Part 15--Beware of the Cat
Cassie's home was a pleasantly unremarkable apartment complex; a series of nearly identical buildings placed in a random pattern and surrounded by trees and shrubbery to give the appearance of peaceful isolation. The entrance was secured by a touch pad Cassie punched a code into; Hank suspected the security aspects had drawn her here more than the landscaping. "Up we go," she said, heading for the stairs, Hank's garment bag slung over one shoulder. "It's the top floor, I'm afraid." She turned half around to smile apologetically. "Good exercise, though."
"At least you don't need a Stairmaster," Hank observed, grinning to himself. He was in a position to know; he had an excellent view of exactly how well her jeans fit as she led the way up. It was most unfortunate that true gentlemen were constrained not to grope ladies in public stairwells.
"I like not having any neighbors tromping around overhead. It's worth having to lug groceries and--" She broke off and turned around so suddenly Hank almost got smacked in the face with his own garment bag. She had her hand over her mouth, and her eyes were round with consternation. "Hank, I forgot to ask. You aren't...allergic to cats or anything, are you?"
"I am happy to say Providence showed unaccustomed forethought and afflicted me with no allergies to fur of any kind," he told her, the twinkle in his eye mocking his solemn demeanor.
"Oh." Cassie seemed struck by the implications. "THAT would have been inconvenient, wouldn't it?"
"In the extreme," Hank agreed wholeheartedly. "I presume you ask because you have a cat?"
"I'm a single female," she replied, with a self-mocking smile. "It's required by law." They resumed their upward progress. "In fact, technically, since I'm a writer, I should have several. But I got a waiver for the extras because mine's a Siamese."
"Ah. I HAVE heard they are temperamental, with delicate sensibilities." They were coming around the last landing now. "Fortunately, I like cats." Impossible to say whether it would like HIM, though, Hank knew. Animals were far from uniform in their reactions to him; he was sure he must seriously confuse their world views.
"Good. But if she's a pest, she can go stay at my folks--they watch her for me a lot, and spoil her rotten." She had unlocked the door, and was slowly pushing it open, looking for the cat, he assumed. "THERE you are." She stepped in and Hank followed, ready to drop his luggage as a cat barrier if need be.
A slinky, cream-colored feline with an elegantly sculpted triangular head and rust-colored points was standing in the middle of the floor, swishing her slender tail. "Aoow," she said, sounding disapproving. Cassie lay Hank's garment bag over the back of a lounger, and scooped her up.
"Her name's Cornflower. Because of her blue eyes," Cassie said, bringing the cat into Hank's general vicinity. He stretched out a hand to let the animal get his scent. It took instant advantage of the offer, and after a few dainty inhalations, began to struggle forward. "I THINK she wants to go to you," Cassie said, dubiously. "This never happens."
"Really?" He debated the possibilities. "Does she bite or anything?"
"No, she never has, but she never goes to people, either."
"Well, let's see." Curiosity WAS a driving force, Carl was certainly right, Hank thought. He gingerly took the enthusiastic creature from Cassie's grasp, holding it straight out from him for prudence' sake. Then he felt it purring madly. Shrugging his surprise at Cassie, who looked equally amazed at her pet's behavior, he cradled it into a more normal holding position. It instantly reached out its long, skinny legs and wrapped them around his neck, then began to groom him.
"Oh, CORNflower, NO!" Cassie disentangled the protesting cat from Hank's neck and dumped her gently on the floor, much to the cat's evident displeasure. She turned her back on them both and started washing her paws, tailtip twitching out her annoyance. "I think she likes you."
"Obviously a creature of exquisite taste," Hank smiled. "And a fine example of the reputed resemblance between pets and their owners," he added, not quite suggestively.
Cassie bounced his smile back at him, doubled in intensity. "Oh, I'm glad you're here," she said, and stepped into his arms.
Heart leaping with joyous satisfaction, Hank met Cassie's upturned mouth and gently but thoroughly renewed their acquaintance. At length he broke away. Looking down into her eyes, he said, "Cassie?"
"Could you remove your cat from my ankle?" His voice was apologetic, but amused. "If I try to move, I fear I'll step on her."
"Oh!" Cassie looked down to see her uninhibited pet entwined around Hank's leg, trying to nuzzle her head into the cuff of his pants.
"Cornie! Stop that!" She grabbed the protesting animal up. "I wonder if it would help to try to feed her?"
Hank followed Cassie to the kitchen. She put the cat down in order to get into the cupboard. Cornflower promptly ran to Hank, and began stropping herself around his ankles in a figure eight. "You're a shameless hussy," Cassie informed her. Cat-like, she paid no attention. Cassie noticed that the answering machine on the table was blinking, and pressed the button in passing, taking up a listening posture as she opened the cat food can.
"Hello?" a voice strange to her spoke; a voice that made Hank look, though. "This is a call inquiring about Hank McCoy." He frowned slightly, and moved closer. "It is Thursday, 10:15 pm Eastern time. We heard that bad weather had caused planes to be turned away from the Denver airport, and were concerned. Please call us if there has been any difficulty." The voice then gave a number and the machine clicked off.
"That was Storm," Hank told Cassie, shaking his head, "but I know who told her to call...may I?" He asked, pointing at the phone.
"Be my guest," Cassie said instantly, spooning ripe-smelling pink cat food into a dish. This did serve to distract Cornflower from her victim.
While Cassie puttered with rinsing the spoon and disposing of the can, Hank punched in his home number, plus the code that would ring to the professor, wherever he happened to be in the mansion. It was picked up on the fourth ring, and Hank half-feared and half-hoped he had gotten him out of bed. "Hello, sir, Hank here. Just got the message Storm left."
"Hank." The X-man switched ears, and sat down in a kitchen chair. "DID you have flight problems?"
"Nothing to speak of. We were delayed a bit and had some hail after we landed, but I'm here safe and sound." Really, it WAS a little over-protective of the professor. But perhaps he thought Cassie would not know how to contact the team if an emergency had occurred.
"We were concerned," Xavier told him. "The NCAR reports said some areas out there had quite severe weather."
"The hailstorm WAS on the spectacular side," Hank admitted, as he and Cassie exchanged smiles. "The reason I didn't call is that we went immediately out to dinner. With Cassie's parents."
Oh?" The professor managed to get a world of meaning into the simple syllable.
"Very nice people. It was...a most interesting experience." Recollection of the message he was to pass on sprang to mind. "I met a young man who desired me to inform you that his elementary school class thinks the X-men are cool."
"Are we?" Hank could hear detached amusement in the dry tone. "I am not current on usage among the young--is that still considered a good thing?"
"I believe so, sir." Cassie was leaning against the sink, trying to stifle unseemly giggles. "At least, I--yow!"
"What?" demanded Xavier instantly.
Hank couldn't answer for a moment, as he was helping Cassie disentangle Cornflower from his ankle again. "Nothing, sir, sorry--" he eventually said. "The cat bit me." Mouthing an apology, Cassie carried her away, and the sound of a bitterly protesting Siamese echoed down the hall.
"Cassie's pet. It appears to believe I am a giant toy brought here for its amusement."
Hank didn't dare speculate on what was going through the professor's mind; his voice sounded odd. "Well, I hope you have a good vacation, Hank. Don't bring any feline souvenirs home with you, though, if you don't mind."
"This one may well be capable of plotting to conceal herself in my luggage," Hank said, "but I will take all due precautions." After pointedly assuring Xavier he would check back in at some indefinite future date, Hank hung up the phone and went in search of Cassie.
He found her coming out of a room furnished as an office. An occasional muffled, querulous meow was coming from a box with a quilt draped loosely over it. She was carrying a large violently chartreuse squirt gun. "I'm sorry, Hank. I've never seen her act this way before," she immediately began to apologize.
"Are we going to have a squirt gun duel over it? Where's mine?" he asked her, trying to divert her dismay with silliness.
"Oh, this is for when I let her out of her carrier. If she keeps on acting up. It's a painless but effective discipline method for cats."
"I repeat, where's mine?" he joked. "Not that I mind having you defend me."
"We can share," Cassie suggested, relaxing as she saw Hank wasn't angry over the assault on his person by her uncivilized pet. Another louder feline demand came from under the quilt. "Let's go into the other room for now, though."
The handiest room turned out, somehow, to be the bedroom. Cassie set the squirt gun down on a mirrored dresser, then turned to Hank. "Maybe the chaos will settle down for a while now, and I can finally welcome you properly." She reached up to loosen his tie.
If it had been possible, Hank would have begun to purr as enthusiastically as his feline admirer. "It's very pleasant, to feel so welcomed," he replied, allowing her free access to the tie, and his shirt buttons. "And perhaps afterwards, I can express my appreciation for your gracious hospitality...." Cassie grinned assent without pausing in her task. At another, more insistent yowl from the office, he asked, "But should we set Cornflower free?"
"Later. MUCH later," Cassie said. But by the time this occurred, Cornflower was so deeply offended even Hank could not coax her out from under the bed.
Humans are hard to train, but they are the only servants cats have.
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