Dick Grayson's family was performing at half-time. Nothing fancy—practically a cheerleading routine. The truth was, acrobatics were a dying art. The Flying Graysons were lucky to catch a football gig. They were in their spandex, going through all the pre-show superstitions they pretended they didn't have, when Dick made a joke.
"First time Dad's taken me to the ballpark and I can't get a ballpark frank."
Kick-off was in two minutes, so his mother threw a dressing gown on him and sent him to get one. He was in the stands when the bombs went off, trying to get the vendor's attention. Guy in red and green, tights not getting enough attention, only in Gotham, good story for the ride home, but then the field opened up like a wound and Dick was still standing there, red and green. No longer embarrassing. Obscene.
He made his way down to the field. The crater ripped open the locker room his parents were in. They had lived their lives performing; now they died on display.
Dick had tried to drum up interest in the circus. Taken up parkour, street luge, anything fast and stupid. Filmed it and uploaded it to the internet. Now he advertised Bane's atrocities. Ran between the buildings, the shadows. Taped the things he was too small to stop and showed the world what Bane was really doing. People watched. They just didn't do anything. Five months of nothing and Dick kept doing it. Someone had to bear witness.
Then he got the e-mail. No more waiting. 1650 AM, tonight at 11. Pass the word along. No e-mail address. Just a picture of a bat.
People didn't bring up the Batman lightly. It was punishable by exile. He spread the word. And at 11 PM, he turned his radio on, listened like some men prayed.
Please. Someone be there.
It was 6:32 PM when someone grabbed Stephanie Brown and pulled her into the bushes. Not even dark out. He had his hands all over her and she had her fingernails and knees and teeth in him. She won. He limped away, but they never caught the guy.
She didn't have nightmares. Her guidance counselor said some stuff about sisterhood and recovery and acceptance that could've been a pamphlet. That wasn't it. She just wanted to walk five steps without looking around to make sure no one was lying in wait.
Somehow, she ended up in a tree in Gotham Park, hidden. She saw someone else hidden. She saw him grab a girl. She threw a brick.
And she stopped looking around for people lying in wait.
Then Gotham Stadium blew up and she needed a lot more bricks. Steph didn't realize she was getting a reputation until her BFF ran up to her one morning and said she was still a virgin because some kind of Batgirl had jumped out of the shadows and made her attacker sing soprano. Batgirl. Well, it beat 'crazy bitch with a brick.'
She was on the hunt for one of the Batman hoodies that Bane liked to burn in big piles when she heard the rumor. 1650 AM at 11. It was probably bullshit. But then again, she wasn't. How hard could it be to find a radio?
Jason Todd liked a scrap. Simple as that. He took the pot at any of the garage's bumfights, but that was only once a month. He liked to keep in practice. Fought mean drunks, pricks cops, woman-beaters, queer-bashers, racists—anyone who could take a punch. When Bane came calling, Jason signed up. It sounded good. Robin Hood stuff. But beating on guys just because they drove a Lexus… guys with kids… that wasn't right. So he started in on the people who could fight back, who were going after the people that couldn't. He wasn't some resistance member, but someone didn't know that. She told him to listen to his radio at 11. He thought about it. Decided to. It seemed like he was going to be fighting a lot of people soon. Might as well know why.
Tim Drake grew up rich but not easy. Father in a wheelchair, mother in a home. All the money did was give his classmates something to make fun of. Tim couldn't blame them. The rich and powerful in Gotham threw parties while people starved in the streets, held benefits while sending every job but caterer overseas. But not Batman. Someone was kicking in millions of dollars to fund him, just to help people. No recognition. No tax breaks. It inspired Tim.
And when Batman killed Harvey Dent, it destroyed him. He started Batmaninnocent.blogspot.com. Examined evidence. Interviewed witnesses. Was a meme for five minutes. But when Harvey Dent Day became a thing, people ran out of patience. He was hacked so much that Tim left the website to the trolls.
He grew up.
After Gotham Stadium, he was so sure Batman would set things right. He cleaned up the old blog and gave it a new name. Batmanlives.blogspot.com. Every day there were new sightings of Batman. He followed up. Most of them were mistakes, or hoaxes, or girls with bricks. But the comment with the radio station and the Batsymbol, that wasn't.
The IP address ran through two islands to Wayne Manor.
Cass Cain's father took her to seven war zones before her fourteenth birthday. For her fifteenth, he took her to Gotham. He wanted her to learn to fight. She wanted to learn what she was fighting for. Daddy said that they worked for Bane. Bane was a hero. He fought the world's evils.
Cass didn't think evil men would be so helpless, or that good men would enjoy it so much. And she didn't think anyone deserved to die.
Whenever Daddy showed her how to disassemble a man, she'd wait until nightfall, then put on a mask and practice her lesson on one of Bane's 'heroes'. It let her live through another day of other people's fear.
The last night, she was after a white knight who really enjoyed fear. Women's fear. He and three others were splitting a woman's fear when Cass stepped in. She cracked the first one, handed the woman her purse, told her to run, and started on the other three. They were fallen heroes when the first one stirred. Cass was ready, but someone hit him before she could. With a brick.
The girl wasn't afraid. She wore his symbol. Cass hadn't been rescued; but no one had ever tried to before either.
"You're welcome!" the girl said loudly.
"What am I thanking you for?"
The girl said nothing.
"Thanks. For trying."
"You wear the symbol. But he's gone."
The girl shook her head. "Maybe some guy is gone. But not the Bat. Hey, are you listening to the broadcast tonight?"
"1650 AM at 11 PM. Everyone's talking about it. Who knows, maybe everyone's right for once."
A hero groaned. The girl gave him a kick. "Well, nice saving you, but I must be going."
"You were afraid," Cass said, freezing her. "When you hit that man with the brick. You were scared."
"Of course. But if I don't do something, I'll never stop being afraid."
Cass understood then how scared she'd been. How scared she didn't have to be.
She went to find a radio. And a symbol.
Barbara Gordon never could figure out her life. She was great at criminology, but it bored her. She loved libraries, but books couldn't hold her attention that long. She didn't want to be a cop, but she had a black belt in krav maga. The only thing she had that wasn't a contradiction was her father. She loved him. When her mom divorced him and took her to Cleveland, all of her hated it.
College muddied the waters further. Boys didn't interest her. Girls didn't interest her. She packed on legal courses like chocolate, but blew off the bar. It wasn't until the Batman disappeared from newspapers and into tabloids that she realized. Growing up with the possibility of her father not coming home every night had left a mark on her. James Gordon protected people. Who protected him?
She wanted to be Batman.
It became sort of a fantasy. In idle moments she sketched costume ideas, practiced the voice, pretended her trenchcoat was a cape. Just an idle fantasy. The Batman was gone. If Gotham didn't need him anymore, it certainly didn't need another nut in hockey pads.
She was in Gotham Heights to pay her father a surprise visit when everything went to hell. Barbara rushed to her father's hospital, but all she found were shell casings.
She spent the next five months looking for her father. There were other searchers. Men with guns. It'd be crazy for a college co-ed to take on multiple gunmen. As crazy as being a straight cop in Gotham, ten years ago.
Ran in the family.
What was left of the police—refugees and rookies—kept Jim Gordon on the move. Barbara wasn't stupid enough to reach out for him with her real name. No way to know who'd hear. In time, she figured that she was doing more good taking out her father's pursuers than actually finding him. Funny. She was protecting her dad, without ever becoming some kind of Batwoman. Just her father's daughter.
She finally found him when someone in her refuge screamed that Jim Gordon was on the radio.
"Good people of Gotham… I failed. I not only let this evil take your city from you… I brought it here. By building a regime on lies, I made this day inevitable. Harvey Dent was no hero. He wasn't a villain either. All he was is a man who gave in to pain and anger, just as I did.
"But the fact that Harvey and I fell short does not mean there are no heroes. There are always heroes. The Batman is mine. Batman risked his life to save my family, and sacrificed his reputation to save this city. I never should've allowed it. I should've had the faith in Gotham that you had in me. But I thought learning the truth about Harvey Dent would break this city. You've proven me wrong. For five months, you've lived under the bootheel of monsters, but everyday I see you fighting back. And it fills me with pride. I'm proud to call this city home. I'm proud to call you my neighbors. And I am ashamed that I ever thought you weak.
"I know what Bane is promising you. Truth. Justice. Hope. Change. The things you deserve. All he asks is that you allow his methods. Condoning that the ends justify the means. I thought the same way, once. But I've learned that the ends fade. The means linger. If you judge others expendable in your pursuit of happiness, someone else will judge you the same way.
"No one is expendable. Rich or poor, we must stand together. This is a great city, with room for all of us. Bane wants to turn us against each other, fighting amongst ourselves until Gotham dies around us. That's all he cares about. But he's underestimated us. He thought without Batman, we were nothing. But Batman was one of many! He was a citizen of Gotham, just like the rest of us. Where he stood, we can stand too! We don't have to do it alone!
"Batman is returning.
"Tomorrow, the bomb will be disarmed. If you can, cross the bridge. Get to safety. Take your family, your loved ones, and go. But if there's no one relying on you—if you can fight—join us. Gotham's Finest haven't abandoned you. We'll be joining together on Fifty-Second and Third to bring Bane to justice. Your city needs you. Your neighbors need you. No more fear. No more surrender. Tomorrow, we take our city back!"
Dick and Barbara spotted each other first. It was either way after curfew or long before work detail, sun up, streets empty, mist in the air like the buildings had never stopped burning. He approached her and, guarding herself, she let him.
"Nice day for an uprising," he said amicably.
She didn't laugh, but she smiled in a way that suggested she'd thought about it. "You picked a good topic for your stand-up routine."
"I've been serious for five months. I'm ready to laugh."
Jason was next. He rolled in like he expected to be jumped any minute. Took one look at Dick and Barbara, said "We're doomed."
Before either could reply, Tim ran up, struggling to keep a grip on his stuffed duffel bag. "I'm here! What'd I miss?"
"The whole rebellion," Jason growled. "We won. Bane went to take elocution lessons in a non-extradition country."
"He's rude. Don't you think he's rude?" Tim panted, out of breath. He pushed his glasses up and opened the duffel bag. "Anyone want a baseball bat? Get 'em quick; I only have a few, then it's mostly golf clubs."
Jason rolled his eyes. "Rich kids."
Barbara rolled her eyes. "Yeah, he is rude."
When Stephanie got there, she had to pull her hood back for a better look at them. "Did I get the right address? This isn't a book club or something, is it?"
Barbara looked at her purple-stained Batman hoodie and mask. "Looking for a costume party?"
"You wish you looked this good." The laundry mishap was all Steph could find.
"Hey, when'd she get here?" Dick asked.
Cass was standing there. She shrugged. "Been here."
Steph smiled at her. "Tight outfit, girlfriend."
It had a bat on it. "Thanks… girlfriend."
Holly showed up last. She didn't carry much more than the switchblade Selina had left her for protection, so she grabbed a nine-iron quick. "Is this the revolution?"
"I know, right?" Dick grinned. "Don't worry. I'll take the first two hundred."
"Okay. We're doing this. I, uh…" Holly opened her purse. "I made us something."
She handed out armbands. They had bats on them. Jason smirked.
"I like arts and crafts, okay?"
Jason put his on. Maybe he could get with her after the humiliating defeat. "Yeah. 'Okay'."
"They look good," Barbara said.
Tim wasn't looking at his. He was looking off to the left. "I hope you made a lot of them," Tim said. He was talking about the five dock workers coming down Fig Street, not the nine fishermen on Oasis Lane or the twelve firemen on Fifty-Second Street.
They came in fits, gulps, then a steady stream. Janitors, EMTs, fast food workers, gas station attendants, butchers, lawyers, interns, baristas. Blending together in a mass of venting outrage, rising voices, clenched fists.
Holly quickly ran out of armbands.
Someone had thought to bring a bullhorn. She stood on a parked car in military fatigues, red hair incongruously unbound. "Gentlemen! My name is Lieutenant Kate Kane, formerly of the US Army. Right now, Batman is freeing the GPD from the underground. They're marching up Main to engage Bane's forces. We're coming in from the other side to flank Bane and pound the bastard on all sides. I don't know what you're fighting for, but there are people I love in this town. I'm fighting for them. Let's go win."
She jumped down from the car, tossed the bullhorn aside. Holly slapped an armband on her.
"I saved one."