He woke covered in sweat, still willing himself long after his dream faded to wake up.
"It wasn't real."
It was what he had told himself when he was still asleep. As if saying it would make it so. He had found comfort in it when he was under, awake and he knew that wasn't true. It was real. The glassy eyes that had begged him to join them were lying in a graveyard not far from his home. His parents were dead, there was no changing that.
Past experience had taught him that he wouldn't get back to sleep that night. If he was lucky, he would be able to starve off his dreams until daylight, when the sun soothed him into dreamless sleep. So he got up. If only to escape his parents, waiting to scare and terrorize him like they had done for the past three months.
The manor was quiet. It always had been. Even when he was a boy it was quiet despite the fact there were more people back then. His father had said it was because it was large. The hallways were too tall and their girth too wide. It was what came from having money. That, along with the furniture and paintings that stretched back hundreds of years.
He ducked his head out of habit as he came to his father's study. The portrait of the three of them started out at him. He could feel their eyes following his back, glassy eyed and vigilant like they were in his dreams.
He would have to ask Alfred to take it down. But in the morning. Right now the butler needed his sleep. For too long now he had spent his nights looking after him. Waking him when he couldn't himself or being there with a glass of milk. It was strange, before the accident they spoke but he was always just someone that worked for him. Now, he was the only familiar thing he had left, and the only person he could begin to call family. Sure, he had an uncle and some distant cousins. Unfortunately they had made their intentions known when they got their own share of the fortune and tried to swindle him out of the rest of it. Alfred was the only one who cared for his well being. Alfred was therefore important, which was the reason he had to be looked after as well as Bruce was.
He found Alfred's cookies straight away. He hadn't even hid them this time, merely left them on the bench with a note to check in the fridge. Sure enough there were more snacks for him there. He took a cookie, hesitantly taking a bite before concluding that they were getting better.
He took a few more on his walk around the manor, knowing the butler would be happy to see the plate touched in the morning.
He happily chomped them down as he climbed the stairs back into the entrance hall.
It was strange, he mused as he started down the familiar corridor, it almost seemed like he had heard a knock.
This time he did hear it. He turned to where the front door loomed, the banging coming again as his heart thumped painfully in his chest. No one good knocks this late, that he had learnt from an attempted kidnapping when he was five. So who was knocking?
7 years later:
"He's not coming out."
Bruce scowled at his door. They were talking about him like he couldn't hear him. He sometimes wondered how they couldn't see why he stormed away from them so often.
"Should we get Alfred?"
"I don't think that's necessary Kal."
They thought Bruce couldn't understand them if they spoke in Kryptonian. They should have known better.
"One swift push," Jor continued, "and-" the door caved under Jor's hand.
Bruce quickly scampered out of the way. Straightening the broken wood Jor smiled kindly at Bruce, it was a look he often used when trying to placate him. Over the years Bruce had dubbed it his patient look.
"Dinner is almost ready. I understand that Kal may have upset you, and he will apologise for that. Now, let's not neglect your nutrition again." He gestured for Bruce to follow him. The look of it all appearing innocent but Bruce could see the threat underneath it. The door sitting to his right and years living under them had proved that those hands were capable of much more than Bruce's own.
Not for the first time he wished he had never opened that door.
Lara was waiting for them in the dining room. She signalled the chair he was to take while getting up to help Kal into his. It was like he was a child, Bruce thought in disgust, he was perfectly capable of finding a seat and pulling it out on his own. Still, he kept his words to himself. He was already on thin ice with these people.
Alfred rolled dinner out as punctual as he always did. Bruce took his share and tried to drown himself in food so as not to answer the polite questions Lara routinely asked him. School came up, as it always did, and fortunately for him Kal was more than excited to answer on Bruce's behalf. When he was asked directly he kept things short and to the point. They weren't really interested in his day after all. Merely checking to see whether he had blown their cover. It wasn't like they were in hiding. Everyone knew about his mysterious Aunt and Uncle who had arrived a couple of years ago. It was easy for the story to be accepted. Jor and Kal shared some similar qualities with Bruce after all. Dark hair and blue eyes with the only noticeable difference being their tan, something Bruce had never had since he enjoyed the indoors far too much to give up his pale skin. So for all intents and purposes they could pass as Waynes. Like his door, sometimes Bruce wished someone would find out that this wasn't the case. That they were refugee aliens from a dead planet and his father had offered them sanctuary before he died.
Either that or his father actually telling him about his strange encounter with these aliens. When he was eight, and they arrived bloodied and suffocating from the earth air, he had screamed sure, but he had eventually let them in. Years of exposure and unanswered questions had left him speculating what actually happened to them. Whether their planet had died. Whether they had tried to save it. Whether they meant to leech off Bruce until they had enough resources to start a full scale invasion.
The conversation drifted from English to Kryptonian when Lara tired of Bruce's vague responses. Kal's was broken when he spoke it. Too used to speaking English he could barely remember some of the phrases that had came so natural to him years ago.
"How was school Kal? Did he behave himself?"
He? At least they had the decency not to sound like they were speaking behind his back.
"Of course mother. In fact, he excelled at his recent class test and has a competition coming up in Karate. I'm sure he would tell you himself if you asked again."
Bruce refrained from glaring at Kal. His constant companion and appointed babysitter didn't even realise he was being used as a spy for his parents. Or did he?
"If he's doing so well then why the attitude? I honestly wonder why we try sometimes," Jor sighed.
Bruce ground his teeth. Any indication he knew what they were saying would mean he lost his only means of spying on them.
"Don't be so negative. Besides, I looked these symptoms up in an earth book Alfred brought me. Apparently these 'mood swings' are common in growing terrans. Bruce is simply becoming a man." She looked adoringly at Kal while she spoke. She didn't have to worry about Kal going through these supposed 'mood swings.' He had literally flown through his growth spurt. Bruce had nearly had a heart attack when he saw him flying over his bed the other day.
"Well, he should grow up faster. He's getting more sullen every time I see him." For a man of science Jor had little patience when it came to Bruce.
"Alfred says these 'mood swings' settle in a couple of years. Surely you can put up with it for a little while longer. Remember, we are the aliens here Jor, not him." If it weren't for the fact she wanted to stay on Bruce's good side he probably would have liked her.
He finished his meal and sat back while the others scraped their plates clean. Alfred came out with desert soon after, slipping Bruce a little extra with a warm smile. He was the only one in the manor Bruce could stand seeing these days. Up until he sucked up to their intruders.
It was a relief to be dismissed. It was only when he was halfway back to his room that he remembered there would be no privacy. Jor had destroyed his door after all.
Growling, he stormed through the corridors he knew off by heart until he came to an old portrait of his great grandfather. Lifting the bottom, the false wall fell away and let Bruce into one of the manors many secrets.
When he was younger Bruce had thought the court of owls had used this place as a nest. Spying on his family while they went on with their lives, oblivious. Investigation had led him to some more 'nests' around the manor and nothing more. Whatever these rooms were used for, if it was the owls, they had done a good job of covering their tracks. As it was, Bruce just used them to hide in, collect his thoughts away from spaceships and aliens. His favourites were this room and the old cave system running under the house. Unfortunately Jor had confiscated Bruce's secret key to his fathers' study the other day. It was the only entrance he knew of, and right now couldn't be bothered to pick the lock.
Lighting one of the gas lamps he pulled up a chair and settled in with one of his books.
Hours, and a small nap later, he stretched and paced to walk the weariness off that overcame him. He cut the light off and climbed out of his hiding hole, only to fall flat on his face. It seemed he wasn't the only one that had napped as Kal jolted awake and rubbed the spot Bruce had tripped over. It wasn't like he could feel it. Years of blending in had left him with some habits that he naturally fell in to, such as pretending something hurt.
Regaining his footing, he stifled the rage that boiled through him. He really had no privacy in this place. This was his home, and he felt like a prisoner.
"Can I help you?" He grit out.
Kal straightened. "I thought you might want some help with your homework. I know you hate English. Only you were in there and I don't know how to get in and... well, I guess I must have drifted off."
"I don't need your help. Alfred is usually on hand if I do." He tried to say it in the politest way he could. There was no need to upset his alien overlords anymore today.
"Alright then. Would you like a game of chess? Maybe we could use your secret room."
"No," He snapped. Taking a deep breath he tried again. "I'm tired. I think I'll go to bed."
"It's still early," Kal argued. "Please? We never spend any time together."
Bruce stopped himself from countering with, out of everyone, he spent the most time with Kal.
"I'm tired Kal."
He walked back to his broken door. All the while he could feel his shadow trotting behind him like a faithful dog. As if just thinking the word made it appear he saw their actual dog on his bed when he got there. Not only that, the white beast was shedding all over his sheets.
Krypto didn't move, just rolled onto his back.
"Down boy," Kal called in Kryptonian.
The dog only obeyed Kryptonian commands, and didn't hesitate in obeying Kal now. Shaking one last time it bounded over to its grinning master still lingering in Bruce's doorway.
Glaring at his broken door he batted at the lingering hairs on his bed. Nothing was keeping Krypto out now. The beast would be infiltrating his room as often as he could now. Sighing, he changed into his pyjama's, ignoring the feeling that he had eyes on his back. When he looked at Kal he saw him fidgeting. He thought nothing of it. It was how his parents told him to blend in after all. Still, he didn't like the fact he was still there.
"Tired means I wish to sleep. Preferably without someone watching me."
Kal moved further into the room rather than leaving.
"Alfred usually watches you. I was thinking I could do it tonight. He says it helps with the nightmares if you have someone near," he was almost at the bed by the time he had finished.
"Someone meaning Alfred. And it's not like I asked him to do it, he just does." Truthfully, Bruce hadn't even known the man still did it.
"Well, if he just does it then that means I can. I don't like hearing you scream."
Bruce groaned, knowing he wouldn't win tonight. Kal was horribly persistent at times. So he turned his back, not arguing any more and slid into bed. He felt Kal crawl in next to him moments later.
"You haven't done your English homework," Kal reminded him after a while.
Bruce gritted his teeth and resolutely ignored him.
It was still early, the sun having just set an hour ago. He had trouble shutting his brain down, which wasn't helped by the sniffs, coughs and kicks Kal made. Nor the three attempts at conversation. He still hadn't fell asleep as his father's grandfather clock chimed twelve. Kal, on the other hand, had, which was unfortunate since as soon as he had, whatever authority that had held Krypto at bay went. The dog was soon stretched across Bruce's legs, weighing him down as he wiggled to get comfortable.
Shoving the dog into Kal, he padded out his door and towards his father's study. Who cared if he wasn't allowed in there. This was his home, yet right now the only place that felt like home to him were the caves.
He was almost near his father's door when a cough had him spinning.
"Go back to bed," Jor said. He looked like he had just jumped out of bed himself. His dark hair stuck out on end and his shirt was askew, like he had ran out as soon as he figured out Bruce wasn't in bed.
He wouldn't put it past the man.
"I can't. Kals' in it."
An expression Bruce would have described as a cringe on anyone else overcame Jor's face.
"I'm thirsty anyway. So why don't you go back to bed and trust I'll do the same once I'm done."
The scowl that replaced the cringe told Bruce he wasn't being as polite as he thought he was.
"I'll come with you, I'm feeling rather thirsty myself." He herded Bruce down the stairs and into the kitchen. He took a seat at the bench, watching Bruce putter around. "This young sun... I can't tell whether it's a blessing or a curse. Either way I'm thankful your father offered us sanctuary."
If Bruce had half the powers they had the kitchen probably wouldn't be standing.
"Bruce, I think it's time we had a talk. Alfred tells me that it's normal for terrans to go through mood swings and hold short tempers when changing into an adult. You however... there's something more to your rage. I like to think over the years that you consider us family. Maybe not the one you wanted, but I know Lara and I are grateful you entered our lives. Therefore, if you wish to tell us what it is that's behind all this, we'll listen."
"I'm alright," was all he could say. There was no way he was going to relieve himself to Jor.
"Well alright then," Jor accepted.
He escorted Bruce back to his room. Journeying in to awe at his son and make sure Bruce wasn't going to leave again.
Trying to go to sleep after that was a challenge. In the end he didn't. It wasn't the first night he had lost sleep on and he doubted it would be the last.
Kal woke at seven. Drawing back Bruce's curtains with the biggest grin on his face as he greeted the sun. "Good morning Bruce. I knew last night was a good idea. I never heard you once."
Maybe that was because he was a deep sleeper, Bruce kept that to himself. Instead, he kicked Krypto off his legs again and went to hunt down Alfred for breakfast.
Lara had taken over the kitchen when he got down. Alfred was hovering behind her, not a strange sight for someone foreign in his kitchen. He was never allowed to do what Lara was. Alfred had all but banned Bruce from touching anything after it showed he had no culinary skills at all.
"Good morning Bruce," she chimed. "Alfred is letting me make pancakes. If you hurry, I think they'll be done by the time you're changed."
Kal had almost finished all of them by the time he came back down. Jor was also awake, greeting Bruce with a practised 'good morning' the family had perfected after seeing it on TV. Dressed for work at Bruce's company he cringed at how little he actually owned.
Alfred handed over a plate of slightly burnt pancakes with an apology written across his face. "I will have your door fixed by the time you come home Master Bruce."
He said his thanks and sat down, resigned to another day living in his absurd life.
School was alright. It was a reprieve from his supposed family since Kal only saw him at lunch. Unfortunately school was also boring. Everything they taught him he already knew. Lunch times were dull without friends to talk to, and friends were hard to come by since most of them were idiots. Which meant he had the choice of either talking to Kal, and listening to his list of what he had found interesting that day, or read. His eidetic memory meant he rarely forgot something, and further made school a pointless endeavour. He had already read all of his class books, along with background reading. He had even finished most of his school essays, they were waiting on his desk for the teachers to announce them.
Really, the only thing he couldn't plan for in school was the homework. One such subject that was responsible for most of his homework was English. It was on a book of his choice and really should have only taken him a few hours. But Kal had some weird sense about when he was going to do his homework and often ended up distracting him.
He hid himself away in the library that lunch, hoping Kal was too busy to find him. No such luck. He ended up storming away from him when Kal tried to help him with his homework again. He was almost regretting it as he remembered he had flung his favourite Sherlock Holmes book at him.
"I think he might be... you know, slow. I mean, he's always saying how great everything is."
Bruce stopped as the voice echoed in the stairwell. He recognised that voice. Also the person they were speaking about. There was no one else it could be.
He peered over the stairs to see them. There were three of them. Two must have been in Kal's class, since they were older than him. The third however, he recognized from his Geography class.
"Tell me about it. If it weren't for their money I think he probably would have been held back. Hear that Charlie, he could've been in your class."
Charlie was placed in a headlock. Squirming his way out he complained, "As if. I've seen him with Wayne. He'd probably be held back again in case Wayne ended up doing him in."
"Oh yeah. I forgot about Wayne. Creep. I heard his dad was part of a cult. My dad says those people he lives with aren't actually related to him. That they're keeping him hostage, fattening him up, so they can off him like his parents.
Bruce would have scoffed at their absurdity if they hadn't been so close to the truth. About them not being related, the rest of it was up for debate.
"That's ridiculous. My dad on the other hand said that the man is actually Wayne's father. Apparently his mom whored herself out and-"
The kid speaking was on the floor before he finished speaking. Bruce felt hands on him trying to pry him off and a hit to his face that would bruise later. Shaking it off, he grabbed the next arm coming to strike him, and twisted until he heard a snap. Lunging for the third, he had him on his front with minimal damage from the kick he was aiming at Bruce's face.
It took three teachers crowding him against a wall, and Kal holding him before he calmed down enough to feel the pain in his hands and face. Kal was still whispering calming things in his ear as the paramedics arrived for Bruce's victims. They dabbed Bruce's face, and bandaged his knuckles as the teachers called the manor.
He barely cared that Lara came and not Alfred. He barely cared that Lara was furious with him. All he could hear were that boy's accusation. He knew he was being expelled. Lara was arguing his case as best she could, but with her limited experience she eventually had to bring Alfred in. The man put up a good fight, however the lacerations Bruce had received and dealt worked against him. At two, after the boys parents had came in, it was official: Bruce wasn't allowed back to Gotham academy.
The car ride to the manor was stilted with unsaid reprimands and disappointment. Lara held her head high as they stopped outside Wayne Enterprises. Jor didn't have her poise as he ran down to their car. He heard them hissing in Kryptonian on the way to the manor, discussing what to do with him.
He didn't give them a chance to herd him in the manor. He took off as soon as the car stopped and broke into his father's study. Down in the caves the bats didn't bother him, and allowed him to scale their walls into a dry little niche he had found. The blankets were still there in their haphazard nest he had left them in. His torch was easy to find and turn on to keep the bats away. It slowly died the longer he stayed there but he wasn't going to go up. The El's didn't like coming down here. It wasn't that they were intimidated by the darkness or the bats. The reason they didn't like coming down was because Bruce had a tendency to run off. The echo system meant they couldn't keep track of him. He could disappear down here for hours.
Despite all that Jor gave it a try a few hours later. Calling down he said, "We're not mad Bruce." Liar. "Kal told us why you did it. You were just protecting us. I know you may need some time alone, so come up whenever you're ready. I promise, we just want to talk with you."
Bruce shuffled further into his blankets.
He suffered through a day and a half in the caves. Eventually, it was Alfred that dragged him up. Luring him down with cookies only to grab him and haul him to the kitchen.
"Sleeping in those caves... did you not think about your injuries? Tell me Master Bruce, how does victory feel? I thought I had raised you better than to life your fist to a few barbs."
His hands were stripped roughly and shoved under a cold spray.
"They insulted my mother." Saying it out loud didn't carry the justification Bruce thought it had.
"I see. So it wasn't the gallant defence of Master Kal that brought out this feral behaviour. You realize Master Jor is looking into human behaviour again. Let's hope this is one of those times I can persuade him you're alright. Home schooling will be recommended on my part, you do need an education. But I'll phrase it in a way that it will benefit you intellectually."
Bruce hung his head as Alfred dabbed disinfectant on his knuckles. "Thank you Alfred." His hands were re-bandaged and one of Alfred's cookies stuck in his mouth.
"Might I make a suggestion. If you wish to remain out of Gotham's psychiatric hands, then start being nice. If not to Master Jor and Lara than to Kal. The boy likes you, and it wouldn't kill you to have one friend." He was dismissed after that.
The manor was empty from all but him and Alfred. The study door had been locked as soon as Alfred had pried him out of it. Fortunately, his own door had been re attached, and, after he expelled Krypto, he had it all to himself. For an hour. He hadn't really watched the time, and forgot that Kal would be back at four. All the warning he had was the door bursting open before boy and dog were seated on his bed.
"You're out," Kal grinned."Mother was going to send Krypto in if you weren't out by dinner. I'm glad you are, you're the talk of the school you know. Everyone's gossiping about your fight. Of course, I had to correct a few stories, especially the one Duncan was telling. You were defending my honour after all, it's the least I could do to make you look like a hero."
He flattened the scowl on his face into something neutral. "I hope you didn't phrase it that way. People will think you're my boyfriend rather than my cousin."
Kal shrugged. "It doesn't matter. All that does is that you have a fearsome reputation for when you come back."
This time Bruce did frown. "I'm not coming back. Didn't Lara tell you I've been expelled?"
"What? No. You have to come back. Where else will you learn how to be a terran?" He looked genuinely confused as well.
"I'm already a terran. Besides, school's a bore. Alfred said he's suggesting a tutor." He hoped Alfred was suggesting a competent one. He noticed Krypto sniffing at his clothes. "Could you remove your dog. I don't like what he's already done to my coat."
Kal called Krypto over and, not for the first time, Bruce wished he could just do it himself. Bruce stretched out as much as he could to ward off Krypto's slavering form.
"But school won't be the same without you there. I know, I'll ask mother if I can have a tutor as well. This way we can both still spend the day together.""
Bruce remembered what Alfred said about making friends and plastered on a nice smile. "You can't do that Kal. I have to stay home because I was expelled. Don't throw away your education because of me. Think about all your friends. Won't they be upset if you left?"
An odd look overcame Kals face. "I'm sure they wouldn't mind." Sudden images of lunch times spent with no one but Bruce and the words those three boys said came back to him. Bruce didn't think Kal had any friends now he thought about it.
"Still, if you left then it would probably be harder for you to blend in with terrans. Many social cues we learn from school. With just myself and Alfred I fear you may slip up later life." It was a long shot, one Bruce could see was working.
"Father would hate it if we were discovered," Kal agreed. "Very well I'll stay."
Then room lapsed into silence with Bruce hoping Kal would just leave. With no sign of movement forthcoming Bruce left his own room to traipse around the library. Five chimed with a door closing. Kal's name rang up the stairs as Lara and Jor returned. The thought to hide crossed his mind., he could spend the rest of the week in the caves. His spine won out. Bracing himself he went back to his room, showered and changed, before waiting at the table for dinner.
The first one down meant he had the pleasure of watching the surprise come over Jor and Laras face when they joined him. Unlike yesterday he answered what they asked him. He was as polite as he could be, and was glad when not one word of his expulsion came up. The conversation stayed in English all the way to desert. Jor told him about a new serum he was developing to cure cancer. The only problem was that earth didn't have some of the necessary ingredients he required. Lara informed him about a new shop that had just opened up. She was planning on taking him and Kal for new shirts as Alfred cleared their plates away, before offering some advice to her husband about how he could work around the serum problems. He wondered why she never went to work with him sometimes.
It was with a pointed glance from Alfred that the conversation turned to Bruce's schooling. Jor jumped right in. "Alfred has suggested we hire a tutor. Lara and I will choose him, of course, but your insight will be most helpful on the matter."
Bruce nodded and said nothing more on the subject. So long as he kept quiet there wouldn't be any more problems. "I'll look over your choices when you have them. For now, may I be excused?"
They let him go.
The tutor Alfred found him was acceptable. He realised that Bruce needed more of a challenge and provided it. For once, Bruce had nothing to complain about education wise. Kal on the other hand, came home from school miserable. He would constantly seek out Bruce in the manor and tell him about his day. Sure, there were the things he found fascinating about terrans in his conversation, but mostly it was talks on what the kids were doing. Apparently, he got into a fight one day, which would have shocked Bruce, were it not for the fact it was Charlie and his gang. They had recruited reinforcements and struck Bruce through Kal. If only they knew how little he cared.
Really, everything had been going fine, which was why he should have expected something to go wrong. That wrong being Kal got his heat vision.
Bruce was in the middle of his research paper about 18th century Gotham when he heard doors slamming and Jor calling for Alfred. Lara came in a couple of minutes after the slamming had died down to excuse the tutor for the day. It was only when Bruce saw her show him out that he knew it was an alien matter. Lara usually left Alfred to show them out, she only followed them herself if there was something to hide.
The problem had Kal holding his hands over his eyes. Jor was talking in rapid Kryptonian to his son about his powers being perfectly natural. It was only because he was growing that they had started appearing and fluctuating as they settled into his body.
"Should we take him outside?" Lara asked. She had Kal in her arms as soon as she could reach him.
"No. He needs to learn to control them." Looking around, Jor spotted Bruce lingering in the doorway "Come here Bruce."
"Why?" He didn't want to be anywhere near Kal if he was destroying things.
"Please," Jor beckoned him over, and eventually pulled him in front of Kal. Speaking to his son in their language Bruce was shocked when Jor told him to "Open your eyes Kal. Try and control it."
"I can't," Kal sobbed. "I wrecked one of the walls at school with it!"
"You can do it Kal. Just open your eyes. Bruce is right in front of you. If you can stop yourself from burning him then you can control it Kal."
Bruce tried to struggle away, but Jor had an iron grip.
"Let go," Bruce hissed, and watched in muted horror as Kal snapped his eyes open and looked at him.
"Father you're hurting him." Kal pointed to the bruises forming.
"Yes but you've opened your eyes. See Kal, I knew you could do it."
Bruce was released as Jor and Lara turned to helping Kal turn his vision back on. Not waiting around to be used again he ran upstairs and back to his paper. It was halfway through his second book that it dawned on him he could have died. Jor literally put him in a situation where Kal could have killed him and didn't think twice about it.
The disappointed look on Kal's face as he passed the library later showed that he hadn't mastered his new ability yet. Truthfully, Bruce hoped he hurt Jor a little when it happened again. The rest of the night he heard nothing but Jor and Lara talk about Kal's heat vision. Being adults when they arrived, it had been a quick transformation with lots of nights spent sitting outside their room as Alfred tended to their gasping breaths and muted screams. Kal had a hard time breathing at first too, but hadn't shown any sign of the immense power Jor and Lara possessed until he turned ten. Strength, speed and then flying had been the first powers to come to him, and now he was getting the more dangerous ones. Bruce felt sick as Kal wandered into his room that night. All it took was a lapse in concentration and Bruce would have two holes in his body.
"Father said I'm staying off school tomorrow. I know it's to help me practice, but maybe we could spend some of it together as well. Mother said she was cancelling your tutor after all." His eyes were still blue as he spoke.
"No. I'd rather not be scorched to death if it's all the same." Still nothing. Kal didn't even look offended at Bruce's barb. With only a hint of curiosity he invited Kal to stay a while longer "What do you think triggered it?"
The teen shrugged. "I was in the middle of biology and suddenly there was a hole where my book was. The teacher thought I had left a Bunsen burner on."
"So it just came on?"
"I don't buy it. You haven't had a growth spurt, or were in danger. Your powers are usually triggered by something, so what was it? What were you thinking at the time? Doing?"
Bruce watched as Kal's cheeks went red and he tugged on his shirt. "I guess I was thinking about this girl."
"Ah," Bruce nodded "Sex. I should have known that would trigger something."
"Sex?" Kal asked. "What does someone's gender have to do with my powers?"
"Gender? I'm talking about reproduction," Kal still looked lost. Then it dawned on him "How exactly do kryptonian's reproduce?"
Kal had been nine when they landed. Although he didn't spend that long on his home planet, he still remembered most of their systems. Not to mention his parents never let him forget just how advanced kryptonians were from terrans.
"They put their genes in a gestation chamber and waited until the child was ready to come home. From your tone, I'm guessing terrans have a different system?"
So did Lara if what Bruce overheard was right. She had talked to Alfred about birthing Kal when they thought he was asleep once. It sounded like everything else he knew about babies, he hadn't believed until now that Lara may have been an exception.
"We have sex. If you want to know what that is then I suggest you look it up." Bruce was losing interest in the subject. If Kal hadn't been thinking about sex when looking at that girl then it was probably some inkling of longing courtship he wished to initiate. Bruce knew he didn't want to sit through that.
"Why can't you tell me about it?"
Bruce rolled his eyes at Kal's curiosity. "I don't want to," He went back to his book "Please leave."
A day at the manor with Kal started off differently than Bruce thought it would. For one, there were holes in Kal's door when he passed. Looking through one he could see stray ones through walls as well. All of their trajectories connecting to the bed where Kal was sleeping peacefully.
Alfred was making breakfast as Lara and Jor made lesson plans for Kal.
"His bedroom's ruined," Bruce called to them as he took his toast outside.
When Kal did wake up Bruce avoided him like the plague. Thankfully, Jor was having his lessons outside which didn't make that plan too hard. He did peer down to see what they were doing about mid day. A sort of target range had been set up with Jor shouting encouragements to his son from his hiding spot. From what Bruce gathered, Kal had only been able to activate his heat vision once and was slowly growing frustrated with the lack of progress.
"Perhaps you should go down and cheer him on."
Bruce had stopped jumping at Alfred's random appearances years ago. That didn't mean he wasn't startled the butler had managed to sneak up on him again.
"If I did it would mean I cared." He moved away from the window and back to his studies.
"Checking up on Master Kal from afar can also be conceived as caring Master Bruce. Sometimes I wonder what you believe will happen if you show some generosity towards them. They're good people."
Bruce tried to keep his face neutral. "I have no doubt of that Alfred. Otherwise we would all be slaves to their race. However, if last night's show wasn't enough proof I'm sure Jor will tell you just how disposable he believes I am."
Alfred sighed and came nearer so Bruce went on. "He could have killed me and he didn't even care. All I am to him is a benefactor- not even that since it was my father who invited them."
"He wasn't going to let anything happen to you Master Bruce." Alfred sounded so sure of himself. "He would have pulled you away the instant Master Kal lost control. The only reason he didn't was because he knew Master Kal wouldn't hurt you."
Bruce scoffed and gathered his things together. "Believe what you like."
His hiding spot behind his great grandfather's portrait would be a welcome haven.
He came out after finishing his paper. Alfred was sure to be ignoring him if he sought him out. So, with nothing better to do, he went to watch Kal stare at some cans. It turned out watching Kal was even more boring than doing nothing. The only source of amusement Bruce could find was the cheer leading squad Kal had acquired. Bruce knew he wasn't supposed to respond to anything in kryptonian, but some of it was just hilarious. Jor threw statistics and shouts of encouragements at his son, while Lara worked on comforting him and bribing him as the time went on. Krypto joined in at some point. Howling and barking, he jumped in front of some cans and shot his own heat vision at others.
"Drink Master Kal?" Alfred called, bypassing Bruce altogether as he held out a tray to them.
Kal sighed in relief and bounded over to Alfred "Thank yo-" In seconds Lara had Alfred safely next to Bruce as Kal's heat vision acted up. Jor whooped and turned his boy in the right direction.
Bruce didn't know what came over him. It was like those boys again. One minute he was watching, shocked, at the patio doors, and the next he was trying to topple an invulnerable boy. Jor naturally had him back before he could hurt his hand and Alfred hurried over to calm him down.
"You almost killed him! He's all I have left and you- LET GO!" He struggled as much as he could, but Jor just held him tighter.
"I'm fine Master Bruce. Like I told you before Master Kal wouldn't hurt us."
The boy in question was being comforted by his mother.
"But he did. He did Alfred don't deny it! If it weren't for Lara you would be dead and I would be alone, with them!"
Jor set him down and held his shoulders so he wouldn't run away. He addressed Alfred like Bruce wasn't even there. "I know you said these mood swings would pass but are you sure this is normal? I've studied other boys his age and Bruce seems to be the only one with an over exaggerated temper, along with some other questionable qualitie-"
"Just shut up and let me go!" He tried to wrench himself free again "You speak about me being normal. You're not normal yourself you're an alien. You have no right to question what's normal on this planet!"
"No Alfred! I am sick of being their prisoner. I don't get any sleep because he creeps into my room." Bruce pointed at Kal. "I can't wander my own house because he keeps it locked up. I can't even call for help without asking Lara first, just in case I spill their little secret. I have every right to be angry."
As soon as he finished he regretted it. All of his rage vanished as cold shame washed over him. He had lost control of himself, twice in as many weeks, and cringed again as he felt the wetness on his cheeks.. Jor seemed to sense he was calm as the grip holding him relaxed enough for him to slip out and run to the house.
Alfred found him later curled up in his father's old chair. Their faces stared down at him from their flat painting whilst Alfred's burned holes in the side of his head.
"You realise what your little explosion has caused." It wasn't a question. Alfred knew that Bruce realised the consequences for his actions.
"When are they coming?" He barely recognised the emotionless tone of his own.
"Tomorrow. Leslie has had them lined up since you were nine." A tray was placed on the desk in front of him. Muffins and fresh tea couldn't erase what Bruce had done, but it showed that Alfred didn't hate him. "They'll be here at nine. I suggest you get a good nights sleep Master Bruce."
He went back to his room when he saw shadows circling his father's study. Jor didn't want to kick Bruce out, yet he made his presence known all the same. Kal was nowhere to be found and some distant part of Bruce hoped that the teen was recovering from a burn.
Changing felt like a chore and when he actually lay on his bed it seemed stupid to even try, he was only going to get changed again tomorrow. When the psychiatrist came and asked probing questions. Expecting answers Bruce didn't want to give. Didn't want to face. Why couldn't he have kept his mouth shut.
He lay like that for an hour. Contemplating his new life of medication and scheduled appointments. Turning to the window it looked like the bats didn't even want to stay with him tonight. They had better places to fly off to. Bruce wished he could.
Why couldn't he? The thought dawned and ingrained itself as it repeated in his mind. Why couldn't he leave the manor? Right now, Jor was doors away ,probably consoling his wife and son. Alfred usually spent an hour in the library at this time. It was the perfect opportunity. One he may never get again.
For the first time in a while Bruce thought about what he wanted. What he planned to do when he was older. He remembered sitting in that alley when he was eight and wishing he had the strength to do something. If he left now he could find someone to help him be strong. Sure he couldn't change the past, but he could change the future. He could become someone comfortable. Someone that wouldn't shy away at confrontation. Someone who wouldn't make so much of a mess when he actually got into a fight. Rubbing his thumb over his bandaged knuckles he decided he wanted that.
Wasting no time, he packed light and strolled through the manor like he would any other day. This was his home and he wasn't leaving it a coward. Taking money and some snacks from the kitchen, he gave his old life one more look before going up to his father's study.
The caves were as dark as they always were. Bitingly cold as he walked through damp tunnels and rat infested paths until he came to a waterfall. He had found it once, when Kal insisted on a game of hide and seek. He had been in Gotham eating ice cream when the call came that Kal couldn't find him anywhere. It looked like now he had a better reason to use this exit. Bracing himself, he ran through it as fast as he could. Shaking off the water that seeped into his skin, he made sure not everything in his backpack was salvageable and, satisfied, left.
It was a long walk to Gotham's town. The estates of the rich and famous came first and stretched for miles as only the rich did. Next were the small shops. A village that led into more houses and finally the Gothic architecture of Gotham flourished before him.
It was as he passed the GCPD that it dawned he didn't know where he was going. His mind set had been to just get out, and now he was, he didn't have a plan.
Gotham seemed to turn against him then. Every rustle and bang had him jumping. Too used to Alfred driving him around he hadn't truly been on Gotham's streets alone since his parents died. Even then it hadn't been by choice.
He was just about to turn back when he heard music playing. Following the drum rolls and crescendos he filtered out of Gotham's streets. Light assaulted his vision just as the music boomed and people started cheering. There, on the field, he discovered a circus. His mind screamed cliché even as his body wandered towards the tents behind the big top.
It was difficult finding the bosses tent since many of them looked similar to each other. He had to duck and cover to avoid the beefy men bouncing strays until, finally, luck won out. One of the performers, a clown with quite a sullen expression, brought the nights earnings to one of the tents with the label 'Mr Haly' on the side. Haly's circus was of course run by Mr Haly and Bruce wasted no time sprinting over to his tent.
Inside was a man going into his late forties. Hunched over his pot of cash it took Bruce clearing his throat for him to notice him.
"How'd you get in here?" he got up, most likely in search of his muscle.
"No, wait! I want a job. I need somewhere to go, at least for a while," Bruce cringed at the pleading note in his voice.
"And you thought you'd join the circus. Like we don't get forty others a night thinking the same thing," he scoffed. "So come on then, why should I give you a job? What makes you different from all the others?"
Bruce panicked. Living a privileged lifestyle meant he had limited manual abilities. "I don't know," he said as one thought stuck in his head. He didn't want to go back home. "I'm a fast learner."
"Fast learner means no skills." Mr Haly pinched the corner of Bruce's shirt. "Nice clothes like that... Go home kid, you're parents must be worried sick."
"I don't have any," he'd said it so often it sounded emotionless now. "Please, give me a chance. I'll do anything. Work people don't even want to do. You don't even have to pay me, just don't make me go home."
For a moment he thought Mr Haly was going to kick him out as he yelled "Norton!" A man with a gaunt face came running in. "Put him with Eleanor. If he still wants to come with us in the morning give him to Wilhelm."
The man smirked and led Bruce back into the array of tents. They passed them all until there were only the animal's carriages left. At the end of the enclosure Norton pulled open one of the larger carriages doors. "In you go," he gestured.
Realisation flooded through Bruce. This was some sort of test. Throw him in with the sharks and see if he chickens out. Well Bruce really had nowhere else to go and he didn't back down from a challenge easily. Walking in he avoided the leavings. That actually calmed him slightly since they were too large to be anything carnivorous. Huddling himself in the corner Norton closed the door and left towards the still cheering big top.
A few hours later the animals started returning to their carriages. The handlers didn't spare Bruce another look, most likely because this was a common sight around here.
Eleanor was one of the last animals to arrive and the sight of her almost made Bruce bolt. An elephant. Huge and grey she piled onto her carriage and sniffed him curiously with her trunk. Bruce took a breath and repeated all the elephant facts he knew to keep him calm. If she had been brought up around humans then it stood to say seeing Bruce wasn't stressful to her. He would be safe tonight. If only he could tell his pounding heart that.
The handler was still standing at the entrance to Eleanor's carriage with the door open. A blatant invitation for Bruce to give up and one he did not take. Shaking his head he regarded Eleanor once more before settling in for a night on iron bars. As her handler moved away Eleanor gave up sniffing him. Instead she poked her trunk through to say goodbye and rooted around in the straw for any treats.
Truthfully the night wasn't so bad. He was fussed over at random intervals which meant sleep was hard to come by. When Eleanor finally went to sleep Bruce just had to endure her snoring. When morning came, sure he smelled and bad and had an ache in his back from the bars, but he had passed their stupid test. That made anything else they threw at him null in comparison. An elephant wasn't going to frighten him off and he told them so. Which was why he ate his words later when working with Wilhelm turned out to be cleaning out the lion.
His handler handed him a hose and sponge as he took the lion for his morning feed. To say cats smelled was an understatement. Eleanor's carriage smelled like pot-pourri in comparison. It took him the better part of two hours to finish. Even then the handler tutted and complained about the standard. Bruce bit his tongue and went as Wilhelm was swapped for Eleanor and then Gunher and Gurbel the tigers. By six he was covered in sweat and had long gone nose blind.
Cleaning the animals was his job for the next three days. Every night he would bunk in with Eleanor, he assumed Mr Haly thought he would quit before they left. Yet on their last day in Gotham Bruce was still there, and helped the others load their things onto the train.
Startled when a hand clasped his shoulder he looked up to see one of the handlers behind him. "Third carriage down," he pointed. "And do everyone a favour and have a bath before we leave."
Following him to one of the few caravans Bruce luxuriated in being clean again. He actually had a bed to sleep in when he got to his carriage as well. Sure, some of them men in with him snored louder than Eleanor, but the soft mattress under his back more than made up for it.
Their next stop was in Florida. The heat was almost unbearable to someone who was only used to extreme heats when relaxing. Working in it became a sort of torture. As soon as they stopped he had to help set up the big top, which left blisters on his hands. Then he had four days of animal waste to clean up- he wasn't ashamed to admit he threw up.
It was hard work but after a couple of months he got used to it. He found he was stronger than he had been when lifting the big top didn't leave him aching the next day. He was allowed more duties now that Mr Haly believed he wasn't leaving any time soon. Helping spy for free loaders and working the concession stand were some of those duties.
When he first watched a performance he was captivated. The performers usually stuck with each other since their training kept them in the big top most hours and Bruce had honestly forgotten how amazing they could be.
It was an quiet day when he managed to watch them train. For some reason there wasn't much to clean on the animal side and he was finished by three. Wandering the tents he asked here and there if anyone needed any help and was more than disappointed to find they didn't. The circus was more than boring with nothing to do and no one to talk to but the animals. Spying the big top, it only seemed natural to have a look at the performers and Bruce wasn't disappointed with what he found.
The Flying Graysons were the head-liners and they earned their place there. They were defying gravity and performing acrobatic tricks Bruce didn't believe possible when he walked in. Sure, some of them argued before flying. The swears Bruce heard were some of the worst he had ever heard, but that didn't mar their performance in the slightest.
"Amazing aren't they?"
Bruce looked over to where the voice had sounded and saw a woman a few seats away. "Incredible," he agreed.
"That's my husband over there," she pointed out.
He was relatively young in his early to mid twenties like her.
"So you're a Flying Grayson as well?"
She nodded. "Mary. And I was," Bruce understood when she pointedly rubbed her stomach. "Another four months."
"Good luck," He went back to watching the performance in front of him.
He felt the air shift next to him and looked to see Mary settling next to him. "Who's son are you then? You smell like one of the handlers, but as far as I know none of them have kids your age. How old are you anyway?"
"Fifteen," he answered honestly. "and I'm not. I joined in Gotham. They have me cleaning the animals out. It's tolerable now though."
She nodded "Runaway huh? So where are you getting off? Well good luck with that."
He shrugged. He planned on staying until he got a better idea of what to do.
A couple of days later he was trying one of the Flying Grayson's floor moves. His chores were done, for now, and he had Eleanor scheduled in for a bath half an hour away, so he thought he would try it. It was a sort of half cartwheel flip combination. So far he had fallen fifteen times. However his last try had him completing the cartwheel part so he wasn't giving up lightly.
A rough push the next time he was in the air had him sprawled on the floor.
"If you're gonna try that then you need to bend your arms more." It was Mary. "It gives you more of a spring to get into the air."
"You're not going to tell me not to do it?" he asked, to which she threw her head back and laughed.
"Would you listen to me? The least I can do is make sure you do it properly." She helped him up and pushed him to try again.
He almost had it when Eleanor came for her bath, and was disappointed he had to spend the next two hours cleaning. Eleanor greeted Mary excitedly, who offered to stay and help. Bruce said no, on the basis he didn't want to upset the baby. She still ended up helping.
"What are you doing over here anyway? Not that you can't be here, its just I haven't seen you in these parts," he stumbled around.
"I came to find you. John's always making me sit and do nothing all day, so I thought I would go for a walk. I remembered you halfway over here and figured it would make good parenting practice." Bruce didn't know whether to be flattered or offended she considered him a child. "Now I have a reason to come over here. That is if you want to learn more tricks?"
She grinned at his enthusiasm. "Why not. It'll keep me busy and off my toes. John has nothing to worry about, and I get to torture you."
The sincerity in which she said torture made Bruce have second thoughts. He barely got the hang of that last move and was bruised all over.
He soon regretted his words. After cleaning the animals Mary would come and take him to a clear part of wherever they were staying. From there he learned to stand on his head, flip, and do a variety of other tricks that left him unable to do more than shuffle on a morning.
Despite her nice exterior Mary was a harsh teacher. She didn't let Bruce get off easy and set a target every lesson he had to fulfil or she would make their lessons longer the next day. Two months in, and Bruce grew to love her teaching. It meant he didn't slack off and actually got better every time he tried another move.
Three months in and she could no longer push him around. That didn't stop her from shouting louder. Loud enough that he had a small audience by the end of the afternoon. Even if they did just come to hear Mary yell at him, he enjoyed being able to show off a move he did right in front of them. It was proof of his accomplishment.
Bruce ended up spending most of his time with Mary. If he wasn't practising with her he was fetching things and helping her get from her tent to wherever she wanted to go. He enjoyed listening to her coo over the baby. She already told Bruce he was a born performer. Doing somersaults and stretching at all hours of the day or night. When her water finally broke Bruce was just as excited as she was to meet the little guy.
Named Richard the boy was the most adorable thing Bruce had ever seen.
Two months after having the little guy Bruce thought that would be the end of his little practices with her. She was back training with the rest of her family for the big top and as far as Bruce was concerned she had no time for him. He was proved wrong when John came strolling over with baby Dick in his arms.
"Mary wants you to come watch us."
With nothing better to do he went with him. He hadn't spent much time around John. Mainly because the man wasn't bored and needed someone to alleviate it. Inside the tent Mary waved from her perch and gestured to her husband.
"You wouldn't mind looking after little Dickie would you?"
He spent their practice session pointing out all the tricks Mary had taught him to Dick. Not knowing that his role from companion had already been changed to babysitter.
By the time Dick learned to walk Bruce and he were best friends. He would come and play with him on afternoons and sit in the stands during performances with Dick gurgling on his lap. Mary had been right, that Dick was a natural performer. The first time he tried supporting his own weight he tumbled face first into a somersault and blinked wide eyed up at John when he was done. Walking was more of a success and as soon as he could John dragged the pair of them into the ring.
"Don't say you didn't see this coming," Mary grinned, and made sure Bruce still knew how to do a few moves.
At two years old Dick still had to sit on the sidelines but Bruce was given his first costume for the next show.
"Are you sure?" Bruce asked looking at himself in the mirror.
"Yes we're sure. You're practically a Grayson already. Lord knows you spend more time with Dick than I do most days," John grinned.
"If you're nervous about going out there just remember that no one will really be looking at you individually," Mary chimed.
"Oh and if you do fall do it with a bit of flourish. Make everything part of the act is what Dad taught me." Despite John's words of comfort Bruce didn't feel much better.
Little Dickie was sitting behind the scenes tonight. Jimmy had spent the better half of the first act showing Dick his trick flower to which the boy could watch for hours. Finally Jimmy was called on and Dick took his place on Mary's lap retelling what they had all just seen. Bruce let the innocent words fill him up. Make him forget that Jimmy was the last act before them. It worked until The Flying Graysons were called and he was told to smile.
The crowd was huge. Almost all seats filled as Bruce did the first circuit. After that they were up in the air. The crowd had thankfully gone silent as they made their way up. It actually helped Bruce visualize there was no one there and collect himself for when he flew over the big top to Uncle Ray's waiting hands. The first leap was truthfully the hardest but after that Bruce let himself go and enjoyed the rush of defying gravity. Later he recalled all of his father's advice when he was a child for dealing with crowds. 'Don't let them intimidate you. All they want is a story, something to see.' After that Bruce no longer had any trouble in front of crowds.
Sometimes he would join Mary and John on the high ropes and other times he would accompany the other acrobats with the animals. Bruce found it was much more fun performing with them than cleaning them out and as Dick turned three, then four, he introduced the kid to Eleanor and her friends. Naturally Bruce found him near her carriage most days after that and the two of them would help out the handlers with the odd chore or two.
When Dick was nine they stopped in Gotham. It wasn't the first time they had come into the city to perform and usually when they did Bruce begged out of all shows that week. This time was no different. Trading his sequin shirt for an elephant stained one didn't bother him in Gotham. Not when he had more important things to do such as look out for a certain family. Specifically Kal.
Rumours had started years ago and only grew until it was a known fact that there were aliens among them. One of those beings named Clark or 'Superman' had made it his sworn duty to protect those in need. Bruce would have been impressed were it not for the fact he had grown up with Kal. Sure, he had gained a few more powers over the years but that just made him more dangerous. So far his territory stretched from Gotham to Metropolis. The way Bruce looked at it pretty soon he wouldn't be able to perform anywhere in fear of being caught. While he did miss Alfred his mind was still set. He wasn't going back there. As far as he was concerned they could have everything. He was happier here than he had ever been in that manor.
"Mom said I can join in tonight," Dick crowed.
Bruce smirked from his seat on Eleanor's carriage "Did she now?"
"Yep. I'm finally getting my wings," he made a few bird motions "So you'll have to be there as well," he insisted.
Bruce cringed. "Sorry Robin, you know I always sit these ones out."
"But it's my début," he pouted.
"And I'll watch it with the biggest smile on my face," Bruce promised.
Dick stomped off and after a few seconds watching him Bruce followed. "I don't get why you always sit these ones out. Mom said you used to live here, but shouldn't that be a reason to perform? Show them how great you are?"
"It's not that simple. If someone recognized me here... I don't think I could still perform with you." He would be followed and then they would come for him.
Dick considered that for a while. "I guess if they're gonna take you away you can sit this one out. You have to promise though that we're gonna fly together in Coast City."
Bruce made the solemn oath of a pinkie promise and went with Dick to prepare for the night.
He left the boy primping in his tent to get a good seat for the beginning of the acts. Even after nine years Haly still made his circus a thing worth watching. Everyone was pulling out the big guns. Jimmy was extra funny and the tigers didn't miss a beat. Eleanor had never looked better and the Graysons looked every bit the head-liner they promised to be.
Bruce waited with anticipation as John grabbed Mary. The rest of the family already on the other ropes and doing their best to earn their applause. With another effortless swing Mary flipped through the air so John could grab her ankles. It put her in the best position to catch Dick. Bruce could see the pride on the little boy's face. The glee as his mother came towards him and the horror as the first rope snapped.
One, then two and a mass of bodies started falling to the floor. Normally this would be fine. An accident could happen at any time and there were contingencies for everything. The only thing was that this was a Gotham show. Everything was risky, dangerous and brilliant. Which meant that there was nothing underneath the Graysons when they fell.