The Apprentice, part 12

by Chicago

Disclaimers and other information in "part 0"

Robin pulled his cape more tightly around his shoulders as the fog horn bellowed its lonely call over the Tricorner Docks. "It makes it feel colder," he complained.

At his side, Batgirl cocked her head, her sole motion of the last 15 minutes. She stayed that way until the sound came again. "I like it," she pronounced.

Robin gave her a look. "You're weird."

She shrugged fluidly. "Move soon," she decided. "Getting too thick to see."

Robin nodded his agreement. What had been wispy greyness was quickly becoming pea-soup fog, rolling around them in ever thicker waves. He began a reach for his jumpline, but was arrested by a scream from somewhere below. The fog made the sound seem omnidirectional, but Batgirl seemed to pinpoint its location instantly, diving off the rooftop.

Shaking his head, Robin pulled out his line to follow her, glancing across the street for an anchor point. At that moment, a gap in the fog revealed a figure on the opposite building.

He clicked his comlink open as he changed his intended direction and swung across the street. "I've got a prowler," he stated.

Batgirl's response was almost instantaneous. "Muggers. Join you in three. Wait."

Too late for that, Robin reflected, catching a glimpse of the figure dashing away. "I'm pursuing."

"Robin." That was Batman. "Wait for Batgirl."

Robin touched down on the rooftop and drew in a breath to object. His better instincts caught his words before he could speak them, and he squinted in the direction of his fleeing target. The fog roiled and curled and seemed to solidify, taking the shape of a man. Startled, Robin took a fighting stance and readied for attack, then felt a shock of recognition. His stomach felt like it dropped inside his body. "Dad?" he whispered.

"Robin? Batgirl, disengage. Get to Robin!"

"Trying," Batgirl replied, and there were echoes of falling punches through her comlink. "Hands full."

Robin blinked at the apparition, so lifelike, of his father, tied, gagged, bleeding... and seeming to know that he was staring at his own son. Fear toxin, his shocked brain registered, and muscle memory guided his hand to his belt and found his rebreather and the anti-toxin kit. He pressed the first into his mouth, then forced himself to breathe normally as he plunged the needle of the syringe through his kevlar and into his thigh.

He winced at the sting and shook his head to try to clear it, taking a half involuntary step forward as his dead mother seemed to appear out of the mist. She was smiling softly, but behind her the Obeah Man was leering, a knife raised. He tried to call out, to warn her, but something was wrong with his voice. He tried to throw his weight forward, to reach for a batarang, but his body would not respond.

And then she was gone. His father was gone. There was no Obeah Man, just a lanky masked figure coming forward through the mist. The masked man reached out a hand and toppled Robin to the roof.

"Robin, respond! Batgirl-"

Sounds of scuffle sounded over the comlink. "Almost free."

The man leaned over Robin and plucked the "R" from his chest. He pulled a slip of paper from a pocket and spindled it onto the sharp edge of the R. Then he knelt and raised the R, driving it down into Robin's chest.

"I'm coming, Robin," Batgirl's voice announced.

Robin felt the scream catch in his throat as his skin was pierced and the fibers of his pectoral muscle parted around the sharp edge of his own weapon. He watched helplessly, unable to move, as the lanky man rose and disappeared back into the mist. A moment later, Batgirl appeared in his line of vision.

He felt the tears wetting his cheeks unchecked as his eyelids refused to blink. Similar warm wetness was spreading beneath his kevlar.

"Robin!" Batgirl was stripping off her glove, reaching to check the pulse in his neck. He felt her fingers and he wanted to tell her no, to go after Du Bois.

"Batgirl, report!" There was an edge to Batman's voice.

"Robin is down. Pulse is strong, breathing - Robin?" She was touching his cheeks, her mask hiding what he was sure was an expression of concern. A gentle pressure at his mouth pulled free the rebreather.

He couldn't tell her to go; he couldn't reassure Batman. He felt her fingers pinch his arms.

"No voluntary muscle response. Stab wound, appears shallow. Seems conscious."

"Stay with him. I'm en route."

No, Robin wanted to protest. He's getting away. He internally winced as Batgirl touched the R protruding from his chest, trying to be gentle, trying to decide whether to pull it free or leave it in place. He heard the rustle of paper against her fingers.

"Du Bois left note," she reported.

Oracle's voice came on suddenly; Batman must have signaled her. Or her system had picked up key distress words. Robin wasn't certain. "I've alerted Leslie. Is he stable?"

"I think so," Batgirl replied, wrapping her hand around the unresponsive fingers of Robin's left hand. Her face was turned outward, scanning the rooftop. "Used anti-toxin."

"Oracle, get word to the others. It might be a drug reaction. Dammit. Batgirl, my ETA is six minutes. Describe the note."

There was another rustle, and Robin despaired of them ever catching Du Bois. He tried to will his fingers to close on Batgirl's hand, to signal her in some way.

"Preprinted," Batgirl described, and Robin could see confusion through her mask. "It is - like when go to the store? To get sandwich stuff? The ticket?"

"A number ticket?" Oracle supplied.

"Yes. Just a two."

There was enough silence on the line to cover a curse or an intake of breath. Then Batman's voice was back. "Four point three minutes. Hang in there, Robin."

Robin could only stare as Batgirl stroked his hand.

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