Title: Hank in Love
Author: Terri
Disclaimer: I don't own them, darn it.
Feedback: Please! Pretty please?
Rating: PG-13


"Hello?" A tall brunette stuck her head in the oak door. She was dressed in sweats and tennis shoes, and she appeared to be in her mid-twenties.

"Ah, yes, please come in, Ms. Taylor." The older, bald gentleman seated behind the desk greeted her.

"Professor Xavier, I presume?"

"Yes, indeed. Welcome to the school. Please, have a seat."

"Thank you. I'm just getting ready to move my things in. Please excuse the way I'm dressed." She entered the office, closing the door behind her, and sat opposite him.

"It's no problem at all. I'm glad you're here. Allow me to call one of my colleagues, Scott. He will show you to your quarters, and I am certain he will be happy to help you move your things in."

Keli thought for a moment that it was odd that he hadn't reached for the phone on his desk, then she remembered. He's a telepath. "Thanks. Although I don't know that anyone's ever been happy to help out in the moving process."

The Professor smiled back at her kindly. "Quite right. I do hope that you will find the quarters to your liking. I apologize for not having time to tour them during the interview."

"I'm sure they'll be fine. I'm pretty flexible when it comes to living arrangements." Keli remembered the interview well. She'd met with the professor, and some of the other teachers. Jean, Ororo, and Warren, if she remembered correctly. They'd all been very nice, and they all seemed very smart. Keli hadn't really sought out the school, but they were on the list for Americorps teacher placement, and Westchester would be a nice change of scene from her last placement in Louisiana. It couldn't possibly get to 115 degrees here, right? And I might even get a white Christmas.

"Very good. Ah, Scott. This is Keli Taylor. Ms. Taylor, Scott Summers."

"Pleased to meet you," she rose and shook his hand. Very handsome, but odd glasses. Must be related to his mutation somehow

"Likewise," he returned. "I'll show you upstairs. I thought you might want to see your room first, and the Professor mentioned that you need help moving your things in."

"That would be great, if you don't mind."

"Not at all," he nodded to the Professor as he turned to go. "See you later, Professor."

"Yes, enjoy getting settled in, Ms. Taylor."

"Thank you, and, please, call me Keli."

"This way, Keli," Scott gestured to the door and led her out.

"Wow, this place is even bigger than I thought," Keli commented upon reaching the third floor.

"Yes, it's quite large. The Professor inherited it, then expanded upon the original construction." Scott spoke politely, but somewhat impersonally. Frankly, he was still reserving judgment on the Professor's plan to integrate a human teacher here. Jean had said that she fared very well in the interview process, and she seemed friendly enough, but.. "And this is your room here." He opened the door to a large-ish room with a very small adjacent bathroom. A double bed was up against one wall, a desk and chair against another.

"Thanks. It looks fine."

"Now, about your things? I assume they're in your car?"

"Yeah," Keli turned back to him, "There's nothing too heavy, but there's a lot of it. I took everything that would fit in the Jeep with me, and it's pretty packed."

"No problem. I'll be happy to help you. Let's-"

"Scott!" Bobby's voice interrupted him from the stairwell.

"What?" Scott replied. Keli thought he sounded somewhere between concerned and annoyed.

"Come down to the danger room, we've got a problem." As Bobby came to the top of the stairs, he caught sight of Scott and Keli. "Well, hello there. You must be our new arrival."

"Hello," Keli said amiably. "Keli Taylor." She extended her right hand to him.

"And I am Robert Drake. My friends call me Bobby." He kissed her hand quite theatrically.

"Is there something you wanted?" Scott asked, almost hiding his irritation.

"Yes, fearless leader. We have a problem in the-um, downstairs. The program you designed has a-a..problem," he finished lamely. Bobby didn't quite pay attention at that briefing where the Professor explained what information was or was not to be shared with the new teacher.

"Can't you fix it? I was about to help Keli move some of her things in."

"I, ah, actually, am the one who might have broken it, so Warren thinks between the two of us, we should be able to figure out what happened."

Scott let out a long-suffering sigh. "All right. I'll be right there." Then, turning to Keli, who seemed to be taking all this in stride, "Would you mind waiting just a few minutes?"

"Not at all, I'll just get started myself." She rolled up her sleeves, preparing to head downstairs.

"Hey! Wait! I think Hank's free. I saw him in the kitchen. He'd be great at moving stuff. He can help her." Bobby interjected.

"Uh, Bobby, I'm not sure Hank is" Scott trailed off. What he wanted to say was that he wasn't sure that Hank was the kind of mutant Keli should meet right off the bat, but there didn't seem to be a tactful way to say that, and part of his brain wondered whether trial by fire, as it were, might not be such a bad idea. Better to test her reaction sooner than later, and better to do it on one of the adults than a student. "Well, I guess if he's free."

"Let's go. I'll introduce her on my way down." Bobby gestured for Keli to follow him downstairs.

"You'll like him, he's probably my best friend here. And he's a genius."

"Oh," Keli commented, following along.

"Yeah, he's a great guy, and he hardly ever comes out of the lab, so you'd better catch him now if you wanna-" Bobby stopped talking suddenly, and stopped descending the stairs, too, causing Keli to bump into him, and Scott to bump into her.

"Bobby?" Keli inquired. "Something wrong?"

Bobby looked to Scott. "Um, no, I mean, I don't think so. But I should just probably warn you that Hank is.Hank is.."

"Somewhat different in appearance." Scott finished for him.

Keli nodded. "OK," she said simply.

"OK," Scott agreed pleasantly. Bobby shot him a look, but began heading downstairs again. When they reached the first floor landing, Scott just waved at Bobby and moved around both of them. "See you downstairs."

"Uh, yeah," Bobby temporized. It suddenly occurred to him that Keli might not be used to seeing people like Hank, and that could come out in a way that would hurt his friend's feelings. Bobby knew how sensitive Hank was about his appearance, even though he often joked around to cover it. He was especially sensitive since the whole ugly betrayal-and-breakup with Trish two weeks ago. She'd actually said to Hank's face that he was "hideous" and "a freak," and that she'd never loved him, not at all. Bobby was still plotting some kind of horrible revenge upon her for that.



"The kitchen? Your friend?"

"Yeah. Uh, yeah. This way." He took a few steps then halted and turned to Keli. "Um, look, you know how Scott said Hank was, um different? Well, he's very different. I personally think he's very good looking, you know, for another guy. Not that I look at other good looking guys, I just-" Keli was just looking at him blankly. "What I mean is, um, he's a good guy, and my friend, and he's a little."

"Bobby," she said gently, "Maybe I should just meet him? Believe me, however different he is, if he's willing to help me move my stuff in, I'll be sure to love him."

"O-OK," Bobby led the way to the kitchen, fidgeting a little. When they arrived, Hank was still sitting at the table, perusing Neuroscience and sipping on a cup of coffee. He looked up just as they both entered. Bobby looked over to Keli, who was only smiling politely. "Hello, Hankster. I want you to meet our new teacher, Keli Taylor." Please, please let this go well..Please let me NOT have put my foot in it again

"Hi," Keli offered her hand to him. After a stunned moment, he rose and shook it, still holding his magazine in his left hand. "It's nice to meet you," Keli smiled pleasantly as she said it.
"Nice to meet you too," Hank managed. She didn't seem shocked. Or repulsed. Or.or anything. Bobby, Hank thought, Bobby must have warned her about what I looked like before bringing her to meet me. He must have asked her to be nice..

"Thanks. I hope you don't mind, but Bobby said you might be willing to help me move some of my things in?"

"Of-of course," Hank sputtered, looking at Bobby, who, unaccountably, seemed quite pleased with himself.

"You don't mind, do you?" he said. "I mean, I know you've got all kinds of stuff in the lab to keep you busy, but it'll just take a few minutes, and I thought it would be nice to help out the new guy." Bobby took a playful swat at Keli's arm. He could've kissed her for being so nice to Hank. She just smiled indulgently at him and turned back to Hank expectantly.

"N-no, I don't mind."

"Great! My stuff is all out in the Jeep. I, uh, think I can find my way to the front door if you want to come along," she prompted, gesturing toward the kitchen doorway.

"Sure." Hank finally put down the magazine, and began following her out.

"Great! I'll see you guys later," Bobby said as he darted downstairs.

"You're not coming too?" Hank called after him, getting no response from his retreating form.

"I think he's needed downstairs. He said something about a problem with a program?" Keli filled in.

"Oh." Why hadn't they called him?

"So," Keli said as she approached the outside door, "Are you a scientist? I saw that you were reading Neuroscience."

"Ah, yes, yes I am," Hank said, opening the door for her.

She fished in her pockets for the keys to the Jeep. "What discipline?"

"Ah, biochemistry, primarily." He watched her open the door, fascinated at her ability to act perfectly normal around him. Even if Bobby had warned her, it was unusual for new people to be this at ease, especially alone with him. She didn't seem nervous with him at all. Comfortable eye contact, no frightened glances or twitches..

"Sounds interesting. Although science was never really my thing. All that math. Ick." She looked in at the car contents which were, in fact, very tightly packed in.

"Yes, I believe I had heard that your area of expertise was history?"

"Well, I wouldn't go so far as to call it expertise, but yes."

"I am sure you must be quite accomplished to have been selected by the Professor." Hank had actually itched to be on the interviewing committee, but it just so happened that most of the interviews had been conducted at a time when his image inducer was on the fritz, and scaring off potential applicants was not the desired effect.

Keli only smiled and shrugged. "So, where should we start? That big box?"

Hank peered into the car, and flinched a little when she leaned down inches behind him to assist in the car-unpacking assessment. "Um, that appears to be a good place to begin."

"OK. I don't think there's anything real heavy, but if there is, that box would be it."

"Then, allow me," Hank reached in to grab it, freeing it from it's nook and lifting it quite easily with one hand.

"Whoa," Keli admired, "You must be pretty strong. Those are books in there."

Hank just smiled, unsure how to take her comments. Were they a genuine compliment, or some backwards derogatory reference to his mutation? He settled on responding with a simple, "Shall we?"

"Sure," she agreed, grabbing some bags and a coffeemaker. "This way."

After several moving trips, the latter few of which Scott discreetly observed from the hall, Keli and Hank were toting up the last few items. She seemed relatively at ease, but Hank looked vaguely out of sorts. Perhaps it was simply Hank's innate caution around new people.

"A teddy bear?" Hank inquired.

"It was a gift, and it just kind of grew on me. What can I say, I guess I'm still a kid at heart," she joked.

"He's quite a nice teddy bear, as stuffed animals go." Hank was still not quite sure what to make of her. She actually seemed quite friendly. That certainly did bode well for the students. But she seemed to just ignore his appearance. It had to affect her, she had to having some kind of reaction to it, and the fact that she was able to so successfully hide that reaction bothered Hank a little.

"Thanks," she said wryly. "He can go on the bed."

Hank tossed him over, and set down the last of the things. "Well, that should do it."

"Thanks for all your help. I really appreciate it." She smiled at him warmly.

"My pleasure," Hank responded politely, and turned to leave.

"Hey, how's it going?" Bobby appeared in the doorway, blocking Hank's exit.

"Good," Keli answered. "I think we actually got everything. Did you fix your problem downstairs?"

"Oh yeah, no problemo. Hey, what's this?" Bobby picked up a deep purple ball-like object at his feet. It had a cord coming out of it, but no other identifying characteristics.

"It's a lamp, believe it or not."

"Cool. Were you gonna hang it from the ceiling?" Bobby began to toss it from hand to hand.

"You know, I hadn't really thought about getting unpacked, or putting things away," Keli said, rubbing her forehead, and sounding a little overwhelmed.

"Perhaps we should leave you to it." Hank ventured. He had been about to leave when Bobby interrupted, and, truth be told, he was dying to ask Bobby what he'd said to this woman to make her behave soso nicely toward him.

"Hey, wanna have to dinner with us? Hank and I were gonna order pizza. It's a Saturday night, and everyone's on their own for food. Besides, we got a movie. We were gonna watch U571, and if there's time, The Perfect Storm." Bobby caught Hank's small glare but ignored it.

"I haven't seen either of those, actually. If you wouldn't mind me joining you, that sounds good, thanks." Keli seemed to perk up a little.

"We wouldn't mind at all." Bobby positively beamed at Hank, who, in turn, glared at Bobby again.
It all seemed to be lost on Keli, who said, "So what do you like on pizza?"



Later, as Bobby and Keli went to meet the pizza delivery person (they'd ordered three pizzas, two for Hank and one to split between the two of them) at the door, Bobby felt optimistic enough to inquire, "So, what did you think of Hank?"

"He's very nice. But he seems a little.I don't know.not exactly shy.maybe just not very extroverted?"

"He's.he's just been through a bad breakup," Bobby offered, "And sometimes he's a little gun shy around new people."

Keli nodded. "You were right about him."

"About him being different?" Bobby said, a little disappointed.

"No. Well, yes. I don't think I've ever met anyone quite like him. But I meant you were right about him being good-looking." She said it very matter-of-factly and missed Bobby's ear-to-ear grin. "And he is different. Really smart people usually are," she shrugged.

"What do you mean?" Bobby asked, mentally still exulting over the fact that she'd said he was good-looking. Bobby was just itching to match-make, and favored the idea that one should get right back on the romance horse after it had thrown you off, no matter how hard a landing you had.

"He seems very thoughtful. Not thoughtful-nice-not that he's not nice-but more thoughtful like.like he really thinks before saying or doing something."

"He does," Bobby encouraged. "He's very big into the thinking. Using the big brain."

"It's a little intimidating, you know. To be around so many smart, talented, unbelievably-good-looking people," Keli said wistfully.

"You're smart. You're talented. You're good-looking." At her wry glance, he amended, "I mean, not that I noticed. That you were good looking. Just in a you-might-be-nice kind of way." That sounded lame to even his own ears.

"Thanks, I think." They shared a comfortable moment of silence. "Hey, pizza's here."

"I think I chose history because I like stories. Really, the study of history is just learning different stories, and trying to understand what those stories mean," Keli explained over a slice of pepperoni pizza.

"Interesting. I had not thought of it that way." Hank was a little self-conscious about eating in front of strangers-his appetite was HUGE-but he resigned himself to it tonight. Bobby seemed determined that they spend the evening together. Not that he minded, not really. It was just.unusual. He took another hesitant bite at his sausage and mushroom pizza.

"What are you going to be teaching the little rugrats?" Bobby inquired. He had decided on something. His mission. His mission would be to keep the evening light and friendly, and to make sure they all had fun. If he was successful, then he'd take Hank aside, and get him to ask Keli out. I'm a genius!

"I'll be teaching one section of world history, one section of American history, and one section of ancient history. American history is actually my favorite."

"Keli?" A southern-accented female voice called from the hall. "Keli Taylor?"

"That's me," Keli called back, chewing the last of her pizza and getting up from the table.

"Phone call," Rogue said as she appeared in the kitchen doorway.

"Oh! Thanks!" Keli headed in the direction of the house phone.

Hank watched Keli go, his gaze finally settling on Rogue. "Pizza?" he offered.

"Sure. Thanks, sugar." Rogue retrieved a pepperoni slice. "It's real nice of y'all to look out for her on her first day here."

"Yeah. I thought so," Bobby teased. "What do you think of her?"

"She seems nice enough. If the Professor picked her, she must be good."

"I think she's nice too," Bobby replied, looking very suspiciously at Hank. "Don't you think so, Hank?"


Bobby exchanged glances with Rogue, who seemed to immediately catch on to his master plan. "She's cute, too, don't you think, sugar? Tall, long curly hair, very nice complexion....." They both looked expectantly at Hank.

By this point in the evening, he'd just about had enough of.well, of whatever was going on. "Really, Rogue, I hadn't noticed." They both looked at Hank skeptically. Hank decided to get this...this....whatever it was out in the open. "Bobby, what are you up to? What did you say to her to make her be so polite to me this afternoon?"

"Me?" Bobby looked the very picture of innocence. "I didn't say anything. I'm not up to anything."


"OK, I am up to something. But it's a good something. She's cute. I think she likes you. Ask her out."

"You must be joking!"

Rogue shook her head a little sadly, and cast a backward glance at Bobby in commiseration as she left the kitchen.

"I'm totally serious," Bobby assured his friend. "I couldn't be more serious."

"Robert, what, exactly did you tell her about me before you brought her to the kitchen to make my acquaintance?" Hank demanded.

"I-I told her you were a genius, and that you'd help her move her stuff."

"That's all?" Hank asked, openly disbelieving.

"Well, I-I told her you were a little different, and that I thought you were good-looking. That's all. I swear."

"And by 'different' you mean you told her the details of my physical mutations, so that she would not appear shocked when she saw me?"

"No! All I said was different. A-and you are. In a good way. I didn't say anything else. Honest!"



"You did not instruct her to treat me kindly, or to 'be nice'?"

"No," Bobby said, a little more softly. "She met you, she liked you. What's so complicated about that?"

Hank could see that his friend was sincere. Misguided, certainly. Irresponsibly optimistic, to be sure. But he was sincere. "It is not that simple, Bobby. I amI am not a normal man. As much as you might like to behave as though that were true, it is not. I am sure thatthat Keli is simply being polite. She seems like quite a kind-hearted person."

"You know," Bobby began, "She told me I was right about you. About you being good-looking."

"Bobby-" Hank began, shaking his head. Even if she had said such a thing (and Bobby surely must have made some misunderstanding of her in his haste to see things through rose-colored glasses), she would have merely been performing an act of pity, or charity.

"She did."

"In those words?" Hank challenged, waiting for Bobby to hedge and squirm his way out of it.

"She said, and I quote, 'You were right.' And I said, and I quote, 'About Hank being different?' Then she said, and I quote some more, 'No. About him being good-looking.' End of quote." Bobby said, then crossed his arms in front of him, daring Hank to disagree.

"She was simply being nice, Bobby," Hank said softly.

"No she wasn't," Bobby insisted, "She didn't say it in a nice way. I mean, she didn't say it in a bad way, but she didn't say it like she was just being nice, or polite, or whatever. She said it like, 'there it is.' Like, you know, the sky is blue or something." Bobby paused, and took his friend's large, hairy, clawed hand in his own. "You know, just because one woman was mean to you, or didn't like you, or whatever the hell was wrong with Trish, it doesn't mean they're all that way."

"Thank you for thinking so, Bobby, but.it has been my experience that most women are repulsed by my appearance." The no-nonsense tone in Hank's voice just about broke Bobby's heart. "Those that are not, well, they are, shall we say, not pleased by it either."

"If you keep thinking these things about yourself, you'll never find a good woman," Bobby reasoned gently.

"Perhaps that is simply my destiny, Robert." Hank looked at him directly. "Now, please leave our new addition alone. I do not think that Keli would appreciate your efforts."

"I think you're wrong," Bobby said, but let go of Hank's hand. He looked away from Bobby's gaze, and resumed eating.

"I'm back," Keli called as she entered. "That was my friend Rebecca." She could sense the mood in the room had shifted, but she wasn't quite sure what happened.

"Oh yeah?" Bobby tried for something like his former cheerfulness. "Checking in?"

"Yeah. She was not in favor of me taking this job. I think she's worried I'll freeze or something." Confronted with utterly confused looks from both Bobby and Hank, she continued, "She's from Louisiana. She can't believe I've moved somewhere the temperature goes below freezing for months at a time."

"Oh!" Bobby was relieved to understand, and relieved at the explanation. "A confirmed southerner, huh? We have a few of those here."

"I just met Rogue, and some really suave guy with a cajun accent."

"Gambit," Bobby supplied helpfully.

"That's it. He was interesting." Hank shot an "I told you so" look at Bobby. "I don't think I've ever met anyone who smokes quite so much. In the five seconds I talked to him, he went through TWO cigarettes. Is he like that all the time? I mean, how do the non-smokers put up with that?"

It was Bobby's turn at the "I told you so" expression. "He smokes outside, mostly. We're all stunned that he doesn't have emphysema yet."

Keli crinkled her nose, as she resumed eating pizza. "I've never understood the allure of smoking. It tastes icky, it smells icky, it's bad for you.."

"Mmm" Bobby agreed. "Well, Gambit's pretty much the only smoker."

Keli nodded. "Good. Hey, would either of you mind if I started in on the second pizza? I thought four pieces would be enough, but I'm really hungry."

"Please, go ahead," Hank offered, raising the pizza box lid for her.

"Thanks. I know I probably shouldn't eat this. God, looking at Rogue in spandex, I should probably never eat anything ever again, but I'm hungry." She happily munched on the sausage pizza she'd absconded from Hank's pie.

"I'm sure you'd look good in spandex," Bobby teased.

"Believe me, no one outside this mansion looks good in spandex." Hank and Bobby both chuckled at that.

"Well, you're inside the mansion now!" Bobby joked. "Spandex is your destiny."

"Oooooh NO," she laughed, "THAT wasn't in the job description."



"Well, guys, I think I'm going to go to bed." Keli stretched at the conclusion of the double feature.

"Thanks for dinner."

"Our pleasure," Bobby said. "Anytime."

"Will I see you guys tomorrow?"

"I'll be around, but Hank here will probably be in the lab all day." Hank nodded his agreement.

Keli nodded. "OK. Well, good night."

"Good night," they chorused.

Hank watched her ascend the stairs contemplatively. Even though he was sure Bobby was wrong, very wrong, about the nature and level of interest in him, it had been nice to get acquainted with her. She'd sat on the same couch as him during the movies, she'd shared his pizza, she'd laughed and joked with him, even touched his arm casually once during the movies. It was.nice. Even if it didn't, couldn't, mean anything.

"Are you hitting the sack too, Hankster?"


Bobby smirked. "I thought perhaps you protesteth too much."

"What?" Hank turned back to his friend.

"You like her, admit it."

"I am sure we will become friends," Hank hedged.

"You like her in a more-than-friendly way."

"Nothing like that could possibly-"

"Oh, come on! She did the thing, the arm-touching thing!"

"What are you talking about?"

"During the movie, when you were talking about the thing, and you made that joke, she laughed and touched your arm. That's girl sign language for 'I like you, big guy.'"

"Bobby, please. She is merely being friendly, that is all." Hank said firmly. He really wished Bobby would stop this. It was becoming embarrassing.

"Really? Well, she didn't touch me at all today. Not once." Bobby stood, satisfied he'd proven his point, and headed for the stairs. "Think about that, genius. Good night."

"Good night," Hank replied automatically. His brain was once again occupied with other thoughts.



"Hello? Hank?"

"Yes," he replied distractedly. For some reason, the computer just wasn't running the program correctly. It kept crashing, and he had not yet been able to figure out why.

"Can I come in?" Keli appeared in the doorway, holding what looked like a plate wrapped in plastic wrap.

"Oh, of course. Forgive me, I have been trying to get this infernal computer to do my bidding all afternoon. What can I do for you?"

"Well," she began, almost shyly, "I wanted to thank you for all your help in getting me moved in, and for being so nice to me on my first day here, so I baked you some cookies." When he just looked at her blankly, she said, "Well, actually, I just baked a bunch of cookies and put them in the cookie jar upstairs, but Bobby said they'd be gone before you got to them, and since I baked them mostly to thank you" She extended the plate toward him.

"Th-thank you. You-you didn't have to do that," Hank stammered, accepting the cookie plate.

"I wanted to. I hope you like chocolate chip."

"My favorite," Hank assured her. He was still somewhat dazedly holding on to the plate and staring at her.

"This looks really impressive," Keli gestured to the lab.

"Thank you. I-I spend most of my time down here, and the technology is quite fascinating."

Keli just nodded. "Do you teach the students at all?"

"I have, on occasion, but lately, my work here has been all-consuming."

"I'm sure," Keli agreed pleasantly. "Bobby said that you're doing really important work down here. I'm sure I wouldn't understand what it was...." she joked.

"It is actually quite complex," Hank said, then thought that might have come out sounding arrogant, or pedantic. "But I am sure it would be boring for you." That didn't quite sound any better. "It-it is quite enough to keep me busy."

Keli nodded amiably. If she took any offense to what he'd said, it didn't show. "I think it's the same for everybody who really enjoys what they do. It tends to absorb all of your energy and efforts. I remember when I was writing my master's thesis, I hardly moved from the computer desk."

"What was your thesis on?" Hank inquired, trying for a more friendly and interested tone.

"The early years of the Revolutionary War. Washington's crossing of the Delaware and the battle of Trenton, in particular. I've always been just fascinated with the turning point that one decision created. Most people think of Valley Forge, or Yorktown as the definitive moments, but I've always thought it was Trenton. The situation was so bleak. Washington's army was on the brink of dissolution, the congress was withholding funding, the British had won almost every major battle. It was winter, the river was almost frozen. Can you imagine the reaction when Washington declared that he would cross it, a daunting task in and of itself, then attack the most elite troops the world had ever seen, the Hessians? What was left of his army of farm boys and civilians, troops that hadn't been fed in weeks or paid in months, had to have thought he was desperate, if not mad. And, on top of it all, the plan Washington had made didn't come off quite right - the river crossing took forever, they came into Trenton in daylight instead of under cover of darkness as they'd planned - but they still surprised the Hessians and beat them decisively, without incurring a single casualty. Washington got not only the psychological boost, but, even more importantly at that point, the supplies, ammunition and food, that could keep the army going. I've often thought that that single decision said everything about the war, and Washington." She finished, and noticed that Hank was looking at her attentively. "Sorry. I'm babbling." She blushed a little and looked down. "Can't help it sometimes."

The thought that she looked quite adorable when she blushed flashed through Hank's mind before he could stifle it. He smiled kindly at her. "Not at all. I must admit I know very little about that era in our history, and I found your comments quite interesting."

"That's very nice of you to say. I can only hope that my students are as patient with my ramblings as you are."

"Your students are indeed quite fortunate," he assured her, noting that her cheeks pinked a little again.

"Thanks," she said sincerely. "I-I should let you get back to work. Enjoy the cookies. And, hey, stop by sometime and see the finished product." Hank looked at her quizzically. "You know, my room. Post-unpacking. Aren't you curious as to what was in all those bags and boxes?" she teased.

Hank found himself smiling, "Yes, I must admit so. I will be sure to stop by when I next emerge."

"Good," she smiled back at him, Hank thought quite warmly. "I'll see you later, then."

"Bye." He looked at the cookies for a long time after she was gone.



"So take her up on it, stop by her room," Bobby urged.

"I-I'm not sure what to do," Hank said miserably. "I am certain she is simply being friendly, and I do not wish to offend her by not stopping by, but I do not wish to have her think that I am overly or inappropriately interested in her...."

"Sheesh," Bobby was getting more than a little frustrated with his friend. Keli was nice, smart, and cute. And anyone who had the good taste to seek out Hank's company had to have lots and lots of other redeeming qualities. He could tell that Hank liked her. He was just afraid. Not for the first time, Bobby wished he could've protected Hank from Trish. This was all her fault, dammit. "You are interested in her. Go, find out how interested she is in you."

"Bobby, I could not - "

"I'm not saying that you should go up there and say, 'Hey baby, how about it?' Just go, be friendly. Talk to her. All you have to do is lay out your natural charm and genius-ness, and she'll probably smile and be all girly and flirty. She likes you, I can tell."

"Who likes who?" Jean inquired, entering the kitchen. Hank looked like he wanted to crawl under the table.

"Um, no one. No one likes anyone. In fact, we can't get along to save our lives." Bobby wished this kind of thing actually worked on telepaths.....

"You said someone liked Hank," Jean continued, giving Bobby a look as she sat down at the table.

"Everyone likes Hank." Bobby hedged.

Hank heaved a sigh and decided to extricate Bobby from this little mess. He'd known Jean a long time. She'd understand, and maybe she could even explain to Bobby just how off-base he was about Keli. "Robert here is under the very, very mistaken impression that Ms. Taylor is interested in me. I have told him repeatedly that she is simply being friendly, but he insists. Please correct him, Jean. Rearrange some brain cells if you need to," he deadpanned.

"Actually," Jean said, smiling impishly, "and, believe me, I didn't think I would EVER find myself saying this, but I agree with Bobby."

"What?! I mean, yeah," Bobby was caught a little off guard, but Jean could be a powerful match-making ally.

"Jean, you shouldn't encourage him," Hank warned.

"Hank, I think he's right." She leaned closer to him, placing a hand on his large blue forearm. "Scott was spying on you two a little when she moved in. He said she seemed to really like you. He said she was smiling at you all the time."

"Jean, that doesn't mean that - "

"And," Jean interrupted, "just between the three of us - and I mean that, Bobby - I picked up a stray thought or two from her that leads me to believe she's interested."

Hank was too busy gaping at Jean, so Bobby jumped in on his behalf. "Oooh! What kind of thoughts? Something racy?"

"Bobby! Nothing like that. But when I ran into her coming up from the lab the other day, she was projecting all over the place. She was thinking how smart Hank was, and that he was kind of cute. She also thought he had nice, strong hands."

"See?! I told you. Go up there. Go see her."

"I-I couldn't..." Hank stammered. Jean wouldn't lie, but she had to be mistaken. She just....she just had to be.

"Hank," Jean began softly, "I know that things didn't go so well with Trish. But you can't shut everyone out of your life just because she treated you so badly. Keli seems nice. You know I wouldn't encourage you if I didn't think so. Just get to know her, you don't have to think about dating her now. Just spend some time with her, see if she might be right for you. That's all." Jean hurt for him; she could feel waves of sadness and self-doubt coming off of him.


"Do it, Hankster. It's just talking. You're good at that. You know lots of big words, even. Come on."

"W-welll....." Jean nodded to him encouragingly. She wouldn't let him get hurt, Hank thought. Jean was his friend. "O-ok."



"Keli?" Hank called through the closed door after knocking. He tried to keep the nervousness out of his voice.

"Come in."

He opened to door to find Keli dressed in only a tank top and shorts (very nice legs, Hank's brain whispered), and standing on a chair as she pounded a nail into the wall. He gulped and took a step in.

"Oh, hi," she greeted, abandoning picture hanging for the moment. She fussed with her hair a little, pulling some stray curls back and tucking them into her ponytail. "I was just trying to figure out what to put up on that wall. It definitely needs something, but I'm torn between Van Gogh," she gestured to a print of Irises leaning up against the bed, "and Chagall. They're the two prints I have, so it's got to be one or the other."

"Interesting," Hank commented, "The Lovers of Venice is not one of his better known works."

Keli nodded. "It just always spoke to me, though. That, and the America's Windows at the Art Institute in Chicago."

"Ah yes, I have seen a photograph of those. Quite masterful."

Keli sat on the bed, really wishing she'd put makeup on this morning. "You haven't ever seen them in person?"

"No. I do not often get to Chicago," Or out in public. Not without starting a panic.

"Oh, that's too bad. They're really spectacular in person. I could just sit and look at them for hours."

"I did not know that you studied art."

"Oh, I'm not really well-versed in art at all. I just know what I like, as the saying goes," Keli said, somewhat embarrassed. Here was this educated, brilliant man - he probably knew more about art than she could learn in a lifetime. She really, really wished she was wearing makeup. And possibly more clothing. At least socks to cover up her big feet and chipping toenail polish.

"Well," Hank offered, "You have excellent taste." He noted that she beamed at the compliment, and let himself enjoy her reaction for a moment.

"Thanks. So what do you think? Which one?"

"Hmmm....it faces your bed, so you should probably choose the one you won't mind looking at each day."

"Hmm. I say Chagall, then. Van Gogh can go above the desk."

"Shall I assist you?" Hank was already moving toward the spot on the wall she'd marked.

"Oh, you don't have to," she offered.

"It is no bother," Hank said, and smiled at her a little. It seemed to him that her smile in return was very warm.

"If you're sure," Keli said, handing him the print. He hung it, and the Van Gogh, in short order, and they both stepped back to admire his work. "Thanks, Hank."

"It is my pleasure."

Keli sat down on the bed, patting the space beside her to indicate that Hank should sit as well. After a brief hesitation, he did so. "You were right about putting the one I could look at every day in that spot. It'll be the first thing I see every morning."

"Indeed." Hank temporized, trying NOT to focus on how her shoulder was brushing up against him.

"Do you have anything hanging in your room?" She shifted a little so she could see his face.

"Ah, no, not really. My room is very basic. I spend very little time there"

Keli nodded. "I kind of think of my room as my own little retreat. My own little space."

"Living in this house, you will need it," Hank said lightly.

"Oh, I don't mind living with a bunch of people. I'm used to it, I've been in college and grad school a long time."

"May I ask you a question of a somewhat personal nature?" Hank felt a little daring all of a sudden.

"Sure," Keli replied easily.

"What led you to select this position, teaching here?"

"Well, I was looking for an Americorps placement, and I wanted to move back up north. I met the Professor, and I was very impressed with him. He was very up-front with me, and everyone else I met at the school seemed very personable. The other teachers gushed about how much they loved teaching here, and they all came across as very bright and very capable." She paused, considering. "Really, the thing that sold me on this job was Professor Xavier, and how he talked about teaching the children to integrate with non-mutants. It was a rare chance, a unique situation."

"You have done an excellent job of interacting with us," Hank offered.

"You've all made it really easy," she smiled.

"Still, it is....uncommon. E-especially with mutants having extreme physical characteristics, like me." Some undefinable urge led him to probe her thoughts on his appearance. Maybe it was better to know sooner rather than later if Jean and Bobby were right, maybe it was self-doubt rearing its ugly head, maybe it was hope that she did like how he looked, just a little.

"I have to admit, I've never met anyone quite like you before." When he winced a little, and looked down and away from her, she clarified, "You're - you're quite good-looking." Now it was her turn to look away.

"That is very nice of you to say," Hank began, wishing he'd avoided this whole subject, especially since he was now sure that his assessment of her interest (or non-interest as it were) in him was correct. She was just being friendly, and polite. He was just getting ready to say something pleasant and leave, when she chanced a look at him again.

Her eyes were soft. A slow smile spread across her face, and she bumped her shoulder into his gently. "It's true." She blushed furiously at that and looked away once again.

"You are too kind," Hank offered, mentally scrambling to adjust to her reaction. Her body language almost made him believe she was sincere, but......

"I-I'd like to get to know you better," she said, stealing glances at him all the while, "I-if, you know, if you'd like to."

"I-I do not know what to say." Truer words had never been spoken. Hank was completely flabbergasted. Was she really suggesting......?

Keli turned a little more to face him squarely. "Bobby mentioned to me that your last girlfriend.that that relationship ended badly. I'm sorry. And I understand if you're a little...if you're not really thinking about that. Or if you just want to be friends."

Last girlfriend? More like ONLY girlfriend..Hank still hadn't chanced a look at her; if he had, he might've seen her face drop a little at his lack of a response.

"Believe me, I-I understand. I mean, I'm sure you can probably date whoever you like."

Hank's head snapped up at that. If it weren't for the plainly, unmistakably disappointed look on her face, Hank would have thought this was some practical joke. "I, um, I didn't mean to imply that..that I wouldn't like to get to know you. Ah, like that."

She half-smiled. "Well, would you? Like to go out sometime?"

"Yes," Hank said, quite sincerely. "Y-you would like that?" She nodded, smiling with her eyes but chewing on her lip a little. "Y-yes, then. Yes, I would."

A smile lit her face. "Good." Her expression became warm and inviting, and every part of her body seemed to relax. She leaned back against the headboard, and he did too. After a few comfortably silent moments, she said. "So, where should I put the purple lamp?"



"I told you so!" Bobby exulted.

"Bobby, she simply indicated that she would like to get to know me better, it is not as though she pledged her undying love," Hank argued. But the smile on his face gave lie to his words. He was excited.

"So, what are you going to do? Where are you going to take her?"

"Hmmm," Hank pondered. He hadn't thought that far ahead, and, frankly. He didn't want to go out anywhere. Public reaction to his appearance was simply too predictably negative, and he didn't want to wear the image inducer. She hadn't ever seen him with it on, and, if he were honest, he was a little afraid she'd like that him a little too readily. Still....

"I know! I know! Take her to dinner at that fancy restaurant downtown. She'll like that."

"I don't know....."

"Or how about that new Italian place?"

"I.....I will have to give it some thought. In the meantime, I have to head back to the lab."
Bobby smiled at him, then watched him go. He'd help Hank think of a good first date, and he'd give him pointers. His plan was working. And if he couldn't have a romantic life, at least he could make sure Hank did.




"Come in," she answered cheerfully. She was hoping she'd see Hank today, and if he hadn't come up, she'd have gone to the lab.

"Hello," he greeted her as he entered her room. "How was your day?"

"Good. Class was great. The kids are really great." She let a smile light her features. "And now I get to see you."

Hank smiled in return. The past few days, he'd stopped up to see her in the evening, just to talk for a few minutes. He hadn't actually asked her out anywhere yet, but each visit had been quite pleasant. Today, he was resolved (with much prompting from Bobby) to make some progress on the dating front. "You flatter me."

Keli shrugged impishly. "How was your day?"

"Good. I made some headway in the lab, and I took care of several nagging little projects. I was wondering," he said, striving to keep the casual, conversational tone afloat, "if you had plans for tomorrow?"

"No, no plans," she looked like she was about to begin bouncing up and down on her toes. "Do you want to do something?"

"Yes, if you are free."

"I'm very free. What would you like to do?"

"Ah, well, I wanted to inquire what you would prefer."

"Hmmm," she thought for a minute. "I don't know, maybe something kind of quiet? I don't really like loud music, or clubs. I-I mean, unless that's what you'd like to do. Then I'd be game."

"No, no, quiet sounds perfect to me. Maybe dinner and a movie?" That shouldn't be too bad, Hank thought. They could go to a small, mutant-friendly diner he knew, and sneak into a dark theater.

"Kind of like pizza night, only without Bobby?" she teased. "That sounds like fun."

Suddenly, Hank hit upon an idea. "What would you think of our own private pizza night? Just the two of us? We could stay in, if you wouldn't mind. It-it would give us a chance to talk and spend some time together."

"That's a great idea!" She did want to get to know him, to have some time for talking, real conversation. "We could have it up here. We could have a little bed picnic....pizza, and some wine? I'll take care of that, and I'll let you surprise me with the movie. How about that?"

"Perfect," Hank agreed, quite relieved. He already knew which movie he would pick, one of his favorites, one he thought she'd like too. Perfect, just perfect.

"Around 7, then? Meet me up here?" Hank nodded, and they both just looked at each other a little starry-eyed. "I'm looking forward to it."

"As am I, dear lady," he finished with a theatrical bow, which drew a giggle from her, and he retreated back to the lab.



"Pizza? Here?!" Bobby was sorely disappointed by Hank's first date plan. "That doesn't count as a date!"

"It does so, and Keli thought it was a wonderful suggestion. She thought it will give us time to talk and just relax together, and I concur."

"Ooohhh," Bobby moaned. "Why, oh why, can't you listen to my advice?"

"I am bringing Casablanca for the movie."

"Well, at least that's good. That's definitely a girlie movie. She'll like it. And it's romantic," Bobby crooned.

"Precisely. I am a genius, you know."



"That scene at the airport gets me every time," Keli dabbed at her eyes as the credits rolled. She sat at the head of the bed, next to Hank. Empty pizza boxes lay on the floor beneath them. She was a little sad that the movie was over; Hank had put his arm around her about halfway through, and she was snuggled up with him quite comfortably.

"Ah, yes," Hank mused. The evening had gone quite well, he thought. They talked, they ate, and, for the past 42 minutes, he was holding her. And she seemed to like it. She even laid her head on his chest at one point. It was nice.

"Excellent movie choice," she complimented, looking over at him a little.

"Thank you. It is one of my all-time favorites." She was looking at him so warmly, he was inspired to say, "I must admit, I do not particularly want to move right now."

"Me either. You're very snuggly." He raised an eyebrow at her, teasing, and she blushed. "This is the nicest evening I've had in a long time."

"Same here."

She shifted a little, and put both arms around him, then tilted her face up to his. "I'd really like to kiss you right now."

Hank was surprised, quite, but something about this moment, something about the way she looked at him just then, let him simply lean down to brush her lips with his own. She returned the kiss, gently. They parted, looked at each other for a lingering few seconds. She leaned up to suggest another kiss, and Hank happily complied. This kiss was more thorough, more passionate. She nudged her tongue into his mouth, eliciting a sigh from him. Soon, their legs and bodies were thoroughly intertwined, and they were both breathing heavily. One of Hank's hands traveled to caress her hip, and, while she didn't remove it, she did begin to disengage from their kiss.

"Sorry," Hank breathed, moving the offending hand to caress her cheek.

"It's OK," Keli replied. "I just...I felt myself getting a little carried away." Truth be told, Hank drew a strong reaction from her - those strong hands, soft lips, rock-solid body - and she didn't want to let herself go too far, too fast. Hank didn't seem like the kind of guy who would make assumptions if their relationship turned very physical very quickly, but she did want more than that from him, so best to take it slow.

"I can relate to that," Hank joked softly, inwardly desperately hoping that he hadn't made an irrevocable faux pas. It was just that she was so warm, and so responsive. So different than Trish....

She smiled and took his hand away from her face and into her own, laying soft kisses on his palm and wrist before kissing him again on the lips, once.. "Stay here. For a little while." Hank found himself nodding, and holding her close.