Henry “Beast” McCoy knew this arrangement aggravated Agent Brand. But she had recruited him for this “job” because of his different sensibilities, and thus had to defer to his judgment. Her profuse protests over the phone had given him an almost perverse sense of pleasure when he proposed the idea. Why couldn’t they just meet up at her apartment, she’d asked. He wasn’t “that kind of boy,” he’d answered. Eventually, she had no choice but to cave in to his demands.
And now they were on their first date. All soldier, she marched through the front door. Henry wondered if she was capable of turning it off. At least she had replaced the S.W.O.R.D. uniform with a gray pants suit... although for all Hank knew, she had it on underneath. Probably had it on underneath.
Always a gentleman, Henry stood and pulled her seat out for her. “I must say, Agent Brand,” Henry said, his baritone voice practically purring with smugness, “Your romantic side shows potential. District X is the last place I would have thought to bring a girl on a date. But this pizzeria has quite the whimsical charm. Small, intimate, the candles providing a romantic sense of mood lighting…”
He could feel her eyes burning into him through the green shades she wore at all times. “Do you ever stop talking?” she asked.
“You’ll just have to wait to find out,” he said with a grin. This was an unorthodox dating arrangement. But then, she had green hair and Henry had blue fur and a muzzle. At least he was dressed like a lady-killer; azure suit, white shirt, canary-yellow bowtie. This had been Jean’s favorite look for him. In his long, exciting lifetime, Henry had been a high school football star, a scientist, and a superhero, but none of those occupations required (or were associated with) fashion sense. Jean had been like a sister to him, and he had often turned to her for advice. (Any color other than blue made his shed fur stand out, she’s said, and it complimented him anyway.)
He picked up the menu and scanned it through his spectacles. The florid font inside the laminated pages was almost fancy enough to distract from the ambitious prices. This better be very good pizza, Henry thought. His genius brain idly pondered what Agent Brand liked about this place. Ten minutes after acquiescing to his terms, she had called him back and told him to meet her here. This quaint little eatery didn’t seem like her at all. But then, he barely knew the woman; he hadn’t even thought he was her type before she had proposed her desire to, quote, “ride him like a &%$#ing pony.” She was a mystery wrapped in an enigma stuffed into a conundrum and deep-fried in paradox; a secret-agent turducken, if you will.
An amphibious-looking waiter emerged from the kitchen to take their drink orders. The young man (or woman or both, it was hard to tell sometimes) smelled like a frog and his moist brown skin was contained from the neck down in what looked like a streamlined space suit, probably serving to keep its skin from drying out.
“Tea for both of you?” he (or she) asked. The warbling voice didn’t help. Henry looked at the name tag and it said “Jessie.” Argh.
“Coffee, please,” he requested.
“Diet Dr. Pepper.”
Jessie scampered off, seemingly in a hurry to get out of there. Well, he did not care for the service in this establishment.
“So tell me about yourself,” Henry said once they were alone again. He rested his elbows on the table, folded his hands, and cradled his head on them. “I’d suggest the traditional swapping of anecdotes that usually carry on in first dates, but I’m sure you know everything there is to know about me from my files, down to my childhood dental records. So why don’t you just share whatever isn’t classified?”
She was either annoyed by that or charmed… it was hard to say. Brand had the poker face to end all poker faces. Henry might have guessed that Lady Gaga had written the song about her, if he wasn’t so sure Brand hated music. And puppies. He’d bet money that she hated puppies.
She indulged his curiosity with clipped words. “I was born in space, raised on Earth. Grew up in the mutant districts like this one. Mother was a mutant, and Father had an easier time fitting in by passing himself off as one too. When he was confused by American cultural idiosyncrasies, we’d tell people he was an immigrant from Africa. Guess all the double-sided living is what made me interested in working in espionage.”
“That’s…” Henry wanted to say “surprisingly honest if it’s true,” but thought better of it. She had caught him off-guard, again. This was a woman who had secretly abetted the resurrection and scientific experimentation of his friend. It was hard to trust someone after a first impression like that, even though he had chosen to forgive her. Considering the insanity she had been dealing with, he wasn’t sure he could have handled the situation any better. “Fascinating. Thank you for sharing, Agent Brand.”
“Call me Abigail.”
“I’m somewhat apprehensive to.”
Henry sensed the waiter approach. But something was wrong and his hackles rose. Something smelled fishy about that amphibian.
With shaking mitts, Jessie set Brand’s soft drink down on the table in front of Henry. Henry parted his muzzle to say something, but reconsidered noticed when he Jessie’s unblinking yellow eyes were dilated. Agent Brand could never turn off being Secret Agent Woman; the X-Man and former Avenger could never turn off being a superhero. His own feline eyes flickered down to inventory the amphibian’s other hand. It was moving, smoothly guiding to a pump-like device strapped to his thigh. What Henry had peripherally catalogued as a part of the suit was, on closer inspection, a weapon of some kind!
“Jessie’s” cover was made. It dumped Henry’s tea and grabbed at its weapons. Henry kicked his slip-on shoes off and kicked at the base of Brand’s chair. Newton’s Third Law of Motion sent them both flying away from the table as it was suddenly incinerated in a blast of sickly-green light.
Never a dull moment. Beast leapt from his chair and assumed a battle stance. Riiiiip! protested his suit. He winced. The suit was, of course, a custom. But that could be dealt with later.
Agent Brand had recovered as well, now armed with a blaster she had pulled from… he didn’t want to think of where. But Jessie was faster than he/she/it looked. The amphibian leapt upon her, swatting the gun out of her hand and grabbing her by the neck. In one and a half seconds, Jesse had taken Agent Brand prisoner.
S.W.O.R.D. operatives exploded in through the front door and back kitchen, weapons drawn. The gentle Italian music was interrupted by heavy boot-steps and the whine of charging weapons and shouting frightened staff; the smell of roasting tomatoes and garlic and melting cheese drowned out by fear and adrenaline. Henry counted ten agents surrounding them, but he focused all his senses on the amphibian and his supposed date.
“I saw the black vans outside,” Jessie gurgled. “I won’t let you send me back! My homeworld’s economy’s even worse than yours!”
“Wait wait wait,” Beast said. With no sudden movements, he stood. “This whole thing’s an immigration issue?”
“Jesai’holudalore is an illegal immigrant from the planet Sincaihhhhoi,” Agent Brand said.
“Well can’t we work this out peacefully? Sounds to me like all he wants to do is make an honest living.”
“You interrupted me before I got to the part where he killed the old waiter for her job.”
“Well, okay. That changes things,” Henry admitted.
“It is the way of my people!” Jesai… Jessie screeched. “I challenged her to an honest duel for the occupation!”
“That’s not how we apply for jobs here,” Brand said. With both hands, she gripped Jessie by the arm he had around her neck. Henry knew enough about Brand to know what was about to happen, and he leapt for the alien, flipped in the air and gripped the ceiling with his feet.
Simultaneously, Brand’s hands burst into flames, her own mutant power put to use. Waves of heat flash-burned through Jessie’s suit and he howled in terror. Before he could squeeze the trigger of his gun, Henry clambered above them and slammed the weapon downward where its ordnance hit the floor harmlessly. Brand grabbed it and melted it as Henry let go of the ceiling. With cat-like grace he reverted to an upright position in the fall. Not so gracefully, he slammed four hundred pounds of fur and fury directly down onto the alien.
Knocked out, Jessie moaned as he and Brand removed themselves from the alien and the S.W.O.R.D. agents poured onto it with restraints.
“We make a good team,” Brand remarked. She sounded pleased for the first time tonight.
Henry decided he didn’t like it when she sounded so pleased.
“So that’s why you chose this place,” he said. He pointed a thick blue finger at her. “This wasn’t a date, it was a sting operation!”
“You’re disappointed?” she asked. “You knew what you were getting into when I proposed this relationship. You wanted to get to know me? Well, now you’ve learned I live for my job. I never take a break.”
Henry snorted. He knew he should have been mad, but… well, he had a thing for professional women. Strong women. Strong women who would be able to survive carrying his enormous children one day.
“Next time, I chose the place,” he said.
“Actually, this Saturday my men are throwing me a surprise birthday party. Mostly because they know I hate parties. I’ll send a shuttle to pick you up.”
Henry considered this. “Throw in one of those cool jumpsuits, and it’s a deal. No way am I risking any more good clothes hanging out with you.”
“Deal. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some paperwork to fill out.”
“Can’t it wait?” he surprised himself by asking. “While we’re in District X, there’s this nice coffee shop I know. Guaranteed no aliens, though I can’t promise there will be no supervillains. We might as well skip dinner and go straight for desert.”
Brand tilted her glasses down and regarded him with her real eyes. Intense, honest eyes. They were quite pretty.
“They have great cheesecaaaaaaaaake…” he goaded. He walked around the agents and alien and opened the door for her.
“Damn. Can’t say no to cheesecake.”
“We’ll split a piece,” he said, then ran his free hand down his own side. “Have to watch my figure, you know.”
“Good call.” She slapped his gluteus maximus as she passed by. He felt a distinct current of air as she did so, and his eyes widened with mild horror. “It’d be a shame to see that nice ass go.”