He thought about that during his lessons, trying despite himself to ignoring the heat in his stomach. Did he have a crush on Jerome? If he was telling the truth, he really can’t remember ever having a crush before. Though, from what he’d seen of Selina before she and Ivy got together, it seemed to fit. He tried to pay attention to his french lesson, he really did, but his mind kept roaming back to Jerome. What would it mean to have a crush on him? You could still be friends if you have a crush your friend, he was sure. He may not socialize often, but he wasn’t an idiot. Were you supposed to- to tell someone? That you liked them? He didn’t like keeping things from his friends unless it was necessary, but what if Jerome didn’t want to deal with something like that? What if he didn’t want to be friends anymore because he thought Bruce was weird? He wasn’t like Selina, he couldn’t just blurt it out and hope that no one saw how nervous he was to even say it out loud.
These were all new-ish feelings to him, and he didn’t particularly know how to handle. He didn’t do socializing outside of keeping up appearances, he only had Selina and Alfred until now and he could say very firmly he’d never been attracted to them. Bruce sighed, officially giving up on finishing his notes. He was already fluent in french, he didn’t even really need them. Instead, he made sure his teacher wasn’t looking and took his phone out, something he tried not to do in class (until recently, that is). He flipped through his messages, wondering if he was really going to go straight from obsessive over Jerome, who he hadn't seen today and figured stayed home, to texting him. Deciding against it, he messaged Selina.
What, nothing? Why would you think somethings wrong?
Because u never text me during school unless i message first
Well, apparently now i do. Maybe I just wanted to talk. Try and make up for not getting to hang out during free periods anymore
Ah well, how could I say no? it’s not like I have my own life to deal with
I don't think overfeeding your cats and gossiping with your girlfriend counts as a life.
You know I can just stop responding
I don't have to listen to you
You don't have to, but I know where you live and which apartment windows have broken locks.
Threatening your best friend? Maybe that valeska kid is a bad influence
Talking with Selina was a tried-and-true easy pick me up. After trying to pick his way through his own feelings, her hot and cold attitude was refreshing. Bruce messaged her for the rest of class, trying and likely failing to not look like he was completely ignoring their lesson. When he got up to leave, shoving his half done notes into his bag, he swore he could feel his teacher, Miss Baudelaire watching him, waiting to ask him to stay after class. Bruce decided to try and ignore her, saying goodbye and rushing out the door. He couldn’t just stare a teacher into submission like some people. He was in fact so absorbed in trying not to meet her eye, that he ran straight into Jerome outside the door, both of their reflexes just barely stopping him from dropping to the floor. "Jerome? I thou-"
“Careful there, Brucie, your ass is worth more than half of Gotham.”
Jerome gave him a half smile, hauling him up.
Bruce huffed and slotted himself into his place under the other’s arm, “I wouldn’t worry, that’s what the insurance is for.”
Besides the chuckle that got out of him, they walked to Bruce’s next class in relative silence, Jerome’s face seeming frozen when Bruce looked up at him. Anyone else might assume it was an easy going smile, but it was too stiff and didn’t reach his eyes. His uniform dress shirt was unbuttoned under his blaiser, his usually undone tie absent, but not like he was just refusing to wear the uniform, it was like he’d been forced out of the house unfinished. He can’t remember ever seeing Jerome this quiet, eyes straight ahead and mouth shut. He knew something was wrong, probably having to do with why he was gone all day, but he couldn’t just... ask about that? Could he? Well, he was working up the nerve to try when they stopped, already in front of his last period class. Jerome hovered over him, not letting go, but not speaking either. Finally he let his lip twitch up, looking down at Bruce.
“I know we don’t really hang outside of school, but would you mind letting me come over after school?” His eyes flickered around the hallway, “I gotta talk to you about something important.”
And maybe he should have thought for a moment before automatically saying, “Yeah, of course!” but honestly, he would have said it anyways. “Alfred picks me up right after school so we can walk out together.”
Jerome squeezed him tight before letting go, sticking a new dumdum in his mouth and walking off with a “See you after class, Brucie.” Watching him go, it took Bruce a full minute to realize he was A) officially late to class and B) Jerome had taken his bag with him. He debated running after him, but knew that if he did, he’d probably find some reason to not come back, so he sucked it up and walked into his classroom, already trying to think of an excuse for not having his homework to turn in.
Lucky for him, not so much for his attention span, they had a substitute that day. A substitute who’s only words throughout the class were, “your teacher left instructions on the board, please work quietly while I call roll,” before leaving them to their own devices. Bruce finished his work egregiously quickly, spending the rest of the period checking his phone obsessively and staring out the window at the grey clouds and smog that liked to hang over Gotham near constantly. At least, most of the period. Sadly for him, his english iii course had a small smattering of sophomores in it, one of whom didn’t want to leave him alone.
Deandra had a habit of staring at him, but never talking to him, talking to him but never listening to him and trying to sit as close to him as possible even after he told her to please leave him alone. He was sure she was a good person, she was never mean to him and when he bothered to listen to her, she seemed to have a good enough head on her shoulders, it was purely her obsessive need to get his attention and unwillingness to leave him be that ruined it for him. If she just asked to hang out and respected his space it’d be different but no, she just came and sat beside him with a, “Have you finished your work, Bruce?” Looking at him with wide, expecting eyes.
He seriously thought about just ignoring her, hoping she’s leave him alone for the 30 minutes they would be left stuck together, but not only would that be rude to do to a girl, he was pretty sure she wouldn't leave anyway. Instead he sucked it up for a few minutes and nodded, reaching for his phone as she continued on.
“I figured you would be like the first to finish-”
Say, did you actually go to class or are you just hanging around in the hallways?
“I’m not sure what to do for this question though, so I thought-”
Ill give you one guess, Brucie, winner gets the last rootbeer.
“Do you think you could help me with a few problems?”
Well, if you’re skipping anyways, can you come get me?
“There’s this part of the speech where-”
Ooh, skipping class without me having to ask, maybe ive been a bad influence on you
“And I know that he’s addressing congress but I really don’t thing the essay-”
Funny, you’re not the first one to say that to me today. Come pick me up.
“So do you think that it could be argued that he didn’t believe-”
Whatever you say, Brucie.
“-uce? Bruce? What do you think?”
“I think that you can finish this by yourself,” He gave her a small smile, standing up, “Because I need to go.” He backed away from his desk and Deandra, turning her back to her to ask the substitute permission to leave. Thankfully, for everyone involved, he was able to leave immediately, Jerome already waiting outside for him, both their bags slung over his shoulder. Bruce opened his mouth to speak, but had a candy popped in his mouth instead.
“Congrats, winner,” Jerome smiled, wrapping his arm around him, “I was saving that dumdum.”
Bruce smiled, almost surprise how relieved he was to see the other wasn't so serious anymore. He rolled the dumdum in his mouth, scrunching his nose at Jerome while they walked, "Well, you didn't have to give it to me, that's your fault."
"Careful, Brucie,” he clicked his tongue, “I said I’d give it to you, never said I wouldn't take it back."
"It's already been in my mouth," Bruce sneered, "you wouldn't-"
He was interrupted, of course, by Jerome reaching over and popping the lollipop out if his mouth and into his own, smirking at him like the asshole he was. "Don't tell me what I will or won't do, you're almost always gonna be wrong." He stuck his tongue out at Bruce, either not noticing or not mentioning the flush on his face, holding the candy between his canines.
Taking his change, and ignoring the twisting in his gut, Bruce reached up and snatched the candy from Jerome’s mouth, making his teeth snap shut with a ‘click’. He popped the candy in his mouth before he could think better of it, smiling triumphantly.
Jerome laughed, no doubt disturbing the classes they passed by, apparently accepting the defeat and popping a caramel dumdum in his mouth. They walked on in relative silence, roaming the halls until the final bell rang, Jerome mocking the various tacky inspirational that littered the otherwise perfect walls, as if someone decided to spend an inordinate amount of money making a school for rich kids as clearly a school for rich kids as possible then decided to put a Garfield poster on the wall just for the hell of it. It was in equal parts insulting and painful to look at.
When the final bell rang, the halls flooding with teenagers and teachers, all doing their best to get home as fast as possible, they slipped out the front doors, Jerome sitting, legs spread, on the railing of the steps and Bruce standing beside him while they waited. Watching the street, Bruce's eyes ran from the cars passing them by to the students who surrounded them to beside him, watching Jerome's face while he scanned the street, trying to guess which limo was his. He smiled when he talked, cracked easy jokes about the kids who passed, even getting Bruce to snort into his hand when he saw Tommy get into an expensive looking black car and have to pass his phone up to the driver. "What do you wanna bet his mom started checking his grades online?"
He smiled, but still, he saw Jerome's face fall between his quips, his attention flicking towards the kids who passed him, eyes hard. He was watching out for something, something he hadn't told Bruce about and it was honestly kind of freaking him out. Even so, he didn't want to ask what was wrong and risk Jerome brushing it off and never mentioning it again. So instead, he watched him and tried to watch the cars, but mostly watched Jerome.
He was so focused on him in fact, that he almost missed Alfred standing outside the car, watching him. Well, it was kind of hard to miss alfred, especially when his eyes were burning holes in your head, doubly so when you're being nudged in the side by your probably crush, with the words "hey, Brucie, I think Jeeves is waiting for you."
There was an odd feeling, walking up to Alfred with Jerome hanging off of him, uniform half done, obnoxious smirk on his face, waiting for some kind of reaction from his guardian. He felt like a rich girl bringing her punk boyfriend home for the first time. The thought brought that warm feeling back into his stomach, bringing an awkward smile to his face when he told Alfred that Jerome would be coming home with them that afternoon.
“Well, I wish you had told me before the last possible moment, but that’s quite alright, master Bruce.” Alfred held the door for him and Jerome, watching them both closely before sliding in beside them and giving the all clear for the driver to go. He looked over Jerome, eyeing the lollipop stick sticking out from between his teeth and the arm still wrapped around Bruce’s shoulders. “I suppose this one’s behind the sticky pockets and candy wrappers I keep finding in your jacket?”
Bruce narrowly stopped himself from taking the dumdum out of his mouth as he nodded in the hopes Alfred wouldn’t comment on it. Luckily, when he found nothing proper to say, Jerome spoke.
“My foster dad’s not big on actually interacting with me or anything, but he’s pretty rich and knows I have a sweet tooth so he buys em in bulk.” he fiddles with the stick in his mouth, breaks up the candy between his teeth so it slides out clean, “I figure if my teeth are going down the drain, I should take Brucie down with me.” He winked and smiles wide, as if he didn’t have little caramel shards dotting his teeth. Bruce didn’t know if he should be embarrassed or not, but the tight look on Alfred’s brow told him probably so. “I know Bruce gave the basic intros already, but the name’s Jerome, Jerome Valeska.”
Alfred nodded, the back of the car just tight enough that he didn’t bother trying to shake his hand, “Alfred Pennyworth, Master Bruce’s guardian.” his lip quirked up, “I’m not sure I appreciate the dental sabotage, but I’m sure his dentist will.”
“Ooh, I haven’t been to a dentist in years,” Jerome said, fingers tapping on Bruce’s shoulders like he did when was thinking of ways to get a rise out of administrators. Bruce tried to nudge him, but he brushed him off, “Daddy Dearest says that he’ll take me, but I’m not sure I’ll be around long enough. Think he’s already getting tired of me.”
Bruce mentally thanked whoever there was to thank that the ride home was relatvely short, though he knew that just brought him closer to having to have a ‘talk’ with Alfred about his new friend. He didn't trust himself to say anything without looking like an idiot and honestly, he just wanted to get out of the car as soon as he could before Jerome got bored.