Actions

Work Header

The Time Before

Chapter Text

Bruce, Harvey and the rest of the team hit the showers after a grilling crew practice. Two weeks until the next regatta, and if they won that, they were a sure thing for regionals and then junior nationals.

"Wayne, you've got some serious arms," Greggs said, putting his head under the spray. "You could pull that thing by yourself, no problem. Word is that the guys from Harvard and Cambridge are coming out later this week to check you out personally."

"That's just a rumor," Bruce said, "I wouldn't read too much into it."

"Whatever," Greggs said, "You are golden."

And he hadn't asked for it. Alfred had implored him to try varsity sports, to cement relationships that would further him in life, and merely to get him involved. Prior to that, he'd been fairly popular and now he found himself at the center of what the other boys coveted, the in-crowd.

The underclassmen filtered into the showers.

Greggs nudged him in the shoulder, "Don't look now, but Loser Luthor is so staring at your ass."

And before Bruce could say anything, Greggs bellowed, "Hey, Luthor! See something you like?"

Even the underclassmen roared out in laughter.

Bruce turned, picking out Luthor easily without his customary cap, completely hairless. Lean and shoulders straight, he stared back coldly at Greggs and didn't say anything.

"Well, take a good look now, loser. My man Wayne here's a lady-killer and this is the closest your faggot self is getting. Aim a little lower than the top and you just might get something. Try it out on one of your little friends," he said, looking at the boys near Luthor who then inched away from him. "Oh wait, you don't have any. Too bad."

Bruce put a hand on Greggs shoulder, gave him a stern look and shook his head. "Don't be cruel," he whispered.

Greggs looked at him and then away, apparently able to feel that ounce of shame. "I should just let him check you out?" he said, voice low. "It's not the first time."

"It doesn't matter," Bruce said. "What do you care? Just leave him alone."

"Sure," Greggs said. "Whatever you say." He turned back to Luthor. "Guess it's your lucky day, kid. Wayne just gave you a pass. Always looking out for the little guy."

"Let's go," Bruce said. The seniors followed him out, a wave of bodies. Reaching for his towel, he glanced back and found Luthor staring at him, blue eyes wide.

 

Even though, Luthor had been here over a year, he'd barely registered on Bruce's radar. They had chemistry together the term before, but Luthor sat in the back. Bruce had turned a time or two, pleasantly surprised at Luthor's quick answers to questions even he struggled with. He wasn't used to the competition, but the professor graded on a curve so two A's were guaranteed.

Luthor had only spoken to him once, a week before the final.

"We could study together," he had said, shy and proud all at once, approaching the front lab bench where Bruce gathered up his books. "We're sure to ace this."

But when he tried to sit on the stool next to Bruce, Greggs came over and said, "Park it somewhere else, kid."

Bruce shook his head, waved to the seat. Luthor sat down. "We could do that," Bruce said. "What's a good time for you?"

Luthor picked up a datebook, flipped through it.

Greggs muttered, leaning against the counter. "Like he has a social life. Please."

Luthor ignored him except for a certain stiffening in his shoulders. "Seven tomorrow? I'll stop by your room..."

Greggs started humming, Going to the chapel, and we're gonna get married...

Luthor flushed, looked down, pen hovering over his schedule. "Or we could meet at the library."

Bruce glanced at Greggs, stern. And then he said, voice soft and soothing, "My room's fine."

Luthor flashed him a quick grin, ducked his head. "Okay, see you then." He picked up his books and left.

Greggs just shook his head, whistled low. "Are you crazy? It's so obvious that kid jerks off to you. He thinks it's a fucking date!"

Thompson came up from the second bench, obviously having a high time listening in to all of this. "Look who's talking," he said to Greggs while making up and down motions with his fist. "Oh, oh, Bruce!"

Greggs stood there for a moment, immobile from shock, mouth slack. He glanced nervously over at Bruce, but then turned a deadly glare to Thompson. "You. Are. Dead."

He chased him out into the hall, Thompson laughing. Bruce heard from a furthering distance, "Take up track, muscle boy! I'm not the one you're chasing after anyway."

"Dead! You hear me? Dead!"

Bruce sighed, picked up his books. Greggs and Thompson would be sitting next to each other, an hour from now, in the cafeteria, none the worse for wear and probably laughing together. He certainly didn't need to get involved.

But the next night, seven came and went. Harvey, who had shown up at six with a smile and a "I hear you need a chaperone", looked up from his history text. "Looks like he changed his mind," he said.

Bruce tapped his pencil against his desk, leaned back in his chair. "Maybe I should go check on him," he said.

Harvey closed his book, sat up from his position on the bed. "I'm sure he's fine." He paused, and said softly, "Besides, if you're right, you'll only make it worse for him if you do."

Bruce stood, grabbed his jacket. "Let's go," he said.

Harvey stood as well. "No, I'll do it. Wait here."

Fifteen minutes later, he came back. "I talked to his roommate, Duncan," he said, putting his jacket on the bed. "Apparently, his dad came and got him. They're off to Japan."

"Japan?"

"Yeah, crazy isn't it? He's going to mail in his finals."

When the grades were posted, Luthor still absent, both he and Bruce got the A.

 

The summer came and went. Bruce and Alfred spent a good deal of it travelling. Bruce swam in alpine lakes, skied in Australia. Harvey had gone back to Gotham.

He'd just settled into his room when Harvey met him at the door. "Heavy schedule this year," he said. "Let's go."

Bruce knew better than to ask him about his summer. Harvey wouldn't discuss it anyway, so he told him about his travels. Italy in particular.

"Sounds nice," Harvey said, distant but listening. "We should go sometime."

"After graduation," Bruce said. "I promise." He put a companionable arm around Harvey's shoulder as they entered the main building.

Greggs was there, leaning in the hallway, grinning. "Well, if it isn't the Apollo twins," he said. He glanced over their shoulders. "First day and you two already have groupies."

Bruce and Harvey turned as one and saw a large group of freshmen, just out of orientation, looking at them and murmuring.

"Eyes back in your heads, fresh meat!" Greggs shouted. They gasped and skittered away, a school of fish, safety in numbers.

"What is with you?" Harvey said.

Thompson joined up with them, graceful and laughing, "Boy can't stand to share," he said.

Greggs turned. "I should have killed you last year," he said, but with no animosity. Instead he ruffled Thompson's hair, poked him gently in the shoulder.

"You couldn't live without me," Thompson said, brushing his hand over his hair, smoothing it back down.

"I'd dance on your grave," he said, but with a smile a mile long. "Come on," he said, "Walk me to class so I can beat the crap out of you in peace."

"See you at lunch," Thompson said, waving over his shoulder and walking with Greggs.

"Are they rooming together this year?" Bruce asked, staring at them.

"Yes," Harvey said, "But Greggs will kill him first before he ever admits to it."

"What, rooming together?"

Harvey looked at him, shook his head knowingly. "No, the other."

Bruce could only nod to that.

And then the doors opened and Luthor and Duncan entered the hall.

"Looks like he survived Japan," Harvey said.

Bruce opened his mouth to say hello, talk about the grades, something, but Luthor passed him by with only one furtive glance.

 

After the shower incident, a group of them dropped by his room an hour before lights out. Due to his scholastic and athletic achievements, as well as the Wayne name, he merited a large private room overlooking the courtyard.

"Score!" Brown said, pulling a bottle of whiskey, expensive and purloined, from underneath his uniform jacket. He then pulled a roll of Dixie cups out as well. He passed them out and poured the first one for Bruce. "Rank has its privileges," Brown laughed.

"To the king!" Greggs toasted, looking at Bruce, after all the cups had been filled. "To the king!" they all repeated, raising their waxed cups. Bruce sipped his in reluctant acknowledgment, wondering how he ever got elected to that office in the first place. Oliver Queen, in position among the juniors, worked at it, barely controlling the mob that followed him. It couldn't be money since Luthor came from it as well and the sophomores, even the freshmen, certainly shunned him. And Harvey, who sat quietly beside him, commanded respect even though he came to Excelsior on scholarship.

"We're in the fishbowl of the life ahead," Harvey had once told him. "It's all here – the backroom deals, the mob, those who rise above and those who don't."

"Maybe that's backwards," Bruce had said. "Perhaps this is what shapes the world."

"That's an easy answer, Bruce, and a false analogy," Harvey had said. "The world's a much harsher place than that. This is nothing."

And they had looked uncomfortably at each other for a minute in the privacy of Bruce's room. Harvey almost regal in the pain he never discussed, books strewn about the bed and only the one lamp on.

"We should get back to the Wars of Succession," Bruce had said, the first to look away.

"So Dent," Thompson said now among the boys who formed a loose circle on the rug. "What do you think?"

"About?"

"The Luthor kid. I heard he's got leukemia or something."

"Really?" Brown said, downing the rest of his cup. "Way to go there, Greggs, picking on one of Jerry's kids. So, so low."

Greggs looked down. "That's for muscular dystrophy, you moron. And just shut the fuck up. He's a little creep even if he is diseased."

"I heard he has a brain tumor," Schiebling said from the corner. "They have to shave his head for the operations."

"No, you guys are so wrong," Vouchon said, leaning in. "He got struck by a meteor."

The chorus of "Whats?" paraded around the room, although neither Bruce nor Harvey added to them.

"You mean lightning?" Brown said, "No one gets hit in the head with a chunk of rock and survives. That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard. Who came up with that one?"

Vouchon just looked at him. "Yeah, it doesn't make much sense, but you know, life is stranger than fiction or some shit. I heard he was in Smallville as a kid during that freak meteor shower. The thing landed right by him. Man, I'm telling you, it's radiation from space."

The room grew quiet. "Jesus, that's just fucked up," someone whispered. "That's got to give you cancer."

"Ha!" Thompson said, "I so win with the leukemia theory!"

"Hey!" Schiebling said, "I called brain tumor. That's cancer too!"

Greggs rolled his eyes. "You're both stupid. No one's got a pot rolling on this. You win zip."

Thompson just looked at him. "There's general points, asswipe. That's why you lose at life."

A quiet knock sounded at the door. "Shit!" Brown whispered, fluttering his hands. "Hide the fucking bottle!"

"Wayne, it's me," Queen said from behind the door.

"Well, just open it, fool," Brown said. "Give us all a heart attack."

Queen stepped inside, cocky and unsure at the same time. Bruce nodded to him, moved closer to Harvey to make a space for him. He made his way over, sat down.

"The queen sits beside the king," someone snickered. And it must have been Thompson since he said, "We're just messing with you. You're an honorary member. Going to be the big man next year."

Queen leaned back, grinned. "Then where's that fucking bottle you were all too happy to tell the dorm monitor about?"

They laughed. "Now you're talking," Thompson said. "Pour him one."

After Queen got his cup, Thompson said, "Ask him, he knows the guy."

"Ask me what?" Queen said, suspicious, looking over at Bruce.

"What's the deal with Luthor?" Brown asked.

"Fuck if I know," Queen said, bolting back his drink, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. "It's not like I talk to him."

A soft and knowing laugh ran through the room, nervous and dangerous. Everyone knew the boys who did and the boys who didn't. And everyone knew that Luthor had gone down on his knees for Queen behind the archery field. Bargaining. And to Queen's credit, he'd kept his end of the deal, backing off his boys from the daily harassment. But there'd been a witness, someone outside of Queen's control, and within days the whole school knew. Luthor had a reputation now, and certainly not the one he wanted.

Bruce turned and looked at him, slow and sharp at the same time. Queen looked back, fiddled with his empty cup, and said, low, "Can I talk to you?"

"All right," Bruce said. "Out in the hall."

They rose and went for the door.

"The pointers begin!" someone said. Bruce closed the door behind him.

Queen leaned against the wall, ran his hands through his hair, breathed out long and slow. "I know what you think of me. I think it myself half the time. I just want to know how you do it."

"Do what?" Bruce said.

"Run the place and not be an asshole about it. What I did...You know, that was his idea, not mine. But I could have said no." He leaned his head against the wall, closed his eyes. "Fuck," he said and nothing else.

"So do something about it," Bruce said.

"Yeah, like what? Your crew's not that much better than mine. You've got Dent, Thompson is all right, and Greggs is half-way intelligent when he's not being a complete ass. And the rest? Who knows how they got up the food chain? Mine...why do you think I try to hang around you so much?"

"They're your crew," Bruce said. "You could pick others."

"Luthor wants in. Can you imagine? That's just sad." He let out a soft laugh, slumped a bit.

"He's just trying to survive," Bruce said.

"Aren't we all?" Queen picked himself off the wall, went back to the door.

"Try to fix it," Bruce said. "You're better than this."

Queen laughed. "You must think I've got superpowers or whatever. But yeah, I've got to do something."

They went back inside.

 

Two days later, air fresh from yesterday's rain, Bruce found himself up the hill from the gymnasium. Out of view from most of the classroom and office windows because Thompson had a pack of Dunhills. Not a habit that Bruce wanted to pick up, but he took one anyway, leaned into the lighter.

Brown blew a smoke ring, looked down the hill. "Man, that kid's got bad luck. Looks like Loser Luthor's in for another beatdown."

Bruce turned, saw Denisson rush towards Luthor. But Luthor stood his ground, got one good punch in, a surprising strength behind it, but technique wild, before Dennison pushed Luthor to the ground with Queen trying to pull him away. Four of Queen's crew surrounded them. Denisson kicked Luthor in the ribs.

"That's just sad," Thompson said. "Someone should do something about that."

Normally, Bruce didn't get involved, but there was something in the way that Luthor struggled that made the whole injustice of it rankle. He flicked his cigarette down, ground it out with his shoe. "Yes, they should," he said and strode down the hill.

"I didn't mean us!" Thompson wailed. But he followed and the rest of them did too.

Denisson looked up to see Bruce and ten seniors coming towards him. "Shit," he said.

But Bruce didn't even look at him, looking at Queen instead. "I thought we agreed," he said. "What is this?"

Queen stepped forward, apologetic and harried. "Look, I tried. Things got out of hand."

"Then get them in hand. Now." He then looked away from Queen to the rest of the juniors, who blinked at him and took one step back.

"Ooh, he's giving them the look," Thompson said behind him. "Bad dog, baaaad dog." He laughed.

"Shut up," Greggs said. "It doesn't work if you tell them. Let the man work his magic."

Denisson fidgeted, a slow line of blood trickling from his nose, looked sullen. "Hey, Wayne, we didn't know. He one of yours?"

And suddenly Bruce felt himself in a corner. Why else would a popular senior come riding cavalry for the lowest ranking kid in the school? With Luthor's current reputation? Altruism didn't exist here. He could say no, but that would be a one time deal, this instance only, and Luthor would have to face them again in the next day or two. If he said yes, no one would think the less of him since, with an underclassman, it wasn't about being queer but about power.

Queen looked at him. Don't do it, his eyes said. Think of something else.

Bruce looked down at Luthor still on the ground, but now sitting, waiting and a million gears turning in his head, his face struggling to hide a fragile hope. Just a kid with impossible blue eyes trying to survive. And Queen's solution had obviously resulted in disaster.

"Yes. Yes, he is," Bruce said.

And that changed everything.

Chapter Text

"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.

Chapter Text

Not seeing Harvey at breakfast, Bruce made his way across the commons to his first class – Poetry, Advanced English. He took his seat near the front, opened up his notebook, mind still on the night before and worrying that Harvey would avoid him now.

The door opened and Luthor stepped inside, handed a note to the professor.

"I usually don't accept transfers this late in the term," Professor McKay said. "But it appears you come highly recommended. Just have a seat next to Mr. Wayne over there. We'll see about getting you the appropriate texts this afternoon." McKay looked at Bruce. "You'll have to share your materials for now, Mr. Wayne."

Bruce could only nod, the seat next to him empty since Simmons had been sent home with severe gastroenteritis just the day before and not likely to return.

"I've never seen anyone barf like that in my life," Greggs had said last night at dinner. Bruce and Harvey had arrived in the dining room together, but Harvey had taken a seat next to Schiebling at the far corner. His customary chair, next to Bruce, had remained empty.

Thompson, sitting next to Greggs as always, rolled his eyes. "Do you mind? We're trying to eat here. Look at Wayne, dumbass, you've totally ruined it for him."

"What? Our man Wayne here has a stomach of iron!" Greggs said, waving at Bruce and gently slapping Thompson in the back of the head. "So as I was saying, Simmons, man, upchuck city. I'm talking like hospital time, IV's and shit..."

Bruce picked at his food. The chair next to his remained empty.

Lex now sat next to him, a quick sidelong glance and slight smile. "You're on the Symbolists now, I believe?" he whispered.

"Did you set this up?" Bruce whispered back, suspicious.

"I needed to transfer out of my previous class. Standard Shakespeare and interpretation. Romeo and Juliet. Please. Even the prof could see how bored I was," he whispered. "The transfer...purely his idea." He grinned, ducked his head. "Life is full of funny little coincidences, isn't it? May I?" he said, reaching for Bruce's text.

"Go ahead," Bruce said. He pulled back slightly when Lex's hand brushed by his to open up the anthology.

"All right, gentlemen," McKay said, walking over to the whiteboard. "Who can tell me a major work that inspired the Symbolist movement in France?

Both Bruce and Lex raised their hands.

McKay smiled. "Well, well, I'm not sure whether to keep you together or reassign the seats. All right, Mr. Luthor, prove you belong."

A few quiet groans sounded in the room as Lex went on to describe Baudelaire, even quoting a few lines from Les Fleurs du mal. In French. Que pour déshabiller/Tes bras se fassent prier/Et chassent à coups mutins/Les doigts lutins,...Tu compterais dans tes lits/Plus de baisers de lis/Et rangerais sous tes lois/Plus d'un Valois!

Bruce, who had taken his AP's in French and German the previous year, stiffened.

(May to undress yourself, your arms require coaxing. And may they archly repel mischievious fingers...You would count more kisses than lilies in your beds. And you would hold in sway more than one Valois!)

Thompson, two seats behind him and taking the French AP this year, laughed and muttered, "Oh my God, so gay!"

The class rippled with laughter.

McKay tapped his marker on the board and said, "If Mr. Thompson's reading skills were as great as his translation ones, he would surely tell us that particular poem is addressed to a woman." Turning, he eyed the now hushed class. "And since no one with red hair graces our class this morning, Mr. Thompson could also tell us that Mr. Luthor is speaking in generalities."

He then turned his attention to Lex. "However, given the risque nature of this particular treasure, I will not ask Mr. Luthor to translate into English." He smiled. "Nevertheless, Mr. Luthor, well done. You may stay."

Bruce risked a glance at Lex, but Lex merely looked at McKay, face placid. He then picked up his pen and started taking notes as McKay segued into his lecture.

The hour took an eternity. Bruce tried concentrating on his notes, but he could feel the body heat radiating from Lex sitting next to him. His knee tingled from where Lex had laid his hand the afternoon before. He wanted to talk to Harvey but had no idea if Harvey would speak to him. Today or any other day.

The bell rang. Lex leaned in before it ended and whispered, "I used to be a redhead. But you're right, the quote fits you better. I'm not the one all the boys are chasing after. See you later, Bruce." He stood, looking quite proud of himself, and headed for the door as the rest of the class started to filter out.

Bruce sat there for a moment, then gathered up his books.

McKay said, "Mr. Thompson, a little less frivolity next time?"

Thompson grinned, bounced out the door, clearly thinking the whole thing much too funny.

"Oh, Mr. Luthor, stop by my office at three this afternoon. I should have your materials sorted by then." He paused, looked at Bruce. "And Mr. Wayne, a word?"

Lex's smile disappeared as he hesitated in the doorway. He looked worriedly at Bruce as Bruce stood and made his way up to McKay.

"This afternoon, Mr. Luthor," McKay said, dismissing him.

Lex nodded, adjusted his cap, sparing another worried glance at Bruce and left.

McKay leaned against his desk and crossed his arms. "I'm not sure how you arranged for Mr. Luthor's transfer, but luckily he's not out of his element. I'll be frank, Mr. Wayne," he said, "I've seen my share of schoolboy romances here over the years, one of the regrettable inevitabilities of an all boys academy. I usually turn a blind eye to that sort of thing. But I will not tolerate your young man quoting love poetry to you in my classroom for your amusement. I diffused the situation today, but there shall be no such further disruptions. Are we clear?"

His books felt suddenly loose in his hands. Bruce couldn't find the ability to hide his shock.

McKay's expression softened, hands falling away from his chest. "I see," he said. "My apologies. I've seen my share of that as well and that should have been my first assumption." He sighed, stood away from the desk, placed his hand on Bruce's arm, a reassuring squeeze. "It's surely a passing fancy on his part. These things usually are. I know it's uncomfortable, but you will get such attention here, and perhaps later in life, given..." He paused as if searching for the right words, looking away from Bruce for a moment and then back. "...your immense good fortune."

He looked down at his hand as if just realizing that it still rested on Bruce's arm. "Well," McKay said, clearing his throat. "You'd best be off to your next class." He moved back to his desk, picked up a piece of paper. "I'll reassign the seats," he said. "Perhaps I'll move Mr. Thompson..."

Bruce didn't know what to say besides, "Thank you, professor."

McKay nodded, still looking at the seating chart.

Bruce walked out into the hallway, the crowd thinning, to find Lex standing across from the door, books clutched against his chest. "I got you in trouble, didn't I?" he said, voice low and cracking. He looked every inch the insecure fifteen-year old that he was supposed to be. Any resentment Bruce had floated away.

"He's reassigning the seats," Bruce said. "Come on, let's walk."

He walked down the hallway, Lex following. "I'll...I'll talk to him this afternoon, Wayne, I promise. I'll transfer back out. I'll..."

Bruce paused, noticing the retreat back to the formal name, turned towards him. "You don't need to do that. He just doesn't want to see you pull that again."

Lex nodded, surreptitiously wiped his nose on his sleeve, eyes red and watery. "I'd never do anything to hurt you. You have to know that."

Bruce didn't know much about him, really. Except that he could turn from fifteen to thirty back to fifteen on a dime. That he went from insecure to seductive and back again. That he was reviled and practically friendless. And that he knew a bit of French. "What am I going to do with you?" Bruce said softly and with a surprising bit of fondness.

Lex let out a small laugh. "Nothing, Wayne, apparently."

And even though that little boy lost innuendo hung in the air, Bruce said, "You can call me Bruce, Lex. It's okay."

Lex's eyes went wide, blue shock and hope. "Just not in front of the others. I get it."

Bruce didn't want to lead him on, give him hope for something that would never happen. He certainly didn't want him kneeling for him on the sly which is where Lex seemed to be taking this conversation. Or he could be merely acknowledging his role as underclassman. He didn't want to take that chance. "Friends know their boundaries," he said.

Lex nodded, eyes ahead.

They turned the corner. And there, waiting by the door to their calculus class, stood Harvey.

"Come on," he said, smiling. "We're late." He raised an eyebrow at Lex, but the smile didn't leave his face. "You too, Luthor. You should get to class."

Lex scurried towards the stairs, not saying goodbye.

"Well, that looks like a story you could tell me over lunch," Harvey said.

"Harvey..." Bruce said, letting out a breath he felt that he'd held in for days.

"I'm not avoiding you, Bruce," Harvey whispered. "I just needed a little time."

He opened the door and they went inside.

 

On the way to lunch, Harvey whistled. "He certainly doesn't seem to care if people talk about you." He paused. "But, weirdly, he seems to care what you think. We need a game plan because disaster is just around the corner."

"I've thought about it," Bruce said. He had hardly any sleep last night, mind racing, staring up at the ceiling while the curtains fluttered in the dark.

And so he told Harvey.

Harvey turned, smile slow and widening. "When you think, you think big, don't you?"

"Let's go tell the others," Bruce said.

 

In the dining room, Bruce said, "So that's it. We'll have a meeting tonight in my room after crew."

Thompson said, "Just the crew or should we invite the others?"

"Everyone," Bruce said. "We'll need to bring Queen in on this, have him bring some of the juniors."

"They're part of the problem," Greggs said, downing the last of his milk.

"You're part of the problem," Thompson said, grinning and throwing his arm around Greggs shoulder.

"Whatever Wayne says goes," Greggs said, not bothering to argue. "We change."

"And who's this we, white man?" Thompson said.

"Fuck off," Greggs said, ruffling his hair. "You do it too."

"I just don't have your style. You get total thug points."

"I'll talk to Queen," Vouchon said from the end of the table, setting down his fork. "My brother's a frosh, I'll talk to him, see what the major issues are."

"Is he...?" Schiebling started to say.

"Sibling status, moron," Greggs said, "Don't even go there."

Vouchon's jaw clenched.

"See?" Greggs said, "Now look what you've done. He's all set to kick some unnecessary ass. Your little bro's golden, Vouchon. Don't worry about it. He just knows the info, that's all."

"I'll talk to Titov," Brown said. "He can bring the soccer jocks in."

"I'll take Gonzales over at lacrosse," Schiebling said. "He's got some guys."

"That leaves me with the swim team," Thompson said. "Great."

"You snooze, you lose," Brown said.

"Let's do it!" Greggs said, pumping his fist in the air. "You are so the man, Wayne. Who'd've thought that Luthor's beatdown could get this ball rolling? This school is gonna see a change.

One by one, they got up, each clapping Bruce on the shoulder as they went.

Harvey, in his customary chair next to Bruce, turned, leaning his elbow on the table, head in hand. He smiled. "I'm proud of you, Bruce. You did good. This can really happen."

"I have no clue what I'm doing, Harvey," Bruce said. And he didn't. The plan, which seemed so logical at three in the morning, looked immense, unmanageable now.

"You fake it really well," Harvey said, his smile shifting into something more. He reached underneath the table, took Bruce's hand in his. "You're not in this alone, Bruce."

Bruce smiled back, not daring to ask what Harvey meant. He squeezed Harvey's hand, but didn't let go. They sat there for several glorious seconds, not saying a word. But the bell rang. They stood, hands undone.

And when Bruce turned, his eyes met Lex's across the room. When the room filtered out, Harvey ahead and off to his next class, Bruce found Lex walking next to him.

"Looks like he changed his mind," he said. "I knew he couldn't be that crazy."

"What do you want, Lex?" Bruce said.

Lex turned slightly, pure and open want on his face. "I just want you to be happy, Bruce," Lex said. "That's all."

Bruce slowed for a moment. Lex pulled ahead, not looking back.

Chapter Text

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."

"Yes?"

"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.

 

Bruce,

For a debt that can never be repaid.

Always,
L.

 

"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."

"What?"

"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.

Chapter Text

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.