The drive felt so much longer than it should have. Where once he had made this trip without a moment’s hesitation, now it felt like he was a tiger, walking the path on his way to the end. The bridge was faded and cracked, it hadn’t been used in so long. The gate hung open. The old sign was taken down, replaced by TYGER. They had taken ownership of the island, after the incident, all those years ago. It was where they launched their helicopters, to patrol the super-prison that looked a lot like this place.
The sign on the gate was still there. Arkham Asylum. It felt like an eternity since he had made this drive. The last time, the Joker was in the passenger side of his vehicle, babbling to himself. The memory flashed in front of him as he stopped in front of Intensive Treatment Center. The long-dead roots of Ivy’s plants were still there. The place looked like a rotting wound. No light but moonlight. He walked inside, and it was like he could see the memories coming back. The Joker’s escape, him giving chase.
A voice could suddenly be heard. “Does it bring back memories, Batman? How many times did you come through here, condemning people to a life of torture and misery? This was not a place of healing. It was a house for the truly mad, where even the guards were deranged. No one who came in here left better for the experience.”
He looked around, but the voice was on the radio. That was when he noticed a series of lights. They were leading him somewhere. Through the halls he walked, following the lights. The voice was right. There were so many memories. So many times when he had taken in prisoners. After Strange was killed, files were given to the press. The voice was right. The Asylum was not a place of healing. It was a place of pain. What had been done here, who could have imagined? The nightmares that so many must have endured, it defied comprehension. Had he been an accomplice in this? No, he was just trying to keep the streets of Gotham safe. Right? This nagging doubt had been at him for years, following the death of the Joker. A doubt that he couldn’t quite describe. Like he felt he had done something, and now there was no going back. Why did the voice know this?
Eventually, the lights got him back outside. He walked down more paths. He looked over toward the Gardens, seeing the windows busted in and most everything that once grew was dead. The rain was starting again, yet the clouds didn’t cover the moon. It was almost surreal. Like a wonderland of lights. Then he caught sight of where he was being led to – the Visitor’s Center. The place where his final confrontation of the Joker took place. There were no fireworks, this time. There were no thugs to greet him. In fact, everything was so quiet, save the rain. The memories all came back. The most insane patients, attacking him. Ivy’s pods, throwing spores at him. The dead guards, left in the dirt to rot. This place was like a grim memorial.
The Visitor’s Center hung open like a rotting wound. There was the faded wooden planks, where there was still some of the Joker’s face painted on. Had it been so long, since he had been here? Seven years. It felt like an eternity. Walking inside, the lights led him further in. He knew where the voice wanted him to go – to the place of the final battle. Why?
He walked in to the large room. The grim alter where the Joker’s throne sat was still there. The hole in the ceiling had rain pouring in. On the throne, there was the voice. At long last, he was facing him. The Arkham Knight.
“So, you finally arrived. I’ve been waiting for this day for a long time.”
A dark anger came back. “It’s over, Arkham Knight. I stopped Scarecrow’s bombs. I’ve stopped all your accomplices. Whatever you were planning, it’s done now. Now I’ve come for you.”
There was a cold laugh. “Oh, all of that was just window dressing. I needed their help to get my plan into action. I won’t deny, part of me wanted to see you fail. But I always knew that you wouldn’t. It’s in your blood. You never give up. You never give in. You always keep going, even if you know that what you’re doing is wrong. And it’s fitting, that it all ends here. Here is where it all started. Here is where all of this truly began. I could have taken you to Crime Alley. I could have gone back to The Monarch, but in reality, it all truly began here, so many years ago.”
Something about how specific all those examples were alarmed and confused the Dark Knight. “What are you talking about?”
“Time and time again, you have come to this place. Dropping off monsters who repeatedly broke out. Who could never be cured by this place’s madness. Who had no hope of getting better. You kept bringing them here. The alternative was so obvious, so simple. If there wasn’t a prison that could hold them, or a way to make them better, what else could you do? You weren’t able to bring yourself to do what needed to be done. You weren’t able to bring yourself to do what must be done. You weren’t man enough to end them, once and for all.”
The doubt came back. There was a dark thought in his mind, that he couldn’t quite understand. He shook his head, trying to clear it. “I’m not a murderer! I’m not like the people here. I have a code!”
Another cold laugh. “A code?! Don’t make me laugh! The truth is, your code is the only thing that keeps you from turning in to one of these people!” He hopped down from the throne. “The truth is, your code is just an illusion, to convince you of something that we both know is true – you belong here, Bruce!”
There was a feeling of shock. “How do you know who I am?!”
“Oh, I know all sorts of things about you, Bruce. I know that you watched your parents die in front of you. I know that you became deranged by the experience, to the point where you had to get revenge, in the only way that made you feel good – with force. You trained yourself, to the point where your body couldn’t take anymore. Then, you took all the wealth and power that you have and, instead of actually helping the people of Gotham, you decided to dress up like a bat and put all that training to work, beating and brutalizing anyone who you could justify attacking. You used force as your first and only solution. You should have been sent to prison by now, except that Gordon is a soft-hearted fool. He didn’t see the truth that is so clear – that you belong here in Arkham, surrounded by the monsters that you created. In all reality, it is because of you that this city suffers. It’s all your fault, for each and every person that the lunatic you fought in this room has killed everyone he killed.”
He let each word wash over him. The Arkham Knight was wrong. He was protecting the people of Gotham. Then there was that doubt again. How many of the people he fought did he make? Wouldn’t it have been better to kill them? Would Harvey have turned out how he did if he had just killed Falcone? Then there was the memory that was bothering him most – the night the Joker died.
Back at the theater, he held the vial with the cure for their affliction in his hand. He took half of it, cured. He looked down at the other half, and remembered…
‘Quick, give me the cure! What are you waiting for? Come on! I killed your girlfriend, poisoned half of Gotham and hell, it’s not even breakfast. But so what? We all know you’ll save me.’
He stared down at the vial. ‘Every decision you’ve ever made ends with death and misery. People die, I stop you. You’ll just break out and do it again.’
Why did he do it? Why did he keep saving him? Why on Earth would have save a person that deranged? What was it? As the Joker died, he told him a joke. In that last moment, the two shared a genuinely human moment together. Part of him felt like he also died in the theater that night. He told himself that he blamed himself for not being able to save the Joker. But that never felt right. It felt like he had lost something. Something he would never get back. Why would the Arkham Knight bring that up?
The Bat looked up at him. “Who are you?”
Reaching back, the Knight tapped something on his mask. He reached up and pulled it off. It was almost surreal. He could have been a carbon-copy of Bruce Wayne, albeit much younger, and a little more tan. “My name is Damian. Damian Wayne. Although, I guess that using your last time is a bit presumptuous. After all, you were never married to mother. So then, I guess it’s Damian Al Ghul.”
He smiled at him. “That’s right? Remember that night you spent with mother in Metropolis, so many years ago? Born a rich boy, but you never thought to wear a condom? Well, I guess love makes people do stupid things.”
The Dark Knight was in shock. “Why did she never tell me?!”
A darker look came. “She meant to, after you took your place with her as the head of the League of Assassins. But we all know how that turned out, didn’t it? You killed grand-father and then let the Joker kill her. Just to make it better, you destroyed the Lazarus Pit, so they couldn’t be revived. Both of them remained dead, and I had to grow up alone. All of Grandfather’s wealth came to me, and I used all of it to become the perfect warrior, as you had done. I learned from the greatest teachers, and then former my own organization, all for one purpose – destroying you. It took me years, but I finally got everything in place, for tonight! When I could finally face you, and I would be able to destroy the legendary Batman!”
As he listened, he felt something get even more numb inside him. He reached back behind his mask as well, undoing the bindings. He took it off, throwing it to the ground. “So, now I’m going to have to fight you. Fight my own son. I’m going to have to fight it out with you. With the League’s connections, you would be out of jail in under an hour. So what – we keep doing this until one of us is dead?”
Damian took his sidearm and raised it. “That’s about the big and small of it.”
Bruce shook his head. “No. I’m not doing this. I’m not fighting my own flesh and blood until either he or I is dead. You’re right, Talia’s death is my fault. I can’t apologize for that, so you know what, do it. Take your revenge, right here. End this pathetic game, and then maybe all of this madness will stop.”
His son lowered his weapon, almost in shock. “You would do that? You would just lay down and die?!” Anger was bubbling up. “You dare just let me take your life?! You would dare try and justify this as noble?! To Hell with you! I won’t let it end this way! You went on and on about how what you were doing was the right thing. Now defend it! Fight, until the bitter end! Let me earn my place as the one who killed-!”
There was a loud crack. It came from the door behind Bruce. He turned and saw Harley Quinn standing there, .45 in hand.
“If anyone’s going to kill B-Man, it’s going to be me!”
Damian fell to his knees, then falling to his face.
She turned the gun on Bruce. “Yeah, like that? I offed your little boy right in front of you! Just like how you hauled out Mr. J in front of me! Does it feel good, B-Man! This is all your fault!” Her voice was a combination of rage and sobs. “Now you get to live knowing that the only person you really had is dead! I fucking hate you! The only perk is that I’ll get to tell Mr. J that I got you for him. See you in Hell, B-Man!” She turned the gun on herself and fired. There was a burst of steam from where a hole now was in her head. Quinn crumpled to the floor, and Bruce was left in there, with two dead bodies.
He fell to his knees, letting out a scream of rage and pain. In that moment, he felt all the dedication and drive shrivel up and fall away. He picked up his mask and walked off, back toward his vehicle.
When he returned to the cave, he saw Barbara waiting for him.
“Bruce…” she breathed, seeming to not know what to say.
He took off the pieces of the Batsuit, putting them all back in their proper place. As he did so, he walked over to the Batcomputer. There was a special code, one that existed for if the Batcave was ever compromised. He entered it.
Barbara looked up in shock. “What are you doing?!”
The entire system started going haywire, then went black.
Bruce looked at her, and for the first time, she saw tears on his face. Never, in their entire working relationship, had he ever cried. Ever. He was always a rock.
“I’m done, Barbara. I can’t do this anymore. Let someone else take over. Anyone. I don’t care. Alfred passed away. Dick is in New York. Tim is dead. I just watched my son die in front of me, killed by the only person who ever truly understood me. I don’t care what happens to Gotham. I’m done.” He headed for the stairs. “Batman is no more. You should go home. Be with your father.” Most of the room went dark.
For the last time, Barbara stared at the cave. It was several hours before she wheeled out, heading home.
Until next time, a quote,
“Is it possible that the two of us, you and I, have grown so old and so inflexible that we have outlived our usefulness? Would that constitute a joke?” -Spock, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country