Bruce lay on his bed reading. He'd gotten back from Gotham earlier in the day, and was surprised to see that Lex hadn't returned yet. He'd expected Lex to be back before him, sprawled on the bed reading some history of the Trojan War and complaining about his dad. He'd figured they'd have time for a round of fencing practice tonight, or at least he could show Lex the new move that he'd added to his martial arts routine. Bruce hated to admit it, but somewhere inside he was disappointed. He'd gotten used to having Lex around. Having someone to go to meals with, work on homework with, laugh about stuff with. The whole roommate thing hadn't been such a bad idea after all. He was glad he'd let Alfred talk him into it.
Sure, Lex was loud and sometimes obnoxious and way too cocky for his own good, but he knew lots about history and mythology and warfare. Bruce still wasn't certain that Alexander the Great had really single-handedly defeated an entire army at Thessalonia or that his best friend Hephaestion had died from sorrow when his commander was defeated, but Lex was so confident in his story-telling that Bruce didn't have the heart to argue. Besides, when Lex got going on a topic, he was pretty interesting to watch. Bruce sometimes just sat back and listened while Lex stormed the Acropolis or opened Pandora's box. He liked listening to Lex. Somehow it seemed to keep the shadows away.
Bruce rolled over and checked his clock. It was almost curfew and still no Lex. He wondered if something was wrong. It was probably nothing. Lex's parents were important people and sometimes getting a kid back to school on time was not as important as the newest merger or a conference call. Bruce understood a little something about business. His father had never seemed to stop working, and Mr. Luthor seemed kind of the same way. At least a little.
Bruce sighed and reached for the light. He missed hearing Lex's breathing across the room, the occasional heavy wheezes when his asthma was bad. He'd teased Lex about snoring and had been informed that Luthors didn't snore. Bruce had borrowed a tape recorder from the school library and recorded him the next night and played it back to him in their room before breakfast. Lex had narrowed his eyes, walked calmly over and pulled the plug on the recorder and pitched the thing through the screen of their window. Bruce had stared open-mouthed, trying to figure out how he was going to explain the broken machine to the school's librarian. Lex had patted him on the shoulder and reminded him that Luthors didn't snore. Then he'd sauntered out the door and down to breakfast. Bruce had never brought up the subject again.
Bruce closed his eyes and tried to pretend that Lex was there, that he was just a few feet away and sleeping peacefully. Somehow it helped him to sleep to know that someone was there. It helped keep the nightmares away.
When Bruce's alarm went off the next morning, he shook off sleep reluctantly. His dreams had been dark and full of wings. As he sat up, he immediately looked across the room. Lex's bed was empty and still neatly made. Lex hadn't come back yet. Bruce felt a tiny shiver of fear burrow into his stomach.
At breakfast, Bruce was surprised when two of the older boys sat down flanking him. He looked at them quizzically.
"So, Wayne, what do you think of your new freak-show roommate?"
"What are you talking about?"
"Luthor. Guess he had an accident. Rumour has it he's bald as a baby."
Bruce glared, but his stomach tightened into a hard knot. "You shouldn't listen to rumours."
Another boy came along just then and threw a copy of The Daily Planet on top of Bruce's breakfast tray. "It's not a rumour when it makes the front page." The other boys got up and walked away snickering. Bruce picked up the paper and stared at the headline. "Luthor Heir Caught in Smallville Meteor Shower: Loses Hair."
The Inquisitor was less tactful: "Heir Without Hair," and featured a picture of Lex obviously taken through a window at the hospital. He was lying on his side, tubes connected to him, absolutely bald. Bruce didn't know how to feel.
It had been a week since the meteor shower, and Bruce was still without a roommate. He'd tried calling Lex, but had been told he was still recovering and couldn't speak with anyone. He'd even broken down and asked Alfred to call, figuring that Mrs. Luthor might be willing to give Alfred an update on Lex's condition. Unfortunately, Alfred had only gotten as far as speaking to the head of the household staff and as such the information that Alfred had gotten was nothing more than what had already appeared in the press. Alfred apologized profusely and said he would see if he could find out anything further on Master Lex's situation.
It was well after curfew when Bruce heard the sound of a helicopter landing on the school's front lawn. A half hour later, footsteps and low voices in the hallway outside his doorway. Bruce thought he recognized the headmaster, the school doctor, and Lionel Luthor. If Lex was there, he wasn't making a sound. Bruce hoped he was there. He'd missed him. He hadn't realized how lonely the school could be without Lex–Lex who gave everyone private nicknames, who always did his homework in a blind rush right before curfew, who never knew when to keep his mouth shut.
The door was pushed open and a beam from the hallway cut across his bed. Bruce held his breath and pretended to be asleep.
"No, don't," Lex said softly. "You'll wake Bruce." Bruce could only assume Lex was gesturing to the lightswitch as he spoke. There was a murmur of adult voices, and the sound of a suitcase being set down.
"I'm tired. I just want to go to bed," Lex said, and he really did sound exhausted. Something in his voice tugged at Bruce's heart. Lex was like family, like the best friend he'd never known he wanted.
"Call if you need anything, son," Lionel said quietly. "I'll just have a word with the doctor and Headmaster Reynolds, and then I'll be heading home."
"Goodnight," Lex said, and shut the door behind them. Bruce listened as Lex undressed and crawled into bed.
"You okay?" Bruce asked, unable to be silent anymore.
"Yeah. I knew you weren't asleep."
"How could you tell?"
"I don't know–I just can. So, you heard, I guess."
"About the meteor shower? Yeah. It was all over the news."
There was a brief silence.
"I don't have hair anymore."
Bruce threw back the covers and moved across the room. He sat gently on the edge of Lex's bed. He could see Lex sitting cross-legged against his pillow.
"I look like a chemo kid. Like some freak from the cancer ward."
"Will it grow back?"
"They don't think so. They don't really know."
"Does it hurt?"
Lex seemed to think about that. Bruce could see him run one hand subconsciously over his bare scalp.
"No. It just feels weird. Cold."
Bruce nodded. That made sense. Hair was a natural insulator, and Lex had had a lot of it. Bruce grinned as he thought of the thick red hair.
"What?" Lex asked suspiciously.
"Guess I can't call you ‘Red' anymore."
"You never called me Red."
"Not to your face," Bruce said lightly. "Can I call you–"
"Lex," Bruce reached out and touched Lex's arm gently. "I don't care."
"You don't think it's weird?"
"Well, yeah, it's weird, but you've always been weird."
"Gee, thanks. You've known me a month and a half."
"Yeah, well, I learn fast."
"That's not what Mr. Farnsworth says in science."
Bruce reached around and pulled Lex's pillow out from behind him. He swatted Lex across the knees.
"Can I touch it?"
Lex paused and there was nothing but silence. "I guess," he said. Bruce reached out an unsteady hand and touched Lex's head. It was smooth and bare, absolutely soft to the touch.
"It doesn't hurt?"
"Tickles a little. It's pretty sensitive." There was a pause and Bruce pulled his hand away. "You think I'm a freak?"
Bruce sensed that this was a serious question. "No more than you were before."
"It's like getting a badge that says ‘beat me up.' I tried to get them to let me stay home, but he insisted I come back to school."
Well, it was really no surprise that Mr. Luthor had insisted on Lex coming back. Bruce could almost hear him saying, "Son, you have to face this like a man. You're a Luthor." He'd heard Lex mimic his father's voice and mannerisms enough time to know exactly what Lionel Luthor sounded like when he was trying to make his son do what he wanted. Bruce felt a wave of relief that he couldn't quite explain. He knew that school was going to be an even greater hell for Lex from here on out, but somehow, he just wanted Lex close by. Things felt better when Lex was around. Bruce was just getting used to having a friend, and he wasn't ready to give that up.
"No one's going to beat you up. I've got your back."
"Yeah, and who's got your back?" Lex asked doubtfully.
Bruce grinned. "You weren't here. I made new friends."
Lex stared at him, trying to see if he was kidding or not. "You replaced me?" Lex said. He tried to make it sound like a joke, but his voice was shaking. Before he had time to think about it, Bruce reached out and patted him on the leg.
"No. I was kidding. It's just you and me."
Lex nodded. He pulled his pillow up into his lap. With his pale skin and bald head, he looked like an infant. It was going to take some getting used to. Bruce realized he was staring, and he dropped his eyes.
"I know it's weird," Lex said softly. "I know I'm a freak."
"You're not a freak. If you keep talking like that, you're on your own."
Lex looked up into dark, determined eyes. "It's going to be awful," he whispered. "I don't think I can face everyone."
"You can. But you'd better get some sleep."
Lex nodded automatically, but didn't move. Bruce crawled off the bed and went back to his own. He pulled the covers up around him and tried to see what Lex was doing. He thought he might have wiped at his eyes. Bruce bit his lip. It was going to take every ounce of Luthor bravado to get Lex through this. He felt helpless.
"Do you have nightmares?"
Lex looked up sharply. "Everyone has nightmares. Why?"
Bruce took a deep breath. He would give Lex something–the only thing that maybe he could give him that would help. He wasn't very good at this–being friends with someone–but he understood about honour and saving face. His father had read him stories about the great samurai warriors and how losing face was practically the worst thing that could happen. Showing weakness could mean the difference between life and death. Lex had been warned about being weak his whole life, and now without his hair, he'd lost some of his armour. He needed to not feel weak–or at least to know he wasn't alone.
Bruce steadied his voice and whispered across the darkness. "I have nightmares. A lot. About the night my parents died." The room was absolutely still. "I–I can't always remember them, but I wake up a lot."
Bruce could hear Lex's breathing. It was shaky, an echo of his own. "I know you know, Lex. I know I wake you up sometimes. You pretend to be asleep."
"You can't help what you dream," Lex said, too casually. His voice was tight with fear and understanding.
"I just–just wanted to tell you. In case I wake you up. I think, maybe, I might want to talk about it sometime, you know?"
Lex's head bobbed in the moonlight. "You'd want to talk to me?"
"Well, we're friends, right?" Bruce said. He saw Lex nodding as he slipped his legs beneath the blanket and pushed his pillow into place.
"Yeah. We're friends." Lex sounded as surprised about that fact as Bruce felt. But they both knew that it was true. They were friends.
"And friends talk about stuff. Even ... stuff they wouldn't talk about with anyone else." Bruce knew he was whispering, but he didn't care. He felt like he'd talked more this evening than he had the whole first six weeks of school. It was exhausting. "Even nightmares."
"Sure, you can talk to me," Lex said, trying to sound confident, older. His face was unreadable in the darkness, but his voice trembled ever-so-slightly.
"And if you ever have nightmares," Bruce plunged ahead, "I guess you can talk to me too."
"Okay," Lex murmured. "If I have any nightmares." Bruce had heard the stories about Lex being the only thing that survived the devastation in the cornfield. He'd read all the newspaper articles where they talked about the sky falling. Maybe Lex didn't dream about knives and wings and moonlit streets, but cornfields and meteor showers couldn't be any more pleasant. This was common ground.
Lex seemed to struggle for a moment before finding the right words. "If you need me, you can wake me up, you know. If you're scared. That would be okay. I–I wouldn't think you were acting like a baby or anything."
"I know. And you too," Bruce added. "If ... if you ever wake up scared. With a nightmare ... or anything. Even your asthma."
Lex snickered. "No more asthma. Haven't needed my inhaler once since the shower."
"Really?" Bruce didn't understand the connection. It sounded like Lex didn't either, but Bruce had spent more than one night listening to the other boy wheezing hoarsely, trying to catch his breath after a particularly strenuous fencing practice.
"Yeah. Asthma's just gone. Like it was never there. Kinda like my hair." Bruce could hear Lex's grin across the room, and it felt good. Like Lex might get through this and still be Lex.
"So, I guess if you were a bird, you'd be a bald–"
"Jerk!" Lex said, settling down into his sheets.
"And I guess your favourite music would be ‘Night on Bald Mountain'?" Bruce caught the pillow that was thrown at his head. He grinned and threw it back.
"I"m going to get enough of that crap from everyone else without you leading the way," Lex said, but there was no anger in his voice.
"Just want you to be ready," Bruce offered.
"Yeah, well, I'm sure no one will be as funny as you. G'night, Bruce."
"Go to sleep, Lex."
Bruce could hear the clock ticking softly as he closed his eyes. Lex's breathing was slow and even. Bruce was almost asleep when a whisper caught his ear.
"Thanks for not being a total jerk."
"It's okay," Bruce whispered back without opening his eyes.
There was another pause, and it felt like Lex was holding his breath. "About the nightmares?" he said. "I–I might wake you up sometime."
"I wouldn't think you were being a baby or anything. It's okay," Bruce said. "We're friends."
"Yeah, we're friends," Lex repeated.
Bruce didn't know exactly what it meant to be friends. Lex was really the first friend he'd had, and Bruce didn't care if he was bald or scared or even that he was a Luthor, and Luthors were dangerous people. Bruce understood Lex, and he thought that Lex understood him pretty well too. It was a rare thing. Friendship. But Bruce had a feeling that it was something he was going to count on more and more in the days ahead.
He closed his eyes and slept. With Lex back, the night was void of dreams.