The Apprentice, part 7

by Chicago

Disclaimers and other information in "part 0"

Barbara Gordon set her glasses on her desk and rubbed her fingers over the bridge of her nose. She frowned slightly as she felt the greasy patches where her glasses had rested against her skin. She felt disgusting.

She had at least partially succeeded in her goal. She was so physically exhausted that taking a shower seemed like too much effort; all she wanted was her bed. At the same time, though, lingering doubt taunted her. Would she be able to shut down her whirring thoughts enough to actually sleep, or would she be subject to an insomniac study of the ceiling once she lay down?

She sighed and put her glasses back on, watching the Oracle systems power down to standby mode. A ping of acknowledgment came from the Watchtower with the Flash's signature, but she still sat for a moment watching screens wink out. 12:33 and all is relatively well, she mused. Dinah was safely in Europe taking a mini-vacation before heading for home. Dick was at work. Bruce was at Wayne Tower. Tim was at school. Stephanie was recovering. Cassandra was in her cave.

Kord Industries was still waiting for her response to their invitation.

J'onn J'onzz was still in Denver.

She could force her thoughts from the one, but when she did so, the other loomed large - the decision she had to make or the call she wished she hadn't.

There were pros and cons to Ted's offer. Taking it would mean Barbara Gordon would lose a little of her comfortable anonymity. Ted had promised that she could participate in board meetings through tele-conferencing, but she knew people better than to believe that. Not the Ted was not sincere, but there was a point in business where face-to-face meetings were absolutely necessary. The superhero community might be well accustomed to placing faith in someone based on the say-so of a figure like Batman, but the business world?

Her dad would like it, though; his little girl getting some well-deserved credit for her smarts and know-how. The salary, too, would make some of her more expensive toys easier to explain away. Dick, although he didn't say so, probably would be happier if she wasn't so dependent upon siphoning funds from various criminal organizations.

She shook her head as if to clear it and unbraked her chair. Bed. Sleep.

What was it Dick had said? Kord Industries would be lucky to have her because she was good. It hadn't sounded disingenuous. Not like he was trying to sway her opinion. Not like he was managing her.

Damn J'onn anyway. She scowled as she wheeled down the hall to her bedroom. She did think of Bruce as a person; she had only called J'onn because she was worried.

Worried about what would happen if Bruce pulled one of his isolationist tricks again. Which would have Dick beside himself. Would have repercussions on Tim, who would feel caught between his girlfriend and his weird sense of responsibility to Bruce. And poor Steph, who had enough to deal with in the aftermath of her confrontation with Du Bois.

Never mind the JLA, which would become Barbara's problem as they pussyfooted around a Bat who decided to return to reserve status in order to focus on Gotham. Not that he had yet, but...

She had called J'onn because...

She steered her chair past the bedroom to the bathroom. She might not have energy for a shower, but she at least needed to wash her face and brush her teeth or she would wake up feeling positively grimy.

She hadn't insisted on anything. She had just done a status check on all the League members. Okay, she had slipped a postscript onto the message to J'onn, asking when he would be available. So really, he was the one who had decided to initiate a telepathic link and ask what was up. That wasn't on her.

Except he hadn't asked what was up. He had called to say he was on a case and needed to stay in Denver.

Pointedly.

She began running warm water into the sink. She thought she had been diplomatic. She just told J'onn that it had been a rough night in Gotham, and maybe he should check in with Bruce just to-

That had been when J'onn had interrupted her.

She picked up a wash cloth and held it beneath the faucet for a moment before shutting off the flow of water. She set her glasses to one side and squirted moisturizing cleanser into the wash cloth.

He hadn't been mean about it, but he had made the point. How would she feel if Bruce had called Dick because he thought Barbara had had a bad day?

She scrubbed the wash cloth over her face with a little more force than was necessary. Bruce wouldn't do that. He barely paid enough attention - no, that wasn't fair. Bruce did pay attention. Hadn't that been an issue a few years ago, Bruce not stepping in because he didn't want to appear as if he didn't trust Dick? And Dick misunderstanding - hell, Barbara could have intervened more there than she did, but she knew better. It was simple enough; don't muck around in someone else's relationships.

She dunked the wash cloth in the warm water, swirling it around to rinse away some of the soap.

It wasn't like she was telling J'onn how to handle Bruce. She just wanted him to know - wanted him to come to Gotham and talk sense to Bruce. To take the responsibility off her hands.

She splashed more water over her face and reached for a hand towel.

Bruce is aware of his shortcomings in this area, J'onn had pointed out. If we manage it for him, we betray our trust in him as a person to learn.

She held the towel to her face for a moment, slowly lowering it to meet her own eyes in the mirror. He didn't pull punches. He had to know how often she had railed against Dick, against Bruce, even against her father in the years since the Joker's bullet had crippled her. I'm still a whole person. I can do for myself.

Damned telepath.

She reached out to open the drain of the sink. She wasn't selling Bruce short. After all, it wasn't like this was the first time that Bruce -

No, she sighed. J'onn was right. And just at the moment, she half-hated him for it.

How dare he?

How dare she?

She picked up her toothbrush, feeling bone-weary and hoping she could sleep.

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