Pairings/Characters: Bruce/Dick, Alfred Pennyworth, Natasha Romanoff, Clint Barton, Ollie/Dinah, Steve/Diana, Queen Hippolyta, Various Historical Figures And OCs
Continuity: DC Comics/Marvel Comics (The Avengers (2012)
Genres: Angst, AU, Drama, Historical, Holiday, Mystery, Romance
Beta: The Sparkling silvertales! :)
Artist: The Amazing ctbn60! :) Link to fanworks: Here
Artist: The Fantastic veinards! :) Link to fanworks: TBA
Rating : NC-17
Warnings: (Ch. 8, Anti-Semitism), (Ch. 8, 13: Racism, racist language (ethnic slurs)), (Ch. 13, 14, 17: Violence) (Ch. 17, 19 & 25: Use of the word Gypsy) (Ch. 20: Allusion to sexual assault) (Ch. 25: Memories of death by burning)
Summary: In Edwardian Europe, young American millionaire Bruce Wayne becomes enamored of a beautiful and brilliant ballet dancer, Dick Grayson, who falls for his charming suitor, but Dick’s mysterious past threatens to tear them apart.
LJ Dates Of Completion: October 11--June 23, 2014
A03/LJ Dates Of Posting: October 24, 2014/October 27, 2014
Disclaimer: I don’t own ‘em, DC does, more’s the pity.
LJ Word Count: 45,852
Feedback welcome and appreciated.
Author’s Notes: Written for the 2014 dcu_bang.
All chapters can be found here.
September 27, 1906
Like a vision
"Dance Of The Heart"
Rome was in its glory.
The golden light of early autumn suffused the lush countryside, highlighting the trees and vineyards. Snow-capped mountains reached up to touch blue skies as lakes shimmered in the clear air.
The ancient city stood proudly at the center of the old Empire and the new Italy. The ruins of the Colosseum lay sun-washed with ancient blood spilled in the sand. The great churches and the Vatican itself contained many of the greatest treasures of the art world as the city thrived with paintings and sculpture.
Music and dance also contributed to Rome’s greatness. Under the watchful eye of the Vatican, opera and ballet were permitted to flourish, in proper fashion, of course.
The elite of Rome attended the high arts while lower-grade productions catered to the masses. The grand productions attracted the wealthy and nobility of Europe and America. Even in 1906, the Grand Tour was still a staple of the American upper classes, or the Four Hundred, as the popular term went.
One such young man, Bruce Wayne of Gotham City, was in the middle of his Grand Tour. His manservant, Alfred Pennyworth, suggested attending Swan Lake that evening.
“Oh, Alfred,” Bruce said petulantly, “I’m tired of ballets and operas.”
The Englishman picked up the newspaper from the pier table in their lavish suite. “But, sir, this production is said to be one of the most exquisite in Europe.”
The brooding young man sitting in the silk damask-covered chair affected a bored air. Fresh out of Harvard, he was exceedingly handsome with glorious dark hair and suits of the finest cut and material that showed off his well-toned body to perfection. Midnight-blue eyes were a bit cloudy after a night of excessive drinking.
Alfred read, “’This cast is exceptionally talented as befits a troupe of rising prominence.’”
Bruce waved his hand dismissively. “Just a critic’s puffery.”
“Perhaps, but a night at the ballet would do you far better than another night at the local tavern.”
Bruce scowled at him but Alfred was unruffled. Ever since the murder of Bruce’s parents when he was eight years old, the butler had raised the man who was technically his employer. Complex, but every thing about Bruce fit that description. Alfred feared the anger that drove his young charge would mire him in a sea of drink. Distraction such as this Grand Tour could be just what his boy needed. Alfred put the paper back down on the table and said, “I shall ring for tea, sir.”
As the butler took care of ordering, Bruce idly picked up the paper. He read the ad for Swan Lake.
Alfred smiled as he watched Bruce in the wall mirror. He ordered white grapes, Bruce’s favorite variety of the fruit. He would have to see if the young master’s evening clothes were presentable.
The theater was grand with marble columns in the lobby and gold-framed, full-length mirrors reflecting glittering jewels and shiny top hats. Rich, wine-red velvet curtains were drawn across the stage in the inner chamber. A series of sparkling chandeliers illuminated the frescoed ceiling.
It was a beautiful theater. </i>La Scala</i> served as both opera house and ballet theatre; and tonight featured Swan Lake with rising young stars and a bona fide prima ballerina. Natasha Romanoff, cousin of the Czar, had danced for the Royal Family and other crowned heads of Europe. Bruce had to admit that was curious to see her.
Alfred accompanied him, dressed impeccably, as usual. Bruce knew that he cut a dashing figure in his evening clothes, complete with black silk cloak and top hat. He pulled off his white gloves and tucked them away in a pocket of his cloak.
The lobby was packed with Italian nobility and other European notables. A brunette in faun-colored taffeta smiled at him as she glided by on the arm of an older gentleman with a handlebar mustache and muttonchop whiskers. He smiled back as Alfred said, “Should we proceed to our box, sir?”
“Yes, I think we should.”
A red-capped usher was summoned and he guided them up to the box level. Alfred discreetly slipped the young man a tip and followed Bruce into the lavish box. Bruce approved of the comfortable velvet-covered chairs. Wine-red silk curtains gave them privacy as they settled into the chairs. A pier table cover in red silk damask with black tassels was set between them.
Below them were rows of chatting patrons and the curtained stage. The large curtains matched those of the box while gilt-edged decorations gleamed under the chandeliers.
Bruce idly read the program, admiring the elegant calligraphy. He skipped the synopsis of the ballet and read the list of characters. He didn’t bother to read the dancers’ names. The only one he knew was Natasha Romanoff’s, anyway.
A woman related to the Czar dancing the lead. Should be interesting.
The orchestra was tuning up as people continued to file into the chamber. The lights began to dim as they started the overture and the curtain rose.
The stage design was of top quality, Bruce observed. Glittering scenery of an ethereal quality gave it the fairytale aura that the ballet needed.
The first act opened and Bruce was impressed with the talent of the dancers. He had seen some of the finest troupes in Europe and knew his ballet.
Natasha Romanoff danced out on stage in a sparkling blue-white costume with a tiara that looked like diamonds, though they were probably fakes. Her long tulle tutu did nothing to hide her graceful movements as she danced and ‘sold’ her character to the audience. Bruce admired her talent. She was understated in her performance, but that made it all the more powerful.
Alfred was using his opera glasses. “Quite lovely,” he murmured.
Bruce had to agree. He had set his own pair of opera glasses on the pier table.
The lead male dancer appeared in a costume of blue-white glitter. Bruce’s jaw dropped as his stomach fluttered. The young man’s beauty stunned him. His strong, lithe body moved with a fluid grace that was otherworldly.
Bruce was having a difficult time catching his breath. His eyes never left the sparkling form as the young man danced with ease. He picked up his opera glasses with a shaking hand and trained them on the vision.
The young man wore make-up, which was to be expected for a ballet dancer during a performance. Some sort of black liner was rimmed around incredibly blue eyes.
What was it called? Oh, yes, kohl.
But the eyes captivated him. The cheekbones of the beautiful face highlighted some exotic blood, Bruce guessed. Blue-black hair shone under the lights as lush lips curved into a smile.
Every movement was so graceful that Bruce wondered if magic was responsible. Smiling at his whimsical thoughts, he watched as the dancer performed a powerful kick. Muscles rippled as the dancer moved, streams of light flowing out behind him as his costume glittered.
“He’s perfect,” Bruce murmured.
The curtain came down after the first act. Bruce barely had time to gather his thoughts before it went up again. The beautiful dancer was not on stage. He didn’t appear again as the curtain fell for intermission.
Bruce’s mind had been in a whirl all during the second act. Now as the lights came up, Alfred stood. “Refreshments, sir?”
“Would you mind bringing me back something? You know what I like.”
Alfred left the box and Bruce stared out at the stage. He had never felt this way before.
I believe the expression is pole-axed, he thought wryly.
Alfred returned with two glasses of wine and two cups of lemon ice. Bruce smiled slightly as he accepted the ice. The cold was delicious on his tongue.
“Quite a performance, sir.”
“Yes.” Bruce slowly ate his ice.
Alfred remained quiet as he sipped his wine and ate his ice. Bruce appreciated his wordless companionship as he struggled to emerge from the fog in his mind. What had just happened?
The intermission was over and the lights dimmed as the curtain rose and the orchestra played. Bruce leaned forward, desperate to see the vision again. He wasn’t reacting with pure lust. He wanted the man but it was far more than that, though exactly what, he wasn’t sure.
The vision appeared again and Bruce was totally enthralled. He flushed pink as he noticed the exquisiteness of the man’s buttocks encased in the revealing tights. Time meant nothing as he only had eyes for the graceful dancer.
When the ballet finished to loud applause and the cast took their bows, Bruce said, “I must meet him, Alfred.”
“Yes, sir.” Alfred exited the box.
As the curtain came down after several encores, Bruce shook himself. He grabbed the program and read the cast list.
Richard Grayson. The name sounded English or even American. That could be an opening.
The backstage area bustled with activity as Alfred led Bruce to the dressing room of Richard Grayson. Dancers and stagehands brushed by the visitors as someone called for help with the set. Someone else played a piano as a burst of laughter drifted down the hall. A delivery boy hurried past carrying a large spray of red roses.
Bruce knocked on the door and a melodic voice answered, “Come in.”
Bruce and Alfred entered a room filled with colorful costumes on portable racks and draped over chairs. A dressing table was littered with pots of greasepaint and make-up implements. A round table was covered in a large spray of yellow roses and a flat satinwood box edged in gold.
The vision from the stage was dressed in a gold lame dressing gown threaded with red and green. His feet were shod in golden slippers and his dark hair was shaggy and unkempt. His face still held traces of make-up and kohl was smudged around his eyes. He smiled and Bruce felt his stomach flutter.
“You must be Bruce Wayne.” He waved a graceful hand toward the table. “Thank you for the flowers and candy.” Amusement laced his voice. “Unusual to send yellow roses instead of red, and Canadian chocolates instead of Belgian or Swiss.”
Bruce glanced toward Alfred and silently thanked him. “I’m glad you like the gifts, Mr. Grayson. They’re well-deserved.”
“Call me Dick.”
Bruce was a little startled by the easy informality. In his experience, Europeans were not as quick as Americans to give out their first names on an initial meeting. In fact, Europeans considered it a failing of the New World. “Too familiar,” they sniffed.
Dick’s voice held the faintest hint of an accent but his English was impeccable. Bruce realized he had no idea about the dancer’s background.
It’ll be fun to unravel his mysteries.
“All right, Dick. This is my trusted right-hand man, Mr. Alfred Pennyworth.”
“Pleased to make your acquaintance, Mr. Grayson.”
Dick nodded, accepting Alfred’s British reserve as to his name. “Let me offer you a seat, gentlemen.”
“I’d like to compliment you on a fine performance, Dick.”
The dancer bowed slightly. “Thank you.”
“I’d like to invite you to supper.”
Dick’s smile remained bright but Bruce could see his apprising look as he cleared a straight-backed chair of costumes. Alfred gratefully took a seat.
“A generous invitation, Mr. Wayne. Are you sure?”
“Bruce, please.” He knew exactly what Dick was asking. Inviting a ballerina was one thing but a male dancer? Despite the gifts, he was giving Bruce a chance to back out gracefully. European nobility and American wealthy could be capable of unconventional romances, but one still had to be discreet.
“Very sure. I have a carriage waiting outside.”
“Right to the point. I admire American bluntness and efficiency.”
“Dickie, darling, do you have a spare eyebrow pencil? Oh, sorry, I did not know you were…entertaining.”
The prima ballerina of the troupe was a vision of loveliness in a taffeta dressing gown, beaded slippers and disheveled red hair. Her make-up was gone, but she still looked exquisite.
“Don’t worry about it, Natasha. Gentlemen, may I present Miss Natasha Romanoff, prima ballerina.”
Alfred rose and Natasha smiled at him and turned to Bruce. “Dahlink, our lovely boy has many admirers. Such talent, our Richard.”
“Yes.” Bruce looked at Dick and bestowed a charming smile upon him. “May I count on your presence for supper?”
“And may I request your presence as well, Miss Romanoff?” Bruce asked.
She waved her hand airily. “Oh, thank you, dahlink, but I have plans. I will see you at rehearsal tomorrow, tovarich.”
She swept grandly out of the cramped room and Dick laughed, a beautiful sound. “She is deserving of the title prima ballerina.” He ran a hand through his hair. “It’ll take me awhile to change. Please go on ahead. I have my own transportation.” Dick picked up a tissue and wiped around his eyes. “Where shall I meet you?”
“Ah, good choice.”
Bruce left the dressing room and he and Alfred put on their cloaks and top hats. As Bruce pulled on his gloves, he said, “You’re welcome, too, Alfred.”
“I know, sir, but for your first outing together, you should be alone.” Alfred squeezed his shoulder. “I am returning to the hotel. Enjoy your supper.”
As Alfred set off at a brisk pace for the hotel, Bruce entered the carriage. He instructed the driver to head to Primo’s.
He dearly hoped that Dick would come. He had to come.
CHAMPAGNE 'N' OYSTERS
Sir Edward Snockerbee
"My Travels Through Italy"
Bruce sipped his champagne while eating oysters. He kept glancing at the entrance of the dining room, trying to keep calm. He had been waiting for half an hour. Had Dick changed his mind? Theatrical people were notoriously flighty. Was he playing him for a fool, amusing himself at the expense of an invert? It was always a risk when indulging in this certain taste. A few times blackmail had been attempted with former liaisons, but he had managed to fend the blackguards off.
As he ate another oyster, he thought about his situation. Surely a man of the ballet would not be offended by such attentions. Most male dancers were enamored of their own sex.
At least I’m thinking rationally again. I was getting too wrapped up in this.
Maybe he should leave and consider himself lucky not to get involved. Finish his oysters and go, that was the ticket.
A mild stir went around the room and Bruce looked up to see Dick standing in the entrance. He seemed to sparkle as he scanned the richly-dressed patrons. He wore a mandarin-style outfit of gold threaded with red and green. He wore no hat but green gloves and a gold cloak. He spotted Bruce and walked in, smiling at those who sent him admiring looks and ignoring those whose expressions were disdainful.
Bruce stood. “I hope you don’t mind. I ordered champagne and oysters to start.”
“No, I don’t mind at all.”
Bruce took half the oysters from his plate and put them on a fresh plate, handing it to Dick. He poured a glass of champagne and slid it across the pink tablecloth.
The restaurant was decorated in pink and red, paintings of vineyards and other Italian landscapes on the walls. There was nothing quite like Italian food, and Primo’s was one of the best restaurants in the city. Dick ate his oysters with relish, sipping the champagne like a gentleman.
The waiter brought menus and Dick scanned his as he pondered his choices. Bruce easily read the Italian menu. A cultured gentleman of his class knew French, of course, and Italian was necessary for understanding opera and other high arts.
“I’ll have the catch of the day and pasta primavera with the tomato soup to start,” said Dick.
“Excellent, sir.” The waiter spoke English so Bruce answered in kind. “Barley soup, please, and veal scallopini.”
“Yes, sir.” The waiter quickly wrote the orders down. “May I suggest a salad, sirs? The tomatoes were just brought in from the country.”
“I’ll have the same,” Dick said.
Bruce ordered the wines for the entrée and after the waiter departed, he said, “You read Italian.”
“I speak it, too.” Dick shook out his napkin and placed it on his lap.
“What other languages do you speak?”
“French, Romanian, Hungarian. I know some Greek.”
“Ancient or modern?”
Dick laughed. “Just modern. I’ve no Greek tablets in my wagon.”
Bruce sipped his champagne as the waiter brought piping-hot bread and a small bowl of olive oil. Dick cut a piece of bread and dipped it into the oil.
“Mmm, the best olive oil in the world is here in Italy,” he said.
“I agree, though the oil of the Holy Land is close.”
“You’ve been to Jerusalem?”
“Briefly. I was temporarily part of an archeological expedition in Egypt and took the opportunity to visit before I went to Greece.”
“We don’t have plans to tour Africa,” Dick said regretfully. “I should so like to see the pyramids someday.”
“Perhaps you can.”
Dick looked up through incredibly long eyelashes. He had applied a fresh lining of kohl but the rest of his face was freshly-scrubbed. Nothing about this man was conventional, apparently.
“So, how does Rome compare to Gotham City?” he asked.
Bruce paused in the act of dipping his bread. “You know where I’m from?”
“Well, you’re American, first and foremost, and I know you’re from the House of Wayne in Gotham.”
“We don’t have formal Houses in the States,” Bruce chuckled and took a bite of the oil-soaked bread. It was delicious, of course.
“So no House of Mirth?”
“I’ll tell Edith you’re a fan.”
Dick’s eyes sparkled over the rim of his glass. “I’d be honored.”
Their salads arrived. Bruce appreciated the firm, vine-ripened tomatoes and crisp lettuce. The house dressing was tangy and rich.
“Have you been dancing long?”
“All my life, but only for the last four years professionally.”
Bruce hid his surprise. Four years and already a lead dancer? Well, he’s immensely talented. I just hope he didn’t have to sleep his way to the top.
He knew that despite the fame and admiration directed toward ‘theater people’ in the States, some people considered actors and dancers little better than whores. They were supposed to be promiscuous but Bruce knew that generalizations were a fool’s bet.
“So what languages do you speak?” Dick asked.
“Me? Well, French, of course, and Italian. I know German and a little Greek. I know classical Greek better than modern Greek.”
“I suppose you know Latin?”
“Oh, yes. Latin and Greek are required at school.”
“Of course.” The soup arrived and Dick began eating it while it was hot.
Bruce sprinkled some pepper into his soup. The barley and chunks of potato were fresh. “So if you went to Greece you’d be okay?” Bruce asked.
“Enough to get by.”
Bruce wanted to ask so many things, but it was too soon to pepper the man with questions. He had to be patient.
It’s so difficult. He’s so beautiful. I must have him! I want to know so much about him.
The entrees arrived and the conversation turned to the sights of Rome. Bruce took notes of the places that Dick mentioned: the Fountain of Trevi, St. Peter’s Cathedral, and the Colisseum, among other places.
The meal ended with a cappuccino and spumoni, a square of vanilla, chocolate and strawberry ice cream. Bruce sipped the rich drink and asked, “I’d like to see you tomorrow.”
Dick took a bite of spumoni. “I am engaged tomorrow evening. The next evening, too,” he said before Bruce could ask the inevitable question.
“What about luncheon?” Bruce asked, curling his fingers tightly around the handle of his cup.
“I can do luncheon the day after tomorrow.”
“Monday it is, then.” He finished his cappuccino. “May I escort you home?”
“Thank you, but I can see my way home.”
Playing hard to get? Bruce didn’t let his dismay show. He had to be patient. The wait will be worth it.
“ONE DAY A ZOUAVE WALKS INTO THE COLISSEUM…”
With the cries of those
Who saluted Caesar
And spilled their blood
Upon the sands.
Sir Alan Embree
“My Roman Gods”
“So how did your intimate supper go last night?”
Dick laughed as Natasha entered his dressing room. Both were clad in their dressing gowns after a vigorous rehearsal. “It wasn’t all that intimate.”
“I am sure that Mr. Moneybags would have liked to change that.”
Dick leaned against his dressing table with crossed arms. “Moneybags, huh?”
“He is loaded, dahlink.”
Dick smiled. Natasha was clever and amusing. He was especially amused by the way she would thicken her accent around outsiders. She loved to keep people guessing.
“I know. His family is very wealthy.”
“Did you know that he is called the Prince of Gotham?”
“Really? America doesn’t have Princes.”
“They do not. But if anyone fits the title in America, this Bruce Wayne does.”
She took a small metal case out of her pocket and tapped one out into her hand. She lit it with a match from a book from one of her favorite clubs and blew a ring of smoke. Women were not supposed to smoke but actresses and ballerinas were not proper, respectable women in the eyes of society.
“He is certainly as handsome as a Prince,” Dick said.
Natasha shrugged. “Beauty does not mean he is not a jerk.”
“Is that what the grapevine says about him?”
“The grapevine says that his family practically owns Gotham City and that he is aimless despite a shiny Harvard education.”
“His parents were killed right in front of his eyes,” Dick said quietly.
Natasha’s gaze upon him was sympathetic. “Do not let that fog your common sense.”
Dick pushed away from the dressing table. “I’m not a fool, ‘Tasha. I’ve played this game before with rich suitors.”
“And you have done well, tovarich, gathering jewels and furs and all sorts of sparkly baubles, but you gave your heart a time or two. Those ermine-clad and lace-trimmed fops threw you aside without a second thought.”
Dick picked up a greasepot from the table and stared at the blue contents. “I won’t make that mistake again.”
“I hope not, tovarich. You deserve far better than these effete parasites.”
Dick chuckled as he set the pot down. “Watch it, my friend, you’re part of that class yourself.”
Natasha snorted. “I contribute to society.”
Dick took hold of her hand and brushed his lips against hers. “You contribute to me.”
A knock on the door broke them up. “Come in,” Dick said. One of the stagehands delivered a note.
“Who is it from?” Natasha asked.
That night Bruce watched Swan Lake again and intended to go backstage but Alfred gently laid a hand on his arm and said, “You have an engagement planned, sir. Wait until then.”
“Yes, yes, of course.” Bruce wiped his brow with a monogrammed handkerchief. “Thank you, Alfred.”
Alfred kept his face carefully neutral as he watched the young man with the incredible talent walk into the restaurant. Unlike the description of the outfit that Bruce had given him after the late supper at Primo’s, Dick seemed to make an effort to be a little more conventional, though it was not completely successful.
His coat and trousers were a dark-red, borderline-acceptable, but he also wore a pale yellow vest with glittering gold buttons and a canary-yellow scarf casually tossed around his neck. Sparkling green cufflinks added an even odder accent than the scarf. He wore no hat or gloves.
He could see Bruce’s fashion sensibilities cringe. His young charge might chafe at some of the restrictions of his class, but good fashion sense was not one of them.
Dick smiled as he reached the table. “Mr. Pennyworth, a pleasure to see you again.”
Alfred responded to that sincere charm. “I may say the same.”
Dick’s smile shone even brighter. As he sat down he said to Bruce, “Thank you for sending around your carriage today after you sent me that note yesterday.”
As the meal progressed Alfred observed the flamboyant young man. He was cheerful and exceedingly charming but the butler sensed a reserve.
He is wary. Once burned and twice shy?
He was well aware of High Society’s attitudes toward the theatrical world. It was all right to dally with the glittering personalities of the stage, but they were ultimately cheap distractions to be discarded when gentlemen grew tired of them.
He was not sure what the future held. Bruce was clearly infatuated with the nubile dancer, but the heir to the Wayne fortune could not openly be enamored of another man, especially a dancer. His charge was not above dalliances. Gentlemen were expected to enjoy such diversions, but they were also expected to marry and produce the next generation of heirs. He saw no happy ending for these two.
The next engagement was another luncheon, the restaurant chosen by Dick this time. It was a bohemian little café on the edge of St. Peter’s Square. Bruce and Alfred had dressed for a midday engagement but Dick didn’t even bother to try and tone down his outrageousness this time. He wore dark purple jacket and pantaloons of pale yellow and matching shoes. His scarf was the canary yellow one from yesterday and he capped it off with a jaunty purple fez and resembled nothing more than a Zouave.
Bruce and Alfred exchanged meaningful looks. Bruce nearly laughed at Alfred’s despair. It was doubtful that they could ever corral this free spirit into high-buttoned shoes and tight vests.
He’s definitely his own man.
Dick was smiling brightly in the warm Italian sunshine. He seemed to soak it up as he tilted his head toward the sun. Slipping into a seat at the sidewalk table, he said, “So glad you could come.”
“We wouldn’t miss it,” said Bruce.
The lunch was a mixture of Italian and North African cuisine. Dick seemed very relaxed. He knew the owner and waiters and chatted with them as they stopped by the table. He seemed to sparkle in the sunlight. Bruce’s heart rate sped up. He was too beautiful for this world.
I want him so much, but I want to know him.
Dick was extremely animated today, which endeared him even more to Bruce. Their meals together had been enjoyable, but he wanted to go the next step. After the lunch was over, he saw his opportunity.
“Let’s visit the Fountain of Trevi.”
Dick’s face lit up. “Let’s!”
Alfred stood. “If you will excuse me, gentlemen, I have an engagement of my own this afternoon.”
“Enjoy yourself, Alfred,” said Bruce.
Dick smiled. “Good afternoon, Mr. Pennyworth.”
Alfred bowed slightly. “Good afternoon, Mr. Grayson.”
After the butler’s departure Dick said, “He’s a treasure.”
Pleased at the insight, Bruce agreed. “Thank you for lunch.” He stood. “Shall we go?”
“Of course.” Dick rose, leaving a generous tip on the table.
They engaged a carriage to travel to the Piazza di Trevi and Dick hopped out and ran to the fountain, leaning over and splashing his hand in the water. “It’s such a wonderful work of art.”
“It’s not the only amazing work of art I see.”
Dick threw an amused look over his shoulder.
Bruce had to agree with Dick’s observation as he viewed the old fountain. It was ornately baroque and of exquisite quality. The fluid movement of the stone people and horses reminded him of Dick: exquisite yet still looking as if in motion while motionless.
The sculpture was also sternly Roman unlike the idealized Greek statues that he had seen in Athens. Watching Dick and his carefree movements, he thought of the perfect statues. Dick could pose for one and fit right in. He licked his lips as he watched Dick bend over.
The fountain was attracting all kinds of sightseers, proper genteel ladies with Brownie cameras and gentlemen with handlebar mustaches and canes. Peasants in scruffy homespun hurried by on their daily tasks as children gamboled around the edges of the fountain, dipping their hands in and squealing as they splashed each other. Mothers scolded them and dragged them away.
“Let’s go back to the square and feed the pigeons,” Dick said cheerfully a half hour later.
“All right,” Bruce said in fond amusement.
Back at St. Peter’s Square Dick ran through a flock of pigeons, sending the birds scattering. Dick laughed as he ran with outstretched arms.
“Isn’t it wonderful?”
“Flying. These birds have the freedom to fly anywhere. Wouldn’t it be something if man could fly?”
“Well, the Wright Brothers did it three years ago at Kitty Hawk. Their physics are quite sound.”
Dick looked back at Bruce. “Scientist and archeologist? What other secrets do you possess, Bruce Wayne?”
Bruce smiled. “I would welcome you trying to find out.”
Dick’s gaze was speculative but he quickly covered it with a smile. He danced through the square and began to shuffle backwards, utilizing perfect balance.
“We need to engage another carriage.”
“And why do we need to do that?” Bruce teased as he kept pace with his companion, walking forward to meet his backward steps.
“We must go the Piazza del Colosseo.”
“And what is at the Piazza del Colosseo?”
“Why, the Colisseum, of course!”
“Of course.” Bruce smiled with fond indulgence. He was quickly becoming captivated by Dick’s whimsy.
He engaged a carriage and they were off to the piazza. Their carriage artfully dodged wagons and pedestrians as it rattled over the cobbled streets, jarring their bones. Bruce didn’t care. He was sitting close to Dick as the carriage jounced and their shoulders brushed. He could smell a faint scent of cologne.
Dick watched the parade of people and wagons with avid interest. His zest for life stirred long-dead emotions in Bruce. He desperately wanted to take hold of Dick’s hand right now.
He stared down at the hand: strong, with slender fingers that rested on the ridiculous pantaloons. He took a deep breath and covered it with his own hand.
Dick looked up, startled; then a slow smile spread across his face. He turned his hand up and squeezed. Bruce felt a glow of happiness as the carriage rumbled through the streets.
The Roman Colisseum was impressive from the outside. It towered above them and held the patina of incredible age. Bruce was eager to explore.
They nodded to the guard at the entrance and entered the Colisseum and looked up at rows upon rows of crumbling, weather-worn seats. The grand scope of the place took Bruce’s breath away.
“Imagine being in this arena, saluting the Emperor in front of cheering crowds,” said Dick in a dreamy voice as he crossed an arm over his chest in the ancient Roman salute.
“And get eaten by lions.”
Dick laughed and he looked at Bruce with a mischievous smile. “That’s just the Christians.”
Bruce pretended to ponder, his finger tapping his chin. “You’d look really fine in a Roman toga.”
Dick’s eyes sparkled. “I could say the same.”
Bruce stopped himself from puffing his chest out like a preening peacock but was pleased at the compliment. “I use the same exercise program as the Olympic athletes.”
Dick performed a slow pirouette on the sand. “Oh, yes, your countrymen did exceptionally well in Athens in 1896.”
“We didn’t do too badly in 1900 and 1904, either.”
Dick sped up his pirouette and laughed as he said, “You Americans! Always boasting and bragging.”
Bruce looked around but they were alone in the vast Colisseum. He grabbed Dick’s arm and gently pulled him forward and kissed him. For one thrilling moment Dick kissed him back, then slipped out of his grasp and danced away like an elusive will-o’-the-wisp. He turned and held out a hand.
“Come dance with me.”
“I’m not a ballet dancer.”
“No, a waltz.”
Bruce was comfortable with a waltz. In fact, he was very good at ballroom dancing, even on the uneven sands of the Roman Colisseum under a bright blue September sky.
They danced in perfect sync, whirling and two-stepping as they enjoyed the sun-warmed arena. Dick’s brilliant smile was fast becoming the best thing that Bruce had ever seen. He had never felt this way before. He had enjoyed liaisons in the past but had never been this enchanted by anyone, man or woman.
What sorcery have you cast upon me, my darling sprite?
Dick brushed his lips against Bruce’s and Bruce pressed him close with a hand on the small of his back. When they parted, Dick looked a little lost but quickly covered it with a dazzling smile.
“Do I look like a Zouave?”
Bruce chuckled. “You do. You could have been one of Garibaldi’s patriots.”
“Didn’t men wear Zouave uniforms in your Civil War?” Dick put some space between them as they danced.
“They did in the beginning but quickly realized that Union blue or Confederate gray or butternut was far more practical than bright red-yellow-and-blue. It’s always best not to make too inviting a target for sharpshooters.”
“You would have made a dashing soldier.”
“Why, thank you, my dear.”
Dick appeared pleased at the endearment.
When they finished dancing, they sat in one of the rows and looked around the amphitheater. “Imagine living two thousand years ago, watching the contests here of gladiatorial combat,” Dick said.
“Some people think only slaves fought as gladiators but there was a time when freemen fought, winning prizes and fame. The slaves who did fight often won their freedom if they survived.”
“I wonder what it was like to live back then.” Dick propped his chin on his hands.
“Probably a struggle to survive unless you were wealthy, but that’s true of any era.”
Dick smiled at Bruce fondly. “You have a very practical way of looking at the world for a rich socialite.”
“Thank you.” Bruce ran a hand through his dark hair. Alfred would be mentioning that it was time for a haircut soon. “I’d like to think I’ve got more to me than parties and fashion and the latest gossip at the gentleman’s club.”
Dick gently closed his hand around Bruce’s forearm and squeezed. “You’re a lot more than that.”
Bruce looked at him and they shared a smile, entwining their fingers as they sat companionably in the warm Italian afternoon sun.
Mrs. Albert Braddock
Gotham City Socialite
The Gotham Gazette
The courtship went well as Bruce and Dick met each other for lunches, late suppers, and sightseeing. Bruce was patient. He had courted women of his class where sex was not on the table, so to speak, because respectable women did not sully their reputations by sleeping around. A few were willing to chance it as long as extreme discretion was employed.
He knew it could be different with Dick. Ballet dancers had no reputations to protect. People considered them promiscuous to begin with, and sexual liaisons were not surprising.
Bruce disliked such attitudes but society in many countries held the same thoughts. Propriety and appearances were so important. He would have liked to chuck all the constraints.
One evening after a performance, Natasha finally accepted an invitation to supper. Alfred also came, which pleased Dick. He had a fondness for the butler and Bruce was glad of it. Alfred was important to him and he expected respect for the elderly gentleman. Dick was more than happy to give it.
So was Natasha. She charmed everyone as she turned heads in her sparkling green outfit with the smartly-tailored jacket and skirt, her jaunty little hat perched on her red hair as she entered the restaurant and headed for their table. She wore dark-green kid gloves and pulled them off with long, elegant fingers as she sat down at the table. Her accent was thick but he could understand her, Bruce thought with relief. He didn’t want any misunderstandings with this close friend of Dick’s.
“So I told Alexei, you would do well to curb your spending on lavish parties and look to the serfs as the potato crop did not do well this year. He split the difference and hosted a ball while distributing food to the serfs.”
“So he did the right thing,” Dick said as he dipped his warm bread in olive oil.
She shrugged and Bruce said, “He did temporarily but the system is precarious.”
“Exactly,” Natasha said as she waved her fork at Bruce. She looked at him with new respect. “You understand economics?”
“To some extent. I have a good teacher.” Lucius was patient and smart, and Bruce was laying the groundwork for appointing him to a prominent position in the company. He had to go slowly since Lucius was a Negro, but he was determined to go through with it. He smiled at Alfred’s approving expression. “I do know that there comes a tipping point when very few have most of the resources and the rest are forced to scrape for survival.”
Natasha drank her wine and nearly slammed the glass down on the table. “Da, da! Keep crushing people under your heel and they grow desperate.”
“That’s an enlightened attitude, Miss Romanoff.”
“You mean considering that I am part of the ruling class in Russia?” She laughed. “I enjoy the fruits of my status but that does not mean I do not find the system fair or safe.”
She leaned forward conspiratorially. “There are those who would plot to change it.”
She said no more on the subject and the conversation turned to other things, and later on Alfred excused himself to go to the men’s room while Dick went over to a table of admirers for a quick chitchat.
“You are more observant that I originally thought, Mr. Wayne.” Natasha lit a cigarette and lazily blew a ring of smoke.
“Thank you.” Bruce took out a cigar and lit it, not bothering to ask Natasha’s indulgence since she was smoking herself.
Natasha’s eyes glittered as she gazed at Bruce through a haze of smoke. “Just be careful with our mutual young tovarich. He is a beautiful talent but I would hate to see him hurt.”
Bruce smiled. “I will certainly do my best never to hurt him. He’s…special.”
“He’s lucky to have a friend like you.”
She blew another ring. “He is fine tovarich.”
Bruce had no intention of hurting Dick, but it was a good thing, because he had no desire to cross one Natasha Romanoff.
The ballet troupe had some free time as the opera company took over La Scala. Bruce seized the opportunity and invited Dick to leave the city with him.
“I’ve rented a villa in Tuscany. Come with me and we can enjoy the countryside.”
“That’s certainly tempting.” Dick looked down at his bag of peanuts that Bruce had bought him as they walked through St. Peter’s Square.
Bruce put his hand under Dick’s chin and tilted his head up. “Be tempted.”
Yearning shone in Dick’s eyes. “All right.”
The villa in Tuscany was worthy of the Prince of Gotham. Carrera marble was the stuff of the outer and inner Ionic columns, the grand staircase and balustrade, the floors and mantelpieces. The furniture was dark oak and solid, the draperies wine-red velvet, and crystal chandeliers glittered in the foyer and dining room.
“Beautiful,” Dick murmured as they entered the villa.
“A fine choice, Alfred.” Bruce set his valise down. The bulk of his and Alfred’s luggage was still in Rome in their hotel suite.
“Thank you, sir. I shall see to the unpacking and check out the kitchen.”
Bruce said to Dick, “Let’s explore the gardens after we bring our baggage up.” Etiquette dictated that he should leave his valise to Alfred but he’d be damned if he did such a thing. He and Dick were strong and healthy and there was no reason except convention to not bring up the luggage themselves.
The upstairs bedrooms were spacious with comfortable beds and the same sturdy furniture. There was a well-stocked library and a spacious back veranda that overlooked lush gardens.
Bruce chose the master bedroom as his own. Dick and Alfred would select their own rooms and Bruce hoped that this idyll in the country would result in Dick sharing his bed.
He changed and refreshed himself, choosing an informal outfit of faun-colored trousers and waistcoat, white silk shirt without an ascot, and simple jacket. He decided against high-buttoned shoes and slipped his feet into comfortable Italian loafers. It was good to dress casually, he thought in satisfaction.
He waited in the gardens, admiring the brilliant colors of the flowers in the golden autumn sunlight. There was a different quality to the light out here in the country. It was softer, more golden. No wonder painters raved about the light in Italy.
“Alfred says he’ll have lunch ready in forty-five minutes,” Dick said as he approached.
Bruce admired the unusual pants that Dick wore: bright yellow and tight. His matching shirtsleeves were puffy and his vest was embroidered in red and green with a touch of blue. He looked like a gay peasant out for a stroll.
“Are those pixie boots?!”
Dick grinned. “Of course!” He put his hands behind his back and danced a little jig in the yellow slippers.
Bruce shook his head fondly as he picked a yellow rose and handed it to Dick, who took it with a smile and sniffed it. “This place is beautiful.”
“It suits you.”
Dick’s smile grew coy. “Ever the flatterer, Mr. Wayne?”
“I should hope so, Mr. Grayson.”
They examined the flowers and Dick straightened up, looking at the fountain behind them. A nude young man tilted a water pitcher and the water spilled out in a sparkling miniature waterfall.
“The style is Greek.”
“Hmm, I see what you mean. Idealized.” Bruce studied the statue. “Excellent work.”
“I guess the villa’s owner prefers to the Greek style over the Roman one.”
Bruce appreciated the smooth, clean lines of the statue. The young man’s hair curled endearingly around his neck. His lips curved into a slight smile and he could swear that he could see a hint of mischief in the calm eyes.
“Let’s go to Florence,” Bruce said suddenly.
“Florence?” Dick’s interest was piqued. “That’s a treasure trove of great art at the Accademia.”
“You’re right, and one of the greatest statues in history is located there.”
Excited realization dawned in Dick’s eyes. “Michelangelo’s David!”
“Yes, let’s go as soon as possible.”
They stayed out in the gardens until lunch was served, full of plans.
Florence bustled with people going about their business while Bruce and Dick entered the city in a handsomely-appointed carriage the next day.
“Perhaps we should have engaged an automobile,” Bruce said.
Dick was eager to follow that suggestion. “They’ve had some crackerjack races, starting in Uffizi.”
“Yes, I hear there’s a Grand Prix in Paris next spring.”
“Should be exciting.” Dick cocked his head. “Have you ever raced?”
“I’ve done a little back in America. Automobiles are fun to tinker with.”
“Do you own any of those Indian motorcycles?”
“I’d love to ride one of those!”
The carriage jounced on the narrow, winding streets and Bruce made note of their conversation.
They arrived at the Galleria dell’Accademia on via Ricasoli. Bruce and Dick alighted from the carriage, both wearing daywear. Bruce’s was proper with dark-blue morning coat, trousers, blue-and-white striped waistcoat, and fashionable homburg.
Dick was wearing his wine-red suit with a rose-pink waistcoat and spats. He had made an effort to coordinate his colors, and Bruce appreciated it. He consulted his gold pocketwatch, attached to his waistcoat by a gold chain.
“We’re on time.”
“Thank you, Peter Rabbit.”
“You’re thinking of Alice In Wonderland’s rabbit.”
“Of course.” Dick grinned.
“Director Tetrazzini said he would meet us at eleven.”
“For a private showing?”
Dick grinned again as the director emerged from the ornate building. A short, balding man with a pleasant smile, Director Antonio Tetrazzini was dressed conservatively but wore a pink carnation in his buttonhole for a splash of color against black broadcloth.
“Ah, Mr. Wayne, so glad you could come. The Galleria will open at one, so you have a few hours to enjoy the Michelangelo in private.”
“Thank you for the private showing.”
“You are quite welcome, Mr. Wayne. Your work on the board of the Gotham Art Museum is well-known to me. Come, let us go inside.”
The Galleria dell’Accademia was all marble and tasteful accents like polished floors, teakwood tables and art that was magnificent to see: busts and paintings and vases, intermingled with portraits of men and women of prominence throughout the ages, patrons of the arts. They crossed the foyer floor under the watchful gaze of St. Michael and passed the impressive Michelangelo group piece, the Prigioni. The writhing, despairing prisoners were impressive in their expressions and anatomy, but it was a depressing piece and Bruce decided to re-visit it later if they had time.
Mr. Tetrazzini led them down several corridors until they approached an open area with a high, round ceiling. They could see the statue from afar, and Bruce eagerly followed the rotund director. Dick was just as excited next to him and Bruce quickly squeezed his hand before releasing it as they entered the special gallery. The director discreetly left them alone after smiling at their reactions.
It was a stunning work of art, much more impressive in person that the photographs Bruce had seen. The perfect anatomy had been sculpted by human hands of great talent and the sense of strength and power was breathtaking.
“Look at his hands,” Dick murmured.
Bruce absorbed every detail as he gazed upon the statue. David’s expression was a matter of interpretation, of course, but he thought he appeared contemplative. His grasp of the slingshot could mean he was preparing to battle Goliath or had just defeated him. The ambiguity intrigued Bruce.
“All that power, coiled to strike,” said Dick. “Cleverness and cunning over brute strength is attractive.”
“So brawn doesn’t do it for you?”
“Brawn’s important, but brains will triumph.” Dick walked around the statue. “I like the combination.”
Bruce studied the statue. “He certainly has that combination.” He slid his glance toward Dick. The dancer wasn’t brawny but his legs were powerful and his torso was well-developed. He had to lift full-grown women during his routines. Granted, ballerinas tended to keep their weight below average, but they were not light as feathers, either.
The statue also intimated that David was graceful in his movements. The way he looked at rest was very much like Dick, who was the epitome of grace.
Damn, you’ve got it bad, Wayne.
“I’ve got my Kodak. Pose for me,” Bruce asked.
Dick smiled and struck a pose with the statue of David behind him. As Bruce focused, he could not honestly say who was more perfect.
The next day, Bruce and Dick went out on a picnic. They rented horses from the local stables and Alfred provided a picnic basket. Bruce approved of Dick’s horsemanship.
“You’re a skilled rider.”
Bruce wondered if Dick’s family had owned horses, or had he worked as a stableboy? Bruce realized that he knew virtually nothing about Dick’s past.
“Where did you learn to ride?”
“Friends of mine kept horses.”
When Dick didn’t elaborate, Bruce started to ask another question. His companion suddenly cantered ahead on the path. Bruce raised an eyebrow. Obviously Dick didn’t want to talk about his past. It made for an intriguing mystery.
Dick turned halfway in the saddle and waved. “Here’s a good spot.”
Bruce agreed. The venerable old maple tree in the middle of the meadow was golden in its fall colors. The grass was strewn with leaves and offered a soft cushion to sit on the ground. They tied the reins of their horses to another tree but gave the animals plenty of slack to graze.
“Let’s see what we’ve got,” Dick said as he opened the basket. He had laid out a red-checked tablecloth and handed Bruce a blue willow china plate. “Ah, the classics: fried chicken, potato salad and rolls. And apple pie!”
“Simple but delicious.”
“Alfred is certainly a treasure.” Dick poured wine into glasses and they enjoyed their lunch, appreciating the crisp chicken sprinkled with spices, cold potato salad with dill, and cinnamon-dusted apple pie. They placed the remains of their meal in the basket.
“Mmm.” Dick stretched out under the tree, resting his head on his interlaced fingers. “I’m feeling lazy.”
“Are you now?”
“Yes.” A strong breeze blew and a shower of leaves rained down.
“Here, you’ve got a leaf in your hair.” Bruce leaned over to pluck it out.
Dick looked up directly into his eyes and Bruce suddenly leaned down further and kissed him.
For a heart-stopping moment there was no response, then Dick kissed back. His lips were warm and soft, parting for Bruce’s tongue. Dick moaned slightly, causing heat to pool in Bruce’s groin. Slender arms slid around his back and encouraged him to settle carefully on top of the smaller man.
Bruce’s thumbs caressed Dick’s jaw and throat. He proceeded to kiss him from lips to throat to chest as he unbuttoned the shirt. Dick shivered as he caressed Bruce’s back. Bruce’s hand wandered down to Dick’s hip. He lifted himself off the dancer and slipped his hand down those ridiculous pants.
“What do you call these pants?” he asked between nips of Dick’s stomach.
“Harem pants,” Dick gasped.
A wolfish grin appeared on Bruce’s face. “Ah, yes. So you’re part of my harem?”
“Well, I’m not a eunuch guard, that’s for sure.”
Bruce threw his head back and laughed. The horses whinnied but returned to their grazing.
The harem pants were tight and required Bruce tugging and Dick lifting his hips, but they finally got them off. His underdrawers were short but much easier to remove, exposing an impressive example of manhood.
Bruce gave the bobbing cock an admiring pat before he began serious stroking. He’d given hand jobs before, and Dick was enjoying his ministrations. His head tossed from side-to-side and his eyes squeezed shut. Bruce put all his skill into running his fingers up the hard column of flesh, tugging gently on the balls and running his fingers along the tip of the cock. Dick’s whimpers spurred him on to the next step.
Dick’s eyes snapped open and he looked down between his spread legs. “Br…Bruce, you don’t have to…”
Bruce didn’t respond as he busily sucked his lover’s cock. Dick writhed beautifully beneath him as slender fingers tangled in Bruce’s hair. He thrust his hips up as Bruce sucked harder.
“I’m ready to…!”
He spurted into Bruce’s mouth and the millionaire swallowed, liking the unique taste of his lover. When he released Dick the younger man looked up at him with glittering eyes.
“Let me return the favor,” he said in a husky voice.
Bruce groaned as Dick touched him between his legs. Nimble fingers unfastened his trousers and pushed them and his underdrawers down, exposing his cock. He shivered in the cool air but a warm hand soon grasped his member and squeezed lightly. Pleasant tingles went through his body as Dick manipulated him skillfully, urging Bruce closer until his cock hovered over the dancer’s mouth. A nod from Dick and Bruce lowered his cock into Dick’s willing mouth.
Sensations of pleasure thrummed through his body as warm wetness encased his member. He was very close to the edge as he shivered with lust. He looked down at Dick and lost it, coming hard with a shudder that left him exhausted and seeing stars.
They wordlessly held each other for a long time during afterglow before cleaning up and returning to the villa.
What followed were golden days and passionate nights. Bruce was happy until their final night in Tuscany and Dick told him that the ballet company was leaving for St. Petersburg in two days.