Post by HoM on Jul 10, 2020 16:07:14 GMT -5
He opened the door to the darkened room, the mechanical clunk and hiss of medical machinery vibrating through the air with the low sonic frequency of inevitability. He had come a long way to be here, but it wasn’t as if he could stay away. Even after everything, their friendship was the world’s finest, and he wanted to see his old friend one last time before the frequency changed from inevitable to definitive.
“Your boys are outside. The girls are doing what they can to keep them sane, but they’re yours, aren’t they? Regardless of what anybody says, they’re always going to fret. I wonder if that was you, or Alfred.”
He paused and removed his coat, folding it onto the back of the chair next to the bed.
“Who am I kidding? It was you. Always worrying. Always taking the world on your shoulders so nobody else had to. I’m surprised you lasted this long. All that weight. But if anybody were going to, it would be you. Anyway. I asked for a few minutes alone with you. I hope you don’t mind. Lois and the kids…”
Another pause. He took a seat and chuckled, shaking his head as his father once would have.
“God, listen to me. Your ‘boys’, the ‘girls’, the ‘kids’. Your ‘boys’ grew into fine men. The absolute best. You gave them everything you had and never any less. And your girls… who’d have thought? You always gave everybody such a hard time, but we all saw through it. You pushed because you cared. They’re amazing women. Your whole family… the one you built… you did good work, old friend. The best work.”
“I should have visited more often. But there was always something. Excuses, really. I should have found some way. But the hardest thing is watching those you love growing old while you stay the same. It’s hard. Even for me. Doesn’t matter how invulnerable you are, that’s the kind of hurt that… well, it breaks through, doesn’t it? You knew, of course. You built your armour up better than the rest of us. But… excuses. Everything I could say, every reason I could give… they’re excuses, not reasons. And for that, I’m sorry.”
“You always think you’re going to have forever, but it’s not true. At some point, the world just moves on without you. Or you find out it doesn’t need you anymore. Then again… what if it never did? Yeesh, I’m too old to be thinking like that. I accept where I am today. And I’m happy! I am. And our kids… you should see Jon, Lara and Chris. You remember Jon, right? Our eldest? He calls himself Supernova now. Wanted to try and make a go of something that was his, even though he kept my cape, the cheek. And Lara, she takes after her mom. She’s so sharp and funny. She’d even make you crack a smile. Chris is studying at the Artisan Guild, and once he graduates, there’s a place waiting at Harvard in John Stewart’s architecture program. He’s never mentioned wanting to go into the, uh, ‘family business’, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t. And that’s fine! I’m not saying it’s not. I’m just so lucky to have them, and I can’t imagine what would happen if… if… oh, what’s the point in worrying? After Lois took the Daily Planet interstellar, I thought… well… I don’t know what I thought. But we’re together, even when we’re spread across the galaxy. We’re a family. I get it.”
“Anyway, the kids visit on all the holidays, and Lara is going to spend some time on New Krypton studying with the Science Guild. She says she wants to live on campus, but it’ll be nice to see more of her, even if she’s not staying with us at the farm.”
“What else, what else? Oh! Lyla, Kara and Lena’s daughter, is working with the Titans now. Earth has a Supergirl again, which is fantastic. Lois shows me clippings with the Omni-View, and I’m just blown away. And her parents, they bounce around the cosmos with the LEGION, righting wrongs where they find them. Who would have thought, right? I must admit, I didn’t think it would last, but I’m old fashioned, and I’m stupid. But it’s true love, isn’t it? They’re happy.”
“And then there’s Kon, who I haven’t seen in a few years now, but Kara says he’s doing well. After Kru sacrificed himself, Kon relinquished the Flamebird entity, but he’s still fighting the good fight with Cassie. They call him Valour now. They’ve basically franchised Young Justice across the galaxy, the two of them training teams of heroes to protect their homes. It’s just like it was for us, isn’t it? Used to be, the Justice Society were the first thing that came to mind when you were asked by superheroes. Then, when we came along, and everybody’s first thought was the Justice League. And now, it’s the kids--”
He caught himself.
“--‘The kids’, I’m doing it again. When you’re old, everyone you knew as a kid back then is still a kid to you, right? But they’re not. You see them… and they’re so much better than we ever were. I think… I think we did our job right by them. Our heroes set the bar for us, and we strove to surpass it. We’ve done the same for the Titans, Young Justice… that’s how I know what we did mattered. I look at my children. I look at yours. I look at the world we’ve helped build. We did good. And we had good times, didn’t we? All the adventures we had. All the stories we got to tell. People always thought you were so grim and gritty, but I saw through you.”
He let his glasses slip down his nose and patted the edge of the frame.
“X-Ray Vision, remember?”
He then carefully took his friend’s frail hand into his own and felt a slow heartbeat pulse shallowly from one moment to the next. It wouldn’t be too long now.
“And at the end of it all, I just wanted to say… thank you. I’m a better man for knowing you. When I came to you as a father, when I came to you as a friend, you were always there. Always said what I needed to hear, even when I didn’t want to hear it. You’re a good man. A good father. A good brother. Heck, scratch that, you were the very best. Never anything less. Goodbye, old friend. Here’s to your next big adventure.”
“Always so stubborn. Even now. I’ll never understand you, will I?”
She rounded the edges of the room, graceful like royalty. Her duties would usually keep her away, but when she was told what was coming, and that it was coming soon, she cancelled everything, and flew to the manor as fast as her God-given gifts would allow.
Upon arrival, she had thanked Timothy for the call, and asked for a few moments to bid her old friend farewell, unsure of what she was going to say when she entered the bedroom that now acted as a hospice. The others were rushing about the place, making themselves busy instead of focusing on the reason they had all gathered under one roof after so many years apart.
“You could live forever. Lazarus Pits, Purple Healing Rays, any number of mystical or spiritual remedies… yet you refused them all. Do you think the world doesn’t need you anymore? That you’re so disposable? No. You’re so stubborn.”
She paused at the foot of his bed, distracted for a moment. With her hunter’s ears, she could hear Dick and Jason arguing downstairs over nothing in particular. For some, it was better to fall into old routines than confront something they had all been expecting. She smiled. They’d get on fine without him. He had made sure of that.
“I’ve known you for decades, but it feels like centuries. Time is strange for my sisters and I. Mother always said it’s a matter of scale. Perspective. Years in Man’s World feels like seconds in ours, because time seldom passes on Themyscira, even now. But with you… you made every moment matter. Every intimate moment we shared felt like a lifetime. I was sad when it ended. We both were. But we both knew that our friendship was more important. You found love later, the kind that fills universes. As did I. I saw the way she looked at you. And you her. I was so happy for you. And don’t forget what you said to me the night before my wedding! After Clark passed out from J’onn’s homebrew and we were the last ones standing, you told me… Steve was a better man than you. And I knew you meant it. You’re an old romantic, and I wouldn’t have changed that for anything.”
She paused. Great gulfs of sadness welled up inside her, but she swallowed them down.
“Even though I’ve had all this time to prepare, I never thought… I never thought it would come. I imagined us falling in battle, not growing old. That’s not what our lives promised. Not why we did what we did for the time we did it. No. We didn’t fight the battles we fought thinking we would pass away peacefully, surrounded by family.”
She collected his delicate fingers into her hand and gave them a gentle squeeze. She remembered the way he used to be. Tall and imposing, broad shoulders and a burly build whose speed defied expectations. The kind of fists that could punch through concrete, whose caress was as delicate as he was strong.
“I only pray I will be so lucky. That one day, when I’m ready to be reunited with my Steve, that my daughter and sisters will see me off down the Styx. When she was a baby, I used to tell Stevie stories about you to get her to sleep. Do you remember? Old myths and legends, the ones my mother lived and told me, didn’t work on her. I had to find new myths. New legends. Stories of Dark Knights and Men of Steel. Of Emerald Warriors and Scarlet Speedsters. I remember telling you at Cassie’s wedding, and you gave me that deadpan look of yours, and said, ‘I didn’t realise I was so boring.’ Gods, the way the Titans looked at me when I laughed.”
“I won’t bore you with details. You’ve probably been updated by everyone else, already. Cassie and Kon are off in space training galaxy’s next generation of heroes. Artemis and Zenobia hung up their swords and shields and run the Themyscira Foundation together. After completing her training with my sisters, Stevie started training in super-heroics with Donna-- because Hera-forfend a mother play a role in training her daughter!-- but it feels right. Troia and Wonder Girl. And I... well, I do what I always do. Righting wrongs where I find them. But I find… this world we’ve helped build… the wrongs are few and far between. Maybe that never-ending battle of Clark’s has finally…”
She cleared her throat then smiled.
“...That’s okay. I won’t jinx it. Anyway. I think it’s time. I know there are others who want to speak to you before… before it’s your time. But listen. Your children are going to be fine. Even Damian. He never got over that moody phase from his teens, did he? He was dour before then, but he’s your son, it was to be expected. Hera, we all thought he would be the death of you, but he made you more, didn’t he? Each of them did. One after the other, you just grew, because I think… at the end of the day… regardless of what happened… your destiny was never to be the Caped Crusader. You weren’t born to be the Batman. I think you were destined to be greater than the cape and the cowl. And look at you. You achieved all that.”
“Jason, Richard, Timothy, Damian… I didn’t think your heart could get any bigger, but those boys of yours came into your life and you stepped up to become a better man each time. Barbara, Stephanie, Cassandra... You inspired so many to walk in your footsteps, to follow your example, and they became greater for it, just as you did alongside them. And then those that came later... Duke, Harper, Luke, Jean-Paul… you couldn’t help yourself, could you? If you saw someone who needed purpose, you helped them find it. You helped them find their own missions.”
She leaned close to him, so her words would be his and his alone.
“Rest now. The world is safe. And I’ll see you again on the other side when the time is right.”
“The Joker has escaped from Arkham Asylum!”
The arrival was abrupt, the door swinging open and crashing against the frame. There were shouts from outside, familiar refrains, but he ignored them. After standing there expectantly for a few seconds, he exhaled and quietly closed the door after him. He turned back to face his father and took a seat next to him.
“If anything could get you out of that bed, it would’ve been that, wouldn’t it?”
“Or maybe not. What do I know? I’m just the dirty little secret. The forgotten Robin. Even now, that’s what people think. Decades removed, all the work I’ve done since, and I’m just… an afterthought. But! That’s fine. Because we both know the real secret, don’t we? The one we never discussed, even as it hung between us…”
He rested one of his booted feet on the edge of the bed and casually said, “…You’re proud of me.”
“We had our downs, and our downs, and our downs, but we had our ups, too. Yeah, our ride was rocky as all hell, but it was ours. Batman and Redwing. I still think that’s a better name than Robin, but I guess I lost the right to complain. Less than a year fighting crime together, and then all those downs. I don’t like to linger on them. My doctors always said to focus on the future, to focus on a new foundation, not the old, broken one. And I like to think… and I should have said this to you before… I like to think that you were part of both.”
He looked down at boot and rolled his eyes, mumbling “‘Sorry, Alf’,” before stamping his foot back on the ground. Old habits were hard to shake in this household.
“I gave you a hard time. You earned part of it, but not all of it. I took it out on you more than I should have. And you always kept coming back. No matter how hard I punched and kicked, no matter how much I pushed you away, you always came back. You tried to give me a home when I was a kid, and it all went to hell. And when I came back, you didn’t stop trying. I mean, I wish you weren’t dead at the time, but you got over that quick enough. And now here we are.”
He tapped his fingers on the arm of the chair.
“I like to think I’ve taken after you. Can’t really do the crime fighting anymore,” he punctuated that by tapping on his artificial leg, “but the teaching thing? Working with the kids at the All-Star Academy? That’s because of you. You’re my inspiration, Bruce. These kids, some of them are lost, and I help them find something. A reason. Like you did for me. So, I just wanted to say… thanks, dad. And… I’m sorry for being a pain in the ass half the time.”
He sat in silence, watching as the machines ticked over across his father’s enfeebled body. He didn’t know what to say, which had thrown him into a deeper depression than he’d expected. What was left between them? It wasn’t as if they’d gone long stretches without speaking. Even up until the end, they were speaking, father and son, mentor to student, peer to peer.
His adopted father had given him everything. A new life when his old one had been smashed against the rocks of Gotham City’s madness. And now his was ending. Any day now, the doctors said. Any minute. He had already held on longer than they expected. The other visitors had come and gone, said their pieces and left, and now it was just the family. That big house on the edge of Gotham’s city limits, where one of the greatest superhero dynasties of all time had been born.
“I guess… I just have to say…”
He hesitated. Took another moment to re-gather his thoughts. Finally, he started again.
“You’re my hero. Even before we met, you were my hero. When my mom died, and then my dad, I thought I’d be next. But you took me in. Raised me. Made me the man I am today. You did that. Well, you and Alfie.”
He took a breath.
“God, he really hated being called that, didn’t he? I shouldn’t have poked at him, but it was part of the game, wasn’t it? Jason did it, I did it, even Jason… we tried to get Alfred to break. Part of being a kid, I guess. Damian was always so damn strait-laced, but him running around calling Alfred ‘Pennyworth’ was just as bad, you know? But… yeah. Thanks, Bruce. For everything. For taking me in. For giving me your name. Both of them. I hope I’ve done you proud. And… I’ll keep aspiring to that. Thank you.”
With that said, he breathed out and went to leave, but before he could, there were still things that needed to be said.
“Stephanie’s pregnant. We’ve not told anybody yet. I’m going to be taking some time off from all this. I need to be present for her, no matter what. I’m going to be a dad. And I have to admit, it terrifies me. I don’t know how you did it. These kids with all their issues, running around and causing trouble, me included. How did you keep your head straight? How did you not go mad? I just hope I paid attention. If I can be half the dad you were, I’ll be terrific. Thank you. For everything.”
How long since his grandfather had blinded him? Not that it mattered, but it was times like these he would ask the question, even though he knew the answer. That day was the last day he saw the face of his mother. The last day he saw the face of his father. They were etched into his mind, along with the rabid, snarling expression of the once great Ra’s Al Ghul. Reduced to madness. To incandescent rage. That was the face that came to him during his sleep, during the worst of the nightmares.
Regardless, he knew the layout of Wayne Manor like it was part of his soul. He opened the bedroom door silently and closed it after him, the industrial sounds of the state-of-the-art machinery leading him straight to his father’s bedside.
He had left the League of Shadows in the capable hands of his own disciples, true believers to their cause, and flown here as soon as he had received word. Since then, he spent every night at his bedside, since the once world’s greatest detective had fallen into what would be his final coma.
“Father, I know I have not been the best man I could have been. But I wanted to let you know, I tried. And I will continue trying.”
He found his father’s hand and held it up as a whispered prayer left his lips
“I hope that we will see each other again someday. I love you.”
He left the bedroom. What more was there to be said?
He came into the room quietly, the door barely making any noise as he turned the knob and pushed it open. That was his way: silence until he wanted his presence known, stillness until action was required. It was one of the things they had in common. He took a moment to look at the machines surrounding the bed, blinking and thrumming, out of place amongst the silk and oak and fine cotton. He knew a thing or two about being out of place, though, and paid them no more mind as he stepped up to the foot of the bed. He then removed his battered gray hat and ran a hand through his snowy-white hair as he worked up the gumption to speak.
“Bet yuh weren’t expectin’ me tuh stop by, were yuh?” A smirk worked its way across his scarred face. “Now, don’t flatter yerself an’ think Ah came all this way just tuh see yuh. Ah was in the neighborhood. Me an’ Rip was workin’ on something over in the Cauldron, an’ Ah heard-tell things had taken a turn with yuh, so Ah asked her...” He paused, and the smirk got a little wider. “Thet’s still weird tuh me, sayin’ ‘her’ when Ah mostly know Rip as a ‘him’. Just another thing tuh get used tuh.” He waved a hand in a dismissive gesture, saying, “Anyhow, Ah asked Rip if’n Ah could stop in once we was finished, an’ now we are, so...”
The smirk began to fade as his tone grew more serious. “Ah ain’t never seen yuh this old afore. All the times we’ve crossed paths, it seemed like yuh always stayed young while Ah kept on gettin’ older. Last time was...‘bout five years ago, from muh point of view. 1899, over in Carson City. We saved Greg’s daddy from gettin’ killed by the Dummy an’ the Time Commander.” He shook his head and muttered, “Damnation, yuh future-folk got stupid names...an’ Ah include yerself in that lot, long-ears. ‘Course, yer proper Christian name don’t exactly sound like the sort tuh strike fear in people’s hearts, so Ah reckon yuh was better off takin’ on another ‘un. Not everybody gets lucky like me.
“Thet name of yers, though...the stupid one...it’s gonna be remembered fer a good long while. Afore we came tuh this time, me an’ Rip stopped off in Gotham a long ways in the future. Thousand years, give or take. It don’t look nothin’ like it does now, but thet name an’ them long ears of yers is still around. Don’t know if’n they’re kin, but considerin’ how many damn young’uns Ah saw downstairs when Ah got here, Ah reckon there’s a good chance at least one of ‘em shares blood with the fella. Speakin’ of which...there’s something Ah ain’t never told yuh.”
He looked downward, his fingers rolling the brim of his hat as he mulled over what he wanted to say next. “Yer one boy...Jason...Ah met him long afore Ah ever met yuh. Back in 1859, Ah was in a bad way. Cassie...muh fiancée...she was murdered, an’ Ah was searchin’ fer the bastards who did it. Ah was a good tracker already, but Ah wasn’t a bounty hunter yet, not even close, so Ah wasn’t havin’ the best of luck. Then Ah met Jason. He was...much older than the Jason sittin’ downstairs. Maybe as old as me right now. Hard tuh judge age with yuh future-folk...not thet Ah knew he was from the future at the time. Wasn’t ‘til many years later Ah found thet out. Point bein’ is he taught me things. How tuh search fer clues thet don’t involve marks on a trail. How tuh ask questions of folk whut don’t want tuh give answers. How tuh scare the piss outta someone without harmin’ a hair on their head. We rode together fer months, him always teachin’ me something new every day, it seemed. Then he went an’ got himself gutshot in Missouri.” He lifted his head and focused on a far corner of the room, his lips pressed into a hard line as he tried to rein in the decades-old feeling of remorse welling up inside. “Ah buried him outside some little podunk town thet probably don’t even exist no more, but Ah never forgot him. When muh own son was born, Ah named him Jason, an’ Ah’d planned on teachin’ him the same lessons yer boy taught me. He...he’s gone now too.” His voice broke when he said the words, and a tear spilled down his scarred and ruined cheek. Once he recovered himself, he said, “The lessons stayed with me, though, all through muh life. Took me fifteen years tuh find the bastards thet murdered Cassie, an’ whut yer boy taught me helped me tuh do it. Every time Ah see him, Ah want tuh tell him so, but...thet Jason ain’t the one Ah knew just yet. Been wantin’ tuh tell yuh as well fer a good long while, ‘cause Ah know thet whut Jason taught me must’ve been whut y’all taught him when he was younger, so Ah reckon thet means...in some weird way...yuh taught me as well.”
Despite the tears, he let out a chuckle. “How do yuh like thet, long-ears? Yo’re responsible fer me bein’ one of the most notorious bounty hunters thet ever walked the Earth. Which is a good thing fer yuh, ‘cause otherwise Ah wouldn’t have been able tuh rescue yer great-great-grandma back in 1885 when she got kidnapped.” He shook his head again, saying, “Ah’ve definitely had an interestin’ life...an’ yer crazy family seems tuh be tangled up in a good amount of it. Ah always thought the nonsense with Hal was bad, but nope, yo’re worse.” He wiped a hand over his face, then said, “Ah reckon this is the end of all thet, though. Ah already told Rip when she came by muh homestead thet this was the last time Ah was gonna help yuh future-folk out. Ah’m gonna be 66 years old soon...Hell, Ah might already be, whut with all the bouncin’ around in time Ah’ve done in muh life. Ah just want tuh settle down an’ live a nice, quiet life in Cheyenne with Tall Bird afore this busted-up body of mine finally gives out. ‘Course, muh luck bein’ the way it is, even after Ah’m dead an’ gone, yuh’ll likely find a way tuh drag muh corpse outta its grave fer one last piece of business. Thet don’t mean Ah won’t answer the call, mind yuh, just don’t expect me tuh be happy ‘bout it when Ah do.”
He settled his hat back on his head, then turned towards the door. “Rest easy now, Wayne. Yuh done earned it.”
“…Barbara had to get him down off the ceiling, and you can imagine what she said when I came home. She totally chewed me out for teaching him that move so young. But when I was his age, my mom and dad did the same for me, so I wanted to give him the same opportunities I had, you know? Lil’ Jonathan James Grayson, a chip off all the old blocks, with his mom’s brains and his father’s… I dunno, bounciness…”
“So, then we came here, and sure, Jason is being a pain in the ass, but he’s always a pain in the ass. I think it’s part of the show he puts on for everybody. Tim and Stephanie are trying, so she’s taken a step back from running around as Spoiler. She even convinced him to slow down a bit, which is a relief. He was showing everyone up, even you. I’m glad I decided to go my own way and not pick up the cape and cowl, because if that meant preventing him from going all-out, I don’t know how I could live with myself.”
“And yeah, Cassie stepped up in a big way. She left Japan in the hands of Jean-Paul and the Batman, Inc. reps, and is staying in Gotham for the foreseeable. It’s great to have her around. Yeah, I don’t know if you remember, but Jean-Paul was here earlier this week. He couldn’t stay. You know what it’s like for him and fathers… he had it rough, but he’ll be okay. He’s really come a long way. And the rest of the most recent intake, Dutch and Harper, they’re brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. Obviously, I’m biased in favour of the girl, but you did go and give her one of my old costumes, so can you blame me? Batman, Inc. is in good hands with those two.”
“Listen, I know I’ve told you countless times already, I know it’s like a running joke, but you saved me when I was a kid. You gave me hope when all I had was misery. I don’t know what would have happened if it wasn’t for you. Hady’s was heading down the crapper, I didn’t have any real extended family to take me in, so it was going to be the system or homelessness. Either way, I don’t think I would have lasted that long. After everything that happened, it could have eaten away at me, but you gave me the outlet I needed… pixie boots and bright green shorts! Heh, I’m glad that didn’t last long. But yeah, if this is the last time… I wanted to thank you. You were the greatest, weirdest big brother anybody could hope for. You never tried to replace mom and dad, you never over-stepped, and I appreciated that more than anything. And I think… despite you not trying… you were a father to me. You raised me as best you could, given the unique circumstances we shared, and I… I love you, Bruce. And when you’re gone, I don’t know what I’m going to do…”
“Ah, hell, I told myself I wouldn’t… I told myself I wouldn’t cry… but I’ll do what you would in my pixie boots. I’ll keep going. I’ll look after the family. Not that they need it. You gave them everything they needed… everything we needed… to survive in a world that doesn’t make sense. And what more could we have asked for? Thank you. Thank you so much.”
“Master Bruce, it’s time.”
The old man in the bed glanced over from where he lay, and saw his oldest friend waiting for him by the door.
“Yes, Master Bruce. I apologise for my tardiness but having spent decades waiting both on you and for you, I knew that if I had arrived earlier, you would still not be ready.”
Bruce carefully swung his legs out from the bed and stood up. He instinctively went to stretch the hard-worn kinks out from his body but found that nothing hurt anymore. Everything felt, for the first time in a long time, absolutely fine. How strange, to not feel pain. He shook that off and rounded the bed, trying not to look at the old man still hooked up to the machines, a shell of his former self. That was the past. Now was the time for the future.
The heart monitor beeped slower now. Things were coming to an end.
He placed a hand on Alfred’s shoulder and said, “I missed you. I really missed you.”
“I was never far, Master Bruce. It is not like I could break the habit of a lifetime. Watching over you, even after my departure, was always going to be a long-term proposition.”
“How have you been?”
“Small talk, Master Bruce? How very unlike you. There will be plenty of time for that later. But first, there are some people through here who are excited to see you again after so long. Please, come with me.”
Before the pair exited the bedroom, Bruce looked back one last time.
Damian was curled up in a chair nearest the head of the bed, and on the opposite side sat Dick, who held Barbara closely. Tim and Stephanie were on the sofa against the wall, the former’s head on the shoulder of the latter, while Jason slept flat on his back on the floor. Near the bookcase, Cassie was sat perfectly still, her eyes closed. Was she meditating or sleeping? Of course, they were all asleep. It was late. The door to the bedroom was open, and in the hallway, he could see Duke sleeping on one of the benches opposite, Harper and her brother Cullen.
Alfred and Bruce left the bedroom, and the heart monitor faded into stillness. The gathered family all woke in unison, but the pair were gone now, moving past the physical into something else.
“Will they be okay?” asked Bruce.
“You know the answer to that,” said Alfred.
“I guess I do.”
At the end of the hallway, two figures awaited their arrival. Alfred beckoned Bruce to go on ahead, and as the shapes became clear, tears began to well in the younger man’s eyes.
“Mom? Dad?” he whispered.
And behind his parents, another figure, the love of his life, her arms open wide, and the conclusion of his final chapter.
This was the end.
And it was a happy one.