"Rise and shine, Bruce."
Golden light, the barest hint of the coming dawn peeked through the windows of Wayne Manor. The blinds were shut, but not perfectly sealed. Invasive, intrusive, and most of all deeply unwanted light was slowly beginning to illuminate the room.
It was difficult to say when the room had truly become different. The maroon theme was still present, and even predominant, but the monochrome walls were a thing of the past. They were a cream color now, with the more luxurious color an accent more than a choking thing. The walls, once barren, were now adorned with artwork, from verdant landscapes to tranquil cottages lost in some forest that time and space had forgotten about. The curtains of the poster bed had been robbed away; no more sealing up, away from the world. The carpet was light and airy, feeling smooth and comforting to the touch of bare feet.
New furniture had been brought in, several lamps and a desk with a laptop of the highest caliber were beside the door, with a chair pressed up against it made of some wood that, to a cynical mind, was likely from an endangered tree in the heart of the rainforest that, if used properly, could have cured cancer instead.
Several tables with modest potted plants, some plain and others exotic dotted the fringes of the room. And in the corner rested a heavy, cushiony armchair, still as regal and magnificent as the brooding that had once inhabited this section of the manor. An indent was still in the seat, from where a young woman had been sitting for the last fifteen minutes. But the girl had moved, and was now slowly pulling up the blinds. She was dressed simply, a loose purple sweater with a few yellow highlights that the manor's butler had been too polite to point out the tackiness of. Her long red hair was drawn back into a ponytail, so as not to get in the way of her bespectacled eyes on that particular morning. Her smile was as bright and beaming as it had ever been, by her memory; an excellent contrast to the violent, death-wishing glares she was getting from the boy in the poster bed.
Bruce Wayne was roused from the allure of his pillow only reluctantly, and with zero enthusiasm. His short-cropped black hair, usually at least with some effort at styling, was wild and blasting off in every direction when he first awoke. Bags under his still-dull and sleepy eyes suggested that he wasn't quite ready to join the world of the living.
As his vision came into focused, he recognized the girl forcing him to wake.
"Ugh…" he moaned. "Barbara? What you doing here? It's—" he stopped to look at the clock. "it's seven in the morning. Why is the sun up?"
The young Miss Gordon replied with a devious smile, saying "We're of the same mind, the sun and I. It's Monday, in case you forgot."
She waltzed over to the bed, sitting down on the side and pointing a teasing finger at her friend.
"And according to Alfred, you have a clean bill of health. So, time to get you back to Gotham High."
"Give me ten minutes." Bruce groaned, rolling on his side to look away from her. "I'll go find some punk to shoot me again."
"Bruce," Barbara groaned, exasperated. She crawled over and leaned over his side to look him in the eye. "Are you seriously telling me you're not sick of this house yet? You've been cooped up here for nearly two months!"
"And the cave!" Bruce added, as if that made some difference.
"Right." Barbara said with a sarcastic smirk, getting off the bed to allow Bruce to stand. "Clearly, a boy who spends half his day in a cave, surrounded by bats, is the pinnacle of mental health."
"Are you calling me stir-crazy?" Bruce accused, tossing off the sheets and hopping to his feet. "Because I think you're calling me stir-crazy."
Barbara shook her head hopelessly and tossed Bruce a clean-ish shirt that had been set out on the armchair for him last night. He pulled it over his head quickly as she continued to speak. "What I'm calling you is somebody who really needs to get back into the swing of things. Have I told you the rumors going round the school yet?"
"Presumably that I'm some kind of lunatic hermit who's cooped up in a back wing of the mansion, pissing in jars and shunning all human contact and sunlight?"
"And those are just the boring ones." She confirmed. She looked away as Bruce pulled on a pair of jeans from his dresser, and took the moment to explain her presence. "Dad left early for work, and Mom's out in Pennsylvania helping my Aunt Cheryl move to a new house. So, I took the opportunity and had Alfred bring me over, to make sure you actually dragged your sorry butt to school today."
"Working overtime again?" Bruce inquired of her father, apparently ignoring the rest of her spiel. He walked over next to her, fully dressed.
"Well, yeah." Barbara said, somewhat uneasily. "It's been almost two months with no sign of Batman. All the punks, crooks and thieves have got themselves believing that the Ventriloquist killed you."
"The who?" Bruce asked. Barbara stammered, mentally smacking herself for using that name. It wasn't one she particularly enjoyed, considering who it was for.
"That's, uh—the villain name, I guess you could call it, that they use for Arnold."
"Oh. How is Arnold?"
"Oh, uh, he's good." Barbara affirmed. She had been diligent in keeping her visits consistent. "I went to Arkham a couple days ago. We played darts. The soft kind."
"That's good." Bruce noted with a soft smile. Arnold Wesker was, by far, the most quiet and well-behaved patient at Arkham Asylum, as the citizens of Gotham called it. It had a much more boring name on legal documents, but the catchier name was what stuck. A plea of insanity had kept him out of Blackgate, and he had very quickly earned himself a privileged place for his cooperation with authorities. He was even a trusted source for Commissioner Jim Gordon, Barbara's father, in identifying various members and safehouses of his old gang, and his rivals too.
"So the crooks really think Batman's gone, huh?" he asked. Barbara nodded at him, leaning against the wall as he gathered his bags for school, tossing in various textbooks and composition books he'd kept lying around to keep up with studies at home. "Well, they'll be in for a treat when I go on patrol tonight—"
"OW!" Bruce yelped, clutching the back of his head as Barbara waved a rolled up magazine at him.
"Ah-ah-ah," she scolded. "No patrol tonight. My dad bought us tickets to Haly's, and I'm not letting you waste them."
Bruce groaned, his memory coming back to him. Indeed, Jim had bought them two front-row seats for Haly's Circus, an act that, on the East Coast, was more famous than any other act of its kind. If only Bruce cared one iota about the circus, he might have been excited.
"Circuses are boring." Bruce complained. "The animals smell like manure, the trainers smell like the animals, the clowns are clichéd and the acrobats are lame. Can't you just go, and I can patrol around it or something?"
"You really are a workaholic." Barbara noted. "And the answer is no, by the way."
"Fine," he grumbled as Barbara began to walk to the door. "but I'm still bringing the Batsuit."
"Naturally." Barbara said. "Not bringing the suit would be like not bringing your skin." She halted at the doorway and turned around to look back at her friend, still packing. "Listen, I'm gonna go find Alfred and get some food going before we leave. What do you want?"
"Five pounds of bacon and a waffle."
"Scrambled eggs it is. Salsa?"
"Extra spicy, got it. See you downstairs!"
Barbara beat a hasty retreat, giggling to herself as several words that could never be repeated around formal company were thrown after her. She wasn't quite sure when, but she'd managed to pick up on Bruce's verbal jabs and deliver them back. It was infectious, what could she say?
Wayne Manor was a spacious abode, and just getting from one end to another was like a relaxing stroll through an art museum. All the halls were glowing with the relaxing aura of hanging glass lamps and chandeliers refracting the light every which way. Paintings, etchings and pieces of art that Barbara didn't have words for hung from the walls. That irked her. She'd have to look them up later.
She descended several flights of stairs, and walked down a dozen hallways, going less by memory and more by instinct now. In the days following Bruce's rather severe injury, she made a point to be present in the Manor as often as possible, to help Alfred in his care, and to make sure he actually did the schoolwork she brought him daily. She had grown accustomed to the winding nature of the architecture quickly, and she'd been picking up some strange things about the place.
It was almost built like a fortress. It looked just like any other mansion from the outside, but the floor plan was odd; there were large rooms, separated by long and narrow hallways, usually having no more than two entrances to any given place. Rooms other than these, branching out from the hallways, never led to anywhere else and usually seemed of nominal relevance. There was only one staircase in the entire Manor, and it was constructed in a way that those above could look down at anyone advancing upwards, while still being partially concealed. It all lent itself to the idea of the house being built for a siege.
And that was the puzzle. Bruce was definitely of the mindset to build a house like that. But he'd said he actually hadn't really made any modifications to the house since he came to own it.
His parents, and their ancestors, were responsible for all of this. But why?
That was a question she didn't have the answer to, and as such it wasn't something to bother herself with. It was just something to ponder while she made her way down to the kitchen, where the ever-working butler of the Wayne family was finishing up breakfast.
"Ah, hello Miss Barbara." Alfred said, hunched over a counter as he cracked egg yolks into a bowl. "Will Bruce be joining us this morning?"
"Yep, finally dragged him out of the rock he's been living under." She replied, approaching the fridge. The kitchen was nothing spectacular, being built for function over style. That said, Barbara was still under the impression that they had somehow lifted it wholesale from a gourmet restaurant and set it down here. There were entire rows of countertops, as if an entire staff was meant to work here instead of one beleaguered butler.
She found a nearly-empty carton of orange juice within the refrigerator, and chugged the remainder. With an exhalation that almost seemed to leave a cloud of vapor behind, she tossed the carton in a waste bin. "Bruce said he'd be a little while."
"I see." Alfred commented, finishing the eggs and setting them to cook until scrambled. "If that is the case, may I assume why you're already down here?"
Barbara grinned at the butler, a devious feeling overtaking her. "Yep. Is it ready?"
The butler led Barbara out the kitchen door and down several hallways before at last coming to an old grandfather clock. Just one of many hidden passageways strewn across the Manor, all leading to a single location.
Alfred reached up to the clock, taking hold of the minute and hour hands, twisting them around to a specific time, 10:47.
The cogs and gears in the grandfather clock began to turn, and the furnishing shifted to the left. A slim arch led down a winding stairwell. The butler entered with Barbara in tow. They descended, going down more flights than could possibly have fit in the Manor. Of course, that wasn't their destination.
After a minute, they reached a doorway, which Alfred pushed open. Before them sat the Batcave, in all its glory. Lights on the ceiling a hundred feet above gave a blue and white light to the rock and steel, platforms strewn with gadgetry and machinery for various needs. And in the farthest corner, where no prying eyes would think to look, sat an innocuous closet.
The butler walked to the door, Barbara standing about five feet back.
"You're sure that this is necessary, Miss Barbara?"
"Absolutely." She replied without a moment's hesitation. "Open it."
The doors to the closet were opened, and inside rested a female mannequin. But what it wore was the real attraction.
"It's only a prototype; I repurposed several older models of Bruce's suit."
Indeed, it was a Batsuit; but not for Bruce—it was custom tailored for Barbara.
From head to toe, the suit was black. At its lowest level, it was a skintight bodysuit, a rubber-like texture and covering everything from the ankles to the collar. Above that was the proper armor of the suit. It appeared to be more like a ceramic armor than Kevlar, with—as Alfred had once explained—both the protection capabilities expected for military-grade armor, and the lightweight materials to permit speed and agility. Boots, with yellow soles; shinpads, kneepads, armoring on the thighs; armguards and gauntlets with yellow-dyed palms and fingertips; a yellow utility belt, as Alfred referred to it, with a black bat on the oval clasp on the center and containing a dozen pods, pouches and canisters for various gadgets; and a breastplate that Barbara swore was being far too forgiving in… volume. Said plate was adorned with the same bat that was embossed on Bruce's suit, but was a yellow outline rather than a darker shade. A cape was clasped to a mantle composed of two plates contorted to fit over the shoulders, and came down to about where Barbara's knees would be. And easily slipped over her head was a balaclava, though made of the same materials as the skintight suit, and revealed her mouth and jaw along with her eyes, with only a discrete hole for her nostrils to breathe through.
Placed on top of that, rather than a cowl that combined the armored aspects of the ceramics and the flexibility of the bodysuit, was placed a fully ceramic helmet, with an armor plate extending down the back of her neck and to her shoulders. It was angular, and gave an admittedly animalistic silhouette, with "ears" notably shorter than those on Bruce's cowl.
All in all, it cut an imposing figure. Barbara stepped closer, reaching out with two fingers to run down one of the armguards. It felt smooth, but cold and like stone. She couldn't resist curling her lips into a smile, and whispered, "Incredible…"
So this was the suit. Her suit. Step one to Batgirl. She turned back to the butler and asked, "So is it wearable, then?" with a hopeful expression.
The butler cleared his throat and said, "Well, assuming the measurements you gave me were accurate—"
"HEY!" Barbara yelped, sucking in her stomach on reflex.
"—then yes," Alfred continued with a playful grin. "it should fit like a glove. Snug, but not constricting. By the time you've finished training, it should feel like a second skin. The finished design, rather."
"And Bruce still doesn't know?" the girl asked, just to be sure. Alfred made a zipping noise across his lips to display silence on the matter.
"As blind as a bat, as the saying goes."
Barbara couldn't call herself a mischievous girl. But then again, she'd lied about plenty of other things. She was a little more excited than she needed to be about surprising Bruce like this. A little voice in the back of her mind called Reason was screaming something about how badly she could be hurt with a lack of training. But she put those thoughts aside. For all his enjoyment of the initial thought, Bruce had been rather reluctant to put any motion into Barbara's "Batgirl" plan. She had yet to get a word of crime-fighting advice out of the stubborn boy, and he clammed up entirely whenever the subject was broached. But this plan was far more airtight than just asking.
If Bruce sees I can handle myself in a fight, and a crisis situation—and that I'm totally not going to stop, with or without his help—then he'll have no choice but to train me.
Barbara began to take a few steps towards the exit, turning back to say "Thanks, Alfred. Say, could you pack the suit up for me? Gonna bring it to the circus tonight, just in case."
"If you insist, Miss Gordon." The exasperated butler replied. "After all, it is Halloween. Heaven forbid two youngsters try and enjoy themselves."
Barbara opted not to respond to that verbal jab, making a brisk pace as she walked back up to the manor proper. It was beginning to feel like a shorter walk every time. She knew multiple routes upstairs now, from all the time she'd spent in the cave with Alfred. She'd chosen the route straight up to the bookshelf she'd first learned of, as the kitchen wasn't dreadfully far from there.
When she made her way there, she found Bruce already waiting and into the food that he'd presumably finished cooking on his own. He looked up at her, and not even bothering with swallowing asked, "Where've you been?"
"Oh, uh, cave." Barbara said, casually pointing with a thumb back the way she came. "Alfred needed help moving some stuff; he'll be up in a minute."
"Why don't I believe you?" he asked, gesturing to a bowl of eggs for her. She quickly slipped into a chair and dug in, responding with a jab of her own.
"Because you don't trust anybody."
"I do!" he insisted. He shoveled another bite in, dripping red with salsa, and gestured a hand toward her. "I trust you."
"And..?" she asked. "Name one other student you trust."
For an unnerving length of time, Bruce was sullen and silent, deep in thought as the fork hung idly from his mouth. He swirled the utensil around a bit to try and help him mull it over.
"…J seems pretty cool?"
"That's comforting." Barbara groaned, trying to suppress a laugh.
They didn't say anything else, preferring to finish their meals while they could. True to form, Alfred arrived in the kitchen mere moments after Barbara downed the last morsel, clutching a thick but small black briefcase in his hands. He handed it off to Barbara, who took it graciously and had to immediately add a little more strength to avoid being floored by its weight.
"I recall you mentioning you wished you had more time in our library." Alfred explained. "I went ahead and made some selections I think you'll enjoy."
"Thank you very much, Alfred." Barbara replied with a nod, catching the butler winking so slightly it could be mistaken for a twitch.
The butler stepped forward, and clasped a hand on Bruce's shoulder. "Now then, Master Bruce, I believe the time of judgment is at hand."
Bruce turned to look at Alfred, desperation in his eyes. "Name a price, and I'll pay it. Just don't make me go back to school."
Alfred smiled, and with a tug brought Wayne up to his feet. "The only reward I desire is seeing you with a proper education. To the grind you go."
Barbara strode up beside him as the trio made their way out the front door, towards Bruce's limousine. She jammed his side her elbow and threw up a cheery, only partly faked smile at him. "Just remember," she insisted. "after school, circus!"
Bruce gave her a glare. It was of a sort most mortals were not ready to view.
"…Fine." She muttered. "And after the circus, patrol."
Bruce, either mockingly or in a sick sense of pleasure brightened up considerably at that notion, and almost seemed to have a bounce in his step as he came up to the side door, hopping into the limo. To Gotham High he would go.