The Apprentice, part 19

by Chicago

Disclaimers and other information in "part 0"

Cassandra was relieved when Nightwing finally swung into sight over the roof of the Clocktower. She had been listening to the rapid fire conversation between him and Oracle after Nightwing had ordered her to wait for him, wishing she could contribute. The idea that Batman might be in trouble bothered her, but she didn't have the deductive skills that the other two did. She could only wait for orders, and when Nightwing touched down only long enough to glance at her and shoot off again, she followed him with alacrity.

Dick Grayson confused her, but Nightwing she understood. It was like following Batman in the important ways, the implicit expectations and the schematic conversations that told her all she needed to know to do her job. When the mask was lowered, when he was laughing and wisecracking - then he left her bewildered and uncertain. But now, when the pressure was on...

Her comlink came alive as they neared the boundary line of Old Gotham. "Gotham rail?"

She knew what he meant. The train that ran just east of Old Gotham followed a regular schedule; she hitched rides on it often. She glanced at the head's up display in her cowl, noting the time. "9:50," she reported, announcing the time of the next train.

"Damn."

She heard the frustration in his voice, felt it mirrored in her own body. Oracle had said they were heading to Wall Street. From their general direction now they could... She spoke as quickly as she thought of it. "New construction at Latrobe. 72 stories. Can swing half block, get in range of Sauerbeck Building."

She saw Nightwing adjust his swing and followed as he said, "Perfect." The implied compliment gave her a little rush of pleasure that surprised her. Batman never acknowledged in words quite the same way, knowing she would understand that his change of direction served notice of his approval.

When they got in range of the Latrobe construction, Nightwing shot a line high into the girders, higher than was typical for Batman or Robin. High enough that her estimate of half a block would be conservative, and she cheered the decision as she vaulted after him. He was not overextending; his skill on the lines was something Batman had sent her to him to learn. Flying with Nightwing had proven an unbridled joy, and tonight it was proving a balm to her anxious sense of urgency. He was setting a pace she was fully willing and able to follow.

The three quarter block swing demanded a tighter roll and a longer tumble, and she launched after him onto the long roof of a grocery store where they could slow their momentum. His hand had already drawn out a pneumatic launcher when she regained her feet, but his body was suddenly frozen.

"Nightwing?"

He did not answer, only held up a hand and slowly pivoted back in the general direction they had come. She watched his stance shift and the muscles of his back tighten, and suddenly he was aiming a line to the southwest. "He's at HomeMaster," his voice echoed over the comlink as she hastened to follow.

"What? Are you sure?" That was Oracle, sounding perplexed. But she couldn't see the way he was traveling, the conviction etched in his frame.

"He's there," Nightwing stated, dropping from his line into a dead run before taking off again. Batgirl mirrored his every move, knowing he must be right. He was moving almost too fast, and his landing on one rooftop was awkward, atypical. She reached for his shoulder to steady him as she landed lightly beside him. He shook her off and began to run again, leaping across alleys from rooftop to rooftop, throwing another jumpline to cover more ground and then suddenly plunging down, arcing toward the loading bay of a large warehouse.

An alarm was already screaming as she tumbled to a halt behind him in the rain of debris caused by his boot first smash through the door. Nightwing was scanning the area as if the blaring alarm and shattered door were of no consequence, and she followed his eyes as he flung the batarang he had already brought to hand.

Her stomach clenched coldly as she watched the batarang seem to fly in slow motion, marking an intercept path toward a knife blade descending at speed toward Batman's throat. Then there was contact and screaming as Du Bois jerked his hand to his chest and turned to look at them in raw fury.

She didn't wait for Nightwing's signal to move, dashing forward in a matching fury. She'd taken Du Bois down once, and the GCPD didn't keep him. They didn't keep him and then she couldn't track him, and now he was back. Now he had hurt Spoiler, hurt Robin, hurt Batman-

And he was running. She sensed Nightwing moving behind her, heading toward Batman, and she took her cue. Nightwing was better equipped to heal, to help. Du Bois was hers.

She heard Nightwing call out to Batman behind her as her quarry disappeared into a stairway and a moment later Oracle was on line, accepting Nightwing's report. She tuned out there voices, focusing on Du Bois.

There was no central shaft around which the stairway wound, no place to shoot off a line and get ahead of him. She could hear his footsteps ringing ahead, and she bolted up the stairs after him, gaining a little, enough to catch a glimpse of him rounding the corner as she topped the fifth flight of stairs. A cloud of gas appeared, and she passed through it, unconcerned. He was desperate, hoping she was unprepared. Good.

She heard him slam into something hard above and there was a sudden change of air pressure as a rooftop door opened, swirling and dissipating the fog of gas. She increased her pace, reaching the door before he could slam it closed against her, shoving her boot against the jam.

Her body felt the shock of the impact of the door with her boot, but the steel toe and shank kept her from injury. Du Bois must've realized he would not confine her, because at a touch the door sprang open and she caught a glimpse of him dashing over the rooftop.

She grinned viciously to herself as she took off after him. She had seen the way he had been cradling his empty hand as he had tried to stab Batman, and she knew from the spatters of blood on the roof in front of her that his stabbing hand must've taken a direct hit from Nightwing's 'rang. Two broken hands, then. There would be no jumpline escape for Du Bois.

She slowed her pace as she saw him duck behind the HVAC unit. Cornered criminals, even ones with broken hands, were the most dangerous. From the street below, the sound of distant sirens became audible. Good. Du Bois would not-

She frowned, hesitating as she slipped into the shadows of the HVAC. There was another sound in the night, growing rapidly louder, and suddenly there was light.

The filtering feature of her Starlite lenses kicked in instantly, but she still blinked at the steady glare focused on her. A helicopter? There was a helicopter?

Du Bois suddenly stepped forward from his hiding place, turning toward Batgirl with a nasty grin distorting his features. He held up three fingers.

Batgirl snarled and launched herself at him, tackling him to the surface of the roof. She succeeded in getting him down, but he twisted as he fell, sliding away from her and escaping from her simple pin. Trained by Cain, she reminded herself, regaining her feet quickly and dancing back to avoid his strike to her head.

She spun and captured his wrist, earning a howl from him as she used his momentum to spin him around...

A sudden whistling sounded near her ear, and a chuck of roofing surface exploded two feet from her. The next shot was more off target, allowing her to hear the report, and suddenly Nightwing's voice was in her ear. "Batgirl, report!"

She pivoted and dove for cover, hooking Du Bois's ankle as avoided a fresh round of gunfire and dropping him to the rooftop. "Du Bois have back up. Going-"

There was a sudden scream of heated air against her ear as her cowl twisted, and she altered her direction, tumbling away from Du Bois. "Nightwing?"

No response. She lifted her hand to her cowl and felt the torn covering of the kevlar weave. Just a bullet graze, but enough to jangle the com circuitry. She pulled herself up behind the chimney she had scouted for cover, squinting out against spotlights in the direction the gunfire had come from. Whoever it was had stopped shooting, but they had dropped a ladder down to Du Bois, and he was already securing himself to it.

She rose into a crouch and dashed forward, zigging and zagging to make herself a more difficult target, but Du Bois was already being lifted from the roof. She reached for a jumpline desperately, then jumped back as the ground around her was peppered with gunshots.

A diversion, she realized. They weren't aiming to kill her, just to distract her. And, to her consternation, it had been enough. Du Bois was already out of range, already being hauled into the helicopter.

As the helicopter noise receded, she became aware of the sirens again, now clearly directly below. She pursed her lips and spared Du Bois's ride an angry glare before heading to the opposite side of the rooftop where she could sneak away undetected by the men on the ground.

Two good swings had her safely out of range of the GCPD, and she doubled back a block to drop down to street level. She carefully checked for potential observers before she lifted the manhole cover at the end of a blind alley and descended into the sewer system.

Her fingers went to the compartments of her belt as she moved swiftly along the walls of the sewer. She fished out two electronic components and triggered the cover of the com unit on her wrist. She slowed her pace long enough to watch what she was doing as she plugged the receiver and speaker into the shallow plug built into the interface. She tapped a button and the unit emitted a beep. "Oracle," she called.

"Batgirl! Thank god! You're okay?"

"Yes. In sewers."

"I've got you on my tracking system. What happened with -"

"Got away. Helicopter. No time for tracer. Batman?"

She heard a sigh over the line. "Nightwing's taking him to Leslie's. He's hurt, but it doesn't seem too serious. What's your status?"

"Going to get transport. Where you need me?"

"Hold on." There was a click, and then Nightwing's voice came over the line.

"Oracle?"

"Nightwing, I've got Batgirl-"

"Is she okay?" he interrupted, his voice strained.

"Fine," Batgirl answered. "Du Bois got away. Need orders."

"Away," Nightwing repeated. "Chopper?"

"Affirmative."

"Damn. Goddammit. But you're not hurt? We lost your signal-"

"Bullet caught com, but-"

There were dual intakes of breath over the line, but she plowed on. "Just graze, didn't hit me. Need orders."

She waited through a short pause. "I'm en route to Leslie's with Batman. We need to regroup. Meet me there?"

Batgirl turned down a smaller sewer tunnel on her right. "Should be at downtown lair in five minutes."

"There's a moped there," Oracle interjected. "Not the fastest, but-"

"Will do," Batgirl determined. "He be okay?"

Nightwing's voice softened. "Yeah. Don't worry, Batgirl. Just get to Leslie's."

"I will. Batgirl out."

She dropped her wrist and increased her pace again. Batman was going to be okay. Nightwing was okay. Oracle was still running searches. They would fight another day. That was what mattered.

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