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

Explicit again (or still)--don't read if you are easily embarrassed, influenced, etc.!
Marvel characters are Marvel characters are Marvel characters. No argument there, right?
NOTE: There is a strong possibility this will turn out to be a sort of ongoing story, not unlike the comics it is based in. Right now it is not firmly set in any one x-version, but I am taking suggestions....

Part 7--The Morning After

Hank woke up in the dark, disoriented, knowing only he was somewhere strange. Then memory awakened also. He was with Cassie, at her her bed.

The sound that must have awakened him came again, and his satisfaction sharpened to concern. It was a tiny whimper, the wisp of sound which is all that escapes when one is fighting through a nightmare. "Cassie?" he said in a low murmur, raising up on one elbow to reach for her. "Cassie?"

He patted her on the shoulder, and the effect was galvanic, as though he had stabbed her. She came awake shrieking, tumbling back and away without conscious direction, scrabbling off over the side of the bed before he could grab her. There was a 'thunk' that made him cringe.

Hank fumbled for the tiny lamp switch in the dark, his usually nimble fingers made clumsy by dread. With light, he was free to leap out of bed and run to Cassie's side--until recollection made him halt. He might scare her even worse trying to help her.

She was wincing, holding a hand against the back of her head, but awake. "Ow," she said ruefully. At this sign she was wholly in the waking world, Hank knelt by her side and gently examined the back of her head. No blood, thank God. "Sorry," she said, although he could see no earthly reason why she should be apologizing to him.

"Bad dream?" was all he asked, as if he couldn't figure that one out. She merely nodded. "Do you want me to go to the ice machine?" There was not yet a bump, but he felt as though he ought to do SOMETHING.

"No." She felt her head again. "I don't think it's that bad. I'd rather just go back to bed." She gave him her hand, and he helped her rise, still eyeing her anxiously. She crawled in, and after a moment, Hank joined her. To his relief, she snuggled close to him, head pillowed on his shoulder, one hand on his chest. "Do you mind me doing this?"

"Not in the slightest," he assured her sincerely. She patted him by way of thanks, and he gradually felt her relax back into sleep. Once he was sure she was sleeping soundly once more, he followed her example.

A few hours later, he awakened again, but this time with full awareness of his surroundings and circumstances. He knew without looking that it was 6am--he invariably awakened at that time every day. Cassie was still sleeping, still close by his side, though in the dim morning light seeping in around the curtains, she looked insubstantial, almost like a figment of his imagination.

Her skin was pale against his fur, and her blonde hair gleamed silver. Her eyelashes fanned against her cheek, and he could just see faint smudges of mascara left from the night before. She looked like a little girl who had been playing with her mommy's makeup. She just seemed...little, next to him.

Something caused her to stir, and he tensed, waiting for another panicky outburst, but she only smiled sleepily. "Hey."

"Hey," he said quietly, wondering if she could hear or feel how hard his heart was suddenly beating.

Cassie put out a hand to stroke Hank's face. How soft his skin is, she thought. Like velvet, or moleskin. Just lovely. He closed his eyes as she explored his features, his strong chin, the interesting point to his ears. She sat up a little, running her fingers through the hair on his scalp, noticing the residue of mousse or some other hair control substance. The hair immediately half stood up on the side. "Oooh, cowlicks!" she giggled.

"Yes, industrial strength ones," Hank replied. "I need another haircut--they're getting out of control again." But she had lost interest in his hair, and was staring down into his eyes with warm speculation. He needed no further invitation to lift up his head and kiss her.

He set himself the task of following her lead, on the theory this was the best way to avoid startling her in any way. She seemed much readier to initiate things this morning, more interested in exploring his physique. Her obvious delight in her findings went a long ways towards decreasing his self-consciousness about his differences. And as she found HIS more sensitive sites, he forgot about anything at all but Cassie, and what they were doing right now, together.

He began to reciprocate with experiments. Kissing her stomach made her giggle uncontrollably--she was highly ticklish there. Her breasts, which were a nice size that fit perfectly under his large hands, were another good site, especially the nipples. To his delight, she sought his out in return and tweaked them lightly, with a much more powerful effect than he would have suspected possible.

Okay, things were getting serious now--time to go for that neck! She seemed to agree, because she eagerly turned over when he kissed the side of it, presenting her nape for him to nibble at will. He complied, and sighed with pleasure as she wriggled and pressed back against his body.

While still drawing reactions from her through his attentions to her neck, Hank branched out to bring her vulva into the field of action. She readily gave him room to maneuver, and soon was softly moaning his name. Inspired to make his move now, Hank guided the tip of his penis into position. When Cassie's reaction was to tilt her hips back to provide a better angle, he gave a purr of appreciation, and thrust just a little way in. She pressed back under the influence of a really good neck nibble, and then kept going, beginning a rhythm he immediately picked up.

Moving, gliding with her, mouthing her neck and fondling her body, Hank turned his focus to her responses; creating the appropriate reaction within his partner was goal number one this morning. As she began to strain harder, simultaneously with and against him, he sensed his efforts were working. Soon, she stiffened, made those odd little movements so similar to a seizure, then relaxed in his arms. Taking that as his own cue, Hank resumed pumping, just a little faster, a little more strongly, until he achieved his own very satisfactory climax.

Temporarily drained of the will to move, he let his arms drop away. Cassie sat up, close by his body, arms around her knees. She was staring off into the distance with a look on her face he could not quite identify. "," she said at last. She met his eyes at his wordless hum of inquiry, and smiled. "I feel so...SILLY."

That was not QUITE what he thought she was going to say. "Why?"

"Hank," her tone was wondering now, "I had NO IDEA. I've been writing romances for years. I've been married, been a modern college girl...and I would have bet money I knew what having an orgasm felt like." She shook her head, and looked at him like he was a brand new idea. "I guess I just THOUGHT I knew, before."

What she was trying to say sank in, and it was extremely flattering to his male ego, especially because he tended to believe she meant it. "Happy to be of service," he said, grinning, and traced one clawed fingertip up her thigh. "It does seem we are quite...compatible." It felt strange to be saying such things to someone he had met less than 24 hours ago. But she just smiled, and nodded agreement.

"So...what are your plans for today?" ONLY today, a part of him mourned, and he successfully squelched it.

"Let's see...I'm supposed to check out by noon, and then go over to my agent's until this cocktail party thing. And then after that she drives me to the airport." She didn't look very excited about that itinerary.

"I don't suppose...would you like to come to my place? For lunch? I can drive you wherever you need to be, later."

The smile she wore looked like it would never come off. "I would like that."

Hank looked over his shoulder and hooked the phone to him by its cord. "Let me double check." Cassie wondered if she should leave, let him make his call in private, but she felt quite comfortable, slightly leaning on him, and he didn't seem at all disturbed by her presence. "Hello, sir," he abruptly said. 'Sir?' she wondered. "It's Hank." As he listened, a faint frown formed on his forehead. "I'll be home this morning, actually. In about an hour or so." The frown deepened, but he tried to smile it away. "Technically, that IS still morning...." Now Cassie did feel she should leave, but he put his free hand on her leg; she wasn't sure if it was to restrain her or reassure himself. "What was it you were needing me for?" Now he rolled his eyes, but said calmly, "I didn't realize you were in a hurry for that. I thought we said by the end of the week?"

Guilt and curiosity mixed in Cassie's mind. She again entertained the passing thought that she knew almost NOTHING about this man. Well, amend that--she knew nothing about his LIFE. "Fine," he was saying. "By the way...I want to bring someone for lunch. Is that a problem?" Cassie bit her lip at the thought of problems she might be causing Hank. "Someone I met. A writer." Agggh, he was telling someone she was a writer! "Good. See you at lunch, Professor."

He hung up the phone, and set it next to him, precariously balanced on the edge of the bed. "Have I gotten you in trouble?" Cassie asked hesitantly.

"Oh, no, nothing like that," Hank hastened to reassure her. How to explain the professor's occasional moods in a brief and simple way? "Professor Xavier is our leader, our mentor, you might even say. In some ways, he and I are very alike in mental outlook. I THINK that's why it...disturbs him a little when I do something unexpected."

"Like stay out all night?"

"Yes, like that." His smile was a little twisted. "Or it could be that it's because he has known me since I was a teenager, and sometimes forgets that TECHNICALLY I am well over 21, and entitled to...engage in adult activities." He took in Cassie's slightly dubious look, and said, more heartily, "Never mind. Something else is likely on his mind. He'll be fine."

They exchanged another kiss, then reluctantly broke away to dress. Hank had to turn down her offer to share her shower, as it was simply too small for him, plus he wouldn't have come close to being able to get dry before noon, with only two hotel towels and her travel blow-dryer on hand.

After she dressed, Cassie called her agent to relay the news she would be coming to the party by an alternate route. Since Hank was the native, she put him on with Wendy to get directions. He didn't ask for a pen, just nodded, closed his eyes, and repeated them. "I will see she gets there on time," he promised, and gave the phone back to Cassie.

"Oooh, babe, he sounds cute; bring him!"

Cassie thought this was an excellent idea, and turned to Hank, clutching the phone against her chest. "Do you want to come WITH me to the party? Wendy says I should bring you."

Hank hesitated a moment. Could he make the time to reassemble his image inducer? He THOUGHT he could, so he gave in to temptation and nodded agreement.

Arrangements made, she was soon checked out and heading out of the city beside Hank in his little red car, her hair whipping in the wind like a bright flag as he wove in and out of traffic, exuberant with the sun and the day and more time with Cassie. She leaned close as they drove, with Hank half-shouting descriptions of his friends in her ear. There seemed to be quite a number of people who lived there off and on, and she hoped she would be able to keep them all straight.

"This looks bad," Scott commented, pointing down at some indeterminate oil-encrusted object. Gambit and Wolverine craned their necks to see. Wolverine nodded sagely.

"Dat de fuel pump?" If you couldn't tell by looking, it was indeed a bad sign, Gambit knew, and he sighed to himself. It had seemed a great joke, winning a 'classic piece of iron' in last night's card game. But perhaps the joke was on him....

"OUGHT to be," Logan said. "No tellin' what it REALLY is. This engine's been mangled by a moron."

"Yeah, but I think it's fixable," Scott argued. "The body's sound. A few new parts...."

"Like a new engine," Logan suggested, with a wicked gleam in his eye. Then he straightened and cocked his head. "Someone's driving in the gate." The other two merely nodded, acknowledging his superior senses. They watched and in a moment saw the little red sportster come around the corner. "Well, well, WELL! Looks like Little Boy Blue picked himself up a blonde!"

"Boun' t'happen sooner or later, him drivin' dat car," Gambit said wryly. "Car like dat, blondes pick YOU up!"

"Maybe he'll trade you," Scott jibed. "He'll like this Jeep."

As they watched, the passenger door opened, and the blonde stepped out, her grey skirt riding up a bit as she scooted around in the low slung seats. "Nice legs," remarked Gambit.

"Yup," Scott agreed amiably.

"Hey, bub, you're a married man," Logan objected with a mild scowl, possibly out of deference to the absent Jean's sensibilities.

"I'm only stating an objective fact...and agreeing with Gambit," Scott replied loftily.

As they continued to watch, Hank for some reason chose to exit the car by doing an arm press up out of his seat, which became a one-handed handstand on the top of the windshield bar. He finished by walking hand-over-hand to the far right side, and doing a flashy gymnastic-style dismount. The blonde responded by laughing and clapping with enthusiasm, then kissing him with even more. "I think I'm gonna be   sick," Logan remarked to no one in particular.

Hank spotted them, waved, and said something to his companion as he pointed. While they approached, Gambit took the opportunity to wipe the grease off his hands. "Cassie," Hank said as he drew into speaking range, "these desperate looking characters are some of my closest friends--Scott, Remy and Logan. Gentlemen, this is Cassie Cantrell."

"How do you do?" she said, smiling from her spot very close by Hank's side. "It's nice to meet you." Now, Scott was the one with the red glasses, she knew. So the middle one was Remy and the shorter man with the unlit cigar was Logan. Okay, so far, so good.

They all greeted her in return, and then there was a moment of awkward silence. "Hank's told me all about you," Cassie offered, trying to fan up a conversation.

"ALL about us?" Scott's tone made a joke of it, but eyed Hank with a hint of warning.

"Just the basics," Hank said lightly, trying to be casual about putting Scott's mind at ease.

It seemed good enough for now. "Are you joining us for lunch?" Scott asked pleasantly. "I'm cooking today."

"What fare of Jean's are you warming up?" Hank inquired blandly.

"I'm COOKING noodles," Scott informed him with the grand air of a king squelching a rowdy commoner.

"He's thawin' some of Jeannie's stroganoff to put over it," added Logan, ruining the effect.

"Excellent," Hank said, and meant it. "We'll see you at lunch then."

The trio watched them depart, heads together in private conversation, laughter trailing behind them. Gambit broke the silence. "Mus' be serious, amis. He didn't even LOOK at my car!"

Continued in Part 8.

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.
There is also a mailing list for people who want to get new chapters ASAP. Be warned--you sometimes get odd extra mailings as well, when the spirit moves me....
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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