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fantastic four regroupo

january scene buddies with sue storm
[01 . . . . . 21]

It was a victory hard-earned, but a victory nonetheless, Reed reflected as he moved through the parting crowds of onlookers, emergency services, cleanup crews, and recovering heroes to find his wife. There was always so much work to do, so much heroism in those moments that occurred after the fight, as people, powered and otherwise, scrambled to care for each other. Some were organizing evacuations of the injured to medical facilities, some were coordinating a block around the area for investigators, some were redirecting traffic around the most flooded areas, some had even managed to divert a few construction trucks to begin repairing the damaged infrastructure. Soon Reed would join them, using his abilities to help fix what had been broken, but more immediately he needed to find Sue and just rest for a moment. There were always the aftereffects of a battle like this, even after years of practice and training. Physical ones of course like exhaustion, that rubbery feeling in his limbs, breathlessness as his body worked to reoxygenate after expending all that energy, but mental or emotional ones as well, like the very human instinct to check on his loved ones, prove for a fact that everyone was safe and whole. Reed trusted his team, knew that Johnny and Sue were just as capable fighters as he was, if not more so, and in the heat of battle he was always able to focus on the matter at hand, shut out those worries and fears for their safety, but once the threat was neutralized and he became a man again instead of a team leader, the first thing Reed wanted was to see his family.

The winds and tides were calming, he was happy to note, as Storm turned her attention to things beyond defending the pier, although it didn't do much for the fact that Reed was still dripping water as he walked, shaking it out of his eyes and hair, growing cold in the still air now that he wasn't distracted by dodging whatever Namor threw at him. Someone tossed him a towel as he moved through the recovery efforts, a few tents popping up to distribute food and water and bandages. Reed was about to stop and ask if anyone had seen his wife when he spotted her, using a final reserve of energy to rush the last few feet between them. "Sue, are you alright?"

Sue was exhausted, which also made her feel ridiculous but it had been a rough battle. She was grateful for her powers slowly coming back to her, that she was able to contribute, but she'd be the first to admit she'd taken far worse than she'd been able to deal out. Those bruises were already forming, ache setting deep into her bones. Sitting still wasn't helping, she knew that, but she needed a minute - just one, to breathe. One minute to breathe, to collect herself, to know she was fine, they were fine, she knew Reed and Johnny were okay. They'd been through worse, even if they weren't at full strength and were down one. Having Ben would have been nice, but they'd done what they could with what they had.

Reed's voice brought her out of her thoughts, broke through the commotion and noise around like it always managed to do, even this new voice of his. She pushed up onto her feet and reached out, grabbing on and pulling him into a tight embrace, proof he was there and in one piece. They were both drenched, which kept it from being as comforting as it might have been otherwise, but it was still exactly what she needed. "Reed..." She pulled back enough to hold his face in her hands, kissing him quickly before studying him closer. "I'm fine, I'm fine. Are you?"

As much as Reed lived a life of the mind, one that often had him projecting probabilities and outcomes until he hardly needed to see the real world to know what to expect, this feeling, this post-battle ritual, of having Sue in his arms would always be proof that there would never be any replacement for being in the world, trusting his five senses in all respects. It was one thing to know Sue was alright intellectually, and quite another to be able to feel it for himself, even as they rocked slightly on their feet through the embrace, both unstable after everything Namor had put them through. Without these little moments to ground him, Reed had no idea how he'd be able to go through this life without losing his mind with worry -- as always, Sue was his touchstone, the person who made all things possible. He likely would have told her as much too, always free with his gratitude and admiration for her, if not for the way his vision was still blurry around the edges and the way even Sue's gentle touches emphasized the pain in his body, reminding Reed how much worse for the wear he was.

"I've been better, but I'm here and I'm whole," he promised her, meeting her gaze with the truth of it. "Sure miss Ben at a time like this." Their numbers down by one was always hard enough, but the open question of where their final teammate was bothered Reed as both a scientist and a friend. No time to solve that problem now, though, and Reed focused again on his wife. "I saw what happened, I thought you were out cold. Did one of the medics treat you already?" He glanced around to see if one was free at the moment, a better task than letting himself remember the sight of Sue taking a brutal hit not long ago. "Here take this at least," he said, looping the towel around her neck and affectionately using one corner to catch a little bit of the water from her face and hair, only noticing when it soaked the towel that it was mixed with blood, putting an uncomfortable adrenaline drop in his stomach. "Great scott, you're still bleeding," he cursed, "Sit, sit down again." His own body protested, the ribs on one side likely cracking further, but Reed was regardless urging her into a more recovering position.

Her hand slid down to the center of his chest, fingers curling into his shirt for something to hold onto. Medics, right, they were scurrying around and taking care of people as best they could. Sue blinked a couple times thanks to water dripping down close to her eyes. "Medics, no - there's other people they need to get to first, I'm fine."

Except there was blood on the towel around her neck, which took a long moment to process. Her head hurt, the mental toll of using her powers so much after so long. All she wanted to do was go home, clean up, sleep. Sue let Reed guide her back to where she'd been sitting before, her brow furrowed as she pulled the towel from her around her neck to look. "It's probably just from where I hit against that..." Trailing off, she gestured in the direction of where the action had been, frowning at the wave of pain that hit her with the movement. "You know."

"I know, I saw it," Reed said, more to soothe Sue than to really say anything of value. He'd seen her take that hit from afar, too distant and too occupied to protect her himself. Thank god for her forcefields, or this damage might have been so much worse -- maybe that was the reason why she'd skipped the medical treatment. God, if that wasn't Sue all over, always the type to make sure others were taken care of before caring for herself. He loved that about her, that inherent goodness, but in the moment it was overwhelmed by an exasperation that she was bleeding from the head and still insisting there were more important people to be prioritized. "Medic," he called, disregarding her protests, although Sue was probably somewhat right that they were mostly occupied, "Over here." In the meantime they'd have to do their best themselves. "Let me see it," he urged, trying to be delicate as he examined the back of her head. Sure enough, a wound, hard to see given the way the tidal water had flooded her hair, matting it down, but as best Reed could tell it was still bleeding, either too fresh or too deep to clot, maybe both. After all the injuries they'd sustained in the past, it was always the simple ones that Reed feared the most. Magic, mutant, interdimensional -- the stranger an injury the more it demanded attention. In their line of work they were so much more likely to shrug off a concussion, a head injury, as nothing compared to what they'd survived before, and that's what made them so dangerous. "Lie back," Reed instructed, placing the towel over the cut to stem it somewhat, "But don't go to sleep, stay with me. Talk to me." The worst thing he could do right now was let either of them shut their eyes, no matter how tempting it seemed.

Sue relented when Reed asked to see, letting her chin tilt down toward her chest so he could better look at the back of her head. That hurt too, her neck aching from the strain even though she wasn't stretching, overextending, any of it. She bit at the inside of her lip at the little jolts of pain from any touch around where she was apparently bleeding. Maybe that was why her head seemed to hurt extra, not just because of power use but also how she'd hit against where she'd landed. She drew in a sharp breath at the pressure against the cut when he put the towel against it, hesitating before doing as he said and shifting to lie back - though it was done slowly, in staggered movements as her body complained every inch of the way.

"We did it though," she said, blinking slowly and reaching to find his hand, holding onto him. "Everyone. Namor. Have you seen Johnny?"

Reed was wincing along with her at every movement, half in sympathy and half because his own body was still coming down off of the adrenaline high and every bone bruise and injured joint was beginning to make itself known. There had been a particularly vicious blow to the side that Reed could feel from his up through his shoulder -- maybe it wasn't just Sue who was putting off medical care like some kind of martyr here. Feeling a little less urgent now that Sue's wound at least had a compress against it and counting on the fact that it would stabilize by the time they could get an actual doctor over here, Reed was able to smile softly at Sue's word and the touch of her hand. "We really did, we saved a lot of people. I think Johnny's getting patched up now too," Reed added, thinking of the other man. What had been hard enough to watch Sue take was nothing compared to her brother. They might have helped save the day, but it should never have been so damaging. "We're going to have to think of a plan, for these kind of events, until we're back up to strength." Abilities were returning, yes, but they weren't at 100% yet, and rather than dwell on the possibilities of what could have gone wrong today, Reed preferred to be proactive and plan contingencies for the next fight, because knowing Namor, there would always be a next fight.

It was a rare moment of thinking about Stella, what she would be able to bring to this situation. She was a doctor, she could have been a help with the fighting done, taking care of people and patching them up. She could be taking care of Reed and Johnny. Not these paramedics who Sue was sure were perfectly capable and fine, but she thought it could be better. Maybe that was because no one ever seemed to be good enough to take care of her family, not when they deserved the best. Or at least, that's what she wanted for them. She blinked slowly, playing back flashes of what had happened so fast amidst all the noise, the water. It wasn't anywhere close to the first time she'd seen her husband, her brother take such hard hits, but it was the first time she'd seen these versions of them take them. She hated it every time, had to block it out in the moment to stay on task but now there was nothing to do but think back. "Right, a plan. Need to be organized, better." She brought her free hand up to rest on her forehead, letting her eyes close a moment. "Did you actually see him getting worked on? Johnny? You need a doctor too."

"I didn't see it, I was looking for you," Reed confessed after thinking about it. He'd spotted Sue first, but likely would have kept searching until he encountered Johnny as well if he hadn't. "It's just my best guess considering all the damage he took. We've put a lot of strain on these bodies this week, they weren't designed for what we do." A lifetime ago, even Reed's own body hadn't been designed for these abilities, these situations, and it had taken a blast of cosmic rays as well as years of practice and training to adapt to what his life had become. "Feels like the old days," he reflected, thinking back on that younger, greener version of himself, "Trying to get the muscle memory back, learn how to dodge and react." Reed's mind was all there, but so much of that combat training lived in the body, and he'd felt his instincts slower and his powers dulled somewhat, like having the distant memory of riding a bike but no practical experience in years. "We're either going to have to start training all over again or be much more careful in these forms. Likely both." Reed filed away his mental apologies to the other Reed, who would be waking up with unexplained bruises and, judging by the pain in his side, more than a few wrapped ribs.

Easier to focus on them than herself, Sue gave a hum of agreement at Reed's comments about their bodies. While it had been strange waking up that first day, herself but not at the same time, slowly regaining her abilities and using them in this new body was more difficult than strange. It wasn't quite like learning to walk again, but close. Stella was in decent shape, but not in any way that told Sue she'd ever thrown a punch, or even taken a kick-boxing class. Her movements had felt awkward, clumsy, lacking muscle memory like Reed said. "Might have to think twice before throwing ourselves into situations like we normally would," she commented, fingertips rubbing over her forehead like that would help somehow - it didn't. "Still help, but if we're not trained up we might be more liability in the middle of things. As much as I hate the sidelines."

Reed tipped his head to one side as he considered the wisdom of Sue's words. The sidelines were no more comfortable a place for him than her, all his life, even before it had changed on a fateful mission, Reed had been the type to throw himself into the fight, not brazenly but with strategy, with leadership, knowing that he was willing to do his part to fight wrongdoing and protect others no matter the cost. But that was his choice to make, and this other Reed couldn't be swept along for that journey if there were going to be consequences of the mortal kind. "That's a fair point," he agreed, "You know I can't just stand back and watch something like this, but I get the sense that other-Reed isn't the same kind of hero." The other man's detailed experiments, those meticulously kept lab notes that detailed nearly round the clock lab time, they indicated a different kind of passion, a separate type of heroism and devotion to doing the right thing, and perhaps even the potential to one day stop a great evil, but that was every man's journey to make on his own. "Just don't ask me to stand down where Namor is concerned," he added in revision, only half-joking at the history that would always have Reed stepping up to the Atlantian when necessary, "That's a special circumstance."

Sue opened her eyes to look up at him, a hint of a smirk playing at the corners of her mouth. That was all she could really manage, given the circumstances. "Don't worry baby, Namor is all yours," she said, giving his hand a gentle squeeze. "You kick his ass right back to Atlantis."

His points otherwise were as measured as she could have expected, even if the aftermath of battle. Logic and reason were traits she associated with her husband, even if his heart was saying something else they could be appealed to. Standing by, not getting in the thick of things, it felt wrong, Sue knew that. It felt wrong for her, she knew it would feel wrong for Reed too. That didn't change the fact that it was wrong for them to put themselves in that position when they knew they weren't in a condition to do so. Like he'd said, the other-Reed didn't seem like the same kind of hero. Stella, either. "We can figure out other ways to help. We're smart, have more to contribute than physically if that's what we decide is best." She lifted her head slightly as if to test how it would feel, then immediately let it rest back again. "Okay, plan. Find Johnny, go to the lab, assess injuries, determine where to go from there."

"Excellent strategy as always," Reed agreed with an affirming nod, a smile still lingering around his face at the way his wife indulged him around a little Namor-specific rivalry. "Let's regroup and see how much we can do to get these bodies back the way we found them. That at least seems much more like what they were meant for." Other-Reed's lab full of medical equipment was an asset to be thankful for, as was Stella's hospital access now that Reed thought of it, hoping they wouldn't end up having to visit Johnny in one. With any luck they'd all end up back at the lab to patch themselves up and debrief after the battle, just like they would at the Baxter building. There was almost a longing for that normalcy in Reed's chest, that family strategy session was just as much a tactical advantage as it was an emotional one. Just like the importance of finding Sue, grouping together to discuss what had occurred was reassuring, helped them all see that they were safe and moving forward. "Gently, though," Reed added, offering a hand to help Sue if she needed it, although he was perhaps not all the more stable. "Fight's over."

Sue gave herself a few more moments of laying there, not moving or doing anything to aggravate the aching of her body into anything beyond dull. It was important to go, to find her brother, get them and their faces out of public where the might be noted - because it was doubtful their counterparts would like to find their likenesses in the news. Also so they could regroup, as Reed said. Assess injuries, determine treatment, work on a plan for the future because this couldn't happen again. She reached for Reed's hand, making an annoyed sounding noise when she started to pull herself up, because ow. It made her head throb with a sharp stabbing pain, and her grip on him tightened as she forced herself to push through it and get to her feet. A brief wave of lightheaded-ness later and she was steady, reaching to carefully touch the back of her head, fingertips still coming away sticky with blood. "See, this is why we don't have fancy sheets like Stella does..."

He was just too slow, in this state and in his body, but Reed moved nonetheless to catch her with long arms around her waist as she rolled with dizziness. That blood on her hands, the way it was staining the towel, it didn't bode well, and Reed was praying it wouldn't need more than more time with the compress and a better bandage. Every time Sue shut her eyes, he worried she'd fall asleep, drift into unconsciousness -- and that fear was a projection of exactly what he should be worried about himself as well. Every bone in his body was begging for rest, for sleep, but they had to run the right tests first, make sure it was safe. They had to hope Johnny was in some state to be transported as well, otherwise they'd be limping away with a stretcher in tow, no easy thing to overlook on the streets of San Francisco. "We might be missing those sheets tonight," Reed guessed, thinking of the little townhouse he'd come to appreciate, "I'm not sure we're going to get much further than the lab in our states."

She really wanted to fall asleep, tired down to her bones, but she knew she shouldn't - couldn't, not yet. Another reason they needed to find Johnny, because what if he was unconscious somewhere? Sue had always been protective of her brother, for better or worse, but in these forms... he was so small. It made it all the more concerning he'd taken such a bad hit, in a body that wasn't used to seeing this kind of action, so fragile and breakable. He could be anywhere, in any condition, and the more she thought about it the worse she felt. Or maybe that was just how she felt due to her injuries, but she was betting it was more due to worry at that point. "I doubt that futon is going to help us much," she replied, nose scrunching at the thought of waking up after a night on that. On a normal day, alright. In their current states? No way. She gripped onto his arm with her clean hand, holding onto him as she turned to look around the area. "Alright. We can't split up so we have to be strategic. Think smarter not harder, right? Richards family motto."

Richards family moto, Reed almost had to smile again if he wasn't aching all over, turning his mind to that important issue of finding their teammate. Maybe that was the reason he'd been rushing to find Sue once the worst of the fight was over -- their numbers were already down by one, and Reed took that alone as a personal failing. Losing two of the family, even for a moment, would be too much to bear. "He took so much damage," Reed said, trying not to think of the image of it in his mind. How strange, to be able to both see these new bodies, new faces, as strangers and yet still funnel all his affection and loyalty for his family onto them as if they were the same familiar figures as in his mind's eye. Perhaps because of the other Reed's connection to them, latent closeness lingering in the body, he hypothesized, before filing the thought away. Time for that later, now was for action. "I have to believe they swept him to the medics almost immediately," Reed guessed -- then hesitated, brown furrowing, as another idea occurred. "Unless they didn't find him where he fell, he might not have reached the emergency services at all."

"Stop stop stop." Sue closed her eyes a moment, hand tightening on his arm as she drew in a deep breath. It was exactly what she'd already been thinking, but hearing it out loud made it so much worse. Hearing the confirmation from Reed that she wasn't making it more than it was - he'd taken so much damage, and he was so small. And her fear, which was why she'd wanted to know if Reed had actually seen her brother, that Johnny was out there where no one had found him. What if he was unconscious? What if he was hurting, or scared? Not that his bravado would let him show or admit it, but Sue knew it was possible for him to feel that. "I know he's hurt, I know he's... I know." She stopped, swallowing thickly and looking up at her husband. "But I need us to at least pretend to be optimistic right now, okay?"

It pained Reed always to see Sue upset, and even more so to know his analytic thinking, that classic Richards assess, hypothesize, conclude rhythm was what at done it. He'd turned to team leader mode again, thinking search tactics and success rates without stopping to think what his hypothesis entailed, what he was speaking aloud, the image that it brought up. Sometimes it was all too easy to retreat there, distancing himself with science and empiricism because the reality was too painful to have to feel. Sue was right, a tactician wasn't all that they needed now -- optimism would be just as important a tool. "That was --" Insensitive. Unnecessary. Fear speaking. "You're right, you're right," he acknowledged, humbled by it. "I'm sorry. We will find him. We'll check the medical services and if need be plan our next move." No need to imagine their family member, their teammate, in the worst possible scenario if they didn't need to.

Sue was usually better about compartmentalizing, turning down the concern she always felt in one way or another. They were always putting themselves in danger, they were bound to get hurt along the way, these were the lives they led. She knew part of it was that she wasn't fully herself, Stella was in there too. Stella, who didn't lead this kind of life and who also saw her brother take a beating. Part of her worry, her fear, was coming from Stella, that ache of emotion in her chest that was completely separate from the soreness she was feeling physically. And Reed, bless him, she knew he was simply being Reed, but what she needed was her husband, not the team lead version of him.

"Thank you," she replied, voice a little tight. "Okay, medical services." She kept hold of him as they started in that directly, pushing through how much her body was wanting to stop, sit down, lay down, just stop moving. That could wait, it wouldn't be so bad as long as she kept moving. As soon as they were in the makeshift staging area, her gaze was sweeping into every corner, down to the ground, looking for her brother.

This wasn't meant to be a hospital, it wasn't even meant to be an emergency services area. It was a visitor center that just happened to provide a protective cover for the injured or shellshocked, with quick-moving volunteers, some shifters and some otherwise, doling out emergency blankets and whatever the vending machines had that would raise blood sugar out of the dangerously low levels. First aid was being applied where needed and where possible, bandages being handed out and a small group gathered around what appeared to be someone's badly broken leg deciding what to do. This place was just the front lines, a triage center, as people waited either for a transport that would take them to a hospital with better resources to heal them or for their conditions to stablize enough to be able to make that move. Reed was no stranger to a scene like this, but it never got easier to see the people who were injured by Namor's actions, not because they were his enemies but because they were simply in his way, the wrong place at the wrong time. Typically Reed was able to feel that sorrow, that anger at Namor for his actions without taking on the blame for them -- but this time somewhere from deep inside came a feeling of guilt that he hadn't done more, acted faster, neutralized Namor before there could be this many damages. Was that the other Reed coming through, or just the new awareness of it that came from seeing so many unfamiliar faces here?

Including Johnny's -- no, Liam's, but with Johnny inside. Battered, far worse than Reed had seen his teammate and friend injured in a long time, but also bandaged and seemingly handled with care, unconscious still but somewhat stabilized and likely among those that would be moved to a hospital soon. If Reed felt like he hadn't seen Johnny in this state, he'd certainly never seen Liam, this new body, take such damage either. He winced away from the sight just slightly, as if he could feel a fraction of that pain just from looking at it. He almost wished he could shield Sue from the sight of it as well, spare her the distress, but they had to get Johnny back to the lab. "Sue, there, he's -- we found him."

There were so many people, so many moving parts in that area, Sue felt dizzy from trying to track what was happening and where she'd already looked. The throbbing in her head only got worse the more she tried to concentrate, but she could push through it, just keep going until they found Johnny and got out of there and then everything would be okay. It would be fine. They would all be fine. She was repeating that to herself so intently that she almost missed what Reed said, but then it registered and her gaze snapped over to where he was looking.

"Johnny..." Sue pushed past a few people to get to where he was, grateful he'd been found and taken care of rather than alone, hurt, waiting for someone, but that didn't stop the wave of upset that washed over her at seeing him in such a bad state. Her hand trembled as she ran it over his hair, gently smoothing it back from his forehead as she fought back the emotion welling up in her throat, tears pricking at her eyes. "Reed, we have to - he needs - we need to go, lab, home, it's not - he's not okay."

Even in this body he didn't fully recognize, Reed could tell how deeply the sight of her brother was affecting Sue. More than just the understanding that of course she would be upset, of course this would put a strong reaction in her, he could see it in her eyes, her careful hands, with a knowledge that couldn't be entirely his own. The power of her emotions, combined with his own guilt and fear for the young man, had Reed nodding solemnly rather than answer out loud, in case his voice wavered like he feared it would. They hadn't even been able to lay the young man on a proper stretcher, he was on the ground on a cushion of strangers' jackets, a kindness as touching as it was unexpected. Sue's assessment was correct, they had to get him home. The hospitals would have enough work to do caring for the affected. In the lab, Reed and Sue could care for him with twice as much attentiveness. Reed didn't have as much strength left as he would like, his body ached and his head pounded even when he wasn't moving, but he summoned the strength to wrap long elastic arms underneath Johnny's figure and raise him with as much gentleness as he could manage. Reed grit his teeth when even the young man's slight weight put his muscles into protest -- it was fine, worth the pain. They could get him out of here, far enough out the door to get one of the transport vehicles to take them home. They could manage it, together.