Prequel to The Main Difference And None At All and Time and Territory.
Previous parts are here.
Title: The Time Before, part 5
Pairing: Bruce/Lex, Bruce/Harvey
Rating: Adultish, R (this part)
Length: 4347 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.
The next morning, Bruce found that McKay had, in fact, reassigned the seats. Thompson now sat next to him and Lex now sat two rows behind.
"Looks like someone got put back a peg or two," Thompson said, glancing behind him. "That was so not on."
"You could have just ignored it," Bruce said.
"Hey, I'm spontaneous by nature. And what, you're like his big brother now or something? All part of the program?"
They didn't have as much time at breakfast as they did at dinner the night before, but the crew managed to set an agenda for the night's committee meeting before the bell rang for first class.
"You could say that," Bruce said. He had to follow his own rules, after all. And if anyone should take on Lex, it had to be Bruce.
"It's cool," Thompson said, shrugging. "Whatever."
McKay tapped his desk, began the lecture. Lex only spoke up once and kept his answer brief. The bell rang.
"Mr. Wayne, a word?" McKay said as the class rose to leave. "Don't worry, this is purely good news. Although I do have one question."
Bruce paused by the desk. "Yes, professor?"
"Why haven't you asked me for a letter of recommendation? I received a phone call yesterday afternoon from a gentleman at Cambridge. He'll be here next week to interview myself and some of your other professors, and I presume, to watch your performance on the water."
Bruce shifted. He hadn't given much thought to his university applications in the past week, and certainly not the past two days. "I'm still weighing my options," he said.
"Yes," McKay said, "Best to weigh them quickly. I spoke with a gentleman from Harvard as well, but these courtships are brief and there are surely other candidates. Carpe diem, Mr. Wayne." He sorted through his papers, smiled. "I'm an Oxford man myself. If you decide on Cambridge, I'm afraid I'll find my loyalties torn. You'll make a fine scholar and boatman for them. Perhaps I could make my way over for the the Boat Race next year. I would take not a little splendid pride to see you dressed in blues and battling your way up the Thames." He paused. "I'll have that letter prepared by tomorrow. Now off to class, Mr. Wayne!" And he waved him away.
Bruce stepped into the hallway to find Lex waiting for him. "Is this becoming a habit?" he said, but not without a little smile.
Lex stood away from the wall. "Cambridge, huh? The world's just your oyster, isn't it?"
"I'm still weighing my options," Bruce said. And then he looked over at Lex. "Were you listening in?"
Lex shrugged as he walked. "The door was open." He slowed, and then said without looking at Bruce, "You have a free after calculus." And it wasn't a question.
"Only on certain days," he said. "It seems you know my schedule." Bruce tried to appear less unnerved than he felt. Perhaps Harvey had been right. "Look, Lex, maybe we should talk..."
Lex stopped, his face calm and turning. "I was just getting to that. We could meet during free by the oak tree on the commons. Perfectly public and safe."
Bruce had every right to say no, but he didn't. Lex had found his inner thirty year old again, and maybe he'd listen to reason. "All right. After class."
Lex nodded and walked away.
"You're kidding," Harvey said as they walked out of calculus.
"We're just going to talk, Harvey. I..." He paused, knowing this wouldn't come out right. "I'm taking him on."
They'd reached the main hallway, boys flowing around them, jackets and ties. "Bruce, he didn't report a grievance, we haven't even started the program yet."
"He's got plenty to complain about. Besides, I stepped in. He's my responsibility."
Harvey just looked at him, soft. "You would feel that way, wouldn't you?" And he smiled, lowered his lashes, whispered, "I just hoped to spend the free with you."
Bruce felt the pull of him, the two of them an island in a sea of bodies. "You're a tease," he whispered back. "If we were alone right now..."
"What would you do? If we were?" Harvey said, still whispering.
"I can't even whisper it in public," Bruce said quietly, risking a hand on Harvey's arm, a brief caress. "But it would be slow, so slow that you'd melt into it." So slow that you wouldn't leave. So slow that you'd stay.
Harvey closed his eyes, let out a sigh. "Bruce..."
"You started it," Bruce said, a slow grin. He glanced around, noticing the heads turning and then turning away. "Come on," he said, "let's go before we add to the rumor."
"Where?" Harvey whispered, an invitation. And Bruce wanted nothing more than to grab him by the hand, drag him up to his room, spend the hour in a frustrating slowness that he'd gladly give up all his fast summer flings for, the girls who grabbed and pushed and opened up so easily. Forget about Lex waiting by the heritage oak. Tonight would be meeting and discussion and a room full of seniors and Harvey leaving with the others. Tonight would be him and his hand and an unsatisfying quickness.
But he'd promised Lex the free and he had to keep that. "Harvey, I need to go," he said, putting every ounce of regret and apology that he could into it. "You know I want..." And he let the sentence die, only having a vague idea what he wanted. They'd both had experience with girls, both of them having left any vestiges of virginity behind the walls of Avalon Academy years ago. With each other, uncharted territory, only maps to a bordering nation to guide them.
"I know," Harvey said. "Come on, I'll walk you out." And he put the appearance of a companionable arm, but now so much more, around Bruce's shoulder and they opened up the door together.
"You needed an escort, I see," Lex said as Bruce sat down beside him, back resting against the heritage oak in the middle of the commons, Harvey's back disappearing towards the dorms.
"He has a free too," Bruce said. "If you're going to be hostile, I can catch up with him." He didn't expect this to be an easy conversation, not really knowing what Lex wanted to talk about, but he hadn't expected the bristle he received now.
Lex took off his cap, brushed his hand over his head, leaned further into the tree. He picked up an oak leaf, brown and freshly fluttered, and began to pick it apart. "I'm sorry," he said. "You already know how I feel."
Bruce didn't know exactly how Lex felt. He'd only known him for two days, but Lex had managed to pack a roller coaster of outrageousness into them. So he could make a reasonable guess.
"Did you get my package?" Lex asked. Already done mutilating one leaf, he picked up another.
"Yes, I did. Thank you." Bruce thought he should add something more. "I started the Rimbaud last night."
Lex leaned forward, picked up a third leaf. "They're appropriate. We're starting in on them next week in class." He leaned back, closed his eyes. "I suppose he told you they were inappropriate. That I'm roleplaying the romance." He laughed, a small seeping bitterness. "Believe me, if I was going to go postal, with my life, I would have done it a long time ago."
Bruce looked down at his hands, uncomfortable. "No one's accusing you of..."
Lex looked at him with eyes that suddenly seemed a million years old. "I already told you that I'd never hurt you. I mean that. But I need to tell you that I'd never hurt him either, if that's what you're thinking."
Bruce, who hadn't really been moving, managed to still. "That...that sounds like you are thinking of hurting someone, Lex. I know that you've got plenty to be angry about, but maybe I'm not the person you should be talking to. The school has an onsite counselor..."
Lex laughed, harsh and humor at the same time. "Luthors don't do therapy. It's a sign of weakness."
"It's confidential. Your parents don't have to know."
Lex closed his eyes again. "My mother's dead. And believe me, my father would know."
And suddenly Bruce saw pearls floating slow motion in the night air, falling to the ground, rolling away before he could catch them. He looked away. "Both my parents are dead," he said. "Shot right in front of me. I was eight."
He drew up his knees, wrapped his arms around them. He never talked about it even though everyone knew. Only with Harvey, late one night. Harvey who, before everything, had silently toed off his loafers and crawled in bed beside him, a welcoming arm and quiet. That night the nightmare never came, as it always did when he drew the memory up, Harvey guarding him against it.
Bruce felt a hand on his shoulder. He turned, eyes dry, to find Lex looking at him, concern, fondness and the frightening awe. "I know," he said. "That's why you of all people would understand. You would be disgustingly perfect without that. But your rising above makes you achingly perfect."
"You must be thinking of someone else, Lex," he said. "Believe me, I'm nowhere near perfect."
Lex shook his head slowly, smiling, as if disbelieving a lie told to a child. "You have no idea, do you? It's not just how you look, but who you are. Everyone reacts to you. Everyone."
Bruce noticed that Lex's hand hadn't left his shoulder. He shifted, just a little, until that hand fell away. "Lex, you don't know me. You can't say who I am. Half the time, I don't even know myself."
Lex drew up one knee, put his chin on it, and with a small smile said, "I could say something about wanting to get to know you, Bruce, but it would sound like a line."
Bruce laughed, relief. "Yeah, it probably would. But I meant it when I said we could be friends."
Lex laughed in return. "The friends speech, I've heard that before. Usually they say that, back away slowly, and I never see them again. It's an exit strategy, get away from the scary bald kid."
More leaves wafted to the ground, the grass littered.
Lex hadn't put his cap back on, and Bruce just looked at the smooth line of his head. "Is it really that bad?" he said.
"Says the man with runway model hair." Lex brushed his head again with his palm. He stopped as if suddenly aware. He took his hand away, placed it over his knee. "I keep doing that. Nervous habit, I guess. It's not like I'm going to wake up one day and say, 'Oh wow, hair!'" He smiled. "So which theories have you heard?"
"A few," Bruce admitted.
"The meteor one? That's true. I was nine and out in the middle of nowhere. A corn field. A corn field. Just my crazy science fiction life." He brushed his head again. "But about it making me sick? That's not true. I'm not diseased. You're not going to catch space cooties from Loser Luthor." He added quietly, "It took years of tests for my father to believe that."
Bruce knew that he should, but he couldn't bring himself to look away.
Lex turned, leaning into the tree, now only his right side against it. "It's okay," he said. "You can look. It's more honest than pretending it doesn't exist, that it doesn't matter. It does matter. It defines me."
"You're more than that," Bruce said. "It's just distinctive."
"Mmm," Lex said. "Distinctive only works as a compliment for men over forty." But he didn't sound offended. Instead, he looked languid against the tree, blue eyes warm. And Bruce noticed that they weren't ice blue like his or the soft blue hazel of Harvey's, but that they shimmered with grey and a hint of green.
"It's supposed to be good luck to rub a bald man's head," Lex said, voice warm and inviting. "They say the same thing about redheads. With me, that would either be double or the two just cancel each other out. I have no idea. No one's ever tried it with me." He leaned, tilted his head slightly.
Bruce hesitated. He didn't really touch people. The girls, sure, but that had been sex. And with Harvey, it turned out to be sex too. But for over three years, it hadn't been, not that he'd known, just comfort and home. As exciting and new as this thing between him and Harvey felt, the aching and promise of it, he felt the loss too. Maybe he wasn't capable of touching someone in friendship and kindness. Maybe he never had been. So he reached out, placed the tips of his fingers on Lex's scalp, warm and smooth and hard. He circled once, twice, and then retreated.
Lex pulled back, eyes half-lidded and sighed.
And from down the commons, someone called out, "Bruce Wayne, friending the friendless since 1996!" Laughter answered. "You're the man, Wayne!" A soft cheer. Someone else said, "Did you see that? He patted Luthor on the head."
Lex stiffened and then flushed, picked up his cap and put it back on. Turning his head away, he said, "Figures that it'd be bad luck." He put his hand over his eyes, and with his voice rough, said, "Careful, I might drag you down with me. I don't know if even your rep could survive that."
Bruce didn't know what to do so he reached out, gave Lex a reassuring pat on the arm, and then retreated again.
"I guess this is your way of reaching out, isn't it?" Lex said after a moment, chin now in hand but still looking away. "I'm your test case for the brave new world." He shook his head, let out a small laugh. "Friending the friendless. God, that's a good one. They're already paraphrasing your speech."
And Bruce felt that tickle of shame. He'd already told Thompson and Harvey that he'd take Lex on. Now the whole big brother idea seemed condescending. Great in theory but difficult in practice. "I'm not good at this," he said. "Maybe one of the others would be better."
"You're doing better than anyone's done in a long time," Lex said. "If anyone can get things to change, it'll be you. None of them even thought of it. You've got your work cut out for you though. They'll cheer you and resist you at the same time."
"I'm not doing this alone," Bruce said.
"They'll drop off," Lex said. "It'll get too hard or they'll get bored."
Harvey had implied the same thing. "We'll just have to see," Bruce said.
"Your speech though, your speech was incredible." Lex turned, finally looking at him. "You're the full package—good-looking, articulate, genuine. You really could have a future in politics. Queen was the one who turned it into a circus, appealing to the lowest common denominator." He laughed, bitter. "Of course that means he has a future in politics too."
"He means well," Bruce said. "We just have different approaches."
"I'll bet," Lex said, "Is that what the hug and kiss were about? You know, beyond his grandstanding?"
Although the embrace had certainly made him uncomfortable, Bruce was certain that no kiss had been involved. "Unless you saw something from the back that I entirely missed, there was no kiss."
"He kissed your ear, cheek, something."
Bruce couldn't figure out what Lex was implying, or why he thought it mattered. "He just said something. That's all."
"Really, what was that?"
"He got into the moment. It's nothing."
"So if it's nothing, what did he say? It's personal, isn't it."
And Bruce could have said that it was none of Lex's business, but Queen's dramatic statement was either emotional or political hyperbole, harmless and meaningless. No harm in repeating it. He took a breath. "He just said, 'You, my brother, are a god!'"
Lex, sprang to his feet, one fluid motion, turned and punched the the oak. Hard. "I knew it," he said, punching the tree again. "I fucking knew it!"
"Hey!" Bruce said, rising himself and grabbing Lex by the shoulder. "You'll hurt yourself."
Lex pulled away, turned. He let his back fall against the tree, crossed his arms, hiding his hands. But not before Bruce saw the one that had been a fist, red and a knuckle cracked, bleeding.
"How could that possibly set you off?" Bruce said, arms down by his side. Not even lunch yet, and Lex's emotional lurching exhausted him.
Lex looked away, taking his time to calm down. He looked back at Bruce, eyes fierce. "What do people do in front of gods, Bruce?"
Bruce froze. How could Lex possibly construe that? "You're talking about kneeling," he said. "Queen's not a kneeler. He never has been."
Lex shook his head, arms still crossed. "You still think in those terms? Let me tell you, as a kneeler, that's exactly what he said." He let out a breath, sharp. "And let me tell you, as a kneeler, I know him a hell of a lot better than you do. He wants you and he's going for it. He's not as straight as he claims."
Bruce sighed. Obviously, the incident with Queen left Lex with a skewed impression. "Lex, you're overinterpreting. If anything, it comes off more as a comrade-in-arms statement."
"Oh, you mean the 'my brother' part? That's easy. He thinks he's a god too. He's not going to just kneel like a good little kneeler, he's going to stick his tongue in your mouth too. Probably after one of your late night meetings or patrol groups. All pumped up, thinking he's Achilles."
"I can tell you right now that's not going to happen," Bruce said.
"Why? Because of Dent? You think he respects that? He wants to be your dish on the side," Lex said, slowly sliding back down to the ground, arms still crossed. "Half the school says he is anyway."
"That's just wild rumor and obviously untrue." Bruce took a tentative step, then two, and sat back down beside him. "Look, I know you have your reasons not to like him, but he really does feel bad about that one time..."
Lex turned, slow and smiling. He raised an eyebrow. "One time? Is that what he told you? Try five. The last time is just when we got caught."
Bruce pulled back, stunned. "Actually, he never gave me a number. I just assumed..." He picked up a leaf, crumpled it in his hand. "He said it was your idea," he said quietly.
"Just because I can't stand him, and he's unfortunately blond, doesn't mean he's not hot. Sure, I wanted him and his guys to lay off. What was it you called it? Commerce? But it's not like he held me down or anything. I got something out of it."
Bruce didn't want details. He really didn't. He wasn't even sure how the conversation had taken this windy mountain road to this vista overlooking that archery field in the first place. "You mean...?" And he couldn't finish the question.
"You asked 'who kneels for the kneeler'," Lex said. "And the answer to that is no one. He didn't kneel, if that's what you're asking. He's saving that for you." Lex looked over at him, smiled to himself. "I jacked off while I did it."
"Oh," Bruce said. He looked away.
"I've probably shocked you," Lex said. He sighed. "I'm not good at this either."
They sat there for a minute, pulling leaves apart, side by side. Bruce wondered if he should just get up and go, but the hour wasn't up yet, only a few others with the same free in their own little groups on the commons.
Lex broke the silence. "You know," he said, "he tried to kiss me after the fourth time. Out of gratitude, guilt, I really don't care. But I wouldn't let him." He paused, said softly, "I didn't want him to be my first."
Bruce turned, eyes wide, but didn't say anything.
"The kneeling, that's not important," Lex said, "But a first kiss should be special." He laughed. "I'll be sweet sixteen and never been kissed. How pathetic is that?"
He looked at Bruce, and Bruce fought the panic that Lex thought that moment to be now. He steeled himself not to move.
Lex just looked at him. "You probably feel sorry for me now. Great." He looked away.
Bruce swallowed, felt a little stupid. "No, Lex, I don't. There are lots of guys your age who haven't," he said.
Lex turned back, grinned. "Too bad," he said. "It was worth a shot."
Bruce had to laugh at that.
Lex laughed too. They sat there for a minute then two. And then Lex sighed, said, "I've had a dick in my mouth and no one's tongue. Maybe I need to reassess my priorities." He paused. "It's not like I haven't tried," he said. "At the dances, I've gone up to a lot of girls. But they all give me that same look, disgust or pity. I don't want one out of pity, but I might have to settle for it one of these days."
Bruce blinked. He hadn't seen Lex at the Avalon dances, but he hadn't exactly looked for him either. "You just need to find one that will give you the dance first, talk to her. It might take a couple of trips, but once she gets to know you..."
"You seem to do alright," Lex said. "I've seen you make out with more than one..." He paused, turned slowly and laughed. "You think I'm gay, don't you? I just threw you a curve ball." He laughed again. "Believe me, I like girls. And I like guys. People like us are beyond orientation. Why do you think most of the Roman emperors were bisexual?"
Bruce hadn't even had time to rethink his orientation. He'd only been with Harvey for two days and thought himself completely straight before that. So he ignored that part of Lex's comment. "That probably had more to do with time and culture," he said.
"There's that," Lex said. "But that tendency among leaders crosses cultural boundaries. Leaders, artists, people of vision, orientation is flexible for them."
Bruce just looked at him and laughed.
"What?" Lex said. "It's true."
"No," Bruce said, "I was just thinking about how one minute you talk like you're thirty and the next you talk like you're fifteen."
Lex smiled, shifted until he sat cross-legged. "You can blame my dad for that one. He can't abide children. Rousseau's garden of innocence is just real estate development for him. If you can't hold up your end of the conversation then you're less than worthless. You're just stealing his air."
"That doesn't sound like a way to raise a child," Bruce said.
"There are worse," Lex said. He looked down, fidgeted with his hands, looked back at Bruce, appeared to have an inner debate, and then said, "He's told you, hasn't he? Dent?"
"I don't think he knows your father," Bruce said.
Lex leaned his head back into the oak. "He hasn't. Shit, I'm sorry." He let out a breath.
And then Bruce felt something large, looming, a cloud in the distance. "Lex, what are you saying?"
Lex sighed, his face shifting to sadness. "When you've been raised the way Dent and I have, you learn to recognize it in other people. You just look at them and know." He paused, laughed small and sorrowful. "We have a secret handshake and everything." He shook his head, leaned back more. "I'm sorry, even I know that's not funny."
The cloud roared in, shadowing everything despite the warm, autumn sun. "He doesn't talk about home much," Bruce said.
"Even though I don't want to, I like him," Lex said. "Maybe because he's managed to be a human being. I don't know." He reached down, fingered the loam, the scattered blades of grass. "One thing I can say about my father, he's never touched me like that. He'd consider it too much attention."
Bruce stood, found his own fist in the tree. He leaned forward, bracing his hands against the oak. "You're wrong," he said. "You have to be."
Lex stood, gathered up his books. "I could be. I hope I am. That would suck for anyone, and like I said, I do like him." He moved closer to Bruce. "But you've suspected, haven't you? You're not laughing and telling me to fuck off. I can tell you two haven't gone very far even though any idiot can see he loves you. He's probably asked you to wait."
Bruce leaned his head down, hands still against the oak. "That's none of your business," he managed to say.
"Wouldn't you rather know why?" Lex said.
Bruce shook his head, silent. What Lex said made horrible sense. The summers that Harvey never talked about, how he seemed so much more grown up than the others, his boundaries, the regalness of his silences.
Lex put a hand on his shoulder. Bruce shook it off. "I'm sorry," Lex said. Bruce heard the crunch of leaves and then less as Lex walked away onto the grass.
The bell rang. The doors opened. Bruce still didn't turn around. He heard the crunch of leaves again.
"I think the tree can hold itself up," Harvey said. "Come on, let's go to lunch."
Bruce turned, and there Harvey stood, brown-haired and beautiful, smiling. But not for long.
"Jesus, Bruce, what did he say to you?"
A leaf fluttered down, landed on Harvey's shoulder. He wanted to reach out, brush it away.
But he couldn't.