"Penny, stop it!" Pink paint splattered on the spread plastic as Stephanie Rogers whirled around, wielding her paint brush like a sword. Penny dodged away, sticking to a nearby wall with her spider-powers, smiling hopefully. Steph gave her the I-am-Captain-America-and-I-am-Not-Amused stare. It made Penny pull back into her shoulders, trying to hide in herself. Behind Steph, a pretty painting of a woman-slash-vase thing, done in all shades of red was only half done. Ochre smeared down one cheek, sticking to a few bits of hair that had escaped her ponytail.
"Pretty pretty pretty please, Steph?" Penny pleaded, sticking her knees to the wall so she could clasp her hands together in supplication. Her brown eyes glistened with faux tears. "It would be a team bonding experience. We could learn so much in the name of science. The entire universe could open up! We can bake a pie in space! Apple! All American Apple Pie. Isn't that— um? Patriotic?"
Muscles bulged as Steph crossed her arms. Her formerly-white shirt was splattered with a rainbow of colors from every art project she'd worked on since joining the Avengers. It didn't help that builders could use her lips as a level. "What did Toni threaten to do to you?"
"She's building a sex-change machine in the basement," Penny admitted promptly. "She said I'd make a good Peter if I didn't help out."
"Do you?" Denim scraped drywall as Penny crawled on her knees down to the floor. She was close enough to look up Stephanie's skirt, but did her best not to. Captain America, like Grade School Principal Zombies, could smell a guilty conscience. "I don't want to be a boy! MJ and I—she likes me like... you know." This time, the tears were real, or at least a little more believable. "I would look really, really bad in facial hair."
Stephanie sighed. It was a long-held truth that no one could stand up to Penny's sad eyes. Not even when they were obviously lying. She patted Spider-Woman on the head. "I won't let Toni give you a Y-chromosome."
"Penelope, you traitor." Antonita—Toni—Stark leaned against the frame of the door. She was dressed in her business best, with high heels and a tight little skirt, her hair all done up in a tumble of ringlets. A solid gold tie complimented her coloring, but the masculine touch didn't do anything to hide her femininity. "You're a terrible minion."
The palms of Penny's hands stuck to Stephanie's calves as she wrapped around her legs. "I'm a minion who will still get to help the next time you revamp the Quinjet. My position is secure."
Toni rolled her eyes and jerked a thumb out the door. "Minion, be gone. The enemy and I must discuss terms."
"Of surrender?" Cap asked innocently, batting her baby blues.
"You wish." White teeth flashed in a predatory smile. "Penny?"
"I'm going, I'm going," Penny grumbled. "I'd better get a trip to space out of this. And a pony!" A webline shot out into the hall, taking her with it at high speeds.
"And close the door behind you!"
Another webline caught the knob. The door slammed shut.
Stephanie didn't make a move. "You wouldn't really turn Penny into a boy, would you?"
"The machine is months away from completion." Toni browsed around the little art room, eventually settling down to sit on a paint-smeared table. Stephanie winced when it ruined her probably-expensive hose. "I wouldn't use unfinished technology on a friend."
"That's not an answer."
"It's not, is it?" Toni smiled brightly and leaned back, making a show of crossing and uncrossing her legs, rubbing them together so the silk hose sighed. Manicured fingered reached up to toy with the knot of her tie. "So. Terms. What can I do to convince you?"
Stephanie licked her lips, but didn't uncross her arms. "To waste a fortune on a useless trip to outer space?" Her voice didn't quite manage to stay stern. "Maybe you should have asked me first, instead of sending Penny in. Was there really a sex-change machine?"
"Not one I threatened to use." Toni grinned, and got a little one in return. Her tie came loose. She left it to dangle around her neck as she popped the button on her collar. A diamond ring glittered on a chain around her neck. "So. You just wanted me to ask in person, hm?"
"And you just want to have sex in zero-G." Paint slipped under her bare foot as Stephanie took a slow step forward.
"That too." The arc reactor glowed between her breasts as Toni worked her way down the shirt. It turned the diamonds into little prisms of rainbow light. "And I was thinking... it might be a good place to make a certain announcement."
"Toni..." Steph sighed, but let herself be pulled in until she was straddling Toni's thighs. They'd had this conversation in a hundred different ways, it seemed, but Steph had come closer to losing every time and they both knew it. "You know that's a bad idea. I don't want any fuss about it. Just a small ceremony. No reporters or anything."
"It won't change anything," Toni reminded her, collecting a smear of white paint from Steph's cheek and transferring it to the tip of her nose. It drew a tiny smile. "Just putting it off. Reporters look for these things, and the second we actually start wearing them..."
"I know, I know." And she did. Everyone on the Avengers had gotten an exhaustive briefing on what it meant to be in a high profile situation. They'd managed to retain some privacy and Steph's identity by the skin of their teeth, but every now and then something slipped. A pair of rings would be a really big slip. "I just... I don't want to commercialize it. I love you. That shouldn't be sprawled all over the newspapers, along with gas prices and the latest political scandal."
"More reason to announce it from space." When Steph raised her eyebrows, Toni grinned cheekily. "If they go crazy, we can just stay up there on the station until it calms down. Dock at the international space station, come straight back to the Tower for supplies and to fight the occasional evil-doer, then back up we go."
Stephanie laughed. She leaned into Toni, the arc reactor a soft hum against her breasts. Barely visible under her collar, a gold ring on a chain glinted in the light. "And zero-G sex?"
"That had crossed my mind." Toni tipped her head, pressing a light kiss to Steph's lips. Red lipstick coated her lips in a faint smear. In exchange, she got a white dot of paint on her cheek. "Please? This is important to me, and it's been a year. I don't want to have to deal with this during our honeymoon."
Captain America knew when she was outmatched. Wood groaned under her as she fully settled on Toni's lap, ruining yet another suit with paint. "You win."
"Oh, goody." Toni's hands slipped up under her shirt, warm and callused from her work. "What's my prize?"
"Everyone strapped in?" Storm flicked switches and smiled to himself as the green all clear lights came on.
"Yes!" Spider-Woman gave a cheerful thumbs up, her mask smiling behind her faceplate. "I love doing this. Best part of being a superhero."
"Just a second." In the co-pilot's seat, Cap tested her harness, then nodded to herself. "Clear."
Storm twisted around in the pilot's seat. "Logan. Even you can be squished into a paste by gravity. Strap in, please."
Logan met his eyes, glaring with all the might in her small frame. Storm didn't budge. Finally, she slumped and lowered the harness, grumbling about unnecessary safety precautions.
"Giant Guy? Iron Woman?"
"I'm ready, Oya," Jon piped up, settling more firmly into his seat. His thumbs twiddled the arm rests excitedly. "Can we just go?"
"Just a moment. Iron Woman?"
Collectively, the Avengers turned.
Toni had her helmet off, a screwdriver between her teeth, and was fiddling with one of the parts to her harness. She'd pulled her hair back into a braid for the trip, but that was being used to hold another screwdriver and a pencil.
Steph sighed and rubbed her helmet. "Toni!"
"Hm?" Iron Woman looked up, speaking around a mouthful of hardware. "Mhm? Mmrm mww mwdy mn mmoh?"
"Yes," Storm explained, in the patient tones of the world weary. "We're leaving. If you would please..?"
Sheepishly, Toni finished tightening a screw, then strapped herself in. "Ready!"
"Helmet?" Stephanie reminded her. "And put your toys away."
Tools vanished into a pocket, and Iron Woman's helmet clicked into place. "And before you ask, I went potty before we left, Mom."
Penny leaned over to Jon, touching their helmets together to open a closed comm. band. "Man, I thought she only talked to me like that," she joked.
"Don't ever start a food fight," Jon whispered back. "She gets all scowly and Cap-ish. I thought she was going to eat me!"
Faux fear made Penny lean away, breaking the connection. "Meep!"
"Did you just say 'meep'?" Toni demanded, trying to lean forward in her seat.
Storm stoically ignored them all. Mechanical parts squealed as the launch platform lifted, passing through the open roof.
Stars twinkled overhead, marred by the pink and green slash of the anomaly Toni wanted to investigate. It had been moving past Earth at a steady rate, and would be gone again inside the week. Details were hard to come by. Even the most sophisticated instruments couldn't get much information at a distance, and once in a lifetime opportunities of scientific discovery were not precisely in most nations' budgets.
The Quinjet rumbled to life as the engine turned over. "We're about to enter the great mysteries of space," Storm announced. "If you would all prepare for take-off, please?"
Toni and Penny both grumbled, but back settled into their seats. Spider-Woman tightened the straps she'd loosened to speak to Jon.
"Excellent." The last check done, Storm flipped the switch that caused the landing platform to angle itself upward. The engine noise settled into a hard, steady purr. None of those out-dated rockets for Stark-made tech. The cockpit alone was much roomier than a standard shuttle, and the living quarters were the envy of astronauts everywhere, or would be if Tony had ever let it out from under wraps. "Brace for take-off."
Engines whined. Gravity pressed them back into their seat, and they were off.
Reaching escape velocity was much, much easier in the Quinjet than in a standard shuttle. There was no roar and vibration of the rocket, only the intense pressure of gravity shoving them all back into their seats.
When the last of gravity vanished, Oya killed the engines. "We have left Earth's atmosphere," he announced. "Estimated arrival at the anomaly is thirty two minutes. Toni, Stephanie, please stay dressed until then."
Toni was already releasing the safety locks on her helmet with one hand. The other rubbed over her arc reactor. "A half an hour is barely time for quickie. We'll do it later."
"Toni!" Stephanie blushed. Defiantly, she tightened the locks on her harness. "That's it. I'm staying right here."
Penny had already undone her harness and was twirling upside down, looking odd with her mask and bodysuit under the space gear. "I love space," she announced, drifting up to the ceiling. Her hands spread and legs spread, but she just bounced off. "Look! No sticky!"
Locks clicked as Jon set himself free. Slowly he drifted towards Penny, drifting through inertia. "This is so weird," he laughed. A single kick sent him zooming up to the ceiling. He collided with Penny and curled into a ball, tumbling backwards into Logan.
Wolverine wrapped her arms around Jon's shoulders.
Jon grinned. "Hi?"
"Watch where you're going, kid." Logan shoved, sending Jon spinning across the cabin to sprawl against the main screen.
It was lit up in greens and pinks, with only a faint glitter of stars behind the anomaly. Jon yanked off his helmet and spread over it, as closed to plastered as he could get. "Oooh, that's pretty," he breathed. Short red hair floated around his head like a halo. "Spidey? You've gotta see this."
Penny kicked herself over gracefully, as much at home in zero-g as on the roofs of New York. "Wow. It's so big."
Logan rolled her eyes and grumbled. She produced a plain-cover hardback from one of the compartments near her and settled in to read. Storm, stuck in the pilot's seat for the duration, did the same thing.
Toni freed herself from her chair and drifted over to Stephanie. She locked her fingers in Steph's harness and used it to pull herself down into her lap, wrapping her legs around the seat as an extra anchor. Their helmets touched, and the hiss of the general communications band vanished into the soft quiet of their breathing.
"You're not reconsidering, are you?"
Stephanie looked down, but she didn't break contact. "I don't know," she admitted. "It feels like a publicity stunt."
"That's because it is a publicity stunt." Her fingers spread over the curve of Steph's faceplate, cradling. "It's one we control. Just remember that. We'll get it done and out of the way, and then we can arrange somewhere private for the wedding and honeymoon. No surprises."
"Iron Woman," Storm's voice cut in on the emergency channel, "Your calculations were incorrect."
Toni broke the private line from Steph and lifted her faceplate. With a powerful push, she floated over to the other side of the console, looking down at the instruments. "Don't be ridiculous. I'm never incorrect. What's happened?"
"We've arrived." Storm tapped a few lines on the controls, and a bright gash of pink and green lit up the smaller screen. It flickered, and strings of numbers took its place. "A full twenty-eight minutes before our due arrival."
"That's impossible." Tap tap tap went the keyboard. "What the— we're picking up speed. How can we be picking up speed? The thrusters are cold!"
"What's wrong?" Jon shoved away from the main viewing screen. "Is it growing?"
"No. Not growing, it's..." Toni's finger slammed down on the keyboard. "Everyone strap down! It's a gravity well! I'm going to try evasive maneuvers. Hold on!"
"What?" Wolverine barked. She reached out her arms and snagged the drifting Penny, giving her a shove back to her seat. Jon had already sunk down into his and was connecting his harness. "What the hell, Stark?"
"Sit down, you're not safe," Oya snapped, trying to shove Toni away. The engines whined as the shuttle started to turn, fighting gravity. The whole shuttle groaned as the metal siding was stressed, sounding like a whale in pain.
On the main screen, the anomaly was growing fast, blocking out the stars.
"'You need me&dmash;HEY," Toni yelped as she was pulled away, then relaxed as a harness hooked to hers.
Familiar arms wrapped snug around Toni's waist, holding her in place. "Use the copilot console. I'll keep you safe," Stephanie promised. Toni didn't wait for another reassurance, focusing all of her attention on re-routing power to the thrusters. On the main screen, the anomaly slowly vanished, replaced by the blue crescent of Earth. In the deepest part of it, something squirmed and wiggled, clearly trapped in the gravity well.
"Come on, come on Baby," Toni pled under her breath, pulling power from every system available. It didn't work. Pink light encroached on the screen's edges. Something thick and slimy slammed into to side of the Quinjet. They rolled and bounced off, trying to use whatever it was as leverage. Green trails slid over the windows as the slime-thing did the same to them, more successfully. It whipped around, breaking free and tumbling out into space.
Unidentified Organism flashed over the controls. Before Toni could react, it was replaced by danger alerts. The whine of the engines hit fever pitch. "Engines are failing! Brace for—"
Penny bumped Toni's shoulder. Her Spider-Woman mask was on, the and the eye-coverings looked distinctly worried. "You two really will take any chance you get, won't you?" The quip was light hearted, but her voice cracked. "Come on, wakey wakey, eggs and baccy. Don't have a head injury, please don't..."
Steph and Toni groaned. They were hanging face-to-face upside down from the copilot's seat, tangled in Stephanie's harness. Spider-Woman dangled by her toes from the ceiling—what used to be the floor. The whole front of her costume was dark with some sort of goo.
"Where are we?" Captain America asked, squinting. Her hair had come half out of its ponytail. She did her best to push it back in, out of her face. Toni's legs squeezed around her ribs as she squirmed around. Her faceplate had come off in the emergency landing, and enough of her braid had come undone that it looked like she had a serious ear hair problem. "Is everyone safe?"
"Safe and sound. Only a couple of bruises to go around," Penny reported. "Storm, Wolverine and Double-G went out to have a look. There's. Um. There's aliens. One of them attacked me after we split up. I don't think we're in Kansas anymore, Toto."
Pale blonde eyebrows drew together in a frown. "We never were in Kansas. And who's Toto?"
"How can you not know that movie? I'm making you watch it when we get home," Toni threatened, twisting about in their shared harness. "I'm going to make you watch it, and then Spider-Woman and Giant Guy will sing the Munchkin song for a week, and it will be all. Your. Fault. Spidey, I need a webline from the seat to the ground." Her hip pressed against Steph's nose as she flipped herself right-side up.
Stephanie considered the armored rear right in front of her face with a blush. "Toni..."
"Hey," Toni grinned and wiggled, while Steph turned an even brighter red. "I'm just trying to get free. Spidey?"
Spider-Woman ran a line from the floor to ceiling, twisting the threads around until it was a sturdy rope. Toni unhooked her harness and slid down, landing with a little stumble.
"Okay, your turn!" she called up. "Be careful, the landing is hard!"
Steph and Spider-Woman exchanged a glance and a shrug. Carefully, Cap freed her shield from its place at the side of the chair and handed it to Penny. Then, without reaching for the line, Steph unbuckled herself. She twisted as she fell, and managed a perfect three-point landing.
Toni crossed her arms. "Show-off." Steph just grinned and started stripping out of the space suit, revealing blue leather underneath.
Spider-booties touched down without a noise as Penny dropped down. She held the shield carefully around the edges, like it might break.
"What's the sit-rep?" Steph asked, pulling her cowl up. The wings were slightly crooked from being pressed against her back, but they popped back into place with a little fiddling. "The others are out scouting—the atmosphere is breathable?"
Penny nodded frantically. "Everything's weird-looking, but we can breathe, and Storm says that the weather patterns are Earth-like."
Metal locks clicked and snapped open as Toni started double-checking her armor. Red and gold gleamed with only a few dents, some of those finger-shaped where Cap had been holding her. She found her faceplate hidden behind a console and snapped it on. "Great. I just need to figure out where we are in the Galaxy, work out FTL technology or get a grip on how we got here and what that thing we bumped into was. We'll be on our way home in no time."
While Toni dived into the upside-down computer systems, Steph and Penny put their heads together.
"Is she serious?" Spider-Woman whispered.
"It's Toni. What do you think?" Cap reclaimed her shield, running gloved fingertips over the face. "Come on, Penny. You can show me what's out there, and then we'll decide our next move."
"Get samples!" Toni ordered, with her head and shoulders half-way into the computer system. She squirmed, and vanished deeper inside. "Make a note of everything."
"Yes, Ma'am." The sloppy salute Stephanie gave her went largely unnoticed. Spider-Woman led Steph down to the open hatch. Pale pink light shined through. Penny leapt through first, twisting into a somersault and crawling outside. Steph grabbed a set of sample bags and followed, pulling herself out with a neat roll down the side of the shuttle.
Her feet planted in soft, mossy ground. Blocky, gigantic rocks blocked the horizon. Steph blinked and squinted through the reddish sunlight. Nothing was like Earth at all. The trees, when she looked at them just right, could almost be mistaken for oaks except for the coloring. The sky was sunset colored, with recognizable clouds. Two suns shined overhead, much brighter than she was used to, casting dual shadows. Strange animal noises sounded in the distance, probably disturbed by the crash.
Stephanie stepped forward away from the Quinjet, craning her neck to take in everything. She squinted at the strangely placed rocks. There were maybe a hundred of them, stretching up overhead, as of they were giant spears someone had thrown into the middle of the landscape. It wasn't until a square hole opened in the side of one that the symmetry of them came into focus, and her jaw dropped in surprise. The rocks, which were tall enough to rival some sky scrapers in New York, had windows—evenly patterned square holes that were mostly covered some some sort of material that let them blend in. "Spider-Woman!" she snapped, looking around. "We're in a city!"
"That's what Storm said, but I don't think so. There's not that many buildings. Maybe a village?" Spider-Woman stood up on the stricken shuttle. "Watch out, Cap. The aliens are feisty—there!" Penny bounced atop the shuttle, pointing at a large rock. "That's the one that attacked me!"
Stephanie brought up her shield as something orange and cat-like oozed out from behind a rock. It stretched and thinned out, until sunlight shined through it. "Shhhhrrrrrrrrr," it growled, tail lashing. Little spikes formed around its edges, gyrating aggressively.
"You!" Spider-Woman crawled half-way down from her perch, pointing at the alien. "You attacked me!"
"Spider-Woman," Cap warned, keeping her shield at the ready. "Don't antagonize it. We're the intruders here."
The orange alien puffed itself up bigger. "Thrpt brllb brlk!"
"Yeah, well you slimed me!" Penny braced her knees and feet, standing to show the stains on the front of her costume. "That's an attack!"
Spider-Woman crossed her arms. The orange thing formed arms and mirrored her. Stephanie lowered her shield as they continued to bicker.
A distinct, high-pitched "Grbl?" came from somewhere around knee level. Something four-legged and light lavender oozed out from under the shuttle. It stretched and twisted, until it popped free, grinning upwards with something that looked almost like a mouth. It was about the size and shape of a small kitten. "Sprg drk-uk!" it bubbled. Its two front legs waved in the air wildly.
"Um." She blinked at the little alien. "Hello?"
It stretched its little tentacles into the air, like a kid asking for a hug. "Mrrb?" it bubbled. "Mrrb Shlp."
Awkwardly, still watching the odd fight between Spider-Woman and the native, Steph lowered herself to a knee and held out an arm. The lavender one blooped and threw itself at her, turning into a thin but happy smear over Steph's chainmail. It wiggled and squirmed, squeezing with surprising strength. Confused but willing to oblige, Steph squeezed back as best as she could, effectively hugging her own breasts, and got another pleased noise in response.
"Spider-Woman, stand down." Doing her best to keep from dislodging the native, Cap stood up. Lavender slime stained her a darker shade of blue, but the happy noises the little alien was making were sort of charming. "I don't think they're aggressive."
"Shlp mrrb sllllrp," the orange one muttered. More natives popped out from their hiding places, watching from a safe distance. "Lrrb surp lrhg! Blrrrrp cllpt mrrrrbam."
Up on the shuttle, Penny fidgeted, twisting her hands. Step by step, she dropped down to the ground. "Well. Okay," she muttered, shuffling her feet. "I'm sorry I got mad at you, Mr. Blrk."
The orange one oozed over at a fast clip. It stretched out and engulfed her, bubbling and oozing cheerily. It grew two extra limbs to keep waving, describing large arc and little skips in turn.
Spider-Woman's hands hovered in the air awkwardly as she was hugged. "Um. Okay then. Thanks?"
Stephanie stared. "You understand them?"
"You can't?" Penny peeled herself away from Blrk, who plopped down to the ground like a drop of jelly on the kitchen floor. "This on says he's Blrk. That one with you is Shlp. Blrk says that they'll help us fix the Quinjet!"
"I see you have met the native inhabitants," a voice overhead said. Wind swirled, and Storm lowered himself to the ground. On his shoulder, a blue twist of goo uncoiled and slipped to the ground, bouncing and rolling until it formed another slime-cat. "They seem to communicate mostly through non-consequential noises and gestures."
"Like her," Wolverine grunted, jerking a thumb at Penny.
"It's easy, once you try," Spider-Woman shrugged. Blrk bubbled agreement.
Since Penny either hadn't noticed or didn't care, Steph let the jab slide. "Where's Wolverine and Giant Guy?"
"Here!" Jon's voice came from behind her. When Steph twisted, she saw Logan and Jon coming out from one of the buildings, both accompanied by natives. "Cap, you and Toni should see the inside of these things! For looking like jelly, they've got some amazing gadgets. Can we stay for a while?"
"Nice to see someone had a good time," Spider-Woman groused, crossing her arms and sulking. "Here I was being attacked by vicious aliens, and you were sight seeing."
"We didn't meet any 'vicious aliens'," Jon shot back. "Just these guys. Well, Cap? Can we visit?"
Stephanie closed her eyes and took a deep breath. The air smelled different than Earth, thick and a little smoky. "No, I think we really need to go back to Earth. We have responsibilities there."
Jon's face fell. "Oh. Right."
"Grrrrblbe!" Shlp announced. It peeled part of itself off Steph's chest, flailing. "Brmble grrb!" All of the other aliens stretched up and started burbling together, wiggling and stretching out.
"Yeah!" Penny bounced on her toes. "Can we look around then? We can collect samples! When else are we going to get a chance to collect data from a world that supports intelligent life? It's our duty to science."
"Come on, Cap. Please?" Jon begged, folding his hands.
Spider-Woman mimicked him. "Please?"
"Llllwwwrb?" Shlp's two little gooey limbs pressed together.
Storm crossed his arms and shrugged. "I think they should. It will suit everyone."
Outmatched, Steph looked over at Wolverine. "Logan, would you go with them? We don't know what sort of dangers this planet has."
For her part, Logan rolled her eyes, but she nodded. "You owe me."
"Skllllpt!" Shlp bubbled, attaching itself paper-thin to her chest in another hug.
Stephanie pinched the bridge of her nose. "I hope Toni's okay with this."
Toni was more than okay with it. Toni was ecstatic. She rigged a quick translation program and carried on a long conversation with Blrk that no one else was able to follow. It satisfied them, though, and before long dozens of natives started pouring in. They were every color, ranging in size from pocket to the size of a pony. Blrk took a place as foreman, directing the volunteers as the damage to their craft started to be fixed.
Storm, Toni and Steph met outside, on an improvised table. Iron Woman's faceplate was placed carefully in the center of it, angled away from the red sun. They sat around it using rocks as improvised chairs.
"The repairs to the ship are mostly minimal," Toni reported. "Blrk says hir people will have it to rights in no time. Smart little guys. Do you know they've got cold fusion inside those rocks?" She examined the tips of her gauntleted fingers, as if looking at her nails. "I may have given them a handy tip. Or two."
"Just a moment," Storm interrupted, raising one of his eyebrows. "Hir?"
"They're sexless. They reproduce by..." Toni described a complicated diagram in the air. "Splitting. Sort of. It's complicated. But they don't have any concept of male and female."
"I see." Oya's expression suggested he didn't actually see anything at all, but he gestured for Toni to continue. "So, now we know that we are, or shall be, technologically capable of leaving. We must still discover where we are, and how we are to return."
"We can't be too far," Stephanie pointed out, sketching "E=mc2" on the table with her fingertip. "The distances are huge."
Hastily, Toni reached out and pretended to scrub away the invisible writing. "We don't know what happened. Even traveling to a planet in our own system would normally take years, but we were here in a blink. I don't think Albert is going to help us with this one."
"Then what do you suppose we do?" Oya's eyes roamed over the fallen shuttle craft. Only half of his attention was on the vehicle itself; the other half was on the natives working nearby. Most of them were invisible, stretched out thin to fit into the narrowest cracks, or slithered all of the way inside. "Fixing the shuttle is well and good, but we still need to know which direction to fly it to."
"And how to get there," Stephanie added. "You mentioned Faster than Light travel?"
"Yes. Well..." Toni pressed something on her gauntlet. The faceplate on the table lit up. Slowly, a holograph formed over it, depicting a field of stars in a galaxy spiral. The hologram fluttered and expanded, focusing in on a single area. Two of the stars flashed red. "The shuttle's computer system picked this up before we crashed. That's where we are. Binary system."
Stephanie leaned forward, squinting at the starmap. "Which one's Earth?"
"It's not on there."
"What do you mean, it's not on there?" Stephanie narrowed her eyes at Toni. "Antonita Eden Stark. What aren't you telling us?"
"Not the middle name," Toni whined, rubbing her forehead. When Steph cleared her throat pointedly, Toni sighed in resignation. "We're in the wrong galaxy. That's all I can say for sure. I'm not even sure which one we're in, or how we'll get back, or even how long we've been gone. We obviously went faster than light, and the affect of FTL on time is completely theoretical right now. I can probably figure out how to hit the speeds we need, and what that'll do to us, but we can't exactly stop and ask for directions on the way. At these distances and speeds, miscalculating by even one-millionth of a degree could cause us to overshoot by a googolplex."
"That's just ace." Steph crossed her arms and rested her cowled forehead on the table. "Do we have any idea at all how we're going to get home? Or when?"
Toni's lips pressed together secretively as she glanced away nervously. "Fast enough."
Storm and Cap gave her a shared flat look. "'Fast enough'?" Oya asked. "As I recall, we have a plentiful supply of food, the local water is potable and the indigenous people are exceptionally friendly."
More directly, Steph said, "Fast enough for what?"
Anxiously, Iron Woman shifted her weight back and forth, from one foot to the other. "That thing we bounced off of, right before we got sucked in. I looked through the computer records. It was alive."
"Alive." Storm sighed and rested his forehead in his palms, stretching his fingers back to rub his temples. "We left an unknown creature floating above Earth. Do we know if it was hostile?"
Toni shrugged. "We slammed into it going a hundred miles a second. I barely had time to confirm it was alive. For all we know, it might already be back inside the anomaly."
"More likely, it's eating Chicago," Cap pointed out. "When do we ever encounter giant creatures from outer space that aren't a threat?"
"Captain America is right. We must hurry." Oya planted his hands on the table and stood as cheerful noises from the native beings sounded out from the shuttle. A peacock blue one, large than the rest, emerged from under the shuttle, holding a broken piece of metal in the air. Blrk scuttled about, bouncing with excitement. "That sounds as though it may be important. Iron Woman, may I have your faceplate as a translator?"
Armor creaked as Tony dropped onto a rock. "Knock yourself out. Just remember the finger wiggles. They're tricky."
When Oya had gone off to talk to Blrk, Steph looked up from her folded arms. One of her hands stretched out, and settled over Toni's. She squeezed. "Don't worry. We'll get home"
"It's my fault we're here at all." Toni settled her other hand on Cap's. "If I hadn't wanted a close-up of that stupid phenomenon—"
"Toni, stop it," Steph chided as gently as she could. Toni winced, but her mouth shut obediently. "We're Avengers. This is what we do. You can't blame yourself just because something went wrong."
"Things go wrong a lot though. Remember the thing with the noodles?"
"Exactly my point."
Toni was silent, lost in her own thoughts. After a few minutes, she lifted Steph's and held her gloved hand to her lips. A few wisps black hair escaped her helmet and caught in her eyelashes. In the red sunlight, Toni's blue-black hair looked even darker than usual. "This isn't going to be a good time to announce our engagement, is it?"
"Were you that attached to the idea?" They were on an alien world and hadn't yet figured out how to get home, but Stephanie smiled anyway. "You waited a year. What's another few months?"
"I don't know." Toni kept her eyes on Steph's hand as she played with her fingertips. "Maybe I'm just afraid you'll change your mind."
"Hmm..." Smoothly, Steph scooted up onto the table and swung a leg around, hooking her legs behind the small of Toni's back and locking them together. It would take the armor's power to break free, and they both knew Toni wouldn't do that. "Then let's make a deal." Her fingers twisted around Toni's, pinning them to the table behind her. It forced Toni to lean up into Steph's face.
"What sort of deal?" Toni asked, sounding breathless.
Shamelessly, Steph took advantage of their position to steal a kiss. "I want to wear a dress at the wedding. Both of us. No armor. No costume."
There were few things in the world that could distract Toni Stark, but kisses from Captain America topped the list. "You know how much I wanted to have the armor," she murmured, taking her kiss back. It was hers, after all. "What do I get for it?"
Scale mail scraped against Toni's breastplate as Steph pressed up into her, stealing back the kiss again. "The next time we investigate something weird, we'll announce it. Or next Tuesday. Whichever happens first."
That gave Toni a pause. She bit Steph's lip in lieu of her own, nibbling thoughtfully. "So... Thursday?"
"Could be Monday," Steph added. Another kiss joined her efforts to scramble Toni's thoughts. "Things like happening on Mondays lately."
"You'd really do that for me?" There was no way Toni could feel Steph pressed against her through the armor, but her voice had dropped low just from the kisses. "You hate media frenzies."
"I'm marrying the smartest, richest, most beautiful woman in the world." Cap smiled, her thighs settling comfortable on Toni's hips. "Maybe I should get used to it."
"Maybe you—" Something cold touched Toni's calf. She froze, eyes widening in a rictus of horror.
"Mrrrb?" A slimy, yellowish thing the size of a tennis ball oozed up her leg. The native wriggled between them, bubbling with a decidedly cheerful tone. They stared down at their chests as it did its best to snuggle them both. "Ffffflllr mrrrb sllhlk."
"Well. That kills the mood," Toni sighed, patting the slimy little head. It squirmed in glee. "We'd better help flip the ship over and get this party started, before Storm comes looking for us."
"Yeah. Work to do." Still, Steph kissed her again before unlocking her legs. "I hope Wolverine isn't having any trouble with Giant Guy and Spider-Woman."
The tree roared, teeth snapping as Spider-Woman swung a little too close to it. The building she'd attached her webline to was slippery, making it hard to get a good connection. Every few seconds, she had to reshoot a line, making it impossible to maneuver properly. Giant Guy did his best to catch the branches, but the tree scuttled around too quickly, and there were too many for Jon to get a decent handful.
Caught in one of the flailing roots, Shlp screamed and flailed at the monster, shrilly piping its defiance. Something in the tree's bark kept Shlp solid, forcing the lavender native to wiggle and jiggle in its escape attempts.
Wolverine slashed at the tree's bluish bark, cursing as it healed almost before her claws were out of it. Her usually rumpled yellow spandex was even more messy than usual, covered in slime and moss from where the tree had sent her rolling. Tiny, solid platinum leaves were caught in her hair, glinting in the sunlight.
"BLRRRRRPT!" Shlp shouted, stretching as Spider-Woman's swing finally landed her on the root.
"Don't worry, I got you," Spidey reassured it. One hand webbed other roots as they tried to attack, while the other pried at the one keeping Shlp captive. "GG, keep it pinned!"
"Why didn't they tell us these things are vicious?" Jon demanded, pinning down a root with his foot.
"They tried!" Another gob of webbing tangled in the branches. Like the buildings, it had a fine slime coating that protected it.
Wolverine snarled and flexed her claws. "Shut up and jump!" She set her shoulders and charged yelling as she slashed through smaller branches.
"AHHHHHHH!" Giant Guy screamed, hopping up on one foot to keep from crushing the charging Wolverine.
"AHHHHHHH!" Spider-Woman screamed too, leaping from the root, just before Wolverine's claws sliced through it.
"EEEEEEEEE!" Shlp squeaked, flailing its limbs.
Diving, Wolverine rolled and caught the severed root before Shlp hit the ground. She kept moving, hitting her feet and taking off for the far side of the clearing.
The tree roared and writhed, purple sap spraying across the clearing. Spider-Woman clung to her branch, blinded by the sap. Just as the branch she was holding snapped, Giant Guy scooped her up, and then Wolverine with the other hand. Three long steps had them free of the clearing, and the still-thrashing tree.
"Well," Spider-Woman panted, wiping tree blood from her eyes with the hand not holding a broken limb. "Got Toni's samples. Can we get Christmas presents now?" She shook the branch, making the metal leaves chime.
"Mrllllp-blrp," Shlp shivered, clutching Logan pitifully. "Mrrrb."
The shuttle itself was complete and serviceable, but the natives were insistent that it have decorations on the inside, and no one going to risk their sad faces. Storm had crumbled the first time one had been turned on him, and Steph had been a quick second to fall. It was worse than anything Penny had been able to use on them. As a result, hammering and the sound of chisels still rang through the body of the shuttle, even though all the grunt work had been finished. The only thing left to do was on Toni: figuring out how they would get home.
Toni ignored the work going on around her. She was stretched out on her stomach, sandwiched between piles of tech and looking back and forth between two different displays. Her headache had gotten worse, but she was ignoring it. Science beckoned.
One display held a model of a single planet, blue and green, spinning peacefully in space. Identified the computer flashed. Milky Way Galaxy. Sol. Earth. Continent of Pangaea. A dozen other files clustered behind it, equations jostling for space with diagrams of the solar system. They were all pulled up from the Quinjet's memory of the landing, but the message had listed them.
The other monitor had a simple video on it, playing on a loop. "Look, I had to record this in a hurry," the video of herself said as she ate a Twinkie. Gloops and gurgles sounded in the background. "We're getting ready to take off. It's a classic near-paradox. Just make sure you record this, okay? You're a genius, you can figure out the data for yourself." Then the video Toni winked, and the replay started.
She stared at the two screens, brow furrowed and a loose curl between her teeth as the message played through a second time, not quite able to believe what she was seeing. As the realization sank in, Toni's eyes grew wider and wider, until she exploded into action.
Electronics flew everywhere as Toni jerked in delight. "I got it!" Her feet kicked in the air as she wiggled out of her modified den. "I know how to get home! I have it! We can go home!"
"Already—ow!" Steph winced and sucked her thumb, while the native who'd nearly crushed it with a hammer squeaked and snuggled her thigh apologetically. "Oo owh owh oo hed hooe?"
Storm, who was using his powers to support five different natives as they painted designs on the roof, looked up. . "A solution? So soon?"
"We can use the anomaly!" Toni crowed, holding a computer chip over her head gleefully. Over the course of the day, she'd never taken time to fix her hair. The braid was a mess, thick curls escaping everywhere. "It's a break in the dimensions! We slip back in, slingshot around ourselves, and we'll be back in no time!"
Silence. Storm and Steph both stared at her doubtfully.
Storm held the faceplate to his mouth, squeaking and burbling. One by one, the natives paused too, twisting themselves around to see what was happening. Then, he lowered it. All eyes, and ocular jelly, were on Toni.
"It's workable," Toni insisted, waving the chip like a pointer. "The slingshot action will give us speed. We might even make it back before we left."
"You're hurting my brain," Steph confessed, pressing two fingers to her forehead. "Let me get this straight. If we leave here, we can... meet ourselves? And then get back home somehow because of that? How does that make any sort of sense?"
"It is outside of time, isn't it? The anomaly." Storm asked, his voice quiet and soft. The natives he was supporting lowered gently to the ground, not losing a drop of slime. "What did you find, Iron Woman?"
"What are you talking about?" Stephanie demanded.
"When are we?" Storm asked over her, his voice carrying even though it never rose.
"I found Earth," Toni explained, waving her hands the way she always did when translating technical jargon into English. "The... hole... that swallowed us goes through the fourth dimension. It's everywhere and everywhen, but the two tears in it are here and now, and at there and then. If we go in one end with enough speed, we'll come out the other."
"Rrrrk!" Blrk suddenly shouted, its orange mass quivering. It bubbles a long, impossible tirade. All of the other natives suddenly started in too, with bubbles of exasperation and annoyance.
Storm glanced down at the faceplate. "They say.... the Talking Home which tried to merge and split with Home tore open the sky last cycle, when it escaped and started wandering. Hole-in-the-sky has been healing since. They want to know if that's what you refer to."
"Mrrrb, blrrb," Blrk added, miming pushing hair it didn't have back and tilting its chin.
"It said Home was... fruit-filled? I think they mean diseased."
"Ego," Steph groaned, resting her forehead in her hands. The native that she'd been helping slithered up against her side, cuddling. "This must be the planet's home system."
"Now we know how he travels," Toni added, grimacing. None of them had enjoyed dealing with the amorous planet. From what they'd heard in astronomical news, Ego was currently keeping company with Saturn.
They all tried not to think about it too much.
Steph looked up from her hands. "So we have a way home. What happens if it goes wrong?"
"We could wipe our collective existences from the face of time."
"And if we don't do it this way?"
"A few hundred billion years of travel, if we're lucky."
The shuttle was silent for several minutes. Not even the natives made a noise, their usual chorus of squeaks and bubbling silenced. "As I see it," Storm began slowly, "we do not have many options. We must return to Earth in a timely manner, and this is the only way."
"Peachy." Steph sighed and toyed with the end of her ponytail. "We'll try it when the others get back. No waiting."
"Gllllb hhrrl?" Blrk asked quietly, drawing itself into a small orange sphere.
Storm glanced down at the faceplate, then smiled. "Yes, we will miss you."
"Oya, help them finish, would you?" Toni bent to grab an armful of electronics. With a puff of breath, she blew her hair from her eyes. "Cap, I'm going to need your help to get everything ready for departure. The cabinets bent when we crashed. They won't lock properly."
Steph stood, getting a gurgle of objection from her helper as it did its best to cling. "And you can't bend it back yourself?" She followed Toni into the back, where most of the room for storage was. The ship had been built to last as long as necessary; it was more storage space than living space.
"I," Toni started with a flourish, picking up an escaped box of Twinkies and brandishing it, "will be making a home movie."
"You're going to explain that to me eventually, right?"
Toni grinned. "Maybe. We'll see how the paradox holds up first."
The sun had barely moved in the sky, even though they'd been exploring for several hours. Penny's discussions with Shlp suggested that days were long
"Easy. Easy," Logan crooned, her voice soft and gentle as she reached down into a hole in the dirt. Shlp perched on her shoulder, gurgling along. The tree overhead—not carnivorous this time—rustled and groaned, its copper leaves rotating anxiously on their stems.
Penny and Jon stood back, eying them uncertainly.
"Do you think this is really a good idea?" Spider-Woman asked, sotto voce. "I mean, it already bit her once and look what happened."
"It's just a bug, and Hank will really like it." Jon's tone was uncertain, but his chin stayed resolutely firm. "Anyway, how much damage can it do?"
Wolverine had started humming a lullaby. Shlp blooped in time to the beat.
Spider-Woman huddled in on herself. "She's scaring me."
"Be strong, Penny."
"I have it," Logan whispered. Her eyes were glazed and half-lidded, her cheek pillowed on the ground. Shlp's petting had left gobs of purple slime in her hair. "I can feel it in my hand..." Inch by inch, she pulled her arm out of the hole. On her hand, a blue winged worm fluttered as it was brought out into the sunlight. Logan ran a finger down its back, and the nervous trembling eased. The wings flashed an opalescent rainbow with every little move.
"It's so pretty," Penny whispered. She held out a jar they'd purchased from the locals that was filled with its preferred food, some sort of blue-colored grass. It would keep the bug alive and fed until they could get it back to Earth.
Carefully, Wolverine transferred Hank's gift to its new home.
Jon took the jar and put it in a bag, also purchased for the price of some spit. "There's mine and Penny's. Did you want anything, Wolverine?"
Wolverine huddled in on herself. Soft brown eyes looked up at them from her seat on the ground. The original bite was a swiftly fading purple bump on her neck. "I want to go home."
Giant Guy smiled and bent to grab her elbow, pulling Logan to her feet. "Then let's go see what Storm, Iron Woman and Cap are doing, huh?"
Jon crossed his arms and glared. Toni crossed hers and glared back. Since Toni was still in the armor and Giant Guy was only in a space suit, Toni won. In the background, the final checks for departure were taking place. Blrk was in the middle of it all. It had grown tentacles along the ribs of its kitty-shape, and was directing the workers like a slimy orange conductor. Shlp was still attached to Wolverine, who hadn't yet recovered from the psychotropic bug.
"We are not taking an alien organism to Earth," Toni explained slowly. "We have no idea what it could do to the local ecology."
"It'll be fine," Jon promised, folding his hands. "You're taking dirt, plants and all sorts of bacteria. There's just one of them, it doesn't eat much and Shlp says they need three to breed. Pleaaaaase?"
Storm laid his hand on Jon's shoulder. "Let them have their souvenir." He'd already put on his flightsuit. It creaked with every little shift of weight. "We will advise Hank to take all caution in its care, and an alien specimen could do much to further the cause of scientific knowledge."
Toni hesitated, but the lure of science proved too much. "Put it somewhere safe for the trip. If it gets free, we'll have to bug bomb the whole Quinjet." She turned and stalked back to the pilot's console, muttering under her breath. Once there, she settled into programming with focus she usually only displayed when "forgetting" a board meeting.
It didn't take more than a few moments for Stephanie to find an excuse to take the copilot's chair. "You lost, huh?"
"I should count myself lucky that an insect, some artifacts and biological samples are the most we're taking back, besides bacteria, possible parasites, dirt, low-level carbon monoxide poisoning—"
Steph rested her gloved hand over Toni's on the controls. "Hey, calm down. How much damage can it do? We'll sterilize everything before we leave the shuttle and be careful for a few weeks."
Toni turned and looked at Steph through narrowed eyes. "You realize you just jinxed us, right?"
"Hush." Steph kissed her cheek and stood up, pulling Toni to her feet. "Stop worrying and come say goodbye."
Jon and Storm had gathered the natives together in the middle of the living space. They piled together in a rainbow of colors, sizes and cat-like shapes, looking like nothing so much as the buffet table at a very creative jello party. Penny stood off to the side, talking with a larger one that was bright yellow.
Penny looked up from her arm-waving discussion. "In the middle of the group," she pointed. "See, there's a claw poking out of Gllrb right there." The aforementioned claw retracted and popped out again. None of the natives seemed to notice.
"... okay then." Toni shook her head. "Storm, can I have my faceplate?" It was duly handed over, and Toni snapped it into place. "Gllrrs gerrr llllptht," she announced, gesturing widely. The natives quieted and perked up, appearing to listen. "Ssssnr ryeee llrbblrt ghghhh lbtrrt, mlrrb sllrk eeeeeeeelr blrt."
"It is time for us to leave," Spider-Woman translated under her breath for Storm. "We will miss our properly-molded friends, who have worked hard to help us ooze swiftly back Home and who have our deepest gratitude." When Storm raised an eyebrow, she shrugged. "Their language does some heavy lifting."
"Slbbbrt grrlb nrrrrrrr," Toni said solemnly, which seemed to be a signal to go. Her gathered audience sank to the ground sadly and started slipping their way out of the shuttle.
Blrk and Shlp stayed behind, apparently arguing in high-pitched gurgles and violent flailing. Shlp still hadn't let go of Wolverine, and Blrk seemed to be trying to talk it into letting go. The noises went on for a few minutes, getting louder and louder, unnoticed by Wolverine, who was petting Shlp peacefully and humming.
Finally, Shlp slumped and oozed down Logan's chest, heading out the door at a slow trudge.
Cap sealed the door and turned back to the main cabin. "What was that about?" she asked absently as she took Logan by the hand and started to buckle her in.
"I think Shlp wanted to stay with Wolverine," Jon explained. He plopped down in his chair and buckled in. "It really liked her."
"We are not taking another passenger." Beeps and clicks sounded louder than usual as Toni went through the pre-flight check. For something as tricky as flying through space and time deliberately, she and Storm had agreed that Toni was probably the better choice of pilot. "We can contain a bug. Who knows what sort of mess we could get into with a sentient passenger. We can't exactly keep someone in confinement."
"I'm going to miss it," Wolverine announced suddenly, slumping back into her seat. Tears made her eyes shine. "I liked the little guy."
"And that's how we know you're still loopy," Spider-Woman announced. In response, Logan only nodded peaceably and closed her eyes.
"We're ready for lift off. Is everyone in?" Toni twisted around to count. "Storm, Logan. Jon, Penny... Why is the door open? Cap, could you get that?"
"I thought I'd closed it," Steph frowned, but turned back to close and seal the main shuttle door. She double-checked it for safety before retaking her spot in the copilot's seat. "Sealed tight!"
Engines whined. Without the take off and landing area of the Avengers Mansion, the shuttle would have to use patented Stark VTOL technology. The sound of straining technology reached a fever pitch as it fought the planet's slightly-higher-than-Earth's gravity. Giant Guy gritted his teeth and closed his eyes, visibly bracing. Next to him, Logan hadn't noticed the noise, still lost in her thoughts. Captain America and Storm stayed busy checking and double checking their harnesses.
The Quinjet shuddered as it lifted off, but after the first two hundred feet the flight smoothed out. They glided over the tops of jewel toned trees, gaining speed and altitude. Then the trees receded into a patchwork of nondescript color, and the rattling started again as the shuttle fought the atmosphere.
Giant Guy was sweating, teeth clenched and eyes screwed tightly shut. Without a word, Penny reached over and wrapped her hand around his, giving him something to hold on to.
Then the rattling faded, and they broke into clean, clear space. The rip Ego had created loomed in front of the shuttle, shining pinks and greens against the darkness.
"Okay, everyone stay buckled down," Iron Woman announced. Her voice was always flat and synthesized through her helmet, but there was a sharp note to it. "This time, we're going in head-first. Penny?"
Grinning, Spider-Woman reached out and slapped a button on her chair console. Guitar blared from hidden speakers, along with a familiar female voice.
Get your motor runningAs one, the Avengers all turned to look at Stephanie, who was doing her best to sink down into her seat in spite of the harness holding her pinned and the lack of gravity.
Head out on the highway
Looking for adventure
And whatever comes our way
Penny rapidly slapped the pause button, but the damage had been done.
"Cap?" Toni asked, her voice soft like she was talking to a scared puppy. "Is there something you'd like to tell us?"
"It's a classic, okay?" Stephanie mumbled. "I have a lot of culture to catch up on."
"Through karaoke?" Jon demanded, his eyebrows rising.
"Okay, okay, knock it off," Logan mumbled. Her eyes were a little more clear, though she hadn't managed to sit upright in her harness yet. "'S a good song. Good song for space. An' Cap's gotta pretty voice. An'—an' anyway, we gotta fire all our guns." They waited politely, but Wolverine had used up the majority of her profundity, and sagged forward against her harness, spent.
Toni gave it a few moments before speaking up. "Well, that makes that decision. Minion, the music! We're about to start."
Penny moved to press the button, then hesitated. "It's your turn to be the minion."
"What?" Toni started to turn to look at her, but hastily turned back to the screen. "I'm kind of busy right now."
"We have a union. You can't boss us around forever." Jon chimed in with a yeah. From the copilot's seat, Cap giggled.
Toni side-eyed Cap, but didn't comment on the traitorous laughter. "Please, Penny?"
Spider-Woman cleared her throat. "Fine. But we're renegotiating my contract when we get back to Earth. I want hazard pay." Before Toni could reply, she slapped the button and started the music.
Yeah darlin' go and make it happen"Here we go!" Toni yelled over the sound the shuttle straining as they picked up speed and the anomaly loomed in the main screen. The Quinjet bucked and twisted. Gravity from the rip tugged at them, yanking them this way and that.
Take the world in a love embrace
Just at that moment, one very small but irrevocable thing became obviously wrong.
Logan's head yanked up as a light purple smear plastered itself over her face and chest. Shlp fought to cling, bits of it starting to drip off before it righted itself and shifted to a new place. Wolverine pressed her hands to her face, tugging at the blob of slime.
"We have to get it back home!" Steph yelled, clutching her harness. "We have—"
The anomaly swallowed them.
Shades of light and shadow wrapped around the shuttle in a whirl of mind-boggling color. Toni flicked the screens to grayscale to get rid of the worst of it. The kaleidoscope kept on twirling and shimmering without pause. The Quinjet flipped upside down and around, sometimes seeming to go backwards, upside-down or sideways, and once managing all three at once.
It seemed to go on forever.
"There we are!" Tony yelled over the sound of the Quinjet. A pale spot of normality appeared in the whirlwind. "Headed for Quinjet Alpha. Hold on, team!"
"Headed for—" Storm started to demand, then let out a little scream as the shuttle turned a somersault. "Iron Woman! What are you doing?"
"Dropping a message and flinging them out of here," Toni explained, without so much as looking up from the controls. The other shuttle grew closer and closer on the view screen. "Minion, send a message to the other Quinjet as soon as we're in attached. Package file Q-beta-dash-A-E-S-dot-p-k-g. On my mark."
"Right away, Master!" Spider-Woman replied in her best Igor-voice. She flipped open the control panel and started typing at lightning speed. "Throwing the big lever!"
On the screen, the other Quinjet grew closer and closer. It was nearly stationary, thrusters dead and lights dim. Toni skimmed the top of it. A metallic clank echoed through the hull when the magnets connected the shuttles, belly to belly. "Now, Penny!"
Spider-Woman's fingers flew. The Quinjet groaned and flipped top over tail, gaining speed with every turn. Toni fought the stick, holding it tight with both hands as it tried to slip through her fingers. Stephanie lunged to grab it just as it wrested free, snapping one of her harness straps. Together they forced it to hold.
"One," Toni counted slowly, watching equations flash over her screen. "Two... Three!" Her palm slammed the release for the magnets, and the two shuttles sped away from each other, twisting and bouncing. Cap flailed and grabbed Toni's harness to balance herself as they burst into clean, open space, still spinning. Earth flashed on the screen as they rolled past it.
Shlp finally released Logan as the engines finally started slowing them down. It curled around her waist like a slimy belt. There it stayed, shivering, until the last of the gravity faded and it didn't matter what the shuttle was doing.
One of Wolverine's eyes opened. Her voice was gravely, but free of the faint slur the bug's toxins had inflicted on her. "Stark. You ain't allowed to drive anymore." She closed her eye again and let her head drop back against the seat. Shlp bubbled and shivered, raising a thin tentacle to gesture its agreement.
"Don't you start." Toni pointed a finger at the tentacle, which then wilted sadly. "As soon as we land somewhere, you're going to get a talking to, young… Young Shlp."
Stephanie loosened her death grip on Toni, cracking her knuckles in the process. "Agreed." The broken strap had left her floating in freefall, barely anchored. She shrugged out of the rest of her harness and pulled herself in. "We're going to have to check the Quinjet over and conduct any needed repairs. After that, I wouldn't trust it to survive re-entry."
"Stop making fun of my flying." Toni rested her forehead against Steph's shoulder. Data flashed over the screen, an analysis of the planet below laid out in numbers and graphs. "Right continents, right atmospheric conditions, stars all in their places. I'm pretty sure we're home. No sign of the creature. Maybe it ran away."
Storm unstrapped himself and floated over to the copilot's chair. Under his control, the Quinjet righted itself in relation to the planet below. "Thank you for your efforts, Iron Woman. I'll take care of flying us to the International Space Station."
"Why is everyone making fun of me?" Toni sulked, pushing out her lower lip in a pout. "Let's see anyone else do better."
"I'll let you ride my bike when we get home," Cap promised, kissing her cheek.
"Eeewwww," Penny and Jon whined, with an added grrrrrrlb from Shlp, who'd gotten into the spirit of things. "Mom and Mom are kissing."
"If you two do not cease right this instant, I will pull this Quinjet right over," Storm threatened in his best Dad Voice.
Wolverine huffed and patted Shlp's, for want of a better word, head. "You still glad you stowed away, kiddo?"
Shlp twisted around and snuggled into her ribs. "Mrrrb blrp," it sighed contentedly. "Mrrrb."
Docking at the station went exactly as smoothly as a tumble down a rocky mountainside.
"You can't bring that thing on board!" a well-meaning scientist objected as they disembarked, pointing an accusing finger at Shlp. He was dressed in the plain navy jumpsuit that was the unofficial uniform of the station, and hanging in midair in the middle of the docking shaft, blocking the way. "I'm going to have to get clearance to allow an alien on here. Who know what sort of bacteria it's carrying."
"We sterilized everything before docking," Cap started to say, but the scientist wasn't listening.
"This is just entirely unacceptable. What if you bring some sort of alien disease on board?"
Shlp bristled, forming little spikes along its back. "Grrrrrrlb!" It jiggled threateningly, straining against Wolverine's arms. For all the noise, though, it didn't actually try to ooze out of them.
Snkt. Wolverine's claws sheathed and unsheathed. "You wanna say that again, Bub? While you still got teeth?"
"There goes the spaceuit. Logan, stand down." Toni sighed. She pushed herself up the shaft, maneuvering gracefully to the top. The unnamed scientist watched her with a dawning expression of recognition and, faintly, worry. Toni smiled at him. "I'm going to put this as gently as I can. I designed seventy-eight percent of this station. My donations funded fifty-two percent of it. And my support kept it running even when the UN voted to cut funding last year. So either get out of our way, or you're going to find yourself back planetside so fast your feet will blast holes in the ground on reentry" The scientist stared in horror and Toni pushed herself closer. "Now!"
"Blrp!" Shlp announced, making a sound close to a raspberry.
"Exactly." Toni finished propelling herself up the shaft. "Come on. We need to find out what date it is, and see about getting our souvenirs sterilized."
The rest of the Avengers followed, Shlp clinging to Wolverine's shoulders. Penny and Jon brought up the rear with airtight containers of their gifts.
"I've never been up here," Spider-Woman murmured, twisting around and spinning to try and see everything at once. Her mask was locked in an expression of awe. "I wish Penny could be up here. Can you imagine the photo-ops? They'd put m— erm, her through college."
"Maybe next time, we can arrange a civilian trip," Giant Guy rubbed his arms. "I'll watch the mansion while everyone else comes up. It makes me nervous, being up here."
"Why?" Penny flipped her orientation and started walking on the ceiling. "It's amazing."
"Well, look. Storm can carry a bubble of air with him, right? And pressurize it." Spider-Woman nodded, the awe on her face fading into thoughtfulness. "Cap's always strong and fast. Iron Woman's armor can take space. Nothing kills Wolverine. And you have web shooters built into your suit."
Penny flipped again, humming. They were getting farther and farther behind the rest of the Avengers, but they didn't speed up. It wasn't like anything could happen without them. "And you can grow big."
"Right, I can grow," Giant Guy agreed. "But my suit won't, and even if I treated the suit to grow with me, my oxygen wouldn't. So in a space fight, I'm just dead weight."
For a moment they were both quiet. Then Spider-Woman pushed off the ceiling and dropped down in front of Jon, who pushed back in shock. Penny grabbed his wrist and held it pinned as she yanked a web shooter from her wrist and transferred it to Jon's. "There," she grinned. "Now you can help fight."
Giant Guy stared down at the shooter. "Spider-Woman— I couldn't..."
"No, go ahead," Penny insisted. "I only need one. All you do is aim and push this button..." She held Jon's arm out and demonstrated. Web shot out and splattered against the far wall. "And out comes the web. It's not as good as naturally produced stuff, but it's not too bad."
Jon stared down at his wrist. "Thank you."
"Don't mention it. We're Avengers together, right?" Penny grabbed his arm and pushed off, carrying them a long way down the hall in one bound. "Come on, we should catch up. Cap doesn't like it when we wander off."
The other Avengers and Shlp had found a console just around a bend in the hall. Toni typed away at it while Cap and Storm peered over her shoulder.
"Any idea what the date is?" Jon pushed off the floor, trying to float high enough see over their shoulders. Cap and Storm were both huge, and they'd crowded together in a way that meant he couldn't even catch a glimpse. "What's going on?"
"It's the same day we left." Iron Woman's fingers clack-clack-clack at the keys. "We've only lost a half an hour. Nothing significant happened between then and—"
The station rocked as something crashed into it.
"Except that," Toni corrected herself. The sound of the keyboard doubled. Huge screens overhead lit up, showing the curve of the Earth outside. Something blocked the bottom corner of the screen. It was large and green and hairy in where the station's floodlights hit it. "Guess it didn't run after all."
Shlp squeaked and stretched around to peek over Storm's shoulder. Spider-Woman did the same. "Hrrrrlp?"
"We have to assemble." Stephanie's shoulders straightened and her chin rose with determination. Free fall ruined the effect. "We can't let it destroy the station."
Toni double-checked her helmet and let go of her anchor. Immediately she started floating off. "Damned straight we can't. Do you have any idea how much I've invested in this thing?"
"Fifty two percent?"
Storm was already headed for a hatch, pulling himself along by the handholds placed everywhere. "Logan, you stay here and guard the Quinjet," he directed. "You may survive the vacuum, but you will not be an effective fighter in it."
"Blrb?" Shlp whimpered, drifting from side to side anxiously.
Cap finished checking her suit and patted its head as she pulled herself past. "You help Logan. You're an honorary Avenger, and we've got to keep the Quinjet safe."
The place where Shlp's chest should have been puffed out with pride. "Sssslrp!"
The station rocked again. The rest of the team made their way to a pressurized hatch. Cap and Toni brought up the rear, moving shoulder to shoulder.
Toni tapped a private line. "Is this weird enough for you?" she asked, voice quiet as they all squeezed into the tiny pressurization chamber. Red lights flared a warning as the count down to the hatch opening started.
Stephanie reached out and took her hand. "This is more than weird enough," she answered, grinning a little. "Should have seen it coming. Maybe we should stop making deals and just elope."
"You mean it?" Toni stared at her from behind her faceplate. "There's a chapel on the station, you know, and we've got the rings. We could do it. Call up a priest Earth-side and get hitched in space."
"Deal." Steph squeezed Toni's hand. "Go public again. We've got to have a plan." Toni nodded, and the line flipped back to the public frequency with a click.
"Okay, listen up," Cap announced, in her best Leader Voice. "We don't know what that thing is, or if we can beat it, so let's try to chase it back to the hole."
"Storm, don't get close if you can avoid it. Try for lightning. Nothing likes an electrical charge. Spider-Woman, try to tangle it up in your web if you can. Giant Guy..." Cap's mouth opened and closed, at a loss, but Jon held up his wrist.
"Spidey's got me covered."
Cap nodded and moved on. "Good. Iron Woman, same as Storm. Try to stay back."
"And you?" Storm asked, raising a pale eyebrow. Their suits were starting to inflate at the air pressure of the room dropped. "Your shield will not throw in space."
Steph reached over her shoulder and touched the round edge of her favorite weapon. "I'll think of something."
One second... Opening exterior door.
What was left of the air in the room hissed out as the door slid open. The Avengers tumbled out into space. Spider-Woman and Giant Guy used spurts of the web canisters to right themselves and aim for the monster. Captain America hung onto Iron Woman with her knees to keep from going too far off-course, while Storm just summoned winds to buffet him in the right direction.
Most of it was hidden behind the bulk of the space station, in shadow, but it was bigger than even the station. It was green and hairy, but also faintly blobbish, as if one of Shlp's friends had rolled in dirt. There was no noise, but when it opened its mouth and roared, the station shuddered and the Avengers all flipped top over tail.
"Attack of the Space Jello!" Giany Guy declared, audibly gaping.
"Start herding it!" Storm ordered, following his own advice. Lightning gathered around his fingertip, arcing through space to singe the monster. It roared again and flinched, huddling deeper in shadow. Iron Woman followed with a repulsor blast, but it had the same effect.
One by one they took their shots, but the monster didn't budge. Even when Spider-Woman, Giant Guy and Storm teamed up to build a parachute and blow it back towards the glowing rip in space, it just reformed and oozed out of the web-harness, crawling back into its hiding place.
"What is it going to take to move this thing?" Spider-Woman whined, spinning top over tail when she mimed kicking it. "You'd think it's afraid of its own shadow or something."
"At least it's not attacking us," Toni reminded her. "Maybe if we circle around—"
Cap, the only one who hadn't made an attempt to move it yet, held up her hand. "No, wait. I think Spider-Woman is on to something."
"Let me try something." Cap clung to Toni with one hand while she used the other to pull her shield around to her chest. She hooked her arm tighter around Iron Woman's shoulders. "Iron Woman, I need to get to the other side of it."
Toni tilted her head down, as if eyeing her fiancé over a pair of glasses. "If you're sure..." Using bursts of her repulsors and jetboots the same way Spider-Woman had been using her webs, Toni maneuvered them around to the far side of the monster. Stephanie directed her up, until they were just out of the shadow of the station.
"Now, hold on, and get ready to move," Cap warned her. She left Iron Woman to keep her stable as she gripped her shield with both hands. The polished surface gleamed like a mirror in the direct sunlight. Carefully, she angled it downward, directing a beam of light directly at the space jello.
The result was immediate.
It squealed and lunged deeper into shadow, but it was too big. A larger chunk of it hung out into sunlight than before. Grudgingly, it retreated from the beam, jiggling its way out into full sunlight.
"I was right! It doesn't like our sunlight! Iron Woman—"
"Following it, Cap!"
The entire team joined in, using light to herd it. Spider-Woman and Giant Girl used webs it make large suncreens, using them to lure the Jello along. Ororo, Cap and Iron Woman attacked it with sunlight and lightning. Nothing about it moved fast, but it oozed through space at a steady pace, following the sunscreens. Every now and then, it tried t turn back, but Iron Woman and Cap would shoot a beam of light directly behind it, and it would jump forward again.
They guided it all the way to the gravity well. By then, the Jello was moving as fast as it could, no longer resisting. It threw itself into the rip and vanished with a joyful slurp. Together, the Avengers watched for several minutes, but it didn't return.
"Iron Woman?" Oya 's voice was tired.
"I strongly recommend we avoid any more 'space adventures' in the future."
Toni didn't fight it. She just sighed. "Agreed."
Getting back to the station wasn't as easy as leaving it had been. Storm was exhausted from using his powers almost constantly, and Spider-Woman and Giant Guy's webshooters had been nearly used up. In the end, they formed a giant chain, with Iron Woman at the front, as the only one still able to maneuver in space.
"It's about damned time," Wolverine grumped when they'd finally gotten back. She was slouched in midair where they'd left her, eyes closed, floating in place. Shlp floated just above her chest, making little bubbles out of itself. "Ya got three world leaders on the line, and the head of the station wants ta know if we're takin' over. I told 'em I wasn't sure yet."
Cap rested her face in her palm. "Thank you, Logan, for making this even more difficult."
"Told me to guard the place, not handle PR." Wolverine examined her much-bitten but clean nails. "Could've let me fight."
"Your... unique form of combat would have done little good, I fear." Clicks sounded in the little room as Storm started removing his space suit. "It was not a solid thing. Your claws would have had no effect."
Wolverine shrugged, not willing to give up her foul mood.
Toni lifted her faceplate and accessed the computer again. "None of that matters. Come on. There's a chapel three floors up. We'll worry about an officiant when we find it."
"A chapel?" Penny had already stripped down to her usual red and blue costume, and was clinging to a ceiling rather than floating. "An officiant? Why?"
Jon was quicker on the uptake. "You're going to get married?" He tried to bounce, and ended up slamming into the ceiling.
"Yes." Toni grabbed Steph's elbow and commended hauling her bride to the tunnel that led upward. "Cap agreed, and I'm not waiting for the next monster to attack. We'll do it here and now, and let the press worry about themselves."
"You make it sound like I'm arguing," Stephanie complained, but she let herself be tugged along. If she tried to move herself, Toni would probably take it as an escape attempt. The airtight doors slid open as Toni flipped the lock. "This was my idea."
"A good idea," Penny agreed from above. She scurried up through the hatch above them. "You've got witnesses. What about the priest? That's a generic prayer space, isn't it? No priest." She bent over to look at them behind her, mask twisted into worry. "You need a priest, right? Or else it's not legal."
Storm pulled himself past Spider-Woman without pausing. "If you like, I can contact Queen T'Challa using the Quinjet's communications system," he offered with a small smirk. "If I ask...politely... she may see her way to declaring you citizens of Wakanda, and performing the ceremony for you."
Cap frowned. "Thank you for the offer, Oya, but I'd like to get married as an American citizen."
Behind her, Toni didn't even try to hide the roll of her eyes. Penny giggled at her and scampered onward.
"Maybe we can call a church?" Giant Guy asked. "Tony has a lot of money. We can call one and offer to donate to a charity of their choice?"
"I'll do it."
Spider-Woman almost gave herself an injury, whipping around to stare at Logan. "You're a priest," she gaped. When Logan only raised an eyebrow and crossed her arms over her not-insubstantial breasts, the spider-mask actually blushed. "—ess. Priestess is what I was going to say."
Wolverine grunted, and appeared to accept that as an apology. "Reverend. Back a long time ago. Nothin' you do's going to be legal anyway, without the paperwork to sign, but I can give you a ceremony."
"And Shlp can be ring-bearer."
The cat-shaped ball of purple goo shivered and snuggled into Wolverine's neck appreciatively.
The brides stared at her, blinking in shock. No one moved for a minute until, finally, Iron Woman ducked her head and tried to hide her smile. "Thank you, Logan. If Stephanie doesn't mind, I would be honored to have you officiate."
"I would be, too." Cap pushed herself back down the shaft and clasped Logan's shoulder. "I knew I was right to ask you to join the team. Thank you. You're a good friend."
"Don't mention it."
Steph rolled her eyes and pushed back upwards. "Okay, then. Not mentioning it."
Wolverine put her claws away. "Let's get this over with."
Toni tried, unsuccessfully, to cover her laugh with a cough. She followed Stephanie, face set in rigid I-am-not-laughing lines. "This way. The chapel's one more level up and Earth-ward. I had a specialist design it. It's plain, but it should do."
They continued onward, with Spider-Woman and Giant Guy both stealing glances at Wolverine.
"Do you think she's still loopy?" Giant Guy whispered. "She's being way too nice."
"Shh!" Spidey hissed. "She can hear you!"
Jon let out an eep, then slowly bent to glance behind him. Logan glared. He eep again and pushed off from a wall, zooming ahead. Spider-Woman followed suit, leaving the rest of the Avengers behind.
As promised, the chapel was small and simple, barely earning the name. There was a podium at the front, behind an undecorated altar. Colorful geometric decorations had been worked into the lights, to give an illusion of stained glass windows.
Wolverine floated to the podium as if she were being forced at gunpoint. Shlp oozed down her shoulders and took a place by Cap's feet, jiggling excitedly. "Alright," Wolverine clapped her hands. "Down to business. Shlp, get the rings. Ready?"
"Ready, Logan." Toni pressed her lips together to hold back laugher, but she reached around her neck and retrieved her ring. Shlp stretched up and snatched it. It swallowed the ring down until it floated in Shlp's center like a piece of fruit in a jello bowl. With a carefully controlled wiggle, Shlp floated over to Cap.
"You don't have to act like we're going to change our minds." Stephanie did the same, giving Shlp a pat on the head as she did so. She faced Toni across the aisle, both of them trying not to break down in giggles.
"Not waiting for something to attack." Claws scraped the plastic podium as Logan used it to keep herself anchored. She cleared her throat. "Right. Here we go. Dearly Beloved, we are gathered together here in the sign of NASA — and in the face of this company – to join together these women in probably-holy matrimony, which is commended to be honorable among a lot of humans; and therefore — is not by any — to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly — but reverently, discreetly, advisedly and solemnly. Since one of the brides is Toni Stark and the other is Captain America, we'll have to settle for advisedly. Into this probably-holy estate these two persons present now come to be joined. If any person can show just cause why they may not be joined together — let them speak now or forever hold their peace." Snkt. "Go ahead, bub."
"Logan," Storm warned from off to the side, crossing his arms. "Be serious."
"I'm being honest," Wolverine argued. "You want me to lie?"
Toni stuffed a fist in her mouth to muffle her giggles. Cap looked close to doing the same.
"I want you to treat the ceremony with respect."
"Then why the hell are we even—"
"Oya, it's fine," Steph interrupted. "It's memorable this way."
"We weren't going to object anyway," Spider-Woman piped in. Giant Guy nodded his agreement.
Wolverine sniffed smugly, and continued speaking. "Marriage is the union of two people in heart, body and mind..." Logan paused, looking upward as she examined the script in her head. "We can skip the parts about stability... the religious stuff... Who gives these women away? That'd be me..."
This time, it was Cap who giggled. Logan ignored her, probably because it's bad manners to threaten a bride at the altar.
Script revision complete, Logan nodded to herself. "Jump to the vows. Do you Antonita Eden Stark take Stephanie Rogers to be your wife in the probably-holy estate of matrimony? Will you love her, comfort her, honor and keep her, in sickness and in health, for richer, for poorer, for better, for worse, in sadness and in joy, to cherish and continually bestow upon her your heart's deepest devotion, forsaking all others, keep yourself only unto her as long as you both shall live?"
Toni coughed and pulled her fist from her mouth, no longer close to laugher. "I do."
"And do you, Stephanie Rogers, take Antonita Eden Stark to be your wife in the probably-holy estate of matrimony? Will you love her, comfort her, feed her, force her to sleep more than an hour a night, to keep her satisfied in bed, to give her a good shake when she starts sulking, keep her home from work when she's sick, never give up on her no matter how dumb she's being and generally keep her from driving me crazy for as long as you both shall live?"
Cap blinked. "I do?"
"You'd better. Now, rings." Logan cleared her throat again, and Shlp floated over. "What token of your fully-clothed love do you offer? Would you place the rings in my hand?"
"Mrrlp." Shlp wiggled and twisted, eventually hacking the rings out into freefall. Logan snatched them out of the air and held them up.
"May these rings be the symbol of this sickeningly sweet unity. These two lives are now joined in one unbroken circle. Wherever they go, may they always return to one another, especially if it's Cap that's gone. Yo, Stark, catch!"
The zero-gravity environment ruined the effect somewhat as Logan flicked the ring towards the brides. Toni grabbed it from the air as it drifted past.
A snort of not-disapproval was all Logan would give her. "Stark, put it on her and repeat after me: Cap." Logan paused until Toni slipped the ring on and repeated the word. "You are now consecrated to me as my wife, and you have to put up with my bullshit from this day forward. I give you this ring as the pledge of my love and the symbol of our stupidity. With this ring, I thee wed. Cap, here's yours."
The other ring float past with more speed, as Logan learned from her mistakes on the first one. Stephanie snatched it up and took Toni's hand with a nervous grin.
"Stark," Logan started, then glowered when Steph stubbornly said Toni. "You are now consecrated to me as my wife, and I will have to put up with your bullshit from this day forward. I give you this ring as the proof of my questionable sanity and a pledge of enduring devotion. With this ring, I thee shackle."
Stephanie rolled her eyes at Logan before turning her attention back to Toni. "Toni, you are now consecrated as my wife, before our friends and God." She slipped the ring on gently, looking up to see Toni blink away tears. "I give you this ring as a pledge of love and a symbol of our unity. With this ring, I thee wed."
Toni bit her lip as a tear floated free. "Oh, Steph..."
Shlp burbled sadly. Spidey caught it as it floated by, tugging the little ball of slime into a hug.
"Well. Fine, do it your way," Wolverine grumbled. "You have pronounced yourselves husband and wife, but remember to always be each other's best friend. We've seen what happens when you two argue. What — therefore — insanity has joined together — let no one put asunder.
"Forasmuch as Stark and Cap have consented together in holy wedlock, and have witnessed the same before God and this company, and thereto have given and pledged their troth, each to the other, and have declared the same by giving and receiving a ring, and by joining hands; I pronounce that they are wives, In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen."
Steph and Toni leaned in together, but hesitated when Logan cleared her throat.
"I ain't done yet. Hold on, I haven't done this part in a while." She cleared her throat and appeared to think. "God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Ghost, bless, preserve, and keep you; the Lord mercifully with his favor look upon you, and fill you with all spiritual benediction and grace; that ye may so live together in this life, that in the world to come ye may have life everlasting. Amen.."
The brides kept waiting, just in case.
From the podium, Logan waved them on. "Go on, kiss already. You're done. But no tongues."
In freefall, it was impossible to dip anyone. Stephanie tried, and they ended up floating in the middle of the room, tangled up together. Jon and Penny broke out into raucous applause, while Oya kept his slightly more sedate. Shlp squealed from Spider-Woman's arms, blowing happy bubbles.
Meanwhile, Wolverine was turning a deep shade of red, scowling ferociously.
"I said no tongues!"
"Um. Excuse me?" A female astronaut, in the same generic blue jumpsuit as the first, hovered in the doorway. She kept glancing at Toni and Steph, who had yet to stop kissing. "This is. Um. I hate to interrupt, but are you going to take over? Because we've got some ideas for a new governing system on board, and Jimmy would like to check on his dionaea muscipula in the lab..." When they stared at her, she shrunk down into her jumpsuit. "Maybe this is a bad time?"
Storm used a little breeze to shove the woman back, following her out the door and down the hall. "Something of the sort, yes. I will answer any questions you have."
"But— was that. Um. Was that Captain America? And Iron Woman?"
"Any question but that."
Giant Guy grinned. "Come on, Logan. We'll get you away from the show. We need to call Jarvis and let him know we're safe." He pushed over, grabbed Logan's arm, and started pulling her out of the room. Shlp followed close behind, attaching itself to Wolverine's shoulder for a ride. "Spidey, you guard the newly weds."
And then they were alone.
"Cap? Toni?" Penny tried, attaching and detaching herself from a wall nervously. "You can stop kissing now."
"... Okay, then. Go ahead. I can wait."