A/N. Last chapter! Thanks to all who reviewed! I don't own anything.
"So what's up, James?" Kendall broke the silence and spoke first. He pulled his gaze away from the fire they had lit and looked closely at his friend.
James was almost beginning to regret calling all of his friends and pulling them out of their warm houses, especially since Kendall and Logan had just gotten back from school for Thanksgiving. They were up at the frozen pond, but they hadn't even brought their skates. They had cleared away a spot to build a fire and were now all crowded close around it for warmth. "It's-"
"If you say that it's nothing and you dragged us out here in the freezing cold for nothing. . ." Logan warned. But his face was concerned. "Talk to us," he ordered, sounding very much like Kendall.
"I don't know how to bring it up," James said, shrugging helplessly. "It's. . . complicated."
"Too complicated for us?" Carlos pointed out. He held his hands close to the flames and rubbed them together.
I remember when we used to drive
anywhere but here
as long as we'd forget our lives.
He was right, of course. They all were right because they were all thinking the same thing. James found a discarded stick at his feet and began to poke the fire, making the flames leap up and dance wildly in the darkness. He could see his friends' faces even better now, all of them looking extremely concerned. "I'm having trouble in school," he finally muttered. "A lot of trouble." It wasn't the fire that was making his face feel warm.
"More than usual?" Logan pressed gently.
"Yeah," James admitted shamefully. "Because I. .. I haven't really asked for help from anyone. I thought that if I made it into college then I could stay in it. But the truth is, I didn't make it in right away. I failed the entrance exam the first time I took it."
Only Logan didn't look completely shocked but he looked surprised enough for James' shame to deepen. "Really?" he asked, just to be sure. "How bad?"
James laughed bitterly. "Bad enough that the woman at the test center suggest that I get tested for a learning disorder."
"Oh, James." Logan sighed, his surprise melting into a knowing sorrow. "What happened?"
"What else could I do after that?" James shrugged. "I got tested."
There was a long pause while the other boys waited for James to tell them what happened and James tried to figure out how to tell them. Finally Logan spoke, his tone sympathetic. "You're dyslexic, aren't you?"
Out of the corner of his eye, James saw Kendall and Carlos look at Logan in surprise of his bold guess. "Yeah," he said hurriedly, mostly to ease their minds. "You were right all along, Logan. I should have listened to you when you first brought it up. It would have saved me so much humiliation."
"At least you know now," Carlos pointed out unhelpfully.
"Carlos, I'm twenty! I shouldn't be finding this out just now. Everyone I've already talked to has given me this look like they can't believe I went so long without knowing. The doctor, the woman at the college. . It's so. . . embarrassing!"
We were so young and confused that we didn't know
to laugh or cry.
Those nights were ours, they will live and never die.
Together we'd stand forever.
"You shouldn't be ashamed," Kendall disagreed. "You should be proud that you made it so far without getting help."
"I always had Logan," James said, nodding to his friend. "I didn't need any other help."
"I wish I could still help you," Logan said regretfully.
James rolled his eyes. "Logan, don't say that. You've done more than enough."
Again they fell silent, thinking of a time when their lives had been chaotic but somehow simple because they were all together. College had been something they were all aiming for and yet, now that they had reached it, they had found that it separated them in strange and uncomfortable ways. It gave them a shaky feeling that they didn't know what to do with.
Carlos and James were going to the same community college but they were still so busy that they couldn't see each other every day. Kendall was at Minnesota University, one of the stars on the hockey team even as a freshman. And Logan was in premed school in Massachusetts. It was unnerving how the distance, especially with Logan, made it so much harder to be there for each other when they were needed. Now they were reunited but only for a week. They needed to make the most of the time they had been given.
"James," Logan said with a patience that he had always reserved especially for James. "You're overreacting." He held out his hand when James opened his mouth to protest. "Yes you are." It was funny how he often took the lead from Kendall when it came to James. He could handle James' passionate highs and lows better than anyone else. "There is absolutely nothing to be ashamed about. You've made it this far with help so what's wrong with asking for more help to finish up?"
"Because," James said quietly. "I wasn't embarrassed by asking you for help. You're my best friend, Logan. It's easier with you. Everything was easier with you guys."
"At least that's something that will never change," Carlos said wisely. "Logan is right, James. No one's going to judge you for asking for help. Actually, they'll be more likely to judge you if you don't ask for help."
"There's nothing wrong with getting help if you need it, Jay. I know it won't be easy, but it will be worth it in the end."
James wished he could believe Logan so easily. He made it sound so simple. But that was where the two of them differed so dramatically. While Logan was humble and drive, James was proud and driven, a dangerous combination because when his pride fell, the rest of him followed quickly.
"Do you have any work due over Thanksgiving break?"
James knew where Logan was going with his question and he wanted to lie and tell him no. But he also knew that Logan, as well as Kendall and Carlos, would see straight through his lie. "A little," he admitted. "Because I'm so behind."
Remember when we'd stay up late
and we'd talk all night
in a dark room lit by the TV light.
Through all the hard times in my life
those nights kept me alive.
"Okay," Logan straightened up, his eyes bright with a familiar determination that made James smile in spite of his shame. "Starting tomorrow, you and I are going to meet in the library for at least two hours a day. Then," he added when James' shoulders started to slump. "Before I leave, we're going to get you a tutor you can help you while I'm not here."
"James," Logan looked slightly annoyed. "Just trust me, okay? Give it a try."
James knew then that he didn't really have a choice. Logan, in his own subtle way, was calling him out on his stupid pride and gently but firmly telling him to get over it. He was right, as usual. And when he asked James to trust him, James gave up. "Okay," he said, giving in at last. "I'll try." At least Logan tutoring him whenever he was home would give him some sense of comfort.
"Now," Carlos ordered, reaching over to slap him on the back. "Cheer up! Kendall and Logan are here and we're going to make the most of it."
"Yeah, by studying," James groaned good naturedly.
"Carlos," Logan said, turning to his younger friend. "Why don't you help James out when I'm not here?"
"Me?" Carlos asked, looking stunned. "Why me?" he glanced around to see that James and Kendall looked equally surprised by Logan's suggestion.
Logan rolled his eyes and gave Carlos a gentle shove. "Yes you. I talked to your dad earlier today while you were still in class. I stopped by to say hi and catch up with him."
Carlos looked pleased at the mention of Logan hanging out with his father, but it wasn't enough to distract him completely. "What did you talk about?" he asked, feeling like he already knew the answer.
Logan smiled broadly and he almost looked like Carlos' dad with all the undisguised pride in his eyes. "He just told me how well you're doing in all your classes." he answered vaguely, making Kendall and James even more curious.
"Carlos?" James asked before he could think about it.
"Thanks a lot, James!" Carlos laughed. "Your surprise is really encouraging."
"Carlos, this is fantastic!" Logan exclaimed. "Why haven't you told anyone?"
"Wait a minute," Kendall interrupted, looking confused. "Exactly what is going on?"
Carlos shot Logan a pleading look full of embarrassment which Logan ignored completely. "Carlos wrote a paper for his English class and his professor wanted to give him an A for the entire semester." he said, sounding almost smug while Carlos turned bright red. "His bio and math professors both asked him what he was doing in their beginner's level classes."
"Carlos, that's great, buddy!" Kendall gave Carlos a high-five. "Why haven't you told any of us?"
Carlos shrugged modestly. "It's not a big deal."
"It's a huge deal," Logan said with a small scowl of disapproval. "You should be proud of yourself, Carlos."
"Right back at you," Carlos replied, making Kendall and James laugh.
"He got you there, Logie." Kendall pointed out. "Hey Carlos, humility is all well and good, but maybe you and Logan need to start sharing it."
"Can you and James share some of your pride?" Logan shot back with a grin. He sobered up and glanced over at Carlos. "Seriously, buddy. Don't waste your talents."
"It's just not something I'm used to," Carlos admitted uncomfortably. He relaxed though and smiled. "I can try and help you, James. We can see if it works. I don't know if I have the patience Logan has but we can find out if you want." James nodded agreeably and Carlos looked back at Logan. "I still want to go to police academy, but I promise I'll do something. . . academically challenging next semester. Okay?"
We'd listen to the radio play all night,
didn't want to go home to another fight.
Through all the hard times in my life,
those nights kept me alive.
Logan looked pleased and satisfied. "Good. Now that we've gotten that out of the way, how's your girlfriend, Carlos?"
"Me again?" Carlos stifled a groan and shoved James who had snorted at Logan's question. "Let's talk about you and Kendall. How's college? How's home?"
Logan felt Kendall stiffen next to him and hurried to change the subject again. "Why don't you want to talk about your girlfriend though? What's her name again?"
"Elisa," Carlos mumbled. "I think I have to break up with her."
The distant look on Kendall's face was exchanged for concern. "Why?"
"Because she hates us." James said, ducking away from Logan's shove.
"It's sort of true," Carlos admitted, ashamed that he had let the relationship last as long as he had. "She never wants to hear about you guys or hang out when you're home."
"We met her once," Logan recalled. "She seemed nice enough. What happened?"
"I think that was just for show. She's very. . . clingy. Like she wants me all to herself." Carlos felt so out of his element, talking about such a huge girl problem. He wished not for the first time that he could go back to where he thought girls had cooties and were to be avoided at all costs.
"Poor Carlos," Kendall said, teasing and sympathetic at the same time. "I was wondering when it would happen. Even you aren't immune to girl problems."
"So why haven't you broken up with her yet?" James asked. Understandably, he would ask that. While Kendall and Logan had remained mostly ignorant to Elisa and Carlos' odd relationship, it was James who had needed to deal with her the most.
"I want to. . ." Carlos trailed off. "I just don't want to hurt her."
"You've always been too good a person for your own good." Kendall muttered. "Carlos, you deserve someone better. You deserve someone who makes you happy. She obviously doesn't make you happy with the way she wants to avoid anything to do with us. Honestly? It doesn't bother me that she doesn't like us. It bothers me that she upsets you so much."
"I just. . . don't really know how to break up with a girl. With Stephanie and I. . . it was mutual." Carlos sighed. "I miss her."
"Steph?" Logan asked, looking surprised.
"She made me happy."
"Julie made me happy," James added.
"Then why did you guys break up with them?" Kendall asked with mild irritation. "I always thought you were all perfect together."
"I don't know," James said, answering for both of them because Carlos was still at a loss for words to properly explain. "The distance explanation is all I have I guess. It was hard to be so far away from her. But now that we aren't together anymore. . ."
"I miss her even more." Carlos finished.
Logan chewed on his bottom lip, deep in thought. "Maybe," he said carefully. "You guys should reconsider." That was all he said on the matter and once again, they fell into a fairly comfortable silence, each with their own thoughts.
"How come everything is so much simpler with you guys around?" James asked, half complaining.
"Because we know you better than we know yourself," Kendall pointed out with a grin.
"I'm glad you're both home," Carlos sighed. "We'll miss you when you go back."
"Sorry to drag you away from home." James apologized.
Kendall grew distracted again, staring thoughtfully into the fire. "We don't mind," he said quietly. "Things are weird at home anyway." He glanced up at James and Carlos who looked like they knew what he was talking about. "Did you know that our mom was. . . seeing someone?"
"Thomas is a nice guy," Carlos replied, looking away from Kendall's stare. "Your mom was lonely after you guys left and Katie got so busy in high school and everything."
"She could have gone to your houses and talked to your moms, couldn't she?" Kendall asked desperately.
"Kendall, why are you so against your mom seeing someone again? Your dad is remarried." James knew to tread carefully but his confusion was honesty and understandable.
"That's different," Kendall said, feeling like a grumpy and stubborn five-year-old. "I don't live with my dad. Do you have any idea what is was like for us to come home and have some stranger sitting in our living room?"
"Weird?" Carlos guessed.
"Logan and I were talking about it before we came over," Kendall said, glancing at his brother. "I just. . . I feel like I'm being replaced by someone I don't even know." It felt even sillier when he said it aloud.
Logan sighed. "Kendall, I already told you that you could never be replaced by anyone. That's. . . it's just a really stupid thing to even think. Even Thomas knew that when he met you. But he likes Mom and Mom likes him and what's the harm in that?"
"Listen to Logan," James said. "He has all the answers tonight."
Logan laughed at that. "Hardly," he said. "I think I have more questions than answers." He quickly dismissed their curious stares and looked back at Kendall. "Kendall, I don't know what's going to happen with Mom and Thomas. But I do know that if she had to choose between you and Thomas. . . it wouldn't even be a choice for her."
Deep down, Kendall knew that. But that wasn't the only thing that was bothering him about Thomas. "What happens if they get married-" he cut himself off and quickly held up his hands to signal silence from his friends. "I know that it's only been three weeks, but hear me out. What if they get married and. . . and she doesn't need me as much?"
Carlos stared at him. "I think. . . we should throw him in the pond," he said to James and Logan. "He's clearly not thinking straight. Kendall, really? After all this time, you really think that some guy is going to change how much your mom needs you?"
"Maybe," Kendall mumbled.
"You're such an idiot," Logan said softly. "That's not going to happen, Kendall. I promise."
It was a strange thing for Logan to promise, but somehow Kendall found it easy to believe him. Perhaps because of what he himself had said to James earlier. They knew each other better than they knew themselves. They trusted each other to know that. It had worked out before and there was no reason to believe that it wouldn't work out again. Grateful, Kendall brought an arm around Logan's shoulders and pulled him close. "I've missed this," he said quietly.
They all did. College had brought more challenges than the academic and social struggles they found themselves facing. Because for the first time, they were facing these challenges for the most part, by themselves. It was bound to happen one day but that didn't make it any easier. Carlos glanced around at the solemn faces. "So, Logie." he said. "What's new with you?"
"I remember when we used to laugh,
now I wish those nights would last.
"Right," Kendall looked up. "You mentioned you had some things on your mind. What's up?" He frowned when he felt Logan tense underneath his arm. "Is something wrong, Logan?"
"No really," Logan answered evasively.
"Logan, come on. You listened to us whine and vent. It's your turn." James shivered as a gust of wind blew. "Hurry up too. It's getting cold."
Logan smiled slightly but then soon went back to looking troubled. "It's just something that's been on my mind because of premed school," he told them. "In one of my classes we've been looking at. . . diseases," his voice faltered slightly but he forced himself to keep going. "Lately, it seems like all we've talked about is. . . is cancer. And I guess it brought back some bad memories."
Kendall, James, and Carlos were quiet. They lived in constant fear that their best friend would get sick again, but he had never mentioned it himself. For so long they had thought it was he who had been able to move on, only to discover now that he was being pursued by the same fear as them. James felt all of his own worries and fears vanish completely when he saw the unhidden fear on Logan's face. "Logie," he said softly, his voice breaking a little.
"I just. . ." Logan trailed off, struggling to go on. "I'm so afraid sometimes, especially when all I hear from my professors are the odds of it coming back and the odds of it going away again. I don't want to get sick like that again. I don't want to be dying and for you guys to have to see that again. I'm afraid that I will get sick again and that this time-"
"Logan, stop." Carlos pleaded, wanting to be seven so he could cover his ears.
Kendall felt like someone had punched him in the stomach. He had been so caught up in college and the hockey team and then Thomas and his mother, that he had completely forgotten about Logan. He had never thought for one second that Logan could be so afraid. He had fought cancer so bravely before and rarely ever brought it up in conversations. Kendall had assumed that it was because Logan was so humble and didn't like to talk about himself. He never thought that it might be because he was actually afraid. Now, looking at him, Kendall realized how fragile and vulnerable Logan looked.
"I'm sorry," Logan apologized, looking regretful that he had brought it up for everyone to think about. "It's just hard to ignore when I'm kind of surrounded by it."
"I- We never knew you felt that way," Kendall spoke for all of them. "It's so hard to tell when you're afraid, Logan."
"Who likes to admit that they're afraid of something?" Logan pointed out. "Especially if it's something like this and it brings everyone down. Mostly, I don't think about it. It's kind of irrational because there wouldn't be much anyone could do if it did happen. Only what we did last time. I just. . . I don't want to do any of that again."
Kendall tightened his arm around Logan, trying to offer him comfort when he was so shaken. "Logie, more than anything else in the world, I hope it doesn't happen again. But if it does-" his voice shook so much that he had to break off before continuing. "If it does, then I promise you that you won't be alone."
"I know I won't," Logan said quietly. "And sometimes that's what scares me the most. Because the worst part of being sick the first time was watching all of you fall apart like you did." He glanced up to met James' gaze and saw his fear reflected back at him in his friend's eyes.
"That," Carlos said seriously. "Is the one thing we'll do differently." He wanted the conversation to be over. He didn't want to talk or even think about Logan's cancer coming back. The idea terrified him. But Logan had given them all so much that night, that they had to give something back. "Buddy, no matter what happens, we're going to stick together. We'll be fine."
James knew that he needed to say something but his brain had stopped functioning. A rush of unwelcome memories had invaded him. Logan collapsing at the hockey rink, Logan in the hospital bed, Logan throwing up blood, Logan dying, Logan-
Logan's voice of all things brought James back to the present. "Sorry," he stammered, brushing a hand over his face. "Smoke in my eyes." He sniffed. He moved abruptly so that he was sitting on Logan's other side. It pained him to see the terror that was so clear. "Carlos is right," he said as firmly as he could. "We'll be fine. Especially you. Because. . . because you're not going to get sick again. You're going to become a doctor and discover and cure for cancer so that no one will ever have to be afraid of it again."
How James could sound so convincing when his statement was so out there, Logan couldn't understand. But he didn't care. He didn't care that the chances of anyone discovering a cure for cancer were incredibly slim. What he did care about was the surprising amount of determination in James' voice when he spoke. He wasn't that emotionally fragile seventeen-year-old that had terrified Logan so much. He was stronger now and that made things so much easier.
Those nights belong to us.
There's nothing wrong with us.
"Are you okay?" Kendall asked softly.
Tears stung Logan's eyes, a combination from the comfort he had received from his friends and the smoke that was blowing in their faces now. He ducked his head a little and nodded. "I always will be." he told them.
Kendall gave him another reassuring squeeze and then stood up. "Come on," he said, pulling Logan to his feet as well, resisting the urge to strangle him with a hug to make sure that he was okay. "It's too cold out here to stay for much longer. Let's put the fire out and head over to our house."
"Even with Thomas?" Carlos ventured.
"Yeah," Kendall gave a small, hesitant nod. "Maybe I should get to know him better. And if he bothers me too much," he added with a smile. "We can always go in the basement and watch some hockey."
"That's what he really wants to do," Logan laughed, rubbing his hands together. "Hey. I'm all for anything that gets me inside where it's warm. Let's go home."
A/N. I feel ridiculously accomplished to finish this story even though it was only four chapters long. I hope you all liked it! Thanks for reading and reviewing. "TH1RTEEN R3ASONS" is next on my list as well as a bunch of one-shots/song fics. Have a great weekend, everyone!