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Chapter 3

Nightwing was pretty sure this wasn’t the worst idea he’d ever had.  It might be a mistake but, if so, it wasn’t a letting Harley-Quinn-nail-you-with-a-squirtgun screwup.  More of a what-was-I-thinking-I-bought-a-puce-sofa mistake.

He sat on Selina Kyle’s terrace, waiting patiently for Catwoman to return from her evening prowl.  The way he saw it, she owed him.  He’d listened patiently when Bruce had ticked her off.  It was her turn to lend a sympathetic ear. 

Of course he would be going to Alfred’s opening night.  It wasn’t necessary for Bruce to declare: “If you’re not there, you better be dead.”   He loved Alfred.  Nothing would make him miss the old man’s return to the stage, even if it was for some dinky community theatre.  And yes, if he was coming in to Gotham to see the show, and he was coming into Gotham to do furniture shopping with Babs, it made sense to combine it into one trip—except he had wanted to use the time together shopping to ask her to the show as his date and now he couldn’t because it looked like they were both roped into going as a group thing. 

After fifteen minutes it occurred to him:  Selina might already be home and perhaps he should knock.  He approached the sliding doors then froze when he heard voices inside.  First a silky purr, “That’s it, nice and easy, it needs a very light touch...”  Then a male voice chuckled, “I’d heard of people doing this in the kitchen, I just never thought I’d be one of them...”

Oh dear, clearly it was not a good time to drop by unannounced.  

 

It had been nearly forty years since Alfred Pennyworth stood on the apron of a stage and took a bow before a cheering audience.  He never regretted the pledge to his dying father to continue the family tradition of service.  And he certainly never regretted his years spent serving Dr. & Mrs Wayne, and then their son Bruce.  But bowing again to acknowledge applause, he did heartily regret that it took him so long to realize:  quitting professional theatre did not mean he couldn’t still act now and then.  Those skills—modulating the voice, timing lines and movements for effect—unused for so many years, had come back to him within days.  And the rush of hearing an audience react to a well-delivered line—it was a magic he had forgotten existed.

After the show, a small party assembled at Wayne Manor to congratulate him:  Bruce and Selina, Dick and Barbara, Tim, Stephanie and Cassie.  This was the core, the Bat family, those who had been told if they weren’t there they better be dead. 

As others began to arrive, the cast of HOW’S YOUR FATHER? and their friends and hangers on, Alfred instinctively headed for the kitchen.  There were guests in the manor and that meant he had to go to work—but Bruce insisted he was the guest of honor and wasn’t to lift a finger.  Alfred sat uneasily in the drawing room, as Dick handed him a glass of champagne and Tim directed the others where to leave their coats…   

What happened next would be debated, deconstructed and whispered about for the remainder of the party.

Certainly someone who appeared to be Bruce Wayne came out of the dining room with a tray of mushrooms stuffed with crabmeat.  A short while later, a second tray with cheese puffs was being passed around. 

Tim drifted casually over to Dick who was eying a mushroom suspiciously.

“What does it mean?” Tim whispered.

“I don’t know.”

“What do we do?”

“I don’t know.”

Barbara joined them:

“He couldn’t have made this; there’s a caterer, right?”

“Are you kidding! While we were all at the show—he’d never let strangers in the house alone.  Never.”

“So who made the food?”

“Maybe a portal opened from another dimension and this is a Bruce Wayne from an alternate universe where he can cook?”

“Then this is food from an alternate reality that’s totally opposite from ours, it might be poisonous to us!”

Dick sniffed the suspicious alternate-reality mushroom. 

Stephanie sidled up with a plate of scrambled eggs.

“Hey guys, what’s up?”

The trio looked aghast.

“You’re not eating that?” Tim asked in horror.

“There’s a covered dish through there.”

“But you’re EATING it.  You don’t know where it came from?”

“Bruce made ‘em.  He said so.”

Dick, Tim and Barbara looked at each other in terror.  The worst-case scenario was confirmed.  Okay, he’d told Selina his real identity, fine.  And okay, he sometimes talked now, smiled occasionally, and even behaved like a person at Jack Drake’s birthday party.  They could accept all that… But COOKING?!  That was too much to swallow as one of life’s little fastballs.  Something was WRONG.  Their Batman had been replaced by a look-alike.  And if this one could cook, there was no telling what else… he could kill, he could be a robot, or a shape shifter, he could be…

“Raspberry Meringue anyone?”   

The imposter stood before them with a tray of desserts and a twisted grin.

To be continued...

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