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Vacations in the Stratosphere

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Blueberry muffins were the cure to all life's evils, Abigail Brand decided, especially when they were hand-delivered by one's blue-furred courtesan. For a split-second, she thought about sharing, but Hank did not seem to be hungry, and if he wanted a blueberry muffin, he'd have brought his own, right? Right.

Several satisfying minutes later, Abigail tossed the muffin wrapper onto the desk in front of her and said, "You know, we're all alone up here. In this big, empty room." Diplomatic Room XXI, to be exact, which was sparsely furnished, both to avoid offending anyone who might take grievous offence to wicker or potted plants or wholesale pieces of art and the cost of refurbishing when diplomacy went awry. Most everyone else was preoccupied with fleeing the Peak, because they had either encountered Abigail's angry side or been detained against their will. Or both. But she wasn't thinking about the paperwork right now. She hooked her leg around Hank's chair and swivelled it around so they were face to face.

Hank's ears pricked forward as she advanced. "Whatever might you be suggesting, my viridescent caterpillar?"

She kissed him, slowly and softly, mindful of his sharp teeth, and then reluctantly pulled away. She slumped back in her chair and glared up at the huge expanse of dark space dotted with bright pinpricks of light; some of them were moving too fast to be stars, but there were still too many spaceships lingering too close to the Peak. "Too many damn windows." The entire ceiling was a giant window, and while the view was spectacular, Abigail did not particularly care for it right this moment.

"Let's go to Canada," Hank suggested. He stood up and offered her a hand, which she gladly took. Holding hands was not something she did but she left her gloved hand in his furry one as they walked to the exit. He'd brought her a muffin, after all.

Abigail slanted a look at him. "Wouldn't my office be closer?" If it was still intact. The Peak had a few extra holes in its systems and several knocked out walls, but the damage wasn't too extreme, considering the number of pissed off super-powered aliens who'd been on board and Lockheed's new-found levels of crankiness which he expressed by breathing out fire, often and with great disregard for flammable objects and bystanders. "Why Canada?"

"You still have an office?" said Hank, at the same time.

"Probably not. I wouldn't put it past Gyrich to have turned it into a storage for space slime. What's in Canada?" It was a country that produced Wolverine and yet managed to project to the rest of the world that Canadians were a peaceful, welcoming people. Abigail was inclined to think Wolverine was an anomaly, but if he were not, the Canadians must have one hell of a PR team.

Hank touched one paw to the back of his ear to adjust the fit of his glasses. "If Sydren's meeting goes well, the Metroliths. We should make sure they settle in properly."

"It'll take weeks to work through all the fine print and for them to relocate. We don't even know where they're going, if they go."

"I recall Logan mentioning something about Banff being lousy with tourists, but having a large national park. They could live there." Abigail looked at him over her glasses, but Hank declined to explain why Logan had shared this factoid with him.

"That doesn't explain why you want to go."

Hank grinned. "Two words. Maple candy. Also, neither of us has had a vacation in years. It might be fun. Not that our little space adventure hasn't been a refreshing change of pace for me, but--"

"All right." Abigail had a sneaking suspicion Hank had been hoping for a romantic getaway for some time now and the Metroliths were a good excuse as any to put most of their responsibilities on hold.


"I'll go. Unless the world is ending. Then all bets are off."

Hank beamed at her. "Excellent. Everyone's just going to have to lay low for a few days."


Abigail landed the small jet in the middle of a swamp. As landings went, this one was not at all remarkable and, as she hoped, their arrival had gone unnoticed by the local law enforcement.

Hank peered out of his window and sniffed the air. "When you said we were making a slight detour, I didn't think we were going to Madripoor."

"It should only be for a few hours. We have plenty of time before the Metroliths cross the border." Canada agreed to create a protected habitat for them with so little fuss that it made Abigail slightly suspicious. Maybe Canadians simply liked big rocks... It was fortuitous that Hank had suggested going on this vacation; it made ensuring the safety and well-being of the Metroliths much easier when she could travel to countries without causing any intergalactic incidents simply by declaring that she was on vacation.

First, though, she had one more thing to take care of. She scrolled through her text messages until she found the most recent one from Hisako, which she read to Hank. "Hisako says Logan said Jessica Drew jumped out of the Avenger's aircraft yesterday, so I thought I'd stop by and see how things are going." Jessica also hadn't replied to Abigail's latest inquiry about her continued future employment with SWORD yet.

"Did you recruit Hisako to be a SWORD agent too?" Hank seemed more amused than bothered by this. No doubt he had his own methods of keeping track of the X-Men, despite not being on the best of terms with Scott Summers -- but then, who was, these days?

"Not officially," said Abigail. "She isn't on the payroll, but I pick up the communication expenses. I'd contact Logan directly, but you know how he is with these phones. All claws."

"What does she get in return for spying?" Hank pulled out a pair of large waterproof boots, considered them and then threw them back under his seat.

"I prefer to think of it as a mutual exchange of information and assistance. That is, she gives me information - and more gossip about the interpersonal relationships on that sinking island than I care to know about - and in return, she has a direct line to a high ranking SWORD agent. Which, as you know, is quite useful."

"Indeed. I'll do my utmost to avoid mysterious ghost boxes and alternate dimensions." He glanced at her. "Would you think me uncouth if I forgo footwear?"

Abigail pressed the button to open the hatch. It swung down smoothly and doubled as a ramp. "Of course not. I've seen your feet before. You're barefoot all the time."

"I might track some of this swamp back in here."

"So will I." A surprising amount of dirt and mud often ended up packed in the treads of her favourite green boots. She paused at the bottom of the ramp, waiting for Hank to disembark.

One of Hank's ears twitched as he stepped on to the squishy earth. "Damp rather malodorous," he said apologetically.

"Hank," said Abigail, perhaps a little more tersely than she meant to sound. "There are towels in the jet. As long as you don't track dirt in bed, I don't care. Besides, with your sense of smell, I should be the one worried about what I smell like." The phone-turned-GPS-tracker in her hand beeped as it locked on the location of a similar SWORD-issue device currently in the care of Jessica Drew. She frowned at Hank. "Well?"

"Okay," was all he said, but his ears relaxed and flicked slowly back and forth to take in their new surroundings.

"You were supposed to say I smell like sunshine or kittens or-- Why are you laughing?" she grumbled.

Hank swept back a giant leaf and held it out of the way for her to pass. "After you, my dearest cabbage. Sweetest of peas. Prickliest of pears..."

The locator led them straight to Jessica. Surprisingly enough, she appeared to be seriously considering some of the outfits for sale at the outdoor street market.

"Skrulls are hell on clothes," she said when she spotted them. "Did Logan send you?"

"No. We're en route to Alberta," said Abigail. There was a slight pause as she sorted through her words to come up with a tactful way of asking Jessica if she was still angry at the world. Instead, she went with, "Have you decided on your next assignment?"

Jessica stuck her hands in her pockets. "It's only been 16 hours. Can I have a full day, at least?"

"I'll give you two," said Abigail, struck by a moment of temporary generosity.

"Thanks." Jessica flipped through several shirts that all looked like the same shade of white to Abigail before settling on one.

"What do you think of Metroliths?" Hank asked, jumping into the conversational lull.

By the time Jessica bought a new shirt and Hank finished his explanation of the Metroliths and the necessity of their relocation, it was getting close to dinner time. The muffin Abigail had eaten earlier was a distant memory. They found a not-too-shabby cafe and sat down to a meal without being disturbed. This was Madripoor, where a furry, blue Beast, a green alien and a mutant were unremarkable.

Jessica hadn't committed one way or another to any of the open cases Abigail had offered her, but she appeared to be in a slightly better state of mind than when Abigail first spoke to her. She'd check in with Jessica in a few days. One person taken care of. Several more worlds to go. Abigail and Hank took off in the jet under the cover of darkness and followed the moon around to the other side of the world.


Hank was warm and soft and Abigail found she liked being tucked in close to him, especially when he was in a restful state; drowsy, but not yet asleep. His breathing deepened until it was almost a purr. It was...soothing. It would be much too easy to become accustomed to having him around. She liked their long-distance relationship. They fought - sometimes each other, but mostly other people - they had sex, he called her one of his ridiculous terms of endearment that she secretly didn't mind, then they parted ways. Sometimes for weeks at a time. Now, though, Hank had quit the X-Men and hadn't mentioned what he was going to do or where he was going. Her gloveless fingers, stroking through his fur, caught on a small tangle just under his clavicle.

"Ow," he said, blinking sleepily at her.

She worked the tangle free and patted the hair down. "Why did you tell Drenx you were an alien?"

"Solidarity, I suppose." Hank sighed and leaned into her hands. "That feels indecently good. I didn't think they needed to be bored with a lecture on mutants. I look alien enough that no one questioned it."

"But you're not an alien."

"I know." Hank rolled away from her.

Not to be deterred, she propped herself up on her elbows on top of his chest. "It doesn't bother me, you know."

"That I'm not an alien or that I look like one?"

"Both," she said.

"Do you never wonder what I looked like before?"

They both sat up, Hank against the headboard and Abigail facing him. They were naked, but it was dark, with only a sliver of light from the moon peeking through the drawn curtains. She could make out his features and expressions, and any physical flaws were lost to the shadows. Abigail wondered how good Hank's night vision was.

"A smaller version of yourself now?" she guessed, but he said "before", not "younger".

Hank held up his hands and turned them over. "I had ten fingers and ten toes, no fur, a mouth you could kiss--"

"I think you kiss just fine." She let a hint of suggestion slip into her voice; if he wanted to steer the conversation to a different place...

Hank lowered his hands and tilted his head. "...'Just fine'?"

"Mmm," said Abigail. She slid her hands behind Hank's ears and pulled him towards her until they were nose to nose. "We should keep practicing. See if you can inspire me to a greater use of vocabulary." He dipped his head and nuzzled her neck, his whiskers tickling her. Not that she'd admit to being ticklish. Also, she had one more thing to say, before they commenced with another round of thoroughly getting to know one another and if she didn't say it now, she'd find a way to talk herself out of it. "Hank. Wait." He paused and looked at her. She hesitated a moment, then took a deep breath. "I have a place up in the stars, not too far from the Peak. It's a little small and you can't go outside without a space suit and I don't really have any furniture... But, I mean, if you wanted to..."

"Abigail Brand, are you asking me to move in with you?" Hank sounded surprised and pleased.

The rough pads of his fingers trailed a faint line down her spine and she shivered. And then frowned at him for distracting her. "I'm offering you my home, temporarily, because you have left yours and, as far as I know, you haven't had the time to look for a new place to live."

"In that case, I accept your offer." said Hank, failing to hide a smile.

"Good." She wrapped her arms around him and tucked her head under his chin and let him hold her for a while. She could adjust to him being around all the time, at least until he found another place to live.

In the morning, by the time Abigail woke up, Hank had somehow procured two steaming cups of coffee and a small box marked 'Timbits'. "When in Canada... They're donut holes," he explained, handing her the box. She opened it to find little round donuts that were almost bite-sized, if one were hungry enough to eat them that way.

It was the last day of their vacation. The Metroliths had arrived and settled in well, but a grumpy Lockheed and a nervous Sydren, who'd accompanied them on their journey, were starting to bother the tourists because they did not photograph well. Lockheed had taken to melting several cameras before Sydren managed to get him away from the general public.

"I think it's time to go home," Abigail said. Back to her job and the mountains of paperwork that no doubt awaited her and the sixty three unanswered messages on her phone and whatever crisis unfolded next... She looked at Hank, who was probably burnt out on mutant politics and could use a real break, instead of zooming around the galaxy with her and rounding up her errant brother and other aliens intent on destruction and mayhem, but there was no harm in asking...

"How would you like to work for SWORD?"