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AN ACCIDENTAL INTERCEPTION OF FATE 20b (ensemble + S/J, adult, prequel)

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  • Minisinoo
    Continued directly from 20a... ... So how did it go? You mean aside from the fact that I want to strangle her mother, draw and quarter her sister, and flush
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 14, 2003
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      Continued directly from 20a...
      ------

      "So how did it go?"

      "You mean aside from the fact that I want to strangle her mother,
      draw and quarter her sister, and flush the brother-in-law down a
      toilet? I guess it went fine."

      "Ah." Ororo seated herself beside Scott in the shade of a tree,
      where they could keep a watchful eye on the kids, but the wilting
      heat of early August acted as a better deterrent than two sets of
      adult eyes. No one had much energy, and even Scott, usually immune
      to the sun's hammer, wasn't immune to choking humidity. He'd taken
      off his shirt and wadded it up beside him; Ororo glanced at it with
      amusement. "You will give the girls a heart attack," she said.

      "Huh?"

      Leaning forward, she plucked up the discarded shirt, shaking it in
      front of his nose. He shrugged with studied disconcern, but his lips
      twitched. "You could take yours off, too," he said, "then the boys
      could have a heart attack."

      Jaw dropping, she smacked him with the shirt. "Pig!"

      Arms up to fend her off, he laughed, but was also secretly relieved
      to have her back on speaking terms with him, even if he had to yell
      'uncle' twice before she quit abusing him. He leaned back on his
      elbows then. A blue jay was chattering above, and sunlight fell
      through the leaves onto the grass in a polka dot pattern of light and
      shadow. Gnats buzzed, annoying, and Rusty was challenging Julio to
      hit him with a water balloon. Scott and Ro sat in a companionable
      quiet. "So are you ready to become the math teacher, in the fall?"
      she asked at last.

      "I thought I already was the math teacher?"

      "Officially."

      "I suppose."

      "I am thinking that, perhaps, I shall take an education degree, too."

      Scott glanced at the back of her head, which was all he could see
      from his angle. "What would you want to teach?"

      "History, I am thinking."

      Scott nodded. "We could use that," he said.





      A light sleeper, Scott woke when the bed rocked. Jean was getting
      up, and he'd anticipated this; tomorrow was her first day back in the
      ER. He heard the soft crack of a door opening, but it came from the
      direction of the veranda, not the hall. Rolling onto his back, he
      reached for the night-stand and his glasses there, then pulled off
      the flax blindfold he slept in now (because it was more comfortable
      that goggles). Glasses in place, he raised up on his elbows. She
      was outside, wrapped in thin silk and silhouetted by house lights
      through the paneled glass doors. "Damn," he whispered, glancing at
      the clock -- a few minutes past one in the morning -- and he wondered
      how long she'd lain awake before rising. Throwing off the covers, he
      got up to pad after her. She jumped when the French doors opened.
      "I didn't mean to wake you," she said.

      "I know. But I wish you had."

      She shrugged in reply and he slipped his arms around her waist from
      behind, resting his chin on her shoulder. "I'll be fine," she said,
      her voice brittle with irritation.

      "I'm sure you will." But he didn't let her go and she snorted at
      him. Then a moment later, she gasped when his palm drifted up to rub
      one nipple.

      "You think that's going to distract me?"

      "I don't know. Is it?" His other hand had found the other nipple
      and he felt her press back against him almost instinctually.

      "Men think sex is the answer to everything."

      "It's not?"

      Laughing, a little breathless, she was pressing her ass into his
      crotch now and he rubbed against her, the hour and his exhaustion
      transforming his worry into lust. Twisting in his arms, she kissed
      him and reached up to remove his glasses as he turned his head aside.
      Then she sucked at his jawline, his neck. The night air was cool in
      contrast to her body and he could hear the wet sounds her mouth made
      on his skin as her tongue slid over his bare chest, flicking against
      flat nipples. He hissed, putting out a hand blindly for something to
      rest his weight against. The glass door, it felt like, but sensation
      had all concentrated in his crotch, heavy and pulsing. Voice hoarse,
      he said, "Let's go back in." She disengaged and took his hand. "Can
      I have my glasses back?" he asked.

      "No," she replied.

      "Jean . . ."

      But she only dragged him through the room and shoved him down lightly
      on their bed, kissing his face again. He nearly yelled when he felt
      her lips cross his eyelashes. "*Don't do that!*" He was weak all
      through from anxiety, his desire drowned. "*Dammit*, don't do that."

      "Shhh," she said and pulled him towards her, pushing his face into
      her shoulder.

      "Please --"

      "Shhh," she said again, then, "Kiss me."

      He wasn't sure what this was about, what game she was playing, but he
      got hold of his own fears and did as she asked. "Why are you doing
      this?" he asked between kisses.

      "Because I like the feel of your bare face." Then she slipped free
      to lie back on the bed, thighs spread as she maneuvered him between.
      The insistent bulge of his erection pressed into the damp heat of her
      crotch and the smell of sex was making him crazy. He rocked against
      her.

      "What'd you do with my glasses?"

      "I'm not telling."

      "Jean!"

      "Shhh."

      This was her particular fetish, to see him without the glasses. A
      part of him understood it, despite his anxieties. She was *curious*.
      But just now, she was pulling his head to her breast and after a
      moment's hesitation, he obliged, mouthing her nipples, drunk on
      wanting. There was a rawness to this, without anything in the way, a
      freedom, and he could almost pretend he was a normal man.

      For Jean, it was all about the crisp flavor of danger, the awesome
      power she held in her arms, proving she wasn't a coward. But even
      more, it was about trust. She needed to know that he trusted her to
      trust him. Complicated. Yet trust was important because so few
      offered it to a telepath. Scott always had -- in everything but
      this. He'd trusted her enough to live with a permanent link in his
      head, but he hadn't trusted his bare face against her chest, and for
      some reason, that last resistance had *bothered* her.

      Now, he raised himself up on his arms so that he could reach her
      breast more easily, and it was less the sensation of his tongue
      circling her areola that excited her than the feel of his nose and
      brows pressed into her skin -- and what that meant. No metal, no
      quartz. Only his eyelids. After a moment, he moved his head
      sideways, intending to give some attention to the other breast, but
      she stopped him, holding his face against her sternum, his nose right
      over her heart. His muscles tensed, then abruptly relaxed and he
      sank against her, letting her embrace him as her fingers slipped
      through his hair. They lay that way until her breathing evened out
      in sleep, then he rolled onto his back with a sigh. He was still
      hard, and eyes shut, he slipped a hand under the waistband of his
      briefs to grip himself and finish. She needed to rest. He bit his
      lips when he came so he wouldn't wake her.





      The new year began with nineteen students rather than seventeen, and
      Xavier's finally felt like a proper school, having shed the
      awkwardness of numbers too large for intimacy, but too small for
      momentum, and for the first time, classes were broken down into
      grades. Three full-time teachers were listed on the brochure, plus
      Ororo, who continued her studies at a local private college and acted
      as their part-time "assistant." Occasionally Warren turned up to
      lead a particular class, but he and Scott kept their distance, edging
      around each other like dogs who preferred the peace of a good fence.
      Warren was more friendly with Jean, who politely pretended that she
      didn't know about his public quarrel with Scott in the dining hall,
      back in March. Almost half a year had passed in any case, and the
      new students took her affair with their math teacher as a fixed
      article of mansion life, while the older students had stopped
      gossiping finally sometime in late July. Scott and Jean had passed,
      almost overnight, from the subject of titillating speculation into a
      boring old couple. The fact that they'd been friends for such a long
      time (and had the privacy of their own room for intimate trysts)
      infused their public interaction with a platonic familiarity that
      discouraged prurient interest. Not that Jean was around the mansion
      much during the day, in any case, with her current rotation in the ER
      -- and there were several nights a week that she wasn't around, too.
      Scott discovered that he really didn't *like* sleeping alone, now
      that he'd gotten used to another body next to his.

      At least this time her rotation passed more calmly than the first,
      perhaps because it came at the end of her first year and she'd
      learned confidence, or perhaps because the rest of her life had
      settled into routine. That changed in September.





      Scott dropped by his office to pick up some papers before his first
      class only to find his phone ringing off the hook. Shoving the door
      open, he grabbed for it. "This is Scott Summers."

      "Why is no one answering the phones?" It was Francesco, sounding
      both annoyed and panicked.

      "I don't know," Scott said. "Breakfast just ended and everybody's
      headed to class. You caught me by chance. What is it?"

      "Warren is not answering his phone, either, not at his flat nor his
      cell phone, and his secretary -- which he at least *has* -- says he
      is not at the office yet."

      Scott ignored the secretary remark. "What do you need with Warren?"
      And what did he need with Warren that meant he'd call the mansion as
      a second resort?

      "He must stay home today."

      Scott glanced at his watch: eight-oh-seven. "I think it's a little
      late for that, Frank."

      "Tell him to go home! Call him and tell him to go home! It is
      easier for you there than for me. Tell him to go home!"

      Grabbing a chair, Scott sat down. He knew that tone. "What'd you
      see?"

      "Only flashes. There is no time to talk. *Find him.* Tell him he
      must go home."

      Annoyed with the crystal-ball babbling, Scott nearly shouted, "WHAT
      flashes?"

      "A red sky. Sirens. A woman covered in ash with a broken heel,
      walking down a street. A great cloud of gray smoke turning over
      cars. Fires. Pieces of a plane stretched across a field. A tall
      building falling, but what building, I cannot say. And American
      flags everywhere. How much use is that? Now do not waste time --
      find Warren and tell him to go home. Something is going to happen."
      He hung up.

      Scott stared at the humming receiver, then disconnected and dialed
      Warren's cell phone. Perhaps he'd just had it off when Frank had
      tried earlier, because he answered now. "Worthington."

      "It's Scott. Frank called here. He says you need to go home.
      Something's going to happen."

      "My, that's . . . informative. I don't suppose you could be a little
      *more* vague, could you?"

      Scott ground his teeth. "You *know* how Frank's visions work. Where
      are you?"

      "In the hallway outside my office door, actually." And he lowered
      his voice because there were others in the hall, too. "Look, Scott,
      I have two important conference calls today. I can't just take off
      because Frank has some premonition of disaster that has nothing to do
      with me."

      "It has everything to do with you -- he tried calling you first, and
      only called here because he couldn't catch you. It's you he's
      worried about." Maybe Frank hadn't been able to see specifics, but
      he'd certainly been focused on Warren. "Get out of Battery Park. Go
      home and do your calls from there."

      Warren pondered that while people passed, hurrying to a meeting, an
      interview, an office. He had faith in few things, but Frank Placido
      was one of them. "All right, fine, but I need to pick up some papers
      and documents. I'll call you when I get home."

      "Don't call me; call Frank. I'll talk to you later."

      When Summers had hung up, Warren folded his phone and slipped it into
      his pocket, then entered his suite. These weren't the main offices
      of Worthington Enterprises by any means; they occupied only half the
      fifty-first floor of World Trade Center One. But Warren's father had
      decided a branch at the center of New York's financial heartbeat
      would be convenient, and had put his son in charge of it under the
      watchful eye of one of his senior staff, Alan Hodge. Riding with
      training wheels, Warren had called it.

      Fortunately, Hodge wasn't there yet; he didn't arrive until nine or
      ten, and Warren's receptionist approached to hand him a good dozen
      pink message slips. He glanced through them. Half were from Italy,
      and that, more than Scott's call, decided him firmly. Heading into
      his office, he grabbed his current files and shoved them into his
      briefcase, then walked back out. "Ladies and gentlemen," he called,
      getting their startled attention. "We're going to breakfast -- my
      treat."

      His staff stared, obviously wondering what had prompted this
      beneficence, but the rich were allowed their little eccentricities
      and Warren was relying on that to cover his real reasons. He figured
      that whatever had made it dangerous for him to be downtown made it
      just as dangerous for them. "Come on," he said, clapping his hands,
      "find a stopping place." Even so, it took fifteen minutes to herd
      them out and down the hall to the elevators, which were all in use.

      Now that he'd committed himself, Warren wanted out of the building as
      quickly as possible, and might have suggested the stairs, but even
      Frank's warnings couldn't overcome the ridiculousness of taking fifty
      flights, so he waited with his staff, bouncing a bit on the balls of
      his feet. The harness that constrained his wings chafed more than
      usual today. "Why breakfast?" one of the clerks asked. Tom Vincent.

      "It's a nice day," Warren replied, because he had nothing better.
      "And I don't know -- it's Tuesday?" He grinned. "I didn't get any
      breakfast this morning."

      A few of the secretaries shook their heads, but smiled. Warren
      doubted they minded a morning off, but he hoped Alan Hodge didn't
      show up to an empty office or he'd have some explaining to do. He
      glanced at his watch. Eight thirty-nine. Maybe this'd be a day that
      Hodge arrived at ten. "This better not be a joke, Frank," Warren
      muttered under his breath. But Francesco never joked about visions.

      The elevators were slow to arrive and one had just opened when the
      entire building surged suddenly under their feet, knocking them into
      walls or to the floor. "What the hell was that!" someone shouted --
      Tom Vincent again.

      "I don't know!" Warren said. "Stay here!" And he raced for the
      nearest office, threw open the door, and nearly collided with a
      frantic woman running *out*. "What's going on?"

      "I don't know! Something hit the top of the tower!"

      Warren glanced out a window. He could see glass, a blizzard of
      papers, and large metal pieces raining down. Slamming the door, he
      ran back towards his people. They had white faces, and Peggy, his
      receptionist, seemed on the verge of a panic. "Get to the stairs.
      Go!" Warren pushed them in front of him. All the offices were
      emptying now, creating a mass exodus of frightened people, and a
      backup outside the stairwell. Strangely, no one pushed or shoved.
      Someone was sobbing. More speculated -- a gas explosion? A
      helicopter clipping the roof? Another bombing like the one in '93?
      No one seemed to know.

      The stairwell was narrow, and only two people could go down abreast.
      A design flaw, Warren thought, lips twisting at the irony of noticing
      that now. People jostled him and he could smell sweat from nerves.
      The lower they went, the hotter it got from so many bodies crammed
      into such a small space, and sometimes the human traffic flow simply
      stopped. Still, no one panicked until water started pouring down the
      stairs from above; fortunately, the sardine-tin packing kept anyone
      from doing anything truly foolish, and the majority kept a cool head.
      Warren could hear Vincent and the reigning office matriarch,
      Lorraine Harris, talking calmly to the people around them. Warren
      had always hated Lorraine for her snippiness and hauteur, but he
      loved her now. She was keeping Peggy from going to pieces. "We're
      at the thirtieth floor; not much further!" Her voice was loud over
      the rushing water.

      Smoke was seeping into the well in addition to the water, and at the
      twenty-seventh floor, the traffic flow stopped again as people were
      jostled and firemen starting racing *up*. Their faces were haunted
      and they were panting. When people demanded to know what had
      happened, they didn't reply, just told them to keep moving down and
      evacuate the building. Despite even less space, movement picked up.





      Ever since Frank's morning call, Scott had been unsettled, the hair a
      bit raised at the back of his neck, so when he heard feet patter down
      the hall outside his class and Ororo's voice shouting, he broke off
      instantly and ran to open the door. "What?"

      "The World Trade Center's been hit!" she replied over her shoulder as
      she yanked open the door to the professor's office across the hall.
      "The World Trade Center's been hit by an airplane!"

      Scott sprinted for the den and turned on the television where a
      Channel 4 news bulletin was announcing the collision. It sounded as
      if it had been an accident. Then the picture came in, showing one of
      the twin towers burning -- the north tower. Warren's tower. "Fuck!"
      Scott shouted, not caring that kids were arriving in the den behind
      him. He dropped down on a couch so that others could see.

      "What happened? What's going on? Did a plane really hit the tower?"
      the kids were chattering, torn between morbid excitement and simple
      confusion.

      "Be quiet and listen!" Hank snapped, joining Scott on the couch; it
      rocked under his weight. The news was giving the time of the
      collision as 8:45 -- about half an hour after Scott had talked to
      Warren. "What floor is Warren's?" Hank asked, his voice hollow and
      soft.

      "Fifty-first," Scott replied, then leapt to his feet and headed for a
      phone, but the lines were all busy. He tried over and over, every
      few minutes, until behind him, Jubilee and Doug both *screamed*.
      Whipping his head about, he watched live feed of a second plane
      hitting the south tower. Time froze, and his breath with it. Then
      there was a burst of flame, and smoke and debris shot out,
      fascinating like fireworks, and as terrible as Judgment Day.

      "Ohmygodohmygodohmygod!" and "Oh, shit, oh, Jesus!" came from the
      kids, along with other exclamations rather less articulate. Rendered
      mute, Scott just dropped the receiver.





      It still took thirty-five minutes for Warren and the other evacuees
      to get to ground level. The upper lobby was filled with rescue
      workers. "Out, out, out!" they were saying, practically shoving
      people through the doors that led to the bridge across to the World
      Financial Center on the other side of West Side Highway. Freed now
      from the stairwell, people finally began to grasp the full magnitude
      of what had occurred. Windows were blown out of their steel frames
      and the lobby was partially charred. A couple of the elevator doors
      had been blasted open, apparently from the force of its car coming
      down, and all Warren could think was that they'd almost gotten on
      one. He began to shake. Outside, they could see glass still raining
      down like hail, and paper was everywhere, along with concrete rubble
      and bits of twisted metal. A lot of rubble and metal.

      And bodies. There were bodies, or what was left of them after
      falling so far, some charred. Warren gagged, and tried not to look.
      People around him were sobbing in fear, relief, horror -- a rich
      cocktail of emotion -- while other faces showed no expression at all.
      There was no expression for this. Some people walked in circles,
      some ran, aimless. Many were yelling for friends or people they
      knew, or had a phone to their ears. Warren pulled out his own cell
      and opened it, but never dialed. He followed the flood across the
      street, just one more person headed for the esplanade along the
      Hudson River, and it suddenly didn't matter who he was or how much
      money he had. It mattered that he was still moving, still alive, and
      not a body on the pavement. His skin stung but it was only much
      later that he learned he'd been pelted by bits of glass and concrete
      that had scratched his face and hands. There was smoke on his suit
      and his soaked shoes made squishing sounds as he walked.

      Pausing finally, he looked behind him. Both towers were on fire, the
      smoke roiling out gray and black into a quartz-blue sky. Tower One,
      the north, had a gaping hole near the top and Tower Two, the south,
      had one more toward the middle. He stood stock still, staring, as
      people ran past. That was when he saw someone leap from a window
      above the hole in Tower Two, wingless but arms outstretched, her hair
      and skirt whipping behind her. It knocked him to his knees, and
      inside the cage across his back, his own wings fluttered. Useless.
      He bowed over and banged his forehead on the sidewalk.





      The first reports came over the dispatch at the main desk of the ER.
      They were confusing, but news traveled fast, and as more reports came
      in, Columbia Presbyterian prepared for Disaster Response along with
      every other hospital in Manhattan.

      But the rush of ambulances never came. Doctors and nurses stood
      about with nothing to do. Some people did trickle in off the street,
      and a few more in an ambulance here or there, but not enough, not
      enough. Like everyone else in the ER, Jean knew that a lack of
      casualties meant a higher death toll. So she waited with the rest,
      and never noticed when her shift should have ended at ten. No one
      thought of leaving. At one point, she became dimly aware of the
      professor's mind-touch in her head, not interfering, merely
      ascertaining that she was there, and safe.

      Early on in the first hour, a few nurses and doctors glanced at her
      nervously. They'd heard stories of the previous March. But she
      didn't waver as she moved up and down the hall, tending the few who'd
      made it this far -- mostly for cuts and bruises and smoke inhalation
      -- and as time passed, the staff ceased to think about it. There
      were too many other things to think about, and faces were sketched
      with concern. Jean caught bright flashes of worry and a hushed
      litany of names: family and friends. (*And what of Warren, what of
      Warren?*) Once in a spare moment, she tried to call Scott at the
      mansion, but couldn't get through. Yet he was in Westchester.
      North. That was safe, wasn't it? (*And what of Warren?*)

      Jean went back to her duty.





      The mansion phone lines had been busy almost since the second tower
      had been hit as students had called parents or parents had called
      students, when they could get through the clogged relays; Hank had
      even brought in his laptop to offer email as an option, slow as that
      was. Scott's maternal grandmother had phoned, wanting to know how he
      was (she lived in Brooklyn) -- and a complete stranger had called,
      too, a Ham Radio contact of his father's. Chris Summers had assumed
      the worst and gone straight for his radio. Any excuse, Scott
      thought, amused and exasperated, but he told the man he was fine.
      Yet neither Warren nor Jean had made it through, and when he was
      called to the phone for a third time, Scott nearly leapt for the
      receiver. "Hello!"

      "Yo, Slim! You're okay!" EJ's voice this time. The relief in it
      was palpable.

      "I'm fine." Scott tried to hide his disappointment; he didn't want
      EJ to think he didn't want to talk to him, but -- right then -- he
      didn't want to talk to him.

      "I had to call. I had to check on you."

      "I'm fine," Scott said again, eyes turning back to the TV screen. He
      couldn't seem to look away for long, even while he didn't want to
      see. "Jean's at the hospital, but she's all right, too, the
      professor says. Everyone's all right. Except for Warren. We don't
      know about Warren. The professor is trying to locate him."

      "The blond guy?"

      "Yeah. He had an office in the north tower."

      "Fuck" EJ paused. "The news is all over. Everything's stopped out
      here. People are hanging out in front of a TV. A plane hit the
      Pentagon and another went down in PA, they're sayin'."

      "I know." It was dull. He'd spent all his anger, earlier. They'd
      hit the goddamn *Pentagon*, and he was still military brat enough to
      feel the outrage. They were baiting the bull. Just now, the news
      was showing loops of the second plane hitting the second tower. Over
      and over. Scott shut his eyes.

      *If you'd been there, you could have stopped it*, he thought to
      himself.

      EJ was still talking. "Clarice and DeeDee are over here, and Lee
      called, and Dad and Mom. I need to get off and start letting people
      know you're okay."

      "All right."

      "Call me, or send email, when you know something about your friend."

      "All right."

      EJ paused but didn't hang up, said instead, "Talk to me, man. You're
      not all right."

      "Dammit, what do you want me to say?"

      "Anything."

      "I could have fucking stopped it!" he shouted, aware that the kids
      had twisted around to look at him. "If I'd been there, I could have
      stopped it!"

      "How?" The question was calm.

      "I could have blown the plane out of the sky!" Then he thought about
      how that had sounded. "It would've killed the people on it, yeah,
      but it would have saved the tower."

      "There's a long string of 'if's attached to that, Slim."

      "But I could've done it."

      "Your shoulders aren't that big. Carry what fits on 'em."

      Scott's jaw tightened, but four years of friendship had earned EJ the
      right to say that. "All those people are dead." A pause. "Warren
      --"

      "Yeah." The word was much softer. EJ didn't add to it. There
      weren't enough words.

      Scott turned his back on the TV and shut his eyes again, felt heat
      sting behind them. He could only cry with his eyes shut, and a
      reporter droning behind him hid the choked sound from everyone but
      the man on the other end of the line, almost three thousand miles
      away. EJ didn't speak, but he didn't hang up. After a minute or two
      of simple silence, Scott said, "I should get off. In case Warren
      manages to get through. Or Jean."

      "Call me later." It wasn't an offer; it was an order.

      "Okay." Scott hung up.





      He needed sensible shoes. Just some goddamn sensible shoes. He'd
      lost his tie somewhere along the Hudson and his shirt hung half open,
      though he didn't dare take the jacket off his back. It'd expose his
      wings. Yet what good had they done anyone?

      He thought again of the woman falling.

      He wondered if he would ever fly again.

      Behind him, around him, in front of him, a sea of people moved up
      Broadway, north out of Egypt, an exodus of suits all looking for
      their personal promised land. Most people had been directed west
      across the Brooklyn Bridge along with others on the Hudson side of
      downtown, but he'd resisted. He had to go north; his promised land
      lay in Westchester.

      Even as his thoughts turned that way, he felt a brush against his
      mind, as light as his own feathers. *Warren?*

      *Professor!*

      *You're all right. Thank heavens!*

      *I didn't help them*, Warren replied. It was a non sequitur, but the
      apology burst out of him like a rain of shattered window glass.
      *That woman -- she jumped and I didn't catch her. I should have
      caught her, but I didn't think about it until I saw her jump. What
      good is a man with wings if he doesn't use them?*

      Xavier didn't answer immediately and Warren could sense him sifting
      through Warren's memories to make sense of what he'd said. Finally,
      the professor sent, *You did not think about it because you were in
      shock like everyone else. A man who has wings is still a man,
      Warren.*

      *Scott would have thought of it!*

      *You are not Scott.*

      *No kidding!*

      *It wasn't a criticism, son. Do what you can do as Warren.* And the
      touch was gone.

      The terrible sound began behind him like the soft rattle of an
      earthquake, and dull still with shock, Warren paused to glance back.
      The south tower of the trade center was collapsing like a house of
      concrete cards, straight down into a ball of dust and smoke and fire.
      Around him, he could hear the sharp sounds of shock, and someone
      burst out weeping. Not a woman. Warren ran a dirty hand into his
      hair. Then he continued up Broadway as the dust boiled out of
      Battery Park behind them and people began to run instead of walk.
      Ten or fifteen minutes later, he heard the other tower go down, but
      he didn't bother to look, just threw away his useless briefcase.

      Ahead of him, he could see an elderly woman with one broken heel; she
      was covered in dust and wept into her hands as she walked along with
      a lurching gate from her broken shoe.

      "Hey," he said and caught her up, putting his arm around her. "Stop
      a minute." She did. He could see now that she wasn't an old woman
      at all; her pale blond hair had simply been covered by gray ash and
      there was a long gash on her dirty cheek. He picked her up.

      "You can't carry me," she whispered.

      "Sure, I can." Nature had given him more than the wings. He started
      walking again. "What's your name?"

      "Felicia," she replied. "Felicia Hardy. What's yours?"

      "Warren." He didn't give his last name. On a day like today, it
      didn't matter.

      --------

      N.B. Most of the mesoamerican professors that Scott mentions are
      real people. The details of 9/11 owe to a variety of sources: the
      first-hand accounts of Tower survivors, news reports, NYC residents
      whom I pestered, and my own memories. All errors are my own.

      I'll post Chapter 21 tomorrow.




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