May 2030, NYC
The WEI Manhattan office had been rebuilt four times over the last decade. The first three times it had merely been extended and redesigned as Warren's imperium had grown. The fourth time, only six years ago, the whole building had been torn down and reconstructed. A Finnish architecht had done an admirable job of creating the impression of open space, open sky. Upon entering the lobby, the visitor's eyes were invariably drawn upwards to the skylight and the sliver of blue that could be seen through it. There were no bust, no inscriptions. The name on the gate was remembrance enough.
And the sky, Will thought, passing the large installation that kept water running across a thick glass slab and down on all sides to pool in a basin underneath.
It was Wednesday and Will had lunch with his mother on Wednesdays. Travel was instantaneous for them both and their lunches had spanned the world. Shadowslipping was safer than common teleporting; a shadow was unlikely to be cast inside walls or solid structures and with a set of approximate GPS coordinates, they usually ended up less than ten feet from their intended destination.
This Wednesday, though, his mother had asked him if he would mind a sandwich in Gramercy Park. They could watch the pigeons, she had added, a wistful note in her voice. He might have suspected her of playing him, if he hadn't seen the way she drifted towards windows wherever she went, raising the sash if she could, to look at the birds as they took flight, as they flew, as they returned.
It would have been impossible for his father to get out of the pilot's harness in time to spread his wings and tear out of the cabin ahead of the explosion. It was impossible to think he would have tried.
His mother came running downstairs, taking the stairs two or three at a time. Will noted the five-inch heels on her Ferragamo boots and thought very hard about nothing until she was on level ground.
"I brought sandwiches from Westchester," he told her, holding out the paper bag for her to see. "Aunt Jean made them. Roast beef on rye with pickles."
"Oh, she shouldn't have," his mother said, trying to hide her delight. "And what is this, oranges?"
Will took her arm, more touched by her smile than he liked.
"Fresh off the tree," he assured her. "I made a short stop in Florida."
Half an hour later, they had finished the sandwiches and the oranges as well as two bottles of Evian they had grabbed from the reception on the way out. Will turned his face to the sun, feeling the shadows shrink and peel away. His mother did the same, he was sure.
"Have you thought about what you want to do this autumn?" she asked.
Fuck. She knew. Of course, anyone could have seen that he had finished up his course work at the Xavier Institute at top speed and that he had straight A's in any course which was required for entering the Academy. But he hadn't actually told anyone yet. Well, if you didn't count the TAs in charge of the Aptitude test, the principal at the Institute, the principal at the Academy, Mr. Logan, Mr. Summers and The Other Mr. Summers...
"If you haven't," she continued mercilessly,"you could start clerking for WEI legal offices or interning for Market Analysis, while you're thinking about it."
"No, Mom," Will said gently, because he knew it was a disappointment to her, "I'm going to the Academy in the fall."
A flock of pigeons landed on the lawn in front of them, requesting their share. But the sandwiches were finished and there was nothing else to give.
"Pigeons on the grass, alas," she said, staring at the departing birds. "You've already been Aptituded then. May I ask the results?"
"Comm or Forensic Empathy."
"I thought so. You're good."
Coming from his mother, this was high praise and Will thought he should have felt happier to hear it.
"I'm sorry," he began, not entirely sure why he was apologising.
His mother waved him to silence.
"I had hoped you would choose differently", she said, "but that's neither here or there. What matters is that you have a choice. It's all WEI can buy you, it's all I can do for you, it's what your father left you -- the choice. You don't have to become a soldier."
"Mom," Will said, desperately,"I can't run WEI. You know I can't."
Just the thought made his skin crawl.
"I know," she said. "I was thinking of Juilliard."
"I'm not nearly good enough," he protested automatically.
The discussion was an old one. Music was important to his mother, to Zara. Music, some argued, was what kept Zara sane. Will wasn't completely sure about that.
"You could be, if you applied yourself," his mother argued. "Or I could get you in."
He had to laugh.
"When you say I get to choose, you really mean it, don't you?"
"More than anything else in the world," she said, her eyes soft, and he knew that the answer fit several questions.
There seemed to be nothing more to say about it, so they sat in silence for a while until Will's beeper went off. Damn.
"Run along," his mother told him. "I'll be at the Institute Saturday evening, maybe Sunday morning. I'll see you then."
The shadows had lengthened half an inch or so since they had sat down. Will stepped onto the trashcan shadow and tendrils of black lapped up his legs, began to swirl. One last look over his shoulder before the shadows took him, and he saw his mother sitting there still, watching the pigeons as they flew away.