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"The Bird Whose Wings Made the Wind" (1/1) SPECIAL #3, Scott-Hank-Warren

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  • Minisinoo
    The Bird Whose Wings Made the Wind SPECIAL: THE GENESIS OF CYCLOPS #3 Minisinoo Summary: Scott and Hank rescue a new classmate. Warning: This particular
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 8, 2002
      "The Bird Whose Wings Made the Wind"

      Summary: Scott and Hank rescue a new classmate.

      Warning: This particular section, aside from Scott's language and a
      fight scene, is pretty vanilla, but the entire series is ADULT, as it
      deals with unpleasant topics.

      Notes: Regarding the plays, Durang is, I'm convinced, a modern
      Aristophanes, and the quotes come from "Perestroika," Act V, of Tony
      Kushner's ANGELS IN AMERICA. Naomi not only edited it, as usual, but
      saved me from errors with New York drivers licenses; New York must be
      different, of course :)


      "What are you reading?"

      "Mmm?" I glanced up. Hank had dropped down beside me on the couch.
      He must have come into the den across the ceiling because my
      peripheral vision hadn't seen him cross the floor. But I was getting
      used to his sudden appearances, didn't jump out of my skin any more.
      Instead, I held up the book so he could see the cover for himself.

      "ISLAM, GENDER AND SOCIAL CHANGE?" he asked, with something like

      "The professor assigned it to me. After the debate."

      The debate a couple of nights ago, when Hank and I had made the
      mistake of trying to have a conversation about religion. The only
      thing we'd been able to agree on was that neither of us believed in
      it. "And are you learning anything new?" he asked now.

      "Don't start on me, Monkey Toes. And I thought you were on-call last

      "I was. Got home half an hour ago." Reaching over with one of those
      impossible feet, he plucked the book from my hands and held my place
      while he checked the table of contents. "'Islam and Gender: Dilemmas
      in the Changing Arab World,' 'Gender Issues and Contemporary Quran
      Interpretation,' 'Islam, Social Change, and the Reality of Arab
      Women's Lives.' Now that chapter sounds interesting. And it would
      appear that many of the contributing authors are Arab women."

      "They are. And that chapter is interesting. Now give it back."

      He did so, then settled down to unfold that morning's NEW YORK TIMES
      and we read in companionable silence. He didn't say anything else
      about the book, and I didn't admit that it was making me re-think my
      position from our debate -� as the professor had known it would, I'm
      sure. Maybe Islam wasn't as repressive as I'd thought. A lot
      depended on interpretations of the Qur`an. But wasn't that usually
      the case? Everything in life is a matter of perspective.

      Except math, maybe. That's why I love numbers. Call me crazy, but I
      do. Numbers are straightforward. You learn the formulae, you plug
      in the numbers, and if you're careful, the right answer comes out the
      other end. Nothing gray. No guessing, like in the rest of my life.
      No emotions to confuse things. You just do it.

      The professor had figured out pretty quick that I'd finish all my
      math and science homework first, then history and humanities, but
      would tackle literature only if I couldn't find anything else to
      distract me. And there's plenty around the mansion to distract.
      Swimming, riding, watching TV, playing pool, even teasing the
      squirrels in the garden. It's not that I don't like to read. I'll
      read anything �- fiction, non-fiction, doesn't matter. But if it's
      a story, I want to feel it, lose myself in that world. I don't want
      to pick it apart after. Maybe that's why Xavier sicced Monkey Toes
      on me.

      Hank McCoy is seriously weird. He hangs from the fucking *ceiling*
      to read his mail, for Christ's sake. And he talks like somebody
      crammed a dictionary down his throat. But I like him. He's never in
      a pissy mood, he doesn't judge me, and he always seems glad to see me
      when I show up in his downstairs lab. 'Frankenstein's Retreat,' he
      calls it. He knows more about opera than anybody ought to, and can
      read a four-hundred page book in a single afternoon, but he still
      likes Twinkies, has the whole STAR WARS collection, plays a mean
      Nintendo, and has a real human skull he named Yorick sitting on one
      of his filing cabinets. We have water-gun wars with green Kool-Aid
      instead of water -� but not in the mansion. It'd ruin the wood

      He's not my teacher, like Xavier, but he teaches me things. When I
      hadn't gotten the joke about Yorick, he'd howled over the horrors of
      modern cultural deprivation in America, then proceeded to quote whole
      chunks of HAMLET from memory and found a local performance to take me
      to see. Some high school drama department production, but he didn't
      care. It had to be *on the stage*. Attending a play had been a new
      experience for me. I'd loved the immediacy of it, the connection
      between the actors and the audience, even the darkened theater that
      transported me to another world -� but not passively, as in a cinema.
      This was how story ought to be: lived and breathed. Experienced.
      Not analyzed. So now we go to plays, and Hank knows all the best -�
      old, new and in-between: A DOLL HOUSE by Henrik Ibsen, which made me
      want to cheer when Nora slammed the door on Torvald, THE MARRIAGE OF
      BETTE AND BOO by Christopher Durang, which was so blackly ironic I
      hadn't known whether to laugh or cry, and only the week before,
      ANGELS IN AMERICA, by Tony Kushner. That last had sucker-punched me.

      ** I want more life. I can't help myself. I do. I've lived through
      such terrible times, and there are people who live through much much
      worse, but . . . . You see them living anyway. When they're more
      spirit than body, more sores than skin, when they're burned and in
      agony, when flies lay eggs in the corners of the eyes of their
      children, they live. Death usually has to take life away. I don't
      know if that's just the animal. I don't know if it's not braver to
      die. But I recognize the habit. The addiction to being alive. We
      live past hope. If I can find hope anywhere, that's it, that's the
      best I can do. It's so much not enough, so inadequate but . . . .
      Bless me anyway. I want more life. **

      Those words *burn*. Life can be shit, but you live anyway. Or at
      least you exist, and you want to keep existing. I've sat so many
      times with a razor, or pills -� and once with a gun -� thinking how
      simple to just . . . stop. Stop trying, stop hurting, stop *being*.
      But I hadn't done it. I don't know if that had stemmed from inertia,
      or cowardice, or foolishness, or plain stubbornness, but dying was
      the ultimate 8-Ball sink. It's all over and you don't rack them
      again. And I refuse to lose.

      Whatever had stayed my hand, here I am. And for the first time, I
      really *want* more life. I look forward to waking up in the morning.
      Harper said at the end of ANGELS IN AMERICA, "In this world there is
      a sort of painful progress. Longing for what we've left behind, and
      dreaming ahead." I can't say I long for much in my past except the
      family I can barely remember, and I lost them, I didn't leave them.
      But I am learning to dream ahead.

      I'd been at the mansion for three months, now. I had plenty to eat
      and more to keep me busy. Even school wasn't so bad because the
      professor was more interested in what I learned than in giving me a
      grade. In fact, I hadn't gotten a grade on anything yet, wasn't sure
      he was going to bother. I either understood the material or we went
      over it again -� and that made a hell of a lot more sense to me. I
      didn't mind taking a test when the point was to find out what I
      hadn't followed. If school at the orphanage had been like this, I
      might have tried. But fun and games came to a screeching halt on a
      Tuesday morning, three months and four days after I'd arrived.

      I'd never been a big person for mornings, and while the professor got
      up with the sun, he didn't seem to care when I came to class, as long
      as I came prepared. So we'd fallen into a routine of starting my
      lessons around ten o'clock over coffee, tea and bagels. And we
      worked until we were done. I might not be a morning person, but I'm
      not a slacker, either. I do something well, or I don't do it at all.
      And I wanted to please him, which might have scared the shit out of
      me if I'd stopped to think about it. Caring meant eventual
      disappointment. In life, I'd learned quickly to stay detached.
      Here, I'd become anything but. Simply put, I *liked* these people.
      They treated me as if I were a human being, not a piece of fuck-meat.
      Neither Hank nor the professor had ever laid a hand on me that
      extended beyond camaraderie. And believe me, I knew the difference.

      But that Tuesday morning, I got blasted out of bed a little after
      eight-thirty by a mental call from Xavier. *I am sorry to wake you
      at such an 'ungodly' hour* �- I could almost hear his amusement �
      *but we have a situation.*

      "A what?" I'd said to the air. I knew he could hear me if I just
      thought it, but it felt weird to me. I preferred speaking aloud.

      *A young man at a private prep school in New Hampshire, a young
      mutant. He's been 'outed' by his classmates, and I fear for his

      "So why wake me? Can't you call the cops?"

      A mental sigh. *And just what do you think the police would do?*

      Good point. I'd met some decent cops in my time on the street, cops
      who did their job, but I knew first-hand just how much 'help' others
      could be to anyone whom they thought undeserving. And as I'd come to
      like these people, I'd also become protective of them. 'Mutant
      Menace' my ass. I felt safer at Xavier's than I'd ever felt in my
      life since my parents had died. Nonetheless -� "So what can *we*

      *Why, go and fetch him, Scott.*

      "How? Hop a handy-dandy private jet?"


      Some days, it's better to keep your mouth shut.

      I showed up in the mansion's underground, still struggling into
      clothes and trying to comb hair that hadn't been washed yet. I
      wasn't any too sure about this little adventure. For one thing, I
      wasn't sure I could get on the damn *plane*. I'd lost my parents in
      a plane crash, and hadn't been on one since.

      Yeah, right. Like I'd had the money to buy a ticket anyway? But
      that didn't ease my fear as I approached the professor, waiting
      beside a nondescript door near Hank's lab. I'd never been through
      that door.

      Sometimes, living here, I felt as if I were in a James Bond movie.
      Imported marble floors, oak wainscoting, and crystal chandeliers
      upstairs, while down below, we had steel hallways, recessed
      fluorescent lighting, and pneumatic entryways. I did know my way
      around a little -� enough to get to Hank's lab, the workout room and
      the computer core. I'd seen Cerebro, but that place gave me the
      heebie-jeebies so I just stayed the hell away from it. Now, the
      professor opened this new door for me . . . onto a hangar bay that
      housed the jet to which he'd referred.

      I'd been expecting a nice, white, private Leer jet the rich buy. But
      this . . . . It was black and sleek and quite likely capable of
      breaking the sound barrier.

      Jesus H. Christ. My jaw must have hung down four inches. "Where in
      hell did you get *this*?" I asked, forgetting all about my fears.
      Lust at first sight.

      *I have my connections. Come, Scott. We must hurry.*

      The door was already open, and there was a specialized lift to get
      the professor's chair into the plane. I'd assumed he was going to
      fly it, but once aboard, I found Hank in the pilot's seat. "I
      thought you were on-call last night?" I said, coming forward
      cautiously to sit in the seat behind his as the professor motored up
      to take the co-pilot's chair, shifting himself easily from the
      wheelchair to the seat, folding up the chair and storing it behind,
      then strapping down the harness and putting in a radio earpiece.

      Like I said -� a James Bond movie.

      "I am still on-call," Hank told me now. "A doctor's primary call is
      the preservation of health � which is what we are going to New
      Hampshire to do."

      I found the harness and strapped myself down even as the jet was
      lifting off -� straight up. "*Shit!* Is this a plane or a goddamn

      "Language, Scott," the professor said mildly. "And to answer your
      question, this craft has been modified for VTOL -� vertical take-off
      and landing -� thanks to Hank."

      "Man, is there anything you can't do, Monkey Toes? Medicine, jet
      design, debates on the finer points of Islam?"

      "I can't dance."

      "*You* can't dance? Mr. Agility?"

      "I look ridiculous, and I refuse to make myself a laughing stock."
      There was an edge to his reply, so I dropped it and turned my
      attention to strapping on the knives I'd brought: three throwing
      knives and a switchblade hidden up a compartment of my jacket sleeve.

      The professor watched me do it. "I don't think you'll need those,

      "Maybe not. Maybe so."

      "We work without bloodshed."

      I raised my head to meet his eyes. "Peachy keen. I'm glad for you.
      As long as no one tries to shed mine, I'll be happy to go along with
      House Rules."

      He shook his head at that, more in disappointment than disapproval -�
      and disappointment works a hell of a lot better on me. He knows it,
      I'm sure.

      "Look," I said after a moment, "you dragged me out of bed to come
      help. Fine, I'll help. But not unless you let me defend myself.
      Unlike you two, I don't have any special 'gifts.' I have to make do
      with my wits and some sharp steel."

      "Your wits would worry me more than your knives," Hank said from the
      pilot seat, even as he was leveling us out at cruising altitude and
      pushing the throttle. I could feel the pull on my face and skin from
      the accelerating speed, and all my previous fears suddenly struck
      back. I was on a freaking plane. Gripping the armrests tightly, I
      swallowed twice, trying to clear my ears and my memory, but my heart
      had started to pound in my chest.

      "Did you log and clear our flight path?" the professor was asking
      Hank, oblivious to my distress.

      "Already done. I would rather not impact another aircraft at mach

      Mach two? Fuck. If something went wrong at this speed, I'd be dead
      before I knew what had hit me.

      I squeezed my eyes shut and swallowed again -� bile this time. Holy
      Fuck, I was *not* going to throw up. I could do this. I'd done
      worse. This was just a little plane ride. I could handle this.
      Slow the breathing, Summers. Don't freak out.

      "Scott." The professor's voice cut into my private terrors. "You're
      going to be fine. Nothing will happen to you. You're going to be
      just fine." The voice was hypnotic, and calmed me -� perhaps with a
      little telepathic help, but just then, I didn't care if it let me
      unscrew my eyes and get them open. I found the professor
      half-turned, regarding me. "You're very brave, Scott. And I am very
      sorry. In my haste, I did not think."

      "It's okay," I lied. But I didn't want to talk about it, especially
      not in front of Hank, who was thankfully playing deaf.

      July twenty-first, seven and a half years ago -� the worst day in a
      life full of shitty ones. The day I'd been tossed out of an airplane
      with my brother tied to my chest and one parachute between us. The
      day I'd lost both my parents. The day my whole fucking life had
      blown apart like the plane above my head.

      Now, Xavier nodded to me once, smiled tentatively, and turned back to
      face the cockpit window.

      It took us less than twenty minutes to reach New Hampshire. We
      parked the jet in a pasture for the school's horses, empty at the
      moment, and Hank and I deplaned, leaving the professor to await our
      return . . . hopefully with a new mutant in tow. He kept the engines
      primed, in case we had to leave in a hurry -� which, as it turned
      out, we did.

      Unsure what we were getting ourselves into, we decided it'd be best
      to approach the campus obliquely, so we took what was probably a
      service road around the main building's side. It was a small place,
      and very exclusive from what Hank told me -� essentially a prep
      school for Harvard, Yale and Princeton . . . places like that. The
      main building was straight out of a British gothic novel: old gray
      stone with lead-glass diamond-pane windows and entryways that soared
      up to a peaked arch. Creeping ivy covered the walls and arching
      trees shaded it. The chapel had a bell tower, and a great round
      stained glass window that looked like a smaller copy of the one in
      Notre Dame.

      I'm not ignorant, even if I had made a living on my knees with my
      mouth open. I know what Notre Dame looks like. And gothic
      architecture interests me -� all lights and shadows and soaring lines
      �- but I had no time to admire the building. Nor did we need any
      help to find where we needed to go. Our quarry was dramatically
      outlined against a gray New England skyline . . . up on the roof.
      They had his shirt off, or they'd caught him with his shirt off.
      From his back sprouted a pair of *wings*. The feathered kind, like
      an eagle's, but as a white as a dove's. Even at this distance, I
      could see morning sun strike blond hair.

      We were here to rescue goddamn *Gabriel*.

      Except that Gabriel wouldn't have been swaying on his feet from a
      beating, and held immobile by a half-dozen of his 'buddies.' I
      grabbed Hank to haul him further around the building's side where we
      could try a door. Locked. "Damn." I kicked it in frustration, then
      peered through the window. There was no one about that I could see
      -� either inside or on the grounds �- which surprised me. It was
      after nine in the morning. "Where the hell is everyone?" I muttered.

      "Probably in class," Hank said as he leapt to grab the top edge of a
      windowsill. "If the total school population, including instructors
      and staff, is over 300, I would be very much surprised. Now, as the
      door is barred against us, we shall have to find an alternative route
      to the roof. Grab on, Scott." I wasn't too thrilled by that idea,
      but I did as he said, threw my arms around his shoulders and my legs
      around his waist. Christ, this must look fucking weird, but we
      didn't have time to find another tack before the idiots on the roof
      did something worse to Gabriel than knock him around. They'd looked
      set to toss him off the roof. Though God knew what they thought
      they'd accomplish, throwing a guy with *wings* off a building.

      When we did reach the top, Hank skittered over the roof edge, low,
      and I dropped onto flat, hard slate. No cheap gravel on tar
      commercial roofing, this. We crouched a moment, getting our
      bearings. We could hear the boys talking in the distance, though not
      all of what they said. "Mutie freak," came through clearly enough.
      It was said with all the same vitriol I'd heard in "faggot whore"
      flung at me occasionally out of car windows.

      My eyes traced out a trail and I pointed, whispering to Hank. "If we
      sneak around that way, behind the chimneys, we can catch them off
      guard. I don't think they're posting sentries, y'know?"

      "I think you are correct. Lead on."

      I did so. Life had taught me how to move quietly and without being
      noticed, but it never ceased to amaze me how a big guy like Hank
      could make scarcely a sound. We reached a small building, probably
      the roof-access stairwell, and crouched behind it. There were five
      boys dressed in variations on expensive chinos and button downs with
      monogrammed cardigans and finely styled hair. They'd thrown Gabriel
      face down on the slate tiles, stretched out his wings to pin him, and
      were now pulling out hunks of feathers, bloody at the base. "Can't
      fly without feathers, can you, Worthington?"

      "Those *bastards*," Hank muttered beside me.

      I shrugged. Gabriel looked to be of much the same ilk as his
      tormentors and I wondered if he wouldn't be among the ones yanking
      out feathers had he not been gifted with them. But we were here to
      do a job for the professor, and I owed him. If he wanted me to haul
      winged boy's fat ass out of the fire, I'd do my best.

      "Hank," I whispered, "if I distract them, can you grab the angel kid
      and get down the side of the building one-handed without falling?"

      "You bet. But what about you?"

      "I've been eluding bullies a long time. I'll be fine."

      He studied me a minute, but I just stared back until he shrugged.
      "If you say so." I didn't wait for him to change his mind, but
      trusting he could figure when to make his move, I scuttled around to
      the side away from him, then rose up to walk out where they could see
      me. I'd palmed my switchblade and kept myself between them and the
      stairwell exit. They might be rich, but I knew better than to assume
      they weren't dangerous. Daddy's money could buy a lot of things,
      including fencing, karate, or wrestling lessons. But I'd bet none of
      them knew down-and-dirty street fighting, where the only rule was to
      be the one standing at the end.

      "Hey!" I shouted at them. "Lay off!"

      So it wasn't the most inspired challenge. It still got their
      attention. All five of them (stupid fools) swung around to look.
      That was all Hank needed. Exploding out of our hiding spot, he
      snagged the half-unconscious victim with one hand and a metal support
      railing with the other, used it to swing around out into space and
      over the side, and was gone. It took him three seconds. The pack of
      tormentors barely had time for more than startled gasps and grunts.
      I used that diversion myself to beat a retreat for the stairs.

      It would have been too much to ask that everything go as I'd planned.
      My foot slipped on a cracked piece of slate and I went skidding to
      my knees, felt the knife bite into my fingers. That was all the boys
      needed. They were on me, hissing swear words and curses, but I'd
      been in tight situations before and knew better than to let them
      catch me with my back to them. Dropping and rolling, I managed to
      get my feet up and into the belly of the first attacker, shoving him
      off. The second got slashed with the switchblade, and a third, too.
      Both yelped like kicked dogs. But the fourth managed to club me in
      the head with something hard. Maybe his shoe. "Mutie lover!" he
      snarled. It made me see stars and my vision tunneled for a moment,
      long enough for them to grab me. I stabbed one, but they threw me
      back, pinned my arm and got the knife away. Things were not looking
      up. "Now it's your turn, you interfering punk."

      At that moment, I heard a gleeful howl and two of the guys holding me
      down went flying. "Avoiding bullies, eh, Scott?" It was Hank's
      voice. He'd come back for me. "Looks like you might need a little

      "Yeah, well, I fell!" I snarled, and freed from some of the weight
      holding me down, got my feet under me. The boys were shouting in
      surprise. Which one had my switchblade? "Look out, Hank," I said,
      "One of them has my knife!"

      "Oh, joy!" he shouted back, hauling off two more and �- quite
      literally -� knocking their heads together. "Now you know why it's
      not a good idea to fight with one. They're useful only so long as
      they stay in *your* hands."

      "Gee, why don't you state the damn obvious, Monkey Toes!" I slugged
      the fifth into next week.

      I had to admit, this was kind of fun in a perverse way. I'd always
      wanted to knock the crap out of a bunch of spoiled rich brats, and
      now had an excellent excuse. "I think it's time to go!" Hank called,
      and I broke away, intending to run for the side of the building, so
      he could grab me and we could make our escape.

      Except I never got there. The biggest guy, who was probably the
      leader of the pack and who had shaken off the effects of Hank's
      stunning blow, managed to snag me by the arm, swinging me around by
      using my own momentum against me. But before he could throw me to
      the roof floor again, there was a gust of wind on both our backs and
      we glanced up.

      Gabriel, looking decidedly grim and bloody but still with feathers
      enough to fly, had risen above the roof edge. He glared at us all.
      Surprised, my captor's grip weakened and I twisted free, making for
      the edge where Hank waited, but before I could reach him, the winged
      boy swooped down to scoop me up, saying to Hank, "I trust you can get
      down yourself?" and then we were rising in the air.

      I squeezed my eyes shut and muttered, "Oh, shit."

      "I won't let you fall," he said. His voice was unexpectedly deep,
      and his grip strong. "Where did you two come from? And who in hell
      *are* you?"

      We were no longer climbing higher, but I refused to open my eyes.
      "My name's Scott," I said. "Hank's the other guy. And we came from
      the horse pasture."

      "*The horse pasture?* How long have you been living in our horse
      pasture?" He was laughing.

      "Well, we didn't come from there originally!" I snapped back,
      annoyed. "That's where we fucking parked!" I gestured vaguely,
      though with my eyes still shut, I had no idea if it were in the
      direction of the pasture. "Just go there. You'll see." I figured
      that Hank would have had the good sense to head for the plane, too,
      and the boys on the roof would be too busy milling around to follow
      very fast. For one thing, they'd have to climb down. And maybe, if
      we were lucky, some of the teachers might finally have gotten a clue
      and showed up on the scene.

      We flew for a few minutes, and then my transportation said, "My, oh
      my. Where did you get *that*?" As we were finally descending, I
      risked cracking an eye. The professor was waiting for us in the
      hatchway of the sleek black jet.

      "Professor Xavier has his connections," I said, echoing what I'd been
      told earlier.

      "Where's Henry?" Xavier asked me as the two of us set down. Gabriel
      released me and I moved away, uncomfortable with the close physical
      contact, even for necessity.

      "On his way, I hope," I replied. "We kinda had to leave in a hurry."

      "He is on his way," the winged boy said. "I saw him." He was eying
      the professor, who eyed him back. "And you are?" he asked.

      "Dr. Charles Xavier, of Westchester. And you," he said with a smile,
      "are the Avenging Angel, otherwise known as Warren Worthington the

      Gabriel -� or, rather, Warren -� wore an expression of utter shock.
      "How did you know?"

      But before the professor could reply, Hank burst from the trees at
      the near end of the pasture and leapt the fence, shouting, "I suggest
      we prepare for immediate lift off! Company is on the way!"

      Turning his chair, Xavier disappeared back inside the plane even as
      Warren and I climbed up the ramp to make our way down the aisle.
      "Sit there," I said, pointing to the seat behind the professor as I
      slid into my own and fastened the harness. I could hear Hank hit the
      bottom of the stairs and then he was up them and into the cabin,
      slamming the hatch closed. Already strapped in, Xavier had the
      engines priming and Hank hurried forward to take his pilot's seat as
      Warren finally figured out how to fasten the harness around his
      wings. He winced a few times and I was reminded of the pulled
      feathers. "You going to be okay till we get back?" I asked him.

      "I'll live." The reply was short and sharp.

      Great. Rich boy manners to go with the fancy name. Maybe we should
      have left him to his classmates. But then he sighed -� "Sorry" -�
      and gave me a tight-lipped smile. "Thanks. I owe you one." His
      eyes swept the cabin even as Hank was lifting the plane. "Thanks to
      all of you. They'd have killed me. But" �- his eyes were on the
      back of Xavier's bald head -� "I still want to know how you knew.
      Both that I was in danger, and . . . who I am."

      "In good time, Mr. Worthington. I shall be happy to explain it all
      once we are safely back in Westchester."

      The return was short and quiet. Now that the crisis was past,
      adrenaline quit pumping and both the new guy and I slumped. I was
      sore and tired, and Warren must have been in pain. He didn't whine
      though, which made me respect him, but his face was white and he kept
      his eyes shut.

      As soon as we were home, the fancy black jet back in its hangar, Hank
      took Warren to the infirmary and the professor sent me off to get
      some rest. I smoked a cigarette on my balcony to calm down, then
      crashed on my bed -� didn't wake again until after noon. In the
      shower, what I'd done finally struck me. I could have gotten myself
      fucking *killed*. But we'd rescued someone. I'd spent most of my
      life just surviving �- no purpose beyond that, no plan for the
      future, no direction. One of life's tumbleweeds. Now, for the first
      time, I thought about what I wanted to do with my life. And for the
      first time, I realized I *could* do something. I had choices. I
      could act, not react. I'd helped a guy today, and not to get
      anything from him in return. I'd helped him because he'd needed it,
      and because I could, and because someone had helped me . . . and
      because it was the right thing to do.

      That felt good. It felt free. It felt powerful.

      *I* felt powerful.

      Turning off the shower, I climbed out to dress, then considered my
      reflection in the mirror.

      It was time to get a hair-cut.

      When I got downstairs, there was nobody around. They were probably
      all still below, and not wanting to interfere, I wrote the professor
      a note, then took some of the spending money I'd been given and
      called a taxi. Henry might be teaching me to drive, but I wasn't old
      enough yet to have a driver's license.

      The taxi took me into Salem Center. I didn't go to town often -� I
      felt out of place there, and self-conscious. But today was
      different. I wasn't the same guy I'd been yesterday. I had the taxi
      stop at a local barber's, paid his fee and asked him to come back for
      me in an hour. Then I went in. When it was my turn in the chair, I
      had the barber cut my hair short. Not too short, but like a regular
      guy's haircut.

      From now on, I was nobody's whore.


      Feedback is welcome. I'm currently working on what's essentially the
      second half of this, called "One Tin Soldier."

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