AN: AFTER A LONG, LONG, LONG, LONG, TIME... here it is folks the next chapter of Second Stretches, enjoy!

Second Stretches Chapter five: Unwrapping, in which Susan Richards receives some unusual presents and Reed Richards opens up a few things of his own.

"Jeez, Mom, we're supposed to be the ones who wake you up early on Christmas morning!" Samantha noted. Benjamin nodded in time with his sister's words.

"Yeah! Now that dad has called off lessons for the traditional winter break I thought we could go back to sleeping in again!" He complained.

Susan tried hard to keep a smile from her lips. The parallels between her children's current reaction and her earlier one to Crystal were hard to ignore however.

"Don't worry kids. What you're about to see will make this all worthwhile." There were more groans, moans, and mumbles, but Susan's children kept marching forward till they reached the hanger.

"Okay kids, here you go. Aunt Crystal's gift to all of you." She declared.

A moment later the doors slid open, and all the air was filled with the sound of half a dozen cries of astonishment.

"Is that...?" Before Franklin could even finish his question Valeria extended an arm and began to tug at the hem of Crystal's outfit.

"Did you really make all of this for us?" The six year old asked. Crystal smiled down at the blond haired girl while she began to rub her belly. Susan pondered that the Inhuman princess was probably thinking about what it would be like to have her own daughter to converse with or daughters, as the case may be.

"It wasn't that hard, believe it or not. Just a matter of mixing the right amounts of water and air at the right temperatures. In the end the building's air conditioning system did almost as much work I did!" She admitted.

Very slowly the six children walked forward into a new world.

The sound of the soft material crunching beneath their feet was music to Susan's ears. Likewise was their voices pooling together into a single shared "Wowww..." of excitement.

Carefully Rachel bent down and began to scoop up a handful of the white material.

"So this... is snow?" She asked, her voice quivering with delight.

Susan silently nodded in assent.

It was at moments like this that she couldn't help but think about the price her children paid for everything they had.

Yes, they were going to become rich beyond their wildest dreams as soon as they graduated from whatever college they chose to attend, and they had not one but two different superpowers, but it didn't come without a price.

There was some painful truth to Jane's comments about how she and the others had been living in one place all their lives. To avoid making them easy targets for supervillains they were kept within The Baxter Building's walls almost round the clock. That meant the simple joys of playing in the snow had been denied them... Until now at least.

Finally given a chance however, they took to the stuff like ducks to water.

In fact, even before Rachel could finish her little examination a tightly packed sphere slammed into her head. It shattered into a cloud of white specks leaving Rachel blinking in surprise.

"Hey, it didn't bounce off..." Rachel pondered in amazement.

Her assailant, Jane Richards, on the other hand was busy transforming yet another innocent pile of snow into weapons of mass humiliation.

"Yeah I know... and I like it..." Jane cackled. Nor was she the only who found pleasure in the recent turn of events.

"Good, good, good! It looks like I got the consistency just right. Firm enough to be packed soft enough to shatter against an elastic target!" Crystal gloated triumphantly. She then departed to gather the rest of the Baxter Building.

As the other woman departed through the hanger doors Susan felt her stomach jiggle slightly.

It couldn't be a kick however; it felt like it had started outside her body and travelled inwards rather than the other way around. She carefully stretched out her neck, past the rim of her belly, noting the flecks of white which dotted it.

Clearly the sensation she'd experienced had been caused by the children who were outside her belly rather than the ones in it.

"That was for getting us up so early, Mom!" Benjamin shouted proudly.

Her black haired son held up yet another snowball. His right arm whipped backwards then snapped forward. Once more Susan felt a cold tingle race across her belly.

"Last time I checked, Benjamin Richards, my womb didn't have a target symbol drawn on it." Susan scolded her black haired son. Jane suddenly fixed a mischievous smile upon her mother's outfit.

"Maybe so, but if you ask me that '5' looks like a pretty good one!" She commented. Jane proceeded to prove her point by launching a snowball that landed right in the middle of the Fantastic Five emblem on Susan's costume.

"So that's how it's gonna be ..." Ultra Woman pondered. Her own arms began to grow longer and flatter. A curve was added to them as well, transforming Susan's arms into Jai-alai sticks.

She started to run across the snow as fast as she could, her arms scooping up large handfuls of white fluff.

It didn't take long for Crystal to return with the others. After that the entire hanger quickly devolved into one gigantic snowball fight, with small side events going on here and there.

Even in something as simple as playing Susan's children still gave the activity their own special twist however.

For example, while six year olds would be perfectly happy to build a snowman. Franklin and Rachel had decided instead to work together on a snow Ultra Woman.

Franklin contributed his artistic detail, Rachel her scientific attention to detail and together they achieved –


That was the sound of a significant portion of the little sculpture that they were working on falling to the snow covered floor.

"Blast it all ..." Rachel moaned, kicking at the pile of powder in question that previously had been their "snow mother's" belly. Franklin once more began to get to scoop up the snow in bitterly.

"Well what do you want to do about it, Rache? Tell mom that she's structurally unsound?" He asked his sister. Rachel shrugged helplessly and joined her brother gathering snow.

If you ignored their inability to properly create a likeness of Susan's pregnant stomach out of snow the rest of it was actually a fairly good likeness.

Just as the pair was starting up their fifth attempt their godfather decided to drop in.

Ben Grimm even went so far as to "carpet bomb" them, dropping a handful of already rolled snowballs. Not only where Rachel and Benjamin hit, but "Snow Susan" wasn't spared either. The two creators were only coated with frosty dust, their creation was utterly destroyed.

In the wake of his attack the two children dropped the lumps of snow that they had been working on and shook their fists upwards in anger.

"Hey, come back here!" Rachel shouted in anger. Ben spun back around and waved happily at them.

"Take your best shot, kids!" Dragonfly taunted them.

The two wasted no time and begun arming themselves with armfuls of snow.

Meanwhile Ben began to skim across the floor gathering up his own ammunition. Rachel and Franklin chose that moment to launch a counter offensive, but Dragonfly was ready for them.

Ben barrel rolled out of the way then replied with a few more shots of his own. His attackers were thus forced to concentrate on bending their bodies out of harm's way. Rather throw snowballs at him, they chose instead to send imploring gazes at Susan.

"Mom, Uncle Ben is being mean to us!" The pair whined in equally high pitched voices. Unable to resist their heart melting gazes, Susan combined her hands into one gigantic scoop with which to gather snow.

"Kids, kids, kids, you're never going to hit Dragonfly like that. You might as well be trying to slap a fly. If you want to hit a fast moving target like that you're going to need to use something a bit a bit more wide spread. Behold the Susan Storm Snow Cannon!"

Susan didn't even bother turning the snow into a sphere. Instead she just raised it above her head and let gravity stretch out her limbs as it dragged the snow downwards.

Then with but a single contraction of her rubbery muscles, the load of snow was catapulted up into the air. It instantly began to spread outwards forming a white cloud that practically buried Ben in midair.

"This is Dragonfly One. I'm going down!" Ben cried out in shock, before going into a tail spin. It terminated as he ploughed into the miss-able soft landing space created by the layer of snow spread across the hanger bay's floor.

He lay there in defeat, flapping his wings but otherwise motionless. The two youngsters instantly sent their arms stretching in Susan's direction.

"Way to go, Mom!" Franklin praised.

"Yeah, you really nailed him!" Rachel cheered.

Susan accepted this approval with the silent dignity of a properly stoic superheroine.

After taking time to congratulate their mother they turned their gazes upon their fallen foe.

"You know Franky, I've got a great idea concerning how we could deliver a little of frosty payback of our own! Curl up into a sphere about the size of a basket ball for me, would you?" She asked.

Franklin shot a skeptical look at her, but by now he'd had several years to get used to his black haired sister's semi crazy ideas.

So he did like she asked, and a moment later Rachel bent down and began to slowly roll Franklin through the snow.

"Hey, what's …? What are you..." Franklin would have said more, but getting a mouthful of snow cut him off.

"Look, just keep your yap closed for now. It'll all make sense in about thirty seconds." Samantha ordered.

Then she went back to rolling her brother across the floor until there was no trace of blue left to be seen over his body. After that she wrapped both arms around her creation and lifted it up over her head.

"All right then, ladies and gentlemen, presenting the Rachel Richards homing snowball! Go sic 'em, brother of mine!" She yelled while heaving the supersized snowball like a shot-put.

Unsurprisingly it didn't make it all the way their prone target. But when it landed, the snowball bounced right back up into the air.

Two more bounces later, it slammed down on top of Ben's body. This hard impact caused it to finally shed its outer layer of frost revealing the perfectly fine Franklin Richards within.

He stood proudly over Ben's body, giving his sister a quick thumbs up, too.

Jonathan Storm let loose with a quick chuckle as he observed his nephew and niece at play.

"Not bad at all. Just don't try anything like that against me." He advised.

"Why not?" Jane Richards wondered, idly holding a snowball in her right hand.

"Why do you think? Remember my wife created all of this in the first place. One wave of her hands and you'll be nothing but a snow sculpture!" Johnny predicted ominously.

Crystal proceeded to prove him dead right. She waved her hands and created a unique ice sculpture with the metallic Mandroid at its center.

"Case in point ..." He muttered in between shivers.

Crystal's present alone turned to be capable of holding onto her children's attention for the entire morning. After lunch, however, they turned their minds towards more conventional gifts.

Of all the presents exchange the one that Susan was giving to her brother and her sister in law was the most important to her. Crystal was the one who ended up opening it, though Johnny leaned in to take a look as soon as the wrapping paper was off.

"Jeez sis, I don't think there really needs to be another one of these in the Baxter Building, there's got to be one on just about every bookshelf already!" It was a copy of "Saving The World In Time To Make Dinner" by Susan Richards.

Of course the fact that Susan had all of one book to her name didn't amount to much, at least not compared to how many different books, research papers, and patents her husband had written.

The book itself was a result of Susan compiling her various experiences as both a pregnant superheroine and mother of six. It'd come out about two years ago and had proceeded to sell almost embarrassingly well providing Susan with a small fortune of her own, not that she needed it.

As she stroked the back of the volume in her brother's hands Susan shot him an almost painfully smug look.

"Fair enough, but Johnny this is your very own copy to read." She explained. Johnny looked at the book slowly and turned it over.

"Oh come on, Sis. Do you think that I wouldn't have read the bestselling book that you wrote by now?" He asked in exasperation.

A playfully twinkle shown in Susan's eyes.

"Oh really? So you didn't mind that in the dedications I mention how grateful I was to my brother, because after a life with him, dealing with him six super powered children was a breeze?" She responded.

Sure enough, he took the bait and flipped open the book and studied the first few pages


"It does not say that!" He protested.

Johnny was right of course, Susan had mentioned that he'd always been there for her when she'd needed him most, and kept her less complimentary comments to herself.

"You're correct, but then if you'd bothered to read the thing beforehand you wouldn't have needed to check now, would you?" She suggested.

Needless to say Johnny directed his irritated glare towards the picture of his sister on the cover of the book rather than the genuine article.

"That was a cheap shot." He complained.

Jane proving herself to be in a playful mood at this point joined the conversation.

"Hey, Uncle Johnny, didn't you used to say that calling something a cheap shot after the fact is just another way of saying that it worked?" She inquired.

His flesh turned to metal as he stood up and began to walk towards his favorite niece.

"You know it sounds to me like somebody is asking to get bounced around a bit!" He said.

Jane proceeded to stick out her tongue, which she lengthened until it was long enough to drag across the floor, allowing her to blow an extra long raspberry.

"Gonna have to catch me first!" She stated. Then giggling with joy Jane ran from the room while Johnny chased after her, both of them clearly enjoying themselves immensely.

After all of the gifts had been handed out Ben and Crystal agreed to take the kids out for a trip around the city. Meanwhile Susan was grateful for a chance to just relax after an extremely high energy day.

However before she knew it, her afternoon nap was interrupted by a pair of gloved fingers rapping on the wall of her room. She looked up, preparing to let loose with an irritated sarcastic jibe towards her brother for getting in the way of her beauty sleep.

However to her immense surprise, it was actually her husband who was standing there in the doorway.

"Sorry to wake you up, Susan, but I was wondering if you could come with me to the lab." He apologized.

Susan looked at him cautiously as she slid off of the bed and began to waddle towards him. To her surprise she found that Johnny was waiting outside her door as well.

"Okay, what's going on...?" She asked, her mindset shifting from drowsy mother to be into suspicious superheroine as her pace increased slightly.

Reed asking her to join him was nothing too dramatic, he might just want to run a few more test on how her children were developing, but bringing her brother along...

"It's nothing Susan. At least I hope it's nothing. I just returned to my lab after we were done celebrating, and well, perhaps it's just my mind playing tricks on me, but I think that some things aren't quite the way I left them.

That should be impossible, and for all I know it's nothing but a sign that I'm getting to be middle aged, but it never hurts to be sure. So if you two would come with me?" He asked.

Susan nodded as did her brother and the three of them struck out towards Reed's lab, which he opened with a single voice command.

"If you two will follow me I'll show you what I'm talking about. There are a few things just "off" about the room where I was working on that dimensional portal I was kicking around in my head ever since I thought we'd need something like it to rescue the Inhumans." Reed explained.

Susan and Johnny exchanged slightly pained looks. Neither of them wanted to suggest that one of the most brilliant men in the world was starting to lose his marbles, but all the same Reed appeared unusually high strung about something which should by all rights been impossible.

Not just the possibility that someone might have gotten inside the Baxter Building, but then Reed Richards' lab as well! Granted the Fantastic Five had run into villains who were powerful enough to have breached Reed's security, but they in turn weren't the type to try and hide their presence from the team.

As the trio entered into a fairly narrow corridor, all of a sudden it happened.

One moment they were just walking along when suddenly the room began to fill up with countless particles of sand. It wasn't even just as if the corridor was having a sudden strange sandstorm, it was as if the contents of an entire desert was suddenly being dumped into the room with them.

Before Susan knew it, they were all up to their ankles in the stuff.

Out of a grotesque curiosity Ultra Woman couldn't help but try to figure out exactly what she was still capable of at the moment.

She struggled to try and twist her way free from the stuff, but it was too tightly packed for her to be able to squeeze her body through it. That by itself was alarming, but even more so when combined with the fact that she was up to her belly by the time that she'd realized it.

"I was right. We're clearly under some kind of attack!" Reed exclaimed.

Johnny, however, wasn't anywhere near as concerned as Reed was at the moment.

"Big deal. It's gonna take a lot more than dumping a gigantic pile of sand to get rid of us!" He responded.

Reed spoke with a strange sort of serenity that Susan couldn't understand how he managed to summon in the slightest.

"Actually Johnny, if my estimations are correct, we've only got about thirty seconds left until all three of us are completely buried in sand..." He concluded.

The stuff was up to Susan's breasts now and for what it was worth she lifted her hands up so that it'd take longer (though not that much longer) for them to become buried in sand while Johnny and Reed continued their conversation.

"Okay then do you have a plan for how we can avoid all suffocating in the near future? Please tell me that you do!" Susan practically begged.

Luckily as was the complete and utter norm Reed Richards was never without a plan.

"The walls around my lab are made of materials that are all but unbreakable but those on the inside are considerably weaker. Johnny punch through the closest wall to you, now!" Reed instructed.

The Mandroid swung with all his might and bashed a hole into the corridor's wall. At once the sand began to drain out of the room taking the superheroes with it.

The sand was now only up to their knees, and apparently the force that had created it wasn't about to try and flood the much larger room they now occupied.

With it no longer packed together so tightly Susan managed to kick her legs free and stood up.

"Well I'm glad that particular ordeal is over and done with, but I don't suppose my brilliant husband is going to come up with an explanation for how it happened any time soon...?" Ultra Woman pondered.

Reed slowly shook his head as he looked around his lab cautiously.

"No, but I have theories. For example..." Reed began, but before he could elaborate, the sand suddenly came alive again.

It surged backwards like a miniature dust devil knocking all three of them to the floor, leaving them momentarily blinded.

Ultra Woman had thought far enough in advance to stretch out a thin layer of protective skin over her eyes before the sand struck her. It was an old trick she had learned to let her see underwater but also worked in several other eye straining conditions. So she was the first to catch sight of what appeared in the wake of the sand storm.

There was a strange green costume floating in midair that the tendrils of sand were flowing into. Slowly they formed themselves into the shape of a brown haired human male.

"The Sandman!" Ultra Woman shouted in surprise.

No one in the room needed a second glance to recognize the well known supervillian who had many times taken part in various versions of the "Frightful Four/Five" in attempts to create an evil FF which would be able to overpower the good one.

Previously he had never worn a costume as a supervillian. Even more interestingly he'd never before tried to attack the team by himself.

It wasn't that his power was anything to sneeze at. He could transform his entire body into sand firstly allowing him to laugh of many traditional means of attacking someone.

Secondly it let him disperse his body far and wide to either blind or suffocate his foes (as he had almost managed to do to all three of them a few moments ago) in short order. Finally he could solidify his body, generating sand weaponry which was hard as concrete was quite impressive.

But, when you mixed Sandman and water (and Crystal could summon endless amounts of H2O before projecting with firehose like force) you ended up with a helpless mud puddle.

"That's right, nice to see that you haven't forgotten about me!" He responded.

Reed's eyes slowly began to dart around the room pondering if he had the time in order to make a run for his armor.

"But I thought the Wizard and the others were still in jail..." Reed asked, surreptitiously edging towards his desk.

Sandman nodded let loose with his traditional gruff laugh as he constantly transformed his fingers from flesh to sand and back again.

"They are, so I decided that I'd just take a break from working with that bunch of losers! Though that said, I decided to take some of Wizard's advice before I broke free and got him to help me design a costume to enhance my powers!

Of course it does plenty more than to just look snazzy after I made a few more additions to it thanks to the stuff you had lying around here..." The supervillian answered.

Still playing for time another question sprang from Reed's lips.

"How exactly were you able to break into the Baxter Building on the first place?" Mr. Fantastic pleaded in befuddlement.

Suddenly the Sandman raised his hands and a gigantic wave, of flowing sand washed over Reed's body, knocking him the floor and leaving him half buried in the stuff.

"Yeah, I bet that puzzle is tearing you apart Big Brain, in fact I'm tempted to just leave you wondering until you go crazy over it. But on the other hand, who am I to deny a soon to be dying man's last request?

You're security scanners are mighty impressive. Supposedly able to pick out any of the supervillians you've fought and captured at some point, just by scanning the DNA of anyone who enters the place.

But your scanners are based around looking for carbon based lifeforms, and a few others types just to make sure that skrulls don't take you by surprise either...

So what happens if a silicone based supervillian sneaks in? Nothing, that's what!

It was easy for me to just 'blow right in' without raising the least bit of suspicion. Now I couldn't just break into your lab, it's too heavily protected for that, but what I could do was wait till you left it to go play with your kids, and the few seconds you left the door open was all I needed!

So now it's time for the Sandman to put the three of you to sleep, permanently!" He boasted.

Johnny who was still in his metallic Mandroid form had just taken all the bantering he could handle.

"Let's just see about that!" He replied.

No sooner had he begun his dramatic charge however than Sandman raised his arm which suddenly began a gigantic hammer made of sand.

"Looks like it's been too long since our last tussle kid, but maybe this will pound some sense even into you head!" Sure enough, Sandman's blow left Johnny laying stunned on the floor and momentarily stunned as a result of the blow.

"Well that's two down one to go, it's gonna be your turn next, Ultra Woman. Though with a belly like that maybe you should change your name to Ultra Sized Woman... I thought you were big a few years ago but now you're even puffier!" Sandman mocked.

Susan protectively wrapped both of her arms around her stomach she took one unflinching step forward.

"It so happens that I'm only five months pregnant. So in another few months I'll be puffier yet and still able to protect my children and the world from supervillians like you!" She promised.

The Sandman shook his head firmly.

"I doubt it, cause I'm about to make sure that you never get a chance to grow any bigger!

The wonderful thing about being a supervillian is that you don't have to worry about fighting dirty..." He admitted.

He calmly held his right hand and a moment later it turned into a powerful blast of sand headed straight for Susan.

"For example, let's find out just how well you fight with sand in your eyes!" He cackled.

The blast was much more measured and centered than the one that had struck Reed, and so even though Susan stood her ground, it forced hands to go from cradling her belly to covering her face in pain.

Sandman began advanced towards her slowly and purposely. Except that just as he drew close enough to touch Susan, her hands moved away from face revealing a pair of very angry, but clear, blue eyes.

"Pretty well given that I can create a thin layer of see-through fabric over my eyes. It's a trick that I learned several years ago for going underwater.. As for a belly full of babies..." Ultra Woman continued.

Susan's stomach began to grow bigger, and bigger, and bigger, and bigger at an extremely rapid pace, slamming the Sandman up against a far wall of her husband's lab.

"Sandman, meet my kids; kids, meet the Sandman. He's the supervillian you'll be helping mommy take to jail today!" Ultra Woman intoned in a sickeningly sweet voice, as she shifted about slightly so as to make sure that her opponent didn't get a chance to escape.

Except that the supervillian transformed his body into a gigantic ,flowing pile of sand before she could secure her grip and thus was able to swirl around the room at his leisure.

Susan instantly turned about (to be exact, Susan elongated her middle section, then pivoted her body spin it about like a gigantic yoyo) heading in her husband's direction.

Her hands altered themselves into thin flat trowels with which she could more easily work her way through the pile of sand that her husband was buried beneath.

"Reed, are you all right?" She asked.

Mr. Fantastic emerged half spluttering from the pile as with his wife's help he managed to work his way free.

"I'm fine, my dear. A little humiliated, but my ego suffered a worse bruising than any part of my body. That said, I sincerely wish that I had my armor right now.

I'm sorry if I caused you any concern, but after I found I wasn't suffocating, I decided that it would be a more prudent use of my powers to try and contact the others rather than working my way out." Reed comforted Susan.

A moment later however a large hand, made of sand, suddenly materialized and reached out, lifting Ultra Woman up into the air.

"Real cute, rubber girl, but now I'm going to squeeze and twist you until you look like something that you'd find in a carnival!" Sandman threatened.

Susan began to shift about, and as she did so, the gigantic sand hand shifted right along with her.

"You're pretty hard girl to keep track of, but let's see if this helps..." As he spoke Sandman's hand suddenly transformed itself into a spinning cyclone with Susan in the eye of it.

She tried to stretch her way out of the cyclone, but the whirlwind of sand grabbed her up, spun her around, and slammed her body around, reducing it to a pulpy blue mush.

"Heh, looks like I've got your wife in the palm of my hand!" He gloated.

Sure enough the cyclone was emerging straight out of the Sandman's right hand, while he used his left to inflict more hammer hard blows upon the Johnny so that he couldn't regain his footing.

"Let her go.." Mr. Fantastic practically whispered.

Sandman turned and saw Reed approaching him.

"What are you gonna do about it? Without your fancy tin can you're nothing!" He said, unmoved by Reed's warning.

Reed calmly tapped a hand against his forehead.

"No, without this I'm nothing. My armor is nothing but a way for me to better project the power of my mind. However given the situation, I'm sadly going to have to simply work without a catalyst. Now then. Let. Go. Of my. Wife!" Reed growled the last sentence, his normal calm demeanor vanishing instantly.

Just as quickly, the gigantic cyclone of sand surrounding Susan more exploded outwards.

Reed winced noticeably and jerked back, as if he had been punched in the face.

"There..." He muttered to himself as a small trickle of blood began to emerge from his nose.

Sandman lifted still hammer shaped left hand, apparently willing to lay off Johnny for a bit turning his attention to Reed.

"So big deal. You managed to a bunch of itty bit sand mites that were all split up. Let's see you manage to stop a solid mass of the stuff, and you better or else you're gonna have a lot more than a simple headache to worry about!" He screamed.

Before the Sandman could strike however the puddle of blue at his feet rose up like a gigantic spike and impaled him.

At least it seemed to at first glance. At second it became clear that the Sandman had just quickly transformed his midsection into a swirling mass of sand. But before the Sandman could launch on his attack on Reed, the spike of Susan's flesh grew wider and spread outwards.

It forced the Sandman to reduce his entire body into one gigantic pile of sand in short order. A pile of sand was starting to retreat out of the room towards another section of Reed's lab.

"Susan, we've got to stop him, he's trying to escape!" Reed panted.

However by the time Susan had reformed herself into fighting shape Sandman had managed to slink into a nearby vent.

Undeterred, she proceeded to stretch her upper body into the vent as well, intent on tracking the criminal down. However before she could reel the rest of her body upwards Reed reached out and grabbed onto her left leg.

"Susan wait..." He advised.

Slowly but surely Ultra Woman began to slide backwards out of the vent with a dour look on her face.

"What?" She asked rather crossly.

"That's what he wants you to do, follow him. If you do, then he could either pick you apart in the vents, or he could double back and attack the two of us while we're on our own." Reed answered.

Susan looked somewhat torn for a moment but then conceded the point.

"You're right, as usual. How long will it be till Crystal and Ben get here? I think we could use all the help we can get on this..." Susan questioned..

Of course that said Susan was glad that her children were out of the Baxter Building at the moment. If they had been inside then Sandman might easily be able to acquire half a dozen hostages now that he had left the lab.

As it was, the group would be able to take their time and think things through. Simply put, there was no way the Sandman could really do any more damage than he had already done.

Reed paused for a moment and his blue eyes gained the unfocused look that came with being in psychic contact with someone far away.

Then he snapped back to reality, and his pupils went from badly dilated to once more focused.

"Crystal should be here in about ten minutes at the most. Meanwhile Ben is continuing to look after the kids, with Lockjaw ready to warp them to Attilan if Sandman's attack turns out to be part of some divide and conquer strategy.

As for the rest of us, you and Johnny keep guard, I've got some work to do..." Reed stated stoically.

Crystal returned to the Baxter Building and made her way to the lab without incident.

By the time she'd made it in, Reed had just finished up his modifications.

"There, what I've done is a fairly rough and slapdash job, but it should suffice.

The Sandman has never been able to actually split himself up, and so it should be fairly simple to keep track of him, even if he's in his silicone based form.

At the moment the Baxter Building is showing to be clear of supervillians, which would suggest that he's departed. Though we should probably remain on high alert and do a floor by floor search of the entire building just to be sure." Reed suggested.

Before he could get down to work however, he found a very long arm wrapped around his waist.

"Oh no, you don't. You're not going to find a way to weasel out of spending any more of Christmas day with your family. Besides as the saying goes there's safety in numbers." Ultra Woman chided him.

Susan and the rest of the team were soon out on the town with their children, but unknowst to them, more trouble was afoot in the Baxter Building.

The group hadn't had a chance to fully examine check Reed's lab, and so they missed one piece of equipment that had been sabotaged. About an hour after they departed, Reed's negative zone portal began to slowly spin itself life, or some approximation of it.

A large black portal that seemed to be made up of countless colors swirling around each other opened up in the middle of it. Then slowly a figure began to emerge from the portal, it was vaguely humanoid in the sense that it walked up right on two legs.

However beyond that, much of the similarities ended, given that the figure was covered in dark grey fur. Surprisingly its teeth seemed to just as blunt as a human's. It was wearing a strange blue colored one piece outfit that might have been some kind of body armor wherever came from.

Its muscles were firm and powerful as you might expect from a creature that seemed to be a blending of man and lion.

"So..." Snarled the creature as it looked around the lab. A moment later a mechanical voice pipped up in response.

"New arrival, scanning DNA... results... subject has no matching DNA patterns in memory banks. Setting security systems to standby..." The voice iterated emotionlessly.

The creature proceeded to snort derisively.

"Bah, I've only been in this dimension for five seconds, and already I can tell that it is full of weaklings. Soon I shall add it to my kingdom!" The creature bellowed to the empty lab..

Then it began to slowly pace out of the room and the next one that it found itself in. It was puzzled slightly by the large door that seemed designed specially to bar its presence, but it also soon found the necessary lever to pull to move the barrier aside fairly easily.

The monstrous thing continued to make his way through the building until finally he managed to find a simple clear glass window.

"Aha, finally a way out of this cursed building, and out into the wide world!" He raised his hands and brought them down in a smashing blow which shattered glass obstacle easily then he slowly began to climb out...

For his part, Sandman had retreated from the Baxter Building but had not abandoned it completely.

Instead, he had made his way to the roof. While it would be easy to modify the building's internal scanners, its external ones would take quite a bit more work.

The trick he had managed to pull off to get inside the Fantastic Five's Headquarters had been a one shot deal, so he didn't want to completely abandon his chances at scoring some kind of long lasting victory against his long time foes quite yet.

Sadly by the time he'd managed to take up his vigil he was in more or less perfect position to watch four fifths of the superhero team leave all together.

Knowing that picking a fight in which he was so badly outnumbered (not to mention faced with that damn elemental girl) was no way to get ahead.

Unfortunately neither was just hanging around, which left him to helplessly ponder exactly what he was waiting for to happen.

Then he saw it, a strange creature climbing out one of the Baxter Building's windows...

"What the hell are you?" The Sandman blurted out in surprise.

The grey furred beast turned towards him. Its jaws spread wide in what was either a predatory leer or a genuine smile. Then it bellowed out words in surprisingly good English.

"Aha! As the first denizen of this world I have come across, you shall have the esteemed pleasure of serving as my guide while I conquer it piece by piece!" Well that answered that question.

Both Johnny and his wife cringed as the tranquility of a Christmas day was shattered by an explosion.

It wasn't because of the explosion. The citizens of New York had become remarkably blasé about explosions over the last half a decade or so.

The Mandroid and Crystal were a bit more shaken by the blast, however, because that they knew they would have to deal with whatever had caused it.

In the blink of an eye, Johnny's skin gleamed with a metallic sheen.

"I'm not gonna waste my time telling you to stay back, especially since I'll need you to get me there in the first place. But do be careful, Crystal, you're crimefighting for two these days." Johnny reminded her.

His wife playful stroked her tummy tapping her fingers against it.

"For five actually." She replied quite earnestly.

Johnny had no come back to that other than to nod appreciatively.

"All right then, let's do what we do best. You take care of transportation, I'll contact Reed and Susan." No sooner had he said those words then Crystal drifted up into the air. Once there she began to summon up a powerful (but narrow) cyclone that would carry her husband along as well.

"As you can see, Mrs. Richards, this is one of our newest outfits." The saleswoman announce happily.

As horrible as shopping on December 24th was, doing it on the 25th could be quite pleasant. At least if could if you were shopping for something esoteric like maternity clothing.

Susan slowly spun about as she examined herself in numerous mirrors. The outfit felt a little bit cramped and awkward compared to her unstable molecule one, but that was par for the course.

Reed nodded in approval of how his wife looked. Others had different opinions however.

"We are gonna see the movies after this, right Uncle Ben?" Benjamin asked his godfather impatiently.

The Dragonfly reached out to stroke Susan's black haired son.

"Yeah of course we are. You know how girls are. Even your mom can't resist a chance to play dress up now and again..." This playful comment earned Ben equally playful punches from each of Susan's daughters in turn.

Chuckling over the adolescent antics Susan's gaze drifted back to her husband.

The expression upon his face was something guaranteed to kill any sensations of mirth she was feeling.

It wasn't angry or upset; it wasn't anything. It was the faraway look that Reed got when he was talking to someone who wasn't in the room.

Sure enough, as the look cleared away he slowly rose to his feet and began to remove the backpack he'd brought with him.

"Ben, you can take the kids to the movies. But first I'm going to need your pack." Reed instructed. Having been worried about Sandman popping up again, Reed had made sure to bring his armor with him.

Fitting every piece of his armor into two ordinary looking backpacks was extremely old hat to him by now.

Susan meanwhile slowly and carefully began to take off the dress revealing the unstable molecule uniform she refrained from removing beforehand.

As Ben lead the children from the store Susan began to pump her husband for information.

"So what is the problem this time?" She sighed, somehow no longer surprised that she might have to deal with two different supervillian attacks on Christmas.

Reed as always started donning his armor with his boots first.

"It's hard to say at the moment. There was some kind of explosion. It might have been an accident for all Johnny knows at the moment. He'll be able to get a firsthand look soon, but for now we should simply plan for the worst." Reed suggested.

It wasn't a bad suggestion either, even when the worst turned out to be worse than you could plan for.

The Inhuman generated windstorm abated and Johnny dropped about five feet to the ground. Crystal joined him on the ground a few seconds later and the pair gazed out at the scene of havoc before them.

A large pothole had been blown in the middle of a four way intersection and traffic had come to a crashing stop. In fact by the time they arrived most people had already fled their cars and the scene.

Not unsurprisingly Sandman was still lingering about the sight of the destruction, but remarkably he wasn't alone. His partner to Johnny's eye looked like a cross between Conan the Barbarian and King Kong.

The new supervillian pointed his hands in the direction of a nearby abandoned car and let loose with a bellow of rage.

"So! Finally some of this planets champions dare to face me, Blastaar the Living Bomb-Burst in battle! Witness my power and despair for the fate of your puny planet!"

In the wake of those words, red lines of energy sparked from his hands and slammed into the car which exploded sending shrapnel every which way.

Johnny instantly grabbed Crystal and swung her around, just barely managing to placing himself between her and any flying debris which came their way. When the smoke finally cleared, he turned his fingers towards Johnny and Crystal.

"Submit to my will now or be blasted into dust!" He demanded.

Johnny just smiled as he released his grip on Crystal and turned his gaze upon this new threat.

"I've been threatened by way better villains than you, and nobody has managed to talk their way past the Fantastic Five yet!" The Mandroid replied.

/Crys, you take care of Sandman, I'll hand this ugly gorilla in armor.\ He thought as loudly as possible since this was no time to be discussing strategy aloud.

As Johnny charged forward, it suddenly turns out that their opponents had come to the exact same conclusion about who was best suited to fighting whom.

Sandman's body disintegrating into a cloud of buzzing dust particles leapt in front of Blastaar ready to meet the Mandroid. He reformed himself faster than Johnny had ever seen before and with a huge hand scooped Johnny up off his feet.

Before he could figure out exactly what was going on Johnny found himself plummeting into a swirling cylinder of sand which began to harden itself around him. He was trapped with his arms pressed against his sides as Sandman began to roll him through the city and away from the fight towards some unknown destination.

Crystal watched with shock as the Sandman scooped up her husband. Channelling her elemental powers the Inhuman Princess let loose with a pressurized blast of water, but the Sandman managed to harden himself to point that it just washed over him right before it struck.

Then he started to roll away, leaving Crystal caught between going after her husband and keeping Blastaar contained. The later won out after a few moments of tense debate as she once more harnessed her wind powers.

After seeing what Blastaar had been able to do to several tons of steel with one blast from his fingertip sit was clear that maneuverability would be Crystal's best defense. The strange creature watched her drift back and forth about five feet off the ground for a few moments and then began to stride forward menacingly.

"Do you really believe that you, a mere female can stand in my way?" He rumbled.

Crystal felt a smile twitch at her lips.

"Let's find out!" She shot back, and followed up the words with a bolt of lightning.

This particular bolt only packed about as much voltage as your average tazer, but Crystal wanted to play it safe in case Blastaar wasn't as tough as he looked.

Just as she'd expected however the big brute simply laughed off her shock, however.

"If that is the best you are capable of, then you should return to breeding and leave fighting to the strong! " He cruelly mocked.

Crystal simply remained silent as she prepared another much more powerful bolt of lightning.

Jonathan Storm drew some comfort from the fact that despite being sucked up in a whirlwind and now rolled around like he was trapped in a drier, he was still holding onto his lunch.

It wasn't much but it was something. And at the moment small somethings were all he had to get by on.

Another small something was the occasional glimpses he was catching of the city as Sandman continued to roll through it an incredible pace. If he kept this up it wouldn't be long before they ran out of city and then... Oh!

The realization occurred to Johnny too late to do him any good however.

Sandman's body came to an abrupt stop at the edge of one of New York City's piers and unfolded itself, sending Johnny flying out to sea.

"Make sure to send me a post card from Davey Jones' locker, Mandroid!" Johnny could hear him call out right before he plunged into the water.

His metallic body sank like a submarine with a screen door, so Johnny changed tactics.

He returned to his human form. In the process he became painfully aware of just how cold the water was. Putting worries of hypothermia aside, he focused his attention on not drowning for the moment.

Luckily the speech Reed had given the team before heading down to Atlantis for Namor's wedding was still fairly fresh in his mind.

His eyes were doing 360s in his head from all the rolling he had been subjected to, but there was still one surefire way to tell up from down. He exhaled some the precious lungful of air he had grabbed at the last moment and watched which way the bubble went.

Jonathan could also remember seeing Sandman standing on the docks before he went into the drink, so he was fairly sure which way it was back to land. Holding his breath for as long as he could Johnny began to break into the best scissor kick he could manage.

He'd never be as good a swimmer as his sister, but he had watched her (and provided her with someone to practice against) enough times to have the basics down. Eventually when the burning sensation in his lungs became too much to bear he started swimming straight up towards the surface.

What he found waiting for him there was a considerable relief in two ways.

The first was a lung full of honest to goodness oxygen which had never before tasted so sweet. The second was the wooden planks of a dock.

Johnny began to tread water as silently as he could shifting about slightly. Sure enough he soon managed to catch sight of Sandman's new garish uniform through a gap between two wooden planks.

Taking another deep breath he dived under and swum over to one of the dock's nearby support structures. Wrapping both arms around it, he transformed back to the Mandroid and yanked.

The wooden beam snapped like a twig in his fingers and only now did he finally announce his presence.

"So long Sandman, I hate to break it to you, but it looks like your plan is all wet!" He joked.

With one of the key supports broken, Johnny was able to watch as the dock collapsed into the water, carrying the supervillian with it.

As he fell Sandman tried desperately to transform into a cloud of buzzing dust particles to float away from the river, but this only hastened his undoing. The moment his body touched the water it began to soak the stuff up transforming into mud.

In seconds Sandman had been transformed into nothing more than a mis-colored puddle to be yanked this way and that at the mercy of the tides.

When Reed on the Susan arrived on the scene it was painfully obvious that Crystal had her hands full. She was darting back and forth in midair avoiding blasts of energy being released from the finger tips of a strange beast.

Crystal momentarily stopped trying to return fire with bolts of lightning but thankfully not her evasive maneuvers to explain the situation.

/He says his name is Blastaar and that he's here to take over the world and so on and so forth. I've been letting him have it with everything I've got, but it's barely even fazed him!

At least so far I've been able to keep him shooting up into the sky and avoid property damage, but I'm not sure how much longer I can keep it up. Do either of you have any ideas?\

Reed began to look over "Blastaar" while blinking his eyes over and over again cycling his masks scanners through various different options.

"No... that's not possible..." Mr. Fantastic mumbled to himself suddenly. For one of the few times in his life, Reed Richards was unsure if one of his mechanical creations was functioning correctly.

"What is it, Reed?" Susan asked, leaning against him hesitantly.

"I'm picking up strange particle readings from Blastaar's body. I've seen them before, but only... Susan, can you go help Crystal keep Blastaar distracted? I'm going to need some time to set this up!" Reed implored her.

Susan kissed her husband's mask and smiled.

"No problem." Ultra Woman at once sprang into action rolling towards the grey furred monster which had yet to notice the arrival of its new opponents.

Being charged by a sphere about seven feet across rectified that problem nicely.

"What manner of beast is this!" Screamed Blastaar as he turned to point his hands at Susan.

Ultra Woman instantly uncoiled herself just time to have the monster's energy blast harmlessly through a gap in her now doughnut shaped form. Then she was upon her foe before he could launch another such blast, attacking form every conceivable direction.

Susan became a less of a person and more of a thick blue ooze sliding across every part of Blastaar's body. With a cry of rage he turned and pointed his hands towards his own chest and fired at a clump of Ultra Woman.

A clump that instantly retreated insuring Blastaar zapped himself full in the chest. He and his elastic foe went flying and were slammed into a nearby building.

Susan unfortunately acted as a built in cushion for Blastaar, but given his resilience to Crystal's lightning bolts it was unlikely that a little extra blunt drama would have made a difference.

Shaking his furred head ruefully as he emerged from the rubble Blastaar let loose with a wordless bellow of rage. From his toes to his wrists, and then on up to his neck, there was not a single inch of Blastaar's body which wasn't covered.

Not about to fall for the same trick twice, he tried a new strategy for freeing himself from Susan's goopey embrace .

He tore at Susan with every ounce of strength his bestial body could summon. His fingers while strong lacked any sort of claws however. If he'd had some he might have been able to hook them into Ultra Woman and tug at least some of himself free.

As it was, he only managed to entangle himself even more fully Susan's body. Eventually growing tired of this unwinnable struggle he decided to simply ignore her.

Blastaar began to move away from the building he'd blown himself into. Even then Ultra Woman took her toll however as it seemed as if he was moving through treacle. By that point it was too late anyways, Reed Richards was done thinking.

"Excuse me, but I think it's about time you went back where you came from!"

It's a tricky thing to contact someone psychically, and the further away from you they were the harder it was.

At the moment Reed wanted to speak to someone on the other side of the planet more or less. Luckily, if you were familiar with someone it could take some of the edge off.

At one point he'd thought that Susan, Ben, and Johnny would be the only people he'd ever be able to have easy direct mental contact to. Having Crystal be a part of the team for a few years however had proven that the link he shared with them wasn't tied to the fact that they had been present when Reed had developed his powers.

Instead it was simply a matter of how much time he'd spent close to them, and how well he knew whoever he was trying to mentally talk with.

Since his own connection with Queen Medusa of the Inhumans was somewhat tenuous he "piggybacked" his mental connection through Crystal.

After several tense seconds of sorting through mental static he somehow "felt" the connection he wanted slide into place.

/Medusa the Fantastic Five needs to borrow Lockjaw now, and I need him to open portals whatever destination I ask him to. Can you do that for me?\ Still more desperate seconds passed before the gigantic brown dog materialized after stepping through an orange portal right next to Reed.

He pointed at the rubble filled Area that Blastaar had just emerged from.

"Portal to just outside my lab, now! Follow us through it!" He ordered.

Lockjaw let loose with a slight whine, but the tuning fork like protrusion so of flesh above his head shimmered purple and the portal opened just as Blastaar set out to spread further havoc across the city.

"Excuse me, but I think it's about time you went back where you came from!" He announced.

Blastaar began to struggle against Susan to raise his arms toward Reed. Mr. Fantastic had no intention of letting his foe's powers help him however.

With a simple twitch of his neck her ignited the jetpack strapped to his back and turned himself into a metal missile. Susan perhaps fearing that Blastaar might unleash an energy jolt into her retreated away from his hands and Blastaar was able to get off the shot he wanted.

Not that it mattered, Reed could hear his armor's shielding system screeching in his ears, but it held. He slammed into Blastaar and knocked him into the portal, and ended up practically pile driving him into one of the Baxter Building's walls.

"Security system, this is Reed Richards. Open the door to my lab now! Lockjaw, portal to the special corner of my lab I showed you Medusa and Blackbolt. Susan, attack plan Cobra!" Reed ordered as he altered the direction of his thrusters slightly.

Rather than trying to keep Blastaar pinned against the wall he instead soared up to the ceiling, and away from his next energy attack. As the door to Reed's lab opened a glistening portal appeared in it.

Susan wrapped her arms around Blastaar's shoulders, but otherwise fled from his body. Instead she transformed herself from the waist down into a large spring.

Ultra Woman let go of Blastaar body and her coiled form shot forward, bouncing Blastaar into the portal.

While Lockjaw couldn't create a portal from outside Reed's lab to the inside of it, he could create one portal inside of it that lead to somewhere else inside of it.

Reed cut the thrusters and jumped into the portal with Susan following right after him. Blastaar lay on the floor before Reed's negative zone portal, still trying to recover from his two sudden changes in environments.

"Susan, pull the red lever!" Reed ordered. Ultra Woman's elastic arm did just that and the portal crackled to life sowing pictures of a swirling universe nearly completely devoid of life.

"Time for you to taste the power that flows from my fingers Blastaar!" Reed said as he let loose with the most powerful concussion blast that his gauntlets could produce.

It didn't do much to him, but it was enough.

It forced him a few feet backwards into the open Negative Zone Portal.

"Push the red lever back into the position Susan..." Reed finished.

The rubbery limb gave the lever another jerk and the electronic whine died away, as did his view of the negative zone, and most importantly of all, Blastaar. Reed heaved a mighty sigh of relief as he slowly rose to his feet.

"Well, that takes care of that. I think I've learned something very important from all of this though..." He wheezed forlornly.

"Somehow I doubt it's the true meaning of Christmas." Susan predicted. Reed nodded.