Warning

by Chicago

Disclaimers: DC Comics owns these guys, but I didn't hurt them, I promise. Just played with them a bit.

Canon Notes: Talia broke into the Batcave as a prelude to the Tower of Babel arc of JLA, and the actual story of her break-in is told in the JLA SF&O that came out around the same time. Talia broke with her father (Ra's al Ghul) after the Tower of Babel. She has since taken over CEO duties of LexCorp, which Luthor had to give up upon becoming President.

Continuity note: Follows "Home for the Holidays," but more directly references "Mindstorm," as well as "The Apprentice," both from year 2 of the J'onnverse. Taps into a subplot that's been showing up periodically since "Paper Hearts" in year 1.

Rating: PG

"Well," Bruce Wayne began portentiously, "this is a pretty ambitious plan. Well thought out. The rebuilding PR will more than offset the diminished profit margins."

"You will consider it, then?"

Bruce considered the woman sitting across from him, meeting her unwavering dark eyes. He closed the folder on the mahogany table top without releasing her gaze. "I'll have my team in legal look over it, but I'm inclined to say yes."

A faint incline of her head met his pronouncement, along with a crinkle of irritation hinted at the edges of her eyes. "Your legal team will not see what you have not already,... Beloved."

Bruce let a layer of dangerously impassive calm veil his features. "Ms. Head, this is hardly appropriate business decorum."

Talia studied his face for just a moment before waving off his objection. "The room is sound-proofed. There is no recording equipment running. We are alone. We should not pretend, even if you now love another."

Bruce stood stiffly. "I am afraid I have caught you at a bad time-"

"Stop, Belo - Bruce. I suppose I must call you that now. If you do not believe me, check yourself. No one is privy to what happens in this room. The walls are even lined with lead."

Something in her voice - or was it her eyes? - made him pause, and he reached in his pocket for what looked for all the world like a personal mp3 player. He took one earbud and set it to his ear and depressed a button, nodding after a moment in satisfaction.

Talia watched him with something like bitterness - or was it regret? "There was a time when you would trust my word," she reminded him.

"That time ended when you stole plans of mine to hurt my friends." There was less of Bruce Wayne in his tone than there had been earlier.

"Friends," she repeated as if she were tasting the word. "He's even taught you to accept that."

"Talia, I have no idea -"

A short, humorless laugh barked from her mouth. "Do not play me, Bel - Bruce. I know about the Martian."

He kept his face carefully neutral as his mind tapped against Ace, requesting a wordless check in. "And what is it you think you know?" Relief flooded him as he felt J'onn's soft mental touch, reassuringly whole and present. He passed along a suggestion that J'onn remain on his toes and a promise to explain later before letting the connection lapse.

"Did you think my father would not tell me when he saw you loved another? And did you think my father would not see? I know those beauties on your arm each night, smiling for the cameras - they are him."

"Talia-"

"Do not try to lie to me. I have seen the look in your eyes for all of them. It is the same. And you should know I know, and my father knows."

Bruce kept his spine stiff and shifted to the balls of his feet. "Is that a threat?"

She threw her head back, let it rest against the back of the chair, and laughed. "A threat? You think even for you the Demon's Head would bother with a threat? Or that I would?"

He watched her narrowly. "You might."

Her laughing lips closed and she turned her intense eyes back on him. "If I thought he were unworthy of you, he would be dead already."

"And so would you," he shot back, cold anger motivating a promise he was disturbed to realize he might mean.

Talia seemed to realize it at the same time as he did, because a certain brittleness entered her challenging glare. "You never loved me so much," she finally stated with an air of resignation.

"No," he confirmed, even though it seemed almost cruel.

She sighed. "I thought - but it is no matter. I had meant to discuss something else."

He stayed standing. "Yes?"

She shot him a glance, but that was all the more eye contact she gave him before she turned her chair away from him to speak to the wall. He double checked his monitoring equipment, but no, her action seemed genuinely that she could no longer bear to look at him.

"Lex Luthor is not responsible for Masters' death. Not in the way you believe."

Bruce started internally, barely managing to keep his reaction from showing. "How do you know?"

There was a moment's pause. "Lex thought he could negotiate with my father. He sent Masters. He probably knew he would be killed, but he sent him anyway." She sighed. "My father is still angry that Lex has made it possible for me to work apart from him."

"So Luthor-" he prompted.

"So Luthor was not guilty of the crime that drew the latest impeachment noise, no. But he had good reason for not making his innocence more obvious."

"Bette Noir," Bruce - or Batman in Bruce Wayne's clothes - connected.

"Yes," Talia confirmed. "The DEO was investigating. Masters and his activities were red herrings until Luthor could get Black to launch her."

"Bastard."

"Smart bastard. He's unimpeachable now, after all that happened with Mordru and Eclipso and Obsidian. And even if you could make a case that he had attacked Superman, your key witness is a pile of ash in Hoboken."

"J'onn-"

"The Supreme Court has already ruled telepathically derived testimony is inadmissable. Who else but Black knew what Lex was up to? No, Beloved, there will be no removing Lex from office. But you should know that Lex is not happy that his plan was thwarted, that Superman did not earn the hatred of the world by becoming a berserker under Noir's influence."

"No. He wouldn't be."

Talia turned her chair back and finally stood, walking around the table. She strode up until she was face to face with Bruce, he face lifted to study his features. "Say his name," she requested.

"Lex?" Bruce asked in puzzlement.

"No. Your lover. The one who took the spot I hoped I might one day have."

He narrowed his eyes. "Why?"

She did not turn away, but her lips seemed to tremble a little. "Please."

He paused a moment, once more checking the security of the room on his listening device. Then he relented. "J'onn."

Her eyes were searching his face, and she released an aching sigh as Bruce spoke. "I should not care, but-"

He reached out and caught her wrist, squeezing it warningly. "Talia-"

She twisted her hand to break the junction between his thumb and forefinger, freeing herself. "Bruce. Lex knows who kept Superman from going berserk." She raised her eyes once more. "He doesn't know about his connection to you, but he knows. Lex Luthor doesn't like being thwarted."

Bruce felt his nostrils flare in involuntary response to the sudden anger that flooded him. He kept his eyes on Talia as he reached to the table and picked up the folder. "We have cities to rebuild," he pointed out coldly. "I'll trust you to refrain from issues that are outside of that concern."

She flinched at his words, but she stepped back and let him go.

Bruce Wayne turned on heel and left.

end