Anna Devane reached the hospital in record time in response to her daughter's panicked call. She raced through the corridors to the surgery unit, where Robin said she would be waiting for her.
Robin sank weeping into her arms. "Mom."
"Robin? Robin? Robin - what is it? What is it?"
"I'm so glad you're here!" Robin gripped her like a vise, crying onto her shoulder.
"Sssh. Sssh, it's ok," Anna said, trying for comfort even as her heart was racing with concern. Something definitely wasn't ok, not for her extremely level-headed physician daughter to dissolve into a flood of tears like this.
"I can't do it anymore," Robin murmured brokenly.
Anna gasped, her worries redoubled. What's going on? "What?"
"I'm so sorry."
Worry rapidly turning to alarm, Anna drew back to look her daughter in the eyes. She grasped her cold hands tightly. "What is it? What is it? Is it the baby?"
Robin daubed at her eyes with a crumpled tissue.
"Is…is Patrick ok? What is it?"
"No, Patrick's ok."
Then what's happened? "What? Talk to me, Robin."
Robin looked up at her with sorrow shining in her large brown eyes. "It's Dad."
Robert. Anna straightened, her face hardening. What about him? What's he done now? "What?"
"I'm so sorry," Robin was saying apologetically, her face crumpled with regret. "I wanted to tell you but he wouldn't let me."
A jolt of pure panic shot through Anna. The hospital – is he here…Robin's face…Oh my god, something terrible has happened. "What happened to Robert?" she demanded. When Robin didn't answer immediately she repeated with more urgency, her voice rising, "What's happened to Robert?"
Robin ground out a harsh sigh.
She needed to know. She had to know. Now. She gave her daughter's hands a sharp shake to get her to focus. "Robin."
"He has colon cancer."
Anna stared at her daughter as the words struck with the force of bullets. What did she mean, colon cancer? When did -
"And he had a complication tonight. He has an infection that spread bacteria into his bloodstream; and he just had emergency surgery."
What? Her mind reeled. She tried to form a coherent word but only meaningless sound emerged.
"I'm sorry, Mom." Robin moved back automatically as a gurney surrounded by nurses was wheeled down the corridor towards them.
Anna took a few steps backward, unable to take her eyes from the still figure on the bed. It was Robert. Robert, being taken from the post-op room. Oh my god.
"How'd it go?" she heard Robin ask, and only then did she become aware of Patrick, standing in the middle of the corridor in blue scrubs. He must have been in the OR with Robert, Anna thought.
He looked from one to the other of them. His face was grave. "I wish I could say it went better," he said in a soft voice as Robin's face fell.
Anna felt her heart clench.
Anna grabbed onto her daughter, holding her close about the shoulders as Patrick gave them the news.
"The cancer caused direticulitis, which are bulges in the colon that can become infected, rupture – it's a common side effect of colon cancer."
Anna nodded. She gripped Robin's hands hard, not sure any more who was trying to comfort whom. "Were you able to fix it, in surgery?"
"We washed his abdominal cavity with antibiotic solution. But, the infection had already spread to his spleen, which we had to remove."
"Well, that's ok," Anna said. "Isn't it? I mean, you know, people…" she took a deep breath and ran a hand through her hair, suddenly uncertain, "survive without spleens, right?"
Patrick nodded, but looked no happier. "Yeah. Makes it harder to fight infection, which can become critical in his condition."
This can't be happening. Robert. "I want to see him," Anna said thickly as sorrow began to lodge in her throat.
"Absolutely," Patrick agreed.
Anna swallowed hard and pressed a kiss into her distraught daughter's hair as Robin wiped at her eyes with the tips of her fingers. He's going to be ok. He must be. She could feel the tears stinging her own eyes but resolutely resolved not to let them fall. She had to be strong now, for Robin. For them both.
"He's not going to keel over from the shock of seeing me, is he?" she asked Patrick in as practical a tone as she could muster.
"I can't promise anything – just don't go in there kicking him in the chest."
Robin gasped a laugh into Anna's chest as she held onto her mother for dear life.
Anna tried for a smile but it came out more like a grimace. "Ok."
"We did everything we could." Patrick assured them. "It's up to him now."
Anna nodded, more vigorously this time. Ok, yeah. I understand. I need to see him now.
Anna entered the ICU room and gingerly closed the door behind her.
Her eyes fell on him, lying there so still and vulnerable, and the sight drained all the warmth from her body. She gasped back a sob, then ducked her head in an attempt to gather herself, willing herself not to break down as she slowly approached the bed.
She stood for a moment, hands on hips, just looking at him. His bright blue eyes closed, his graying hair cut short against his scalp. Oh, Robert. What's happened to you? She could feel the tears begin to slide down her face and reached up quickly to brush them away.
Unable to restrain herself she reached out and touched her hand to the side of his face, gently running her fingers down his temple and cupping his cheek with her palm. Her thumb brushed lightly over his chin.
"Ah Anna," he breathed. His eyes were still tightly shut but the edges of his mouth curled upward into a ghost of a smile.
He still recognized her touch. She smiled faintly and dropped her hand, not wishing to intrude where she wasn't wanted.
"Aren't you a sight for sore eyes." His eyes flickered open and he gazed at her with undisguised pleasure on his face.
His words, his expression, warmed her a little and she gave a tiny nod in response, brushing away the tears that continued to fall.
She refused to be maudlin, or sentimental. She knew he would hate that. Instead, "You look like hell," she told him matter-of-factly.
"Well," he returned, his normally robust baritone voice reduced to a painful rasp, "I'm, uh, I'm gonna…lull them into a false sense of security…then I'm…I'm bustin' outta here."
Good, he's trying to keep things upbeat, too. "You're getting a bit old for that, aren't you – Gramps?"
He returned her smile. "Men don't age," he murmured. "They get character, like…red wine." He continued with a ghost of a teasing grin, "Now women…"
Anna breathed out a laugh. "You bite your tongue," she admonished, but grinned at him in genuine happiness. If he felt well enough to be teasing her then things couldn't be as bad as all that.
"If you're here to pick over my carcass – you're a little early."
Carcass. No, please, not that. Anna stole a glance out the window to where their daughter stood waiting anxiously, almost beside herself with worry. Abruptly a roiling wave of fear crashed over her once again – a rip tide threatening to pull her under. Oh, god, he could really be dying… "Robin called me," she told him, unable to keep a blur of tears from her voice.
"Ah, oh," Robert groused unhappily, his face sour. A sigh came, deep and weary.
Anna pulled a stool over next to his bed and straddled it. "You know what's so funny," she began, fighting to keep her tone light and holding up a finger to emphasize her point, "while I've got my dancing shoes all picked out," she leaned on her hands against the side of the bed, "she's actually worried about you." Robin wouldn't worry like this unless things were truly desperate.
"Yeah, she's like that."
She stroked his arm with a tenderness she couldn't bring herself to express aloud. "I, however, know better." She could feel unshed tears shining in her eyes. "You have died plenty of times, and we still can't get rid of you."
"That's 'cause…I know you would be devastated…"
He said it with a smirk, but the words cut like a sharp stiletto to the heart. Oh, Robert. Do you have any idea how right you are? Do you care? Even after everything that's happened between us, I still care - so much more than you know. She forced her lips into a smile to hide the deep hurt lacerating through her. "Clearly."
"Think we ditch this place," he went on, his eyes drooping nearly closed, "get back to the…back to the islands." His brow creased for a moment and he stopped, in obvious pain.
I can't bear to see you like this. "Well the last time we were there, you know," she replied briskly, wiping away a fresh trail of tears, "I think I knocked you out cold. Ah –" she looked down quickly before her mask of composure could slip – "you don't look ready for a rematch."
"Oh…I've got some new…moves." He drew out the word 'new' with deliberate relish.
She shook her head at him. He was good, she'd grant him that, but Casanova he wasn't. "I've seen all your moves."
"And?" he queried, getting back to the question at hand. "Dot dot dot…"
"It's a date." I will promise you anything, Robert Scorpio, if it will make you well again.