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The Best Man

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“Shit. This place makes the Four Seasons look like an Econolodge.”

“I didn’t even know Wakanda had its own five-star hotel.”

“Here’s their brochure,” Hank rumbled, handing Alex the glossy tri-fold. “They’re a Hilton affiliate, too.”

“What floor are we on again?”

“Dunno. But I’m not rooming with Hank again, he takes forever in the shower.”

“So, you’d rather I licked every inch of blue fur clean instead and kack up a hairball during dinner, just to save you the last of the hot water, Popsicle?”

“Scott, what time were we s’posed to meet Stark?”

“Five-ish. He and Luke are taking the same jet.”

“Must be nice for Cage to have a night off from diaper duty.”

“Anyone seen Logan?”

“He’s at the bar.”


“I might join ‘im,” Hank sighed. “I could use a beer, or anything strong enough to wash that taste of tarmac out of my mouth.”

“The taste?” Bobby raised an eyebrow.

“You know, that baked asphalt smell that you get on a really hot day that kind of steams up and chokes you as soon as you get off the plane? Doesn’t hurt that my senses are enhanced, either, Drake. Next time, go easier on the aftershave. Whew!”

“Ya think your furry hide smells like a friggin’ bouquet of roses after a fifteen-hour flight. Two words, Hank: Carpet Fresh!” Hank rolled his yellow eyes up to the ceiling, a deep sigh rumbling out from his chest.

“Just for that, I’m using every drop of shampoo. Every drop, Drake.”
“Ach! Ororo’s lucky not to be affected by extreme temperatures, my own fur’s sticking to me in this heat!” Kurt tugged his shirt collar away from his neck, undoing the top button for some relief. He yelped in surprise as something cold and wet slithered down his back. “ACH! BOBBY!”

“You’re welcome,” he grinned impishly. Alex chuckled as he watched Kurt’s contortions while he fought to shake the ice cube loose from his shirt.

“Can’t take you guys anywhere!”

Across the lobby, inside the bar:

“I was wondering where you’d gotten off to, tovarisch.”

“Needed to wet my lips. Pull up a seat.”

“I’ll have one of what he’s having,” Peter said, beckoning to the bartender and nodding at Logan’s beer.

“I’ll take one more of what I’m having, too, while yer at it.” Logan held up his empty bottle, swirling the last half-inch of liquid with emphasis before setting it down.

“Have you gotten your room yet?”

“Yup. Booked a single a couple of doors off the ice machine.” Third floor.

“Didn’t Mr. Stark book the whole penthouse floor for us?”

“Uh-huh.” Logan nodded his thanks to the bartender as he brought their drinks. “I need room to spread out. Hate feelin’ crowded,” he offered by way of explanation. Peter nodded with understanding, remembering how hemmed in he felt after coming back to the mansion after so many months underground. It took a pretty special occasion for him to accept staying within four walls, now.

“Let me know if you want me to leave you to your drink,” Peter offered.

“Nah. Stick around, boy.” Logan sipped his beer, then added grudgingly, “It’s really good ta have ya back, Petey.”

Peter grinned. “If I didn’t know better, my friend, I’d think you were going sentimental on me.”

“Yeah, well…you were dead. Make me get misty.”

“It’s been a long time since we’ve had a happy occasion to bring us all together.”

Logan grunted.

“Anna Marie told me that Lorna’s wedding became a bit complicated.”

“That’s puttin’ it lightly. Nearly took Alex outta commission, and it took us a while ta find all the pieces of Bobby after he got in the way. Good booze, though.”

“Just think, tovarisch, now you’ll be able to say you know someone who married royalty.”

Logan grunted again.

“Wakanda’s an awfully long way from Westchester.”

“Ain’t exactly a stone’s throw away,” Logan agreed. He grunted again.

“Logan…this wedding may be the last opportunity we have to see Ororo for a long time. I know it was hard for you to come this weekend.”

“Naw. Growing back a severed limb’s hard.” Logan belched under his breath. “Losin’ the love of yer life’s hard. Burning up in the sun’s hard. This is a stag party, Pete. I’ve survived worse.”

“I’ve never seen anyone casually attend a bachelor party for the man who is marrying the woman he loves,” Peter quipped. Logan’s hand stilled as he reached into his breast pocket for his cigar.”

“Ya summed it up pretty well, Pete. I ain’t got a clue when I’ll see ‘Ro again. I’ve been down this road before.” Logan extended a claw and used it to trim his cigar. “I have this bad habit of fallin’ for the women I can’t have, or just can’t keep. Do I hurt? Damn straight I do. But am I such a selfish sonofabitch that I wish for any of ‘em ta be unhappy just ‘cause they didn’t stay with me? Uh-uh. ‘Ro’s good people.”

“She’s the best.” Peter took a long gulp of his drink. “The older sister that I never had.”

“And she’s an adult. She made her choice.”

“Have you talked to her about…?”

“Hell, no.” Logan glared menacingly at the bartender when he looked as if he would deny Logan his cigar. Logan flipped open his Zippo and lit the stogie, drawing in the bittersweet smoke like a drowning man gulping oxygen. He exhaled the plumes of smoke through his nostrils and closed his eyes with satisfaction. “There’s nothing else ta talk about.”

“Kitty said she took your gift to her. She said she would guard it with her life.”

“I believe her.”

“I still think you should have talked to her, Logan.”

“That’s just askin’ fer trouble. It ain’t a good idea ta interfere with anyone’s love life. Y’see, fer ‘Ro an’ me, it’s…it’s never been the right time. Never the right circumstances. Always something in the damned way.”

“Don’t you think you could have done something to fix that?”

“Like what? Tell the world ta quit turnin’?” The tuft of ashes glowed orange and crackled at the end of the cigar as Logan sucked on it, then pointed it at Peter to emphasize his words. ‘If it ain’t meant ta be, then it ain’t meant ta be.”

“Keep telling yourself that, then, if it helps you to sleep at night. I seem to remember that T’Challa and Ororo have been apart for many years, with very rare chances to see each other at all. It would seem that he took recent opportunities and ran with them, such as your last mission in Niganda.”

“What’s yer point?”

“My point is, T’Challa let Ororo get away once. Once, tovarisch. Think about that.” Peter tossed some money on the bar and clapped Logan on the shoulder before he left the salon.

“I think about it every night,” Logan muttered to his retreating back. He turned back to his drink and smoke.

An hour later:

“So where exactly are they holding this thing?”

“My guess is probably that big room with the sign that says “Conference room reserved for Stark gathering?”

“Shut up, Hank.”

“You’re welcome, Bobby.”

“Who else is showing up at this thing?”

“Pretty much any Avenger ya know that ain’t wearin’ a skirt.”

“Yeah, that’s helpful, Logan. Tell me again why you showed up for this?”

“Fuck off, Summers.”

“I didn’t even say anything…”

“I meant Slim.”

“Right. Minding my business now.” Alex went to the open bar and ordered a bottled water.

“It just seems weird…all of us here, with Tony and Steven again.”


“It gives me this uneasy feeling of déjà vu. Like we’re going to end up kidnapped to an uncharted planet that’s an amalgamation of different worlds to fight an unseen villain.”

“Peter…that’s just weird.”

“You had to be there, my friend.”

“Now we’re talking, who’s up for some sustenance?” Hank rubbed his pawlike hands together with relish as they filed into the spacious suite with vaulted ceilings, a theater-sized television with speakers, small stage, and a large banquet table.

“I came here for hot wings. They’d better have hot wings,” Alex grumbled.

“Hot wings, he says. We get invited to a bachelor party for a guy who’s king of his own flippin’ country, and you’re here for the hot wings.”

“It’s as good a reason as any ta me, Ice Cube, s’long as there’s beer ta wash ‘em down with.”

Hank tsked. “Allow me to repeat: Can’t take you guys anywhere.”

Ain’t like I’m here ta make a good impression, or anything. If I had ta tell anyone why I really dragged my sorry butt here, the simplest reason is this. I wanna see Panther in his element. Not as some big shot, bad-ass superhero or king, but as T’Challa, the man. The guy who broke Ororo’s heart, but whose shit supposedly don’t stink. I wanna know why he’s worth her giving him a second chance.

It ain’t like Panther an’ I are on the greatest of terms. It ain’t like he’s a pussy, mind ya. He can fight, I’ll give him that. He’s got enhanced senses. Whoopee. Compared ta mine or Creed’s, he might as well be tryin’ ta sniff a rose garden with a head cold. He’s paid his dues, same as any of us, doing his duty for his country.

Then again, sometimes the guy just gets in the damned way. ‘Ro, Alex, Lorna, Bobby and I fly all the way to Niganda and slog our way through more plug-ugly animal experiments than ya can shake a stick at, and where’s T’Challa? In the friggin’ control room, where ya’d think a college-educated guy that used ta be a teacher coulda figured out how ta turn ‘em off.

The crowning insult, though, that still keeps me up at night was seein’ the lucky bastard KISS THE GIRL. I get my ass handed ta me by mutated monkeys and spend days in the jungle bein’ eaten by mosquitoes the size of helicopters, and ‘Ro lays a big, fat wet one on HIM?

There ain’t no justice. Think I need another beer…

“Logan…dude, save us some beer.”

“Fuck off, Drake.”

Spending the past day in the Blackbird gives a guy the chance to think.

All these years, ‘Ro’s been pretty damned quiet about her love life. One of the best damn things about ‘Ro is that she ain’t a drama queen. No big blow-ups or scenes back when Forge took back his proposal; kid just hid out in the hangar and let it rain. For three friggin’ days straight. Could she have gone after him? Why the hell not. Cyke was here, we already had a leader ta take over while she took some R&R and worked things out. But she took one for the team, and took it on the chin, like a trooper, and just drowned herself in work. Instead of running off ta Dallas ta make her own little happy family, she stuck around here ta play mother hen.

Like a dumb ass, I never let her know how glad I was that she stuck around. More fool me. I shoulda followed her example, and spoke up when the best thing that ever happened ta me was waitin’ for me ta sit up and take notice. Shoulda grabbed the brass ring. Way ta drop the ball, Patch. Not that Forge was “the best thing” that coulda happened ta her, in hindsight…Raven’s too high-maintenance. A man’s gotta know which one of his woman’s personalities he’s waking up ta in the morning, fer cryin’ out loud. How he could up and leave ‘Ro for that basket case is a mystery ta me. Only way I could bring myself ta play with Raven between the sheets was to follow along with her little act and pretend she was someone else…

As soon as ‘Ro announced pretty as you please that she was stayin’ behind in Kenya, my hackles went up, and they ain’t laid back down since. ‘Ro ain’t never just up and left the team unless life dropped something on her doorstep ta bring her ta her knees. Last thing that brought her out ta her homeland was losin’ her powers. Also Forge’s fault. Seems like a friggin’ pattern…

Those weeks after she was grounded still stick in my craw. That fightin’ spirit was still there, and that attitude that rubbed off on her from hanging out with Yukio, thank God. Never woulda thought I’d be grateful ta Yukio bein’ a bad influence on her, but I think that’s one of the only things that saved her back then, after bein’ torn outta the sky. She couldn’t fly anymore, but she wasn’t afraid ta fall.

She’d never been afraid of me, either. That’s why this feels so damned weird. Why couldn’t she have spoke up? “Logan, I’m staying in Africa to rekindle an old flame; no hard feelings, okay?” Something. Anything. But no, like a chump, I just stood there and said “I understand.” Biggest lie I ever told, and I’ve lived long enough ta tell some whoppers. Should’ve know this was gonna happen. That kiss she laid on Panther was bad enough; but I could smell it. Her excitement. Her pulse jumped and I could hear her heartbeat thunderin’ in my ears. Her whole body chemistry changed. Almost feel that flush coming over her cheeks, like she’d been away for years and just come home. It was like somebody kicked me in the gut, since it wasn’t that long ago that I felt those same signals from her when I kissed her myself. Like, a few weeks ago.

And that was that. Just when I was gettin’ comfortable with the easy little thing we had…bye-bye, Birdie. She flew the coop.


“Somebody’s got that sappy fatherly glow,” Bobby piped up.

“Go ahead, give me a hard time about it, I dare you.” Luke’s grip on Bobby’s hand was strong enough to make him wince.

“Where’re Reed and Johnny?”

“Reed’s fiddling with the jet; Johnny’s making excuses to his girlfriend of the week.”


“Sour grapes, Bobby?” Alex drawled. “Sounds like someone doesn’t have anyone to make any excuses to.”

“Yeah, Chuckles. That’s why you’re here with a bunch of guys instead of out with Lorna right now, huh?”

“Pot calling the kettle…” Scott stared deeply into his martini glass, the clear liquid reflected in his ruby quartz visor.

“At least Emma let you off your leash for the night, ‘bro.”

“Just ‘cause my powers can’t HURT you doesn’t mean they can’t TOUCH you.” Scott downed his drink in one gulp, causing Logan to raise his brow at his uncharacteristic thirst. “…and maybe I like being on my leash,” he muttered. “Fucker…”

“Where’s T’Challa?”

“Everett called up a little while ago. He’s on his way. He also said it’s gonna get pretty crowded in a little bit.”

Hnh. Can’t say I’ve ever been anywhere on this continent when I wasn’t hackin’ my way through snipers and wading through a hail of bullets. That little favor I did for Lover Boy a few weeks ago wasn’t exactly a walk in the park.

“Logan…thank you. Only a man of your experience could pull it off.” Yeah. Sure. My guess, bub, is yer bettin’ my healing factor against yer fancy vibranium suit, yer little excuse about it bein’ “every Wakandan chief’s solemn vow” not ta interfere with yer neighbors be damned. “Sovereign neighbors,” my ass. Didn’t stop ya from sniffin’ around Niganda and gettin’ in our way while we were tangling with mutant crocs. I’m still chafed from pullin’ God knows how many arrows outta my ass.

Ahh, quit bein’ so bitter old man. Time for another Molson…

“Thirsty, Logan?”

“Fuck off, Hank.”

“There’s medication you can take for that, you know.”

“Yeah. Heh, heh, henh.” SNIKT. Logan casually flipped him off with his claw.

Reed and Johnny edged through the door, scanning the room for familiar faces. “Reed…is that Logan???”

“Put yer eyes back in yer head, Hot Pants.”

“Easy for you to say. You carved your way through the Baxter Building and practically filleted me and Ben, ya psycho!”

“Yeah, well…sorry. I wasn’t myself.”

“Ya wanna elaborate on who else was in that adamantium-plated skull?”

“Johnny, ya don’t wanna know.” Sometimes, Logan still heard the Hand whispering in his head. Just a whisper, but it was there.

“I wouldn’t push him if I were you, tovarisch.” Peter eyed the still-small pile of empty beer bottles thoughtfully. “If you value your vital organs…

“And you’re pretty face,” Kurt chimed in.

“…you’d do well to let him quench his thirst in peace. Just a suggestion.” Peter helped himself to a chicken wing, tucking it on the absurdly small appetizer plate with surprising grace for someone so large.

The noise level in the conference chamber swelled and rose as the DJ began his first set. Blends of soul, hip-hop and African-style house music set the mood and eased the motley assembly of guests into conversations that otherwise would have felt awkward.

“So Hank…we saw the news about that ‘Hope cure.’ Is it what they say it is?”

“That’s still up to debate, Tony. Not to mention further study.” Hank’s yellow eyes studied him wearily over the rim of his glass of scotch and soda.

“Haven’t heard so much fuss in the press about anything that had to do with mutants since the Legacy Virus.”

“The difference, Herr Stark, was that the Legacy Virus actually needed curing.” Kurt’s tail flicked back and forth like a pensive cat’s.

“Some would say the same thing about mutancy,” Johnny pointed out.

“Some could stick that up their flamin’ ass. And nice talk fer a guy whose nephew can take his dream self out fer a midnight stroll.”

“What do you X-Men plan to do about it?”

“What we’ve always done about it. It ain’t just about ‘us X-Men,’ Luke. Remember that. Have this talk with me again when yer kid hits puberty.”

The DJ stopped the music briefly and spoke into the microphone. “Here tonight is the official man of the hour, His Royal Highness, King T’Challa! Make him feel welcome, folks!” Unlike Ororo’s highly anticipated bridal shower, T’Challa’s bachelor party featured no press or photographers; paparazzi had been banned from the private function for the sake of allowing the full range of festivities expected on the king’s last night as a single man. Peter’s mouth gaped open for a moment as two Dora Milajae strolled into the suite, resplendent and matching in red leather cropped halter tops and low-slung skirts, slit up the sides nearly to the hip for ease of movement. Their steps were nearly silent in their sturdy thong sandals laced all the way up the calf.



“Are those the…?”

“Nope. Bodyguards. Ororo filled me in back in Niganda.” Johnny and Bobby merely stood by and drooled.

“Sooooo…is she okay with this? With them?” Kurt’s expression was laden with doubt, and a faint tinge of envy.

“It’s all right, my friend. Ororo and I had a little chat about the duties and responsibilities of the Dora Milajae,” a rich baritone chuckled over Kurt’s shoulder. “I reassured her that their title of ‘Wives in Waiting’ is entirely misleading.

“Right,” Logan grunted. “And?” He waited for the other shoe to drop.

“…after which she reassured me that I could count on a lightning bolt aimed up my royal backside if they overstepped their duties.” Logan repressed a snarl. SNIKT. Snakt. He unsheathed and retracted his claws as casually as any other man cracking his knuckles.

“She’ll make an excellent queen,” Hank rumbled with satisfaction.

“The best,” T’Challa agreed as one of his personal assistants brought him a gin and tonic with lime.

An excellent queen, he says. ‘Ro used ta be a goddess, bub; this is a step down, when ya think about it. Yer country needs its queen, but the world needs its Wind-Rider, and one o’these days, she’ll answer that call again.

“The liquor store just called, Logan; they’re running out of beer.”

“Stuff it, Summers.”

“Quit making yourself such an easy target.”

“So, T’Challa, how long have you and Ororo known each other?” Hank made an attempt at small talk, but pretty much nailed the main question on everyone’s mind on the first go.

“Since she was a teenager, barely old enough to wear lip gloss.”

“Was she even into lip gloss?” Bobby elbowed Kurt, who shrugged before biting into a short rib. “She never struck me as much of a makeup girl.”

“Isn’t that about the age when girls wear a training bra?” Alex muttered.

“This is Ororo we’re talkin’ about, buddy; she didn’t have to ‘train’ for anything, she came fully equipped!”

“Zip it, Popsicle, my drink could use some more ice cubes, if ya catch my drift.”

“You don’t put ice in beer,” Bobby sneered. “Not like you’re waiting for ‘em to get warm, anyway…”

“On occasions such as these, I regret that my father never had the chance to meet his future daughter-in-law. He loved my mother’s feistiness. He would have loved Ororo, too.”

“Why didn’t he get ta meet her?”


“Why…didn’t…he…get…to…meet…herrrrrr?” The look T’Challa gave me was priceless: One part incredulous surprise, and two parts “Who the fuck d’ya think ya are, asshole?”

“I had to return home to Wakanda to resume my training to be king. I met Ororo while I was on walkabout.”

“Walkabout, eh? That fancy ‘royalese’ fer ‘sowing yer royal oats?’”

“Of course not!” His body language’s calm enough, but I can smell that faint jump in his temperature and hear his pulse thundering like there was a grain of truth in my slam. Maybe I will enjoy this little shindig, after all…

“So why didn’t ‘Ro head back ta Wakanda with ya, then? Thought ya’d wanna bring yer sweetie home ta meet mom an’ dad, wouldn’t ya? She sure is the type o’ girl ya wanna bring home?”

“That goes without saying; my mother adores her!”

“She probably would’ve back then, too, eh?”

“No…YES! She wouldn’t have had a problem with Ororo personally, but…”

“But…?” This beer’s tastin’ pretty good; I might just savor it a while. T’Challa’s staring at the bit of lime in his tonic like it just grew horns and read him the daily stock quote.

“But I had responsibilities to take care of, to my father, and to my kingdom. I wouldn’t have had a kingdom to offer her if we hadn’t gone our separate ways when we did.”

“Nope. Ya would’ve had yer queen.” Damn, this is some good beer.”

“Good things are worth waiting for. Even queens.” T’Challa sucked on the lime wedge thoughtfully. “And she’s worth the very best, don’t you think?”

“Definitely,” Hank agreed.

“And it’s way overdue. She deserves to be happy,” Kurt chimed in. “Give me one of those, Logan, before you drink them all.”

“How do ya plan on makin’ her happy?”

“Living, waking, breathing and doing every last little thing to suit even her silliest whim,” T’Challa deadpanned, “all of the usual things.”

“Smart man,” Scott quipped.

“You forgot ‘supply truckloads of chocolate on demand’ on that list. Whenever she has PMS. And footrubs. Can’t forget the footrubs.” Alex popped a beer nut into his mouth as he stared at the Dora Milajae’s uniforms, wondering if a good strong breeze would lift their brief skirts that one extra inch toward making them the entertainment for the night, instead of just bodyguards.

“Like all that sissy shit was so helpful with you and Lorna.”

“Up yours. I’m just talking about all the stuff T’Challa should do to keep Ororo from tearing him a new one on the way to the altar.” Alex scarfed a few more beer nuts. “Of course, if there’s any of your old girlfriends or anyone else that you think of as ‘the one that got away, waiting in the wings…’ yer takin’ yer life in yer hands, buddy.”

“I still haven’t found a few bits and pieces of my ass from when she handed it to me during what would have been the reception, and it was him she was pissed at,” Bobby pointed out, jerking his head toward Alex. “So yeah, better to have your mind good and made up now.”

“Ororo’s the only one for me.” T’Challa drained his gin and tonic and set the glass on the banquet. “She was my first love. She’s my greatest love. And she’ll be my last. “

“Sure,” Scott muttered. “Keep telling yourself that.”

“Sorry, I didn’t quite hear…?”

“Nothing.” Scott reached for the beer nuts. Logan’s sharp hearing picked up what sounded suspiciously like Scott mimicking his “…and she’ll be my LAST” in a tone that managed to be both denigrating and nasal. “Never was MY last, pal, despite the best of intentions…”

“What’s Scott muttering about over there, tovarisch?”

“Nothing. Nothing at all. Dear lad’s just wishing the best for the bride and groom,” Hank hedged. His own sharp ears had picked up the thread of their discussion, too, muttering and all.

When were the strippers coming out?

“So…she’s yer greatest love, eh?”

“Without a doubt.”

“You and Ororo talked much about yer marital expectations?”

“What, like picking out china patterns and whether to buy a dog?”

“Butt out, Bobby,” Logan snarled over the rim of his beer.

“We’ve had the chance to catch up and bring a few things to the table.” T’Challa was wearing a smug little cat-that-got-the-canary smile and had a funny look in his eye.

Suddenly I just realized Ororo’s little mission in Kenya to “find herself” may have also found her in Wakanda…gotta wonder how much time she spent “finding” T’Challa while she was there? Hadn’t she said something about seeing T’Challa again as she flew off into the proverbial sunset?

Hmmmmmm…Gotta kick myself again for bein’ so hasty and jumping on the Blackbird with everyone else and heading back home to Westchester. Wouldn’t have been such a big damned deal to stay behind. Ororo had laid down her needs, though; she wanted some time off to breathe and stretch her wings.

If I had it to over again, I would have made the time for “one more for the road.” If I’d have known that moment when she told me she needed to “find herself” was the last I’d ever see of her as a single woman that fits the bill of what I’ve always looked for, I wouldn’t have been so quick to say that I “understood.” Screw understanding. “Understanding” did nothing for me when Mariko left me at the altar.

“You two plannin’ on havin’ any kids?”

“We’ve talked about it. Ororo lost her parents at an early age, and she was an only child; family is very important to her.”

“So’s a happy marriage.”

“We can have that.”

“She’s always held up Reed and Sue’s as a good example,” Kurt murmured.

“Really?” Reed beamed.

“You two have been together for so long, tovarisch, and you and Susan seem to be equal partners?”

“Ever wonder how she manages to find the time for it all?” Alex mused.

“Nope.” Bobby reached for a chicken wing. Alex shot him a disgusted look.

“Ya know what else goes along with having a kid when yer wife’s a mutant…what if yer kid ends up with powers?”

“Then I’ll call the contractors to have the palace reinforced,” T’Challa chuckled.

“T’Challa, if there’s one piece of advice I could give you, and God help me for never being able to follow it myself – it’s to just be there. Be there for Ororo, be there for your children, be there to take care of things in your home. There comes a time…let’s just say there comes a time when you have to hang up the damned suit.” Scott’s eyes were hard to read beneath his ruby quartz goggles. “The bastards who want to destroy the world and kill all of the mutants and take over everything will always be there. They aren’t going anywhere. But if you’re lucky to have even that much, you only have one wife. One woman who makes it worth it to wake up every morning. And if you’re truly blessed, you’ll have children together that have the best parts of you and Ororo both, and you don’t want to miss out on one bloody minute. There’s always going to be times when ‘happily ever after’ feels like twenty-five to life…”

“…and people wonder why I can’t commit,” Johnny groused into his kamikaze.

“…but don’t fuck it up. Don’t be secretive about how you feel. Don’t bottle it all up.”

“Dude, Jeannie was a mind reader, hello?”

“Don’t assume that meant she knew me inside and out.” Scott bit savagely into his short rib. “Always make time for her, T’Challa, if you value your marriage, your life, and your sanity. Don’t make stupid excuses for why you have to take off on a long mission. Shit, knowing Ororo, good luck trying to get her to stay home and wait for you!” Logan paused in building the first tier of his beer bottle pyramid to glance at Scott with uncharacteristic admiration.

“Amen to that,” Kurt mumbled.

“No kidding,” Bobby scoffed, stirring his drink with his straw. He took a sip, made a face, and generated a jagged hunk of ice, dropping it neatly into the glass with a plop.

“Take it from me, if I know about anything, I know about this. You and Ororo had something special when you were young, and you have something special now. But she isn’t necessarily the same girl now that she was then. Things change. That whole ‘love at first sight,’ rush of teenage hormones thing doesn’t last forever. Don’t get me wrong; the first time Jean and I laid eyes on each other, the earth actually did move…”

“I always did want to study that phoenix effect of hers more closely, especially on seismic activity,” Hank pondered.

“Really?” Reed’s eyes lit up. Bobby sighed and headed back for more beer nuts.

“But when the honeymoon’s over, that’s the real test of whether or not you made a big mistake. My honeymoon with Madelyne involved giant squid and a shark nearly taking my leg off.”

“Classic,” Johnny smirked.

“Mind yer manners, Johnny boy, the man’s tryin’ ta make a point.” Ben’s craggy brows looked as grim as his name.

“Why should T’Challa take advice from a guy who’s had two marriages go down the toilet?”

“Didn’t I tell ya ta mind yer manners?”

“Don’t make him remind ya again,” Logan growled. SNIKT.

“You don’t want to miss your kids’ childhood. It doesn’t take much. One day, you’re just running late for a well-baby checkup. The next, you’re staring eye to eye with a grown man, or a grown woman who you hardly know at all.”

“Ya won’t get ta know Ray any better if ya keep holdin’ her at arm’s length and lettin’ Emma run the show.”

“Did I ask for your advice, Logan?”

“Ya did as soon as ya mentioned ‘big mistakes’ and ‘Jeannie’ in the same breath, pal. Still think ya have a funny way of grieving the love of your life.”

“You’re right. Abusing my healing factor on cigars and beer, showering my friends in profanity, and sleeping with thieves and assassins who want to kill me is a much better way of dealing with my problems.” T’Challa opened his mouth as if to say something, then decided against it. Then he opened it again.

“Who’s ready for the entertainment?”