Janet MacIntyre was smoking in her car in the high school parking lot. It was, for a lot of reasons, infinitely preferable to eating in the cafeteria. She missed out on lunch, but the cigarettes kept her from getting hungry, so it wasn't as bad as it could have been.
Just one more year and she'd never have to see any of these people ever again.
She nearly screamed when the passenger side door opened, and someone sat down next to her. She didn't recognize him. She had, unconsciously, started holding her cigarette like she was planning to stab him in the eyes with it. He looked at the cigarette. He looked at her.
He was clearly another student, but he was fucking huge. Maybe on the wrestling team. If it hadn't been for the small amount of baby fat still softening all the edges of his face, she might have confused him for a teacher. He dressed like a teacher.
"Sorry," he said. "In retrospect I can see how that might be unsettling for you." Army brat, maybe. Something about the way he talked, or the way he carried himself, or the way his eyes bored holes into whatever he was looking at. Stiff as a board with a nail in it.
"No fucking shit," she said. "Get the fuck out of my car."
"It'll only take a minute."
"I don't care what you've heard," she said, "if you don't get the fuck out of my car I'll set your fucking face on fire."
He was taken briefly aback, confusion only clear in a split-second dip of his eyebrows and blinks that fell out of sequence. "I — no. I'm not — I need you to tell me what he looks like."
She didn't know how she could tell that he was exasperated, because his expression had barely changed since he'd sat down. "I don't know anyone's names, I don't know what anyone looks like. I don't go to games. I could check last year's yearbook, but everyone looks different already. I need you to point him out to me."
An anxious twisting in her gut that she couldn't quite pinpoint. "What are you talking about?"
"I know his name's Tyler Sinclair, I know he's the quarterback. I don't know what he looks like or where he sits during lunch. That's why I'm here."
She sucked on her cigarette even though it would make her nausea worse and not better. "Who the fuck are you?"
"Don't worry about it."
"I'm worrying about it," she snapped.
The upward flick of his pupils did not quite count as a roll of his eyes, and yet. "Bruce Wayne."
"What?" It was the kind of question that was more about disbelief than a lack of understanding. "The rich kid?"
Something in his jaw twitched. "Yeah. The rich kid."
"Aren't you a sophomore?" Being shorter than a fucking sophomore felt like an insult.
"Are you on the wrestling team?"
He frowned. "I'm in chess club. Sometimes the debate team."
"It's complicated. Your cigarette just went out. Can we go."
She dropped the butt out the car window. "Can't you ask someone else?"
"Sorry," he said. "I'd be more comfortable if you pointed him out to me."
"Why? Why the fuck are you in my car, what the fuck are you even talking about?"
"The faster you do this for me," he said, losing his patience, "the faster I and everyone else will leave you alone. All you have to do is walk with me to the cafeteria and point him out. That's it. Can you do that?"
"Go fuck yourself," she said, more for his tone than what he'd actually said. She wasn't about to be patronized by some fifteen year-old. I and everyone else. She got out of her car, slammed the door and headed back toward the building. Bruce closed his door much less violently when he followed her.
"That isn't an answer." Teenaged boys weren't supposed to stand that tall, were supposed to slouch and gangle and be made mostly of knees. Unsettling, that was the word he'd used. He was fucking unsettling. A CEO in the body of a boy, walking like he had somewhere to be.
"I'll point him out because it's on my way," she said, "and after that you can leave me the hell alone." She did slouch, stomped in heavy boots, wore jeans that were falling to pieces over tights with holes in them. He wore a watch that was probably worth more than her car. Opposite ends of the spectrum, both entirely out of the range of what might be considered fashionable.
He didn't respond, just followed her in silence. She kept looking over her shoulder at him, unnerved to have him looming up behind her. He switched to walking next to her, but that just made it more obvious how much he had to slow himself down to match her pace. A fucking sophomore.
The closer they got to the cafeteria, the worse her stomach twisted, tried to wrap itself inside-out around her spine. But Bruce moved ahead of her suddenly, stood in the doorway so she was left grateful and resentful that she could hide behind him.
"Over there," she muttered, gesturing vaguely, as if to point with intent would somehow draw attention.
Bruce narrowed his eyes in the direction she'd indicated. "Which one."
"There are three redheads and two strawberry blondes."
She huffed, tried to look around him to get a better look at the person she least wanted to look at. "The — the blue shirt."
"Talking to the blonde?"
He started taking off his watch. "Thanks," he said as he dropped it into his pocket, started walking toward the boy in question.
"What—?" Janet started to follow him, although she didn't mean to, didn't want to be navigating through tables of talking teenagers. Bruce was rolling up his shirt sleeves, neat as could be. "What are you doing?" He was walking at his own pace, and so she felt like she was jogging to keep up with him. "Bruce," she hissed, "what are you doing?" But he kept moving, and she stopped before she came within ten feet of the table he was headed towards. She couldn't bring herself to go any closer.
"Tyler," he barked, and when he turned Bruce Wayne suddenly and without warning punched Tyler Sinclair directly in the nose. Janet recoiled, tensed, covered her face with her hands with an involuntary gasp of horror. The sound of it seemed to fill the room, although it couldn't possibly have, the unmistakable crunch of something breaking. Tyler staggered back as his friends moved away, joined the circle that somehow always formed like a wall around a high school conflict. Maybe they'd have tried to help him, if they'd had more time to process what was happening.
Tyler's retaliatory punch was a clumsy lashing out, and even though it made contact, even though she could hear it somehow over the clamor of shouting students, it wasn't obvious to look at Bruce. He didn't even move out of the way, just took the hit and then took Tyler's arm. Her eyes couldn't follow what Bruce did, maybe he was fast or maybe she was just confused and trembling, but Bruce's leg knocked Tyler to the ground and his arms twisted and Tyler screamed, a sound so deadly serious that it made the rest of the room quiet. By the time she could register that Tyler's arm was bent the wrong way, Bruce had pinned him to the linoleum and started hitting him with what could only be called precision. Again and again, and it wasn't even a fight, it was a massacre. How long had it even taken? One minute? Maybe two? And he wasn't stopping.
Janet was pulling on Bruce's shirt before she realized what she was doing, trying to grab his shoulder with hands shaking too much to function. "Bruce, stop."
And he did. Immediately. Froze with his fist still raised to look over his shoulder at her. His nose was bleeding. "You want me to stop," Bruce asked for confirmation, sounding exactly the same as he had before. Like nothing had happened, like his face and his knuckles and the front of his shirt weren't covered in blood.
"Stop," she repeated.
Bruce looked down at the bleeding mess he'd made of Tyler's face. "Okay." He stood, all one quick motion, and turned to leave exactly as as he'd come. The teachers hadn't even made it through the crowd yet. The crowd that swept closer all at once, converged on Tyler and left her feeling trapped and claustrophobic.
Janet jumped when someone grabbed her arm. Carly, acting much too friendly for the things Janet knew she'd been saying. "Janet," Carly asked, "are you fucking Bruce Wayne?" She looked thrilled by the prospect. Janet yanked her arm away, and when she went to push people out of her way they moved of their own accord. Gave her the same wide berth they were giving Bruce, who'd only stopped long enough to grab napkins off a table.
"What the fuck was that?" Janet demanded when she was close enough that he'd hear her. He was wiping blood from his face, from his hands, leaving a trail of crumpled red paper down the hall. "What the fuck did you just do?"
He covered his nose in napkins, covered those with his hand and then did something to make it crack again. This time he winced. Then he started to unbutton his shirt, like he wasn't walking through a school building. "Don't worry about it."
Someone should have been stopping them. A teacher, a security guard, someone. Except that he was Bruce Fucking Wayne, and he was walking like he had somewhere he needed to be, and it was like authority figures couldn't even see him. Their eyes slid right over him, looking for problems easier to solve, and as long as she looked like she was with him the aura extended to her.
"I don't even know you," she said, and she didn't know why she was angry.
"That's fine." He pulled off his shirt, and the blood hadn't seeped through to the undershirt beneath it. He tossed his shirt in the trash as he walked out the door to the parking lot. His knuckles were still raw, there were still traces of blood on his face; he spit blood onto the sidewalk.
"Why did you do that?" He hadn't even known who Tyler was, had never met him, but he'd beat him half to death like he hated him. But, no; hate wasn't that neat, that methodical.
"He deserved it." Like that was any kind of explanation at all. He pulled his watch out of his pocket to put it back on as he walked. His arms looked bigger without sleeves. The whole effect was off-kilter, expensive clothes and a sleeveless undershirt and minute traces of violence without even messing up his hair.
"You know what people are going to think now, right?" For the first time he stopped to look at her, and she had to skid to a halt because she'd been chasing him. "Why people are going to assume you did that?" she added, gesturing back toward the school. He said nothing, kept looking at her, and she realized he was waiting for an answer. "Everyone's going to assume that — that we fucked, or that you want to fuck me, or something. They already think it, by tomorrow the whole school is going to think we're a thing."
Bruce looked back at the school as he considered this. Then he looked back at Janet. "So?"
"So?" she repeated. "I don't even know you, what the fuck do you mean so?"
He shrugged. "People will leave you alone if they think it's true."
"That's not — no — I don't know, what the fuck even — do you? Is that what this is, do you want me to be fucking grateful or something?"
He started walking again, along the sidewalk and away from school. "Not really."
She followed him again, but didn't try to keep up or chase him. "You're fucking crazy," she called after him.
"Probably," he agreed as he crossed the street, just loud enough that she could hear him.
Janet stood on the corner and watched him leave.