I look at him lying there, and the tears start up in my eyes. Why? I think to a God who doesn't answer. Why Reed? Why do you have to take him? I lean over his bed and touch his face, so still, so empty. His beautiful dark eyes are closed, and his breath is shallow. He must feel my touch, because he opens his eyes and looks at me. Smiling gently, he raises a trembling hand to brush tears from my face. I can see him struggling to speak, and I hold up a hand to silence him. Even so, he gasps out one word: "Susan". I smile even as tears fall from my eyes, and I say, "I love you, Reed." He nods, and his eyes close again, and he slips back into unconsciousness.
Settling back into my chair beside his bed, I pick up Reed's photo album, which I'd been looking through, and dash away tears with my hand. It was that damn experiment, I think. Something got messed up when he tried that goddamn machine on himself. The pictures begin to blur again, and I stifle a sob. The door swings open, and I turn to look who's standing there.
It's my brother, Johnny. I know for a fact that he is supposed to be out on a date now, so I have no idea why he's here. He shoots me a small smile, and walks over. "How is he?"
I look down. "Not too good."
I feel Johnny's comforting hand on my shoulder. "How are you?"
"Not too good at all."
"Ah." He stands there for a moment as silence fills the room. I stare at Reed's still face, wishing that I could find a cure, but knowing that it is beyond my reach. If I were lying there, and Reed were well, he'd find a cure, I think. Instead of voicing this to my brother, I say, "Aren't you supposed to be out?"
He gives me a grin. "Without Reed to forbid it, it's not really the same. I cancelled on Hannah– she didn't seem that crushed." I raise an eyebrow at him, and he gives me a long-suffering sigh. "I figured that I'm of a lot more use here, all right? You dragged it out of me."
I nod toward another chair. "Pull up a seat." He does, and we sit in silence for a while, staring at the bed and it's unconscious occupant. I pull out Reed's photo album again. I open it to a random page, and stare at a picture of Reed and me, while we were both students at MIT, before the accident in space, before our break-up, before all the pain that we both were going through right now. As I gaze on our happy faces, memory swamps me.
It was Susan Storm's first day at MIT, and she was looking forward to it. Slamming the door of the cab behind her and looking up the steps, she felt a sense of foreboding, but an exciting sense of foreboding. Starting up the stairs, she gazed around at all the other students, some obviously having the same experience as she was. There was one man in particular who stood out. He looked like a young boy in a candy shop, looking around him with such glee that he wasn't watching where he was going and tripped on a step, sending all his books flying around him. Sue stifled a laugh and hurried over to help.
"Are you alright?" she asked him. He glanced up from where he was kneeling, trying to collect scattered papers. A blush came over his cheeks and he grinned sheepishly.
"Yeah, just a little overwhelmed. First day, you know. It's a bit awe-inspiring."
"I know what you mean," Sue agreed, nodding fervently. She knelt beside him to pick up a textbook. "I'm Susan Storm," she said, holding out the hand that wasn't occupied with the textbook.
"Reed Richards," he said, shaking her hand. His eyes caught hers and held them– for a long, breathless moment, they seemed to be searching her soul. Finally he smiled, and dropped her hand. Standing up, he brushed off the knees of his pants. "I hope I'll see you around, Susan Storm. I get the feeling that this isn't the only time that this is going to happen today."
"Yeah, me too," said Sue, watching as he turned and headed up the steps.
Loud footsteps shake me out of my flashback, and a mountain of rock appears at the door. "How's Reed," asks a voice that sounds like rocks rubbing against each other. Ben's trying in vain to be quiet– quiet's not something that he does well.
"Not that good," I say, closing the album. Ben's eyes close for a moment at my words, and then he opens them. Stomping across the room, he sits resolutely on the floor, as far away from my brother as he can get. Johnny doesn't miss this, and he gives Ben a mocking half-bow. Grumbling, Ben turns to look at Reed.
"This is all my fault," he mutters.
I'm shocked. "No, of course it isn't!"
"Yeah, it is," he says. "If I hadn't been so eager to get changed back, he wouldn't have tested it on himself!"
"Come on, Ben," Johnny says. "It was just Reed being Reed. He always tries these things. You've known him for longer than either of us, don't be stupid."
"Whatever," Ben mumbles. I sigh and pull out the album again.
"What are you looking at, Sue?" my brother asks.
"Just a photo album I found in my room," I say, holding it out to him. Johnny takes it and begins to look through it. Clambering to his feet, Ben comes over to look over his shoulder.
As they both reminisce, I sit down beside Reed on his bed. Taking his hand in mine, I murmur, "Come back to us, Reed. Please come back. We can't have three people in the Fantastic Four. We need you. I need you. Please. Come back."
I don't even know if he can hear me.