While the boys stayed outside to see off the Cobblepot family and everybody’s favorite GCPD schmucks, Ivy followed Harley upstairs. Wayne Manor was way, way warmer than the abandoned residence up the road that they’d taken over.
“How come you can still practically see your breath at our place,” Ivy griped, running her hands over the elegant hardwood bannisters, “when we got a generator running, too?”
Harley snorted, skipping ahead as she reached the top of the stairs. “If you think that clunker of a PowerPro we pulled out of the garage is anything like what they’ve got here—”
“Right,” Ivy said, following her to the guest room Bruce had let them use during the nights they’d slept at the Manor before occupying their new homestead. “Jeremiah made them one of those fancypants suckers that doubles as a bomb.”
Harley looked relieved as she shed her coat on the floor and went directly to the unmade bed.
“I’m glad they didn’t get it in their heads to clean up,” she muttered, starting to strip it. “Help?”
“I can’t imagine those two cleaning anything,” Ivy snickered, yanking the linens free from the opposite side, “but somehow this place hasn’t gone downhill since you left.”
“Easy to keep this house clean if you’re only spendin’ time between the bedroom and the kitchen,” Harley said, winding their used sheets and pillowcases into a bundle.
“We should just ask Bruce if we can keep those,” Ivy said, folding the duvet as best she could, tossing it at the foot of the exposed queen mattress. “I bet he’s got plenty.”
“Good thinkin’,” Harley agreed, rising on tiptoe to kiss Ivy’s cheek. “Sexy and smart.”
When they had just about dropped the entire armful of linens on the floor in favor of some more serious smooching, footsteps approached from down the hall. Ivy figured it was their own fault for intruding, so she didn’t let go of Harley until someone in the doorway cleared his throat.
“Jeremiah’s waiting downstairs in the library,” Bruce said, weirdly unfazed. “Get your things.”
Ivy gathered their coats while Harley re-bundled the sheets and asked, “Hey—finders, keepers?”
“Sure,” Bruce said distractedly, waiting until they’d filed out of the guest room. “Come on.”
Even as biased as Ivy was toward Harley’s quirky, femme-fatale beauty, she could recognize that Bruce had turned out pretty respectable. He’d gone from the stuffy, clean-cut dweeb of Selina’s disillusioned dreams to the brooding, slightly roughed-up gunslinger they were following down the stairs. She kind of understood where Jeremiah was coming from.
Harley shifted her load over to one arm and smacked Ivy’s backside. “Think I didn’t see that?”
Ivy shrugged, smirking over their coats. “You still look at any redhead that crosses your path.”
Bruce faltered slightly in his progress down the stairs, but he didn’t stop or turn to look at them.
Speaking of her own kind, Ivy didn’t really get the appeal, not even when she set eyes on Jeremiah lounging on the library sofa that faced them as they walked in. He’d taken off both coat and suit-jacket, and removed his shoes. He wasn’t wearing the hat and silly glasses anymore.
“Yeah, shut your trap,” Harley muttered, dumping the linens on a side-chair, indicating that Ivy should do the same with their coats. “Is this some kinda meeting or somethin’?”
“Perhaps,” Jeremiah said, his eyes following Bruce over to the desk. “I could really use a drink.”
“Oh, hey,” Ivy said, dragging Harley around to sit on the sofa opposite him while Bruce came back with a decanter and stack of glasses. “Me too! What’s this you’re pouring?”
“Whiskey,” Bruce said, filling all four tumblers on the coffee table with at least three shots’ worth. “I’m sorry it’s going fast,” he said to Jeremiah.
“Doesn’t matter,” said Jeremiah, winking as he cradled the glass Bruce handed him. “You’ll just have to get me a nicer bottle.”
Harley snatched the glasses that Bruce slid across to them, sniffing both. “Swear this is safe?”
Jeremiah fixed her with a disdainful, unblinking stare, and then looked to Ivy. “Verify, please.”
“Dumbass,” Ivy sighed fondly, taking one of the glasses from Harley. She stuck her nose in it, sniffed, and then did the same to Harley’s glass. “There’s no poison. Just booze.”
“I guess if anybody would know, it’d be you,” Harley allowed, clinking her glass against Ivy’s.
Bruce met Jeremiah’s glass halfway, pleasingly clipping the side of it. “To a job well done.”
“Hear, hear!” Harley said, leaning across the coffee table to clink Bruce’s and Jeremiah’s in turn, indicating with a tight-lipped nod at Ivy that she should do the same. “We didn’t kill the kid.”
Once he’d toasted, Jeremiah drank deeply and muttered wearily into his glass, “Or ourselves.”
Far more of a smooth operator than Ivy remembered, Bruce slid his arm casually across the back of the sofa. He caught Jeremiah around the shoulders and kissed the corner of his mouth.
Ivy watched intently as Jeremiah lowered his glass, turned his head, and kissed Bruce back.
“Welp, we sure ain’t strangers,” Harley sighed, knocking back half her drink. “This stuff’s way better than what you had me stock at the bunker.”
Jeremiah relaxed into the curve of Bruce’s arm, graceful with his legs crossed. “Considerably.”
“I’ll steal whatever you want,” Ivy said, taking the challenge. “Once we can get off this rock.”
“What’s cute is,” Harley said, booping the tip of Ivy’s nose, “you ain’t technically drinking age.”
“Neither’s Bruce,” retorted Ivy, sticking her tongue. “Anyway, we’ll be nineteen this year.”
“Speak for yourself,” Harley scoffed. “You missed my twenty-sixth way back in October.”
“Consider the drink a belated gift,” Jeremiah said. “A single glass is worth twenty grand.”
Ivy stared into her tumbler, boggling at its contents. “So just how old are you, anyway?”
“I’ll be twenty-six in spring,” Jeremiah said mildly, taking another swig. “It’s no matter.”
Bruce had begun to look antsy, like there was something important he wanted to discuss.
Harley grinned. “I can tell you when it is. Just a few months from now—May twenty-first.”
The date pinged Ivy’s sense of the absurd like nobody’s business. “You’re a Gemini?”
Before Jeremiah could do anything so rash as fling his glass, Bruce set a hand on his wrist.
“You might not wanna bring that up, like, ever again,” Harley whispered tersely to Ivy.
“There was something we wanted to discuss before you leave,” Bruce said, tightening the arm he had around Jeremiah’s shoulders. “The sooner we have this conversation, the better. You can raid the pantry after.”
Jeremiah took another swallow of whiskey before he looked unruffled. “Terms of allegiance.”
Ivy shrugged, emptied her tumbler, and set it on the table. “I figured we’re ride or die now.”
“Same,” Harley said, swilling what was left of her drink, “but we don’t run your errands.”
“No such thing had crossed our minds,” Jeremiah replied, scooting his own empty glass onto the table. “It’s more that we expect a certain—” he glanced at Ivy “—stick-togetherness, yes. No more, let’s say, trading information on your benefactors to get out of lock-up?”
Ivy narrowed her eyes at Jeremiah, and then looked accusingly at Bruce. “She had no choice.”
“Benefactors, huh?” Harley challenged, tilting her head at Jeremiah. “So what’s the buy-off?”
“We’ll fully renovate your residence,” Jeremiah said, “starting with the gift of our spare generator. Martín was unimpressed with your amenities.”
“You getting your hands dirty with the building?” Ivy asked. “That’d be the day.”
“He means we’ll pay for it,” Bruce clarified. “I can vouch for that, seeing as I’m buying.”
Ivy reached across the table, offering Bruce her hand. “Done deal, big-shot. Pleasure.”
Bruce accepted it and shook, but he was looking at Harley. “Anything else, Ms. Eccles?”
Chewing her lip, Harley nodded. “We wanna go to college when GU’s back on track.”
Raising his eyebrows, pleasantly surprised, Jeremiah nodded as if that were reasonable.
“What was it you used to talk about going back to school for? Psychology? Depending what degrees you take, heaven knows a place like Arkham could, in time, use some reform.”
Watching Jeremiah’s eyes track across Harley’s face, Ivy finally understood the lengths to which these ambitious young men were willing to go. She couldn’t say she disapproved.
“They’d better have a B.S. in Botany,” Ivy said, “and grad programs for what we both want.”
“If they don’t,” Bruce replied, “then it can be arranged. I plan to support faculty expansion.”
“Ain’t you just thought of everything,” Harley said, shaking each of the boys’ hands in turn, getting to her feet. “Well, those sheets are callin’ my name, and I mean in the laundry sense. Ives?”
Ivy got to her feet in tandem with Jeremiah, offering her hand across the table. “All clear.”
“Indeed, Ms. Pepper,” Jeremiah said, firmly shaking her hand, “with my blessing besides.”
“Not like we need it or anything, Mr. J,” Harley scoffed, “but I guess that’s kinda sweet.”
Bruce escorted them to the pantry, where Ivy’s only real objective was to grab as many of the remaining boxes of strawberry Pop-Tarts as she could. Harley, ever the pragmatist, grabbed several boxes of pasta and jars of sauce.
Even after Bruce had seen them outside and watched them load the sled, he remained on the threshold until they passed through the main gate. He waved before closing the door, more friendly than he’d been all week.
“How ’bout we set up that old record player and dance when we get home?” Harley asked.
“Great way to spend today,” Ivy agreed, grinning. “D’you think the boys remembered?”
* * *
Bruce returned to the library without removing his coat. He lingered in the doorway, savoring how unselfconsciously attractive Jeremiah was when he didn’t know someone was watching.
Jeremiah looked up from whatever he’d been reading on his phone, somber as he flipped it shut.
“Did you know,” he said, unable to control the slight quirk of his lips, “that it’s the fourteenth?”
“No,” Bruce said earnestly, shoving his hands in his pockets as he made his way to the sofa.
Leaning forward, expectant, Jeremiah gave a soft hum in response to Bruce’s apologetic kiss.
“Thought maybe that was why you’d ramped up the PDA this past week,” he ventured slyly.
“It wouldn’t have been public if there hadn’t been an audience,” Bruce said, his fingers inadvertently brushing something in his coat pocket. “This is fitting,” he added, removing the lipstick-marked Jack of Spades. “Might as well have been a valentine.”
“First one I ever gave you,” Jeremiah sighed, stroking Bruce’s cheek. “Where are the roses?”
“They vanished one day while I was at the precinct,” Bruce said. “I think Alfred threw them out. It’s a good thing I carried the card with me.”
“I’ll just have to get you more,” Jeremiah replied, “as soon as someone’s willing to deliver.”
“Well, my birthday’s April twenty-fifth,” said Bruce. “That would be the next occasion.”
Jeremiah kissed Bruce again, clumsily shifting to straddle him. He’d drunk more whiskey.
“My Jack’s a perfect Taurus,” he mumbled against Bruce’s lips. “Possessive and stubborn.”
“For someone who hates superstition,” Bruce teased, “you know lots about this kind of thing.”
Sitting back, Jeremiah rolled his eyes. He picked at Bruce’s coat until Bruce shrugged out of it.
“What kind of circus brat would I be if I didn’t? My father—Cicero, that is—taught me the basics in everything from astrology to tasseomancy.”
“Not your cup of tea,” Bruce said, smiling faintly. “Way back when you said…was that a joke?”
Jeremiah bit the inside of his cheek in an attempt to keep from cracking. “What do you think?”
“Wish I’d known to laugh,” Bruce said, tugging him forward again so their foreheads touched.
“You were so serious that night,” said Jeremiah, wistfully. “I mean, you always are, but—”
“You seemed serious,” Bruce admitted, running his thumb along Jeremiah’s lower lip.
Closing his eyes, Jeremiah caught the digit between his teeth and lazily lapped at the tip.
“I was,” he murmured, biting down before licking again, “about what we could achieve.”
Bruce was mesmerized at the wanton, unhurried display, his breath caught in his throat.
Jeremiah slitted one hopeful eye, releasing Bruce’s thumb with a pop. “Nothing?”
“Quite the opposite,” Bruce said, pushing it past Jeremiah’s teeth again. “It’s…it feels…”
“I was about to ask for a dance,” said Jeremiah, “seeing as our revolution’s succeeded.”
Taking back his hand, Bruce toyed with the buttons of Jeremiah’s waistcoat. “Too early.”
“It’s too early to be drunk, yet here we are,” Jeremiah mock-lamented. “Indecorous.”
“I’m not drunk,” Bruce protested, even though the whiskey had left him warm. “You—”
“Shhh,” Jeremiah said, setting a finger against Bruce’s mouth. “Tipsy at best.”
“You want to dance with me?” Bruce tried again, willingly charmed. “To what?”
“Not those strings I chose the night of our first date,” Jeremiah replied with distaste.
“Wasn’t that our second?” Bruce asked. “You don’t count the night the bridges blew?”
“Tea jokes and abduction aside, fine,” Jeremiah relented. “Dinner was our second.”
Doubting either of them had the coordination to dance without breaking something, Bruce tipped Jeremiah sidelong on the sofa and quickly removed his boots. He swept his coat onto the floor and helped situate Jeremiah on his back, and then dealt with Jeremiah’s waistcoat buttons.
“If I’d known you were this wicked,” Jeremiah said as Bruce untucked his shirt, loosening his tie while Bruce undid those buttons, too, “I would’ve made a pass sooner.”
“Neither of us was ready,” said Bruce, tugging Jeremiah’s metallic diamond-patterned tie free of his collar. He parted Jeremiah’s shirt and thumbed at his nipples, feeling possessive indeed as Jeremiah jerked under him. “Also, you’re not half bad at horoscopes.”
“Observation of traits isn’t fortune-telling,” Jeremiah gasped. “Yours just happen to match.”
Bruce unbuttoned Jeremiah’s trousers and wrangled them off him. He took the next thirty seconds to rid himself of all his clothing while Jeremiah shed his shirt and underwear.
“Everything useful’s upstairs,” Jeremiah muttered, but swallowed whatever he’d been about to say next when Bruce pressed him down into the leather cushions and kissed his neck.
“I thought just this was enough to drive you wild,” Bruce said, sucking a bruise there.
Trembling, Jeremiah spread his legs and let Bruce settle against him. “What a charmer.”
Bruce rolled his hips, stifling a groan. “I want to make you come like you did when…”
“You mean more than once?” Jeremiah panted, eyes shut tight, cheeks already flushed.
“Yes,” Bruce whispered, grinding into him until the leather squeaked. “If you think…”
“Pull my hair,” Jeremiah hissed, digging his heel into the back of Bruce’s thigh. “Now.”
Eagerly, Bruce complied, pulling just shy of how hard he’d done it the first time they kissed. He felt a rush of pride at Jeremiah’s cry, at the wet heat that abruptly streaked their bellies.
“Now, keep—” Jeremiah sounded strained, as vulnerable as he’d been during their calamitous first encounter “—doing that, just, just don’t stop.”
“Moving like this?” Bruce murmured, gentling his fingers in Jeremiah’s hair. “Does—does it feel good when you’re not quite done…”
Nodding, Jeremiah caught Bruce’s mouth in a crushing kiss, his next sounds absolutely feverish.
Bruce carefully bit Jeremiah’s lip, and then turned his head aside to nuzzle his neck. “Jeremiah.”
“Want you to…” Jeremiah heaved like he couldn’t breathe, locking onto Bruce tighter. “Oh!”
Clear enough, when the sound of him was enough to make Bruce shudder and spill, that what Jeremiah needed in turn was the knowledge Bruce was coming. He arched with a gasp.
They lay still for a while afterward, panting and stroking each other’s skin. That this was the least wise thing they could have done—completely naked, at least, without clothes to catch the mess—on such a tricky-to-clean piece of furniture hadn’t occurred to them.
“Momentum,” Jeremiah said, the remark seemingly irrelevant at first, “is what I thought did it.”
Bruce kissed him, worshipfully stroking his hair. “At least you have confirmation now, right?”
“Could never do that before—well, before,” Jeremiah replied. “No matter how I tried.”
Fishing over the side of the sofa, Bruce grabbed the first thing he could find that wasn’t Jeremiah’s. He made a botch of preventing anything from getting on the leather, but at least the two of them were less sticky once he’d used his boxer-briefs as a mop.
“I hope I’m a reliable new variable,” Bruce said, tossing the ruined article back on the floor.
“Reliably appalling,” said Jeremiah, but he tucked his chin over Bruce’s shoulder and sighed.
“For a genius and…whatever I am,” Bruce replied, “we’re not really that adept at planning.”
“Circumstance has made us reckless,” Jeremiah agreed. “Still, no regrets about this.” He lifted his head, blinking at Bruce. “And whatever you are?”
Bruce kissed Jeremiah’s cheek. “I’m intelligent and determined, but I can’t match you in wit.”
“Either you’re self-deprecating to a fault,” Jeremiah demurred, “or don’t know the half of it.”
Tickling him, it turned out, was an astonishingly effective way to change the subject. Bruce stopped just shy of getting an elbow in the face, pinning Jeremiah down until he stopped laughing.
“That was unexpected,” Bruce said mildly. “Thought I would’ve managed that by now.”
Jeremiah kissed the back of Bruce’s hand with fond reproach. “I should’ve retaliated.”
“I don’t really react unless you target my feet,” Bruce replied. “Shouldn’t have told you.”
Sleepily content as he squirmed to get comfortable, Jeremiah winked. “Your secret’s safe.”
Bruce shifted them until they were on their sides—front to front, legs indolently tangled—lucky that Jeremiah didn’t roll onto the floor. He ran his fingertips up and down Jeremiah’s breathtakingly pale arm, from bicep to wrist and back again.
“You’re the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen,” he said, his lips pressed to Jeremiah’s shoulder.
Jeremiah traced the scar on Bruce’s cheek, his eyes half-lidded. “You’re radiant, so we’re even.”