A/N This one-shot was written in response to a challenge to explain why Bruce said about Princeton, "I like it fine. They just don't feel the same…"
Rated T for mature themes.
Disclaimer I do not own Bruce Wayne. The original characters in this story are completely fictitious. I intend no slight against Princeton University, which, I am sure, is a fine institution.
Bruce Wayne slouched in his chair in front of the desk, his dark hair falling into his eyes, his expression unreadable.
The expression of the man behind the desk was also impassive. He had neatly cut iron gray hair, an impeccable suit, and a severe tie – in his own way, he was as formidable as a fully armored crusader. "In view of last night's…unfortunate events," he said slowly, "I am sure you will understand why I am asking you to voluntarily withdraw from the university."
Wayne gave a cynical half sneer. "'Unfortunate events'? Is that how you're wording the press release?"
The dean didn't flinch. "Yes," he said evenly. "I'm offering you a fair deal, and I would strongly advise you to take it."
"A fair deal? You get rid of me and I… What do I get, Mr. Sturgeon?"
"If you leave now, without fuss, you escape a black mark on your record which would prevent you from ever being accepted at any other prestigious university. And believe me, Mr. Wayne, Princeton's marks are very black indeed."
Wayne laughed softly, shaking his head. "Unfortunate events."
- - - - - -
The day before...
Donny DeVino, pawnshop proprietor, was carefully arranging a tray of rings beneath the glass countertop when the bell over the front door jingled. He looked up to see a tall kid wearing a tuxedo under a long, tan trench coat. Not his most usual kind of customer, but Donny saw a lot of different people in his line of work. "Can I help you?"
The kid gave him a long, even look from a pair of frozen blue eyes, and Donny repressed the urge to shiver. It took a lot to unnerve him, but something about this guy was making him nervous. "Maybe," the kid said before dropping his gaze to the glass case. Somehow, Donny wasn't surprised when his attention rested on a snub nosed pistol.
"The gun," he said, pointing. "How much?"
"A hundred and seventy-five bucks," Donny said tersely. "You got ID? You wanna buy a gun, you gotta have ID and register for a license."
The kid pulled out a wallet – a thick, sleek, genuine leather wallet. "Three hundred, you said?"
Donny's eyes shifted nervously about the store, ensuring that they were alone. He couldn't afford any trouble (the cops had already come nosing around twice in the last month ) but business was business. "Cash," he muttered.
"Of course." The stranger laid three hundreds on the counter. Donny snatched them up and stuck them out of sight before pulling the gun out of the case, thrusting it into a paper bag, and crumpling the top down.
"You got any bullets for that gun?"
Scowling but not quite willing to argue, Donny fumbled in a box beneath the counter, where he kept odds and ends of ammunition, and found three shells of the right caliber.
The kid nodded his approval. "That's enough." He tucked the bullets into his left pocket and stuck the gun in its paper wrapping into the right.
"You wanna receipt?" Donny asked sarcastically, angry that he was so rattled by some rich twit who probably didn't even know how to load the thing.
The kid smiled faintly. "Funny guy." He caught Donny in another of those freezing stares, the kind that cut right through a guy's skin like a hot switchblade. "Have a good night."
"You too," Donny muttered, and watched the kid's retreating back, hoping it was the last he'd ever see of him. Getting subpoenaed as a witness in a murder trial was not good for business.
- - - - - -
"Hey, have you seen Bruce?" Randy Morris demanded of his fellow senior. The guy shook his head as the line into the lecture hall inched forward. Randy scanned the crowd worriedly, watching for the tall form of his roommate. Bruce had ducked away as they left the restaurant, muttering something about an errand and that he would meet them there, although what errand he could possibly have in Oxenforde, New Jersey was questionable. They were here on a faculty-supervised outing to attend a revisionist lecture on the Revolutionary War (required for their philosophy of history class), and as far as Randy knew, this was Bruce's first time in the picturesque New England town.
He was nearly up to the doorway of the lecture hall (which was part of a small college built on a pseudo-oxonian model – severe gray stone walls around a quadrangle of carefully manicured lawn, topped with gently peaked roofs and guarded by four corner towers) when he finally spotted the tall form in the tan trench coat shoving its way through the crowds. "Bruce!" he shouted, waving. His roommate waved back and redoubled his efforts to force a path through the crush.
"What is with these people?" he demanded as he joined Randy in line. "No way some kook trying to prove that Paul Revere's Ride is really the product of capitalist oppression is this popular."
"I don't know," Randy answered doubtfully, looking at the serious faces around him. "New Englanders take their history pretty seriously."
Someone shoved hard up against Randy's back, causing him to stagger, and a voice spoke uncomfortably close to his ear. "We're not really going to go in there, are we?" Jake and Craig Torres, brothers and members of the same fraternity Randy and Bruce belonged to, scooted around, creating a huddle. "If I really wanted to sleep I would have stayed home," Jake said frankly.
"It's not like Fitz will even notice that we're gone," Craig added. "He's too doing a number on Laura Hume. Probably wants her term paper for his next article."
Randy tensed. You didn't say things like that out loud, even if they were probably true, about a professor as important as Gerald Fitz. The man was the darling of the history department and had the power to get you blacklisted from every graduate school in the country. Furthermore, the Torres brothers were notorious for ending up in the dean's office. He glanced at Bruce, hoping he would veto the idea, but his roommate only shrugged. "I'm game. What did you have in mind?"
"Something not involving poetry. Or history." The brothers began shoving their way back toward the street exit of the quadrangle, Bruce close behind. Randy cast a longing look at the congested entrance to the hall and reluctantly followed.
They found a club less than a block away from the college. Jake wanted to bypass it on the grounds that it was called Benjamin Franklin's, but Craig argued that having a history just meant something was mature, and not all mature things were bad – wine and women, for example - so they went in.
It was relatively quiet (if you discounted the shuddering bass throb of the music) because of the early hour. The dance floor was only half full and there were actually tables available. The brothers ordered cocktails, but Bruce picked up an entire bottle of Smirnoff. Randy didn't get anything, convinced they were going to need at least one sober head before the end of the night.
"Did you see the new lecturer in the English department?" Craig asked as they settled into a table on the edge of the dance floor.
"Is she hot?" Jake demanded.
"She's a dog. Except for the legs. If there was only a way to detach the legs from the rest of her…"
Randy slouched in his chair, watching his roommate worriedly as he tossed back his second shot and poured his third. Bruce was always hard to read, but lately he had been very mercurial, swinging back and forth between reckless enthusiasm and dark meditation. It wasn't hard to guess at the reason why – the impeding release of the notorious Joe Chill had been plastered across the news for two weeks – although Bruce hadn't confided in his roommate. Actually, Randy reflected, he didn't think Bruce had ever confided in him about anything. They shared a living space, partnered up on frat service projects, and occasionally even studied together, but when it came to anything personal Randy knew only as much as he had read on the tabloid covers.
An hour and a half later, Bruce was two thirds of the way through his bottle and Craig was more than two thirds smashed. Jake had disappeared fifteen minutes earlier to order more drinks, but the club was filling up, and Randy couldn't spot him through the crowd.
"Maybe we should think about heading back," Randy suggested. "The lecture should let out before much longer."
"Heading back?" Craig laughed loudly. "The party's just getting started, Randy boy. Hey, Bruce, your friend got a curfew or something?"
Bruce's glittering eyes slid back and forth between his two companions. "He's got a GPA," he said, before tipping back his glass.
"Oooh, that's right. Dean's list, aren't you Randy boy?"
Randy sighed inwardly and didn't respond. If all that happened that evening was a "hassle the honor student" session, he could handle it. There were much worse things. Like that. Jake was finally returning, and he had a girl on each arm. One blond, one brunette, both dressed in fishnet and little scraps of leather.
Any faint hopes Randy had had of returning the four of them to the rest of the students and the bus back to Princeton vanished.
"Ladies," Jake drawled, "my brother Craig, Bruce, and…" he paused, looking blankly at Randy.
"Randy," Randy supplied wearily, looking away in disgust. Hookers definitely weren't his style. On the bright side, they weren't Bruce's either, so maybe the two of them could ditch the Torreses.
"Right. And this is Shawnda," he pulled the blond closer, "and Tani."
The brunette walked over to Craig's chair and locked her fingers in his hair, tilting his head back. "Brother huh? You're cuter than he is."
Craig gave a dazed grin. "Buy you a drink?"
"Sure." She dropped into the chair he abandoned, and turned her gaze on the other men at the table.
Randy pointedly ignored her. "Hey Bruce, let's get out of here," he suggested. "No point in missing the bus."
"Oh, don't go," purred Tani, leaning across the table toward Bruce so that her already exposed cleavage became even more obvious. "You look like the kind of guy who knows what a girl wants."
Bruce just looked at her, his hand curled lightly around his glass. She got up from her chair and slunk around the table, avoiding Jake and Shawnda who were now attached at the lips. "How about it? Let's get rid of your friends and head back to my place." She swung her leg up and straddled his lap, burying her hands in his hair. "I like you. You look…dangerous."
"Hey!" Craig had returned, drinks in hand. He slammed the glasses on the table, sloshing half their contents over the edges. "Whater you think y'r doin? She's with me."
Bruce, still sitting as motionless as he had when Tani first started talking to him, just looked at him.
Craig smacked a heavy hand on Bruce's shoulder, and the girl scrambled out of the way. Bruce didn't flinch. "I said whater you doin?"
Moving deliberately, Bruce gripped Craig's hand and thrust it off his shoulder. Craig stumbled back into the table, sending glasses crashing to the floor. He staggeringly regained his balance and started forward. "I'm gonna…"
"Hey!" The bouncer loomed over them, massive in his neat suit. "You guys have a problem, you take it outside. Now."
Randy breathed in the cool night air gratefully as they filed out under the watchful eyes of the door guard. Maybe the chill breeze would blow some sense back into everyone's head.
"She was with me," Craig snarled, grabbing Bruce's collar, but the taller man shook him off easily.
"Hey," Randy snapped, placing himself between them. "It's not worth fighting over."
"She was with him," Jake agreed, his arm still around Shawnda's waist.
"What if I don't want to be with him?" Tani snapped.
"She doesn't want to be with you," Jake echoed, looking at his brother.
"Yes, she does." Craig tried to dart around Randy.
"We'll race for it," Bruce said, speaking for the first time.
Randy looked at his roommate and was alarmed by the look of excitement on his face. "Let's just…"
"There," Bruce interrupted, pointing across the street to where a tall tree stood against the gray stone walls of the college. "Up the tree and around the roof tops, she's with you. If not…" He grabbed Tani's wrist and jerked her close. "She's with me."
The girl whimpered and tried to twist away. "Ow, you're hurting me!"
"I thought you liked them dangerous."
"Let her go," Randy snapped, stepping forward. Bruce shot him a freezing glare, but Randy's immense relief he released the girl's wrist. She scuttled backward out of reach.
"You want a piece of the action too, roommate?" He looked over at Jake. "We'll all have to race. Teams of two."
Jake dropped his arm from Shawnda's waist and grinned. "I'm in."
"This is stupid. It's cold out here. I'm going back in," Tani whined. She turned and stalked back into the club. After a moment of hesitation, Shawnda followed her. Randy was the only one who noticed they were gone.
"All the way around?" Craig asked intently, excitement restoring a small measure of his sobriety.
"Back to the tree. Randy and I go to the right. You guys go to the left."
"You can't go running around those rooftops!" Randy objected. "You're too drunk, you'll break your necks!"
Bruce looked at him, a little mocking smile playing about his mouth. "Am I too drunk? Or am I not drunk…enough?" He turned back to Jake and Craig. "Ready?"
"Yes, but is Randy boy ready?" Craig demanded. "It's already past his bedtime."
"I don't think you've realized that the girls are gone. What's the point?"
The statement made no effect on the other three. "Are you in or not?" Jake demanded.
Randy glared at the three of them, thinking they deserved to be abandoned to break their necks. "I'm in." They might deserve it, but if one of them did fall and he could have prevented it by being up there…
They climbed the tree and transferred themselves onto the first section of gently sloping roof. "Go!" hissed Jake and they took off in opposite directions. Bruce tore ahead, leaping sure-footedly over the shingles. How his balance could possibly be that good when he had a liter of vodka inside him, Randy had no idea, but he was hard put to keep up. A couple of shingles gave way beneath his feet, and he cringingly listened to their crashes below, certain that security would find them any moment.
But they made it to the first corner without problems. Navigating around the corner towers proved challenging, calling for a leap of four feet across open space, but Bruce took it without hesitation, landing neatly, and Randy was forced to follow. He hit a little too close to the edge and swayed dangerously before a hand jerked him roughly forward. "Thanks," he gasped, but his partner was already charging ahead, down the second side. They managed the second corner and passed Jake and Craig. Randy began to hope that they were going to get away with this after all, that no one would see them, that they would all climb safely down the tree and get on the bus. That was before his roommate began to sing.
Only a charitable person would actually call it singing. It was really a painfully off key bellow that rang off the stone and bounced menacingly around the quadrangle.
"Whiskey is the life of man. I'll drink whiskey when I can…"
From the opposite wall came an answering shout. "Whiskey-o, Johnny-o, bring her up from down below!"
And to Randy's horror, Bruce stopped running. He climbed up to the ridgepole and balanced there, waving his arms as if directing a massive choir. "I like whiskey hot and strong, I'll drink whiskey all day long."
"I'll drink it hot, I'll drink it cold, I'll drink it new, I'll drink it old," Jake Torres joined in, also stopped. Craig was still running, and Randy watched his silhouetted figure navigate the final corner and make for the tree.
"Bruce," Randy begged, climbing up to the ridgepole but staying out of the way of the flailing arms. "We're going to lose, we gotta go!"
"Whiskey made me sell my coat. Whiskey's what keeps me afloat!"
There were people pouring into the courtyard now; the lecture must have been dismissed. They stopped and craned their necks back to stare up at the rooftops.
"Whisky killed my sister Sue, whiskey killed my brother too!"
"Bruce Wayne!" The distinctive voice of Dr. Gerald Fitz boomed out of the crowd. "Come down this instant!"
Bruce finally stopped singing and peered down at the ground. "Are those the dulcet tones of the sterling Dr. Fitz?"
"Come down before you break your neck!"
"Ah, that would be a pity, wouldn't it?" Bruce shouted back. "Because you'd have one less student to do your writing for you, wouldn't you? Not to mention your research."
Randy groaned. Whether or not the accusation was true, Dr. Fitz was a star. He could make or break a student, and Randy definitely suspected he would not be pleased by this very public denunciation.
"Wayne!" screamed Fitz. "Get off that roof, now!"
Bruce looked like he was thinking about it. Randy edged forward. "Why don't we…"
Below them in the street, a fire truck siren wailed. Randy jerked, lost his balance, and fell, skidding toward the edge of the roof. He grabbed uselessly at the tiles, heard himself screaming as he plunged into space…
…and was caught short by a grip on his arm. He looked up and saw Bruce half on and half off the edge, one hand clenching Randy's own arm, while the other held desperately to some projection on the roof. His face was contorted with pain and the cords on his neck stood out with the effort.
No way he can keep holding us, a strangely rational corner of Randy's mind commented, but the rest of his brain was seized with a bizarre sense of confidence. Bruce wasn't going to let him fall. The assurance evaporated as abruptly as it had come as whatever Bruce had been dangling off of snapped, and they both plunged down into the firemen's net.
- - - - - -
The next day...
His interview with the dean over, Bruce walked slowly back to the frat house and climbed the stairs to his room. He had just been the next thing to expelled, but he felt unconcerned. Detached. He had already been scheduled to leave for Gotham today, and he wouldn't have been coming back. This just made it a little more official.
Randy was sitting by the window, his dislocated shoulder in a sling. "Well?" he asked, as Bruce came in.
"The invitation has been extended for me not leave and not return," he said, smiling wryly.
"I'm sorry." Randy looked awkward, apologetic.
"For what?" Bruce asked, picking up his bag that was already packed with shirts and socks and bullets. "I'm the one who should apologize. You could have been killed."
Randy shrugged. "You didn't force me onto that roof. And I wasn't even drunk."
Bruce looked at his roommate, feeling as if for the first time he was seeing past the nerdy kid who always did his homework and followed the rules to a guy who stuck up for a prostitute and wouldn't his let his stupid drunk friend go up on the roof alone. They might really have been friends, if things were different.
If things were different… He shook his head impatiently, banishing the thought. No more indecision, he told himself. No more hesitation. But still… "Thanks," he said. "For everything."
Randy nodded. "Sure. And good luck with…everything."
Bruce nodded, picked up his coat, and left.
A/N Hmmm, I don't think I've ever written anything quite so sordid before. Welcome to the seamy side of university life :P
Please read and review the rest of the challenges! Also, for readers of Dark Horizon, the e-mail alerts are screwed up again, but the last chapter has been posted. Go read and review that too!
Have a great Thanksgiving!