by Darklady

Disclaimer: sniff Mr. Bunny did not bring me Warner Brothers for Easter. Not even the little tiny DC Comics part. sob So I don't own these characters. sniff And after I've been so good. It's just not fair!

Location: Chicago's J'onnverse

Sequence: At least 48 hours after Warmth. (Maybe. Could be later - you fit it in.)

Rated: G

".....And so, despite the half- percent drop in retail expectations, the electronics divisions feel we are positioned for a strong first quarter."

"Thank you, Ms. Miller."

Bruce Wayne sent his gaze slowly down the long oak table. So many serious faces, worry barely concealed beneath the scarlet polish of the mahogany. These too were dependent on him. Normally Lucius Fox could have been depended on to handle the year end divisional meeting, bringing the summaries to Bruce's offices neatly wrapped and ready for Bruce's annual appearance before the - hopefully pleased if not awed - stockholders.

Christ. Lucius. There were damn few like him. He had been a friend, a comrade... in a strange way even a mentor. One more loss.

Bruce had been by yesterday to see the family. To again offer his help. He did that for all his people. Not that they needed anything. At least not in the usual sense. Fox had been well insured. Clear-headed executive that he was, Lucius had insisted on key-man policies for all of WayneTech's senior managers. And forty million a year did tend to leave enough for a nice nest egg. Especially when people lived as conservatively as Lucius and his wife. Still. If a word in the right ear could assure Fox's daughters place at Howard or his son's place as a Senate intern - then Bruce Wayne would be there to speak that word.

He owed the man that much. Fox had been loyal.

"Mr. Johnson? I believe you are next?" A light glance down the table to move things along.

Bruce shut out the drone of self- congratulatory introduction. He would listen later - when something was said. Not that the real estate division required much oversight. Johnson was reliable. A true old timer. Thirty year man, still here from the era of Thomas Wayne. Rock solid in his allegiance.



That again.

When had that become his measure of the world?

But it was.

Of two worlds.

Tim was loyal. Pissed, currently. Barely speaking to the Bat. But instantly there when the Joker released chaos on the earth.

Barbara was loyal. Angry, yes. At Batman and at the universe. Sometimes nearly blinded by her frustrations. But still willing to tap the Justice League mainframe at his directive.

Jean-Paul? Again, loyal. Returning despite his rage, despite the pain of a double exile. Cast out of Saint Dumas, and stripped of the Bat, he still obeyed. Still answered the call when Batman needed him.

"Thank you, Mr. Johnson. An excellent presentation, as always." Bruce sent his warmest smile down he table as the white-haired man settled carefully back into his leather seat. Right. Hip surgery last year. Lucius had mentioned that. Suggested that Johnson would be looking to retire. Not now, of course. Not with the company still unsteady from the loss of Fox. Johnson would hang on a few more years, ignoring his pain, until the senior management was stable again.

So loyal. And for what?

For a smile? For the complements at the annual Wayne Company dinner? Lord knows it wasn't for the money. The man did well at Wayne Investments. Bruce wasn't the first of his family to know it was wise to appear generous. But Gotham wasn't Metropolis. Fred Johnson could have done better.

A shifting down the table. Bruce should not have allowed himself to seem distracted. Covered swiftly by flipping the page on the bound report.

"Dr. Saunders? May I hope that R&D will have equally good news?"

"Absolutely, Mr. Wayne."

Rebecca Saunders. Beautiful, brilliant... devoted to micro engineering. And to WayneTech. Turned down U C Coast City when they reopened after the Warworld strike. Passed up an opening at STAR labs to keep things going after the earthquake took out the Gotham central facility.

Which got her?

Sixteen hour days and projects constantly preempted by the Bat? Or by the need to focus on developing salable products for the merchandising team?

For what?

A penthouse condo she never saw by daylight and a silver Porsche that traveled ten miles a day... on the days she made it home at all.

"Thank you, Dr. Saunders. Insightful."

That drew a smile that Jade would have paid to photograph. Pure joy. At what? A pre- chosen complement from an aging playboy?

Poor return for devotion. For loyalty.

Yet they persisted.

"Mr. Trent", I believe you are next?"

Commodities and resources. Not such a happy story. Bruce hid an inappropriate smiles as his ennui lifted for a second. Might be worth listening to hear how Trent glossed the loss of the Dibijalli plant. Not that he could, entirely. This had to be painful. But the gray suited man stood, cleared his throat, and started. Because it was his turn. Because he was called.

Like dogs. They waited to be patted or kicked. To be noticed.

To be noticed?

Was that it?

Were they all so lonely?

Loneliness Bruce understood. Far to well.

Regrettably, the acquaintance had not given him insight into a cure.

Lord know he had tried.

Tried and failed.

Failed with Jason. Failed utterly. So desperately that the boy he briefly called son had rushed to his own death seeking a mother he could scarcely have identified without a photo. All because he needed... something... that neither Bruce Wayne or the Batman could supply.

Failed with Barbara. His eldest namesake. His daughter, if you will. His best friends daughter, at least. All that bright hope turned bitter and cold, refusing the gifts of both personas to sit alone in her shadowed tower.

Failed, most likely, with Dick. The son of his heart - and finally his son by law. A recognition come perhaps too late.

To late for the name, for the relationship, to have much real meaning.

Dick had his own life, his own name... his own goals. All gained without - even against - both Bruce Wayne and the Batman.

To late and too little.

But what else could he give?

The closing click of a binder cued his attention.

"Thank you, Mr. Trent. I am sure we all sympathize with the difficulty of the past quarter, and share your hopes for a brighter new year. Ms. Willis?"

The sharply tailored brunette preened a bit as she stood. "I am glad to day we have excellentnews."

What? Bruce kept his usual bland expression, but mentally his eyebrow went up. Strategic planning had not been doing well since the Luthor debacle had nearly slipped past their watch.

" You all remember Yuchiro Takata? "

Bruce almost jerked. He certainly had heard the name, although....?

"The founder and CEO of New Concept Industries of Japan." Anya Willis added for the benefit for those who clearly did not. "A company which last year was regrettably resistant to our overtures for a joint venture." The second sentence clarified further - and perhaps drew the explanation not just a bit for dramatic effect. This was - after all, her shining moment. Bruce could actually hear the lack of breath as the table waited for her to continue. "Mr. Takata's personal assistant called yesterday and actually suggested that we meet to reopen the discussion."

Christ? J'onn? Not that the Martian Manhunter necessarily had to be behind the move. Hidei Yashimoto operated New Concept Industries with very little direct supervision. But if the call came from the top office?

Claudia Willis sent a triumphant look around the table, watching the meaning sink in. Any tie with New Concept would be a major coup, and if pulled off could compensate for several near failures. Especially since Luthor had not actually managed to snatch the Gotham real estate out from beneath Wayne Investments widespread fingers. "And it is an exclusive invitation, not a general exploration."

OK. J'onn.

There was a general murmur of approval from the listeners as Claudia continued. "Mr. Scranton and I will be flying out just after new year to meet with the Vice-President of Technology and Development Hidei Yashimoto and possibly Mr. Takata himself on a detailed agenda of points of mutual advantage."

Bruce blinked at that. Definitely J'onn, But... why?

Not that it was a bad decision, necessarily. Wayne Industries would never have suggested it if Lucius had not convinced Bruce it could be to the benefit of both parties. Bruce Wayne had perturbance enough without pursuing unwilling targets of any sort. Much less targets that could bring him into conflict with Batman's colleagues. Even the most friendly could be.... sensitive... and the Batman had foes enough with adding more from the forces of supposed good.

But... if it was J'onn's idea?

There was a general silence, and Bruce realized the woman was looking at him. Waiting. He remembered to smile. "Wonderful news, Ms. Willis."

He saw her flounce a bit as she sat down.

"Thank you gentlemen. Ladies." Bruce counted the table. Everyone had been heard from at least once. That was enough for now. He could always invite anyone who still had serious business to make to his office later. They would probably even prefer it. A bad quarter was always hard. Having to report one after an announcement like that bordered on the openly cruel. "I believe this concludes our annual review. I know I can expect you all at the stockholders meeting."

Another smile there - just to take the sting out of the command. Not at on this level they wouldn't be stockholders themselves anyway.

The snap of brief cased and the shuffles of chairs spread over the room as the various branch heads prepared to leave. Not that Bruce was obligated to wait on them.

He vanished back into his own office, freeing WayneTech's senior executives to gossip and politic - and to raid the munches. That was a truly vital part of any staff meeting - even on this level. Bruce's smile slid over into the `real' range. His latest secretary had arranged a superior buffet from one of Gotham's trendiest new caterers. With any luck this crew would be by busy for hours.

Always good.

Busy executives meant an untroubled Bruce.

Make that undisturbed.

Bruce reached into his pocket. He might not have the mental link - but he did have a cell phone.

Two rings. Either the call was expected or matters in Poseidonis were going more smoothly then expected.

"J'onn?" Bruce didn't wait for the listener to introduce himself. This was an extremely private number. "Why?"

No need for detail. J'onn would know the topic, or would pick it from his mind. Rude with strangers, but J'onn now had an open invitation. Spooky, but less frightening then the thought of domestic disharmony. Bruce had never actually been privy to a `lovers quarrel' in person. Certainly his parents had never had one in his presence. But from the toll Barbara Gordon's more emotional periods had taken of his son? It was clearly a threat classed somewhere between the direct shock of Freeze's ice-gun and a blimp-full of Joker gas. In other words - avoid at all costs.

No words. Just a warm sensation. A pressure inside his mind.

"Because you wanted it, Bruce."

And Bruce understood.

Because J'onn could.

Because? A strange hot sensation suddenly ran over his chest, clutching softly at his heart. Because J'onn cared.


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