Tomorrow Is Another Day
All characters belong to DC Comics/Warner Bros. This story is not intended for profit.
This is an Elseworlds tale.
The rain fell dully against the glass window, droplets sliding down the slick surface, slowly, casting the moonlight across the gray room, strange shapes forming from the pane at the foot of the bed.
The occupant turned fitfully, cast in some dark dream. Midnight blue sheets slithered over his large form as he groaned, trembling, with a slight sweat breaking across his brow.
A bolt of lightning was thrown from the sky, illuminating the room, thunder boomed loudly, like a gunshot, shaking the windowpanes.
Like a gunshot.
Bruce Wayne sat up in bed, blue eyes wide, breath caught in his chest. The pain built in his lungs until he gasped for air, leaving his broad chest taking in short breaths afterwards.
Bruce put his head in his hands, refusing to look up at Alfred, his butler and long-time friend. His ears sorted out the sounds of the dreamscape from reality, choosing to focus on the gentle trickle of rain against the window.
"Master Bruce," the old man said, his white hair a touch out of place from running into the room. This time the alarm gone from his voice, "Maybe you would like to sit by the fire for awhile."
Bruce Wayne turned up to look at Alfred, the haunted look in his eyes. It happened every year around this time.
It was the anniversary of his parents' death.
Bruce looked up at the painting of his mother and father hanging over the crackling fireplace.
Tonight they would die, over and over again in his head until the sun rose to push the darkest of his memories from his mind. He missed them so much. If only he had been Batman then. He could've saved them. He could've saved his family.
He took a drink of the scotch in his hand, listening to the clinking of the ice against the glass. Robin and Nightwing would be back from patrol soon, although they weren't much on speaking terms these days. Dick had made a habit of patrolling on this night, at first with much protestation from Bruce. He had resented it in the beginning, as a sign of his weakness, but then finally accepted the gesture as a gift. It was an act of kindness, and reminded him he should not take such things for granted, as he often did.
The flames of the fire leapt up suddenly, without warning, as Bruce stared into their depths. His eyes narrowed. Something was sitting among them. Smiling at him.
Tossing back the rest of the glass, he rose, his plush robe swishing against his neatly pressed pajamas, and neared the warmth.
"What do you want, Etrigan?"
The demon stepped from the fire, the heat licking his orange skin. He smiled broadly at Bruce, then bowed.
"To offer you a chance to right," he said, beginning one of his terrible rhymes, "The broken man you became this night."
Bruce gave a low chuckle, but it was bereft of mirth, hollow and bitter.
"Don't you have better things to do?"
"I was charged with a task; that you listen is all I ask."
He stared back at the demon, his hand clutching the glass tightly. With a swift movement, he threw the glass towards Etrigan, smashing it in the fireplace.
"Go away," he said, fighting to maintain his control, the muscles in his jaw twitching.
"Your mother and father can live anew; and with a word, so can you."
Bruce folded his arms. "A devil's bargain? Absolutely not. Go away."
Etrigan stepped towards him, stretching his arms out theatrically. "See what your life could be; if you would speak but a word to me."
A mist formed between his hands, green and swirling as a picture formed in its depths. It was Bruce, with his mother and father standing behind him, in old age. They were smiling at him. Smiling! It was like watching an ethereal home movie.
"Don't do this, Etrigan," Bruce said, a hint of fear in his tone.
The sound of a child crying. Selena Kyle was holding a baby in her arms, beaming up at Bruce. Her long dark hair was spilling out over the sheets as she sat up in his bed, dressed in a nightgown.
"Stop," Bruce said, clutching at his ears. His father's voice made him pull his hands away.
"Why Bruce, I think he has your eyes!"
"Father?" Bruce said, staring wide-eyed for the second time that night, looking over his dead father's smiling features. He resembled his father very closely but the man was gray-haired and slight of build, dressed in a fine suit, like he had been that night long ago.
"But he has Selena's smile," said his mother, cooing. "Let me hold him."
Bruce watched the baby change hands. His mother. She was wearing her favorite pearls. The very pearls that were ripped from her throat, bouncing like raindrops onto the pavement before his very eyes as he had watched the life drain from her body.
"All this could be yours and more; if but you would say the word," interrupted Etrigan.
"Alfred!!!" Bruce yelled, with clenched fists, screaming towards the door the other man always entered through. But no one came.
"What do you want from me?" Bruce asked the demon, tears beginning to form in his eyes.
"To live anew, it's simple, you see? You have only to ask, very nicely…'Please'."
The fire danced on the iris of his eyes. Bruce looked at the image of his father and mother, of Selena and the baby.
"Bruce, wake up."
She said it gently at first, and then began shaking him.
"It's your turn, honey. The baby is hungry."
Bruce moaned, and then got up like a zombie, heading to the crib that stood in the corner of the room. He looked down at his son, crying. The boy twisted his little body in fits, demanding to be fed. A corner of Bruce's mouth caught.
He was a Wayne all right. Picking up the crying child, he put a bottle to his mouth, lulling him softly back to sleep.
An hour later, Bruce was crawling back to bed, as Selena sighed and stretched her arm over his smooth chest, bereft of scars. He smiled at her touch, the way her hair fell against the pillow, tumbling down it to brush against his shoulder.
"Is Kal asleep?"
Bruce sat up with a start, pushing her hand away. "Kal?"
Selena looked confused, and rose to sit up next to him. "Yes. Our son. Kaleb?"
"You called him Kal," he replied.
"Bruce, what's wrong?" she said, reaching out for him.
"Nothing," he said softly, and turned over to sleep.
Bruce rose at the crack of dawn. He hated getting up early, but his father was a stickler for punctuality. Refusing to wake his wife at this hour, he stepped into the shower and then changed into his suit.
He left the bedroom kissing Selena goodbye, tickling his infant son and placing him in the bed next to her. That pretty picture remained in his head as he headed down the stairs for breakfast.
Alfred had made the best eggs and toast. Like he always had. Bruce ate all of it heartily, a renewed sense of vigor brought on this day, but by what, he wasn't sure. His mother joined him, and they talked casually about Kaleb, and she mentioned she was hosting a fundraiser for the orphanage next Tuesday, which he promised to attend. He bent down and kissed her on top of her head, then picked up his briefcase and followed Alfred out towards the towncar, settling down into the back seat and opening his briefcase to look over the latest headlines as he headed into the office.
As he hefted the paper, he looked down hard at the top headline.
"Lexcorp stock rises! Wayne Enterprises down."
Lex Luthor. He'd always despised that man. His business practices were less than ethical. Luthor cared for nothing but power.
The story below it was horrible…tragic. A family of circus performers touring in Gotham had been killed while performing. All except for the youngest, a boy.
"Dick Grayson," he said the name out loud.
"Pardon, sir?" said Alfred as he turned slightly over his shoulder, rounding the corner towards his father's office towers.
"Did you hear about the accident at the circus? It's terrible. That poor boy."
"Oh, yes," Alfred said, pulling the car to a stop. "Quite tragic, Master Bruce."
Bruce stared down at the picture of the Flying Graysons gathered together for a publicity shot, the boy smiling with his mother's arm around him.
"He's all alone now."
Bruce eased into his plush office chair, as his secretary brought in a cup of steaming coffee. He looked down at the paper again, laid flat on his desk, the face of Richard Grayson haunting his mind.
"Timely as usual, I see?"
He looked up to see his father leaning in the doorway, arms crossed, but with a playful smile fighting it's way to the surface.
The older man approached, as Bruce moved to put the newspaper into a drawer of his desk. His father stopped him, putting his hand down on the paper, and turning it towards him.
"The Grayson tragedy," his father said. Bruce watched him carefully. His father didn't often openly display emotion, at least not at work, and he thought he saw the old man's eyes become watery. He looked up at his son, and realized that he was caught in a moment.
"Someone should stop it," he said, staring back at his son.
Bruce's mind was a whirl. "What do you mean?" he whispered.
"I have friends at the D.A., as you know. They say it was murder. Local gangsters, working for…her!"
Incensed, he turned away, for a moment. Bruce watched the anger in him evidenced by the tight grip of his fists. It reminded him of something, but he couldn't place it.
"What do you mean, 'her'?"
"My son," he said, turning back to Bruce. "I know you're not dense. But there is some truth in tabloid, and she does exist. I don't care what the police say. She's a kingpin, running our town into the ground, in more ways than one."
Bruce got to his feet, frustrated, slamming his hands down on the mahogany desk.
His father stared back at him, shock on his face at his son's display of anger. Bruce flinched, and eased back down into his chair.
His coffee had spilled over the picture of the Flying Graysons.
Work was interrupted that day by a newscast. Everyone's eyes were glued to the television as Lex Luthor announced he was running for President.
Bruce looked over at his father, and saw the hot anger burning beneath his calm exterior. He looked to Bruce, and motioned him silently towards a private office. He followed his father, as the old man closed the door behind them and then crossed his arms.
"You know what this means."
Bruce dug into every corner of his mind, but he couldn't make heads or tail of what his father was saying, so he remained silent.
"He's going to sink us. He's wanted to for years. But now, if he becomes elected, he will." His father sat, wearily in a chair, pressing a hand against his head. "I had hoped he would be stopped."
"You can't fight an unethical man with ethics," Bruce said. "Not in a corporate world." He placed a loving hand on his father's shoulder.
"Actually, I was talking about Superman," his father said, with a chuckle.
Bruce took a step back at the name.
"I've been funding him for years, Bruce. Surely you've deduced that by now?"
"No," Bruce said, rubbing his temples, as his father let out a sigh. "No..I-I hadn't."
"I've been working with him to halt Luthor's schemes. But then Luthor found out his weakness, and exposed it publicly. He's tried to get evidence of Luthor's crimes, but I'm afraid there's no cure for Kryptonite."
Bruce swallowed. Kryptonite? Why did the word seem so familiar to him, if he knew nothing of it?
"Is he dead?" Bruce asked, thinking of the Flying Graysons.
"No, but he's weakened. And Luthor's power-play might just drive him over the edge."
"And then what happens?" Bruce asked solemnly.
"And then he turns into her," the old man answered, looking up at his son. Bruce saw the weight of his father's life in that one moment. "I don't think I can bear to watch it again."
"You didn't answer me before. Who is this woman you're talking about?"
His father stood, and stared at him, pointing a finger accusingly. "Don't pretend you don't know!" he said, raising his voice. Bruce looked down at him dumbfounded, but for some reason, understanding the anger without knowing the source.
The old man sat down, leaning his head against the back of the chair, and placing his hands on his thighs. He breathed evenly for a few moments, as Bruce remained silent, before he continued.
"She came to our world from Themyscria. The land of the Amazons."
Bruce perked up a little. It seemed familiar, and it interested him.
"Does that surprise you?" his father asked.
"No," Bruce replied unevenly.
"She wanted to teach us the ways of peace," his father continued. "A young woman, she came to Gotham, and sought to change our city for the better. In those days, she was beautiful: a bright light of hope. Over the years, she continued to fight to make Gotham a better place. Her weapon was a golden lasso that pulled the truth from lies."
He looked over at his son, who was watching him intently. "But it destroyed her."
Bruce started laughing, despite his father's discomfort. "How could it destroy her? The streets are clean, the people are happy…"
"Happy?" his father answered, raising his voice. "There's a curfew, we have to pay for her protection, all of the city officials are swayed by her power," he gasped. "Happy! Sometimes I wonder, Bruce," he said, staring back at him. "It's like you aren't here with the rest of us."
Bruce fumed in the towncar on the way home. His conversation with his father had ended angrily, and bitterly. Did he just not understand the man? Most of the things he'd said had no meaning to him. Was his father's sanity slipping in his old age?
"Alfred!" he said sharply, coming out of his thoughtful daze.
"Yes, Master Bruce?" he replied.
"Who is this 'Diana'?"
Alfred remained silent.
"I demand you tell me who she is!" Bruce said, unbuckling his seatbelt and leaning towards the front of the car.
He watched as Alfred fought an internal battle between his love for Bruce and his loyalty to his father.
"I'm not to speak of her."
"Speak of her?" Bruce said. "I want you to take me to her."
Alfred slammed on the brakes, practically throwing Bruce into the dashboard.
Alfred turned towards him, and stared him down as the cars began honking behind them. They were sitting in an intersection, but Bruce refused to back down.
"Take me to her," he said, his voice taking a low, dark tone.
He didn't know where it came from, but Alfred did as he asked.
Bruce watched as they cruised through Gotham's downtown, into a slum. Watching in disbelief at the conditions these people lived in, he thought about all of the wealth he was accustomed to. Did people really live this way? Was this what his father was talking about?
The image of his father, standing in his office, his eyes glued to Bruce. It haunted him.
"Someone should stop it," he had said.
The expression on his face…it was like someone asking a question, instead of making a statement. Bruce shook his head. Why was it all so confusing? Maybe he was the one losing his mind.
Alfred pulled to a hard stop in front of a warehouse. Bruce met his stare, and felt the other man silently begging him to not venture out of the car.
"I have to," he said to Alfred. The butler blinked twice, and watched Bruce exit the towncar in his suit and trenchcoat, wondering if he'd ever see him alive again.
Bruce closed the car door behind him, and slapped the roof, as the car drove away. He walked up the steps to the entrance, eyeing the two large men that guarded it.
Ignoring them, he pushed against the door, but one of them stopped him.
"What's the password?" he said with a growl.
"I'm here to see Diana," Bruce said, with more surety than he had for as long as he could remember.
"Hahaha. Who isn't?" laughed the other man.
Something about their demeanor struck Bruce as odd. They were huge, with squared jaws and thick muscles. Thugs, obviously, but their posture was almost…inhuman.
"Step aside," he said, this time using the same voice he had earlier with Alfred.
The two looked at each other and then crossed their arms, shuffling to block the door between them.
"Say, aren't you Bruce Wayne?" asked one of them. The other nudged him and grunted.
"Yes," Bruce answered. "How did you know?"
"I may look stupid, but I can still read the papers," the first one replied. The second started a low growl, as the first continued. "Maybe if you say please, really nice."
Bruce watched the two men get testy with one another. "Fine. Please?" he asked.
They both moved out of the way, as Bruce pushed inside the building. The second man stared at the first, a gleam in his eye.
"What?" said the demon, shrugging. "You don't want to spend eternity as a bouncer, do you?"
"Nah, let's go grab a beer."
He walked through the odd crowd as several people stopped to stare at him. Trying to appear nonchalant, he kept going towards the back of the warehouse, ignoring the pounding dance music that hit his ears, the rampant drug use and general debauchery of the crowd that filled it. Some of them made him uncomfortable, just as the two guarding the front had.
It was like if he turned quickly enough, he could see them change shape out of the corner of his eye, and their true forms were not human; pebbled flesh, horns, fangs, claws. He caught himself after futilely trying to do this several times, shoving his way towards the ornate door. Finally reaching it, he saw that the intricate carvings were in ebony wood, the detail twisted shapes of human beings crying out as though they were in pain. He pressed his palm to the door, but it opened of it's own volition.
"Come in," said a voice from inside.
Bruce stepped through, and watched as the door shut, leaving him in darkness. Candles flickered to life all around him, creating a pathway for him to follow. Treading slowly along it, he looked from side to side to see eyes glowing back at him from the shadows. They followed him slowly, with what seemed like curiosity, shuffling in between columns that were adorned with weaponry; it was a trophy room.
An emerald colored ring shone on one. He looked at it carefully, feeling it calling out to him. A golden trident sat on the pedestal nearest it. Bruce started to sweat. Across from the trident, there was a mask, hanging in the empty air. Red, with gold fins pointing away, the ragged bottom making it appear it was torn from the wearer. But the thing that shocked him the most was a skull, hovering just like the mask. Inhuman in countenance, but a strange nobility about it.
"That one was a Martian."
He looked up, wiping his palms against his trousers. A woman sat atop a dais, staring back at him with a thin, wicked smile. Her posture gave away her boredom.
She was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.
The thought made him guilty, thinking back to Selena. Or was she making him think this? He narrowed his eyes at her, watching her smile broaden.
"It's not often someone resists one of my gifts," she said, rising.
"Diana, I presume?"
The tall woman made her way down the steps, dragging her long red robes behind her. Gold armor gleamed against her chest, in the shape of an attacking eagle, the same color as her crown, which had a red star whose points jutted out over the metal. The sides of it swirled in the shape of two horns.
He followed her with his eyes as she walked in a circle around him. He caught the pair of empty columns nearest her throne.
"Who is that for?" he asked pointing to the one on the left.
"Hmm?" His statement had distracted her from appreciating his form, as she stopped behind him. "That's for Superman," she answered, draping her long arms over his shoulders. Each of her wrists was guarded by a silver bracelet.
"And the other one?" he asked.
"For anyone else, who dares challenge me," she said, whispering into his ear. "You're much more handsome than your father. Why did you come to me?"
"I-I don't know," he stammered, his eyes still staring at the empty pedestal.
"Don't try to trick me, I have ways of ferreting out lies."
Pulling away from her grasp, he spun to face her. "Then tell me why everything feels like a lie." He sat down on the lowest step, the feeling of madness enveloping him anew.
She joined him gracefully, watching the anguish mar his face. "Perhaps you are denying your true self. Maybe you don't belong up in the light, after all?"
"My father said you did, once. They used to call you…Wonder Woman."
Snarling, she rose to her feet and brushed past him, sliding into her throne. "Don't call me that."
"Why?" he said, turning towards her.
"Don't ever call me that!" her dark blue eyes stabbed at him like a pair of daggers.
"You want I should rip out his heart?"
Bruce spun to see a large demon staring down at him, his red eyes glowing, large fangs protruding from his lower jaw.
"Everyone, out!" she yelled.
There was a mad shuffle, as all sorts of creatures appeared from the darkness surrounding them, heading like wildfire towards the door.
Only Bruce remained.
"Didn't you hear me?" she asked wearily.
"Where's your lasso?" Bruce asked, a plan forming in his mind.
This time it was she who narrowed her eyes, leaning forward in her chair with a dangerous curiosity.
"I want to use it," he said. "On myself."
"Very well," she replied. Pointing towards the corner with a finger, a heavy chest followed her hand as it dragged across the floor to Bruce's feet. She snapped her fingers and it opened. Inside on the red velvet sat the lasso.
"This should be interesting," she muttered, staring down at her nails.
Bruce jerked his hand away and looked at it. The skin was untouched, but it had burned hotter than fire. It hadn't burned his skin, he realized. It had burned his mind.
His father's words came to him again. "It's like you aren't here with the rest of us."
"It's all a lie," he said angrily, looking up at her. "Who did this to me? You?!"
Diana became rigid in her chair, her eyes meeting his, and then falling on the empty column. Standing, she stared down at him imperiously, slowly taking each step.
"It doesn't have to be this way. Stay here, in the darkness, with me."
Diana stood before him, magnificent, even in her wickedness. Eyes falling on the lasso again, he looked back up at her, his breaths coming in heavy rushes.
"Yes?" she asked, raising an eyebrow. "You like it here in the dark, don't you?" Her confidence had quickly returned, and she made her way to him, wrapping him in her arms. He didn't fight her. He couldn't, because she was right. It was the only thing that made sense to him at the moment. She brought her lips to his and kissed him gently, seductively. Bruce wrapped his arms around her, pulling her tighter to him, deepening their kiss. He was like a thirsty man finding an oasis in the desert. She gasped for air, pulling away from him, laughing.
"You're a creature of the night after all, little bat," she said, aching to kiss him again.
Bruce looked back at her, thrusting her away. His eyes went down to the open chest, and before she could even get the words out, he had grabbed the lasso and wrapped it around her as both their screams echoed off the chamber's walls.
Everything was upside down, or right-side up, as it were. Hellish flames rushed up in intervals from the cracking earth. Stairways began and ended where nothing made sense. Sounds of pain and torture were carried on the hot wind.
Batman looked down to see Diana, sobbing at his feet. They were both dressed in their costumes, even though he couldn't remember having ever changed.
"Etrigan!" he yelled out into the wasteland. Spinning about, he looked for any sign of the demon. He wanted to pound his face into the ground.
"Your masters can't have her!" he yelled. "I won't allow it!"
"Had you not thought selfishly; none of this would ever be," came the demon's voice, singsong on the wind.
"You tricked me, you bastard," he said through clenched teeth. "You never said it would ruin the others."
"You had but to ask, but now you can see;" the demon said, forming behind Batman, as the dark knight moved to defend himself. "The truth is revealed," Etrigan became solid, his voice full of terrible power.
"YOU GAVE HER TO ME."
Diana stood, as Batman reached out for her, but she brushed past him, standing before the demon as he began to laugh.
"Such a pretty soul, how sweet; that she should spend eternity, with me."
"It's just another lie, Etrigan. And a bad one at that."
"Do your eyes deceive, you refuse to have lost? You made a devil's bargain, now pay the cost."
"Diana is not mine to give," Batman said coldly. "So I'll ask again, nicely."
Bruce woke on the floor, the fire before him burning to embers.
He lay there, staring at it, the smoke drifting up the fireplace.
It had all been a dream.
The smoke continued to swirl like a living thing. Then it rushed towards him, as Bruce jerked up with a gasp, pushing away.
Etrigan's face appeared, angry, a silent scream distorting his demonic features. Just as it reached him, it lost cohesion, leaving Bruce shaken, his face gone white.
"My goodness!" Alfred said, rushing into the room, waving his hand about. "I must've forgotten to open the flue!" He checked the chimney, finding it open as confusion came over him. This was somewhat of a mystery. Alfred soon forgot about the smoke when his eyes fell on Bruce's ashen face.
"Master Bruce," said Alfred, suddenly troubled. "You don't look well. We'd better get you to bed."
Alfred guided Bruce to the bed and tucked him in. The man was deathly still and silent, but at least some of the color was coming back to his face. Alfred always worried that someday all of Bruce's ghosts would come back to haunt him, and that Batman wouldn't be enough to hold them at bay. The poor man. He was like a son to him.
The old man sighed, getting up from his seat on the bed, and headed toward the door, throwing the light switch.
"Tomorrow is another day, Master Bruce. Full of wonderful possibilities. Sleep well."
He gently closed the door behind him.
The weekly meeting of the Justice League of America had adjourned. Batman still sat in his chair, thinking of any way he could ask the question. During the meeting, Diana had noticed his odd glances, and then he'd felt everyone's eyes on him, so he reigned in his curiosity until it had ended.
He had stopped Diana with a word as his teammates had filed towards the door, and now he was sitting there, with Diana standing over him.
"There's something wrong, isn't there?" she asked gently.
"Obviously," he said, with a little more condescension than usual. "Sorry," he said, "I've just got a lot on my mind."
"Right," she said with annoyance, "Forgot you have the patent on that."
He stood from the chair, and tried to walk past her, but she blocked his path.
"This was a mistake," he said, looking at her directly for the first time that day.
"Batman, what is this all about? First you're making strange glances at me during the meeting. Then you stop me to talk, and now this. If this concerns me, I have a right to know."
"Something strange happened to me two nights ago," he said. "Etrigan came to me."
"What did he want?"
She started to laugh. "I guess I should be flattered," she grinned.
"I wouldn't be," he replied, causing the smile to fall from her face. "I just want to know, do you remember anything that happened?"
"No…" she said. "Are you going to tell me?"
"No," he answered her, looking away. "I don't know if you could forgive me."
"Bruce," she said, taking his hands, "I already forgave you for those nasty little protocols. I doubt you could do any worse."
His eyes stole back up to hers, and locked with them. She shifted uncomfortably as though they were telling her, "Yes, I can."
"Etrigan tried to trick me into giving you to him. Letting him corrupt your soul. And I gave it all to him, with a word."
"You can't *give* me to Etrigan, Bruce."
"I can't, but I did. And in doing so, the others as well. If only for a moment."
"And you hate yourself for it."
"Yes," he said.
"Do you think maybe this is what Etrigan wanted?" she said, tightening her grip on his hands. "That maybe you didn't give him me, or them, but a part of yourself?"
Bruce furrowed his brow, considering her statement.
"Etrigan is a liar, Bruce. Don't let him win."
She leaned in and kissed him softly on the cheek, releasing his hands.
"Whatever it is he tried to take from you, don't let him."
Batman arrived in the cave via the JLA teleporter, and pulled back his mask. The cave was empty. Just like the house upstairs. Just like his room.
He showered and then walked through the empty house, staring at the room where Dick had once slept, the rooms where Tim and Jason had lived.
Down to the kitchen that was cold. No Alfred to rush about cooking and cleaning at the same time.
Dammit. He HAD a family. Or did, once. Why did he push them all away?
He stared at the phone only for a moment, then lifted the receiver, his mind made up. The line on the other end rang. And rang. He didn't want to leave a message. What should he say?
"Hello?" the young voice came in a hushed breath, as though he'd just run in through the front door of his apartment. "Hello!" it said again, this time annoyed.
"Bruce?" the statement sounded disbelieving. "Is something wrong? Is Tim okay?"
"Tim? Tim's fine, Dick. I think." He winced realizing how cold that sounded. "It's me," he paused.
"That so?" said Dick, the stubborn veneer beginning to surface.
"I want to say something I should've said a long time ago," Bruce continued.
One year later…
Bruce slid out of bed, woken by the smell of pancakes.
Tossing on his dressing robe, he slid into his slippers and opened the door to his room. The sun was already shining through the house, and he headed down the stairs to stand in front of the fireplace.
Looking up at the picture of his mother and father, he continued to stare as Alfred came around the corner.
"Master Bruce, is everything alright?"
Today was the anniversary of his parents' death.
Both men turned and looked up the stairs as a pair of doors slammed shut, and Tim came running down the stairs, his schoolbooks in hand, followed by Dick in his Gotham PD uniform, still tugging on a stubborn boot.
"I hope those are pancakes," the boy yelled from the opposite end of the room. "I'm starved!"
"They'll be no pancakes for you if you keep slamming doors, Master Tim!" said Alfred back jovially.
"Morning Bruce. Morning Alfred." said Dick, heading after Tim into the kitchen.
"Some breakfast, perhaps?" Alfred said, gesturing towards the door to the kitchen.
"Sounds fine, Alfred."
They began walking to the kitchen, as Alfred stopped mid-step.
"Are you sure you're all right, sir?"
"Never been better, Alfred," Bruce grinned back at him.
Alfred looked positively shocked.
"And don't make that face when I smile."
"I say," Alfred said, turning up his nose, slightly. "It will take some getting used to."
He pushed open the door to the kitchen, as they watched Tim and Dick wolf down the pancakes.
"But I will consider the task a privilege."
"Thank you, Alfred," he replied.
"Hey, the last one's mine! You already had a stack!" Tim had stabbed his fork into the pancake as Dick, his mouth still full, tried to pull it onto his plate.
"Gentlemen, I can assure you, with this magical box," he said, shaking the pancake mix in the air, "I can produce more pancakes."
Bruce chuckled, watching Tim coach Dick on the proper way to cut a pancake in half.
Maybe Etrigan had done him a favor, after all.
He had his family back.