Shadow of the Bat
August 9, 2003
Disclaimers: They're not mine. Not even close to mine.
Spoilers: None, really.
Summary: What didn't happen.
Ratings Note/Warnings: NC-17. Contains content that some readers may find disturbing. I'm serious.
Author's Note: Inspired by Benway. Not his fault. More notes at the end.
Acknowledgments: To Deb, who still loves me, even though I'm dirty and awful and wrote this.
Feedback: Um... sure? firstname.lastname@example.org
He doesn't like to cry.
Bruce has cried once in his life (that he remembers), and he supposes that it was fitting. Surrounded by the rich and powerful and those who merely wanted to be seen, staring down at two coffins gleaming mellowly in the rain.
He's seen the pictures. People love the pictures, and feel things when they see them... he doesn't quite have the words for it. It's all right.
He knows he will one day.
Alfred is silent as he works, brushing on the antiseptic with a scrap of gauze. He's thorough, and his quiet is a kind of subtle accusation.
Where have you been, what have you done, why have you... and so on.
Bruce smiles behind his face, a look he's been practicing for some time now. It isn't easy to keep secrets from his guardian, but he's getting better at it.
The curious hole behind the old grandfather clock for one. Much, much too large to have been made (solely) by vermin, and there had been old footprints on the long rocky path down. Nearly obliterated by dust, but footprints just the same.
In the cave proper, there hadn't been much, but it had been telling.
An old medical table covered in bat guano. Rusting scalpels and tongs and the like. Leather stirrups crumbling with age.
Bruce is fifteen years old, but he isn't naive. Some things hadn't always been legal.
His father had been rich, but not stupid.
There was a chasm beyond the large space, at the opposite end from the small and overgrown exit, and sometimes Bruce sat at the edge and imagined he could smell... things. Old blood and shame.
Bruce knows all about shame.
Alfred finishes with the bandage on his knee and slides a slow, spotted hand up his thigh and under his shorts. As always, he never quite meets Bruce's eyes, but the touch is light. Reverent.
"You shouldn't do such injury to yourself, Master Bruce."
He knows what he's supposed to do. "I'll try to be more careful, Alfred. I don't know what got into me."
A carefully cynical humph, aimed somewhere past his left shoulder. "It's in the nature of young men to be incautious. To be bad."
Fingers tickle at his sac, and Bruce feels himself getting hard. Lets his head fall back and moans out his response: "You're right, Alfred. You're... oh God --"
He doesn't use his freedom profligately. Most of the time, when he leaves, he does so by the front door, Alfred watching from the shadows.
It's just that it's summer, and he's home from school, and home doesn't quite feel... right anymore. That huge old house is so big, so dark, so empty, and Gotham...
Gotham is nothing like a jewel, but it shines and it beckons, and Alfred goes to sleep pretty early, complaining desultorily of the heat.
It's cool in the cave, but Bruce doesn't spend much time, dusting off the few possessions he's brought down casually and slipping out the back, pushing vegetation over the exit to cover his escape.
And then it's the easiest thing in the world to run down and down to the main road, call himself a cab from the gas station pay phone, and...
He'd forgotten how big it all was, how different without a guardian or a troop of bored prep school boys. Last summer, he hadn't really gotten a chance to explore. There had been bars, and a few really enlightening fights -- he spends a lot of time working out these days -- but now...
Bruce wants something different.
He has the cabbie drop him off by the wharf, and heads into the city proper (for what else could really be the city?), asking directions twice. Once, he gets laughed at. Once, he gets... looked at.
It's something like the gleam in Alfred's eyes at those times, and it makes him stand straighter in response. Reflex.
The man smiles at him like the shine on an oil slick and tells him where to go.
The women are... disappointing.
Older than he thought they would be, than certain books had led him to believe. Their clothes are tacky, shiny and frayed and ugly.
But one of them is something to look at, dark hair cropped short, cheekbones sharp with what was probably hunger, but looked a lot more romantic, and eyes alive with something like intelligence.
She hooks a finger into the collar of his shirt and asks him what he wants.
He shows his cash -- not all of it, that's hidden as carefully as he can -- and tells her he wants a room.
"Pretty little rich boy," she says, and leads him into a tenement that looks like it's one good push from falling over, and in one of the yellow-lighted rooms strips down.
She's all bone and lean muscle, pale and scarred here and there.
She sucks him off while he stands there staring, and he doesn't last long at all.
He frowns when she reaches for the money.
"I paid for the whole night," he says in his toughest voice, and smiles inside when it makes her freeze.
Slump like something tired and... beaten.
There's a flash behind his eyes that's nothing like light.
She fights and yells when he slaps her ass for the first time, but it's the work of a moment to push her face into a pillow. She's tight and hot and the red shows on her skin like artwork.
It's almost enough.
School is boring. School is always boring, but these days... something about the sanitized halls and sanitized boys makes his knuckles itch. They're not far out of Gotham, but they might as well be light years away. One more year of this. Christ.
Lex sidles up beside him in a swirl of expensive cologne and carefully cultivated disarray. His bald head is a beacon for any number of things, but the Luthors are almost as rich as he is.
It's not like money doesn't buy everything important.
"You're looking bitchier than usual, Mr. Wayne."
"Fuck off, Lex, I'm not in the mood."
Hand on his ass, quick and firm. "What if I am?"
For a moment, he thinks of punching the guy, but Lex would just see it as a victory. In his mind's eye, Lex is sprawled against the wall, blood trickling out of a glittery little smirk. He forces himself to breathe, and plasters on his best smile. "I don't know. Is it true you're hairless everywhere?"
Lex's face cracks beneath the skin like tectonic shift, but he never takes his eyes off Bruce. "Why don't you come and find out?"
And he walks off, clearly heading back to the dorms.
Clearly expecting Bruce not to follow. He thinks about it for a moment, but the only thing he has scheduled for that afternoon is Chemistry, and some idiot in charge had decided to make the class ninety percent theory.
Boring, boring, boring.
He catches up to Lex at the door of his room and lays a hand over the other boy's when he reaches for the doorknob.
"Bruce. I didn't think --"
He trails off into a hiss when Bruce sucks a kiss onto the back of his neck and then they're tripping and tumbling into the half-neat, half-messy room. Prep school schizophrenia.
Lex leads him to the neat side and spins around. Kisses him hard. Kisses him with those blue-grey eyes open and closer to angry than turned on.
They don't take off all their clothes, but they take off enough.
He really is hairless everywhere.
Bruce doesn't let him go until dinnertime.
School is boring. He hates repeating himself, but school is really, sincerely, ridiculously boring.
Except for Lex, who's too interesting for his own good.
They've fucked everywhere generations of schoolboys have found to fuck, and probably a few places they hadn't.
Tonight, they're back in Bruce's room -- a single, naturally, Alfred takes care of those things -- and supposedly studying.
Lex hasn't looked at his book for at least five minutes. He's been looking at Bruce for at least three.
Bruce doesn't have to turn around to know that -- he can feel it like an itch between his shoulder blades. He ignores it as best he can.
"You know, you're really quite a fascinating young man, Mr. Wayne."
Why, he doesn't ask. "You've been reading Wilde again."
"A well-read man is a well-bred man. Besides, it's true."
"We have a test tomorrow."
"Like you care."
Bruce has been either highest in his class or close to it since he's been here. But it's true. He really doesn't give a shit. None of it matters. Nothing but getting back to Gotham, where he belongs. Not that anyone should know that. He thinks about the bruises Lex is hiding beneath his uniform and breathes a little easier. "What are you talking about?" he asks, as casually as possible.
An amused sound, and he can feel Lex smirking. "What I mean is that you don't fit, Bruce. You're smart but you're not a nerd. You're a great athlete, but you're not a jock. You smoke more weed than the dealers and you're not a stoner. You're queer as a three-dollar bill --"
He can feel his eyes twitch. "Did you have a point, or were you just going to extol my fucking virtues?"
"Touchy. My point is this: you've got a freaky little secret in that pretty head and I want to know what it is."
Bruce closes his eyes for a moment. Just a moment. "You're old enough for your wants not to hurt you."
"Is that what Alfred says? Catchy. Seriously, though, Bruce, what is it? What's pushing you? What do you w ant?"
"I want you to shut the fuck up, Lex."
And when he looks over his shoulder the books are stacked neatly on the window seat, and Lex is sprawled like an invitation over his bed, collar undone, tie dangling from one pale, long-fingered hand.
"Of course, if you really want to study --"
It's easy to push him down, easy to straddle him, and Lex is laughing, but it doesn't last when he gets his cock in that pretty, scarred mouth.
Like always, Lex keeps his eyes wide open. Watching him.
It would be better if he had hair for Bruce to grab, but it's enough to stroke that ridiculously smooth skin, to push his thumbs against the softness and fuck his way, God, in.
Summer, finally, and even the air is better here.
Choked with exhaust, hazy with humidity. You can look up, but you can't really see the sky. It makes Bruce think of London, what it must have been like at the heart of the Industrial Revolution, all black and deadly to live in.
He's on the streets barely an hour after he gets his things situated, and if Alfred seems twitchier than usual, more suspicious than usual, then Bruce really doesn't care.
He bounces in the back of the cab on the way to the docks, and jumps out before the thing even stops, ready for the city, for life.
He gets a few shots of tequila in the dingiest bar he can find, the oily taste just another part of what makes it all right, and then he heads for Sugar street. He can't find any of his usual girls, but it's okay.
Part of the fun is the hunt.
The women smile at him, but he doesn't want that. Too old. Too raddled. And part of him thinks he should want that -- what could be better than someone who has the city etched right into their skin? But they really aren't what he wants. They're just too... something.
They make him think of his mother somehow, though none of them could ever look as good -- be as good as she was.
Something about how their eyes say they know everything there is to know, even though most of them can barely read. It's just a little too much.
He spends an hour cruising, and that's fine, but then he spends another hour, and it's getting much too late.
Fewer people, more people he doesn't want anything to do with, gym-time or no.
But he's been half-hard for hours and he needs this. Something to wash the taste of school out of his mouth, and the look in Lex's eyes when he wrapped his hands around his skinny neck. Something real.
"Can't find what you're looking for?"
The voice is gravely, a smoker's rasp without the cough. Normally, he'd ignore it, but... "No. What can you do about it?"
The man smiles, showing off bad teeth and a tongue that licks across them like Bruce is a special treat. "Not everything on Sugar is out for just anyone to see, kid. You sure you're up for it?"
And Bruce isn't an idiot. He knows the man is trying to dare him into something stupid, but... there's no one around. Not even a hint of backup for the guy, and Bruce knows he can take him if anything happens. And he's... hungry. "Don't fuck with me. What have you got?"
And the man smiles again and heads down one of the alleys, looking back once over his shoulder to make sure Bruce is following.
He does, but he hangs back a little and keeps his eyes open. His caution makes the man laugh, and Bruce thinks about hitting him, thinks about heading back to the bars he knows will be open late, but in the end he keeps walking.
At a door half-hidden among cardboard boxes and garbage, the man gives a stupidly complex little knock. It swings open, and he looks over his shoulder again for Bruce. "C'mon, kid. You're not gonna believe this..."
He hangs back just a little longer, even as the man disappears inside, but then he hears it. A moan.
A brothel. Right, just what he needs. The prices were always higher and so were the risks. You just couldn't do everything you wanted to when you knew there was someone waiting behind the door.
But, whatever. He needs to get laid.
Bruce sighs to himself and walks in.
For a long moment, he's confused. There's no one here but children, the oldest of whom can't be more than twelve.
But then it sinks in. None of them are wearing much of anything at all. And the man has his hand on the shoulder of one of them -- a skinny dark-haired thing with messy hair and big eyes that could've been male or female.
He hears himself swallow and the man smiles and pushes the kid at him.
"What do you want, mister?" the kid asks in a voice cracking with puberty. The boy.
He backs up a step, knowing the look on his face is horrible, way too telling, and the kid just stands there.
"We've seen your face around here before, kid. Every summer, like clockwork. We know you like 'em young. Maybe a little too young, eh?" The man laughs so hard Bruce thinks he'll rupture something.
The kid keeps looking at him, eyes bright with nothing but reflected light. There's a bit of grime on his chin. His mouth looks painted and Bruce wants. He wants --
He bolts, running for the brighter streets as fast as he can, swallowing back his gorge until he can't anymore.
He vomits against a wall and runs from the stench and doesn't think and doesn't think and doesn't think at all until he walks into the mansion. And realizes his mistake -- he's used the front door.
Alfred stands in the hall like a parody of the soldier, chin tilted up just so and eyes blank.
"You really should be more careful, Master Bruce. Cab drivers can be bought."
"Did you really think no one would know about your little... excursions? Really, Master Bruce, what would your parents say?"
And it strikes him dumb for long moments. Alfred, Alfred saying that, after what Bruce had seen. Alfred standing there like butter wouldn't melt in his mouth, like they both didn't know...
Alfred tilts his head at him, like some weird balding bird. Like a proper English vulture. "Are you ill?"
Flash behind his eyes and he runs for the man, throwing himself at him and clutching at his clothes and he can hear himself yelling, but the words don't make any sense. All whys and don'ts and curses that don't mean anything, and he falls to his knees, sobbing without tears.
He doesn't like to cry.
Alfred strokes his hair softly, like he's a child, like he's always done, and Bruce holds on.
And when Alfred opens his pants and tilts Bruce's head up, it's just as awful and sickening and fucked up as it always was, but it's just what he needs.
After, he wipes Bruce's mouth with a pristine handkerchief. "Really, Master Bruce, if you do insist on sowing your wild oats so very commonly, you might at least consider a disguise of some sort."
Bruce nods against the man's thigh. Alfred always did have good ideas.
Bruce knocks the last of the men onto the pile of unconscious and wounded and steps back into the shadows. There's something immensely freeing about the mask, about all the black, like he can do anything at all.
And he can.
The city hides him and holds him like he's one of its own, and he knows he is.
It had been strange at first, of course, like he was some psycho who didn't know Halloween was only one day a year, but... but.
He remembers the first time he'd gone to his old haunts in the outfit, the men who had peeled away from the wall full of booze and mockery. It could've ended there, but they had been drunk, and he had been strong.
And it could've ended there, with the bodies bleeding on the concrete, but two girls had peeled themselves away from the wall and looked at him with fear and... and gratitude.
"I don't know who you are, Mister, but thanks. Jimmy is a real prick, you know?"
"Yeah," the other one said, and kicked one of the men, stumbling on her impractically high heels.
"Heh," said the first one, sliding a hand up the slippery spandex covering his chest and smiling up at him through painted lashes. "My hero."
He had them right there, up against the wall, one after the other, and he thinks maybe it could have ended there, even, but the one he was fucking had screamed and stared over his shoulder, and he'd spun around, dick swinging in the breeze, and struck without thinking.
There'd been a crack, and the man had fallen like a tree, and Bruce remembers staring down into the man's face, at the weirdly crushed cast to his nose, at the eyes.
He remembers the way the man's eyes had glazed over, visible even in the uncertain light.
He remembers the way the girls had gasped, and the sound of the smaller one as she cried.
He remembers being almost too hard to tuck himself away, and how it had just seemed right to finish the job.
After, the girls had helped him shove the men into a Dumpster, swearing that they'd never tell, that they knew the score, that they'd... be good.
And he'd remembered looking up at Alfred when he seemed like the tallest man in the world, and promising to be a good boy even as his lips split and bled.
And after that, it couldn't have ended at all.
He likes the way the papers put it. Well, some of the papers. He could live without the ones that called him "Batman," and what had ever possessed him to get a mask with ears?
Well, he'd been young, and what was done, was done.
He knows there are some cops that want to bring him in, that talk about the dangers of vigilantism, but most of them -- the ones on the street -- wouldn't touch him save to shake his hand.
And besides, he's gotten a lot better at hiding the bodies over the years.
No, the night is his, and all of its treasures.
Men to pound into the dirt -- and he's gotten better at that, too -- and girls to fuck. Boys to fuck.
Whatever he wants. There's always an open door, and no one ever tries to get under the mask.
Freedom, and a cave to come back to with all the comforts he needs.
It's more than a little sick the way Alfred has taken to it.
Always ready with some new edition to the suit, some nasty little trick for the belt. He has to wonder where Alfred learned all of this, but then, you can get almost anything out of a good book.
And it's all so useful.
Alfred doesn't touch him much anymore, but he supposes that's part of getting older.
He likes to listen, instead.
Bruce likes to talk.
It's a good life.
He hasn't been back to Sugar in a long time -- it's gotten a lot quieter since he's been doing his thing, but it's always good to check back. Keep an eye on things.
And tonight... tonight it's even better than good.
He watches from atop a crumbling gargoyle as the boy fights. He's a scrappy little thing, really. All kicks and punches and sharp little grunts when he gets hit.
It can't last, though.
A better class of pimp has moved in since he's taken care of the trash, and the men know what they're doing. They adjust quickly to the boy's size and speed.
Bruce waits until they start having fun before he leaps in.
A few carefully aimed blows and he has them down. Picks up the leader and sets his arm around the man's throat, covering his mouth when he moans too loud.
The boy's eyes are wide, and bright with unshed tears. He wants to run his tongue over the rising bruises. He holds the man a little tighter instead. "What'd he do to you, kid?" he says in his avenger voice.
"My... my parents. He hurt my parents and now they're not moving and there's a smell and --"
Dark wood and picturesque rain. Memories. He shakes them off. "Yeah? What should I do to him?"
The boy only hesitates for a moment. "Kill him!"
The man's neck snaps with a echoing crack. "And the others?"
The boy looks shocked. Swallows visibly. "I... I don't know."
Bruce smiles behind his mask and takes care of them, too. Drags them to the stinking water and tosses them in, one at a time. He can feel the boy's gaze.
He crouches down in front of the kid and studies him. Shaking, but trying to hide it. Thin beneath the grime and bruises, and the bones beneath his face are as fine as a bird's.
He cups the boy's cheek gently, but firmly.
"What... what are you gonna do now, Mister?"
Sweetness like a taste on the air, and Bruce indulges himself with a slow, soft stroke over the boy's cheekbone. "You're coming home with me."
The boy swallows again and nods.
As if he really had a choice.
Notes: See, once upon a time people used to talk a lot about how Professor Xavier was a cult leader. And then Dr. Benway wrote a little story called X-Manson, where Xavier really was a cult leader. It was a very, very good story. The stuff which nightmares are made on.
So then I started thinking about Batman. About the things people -- people like me -- said about Batman. And I wrote this story.
Yes, I'm in therapy.
No, I don't live near you.
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