The Trouble With Triangles
It's four o'clock in the afternoon and Hank McCoy is busy fooling himself. He told himself that he was going down to his lab to run some desperately needed diagnostics on the new Legacy database, while in truth... he's hiding. Hiding from himself and a certain Puerto-Rican mutant who has turned his life topsy-turvy, as if life with the X-Men wasn't agitating enough in and of itself.
Cowardly is not an adjective Hank would normally use to describe himself. After all, he's battled Magneto and countless other villains, been a member of the Avengers, and taken on the mantle of saving the world from the dreaded Legacy virus. A coward wouldn't do such things. But as his computer scans data in search of anomalous readings, he thinks to himself, Chicken, that's what you are McCoy. Indubitably... a yellow-bellied recreant if there ever was one.
Hank sighs audibly as he gets up from the computer, which is now running a lengthy self-diagnostic, and walks to the med-lab that is adjacent to his workshop... both of which pale in comparison to their former, pre-Bastion glory. He's spent most of his time since Operation: Zero Tolerance got its hands on the top-notch medical and scientific facilities trying desperately to recreate what Bastion stole from the X-Men.
He approaches a portable stereo in the lab and presses play on the CD player, listening as the disc whirs to life and the broken voice of Muddy Waters fills the metal, box-like room. The stereo is a gift from Bobby, an attempt to make the somewhat empty lab more life-like, and the CD is Logan's, borrowed by Hank in an attempt to expand his musical horizons. As Waters croons about how his woman left him, how his heart is filled with pain, Hank decides that perhaps the Delta Blues is the last thing he needs at this moment in time and presses the stop button.
As the room falls silent, Hank suddenly becomes aware of how lonely it is down in the mansion's sub-basement, how incredibly claustrophobic it can be when you're in as introspective a mood as he is. So he walks to one of the room's comm panels and patches into the X-Men's now rudimentary communications system, programming the display to execute a radio link. Punching in the commands for bandwidth selection, he smiles as he hears the familiar chimes ushering in the beginning of "All Things Considered." He then says to himself, "It's the weekend edition. How depressing can that be?"
Hank fumbles in the pocket of his large lab-coat for his glasses and then props them precariously on his nose. While listening first to a story on the Goodwill Games and then a much more serious account of the protests in Belfast over the Orange Order parades, he sorts through various medical tools, finally undertaking the task of categorizing and putting away the large surplus he and Dr. Reyes acquired a few days before. As he labels a drawer "scalpels" and carefully deposits two dozen instruments of varying size and shape into their allocated positions, an N.P.R. announcer states the docket for the rest of the news program. Next up is a story on increasing phobia of the Legacy virus, to be followed by the poetry of a ninety-two year old Pennsylvania woman, then an opinion of the new food-safety legislation by a forty-year veteran of the chicken processing industry.
He groans in annoyance and says, "Great! Just what I need... another insipid reminder of how miserably I've failed in saving a world which hates and fears me. Thanks but no thanks."
As he bounds quickly toward the comm panel, utilizing his acrobatic prowess to make the trip as expedient as possible, the anchor-person begins her story with, "Since reporter Trish Tilby broke the story of the Legacy virus just last year, hysteria regarding this disease has steadily risen. Normal humans now fear..."
Hanks snaps the transmission off as he says, "Sorry. I do not doubt that you will be as politically correct in your assertions as is worthy of National Public Radio journalism, but I'm really not in the mood."
He then thinks, And why did they have to mention Trish? It's as if they're trying to torment me personally.
Trish Tilby: a name he really didn't want to hear today, considering they had broken up only weeks before. About a month ago, Hank woke up one morning and found that he didn't care anymore about his on-again, off-again girl-friend of several years. After numerous attempts by him to confirm his feelings, or rather lack of them, he simply told her what he no longer felt. She didn't take the news very well and tried very hard to engage him in a rather dramatic argument. The result was rather one-sided, considering Hank didn't care enough about the situation to take the role Trish expected of him. So he left her apartment very unspectacularly with a simple shrug of his shoulder and a "I'm sorry, Trish. But it's over."
From this episode in his life, Hank McCoy certainly learned one thing. The opposite of love is not hate, it's apathy. Now if he could only figure out what love was besides the antonym of indifference, then he was sure he'd be well on the way to solving most of the mysteries of the universe. Though right now, he's just busy sorting out why his feelings waned for one Miss Tilby and what part a certain Dr. Reyes might have had to do with their dissipation.
As he sorts through a jumbled pile of forceps, he puts on his best scientific demeanor and explores the possibilities of cause and effect within his love life. He thinks back on the last few months and realizes that his feelings for Trish started fading shortly after his return from Shi'ar space. He had attributed the distancing to the fact that she no longer felt comfortable at the mansion after Logan insulted her, calling attention to the repeated accounts of her supposedly "betraying" the X-Men for a scoop. While Hank didn't share Wolverine's view-point, despite his angered reaction when she broke the Legacy story, he still could understand why she'd want to separate herself from the X-Men. Because he had so much work to do at the Xavier Institute and she wouldn't visit him, they started to drift apart... or so he thought.
He takes another mental look at his life and finds that while he and Trish were falling apart, he and Cecilia Reyes were getting closer. Coincidence? That's a possibility Beast is quickly starting to rule out, due mostly in part to certain feelings he's been experiencing lately. At first, he admired Dr. Reyes for her quick thinking, her healer's skill, her general ambition and outright stubbornness in the face of the impossible. His first impression of her at Scott's impromptu surgery was very agreeable, even if she did call him an "animal." Soon he began to notice other things about her: the playful side of her, the way her smile lit up her entire face, the warmth that seemed to radiate from her brown eyes, the lilting tone of her laugh, the smell of lilac in her hair. Yes, Hank had noticed all these things, things he thought weren't unusual to notice in another person, things that grew out of becoming familiar with one another.
Over the last month or so, these traits, among others, began to effect him in unusual ways. He began to think about her when she wasn't around, began to anticipate when he would see her again, began to get nervous and slightly giddy when he actually did see her. These weren't things that happened in the presence of a mere friend; and at this moment, Hank is finally beginning to realize that fact.
Lost in thought about the gentle doctor, Hanks stares dreamily off into space and is then shocked back into reality when the door to the lab swishes open.
In a way, he knew she'd show eventually. Hank then understands that he wasn't really hiding from her at all. Of course she'd find him. She's drawn to the med-lab like a duck to water. While he thought he was trying to avoid her for an afternoon while he sorted out his feelings, he was subconsciously hoping she would find him. As this realization dawns on him and Cecilia enters the room, every fiber of his being tells him to look away, that she's bound to know what he's been thinking, that he'll only give himself away if he keeps making goo-goo eyes at her. Still, he can't help but stare as he thinks to himself, Yes sir, I'm smitten. Certifiably, absolutely smitten.
The fact that she's smiling and walking directly toward him doesn't help his battle to retain his composure. He closes his eyes briefly as he coaches himself silently, You're an adult, Hank. Try acting like one.
Cecilia stops in front of him and tilts her head in curiosity as she asks, "What is it McCoy? You look like you've seen a ghost."
Smiling awkwardly as he places the forceps one by one into their designated drawer, Hanks says, "No, no. You just surprised me with your sudden entrance."
Cecilia shakes her head and folds her arms over her chest as she says, "I'd hardly say I snuck up on you. Hank, have you been sneaking twinkies again behind my back?"
Furrowing his brow in confusion, it takes him a moment to realize what she is referring to. When he remembers he vowed to give up twinkies as his New Year's resolution and that Cecilia had taken it upon herself to make sure he stayed away from the preservative-laden snack, he smiles and shakes his head, "No. I haven't fallen off the wagon... if that's what you're implying."
"Mm-hmm. That's good to know. So what about that stash I found in here yesterday?"
Hank looks up at the ceiling and twiddles his thumbs, giving his best 'who me?' look and says, "I wouldn't know about those. I haven't touched the confections in weeks."
"Alright, then. But I'm watching you, McCoy." Cecilia smiles as she playfully pokes Hank's stomach, saying "We wouldn't want you getting soft around the middle."
After laughing nervously, Hank clears his throat and looks at Cecilia with trepidation. As they share an awkward silence, he mentally berates himself for not being able to think up a witty come-back, as normally he is able to hold up his end of their usual sarcastic banter. But today he finds himself at a loss for words, so instead he asks the obvious, "What are you doing here, Cecilia?"
"Just stopping by to say hello. See if you needed a hand with anything."
Becoming slightly more comfortable with her presence, Hank says, "Well let's see... 'Hello' to you as well... and no, there's nothing pressing on the docket this afternoon. Just running a diagnostic on the computer and putting away some of those supplies we purchased."
As Cecilia walks up to the counter where Hank has spread out their supplies, she says, "Here, let me help."
Hank spins in his elevated swivel-chair to face her as he gathers a few of the instruments in his large hands. "No, really. It's okay. Hardly a two person job."
Placing a hand on top of his, Cecilia says, "I want to help."
Hank swallows slowly as he looks down at Cecilia's hand and feels the light pressure of it on his own. He holds his breath as he waits for her to remove it, glad for once that he has blue fur to hide the blush that is no doubt spreading across his face. As she takes some of the instruments carefully from his hands, he thinks to himself, Pull it together! You're acting as if the weight of the world rests on every word, every action. Just be normal.
Hank takes a deep breath as Cecilia starts sorting through the remaining instruments and tries his best to appear "normal." So when she initiates a conversation on how unbearably humid it's been in their part of the New York, he joins in, happy to be able to contribute and get his mind off of how much he wants to hold her, tell her how wonderful she is, or generally make of fool of himself.
Eventually, their conversation turns to gossip, Hank being the connoisseur of all things juicy around the mansion and Cecilia being the curious new-comer. Just as he finishes telling her of the long, drawn-out Forge/Storm saga and she puts away the last of the cotton swabs, Cecilia says, "Huh. So I guess miss-high- and-mighty does have some feelings in there? I'll never look at her the same way again."
"Actually, Ororo is a rather sensitive and passionate person... she's just been under a commodious amount of strain as of late. I feel rather justified in saying that her world has been falling to bits around her feet, as it has been for many of us."
Cecilia smiles apologetically as she closes a nearby cabinet and says, "I'm sorry. I know that the past few months have been just as difficult for you guys as it has been for me. It's just... well, I didn't know any of you before. I never really knew how it was. From what I've heard it was pretty spectacular, though."
Pursing his lips and nodding before he speaks, Hank agrees, "Yes, it was a sight to see."
Lifting her arm and examining her wrist-watch, Cecilia exclaims, "Oh man, look at the time! I've gotta go."
Hank hops out of his chair, headed in the direction of his research lab as he asks, "Where are you off to?"
"Oh, I've got to get ready to go out. I've got a date."
Hoping that the horror he suddenly feels in his gut doesn't show on his face, Hank manages to say, "A date?"
He feels as though a heavy weight is pressing on his chest and knows that if he doesn't ask who her rendezvous is with, he will go insane with wondering. So he asks, not caring how forward the question may be, "With whom?"
Planting her hands on her hips, Cecilia says sarcastically, "Oh, come on now. I'm sure you know. What with you being the gossip- hound you are and it being with your best friend."
Beast feels any hope of a relationship with Cecilia disappear as he stammers, "B-best friend?"
Seemingly ignoring Hank's apparent consternation, she says playfully, "Yeah. Bobby? You know, the class-clown who always seems to put his foot in his mouth? That best friend."
"No," Hank says as he tries to look busy with the empty counter. "I didn't know. I haven't seen Bobby all day."
"Well, please keep it to yourself. I don't want it to get out that we're some hot item or something. It's a first date and just between you and me... I'm not too sure how it's going to go. Bobby's very sweet and everything, but I'm not sure how compatible we are. You understand?"
With his back to her, he nods his head slowly as he says, "Yes. I understand."
Cecilia pats him convivially on the shoulder as she says, "I'm off, then. See you later."
As the doors swish shut behind her, Hank mutters, "Later."
Hank stands quietly for a moment in the middle of the room before the shock of the situation subsides and he is able to understand the full effect of Cecilia's words.
Then he gets angry.
Knowing that he is alone and surrounded by sound-proof walls, Hank says furiously, "That little sneak! Bobby tells me everything. Everything! And this is the first occasion I hear of this! He must have known I had feelings for her and was trying to hide this from me. But how? No, he couldn't have known. Bobby's so inattentively oblivious most of the time that there's no possibility."
He groans in frustration as he collapses on the floor and drops his head in his hands. "Stars and garters, what am I going to do?"
He sits for a while, deep in thought trying his best to formulate his next move. He acknowledges that his feelings for Cecilia have grown past the point of denial. She has got to know how he feels. He was hoping to work up to that point, though. He had no idea that he might have competition for her affections. Would there even be a remote chance that she could return the feelings? If there were, why would she be going out with Bobby? Maybe she is interested, but doesn't think he is? Maybe she's just shy? Maybe there's not a snowball's chance in Hell that she would be attracted to a guy who looks like a walking shag carpet?
As Hank reaches a decision he thinks, I've got to confront her, and I've got to do it soon. Make myself a part of her decision about Bobby. Lord, I feel like such a stupendous, bona-fide jerk! I have no right to do this to Bobby. No right. But... oh, God... it's Cecilia. A woman I think I am falling in love with. A woman worth kicking your best friend in the teeth for? No, she wouldn't want that blame and I'm not sure if I could do it.
Getting to his feet, he says, "No, I'll talk to him tomorrow about it. That's it. We'll discuss this tomorrow, as tactfully as possible."
Hank takes off his glasses and massages his forehead in a vain attempt to relieve the tension headache which is now pounding in his skull. As he closes his eyes, he is barraged with a series of mental images involving Bobby and Cecilia. He imagines Bobby holding her hand, kissing her lips, taking a romantic, midnight stroll with her, sending her flowers, taking her to meet his family, saying 'I do' as Cecilia holds his arm tightly and nervously, the most beautiful bride the world has ever witnessed, while Hank stands uncomfortably in his role as best man, screaming, 'I object! For the love of God, I object!' to no avail.
Opening his eyes wide in horror, Hank quickly strips off his lab coat and heads for the door as he says urgently, "No... We'll talk now. Now is good. Yes, very good."
Concluded in Chapter 3.