Point Blank
"An Hour in the Life"
"The Trouble with Triangles"
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This story arc is in progress.

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Stars and Garters

Part Five

The next morning, Cecilia wandered the campus grounds doing her best to avoid any of the mansion's residents. Breakfast had been a disaster. Logan sat across the large table from her, saying nothing but leveling more than one of his intimidating glares at her and Hank wore a look of complete and utter disappointment. Storm sipped her tea without sparing a single comment and even Drake was cool as ice. In fact, the entire table of X-Men had said barely a word and except for the occasional stare from Wolverine, no one even looked in her direction. Even Marrow chewed her mixture of oatmeal and mystery meat in relative silence.

She wasn't sure if anyone beyond Storm, Wolverine and Beast knew about her erasing her records or if everyone was just reacting to dense fog of tension hanging over the table but she knew she couldn't take it any longer. Knowing how quickly gossip spread in the mansion, the silent treatment couldn't be a coincidence. She had stood silently from the table, calmly exited the room and didn't stop walking until Breakstone Lake blocked her path, its blue waters reflecting the wisps of clouds that mottled the relatively clear sky.

She stared out over the glassy surface as she knelt in the grass, observing a flock of ducks in a distant cove as they quacked merrily and dove under the water for fish, their feathered backsides bobbing in the water before they returned to the surface with a bill full of treasure. A few of the younger birds circled the group, flapping their wings and splashing water at each other as they played a game of chase. They made it look so simple, so easy. They belonged. They were a family. And it was so very unfair.

She drew a deep breath as she shifted her gaze and saw Rogue approaching in the air, her flight low and leisurely. She shook her head as the stripe-haired woman landed a few paces away from her, bridging the last few feet between them on foot.

Half-heartedly tossing a stone into the water, her actions suddenly seeming odd and detached, as if her body were moving of its own accord and she were merely observing the world from the back of her eyes, she said to Rogue before she had a chance to speak: "So you've come to tell me how much everybody hates me?"

Rogue crossed her arms over her chest as she looked out over the water and Cecilia continued her unsuccessful attempts to skip stones. "Don't nobody hate you in there, Doc."

She tilted her head to one side and looked at Cecilia as she continued, "If anybody's doing any hatin', I think it's you hatin' yourself."

Rising from her crouched position, Cecilia narrowed her eyes. "Why did you come out here, Rogue?"

"I dunno. I guess because I can kinda understand what you're going through. It's no secret I don't like talking about my own past."

Cecilia shrugged. "It seems not many of the X-Men do."

"Guess not."

Sighing as she kicked at a clump of grass with a sneakered foot, Cecilia said quietly, "So why the hell am I being ostracized for not wanting everyone to know mine? Erasing one measly record from a tape that should be confidential anyway doesn't seem a big crime to me."

Rogue sat down in the grass and stretched her long legs out in front of her. "And it ain't."

Pursing her lips as she crouched again and picked up another stone, Cecilia asked, "Then what's the big deal?"

"Ah think it's about trust. Not a soul woulda had a problem with you wanting those records gone. But even as chaotic as it seems 'round here, folks like to keep a sort of order to things. You should've said something to Wolvie or Storm. Should've asked them to erase the record. They probably would have done it considerin' the circumstances. But you pulled a favor with Hank and then took advantage of it. You didn't violate security but you could've. You don't know how hard it is to gain these folk's trust, Doc. And by mashin' that button and deletin' that record without their say so, you stomped all over the one thing they felt they had any control over in the grand scheme of things."

Cecilia looked at her blankly and Rogue pulled a dandelion from the ground and twirled it between her fingers as she continued, "They trust you, Doc. They trust you a lot. It took me years to gain the kind of trust you've gotten out of them in a matter of weeks."

"Well, you know, desperate times ... desperate measures. Strange bedfellows and all that."

Shaking her head firmly, Rogue said, "Nuh-uh. No way. It's more than that and you know it. This ain't about pity or duty or guilt or any other excuses you've made up. These people want you here, girl. They want to help you make a life for yourself. And it's not out of some warped sense of obligation ... though I can tell you the whole house load of us got a heapin' case of that for nearly everything else. It's because you're a good person. And they like you for you. And yesterday, well, you thumbed your nose at that. And it stung."

Cecilia blinked. "I had no idea."

"Yeah, well. They're a touchy bunch. Don't let it get to you."

Tossing her stone across the water, it managed one skip before it sunk into the cool water, leaving a widening wake of concentric rings. "I really messed up, si?"

"Nah. They'll get over it soon enough. I think they just wanted to send you a message."

Cecilia turned her head to look at Rogue. "Even Hank?"

Raising her eyebrows and shrugging her shoulders, Rogue said, "Now that's your own problem. I think we all know why he took this so personally."

"That obvious?"

Rogue nodded. "Yeah. We ain't blind, you know. Not even Drake."

Groaning, she placed her head in her hands and laughed weakly. "Dios! I've made such a mess!"

Rogue smiled. "Nothin' to worry about. I'm sure you leavin' will help to sort things out a bit. Give y'all some breathin' room."

Cecilia looked up as she asked, panicking briefly that yesterday's actions might have led to her being voted out of the house, "Leaving?"

Furrowing her brow, Rogue studied her as she spoke slowly, "Yeah. Ain't you lookin' to find some surgical stint somewhere?"

She couldn't help but release a sharp and bitter laugh. "As of yesterday my search is over. Seems nobody wants to hire a mutant with terrorist sympathies. I'm not going anywhere. Not as a doctor, anyway."

"I hate to sound cliche, Doc. But I've always thought things happen on this earth for a reason."

Cecilia pitched another stone into the water. "So that's what you say to yourself to get through the night?"

"Whatever works, Doc."

Shaking her head, she picked up another stone, this one was flat and smooth and fit easily in the palm of her hand .... almost like it was made for it. She tossed it gingerly in the air to get a better feel of its weight, but before she had a chance to catch it, Rogue snatched it out of its arc with a grin.

She stood over Cecilia and bounced the over-sized pebble in her hand. "Let me show you how this is done, city-slicker."

She furrowed her brow in concentration and flicked her wrist, releasing the rock at a high velocity, a speed obviously fueled by her uncanny strength. It skipped more times than Cecilia could count and she wasn't quite sure if it ever sunk into the water as it left her field of vision. In fact she wouldn't have been surprised if Rogue had skipped the stone clear across the body of water and into the next county.

Cecilia couldn't help but smile as Rogue stood back and admired her handy work. "That's some talent you got there, chica."

Rogue frowned as she looked down at her gloved hand, formed a fist and then released it. "Nah. It's more of a curse, really. But it's my cross to bear so I deal with it. It's all a girl can do, really."

And with that, Rogue winked once and took to the air at a steady clip, heading for the mansion while Cecilia was left wondering why she had never taken the opportunity to really talk with Rogue before. She had to admit she was surprised by her bluntness and honesty, as well as the intelligence lurking behind the sugary southern accent. She had heard that since the Gambit fellow everyone tried so hard not to discuss had left the team she hadn't been the same. Cecilia thought that perhaps she had just been given a gift and allowed to see a side of Rogue not many people had seen before. And somehow, someway ... it had made her feel better.

It's all a girl can do? Cecilia asked herself mutely as she stretched out in the grass, shielding her eyes from the sun with her hand as she looked up at the blue sky. The wind blew lightly through the trees and she heard the ducks quacking across the water as they continued to frolic and splash.

Maybe it was easier than she thought, maybe beginning a new chapter of her life didn't mean she had to forget who she was and where she came from. Perhaps it could be as easy as turning the page and adopting a new point of view. After all, she had become a doctor to help people heal and live full lives. Losing her father and then Enrique had only helped to push her harder toward that goal. She could do that again in this place. She could really make a difference and really make her father proud. Perhaps this was where she belonged. Perhaps things did happen for a reason. It was time for her to stop running from herself.

Cecilia slowly got to her feet and started the long walk back to the mansion, sparing one last glance across Breakstone Lake as she said quietly, "Time for these wounds to start healing, chica. Time you started helping to make the world a safer place."

The next morning, Cecilia rose early, washed quickly and dressed in a generic X-issue suit of unstable molecules she had found the night before. As she walked through the mansion's foyer, forgoing her morning cup of coffee and heading straight for the elevator, she found Hank waiting at the lift doors. She nodded silently in his direction and he returned the gesture solemnly, neither sparing a word for a few awkward seconds. They hadn't spoken since before the incident in the Comm Room and Cecilia was at a loss for a single word to say, so she simply stared at her feet as she bit her lower lip.

Once the lift came and she and Hank were safely inside, he finally broke the silence, managing a quiet, "Cecilia ... about the other day..."

She took a deep breath and then interrupted him. "I'm sorry, Hank. I wasn't using you or trying to be some conniving brujita. I just want to let you know that I didn't go down there planning on deleting the record. It just sort of ... happened. I was angry and hurt and I wasn't thinking about the consequences. Lo siento mucho. I didn't want to hurt you."

Hank looked at Cecilia as he said, "I know. I believe I understand. I suppose we all do. It is your life, Cecilia. Yours and yours alone."

She studied him, knowing that while things would be awkward between them for a few days, they would soon be back to normal. "Thank you."

He smiled as the lift doors opened to the sterile corridor of the Sub-basement. "De nada."

Returning his smile, she turned her back to Hank and started down the hall that lead to the training facilities. She then stopped mid-stride as he called after her. "So you're not going to accompany me to the med lab this fine morning?"

Looking at him over her shoulder, she said, "Not today. I've got some business to take care of."

He nodded. "Good luck then, gentle doctor. Buena suerte."

She smiled again as she continued walking, the metal-plated halls echoing her footfalls. "Gracias, mi amigo. Gracias."

Once she finally reached her destination, she stood in front of the large, metal blast-doors, her palms sweaty and her stomach filled with more than one butterfly. She chided herself silently as she swallowed hard. She had promised herself she would try this at least once. She owed it to herself to at least begin the journey, nerves and self-doubt aside. So she took a deep breath, pushed the release for the door and stepped into the large tomb-like enclosure that could only be called the Danger Room.

She stood in the middle of the floor and peered up at the outcropping she knew to be the control booth. Before she had a chance to speak, retreat or even flinch, she heard Storm's voice over the comm. "Cecilia, what are you doing here?"

She squinted from the bright lights and spoke loudly, her words directed at the control room, "It's eight a.m., right? The beginning of the open training session? I'm here to train."

Storm then spoke, her words still poised but obviously reflecting her surprise, "I am sorry. You are here for what?"

Folding her arms over her chest, Cecilia repeated herself. "I'm here to train."

She then heard Wolverine's gruff baritone over the speakers. "Don't mean to sounds harsh, girl. But ya gotta admit this is a little unusual coming from ya. I didn't even think ya knew where the Danger Room was."

Cecilia clutched her hands into tight fists and then released them as she tried her best to retain her composure. "Can I train or not?"

Storm's voice then came back over the comm. "So you want to learn more about your powers?"

Drawing a deep breath, she said steadily as she glanced down at the metal floor, "Yes. If you'll help me."

Logan's words then rang in her ears, his voice echoing in the large, empty space of the Danger Room, "So are ya saying ya want to try and be an X-Man?"

Closing her eyes, she paused for a moment and then turned her gaze again to the booth. "I'm saying I want to try."

For a while there was silence and she stood riveted to the spot, not daring to move, much less breathe, when Logan finally said, "That's good enough for us, Doc."