Who's Laughing Now?

Chapter Fifteen—Epilogue


"This thing of darkness I

Acknowledge mine."

--The Tempest


The early summer day was drawing to a close, but Bruce Wayne did not begin to prepare for his nightly routine. He remained on the pink and black- stoned veranda, firmly planted in the wrought-iron chair he'd been sitting in for some time. He turned the page of the newspaper, continuing to read the article that had begun on the first page.

His companion, who had been watching the sun continuing to hang lower and lower in the sky for in silence, finally looked to him, and the now-visible first page of the paper. He inspected the black and white photograph of Arkham Asylum for a few moments before choosing to speak.

"Do you think they'll ever let that story die?" Jim asked finally.

Bruce slowly closed the paper, consciously folding the sheets with careful attention. He glanced once at the headline and photo of the foreboding structure before addressing James Gordon. "One of their inmates turns up in his cell, still in his straight jacket, shot through the chest, not a mark on the straight jacket. I have a feeling it's going to be gracing the front page for a long time." Perhaps it would initiate the necessary reforms in Arkham and the system. Bruce wasn't holding his breath though.

Looking out into the fresh, green landscape, he caught sight of Cassandra dashing between the trees, no doubt engaged in something he wouldn't approve of. "We got her to sleep in a bed last night," Bruce noted. "Which is easy enough when she's convalescing, but nearly impossible when she's up and about."

"And I'm sure she was entirely unappreciative," Jim noted.

"They always are," Bruce responded knowingly.

Jim shook his head, knowing too much about fiercely independent young ladies. "I heard from Harvey Bullock that they finally found the guy whom the Joker paid to impersonate him during his little jaunts of freedom. Former orderly, of all things."

Bruce nodded. He'd suspected as much, but hadn't had time to pursue it, of late. "I guess that's the last piece of the puzzle, now that they have the contractors and security personnel who were being used by the Joker through his invented persona." Bruce sighed. The clean-up had taken almost two months. He still wondered how the Joker had been initially put into contact with the contractors, but it might be something unanswerable at this point.

Staring out at the cloud-laden sky, the younger man inhaled deeply, pondering recent events."Ritalin," Bruce whispered, shaking his head. It seemed all the stars had been aligned and every card stacked in perfect order to bring destruction, and that there had probably been the cornerstone.


"Nothing," Bruce said, looking over the front page again quickly. "Just something the Joker said."

From inside the house, he heard the clattering of dishes. Alfred would be out soon with something to drink, he was sure of it. There were, indeed, a few constants in this universe. Leslie would be out with him as well, giving her usual host of disapproving looks. She and Alfred spent an inordinate amount of time together lately, he thought. There was the usual Friday 'restocking' meeting, as well as all of her too-frequent visits since that night.

Another figure, also dressed in black, followed behind Cassandra in her romp between the trees. It was the beginning of July, and Timothy Drake was still wearing turtlenecks. The wound on his neck was healing, but not enough to permit more comfortable attire. He made his way around a thick oak, carefully maneuvering around a patch of flowers that had won some award or other. Bruce couldn't keep track.

Cassandra dashed out from behind this tree as well, evading capture.

Finally, an over-heated and disgusted Tim Drake looked back at his mentor. "Bruce, she has my wallet!"

"Cassandra!" Bruce reprimanded.

On the other side of flowerbeds and overgrown trees, a medium sized, yet somewhat stiff body stepped off the path that lay there and began searching for the girl. "Throw it to me!" Dick encouraged, reaching up with his right hand. He turned his body just a bit so that his casted and slinged arm would be out of the line of her fire.

"Go ahead, idiot!" Barbara called out from the sandstone-lined path. "Break the OTHER arm! I think there're a few RIBS you haven't broken yet!"

"Babs, God… I can still CATCH. It's a wallet, not a BOMB…"

"So," Jim said, attempting to make a conscious effort at avoiding having to listen to the young couple bickering. "What did you do about the bullet embedded in the desk?"

Bruce put the folded paper on his lap, also actively avoiding Cassandra and Dick's attempts at keeping the wallet away from Tim, as well as Barbara and Tim's active and sometimes loud protests. "I was amazed at what a few well- placed doilies could do temporarily," he said. "Long-term, there's a young man who will need to regain his manual dexterity. Refurbishing the desk seems like an ideal task."

Jim had a feeling that Dick Grayson wouldn't agree.

There was a familiar chirping as Tim Drake's cell phone began its siren call. Jim and Bruce were both a little surprised when Cassandra pulled the phone out of an oversized pocket in her her black cargo pants and answered it. "Hello?"

"And she's a pick-pocket!" Tim amended loudly.

"Not Tim's girlfriend," the girl announced. "Tormenter. More fun that way."

Tim tore the phone out of the girl's hand. "No dad, it's not like that. She's not my girl—dad, it's not an S and M thing…" Desperately the boy looked up to the house. "Alfie!" he cried desperately, searching for someone to bail him out.

"And you—you don't need to use every opportunity to act like an idiot," Barbara declared as she and Dick made their way back towards the veranda. She gave herself one good push so the chair would keep up it's forward momentum, then smacked Dick in his broken arm just enough for him to remember that she wasn't to be crossed.

"I'm not sure if I should be calling the wedding planners, or the undertaker," Bruce noted mildly.

"Probably both," Jim confirmed. The last two months had been a long string of scolding sessions from Barbara. She'd insisted on taking care of him at her apartment. No one was sure whether it was because she loved him and wanted to help him, or if it was because she wanted to ensure his recovery was as painful as possible.

Tim, on the other hand, had received the best care from Alfred with torment being entirely limited to 'you should have been responsible enough to inform me, Master Timothy,' and a few other well-placed cuts. Bruce had arranged for Tim's father to remain out of town, thus missing a prime view of his son's sorry state. He and Cassandra were getting back into their work habits together, which probably accounted for their now overly- familiar attitude toward each other. Bruce was glad. Leslie had been right about one thing—it wasn't good for the young girl to spend so much time alone.

Actually, she'd been right about a lot of things, but he'd never giver her that much satisfaction. Then she'd go thinking she was right about everything.

"I suppose someone should tell Tim that she has the keys to his car, too," Bruce added, watching the young man secure his belongings in his back pockets. "She made the sacrifice of sleeping in a bed, I suppose I can let her have a little fun, though." He was learning to give a little to get a little. It was an arduous process, but it was working out.

Dick pulled a chair away from the table so that Barbara could join them, then sat down himself. "I'd tell you she's not being nice to me," Dick announced, "but I know neither of you care." He rested his cast-laden arm on the glass table, shaking his head stiffly. His unfortunate 'skiing' accident had kept him filing paperwork for quite some time, and probably would for weeks to come.

Alfred arrived at the sliding glass door, tray in hand. Leslie appeared to be on his heals. Entirely too much time, Bruce thought to himself. The more time they spent in each other's presence, the more time they had to plot against him.

Seeing the crystal pitcher of cold lemonade, Cassandra and Tim forgot their squabble and made a V line for the veranda, anxious for refreshment. Tim already held the phone out to his savior, one Alfred Pennyworth.

Bruce folded his arms over his chest and accepted their presence, all of them; so close and clamoring. His smile only went as far as a thin line spread across his usually expressionless face.

The sun began to dip behind the cliffs at the furthest reaches of the Wayne property. Above them, the sky glowed an energetic plum and faded to radiant and fiery orange at the edge of the land.


"What's gone and what's past help

Should be past grief." –The Winter's Tale

Well, that's it guys. Thanks again to Patty and John for the occasional emergency beta. Thanks to Robin for reading and Charlene for listening to me whine. Thanks for sticking through this many chapters to the readers. I appreciate your kindness and attention.