Disclaimer: Don't own Fantastic Four, just write!
Just wanted everyone to know that the story's totally AU :D
"I got a call from Sue this morning," Alicia mentioned.
Ben froze, his fork perched in the air. "Oh yeah?" he said after a few moments, prompting her to continue.
"She's wondering where you've been."
Ben nodded, then remembered that she couldn't see him. "Really," he said in acknowledgement, eventually setting the fork down. He'd lost his appetite and it was only ten in the morning. "And Johnny?" he asked, trying to quench the anxiousness in his voice.
"He's doing better. Sue says he still can't remember what happened. . . but he's starting to get suspicious. He's been asking for you."
"Sue won't let him leave the house," Alicia explained. She searched around for his hand; Ben gave it to her. "Ben, I know it's hard. But they understand what happened. It could have happened to any one of them. They know that you didn't mean it, they really do," she pleaded with him, not for the first time in the past week. She squeezed his hand, a touch he could barely feel because of her frail gentility. He resisted the urge to take back his hand and ignore what she'd said—Alicia would never lie to him. She was the only one he felt he could trust right now.
Eventually Alicia let go. Ben watched her as she took a last bite of her waffle and swig of her water bottle. "Anything interesting in the paper?" she asked him.
Ben looked over at the untouched paper, still in its wrappings. Fantastic Four no more? one of the headlines read. He put his head in his hands. He knew Susie and Reed were still out on calls, but Johnny was probably still too out-of-it and Ben was hiding in his girlfriend's apartment. No wonder people were speculating about a break-up of their favorite superheroes.
"No," he lied, and then immediately felt bad about it. Well, it wasn't all that interesting, was it? "Off to work?"
"Yeah," she said, grabbing her purse.
Ben got up to walk her to the door. "How's the project coming along?" he asked lightly, referring to a sculpture she and two other friends were helping create.
She grinned, rolling her eyes. "We're trying," she laughed. "You'd think they'd never seen a blind person before, the way they act around me. They're not like you, stud, that's for sure."
"Hm," he said, forcing himself to chuckle for her benefit. In truth, his mind was already drifting off to his own friends. Was there an emergency right now? Probably not. Ben spent whatever time he had to spare watching the news channel like a hawk, just in case there was something he could help with. So far there hadn't been anything that couldn't easily be handled by one of them, so he hadn't seen the team in a couple of days. He couldn't help but avoid them after...
"See you at six, okay?" Alicia bid him, waving so that her bracelets jangled as she left the apartment.
Ben smiled to himself. "Six, then—bye," he called after her. He would help walk her down, but she insisted that she wanted to maneuver around the building herself. Nothing could keep his Alicia off her feet.
The moment he was certain she was out of earshot, Ben flicked the television back on. A weight sank in his already heavy, solid stomach when he saw what he'd dreaded and anticipated for the past few days. An actual emergency.
He sighed and noted the area of the fire. It was only about three blocks away—he didn't even need a taxi (and thank goodness for that, because it was certainly hard enough to tail one in this city, let alone sit down in one at his size). Without another thought, he headed out the door and hurried for the building.
"Johnny—you don't have to..." Sue pleaded, but she saw the look in her brother's eyes and stopped. There was no convincing him to stay. She knew just as well as he did that in an emergency as serious as a building up in flames, Johnny was the only one who could truly be much help in rescuing people.
"I'm going," he said determinedly. He grinned at his panicky sister. "I'm fine, okay? It's been, like, I don't know. Days. I'm bored outta my mind—I'm near desperate enough to ask Stretch to be his petty science guinea pig just to get out of sitting on the couch."
"But..." Sue hesitated.
Johnny's grin faded. "Look, Sue. This isn't about me. This is about people trapped in a burning building that need our help, and if you two try, you'll only get hurt. So let's go."
"Nothing fancy, Johnny. We're in, we're out. You're going straight home afterwards."
He nodded. "Alright already. I'm off. Hurry up, okay?" he said, the cocky grin already returned as he headed straight for the ledge to jump.
Reed put a stilling hand on Sue's shoulder. "Don't worry. It's Johnny we're talking about—he'll be fine."
Sue shuddered. "Oh, I know. . . I just . . . these past few days have been hard. I feel like we're being torn apart." Her eyes filled with tears that she blinked back before they fell. "I wish Ben were still here. I miss him. I miss what we were." She fiddled with a strand of her hair, something she hadn't done since she was a little girl.
"Ben will come around," Reed assured her. "He just needs some time by himself, that's all."
"C'mon, let's go," Reed finally said, remembering the task at hand. He looked over to the ledge and saw the Johnny himself was long gone, probably having "flamed on" well over a minute ago. All the more reason to hurry up—though Reed would never admit it to his already anxious wife, even he doubted that Johnny was quite ready for this after the incident with Ben.
Not that he could remember it, though. Reed hadn't decided whether that was for the best or the worst. All Johnny remembered was being at some club with Ben and waking up a day later feeling extremely hung over. He didn't remember being hit or being carried back to the apartment a total mess. He didn't know just how close he'd come to bleeding to death. He was just Johnny, the same as he'd always be—completely unaware of what was going on around him.
But Reed would deal with all the crap later. Right now he and Sue had a job to do.
"Mr. Storm, are the rumors of a break-up true?"
"Is it true that you and another woman have eloped and hidden in the Baxter Building in the past week?"
"Where have you and The Thing been?"
"How do you plan to react to this emergency?"
Johnny shoved his way through the crowd. "First, by getting the damn reporters out of my way!" he screamed, uncharacteristically mad at all the media attention he received. In a suffocating sweep of thought, he remembered the last time there had been a major fire. Panic seized his chest. The one person left behind . . . the one he couldn't save fast enough. The person who had unwittingly plagued his mornings and nights for a month now.
He'd make it up to the man, whoever he was, and whoever was left to miss him.
"Flame on," he muttered, not at all with his usual vigor. A fireman pointed him to the fourth story window, so he started there. He felt himself slip into Superhero Mode—that unfeeling adrenaline rush that flushed through his whole body, numbing his mind and leaving him to focus on the task at hand and the task alone. He forgot that his head was still hurting after that mysterious clubbing incident. He forgot that Ben hadn't shown up in nearly a week. He forgot his fear that he'd done something to seriously piss Ben off. He forgot, even, about that poor victim left to die a month ago—if only for a moment, it slid off of his conscience to make room for the new set of screaming people.
"Forty-second floor," someone shrieked to Johnny. "Up at the forty-second floor!"
Johnny nodded in acknowledgement, redirecting his burning body towards the higher floor. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Sue and Reed arriving on the scene, Sue's force field already intact and Reed's arms stretching to people in high up windows. It was Johnny's job to dig deeper than the first layer at the window and find the people inside, and task that he usually never failed to perform.
Usually, he thought to himself bitterly.
By the looks of things, this was once an apartment building. It was already too charred and full of smoke for him to really be able to tell.
"Hello?" he called at the top of his voice, venturing into the thick wall of flame. He'd never quite get used to that, even though it was as normal in his life as breathing by now.
"Help!" someone pleaded weakly.
"I'm coming," Johnny promised them, feeling his heart want to wrench from pounding so hard. There was nothing to him more frightening than having someone else's life in his hands. He was twenty—hardly responsible enough for himself. When had he suddenly become appointed to this? All his life he'd been that cocky kid with the god complex, but when had he actually been forced to play God?
"Hold on," he cried out to the stranger, the smoke blinding him for a few moments. He stumbled unseeingly in his desperation to find whoever it was. "Where are you?"
It was coming straight ahead of him. He thought bitterly to his days playing Marco Polo with his friends at the pool. It couldn't have been that long ago that he was that careless.
Johnny froze; he could only hear the roar of the fire and the pounding of his heart.
"Ben?" he asked the smoke around him.
Then the ceiling caved in around them.
OMG! Everyone MUST listen to Imogen Heap's "Hide and Seek." Best song ever. And this is coming from Miss Alternative Rock, Country Music and Disney Channel Music Girl. The song is played without music. It's one woman's (Heap's) voice harmonizing in, like, five different parts. It's amazing. Her voice is amazing.
Lock up your iPods, folks...a meanhead stole my shuffle...wahhhh!
Oh! Yeah, I left a cliffie. Hahahahaha. Enjoy.