The Apprentice, part 3

by Chicago

Disclaimers and other information in "part 0"

Robin winced as he squealed the tires of Redbird pulling away from the Gotham Free Clinic. The acrid smell of burned rubber did not help the churning of Tim Drake's stomach, nor did the scowl he imagined on Batman's face as he lurked in the shadows of the exam room in which Leslie was stabilizing Stephanie. Tim forced himself to take a deep breath, imposing a calm he did not feel on his body.

This was one of the worst parts of the hero business, the anxiety of having a colleague downed by some villain. Steph had been lucky. Lucky to have hit glass rather than brick as her panic stiff body had slammed into the warehouse. Lucky that the arm she had put out to stop herself was the only limb mangled in the fall, that it had succeeded in preventing more serious injury to her skull. Lucky that Batgirl had been so close, able to give first aid within minutes, before Steph could suffer too much loss of blood.

Lucky she wasn't dead.

Robin's fingers tightened on the steering wheel as he merged onto the expressway, trying to force the scene he had witnessed in the warehouse from his thoughts. Batman had gotten there ahead of him, had taken over first aid from Cassandra. Steph was conscious by then, her face pale and grimly set as Batman irrigated, bandaged and splinted her arm. She was wrapped in Batgirl's cape, but her body was visibly shaking. Cold sweat was beginning to mat her blonde curls against the livid bruise on her forehead. She had been trying not to cry, but when Robin appeared, the tears came, squeezing past her desperate efforts at control.

Batman had not allowed Robin time to comfort her. He had gestured for the keys to the Redbird, scooping Spoiler effortlessly into his arms. He had ordered Cass to return to where she had seen Du Bois and try to track him, then glanced over his shoulder at Robin. "Meet me at the clinic," he had directed, and then was swiftly down the stairs with his burden. With Spoiler.

With scared and shaken 17 year old Stephanie Brown.

With the scared and shaken, badly injured but lucky to be alive girlfriend of Timothy Drake.

By the time Robin had arrived at the clinic, Leslie had taken charge of the situation. She had a team readying the limited OR facilities of the clinic and was inspecting the bone protruding from Stephanie's arm, explaining as she did so that she had directed her staff to call Stephanie's mother. That brought a new flood of tears from Steph and a protest from Batman - and a stern lecture on consent laws from Dr. Leslie Thompkins. No stretch of imagination could give Bruce Wayne custodial privileges to authorize the treatment of Stephanie Brown beyond stabilizing her.

Hence Robin had been dispatched to collect Agnes Crystal Bellinger-Brown from her second shift at Mercy Hospital, and the twenty minute drive was giving Tim Drake too much time to think.

It was one thing when Batman or Nightwing was injured. Scary, yes, but in some corner of his mind, Tim believed that neither of them could ever die. They were both too tough, too stubborn, too wily for death. And Batgirl? Nothing touched Batgirl unless she wanted it to. Tim had had his own close calls, but that was his gamble to take.

Spoiler? He'd tried to dissuade her from the costume before on the grounds of the danger, but when it became obvious she wouldn't listen, he'd saved his breath and pushed the worry from his mind. He joined in Batman's tacit agreement to keep her on a short leash, let her have her taste of danger but not enough to be serious.

She could've died.

No, not just died. Been killed.

Been killed by a no-name sidekick masquerading in Robin's colors.

He opened a comlink as he moved into the exit lane. "Oracle?"

"Go ahead, Robin."

"Could it have been targeted?"

There was a pause. "What do you mean?"

"Du Bois was wearing my colors. Otherwise Spoiler would've reported suspicious rooftop activity before she intercepted."

"Right." There was no impatience in Barbara's voice, but she clearly was not following.

"None of the rest of us would have made that mistake. Obviously I wouldn't, and I know Batman still tracks me so he'd know where I was, and Batgirl would recognize body language."

"That doesn't mean Du Bois knows those things," Barbara pointed out.

"But what if he does? What if attacking Spoiler was strategic rather than opportunistic?"

There was another pause. "I see your point. You doing okay?"

The unexpected solicitousness over the comlink almost shook Robin's carefully gathered calm. He could hear the roughness in his own voice as he answered. "Just reaching Mercy now."

"Understood. I'll be up if you want to swing by later."

"Thanks. Robin out."

He closed the comlink and turned into the Mercy Hospital entrance. Steeling himself, he pulled up to the curb at the main doors and triggered open the passenger door.

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