Blame Tim's Challenge.

Living in a Sasha-Free World

**

It was dark when Bruce came in to work that morning. Usually he went home and caught a few hours' sleep, then arrived at the office fashionably late. This morning, he was a man with a purpose.

He sat down at his desk and turned the computer on, attempting to form his rebuttal—his new offer—his begging, pleading insistence that Lucius Fox stay. He stared at the dark wooden desk top while the computer booted, trying to think of what he could do.

His first thought was, Bruce, you're an idiot. Fox has never pulled a punch with him before, why should the threat of resignation be a bluff?

But he couldn't have a body guard—despite Fox's well-intended insistence. The havoc that would wreak! The issues in his life had ALREADY reached critical mass without the addition of a body guard, or Fox's quitting.

In a moment of disgust (mostly with himself), he took the folded white paper on official company letter head out of the envelope and reread.

"You're an idiot," Bruce muttered to himself. "You really are."

Realization opened like a flower inside his mind. There was only a certain amount of abuse you can put those close to you through, before they got up and left. Nightwing hadn't spoken to him in over a month, Robin would be happier if he vanished off the face of the earth, after betraying him to Spoiler—Huntress had threatened bodily harm if he crossed her path any time soon.

At least they knew what he was about—they knew WHY he was difficult. Lucius Fox had been run through the ringer since he'd come to work for this company—all for what appeared to be his employer's whims. And that man was loyal—too damned loyal. Anyone else would WANT their stupid employer dead by this point, and Fox was playing parent with him, and issuing Tough Love.

Fox had NEVER asked to be part of Bruce's Other Life, and the chaos that resided there. Bruce had simply used him to maintain the illusion of his own incompetence. There was one thing Bruce had never planned on—Lucius actually caring about him as a human being. He should have, he knew Fox was that kind of guy. But still. Bruce, in typical Bruce fashion, had underestimated someone when it came to emotional matters.

There was a knock at the door just as Bruce had finished logging on to the computer.

"Come in!" Bruce said cheerfully. As the door opened, he folded the resignation letter and put it back into the envelope. Lucius Fox stepped through the door way. "Just the man I wanted to see," he continued with false joy. "Close the door."

Lucius complied, but didn't step into the office any further than a few feet.

"Sit down," Bruce ordered, loosing some of the glaze from his eyes. "I want to talk to you about this."

"I don't think there is much to talk about," Fox responded casually. "You wouldn't accept my recommendation on something of life and death importance, and I don't think I can remain employed by this company any longer." Fox stood tall, with his head defiantly high, but he was still staring at the blue-green carpet.

"What can I offer you to make you stay—besides my compliance with your wishes."

It was the most serious, mature tone he'd heard from his employer in years. Fox's gaze came off the carpet's patterns and looked into Bruce's eyes. They were hard and focused—some hidden intellect suddenly springing to life. "That is the only thing," he said.

"I can take care of myself," Bruce said with cold assurance. Fox had never heard such certainty in his employer's voice.

Fox spread his hands in a gesture of desperation. He wasn't sure what he could say to get his point across. There seemed only one thing left—action. "I have no doubt you think that. Bruce, I can't stay here and keep being a—an enabler."

Bruce smiled. It wasn't that typical Brucie grin that he saw out on the golf course, or at parties, it was a sad, knowing smile, as if he had just suddenly realized the irony of his own end. "Alfred told me that at the beginning of the winter. Not in those words. But he did the same thing you're doing."

Fox was wondering why he hadn't seen the old man around lately.

"He's not in residence at Brentwood Academy, looking after the neighbor's son. Look… Lucius… I know I'm not an easy man to work for." Was this some sort of apology? Bruce had never ONCE apologized for his thoughtless behavior in the past. Fox wasn't sure what to make of it. "But I CAN take care of myself. And if I had some… body guard following around after me, it would REALLY make my life… difficult. To say the least."

"What are you trying to say, Bruce?" Lucius had a feeling they'd officially entered uncharted territory.

Bruce folded his hands and placed them in front of him on the desk. He stared at them for a moment, trying to find the words. He'd planned to write a formal response, make him a better offer—do SOMETHING. Not this.

"There are some things that go on in my life that are not public knowledge. A… body guard… would create serious problems." Bruce looked at Fox, hoping for some sign of understanding, before he'd be forced to go further.

"What are you trying to say?" Fox asked cautiously. "What else IS there?" He assumed Bruce was about parties and golfing, and throwing large amounts of money at charities to assuage some personal guilt he carried around with him.

"Things I'd rather not get into," Bruce said very darkly.

Fox took one cautionary step back towards the large oak office door. "I… I don't even know you." That much had JUST become apparent.

"Most people don't." Bruce rose, and came around the desk. "Stay."

"I'm not sure I want to," Fox answered. Who WAS this person who had employed him for the last seventeen years?

Bruce pinched the bridge of his nose and clenched his eyes shut for a moment. "Alright." He leaned against the desk for support, trying to find the right words. "You're right. I'm not anyone you should trust. You don't know me. I don't even know me. I guess the only thing I've really learned recently is—sometimes full disclosure helps with certain… problems." Not in Tim's case it didn't, but that was another story entirely.

Lucius Fox had a feeling he was about to find out something he'd really rather not know. There was something about it though—it was like watching a train wreck. He couldn't advert his eyes.

"Remember a long time ago… when I had the safe put in behind the wall?"

"Oh-kay." Fox had NO idea where this was going.

"It wasn't for baubles for ladies."

Fox's shoulders fell a little in relief. "Baubles for guys?" he asked with a touch of humor.

"Not baubles." Bruce's reply was strained and without any amusement. He moved behind the desk again. He opened the right hand desk drawer, and spilled cold coffee on himself. With one hand, he removed the cold up, and with the other, he removed a remote control. "I was wondering what I did with that." He shook yesterday's coffee from his hand and placed the mug on his desk—right on Lucius' resignation. Pressing a sequence into the number pad, the book case behind the desk began to push outward, then slide to the left with quiet affiantcy .

He tried to make it sound humorous, but Bruce wasn't sure he'd pulled it off, exactly. "Sometimes… I have my mind on other things. Then I find moldy coffee in my desk drawer." At least SOME of his flightiness as Bruce wasn't entirely an act. He'd been trying to sign papers, AND contemplate the Joker's latest maneuver, and something had to get left behind. Sadly, it was the coffee.

The book case finished sliding away. Behind where it had been was a grey door, the size of the doorway to his office, complete with electronic and manual combinations. He gave attention to the first, then the second, then pulled opened the safe a bare inch then stopped.

Bruce was an idiot. What did he think he was doing?

"What's in the safe?" Fox asked cautiously. With his current run of luck, it would be the dead bodies of the women who allegedly 'left town' after being dumped by the billionaire playboy. Come to think of it—the contents did smell a little… funny.

"Ok. I'm doing it," he said with a wince. Before he could take it back and make up some lame, Brucie excuse, he jerked the door opened and held his eyes shut. There was silence in the room, he had a feeling if HE wasn't breathing, Lucius wasn't either. Why had he decided this was a good idea again? Oh yeah. Full disclosure. Lucius DESERVING to know.

Slowly he opened his eyes and looked at the Bat-symbol which was at eye level. There was no internal light in the vault, but it was still pretty obvious which the vault held.

"Well?" he asked finally, like a child seeking approval.

Behind him, on the other side of the desk, there was a large thud. Spinning around, Fox was not immediately visible. Bruce pushed shut the vault and it snapped closed with hallow, metallic finality as he rushed around the desk.

In a crumpled heap on the floor was the man who had endured EVERYTHING Bruce had put him through. And he didn't have a pulse.

THE END

Maybe this should be subtitled: the necessity of the bitchy blond.