|Disclaimer: The X-Men characters, and all other recognizable characters
are copyright to Marvel Entertainment Group. This work of FanFiction is
not meant to infringe on that copyright or defame Marvel Comics or the
X-Men and related characters in any way.
Copyright: This work of FanFiction and the original characters described within are the intellectual property of K-NICE and her IRL persona. No copying, distributing or editing of this material is permitted without the express permission of the creator, K-Nice, under United States copyright law. The company and employees described in this story are real. They are pulled from my experience. They are not characters and thus not up for use of any kind.
Okay, this is to answer my own private challenge: How many Challenges can you do in one story. So: Alara's Death Challenge, Matt Nute's Self Insertion Challenge, Sheldon Burnham's Power Challenge, Indigo's Extraordinary People, Ordinary Situations, the Fan Experience Challenge and the Hated Character Challenge. Whew! I'm hoping for an E for Effort. :) -This crosses over with the TCP story "This is what happens . . ." as a continuation. Thanks to TangleToy and Araginee for reading this over.
© K-Nice 2000
Sorrows Not Yet Beheld
A light drizzle fell on the tarmac, but that wasn't what kept the plane on the ground. The fog, which was suffocating the small airport and looked more like low flying clouds than anything else, is what ruffled Warren Worthington's feathers.
Not that his feathers could move very comfortably from within his wing harness -- but that just made their twitching more irritating. Warren shifted in his wide leather seat and tucked his legs under the table in front of him. Lounging this way, he removed some of the pressure from his back and let some of his impatient frustration slide away. There was nothing more miserable than having the power of solo flight and spending the morning in a delayed private jet. Shaking his head, he stifled the urge to berate his crew, to take over the cockpit, to call the Bradley International Airport executives and demand some answers. They were strong urges, but he defeated them.
Checking his watch and wishing Storm was nearby, Warren sucked in a breath and grabbed his cell phone. Dialing a single number, he let his phone speed dial Barbara, his executive assistant, who was holding down the fort in New York. "Hey Barbara, good morning. Again." Even on the phone he smiled charmingly, "I need you to call Marcel Rubin and tell them there has been an unavoidable delay and to reschedule the meeting for 10:30 instead of 10:00. Okay? Thanks Barb and I'll see you this afternoon."
Settling back with only his shoulders against the cushioned seat, Warren watched the weather roll slowly by his window. This was not an unavoidable delay. He had mental navigating equipment that was uninhibited by fog or rain or snow. He had wings that let moisture slide right off and muscles that could make the trip from Connecticut to upstate New York in less time than he could drive across the George Washington Bridge on a Monday morning.
It was only unavoidable because he was making another pathetic attempt at being a normal business man, which, of course, excluded him from swooping into meetings on big, white wings. It tended to bring imbalance to the bargaining table. If he wanted to be normal, however, he would have to deal with normal delays.
The plane set down at exactly 9:53 am. Warren was on the door as it opened, moving so fast for the exit that he almost left his precious briefcase by his seat. The sky was bright gray, the sun making the cloud cover a shimmering silver, brilliant enough to blind. Stepping out of the plane and into a hunter green limo, he began to let his nerves subside. He had heavy negotiating to do today and he couldn't start out flustered.
Worthington Enterprises, Inc. was finally in a position to invest again. It had been a long haul back to the top after Hodge's betrayal, but Warren had to admit it wasn't all his own doing. In fact, this was the first time in a long time he was able to take an active role in the day to day operations of his corporation. Scott's death had helped him put a great number of things into perspective.
"Good morning, Mr. Worthington." The limo driver was pleasant, but not talkative, something Warren was grateful for. Using the rearview mirror, he noticed the driver didn't have on a uniform. Instead he wore a plain polo shirt and gray Dockers. Snorting, he figured out why a company that looked so good on paper was in need of financial help. Poor discipline probably pervaded their corporate atmosphere.
Warren smiled, "Yes, I think it might be." Letting his head fall back as he mentally reviewed the figures in his briefcase, he only checked his watch twice during the 20 minute ride from the airport to his meeting. He was calm and composed as the limo pulled up a well landscaped driveway. He nodded in a appreciation of the building -- it was so well situated on the hillside that it exuded confidence and strength. He liked easily stripped away illusions in a opponent.
They stopped under a covered entrance. As the door opened, Warren was further impressed by who was waiting for him. "Mr. Worthington, I'm sure you remember me . . ." The man was of an age with himself, with the ruddy complexion of an outdoor athlete.
"Anthony Rubin, it's good to see you again." Warren matched grins with him. "We missed you at the last ski retreat in Switzerland. What happened to you guys?"
The good good-natured question sunk deep but Anthony barely missed a beat. "We decided to do Aspen this year. Oh, this is Joe Diamond, our CFO."
Joe reached a hand out "We spoke on the phone." Warren shook with him, hiding his distaste. Arrogance oozed off him and, even if he was older than both Rubin and Worthington, he was still only in his 30s and obviously still a young hot-shot at heart.
Anthony took the lead, giving Warren the spiel on his grandfather's company as they made their way to the elevator. He only paid a minimum of attention, having already read the research dating back to 1921. He was more focused on a peculiar exchange he witnessed as they got on the elevator.
A young woman stumbled out stared at Diamond in shock. Her business suit made her an employee but her hairstyle showed her to be somewhere near 18 years of age. The matching clips in her hair were the only bright spot in an otherwise serious ensemble.
"Um, Hi Joe?" The woman shifted her feet. Warren paid more attention. She looked . . . bloated, as if her skin was stretched past it normal limits. He knew Betsy retained water sometimes but this was something more.
"What?" One quiet syllable, two cold eyes and the girl seemed to fade into the floor. Warren cut a look in his direction. It was never a good sign when the employees were afraid to address their grievances with the administration. If these employees couldn't say hello without getting their heads bitten off, there was little chance of a responsive human resources department.
Anthony herded him onto the elevator before he could see where the girl had actually gone. Joe was all smiles again and Warren let the moment slide. He would have to keep an eye out for indicators of employee satisfaction. The last thing he needed was litigation.
The third floor executive office suite was opulent. Tasteful, but rich in its materials and design. Warren approved. Anthony and Joe escorted him into the CEO's office and secreted themselves away elsewhere. He didn't have to wait long for Harry Rubin to show up.
Where Warren was tall, blond and blue-eyed, Harry was shorter, darker and brown eyed. "How are you, Warren?" Harry took his hand warmly and guided him to a seat. He was a good five years older then him, but Warren always felt comfortable with Harry Rubin. They had attended each other's father's funerals.
While not as moneyed as the Worthington's, the Rubin's were probably just as well liked. They had been instrumental in the breaking of the race barrier at every major country club in the Tri-State area. Nowadays, you could attend Hanukkah parties at Southfalls and bat mitzvahs at Pineviews. Warren secretly hoped that he would see the gene barrier broken in his lifetime and certainly by the time his children came of age.
"Harry." He nodded. "How's the family?" He was actually grateful for the quiet moment together. Gave them time to find a common ground before they started to pick away at each other.
"Great. I've got pictures if you want to see them." Harry lit up, and the depth of his joy and satisfaction was almost painful to watch. Too painful for Warren.
"Maybe later." He was cool but polite. Businesslike.
"Sure." And like that, the moment was over.
"Well, gentlemen, it's been a pleasure doing business with you, a pleasure I hope to continue as our new partnership grows. Thank you." Warren spoke from the foot of the table to the smiling faces above. The deal was good, better for them than any take-over would have been. Warren sat back down as the peons began to file out. Harry lingered a moment, but decided to give Warren a few minutes before sending Anthony in to escort.
Warren sat down the oak table that was now 15 percent his. He hit his speed dial directly to WEI's investment finance department. He had actually managed to save them some up-front expense in exchange for a sliding-scale investment on the long term. Now he just needed to convince his CFO, who would then convince the board. One thing Warren was still good at was office politics, and knowing the board despised him for his youth and past mistakes, he would let someone else incur their ire on his behalf this time around.
He was waiting to be transferred when he heard a gasp. "Mr. Worthington?"
At first he tried to answer into the phone, "Yes?" but he realized "Hits of the Big Band Era" was still playing in his ear. He turned toward the voice. It was the girl from the elevator. She was pushing a gray cart and gathering all the files from the table. She never stopped working, but she didn't take her eyes off of him either.
"I just wanted to say hello." She smiled briefly, shyly. "And thanks."
Warren smiled back, feeling rather good about himself. It wasn't every day employees came to thank you personally for saving their company. "Your welcome. What do you do here?"
Gesturing at her current labor, she quipped, "Anything they tell me." A wry smile accompanied her rolled eyes and Warren liked her even more. "I'm Krystal Nicoletti, a co-op. I work for Joe D. in finance when I'm not at the community college." She fell silent as he began talking into the phone. His conversation outlasted her assignment, but she lingered, straightening chairs and disposing of half eaten bagels and the dregs of coffee.
As he put the phone down, his plans well in place, he addressed her again. "So, do you like working here." He should have a pulse of the employees' level of satisfaction. From what he had seen earlier, she was a perfect candidate for a little administrative attention.
"It's okay. I thought it would be . . . different. On the phone they promised a lot of things. When I got here, things changed. But I guess you have to start from the bottom right." She smiled, resigned if not accepting.
"When did you start working for Marcel Rubin?" Warren had never actually applied for a job so he couldn't feel any tangible connection with her disappointment, but the undercurrent of unfairness and injustice touched him to his blue toes.
"Two and half years ago." She dusted the table and then stopped. "Funny. My mother would kill me if she saw me cleaning this office. My grandmother would kill herself." Her eyes widened, as if she was surprised at herself for speaking so boldly.
Warren was about to ask why when he remembered a seminar on race in the work place. Even if her last name was as Italian as spicy meatballs, Krystal Nicoletti was easily identifiable as African-American and clearly that was how she defined herself. Where she got the incongruous last name was a mystery for another day. He smiled at her, realizing how awkward it would be to tell your parents that their hard work and progress was for naught and you were just a glorified gopher-girl and cleaning-lady.
She smiled with him, brightening up immediately. He watched her sidle near to him. She obviously had something to say and felt some reluctance about broaching the subject. What that subject was became irrelevant when Diamond yanked open the door and skewered her with a look. "I'm sorry, Warren. Krys, we've been looking all over for you. We need copies."
"Sure, Joe. Nice talking with you, Mr. Worthington." Her eyes burned with something left unsaid as they shook hands.
"The pleasure was mine." When her boss made as if to follow, and probably find fault with, the girl, Warren stepped in. "Mr. Diamond, I think we should have a talk. About getting some hard numbers for this quarter."
Business was back as usual.
Hammering out details was hard work but Warren declined the offer to stay for a celebratory diner. He needed to get back to his offices to finalize matters so the lawyers could start carving the deal into unmanageable jargon. He had also promised Betsy he would be back at the house before it got too late. She was still a bit jittery with the Shadow King and the Crimson Dawn pressing in on her like collapsing walls and he wanted to do all he could comfort her.
Walking out to the limo, Anthony Rubin in tow, Warren realized he had once again left his briefcase behind. "Don't worry about it, Warren. I'll just call upstairs and have someone bring it down for you. You just get comfortable, okay!"
Warren allowed the poster boy to direct him back to the company limo. He had muscle aches from the tips of his fingers to the back of his neck and his wings were screaming at him.
"Mr. Worthington, your briefcase." It was Krystal, leaning in from the opposite door. He smiled at her and beckoned for her to hand it to him. Instead, she got in the car and closed the door.
Eyebrows threatening his hairline, Warren wondered at her eagerness. "Did you want to talk some more?" The driver pulled off, thinking he was ready to go, and Warren let him. He knew all about Self Defense for the Modern Executive, not to mention the fact that he'd spent the last 6 or 7 years as a soldier in Xavier's private peace corps. There wasn't much this girl could put out that he couldn't handle.
"I just wanted to know why you aren't blue anymore?" The words came out in a rush, with that fast, tight New York accent Warren was so used to hearing. Her bomb dropped, Krystal looked from him to the back of the driver's head.
Warren hit the button to let the partition up. His voice cracked, "What?" They blinked at each other for a moment and he regained control. "What are you taking about?"
"You're the Angel. I've seen you on TV. I like to watch the news about the X-Men, too see what people are saying about our kind." Her brown eyes flamed with bitter anger and Warren knew she hadn't liked most of what she heard. She paused to compose herself, a righteous indignation burning beneath the surface.
Looking away, she started again, gesturing animatedly. "Only, now you're not blue. You look just . . . normal. Well not normal, because, I mean, you're Warren Worthington, III, they talk about you on "Extra" and everything." She changed tracks, rambling. "I have that photo spread of you from In Style, and, next to Tyson Beckford, I guess you'd be my next choice for a dream date, according to the Cosmo poll I took three weeks ago, at the hairdresser."
She caught herself, fading out as she realized he was staring at her open mouthed. She sighed, as if to berate herself and started again. "I just wanted to know how you do that. Stop being blue I mean. And where are your wings?" Her eyes met his with a sheen of hope and desire obliteration the embarrassment.
Warren sighed. He couldn't wait to tell the guys. He had a groupie.
Betsy pounded down the hallway. The special communications array Warren had installed so they could keep in touch with the team was wailing through the house. She skidded to a halt and hit the call button. "If this is Jubilee looking for 'Nsync tickets, no amount of "Save me, Wolvie" will be enough to bring you back from were I'll send you."
"Sorry. Psylocke, this is serious, sugah." Rogue's face blinked onto the screen. "We need you and Warren on standby. The satellite shows, heck, Ah don't even want to believe it. Prime Sentinels and less than twenty miles from a FoH rally. We're gonna investigate, but this might get ugly."
Betsy nodded. "What's the plan?" She was actually a little restless with Warren away. Some action might invigorate her. Even with the Shadow King occupying her telepathy, she was getting more adept at Shadowwalking and using her new found telekinesis.
"Gambit and his team are going to check out the rally. My team will be on the Sentinels. We might need help with extraction so get here as fast as you can." Rogue blinked off before Betsy could tell her Warren wasn't home. Grabbing the coordinates as they printed out, Betsy went to gear up for a little bit of trouble, hoping it would do her some good.
Warren watched her as the limo pulled onto the highway. He could just whip out the image-inducer and show it to her. But there was no telling who she really was. The minute she reveled she knew his real identity she became suspect. Warren could think of her as innocuous, young and naive, but he had been an X-Man at her age, so it was very possible she was hiding a dangerous side too.
"I'm only asking because, well, I've got this "power" or whatever and it makes me look . . . different. If I could do what you do to stop being blue, well, my life would just be a lot simpler." She turned away, embarrassed for showing her hand so soon. She was already young, black and female and didn't seem excited about adding another minority status to her list.
Looking at her for the first time, really looking, Warren compared her to what he had seen in the lobby. She seemed smaller, slighter. Before she had been out of proportion, pudgy in all the wrong ways. At least now, she looked healthy. "What's your mutation?"
"That's just it. It's not like I can fly or shoot beams or change the weather. I just . . ." Her eyes turned away and her brown skin blazed purple as blood rushed to her face. Whatever she mumbled was lost in the Muzak.
Warren reached across the seat to take her hand. "You don't have to be ashamed or embarrassed about what you are. Who you are is far more important and from what I can see you're . . . a nice person and a hard worker." He didn't know her well enough -- actually, he didn't know her at all -- to say anything more. Warren tried not to feel like a hypocrite with his technology induced pink flesh tone and leather bound wings. "What is it?"
Cutting her eyes momentarily, Krystal seemed to gather herself up and withdraw into herself. "It's not something I like talk about. Especially not to a guy."
The worst case scenario involved body parts Warren couldn't discuss without risking a lawsuit. Pulling his hand away he stuttered, "Oh, well, that's fine." They pulled to a stop in front of his plane and he had a sudden idea. "Would you like to talk to someone about this? I mean, I know some mutants -- women -- who would be happy to help you deal with this. It's only a short flight, they live in Westchester."
"Fly? Oh, no, I don't fly. I've never been on a plane. Besides, I need to go home. My folks will be worried." She was literally backing away toward the door.
Warren couldn't comprehend aviophobia so he just shrugged it off. "Here, call them." He handed her the cell phone and helped her out the car.
They were on the plane when she finally left a message on the answering machine. "That's weird. No one's home. Hey, did you just do that to trick me into getting on the plane?" She narrowed her eyes nervously.
Seeing how effective it had been, Warren decided to take credit for happenstance. "Well, if it works, it works." Warren took the phone and tried to dial the X-Mansion. He would have to warn them about their guest and then call Barbara and let her know he would be delayed. When he didn't get through, he left a message for Jean and signaled the pilot to take them up.
Krystal's beige knuckled grip on the leather seat arms was probably going to leave marks. Gouges. Warren was so accustomed to flying in all its forms that her fear was fascinating. "There, see, take-off and landing are the hardest parts. Look out the window and you can probably see your town, if not your house."
She shook her head. Warren sighed and unbuckled his seat belt. He gingerly unhooked hers and lead her to the window. No one should be afraid of something as beautiful as flight. "Isn't it beautiful? You just have to let yourself enjoy it."
Krystal shook, her face scrunched tight with terror. Then, she went stock still, eyes wide. "Is that . . . my house?"
Warren was glad she was finally relaxing enough to enjoy the trip. "It probably is. Which one is it?" He placed his head next to hers to see what she saw. The houses were medium sized and surrounded by woods and other middle-class homes. He tried to spot hers but he had no point of reference to work from.
"The one in flames with the big robots all around it." Krystal turned from the window, covering her face as she collapsed to retch on the plush beige carpet. Warren placed one hand on her back to comfort her but kept his eyes on the window.
Then he saw it. The Blackbird spun into view with three airborne Prime Sentinels closing in.
Psylocke Shadowwalked for all she was worth. There were way too many humans in the area and she had the best chance of getting them all to safety. The panicked neighbors were easy, but she was straining her telekinetic abilities to round up the FoH buggers who had started the mess in the first place. Firebombing a house at a time when most families sat down to dinner. There was nothing more despicable as Elizabeth Braddock accounted things, but even they deserved the chance to live -- if only to be tried for their crimes.
Shaking her head, she ducked as Colossus flew over her shoulder. The Sentinel that had hurled him moved in to finish the attack. As Psylocke and her charges faded into the ground, she saw Shadowcat phase right through him, eliciting a shower of sparks.
By the time she return from the office building where she dropped off her passengers, Nightcrawler was waiting for her. "Betsy," was all he said before he passed out, worn out by his constant teleporting. She grabbed hold of him and Shadowwalked to a quiet area away from the house. She didn't trust the FoH not to finish the job their tin friends had started but the Blackbird was too risky. Her communicator flared to life.
"Psylocke, this is Angel, do you read me?" Psylocke let the weight in her stomach float away. When she had finally checked the coordinates against a map, she had realized how close the attack was to Warren's meeting, only scant miles away. Amidst all the heroics, her first and deepest worry had been for her lover.
"Yes, Angel, this Psylocke. Where are you?" She turned her head to the sky, hoping to catch a glimpse of his large white wings.
"I'm about to bail from my jet. Where are you?" It sounded as if he was undressing.
Psylocke ran off a general description of the woods she was in. "Nightcrawler is exhausted. It would be good if someone stayed with him until we can get away from here."
"I think I can solve that. Don't worry, you can head back. Help is on the way." She could feel his confident grin through the comlink and took his advice with a parting kiss for Kurt, leaving him alone to battle for consciousness.
Krystal backed toward the cockpit as more of Warren's clothes came off and he talked to thin air. He watched her get a "that's what I get for getting in a car with a strange man" look on her face before she noticed his uniform. All of a sudden, she was smiling and helping him remove his harness. He removed his image-inducer and handed it to her. "There. That's how I make myself look like something I'm not."
"You know, back at work, when I said thank you, I'm not sure you understood what I was saying. I meant for this." She gestured to his wings and costume. "For doing what you do, for giving people like me something strive for." Krystal smiled nervously and accepted a piece of gum from one of the crew who was cleaning up the mess she'd made. "For being a hero."
Warren stopped. He had grown so used to the bitter hatred and mindless fear, he didn't know how to react to simple appreciation and admiration. He canted his head, bird-like, and looked at her. "Thank you."
His wings fluttered free, imbued with pride and respect by a few simple words. He moved to the jump gate, his being the only Leer jet with such a thing. "Maybe you could help one of my friends. As soon as the pilot finds a place to set down, try to get back here, okay?"
She grinned broadly, idly chewing the gum, but her answer was lost as Warren opened the gate. He turned his back and was abruptly pushed out of the plane.
He spun for a second, his sense of balance thrown by the extra weight between his shoulders. The wind sheer was brutal and there was no way for him talk to her unless he could slow them down. Wings spread wide, Warren decelerated until conversation was possible. He bellowed at her, "What are you doing?"
Krystal stared with large eyes at the ground. "I thought you said you needed help?"
Warren shook his head. "Yes I did, but you could have gotten killed doing something like that." The way her whole body shook against him, he knew she was beginning to realize that. "Okay. Now put your hands over my shoulders -- not my neck, not my neck -- my shoulders. That's it. Now, hold on."
He grasped her hands in his and with a quick, practiced flip, held her dangling in midair by her arms. She screamed loud enough to bust his ear drums and held it until her voice threatened to give in or her lungs explode. "Okay. That's fine. I'm going hold you under the arms if that's any better." She whimpered and Warren flew toward the spot Betsy had described.
He started having trouble keeping altitude and he sunk gradually until he stabilized. His arms began to ache and even the growing darkness would not protect him from the Sentinels' scanners. Warren realized something was seriously wrong when he couldn't keep Krystal's legs above the tree branches. At first he thought he was losing strength. Then he took a hard look at the woman in his arms.
Even in her terror fugue at unprotected flight, she still blushed when Warren forced eye contact. Her face was fat, far chubbier that merely moments before. In fact, her entire body was larger, weighing almost as much as Beast or even Colossus, and it was pulling them out of the sky. "I guess you know about my power now. I'm sorry. Every time I eat, my body metabolizes all weird and, well, I blow up. I didn't think the gum would make so much of a difference. Of course, that was before I swallowed it." She managed to be a bit accusing on the last note, but she was too abashed to follow through.
Spotting his drop point, Warren stopped fighting her weight and let them drop, beating his wings just enough to keep the descent gradual. "My friend, Nightcrawler, should be around here -- look right over there. You know first aid? Good! He might be in shock or something. Don't let him scare you, he's a great guy." She nodded dumbly, already moving in the direction he showed her, her body reverting back to its normal size slowly but surely. Warren propelled himself back into the sky.
The battle raged on and, except for Nightcrawler, everyone seemed to be holding their own. Angel searched for Psylocke along the ground and dropped to her side.
He barrel rolled as an energy beam caught him in the side. Swooping lower, Angel grabbed a child who was fleeing in terror. Depositing her in Psylocke's pool of shadow, he dodged Beast before he could be taken out by friendly fire. Taking his long-time compatriot by the wrists, Angel levered him back into the fray.
Angel flew circles above the scene, trying to avoid getting himself killed while being as useful as possible to his teammates. Quickly, he got in step with the ebb and flow of the battle and began anticipating who would need his help. Then the tide turned.
Gambit bombarded a Sentinel with kinetically charged cards. Angel's eyes bulged as the explosions pulled the machine from the air. From his vantage point, he alone could see where it would land.
The roar of battle was too loud for a shouted warning. Warren thanked the stars when Remy looked up on his own. Angel flew in, snatching him up just as they began to feel the heat of the flaming metal. Angel's wings beat their way out of danger then hovered as he tried to find a spot to deposit his passenger.
Sudden as a thundercrack, Storm fell on them, her own lightening arching back on her as it destroyed the mutant hunting machine that had singled her out. Angel cried out as he was jostled, momentarily loosing all sense of himself in the dark sky. Gambit slipped from his hands and when he reached out, he was only able to catch Storm by the fabric of her uniform. Frantically scrabbling for a better grip while dipping lower to catch up with Gambit's decent, he knew he couldn't do both.
This was why he never tried to be field leader, at least not after he understood the job entailed this kind of decision making. Facts and figures he could handle, careers and futures he could manage -- lives were beyond him. No matter how hard he struggled, he couldn't get a good grip on Storm, who was dead weight in his hands. He needed to stop his frantic flying long enough to secure her. If he stopped moving, he'd never make it to Gambit before the man hit terminal velocity.
Angel looked at Gambit, trying to judge the distances and speeds that might let him create a miracle. Gambit caught his eye and shook his head. Warren stared, knowing the man was anything but suicidal. They maintained eye contact and Warren knew why Remy was allowed to lead the team. He could make these kinds of decisions.
Here was a man he despised, and rightly so, doing something so selfless that he wished he could follow him in his sacrifice. Deep down, they wanted the same things: for their lives, and consequently their deaths, to wipe out the sins of selfish youth. For the first time, he let himself feel affection for a man so like him they had to be enemies.
Warren smiled, wanting the last face his brother-in-arms saw to be friendly. He certainly hoped someone would one day do the same for him.
Warren glided gently to the ground, immediately turning Storm over to Beast's care. Rogue alit beside him, singed but pleased at their successful route of the last vestiges of Bastion's brood. "Where's Gumbo?" There were probably leader type things they needed to discuss.
Logan sniffed the smoke filled air and rubbed one of his ears. "I don't know, but I wish whoever's wailin' 'd shut up." Soon the other X-Men heard the keening cry. It seemed to grow closer with the passing minutes and some leapt on the alert.
Kurt emerged from the trees, struggling under the weight of Remy's body over his shoulders. Surprisingly, it seemed Gambit really did have nine lives. He was still breathing, if wheezing up blood qualified. Behind him stumbled Warren's admirer, shaking with her own broken cries.
She ran forward, shaking and tripping over the remnants of great battle on her front lawn. She finally stopped as she reached Warren's feet. Looking up at him, eyes streaming tears, voice ragged with screams, she howled. "He fell. He fell from the sky. He fell right on top of me. Oh. My. God. He's dead. He's dead. Why did he die? He's bleeding." Her hands ran frantically over her ruined suit, trying to rub the blood and all that it meant away. "Oh. God. I'm gonna be sick." And she was, right on his boots.
She shivered violently, finally looking at the carnage around her. They watched her as she took it all in and were startled by her sudden blank calm. "Where's my Mom? My Dad? Marcus?" She looked at each of them, barely registering the faces of the heroes she so envied. Their awkward sympathy was communicated in averted eyes and shuffling boots. She began to weep, fear replaced by bottomless grief. "Did they kill them too?"
She curled up in a ball at Warren's feet. "I just . . . I just saw them this morning. Nobody, not even the neighbors, knew. Not about me, not about my dad or Marcus. How did they find out? Oh, God!"
He moved to hold her, to take this very bad day away, but she began to pound the ground violently with her fists. "No. No. NO. This is not happening. This can't be happening.. No!" But it was happening, and no amount of smooth charm or political savvy was going to put it right.
Kitty slipped up beside them and reached for the young woman. "It's going to be alright--"
"Liar! No--" Her violence was unreasoned and she was probably too exhausted to really do Kitty any harm. That didn't keep Wolverine from putting a claw into her field of view. Her eyes went wide and she let out the most depressing cry Warren had heard in recent memory. Certainly the worst since the tunnels. Her stark, raving madness came to an abrupt end as Cable batted Logan's hand away and shut the girl's mind down.
The X-Men looked at each other uncomfortably. The police would arrive at any moment and there was a clear damage path to answer for. The girl's family was gone but they were still hesitant to take her away with them. They had a enough problems without adding a catatonic 19 year old to the fold.
Cable grew frustrated with their inaction. "We can't leave her here, people!" Still, no one made a move toward her. They weren't often confronted by the aftermath of their epic battles and it took time to adjust to this new wrinkle, even when the course of action seemed obvious.
Approaching sirens solved their dilemma and she came with them as they retreated to the Blackbird. Warren held her hand as she walked numbly, commanded by Cable's telepathy. The police arrived at the house with a cacophony of slamming doors, and the X-Men picked up the pace.
"Warren, this is taking too long. Can't one of us just carry her?" Cable let go of his mental control. Gradually, Krystal's eyes focused. They heard voices shouting and Warren moved to lead her away.
With sudden clarity, she turned back toward the house. "Momma?" Eyes wild, she broke away from her rescuers and ran toward her decimated home. "Daddy? Marcus?" Her voice was child-like and desperately believing. "Oh God! Please let them have been in church! Don't let them have been home. Don't let them be dead." Shakily, she prayed as she panted toward them.
Tempted to chase her, yet aware of the probable consequence if he did, Warren followed behind her from a short distance. He watched long enough to see her surrounded by her stunned family and hugged for all she was worth. Grabbing Nathan, he flew them back to the safety of the Blackbird.
After they laid to rest their second leader in a little over a year, Warren was sure he didn't want to be an X-Man anymore. There were too many risks, too many sorrows, too many who didn't come back whole, if they came back at all. Looking at his blue hands, pale against the solid oak of his desk, he stared at the e-mail on his desktop. He could open it, or he could skip it and read the memo from Human Resource right below it.
He could live the normal business man's life quite happily, he told himself. He knew that life and could fill that role with skill and aplomb. He knew its dangers, its treacheries, its costs. He could navigate those with ease. There were just so many uncertainties that came with being an X-Man, a hero. Never knowing who, what, when or why you were going to be attacked next or if someone else would have to suffer or die just so you, and the hateful, fearful world you lived in, could survive.
Warren opened the e-mail and was pleasantly surprised. It was from his 'only acknowledged groupie.' "Hey Angel, this is Krystal. Read this great quote in Philosophy class. "There are joys innumerable among sorrows not yet beheld." Okay. I admit it. I doodled it on my notebook in Gen Bio Chem, but still, that's pretty neat, huh? Might turn it into a poem or something. I'll let you know how it turns out. Much love, K. Nic."
Hitting the print button, he placed the hard copy in a small compartment in his briefcase so he wouldn't forget to take it home. Betsy liked reading Krys' little notes almost as much as he did. It was a connection to the people they fought for, a reason to go on when it all seemed futile.
What he didn't know, couldn't know, was what lives he might touch when he put on that costume. Just as there were sorrows not yet beheld waiting for him around every corner, there was always the chance he could change a life or just make someone content with what they were. Those were just the right kind good deeds for the sort of man he wanted to be. Being Angel made all that possible.
He opened his next e-mail from HR and prepared for the fight of his life. The company's annual gala dinner was next week, but so was a conference on Mutant-Human relations. If he could get enough support together, there was a chance of coordinating the events to the most mutual benefit. With a little finagling, guests of WEI would be treated to a seminar about assisting their genetically gifted employees. There was a one shot chance at reaching some of the most powerful business men in New York City with the message of mutant and human equality. Being Warren Worthington also had its advantages.