THE ROAD BACK

ONE: THE BAT CAVE

Images from dozens of satellite feeds flashed across the computer's main viewer. Riots in Asia. War in the Middle East. Economic upheaval in Europe and America. Yes, things had gotten back to normal. Or had they?

Alfred came into the Cave's dark, cool interior. "Lunchtime, sir," the loyal butler reminded him as he set down a tray holding a sandwich and a bowl of soup.

"Thank you, Alfred." Bruce turned to look at him. "Tell me something. Were the Justice Lords ever really a good idea?"

Alfred paused. "Well, sir, at the time I thought they were. But then Superman began to change so much…speaking as an Englishman, I thought he lost his moral compass the moment he decided to take President Luthor's life."

"And what about the way things are now?" Bruce gestured at the screen.

"It's the way human nature has always been, sir. As long as we have our free will, perhaps it's the way things always will be."

Bruce nodded. "Thanks, Alfred." He paused. "I've been wondering-why did you stay on after the Lords were formed?"

"You're my friend-as was your father," Alfred replied. "I always felt that you'd return from the abyss someday, once you realized that things had gone too far. You always had before. This time it just took a little longer."

Bruce nodded. "That they did," he agreed. Alfred bowed, leaving Bruce to contemplate the chaos and calamity that had once again become part of everyday life. We tried to stop it, he told himself. However, we lost ourselves along the way…

TWO: WAYNE ENTERPRISES

Office workers gave him wary acknowledgment as he walked down the hallway toward his office. Now that his secret identity had become public, it made little sense for him to have to go as Bruce Wayne, although even wearing his old, pre-Lords bat suit, people still tended to give him a wide berth. This might have been a mistake, Bruce thought.

Lucius Fox looked up as he entered the spacious office. "Oh, err, hi, Bruce," the engineer said, as he awkwardly gathered up some papers. "I was just, uh, going over these specs for the new Batmobile…"

"That's all right," Bruce reassured him. "I just wanted to check in before I went over to the new Justice League headquarters. It's quite a place."

"Um, yes, it is." Lucius still couldn't seem to bring himself to look him in the eyes, so Bruce added,

"You've done a good job while I've been away. I want you to know that-and that you of all people don't have to be afraid of me anymore."

"Oh, I know that, Bruce. It's just…" Lucius sighed. "Everyone's trying to act like things are the way they were before the Justice Lords took over, but they're not. People are still scared-not really of you, but what you represented when you were with the Lords. Before them you were a symbol of justice, not fear."

"Well, I knew going in that it wouldn't be easy to change people's minds. But the Lords are in prison now. Really, Lucius, there's no reason to be afraid."

"I hope you're right, Bruce." Lucius glanced away again as he took the papers and left the office.

Bruce stood at the windows, looking out across Gotham. And there were millions of others out there who felt like him, Bruce thought. That was the Lords' legacy-and one that he would have to overcome…

THREE: THE HALL OF JUSTICE

The new building really was impressive, Bruce thought as he strode through its doors. The security guards, like most other civilians, gave him wary glances as he went inside, where the others were assembled in the main hall.

They were seated at the conference table-their version of the Round Table, as Oliver Queen called it-and looked at him as he came in. Zatanna-who had been the first to believe in his reformation-stood up and began to applaud. Slowly, the others did as well, even the Question. They were a diverse group-Oliver Queen, Captain Atom, Captain Marvel, Supergirl, Black Canary, Aquaman-the best and the brightest, like before, and yet different. Because he was different, so too did the League have to be. The Watchtower had been dismantled, but the League had grown. Bruce was disappointed that Robin wasn't here, but the rift that had developed between him and Tim Drake during his stint with the Lords would need time to heal. Besides, the Teen Titans were still technically underground, still afraid of the Lords' possible resurgence even though they were under lock and key in the prison that Bruce had designed for them. Nightwing had sent out feelers on his behalf, but Bruce suspected that it would be a long time before he heard from Drake again.

But that was for the future. Right now, this was what mattered. "Thank you," Bruce said as he sat down at the head of the table. They all looked at him, and he knew they had accepted him as their leader. "All right," Bruce added. "Let's get to work."

THE END