Cecilia neglected to set her alarm before she went to bed and slept late into the morning. By the time she rose at nine, the house was empty and the X-Men well on the way to their mission's target. She sat up and blinked at the green LCD display of the clock as she hugged her pillow to her chest and listened to the eerie quiet of the mansion. Suddenly she felt very small and skittish, like a child left alone for the first time. She didn't think it would feel like this. She thought she'd be happy to finally have some time alone, time to herself to think... she suppressed a shudder. Thinking about how miserable she was was the last thing she wanted to do.
She dressed quickly and washed up in the women's lavatory then shuffled downstairs to start her pot of coffee. Try as she might, she could not break the morning fix. She had always been a creature of habit. Even though she knew this particular custom would eventually wreak havoc on her body, she still kept it. It made things familiar in an otherwise topsy-turvy world.
After the pot was made and a steaming cup was in her hand, she sat at the large table in the kitchen and read over the morning paper, another ritual that had stayed constant since her move to the mansion. As she poured over the contents of the "Times" and sipped her strong morning brew, she poured through article after article relaying the story of a fire here, a murder there, a hate crime or two for extra flavor. She put down the paper and raised a hand to her head as she massaged her temples and closed her eyes. So much suffering in the world, she thought... so much destruction and desolation.
As a physician, she always saw the aftermath of violent crime. She'd patch her patients up, help them gain back their strength and then send them right back into the fray. She fully accepted the truth that doctors were there to save lives, to help people get back to the world outside the hospital's walls. Until she met the X-Men she'd never even thought about helping to change those same lives or making the world a better place. To Cecilia, the truth was that life was dangerous and always would be. The only thing she could control was whether her patients lived to fight another day. It was a battle she didn't always win and the ghosts of every patient that died on her watch still haunted her dreams, reminded her of how little control she really had in the world.
As her thoughts wandered and the paper drifted unheeded from her hands to the table's surface, the ring of a telephone jarred Cecilia from her reverie and she stood quickly as she reached for the phone on the kitchen counter. She spoke tentatively, trying her best to remember the proper salutation. "Hello, Xavier Institute."
"Yes, hello? I am calling for a Dr. Cecilia Reyes."
"This is she," her voice reflected her surprise.
"Dr. Reyes, I am calling from the personnel office of Westchester County Medical Center."
Cecilia nodded as she twined the phone cord around her index finger. This was the call she had been waiting for, her surest hope of landing a residency. She had contacted hospital after hospital, always being turned away once they learned of the incident at O-MOM regarding the mutant criminal, Pyro. She was a marked woman, it seemed. She was beginning to fear that the only way she would be able to continue as a surgeon would be through either bribery or other illegal actions. Both of which were out of the question, though Wolverine had hinted that he knew people who could create a new identity for her and set her up with some hospitals in California. She knew the prospect would require a great deal of forged documents and records. The offer was tempting for a brief moment of time, but she had decided against it. No matter what happened in her life, she was Cecilia Reyes. Lying to herself and disguising the truth wouldn't change that fact. If she was going to continue to practice medicine, she was going to do it as herself, mutant sympathies and status included.
So as butterflies trembled in her stomach, she took a deep breath and asked the voice on the other end of the telephone line, "Are you calling regarding the surgical position?"
"Yes. Yes I am. While we appreciate your enthusiasm for this position, I am afraid that it's been filled."
Cecilia grimaced as the few hopes and dreams she had left vanished into thin air. She sputtered belligerently, "What? Why? I've spoken with the staff there. I was led to understand I was the most qualified applicant!"
"I'm sorry Dr. Reyes. We decided to go with a more... reliable applicant."
Her vision turned red and she felt her stomach twist as she nearly shrieked, "Reliable?!"
The line was silent as Cecilia put two and two together. The incident at 0-MOM was coming back to haunt her again. It was beginning to seem that she was well on her way to being an "untouchable," lumped in with the multiple-malpractices and the other deviant doctors. Her hopes dashed, she hung up the phone with a simple, quiet, "Thank you."
In a daze, she walked back to the table where she sat unblinking for a long while. Finally, she got to her feet as her chair scraped noisily across the kitchen floor and she said absently to herself, "I can't think about this right now. I just can't."
She wandered toward the back door, grabbed a spare set of keys from the basket and armed the security system with shaking fingers, thankful that she could remember the codes. Stepping outside onto the sunny, green lawn of the Xavier Institute, she bit her lip as she stared blearily at the blue, cloudless sky. It wasn't the streets of New York City, but it would have to do. Cecilia had always lived in or around New York, always taken solace in the tall, gray buildings and the sounds of traffic. Whenever life got to be too much, she would take to the city's streets and walk until things became clear, until her problems disappeared in a sea of faces and yellow cabs. It made her feel a little less alone in the world and a little more alive.
She dragged her feet through the thick grass and headed for the forest, the long blades of fescue rustling against her ankles. She lost herself in the rhythm of her own steps, the swish of vegetation against her bare shins. As her pace quickened, images flashed through her mind... Not one, but two family members dying in her arms, their pained expression and empty eyes haunting her dreams almost nightly... A mother without any glimmer of hope in her eyes, her final years filled with emptiness and bitter tears. A torrent of exams and books, late hours of pots and pots of coffee and far less sleep... Cadaver after cadaver dissected, nameless and yet so very real... Gaping chest wounds, impossible procedures, trays filled with surgically removed bullets... the shrill and sustained beep of a flatline. Soon she was running, the low foliage of the woods surrounding her as twigs snapped and bent under her feet. She could never run far enough, fast enough. She would never escape her demons.
After a few minutes, she came to a stop in the dark shade of a large oak tree and gasped for breath as she shook her head. She looked up, expecting to glimpse a faint wisp of cloud or bright, blue hint of sky but all she could see was a dark canopy of deep green and the ground was covered with shadows. She sniffled as she sat in the exposed roots of the tree and buried her head in her arms. A single, resounding thought rang in her thoughts... failure. After all she had been through, after all she had sacrificed, she was still a failure. Bastion had taken her life away and there was no way for her to get it back. As she fought back tears, her head pounded. If her father was watching her, he would be so disappointed in her for not finding a way to reclaim her life. And Enrique? She didn't even want to think about Enrique. She was tired of thinking... so very tired of everything. So she curled up in the cool shade of the oak, alone with her misery, promising herself she would not cry... no matter what happened.
"Get me a bag of O neg, stat!"
Cecilia stared into the angry, masked face of the chief surgeon as a cold, metal surgical tray shook in her sweaty grip, the forceps and scalpels glinting brightly from the overhead lamp of the O.R.
"I don't have time for this, kid. Forget the tray. Get me the blood. Now!"
Still rooted to the spot, she tried her best to get her bearings. She was back in medical school and serving out an internship under Dr. Porter, the old battle-axe currently barking orders at her. She had been there before, been there a thousand times over. The patient needed a transfusion. It was a matter of life and death. She could prepare a transfusion in her sleep if she needed to, so why couldn't she put down the tray and move? Why was she as inept as a first-year girl scout with a first aid badge?
Just then high-pitched claxons started blaring in her ears and she winced as Dr. Porter turned his attention back to his patient. "Dammit! She's bleeding out! We're losing her!"
As she stared helplessly at the partially concealed form on the table, a frantic nurse jostled her elbow and the tray flew into the air, steel surgical tools flying as if they were traveling in slow-motion, arcing almost weightlessly in the fluorescent lamplight before they clattered silently to the ground. Cecilia's breath caught in her throat as the tray crashed at her feet and she fell to her knees, frantically trying to gather the instruments back onto the tray as the only sound she could hear was the erratic beating of her own heart.
How had it gone so terribly wrong? What good was she to anyone if she couldn't even do this? She was a joke, never cut out to be anyone special. She was just a little girl with a head full of silly dreams... hopes that lay broken in front of her like the spilled tools of her trade. Redemption was as far away and as cold as the moon.
Suddenly, the distorted noises of the operating room came back to her as she looked up into the harsh eyes of her old mentor. The sounds in her ears were low and muffled, as if the world had slowed its spin and every living being on the planet had stopped to mock her. She could see Dr. Porter's lips moving under his surgical mask and his voice boomed incomprehensibly in her ears. As she balled her fists tightly and forced herself to stand, the piercing whine of a flatline raised the hairs on the back of her neck. She had to help. They could not lose this patient. Every second, every movement counted. She would not be a liability. Not this time. Not ever again.
She blinked slowly as she reached for the nearest crash cart and her gaze finally fell on the dark face of the patient and her blood ran cold as she recognized the facial features. There was no mistaking it... she was staring at herself. Her eyes opened wide and she stared at Dr. Porter in disbelief as he plunged his hands once again into the... into her chest cavity.
Shaking her head, she looked once again at her comatose self, eyes shut and facial muscles completely slack. Unable to contain herself, she reached out toward her face and just as her latex-gloved hand touched her cheek, her eyes flew open and stared hard into their mirror image. Her lips moved inside the oxygen mask and the plastic clouded with her breath. Unthinking, Cecilia pulled the breathing apparatus away from her face as she watched herself whisper quietly and painfully into the chaotic din of the operating room. Her eyes were filled with salty tears as she strained to speak as the life drained from her face.
"...Cecilia. Are ya there? We're coming in... We need yer help. Over."
Cecilia woke with a start as her communicator squawked loudly in her pocket. She fumbled with the unfamiliar unit, pressing first one button and then another as she said groggily, "This is Reyes."
"Good, yer there." It was Wolverine and she was still in the forest on the grounds of the Xavier Institute. It was all a dream, she thought to herself as she rose awkwardly to her feet and brushed topsoil from her clothes. She had just fallen asleep and it was all a dream.
"We took some heavy fire and need ya to be ready for us in the hangar when we land. From the looks of it we got one concussion, a broken wrist, some torn muscles and a possible surgery. Chest wounds from plasma fire. ETA, ten minutes."
"I'm on it," she said as she spoke more surely into the unit. "Reyes out."
She pocketed the comm unit and got her bearings as she took a deep breath and then jogged toward the mansion. So much for her peace and quiet, as little comfort as it was providing her. And though her first reaction was worry for her new-found friends, she couldn't wait to get to work and finally silence the ghosts living in her head and perhaps do something, anything right for a change.
Continued in Part 3.