AN ACCIDENTAL INTERCEPTION OF FATE
Speaking to the Dead
Henry McCoy hadn't practiced emergency medicine since his days as a
resident, yet it never occurred to him that he shouldn't go into
Manhattan on the afternoon of September 11th, and he was down in the
med bay packing spare blood in ice when the professor found him. "I
saw they'd opened lanes into the city for medical personnel," Hank
said, by way of explanation. He was dressed in a white lab coat, one
specially sewn to accommodate his new girth and frame, and beneath
that, a 'big and tall' set of khaki slacks and a button-down shirt
with a tie. And sandals. No shoes were large enough for his feet
"Are you sure you wish to do this?" Xavier asked. "The hospitals
have not been flooded." The unspoken corollary to this being that
once the towers had gone down, there hadn't been enough survivors to
But Hank shook his head. "Doctors who've been working since the
beginning should be relieved, Charles. Any pair of trained hands is
needed, even blue ones."
"Where are you planning to go?"
"To Columbia. I'll send Jean back; she's been on call since
yesterday morning. By this point, she's so exhausted she's more of a
liability than a help."
Xavier steepled his fingers. "I'm not sure Columbia Presbyterian
would be the best choice."
Startled, Hank glanced up. "Why? It was where I did my residency; I
know the place."
"Yes, and it is the same emergency room to which a certain 'big blue
furry man' was taken after the accident in the Hammer Building. I
made no attempt to wipe memories completely, Henry. For one, it
wouldn't have been very effective -- too many people saw. For
another, I question the ethics of such an act. I only modified as
necessary, and while I'm sure there has been some turnover in the
past year, I'm also sure some would remember."
Hank stared down at the cooler of blood. "So you don't think I
should go out of the house?" It was both bitter and angry.
"If I'd thought that, would I have supported your decision to attend
the conference in Atlanta?"
"People asked questions, even there."
"Of course they did. Not only did the accident make the general
news, the mystery of it persisted in the medical community for
"People still think Bruce is to blame." Henry looked up. "What
really happened? You've never said."
"I've never said because I have no idea. From what little I do know,
I think it was an accident." One eyebrow went up. "They do occur,
you know, and if I understood the machine specifications correctly,
even something as simple as failing to fasten the containment
cylinder firmly could have had catastrophic results. The longer
something dangerous is used -- and used without mishap -- the more
lax people grow."
Charles kept to himself what Francesco Placido had foreseen. Henry,
usually so quick with a deduction, was also fundamentally
straightforward and it had never occurred to him that Frank might
have known but chosen not to speak. The 'greater good' was difficult
to accept when faced with the dramatic results of it in a mirror. A
part of Frank would never forgive himself for his choice, and Xavier
thought that punishment enough.
Charles also kept to himself the contents of a certain letter that
he'd received three months ago from an old friend. It had included a
clipping taken from an English-language newspaper in the little Cree
village of Chisasabi, Quebec on the eastern shore of James Bay off
the Hudson. The town supported a thriving summer tourism industry,
and the paper spoke of a 'great green wendigo' whom locals claimed
was at least seven feet tall. The creature reputedly ran from
groups, but if cornered, had a habit of pulling up small pines and
flinging them. At least one family of overly curious campers had
been forced to abandon their crushed tents. The reporter, a tribal
member disinclined to join the hysteria, had concluded his column
with the tongue in cheek remark: "If he is a wendigo, he hasn't
actually *eaten* anyone yet. Maybe our white urban tourists just
can't recognize a grizzly when they see it?"
Along the edge of the clipping, Erik Lehnsherr had written, "Weisst
du zufaellig irgend etwas ueber grosse gruene Monster, Charles?
Oder ueber grosse blaue?" *I don't suppose you would know anything
about big green monsters, would you, Charles? Or big blue ones,
either?* Then, in English, he'd added, "Fascinating machine that Dr.
Banner built. I'd love to see the schematics."
Henry was saying, "I need to do something, professor. I can't just
sit here twiddling my thumbs."
"I know," Xavier said, quietly. "I'm not objecting to your decision
to go into the city. I simply think it wiser if you offer your
assistance at a different hospital. Perhaps St. Vincent or Beth
Hank sighed. "That's assuming either lets me in the door. They
don't know me."
"Under the circumstances, I think your initial comment quite likely
correct. Any trained pair of hands, whatever their color, will be
welcome -- particularly a trained pair that is bringing blood
"Jean still needs to come home."
"I'll send Scott after her."
Emergencies, Scott Summers could handle, but the controlled blood
letting of formal medicine turned his stomach. Thus, when he entered
the ER of Columbia Presbyterian, he wasn't sure what he'd face and
steeled himself to witness triage in the hallways. In fact, he faced
very little. The hallway wasn't crowded with survivors, and the
triage nurse was currently tending a young Hispanic boy for what
looked like a bad knife gash on his arm; Scott doubted that had
anything to do with the disaster in Battery Park.
He was barely inside the main waiting area when Jean burst through
the big, swinging doors that closed off the treatment rooms from the
waiting area. She'd felt him arrive. "Scott!" He caught her as she
ran forward to launch herself at him. "Oh, thank God!" Even though
she'd known he hadn't been in danger, and she hadn't been in danger,
on this day, there was relief enough in simply holding each other.
Mortality had been brought home to everyone.
"I came to get you," he said now. "You've been here long enough."
"I can't leave -- "
"Yes, you can." He pushed her away to meet her eyes. She was
exhausted. And that, he thought, was when her age showed the most;
twenty-two handled sleeplessness more easily than thirty-one. There
were visible bags under her dark eyes and creases around her mouth
that, in ten years, would be full-fledged lines. Yet he found them
dear. Kissing the bridge of her nose, he said, *sotto voce*,
"They're not coming, Jean. Everyone's out who's going to make it."
That was hard and brutal, but she needed to take a break.
She acknowledged it with a sideways tilt of her head and a pursing of
lips. "You never know -- "
"Hon, *enough* -- come home." They looked at one another for a
moment, then she gave a little sigh. He changed the subject. "Have
you heard from Warren? The professor said -- "
"Yes. Wait a sec."
She disappeared back behind the doors, emerging a minute later with
Warren in tow. A bad cut on his right cheek (now stitched) might
well scar, there were smaller cuts and abrasions all over his exposed
skin, and his Armani suit was beyond help, but he seemed unconcerned
about all of that. His expression was haunted, and Scott could only
imagine what he'd seen. Scott didn't embrace him; the chasm between
them had been wedged too far apart by Warren's pride and Scott's
indignant guilt, yet they'd been close once and it relieved Scott to
see him alive. Scott offered him a hand instead. He took it. "Can
we drive you home?" Scott asked.
"I . . . Yeah. Thanks."
Scott glanced at Jean. "Go get your overnight bag, hon."
The casual endearment made Warren's lips thin, but Scott hadn't meant
to rub salt in the wound and realized what he'd done only after he'd
spoken. Frowning, he dropped his eyes to the tiled hallway floor as
Jean glanced between the two. "It'll just take me a minute," she
said, "but Scott, they're taking blood -- "
"Harkness Pavilion, Fourth floor. Follow the signs. I'll meet you
Nodding, he headed off with Warren in tow. Being O-negative made
Scott much sought after by both the Red Cross and their own mansion
med lab, and several pints of the blood Hank had packed earlier had
been Scott's. Now, neither he nor Warren said much as they wound
through the maze of the medical center. TVs blared in antiseptic
waiting rooms, and people were gathered around them, watching, faces
blank or stunned or angry. Finding where to donate was easier than
Scott had expected. There were, indeed, signs, and a long line
snaked down the hall. They got into it, and Scott thrust hands in
his pockets, staring at the floor, while Warren pretended interest in
the indecipherable abstract art on the walls. They listened to
people chatter. There was some speculation on who had engineered the
attacks, but even more about others' welfare. "Did you know anyone .
. . ?" "Well, my secretary's daughter's husband . . ." "My neighbor
is a policeman . . . " "I haven't been home since it happened . . .
" "My daughter's best friend was . . . " Adversity unified, even if
only in the horror of uncertainty.
After a few minutes, Warren turned back towards Scott. "I saw a
woman jump," he said softly. "I could've caught her."
Scott raised his eyes to Warren's specially tailored suit jacket.
"Not wearing that," he said.
Scott winced. "I just meant you couldn't have gotten free fast
It was the kind of straightforward observation that Warren had always
appreciated in Scott, and he didn't immediately reply. In the shadow
of tragedy -- and out of the shadow of Jean -- their usual animosity
had been shunted aside, at least for the moment. "I should have
thought to get free," Warren said. "You would have."
"Maybe. Maybe not."
"I should have gotten free after, at least."
"Why didn't you?"
Warren glanced over sharply but the question had been level, not
accusatory like the ones in his head. "I don't know. It sounds
stupid, but I was just . . . too shocked, I guess."
Scott studied Warren's face, part of him unable to imagine why Warren
wouldn't have thought to fly, and he wondered if Warren had simply
been afraid to reveal himself. Perhaps, but Scott also knew that
Warren *didn't* think clearly in a crisis. He didn't freeze up or
panic, and he could follow orders, but his thinking tunneled -- like
most people's, really. Scott had never understood how he kept his
own head under pressure. He just did. If he could act, he could
think. What drove him insane was to wait -- yet Warren could bide
his time and watch for an opportunity.
*Like he did with Jean,* Scott thought to himself -- unkindly. Then
logic interceded. Warren may have bid his time, but he hadn't gone
behind Scott's back. It was Scott who'd been dishonest, and whether
or not he'd meant it, Warren had been a victim of Scott's own attempt
at self-deception. So now, he tried to make up for it a bit. "All I
could think, when I saw that second plane hit, was that if I'd *been*
there, if I'd gone to get you instead of just calling . . ." He
stopped. People around them could hear, and he looked right at
Warren, mouthing, *I could have stopped it.* "But I wasn't there,"
Warren seemed to understand Scott's gesture. "If you'd gone running
down there, Jean would've been worried sick. And there's no
guarantee you'd have been in the right place at the right time. If
wishes were horses, we'd all ride."
"Same back atcha."
"That makes me feel so much better." The words were sarcastic, but
the faint smile was genuine. A nurse was moving methodically down
the line, asking blood types.
Scott raised his hand -- "I'm O-negative" -- and that was enough to
get him ushered right to the front. Warren said he'd wait in the
lobby, where there was a TV. Tables had been set up outside the
donor center for volunteers to take names and information. Scott
lied about the length of time since he'd last given, said two months
when it had been only six weeks, but he was young and healthy, and
this was *some*thing he could do. He had to do something.
It was nearing seven o'clock in the evening before the three of them
walked from the hospital out to the Mercedes that Scott had
commandeered. He told Jean to leave her car; she was too tired to
drive, even in the ghost traffic that remained in the city since the
disaster, and she'd have to be right back at the hospital in the
morning. At least the chief resident had given her until ten,
instead of expecting her back at seven.
They headed southwest from Columbia's Medical Center, towards
Warren's apartment off Central Park. In the light traffic, it took
less than half an hour to reach 72nd Street on the east side, and
over the radio, they caught reports that more than two-hundred
fire-fighters and seventy-eight police officers remained missing.
Warren thought about the men he'd seen rushing up the stairs inside
Tower One, and wondered how many wouldn't be going home that night.
"Stay for a while," he said impulsively when Scott had reached his
building. "Jean's exhausted and if she goes back to the mansion, she
won't get any real rest. There's the president's speech at
eight-thirty, too. You won't make it back in time to hear it. We'll
get some dinner and listen."
Scott decided that Warren had to be desperate for company if he was
inviting them to keep it, but said, "All right," and let off Jean and
Warren at the curb in front of an elegant, 1890's art nouveau
entrance, then went to park and walked back to the building. Warren
was alone, speaking with the doorman. Seeing Scott, he said, "I sent
Jean on up." The two of them followed. The building was silent and
Scott wondered if that were typical of the place, or part of the
day's general mood. The city that never slept had been frozen mute
with shock, muffled beneath a cloud of ash.
Scott had never seen Warren's new apartment, and was both amused and
unsurprised to find that he had the penthouse with windows all
around, giving a panorama of the city. These matched the building's
early 1900's style and were framed by marble casings carved in
sweeping motifs of sensual elegance, and Warren had decorated
accordingly -- art deco furnishings, Robiesque Tiffany lamps, and
�cole des Arts ornamentation. Scott traced a stained glass
oak-and-acorn light switch, then wandered over to one of the draped
windows. Normally, the view would have been impressive as the sun
went down and the city's lights came on, but today, Scott's eyes were
drawn to the black mar on the southern horizon. Jean stood at the
window just to his right, and Warren beyond her. They all stared at
the same thing.
After a while, Jean asked, "Do you ever wonder what use our powers
really are? I mean, when you think about something like today . . .
She trailed off, and remembering what Xavier had said to him earlier,
Warren spoke. "We need to do what we can do as ourselves. Scott
gave blood, you patched people up." He stopped. He still wasn't
sure what he'd done. "Is what we can do as human beings less
important than what we can do as mutants?"
Scott and Jean both turned to look at him, and embarrassed suddenly,
Warren headed off for the kitchen to see if there were anything to
eat. As it turned out, the housekeeper had gone home early and while
Warren couldn't blame her, with most of the city shut down, it left
them at a loss for dinner until Jean drew on borrowed memories and
the larder to produce a pasta in cream sauce while Warren changed and
Scott drifted about the big flat like an unanchored skiff. The pasta
was not only edible but excellent, and they ate like college
students, sitting on the floor around Warren's beveled coffee table
while they watched Bush's speech on the wide-screen TV. Afterwards,
Warren broke out some good sherry and they got drunk. If the gulf
between them would return when morning dawned, for that night at
least, they remembered how to be friends, and Warren put them in the
guestroom together, even loaning Scott clothes for the next day.
Jean had washed hers. She fell asleep by ten, and Warren went to bed
by eleven, but Scott couldn't sleep. He sat up watching the news and
talking to EJ on his cell phone while the effects of the sherry wore
By the time he hung up, it was almost midnight and the room was lit
only by the blue glow from the television. Scott paced over to the
windows. Beyond the glass, the city stretched, etched in neon and
electric yellow; Central Park made a dark slash off to the west,
pockmarked by street lamps like fireflies. Feeling frustrated and
penned in, Scott took Warren's key and went out. The doorman nodded
to him as he exited onto the sidewalk beyond. He wasn't sure where
he was going; he just needed to be in motion.
He'd assumed the area around Warren's building would be safe, but on
a night of such upheaval, nothing was certain and there were always
human dregs who'd take advantage of any calamity. So when one
shadowed figure appeared out of an alleyway right in front of him and
another came up behind, two thoughts struck him in quick succession.
First, that he'd lived off-and-on in New York for five years without
the baptism of a casual mugging. And second, this was the wrong
He didn't have his visor, but he did have years of sparring with EJ,
and more recent workouts in Reed Richard's Danger Room, plus the
stonewalled rage of the whole day just seeking a target. One mugger
pulled a knife. Scott reacted with a block, a punch, a block, a
hammer-fist strike, and a throw. It cleared him enough space to
safely reach for his glasses. Then both his attackers were knocked
into unconsciousness by barely moderated force-blasts.
It had all taken less than a minute, and when he was done, he was
breathing hard, heart pumping, adrenaline making him high. Only then
did he notice that he'd been sliced on the lower arm and was bleeding
onto the sidewalk. He pressed the artery inside his elbow, trying to
stop it, and thought it might need stitches, but wasn't too serious.
Yet after giving blood earlier, he knew the additional blood loss
could make him light-headed.
"I don't know who needs saving more here -- you or them."
Scott spun around, but no one was there.
He did as told, finding a shadowed figure attached precariously to a
white stone balustrade on the brick building above. The figure
jumped down where Scott could see him better. He wore a costume that
Scott recognized from newspaper articles. "My friendly, neighborhood
Spider-Man?" Scott asked.
"Got it in one, Mr. I-Wear-My-Sunglasses-at-Night."
"I don't think a guy in red-and-blue spandex has any room to talk."
"Hey, at least it's not banana yellow."
Scott had to laugh at that, half in amusement, half in sheer relief
that he was still standing, and the muggers weren't. Spider-Man had
turned to wrap them up in webs. "That was an interesting finish," he
said, almost off-hand, "with the eye-lasers." But Scott hadn't
missed the fact that he was moving so as to keep Scott in his line of
"They're not lasers -- no heat. And I'm a mutant," Scott replied
bluntly. Not much point in denying it. "You can call me Cyclops."
So Frank had dubbed him, half in jest, but vocalized to a stranger,
it sounded as ridiculous as the red-and-blue spandex looked.
Finished with the riff raff, Spider-Man walked back over and Scott
was surprised to discover that he was both taller and wider across
the shoulders than the other man. With EJ as a roommate, and now
surrounded by Jean, Warren and Hank, he'd developed a bit of a height
complex. "Cyclops, eh?" Spider-Man asked. "Did you lose Odysseus?"
"I've heard of mutants. There was an article in POPULAR SCIENCE just
a couple months back. You have an X-gene that causes physiological
modification at adolescence -- gives you superhuman abilities."
"I thought you were a crime-fighter, not a science geek?"
From the twitch of red fabric across the man's lower face, Scott
thought he might have smiled. "Science geek by day, superhero by
night," he quipped.
"Just your friendly --
"-- neighborhood Spider-Man, yes." But there was something bitter in
it this time, not amused. "All I'm good for -- mugger patrol."
"Tell it to the people in the Towers. If I'd been there --"
"-- you could have climbed the walls to rescue them. And a friend of
mine could have flown. And I could have shot the second plane out of
the sky before it even hit. What if, what if." Those words were
bitter, too, and the spider-man's head jerked sharply.
"A lot of people will be saying that tonight, I guess," he said.
Scott didn't reply, and neither spoke for a minute, nor even looked
at the other. Scott was staring at the trussed-up and unconscious
lumps of his attackers. "What do you think makes a hero?"
"You're asking me?"
"Yeah, I'm asking you, Spider-Man."
"Doing something to help because you can."
Scott nodded, mostly to himself. "That doesn't require special
powers. The most useful thing I did today was give blood."
Abruptly, Spider-Man leapt sideways and attached himself to a wall,
watching Scott from that peculiar angle. "I have a question for
"What's the difference between a hero and a superhero?"
"Dunno. Superhuman abilities?"
That reply caught Scott by surprise, but before he could reply,
Spider-Man pointed to his wounded arm. "I think you're giving more
blood than you intended today. You'd better go get that looked at.
See you around. Cyclops." And he scampered up the building wall
"My name's Scott," Scott called after him, impulsively.
For a moment, there was just silence and Scott figured him long gone,
then a voice drifted back, "Mine's Peter."
In the wake of the attacks, the city of New York first banded
together in a solidarity of distress that thumbed its nose at her
callous reputation, then entered a shocked hibernation of several
days the likes of which Jean had never seen. Streets in lower
Manhattan were vacant, and even the boroughs were quieter than usual
while the news flashed pictures of flowers stacked in Union Square
and drawings of children in Central Park. Rescue workers wore
stunned expressions, family members tacked up images of the missing
on walls and telephone poles, and the death toll changed from
estimated to actual, acquiring names. A pink-ash cloud continued to
drift over lower Manhattan, making the sunset red behind a wounded
When the city woke at last, she woke like an angry bear, grief-mad
and grateful for, but also mildly resentful of, the solidarity
offered by the rest of the nation (Washington excepted). It hadn't
been their cities hit, and like anyone in mourning, New York didn't
want to be told 'We know how it feels.' Grief, Jean had learned
during her residency, was an individual thing. In this case, an
individual thing nine-million strong including the outer boroughs,
and what people wanted depended on who was asked, but the desire to
strike back topped the list of many. One of the ER nurses who Jean
worked with put it succinctly, albeit with resort to clich�: "You
don't mess with New Yorkers." She was wearing a big pin with an
American flag on the collar of her scrubs, and an expression of
defiance on her round face, and Jean had felt an empathic pride that
lasted until she heard over the radio on her drive home about a
Muslim mother and daughter who'd been hounded out of a grocery store.
Then she was ashamed. Hurting innocent people wasn't what she
wanted. She wasn't in favor of hurting anyone, in fact -- she was a
doctor -- yet another part of her wouldn't have minded seeing an eye
for an eye, and her own mixed feelings confused her.
Scott's anger took a different direction. A New Yorker only by
transplant, his rage was less personal, and overlaid by cynicism. He
found the sudden explosion of patriotism mildly nauseating, but
didn't share this with Jean, Warren, or even the professor. Their
pain was too raw, yet he told EJ over the phone, "If I see one more
idiot waving an American flag like that'll bring back the dead, I
think I'll puke. They won't be the ones sent overseas to
Afghanistan, or waiting at home."
"Take it easy, man. It's an angry city out there. It's an angry
country all over," EJ replied. "And scared. People are scared. Dad
said Sunday attendance is way up."
"I bet. And I know people are scared." He stopped, remembering what
Frank had told him back in March: *This country is like an open camp
now, at ease, confident -- but in five years, it will not be.
Threats real and imagined will create paranoia.* "We're in for a
rough ride." And by 'we' he wasn't sure if he meant Americans
generally, or mutants in particular.
"Boxing shadows," EJ said. "It makes people mad. Pretty soon they
start hitting whatever looks solid, even if it's not casting a
Just a few days later, Bush announced the creation of his Office of
Homeland Security and Scott listened to the speech along with the
rest of the mansion. One part caught his ear: "Our response
involves far more than instant retaliation and isolated strikes.
Americans should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign unlike
any other we have ever seen. It may include dramatic strikes visible
on TV and covert operations secret even in success."
It was the mentality of a foxhole, just as Frank had predicted, and
against a faceless enemy that, being faceless, could shift at need.
Amorphous wars mutated too easily into witch hunts, and that was the
genius of guerrillas and terrorists, to create fear of the suspected
rather than the seen -- not an environment conducive to rationality,
and Scott disliked the open-ended nature of what he heard. Anything
deemed dangerous could become a target, and how long until the noose
was tightening around their own necks? *Threats real and imagined
will create paranoia.* And Scott understood something at last that
had been teasing the back of his mind for days. A man couldn't see
where he was going if he was always busy looking over his shoulder.
Despite these private worries and angers, another result of the
September attacks was to make Scott and Jean more acutely
appreciative of each other -- not because they'd been in danger that
Tuesday, but because they hadn't, yet understood now that time was
mortal, always dying. Each day, each breath spun out behind them
into gossamer impermanence, and the future took on the aspect of
shattered steel and concrete. They had the now, and that was all.
Scott touched Jean at night with gentle fingers, and her kisses had
grown thoughtful, as if memorizing what he tasted like. Once, he
woke to find her sitting up in their bed in the dark, cross-legged
and facing him while he slept. When he asked her what she was doing,
she replied, "Watching you breathe." He'd done that with her, too,
but thought she meant something rather different.
Life at the mansion stuttered through the rest of September and then
fell into October. Leaves changed and students plotted costumes for
Halloween. A strange fervency had overtaken them, as if they would
force enjoyment from the holiday if it couldn't be coaxed. Halloween
was also Scott's birthday (an irony he found by turns amusing or
ironic), and he turned twenty-three. If he'd gradually stopped
worrying over the age gap between himself and Jean, he'd remained
subconsciously aware of it and was glad he could once again claim to
be 'only' eight years younger. Yet it was at his suggestion that
they dressed up as Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, on the theory
that one's demons were best controlled by waving to them.
Uncharacteristically, Ororo kept to her bedroom that night. She was
missing Frank, Jean said, and the two of them debated whether they
should pry her out or leave her in peace. They'd nearly settled on
leaving her in peace when an even more uncharacteristic development
sent them both rushing up the stairs (Jean almost tripping in her
skirts) to bang on Ororo's door and insist she answer. Throwing the
door open, Ro glanced from one to the other. "What?"
But Scott and Jean were laughing too hard to speak, so they just
grabbed her by the hands (one each) and hauled her after them, back
There in the foyer sat Charles Xavier, in costume -- improbably -- as
a *gorilla*, a rather displeased gorilla, in fact, given the mirth
his choice seemed to have generated among the mansion denizens. "You
all assume I have no sense of humor."
"Whether or not he's got a sense of humor," Scott hissed under his
breath to Ro, "at least he's got hair!" And she was forced to bite a
lock of her own to keep from dissolving into giggles.
It wasn't until much later, as Scott and Jean were readying for bed,
doing their usual dance around each other in the bathroom, that Jean
said, "He did that on purpose, you know."
"Wha?" Scott's mouth was full of white toothpaste foam.
"The costume. He did it to make us laugh."
Scott spat out the toothpaste and reflected that sometimes being
leader meant surrendering one's dignity on purpose.
Continued DIRECTLY in part 21b.....
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