All rights belong to owners, I make no claim to any of these chars.
Lex stretched luxuriously on the very overstuffed couch. It was some cheap, tacky velor thing from a discount outlet. Not to his taste at all, but it was all you could expect when you ask to have a meeting at a SunDollar's.
A man of Luthor's station was unaccustomed to the attitudes of baristas and was even less impressed by the obscure jargon they couched small, medium and large in. One skinny man with a lower lip piercing and badly dyed hair tried to condescend towards Lex when he'd asked for a large frappuccino. Lex responded by snapping a photo of the man with his PDA and showing Mister Snooty Barista "Paul" how quickly Lex's facial recognition software was able to pull up his real name, his social security number and his home address, using the place's own WiFi connection to do it. Lex flashed him a cold grin. "For the hat trick, I can upload your information onto the National Sex Offender Registry. Imagine how your girlfriend..." Lex paused to tap a few more buttons to pull up the man's Facebook page. "Kristy with a 'K' will react when they find out what you did to those three-year-olds in Boston? Or your boss? Or your parents? Think they'd let you keep staying in their basement if they find out about this?"
Paul stood frozen behind the counter. Clutching at the register with white-knuckled hands. Lex leaned in closer and said in a kindly tone. "Learn some respect, alright? If I ever hear that you've pulled this kind of crap again, the police will find the body."
"What body?" Paul asked shakily.
"The one that's going to have your fingerprints and DNA all over it." Lex replied mildly. "Now be a good boy and get me my frapuccino, alright?"
He knew he shouldn't have been quite so hard on the man, but he'd been having a splendidly good day right up until the condescending little snort of a laugh the man had released when Lex asked for a large. It was small, medium and large, dammit. Lex would call it a Trentadue if he actually were in Italy and actually did want thirty two of something. The SunDollar's was an overpriced coffee shop chain from out of Seattle that Lex used to own majority stock in. Now it was owned by the man who had just stepped up to the counter.
He didn't think Bruce Wayne had seen him when he'd gone to get his own order. Lex noted that he was getting some sort of triple Espresso-shot mixed iced coffee that they called the Heartracer. The pale-faced Paul, who was still manning the counter accidentally caught Lex's eye for a terrified moment. Lex made a gun gesture with one hand aimed at him. His already pale face whitened further and he whirled around running for the back room.
A rather baffled looking Bruce glanced over his shoulder and Lex waved him over cheerfully. Both of the men were in immaculately tailored suits and seemed faintly out of place. They were both quite relaxed compared to the other business-suited men and women who'd dashed in and out of the coffee shop
"Hello, Lex." Bruce said with a nod. Lex could tell he was wary, uncertain. After the last time he didn't blame the man. But Lex had broken the Brucey code and knew exactly how to deal with this. He just had to make sure he tweaked the man just right.
"Bruce! Good to see you. You're looking well." Lex replied, rising to his feet to grasp Bruce's hand warmly. The other man was not expecting it, but seemed to be rolling with the punches well. Lex knew keeping him off-balance would only help for a little while. He needed the man on his side. Him and the assets at his command.
"Thank you, Lex. I wasn't expecting you to call out of the blue for coffee." Bruce glanced around, curiosity on his face. "Certainly not at a SunDollar's."
"Well, it was downstairs from your office," Lex replied off-offhandedly, implying by his tone that it could have been anywhere. As he spoke he gestured to the easy chair next to the couch and offered Bruce a seat. "I'd heard about these places when I used to own it. Well, now you own it... so, what do you think?"
"The staff seemed a little high-strung." Bruce said, glancing back at the counter where another barista had taken over for the now-vanished Paul.
Lex laughed lightly, "Working at coffee shop would do that to you I imagine."
Wayne had a tiny frown at that. Puzzled, but his face smoothed over into vapid friendliness quickly. Lex smiled inwardly, he was enjoying this little sparring match with Bruce... he was clearly trying to work out why Lex seemed so pleased without giving away that he was interested. "You seem a lot more relaxed."
"Compared to our last meeting, you mean?" Lex asked.
Bruce nodded, "Whatever you're doing seems to agree with you."
"I think so. I had a bit of time away, went to the islands." He gestured elaborately to his tan. "I've mostly been working on some personal projects." Lex leaned in closer and dropped his voice. "How has my little gift been working out for you?"
"The Lexcorp database?" Bruce asked, knowing that was exactly what Luthor meant. Lex could see the man trying to feel him out. What game was he playing? he no doubt asked himself. "Our engineers and scientists are having a lovely time taking it apart. Lucius says we could have marketable products derived from it inside of a year or so."
"Excellent. I hope you focused on the more humanitarian items?" Lex asked mildly.
Bruce shrugged, "We've focused development work on the combustion inhibitor for overseas use and the pharmaceuticals in general. We may even have FDA approval for a half dozen of your completed projects in the next month or two."
Lex smiled and nodded. "I'm happy to hear it."
"Incidentally," Bruce added as an offhand comment. "Miss Teschmacher impressed Lucius during the negotiations. He suggested I offer to pay her twice her current salary to get her to come over to Wayne Industries."
Lex laughed once more before he replied. "Eve has stock and is a member of the Board of Directors of LuthorCorp. I don't think you can meet her salary, much less double it." Lex winked smugly, then continued, waggling a finger in mock-warning at Bruce. "I know exactly how valuable that woman is and you can't have her."
Bruce smiled back. "I had to try."
"I'm working on something particularly big that I think you would want to be a part of." Lex said finally.
The other man perked up and Lex could tell from his posture that he was definitely interested. "What's this project, Lex?"
"First things first," Lex replied, holding a hand up. "I want to apologize for some of the things I said during our last meeting."
"What do you mean?" Bruce asked with the seeming stupidity that Lex knew was affected.
"When I called you out for not operating at your full capacity." Lex said. "When I told you you were wasting your talents. That you'd been hiding from your self." He smiled apologetically and it was as sincere as he could hope to make it. "If I'd been in possession of all the facts at the time, I would never have said those things to you. For that, I am deeply sorry."
Bruce shifted uncomfortably, Lex could tell he'd knocked the man off balance once more. It was time to close in for the kill. "Lex, you have nothing to apologize for. You meant well, and your advice though blunt, was certainly sincere." He frowned. "What 'facts' are you referring to?"
Lex smiled, still sincere and friendly and warmly open. "It all proceeds from a single basic fact, actually. If one accepts that Bruce Wayne is not an idiot and is in fact almost as terrifyingly brilliant as I am..." Lex gave him an elaborate eyebrow waggle. "Then the rest follows quite neatly." Lex put his frappuccino down on the table and slipped his hands into his coat pockets, taking the moment to press the button on the cylindrical device in his pocket. A barely noticeable distortion in the air sprang up to surround the couch and the easy chair.
Lex noted the slight tensing in Bruce's hands as he noticed the distortion as well. He was pretending not to notice as he asked carefully, "What conclusion did you come to from that basic premise, then?"
"That the Batman of Gotham city exists because of Bruce Wayne," Lex said non-nonchalantly.
Bruce looked stunned for a long moment then suddenly burst into laughter. But Lex caught an edge of desperation in that laugh. A tiny hint of forced amusement. Lex knew he had him. The conclusions were spot on. Lex smiled mildly until Bruce calmed down.
Finally the other man's helpless laughter petered away and he wiped at the tears in his eyes. "Oh, Lex... I haven't had such a good laugh in ages."
Lex replied. "It's actually a fairly obvious conclusion when one does the math. As it so happens, Miss Teschmacher is an extremely talented forensic accountant. For the Batman to operate, it requires an outlay in the millions of dollars each year. That's just for Bat uniforms, weapons, basic wear and tear on grappling hook guns..." Lex shrugged. "The cars and planes and boats all bump those numbers up horrifically. There's also the training, there's almost certainly a base to operate out of. You can see how those numbers keep piling up. Tens of millions of dollars."
Bruce seemed to be trying to maintain a nonchallant air, but Lex could definitely see the mild tension across his arms. In his eyes. "Many people have a lot of money to throw around."
Lex waggled a finger pedantically. "Yes, but to throw away that much money in this very specific way is absolutely wasteful. Someone could argue that maybe they were getting back R&D testing results from the high-tech equipment Batman and his cohorts use, but that's a few hundred thousand a year at most."
Bruce leaned forward, steepling his fingers on his knees, "Then why would anyone do something like that?"
"A man would need to have an obsession. A powerful need that would drive him to sink millions for no visible return." Lex admitted, "I had at least that much in my 'destroy Superman' budget once upon a time. A billion dollars a year on average on plans that never bore useful fruit." Lex seemed to shrink into himself for a moment, embarrassment burning at his tanned cheeks. "If I'd sunk that money into more useful avenues of research, I'd probably be..." He rolled his eyes up and did a quick mental calculation. "A Nobel prize winner a half dozen times over."
Lex caught the note of unsolicited and unexpected sympathy in Bruce's eyes and waved a hand dismissively. "You have such a need Bruce. You're just as broken in the head as I was, except you got a chance to channel it to something constructive."
Wayne shrugged, seemingly casual, but Lex knew he'd hit the mark. ""What exactly are you saying, Lex?"
"I know you're financing the Batman." Lex said with a smirk. "Him and all the vigilantes operating out of Gotham. I even know who they all are. Once the connection to you came out the rest fell into place." Lex shrugged. "It's true. If you want to know what's going on, follow the money."
"That's ridiculous," Bruce scoffed, but Lex cut him off.
"Look, if I was able to connect the dots, I can assure you there are others who will be able to do so as well. The accounting irregularities alone would be enough for a full IRS audit and an FCC investigation." Lex smiled. He'd planned on presenting the carrot first, but Bruce prompted him to pull the stick out early.
Bruce leaned back in his seat, his face drawn and sullen. He seemed about to argue, but Lex noticed something like a light coming on behind the man's eyes. He'd realized something, Lex thought, but Lex couldn't decide what it was. "Lex, if I were doing such a thing, and I'm not saying I am, but your crazed ravings have made me curious. What's the point of letting me know that you know?"
"The point, Bruce, is first of all, I'm giving you warning to cover your tracks better. I can put you in touch with Martensen and Berthold. They used to hide my 'destroy Superman' budget for me. Quite possibly the most amoral accountants I've ever met, which is saying something. Second, the help you can give me on my 'big project' is in your capacity as money man to the superhero set."
Bruce forced another laugh. "Are you sure you're not getting me confused with Max Lord?"
It was Lex's turn to scoff, "Max is a puffed up martinet who enjoys pushing people around without actually having earned the right to do so."
Bruce smirked. "Takes one to know one?"
"You're trying to get me off topic," Lex said with another dismissive hand motion. "I told you, we followed the money far enough and closely enough. There's a hole in Wayne Industries finances big enough to drive a fleet of Batmobiles through, but there was still a discrepancy. Until we started checking the Justice League operating budget and found that while UN provides funds for about thirty percent of that, there's no obvious source for where the remaining seventy percent come from. Two League members are monarchs in their own right, and their contributions are on record, accounting for ten percent each, but that leaves half the budget still unaccounted for."
"Fascinating," Bruce replied, feigning boredom.
"When we compared that unaccounted for budget against the money that was missing from Wayne Industries..." Lex left the statement dangling as he bent down to pick up his frappuccino for another drink.
"What exactly do you want, Lex? You keep stalling whenever I ask you a direct question." Bruce said finally.
Lex looked at him with eyes hooded over the rim of his drink. "Robin gave you the data Mercy and Eve gave him."
Bruce shrugged. "I don't know what you're talking about."
Lex sighed, "What did I tell you about underestimating my intelligence? The Robin kid works for The Batman. The Batman works for you. The guy you have in the costume might be on the ball for the most part, but you're the driving force. You give him his marching orders. Of course, he's going to hand the data to you."
Bruce shook his head and gave an exasperated chuckle. "Lex your assertion is absurd. If I'm the Batman's boss, who is the Batman supposed to be?"
"You've had several." Lex replied finally. "I still haven't figured out who the first one was, but my suspicion is that he ended up becoming the Joker. The rumors about the Joker's origin said that he was in the Red Hood outfit when he was stopped by the Batman and ended up accidentally falling into a vat of toxic chemicals which drove him nuts. But it was just the two of them there... and the Red Hood's never been a specific person. It was a criminal persona that had been passed around. I posit that the Red Hood got away clean and it was the Batman who fell into the chemicals. It's why Joker's always been so obsessed with the Batman. He wants to be the Bat again."
Bruce stared at him, completely dumbfounded. Lex had him. Bruce could try to lie, but the expression on his face told Lex everything he needed to know. He had to press the advantage. He needed the support Wayne had at his fingertips. Lex continued. "Right after his accident, I suspect your second one was Harvey Dent. On top of his own impressive laundry list of mental issues, making him your second number two, must've helped spark something when his mind broke after they maimed him in court."
"Now look here, Lex... Harvey and I were friends, but that doesn't mean-"
"After that," Lex spoke over him, "You switched gears. Your first two Batmen were no doubt good men who'd been broken by what they went through, so you tried someone who was already broken. You picked a petty thug named Matches Malone."
"I've never even heard of this Malone-"
"Which actually made him perfect for your purposes. Petty criminal. Low rent, low life thug. No links to you. No reason for you to care about him... if he broke, then you could find someone else to replace him." Lex grinned, "Except third time was the charm. He turned out to be extremely good at the job. You set a thief to catch thieves and it worked. Except for a brief period in the 90's when some maniac stole the costume away from him, Malone's been your personal superhero for years now."
"The suggestion's absurd!" Bruce countered. "The Batman, if he did exist, couldn't possibly be just some street thug."
"On the surface it sounds as absurd as you being the Batman," Lex replied, "No offense."
"But he's not being the Batman by himself. You're helping him. You've got access to the financial and logistical support he would need. I'm very good at recognizing patterns, Bruce. There's no way someone like Malone could survive making a living as cheap muscle for almost every single criminal organization in Gotham. Every single one. I also find it interesting that any crew he's been with inevitably gets hit by the Bat within a few weeks of his departure. Some patterns tend to really stand out."
Bruce merely stared at him.
"Did you know, that if someone were to manage to take out maybe two dozen key men in the Gotham underworld, Matches Malone is actually in a position to take over?" Lex chuckled. "I'm sure you must've set that up somehow, because prior to hooking up with you, there's nothing in his dossier to indicate any sort of strategic nor tactical brilliance."
"You did this for a leg-breaker who probably would've gotten himself locked away in Riker's years ago if you hadn't gotten to him first. The same goes for nearly every other member of your cabal." Lex reached into his coat and pulled out a sheaf of photos that he tossed casually onto the table.
Bruce picked them up and looked through them, alarm in his eyes, but his face still struggled to stay impassive. They were all clear head shots. In civilian attire and their uniforms.
Lex began rattling names off. "Robbie Malone, Matches' Malone's son. The first Robin. Another no-hoper who would've ended up in a life of petty crime before he finally escalated to follow in his father's footsteps. I believe he's working with your son the policeman up in Bludhaven now as Nightwing."
"Jason Todd, the kid of one of Two-Face's henchmen and later your adopted son. The second Robin, someone who would likely have been swallowed whole by Children's services then spat out a hardened criminal."
"Instead, he died." Bruce replied in a soft, bitter tone.
"The Joker talked about him once. A long time ago. As I understand it, he went down fighting." Lex said, but he could see the bitter cast in Bruce's expression. He had to move on before that memory soured everything.
"Alvin Draper, another juvenile delinquent who ended up as the current Robin. Respected by the heroic community. Another life turned around."
"Helena Bertinelli, the only survivor of the Bertinelli family massacre. Mob princess turned vigilante. The Huntress. Three quarters of the way ready to self-destruct and unleash a mob war on Gotham the likes of which even Hollywood couldn't imagine. Then once she moved here... she's suddenly a school teacher and the Huntress stops maiming people. Something else you can take credit for."
"Stephanie Brown, daughter of the Cluemaster. Now prowling the night as the Spoiler. Who I believe might also have been dating Draper at some point and has a daughter by him. Right now, her life's also been turned around. Doing well in school. Doing well as a masked vigilante."
"I haven't managed to figure out who the first Batgirl is, but I suspect she's the woman who now coordinates the Justice League for you. Had to retire after some sort of crippling back injury, at least that's what Prometheus told me."
Bruce's face had smoothed out during Lex's recital. "That was the Joker again." Bruce said finally.
Lex's eyes lit up and he snapped his fingers as various pieces fell into place. "Then... that makes it Barbara Gordon. Amanda Waller's had her eyes on that woman. She's supposed to be a genius. Which makes sense the more I think about it."
"Your research has been very thorough, Lex." Bruce said ruefully. He leaned back in the easy chair, steepling his fingers before him. He'd inclined his head forward slightly and the shadows of his brow seemed to hood his eyes. Made them dangerous. Lex knew he'd finally gotten through to the man.
"You needn't worry about anyone overhearing my little recital, Bruce." He gestured at the slightly distorted air around them. "Privacy force-field. Keeps sound from inside the field from getting out."
"Doesn't work so well against a lip reader." Bruce noted idly.
"I suppose not." Lex shifted the pictures on the table around somewhat until a particular pair of photos revealed themselves. "Last one. The second Batgirl..." Lex glanced up to explain the point he was trying to make when he spotted a familiar female form. "Who I just realized is walking towards us." Lex sputtered to a stop as the lovely Asian woman waved to them.
She was in an expensive, well-pressed tan suit. Her hair was done up in a bun and she wore a pair of half-moon spectacles. She ignored the shimmer in the air as she stepped up to them. Lex had to admit it was a very good look for her. He also had to remind himself that she was underage.
Bruce leaned into the chair deeper and said, "Did I mention lip readers?"
Lex smiled up at the woman and said, "Angel."
She gave him a curt nod, then glanced over to Bruce. "He knows about Malone. Shall I kill him?"
Lex sputtered once more. This was unexpected. He knew Bruce wouldn't have met with him without protection. But he'd chosen the public location specifically to curtail any possible confrontations. He held still, tense. He'd seen the woman move. He knew that she could tear a man apart with those dainty little hands. He'd misjudged them. He'd underestimated Wayne. He slowly slipped a hand into his pocket, prepared to hit his panic button which would send Mercy running towards him. He doubted she'd be able to get to him in time, but by God she'd be able to take vengeance for him.
Bruce held up a hand, "No, Cass... get him a danish. And can you find out what's taking my Heartracer so long?"
She nodded once more, then broke into a wide grin for Lex. She grabbed the frapuccino out of Lex's hand and took a long drink from it. "Should have seen your face." She said, barely suppressing a giggle.
Lex relaxed and noticed that she'd demolished half of his drink in a few sips. He would have complained about it, but she'd already stepped away from them once more, heading for the counter where Lex noted Paul was back behind the counter. Just in time for the girl he knew as "Angel" (aka Batgirl), to reach out and grab Paul by the collar. Lex couldn't quite make out what was being said, but he was certain she was threatening him.
Bruce also seemed to relax a little. "As you can see, I didn't come unprepared."
Lex chuckled. "I keep chiding you about underestimating me, but I see I made the same mistake."
"Quite." Bruce said with a tiny trace of smugness in his voice.
Lex nodded. "Mea culpa. Nevertheless, I think you can see the pattern I was trying to establish for you."
"No, Lex. Spell it out for me." Bruce replied.
"You turn people's lives around. You redeem them." Lex spoke fervently. "You take criminals, the children of criminals... those with no hope... no chance for redemption and you make them better." Lex seemed to collapse into himself. He let his facade drop for a moment and allowed the exhaustion of the past months, all his fears and anger to show through. "Do that for me. I need you to help me make up for my life."
Bruce was silent. Even Cass's arrival with a plate bearing three pastries and his Heartracer broke the silence.
Lex say miserably on the couch, obviously struggling to pull himself back together when he felt Cass's hand on his shoulder. She didn't say a word as she slipped onto the couch and gave him a small one-armed hug, which he shrugged off with an embarrassed shake of the head.
She smiled at him briefly, then looked to Bruce. "He means it." She said. "Wants to be better. He's been bad a long time. A very long time. He wants to make up for it."
"I don't know what I coul-" Bruce began to say, but Cass cut him off, giving Lex another pat on the shoulder.
"I've been bad. I figured out early. I didn't know how to be good, until you helped me learn how to be good." She spoke slowly, then glanced at Lex. "He didn't know how to be good. " She patted his bald head with fondness. "He was bad for a long time But he wants to be better."
Bruce tried again, "I can appreciate that, Cass... but he's..."
She made another curt hand-gesture. "It's the same. I was bad. Now good. He was bad. Wants to be good. Thinks he knows how to be good. Wants you to help him make good."
Bruce sighed and looked at Lex. "In concrete terms... what do you need me to do?"
Lex had gotten his composure back. As much as he was able to, but Cass's presence at his side was distracting and soothing. "Cards on the table time, Bruce." He said, "You've seen my information on the Manhunter conspiracy?"
Bruce nodded. "I've confirmed most of it." He frowned deeply. "Even to the fact that I do have the same amygdal scarring you describe."
Lex nodded. "You also know I've pretty much destroyed Cadmus."
"And spent the better part of the past few months chasing down every spare Manhunter you can." Bruce replied.
"I have additional information now that I didn't have at the time." Lex said, pulling out a small e-Reader from his inner coat pocket. He tossed it to Bruce. "This is what Mercy calls the Cliff Notes version explaining who is actually in charge of the conspiracy and what else they've been up to. There's a slide show presentation available if you prefer..."
Lex settled back quietly into the couch as Bruce Wayne read. Lex glanced down in surprise and noted that his drink had vanished once more. Cass was drinking from it while nibbling daintily at one of the cheese danishes she'd brought back. He frowned at her and she flashed him a playful grin.
"The glasses suit you." He said.
"Disguise." She replied briefly with a shrug. "Don't need them."
He chuckled. "And your hair looks nice like that."
She sniffed. "You liked it loose."
"I was delirious with fever then."
"Angel." She mouthed, then laughed. He laughed with her.
Lex glanced over to Bruce. He could tell the man had just sped read through the information he'd provided. He also had his eyes closed and his pupils beneath the lids moved in a distinctive way. Telepathic communications, Lex decided. Now that Lex had solved the riddle of Bruce Wayne, the man seemed to no longer care to hide things from him. Or perhaps the seeming openness was its own trap. The Justice League, Lex decided, was getting an update from their boss. He hoped they would do what he expected them to.
Bruce's eyes snapped open and he looked at Lex. "This is all true?"
"To the best that I can determine." Lex replied.
"I'll have the information confirmed."
"Most of the original information sources that you could get your hands on would've been destroyed long since."
Bruce smiled. "We have our ways."
"Ah, yes. Ms. Gordon." Lex said thoughtfully. "That was her voice in my head when the Mageddon event happened, wasn't it? The voice coordinating the entire population of the planet to take out a planet-sized superweapon from the dawn of time."
Bruce held up the e-Reader. "If this does turn out to be all true and we have a window of two months remaining before they attempt to query Earth's Manhunter agents, what do you expect to be able to do?"
"I'll need Batman and most of the Justice League to spearhead a mission to Oa before the deadline is up."
Bruce shook his head. "Impossible. Batman can't leave Gotham for too long. There's too much to do."
"Never tell me something is impossible, Bruce." Lex tutted. "I've made arrangements to give your Batman some breathing room."
"What do you mean, 'breathing room'?"
"Notice how quiet it's been in Gotham lately?" Lex asked with a grin.
"What did you do?" Bruce asked darkly.
"I made arrangements." He glanced down at his watch. "As of twenty minutes ago, Joker should have checked himself back into Arkham demanding that they lock him up for the rest of his life."
"What?" Bruce almost shot to his feet.
"There were defects in the original Lazarus pits engineered by the Manhunters and designed to drive Ra's Al Ghul progressively mad. I had access to the Manhunters' database and the method for correcting those defects." Lex said casually. It was actually much more complex than he'd hinted at, but they did not need to know that right now. "I had Ra's replaced with an impostor to keep the League of Assassins in check after I drove him sane."
Bruce looked as though he were ready to have an aneurysm. "You drove Ra's sane?"
"And took over the League of Assassins." Lex said, stealing his drink back to take a sip. "The real Ra's is in a sanitarium in upstate New York recovering. He's had a rough century."
"How does Joker fit into this then?" Bruce asked tightly.
"I wanted to see how well the perfected Lazarus pit could work." Lex said, keeping his voice cool. He was doing his best not to make it too obvious how terribly it had affected him, "I simply chose the craziest individual I knew. I told him it would drive him sane. He said he wanted to see it try. I bet him a Klondike bar that it would do it."
"He came out crying, perfectly sane, remembering everything he's done with perfect clarity."
Bruce winced. "My God."
"His brain chemistry and the brain damage had healed themselves in the Pit." Lex nodded. "A biopsy confirmed that much. I had some people arrange to take him to Arkham right before I left to meet up with you here. I don't think he'll be causing trouble for a while."
Bruce closed his eyes and rubbed the bridge of his nose with his fingers. "You're not planning on marketing this, are you?"
"No, of course not." Lex said dismissively.
"He's thought about it." Cass said from beside him. "But not much."
Lex frowned at her and continued. "The Pit takes too long to set up, it's too difficult to repeat in the same spot... and I have a genetic patch treatment from the Cadmus data that may do the exact same thing far more reliably." He shrugged, "It's best used for it's original purpose of prolonging life and bringing back the dead."
Bruce shook his head. "All this to buy time for the JLA to be on Oa."
"Their presence is critical." Lex said. "It can't be me leading the charge, Bruce... no one trusts me. It needs to be them."
"Why the JLA? You've put together teams before. In fact you've led them with some success. Why bother trying to get us to do this for you?"
"It's always simpler if I don't have to keep waiting for the inevitable betrayal. "Lex replied. "Your people will stay focused and on-task, whereas any team I could pull together that would be effective would be busy trying to find out how to take advantage of the situation and looking out for themselves."
"What do you intend for them to do?" Bruce asked.
Lex gestured expansively. Or he would have, if Cass hadn't been in his way on his left side. "Oa is the center of the universe." He said, then glanced at Bruce. "Are you familiar with Sun Tzu?"
"Oa is the center of the universe, easily reached by nearly every hyperluminal capable civilization. The exact same civilizations Oa has been manipulating. Oa is Junction Ground."
"You intend to join with allies?" Bruce asked slowly.
Lex merely grinned.
"When you have your allies, what then?"
"Once together, we will stand at the heart of Guardian Power. Oa is the center of the universe. Their seat of power." Lex replied.
"Serious ground." Bruce said softly. Lex nodded.
Bruce sank back in his chair and closed his eyes for a moment. Lex recognized it. Telepathic communication again. Obviously the Martian. His intent appraisal of Bruce was interrupted when Angel... Cass, he remember Bruce call her, leaned distractingly against him. "You're being too mysterious. It annoys him."
"Then it's working." Lex flashed a grin at her.
"He is funny when he gets annoyed." She agreed and handed him an empty frappuccino cup. He wasn't entirely certain when she'd gotten it back, but she had managed to finish it. "Shoe on the other foot."
Bruce opened his eyes once more and spoke. "I am not funny when I'm annoyed." He said flatly, then turned his attention to Lex. "We've checked your information against what we had available. It's... compelling."
"That quickly?" Lex asked, raising an eyebrow.
"We have the ultimate speed reader on staff." Bruce said dismissively. "We had to be sure. There's precious little confirmation-"
"You wouldn't find much, like I said." Lex replied. "My own source was only able to provide corroboration off-world. Mostly ruins."
Bruce nodded. "We do have eyewitness testimony that corroborates parts of what you've given us. The Kryptonian historical record and Thanagarian archeological evidence bear out other parts of your information."
Lex chuckled, "Trust but verify?"
The dark-haired man didn't even bat an eyelash, "We don't trust you, so it's verify all the way."
"I trust him." Cass volunteered.
"I trust your judgment," He replied pointedly, "I don't trust Lex. So I made a few arrangements of my own."
Lex raises an eyebrow. He'd actually been enjoying himself. It wasn't often he dealt with a man who he felt could be treated as an intellectual equal and despite knowing better, Lex kept being surprised by the depths that Bruce Wayne had been keeping secreted away. He flashed Cass another irritated glance. "Well, let's see those arrangements in a minute. Someone," He gave Cass another meaningful look. "Appears to have stolen my drink."
"She does that to Robin's cookies too." Bruce said mildly.
"They were lonely." She replied innocently. "I introduced them to new friends." She punctuated her statement by rubbing her belly through her suit coat.
Lex rose to his feet. "Well, that being said, I do need a dri-" Whatever else he would've said was interrupted by Paul, who was no longer quaking in his little loafers standing next to him. "Frappuccino, sir?"
Lex started and the drink was pushed into his hand.
Bruce nodded to the barista and flicked up a hand which had a folded fifty in it.
He would have been tempted to gloss it over, but a few details caught his attention. This Paul showed absolutely none of the earlier terror of him or Cass. He looked closer at the collar of the man's shirt and noticed that it didn't quite look right. After a certain point the material melded into the man's skin. It wouldn't have been noticeable normally, but Lex was quite close. The letters on his name tag were also in a slightly different font... and despite the heavy scent of coffee in various forms that permeated the air, there was a distinct scent about this Paul.
Like chocolate sandwich cookies. With a cream filling.
Lex sat back down and almost missed it when Cass acquired his fresh cup. "Arrangements, Bruce?" He asked sarcastically.
"What do you mean?" Bruce asked innocently.
"You called in the Martian." Lex said pointing at 'Paul'. "Were you Paul all along?"
The man's eyes flashed red for a moment, just enough to confirm his identity for Lex. "No. The real Paul is in the employee locker room at the moment, replacing his pants. Cassandra's earlier conversation with him made an impression. On his bladder control."
"What do you think, J'onn?" Bruce asked distantly, giving his pronunciation of the name a slight lilt at the vowel. Lex wondered if Bruce actually knew how to speak Martian?
It was disconcerting hearing the Martian's stentorian bass issuing from Paul's pale, pierced face. "Luthor's mind is a cesspool of depravity and vice."
Bruce and Lex both frowned.
J'onn continued. "Which is probably being fueled by the fact that he has Miss Cassandra pressed against his arm." Lex flushed and Cass looked amused and pleased.
"Can we stay on-topic, please?" Bruce said with a sigh.
J'onn nodded slightly. "He is telling the truth to the best of his knowledge. He believes his plan has the best chance for success. It is bold, audacious and seems likely to work." He shook his head, "Luthor believes that he is humanity's only chance to survive free... which while arrogant, may even be accurate."
Bruce merely raised an eyebrow and Lex knew some sort of telepathic communication was no doubt going on.
"He's sincere." J'onn said finally. "He really does want to be a better man. He considers this task to be part of his penance. His redemption. He wants to make a better world..." J'onn chuckled. "Preferably one where people make fun of Superman for having his underwear on the outside."
Lex shrugged. "I have very specific ideas of how I want the world to be like."
"There is arrogance, pride and limitless ambition in him... I never thought I'd say this, but he means well." J'onn continued, putting a hand on Bruce's shoulder. "I know you do not trust him but he bears listening to."
Cass had her arms crossed when she said smugly. "Told you."
Lex leaned back into the couch and smiled smugly as he folded his arms across his chest. It was all coming together.