A/N: Yeah, I know. The title sucks. Sorry about that. Well, first and foremost, I need to apologize for my lack of knowledge in the vast universe of X-Men. Mostly, I just remember the cartoons back in the early 90's. I've recently started reading Ultimate X-Men, but there's just so much out there that I feel hopeless overwhelmed. Therefore, if something seems inaccurate, just go with it or if it's too obnoxious, let me know. Secondly, I really love, crave, need more than air to receive feedback. I especially hope to hear what you think of Connor. Without further ado…
Gabria staggered forward a few more steps before the weight of the form in her arms became too much. Holly had passed out on the train, the loss of blood dragging her into unconsciousness. Gabria had been afraid to do more than shake her to try and wake her up. Attracting attention to them could have been fatal. So, she'd settled for waiting until all the other passengers in the cabin had exited the train, then hauling her friend into her arms as best she could. Gabria was not very strong, but Holly was very light. Gabria managed to bear her small form onto the platform and head towards the bathrooms. However, the distance proved to be too much. She collapsed before she could reach the relative privacy of the restroom. Gabria was afraid to release her hold on Holly, choosing instead to hold on tight and break her friend's fall with her own body. This resulted in the back of her head cracking against the concrete of the platform harshly. Stinging pain shot through her skull and a cry of pain escaped her lips.
Gabria soon joined her friend in unconsciousness, the darkness overtaking her despite her mental struggle, and therefore she was unable to prevent what happened next. Curious passerby approached the two vulnerable girls only to discover an excessive amount of blood seeping through the clothes of the smaller, dark-haired youth. The blood also coated the hands and arms of the blonde beneath her.
"Somebody call 9-1-1!" a man shouted as he dropped on his knees next to the pair. He reached forward to pull the smaller girl off of the other one when a sort of reddish bubble formed around the pair. It burned to the touch, forcing the man to yank his hand away. The crowd forming around the girls backed up a step.
"They're mutants!" a voice in the crowd cried in disgust, "Just leave 'em!"
The man next to the girls frowned, "Might have to. I can't touch them."
"Hey! Let me through!" a young female voice demanded as its owner shoved her way past the spectators.
The girl was about the same age as the two unconscious females, but dressed to draw attention rather than avoid it. She wore large hoop earrings, a yellow over-coat, denim shorts and matching blue boots and gloves. Pink sunglasses crowned her dark hair.
"Hey, it's Jubilee."
"Let the mutants take care of their own."
"Yeah, it's none of our business."
Jubilee took in the scene and made a quick decision. She glared around her at the less-than-helpful spectators, "You can say that again! Get out of here!"
The man who had tried to help slowly stood up, turning to Jubilee as the rest of the crowd noisily dispersed, "Can you help them?"
Jubilee nodded, "Yeah. I'll get the X-Men to come get them."
"Good." He nodded, turning to go.
Jubilee flashed him an appreciative smile, "Thanks for the help."
The man glanced over his shoulder at her, "I didn't do anything. But I'd hurry if I were you. One of those people will probably call the authorities."
"Gotcha." Jubilee agreed. She wasted no more time contacting the Mansion for help. Glancing down at the girls who were still shielded, she flashed another smile, "Don't worry. You guys are going to be okay."
She turned away for a moment before she added quietly, "I hope."
Gabria woke up, panic flooding her system. Fear even overpowered the pain that resonated out from the back of her head, allowing her to bolt upright. Her gaze flew around the room, desperately trying to piece together what had happened. She was in a sterile, white room, sitting on an exam table. A thin white sheet had been drawn up over her, but now lay pooled in her lap. Her sweater was gone, leaving her in her tank top. Holly was nowhere in sight.
Gabria swung her legs over the side of the table. The change in position caused a wave of dizziness to sweep over her, forcing her to splay her hands against the table for balance. Gabria frowned, her face setting in determination before she lowered her feet to the ground and attempted to stand up. The dizziness increased and with it a great deal of nausea, but Gabria ignored it. She had to find Holly.
Gabria scanned the room around her. There didn't appear to be anyone around. The room reminded her of a hospital, but it didn't look like any hospital she'd ever been in. There was a curtain next to her bed that divided her part of the room from the other. Gabria moved around the bed, brushing the curtain aside.
There was another bed there. Another body, covered by a white sheet. Except this one was pulled up over the occupant's face. Gabria's whole world slowed to a crawl. She couldn't even think. She wasn't even sure how her feet moved achingly slowly closer to the bed. It was a surprise to her when she saw her hand, shaking uncontrollably, reaching out and grasping the sheet.
"Please don't do that."
Normal time came crashing back to Gabria as a furry, blue hand grasped her wrist gently, preventing her from pulling the sheet down. She gasped and jumped back, her eyes flying from the hand to the person that went with it. A mutant, covered in thick blue hair and wearing slacks, a button-up shirt and glasses, was looking at her with a sympathetic expression. Gabria snatched her hand away from him, pulling it protectively into her chest. Her sudden movement was making the darkness creep into her vision again, unconsciousness looming. Gabria tried to slow down, take deep breaths, but she couldn't seem to control her breathing. Her breaths were coming in quick, shallow bursts.
"You're hyperventilating. You need to calm down or you will lose consciousness again." The blue mutant warned.
His name floated in the recesses of Gabria's mind, but in her state she wasn't able to grasp it. The darkness in the corners of her eyes was pushing forward, making it hard to focus. She floundered for something to hold onto, to steady her. The bed next to her was closest, but she couldn't bring herself to touch it.
With a final desperate gasp for oxygen, she crumpled to the floor.
The next time Gabria woke up, it was voices that drew her out of her oblivious slumber. She stifled a groan in order to listen in.
"…so if she's from an anti-mutant town and Jubilee found her with a dying mutant, her blood all over her hands, what makes you think she didn't have anything to do with it?"
"You didn't see her Scott. She looked…devastated."
That was the voice of the blue mutant from earlier. Beast, that was his name. He was an X-Man. Somehow she'd reached her destination; she was with the X-Men. Too late…
"Maybe she was just upset she got caught."
"Hmm, perhaps. But why would they come from Brighton to within miles of the Mansion?"
"I don't know, Hank. Maybe she wanted to drop a dead mutant on our doorstep, send some kind of message."
The word "dead" was too much for her. A choked sob tore itself from her throat, alerting the two speakers of her consciousness. Gabria heard them approaching and turned her face away, searching for the strength to compose herself.
"Miss Corina?" Beast questioned, his voice gentle.
Gabria drew in a ragged breath, the sound confirming that she was in fact awake.
"I'd like to give you a pain killer, if you'll permit me." Beast continued, moving to collect some pills and a cup of water from a nearby table.
Gabria nodded. She slowly pushed herself up into a sitting position again. She took slightly longer to look up at her visitors. Beast silently pressed the water and pills into her hands. Gabria took them, grateful of the momentary reprieve from the questioning she was sure was about to take place. She took her time setting the cup back down.
"Who are you?" the man next to Beast, a tall man in red sunglasses demanded.
The sunglasses were a giveaway. He was Cyclops.
They already seemed to know her name and where she was from. Gabria assumed they'd found her I.D. So, the question wasn't about that.
"I needed help." Gabria answered. She couldn't stop from glancing in the direction she knew her friend was lying, "We needed help."
"Why?" Cyclops pressed.
Gabria sighed. This was not how she'd imagined this. She'd thought that she'd be able to get Holly here, they would be welcomed with open arms, they'd help Holly and everything would be okay. Now Holly was gone and they suspected she was the cause.
"Holly was my friend. She was a mutant and she was in trouble so I thought if I could get her here, she'd be okay. I'm on your side." Gabria explained. Hearing herself, she felt so naïve.
Cyclops looked about to ask her another question, but Beast put a firm hand on his arm, stopping him.
"Perhaps we should give her a little more time to recover before we continue the interrogation. I'm sure the Professor will want to speak with her."
Cyclops looked about to argue, but nodded. Gabria assumed it was the mention of the Professor that convinced him. She was sure it was Professor Xavier they were talking about. If they had any doubts about her, questioning her in front of a powerful psychic was definitely the smart way to go. She couldn't blame them. If she were in their position, she'd be suspicious, too. Still, she was too emotionally wrecked to be any more rational than that. None of this would matter if she'd been able to get Holly here faster. Holly… her best friend, practically a sister…
Gabria closed her eyes tightly, feeling the sting of tears burn her eyes. She heard Beast and Cyclops move away from her and slowly lowered herself back onto the bed. She knew she should sleep, take advantage of the time they were giving her, but she couldn't. Gabria spent the next few hours trapped in her thoughts and emotions, her mental anguish radiating out of the medical bay and disturbing psychic mutants throughout the Mansion. She could only imagine that things were probably going to get worse and yet she felt a deep sense of shame over her own feelings of pain. At least she was alive to feel anything. Holly wasn't.
"Get a hold of yourself." Gabria growled under her breath at herself.
She had no right to be indulging in this depression. No right to shed tears. This was all her fault and until she found some way to atone for what she'd done, she would not allow herself one more minute of these feelings. And that was assuming that atonement was even possible. Nothing could bring Holly back, after all.
Taking a deep, steadying breath, Gabria composed herself and sat up. Staying here any longer would only make it harder to control the turmoil that raged inside her. At this point, an interrogation would be a welcome distraction.
"Excuse me." Gabria said loudly, feeling instinctively that someone else was still in the room with her even though she couldn't see or hear anyone, "I'm ready to talk now."
Gabria took a deep breath as her eyes traveled over the team of mutants assembled before her. They weren't in uniform, but they were easy to recognize anyway. The slender woman with the fiery red hair was Jean Grey. Standing next to her was the tall form of Cyclops, his arms crossed over his chest as he looked her up and down with a scowl on his face. Next was Wolverine, significantly shorter than Cyclops, but resonating danger more clearly than any other individual in the room. His dark hair spiked up on either side of his head and, although his stance was relaxed and his expression spoke of boredom, Gabria wasn't fooled into thinking that he wasn't ready to spring into action at a moment's notice. Beside him was a tall, dark-skinned woman with snow white hair that draped down over her shoulders. She stood with perfect posture and her face was receptive at the moment. Storm was waiting to hear her speak before she passed judgment. Gabria paused to incline her head slightly to her, appreciating that she was willing to give her a chance. Then her eyes took in the tall man next to her in the brown trench coat. Gambit's eyes were a striking black on red that caught you by surprise even if you'd been expecting them. Longer brown hair fell into his face and one hand played idly with a playing card, twirling it between his fingers. Finally, a few paces distant from the others, leaning against the wall was Rogue. The white streaks in her brown hair drew attention to her face and her bright green eyes. Gabria noted the long gloves that covered most of her arms up to her sleeves so that only her face had any exposed skin. Her lips were pursed in a frown.
Behind the line of mutants, Gabria could just barely see a man in a wheelchair.
"Alright. Let us have it, girly. What happened?" Wolverine demanded, his voice low and gruff.
Gabria nodded, her posture unconsciously going rigid and her eyes drifting to a spot over their heads as she answered. Her father would have spared her a fleeting look of pride at her reaction. He'd spent a lot of time in raising her to make sure she acted like a good kid from a military home regardless of the circumstances.
"My name is Gabria Corina. Holly Rosalind was my best friend." Gabria answered, keeping her voice as devoid of emotion as she possibly could. She knew if she let herself feel even a fraction of the grief that had hit her earlier, she wouldn't be able to tell them anything, "We grew up together. Our town's not very big so it could get kind of easy to be singled out. We were both about the same age and both of our parents were military. It just made sense for us to stick together."
Gabria allowed herself to reflect back on her childhood, almost forgetting the line of people in front of her. Her eyes softened a little as she remembered two young tomboy, military brats.
"I guess you could say our town was kind of old fashioned, very conservative. They didn't like things that were different." Gabria continued, that soft looking in her eyes vanishing and her lips pulling down in a frown.
"Like mutants." Rogue supplied for her.
Gabria didn't answer right away. Rogue was certainly correct, but that wasn't the whole story and it wasn't the point she needed to make. It was crucial that they understand not just what had happened but where she, in particular, was coming from.
"Yes and no. Look, I can't begin to understand what it's like for you. I'm not going to pretend that I do." Gabria said, speaking slowly and carefully, "But I do think it's important that you remember you're not the only ones who are suffering because you're different. I'm not trying to belittle your situation. It's just that not every person who starves on the streets without a home is a mutant. Not every person who is beaten or killed for not fitting into the mold is one of you. And actually, many of you are probably better able to defend yourself than these other people because of your powers. It's just that because of this, people fear you more. They're scared and honestly, sort of jealous. Ordinary people are worried that one day you'll realize that you agree with Magneto and all of you will turn your powers against them. It doesn't excuse them, but it's frightening to think that maybe he's right; maybe you are the next step in evolution. What does the future hold, then, for people without mutations, for their children, compared to people who can control them with their minds or kill them with a touch?"
Professor Xavier was smiling but Gabria couldn't see him from where she was standing. Instead she was faced with a sea of doubt, skepticism, disbelief and couched anger.
"How would you know?" Wolverine growled, "Thought you said you were on our side. You seem to know a lot about the way the other side thinks."
Gabria nodded slowly. He was right, of course. She'd heard all the anti-mutant propaganda from the purely ignorant hatred to the honest concerns, "My parents are anti-mutant. They lead a group."
Wolverine's growl grew louder. Gabria wasn't surprised. She'd known they'd find out about her parents eventually and she'd known how they would surely react. She dropped her gaze to the floor, unwilling to defend herself, grateful when her short blond hair fell forward and covered her face.
A hand on her arm drew her gaze back up to meet fiery red eyes with dark pupils.
"But not you, eh, petite?" Gambit said with an encouraging smile.
Gabria felt her face flush. She tried to tell herself it was from relief that someone understood, but if she were really honest with herself, it was mostly because of the attention from the handsome Cajun. Certainly, no one had ever called her "petite" before. Gabria briefly entertained a fantasy starring this attractive, dark mutant, but only for a moment. Rogue's glare quickly snapped her out of it. Besides, the tall, smooth-talking Cajun probably called most girls "petite." It was simply a nice distraction.
"Well, how do we know you're not here to…" Wolverine began, unconvinced.
"Because I say so."
The other mutants backed out of the way so that the man in the wheelchair could roll forward. As intimidating as it might have been to face the foremost members of the X-Men all at once, it was even more intimidating to meet the Professor. Gabria's stomach flopped, making her regret the meal she'd eaten earlier.
"Don't be frightened." The Professor said with an easy smile, "You spoke very insightfully, dear child. I'm impressed."
Gabria fought past the lump in her throat and managed to squeak out, "Thank you, sir."
"You are very right, of course. That is why a world with humans and mutants united is so difficult to achieve. Perhaps I've been wrong to keep this place so segregated." The Professor mused.
"Professor?" Rogue asked. It was bad enough she had to worry about harming other mutants. She didn't know if she could handle having to keep her guard up for normal humans all the time, too.
"Don't be concerned, Rogue. But please, Gabria, tell the others the rest of what happened." Xavier encouraged.
"Yes, sir." Gabria said, refocusing, "Holly and I never did quite fit in. I wasn't sure what it was exactly but as I got older, I felt more and more out of place. The rest of the town could see it too and they didn't like it. Holly and I planned to move away, go to a city somewhere. But then…"
Gabria paused, taking another breath. This was all still so recent.
"I don't know how long Holly knew about her powers. I think she was too scared by them to tell anyone, even me. But she didn't know how to control them. Yesterday… it was my fault. My parents held this rally. Everyone was spouting all this anti-mutant crap. I just…I couldn't take it anymore. I snapped. I yelled something. I don't even remember what I said. But everyone was so worked up and I pissed them off. They started yelling at me, calling me names, throwing things. My mom wanted them to stop, but my dad…well, he probably thought I deserved it, that it would teach me a lesson. I don't know what would've happened, but…Holly was suddenly in front of me and this red light just sort of jumped out of her. Everything they were throwing just bounced off it. I don't think she meant to use her powers. I think it just happened. But a mutant showing up, using their powers, in the middle of an anti-mutant rally…you can probably imagine. At first, Holly's shield kept them out, but she couldn't hold it. When she lost control of it, they grabbed her. They hit her and kicked her, spit on her. I tried to help her, tried to push them off her, keep them away, but there were so many of them. It seemed like the whole town. I didn't even see the knife until it was too late."
Gabria stopped abruptly, squeezing her eyes tightly shut. She wished she couldn't still see the blade glint in the sun on the back of her eyelids, but the image seemed burned there. She forced her eyes open again to escape it.
"Somehow Holly got her shield up again after that, but she was pretty badly hurt. I didn't know what to do. I just knew I had to get her out of there. I dragged her to my mom's car and she managed to keep the shield up long enough for me to get her inside. They tried to follow us at first and I got scared. I thought they'd call the police, at the very least for the car, so I drove us to the next town over and to the train station. The next train leaving was for New York. That's when I thought of Xavier's School. Holly had already lost a lot of blood and I didn't know what else to do. I…I couldn't take her to the hospital. They'd find us…"
Gabria trailed off, realizing that she was rambling. She fixed her eyes on her shoes. The silence in the room felt suffocating.
"Gabria, would you please step outside for a moment?" the Professor requested, his voice startling Gabria after the silence.
"Yes, sir." Gabria nearly squeaked, bolting for the door.
As soon as she was beyond it, she leaned back against the wall in the hallway, taking deep breaths and struggling to keep her emotions firmly in check.
"You must be Gabria."
Gabria jumped, snapping back upright on her feet at the sudden knowledge of a person very close to her. Her mind raced, wondering how he'd gotten so close without her noticing. She hadn't even heard a footstep.
The smirking face in front of her reassured her that she wasn't in immediate danger and her next rapid train of thought involved the person attached to the heavily accented voice that had startled her. Obviously this guy was Irish. There was no mistaking that type of speech even though Gabria had never actually met an Irishmen in person before. For a moment, her mind wondered irrationally why he wasn't red-haired, freckled and wearing green. But then she took better stock of his appearance and found that she was quite pleased with the way he did look. He was not particularly tall, but certainly taller than her five-foot six-inch frame. His skin was the sort of pale that can't be helped, the sort that would get sunburned rather than tanned with prolonged exposure. His hair was a dark blonde and longer than most of the guys Gabria was used to wore their hair. She almost blushed when it occurred to her that it would be nice to tangle her fingers in that careless mess of hair. From under a few spikes of hair that hung down into his face, two bright brown eyes observed her. He had a slim, sharp nose and a strong jaw line, but his mischievous eyes and wry lips kept those features from making him look too austere.
Gabria immediately felt self-conscious. A beat later she wondered how he knew her name and felt like kicking herself for not wondering that sooner.
"Who…uh…who are you?" Gabria finally asked, hoping she hadn't been too obvious in her staring and subsequent delayed response.
The eyes sparkling back at her said that he was well aware of the effect he'd had, but he simply answered, "Connor O'Reilly."
He held out a hand to her, which Gabria met with her own after only a second's hesitation. She spent entirely too much mental energy on making sure her handshake was firm and decisive without being overbearing or imposing. Disgusted with herself, she took her hand back and stuck it in the pocket of her jeans.
"How do you know my name?" Gabria asked, coming to her senses a little.
Connor waved a hand dismissively before bringing it up to tap two fingers against his temple.
"Professor called me." he said simply, "He asked me to keep you company while they talk things over. He didn't mention that you're so pretty."
Gabria blinked. Had she imagined that last sentence? Nope, she hadn't. That look on his face confirmed the reality of it. Gabria's cheeks burned and she quickly dropped her gaze and turned her head so she could hide behind her hair. She didn't consider herself anything special. She was okay, she figured, but kind of plain. Sure she had blonde hair and blue eyes, but her features were too strong, too masculine, for her to be considered any kind of beauty. Besides that, because of her outsider, weirdo status growing up, no one had ever paid her much attention in the looks department and how to take compliments had never been part of her upbringing. As a result, she found herself shaking her head and mumbling something mostly incoherent, but certainly to the contrary. Her protest was interrupted by a short laugh. Gabria's head shot up, her brow furrowed in confusion.
"And modest, too!" Connor exclaimed, his eyes teasing her. He held out a hand, "Come on. I'll show you around the Mansion. No telling how long they'll take in there."
Gabria slowly, hesitantly, gave Connor her hand. He grasped it lightly and guided her away from the door where the Professor and the X-Men conversed. Gabria's hand tingled from the contact. She focused on the feeling, resolutely ignoring the accusing voice in her head that was ruthlessly reminding her that her best friend had just died. For once, Gabria was thankful that she'd been raised in a family that had no use for tears and had therefore taught her how to keep her emotions buried deep inside. Guilt would only unleash grief and make her completely useless.
Connor's grip on her hand tightened slightly, drawing her attention to their joined hands and then up to his face. He grinned at her, eyebrows raised slightly in a silent question. Gabria forced a weak smile in return rather than attempt a verbal response. Thankfully, Connor seemed to understand and began to talk extensively about the Mansion and its occupants as they traversed the halls. Relieved, Gabria listened raptly, her eyes wide and attentive, drinking in as much information as she could.