Prequel to The Main Difference And None At All and Time and Territory.
Previous parts are here.
Title: The Time Before, part 4
Pairing: Bruce/Lex, Bruce/Harvey, and er, maybe Bruce/someone else, if you squint - because I'm evil
Rating: Adultish, R (this part)
Length: 2865 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.
Bruce, in the stern position, timed each stroke and breath, setting the pace for the rest of the crew. His legs burned, thigh and calf, arms pulling. He welcomed the pain since it pushed everything else away. He slid past it until he was nothing but the oar in the water and the sun on his back.
The coach's whistle blew and they pulled the boat back to dock.
"Good one, boys," he said. "Hit the showers. Machines and ropes tomorrow."
Only when they started to strip in the locker room did his anxiety about the coming meeting hit him.
He took a breath, headed into the shower.
"You're overthinking it, Bruce," Harvey said, soaping up beside him. "Relax, you'll do fine."
The underclassmen filtered into the showers.
"Hey, Luthor," Greggs said. Any murmurings faded away. The only sound, the hissing of the spray.
"What's up?" Greggs said. "Your day okay?" Bruce couldn't detect any malice. Greggs sounded conversational, interest unfeigned.
Lex stood there, water falling about his lean shoulders, speechless for a brief second, and then replied cautiously, "Yeah, okay, Greggs. You?"
"Great," he said. "Couldn't be better." He took a final rinse, turned the handle. "Take care, kid," he said, and headed back to the lockers.
Bruce and Harvey looked at each other.
"And so it begins," Harvey whispered, smiling.
"We're going to have to move this down to the common room," Harvey said. "We've already got twenty-five and most of them aren't even here yet."
Thompson nodded. "Okay, people! Meeting's down in the common room. Pass it on!"
The boys in the door turned, told the people behind them. When Bruce and Harvey made it out to the hall, a line of boys the length of the hallway were heading for the stairs.
Within fifteen minutes, over a hundred bodies littered the common room. Mostly seniors and juniors, but a smattering of sophomores and freshmen as well.
"What's the room capacity?" Bruce whispered, suddenly nervous.
"Let's just hope the fire marshall doesn't decide to drop by," Harvey whispered back, putting a reassuring hand on Bruce's shoulder.
Thompson stood on the coffee table, swept clean and now near the back of the room. He whistled sharp and loud. The room hushed. "Okay," he said, projecting, "Some of you know why we're here, some of you don't. Let me tell you, this is like visionary. So here's the man with the plan – Bruce Wayne!"
Bruce stepped onto the table. Thompson stepped down with a smile and a thumbs up.
He stood there silent for a moment, all quiet eyes on him. He noticed Lex and his roommate Duncan making their way through the door to stand in the back.
He'd never been one for public speaking, although he seemed to do all right in class presentations. He took a calming breath, found the steel and quiet that Harvey claimed he possessed.
"Most of you have heard about the incident yesterday, about what I did. Some of you have called me a hero because of it."
A few heads nodded, murmurs of approval. "You're our man, Wayne!" someone shouted from the back. Shushes responded.
"Let me be the first to tell you I'm not. I've been nicknamed the king, but I've done nothing to earn that. Because for the four years I've been here, I've done exactly that. Nothing."
Someone let out a small laugh of disbelief.
"Yesterday, I stood on the hill and watched as one of the underclassmen prepared for a beating. I told myself not to get involved, that's just the way things are. But someone in my crowd said, 'Someone should do something about that.' And for the first time, for the first time in four years, I said, 'Yes, they should.' And I went down that hill and I did something.
"Now, I can't go back to the way things were before. We all know what goes on here: the hazing, the beatings, the name-calling, the intimidation. It doesn't have to be that way. It only happens because we all agree to it. If we don't raise our fist, then we look the other way when someone else does. We tell ourselves that it's always been this way. What can we do about it? And so we do nothing."
The crowd shifted. Some eyes looking down, others looking at Bruce and nodding.
"We spend our first two years latching onto the protection of crowds, whispering to ourselves, 'Please don't let it be me.' We see the stragglers get weeded out, picked on. We hear our roommates crying themselves to sleep. We see the bruises in the showers. We pray for junior year. And when we reach our junior year, we say, 'Finally! Now it's my turn.' And it begins again."
Someone in the middle shouted, "Damn straight!" His neighbors turned, glared, and turned back. "Ow!," the upperclassman said, a neighbor having punched him surreptitiously. "I'm just telling it like it is."
"Shut up!" Greggs said near the front. "Wayne is telling it like it is. Questions and comments after!"
Bruce waited until the murmurs died down.
"We see the beatings, hear the name-calling. But what we don't see, but we all know about, is the kneeling."
The room, already quiet, turned quieter.
"If you know about the incident, then you know what I said to keep it from happening. I claimed a kneeler and the beating didn't happen. These are the rules. We call it The Due. The stragglers kneel and get our protection. And we can tell ourselves that it's all right, they get something out of it. But really, who kneels for a kneeler? It's not mutual. It's not all right. It's commerce."
The room shifted again, uneasy.
"Think about it, these are kids as young as thirteen. We beat them, make them kneel, call them names. And those of us who don't, we look the other way. That's the way it's always been.
"That has to change. You all know that construction has already started for the new dorms and new class hall. The school wants to expand and we're going to have a middle school. Next year, the super-eights will start. The year after that, the sixth and seventh grades. Sixth grade. Kids as young as ten. Your cousins, your brothers. We need to stop these traditions now, before they get here."
Eyes widened. A small chorus of 'Jesus!' and 'Shit!' sounded.
"We may joke about how we do our time here, but this isn't prison and we aren't criminals. These are kids, and they certainly don't deserve our neglect or abuse. What they deserve is our protection.
"And I'm not saying 'we' as in the royal 'we'. As I said, I didn't earn the title of king. I'm just one person. No matter how much I want to change, change what's happening, I can't possibly do it by myself. I'm asking for your help. We're the solution. All of us. Together."
Bruce paused. The room took that as a cue to start applauding. One boy, near the front, shouted, "Hey, Wayne! How do we do that?" The room settled, hushed again.
"There are a few things to start," Bruce said. "We can form patrol groups, take shifts, but that's only part of it. We can also form a group to listen to grievances, assign some of the seniors and juniors to friend the friendless."
"You mean like a Big Brothers program?"
"Yes, something like that. We just need to talk to them. Reach out and forget about class lines. Get to know them. We'll call it a 'tutoring club', get a charter going. We could also start a self-defense class."
"Yeah, Revenge of the Little Ninjas," someone else said. "That'd be scary." The crowd laughed.
"These are just ideas," Bruce said. "This is just a start. And it's not a one-man show. In fact, I'd like to invite Queen up here to speak for the juniors."
Queen, in the middle of the crowd, made his way to the table, grinning. He hopped up, full of flair. But when Bruce made a move to step down, Queen whispered, "Nuh uh, stay here."
"Okay," Queen said, "I'll be the first to admit that I'm part of the problem. I didn't win a silent election like our man Wayne here. I punched my way to where I am today."
Someone snickered, "You know it, Queen!"
Queen just grinned in response. "And you know what? I like where I am. No lie. What I don't like is how I got here. None of the rest of you have to admit to it, but I've used kneelers. I've taken my due. And let me tell you, it feels great for two minutes, but you spend the rest of the day feeling like crap. Because Wayne's right, it's so wrong. And we all know it. I'll tell you right now, no more." He paused, put his thumbs in his beltloops, rocked on his toes, and his expression changed from serious to a serious, almost lacivious, grin. "From now on," he said, voice dripping with sex, "I'm keeping it for the ladies."
The room roared with laughter. A few fists and whoops soared into the air.
Bruce looked over at him questioningly. "It's not a good idea to go raping and pillaging over at Avalon," he whispered.
Queen smiled, winked at him, and added with a shout, somehow still laden with whispery innuendo, to the still roaring crowd. "Full consent, of course. We're all about the mutual, aren't we boys?"
The crowd roared out more. "Queen!" they shouted. "You are so on!"
Queen reached over to Bruce, took his hand and raised it in the air. "The king!" he shouted.
"The king!" the crowd replied. "The king!"
Queen lowered their hands, turned to Bruce, and with Bruce's hand now in both of his, he shook it. The crowd kept chanting. "Wayne!" "Queen!"
But instead of releasing Bruce, Queen opened up his arms and embraced him. "You, my brother, are a god!" he whispered, breath hot and close, in Bruce's ear.
The crowd kept cheering, louder, as Queen didn't let go. Bruce had no choice but to raise his own arms and return it.
Afterwards, the crowd thinning but most still milling about the room, Titov, Gonzales and Johnson, captain of the swim team, made their way over to Bruce.
"Wayne, my man, that was just..." Titov said, voice fading but eyes gleaming.
"You spin that out for him, Dent?" Gonzales asked.
Harvey smiled. "I just told him to say we a lot. That was all him."
"You're a Kennedy, aren't you?" Johnson said. "There's like a gazillion of them."
"Not related," Bruce said as he shook Johnson's proffered hand. His nerves still rippled from his moment on that table, but luckily he wasn't sweating. He even found a smile. Relief.
"I'd check your family tree," Johnson said. "That was total Ask Not What Your Country and shit. Politics, dude, I'm just saying."
"So where do we sign up?" Titov said. "Me and my guys are in."
"Patrol or grievances?" Harvey said.
"I'm up for both," Gonzales said. "You guys?" He turned to Titov and Johnson.
Harvey nodded over to Thompson. "He's working out the preliminary schedules. We're having a smaller committee meeting tomorrow up in Wayne's room. You're invited."
"Politics, Wayne! Think about it," Johnson said over his shoulder as the three went to to talk to Thompson.
Bruce took a deep breath, looked out over the room. He saw Lex and Duncan still by the door. Lex's lips were parted, his eyes full of wonder. He made a move to step forwards, but Duncan took his arm and shook his head. They left, Duncan pulling gently and Lex practically walking backwards still looking at Bruce.
"You're never going to be rid of him now, Bruce," Harvey said. "But no one's going to say he's kneeling for you at this point."
"Let's just finish up here and go to dinner," Bruce said, turning and making his own way over to Thompson.
Hours later, Bruce and Harvey went back to his room. The core group had discussed the lists and schedules over dinner until the custodian kicked them out. Bruce collapsed on the bed, exhausted.
"What have I done?" Bruce said.
"A good thing, Bruce. A very good thing. Even if this fizzles in the next few days, some good will come out of it. The injustices will be less."
"We can't let it fizzle, Harvey," Bruce said, sitting up. He took off his jacket, flinging it to the floor.
Harvey walked over, picked it up. He hung it in the closet. Bruce watched the suppleness of his arms, his graceful back.
"Come here," Bruce whispered. "Lock the door first."
But before Harvey could turn to either do it or not, to say yes or to say no, a knock sounded at the door.
"I am not going to take this as a sign!" Bruce muttered as he stood and opened the door.
Olivander, his week at the mail desk, stood in the hallway, package in hand. "This came for you today, express." He handed it over to Bruce. "I went to the meeting," he said. "You were incredible! I signed up for grievances, just so you know."
"Thank you," Bruce said. "That means a lot."
"Hey, Dent," Olivander said. "You guys going to burn the midnight oil on the plan?"
"We might," Harvey said.
"I'll let you get back to it then," he said. "Big things!"
"Goodnight," Bruce said, attempting to shut the door.
"Wayne, one thing."
"If that's some of Alfred's peanut butter oatmeal cookies, could you save me one?"
"Sure thing," Bruce said, a small laugh. He shut the door, waited a moment, slowly locked it. He let out a breath. "They'll think we're up here conspiring. You could be here in the morning and no one would think a thing."
He set the package on the desk, walked over to Harvey, put his hands on his shoulders. "Spend the night," he said. "We don't have to do anything."
When Harvey didn't move, Bruce lowered his eyes. "Do you still need time?" he said, voice rough with fear and need.
"Let's open up the package," Harvey said, moving away from him.
Bruce's hands fell to his sides. "Okay," he said, although he couldn't care less what was inside it.
Inside were two books. The collected works of Rimbaud and the collected works of Verlaine. Each, on the inside cover, held a matching inscription in careful script.
For a debt that can never be repaid.
"Does he even think he's being subtle?" Harvey laughed, shaking his head slowly.
"They're just books," Bruce said, but a little unnerved. "It's a small thing."
"Bruce, come on! The affair?" Harvey said. "He probably thinks that Verlaine shooting Rimbaud in a jealous rage is the most romantic thing ever. What's going on in that boy's head?" He paused, looking up at Bruce from the desk chair. "Please, Bruce, be careful. This isn't just a crush. It's starting to reek of obsession. He's probably felt this way for a while, but your act of kindness yesterday set off the green light for him."
"What could he possibly do?" Bruce said, kneeling by the chair. He took Harvey's hand in his. "Besides, he knows we're together."
"He saw us at lunch, Harvey. He told me that he just wanted me to be happy."
Harvey's eyes widened. "And that didn't scare the crap out of you?"
"No," Bruce said. "Okay, maybe a little. I can't figure him out."
"You shouldn't have to, Bruce." Harvey raised his free hand, caressed the side of Bruce's face.
Bruce leaned into it, closed his eyes. "So you'll stay? Whatever you want. Or don't want. Just tell me."
"Bruce..." Harvey said. "I know this isn't fair, but I need to take it slow. With everything that's happening, we can't risk jumping into this. I'm not saying no, I'm just saying not now." He stood, walked towards the door. Bruce followed.
"I'll wait," he said, leaning in and the door still shut behind Harvey's back. He brushed his lips over Harvey's and pulled back. "Slow enough?"
Harvey nodded. He turned and opened the door, looked back at Bruce. "Breakfast tomorrow?"
"Breakfast," Bruce said. He looked down the hallway, and seeing no one, he asked, "One more? Just for goodnight."
Harvey smiled, stepped forward, a small kiss. "You're pushy, Mr. Wayne."
"I am," Bruce said, as he stole another kiss.
Down the hall, a door opened. Merrick, in flannels, headed for the bathroom, not seeing them.
"I've got to go," Harvey said. "Get some sleep, Bruce. We've got a lot of work to do tomorrow."
"I actually have to study," Bruce said. "We have these things called classes, Harvey. Remember those?"
"Then I really need to go. Goodnight." He walked down the hall, disappeared down the stairs.
Bruce shut the door, paused by his desk. He picked up the volume of Rimbaud, still lying there, and started to read.
continues in part 5