Prequel to The Main Difference And None At All and Time and Territory.
Part 1 is here.
Title: The Time Before, part 2
Pairing: Bruce/Lex, Bruce/Harvey
Rating: Adultish, R (this part)
Length: 3329 words
Spoilers: pre-series fic, no particular spoilers for SV, for DC - continuity? what continuity?
Warnings: slash, angst, prep school politics, everyone wants Bruce
Disclaimer: Not mine, seriously. All belongs to Al & Miles, WB/CW and DC Comics.
A/N: I still have no excuse. And no reason at all to be inside Bruce's head or his history.
Summary: Bruce's senior year at Excelsior. He helps a kid out.
"Okay, damage control," Harvey said. "Let's assess the situation."
He and Bruce were sitting on the floor in Bruce's room, Bruce with his back against the bed and head leaning back. The juniors had merely nodded and walked away when he'd lain claim to Luthor earlier that day, with only Queen looking back. His group of seniors only looked at him, shrugging, but with Greggs storming off with a "I've got someplace to be."
"I've only got nine left in the pack anyway," Thompson said, looking at Greggs disappearing back and shaking his head slowly. "Let's go smoke up in peace." Then he turned back to Luthor, who had picked himself up off the ground, gathered his books from where he'd flung them to defend himself, and said, "That means you can go back to doing whatever, that doesn't give you license to hang."
Luthor nodded, put his cap back on, and not looking at any of them, started to walk away.
"Hey!" Thompson called. "Not without thanking the man first. Show some manners. He just went to the wall for you, God knows why."
Luthor turned, looked at Bruce, his eyes intent with something that Bruce could only uncomfortably call longing, and said with a surprising amount of dignity, "Thank you."
"That's 'Thank you, Mr. Wayne,' to you, kid," Brown said.
Luthor's jaw clenched, and he swallowed before saying, "Thank you, Mr. Wayne."
"Okay, back to class, Luthor," Thompson said, shooing him away and then turning, taking out his pack.
Luthor left, and Thompson said, "Come on, hero, I've got a fine-ass import cigarette with your name on it." And they all silently clapped Bruce on the back, one by one, before making their way up that hill.
"It's not what you think," Bruce said now, staring up at his ceiling.
Harvey moved to sit next to him. "Don't you get it, Bruce? Nobody thinks you really are."
"Greggs..." Bruce started to say.
"He just doesn't like the idea of it, you with anyone. He especially doesn't like it coming out of your mouth, even if you're lying to protect someone. I'm sure he's calmed down by now and probably going around telling everybody what a hero you are for doing it."
Bruce looked over at Harvey, mouth opening, but before a word came out, Harvey said, "Don't. Don't pretend like you don't know why."
Bruce just nodded.
"Just like the others, he doesn't think it's true," Harvey said. "They all think you're above that sort of thing." He paused. "It's not like they don't, on the sly." He laughed quietly, "But not the great Bruce Wayne."
Bruce didn't want to think this a prelude to a confession. Harvey wouldn't. He wouldn't do that, even if the unwritten and unspoken rules said that he could, just pick out one or two of the underclassmen, wield his privilege. "Harvey," he said, "you..." And he couldn't bring himself to finish the question, not wanting to be wrong about the answer.
Harvey smiled, soft. "No," he said quietly, "Why do you think they say that we are?"
And Bruce had heard the echo of rumors, floating across the commons. Same years weren't allowed to do that sort of thing, especially the upperclassmen. Instant derision and condemnation followed those that even appeared to be breaking that rule. But certain exceptions were made, treated as furtive and grand romance, tales to be told with soft yearning after lights-out, whispers in the dark. There had been Sorenson, soccer captain, and Abbot, leader of the debate team, back in '93. No one knew if it had been true or not, or just the wishful thinking of consensus, hidden approval and legend. And now that consensus had turned to Harvey and himself. "Wayne and Dent," they sighed. "Wayne and Dent..."
Bruce became suddenly aware of their shoulders touching, both leaning against the bed. How they always seemed to touch each other, the electric but calming current in the air when they did. How the others silently accepted it, not even bothering to look away. And here they were, alone, the afternoon light slanting in and the door closed. There had been girls, of course, over the summers, at the dances with Avalon Academy down the road. But this was Harvey.
He reached out, too afraid to say anything, and traced just the tips of his fingers over Harvey's cheek.
A breath escaped Harvey, startled, but he reached up, put his hand lightly over Bruce's and leaned into the touch, closed his eyes. "Oh God, Bruce, don't..." he whispered.
Bruce, choosing to ignore him in favor of the moment, leaned in, hesitant, brushed his lips over Harvey's. But the kiss didn't remain chaste for long, Harvey relenting, opening up, tongue soft.
They kissed as if they had all the time in the world, gentle, exploring and holding back. They didn't move onto the bed or away from it.
But Harvey pulled away. "Someone's coming," he said. He rose and stood by the window, partial erection outlined. He reached towards the chair back and put on his uniform jacket, buttoned it.
Bruce heard approaching footsteps. He had the corner room, the end of the hall, so there was no mistaking their destination. He drew up his knees, willing his erection away, hurriedly wiped his mouth and knew that he might have kiss-rash, visible and nothing he could do anything about. He crossed his arms over his knees, hid his chin in his elbow, looked over at Harvey, now so far away.
The footsteps stopped, a knock at the door. "Hey, Wayne, it's me," Greggs said.
"Come on in," he said.
Greggs entered, first looking at Bruce and then at Harvey, who still faced the window. "Hey, Dent," he said.
And for the first time, Bruce saw it – the envy, the grudging acknowledgment, permission, as if only Harvey were allowed on the same pedestal that Greggs had placed Bruce upon.
"Hey, Greggs," Harvey said in reply. "What's up?"
"I just came by to tell you I know it's crap," he said, looking at Bruce. "You wouldn't do that. You just said it to keep Luthor from his beatdown 'cause that's the kind of guy you are." He paused, leaned against the shut door. "But if you need to...de-stress or whatever, me and the others won't say anything. You're still our guy, you know? And if the rest of them start talking shit, we've got your back."
"Thanks," Bruce said, "But there's nothing to get my back for."
Greggs let out a nervous laugh, obvious relief. "Yeah, thought so. Like you'd even let Luthor..." He stood away from the door. "We all know if you did – and you are so the ladies' man so I'm just saying – but your due's your due and no one's going to fault you for taking it...you'd pick something better." And he glanced over at Harvey quickly and back at Bruce.
He turned, opened up the door. "See you two at dinner," he said. He then turned and repeated, "Got your back, Wayne. Totally got your back." He left.
"That's going to be a problem," Harvey said, nodding towards the now shut door.
Bruce waited a moment, until the footsteps faded into nothing. He stood and locked the door, turned back to Harvey. "Come on," he said, reaching out his hand, nervous smile on his face. "We were interrupted."
But Harvey looked at him, tension and want and grief. "No," he said. "We can't cross that line, Bruce."
Bruce walked over, took his hand. "We already have," he said. "I want this, Harvey. Don't you?"
Harvey squeezed his hand, clasping fingers, but looked away. "You're my best friend, Bruce. I can't lose that."
"You won't," Bruce said, reaching out with his other hand to tilt Harvey's chin towards him. He leaned in. "You won't," he said again against Harvey's mouth, a promise.
Harvey kissed him, but Bruce felt the goodbye in it, the never again. Without breaking it, he pulled Harvey away from the window, gently, towards the bed.
"No," Harvey said, stopping in the middle of the room.
"Let's just see where this goes," Bruce said. "We can worry about the rest later." He pulled Harvey further, just one more step to the bed...
"This isn't going to happen, Bruce," Harvey said, refusing to let himself be pulled further.
Bruce sank onto the bed alone, defeated. "Harvey..." he said, a stubborn pride refusing to let him say please.
Harvey walked back to the window. "The last classes have just let out," he said. "We only have half an hour until dinner."
Bruce felt a sudden hope lurch within him. "Tonight, then? We'll come back, take our time..."
Harvey sighed. "And we only have five to ten minutes before Luthor comes up here to thank you personally for earlier."
Bruce let out a groan of frustration, fell back on the bed, hands over his eyes. "I can't deal with that right now," he said. "He doesn't really think..."
"That's the way it works, Bruce. He knows the rules just as well as you do."
"You know I've never..." And he hadn't. He'd had offers before, even as a freshman, which even Bruce had to admit to himself hardly ever happened. Most had to wait until junior year to exact that kind of tribute. But he'd kept himself to girls, wanting to avoid the politics of the whole thing. And now he realized that he'd waited for Harvey. Harvey, who'd just said no.
"I know, Bruce. Greggs is right about that – that's not who you are." Harvey turned, looked at him, the ghost of yearning at what they'd almost done still there.
"Harvey, please, just come here. This is ridiculous. Come on, the door's locked, he'll go away if he shows up. Let's just skip dinner."
Harvey closed his eyes briefly, sighed. "You need to deal with this, Bruce."
He groaned again. "Why?"
"Think of the consequences," Harvey said. "Already word has gotten out, about what you did. Most will believe that you just said it to get Luthor out of a tight spot, but not everyone. They're going to look at what you do next. The younger ones already see you as a hero, but only leading by example. Now that you've become involved, they're going to look to you to come to their rescue when it's their turn. And when you don't, they'll tell themselves that it's true, that Luthor rates and they don't because he's gone down on his knees for you. They'll resent you for it and then line up in the hallway out there to do the same thing. Hell, they'll even look forward to it. The gorgeous Bruce Wayne..." He smiled, wistful. "That part they don't exaggerate."
"Harvey, I want you," Bruce said in exasperation.
"Oh, they'll talk about it when they're waiting their turn in the hallway. And if it's not you and me, then they'll whisper about you and Queen, the king and the heir-apparent." He paused, laughed to himself, "You know, the running odds are two to the one that it's me, only five to one that it's Queen, so yes, they'll probably talk about us. We're the romance, they're just part of the system. It's not the same thing at all to them. Both can coexist quite easily."
"So are you saying that I need to let Luthor...do that? That's insane!"
"No, you need to turn him away, but you need to do it gently, take an interest in him personally. Be the hero they think you are. You're going to need to arbitrate the other problems, the injustices. Not all of them, but enough. They've elected you king and now you need to hold court, Bruce. There's no way around that now. Because if you don't? Greggs will start busting up the heads of the people who are talking about you or lining up to kneel for you. It'll get out to the parents, become a scandal."
Bruce sighed, saw it all play out in his head, so logical. "Why didn't they elect you, Harvey? You're better at this than I am. You're so smart, it's kind of frightening," Bruce said, staring up at the ceiling.
"I'm the power behind the throne," Harvey said, laughing softy. "I certainly don't want your spotlight."
"Maybe I should just stick to the dark."
"You don't have that choice, Bruce. I wish you did."
And then they both heard another set of footsteps coming down the hall, lighter and purposeful.
"Get off the bed!" Harvey whispered. "Go sit at the desk."
Bruce had managed to do just that when a knock sounded at the door. Harvey opened it and there stood Luthor, calm and a bundle of nerves at the same time.
"Hello," Luthor said to Harvey. "I need to see Wayne."
Harvey stepped aside, smiling at Bruce, and Luthor stepped inside.
"These are for you," he said, handing a small box to Bruce. A box of chocolates. "They're all I could get from the shop," he said apologetically. "I'll have something more appropriate sent over by the end of the week."
Bruce held back the sigh of relief. Harvey had been wrong, Luthor wasn't here to repay him in the way they discussed. He had nothing to worry about. This would all blow over.
"Thank you," he said. "But you didn't need to do that. Besides, I need to watch my weight."
Behind Luthor, still near the door, Harvey rolled his eyes and silently threw up his hands.
"You watch your weight?" Luthor said, unbelieving and apprising Bruce in a most uncomfortable way.
'Idiot,' Harvey mouthed.
Bruce shifted in his chair, looked down. "I need to weigh in for crew," he said. "I try not to keep temptation around where I have to think about it."
'You flirt!' Harvey mouthed. 'Stop it!' He threw up his hands again and stepped forward. "These are perfect," Harvey said, "We can keep them around for guests."
Bruce noticed Luthor react slightly to the word 'we', casting a glance over to Harvey and back to Bruce. And now that this was a 'we' that Bruce wanted, he certainly wasn't going to tell him any differently. Besides, he'd only lend credence to the rumors if he did.
Harvey placed the chocolates on the desk, stood behind Bruce, placed a hand on his shoulder.
This was Luthor's cue to leave, but he wasn't taking it. Instead he stood there, face almost unreadable, silent for a moment. Bruce felt the moment lengthen and looked up at him, wondering where that unsure kid who ducked kicks and cuffs was exactly. The one who stood here seemed to have a cord of steel running through him. Maybe that's what he'd seen this morning. Maybe that's what he'd strode down that hill to save.
"Could you excuse us for a few minutes?" Lex said to Harvey. "We still have something to discuss."
Harvey stiffened, his fingers curling into Bruce's shoulder. "That's up to Wayne," he said.
"Sure," Bruce said, finding that smile he reserved for society parties that Alfred took him to occasionally, preparing him for his inheritance. He stood and walked Harvey to the door. "I'll keep it open," he whispered.
"I'll be right outside," Harvey whispered back. Just a few inches distant, Bruce wanted nothing more than to kiss that distance closed, but he pulled back into the room.
Luthor came around him to the door, and quietly shut it.
Bruce pulled himself up to his full height, raised what he hoped to be a worldly eyebrow, but wanting to call out for Harvey.
"You know why I'm here," Luthor said. "What you did..."
"And you know that I said it just to get them off your back. That's not what I'm about."
"You should sit down," Luthor said, nodding back to the chair. "It'll be easier for both of us if you do." When Bruce didn't sit, he sighed and whispered, "Just pretend I'm a girl." He rubbed his jaw lightly, a slight smile. "It'll feel the same if you close your eyes. One of the few advantages to not having body hair." Luthor took a step forward, eyes intent. "I bet you have a lot of girls."
Bruce fought the sudden panic that bubbled up. He stepped back, retreating, and ended up in the chair anyway to keep from stumbling. Certainly not the signal he wanted to give Luthor.
Luthor grinned in relief, sank to his knees, touched Bruce's leg. He looked at his hand as if he couldn't believe where it rested, awe lit up his face. "They said you didn't..."
Bruce didn't let him finish that sentence, grappled for the reins that somehow ended up in Luthor's hands. "I don't," he said. "I'm not going to start now." There. Firm, but not unkind.
But Luthor didn't pull away, instead his hand moved up to his knee. "What if I want to?" he said. "What if everything they say about me is true?"
"Look, Lex," he said, recalling Luthor's first name. Lex shivered from the intimacy of it. Only roommates and good friends used Christian names here. But first names held power and Bruce wanted him to listen. "No one thinks you're queer because of what happened with Queen. These things blow over. You just need to wait it out. You'll be a junior next year..."
Lex looked up at him, rested his chin on Bruce's knee. "Queen was just practice," he said. "You're the prize." And he said this almost serenely, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.
Bruce pushed Lex gently back. "No, I'm not," he said. "And you need to stop." He glanced over at the door, wondering when Harvey would come charging in, rescue him.
Lex followed his look, nodded his head and stood. "So it's true," he said. "You're with him. The two best-looking guys in the school..." He closed his eyes, laughed to himself. "Who am I kidding?" he said. He took off his cap, rubbed his head, an almost violent motion. "Why would you want this when you already have him?"
Bruce didn't say anything. It would be kindest just to let Luthor think that he and Harvey were an item. But the fresh pain of it flitted across his face before he could retrieve it, force it behind the Wayne mask that he had yet to perfect.
Lex looked at him, laughed in disbelief. "He turned you down?"
"We're friends," Bruce said. "You shouldn't listen to rumors."
"He turned you down..." Lex said again, still in disbelief but with a wild hope overriding it.
Bruce looked away. "It's almost dinner. You need to go."
In the corner of his eye, a blur of motion. He felt lips land on his and quickly retreating before he could react.
"He loves you, anyone can see that, but he's an idiot. You'll see that I don't give up as easily," Lex said, grinning from the door. "Bruce," he said, as if testing it out. He seemed to like it for he said it again. "Bruce...I'll see you later."
And he opened the door, left, still grinning.
Harvey ran into the room. "You did not!" he said, hurt and accusing. "What does he have to smile about?"
"He kissed me," Bruce said, stunned and blinking. "He's...pushy."
Harvey's expression softened, he knelt down by the chair where Bruce still sat. "Okay," he said, "Rule # 1, no more alone time with Luthor." He shook his head. "Bruce, what's wrong with you? You could face down a pit bull and it would crawl on its belly with just one word or look from you. You've got that power, we've all seen it."
"I don't know," Bruce said. And when it came to Lex Luthor, he suddenly didn't.
continues in part 3.