Alfred spent over an hour meticulously adjusting screws and ensuring socket joints would rotate with each flex of Bruce’s neck and shoulder muscles. Bruce insisted that Alfred refer to these muscles as “the trapezes and the delts”. For the duration that Alfred worked on the suit, Bruce had to be wearing it, making Alfred’s job more difficult. Bruce would fidget his fatiguing muscles, causing the socket Alfred was fixing to oscillate, the whole mechanism then threatening to pull Alfred’s fingers into the suit’s crevices to be crushed. Each time Alfred would jerk his scarred, slender fingers away, sucking sharp slivers of air through his teeth.
Kneeling behind Bruce on aching knees, Alfred fastened an extra wing to a socket on the suit’s lower back. Bruce sat on a cushioned stool, scowling at the Batcave’s sole body mirror. Bruce’s new mask—or helmet, rather—was resting in the bend of his left arm on his lap.
Bruce cleared his throat. Alfred’s stomach muscles tightened.
“I’m sorry I chased that financier in the office building. Lots of cubicles and narrow doorways. Wings just snapped right off.”
Alfred exhaled softly. “Quite all right, sir. Just remember the limits of your new design.”
Fingers recoiled as a socket oscillated.
“I did it because you accused me of ‘punching down’, of only going after people trying to eke out a living. I had to read through hundreds of pages of bureaucratic nonsense just to make sure I could punch that financier with a clear conscience.” Bruce hung his head. “I ended up having to lodge a batarang into his calf so he couldn’t get away.”
“We all have to compromise at some point, Master Bruce. Might I suggest building up evidence in order to punch a politician next?”
Bruce did not respond.
Alfred was absentmindedly buffing the shoulders of the suit with a cloth made from chamois hide. He had been so distracted earlier today chasing bees out of the house that he had forgotten to send the suit’s individual parts through the electropolishers and powerbuffers.
“I’m afraid you’re not going to be very shiny tonight, sir,” Alfred said.
“It’s fine. Not feeling very bright tonight.”
Alfred rolled his eyes and then felt a bit bad that he did.
“Friendship is what I need.” Bruce raised a metal fist aloft and then let it drop on his leg with a clank. “Someone to strap on these accouterments of justice and cleanse the streets of evil with me.”
“‘Cleanse the streets of evil’, sir?” Alfred asked.
Bruce did not seem to be listening.
“I get so lonely, but I know my lost friends I haven’t met yet are out there, waiting for me. I think about how we share the same sky, and then the umbrage in my spirit fades. I must be ever vigilant in my search for those who have endured darkness similar to mine, so I can convince them to wear suits and fight crime.”
Alfred tucked the cleaning cloth into his back pocket. He knew not to interrupt.
“My dark heart has always been searching for those with the keys to unlock my cardial secrets so they may then fill my shadowy recesses with light. And then, at long last, we’ll channel our hard-won happiness into fighting bad people together in a place we can belong.”
Bruce smiled as he peered about the Batcave. He had trouble pivoting his head in the constrictive suit.
It was a shaky maneuver, but after a grunt and audibly popping ankles and knees, Alfred stood behind Bruce.
“Is it time?” Bruce asked, looking down at his two-pronged helmet.
“Should I give you a tutorial on how to equip your Pope hat before we proceed, Master Bruce?”
“No way, I’ve got it,” Bruce blurted.
He tried to deftly slip the helmet over his head, only to smart his skull against the metal. He couldn’t let Alfred know. He slid the rim’s connector pegs into the appropriate slots and then rotated the helmet counterclockwise. Something clicked as something secured itself to something, and then the helmet automatically swiveled back into place. The mesh he was supposed to see through settled over his eyes. The mesh was something Bruce had cut out of one of the screen windows on the mansion’s first floor, near where Alfred practiced his apiculture.
Alfred stood several feet behind Bruce, wary of being smacked in the nose again with a titanium bat appendage.
“Let’s go!” Bruce’s shout was muffled by metal. He turned to face Alfred like a glacier bobbing in the ocean.
Alfred bowed, his unfurling arm cordially beckoning Bruce to his mode of transportation.
“Your Gummi Bat-Ship awaits, sir,” Alfred said, lifting his head to add: “Oh, and I’ll have sea-salt ice cream ready for you when you get back.”
“That’s my favorite,” Bruce replied.
“Make me a cool sword. But make the edges dull and wrap it in bandages and have the hilt shaped like a bat. Like the mammal, I mean.”
“First thing, sir.”
“All right!” Bruce shot a fist into the musty air. “Let’s get going!”
The metal encasing Bruce crashed each time he took a step. Alfred winced in rhythm.
Bruce thundered to a halt. “Alfred,” he began, “do you think all my gadgets and mechanized wonders are enough to match the strength of the human heart?”
Alfred’s expression was flat, his hands at his sides as he said: “Perhaps if you aimed for their chest, sir.”