The best defense, Reed had long ago learned, was a quick ability to accept the chaos of any given situation and adapt to thrive in it. Maybe not a motto as efficient as "a good offense" but in his experience, that good offense was often the result that followed. Meaning that, as uncomfortable as the shift had been, once he ascertained that Sue and Johnny were safe, and could continue their search for Ben, Reed's next move was to pick up his work where he had last left off. It was a dual-purpose strategy that held the possibility of uncovering any possible causes for the interruption he might have accidentally caused (always a possibility when working at the bleeding edge of bleeding edged scientific research) and allowed him access to the inexplicable artifacts that had made the shift as well.
Meaning Steve Trevor. Meaning the serum. It was like working with gamma radiation -- deserving of the utmost precaution both scientifically and ethically. The shift was a new hiccup in those precautions, a pain point that needed contingencies and strategy around it. It was one thing to know the serum was in good hands with Steve (better hands, even, than Reed's own steady pair, he wasn't too proud to admit), but when the fabric of reality was this unstable -- and worse, unstable without yet a determined cause -- Reed needed to know that it would be just as safe no matter which direction the cosmic winds blew. Luckily, the alternate Reed whose life he was currently inhabiting was just as much a scientist as Richards himself. Nice to know there was something predictable about the multiverse, but it was cold comfort around a punishing realization that he should never have created something so easy to fall into the wrong hands. No one could have predicted this situation exactly, but that's exactly why it should have been accounted for. So Reed had summoned Steve there, intending to make use of the medical equipment to run whatever tests he could reverse engineer out of spare parts. Not for the last time, he wished he had access to a spectrometer.
Generally speaking, Steve never felt all that insecure about being with a demigoddess, no matter how many feats of improbability he witnessed while he lagged behind, a little slower, a little weaker, a little less special. Everything that he had accomplished in his life, from his career and the various government clearances he had to his physical fitness, he had absolutely earned. To be able to glimpse these incredible adventures and help in whatever way he could seemed like enough for him. As much as he had cultivated a good guy reputation, he didn't need to be the hero, or at least the hero that was saving the day. Responsibility, thy name is Steve Trevor.
Or at least he was comfortable with where he stood in the world until Diana had been overcome by Hecate during the last shift. It had come as a complete surprise to Steve: one minute he was walking in the door, the next he was running for his life from this bone white version of the woman he loved. The goddess's magic was powerful and had nearly killed him, and while he knew that there was little hope that science could enhance him to the point that he would be able to go toe to toe with someone so ferocious, wasn't it the wise thing to cue up every weapon available to defend the world against such a threat? Steve didn't want to be immortal or have lasers coming out of his eyes, but if he were stronger and a little more resilient, that was worth the risk of taking a serum that until now hadn't been tested on someone else. But he trusted Reed, and he knew this was something he had to shoulder.
He didn't know if it was a good thing or not that he didn't feel all that different after taking the serum. Muscles hadn't popped out all over his body, he hadn't gone full Mr. Hyde, and his reflection still looked absolutely the same to him. Maybe his hearing was a little sharper, his eyesight clearer, but other than that, he wasn't sure what had changed. Maybe it was gradual? What he did know was that the man who had come up with the substance could help him get answers. "Just don't ask me to turn my head and cough," he deadpanned to try to cut any tension.
"Absolutely no promises, Mr. Trevor," Reed said dryly, even as the joke went like a knife through some of the stress from the last few days. With Steve here, the problem of uncertainty could be solved, some sense of control restored. He could make sure of it. "Welcome, come right this way." He urged Steve over to an examination table, explaining as he went, “I want to begin with a simple physical, a blood test, then see if we can place some of your strength and endurance limitations. The basics. I wish I had access to some of my more advanced equipment but this at least should give us an idea of anything that needs more attention."
As he had told Steve when handing over the serum, this was a prototype, albeit one that was the most advanced version yet. " Can you tell me when exactly you administered the serum? Have you noticed any changes?" The research process was soothing, allowing Reed to feel in command, capitalizing on his education and expertise. As he asked the questions, Reed checked Steve's pulse, measuring the beat against his wristwatch. “Remember, the effects might not be intuitive, this isn't like a flu shot. New abilities night manifest in strange or subtle ways."
"Of course, Mr. Richards." He straightened up a little into military posture in response because as much as he liked to find the humor in everything to avoid the fear of the very real probability of death, he knew that they needed to take this seriously. It wasn't like he had necked an alleged healthy alternative to Red Bull here; he'd put into his body chemicals that could result in untold effects. There were ways that it was supposed to work of course, but until it was inside a human body, nothing was guaranteed. Well, that body had turned up, and he was feeling good enough that he hoped that he could make Reed proud of the work he had done.
Being in the military previously meant a lot of physical examinations, so he hopped up on the table and felt no qualms about rolling up his sleeve for the blood test. "I'd say maybe nine hours ago. It was late. I didn't really want to sit around waiting for something to happen" He closed his eyes both to keep his pulse steady as he thought about the question and so he could think back to that morning. "You know, I didn't drink a cup of coffee this morning, and that's usually the first thing I did. I felt...awake, I guess, like I'd had the world's best sleep and was ready to tackle the day. And I want to say my senses are heightened, but that could be psychosomatic, right?" He didn't want to guess one way or the other, but he was hopeful that there would be more changes cropping up soon as long as they weren't too extreme. "I haven't tried punching anything to see how that's different."
In the least objectifying way possible, Steve was a very impressive specimen of a man. Not just physically, although he was the very picture of health and fitness, but emotionally and intellectually well. For Reed that had been the puzzle of trying to recreate the original serum, that inimitable magic in a bottle that had transformed a good man into a living legend. And hearing Steve report now, the difference between the two of them was obvious. For Reed this was a puzzle to solve, a game to play. For Steve, it was his flesh and blood. And where Reed's personal ego was on the line, his ability to look himself in the eye gambled on his version of the serum doing good in the world instead of evil, Steve was thinking about every possible outcome, no fear or shame in a negative result. Hell, he didn't even flinch when Reed pricked him for a blood sample.
Why did it feel easier to talk to him when Reed’s gaze was occupied by plating the blood sample to view under a microscope? "Perhaps psychosomatic yes,”Reed suggested as he worked, “But promising nonetheless. And we'll try the punching here in just a second too.” Why else have the lab space at their disposal, really. "Talk to me about your moods. What state were you in when you took the serum, and how do you feel now? Any stress, anxiety, mania?" Turning good into great was, after all, much more than physical ability and Steve's mental state was just as important as the other data, if not more so, but Reed had to admit he was curious on a personal level as well, seeking a little more insight on the other man.
"A little stressed," he admitted, "but not about your work." Far be it for him to question science that he could not even begin to understand. Even though he knew that Reed agonized over the work he had been doing, this playing with God and the sort of consequences that might result, Steve tried to see the good in people when he could. Context was king though, and if Diana could seek help for her little problem, then he felt like he could confide in Reed too. Hell, it was probably covered by some scientist-doctor/patient confidentiality clause somewhere. "Last month, around this time, Diana experienced this...possession, I guess you'd say." He frowned because it wasn't exactly a scientific way to describe things, but then again, it hadn't been a very scientific kind of night. "Hecate, goddess of witchcraft. Not too fond of men, I must say. She was pretty keen on killing me. We haven't seen any signs of her this time, but you know. It can raise a man's blood pressure a little."
Humor had always been his favorite method of deflecting, but he knew that he needed to trust Reed and be fully up front with him. With a deep breath, he continued. "That's why I decided to use the serum. Hopefully it will make me harder to kill, but I still knew last time that it was Diana in there. I want to be able to help her if it happens again, so Hecate can't hurt anyone else and so nobody tries to hurt her to subdue a threat." Steve cleared his throat. "Since taking it though I feel less anxious. Kind of braced, like I'm waiting for something to happen but also confident that I can handle it. Not cocky though, just this certainty."
"You strike me as a confident man overall," Reed observed after a moment's pause to take in Steve's account of Diana's possession and the motivation for taking the serum, “But certainty can be an important tool against witchcraft, a science we don’t yet understand. Believe me, I’ve had some firsthand experience of my own.” Not a goddess of course, but the days when Sue had been taken over by an extra-human, extra-terrestrial force had been some of the most frightening of Reed’s life. “In the best possible circumstance, that’s what this serum is designed to do, bring out the subject’s inner qualities of strength, body and mind.” Although his hands were slipping the blood sample slide under the microscope lens, Reed took a sidelong glance at the other man. “I’m sure you’ve heard this already. ‘Good becomes great.’ A useful aphorism for summing up the chemical potential here, but it’s more nuanced than that. You say you feel braced, certain. Capable, perhaps. Frankly for someone with an extraordinary ability of any kind, I find that reassuring.”
Under the microscope’s gaze, Reed watched Steve’s blood cells oxidize at a macro level. “Has Diana recovered?” he asked, as he jotted a few notes about the blood sample into a nearby notebook. The idea of an open-ended threat of possession was unsettling of course, but more than that, Reed had a lot of respect for the woman and didn’t like to think of her suffering the way he’d seen his wife under similar circumstances. “It took Sue a long time to feel normal again after a similar attack. I confess, it was difficult on me to see her hurt like that, I can’t imagine how you feel. What does Diana think of you taking the serum?” That was the question with the least scientific weight thus far, but Reed couldn’t resist his curiosity.
"Well, I've had a lot of training," he admitted with a smirk. There was no point in playing humble. He perked up at Reed's reassurance. Of course he would have known a similar circumstance. Relief washed through Steve's body as he felt that much more reassured that he had made the right choice in embracing science and the innovations that Reed could create to confront such problems. He was close enough to this kind of problem to relate but far enough removed that self-interest wouldn't cloud his judgment and treat Steve as a mere guinea pig. "Scout's honor, nothing to cause alarm under my skin. Trust me, if it started to see through walls or anything unexpected like that, I'd give you a shout. Maybe more than that."
How to answer, how to answer? "There hasn't been any sign of Hecate this time. A friend said it might be related to stress making her vulnerable to the goddess taking over. She's getting help from some people who are a bit better versed in that side of things." He listened attentively to how he spoke about Sue and felt it resonate that much more. The things they did for love. "I think she feels guilty, both that she hurt me and that I would feel the need to change myself in any way. She doesn't expect me to be anything more or less than myself, you know?" There had been some guilt tied to taking the serum in the first place, but he felt like it was the most rational thing to do. "Is this going to be permanent or just last a while? I guess I should have asked that before I jumped in."
Everything Steve said about Diana had Reed nodding along with understanding. “Love is a powerful motivator,” he said simply, because the conclusion would have been obvious to anyone who could see Steve talk about the woman. “And it makes you stronger together.” His tone was matter of fact, but the subject matter left Reed feeling a little caught up in the emotions, especially after the experience of having to find his wife again after the shift, a frightening few hours while they lasted. “Stop me now,” he said waving the subject away with a hand with a brief laugh, “Before I start explaining my wedding vows.”
“The goal with the serum was to create lasting but evolutionary change in a subject’s body,” Reed answered Steve’s follow up question, “In as much as the goal was to successfully recreate the original formula. But as I mentioned, this is a prototype. There is the chance that because of the augmented metabolism and recovery process, the serum will effectively undo itself over time — by increasing your ability to recover to an original state, at an apex point the healing factor will begin removing itself, restoring your original state. This has been the case in several previous attempts at recreations, of course, none of them were by me.” Reed gave a short sigh. “I’m not trying to sound so unsure,” he clarified, “But I want you to understand every possibility. The short answer is the goal was permanent change, but until we have more data, we should factor in some unpredictability.” As if it could be that straightforward, just incorporating a chaos quotient in some formula. Reed had his own hesitations, but he kept them private. “And speaking of that data, let’s start now with some strength tests with a classic: how much lab equipment can you lift?”
"Look, if you want to go into your wedding vows, I am a rapt audience. If a man of science can believe that, then it just makes my faith in it that much stronger." He knew all about how balancing work and a personal life could be a struggle in any career that required a lot of high risk work. Even when it seemed like isolating oneself would be the best way to avoid anyone getting lonely or hurt, love was one of the only ways to feel human again. It didn't always make sense, but his loyalty to Diana stood head and shoulders above that of his employers. If that got him in trouble, so be it, but he intended to be with her a long, long time.
There were certain words that definitely went over Steve's head, but he did his best to digest them as he narrowed his eyes and nodded. Context clues at least helped him out. "That's more or less what I figured. Aim for the moon, and even if you don't make it, you'll land among the stars." It was a motivational quote he had seen in looped script on inspirational posters and across the internet, and even though it made him roll his eyes, the concept wasn't very far off. Lifting made him grin since he had a few competitive bones in his body. He hopped from the table and cracked his knuckles as he looked around at where to start. Well, why not the table itself? He braced his back and lifted with his knees, or at least he would have if it had been heavy. It hadn't seemed like an impossible goal, but this time it wouldn't even make him break a sweat. "Okay, this is different."
"I've aimed for the moon before, Steve, and I did indeed make it to the stars," Reed replied, but the words that had come to his mind when Steve's motivational quote reminded him of that fateful first mission only came out distracted as he watched the other man lift the table and all the attendant equipment on top of it with a surprising amount of ease. He wished there had been time to conduct some baseline tests before Steve had taken the serum, but in the moment Reed had just been concerned about getting it into the right hands before the power of what he'd created could be corrupted. It had been fear leading him, a weakness that pained him to have to confront. Reed was supposed to be better than that, held himself to a standard that didn't allow for mistakes, and he always considered fear to be a mistake. But what was done was done, and all he could do now was grit his teeth, rectify the situation no matter what it took, and hope for the best.
But given the way Steve was performing, it almost appeared that there was nothing to go wrong. As much as Reed was loathe to leave anything up to luck, this time it seemed like they'd evaded danger. "Very impressive," he said, and meant it. "Talk to me, what do you feel. Strain at all? Any muscle pain?" He circled the other man and the table, jotting notes quickly on the notepad as he walked. "Not to sound like your fitness instructor, but where do you feel in your body this power coming from?" Psychosomatic had been a possibility earlier, but now Steve's mind would be a valuable tool for evaluating these abilities, especially without access to better technology. "You might notice an instinct, a new sense of your body. Just like previously you could know with confidence that your body could lift a box or climb a flight of stairs, but that sense of capacity will increase."
"I'm more of a crash landing guy myself," he said with a smirk. Though he considered himself a damn good pilot, winding up on Themyscira had been far beyond his control as a mortal. He had just been lucky that Diana had been the one to come across him and see the good in him rather than the fact that he was just an intruder. Though she would never consider that a debt to be repaid, some part of him knew that he would always prioritize her above all others for that, even if that sometimes seemed like madness. Even if it meant taking an experimental drug and enhancing himself when she would never ask it of him.
"No strain. No pain." He lifted the table a little higher to prove the point before lowering it back down, the motion controlled and smooth rather than a man at his limit and straining after making a huge mistake. "I guess in a way it seems like my core? Like you know when you engage your abs to brace for a heavy lift? Mine just kind of clenched, and I did the damn thing." For once he wished that he was better at describing what was happening inside himself or at least more capable of putting it into technical terms. "It was intuitive though. I didn't really think about whether it was going to work out, I just...followed through." He shrugged and then gave a little laugh, giddy at seeing this change in action. The serum wasn't just a dud or a placebo, it was working.
"This is remarkable,” Reed enthused, feeling Steve's giddy laugh echoed on his own face. There was a joy in every successful experiment and every innovation, but the high stakes and risky variables of this one made it a particularly relieving win. “Congratulations, Steve,” he added, since the other man had indeed accomplished something with him, contributed his body as a test case for a serum that wasn’t guaranteed to be effective, or even completely safe. “You are absolutely the man I’d want to see with these abilities,” Reed confessed, seldom direct with this much praise, but the relief of the moment was undeniable. “Because I know you’ll use them well.”
The amount of faith Reed had on that regard was affirming, enough so to let him release for now the lingering doubts that he should ever have even the created the serum in the first place, but that faith was no reason to leave off from their scientific pursuits. “This way now, Steve, let’s see if we can find the upper limit on what you can do.”