By Dave Cousens
A young man and woman stood in the afternoon sun. It was a very still and quiet day in the Westchester countryside.
Well, except for Robert Drake, who was yelling at a vending machine.
The young woman sighed. "Give it up Drake. It’s not going to happen."
Robert turned around to face his companion. "No way! I paid my money and I’m going to get my drink!"
Cecilia Reyes rolled her eyes up at the warm blue sky. She sat on the hood of the car and let the mild wind gently caress her brow.
"I’m sure you brought me here on our little country excursion to do more than watch you get outwitted by a Coke machine"
Bobby Drake turned around exasperatedly. "I’ll get back to my story in a minute, I just have to get my drink!" Bobby spun around and hit the machine with both fists. He instantly pulled his hands back with pain.
Cecilia laughed to herself.
Bobby looked embarrassed. "That stuff’s tougher than it looks!" he murmured to himself, rubbing his hands together softly.
Robert Drake glared at the machine maliciously. With his hands still stinging he decided it could wait for a minute. He walked away from the closed gas station and headed towards the red convertible.
"Okay. Where was I?"
Cecilia scratched her head. "Umm, Wolverine had just called McCoy a Nazi?"
"Oh no. He called him as bad as a nazi, but that’s not important." Bobby waved his hand dismissively. "Anyway, Gambit had started to talk about this pink thing again and then Nightcrawler phoned about some underwear that Colossus had left over here."
"What?" Cecilia looked confused. "Hang on a second, Gambit had Colossus’ underwear?!?"
Bobby gave Cecelia a funny look. "No, Gambit has his own underwear. Why would he want Colossus’ underwear?"
Cecilia sighed again.
"Perhaps you should start again."
"Okay." Drake nodded sheepishly and sat on the hood of the car, alongside the onetime X-man. He paused for a second. "At least I think Gambit has his own underwear. It’s not the kind of thing guys ask each other."
"Alright. From the beginning..."
"I was in my room playing on my Game Boy. It was a bit hard to sleep after the tension from the mission. Everyone was either snapping at each other or ignoring them. Scott and Jean were talking with the Prof. In his study. Hank was in his lab trying to verify the data that we’d got from the complex was accurate--"
"--Hang on. The complex?"
"Yeah. The complex that we located thanks to the documents that were anonymously e-mailed to the Professor last week."
"Okay, carry on."
"So anyway, Logan and Rogue had apparently had some kind of argument inside the complex about Magneto."
"Magneto was in the complex as well?" Cecilia asked slightly surprised.
"Right. We were surprised to see him as well. We think he received the same information as we did. Anyway, Wolverine and Rogue had both stormed off to their rooms and that left me by myself." Bobby continued.
"So where was Storm?"
"She’s taking a sabbatical in Hell’s kitchen. Apparently she’s decided that she has to help Cable with his religious mission or something. Anyway, that’s besides the point." Drake frowned. "Do you want to hear this story or not?"
"I’m sorry. Carry on." Cecilia apologized.
"So I’m in my room playing Pokemon. I’ve got Pikachu and I’m fighting a Vulpix which--"
"Is this important?" Cecilia remarked bluntly.
"Sorry. Like I was saying, I’m in my room playing Pokemon when we get a call from Hank across the intercom. He sounds really ominous. He says ‘We have our answers.’ Or something like that." Drake began to focus on the memory. Cecilia could see the concentration on his face.
"I walk down to the war room to find out what was going on, then the Professor mentally summoned us to his study instead. I was the last in the room and unfortunately the only one who’d got undressed. Everyone else there was either in their ‘work uniform’ or was wearing their civvies. I was in a T-shirt and boxer shorts."
"If this is going to get any more detailed I’m going to stop listening Drake. I don’t need to picture you in your underwear." Cecilia quipped sarcastically. Bobby just ignored her.
"So they’re all there except for Gambit who I’d later found out had gone for a bike ride. Why he went on a bike ride at one in the morning I don’t know. Perhaps he had a craving for some donuts or something. They do these lovely donuts at the crossover café. Have you ever...right. Never mind."
"Anyway, I’m standing there half undressed, which I suppose is a relative term for most superheroes, and everyone’s looking like Galactus has moved in across the street. Scott’s doing his normal emotionless face with Jean gripping tightly to hand. That’s when I knew it was serious."
Cecilia nodded for Drake to continue.
"Hank starts off with his usual $50 words. ‘Biological cohesion’ ‘mutagenic catalyst’ you get the idea. At any other time I would’ve switched off, but I could just feel how serious this was. Hank hadn’t finished spouting techno-babble when Logan had reached his limit."
‘Quit flappin’ your gums McCoy! Tell us the bad news already.’
"Hank looked a bit worried to go on, but he did anyway. ‘To cut to the proverbial chase Logan, it would appear that the documents that are related to Project: Dark Glass are genuine. It’s all true.’
"I hadn’t seen Hank look this depressed since I don’t know when. He just brushed his hair back, took off his reading glasses and stared at the floor. There was a horrible tension. I guess it wasn’t really much of a surprise to who lost it first..."
‘Well ain’t that a flamin’ surprise? Once again, the government’s set us up as the bad guys!’
"Wolverine turned around and just stared out of the window into the night. Almost on cue it started to rain, heavy and fast. The rain hammered against the window interrupting the silence. Just when it almost seemed comforting Cyclops slammed his hand down onto the Prof.’s desk. It made me jump."
"Cyclops has never got mad before?" Cecilia said half mockingly.
Bobby glared at Cecelia, causing the young black woman to lose some of her trademarked attitude.
"There was a big thunderclap at the exact same time as he smashed the paperweight." Bobby explained.
"It was unfortunate timing. Everyone was fairly quiet on the whole after that. Jean hugged Scott; Hank looked at the Professor with that ‘This is bad’ look and Logan just stood there as if he was convincing the weather to tear the world apart. I tried not to look stupid."
Bobby stopped talking for a moment and watched a flock of birds circle through the air, the sky was calm and blue. Life continued as if nothing had ever changed.
"The thing is, unlike most mutants, this doesn’t affect me directly. I’ve always quite liked being a mutant. It’s like my gift that only I have. It makes me unique. Special."
Hearing this Cecilia looked away from Drake, and down the empty road. Her eyes narrowed slightly. Cecilia began twisting her hands together.
"Yeah...well, not every mutant is happy to be different, Drake." Cecilia hesitated. " I never asked to be a mutant. This damned force-field I have almost ruined my life..."
Bobby turned away from the splendor of nature to face his beautiful friend. He frowned slightly.
"That’s not the point. At least your force-field doesn’t cause any trouble. It’s not like it stops you living your normal life now is it?
Cecilia sneered. "Not now at least."
Bobby raised a hand and tilted his head slightly. "Come on, your powers have nothing but benefits. Even if you don’t like to admit it, you know it’s a good thing."
Cecilia glared at the floor. She reluctantly nodded. Bobby looked out onto the open grass fields of Westchester again.
"I hadn’t even considered what effect this knowledge would have on Rogue. She just stood there. She didn’t flinch or blink or even move. I wasn’t even sure she’d heard what Hank had said until her lip started to tremble. It was horrible I was watching someone who I love like family’s heartbreak. And the worst part was that I couldn’t turn away. I just stood there and watched as Rogue slowly crumbled."
Bobby stopped and swallowed hard. He was fighting to control his emotions. Cecilia looked up to make eye contact with the young X-Man. She quickly realized just how much this had affected him.
"Oh God, I hadn’t even thought about Rogue. My problems seem trivial compared to hers..." Cecilia admitted ashamedly.
Bobby inhaled heavily, but silently. He exhaled slowly and continued.
"First her eyes welled up with water. Then, a single solitary tear rolled softly down her cheek. She whimpered and I just stood there. I don’t know why but I couldn’t move."
Drake looked pale. It almost seemed to Cecilia as if he wanted to stop, but he was compelled to continue.
"She looked so helpless. She didn’t know what to do. She just needed someone to hold her...and I just couldn’t." Drake whispered, his voice shaking slightly.
"This woman’s the strongest person I know. She can trade punches with the Juggernaut and even Thor, but she can’t touch another living being without the fear of killing them. How do you tell someone that it’s okay? That you can even begin to understand how they feel?"
Bobby’s composure was breaking slowly. Cecilia rested her hand on his arm.
"Drake, I’m sure you were feeling upset yourself"--
"--No! That’s just it! I wasn’t bothered much at all!"
Bobby was clearly upset with himself, his eyes stung from the building salt water.
"Ever since I’ve been in the school I’ve been serving a purpose. If I wanted to I could disappear back into society and nobody would ever know. Rogue and Scott, even Hank, they’re all cursed by their powers. They don’t have the choice to live a normal life, but they live with it every day, fighting for the very people that condemn them. And now they get told that it’s not just what life or God or fate had in store for them."
A bitter look grew on Drake’s face.
"The reason that they can’t live a normal life is because they’re part of some elaborate cover up."
He spat out contemptuously, "Somebody else’s scheme."
"Oh Dra—Bobby, that must have been terrible." Cecilia said with genuine affection. She gently rubbed her hand up and down Bobby’s arm.
"Yeah...well." Bobby recomposed himself. He was not going to let it get to him.
"Thankfully Jean had it more together than I did, she looked over her shoulder and quickly realized what was going on. She just rushed over to Rogue and held her as tight as she could. Then Rogue just started to quietly sob as Jean held her head, softly caressing her hair.
I felt like crap."
Drake bit his lip for a moment; Cecilia looked deeply into his eyes. She wondered if Drake was strong enough to continue. He returned her gaze and smiled weakly as a silent confirmation.
"Scott looked over suddenly. He asked me if I was okay. He asked me. He’s cursed to live with optic blasts that can destroy everyone he knows if he doesn’t wear those ruby-quartz glasses and he asks me if I’m okay. I couldn’t believe how together he was. I gave him as much of a smile as I could. He and I stood there for a moment just watching Rogue sob onto Jean's shoulder. The Prof in the mean time had began talking to Hank quietly."
"I’ll be honest, after spending that time with my Dad just before I came and rescued you, I learned to appreciate my family. Rogue and I weren’t always close, but recently we’ve spent a lot of time together. I’d always thought I’d be strong enough to help any of my friends out when they needed it, but I was too afraid. I don’t know why, but I was paralyzed with absolute fear. I’ve never been so ashamed of myself."
Bobby’s sentence was almost muted by the trembling in his voice. His eyes were welling up; he bit his lip again, to try to regain control.
"Drake, come here." Cecilia took Bobby’s head in her hand and pulled him to her. She embraced him as he shook softly in her arms. She closed her eyes and rested her head on his. There was an absolute silence across the countryside. The flock of birds glided through the ambient air currents. A gentle wind kissed her forehead. Cecilia could feel the delicate warmth of the sun resting on her brow.
Bobby moved back slightly, and looked into Cecilia’s eyes. They gazed into each other, their eyes flicking momentarily to the others lips and back again. Again, there was silence. Cecilia licked her moist red lips and swallowed.
"Bobby..." she whispered tenderly.
Drake nodded silently. He looked down nodded again. "Yeah." He whispered. "I think I’ll go get that drink now."
"Curiouser and curiouser." Hank McCoy spoke to himself.
The blue-furred mutant examined his findings. Henry P. McCoy, established scientist, had rather unorthodox methods. His laboratory was in complete darkness, illuminated only by the glowing green holo-image of the data that the X-Men had stolen. The outlaw mutant also known as the Beast was hanging upside down by his feet, which were tightly gripped to a ventilation pipe. He rubbed his chin studiously.
"Computer? Open personal journal, begin recording." The computer trilled in response. "An additional finding, it appears that the enigmatic documents ‘appropriated’ by my esteemed colleagues allude to a possible cause of Professor Charles Xavier’s recent disturbing nightmares. The professor last exhibited chronic emotional stress in REM sleep due to the alpha waves of extra terrestrial presence. (Reference: Lilandra, Shiar)."
The Beast released his grip on the pipe and somersaulted down to the floor.
"It appears that a certain location, designated by the military as ‘Sector 17,’ holds within it a vessel of alien origin."
McCoy smiled inquisitively. "Fascinating. There is evidence that the recent eruption of the previously dormant volcanic region ‘Mount St. Hilary’ has uncovered a number of ...sentient mechanoid life forms."
McCoy tapped into the computer console and activated a com-link to the professor. "Professor? Please utilize any means of locomotion at your disposal, it appears Edna McCoy’s blue bouncing baby boy has made a rather splendiferous discovery.
"Okay, this time I’m getting my Coke if it kills me!"
Cecilia laughed to herself. "I’m sure the vending machine is really scared now Drake!" she yelled from the car.
Bobby stared at the vending machine as if it was alive. He remained completely motionless for a moment and then unleashed a flying kick at the machine. The plexiglass effortlessly absorbed the blow and sent Drake ricocheting across the gas station. It was a good job it was Sunday and nobody was working or Drake might have been severely embarrassed.
Well, more so.
Bobby stood up slowly and brushed the dust off of his jeans. He sneered at the machine. "I’ll be back..."
Cecilia watched smiling as the young X-Man walked back across the gas station towards the red convertible that she was sitting on.
"Where’s the drink?" She taunted.
"Uhh...I decided that I’m not thirsty yet."
Cecilia smiled knowingly.
"Right." Seeing that Bobby was back in a comfortable state of mind her curiosity arose once more. "So is there anything else I need to know? I think there was something you mentioned about Gambit and Colossus’ underwear...?" Cecilia tactfully steered the conversation away from its previous line.
"Well, that’s not quite right...Let me see. Oh yeah, so we were all in the Prof.’s study and Beast had begun to discuss something about the mutagenic qualities of this ‘Energon’ element. Unfortunately, you know Hank, he got a little excited about this at the worst possible moment." Drake raised one eyebrow. "This was definitely not the best time to get enthusiastic about it."
"I can imagine."
"Wolverine overhead what Beast was talking about and...well, words were exchanged, to put it mildly."
"Was that when Logan said Beast was like a Nazi?"
Bobby shrugged. "It was just the heat of the moment. Hank was viewing everything objectively and could see a lot of things that intrigued him. Wolvie wasn’t impressed."
Cecilia leaned back on the hood of the car.
"So, how does Gambit fit into this mess then?"
Bobby rotated his body so that he was still facing her. "Well, when Logan and Hank were...debating, Remy was just returning from his mysterious midnight jaunt..."
"Jaunt?" Cecilia remarked quizzically.
Bobby shrugged. "I don’t know! Seemed like a good word at the time." Bobby explained. "Wherever he was, this time he actually wanted to tell us, but he couldn’t have tried at a worse time..."
"Let me guess, it begins with a ‘W,’ right?" Cecilia joked.
"Yep. Gambit burst through the doors shouting excitedly about something he’d seen in the woods. He only stopped when he realized that I wasn’t wearing any pants! He doesn’t notice that Hank and Logan are at each other's throats, or that Scott was consoling the woman he loves. Nope. He notices that I’m not wearing pants!" Drake said exasperatedly.
Cecilia Reyes smiled impishly.
"Well that’s either a pretty bad thing or a really good thing!" Robert Drake blushed.
"So...you were saying?" Cecilia asked, eyebrows raised.
Drake shook his head and regained his train of thought. "Yeah, so anyway, Gambit charges in and stops in his tracks at the sight of me half clothed and then realizes what’s going on. Then Wolverine, who’s just about to really lose it with Hank barges right past him. Like I said, I don’t know what happened earlier during the mission but Wolverine wasn’t the only one who was on edge that night. As soon as Logan pushed Gambit out of his way, Remy had span around with a charged card in his hand!"
"Well, I’m assuming that seeing as I haven’t had either one drop into my surgery in the last week that they didn’t kill each other in a blazing display of testosterone?"
"They may well have done, but Gambit stopped when he saw Rogue." Bobby continued. "As soon as he saw Jean holding her he dropped the card and it fizzled on the floor. Wolverine just stormed out of the room."
Cecilia tilted her head inquisitively. "Then what happened?"
"Well, Gambit went up to her and stood there. Jean looked up and was about to pull away from Rogue as she did the same. Then, and I don’t understand why, she looked through her tears and almost glared at him. She turned back and held Jean again."
Cecilia remained silent. Bobby shook his head to himself; he still hadn’t understood the situation, even now.
"Jean looked apologetically at Gambit, and for one split second it looked as if Gambit was about to lose his resolve. He didn’t. He took a deep breath and almost seemed as if the whole situation was irrelevant. He turned to Hank and started talking about some sort of apparition that he’d seen on his bike ride."
"Rogue just ignored him?" Cecilia asked with genuine concern.
Bobby shook his head sadly. "Yeah, and although he was pretending that he didn’t care, I caught him, just for one single moment, looking over his shoulder to make sure she was okay." Drake pondered on the moment and then looked at Cecilia. "Y’know, I don’t know if he’s ever told her, but he loves her."
Cecilia craned her neck back slightly with a look of admiration. "You could tell?" She smiled warmly.
Bobby looked into her eyes for a moment, then looked to the tranquil blue sky. "Yeah. Sometimes, you just know."
Cecilia smiled. When she’d first met Robert Drake she wanted to resent him. His arrival represented that her entire life would never be the same. Everything that she had struggled for and eventually earned was lost at the same time that Iceman had arrived to protect her.
She did everything in her power to make things hard for him. She had always considered him a child who was playing at being a hero because it seemed like the thing to do.
In one single moment things can change.
Words can be said that can never be undone. Worlds can shatter with one simple act. People can die before their time. A person can make a choice that will forever darken their soul.
Life however is made of infinite moments.
People can redeem themselves with just one act. Every second a miracle is performed. An act of kindness is made. People become friends with one word. Individuals feel a sudden emotion that may change their lives forever.
For Cecilia Reyes, a moment has just passed, leaving with it a new viewpoint, a new outlook upon a situation that had never occurred to her before.
"What?" Bobby asked slightly self-consciously.
Cecilia looked wistfully at him.
"Nothing." she replied with a warm smile.
She leaned back on the windshield and rested her head on his shoulder. Bobby pulled a confused face and stared at her quizzically for a moment and then inwardly shrugged. He leaned back and looked upon the same glorious open sky turn from gallant and hopeful blue slowly turn into a beautiful red aura and he smiled as the birds flew flocked again in perfect unity, unaware of any wrong in the entire world. Bobby allowed himself to believe the same.
He knew that there were problems for him to face, both trivial and immense, but for this moment he didn’t care. And as strange as it was, that was enough.
As the stars formed diamond images upon their celestial canvas, Cecilia looked up at the man she was resting on. He was asleep and looked as innocent as a newborn child. She caressed his cheek and delicately removed a strand of hair away from his face.
"You know something, Robert Drake?" She whispered quietly. "I used to laugh at you for being naive enough to dream about a better tomorrow. I used to think that you were deluding yourself. Now?"
Cecilia turned and looked out into the night.
"Now, I don’t see how you can’t. "
She leaned across and gently kissed him upon the forehead. "Thank you."
Bobby stirred lightly. His eyes opened slowly. "Hmm? What time is it?" He mumbled. "Oh."
He scratched his head and yawned slightly. "Sorry, I must’ve nodded off there. I’ll suppose you’ll want to get back home now?"
"As long as you’re done here." Cecilia replied.
Bobby sat up and rubbed his eyes. "Yeah. I just need something to wake me up before I start driving."
Cecilia smiled coyly and jumped off the hood of the car. "I think I can help with that..."
Bobby turned around slightly bemused to see his friend reaching into the back seat of the car. Cecilia stood up and held her hands behind her back.
Bobby swallowed quickly.
Cecilia swung her right arm around dramatically to reveal...a can of Coke.
Bobby smiled with genuine surprise. "Thanks! I didn’t think that thing was ever going to give up!"
Cecilia nodded. "Don’t worry, all it needed was a woman's touch." She grinned at him "You’re on your own next time though!"
"How come you did it this time?" Bobby asked whilst opening the can. "I would have figured that you’d enjoy seeing me suffer." He quipped sardonically.
Cecilia looked at the night sky and breathed in happily.
"I owed you one."
Opened my eyes today
And I knew there’s something different
Saw you in a brand new way
Like the clouds had somehow lifted
And if yesterday I heard
myself saying these words
I would swear it was a lie
I don’t know why, but suddenly I’m falling...
(Taken from ‘Hopelessly Addicted’ by the Corrs)