Chapter 1: Government Assigned Friends
Bruce was never one for friends, he supposes. Very few children cared much to play with him as a child and at school he was sucked up to or bullied. Thinking about it, Selina really was his only friend, and had been for a long while.
And it's not like the school administration didn’t know that. After his year long absence following the death of his parents, even his sycophants had begun to trail off, preferring to whisper about him behind his back. If he weren't, frankly, used to it, he might be insulted. As it were, he mostly ignored it, fighting back the ever growing urge to punt Tommy in the nuts whenever he got close to him and holding back from flipping off every sophomore girl who saw him as a suffering loner they could save by loving just the right way. He did his work, he socialized when he needed to and he tried not to get in trouble. That’s all he had promised Alfred and that’s all he was prepared to do.
So when he was called to the principal's office and told to ‘befriend’ a new student who had been acting up, he wasn't necessarily surprised, but he wasn't happy about it.
Jerome Valeska had been in school less than three weeks and has already cost his foster father hundreds in damages with his pranks and had either been late or skipped every class he had been to. Apparently, the administration thought that Bruce, the goody two shoes he was, was just what they needed to rub off on him. Assuming he could. He probably couldn't.
So this is why, rather than eating a packed lunch outside with Selina, he was making his way to sit besides Jerome, at the very least, thankful that he sat alone. It was likely for the better.
“Hello, Jerome.” He smiled politely as he sat across from him, “My name is Bruce Wayne and as I don't like relationships to be based on lies, I want you to know that Principal Henrys asked me to try and befriend you to try and curb your destructive tendencies.”
Jerome looked at him, blinking a few times, before smiling wide, showing off just slightly yellowed teeth and dark gums. “Oh goodie, a government assigned friend. Always wanted one of those.” he leaned forward, cradling his chin in his hands above his untouched food, lollipop stick moving in his mouth as he talked, “So, if we’re gonna be best friends, how about an ice breaker, Brucie? Get to know each other a little.”
Bruce frowned, he hadn't expected smiling acceptance. “Did you just call me Brucie?”
“Catch up kid, we’re playing 20 questions and you just used up your turn.”
Jerome was more... palatable that Bruce has first figured he'd be. Sure, he was louder than Bruce was used to, fast talking, dramatic and a bit of a troublemaker, but he was also surprisingly smart, charismatic, able to capture a room’s attention with ease. He was a bit like the thin, white scars around his face, easy to miss if you weren't looking closely. Easy to ignore or misjudge. Even when things were tense at the beginning, he never treated Bruce badly or sucked up to him, just kind of accepted that they were friends now, though he still called their lunches together 'government mandated friendship time'. Even so, Bruce has tried to keep himself reasonably professional with Jerome, kept his speaking to a minimum unless he was asked a question, tried not to engage when Jerome tried to get a rise out of him, tended to be the first to leave when lunch ended. He did try, but it's almost impossible.
The guy is unreasonably magnetic, after a few days Bruce couldn't help teasing back, putting his input into whatever outrageous hypothetical Jerome cooked up, even started walking out of the lunch room with him before they went their separate ways. Worst of all, he had a knack for getting Bruce to agree to things he never would have before.
For the past week in fact, Jerome had been trying to convince Bruce to join him on one of his pranks, promising he wouldn't get caught and that it would be amazing to watch the fallout. He was of course very against it, he was always hesitant to mess with people, even when Selina asked, but Jerome was persistent and seemed adept at wearing him down with his wheedling. He also seemed to be trying to bribe him with candy, showing up every lunch with pockets full of dumdums and ready to plead. While he assured Jerome that it wasn’t going to work, he couldn’t stop himself from taking a few lollipops anyway.
“Come on, Brucie, think about it.” Jerome leaned across the table, bubblegum dumdum hanging half out his mouth, eyes unnervingly intense, “It’s Tommy we’re talking about! I don't have to be a genius to know you two aren't the best of friends and honestly, I’m not sure that kid knows the word. He’d deserve it. And it's not even gonna hurt him! Physically, at least.”
“I may not like Tommy,” an understatement of course, he would sell Tommy to the crows for a single potato chip, “But I’m not getting in trouble for a moment of gratification. In fact, I’m supposed to be keeping you out of trouble.”
“But that’s the beauty of it, isn’t it? You won’t get caught!” Jerome smiled wide, the dumdum crunching under his molars, “Even if they find out I did it, they would never suspect their golden boy to be in on it! It’s the perfect crime!”
Bruce definitely wasn't genuinely thinking of agreeing... definitely. He would never agree to something like that. “I just don’t think-”
“You don't even have to do anything!” Jerome assured, “I’ve already got it all figured out, I just want you around, get you to live a little.” He smiled his stupid, pretty, crooked smile and looked Bruce in the eye, “Even if you’re just being forced to hang around me, I wanna be a good friend.”
Bruce tried, he really did. He tried thinking about what would happen if they got caught, what would the principal think, what would Alfred think, how could Selina hold this over him, but it all circled back to that obnoxious smile and he really just couldn't do it. He let out a breath and looked down at his hands, root beer dumdum tucked into his cheek, “If I get caught, I swear I’m never talking to you again.”
He couldn’t see the way Jerome’s eyes lit up at that, but god he could feel it. He really was doomed.
Okay, so maybe that was amazing. They had snuck into the school after dark, the night before report cards were meant to go out. All Bruce had to do was walk behind Jerome and try not to alert any janitors. He had never done something like this without Selina, it felt different somehow. He watched, strangely excited as Jerome got into the counselors school account (how he got his account information, Bruce would never know) and picked out Tommy on the long list of names. He swiftly and mercilessly dropped every grade by 50 points, going as far as to change the actual assignments grades, not just the final grade. As a final hit, he put some well placed holes in Tommy’s attendance and filled out a few fake complaints against him, leaving a trail of breadcrumbs at Tommy's expense. A beautiful little time bomb that would unravel all the farther if someone tried to look into what was going on, more an outright attack than a prank.
Bruce had always heard of Jerome pulling more physical pranks, filling the auditorium with snakes, spiking the sodas in the vending machines, sabotaging every motorcycle he could find in the school parking lots. Apparently, he had planned this one just for Bruce. “I was gonna get the prick anyways,” Jerome told him when he had explained his plan, “I just thought that you would like this better that what I originally planned.” Bruce never asked what he had originally planned, but he was a bit flattered that he’d thought of him.
After taking a second to fill in a few of his own absences and fix up a grade or two (“I never give myself more than a low B, otherwise, they know I’m cheating the system.”) and scribble down Tommy’s address to watch the shitshow later, Jerome logged out and fixed the desk so it was like they were never there. As they left, he threw his arm around Bruce, pulling him tight against himself and congratulating him on his first time being an accomplice. He thought about pushing Jerome’s arm off of him, keeping an air of professionalism between them, he really wasn’t used to people being that close to him, but he figured he was lucky Jerome hadn’t done something like this before and allowed it.
Bruce had never read if you give a mouse a cookie, but he knew the basic idea of it, and it turned out, if you let Jerome put his arm around you when leaving the scene of the crime, he would swing his arm around you when you greeted him the next day. If you allowed that, he would start hanging around you more often, not just at lunches. If you allowed that, he would start pulling you closer to him while you walked in the halls. If that, he would start passing you a few dumdums before you got into your classroom (always your favorite flavours), he would whisper about the next prank he was planning like he was planning a bank robbery, He would invite you to come along and when you (usually) said no, he would send you bored looking selfies ‘wish you were here’ when he ended up in detention or suspended because of them. And so on and so forth apparently forever because Jerome just seemed like a close, touchy person.
With Bruce anyways. Thinking about it, He’d never seen Jerome really close to another student, teasing maybe, getting information probably, flirting absolutely, but he never hung on to them, get up close and personal when he wasn’t trying to scare them. Well, Bruce couldn’t explain it, but Jerome didn’t seem to think there was anything weird about what he was doing and he hadn’t heard more than a few whispers from the rest of the student body, so he supposed it was fine. Maybe it was the feeling of having someone actually interested in him and being his friend that had him so hung up on him in the first place. He didn’t really realize when he started following Jerome to his own classes, waiting for him in the lunch room when he was late, got so used to having little lollipops in his mouth all day that it almost felt weird being at school without one. He didn’t know when he had gotten like this but nothing bad had come of it yet, and it came with a strangely nice warm feeling in his stomach, so he supposed he didn’t really have to think about it.
So he didn’t think much of it when Jerome walked him to his biology class, arm around his shoulders, talking about how he had this great idea for a prank on the cross-country team, or at least he didn’t question it. He didn’t expect it however, when Jerome stopped them both just before he reached his biology classroom, backing him up against a locker. An action that definitely didn’t make his heart skip a beat.
“Hey, Brucie, you know I wouldn’t ask you something like this if I didn't think it mattered,” wow, what a great way to start a request, “But would you mind skipping bio today to hang with me in language arts? I can't skip again or my foster dad will have my head.”
“What?” It took him a moment to process the request, lollipop tucked into his cheek, “I can’t just skip, they’ll see the absence in my attendance and I’ll get in trouble.”
“No, no, I thought about it!” Jerome smiled, that crooked smile he flashed when he wanted something, “Just leave your bag with me, go in and turn in your homework (because I know you actually do the homework) and in a few minutes you can ask to go to the restroom and I’ll be waiting out here for you.”
Bruce tried to think of arguments against it, he’d never skipped a class on purpose before and he actually really liked his biology class, but every time he tried he immediately had a little Jerome voice come in with a counterargument, urging him to live a little, break some rules while he was still young. Well. If he’d never skipped class before, if it was just this once, he was sure it would be fine. They probably wouldn't get caught, and even if they did, he’d only get off with a warning. So, gnawing at his dumdum, he nodded, passing Jerome his bag and fishing the homework out.
Jerome smiled wide, planting a kiss on his forehead, “Thanks a ton, Brucie!”
Bruce blinked, surprised, stuttering out a ‘no problem’ before turning quickly and walking inside, persistently ignoring the heat in his cheeks and the strange feeling in his stomach, like an amplified version of the feeling he’d been getting around Jerome. He felt like his ears were ringing the whole time he waited to turn in his homework and to raise his hand to ask to use the restroom. Apparently, his strange feeling must have shown on his face, as Ms. Foxglove agreed immediately, sending him out into the hall with a concerned look on her face. Outside, he found Jerome still leaning against the wall, his bag in hand.
“15 minutes, Brucie,” He tisked, “And here I was thinking I was being forgotten.” He stood straight, placing his arm back around Bruce like it belonged there, smiling down at him, “Better get going, huh? I’m already late.”
Bruce nodded, watching his bag swing over Jerome’s shoulder, “Oh yes, wouldn’t want to ruin your perfect attendance.”
Jerome laughed and Bruce smiled, looking up at him. His bright smile, the thin trails of white scars barely visible against his pale skin, like negative space in his dense freckles. It wasn’t like Bruce made a habit of watching Jerome from his little nook under his arm, he tried not to spend much time looking at him while Jerome walked him around, as absorbed in his own monologuing as he tended to be. He definitely never tried to map out the cluster of freckles on Jerome’s nose or try to catalogue all the different changes his face made because he spoke so animatedly. The conspiratorial smirk when he was planning something, that crooked smile when he wanted something, the crinkle around his eyes when he genuinely laughed and smiled (and he never noted how infectious his laugh is or the feeling it gives him in his gut), none of the stiff stage grins he gave to school administrators or kids he found too annoying to bother with but not annoying enough to play any pranks that were too mean on.
And Jerome could be mean. He tried seemed keen on pretending Bruce didn’t see when he flashed his pocket knife at kids who overstayed their welcome around him, how his eyes hardened while he stared down staff, even some of his pranks were enough to make Bruce uneasy sometimes (He was adamant about not getting drinks from the vending machines). He supposed he should have expected it, he knew Jerome’s reputation before he agreed to hang out with him and he was the one who went and made actual friends with him. Of course, he made his objections known when he thought Jerome was going overboard, and sometimes he even listened to him.
He was usually better than this, more put together, more assertive, but something about Jerome seemed to break that down, make if hard for him to stay his ground.
None of the really mattered now, anyways, because he was being led into Mr. Crockham’s language arts class. Bruce nodded to him while Jerome loudly proclaimed his entrance, staring down Crockham as if daring him to say anything. Mr. Crockham visibly gave up, just telling them to take their seats. So Bruce was lead to the back of the classroom, sitting in the desk beside Jerome’s, pushed up together like middle schoolers. They spent the class doodling in one of the few notebooks Jerome actually brought to school and whispering to each other about the others in the class, laughing and snarking, even when Crockham glared at them from his desk. It actually just made it funnier.
After that, Jerome ‘persuaded’ (read: he asked nicely and Bruce gave in) him into spending his off periods with him in his shop class, watching him work on whatever project he’d thought of that day, the teacher basically giving him free roam as long as he didn’t break anything and tried to clean up after himself. Jerome had a habit of making small boxes and rings while he thought, of what, he never asked. Bruce felt a bit bad, he usually spent his free periods with Selina outside, but he was sure she would understand. Besides, what better way to keep Jerome out of trouble then to keep him supervised?
Evidently, Selina was not a fan of his logic.
“Bruce, I barely get to spend time with you on weekdays,” She complained, walking beside him as the made their way to the Cat’s Cradle to hang out, “Suddenly this Jerome kid shows up and I’m getting shown up?”
“It’s not like that,” he frowned, “I don’t know. I know it seems weird, We’ve only been friends I guess for a couple months, but he’s really-” He tried to think of something that didn’t sound pathetic, “Different. Like, he treats me like a normal person. He’s really funny and can be pretty sweet-”
“Bruce, didn’t you only start hanging out with him to keep him out of trouble?” Selina looked at him, face tight, “I’m not really the best judge of character, but I’m pretty sure if someone needs a goody two shoes like you to balance them you, they might be a bad influence.”
Bruce’s face screwed up, trying not to sound as petulant as he felt, "No! He's kind of a troublemaker and he plays some bad pranks sometimes but they're usually still pretty funny and it's mostly in good fun! he's really chill outside of that.”
She snorted, shoving her hands in her pockets, “If you like him so much, why don’t you just make out with him already?”
He tried to find something to say back but it was like his brain had gone completely blank, his face burning while he stuttered, “I- no- well- what do- uhm-” He shut himself up, a bare minimum attempt to stop embarrassing himself.
Selina threw her hand out in front of him, stopping him in his tracks on the sidewalk. She turned her head to him, slack mouth slowly turning up into a ridiculous smile. “Holy shit, you actually like him.” she moved to face him, getting far closer into his personal space than he was comfortable with, “You’ve got a crush! On a ginger!”
He stepped back, trying to put space between them just so he could think, “I don't- maybe? I don’t know, I don’t get crushes!”
Needless to say, Selina has yet to let him live that down.
Chapter 2: A Segue Into Plot Ft. Texting
i seem to distinctly remember saying this was the opposite of a slow burn
also, if you see like an egregious typo or mistake pls tell me.
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.
Chapter 3: Backstory Revealed (Probably)
Jerome lets Bruce into some heavy secrets he's been keeping and their relationship changes a bit. ft. dumdums
merry cristmas babes! i promised myself i'd update and i did! yeah! HECK YEAH!
akjdfhs pls tell me if u see any obscene errors and also! guess what bruce's favorite flavour is!
As soon as they got to the manor, Bruce grabbed Jerome’s hand and started pulling him up the stairs, telling Alfred they would be working on a project together. He definitely didn’t go red when he called up for him to keep the door open and even if he did, he would refuse to acknowledge it. Jerome didn’t seem all that bothered by his nigh uncharacteristic pushyness, no doubt fully aware of how grating he can be, especially in confined spaces. Jerome stopped him when he’d already pulled him up two tall flights of stairs, leaning against the railing and pulling his hand out of bruces like he hadn't noticed it was there.
“You’re gonna have to give me a minute, Brucie, usually places this big have elevators,” he huffed, obviously not too put out, but definitely not expecting to have to walk so much.
“I mean, It’s an old house, I doubt anyone would want to mess with it too much, even for the convenience of an elevator, ” Bruce looked down from his empty hand to Jerome's, threading his fingers through his hair nervously, “Listen, about earlier today-”
“Not now Brucie,” Jerome pulling the dumdum out of Bruce's mouth and popping it into his own, effectively shocking him quiet, "I kinda wanted to talk to you in private y'know? Important stuff and all."
Bruce didn't like being shut up like that, still had questions and wanted answers, but he allowed it. At the very least, he should let Jerome explain on his own time. At least, that's how he rationalized it, licking at the empty space in his cheek where he tucked his candy. He hummed in agreement and they continued up the stairs. Only one more flight to go.
Bruce's room was nothing special in his mind, he didn't have many personal items laying around, just his bed, dresser, desk and bedside drawer, far more modern and boring that the rest of the house. It seems normal to him, he knows he's wealthy and has nice things, but he didn't expect to turn and see Jerome taking the room in like he hadn't just walked through 4 stairwells worth of valuable vases and paintings. He was just taken aback enough to be a little embarrassed about it, kicking around the few pieces of clothing that he'd left on his floor that morning.
“It’s really not that great,” he said, getting Jerome’s attention, “I’m sure you’re room at your foster dad’s place is just as good.”
“Ah, not really Brucie,” Jerome mumbled, locking the door behind him, “I think you’ve got me on this one.”
Bruce sat on the bed, feeling supremely awkward and not really knowing what to do now. Usually when Selina came in she either crashed on his bed or stalked around his room while they talked, he wasn’t sure of the etiquette of having a normal friend in your room (let alone a crush). “Jerome, what did you need to-”
Jerome came up to sit beside him, the dip he made in the soft bed urging Bruce closer to him. He fished around in his pocket, pulling out Bruce's favorite flavour dumdum and passing it to him, “Brucie. You trust me, right?” He pulled the empty stick out of his mouth and popped in his own, Bruce mirrored him.
“Of course,” He didn’t think before answering, used to Jerome asking the same while urging him to join him while skipping classes or pulling pranks, “But you know that, right? What’s going on?”
Jerome watched his face with a weird look in his eye, before smiling and looking down at his feet. “We’ve been hanging out for, what, a few months now? And it’s been real fun y’know?”
Bruce felt his heart drop, not knowing where this was going. Even if he was sure Jerome wouldn’t just leave or stop being his friend, it sounded like a goodbye and the thought made his blood cold.
“Thing is Bruce, I really like you,” Jerome turned to face him, putting his hand on top of his, stilling his fear, and looking him in the eye, short circuiting his brain. “Like, really like you, and I’d like to take you out.”
It took Bruce a minute to really register that Jerome had said, his mind blanking completely for a moment before he could stutter out, “I- Jerome, I really like you too.” HIs face felt like he had a fever and he honestly debated on whether or not this was a fever dream for a second. “I would love that.”
Jerome smiled, showing his teeth, and pulled him just a little but towards him, popping the lollipop out of his mouth and leaning in. Bruce leaned in with him until their lips just almost met, letting Jerome close the distance. He had never. Well. He never thought. He didn’t really know what he was doing. So he let Jerome do whatever he wanted and let himself drift past his panic on a mental cloud of shock and elation. It felt, at least to Bruce, like it took forever and no time at all for Jerome to move away, their lips sticking together slightly from the candy, and look at him. “You okay, Dumdum?”
It took Bruce a moment to register that Jerome was talking to him and snap out of it, “YEah! Yeah, of course.”
“You were kind of out of it for a second,“ He laughed, holding tight to Bruce’s hand, and put his head on his shoulder. “Ugh, I wish this were easier.”
“What do you mean?” Bruce frowned. This seemed to be going pretty well so far, the hardest paart was over, right?
“I mean- I like you,” He said, voice slightly muffled into Bruce’s shoulder, “And I want to go out with you so bad. But I have to tell you something.”
“You know you can tell me anything,” He said, his cognitive black out fading away just enough for him to feel embarrassed and self conscious about his behavior, “I promise I’ll understand.”
He felt a small shift, a smile, before Jerome picked up his head, looking about as serious as Bruce had ever seen him. “Well, get comfortable, I’ve got some stuff to explain.”
“I grew up in the circus. Like, the literal circus. My mother was a snake dancer and I would perform with her. She-” He looked away and to the floor, “She wasn’t the greatest woman, much less the greatest mother, but she was all I had. It wasn’t unusual for me to sneak out after shows, I hated going back to our trailer. She would. She would be drunk or high out of her mind, along with whatever man made his way into her bed that night, and took any excuse to hurt me or let them just for the fun of it.”
Jerome made a pained face, silent for a moment, “We were stopped in Gotham a few months ago, before school started. After our performances, I left for the night, wandered around the city. And when I came back, mom was gone. Someone had slit her throat, mutilated her, left her outside our camp, covered in a tarp. They blamed me, obviously. I wasn’t anywhere to be seen that night and they all knew I couldn't stand her. So they left without me. Called the cops and booked it.”
Bruce felt like he should say something, but his throat felt like it was glued shut, watching Jerome's face go from pained to resigned to nervous. He said silent, holding on to Jerome’s hand, waiting for him to continue.
“The cops thought I did it too, kept me for a long time, but they could never find any evidence. The circus was long gone, my mother was dead and any relative they could find didn’t want me. So I was stuck in the foster system, getting fumbled back and forth different apartments until they couldn't find anyone to take me in anymore. Then, they send me to Theo Galavan.” Jerome huffed, looking to Bruce, “And honestly? I’da done anything to stay with him. He’s rich as balls, got me everything I ever wanted, got his fucking butlers and servants to do everything I say. It was great. And all he asked was that I do what he said.
“Bruce, you gotta hear me out about this, don’t like, panic or anything.” He waited for Bruce to nod before continuing, “He thinks I really did kill my mom, right? And he’s got this whole ancestral revenge thing going on, he hates you and your parents like it’s his life. Like, the only time he talks to me is to talk about how much he hates you and how your fucking ancestors did his dirty or whatever. So he told me he would adopt me and let me do whatever I wanted, but only if I let him enroll me in school and make your life hell and eventually kill you.”
Jerome gave Bruce a quick second to react, his eyes widening and eyebrows raising as he went on. “Your foster father, Theo Galavan, a grown man, asked you, a teenager, to kill me, another teenager?” He asked slowly and quietly, trying to comprehend it himself.
“Exactly, Brucie! But you know I couldn’t do that? I couldn’t even stick my knife at you, you're special,” he smiled at him, rubbing Bruce’s hand to help him through the inevitable shock of a grown man trying to kill you, “But that’s the problem. If I tell him I don't wanna do this anymore, at best he’s gonna put me back in the system. At worst? We already know he has no problem killing rich important kids like you, no one would care about a kid like me.”
“I would care,” Bruce said quietly, looking away to the other side of the bed. This was all. A lot. To think about. And even though he believed Jerome and knew this was a serious situation, he could feel a niggling in the back of his mind, something there that he just couldn't make out, but it was hard to think with everything he’d just learned. It was weird, he was usually so quick thinking, so sure. But this, it felt like his head was full of sand or something.
“And that’s one of the reasons I couldn’t do it.” Jerome came in closer to him, bringing his attention back to him, “You’re special to me, Brucie! And I’d like to think I’m special to you too. So I’ve been lying to him, saying how batshit I’m driving you, trying to get him off my back for a little while longer. It’s worked for now, but I can only do this for so long.”
“That- That’s terrible. What can you do?” Bruce frowned, “I mean, you could stay here, I’m sure Alfred would understand, but you would still have to go to school and beyond that, Theo would still be out there. What-”
“Don’t worry about it, Bruce,” Jerome smirked his obnoxious, scheming smirk, “I have a plan, trust me. I just needed to tell you everything. You don’t like relationships based on lies, right?”
Bruce couldn’t help the little flair of warmth in his chest knowing Jerome had remembered him saying that and leaned in, kissing him to the best of his severely unpracticed abilities, and when he pulled away Jerome pulled him right back in. And that’s how they spent the next 30 minutes until Alfred knocked on the door, supposedly to bring snacks (but mostly to make sure that nothing untoward was going on.)
After their severely embarrassing interruption, they continued to talk. Like, in general, not about the murder thing. that would have to wait for tomorrow. And despite the glowing neon danger sign going off in his mind, Bruce felt like a weight had lifted off his shoulders. He and Jerome had laid back on the bed, legs hanging off the edge, snack tray between them, and talked about school and pranks and what they were. They liked each other right? So it would make sense for them to go out? At least, it made sense to Bruce.
“You really wanna be mine, Brucie?” Jerome looked at him, seeming genuinely confused, “After everything I’ve told you? About Theo and the circus and what I’ve been accused of?”
“Jerome, I don’t think there’s anything you could tell me that would change my mind,” he smiled, as though it were the easiest thing he’d ever said.
Jerome looked at him, eyes searching and hard, before he smiled back, wide enough for his gums to show in a way Bruce found so endearing. “You really are perfect, aren’t ya?”