Medical termini will be explained at the end, followed by a lot of teary-eyed rambling ;)
-four weeks later-
Sighing, Bruce dropped the 'Blüdhaven's Gazette' and rolled his eyes at the ceiling of the hospital room. Patience, he told himself, imagining Alfred's voice, and faith. But definitely more patience.
A deep breath from the figure on the hospital bed joined Bruce's musing, as if to confirm his thoughts. Immediately Bruce's attention turned to his son, checking all vital signs and observing the medical machinery that was still attached to him.
But his blood pressure was as it should be and his heartbeat regular, neither Dick's oxygen level nor his blood sugar had dropped; everything was as fine as it was a few seconds ago. Dick had merely taken a deep breath.
Bruce shook his head at his own anxiety; he really needed to get a grip on himself. Things were finally working out, were looking up, but Bruce couldn't bring himself to trust the situation. Dick was still weak and vulnerable, and Bruce didn't think he'd ever stop worrying as long as his son lay in that bed.
Patience and faith, he repeated, smiling a bit.
A week ago, they had moved Dick out of the isolation unit and into a special room at the ICU. The respiratory system had been exchanged for a simple breathing mask three days ago, and Dick's lungs had been holding their own since, though the doctor still insisted on keeping the oxygen flow on maximum; his breathing was still a little bit shallow thanks to all the medication, and a steady oxygen flow limited the risk of infections.
Dick's new bone marrow was working by now, spreading blessed white cells through his body that reestablished his immune system. When they spotted the first healthy leukocyte, the doctor had been grinning so madly that no words had to be exchanged. No cancerous cell had appeared since then, though the level of his white cells rose steadily. A week later Dick was ready to be moved out of the isolation unit with a wonderful note in his hospital file that read 'complete remission'.
Bruce smiled fondly at the memory, but tried to keep in mind that things were not over yet. After the usual procedure a cancer patient was only labeled as 'cured' after five long years of 'long-term remission'. Dick's case was very promising since the cause of his illness had been removed, but cancer was still such an unpredictable disease. Sometimes cancer cells managed to work their way into the host's DNA; sometimes cancerous blood cells managed to sneak into the areas that got protected from radiation, like the central nervous system, and survived, triggering a relapse later.
The thought of relapse made Bruce's chest constrict. He wouldn't allow it. He had beat the odds one time already and he would do it again. Dick would not die, and Freeze would not win. Patience, faith, and control. Enough to keep Freeze alive even if he escaped Arkham again, and control enough not to strangle his wayward son along the way.
Bruce glanced back at the newspaper in his lap. Blüdhaven was going crazy for the return of her hero, but the chasm between the vigilantism fans and its opponents had become even wider. Nightwing had always been given broad acceptance in Blüdhaven, but Jason had his own ways, and those were... disputable, to say the least.
Yes, Bruce had been glad when Jason announced two weeks back that he would take up Nightwing's mantle for the time being, and yes, Bruce had been glad when he actually went to Blüdhaven one week later to stop a bio weapon deal. Things were working out; Jason had even consented to wear a tracker and a comm link connecting him to Oracle and the rest of Gotham's heroes. Bruce had been elated... until he found out that Jason didn't yield, he only changed the rules – a comm link for a gun.
When Oracle told Bruce that Nightwing used a gun, he had been furious. But the next day police reports confirmed that no one had been killed, and after a second night full of gun shots the newspapers were full of pictures of criminals that stood in queue in front of the BPD to turn themselves in. When Jason had walked into Dick's hospital room that day, he nonchalantly argued that he didn't kill anyone, just made sure they wouldn't be walking away any time soon. And electric escrima sticks and sharp batarangs could be pretty lethal too if used in a certain manner.
He had been right, Bruce had to agree with grinding teeth. Plus, nobody had been killed, even though the criminals he shot had been rapists and murderers- the Red Hood's usual prey. It was just so... so Jason. Always pushing Bruce's boundaries; putting up a fight about everything. Well, he was not Dick, as he repeatedly reminded Bruce every time they talked about Nightwing, and Bruce had best to accept that. Especially since Red Robin and Robin both had expressed that they trusted Jason's aim.
Bruce didn't know what exactly had happened in Europe, but he sensed the changing dynamics in his boys. Whatever it was, it had made Tim and Damian change their opinion about Jason, and soon Bruce found himself solely worrying about the former killer. Things changed, and it was high time for Bruce to catch up. Patience and faith, right?
"Seems like you're getting your reunion at last," he grunted into Dick's direction, but didn't get any response. "But I'm sure there will be guns and torn nerves instead of hugs."
Dick was doing well. They had begun to lower the coma medication, taking it off step by step. Dick would be free of it in a few days, but waking up would probably still take some time. That was okay – he had all the time in the world now. There were small signs of life already. He wasn't strong enough yet to wake up, but now and then Dick scratched at the surface of consciousness. Sometimes the muscles of his eyelids twitched, or a hand moved a few inches. Just a couple of minutes ago Bruce had shifted Dick into a lateral position with the help of a nurse, and Dick had made a humming sound that almost sounded like his trademark 'five more minutes'-whine.
As much as that had made Bruce's heart ache, the sight of the red, sore spots on his back had hauled him back to reality. Unmoved, the nurse had applied ointment and explained to him that they couldn't let Dick lie in the same position for a longer period of time any more, else he would develop pressure ulcers. Bruce had to shudder at the thought – a 23 year old and decubiti? It made his thoughts drift towards the not so distant recovery at Wayne Manor that would also imply a lot of sleeping and lying down. Bruce made a mental note to call Alfred later and tell him about that problem. The old man had already begun to prepare the Manor for Dick's recovery and would be mad at Bruce if he had to change his plan at the last minute.
They couldn't risk any decubiti now, when Dick's immune system was still as weak as a newborn's. He hadn't even got the vaccine shots for polio and tetanus yet, wouldn't for at least two more weeks. Dick's room in the ICU was cleaned daily with disinfectants, and all visitors had to wear gloves and masks. Tim and Damian, who usually came right after school, had a bag of clothes in the hospital lockers on the first story and changed out of their school uniforms before coming anywhere near their brother.
In fact, Bruce was awaiting them any minute now. Tim had promised to come after school today so that Bruce could return to Wayne Industries and pick up his work. Life went on, and Wayne Industries needed a boss. Since Dick was doing better, Bruce dared to leave for longer periods of time. Preparing missions for Batman, running Wayne Industries, satisfying the gossiping media once again and still spending most of his time in the hospital – Bruce couldn't imagine what he would do without Tim. Need to reschedule an arrangement? Call Tim. Need to check out a new drug the docs wanted to give Dick? Call Tim. Need someone to get up at 2 AM to clean the streets of Gotham? Call Tim. Though the boy had always been mature and trustworthy, he had surpassed himself over the last few weeks. Dick would be proud when he woke up, and Bruce was determined that he wouldn't be lonely when he did. 'Lonely'.. the word haunted him, so Bruce had made sure someone of the family was always with him, and Wallace or Clark were only a phone call away if any nocturnal emergencies required the presence of all of them.
Bruce wondered if Damian would come along with Tim today. He often did; in fact, the boy spent most of his time with Dick. It was touching to see him caring so much, opening up to simple gestures such as holding his brother's hands or squeezing his shoulder. After a while Bruce had realized that he had never spent so much time in Damian's presence before. In Robin's, yes, but not in his son's. Lucky for him, the whole ordeal seemed to have made Damian realize how little effort he had put in getting to know his family, too, and so the boy had started to ask questions. About Robin at first, then about Dick, and the stories Bruce told him had started to include Timothy, Barbara and Jason as well at some point.
It had been Damian, too, who noticed that Dick's hair was growing back. Bruce had become so accustomed to the sight of his bald son that he had stopped paying attention a while ago – Damian, though, had noticed the darker shades. The doctor had explained that Dick's hair should start to grow back as soon as the chemo and radiation therapies were over, and he was right. Along with his white blood cells Dick's hair had started to come back, and Bruce had every reason to believe that it would grow with all the former speed and unruliness that had made Alfred surrender ever so often.
Most often, hair regrew in curls after chemotherapy, and Dick's wasn't likely to be an exception. He would probably have a fit when he realized – Bruce had to laugh silently when he tried to imagine Dick, staring into a mirror and grabbing his hair incredulously. It would be so... usual. Dick going overboard because his hair wouldn't fall 'perfectly' was routine. Wonderful, normal, everyday routine.
With everything that lay still ahead of them, they needed a bit of normalcy.
On the bed, Dick moved an arm and tried to turn on his back. Gently, Bruce caught him and shifted him onto his side again. Dick lay still for about two seconds before trying again, completely ignoring Bruce's attempts to be careful.
- the end -
decubitus (pl.: -i): or pressure ulcers, decubiti ulcers, bedsores, are injuries underneath the skin of an area over a bony prominence (eg at the tailbone) that appear due to prolonged pressure appliance. A patient who has to lie in bed for a long time in the same position will develop bedsores, because at some point the tissue between bony prominence and bed will suffer an obstruction of the blood flow. Those pressure spots may 'open' if untreated and may result in a very nasty, persistent wound that will keep being infected and slowly dissolves the tissue. Very, very, disgusting stuff. DON'T GOOGLE. Seriously. Don't.
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Wow, it's done! :D
This story means so much to me, and I want to thank everyone who read, reviewed and/or faved. Each and every word meant so much to me, I don't even know how to express my thanks. I was so anxious when I posted the first chapter, and you were all so kind to me. I've gained so much more confidence in my English – I don't know if you guys can understand this since most of you are native speakers – it's a pleasure to be able to write in a second language AND get praised for it :D. (Seriously, just a week ago a lecturer kept telling my seminar class how awful our English was; that most of us shouldn't even bother to come to take the exam... some of my fellow students actually started to cry, while I was all like 'bitch please. I got 800 reviews.' XD)... but mostly I have to thank Callypse for betaing! You've done an awesome job, and I learned so much about spelling, grammar and punctuation thanks to you! This is the first time ever I understood what a semicolon is for, and I swear I will learn how to use the -ing -form one day :). Without Callypse you all would have had to read stuff like 'Jason slammed the brackets of his car' or 'he motioned to/for/at/wtf?! Bruce'. XD
And now, to the end. Yes, Dick survives! I know that's not what all of you wanted, but I hope I managed to keep up the suspense. Honest to God – it was planned that way since I began with the prologue... though I did change the plot various times before beginning to write. Dick didn't survive the first four plot writes! He only made it through once I added Mr. Freeze, and I struggled hard to add him. At first, the story was a regular 'guy-gets-cancer' plot, but I needed something more drastic; something that would harden Bruce's resolve and make even pighead Jason see clearly. I also liked the more Batman-style story because, well, it was supposed to be a Batman story and not a 'convertible guy gets convertible disease in convertible setting' story. I did NOT like that the arbitrariness of the cancer disease got corrupted thus, and that's why I struggled long. The harshness about cancer is that it may hit all of us anytime, but with a plotting Mr. Freeze, Dick isn't 'anyone' anymore. So I decided to do it 50:50; it's a poisoning plot, but the characters don't know for most of the time. Dick doesn't know it at all! This was really important to me – they needed to deal with this like normal people would have to.
Many of you asked for a sequel, and to be completely honest: I don't know! I didn't want to write one and didn't plan one. While writing, I noticed that many things are left unsaid – but I totally underestimated them! Only when I wrote the last 5, 6 chapter did the whole intensity of things left unsaid really hit me – hello? Dick doesn't know he has been poisoned! How will Jason and Bruce's relationship develop? Will Dick ever be able to be Nightwing again? Or do a Quadrouple? What happens if he doesn't? And OMG the conservatorship action! I never expected it to be so much and now I'm really mad at myself because ARRGH SO OBVIOUS! So what now? No idea. I feel the need to add something, but I don't know what. There are a few scenes in my head (mostly about the relationship between Dick, Damian and Bruce) but they're not enough for a whole story, and I will NOT write anything without a fully satisfying story plot. I'm ridiculously proud of Lifelines and I will never write anything connecting to it that doesn't fulfill the standard I think I set in LF. So basically, to all of you wanting a sequel: I'm sorry, I can't promise anything. I see the need, but I haven't planned anything.
I don't have any plans for another story either, by the way. I'll be very busy for the next weeks (I'll be working with a comic artist for the next two months! :D), so who knows what will happen. For all of those who reviewed Interferences and asked for a sequel: Thank you so so much! You are awesome for liking my gory little whumpage story. I don't have a sequel planned, but I though about writing a few one shots in an 'Interferences Universe' that are (loosely) connected. Because really, fuck continuity! But we'll see. I have ideas about a story about Dick and Damian; and one about Dick and Jason... but nothing is seriously planned. What would you like to see? Give me some ideas! ;D
Okay, time to come to the end. I'm rambling! If you have a few seconds to drop me a line, I would kindly ask you to tell me what scene/chapter you liked most. I for my part definitely loved the first half of the story more, because Dick's POV is awesome. I loved every interaction between Jason and Dick, mostly the arguing in chapter 6 and the after-breakdown talk in chapter 9.
One last, very important thing: PLEASE REGISTER FOR STEM CELL DONATION! To register you only have to write to an organization like the DKMS in Germany or the National Marrow Donor Program in the USA and they'll send you a pair of Q-tips to scratch at the inside of your mouth. Then you send it in and it's done– you're registered! I did it in December, it's really not much of an act. IF you're ever a match, you will always have the possibility to opt out or get a full sedation during harvesting. Not registering makes Damian cry! (and Tim will have to knock you down)
That said – thank you! I love you, I'll miss you, and I hope we'll read each other again!
Love, pekuxumi :)