A Homely Touch
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3

The Road Not Travelled
The Long and Winding Road

Main Fan-Fiction page
Stars and Garters

Disclaimer: Marvel's characters do not belong to me, and I am making no profit by their use, for which I do not have official permission. This story is a work of fiction, and none of the characters therein are intended to resemble persons living or dead - at least, not any that I actually know. Personally.

Note: For, inasmuch as there is a tradition, and that tradition being an ancient one, let it be that this tale conform to tradition in all ways. Let there be Power granted, and let there be Love also. Let none Hate or turn away, let Evil be Gentled and Peace be Nurtured, in this Great and Feared Tradition of fiction. For this, dubbed the Tradition Of The Mary-Sue, is the First and most Powerful of all, and it may not be denied or gainsaid.


If anyone recognizes Sally, I'd appreciate it if they'd come and get her. She's not mine, and writing a Mary Sue belonging to somebody you don't know is rather disconcerting.

Hank's lab was in the basement. Three levels down, as it happened.

Nevertheless, it seemed to have a window.

Actually, what it had was a video-screen hooked up to one of the security cameras outside. There were several stickers across the screen in what looked like random positions, but weren't. There was a point to them, and to the window. Just now, for example, Hank had looked up from his latest experiment to see the pink and gold of dawn brightening the screen.

It was dawn. In a rather Pavlovian reaction, his eyes immediately tracked over to the door, a hopeful look plastering itself over his face.

Sure enough, after a moment, the door hissed open, and his breakfast walked in.

Hank beamed, holding out massive blue hands for his tray. Bacon, egg, sausage, fried tomato, warm muffins, coffee ... mmmm ... "My thanks, Sally," he said, giving her a warm smile. "Breakfast looks quite delectable, as always."

Sally Marsden smiled sweetly at him. "I hope so." She picked up the tray from dinner, and looked at it. She gave him a reproachful look. "Hank, you didn't eat your salad."

Sally was a new addition to the Mansion, and one that Hank hoped guiltily would be around for a while. Okay, so she'd been sort of accidentally dragged from her own world (which didn't have mutants) into theirs (which obviously did) and it had turned out that in this world she was a mutant (which had come as a surprise to everyone). And they had no idea how to put her back.

Not that anyone was trying very hard.

It wasn't that they weren't sensitive to the pain Sally felt at being separated from her family, they were, really ... and while she was a sweet, charming young woman who nearly everyone liked at least a bit, they COULD live without her ... it was just ... well...

Sally had, before her accidental appropriation, been the driving culinary force behind a family-run bakery/coffee shop. The X-folk had adapted with suprising speed to the presence of regular meals and apparently unlimited baked goodies. The fact that Sally was also by nature and powers a sympath, who would listen to as many of your problems as you wanted to talk about, plying you with cookies all the while, was nice too. The angst-levels in the mansion had dropped dramatically, and a permanent scent of baking cookies had replaced the perpetual miasma of guilt and anguish.

Mind you, if you didn't eat your greens, there was hell to pay.

Hank hung his head guiltily. "It's just the fennel," he said in a small voice. "I don't like the fennel."

"It's good for you," Sally chided gently. Hank felt guiltier than ever. Sally was the only person who'd ever fed him regularly while he was working in the lab -- actually, she and Bobby were the only ones who fed him at all. And Sally brought him four regular meals every day, including a snack in the middle of the night if he was working late. How could he be so ungrateful as to pick at his nice salad that she'd made just for him?

"I'll eat it next time," he promised penitently.

"Good. You need proper nutrition to work as hard as this." She gave him a disapproving look. "Living on twinkies will starve your brain. Honest."

Hank was a doctor. Sally was a chef. He knew FAR more about nutrition than she. But was he going to argue with regular, tasty food? No he was not! "Yes, of course," he said meekly. "I do appreciate the care you put into ... uhm ... looking after my nutritional needs. And feeding me, of course."

Sally blushed a little and smiled shyly. "Well, someone has to look after you. You're doing important work."

Hank preened a little. He WAS doing important work. He was working very HARD. And it was about time someone appreciated him. "As charming as you are skilled," he said happily. "I can't imagine how we ever got along without you."

"Neither can I," she said a bit dryly. "Would you believe the sight of a fresh, steaming muffin reduced Bobby to tears yesterday?"

Hank thought about it. "Had he just woken up?"

"I don't think he HAD woken up. I think he was just sleeping vertically."

Hank grinned. "And was there fresh coffee involved? The particularly delicious kind that you make in the ... in the ... cute little glass things that you made the Professor buy you that I don't know the name of just now because I'm tired?"

Sally chuckled. "The old-fashioned percolator?"

"Yes, that thing. Was there?"

"Yes, I think so."

"Well, then, I believe every word. Bobby hasn't had a fresh, hot muffin for breakfast in his actual home since he left home. I understand it's one of the few things he misses."

Sally smiled her slow, placid smile. "I know. He told me all about it while he devoured the entire batch by himself."

Hank tried not to feel miffed. Up until now, HE was the only one who'd known about the muffins. Still, he understood it was now accepted practice to tell anything that upset you to Sally, so she could feed you and make it better. Angst had gone from simply being a popular pastime to being a cunning means of cookie-acquirement. "What kind of muffins?"

"Blueberry and apple."

Hank went from miffed to ... well, miffed. "And he didn't leave one for ME? I only got banana!" He paused. "Not that your banana muffins are anything less than the utter pinnacle of muffinness, mind you..."

Sally chuckled. "I promise, I'll save some for you from the next batch."

"Yes, well, I should hope so."

Next verse, same as the first ... a few days later, having worked through the night once again, Hank saw the dawn, and looked immediately at the door, waiting for his breakfast.

Ten minutes later, he was still waiting, and getting more and more puzzled. Where was his food? Sally had run a bakery for years, she was ALWAYS up early (although she claimed that getting up at four thirty was, for her, sleeping in), and it was her favourite cooking time ... so where was his breakfast? Didn't she realize that he looked forward to ... well, mostly to the moments of friendly human interaction with an attractive young woman, but the food was nice too. And it wasn't here.

He waited another ten minutes, then went looking for it.

She wasn't in the hall, where she might concievably have paused to ... well, to do something. She wasn't in the elevator. She wasn't in the other hall, hurrying along to get his hard-earned breakfast to him, either. Feeling rather ill-used, Hank followed his nose to the kitchen. He could smell cooked bacon and fresh coffee, so obviously she'd STARTED his breakfast...

Hank reached the kitchen door.

He stopped.

He stared.

There was Logan, sitting at the table, EATING HANK'S BREAKFAST!

It was! It was Hank's breakfast! With his four eggs and his six sausages and his two nicely buttered muffins with REAL BUTTER! How dared he!? And where was Sally?! Had SHE given Hank's breakfast to Logan? Logan wasn't doing important work like Hank! Hank DESERVED his breakfast...

...Logan was bleeding all over the kitchen floor...

Sally looked up from her stove and gave him an apologetic look. "He came staggering in a few minutes ago," she explained. "There was some sort of fight, apparently." Melting hazel eyes implored him to understand her deep, fundamental need to assuage pain with food. "You don't mind waiting a few extra minutes, do you? Yours is almost done."

Hank deflated a bit and mumbled a negative. Then, being a doctor, he had to wander over and check the bleeding gashes. Not that Logan deserved any medical attention. Not after stealing Hank's breakfast.

Logan growled a bit, tugging his muffins closer. "Stay away from my breakfast," he said firmly.

"It's MY breakfast," Hank said a bit snippily. "And you should let me put stitches in those."

"They'll be fine in an hour or so. Just need ta refuel is all." Logan shamelessly shed his macho image to gaze imploringly at Sally, and then at the frying pan. The frying pan that had Hank's FOOD in it. Hank forcibly reminded himself that his Hippocratic oath precluded beating a patient senseless so as to get at his unearned sausages.

Sally's tender heart was apparently touched. "Logan, are you still hungry?"

"Yes," Logan said, sounding positively puppyish.

Hank wanted to kill him. Not only had he STOLEN the Special Breakfast that Sally made for him, Hank, because she thought he deserved it, but now the little mutt was trying to steal himself some SECONDS! Didn't he understand that he was INTRUDING -- Hank blinked. Perhaps he was getting just a tad overwrought over a few sausages...

Sally cooed sympathetically at Logan, who was lapping it up with a disgustingly smug grin on his face as he glanced at Hank. "Well, I'm sure Hank won't mind--" she was saying as she ladled his second breakfast onto his plate.

Logan grinned. Hank fumed.

"--If I give you what's left of the ham foccacia," she finished, putting the plate down in front of Hank. "I know I said you could have it for lunch, Hank, but I promise to make something else just as good."

"I ... no, of course I do not mind," Hank said magnanimously, reaching for the cup of coffee that had magically appeared beside him, just the way he liked it and just cool enough to take a good gulp of. "Logan needs to get his strength back up."

Logan looked startled, even as he gobbled down the reheated, cheese-laden foccacia. Hank didn't blame him. It was damn unusual for a woman to NOT focus on the poor, battle-scarred HunkMan, and go and pay attention to Hank instead. He preened happily. Sally appreciated him.

Sally, for her part, was feeling a bit put out.

She had started cooking breakfast (as well as other meals) for Hank because, well, obviously SOMEONE had to feed him. He couldn't be relied on to feed himself, and everyone else just seemed assume that all he needed to eat was twinkies. And he WAS doing Very Important Work. So she fed him.

The fact that he was seriously cute had absolutely nothing to do with it.

And she wasn't annoyed about missing their little conversation this morning. She didn't care at ALL, she told herself, taking it all out on a bowlful of pancake batter. Anyway, all she meant to HIM was food. Look, he'd come up here just to stuff himself.

Of course, she didn't expect anything else. Short, slender, and reasonably attractive couldn't compete with the Tall, Busty and Gorgeous that was standard around here. She pouted a bit, tipping cocoa into the batter. Damnit. he was so ... nice. And uninterested.

Hank was actually wondering if he could legitimately stay around for the pancakes. He'd HAD a nice breakfast. But chocolate pancakes with butter were so devilishly tasty ... aw, his coffee had gone empty. He looked mournfully at it, then held it out to her with his best imitation of Logan's Puppy-Eyes. "May I have some more of the nectar you call coffee?" he asked hopefully.

Sally wanted to snap at him, but there was absolutely no reason to justify it. "Sure," she said mildly, refilling the cup and adding cream and sugar to what she knew he considered perfection, and she considered not quite enough. "Here."

He gave her that adorable smile again, and she sternly ordered her stomach not to flutter. He smiled like that at EVERYONE. "Thank you," he said just as mildly, sipping the coffee. "Delicious as always."

Logan watched them both, and pondered whether or not to kick Hank under the table. Stupid, thickheaded genius-type. Couldn't he see that Sally fancied him? He snorted. If Sally had shown the slightest sign of being attracted to him, Logan, he'd have snapped her up in a New York minute. She was sweet. And a good listener. And she could cook. He liked that in a woman ... in anyone, really. He was into food.

"Mornin'." Remy sauntered in, sniffing the air. "Dat orange muffins I smell?"

Sally smiled fondly at him. Hank simmered a bit. "It sure is. Still warm. Want one?"

"Oui. Please." Remy pulled up a chair and grabbed a mug, holding it out hopefully. "Coffee too?"

Sally giggled. "Of course." She made his coffee and set it in front of him, adding two muffins, knife, butter, and other bits and pieces. "Enjoy."

"Always, chere," Remy grinned, and winked at her before filling his mouth with coffee and mmmming happily.

Hank muttered. HE'D been complimentary! HE'D been charming! And she hadn't giggled and ... and flirted with him like she had with Remy! Curse the Cajun and his rampant sex appeal!

Sally gave him a concerned look as he muttered into his coffee. "Hank, are you okay?"

"I'm fine. Just ... preoccupied." He stood up, finishing the last mouthful of his coffee. "I should get back to work. Thank you for a marvellous breakfast, Sally."

"You're always welcome," she said a bit shyly. "Here..." she held out a plate. It held a muffin, two ginger cookies, a chicken sandwich, and a banana. "For when you get hungry."

Hank looked down at his plate. She'd made him a snack. She'd made him a snack. The other two didn't have snacks. Just him. "Thank you," he said softly, smiling at her. "Your thoughtfulness is, as always, greatly appreciated."

"You gon' turn him into a lard-ball, Sally, 'f you keep feedin' him dat way." Remy jibed.

"I am not!" she said defensively. "He's big. He needs to eat a lot."

"Indeed," Hank said, with appropriately massive dignity. "My metabolism requires frequent fuel, and I am most appreciative of having a teammate who understands and provides for that requirement." He turned and marched out, the picture of offended dignity.

Rather irrelevantly, his brain attempted to tell him about some other requirements his metabolism would like fulfilled. Hank ignored it.

The Juggernaut was stamping angrily down the road ... well, actually he wasn't all THAT angry. He was just bored, really. And when he got bored his fists got all itchy. So, as he often did when he was bored, he was taking a nice, bracing walk up Greymalkin Lane, to pick a fight with the X-Geeks.

Having kicked the gate in and stormed up the drive, he stopped right in front of the house. "COME OUT AND FIGHT, YA SPANDEX PANTYWAISTS!!!" he roared.

There was no answer. That was so typical of them, wasn't it? No sense of adventure. Okay then, he'd just have to go in and get them. Cain took a deep breath, rolled his shoulders, reminded himself of his Wrongs, and kicked the door in.


It was an almost cute little scream, the dainty, feminine kind he'd never yet heard out of an X-Woman. Peeking into the house, Cain came face to face with a wispy little bit of a frail, with wavy brown hair and big hazel eyes. She was backed up against the stairs, eyes wide with fright.

Cain blinked, leaning backwards to check that he was at the right house. Yup, this was definitely the place. He leaned forward again to look at the girl. "Uhm..." he said uncertainly.

"A-a-are you th-the J-Juggernaut?" she quavered.

"Uh ... yeah." He fought the urge to hang his head guiltily. "Are ... er ... the X-Men here?"

She shook her head. "N-no. They're in s-space. Fighting ... bad animal things." She eyed him suspiciously. "I have a beeper."

"A ... beeper?"

She nodded, chin firming up a bit. "If I push the button, the Fantastic Four will know I'm in trouble and come and get me." The rather sweet little face got an embarrassed look. "They're ... uh ... civilian-sitting."

Cain had a sudden and almost uncontrollable urge to laugh. He managed to keep it down to a small chuckle. "Oh. Uh ... who're you?"

"Sally," she said meekly. "I ... sort of fell through this shiny thing, and it turned out to be an interdimensional portal, and they don't know how to put me back. So I stay here until they figure it out. Um." She gave him a hopeful look. "Would you like a cup of tea?"

Cain blinked a bit. "What'd they tell you about me?" he asked suspiciously. Why wasn't she still quaking in terror? Wasn't he scary anymore?

"Not a lot. Uhm, mostly that I should run away very fast." She produced a tiny, shy smile. "But you're not so bad, really."

"I am, too!" he said a bit defensively. Of course he wasn't, he was just misunderstood. But she didn't know that.

The hazel eyes widened trustingly. "You're not. I'm a sympath, I can tell."

Cain was silent for a moment, curiosity warring with a reluctance to appear pig-iggerant. Curiosity won. "What's a sympath?"

"I know how people feel," she explained. "In a general sort of way. I can't influence it or anything, I'm just ... sympathetic with it." She shuffled a little. "It's a pretty lame power."

But it was a good power. It was a good power because it was an unthreatening power. And besides ... the rather hefty part of him that yearned to be accepted and understood reasoned ... she was one tiny little skirt. It wasn't like she was a threat. "Well ... I guess..."

She gave him that hopeful little smile again. "There's fresh raspberry buns," she offered.

When the X-Men got back, the first thing they saw when Corsair dropped them off was the beaten-in front door.

"SALLY!!" they yelled in ragged chorus, charging into the house.

"Uhm ... guys, not to seem like I'm not worried," Bobby said cautiously as they skidded to a halt in the hall, "but there's a distinct lack of smashing in here."

"She could hardly have put up a fight!" Hank snapped, bounding towards the intercom. "Cerebro, locate Guest Designate Marsden, Sally."

"Guest Sally is on the patio," Cerebro said calmly.

Everyone stared at the intercom.

"Uh ... is she alone?" Rogue asked warily.

"Negative. Intruder Designate: Juggernaut is also present."

Had an impartial observer heard the resulting noise, they might well have believed they were hearing the stampede scene from 'Jumanji', as the X-men rushed towards the patio doors.

"--and I just didn't like him," the Juggernaut was saying mournfully. He had a mug in one hand and a half-eaten bun in the other, and he was sitting on the ground. Sally was perched on a deckchair beside him, clasping a teacup and obviously in the middle of her best Understanding Listen. "That's pretty normal, when you think about it. It--" he broke off, spotting the flabbergasted X-Men and scowling ferociously. "What're YOU doing here?"

"We live here," Scott said slowly. "What are YOU doing here?"

"He's keeping me company until you got back," Sally said brightly. "You know, in case someone scary showed up while I was alone."

They all looked at her.

Their eyes slowly, disbelievingly, tracked over to stare at the Juggernaut.

He looked a bit shamefaced. "Well, you shouldn't go 'round leaving helpless civilians here," he muttered. "I only beat up people I really don't like, but some villains ain't so discriminatin'."

"He's been very nice," Sally said in a small voice, as the accusing eyes tracked back to her. "Except for breaking the door down, I mean. But he said he was sorry for frightening me."

The eyes trekked back to the Juggernaut, who looked sheepishly his feet. "Well ... she's so little," he mumbled.

Sally was indeed little. Sally was five-foot-two, with the same fine, angular bones that made Jubilee look so delicate and frail. Still, this was not generally something that moved the Juggernaut. "Uhm..." Scott said, feeling very baffled and wishing the Professor hadn't gone to Zurich. "Uhm ... are we going to fight now? Only we've had a long day as it is..."

Cain inspected his boots with apparent fascination. "Well ... under the circumstance I think we could let it go," he said a bit uncertainly. "Innocent civilian here and all. She might ... you know ... get hurt."

Bobby gave him a sudden, understanding look. "And that'd be bad," he said seriously. "On account of, there'd be no more buns. She makes them. You did leave some for us, right?"

Cain looked even guiltier. Sally smiled wryly. "There's another batch cooling in the kitchen."

"Ooh!" Bobby promptly abandoned all interest in the Juggernaut and sprinted for the kitchen. Jugs had obviously been won over by Sally's big hazel eyes and delicious baking. He wasn't a problem anymore. But if he didn't beat Hank to the raspberry buns, there might not be any LEFT.

When the Juggernaut had gone, and everyone had calmed down a bit, Remy tracked Sally out into the garden, where she was nipping bits off this herb and that in preparation for dinner. "Sally?"

She looked up at him with a preoccupied smile, a wispy curl brushing her cheek. She really did look quite charming, in a domestic way. "Yes?" she said absently, dropping a sprig of thyme into her herb-bowl.

"You okay?" he asked cautiously. "De Juggernaut ... he didn' scare you, did he?"

"Quite a lot," she admitted. "I'm not terribly brave, you know. And he's very big and scary." She smiled a little. "But he's very sweet, really."

Remy blinked.

"Chere, it's sweet that you're so trusting, but if most people had to pick a word to describe de Juggernaut ... well, sweet probably wouldn't come up."

"But he is!" Sally insisted. "He's very lonely, you know. That's why he's always so cross. All you have to do is be his friend."

Remy shook his head. "Uh ... doubt it'd work, chere. Remy don' have your pretty smile, y'know."

Sally blushed. "That's very sweet, but you have one of your own," she returned a bit shyly.

Remy grinned. "Ah, now that's de charm that won over de big J," he said more cheerfully. "If I had a face as innocent as yours, I could steal half o' New York."

Sally blushed even harder. "That silver tongue's going to keep getting you in trouble, Remy," she told him. "That's what causes it, you know. All that charm and sex appeal is what keeps getting you shot and beaten up and ... and stuff."

Remy blinked. He hadn't thought she'd noticed his sex appeal. "Y'think?"

She nodded firmly. "You see how Bobby hardly ever gets shot and beaten up and stuff? That's because he uses his charm selectively." She grinned suddenly. "Like, say, when he wants cookies."

"Bobby has charm?"

"Lots." Sally's lips quirked as she peeked at him. "He just doesn't frivoll it away like you do."

"I don't frivoll!" Remy thought about it. "Well, all right, I do ... but it's jus' de way I am."

She smiled, patting him gently on the arm. "I know. But it causes you trouble."

"I suppose. But it keeps life interesting, neh?" He smiled his most charming smile. "'Sides, it's easy t' be charming wit' a sweet lady like yourself."

She shook a finger at him, eyes twinkling. "Stop that. I don't think you're the least bit cute."

Remy clasped his chest melodramatically. "Straight to de heart!" he groaned. "Rejected!"

Sally chuckled. "It's good for you," she said heartlessly. "You're not nearly as sexy as you think you are, I'll have you know."

"I am too! I'm sex on a stick!" Remy grinned.

Sally smiled her pretty smile, pinching off a sprig of mint. "True. But still, I think I like Bobby's way better."

He squatted beside her, eying her with some interest. "Really?"

She nodded. "I'd rather be charmed by someone who saves it just for me, than by someone who charms everyone as a matter of course. It just ... means more to me."

Remy blinked. This was an entirely new thought for him. "Huh." He eyed her speculatively. "So if I asked y' out..."

"I'd say no," she said firmly. "I like you very much as a friend, Remy, but I'd honestly rather date the Blob. He has less emotional baggage."

Nobody had EVER said that to him before.

Remy was intrigued.

"Y' don't think I'm de least bit sexy?"

"Of course I do. I'm not blind. But I don't like sexy. I like sweet." She patted his arm. "No offense."

"None taken, chere." He patted her hand fondly. "It's cute. Nice girl like you SHOULD think dat way."

She gave him a rueful smile. "For all the good it does me."

Remy picked a small sprig of mint, sniffing it appreciatively. "Y' interested in Bobby, then?" he asked curiously. "'Cause me, I'da laid money it was de Beast you had your eye on."

Sally blushed furiously.

"Aha ... y' do like de Beast!" Remy grinned. "I thought so."

"Yes," she said in a muffled voice, looking down at the mint. "I do."

Remy eyed her, an uncharactaristically open smile tugging at his lips. She was such a sweet child, as open and uncomplicated as a daisy. "Why?" he asked. "I'm just curious ... if it's not charm and sex appeal that gets your attention, what is?"

She looked up, giving him a crooked little smile. "He's sweet," she said softly. "And very kind. And he is charming, in his own way. He's always polite, and ... and chivalrous."

Remy nodded. "Treats y' like a lady, huh?"

"Yeah." She looked down at the bowl of herbs, a wistful smile on her face. "I like that."

"So ask him out." Remy wanted to say that Hank hadn't had a date in so long that he'd probably leap at it no matter WHO asked him, but that didn't seem tactful. Besides, Sally was probably the nicest girl Hank had met in a long time. Certainly Remy would have been interested in the offer.

Sally blinked at him in shock. "Me? Ask out one of the greatest and definitely the cutest mind on the entire planet? Who's been on more superhero teams than I've even MET? Who used to date TRISH TILBY? Have you SEEN her, Remy? I don't even know how to make my MAKEUP look like that, and I'm NOT competition anywhere else! Ask him out? Are you MAD?"

Remy held up a hand. "Okay, okay, I get de idea." He shook his head. "Me, I think de Beast'd be more'n appreciative of de offer, petite, but if y' don't want to, I can't make you."

She gave him a startled look. "You can't?"


"No pep talk? No 'you can do it if you just try and buy a very revealing frock'?"

Remy chuckled. "Non. Dis once, Remy not gon' interfere. It's all up to you, chere." It wasn't that he didn't want to interfere ... his fingers were itching to matchmake ... but Sally and Hank were so skittish when it came to relationships. Better to let love bloom slowly, in its own time -- even under the best of circumstances, it didn't do well as a hothouse flower.

Sally huffed, giving him a wry smile. "You're no help."

"Sure I am! Anytime y' need help pickin' out that very revealin' frock--" She hit him with a handful of parsley.

Rogue wandered down to the lab, dutifully hauling Hank's lunch down to him. Coffee (in a small thermos), a large glass of orange juice, two chicken-salad sandwiches, two ham-and-cheese sandwiches, a coffee scroll, a banana, and a bunch of apple slices. Rogue suspected that Sally had picked Rogue to take the tray because nobody else could lift the thing. Except Sally, of course, but everyone knew she had Food Magic.

"Hank?" she tapped on the half-open door.

"Lunchtime already?" He looked up with a bright smile, that dimmed a bit when it realized it was pointed at Rogue. "Goodness, where does the time go..."

"Ah don't know, but if you've got any spare, Sally sure could use it," Rogue said cheerfully, handing him the tray. "Emma and Sean just showed up with the kids, and poor Sal's trying to make lunch, find out what the kids like, and keep them outta her cherry-cake, all at once. S'why she sent me down with the tray."

"Ah, I see..." Hank inspected his lunch and smiled. "Well, I am grateful to you for doing so, and I would appreciate it if you would convey to her my thanks for preparing so delicious-seeming a meal for me in the midst of such activity."

"Ah'll tell her ya said thank you," Rogue said mildly. "Where's the other tray? She told me ta get the other tray and bring it up."

Hank fished it out of the clutter and held it out. "Here. Ah ... how long are the youngsters expected to be with us?"

"About a week," Rogue said sweetly. She watched the big blue scientist droop ever so slightly, and smothered a grin. Ah, yes, he knew what having a whole new bunch of people around who Needed To Talk And Be Fed Cookies would do to Sally's spare time. "But, hey, the time'll fly."

"Yes, of course..." Hank gave her a rather preoccupied smile and turned back to his microscope. "Ah, well, I fear I must get back to it..."

"A'course," Rogue said cheerfully, backing out with the used tray. As she ambled down the hall, she muffled a giggle at the plaintive mutter that drifted after her.

"A week, indeed. They'd better not try and steal my breakfast."

Upstairs again, Rogue walked into the kitchen and into a wall of confused sound and a cloud of delicious smells. There was frying chicken and baking foccacia bread, a faint tang of potato salad and something she was fairly sure was a delicious thing that Sally called mince toasties. "Ah'm back!"

Sally waved at her, simultaneously stirring a large pot of soup (good for padding out lunch when unexpected guests arrived) swatting Jubilee away from a platter of chocolate chunk cookies, and talking animatedly to Angelo. Rogue grinned at the dazzled look in the boy's eyes, sliding in to put the tray on the counter and steal a cookie. She got her hand smacked with a wooden spoon for her pains, and pouted. "Don't Ah even get one for going down there t' feed Hank?"

"No. Nobody gets one until they've had some proper food." Sally pushed the platter back against the wall, out of reach. "That means you too, Jubilee."

The small girl pouted a bit, then bounced on her toes. "Hey, Wolvie says you make muffins for breakfast every morning. Do you? Will you make blueberry while we're here? Can we have coffee? Wolvie says you make the best coffee, but they don't usually let us have any."

Sally chuckled. "Yes, I make fresh muffins every day, yes, I can make blueberry if you want, and yes, I don't mind if you have coffee. Just don't touch the littlest pot. That's for Gambit, and you wouldn't like it."

"We wouldn't?" Jubilee eyed the smallest of the five glass percolators with interest.

"No. You've heard of Moira's coffee? This is worse."

"Oh." Jubilee sidled away from the percolator. "Gotcha. Hey, do you make a big lunch like this every day?"

"Most days," she agreed with her usual placid smile. Rogue noticed that the noise level was dropping steadily as the youngsters were drawn into cookie-scented orbit around Sally. She'd seen it happen before, and couldn't wait to see if it worked on Emma. "That's mostly what I do here. I don't have any training in anything except cooking. I used to work full-time in my father's bakery and coffeeshop."

The kids all stared at her, obviously unaccustomed to meeting people who actually worked for a living. Rogue snickered softly. "We're all kinda hoping she'll stay," she confided. "Ah know Ah'd miss regular meals and all the cookies mah hips can bear."

"Wolvie said you came from another dimension," Jubilee said, a bit more quietly than was usual for her.

Sally nodded, her sweet face suddenly sad. "I do. I got pulled through some kind of portal thing, and nobody knows how to send me back. They're working on it, but ... well, it could be worse. This is a pretty interesting world to be marooned on."

<*That's one way o' puttin' it,*> Jono muttered.

"Indeed," Sally said mildly, giving him one of her sweet, understanding smiles. Jono wasn't quite as bedazzled as Angelo, but he did lapse into silence with a rather bemused expression on his face.

Rogue grinned a little, her eyes meeting Jubilee's. The younger girl's blue eyes were twinkling. "Hey, Sally," she said brightly. "Could you, like, teach Emma how to cook? She so doesn't know."

"If she wants to learn," Sally agreed. "I could even teach you lot, if you like."

Jubilee looked with some interest at Angelo, who was practically vibrating. "Could be fun," she said kindly, taking pity on him. "Right, Ange?"

"Uh ... si ... I guess," Angelo agreed, trying to appear uninterested and failing miserably.

"Ah'd like it," Paige agreed hopefully, eyeing the rapidly accumulating piles of food. It'd been so long since she'd had a decent bit of chicken ... let alone a really fresh breadroll.

"All right, then." Sally agreed, pushing the soup to the back of the stove and shooing the kids away so she could open the oven, pulling out a hot, fragrant loaf of foccacia bread. "If Ms Frost and Mr Cassidy agree."

"Yay!" Jubilee bounced. "Hey, can we learn to do muffins? Can you show us when you do them tomorrow?"

"Sure." Sally's lips quirked. "If you want to get up at four-thirty tomorrow morning."

Jubilee stared at her. "You are so kidding."

"Nope." Sally shooed them all towards the door. "I ran a bakery for four years. That's sleeping in for me. Now shoo, so Rogue and I can finish putting lunch together. It'll be ready in ten minutes, in the dining room." She ushered them out. "And wash your hands."

Rogue chuckled. "Ah reckon you made an impression there, Sal."

"You noticed too, hm?" Sally smiled indulgently. "He'll get over it."

"They always do," Rogue agreed. "Oh, by the way, Hank said thank you for his lunch."

"He always does." Now Sally's eyes had the same dreamy light in them that Angelo's had a moment before. But it only lasted a moment and then she was all business again, reaching for a large punnet of strawberries. "See if there's any of that sweetened cream left. I don't think there's enough cobbler for an extra ten people."

Hank waited until half an hour before dinner, then wandered very casually up to the kitchen. He rarely bothered to come up, if he was working - Sally would bring him a tray, if he didn't appear for the meal. But for some reason, tonight he felt like company. He liked the kids, enjoyed their lively conversation ... but maybe he'd better work up to it slowly.

Angelo was there, slicing potatoes with a hopeful, puppyish look on his face as Sally moved around the kitchen. It was like a dance, Hank thought as he often had, a slow, certain pattern between counter and stove, table and oven and fridge. The kitchen was her domain, her kingdom, and in it she was as graceful and certain as Psylocke on the battlefield.

But Angelo certainly didn't belong there. What was he doing there?

"Hello," Hank said mildly.

They both looked up, Angelo shooting him a quick glare and Sally a warm smile. "Hi, Hank," she said, still sprinkling herbs into a simmering something that was giving off a savoury scent. "I didn't think you'd come up tonight."

"The virus can wait one more night," he said cheerfully, ambling into the kitchen. "Upon consideration, I decided that there was no way in which I could possibly do justice to the banquet you undoubtedly have planned if I were squirrelled away in my lab."

That statement would have brought demands for clarification from anyone else, simply as a matter of form. Sally just smiled at him. "It'll be ready in about half an hour." She tilted her head towards Angelo. "Maybe sooner. I have a helper this evening."

"So I see," Hank agreed mildly. Almost imperceptibly, he shifted his weight forward, casually resting his weight on the knuckles of one huge hand as he sniffed the air. "Is that a lamb slurry I smell?"

"It is," she confirmed. "Among other things."

"You spoil us," Hank said fondly, ignoring the black look he was getting from IntrudingPotatoBoy. "We have never in all my memory eaten so well."

"Yeah. We might never leave," Angelo chimed in. He was chopping perhaps a touch more loudly and vehemently than was necessary, but with a smile. Slightly fixed, perhaps, but a smile. "Jubilee's been demanding to rejoin the X-Men ever since lunch."

"Which is flattering, but a bad idea." Sally gave the simmering substance a final stir, then shifted back to mixing the crumble part of the apple crumble. "How are you doing with those potatoes?"

"Nearly done," he said hopefully.

"Good. Thank you." She smiled sweetly at him, and he sighed wistfully.

Hank leaned forward a bit more, ostensibly eyeing something that looked suspiciously like a tray of cooling breadrolls. The kind with the cheese and bacon on top. "It's extremely considerate of you to help Sally out, Angelo," he said mildly, looking down at the short, skinny teenager. "I'm sure she appreciates it."

Angelo looked up at the friendly, toothy smile. "Si, sure," he muttered. "Jubilee was helping too, but Wolverine dragged her off a little while ago."

Hank nodded sagely. "He does like to spend time with her, while she visits. And fond as he is of Sally, he does get to see her every day." Angelo gulped a little, and Hank's friendly smile widened. "We're all very fond of Sally," he said confidingly. "But who wouldn't be?"

Sally shot him a swift smile over her shoulder. "Flatterer," she said comfortably. "You just like the regular meals."

Hank ambled around the table, capturing one small, floury hand and dropping a melodramatic kiss on the backs of her fingers. "Ah, dear lady, you cut me to the quick! The very idea that mere culinary perfection could win as much regard from we, heroes that we are, as your own serenity and good humour, aye, and your compassion, both for those suffering anguish of soul and agony of hunger."

Sally giggled, batting at him and getting flour in his hair. Behind them, Angelo sighed resignedly. "Hush, you. If you keep on flattering me my head'll swell so big that I won't be able to see what I'm cooking, and then where would you be?"

"Bereft! Despairing! And probably quite hungry." Hank straightened up, grinning at her. "Therefore I shall go, and leave you to your work, for now."

"Thank you." She grinned up at him, blowing a curl out of her face. "Don't forget to wash your hands."

"I won't," he vowed. He gave Angelo another friendly smile. "I shall see you, my young friend, anon."

Angelo smiled ruefully, conceding defeat with a shrug. "I'll be out as soon as I finish the potatoes."

Hank nodded with satisfaction. "Very good." He ambled out, wondering idly if he was sure he could still find his bedroom, and wouldn't accidentally end up at the lab instead. It'd been a while.

Continued in Chapter 2.