeptically.

"Yes, I'm sure. But if you don't believe me, just read the side of the building."

A scan of the building revealed peeling black letters that confirmed that Jerome was correct. Bruce took one last look at the note before tearing it in half. They opened their respective doors and got out of the Mustang. Once again, Bruce locked the car with care. He definitely didn't trust this neighborhood, but he was pretty sure if it came down to it, the vehicle could probably defend itself. They walked towards the building and pushed the heavy concrete door open. Inside, it was dimly lit and dust motes floated through the musty atmosphere. Bruce jumped when a loud click echoed through the room. Suddenly, the far wall was being projected with an image.

Alfred was screaming. The chair he was strapped to shook as he tried to escape. The blood running out of his mouth coupled with his wild eyes made for an image that would haunt Bruce for years to come. He started to yell Alfred's name and Jerome pulled him into a tight hug, trying to shelter him from the image amplified on the wall.

"Hello Bruce...and Jerome." Jeremiah's monotone voice rang out from speakers placed around the room. "It's about time you arrived, I was getting worried that you wouldn't show up. It took you an awfully long time to get here, and I sincerely hope it wasn't because of Jerome's directions. After all, it's obvious it wasn't the car's fault. It'd be a shame if Jerome seduced you just to gain your trust. Then again, after all of the other stunts he's pulled concerning you, this would be rather minor in comparison."

Jerome's hold around Bruce tightened as he responded. "Oh wonderful. You're seeping poison into his ears just like you did to mom's. It's becoming your trademark. In fact, I'd go get some papers to claim it and make sure nobody else files rights under the 'toxic know-it-all' section of the patent office."

"Now is not the best time to attempt to insult me, brother, as I have the ability to torture the poor boy's manservant to death. You wouldn't want to have that on your conscious, would you? Although it probably wouldn't add much; you already have the deaths of dozens on your hands, after all."

Bruce was sick of them arguing at a time like this. "Jeremiah, tell me how to reach Alfred or I'll kill you myself."

"Hmm. You've gathered some confidence since the last time we spoke. Fascinating. I'll analyze what caused the sudden change when you and I are alone once more. For now, directions." A door reminiscent to that of a storage unit's clattered upward, revealing a dark passageway. "You both know how fond I am of labyrinths. As mine was destroyed in my attempts to kill James Gordon, I decided to build a new one. Make it to the end and there you'll find your butler. But I'll remind you once more, time is of the essence. I'm speaking to you directly now, Bruce. I hope that you aren't mislead this time. Alfred is depending on it. If you fail miserably, you're welcome to call upon my help. I'd be happy to guide you through the maze. All I need is an apology and renouncement of my brother. And I do hope you enjoy yourself. I poured an incredible amount of time and love into this puzzle. Adieu." There was the muffled buzz of feedback and then the room was silent. The projection of Alfred disappeared along with Jeremiah's voice.

"Come on." He grabbed Jerome's upper arm and pulled him through the narrow opening. They wandered down a set of stairs and through the twists and turns of the corridor in complete darkness. It didn't bother Bruce that much, but Jerome became gradually more agitated the farther they went.

"How much longer do ya think this goes on? I mean, I know we're underground and all now, but isn't the point of mazes to have several paths?"

"I'm going to guess that there's some sort of trick up ahead. Right now we're being lulled into a false sense of security. It's basic psychology."

"Aww look at our little Brucie taking tips from the detectives he idolizes so much," Jerome gushed.

"Jerome, you're allowed to be nervous, you know."

Jerome laughed. "Bruce, if I were nervous I'd be checking behind my back every three seconds."

"But...you are checking behind your back every three seconds."

"Nah it's every four seconds. Completely different. That's just me being cautious."

"I don't remember caution having the same definition as paranoia."

"Well until one of us gets super-hearing, you'll just have to deal with it."

Bruce was saved from responding by an odd chirping noise. "Did you hear that?" he asked when Jerome made no sign of noticing it.

"Hear what?"

"The...beep...or whatever it was."

"Are you hallucinating?" Bruce couldn't see Jerome, but he had a feeling he was looking at him with some sort of mix of concern and humor. Humor was always a safe bet with him.

"No, I haven't touched your stash of hallucinogens, thanks though."

"I don't need drugs to hallucinate, sweetheart. I've got the gift of an opened mind's eye."

Bruce sighed. "Also known as psychosis."

"Well, if ya wanna put a label on it," Jerome muttered. Suddenly, a tiny red light blinked and Bruce heard the chirping sound again. "Okay, I heard it that time."

It beeped louder and they heard some sort of hatch slide open in the wall. A light blinked on, blinding them momentarily. When they had convinced their retinas to return to functioning, Bruce looked inside of the hatch. There was a scroll. He unrolled it. It appeared to be some sort of map of the maze. Based on the rather obvious "You are Here" arrow, they hadn't even truly entered it yet. Jerome was peering over his shoulder.

"Why is there a room titled 'Punishment' and how do I get there?"

Bruce glared at him. "I don't think it's the sort of punishment you're looking for. I think that's where he's keeping Alfred."

Jerome pointed at a section on the map. "But that says 'ALFRED' in giant blue letters."

"It's a red herring."

"Actually, it's blue and it doesn't look like a fish to me."

He smacked Jerome with the piece of paper. "Maybe Jeremiah's right, and you are just trying to distract me."

"I'm sorry, I suffer from two conditions called severe ADHD and smart-assitis." At least he looked genuinely sorry.

"Let's just keep moving. Apparently the next turn we're supposed to take is a left and it's a few hundred feet further."

"Thank god I didn't wear my clubbing heels." Bruce hit Jerome again before grabbing his hand and lacing their fingers together.

As they walked, Bruce religiously studied the map. It wouldn't surprise him if they were given it in the first place just to remove the crutch later. So, he wanted to get as much of it memorized as possible. He knew Jeremiah well enough to believe that the map was indeed accurate. He didn't want them to fail. He also knew exactly why they'd be allowed to keep it for awhile. Or rather, why he'd be allowed to keep it for awhile. However teasingly he said it, Bruce had accused Jerome of misleading him. In Jeremiah's eyes, this was progress. The message was very clear. Bruce hated him even more for it.

Now that they knew where they were going, they had begun to jog. He didn't see the point in wasting time walking. They soon came to divergences in the path, however, and Bruce placed his hand on Jerome's chest to slow him.

"I thought you said we had to turn left." Jerome stated questioningly.

"We do. That doesn't mean there isn't some sort of trap up here. We'll walk for a bit."

Jerome pulled his hand out of Bruce's grasp. "Look, do you wanna tip-toe around this place or do you want to save your guardian?"

"Right now, we're going to do both," he answered firmly. Jerome sighed but walked at the pace Bruce set.

To break the heavy silence, Jerome kept speculating what the names of each room meant. He took a particular liking to the one simply titled "Bees".

"Y'know, I once wanted to slather you in honey and watch as multiple species of insects devoured your skin."

Bruce couldn't believe he had to deal with this while navigating a labyrinth to rescue Alfred from intense torture. But he was also sort of grateful for the lighthearted distractions.

"I like how you specified 'multiple species'. I do enjoy a variety of many-legged things if I'm going to have my flesh devoured."

"It's because I care about you so much, I figured you deserved the best. I wasn't going to going to go cheap, either. Do you know how much importing Goliath bird-eating spiders costs?"

"I'll give you a card the next time you want to import exotic arachnids."

"Bruce, I don't like you for your money."

He was touched. "Aw, Jerome, you don't need to tell me that. I know-"

"But, I won't say no to a sugar daddy." Jerome was grinning now. Bruce was so busy trying to figure out how to respond to his statement, that it took him a moment to notice the smudges appearing on the map from the liquid that had begun to drip from the ceiling. Strangely enough, it was so perfectly timed that it never landed on them. Bruce felt a gust of heat and the map was soon on fire. The liquid had been kerosene. He dropped it in panic and watched as it turned to ashes before his eyes. The message Jeremiah was sending this time was just as obvious. The more time he spent flirting, the less time he'd get with the map.

"Well, shit." Jerome said morosely, looking upset.

"It's fine. I memorized it." Bruce could already see Jeremiah shaking with anger when he heard that. Jerome laughed and wrapped an arm around his shoulder.

"Y'hear that, asshole? He memorized it. Bet your statistics didn't see that coming. Shove that up your-" Bruce placed a finger over Jerome's lips and just shook his head.

"Alfred, remember?"

Jerome gave a small gasp and shrugged apologetically. "Sorry. It's hard for me to handle myself sometimes."

A nudge from Bruce's elbow carried Jerome's arm from his shoulders to his waist. "Please, just, try your best not to aggravate him. At least not right now." Jerome nodded.

A quick consultation with the image ingrained in his mind told Bruce that, in order to get to their destination, they had to cross through a room labelled as "Toys". He didn't like the sound of that and he had no desire to mention the name to Jerome because he'd rather not hear all of the inappropriate jokes he'd make out of it. Between Punishment, Toys, and Bees, he figured that this was more of a heaven for him than a hell. Minus the Jeremiah part.

After making a few choices and turning some corners, the silver door to the toy room appeared in front of them. Jeremiah's voice came through the speakers.

"Welcome to the toy room. You're making decent time. You've been in the maze for seventeen minutes now." That was all? It's felt like years, thought Bruce. "Alfred isn't enjoying himself nearly as much as you two are. I wonder how much differently this would've gone if you'd been alone, Bruce. It's a shame I didn't get to test it. But, no matter. I'm here now to give you some useful information. The second you enter this room, you must solve a puzzle. If it isn't solved in the allotted time, well...I suppose you'll find out if it comes to that. I know how much Jerome loves surprises, so I won't ruin it. Have fun." The voice cut off. Bruce would almost believe he meant the last statement if he hadn't sounded so passive. Then again, Jeremiah always sounded passive these days. He was struck with with a sudden feeling of sadness and longing. He missed the Jeremiah that had worked with him, laughed with him, and befriended him. It had only been two days since he changed, but it felt much longer.

Shrugging off memories, Bruce pressed the button on the panel to the side of the metal door. It slid openly cleanly. Inside were hundreds of neatly wrapped presents. He turned to see Jerome staring at them skeptically.

"If this doesn't scream, 'Don't open me, I might explode or sever a limb!' then I don't know what does. And I myself scream that a lot, so I know what I'm talking about."

Bruce said nothing, and simply knelt down to get a closer look at the boxes. Jeremiah had said this was a puzzle. And he had a sneaking suspicion it had something to do with the "present" Jerome had sent him. They were all wrapped uniformly in dark blue with large white ribbons. Exactly how he had described the wrapping of the gift that turned him into what he was now. He surveyed the room, taking in how they were stacked. He noticed the door on the far side had a keypad by it with two small arrows pointing in opposite directions. Clearly, they had to type a number in there. A timer had appeared by the keypad as well. It was counting down from three minutes.

He began to count how many were in each stack. It was going to take forever, but that was the only logical explanation he could think of. The timer was at 2:15 now and he had counted sixty-one boxes so far. He still had several hundred to go.

It was Jerome who figured it out. While Bruce was counting, he simply stood in the center of the room, turning his head at an angle occasionally. With one minute and nineteen seconds on the clock, he walked over to the keypad and began to input numbers.

"No, Jerome! What are you doing?"

There was a pleasant beep and the far door slid open. Bruce was in awe.

Jerome walked back over to him. "You really should trust me more. I may look stupid and act stupid but I'm good with colors."

Bruce was confused. "What colors?"

Now Jerome looked confused. "The boxes. Some were more indigo than royal blue. I counted the indigo ones on each side and then put in those numbers. Twenty-two on the left and eight on the right. That's why it took so long. I thought there should be more."

He felt like an idiot. "I didn't even notice they were different colors. I just started counting."

Jerome punched his arm lightly. "You've gotta think outside the box more, Bruce!" He laughed at his terrible pun. "Now c'mon, we've got places to be and brothers to kill." Said brother's voice crackled to life before they could get too far from the room, though. Or rather, his slow clap did.

"Well done, Jerome. You never were one to color inside the lines, so to speak. I'm disappointed that you didn't get to view what was inside the boxes, however. So, I figured I'd give you the opportunity. Since the prospect of Alfred's death doesn't seem to be propelling you along quickly, perhaps this will. You're almost there, anyway. Might as well speed things up a bit." The sound of thousands of feet marching covered anything else Jeremiah might have said. The two boys looked behind them to see hundreds upon hundreds of toy soldiers all aiming their tiny weapons at them. Some had guns while others wielded swords, axes, and various blunt objects. It was both fear-invoking and oddly adorable all at the same time. This time, Jerome reached for his hand, and together they sprinted away from the figurines, soon leaving them behind. There was no time for discussion as they ran.

The pair only stopped when they arrived at another door. This one was reminiscent of the one that led into the building. Jerome pushed it open for Bruce.

As he walked in, Bruce was struck with two incredibly infuriating thoughts. The first being that this was, in fact, the exact room they had started in. Even though the map had shown them very clearly as two different rooms. The second thought was that there was no Alfred. Just Jeremiah sitting comfortably on a miscellaneous table. He was sipping something from a mug. Somebody else emerged from another entry point. It was Ecco, who was apparently in perfect health. She came to stand rigidly by Jeremiah. He handed her his mug, presumably empty now, and said, "Black, two sugars please." Ecco left the room as abruptly as she'd appeared.

"Ah, my guests of honor," Jeremiah greeted them. "Sorry about that, I'd planned on you arriving a little sooner. I didn't think I'd be out of coffee before you got here. I suppose that says more about your punctuality than my timing. How was your little walk? Did you get some decent exercise in?"

Bruce wasn't having any of it. He stepped closer to the sociopath. "What have you done with Alfred?" he demanded.

"Relax, Bruce. I haven't done anything to him. I thought you would've known that I'd never do anything to hurt you, and that extends to your butler."

He was bewildered. "But-but the projection!"

Jeremiah looked bored. "Something a little bit of Mr. Crane's fear toxin cooked up. It's remarkably reactive, and with the right chemist behind it, can produce incredible results."

"I don't understand. Why do it then?"

He looked at Bruce as though it should be obvious. "To bring you back here, of course. After seeing the...interaction...between you two at the police department, I realized just how far you'd fallen. Clearly, drastic measures had to be taken."

Bruce blushed at the thought of Jeremiah watching his kiss with Jerome.

"So, in short, you've been stalking him. And the moment he did something that wasn't to your liking, you decided the best possible way to get him back was to screw with his mind and emotions. That sounds both healthy and considerate," Jerome interjected.

"And yet, neither of us asked for your opinion. Didn't anybody tell you that it's rude to interrupt when two people are trying to have a conversation?" Jeremiah was now staring at Jerome harshly.

"No, because thanks to you, my one parent didn't gave a rat's ass about teaching me manners. So instead, I get to speak my mind and still be wonderfully charming. It's a talent few possess and a skill even less can develop. I'm a rarity, truly."

"Nobody denied that you're special, Jerome. We're all just thinking more along the lines of short-bus rather than talent."

This was all making Bruce nauseous. "Could you two stop bickering like idiots for one minute, please? I still don't understand what's going on."

Jeremiah patted a spot on the table next to him. "Come here. We'll talk. Alone." At that moment, Ecco reappeared. She was carrying Jeremiah's coffee and a silver handgun. The latter she pointed at Jerome while the former she handed to Jeremiah. "Thank you, Ecco. In record time, too." She said nothing and simply kept her arm straight. Bruce didn't like how close the barrel was to Jerome's forehead. But, he didn't want to say or do anything that might cause her to pull the trigger. He hesitantly sat by Jeremiah.

"A smart choice, Bruce. Ecco, please escort my brother out of the building. If he attempts to re-enter or just annoys you, feel free to blow his brains onto the pavement. I really couldn't care less. Bruce and I are going to have a little chat."

Chapter Text

Bruce watched anxiously as Ecco led Jerome outside at gunpoint. He had no idea what she might do. And with the city fallen and evacuated, there was no law to punish her if she decided to take a lethal course of action. He noticed Jeremiah watching him watch Jerome. It was unsettling to begin with, and coupled with Jeremiah's wild eyes, it was downright disturbing.

He decided to be blunt. "What do you want from me?"

Jeremiah was silent for a moment. And then, "I want to understand what caused you to hate me. And when, exactly. Was it because of how I looked? Or what I spoke of? Perhaps you hadn't liked me all along, yet pitied me enough to grant me the honor of your presence."

Honesty seemed best in this situation. "I don't care about any of the materialistic aspects. But the moment you threatened my home, you threatened me. And I can't stand for that. I'd do anything for Gotham. And you've destroyed it."

"Well, technically the city remains mostly intact. It's really the bridges that suffered the brunt of the blows. But, I do understand where you're coming from. The problem is, you refuse to even view my standpoint on things. I continue to give you endless support and understanding, and yet you can't reciprocate any of it in the slightest. It's disheartening, really. But I'll continue to do so because I care about you, Bruce. And you don't have to return that unconditionality. Just know that I'll always give it to you." Jeremiah's words stung and he somehow felt ashamed. Maybe he hadn't been fair to him. "I want to do this in the best way possible, Bruce. And for that to work, I need you. Together, we could rebuild Gotham how it was intended to be. A capitol worthy of endless praise and envy. A place where everyone has a job, a home, and loved ones, and the streets aren't rampant with drugs and crime. Your city shining as brightly as it possibly can." He was compelling. Bruce began to imagine the scenario Jeremiah was describing. It was truly everything he wanted. And if anyone could deliver on that promise, it was him. He knew that Jeremiah was intelligent and strict enough to ensure every order he put into effect worked perfectly, producing flawless results. And that's what Gotham needed. Structure and care.

"What would I need to do?" Bruce finally asked.

"I need your input, of course. You know and love this city more than anyone. And, I must admit that I enjoy your company. You'd make the process fly by much faster." He was flattered that Jeremiah thought so highly of him. "So, what do you think?" His pale hands gripped his mug tightly as he asked the question.

"I want to help you," Bruce decided. Jeremiah looked pleased.

"Thank you, Bruce. Once again, you've done something that I'll forever be unable to explain just how much it means to me. You're so incredibly selfless."

Bruce was blushing under his praise. "I'm not selfless. I just care about Gotham, and your plans for it." Jeremiah was looking at him intensely now.

"I admire your faith. That's always something I wish I had more of, if I'm being honest with you."

Bruce laughed lightly. "Well, I probably have enough for both of us. And I'd hope you're always honest with me."

Jeremiah had set down his cup of coffee. "I believe in telling both necessary truths and necessary lies. The truth is useful in manipulation whereas lies are much easier to tell to save someone from themself. Interesting, isn't it? You'd think it would be reversed, with how much any common person preaches honesty. And yet, lies save more lives. It took me a very long time to realize that. But, my life changed dramatically when I did."

He was intrigued. "Tell me other things you've learned that stand out to you."

"Alright." The boy took a moment to think. "Companionship is fickle; it falls and fluctuates and more often than not, it's common to find yourself feeling utterly alone in a room full of people. The key is to not let it discourage you. Someday, you'll find someone that you want by your side forever. It doesn't matter through what relationship. Be it love, friendship, or even hatred, you've become dependent on this person's existence. You need them to fulfill your life's goals."

Bruce was curious. "Is Ecco that person for you?"

"No. However much I do care about her, it wouldn't be detrimental to me if she were to disappear. I can function without her. She is, after all, just a glorified assistant. Just one that I've grown fond of."

"Then have you found that person yet?" Bruce's heart was beating more quickly now.

Jeremiah gazed at him for a minute. "Perhaps. I'll admit, my goals would be incredibly difficult to carry out without this person. And, I value their companionship immensely."

"Interesting," Bruce said. "Any other life-saving pieces of advice?"

Jeremiah didn't hesitate to think this time. "Anyone who promises you unbreakable protection is just trying to gain your trust. If someone truly loved you, they wouldn't guarantee your safety. Instead, they'd promise to always be with you in case you were hurt." His piercing eyes were now focused on Bruce's. He seemed to be sitting much closer, all of a sudden. "I would always be there for you, Bruce, if you needed me."

His mind was racing. What did that mean? Was he trying to tell him that he...loved him? If so, it was very sudden. Then again, everything else that he'd done to get Bruce here seemed to suggest the same thing. "I-I don't quite...what are you trying to tell me?" he finally asked through his confusion.

"What do you want to hear?"

"I'm not sure." Distantly, Bruce could hear some commotion coming from outside, but he was having a difficult time registering it.

"Then perhaps words aren't the best course of action in this situation." A muffled shot sounded through the door, but Bruce didn't hear a thing as Jeremiah's hands covered his ears and he leaned in closer to him. His cherry red lips met Bruce's pale pink ones in a light but confident kiss. All of his worries from the night seemed to melt away. He was finally back with Jeremiah. That was all it took to make him forget the pain it caused him to get here. It didn't hold the same fire as Jerome's. Instead, it was calm and steady. He felt more grounded than he had in weeks. The kiss, along with Jeremiah's hands, held him in place. There was no fight for dominance. With him, Bruce felt secure. He let him direct his movements. Soon, Bruce's arms were wrapped around Jeremiah's waist, clinging to him tightly. His legs were now up on the table with the rest of his body. His hands trailed up Jeremiah's back to twine in his hair. He felt him turn his head to the side a bit, and suddenly the kiss deepened. The cool hands that had been resting on the sides of his head moved to his hips and gently lifted him, carrying Bruce onto Jeremiah. It was in that moment that he forgave him for everything. He could see it now, pressed against him, that all Jeremiah wanted was to give him the world he'd always dreamed of. He'd been selfish and immature about the entire thing. He had no idea how much time had passed. All that broke them apart was a shout from a few feet away.

"Let him go!" Jerome was standing in front of them. He had Ecco's silver handgun pointed at Jeremiah. He was shaking with fury. You're a fucking sadistic monster. I swear to god, I turn my back for five minutes and you've already manipulated him into taking you back. It's disgusting how easily you did it, and clearly without any remorse either."

Jeremiah allowed Bruce to turn to face Jerome, but kept a tight hold on him. "Once again, Jerome, you should let your objectively small brain catch up to your eager-to-fire hands. If Bruce didn't want to forgive me, he wouldn't have. He doesn't have a fragile mind. There's certainly enough resilience there if need-be. Therefore, this is clearly his choice."

For some reason, his words made Bruce angry. He pushed himself away from Jeremiah, and swung his legs off the table, now standing. "Would you let me speak for myself, please, and not determine what any of my 'choices' are?" Jeremiah said nothing and just waited for him to talk. He sighed. "Neither of you are right, as usual. Jeremiah didn't coerce me into kissing him and Jerome is just as intelligent as you, Jeremiah. All you two do is try and see the worst in each other. I can't explain how frustrating that is. You'd probably make one hell of a team if you could agree on something. Unfortunately, that seems impossible so instead I just get to sit here and watch you argue amongst yourselves for eternity. And to top it all off, thousands of people are dead because of both of your selfish actions. I'm going home to check on Alfred and make sure you weren't, in fact, lying to me. Then, I'm going to find James Gordon and offer my assistance to him. Everything after that is up in the air. Feel free to find me when you've both matured a bit."

He stalked out of the building, brushing roughly past Jerome, refusing to meet his eyes. The anger, frustration, and stress from the night boiled over as he sat in the driver's seat of his car. Bruce could feel warm wet tears streaking down his cheeks. He hated himself for each and every one of them that fell.

Bruce parked the car in the garage and entered quietly through the door that led into the laundry room. He crossed into the kitchen, where he was surprised to see Selina Kyle sitting, picking at a plate of food. Then he remembered his last conversation with Alfred.

"Selina! Did Alfred bring you here?" He was thrilled to see her, especially after this hectic week.

"Yes, kicking and screaming," a calm voice interjected. Alfred walked through the doorway that led to the foyer. Bruce was overjoyed to see him. He raced over to his butler and gave him a tight hug. He was safe.

"My goodness, Master Bruce, it's only been a few hours. Are you alright?" He patted Bruce gently.

Bruce released him and looked at both of the people standing in his kitchen fondly. "Sorry, it's been a trying night. I'm home now though. Is there anyone else here?" He went to sit by Selina.

"Nah, Bridgit just kept insisting that she was with her rightful family and whatever. It was all bull, but she can probably take care of herself," Selina said. He didn't think she was as passive about it as she sounded, but he decided he wouldn't press it for now.

"Is she still with Scarecrow and Tetch?"

"Unfortunately. I wouldn't put it past Tetch to hypnotize her into hanging with them."

"What about Ivy?"

Selina looked at him like he was stupid. "Don't you remember? She went all crazy plant lady, got old, and tried to rob you."

He felt like an idiot. "Oh right. Sorry. The chaos of today made me think she was still a little kid."

Her gaze softened. "Are you doin' okay? You look a little shaken up." Alfred had left the room and they were alone.

"I mean, as okay as I can be, after seeing those bridges fall."

"Yeah, that was pretty horrible. All those people just falling to their deaths like that. Jeremiah Valeska must be even worse than his brother."

"He wants to create a better Gotham. One without poverty. That's why he did it."

"Sure, because that's a.) possible and b.) completely sane. Who cares if a few thousand people are plunged into icy water from a hundred feet up? Apparently, Jeremiah has a utopia to build." He started to interrupt but she pressed on. "And let's not forget, he plans on being in total control of this place. Bruce, you're defending a dictator."

He was affronted. "I wasn't defending him. I was just telling you how he was justifying it."

She looked at him incredulously. "How do you even know what he was thinking?"

He couldn't lie to her anymore. "I went to find him. Well, after I went to find his brother."

"Wait, you went looking for both Valeska brothers? Why?"

"Well I um...I went to release Jerome from the police department. He'd be a sitting duck there. Someone would've come by to finish him off, and I didn't want blood on anybody's hands. And I went to find Jeremiah because he left me a note telling me to. He...he said he had Alfred. That's why I was so happy to see him alive and safe."

"Oh my god, Bruce, I'm sorry. I didn't know tonight had been even harder for you. I would've tried to be more sensitive about it."

"No, that's why I like you, Selina. You'll always be honest with me and tell me when I'm screwing up. And I think I need you to do that now. I might be falling for one or both of the Valeskas."

A mix of emotions raced across her face. He could identify shock, confusion, and disappointment before they disappeared. "I uh...didn't know you swung that way."

He laughed. "What straight guy wears turtleneck sweaters everyday?" he asked to lighten the mood.

After recovering from her initial surprise, she laughed with him. "You're right, that should've been my cue. Not to mention the skinny jeans paired with those sweaters. That's much too trendy for a straight guy." After they stopped laughing, she asked "So, both of them huh? I didn't think they were that desirable. I mean, Jerome was kinda hot before the whole having-his-face-cut-off thing happened. But Jeremiah? He's sort of an asshole if you ask me. Not that Jerome isn't. He just seems like less of an asshole compared to his brother."

"Jerome's face is fine now that it's had time to heal. After Gotham General got a hold of him when he was done trying to drive the entire city insane, they worked some magic over the poor job Arkham did. Pretty much everything is intact now. That's not important though. Both of them have made it very clear that they uh...find me...intriguing."

She could read right through his statement. "Who have you been kissing?"

He looked slightly embarrassed. "Um, both of them."

"Dang, Bruce! I didn't know you were that much of a playboy. I dodged a bullet, jeez."

He began to laugh, then her words sunk in. "Wait, what do you mean?"

"Um, nothing. Anyway, why do you like them so much?"

"They're both very charming, for starters. And funny. You wouldn't guess it, but Jeremiah has a pretty good sense of humor too. It's just a little darker. And they both have dreams that would be really amazing to help fulfill. And...I guess…they both care about me a lot. I have no idea why, but they do."

Selina was looking at him, a slight smile on her face. "Boy, you're smitten. I'm going to ignore the fact that one's a spontaneous psychopath and the other one is a sociopathic dictator for now, because I'm guessing that's not what you want to hear. I guess my question is, who's going to treat you better in the long run?"

"I'm not sure. I'm sort of angry with both of them right now, since they're intolerable when they're together. Every time I'm with Jerome, it feels like I'm on some crazy whirlwind ride that I never want to stop. And when I'm with Jeremiah, I feel safer and more comforted than I've ever felt before. They really are polar opposites. Except that they're both extremely jealous all the time."

She patted him on the back. "I think you need some time to sit on it, Bruce. And I'll be here for you to run ideas past. Although, if we always have to talk about your guy problems, then I'm out. Deal?"

He smiled. "Deal. Thanks, Selina. You're the best. I'll check and make sure Alfred has your old room set up. Then I'm going to get some sleep. I have to meet with Jim in the morning."

"Okay, goodnight Bruce."

"Goodnight Selina. Sleep well." He stood up and walked upstairs, where he met Alfred making Selina's bed.

"Off to bed, Master Bruce?" he asked as he laid down sheets.

"Yep. I'll see you in the morning, Alfred. Thank you for letting Selina stay here again. Could you do me a favor, and leave Detective Gordon a voicemail telling him I'd like to see him tomorrow?"

"Of course, Master B. Get a good night's sleep. It's been an awfully long day."

"Thanks Alfred, and you should get some rest too. Goodnight." He left the room then and made his way to his own bedroom. He collapsed onto the bed in exhaustion, only taking time to remove his shoes before falling into the deepest sleep he'd had for days.

(Jerome's P.O.V.)

Jerome and Jeremiah were staring at each other in a tense, stony silence. He still had a tight grip on Ecco's handgun but it was now resting at his side. Bruce's abrupt departure had left them both speechless.

Finally, Jeremiah broke the silence. "If you're going to kill me, could you please do it now? I hate being kept waiting."

"I don't think you understand how badly I want to." And it was true. Jerome wanted nothing more than to pull the trigger. But he knew he couldn't.

"Why don't you then? You'd be the savior of Gotham."

"Because I'd rather not make an important enemy."

"You mean Bruce."

"No, I meant Santa. Yes, Bruce. That doesn't mean I'll hand it to you, though. I can't be sure you wouldn't use it. After all, he seems to excuse you for anything."

Jeremiah crossed his legs, saying smugly, "It's because he sees the good in me."

Jerome rolled his eyes. "Or, it's because you're a manipulative prick who guilt-tripped him into feeling bad for you."

His brother didn't say anything for awhile. And then, "Have you killed Ecco?"

"No. She thought it'd be more fun to try and strangle me after I made a comment about her resting bitch face, so I knocked her gun out of her hand and shot her in the foot. She needs medical treatment, but she's not dead."

Despite how heartless Jeremiah seemed, he looked genuinely relieved to hear she wasn't dead. It sort of made Jerome wish he'd splattered her brains on the pavement.

"Hey, I have a question. Why don't ya just bang her instead and leave little Brucie out of it?" Jerome asked innocently.

His brother looked offended. "First of all, I've never pursued Bruce for physical pleasure. Secondly, I don't like Ecco that way. Her and I are partners, yes, but not in a romantic sense."

"You making out with him on that table sort of disproves the first statement."

Jeremiah straightened his suit. "Well, that was simply a perk. I like Bruce for his mind; the way he thinks is fascinating and certainly attractive. But, I needed to distract him as well. I wasn't sure if that gunshot signalled your death, and that wasn't what I wanted him to be focusing on at the time."

He was infuriated by what his twin was saying. "Hold on. You kissed him to make sure he wasn't worrying about what was doing? You're unbelievable. You treat him like a goddamn science experiment. In case ya didn't know, he's a human being. His own person and all that shit. So, I'm sure he'd appreciate it if you laid off altering his sensory inputs to see how he reacts."

"And yet, you still don't get to decide what he wants and doesn't want. I don't understand, Jerome. Are you trying to be his friend, lover, or protector? Because, as of right now, you seem to be sending highly mixed messages. Poor Bruce is most likely confused out of his mind."

"Ideally, all three. I'm pretty good at multitasking. Y'know, if it weren't for the whole thought of disappointing him, I'd remove your eyes with a severed kitten's paw and feed them to you." He was grinning widely.

"Thank you for that comforting thought. I needed the reminder of your clinical psychosis; you were speaking so normally that I almost forgot you're completely out of your mind."

"Hey, no problem. Just doin' my brother a favor."

Jeremiah looked like he had a headache. That was fine with Jerome. He hoped to cause him many more.

"If you're not going to kill me, could you please leave? I have a lot to do and I don't see any point in you sticking around here any longer.

"Oh yes, I wouldn't want to get in the way of your extremely important plans. Are you going to walk me out like a gentleman?"

Jeremiah sighed but stood up. He walked stiffly to the concrete door, holding it open for Jerome as he skipped through. He made sure to hit Jeremiah with his elbow as he went.

As the door slammed shut behind him, he was struck with the sudden thought that he had no idea where he was supposed to go. He hadn't really thought past his chat with his brother, and Bruce had made it very clear that he wasn't pleased with him.

But earlier that week he had invited Jerome to live with him. It seemed like a dream from years ago, but it had really happened. And besides, he had nowhere else to go. With Gotham in chaos, he didn't feel like sleeping on the streets. So, he began to meander his way in the general direction of Wayne Manor. After all, everyone in the city knew where to find it. Even the boy from the circus who only came by once a year.

Chapter Text

Being arrested by James Gordon was the last thing Jeremiah expected to occur that night. He was fairly confident that he'd died when he detonated the bomb in his bunker. Even if that hadn't done the job, he imagined that one of the criminals stuck on the streets would finish him off. So, suffice it to say, he was shocked to hear the click of a standard-issue GCPD handgun behind him as he sat in the abandoned building and pondered the night's events. It simply hadn't been a variable in his calculations.

"Jeremiah Valeska, you're under arrest. You know your rights, but if it were up to all of the remaining officers, you wouldn't receive any. Stand up and slowly turn around. Don't make any attempts to escape."

He did as the police captain commanded, saying "Jim, you know as well as I do that attempting to escape would only get me shot. Between the distance, your aim, and my movement speed, the probability of my success is extremely low. And I do have a fondness for saving my own skin. I will do as you say."

Jim didn't answer him, and instead just fastened a pair of handcuffs around his wrists. He led him out to the parking lot and allowed him to situate himself in the backseat before getting in himself. As they drove, Jeremiah did what he did best. He planned. And by the time they arrived at the police department, he had his course of action for the next two weeks set.

Sunlight filtered through the white satin curtains of Bruce's room. The slant of light falling on his face woke him from a pleasant dream, which he forgot as soon as he awoke. Or perhaps it was the rather loud snoring coming from the red-haired boy sleeping in his desk chair.

Bruce checked to make sure he went to bed wearing clothes, and was relieved to find on the same jeans and sweater he wore yesterday. He stood up, walked over to the desk, and shook Jerome. The teen woke abruptly and attempted to hit him, but Bruce was prepared this time. He jumped back as Jerome's fist swung by, avoiding it.

"I feel bad for anyone that ends up sharing a bed with you. They'd have to wear protective armor all night just avoid getting pummeled if they accidentally move around too much." Bruce's words were harsh but he was smiling.

"Old habits die hard. I'm not used to being woken up gently by brunette angels. That's the sorta thing ya gotta let a guy adjust to, y'know?" Jerome lounged back in the chair. He crossed his arms behind his head and yawned. "I'm just lucky your window was unlocked, because I'd bet a pretty penny your butler would shoot me on sight. And I don't wanna do the whole death thing again. It's too soon. 'Specially at the hands of another old guy in a suit."

Bruce didn't know how to take the comment about Alfred, so he focused on a different part of what he said. "Angels, huh?"

"Well, you've saved me more times than you'd like to admit. And anyone who goes out of their way to protect a...unique citizen like me ought to be some sort of angel. Either that, or you're just as crazy as I am." He grinned at his last statement.

"Or maybe I'm just compassionate."

"Extreme compassion is definitely a form of masochism. And extreme masochism borders on insanity."

"Well, you would know all about that," Bruce muttered under his breath.

"Is Bruce Wayne kink-shaming me right now? That's one for the books, my friend."

He laughed for what felt like the first time in weeks, even if it had only been hours. It cleared his head and made him feel lighter than before. Finally, he was able to get out a response. "I don't think you know your own kinks well enough to feel ashamed for them."

"It's a very long list, Bruce, and I'd rather not scar your vanilla ears. Besides, I'm a go-with-the-flow kinda guy. The list grows and changes. For example, sometimes I'm into hitting other people and sometimes I like being hit. The little things, y'know?"

For some reason, Bruce found this intriguing. "Explain it to me."

"Explain what to you?"

"How it works."

"Brucie, I don't think I'm the one who should give ya the birds and the bees talk."

He hit Jerome's shoulder. He had no idea where the sudden bravery was coming from. "No, idiot. Not that. What turned you into a person with...specific tastes?"

Jerome raised an eyebrow but decided not to comment on his interest. "A dangerous mix of seeing too much, hearing too much, and probably experimenting too much. A guy picks up some funny things when he has to watch his mom bang clowns every day. Or when he becomes a toy for the trapeze boys. Or when the knife-thrower decides to use a ginger target. Again, it's the little things."

"So, you like boys, clowns, and knives. It all makes sense now," Bruce teased.

"Hey, it's not the worst combination in the world. What about you? What does little vanilla Bruce Wayne enjoy? Bathing in his endless amounts of cash? Breakfast in bed? Pretty girls in tight leather like the one across the hallway?"

The last question surprised Bruce. "How do you know about Selina?"

"Do you really think I would crash here without checking out my surroundings first? I'm not the most tightly-screwed in light bulb, Bruce, but I'm not an idiot. By the way, uh, somebody broke a vase downstairs. Looked kind of expensive. I, um, bet that person is very sorry but doesn't know how to...express it."

"Okay, two things. One, it's okay. It's just a vase. I can buy another one, so that really obscure, unidentifiable person who's apparently sorry but can't express it is forgiven. Two, Selina's been a friend of mine for a long time. You met her once at the charity ball. Or maybe you just saw her, I can't remember."

"Like, one of those friends you sleep with or an actual friend? 'Cause it took me a while to learn the difference. Plus, everything premortem is a bit fuzzy."

Bruce rolled his eyes. "An actual friend. And isn't premortem a business tool used to circumnavigate a project failure?"

"I meant before death, nerd. If after death is postmortem, then before death would be premortem. Obviously. I dunno about your office bullshit but I know I'm right."

"Okay, Jerome, whatever you say. I have to go make sure Selina gets breakfast. She gets sort of cranky otherwise. You stay here and don't break anything. I'll bring up some toast when I know what Alfred's plans are for the day."

"Does the toast mean that you forgive me for being an ass last night?" Jerome asked the question like he didn't care one way or the other, but once again, Bruce could see through him.

"If I didn't forgive you, I wouldn't let you stay in here. While I'm downstairs, you can use the bed. I know that chair isn't very comfortable."

Jerome hopped up as soon as he said that and sat on the edge of the king-sized mattress. He looked like he was in heaven. This brought a pang of sadness to Bruce. The last decent bed Jerome had slept on was probably the one he used in Theo Galavan's penthouse before he shot him. And before that? He most likely slept on the couch of his mother's trailer, based on the description of the place in his file. The sympathy caused him to stroke Jerome's shoulder as he walked out of the room, receiving a surprised look from the boy. He shut and locked the oak door, hoping his was the only key.

Downstairs, Selina was already at the counter. The smell of frying eggs and sizzling bacon filled the room. Alfred was standing by the oven, keeping a close eye on the stovetop. "Good morning, Master B. It's good of you to join us; I was wondering if you were going to wake up before noon." Bruce glanced at the clock hanging above the stove and realized it was already past eleven. He hadn't woken up this late in months.

Selina chimed in with a very sweet, "Morning, loser. Take a seat." She patted the stool next to her and sipped from a glass of milk.

"Morning, guys. Sorry I'm up so late. I didn't realize what time it was." He sat down by Selina. Alfred set a steaming cup of black coffee in front of him.

"I'm only teasing, Master Bruce. As you can see by the breakfast cooking in front of you, we all had a late start this morning." He began serving them eggs, bacon, and golden-brown toast.

They ate in silence for awhile. Bruce broke it by asking, "Did you get in touch with Jim, Alfred?"

"Yes. He'd like to see you this afternoon."

"I'll drive over there around two. What will you be doing?"

"We didn't have much time when I went to get Selina, so we'll drive to her 'apartment' to gather her things. And then, if you'll allow me, Miss Kyle, we can go shopping for a bit more of an extensive wardrobe. We may have to go outside of Gotham however; I don't know what state the city's currently in."

She tilted her head and raised her eyebrows. "You're taking me shopping?"

"If that's alright, yes."

Selina shrugged. "Cool."

"Excellent. We'll probably leave after breakfast. Will you be staying here, Master B?"

Bruce nodded. "I don't want to miss my meeting with Detective Gordon. And besides, after last night, I have plenty of work to do. I need to look over some blueprints and talk to the head of the bridge-reconstruction project. However tragic the event was, it's a good opportunity for replacing the older models with something more structurally sound. I hope you guys have a good time, though."

Alfred began to clear their plates and wash them. "And you as well, sir."

Selina dragged him aside to the hallway as they stood up.

"What is it?"

"Are you sneaking out to flirt with a ginger psychopath?"

He blushed. "Actually, surprisingly enough they both show more sociopathic tendencies. They have emotions, they just struggle to display them properly. And...that may be a part of my schedule today. We'll see as the day goes on."

She rolled her eyes and gave him a friendly punch to the shoulder. "You're even crazier than they are. Should I even ask which one you're seeing today?"

"Jerome." He answered immediately. "I'm still kind of pissed at Jeremiah, honestly."

"Just kind of? He killed thousands of people, Bruce."

"I know that. Which is why I'm angry with him. But...I don't know. I can't explain it to you. I should just cut him off completely but something's stopping me from doing it. He says stuff and it...it messes with my mind. I think I just need to wait for my head to be a bit clearer on the matter, that's all."

"I think taking some time with him is a smart choice." Alfred called her name from the kitchen. "I gotta go. Have fun, I guess. Don't get killed." She gave him a hug and hurried off towards Alfred, who also called goodbye to him before leaving for the garage.

Bruce figured that, since they were both gone, he could bring Jerome downstairs and pray he doesn't break anything too obvious. So, after grabbing a stack of toast from the counter, he rushed up the stairway and unlocked his bedroom door quietly.

He was greeted by the sight of Jerome curled up on his bed hugging a pillow and snoring lightly. Admittedly, it was kind of cute. Cute enough that Bruce felt bad waking him. So instead, he set down the toast and grabbed a notepad, a black pen, and a few diagrams lying about his desk and sat carefully down next to Jerome. He worked like this for about an hour, occasionally reaching over and stroking Jerome's silky red hair. He must use a rather specific haircare routine for a guy who lives in an asylum most of the time, he thought at one point.

As Bruce was looking over the notes he made about the structural integrity of city hall, a sleepy-sounding voice commented, "You draw pictures to go with all of your notes."

He turned his head to see a pair of green-blue eyes staring up at him. A lock of red hair had fallen into the middle of Jerome's forehead. Bruce hadn't seen him look this innocent since he worked under Gallavan. He was smiling lightly as he rubbed his eyes.

"It helps me remember what I'm talking about. I don't honestly take the best notes, so without the pictures, I'd probably forget what building they refer to. Besides, it's a nice break in between writing."

Jerome grabbed his hand, causing him to drop his pen, and rolled over. Bruce gasped as he was pulled down next to him. "Stop taking notes and cuddle me."

Bruce laughed but wrapped his arms around the older boy, holding him close against him. After a moment of hesitation, he nuzzled Jerome's neck, eliciting a happy hum from him. Bruce liked that. He wondered if he could get another noise by doing something else. This time, he didn't take so long to think. Bruce placed a gentle kiss on the side of his neck. Jerome seemed surprised, as he inhaled very quickly. That just encouraged Bruce, who placed his lips on Jerome's throat and continued to bring rather explicit noises from the boy against him. This went on for a couple of minutes. He could feel his heart rate pick up and suddenly Jerome turned back over. He connected his lips with Bruce's before he could even say anything.

This kiss was still frantic, but not nearly as blood-soaked as their last. It was also much more desperate. Apparently, Jerome's passion was greatly increased if you turned him on a bit beforehand. His hands were in Bruce's hair and he didn't waste any time in deepening the kiss. Their tongues danced as Bruce, experiencing this sort of lust for the first time, wrapped his legs around Jerome. He was gripping the sides of his shirt tightly, and this seemed to trigger something in the other teen. He pulled away from Bruce quickly, looking startled.

"What's wrong?" Bruce was confused.

"Nothing. I just...I can't control myself around you. Which is why, before one of us crosses a line, I need you to set boundaries with me. Yes, you're younger than me. But you're also much more mature and capable of doing so. I can't do it, as that just proved." Jerome was sitting up now, hugging his knees. It was at times like this that Bruce forgot how he looked with his manic facade on, because right now he looked very serious. And...angry with himself.

"You didn't cross any lines, though. I don't understand why you're so upset. It's not like I'm a child. You don't need to 'set boundaries' with me."

Jerome looked frustrated. "It's not you who's the problem, Bruce. I need you to set them with me."

"But you haven't done anything wrong."

"Since you're not getting the message, let me lay it out for ya, nice and clear. If it were up to me, you'd be pinned against that elaborate headboard making much worse sounds than the ones you were drawing outta me earlier." Bruce raised his eyebrows and Jerome saw his expression. "Exactly. Which is why I need you to draw the line somewhere. And make it very obvious. I don't do well in grayscale. I'm a full-color kinda guy."

"Jerome. I'm sixteen, and I'm probably the least delicate guy you could've picked. I could mention that it's completely legal, but I've never seen you care about legality, so why would you start now? And besides, I'd tell you if you somehow took things too far. Which you haven't."

The teenager sitting next to him gave him a look. Bruce sighed, but finally added "I'm not up for being pinned to the bed just yet. Pretty much anything beyond that is fine with me."

Jerome grinned. "'Just yet', huh? I'll keep an eye out for when that changes." His grin settled into a small smile. "Seriously though. I know it's a stupid conversation, but it's one I wanted to have. Thank you. You're probably the single thing on this planet I don't want to break, so I'm doing my best not to."

Bruce sat up too and leaned against him, placing his head on Jerome's shoulder. "Why do you hate the world so much?"

It was a complicated question, but the answer he received was very simple. "Because the world hates me."

He laced his fingers through Jerome's. "I don't hate you."

A smile. "Maybe that's why I like you so much. You're the first to ever say that to me, even though you have every right to hate me. Fate's such a twisted bitch, isn't she?"

"I don't believe in fate. But, I do believe in the idea that every choice you make leads to a series of choices throughout the world. Somehow, the choices I made and the choices you made led us both to this time and place. And that's even more fascinating to me."

"You're pretty poetic for a guy who can fight off a Strongman with half a pool stick," Jerome said, referring to that night in his uncle's diner.

"He would've killed me if it weren't for you. I don't condone the use of guns, but I'll admit that, if you hadn't shot him, I wouldn't be here."

"I've noticed that you're not a fan of the ol' cap buster. Why is that?"

"Do you want the sob-story reason or the legitimate reason?"

He ruffled Bruce's hair. "I think both of them are legitimate."

Bruce sighed, but said, "I've hated them ever since my parents were shot. The inhumanity of the entire ordeal made me prejudiced. They're extremely impersonal. Not enough people realize the consequences of the action they're about to commit if they murder while using a gun. But in any honest fight, I think they're a bit cheap. Any man can assume he's going to win if he just pulls out a pistol. It's a trump card. It feels like cheating. So, you can imagine the satisfaction it brings me to take down anyone holding a gun with just my hands. Which, I guess is an ego-boost for me. But, it's well worth it to see their shock and realize they have no backup plan."

Jerome turned his head to look down at Bruce. "That was a lot darker and more justified than I expected. Usually you ask somebody that question and all they say is 'They kill people'. Which I both agree with and disagree with. Guns enable people to murder, but we're also making that choice." Bruce noticed how he said "we're", but chose not to comment. "So, I'm impressed with you for having completely valid reasons."

He laughed. "Impressed with me? Wow, that's a big compliment coming from Jerome Valeska. I didn't think you were one to impress so easily."

"Oh that's easy, is it? Okay, what can you do that's apparently worth being impressed over?"

Bruce rolled on top of him. "I could think of a few things," he teased. Jerome's eyes got bigger as Bruce leaned down towards him...and started tickling him.

Jerome was gasping with laughter, trying to get words out. "You...little…shit!" He continued to giggle breathlessly until Bruce let up, also chuckling.

"If you were anyone else, I'd strangle you," Jerome said through the last of his giggles.

"But you like me too much, so I'm safe," Bruce said smugly, still straddling the older boy.

A mischievous glint entered Jerome's eyes. "Safe might be a strong word." He pulled Bruce closer to him and they kissed for the second time in the past hour. He felt Jerome smirk against his lips as his heart rate sped up. He briefly had time to wonder what the mischief coupled with the smirk meant before Jerome moved his lips from Bruce's. He began to slowly, agonizingly, trail kisses over to his ear. Then, he bit his earlobe and suddenly Bruce understood what Jerome had been planning. He apparently didn't react like Jerome expected him to because his smile disappeared as Bruce just wrapped his arms around his neck and let out a small sigh. Once again, something seemed to flip a switch in Jerome as he gave his earlobe one last nibble before kissing his way down Bruce's throat. He found a spot at the base of his neck that he seemed to like, as he spent a lot of time there, kissing and biting. He was fueled, just as Bruce had been earlier, by the sounds he pulled from the other boy. It finally became too much for Bruce as he guided Jerome back up to his lips. He reached his arms around Bruce's waist and under his shirt, trailing his fingers up and down his back. They stayed like this for awhile, Bruce wrapping red curls around his fingers and Jerome tracing shapes along his spine.

An alarming thought caused Bruce to pull away from Jerome. "Crap, what time is it?" he asked.

Jerome, although seemingly a bit disappointed that the moment was over, looked at the clock hanging across the room. "2:06, why, might I ask?"

"I said I'd be at the police department around two. I have a meeting with Jim. And I'm already very late." Bruce scrambled off of Jerome and over to his closet, where he picked out a sweater and jeans without really looking at them. He threw the shirt from yesterday onto the ground and hurriedly put on the new one. He did the same with his jeans. He turned back to the bed to grab his notepad where he saw Jerome peeking at him through his fingers.

He just shook his head and laughed. "You can uncover your eyes, it's fine. You're terrible at not looking, so seriously, don't bother next time."

Jerome crossed his arms. "I tried really hard, though!"

"Yes, good job." He gave him a sarcastic clap. "I have to go now. You can grab anything you want from the kitchen and pantry, there's toast on the desk, and you can use the television and radio. I should be back before Alfred and Selina, but if I'm not, just stay up here. Try not to break anything, please?"

He opened his mouth in mock offense. "What, you don't trust me?"

"You broke a vase last night. And the desk lamp. And my pen."

"They were fragile to begin with, it's not my fault."

Bruce rolled his eyes. "Sure. I'll see you later, okay?"

"What, no goodbye kiss? What if somebody sneaks in and kills me? Then how will we have any closure?"

He rolled his eyes once more but walked over to the bed and kissed Jerome on the cheek. "You get more if you fend off whoever is going to supposedly show up to kill you. Otherwise, that's just sad. You're a serial killer; I think you'll manage to stay alive for two more hours." He walked back over to the door, calling a rushed goodbye behind him. Once he was out the door, he ran down the stairs and through the rooms leading to his garage.

His Mustang was sitting there waiting for him in the shadows of the room. He unlocked the car and stepped inside. As any teenage boy with such a vehicle would do, he allowed himself a few revs of the engine before backing out of the building. Once more, he found himself racing down the streets of Gotham, now considerably emptier, towards the police department.

Chapter Text

Jim's P.O.V.

The officers who were still in the city were not expecting to see Jeremiah Valeska in the prison cell that his brother had just so recently occupied when they walked into the department that morning.

They were, however, expecting to see their captain in his office as usual. And that's exactly where he was. James Gordon was nothing if not dependable. As they made their way into work, he left his office to stand on the balcony, overlooking his officers. He wanted to reassure them, to give them hope as they balanced on the pain and grief brought about by the previous night. The last person to show was Harvey Bullock, staggering slightly after what was presumably a drunken evening for him. That made seventy-four. Seventy-four out of over eight hundred uniformed officers.

"I know we're all missing someone today," he began. "And I know how much effort and motivation it took you all to come here this morning. Because this precinct is all you have left. I know. Last night, families, friends, and countless innocent people were ripped away from you. From us. And there is nothing I can say to lessen that body count. Nothing that will make it hurt less or make the next day, week, month, and year go by easier. So yes, you can grieve. But the truth is, it won't change anything. Gotham needs every single one of you now more than ever. They needed us last night, and despite all the damage that's been done, we did what we set out to do. Every effort you made to get another person across one of those bridges inevitably saved lives. Yes, thousands of people died when the bridges went down and we can't change that. But, over three million made it out. An impossibly large amount, and yet you made it happen. Because you care about this city more than anything. No one would have predicted that level of success. Gotham is your home, our home. And today, we continue to defend it as we have always done. You are the reason it still stands. And the entire city is depending on you to continue to uphold it until it can once again hold itself. So get out onto the streets and do what you all do best. Protect the people of Gotham."

One by one, the officers began to clap. Jim saw tears being brushed from eyes as they took their seats or rushed to get files from forensics. Nobody spared a second glance to the reason for all of their pain caged in the center of the room. Not one of them wanted to look him in the eyes. He didn't blame them.

When he got back into his office, he found Harvey sitting in his chair, drinking from a flask. "Hell of a speech," he said, as he took another swig. "There's a reason why you're captain. Always know what to say to boost their spirits."

"C'mon Harvey, it's early, even for you." He reached across the desk for his partner's flask, yanking it away from him.

"Jim, nothing is too early today. Give it back."

"No. We have an interrogation to do, and the last thing I need is you more drunk than usual."

"Don't tell me we're interrogating that painted freak downstairs."

"Do you think I put him in that cell for decoration? Yes, we're interrogating him. And I think that's actually his skin, as unfortunate as it looks. I'll give you an hour to drink some coffee and sober up a bit before we take him down the hall."

Harvey looked at him for a minute and then sighed heavily. "I hate you."

"And yet you've stuck with me all this time. I'll take it as a compliment." Jim stood and walked over to the shelf on the left side of the room, where he poured Harvey a cup of coffee. He handed it to the detective and sat down across from him, flicking through files to pass the hour away.

An hour later, Jim, along with a much more alert-looking Harvey, made their way downstairs to the cells.

Jeremiah was sitting in exactly the same position he'd been in an hour ago, which is the same position he'd been in all night. His back was ruler-straight and his legs were crossed, along with his wrists. His head was tilted slightly to the right while a pair of cuffs chained his ankles together. He looked bored. The only thing that changed was the movement of his eyes as they followed Jim. It was at that moment that the police captain decided Jeremiah was much more unsettling than his brother. Sure, Jerome had been uncharacteristically calm while he'd been here, but it had been nowhere near as disturbing as this.

"You've gotta be gettin' kinda stiff, pal," Harvey commented as he unlocked the cell door and stepped inside.

"On the contrary, my dear detective, correct posture is extremely comfortable once you adjust your body to it. I learned this very quickly upon attending St. Ignatius. I assume you're taking me to the interrogation room now?"

"No, we're takin' you to get a puppy." Detective Bullock smiled sarcastically and latched a pair of handcuffs around Jeremiah's wrists.

"That's a shame. I believe I might be slightly allergic to dogs," Jeremiah said lazily, holding out his wrists to make the handcuffing easier.

"Jim, you should go fill the interrogation room with our K-9 squad."

"Very funny, Harvey. Let's go." He led the way through the back hallway and into the farthest interrogation room. Every cop lowered their eyes as Jeremiah passed.

They sat him in the metal chair and readjusted his restraints to hold him to the floor and table.

"You didn't expect us to catch you," he stated.

"No. I anticipated your death and assumed no one else would be foolish enough to come after me."

"You believed your plan to explode me along with your bunker was foolproof?"

"I'd forgotten about the panic button on the underside of the desk. Which I know you used as there's no other way to escape from that room. I installed it as a security measure for myself and Ecco. At the time, I hadn't imagined anyone else ever entering the building."

"Where is Ecco?"

"My brother shot her in the foot. I have no idea where she might have gone. Hopefully, to Gotham General. If not, then she's in the streets somewhere. She's capable of taking care of herself, however, so I'm not extremely concerned."

This surprised Jim. "When did you see Jerome?"

Jeremiah smiled as if he knew something that Jim didn't. "We had an encounter shortly before you arrested me."

"And what did that encounter entail?"

"Let's just say we played a little game last night. Unfortunately, he won. That's why you were able to capture me so easily. I hadn't planned to be in that location for so long. So really, you can go ahead and thank Jerome for your brilliant arrest of me. I know how much it would hurt your ego."

"I'll send him a card. What sort of game was this?"

"James, if I wanted to explain the rules to you, I would've done it already. It's not pertinent to the rest of the evening."

He was frustrating him. "It's not up to you to decide what's important to this investigation and what's not." He heard cracking knuckles coming from Harvey who was standing behind him.

"How about you and I play a different game, Jeremiah? But my fist and I get to make up the rules to this one. Sound fun?" Harvey had stepped closer to the table and planted his hands on it, leaning down to stare at Jeremiah menacingly.

"A charming effort, detective, but even I don't scare that easily."

Jim was becoming more angry with every word the stuck-up little brat spoke. "I want a detailed explanation of everything that happened last night. Do you understand?"

"I'd be happy to give you one, detective. But, I have some demands first."

He looked at Jeremiah incredulously. "You're in no position to make demands."

"I have a man holding a knife to Lee Thompkins throat in the Narrows. Would you like to hear what they are?"

Jim's jaw dropped. "He's faking it," Harvey said confidently.

"Bring me Bruce Wayne. And a cup of coffee. Black. Two sugars. Or I have your ex-fiance's pretty little neck slit."

"Why does everybody in this goddamn city want to talk to Bruce Wayne when they get dragged in here?" Harvey yelled in frustration.

But Jim was beyond words. He swung his fist at Jeremiah, which connected satisfyingly with his jaw.

"Bruce Wayne," Jeremiah managed to say through the blood bubbling around his lips. Jim swung again and hit him in the eye. The area began to bruise immediately, a vivid purple against his white skin.

"You will never speak to Bruce Wayne," he snarled, aiming to punch him again. He was stopped, however, by Harvey pulling his arm back.

"Jim, that's enough. I'm all for beating the shit out of the suspects as much as the next guy, but what if he really does have Lee? Do you want to risk that much on a conversation with a teenager?" Jeremiah was somehow continuing to hold maddeningly still, his purple suit barely wrinkled, although his rapidly coloring face told a different story.

He lowered his fist. "If I let you talk to Bruce, I get to call Lee first. Do we have a deal?"

"Certainly, detective. That's all I wanted. As well as that cup of coffee."

Once a black mug had been handed to Jeremiah, Jim stepped out into the hall to make his phone call. It rang twice, and then an amazingly familiar voice picked up. "Jim, thank god! There was a man here who claimed to work for Jeremiah Valeska. I tried to fight him off but he held a knife to my throat. He told me that unless you made a deal with his boss, he'd kill me. What the hell did you do this time?"

"I'm sorry, Lee. I don't know how you're still getting dragged into this. Jeremiah wanted to speak to Bruce Wayne, and held your life hostage to get me to agree. I didn't think I'd still be endangering you."

She sounded as though it didn't bother her. "Wow, he must have really wanted to talk to Bruce. And it's okay, he's gone now. If Jeremiah's in custody, though, how are they communicating?"

"He must have bugged himself before being arrested by me. However surprised he seemed by it, he's a careful man. He would have anticipated a need to reach his followers from confinement. I'll have someone search him more thoroughly. I'm just glad you're safe." He added hesitantly, "I miss you, Lee."

"I have a life of my own now, Jim. You need to let me go."

"What if I can't?"

"Then that's something you need to work on by yourself, because I can't do it for you, however much I might miss you sometimes, too. Thanks for checking up on me. Goodbye, Jim." She hung up without waiting for a response. After taking a minute to breathe, he returned to the interrogation room.

"I take it all is well with Dr. Thompkins?" Jeremiah asked, setting his mug down on the table. Harvey was no longer in the room.

"Yes."

"So, when do I get to see Bruce?"

Jim sighed. "Him and I have a meeting this afternoon. You can speak to him then, very briefly."

"That's enough, for now. It's been a long few hours without him."

He gave Jeremiah a look of surprise. "You saw him last night as well?"

The pale man just smiled that obnoxious knowing-smile and said, "He played our game as well. Or rather, him and Jerome were on a team. As I stated earlier, they won."

"I have a feeling there's much more to the story than you're letting on."

"And I'll tell you the entire thing. After I speak to Bruce."

"You know, you and Jerome are both strangely obsessed with him. It seems to be the one thing you two have in common. Besides the identical appearance, I mean."

"He's a fascinating man, detective. You of all people should see that. After all, you're the second most trusted person to him, only after his butler."

This was a fact Jim had been unaware of, but he decided not to show it. "And what, exactly, is so fascinating?"

Jeremiah smiled as he was given an invitation to talk about his best friend. "His endless compassion. Modesty. The desire for objective justice. All things any other person in his position would be lacking."

He supposed the psychopath had a point. He wasn't about to tell him that, though. "You can gush all about him to the wall. I have work to do. You're going to stay here until Bruce arrives."

"It would be my pleasure," Jeremiah said with pleasant sarcasm.

"Good, enjoy the rest of your morning. An officer will come by to remove the tap we know you have on you. I'll see you later this afternoon." And with that, the police captain left the room, locking the metal door behind him. He just prayed that with six people on surveillance and the boy's restraints, that mad genius wouldn't find a way to escape.

Chapter Text

As he drove, Bruce had time to reflect on his morning and early afternoon. He thought about his last five minutes with Jerome, and something struck him. A statement the boy had said earlier ran through his mind. "Yes, you're younger than me. But you're also much more mature…". And sometimes, that was true. The image of Jerome peeking through his fingers at him and demanding cuddles showed this. But it made sense to Bruce. They'd both had to grow up way too quickly. The difference was, Bruce had someone that he could rely on to make it easier and still allow him to be a kid. Jerome didn't. Although they'd matured rapidly, it had happened in completely opposite ways. He had to mature emotionally to deal with the death of his parents and the idea of being responsible for a financial empire. Jerome had to mature physically to cope with the endless beating and abuse he received from his family. That's why he still acted like a kid sometimes. Which was okay with Bruce. If he needed someone he could be carefree around, then Bruce would be happy to be that person. He didn't fault him for it. In fact, he found it endearing.

What worried him was Jerome's rapid switches between playful and serious. Yes, he knew that the teenager also happened to be a sociopath. Which is why he was concerned. What if Bruce did something that caused him to snap? It's not like Jerome hasn't tried to kill him before, so it's not that far-fetched of an idea. But Jerome had said it himself: he actually cared about Bruce. So, perhaps he was banking a bit on the fact that him saying so should be enough. But he truly believed there was a chance at redemption for Jerome, and he knew that he was the boy's best bet.

Bruce pulled into the parking garage of the GCPD and shook thoughts of Jerome from his head. They would only distract him here. He rushed through the door, hallway, and main lobby, and raced up the stairs to the second floor where the captain's office awaited him. He knocked on the door lightly, noticing Jim sitting at his desk through the glass. The detective heard him and stood to open the door.

"Good afternoon Bruce, I was beginning to wonder if you were going to show up." He led Bruce to his desk and offered him a seat before resuming his position in the large chair across from him.

"Please forgive my lacking punctuality, detective. I had a bit of a late start this morning and got distracted."

Jim had been studying his flustered face while he spoke and his eyes were now roaming down his neck. "Very distracted apparently," he said in reference to the red marks Bruce had no idea were littering his throat and collarbone.

Embarrassed, Bruce pulled up the collar of his sweater to hide his neck. "It's nothing. I'm sorry I'm late. It won't happen again."

The man sitting across from him raised his eyebrows and smiled knowingly. "Oh, come on Bruce. We have time. Have you been seeing Selina recently?"

"She's staying with us, but no, not...in that sense, sir."

Jim looked surprised. "Huh, I always thought you two had a thing."

If he was going to talk with the police captain about relationships, he might as well be as honest as he could be. "She's not really my type."

"Ah. You were pretty close with Galavan's niece. Was she more your type?"

Bruce shook his head. "No, detective. She was a bit too high-society for me. Not to mention a compulsive liar."

"Then, if you don't mind me asking of course, what is your type? Because apparently, you're a picky guy."

He scratched at a spot on the desk. "Less...female."

Bruce glanced up to see Jim's reaction. He'd opened his mouth slightly in surprise but soon began to nod. "Oh, that makes sense."

"Does it?"

"Yes. After all, every man in Gotham seems to want to be with you."

He laughed. "I think you're overestimating the extent of my charm a bit."

"Speaking of every guy in Gotham wanting to see you, Jeremiah Valeska has demanded some of your time."

"He's here?" Bruce was shocked. "In custody?"

Jim nodded again. "I arrested him last night. And he won't tell us anything without speaking to you first."

"Didn't Jerome ask for exactly the same thing?"

"Yes. It feels a bit like deja vu, doesn't it? Only, things are so much different now." Jim was looking off to the side now, and for the first time, it struck Bruce just how much he must be dealing with.

"Detective, I just want you to know that you're doing an incredible job. Not only are you the best captain this department has ever seen, those officers out there wouldn't be here today if they hadn't believed you would be. And you went beyond raising their spirits by showing up. You managed to arrest the person behind all of their grief. That's an incomparable accomplishment. So please, allow me to do my part, as you have been doing more than your own. Bring me to Jeremiah."

And with a grateful look, the police captain led him back down to the ground floor and through the hallway. They stopped at the same interrogation room that Bruce had met with Jerome in only days ago. It felt like weeks, but it had only been three days. Jim pulled the metal door open to reveal Jeremiah sitting in the same position he'd been maintaining all day. A position that Bruce was very familiar with, as he spent many hours sitting with him.

Jeremiah looked in their direction as they entered the room, but his eyes focused on Bruce. "Excellent, Jim. You can leave him here. Obviously I don't want us being heard or watched, so I've assigned someone to guard the entrance to the room masked by the one-way glass. Your officers have already been dismissed from their positions. Thank you."

The detective clearly didn't like being ordered around in his own department. "I'll have my officers go through your possessions and the remains of your bunker then. I can't wait to see what they find. And hand me your suit jacket. Thank you."

The pale man said nothing and quietly removed his coat. He handed it to Jim, who left the room.

"Why did he take your coat?" asked a confused Bruce.

"He assumed that's where the tap I'm using to communicate with my followers on the outside is."

"And did he assume correctly?"

"Yes, but no matter. I have no more use for them today. This afternoon is dedicated to much more important things."

Bruce was getting impatient with all of Jeremiah's words. "What do you want, Jeremiah?"

The boy across from him raised an eyebrow. "Hmm. So I take it I'm not forgiven."

"Of course you're not forgiven! You used the threat of Alfred's life to get me to run through a stupid maze while you caused the deaths of thousands of people! It didn't even make any sense! If you wanted to see me, you could have just been in that room in the first place. Instead you chose to fuel your own twisted little game. I'm sorry if I don't feel like getting over that overnight." Bruce had planted his hands on the table and was staring at Jeremiah furiously.

"That's fine. You don't need to forgive me. But…" He rolled his head around as if he were contemplating something. "I need your help."

Bruce was dumbfounded. "My help? After all of the shit you've done to me? To my city?"

Jeremiah seemed to be getting agitated. His fingers were twitching and his eyes had become even more wild. "You seemed eager enough to assist me last night," he said through clenched teeth.

"Only because you tricked me. Jerome was right. You're a manipulative sociopath who throws tantrums when things don't go his way."

"Ah, so I take it Jerome found you first."

"He didn't have to. I realized it the second I was out of that stupid place."

"Bruce, do you want to hear what I'm asking of you before you work yourself into a fit?"

"No," he said stubbornly, sitting down across from Jeremiah. They remained in silence for a few minutes until, "What do you want?"

"I need you to convince them to let me go."

A pause and then, "You really are insane, Jeremiah."

Jeremiah's voice began to shake. "I am not crazy. Why is everybody so convinced that I'm insane?"

Bruce smacked his hand down on the table. "Because you are! Okay? Not a single sane person would do the things you do. I don't know if I should blame it on Jerome's jack-in-the-box or your own screwed up head! But you're not the person I used to know. Or maybe, the Jeremiah I knew was just a fake all along and this cold-hearted monster is the real you. I wouldn't know because you never let me in enough to truly tell the difference."

Jeremiah was holding his head in his cuffed hands now, still shaking. "I want to be honest with you, Bruce. I want to let you in. The problem is, there's more chaos in my head than in the streets of Gotham. I'm being advised to laugh, cry, murder, and donate to charity all at the same time. It was never this bad before."

"What do you mean, before?"

He finally met Bruce's eyes. "I've been dealing with similar symptoms, to a lesser degree, since childhood. Perhaps a more severe case of schizophrenia. I have no idea. I've always been averse to mental diagnosis. But something within my brother's chemical compound seemed to have brought out the worst in me. I couldn't tell you if the change was physical or if the ordeal left psychological damage. You're right to tell me I'm not myself. I'm not. And I hate it. But sometimes, I feel more alive and free than I've ever felt. These are the moments where I find myself committing atrocious acts simply for the sake of doing them. The liberation and control are addicting, Bruce. I can't explain it in words that convey their true hold on me. But I know that if I get locked up in Arkham, or even Blackgate, I'll succumb to full insanity within days. I can still tell the difference between manic episodes and everyday life. That means there's a chance I'll make it out of this. But I can't do it without you." He was pleading with him, in his own over-complicated dramatic way. And Bruce had never been able to turn down someone who needed his help. Especially not a boy he had recently thought to be one of his closest friends.

"If I were to try and free you, where would you go once you were out of here?"

He looked at Bruce desperately.

"No, Jeremiah. You can't stay with me. I'm already harboring your brother, and there's no way I'm putting you two near each other ever again."

"Please, just for a few days. Your manor is massive; he wouldn't even have to see me. I'll draw up plans for a new home while I'm there and begin construction within a week. I have nowhere else to turn."

Bruce pondered this for a minute. Jeremiah had a point. The east wing of bedrooms was unoccupied. But he still wasn't sure how he felt about him, and having the boy in his house would only complicate things. And yet, he'd never seen him look so lost. So very unprepared.

"You get a week. I expect you to be gone, leaving no trace, by next Monday morning. Understand?" Jeremiah nodded. "Fine. I'll negotiate your release." He stood up to leave the room, but was stopped by a hesitant whisper.

"Thank you."

He said nothing but nodded to show he heard him. Bruce then pushed open the metal door and met Jim Gordon in the hallway.

"So, what does he want?"

"I'd like to negotiate his release from your custody, detective."

Jim looked at him like he was crazy. "You're kidding me. Why the hell would I let him walk?"

"He'll be torn to shreds in prison. And...I'm of the belief that the bombings were not entirely his fault. I think Jeremiah is suffering from a schizophrenic condition. Perhaps even mild split-personality disorder. He will not receive the treatment he needs in Arkham, and he certainly won't in Blackgate. There is a chance that the condition can be subdued or reversed. I'd like to attempt this at my home. In exchange for his release, Jeremiah will create the plans and engineer the design of the new bridges to replace the ones he destroyed. If he returns to a stable state, I recommend he do three years in Arkham. But only if he's completely cured. Otherwise, he'd be a danger to himself and those around him. Are my terms clear?"

"Bruce, you're asking me to release the monster responsible for the deaths of thousands of Gotham citizens."

"Not into the streets, detective. He'll be very closely monitored and he has a much higher chance of retaining his compassion if he's with me. Please, take a moment to consider my offer."

Jim was silent for a few minutes, deliberating over the case Bruce had brought to him. "Do you promise to keep an exceptionally close eye on him?"

"Of course."

"Then we'll mark this down as a private institutionalization. I don't understand why you're doing this, Bruce, but you make a solid case nonetheless. You're right, he's much more likely to feel remorse for his actions and progress as a human being if he's in your care. I'll find the paperwork you need to fill out." The police captain seemed perplexed, but patted Bruce on the shoulder as he went back into the records room. He decided to wait in the interrogation room for him.

"What did he say?" Jeremiah asked nervously as Bruce sat down.

"He agreed to the terms I outlined for him. You're under my care now. That means no murdering people, Jeremiah." He gave the other boy a hard look.

"Why would I want to kill someone if I get to spend my time in a manor with Bruce Wayne?"

Bruce rolled his eyes. "You're very funny. I mean it, though. The second you do something illegal, you're sentenced for life and I get scorned for taking in a sociopath. So please, try to keep up with the work I'm going to set out for you."

"Oh, are you giving me a class on how to be a civilized human being?"

"Something like that."

"Intriguing. I can't wait. I do enjoy classes."

Jim entered the room at that moment and set down a file full of things for Bruce to sign. As he did so, Jeremiah peered curiously at the papers in front of them, occasionally flipping them over with his cuffed hands. As Bruce signed the last page, Jim reluctantly unlocked both Jeremiah's hand and ankle cuffs. He handed him back his suit jacket and led them to the parking garage.

"Hopefully I won't hear from you for a long time, Jeremiah. Because if I see a single report of you on the streets of Gotham, I will hunt you down and kill you myself. Are we clear?" Jim was looking coldly at the teenager who'd caused his officers so much pain.

"Yes, detective," Jeremiah said humbly. His nose twitched. The nervous tics that Bruce had become accustomed to in his friend were returning. It was a strange process to witness.

Jim leaned down to speak to Bruce directly. "You keep a close eye on him. Any trouble and you call me. Okay?"

"Yes, sir. Our meetings are always a pleasure. Please enjoy the rest of your evening."

He received another pat on the shoulder. "You too, Bruce." And with that, the detective returned to his department, leaving Bruce and Jeremiah alone by his car.

He walked around to the driver's side and was about to sit down when he noticed Jeremiah staring off into space where Jim had just walked away.

"Well, get in." Bruce prompted him. Jeremiah jumped as if he'd startled him from some sort of reverie and got in the car.

Jeremiah was characteristically silent the entire way. The only thing that moved was his hand as he rested it on the console. And despite everything that he had put him through, Bruce laced his own fingers around Jeremiah's for the remainder of the drive.

Chapter Text

Of course, Alfred and Selina had already made their way back to the manor before Bruce got there, making the job of smuggling in Jeremiah even more difficult. Having to deal with the idea of him and Jerome being in the same place was stressful enough, he hadn't even counted in the factor of his guardian's and friend's involvements. He pulled into the garage and motioned for Jeremiah to stay there. He'd come back for him once he knew the coast was clear and a he had a room set up for the boy.

Bruce wasn't surprised to see Selina sitting at the kitchen counter when he walked through the room, since she seemed to like it there. "So are you just living in here now?" he teased as he sat down next to her.

"This is where all of the food is. Best spot in the entire house. Oh, we picked something up for you while we were out. Two things, really." She rifled through one of the paper bags next to her and pulled out two boxes.

"You guys didn't have to get me anything."

"C'mon, you haven't even opened them yet. Find out what you're passing on before you give 'em up. And besides, it's all your money anyways."

He smiled and took her advice, opening the first box. Inside, was a sleek black collared jacket. It was made from a thin but insulated material. The pockets were subtle, marked only by small silver zippers. It was different from what he usually wore, but he loved it. The jacket was a perfect mix between suave and badass.

"Wow Selina, this is great! Thank you!" He hugged her, still clinging to the coat.

"You should check the inside, dork."

Doing as she said, he found the inside of the jacket was lined with holders for something. He looked at her questioningly. Selina just shrugged and gestured to the second box.

Bruce opened the package excitedly. Inside was...another box. This one was smaller and matte black. He slid the lid off to reveal an elaborate set of throwing knives. The inserts in the jacket made sense now. The gleaming silver blades were an array of different sizes, ranging from the size of his pinky to about five inches. A quick test told him that they were incredibly sharp.

"Well don't prick your finger on them. Alfred said he'd offer to train you. He thought it might be a good weapon to assist in your..nightly excursions."

He was turning one of the blades over in his fingers. "They're beautiful," he murmured.

"Jeez, do you need some alone time with it?"

Bruce laughed and place the knife back in the box. "Nah, I think I'll pass this time. I'm just not ready to progress to that stage in our relationship."

She laughed along with him until she had to stop for air. Finally, she asked "So, how did your meeting with Jim go?"

He sighed. "It was interesting to say the least. Apparently, he arrested Jeremiah last night."

"Oh shit, was he there while you were?"

Bruce wasn't sure how much he could tell her. In all honesty, he wished he could tell her everything. Actually, maybe there wouldn't be any harm in her knowing what was going on. He was just afraid of Alfred finding out that he was harboring both Valeska brothers in the manor without telling him. But if James Gordon knew, then there was a chance he would tell Alfred. Bruce could explain Jeremiah's staying here. He had no excuse for Jerome, however. Maybe that's where he should start, then.

"Yes, he was. In fact, he requested to speak to me."

"And did you? What did he want?"

"He...opened up to me a lot about what he's going through. Psychologically, I mean. Something Jerome did seemed to mess with his mind. He was a pretty great person up until Friday." He paused and then added hesitantly, "He also asked for me to see if I could get him discharged from police custody."

Selina didn't look surprised. "Well, obviously he would ask you that."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, he knows the sympathy card works with you."

"What sympathy card?" he asked defensively.

"Your whole hero-complex. He knew you couldn't turn him down if you were aware that he had nowhere else to go. But it looks like you had the common sense to say no for once."

"No, apparently I didn't have the 'common sense'. And he didn't try to trick me into helping him, Selina."

"Wait, you got him released?"

"On a set of conditions. I'm not an idiot."

"Are you sure? Because it's starting to sound more and more like it."

"Yes, I'm sure! Okay? Could you please trust me?" He was getting frustrated now. Bruce had been hoping he could rely on Selina for some support with this.

She seemed to see the anger in his expression and backed down. "Okay, I'm sorry. I just...I guess I don't get it. And I don't need to. What do you need from me?"

He took a few deep breaths and answered in a low whisper, "I need you to find a way to distract Alfred so I can get him in the house."

"You're bringing him here?" she asked quietly, but her disbelieving tone didn't go unnoticed.

"Yes. It was one of the terms that Jim gave me. He can't leave."

"And you're not going to tell Alfred?" She looked at him like he was crazy.

"Not yet. I'm already sort of keeping Jerome here in secret so I don't want to push him by telling him they're both here."

"Jerome Valeska is here?" she exclaimed.

He clapped a hand over her mouth to remind her to be quiet, removed it, and let her calm down. She repeated her question in a whisper.

"Yes, he showed up last night after we went to bed. And I didn't want to kick him out this morning."

"Damn, he'll be pissed to found out his brother is here too then, since you told me they didn't get along."

Bruce rubbed his forehead. He was starting to get a headache from all of this. "They don't get along. Which is why I'm keeping Jeremiah in a locked room in the east wing."

"Where's Jerome staying then?"

He blushed. "Well, he stayed in my room last night. So I guess that's where he'll stay again. He already broke my desk lamp, which I'm pretty sure is his way of establishing himself."

"Dude, I'm going to tell you now. I won't talk you out of this, I just think you're getting yourself into something you can't handle. And when it blows up in your face, I'll be here to help you clean up the mess. Okay?"

She didn't think he could handle this, but Bruce knew she was wrong. So he just nodded and replied, "Okay. Will you distract Alfred now?"

"Fine. But I want to meet one or both of them later."

"Selina, they're not celebrities."

"Well, Jerome is kind of cool and I want to punch Jeremiah in the face. That basically makes them celebrities, at least in Gotham. Plus, Jerome knew Bridgit."

He sighed again but reluctantly agreed. She darted off in the direction of where Alfred presumably was. He could hear her ask him to help fold and hang up her new clothes, which he seemed to consent to. After he saw them disappear upstairs, he ran back to the garage.

Unsurprisingly, Jeremiah hadn't moved. He was staring indifferently out the window, but appeared to notice Bruce coming. He motioned for Jeremiah to leave the car and follow him, which he did.

To his credit, he remained silent as they navigated the house. He didn't ask a single question and just did exactly as Bruce did. He knew that if a certain other Valeska were in his brother's position, he wouldn't shut up the entire way. They eventually made it to the deserted east wing, where Bruce led Jeremiah into one of the guest rooms he knew was always made up.

"Okay. I'm going to speak very quickly so I need you to pay attention," he whispered urgently as Jeremiah settled with perfect posture in the arm chair. They boy nodded to indicate he heard him. "You're going to stay here. Don't leave this side of the house for any reason unless I tell you it's okay. I'll bring you food at regular times and start working with you on some exercises. When you're not doing things to improve your mental health, you're going to be creating the design for Gotham's new bridges. You have exactly one week to find somewhere new. Do you understand?"

Jeremiah looked as though he was calculating something in his head. Finally, he asked, "You want me to construct the design for the bridges to replace the ones I destroyed, correct?"

"Yes."

"But that defeats the purpose of my demolition of them."

"No, it helps to lessen the damage you did on the city."

"But I don't want to lessen the damage. I still have more work to do."

"This is exactly why you're here instead of in prison. I want to help you, Jeremiah. You're sick. There is no more work to do except for the tasks I give you right now, okay?"

He looked confused. Bruce could see where his cherry-red lips were chapped from being bitten often. His light eyes darted around the room as he thought, but eventually he nodded once more.

"Okay. I'll be back up here in a bit. I have to-" he almost said he had to go check on his other refugee but caught himself just in time. "-see if Alfred needs any help downstairs. I probably won't come back until after sunset, but I'll bring up leftovers from dinner when I do. Please make yourself comfortable, but inconspicuous as well." He turned to leave, but his hand was caught by a pale cold one.

"Again, I can't thank you enough Bruce, for everything you've already done for me. And are willing to do. You truly are the most selfless person I've met. If I can ever return each favor to you, I will."

"I wouldn't say things like that, Jeremiah. I might ask you to someday." Bruce left the room, locking the door behind him.

He dashed over to his own bedroom, unlocking it with his key. Inside, he saw Jerome leaning back upside down over the edge of his bed, reading the newspaper and occasionally drawing over things in red marker. A bag of pretzels and a nice china cup were sitting on his desk. The boy looked over as he entered the room.

"Oh, you're back. Fantastic. I was just reading about how much of a pussy the mayor is being about the entire evacuation situation. They might as well just appoint Jimbo as frickin' president at this point."

"Jerome, you know that's not a nice word."

"Sorry, I forgot I was talking to the nun from the Sound of Music here. What shall I substitute it with? Pineapple? Pancake? Printer?"

"Okay, now you're just listing words that start with 'p'." He went to sit on the bed by him and peered at what he was scribbling on the paper, occasionally toying with a strand of his red hair.

"Are you seriously just replacing the pronoun 'Mr.' with 'dick'? That's very mature."

"It's because every guy they talk about in the news is bound to be one." Jerome said this as if it should be obvious.

Bruce hit him on the shoulder. "Hey, I'm in the news sometimes."

"Exactly. Case settled. And besides, I'm also replacing all of the boring phrases like 'We asked Mr. Jones…' with 'We beat the shit out of Mr. Jones to get some answers…'. It makes the Gotham Tribune a bit more honest, which certainly couldn't hurt." Bruce had to agree that he was probably right there.

"So this is what you've been doing all afternoon?"

"I perused your selection of exotic teas." He indicated the cup on the table with his marker. "I also admired your pointless statue collection and my rating is nine yawns out of ten."

"Dang, why'd we lose the one yawn?"

"Because of the mildly interesting one that seemed to have some sort of Thai ancestry. Maybe dating back nine hundred years."

He was surprised to hear Jerome talk so seriously about things like statues and tea. He just figured they weren't really..well...his cup of tea.

"Great, we can get you a job as a museum curator."

Jerome flipped his head up to face him. "You're forgetting one very important thing, Bruce." His tone was suddenly very solemn.

"What would that be?"

"That I break everything I touch." Bruce laughed which caused Jerome to break out into a large grin. "They'd never let me into a museum, are you kidding? And if they did, oh boy, what a mistake on their part."

"Oh, speaking of mistakes, Selina wants to meet you."

Jerome raised an eyebrow. "That's not a very nice train of thought, Bruce. You'd better not repeat that to her."

"No! No! I meant, her meeting you is probably a mistake...wow no, that doesn't sound good either. I take it back. Let me restart."

"It's too late, I've already heard it. As the ancient proverb goes, 'no backsies'. But yes, I'll meet Selina. Although, I didn't think you were telling anyone that I was staying here."

Bruce shrugged. "She doesn't really count; I know she'll stay quiet about it."

"Alright, I'll do my best not to terrify her."

He laughed again. "Don't worry, she's not easily intimidated."

Jerome was sitting up fully now. "Is that a challenge, Bruce Wayne?"

He immediately regretted defending Selina's tolerance levels."No, absolutely not. You're not allowed to scare her, because I know you're most likely capable."

He seemed to ponder this for a moment. "Hmm, no. 'Most likely' isn't good enough. I need to prove that it's a definitely, and your little girlfriend is the perfect trial."

"I think that I've already proven she's not my girlfriend."

A knock at the door startled them both and cut off any further discussion of the matter. Jerome rolled cleanly off and under the bed. Alfred's voice called through the door, "Would you mind opening up, sir?"

"Sure, Alfred. One second. I just spilled a cup of tea." Bruce shooed Jerome out from under the bed and into the closet, shutting the door quietly. Then, he went and opened his bedroom door.

His butler was carrying a stack of clean clothes, which he set on his bed. "Dinner in ten minutes, Master B. I expect you'll be joining us?"

"Yes, of course. I'll see you down there. Thank you for bringing up my laundry."

"Are you talking to yourself in here or something? I heard voices as I came up the stairs."

"Incidentally, yes, I was. Spilling that cup of tea was a frustrating experience." Alfred said nothing but his eyes glinted with humour. He patted his shoulder lightly and left the room. Bruce opened the closet and let Jerome lay back down on his bed. He noticed the boxes from downstairs had wound up on top of his clothes pile. Jerome must have had some kind of dangerous weapons radar because he tore into the smaller box immediately. Bruce rushed over to him.

"Nope, definitely not. Put them down."

Jerome was caressing the knives lovingly, already testing their sharpness on his fingers. Bruce snatched the box away, which caused him to make both the most adorable and infuriating puppy eyes.

"You're cute but that doesn't mean I trust you with knives. Not after the history you and I have with them."

"At least you think I'm cute. And c'mon, those are all great memories! What part of me trying to slit your throat doesn't make you look back on our relationship fondly?"

"The part where the fear that you might actually succeed resides." Bruce hadn't realized he'd spoken so honestly until the words had left his mouth. Jerome heard the tone of his voice and sat up.

"Bruce, you never have to worry about that. Hell, even before I decided you were my favorite person in the world, I liked ya enough to not actually want to kill ya. Really, I didn't even want to scare you. I wanted to scare Gotham. And in my eyes, you represent this city, so you were my natural target. However, I think I've done enough of scaring Gotham for awhile. Maybe we'll do it again next year, but I'll set my sights on someone different. Do you know any other stick-up-the-ass public figures besides yourself and Jimbo that could use with a good demonstration?"

He thought for a moment. "Have you tried Oswald Cobblepot?"

Jerome clapped his hands excitedly. "Oh, good idea! He did betray me, after all, with the whole stealing-my-blimp-fulla-crazy-gas thing. Maybe we'll give him a trial run before the new year rolls around."

"Great. How about until then, you take a break from terrorizing the public and I go down to dinner?"

"Sounds good. Bring something up for me, would ya?"

"Of course."

As he turned his head, he received a small kiss on the cheek. "Thanks," Jerome said, walking back to his newspaper as if he'd done nothing.

Blushing, he quickly left the room. He carefully locked it once more before taking the stairs two at a time to the dining room, enjoying the smell of freshly prepared prime rib coming from the kitchen as he went.

Chapter Text

Dinner that night wasn't an extravagant affair. The food was excellent, but one might say that the conversation was lacking. Between Selina's desire to eat everything within her reach, Alfred's expectantly quiet manners, and Bruce's developing need to brood, there wasn't much to say. Towards the beginning of the meal, his butler had asked about the meeting he attended earlier that afternoon, in which Bruce simply told him that they'd discussed the safety of Gotham and the reconstruction of the bridges. He still wasn't sure if Alfred should know about him harboring criminally insane twins, but he figured right now wasn't the best time.

After dinner had ended and the dishes had been cleared, he crept back into the kitchen knowing his butler had gone to tidy the study. He found the leftover plate of prime rib and wrapped up a few slices, grabbing bread, two apples, two plates, and silverware as well. Then he ran up the stairs and turned left. He knocked quietly on Jeremiah's door.

The boy opened the door and stood aside to let him in. He had removed his suit jacket and overshirt and was now wearing just the white collared shirt and his dress pants. Bruce had no idea how he could wear formal attire all the time. Sure, he was the heir to an empire, but even he didn't enjoy suits that much.

"I brought dinner. I sincerely hope you're not a vegetarian." He set two of the slices of meat out on a plate along with one of the apples and half the loaf of bread. He also placed down one set of silverware.

"Unfortunately, I am."

Bruce stared at him, not sure how to respond.

Jeremiah saw his expression and smiled. "I'm kidding, Bruce. Thank you. This is quite the elaborate spread for a convict locked in one of your bedrooms."

"The whole point of you coming here was so you could avoid being a prisoner. So why would I treat you like one?"

"Because in your eyes, it's what I deserve." He noticed Bruce becoming defensive and continued to speak. "Don't deny it. There's a part of you that hates me. And I'm alright with that. I already told you: I'm not asking for your unconditional support. In fact, you've surpassed my expectations immensely. Besides, hate is a very similar emotion to love. Therefore, I do not mind that you hate me. I still feel justified in my actions. And, my offer still stands. If you decide you've had enough of enabling and justifying this broken, twisted city, I will help you rebuild and restore it to the glory it deserves. However, I am aware that you aren't going to accept my offer any time soon, so there's no use in you arguing with me now. Thank you for the food, Bruce. I'll see you tomorrow."

His mind was racing, but he could only grasp on to one thought. "Did you just dismiss me from a room in my own house?"

Jeremiah laughed. "I adore the fact that my last statement was the only thing you decided was of importance. I suppose I did, I'm sorry. I'm used to you being in my home, not vice versa. Please, excuse yourself whenever you feel like it."

"I still have to bring you water. And clothes. I hope you didn't think I'd let you sleep in a dress shirt and slacks. I'm not that cruel."

He looked down at his attire. "I didn't even realize I was still wearing day clothes. And water, yes, that would be nice. You're shorter than me, though. And you have a more narrow build."

Bruce couldn't believe he was making this offer, but, "I think I have some of my dad's old clothes. They might fit you."

His eyes filled with uncharacteristic surprise and gratitude. "I can understand how monumental of an offer that is for you. But, you have to understand that I must decline. I respected your father incredibly, and I would feel odd in his clothing. I'd prefer to just sleep in what I have on."

"I'll check my own closet then, because you're not sleeping in a collared shirt. It might wrinkle." He smiled. Perhaps the relief at his declination was evident in his eyes because Jeremiah didn't push the subject.

"I'll wait here then. Don't rush, it's not as if I'm going anywhere." Jeremiah sat on the edge of the mattress and smoothed the duvet.

"Okay, I'll be back in a few minutes. I need to drop off the rest of this food."

Jeremiah's expression darkened but he made no comment.

Bruce decided that was a good time to leave, so he exited the room and walked down the hall to his bedroom. He slid his key into the lock and turned it, opening the door.

Once again, he wasn't prepared for the scene waiting for him inside. Now, Jerome was sitting on top of the desk attempting to balance everything he could find on that one tea cup. Admittedly, he had a fairly impressive stack going, composed of Bruce's notebook, the newspaper, Jerome's shoes, both of the boxes he'd had lying on his bed, his alarm clock, his entire collection of ties, and the bag of pretzels.

"We need to find you some hobbies," he said, drawing Jerome's attention.

"Are you telling me that defying gravity isn't an innovative and fulfilling way to spend my time?" He crossed his legs and leaned against the wall, facing Bruce.

"I'm just suggesting that perhaps there are even more fulfilling activities you could be doing." Bruce walked over to the desk and set down the other plate, which he put the remainder of the leftovers on. "Eating, for starters."

Jerome picked up a slice of prime rib with his fingers. "I think eating is a necessity more than a hobby," he said between bites.

"Take that up with Selina. Also, I brought silverware, you know." He gestured to the knife and fork lying beside the plate.

"Bruce, if I wanted to eat like I was sitting with the fucking queen, I would."

"Also known as being a civilized human being," he muttered under his breath.

Jerome waved his arm in the air theatrically. "The idea of being civilized is, incidentally, a construct of civilization. And I have made it my life's mission to never conform to society, so I'm certainly not starting now, just because Bruce Wayne is staring at me like I just stepped on his dog."

He tossed a fork a Jerome, who's reflexes demanded he catch it. "I don't have a dog. Use the fork." The teenager rolled his eyes but did as Bruce said. While he ate, Bruce opened his closet and rummaged around, looking for clothes he knew were too big for him. He managed to find three shirts and two pairs of sweatpants that didn't fit.

One pair of pants and a shirt ended up on Jerome's lap. He figured that him and Jeremiah were the same size, being identical and all.

"What are these for?"

"Would it be too easy if I said they were for you to wear?"

"Yes, but I'll accept that answer for now because I want more answers. Why are you giving your clothes to me?"

Bruce gave him an exasperated look. "Guess."

He knew immediately that this was the wrong game to play with Jerome, who stroked his chin dramatically. "If I were to wager an inquiry, I'd say that you're attempting to mark me with your scent so the others know I've been claimed."

"Your deductive reasoning skills amaze me. Obviously, that's what I was going for."

Jerome placed a hand over his mouth in pantomimed shock. "Brucie, are you using sarcasm? My goodness, you've grown up so quickly. Soon you'll be graduating to sardonic humor and self deprecation. I'm not sure I'm emotionally prepared for that yet."

"While you think of more smart-ass remarks, I'm going to run these down to the laundry room. I'll come back with water."

"I'll start a book full of them. Ooh, and a clothing line!"

Bruce was confused. "Where did the clothing line come from?"

"I like the name 'Jerome Valeska's Jests and Vests'. It has a nice ring to it, don't ya think?"

"I hope you know just how severely ADHD you are," he said seriously.

Jerome shrugged. "I don't want life to get boring. Keeps me on my toes."

He laughed. "Sometimes, I aspire to have your perspective on things, and then I remember who you are."

"One of these days, I'm going to get offended by those statements. However, today is not that day."

"Good, because I don't like my chances against an offended Valeska. I'll be right back, okay?"

"Sure, see ya in a few minutes." Jerome returned his attention to his tower. He placed the slices of bread on top of the bag of pretzels and grinned gleefully when they stayed. His grin must have been contagious, because Bruce found himself smiling as he closed the door behind him.

A quick trip back down to the kitchen to fill two glasses of water, and he was back up the stairs, once again heading to the left first. Jeremiah opened the door before he even finished knocking.

"I was beginning to wonder if you were going to return."

"Sorry, I had to make a few stops, but I found clothes." He handed him the two remaining shirts and the other pair of pants, and set the glass of water down on the end table.

He must have been eager to be out of his dress clothes, because he quickly removed his shirt. Bruce wasn't trying to look or anything, he just happened to notice that he was surprisingly muscular and well-built. His white skin covered toned muscles that his many layers of clothing had hidden. A pair of curious bright eyes met his wandering ones. Bruce quickly turned away, staring at the wall.

Jeremiah laughed softly, and after a moment had passed he said, "You're allowed to look now."

Bruce turned around to see him fully dressed in the clothes he'd brought up. He didn't think he'd ever seen Jeremiah in anything more casual than a button up, so him in a grey t-shirt and sweatpants was an odd change. Especially considering his new cosmetic alterations.

He realized he was staring again, so he tore his eyes away from him and attempted to focus on anything else while he spoke. "I'm glad they fit, I was worried they'd be too small." Why is talking to him so difficult lately? he asked himself. It was never this hard before. I guess a lot has changed, his mind automatically answered.

"You're not that short." Jeremiah moved closer to him to compare their heights. "I'd say it's a difference of about four inches. Besides, you're younger than me and in the prime time for growth. I expect you'll surpass my height in the next two years or so."

Despite how much he'd put Bruce through, his closeness caused his heart to speed up rapidly. Honestly, he couldn't even explain why he had such a dramatic effect on him. The worst part was, there was nothing he could do to control it. And apparently, he was terrible at hiding it.

"That rosy tint has returned to your cheeks. I haven't seen it in a while," Jeremiah commented. He rested the back of his hand on the side of Bruce's face, caressing his right cheek gently with his thumb.

"Jeremiah, I can't-"

"You're angry with me," he murmured.

"Yes."

"You wish I'd made different choices."

"Yes."

"And yet you continue to go out of your way to be around me."

"I don't know what you mean."

Jeremiah was gazing analytically into his eyes now, as if he was searching for answers there. "No one is forcing you to allow me to stay in your home, and they certainly aren't demanding you appear in this room every five minutes. Even before this unpredictable turn of events, you managed to squeeze me into your schedule daily. I simply don't understand why."

"I feel differently when I'm around you," he answered honestly. "I never know what to expect. Nobody continues to surprise me as much as you do. I'm fairly good at reading people, but I never have any idea what you're thinking, although I can tell that your brain is constantly working. Exactly what it's working on, I couldn't say. You're as much of an anomaly to me as I am to you."

"So we're nothing more than mysteries to each other." It was a statement, but he said it like a question.

"I have no idea what I am to you. But I know what you are to me."

"And what would that be?"

"A friend, a rival, and full of intriguing prospects."

"All of those things? My goodness, I didn't know I had so many standards to live up to. May I ask what sort of prospects are in question?" His thumb was now rubbing distracting circles under his earlobe, making it harder to think.

"Several of them. All more confusing than the last."

"Bruce, I thrive on confusion." Jeremiah's hand was moving down his cheek now to cup his chin. His cool touch was a welcome balance to the warmth of his spreading blush.

"I know." He was stopped from saying anything more by the dip of Jeremiah's head. His lips brushed Bruce's teasingly, but didn't fully meet them. Instead, they chose to dance along his jaw until he couldn't think at all. When Bruce couldn't tolerate it anymore, he pulled Jeremiah up to kiss him. The display of power didn't seem to sit well with him, however, as a quick bite on his lip established who was in charge. This surprised him, but any notion of trying to argue about it vanished from his mind as a quick turn from Jeremiah had him pressed against the wall. Bruce gripped his shirt as leverage and felt cold hands move from his jaw to his waist, holding him in place. Jeremiah's hands gripped his hips as he once again removed his lips from Bruce's, this time pushing the collar of his sweater aside and trailing them down his neck. Or at least, that appeared to be the plan. He seemed to notice that there were marks already there. Slowly, he detached himself from Bruce. The look in his eyes was more dangerous than any he'd ever seen before.

"I see you've been having fun recently," Jeremiah whispered icily.

"I can do whatever I like. I don't belong to you," replied Bruce just as coldly, sick of balancing his unpredictable mood swings.

The boy seemed to toy with this thought for a moment. Finally he decided, "Not yet. Give it time. And until you realize that you shouldn't go kissing every boy you see, I'll just have to leave a reminder." Before he could react, he received another bite on the lip. A much harder one that he knew was bound to draw blood.

Bruce brushed past him and left the room without saying anything. He stopped in the restroom to clean up his lip before returning to his bedroom. His heart dropped when he tried the door and realized he hadn't locked it. He opened it quickly, revealing another sight he would've never expected to see.

Selina was lounging on his bed, picking at one of the slices of bread she seemed to have stolen from Jerome's tower. The red-haired boy himself was still sitting on the desk. They were engaged in a debate and didn't seem to notice his entrance.

"Okay, sure. But if you cut a guy in the back of his heel, you know he ain't goin' anywhere else, and he sure as hell can't run to the cops," Selina stated with a shrug.

"Maybe that works if you're three feet tall, but stooping down that low is just inconvenient," Jerome argued. "A nice slice to the pelvic area, and you can guarantee that they're done for. And if they're female and not as easily intimidated by that prospect? Well, you're superficial creatures. A threat to the face and you've already won the fight."

She didn't seem to have any retort to this questionable assumption, so she turned her attention to Bruce. "Hey, you made it."

Jerome also looked over to him. "You said you'd bring water."

Shit. "Sorry, I accidentally cut my lip open and forgot. I'll run back down and get a glass."

"Nah, I'll get it. I'm faster than you anyways." And as if to prove her point, she darted out of the room and down the stairs.

"What did you do to your lip?" His tone was nonchalant but he couldn't hide his concern, which appeared to be becoming a trademark of his.

Bruce shrugged. "I bit down on it too hard."

"Are you worried about something?"

Just everything in the world. "No, why?"

"Because you don't strike me as the type to cut open your own lip for fun."

"It was just an accident, Jerome." At that moment, Selina arrived with a glass of water in hand, discontinuing the conversation. She handed it to Jerome and resumed her position on Bruce's bed.

"Thank you darling," he replied, taking a sip from the glass.

"Wow, you two must have really bonded in the three minutes I was gone." Bruce claimed the desk chair that was currently being neglected by Jerome.

"It was more like ten, and we have a lot in common," Selina replied.

He looked at her in surprise. "You do?"

She nodded. "I like sharp things, he likes sharp things. I had a shitty mother, he had a shitty mother. He likes you, I like you...in different ways."

"Those are all fair points. Although, if Alfred sees you creeping in here, neither of us are going to hear the end of it. Not to mention he'll put a padlock on my door."

"Don't worry, he went to bed. It's like eleven thirty, Bruce. Have you ever seen him stay up any later?"

"Only when I'm still awake downstairs."

"Well obviously. He's not going to leave his only purpose in life alone on the ground floor of a gigantic house in the middle of the night," Jerome chimed in.

Selina sat up. "Besides, I wasn't going to pass up on an opportunity to meet your boyfriend."

Bruce rolled his eyes. "He's not my boyfriend."

"He's not?" they both asked in unison.

He looked pointedly at Jerome. "No, especially if he decides to speak in the third person."

Jerome stared at him very seriously. "Okay, so third person limited is off the table. But is third person omniscient still available? Jerome would like to know. By the way, that was the narrator saying that, not Jerome."

Bruce couldn't help but laugh. "Only if the entire story is from the narrator's perspective."

Selina shook her head with mock disgust. "I regret ever stepping foot in this room. Let me know when you two stop being dorks." She stood up and walked back over to the door.

"You're leaving so soon?" Jerome inquired.

"Yeah. I figured I'd get some sleep while you flirted, otherwise it would just be a long and painful night for me. Goodnight, guys. I'll see you in the morning," she said, pointing at Bruce. Then she left the room again, leaving them alone.

"She's a nice kid," Jerome decided once she exited.

Bruce raised his eyebrows. "She's the same age as you. I think. I'm not sure exactly how old you are anymore."

Jerome laughed. "You and me both, Brucie. I thought she was your age."

"No, she's two years older than me."

"Damn, she must've really taken a likin' to ya to stick around for that long then. I mean, I can understand why. But I bet you were intolerable at eleven."

"I wasn't intolerable," he said indignantly.

The boy shrugged. "I sorta knew ya at twelve, and that was already too much prickery for me to handle. Thank god you calmed down by the time our next meeting rolled around."

"You just inadvertently called a twelve-year-old a prick."

"And I'll advertently call another one a prick. Bring me a twelve-year-old and just watch me."

Bruce kicked his shin lightly. "I'm not bringing you children so you can insult them and scar them for life."

"Aww, why not?" Jerome scooted off of the desk and moved to where Selina had been sitting.

"Because I'd like one kid in this city to grow up without any mental damage."

"But Bruce, it's a rite of passage in Gotham. Otherwise, the city might actually be functional. And we all know what a shame that'd be."

He left the chair and went to sit by Jerome. "You're overthinking this. I'm going to sleep." Jerome stood up and walked back over to the desk. "What are you doing?"

"I'm changing into the clothes you so kindly gave me and then I'm resuming my position from the previous evening."

"It's a king-sized bed. There's plenty of room. I'm not going to let you sleep in the chair again."

"Really?" Again, Bruce was reminded of how underprivileged the boy's life had been.

"Of course."

Jerome grinned widely. He also tossed the untouched apple into the tower he'd constructed and watched with joy as it fell apart. Bruce noticed that the clothes he'd given him had somehow wound up as part of its structure. The smiling teenager grabbed them from the wreckage and walked over to the closet to change. Bruce wondered where the sudden modesty had come from, but decided to take it as a gift so he wouldn't be tempted to stare again.

He came back from the closet dressed in clean clothes, and laid down next to Bruce. Jerome didn't say anything, but he wrapped his arms around him and hummed contentedly.

"Goodnight, Jerome," he whispered into the darkness.

"Nighty-night, Brucie." And Jerome was soon fast asleep, snoring mildly. Bruce fell into a slumber deeper than that of last night, and for the first time since his parents' death, he didn't recall a single dream.

Chapter Text

Fortunately, Bruce woke up at his normal time of 6:30, otherwise, someone else may have had to answer the determined ring of the doorbell. And that could have been disastrous. He carefully detangled himself from Jerome and quickly left the room, trying not to wake him. The ringing got louder, and was just as persistent, when he reached the foyer. He unlocked the elaborate doors to see the person he was least expecting to appear on his doorstep.

“May I come in, Mr. Wayne?” asked Oswald Cobblepot, holding his hands together nervously.

Bruce was taken aback but said, “Of course, Mr. Cobblepot. Can I get you a cup of tea?”

As he led the ex-mayor to the nearest parlor, Alfred came rushing through the kitchen from his bedroom, buttoning his jacket. “Mr. Cobblepot! What brings you here at this...bright hour?”

Oswald looked abashedly at his feet, still wringing his hands. “I’m sorry to come here so early in the morning. Truly, I wouldn’t have come at all if I believed I could handle the situation myself.” They sat in the parlor, Bruce taking the armchair and Oswald sitting on the sofa awkwardly. Alfred hurried back to the kitchen to put on the kettle.

“What sort of situation, sir?”

“You must know that I was recently incarcerated in Arkham,” he began.

“Yes, I recall that. You broke out with Jerome and his ‘Legion of Horribles’, as they’ve been coined.”

“Mr. Valeska gave me little choice, Bruce. However, that isn’t the point of my little visit.” Oswald paused dramatically, as if he was waiting for him to ask exactly what the point was then. But Bruce knew Oswald well, and figured he received enough indulgence from his cronies. So, he just waited for the man to continue. Upon realizing he wasn’t going to inquire further, Oswald resumed speaking. “Ahem. I’m here because I need your help.”

“With what?”

“I was framed.” Another expectant pause, which he received nothing for. “They arrested me for the murder of a young boy. But I didn’t kill him, Bruce.”

Alfred entered with a tea tray and set it down delicately on the table. He poured them two cups and set them on small dishes, bowing slightly before leaving the room. Oswald clung to his plate and cup as he waited for Bruce’s response.

He sighed. “Can you forgive me if I find that difficult to believe? You’ve killed plenty of people before.”

“I don’t murder children. Not in cold blood at least. And I happened to like this child.”

“So, it’s alright to murder children if you have a purpose?”

A bit of tea splashed out of Oswald’s cup as he jerked his hands. “I didn’t come here to justify my work to you, Mr. Wayne. And please don’t get righteous with me; let’s not forget, you have blood on your hands as well.”

“I thought you wanted my help,” Bruce said coldly.

The man sitting across from him took a sip from his cup. “You’re right, my apologies. I want you to help me find the child who I supposedly murdered and bring him back to the GCPD. Then, they’ll lift the search on me. I can’t conduct any business with so many bids for my head out on the street.”

“Why are you asking for my help? Don’t you have people who do this sort of thing for you?” Bruce placed his cup down next to the tray, folding his hands in his lap.

Another shake from Oswald. He seemed to be exceptionally skittish today. “I was going to ask for Edward’s help, but he’s apparently busy in the Narrows. And, well...I’ll let you in on a bit of a secret. Most of my people have either been evacuated or have turned their backs on me. I don’t have someone I can turn to.”

“That seems to be a running theme for you, sir.”

“Very funny, Bruce. It seems you’ve been spending too much time with your ginger toy.” Oswald smirked in satisfaction at the shock on Bruce’s face.

“Excuse me, I’m not quite sure what you mean,” he said in a quiet voice.

He took another long drink, savoring Bruce’s agitation before replying in an equally hushed tone, “I may be short on reliable help, but I still have eyes everywhere. And I happen to know that you’re not just harboring him, but his psychotic brother as well.”

“Who told you about Jeremiah? Was it Detective Gordon?”

Oswald glared off to the side. “No, he’s not speaking to me right now. Even though I’m the only reason this city isn’t brimming with lunatics. Anyway, it doesn’t matter who told me. The fact is, you’re keeping two deranged teenagers in your home without the consent of your guardian. That’s a dangerous game to be playing, Bruce.”

“Are you blackmailing me?”

He shrugged. “If you’d like to put it bluntly.”

“I’m going to ask you again why you thought I’d be the best person for the job.” Bruce was speaking at a normal volume again as the situation abated.

“You have practically unlimited resources, as well as a keen mind. If anyone can find Martin, it’s you.”

“And how exactly did he vanish?”

Oswald laughed nervously. “It’s a funny story, really. I was, incidentally, being blackmailed by a woman holding the name of Sofia Falcone. She discovered that Martin and I were close, and attempted to use him against me. To stop him from being a pawn in her twisted games, I faked his death. I had Zsasz take him to a safe house of which I was unaware of the location, so they couldn’t torture it out of me. That aspect backfired, however, when Zsasz turned on me out of loyalty to the Falcone family. He acted as if he’d never hidden the child in order to put me behind bars.”

His reasoning surprised Bruce. “That’s rather benevolent of you. I’ll do what I can. I have to ask though, what if he’s outside of Gotham?”

“Do your capabilities end outside of city limits?”

Bruce leaned back in his chair. “I suppose not. Am I allowed to enlist the help of others?”

The crime boss thought about it for a moment. “That should be fine. Anyone except for James.”

“Why couldn’t I ask him? He has the might of the entire police force at his command.”

“I want it to be a surprise.”

“It’s a wonder you haven’t asked him to marry you yet.”

“There’s no need to be cheeky, Bruce. And besides, Ed would kill me...again.”

Bruce chuckled. “Is there anything else I can do for you, sir?”

“Yes. Tell Jerome to call Scarecrow. He’s wandering around like a lost puppy. Tetch has had to watch him, and we can all imagine how poorly that might turn out. Not to mention the cost in property damage those two might cause.”

“I thought they were apprehended.”

“They were...temporarily.”

“Alright, I’ll let him know. May I walk you to the door?” Bruce stood.

“Certainly, thank you.” They left the parlor and made their way to the door, Alfred rejoining them. “I’ll contact you sometime next week to receive an update on your progress.”

They were standing in front of the front door now. Alfred held it open with a pointed look. “Thank you, Mr. Cobblepot. If you could perhaps schedule a meeting with Master Bruce, next time,” he suggested.

“That I’ll do, sir,” Oswald said modestly. “Thank you for your hospitality at such an inhospitable hour. It will not be forgotten.”

“Great, it’s been a pleasure. Have a good rest of your morning, mate.” Alfred shut the door on the blubbering Penguin, turning to Bruce. “What did that old bird want?”

“He wants me to track down an orphaned child and return the boy to him so he can clear his name with the police.”

“And did you agree to this, Master B?”

He nodded. “Of course. The child is an orphan. I need no other incentive to find him.” Bruce decided to leave out the part about Oswald using the Valeska twins against him.

“Very well then. Did he at least tell you what the boy’s name is? And what orphanage he came from?”

“His name is Martin. And based on the information Oswald gave me surrounding his relationship to the child, he must have come from the newly instated Falcone Home and School for Orphans.”

“The one that was attacked by the Pyg who forced the dinner guests to partake in cannibalism?”

“Yes, that orphanage.”

Alfred straightened his jacket. “Excellent. And how exactly does he expect you to find this boy?”

Bruce rubbed his forehead in stress. “With my ‘unlimited resources’ and ‘keen mind’ apparently.”

“Well, there will be plenty of time for you to worry about that later. For now, breakfast, sir. Miss Kyle may want to join us.” Alfred started towards the kitchen.

“I’m not sure if it’s worth losing my eyes over.” Nonetheless, Bruce ending up gathering a very disgruntled Selina and dragging her downstairs to the kitchen counter.

“The birds aren’t even awake yet,” she grumbled, rubbing her eyes.

He sat down next to her. “It’s seven. This is the hour that most people go to work at.”

“Do I look like I have a job?”

“No, but perhaps we can fix that sometime, Miss Kyle,” Alfred interjected.

“Find me a job where I get to steal nice things from wealthy pricks and I’ll sign myself up.”

“Language, Miss,” Alfred reminded as he placed a plate of bacon and eggs in front of her. She happily kept quiet for the opportunity of stuffing her mouth. Bruce just smiled as he ate. Meals with Selina were always entertaining.

What Bruce didn’t know was that upstairs in the east wing of his manor, a red-haired man was experiencing a rather painful and disorienting headache. Jeremiah could barely see, and he certainly couldn’t think. He felt burning and freezing all at once. The sleeve of the shirt he’d placed in his mouth muffled his schizophrenic laughing and crying bouts. He sat in the far corner of the room, rocking back and forth, waiting for it to end. These severe breaks had begun with his brother’s toxin and had become more and more common since his “institutionalization”.

Eventually, Jeremiah calmed down and regained control of his mind. Or, what he believed to be control. He could hear someone trekking up and down the hallways. He assumed it was Bruce’s butler, cleaning the guest rooms. Wait...cleaning the guest rooms.

He made it just in time. The boy unlocked the door and was tucked behind the armoire as Alfred entered with a duster. The caretaker didn’t bother to close the door, making Jeremiah’s escape that much simpler. He slipped out from behind the oaken furniture and retreated farther down the hall. A quick duck into another guest bedroom granted him the perfect opportunity. An open window rested just above a section of roof belonging to the ground floor sunroom. It wasn’t that high up; he estimated three feet. Jeremiah perched on the open windowsill and stepped down onto the roof. Thank goodness they opted to forgo the gables on the lower level, it made skittering/sliding down the rooftop the most effortless task yet. Soon, he was on solid ground.

Jeremiah contemplated the pros and cons of stealing one of their various vehicles, and decided the pros of speed (and Bruce’s attention) outweighed the cons tremendously. Plates were easy to change. Besides, the only one who would come looking for Jeremiah would be Bruce. His manservant knew nothing about the twins being kept in his master’s house. That, at least, ensured a clean getaway.

So, without wasting any more time, he found the side entrance to the garage. He knew that Bruce was wealthy, but he hadn’t expected such a plethora of cars. Choosing a simple 1980 Maserati, a swift break to the driver’s side window gave him access to unlock it. Fortunately, they seemed to have a taste for older models without such advanced security measures. The last thing he needed was a blaring car alarm to tell the entire city that he was escaping. Jeremiah sat in the driver’s seat, not bothering with the complication and danger of hot-wiring. He’d already grabbed a drill and a screwdriver from the workbench. Soon enough, the car hummed to life. The press of a button hanging from the visor opened the garage doors rather silently. How nice it must be to have someone whose only purpose is to oil your garage door hinges, he mused.

He almost felt bad for leaving so suddenly as Bruce had been trying his very best to “fix” him. Jeremiah didn’t need fixing. What they deemed madness was simply ignorance. And proving that was his purpose. He saw things much more clearly when he was away from the boy. Which was exactly why he needed to go. This is what he kept repeating to himself as he raced back into the heart of Gotham.

“I don’t want to alarm you, Master Bruce, but your little refugee just took off in the Maserati,” Alfred stated through Bruce’s door. Jerome stirred slightly in his sleep as Bruce rushed out of the room.

Shutting the door behind him, he frantically asked, “What do you mean?”

“Jeremiah. He’s gone. Snuck out while I was dusting. A rather underhanded move if you ask me. Any dusting man should be a respected man.”

“Wait a minute. You knew Jeremiah was staying here?”

“I’m a butler, sir. I know everything that goes on in this house.”

“Everything?” Bruce asked hesitantly.

“I assume you’re referring to the other ginger snap you’ve stashed in your room.”

He was at a loss for words. “Y-you know Jerome is here too?”

“Actually, I wasn’t sure about that one until just now. The confirmation is most welcome, however.”

“I don’t know what you want me to say.”

“Well, you can start by explaining why you wanted to hide psychotic twins in your house. And then you can give me the entire slideshow pertaining as to why you didn’t think to tell me about it.”

“It’s my house. I don’t have to run every little thing I do past you.”

“Certainly, sir. But this isn’t such a little thing now, is it?”

“I-he needed somewhere to stay.”

“So clearly your bedroom was the logical choice.”

Bruce blushed. He didn’t have much in his defense there, but he was certainly going to try. “It’s the room he entered the house through. I didn’t want to risk moving him, but obviously that would have been a futile effort regardless.”

Alfred crossed his arms. “The markings littering your neck suggest a different story, sir. You know I’d never involve myself in things that are clearly your business, but I believe this is the line where I, as your guardian, should intervene.”

Bruce decided to ignore his first statement. “He’s not the terrible person that the world makes him out to be. And no one else has ever given him a chance before. His own mother abused him. All Jerome needs is for someone to actually care about him as a human being, as he never saw that during his childhood. Can’t you see that I’m trying to help him?”

“I can see it, yes. My question is why are you so eager to help him? He’s threatened your life on multiple occasions, not to mention the fact that he’s a mass murderer. Does he feel remorseful for his actions? Does he even feel at all?”

Bruce stared at him. “Of course he does. He wouldn’t be able to create the ideas and perspective that drive him if he didn’t have emotions. Jerome deserves a second chance.”

“And what has you all of a sudden convinced he’s a saint? Because he doesn’t bloody look like one, I’ll tell you that.”

“His face was repaired. They removed the scars and sporadic stitching. It’s well attached now and it appears as though nothing happened. That’s beside the point though. I never said he was the best person. I won’t defend the idea, either. Not by textbook definition anyway. He hates strongly and loves even more intensely. That’s what sets him apart from the psychopath he’s always deemed to be.”

“Alright. Then what would you have me do from here?”

He took a deep breath, thinking. “Are you angry with me for keeping this from you?”

His butler gazed at him warmly, although the disapproving expression still lingered on his face. “Angry isn’t the correct word, Master B. A bit perplexed, perhaps. And a tad critical. But not angry.”

“Is he allowed to stay?”

“Well I’d rather you just get a puppy, sir, but if you believe you’re making the right choice, then it’s certainly not my place to stop you. It is your house, after all. We’ll have a separate conversation about Jeremiah later. Jerome seems almost easier to manage. Although, he is definitely moving out of your bedroom until you find him a permanent place to live. Outside of Gotham, maybe.”

Bruce figured this was the best outcome he was going to get, so he didn’t argue with the latter statement. There would be time for that later. For now, he just opened his bedroom door wide, revealing a still-snoring Jerome hugging a pillow.

“That is not the face or demeanor I recall from past events,” Alfred commented quietly.

“He’s got three settings. Adorable, content, or murderous. There’s not much of an in-between.”

“Fascinating. You should probably wake him, sir, before the entire day goes by.”

“That’s easier said than done.” However, Bruce crept over to the bed and shook Jerome gently. He knew that the boy had been feigning sleep because he didn’t try to attack him. He just rolled over on to his back and opened his eyes.

“Mm, can I help you?” he mumbled.

“C’mon, you’re gettting your own room.” He grabbed Jerome’s arm and dragged him into a sitting position.

Jerome was instantly alert but he didn’t seem pleased. He was skeptical, if anything. “Quick question: am I allowed to greet your butler? I can’t imagine he’s happy with me and it’s way too early in the morning to get in a fight with that guy; he knows how to throw a punch.” Jerome winced as he recalled his little excursion to Wayne Manor last year, in which he, and his group of followers, had brought Bruce to the carnival. One might say it wasn’t the smoothest sailing date.

“I see Bruce wasn’t lying about your face. It’s certainly come a long way from lying in a murky puddle ‘bout a year ago.” Alfred was standing in the doorway, his arms still crossed tightly.

“Ah, what a fond memory. The best punches I’d received since leaving the circus. I’m just hoping that I don’t forget it’s actually intact now and accidentally try to staple it back into shape.”

Alfred looked mildly impressed. “You stapled your own face back on?”

“We were out of scotch tape.”

“That’s...rather intense, mate.”

Jerome stood up. “Why thank you. I strive to be nothing less than high-maintenance. Now, where are you taking me?”

“Down the hall. Your brother-” Bruce elbowed Alfred’s back. “-stayed here once. You can use that room.”

The teenager looked even more displeased at the idea of being in a room once occupied by his twin, but to his credit, he didn’t complain. He simply shrugged and said, “A bed is a bed. Take me to this fabled room, oh great butler.”

The three of them traipsed down the hall in awkward silence. Once Jerome was settled in his new space, Alfred (somewhat reluctantly) invited him to join them for lunch in a of couple hours, after making him promise to only use a spoon. After his butler had finally left, Bruce sat cross-legged on Jerome’s bed, waiting for him to say something. It was odd to be in this room with him so recently after Jeremiah had departed it. All he could think about was how he needed to find him, and quickly.

“I imagined that scenario one hundred different ways, but none of them looked anything like that. The old chap went way too easy on me. Especially after I tried to have him killed.” Jerome sat in the desk chair, picking at indents in the wood.

“I agree, although I’m glad he didn’t beat the crap out of you. I prefer this outcome over having to get your face reattached again.”

“You and me both, Brucie. Hand-to-hand combat isn’t really my forte.” For the first time, he looked over at Bruce and noticed his brooding expression. “What’s on your mind? You look pissed.”

“Nothing. I’m fine.”

He rolled his eyes. “Did you hear that ding? That was my bullshit detector going off. Tell me what’s wrong.”

“Oswald Cobblepot payed me a visit earlier today.”

“Damn, how much earlier? It’s already an ungodly hour.”

“Jerome, it’s 8:30. He stopped by around 6:30, if that gives you any perspective on when the rest of the world begin their days.”

He looked offended by the thought of seeing the sunrise and asked, “So what did Ozzy want?”

“He wants us to track down the child he supposedly murdered so he can clear his name with the police. Oh, and he also wants you to call Scarecrow.”

“No, Tetch can handle Jonathan. He’s fine. A bit distraught at the loss of all of that crazy gas, but fine. And why does the Penguin want you to find the kid?”

“He believes I have the best chance, I guess. And who’s Jonathan?”

Jerome stared at him as if he were missing something crucial. “Jonathan Crane. Scarecrow. Freaky kid with the daddy-complex and field-protector phobia. Not to mention rather nice hair.”

“I’ve never seen him without his mask on. Nor did I know his name. And why do you care about his hair?”

The boy in the chair across from him smirked as he spun slowly on it. “Johnny and I were good friends in Arkham. It’s hard to find a reliable nut job, but I could always count on the guy. Probably because he had a terrible anxiety surrounding the idea of disappointing people who needed him. Now, I’m not saying I used that anxiety to my advantage. I just...told him I’d be very upset with him if he didn’t deliver on his end of the deal. And funnily enough, he did. It was Oswald who screwed me over in the end. Go figure, am I right? Only in Gotham is the sociopathic phobiaphile more trustworthy than an old mayor.”

Bruce was struggling with something. “Define ‘good friends’.”

“Aww, Brucie. No need to be jealous. I don’t like him nearly as much as I like you. He was no fun. Always had to be serious and pessimistic.” He paused to think. “Actually, maybe you two have more in common than I realized.”

He leaned over and punched him in the arm. “I’m not jealous. And I’m not a pessimist.”

“You keep telling yourself both of those things, darling. In the meantime, what else is worrying that pretty little head of yours? Because I know having to track down a kid isn’t enough to make you look so grumpy.”

“You’re going to be angry.”

“I’m always angry. But never with you. C’mere.” He opened his arms and patted his knee.

“You’re kidding.”

“For once, no. Get that tiny ass over here.”

He opened his mouth to defend himself but decided against it, eventually walking over to Jerome with a sigh. “I’m way too big for this,” he grumbled.

“Don’t give yourself that much credit, midget. Sit down.” Once Bruce was within his reach, Jerome wrapped his arms around him and pulled him against his chest, allowing Bruce to settle himself on his lap. “What do you weigh, eight pounds?”

“I’m 5’9’’. And I guarantee I weigh more than eight pounds. Now, be quiet for a minute.” He buried his head in Jerome’s shirt, breathing deeply. He must have showered recently because he smelled like Bruce’s soap. Oddly enough, he sort of missed the scent of cinnamon and gunpowder that always seemed to surround the boy.

Jerome gave him a few minutes, occasionally stroking his hair. The compassion seemed to take a while to register as an option for him, but once it did, he was very comforting. After a while he asked, “Are you ready to tell me what’s bothering you now?”

Another sigh. He lifted his head. “Do you remember Alfred mentioning your brother’s stay here?”

He stiffened a bit. “Yes.”

“It was much more recent than he let on.”

“Don’t play word games with me, Bruce. Spit it out.”

“Fine.” He leaned back from Jerome a bit. “He disappeared this morning.”

Jerome took a deep breath. Fire had lit in his eyes the second Bruce had mentioned Jeremiah, and it seemed as though he was trying to quench it before speaking. “He was here? Damn, the little weasel can even hide from me when we’re staying in the same fucking house. Pretty impressive for him.” He was laughing, but it was cold. He avoided Bruce’s gaze. “I hope he at least made the bed before he left. Otherwise that’s just poor manners.”

“Hey, look at me. Detective Gordon decided this was the best place for his rehabilitation, so this is where they sent him.”

“And how many pretty lies did my dear brother have to whisper in your’s and Jimbo’s ears before you two decided that?”

He couldn’t believe his attitude. “Why are you so drawn to the idea that he’s a terrible person?”

“Because I grew up with him! He’s a manipulative little shit who will do anything to get his way. Including wrapping poor Bruce Wayne around his finger.”

Bruce pushed himself off of Jerome and leaned against the desk. “He needs help, Jerome. He’s sick. Why is it so hard for you to believe that I want to help you both?”

The boy sitting in the chair was cackling now. “So is this your latest charity venture? ‘Oh, I know! We should round up the two most fucked up guys in the city and see if we can stitch up their weird mental scars! After all, a place to sleep and empty promises go a long way!’ Right? We’re both just psychological experiments to you. I get it. This is the punchline to the joke that was your unwarranted compassion. Well, there’s no need to fake it anymore, Brucie.” The nickname suddenly sounded menacing. “Seems like ya played us both for fools. Maybe my brother dearest had the right idea when he took off.” He stood up.

“Jerome, don’t. Sit back down. You’ve got everything wrong.”

“Save it. You’ve distracted me for way too long. Y’know those old stories about sirens luring sailors to their deaths with songs and shit? You’re like that. Just infuriatingly better looking. And without gills.” Jerome moved towards the door.

Bruce stepped in front of him, pushing him back into the chair. “I told you to sit down.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Oh, and when did you become so dominant? The last time I remember you being this firm with me was when I took ya to the carnival. For some reason, you had this idea that you were in charge the whole time. It was amusing to watch.”

The memories from that evening were ones that he tried very hard to suppress. He didn’t want to think about it right now. So, he decided to move on from that topic. “Well, I am in charge right now. So shut up and listen to what I have to say, because I’m not going to repeat myself.”

Both eyebrows were up now, but Jerome’s frightening grin had changed to a curious side smile. He said nothing, obeying the directions he was given.

“First of all, I told you that you’d be angry with me. However, I should have also told you the second I brought Jeremiah here. I just assumed that you wouldn’t want to hear it. You two aren’t exactly on the best terms...ever. So there wasn’t really a good time to bring it up. And, maybe it’s possible that I thought I could just manage you both without you ever having to hear about each other. Clearly, that didn’t work out. I’m not trying to distract you from anything, either. And yes, you’re not exactly an angel, but you aren’t the monster you try so hard to be. Despite your firm beliefs, I don’t think either of you are broken. And you certainly don’t need fixing. In fact, if your crimes weren’t so publicly broadcasted, you could blend into society relatively well. But Jeremiah isn’t a functional person right now. I can’t see him being able to take of himself with his mental state and the incapacitation of his assistant. Let alone surviving in prison. He’s very book-smart, but he knows nothing about how the real world works. He may preach a tortured life, but even I can tell that he grew up sheltered. And Jim made it very clear that he’s my responsibility. The bottom line is, now I have to track down your brother and a mute orphan, and I have no idea where to start.”

Jerome looked at him expectantly.

“What?” Bruce realized he was waiting to be allowed to speak again. “Oh. I’m done. You can talk now.”

“Okay I have several things I want to say so I’m going to say them very quickly. First of all, I can’t tell if I should be offended by the idea that I could fit into society. Secondly, you’re way too concerned about my brother’s well-being. But, I’m going to help you find him. Even if it’s just because it’s clearly very important to you. I still despise him. Thirdly, I apologize for calling you a distraction. Even I understand that it was uncalled for, and I have the social skills of a polar bear. Now, two questions. Número uno: Why do you have to find the kid?”

“Well...Oswald knew Jeremiah was staying here and used that knowledge to blackmail me into doing this for him. Obviously, that bit doesn’t matter anymore. What he didn’t know was that all he had to do was tell me the job was finding an orphaned child. That struck a little too close to home.”

“Valid reasoning. Orphans are sort of your expertise. Numéro deux: How do you know he’s mute?”

“Oswald said he was. Is it really that important?”

He shrugged. “It’s always good to confirm these sorts of things. It’s sort of like, ‘Well is there still a heartbeat?’ but on a smaller scale, y’know?”

“Is it cruel of me to keep reminding you of your extreme ADHD?”

“If I said yes, would you find a different diagnosis? Something a bit more entertaining?”

“Sure. How about golden retriever syndrome?”

“Oooh I like dogs. Sounds fun. Explain.”

“You’re excited by the slightest movement. You shift topics at the speed of light. And, you come when called. It’s really that simple.”

“That last reason was kind of kinky.”

“Jerome, you’re just proving my point.”

“Shut up. Moving on, I want to help you find the possibly mute orphan boy as well as my brother.”

Bruce sat down on the bed once more. “Good, I was going to ask for your help anyway. Although, not with Jeremiah. I can handle that on my own. Why the sudden interest though?”

He batted his eyelashes at Bruce. “Because I care about the things you care about, Brucie!”

“Nice try. Your actual reason?”

Jerome sighed. “I couldn’t care less about where Jeremiah is. But clearly, you do. And I don’t want Jimbo sticking his obtrusive nose in your business. Also, I’m curious why the kid is so important to Ozzy. Usually, he’d just wait until the cops find something else to care about. So, I don’t get why he’s making such a big fuss over it. I want to figure it out.”

A logical Jerome was both an interesting and frightening thing to Bruce. “Based on what he told me, they must have bonded before Zsasz hid him away.”

“Oh, bonding. Sort of like bonda-”

“Jerome, I swear to god. The kink references with you are out of control today.” He stared at Bruce, pressing his lips together as if he was trying not to say something. “No, you’re in timeout until you can have a serious conversation with me.” His eyes were now very wide and he’d placed his hands over his mouth as well. “You stay here. I’m going to go see if I can gather some leads on where both of them are. I’ll see you for lunch.”

Bruce smiled as he left, letting Jerome know that he wasn’t actually mad at him. I guess he has four settings: adorable, content, murderous, and kinky, he thought to himself as he took the side staircase up to the third-floor study.

He’d been flicking through maps, the news, and police reports for three hours. There wasn’t a single sign of Jeremiah. How he could disappear off the face of the planet in a stolen car, Bruce had no idea. Then his phone rang.

“Hello?”

“Hello, Bruce,” a cold voice drawled through the phone.

“Jeremiah? Where the hell are you?”

“Well, telling you that now would take the fun out of the little game you and I are about to play. And I don’t want to ruin it. This should be the best one yet.”

“Jeremiah, please. Come back. We can work on this, I just need you here.”

“You’re sweet, but I don’t think you’re getting it. I left because I couldn’t stand you feeling like you needed to fix me. You were poisoning my mind, Bruce. I don’t fault you for it. In fact, I doubt you even knew the effect you were having on my mental stability. But being locked in a room by yourself all day isn’t exactly my idea of rehabilitation.”

“I’m sorry, some things came up.”

“I hate it when you lie to me,” he said sharply. “Don’t you miss when we were honest with each other? I promised that I’d never lie to you, and yet you continue to present me with falsities.”

“Telling me that you’re holding Alfred hostage just to watch me run a maze like a lab rat constitutes as lying,” he reminded him.

“Now now, that was different. You wouldn’t have shown up otherwise, and I don’t like to gamble.”

“I don’t feel like arguing with you. Did you call me just to gloat?”

Jeremiah sighed in annoyance. “You’ve never been one for small talk. Fine. I left you a set of instructions in the room you kept me in. Desk drawer. Top left. Follow them exactly as they’re written. Otherwise, you could end up in some very inconvenient situations.”

“What if I don’t want to find you?”

“Oh, trust me, Bruce. Once you see what I have, you’ll want to find me. And we both know you couldn’t stay away even if you wanted to. I thought my brother was the most intense masochist I’d ever come by, but you seem to be overtaking him. Interesting. I’ll see you in a few days. And, you’re always welcome to call. I do love hearing your voice. Have a nice lunch.” And with that, he hung up, leaving a gaping Bruce staring at his phone in shock.

Alfred knocked lightly on the doorframe. “You can gather your...friends, Master B. Lunch is ready.”

He set the phone down on the desk. “Great, thank you Alfred.” Bruce took one last long look at the files, radio, and phone all scattered about his desk, and walked out the door of the study.

Chapter Text

Lunch was a very unique affair. Between Selina’s ongoing dialogue about the redundancy of toaster ovens, Jerome trying to eat salad with a spoon, and Alfred clearly questioning why he kept his job, Bruce wasn’t sure what he should pay attention to.

“I just don’t get it. Toasters, ovens, and microwaves already exist. Combining them into one device doesn’t make them better. And the wattage is garbage! I’d be surprised if one of those things toasted a marshmallow, let alone made meat edible. The one in the kitchen couldn’t even cook my waffle all the way through.”

“I think I may have a solution,” Jerome offered as he scooped up a piece of lettuce. “Have you tried setting the toaster oven on fire while your food is in it?”

“Wow, you’re a genius! I’ve just been doing it wrong this entire time.” The sarcasm was dripping from her tone, but she was smiling.

“At least you’ll never have to worry about your food being undercooked.”

Alfred pulled his attention away from the joking pair, asking “Master Bruce, are you alright? You’ve been awfully quiet this whole meal.”

“Yes, I’m fine, Alfred. There are just some things I’d like to get done today, and I haven’t had a chance to complete them yet. This salad is very good, though. Thank you for lunch.” Bruce was itching to get to the guest bedroom and find whatever Jeremiah had left him. He picked at a crouton, waiting for everyone to finish their meal.

The second that his butler began clearing plates, Bruce bolted up the stairs to Jerome’s room, its occupant watching him go with a concerned expression. Fortunately, he remained seated.

“Desk drawer, top left,” he repeated to himself as he opened the described drawer. He was expecting the note that was lying in there. What he wasn’t expecting was the white rose and the bottle of purple ink. Bruce pulled out the rose first, smelling it. The scent wasn’t floral. It had a sickly-sweet smell that was almost completely masked by the strong odor of chemicals coating it. Bewildered, he set it gently on the desk, and reached for the note next. Jeremiah’s handwriting had returned to its normal elegant script. At least, until the last few lines. The note read:

Dear Bruce,

I’m sorry to depart on such an abrupt notice. I can understand how furious you must be with me. My phone call certainly didn’t explain much. You must understand, however, that this is all premeditated. It was meant to occur from the very beginning. There is no need to feel lost or confused. Humans are conceited creatures. We often make being in control our utmost priority. That is why things had to occur this way. If I had not gone along with you originally, you wouldn’t have felt nearly as empowered, nor would we be able to fully enjoy the adventure I have prepared for us. Staying here was essential. Not only did it raise the stakes of your inevitable search for me immensely, it also instilled a new connection between us. I believe that aspect of my visit is even more important. People may be conceited, but they also desperately crave the company of others. I find it...frustrating, to say the least, that I cannot function on my own any longer. Introducing yourself to me was the one variable I could never expect. After all, who would have thought that any period of absence from Bruce Wayne would have created an inexplicably large void of loneliness inside my mind and heart? And even so, a different part of me does more than desire your attention; it survives on it. This is the part that demands I leave, only to coax you after me. It’s a cruel game to play with you, but I cannot stop myself.

The handwriting suddenly reverted back to the unsettling scrawling writing he recognized from the note Jerome received a few days ago.

Come find me, Bruce. You know as well as I do that you can’t help it, either. I’ve been told that I’m sick, but I’m nothing in comparison to you. All you do is seek out pain and disappointment. You surround yourself with it. So, let me help you. Come to me. Use the ink. Beware, though. This rose isn’t a peace offering. It’s the start to something new. A pact between you and I. Don’t take it lightly. Each petal holds a clue. I hope you find it useful.

I’ll see you soon,

Jeremiah

Bruce had no idea what to make of the note. It made him feel sick, messed up, curious, and exhilarated all at once. Which was sort of reminiscent of its writer. Jeremiah was like a fascinating and incredibly addictive drug. And he was right. There was absolutely no way Bruce wasn’t going to search for him. As he had so bluntly put it, he couldn’t help it. And Jeremiah knew that. A cruel game indeed, but not one he was going to pass on playing. He heard footsteps echoing up the stairs, and realized Jerome was most likely returning to his room. Gripping the drawer’s contents tightly, he raced out into the hallway and back up the side staircase to the study. He wasn’t ready to share this with him. Not yet.

The study door was locked and he was in the desk chair before he even realized he’d left the most crucial thing. The note. If Jerome found it, he’d be beyond furious. Bruce had no desire to be caught in his anger. So, he very quickly executed the directions he had been given. He began to peel each petal off of the rose, laying them down gently on the oaken desk. When he’d stripped it down to the stem, he set that aside. Next, he grabbed the ink bottle. It seemed to possess a similarly sweet chemical scent. A drop of purple liquid was distributed to each petal. Bruce stared in fascination as they began to fill dips and rivets he hadn’t been able to see on their clean white surfaces. Soon, he was facing a jumble of lines, letters, and numbers. They must fit together in some way, he thought. But I can’t even begin to imagine how. Certain ones were only painted in a straight line and a combination of numbers and letters. These petals seemed important. There was a single petal that contained a star, the letter M, and the letter J. He could spend all day speculating about acronyms, but the point was, this petal appeared to signify his goal.

Loud banging on the locked door and rapid shaking of the handle caused him to jump in his seat. He gathered up the deconstructed rose, put the stopper back on the bottle of ink, and tossed them in the bottom drawer of the desk. Running to the door, he rapped his knuckles against it. He already knew who was on the other side.

“Stop moving the handle and I’ll open it, calm down.”

Silence. The door stopped shaking. Bruce unlocked and opened it, stepping back.

Jerome was, expectedly, standing in the doorway, visibly angry. The note clamped in his fist had been crumpled and torn. His voice didn’t betray the tremble of his body, though. “I’ve thought of a million ways to put this eloquently. What the fuck is this?”

“That wasn’t exactly eloquent but that’s okay,” Bruce replied calmly. “Would you like to sit down and I’ll explain?”

“No, I don’t want to fucking sit down, your highness.” A stony look from Bruce caused him to recant. “Fine, I’ll sit down.” Jerome crossed over to the sofa and very slowly lowered himself into a sitting position. It was clear that this was not the way he wanted this conversation to go.

Bruce sat across from him. He purposely waited a long time before speaking, deciding it was good for Jerome to squirm a bit as he waited. Finally, he said, “I told you that he departed this morning.”

“Sure. You didn’t tell me that he’d left you a love letter, too. And directions to his secret hideout.”

“It’s not a love letter. It’s his way of taunting me.”

Jerome snorted. “Sounded like a love letter. And it feels more like he’s taunting me.”

“Maybe he is.”

He stared at Bruce. “It’s almost like you’re trying to start a fight with me.”

“I’m not trying to start anything. But, if you’re going to yell at me, then do it.”

“I don’t get it. Sure, I can figure out why he wrote it. He’s a bastard and wants to lure you away. And, like the sympathetic masochist that you are, you probably want to go looking for him. But what I don’t understand is why the hell would you leave it on the desk for me to find?”

“I’m not a sympathetic masochist. I just know that he needs help. And no one else is willing to give it to him. As for the note, I didn’t mean to leave it in there. I’m not that much of a douchebag.”

“No, you’re just a sneaky little bitch. Although, I can’t believe you have the nerve to even claim that much. Because, what I’m learning, is that in your mind this isn’t a problem if I don’t see it. Like most things. Everything is totally okay if Bruce decides to keep a bunch of secrets from everyone because I guess that’s just normal. Apparently I never got the memo. Do you ever get sick of being a pathological liar? Or, sorry. Giving out the truth selectively, as I’m sure you’d put it.”

His words stung. Bruce wasn’t prepared for the venom in everything he said. Perhaps that’s why he lost his temper. “Coming from a sociopath. At least I’m not an attention whore. I don’t go out of my way to beg for validation in my life. You only try and pull such ridiculous stunts because maybe then you’ll get someone to actually care about what you’re doing. And when you’re not out panhandling for pity, you just whine about how nobody loves you. Well no wonder! You love yourself so much, there’s not room for anybody else, even if they’re trying so fucking hard!”

Silence again. Shocked green eyes met teary brown ones. Without a word, Bruce stood up, raced over to the desk drawer, and left the room, slamming the study door behind him.

 

(Jerome’s P.O.V.)

Two broken lamps and a floor covered in knocked over books later, Jerome sat back down on the sofa. A mix of emotions ran through him and he couldn’t properly handle a single one of them. He had no idea what to do. Jerome had never seen Bruce that angry before. At least, not with him. In fact, his almost ceaseless tolerance had been strange. He figured that Bruce was bound to snap sometime; everyone always did. Maybe it was because he had crossed a line. It was hard to tell; lines were pretty blurry to Jerome. He must have gone too far. He’d forgotten how fragile the kid was.

He should probably go after Bruce. But a part of him didn’t want to. It wanted to stay here until the little brunette came crying back. Wanted to hear him spouting endless apologies. Wanted to hurt him for running away, and teach him to never do it again. This twisted part of him liked the way his dark eyes had looked brimming with tears, the pretty pink blush his anger had painted his cheeks with. The way he bit his bottom lip until it bled when he tried to stop the tears from flowing.

He slapped himself. “You need to stop doing one thing right now and start doing two other things. Stop being an absolute asshole and a pervert. Yes, I know you’re good at both of those things. But neither of them are acceptable mindsets. It doesn’t matter how fun they are, dumbass. In their place, you need to go be a decent human being and comfort him. So what if you’ve been doing that a lot lately? He’s clearly emotionally unstable and he needs some support. No, it doesn’t matter if you’re even more unstable and completely unqualified to give that support. It has to happen.” Jerome finished the conversation with himself and stood up with a sigh.

A moment of curiosity caused him to wonder what Bruce had ran to get from the desk before he took off. One look at it revealed nothing but empty drawers. Odd, but not as important right now. Thinking about it too much would be a waste of time. Jerome left the study, roaming down the stairs towards Bruce’s room. Not there. Okay, so where would I run off to if I’m sad and full of teenage angst? He took a second to think. He’d want someone or something to reassure him. He wants to feel important and loved. Where would he go for that? To Selina?

“Knock knock,” he said, rapping his knuckles on Selina’s bedroom door.

“What do you want?” she opened it, her wide green eyes staring at him.

“Is Bruce in here?”

She looked behind her. “No, why?”

“That’s all I needed. Thanks.” He turned to leave but she grabbed his shoulder.

“Wait! Why are you looking for him?”

“He ran off. I thought he might have come here.”

She put a hand on her hip and looked at him with scrutiny. “Why’d he run off?”

“It’s none of your business, kid,” he snapped.

“My best friend is dating a sociopath. That makes it my damn business. And I’m the same age as you, kid.”

“We’re not dating.”

“Really? Would you be fine then if someone else made a move on him?”

“I...no. No I wouldn’t be.”

She looked satisfied. “And he’d be pissed if someone tried to move in on you. That means you’re dating.”

“I don’t date.”

“Well you clearly aren’t just fucking around because you seem pretty emotionally invested. Whatever you want to call it, the premise is the same.”

“Forget it. I need to find him.”

“You still haven’t told me what’s wrong,” she reminded him.

Jerome sighed. “If I tell ya, would ya stop being a pain in my ass?”

“Nope. But we’ll both feel better.”

“We got in a fight. Some interesting words and accusations were thrown around and he started to cry. Which he didn’t like. So he ran away. Happy?”

“No, I’m not happy. But he’ll be okay. He’s tougher than you think.”

“Do you have any idea where he might have went?”

A minute of deliberation and then, “You aren’t gonna like this.”

“I don’t like a lot of things, sweetheart. Try me.”

She glared at the nickname but continued to speak, “He probably went to see your brother.”

“That’d be a stupid move on his part. Jeremiah has the compassion of a walnut.”

She shrugged. “Not towards Bruce.”

That didn’t make him feel better. “You haven’t even met him. He might hurt Bruce even more. I need to get to him before that asshole does.”

“Maybe he didn’t go there. Check the garage before you flip out.”

He took her advice, closing the door behind him as he went. An angry huff and the opening of the door told him she decided to follow. Jerome hurried past a vacuuming Alfred who gave them resentful looks as they passed.

Selina caught up to him and opened the door leading to the garage. Several cars were parked there. None of them were Bruce’s black Mustang. So he really had left. In a burst of anger, he grabbed a hammer from the workbench and flung it across the room. A crack from the windshield of an old Volkswagen told him that he’d hit home. Later Jerome would feel guilty. Not right now though. Right now, he was just pissed. He reached for another tool. A small arm hovered in front of his, blocking the bench.

“Jerome, stop. You’re not helping anything by breaking Bruce’s shit.”

He grabbed her arm. “Don’t tell me what’s helpful and what isn’t, sweetheart.”

She jerked her arm out of his grip and slapped him. “First rule: Don’t touch me. Second rule: Don’t call me ‘sweetheart’ again.”

For some reason, and he couldn’t imagine why, her statement just pissed him off more. This time when he grabbed her wrist, it wasn’t so light. A snap and a brief cry of pain from her. Her eyes flashed and her other fist connected with his jaw. Really, a poor move on her part. That just gave him access to her other arm, which he yanked across her neck and behind her back in one smooth movement. Soon she was essentially choking herself while Jerome just laughed. It was hysterical, after all. She was choking herself! What wasn’t funny about that? Selina’s own sleeve muffled her screams and kicking did nothing to help. His laughter eventually began to regain the manic edge the drug of Bruce Wayne had stolen. Her breathing became shallower. It was only when her eyes started to dim did Jerome realize exactly what he was doing. The cackling ceased. He released her with a start, backing away. Selina didn’t move. She just layed there. He was afraid to check for a pulse, but he hesitantly walked back towards her. She was alive. Her wrist was definitely broken and her throat was bruised, but she was alive. He moved her into a sitting position against the wall.

Jerome already knew that Bruce and his butler would never forgive him. And maybe that was for the best. He didn’t deserve their forgiveness, especially not after this.

It was there, kneeling on the garage floor, that Jerome decided he wouldn’t go after Bruce. He’d caused the boy enough pain. Besides, he just wasn’t cut out for the sort of compassion he wanted from him. It wasn’t in his genetic makeup. So, he’d disappear. His parting gift was stopping himself from stealing one of their many cars. Instead, he took one last grateful look at the manor, and sauntered down the road, whistling a melancholy tune to himself.

Chapter Text

This time, the tears refused to come. Good. Bruce was sick of crying in his car. It was becoming a habit, and that was the last thing he needed. What was more important was piecing together Jeremiah’s puzzle in some way. Bruce wished he could say that he was tired of solving pointless puzzles for him, but he couldn’t. There was a part of him that truly enjoyed the twists and turns the boy created. It was exciting, to say the least. Addictive, to say the most. He’d never admit it out loud, though.

Clouds gathered overhead as he pulled into the parking lot of Gotham Cemetery. It was the only place he could think to go that would help him join the petals together in a way that made sense. After all, the rose most likely came from here. Jeremiah didn’t exactly strike Bruce as the sort of person to simply waltz into a grocery store and buy a single rose when he’s supposed to be institutionalized.

His theory was proven correct as he finished retracing their steps to the bench they’d sat at only a few days prior. Once again, he was struck by how quickly time seemed to be moving. Watching it slip away like this made him anxious to do something, anything. Sitting on the bench, he pulled out the remains of the flower so similar to the ones surrounding him. The numbers, words, and lines were just as confusing as they had been in the study. He scattered the petals on the wood next to him.

After awhile of gazing at them, lost in thought, a memory floated to the front of his mind. Something Jerome had said as he threw accusations at him. “You didn’t tell me that he’d left you a love letter, too. And directions to his secret hideout.”

Directions to his secret hideout.

Suddenly, it clicked. He started placing petals next to each other, paying close attention to the turns and endings of the lines, as well as the order the numbers and letters went in. Soon, he was facing a map. A subway map, to be exact. Composed of the carnage of a dead rose and odd purple ink.

Despite everything he could fault Jerome for, such as being an absolute and utter jackass, he was incredibly smart. And even more intuitive. He’d known exactly what Jeremiah had created for Bruce without looking at the objects mentioned. It was a bit unsettling, if he was being honest. Maybe it was simply the connection between twins.

Regardless, the map in front of him made the situation very clear. Each station was labelled with a number or letter that correlated to the train needed to reach it. For example, Gotham City Hall was accessed through station number six, by subways four, five, and six. This was also indicated on the map in front of him. What he still wasn’t sure of was the petal containing the letters J and M, as well as the star. It was probably safe to infer that J referred to Jeremiah since the whole objective was to find him. Another thought popped into his head. What if he overheard my conversation with Oswald this morning? It would seem like the perfect opportunity to him. Abduct Martin and use him as leverage in case his phone call and note weren’t enough to bait me. He knows that there’s not a single chance I’d leave the kid with him. It made sense. And if there’s was one thing he could count on Jeremiah doing, it would be trying to seem rational.

That final petal fit right at the bottom of the map, the farthest south. By that logic, the subway needed to reach Jeremiah would be train number one through station one. This meant that they were by the docks. Oh wonderful, good things always happen there. I can’t wait, he thought to himself with sarcastic enthusiasm.

There was no point in wasting any more time in the cemetery. Bruce had work to do. He made his way back to his car. The closest station was letter F. This would take him to 14th Street where he could switch to the right train south. He wished that he could just drive there, but the message was pretty clear: Bruce had to take the subway.

Which wasn’t a problem...until he reached the station. Apparently, the bombing and subsequent evacuation had ridden the city of its transportation operators. It didn’t matter anyway. Half of the roof was caved in. But of course, Jeremiah knew this. A less-than-welcoming neat purple arrow drew Bruce’s attention to the narrow gap between the rubble and the track access. The straightforwardness of the whole ordeal assured him that the arrow was meant to point him in the direction he needed to go.

He spared a thought for Jerome, wondering what he was doing now, and how he felt, before shaking it off. This wasn’t about him. And it shouldn’t be. Everything else always was. Right now, things were about him and Jeremiah...and Martin, he supposed. Clinging to that, he stepped out of the parked Mustang, locked it, and approached the entrance. A pitch-black opening was all that greeted him. He felt completely unprepared. Bruce hadn’t thought to grab a weapon or even a flashlight from home.

One last resigned look at his car, and he was plunging into the darkness. Or at least, his left foot was. Much farther down than he expected. He stumbled but caught himself on the railing he hoped would be there. Of course there are stairs, idiot. Just because the roof has collapsed doesn’t mean the entire architecture has changed.

At the bottom of the concrete steps, the room lightened up a bit. Gloomy daylight filtered through the debris illuminating his first destination. Instead of the subways that typically filled the station, a small cart was fitted onto the tracks. It was clearly custom-made; the width was much greater than the height and was fitted with a single light green seat. Another purple arrow painted on the concrete below his feet pointed to the cart.

Hesitantly, he placed a hand on the side of the vehicle and tugged on the small silver handle marking the little door. For some reason, Bruce was reminded of an amusement park ride. Perhaps this was another one of Jerome’s ideas that his brother had modified, As soon as he sat on the seat, a belt sprung to life around his waist and buckled itself as a crackle started over the station’s speaker system.

“Welcome, Bruce,” began Jeremiah familiarly. “I know how inconvenient and convoluted this must all seem to you. But, I am a man of many intricacies, so I ask that you indulge me for a bit longer. Although your understanding of arriving in a timely matter is clearly faulty, I can excuse you for it. After all, it’s been a rather emotionally taxing day, hasn’t it?” Jeremiah waited for Bruce’s response, and upon not receiving one, he continued to speak. “Despite your dreadful day, I do hope that you’ll enjoy the evening I have planned for you. And once you reach me, you’ll get what you came here for. You know I’m a man of my word, so there’s no need to doubt me. Now, Bruce, are you ready for a ride?”

Before he could answer, the cart began to glide forward on the tracks seamlessly. The light fixtures adorning the tile walls glowed with color. All of the white fluorescent bulbs had been replaced with misty green, purple, and red ones. When did he have the time for all of this? Bruce wondered to himself as the cart picked up speed.

A fork in the tracks came rushing towards him. An arrow indicated that he should go left, but he wasn’t in control of the cart. “I’d check the front of the cart if I were you. There’s little crash protection and the vehicle certainly isn’t insured,” stated Jeremiah’s indifferent voice over the loudspeaker. Bruce quickly reached towards the front and found a lever that could switch from left, middle, and right. He yanked it to the left just in time; the wall had come much too close for comfort.

“Oh, I almost forgot to mention. Before the city...renovation...that I did the other night, construction was taking place within some of the tunnels. We didn’t have time to clear it all out so you’d best learn to operate the cart’s other innovations. With haste, this time, please.”

Another reach for the front showed an array of buttons and another lever. This lever also had three settings: Forward, reverse, and stop. Jeremiah must have wired it so he could control the vehicle from a distance if necessary, but obviously watching Bruce struggle was much more fun for him. “Why are you trying so hard to kill me?” he shouted to the ceiling.

“I’m not trying to kill you. You chose to come here, to find me. That’s on you, Bruce.”

“It’s your fault I’m here! I wouldn’t have come if you didn’t have Martin!”

“Tsk tsk. Remember what I said about lying? Of course you would have. The thrill of the chase is what you live for. And fault is a meaningless and subjective term. Perhaps disappearing and holding the child hostage is my fault, but what results from it is your responsibility. We all make choices. And this is the one you chose. All I’m doing is ensuring your hard work is worth it. I wouldn’t want you to feel underappreciated. Oh, brake.”

Heeding his advice, Bruce pulled the second lever back a notch and the cart slowed to a standstill. Now he could see why. Green light illuminated a human shape lying on the tracks. It wasn’t moving.

“Careful,” Jeremiah breathed quietly, although anticipation was also present in his tone.

Was he supposed to get out and inspect the person? Bruce wasn’t sure, but that’s what he did. He kneeled by the shape. It was covered by a large black coat and lying beside it was a classically styled walking cane. Pulling back the coat revealed a mop of black hair dancing with static from the clothing that was covering it. He turned the body over, although he already had a suspicion of who was lying beside him.

The chalk-white face of Oswald Cobblepot was bloodied and bruised. His arms had been bound to his sides tightly with transparent twine, cutting off the circulation to his hands. Bloodless fingers had begun to turn purple and his nails were torn to jagged shreds from scratching at something.

“What did you do to him?” he yelled, trying to untie Oswald’s arms. Bruce didn’t particularly care for the man one way or another, but this was severe nonetheless.

“It wasn’t his turn. He gave the job of finding Martin to you, so he didn’t have a single right to come snooping down here. I simply quieted him.” The nonchalance in his tone was infuriating. And yet, Bruce still didn’t hate him.

“What did you do to his arms?”

“I addressed him as Mr. Cobblepot. Apparently, he preferred the nickname ‘the Penguin’. Well, that’s just ridiculous. But if he adored the pseudonym so much, it wasn’t fair to just let his legs represent it.”

“You’re disgusting.”

“On the contrary, you find me both pleasant and admirable. You just won’t admit it.”

“Screw you.”

“Does that mean I’m correct?”

“I don’t want to have this conversation with the tile.” Oswald’s arms were free now but he was still unconscious.

“An excellent point. Move the old man off of the tracks and proceed. You’ve only passed two stations so far. There are still five more ahead of you.”

He hadn’t even noticed he’d traveled that far. Bruce didn’t want to just leave Oswald there, but the cart was only made for one person...and he didn’t really want the ex-mayor with him when he confronted Jeremiah. Without his cellphone, he couldn’t call anyone to retrieve the man. His only option was to leave him and come back for him afterwards. So, he once again did as Jeremiah said, picking up the older man and setting him on the floor above.

Climbing back into the cart, he pulled the lever to start it. Soon, he was racing at the same speed he had been moments before. The odd lighting continued to flicker and blink as he directed the cart according to the arrows. Occasionally, he would pass a shadow or see something off to the sides that made him question whether he was truly alone. Jeremiah had stopped commenting over the speaker system, presumably sitting back to observe his progress. He still had no idea what the buttons beside the levers did, but he was concerned that they might not be safe to experiment with. Instead of tampering with them, he stuck to taking the appropriate turns and letting his mind wander between the Valeska twins.

Three stations later, Bruce had dealt with several obstacles, each more inconvenient than the last. Although, he had been able to find out what three of the buttons did. Past the third station, he had met a wide orange and white construction barrier blocking the tracks. One button granted the cart the ability to hop over it, which was sort of strange, but convenient. He had no idea what sort of customization or engineering skill that required. Around the fourth station, a brick wall had prevented him from going any further. A red button released a small explosive from within the cart, which honestly just made Bruce more anxious to be riding around in it. But, it had destroyed the wall while leaving the rest of the station intact. Still convenient, even if it was a bit unorthodox. The third challenge was definitely the most stressful. And yes, he had decided that these were challenges. Once he’d ridden by the fifth station, he had heard a noise reminiscent of rushing water. Because it was rushing water. The plumbing that supplied the entire system with drinking water had burst and begun to flood the tunnels. He’d had no idea what to do, and just hoped the third button could get him out of the situation.Luckily, it did. A rotor had come out of the back end of the cart, and a buoyant lining encased the outer edge of it. Essentially, the cart became a boat. When the water levels returned to normal, he pressed the button again and it was a cart once more.

Now, he wasn’t sure what to expect at station number six. Jeremiah was at number seven by the docks. Bruce had never been on a subway to take him to the ferries. In fact, he only went on subways when his parents wanted him to see the city from a “normal person’s” perspective. And Alfred hadn’t taken him since Bruce’s parents had passed. Painful memories. He suppressed them, choosing to focus on the task at hand.

As the cart flew along the tracks, shadows began to detach themselves from the walls ahead on the pedestrian level. They moved silently to the center and lined the tracks. It was unnerving how uniform and in sync they were. The shadows marched to their designated spot and waited for Bruce’s vehicle to approach them. Foggy red bulbs made the entire procession much more ominous. The nearer he drew, the more Bruce could make out their faces. Each one was painted a ghostly white with grey surrounding their eyes and tracing their cheekbones. A stony expression could be found on every face. Suddenly, they flooded the tracks. He jerked the lever of the cart to halt it so he didn’t hit anyone.

Everyone stopped. The figure furthest from him moved to face Bruce. This one was dressed differently than the others. It had the hat of a jester costume, a blank white mask, and was covered by a three-toned diamond patterned jacket that came up around its neck. Underneath it wore simple black leggings and mismatched boots. A gun stuck out of one of its large pockets. This person disturbed him more than any of the others. Maybe it was the mask. It tilted its head and reached out a gloved hand, almost seeming like it was offering to help him out of the cart. One look at the gun decided for him. He gripped the hand and exited the vehicle.

The figure didn’t speak. Instead, it reached into the coat pocket that didn’t contain the firearm. It pulled out a silver pair of handcuffs attached to a longer chain. Bruce didn’t like the look of them at all, and started to back away.

An ironclad grip on his arm kept him in place. It pulled him forward even closer. Latching the handcuffs around the wrist in its hold, the jester grabbed his other arm and fixed the second cuff upon it, too. Still, it said nothing. The others had surrounded him now, preventing any chance of escape. A tug on the chain told him to walk, which he obeyed.

“Where are you taking me?”

“To the master,” they all replied in unison, except for the person leading him down the tunnel.

“Why?”

“Shut up and do what you’re told,” commanded a man to his right. The jester promptly turned around, pulled out it’s handgun, and shot him in the head. Crimson blood leaked from the clean hole above his nose as he fell to the ground. The gathered group was silent; they didn’t even turn their heads to see him die.

“No one here is permitted to give orders,” a female voice said calmly through the mask. Her voice seemed familiar, but Bruce couldn’t quite place it.

She continued to walk, her grip on the chain never loosening. Dozens of people marched alongside them, but never came too close. He had a feeling they didn’t want to be the next to disobey their instructions. The altering of the tunnels and the execution speed of Jeremiah’s plan made sense now. He must have over seventy people in his service. How did Jeremiah convince them all to be so loyal to him? He’s not that intimidating, and certainly not as frightening as he’d like to think he is. Then again, I know him better than anyone here. Maybe that’s just how I see him. Then something else clicked. Perhaps he wasn’t the only person here who knew Jeremiah well. Bruce had a suspicion that the woman in front of him was his assistant, Ecco. The mismatched boots also made sense now. One was made of black leather and went up to her knee. The second one only went up to her mid-calf and was open-toed. Thick straps crossed her foot, which was wrapped in white gauze. It was to support the foot that Jerome had shot a few nights ago.

“Ecco?” he tried. She ignored him. Clearly, she was devoted to the task that Jeremiah had given her and didn’t care for conversation.

It was going to take them hours to reach the location Jeremiah had specified with his strange map on foot. Bruce had no idea why he’d had him stopped here.

They continued on like this for some time, he would estimate about forty minutes. Almost nothing more was said for the entirety of their walk. However, at one point a woman had coughed. Now she was lying motionless on the tracks, hundred of feet behind them. Ecco’s justification had been “Disease is the cause of thousands of deaths daily. Murder is the cause of thousands yearly. I do not need to explain the math to you.”

Another ten minutes passed before Bruce tried to get more answers. “Why does Jeremiah-”

He was cut off by a chant of, “Jeremiah! Jeremiah!” It echoed off of the walls and bounced around the room before it fell silent once more.

“He does not trust you to arrive on your own. We offered to fetch you.” Apparently she was talking to him now and could infer what his question had been.

“And why do they chant his name like they worship him?”

“Because we do worship him. He is a visionary. He will lead Gotham to its true place among the greatest cities in the world. Metropolis, Tokyo, Chicago, Singapore...they will not stand a chance against the plans he has. Those who turned to him from his brother were untrustworthy. He purged them. His ranks have been replaced with more loyal followers. We are here for his command.” Ecco turned sharply to the right, tugging him up a narrow set of steps leading up to the concrete floor above them. A simple metal door broke the endless flow of the tiles. Jeremiah seemed to like metal doors. “We have arrived. The others may not enter. They will remain here, in case you attempt to escape.”

“But we haven’t even reached the last station yet. How could we be here already?”

“He did not have you take the conventional route. Your cart used maintenance tunnels. They are faster.” And with that, she opened the door with the swipe of a keycard. Ecco’s grip still hadn’t slackened on the chain he was cuffed to. She lead him down a plain hallway with a concrete floor and white walls. The lighting had reverted back to the fluorescent white bulbs that belonged in the tunnels. Another door rose up in front of them, identical to the first. She unlocked this one using the same method. Ecco moved to the side to allow Bruce to pass her.

In front of him was a small unassuming room. A set of monitors was directly across from him, along with a high-backed chair. They were all surveying different parts of the subway. There were two tables in the room. A long one by the entrance was covered in maps. A smaller one was placed in the far left corner. The straight-backed wooden chair beside it was occupied by a tiny boy with curly dark hair. He was scribbling on something and didn’t look up when the door shut loudly. The chair facing the monitors swiveled to face them. In it sat Jeremiah with his right leg crossed over his left and his hands steepled. He wasn’t a very expressive person, but Bruce could tell that he was pleased. The woman escorting him removed her mask and hat, shaking out her blonde hair and looking at Jeremiah expectantly.

“Excellent work as usual, Ecco. Uncuff him. Bring Lars in, please.”

Ecco looked almost disappointed by the lack of attention she received for all of her effort, but simply nodded, unlocked his cuffs with a tiny key, returned them to her pocket, and walked back out the door.

“Bruce. It’s wonderful to see you again in person. I’ve seen plenty of you through here, but it’s not the same.” Jeremiah indicated the console before continuing. “I’d offer you a seat but I’m afraid there aren’t any to spare. At least, not until my assistant returns with Lars.” He stared at Bruce curiously. “I missed you,” he finally admitted.

He’d had so many insults saved up, but none of them came now. “I...I missed you too.” He turned away, embarrassed. Martin was now watching them curiously. Bruce could see he had been doodling on a little notepad. He walked over to the boy to see what he was drawing. “Hello, Martin. My name is Bruce Wayne,” he greeted him warmly. The child waved before he quickly turned the page and began sketching something new. After a moment, he proudly held up a picture of two boys kissing. Embarrassed once again, Bruce returned his attention to Jeremiah, who was watching Martin and smiling lightly. The metal door swung open then, and in came Ecco, now leading a very small blonde teenager, around his own age. This was not the Lars he had been expecting. Although not one to stereotype, Bruce had envisioned a large bald man. Maybe one with a double-bladed axe or something. Not this.

Jeremiah addressed them with authority. “Thank you. Ecco, you may return to the hallway. Remain there until I call you back in.” She took her orders, the door swinging shut behind her. “Lars. I made a promise to you, and I intend to keep it. The boy.”

Lars’ movements were almost too quick to catch. Before Bruce knew it, the blonde had swept Martin out of his chair and held a dagger to his throat. The blade gleamed against pale skin. To his credit, the child didn’t cry, or even act startled. He just clung to his notepad.

“Stop!” Bruce rushed over to them, only to have his arm gripped tightly once more. He struggled against Jeremiah’s grasp to no avail.

“I would relax if I were you. You do want the boy to live, correct?” Jeremiah whispered in his ear.

Bruce shuddered against his quiet voice. The effect the boy had on him was undeniable. Heeding his advice, he stopped trying to break free and Jeremiah released him. He asked Lars, “What do you want with Martin?”

“I need your sympathy or some bullshit like that to get what I want.”

“There’s no need to hold him hostage. Let him go and we can discuss compensation.”

“This isn’t what I meant when I instructed you to grab the child, but I suppose we’ll go with it. Consider this payment for your services.” Jeremiah added.

“Why are you listening to him?” he asked Lars with a stunned look at Jeremiah.

“He’s offered me more than you could ever imagine, you stuck-up prick. Not all of us are born billionaires.”

“Murdering a child isn’t worth anything.”

“Maybe not in your world. In mine, it means putting food on the table for my mother who’s too sick to work. It means protecting my little sister.” The boy was glaring at him with blazing green eyes.

“This is cowardly. There are other ways to survive in this world.”

“Not in Gotham.” A simple statement, but it was extremely powerful. The corruption of his city struck Bruce now more than ever. “That’s why I follow him. He’ll change that. He’ll change everything. For all of us.”

Bruce turned to Jeremiah. “I want to speak with you. Now. Alone. Tell him to release Martin.”

The pale man seemed to consider it for a moment but denied his request. “You don’t even know what he wants yet. That’s hardly fair, Bruce.”

He turned back to Lars. “Fine. What do you want in exchange for Martin’s freedom?”

“Your house and everything in it. Including staff.” Lars’ request seemed bold even to Jeremiah, who raised his eyebrows in surprise.

“Try again.”

“That’s what I want.”

“Well, they aren’t on the table. I’ll give you money, a house of your own. But you have no right to ask for the only things that I have left.”

Lars tilted his head and smiled arrogantly, adjusting his grip on the dagger against Martin’s throat. A shallow cut appeared. “You really are an entitled little bitch, aren’t you? You don’t even have the upper hand and you’re setting conditions. Someone should teach that pretty mouth of yours to do something more useful than running it endlessly. It would look much better wrapped around my-”

A shot rang out, cutting off his speech, and suddenly the boy was on the ground. His bright green eyes dimmed and pooling blood matted his fair hair. Martin scurried away from him, hiding under the little table.

Jeremiah returned his gun to his pocket. Now that he was standing, he walked over to Bruce, who was staring at the body in shock.

“Why did you shoot him?” Bruce eventually got out.

“I didn’t like the way he was speaking to you. Lars can be replaced. Bruce Wayne cannot be. Nor can someone say...inappropriate...things about you.”

“You shot him because he was suggesting that I blow him.” He shaped it like a statement rather than a question.

“Perhaps.”

“This is exactly why you need to come home with me. Sane people don’t do things like that, Jeremiah.”

The taller boy was massaging his temple now. “Stop insisting that I’m insane! I’m absolutely fine.”

“Then why did you kidnap Martin?”

He was gazing at Bruce desperately now. “Because I needed to know that you’d come.”

The vulnerability in Jeremiah’s voice was surprising. “If you had stayed, you wouldn’t have to worry about that. And you knew I would come regardless.”

Instead of answering Bruce, Jeremiah walked past him to the door. He tapped it four times. Ecco reentered the room. “Dispose of Lars. Take the boy. Retrieve Oswald Cobblepot. Tell them to wait in the station.”

“Yes sir.” She walked stiffy over to Martin. He still didn’t look particularly concerned as she took his hand, dragging Lars’ body, and guided him out into the hallway. The metal door swung shut once more.

The wooden chair was pulled over to the large one. Jeremiah gestured to it. “You wanted to be alone, didn’t you? At least now I can offer you a seat.”

Once they were both seated, Bruce spoke. “I still don’t understand. What about my home wasn’t good enough?”

A small chuckle escaped from cherry-red lips. “The house wasn’t the problem. It was relying on someone else to take care of me, feeling powerless, and the knowledge that my brother was sleeping there freely. In your room, nonetheless. That bit was just rubbing salt in the wound. I couldn’t stay. I’m a planner and an inventor. I need freedom. Staying cooped up in there was never going to work.”

“Then why ask?”

“A different part of me thought it might. In fact, it craved the domesticity of the entire scenario.”

“What is it with Valeskas and having so many different ‘parts’?” Bruce muttered to himself. Apparently this warranted another soft laugh.

“We are exceptionally complicated, aren’t we?”

“Complicated is a rather extreme understatement. I think screwed up is more accurate.”

Based on his easygoing responses, Jeremiah was in one of his good moods. “I completely agree.”

“So, what then? I’m supposed to ignore my deal with James Gordon and just let you carry out your plans for Gotham?”

“You already told me that you were interested in working with me. I assumed that was your consent to continue with them.”

“You asked me when I was an emotional wreck. It hardly counts as permission if I’m trying to hold myself together.”

“Then what would you have me do?”

Bruce took a moment to think, trying to avoid the grey-green eyes looking at him. The intensity of his question didn’t come off through his words. It showed through the way Jeremiah moved his chair closer, placed a hand on the armrest of Bruce’s own seat, and stared at him with the same sort of unquestionable loyalty his followers gave him.

“I want you to be happy. But I don’t know how to give that to you without sacrificing everything I love. And I’m not ready to do that.”

He received a quiet sigh from the boy across from him. “I wouldn’t ask you to sacrifice anything for me. But I have to confess something or else it truly will drive me mad. Every second you aren’t with me hurts. Because I know you’re with him. And there’s nothing I can do to change that without distancing you from me forever. It’s painful. But it’s worth it. Do you know why it’s worth it?”

“I-no. No, I don’t.”

"It’s because I love you.” Before he could say anything, Jeremiah followed up his claim. “You don’t have to respond. I know you don’t adore me with nearly the same intensity. But, do you remember how we discussed my tendency to get very emotionally attached?”

Bruce was still reeling from his confession, but replied, “Yes, I recall that.” It came at as more of a whisper than he meant, but it carried.

“If you can’t tell, I’ve reached, and surpassed, that point with you. Not only can I not stand to be separated from you, I can barely function when you aren’t around. You can’t imagine how infuriating this was for me upon discovery. And yet I’ve somehow managed to bring you back to me once more. I really am cruel, aren’t I?”

“You aren’t cruel. I meant it when I said that I missed you. We’ve become an essential part of each other’s lives now, whether we like it or not.”

The pale hand that had been resting on the side of his chair began to dance its way up Bruce’s sleeve. “I suppose we have,” Jeremiah murmured.

“I believe I know where this is going, and if so, it’s sort of becoming a pattern of ours,” Bruce commented as the hand rested on his shoulder.

Two fingers toyed with his earlobe. “I don’t know if you’ve realized this yet, but I do have a bit of a thing for patterns.” Jeremiah’s knees were now brushing against Bruce’s as the space between them had evaporated.

“You’re the first person I know to have a maze fetish.”

Jeremiah was smiling as he kissed Bruce. This was the first time they’d had this sort of interaction where they were both in a pleasant mood. In his opinion, it made the kiss so much better. They were used to each other now, as well, which allowed them to explore different things. Little time had passed before they had settled on one chair. Bruce’s knees were set on both sides of Jeremiah’s legs to put them at equal heights. Once more, he let the other boy take control, knowing the battle wasn’t worth fighting. This kiss was deeper, too. More passion seemed to linger in Jeremiah’s movements than before. The hand that had been playing with his ear moved to cup his chin while the other hand gripped his waist tightly. Bruce wrapped his arms around his neck and twined his fingers in his hair as he usually did. It was his favorite spot.

As the kiss grew, the fingers that held onto his hip slid down a bit further to the hem of his sweater. Unlike Jerome, Jeremiah wasn’t afraid to test boundaries with Bruce. When he didn’t see any signs of disapproval or uncomfortability, the hand slipped under his sweater. Cool fingers trailed up his stomach and circled around his chest. The effect this simple up and down movement had on him was incredible. A small sound escaped him, which only encouraged the boy further. His second hand moved from Bruce’s chin. It wrapped around him, sneaking under his sweater as well.

Bruce broke the kiss momentarily. “At this point, I should just take it off. If it’s that inconvenient.”

“I have a practicality fetish as well,” Jeremiah teased. Before assisting him, he reached over to console pressing a button. The monitors went dark and the door’s lock clicked. “However, I’m not fond of interruption.” He gently pulled Bruce’s sweater over his head before wrapping his arms around him once more. “You’re beautiful,” he whispered. Then, he kissed him again. The cold air of the room couldn’t break the warmth created between them. At some point, Jeremiah’s jacket had made its way to the floor, and one of Bruce’s hands was clinging to his loose green tie.

Eventually, Jeremiah’s kisses moved from his lips, to his neck, to his collarbone. Soon, he was delicately placing them in a straight line down his chest. As he reached his navel, a loud knock echoed through the room. With a start, Bruce hastily pulled away.

“A moment, please.” Jeremiah sighed, but allowed Bruce to shift back into his own seat, retrieving his sweater and putting it on. The button was pressed once more, and the monitors blinked back to life. The lock clicked. “Alright, you may come in.”

The woman who entered had dark hair and her facepaint was smeared. She opened her mouth to speak, but paused upon seeing her boss’s discarded suit jacket and loose tie, as well as a flushed teenage boy sitting oddly close to him. “Er, so sorry to, um, bother you, sir. It’s just, uh, Cobblepot and the little one, they…”

“Don’t waste my time, Cerise. Spit it out.”

“They escaped, sir.”

He waved his hand in exasperation. “In greater detail, please?”

“A sparkly man snuck them out when Ecco wasn’t looking.”

“If he was sparkly, then why didn’t Ecco see him?”

“I don’t know, sir. She may have been distracted by Victor Zsasz marching through the tunnels with his posse of assassins.”

A pause. “Was that sarcasm, Cerise?”

“Uh, not intentionally. My deepest apologies, sir.”

Jeremiah reached for his jacket, searching for the gun in the left pocket. Bruce jumped up, placing his hand on his wrist. “Stop shooting people for stupid reasons.” The woman gasped at how directly he spoke to her leader, but he really didn’t care. Jeremiah relaxed and resumed his position in his chair. Bruce sat back down as well.

“You’re very lucky that he’s here. If he weren’t, you’d be the next coat of paint. Lars’ coat is just starting to dry now. I’d thank him, Cerise.”

Bruce quickly said, “Oh no, you don’t have to-”

He was cut off by Cerise bowing repeatedly and saying, “Thank you, consort. I’m honored to be spared by your kindness. Please accept my sincerest gratitude.”

“Um, really, please don’t...don’t do that.” She stopped bowing immediately and turned back to Jeremiah.

“What would you like me to do, sir?”

“Tell me why Zsasz is here.”

“He is seeking revenge on both you and the ex-mayor.”

“Of course. He is afraid that our freeing of the child will tarnish his spotless reputation in the eyes of the Falcone family. So he is attempting to flush us out and pick us off one by one. Simple enough to outmaneuver. Now, tell me what the man who absconded with Cobblepot and Martin looked like. And I’d like a greater description than ‘sparkly’ this time.”

She shuffled her feet anxiously as she recalled the event. “He was wearing a bright green suit. And a purple tie. Also, he had a strange hat on.”

“That’s Edward Nygma,” Bruce chimed in.

“And he’s stealing my aesthetic,” Jeremiah said through gritted teeth. “We will find him after the situation with Zsasz is handled. Protocol T-15. You’re dismissed, Cerise.” She gladly left the room. He turned back to the console and pressed a smaller button on its underside. A panel in the wall slid open, revealing another white corridor. “This way, Bruce. Let’s go on a little field trip of the...stranger...parts of the tunnels.” He reached a hand out. For the first time, Bruce took it without hesitation.

Chapter Text

(Jerome’s POV)

 

Everything hurt. His bleeding knuckles. His tattered lips. And his heart. Fucking traitor. Jerome had always made such a point of emphasizing how heartless he was and yet the little bitch of an organ had the nerve to feel .

He tried to ignore the three people chattering behind him. Yes, they were helping him out, but that didn’t mean he had to pay attention to them. They were being way too loud, even by his standards. They’d get caught if those three didn’t shut up soon. It was mostly the woman that talked so much. And the bald buff guy. He hadn’t expected to encounter such strange companions this afternoon.

A look around him didn’t tell him much about his surroundings. He was somewhere in the warehouse district. Which was super helpful considering the place spanned dozens of miles. The sun was setting to his right, in the west. Meaning he was facing south. So, they were heading in the right direction. After deciding to search on foot, they’d abandoned the hijacked bus a mile or so back.

The stinging in his hands reminded Jerome that he’d already failed at avoiding any more fights since the one he had with Selina. This one hadn’t been his fault, though. His mind flashed back to the skirmish he’d gotten himself into only an hour or so ago. And what it had resulted in.

Shadows rose up around Jerome as he passed the skyscrapers composing Gotham’s dreary mist-filled horizon. It had been raining on and off all day. Laughter echoed down the alleyways. Drunken giggles bounced along the walls of the high-rising buildings.

There was no way he wanted a single part of that, not with the mood he was in. Almost killing a teenage girl with her own arm left a guy in a weird sort of headspace. Mingling with some intoxicated deadbeats wouldn’t help him in the slightest.

Unfortunately, they saw Jerome before he spotted them. Three men and a woman detached themselves from a brick wall across the alley. And they were heading towards him. Jerome began to back away and find another route, hoping it wasn’t him they were interested in.

“Hey ginger, wait a minute!” called the woman, her mousy locks bouncing as she sped up to cut him off from the access road. She looked petite and fragile, but that wasn’t going to fool him into letting his guard down.

He sighed. “Look lady, I’m really not in the mood right now.” The men were catching up, eyeing their female companion curiously as she sidled closer to the teenager who’d managed to stumble into their part of town.

Her soft brown eyes blinked a few times. Jerome immediately hated them. No one was allowed to have such pretty brown eyes. No one but Bruce. “Calm down, honey. Elise don’ bite. Wanna drink?” she slurred her last few words, gesturing to the cooler they’d abandoned. He just rolled his eyes, shaking his head. This woman, Elise he supposed, was clearly drunk and way too old for him. Cougars had never been appealing to Jerome. Too reminiscent of his mother.

The three men finally joined them. They formed a circle around Jerome, Elise completing it.

One man stepped forward. His hair was dyed a powdery blue and he’d done his eyebrows to match. Said eyebrows raised as he commented, “Damn, Elise sure knows how to pick ‘em.” The man’s eyes shamelessly moved up and down Jerome’s body. “I mean, a bit skinny for my taste, but fucking good lookin’ nonetheless.”

“Oh, you’re not throwing a party back here? That’s a shame. I brought my invitation and everything. If I’d known it was a drunk gangbang sort of party, I wouldn’t have showed up. That shit was popular decades ago, but it’s just kind of sad now.” Jerome crossed his arms, trying to get a good look behind the other two guys, who were considerably larger than anyone else there, and find a different exit. As much as he hated to admit it, Jerome was outnumbered. Not that he was particularly concerned. But this wasn’t how he planned on spending his evening.

The larger men looked like they didn’t want to be there. They shuffled their feet and avoided eye contact. Jerome immediately decided they would be the most easily manipulated. Good to know.

Whoever must have been the bolder one stepped forward. This guy was completely bald and had covered his head in tattoos. Most of them were phrases spelled with Korean characters, even though the man didn’t look remotely Asian. Now, Jerome wasn’t super fluent. But he was pretty sure that 여성 성기 meant “cunt”. Lovely. Clearly a man worth knowing. And when he opened his mouth to speak, Jerome was even more impressed with his incredible intellect.

“Tell me, what’s a carrot twink doing around here?” The man spoke slowly, as though he had to take time to think of simple words.

He didn’t even know how to respond. So obviously, a slow clap was the best choice. “Is that the most original line you have? Because, wow. I’m blown away. That was so well thought out. I feel really insulted. I might have to just go home to my loving boyfriend who’s totally ripped and cry about being skinny and having red hair. I mean...it’s just so tragic. What would be even worse would be if I looked like a wrinkled man-baby and had cunt tattoed on my forehead. Damn, that would suck.”

That’s how he received the busted lip. Mr. Man-Baby didn’t like talking back apparently. But, Jerome got a close up view of his fist at least. And it was about as pretty as the rest of him.

Jerome’s laughter filled the alley, replacing that of the group from earlier. “Do it again!” All four of them stared at him in surprise. Maybe they had been expecting him to be easier prey.

“So he’s a twink and a masochist,” remarked the only person who hadn’t spoken yet. Close-cropped dark hair and an obnoxiously protrusive nose were really the only defining features he had. And only one of those was funny enough to qualify for Jerome’s nickname standards.

“I wouldn’t start a kinkshaming battle here, Squidward. I’m a gold medal champion, eighteen years running.” Eyes still darting around, he couldn’t spot any decent escape routes. This was turning into a massive waste of time. He wanted to go mope in peace. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a really important meeting I need to be at in ten minutes and it’s still a few blocks from here.” He moved to push past Squidward and Periwinkle but they shoved him back.

“Aw, where ya goin’?” Elise looked at him with dejected eyes, but she was soon smiling. For some reason, she made him the most nervous. Maybe it was the feral glint lingering in her dark eyes.

“Are you deaf? M-E-E-T-I-N-G.”

“Relax, fireboy. We just want to have a little fun and then we’ll let you skidaddle on your merry way,” Cunthead spoke again, inching closer.

“Oh, I know fun, mister.” Jerome’s grin widened. “And getting assaulted by the weirdest group of rejects on this side of Gotham doesn’t make the cut.” Neither of the larger guys showed any sign of backing away, so Jerome figured he’d have to give a little demonstration of his own. He sighed. “Fine, have it your way.” Grabbing Periwinkle, he broke the circle, shoving him against the old brick lining the alley. His first hit missed; the little bastard ducked. So instead, he bruised his knuckles on the wall. Not nearly as satisfying. Punch numero dos did the job just fine, though. Periwinkle crumpled to the ground. His skull had a beautiful new dent. Jerome wasn’t sure if he was going to survive that. Honestly, he didn’t care. He turned to face the remaining three, who hadn’t budged at all. “Alright, you lovely people have two options. You can either A.) Volunteer yourselves to join your friend in a nice body heap on the ground over there. Or B.) Move so I can leave without getting any more blood on my hands. Literally. I really don’t have time to take a shower.”

Elise inched forward. “C’mon, honey. No need to get violent. You don’t even know what we want from ya!” Squidward eyed her nervously as she moved closer. Great, even her own companions were freaked out by her.

“Alright, I’ll bite. What do you want?”

“We know who you are,” she stated simply.

“So somewhere in that screwed up head of yours, you thought it would be a good idea to annoy and insult me? I’m not seeing the logic.”

Cunthead stepped next to Elise, giving her a cold look. “We were just playing. You don’t see too many celebrities walking around these parts. Especially when the police are looking for them.”

He stared at him. “Okay, I have to give you points for the subtle blackmail there. That was classy. On the other hand, the GCPD have much bigger things on their plate. But I’m always flattered to meet fans.”

Squidward laughed. It sounded like a honk. “Don’t misunderstand, carrot-top. We’re not fans. But there’s something we need you to do for us.”

“I’m missing the part where there’s something in it for me. All I see right now are a group of people who don’t know how to make a proper deal. You know what’s great for that? Business school. Everybody gets farther in life with an education, it’s just called smart decision maki-” He was cut off by Elise slapping him. Jerome hadn’t been expecting that.

She raised a finger to her lips, but he sort of already got the message. “We will help you save the boy. That’s what’s in it for you.”

This immediately grabbed his attention. “What boy? And save him? From what?”

Elise smirked. “I knew it. The well-dressed brunette who was poking around the tunnels. Wearing a turtleneck.”

“Always with the fucking turtleneck,” Jerome mumbled under his breath. Elise continued as if she didn’t hear.

“Probably sticking his nose in things where it didn’t belong. Sort of looked like a prick. Almost thought I recognized ‘em from somewhere.”

That sounded like his well-dressed brunette. “Where did you see him? Which tunnels What’s putting him in danger?” He sounded a bit frantic. That’s odd. He never sounded frantic.

“Well, you see,” Squidward’s sleezy voice answered, “A little after your boyfriend slipped into the subway, Victor Zsasz and his assassins descended into the same station. I can only hope that he wasn’t their target…” he trailed off.

“WHICH STATION?” he yelled.

“That’s where our little deal comes in.” Elise piped up. “You give us what we want and we help you track down and take out Zsasz.”

“Then tell me what the hell you want.”

“We need someone to spearhead our group. Someone charismatic.”

“What sort of group?”

“An anarchist organization. Built on madness and terror. Something a bit more put together than your last attempt. We have thousands of supporters. But we need someone to speak for us at our...debut of sorts.”

“If you have thousands of supporters, can’t one of them do it?”

“We want you,” Cunthead said.

“Okay, Uncle Sam. Take me to the kid and I’ll consider it.”

He felt something push against his throat. Jerome looked down to see Elise holding a flathead screwdriver to him. He had to admit, she was a charming girl.

“No. We bring you to him and fight on your side if necessary. In exchange, you do exactly as we say.”

“Fine. Deal. Now let’s go, loyal subjects.” He received stony glares from all three of them. “You all need to lighten up a bit if we’re going to be working together.”

Squidward went to kneel by the boy on the ground. “What about Adam?”

“Leave Periwinkle. If the hit didn’t kill him, he’ll have the sense to crawl somewhere safe until you can come back for him,” Jerome commanded, effortlessly falling back into his old role.

The man looked reluctant to leave the boy, but stood up and rejoined them. “We saw the kid enter the northern station by the cemetery. The only way he could have gone from there was west. Unless he didn’t stop at the next station. In which case, he’d be heading south.”

“Either way, we need to travel far and fast. I need ideas, people.” Jerome clapped his hands like a business executive.

Elise paused to think for a moment. “The bus transit station is close by. They aren’t running, but it wouldn’t be difficult to hijack one.”

He pointed at her. “Did everyone see that? That’s being a good addition to the team. I like the way you think.” Each person was following closely behind him now. The street widened in front of them as they left the alleyway.

(Bruce’s POV)

Bruce could hear shouting echoing down the corridors surrounding them. His hand was tightly clasped by Jeremiah’s, leading him down a series of repetitive hallways.

“You should really put some paintings up in here, or something,” Bruce commented.

All his words received was a shushing noise. Apparently now was not the time for jokes. Finally, Jeremiah responded in a rather logical whisper. “If I put paintings up, they’d be used as recognizable landmarks to help people find their way around. It would defeat the purpose.” Bruce shrugged as they took another turn.

Suddenly, they were out on the tracks again. The shouting was louder here and was coming from only a few hundred feet behind them. He heard several gunshots. Bruce instinctively pressed himself closer to Jeremiah, who unlocked their hands to wrap his arm around him protectively. With his other hand, he drew his gun.

“Come. We have to get out of their range.” They stuck close to the walls, not wanting to be caught in the middle of the tracks.

“Is Zsasz back there?”

Jeremiah paused to listen. “Those are shots from a SIG-Sauer GSR. His usual sidearms. So I’d wager a bet that, yes, Zsasz is close behind us. And I’ve never been much of a gambler. We need to hurry.”

Unfortunately, it seemed as though some of the assassin’s group had anticipated that they’d come this way. Two women scantily clad in black leather and fishnets descended upon them, firearms in hand. From exactly where they descended, Bruce had no idea. The arched ceiling was completely void of rafters or anything useful for perching. Whatever covert school they went to, Bruce wanted to enroll.

“Shit,” he heard Jeremiah mutter under his breath. Aloud, he said in a bored drawl, “How nice of you to drop in on us. Sadly enough, however, my schedule is full up until next Wednesday. If you’d like to make an appointment, I’m sure my assistant back there-” he indicated the tunnel behind them “-would be happy to help.”

Maybe humor did run in the family. Bruce couldn’t help but be amused by the nonchalant way Jeremiah was going about things. His amusement faded when the assassins stepped forward.

“Our meeting is now. Mr. Zsasz is on his way.” The woman on the right spoke, her gun trained on Bruce’s forehead.

A whisper in his ear startled him. “Smith and Wesson Model 10HB. That makes her one of his right-hand henchwomen.” Jeremiah quickly glanced at the other girl’s weapon. “Model 64. Check.” He straightened up to address them again. “I’m truly flattered that Zsasz needed his best and most valued fighters to detain us while he takes his sweet time arriving. It is an honor to be held at gunpoint by the Zsaszettes.” Bruce snickered at the name, but figured he wasn’t in the best place to comment.

However, she didn’t look very mollified. The Zsaszette on the left indicated the ground with her revolver. “Sit.” They complied, Jeremiah seeming rather at ease.

The gunshots and yelling were nearing them by the second. Bruce could see the silhouettes of falling bodies and bright flashes accompanying each shot.

      “I won’t have anyone left by the time they’re finished,” Jeremiah said with distaste. “And I just replaced them, too.” The way he referred to his followers as objects was somewhat unsettling.

       After what seemed like hours, a pale bald head with large bright eyes appeared in front of them, brushing his darkly clothed shoulders as he walked.

“So sorry for the wait, gentlemen,” Victor Zsasz said as he approached, adjusting his gloves. “Your guys put up way more of a fight than I thought they would. They’re weird though. They all just kept screaming about how you were their savior or some bullshit. But don’t worry, I saved you the trouble of having to get rid of them.” He happily waved his arm in the direction of the corpses surrounding them. It made him sick. Bruce could see that there was some sort of rifle strapped to his back. He briefly wondered if Jeremiah could name it.

His question was answered by another whisper tickling his ear. “Desert Tactical Arms Stealth Recon Scout. Sniper rifle. I can’t imagine what he went through to get one of those in Gotham.”

“Payment,” Zsasz responded. Apparently Jeremiah’s whisper had carried. “Babs had a whole stash of fancy weapons lying around. She wanted to sell them. Between you and me though, she’s insane. This was just part of her taxes. Although, I’m impressed you could name it. You just earned major points in my book, clown-boy. Shame we’re going to have to end your little reign here.” He pulled the rifle from his back, pocketing one of his handguns.

The man next to him was so affronted, he seemed to bristle. “Clown-boy?” he asked softly.

Zsasz adjusted the scope. “Y’know. White face. Red lips. Freaky eyes. All you need now is weird hair. Oh wait, never mind.”

A loud familiar voice yelled down the tunnel. “What does everyone in this city have against redheads?” Bruce was both shocked and thrilled to see Jerome racing down the tracks, three other people following close behind him. Shock won out, though, as a shot from his revolver took out the Zsaszette on the left. He was standing in front of them now. “Sorry, was that uncalled for? You all know how excited I get.”

Sweet-smelling breath was once again on his ear, this time so close that Jeremiah’s lips were brushing against the pink shell. “Smith and Wesson Model 37 Airweight.” Jeremiah held up his own weapon, lips still pressed against Bruce’s ear. “TiSas Zigana.” He couldn’t help it; he giggled at what was now becoming a running joke. Another gunshot. The stone at Jeremiah’s crossed legs flew up as it crumbled from the impact.

“I want five feet of space between you two. Now.”

Zsasz’s impatient voice interrupted. “S’cuse me, I promised my girl I’d be home for dinner. So can we skip the competitive love triangle thing and get this moving?” He was staring at the body of his fallen assassin. Even though his words were simple, his tone was furious.

“With pleasure,” Jeremiah said as he stood. The second Zsaszette fell as he lowered the arm holding his weapon.

The look Victor gave them radiated hatred. “I was going to go easy on you. On Bruce, at least. I didn’t want a lawsuit on my hands. Not now though. Now, I get to carry out this mission with as much ruthless bloodshed as I want.” He nodded to himself as he raised his rifle. “Any last words, boys?” Before any of them could respond, Victor was knocked on the head by a splintered wooden post. A small woman appeared behind his crumpled body, gripping the post tightly.

“Ah, the downfall of any decent criminal. Monologuing.” She laughed to herself and went to stand next to Jerome.

The older boy pocketed his gun. “I didn’t even get to have any fun with him.”

She placed a hand on his arm and looked at Jerome with flirtatious dark eyes. “Don’t worry, I only knocked him out. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to torment him in the future. Although, it doesn’t look like he’ll make it home for dinner.” She laughed, a pretty chirping noise.

Bruce stood up, watching the pair. He didn’t like the way she was running her hand up and down his bicep, gripping it and smiling at him. Jeremiah seemed to notice the distaste in his expression. Bruce didn’t happen to catch the glee in his. The arm that had been circled around his waist before everything had gotten so complicated resumed its position, pulling him close to Jeremiah.

Normally, he would be pissed off by the obvious display of affection, but right now, he figured Jerome had it coming. Bruce was still angry with him over their earlier argument. So instead of pushing his brother away, he leaned against him. This didn’t go unnoticed by the other boy. His eyebrows shot up at the obvious challenge Bruce had set.

And then Jerome placed a gentle kiss on the girl’s head, causing her to abruptly stop her endless babbling. “You’re absolutely right, he had it coming. Now tell me about that new apartment building you’re thinking of turning into headquarters.” She was blushing, but that didn’t stop her from launching into a whole new train of pointless thought.

He didn’t even know her name and he hated her. With every ounce of hatred he could muster. It was all for her. The man holding him seemed to feel the shift in his attitude. He’d gone from slightly competitive to beyond livid in a matter of seconds. Bruce turned and gripped Jeremiah’s coat.

“Thank you so much for defending me from them. I couldn’t have handled them by myself.” Jerome would probably know he was bullshitting but as of right now, Jeremiah wasn’t totally aware of Bruce’s stubborn need to be completely independent. “You were so brave,” he murmured breathily, adjusting his collar.

“It wasn’t a problem. If such chaotic elements hadn’t interefered, I could have handled that without any casualties.”

Feeling even more daring, he laid his head on Jeremiah’s chest. “I know you could have. I wish that things had been done your way.” Bruce almost felt bad for using him to get a rise out of Jerome. Almost.

He felt pianist fingers begin to toy with strands of his hair. “Next time, I’ll make sure they are done my way.” Lips grazed Bruce’s ear.

“Dammit!” Jerome growled, pushing the girl away. “Hands off. Now.” He yanked Jeremiah off of Bruce. Maybe the paler boy liked to boast greater intellect, but Jerome was undoubtedly stronger. They simply couldn’t debate that one.

“Is there a problem, Jerome?” Bruce asked innocently. The woman who’d been clinging to him looked offended, raising her post angrily.

“You know damn well that there’s a problem.”

“For those of us who don’t know what’s goin’ on, care to fill us in?” the girl interjected.

“Identical gingers fuck the small brunette. It is easy to see,” commented a very large man without any hair who was walking towards them. He was accompanied by another man with a massive hooked nose.

Jerome whirled around, facing him. “There is not and there will not be any fucking!” He turned back to Jeremiah quickly. “At least, there better not have been,” he added in a menacing growl. His twin just shrugged, refusing to put his mind and heart at ease. Jerome’s turquoise eyes flared at the lack of a response.

“Uh, sure. Whatever you say, boss.” The large man looked confused, but continued. “The perimeter is clear. The rest of the assassins scrammed when they saw that Elise had taken out Zsasz.” So that was her name. Elise. It was a nice name but...nope, he still didn’t like her. “What do we do from here?”

“Go home. Get drunk. Jump off a building. I don’t really care.”

“Jerome!” he exclaimed, surprised by his rudeness. Usually, he tried to be pretty charismatic, making this severely out of character.

“Oh, calm down, Brucie.” He looked at the people who’d followed him here. “I need you three to run off now. We’ll be in touch.” They seemed dejected but complied, probably sensing the gathering thunderstorm that was his mood. “It’s funny,” he said as he turned back to Bruce and Jeremiah. “I go through all of this trouble of tracking you down, agreeing to shitty deals, stealing vehicles, running away, and making sure I didn’t accidentally murder your best friend, and it’s still not enough. What does this psychopath have that I don’t?” Jerome half-heartedly kicked at his brother, but it was easily avoided.

Jeremiah opened his mouth to respond, but Bruce elbowed him. “It’s not some sort of stupid competition. I’m just figuring a lot of shit out right now. And I know I’m hurting both of you in the process. I’m sorry. All I need is time.”

“More like all you keep asking for is time,” Jeremiah muttered. This time, Jerome’s kick connected, causing him to inhale sharply with pain. But he still managed to get another sentence out. “It’s fine, Bruce. People who really care about you are willing to wait.”

He shook his head. “Don’t suck up to me. It’s pathetic.” Bruce glanced at his watch. “It’s going to be dark soon and there’s no way I’m walking all the way back to the manor tonight. Jeremiah can handle Zsasz. I’m going to go track down a place to stay on this side of town. Clearly, you two still have things you need to work out. As usual, you’re absolutely atrocious together.”

Every (conscious) person in the room was having severe deja vu right now, but none of them commented on it. The atmosphere was charged with all sorts of emotions. When neither of the Valeskas responded to his slight, he turned to walk in the direction of the nearest station, ignoring their eyes and the bodies he passed.

Chapter Text

Alright, the motel was shitty. Bruce definitely could have found better. But after the night he’d just had, he really couldn’t be bothered to search any longer. So, he paid at the front desk, receiving a suspicious look from the clerk.

“Are you even old enough to be buying a room?” she asked as she handed him a key.

“Well, if you didn’t ask for my ID as soon as I walked up, then I think your policies are the problem.” He took the key from her, twirling it in his fingers as he walked down the hall, leaving a gaping desk clerk behind him.

Now he was sitting on the bed, staring at the wall in deep thought. This has perhaps been one of the longest days of his life. It was hard to believe that Jeremiah had left just that morning. And today marked the close of his second week spent in the constant company of each Valeska brother. Weird. Time always seemed to warp and speed up whenever he was around them. Maybe it had been two weeks in normal time. It was months to him, though.

It almost didn’t surprise him when he heard a hesitant knock on his door. Based on the volume, Bruce assumed Jeremiah had tracked him down. It wouldn’t have been very difficult. He walked over to the door and cracked it, talking as he went.

“Look, Jeremiah. It’s a little soon. We can talk more when…” It wasn’t Jeremiah.

“Thanks, asshole. He’s not the only person with a compassionate bone in his body, y’know.” Jerome stepped past him to move into the room. He whistled, taking in the grey curtains, drab decor, and very uncomfortable bed. “Nice place you’ve got here. There’s not even a reason to go back home when you’ve got all of this.”

Bruce went to resume sitting on the bed. “You never cease to amuse me.” He didn’t sound very amused.

The older boy joined him. “So, you’re still angry, correct?”

“I don’t know, what does it look like?”

“That’s a very difficult question to answer. Your expressions range from thinking, to upset, to confused, to brooding, to slightly more upset.”

“Is that an insult?”

Jerome looked frustrated. “No, Bruce. I’m not trying to pick another fight with you.”

“That’s a first,” he muttered.

“Could you stop being an angst-filled teenager for one minute and have a reasonable conversation with me without all of this passive-aggressive bullshit?”

Absolutely not. He turned his head to the side without answering.

All he earned for it was elongated silence. The boy next to him eventually sighed. “Okay, I’ll cave and be the mature one for once, because clearly you’re in a mood.” Another sigh. He seemed anxious about something. “I have something I need to talk to you about. Not about us, or what happened, or...him. Something bigger, more important.”

Bruce finally turned to look at him. “What is it?”

“Well...honestly, I’m surprised you haven’t asked about this already. I sorta accidentally mighta mentioned it earlier.”

“That was the most vague thing you’ve ever said to me. And not giving any details is an inconvenient specialty of yours.”

Jerome rubbed the back of his neck nervously and ruffled his bright hair. “It’s Selina,” he stated simply.

This immediately grabbed Bruce’s attention. “What about Selina?” His mind flashed back to the argument he’d gotten into with both Valeska twins a couple of hours ago. A memory raced across his mind. “Wait. ‘...making sure I didn’t accidentally murder your best friend…’” Bruce glared at Jerome with intensity. “What the fuck did you do?”

“I’ve heard you cuss more in this one day than I have in all my years of knowing you.”

“Three things. First. This is a completely inappropriate time for jokes. Second. You didn’t know me very well during those four years. Third. You’ve given me a lot to cuss about today.” Bruce was still giving him that cold steely look. “Tell me. Now. Is Selina okay?”

Pale fingers clasped themselves together. Another sign of agitation. “I don’t know.”

“Jerome! What do you mean, you don’t know? What did you do to her?!” Bruce was yelling now, probably being incredibly discourteous to the other motel guests. Not that there were many others.

The fingers were shaking. “I-I don’t know, Bruce. I hurt her. I didn’t mean to. Well, I did at the time. But I was already so..I don’t know. Insane, I guess. She said and did things that were irritating me and I suddenly just snapped.”

“What did you do?” he asked again in a trembling whisper.

Now, Jerome wouldn’t meet his gaze. “You don’t want to hear it.”

“That’s such bullshit! You’re telling me you could have killed my best friend and yet you won’t tell my when, why, or how? Stop being so self-absorbed! Don’t make me beat it out of you.”

Flat angry eyes were staring into his frightened yet defiant brown ones. “I broke her wrist. Snapped it. I was strangling her. Using her own arm. She was screaming, kicking, and crying. Until she wasn’t anymore. Is that what you wanted to hear? And you know what the best part is? Part of me loved it. Savored every second of it. Like a masterful work of art. A beautiful film that I’ll never get to see again, but I’ll keep trying because I’m a goddamn psychopath, Bruce. I’m not your cute little demon. You can’t tame me, even if you keep trying so desperately. Is that what you wanted to hear?”

“Is she alive?” were the only words that Bruce managed to form.

“She was when I left.”

Jerome was breathing heavily now, still gazing into Bruce’s eyes. Fury boiled in them, but there was something else too. He took a moment to analyze it. Disgust, he decided. Self-loathing. Jerome hated himself. And he had for a long time.

So many emotions were filling him, tearing him apart, all ravenous for his acknowledgment. Painful concern for Selina, accompanied by the need to rush back home and see her. Make sure she was alive, that he was telling the truth. He was also furious with Jerome. Understandably, he supposed. Anger rushed through his veins like fire, telling him to retaliate towards the person who’d hurt the only one who understood him and stuck by his side unconditionally. Even when they had fights, he could always count on Selina to be there if he needed her. And Jerome had hurt her. Maybe permanently.

And yet another emotion craved his attention. Sympathy. Compassion. No matter how often he tried to deny it, he was instilled with love and kindness. And Jerome was clearly going through his own form of torment. That was something Bruce could understand. But he’d taken it out on a person innocent to his pain. And that wasn’t something Bruce understood. To him, that was unjust. Excruciatingly so. The unfairness of it all left a bitter taste in his mouth.

“I need to go home.” He rose and moved to grab his shoes.

Firm hands gripped his shoulders. The eyes that bore into his looked guilty, tortured, and resentful. “I know how urgent getting back to the manor and checking on Selina is. I completely understand. But take a minute to look at it logically, as you usually do. How do you plan on getting there? We’re on the other side of the city, most transport services are completely shut down because of the recent evacuation, and it’s the middle of the night.”

“I don’t know! But I’ll find a way,” he snapped. “It’s your fault any of this happened, you could at least show some concern.”

“You can’t see how much this is killing me?”

The vulnerability and desperation in the whisper caught him off guard. He didn’t turn to look at him, afraid that he might shatter if he did. “It doesn’t matter how terrible you feel. It happened. And I need to fix it.”

“Why do you always feel like it’s your job to fix everything?” Jerome shouted. Dammit, his mood swings were unpredictable.

“Because people like you run around breaking everything!”

“Maybe because people like you built a society on synthetic feathers and broken glass.”

“At least I don’t try to strangle my boyfriend’s best friend.” The word slipped out, but Bruce didn’t bother correcting it. And Jerome didn’t acknowledge it.

“Of course you don’t! You were born and raised into a perfect life. What reason would you possibly have to hurt someone?”

“Oh, so you had a reason? Great, let’s hear it. And I swear to god, if you talk about your parents once, I’m calling the police.”

“I’m surprised you haven’t called them already, you’re such a fucking brown-nose.”

“Hate me all you want for doing the right thing. I don’t really care. Because I know what my own morals are. You don’t even have any.”

A hard object flew through the air and hit Bruce’s shoulder.

“Call Alfred.”

Bruce picked up the motel phone that had been flung at him, still attached to the bedside table by its cord. He looked at Jerome, but he was staring at the far wall. Bruce could see him breathing deeply. The boy was trying to calm himself down and reign in his emotions. Good.

The other line picked up on the first ring. It seems as though his butler had been expecting his call.

“Bruce! Are you alright? Where are you?” Alfred sounded more relieved than frantic, which was a good sign.

“Alfred! I’m on the far side of town. I’m fine. Is Selina okay?”

“Ah, I thought that’s what you might be calling about. You never call just to tell me where you are when you run off.”

“But she’s okay?” Alfred wouldn’t be teasing him if she weren’t, right?

“Yes, Master B. She’s in excellent health. A few bruises and a fractured wrist, from I have no idea what, but she’s alright. Of course, she refused to get her wrist X-rayed and instead insisted on binding it herself. But between you and me,” he said in a low whisper, “someone might slip something in her evening tea and have a professional look at it while she sleeps.”

“You know she’d never forgive you for that.”

“She’ll thank me later. Funnily enough though, she won’t tell me how it happened. Keeps saying how it was her fault. Now, I don’t know about you, but I certainly can’t give myself a spiral fracture.”

“And I take it you can tell what sort of fracture it is because of all of those government secret mis-”

“Hush now. Would you like to speak to her? She’s just standing here glaring at me.”

Bruce chuckled. “Sure, Alfred. Thank you. I should be home tomorrow.”

“Alright, stay safe, Master B.” He heard the muffled bumps of the phone being transferred between hands.

“‘Sup, dork?” Selina asked, charming as ever.

“Thank goodness you’re okay. Why didn’t you tell Alfred what happened?” Across from him, Jerome stood up and quietly exited the room. “Wait, where are you going?” The latching of the door was the only sound he got in response.

“Was that Jerome?” She didn’t sound resentful. Just curious.

“Uh, yes. He just left, I guess.”

“I didn’t say anything because I don’t blame him, Bruce.”

Her words surprised him. “What do you mean, you don’t blame him? He could have killed you!”

“Hey, I’ve tried to kill you before, and we’re still good.”

He thought about that for a moment. “Okay, but not seriously. And besides, we’ve known each other for a long time. You barely know him.”

Selina sighed, her breath crackling over the cheap phone. “Bruce, think about it this way. Morally, on a scale from 1-10, you’re at an eight. I’m at a five. Now think about Jerome. Where would he lie?”

“Three.”

“Nice try.”

“Fine, two.”

“Better. So if his standard, as a two, is murdering people when the urge strikes, then what would happen if he decided to not kill them?”

“I guess that would be a good thing?”

“Exactly. He had the chance and desire to kill me right there. The fact that he deliberately chose not to kill me shows that he’s both empathetic and improving.”

“And you’re okay with that?” Honestly, this was a bit hard to follow. If he were Selina, he would be beyond pissed. And she wasn’t even remotely upset.

“Of course I’m okay with that. He’s getting better, Bruce. You being in his life has already started to show new things to him. Like compassion. That’s good.”

“But he hurt you.”

“Why are you trying so hard to get me to be angry with him? I get hurt all the time. And that’s sort of a risk you run when staying in a house with possibly psychotic twins, a depressed edgy kid, and...Alfred.” She said his butler’s name like it was the most menacing thing in the world. Bruce couldn’t help but laugh.

“So, what do I do then?” he asked hesitantly.

“About what?”

“About Jerome. We got in an argument. The second serious one today. But...I think I’m the bad guy here.”

“What do you mean?”

“He feels terrible. About everything. Mostly about what he did to you. And it’s possible he just left the place I’m staying at.”

“He feels bad?”

“Yes.

“Even better. I mean, sorry that he’s feeling shitty, but the whole feeling thing means every psychiatrist’s diagnosis he’s ever received is wrong.”

“You’re saying that he’s not a psychopath.”

“Yes, that’s what I’m saying. Would you like me to spell it out on a postcard and mail it to you?”

“No, but thanks for considering the effort. And it doesn’t really matter what he is technically. He believes that he’s utterly insane and incapable of emotion.”

“Then prove to him that he’s not.”

“And how am I supposed to do that?” he asked, frustrated.

“I don’t know. I’m not frickin’ Dr. Phil.” She thought for a minute. “Do something that triggers emotion. Show him that, no matter how hard he tries, he can’t be heartless.”

“What would I even do? Buy him a puppy?”

“Has he screwed you yet?”

WHAT?

“Answer the question, Bruce.”

“No! How could you even-I mean, honestly...just...no. What does that even have to do with this? And more importantly, why do you think he would be screwing me?” Bruce spluttered indignantly. He looked up to make sure Jerome hadn’t entered the room again without him knowing.

“I’m just sayin’, that would definitely trigger emotion. And besides, you have ‘bottom’ written all over you.” He could practically hear her smirk.

“Shut up, Selina. That wouldn’t work.”

“But it might.”

“There’s no way that’s happening, so drop it.”

“All I’m saying is you need to do something that elicits strong positive emotions. Do whatever you want.” There was a muffled voice coming through the line. “That’s Alfred. Apparently it’s tea time. Yaaaaaaay.” The sarcasm dripped from her words, but Bruce would bet she really didn’t mind. “I’ve gotta go. Tell Jerome that I’m not mad at him. And also he owes me for hospital bills.”

“But you didn’t go to the hospital.”

“He doesn’t need to know that.” Selina laughed. “See ya, Bruce.”

“Bye, Selina. Have a good night.” He placed the phone down on the receiver. Now would probably be a good time to go find Jerome.

Stepping outside of his room, he immediately spotted a ruffled mess of red hair sitting against the wall at the end of the hallway. Thank goodness. He walked towards him, deciding against shouting a known convict’s name down the hall of a public building.

Jerome saw him approaching, but wouldn’t meet his gaze. Instead, he folded his hands and turned away. Bruce had never seen him this quiet. Usually he was bouncing off the walls or brimming with pent-up energy and excitement. Right now, he wasn’t doing either of those things.

“Selina is okay. She doesn’t blame you. In fact, she’s proud in a weird way. I don’t really understand her, but the point is, no permanent damage was done.”

He still wouldn’t look at Bruce.

“So now you’re being passive-aggressive? That’s rather out of character. Not to mention hypocritical.” Bruce sat by him, crossing his legs.

“Sometimes it’s hard to put on a show,” the older boy admitted quietly.

“You don’t always have to.”

They sat in silence for a few moments, internally dealing with their own demons. Bruce leaned his head back against the wall and closed his eyes. A familiar hand hesitantly placed itself over his. Not opening his eyes, he smiled lightly and turned his own hand over, wrapping his fingers around Jerome’s.

“We’re pretty fucked up, aren’t we?” Jerome asked with a chuckle, squeezing his hand.

“Yep,” Bruce laughed. He leaned against him, resting his head on Jerome’s shoulder.

The hand that wasn’t twined with his reached up to stroke his hair. “Y’know, anyone could walk out here and see us.”

“There aren’t any cars in the parking lot and each door’s lock is turned to ‘open’. I’d wager a guess that, if we aren’t alone, there aren’t many other people here. And most would be retired for the night anyways.”

“Wow, look at your fancy detectives skills. Next thing I know, Jimbo will be offering you a paid internship and then all of a sudden you’ll have your own badge. Then you can hunt down lunatic assholes like me for a living.” Jerome grinned bitterly at the thought.

“You’re not a lunatic. Although you can be an asshole.”

“Thanks, Brucie. You’re really cheerin’ me up. Maybe you should start a self-help group. Spew your excellent wisdom to the world.”

“Hey, I have a wonderful outlook on things.”

“If you qualify extreme pessimism and inadvertent rudeness as wonderful.”

“At least the rudeness is accidental,” Bruce reasoned.

His comment received a bark of laughter from the boy beside him. “At least there’s that!”

“Let’s go inside the room, it’ll be more comfortable.”

Jerome gaped at him in mock disbelief. “What? Sitting on this cheap carpet against poorly-painted sheetrock isn’t comfortable?”

“Surprisingly enough, no.”

The other boy stood, pulling Bruce up with him. He yanked a little too hard though, and Bruce collided against Jerome. Instead of pulling away, Bruce wrapped his arms around Jerome and pressed his head against his broad chest. He felt his hair being gently caressed as he breathed in the smoky-sweet scent that always seemed to surround Jerome. Cinnamon, ginger, and a wildfire. All rolled into one. It was intoxicating.

Bruce felt him bend down a bit and a whisper blew against his ear. “We should get inside before I lose all of the self control I just recently found.” Smiling, they walked back towards Bruce's room, hand in hand.

Chapter Text

Still clinging to him, Bruce allowed himself to be led back into the motel room. The door slammed shut with a flick of Jerome’s arm. Bruce pushed against his chest, trapping the older boy between him and the wall. Maybe Selina’s idea hadn’t been too off the mark.

“Someone is being awfully bold,” Jerome commented, gazing down at him.

Unsure of exactly where he planned on going with this, Bruce just said, “You can’t always be in charge.” He pressed his lips against Jerome’s, still holding him firmly against the wall. It deepened quickly, but Jerome seemed content to let him be in control.

That is, until he gathered Bruce up in his arms unexpectedly and plopped him down on the bed.

“It was a valiant attempt, but I just don’t think you have it in you yet,” Jerome teased, still standing.

“You didn’t give me enough of a chance,” Bruce huffed, crossing his arms.

Jerome tugged at his elbows. “Oh, come on. You like it when I’m in charge.” He placed his hands against the mattress, leaning down to look Bruce in the eyes.

The way he stared at him with such an enticing mix of mischief and tenderness made his heart beat seven times faster. “Even if that were true, you and I both know I’d never admit it.”

He was tantalizingly close now, legs pressed against Bruce’s knees. “That almost sounds like you’re admitting it.”

“I would never.” It was becoming difficult to breathe, let alone think.

“Then I’ll just have to make you.” Jerome gripped Bruce’s wrists, pushing him back on the bed. Placing a knee on the edge of the mattress, he pulled himself up to straddle Bruce, released his hands, and kissed along his collarbone.

“Jerome,” Bruce whined, trying to tug him up for a proper kiss.

“Since when has whining ever worked with me?”

“It’s gotten me this far, I was hoping my luck would hold out a little longer.”

Jerome smirked, placing another kiss below his throat. “I think it just ran out.”

Wondering how far he could push him, Bruce gripped Jerome’s hair and yanked his head up, meeting his lips once more. Again, Jerome seemed content to settle into the kiss. Their tongues collided and Bruce twined red silky strands of hair around his fingers.

The kiss broke just as fast as the first one did. Jerome pulled away, gripping Bruce’s wrists as he did. The younger boy was now in a sitting position. Jerome sat up onto his knees, wrapping his arms around Bruce’s waist and lifting him as he stood.

“Wha-” His back was now against the wall and headboard. Without thinking, he wrapped his legs around Jerome who didn’t seem to be struggling with the weight at all. Damn, I really don’t give him enough credit, Bruce thought with a smile.

Jerome looked at his smile and smirked. “Are you going to admit it now?”

Turning to the side, he pretended to give it some thought. “Hmm, nope. I still feel rather unconvinced.”

“Guess I’ll just have to try harder then.” Another kiss, this one hard and rough. Bruce felt his lips being bitten and toyed with. He wasn’t sure if the dizziness in his head was caused from elation, arousal, or maybe the fact that he forgot how to breathe. Probably the third one.

Eventually he let Bruce stand, but gripped his wrists again. “I should’ve known you weren’t going to let me get away that easily,” Bruce teased with a smile.

“You’re absolutely right. A fatal mistake on your part, honestly.” In one swift motion, Jerome lifted Bruce’s arms above his head and pinned them to the wall with his hand. They kissed once more, Bruce secretly enjoying the way Jerome took charge and simply left him to go along with what he decided.

Bruce broke the kiss. “You know, this is pretty tame for you. No whips or chains. Not even a pair of handcuffs. I’m kind of disappointed.”

His partner grinned, his eyes sparkling. “I’ll be more prepared next time.”

“Pinning me against the wall is a nice touch, though.”

“What else was I supposed to do? You were staring at me with those wide innocent eyes of yours. Obviously, ruining that innocence was the next step. That stuff is dangerous.”

The brunette said nothing, letting his words wash over him. He hummed contentedly and leaned in again. Jerome’s kisses didn’t land on his lips this time. Instead, he placed a gentle peck on his cheek before giving his earlobe a quick nip.

“God, you’re so fucking pretty,” he whispered in a low growl, his breath tickling the shell of Bruce’s ear. “It’s not fair; guys like you are the reason the homosexual agenda is working.”

He laughed, but his breath hitched as he felt the hand that wasn’t pinning both of his to the wall move to his waist. It toyed with the hem of his shirt, deliberately avoiding brushing his stomach and waistband as it played with the fabric.

Jerome’s eyes were filled with fire as usual, but it felt more warm and tame this time. Like he was finally in control of his thoughts and emotions. And Bruce loved it.

“If I’m so pretty, why are taking so long to actually touch me?” His challenge seemed to stoke the flames. One auburn eyebrow quirked upwards as Jerome’s smile became much more sensual and mischievous.

“If you want me to touch you so badly, then just ask. Nicely.”

His dark eyes widened at the bold request. The hand that was pinning his seemed to press harder into his skin. “Are you telling me to beg for it?”

“Maybe I am.”

“Nice try. I won’t beg you for anything.”

Suddenly, Jerome’s voice got much deeper. “Oh, really? Certainty is a dangerous game, Brucie. But you know how much I love games...and how much I like to win.” A wet kiss was placed at the base of his neck. Bruce couldn’t help but turn so he had better access. The hand above his head wrapped itself around both his wrists, binding him tighter in place. Jerome’s second hand was still neglecting his body in favor of his shirt. Despite being distracted by the kiss, Bruce registered Jerome pulling his own body away ever so slightly. The lack of contact was beyond frustrating. But he wasn’t ready to give in just yet.

“It’s cute that you think you’re even putting up a fight. It’s going to take a lot more than a few hickies and a little bit of dominance to make me say what you want to hear.”

Jerome’s right hand was now hooked in one of the loops of Bruce’s jeans. “Perhaps ‘a little bit’ isn’t the way to go then.” He quickly sat back down on the bed, pulling Bruce with him. Once again, he found himself on the lap of a Valeska. Jerome bit the fleshy part of skin above his collarbone. “Tell me you want more.”

“No,” he responded, his eyes daring Jerome. Bruce felt his lips quirk into a smirk. He made sure that he spoke slowly and deliberately, as he didn’t seem to get the message the first time. “Make me.” It worked. In seconds, his shirt was lying on the floor and Jerome’s long fingers were tracing shapes on his stomach, just barely grazing his skin. They flew up to his chest, brushing over more sensitive areas, causing him to grit his teeth both in frustration and anticipation. Bruce tugged at the grey and black flannel shirt Jerome had thrown on that morning. It felt like ages ago.

“I don’t think so,” Jerome mused, pulling Bruce’s hands away from the buttons.

“That’s not fair.” He tried his best not to sound whiny after their earlier conversation, but he wasn’t sure if he succeeded.

Jerome was playing with a brunette curl now. “All you have to do is ask. Until then, you’re going to be cold and frustrated.”

“Fine, maybe I’ll just go find someone else to entertain me.”

The taunt worked. Jerome’s eyes narrowed. “You think someone else could do as good of a job?” He wrapped his arms around Bruce’s neck and met his gaze.

“I don’t know, since you aren’t doing much of anything right now.”

Fingers coiled in his hair, yanking his head down to Jerome’s, their lips not quite touching. “You think that someone else could touch you the way that I do?” His nails etched lines into Bruce’s hips and his fingers smoothed over them gently.

He refused to answer, keeping his eyes locked with Jerome’s, which were now only centimeters away from him.

Warm cinnamon breath encircled him. Jerome’s pink lips were tantalizingly close. Both of his hands moved to cup Bruce’s face. “Do you think that someone else could love you the way that I do?”

The question caught him off-guard. His eyes widened. This was the second time someone had confessed their love for him in only two days. One day, really. What the hell was he doing? Bruce had no idea, though he supposed Selina would probably say he was being a slut. All he knew was that he was screwing around with two forces way beyond him. And he couldn’t stop.

“No one can love me the same way you do,” he finally confessed with a whisper. He thought guiltily of Jeremiah before pushing his image from his mind.

“Good.” Jerome pressed his lips against Bruce’s fiercely, his hands trailing down his sides to grip his hips, pulling him closer against his body. The warmth that surrounded Jerome hit Bruce and he had the sudden urge to wrap his legs around the boy once more. He suppressed it, instead choosing to bite Jerome’s lip. Bruce lifted his arms and his hands threaded through the red locks.

The position lasted only a second before Jerome pulled back. Goosebumps rose up on Bruce’s exposed torso at the sudden cool air. Jerome clicked his tongue, watching Bruce shiver.

“Aw, look at you. Trying to be the assertive one again. For such an intelligent person, you’re having trouble learning. Now that is adorable.”

Bruce’s dark eyebrows rose at his condescending tone. “Are you saying that I’m not allowed to do what I want? Because I think the rich boy in me is going to have problems with that.”

Jerome’s hands lashed out to Bruce’s. Within the next instant, Bruce’s arms were above him and his hands were pinned again. It seemed to be a favourite position of his partner’s. Jerome leaned in further, his weight settling on Bruce so that he couldn’t move. Pressed together as they were, Bruce could feel every muscle in the older boy’s body.

“The Prince of Gotham is just going to have to swallow his complaints. Right now, you’re mine. That means you’re going to do what I say, or else this will be a long night.” Bruce’s eyes flashed at the command. When he opened his mouth to protest, however, he was interrupted. Jerome bit down, hard. Bruce tasted blood as he pulled away.

“It’s almost like you didn’t hear me the first time.” Jerome grinned and when he next kissed Bruce this time, it was gentle. Jerome’s tongue flicked out to lick the blood.

Most of Bruce went soft while his blood went rushing south. His head felt fuzzy and pleasant, the way it did the first time he started drinking. The rest of him, however, felt like it was on fire. Everywhere Jerome touched him tingled.

A low rumbling sound came from Jerome, the feeling vibrating against Bruce. The redhead leaned away, this time not going too far. His lips trailed down Bruce’s abdomen. His feather soft kisses driving his partner insane. Bruce raised his body, trying to force more pressure. Jerome simply used his free hand to force him back on the bed.

“If you want more, beg.” This time, Bruce didn’t bother trying to voice his complaints. It never worked anyway. When the brunette remained silent, Jerome decided it was time for a different tactic. Teeth nibbled on the tight skin over Bruce’s stomach. The boy whimpered at the contact.

The sound seemed to please Jerome. While his mouth kept busy, his other hand trailed down over pale skin. When he reached the waistband of his jeans, Bruce thought he would halt his proceedings as he’d done before. Instead, Jerome continued, resting his hand on the bronze zipper.

“Do you want me to stop?” Jerome asked directly, meeting Bruce’s gaze.

“You’re finally doing what I want, of course I’m not going to tell you to stop. What a waste of time that would be.”

Bruce’s response seemed to please Jerome. With a practiced motion, he undid the zipper and gently eased the jeans downward a bit. His fingers trailed along Bruce’s hip, taking a moment to grip him tightly as he continued his taunting kisses. Electricity danced along Bruce’s skin with every touch.

When the redhead returned to the front, his hands dipped lower. Soft pads of his fingers ran under Bruce’s black boxers. He grazed the base of the younger boy and Bruce bucked up on instinct. Jerome ran his fingers along the bulge in the dark cloth. A strangled groan loud enough to drown out the squeak of the old mattress escaped.

“Shit, Je-!” Bruce was cut off by Jerome repeating the action, this time also moving up to kiss Bruce with similar intensity. At the feel of his soft lips, Bruce opened his mouth immediately. Teeth and tongues meshed, Bruce winning out and returning the bite from earlier. They both tasted blood and when they pulled apart, Jerome grinned widely. He seemed to enjoy the competition.

The smiling boy began another trail of kisses down, this one only slightly harder. He stopped at his base once more and his tongue flicked out and trailed just barely lower. At the sound of Bruce’s voice, he pulled up and let the boxers slide back into place.

“More.” Jerome’s tongue traced circles against the brunette’s hard nipple. The pink bud received a hard bite next that sent Bruce’s hips back in the air. He shuddered from the sensation as his pants quickly became far too tight.

“Please, Jerome!” Grinning at his victory, Jerome released his partner’s hands long enough to liberate Bruce from the waist down. His own shirt followed the clothes onto the floor.

He took a moment to appreciate the older teenager’s good looks; Bruce had never gotten this much of a close-up before. As Jerome leaned forward again, Bruce ran his fingers along the defined muscles and abs composing his body. They must have a nice gym in Arkham. Probably what all of his donations went towards.

“I love hearing that word from you.” Jerome replaced one hand over Bruce’s wrists. He tightened his grip when Bruce tested it.

“Don’t get used to it.”

“We’ll see about that.” Jerome huffed a laugh, his cinnamon breath blowing along Bruce’s skin as he leaned over him. More kisses were littered down Bruce’s torso, these more rough than the last. Bruce groaned in appreciation and raised his body to create more friction. Jerome allowed the movement and continued his exploration.

When he finally reached Bruce’s hip, his partner paused and looked up. “Now, are you going to be a good boy and listen to me so I can jerk you off properly?” A thrill went through Bruce and his blood heated and pooled. Licking his lips, Bruce nodded. He didn’t trust his voice.

Another wild grin and his eyes lit up. Bruce got caught for a moment, admiring how Jerome’s eyes, bluer than usual, flickered in the dim light of the hotel room. He came back to reality when a rough voice spoke next.

“Remember when I told you that if I didn’t have any self control, I’d pin you against the headboard? Well now I have control and I still wanna pin ya against the headboard. Funny how life works. Grab the headboard. And don’t let go.” Jerome’s eyes roamed the length of Bruce, eyes shamelessly lingering on his hardness. “And since it took you so long to be polite, I don’t think you deserve to touch anything yourself just yet.”

Groaning at the thought, but undeniably turned on, he grabbed the wooden headboard. His eyes darkening, he watched as the redhead leaned over him and slid down his body. Jerome’s hands ran down pale sides and headed lower. He stopped to teasingly squeeze Bruce’s ass on his way, eliciting a pleased gasp as he did.

Hands littered with calluses and scars traced the inside of Bruce’s thighs. After what felt like eternity, they made their way to his length and set an agonizingly slow pace.

Bruce couldn’t help but moan loudly at the feeling. His hands continued to grip the headboard and the wood groaned. Jerome’s hands tightened their grip and seemed to speed up along with the sounds he made.

“Oh shit, Je-!” Bruce cut short with a cry as Jerome teased the tip, moving his hands faster still. The headboard creaked loudly under the pressure Bruce put on it. Warm breath ghosted over Bruce as Jerome huffed a laugh.

“Is that my new nickname? Little mundane, don’t you think?”

Swallowing thickly, Bruce answered, “I’m a little preoccupied right now, anything I come up with won’t be up to your standards.”

Fingers rubbing over the precum coated head, Jerome smirked. “What’s the first thing that comes to mind?”

It was hard to think. All he wanted was for Jerome to continue what he’d been doing. His blood was boiling, his skin on fire. All he could think about was Jerome. Jerome and his strong hands and lips and teeth and beautiful muscles and that damn tongue. Last time Bruce had felt this way was… well, never. Despite the haze in his mind, Bruce did have one idea.

“Joker.” He grinned at Jerome’s confused expression. “You act like a fool but that’s all it is. An act. You’re smart, charismatic. You could get a lot more done if you weren’t such a joker. Not to mention you use it as your calling card.” He angled his head and bent down towards Bruce. Their lips touched, this kiss more tender than the others. When they pulled apart, Jerome gave an honest smile.

“Pun. I like it. A little cheesy, and a bit too theatrical for me, but an admirable attempt.”

Bruce gaped in mock surprise. “Too theatrical for Jerome Valeska? I didn’t know there was such a thing.”

Laughing, Jerome returned to their situation and gazed at him thoughtfully, more adoration in his expression now than Bruce had seen collectively in years. After a moment of consideration he said, “Stop looking so damn cute so I can get back to teasing those beautiful sounds from you.” At Bruce’s curious stare he added, “Unless you think we’re done.” Bruce turned back to the wall quickly, wishing he could see Jerome but enjoying himself nonetheless.

A warm huff tickled his ear. “I don’t think I’ve seen you ever take orders so well.” Jerome’s hand caressed his neck before traveling down his body. Tongue and teeth met his earlobe and Bruce shuddered again.

As hands trailed down, Bruce’s head fell back against broad shoulders. “I’m not sure you understand how much a privilege this is. You know I hate taking orders, and yet here I am, listening to yours.” Bruce wasn’t even sure if he was teasing or being serious. Jerome paused and Bruce turned his head and felt his pulse speed up. In the next moment, Jerome’s hands resumed, fingers tracing nonsensical shapes and raising goosebumps as they went.

“As long as I’m the only one you take orders from, it’s fine. Otherwise, we’re going to have a much less pleasant chat.” For a moment, bright green eyes and a man that was similar yet so different from the one holding him flashed in Bruce’s mind. The image was forgotten once more as hands wrapped around the base of Bruce again. He gasped and leaned more fully against Jerome. The redhead started slow, trying to get a new reaction out of him. At Bruce’s rolling hips and pitiful whimpers he tightened his hand to hold him more fully. And yet he kept the agonizing pace.

“Jerome!” Bruce moaned again and Jerome’s second hand lowered as well. Gentle fingers rubbed between his thighs, and he set to work making a new mark on his throat. “More! Please,” he added. Smiling into Bruce’s neck, he gladly listened. The hand around him sped up to a rapid pace. Panting heavily, Bruce moaned again. Arms tightened and Jerome pressed against him closer, if it was possible.

“Fuck,” Bruce managed to hear him even over the sound of flesh against flesh and his head buried in Bruce’s neck. “I love you.” He bit down at the base of Bruce’s throat. Tilting his head to allow better access, Bruce took one of his hands that had been supporting him against the wall and reached back to wrap it in Jerome’s hair.

“I’ve loved you for a long time.” The bite became aggressive, as did Jerome’s hands. The pace sped up even more and Bruce cried out in pleasure. Not even able to hold out long enough to give a warning, Bruce came over the wall and pillow in front of them. Hands gentling, Jerome’s arms pulled Bruce further against him. His head remained buried in the crook of Bruce’s neck.

Every nerve tingled and Bruce felt hyper aware. From Jerome’s soft eyelashes to the rough fabric and cooling sweat, he felt it all. Especially the hard object poking him in the back. He felt his face warm as he registered just what was pressed against him. Now that he thought about it, he had been too immersed in his own pleasure to register Jerome’s growing erection. He was actually slightly surprised the other boy hadn’t grinded against him more.

Breath finally slowing to a normal pace, Bruce twisted his head to try to get a look at his partner. Jerome’s own breathing was shallow and slow, his body tense against Bruce. In one smooth movement, Bruce used his considerable strength to knock Jerome off balance. They landed on the other side of the bed. Jerome made a startled sound that was swallowed by Bruce’s kiss.

“Wha-?” Another kiss loosened Jerome’s shoulders. His hands threaded through soft dark hair.

“I think it’s my turn.” He tugged at the black jeans hugging Jerome’s legs, pulling the zipper as he inched them down.

“Wait,” Jerome said, placing a hand gently on his cheek. “You don’t need to do anything, Bruce. You’ve already let me go way past my self-set limitations.”

“You’re right. I don’t need to do anything. I want to. And besides, since when were you so sweet and selfless?”

Jerome gasped in mock offense. “Bruce! When am I not sweet and selfless?”

He was stroking him lightly now through the fabric of his jeans, teasing him as he spoke. “Is that a rhetorical question? Because if not, I feel like you don’t want to know the answer.”

“Rude.” He looked at Bruce and quirked an eyebrow mischievously. “If you’re going to be so insistent about the whole thing though, it’d be nice if you put that pretty mouth of yours to work doing something else besides running it.”

“Hmph. After that comment, I almost don’t want to.”

Jerome wrapped his fingers in Bruce’s brunette curls, pulling him up for a kiss. Deciding this was too fun to pass up, Bruce bit his tongue playfully. Jerome pulled back, his expression a curious mix between surprise, impatience, and humour.

“You’re such a brat.”

Bruce laughed, kissing him again, this time softly. “I know.” He left a trail of kisses from his lips, to his neck, and down along his stomach and toned muscles. Still feeling daring, he pulled the older boy’s black boxers down with his teeth.

He wasn’t disappointed by what he saw. Predictably, Jerome was slightly larger than him, in both length and width. Fire burned in his chest as he looked at him, leaving more taunting kisses along his length. Jerome hissed through his teeth at the light contact, and for once, he wasn’t watching Bruce. His head was back in the comforter and his eyes were closed.

Well that wouldn’t do. Bruce wanted him to watch him. Gripping Jerome’s half-clothed legs, he pulled himself and his partner to the side of the bed. Turquoise eyes blinked open and gazed at him curiously, but he didn’t say anything. Sliding off the edge and kneeling, Bruce moved Jerome so that his legs were hanging off of the mattress.

“I want to do this properly,” Bruce explained. “And I swear, if you take your eyes off of me, I will never make you toast ever again.”

Jerome grinned widely and laughed. “That’s a very serious threat, Brucie. I guess I’ll have to do as I’m told.”

Bruce held him in his hand and began to move, setting a steady pace. Occasionally he dipped down to tease him with his tongue. Finally, he stopped tempting Jerome and wrapped his lips around him. The reaction was immediate. Fingers returned to his hair as he bobbed his head, taking more of him each time. Despite never having done this before, he soon became accustomed to the motion. Electricity continued to dance in his veins as he pleased the boy who had both tormented and loved him for so long. Jerome was right; life does work in funny ways.

At least Jerome kept his word. He never looked away from Bruce, enraptured by his determined, lust-filled dark eyes. Eventually, the heat from the sensation began to build. Jerome tugged on brunette curls, signalling to Bruce that he was almost finished. He pulled up just in time; Bruce almost felt bad for housekeeping.

The older boy pulled Bruce back up onto the bed, kissing him with renewed vigour. His tongue gently ran over each bite mark left from the night’s events, erasing the pain that came with them, but preserving the pleasure. The off-white sheets felt softer than they had half an hour ago. Eventually, the passion eased and Jerome encased Bruce within his arms, nuzzling his neck.

They retrieved their clothes and cleaned up the mess as best they could. The one ruined pillow had been tossed on the floor. Bruce would write an apology note. After awhile of just laying there in silence, Jerome murmured against Bruce, “I’ve never been more glad that you’re sixteen. I’m willing to go to jail for a lot of things, but the statutory rape of Bruce Wayne isn’t one of them.”

“But it’d be a conversation starter on your record.”

“Oh yes, because I don’t have plenty of those.”

“There wasn’t even any penetration,” Bruce pointed out logically. As usual, he seemed to know the law backwards and forwards. Even that one.

“Not yet.”

Bruce turned to look at him over his shoulder, eyebrows raised.

“Kidding. It’s nap time now.” He yawned as he spoke, emphasizing his point.

“Jerome it’s one in the morning.”

“And?”

“And so it’s called sleeping.”

“Here’s an important lesson they don’t teach ya in school. Sleeping is just nighttime naps. And napping is just daytime sleep. Interchangeable. Screw time pronouns.”

“I don’t think there’s such a thing as ‘time pronouns’.”

“Shhh. There is now. Go to sleep, midget.”

Turning the bedside lamp off, Bruce complied. They laid in velvety darkness together, cherishing this odd time where neither of them wanted to strangle the other. With love, of course. Mostly.

“By the way, you owe Selina for her hospital bills,” Bruce whispered into the darkness.

He felt Jerome smile against him. “Guess I’ll just have to ask my billionaire boyfriend for a loan then.”

Bruce chuckled quietly. “Goodnight, Jerome.”

“G’night, Brucie.”

They drifted off to sleep, silhouettes formed by the streaks of silver light escaping through the motel room’s heavy drapes.

Chapter Text

(Jeremiah’s POV)

After staring angrily at his brother’s retreating back, Jeremiah turned to survey the carnage surrounding him. Meaningless identical bodies were piled high. Blood and bullet holes littered the subway walls, making for rather graphic graffiti. An undeniable loss. But none of these corpses were the one he was looking for.

Eyeing Zsasz’s still breathing chest, he poked the man with the end of his gun. He didn’t stir. Leaving him here while he searched would enable him to escape. That was out of the question. The man needed to be punished for murdering his army. And Jeremiah needed to know who sent him, and what became of that fool of an ex-mayor and the child he seemed to care for so much. But, he didn’t really have any other options. Jeremiah just had to hope that his unconscious state would last.

Really, the boy was almost too easy to kidnap. Zsasz wasn’t exactly subtle; it was a miracle that Oswald Cobblepot hadn’t located him yet. Martin hadn’t even been outside of Gotham, despite what Victor had said. He was locked in an old crumbling apartment building in the Narrows. Fortune was the only thing that had kept him alive. In fact, upon Jeremiah’s appearance, the child had believed that he was his saviour. A notion he soon forgot. Not that he had anything against him, he just wasn’t going to go out of his way to handle him with care. There simply wasn’t time for it. Now, that didn’t mean he had treated Martin poorly. In his opinion, Jeremiah had been nothing but civil with him. Then again, he hadn’t really spoken to the boy as he refused to respond. Or maybe he couldn’t. It didn’t matter. Bruce had taken the bait, as Jeremiah knew he would. And he’d gotten to relish a bittersweet twenty minutes with him. That certainly hadn’t gone to plan. If it had, Bruce would still be here...and so would all of his followers.

Speaking of, Jeremiah still couldn’t spot the person he’d been searching for. He’d already walked an entire station back. She couldn’t have been much further. Unless something happened to her, a quiet voice in the back of his mind whispered. Nonsense. She could handle herself. That’s why he chose her, after all.

A gleam of light caught his eye. Hazy orange beams cast through holes in the tunnel’s fragile structural integrity. One happened to bounce off of honey blonde hair, creating a fascinating visual effect. A woman’s body lay face-down at the edge of the tracks. The sleeves of her leather jacket were marred with grazes from shots that seemed to have narrowly missed her arms. Picking up his pace, he reached the body in seconds.

Yes, it was Ecco. The jacket was definitely hers, and her hair was as well-kept as ever. However, Jeremiah couldn’t see her breathing. Something resembling panic rose in his chest as he rolled her body over gently.

There was a tear in the jacket...just below her ribs.

“Ecco,” he said quietly, placing two fingers on the side of her throat.

He couldn’t find a heartbeat. Quickly, he released the jacket from her arms and torso, holding her up as if she were a fragile porcelain doll. The tear went through her black undershirt.

“Ecco.”

The wound wasn’t caused by a gunshot. She had been struck with a blade. Several lacerations, by the looks of it. The bottom half of her shirt was torn almost to shreds.

“Ecco!” Jeremiah couldn’t tell if he was commanding or pleading now. It didn’t matter. He knew that the incisions had pierced her spinal cord. Whoever her attacker had been, they had struck to kill.

And they had succeeded.

He knelt there for several minutes, covering her shoulders once more with her jacket and holding her. Ecco’s brown eyes stared with blank dullness to the ceiling. They would never fill with light again. She had been his closest friend for years. The only person he knew that he could trust in the entirety of his life. And she had been ripped away from him, left to rot like scum in the humid musty tunnels where rats could creep out from the grates and gnaw on her flesh as she simply laid there. Unmoving for all eternity.

Clutching her rapidly cooling body to his chest, he stood. Jeremiah couldn’t bear to entertain such gruesome thoughts any longer. Making his way along the carnage-filled tunnels, he had time to reflect upon what must have led her to her final moments. And through every thought, he reached the same conclusion.

He had commanded her to risk her life. He had used her loyalty like that of a dog’s: unquestionable and expected. And with his choices, Ecco had died.

Finally, he reached the spot where Zsasz still rested, unconscious. Jeremiah had decided that he needed to deal with this monster first, despite hating the fact that he had to cling to Ecco’s corpse pitifully while he did it. He set her down gently against the wall before returning to the only other living person within hundreds of feet.

“Wake up,” Jeremiah said apathetically, slapping Victor as he spoke. He had no compassion for this man. After a few more strokes of his hand and thinly-veiled threats, Victor’s eyes began to move beneath their lids. He opened them, blinking.

“Well. This is not how I planned for this evening to go.” The man was deadpan as he gazed at Jeremiah’s white face and cold, bright eyes.

“Sit up.” Zsasz did as he was instructed, placing a tentative hand at his belt.

“Your weapons have already been removed from your person. I’m not an amature.” Jeremiah remained standing, gazing down icily at the man below him.

“Are you going to kill me?”

“Most likely. It depends on what you tell me.”

“What do you want to know?” Zsasz sounded almost bored as he surveyed the destruction he had caused.

“Oh, simple things. The most predictable of questions, really. Let’s start with the easiest of them all. Were you sent by someone or did you come of your own accord?”

“Do I get a sticker if I answer correctly?”

Jeremiah slapped him once more. “I don’t have time to deal with jokes. Therefore, I’d advise that you answer me as accurately and efficiently as possible.”

Zsasz looked at him, raising what would have been an eyebrow, if he had them. “Fine. No one sent me. I was saving my own ass, so to speak. If Martin escaped, so would my reputation. It’s as simple as that.”

“But you didn’t go after Martin. You slaughtered every person who happened to be here while you were just dropping in to ‘save your ass’.”

“Not everybody likes you, Jeremiah. I know, I know. It’s hard to believe. But I figured, if I couldn’t get to Oswald or the kid, I’d do a public service while I was here.”

He reached out and gripped Victor’s collar roughly, making him stare into his flat eyes. “This seemed much more personal than that.”

Now, Zsasz wouldn’t meet his gaze. He looked off to the side instead as he answered. “I don’t know what you mean by that, Mr. Valeska.”

Still holding onto his collar, he dragged him over to the side of the tracks where Ecco’s body was propped up. “This is what I mean.” Jeremiah indicated the stab wounds adorning her stomach.

Victor released a drawn-out whistle. “Jeez, someone really didn’t like that chick.” He seemed to have noticed the fury flash across Jeremiah’s face because he quickly added, “I’m sorry for your loss.”

“So, you’re telling me that you weren’t the one who practically eviscerated her.”

“That doesn’t look like a very practical job to me. And I’m nothing if not practical. Besides, I partake in the firearm culture. I only use knives if they deserve it.”

“Then who sliced her up?” Jeremiah was practically shaking with anger now. The lack of answers he was receiving was infuriating.

“How should I know? Must have been one of your people taking advantage of the chaos.”

Taking advantage of the chaos...no it wasn’t one of his people.

“That incompetent fucktard,” he whispered.

“Are you alright? That was rather vulgar language for yo-” The sound of a gunshot cut off Victor’s words. A newly-made hole in his hand blossomed blood through the fabric of his leather gloves as he stared at it in surprise. “Ouch. Uncalled for.”

“Our discussion is over. I need to have Ecco properly taken care of, and then I have a little impromptu meeting.” Jeremiah picked her body up once more, not sparing a glance for Zsasz.

“You don’t need to tell me your plans, dude. Like I said, I promised to be home for dinner. Might still be warm. And I take it this means you’re not killing me?”

Still not looking over his shoulder, Jeremiah asked, “I need to be other places right now. You’re a respected member of the criminal underworld. Disposing of your body would take hours. Would you like me to kill you?”

“Think I’ll take a raincheck on that. No hard feelings, then. Uh, hope you find some more cult members...or whatever they were.” Victor started towards the exit.

Jeremiah hated that he was letting this man get away so easily. But the rage he felt for Ecco’s murderer burned hundreds of times stronger than that for Victor Zsasz. The body count didn’t matter. Zsasz may have wiped out his entire following, but Ecco’s life was worth more than all of theirs. Tenfold. Killing Zsasz would only take away from the time he had to track down the real villain. But first, something had to be done with Ecco’s body.

Reaching the cemetery from the southernmost station took around half an hour, even with his car. The drive gave Jeremiah even more time to think, which was the last thing he needed. The only thought that stuck out in his mind cut like one of the knives that had taken Ecco’s life every time it appeared.

The fact of the matter was, Jeremiah had been so preoccupied with getting Bruce to safety, that he didn’t even think to go back for Ecco, or even look for her at all. And the guilt from that choice would be something he carried with him forever. It was odd. He had never experienced this sort of remorse before. It had always been a dull, meaningless emotion. Until now.

He got out of the driver’s seat and walked around to the trunk of the car. He removed a plain shovel before closing it. Pulling Ecco’s body from the passenger seat, he held her against him with care. When he told Bruce that he felt nothing for her romantically, he hadn’t lied. Their relationship simply wasn’t like that. Although, calling her a friend was an understatement. He supposed he’d already put it as best as he could. Ecco had been his partner. These were the thoughts that replaced the darker ones from before, and followed him as he walked up the tallest hill of Gotham Cemetery.

An elegantly simple wooden bench surrounded by sweet-smelling white roses eventually appeared in front of him, illuminated by the graceful silver light of the waxing crescent moon. Laying Ecco across it, he set to work. Jeremiah knew that the grave would take hours to dig himself, but he’d already committed to that. Her life was worth every second, every blister, and every torturous notion that struck him as he worked.

His elaborately tailored jacket was soon discarded, along with his painful dress shoes. Sweat beaded his forehead as the minutes, then hours, passed. Despite not being the most active person, Jeremiah wasn’t out of shape enough to let this hinder his progress. Then again, he rarely let anything hinder his progress.

A violet hue began to colour the sky. It gradually faded to mauve, and became rose soon after. In front of Jeremiah lay an appropriate six-foot deep grave. The sides were immaculately symmetrical. He would allow nothing less.

Not for the first time, he found himself wishing he had a way to purchase proper burial necessities. Such as a coffin. Unfortunately, he was a criminal, and he was supposedly being treated at some far away institution. He would make do with what he had.

Jeremiah picked Ecco up for the last time. Looking at her expressionless face, her vacant eyes, he almost couldn’t go through with it. Nonetheless, he eventually set her down in the grave. He arranged her blonde hair evenly around her shoulders with care. Then, he retrieved his jacket and covered her face and body with finality.

The first scoop of dirt being poured over her hurt the most. The sensation stung less and less with every new deposit, though it never truly went away. Soon, it was full once more. The replacement was much faster than the removal, he noted detachedly.

He felt numb as he picked roses by their bushes’ roots. The grave was soon lined with white blossoms. They would take to the soil once more. Eventually, the entire grave would be consumed by them. Beauty used to mask the horror lying underneath. Cliche, but it felt necessary. She deserved more than this. But this was all Jeremiah could offer.

Streaks of orange had begun to run through the blushing sky as he finally turned from the burial site. Laying her to rest there was most likely illegal without a permit. However, he would send a message to city hall under a fake name offering compensation for the plot. After all, money was the only thing that drove those selfish imbeciles. They would bend over backwards while serving you prime rib if you paid them enough. It disgusted him.

The dullness that had settled within him as the sun rose still lingered when he got back in his car. Perhaps that was a good thing. The emotional emptiness could assist him with his next task. Otherwise, he might fumble and make a mistake. Which could prove to be fatal.

Switching into the correct gear, Jeremiah pulled away from the cemetery. He spared one look for the hill’s summit before leaving the place behind him. He would not return.

Chapter Text

A gentle knock at the door woke the two boys abruptly from their slumber. Rubbing his bleary eyes, Bruce tossed off the sheet and made his way to the door, instantly alert. Despite his sharpness, he somehow failed to notice that he was still mostly nude until a very unsubtle coughing interrupted him.

“If you want to open the door dressed liked that go ahead, but it means that whoever’s behind that door gets the ol’ hot nail to the eyeball treatment from me,” Jerome said pleasantly, his messy red hair glowing in the soft light released through the curtains. Once again, Bruce was reminded that the boy could have passed for an angel if he wasn’t so...well, everything but angelic.

Blushing at the reminder, he called a hasty, “Just a minute!” through the door, and rushed to get dressed. Jerome made no such attempts and simply watched him with sleepy eyes.

Finally, he opened the door to find a heavy-set older man staring down at him curiously. “Can I help you?” Bruce asked politely, closing the door enough to hide Jerome from view.

Craning his neck to look further into the room, the man answered, “Checkout time is eleven. It’s twelve-thirty. Either pay for another night or get out within the hour.” He didn’t need to try so hard to spot Jerome. He’d already put on pants and walked his way over to the pair quietly, placing a hand on Bruce’s shoulder.

“We must have overslept.” His tone was ambivalent enough but Bruce knew he was getting ready to start something.

“We’ll be out before one,” Bruce promised with a smile.

He didn’t miss the man’s eyes raking Jerome’s body appreciatively. “Take your time, it’s not like the room’s in high demand. And if you need anything in the meantime, call the front desk. They’ll send me.” He reached out to shake Jerome’s hand, elbow narrowly missing Bruce’s face. “Name’s Robert.”

Grinning widely, Jerome accepted the handshake. “Thanks, Rob. No need for that, however. We’ll be out of your hair in a few minutes.” He didn’t offer his own name in return.

Robert turned to walk back down the hallway, but paused and said, “You look familiar. Were you on TV or something?”

“Reality crime shows. Did ‘em as a kid. You know television, always in need of a sad white boy who just lost a parent. Bonus points if he’s ginger. And the occasional musical, but I doubt that’s what you’d have seen me in.”

The hotel owner nodded, seeming eased by Jerome’s explanation. “Sounds about right. I’ll see you two when you check out.” Without sparing a glance for Bruce, he sauntered merrily down the hall, whistling a vague tune.

Bruce turned to Jerome skeptically. “Musicals, huh?”

The prankster just shrugged and grinned. “Gotta keep ya on your toes, y’know? Not that it’s an especially difficult task. You wouldn’t be able to make eye contact with me if you weren’t pointing those things.”

With an offended burble of denial, Bruce chased Jerome back into the room as he smacked his shoulders. The older boy just laughed and made no attempts to defend himself. Eventually, they both calmed down. Jerome retrieved his shirt from the floor, buttoning it lazily.

One look at the mismatched job had Bruce making his way over to Jerome hastily, undoing each button. He began to redo the shirt methodically, taking care to line everything up.

Jerome was looking down at him questioningly. “You’re a bit neurotic, ya know that?”

“I’m not neurotic. I just don’t see the point in doing a subpar job with something so simple.”

“Incredibly OCD.”

“Maybe if you knew how to button a shirt, it wouldn’t be an issue.”

“Frustratingly attentive. You act like my mother...if she had ever done motherly things.”

Both of Bruce’s eyebrows quirked up as he shifted his attention from the shirt to the man in front of him. “I hope your mother never did the things I do for you.”

A thumb tenderly grazed his cheek, but there was humor in Jerome’s gaze. “Nope, she didn’t like me nearly as much as you do.”

“Once more, I’d like to confirm that it’s a different form of like. Or at least, it should be.”

“Yes, Brucie. It’s a different form of like. There are many things that I’m open to, but my mother was never one of them.”

“Oh hush. You’re killing the mood with incest talk.”

The thumb that had been brushing across his cheek moved to toy with his lower lip. “Oh, I’m killing the mood? I wasn’t the one who demanded a distinction.”

Bruce leaned in, if only to change the topic. It was a soft and tender kiss. A good way to end their stay.

Jerome pulled back, smiling. “Well, that was a nice way of telling me to shut up.”

“You know I wouldn’t say it outright,” Bruce teased.

“You’re too nice to me.”

“Someone has to be, otherwise you kill people.”

He pouted. “Some people have better coping methods than others, okay?”

The younger boy laughed as he turned to find his socks and shoes. “And you just happen to have the worst.”

A hand rested on Bruce’s back, tracing circles on a newly-discovered sensitive spot. “I’ve been doing a rather good job, if I do say so myself,” warm breath whispered against the back of his neck.

Without moving, he replied, “What are we defining as good here?”

“You’re still alive. I feel like that says a lot about my developing impulse control.” Two suggestive kisses landed on the side of his throat.

“I always feel so safe when you say things like that.”

Teeth grazed his throat softly. “And yet you still feel fine making sarcastic remarks.”

“It’s a flaw of mine. Luckily, you’re not nearly as tough as you try to be. I know you well enough to not be intimidated. I’m not sure how good that is for my health, however.”

Jerome suddenly moved away, looking at him with concern. “Hey, I’ve kept you in good condition.”

Bruce chuckled as he turned towards him. “Surprisingly enough, yes you have. Now come on, we promised that manager, I mean, Robert we’d be out soon.”

“It almost sounds like you’re not extremely fond of Robert.”

“Hm, does it now?”

Socks and shoes intact, they walked over to the door, picking up any various belongings they’d managed to scatter about the room overnight.

“What did good ol' Rob ever do to you?” Jerome asked as they meandered down the hall.

“I just...didn’t like his face.”

“Well that’s sort of a shitty reason, now isn’t it?”

“I also didn’t exactly appreciate the way he looked at you.”

“Aha. I think we’ve discovered the real issue. But he didn’t look at me any specific way.”

“Yes he most certainly did. I mean, how can you expect him not to when you come to the door without a shirt on?”

“Aww, Brucie. Were you jealous?”

“Jealous isn’t the correct term. Annoyed, perhaps.”

“I think I’m gonna go with jealous,” Jerome decided, poking Bruce’s cheek. “Have I ever told ya how cute you are?”

“Several times, but I appreciate the compliment nonetheless.”

“And I appreciate your appreciation.”

Bruce rolled his eyes as they approached the counter. The same lady from the night before was there, as was her judgemental expression.

“There’s a ten dollar fee for checking out late,” was all she said, her dark eyes gazing at Bruce with obvious distaste. He placed the key and the requested fee on the counter in silence and the pair continued on towards the door.

“Well, she was a ray of sunshine,” Jerome commented once they were outside.

“She doesn’t like me very much.”

“I don’t blame her. You kinda come off as a dick. No offense.”

“I thought I was cute.”

“Doesn’t stop ya from putting out a ‘dick’ vibe.”

“At least I have a redeeming quality.”

Jerome opened his mouth to deliver a retort but was cut off by a voice speaking softly from behind them.

“Bickering like children as usual, it’s a wonder you two can even stand each other.”

The pair whirled around to face the man standing at their backs. Jeremiah stood there, looking more disheveled than he ever had before. Not to mention, absolutely insane. His bright eyes were wide, black pupils darting in paranoia. His white skin had taken on a sickly green tint. His hands trembled with some sort of emotion Bruce couldn’t identify as he adjusted his collar. His already cherry-red lips were torn and bloodstained. It looked as though he’d been chewing at them until they bled. Bruce was shocked by his state. Where was the calm and composed man Bruce knew? And loved, a duplicitous voice in the back of his mind added. It looked as though Jeremiah was going to draw closer, but he stumbled and fell.

Throwing all caution to the wind, Bruce rushed toward Jeremiah, gripping his arms tightly. He caught him just in time. “Jeremiah, oh my god, what happened to you?”

He looked up at Bruce. And in that one look, Bruce once again forgave everything. The fights, his lies, their scathing exchanges. There was no way to explain exactly why it had such a profound effect upon him; it was simply ineffable. But seeing Jeremiah, someone whom he had considered unshakeable, appearing so utterly broken granted Bruce all of the compassion that he had lost for the boy during the previous night’s events.

“I need you to let go of me,” Jeremiah said quietly, plucking Bruce’s fingers from his arms.

“What are you even doing here? After our little chat last night, I figured you’d be outta Gotham,” Jerome interjected with a tight smile.

“What chat?” Bruce was lost.

“Nothing,” the twins said quickly, looking more than displeased at their unison.

“Well that clearly means something!”

“Nothing for you to worry about,” the eldest of the three tried to reason.

 

Jerome slapped Jeremiah’s arm, and cackled as he staggered again. “What a good excuse! It’s like ya don’t even know him. Ya really think he’ll take that?”

Bruce pulled Jerome’s hand away from Jeremiah before he could hit him again. “Stop! Can’t you see he’s injured?”

“Oh Brucie, he’s not injured. He’s just sad. That’s his sad face.”

“Be quiet, Jerome. You know absolutely nothing about what I’ve been through...Or perhaps you do. In fact, there is a high probability that you know more than you should.” The venom dripped from his tone.

Both of Jerome’s eyebrows jumped up at the accusation. “And what exactly are you suggesting that I supposedly know?”

Bruce pulled back from the two as they both stepped forward aggressively. He was sensible enough to know that this meeting of fire and ice had the potential to be explosive.

“Take your shirt off.”

That was an unexpected request. Bruce shot a confused look Jeremiah’s way as he spoke. The other boy didn’t look his way.

If it was even possible, Jerome’s eyebrows rose higher. “Excuse me?”

“I don’t mean to disappoint you, but it’s not an explicit request. And you know exactly why I’m demanding it.”

“Sorry brother dearest, but Bruce and I just had this conversation. I’ll take a hard pass on that specific demand. And I have absolutely no idea why you’re requesting I strip in a motel parking lot. Twin telepathy isn’t one of our skills, unfortunately. If it were, our relationship would probably be much more stable.”

Jeremiah jerked his head in Bruce’s direction. “I hate to ask you to become involved in this, but please either reason with him or roll back his sleeves.”

“I’m not-you can’t expect me to...there’s absolutely no way I’m taking sides on this.”

“And yet you don’t mind screwing with both of our emotions. How thoughtful of you.” The passivity of Jeremiah’s voice was almost more offensive than his sardonic comment.

“I was just defending your ass a minute ago so I’d be a bit more tactful with your sarcasm if I were you.” Bruce had no idea where the sharp retort came from. He hurried to backtrack, somewhat fearful of the repercussions. “Shit, Jeremiah, I’m sorry. But I still don’t understand what any of that has to do with Jerome’s shirt.”

“He’s hiding something from you.”

Jerome flashed his brother a deviant smile. “Oh trust me, if I was hiding something under my shirt, Brucie would know.”

“I don’t need the disgusting details of your affair, thank you. However, your assumption proves nothing.”

“You don’t want the details because you’re jealous,” Jerome sneered, his grin only growing.

“On the contrary, if I had a relationship like yours, I’d kill myself. That level of one-sided dependency is incredibly unhealthy.”

“What is that supposed to mean?” both Bruce and Jerome exclaimed indignantly.

“He can’t function as a regular human being without your companionship,” Jeremiah stated factually.

“Well, he’s not a regular human being. And neither are you, so quite frankly, I don’t believe that either of you are entitled to claim such a thing against the other.”

“Bruce, you’re making this entire process much more convoluted than necessary. I need you to trust me.”

“And exactly what reason have you ever given me to trust you? I can barely tell the difference between the truth and your lies because they’re all you ever tell! And now you show up here looking like a wreck just to win my sympathy? All while throwing accusations around about some obscure thing you won’t even name, probably because nothing happened in the first place!”

Jeremiah met Bruce’s furious gaze with tortured green eyes and whispered, “He killed Ecco, Bruce.”

Chapter Text

(Jerome’s P.O.V.)

The second Jeremiah uttered those words, Jerome knew he was screwed. But running was just another admission of guilt. So, he stood his ground. In a style that was most likely to get him killed anyways.

With a tilt of his head and another grin, he asked, “And what makes you think it was I that committed such an atrocious, unforgivable act?”

Jerome refused to look at Bruce. He knew what he’d see in the kid’s eyes. Disbelief. Betrayal. Disgust. Emotions that felt like tiny pinpricks of pain when directed at him. He’d never cared about how much a person hated him before. But he knew that this would sting a bit.

His brother looked terrible, and the expression he was directing towards him just completed his costume of pain. “Well, when I found her body, I couldn’t stop thinking about one particular detail. You see, the incident with Zsasz began and ended as a gun fight. And yet somehow, Ecco was stabbed. Dozens of times, in fact. Interesting, isn’t it?”

“Sounds like somebody wanted to make it personal. I’m sorry for your loss.” Hopefully, that sounded sympathetic.

“No you’re not, shut up! You murdered her! You know how I know it was you?”

Jeremiah’s outburst was expected. He was the type who just piled emotion on top of emotion, hiding behind a facade of calmness, until the storm finally hit. And the morning had already been looking overcast.

“Please, enlighten me.”

“Because you hired Zsasz.”

Jerome stared at him. “What part of that proves anything? Why would I hire a team of assassins if I just wanted to kill one person?”

“Funny how you don’t deny hiring them” Jerome opened his mouth, denial on his lips but Jeremiah continued. “You needed to create chaos. It’s your specialty, after all. And in that tumultuous mess, you caught Ecco as she tried to escape. I told her to go against the current of panic, and she did. But you knew I’d say that, didn’t you? So you knew exactly where she’d be. That’s why it took you so long to show up.” Jeremiah took a step closer to him, his eyes gleaming madly as he told his tale.

“Victor Zsasz was in those tunnels to cover his own ass so the GCPD couldn’t convict him for kidnapping Martin and framing Penguin.” Rationality flowed through Jerome’s words. Hopefully, it would have the desired effect.

Another step towards him. “And I was almost willing to leave it at that, too. Except, as I questioned Zsasz, something in his body language...put me off a bit. One would think that a man who just shot up an entire group of people in an enclosed area would feel rather confident in his crime. Especially an experienced man who’s done such things for a living for over a decade. But, he was nervous and fidgety as I questioned him. Particularly when I asked who sent him and why. Despite all of his charms, Victor Zsasz is a terrible liar.”

“Alright so somebody sent ‘im. And that points to me…?”

“Not necessarily.” Jeremiah was very close now, and honestly Jerome had no idea why he felt like he needed to be in his personal space to accuse him of murder. “That’s not even the intriguing part. Oh no, the key tidbit showed up while I was burying her.”

“You didn’t even have the decency to cremate her? That’s cold, brother. Quite literally. Letting your only friend rot in the frozen earth where worms can crawl through her eyes. I thought even you were more compassionate than that.” The smile hadn’t left his face, despite how forced it was. Although, it was a pretty amusing picture.

“Would you shut your mouth for a single moment?”

Bruce pushed his way between the two brothers at Jeremiah’s words, his hands pressed against both of their chests. His attempt to create distance between the two warring elements was futile; despite all of his training, Bruce still didn’t possess the strength to budge either of them effectively.

“Could you two stop and think for a minute? This has already gotten way out of hand. If both of you just calmed down, we could discuss this rationally.” Bruce’s dark eyes turned up to plead with Jeremiah’s. Jerome still refused to look at him directly.

“No. Ya know what’s gotten outta hand? This fucking maniac and his selfish, pandering delusions. Nobody laid a finger on your delicate girlfriend, alright? So just get your pathetic ass out of here and go grieve somewhere where you’re not an inconvenience to the rest of us!”

Jerome’s outburst gave Jeremiah the perfect opportunity. He lunged forward, around Bruce, and gripped Jerome’s arm tightly. Jerome swatted at him with his other hand, knuckles connecting with his jaw. He heard a satisfying gasp of pain. Suddenly, Jeremiah brought his own fist around to Jerome’s stomach and snapped a knee up to his groin. Collapsing to his knees, Jerome knew that he couldn’t defend himself anymore. Icy fingers darted under and into his sleeve, tugging in triumph on their target.

He shifted his eyes upward to meet his brother’s cold gaze, giving him a pained but malicious smirk. Jeremiah was holding a thin black sheath. Each slot within it was lined with a gleaming silver blade, ranging from all sizes.

“Those are mine,” he heard Bruce whisper in horror.

“I know. I bought them for you.” Jeremiah had turned away from them. The brief fight seemed to have sapped him of what little strength he had left.

“No...no you didn’t. Alfred and Selina did. Last week, when they went shopping in the city.” Bruce’s voice was trembling a bit. Jerome could tell he so desperately wanted to be right. Still, Jerome didn’t stand.

Jeremiah turned back to face Bruce, ignoring Jerome. He placed a comforting hand on his shoulder. “I met Alfred that day. I asked him to give these to you. But I didn’t want you to know they were from me, I simply wanted you to have a proper means of defending yourself. And I’m sorry that they’ve been used for a much more monstrous purpose, and I’m sorry that you’ve been betrayed.”

His kind yet condescending tone snapped something Jerome. No one should talk to Bruce like that. His Bruce.

Struggling to get to his feet, Jerome growled, “He’s not a fucking child.”

Jeremiah tilted his head in Jerome’s direction, but kept his hand firmly on Bruce’s shoulder. “And he’s not invincible either. People go through painful times, usually at the hands of other, more immature and selfish, individuals.” Well that was a subtle message now, wasn’t it?

“I think he’s seen enough pain in his life to realize the difference between someone screwing with his head and someone who actually gives a shit about him.” Jerome was standing now, breathing heavily.

“Wonderful. Then he’ll be able to tell that you’ve done nothing but lie to him.”

“I’m not the one who dragged his ass all the way across Gotham just because I wanted to have a little chit chat!”

Jeremiah smiled lightly at that. “Oh, but it was so much more than a light conversation.” Jerome’s blood boiled at his statement, and he took an aggressive step forward.

Pushing Jeremiah’s hand off of him, Bruce stepped towards Jerome. Damnit, even hurt and furious he was beautiful. “Could you two stop talking about me like I’m not here?”

“Okay, yes. Ya know what? We’ll shut up for a minute. Because clearly, we can’t have a pleasant conversation about who murdered who, and whether or not our unfortunately mutual boyfriend can see he’s been played by a two-faced psychopath who looks like he never came home from the circus.” Jerome knew that he’d lose Bruce if he kept pushing Jeremiah against Bruce’s wishes. Luckily enough, that tentative hold was tight on both of them. Jeremiah stepped back as well, all of his attention devoted to the brunette angel standing in front of them.

The wind had picked up while they’d been arguing in the parking lot, and clouds had begun to gather overhead. The grey lighting only seemed to enhance the presence Bruce held. His flawless ivory skin glowed. The dark contrast of his messy hair was incredibly flattering. Jerome, although he’d never admit it, spent a lot of time simply admiring him, even if it wasn’t always the best time. The boy was a work of art, and damn Jerome if he didn’t appreciate it. He’d come to the conclusion that he wasn’t just “pretty”. Bruce certainly was pretty, but he was also strong, handsome, fierce, independent, and confident. He knew exactly who he was and what he wanted. No wonder he was attractive to Jerome; he represented everything Jerome believed that he himself could never be.

“Are you even listening?” A disbelieving voice yanked him out of his stupor.

Bruce was glaring at him, a hand placed angrily on his hip.

“Honestly, not even a little bit. My bad. Could ya backtrack a minute?”

“You know what? No. Maybe Jeremiah’s right, and you just simply don’t care. I thought that...never mind. The point is, you’re standing here, being accused of murder, and yet you’re still managing to daydream. If that doesn’t sum up Jerome Valeska then I don’t know what does.”

Now Bruce wouldn’t meet his eyes. If only he knew what Jerome had been thinking about.

Jeremiah had a smug look thinly concealed under his bruised and bloodied face. Jerome wanted to knock it right off of him and paint something new. Or maybe just continue where the previous artist left off.

“Alright, so I had the knives. And you assume,” he gestured to Jeremiah, “that I utilized said knives to slice ‘n dice Ecco. What happens if you’re wrong?”

“I’m not wrong.”

“Okay, indulge me then, brother.”

“I don’t owe you anything, but for the sake of civility, fine. If you somehow manage to completely convince both Bruce and myself that you’re innocent, then you two can go on your merry way, and I’ll be generous enough to not shoot you between your eyes right here. Does that sound fair to you?”

Any sense of so-called “civility” was lost with Jeremiah’s words.

“Oh? You’ll be generous enough, will ya? That’s cute; it almost sounded as if you thought you could land a shot on me!” Jerome cackled, and Bruce took a step away from him.

“You’re not exactly small and graceful. I could kill you blindfolded with my hands tied,” Jeremiah stated boredly.

Bruce was back between them again. “Let’s not kill anybody. Please.”

“I think we should test that theory!” The glee was evident in Jerome’s voice now; he was no longer trying to control it.

Jeremiah gently pushed Bruce aside, moving closer to Jerome. “Unfortunately for you, I’m not dim-witted enough to take your bait. I have nothing to prove.”

In a split second, Jerome’s hands wrapped around Jeremiah’s throat. “Actually, brother dear, I think that you have everything to prove.”

“Jerome, don't!" exclaimed Bruce, reaching for Jerome’s arm.

He swatted him away, admittedly a bit harder than he meant. Bruce fell to the asphalt a few feet behind them.

Jeremiah was struggling against his grip, pushing him and making grabs for his hair and eyes. But, he was already clearly in a weakened state, and he’d always valued mental strength over physical. Finally, an advantage for Jerome. He tightened his grip and leaned in closely to whisper something in his brother’s ear.

“To her credit, she never cried out. Not once. Not even as she watched her own blood seep from her body onto the cold concrete below her. Her only regret was disappointing you.”

The man desperately gasping for air beneath him was beginning to take shallow breaths. His haunting green eyes, originally so like his own, were dimming. The flailing of his arms stopped. Jerome slackened his grip at the sight, figuring the task had been done.

Then Jeremiah smiled. Grinned. Jerome felt something cold and metallic pressing against the fabric of his shirt covering his stomach. One of Bruce’s knives had been liberated from its sheath.

A freezing hand pressed against his back threateningly, holding him in place.

“This is for her. Not for me.”

Jerome tilted his head, and met his brother’s smile with his own. “Aw, don’t tell me you’re gonna kill me! That’d be exceptionally cliche, and I thought being unpredictable was sort of our thing…” His voice trailed off as he saw Bruce still lying on the concrete across from them. “Shit.”

His brother followed his gaze, also realizing that Bruce was unconscious. But he didn’t drop the knife.

“Jeremiah, come on. I need to make sure he’s okay.”

“You take a step towards him before I finish speaking, and I’ll gut you. Quietly, but slowly. And when he wakes, I’ll inform him that you attempted to kill me, and that knocking him out was intentional. Now, are you going to be silent for a moment or are we going to do things the fun way?”

For once, Jerome didn’t say a word.

“As soon as I lower my weapon, I am going to wake Bruce up. And you will tell him the truth. You will confess to murdering Ecco. In front of him. Just as you did for me. So he knows how much of a heartless monster you are. Understood?”

“And what if I do something shocking, like say no? Or better yet, say yes and then not do what you tell me to? By then you’ll have lost the upper hand.”

“And you, being the simple-minded fool that you are, have just given away your only card as well. But to ease your mind, if you do the first thing, I proceed with the aforementioned plan. If you do the second thing, then I’ll have no choice but to report your whereabouts to the GCPD.”

“Oooooh, scary. You’re gonna go tell on me!” He laughed loudly, and saw Bruce stir. “Reminds me of the good old days, y’know?”

“Not only that, but I’ll fabricated a plethora of truly horrific stories pertaining to ways you tormented me as a child,” Jeremiah whispered through gritted teeth.

“Well, that’s rather low, even for you.”

“I take that as a concession.”

“Are we talkin’ food truck concession or like… conceded concession?”

“Take a guess.” The knife pressed farther into his stomach.

“Alright, alright. Point taken.” Jerome allowed himself a quiet chuckle at his pun before being led over to where Bruce lay.

Jeremiah gently nudged the boy, taking a moment to check his breathing. Jerome knew he was fine. Probably pissed, but physically fine. Bruce’s eyelids fluttered, and soon opened. His dark eyes glanced around in momentary confusion. They widened as Jerome placed a well-timed elbow to his brother’s cheek.

Grimacing in pain, but barely stumbling, Jeremiah flicked his knife around to meet Jerome’s navel. The fabric of his shirt tore cleanly, revealing the wicked sharpness of the blade. A thin line of scarlet welled up along his stomach. Jerome didn’t notice it. His attention was on his twin. Jeremiah’s bright eyes and the knives he was holding held a similar dangerous gleam. The look in his gaze concerned Jerome more than the weapon he held.

He threw a punch towards Jeremiah, but misjudged where he was standing. His brother merely took a step back before lunging forward again to leave another gash along Jerome’s cheek. Throwing out his leg, Jerome managed to trip Jeremiah, but he cleanly rolled and regained his stance. Apparently, he was more physically adept than he’d been letting on.

Another slash came his way. Jerome instinctively raised his right arm to block it. Jeremiah was counting on that. The silver blade sliced the vein running through his forearm.

Chapter Text

(Bruce’s P.O.V.)

As Bruce blinked awake, he was met with the sight of two pairs of green eyes staring at him intently. Before everything came into focus, the two men were gone. He vaguely heard a hard thud and a crack. He tried to sit up, but waves of pain went flooding through his nervous system. Rubbing his aching temples, he took a moment to breathe.

The world around him was tilting. Both the grey spheres of asphalt and clouds seemed to whirl around him, a nausea-inducing dance between earth and sky. Another muffled sound spun past Bruce’s ears. Something ripping. He couldn’t focus on it long enough to find its source.

Instead of subduing, the pressure in his skull was building second by second. He squeezed his eyes shut once more. Perhaps by removing the stimulus of sight from his mental activity, his brain could find a way to properly reboot itself. He couldn’t even remember how he ended up on the ground. All he recalled was the arguing. The incessant, never ending, selfish, headache-inducing bickering. At least the two weren’t going at it now from the sound of things.

Actually, the lack of polarizing voices was concerning. And unsettling. Where did those two go?

Bruce heard another thud. Like the sound of someone getting hit. He reopened his eyes in alarm, forcing himself into a sitting position despite the movement making him want to vomit.

Exactly what he opened his eyes to, Bruce wasn’t sure. He just hoped what he was seeing wasn’t real.

Jeremiah and Jerome were facing each other, and lightning seemed to be crackling through their ferociously charged atmosphere. The former had shadowy bruises blossoming along his cheek and jaw while the latter was neglecting a deep gash running across his stomach.

Bruce watched in horror as Jerome tripped Jeremiah. But he wasn’t prepared for the shock of the paler boy’s retaliation.

He saw the knife flash, catching the smallest rays of sun trying to break through the overcast cover, and faintly heard Jerome curse in pain.

But...instead of moving...Bruce just sat there.

He felt ice rapidly seep into his skin from the ground, freezing him in place.

Jerome didn’t fall immediately.

He may not have even noticed his vein was severed.

Jeremiah’s hand that wasn’t holding that disgusting dagger darted out to grip Jerome’s injured arm.

Bruce watched as Jeremiah pulled his brother closer and savagely dug his fingers into the wound in his flesh, watching Jerome writhe in agony at the sensation.

The gash grew deeper as Jerome tried to land another blow on his twin.

The prince of the circus fell to his knees, trying to maintain some semblance of a smile as Jeremiah replicated the cut on his other wrist.

However, his grin was warped by some emotion that Bruce couldn’t place. Not in his current state.

Black dots swam across his vision. He couldn’t bear to watch this for another second. But he couldn’t tear his eyes away.

Jeremiah stood over his brother.

He switched the knife to his other hand and gripped the underside of Jerome’s chin with his bloodied white fingers.

He whispered something to him, tilting his head aside before adding one last irreversible incision to his masterpiece.

Crimson welled up along the line, and then waterfalls of Jerome’s lifeblood seemed to erupt from his throat.

And yet Bruce didn’t black out.

He desperately wanted to. To pass into the void of sleep. A world where he’s able to pretend that all of this is a nightmare. He wanted...no, he deserved that chance. That blissful ignorance.

Why wasn’t he crying?

The numbness still encased his body like a cellophane shell. Suffocating, but perhaps it softened the pain. He couldn’t move. Maybe he would stay there, sitting on the asphalt, staring blankly at the corpse of the only person he knew besides Alfred who loved him unconditionally.

Why wasn’t time passing?

Surely it had been hours, months, and years since Jerome had been wrenched away from him.

But Jeremiah still stood above his brother’s body. The knife was still in his hand. Those pitifully weak rays of light were still allowing a sparkle to grace Jeremiah’s beautifully venomous green eyes.

Finally, the boy turned toward him. Concern was evident in every gesture of Jeremiah’s, and yet it all felt so feigned. Bruce thought he heard him ask if he was alright, but the words were distant. The hand pulling him into a standing position was freezing and streaked with Jerome’s blood. Jeremiah offered what felt like kind words to the ears, but were nothing but wasted breath to Bruce. This was the only thought that could run through Bruce’s mind as he was mindlessly led to Jeremiah’s old Infiniti.

Chapter Text

Darkness. This was the first thing Bruce noticed upon his abrupt awakening. It meant that he wasn’t in his room, as even during the darkest nights, the warmly glowing lamps from the garden below always managed to seep their rays up through his window.

Pain. This was the second sensation that sprung to mind. Where exactly, Bruce wasn’t sure. He could feel it in his head, both surrounding and within. But he could also feel it in his chest. Some deeply suppressed cold seemed to be slowly moving its way back through his body. The feeling was familiar. It was one he had lived with for five years, one that had only just begun to dull. A feeling that can only be described as grief, but carried so much more weight than the single word implied.

Absence. This was the third, although he wasn’t sure exactly what it pertained to. What was he missing? Between the dull pounding pain in his skull and the confusion of exactly where he was, a numb fog had settled around Bruce’s mind, engulfing him in a state of suspension. It felt like he was falling, drowning, and sleeping all at the same time. But he just woke up, so obviously he wasn’t sleeping. Or was he? Maybe this was just a second removed level of his slumber that his headache had concocted. Perhaps he was dreaming. Although, this would be a rather odd lucid dream if that were true.

What had he been thinking about?...

Bruce couldn’t remember. That’s okay. He should just go back to sleep. Closing his eyes seemed like the best solution to cure whatever this was.

He rolled over on the small foreign bed and did just that, pulling the soft white blankets up to his nose and drifting back into the sinister clutches of his fragmented mind, its whispers eventually lulling him to sleep despite the odd noises coming from rooms far beyond his own.

...

“Good morning, Bruce,” a quiet voice said from the corner of the room. Bruce couldn’t tell in the darkness, but he assumed that’s where the doorframe was set. He had been lying there in peace, trying to uncloud his mind. Jeremiah’s interruption wasn’t exactly appreciated. “Would you mind if I turned on a light?”

Bruce shook his head, then remembered Jeremiah couldn’t see him. “No. I don’t mind.”

A soft golden glow filled the small room, emanating from a tall shaded lamp in the far corner. Jeremiah stood beside it, holding a glass and wearing a clean purple suit. One that isn’t stained by Jerome’s blood , Bruce’s mind interjected without consent, finally pulling a name out of its muddled mess.

“May I sit?” Jeremiah’s careful tone was strange. Not in a way that was unlike him, it was just that Bruce hadn’t heard this soft nervousness from him in a long time.

“Yes.” He sat up, pulling his legs beside him to make room for him. Jeremiah placed the glass of water on the table beside his bed before sitting. Bruce noted his delicately crossed legs. Something was making Jeremiah tense. Maybe it’s you .

A few moments of heavy silence lingered between them. Bruce’s mind was far too blank to think of anything to fill it with, and Jeremiah didn’t offer any words of his own, until, “You’re angry with me.”

“I don’t know,” was all Bruce could give him, and even that came out shakily.

“You don’t have to know, Bruce. I can see it in the way you look at me. The very thought of me upsets you. I understand.”

Bruce closed his eyes and whispered, “How could you possibly understand? You murdered him. There’s nothing more to it.” It was coming back now. The motel. The feeling of crashing against asphalt while the two people he cared about the most tore into each other without mercy. Funny how easily he’d forgotten.

“But there’s so much more to it,” Jeremiah said quietly, causing Bruce to open his eyes. “I was keeping you safe. I was protecting you. You are my very best friend, and...I couldn’t stand to see him hurt you.”

Bruce had no idea which statement to address first. “How was he hurting me? What were you protecting me from? And...never mind.” After everything, I’m just your friend?   He could laugh at his own naivety.

Jeremiah looked at him curiously. “If I answer your first two questions do I get to hear the remainder of your third?”

“Maybe.”

The unnaturally pale boy smiled lightly to himself. “I’ll take that. Get comfortable, Bruce. We may be here awhile.”

....

At least Jeremiah had the courtesy to make tea before shattering Bruce’s world. He was good to him like that. They had moved to a different room; apparently Bruce had been resting in another one of Jeremiah’s underground safe-houses. He was the only person he knew that had an array of the places.

Sitting on a plush green sofa, the pair of them simply avoided looking at each other, occasionally sipping from cups.

“I thought you were going to explain everything to me,” Bruce finally pointed out, setting his cup down.

“It’s...more difficult than I’d imagined it would be.”

Bruce said nothing. It had already taken so much of his energy to come out here. Pushing Jeremiah to talk to him didn’t seem worth the effort. His head was starting to hurt again. The silence stretched on. He couldn’t take it anymore. Bruce stood and walked towards the doorway. He wasn’t here to waste his time.

A hand caught his arm, pulling him back.

“I’m sorry, Bruce. I-You’re already in so much pain, and-”

“So you think keeping things from me will fix that? That the pain will just magically disappear simply because I don’t have the full picture? In what world, Jeremiah? I swear, it’s like you don’t even know me.” He didn’t turn to face Jeremiah. Instead he spoke to the wall.

“You’re right. I don’t know you. Not this version of you, anyway. You’re different, Bruce. You’re angry, reclusive and above all else, even more broken.” Oh, I’m broken and reclusive?  Jeremiah had gently turned Bruce to try and look at him, to catch a glimpse of understanding in his eyes. Nothing. Blank.

“And you love that, don’t you.” It should have been a question. It wasn’t. “Finally, an emotionless puppet for you to lie to and manipulate. One that you can shape to relish all of the destruction you’ve caused in Gotham. After all, that’s what you two wanted from the start.”

“What do you mean?” Jeremiah was clearly taken aback by Bruce’s response.

“Did you think I didn’t know you were working with him?” Jeremiah had made the mistake of giving Bruce time to think. And the conclusion he’d come to was disgustingly predictable; how he hadn’t seen it sooner was beyond him. “I know him better than anyone else in Gotham, Jeremiah. If you thought I just wouldn’t notice he’d employed you to kidnap me, not once, but twice, then I find you’re underestimation of my awareness rather insulting.” Bruce was looking at him now, a spark of anger buried in his gaze. “You’ve been working with Ra’s al Ghul. He helped you murder Jerome.”

Jeremiah stared at him in shock, before swallowing visibly. “You’re right. I won’t lie to you.” That’s new. “And that’s what I wanted to speak with you about. I just didn’t know where to begin, but now you’ve given me a starting point. Yes, I’ve been business partners with Ra’s for a while now. But only since Jerome’s escape from the GCPD. I needed his help to pull off the isolation of the city.”

“And since then?”

“He aided me in my...departure...from your manor. He assisted me in building the subway labyrinth. I also believe that he prompted the massacre that followed. Jerome was the unexpected variable in that. He wasn’t supposed to be there. That’s obvious, I suppose, in light of the personal loss I suffered because of his presence.” Why did he have to say everything so seriously? “Ra’s alerted me to your location yesterday. He gave me the knowledge I needed to finally feel justified in ending Jerome’s reign of terror.”

Bruce knew Jeremiah was telling the truth. It sounded exactly like the convoluted, infuriating, heartbreaking plan Ra’s al Ghul would concoct. But...it was depressingly humorous. “I just can’t understand why. Why go to all of that trouble? None of it made any sense. That entire mess never served any real purpose. We’ve been through so much, all on the behalf of what? Certainly not on the behalf of Gotham. And clearly not for me. You destroyed any chance this city had at thriving. You destroyed us .” Really? ‘You destroyed us?’ his mind sneered mockingly. That’s a bit pitiful, isn’t it?

“It’s all been for you,” Jeremiah whispered. No. No. Bruce didn’t want to hear this. “Every brick, every body, every tear. I did it for you.” Be quiet . “Because you, Bruce, are the only thing in this world worth sacrificing everything for. To me, you’re the reason the sun rises. The reason I wake up. The reason I’m still here.” Shut up. Stop speaking. “Ra’s gave me a way to see my reason every day. Because I knew that if I didn’t do something to stay in your thoughts, you’d forget me.” Make him shut up. Stop. “Jerome’s light shone too bright to allow room for anything else in your world. But maybe, just maybe, if I could do something that cut through the shadow he cast, you would still remember me.” Who are you again? “And yet, I feel like the second you walk out that door, my candle will flicker and my sense of purpose will fade with your retreating footsteps.”

Make it stop.

Bruce didn’t mean to smash the delicate porcelain teapot standing innocently on the table. Yet a shattered fragment found its way into Bruce’s hand. A hand which drove said fragment into Jeremiah’s neck before the poor vulnerable boy even realized what was happening. His blood poured from the gash in his throat like his heart had just moments before.

His dying eyes found Bruce as he was drained of life. They weren’t angry or shocked. Just hurt. Hours of anguish on his behalf were revealed in that look. Bruce felt nothing.

Jeremiah didn’t even waste breath on trying to utter final words. But, to his testament, he did manage to intertwine his fingers with Bruce’s before collapsing to the floor.  Green tea dripped from the remains of the shattered teapot off of the coffee table and onto the floor, staining Jeremiah’s crisp suit, mingling with the scarlet liquid that erupted from his throat.

Something tickled at the back of Bruce’s own throat. The first feeling to emerge from all of the numbness that had been encasing him. After all, the image before him painted quite the intriguing picture. He couldn’t help the chuckle that escaped him. Nor could he ignore the torrent of laughter that ensued. Jeremiah. Killed. With a teapot. This was perhaps the peak of homicidal comedy!

Tears were streaming down his cheeks now, just as a raucous of giggles fled his body. The entire situation was hilarious. Jerome tried to murder Jeremiah and Bruce. Jeremiah tried to murder Bruce and Jerome. Jerome, Jeremiah, and Bruce then proceeded to live in the same house together. Then, Jerome murdered Jeremiah’s only friend. And then, and then , Jeremiah murdered Jerome! But see, it got better, because Bruce murdered Jeremiah! What a stupid fucking circle they all just danced around in! But Bruce had the last laugh. He wasn’t even a main player in the game. It felt like a pawn taking out the queen. He was the wild card. The joker in a game of Gin Rummy. He had become whatever suit the twins had needed him to be. But in the end, he was the variable that clinched the victory!

Jeremiah’s pale skin had now taken on the hue of the leafy red concoction it was currently marinating in. How had he said it’d turned that color again? Funny...he couldn’t recall the answer.

Finding the exit out of this place was going to be a nightmare. It’s true what they say: Mazes are only fun for the people who build them. Do they say that? Who are they?

Doesn’t matter. Guess he’d just have to try every twist, turn, and corridor until he found daylight. Or until he starved to death trying. Whichever came first!

He did stumble across a multitude of oddities during his search, however. Most curious of all was a concrete room stacked from floor to ceiling with joyfully designed boxes and an illuminated glass container. Perhaps it was the container’s contents that were most curious.

A body floated within it. A pale, grinning, scarred body. Good. One should always die with a smile on their face. He was disappointed when the other boy (he couldn’t think of his name) didn’t seem to understand that as he went. After all, he’d gone through all of the trouble of giving him a hilarious death. The least he could do was smile. But this boy in the glass container, he’d clearly understood. He had a grin that stretched ear to ear, one that surely lit up a room when he walked in. Whether or not that light came from his smile or the act of arson he most likely left in his wake, he didn’t know.

It didn’t matter. Nothing really mattered. Everything was already aligned to a system anyways. Someone would create a rule. Other people would follow it. Occasionally someone like the dead boy in front of him would appear and shake things up, but he was just a firecracker. No, what society really needed was a bonfire. Actually, scratch that. Bonfires are rarely accused of mass murder. A bomb. Yes, that’s good. Gotham needed an explosion. A series of them. Something to really expose the foundations of the place. And more importantly, the stupid, predictable people who built them. An arsonist can’t light a proper fire if he doesn’t know what the shit he’s going to be burning is made of. The same concept applies here. It’s simple, really. He may not be holding on to names, hell, he’d even forgotten his own, but he knew Gotham. And the never ending cycles of greed, corruption, and petty crimes that made up the city’s core were beginning to bore him. So, he’d give it a show. And he’d make sure that it’s one they’d never seen before.

A little help from one of those jack-in-the-boxes took care of his hair and makeup. Now, to plan the special effects.

Chapter Text

Epilogue

Court of Owls Council, Two Months Later

 

“Please, take your seats,” the white-haired man offered to the mask-clad figures milling about around him.

As the Court settled, the man took to his own chair at the head of the long oaken table. The others had silenced themselves and were now looking at him expectantly.

“I’m sure that you can all guess why we’re here,” he began, meeting the eyes of each of the masked people around him. “Something...malicious...has taken ahold of our city.”

“Yes, I think the 118 or so residents of 42nd Street can attest to that,” remarked a middle-aged woman towards the end of the table.

 

The man across from her snickered. “You have to admit though, the culprit had a sense of humor.”

“Certainly, if you call shoving the disembodied heads of the street’s residents into their own mailboxes humorous,” the woman answered cuttingly.

“All of those residents were corrupt political officials that needed to go anyways. At least they had the courtesy to attach a handwritten note and a return address,” a brunette woman at the right of the head added.

A man at the other end of the table turned his attention towards her, saying, “One might call that courteous. However, seeing as the return addresses just led back to the same houses, it was rather inconclusive. And the notes held nothing but gibberish and vague threats. All we got was the attacker’s alias, ‘the Joker’ or something along those lines.”

“We got a photo,” the first woman reminded them.

“Oh yes, because that did us so much good. It doesn’t really help if he’s covered in clown makeup and wearing an oversized purple suit,” someone chimed in sardonically.

“The makeup looks like part of his face,” another member remarked.

“Why don’t we just investigate Jeremiah Valeska? This guy looks like him and he’s wearing the same clothes,” asked the brash man at the end of the table.

“Will all of you please cease speculating like children? We are not the GCPD. Unlike them, we have access to all of the answers as well as the full picture. This grants us foresight into what actions need to be taken next. This is why we are the presiding Court, not the ones who were slain before us. Now, I have the answers you seek, and believe me, none of them are ideal.”

The silent tension in the room was palpable. This hadn’t been the first odd and heinous crime to wreak havoc upon the residents of Gotham in the past couple months. The attacks made absolutely no sense. They occurred in random places, targeted people who held no correlation to one another, and had seemingly no motive behind them. Yes, crime ran rampantly throughout Gotham, and it had only gotten worse with the bombing of Jeremiah Valeska. However, this was like nothing they’d ever seen before, and until then, the Court believed that they had seen it all.

A screech echoed in the room as the head of the Court stood, his chair scraping against the polished wood floors.

“The man behind these attacks is Bruce Wayne.”

The Court was known for its stoic attitude and objective judgement. However, its members couldn’t help but release gasps of shock at the revelation, and even a few scattered laughs.

“You’re kidding, right?” the same man spoke up once more. “He’s just a kid, and the least corruptible one in the city at that.”

“And yet, the boy has gone completely and utterly mad. Let’s examine the facts for a moment. Bruce Wayne has been missing for two months. It’s clearly not by the choice of his guardian, as Mr. Pennyworth has called us three times, simply beside himself with concern and frustration. Both of the Valeska boys have also vanished from the face of the earth. And we’re all already aware of their mental state. It is common knowledge that Bruce was associating with these boys frequently before his disappearance. I also have an anonymous witness who has presented me with blatant proof that this ‘Joker’ is none other than Bruce Wayne himself. Now, I was not so ignorant as to wave away the fact upon hearing it, and neither should all of you be.”

He then proceeded to press a small button on the underside of the table, causing one of the panels to open so as to make room for the projector that rose from it. A few minutes passed as the members of the Court witnessed what had happened within Jeremiah’s safe-house two months ago. After the clip had ended, tense silence filled the room once more.

“The culprit is Bruce; this is indisputable,” the head finally spoke up.

“Gotham cannot handle the loss of the last descent of the Wayne family. There is no one to claim his inheritance, run his businesses, manage his affairs, and uphold his name. They especially can’t know that he’s become a psychopathic serial killer. The news would break any resolve our city has left,” the brunette concluded softly.

The white-haired man nodded. “My point exactly. However, I have come up with a solution and I have gathered you all here to propose it to you.” The group simply waited for him to continue.

“I have had Dr. Hugo Strange recreate Subject 514A.”

A door across from them clicked open, a dark haired boy stumbling through it as he was led by a Talon to the table.

“Meet Subject 514B. Meet Bruce Wayne.”

Chapter Text

The Incoherent Babble of a Shattered Mind (J.O. Ending)

 

Darkness. This was the first thing Bruce noticed upon his abrupt awakening. It meant that he wasn’t in his room, as even during the darkest nights, the warmly glowing lamps from the garden below always managed to seep their rays up through his window.

Pain. This was the second sensation that sprung to mind. Where exactly, Bruce wasn’t sure. He could feel it in his head, both surrounding and within. But he could also feel it in his chest. Some deeply suppressed cold seemed to be slowly moving its way back through his body. The feeling was familiar. It was one he had lived with for five years, one that had only just begun to dull. A feeling that can only be described as grief, but carried so much more weight than the single word implied.

Jerome. The third thing to form clearly out of the murkiness that was his current mental state. And yet it was a thought, an image, a feeling, that always had something...some one else attached to it. Jeremiah. And no, he could not be described as the fourth. He was simply a part of the third. The second half. And Bruce knew that unless the first half was truly removed, he would never be able to view Jeremiah as anything more.

The fact remained that Bruce had known Jerome first. He’s been aware of (and subjected to) his presence since he was twelve. And because Jerome had come first, Jeremiah would ultimately always come second.

Reflecting back on every action he’s made, every word Bruce has uttered since the reveal of his...he didn’t even know what to call him anymore...of Jerome’s brother, this idea becomes more and more obvious. It was naive of him to think he was fooling Jeremiah at any point. Each lie he’d told him about where he had been and who he’d been with was exactly that. A lie. And now Bruce recognizes it.

The only time he’d truly paid attention to solely Jeremiah had been during Jerome’s arrest when he was removed from Bruce’s accessibility. Which brings his incredibly wandering mind back to an unsettling point. Thus far, he has loved Jeremiah, yes loved, but only when he could not or would not turn to Jerome first.

And Jerome’s...pain-induced absence presents Bruce with a question. Can he continue to love Jeremiah without Jerome?

Thinking the word without seemed to pierce Bruce’s chest. Maybe it would be better if he just rolled over and tried to fall asleep once more.

But he knew that his emotions were inhibiting him from making an important decision, and that was the one thing he had sworn years ago he’d never let cloud his judgement.

Nonetheless, Bruce allowed sleep to overtake him, drifting off to the distant unfamiliar noises filling the rooms beyond his own.










The Glass Breaks (J.O. Ending)

 

He woke again after who knows how many hours. His head was still pounding. The room looked the same. Small, cold, and dark. However, light was seeping in under the doorway from whatever room was beyond, and Bruce used that light to guide him to the lamp standing in the corner of the room.

A soft yellow haze filled the tiny bedroom and Bruce could see clearly for the first time. There wasn’t anything remarkable here. Just the bed he’d been resting on and a chair by it, stacked with a fresh set of clothes. Hastily, he grabbed the clothes and switched them out for his own. Wherever he was, his host clearly knew his tastes, as he was given a pair of simple dark blue jeans and a black t-shirt and sweater.

Freshly clothed, he walked back over to the door, stumbling slightly. Apparently his body hadn’t had enough time to mend itself after everything that happened at the motel. A loud crash startled him. He yanked the door open and dashed into the hallway, trying not to trip.

The hallway was a maze of corridors. There were doors lining the entire length of it, and all of them looked the same. Bruce was desperately turning his head to find the source of the noise. A yell sounded from the door directly across from him, so that’s where he went.

Immediately upon entering, Bruce was disoriented. The air was hazy; he could barely see through the fog. Crazed-looking jack-in-the-boxes loomed menacingly towards him. They lined the walls from floor to ceiling. All of them were open. Covering his mouth and nose with his sweater, Bruce slowly walked towards the far side of the room.

Here, the jack-in-the-boxes stopped. He was facing a shattered glass tank of some sort. Sickly turquoise water drained from it, spilling onto the two twins who lay at his feet. Bruce released his sweater to grab for the one that was still gasping for air. He rolled him over gently.

Jerome’s eyes were closed; he seemed to be in pain. Cuts were littered all along his exposed torso, probably from the glass. There was still a visible gash across his throat. His hair was matted with whatever substance had filled the tank. Bruce pushed on his chest, trying to pump the liquid out of his lungs and oxygen back into them.

He wasn’t responding.

Bruce started pushing faster. “Come on, Jerome! This is a stupid way to die, even by your standards.” Why was he talking? It wasn’t going to do anything besides distract him from what was important, which was saving Jerome. And yet somehow, it seemed to help. Jerome coughed a bit of the liquid up, his eyes fluttering.

“Cough up more, damnit! Is that all you’ve got?”

Somehow, that seemed to do the trick. Jerome’s eyes opened fully and he vomited up a torrent of green liquid onto the concrete floor. And on top of all that, he was laughing. Grinning, he wiped his mouth.

“Did you really just trash-talk me out of drowning?” he chuckled hoarsely.

“I’d like to think of it as motivating you out of drowning, actually.” Bruce extended his hand, pulling the other boy up to a sitting position.

Jerome looked around, finally seeming to realize where they were. “Aw, shit, Bruce. You’ve gotta get out of here. This stuff isn’t good for you to be breathin’ in.”

Oh. He’d forgotten about the purple mist that filled the room. He’d been so concerned about Jerome and Jeremiah…

Jeremiah .

Fuck.

Bruce let go of Jerome’s hand and dragged himself over to Jeremiah. He wasn’t breathing. Shaking, he checked for a pulse on the boy’s pale wrist, and then his throat. Nothing.

“He drowned.”

Jerome stood up, staring at his brother’s body with disgust. “He didn’t drown.”

“What do you mean?”

And then Bruce noticed the piece of broken glass sticking out of Jeremiah’s chest.

“Jerome...did you…?” He couldn’t finish the sentence. His heart and eyes stung.

The older boy looked at him with angry narrowed eyes and said flatly, “He slit my throat, Bruce.”

He wasn’t sure which question to address first. Bruce decided to go with the easiest one. “Speaking of that, how are you still alive?”

“The fucker underestimated the power of scar tissue. Or something like that. I don’t really know. Maybe his tank had magical healing properties, although the cut still looks and feels pretty...there, y’know?” Jerome wasn’t looking at him now. He was gazing thoughtfully at the boxes against the walls. “We really should get out of here.”

“And leave Jeremiah? What if he can be fixed too? What if-” He started coughing, the tainted air seeping into his lungs.

Jerome grabbed his arm. “He’s not coming back from that, Bruce. I know where I hit. Please, grieve for the fucking twat muffin all you want. We’ll have time for that later. But right now? We’ve gotta go.” He pulled on Bruce, practically dragging him from the room. The clowns seemed to come closer to him as they passed, spinning and dancing just out of his reach. There was a wicked green glint in their eyes that followed Bruce. He coughed again, but this one somehow bubbled into a giggle. He vaguely heard Jerome mumble “ fuck ” under his breath.

They were nearing the end of the room. Did it get longer? he distantly questioned himself. Maybe you just got shorter , was all his mind would give him in response. Another giggle at this. It was kind of funny.

Finally, they exited the room. Jerome slammed the door shut behind them. Bruce was feeling dizzy.

“Brucie, I need you to hold on. We need to find the way outta here.”

Jerome tugged on him once more, pulling him towards the end of the corridor. Bruce stumbled, unable to figure out where the ground started and ended. The ground doesn’t end, stupid . The planet’s fucking round . A full bout of laughter escaped him. He clapped his free hand to his mouth after seeing Jerome’s concerned expression.

The taller boy pulled him closer, wrapping an arm around his waist to hold him steady. He looked kinda funny, but Bruce couldn’t quite figure out why. They were staggering towards a plain metal door. Jerome flung it open, revealing a steel staircase that spiraled upward. It looked pretty damn inconvenient.

Bruce couldn’t take it anymore. His hand fell from his mouth as he erupted into giggles. His head lolled back onto Jerome’s bare shoulder and he closed his eyes, trying to stop the white plaster walls from swirling around him.

Jerome sighed; it sounded miles away, and suddenly his feet were off the ground and he was being supported by two muscular arms. “Bruce, help me out here.” He couldn’t speak, but he wrapped his legs around Jerome’s waist. He was breathing heavily, but the laughter had subsided. For now , something added sinisterly. Did his thoughts always sound so sinister? Maybe there was a mini Jerome, hiding in his head. The thought made the giggles come back.

The metal steps seemed to fly by under them. Bruce’s headache got worse just trying to follow Jerome’s movements. He tucked his head into the crook of Jerome’s neck against his collarbone and squeezed his eyes shut.

By the time they reached the top, the older boy was panting from the exertion. Using Bruce’s hips, he pushed the door at the end of the platform open and stumbled out into the night, onto an expanse of concrete in the heart of the city.

Jerome collapsed to his knees; between his injuries and carrying Bruce out of the bunker, which apparently was just underneath an old apartment building, he was spent. Bruce fell with him, but kept his arms around him, terrified of letting go.

His head was still pounding, the dull rush of blood making it hard to think. At least, he thought that was the culprit. But he didn’t have the time to lay around thinking. Jerome had taken care of him. Now he needed to return the favor.

Yanking his sweater over his head, Bruce tore one of the sleeves off and wrapped it tightly (but not too tight) around Jerome’s neck, trying to cover the gash in his throat. And giving him a rather fashionable scarf in the process . Shut up. That was definitely Mini Jerome.

He tried giving Jerome the rest of the shirt to wear, but he wouldn’t take it.

“Bruce, that’s stupid. Put it back on,” he said faintly from the ground.

“But you need to cover your stomach. Those cuts could get infected.”

“Do you really think that tiny piece of fabric is going to fit me?”

He went to thwack him with it, but realized that probably wasn’t the best idea considering his physical state. “It’s not that small.” So he could still think properly. That was good.

Jerome just raised an eyebrow which caused him to grimace in pain. “It’s small enough. I just need a minute. Try not to go insane in sixty seconds.”

“…”

“Hey, I’m kidding. Sorry, that was probably insensitive. C’mere.” He reached for Bruce once more, guiding him back to the ground.

Bruce laid down against his chest again, marvelling how it was still warm after being exposed to the frigid moonlit air and the even cooler concrete.

“You’re hot,” he frowned. Maybe he was feverish.

“Thank you, Bruce. An odd time, but I appreciate the compliment.”

“That’s not what I meant, dumbass.”

“And yet you said it anyway. That’s the great thing about free will; I can choose to interpret your words however I want. Plus, I’m always hot so what else could you possibly be referring to?”

“And I can choose to ignore your interpretation, as well as the utter bullshit you followed it with. Damn, you’re right. Free will is great.” His skull was wracked by a particularly vicious throb which had him devolving into laughter once more.

Jerome sat up at his outburst and held him against him. “Fucking hell, Bruce. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.”

He looked at the red haired boy, a smile slowly creeping onto his face. “You made the goddamn mixture, didn’t ya?” Bruce was confused by his tone. He hadn’t meant to sound like that.

“No, no, Johnny did. Are you kidding? I have the I.Q. of a melted blanket.”

“That...doesn’t make any sense,” Bruce got out between chuckles. Finally, Jerome laughed too. There. That was it. Bruce’s favorite sound. That’s all he wanted. He just wanted to hear Jerome laugh.

The dizziness returned. All of the stars blended together, which just fueled the unwarranted mirth coursing through his veins. He was shaking with giggles as he clung to Jerome. In fact, without the boy’s support, Bruce wasn’t sure if he’d be conscious.

Jerome wasn’t laughing anymore.

Bruce didn’t like that. His silence scared him. He needed to fix it, take care of him. Make him laugh.

He lifted a trembling pale finger ( paler than it should be , his mind noted) to the older boy’s face, his laughter increasing as Jerome’s eyes crossed to follow it. And then…

Boop .”

He exploded into chuckles when his finger made contact with the boy’s nose.

A small smile graced the red-haired boy’s face with Bruce’s touch, but it didn’t coax any giggles out of him. In fact, he seemed nervous . That’s not right.

“What’s wrong, Jerry?”

Jerome looked at him incredulously. “What the fuck did you just call me?”

Bruce cocked his head to the side, grinning mischievously. “What, you don’t like that nickname?”

“No. No I do not. There’s nothing intimidating about Jerry . ‘Be vigilant, citizens of Gotham, the mass murderer Jerry is on the loose.’ It doesn’t exactly instill fear into the hearts of innocent people.”

He bit his lip then, his eyes widening innocently. “What should I call ya then? Sometimes Jerome is just too long n’ boring, y’know?”

Jerome was gazing at him curiously now, although there was something darker concealed in his expression. “Fuck, Brucie, that gas really got to ya, huh?”

“You tell me.” He pressed his body closer to the older boy’s, looking into his pretty oceanic eyes. “Do I sound crazy to you, puddin’?”

Bruce felt Jerome’s breath hitch in his throat. “No,” he finally got out. “You sound perfect.”

And then his beloved sociopath was kissing him and he melted into his touch, forgetting the pain of the day ( two days? ) before, forgetting the swirling sky, forgetting Jeremiah. Everything he wanted was here and now. All he wanted was Jerome. And really, that’s all he’s wanted for the past two...three(?) months. He didn’t have the time to figure out what day it was. He was occupied with Jerome’s lips, and his tongue, and his teeth. His hands were full with the boy’s beautiful crimson hair. His head was...well it was filled with absolute nonsense. But that’s okay. Because he had everything he wanted.

Eventually, Jerome broke the kiss, gripping his shoulders so he could properly look at him.

“Like what ya see?” Bruce teased, feeling anxious under the thoughtful eye of the other boy.

“You already know I want to just about devour what’s sitting right in front of me. That’s not what I’m looking at.”

“What is it then?”

Jerome shrugged, a subtly malicious grin quirking up one side of his mouth. “You’ll just have to wait and see, doll face.”

Bruce pouted. “I thought we were finding nicknames for you .”

“It wasn’t supposed to be a nickname.” And that’s all he gave him on the subject. “I’m not really sure where we’re supposed to go from here, Brucie. We can’t exactly hole back up at your place since I have a funny feeling your butler won’t just welcome me back with a bowl of soup and a hot bath after I accidentally strangled your girlfriend.”

“Okay, I’m clearin’, ahem, clear ing this up with ya...shit, you right now since ya... goddamnit, forget it, apparently I’ve forgotten how to speak.”

The older boy’s eyes were glimmering with mirth. “Nah, go on Brucie. Ya can’t help it after all. Who am I to fault you for your unfortunate and completely not sexy at all new speech patterns?”

“‘Cause I sound like you , douche canoe.”

Jerome’s finger hooked itself in the collar of Bruce’s shirt.

“Is that a bad thing, darling?” he purred, smiling dangerously.

“Not at all,” he breathed, staring at him in anticipation. Jerome’s words did nothing to ease what felt like the slow but certain melting of his thoughts and inhibitions. If anything, he only exacerbated the process.

“Good answer.” And he just released him.

Bruce reached for his retreating finger and yanked Jerome’s arm back. “That’s all I get?”

“What else do ya want? We’re in the middle of Gotham and you’ve inhaled enough crazy gas to give my blimp a run for its money. It doesn’t matter how sexy it’s made you, I’ve gotta get you somewhere safe to...I don’t know...work it out of your system or somethin’. I’m not really sure how it works, since that’s not my recipe. It’s not even Johnny’s, clearly.” Jerome was biting his lip, as if he were conflicted by something.

Wait, what does that mean?  “‘ Clearly ’? What’s that about?”

“All I’m sayin’ is that the effects are a little...different. It’s nothing to be concerned about, really, and I’m sure we can reverse them, if that’s what you want.” The older boy refused to meet his gaze, seemingly afraid of his eyes betraying something to Bruce.

Another dull rush of blood to his frontal lobe. “I-I don’t even know what I want. I’m just tryin’ to remember my own name.” He looked at Jerome desperately, trying to get him to at least return his stare once. “Please, Jerome. Look at me. I don’t have anything else. Not anymore. It’s all slippin’ away, has been for weeks really. I’ve just been too occupied to notice. I’m falling apart.”

Finally, finally he met his eyes. “And I’m the reason, Brucie. I can’t keep doin’ this to you. I’m going to put you back together and then I’m gone, okay?”

Fear tore through Bruce at Jerome’s words. “No! No. No no no no no, you can’t leave me, Jerome. Not now. Please . How many times do I have to say it, damnit? Please, please, please ! I can’t…

I need you .”

And that sentence alone was enough to break Jerome’s resolve. After everything he’d put Bruce through, Bruce had put him through, everything they’d done to, for, and because of each other. All of it came down to that single sentence.

Jerome gathered Bruce up in his arms, holding him once more against his chest, tight enough to assure him that he’d never let go, not for anything in the world. It didn’t matter that the boy in his arms didn’t look like the one he’d met three years ago, nor did he look like the one he’d kissed and held so many times before. That was okay, because they’d figure it out. Jerome would make it work; Bruce deserved that. He deserved better. But right now, that assurance was all he could give him.

And he told him this through the tender brushing away of every tear, the promise that the toxin in his veins hadn’t changed him, the way he held onto him even when they finally stood and left that barren spot of concrete.

...

They tried. For weeks, months, they tried to reverse the effects. Find a cure. Something. Anything...Nothing. Every lead they got led to a dead end; every glimmer of hope was brutally and abruptly darkened. Every moment they spent searching just drove Bruce farther along the outskirts of his mind. The agony of the ordeal was ripping him apart, second by second, day by day. Eventually he stopped caring. About a cure, his friends, his family, himself. There was only one thing in the world keeping him going, and that was the only thing he cared about: Jerome. And as time went on, Jerome stopped caring too. About his image, the compassion he’d tried to salvage, and the idea that he owed anyone. Eventually, he fell in love again, this time with the new person Bruce had become.

Despite all of the pain and helplessness he’d felt watching his lover fall apart, there was a piece of him who desired Bruce’s altered state even more. He was enthralled by the boy’s newfound talent for chaos, his recklessness, his contagious laugh, and his unquestionable loyalty. The pair were undeniably more compatible than they’d ever been. And perhaps, that was okay, too.

Occasionally, flashes of his old self would arise in Bruce. They were infrequent, unpredictable, and short-lived. The flashes would come and go, staying only long enough to emotionally unbalance him and leave him confused and angry. Soon, their frequency picked up, to the point where Jerome could never quite tell whether he was talking to new Bruce or old Bruce. Perhaps old Bruce had simply come to terms with his new personality traits and desires, and he’d settled the mental war waging within himself.

And there were certainly new desires. The toxin seemed to unleash a cold bloodlust in the boy that had him eagerly agreeing to things he would’ve been appalled to see, much less participate in, before. At first, Jerome had suggested such actions from a place of practicality. They wanted information, they had to loosen some tongues. But Bruce became addicted to the pain he saw in others. Jerome took one look at Bruce painted with crimson blood, a severed eye dangling from his ring finger, and realized he’d never wanted him more.

However, this addiction was nothing in comparison to the rush he gained from tormenting himself. He became intoxicated by pain and abuse, to the point where their relationship took on much darker undertones, despite how unintentional they were. Bruce would do absolutely anything Jerome told him to. And the sadistic part of Jerome couldn’t help but fall in love with that, too. After all, Bruce enjoyed it, and Jerome wasn’t one to deny his doll face anything.

Jerome reclaimed his title as the clown prince of crime. All it took was a little show at an old chemical factory, and suddenly, the citizens of Gotham feared his powers of persuasion more than guns, knives, or fire. He taught them that one didn’t need money, magic, or fancy gadgets to wreak havoc on a city. All they needed was a compelling smile and a contagious laugh, and just the right amount of words to sow doubt into the minds of millions.

The boy that used to be Bruce Wayne became a permanent fixture at Jerome’s side. The two soon became synonymous with each other and if anyone tried to do anything to them… well, let’s just say that those bodies piling up on the streets weren’t there by accident. Though, Bruce always did appreciate a chance to show just how much he loved Jerome. Nothing said forever like a declaration of love written in blood on the side of the GCPD, after all.

The two had proven time and time again that there was no saving Gotham, and the city’s main enemy was itself. They put so much into exposing its rotten, unsalvageable core, promising to unlock the mental cage holding each and every citizen prisoner. Gotham never escaped the pair’s vortex of madness. They’d left behind a legacy of insanity and carnage just for the sake of proving they could that would last decades after they disappeared.

Chapter Text

Hello! I know it's been awhile. This is not a new chapter to Prison, as the story has concluded here. At least, this story has. However, I promised that I would release a different outcome for Bruce and Jeremiah, and I wanted to post a follow-up here for those that don't follow me on other forms of media. Rather than try and wrap their story up in a neat little Wayne Enterprises box and tack it on the end of this fic, I decided those two deserved a second-chance. A world where they could set things right. And that world is currently unfolding in my newest fic, Amphetamine. So, if you're interested, and liked the potential they had in Prison but felt their relationship was underdeveloped, I encourage you to check out Amphetamine. It's currently eleven chapters in, and as things progress, you may discover it's more linked to Prison's universe than it seems on the surface. Just how interconnected, you'll have to wait and find out!

Or, if the dynamic between the twins was more your cup of tea (reference absolutely intended), then you may like the season-5 set continuation of this work (if you haven't found it already), House of Mirrors where an unfortunate set of circumstances forces Jerome and Jeremiah to cooperate under the shared goal of piecing Bruce's mind back together while trying not to disembowel each other in the process.

Again, thank you for all of the support that this project has received, and I hope everyone has been doing well!