Three years later
Robinson Park was a beautiful place in the summer, particularly when Poison Ivy was locked securely away in Arkham Asylum. The sun shone merrily on leafy trees and blooming flowers, both of which had been inspected recently to make sure that they didn't harbor any nasty little surprises.
Dogs frisked happily through the grass, catching frisbees and yapping inanely at one another. New mothers with dark circles under their eyes pushed strollers along the paths, telling one another stories that would make their children cringe with embarrassment when they were old enough to understand them. Under a tree, at a concrete chessboard, two men idly chatted as they played.
"How's business?" the dark-haired one inquired, rolling a pawn in his fingers before setting it gently back on the board.
The other man rolled his eyes, which were barely visible below the brim of his baseball cap. "Can't complain, I suppose. We finally got the last attraction up and running, but I'm sure you already knew that. The money's nice, of course," he added, almost as an afterthought.
"Edward Nygma's Puzzle Palace," the dark-haired man chuckled. "You didn't waste any time, did you?"
"Reputations are useful," the ex-Riddler shrugged. "Or would your chiropteran chorus line disagree with me?"
Bruce didn't rise to the bait. It was true that he'd had a surplus of volunteers when he had offered to sponsor a corps of policemen and women specializing in the capture and transport of Gotham's crew of costumed criminals. It was somewhat reassuring to know that there was an entire squadron of people that lived up to his exacting standards patrolling Gotham day and night. Still, he would miss that rock-hard certainty of the city's improvement that came with taking out criminals with his bare hands.
The recipient of many of those late-night pummeling sessions was looking at him with an amused smile. "Not as fun as the old days, wouldn't you say?"
Bruce allowed the merest hint of a glare to creep into his eyes. "I wouldn't exactly call the old days fun," he pointed out.
"Maybe not for you." Eddie shifted a bishop across the board. "You've heard about Joker," he said flatly.
Bruce nodded curtly. He had somewhat been expecting the news, though to be frank he had been expecting it a lot sooner.
The Joker, having declared his entire criminal career to be no fun anymore, had submitted tamely to the most elaborate and exhaustive round of therapy and medication that Arkham had to offer. After months of tests, treatments, and trial forays into the world, he had been declared to be as sane as anyone else in Gotham. He had been a free man for almost a year. True, he was a free man who was required to check in with his local law enforcement every two weeks, but he was still free to walk the streets in broad daylight, something that had previously been unthinkable.
He had also acquired a job, something that had seemed as unlikely as Gotham going a full week without a world-ending disaster. It had been a nice little boring job in a nice little boring suburb of Gotham - that is, until his nice little boring boss had pried a little too deeply into his newest employee's past to discover that under the brown hair dye and layers of cosmetics lurked the Joker himself. The Joker - or, rather, Lyle Anderson - had been promptly fired for unspecified reasons.
"Can't say I blame them," Eddie shrugged, toying with his king. "I mean, who would really hire the Joker?"
Bruce clicked his rook into place. "I would."
Eddie stared at him blankly for a moment, then shook himself out of it with a rueful chuckle. "You would, wouldn't you," he said, neatly capturing Bruce's rook with his queen. "All those jobs you gave to us over the years. Aren't your stockholders going to be upset if you hire him?"
Bruce shrugged casually. They probably would be upset - that is, if they ever found out that he'd done it. He had managed to defend himself rather nicely from their hysteria when they had discovered that their CEO spent his time hopping rooftops and generally saving the day. They had wanted his head, and they had wanted him fired - and then when they realized that they could tie Batman in with all their products, they had wanted him as a mascot. Batman t-shirts! Batman cars! Batman shoes and cereal and toys and movies and power plants and amusement parks! In the end, he had remained as CEO and Batman had been firmly crossed off the list of potential corporate mascots.
"They'll adjust," he said, deftly replacing Eddie's last bishop with his own. "Everyone does, eventually."
It was true. The police had adjusted to being Gotham's main source of law enforcement. The rogues had adjusted in their own ways - some had gone straight, some had moved on to new towns, and others had simply gone on with life as usual. Even Harley had adjusted to life without the Joker, although she had merely replaced her adoration of him with her affection for Poison Ivy. And while gangs no longer looked over their shoulders for caped and cowled crusaders, they did keep their heads down around the new army of neighborhood watches that had sprung up like mad since Batman's disappearance.
Eddie quirked a knight around a row of pawns. "Check," he grinned.
Bruce twiddled his queen around his fingers. Then, with a flourish, he let it click onto the board, dislodging the knight. "Checkmate," he countered.
Eddie studied the board with just a hint of his old there's-no-possible-way-you-could-have-won look. Then, with a short sigh, he stuck his hand out. They solemnly shook hands. "Same time next week?" he asked.
"Same time next week."