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Recovery

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   Johnny Storm is an alcoholic. That was as much as he could admit to himself at this point. How long had it been since he had crossed that line? How far had he sunk before he just now realized he was actually drowning? Perhaps the constant parties, petty fights, and wild stories should have been a clue.

  The problem was that Johnny had always been an expert in burying his problems in that charming smile of his. Even Sue had to do a double take if she suspected her kid brother of slipping beneath the water’s surface.

  Who would have ever guessed that a man of fire had let himself get submerged?

  Here he was now. Hands deep in his pockets and shuffling in a very un-characteristic manner. It wasn’t in Johnny’s nature to hide his face like this but it’s hard to go to alcoholic ANONYMOUS if everyone knows who are, right? That’s what the hat is for. Perhaps a little make up to further hide some telling features.

   The meeting was held in an ordinary classroom belonging to the local community college. Florescent lights and cramped seating did little for Johnny’s nerves. He’s never been praised for his academic skills, to say the least.

   Fortunately the faces were as diverse as the World herself. A collection of people from all different cultures and backgrounds gathered in one place for the same problem. Johnny’s extrovert nature was already flourishing in this setting. Good thinking, Sue…

  “Everyone, we have a new member with us,” The orchestrator announced, smiling bright in her CVS brand lipstick. An unimportant detail Johnny couldn’t help but notice. “Please give him a warm welcome to the group.”

 Oh that’s me… Johnny, again, shuffled his feet as he approached the front of the room.

    It made little sense to Johnny as to why he’d be so nervous standing up there. He was the life of the party. Johnny Storm, man of charisma, man of the people! He thrived on being the center of attention. Yet here, in this classroom with tired eyes staring up at him expectantly, he thought he might actually stutter.

  “My name is…Spencer.” Middle name. Better anonymity. “And I’m an alcoholic.”

  The room echoed in the chorus of rehearsed greetings.

  “Tell us something about yourself, Spencer.” The orchestrator spoke warmly, sounding genuine.

 “Uh,”

  Johnny was at a loss for words. He couldn’t say he could light on fire. He couldn’t say his best friend was a damn spider. He couldn’t say he and his family regularly go to space and meet extraterrestrial life and discover planets throughout the universe.

How the hell did Peter pull this off on a regular basis?

  “You got me. I only came for the snacks.”

   That earned him a laugh. Johnny felt a familiar grin stretch at his lips as the positive feedback fueled him like gasoline to a fire. Even here, he could always rely on his charm to save the day.

 “Returning to a serious note, I was referred here by my sister. She, uh… She said she’s worried about me. And I guess I don’t blame her, seeing as I’ve only been sober for 12 hours now…”

  A hand rose to stop his train of thought. Johnny was a bit startled, but shifted his attention to the large man holding his hand in the air. He was thick in everywhere one could be and even with his human flesh, he made Ben look like a teddy bear.

  “You should be proud of your sobriety, my friend.” His voice matched the intimidation of his appearance, but his words managed to come out soft somehow. “I am proud you have made it 12 hours so far.”

  There was a mumbled flurry of agreement among the group, even as the orchestrator calmly reminded them that it was Johnny (or Spencer)’s turn to speak.

 Johnny, however, was a bit stunned. He didn’t know anyone here, and though he was skilled at getting a crowd going, this child celebrity was well aware of the extent of the relationship an entertainer and his audience had. This was a different feeling. It felt like when he spoke to his family.

  It felt good.

---

   “Johnny! You’re home!”

  Sue called from the front room. She was the first one to greet her brother when he returned home. Johnny could hypothesize that she had half expected him to run off and do something stupid.

 “Yeah. Thanks for trusting me to get there, by the way.” He smiled cheerfully at her.

 “I knew you could. Did you enjoy the meeting? You know you still have the option of a private therapist or even a rehab facility if you want---“

  Johnny shook his head, throwing his arms around Sue and hugging her tight. Clearly she was quite surprised, but the embrace was soon returned with just as much intensity.

 “Thanks for helping me through this, Sue,” Johnny hoped his words sounded as genuine as he meant. “I promise I’ll make you proud. And I’ll kick this thing…”

“I’m already proud of you.”

Yeah. This felt good.  

Chapter Text

This didn’t feel good at all.

   Johnny had never known a worse feeling than this endless suffering his body was putting him through at this very moment. Withdrawal was making this journey to sobriety an uphill hike. With metal boots. And this horrible wave of nausea that hit even after Johnny had eaten nothing the entire day. Where did his stomach find the stuff to throw up, anyway? It was torture.

   Originally, Reed had had the lovely idea of using his detoxifier on Johnny to speed up his process.

 “Perhaps if we detoxify your body completely in one go, your withdrawal period will go by much faster.”

 He was hopeful, and hell, Johnny had no objections. He was up for anything. For the first 15 minutes he felt fantastic. Half way into Frankie’s morning cartoons, Johnny was running for the bathroom so fast, even Quicksilver would be impressed.

  That was about 7 days ago. The symptoms had finally began tampering off, but only after a variety of struggles had presented themselves not only to Johnny, but everyone in the Baxter Building.

  “So you’re saying you actually flamed on without noticing?”

 Peter spoke with his mouth full, one brow raised with interest at Johnny’s story. His question was met with an irritated eye roll and a flick of Johnny’s fingers to get crumbs off of Peter’s cheek. The symptoms had been lessened, but that didn’t make the Torch any less irritable.

  “Yeah. Apparently stage 2 involves your body temperature rising along with other stuff. Stage 3 is the worst, though. Sue locked me up for that one.”

 Peter opened his mouth to ask but decided not to push Johnny into it. The two met at a local café rather than their usual spot. Johnny didn’t trust himself flying with the current health acrobats his body was doing. Luckily, Peter didn’t mind getting a free meal from his rich boyfriend.

  The conversation between them was unusually light. Peter could probably see how pale Johnny was, how the dark circles were just as prominent as his own. Johnny didn’t even feel the need to put on make-up anymore. May as well let the world know he was in bad shape.

  “Well, either way,” Pete started up again. “It’s been a whole week now. You’ve gotten through the worst of it I think. That’s pretty great.”

  That was nice to hear. Peter had gotten the most of Johnny’s drunk days, seeing as Johnny had little to no problem throwing punches when he thought Spider-man could handle it. Fighting among friends was common, but there was a reason Johnny was in recovery now.

  The two had decided to take a break. Maybe not a full break up, but enough space so that Johnny could fix himself and neither felt obligated to the other. It was a necessary heart break, even if it was a temporary one.

  Even now, Johnny was hesitant. But he was damn glad to hear that Peter was happy for him. He was happy to see Peter happy.

 “Yeah well, I am pretty great.”

“I didn’t say that,”

  Johnny threw a quick sneer in the other’s direction but couldn’t hold it through Peter’s giggles. He was far too tired to carry on their usual banter, though it was fun to try. Cool fingers rested on his own and he met Peter’s eyes again.

 “I am proud of you, though.” Peter smiled genuinely.

Johnny smiled back.

 “Thanks, Pete.”

---

 “Hi, my name is Spencer. But you guys knew that already, c’mon. I’m pretty much the life of the party here. I see you back there, Dorothy.”

  Johnny pointed a finger towards the back with a playful wink to gain another laugh from the group. It was only his second meeting, but as usual, his charm won over everyone in the room. He remembered everyone’s names and couldn’t help but start up small conversations here and there before the session had even started.

  “So. I’ve been sober for about 8 days now. The worst of the withdrawal is finally starting to come down and my entire family couldn’t be more relieved.”

   Another laugh. Laura, the orchestrator, gestured gently towards Johnny.

 “We’re all so proud of you, Spencer. Is there a story you’d like to contribute to sharing time? This is a chance to open up about anything, if you want.”

 Suddenly all confidence in him vanished. Johnny rarely opened up about anything personal. He forgot that this was therapy and not another social get together. He’d actually be expected to talk about something. Maybe not immediately but, better sooner than later, right?

  He twiddled his thumbs over his lap, staring back at the curious eyes in their circle. He could go with one of the million stories he’s told over and over again. The ones that get overly dramatic gasps and the ‘weren’t you scared!?’ reactions at parties. But that would defeat the purpose.

  “… I started drinking when I was 16 years old.” He admitted, biting his lip to rid himself of that nagging anxiety in his chest. “I grew up with money so it was always really easy to get my hands on the stuff. At first it was just stupid teenage parties. Y’know, how doing adult things makes you seem cool? But a year before that, an accident had happened to me and my family… and I guess I didn’t realize how badly I was actually handling it until I had moments of actually feeling good. Being drunk, I mean.”

   Johnny knew how vague this sounded, but the empathy in the room didn’t waver. Each individual listening seemed to understand how he had first tripped and fallen to that point. None of them judged him for it.

 “I wanted to tell my sister. I remember one night with a bottle in my hand thinking to myself ‘God…I shouldn’t be doing this. What would she say if she saw you like this?’ But the accident had affected her too. She was going through shit like I was, I couldn’t lean on her like I always do. It isn’t fair. It’s not fair that she has to carry me and my punk ass like this---“

 Suddenly the story was getting negative. Johnny could feel the self-deprecating words tumbling from his mouth. Did he really feel like this? He was always so keen on reminding people how amazing he was that the sound of his failures coming from his own mouth was startling.

 There was no continuation to the story. Johnny was quick to gesture that he was finished and gladly listened to someone else. This meeting proved to be one of the hardest things he had ever done and that was after all of the bad guys whose fists had met his face over the years. Something about waking up from his denial had hit him harder than even Galactus could.

 Johnny Storm hated himself.

 And that was the reason he drinks.

Chapter Text

30 days. Thirty fucking days. 

 Johnny still couldn't calm his breath. His nails dug into the metal walls of his current enclosure. He could barely recall what had set him off in the first place. There were fragments of memory that pierced his mind like glass. Each instance mixed with other experiences that he saw in his nightmares. The heat---- The screams---- The fight---- The war. 

  Every time Johnny attempted to unscramble his thoughts it caused him pain. His chest ached and once he even threw up. This was far worse than simply being triggered, as is the common way to put it on the internet (and in his therapist's notes). It was pulling Johnny deeper and deeper into agony. 

  This must be how I die, Johnny thought. Flames licked at his fingertips and a prominence looped over his body, mimicking the sun's. 

    That must be it. I'm fucking dying. 

 

----

  "Sue!" 

   A panicked voice echoed through the halls of the Baxter Building. Peter had swung his way over the very moment he heard what happened. 

   "Sue, I'm here! I think I broke the sound barrier on my way but I definitely made it," Pete finally found Susan in the lab. He grabbed hold of the counter for support as he caught his breath. Damn, he must have broken the sound barrier if he was panting. "What happened? Is he okay?" 

  "He's calming down," Susan offered a smile to Peter. "I think something just spooked him, that's all." 

  Peter could see what she was doing. She was trying to butter up the event so he wouldn't worry. Well it's too late for that! Peter Parker had a PHD in worrying and a masters in paranoia! He pulled his mask over his head to give her a pleading look. 

 "Please, tell me what happened. Johnny Storm doesn't spook easily. He works so hard to control his powers all the time!" 

  "He's okay, I assure you, Peter," This time, Sue put on her stern mom voice. It worked because Peter silenced his next persuasive argument, complete with a thesis and a concluding paragraph. "When I say spook I mean more of a trigger. We were just passing Venus, actually, on our way back home from a scientific field trip to show the kids different regions of the solar system. Considering Venus is the hottest planet, some of the kids asked Johnny if he could walk on the surface. You can see where this is going already..." 

Peter rolled his eyes. Of course Johnny would say yes and go farther as to prove it. Venus, unfortunately, was about 96% carbon dioxide. It's atmosphere was dense and it rained sulfuric acid for Christ's sake! 

   "So... I mean, I'm guessing Reed had the equipment for him to go, huh?" 

 Sue nodded. "Yes. And of course, he was intrigued by the idea of gathering more data about the damn planet. Really, it wasn't too bad... The suit worked fine. Johnny could handle the heat. It wasn't that big of a deal. But--" 

   She paused. This caused Peter to lean forward in anticipation. He leaned a bit too much and ended up pulling himself back. He resembled a punching clown toy with the weighted base. 

  "I'm not sure what happened down there for sure. He was fine for a while. He spoke to us through the coms. He joked, he laughed, did what usual Johnny things are. Then he went quiet. He didn't say anything for a long while and then... there was a flash of light coming from the planet. It was Johnny--- He had completely flipped his lid!" 

   Though her words were blunt, Susan was clearly concerned for her brother. A flash of light sounded close to one of Johnny's super novas. It was a good thing he didn't hold anywhere near the mass of a real star or Venus would be nothing but dust by now. Peter folded his arms over his chest, pondering. 

  "We dragged him home to try and help him," Sue continued. "And I mean literally dragged him. We couldn't take him on the ship--- he was still burning at 3000 Kelvin. That's half the surface temperature of the damn sun! We sent the kids off on an escape pod to go home. Reed and I took Johnny farther out- towards Neptune or something- so he could cool off. He's not so hot now but he still catches on fire spontaneously and clearly has the shakes. We had to put him in the training room for now." 

  "Can I see him?" Peter spoke immediately. "Maybe I can help," 

  Susan looked wary. Pete understood how she might feel. She's supposed to be the big sister. She's supposed to protect her baby brother. It probably hurt that she had to leave it to someone else. 

  "Alright. Let him know you're there first so he can try to lower his temperature. I think he's back up to at least 300 Celsius." 

  Peter was already gone. 

 

----

  The shaking hadn't stopped yet, but at least Johnny could think. 

   What he thought was that he needed a stiff drink right about now. The urge carried him all the way from the training room to the kitchen on the next floor. He was still well above the appropriate temperature but it was controlled enough to be safe for the building. Right now, Johnny Storm could only process the quickest way to numb this ache in his chest. 

   The memory was fuzzy but there. Back on Venus, lightning was far more abundant. It struck close a few times but Johnny easily laughed it off just like he always did. The more he explored, however, the closer each hit became. He can recall the way his heart pounded in paranoia. 

 They're back. They're here to get you. They're here to put you back in---

 No. Johnny remembers shaking his head. He was not in prison any longer. He was not in that dimension any longer. If he was, he was certainly no prisoner. 

 Johnny had taken a few more steps. He laughed off his fear as he usually did but the lightning appeared to have a much fiercer presence now. The shaking started then. 

  It's time for you to die, Storm. Wake up on the slab. Start all over again. 

   That's when it struck closest. It felt only an inch away and Johnny felt the agonizing sting of Annihilus's rod. Phantom nerves struck his adrenaline and in a flash his nova ignited. 

 Here he is now in the kitchen. He knew exactly where Susan kept her wine and he knew he could drink the entire bottle. Johnny held it by the neck and readied his throat--

 "Johnny," 

  Johnny spun around to see Peter. His best friend... his boyfri--- well technically they're on a break but c'mon. 

  "Hey Pete..." Johnny lowered the bottle. "Bet you're thrilled to be prettier than me for once, huh?" 

  "It's hard to be when you look like a sad puppy," Peter stepped towards his friend and put a gentle hand on his shoulder. Johnny flinched. "Hey... You're not thinking of drinking, are you?" 

    On better days, Johnny might have retorted with blunt sarcasm. He would've pointed out that, yes, Parker, it is quite obvious that this open bottle in his hand is intended for consumption. He certainly didn't plan to water the plants with it. Now, however, Johnny simply lowered his head in shame and defeat. 

 "I can't do it, Pete..." His voice cracked. He clutched the bottle with both hands. "This isn't the first time I've almost done it. Sue catches me and sends me back to my room like I'm 15 again. But.. I can't do it. I'm too fucked up." 

    As he speaks, the bottle suddenly begins to leak over in boiled wine. Johnny had only let go just a small amount and already he's ruined a very expensive Pinot noir. He lets out a dejected whine and puts it into the sink. Even so, Peter's hand never left his body. 

  "You're probably disappointed in me." Johnny said. "I don't blame you... It's only been a month and look at me..." 

 "Hey," Peter suddenly drew in closer. His hand moved to cup Johnny's face. Johnny enjoyed the way his palm cradled him and easily relaxed into his touch. 
   "There's no way I'm disappointed. You made it an entire 30 days. Technically you're still going considering you haven't actually drank yet, right?" 

 Johnny nodded. He was almost too occupied with the gentle touch on his skin to hear. He missed Peter. 

  Peter must have read his mind. He leaned in closer until their lips closed the gap. It was nothing impressive but it was exactly what Johnny needed. It was a soft ghost of a kiss and it only lasted a second. He loved it. Their arms slinked around each other and Johnny squeezed as though Peter might vanish. No, it didn't solve anything. It didn't make all of those feelings go away, but it helped. Johnny would trade alcohol for more of this in a heartbeat. 

 "Thanks, Peter," He mumbled into the crook of Peter's neck. "I love you," 

   "I love you too, hot head," 

-----

   "So you didn't go to yer meetin' huh?" Ben cracked open a soda pop and handed it to Johnny. 

  "Nope. Maybe next week. It's a really nice day today and I just wanna lay up here in the sun at 200 feet," Johnny held his bottle up to raise a silent toast. "Baxter Building roof is my therapist today." 

  "Does that stuff even work? I know th' personal therapists are good n' all. But the group ones always sound fishy to me. They used to recommend those to me after my first deployment way back when. Never went to 'em." 

  "That's because your social skills are also that of a rock," 

   "Shut yer trap," 

  Johnny laughed and avoided a playful swing. He took a swig of his soda and the two were silent for a solid minute. The peace was kind today. 

  "Hey," Johnny piped up. "You wanna now how they do it?" 

  "Do what?" 

 "The group therapy thing." 

 Ben shrugged. Johnny took it as affirmation. 

  "Hi, I'm Johnny." He paused. "...Now you say hi back," 

 "Why?" 

 "Cause that's just what you do! Like on TV!"

 "Urgh... Hi, Johnny," 

  "Good. Now.. Hi, I'm Johnny, even though I just said that. And I've been 32 days sober....Nows when you clap," 

  Ben rolled his eyes and gave a half hearted two claps. There was a small smirk on his face, however, and Johnny knew those two lame claps were genuine. 

  "Anythin' else?" 

  "Yeah..." Johnny watched the soda in his bottle swirl around. "I'm...I'm fucked up in the head. I'm fucked and I wish I wasn't. I wish I could be myself again. I don't even recognize me anymore..." 

   He curled in on himself, pulling his knees to his chest. The bottle was long forgotten beside him. Ben watched him with a somber look. This was far too emotionally open for someone like Ben. He didn't normally see himself being able to relate so well to Johnny. He reached out and slung a heavy arm around his family. 

  "Me too, kid..." 

    Me too. 

Chapter Text

Reed Richards is not an alcoholic.

 He is, however, very concerned about his brother-in-law.

 Dr Richards drummed his fingers on the kitchen counter. His wife caught his pondering and set a mug of coffee down in front of him.

 "What's on your mind today, Reed?" Sue took a seat beside him. Her chin rested against her palm as she scooted close to her husband. "You look a bit more somber than usual."

 "Well, I'm thinking about Johnny," Reed glanced up at her. "Peter kicked him out rather quickly, don't you think?"

"C'mon, are you really surprised? We can barely handle him." Sue chuckles. Despite her words, her voice carried a heavy fondness for her brother. After all, Johnny had been declared dead for months. Her little brother's death had been miles harder than either of her parents. Hearing his voice echo through the halls again had been the answer to her prayers.

 "That's the issue, Susan. He only just returned from a place that is full of abnormalities for a human being. Never mind the mental trauma he must have endured, the physical repercussions of being in such place must be borderline lethal. Yet, here he is, partying and being his usual Johnny self. I fear he's hiding something from us." 

 Sue's playful expression dropped. She had been so thrilled to have her younger brother back that she didn't even consider the side effects of what he had been through. Putting it into that perspective, Sue realized that Johnny was definitely hiding something. She knew her brother. She knew that he hated to let others know when he was hurting. It was difficult as it was to get him to open up to her, let alone anyone that could actually help. His silence could be detrimental in these circumstances. 

 "Mentally, we can't push him." Sue said. "We have our therapist for these situations. He can go to her when he feels ready. Physically, however... I think you're right. We need to give him a check up." 

 Reed nodded. He stood up to put an affectionate arm around his wife. He could feel the worry radiating off of her and he wasn't too far away from the same mindset. 

 "Everything will be okay. We'll make sure he's healthy and happy." 

----

 Getting Johnny into the lab proved to be a rigorous task. The man was flaky and filled his time with parties, drinking, hero work, running around between dimensions, and more. Sue even recruited Peter into wrangling in the Human Torch. 

 "It almost feels like he's running," Peter had said. "Is this really a good idea?" 

 "It's just a simple physical, Peter," Sue responded. "It's to ensure he's healthy."

 It was Ben who finally pulled Johnny in at last. He blocked his way out, picked him up, and dropped him off in the lab like a sack of potatoes. Susan watched them come in kicking and screaming and had faint flashbacks of her kid brother being only 10 years old on his way to the doctor's office. The memory proved bittersweet; was Johnny really as scared as he was back then? 

 "Hello, Johnny," Reed offered Johnny a soft smile. "I assure you this won't take long. I just want to give you an examination to make sure the Negative Zone hasn't caused any physical harm." 

 Johnny's body language displayed a strong and paranoid guard. His arms folded over his chest then switched to being placed on his hips and back again. His weight shifted back and forth on both feet. His eyes avoided contact with either of his family members. Despite this, his voice was calm and smooth. It was clear Johnny knew how to separate his emotions from his words. 

 "I feel fine, though," He said. "I know you guys have been trying to get me over here but honestly, I've been busy. Which is good! I think being busy shows I'm doing great!" 

 "It's just going to be a quick thing, okay?" Sue reached out to touch his arm. "Okay?" 

 "I don't need a doctor visit right now, Sue." 

 "It's better to be safe than sorry-" 

 "I have shit to do. I don't think-"

 "Johnathan you will get this damn examination right now!" 

Sue's sudden scolding silenced Johnny immediately. His eyes darted between her and the lab table where he was expected to lay. 

 "Alright alright. Gimme the exam, whatever." 

 Sue let out a breath of relief. Reed put a hand on Johnny's back and lead him to the table. "Go ahead and lay down, Johnny." He attempted to guide him further but was met with even more resistance. This road was going to be bumpy. 

 "Can't I just stand?" 

 "Johnny--" 

 "Alright Sue! You don't gotta get all scary mom on me, I'm going," 

  At last, Johnny was set up for his exam. Reed took his time to go over each part of the body he felt may be affected. Sue stood by to keep watch. She couldn't help but notice how her brother shook as he lay on the slab. His fear was becoming more apparent and Reed took note of his excelled heart rate. For the last bit, Reed took X-rays of his bones and organs. 

 "Susan, come here," He beckoned his wife over. "Look at this..." 

 "What is it?" 

 "Look at these X-Rays. Do you see anything strange about them?" 

 Sue took a long look. "...No, he seems perfectly healthy." 

 "Exactly." Reed reached into his files to pull out another sheet of X-Rays. "These are his exams from his last physical before he disappeared into the Negative Zone." 

 Sue took another long and detailed look. Her eyes darted back and forth between the pictures. After a few minutes, she finally caught the abnormality. 

 "He's missing the scar tissue and damage," She mumbled in shock. "All of the traces of his past trauma...it's gone!" 

 Reed nodded. "Yes. It's almost as if his body has been completely remade. These organs here in particular-" He circled the stomach and the surrounding organs with his finger. "They're as new as a toddler's. They don't even have the marks of growth that an adult would have. The strangest part is that while these are all brand new, Johnny still appears older. None of this makes sense." 

 The two of them looked up at Johnny on the slab. He heard the entire conversation and was shaking that much more. His body was tense and his eyes glued to the ceiling. 

 "Johnny..." Sue approached him. Her hand touched him gently. "Johnny...what did they do to you?" 

 Johnny couldn't speak. All of his focus was on the lid to his emotions. Sue bit her lip and tried to help him stand up. It was clear he needed to be out of this situation. Unfortunately, Johnny wasn't responding. Her touch only made him flinch and skyrocket in temperature. Reed pulled Susan back away from him before she could be burned. 

 "Johnny--" Sue fought her husband. Her familial instinct overshadowed logic and she reached out again wanting desperately to console her baby brother. This time, however, her touch triggered much more than a simple raise in temperature. 

 Johnny let out a blood curdling scream and erupted in flames on the table. The fire burst like a volcano and hit the ceiling with intense force. The sprinklers were quick to act and started to rain yet the astronomical temperature Johnny had reached was overtaking the water. It took Susan's force field to encase her brother into a ball of angry hot plasma and it proved to be difficult for her to contain. The scream and heat triggered Ben to come barreling in through the door to fight whatever caused it. 

 "What the hell happened!?" 

 "Johnny is having a flash back!" Reed shouted. "Whatever they did to him in the Negative Zone is linked to an examination and slab type setting!" 

 "I can't hold him much longer! I've never seen him reach this intensity before! I didn't know he could do this-!" Sue's hold was breaking. Flames were starting to leak through the cracks. 

 Ben took initiative. He threw himself into the ball of flames just as Sue collapsed from exhaustion. His fist came down hard into Johnny's face and knocked him out completely. All at once the flames ceased. Johnny lay limp with a bloody nose on the slab. 

 "Benjamin!" Sue cried out. "That wasn't necessary!" 

 "Did you have any better ideas!?" 

 She did not. If Johnny were a normal person they could have worked through the appropriate steps to calm him. However, Johnny was not a normal person. His loss of control could incinerate the entire city. It was painful, but it really was the best idea in the moment. Ben scooped Johnny up in his arms. 

 "Damn... What the fuck did they do to this poor kid."  

 "I don't know," Reed said, wrapping his arms around his wife as she fell to grief and fatigue. "I'm not sure I want to know."