Yeah, I'm gonna start back from 1 this year instead of making this Story 9, even though it's the ninth story on the blog. We'll see if I can get further this time before I get knee-deep in crazy life things again.
Immortality is a topic I have rather mixed opinions on. That plus a few words from a friend of mine upon finding out the subject of this story made writing it FAR more difficult than I initially expected. I scrapped the first few pages three times before settling on the current version, which I don't think ended up being quite so much about immortality as I originally intended.
The Crumbling of the Mountain
“So, here's where you've been hiding, old man.” Sam pushed open the door to the study of the late Nicholas Weatherby. Peter looked up from the rifle he was examining and gave him a small smile.
“Looks like you found me,” he said. He spun the rifle and traded it for a glass of scotch that sat on the desk behind him. “I was just... saying goodbye.”
Sam nodded. “Yeah, I don't know if we'll ever get used to not having him here. He's done a lot for the League. Him and you both. I mean, you were there at the beginning, right?”
“Yeah, we were.”
Sam chuckled. “I still can't wrap my head around that. Couldn't figure out why a smart-ass like you was allowed so much authority when I could barely move a finger without someone getting after me for it. But I guess Nick knew a lot of things I didn't.”
“He always had a keen mind.”
“Yeah.” Sam ran his fingers along a bookshelf and flicked the dust off his fingers. Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, Kant and Machiavelli, Arsené Lupin and Sherlock Holmes. His eyes wandered over to the overstuffed filing cabinets of case files and police reports. “Did he actually find the time to read all these, or did he just keep them around for decoration?”
Peter shrugged and took a long sip from his glass.
Sam grunted and tapped on the filing cabinets. They had been trying to get Nick to let them digitize them for years, but the old man had always refused. It would be quite a project going through them all. But that could wait. Now wasn't the time, and the League wasn't a business in the traditional step. Nothing would fall apart if they left things where they were for a few weeks, or a few months, or however long it took for the loss to fully sink in.
His eyes went to the rifle on the desk, and he carefully picked it up. “Was this his? I never figured ol' Nick for a gun man.”
“He wasn't,” said Peter. “His brother was, though, and gave him that one year. To keep him safe, he said.”
Sam turned it over carefully. Outwardly, at least, the gun's craftsmanship was excellent, if a bit old-fashioned. He would have loved to take it to the range and see what it was made of. “Seems in good condition.”
“Yeah,” said Peter. “Nicholas might not have been a gun man, but he knew how to care for one and how to use one. He and I took that thing out the shooting range a few times. I tell you, he could shoot a cherry off of William Tell's apple.”
Sam laughed and sighted down the barrel. “And here I always thought he was all brains and you were all the brawn. Did he really use this thing without a scope?”
“Maybe you're right in my case,” said Peter. He gestured toward the rifle with his glass. “Be careful with that thing.”
“Aw, common, gramps,” said Sam. “My specialty may be in literally turning up the heat, but I know how to handle one of these things. I'm not gonna go breaking ol' Nick's stuff.”
Peter gulped down a mouthful of scotch. “That's not what I meant,” he said. “It's loaded, and that thing could punch through the walls of this room like a hot knife through butter.”
“Even the filing cabinets?” But Sam lowered the gun. He checked the safety and flicked it on. “Damn, I should've checked that first. So much for knowing how to handle one of these things.”
He placed the gun back on the desk with a gentle pat. “I guess I'll leave it to you to put it back wherever he kept it, since you....”
His words trailed off. He looked hard at Peter, but the other's gaze was absorbed in the glass of scotch. “I'll take care of it,” said Peter.
“The hell you will,” said Sam.
Peter closed his eyes and sighed deeply. “Can't you leave an old man to grieve the last of his oldest friends in peace?”
“When I came in here, you were looking straight down the barrel of that thing,” said Sam. “Were you grieving ol' Nick, or looking to join him?”
Peter met his gaze then, his eyes full of a defiance that made him look even younger. “What do you know of the grievances of your elders, Sammy?”
“The Great Depression and three major wars under your belt,” said Sam, “and this is the thing that is finally going to make Peter 'The Mountain' Montana crumble. What would ol' Nick say?”
Peter swirled the ice in his glass. “He'd understand, Sammy boy,” he said, “in a way a younger man could never hope to.”
Sam lunged at Peter, grabbing for his lapels. Whether out of habit or defiance, Peter sidestepped him and brought a fist solidly into his stomach. Sam collapsed on the ground, wind knocked out of him. He tried to force air back into his lungs as he turned back toward Peter.
Peter had picked up the rifle from the desk. “Please, Samson,” he said, “try to understand. The Great Depression and three major wars, you say? Try five, though one was before the League was started, and we destroyed all record of involvement in the other one. I've lost track of how many 'old friends' I've lost. Many fell before you were ever born.”
“That comes with war,” he gasped, “and with being part of the League.”
“Yes, yes it does. But not all of those losses were on a battlefield.”
“They say the only things that are certain are death and taxes.”
“Is death really so certain in these days?”
Peter gave him a small smile. “Look at me, Sammy. The man who is also a Mountain. Immovable. Indestructible. Even Time can barely leave his mark on this body. Would you honestly say death is an inevitability for me?”
Sam paused. When he had been recruited to the League, Sam had assumed Peter was only a few years older than him. Now he knew better. These days, most people would have guessed Sam was the older of the two. He doubted Peter had aged a day since they had first met, and probably for much, much longer.
Peter turned from him and headed for the door, rifle still in hand. Sam lifted a hand and pointed at the space in between Peter and the door. Heat emanated from his finger, creating a ripple in the air between Peter and the door. He would have to be careful. If the old man truly wanted to see his plan through, he could do worse than pick a fight with Sammy “the Sun God” Sonnen.
Peter stopped. “What is it, Sam?”
“All those things haven't put a scratch in the Mountain, and you think a little rifle's gonna do the trick?”
“I know my weak points, even if no one else does. Or are you making an offer?”
“Nice try,” said Sam. He nodded toward the shimmer of heat. “That might be enough to leave a mark even on you, tough guy, but I doubt it will kill you.” He waved his fingers slowly and the shimmer moved closer to Peter. “Of course,” he continued, “I could just get rid of all the oxygen around you. You'd survive that, too, but you can't keep hold of that rifle if you're unconscious.”
“Or you could just burn the rifle and leave the cartridge intact. What's your point?”
“Maybe I'm not going to stop you at all. But I didn't actually come here to talk about how terrible it is that you're still cheating death.”
Peter took a step forward. “I'm done playing games, Sammy.”
“Mari's pregnant,” said Sam. “She just told me this morning.”
“Congratulations. I'm afraid I won't be able to play godfather, if that's what you're asking.”
“Dammit, this isn't about you, old man!” said Peter. His hand faltered and the shimmer faded a bit. “It's about... Mari's pregnant. What am I supposed to do?”
“Marry her, I guess. Don't worry, I'm sure you'll be an excellent father.”
“But that's just it,” said Sam. “What if I can't?”
“Nonsense,” said Peter. “You've already proven that you can look after others to the point of annoyance, and Mari seems to be quite fond of you....”
“That's not what I'm talking about!” said Sam. His concentration broke and the heat wave between Peter and the door dissipated. Peter turned back toward him. “What if I can't?” repeated Sam. “Me and Mari, we're both part of the League. I mean, she'll drop out to take care of the kid, I'm sure, but....”
“Perhaps you should follow her lead.”
“I can't do that, either,” said Sam. “Not yet, anyway. I mean, I want to protect her and the kid, but I don't think I can do that.” He looked at his hands and concentrated, feeling the temperature above them raise. “This is the first place I felt I belonged, that I was actually doing any good with what I'd become. This is my home. Even if I left formally, I doubt I could stop myself from vigilante work. It just... needs to be done.”
“There are others who can do it,” said Peter. “After all, that's part of why the League exists.”
“But what if... something happens to me? I know I'm not as tough as you or some of the others. Hell, if what you say is true, even you can be killed. We're all cheating death when we go out on cases. That's the nature of the League. We do it because our odds are slightly higher than most people's.” He clenched his fists and let the heat around them die. “What if my number comes up?”
Peter huffed. “We all die someday,” he said. He patted the rifle in his hands. “Or, rather, most of us do.” He turned back toward the door.
“But what about the kid?” said Sam. “Both Mari and I are superhumans. There's a good chance he will be, too. What if he hates superhumans because his daddy's always away with the League? What if he hates me because something happens and I don't come back? But what if I drop out of the League, and he thinks his dad's a coward and a lowlife for not doing what I could to protect others?”
“Sam, you can't hold yourself responsible for everything someone else thinks about you.”
“But it's my kid!” said Sam. “It's my kid. What good is it if everyone else sees me as a hero and my own kid hates me? And don't tell me I just have to 'do my best.' What if I'm not there to do anything, best or worst or whatever?”
Peter tapped the rifle against the palm of his hand. “Well, Sammy,” he said, “I guess you'll just have to do what everyone else does and trust all that to God and the people around you.” He tossed the gun to Sam. “Put that away for me, will you? Nicholas kept it in a safe behind that picture over there. The code is 4382.”
Sam gave Peter a questioning look, but got up and went over to the picture.
“I always told Nicholas that it was immensely impractical for him to keep that thing locked up in a safe,” Peter continued. “By the time he fished it out, any real threat would have already done away with him. But he used to tell me, 'That's what I keep all you freaks around for. If you all do your job, I won't ever have to fish that thing out in the first place.'”
Sam tugged the door to the safe open and placed the rifle inside. “You sure you won't be needing this, old man?” he said. “Is there somewhere else I should send a clean-up crew in a few hours?”
“Not today, I think,” said Peter. He sighed, and for just a moment Sam thought he could see the weight of all the years on those youthful shoulders. The next moment it was gone, and Peter moved with his ever-present sense of determination to the overstuffed filing cabinets. “I think I shall simply retire in a more traditional way for now,” he said. “I'm not as good with paperwork as Nicholas was, but maybe I can add some sense to all his archives.” He laid a hand on a cabinet. “Someone has to remember things the way they truly were, even when there is no one else left alive to talk about it. Otherwise, the young might forget the great deeds of their fathers.”
He looked at Sam, and Sam nodded.
“Yeah,” he said. “I think you've earned a change of pace, old man. Though it'll be hard to lose you from the field teams.”
“The same goes for you, Sammy,” said Peter. He turned back to the filing cabinet and opened the top drawer. “But if you guys will endure it for the sake of the future, I suppose I can, too. After all, I am the Mountain, and mountains stay standing no matter the weather.”
“I'll leave you to it, then,” said Sam, and he turned for the door. “I suppose I had better let the others know.”
“Oh, and...thanks, old man. From me and my kid.”