Disclaimer: The Easter Bunny did not put ownership of either Warner Brothers or DC Comics in my basket. BAD BUNNY!
Location: Chicago's J'onnverse
Sequence: Uncertain. Later then now. Before Dick makes Detective. Letís wait on the DCU.
"Soon enough, Miss Cassandra." Alfred Pennyworth picked up her abandoned basket, straightening a few of the wired bows. "The two younger groups will go first."
The teenager frowned. "They find!"
"Not all six thousand eggs." Barbara Gordon rolled over." I hardly think you need all that chocolate."
"In any case, all the eggs are empty." Bruce Wayne added. "The children will exchange them for their prizes at the entertainment tent."
Barbara looked interested. "To prevent food poisoning?"
"And to prevent the permanent infestation of my lawn."
Bruce stepped up to the French windows that overlooked the East Lawn. It was quiet - finally. From sunset to nearly dawn the long expanse of lawn had been swarmed by pageant workers setting out the props for the Forty -Second Annual Wayne Foundation Easter Egg Hunt. Spotlights on the East Lawn. Chalked out parking on the North. It seemed that no corner had escaped conscription for some purpose.
Even the more residential South Wing had been infiltrated by the prize committee accountants. They had needed his secure computer and phone lines to confirm the winner of the ten thousand dollar 'lucky egg.'
Thank god that Dick and Barbara had agreed to come for the 'event'. Otherwise Bruce's dinner amusements would have been a choice of reviewing this years color scheme (pastels - hardly a shock) or hearing the new laws pertaining to 'your chances of winning'.
It was nights like that that made Bruce wish his club soda really was something stronger.
Afterwards, one of the ad agency executives had waylaid them all with a video presentation featuring past winners. Charming, in it's way. Children always were. Bruce suspected it would do wonders for Wayne Charities upcoming round of fund raisers. It did nothing for his ennui.
Pity. If it had been less 'precious', perhaps the video could have bored him all the way to sleep. As it was, he left just tired enough for the non-stop noise shift an unusual night off from vacation time into insomnia.
By midnight his single desire had been to escape to the Cave. There, at least, he could get a decent night's sleep. Unfortunately that refuge had been firmly sealed off. With dozens of strangers permitted in the house overnight there was just too much risk of discovery.
It was three am before Bruce finally managed to force himself into his usual three hours of unconsciousness. Not that the rest had significantly improved his mood. Why ever had he allowed himself to be talked into hosting this event at his own house?
He knew the answer, of course. With Lucius gone, he needed to reestablish Bruce Wayne as the visible head of the Wayne interests. Hosting this event for his Mother's pet charity seemed a painless way to do so.
He shook his head as he watched the camera crews settle into position. The awards platform was definitely pushing into the herb beds and lord alone knew what the electrical cables must be doing to Alfred's cherished rose bushes.
Well? Next year the eggs - and their attendant disruptions - could take themselves back to Gotham Park. Pain was a teacher. And this affair was proving an unmitigated pain.
"Looking good, Bruce!" Dick Grayson bounced onto the room. "I just got back from the party tent, and the kids Mike brought up from the 'Haven are roaring to go."
Bruce smiled. Well, maybe not entirely unmitigated. Getting on his son's good side was worth some extra effort on the part of the lawn service. They had had their... disagreements... lately. Not that that was unusual. Dick was strong willed, and far too seldom conformable to Bruce's really very reasonable suggestions. Not truly Bruce's fault. Still - it was pleasant to receive his son's deserved appreciation.
"Want to hunt now!" Cassandra clutched her frilled basket to her lap, bouncing slightly.
Another palliative point. Cassandra had finally agreed to do something that Barbara Gordon interpreted as part of 'a normal childhood'. Which should get the occasionally derisive red-head off of his back. Oracle was a valuable ally, but James Gordon's daughter could be a pain. Unfortunately, neither could be dismissed lightly. Batgirl was Cave, Oracle was JLA, and Barbara Gordon was positioned to become his daughter-in-law.
Not that Barbara didn't have her good points. She was loyal, and intelligent, and admirably... focused. And she was Dick's choice. And she wasn't a purple haired alien bimbo who would leave his son at the altar in order to run off and marry some so-called prince she hadn't even met. And he honestly liked her father. If only James Gordon's daughter wasn't also so...
"Really, Bruce." Slim arms wrapped around his waist. "No need to think like that."
He turned, smiling down into perfect green eyes.
Another positive point of hosting this party.
Last nights closure of the Cave had lead to a perfectly professional call to the JLA headquarters. After all, a member should call when they became unavailable for backup. If it so happened that J'onn was the specific member on monitor duty? And if it so happened that, in the course of reviewing said duty roster Batman had incidentally mention the reason why he would be unavailable in the morning? And if it then so happened that J'onn decided that his 'Lavender Larkspur' persona could perhaps use a bit more publicity? Publicity such as being see with Bruce Wayne at a certain well publicized charity function?
Well? Bruce bent down to lightly kiss flawless pink lips. No one said all coincidence had to be bad.
'Lavender' responded by pulling him closer.
Not a bad recompense for one night's lost sleep, Bruce thought. He corrected - one night's badly lost sleep. With any luck he could lose sleep tonight in a much more pleasant manner.
A mental sigh of wordless agreement let him know that J'onn had caught that thought as well.
Bruce let his hands roam lower down the slim back. This 'Lavender' persona was slimmer, less emphatically female, then most of the forms J'onn had devised lately. Thin and rather pale, Lavender's image was romantic rather then blatantly sexual. Still, Bruce thought as his tongue slipped between pink lips, the look was not without its attractions.
"Shit." Barbara's voice cut across the moment.
Bruce spun in time to catch the young woman still tapping at her ear piece. Oracle's ear piece. A bad sign. "What?" he asked, his voice dropping into Bat range.
"Oracle report." Oracle in this case meaning Tim Drake, who had taken over computer watch in order to give Barbara a rare day off.
Go on, Bruce nodded.
"Bob Sawyers at WayneTech just got a call from some idiot identifying himself as the Easter Bunny." Barbara's expression added the unspoken judgment. Even for a city accustomed to criminal lunatics, this one sounded loony. "The bozo swears he planted a bomb inside one of the prize eggs. Sawyers and Johnson are debating whether to tell Bruce Wayne right now."
"Or?" Dick leaned over.
Babs shrugged. "Or just write this off as a crank call and hope that's what it is."
"He's a crank, all right." Dick pulled out his pocket messenger, booting up the Oracle link.
J'onn stepped back, morphing into green. "Even so, I can not believe they would endanger innocent people in that way."
"With so much planning on the line?" Babs had pulled out her own notebook from the back of her chair and was typing rapidly. "People can be blinder than that.
Bruce - or rather Batman in a suit - turned to her. "Oracle's opinion?"
"Voice analysis says..." Barbara hesitated for a minute, reading the screen, "The caller believes he's telling the truth." She looked up. "Doesn't mean he actually managed the plant, of course. Or that whatever this moron thinks is a bomb will actually explode."
"It's still too great of a risk." Dick frowned at his own palm pilot display, clearly not liking what he saw. "They should call the police."
"Damn." Barbara tapped her ear piece again. "Decision reached... and they're going too blow it off. So to speak."
"No." Armani or not, the Batman was in full play.
"No." Dick agreed. "But how are you going to explain calling off the Egg Hunt? It's gonna take one hell of a story. I mean, we are talking real money here. And it's not like it's only the Daily Planet out there."
"Worse, Master Bruce." Alfred added. "I fear if you were to simply announce the danger the crowd might panic. Wayne Manor is hardly Gotham stadium."
The unspoken addition - that the grounds had been devised far more with the intent of difficult access then of easy departure - was understood by everyone in the room.
"Al's right. We don't dare announce anything until GCPD sends up crowd control. Otherwise?" Dick closed his eyes, as if mentally reviewing the numbers outside. "Even if we don't get a full on riot, people will get hurt in the confusion."
Barbara typed again, then bit her lip. "Thirty minutes at least. GCPD shows no units on reserve."
Dick's expression answered that that was deplorable - but understandable. Easter was a weekend event, and the combination of vacation requests and public gatherings inevitably stretched police reserves to the limit. That was one of the reasons why the Wayne Egg Hunt was comparatively undermanned. "Better call them anyway." He checked his watch. "We have five minutes until the rope drops."
"No call." Batman commanded.
"What?" Barbar'ís voice was pure shock. "You can't let a bunch of babies walk into a bomb zone. You have to come up with some reason to call this thing off!"
"Not necessarily." Bruce moved back to the window, viewing the grounds with harsher eyes. "Oracle - access infra red cameras. Run the overnight scans of this area."
"Why?" A question - not a debate. She obeyed even as she spoke. Barbara Gordon might deride Bruce Wayne - but the Oracle trusted the Bat.
"I doubt the bomber stayed to hide chocolate eggs. His will be the only signature that enters, pauses, then leaves immediately."
Batman's eyes scanned the long row of shrubbery that separated the main lawn from the woods beyond. That would be the easiest approach - at least on a night when the press of authorized visitors had required the usual alarms to be shut off. The easiest and the safest, but also the least effective in terms of destruction. An explosion near the grandstand would be more catastrophic, but so near the legitimate workers the risk of discovery would likewise be higher.
This 'Easter Bunny' was a first timer. As Sawyers and Johnson said, a 'loony'. So - calculate.
There was a cold silence, except for the clatter of keys, until Barbara said. "Got it. Lots of random movement... but only one trace that shows a quick in and out."
"Right over by the stone lions." Barbara pointed. "The left one. Now focusing in number thirty-seven camera."
Batman considered the carved lion. Three quarters down the lawn. A compromise of cowardice and compulsion. Not particularly well suited for the purpose. The sculpture would absorb impact without generating enough shrapnel to compensate. So? Probably the bomber had intended to target the reviewing stands hand had been deterred at the last moment by the unexpected activity. Nervous newbie. That would fit with the speech patterns of the phone call.
"Got it." Barbara repeated. "A grenade."
"Still there." Barbara lifted the computer, turning the screen so Bruce could see it. "Probably loose, but not pulled. I wouldn't want a kid to pick it up, but it's not going to go off on its own."
"Understood." Which he did. Standard grade lunatic. GCPD could handle this one. Later. For now? However 'safe', there was still a bomb of sorts on his lawn. A lawn where five hundred children were expected in - he glanced at the mantle clock - four minutes.
Dick was already unlocking the French windows. "I'll just..."
"No." Bruce had intended to say that, so it was mildly a shock to hear the word come out in a female voice.
"Jo..." Dick paused, one hand on the latch. "I mean, Lavender?"
"Think, Dick." The chiffon-clad blonde form again perched lightly on the arm of Cassandra's chair. "I suspect that the local media would... notice... if Bruce Wayne's son was suddenly to go running across the lawn."
"So?" Dick shrugged, "My lawn. Well, Bruce's, but..."
"And your explanation of why you went after a bomb yourself, rather then calling the bomb squad? I doubt that that is procedure - even in Bludhaven." Lavender Larkspur smiled ruefully. "Not to mention that you could not know about the call to Mr. Sawyers, and thus should not yet know that there is any explosive out there at all."
"I must concur, Master Dick." Alfred added. "Even if no one heard about the bomb threat. And such things have a way of coming out eventually."
Lavender looked at Bruce. "Especially if we want to arrest this... Easter...criminal."
"We canít just leave it." Dick answered. "I can put it back later. Sawyers is bound to break down and tell someone , and once we officially hear it we can let Atkins get lucky."
"Yes." Bruce pressed past Dick. "For now, I will..."
Alfred continued. "And then there is the matter that the contest officials will hardly want anyone unauthorized trespassing until the 'prize egg' is brought in. They were quite clear on that matter last night."
Bruce started to speak, but Alfred cut him off.
"Especially you, Master Bruce. You certainly represent the Foundation. I suspect if you were to go out now they would try to stop you."
"Hardly assault a contest official in full view of the press." Alfred finished the sentence. "This delicate matter needs to be handled by someone who can pass unnoted."
"No!" This time it was Bruce's voice. "Absolutely not!"
"I assure you, Master Bruce, that this will not be the first grenade of my experience."
"No!" This time the insistence had an edge of panic. "Besides" there was the hint of a man grasping at straws. "If they would stop me they would stop you too."
"Maybe?" Bab's hesitated, looking uncertain. "Cassie? She is on the list of participants."
Cassandra shot up, grinning. "Bomb hunt?"
"No." This was a four-way objection - Lavender, Bruce, Dick, and Alfred.
"Cassandra is capable" Bruce spared the girl a brief look - just long enough to catch and suppress her growing excitement. "But the teenagers won't go out until after the three to six and the seven to twelve groups."
"Which means Miss Cassandra would have to acquire the bomb with a large number of children likewise hunting on all sides."
Dick shook his head. "Which sorta blows the whole protect-the -civilians idea."
"Which gets us back to..." Barbara looked at Bruce. "Somehow coming up with a convincing reason to stop the hunt... in the next five minutes."
Alfred looked at his watch. "Two. Which is why, if I might insist..."
"Mr. Pennyworth." The Martian Manhunter again stood where Lavender Larkspur had been. "With all due respect for your skills, I am the obvious choice to defuse matters."
"Like we can come up with a reason to have one of the Justice League at Wayne Manor?" Dick gave the alien a sarcastic grimace. "That's a wilder story then brainless Brucie just calling off the party."
Bruce gave his son a very flat look ."Thank you.... I think."
"I can probably come up with some sort of cop BS if I have too. Say that I thought I saw something," Dick continued, "But I can't imagine how seven feet plus of green is going to pass unobserved."
"Perhaps if you were invisible." Barbara rolled forward slowly. "But that would still leave the grenade. It wont be invisible. How are you going to move it without being caught on every TV camera in Gotham?"
"Like this." The strange voice came from somewhere in the vicinity of Dick's waist.
Bruce looked down. Then further down.
It was a question. Because this three foot tall bundle of pink lace and brunette curls could not possibly be...?
"Jane." the figure answered.
"As in Dick and?" Dick knelt, bringing his head level with the perhaps seven year old child. "Cool."
"Quite remarkable." Alfred gave an approving appraisal to the girl's smocked pinafore and polished Mary Janes. "I had not thought of those books for years. Not since I tried reading them to Master Dick."
"Only once." Dick grinned at the memory. "Children's Services should have told you I was an early reader."
"As you say."
"An old form." The little girl rotated slowly, showing off to his - or her - audience. "One of the earliest images I had to work with. This 'Jane' was a reasonably simple mental image - and extremely widespread."
"People." Barbara caught their attention. "One minute."
"Decided. Jane..." Bruce hesitated a bit at the name. "Will go out with the first bunch."
The apparent child straightened her lace petticoats. "Most of the other children should stay near to the starting point. I can head directly to the bomb, collect it, and most likely defuse it. Hopefully without destroying the evidence."
"Don't worry about that." The Bat-voice instructed. " Just remove the threat. With Batman's help the police will get him on possession of supplies and making terrorist threats. Far easier to prove. If it.."
"If it proves too dangerous I will remove the explosive and myself; either up or down. That may leave Wayne Manor with one more interesting ghost story - but it wont cause a panic."
"Quite clever, Master J'onn." Alfred reached over and plucked the decorated basket off of Cassandra's lap. "I believe you may need this?"
"We do not sulk, Miss Cassandra." Alfred corrected calmly. "Besides, I have no doubt that Master J'onn will share his chocolate supplies with you... in the improbable occurrence that the refreshment tent should somehow run short."
"And now" Alfred held open the glass door. "If I might suggest that time is rather pressing."
Grabbing the pink and yellow basket, Jane set off across the lawn.
Bruce held his breath.
Several other children had cleared the velvet rope, but most of them had halted almost immediately to snatch the nearest eggs. A few had raced instead for the central fountain, lured by the bright balls very visible on to of the carved marble.
None of them were headed for the lions.
Well, none but 'Jane'.
Jane, on the other hand, was making excellent time. Spectacular time, for a school child. The Martian had evidently compromised a bit on the interior construction of this body.
"Dare I say it...?" Alfred smiled archly at the younger pair pressed in beside him. "See Jane run."
Barbara laughed, "See Jane run fast ."
Dick leaned over, kissing Barbara's forehead. "Run, Jane, Run."
"See Jane grab a..." Alfred faltered as the bulky steel-grey shape came free of the concealing grass. "Good heavens, that is quite a large grenade?"
Bruce raised one eyebrow. "Somehow I don't think that line was in the original children's story. Not that I recall you reading those particular books to me."
"Understandable, Master Bruce. Considering your tastes as a child."
"I was a sweet child. Everyone tells me that."
"You forget, Master Bruce, that I raised you."
As they watched, the supposed child pulled out the explosive core with remarkably unchildlike strength.
"Alfred?" Cassie slid into the family cluster. "Bomb explode?"
"Once they have been... dissected?" Alfred's classically steady voice hinted at the slightest edge of a shudder. "Generally not."
"So. Our mad bomber laid an egg." Dick stepped back from the window as the laughing Jane carried her now-full basket back across the lawn. Just in time. Real children were starting to trickle in to that section.
Jane started back. Somewhat slower, now, but still quickly for a seven-year old. Hopefully, Bruce thought, any media that caught the child would consider her uninteresting. If not? Well, Bruce Wayne's money could always find friends in the editing room.
Jane rushed though the open window.
Alfred closed it behind her.
Bruce shifted a chair, clearing a path for Jane to lay the now-harmless grenade on an occasional table.
Pulling our his handkerchief, he picked out a section of deeply scored metal. Ukrainian. Recent production. Nasty. This Easter Bunny might class among the near-harmless - at least as far as homicidal lunatics were concerned - but his toys were a far more serious matter. If ordnance like this was getting into Gotham?
Batman would have to schedule some serious countermeasures against the Russian Mafia. They had apparently gotten smart enough to keep their criminal activities quietly under the Bat's radar while the Gotham vigilantes had been concentrating on the Triad and drugs. So? Time to lower the radar.
Well, that would be another thing he could do with Dick. Nightwing. Given the quick removal of the threat, this bomber might actually also end up on the positive side of today's scale.
A tug on his pants leg pulled Bruce out of his abstraction.
"What?" The Jane form held up her arms. "No kiss?"
Bruce shuddered. "Not in that form."
Jane pouted, but compliantly shifted to Lavender. "I thought that form was appealing to Terrans."
Bruce held his arms out to the now-woman. "Paternally, perhaps."
"Which was never Bruce's thing. I think he's allergic to little kids." Dick had drifted away from the window, and was now also poking at the grenade remains. At Bruce's look he added "Sorry, 'Dad'."
"I did like children." Bruce growled. "But I'm rethinking the question."
Lavender pulled gently out of Bruce's arms.
"Where are you going." Bruce asked.
"With Cassie." Jane answered. "To hunt eggs."
Cassie held up her reclaimed basket. "Hunt chocolate eggs!"
"Well, Master Bruce. I believe you had wished for the joys of family life?"
Bruce dropped into a chair. "Don't those tales end with whoever regretting ever wishing in the first place?"
Pulling on his white gloves, Alfred gingerly set the dismantled grenade into the drawer of an occasional table. Not the best place, but at least it would be out of sight until the matter could be handled properly. Either reconstructed for the police or simply discarded in the Cave, as the Batman preferred. For now, Alfred turned his attention to his family. "That depends, Master Bruce. It depends entirely on what one wishes for."