Original Twist Chapter Ten, Rivals: In which Reed Richards meets an old friend, and recognizes him too late.

Susan sighed as she squirmed and slithered her way through the completely and utterly uniform surroundings. /Why am I always the one who gets stuck crawling through the ventilation shafts?\ She was asking the question rhetorically, but because at the moment the team was split up and unable to communicate with one enough through conventional means Reed had made it easy for them to hear each other's thoughts, which was why her brother's answer jumped right in front of her train of thought waving its arms about exuberantly. /That's because in real life, unlike in movies, ventilation shafts are perfectly sized for chihuahuas instead of Great Danes or human beings.\

She couldn't particularly argue with him, since she had needed to thin down her body a fair bit to gain access to her current location. /So does anyone, have any idea why anyone would bother robbing the Natural History museum? I mean come on, what can they possibly steal that they'll be able to sell for anything close to a reasonable price?\ This time Johnny wasn't able to come up with an effective comedic comeback, so instead Reed just provided her with a dry logical one.

/At the moment they seem to be heading towards the exhibit on pirates.\ This however, Johnny was effectively able to make fun of. /So they're stealing stuff that 'belonged' to pirates, well it's a good thing I don't come with a built in irony-o-meter, because that would have broken it.\ Susan sighed as she continued to work her way through the ventilation shaft. /Look, let's just get this over and done with. I mean come on, something tells me that people who steal from museums aren't the most dangerous villains out there.\

As Susan finally reached the necessary exit from the ventilation shaft she got a good look at the situation. /Okay, I'm in position, how about you two?\ /I'm waiting in the rafters just out of sight, Tin Man, it's all on you.\ /I'll get to work as soon as you as you want me to.\ She heard the sound of Ben's wings flapping and she stretched herself out through the vent. She saw three ordinary-enough looking men in orange jumpsuits, and one... thing.

It was best compared to some kind of orc or ogre from a fantasy movie. It was about seven feet tall, had dark green skin, an extremely ridged forehead with several bumps, and Ben had apparently just snatched something it had been in the process of stealing. Not quite ready to take on an unknown, she went for the three human-looking villains.

Just like every other time it really was child's play for Susan to lower herself downwards and loop her body around one of them and either arm around another before pulling tight on all three at once. The trio let our cries of surprise and dropped their weapons. Feeling the need to go that extra few inches, Susan managed to lengthen her hands enough to catch two of the guns and nestled the third into a nest made of her midsection. "Excuse me boys, Ultra Woman is just doing her part for gun control."

As usual the men struggled slightly, but even if the three of them had been able to coordinate their efforts, she still could have easily retrained them and tied them all up with a nice little bow and ribbon should the desire strike her. It was at that point that Johnny came around the corner and the green-skinned thing that had been looking at Ben turned to face him.

"Who are you to try and stand in the way of my master's aims?" Johnny smiled at the creature. "We're the Fantastic Four, and whoever your master is we're gonna make sure that you go back to your 'master' empty-handed with your tail between your legs!" However as he approached the monster, it shot some kind of weird yellow beam out of its eyes that caused him to go completely still at which point it proceeded to slam its jade fists into his head, knocking him to the floor.

Seeing that her brother had taken, an at least momentarily disabling wound, Susan turned the two strange-looking weapons in the direction of the creature and pulled the triggers. But rather then fire, the guns just clicked, as if they were unloaded. Not about to try and figure out how exactly the weapons worked, she promptly hurled the things at the creature.

Only one of them connected, though it did nail her target the back of the head causing it to turn around. Sadly, by the time she saw eye-to-eye with the thing, it was quite clear that the only part of the creature that she'd hurt was its feelings. "Foolish..."

It got no further than that, however, before Susan struck. After throwing the guns, she'd started to wind up her right arm up for a punch with plenty of centrifugal force behind it. She let loose with it now, and it nailed the creature firmly in its jaw.

The thing wasn't knocked over but it did rock back on its feet and looked slowly around at its three opponents and its captured companions. "Though you are indeed powerful for mortals, on your own, none of the three of you would stand so much as a icicle's chance in my true master's domain. However facing all three of you together might be risky, and thus I leave...."

Before the three of them could do anything, the thing was suddenly surrounded by a huge puff of grey smoke, and by the time the smoke the gone, so was it. The superheroes present looked at each other and then at the minions who were still firmly in Susan's grip. Ben calmly landed in front of them and took a few moments to over elaborately crack his knuckles. "Boys, you're going to jail."


A considerable distance away from this robbery, a dark figure watched the events take place before him in a crystal ball. His gauntleted hands curled into fists. A pair of blue eyes that were cold as the ninth circle of Hell scowled heavily and a single word could be heard, though it was slightly muffled by his metal faceplate. "So...."


Susan walked back into Reed's lab and saw him drifting back and forth in the water-filled tube that had been his latest invention. It was a series of pneumatic tubes that allowed him to move through the entire Baxter Building at will, even if he spent most of his time in his lab as always.

The three weapons that Ben had returned back to their home with while Susan and Johnny had taken care of turning in the thieves, lay on the table before him. "So do you have any idea why those guys were trying to steal some piece of junk that might or might not have belonged to Blackbeard the pirate?"

Reed's brain shifted back and forth in an approximation of a shaking head. /No... but... this technology, it's something I've seen before, though I just can't remember where. The guns weren't designed to fire metal projectiles but blasts of energy, and they had special sensing devices built into them to make it impossible for anyone but their intended bearer to use them.\

Susan placed a hand over her mouth as she giggled. "What, did I hear that right? You can't remember something, Reed Richards? I hate to say this, but all things considered, in your case if you don't have your mind in working order, you don't have very much at all, do you?"

There was an awkward pause as her joke fell flat. "Well if this technology strikes a chord with you, why don't you go poking around in the heads of the three hired goons we captured?" Reed telekentically lifted one of the guns into the air and rotated it about slightly. /Economy of effort. I've no reason to believe that we need to know what's going on right this moment, so I'll let the police try to get the truth out of them using more standard interrogation procedures. The team will just have to wait until we find out more from them.

That, and... you can tell the others I'm sorry about making you all work on Christmas Eve.\ Susan blushed as she turned around. "Reed, we're superheroes, not doctors. If there was something that needed us to take care of it, and that thing which was apparently some kind of demon was definately an example, you don't need to feel bad about us sending us out to deal with it."

/I know... but still, I wish I could go myself...\ Susan left Reed's laboratory and headed to her bedroom. She wished she could say that visions of gumdrops danced in her head along the way.


Susan walked out of the bathroom, having finished all the normal tasks of awakening and began slowly donning her Fantastic Four uniform. /So, do you like it?\ It was still early in the morning and thus out of gut instinct she twisted her head around to look for Reed, even though he was probably clear on the other side of the building. "Do I like what?"

His mental voice sounded strangely shy and unsure. /Your Christmas present, I left it your on your dresser.\ It was only when she looked straight at the location in question did she realize there was a small blue box tied with white string and remember: yesterday being Christmas Eve meant today was Christmas.

Somehow, the entire thing had slipped right by her. But then, it'd been two weeks ago, when she'd got Ben a couple of books on the subject of aviation, and her brother a few custom licence plates for the fleet of cars that he was slowly collecting. As for Reed... as for Reed, she'd asked if he wanted anything and he'd told her that he didn't want presents.

The entire thing had seemed a little silly after all, it had always seemed silly to get a present for Reed (not that she'd had to do it very often) because there was nothing she could get him that he couldn't afford himself, and the things he wanted were usually so scientific that Susan had to ask exactly where to find what he wanted, and how to pronounce it correctly.

Somehow, she'd assumed that since she wasn't getting him anything, he wouldn't be getting anything for her, but apparently she'd been wrong. Susan gently undid the white string and opened the box. Inside were a pair of earings, white circles with blue "4" in the middle of them, the same design as on their costumes. They were a little gaudy, but considering Reed had obviously designed them himself, that was more or less to be expected.

"Oh nice." Her tongue made slow clockwise rotations about her mouth. /Damn, damn, damn. There's a dirty joke staring me right in the face and of course I can't tell it!\ The joke involved "four fours" since every part of her uniform had the teams logo on it somewhere. Thus, if she was wearing, say these ear rings that would be two fours, and if she was wearing her undergarments (and only her undergarments) that would be another two fours, adding up to a total of four fours.

But there was nothing to be gained by saying it, so she just kept her thoughts in her head, and hoped they didn't wind up in anyone else's. She removed the earings from the small box, and carefully examined them. Originally she had just been doing it for dramatic effect, but she soon came to a rather startling conclusion.

"They're clip-ons, Reed. I got my ears pierced before we met..." She didn't mean to sound disappointed, it was just that it was hard to imagine that at some point Reed wouldn't have noticed that particular miniscule, but important fact, and filed it away untill he needed it. Reed's voice on the other hand had now become quite relaxed. /Would you care to bet? Well to be more exact, would you care to bet that your ears are still pierced?\

She slowly ran her gloved hands along her earlobes, searching for the miniscule pair of holes she'd gotten driven into them. No matter how carefully she searched, those holes refused to reveal their presence however, leaving her rather befuddled. "Huh, wow, can't believe I didn't notice that untill now..."


Susan leaned against the gates and sighed. Inside the park, she saw children playing with each other, running about making snow angels, throwing snowballs at one another and otherwise enjoying all those winter games that could only take place while there was snow, and so engaged in with a truly unprecedented joy.

"Aww..." She contemplated just what it would mean for her to get involved in such winter games. Hopefully, unlike bullets, snowballs would still shatter properly against her body rather than bouncing off of it. Susan began to tap her hands on the gate, and various ideas flew through her head about just what she could use her powers for in such activities.

It'd be easy to scoop up an entire shovel's worth of snow, curl her arm around it firmly enough to turn it into one large snowball, and then use her powers to slingshot it at whatever target she wanted. In fact, that idea was so attractive to her that she'd have to make a note for later, since she couldn't think of anyone more deserving of getting a pelted with an extra-large snowball than her brother. Aside from that, she could also use her powers to act as a living sled.

Susan paused in midthought and looked down at her feet. She probably wouldn't be able to do a very good job of shifting them into built-in ice skates but as Reed Richards was so quick to point out, she wouldn't know until she gathered some empirical evidence. So many different fun games, and no one to play them with... Susan hung her head in amazement and shock as she thought herself for a moment. /So many games and no one to play them with. Yeah, in retrospect that's exactly my problem in a nutshell. So many games and no one to play with, that's been my problem for the better part of six months now.

Six months, half a year, didn't know what I was missing till I lost it, and now... oh boy am I missing it.\ She watched as the children continued to throw snowballs back and forth ducking behind trees in the process bringing Susan to yet another conclusion. If nothing else, her elastic body would always be capable of making a good human shield. "Human..."

She muttered the word to herself in distaste as if it was a curse, mainly because it was what she seriously wished that Reed still was and he obviously would never be again. She turned away from the gate and sighed. "Damn it. "I hate this." "Well bah humbug to you too, Susy Q."

Ben proceeded to make an incredibly graceful landing in front of her, his feet barely sinking in the snow. Susan scowled at him, and proceeded to carefully walk around him, leaving deep treads in the snow. "Ehh what can I say, my last Christmas was a lot happier. After six months of the two of us datin,g Reed offered me a key to his house as a Christmas gift. That meant a lot more to me than the earings that he gave me today."

Ben laid a hand on her shoulder and carefully leaned a little closer to inspect her earlobes. "Well if nothing else, they do look good on you." Susan pushed Ben's hand from her shoulder. "Thanks. But I was only wearing them for him because I felt bad about the fact that I didn't get anything for him. That and, and I wish that he could see them with his own eyes." Ben got the hint and refrained from pressing close against her a second time. " Well I guess that makes two of us."


/I guess that makes three of us.\ Reed had momentarily taken a look a the general area around Ben and Susan when he'd heard them mention his name aloud, but made sure to broadcast his thoughts only to he room his was in, not wanting them to think he'd been looking a their minds.

"And I can make that wish a reality." Reed had been paying precious little attention to the world around him and thus was utterly shocked by the discovery that when he bothered to "look" at his lab he discovered that someone had somehow managed to enter it without setting of any of the buildings alarms!

The man's appearance went perfectly hand in hand with his fairytale-like sudden popping into existence without any sort of prior warning, he was a few inches over six feet tall if Reed guessed correctly, and was dressed from head to toe in what looked like a suit of anachronistic medieval armor either painted or constructed of materials that were midnight black.

Looking at that armor Reed once again couldn't help but ask himself the question of how it was possible for someone to be wearing something that looked so bulky and heavy to have moved silently enough that Reed hadn't 'heard' him enter. In addition to the armor he was also wearing a heavy green cloak that combined with the faceplate of the armor made it impossible to tell the mans hair color or any other distinguishing feature besides his size and his ice cold blue eyes.

/And who exactly are you?\ In response, the man promptly gave a chuckle that was dry as the Sahara. "You may call me 'Doctor' and like you I am a man of immense intellect who has dedicated his life to helping those less fortunate. It has not escaped my eyes that over the last few months for all of your brilliance, Big Brain, you have done precious little to help yourself..."

Reed felt insulted. That was strange, very strange, because normally he kept such pointless emotions firmly under lock and key, but apparently such was not to be the case today. /Not done anything to help myself? Then what exactly do you call this pneumatic tube system I've designed so that I can transport myself across the building far faster than any human being could walk? Is this nothing to you?\

The Doctor began to take a few haughty steps, and now indeed the sound of his metal boots on the floor was impossible to miss. "In its way, of course not. But would you compliment a mechanic who finds himself lamed and who manages to create for himself the finest crutches in the world, without ever even considering crafting himself a wheel chair?"

If Reed had hackles, his visitor's tone of voice would have had them practically leaping off the back of his currently nonexistent neck. /And that particular metaphor applies to our situation how?\ Despite the metal faceplate, Reed could tell that Doctor was smiling behind it, his every word dripped smugness like water off of a recently used towel. "Simple. Though you lack all the traditional human organs, you still posses a whole and undamaged brain which is capable of comprehending information through the traditional five senses is it not?

It would be my pleasure to construct for you a robotic body that would provide you with a more traditional interface to the world. It would be child's play to, for example, directly hardwire the sections of your brain responsible for sight into a pair of cameras, allowing you to see the world with your own eyes for the first time in far, far, too long.

Think of it, you might once again be able to walk among your fellow man who you strive so hard to protect. To be able to actually stop and smell the roses, a simple treat denied to none of our companions." The man raised a valid point but for some reason Reed could not put a mental finger on, he was loath to admit it. /That may be so, but at the moment I am also living in splendid isolation. By refraining from dealing with physical matters I am able to bring my full mental prowess to bear on solving the countless mysteries of our world.\

"Bah!" The armored man tossed the word out as if he had been born with just that expression of disdain upon his lips. "Do you think I approached you out of the blue? Do you not think that just because you are lacking the appropriate organ that you are truly heartless? Your great mind has desires outside the world of simple numbers and equations, does it not?

Is the sheer vastness of your brilliance any comfort at all in the late hours of the evening, when your perfect untiring mind continues to dash from one puzzle to another, searching desperately for some problem to keep it occupied, to prevent you from realizingthe only puzzle you truly wish to solve is, how can you recapture the feeling that comes from holding the hand of the woman you love?

Well, I have a solution for you. Unfortunately the tools necessary to enact it are not easily transferred from one place to another, and to make sure the machinery will properly interface with your mind, I'll need to have you present as I get to work." Reed slowly began to drift towards a particular section of the tube. /If... if it means that I could be with Susan again..... if nothing else, my time is not so well spent that I could bring myself to spurn your offer. Very well then, I'll move into my portable caring tube and on the way there I'll inform the others of my decision.\

He knew he was acting rather rashly, but it was the very nature of life for a man to measure risk against reward, and act accordingly. Going into space had seemed the right action, when measuring risk against reward what seem like a lifetime ago. Taking any chance he could to regain some semblance of a true human body seemed the right course of action now.

Yet, no sooner had the man taken the carrying tube into the his hands and disconnected it from the rest of the system of tubes then he attached a strange minuscule device to it. "I think not, Richards. You always were too trusting by half, and I told you that one day it would be your downfall. Well now you will see what happens when you don't follow the doctor's orders!"


Johnny stared at the strange craft that he'd discovered occupying the Baxter Building's hangar. First of all, it looked more like some kind of private jet, then a repurposed spaceship like the Pogo Plane. Secondly, its color scheme was all wrong, it was black and red instead of blue and white which seemed to be the default colors for stuff belonging to the team.

He certainly didn't remember Reed talking about the team acquiring any new vehicles, and yet if this thing was here but wasn't supposed to be, then there should have been a veritable shitload of alarms going off, instead of it being quiet enough to hear a pin drop.

Well that, or the sound of someone in heavy armor stomping around the place. As a man dressed in black armor and a green cloak walked into the room holding a container with Reed's brain in it, things slowly began to fall into place. "You know, I think you're in the wrong building, the Renaissance Fair is three blocks down. Now, why don't you put down my teammate, before I make you?"

Indeed, the armored figure carefully placed the container upon the ground, but nothing in the nature of his movements suggested that he was even the slightest bit perturbed. "This was unexpected, but hardly unplanned for. Very well then, you clockwork clod, do your worst."

Johnny did just that, and yet it felt like his punch ran into an iron wall a few inches short of his foes body. "Now do you see the genius of my designs?" The armored figure let loose with a wicked right cross that left Johnny teetering. "This armor might look antiquated, but in truth it contains equipment the likes of which you can not even fathom, not only does it provide me with an impenetrable shield, but increase my strength to the point that coupled with my intellect, it is more than a match for your brute force!"

To prove his point, he grabbed hold of Johnny and proceeded to throw him into one of the hangar's walls. To the Baxter Building's credit, Johnny did not go through this wall, though it did collapse in on him, leaving both of his legs and his right arm pinned beneath the rubble.

Meanwhile, the figure in black armor wiped off his gauntlets and began to pace back towards the container which held his teammate's mind. "That pathetic diversion out of the way, all is now in place for me to continue. The time is at hand when the entire world will tremble at the name Victor Von Doom!"

Johnny was in no mood to listen to this guy monologue, regardless of what his name was, but there wasn't much else he could do at the moment. Luckily as Big Brain himself would be so prone to pointing out "not able to do much" implied he could do something. With his free arm he carefully began to probe the "4" symbol on his chest. Reed had, out of sheer redundancy, built tracking devices into all of their outfits, just in case for some reason he was unable to locate them through his psychic abilities.

Of course that was a plan that could work both ways. While Victor had his back turned, Johnny pulled the magnetic patch from his outfit and hurled it at the black and red vehicle which obviously belonged to the man. Seeing it attach successfully, Johnny proceeded to go limp. He'd wait for Victor to leave, and then start digging himself out of this mess as best he could.


Luckily, Johnny didn't need to go about the complicated process of freeing the rest of his body with only his left arm to work with, because before he was even a quarter of the way into the process, Susan and Ben arrived and got to work helping him. Of course while they did he started explaining to them what had happened.

At first they were both quite attentive listeners, but when he brought up the subject of his assailant's name, Ben looked as if he had been the one who had recently had a wall dropped on him.. "You're sure he said his name was Victor Von Doom?" Johnny nodded as hest he could while laying flat on the ground with his legs still buried in rubble. "Yeah, why?"

Ben hesitantly drew back taking in a very deep, very uncertain breath. "Umm, Susy do you think you can take care of digging your brother out on your own? This is gonna take me a while to figure out how to say properly." Susan just flashed Ben a grin, and got to work, not about to emasculate him by letting him know that her elastic body didn't even break a sweat moving pieces of rubble to large and heavy for him to budge.

"You both know how Reed and I were roomates in college, right?" A quick pair of nods. "Well that was more by accident than design as you might have already guessed. You see about the same time as they were accepting Reed, who they considered a major get for their prestige, since even way back then just about everyone knew that he was a genius. But they also scored another big prize, he was a kid about Reed's age named Victor Von Doom. If I recall correctly Doom came from some more or less poor plague-ridden Eastern European country that was probably only just starting to recover from having been under the Soviets's thumb back then.

Word around town was, like Reed, he was another guy with a brain so big it was a wonder that he could fit it inside his skull, so when the time came, Reed wanted to be roomates with him. But Victor wasn't interested in making friends or partners, and so me and Reed ended up rooming together, while Victor got a single and the privacy he waned.

Unfortunately, rooming arrangements wouldn't be the only subject that Reed and Victor argued over, and sometimes when they went at each other over science-related stuff it seemed like even the teachers didn't have a clue what exactly they were talking about. Then one night Victor was doing some kind of strange experiment in his room and came close to blowing the whole place to bits.

The college kicked him out after that, obviously enough, but, the thing is that the night before his accident Reed told me that he saw some notes for what Victor was working on by mistake, and spotted an error in them. The two argued over the error, and Victor refused to admit that he could be wrong. The fact that he apparently suffered more than a pair of singed eyebrows in the resulting accident, makes it pretty clear that, as usual, Reed was right in the end.

Still, if there was anyone on earth who I'd say was close to being as smart as Reed, it's Victor Von Doom, and if there's anybody who can hold a grudge for a long time without ever talking to or laying eyes on the person they hold it with, it's Victor Von Doom. I can't even begin to fathom a guess about what he wants to do with Reed, but somehow I doubt its to look over their old yearbook photos."

With a great and mighty heave, Susan finally cleared away the last of the rubble that was keeping her brother pinned to the floor. "Well then, there's no two ways about it, we've got to go after him. I'm guessing Victor isn't quite as smart as he thinks he is, given that he didn't bother to disable the Pogo Plane on his way out of here, so we'll just fly after him, wherever he's gone!"

Ben flapped over to a nearby table and picked up a piece of equipment. "Already ahead of you. Reed was kind enough to show me enough of how the Pogo Plane actually worked that I should be able to pilot it without his assistance just fine. Now I know how after a thumping like the one Victor just gave you would like to..."

"Ben, I don't care what kind of robotics joke you're about to make, even if it involves references to lubricants, or nuts, I can honestly say now is not the time for humor. Now is the time to watch my sister put a brick in her purse and go to town on a guy who should have known better than to mess with somebody who Susan Storm cares about."

It was just as he was saying the very last word, that the permafrostial, for "icy" was to warm a word for it) glare fell upon him. "I mean now is the time to go get Reed back before that whack job -- who clearly has some sort of weird medieval fetish -- does anything to him!"


"Welcome to your final resting place, Richards..." As Victor spoke the words he connected the small container to a larger equally clear dome fill with liquid, doing so in a manner that left the container standing straight up. Thus when he opened it, gravity naturally caused Reed to slide out of it and into the contraption that had clearly been built to house him.

/What... do you mean?\ Victor staired at the device for a few moments his face utterly inscrutable, though the mask he was wearing made that more or less a given. "So it seems on the lowest setting my psychic blockers are not quite enough to fully inhibit your abilities. No matter, after all, I wouldn't want you to suffer your untimely fate without knowing exactly what I have in store for you, and just what you will help me create.

You see, the machine around you is designed to harness your psychic energies and transmute them into raw power, at the expense of every last scrap of your overrated personality, I am not displeased to announce. Then I will use that energy to power experiments the likes of which even you could not comprehend!"

Reed began to drift about his new prison, learning its dimensions by the most "hands on" method imaginable. Sadly, it was all he could do at the moment, since the concentration necessary to get any kind of visual data on his surroundings still eluded him. /Don't tell me you're trying to perform the same experiment that got you thrown out of the University, you'll only end up killing us both this time.\

Victor Von Doom chuckled as he curled both of his hands into fists. "Your concern touches me deeply, Richards, it truly does. But I have something else entirely in mind. At the University, I was trying to transcend the barrier between our world and that to come. My new plan is less grandiose and more practical: simply a device designed to give myself the ability to move through the fourth dimension as I see fit."

/A time machine?\ A simple, curt nod. "Yes Richards, you did so excel at parroting back anything you were told. Once my time machine is fully operational, there will be nothing that can stop me from conquering the world, not only in the here-and-now, but in any time I wish! Why simply settle for controlling the mystical energies of Blackbeard's treasure, when they have obviously been diluted by the passage of time, when I could pluck them from his hands when they were at the very height of their power?"

/If you're so sure of that, why haven't you used it already?\ A mocking scoff was the only reply he received at first. "What, and end your utterly miserable existence so soon? Tut-tut Richards, Doctor Doom does nothing by halves. Before I end your miserable life, I want you to be able to witness the rest of your so-called Fantastic Four proving themselves no match for my mechanical masterpieces.

Why do you think I didn't remove that tracer which was so obviously attached to my ship before I took off? You see, revenge is like a fine wine, best left to sit and age properly, and then when finally consumed, each and every drop must be properly savored. If my scanners are correct, I do believe your trio of inept companions are approaching my fortress even as we speak. Sadly for them, they are about to learn that Castle Doom is not so easily breached!"


Countless aged and harmless-looking turrets that adorned the castle suddenly sprouted modern weaponry which laid down a horrendous crossfire on the Pogo Plane. Ben did his best, but not even he could safely manuever the ship through the storm of metal and energy weapons. "Looks like we're gonna have to jump ship!"

He began to get to work, unbuckling himself as his mind strove to remember which lever he had to pull or button to press to disengage the glass-like canopy currently sealing them inside the cockpit. "Really, and me without my parachute?"

Ben glared back at Johnny, but before he could say anything Susan wrapped her arms and legs tightly around his brother's back. "I'll take care of that, Johnny don't worry. I just hope we don't get shot to pieces out there..." Ben finally found the (luckily labelled) switch, yanked it hard, and a moment later all three of them were in open air.

Ben of course soon managed to slow, and then cease his fall by flapping his wings. Susan, on the other hand, enlarged her body into a semicircle of elastic flesh so that it would trap as much air as possible, creating a parachute for her brother that, remarkably enough, was able to slow him down, despite his weighing as much as several normal people.

Susan and Johnny began to drift gently downwards. Amazingly enough, all the castle's previously-demonstrated firepower had gone silent. Since at the moment he had nothing to do but make sure his sister didn't somehow lose her grip on him, Johnny decided to make conversation. "So, am I the only one who feels right now that we're walking, or gliding as the case may be, right into a trap?"

Susan elongated her neck enough so he could see her nodding. "Of course, but it's not like we have a choice." Ben gave a partial smile as he carefully control his rate and direction of decent to keep him within easy speaking distance of the two. "Besides, occasionally there's no better time to pull a trap on someone then when he thinks he's about to pull a trap on him."

Johnny promptly extended this line of reasoning to its "logical conclusion" as only he could. "Okay that's all fine-and-dandy, since we know its a trap, but what if the guy setting the trap wants us to know that its a trap and then has a second trap set up, of course we know that he's got to know that we know its a trap, so does he know, that we know, that he knows that we know?"

Susan and Ben exchanged looks, neither daring to venture a comment. As their reasonably-paced descent came to a close, all three landed softly on a lowered drawbridge. They made their way forward, and quickly noticed that, no sooner had they taken about two dozen steps inside Doom's castle, then the path split off in three different directions. "More traps?" "More traps." "But we're still going to split up anyway, aren't we, sis?" "Yep."


Susan decided to go straight ahead and began increasing the length of her legs , allowing her to take incredibly long steps which let her cross several meters with every stride. However, as she entered into a more or less normal-sized room, she compacted her body back to its usual stature, and began to look around to see if she could spot any obvious traps before she triggered them.

Of course in the time she spent looking, a thought was nipping away at the back of her mind, if Victor Von Doom really was in the same league as Reed Richards when it came to intelligence, then her spending time trying to find traps he might have laid for her was only giving him more time to spring those traps.

That particular line of reasoning proved all too apt, as the doorway she'd just entered through slammed shut. Susan quickly pressed her hands against it,probing to see if there was enough of a gap for her to fit through, but sadly it was completely airtight.

A moment later, the other obvious exit from the room (a door on the other side of it) slammed shut as well. Susan paused to examine the room a second time, looking not for traps, but for exits. That was when some kind of spigot opened up in the ceiling and a thick gooey grey substance began to flow forth from it. The first glob of the stuff was enough to splatter Susan's feet, with more on the way.

As the quickly growing tide of fast-hardening concrete began to rise, she stood there with a stoic expression upon her face. "Okay so I"m now waiste deep in cement, no big deal really..." Then she took as deep a breath as she had time for and got to work stretching.

It was the equivalent of threading the eye of a needle with her own body, but she did it. Susan twisted and turned herself through increasingly small gaps, as she made her way over to the door at the other side of the room. Then she strove with all her might and will to try and locate the opening. That had to either exist, or she would somehow will it into existence.

Sure enough, before the concrete could fully solidify and trap her in its heavy embrace, she escaped from the room through a extremely tiny gap between the door and the heavy shutters. "Uhhh...."

She lay there, flat on the floor, and took a very deep breath, nodding in approval as her lungs reinflated after that harrowing experience. "Nice try Victor, nice try, but it's going to take more than that to stop me!"


Victor Von Doom watched the proceedings through various viewscreens connected to ingeniously well-hidden cameras, and though it strained Reed's mind to so much as even glimpse the world around him, he could feel himself growing more and more used to the painful effects of the device Victor had designed to keep him powerless.

Clearly, his old foe hadn't been able to properly calibrate it for the amount of energy Reed had at his disposal, but then, moving too quickly had always been Victor's weakness. "It would appear that your companions posses either a greater intellect, or at least greater helping of base cunning than I originally assumed, Richards. Not that it matters, for none of them will stand a chance when the come face-to-face with Doctor Doom!"

Reed switched his train of thoughts onto a different set of tracks. Moving too fast was the nature of Victor's errors, but the cause of those errors was his temper. A temper that if properly exploited, might end up helping his teamates chances in some infinitesimal way. It might not be much, but it was still something.

/Ahh yes, so tell me Victor, given how you were thrown out of State University for performing dangerous experiments without permission on college grounds, exactly what university did you enrol in next? I must admit out of a rather perverse interest, I did try to keep a lookout for your name in the papers, but you seemed to have vanished off the face of the earth.\

Sure enough Victor turned his eyes away from his monitoring equipment and towards his captive. "Realize the intent of the universe when it took away your mouth, and be silent!" Reed had no intention of doing that in the slightest. /Well, doubtless you were able to find a school somewhere that would be willing to take in a man of your intelligence, even if it was coupled with your reputation as a loose cannon.

I'm sure, because I doubt even someone with an ego as large as yours would call themselves 'Doctor' without bothering to have attained the title from an accredited institution." Reed could only just make out Victor's eyes through the faceplate he wore, but those eyes were starting to narrow with barely-controlled rage.

/After all, even though I'll admit the phrase 'doctor' has been thrown around to the point that it's rather diluted since it no longer requires you to be a healer, it still does depend upon one having a doctorate. Like the one I have in physics, or the one I have in chemistry, or the in one biology, or the one in...\

Before Reed could rattle off the field in which he held his fourth PhD, Victor reached over, grabbed hold of the device attached to Reed's tank, and twisted a knob on it. Pure undiluted pain, such as can only be comprehended by one who is having the portion of their mind responsible for generating the sensation set into overdrive, lit his synapses alight with pure undiluted agony.

Yet he welcomed it, welcomed it because even though it left him in a state of disjointed half-blind confusion, Reed knew that however bad it was, it was only a mental sensation. There was nothing wrong with his body: he did not have a body for things to be anything wrong with. He had learned a great many things in his life, and knew that he would learn how to work through the mind-bending pain running rampant through his cortex, he only hoped that he would learn fast enough.


The three superheroes reunited as they continued to work their way through the hallways. Time was of the essence, but she decided to make at least a small attempt to explain to her teamates just what had happened. "Giant tank of concrete."

Johnny was nonplussed by this abrupt description of a deathtrap, most likely because he had one of his own. "Huge spiked cylinders like something out of a bad Indiana Jones movie, oh, and really powerful magnets under the floor." Before he cold claim that there had also been some kind of metal eating termites Ben cut him off.

"Giant aerial obstacle course filed with floating bars." The three of them shared another quick smile. "Well, none of those things were enough to stop us, so let's keep going, sooner or later we're going to find Doom."


After more traversing of the giant castle (and luckily, no more traps) the three finally came to a ornate wooden double-door, and Susan paused for a moment. "Johnny?" He stepped forward and calmly began to crack his knuckles. "Be my pleasure, sis."

He proceeded to punch the door, leaving a large hole in it. Then he punched it again, and again, and again. He did it about a dozen times, untill the entire thing was nothing more than a couple of splinters. Behind them stood Victor Von Doom, and countless pieces of machinery.

"So you dare to invade my inner sanctum?" Johnny shrugged and tilted his head at an inquisitive angle. "You mean this isn't gift shop? Because I was really looking forward to buying some 'Doomiest place on Earth' T-shirts to hand out as souvenirs later!"

Victor was unimpressed as he snatched up a weapon that apparently was a twin (well maybe more of a quadruplet) to the one that the three henchmen in the museum had been armed with. "How very droll. Now let us see if you know more than how to open your mouth and let whatever pathetic witticism you have on hand fly out."

He pulled the trigger and a beam of yellow energy flew forward and struck Johnny in the chest sending him flying backwards. Susan promptly stretched herself out to cushion his fall but unfortunately she misjudged just how much force doing so would put upon her and the sheer magnitude of the impact momentarily knocked Susan senseless.


Lesser men would have fled or been left helplessly trembling in fear after seeing there two more powerful teamates left momentarily floored by one blast of an opponent's weapon. Luckily the sight before him inspired Ben Grimm to neither. Instead he calmly rose a few feet into the air as Victor looked down the barrel of his weapon at him.

"How kind of you to arrange yourself before me like a witless quail on a fine summer's day." "Just keep those led lips of yours flapping metal mouth, I've got a plan but, if you want to save me the trouble of implementing it then I ain't gonna complain."

Victor squeezed the trigger and another beam of yellow light left his weapon, however at the same time Ben barrel rolled to the side and the attack passed harmlessly through the area where she had once been. Then he dove at Victor who began to realign his weapon for another shot, but before he could Ben twisted over inverting his views of up and down allowing him to lash out with his wings themselves against the barrel of the gun.

As Victor pulled the trigger only a pathetic wine came forth and with one hand he dropped the now useless weapon while the other reached out to grab hold of one of his opponents wings. "Aww did your little toy break that easily? Guess that's what you get for insisting on using science fiction style gadgets that haven't been tested yet!" Without another word Victor used the leverage he had achieved to slam Ben's body against the ground with such force that it rendered the winged man completely unconscious.


Yet no sooner did Victor looked up from the crumpled form of one unconscious foe than he found himself once again eye to eye with Jonathan Storm. "Well now that you don't have your little fancy blaster lets see how much of a fight you've got left in you!" Victor shrugged nonchalantly and it almost seemed as if there was somehow a breeze within his castle causing his cloak to flap dramatically.

"I already handily bested you once and that was when you had the homefield advantage as they say. But since you have clearly learned nothing from that embarrassing defeat perhaps being reduced to a pile of cogs will prove a more instructive experience?"

In actuality Johnny had gained all the instruction he needed from his first fight with Doom. Rather than rushing pell mell at him, he began to circle his opponent slowly. Doom began to circle Johnny as well, but after the two had taken about a dozen steps his patience ran thin. "The soon to be emperor of all the world has not time for your childish games." He stepped forward and swung at Johnny who met Doom's punch with one of his own, knuckle to knuckle.

There was a crunching sound of metal on metal and as the two pulled away it was clear that Victor had gotten the worst of it as the gauntlet on his right hand had apparently been put under such stress that it promptly split open and fell from his hand. "Just like I though, you have to lower that forcefield of yours whenever you're about to hit someone, and it looks like when we're going muscle to muscle I'm made of harder stuff."

Victor gazed at his unprotected right arm in something close to shock for a moment and then he drew himself up pompous as ever. "Indeed your head must doubtlessly be hard enough to smash diamonds if you believe that this means anything in the grand scheme of things. You might be able to absorb electrical energy, but lets see if you can handle every ounce of power remaining within my armor!"

He raised his left hand and a stream of blue lightning bolts arced from it that immediately left Johnny rooted to the spot. There the two stayed, Doom casting forth all the energy that remained within his armor Johnny being assaulted by it, untill finally the young man couldn't take any more and dropped to his knees, before laying flat upon the floor.


Susan who had observed much of Victor Von Doom's battle with her brother through heavy eyes rose shakily to her legs which felt like they might give up at any moment. Whatever was in those energy blasts was still making her woozy, but that didn't matter, she couldn't let it matter, not when she was the only one with any fight left in her. "If you used up all of your armor's energy fighting my brother, then what do you have left to counter THIS?"

Susan threw herself at Doom transforming the lower half of herself into what amounted to a giant mattress as she pressed her armored opponent up against the wall. She felt Doom's legs kicking out harmlessly at her well-cushioned body, and smiled. "I'm going to make you pay for what you did to my brother.... and the man I love!"

However, as Doom's legs stilled, it was not with the acceptance of one who has realized a fight is lost and given up, but rather with the slowness of one who has ceased to panic and started to plan. "I grow weary of hearing such pointless prattle in my ears, Ms. Storm!" He swung at her face with the fist that was still encased in an iron gauntlet and connected. Susan's entire body reeled back and her vision of the world became even more disjointed.

"Ironically if you had bothered to compose yourself more fully, you might have been able to take advantage of my moment of weakness. But since you did not, I will take advantage of yours!" He struck her face again with his bare hand, and Susan could feel her body being distorted by the blow, getting bent out of shape like a lump of silly putty. She should have been snapping back to normal, should have been able to shrug those hits aside, but for whatever reason her elastic body was uncooperative.

Then she saw the armored fist coming again, and as it slammed into her face it left Ultra Woman's head as flat as a pancake. Her body soon followed suit as she fell to the floor, laying there like a giant blue puddle.


Victor Von Doom stood half-exhausted over his opponents, triumphant despite his badly-damaged armor. His voice, for once was almost giddy with excitement. "See! See Richards? See how your friends lie helpless beneath the iron-clad sole of Doctor Doom?" As he spoke planted his right foot firmly on Susan's limp body and began to press down firmly, as if trying to leave a footprint upon her that would never fade.

"Now! Now I have you and your friends to do with as I will. That mechanical man, I think I'll take him to pieces and use to augment my armor, assuming that there's any part of him worth saving. The winged one I don't see much use for beyond a hunting trophy. You, of course, will be a battery to power the device that will make me the most powerful being to ever have existed, and as for this one..."

As he spoke, he bent down and grabbed a handful of Susan's rubbery flesh. "This one, however, I have no doubts she will yield to me so many different things. To have escaped my concrete trap shows her body must be incredibly supple, perhaps if properly restrained she'll make a fine set of bedsheets, or lacking that, a throw rug for me when I'm not experimenting on her."

/G.. .w.. ..o. h..\ Victor slowly turned in the direction of the tank that held his still- conscious foe. "What was that?" It almost seemed as if bubbles were starting to form, possibly due to the water within the tank being brought to a boil. /I said -- get away from her!\ Victor cackled, as instead he grabbed hold of yet another handful of Susan's body with his free hand.

"Or what, you helpless pair of hemispheres? You know, upon reflection it's almost a shame that using you to power my time machine will destroy any traces of your personality. I would so rather enjoy getting to gloat over you for the rest of eternity, allowing you to watch first-hand as this world is finally united under my glorious rule.

Of course, any ruler needs heirs. Assuming there is still a functioning uterus within this misshapen mess, I just might use her for that purpose. Her intelligence of course leaves much to be desired, but there are proper methods to make sure that our children do not grow up to inherit her foolishness.

If nothing else, I do believe there is at least a proper fighting and ruling spirit. Besides, how well she would shape my heirs is but a mere trifle, compared to the joy knowing I possess the one thing you wanted, but could never have! Who knows, with the right treatments, her mind might prove to be as malleable as the rest of her, and she might even come to love me; and wouldn't that be just wonderful?" /Get -- away -- from -- her!\

One moment, Victor Von Doom was crouching over Susan Storm's unconscious body, the next, armor and all he was thrown across the room. He scrambled back to his feet and watched in horror as electric sparks began to dance up and down along Reed's prison.

/I'm going to make you regret saying those words Victor, even if it's the last thing I do!\

No sooner had Doctor Doom regained his footing, then he was once again hurled up against a wall like a carelessly flung tin soldier. His voice betrayed not a hint of panic. "Do you think just because you've overwhelmed my failsafes you've won? That you'll get to save the day and your comrades, Richards?

This changes nothing! I have a built-in self-destruct system. All you've done is delay the inevitable and hasten your own demise. Computer, activate program Valeria!" The sparks around Reed's prison began to increase in intensity. /NO!\

There was a blast of glass and electricity and water and things best left unnamed filled the room. The armored figure sank back to the floor, the force pinning him to the wall having vanished.


Susan blinked her eyes clear, and quickly took stock of the situation, there was lots of smoke and broken machinery all over the place, but absolutely no sign of Reed, and standing amidst the chaos was Victor Von Doom.

So he'd gone and done it. As she was losing consciousness, she'd thought she'd heard him talking about how he was going to do something or other and destroy Reed. And apparently, he'd done it.

Ironically, for a woman who could absorb just about any physical impact by shaping her body in response to it, Susan Storm snapped. "You killed him?" She wasn't in the mood to play around with fancy attacks this time, nor was she as thoroughly disoriented as she had been last time, she had her head on straight and now she was going to do just one thing: get even.

Her arms shot out, wrapped around the surprised Victor Von Doom, and yanked him over to her. Then her right hand plunged towards his uncovered right arm. "You feel that, Victor? That's my arm moving through the gap in your armor, racing up along your body, across your shoulder, and just now I can feel it going around your neck. Can you feel it?"

Either a mix of his armor and her limb prevented him from doing it, or Victor didn't want to show the weakness that would come from nodding. "After the way my brother damaged your armor, it really is child's play for me to get inside it, and now that I am, I can do anything I want to you..."

She sent her arm sliding down his back towards the tips of his toes. "I could crush any one of your bones if I wanted to. I could end your life by constricting your windpipe with ease. But then maybe I don't want you to die that quickly, because at the moment, death seems too good for you...

My own body provides me with all the leverage I need to snap your spine like a toothpick and leave you crippled for the rest of your life. The only question is: which one of your vertebrae do I dislodge?" Her arm retracted slightly, and began to rub slowly up against various sections of his spine. "The man who you just killed taught me most of this, let's see how much of it I can remember. If I break this one, then you'll never be able to use your legs again. If I snap this one a little higher up, you won't be able to use your legs or properly use your arms, though you will be able to move your shoulders.

Of course, best of all, if I apply the correct amount of pressure to this one, then you won't be able to move a damn thing below your neck for the rest of your hopefully very long life." It was at this point that Victor said EXACTLY the wrong thing. "Very good, Susan." In response she lifted the armored figure up into the air, and then firmly slammed him against the floor. "Shut up!"

Ben and Johnny had recovered as well by this point, and they were both watching the proceedings more or less slack-jawed, completely unwilling to intervene one way or another with the raw force of vengeance that named Susan Storm at the moment. "In the last few months do you know what I've realized? Just how fragile the human body is! All those bones, all those muscles, all that skin, all those orifices....

Do you know how easy it would be for me to make you deaf? All I have to do is twist my fingers in through your ears, and do a good enough job of puncturing your ear drums, and just like that, you'll live in world of silence.

Do you know how easy it would be for me to make you blind? All I have to do is extend my index fingers into your eyes, and then you'll live in a world of darkness. Death is too good for, you, so how you would like to know how Reed must have felt? I'll do all three of those things to you, and then you can live the rest of your miserable life alone in a world of darkness, unable to see the hands you cannot move, unable to hear those you'll need to take care of you, that seems like a fitting punishment to me! So you tell me, what do you want to lose first: your ability to move, your ability to see, or your ability to hear?"

Victor continued his streak of having absolutely no sense of timing. "Susan, it's me, Reed...." She hurled him across the room into a pile of already broken machines and then picked him back up. "I said SHUT UP!"

To his credit, Victor began to speak in a perfectly calm tone of voice. "My name is Reed Richards, I was born in..." Susan slammed him against the ground again. "I SAID SHUT UP! YOU KILLED HIM! You and Reed knew each other in college, and you had him at your mercy for quite a while out here.

There's not a single thing I don't believe you wouldn't have done to him to get him to tell you all the pithy little details of his life so that you could try and pull something like this off in case you lost. Well you aren't going to fool me, there's nothing you could say that would make me believe you're really Reed Richards!"

"It was years before we started dating that I first met Victor. How much about you do you think he could have made me tell him? What kinds of questions do you think he would have asked me? Your name is Susan Storm, you like it when I rub your chin, the first time we did it, the position we were in was..." Susan slowly rotated the body she held in her hands about and two pair of blue eyes looked deeply into one another.

"Oh no.... I mean oh yes... but if that... what did I just do...?" Susan's arm retracted from the armor. Then, as the armored figure was left once again standing on his feet, Susan threw herself at him, wrapped her arms around him, in the process, her body began to sag, turning into a puddle only supported by the man she was leaning against.

Johnny watched this happen, his face assuming a look impossible to define. "That is quite possibly is either the most heartwarming or disgusting thing I have ever seen. I think we just saw the first, AND PLEASE GOD LAST time that the Fantastic Four was saved by someone's extensive knowledge of my sister's bedroom antics."


"Reed, I'm sorry..." "Susan I already told you, you have nothing to be sorry about, the armor's shield system had started to come back online. It, or the armor itself, absorbed just about all of the attacks you threw at me." Susan however hadn't quite managed to absolve herself regardless of what she had been told, this particular conversation had gone on between them at least five times.

They had plenty of time to talk, since Ben was busy figuring out how to properly control Victor's jet, due to the fact that it was the only source of transportation they currently had access to. "It's just..." "Believe me, Susan. I understand how improbable it would sound to someone it wasn't actually happening to. But I realized since I wasn't strong enough to overpower Victor's mind, the only way to gain control of his body was to put myself directly in the driver's seat.

So I threw every single ounce of energy I had into the situation, and it worked. Victor was forced into what was left of my body, I gained control of his. He'd already activated the self-destruct system, which destroyed my brain with him inside it. Which I think, in all fairness, does seem to be about the most accurate definition of a karmic death that I can come up with."

Susan nodded eagerly. "Yeah. Quite frankly, I think from the fairly brief time I got to know him, between trying to drown me in concrete and bashing me around, I've had enough of Victor Von Doom to last a lifetime. But I'm happy that you're back -- well you know, not that you ever really left -- but I'm very glad that you have a body again!"

Reed looked down at Susan's body and then up at her face. "I can tell." Something in Johnny's tone of voice suggested that he wished he had handfuls of popcorn, or possibly an old boot, to throw at the two of them. "So can the rest of us, by the way! Seriously, sis, it's bad enough the two of you're only sharing one seat, but at the moment I am seriously tempted to start referring to the pair of you as either Rue, or Seed."

There was a certain amount of truth to Johnny's words, given that indeed the two were sharing one seat, and Susan had her midsection twisted a total of three time around Reeds. The feeling of her skin rubbing up against cold metal had never felt anywhere near so blissful.


Susan rolled back and forth on her bed, looking up at the ceiling. After the group had gotten back to the Baxter Building they had split up. Reed, to go to his lab and think about his new armor and body. Susan, to go to her bedroom, and do more or less the same thing. So here it was: D-Day, H-Hour, M-Minute... Reed had a body again.

It was not his body, but Victor Von Doom was more or less the same age as Reed had been, and same gender. For a moment, certain parts of her rose in protest: was the last really all that important? But they were quickly silenced by a loud denouncing shout that she would not start trying to figure out if she was Reed Richards-sexual until the situation called for it.

"Okay that's it. Since my body can't agree to cooperate like a proper matriarchy, we'll have to have to settle for this hodgepodge of mob rule that seems to come so easily, now that my organs are rearranging themselves every time I want them to. Okay we'll start near the bottom, and work our way up. Reproductive organs?" What they had to say on the issue was exactly what she expected them to; now that Reed had a body again it was time to go to town like there was a 90% shoe sale going on, or some other ridiculously feminine metaphor.

"So you're in, heart?" Her heart was at the moment primarily interested in looking out for number one. Thus, it wanted to make sure that Susan found out that Reed still loved her before it went about pumping copious amounts of blood southward. "Reasonable enough. Brain?" Her brain argued that she'd been for sticking with Reed from the start and the rest of her bodily organs were Jill come-latelies who should be bowing down to her for having picked the right course from the start.

Having collected all the necessary data, it didn't take her long to form a cohesive plan of action. "There, see, you three actually can work together, is that so hard? Now let's go take care of some necessary preparations.." Of course no sooner had she walked out of her room then she came face-to-face with Benjamin Grimm, just the man she had been looking for.

Ben jumped back slightly, his wings flapping hesitantly as if he'd been planning to enter her room in a few moments, and was as surprised to see her leaving it as she was to see him outside it. But then he regained his composure and pressed his right index finger against her lips in a request for silence.

"Listen, Susy, what you and I could have had together if we'd ever both brought ourselves around to really want it, it would have been good. But, and I can say quite honestly, I realized you and Reed were meant for each other before either of you did.

It makes me feel a little embarrassed about how I acted during the time between the crash and today, but that's in the past and can't be changed. Speaking of things that aren't likely to change any time soon... Reed, probably now more then ever, needs someone to help him figure out exactly what it means to be a human being. Something he had enough problems with before spending half-a-year as being nothing but a literal thinking machine.

As for you, you deserve a husband who can help you solve any problem you're faced with ,no matter how big." Susan extended her neck, craning it backwards so that Ben's finger was no longer pressed against her lips. "Ben, nothing personal, but if you thought having Reed in my life would make it simpler, then I think you misjudged things just a bit."

Granted, in all fairness if Reed couldn't have predicted that cosmic ray storm, then Ben doubtless couldn't have predicted the effect it would have on their lives either, and up to that point Reed, with his huge bank account and convenient place to live which didn't charge rent, had simplified her life. "What the two of you could have together would be, well, Fantastic, if you'll pardon me for saying so. Whatever happens between you two, you've got my blessing."


Reed looked at his face in the mirror, it was more or less exactly what he expected, or at least exactly the kind of thing he had expected to see. It hadn't been easy for him to get the mask off. Evidently Victor had decided the mask could only be removed by touching a certain part of the gauntlet.

But after a lot of trial-and-error, he could look at Victor's face, the face that would probably be his for the rest of his life. Unpleasant was the most efficient thing to call it. To start with there was a small but extremely noticeable scar on the left side of his face, though it was more or less eclipsed by the fact that the rest his face was covered with burns, burns that too perfectly fit the outline of the mask that had covered them to leave any questions in his mind about their origin. Clearly, when the mask had just been newly forged, Victor had pressed it against his face without letting it cool. So.

Reed's new body was something of a fixer-upper, he could live with that. Then, very slowly, he shook his head. Calling it a 'fixer-upper' was an insult to his new body. With the exception of a single flaw that was purely aesthetic in nature, in many ways his new body was an improvement over his old one.

Reed would probably never know exactly what Victor Von Doom had done after getting expelled, but it clearly hadn't been resting on his laurels. The definition of Victor's arms was better then Reed's had been, even when viewing his old body through the lens of nostalgia. Victor was also taller, and had a bigger... shoe size.

Speaking of shoes, then there was his armor. Reed couldn't help but think that as far as being a superhero went, next to spontaneously developing new superpowers because he'd been hit by lightning or for some equally improbable reason, this was about as close as a gift from the heavens as he was ever going to get.

The armor might look like it belonged in a museum, but beneath the veneer of obsolescence, it was nothing but pure state of the art technology. In fact, consideringVictor had evidently designed it himself, calling it state of the art was an insult: it was at least half-a-decade ahead of state of the art.

It housed what was apparently the world's most effective solar power generation system, that could also hold a charge for probably something like 24 hours of pure darkness (he was really only guessing, of course) to start with. It also seemed to interface with the movements of whomever was wearing it, so even though he'd only had it for a few hours already, every single motion felt perfectly natural.

Not to mention, Victor seemed to have planned to conceal enough weaponry (in various secret compartments) to take on an entire small country. Once Reed fixed the damage that the armor had suffered, not to mention made some improvements -- Reed would never have considered making something like this on his own, but that didn't mean he couldn't imagine how to make it better -- it would probably make him not just the leader, but also the most powerful memeber of the Fantastic Four. Then he looked back at his scarred and burnt appearance before once again donning the metal facemask. "Your armor or your body, Victor; I'm not sure which I'll get more use out of."

Then he thought about Susan. About how he hadn't been able to avoid noticing how she'd pined for him over the last six months. He had tried to push her away in such a manner, that she wouldn't realize that he was doing it. Knowing that in his previous condition he wouldn't have been any kind of proper husband for her, a part of him had hoped the relationship might die a natural death under the stress of being superheroes and having to save the world.

It hadn't, but now he once again possessed the ability to give Susan Storm everything she deserved. He thought back to a sock drawer in his old house that he'd have to see about emptying. "Your body, Victor, I swear it."


"Hey, sis." Susan turned and looked at her brother, who had reverted to his original human appearance after they'd got home. "Yes?" Johnny just kept right on smiling, despite the fact her voice made it clear she was in no mood to get sidetracked. "Well among other things, it's time for you to hear me say 'I told you so' a few dozen times."

Susan closed her arms and sighed. "What about, exactly?" Johnny's smile somehow grew broader. "Come on, you don't remember? Okay, let me give you a little reminder: 'We're not living in a comic book, Johnny.' Well, guess again, sis! Look who seems like an idiot for suggesting that Reed Richards would remain a disembodied brain for the rest of his life!"

"Okay, you maybe right about that, but I noticed that 'take control of the body of his old college rival' wasn't one of the explanations you came up with for how it would happen." Johnny shrugged like it was the most infinitesimal detail in the world. "Well I said that one way or another, Reed Richards would once again have a body, and now he has a body. It might not be 'his' body except in the sense of the phrase that he can do with it what he wants, but it is still a body. Same gender, and at worst there might be some facial scarring, but still, all the important parts still work, right? Or is that what you're going to find out tonight?"

Susan glared at him and remained silent. Johnny just shrugged, and waved , suggesting that they'd be saying good bye soon. "Now as much fun as this session of face-rubbing has been, I'm too much the gentleman to finish that analogy. Especially when I might just end up giving you ideas. So yeah, you go have fun doing things that would make me want to rip my own eyes out and stomp them into mush."

Susan walked away from her brother and sighed. This was starting to remind her of one of the final scenes in some overly dramatic movie. All that was missing now was for the ghost of her dead mother to pop up, and tell her to go carry on the family name.

She came to the door leading into Reed's laboratory, thought about knocking on it, then shook her head. Today was still Christmas, amazingly enough. It was time for her to unwrap one last present... Thinning herself down to an incredible degree she slipped under the door to Reed's laboratory, a wide flat smile on her face.

The End

AN: If you want to see what happens next go read my other story Swelling With Love, if you already haven't since I designed the end of this story to (at least theoretically) flow effortlessly into the start of that one... and if you managed to read this far you should think about leaving me a review so I know what you liked and what you didn't.