Alfred evaluated Dick’s visible condition - skin pasty, blending perfectly into the bleached pillow. That was the first thing that Alfred would undo when he got the boy home. A little sun would bring back the natural rich tan and some good home made meals would put healthy colour into his hollow cheeks and blue tinged lips -- lips drooped ever so slightly, cheating Alfred out of that cheeky smirk he loved so much. Even as an adult, Dick hadn't lost that.
Alfred’s heart ached. Only yesterday he’d been celebrating the fact that Dick was going to be okay and coming home soon. That had been grossly premature. Each day there were small victories, but also massive setbacks. However, Alfred promised himself that he would take Dick home and he would get the young man back on his feet. He would. He had to.
Leslie pulled the covers down to her patient’s waist, exposing his well-muscled chest. Lifting the bandages, which were hiding deep bruising, she checked the tube that was still draining away fluid from his injured lung. “When he wakes, he may be disoriented. No speaking. Leave that to me. I don’t want him focusing on more than one voice. Understood?”
Nods came from all occupants -- including Barbara and Tim, who had edged into the room. The corridors outside were silent and empty, apart from the muffled sound of drilling and hammering from another part of the wing. Dick had been moved to the new Wayne Wing of the hospital, despite the fact that it was still under construction. The reason was simple. The Paparazzi had breached hospital security on three different occasions, one photographer actually entering Grayson’s room. Needless to say, Bruce had ‘dealt’ with him and the misguided man was now a patient of the hospital himself.
The frenzied mob camped foyer and spilling out into the street was desperate to snap that one photo that newspapers and magazines around the world would pay hundreds of thousands for. Concerns not only for Dick’s privacy, but his safety, had prompted the decision to 'hide' the injured man in the section of the new wing that was all but completed. Two nurses were sworn to secrecy and assigned to him -- taking shifts to look after their patient.
Leslie adjusted the monitors so she could see them clearly. “We need to keep his heart rate steady and watch that lung.”
“Calm and easy,” Tim agreed.
“I’ll need…” Leslie paused as Dick drew in a deeper breath and held it before releasing it. “Here he comes.” Bruce rose to his feet. Barbara’s hand came up to cover her mouth.
Grayson’s eyes darted below the lids and he grimaced as consciousness came closer and then drifted out of reach. “Easy, son,” Leslie encouraged, placing her hand on his brow. The rapid eye movement increased, accompanied by twitching around his mouth. A low, distressed sound emanated from the back of his throat.
Leslie eyed the monitors.
Bruce firmly squeezed Dick’s limp hand. Grayson’s eyes fluttered open briefly and then closed. Everyone held their breath, each addressing their personal anxiety.
“Come on, Dick,” Leslie invited, tapping the side of his face. “Let’s see those devastating blue eyes that have melted a million hearts.”
Dick’s chest heaved again, and with great effort, he lifted his eyelids. Leslie moved above him and smiled. “Hello.”
Grayson’s ashen lips curled, but no word formed.
“Shhh. No need to speak. I’ve just taken a tube out of your throat, so it may be feeling a little uncomfortable.” Dick didn’t respond, his eyes closing.
“Leslie?” Bruce demanded.
“Relax. It’s just taking him a while to wake fully. As I said, he‘s still heavily drugged. So far, his brain activity is normal.”
It was three long, anxious minutes before Dick’s eyes opened again. This time, the countering drug appeared to be taking effect and he was more aware.
Dick’s expressive eyes displayed uncertainty and suspicion.
“Just relax. You’re okay. I want you nod or shake your head to answer my questions. Do you know your name?“
Dick peered at her for a long time from under the heavy lids that threatened to crash over his eyes at any moment. He started to search above him, but Leslie moved to mask his view.
“Keep looking at me, son. Do you know your name?”
He nodded hesitantly.
Barbara reached for Tim’s hand. She was shaking all over. The teenager crouched down beside her and slipped his arm around her back.
Alfred began to knead the blanket.
Bruce just stood, his fingers curled around Dick’s hand.
“Do you know where you are?” Leslie asked.
Grayson grimaced. “Hos..pit..al.”
Tim squeezed Barbara and gave her an encouraging nod. Alfred’s kneading became more determined. Bruce’s Adam’s apple jumped.
“Shhh. Don’t speak yet. Yes, you’re in hospital. Do you remember what happened?”
Dick blinked and recognition of the woman above him settled on his face. “I… was hit by… a… bus, Leslie?” A half a smile washed over him.
“Thank you, God,” Barbara whispered, passionately. Tim’s face spread with a wide smile. Alfred’s kneading became frantic. Bruce didn’t move.
Leslie brushed her hand along Dick’s cheek. “You need to do better than that.”
His brow furrowed a little and he shook his head.
“You were shot.” All waited for Dick’s response.
“Shot? It... penetrated my... suit?” Dick asked puzzled, his breathy voice strained.
Leslie‘s smile broadened. That was a question based on reasoning -- he was demonstrating higher order thinking skills which were usually the first to go with brain injury resulting from seizures. “You weren’t wearing it.”
Alfred winked at Tim and Barbara. He could tell by Leslie’s expression that whatever she’d been worried about had been dispelled by Dick’s last few words.
“It happened in Gotham. Can you remember?”
Grayson’s head moved from side to side on the pillow.
“It’s alright.” She ran her fingertips along his cheek, her smiling face a testament to her relief. “It’ll come back later, son.”
Dick‘s brow creased further. “Bruce?” he asked. Wayne applied pressure to the puzzled young man’s hand. Grayson’s head rolled in that direction. The rest of the confusion faded as his hooded gaze fell on his former guardian “Hey, boss.”
“You had us worried,” Wayne informed him.
Dick’s right eye pinched at the side. “The sniper.” The memory played out in his foggy mind. Spotting the sniper… realizing what was going to happen… running… knowing there was nothing he could do… leaping up onto the table…
“Easy, Dick,” Leslie warned, watching the monitors. “It’s alright.”
“I… couldn’t… stop… him.” Dick paused and he attempted to swallow, but his throat refused to co-operate.
“Take it slow, Dick,” Leslie ordered. “I’ll get you some water in a moment.” She knew the drug she’d given him would be wearing off already. Soon, he would fall sleep and she would put him back on the respirator.
Dick stared up at Bruce. “Did you… get him?” he panted.
“I got him,” Bruce murmured. “Don’t worry about that. How do you feel?”
Mystification wove its way over Dick’s pallid features. “I’m… a bit… tired. He was just… a paid assassin. … Who was behind… it?”
“I said to forget it,” Bruce repeated, his voice rising with frustration. He didn’t want Dick focusing on that. 'That' wasn’t important.
Alfred cleared his throat purposefully. “Sir.”
Bruce deliberately ignored the butler.
“Slow and easy,” Alfred encouraged.
“I… thought the… sniper was… a part of….” Dick tried to explain. The words weren’t coming easily.
“Shhh,” Leslie whispered, the beeping of the heart monitor becoming louder.
“I did what… I had to… to save your… life,” Dick growled. Despite his overwhelming weakness and the lack of volume, Dick’s annoyance was clearly communicated.
“Calm down,” Leslie ordered, her eyes fixed on the monitors.
Alfred walked around the bed and gave Bruce a gentle prod. “Encourage him,” the butler ordered.
Bruce glared at Alfred. “That’s what I’m trying to do.“
Alfred set his jaw. “You are failing dismally. Try again.“
Dick frowned at the pair, not understanding what was going on. His vision began to blur a little. “There was… so much… noise that I…“
Wayne sought to understand the tidal wave of emotions which was making it difficult for him hold everything together. As he looked down on his boy, the difficulty faded and his heart opened. “It’s okay, Dick,” he assured gently. “Really, it’s okay… … Ummm,” he struggled to think of something else to say. “Ummmm. Harvey hired the shooter.”
Alfred lowered his gaze. That was it. That was the first thing Bruce could think to say to Dick after all that had happened. Sadly, despite all he had said and promised, and probably all he truly wanted, Bruce was falling back on his relationship with Nightwing.
“Two-Face?” Dick asked, beginning to blink steadily. He was being drawn back into the cocoon of nothingness. Darkness encroached at the edges of his vision. “Why?”
“I don’t know.”
“Then why… don’t you go…ask him?” Go and get him. I’m okay. The silent message blazed before Dick’s eyes closed.
Wayne licked his lips. “Dick, I…” Grayson’s chest rose and fell smoothly. The heart monitor evened out. His mouth sagged a little as he drifted off.
“He’s asleep,” Leslie whispered.
“Leslie?” Alfred requested, watching as the doctor placed the respirator back in place.
“He was more aware than I expected. His cognitive processing was strong. There was no evidence of the seizure causing any gross brain damage. He remembered exactly what happened, he was reasoning and questioning, and he was certainly acting in character. They’re all good signs.”
Bruce nodded, thoughtfully. “He was very weak.“
“Bruce, after what he’s been through, it’s more than we could have hoped for.“
“And the seizure?”
“I don’t know. What I do know is that the one he took was severe, but doesn’t appear to have caused any damage. It may have been a one-off. We won’t know unless he has another.”
Wayne nodded. “I need to go.”
“What?” Alfred spluttered. “Go? Go where?” The butler recognised the expression looking back at him. “Surely that can wait!”
“Harvey’s still out there and every moment he’s on the street innocent people are in danger.”
Alfred was at a loss. For five days Bruce hadn‘t moved. For five days Alfred had believed that Bruce was finally getting his priorities straightened out. Yet, at the first sign of improvement, Bruce was turning his back on Dick. “And what about Master Dick?” Alfred demanded. The accusation hung in the room for several uncomfortable moments. “Leslie has already said that he isn’t out of danger yet. ‘Improving’, ‘stronger’ and ‘better’ don’t mean he’s going to be alright.”
“I know, but Harvey’s after me. I need to take him down before he tries again.”
“Forget Two-Face,” Barbara exploded. She had held her tongue long enough. “Dick needs you here. For a couple days I thought you had become human! I thought that you were finally going to be able to put your obsession aside for him. But you can’t, can you? Batman has to come first. Tell me I’m wrong?!” She screamed, tears of rage streaming down her face.
“Barbara,” Tim started.
“Shut-up, Tim! Dick has always put you first, Bruce,” Barbara cried, her emerald eyes ablaze. “Even when he wanted to turn his back on you and your damned war, he couldn’t… not for the war, but for you. Just once, just once in his life, won’t you put him first?”
“That’s enough,” Leslie ordered. “If you two want to slog it out, do it outside. This is a hospital ward.”
Bruce and Barbara continued to glare at each other over the top of the bed.
Alfred placed his hand on the young woman’s shoulder, at the same time, eyeing Bruce curiously. There had to be more behind Bruce’s decision to leave.
Tim stood between the two camps, feeling hurt and lost. Leslie took his hand and guided him up to Dick. With a smile, she laid his hand on Dick’s arm. Tim swallowed, but as he looked down on Dick, the tension in his young face drained away. “Hey, bro. You better get better soon, or I’m going to go out of my mind,” he whispered.
“I have to take down Harvey,“ Bruce stated without emotion. “I don’t want Dick caught in the crossfire again.”
Alfred sighed. There is was. In his own strange, misguided way, Bruce was thinking of Dick.
Barbara swallowed. “You think he’ll come after you here?”
“I’m not willing to take a chance with Dick’s life. Tim,” Bruce ordered.
“Hey?” Tim asked, dragging his attention from the man he loved like a brother. “I was just going to…” Bruce’s eyes hardened. “Yeah, okay. I’ll see you later, Dick,” Tim whispered to the sleeping man. “He sounded good, don’t you think?”
Barbara mouthed the word, ‘sorry’ to him. Tim smiled and then headed out of the room.
Bruce turned to Alfred. “I want you to go and get some rest for the next couple of hours.”
“My place is here.”
Bruce shook his head. “Barbara can stay with Dick for the next few hours. I’ll need her help later tonight. That’s when you’ll need to be fresh so you can take over.”
“It’s alright, Alfred. I’ll stay with him,” Barbara promised, rolling herself forward. “You do look tired.”
Alfred sighed. He was tired, both physically and emotionally. He didn’t deny that, but at the moment, he needed to stay close to the boy he loved like a grandson. “I will catch a few hours sleep in this chair.”
“No you won’t,” Leslie interrupted. “As Bruce just said, Dick will need you later on if he wakes and Bruce isn’t here. You can use the doctor’s lounge. There are a couple of beds there. Come on.” She took Alfred’s arm, and before he could argue, dragged him toward the door.
“Leslie?” Bruce needed confirmation before he left.
The doctor paused and glanced back over her shoulder. “With a lot of rest, no complications or infections, and long, patient and no doubt painful rehabilitation, I think he’ll be okay, Bruce. Dr. Anderson has a number of tests he wants to perform, but from what I’ve seen, I’m confident. I wouldn‘t be so confident with anyone else, but ‘ordinary‘ isn‘t a word that can be applied to our boy. Of course, the seizure wasn‘t ordinary either. It‘s still and unknown factor, but one that I don‘t believe is life threatening.”
Wayne acknowledged the diagnosis with a nod and then moved up beside Dick. “Rest easy, chum,” he whispered, running his hand through the silent young man’s hair. For long seconds he appeared lost in the moment, and then the mask fell into place. The tone that followed was firm and emotionless. “Oracle, no one comes into this room.”
“I’ll look after him, Bruce,” she assured, inclining her head to the concealed weapons in the side of her chair. Reaching out, Barbara picked up one of Dick’s hands. “No one comes through that door unless I know them,” she assured. Wheelchair bound she may be, but Oracle was still a force to be reckoned with. She would protect Dick with her life.
“I’ll report in every thirty minutes. If there is any change here, I want to know about it immediately.“
“Understood. And, I‘m sorry about my outburst. I guess this has affected me more than I want to admit.“
Bruce looked at her blankly for several moments. “Yes,” he agreed. His attention returned to Dick for a few seconds and then he spun toward the door. “Tim, we have work to do.”