Bruce’s jaw locked. He wasn’t prepared to accept that.
For five long, tiring days, the Gotham billionaire had been seated in the chair by the bed with his fist tightly curled around his former ward’s hand... anchoring his boy in this world. He had left Dick's side only to use the bathroom. Through each hour, the EEG had continued to beep and flash, something that Bruce had found reassuring for the first twenty-four hours. However, the beeps and flashes were now far and few between. Bruce was well aware of the fact that Dick's brain activity had slowed to practically nothing, but that didn’t mean his boy wasn’t going to wake up.
Bruce squeezed Dick's hand, noting the calluses. Certainly not the hand of a pianist. The strong hand of an acrobat -- the failsafe grip that had saved Batman’s life too many times to count.
Leslie entered the oppressive ward, followed by Alfred, the latter's eyes welled with tears. He had finally accepted what Leslie was saying. Despite Dick’s strength and the efforts of the world‘s expert, they were going to lose the boy. Rather than looking at the frail young man in the bed, Alfred settled his attention on Bruce. Right now, he was Alfred’s priority.
In the past few days, the butler had repeatedly tried to convince his dishevelled charge to go home and get some rest, but Wayne had refused. He would not leave Dick and as a result, his stubbled face had become puffy with weariness and worry, and his eyes more distant with each passing hour.
Leslie moved to the head of the bed, signalled the intensive care nurse to leave them alone and once the woman had exited the room, the doctor turned to face Bruce. "We need to talk."
"I heard what you were saying," Wayne responded stoically.
Leslie licked her lips. She hadn’t anticipated that. "Son, I know that..."
"He'll be okay," Bruce interrupted. The tone was deadpan. A statement of fact and woe betide anyone who argued.
Alfred lowered his face and his heart shattered. From somewhere he needed to find the strength to help Bruce through this, but Alfred was beginning to realize he may not have the strength to get himself through. They were losing Dick and there wasn’t a thing any of them could do to save him.
Leslie crouched so that she was at eye level with Bruce. Usually she didn’t have difficulty informing families that their loved one was nearing the end. It wasn’t pleasant, but Leslie had been a doctor for more years than she cared to remember. The key was compassion and keeping herself emotionally separated from the situation. There lay the problem. Leslie was emotionally involved whether she liked it or not. She’d helped to raise Bruce Wayne and had known and loved Dick all his life. In other words, they were family.
"He isn't okay, Bruce.“ Her voice wavered. Leslie rose and ran her hand through Dick's dark hair which stood out in contrast to his ghostly complexion. Grayson was losing the battle. He had been since the moment he had ‘come back’. There was no doubt that he was fighting. If he wasn’t, he’d have slipped away long before. Dr. Anderson admitted that in all his years, he’d never seen anyone with such a strong will to live. However, there was no way Dick could win this fight. Each passing hour took him closer to the end. The power of love had brought him back once, but it wasn’t going to be enough to save his life.
"He's human. I know we are all used to him performing amazing feats, but he..." Three harsh, determined words cut the doctor off.
"Dick, wake up."
Alfred lifted his tear-streaked face. Leslie turned to Bruce, shocked.
"Dick, wake up," he repeated, staring at pale young man intently.
Leslie's bottom lip began to tremble. Bruce was ordering Dick to live. "It doesn’t work that way, Bruce,” she whispered. “Even with all your skills, you can’t control death. Dick stayed with us longer than anyone else could have. He did that for you, but..."
"Damn it, Dick. Wake up." Bruce’s entire body was rigid, his lips fine and pressed together, the nerve in his left cheek rippling uncontrollably.
Alfred stepped up to the billionaire and started to reach out to him. Bruce rose so abruptly he knocked the chair off its legs. The furniture crashed to the ground in an explosion of sound.
"Nightwing, report in."
Tears spilled down Leslie's face as she watched grief tear apart the strongest man she’d ever known.
Alfred slid his arm around Bruce's back and hugged him in a futile attempt to protect him. Bruce's expression became harder... but then, it was no longer Bruce Wayne.
"Nightwing, report your status," Batman ordered, his hands balling into fists.
Out of the corner of his eye, Alfred spotted something astonishing.
"Bruce..." Leslie got no further, her attention grabbed by the stunned butler, who was pointing a shaky finger at the EEG machine. The beeping and flashing had started to increase. The doctor's eyes grew wide. It wasn't possible.
“I’m waiting, Nightwing. Report your status!”
Dick Grayson's brain activity soared. Leslie dragged her attention from the machine to her patient. Dick's ashen features twitched.
"NIGHTWING, REPORT YOUR STATUS, NOW!"
The moment the roar left Batman’s lips, Dick’s eyes snapped open.
“My God,“ Leslie cried. Instantly, she sprang into action. “Nurse! Nurse!” The intensive care professional reappeared. “Summon Dr. Anderson.” Turning back to Dick, Leslie spoke calmly. “Dick? Dick, look at me.”
"He's awake!" Alfred cried, incredulously. “He’s awake. Master Dick!”
Grayson’s eyelids dropped, but he caught them only millimetres from shutting. They drooped heavily over his dull blue eyes as he struggled to hang on to consciousness.
“Dick. Come on, son. Look at me. I need to know if you understand me.” The danger of brain damage was higher than Leslie had been prepared to admit. “Dick?” She licked her lips, glanced up at Bruce and Alfred and shook her head slowly. He wasn‘t responding.
The euphoria on Alfred’s lined face drained away. “Master Dick?”
No reaction. No sign of any awareness. Just two blank eyes peering out at nothing.
Dr. Anderson rushed into the room, jostled Alfred out of the way, moved up to his patient and flashed a light into Dick’s eyes.
Alfred held his breath.
Batman frowned at the intruder.
“Pupils are responding to light.” Anderson flicked the light from side to side. “Follow the light, Dick.” Grayson’s eyes didn’t move -- staring emptily ahead. Anderson continued his examination for several moments, but Dick failed to show any sign that he was aware of what was going on around him. His haunting blue eyes continued to stare unseeing into space through the slits his eyelids permitted.
“No,” Anderson diagnosed softly. “I’m sorry, Dr. Thompkins. He doesn‘t appear to have any conscious brain activity beyond reflex responses.”
“Which means?” Alfred’s voice reflected his fear.
Dr. Anderson placed his hand on Leslie’s shoulder. “It is too early to tell without proper tests, but I’m afraid my preliminary examination indicates considerable loss of brain dexterity. I‘m sorry.”
Alfred swallowed. “Brain damage?”
“He’s in a vegetative state. I’m sorry.”
Batman eyed the other occupants of the room as if they were all speaking gibberish, leaned over the bed and whispered firmly, "Nightwing, report your status." Grayson’s eyes flicked to the right and his blank expression dissolved as his attention was drawn to the voice he knew better than his own.
Leslie’s hand covered her mouth. Dick was responding to Bruce.
“He heard you,” Alfred gasped.
Dr. Anderson’s jaw dropped.
“Status report,” Batman repeated.
Dick‘s pale lips parted. Two weak words formed around the tube in his throat.
The hospital scene dissolved, replaced by the interior of the Deer Head Tavern. “Sorry.”
“Are you okay?” MacIntosh inquired, his eyebrows drawing down with curiosity.
“Yes. Sorry. I’m just a little distracted.”
“Understandable. It’s a lot of money, but I think you will find the island worth it. If you just wait here, I’ll get the key to the conference room.” Bruce frowned. “Relax, Mr. Wayne. Don Sutton, the owner of the tavern, talks and talks and talks, if you know what I mean? If he realizes who you are, we’ll get caught with him. So, if you just take a seat here, I’ll get the key and be back as soon as I can.”
“Alright,” Bruce agreed. “Mr. MacIntosh, please don’t think me rude, but I’m in something of a hurry.“
MacIntosh looked a little surprised. “Of course, Mr. Wayne. I won’t be long.“ The lawyer made his way across the dimly lit room and disappeared.
Wayne murmured under his breath. What he had just done was a cardinal sin in the business world. He was about to sign a billion dollar contract and he was giving the impression he had more important things to do. The problem was, he did have more important things to do and for the first time, it didn’t involve pulling on the cowl. For one thing, he didn’t like Dick being unsupervised in case he had another seizure. Dick may have dismissed the possibility, insisting that it had been almost two months since his last one, but Leslie hadn’t been able to explain the cause and that worried Bruce.
Reaching up to his temples, Bruce massaged them gingerly as he took a seat at the closest table. His head was pounding and his stomach churning. Glancing down at his watch, he muttered with annoyance. He needed to get this out of the way so he and Dick could talk. The problem was, he wasn’t sure what he should say. He could say ‘sorry‘, but he honestly wasn’t certain what he’d be apologising for. Dick was sensitive about money, that much he had fathomed. The billionaire made a mental note not to make the mistake of offering money again.
Wayne looked over at the bar where several customers were already set for the day, despite the early hour. Bruce’s right leg began to bounce.
“Come on, come on,” he murmured, checking the door MacIntosh had disappeared through. Shaking his head, he took his pen out of his pocket. He’d scan the document, sign it and then track Dick down. The engraving on the cheap gold pen caught his eye. Dick had given it to him for his birthday so many years past that Bruce couldn’t remember which one, but he always carried it with him. As his thoughts moved to Dick, he found himself swallowed again by the memories with him day and night…