When he came to, he was no longer by the river with Robin.
He recognized the room they were standing in as the emergency room at Gotham General. A team of people worked frantically around a man on the table. A nurse was squeezing a bag, forcing oxygen into the victim's lungs. A petite young doctor was up on the table, her blonde ponytail swinging as she continued chest compressions.
"Bruce, you shouldn't be here," Martha Wayne chastised gently. "It's not time yet."
She laid a hand on Bruce's shoulder as he watched the scene unfold before them, and he remembered what happened. Two other nurses were trying to stop the blood flow from both of his injuries until they could get him to surgery. He arched an eyebrow when he noticed he was no longer wearing his Batman attire.
This had been too serious for Alfred to care for after all. The cover story was that Bruce Wayne had been attacked yet again.
"Jane! Get ten pints of oh-negative and start another bag of saline. He still doesn't have enough blood volume to get his heart pumping!" An older man barked the orders as he hustled around each person.
"Mother, there are worse ways to go. This was hardly even painful," Bruce said. He watched the coordinated chaos around them. Martha stepped in front of her son and frowned.
"This isn't like you, Bruce. What's changed?"
"I'm not sure. Leading two lives gets exhausting. When I have the chance to take off the suit and be myself again, it's only when I sleep."
"That's understandable. But think about those you would leave behind," his father added, joining the two of them. "There are people who need you."
Bruce scoffed and gestured to the hospital staff.
"They don't need me, father. They need Batman." The nurses now were charging the paddles on the defibrillator. CPR wasn't working and he could feel himself slipping away. He barely felt the shock course through him as they continued trying to revive him.
"I beg to differ," Thomas said gently. He grabbed Bruce's shoulders and turned him toward the door of the emergency room. If Bruce's heart had been beating, it would have leapt into this throat.
Dick was standing in the doorway clutching the door frame with both hands. He was trembling and trying in earnest not to cry. His lips were moving but Bruce couldn't tell what he was saying.
"Father, what is he saying? I can't hear him."
Thomas approached Dick, staring down at him sadly.
"He's praying that you make it. More like begging, really. He doesn't want to become an orphan again."
Bruce continued to stare, becoming acutely aware of the ache in his chest that had absolutely nothing to do with the staff in the emergency room. He watched as doctors began stepping back from the table and Dick realized what was going on.
"Doctor, nothing is working. He hasn't had a pulse in over," the nurse checked her watch, "twenty minutes. Even with the hypothermia, the blood loss is too much. It bleeds out faster than we can get it in."
Dick relinquished his grip on the door frame and sunk to his knees, not taking his eyes off the man on the table. Bruce watched as Dick struggled to maintain his composure. Roy knelt next to Dick, putting his arm around Dick's shoulders.
"Look around you, Bruce. It's not just Richard who would suffer this loss," Martha said. She nodded to the waiting room across the hall. Alfred looked on, pure heartbreak etched on his face. Barry hugged Wally tightly to his side, tears openly running down Wally's face as he looked alternately between Bruce and Dick. "Don't choose to go back because of Gotham or Batman. Choose to go back because you want to, because you want to be a father."
Bruce turned as he heard the doctor speak.
"Okay, let's call it. Time of death, oh-four-thirty," he said quietly. His shoulders slumped in defeat.
Bruce flinched when he heard the voice behind him.
"No!" Dick cried, his hand covering his mouth to smother another outburst. "I'm standing right here, you can't die while I'm here," he whispered.
Dick tried to stand, but Roy hugged him tighter and whispered something in his ear. Dick grew still, staring at Bruce lying on the table. The shrill tone of the heart monitor pierced the silence and he could hear several people sniffling.
"Bruce, you know this isn't what you want," Martha pleaded with her son, her hands on his shoulders. "It can't be."
Bruce Wayne looked both of his parents in the eye and nodded in agreement. With one last look at Dick and Alfred, Bruce closed his eyes and turned away from his parents.
Dick twirled his thumbs anxiously as he watched the lines flicker on the heart monitor, the incessant beeping letting him know Bruce was still alive.
Barry and Wally left when Bruce came out of surgery three hours ago. They were headed back to Mount Justice to inform the other members about what happened. Roy only left after Dick's insistence that he needed some time alone. At first he refused, but grudgingly agreed when Dick pointed out that Alfred was here with him.
Alfred went to get them some food from the cafeteria, leaving Dick alone with Bruce. He swallowed thickly as he studied his father. It was easy to pretend he was only sleeping until the hiss of the ventilator ruined that illusion.
Getting Bruce stable enough for surgery was the most difficult part. After his heart started beating on its own again, the doctors had a monumental task ahead of them. With the substantial blood loss, they went through twelve pints of blood before they even took him to the operating room. The femoral artery was repaired and there was minimal muscle and tissue damage. He would have an ugly scar, but that was the worst of it. The abdominal wound required more extensive repair. Bruce Wayne and Batman would be out of commission for quite some time until that healed.
All in all, the surgeons lost count of the number of sutures needed to repair Bruce Wayne's injuries. They wouldn't know the extent of any possible brain damage until he woke up.
Dick breathed a sigh of relief and picked up Bruce's hand. It was much warmer than it had been several hours ago. He squeezed it, hoping for a response. His shoulders drooped when he didn't get one. He squeezed it again anyway.
Had he not been staring he wouldn't have noticed it.
Bruce squeezed back.
His face hopeful, he looked up at Bruce. He was still unconscious.
"I'll take whatever I can get," he whispered and squeezed a third time.
Three days later Dick was curled up in the chair next to the bed fast asleep. Alfred covered him with a blanket the nurse brought in straight from the warmer.
Alfred took a seat in a chair on the other side of the bed, keeping watch over his charges. Dick hadn't left the hospital for more than four hours total since they brought Bruce in. Alfred forced him to return to Wayne Manor to bathe, change into clean clothes and to eat. The food the hospital served was rubbish.
Alfred wrinkled his nose at the thought of eating more of it.
Bruce's vital signs remained stable and they took him off the ventilator while he and Dick left to get lunch that afternoon. It was a positive sign he was breathing on his own. Alfred resumed reading the newspaper, blanching at the ridiculous coverage of Bruce Wayne's attempted murder. Jim Gordon had only told the press that Bruce was assaulted and was seriously injured. The tabloids tried to fill in the rest.
He discarded the paper and glanced out the window. The day was sunny. The snow had disappeared the day after Bruce was admitted. He became acutely aware he was being stared at and he turned.
Bruce's eyes were open, blinking owlishly at him. Alfred leaned forward and smiled, holding a finger to his lips. He pointed at Dick, who was still sleeping.
Bruce seemed to visibly relax when he saw Dick was there, although he made a mental note to ask him about the bandage around his arm.
"What happened," he croaked, his voice barely audible. Alfred gave him a drink of water.
"Victor Zsasz happened, sir. He was apprehended, but not before you were injured. We lost you for nearly half an hour."
Bruce's eyes widened. He remembered the conversation with his parents in the emergency room. He remembered Zsasz spinning around and stabbing him. And he remembered Dick trying to keep him alive.
"How is he?" Bruce asked, resting his hand gently on Dick's head, ruffling his dark hair.
"Master Dick? The physical trauma was nothing. He'll have another scar courtesy. But the emotional trauma was, I imagine, nearly equivalent to what he went through four years ago." Alfred looked at Bruce, who was still staring at Dick. "And I never thought I would say this but thank goodness for cell phones."
Bruce turned to look at him, clearly confused.
"Your communicators were both damaged. Master Dick was to meet Mr. Harper and Mr. West at the movies that night, and they called when he didn't show. He broke your rule about carrying it with him and it saved you both."
Dick stirred. He sat up and stretched, wincing at the kink in his neck.
"Alfred, has anything changed? I didn't mean to fall asleep..." Dick trailed off, noticing Bruce staring at him.
"Dick, good to see you," Bruce said quietly, smiling.
The color drained from Dick's face as the composure he had tried so hard to maintain the last several days crumbled. He collapsed back into the chair and leaned over the bed, clutching Bruce's arm tightly. Alfred slipped from the room without a sound.
"Dick, what's wrong?" Bruce tugged his arm free and rubbed Dick's back.
Dick's shoulders began to shake as he sobbed into the crook of his arm.
"I'm fine, Dick. Really. I'll be okay." He continued rubbing circles on Dick's back until he calmed down.
"But you weren't," he said quietly. "You died out there on Arkham Island and again in the emergency room." He wiped his cheeks with the back of his hand, then stared at both of his hands. "You bled out several times over. Zsasz stabbed you twice, counting on the fact I wouldn't be able to control the bleeding from both wounds."
Bruce remained quiet, knowing Dick needed to talk.
"And he was right, I couldn't control it. I literally had your life in my hands. And it slipped away."
"You didn't let anything happen, Dick. You didn't sit back and let me die, even when I asked you to." He raised the head of his bed slightly, wincing when he sat forward.
"You remember that?"
"I do, and I need to apologize for asking you to do that. I'm sorry. I didn't think about what it would do to you."
"Yeah, well, let's not go through it again."
"I don't want you to have to go through that again," Bruce said, remembering the look on Dick's face in the emergency room. I can't handle seeing that look on your face again, he thought. Bruce watched as Dick sat back in his chair and tucked his legs beneath him. He decided to have a little fun with his son to lighten the mood.
"Now what's this about you bringing your cell phone with you? You know that's something I don't allow…"
Dick cut him off.
"Come on, Bruce, really? You're going to lecture me about that after this? That cell phone saved your life. Well, that cell phone, Barry, Wally, Roy and the doctors here at the…" He crossed his arms and glared at Bruce. Bruce chuckled, his tired eyes now filled with mirth.
"I guess I can let it go just this once," Bruce interjected, enjoying the smile that eased its way back onto Dick's face.
Alfred smiled from just outside the doorway, returning with real food.
It always somehow managed to work out in the end.
For now, at least.