Neon Hearts
Author's Notes
The Ticket
Talking to strangers
Inching up to the brink
Falling in slow motion
At Silver's
Specters of the Past
The Morning After
Public appearances
First impressions
Dangerous dreams
Picking winners
Hank's bad day
Happy landings
Meeting the folks
Beware of the cat
Plans and possibilities
Taking chances
Room service and...
The road less traveled by
Shadows in the starlight
Grand Lake
Life in the breakdown lane
Family matters
Homeward bound
Simple gifts
Girl talk
Comforts of home
Open secrets
Good intentions
Every stop is a place to start
Whispers out of the past
Judgement calls
Crosscurrents & riptides
Past tensions, future trials
High spirits at Muir Island
Growing things
The best defense

This story is in progress.

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Stars and Garters

Errata: I am fairly sure I spelled the famous Russian dancer's name wrong in this. But heck, I even spelled an easy American name like Steven Wright wrong in Part 4! Sorry about that, all you perfectionists!
The Marvel characters are copyright to Marvel, of course. Other celebrities are only mentioned in passage (quote "fair use" law here) to add verisimilitude. Relax, folks, it's only a story....
There is at last a fight scene of sorts in this chapter--since this is a comics-based story, I felt there should be at least one.
Explicitness coming up in part 6! Beware!!

Part 5--At Silver's

Silver's naturally had valet service, which Hank never took advantage of. He was just the slightest bit possessive about his sportscar; it caused his teammates to sometimes pretend they were going to ask to borrow it, just to see his reaction. When he attended Silver's, he used a secure parking garage, and walked the several blocks difference.

Tonight, he realized he might have been unintentionally remiss to his guest. The evening breeze had acquired a definite edge, and her dress left her shoulders bare. "I'll be fine once we start walking--Denver's still lots colder than this at night," Cassie said with a brave smile, though she was already casually hugging her arms together across her chest.

"Take my jacket, then?" Hank suggested, doffing the garment and hanging it around her without waiting for confirmation.

She instantly clutched the lapels in a crosshanded grab, and pretended to violently shiver and chitter out, "My hero!"

"And it's my night off, too," Hank pointed out with smug false-modesty, as they started towards the street.

Cassie kept the coat pulled snugly around her, secretly appreciating the body warmth lingering in it, and the elusive scent of its wearer. She was not quite sure if she were smelling a trace of exotic mens' cologne, or Hank himself, or some combination thereof, but it was a GOOD smell, as warm and comforting as the jacket it clung to.

As they came out onto the sidewalk, she could see a difference in both the foot and vehicle traffic several blocks ahead. It was the only active-looking edifice in the area, which seemed to mostly contain warehouses and storefront businesses. But there was a huge gaudy sign blaring enough excitement to make up for the dingy surroundings, which said "Silver's", and that's where the people were heading.

Once they had passed muster by the bored-looking door guard, they squeezed with the rest of the crowd down a short hallway, which held a secret metal detector according to Hank, and then emerged into the main room. Cavernous was just barely adequate to describe the vastness of the place, and it was already half-teeming with patrons. Cassie had expected the music to be loud and blaring, but it was instead at a level that easily permitted conversation between two people walking side by side. On the walls--or were they screens?--movie clips of famous dancers appeared and disappeared with little or no relation to what the music was doing. The only ones she recognized for sure were John 'Saturday Night Fever' Travolta, and Mikhal Baryshnikov. She had the feeling, though, that Hank would be able to name them all for her if she only cared to ask.

"What do you think?" he asked now, as proud as if he had invented the place for her amusement.

"It's fabulous!" she assured him, and he beamed.

They were approached by a woman wearing an old-fashioned movie usher's uniform. "This way, please, Dr. McCoy," she said with a professionally happy smile, and headed towards the center of the building.

"They do seating here?"

"This looks like Silver's doing," Hank muttered, though he was secretly not displeased at being given celebrity treatment on this rare occasion when he chanced to be trying to impress someone. They were shown to a small table for two just at the edge of the biggest dance floor. It had a black faux-marble top, as smooth as glass but with only a dull sheen. Cassie reached out to smooth her hand over it as Hank politely held her chair.

Suddenly, they seemed to be surrounded by glitter and light. She gave a faint gasp and looked to Hank. He was wearing a faintly exasperated expression, squinting up into the light source. He waved, and it quit as instantaneously as it had come. But a small blue exclamation point of light was now centered in the table.

Cassie touched it in wonder--it was IN the table! Part of the amazing special effects, she supposed. Hank was sitting down now, still looking up at the ceiling over the dance floor. "Is that where your friend runs things from?"

"Yes--you can't see it because of mirrors, but he can see us, and anything else he wants to, I would imagine, through cameras." Hank waved up again towards their invisible host.

The exclamation point vanished, to be replaced by a pink heart and a question mark. Hank snorted, but eyed Cassie with a touch of worry. When she covered her smile with one hand, and gave him a shy sideways look in return, he relaxed. Looking up again, he pantomimed a wide-armed shrug, intended to indicate his lack of knowledge about the future, adding a smile to indicate his willingness to accept whatever it might bring. The heart throbbed in response, making Cassie emit a choked giggle, and then a light-stencil of an approving upthrust thumb gleamed, before the table went dark again.

"This is a very interesting place," Cassie said gravely.

"I'm glad you think so." A server appeared to take their drink order, and was quickly dispatched in search of a bottle of Asti Spumante, one of the tastes they had found they had in common, solemnly agreeing it was far superior to champagne. "I don't know where he gets the energy to run it--many of the sequences are pre-programmed, of course, but still I think he spends most of the day getting ready for the night, and then the whole night running his show. And he's always wanting to add new technologies."

"He ought to consult you."

"He HAS! He wanted holographic dancers, as well as the flat ones on the walls." Hank shook his head at some memory. "I could do it, too--but he doesn't have a computer that would run the program."

"Well, BUILD him one," Cassie suggested, only half-kidding. Hank started to inform her she was now being silly, then stopped to pursue sudden inspiration. If they could acquire a used Cray.... "But, Hank--" Her mild tone abruptly snapped him back to the present moment. "Maybe you could start building it tomorrow?"

"Or better yet, the day after," Hank agreed. There was still a lot of tomorrow available for spending with Cassie, he suspected. "In the meantime, would you care to dance, my dear?"

The sound level and the ambient warmth gradually increased as the crowd grew, and the time spread out smoothly in a blur of dancing and music and talk and laughter. "I can't remember when I've had such a good time," Cassie gasped, as she regained her breath after laughing over a tale Hank had related about a prank his friends had attempted to play on him, which had backfired with hysterical consequences.

"Really? I'm glad," Hank told her casually, fighting down an urge to turn a few handsprings.

"Really," Cassie assured him. "I'm SO glad you didn't have any change for the parking meter this morning!"

"So am I," he replied, his normally deep voice going a shade husky. He took her hands, cupping them between his. His assessing gaze searched her face, and found no impediment to his leaning closer...her eyes closed and she leaned forward as well....

"Hey!" The harsh voice scarcely registered on either's consciousness, but the jarring sensation of a kick to the underside of their table did. "Whaddya think yer doin'?"

Cassie jerked away from the kiss with a gasp at the interruption, but did not move from Hank's side. A young man was staring malevolently at them, swaying a little, clenching and unclenching his hands. Slowly, Hank freed his own hands from their hold on Cassie's. "I cannot imagine that it's any business of yours," he told their verbal assailant firmly, but with an undertone that should have warned the offender to move along.

"You were gonna kiss that woman," snarled the youth. His eyes were mad with something stronger than alcohol, something fueling his antipathy while it obliterated his sense of self-preservation. A girl his age approached, and began trying to pull him away, whispering something. "I don' care!" he roared, and shoved her backwards to fall sprawling. The nearby crowd hushed and spread back, but no one moved to intervene. "He's a mutie--got no business kissin' a normal woman!"

Cassie gasped, and heard Hank growl, "That's it," as he stood up. The boy staggered back a step when he saw the size of the one he had chosen to harass, but then he came forward in a rush, drawing one arm  back to throw a punch.

Hank sidestepped the table, and when his attacker's fist flailed forward, he caught it in one huge hand, with an almost bored fillip. His face was anything but bored, however. Feeling his hand caught, the drunken youth struggled to yank it free, then attempted a second ill-conceived assault, a straight-legged kick that lashed up into mid-air, not even close to a target. Hank caught that leg's ankle, and jerked the would-be marauder off his feet. With a distasteful grimace, he then threw him in the general direction of the silver-shirted security men at last pushing through the crowd.

The youth's girlfriend had gotten to her feet and was crying, standing alone. One security man dragged the youth up off the floor as well, while the second took a step towards Hank. Hank's chin snapped up and the man stopped, though he covered this prudent maneuver by holding a hand to the earpiece of his headset, as though he were listening to someone. Apparently it was no ruse, because in a moment, he related,   "Boss says you don't have to go," in a flat tone. "Sorry for the inconvenience, sir." They disappeared the way they had come, dragging the cursing youth between them, trailed by the sobbing girl.

Hank adjusted his shirt, then slowly turned to Cassie. She looked pale, shocked, and he belatedly wished he had thrown the drunken fool a lot further and harder. "I'm sorry about that, Cassie," he said,  not quite sure which part of the incident he meant. Perhaps all of it, starting from the very true charge of being a mutant who wanted to kiss a normal woman.

She shook her head, somewhat dazedly. "It isn't your fault." Her hands clutched the edge of the table with a white-knuckled grip. "Are you okay? Did he hurt you?"

Hank snorted. "He couldn't hurt me on the best day he ever imagined," he replied savagely. Not physically, he couldn't.... The crowd had returned to its activity, with the little spectacle over, but he sensed people were still watching with covert avidity. He took his seat again, and made a rapid examination of Cassie's set face and tense shoulders. "Do you want to leave, Cassie?"

"Would you mind very much?" she replied in a very small voice, giving him only an instant's glance.

"Not at all, actually." He put out a hand to assist her to her feet, gathered up his jacket, and began to make his way to the exit. Cassie tucked her arm up under his and followed very closely. Outside, he gave her his coat again, and they started up the street.

He was trying to think what he could POSSIBLY say, what words could open the path of communication back up, and was failing utterly. Then, as they passed beneath a streetlamp, he glanced aside and was chagrinned to see Cassie was trying to blink away tears. "Cassie!"

He stopped, stopped her, and turned her to face him. Her woeful face only met his for a moment before she had to look to the ground, dabbing at her eyes with his coatsleeve. Doubly distressed now, he fell back on his main defense to try to right the situation. "Are those for my sake," he inquired lightly, "or for the unregenerate state of humanity in general?"

She sniffed deeply, and looked up again. "I'm sorry--I really hate to cry in front of people." She wiped at her face again. "I'd...I'd rather be shot."

"Have you ever been shot?" he inquired seriously.


"If you ever have the choice, I recommend you select crying--you actually wouldn't like your other choice that much."

She choked out a small laugh. "How can you joke, when...when that man was so awful?" The scene seemed to play itself back in her mind. "How can people BE so awful to each other?"

"Easily, it would seem," he replied with a shrug. "You get used to it."

"Do you?" Now her eyes searched his face for the truth. "Do you really?"

Hank caught his breath at the raging sorrow in her expression, and let it out slowly. "Well. Allow me to rephrase." He put his arm around her and they resumed their progress. "You become better able to deal with it. It becomes easier to dismiss his kind of hatred as the result of poor parenting and education, or other social ills. Bad manners, if nothing else. But, no, so far I am not yet used to it. It's always a shock, each time."

"Oh, Hank," she said, and that alone, but it seemed adequate for the moment. Slipping her arm around his waist so she could lean on him, they made their way back to the car in silence.

Before opening the passenger door, Hank took Cassie's chin in one hand, almost without volition. He leaned down to complete the aborted kiss, then halted when he felt her tense up. In the instant before he could draw decently away, however, she threw both arms around his neck and kissed him with an energy he welcomed and echoed. It wasn't sensual passion, but it was a good deal better than nothing at all, at the moment.

When they broke apart, he stroked her cheek with one finger. With his best warm smile, he told her, "Now I'm going to put you in the car, and we're going to go back to your hotel. If you like, I will let you off at the lobby entrance and thank you most graciously for a wonderful day. Or, alternatively, I will see you to your room, and  then depart when you deem it appropriate." She blinked up at him, nodded solemnly, and opened her mouth to speak. With infinite gentleness, he touched a finger to her lips. "It would probably be best," he said, "for you to think it through first, don't you agree?" She hesitated, then nodded again.

After settling her in her seat, Hank McCoy stood for just an instant, looking in through the glass window at her profile. Then, tossing and catching his keys like divining coins, with his fate cast to unknown winds, he walked around his car and climbed in to begin the long, quiet drive back to the hotel.

Continued in Part 6.

"Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence." Robert Frost

More chapters of this story can be found at Ro's Treasury OR from the author, Susan Crites  IF you can't access the Web.
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Disclaimer: Since I am a) inserting a new character and b) not privy to any of Marvel's editorial decisions, this story is forced to be an alternate universe. It is similar to the 'real' one when it works out, plotwise, okay? And I DO make mistakes sometimes, I know. Such is life.
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