It was a dark day for the League. In the wake of the tragedy in Gotham, Batman had taken some personal time off, entrusting the League's search and rescue efforts to Nightwing. He was most likely down in the Batcave. Miraculously, the Batcave had made it through the blast unscathed, but its heart had been torn out. Bruce had already spent days down there, simply staring at the old Robin suits, contemplatively. Even without words, Dick knew exactly what Bruce was thinking: just as he had failed Jason, he had failed Gotham.
In addition to the memorial held for the millions killed in the Joker'sv nuclear attack, the League had held a private funeral for the fallen heroes of Gotham. That was the last time anyone, aside from Dick or Damian, had seen Bruce.
As much as any member of the League or the Bat Family would have wanted to be there for him, Dick knew it was better to leave Bruce to his grief, for now. That was just how Bruce dealt with grief. Dick hoped that some news of a survivor, even one, would serve as the first step towards Bruce's recovery.
But there was no such news. Gotham City was a crater, a few scattered remnants of notable landmarks remained as the only physical reminder of what had once been one of the largest cities in the U.S. The only thing that remaining untouched by the Joker's insidious scheme was Arkham Asylum, where the Clown Prince of Crime now resided once more.
There had been a fire in Bruce's eyes - one that Dick had very rarely seen - as Bruce dragged his nemesis to the Asylum that night. There was no mistaking it: Bruce had wanted to kill him. Every time Dick saw that fury, he had wondered if it was more a matter of when, than if, the Joker's death would be by Bruce's hand.
But, he couldn't focus on that right now; as Bruce's first son, it was his duty to find something, anything, to restore hope to Bruce's heart. Damian's too. Dick recognised the feeling of powerlessness Damian felt at his inability to help Bruce in his darkest hour. For all of his violent and antisocial faults, Damian still loved his father. Dick had sent him to stay with the Titans under Tim and Kori's care. He needed time away from all this and Dick needed to remain focused on his task.
"Anything, Vic?" He asked, barely turning his head towards his companion as he spoke.
"Nada," Cyborg replied dishearteningly. "Five straight days of nothing, Dick. Look, man, I don't think-"
"I know," Dick interjected, not wanting to hear the words, though he knew exactly what Victor was going to suggest. "Just... Just keep at it for another day or two."
Victor shrugged. "Alright." He said nothing more; not that he needed to. Before either could think any further on the hopelessness of their endeavour, a familiar electric whoosh entered the room from behind them, scattering the few papers that weren't weighed down for such an entrance.
"Hey, guys," Barry said in an slightly darker tone than was typical of the scarlet speedster. "You'll never guess what I found." Dick and Victor both turned to see, gripped by the collar in each of the Flash's hands, Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy.
At a quick sideways glance, Dick recognised the concern in Victor's eye - concern that Dick might do something he'd regret, now that the Joker's accomplice was in the room. But more than that, Dick notice the look in Harley and Ivy's eyes: utter dread. The two had been apprehended dozens of times, but had typically responded with scorn or even joy, in Harley's case. This was something different, and Dick's mind raced with scenarios that might lead to this reaction from the two. And none of them were good.
"Nightwing!" Harley screeched, breaking free of Barry's grip and scrambling forward, pleadingly, on her hands and knees. "Ya gotta help, Nightwing!" she managed to say before Victor stepped forward and restrained her.
Help? What was she blathering about? Typically, interactions between Harley and Nightwing consisted of Harley insulting Dick, Dick throwing out a quip in response, and the two fighting until either Harley was restrained or Dick was suckerpunched. In fact, Dick couldn't remember a single time Harley had ever referred to him as either Robin or Nightwing. The sinking feeling in Dick's stomach only grew as he mentally crossed off the scenarios in his head, leaving only the worst of the bunch uncrossed.
"What are you talking about, Harley?" he asked, trying to mask his unease with vindictive disinterest.
"It's the Bat! He... He... He killed Mistah J!"
Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Aquaman and Green Arrow were summoned quickly. Diana bound Harley with the Lasso of Truth the second the walked in the door.
"The Lasso compels you to answer truthfully," Diana said; not that it needed such an explanation to function. "So answer: what did you see at the asylum?"
"I already told ya! Bats broke inta Arkham with a gang an' started killin' the inmates... includin' my Puddin'..." Harley broke down in tears, her green-skinned companion placing an arm around her for support. Ivy wrapped a length of lasso around her own hand and confirmed what she and Harley had seen. With nothing else to gain from the two, Diana used to lasso's power to compel the two Sirens to sleep, to allow the League some privacy to converse.
To the League, it was unfathomable. Batman was staunchly against killing, arguably moreso than even Superman. One-by-one, the heroes began offering theories as to how this could be possible, while Barbara, having failed to make contact with either Bruce or anyone at Arkham, started hacking into Arkham's mainframe.
"Could they have been mind controlled to think that's what they saw?" Hal offered.
"The Lasso breaks through mental manipulation," Diana explained. "If that was what happened, they would remember the truth."
"Perhaps it was an external illusion?" Arthur suggested. "Conjured by magic or some form of holographic technology?"
"That is possible."
"Could be a doppelganger," said Barry.
"Or Bruce himself under mind control," Oliver added. "Given his mental state right now, I can't imagine he'd need much of a push to agree to kill the clown."
"Whatever the case may be, this is likely a plot to destroy the League from within," Arthur said with vigour. "We cannot allow ourselves to give in to doubt until we know for sure."
"What do you think, Kal?" Diana asked, turning all eyes to the silent Superman.
He removed his hand from his chin and asked, "Dick, you know Bruce better than anyone. Do you think he's capable of something like this?" His teammates were aghast that Clark was even entertaining the possibility. "It's just that... I imagine what would have happened if it had been Metropolis that had been destroyed; if I had lost Lois and Jimmy and everyone else... I wonder how resistant I'd be to the idea of killing the one responsible."
"I saw it in his eyes," Dick responded, taking in the expressions of the others as the possibility became more and more real. "I haven't seen that look since Barbara's... Bruce has always been riding that line, but this might just be the thing that finally makes him fall."
"Dick, I have something," Barbara said over the comms.
"You got access?" Dick asked.
"Well, no, but that's the thing. Arkham's network has already been hacked, Dick. And I'd recognise this signature anywhere. It's Bruce, Dick. He's the one shutting us out of Arkham's systems."
"I'll go talk to him," Superman said before anyone could think any further on the implication, his lighter tone an attempt at restoring the dwindling ray of hope to the group. "I'm sure this is all a misunderstanding or villainous plot. But if it's true, we'll handle it like we always have: as a team."
Clark sped out of the room and took flight towards the remains of Gotham.
It was a short trip from the Hall of Justice to the Batcave - at least, it was for Superman. He probably should have gone to the Asylum first, but he needed to hear it from Bruce himself.
Bruce was there, as Dick had described, sitting in a chair, staring thoughtfully at the displays of the Robin suits: Dick. Jason. Tim... Clark descended quietly behind Bruce, but he could tell Bruce knew he was there. He always did.
"I assume you know why I'm here."
"Well? Is it true? Did you kill the Joker?
Bruce sighed. He stood up from his chair and finally turned to face Clark, pulling down the cowl for probably the first time since the incident. "What do you think?"
"I think you've been pushed, Bruce. Pushed further than anyone deserves to be pushed. You lost a lot in Gotham, and it feels like you lost everything, but you haven't. You still have Dick and Damian and Barbara and the League."
"But not a lot else. I swore to protect Gotham from people like the Joker. It took a long time, but the people of Gotham grew to trust me; to believe in me. And I failed them. If I had just killed the Joker before now-"
"You'd be no better than the criminals you lock away every night, Bruce."
"I used to think that, Clark. But this last week has opened my eyes. My refusal to take lives, even those of monsters of with no hope of redemption, it was selfish."
"It was the right thing-"
"And look what that cost us, Clark! Millions dead because I refused to take one life. Just one. If I had followed my instinct and... and broken his goddamn neck after Jason or after Barbara, millions would have been spared."
"You were a beacon of hope in a city that had very little hope left, Bruce. If you had stooped to his level, that hope would have been extinguished."
"But their lives wouldn't! I'm responsible for what happened in Gotham-"
"The Joker is responsible, Bruce. He made his own twisted decisions. Your restraint in the face of everything he's done is one of your most admirable traits. Or, I suppose it was."
"He had to be stopped, Clark. I should have killed him after he took one life. It took millions to finally make me do what I always should have done. But never again."
"Never again? Bruce, you're not seriously planning-"
"Not planning, Clark. Doing."
Bruce fell back into his seat and pressed a button on the remote in his hand, the flickering activation of Bat Computer's monitors illuminating the cave as he did so. Clark slowly approached, staring wide-eyed in horror as each screen showed an army of vigilantes engaging with supervillains: The Red Hood shooting Black Mask five times in the chest, The Huntress filling Man-Bat's spine with crossbow bolts, Azrael running Prometheus through with a flaming broadsword, Deadshot putting a bullet between the Penguin's eyes, Deathstroke eviscerating Firefly with his swords, Bane snapping Victor Zsasz's neck.
And there, at the centre, of this carnage, was Batman stabbing the Joker six times in the stomach with a batarang, before ramming it into his eyes socket and walking away, leaving his symbol embedded in his nemesis' skull.
"What the hell is all this, Bruce!?" Clark demanded, finally tearing his eyes away from the madness before him.
"This is what needs to be done, Clark. Every one of those monsters is responsible for countless deaths. From now on, the only deaths they'll be responsible for is their own."
"Bruce, do you think this is what they would want? Do you think Alfred-"
"Do not bring Alfred into this, Clark!" Bruce screamed, slamming his fist into the armrests hard enough to snap them. He jumped to his feet and whirled around with an accusing finger pointed at Superman's chest. "You don't have that right!"
"I'm sorry, Bruce, but I have to. I lost my father too, so I understand how you feel. But they raised us to be better than this. Alfred raised you to rise above those who prey on the defenceless, to be an example to the rest of humanity, just like my father taught me-"
"And if it had been Metropolis? If you had lost Lana, Jimmy, Lois... Lara?"
Clark was taken aback. He hadn't told Bruce that Lois was pregnant, let alone that it was a girl and that they had picked a name for her. "I... Yes, I'd struggle to find the resolve, but we have an obligation to the people of this world to stand as monuments of virtue they can aspire to! It's not our place to decide who lives and dies, Bruce."
"So, we're supposed to let the criminals live and decide for us?"
"We aren't the law!"
"Maybe it would be better if we were!"
"A lot of people think they have the right to decide what's right and what isn't. That's a dangerous line to walk, Bruce."
Bruce sighed. "Clearly, you're incapable of seeing things the way I do."
"I could say the same to you. But you did once, Bruce. You still can again, if you'll let yourself."
"I'm sorry, Clark." Bruce pressed a button on his gauntlet, causing the lead knuckle plates to retract, exposing the glowing green kryptonite beneath. Feeling weak, Clark was unable to react before Bruce's fist collided with his chin, knocking him unconscious with one solid punch.
"It's been four hours. He should be back by now." The rest of the assembled League shared Diana's concern.
"We still can't get through to Bruce or the Asylum," Dick confirmed grimly.
"Guess you're in charge then, Di," said Oliver. "What do you want us to do?"
Diana considered the team's options for a moment, before sighing in resignation. "Send out an APB. We need to find Bruce, Clark or evidence of what happened at the Asylum."
"This is Flash," said Barry over the radio. "The security footage from the Asylum's gone. All of it."
"What about the bodies?" Dick asked, desperate to find proof that Harley and Ivy had been manipulated and that Bruce was still Bruce.
"Gone," Barry replied. "There's a lot of blood and signs of weapons fire, but no bodies. That aside, there doesn't seem to be any effort made to cover this up. It's like the bodies were taken elsewhere for some other purpose. I can head over to the Batcave now and ask Batman directly."
Diana considered this a moment before responding. "Alright, but be careful, Flash. If Batman really has gone rogue, he might see you as an enemy."
"Noted." This was the last word the League would hear from Barry Allen for quite some time.
"You really think he could've gone rogue?" Spoiler asked. "Normally, I'd doubt it, but with Superman and Flash missing..."
It had been twelve hours since Barry had last signed in. Dick had contacted Damian over at Titans Tower to ask for assistance. He had returned to Gotham with Stephanie Brown, the current Batgirl and Tim's now former girlfriend, in tow. With nothing else she could do for Gotham, Dick had agreed to let her come along so he could keep an eye on her. The other Titans had wanted to joined them - Kori, Conner and Wally, especially - but Dick had insisted that they remain at the tower in the event they were needed elsewhere.
"Superman was always Bruce's greatest fear," Dick explained. "That kind of power in the wrongs hands would be catastrophic. He's always kinda seen himself as the only one who could stop Supes if he ever went bad. "Guess he was so focused on the possibility of him going bad, he never took the time to consider the opposite."
"Father was trained by the League of Assassins," said Damian. "Their style is built around killing. Even with Father's morals, he had to understand a killer's mindset to understand how to resist the urge to kill. He will always carry that with him and it will always tempt him. Seeing everything he trained and fought for destroyed can only have dragged him further down that path."
"It's scary to think, isn't it?" Steph asked bitterly. "That no matter who you are or how hard you fight, everything can be taken from you in the blink of an eye. No one deserves to go out like that. Especially not Tim, or Alfred."
The other two fell silent, trying to block out mental images of Tim and Alfred's final moments, instead trying to remember them as they were: the kind and caring father figure that had always been there for Bruce and the rest of the family; and the middle brother who was the smartest and, arguably, greatest of Bruce's protégés.
"How did your meeting with Catwoman go, Grayson?" Damian asked, hoping to change the subject quickly, before the gravity of the situation could fully set in.
"Selina said she followed Bruce to the Asylum that night. Said she was concerned about what he might do after... the incident. She said she saw a group of mercenaries like Deathstroke and Bane, but not Batman. She also says she never saw Joker in there, so she can't say for sure either way."
"Where is she now?"
"At the Hall of Justice. Didn't want her to be out there until we know what's going on with Bruce."
"Maybe now we can keep someone safe," Stephanie added quietly.
They arrived at the Batmobile entrance to the Batcave before too long. With Wayne Manor levelled, this was the only remaining access to the cave that remained, and the trio were thankful there hadn't been any cave-ins along the way. Whether due to Bruce's ingenuity, or pure luck, the cave seemed untouched by the devastation above. If one hadn't left the cave since before then, they could be forgiven for not realising anything had happened at all.
Dick, Stephanie and Damian performed an intense search of the cave, utilising every investigative skilled Bruce had taught them. Steph found a small splatter of blood not far from the Bat Computer with some traces of kyrptonite radiation in the air nearby. Dick searched the Bat Computer itself for any records of Bruce's activities, but the logs seemed to have been very recently deleted. Damian found blueprints for some sort of prison facility, which he laid out before the other two.
"A prison? For supervillains?" Steph asked.
"At best," Dick replied, implying what they were all dreading. "This isn't like Bruce - leaving plans lying around and doing a poor job of hiding evidence. Either he's getting sloppy in his grief, or-"
"He wanted us to find it," Damian interrupted, drawing his sword and whirling around to the sound of approaching footsteps.
"I can see Bruce's choice of followers has never been wrong; especially with his Robins," said a man who would know from experience.
"Jason," Dick uttered, drawing his escrima sticks, prompting Stephanie to draw her (Tim's) staff.
"Hey, Dick. Bruce knew one of you guys'd figure it out eventually; just not this quick. I guess he hoped you'd find out at just the right time when you had all the information you'd need to understand his point of view. But you're not ready yet, so we can't let you leave."
"We?" Before Stephanie had even finished uttering the word, she had to move quickly to dodge the electrified crossbow bolt that struck the ground where she'd been standing. As she dodged, the threw out a batarang in the direction of the attack, knowing she wouldn't be able to actually hit Helena, but hoping to at least force her out of hiding, which she was able to do. The Huntress dropped to to their level, crossbows ready to fire, as Azrael appeared across from her.
"Remember, Bruce said to take them alive," Jason commanded before having to dodge one of Dick's escrimas, giving his predecessor the chance to close the gap between them. Capitalising on the momentary surprise, Damian leapt towards Azrael and Stephanie threw another batarang at Helena, knocking one of her crossbows out of her hands. The six protégés of Batman did battle throughout the cave, while Bruce himself made his next move elsewhere.
By now, it was clear to the League that Bruce had gone rogue. While they wanted desperately to believe it was some supervillain plot, it was hard to ignore the mounting stack of evidence against him. Diana began putting together a team to investigate those Harley and Ivy had claimed took part in the Asylum Massacre, but that proved unnecessary when Oracle brought the League's attention to a sudden live broadcast that was transmitting across all channels.
Batman was stood at a podium in some undisclosed location, flanked on both sides by various mercenaries and anti-heroes, including Deathstroke, Bane and Deadshot. Before Bruce even opened his mouth, the Sirens' claims became an unavoidable truth that the League had no choice but to accept.
"You all know me as Batman. When I first donned this cowl, I vowed to protect Gotham City from criminals like The Joker. But I failed. I placed my own moral principles in regards to corporal punishment before the inevitable results of sparing such deranged killers, and Gotham paid the ultimate price for my selfishness. No more. Batman failed Gotham, but I vow to cast aside my weakness, to do whatever it takes to bring an end to crime and ensure that another Gotham never happens. From this day forth, I will be enacting a much more efficient and effective war on the scum that prey on the weak. I will not rest until crime is completely eradicated from this world."
It was obvious now that Bruce was fully dedicated to this new cause. And with Clark and Barry out of the picture, it fell to Diana to lead the League in countering Bruce's plans. But the debates that raged in the Watchtower in the immediate aftermath made one thing abundantly clear to Diana; one thing that she was utterly powerless to prevent:
Bruce's crusade was going to split the League.
Bruce entered the secret cell block, passing Barry's specialised cell and approaching Clark's. Clark's cell was made of a reinforced transparent plastic, bathed from all sides by floodlights infused with an red sun radiation. The result was a depowered Clark, without the life-threatening debilitating effects of kryptonite. Clark was sat in the middle of the cell, facing away from the door, where Bruce came to a stop.
"Bruce," Clark said in an even tone without turning to face his captor.
"Even without your powers, you can recognise me," Bruce said in a slightly lighter tone.
"Because you're my friend, Bruce." Clark stood and moved himself to sit on his cot. "You're my friend, which is why I'm telling you, you need to stop this."
Bruce shook his head and pulled down his cowl. "There's no going back, Clark. I've made my intentions known to the world. With any luck, what I've already done with scare the lesser criminals into repentance."
"And the rest?" Clark asked, his tone bitter and his voice louder. "Are you going to murder them, too?"
"It had to be done, Clark. We have to be pragmatic here. A few hundred, maybe thousand, evil people dying to save millions of innocents. You can't possibly look at that exchange and tell me I'm in the wrong."
Clark said nothing. On the spot, he really couldn't argue the point.
"I'd really like your help on this Clark," Bruce continued. "With your powers, we could end this much sooner. Think of the innocents we could save if we worked together!"
"I can't, Bruce. My parents taught me to respect all life, even that of the wicked."
Bruce sighed and pulled his cowl back up. "I'll be back later, Clark. I hope you'll have changed your mind by then." Bruce turned and headed for the exit.
"They also taught me to believe in redemption, Bruce!" Clark called desperately as he quickly approached the cell door. "That's why I still believe that you can be saved! Don't continue down this path, Bruce! End this now and we can work on this in a better way! All of us!"
Wordlessly, Bruce continued on his way, hoping some of the other Leaguers would see it his way without the need for internment. The sooner this was done, the sooner the innocent could rest easy again - the sooner he could face punishment for his crimes.
In my Injustice: Gods Among Us Critique and the later Wasted Plotential episode that expanded the idea, I pitched my own concept for a version of Injustice that doesn't belong in a dumpster fire. Since then, I came up with a few decent ideas for a specific scene and decided to write it out. That scene was Clark and Bruce in the cave. I wanted to add extra context, leading to the expansion. I did consider just releasing the cave scene because I wasn't sure if the rest was any good, but after rereading it all, I liked it. The scene of Dick, Damian and Stephanie went through a few revisions. Originally, Dick had called in the Titans; then it was just Dick, Damian, Starfire and Superboy; then I finished the scene with Dick, Tim and Damian; then I remembered Tim was dead, so I gave his exact role to Stephanie. Just don't expect muchy more of this. This is just to show how Injustice's basic premise could have been way better with some genuine effort in place of boring cliches.
The scene of Dick, Damian and Stephanie went through a few revisions. Originally, Dick had called in the Titans; then it was just Dick, Damian, Starfire and Superboy; then I finished the scene with Dick, Tim and Damian; then I remembered Tim was dead, so I gave his exact role to Stephanie.
Just don't expect muchy more of this. This is just to show how Injustice's basic premise could have been way better with some genuine effort in place of boring cliches.