This will be my last update for 2006, so happy holidays, everybody—stay safe and try not to get into too much trouble. (grin) But yes, Dilemma is actually not complete—and you'll meet some new characters in this chapter.
Disclaimer: Don't own, don't sue. The Taylor family is my property.
Will was doing homework when the phone rang. "Hello?"
"Will?" The voice was stained and ragged, but still recognizable.
"Warren?" Will frowned. "Is something wrong?"
"Cassie's hurt bad. I've got her. She needs help." Warren's voice was tense—Will jumped to his feet as he spoke reassuringly.
"I'll get my parents. We'll be there in a few minutes. Where are you? "
"Five blocks from your place. Hurry!" With that, Warren hung up.
"Mom, Dad? Warren just called. Cassie's hurt and needs help. He's with her." Will informed his parents.
Josie Stronghold traded glances with her husband. "Let's go, then."
Will was the first one to spot Warren, kneeling on the wet sidewalk, cradling something. "Warren!" he yelled, racing toward his friend.
The pyro looked up at him. "Thank goodness you're here." His voice was hoarse with relief.
"Is Cas—good lord." Will crouched down by Warren, transfixed by the unconscious girl. "What on earth happened?"
"We were ambushed by a pair of pyros. Cass told me to pretend I was a villain. I had to attack her, but they attacked her too. They gave her those burns—she lost control and went polar bear. The bear killed them even as they burned her but she passed out and I carried her back here. I knew you'd help." Warren explained, his powerfully muscled arms gently cradling the still form.
Josie and Steve hurried up—Josie assessed the situation at a glance and knelt in front of Warren. "I know it's not how it looks, Warren. Why don't you let me take her so I can get her to a hero-friendly hospital?"
"Okay." But Warren did not relinquish his hold on the young woman.
Josie murmured, "Sweetheart, you have to actually give her to me for me to take her to hospital." She held out her arms.
He started as it awakened from a dream. "Oh. Right." Carefully, he transferred Cassie to Josie's arms. "Be careful… please."
She gave him a reassuring smile. "I will. Steve, make sure Warren's OK, then bring the boys down." In a flash of auburn hair, she was gone, flying as fast as she could.
Will glanced at his father, and Mr. Stronghold understood the look. The bigger hero knelt by Warren, putting a surprisingly gentle hand on his shoulder. "Are you feeling all right, Warren?"
The pyro was staring down at his hands. "I hurt her." he whispered numbly.
"It wasn't your fault, Warren." Will said quietly. "She ordered you to—and if you hadn't, you would both be dead now."
"But now she's dying in some hospital!" he cried, frustrated and anguished. "I didn't have to hurt her! I could have held back!" His broad shoulders slumped. "I heard her scream. I can still hear her screaming—oh god—" He buried his face in his hands, shaking.
The Strongholds traded glances, before Steve easily lifted Warren to his feet. "Come, Warren, we'll take the car down. I'm sure she'll be all right."
When they arrived at the hospital, Josie was waiting for them. "They took her straight inside. No word yet. I've called Alayne and Ben, they should be here any minute—"
The hospital doors banged open and two people swept in, heading straight for Josie. "—now." the auburn-haired woman finished with a glance at Steve. Instantly understanding, Steve put his arms around the boys and pulled them back as the couple and Josie conversed.
Despite his worry for his friend, a small part of Warren's mind was studying the couple. The woman had a mane of night-black hair, tanned skin, and obsidian-colored eyes that right now were as cold and hard as said volcanic rock. The man, on the other hand, was a complete contrast—he had neck-length, immaculately groomed white-blond hair, a flawlessly pale complexion, and oddly penetrating pale eyes. He spoke a few soft words to the woman—as Josie led her away, he turned toward Steve and the boys. As he approached, Warren noted his eyes were steely gray.
"Steve, what happened to my daughter?" he asked quietly. All of a sudden, Warren was reminded of a stretching lion—quiet and graceful, but no less dangerous.
"Well, Ben, I can't really say…" Steve stammered.
Ben Taylor ignored the other man and fixed a gray-eyed stare on Warren's face. "Warren, can you tell me anything?"
Warren swallowed, but no sound came out. Seeing his nervousness, Ben smiled slightly, which softened his features considerably. "It's all right. You don't have to be afraid of me."
As he met the calm gray eyes of the older man, everything came spilling out. The fight, the bear, the aftermath… his own worry and terror.
Ben let him finish, then touched his shoulder gently. "The first thing you have to know, Warren, is that I don't blame you for any of this. It's not your fault."
Seeing the worry in the younger man's dark eyes as he glanced toward the room where his friend lay, Ben rightly guessed the cause of his anxiety. "Alayne may have appeared brusque just now, but she's worried about Cassandra too. She comes from a very long line of shapeshifters, and by marrying me, she was afraid that the bloodline would have been broken—you can imagine how overjoyed she was when Cassandra displayed shapeshifting talents, and ones so strong too."
"Yeah, I can see how that would happen." Warren murmured.
Ben squeezed Warren's shoulder reassuringly. "As I said, it's not your fault. Now all we have to do is wait for the doctors to tell us if she'll be all right."
"She'll survive, Ben." Steve tried to joke. "You and Alayne are nearly impossible to kill—your daughter should be a combination of you two and thus impossible to kill."
Ben smiled weakly at the other man. "Thanks, Steve."
To Be Continued