EPILOGUE – EVERYTHING OLD IS NEW AGAIN

Bruce Wayne had always hated funerals. He still remembered his first, back when he was just a child. He'd stood by the graveside of Thomas and Martha Wayne, his murdered parents, with silent tears streaming down his cheeks. Even with Alfred's comforting hand on his shoulder, he'd felt all alone. Well, today, Alfred wasn't there to comfort him. Today, it was Alfred's funeral.He almost didn't go, but he knew that he had to, if only to say goodbye. Before it started, the chaplain had asked him to say a few words. Bruce didn't want to. He didn't want everyone there seeing just how weak he had become. But somehow, if felt like he had to say something: it was the least he could do for Alfred. And so, Bruce found himself standing behind the podium in a daze of grief.

"Good morning," He said, the irony of the statement hitting him, "Of course, everyone knows who I am, but very few knew about my butler, Alfred. Those of you assembled here surely knew he was much more than that to me. After my parent's death, he became my legal guardian, helping me cope with my loss. He has been by my side for everything. No matter where I was in the world, I knew if something were to happen, I would just have to call, and he'd be there."

Bruce looked out amongst the assembled mourners. Sat in the front row were Dick Grayson and Tim Drake, their eyes red raw from grief. Tim was crying openly, but Dick maintained a solemn silence, his head bowed.

"There was…nobody quite like Alfred Pennyworth. Many of you will fondly remember him for his sharp wit, but I will always remember him for his heart. He was the bravest, most noble man I've ever known. He was a second father to me, and I will miss him for the rest of my life. Thank you."

Bruce stepped off the podium, too numb to even cry anymore. It was at that point where Oswald Cobblepot approached him. The Penguin. The Joker and Two-Face were brought to justice, but as usual, he'd been unable to tie The Penguin to anything. The only evidence of his involvement was his own appearance: his face was a colourful mass of bruises and his arm was in a sling. But what the hell was he doing here? Well, that was obvious. He was trying to ingratiate himself with one of Gotham's wealthiest citizens.

"I'm very sorry for your loss, Bruce," he said, "A death in the family is always hard, as I'm sure you know. If you need someone to talk to, or just need to get away from it all, just be among some friendly faces, come and see me at The Iceberg Lounge. We're closed for…renovation at the moment, but once we've reopened, you should know that you're always welcome."

Cobblepot extended his hand. Gritting his teeth to conceal his rage, Bruce Wayne shook his hand.

"Thank you, Mr. Cobblepot," he replied, with great difficulty.

After the funeral service was finished, he stayed for a moment, watching everyone leave. The only person left was Dick Grayson, who was standing in front of Alfred's gravestone.

"Dick?" Bruce asked, "Will you be alright?"

Bruce saw the tears brimming in Dick's eyes. He opened his mouth to say something, but couldn't. Finally, he broke down. He'd tried to maintain his composure, but couldn't hold in his pain any longer. Bruce took him in his arms, and Dick's head slumped down onto his shoulder. Bruce wanted to tell him not to feel ashamed for crying, that it just meant he was human, more human than Bruce himself was. But he couldn't find the words, and instead remained silent. He remembered when he was 8 years old, crying in Alfred's arms after his parent's funeral.

It's amazing how things can change, yet stay almost exactly the same.

Meanwhile, at the District Attorney's office, Jim Gordon felt like he was attending another funeral. The funeral of Harvey Dent. Harvey Dent, now in custody, was once again Two-Face. But at the station, Dent had resurfaced briefly to make one request: that he be allowed to clear out his own office before being sent back to Arkham.

Jim Gordon had gone to the station as soon as he'd found out what happened. Two-Face would only talk to him, and Dent had asked him for this one favour. It pained Gordon to see Dent once again destroyed. So close to salvation, only for The Joker to take it all away. Another life ruined by that monster. And so here he was: standing in what had ever-so-briefly been Dent's office, a group of armed police officers outside, with Two-Face shoving Dent's personal effects in a box.

"You won't hold me for long," Two-Face snarled, slamming a paper-weight into the box, "I'm gonna get payback on all of you for sticking me back in that nuthouse!"

"I'm doing you a favour," sighed Gordon, "A thank you would be nice…"

"This is for Dent, not for me!" Two-Face snapped back.

But then Two-Face faltered. With a shaking hand, he picked up the last thing left on the desk.

"Gilda…"

He gently placed the framed photo in the box. For a brief moment, he was Harvey Dent again. A tear ran down his good eye as he looked up at Gordon.

"What happened to me, Jimbo?" Dent asked, "How did we get to this?"

And then he began to cry. It wasn't a pretty sight, his mangled face contorting in pain and sorrow. Gordon tentatively placed his hand on Dent's shoulder. But it was swiped away angrily. Two-Face was back.

"Take me out of this dump," Two-Face growled, "I'm done."

Arkham Asylum. Home, sweet home. The Joker was back in captivity, beaten once again. This wasn't supposed to happen! This should have been his endgame, his greatest joke, his time to finally defeat Batman. Discovering that he was Bruce Wayne was supposed to change everything, so why was it just the same? Batman beats the snot out of him, and sends him packing to Arkham. This wasn't funny anymore!

But this wasn't over. Not by a long shot. No, it was just the beginning. Maybe this wasn't supposed to be his grand finale. Maybe it was supposed to be the opening flourish in a whole new Act in this theatre of death, where Batman and The Joker were the stars. But now there were a whole new batch of supporting players, a whole list of people from Bruce Wayne's life just waiting to be picked off. More than enough to sustain their epic, Shakespearian tragedy for many years to come.

And maybe that's where the real fun was. Not in victory, but in the battle itself. Maybe The Joker needed Batman as much as Batman needed The Joker. Batman defined him – his rigid sense of order and vomit-inducing dedication to his morals represented everything The Joker stood against. Batman was his antithesis, the yin to his yang. So could one truly exist without the other?

The Joker laughed away this thought. Of course he could. Once Batman was dead, The Joker would know once and for all that he was better. And Gotham City would belong to him. He would be Gotham's king, ruling over a kingdom of smiling corpses.

And that thought brought it on. Soft at first, a gentle "Hm-hm-hm-hm" pushing against his chest, his grin dancing on his demonic face. And then his mouth burst open, like the flick of the switch on an atom bomb, and the laughter was free. Each "HA!" spat out with hate, cruelty and a malevolent good-cheer, pounding all around the building and right through the souls of everyone in it. It was like The Devil being summoned from the abyss. And many people would say he was The Devil. He was The Ace Of Knaves, The Harlequin Of Hate, The Clown Prince Of Crime. He was The Joker, and one day the whole world would be in on the joke.

Smile, and the whole world smiles with you. Cry, and you weep alone.