by dotfic (a.k.a. Constance Eilonwy)
Spoiler warning: Justice League Unlimited, "Epilogue." ETA: set ten years or so after
Disclaimer: Property of Warner Bros/DC.
His grandson, usually so bold, grabs his hand as they walk together up the stone steps.
This child looks most like himself at that age. At least he thinks so. Maybe that's why he needed to bring him, with faith that the resemblance will bring more hope than pain.
A cold autumn wind kicks up memories and dead leaves. He staggers as the boy's strong grip steadies him.
Terry opens the door. "Thanks for coming."
"How is he?"
"Worse. Hanging tough. You know how the old man is."
They follow him through the house. The shadows he remembers are gone. He nearly trips over a child's toy, sees the picture books and newspapers strewn on a couch. As they visit the kitchen a rich, sweet baking smell greets him and for a moment he expects to see a ghost until Terry's wife steps forward. On the counter behind her is a tattered old box of recipes, index cards marked with recognizable handwriting, stained brown at the edges with age.
His grandson takes an eager seat at the table with the two other children, a boy and a girl, both dark-haired, the girl a few years older. They are boisterous and talkative, but no match for his grandson, whose voice and laughter soon joins theirs.
He has no such memories like that, even though Roy's foot fidgets against the cross-support of the chair in a certain particular way, and he can almost hear the voice saying "do please try to go easy on the furniture…"
There are ghosts there, after all.
Then they go upstairs, pulling a reluctant Roy away from his two new friends.
The curtains are drawn against the late fall afternoon. A nurse sits in the armchair by the fireplace. She smiles, nods at he newcomers, speaks a few soft words with Terry, and vanishes discreetly.
The old man's sitting up in bed, the breathing raspy but the presence powerful as ever.
Roy steps closer, ahead of his grandfather, moving into the pool of light shed by the lamp, and the breathing breaks off into a sharp inhale. "Who's that?"
As he moves so he's next to his grandson, the stern figure in the bed relaxes. "About time you paid me a visit."
As he starts coughing, Terry immediately moves to hand him the glass of water at the bedside, to adjust the blanket, to hover while Bruce drinks and the coughing subsides.
Something like envy tightens in his throat, strange since he has the same things that McGinnis has, if not more.
"For God's sake, I'm not dying. Yet." The old man irritably waves Terry away and returns his sharp gaze to Roy. "How old are you?"
"Ten." Only someone who knew the boy well would see the fist clenching, the swallow that showed he was nervous. He holds his chin up, matching the old man glare for glare.
"Do you study hard in school?"
"Play any sports?"
"I'm the best gymnast on the team, Coach says so," Roy says, as if defying Bruce to call him a liar. "I can do a triple back-flip without a harness."
"Can you, now." One of the swooping eyebrows twitches upward.
"Sure. Wanna see?" Roy heads for the armchair but his grandfather grabs him around the waist. He lifts him off his feet. The boy struggles and laughs.
"I don't think so, kiddo."
"But I can do it right here, the chair's tall enough…"
"Roy!" He says sharply, and the boy sighs in an exaggerated fashion, rolling his eyes.
Now he notices that Terry is no longer in the room; he has vanished with a speed and silence beyond discretion.
Unexpectedly, there's a tiny smile on the old man's face. "He's just like you," he says softly. There's approval there. For a second, illogically, he thinks Bruce means Terry, but of course he means Roy. "Looks just like you too. And has your attitude."
Was that a chuckle or a cough?
"How are you?" The old man asks, flatly. He has never been one for pleasantries, not in private, so he's asking because he wants the truth.
"I thought retiring would be hellish but it's okay. I keep busy consulting for the new D.A. Which means I'm probably not actually retired."
Roy leans his elbows on the foot of the bed, watching them both. He can almost see the boy struggling not to ask a thousand questions about days long past.
"Is everyone in Bludhaven…okay?"
"Everyone's good. No injuries."
"With your family, that's saying something." The coughing seizes Bruce again, the broad-shouldered but frail body shaking in the bed.
He hands the glass of water to the old man, watches him sip. Dick suddenly understands what he envies about Terry McGinnis.
Bruce fixes a hawkish gaze on Roy again. "You'll come back and visit me." It's not phrased as a question.
"Sure! Will you tell me about--"
"Another time," Dick says quickly. He makes a mental note to speak to the boy about asking for stories. When Bruce felt like telling them, he just started telling; if anyone asked, the barriers slammed into place.
The old man looks tired. He sinks back against the pillows. Terry returns, along with the nurse, who eyes the old man and respectfully declares it's time for everyone to let him rest.
Roy grabs Terry's arm and practically drags him out to the hall, excited; Terry has just promised to show him the cave.
He too turns from the bedside, wondering if he should say anything else.
"You will come back?" This time it is a question, as if he doesn't know the answer.
Without thinking about it, Dick reaches down, takes the rough, bony hand in his own, tightens his grip, and is surprised when he feels the ghost of once-formidable strength tighten in answer.
"Soon. I promise."
They are waiting for him after all, at the bottom of the stairs. Arms out, Roy carefully walks the straight pattern at the edge of the carpet, pretending it's a balance beam. Or maybe a high wire.
"Do you want to come down with us?"
It tempts him. He wonders what's changed. New computers, new equipment, new uniform? He wonders if his costume is still there in a glass case. If there's a second one nearby.
"Dick, sorry, I should have asked first, it's okay with you if I show him, right? You can say no, I'll understand."
He watches them go to the clock. Roy will be the first one in the family besides him to go there; even Roy's father, despite the path he chose, never asked.
...a thin figure in a suit carefully dusts the face with a cloth, turns at their approach...
Terry opens it, vanishes within. Roy follows, swallowed by the darkness beyond. The clock shuts with a nearly silent click behind them.