For setrinan and CSpark. You both know why.
Title: Obstacle Course
Author: SahRae Hyjo
Series/Sequel: Call Of Duty, one day and a few hours after the last chapter of High Noon. (I'm assuming at this point that you've read High Noon. If you haven't, I can only hope I've explained things enough that you'll be okay.)
Summary: Dick's a fighter; always has been, always will be. But getting back on his feet and recovering from his injuries after his run-in with Diablo Simmons might be the least of his worries...
Disclaimer: I'm still broke and they're still not mine. While all non-DC characters are my creation, they're free to a good home once I'm done with them. Any and all lyrical excerpts and/or quotes used from here on in are not mine either. Just so you know. And don't flame my absolutely glorious betas – Char, Ellen, and CSpark – for the mistakes found herein. I've worked very hard to get them in here:-))
Archive: Go ahead! It's all available; just let me know where.
Rating: PG is for Positively Ghastly, right? No? Then I guess its T overall, for some light swearing. It might vary in a particular chapter, but I'll let you know when.
Feedback: Heck, yes! Sweet nectar, and all that. Even just a few words will brighten up my day.
Warnings: Hmm... None for this fic. But see my author profile if you want to know why its been so long since I've posted and some generic warnings about that.
Notes: For the record, a series wasn't in my original plans. But no one, it seems, told my muse that. High Noon was supposed to be a stand-alone. Guess this just goes to show you what persistent pestering from reviews and PMs by readers for a sequel will do... :D That said, while I'd written this some time ago, this'd never have seen the light of day if setrinan and CSpark hadn't been so persistent of late in their feedback. This is for you, girls.
Oh, and bold/underline/italics are emphasis, and 'italics' are thoughts.
CALL OF DUTY
1. In The Deep
Don't you just hate it when you wake up to find out you've been asleep?
I've always hated waking up unexpectedly. See, I've never liked to be caught unawares, about anything, and the personality trait extended to my sleeping patterns.
But I've hated even more waking up with a start, and feeling like I was still asleep anyway.
Like I did now.
It took me about five minutes of chasing my thoughts in circles before I realized that, yes, I was awake, my eyes were open, and I'd spent five minutes staring at that tiny crack in the corner of my bedroom ceiling like it was the answer to all my problems. It took me another few minutes to figure out why it was so hard to think:
Hmph, better make that a lot of drugs.
Which also explained why I wasn't feeling much of anything...except for feeling very light, and light-headed too. But at least I definitely wasn't in pain. 'Nope, no pain here.' I shifted slightly on the bed and reconsidered that thought. 'Okay, so I am in pain, but I'm also so high that I simply don't care.' That probably should have worried me, on some level. Which is to say that it probably would've, if I could've gathered enough coherent thought to bother with worrying.
I shifted position again, trying to figure out where I was hurting and what was still working. But everything was too distant, hurting only in vague, unspecified ways that were too nebulous to pin down. Just enough to let me know things were there, but not so much that I could do something about them.
Not that there was anyone around to do anything for me. 'Nope, I'm definitely alone. Can't see anyone...' Of course, I probably should check the rest of the room too...but that would mean moving my head, wouldn't it? 'Nah. Too much work.' So instead I let myself simply lay there on the bed, stared at the ceiling a little more, and chased my own thoughts around my head. Joy. 'What a way to spend a morning, lonely as anything and...as high...as...a...
'Damn.' I must've fallen asleep again, despite my instinctively not wanting to. The good old internal clock told me that much. It was at least a few hours after I was last awake...but I was still hazy as to whether it was the same day or not. Heck, it could've been a week later for all I knew. And if there's one thing I hated, it had to be knowing I'd lost time but not being sure exactly how much I'd lost.
Like I said, I didn't particularly like being caught unawares. By anything.
On the other hand, it probably could've been worse. My head was clear now. Well, clearer, anyway. Which meant that whatever drugs they had me on, the dosage hadn't been repeated and the damn things were finally starting to wear off. As far as I was concerned, the sooner they were out of my system, the better. I liked my pain too much to want its complete absence from my life...and my body.
Oh, don't get me wrong. I wasn't a masochist or anything. I certainly didn't get off on things like being in pain or being tied up and held hostage. (Although to be fair, if I was that way inclined, being in the vigilante business was probably one of the better ways to sate that kind of urge.) But I could still think of plenty of reasons for being glad to feel pain.
Foremost of which would be the reason that, as cliché as it sounds, pain does let you know that you're alive, still breathing, still here. Trust me, I've spent enough time in sensory deprivation tanks to prove the truth of that. And I've had plenty of days of late where I'd needed my pain, needed that extra layer of sensation to ground me in reality. Heck, I think I've had a whole...what was it now? Three weeks? Yeah, three weeks of those types of days. Day in, day out. It never stopped.
'Gods. It's more like three weeks of nothing.' Three weeks of me lying on my back and waiting for my body to heal. Three weeks of mentally chasing myself in circles, wondering what went wrong to put me here. Three weeks of absolute hell.
Oh, what I would give to be able to walk again. To get out of this room and out of this life, to feel the sun on my face and the wind in my hair, to simply do things for myself, the little things, the things I didn't realize were important to me until I couldn't do them. Well, not without assistance...or without Alfred, which was pretty much the same thing. Things like raising myself up in bed, getting myself dressed every morning, or like privacy in the bathroom when I did my... um, yeah.
Which reminded me, I really had to talk to Leslie about what I was allowed to do. For crying out loud, it had been three weeks since I'd first landed in the hospital. Surely I could do a few things on my own by now. I swear, I could practically feel my leg muscles atrophying the longer I was forced to lie here and "recover". And, for the record, I was pretty certain that it wasn't my injuries that were forcing me to spend all my time on my back. 'Now that would be too simple, wouldn't it?' No, it was more like something tall, impeccably dressed, and speaking with a British accent. I was gonna have to resort to more drastic––
"Ah, you're awake."
More startled at the voice breaking into my thoughts than I cared to admit, I turned my head towards its source. Ah, of course. Dr. Leslie Thompkins. 'How on earth did she get within three feet of me without my noticing?' Although it probably shouldn't have startled me to have her so close, seeing as I was on drugs. People had a habit of being able to sneak up on me when I was high. 'It's so not fair.'
Oh. 'Hang on. Better greet the Doctor, Grayson.'
"Hey, Les," I greeted, smiling as warmly as I could. Not my usual greeting I admit, but I could – and would – blame the drugs for that. Actually, it wasn't all that hard to be friendly. Like I'd said, there were the drugs, for one thing. Couldn't stay angry if I tried – or wanted. And besides, her's was the first face I could clearly recall seeing since...well, I didn't know when, to be honest, but the memory that popped into mind was that physical therapy session with Bruce. 'Wait a moment. That's strange... I remember the talk we had, but not how the PT session finished...'
More motion out of the corner of my eye broke me out of my thoughts, and I pushed the matter aside for later consideration. 'C'mon, focus Grayson, and leave the woolgathering for later.'
I watched silently as Leslie walked round to stand at the end of the bed, flicking through my recent medical history and muttering to herself all the while. She was too far away to make out her words clearly, but it sounded like it was something to do with Bruce and his manners. I didn't bother to pay more attention after that. As long as it wasn't me she was cursing out, I didn't care who she was talking about.
It took her a while to flick through the leaf of papers that was my makeshift "chart" at the Manor. It was thicker than it usually was when I was injured, thanks to a certain Diablo Simmons. And I've been reliably informed (courtesy of Amy Rohrbach) that he was now rotting in a Blüdhaven jail and awaiting both his trial and a time that Leslie pronounced me well enough to handle one.
'Speaking of Leslie...' I frowned to myself and narrowed my attention when I saw the way she was looking at the last few sheets of my chart. The look on her face was...well, one I'd define as "worried", usually because it worried me too. It wasn't exactly a comforting sight to see that look when you were the idiot lying on the bed being worried over. If this counted as "lying". I wasn't entirely sure it did. This was more like "reclining", if you asked me, especially with all the pillows Alfred kept stuffing behind my back.
Finally, Leslie looked up and caught my expectant gaze. "Well, Dick," she began, "I see you've had an interesting few days."
'I have?' News to me, but then, I had the feeling I'd been drugged for most of them.
I didn't say anything, I swear, but Leslie answered my mental question anyway. "You don't remember, do you?"
I shook my head. "Last I recall clearly," I replied, concentrating a little to make sure the drugs didn't make me slur the words, "I was talking to Bruce during a PT session." Where we talked about the words he used in the hospital, back when he was trying to wake me up out of that coma I'd apparently been in. "That was right after the guys visited for a bit." And where they'd broken a priceless vase in an impromptu wrestling match with Tim, if I recalled correctly.
"I see," she replied noncommittally even as she made a few quick scribbles on the chart's last page.
Now, it might have just been me, but I've never liked it when doctors said phrases like that. Especially when it was about me and my health, physically or mentally. It's always made me wonder what was wrong, because I knew that there was something in what I'd just said that was ringing alarm bells somewhere, even if I couldn't personally hear them, let alone understand why they were ringing in the first place. I just knew that they were ringing. 'Whoever said that anticipating something was half the fun needs to be taken out to the forest and shot.' Taking as deep a breath as I dared, I mentally gave myself a slap. 'C'mon Grayson, would you just focus already?' "Um, Leslie?" I prompted quietly even as I shifted my torso slightly. Again. I was almost never comfortable, these days.
"Hmm?" She looked up at me blankly for a moment, then abruptly realized what I wanted to know. I could see it flicker across her eyes. "Oh, sorry Dick. Do you remember what happened at the end of that PT session?"
I shook my head. "Not really." Poking at the memories in my head revealed the same things as always these days: big blank spots. Well, big hazy spots, anyway. And there was a big one right over the end of that PT session.
"What exactly do you remember?"
"I remember the conversation we had, and a massage he started to give me. Apart from that," I shrugged, "well, it gets a bit hazy from there on in." Right about when I told him to 'try to hold me back', as I recall. If this is the result of him actually listening to me for once...would someone please tape my mouth shut? Preferably before I say things like that in the future? Before I opened my mouth wider just so I could fit the other foot in?
"Last clear memory, then?"
'You mean besides waking up? Oooh, now that's a toughie.'I had to think a bit about that one, especially with the lingering drugs in my system. They were taking a while to wear off – not that I was exactly complaining, mind, it was just, well, a pain (pardon the pun) to think through them. "Um, I think, it's when he told me to move the leg," I answered slowly as I gradually dragged it out of my stubborn and uncooperative memory. "He...He had his hands...on my leg, I think, so it was after I threw the covers back and let Bruce have at it." I shrugged and tried to look casual. "Like I said, it gets hazy about there. Why?"
She shook her head enigmatically. "I wanted to compare versions. I met Bruce on my way up," she explained as she gave a rueful shrug.
"Ah." That said it all, and explained her muttering on the way in. I'd noticed that lately Bruce had been having that effect on people. Had been ever since I got here, although it had gotten worse these last few days...and coinciding rather neatly with the pain in my leg taking longer to settle down than anyone expected. Did I think that the events were connected? Sure I did. I don't believe in coincidences. Never have; never will. Plus I knew how Batman's mind worked when one of his "soldiers" was injured. Still, I did hope for her sake that he wasn't too bad. I shifted slightly on the bed and attempted to ask casually, "So, what did he say and how long have I been out of it?"
It obviously didn't come off like I'd hoped. She frowned and focused on me again, pausing in her second perusal of my records. "Don't you know?"
I shook my head with forced cheer. "Nope. You're the first person I've seen since the PT thing with Bruce." Plus my sense of time was a little messed up – which was another reason to avoid pills and drugs and all that.
Something in what I said must've meant something to Leslie, because she looked at me with a strange expression on her face and answered quietly, "Well, if you've only just woke up, then you've been 'out of it' for about a day."
It took a moment for that to sink through the slowly clearing fog in my brain, but once it did, my eyebrows shot up. "Wow. Is that how long it's been?" I mused aloud, blinking slowly. 'Well, that would certainly explain why my sense of time is so screwed up.'
Leslie made no reply to that. Well, not an answer you could hear out loud. Her body language did all the talking for her. For a moment, she looked so steamed up about something that I thought she'd unleash a lecture for whatever-it-was on me. Thankfully, though, she managed to calm down fairly quickly, but I had the feeling that I was seeing the calm before the storm.
It was pretty clear that someone was going to cop it from her in the near future. I wouldn't like to be on the receiving end whenever Leslie caught up with her victim, whoever it was. Although, to be fair, I didn't want to be Leslie either, and have to constantly deal with us Bat people when we were sick and injured. It seemed to happen all too often that she was treating at least one of us for something or other, even if this was still the first time in a few years that I'd needed her services this badly.
In the end, Leslie only sighed, rolled her eyes heavenward, and muttered words I wasn't aware that she knew. Then she was immediately back on track, regrettably so from certain points of view (specifically mine), and focused once more on my progress – or the lack thereof. "So, getting back to the reason I came, how have you been feeling lately?"
'In other words, how have I been since the check-up I last recall?' My answer was the same as the one I recalled giving last time. "Okay." I shrugged with my good shoulder, then deviated from the script to add, "Bored, more than anything." As soon as the words were out, I winced inside and braced myself for a lecture on what I could do to relieve said boredom, but it was really a lecture that the said boredom was what I deserved for pursuing my night-time lifestyle. For as long as I could remember, I'd always got it after telling Leslie I was bored while recovering from some injury. Then again, most injuries came from that night-time lifestyle. This lot hadn't. Which probably explained why Leslie hadn't given me that lecture yet, although I certainly wasn't about to get my hopes up that she was going to spare me it this time around. 'No chance of that. I know Leslie too well.'
Apparently, though, I didn't know her as well as I thought. She still didn't give it to me. Instead, all Leslie did was nod absently and move on to the next question in her usual sequence. "And the leg?" she asked, pulling down the bed covers to check it out even as she spoke. Which wasn't as easy as it sounded. Or looked. Alfred had me so loaded up with quilts and blankets and sheets and pillows and cushions, I could start my own bedding store, I swear.
Despite feeling slightly confused and somewhat disconcerted at the lack of one of the usual lectures, I found myself relaxing a little in its absence, enough to answer this one semi-truthfully. "I still feel like I'm being stabbed there every time I try and move it." Well, I would have been feeling that way, if I weren't still a little bit high. But I also didn't tell her that the stabbing pains would come whenever someone or something touched it, which happened a lot more than I'd thought possible before the darn thing got hurt.
Leslie frowned, pulling on a pair of gloves from a pocket then lightly running the tips of her latex-covered fingers down the leg. I just barely managed to control the flinch-and-shiver that ran up and down my spine when those fingers brushed over the slowly healing scab on my thigh from the gunshot wound. I spent the rest of the time getting over that one instinctual reaction to that brief touch, and dreading what it'd be like when she actually started probing the darn thing. On the other hand, at least it wasn't the breath-stealing throbbing I'd felt when Bruce was doing that massage thing on me, right before everything went south. 'Man, I must be on really good drugs...'
"Where, specifically, does it ache?" she asked me then. "Around the wound?"
After convincing my good hand that it was okay to let go of the sheets now, I pressed it into my right eye for a moment and then rubbed my temples, trying to stall for time. Innwardly I cursed the lingering haziness to my thoughts that made it so damn hard to think clearly. "Um... it's more of an internal pain, if that makes sense."
"How internal is it? Is it in a muscle? Or is it mainly along the center of your leg?"
Taking a moment to think about it, I nodded slowly. "That last one, that sounds more like it."
"A 'central inside' pain?"
I nodded my head, more decisively this time. "Yeah, that's it exactly."
"How central? You mean like your tendons? Around the bone?" she asked, a faint air of cautiousness in her manner that, quite frankly, was starting to freak me out just a little. It was like she was running down a list of questions in her head that she had to get through to get the answer, but it was an answer she didn't want to hear about and a list she didn't like asking.
What did she know that I didn't? Where were all these questions headed?
But I didn't push her on it – not right that moment anyway. Most times, I knew better than to push Leslie when she didn't want to tell me something. She usually had pretty good reasons for doing things like this to me. And I was trusting that after all these years, she would also know me well enough to know when I could handle things. So I played along...for now.
Thus it was that I shook my head, knowing instinctively that what she was suggesting was wrong. "Not quite. It's more 'inside' than that. Actually, I'd almost say that it's the femur bone itself that's giving me grief." I gave Leslie a frown of my own, then. "But that doesn't make sense." As hazy as the drugs were making me, even I could tell that. "I thought you told me that it was the muscles that were damaged, not the bone." Was just me, or did two plus two not always equal four? In other words: 'What on earth is going on here, Leslie? What are you so worried about?'
Leslie shook her head slightly, ignoring my unspoken questions for the moment. "What about when you're at rest?" she pressed on, again running her fingers down the leg, slightly harder this time. "How bad is it then?"
I had time for a shrug before her fingers stopped at the wound in my thigh, before she probed the scab with latex-covered fingers while I tried not to (A) shudder or (B) jump to the ceiling. Going by my own standards, I wasn't very successful.
"It's better than moving it," I said finally, when I could breath again. Which was the truth. Anything was preferable to moving the damn thing, for all that keeping it still wasn't that much better. Keeping it still was maybe an seven on the pain scale, which was better than the usual eight to nine I got from moving it. 'Hmph. At least it's not up with what we consider a ten, eh Grayson?'
Another shrug. "It's bearable." About level five or six, if I had to guess, as long as no one was touching it. But then the drugs were probably helping with that too.
"Hmm, you've definitely got some abnormal redness and swelling here... So what about stiffness?" she prompted, still frowning, but still also with that 'something strange' in her voice that was making me prick up my ears. "Have you noticed any resistance to movement?"
I frowned and searched through the mental files, absently teething the inside of my lower lip as I struggled to shift the haziness enough so that I could give her a decent answer. That peculiar note I was hearing in Leslie's warm tones was telling me something, something I couldn't quite pin down with the drugs in my system beyond the vague feeling that that more was going on here than I'd expected. That in itself was disconcerting enough to make me reconsider my usual habits of lying to doctors.
Have I mentioned that she's freaking me out with all this?
Now I just had to answer this without getting myself into extra trouble. "Maybe," I answered finally. "I...I don't know. It's definitely possible. But if it is there, it's not bad enough for me to really notice it with everything else that's been happening." 'Especially when my body's already singing a chorus of pain and I'm the one-man audience.' "Truth be told, it's mostly been too sore to move it enough that I'd notice anything along those lines." That is, not counting that little "adventure" I had about three or four days ago when I'd tried to stand, I hadn't moved it...but then I was trying not to think about that. Made the bruises hurt a little less, that way.
Nodding thoughtfully, Leslie made some notes on my records then pulled the covers back into place over my legs and up to my waist. I twitched, I admit, when the material touched the wound in my leg, but managed to keep otherwise still and silent through the whole process. Then our family doctor sat on the edge of my bed, a somber and guarded expression on her face and in her eyes. She placed the chart aside and gave me her full attention, brown eyes dark and concerned. "Dick, I'm afraid that I'll need you to have some tests and scans done on it. Today, if possible, tomorrow at the absolute latest."
A beat, a breath. She was bracing herself for something, I could tell.
It wasn't long in coming.
"And I'll need to get you to either come to the clinic or to one of the hospitals so I can get them done with the proper equipment."
I frowned at that, falling prey to the sudden feeling that things were spinning out of control. And I'd always hated feeling helpless. "Leslie? What is it? What's wrong?"
Leslie, however, did not budge on her apparent decision to keep her suspicions to herself, to play this particular game with her cards held close to her chest. "Honestly? I don't know. But I intend to find out."
I said nothing in reply, but I believed her about as far as I could move the fingers on my left hand, which wasn't very far at all seeing as the entire hand was still quite firmly encased in plaster. She might not know, but I knew without doubt that she had some very strong suspicions. Why else would she have asked all those carefully worded questions and now decide she wanted to inflict these tests on me?
My frown deepened as my stubbornness chose that particular moment to rise up and stir in my gut. "Then what's wrong with the Cave's instruments?" While I didn't like being in the Cave's infirmary at the best of times, it did have the advantage of being closer to my room than the hospital. A lot closer. And the instruments there, while a little...unorthodox, where a more advanced than anything the hospitals usually had available.
Leslie shook her head, but refused to explain further beyond: "They're not going to be enough, Dick." That, more than anything, told me that this was going to be a non-negotiable part of today's schedule – for whatever was left of today, anyway. And I knew better than to argue with Leslie when she got like this.
Though I carefully kept my face blank, I grimaced inside at the prospect of all that moving and jostling and what it would cost me, knowing that I'd be in for a few hours of hell. "Sure, whatever you need," I agreed anyway, doing my best to put on a 'happy face' about the whole thing instead of objecting like I really wanted to. All disinclinations to pain aside, I knew that what it'd cost me to get out of here should be well worth it in the end. Especially if doing the tests meant I'd be freed from virtually complete confinement to bed a little bit sooner. I was definitely all for that.
And hey, it also meant I'd at least get a change of scenery for a few hours. Especially since that drugged sleep I'd been given meant that I'd been denied the wheelchair excursion Leslie promised me after my PT session, damn them. Nothing against Alfred or the Manor, but to me, the walls of my room were just that. Walls. They surrounded me, confined me, and enclosed me. And freedom and sunlight was the other side of them.
"Great, I'll get right on it," Leslie once again interrupted my thoughts as she made one final note on the records before putting them aside. It was at this point that she left the end of my bed to settle on the chair beside it, that was situated rather conveniently close to my chest and broken hand. "Now," she said briskly, all-business once more, "what about the rest of you?"
And once again, I shrugged with my untouched shoulder. "What about the rest of me? It's the same as it was last night, or whenever you last checked me over," I told her, a little testily even I did say so myself. I admit, I wanted to avoid the next part in the usual check-up, wanted to convince Leslie that it wasn't necessary. Just like I always did.
All my protests rarely worked, though.
And they didn't work this time, either. She nodded once to show she'd heard me, but tugged on the hem of my t-shirt anyway. "So, lift up that shirt and let me take a look to make sure."
'Drat. She still had to ask.' Getting my tee up was one of the parts I hated about these upper-body check-ups. Whatever way I did it, it was always awkward. It kind of helped if I held my breath the entire time, but it was hard to get away with doing that when Leslie was so close, watching my every move and my every breath like a hawk...as if I'd disappear or take a turn for the worse the moment she took her eyes off me.
This time, I managed it by arching my lower back and using my good hand to move the shirt up over my abdomen, and then kind of alternating between tugging and wriggling to get the shirt up higher. Mainly tugging. To be honest, I still wasn't up to much wriggling...and all my dishonest methods never got me far with Leslie. Heck, I didn't get very far this time even though I was keeping to the more honest methods. I was pretty sure that I was blushing bright crimson when Leslie had to help me with the final little bit of the process. My ears and cheeks certainly felt hot enough to light up the room when the ordeal was finally over.
Then, as if all that exertion wasn't enough, she decided it was time to poke at the healing bullet wounds on my upper chest. "Hmm, at least your scarring won't be too bad here," she told me absently, sounding fairly pleased with the prospect. I just grunted, closed my eyes, and bit the inside of my cheek to keep myself quiet.
I still couldn't hold back from wincing as she turned her attention to my rib cage.
Personally, I didn't see the point of all this poking and prodding she did to me twice a day. Nothing changed. Three broken ribs weren't going to magically become four broken ribs in twelve hours, nor were they just as magically going to mend completely in so short a timeframe. I might be a fast healer, but there were still limits even I couldn't cross. Besides, broken ribs were always an absolute bitch to heal, if you'll pardon the French. It was a process I recalled all too well from I was recovering from my undercover sojourn in Blackgate, during that chaotic mess when Gotham was "No Man's Land" after the quake. It caught a lot of people by surprise. Also caused a lot of messes that were left to the vigilantes to clean up.
And guess who let himself get volunteered to go in and clean up the mess at Blackgate? Yep, you guessed it. Yours truly. It was exactly that kind of experience that I wasn't about to forget, if only to ensure that I didn't do it again. (At least not without backup. Or plenty of bandages at Barbara's for afterwards.)
Just like I ensured that I didn't look too visibly relieved when Leslie finally took her hands away from me and my ribs. Leslie has always had a keen eye, and I knew it wouldn't be good if she saw me looking too relieved for her prodding to stop than I'd been making her think I should. Then she'd no doubt ask me why I was so relieved, and then I'd have to answer...and if there's one thing in life that you didn't do in a situation like this, it had to be outright lying to Leslie. Implicit lying wasn't always alright, but outright lying was always a definite 'no no'. But telling the truth would get me stuck in this damn bed for even longer than I already was, and I could hardly have that, could I? No. It was simply better to hide it and avoid all that mess.
Thankfully, though, I managed to hide how relieved I was to have her hands stop poking all my sore spots. And you can be sure that I'd lost no time getting my tee back down where it belonged. It was definitely a much easier and faster process than getting the stupid thing up in the first place. Once I was sort of settled again, I looked up at Leslie with my best hopeful-look painted on my face. "So," I began, "how well am I doing, Doc?"
She sighed and sat back in the chair, a quietly pensive look on her face. "Still healing, the bruising is going down, but you're progressing a lot slower than you normally do. You're normally raring to go at this point."
Who said I wasn't? It was only that I've had to learn to hide it a bit better – yeah, hide that along with everything else – seeing as I was stuck in this bed for the foreseeable future no matter how energetic I was feeling. "But I am raring to go," I grinned at her, flashing my best smile to hide the fidgeting that was me trying to get comfortable again. It wasn't going too well, which was another reason why I hated these never-ending check-ups. It always took me hours to get comfortable once the doctor was done with me, and it was always just as I finally got comfortable again that she came back in and messed me up all over again. Definitely a never-ending cycle that I could do without, thank-you very much.
She frowned and gave me a hard look that immediately made me pause my fidgeting. "Great. As long as it's not off that bed."
I opened my mouth to protest that, which was also as far as I got.
She cut off me off and shut my jaw with one of the sternest looks I'd ever seen. And I'd seen a lot. Let me tell ya, every villain I'd ever faced had nothing on Leslie when she was looking at me like that. She'd more than give both Alfred and Batman a run for their money. "Don't give me that, Dick. I think there might have been more trauma to your leg than the initial testing indicated, and that's why I want these extra tests done. As it is, I'm suspicious enough that I can't let you move around and possibly do even more damage, which could set back your recovery by weeks, if you're lucky. And if you're particularly unlucky, well, it might even be months before I could let you back out of bed. And we both know you don't want that."
Okay, so being so soundly deflated by Leslie was never a good feeling, but at least she was honest. Right now, I knew that I needed that honesty. At least it meant that there was one person in my life who didn't believe in sugar-coating everything for "the poor invalid" stuck in the bed. It was enough to get me to nod solemnly to let her know that I'd heard her message loud and clear, however much I hadn't wanted to listen to it.
Then I realized exactly what she'd just said. "But wouldn't the physical therapy classify as moving around?" I asked cautiously. I might have only started physical therapy for my leg yesterday, or whenever it was, but those few minutes with Bruce reminded me of why I'd loved/hated the rehabilitation process every time I'd been injured. And I knew all too well that it was only going to get worse the further along the rehabilitation I advanced, as I started to push my own limits. I also knew myself well enough to know that I'd insist on pushing those limits right from the start. Like Alfred told me just two days ago, I was my own worst enemy.
Leslie nodded, her face guarded. "I know it'll delay your recovery a little, yes, but for the moment I can't allow it for your injured leg until I know more. That still doesn't let you off the hook with your respiratory exercises, though, and you can still keep the rest of your body limber." That wasn't the full story by a long shot, her whole manner told me that, but it also told me that she was withholding answers from me because she wasn't certain enough of the question in the first place. 'Which definitely makes a refreshing change from people withholding information for my "supposed" benefit.'
"So, can you at least tell me what you think is wrong?" I asked, hating the pleading note I could hear in my voice but accepting it all the same – I knew why it was there. I'd always hated being kept in the dark about things. That's part of the reason why Bruce and I had clashed so much of late – he knew everything and enjoyed demonstrating that to all and sundry, myself included, or he acted like he knew everything and strung me along until I gave it to him anyway. I say only part, because there was far more to our strained relationship than simply that, of course.
She shook her head even as she packed up her things to leave. "Like I said, I'm starting to think that you had more trauma than they picked up while you were in the Rabe Memorial." She paused a moment and took a deep breath, then flashed a reassuring look that did nothing for either of us. "Then again, it may be nothing and I'm worrying both of us unduly." Leslie gave me another reassuring smile on her way out the door. "Tell you what, I think I'll go and set up those tests now, while I've got the details in my head. I'll be back in a few minutes to let you know when they'll be done."
The door clicked shut behind her, leaving me alone in my room with only my thoughts for company. There was really nothing else to do, really, besides look at the ceiling and think. Not exactly a new situation for me. Given the recent conversation, it was unavoidable, I suppose, that my thoughts would naturally turn to the one thing that worried me the most: my injured leg.
Truth be told, I'd come to the same conclusion that Leslie just had about three or four days ago, during the one and only time in the last nine or so days that everyone had left me alone long enough that I could try my luck at standing up and putting weight on my leg. And before you say it, I know. It hadn't exactly been my brightest idea to do it unsupervised, but I'd also known that it was just about the only way I'd ever be able to do it. And anyway, it wasn't like I'd gotten very far. The amount of pain involved just in doing the relatively simple task of raising my knee off the bed had been...maddening. That was one adjective for it; that is, it was the one I'd use to describe the experience in polite company. Which was also what I wasn't at the time. The river of fire shooting up my leg had caught me so much by surprise that I was pretty sure I would've been found out if there had been anyone nearby, given how vocal and fluent I was in expressing my displeasure.
On the other hand, I did find out that I now knew how to curse in more languages than I did the last time I'd checked. I was up to eight now.
With that experience in mind, it probably shouldn't have surprised me that the effects of whatever had happened in that PT-session-that-I-couldn't-remember had apparently been enough to make Alfred give me enough pain medication to bomb me out for over 24 hours. And of course, with my luck, I had to do whatever-it-was in front of Bruce. Definitely not my best move. He was gonna be worse then ever, now.
Although, come to think of it, that was probably why I hadn't seen him since. Usually Bruce tried to pop into the Manor during his lunchbreak to check up on me. But even if he'd had a late lunchbreak, it would've been over at least half an hour ago, going by the clock on the wall. And, given what Leslie told me about the timeframe, I was pretty sure that was when I was awake for that period of time.
At least, I think I was awake at the time...
But anyway, like I said, it didn't surprise me that Bruce hadn't been round since...or, at least, hadn't been around me while I was awake and aware. See, Bruce doesn't deal well with pain. Specifically, he doesn't deal well with pain in others that he's close to, least of all when it was me or Alfred. He dealt with it by ignoring it completely...or by going off the deep-end on either Gotham's criminal element or whoever was injured at the time. It was hard to tell in advance which one he'd do – that depended on what way the wind blew, for all I'd know – but you did know that he'd react. The best you could do most times was hunker down and do your best to wait to out. And I wasn't usually lucky enough to have time to do that.
Take the last time he'd had up-close-and-personal experience with me being shot, as an example. It was in my shoulder, courtesy of the Joker, and he took it out on me. Me, literally the injured party. That was why said experience ended up with him firing me from being Robin. Oh, even now he'd no doubt say that I had been the one to quit, that I was the one who left him. That the current strains in our relationship were thus mostly my fault.
The truth is...he made me leave.
Back then, Robin was my life. I could have no more willingly given that up than I could have put the bullet in my own shoulder. 'Which is about as likely as me flying to the moon under my own power.' Might be me, but I tended to have this aversion to being shot. Besides, I was in this business to save lives, and to make a difference, not for the pain. And I didn't just mean physical pain, either. Batman is a master of emotional blackmail. So was Bruce, when he put his mind to it. And both of them had made it abundantly clear that I wasn't welcome in the Robin suit anymore.
If I'd had to quit, it was because they'd already fired me.
And now I'd been shot again. Twice. Once in the chest, once in the leg. I hated to think of what he might do to me this time.
At least last time, my shoulder had healed itself relatively quickly. Back then, I'd only needed two weeks before I'd been able to put the sling away for good and set to work on rebuilding the strength I'd lost. I could've done it earlier, a lot earlier, 'cause Leslie had long since declared me fully ready to go back. The only problem was that I'd had no costume to go back to, and thus less of a will to get myself back into shape than I normally had.
Thank goodness for Alfred and Superman, or else I might never have gotten myself back on track again. Those two, and a few other people besides, gave me the direction I'd needed to find a purpose again...to rediscover myself.
This time, though, it was different...worse in some ways, if I was being honest. I was becoming increasingly certain that this injury was more serious. I definitely didn't recall my shoulder being as painful as my leg currently was, even at the very beginning of the recovery process when the shoulder was hurting the worst and Leslie had gotten me doped up pretty good just so I could function. Heck, I'd been doped up better than good, truth be told. I have my reasons for hating painkillers.
On the other hand, at least this time Bruce couldn't fire me.
Not from being Nightwing, anyway. I've put too much of myself into that 'nightsuit' and all it represented, made it too much my own, for me to let him have any say in whether I'd ever wear it again. It was too much a part of me now. I'd fought too hard and come too far from the man I once was to let him drag me back there now.
I'd rather die first than go back to that.
Unfortunately, I wasn't so sure about my job at the BHPD. No matter what Roy said about me being oblivious to people, I was well aware that Bruce wasn't truly comfortable with me being a cop and carrying a gun, let alone with me being a cop in Blüdhaven. There, a clean cop was literally the exception proving the rule that the 'Haven's cops couldn't be trusted. And as much as I usually didn't like admitting it, the Wayne name had a lot of influence over a lot of people, even in Blüdhaven. Especially in Blüdhaven. I was pretty sure that the Powers That Be in the BHPD would be more than happy to get rid of a problematic cop like me.
All Bruce had to do was exert the slightest bit of pressure, drop his name and mine a few times and not even in the same sentence, and I'd be fired or transferred out of there fast so fast I wouldn't even have time to blink. Or the corrupt cops there would quite happily harass me so much that they'd make my life even more of a hell there than it already was, and I'd have to do something just to save my own sanity. If it got to that point, though, I knew that the years hadn't changed me enough to change my response to that kind of situation. Sane thing as before: I'd fire myself first and save everyone the trouble. Maybe even permanently. But that was me, that was the gypsy in me. I've always tended to run from problems I couldn't face; the trouble was knowing when to stop.
In part, that was probably why Bruce's recent distance was bothering me so much. I just knew he was cooking up something in that head of his, I just didn't know what, and part of me wasn't all that sure I was going to enjoy finding out. And I couldn't get out of this bed to either find out what it was or make my getaway before I found out.
On the other hand, Leslie did say it might be nothing. I remembered that much. There was a chance that I might be worrying and stressing myself out over nothing, that the high levels of pain in my leg were nothing more than the normal response to getting shot there. What was that quote Alfred told me once? It was something about pain... Ah, yes, it was about how the pain we feel at any one point was always the worst we'd ever felt, but the memory of it faded quickly once it was over. Or something like that.
Then again, knowing my luck, it might not be nothing either. It might in fact be something. In which case I really was screwed, wasn't I? But if it was something...then what was it? And, once again, was it something I really wanted to know?
Thankfully, Leslie came back into my room before I could follow that trail of thought too far. She knew me too well to leave me alone and let me think about these kinds of things for too long. The click of the door shutting behind her certainly came as a welcome reprieve from my thoughts, I knew that much. I refocused my attention on the rest of the world just as the elderly doctor was settling herself in the worn armchair near the head of my bed, her manner all-businesslike and her smile tense, though her grayish brown eyes were warm. "Well, everything's organised, but I'm afraid that I've got some good news and some bad news for you, Dick."
Carefully blanking my expression, I raised one eyebrow of my own and abruptly decided that I could do with some cheering up. "Really? Good news first, then."
"I managed to get you in this afternoon so that you'll have all tests finished and be back at the Manor by tea-time."
'That's the good news? Shesh', I thought to myself. It didn't sound all that appealing to me. The way I was already feeling, I'd be so worn out by the coming trip that I doubted I'd be getting much of a late meal before falling asleep for the night (or what counted as the night for me). I nodded anyway, taking a deep breath – or as deep as I could get it with my ribs still healing – to prepare myself for the rest of it. "And the bad?"
"The bad news is that you need to be ready to leave in five minutes." She shrugged apologetically, a sympathetic look in her eyes as if she knew exactly what she was asking me to do. Which she probably did, darn her. "The only other opening was a week away, and that's too long to leave you like this without the proper treatment. If you ask me, we've left this long enough already." She paused a moment and seemed to consider something. "Do you want me to get Alfred in to help you dress?"
My immediate reaction was to suck in a breath for a complete and utter denial. No way in hell was I gonna need help dressing. I hadn't needed help to do that since long before I came to the Manor, no matter what Alfred thought of how carnies are raised.
Then I exhaled that breath and took about the same amount of time to think. Unfortunately for me and my pride, my objections didn't stand up long to the machine in my head. Or a bit of pain from three mending ribs from a too-deep breath. I barely needed to make another move in my endless quest to find a comfortable position to be reminded why these tests were going to be a Good Thing To Do, and also why it was going to be Yet Another Very Painful Experience. I sighed and nodded slowly, admitting reluctantly, "That...probably would be a good idea."
See, I knew I'd have enough trouble getting myself out the room to also have to worry about taking the detour to the closet where my clothes were stored. At the very least, I figured I'd probably need help picking out a more suitable set of pants than these boxers that Barbara gave me a few years ago at some personal milestone – I don't quite remember which one it was now. Acrobatic teddy bears, while admittedly nice (well, "cuddly" was Barb's term for them, but that's not a word that is generally allowed past my lips so "nice" would have to do instead) in private, they did absolutely nothing for a man's sense of pride and dignity if one was seen wearing them in public.
Leslie nodded, but didn't move away. Which meant that there was something else on her mind. It didn't take her long to get it out. Locking her gaze with mine and leaning forward in her chair, she told me quietly, "The other bad news is that this is going to hurt. A lot. I won't lie to you, Dick. You'll probably need something to help you handle the pain you're going to experience."
I gave a mental snort at that one. As if I didn't already have enough drugs coursing through my I got given much more I'was gonna be so high I'd be floating to the moon. I scowled at the bedspreads, disgusted with myself and the entire situation. There was no way that I was going to give in to that prospect easily just because some Doctor (even if it was Leslie) told me so. "Can I try it without anything first?" I pleaded, fixing Leslie with my best earnest expression. 'Maybe I'll be lucky and the ones I'm already on will be enough...'
Leslie sighed resignedly, almost as if she'd expected me to make that response. Then again, it wouldn't have surprised me if she had. She knew what I thought about taking drugs and painkillers, and why. Maybe that was why she didn't argue it with me like she usually would with Bruce. "That's fair enough," she agreed, standing and brushing imaginary lint off her skirt. "I'll go and get Alfred for you, and then I'll warn everyone what's going on." She flashed me a warm smile and a wink on her way out the door, and then was gone.
So now I was alone again. For as long as it lasted. Personally, I figured I'd give it no more than thirty seconds before Alfred would be in here to "help" me, which really meant it'd be the Do Everything For The Poor Invalid kind of help. It also meant that I figured I had just about as long to prove to Alfred that just because the words started with the same pair of letters didn't mean that 'injured' equaled 'incompetent'.
Right. First order of business in all that would be to get myself upright, at least sitting if not standing.
All things considered, sitting up was actually fairly easy. Broken ribs might be a bitch to try and get comfortable with, but at least I could support them by wrapping my good arm around my torso whilst I held my breath and levered myself upright.
Okay, okay, so it hurt like the blazes, sweat was pouring off me, and I was feeling rather faint and nauseous by the time I was upright. But hey, I was sitting up, right?
Well, sorta sitting up. Slouched shoulders, hunched over, unable to straighten up, but it was still more vertical than I'd managed in a while. A quick check of the good old internal clock once I'd recovered told me that no more than fifteen seconds had passed. All in all, that meant I was doing pretty good today. So far, at least.
The next task would be getting my legs over the side of the bed. My left leg, the uninjured one, was easy. One simple move, barely even two seconds, and that was done. I admit, I was elated at my progress. And I knew, I just knew, that in a few moments, I'd be standing again for the second time in three weeks.
False sense of security anyone?
In hindsight, it really shouldn't have surprised me so much to discover the level of agonising fire that flashed through my entire body when I moved the right leg. Not even the last time I'd moved the leg without painkillers compared to it. Then, my memories said that the movement had been unconscious, more of a twitch than anything.
But this, this was entirely conscious and deliberate. I felt everything.
And I mean everything.
Even just starting to swing the leg over the side of the bed triggered the blood draining away from my face and sent cold sweat trickling down my face and back as I struggled to overcome my natural aversion to high-level agony.
By the time I got the darn thing near the edge of the bed, I was also muttering the vilest curses I knew on one Diablo Simmons and denouncing his heritage the best way I knew how: in Romany. While in general I might not have remembered a lot from my circus days, I did remember the language of my childhood. It tended to come out of my mouth at instinctive moments, moments when I forgot my training and my years with Bruce. And if there was one thing the gypsies did very well, it was invent insults.
Thankfully, I'd managed to ride out the pain and cool myself down to the point where only the occasional muttered invective was slipping past my lips by the time Alfred came into the room. If he was surprised that I was sitting up all by myself – quite literally for the first time in days – and on the edge of the bed, let alone muttering to myself like I was crazy, he showed no major sign of it.
But, no, wait, I did catch the tiniest hesitation in his movements and a small twitch of one eyebrow as he entered the room proper. It was the kind of hesitation-and-twitch reaction that you really had to squint to see, and even then it was so easy to miss. But that was Alfred for you. He never really had to say much for me to know what he was feeling. I knew he was disappointed with me, I just didn't know how bad it was going to be.
After that tiniest of outward reactions, Alfred promptly took over the process of getting me ready just like he always has, simply by virtue of being in the room. His movements were as precise as always, giving no hint of what lay beneath his gentlemanly veneer. It was only when he spoke that he gave it all away. "What would you like to wear today, young man?" he asked me, even as he was briskly pulled various items out of the wardrobe.
'Uh oh, "young man" time. Not good.' With that tone of voice and that particular term of address, I knew I was definitely in for it now. I usually only got that when I'd just done something terminally stupid, crazy, or fool-hardy. Or all three.
But I also knew that I was too tired and sore from getting to the edge of the bed to care. It figured that the one time I actually wanted the release of being on drugs, would also be the one time that the damn things had pretty much worn off. 'Probably shouldn't have said no to Leslie's offer, eh Grayson?'
"Shorts or a very baggy pair of jeans," I replied quickly, distrustfully eyeing off the tight-fitting garments he'd already pulled out for me, "or just something easy for me to get on and off without touching the leg." It wasn't that I didn't want to save myself some pain. I did. Like I said before, I might be many things, but I wasn't masochistic. No, what I did want was a little bit of dignity, seeing as I didn't doubt that the hospital techs would want to put me in one of those awful gapping-at-the-back gowns for the tests. More to the point, I didn't want to have to get said technicians to "help" me get dressed. I'd had enough of that kind of assistance by the time I turned fifteen, thank you very much. "Probably a pair of baggy shorts would be best," I finally added, thinking that that would also allow easier access to the wound if necessary.
Alfred nodded briskly, and a pair of baggy cargo shorts promptly appeared on the bed. Elastic waist, gunmetal grey fabric with a navy blue trim on the leg cuffs. Certainly nothing to write home about, as they say. 'Still...'
'Gunmetal gray...and blue trim...' I couldn't help but frown as I gingerly reached over to rub the fingertips of my right hand over the fabric of the shorts. There was something...something about the shorts that was triggering something inside my head, something to do with one of the big hazy spots in my memory I'd been living with ever since I woke up in the hospital. But what was setting it off? Was it the colour combination? The texture of the fabric? Or something else entirely? "Hey, Al," I called out suddenly, "these shorts came as part of a set, didn't they?"
The old man – well, older anyway – poked his head around the closet door from where he seemed to be neck deep in socks. "Those?" he queried, one eyebrow slightly cocked. That was either puzzlement or Alfred about to pull out a memory, I think. "I believe they do indeed come as a set." His head ducked back out of sight for a moment.
And then, just like magic, it seemed like I had the matching t-shirt in my hands before I even had time to blink. Maybe sooner. Same texture, same gray fabric, same navy trim around the collar and sleeves. I looked down at it even as I rubbed my hand over the material. 'Drat. Nothing.' Compared to those shorts, this top was a blank canvas. 'Nope, nothing unusual here', I thought to myself in disgust. 'Maybe it's just those shorts for some stupid reason. Yeah, like maybe I'm imagining the whole darn thing.' Growling mentally in frustration at my uncooperative brain, I tossed the shirt towards my right so it could join the shorts sitting there.
It landed face-up...revealing the corner of a logo I didn't immediately recognise. I quickly spread the tee out on the bed in order to see it more clearly. Turned out, it was nothing more than the BPD logo. 'Drat and darnations.' The way my mental radar had been going off at full speed, I'd expected it to be something more major, along the lines of life-shattering major. Turned out it was just the familiar sight of the BPD's civvies that my drug-clogged brain had failed to fully process. 'Great.' I must be so desperate to get out of here that now I was probably seeing things. 'Paranoia, thy name is Grayson.' Which was probably why I talked to myself so much.
Now, if only that uneasy feeling that was making the hairs on my neck rise would just calm down, then I might actually be able to believe that.
Alfred, kind soul that he is, chose precisely that moment to materialise beside the bed from somewhere deep inside that closet of mine – or, rather, from somewhere deep inside the closet that he let me use whenever I was staying in the Manor for a while. He must've seen some trace of my disquiet on my face, because the first thing out of his mouth was a question. "Master Dick? Are you alright?"
'Yeah, never better', the sarcastic part of me shot back. And people wondered why I take a moment before I replied to questions – it wasn't to think of an answer, it was to think of a different one. 'On the other hand, at least we're back to "Master Dick" again.' I sighed and shrugged. "I'm fine. Just thinkin' crazy things, that's all." Giving my head a small shake, I decided that a subject change was in order. I looked up at Alfred and gave him my best reassuring smile. "So, what say we get this show on the road?"
Alfred, though, wasn't all that reassured. There's definitely nothing wrong with his eyesight, whatever his age may be. He said nothing, though, bless his heart.
No, he did something even better that that. He told me that I needed his help to put the shorts on. And I agreed, thinking that what little remained of the drugs from earlier should be enough to get me through this, that I could do it with Alfred there to help me. Still hadn't learnt my lesson from earlier, had I?
At least this time I was already on the edge of the bed.
It wasn't too bad when he had to lift the foot on my bad leg to slip it through the short-leg.. Sure, seeing white flashes before my eyes was an interesting experience, but it was also distracting enough to ensure I kept my grip on reality.
Then he helped me to stand so he could pull the shorts up to my waist.
I was wrong about the drugs being enough to get me through.
Even as high as I was, it wasn't enough. Nowhere near enough.
By the time he let me sit down on the bed again, I was pretty sure I wasn't conscious. Not fully. Not like I normally was, even though I was fairly sure my eyes were still open. I certainly wasn't in any state to complain or launch a protest when Alfred left me, let alone be able to keep myself upright without him there to support me. My body crumpled back on the bed and I laid there, staring blearily at the ceiling and vaguely hoping I'd find the energy to move before my neck and back cramped too badly.
Then Alfred popped back into my field of vision, with another face besides his that I didn't immediately recognise. I blinked when the face started speaking, asking me questions. Might as well as have been speaking to the air, for all the sense I made of it. My eyes dragged themselves over to return to Alfred, to the one face I did know. I've seen Alfred look like many things, over the years. But not quite like this. 'I wonder who they're so worried about...?'
I was still struggling to figure out an answer to that when I felt a sickeningly familiar warmth steal through my body and encroach on my thoughts. That was when I realized who the other face had to belong to. 'Leslie...' It was also only then that I noticed the feeling of having a needle stuck in my arm. 'Great. Just what I don't need. Another needle, another damn drug in my system.' Warm hands on my arms stilled my instinctive reaction to that.
More words. Someone was speaking. Probably to me. But I couldn't hear it, and I didn't want to hear it. My last, fleeting, coherent thought was that at least I'd soon be too busy being insensate to be angry at having my choice taken away from me.
Then, there was only darkness.
Next up/Teaser: Hospitals and Dick do not mix. It'll be a shorter chapter, I promise.