Disclaimer: Fantastic Four and all things related (Ultimate or Standard Marvel Universe alike), are property of Stan Lee and the late Jack Kirby. Fantastic Four/Rise of the Silver Surfer, and X-Men are copyrighted to 20th Century Fox and Marvel Enterprises. I own nothing save Original Characters and the Storyline. All rights reserved.
Authors note: This is a continuation of "Vespertilio". You might wanna read that to understand this. There may be spoilers to the F4 sequel. Also, when it comes the controls of a Aircraft, the pull back and thrusting forward concept confuses me. Though I'm guessing pulling back is pulling up and pushing forward is diving down (shrugs). Constructive Criticism please.
Chapter One: Distant Flickering
Nighttime in New York was often described as luminescent. If man were to stand on the highest point and look over the city, he would be left breathless by its beauty. Even the streets overcrowded by cars, desperate to get their desired destination, added to this metropolis' sparkle.
This world, however, went unnoticed by Reed Richards. He sat outside on the balcony rail his back pressed firmly against the wall behind him, one leg hug over the rail swinging idly while the other balanced carefully on the rail. His elbow rested on his knee, his eyes went over a analysis as the data scrolled up the screen of data pad. Chewing on the end of his pen he averted his attention away from the pad and skyward, his brown eyes admired the clear sky decorated with stars. He found himself wondering where their enemy-turned ally, the Silver Surfer, had gone.
Or if he even survived his suicidal mission to destroy his 'master', Galactus. Tapping the pen against his bottom lip he lowered his gaze back to the data pad. It been two months since the Surfer incident and it had sparked Reed's curiosity with the universe once more. With an upgraded lab and equipment, he found himself able to do things he could've only dreamed of. Becoming a "superhero" had its perks after all, beyond selfless devotion to the job. When he wasn't busy with other projects or spending time with Sue and the others, Reed explored the vast reaches of space that were made available to him. It made him wonder if the N-Zone was indeed another dimension or simply another part of unexplored space out of human reach; It made him wonder what it would be like to explore a world of such magnitude.
Reed was so wrapped up in his thoughts that he hadn't heard Sue walk onto the balcony, a envelope in hand. Sue wore a black ensemble; A pleated skirt, heels, and turtle neck that matched perfectly with her thick rimmed glasses. Her blonde hair was pulled up into a neat bun that always completed her 'I'm sophisticated, smart, and snobby' look. It made most men turn away, while others refused to be intimidated by her unkind looks and Banana Republic attire. She played with the tip of the envelope as she observed Reed's star-gazing with mild interest. Sue would be lying if she said she wasn't a little interested by the worlds that laid beyond theirs, but she never let it consume her. One trip into outer space would be enough to last her a lifetime. Walking onward, she placed herself beside Reed who remained oblivious to her presence until the data pad he was studying so fiercely vanished from sight.
Reed jumped back in surprise. For the briefest of seconds his brow furrowed in confusion, then a smile spread across his face. He turned to greet his wife and found his lips caught in a passionate kiss, a kiss he leaned eagerly into. Sue removed the data pad and pen from his possession with a flick of hand, they landed gracefully on the patio table without trouble. Her hands cupped his face while his straddled her waist, he was so caught up in the swirl of passion that he nearly fell off the balcony rail. Sue broke away with a short laugh, she pulled him off the rail.
"Don't too get carried away," She chuckled. Reed dusted his pants off - a sheepish smile playing on his lips, the sensation of his burning cheeks made him feel a little silly. "Sorry," He sighed. "What's up?" Sue shrugged her shoulders, raising her arms she wrapped them around his neck. "Nothin' much. City's been quiet, I've been enjoying all my free time with Ben, Johnny… and you," Sue sighed dreamily. "But then I thought … why not have a night on the town? Maybe go to a charity ball?" Sue raised the envelope so that it was positioned between them. Reed paused for a second regarding the object with caution, he took the envelope from her hands and proceeded into open it in the neatest way possible. Lifting the tab open he removed the professionally designed card and proceeded to read:
"Samantha Best, editor of best selling author who brought you 'Daylight Robbery' cordially invites The Fantastic 4 to the 1st annual Richards/Best Charity Ball. Formal Dress is required. Be there at 10:00pm sharp! - All the best, Samantha Best."
Reed put the card back in the envelope almost a little too harshly before looking back up an expectant Sue Storm. "So?" She inquired. Reed bit the inside of his cheek, thinking of a way to carefully word what he was going to say next without tipping off his wife. He strode past her quickly to hide the scowl on his face, he could feel a headache coming on. "I thought the whole point of our time off was to stay out of the public eye?" He asked falling back onto his bed. "Yes, that's one of the points, but we - or at least I - can't stay cooped up in this building forever. I'm getting a little antsy if you hadn't noticed. Johnny is too," Sue pointed out.
How could he not notice Sue's restlessness? It became a constant and notciable by the second week of their vacation. He suspected Sue was behind the disappearance of most of his lab equipment. They would go missing for days on end before reappearing again, no explanations offered. "Johnny's always antsy," Reed whined, pressing a hand to his head.
"Reed, if you don't want to go then don't. If this is about your sister being there, then I understand. I won't hold it against you," Sue said, joining him on the bed. Reed pushed himself up into a sitting position, he met Sue's gaze, laced with silent understanding. "You don't think I've read Daylight Robbery?" Sue inquired wryly.
"Not at all," Reed answered, shaking his head. He had spotted the book on her pillow one night and automatically knew it was hers. After all, Johnny wouldn't read it, and if Ben read it, he did in secret and not in their bedroom. Sue rolled over until she was up against his side, she lowered his head and rested her chin on his chest. The beat of his heart was soothing, her fingers traced circles on his shirt. They laid in silence for the longest time, neither one of them daring to break the serenity which had been achieved. Then Sue reminded herself of the conversation they had yet to finish. As if reading her mind, Reed said, "I'll come with you, Sue. To the party."
"I don't want you going because you feel obligated to," Sue chided. "I promise you, its not like that. I want to go. I could use a little time away from my projects anyway," He murmured. "Good! Then I'll let you get ready," Pulling herself up she planted a kiss on his lips and climbed off the bed. Reed remained lying on his back, dumbfounded. He hated it when her moods would do a 180 on him.
"Tell me, why were going to this… what was it again?" Johnny grumbled, loosening and tightening his black tie. He sat in the front with his sister, fidgeting constantly in his chair whilst he played with his tie. Reed and Ben sat in the back, both men distracted by the world speeding by their respective windows. The ride from the Baxter Building had been relatively quiet, until Johnny had spoken. "I canceled a very important date with Frankie, you know," He said. Sue barely cast a look in her brother's direction as she navigated the relatively crowded streets of New York, her manicured fingernail tapped rhythmically on the steering wheel as the Audi came to a halt. "It's a charity ball, sponsored by an author whose book was just released.
You didn't have to blow her off, you know. You could've brought her along," Sue chided. Johnny just gave his sister a helpless shrug readjusting his tie once again. "Where's the fun in that? She can't miss me if she's with me," Johnny replied. Sue shook her head in mild-disapproval, pulling the car off the road and towards the empty space near the curb. "You'll be lucky if she even speaks to you again," The elder Storm rebuked, turning off the engine. She cast a glance over her shoulder to check on the passengers in the back; Along with Johnny, Ben was already climbing out of the car, Reed lingered in the back rubbing the side of his head, his face contorted in mild pain. "Hey," She reached over and placed a hand on his hand that rested on the side of Johnny's chair. "You okay?" Reed nodded quickly lowering his hand from his head. "Yeah, I'm all right. Just a little headache," He said offhandedly.
"Reed," Sue's large blue eyes narrowed considerably, Reed felt the collar of his shirt tighten around his neck. "Honestly, it's not bad," Reed insisted. Sue's gaze lingered on Reed for as long as she could do without blinking, Reed's pleading expression did not falter into nervousness like she had hoped. She would ask about his headaches later, now was not the time though. "All right," She said finally. Reed nodded stiffly, his exhale loud enough to be heard outside the car; Johnny lowered himself to the level of the window and cast an impatient look to both occupants.
Sue and Reed climbed out of the car joining Ben and Johnny on the sidewalk, which teemed with guests coming and going out the building rented for the evening's illustrious charity ball and book signing for Enid Richard's latest book, Daylight Robbery. They made their way through the fluxing crowd of people, smiling or posing every now and then whenever a picture was taken, Sue found herself reigning her brother in whenever he stopped for too long. Once through the towering doors, they took a path that lead away from the majority reporters and flashing cameras towards the buffet. Johnny ventured to the end of the buffet table, followed closely by Ben who mumbled in disappointment at lack of fine wines. Reed's eyes darted across all visible areas of the room he swallowed against his nervousness until his throat felt parched.
Sue gave his suit jacket a fierce tug. "Reed, stop looking for her," She whispered loudly. "Looking for who?" Reed said in mock-innocence, smiling in the direction of a woman waving to him. Sue wrapped her arm around his waist turning him in the opposite direction of the ogling woman, her fingers wrapped irritably against his jacket. "Stop, looking for …Enid! How nice to see you again!" Sue's mock-pleasant words were sour on her tongue when she came face to face the familiar blue eyes and bunched velvety blond curls.
Enid Richards, dressed in a strapless silk evening gown that stopped short at the ankles, embroidered in velvet blue roses. She wore 3-inch blue heels, while nothing accented her skinny neck. Diamond teardrop earrings dangled from her ears and seemed like a great weight to carry. Enid gave Sue a tight-lipped smile her fingers squeezed the stem glass cup a little too tightly. Sue simply rolled her eyes at the young woman before her eyes shifted toward Reed, who watched Enid expectantly, almost hopefully. Enid cast a glance around the room uneasily before turning her attention back to the married couple. "Hi, Reed, how was the wedding?" She inquired.
"It was great, thank you very much," Sue did not bother to hide the disdain that threaded through her voice. She flashed her diamond ring to the youngest Richards and raised Reed's right hand revealing the wedding band. "So great, in fact, you forgot to invite me!" Enid's smile grew a bit wider, her face felt like it would break into tiny pieces as she placed her hand on her chest in mock-hurt. Sue now fought against the sneer that pulled at her lips. "It was kinda last minute, we couldn't have possibly invited you to Japan and expect you to get there in a day. However, we did invite you to the first five attempts. Why didn't you come?" Sue asked sarcastically.
"A little trouble with the folks, couldn't get away," Came the practiced reply. This time Reed spoke. "How are the folks? And Libby?" He said. Enid nodded stiffly licking her lips. "Libby's fine, the folks are fine. Dad just had a little… problem with his heart... false alarm. The doctors want him to take it easy for now, though." Lowering her glass onto the table, she stepped forward and embraced her brother in an awkward hug, which he returned without hesitance. Sue watched the two with uneasy eyes. Enid pulled away hastily, smoothing out her dress in manner that clearly indicated her discomfort. Tucking her hair back behind her ears, she smiled pleasantly at the couple, picked up her glass, and made a hasty retreat across the room, barely avoiding Johnny as he stepped in her path.
Johnny lingered where he stood, watching with mild curiosity as the tiny woman pushed her way through the crowd towards the restroom. Shaking himself out of his reverie, he joined Sue and Reed back at the buffet table. "Hey, wasn't that your sister, Reed?" He inquired, eyebrows raised to their highest. Reed's eyes shifted from the crowd to his brother-in law, his eyebrows narrowed in that way that would make anyone flinch, save his sister. "Yes, that was Enid. She came over and said hi," Reed replied. "Really? Because it looked like she was going to puke," He said.
Silence lingered between the three for what seemed like forever, Sue watched her husband struggle internally over keeping his distance from his perturbed sister or walk bravely into the woman's bathroom and attempt to comfort her unforgivable hide. Therefore, instead of letting him make the fatal mistake of walking into a public restroom designated for women, Sue wrapped an arm around his and took a hold of his hand. "Oh, look Reed, a balcony!" Sue proclaimed in the best-surprised voice she could muster. She led Reed towards the stairs that would take them to the second floor. Reed gave her a reprimanding look but she ignored it and continued to pull him upstairs.
Johnny now stood amongst the crowd; deserted by his sister and brother-in law. Scratching the back of his neck he scanned the crowd for the familiar pile of rocks that was Benjamin Grimm. When he did not spot Ben in the immediate vicinity, Johnny took it upon himself to look for him. The reporters were keeping themselves occupied with the all the business concerning the new book, the author, and the charity.
The presence of the Fantastic 4 didn't seem to bring them over like a hive of bees anymore. Disappointing, Johnny mused turning the corner. He ventured into a hallway full of nothing but doors, it tickled his curiosity to a point where he was almost tempted open them all, but thought better against it. Swallowing the last of his wine he jogged down the hall and entered a lavish lobby dressed to the nines in maroon carpet draped on the floor cushioning his steps, he gazed out the large balcony window, watching as the curtains danced on the breeze that came through it. Where the hell was Ben? "Benji? Where are you?" He called.
"Over here, matches," Came the Thing's reply. Johnny's face lit up in a brief smile when he spotted Ben standing at the end of the hall, nearest to the elevator door as it closed. "Dude, where you been? This party's seriously boring, there's a total of zero babes in this place, unless you count Reed's sister and her editor, but that's just one percent!" Ben rolled his eyes at the boy's rambling.
"Not my fault, kid. Besides you coulda brought Frankie, your girlfriend," Ben emphasized on the last word as if to get his meaning across. Johnny rolled his eyes. "Don't remind me…," He grumbled dejectedly, scratching his neck again. "Anyway, are you ready to blow this Popsicle stand? I'm just itching to stretch my legs, if you know what I mean," Johnny wagged his eyebrows suggestively at the elder man. For all intents and purposes, Ben decided to believe Johnny had meant cruising above New York and not the opposite. "Yeah, I'm not having too much fun myself. I'm not even sure why Enid's editor invited us," Ben answered.
Johnny gave him a shrug of indifference. "I hear she's got a thing for The Thing," Johnny mused.
"Tough rocks for her then. I'm taken," Ben chuckled at the very notion of his words.
"So are you enjoying the party?" Sue inquired after a long silence. Reed shrugged, dividing his attention on coming up with an answer and listening to his fingers drum against the railing. He had been like this for a few days now. Reclusive, moody, and suffering from headaches that lasted until the next day. Painkillers did not ease the pain. Once the pain in his head had amplified Johnny's loud mouthing so much, he snapped at the boy. Afterward, the fear that Johnny would've charbroiled him afterward made him wish that was fire resistant like Ben. Pulling himself out of his train of thought, his eyes began to wander towards Sue when they spotted Enid storming across the smooth title floor. He quickly turned and faced Sue who obviously noticed his observation.
"Reed, you shouldn't torture yourself about this," She said. "There are plenty people who accept you for who you are. Libby, your parents, me, Ben, Johnny…" Sue trailed when he nodded, hoping he truly understood the message she was trying to get to him. "I-I know, I'm just not sure what I expected, I guess," He mumbled, squeezing his eyes shut. Sue felt her own body tense immediately when his hand reached up and started rubbing his forehead. "Did it just get louder in here?" He asked weakly.
"What? No," Sue blurted in utter confusion. Reed's brow wrinkled a little more, no sooner had Sue answered his question the noise seemed to amplify as if to mock him. Now his head was buzzing with felt like white noise and a thousand voices speaking at once, all them frantic. Slowly he lowered his head onto the railing; the throbbing in his head was getting worse. By the time Sue pulled herself out her state of surprise, Reed's hand was already pounding against his head.
"Okay, its time to go home. This is obviously not just another headache," She said hastily grabbing his arm again. Reed did not bother to fight her on leaving the party; he followed submissively letting her lead him down the stairs while he held onto the railing, unable to trust his legs would keep him upright. They tried their best not to look too conspicuous, all eyes unconsciously fell on them with mild disinterest or surprise. Reed felt the buzzing increase in his head, the voices in his head became more frantic in their attempts to grab his attention.
They managed to make it out into the lobby, where Sue spotted Johnny and Ben making their own exit through the front door, most likely to go party somewhere more exciting. Behind them, the sound of heels clicking rapidly brought them to a halt. The image of Enid approaching, waddling clumsily in her heels would have been amusing, but Sue was not in the mood to be amused. Enid skid to a halt with a dignified huff. "W-where are you going? You're my guests of honor," She proclaimed. Reed winced at the volume of her voice, cracking open one eye he glowered at his sister. "We're going home, Enid," He replied tightly. "If you've got a problem with that-"
"Of course I have a problem with it! Your early leave would look tacky, if anything," Enid stammered, with a wave of an arm. "Like my book was bad or something…" Reed groaned, pressing a palm to his head. Now was not the time to try to pin him with a guilt trip, his brain was close to numb and his irritability limit was at its highest. Grinding his teeth, he exhaled heavily through his nose to insinuate on his growing disposition. "Enid now's really not the time for this. Its not as if you wanted us here to begin with, this was your editor's doing. Go back to your party," Reed grounded out.
Enid stood before her brother, a dumbfounded expression befallen her pallid face. It took another second, but Enid managed to find her feet again and she stormed out of the lobby, her train of her dress billowing behind her like an avenging shadow. Sue was brought of her reverie when the weight of Reed's body came crashing down against her right side, she recovered quickly pulling them both upright again. "Whoa! Okay, let's get you out of here before you pass out," She muttered. "Excellent idea," He moaned. The two made a hasty retreat out the door and towards the car.
That night, Sue found that sleep was the farthest thing from her mind. Something was making her uneasy. Whether or not it was because Reed laid next to her, his ragged breathing reminded her of a dog who run for miles, or she was simply still recovering from her death experience, she wasn't sure. Another possibility for her uneasiness would be the aftermath of the party; by the time they had gotten into the Baxter Building, Reed was more than happy to give in to his body's desires and empty his stomach of everything he had consumed before the party.
He remained in the bathroom with the door locked for the rest of the night, dry heaving. Finally he joined her in bed, utterly exhausted. Rolling onto her back she proceeded to stare up at the ceiling, wondering why it had yet to earn any of a ceiling's trademark cracks in it beautiful surface. Her hand rubbed the center of her chest self-consciously, her heart beat quickening a bit.
Reed moved to the end of the bed, twisting in such a way that the majority of the sheets on her side slid away from her. She dodged his arm as it came up from his side and draped itself across their pillows. Sue pulled her hair out from under his arm and proceeded push herself off the bed; sitting upright she stared past her hair at her husband.
Reed tossed and turned on the mattress, his hands gripping the sheets, his mouth spewed incoherent phrases garbled by an eerie laugh followed by a whimper. He turned on his side, pulling the covers tighter around his body. "Reed," Sue's hand was already on his shoulder trying to arouse him from his uneasy slumber. Her fingers gripped his shoulder when he tried to pull away. "Reed, Reed wake up," Sue whispered more urgently.
Sue was unable to stifle her startled cry when Reed took a hold of her wrist and pull himself upright. The room spun at a sickeningly fast speed, he pushed himself away from the edge of the bed upon feeling himself begin to tilt. He pulled his legs up to his chest and stuck his head between his legs to prevent another unpleasant upheaval of what wasn't in his stomach. Sue rubbed his back in a circular motion with her free hand unable to bring herself to move the one caught in Reed's grip. Reed pulled his head from between his head, he released Sue's wrist, proceeding to place both hands against his pounding head. "Your head still hurts?" She whispered.
"Yeah, but not as bad," He rasped, squeezing his eyes shut again. The buzzing was faint now, the voices, however, continued to scream at him, clawing every fiber of his sanity. Sighing heavily, Sue scooted closer to him and wrapped an arm around his shoulders; he leaned in against her with a sigh that made him shudder. They sat in the darkness taking comfort in each other's embrace, Sue felt her stomach twisting in knots when the heat radiating from Reed's head seeped past her hair onto her scalp. "Your really warm…" Sue said. "I think you might be getting sick."
Reed nodded his head, another tremor wracked his body. "With the flu? I h-hope not," He murmured. Instinctively, Sue would've questioned him about how he was feeling, but given the time of night - or morning - the questions could wait until he was at least well enough to storm out of a room in anger. Lowering her head she buried her face in the crook of his neck, soon afterward she drifted to sleep.