On his twenty-fifth birthday, Peter got the phone call he'd always assumed he'd never get.
He recognised Jean Grey's voice straight away, was even a little surprised to be hearing it with his ears and not his mind, but the words she said took a while to sink in.
"Peter? I thought you might like to hear this from a friend before you heard it on the news..." A slow inhalation, as if she were nerving herself up for a jump, then: "Peter, Logan's dead."
Peter found himself slumped on the floor, his back against the wall, with no memory of having moved. Jean was still talking, but he couldn't follow what she was saying. "Wait," he said, "run that by me again. Logan's...?"
"Dead. I -- " More breathing sounds on the other end, like she was trying to stop herself from bursting into tears. "I don't really blame you if you don't believe me, I barely believe it myself, but it's true, Peter. It's really true."
Peter's mind was blank. He heard a stream of near-babbling emerge from his mouth, no more under his control than a sneeze. "You -- oh, God, this is gonna sound really gross and morbid, but -- you have seen the body, right? This is not one of those 'he couldn't possibly have survived that' things, right? Because Logan -- well, you know Logan. He survives things. That's -- that's what he does."
"It's what he did," said Jean. "It's what he did, right up until he couldn't do it any more."
Peter let his head tip back until it hit the wall and listened while she told him the details of how he'd died, the reasons why they were sure he really was dead, the date and time of the funeral. He let her voice wash over him, logged the facts that were really important somewhere in the back of his brain, and let the blankness take over the rest of it.
She was the one who hung up first, and he listened to the sound of the dialtone for thirty seconds before getting up and sticking the phone back in its charger, then picking it up again straight away and calling his #1 speed-dial.
"Peter? Is something up? You don't usually call this early in the day. Oh -- happy birthday!"
"Aunt May. I. Thanks, but I."
"Peter? Are you all right? You don't sound too good."
"I can't -- tonight. I can't make it. I'm sorry."
"Is it -- business?"
"Business" was what she called his work as Spider-Man. Which was better than "risking your damn fool neck", but still a little cold. She didn't understand -- didn't want to, didn't try. Not that it mattered.
"No," he said, then corrected himself: "Yes? Uh, kind of. Somebody -- somebody died. Somebody I -- well, anyhow, I don't think I can -- I'm just not in the mood to celebrate."
"Oh, Peter! Was it a friend?"
"...Kind of? I don't really -- I don't know what you'd call it. We, uh, fought together a little? He stayed in our basement once, before -- before you knew about me. He needed a safe place to heal. He... came to me."
"I'm so sorry, Peter. Do you want me to come over?"
"No, that's -- it's okay, I'm fine, I just -- maybe I can have a party some other time, you know? When it's not so..."
He trailed off, and it occurred to him that Aunt May was probably biting back some smartass reply about how of course it would be no trouble to push back his birthday party (because after all he had birthdays every week and it wasn't like he'd missed out on the last four birthday celebrations she'd arranged for him oh wait). But she didn't say anything, and he knew she wouldn't, until she was sure he was all right.
"Some other time," she said. "It's no trouble." So warm. So kind. Peter would never say that he was glad his mother had died, but he couldn't imagine anyone being better at caring for him than Aunt May.
"I have to go to the funeral," he said. "It's tomorrow."
"Well, if you need to talk -- if you need anything at all... You know where I am."
"Yeah. Yeah, I do. Thanks."
"Goodbye, Peter. I love you."
"I love you too."
Peter hung up and let his hand drop to the floor.
Logan. Dead. Those were words that just didn't belong in the same sentence, unless they were connected by "made a lot of other people be".
"Logan is dead," he said out loud, just to test what it felt like to say the words. It felt... ridiculous, unreal, as if he was waiting for the set to crumple around him, or for someone to jump out from behind a wall and say You've just been punk'd!
He covered his face with his hands. They were trembling.
He got through the next 24 hours by focusing on small things, details, things that needed his attention and concentration. Even so, the time passed in a blur until he found himself wearing a suit in a corridor in the Xavier mansion, hearing Jean explain how they were going to bury him on the grounds because they were pretty sure that was what Logan would have wanted --
" -- and I know this is short notice, but -- do you think you could be a pallbearer? I should have asked you yesterday, I know, but we thought Peter would do it -- but he's gone missing, and Logan's -- his body's -- we... need someone strong."
Mechanically, Peter nodded. Always willing to help, that Peter Parker. So obliging. So nice. He wanted to rip the building apart, wanted to strangle every last mutant in it for failing Logan, for not saving him, and the only thing that stopped him was knowing that he'd have to strangle himself in the end.
But if he couldn't save Logan, the least he could do was carry his coffin.
"Thank God," Jean sighed, her shoulders visibly sagging. "The stress of this whole thing has knocked out my telekinesis, and... some of the guys aren't too willing to volunteer. Well, you know Logan. Knew him, I mean. He's... he wasn't easy to stay friendly with."
"That's an understatement," said Peter. "Wait. Did you say you couldn't find Colossus? Couldn't you, I don't know, scan for him or something?"
Jean winced. "Actually, it's not so much that I couldn't find him as... I don't think he wants to be found. He and Logan were... close, once, and he's taking it very hard. He had a fight with Jean-Paul -- his boyfriend," she said in response to Peter's puzzled look. Or maybe his puzzled thoughts; you could never tell with a telepath. "He stormed off in the middle off it, and... I don't scan everyone's thoughts all the time, but I didn't have to. He was broadcasting on all frequencies that he was angry and miserable and he wanted to be alone."
Join the club, steelboy, Peter thought. Dealing with people was absolutely the last thing he wanted to be doing right now, especially these people, these people who knew -- Jean, who knew -- what? What did she know, that he didn't want her to know? Something, God, but his thoughts skittered away like startled ants every time he tried to focus.
"You said Peter and Logan were close..."
"It wasn't like that!"
"What do you mean, like -- are you reading my mind?"
"I don't have to read your mind to know what you're thinking." She shrugged. "It was... complicated. But it wasn't like that."
"Then what -- "
"If Peter shows up, maybe you could ask him," she snapped, then closed her eyes and rubbed her forehead the way Aunt May did when she got headaches. "I'm sorry, it's just -- Logan was a friend to you, but to us he was family. I can't believe... I don't want to believe this is really happening."
"I know," said Peter, finally feeling like he and she were on the same page. "I don't want to believe it either."
She gave his hand a squeeze, and maybe it was just his imagination, but he thought he could feel her mind touching his, a little reassurance, a little sympathy.
"So -- I'll go -- "
"Yes, you should -- "
"Talk to the Professor -- "
"And I have to find Scott -- "
"Okay, well, later, then -- "
He turned on his heel with his best imitation of confidence, and it took him five minutes of wandering the corridors of the mansion before he realised he was lost. He considered sending out a mental call for help, but there were new kids at the school these days, mutants he'd never met; some of them might be telepaths, and he wasn't eager to share his thoughts with strangers.
He didn't recognise the voice straight away, but he thought it was probably Cyclops, Mr Reliable, rounding everyone up so the ceremony could begin. He hurried towards the sound, only stopping when his brain caught up with his feet and he remembered that he wasn't the only Peter somebody might be looking for. He froze on the threshold of a room and cocked his ear to listen.
"Peter, cher, don't turn away like that!"
Now that he was paying attention, he could catch a faint trace of an accent in the voice. This would be Jean-Paul, then. The boyfriend.
"I don't want to look at you. I do not want to look at you if you do not trust me!"
That was Colossus, sounding more Russian than usual, his voice a little unsteady. Peter was aware that he should move, get out of earshot, give them their privacy. He had no right to listen to this.
"I trust you. I do! I was -- upset. You looked so lost, so hurt... I wanted to comfort you, but you wouldn't let me."
"I needed to be alone!"
"And you have been alone. And here you are."
"Yes, here I am."
"And... you are still upset with me."
"You think -- you seem to think that if I am sad that he has died, that means that we -- He was my friend! My friend. You know what that means. We fought side by side -- "
"Peter! I trust you, but I'll stop trusting you if you keep lying to me."
A sigh, and a creak, as if Colossus were leaning on some piece of wooden furniture not strong enough to take his weight. "It was... so long ago... I was young. I was ashamed. When I realised what I was feeling, I ran away, all the way back to Russia, because I was so sure that he would never love me back, and that if he knew how I felt, he would be disgusted. He would hate me. I couldn't stand it if he hated me. But I came back, and we fought side by side, and... I don't know if Jean told him, or if he figured it out by himself. We never said anything. But he knew. He knew, and he didn't care. It... hurt. That he didn't..." Another creak. Another sigh. "But I had never really hoped for that. And we were still friends."
There was a long silence, punctuated only by some quiet sniffling sounds and a shifting of fabric that might have been Jean-Paul hugging Colossus, or might just have been Jean-Paul moving closer.
When Colossus spoke again, his voice was low. "Do you understand, now, why he matters so much to me?"
"And why he is no threat to you?"
"I never really thought... ah, it's silly..."
"It's just... I always somehow believed I was your first love."
"You'll be my last. That's what really matters."
Peter turned away from the threshold and started to walk away as stealthily as he could, his cheeks burning.
He shouldn't have listened. None of it had anything to do with him. None of it.
In the end, it was Colossus who carried the coffin -- alone, his body in steel form, his huge hands holding it steady on his right shoulder. Peter thought of the first time he and Logan had met, how he'd lifted Logan by the back of his shirt-collar and been surprised by the weight. Logan was short, but he was all muscle, and underneath the muscle were adamantium bones. No wonder they had needed someone strong.
The sun was blinding, and Peter couldn't hear the words of Xavier's eulogy over the churn and bubble of his own thoughts. Everything seemed mixed-up and wrong, somehow, and he couldn't grasp anything; every time he was on the verge of understanding something, the thought would squirm away like an eel and he would be left with nothing but confusion and more feelings than he knew how to handle.
When the Professor stopped talking suddenly and gave Jean a sharp look, when he heard a weak knocking sound from inside the coffin, when six gleaming claws burst out through the coffin-lid, then and only then did the feelings coalesce, blood rushing to his head like it did in the middle of a fight. Just like in the middle of a fight, instincts kicked in and he acted without thinking, leaping to the coffin before the others could beat him to it and ripping off the wooden lid.
Logan was a mess, his metal skull visible through a gash that stretched down the left side of his face and his chest looking like a mass of undercooked hamburger. But his eyes were open and there was a pulse leaping in his throat. Peter scooped him gently into his arms and lifted him up. "Where do I take him to recover?" he said, looking towards the Professor.
Everyone else was staring at him, mouths open. "What?" he said. "You act like you've never seen someone come back from the dead before."
A wet, gurgling noise came from Logan's throat. Peter's heart clenched, until he realised that Logan was laughing.
Once they'd gotten over their shock, the X-Men snapped into crisis management mode, and Peter let them take the situation over, fading into the background as they hustled Logan to the infirmary. He left a note behind and let himself out of the mansion, balling up the bloody and ruined jacket of his suit as he strolled down Graymalkin Lane towards the bus station.
The last time he'd seen Logan that badly hurt, it had taken him days to recover, so the week of no communication that followed didn't surprise him. He was sitting on his windowsill, drinking a beer and staring down at the sparse night-time traffic, when the knock on the door finally came.
"It's open," he said, not bothering to look.
The tread that entered the room was heavy and familiar.
"Took you long enough," he said. "Didn't your friends pass on the note?"
"What do you want?"
Peter grinned, his mouth half-open against the rim of the bottle. "Why, yes, Logan, I am pleased to see you. Fine, thanks, and you?"
An annoyed grunt. Peter resisted the urge to turn his head. "Anyone ever tell you you talk too much?" said Logan
"All the time, and I never listen. It's my thing. You're the metal-claws-super-healing guy, I'm the guy that talks too much."
"I thought you were the spider guy."
"Spider-man. With a hyphen. The hyphen is important. Nobody knows how to use punctuation any more."
Logan sighed, and there was a scraping sound like a chair being pulled out. Peter scratched the back of his neck. He'd had a week to think about what he was going to say, and hadn't come up with anything very persuasive. He'd been hoping inspiration would strike when Logan finally showed up, but now that Logan was here he was afraid to look at him, afraid to feel fifteen again, overwhelmed by that look in Logan's eyes that said I have seen and done things you cannot imagine.
Peter closed his eyes. Some of the things Logan had seen he didn't need to imagine.
"Kid," said Logan, "I don't know why I'm here. You gonna tell me?"
"You're here because I asked you to come."
"So why'd you ask me?"
Peter opened his eyes and slid down from the windowsill, letting the beer bottle dangle from his fingertips. He wasn't much of a drinker, but he was glad to have a little alcohol in his blood. When he looked at Logan now (leaning against the back of the chair, a little hair peeking out from under the rolled-up cuffs of his shirt), he could feel everything, could let it rush to his head and pound through his veins. "I think you know," he said. "I think you've known for a long time."
Logan blinked, then sighed again and rubbed his face. "Kid -- "
"I'm not a kid."
"Peter. This is a bad idea."
Peter shrugged. "Door's open, if you want to leave."
"You don't want to get involved in my life."
"Don't tell me what I want!" Peter marched over to the table and slammed the bottle down hard enough that some beer slopped out of the neck onto his hand. He ignored it and pointed at Logan. "I know I want you in my life, and do you know how I know?"
"Look, Peter -- "
"Shut up! That was a rhetorical question! I know I want you in my life because last week I thought... I thought you were out of it, forever. I thought you were gone. And, and, sure! This time it turned out you were only mostly dead, but next time you decide to start pining for the fjords, it could be for good, and I don't want -- "
" -- pining for the what?"
" -- that doesn't matter! Logan, I thought you were immortal! I thought there would be time. There's no time, don't you see? There's no time to waste with, with all these stupid doubts and pretenses and -- "
Logan grabbed the hand that was gesturing, and Peter fell silent as Logan --gently, tenderly -- licked the beer from his fingers.
"I got a curse, kid," he said quietly, his head bowed over Peter's fingers as if he were kissing a lady's hand. "I never had a friend that didn't suffer for it. Bad things follow me, and sometimes it's my fault they do. You prepared for that?"
"Hey," said Peter, and he meant to say you should see the trouble I get into all by myself, but something about the tingling in his palms and the warmth blooming in his stomach made him stop. With his free hand, he touched Logan's cheek, rough with stubble, and stroked over the cheekbone with his thumb. "I've been there," he said, "when it was happening to you. I've seen what it does to you. What it does to the people around you. And I'm still here, and so are you." He stepped a little closer. It always felt strange to stand this close to Logan and look down at him; Logan usually seemed taller than he really was. "You can leave any time you want, but I'm not going anywhere."
"I'm not a kid any more."
Logan looked up, and when their eyes met Peter felt a flash of electricity pass between them. This, he thought. God, why did I wait so long? and he leaned down that extra inch to kiss him.
The next morning, he woke up alone in a bed that smelled of Logan: tangy sweat and wet dog, a scent he knew better than he knew his own. He rolled out of the bed with a hard, lumpy feeling in his stomach and stumbled into the kitchen.
There was a piece of paper on the table. Peter stared at it stupidly for a few seconds before he realised that it was the note he had left for Logan at the mansion, just a scrap of paper torn from a spiral-bound notebook where he had written:
I'm glad you're alive. You owe me a suit. Come find me.
Underneath, in neat, square letters, Logan had written:
You look better naked. I'm glad you're alive too. I'm going to do what I can to make sure you stay that way. I'm off to trim some loose ends. Don't go anywhere.
PS: Get some decent beer next time.