Yet another chapter in this saga which contains characters copyright to Marvel, not to me....
Part 16--Plans and Possibilities
Hank awoke, as usual, promptly at 6am. Unfortunately, it was 6am Eastern time...and he was in Colorado, he realized as he came more fully awake. In Denver, in an unfamiliar bed just a bit small for him, with a still fully asleep companion beside him. He smiled in the dark, and battled off the temptation to wake her. Best not to push one's luck sometimes, and very early morning was often one of the times.
Instead he began to shift his body carefully, trying to turn on his side. "Rrrr?" came a sound from near his head, and something padded touched his cheek. He very nearly exploded into defensive action, remembering only at the last micro-second that a third being shared this apartment. And apparently this bed.
With great care, Hank plucked the thin limb, with its almost bird-like bones, from his face and gently budged its owner off his pillow. He just had time to complete his position change before Cornflower regained her lost ground by insinuating herself under the covers and curling up against his back. Hank decided he could ignore her as long as she wasn't actually biting him.
It was Cassie who had his attention. She too was on her side, and had been laying close enough so that they nearly touched. Well, it WAS a small bed. They were almost spooned together now, mere millimeters apart; her head would tuck very nicely under his chin with minimal positioning. Slowly he leaned towards her, then dropped his free arm lightly over her torso.
Cassie stirred at this, but thankfully didn't awake in a screaming panic. Making a sound very similar to what he had just heard from the cat, she took hold of his hand, and cradled his arm to her, nestling it between her breasts. Taking this as a good sign, Hank snuggled closer, maximizing the areas of contact between them, and sighed in deep contentment as he felt her relax back into her dreams.
He, however, was not sleepy now. Rather than give in to the suggestions his body was making, Hank chose instead to contemplate his situation. Cassie asleep was SOMEWHAT less distracting to the higher thought processes than Cassie awake, smiling at him, listening to him talk, demonstrating her growing confidence by touching him--
Hank yanked his thoughts back into order. Now that he was here, now that he had flown some two thousand miles to find out what exactly he wanted and what was possible for him to obtain from this serendipitous meeting, it behooved him to consider how he would know when he had found it out.
Was he...falling in love? Possibly more to the point, was she? There was no question he had felt miserable when she left, although that could be partly attributed to a lack of closure--her commitments back home had required an abrupt departure that was to neither's liking. Also no question they suited each other very well physically, but it was axiomatic that pure sexual attraction was the most fleeting of all ties between two people.
Hank knew quite well he had a strong propensity to rescue damsels in distress; it had been the unsuccessful basis of several past attempts at relationships which had eventually gone nowhere. Cassie and her horrific past definitely struck that chord in him. Just look at yourself right now, he chided. Wrapped around her like armor, protectiveness personified. AND you're enjoying it.
But on the other hand...they made each other laugh. In his experience, that required a similarity of outlook which would bode well for compatibility. He had the greatest respect for the courage she didn't realize she had, and admired a hundred other things he had come to know about her since they'd met. It was this perceived affinity, he tentatively theorized, that was the basis of his pursuit of the possibility of a relationship.
Did she feel the same, though? Almost, almost, Hank thought. And yet she had already very clearly expressed severe doubts about--how had she put it?--being brave enough to love a man in such a dangerous line of work. If true, that could be a daunting obstacle.
Cassie stirred a little, and tightened her grip on his hand. And then again, maybe you think too much, McCoy, he told himself sternly. Is it possible to think yourself into love, out of love? Perhaps you should just let things happen for a change, without analyzing them into minuscule fragments. Without meaning to, he sighed.
"You awake, Hank?" Cassie murmured sleepily, half turning her head, although it was far too dark in the room to see. "Jet lag?"
"Yes, a touch," he answered, with a smile in his voice. "Don't worry. I'm quite content just to rest here. I might even go back to sleep in a bit."
In response, Cassie kissed the palm of the hand she was holding, and leaned back against him, as though she would pillow her whole body against his while she slept again. But then, after a slow stretch which delightfully set off several of his autonomic responses, she pressed his hand against her cheek and rubbed her face over it, seeming to seek his caress.
Was she? Should he? Hank hesitated, torn between desire and his plan to lay quiet and consider-- You think ENTIRELY too much, McCoy, he said silently to himself, and bent his head to nuzzle Cassie's waiting neck.
"Well," he said later, a good deal later, as Cassie lay resting in his embrace in the faint pre-dawn, "good morning to you, too!" She chortled and squeezed him, ruffling her face through his chest fur. "What ELSE are we going to do today?" Not that this wouldn't be just fine....
"Whatever you want," she answered comfortably. "You're the company." Cornflower's head appeared over the edge of the bed. Seeing things were quiet now, she leapt nimbly up, then began to companionably bathe.
"You'll have to tell me, then, what sights are required viewing for tourists. Besides, of course, your unique family restaurant."
"It IS unique, isn't it?" She raised her head a little, to have a better view of his face. "I'm glad you got along so well with my parents. They really liked you."
"I really liked them," he assured her. "Not surprising, as I wholeheartedly approve of the job they did in producing and raising you." This made her wriggle with pleased embarrassment, as he'd expected. He rather liked her wriggling, when she was close to him like this. Then recollection of what Carl had said to him reminded him of a more serious topic. He reached up to stroke straying blonde hair back from her face. "Cassie, I wonder if I might ask you something?"
"Sure," she replied instantly, though her expression had sobered, to match his, he suspected.
He wasn't sure he ought to mention Carl's conversation with him. "Speaking, as we obliquely were, of offspring...." Now she looked very serious indeed. "I hope this is not too painful a subject, but...would you mind me knowing exactly why...you aren't expected to be able to have any?" In the ensuing silence he apologetically added, "It's just that I'd like to know for certain if we can safely eschew the customary precautions." The way we've been doing....
"I understand--it's fine." She visibly gathered her strength and her thoughts, and Hank tightened his arm around her back in a reassuring hug. "Well. When the rescue team got me to the hospital, after...well, after, I was unconscious. In shock, they told me later, from bleeding and all. My parents had to sign the waiver for the doctors to treat me. Not that I blame them," she added hastily. "They were just trying to save my life." He nodded encouragement, swallowing hard.
"Basically," she continued doggedly, "I had massive internal injuries. The doctor who had headed up the surgical team told me later that they'd had an argument at the time, right there in the operating room, over whether to even TRY to salvage my...the uterus. They did, just because of my age, and thinking it MIGHT heal up okay after all. But I guess actually it's pretty much of a mess." She tried to smile, which was more than Hank was able to do at the moment. "He said MAYBE if I wanted to TRY to have children, I could go in for reconstructive surgery and get all the scar tissue stripped out and...a general retrofit, I guess." She did get the smile out this time, but it failed to reach her eyes. "I don't think he really thought it was much of a hope, because in the next breath he was talking to me about the advances they're making in transplanting eggs to surrogate mothers and all that sort of thing."
Habit, a lifelong desire to get the facts straight, was the only thing that let Hank speak. "There is, then, a physical impediment to fertilization that would have to be surgically corrected before you could get pregnant?"
"Yes." She tried gamely to lighten the mood. "I take it you aren't into kids?"
"I don't dare." He tried to match her easy tone, but something she saw or sensed made her cup a consoling hand to his cheek, sympathy in her eyes. "Out of curiosity, I have...tested myself. My fertilization capacity is more than adequate, and I can't find any reason for a chromosomal mismatch--what causes hybrids to so often be sterile. But...it appears that the change I induced in myself extends to the DNA level of my cellular structure. Any offspring I produced would most likely exhibit their heritage from birth."
"I see." Her dark blue eyes were clouded with sorrows old and new. "And you wouldn't want that?"
"It is difficult enough, as a reasonably well balanced adult, to deal with prejudice against mutants," he explained quietly. "I feel it would be cruel beyond imagination to inflict that on a helpless child."
"That could be--I hadn't thought of that." She sighed and toyed with his hair, brushing up the unruly side tuft. "Too bad, though. Be a pretty cute baby."
"I know you would think so," he replied, pushing the mental image of her with a fuzzy blue bundle of joy in her arms firmly from him. "But how many others would not?"
"Kind of a moot point anyway." Her wistful tone stirred in him a fierce desire to do something extremely violent to the one who had been the cause of the tragedy, despite the fact it would do no good for anyone.
"As your physician informed you, there ARE other options," he reminded her. Was this a good sign, to be discussing theoretical children? "I have given the matter much thought, and concluded I would be able to feel adequately paternal to offspring I had no genetic part in creating," he informed her hopefully.
"Or surrogacy. It's quite true there are amazing advances all the time--you'd be surprised." Now he felt emboldened enough for a hint. "Are we discussing mutual possibilities here?"
"Looks like maybe," she allowed, with a shy smile. "I guess since you never know what's going to happen, it can't hurt to at least TALK about...possibilities."
Feeling he had won a small victory, Hank decided to quit this topic while he was ahead. "And possibilities are by their nature nearly infinite. One of the splendid things about life, wouldn't you agree?" He began to gently massage the muscles of her shoulders, and her head fell forward to his chest as though magnetically compelled. She made an inarticulate cooing sound he interpreted as enthusiastic encouragement. Backrubs--one of the most under-utilized aphrodisiacs in the universe. Eventually he said, "But we have left unanswered the question of today's activities."
Cassie tipped her head up, resting it on her forearm on his chest, favoring him with a look of quite intense fondness. "Okay. Let me think." She pondered as she ran her fingers through his hair. "Museums. Natural History, Art, Historical? The Natural History one has some good dioramas and fossils." Hank hummed non-committal vague interest, rapt in the pleasure of her scalp massage. "There's an IMAX and planetarium at the Natural History Museum. And the zoo."
"I don't think so, about the zoo," he responded, eyes closed. "Other patrons tend to wonder whether I've escaped from somewhere."
"Really?" Cassie gasped, horrified.
He opened his eyes, then winked. "No. Merely a jest, my dear."
"Funny man," she retorted, and began to tickle him. Although he could have rather easily prevented it, Hank cooperated with her attack, making no genuine effort to defend himself until the playing field had been somewhat leveled by the success of her efforts. Cornflower again deserted them, muttering Siamese imprecations.
Eventually they returned to their discussion, Cassie now sitting atop her supine guest. Hank contemplated scenic natural wonders. "I guess what everyone comes out here for is the mountains," she mused. "It's too late in the season to ski, though. But if we took extra sleeping bags, we could go camping."
"Camping?" Hank found himself intrigued. "I haven't done that in quite some time." Not on purpose, at any rate. "We would need to procure suitable equipment, would we not?"
"Borrow it from my folks, no problem there. We have EVERYTHING," she assured him. "And since it's early in the year, none of the campsites will be overcrowded. But it IS still cold at night," she warned him.
"I have the feeling," Hank purred, his hand making a slow trip from her ankle to her thigh, "we can compensate for that."
"Yes," Cassie replied with a wickedly innocent gleam. "My parents have a ventable tent heater." She tried to silence any retort by putting her foot over his mouth, and he pretended to snap at it, making her squeal and giggle as she yanked it away.
This tipped her backwards, and Hank took advantage of her changing center of gravity to sit up abruptly, swirl her into his arms, then reverse their former positions, pinning her to the mattress. "I reiterate, we won't need it," he smiled down at her.
"You're the genius," Cassie conceded, and pulled his head down to hers for a kiss that indicated auxiliary heating equipment would indeed be superfluous.
Continued in Part 17.
"In a world fraught with danger and despair, comedy is a survival tactic, and laughter is an act of faith" Ron Jenkins