Disclaimer: I do not own any of the characters involved in this story. The Slingers, Fantastic Four and the like are owned by Marvel Comics and used without permission, but I'm not making any money, so nyah. Courtney Freeman is a friend of mine and not owned by anyone (except maybe her Fiancé on Thursdays), and is used with her blessing (though she keeps bugging me about royalties). I do, however, own this take on the characters, and this little Universe they live in. No touchy.

Big Shoes

Courtney Freeman was supposed to be having a good day.

She was going to tell her family that she had finally met someone. That she was engaged. There were to be celebrations and much merriment.

There was not supposed to be a sudden and rapidly spreading fire.

She was not supposed to fall and twist her ankle trying to get out.

And she was most definitely NOT supposed to be surrounded by fire on all sides and about to be crushed by the collapsing ceiling.

Dammit, she thought as she continued to cough up a lung. This was supposed to be a good day...

With one final snap, the burning ceiling began its fatal descent. Courtney closed her eyes tight and braced for impact.

An impact that never came.

Confused, she reluctantly opened one eye to see exactly what was going on.

What she saw was a silver and white circular emblem.

The number 4.

"No way," she whispered, opening her other eye to get a full view of her savior.

He was dressed in almost all blue, the suit coving every inch of his body except his eyes. The boots were metallic silver, as were the braces on each forearm and the face guard which was designed to give the illusion of wings above where the ears would be. A majestic crimson cape was draped over his shoulders and held in place by silver shoulder braces, and the circle four was on his chest.

And he was holding the entire burning ceiling in his muscular arms as if it weighed nothing and was cool to the touch.

"Go," he said. His voice was cold and commanding. It actually scared Courtney further rather than calmed her. "I have it."

"I–I can't," she said weakly. "My ankle..."

"Dusk," the blue mystery man said, seeming to talk to someone else. "I have another one for you."

"Who are you talk--?"

Bleeeeeeenk!

Courtney intended to scream, but it came out as another coughing fit.

Another person had simply...appeared at her side. This one was dressed completely in black, not even allowing slits for eyes, and surrounded by an ora of multi-colored light. After the initial shock, she was able to notice that this one was smaller and feminine.

"Don't be afraid," the girl in black said in a voice that could only be described as...alien. "I'm going to get you to safety."

The girl gently wrapped her arms around Courtney shoulders and...

Bleeeeeeenk!

...the next thing she knew, they were both outside, beside an ambulance. Paramedics were at their sides instantly, taking her from the girl in black and giving her oxygen.

Once she was sure Courtney was all right, the girl in black backed away and turned her gaze to the sky. "How are we doing Eddie?"

Courtney followed the girl's gaze and saw another man dressed in blue and silver and wearing the 4 on his chest. However, this one was wearing what looked like mechanical battle armor designed to resemble an insect with a silver backpack that looked like wings and antenna on either side of the black visor that covered his eyes. He was flying around the burning apartment complex, spraying it with white foam from his silver gauntlets, adding to the torrents from the surrounding fire hoses.

"I think everything's under control Dusk," the insect man replied. "Me and the fire fighters should have this out in no time."

Dusk nodded. "I'm going back in. See if you can reach Johnny."

And with another of those strange "bleeeenking" sounds, the girl in black was gone.

"Ricochet, come in," the insect man said as he continued to spraying the flames. "What's your status? Rico? Johnny! Are you okay! Calm down--!"

The insect man was cut off when something suddenly shot out of one of the top story windows like a ball out of a cannon. It landed, and began to run around in circles, helping Courtney to realize that it was another costumed character, and this one was...

"On fire!" he cried. "Really actually on fire this time!"

Insect Man immediately turned his attention from the building to his comrade, spraying him with foam to quickly extinguish the flames. Once he was safe, the newest arrival stood up straight, revealing that he, too, wore the 4 on his chest. Similarly to the cloaked man inside, he was dressed in mostly blue. However, his skin-tight spandex suit broke into a color other than silver. The foot, hand and neck areas were all white. The man's mask also had white lens that were almost invisible on the matching background. The mask stopped about halfway up the forehead, allowing Courtney to see his hair if not for the foam. In his hands he held, wrapped in a black leather jacket, a crying but very much alive baby.

"Thanks Eddie," he said weakly. He then shouted. "Anybody here missing a kid!"

Without missing a beat, a hysterical woman in hair curlers ran up to the man and practically snatched the child from his hands, spewing her thanks and blessings upon him.

"You really had me worried for a second," Eddie said as the paramedics guided the woman away from Ricochet.

"Yeah," he sighed, brushing the foam off of his head a revealing hair the color of freshly fallen snow, streaked with soot. "I think my communicator thingy's busted. Incidentally, you'll have to be the one to tell Cassie to get the hell out of there as thing's gonna come crashing down any second."

Hornet nodded. "I'll let Ritchie...I mean Prodigy know too."

"Yeah sure, crush my hopes and dreams."

Hornet chuckled. "Relax, Rico. We got everybody out safe and sound. I think it's safe to say the first mission of the new Fantastic Four was a success."

"Yeah," Ricochet said softly, looking down. "Right..."

The Baxter Building, some hours later:

Johnny "Ricochet" Gallo watched from the other side of the gym window as a boy about his age, dressed in sweat pants and a "wife beater" shirt, lifted weights. Weights the size of Volkswagen Beetles as if they were only slightly heavier than he could handle.

However, Johnny didn't pay much attention to the weights themselves. He was focused on the person lifting them, more specifically, the eyes.

Eyes locked in a scowl, determined to reach some sort of unknown goal. Oblivious to everything except that goal.

Cold eyes.

Heartless.

Johnny's own eyes soon turned to his reflection in the window. He was wore a new Fantastic Four uniform with his mask rolled up and resting across his forehead like a headband. His snow white hair had been cleaned of all soot and a bandage was on his right cheek. Over the costume he wore a brand new leather jacket, which displayed the Four emblem on the left breast.

His own eyes were sober.

Sad.

Sighing and tucking his hands into the jacket's pockets, he turned away from the window and began to walk down the corridor. Upon reaching a massive steel door, he entered a code into the neighboring keypad and waited. After a few seconds of beeping, the doors opened to reveal the extensive laboratory on the other side.

"Hey Eddie," he said as the doors closed behind him.

Outside of the Hornet armor, one would never guess Eddie McDonough was a super hero. He looked like a strong enough wind would send him flying. He had black hair and matching goatee, the former of which was sticking straight up, similar to an Anime character's. He wore glasses with purple lenses, a white lab-coat over a blue shirt and jeans, and the right hand gauntlet of his armor.

"Hey Johnny," Eddie replied, not looking up form the computer terminal he was working at. "I'll get you your new disks in a minute. I'm in the middle of something."

"No hurry," Johnny said. "That's not why I'm here though. I wanted to ask you something Eddie."

"Shoot," Eddie replied, still not looking up from his work.

Johnny took a deep breath. "Eddie, what are we doing here?"

Eddie froze momentarily, but then continued, trying to make like nothing had happened. "What do you mean, Rico?"

"You know damn well what I mean. Okay, yeah, I get it. Solaris, big cosmic level baddie killed damn near every super hero on the planet. Yeah, I get that someone has to pick up the slack. Fill the void. But why does that have to be us?"

"What were we supposed to do Johnny?" Eddie asked. He had stopped working, but didn't turn to face his friend. "Just sit back and do nothing?"

"I'm not saying that," Johnny replied. "Not at all. But the Fantastic Four! Some pretty big shoes don't you think?"

"There's four of us," Eddie said, smirking slightly as he finally turned around. "And there's already a new Spider-Man."

"Eddie, for once in my life, I'm serious," Johnny said with a face to match.

Eddie sighed. "Ritchie is almost as strong as the Thing was, and he's not dependent on his suit anymore--"

"But you are. And Eddie, I love you, but are you as smart as Mister Fantastic? Right now? I mean, I know you will be someday, but do you understand half the stuff in these computers?"

"I'm starting to. I've already deciphered his notes on molding hydrogel..."

"Eddie."

"I know, Johnny. I know. But considering the choices, I think we're the best team to try and take up the mantle. I mean, the F4 were a family, and I think of you as my brother."

Johnny was taken slightly aback by this. "Wow. I mean...yeah, Eddie, I think the same of you, and Cassie...well, I don't dislike her. Anymore. But Ritchie..."

"What about Ritchie?"

Johnny gapped at his friend as if he just asked what color the sky was. "Eddie, this is the same guy who attacked me because I wasn't wearing my mask at the Billboard. The same guy who left us for dead because we didn't call him by his code name. And then tried to kill us so he wouldn't look like a liar when we survived!"

"He's changed Johnny..."

"You're right. He's worse! You think I forgot this whole thing was his idea? The guy thinks this his destiny to be the next big blue Boy Scout. Letting him wear the 4, it's just throwing gasoline into an inferno."

Eddie was silent and looked at the floor.

Johnny sighed. "Look, the fire today. We kicked its ass. Small stuff like that is no sweat for us. But Eddie, we're still in training. What are we gonna do next time Galactus shows up? Throw my disks at him? Teleport around him like a fly?"

"It's not just about us, Johnny," Eddie said, looking up. "The Fantastic For were the first. Their line-up changed here and there, but they were always there. And now they're gone. It leaves a pretty big hole."

"I'm not denying that--"

"We had all had different reasons for answering the Black Marvel's call, but deep down, we all wanted to help people. To be heroes. There's more to being a hero than saving kittens from trees and putting the beat down on muggers. It means giving people hope. And after Solaris, people need hope, Johnny. They need the Fantastic Four. Even if it's just a pale imitation, at least it's something."

Now it was Johnny's turn to look at the floor and be silent. He was about to say something, but instead, suddenly looked up at the ceiling, a terrified expression on his face.

"Eddie," he whispered, "get you're armor on and call the others."

"Johnny?" Eddie asked, obviously confused. "What's wrong? Relax. If we were in danger, the security systems will let us know." He turned back to his computer terminal. "...Or it would if it wasn't mysteriously disabled..."

"Eddie, MOVE!" Johnny shouted as he pushed his friend toward the lab door, pulling his mask down as he did. "Get Ritchie and Cassie! And pray I'm wro–!"

He was cut off as the laboratory ceiling suddenly exploded, throwing the two against the wall. Ricochet moaned as he slid down to the floor. Shaking his head clear, he looked up to see the intruder.

"Foolish children. I heard rumors of the Fantastic Four's return, only to find insolent pups with delusions of grander. Even Richards deserves a better legacy then this. Now stand aside, for the Baxter Building is now the property of DOOM!"

"Great," Ricochet moaned. "God, I freakin' hate being right..."

To be continued...