EDS AU Overview: To put it simply, Dick has a connective tissue disorder called hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (hEDS/EDS) that causes, among plenty of other things, a lot of joints problems (hypermobility, instability, dislocations, etc.) Any specific hEDS information needed for the story will be found at the end.
Disclaimer: I draw off of my own experience with hEDS for these fics and I do my best to supplement that with lots of research, but keep in mind that everyone's experience with EDS is different and I'm not an expert. This is just for fun and self-projection to get more chronic illness representation out there.
Hey guys, I've been working on this for a while, so I'm pretty excited to finally post it. This time it's from Mary's point of view, and it uses Dick extended family from Young Justice's tie-in comic. For those not familiar, Dick's family now includes Uncle Richard, Aunt Karla, and Cousin John. I love this idea and it was one of the reasons I decided to set the AU in the Young Justice 'verse. This is also the point in this A/N where I encourage you to read the tie-in comic; it's seriously so good, and if you're wanting more YJ, this is a great place to look. Okay, and a quick thanks to REDROBIN707 and Alexandria-likethecityinEgypt for beta reading this for me, thanks again for the help!
Socks padding against the floor. Weight forcing the mattress inward. The swishing of pajama covered knees brushing against the comforter. A sniffle and the smell of shampoo as a small body places itself under the covers between Mary and John Grayson.
Mary would like to say that she's surprised by their visitor, but she knew this had been coming. Dick had been quiet after their performance that night, opting to sit with her instead of playing with John while they waited for the curtain call. The boy had been fussy about taking a shower, too, something his sore muscles usually enjoyed. Mary had eventually persuaded him to take one by offering to play a game with him afterward, but by the time he had finished showering, he no longer wanted to play. Instead, he announced that he was too tired and wanted to go to bed early, only managing to finish half of his post-show snack before doing so. It all screamed that he wasn't feeling well and that he was gearing up towards feeling worse.
And here he is, just as Mary had guessed, in their bed feeling worse. She hates how good she's become at predicting it, hating more how her new-found talent confirms that, yes, there is something wrong with her sweet Robin.
She doesn't know exactly when she figured it out, but at this point, it's impossible for her to ignore: Dick is sick. A few random times every month, Dick gets sick. Not sick like a cold or the flu, but sick nonetheless. It will start with him being cranky and tired, and then he'll complain that his head hurts. The thing is that it isn't just a headache; it's become clear that it's more than that. He'll look slightly pale and he says he has that general sicky-feeling, sometimes it will be accompanied by a stomachache or nausea, and on the rare occasion, vomiting. Her happy energetic nine-year-old turns into a quiet boy that just wants to lie down instead of playing outside with his friends. And if that wasn't bad enough, the Motrin isn't seeming to work as well anymore.
Without saying a word, Mary rolls over to face her son, her sweet Robin. She wraps her arm around him and Dick curls close against her. She hates when her baby isn't feeling well, but she much prefers the times when he seeks out comfort instead of shutting them out.
She places a kiss on the top of his head. "My poor Robin."
"Too loud," Dick's muffled voice complains, prompting a hushed sorry from Mary.
John's awake now, rubbing his hand up and down Dick's back. He leans in and quietly asks, "Are you feeling sick, buddy?"
A small nod.
"Motrin?" Mary offers, receiving another small nod from the unusually quiet boy.
"I'll get it." And then John is gone.
Mary exhales before placing another kiss in her nine-year-old's soft, dark hair. "Couldn't sleep?"
"How long have you been feeling sick?"
She feels his shoulders move up and down in a shrug, but, again, he doesn't say anything. Mary guesses it started soon after the performance; he had been frowning and rubbing at his eye, something Mary has picked up on as being a warning for what was coming.
"Do you want to skip rehearsal tomorrow?" Dick's cousin John would be disappointed, but if Dick was sick, it would be unavoidable. The last thing she wanted was for him to get seriously hurt because he was practicing in not-so-top condition.
"…" Dick presses his head harder into Mary's shoulder. "Everyone will be mad at me."
"Oh, no they won't, sweetie." Mary twirls Dick's hair between her fingers. "They'll just be disappointed that you're feeling sick again. They'll understand, though; I promise."
"We'll see how you feel in the morning," Mary says when Dick doesn't reply in any way. "We aren't scheduled to get in until later, so maybe we can make pancakes in the morning. How does that sound?"
"My stomach hurts, and it feels all sloshy." Mary can't see his face, but she can picture the look of disgust perfectly.
"Okay, Dickie," John's soft voice is saying as the lamp switches on. "I have some Motrin, a few crackers, and a glass of water."
Mary and Dick both sit up, Mary pulling Dick closer to her so he can lean against her. Dick is squinting his eyes at the light and pushing his right palm into his right eye as he grabs the one and a half chewable Motrin tablets from John's palm. Mary watches as Dick forces himself to chew the grape-flavored painkillers, the boy's mouth frowning in unpleasantness. Finally, he swallows, slumping against Mary as he does and lets a small moan escapes his lips.
He makes no move to take the crackers or water; John notices. "These too, buddy."
"I don't want them." Dick lets himself fall away from Mary, plopping himself face first on the bed.
"You'll feel better, if you do," John coaxes, placing his hand on the back of Dick's head and rubbing it back and forth.
"You're probably dehydrated from the show, and the crackers will help your stomach feel better," Mary points out as she lies down next to him, trying to get him to look at her. "Please."
That does the trick. Dick sits up and leans his head against John's chest after taking the crackers and water from him. He finishes and lies back down, John following suit after placing the glass on the bedside table and turning the lamp off.
John wraps one of his arms around the both of them, allowing the other to lightly massage Dick's forehead. "Does this make it feel a little better?"
"Mhmm," Dick mumbles, so John continues.
"Try to get some sleep, Dickie," Mary says. "I love you, my sweet Robin."
"Maybe it's just too much for him. He's so talented, it's easy to forget he's only nine," Karla is saying after another long rehearsal. Another rehearsal that Dick missed, making it the third one that month. "Everyone knows anxiety can cause stomachaches and nausea, but it can also cause headaches. And it's not always before an event that makes you nervous; I was reading an article about headaches happening after stressful situations because of the sudden decline in hormones or something."
"Maybe, but Dick doesn't really seem nervous about performing." Mary is sitting at the table across from Karla, Dick dozing in her lap. Her John, Richard, and her nephew John went to pick up lunch, but Dick decided to stay behind because he's still not feeling well and a car ride was not going to help. Mary runs her fingers through his thick, dark hair. "When he's feeling well, trapeze and acrobatics are all he wants to do. Besides, they're not just headaches."
Karla's eyebrows tighten and she leans over the table slightly. "In addition to them, or something else?"
"I don't know," Mary sighs, "and maybe Dick doesn't know either. He just says he feels sick and tired and that his head hurts. Sometimes the Motrin helps, but sometimes it's on and off for days. And they come on so suddenly and randomly."
"Maybe he has a food sensitivity?"
Mary shakes her head. "Like I said, it's really random."
"Sinus headaches?" Karla suggests. "I know a while ago you were telling me his eyes water during them sometimes, and it sounds like they happen in the same spot, too."
Mary shrugs, that one was a possibility. "Whatever's wrong, it seems to be getting worse. A few nights ago, he was feeling so sick he had to sleep with me and John."
Karla slowly shakes her head. "I don't know, Mary."
"I was looking some things up online about it, and some forum said I should keep track of how often they're happening. I have them in my planner, and I'll take that along with a list of his symptoms with me when we go to the pediatrician's in two weeks."
"That's a good idea. She'll probably know more about it than we do." Karla smiles, and for a brief second, it helps Mary feel more relaxed.
"I thought so." Mary pauses. "We'll be in Gotham for about a month, so I'm hoping the doctor can give me a recommendation for a specialist if it turns out to be something."
"You think you know what's wrong?" Karla asks; she knows Mary so well.
"It could be childhood migraine."
"I thought migraines where one-sided, though?" Karla points out.
"His are sometimes, but in children, migraines are usually the whole head."
"Huh, I didn't realize children experienced them differently. I don't think I've ever had a migraine, but I had an aunt that used to get them on occasion." Karla mentions.
"Did they look like Dick's?" Mary asks.
"I never really talked about them with her." Karla shrugs, face apologetic.
Mary bites her lip. Then, in a quiet voice, she says, "I know the odds are low, but I can't help but worry that these headaches are being caused by a tumor or something."
"Mary," Karla grabs her hand, "it's not a tumor, okay? I'm sure everything will be fine."
"But even if it's not a tumor, what if it becomes chronic migraine? Then what is he supposed to do? He'll be in pain all the time and I won't be able to do anything to help him." And that almost scares Mary more than the possibility of a tumor.
Karla squeezes her hand. "Hey, let's wait to see what the doctor has to say. And some kids do grow out of them, right? So, try to think about that instead, okay? This doesn't have to be a life sentence. For all you know, he needs glasses and the headaches are from eye straining."
Mary nods. Karla has a point, but Karla's not the one who has to watch her son suffer. And when that's happening, it's hard to not think how this will affect her child's future.
They're in Gotham now, and the appointment with the pediatrician is only a week away. It's categorized as a physical, but Mary is hoping that the doctor can shed some light on what's going on with Dick. Mary's spent too many nights in front of a screen telling her that her son might be dying of some terminal illness. Logically, she knows that the odds of it being one of those is low; Dick doesn't have all of the symptoms, and the ones he does have aren't constant. She also knows that there's a chance that this could be a something he outgrows or just something he needs an antibiotic for. It's just that the odds of those are seeming kind of low, too, and that's when Mary lands in the pile of chronic illness. Chronic illnesses that get worse over time. Chronic illnesses that there is no easy fix for. Chronic illnesses that have no treatment at all.
Mary mentally shakes herself—she doesn't need to get into that now. Next week she'll get some answers from a professional that does this for a living, and besides, Dick is feeling good. He had been a bit shaky when they first left for Gotham, but it's blown over and he hasn't missed a single rehearsal all week. Tonight, her son is happy and healthy. What more could a mother ask for?
Dick and his cousin John are playing cards a few feet away from the stretching circle the four adults have created. Mary pulls out of her splits and starts stretching her shoulders, sneaking a glance at the boys. It's hard to hear over the music, but Mary can pick out enough to tell they're talking about the finale.
Dick has been eager to participate, but he's still too young. He needs more training, a few more skills to master, but he'll be there soon. He excels so fast, and this week he added another skill to his repertoire, a skill that their troupe uses in the finale. This, of course, has only encouraged his nagging about joining in on the final trick of the night. Instead of just asking before a show, he's now started asking during dinner, too. It could easily be seen as annoying, but Mary loves seeing how his eyes light up when he talks about it. She, too, is eagerly waiting to see the day he gets to perform the finale with them.
"Did the two of you stretch yet?" Karla is asking.
"Yes," the boys say in unison, cleaning up the game as they do.
The sound of muffled clapping and the previous act walking past them is their cue. Mary stands and wordlessly takes the deck of cards from Dick and places it in her bag. The six of them walk towards the tent opening to wait: just one more act and then they're up.
John and Dick run past her and over to her John.
"Can I do the finale tonight?" Dick asks, hopeful despite the fact that he has yet to rehearse it. Though, Mary is sure he could recite each piece of choreography to her after watching it so many times in both rehearsals and the shows themselves.
"Sorry, but not tonight, kiddo," John says, clapping Dick's shoulder as the boy slouches and pouts. "Hey," John grabs the boy's chin and lifts it up. "Chin up and smile. We can't have you showing us up in the finale, too, can we?"
Dick laughs and pushes John off of him, then moves to the back of the line by Cousin John.
John immediately runs his hand through Dick's hair, giving it a bed-head look. "Don't worry, Squirt, you'll get a chance sooner than you think."
And this time the smile stays on Dick's face.
Mary smooths Dick's hair back down, then turns around as performers walk in and Haley walks out. She waits for him to announce the name of their act, and then she's all smiles and waves as she follows John, Richard, and Karla out, the younger boys behind her. They climb the ladder to the top and she lets muscle memory and the energy from the crowd take it from there.
The crowd is cheering while they all pause on the stand of the middle bar. Dick steps out of the way as the stagehands take out the net and Haley announces what will happen next. John and Richard go out first, next is Karla. When she swings back, Mary grabs her forearms and she's back in the air flying. They do a few flips and catches before picking up John. They manage to all make their way to one bar, but something is off about the landing. The feel throws it off even before she hears the ropes snap.
The crowd is screaming below her as she watches the ropes give way, causing their bar to go limp. As she plummets to the ground, her eyes immediately go to Dick, who is still on the stand, screaming and crying on his hands and knees.
She calls his name with tears in her eyes, not enough time for an "I love you," not enough time for an "I'm sorry." She sees him scared and alone with a sickness she never told anyone about. It all happens so fast that she can barely register that this fall will kill her. It doesn't matter, though, because the guilt that no one knows that something is wrong with her sweet Robin kills her first.
Note about the final scene: Dick asking to join in on the finale and then (cousin) John telling him that he'll get a chance sooner than he thinks comes from the tie-in comic, issue #6: Fears. This is where we're introduced to his extended family and it gives us a mini Robin origin story. Plus the Team goes camping. What's not to love?
EDS Note: Symptoms of EDS can sometimes be difficult to pick up on in children; most kids have some hypermobility, and an active, growing kid complaining of being sore isn't uncommon. So understand that Mary and John not picking up on this right away doesn't make them bad parents, and I hope I express that through the story well. That said, other comorbidities can show up earlier, such as childhood migraine. I had childhood migraine that started when I was 4/5 (now just migraine since I'm 19), so I have personal experience with this comorbidity. And as explained somewhat in the story, migraine presents itself differently in children. It also changes as they age; my migraines at 4/5 were very different from how they were at 9 and then thirteen, one of the main reason it took so long to diagnose. If you have any other questions about this or EDS in general, feel free to shoot me a message.
And another EDS story down, I hope you guys liked it! At some point, I'm going to post a multi-chapter diagnosis fic, but no idea when. The next thing coming in the EDS AU is post-diagnosis for sure, though. Maybe Robin-era, maybe post-Robin era. Which would you guys prefer? Thanks for reading, and if it wouldn't be too much trouble, leave me a review and let me know what you thought of the story. I love hearing what you guys think, plus it motivates me to write faster. I also have a community in the Young Justice category for this AU, so if you want to see other stories like this one, go to EDS Dick Grayson AU and check them out.