There was an unnatural quiet, a tension in the air that felt out of place given the circumstances. The city should be filled with noise - people digging through rubble, people shouting for help, people moaning in pain… There should be looting and search and recovery and sirens and gunshots.

Yet, the entire city was quieter than I could ever remember it being. Almost as if the city itself was holding its breath in anticipation for what would come next. Everyone in the city was holding their breath right along with it, as everyone waited for the next big bang. When it never came - the Joker simply turning off the broadcast with an ominous chuckle - Klarion vanished in a flash of black magic, leaving me alone in what was left of the central square.

I knew what the silence meant.

This was the opening act in a brand new shit show. And I was one of the stars of the show.

I rested Murder Weapon on my shoulder, my gloved hand tightening around the bat until my knuckles were white. The smirk on my face didn't fall away as my brain raced to put together a response to the Joker - to No Man's Land. I knew of the original comic, but I never actually read it. But I did know that it involved the entire US Government sealing off Gotham, trapping everyone in the city as gangsters and villains became the de facto leaders.

That seemed way too stupid to happen, but unlike the comics, the Joker had just demolished two major cities. Gotham and London. I had no clue what reaction the world would have to it , but I had a clear idea what the worst-case scenario would look like. All that was left was to act as if the worst-case was a certainty - no government, no Justice League intervention, and the Joker going over the top with his newfound powers.

The eerie silence that fell over the city was broken by the sound of something fluttering in the wind . I knew it belonged to a cape even before I turned around. Looking over my shoulder, I saw Superman - a larger-than-life man. The shielded S on his chest, his red cape fluttering behind him as he landed, while his expression was severe.

"Are you okay?" He asked me, and for a moment, I had no clue what to say. It wasn't often I was struck speechless, but… I don't know. Maybe I was reading into it, but the fact that that was the first thing out of his mouth said something about him.

"I just picked a fight with a chaos lord and an eldritch abomination, so not really," I replied easily, finding my voice. "And I mean this with all the respect in the world - you need to go." I continued, turning around to see other members of the Justice League. Wonder Woman touched down, as did Zatanna. There were a few others in the far-off distance that were focusing on search and rescue. However, my gaze zeroed in on Dr. Fate, who materialized through a golden symbol that tickled my brain as being something related to Egypt.

He looked to me, and I looked at him, "That means you too, Dr. Fate."

The golden hero scoffed, "I exist to combat the forces of chaos. Klarion the Witch Boy lurks nearby."

"Then that's all the more reason for you to fuck off," I spoke, my voice deadly calm. I felt myself enter a higher gear than I ever had before. It wasn't just that I was so panicked that I looped back to being calm, but I felt… focused. Almost like I had developed tunnel vision, yet my attention was spread out so far and wide between a dozen different things - Lowtown, evacuation efforts, contacting Batman, finding the Joker, the response of the villains in Gotham, hooking up with the Police and hospitals, materials needed to set up stable shelters, what we would need… the list went on and on.

"Look," I continued when my rude comment earned a frown from Wonder Woman. "You want to kill Klarion? Be my guest. I am the very last person on this planet that's going to get in your way. But, do it somewhere else. If you're going to take your shot at the Joker, then do it somewhere else. Plan it out so he can't pull a final fuck you to the world. Make sure it sticks. But," I said, as I strode forward to Dr. Fate. "Take it somewhere else."

I saw Dr. Fate's eyes narrow slightly, but it was Superman that spoke. "Do you believe that you can handle city-wide search and rescue efforts?" He asked, and it sounded half like an honest question and half a challenge. It seems like he was puzzling out the best path forward to avoid the worst-case scenario.

"Lowtown is already on it," I answered. Honestly speaking, I wanted the Justice League here. There weren't words to describe what they could bring to the table in this situation. They could save a lot of lives.

But, at the same time, their presence here was a substantial risk.

"You wish us to submit to the whims of a madman," Wonder Woman pointed out, her distaste for the idea evident.

"Yeah, pretty much," I agreed instantly. "I understand the Joker. As much as I can without being clinically insane. Batman is his target. He doesn't care about anything else in this world other than making Batman kill him because that's how he wins. But because he doesn't care about anything else, he will do whatever it takes to get what he wants . He will murder every person on this planet down to the last baby if they get in his way." I stated, and I saw Wonder Woman's lips thin. She didn't like that, but she didn't dispute it either.

"It seems most unwise to leave the situation in the hands of a child, one who brought about this situation," Dr. Fate remarked, earning a sharp look from Superman.

My smile grew, "You're right. I screwed up. When I had the Joker killed, I should have stolen his soul, ground it into dust, and tossed his body into the Bleed. That's my bad. I won't make the same mistake twice," I said, my voice soft, but there was a deadly edge in it. "To that end, how about you help me out and give me a little Order magic," I said, presenting him a blank card.

Dr. Fate scoffed, "You are a poor magician if you still use training tools," he said and my eyes narrowed into slits at that. My cards were a training tool? What? I thought… that wasn't important right now. I could use Order magic to kill the Joker. "I see no reason to aid you. This shall be dealt with by myself and the League. You will only get in our way."

My smile grew until it was all teeth. "Oh? Is that so? Forgive me if I have my doubts considering that you, a Lord of Order, allowed this to happen." The Justice League tensed as I took a step forward, invading Dr. Fate's personal space.

"You don't-"

"I do though. Chaos and Order, the two opposing forces that have been here since the birth of the universe. You will battle it out until the heat death of the multiverse, until Death the Endless puts the chairs up on the tables and turns off the lights to lock up. When this universe dies, and a new one is formed - you Lords of Chaos and Order will be right back at it again in a chess match that will never end," I said, and I could feel the sudden uncertainty in the air, because I just let a lot of shit out that I really shouldn't know about. Hopefully, Death wouldn't mind me name-dropping her.

I jabbed a finger against Dr. Fate's chest, "Klarion is your enemy. You let this happen. Because unless Klarion can pull spells like this out of his ass, you missed something big," I half snarled at him. This was… this wasn't productive. I should reign it back. Before I made an enemy of the Justice League. "But, I really have to wonder if you're up to it, Nabu. Stealing Zatata's body like a fucking lich and using him as a god damn meat puppet, this colossal fuck up - I don't trust you to do a thing. So, here's my ultimatum - give me your magic, or I am going to rip that helmet off of Zatara and melt it down to be my new coffee cup."

I felt a hand on my shoulder and I saw it was Wonder Woman, appearing distinctly unhappy, but not angry. However, it was Dr. Fate that spoke.

"You know a great deal of which you shouldn't," Dr. Fate stated, sounding cautious.

"Are you going to make me count, Nabu? I'll give you until the count of ten - one," I told him, a threat in every word as I stared into the eyes of a body he stole. There was a beat of silence, "Nine, ten-." I said, skipping two through eight.

"That's enough," Superman said, his voice calm, but leaving no room for argument. I looked to him to see that he had a deep frown on his face, clearly unhappy with everything. But, I suppose he was currently unhappy with how this conversation had played out. "Dr. Fate…"

"Very well," Dr. Fate conceded easily, and I doubt it was because of my threat. He took the card from me and it shone brightly for a moment. However, Wonder Woman's grip on my shoulder tightened ever so slightly. Not enough to hurt, but enough to get my attention.

"You are asking for a great deal of trust," she told me, and I supposed I was. When I asked them to leave, in the small text, I was asking them to leave Gotham in my hands. Mine and Batman's. The latter, they knew and trusted, and I imagine I haven't exactly been giving them a wealth of reasons to trust me. Some reservations were fair. I could admit that. "I ask that you give us a reason to believe that it won't be misplaced," she said, offering a hand.

In it was a lasso that seemed to be made of golden light. The Lasso of Truth. If there was anything in the universe that I never wanted to touch, then that was it. But, it was the cost for the trust I was asking for. Grab it, and I opened myself up to being compelled to state some very unsavory truths. Refuse, and that's a look that could be just as bad.

I looked at Wonder Woman for a moment, considering my options for the briefest of moments, before I reached out to the lasso. "Ask away. But please keep it on topic, I do have plenty to hide." I felt compelled to say, making Wonder Woman's eyes narrow dangerously and I was forced to wonder if I had just fucked up big. My talents resided in twisting the truth, but the lasso compelled the full truth out of those it touched.

But, I didn't feel compelled to fess up every secret that I have. Though, I doubted that meant I could pick which truth to confess.

"What are your intentions for Gotham city?" Wonder Woman questioned.

"I'm going to turn this fucking awful city into a utopia. When someone in Gotham dies after I'm done with this city and they make it into heaven, they're going to find God's version of eternal paradise lacking," I spoke, and… I was as surprised by the truth as Wonder Woman was. She spared a glance at Superman, who seemed to visibly relax ever so slightly.

"And the Joker?" She questioned, her tone serious, but it seems my first answer took away the edge of her suspicion.

"What I told him - I'm going to beat him to death with my baseball bat. And no, I don't see anything wrong with killing him. I get why you don't, and I agree with it. Heroes shouldn't kill people. But I'm not a hero," I told them, cutting off any lines of protest.

My attention was briefly stolen by the sound of a large piece of cloth fluttering in the wind for the second time, bringing my attention to Batman, who strode forward. He was covered in dust, his gloves covered in blood and filth. He approached confidently, but there was anger simmering beneath the surface. Batman was a hard person to read at the best of times, but the fact that I even saw his simmering anger betrayed just how furious he was.

"What," Batman began, his tone ice-cold, "is your name?"

The truth was compelled to pass my lips. I couldn't stop it even if I wanted it to.

"Vergil St. Jude."

Rules were what defined Batman. Rules, and lines. Because, without them, Batman knew that he would lose himself. The anger that had been birthed in that alleyway in Crime Alley when he watched his parents murdered in front of him never left. It never diminished. It only seemed to grow, continuously fed by the injustices he witnessed as he got older. When he donned the cowl and gave the vengeance a name and an outlet.

Dick, Barbara, and Jason had a nickname for the most important rule - the golden rule. No killing. That they would save everyone that they could, regardless of if they deserved it or not. Batman didn't want to see those children that he took under his wing end up with blood on their hands. But, for himself, Batman knew he couldn't allow exceptions. Ever.

But none had pushed him closer to breaking that rule than the Joker. Worse… it was inevitable. Batman knew it. The Joker knew it. One day, no matter what, they both knew that he would give in. That he would kill him. Murder him. It was a forgone conclusion. Batman restrained himself from doing it, even if there were times when he dreamed of choking the life from the Joker. To just squeeze until the life bleed out of his eyes and the psychopathic monster would be no more.

Batman feared that day. For that would be the day that he had to give up the cowl. He would have to be Bruce Wayne instead of Batman. Deep down, he knew that once the vengeance inside of him had a taste for blood, it wouldn't be denied more. The only way to ensure that he didn't become a monster would be to become Bruce Wayne, to remove Batman from the equation entirely. Otherwise, every time he went out, the temptation that he had given in to once before would be there, and he doubted that he could resist it a second time .

Which made the news of the Joker's death such a shock. And it came with what could only be described as a sense of pure relief. Relief that bordered outright elation.

He would never voice it out loud, but Batman was glad. Happy, even.

However, even with the relief, there were questions. Most of which circled around… how? How had Vergil St. Jude killed the Joker? Where was he killed? Why was he killed? Batman's backdoor into the CIA's systems gave the answer - the Joker had been killed in Ethiopia. In the same timeframe that Jason had been looking for his biological mother. Who had been escorted by Revy, who had been the one that killed the Joker.

His first assumption was that Vergil had used Jason as bait to draw out the Joker. His fury only abated after asking more questions. How would the Joker know Jason was there? Why would he care? What did Vergil have to gain? It didn't add up and none of the evidence he found suggested anything other than a lucky coincidence.

But Batman didn't believe in luck and coincidences. He ran through the possibilities and came to a conclusion.

Vergil had somehow known that the Joker would be there, and he used Jason's desire to connect with his biological mother as a cover for Revy to be there. It made the most sense with what he knew of Vergil's methods, and it was well within the parameters of his psych profile. The only issue was that there wasn't any evidence to support it. Nor did Batman know how Vergil would have known that the Joker would have been there in the first place.

But, Batman supposed that it was a moot point now. The Joker was back, and he brought Gotham to its knees with his resurrection. London had suffered a similar fate as a warning to the rest of the world of what he was capable of . Now… now, Vergil St. Jude had agreed to the Joker's insane demands for a chance to kill the Joker permanently.

It wasn't the wisest use of time, but Vergil St. Jude had remained shrouded in mystery for long enough. Who he was, his motivations, even his abilities, and his connections. As Batman landed in central square, seeing Vergil surrounded by his colleagues whilst he wielded a baseball bat that radiated malicious intent, he spoke the question that had plagued his mind since Batman first met the young man.

"What is your name?" Batman asked in a low growl, wanting to know the truth. He wanted to know who Vergil was before he assumed the name of Vergil St. Jude - an identity that Batman suspected might be a false one created by the Penguin.

Vergil looked over at him, his expression unsurprised as the truth was forced to leave his lips.

"Vergil St. Jude," he answered with conviction.

And Batman, at that moment, felt despair. He felt sad. He felt regret.

He had seen that exact expression before. He saw it in the Joker when he cast off his name. He saw it in other villains that left behind who they were and assumed the identity of their villainous names. Most of all, Batman saw it himself as he looked at Vergil.

Because… even in the depths of his own mind, Batman referred to himself as Batman, instead of Bruce Wayne.

Vergil pointedly let go of the lasso, refusing to give another honest answer. Batman chose not to comment on it, but it was clear that he needed to build his psych profile of Vergil from the ground up. Nothing, at this moment, struck Batman as a young man flying by the seat of his pants as he tried to balance his morals with mobsters, debts, and the police. None of the mannerisms of the young man that had sat in the chair across from at his desk in the manor were to be found.

Batman had assumed that the confidence was a mask. Now, he suspected that any weakness or hesitation that Vergil had ever shown might have been the real mask.

But this was not the time.

"You need to leave Gotham," Batman spoke to his colleagues. It was a simple thing to see the blatant reluctance in their faces. They didn't even try to hide it. Batman knew what he was asking of them. The Justice League existed for moments like these. They became heroes for moments like these. There were people that needed their help, that screamed out their names in hopes that they would be saved…

And he was asking for them to turn their backs on those that needed to be saved. He was asking for inaction when they existed as heroes to act.

But the cost of action would be too high. Vergil said it best - them being here carried too much risk. When they had a plan and opportunity to deal with Klarion and the Joker, then that would be the time to act. For now…

Superman took in a slow breath, but Wonder Woman spoke, "We shall leave before the Joker decides to destroy another city." She spoke, her voice firm. Themyscira hadn't faced a crisis in over a thousand years, but her royal bearing shone through, showing that if disaster should strike the home of the Amazons, then their leaders were ready.

Vergil held up a hand and the card in Dr. Fate's hand snapped to his waiting palm. Batman looked at the blank card while Vergil remained expressionless while tucking it into his deck. "Fuck off, Lich." He said, his tone as sharp as a naked blade. "Make sure that Klarion can't destroy any more cities, yeah?"

Dr. Fate's eyes narrowed, his hands glowing with golden light. His gaze shifted to Batman, who offered a small shake of his head. Vergil's words were dangerously close to the truth, but it was more important that he knew. He knew who was behind the mask. A secret that was only known to a few parties - the Justice League, the Team, and, unfortunately, the Light.

If Vergil was working for the Light… then quite a few questions suddenly had answers.

"Farewell," Dr. Fate said before he vanished in a glowing Ankh. Superman met his gaze, and a silent message passed between them, before he nodded.

"This will be resolved quickly," Wonder Woman vowed, making a promise of it before both she and Superman began to levitate into the air. Batman offered a single curt nod, and the two flew off, leaving Vergil and himself alone in central park.

Vergil looked at him before he reached into his pocket and tossed him a flash drive, "Not really the time, but that's a video of the Penguin murdering most of his Lieutenants." He said, and he was right. It wasn't the time. "The Penguin is out of the picture. I think he left the city, but I have no way of knowing for sure."

Harvey, the Joker, and now Penguin. That was a pattern. Vergil was targeting villians. Or, rather, when he was encountering them, he was ensuring that they didn't walk away from him unscathed.

"Give me access to Lowtown search and rescue efforts," Batman ordered, receiving a curt nod from Vergil.

"This isn't going to be resolved overnight," Vergil stated, sounding certain. In that, they were in agreement. The Justice League would take time to develop a counter to whatever Klarion had done to the Joker. The Joker needed time to set up whatever plan he had.

This would not end today. It might not end tomorrow. It might not even end in a week from now.

"It won't," Batman agreed. "Everyone that is evacuated will be directed to Lowtown in case of other earthquakes. You have the capacity." Another curt nod as they swiftly hammered out a plan.

"Commissioner Gordon is coordinating the emergency response, so I need to get in touch with him. But… we need to deal with the Joker first. The longer he's alive, the longer this goes on." Vergil said, speaking an unpleasant truth.

Batman looked to Vergil, "The Joker is my concern." He told him, leaving no room for argument. But, as children often did, Vergil found room to argue anyway. His eyes narrowed while he squared his shoulders, his baseball bat pressed into the grass beneath their feet.

"Now, you know I'm not going to obey that order, so, how about you give one that I'll actually follow?" Vergil pressed, but Batman didn't flinch. If he had his way, then the only one that would engage the Joker would be himself, welding whatever silver bullet Dr. Fate conquered up. No risk to anyone but himself.

Vergil let out a breath, seeing that Batman had no intention of discussing the topic. "Let me rephrase that - you keep me in the loop, or I'll cut you out of the loop. Deal?" Vergil pressed, making Batman's eyes narrow. Batman glared into Vergil's eyes, and the young man didn't so much as flinch. That fear that lurked in his gaze, despite his best attempts to hide it, was gone.

Vergil didn't fear him anymore.

That was rather inconvenient at the moment.

"I'll keep you briefed," Batman gave in, already deciding that he would break the promise as soon as he said it. Because, as he looked at Vergil, he saw a piece of himself in the young man. Almost like he was staring into a warped mirror. The Joker had once said that they were more alike than different. Batman saw that same reflection in his villians - a piece of himself that was distorted and warped.

In Harvey, his obsession. In Ras Al Ghoul, his ruthlessness. In Poison Ivy, his desire to exact change upon the world. In the Joker, his own mental instability. Each possessed a trait that Batman kept tightly bound and in control of.

And, in Vergil, Batman saw his love for Gotham unrestrained by the rules of the Law.

That scared him more than he cared to admit.

But it wasn't time to deal with Vergil. For now, they were in agreement that the Joker had to be dealt with.

"Let's move."

The response from the world was about what I expected it to be. The UN declared Gotham a true No Man's Zone, going as far as to threaten military action on aid missions. The US, predictably, told the UN to go fuck themselves and threatened to withdraw from the UN over the matter.

Aid trucks arrived…

Then Bejing shook itself apart.

Now China was threatening war, the UN was trying to mediate while keeping America in the fold, while the US postured right back with the both of them.

World politics. Messy business.

Most notable was that the Justice League had remained out of Gotham. I saw no signs of the Team either, but I was also a little busy. Days later and we were still pulling people from the rubble. Lowtown was filling up - half of it was converted into aid stations, and given that we were the only ones with power in the city, I had several hospitals worth of doctors and nurses providing the aid.

The Androids were unboxed and mobilized to keep the peace, which was no simple task. Lowtown was a target now. We were the only ones with stable power, food, and medicine. There were riots and looting happening above ground. We already had to repel one group of gangsters - it was a scattered and disorganized thing, but as the survivors began to consolidate, that would change.

Worst case scenario said that this would last a year. I had to wonder who would be left by that time.

Which led me to make a phone call as I stood in front of a window above ground, watching a family loot a grocery store that had already been picked over. They were smart - where everyone else went for new phones and TVs, they went for the food. The phone rang once in my ear.

"Vergil St. Jude. I do hope you aren't calling to ask me for help," the President said, sounding about as tired as I felt.

"The opposite, really," I spoke, leaning against the window sill. "I can handle Gotham, Mr. President, so unless the dick-waving is a part of the agenda, there's no need to escalate on our behalf. But, to do it, my hands are going to get dirty." There was a small beat of silence on the other end before I received a response.

"Healers often have the most blood on them, St. Jude," the President's voice was cold. "Do what you have to do to get Gotham in line. Leave the aftermath to me. Just get it done in six months, otherwise, you'll have to make this deal again when I get voted out of office."

"I hope you don't mind if I ask for something in return?" I asked, and the President didn't miss a beat.

"If you didn't, then I wouldn't have any faith that you could bring Gotham to heel," he responded. And I had the President in my corner. That was nice. I couldn't really do anything with that card at the moment but I sure could when this was over.

My demands were pretty simple, all things considered, "Sainthood Enterprises is labeled a religious instantiation and given the proper tax exemptions," I started. That would save us billions. There were few true evils in this world and taxes were one of them. "Favorable terms when our military division is up and running. We had some neat hardware for the expo, but we didn't get to show it off."

"Lastly," I continued, "I want access to Belle Reve and the power to negotiate deals on their behalf. Reduced sentences and privileges, that sort of thing." There were some prisoners there that I couldn't do anything with, but there were a few that I certainly could. Scientists and people with unique powers - that, I could use. I wasn't sure if the Suicide Squad was up and running yet, but it was the same idea in principle.

There was a beat of silence before the President spoke. "Agreed, but there won't be anything in writing until I see progress. Do what you have to do to get Gotham in line. Leave the aftermath to me. Just get it done in six months, otherwise, you'll have to make this deal again when I get voted out of office."

"Consider it done," I said before I heard the call end in my ear. I set the phone to the side as I felt a pair of arms wrap themselves around my waist, Tifa pressing her body against mine. "Tifa… you told me once that I was a good man."

Tifa didn't respond for a moment and tightened her hug. "I did," Tifa told me as I watched a family load up a buggy and sprint away. The kid in the seat looked up at me and offered a wave and a smile. The parents whipped around, tense and ready, only to relax when they saw it was me.

"I'm not going to be a good man, Tifa." It was a warning just as much as it was a promise.

"I know. Vergil… you… have this thing inside of you that makes you capable of doing whatever you think needs to be done. No matter how cruel or ruthless. I care for you, but that part of you… it's always scared me," Tifa admitted quietly as I watched the family continue to run away. "But, that part of you is what we need. It's what everyone needs to get through this."

Tifa slowly turned me around, her hands going to my cheeks before she leaned in and pressed her lips against mine. When she pulled back, I felt her breath on my skin, "Do what you have to do. Be who you have to be. Just promise me that you won't lose yourself to it," she requested, her reddish-brown eyes looking into mine.

"It's a promise," I told her, reaching up and giving one of her hands a squeeze. She nodded, relieved, but my eyes turned to the door of the apartment that had been ours. Tifa stepped back before I headed to the door, letting go of her hand as I took out Murder Weapon from my cards. The door was a bit stuck, but I forced it open easily enough.

As it swung open, it revealed Revy standing over three bound and gagged figures on their knees.

Spider-Guy, Cheshire, and Sportsmaster.

They looked up at me and I looked down at them as I entered the room. Tifa closed the door behind us, so it was just the six of us inside…

But not all six of us would leave this room alive.

...

Sorry about that - I had to set the chapter up at five in the morning so mistakes were made.

The next chapter is currently available on my Pat re on and Subscribe Star, so if you want to read it a week early, all it takes is a single dollar in the tip jar. Or, for five dollars, you can read the chapter after that two weeks before its public release! I hope you enjoyed!