I was six years old when I first met my best friend.
My mother had recently died, and my father was trying his hardest to keep me from falling into sadness; one of his ploys involved tickets to Haley's Circus, the traveling group that visited Gotham three times a year. I was waiting for my dad to get popcorn and cotton candy when I saw a boy standing beneath the ladder to the high wire, looking like he desperately wanted to climb up; even more, he looked to be my age. I walked over to him, and although he was proud at first, he started to relax as he explained the trapeze to me. His thick mop of black hair did nothing to dampen the bright blue eyes that shone out. I liked him immediately, and I would have stayed to talk longer, but my father found me to tell me that the show was about to start.
The show was amazing: the gymnast family known as "The Flying Graysons" held the crowd in awe, and at the very end, when they came out to bow for the crowd, two members hoisted the boy I had been talking to onto their shoulders. I was kind of jealous—they looked like such a happy, complete family.
After that, every time the circus came to town, I was there; Dick, for that was the boy's name, and I began to meet up before and after every show. I was allowed a behind the scenes look at the circus, all courtesy of my best friend. I met and became part of his family (just short of running away with them); I even got a lifetime ticket to the circus as long as it ran in Gotham.
Of course, by coming to every show, I was there when it happened.
One night, when I came early to see the new elephants Dick had wrote to me about, I was greeted by a very excited Dick. He regaled me with the story about how the night before, some gang members had tried to strong arm the circus into paying heavy protection fees. Dick had called the police (which my father had failed to mention) but before the police arrived, the Batman had appeared and scared off the gangsters, even catching one as a present for the police.
My father had told me all about the Batman, the vigilante that had started to fight the stranger forces of the city. He had the police in a tizzy about how to deal with him: whether to stop the encouragement of vigilante services or get the crime off the streets.
When the show started, there was a new buzz in the crowd: billionaire Bruce Wayne was there to see the show.
By this time, Dick, who had turned eleven just a month before (I still had a month to go) was part of his family's show, but he didn't come in until halfway through the set. I still thank God everyday for that little fact. I still remember the look of horror on his face as he reached helplessly to his falling parents, victims of an altered trapeze.
I was up the ladder, holding onto to a shocked Dick before my father had even made it to the bodies below. He let me stay with my best friend, slowly coaxing him down the ladder and onto one of the bleachers after the tent had been evacuated. When my father called me to him to let me know that he would be working late to figure out what had happened, I saw Bruce Wayne approach my hurting friend and discuss something with him. I was amazed at how gentle the billionaire was—he draped his jacket over the young boy and held him carefully by the shoulders. When Bruce walked up to talk to my dad, I found out that he intended to adopt Dick. That was the only happy detail of that night.
A few days later, after the funeral, I went Wayne Manor for the first time. Bruce and Alfred were very pleased that Dick already had a friend, and arranged it so that I could come over virtually whenever. Even though Dick was still broken over his parents' deaths, he was at least a little happy to have me nearby. I was allowed to call one of the many guest rooms my own, but that night, even after we had separated to go to sleep, I found myself awake in the middle of the night, holding my bawling best friend.
"Their never coming back," he whimpered, "everything I've ever known is gone."
"Not everything," I said, pushing his hair out of his eyes, "I'm still here. I'll always be here for you, Dick."
"Not Dick," he said suddenly.
"What do you mean?" I asked, thoroughly confused.
"Call me Robin; that was the nickname my parents gave me."
"Ok," I said, nodding, "Robin it is."
For the first time in days, he smiled. When I woke up the next morning, he was fast asleep next to me.
Two years went by, and Robin and I were still best friends. I was the only one who called him Robin, and only when it was just us. Even Alfred and Bruce thought I called him by name.
One night, my father burst in to the house, unbelievably angry. When I asked him what was wrong, he informed me that the Batman now had a sidekick—a young boy that went by the name 'Robin'. I felt my heart freeze, but I forced myself to stay calm and let my dad continue ranting about how irresponsible the Bat was for letting a child fight dangerous criminals. I waited until my dad had gone to bed (he normally slept from five in the morning until noon) and called Robin. Ten minutes later, a town car appeared outside.
When I finally got to Robin, I confronted him immediately. He didn't dare deny it, I knew all of his tells. He just stared at the ground while I ranted the way my dad had.
"Why Robin?" I finally asked, "Why put yourself in such danger?"
"Because not even the Batman can stop him."
I turned immediately to find Bruce standing behind me, decked out in full Batman gear. While I stood there, gaping at the man I thought I knew as just a playboy billionaire, he turned to my best friend. "How did she figure it out?"
"Barbara is the only other person currently alive who knows my old nickname."
"You probably should have thought that one through," Bruce sighed, then shook his head and looked back at me, "Come Barbara, you deserve to know, seeing as you figured it out."
I followed Bruce and Robin in a daze, down the secret elevator and into the Cave. It was huge, and so much more amazing than I could have dreamed. There were two chambers: the top held the computers, training equipment and several antechambers that led to bathrooms, showers and surgery; the bottom held the transportation.
"No one can know about this Barbara, especially your father," Bruce warned me, but I hardly even thought about it. The Batman was the one thing my father and I disagreed on; I would never compromise my hero.
Now, ever since I had met Dick and seen the show, I had pursued gymnastics. I had gone to several competitions and even won a few medals. When I found out my friend's secret, I asked simply if they would mind me being allowed to train with them. I wanted to be able to protect myself; who better to teach me than the Batman himself? Dick and I trained side by side, both of us growing at the same rate; and yet I never once considered joining their late night escapades.
Dick, however, did all the considering for me.
One night, while we were training, the boys received a distress call. Most nights, when this happened, Alfred would simply drive me home. Tonight, however, when Alfred came down the elevator, he didn't lead me to the garage. Instead, I found myself in a room filled with materials, sowing machines and all the makings of a tailor's. Just as I opened my mouth to ask Alfred what we were doing here, I saw it.
Set on a mannequin that seemed to fit my exact measurements was a beautiful suit similar to the one my best friend and his mentor wore. It was a black dress with black leggings peeking out underneath; over the shoulders sat a blue cape that was yellow underneath. The bat symbol on the chest, as well as the gloves and boots were a beautiful blue, and the cowl had a hole at the back to allow my hair out. It was perfect.
After I had it on, Alfred led me through simple movement exercises and a utility belt tutorial. By the time the boys got back, I felt like my suit was a second skin.
Bruce was furious at first; I think, more than anything, he was afraid of how he would explain to my father should anything happen to me. I showed him what I could do, and with Dick and Alfred behind me, the Bat eventually relented.
My career as Batgirl had officially begun.
It was about this time that things began to change between me and Dick. I guess it was only to be expected, we were both thirteen, just starting the difficult process of puberty, and there were hormones everywhere. I loved my best friend dearly, but he was beginning to worry me; he was becoming cocky and insufferable, preferring to be with the popular crowd, with a new girl on his arm every two weeks than remain the same wholesome boy I knew. I still had my friends Kara, Megan and Courtney, and Dick and I still spent plenty of time together, but I started to enjoy that time less and less.
He was incredibly sarcastic and cynical, and teased me about my sparring style. I never put my all into sparring with him, mostly because I knew I could hurt him if I didn't pay attention, and even with his terrible attitude, I couldn't bring myself to hurt him.
But there was also the issue of my dad.
As the new police commissioner, my father had started a war against vigilante superheroes. He believed that the 'Bat Family' was encouraging reckless behavior and a brand of justice separate from the law. I fought with him every night about going easier on the Bats, especially considering they left the criminals to the hand of the law, but he wouldn't have it. It became a trench between us.
I became the one bridge between the police and the Batman, and all of the tension between the two fell on my shoulders. When I wasn't fighting with my dad, I was quietly taking Bruce's anger; he snapped at me for things far beyond my control, and Dick didn't stand up for me anymore. Those days he followed Bruce's word to the letter. Both of them gave me hell for nothing, and even though I pride myself on being a patient person, I was reaching my breaking point.