Red Dragon Inn
Dreamweaver's Lair => From the Dragon's Mouth => Crash and Burn => Topic started by: Olivia Storm on December 10, 2012, 07:48:29 AM
Everyone has their little annoying habits. It can be failing to change the laundry when it's your turn, or a persistent insistence upon everything being in its exact place all the time. With Liv, it was her whistling. It wasn't that she was necessarily bad at it; just that it had that uniquely ear-piercing quality usually only found in particularly unpleasant budgerigars. Worse, she often didn't realise she was doing it, especially when it was borne of a somewhat nervous state of mind. Such as this afternoon; the whistling had started shortly after a phone conversation with her sister, and persisted throughout the rather paranoid cleaning that had followed.
Johnny winced, trying to ignore Liv's incessant whistling as much as he could, until he just couldn't take it anymore. She'd been rushing around trying to make the apartment spotless ever since Lucy had called to tell her she was coming by for a visit. He knew it was good to whistle while you worked, but this was ridiculous. Johnny lifted his feet from the coffee table as Liv dusted it for what had to be the umpteen thousandth time. He was wearing his ever-present skin-tight blue uniform with the letter A for Avengers on the upper left of his chest, which had replaced the 4 that had once symbolized the Fantastic Four, lounging on the couch channel-surfing for something halfway decent to watch on TV. "Liv, no offense, but don't give up your day job," he remarked, sticking a finger in one ear at the whistling that was assaulting his ear drum.
"Hmm?" Blessedly, she couldn't whistle while trying to work out what he was referring to, straightening from where she had been slightly obsessively wiping down the kitchen counter and leaning around to look at him. "What?" she asked, blissfully unaware of her very irritating habit. Johnny was going to have to break her of it if he wanted peace and quiet around here. She paused, leaning in the doorway. "Um ... you should probably put some clothes on over your uniform, sweetheart," she offered quietly, groping for some reason that wouldn't give away the surprise Lucy had planned. "You know she'll just tease you about it."
"What?" he asked, gazing momentarily and quizzically down at his uniform. "Technically, these are clothes." He furrowed his brows at his own statement. "Is clothes." Whatever. "She's seen me in my uniform a dozen times by now. It's just Lucy. Relax. You're acting like we're about to entertain the Queen of England or something." He smirked. "Queen Lucy of... Where are you from again?" He clicked past a few channels, frowning at the lack of anything interesting to pass the time until Liv's sister arrived. He'd already taken out the garbage and done a few other odd jobs she'd asked him to do. The apartment looked perfectly spotless to him. He didn't understand what Liv was getting so uptight about.
"York." She answered the question automatically, without actually listening to the words that made it up, biting her lip as she looked at the back of his head. He wasn't inclined to dress himself up, obviously, and yet she had a feeling he'd be put out if he met Lucy's companion wearing his uniform and nothing else. Time for a little subterfuge, and hope he didn't catch her out. Advancing over to the couch, she bent over the back of it, looping her arms around him. Her lips found her beautifully warm boyfriend's cheek, nuzzling a soft kiss there before she murmured, "Please? For my peace of mind?"
The TV was instantly forgotten when those arms found their way around his neck and he turned his head to offer his girlfriend a mischievous smile. "You wanna help me get dressed?" he asked, with a playful gleam in his blue eyes. "Or better yet, undressed?" he teased, waggling his brows at her and skimming his fingers against her arm. He wasn't sure exactly when Queen Lucy was due to arrive, but he could think of a few better ways to pass then time than cleaning the house.
She giggled softly, rubbing the tip of her nose to his. "I'm not letting you answer the door in nothing at all, especially not to my sister," was her answer, but it didn't stop her from touching a gentle kiss to his lips, a reward for the mischief that always got a smile from her. "You're mine now, remember?" Where that had come from, she couldn't say. She no longer worried that Johnny might have preferred to be with Lucy, but every now and then she needed to remind herself that he really was hers.
"Not like she hasn't seen me before," he teased back. "We could have a nude reunion, for old times' sake!" he suggested, teasing further. In truth, whatever feelings he'd once had for Lucy had changed and turned brotherly, and though she and Liv looked alike, his heart belonged to Olivia. Liv's gentle persistence seemed to work, as he flicked the TV off and got to his feet with a sigh. "All right, I give. I know I'm hard to resist in this suit. I don't want to Lucy drool over something she can't have."
His teasing earned him more laughter from his gentle girlfriend as she straightened up, letting him rise from his place on the couch without the added complication of being entangled with her. He usually saw that as some kind of challenge to stay tangled up for as long as possible, and while she never minded it - indeed, she enjoyed it more each time - there were certain time limits today that suggested inviting this kind of play would be asking for trouble. Instead, she blew him a kiss. "I love you."
"I know," he smirked, giving her the response Han Solo had given Princess Leia once upon a time. Johnny climbed over the couch, just because he could, and started toward the bedroom, calling back, "What's the big occasion anyway? It's just Lucy." He opened the closet door to peruse what clothes he had left that hadn't yet gone up in plasma flames. "Are we going out or staying in?" He really had no idea what to wear. Even last minute cleaning, Liv was dressed in a cute red skirt that had him wondering what the twins had planned.
"I don't know," she called back, forcing herself not to return to her obsessive cleaning again. She snatched up the cloth she had been using, throwing it into the washer, and bending over the sink to clean her hands. "I suppose it depends if th- she wants to go out." She blushed at her almost slip; Lucy had made her promise to keep the fourth member of this little get-together a secret.
"That doesn't help, Liv," he called from the bedroom. Hmm, blue checkered shirt or striped rugby shirt? Eeney meeney miney mo... He pointed to each as he tried to decide. He really needed to get home and pester Reed to make him some clothing that was a little more flame retardent. "How about pizza? I could really go for some pizza." He decided on the checks, pulling the shirt from the hanger and tossing it onto the bed.
Relieved he hadn't caught her slip, Liv smiled as she dried her hands, glancing toward the door as the buzzer sounded. "That sounds like a good idea," she called back to him, moving from the kitchen to the door. "We could go out or order in for that." Lifting the intercom phone to her ear, she laughed at Lucy's impatient greeting, pressing the button to let her sister into the building. "Incoming."
"And beer!" he called again, even though he had heard the buzzer sound, announcing her sister's arrival. He tugged on a pair of blue jeans, followed by a plain white t-shirt beneath a blue checkered button-up shirt, socks and sneakers. He shoved his fingers through his hair, short enough that it didn't really need combing, as he turned toward the mirror to assess the damage.
"Are you planning to get me drunk again?" Liv accused him lightly, smiling as she moved to open the door in preparation for Lucy's arrival. Her sister was already audible in the hallway outside, apparently unusually animated in conversation for this time of day.
"Would I do that?" he asked, tucking both his shirts into his jeans. He wasn't quite sure what Liv was all worked up about, but despite his teasing, he was just vain enough that if they were going out, he wanted to look good. The thought of Liv tipsy made him smile. She was too adorable for words, and it was no secret that he was head over heels in love with her.
"Yes," was the short answer, complete with giggle. "Yes, you would." Liv stepped back as the door opened, and a loud squeal erupted from what could only be Lucy.
The older Broderick threw herself in through the doorway, flung her arms around her little sister's waist, and lifted Liv off her feet, twirling her around in an effusive display of over-excited joy. "Livvie! So much to tell you!" Putting her sister down, she grinned, turning to reach a hand toward her companion, inviting him inside with a warm smile. "Liv, I'd like you to meet Steve," she said, a little more quietly. "Steve, this is my sister, Olivia."
If Steve was nervous, it didn't really show. He offered the younger Broderick a warm, polite smile, along with a hand in greeting. "Nice to meet you, ma'am. I've heard a lot about you," he told her politely, only a little surprised at the resemblance. Thankfully, he'd been warned. Intelligent blue eyes noticed subtle differences that might normally go easily unnoticed. The most important thing he noticed, however, was the easy affection and obvious loved shared by the two sisters.
"Livvie?" A voice was heard coming from the bedroom. "Is that Luce?" he asked, thinking he heard an unfamiliar voice and wondering if he'd left the TV on. He thought he'd shut it off, but maybe Liv had turned it on again. Footsteps were heard in approach from the direction of the bedroom.
It was just as well Lucy had also warned her sister about the resemblence Steve bore to Johnny. Despite the warning, though, Liv was a little wide-eyed and open-mouthed for a moment, staring up at the impressiv bulk of a man standing in her doorway. Only a nudge from Lucy got her to shut her mouth and remember her manners, stammering a shy, "Hello," before getting a grip on herself. "Um, please, um, call me Liv," she told Steve, gesturing for him to come inside. "Everyone does."
Grinning to herself, Lucy glanced between her sister and her lover, turning toward the sound of Johnny's voice. She took off at a run - it might only have been a few days, but those days had been long and felt a little like a year. "Oh, Johnny, oh, Johnny, heavens above!" If the Human Torch wasn't braced, he was going to end up on his own bedroom floor with the wrong twin on top of him.
To his credit, Steve only blushed a little in response to Liv's jawdropping greeting. He'd only been out of the deep freeze a few months and still wasn't quite used to the reaction he got from most people upon first meeting them. It wasn't easy to wake up and find out you had become a living legend. But before he was able to mutter a word, Lucy was taking off to greet Johnny, leaving Steve with the shyer twin. "Is she always like that?" he asked, perhaps seeing a side of Lucy he hadn't seen before. Thankfully, she had already warned him what to expect so he wouldn't be too shocked when he came face to face with his own twin.
Meanwhile, unsuspecting Johnny was bowled over by an overexcited Lucy and knocked flat on his back with a grunt. "The hell, Luce? You wanna give me a warning or something next time?" Thankfully, he had not set anything on fire. Yet.
"I gave you plenty of warning, Everlast." Lucy was completely unrepentant as she sat back, deliberately bouncing on Johnny's stomach with a grin that was only slightly evil. "What, am I not allowed to be happy to see my very nearly almost brother in law?" She reached down to tweak at his nose teasingly as she spoke, revelling in the freedom to treat Johnny Storm as though he was about fourteen and easy to embarrass, when they both knew he was anything but. Besides, she wanted him completely off-guard when he clapped eyes on Steve; she was looking forward to an unadulterated reaction.
"Um ..." Liv glanced over her shoulder to where a thump had declared the greeting between Johnny and Lucy had gone from vertical to horizontal, edging nervously around Steve to close the door behind him. "Well, she is with Johnny," was the answer she eventually came up with. There was a pause as she fought with her shyness and won. "Would, would you like a drink, Captain Rogers? And, and please do make yourself comfortable. We're practically family, aren't we?"
"Keep bouncing on me, and I will not be blamed for what happens next," he warned her. They might not be lovers any longer, but he was only human, and if certain body parts were stimulated, purposely or not, he couldn't be blamed for it. He batted her hand away from his nose, glaring up at her, but without any malice. "What the hell's gotten..." He broke off as he realized what he thought must have happened, and a grin crossed his face. "Someone got laid, didn't they?" he teased, that mischievous look returning to his face again. "Was it Stevarino? Steve and Lucy sitting in a tree..." There he went again.
Steve arched a brow at Liv, not quite understanding what that explanation meant, glancing past Olivia in the direction where Lucy had disappeared, not only out of curiosity at Liv's vague explanation, but also at what he heard going on in the other room. He cleared his throat a little uncomfortably when he heard his own name mentioned in a sing-songy voice from the other room. "Um, just Steve, ma'am. You don't have to call me Captain." He took another step inside as Liv closed the door behind him, looking terribly awkward.
Lucy grinned down at Johnny, bright-eyed and definitely happy with her place in the world. "More than just laid, sparky," she chuckled down at him, bouncing once more just for the hell of it before climbing off him. She offered him a hand to pull him up off the ground, magnanimous in the knowledge that she'd knocked him down to begin with. "Speaking of, I hope you're giving Liv a thorough education."
Liv, predictably enough, blushed as she heard Johnny teasing her sister, knowing them both well enough to be able to guess what was going on in there. "Don't mind them, they'll reappear when they start annoying each other," she offered to the awkward man standing uncomfortably in her living room. Swallowing, she cast around for something else to say, biting her lip hard as she battled with the urge to back away. He was a big man, unintentionally intimidating her just by standing there. "Al-all right, Steve. But only if you call me Liv. Please make yourself comfortable. I promise, I'm not as .. um ... forthright, as Lucy is."
Johnny laughed as he took Lucy's hand and hopped to his feet. "So, where is he then? I'm starting to think you're just pulling my leg. Pulling the wool over Johnny Storm's eyes again. Well, fool me once and shame on you," he started, waggling a finger in front of Lucy's nose. "Fool me twice, shame on me." He paused, furrowing his brows in thought. "I think. I always get that screwed up."
Steve cleared his throat again and shifted slightly. Though he'd been invited to make himself comfortable, he felt anything but, especially with the teasing going on in the other room at his expense. "Do you think I should go introduce myself?" he asked Liv uncertainly. He didn't want to walk in on anything, but he was the real thing, not a figment of Lucy's overactive imagaination.
Presented with a wagging finger, Lucy bit it, grinning at Johnny with sparkling eyes. "Stow it, sparky," she told him firmly. "You seriously think I'd make this up?" By this, she was referring to the man she'd left in awkwardness with her equally awkward sister, taking Johnny by the hand and pulling him out of the bedroom to the living room.
At a loss for something to say to either calm Steve's uncertainty or encourage him to relax, Liv shrugged silently, her gaze turning toward the suggestion of movement as Lucy backed into view, dragging Johnny with her.
"Let me think... Yes!" Johnny exclaimed, not really needing any time to consider his answer. After all, this was the same girl - woman - who had tried to play Parent Trap with his heart. Despite his suspicions about Lucy's claims, he was chuckling in amusement as she tugged him along. He took a moment to admire Lucy's backside and whistled appreciatively. "Hey, sis, you been working..." He came to an abrupt pause as they entered the living room and he came face to face with his idol. "...out," he muttered quietly.
Steve turned toward the sound of approaching voices, glad Lucy was making her way back. Liv seemed like a nice enough girl, but it was clearly going to take a while before he felt comfortable in her presence.
Lucy's smile was definitely on the wicked side as she abandoned Johnny where he stood to go and tuck herself under Steve's arm, offering Liv a reassuring wink in the process. "Johnny Storm, meet Captain Steven Rogers," she introduced the men cheerfully, and leaned across Steve's chest to offer a stage whisper to Liv. "Maybe you should get the fire extinguisher."
Liv, for her part, was intensely relieved when the livelier side of the family came back into view, edging a little further away from Steve when Lucy claimed him for the introductions. Her own eyes turned to Johnny, watching him as he stood up in the presence of his own personal hero. There really was no telling how this next bit was going to go.
"Holy sh*t," Johnny gasped, another thud as the superhero passed on cold on the floor. Well, not cold. He was never cold, not even when he was passed out. It was a rare thing to shock Johnny Storm enough that he lost consciousness, even for a short while. Thunk and he was down for the count.
Being the hero he was, Steve looked suddenly concerned, stepping forward to see if the other man was all right, but leaving room for Lucy, as she was a doctor. "Is he okay?" Steve asked, hovering, privately wondering why he seemed to have that effect on people sometimes.
"Johnny!" It wasn't Lucy who moved with haste toward the fallen Torch, but his girlfriend, casting a warning look back at her sister as though to dare her to say anything. Dropping down onto her knees beside him, Liv gently turned his face toward her, calling his name, trusting that the shock had only overwhelmed him a little.
Lucy bit her lip, wincing apologetically as Liv moved away. "He'll be fine," she told Steve confidently, hoping she was right. "I did mention that he sort of worships you, didn't I?" She looked up at Steve with a faint wince. "I think I underestimated how much you mean to him."
Steve twisted his head to get a better look at the fallen Torch, noting the obvious similarities. The young man bore an uncanny resemblance to himself, despite a few minor differences. Johnny was shorter than Steve and not as bulky, with shorter hair, but other than that, they could almost pass for twins. "He looks just like me," Steve remarked, clearly in awe, as he took a closer look at the unconscious man. "He could be my twin."
Johnny groaned, eyelids fluttering. The shock didn't keep him down long. "Did anybody get the number of that bus?" he asked as he blinked up at the face that was swimming in his field of vision. "Liv?"
"Yes, it's me," Liv assured the slowly rousing superhero on the floor, wondering if he was quite up to looking over her shoulder and finding the other superhero in the room looking down at him in awed amazement. "Maybe you should stay down for a little bit."
Beside Steve, Lucy couldn't help smiling a little, relieved that Johnny was coming around so quickly. "I said you looked just like him, didn't I?" she reminded Steve gently. "I thought I'd run him down the night we met." She peered over Liv's shoulder at Johnny. "I know, I'm evil," she informed the Human Torch, "but I'm not going to say I didn't enjoy seeing you tip over like that."
There was that other face, just beyond Liv, standing practically arm in arm with Lucy, staring down at him with the same look of shock on his face that was mirrored on Johnny's. Twin sons of different mothers... or something. Lucy wasn't kidding when she'd said they look alike. "Wait..." Johnny stammered, as he propped himself up on an elbow to look up at his idol. "I look like Steve Rogers?" he asked, trying to wrap his head around it. "That's... that's awesome!" he exclaimed excitedly, reaching for Liv's arm to pull himself to his feet.
Steve frowned down at the man who was practically his twin, not quite believing it until he was faced with the proof. He turned a confused look to Lucy, trying to sort out what was going on between the three other people in the room, who apparently were very well acquainted, feeling a little like the outsider.
"Are you really Captain America?" Johnny asked, looking Steve over, awestruck. He didn't look exactly like the comic books, but then he didn't really expect the guy to look like a pen and ink drawing.
Lucy met Steve's confusion with a gentle smile, wrapping her arms about his waist. It had to be strange, to walk into a situation where he wasn't yet as comfortable with them all as they were with each other. "I don't know how," she said quietly, forestalling the question that had to be on his lips. "I doubt you're related, except potentially by marriage." She squeezed him warmly. "I would say that it's just one of Rhy'Din's quirks, but you're both from Earth."
Liv, on the other hand, was just as bemused as Steve, half dragged up onto her feet as Johnny used her to stand up. So much for being concerned about her boyfriend's overwhelmed reaction. Awesome usually meant everything was back to normal.
Steve winced just a little at the moniker that had been given him when he was doing his promotional tour trying to sell bonds in WWII. The name had stuck, it seemed, though it had changed over the years to mean something else. As far as he was concerned, deep down, he was still the same old Steve Rogers from Brooklyn, New York. He wasn't even sure if the military rank of Captain still stood for anything anymore. The S.S.R. had eventually evolved and become S.H.I.E.L.D., but whether he was technically still a ranking member or not, he wasn't quite sure. "I was once," he replied, frowning uncertainly, and feeling that awkwardness setting in again. "I'm not really sure who I am anymore."
As excited as Johnny was to finally meet his idol, even he couldn't miss the uncertainty in the other man, and he mirrored that frown almost identically. "Are you kidding me? You're a hero! You're always gonna be a hero, whatever you call yourself."
As Steve found himself faced with Johnny's slightly over-excited enthusiasm, Lucy met Liv's eyes, warm understanding passing between the twins. In that look, Liv learned that everything her sister had gone to New York hoping for had come true, and there was perhaps something more to share. Indeed, there was more than something to share, but Lucy was careful to keep the darkness that shrouded their shared origins intact for now, gently smiling at her little sister as Liv came to Steve's rescue.
Shy she might be, but Liv knew a thing or two about titles and how very little they meant in the long run. "Then maybe, sweetheart," the smaller, quieter Broderick suggested to Johnny, "you should stop calling him Captain America, unless you want him to call you the Human Torch." She offered Johnny her sweetest smile, softening the implied scolding behind her words as Lucy muffled a snicker in Steve's arm.
Johnny looked puzzled a moment, before smiling in relief at Liv's very practical solution to the problem. "Well..." he shrugged his shoulders with a small smirk. "It's usually just Torch for short, but you can call me Johnny." He offered Steve a very warm hand in a gesture of welcome and friendship, his excitement simmering just a little. "Welcome to Rhy'Din. It's a huge honor to meet you."
Steve seemed to relax a little as Liv smoothed things over and he offered a grateful smile her way, before turning back to "His Biggest Fan" and returning the handshake. "Nice to meet you, Johnny. I'm Steve." There was a slight arch of one eyebrow when he took the other man's hand, noting the unnatural warmth that was radiating from the hand of the man known as "The Human Torch". "How did you... you know... attain your abilities?" he asked curiously, only knowing what Lucy had told him.
As the meeting toned itself down from delirious fanboy and confused idol to something a little more normal, the twins gently untangled themselves from the heroes, taking a few steps away to fall into quiet conversation between themselves. Both pairs of brown eyes, one sharp, one soft, studied the exchange going on before them as they passed news back and forth, until suddenly Liv realised what it was her sister had just said to her. Turning to stare at Lucy, she let out a loud squeal of delight. "You're getting married! When?"
Wincing at the loud eruption, hoping it hadn't derailed the men's delicate dance around each other too much, Lucy laughed at her sister's reaction, leaning back just a fraction too late to avoid behind deafened in one ear. "What do you mean, when?" she chuckled, rolling her eyes. "As soon as we get back to New York, that's when."
The two nearly identical men exchanged pleasantries, while the women slipped away to chat privately. Johnny didn't seem to notice much, taken as he was with his idol, but Steve glanced awkwardly toward the two women as his anchor slipped away to talk to her sister. He knew it would eventually come to this, but he'd thought it take a little longer. Johnny was going on about cosmic radiation and something about plasma flames and spontaneous combustion, all of which Steve understood as well as he could, but his attention was distracted by the two women whispering conspiratorially nearby. He knew what they must be talking about, and he hoped Lucy's sister would be happy about the news and not blame him for stealing her sister away her. Johnny didn't seem to notice - he was almost talking too fast for Steve to keep up.
Even as much as Johnny was going on, he couldn't help but notice when Liv erupted into a loud squeal of delight, and he smiled widely, clapping Steve on the shoulder. "Congratulations and welcome to the family. Well, not really welcome. I'm not really offically a member of the family yet. But I will be! Someday. Maybe." Johnny frowned a little, realizing Steve had just beat him to making Lucy an honest woman, and he looked thoughtfully over at Liv.
"All you have to do is ask her," Steve told the other man with an almost amused smile, realizing what was going on here, and he excused himself to rejoin his fiancee and her sister, sliding an arm around her waist and ducking his head to kiss her cheek.
"So when are you going back to New York?" For once, Liv's shyness had burned off entirely in the face of the wonderful news her sister had just imparted to her, utterly unaware of the words that had just passed between the two men. Rather than wait for an answer, however, she actually nudged her way in between Lucy and Steve to give the intimidatingly big man a tentative hug. "You'd better look after her," she informed Steve, too high with excitement to realise she was about to threaten a man whose palm was roughly the size of her face. "Or, I'm sorry to say, I'll have to hunt you down and hurt you, and that will be truly pitiful. I can't even kill a spider."
Elbowed out of the way by her sister - and genuinely surprised by the boldness it took for Liv to do it - Lucy side-stepped the standard issue speech to reach up and pat Johnny's cheek gently, lowering her voice so her sister couldn't hear. "You do know you don't have a snowball's chance in hell of her ever saying no, right?" she murmured to her sister's boyfriend, teasingly nudging him over and over again in the ribs with a light elbow. "And by the way ... pick a color, and I'll make sure she wears it at the wedding. Which you're coming to. No arguments."
Steve suddenly found himself being hugged by the quieter, shyer Broderick twin, and being a bit on the shy side himself, his face flushed a little as he awkwardly hugged her back. Though she might look like Lucy, there were slight differences that helped him tell them apart. She was quieter, for one thing, a little more timid. He'd also noticed that she wore her hair slightly different, and had different taste in clothing, but what he hadn't noticed until she hugged him was that they even smelled different. One arm went awkwardly but easily around her waist as she hugged him, but he made sure to keep as polite a distance as possible. He couldn't remember the last time anyone had hugged him, other than Lucy. "I'll do my best, ma'am. Er, Olivia," he added, correcting himself.
As for Johnny, he was watching the trio curiously, looking somewhat puzzled. He hadn't told anyone, but though he wanted to ask Liv to get married, he was terrified it was too soon and that she'd tell him no. He blinked out of his thoughts as Lucy appeared in front of him, distracting him from his own issues of self-doubt. "Is that a joke? You know me and snow don't mix well." He frowned at her as she nudged him and he batted her hand away. "That's not for me to say, Luce. It's your wedding." The frown slowly turned into a smile, albeit a somewhat shy one on his part, for some reason. "Congratulations, Lucy. I'm really happy for you," he told her soberly, but the seriousness just couldn't last. "It's sorta like you're marrying me, but not."
"Oh, yes, that's exactly what's happening, isn't it?" was Lucy's drawled response to Johnny's tease. She let out an exaggerated sigh, throwing an arm around his shoulders and deliberately tipping herself back, giving him no choice but to catch her or go down with her, one or the other. "You're so swoon-worthy, I had to settle for second prize." Snickering, she grinned at Johnny, and pinched his cheek. "Like hell, sparky."
Only a little way away, Liv was stammering and blushing her way through an apology to Steve for hugging him without permission when she heard what was going on between her sister and her lover, and for a moment, uncertainty flared as she looked over at them. That uncertainty, though, was relieved by Lucy's final comment, and Liv's smile reappeared, urging her to go over and poke her sister off Johnny. "Hands off, Lucille," she smiled impishly, wrapping her own arms around Johnny's waist. "Mine."
Laughing in turn, Lucy let herself be poked off to one side, sneaking herself under Steve's arm almost before he could miss her. One hand rose to turn his face toward hers, sharing a smile and a kiss he knew were only for him. "Mine," she echoed her sister's possessive statement, her voice warm and loving, eyes only for the man in her arms.
The brief flare of self-doubt disappeared utterly beneath Lucy's teasing. There might have been a time when Johnny would have felt hurt by her teasing, but that time had long since passed. He had Liv now and she had Steve, and he was genuinely happy for them both. It was strange how things had worked out, but he'd realized long before now that he and Lucy would have never worked. They were far too much alike for comfort - like two explosions just waiting to go off. Liv tempered and calmed him, just as Steve seemed to do for Lucy.
They were both matches made in heaven, the only irony being the fact that it was almost like they were two sets of twins. The hug Johnny gave Lucy was more brotherly than anything else, and Liv would more than likely recognize that fact if she looked hard enough. He chuckled as she pinched his cheek. "I sincerely doubt that, Luce. You're engaged to Captain America, for God's sake!" He smiled as Liv reclaimed him, looking almost relieved, and he returned Liv's embrace, rewarding her with a very warm kiss.
Steve watched the trio again from the sidelines, no longer really feeling left out, just trying to sort out the nuances of the relationship between the three other people in the room. He didn't have to think about it long as Lucy returned to claim him, and he relaxed further beneath her reassuring kiss. "I love you," he whispered to her as their lips parted, just loud enough for her ears alone.
Lucy smiled into the kiss, gently touching the tip of her nose to Steve's as she felt him relax again. "I love you back," she promised, just as soft, just as quiet. Her fingers stroked against his cheek for a moment before retreating, a split second of warning before she raised her voice again. "So ... are you two feeding us and putting us up for a couple of nights, or are we getting a room in some dodgy tavern?"
Hugged warm - very warm - in Johnny's arms, Liv giggled at her sister's declaration, squeezing her arms around her own boyfriend's waist as she made a play of considering this question quite seriously. "Mmm, I don't know," she teased, looking up at Johnny. "What do you think, can the bed in the spare room take it?"
Steve relaxed further at Lucy's reassuring kiss, his arms snaking around her waist, but loosening a little as she retreated to interrupt the other couple's smooching. Except for some slight differences, it was almost like watching a mirror image of himself and Lucy.
Johnny grinned down at Liv, not purposely trying to embarass his idol, but he just couldn't help himself. He didn't have much of a filter on his mouth and often spoke before thinking. "I don't know. Depends on how hard they go at it. We wouldn't want the neighbors banging on the ceiling again, would we?" The fact that the word "again" was slipped in there, implied that he and the quieter twin had their moments, as well.
"Again, huh?" Trust Lucy not to miss that slip, her lips parting in a wide, teasing grin as she met her little sister's gaze. "Well and truly deflowered, then." She snickered impishly, only now seeing the parallels between her relationship with Steve, and Liv's with Johnny. Not that she was going to share Steve's inexperience with anyone but him.
"Johnny!" For her part, Liv was absolutely floored by her boyfriend's slip, her face flushing bright read as she poked at his stomach. It wasn't helped by the fact that Lucy was grinning at her so knowingly, either. "Right, that's it," she declared, her lips curving into a faint smile. "You two are cooking."
Johnny broke into laughter, as much amused at Liv's embarrassed reaction as Lucy, though there was no malice in it. He found it utterly amusing that Liv thought she could fool her sister into thinking she was still a virgin. "Truly and entirely," he replied, with a playful twinkle in his eyes, only encouraged by Lucy's teasing, even if it was at the price of Liv's embarassment.
Thankfully, Steve was level-headed and mature enough to take pity on Liv. Besides, he was practically in the same shoes as she was. He cleared his throat to politely break into the conversation. "Have any of you ever had shawarma?" he asked, trying to change the subject, but Johnny was already pouting at Liv's comeback.
"I thought we were getting a pizza."
"As I recall, all you said was "pizza"," Liv smiled up at Johnny, laying her fingertips over his lips to smooth the pout away. Her eyes turned to Steve curiously, her head tipping to one side in vague confusion. "Shawarma?" she repeated. "What on Earth is that?"
Beside Steve, Lucy squeezed him gently, grateful he'd taken pity enough to change the subject. She and Johnny had been known to go on for hours at Liv's expense. They were just very lucky that she had never held it against them for too long.
"Um, it's uh... It's hard to explain," Steve replied, with a small wrinkle in his forehead. He really didn't care what they ate and was still getting used to twenty-first century cooking. He'd only had his first Egg McMuffin a few days ago, thanks to Agent Croft. He seemed to perk up a little at the word "pizza". "New York or Chicago style?" he asked, having a weakness for everything New York, including the food. He hadn't quite grown accustomed to all the fast food places that seemed to have popped up over the last seventy years, and didn't quite trust microwave ovens or anything that took less than at least half an hour to cook, but he was familiar with pizza, having lived in New York most of his life.
"Pfft," Johnny replied, scoffing. "Chicago's got nothing on New York." He grinned at the other New Yorker, at last finding common ground. "And Pizza Hut isn't pizza. There's a place not far from here that comes pretty close to Grimaldi's back home."
Liv's eyes turned to Lucy's, slightly relieved to find that her sister was having as much trouble following the evolution of the conversation as she was. As the virtues of New York were expounded over their heads, Liv mouthed, "What are they talking about?"
A moment later, Lucy shrugged, genuinely amused at the fact that the American brethren of the spandex suit were speaking in a language their very English, very normal girlfriends couldn't even begin to follow. "I have no idea," she mouthed back to Liv silently, and both women dissolved into very similar, very infectious giggles.
"I don't think I've heard of it," Steve continued, but then he hadn't been out of the deep freeze very long and hadn't had much time to explore his home town just yet.
"Trust me," Johnny continued, unwrapping himself from Liv and making his way toward the kitchen. "Are we ordering in or going out?" he asked as he pulled open a drawer and started sorting through the various takeout menus he had collected over the months since his arrival in Rhy'Din. "Does anybody like anchovies?" Johnny asked as he perused the menus.
"Ordering in," Lucy said promptly. "It's cold out there!" She grinned, knowing full well that the temperature outside meant absolutely nothing to Johnny, and by extension, Liv. Realising Steve still had hold of their bags, such as they were, she reached up to untangle them from his shoulder. "Be back in a minute," she promised with a wink, heading for the spare room with practised ease.
At the mention of anchovies, Liv's expression turned into a creditable impression of a puffer-fish gone wrong. "You wouldn't dare," she informed her boyfriend with a smile, looking up at Steve and patting the couch. "Honestly, you can sit down, Captain ... I mean, Steve. Nothing in here is going to bite you."
Steve opened his mouth to protest too late, and watched as Lucy hurried away with their bags, which were heavier than they looked, though they were nothing to him. In all the excitement, he'd completely forgotten about them. Johnny smirked. He would dare, but not today. He found the menu he was looking for, hoping they trusted him to order the perfect pizza. Overhearing Liv, he muttered under his breath, just loud enough for them to hear him, "Just Lucy." He picked up the phone and went about placing the order, leaving the shyer pair alone once again.
Steve tried to ignore Johnny's teasing remark as he took a seat on the couch. "Thanks. Lucy tells me you came to Rhy'Din first. How'd you find out about this place and what made you want to move here?" he asked, not just to make small talk, but genuinely curious.
Blushing at Johnny's addendum to her invitation, despite the fact that she knew what her sister was like, Liv moved to sit with Steve on the couch, knowing from experience how awkward it could be to make yourself comfortable in someone else's home without them doing so as well. "I, I answered an advert in a student paper asking for people who were interested in helping set up a new movie studio," she told the tall, quiet man, a little less intimidated now things seemed to have settled down. "I needed work, and ... well, my degree is about as useless as you can get these days." She shrugged lightly. "When I got the job, I got sent an information pack and instructions on how to get here, and once I was here, I sort of stayed."
"A movie studio?" Steve echoed, interested. He'd managed to catch a few movies on TV, but he knew he still had a lot of catching up to do. He smiled, as he seemed to find common ground with Olivia, as well. "Have you ever seen Casablanca? That's my all-time favorite movie," he told her with an easy-going and warm smile, now that he was starting to relax a little. Unfamiliar with all of her background, he assumed she was still working for the movie studio. "Movies were still pretty new when I..." He broke off with a slightly disconcerted frown. When I what? Though decades had passed, it only seemed like a few months to him. He quickly changed the subject. "What do you do there?" he asked, trying to make conversation and get to know the shyer twin.
His smile reassured her as much as his confession of a favorite movie, though she, like her sister, had never seen it. Her own smile, shyer but warm, rose in answer. "I've never seen it," she admitted in her softer voice, fingers fidgeting together on her knees as they spoke together. "Oh, the ... the studio folded a few months ago. Financial problems, but, um, I got a job as a personal assistant to a .. well, I suppose you could call him a movie star. He's not exactly huge here, but on Earth, he's pretty well known." She bit her lip thoughtfully, knowing from what Johnny had told her that Steve wouldn't have the first clue who Jonathan Granger was, searching for something she could ask him that wouldn't be too awkward to answer. "Um ... I could, um, put together some films and things from the last few decades for you, if you'd like. Maybe it would help you get a little more up to date?"
Steve sensed her awkwardness, which, considering their circumstances, seemed worse than his own. He wasn't really all that shy, except when it came to women, but he had a feeling that given time, they'd get along just fine. His smile faded a little as she continued her story, though he brightened again at the prospect of her catching him up on some of what he'd missed over the last seventy years. He wasn't really sure if he was going to have much time to watch them, but the thought was there, and he appreciated. "That would be really nice of you, Olivia. Thanks."
"You can call me Liv, you know," she offered through her shy smile. "We'll be family, soon." And just the prospect of having a brother, even in law, was enough to bring a small glow to her soft eyes. Family meant the world to Liv, who thought her only family was her sister. She glanced toward the bedroom for a moment, lowering her voice a little as she looked back at Steve. "You make her very happy," she told him quietly. "I haven't seen her like this in years."
Family was just as important to Steve, and never having had a sister, he felt that same tug at his heartstrings as Liv did, hoping that someday she might fill that gap in his life. He followed her glance toward the bedroom and smiled warmly, his eyes glowing with undisguised happiness when she mentioned Lucy. "She's an amazing woman. I'm very lucky to have met her," he agreed, his gaze lingering for a moment, wondering what Lucy was up to in there. He wouldn't be surprised if she was leaving them alone on purpose so that they could get acquainted now that things had calmed down a little. "I, uh... I can't really explain it, but... We're meant for each other. I just know it."
Liv's smile this time was a little more confident, knowing from her own experience how such a feeling could overwhelm even common sense. "You don't need to explain it," she assured Steve softly, glancing this time toward the kitchen. "I know exactly what you mean. It took him a little longer to realise it, that was all. I'm glad Lucy found you. She deserves someone to look after her a little bit." She snorted faintly with laughter. "She's never let me even try."
"You don't have to worry about that, Oliv..." He broke off a moment to correct himself. "Liv. I promise I'll take good care of her." He turned his glance then to the kitchen and the young man who looked so uncannily like himself, if not shorter. "He's a bit of a livewire, isn't he?" Steve asked, regarding Johnny, turning the conversation back around to focus on Liv.
She giggled in response to this, nodding in agreement. "A little bit," she conceded, her voice warm for the man who had her so utterly enthralled. "But he knows how to be calm, too. It's just not in his nature to be calm and quiet as much as it is in mine, that's all. We'd be very boring together if he was like me."
"You mean if he was like me," Steve replied with a soft smile, already catching the differences in them, and realizing that Liv was more like him and Johnny was more like Lucy. Maybe there was something to the saying that opposites attract. "Can I ask you something?" he queried, that shy look on his face again.
"Oh, I don't mean to say that you're boring!" Liv was mortified that he might have found something like that in what she was saying. "Or that I'm boring, or that we're boring each other here, or ..." She caught herself before the babble could get out of control, her cheeks flaming with embarrassment, not even noticing as Lucy snuck from the spare bedroom into the kitchen to spy on the couch conversation with Johnny. "Um ... of course, please do."
"Well, umm..." He started, completely unaware that they were being eavesdropped on. "I was wondering if maybe your boyfriend... That is... Johnny..." He sighed, deciding to just come out with it. "I don't have many friends," he began, "So, I was wondering if you think he'd mind standing up for me at the wedding."
Liv's slightly nervous expression suddenly blossomed into a bright smile as she imagined the reaction he would get when he asked Johnny for himself. Steve had just earned himself a permanent place in her heart, just for that one query. "I think he'd be honored, and thrilled, and I would have a fire extinguisher on hand when you ask him," she told Steve, with all the confidence of a woman who knew hundreds of ways to extinguish hundreds of types of fire.
"A fire extinguisher?" Steve echoed, not quite understanding why that would be necessary, having caught the reference once before. He knew the man had some abilities with fire, but what were the chances that he'd spontaneously combust?
In the kitchen, Johnny was just hanging up from the pizzeria when he overheard his own name being mentioned and opened his mouth to squeal like a girl in over-exuberant excitement.
The slap as Lucy's hand clamped over Johnny's mouth was almost audible to Liv, which must surely have meant Steve heard it clearly. Laying a finger to her own lips to warn Johnny to keep quiet, Lucy pointed toward the living room with a grin.
"Yes, a fire extinguisher," Liv was confirming to Steve with a faintly mischievous smile of her own, proving that there were some traits at least that the twins shared. "He might set something alight, but it's not necessarily a bad thing. He does it when he's overwhelmed."
And speaking of fire extinguishers, if Lucy didn't let do something to calm Johnny down, she was going to have a kitchen fire on her hands very soon. He was practically bursting at the seams with excitement, but Steve seemed mostly oblivious to it. "Isn't that... dangerous?" he asked curiously turning his head toward the kitchen.
"Not really," Liv assured him, oblivious to whatever was going on in the kitchen. "It was a little touch and go for a while at the start, but now I know how to deal with the little accidents, it's not a problem." She blinked, realising that he didn't seem to be in the conversation with her anymore. "Um ... is something wrong?"
In the kitchen, Lucy turned Johnny around to face her, her hand still clamped firmly around his mouth. She pointed at the sink. "Either you calm down," she whispered through her own laughter, "or I'm going to put your head under the cold tap."
Steve furrowed his brows, having thought he'd heard something in the kitchen, but now he wasn't so sure. He turned back around to face Liv, shaking his head and smiling reassuringly, though he still looked a little puzzled. "No, nothing's wrong. How long does it take to order a pizza?" he asked, wondering where Johnny and Lucy had disappeared to for so long.
In the kitchen, Johnny's eyes were wide and his temperature was rising, but he nodded his head to Lucy in silent agreement that he'd do his best to calm down, taking her threat seriously.
"Um ... How long does it take to put a pair of bags on a bed?" Liv countered with an almost innocent smile. "They're eavesdropping. Unless you can hear them arguing, you're pretty much guaranteed that they're doing something sneaky they don't want to be caught at." She flashed Steve a grin that was almost an exact duplicate of Lucy's. "Maybe you should ask me that question again," she suggested impishly. "We'd know for sure, then."
Steve smiled, the smile almost matching Johnny's in playfulness, hinting that the quiet, serious man did have a sense of humor hidden somewhere inside him. He leaned forward, lowering his voice so that the nosebags in the kitchen wouldn't overhear him. "Aren't you afraid he'll set the kitchen on fire?" he asked, curiously, brows arching upwards.
With cheerful mischief playing in her eyes, Liv leaned forward too, meeting Steve's smile with cheeky confidence. "Lucy knows where the fire extinguisher is," she promised, her own voice so low it was a wonder even Steve heard it. Evidently she'd paid quite close attention to some aspects of the comics Johnny had been showing her for the last few days.
In the kitchen, Lucy strained toward the doorway, her eyes narrowing as she realised just how quiet it had gone in there. "What are they planning?" she wondered in a low whisper. Johnny could neither agree or disagree as Lucy still had his mouth covered, and his reply came out sounding muffled.
"You want me to ask about your boyfriend being my best man again?" he asked, just to make sure. He'd thought of something far more liable to make Johnny combust, but he didn't want to push his luck the first time he'd met them, and he didn't want Lucy getting angry with him either.
Liv nodded sweetly, daring to pat Steve's hand with disarming confidence from the shy twin. "Trust me," she mouthed silently.
Daring Johnny to give them away with just a look, Lucy carefully removed her hand from the Human Torch's mouth, and edged closer to the doorway, itching to know just why the conversation seemed to have stopped.
Steve cleared his throat so that the couple in the kitchen would have no problem hearing them. Thankfully for him, he'd had a little practice on stage selling war bonds or he might not have sounded all that convincing. "So, what do you say, Liv? Think Johnny would be the best man at the wedding?" he repeated, loudly enough for Johnny to hear him, but not so loud that it seemed he was baiting him, even though that was exactly what he and Liv were doing.
And there was her answer. Lucy shot backwards from Johnny as soon as she realised what Steve was saying, taking the judicious step of heading straight toward the extinguisher mounted on the wall. She should have seen that one coming.
And as soon as Lucy's hand was removed from Johnny's mouth, he exploded with another of his favorite euphemisms for the second time since Steve and Lucy had arrived. "What?! Holy sh*t!" But instead of going thump in an unconscious heap on the floor, his temperature went sky high and he spontaneously burst into flames, even as he laughed with exuberant excitement at the prospect of being Captain America's sidekick. Er, Best Man. Yeah, that was it. Best Man.
Liv twisted about on the couch just in time to see the familiar flicker of firelight burst into view, threatening to set light to the doorframe. There was a loud clunk as Lucy pulled the fire extinguisher off the wall. "Turn it off, or prepared to be ..." She took a moment to read the cannister in her hand, just to be absolutely correct. "Foamed," she finished the sentence with a smirk, aiming the extinguisher at the exuberant Johnny. "And I'm not cleaning it up, either."
"Did you hear what he said?!" Johnny exclaimed, the flames only burning hotter the more excited he got. "He wants me to be his best man! Me! Hahahaha! Captain America's best man. You know what that means, Lucy?" He stepped closer, pointed a fiery finger at her, flames shooting outward, teasing her now. "That means I get to kiss the bride." He took another step toward her, the hint of a grin behind the flaming that engulfed his face and form.
Steve followed Liv's gaze to the kitchen, eyes widening in shock as he caught sight of the flames, wondering if he should rush over to put the fire out, or if Lucy had things well in hand. "He really is The Human Torch," Steve muttered in amazement.
Lucy took a step back, adjusting her grip on the cylinder."Oh, yeah? Kiss this, sparky." In the living room, Liv dissolved into giggles, knowing exactly what was coming next. As Johnny advanced on Lucy, she squeezed the mechanism, smothering the flaming fool in flame retardent foaming chemicals. He should have known better than to call her bluff, really - Liv wouldn't have done it, but Lucy never pulled her punches. Of course, it probably didn't help that she was laughing as she did it.
"Are they always like this?" Steve asked curiously. The two of them reminded him of someone, but he couldn't quite figure out who. They sparred like siblings, though they weren't really related, and Steve realized he was reminded a little of Tony Stark. Maybe there was a little more Stark in Lucy than she cared to admit, but he said nothing about it, having promised not to mention it to Liv, until Lucy was ready to break the news. "Should we go help?" he asked, really not sure what he should do in this situation.
Johnny had almost perfect control of the flames. The kitchen wouldn't have gone up in flames so long as he was there, but Lucy never seemed to understand that, or maybe she just enjoyed getting his goat a little too much. But that wasn't going to stop Johnny Storm. Oh, no! Though the flames might have gone out as spontaneously as they had appeared, he wasn't going to let Lucy win that easily. "Come here and get your kiss, honey. I wouldn't want to shirk my duties as best man." He flicked a bit of foam at her as he stalked toward the older of the two twins. She was out of ammunition, and there was nothing she could do now but outrun him.
"Oh no, you don't ... no!" The spent extinguisher dropped with a clang as Lucy caught on, eyes wide and lips curved with laughter as she spun about, fully intending to run as fast she could away from the dripping Human Torch. "Don't you dare!"
As Lucy sped out of the kitchen, no doubt heading for a bathroom to lock herself into until Johnny gave up his intentions, Liv snickered cheerfully, turning her attention back to Steve. "Oh, all the time," she assured him. "This is about normal for when they're in the same room." She offered him a slightly guilty smirk. "Of course, I, um ... I do sort of encourage it from time to time."
Johnny pursued Lucy, walking with arms outstretched like Frankenstein's monster toward the bathroom. If he really wanted to, he could have gotten there before she did, but he'd promised Liv never to fly in the house. Someone banged on the wall from somewhere down below, shouting at them to keep it down up there, but Johnny ignored it. He made an attempt to growl like a monster, but it came out all wrong.
Steve just sat there on the couch, gaping in obvious amazement. If someone didn't close his mouth, he might attract flies. He didn't think too much about the Torch. He'd gotten the impression that the guy had the maturity of a six year old at times, but Lucy surprised him. "I've never seen her this way," he muttered in confusion. It wasn't that it was a bad thing necessarily. He was just surprised by it all.
"If you mess up the bathroom, you'll be cleaning it, Lucy!" Liv called after her fleeing sister, necessitating a change of direction that brought Lucy straight in the path of the foamy Frankenstein with no escape. The giggles that erupted as she made a creditable attempt to become one with the wall were infectious enough that Liv ended up snickering a little more as she turned back to Steve once again.
"She likes to play," she warned him warmly. "Her job is so serious and she has to be so cool and calm all the time. Johnny always seems to bring out the little kid in her. And, to be honest, she does the same to him. They're a lot easier to manage separately, but a lot of fun when they're together, too." She grinned encouragingly. "You should learn how to tease her like that," she suggested. "She'll laugh a lot more than you're used to, if you can manage it."
"I'll, uh, I'll try," Steve said, watching the pair curiously. He wasn't sure he'd ever manage to make Lucy laugh like that without maybe tickling her, but he had to admit he liked the way it sounded. "They seem... happy," he continued, a little worried that maybe he was too serious, that she'd get tired of him and eventually find him boring, like Liv had said.
Johnny was laughing now, as much as Lucy, as he got her cornered against the wall and brushed a kiss against the end of her nose, leaving just the tiniest bit of foam behind on her nose. He was tempted to give her a bear hug, but resisted, mostly because Steve was there and he didn't want to make too much of a mess to have to clean up.
"They're silly," Liv corrected, watching Steve as he watched the others. She recognised the look on his face; she knew what it was like to wear that look, and feel the uncertainty underneath it. It had taken a while, but Johnny had finally taught her how to embrace the silly in her life. She was absolutely certain that Lucy was more than capable of doing the same for Steve. "Don't try too hard," she suggested quietly. "Trust me, you'll be able to make her laugh like that easily. And she won't threaten to hose you down afterwards."
As if on cue, Lucy spluttered through the thick smell of chemical foam that clung to Johnny, wiping her nose dry as she grinned at her almost-possibly-maybe-when-he-gets-up-the-courage-to-ask-brother-in-law. "So what happens now, sparky?" she asked him brightly. "Gonna go and stand in the hallway while I throw a bucket of water at you?"
"Oh, you'd like that, wouldn't you? Want me to strip down first and we'll see who's more well endowed?" Johnny smirked, forgetting that Steve was right in the other room, able to hear everything that was said about his own anatomy and then some. Johnny just couldn't help himself. He'd feel bad about it later, but for now, it was a matter of speak first, think later. But before he was able to make good on that threat, his pager went off, buzzing loudly, announcing that he was needed elsewhere and in a hurry. "Sh*t!" he exclaimed, snagging a towel and wiping as much of the foam from his face as he could. "I gotta go!"
Rolling her eyes, Lucy didn't even comment on his smirking suggestion. The pager was a new addition to Johnny's personal inventory, though, something she'd not seen before or expected to see. "What ...?" She frowned, edging around him as he hurriedly swiped the foam off his face. "Go where?"
"Fire," he explained, hurriedly. Able to streak across the sky like a fireball, he was often the first on the scene, but that didn't mean he could take his time. People's lives could be at stake, and he took that very seriously. He pulled away from Lucy and peeled off his foam-covered clothes, revealing the all too familiar blue suit he wore like a second skin. He leaned forward and brushed a hurried kiss against Lucy's cheek before starting toward the living room. "Livvie!" he called, assuming she'd heard the pager go off, well accustomed to the routine by now.
Steve watched from his spot on the couch, trying to sort out just what was going on now. They were a lively bunch, and there never seemed a dull moment.
"Fire?" One word answers generally didn't sit well with Lucy, but given that she'd been handed an armful of soggy clothes and a peck on the cheek, she didn't really have much option but to turn and watch as Johnny hurried away.
Liv rose from the couch as she heard Johnny call her name. "I got it," she called back, moving to the wide window to pull it open and step back. She smiled fondly at the sight of her boyfriend heading straight for them. "Be careful."
Steve moved to his feet, though he wasn't sure why. Why was Lucy's sister opening a window and why telling her boyfriend to be careful? There was something going on here that Lucy hadn't told him about.
Johnny halted briefly in front of Liv to give her a kiss. It had become something of a routine by now, at least when he got called on while she was with him. "I will, don't worry," he assured her. He tossed a quick wave at Steve and Lucy. "Save me some pizza! I'll be back later!" And then he was jumping out the window, with his by now familiar cry of "Flame on!" A streak of fire shooting upwards and across the sky that signaled The Human Torch was on fire brigade duty.
Liv smiled into Johnny's kiss, practically glowing with pride in him even as he leapt out of the window and shot off over the city. She watched him out of sight, forgetting for a moment that she had guests, and slowly closed the window only when she couldn't see him any longer. Turning back to the room, she actually jumped at the sight of Steve and Lucy staring at her. "Oh ... He's a fireman," she explained belatedly, the pride returning to her voice, shining in her smile. "And he's very good at it," she added, waggling a finger toward Lucy before her sister could open her mouth and say something thoughtless.
Steve joined Liv at the window, watching as Johnny flew out of sight, and once again he was reminded of Tony Stark, but Tony Stark required a fancy metal suit to fly, and Johnny Storm seemed to require nothing but his own natural flame. Or not so natural. There was really nothing natural about it. "A fireman?" he echoed, staring off at the fading flicker of light in the sky as Johnny got farther and farther away. "How does that work?" he asked, already realizing that if Johnny was impervious to fire, at the very least, he'd be able to enter burning buildings to look for people who needed rescuing, and that was at the very least.
Lucy was staring, genuinely flabberghasted by the thought of Johnny Storm holding down such a responsible job. Then, realising which direction her mind had gone, she shut her mouth, feeling ashamed of herself for thinking he wouldn't be able to do it.
Liv looked up at Steve, that proud smile still playing around her lips. "He rescues people the others can't get to," she explained, "but he can control fire as well. I think he absorbs the heat into himself until the flames go out. He hasn't really explained it to me, but the Fire Chief says he's the best thing that's happened to the Fire and Rescue Service in years."
Steve smiled at Liv's explanation, the smile warm and meant mostly for her. Whatever his opinion might have been of the Torch a short while ago had just changed for the better. "That sounds like a very heroic endeavor. I'm sure you're very proud of him."
"I am," Liv smiled, and again, her smile warmed as Steve's opinion of her boyfriend visibly improved. She turned fully away from the window, catching Lucy's eye and raising an eyebrow, making an educated guess at what had been going through her sister's mind.
Suitably shame-faced, Lucy murmured an apology, gathering together the soggy, foam-covered clothes Johnny had shed. "So, uh, just the three of us for dinner then, hmm?" she asked, deliberately shifting the conversation away to save herself from looking like a complete arse. "I solemnly swear not to challenge anyone to strip chess."
"Strip chess?" Steve echoed, noting that chess was a game for two people and there were three of them, two of them being sister, and then there was him. "Is that like strip poker?" he asked, though he assumed that it was. "Do you need help cleaning up?" he continued helpfully, secretly wondering if he was boring compared to the livewire that had just flown out the window.
He didn't wait for a reply, but stepped away from the window toward the kitchen to help clean up the mess while they awaited the presumed arrival of the pizza Johnny had ordered.
"Pretty much like strip poker, yes," Lucy ginned, unsurprised when he didn't wait for an answer to his offer of help but went straight to it. She shared a smile with Liv as her sister followed along, feeling oddly out of place in her own apartment.
"Thank you for offering, Steve, but you really don't have to," Liv was saying as the twins wandered to the kitchen in his wake. "It'll only take a few minutes to clean ..." She paused in the doorway, taking in the scorched footprints on the lino, as well as the liberal spray of foam everywhere. "...up."
Steve peeled off his leather jacket and laid it across a chair, further revealing the broad shoulders and chest that narrowed into a trim waist. "It's okay. I'm partly to blame for the mess. Do you have some rags?" he asked, looking over at Liv who had paused in the doorway to survey the mess. He frowned, feeling a little bad for causing her trouble, but it had been partly her idea.
Lucy opened her mouth, but Liv got there first, laughing at the way her sister was so ready to suggest using Johnny's clothes as cleaning rags. "Don't you dare," she told her big sister with a smirk. "Put those in the washer." After giving Lucy a push toward the utility room, she slipped past Steve, opening up a cupboard to reveal an industrial supply of cleaning product and cloths. There were even extra squares of lino to replace those that had been scorched. "How many rags did you want?"
"As many as it's gonna take," he replied, frowning at the mess, as he started unbuttoning his shirt. If he was going to do manual labor, he wasn't going to do it in his best shirt. "If you don't mind, I'm gonna go change." He didn't mind helping clean up the mess and fix the tile, but he didn't want to ruin what few decent clothes he had doing it. "I'll just be a minute." He snatched up his jacket and headed toward the door, turning back to point down the hallway. "Which room is the guest room?"
Liv pointed to the first door on the right, standing ajar. "Take your time," she told him, already pulling cloths from the cupboard. "This really won't take long." She paused, biting her lip. "Maybe you should go and see if Lucy's okay. She had a few unflattering thoughts about Johnny and she isn't feeling good about them."
"Lucy?" he repeated, looking torn now between the idea of helping Liv clean up the mess and checking on his fiancee. He wondered if this sort of thing happened often around here and whether they'd considered more practical surroundings that were more resistant to heat and fire. He looked toward the utility room, as if trying to decide what to do.
Liv smiled. "Honestly, this happens often enough that I'm used to it," she assured him, kneeling down to begin mopping up the melting foam. "It won't take long to set right." The utility room had gone quiet, suggesting that Lucy was having words with herself about whatever it was that had gone awry in her mind when presented with the prospect of Johnny Storm and responsibility. Liv waved a hand at Steve, urging him away. "Go on. Dinner will be here soon, anyway."
He set the jacket back down on a chair, feeling bad that the little joke he'd been part of playing on Liv's boyfriend had gone awry. He'd think twice before he did that again, though at the time, it had seemed harmless enough. "Okay, I'll be right back if you need any help," he promised, following after Lucy to the utility room. He was still trying to work out the dynamic here, but it seemed clear enough to him that the three of them had a close relationship, despite the rocky moments.
It was a shame that Steve had taken on some of the burden of blame, because it really wasn't his. The joke had been fun for all concerned, and as Liv had said, the clean up really wasn't as bad as it looked. No, things had gone awry in Lucy's head, and she was feeling ashamed of herself. That shame was made worse with the knowledge that all it had taken was one look for Liv to guess what was going on behind her eyes. The elder Broderick was leaning against the washer in the ultility room, talking to herself under her breath. "... are a complete idiot, that's what you are," she was muttering as she glared at the machine, willing it to work faster. "What the hell is wrong with you?"
"I don't know. What the hell is wrong with you?" Steve repeated, overhearing Lucy as he arrived at the utility room, taking a lean in the doorway, arms folded over his chest, watching her quietly. There was no accusation in his tone of voice, only concern. "What are you beating yourself up for?" he asked, studying her with those intelligent blue eyes of his.
She lifted her head, turning guilty eyes onto her fiance as he challenged her, twisting herself about until she mirror his stance, leaning back against the washer with her arms folded about herself. "It's going to sound ridiculous," she warned him, shrugging one shoulder as she spoke. "I ... well, my first thought when Liv told us what Johnny's doing now was to laugh it off and ask her what he was really doing. And I know that's incredibly unfair. Johnny's a bit of a firework, but he's got a good heart, and it was very wrong of me to even consider that he wouldn't go out of his way to help someone." She shook her head. "I'm ashamed of myself, Steve. And it's worse because Liv knows what I was thinking."
"So, you made a mistake. Liv knows you're sorry. Johnny's not here to offend. No harm, no foul." He pushed off the wall to close the distance between them, looking down at her as he tipped her chin up to meet his gaze. "Are you more ashamed of what you were thinking or that your sister knows what you were thinking?" he asked, meeting her eyes, knowing she wouldn't be able to lie to him, and hence, she wouldn't be able to lie to herself either.
He'd learned very quickly that she couldn't lie to him, and he wasn't above using it against her, either. Not that Lucy minded. It was a relief to have someone she could only be honest with. She looked into his eyes, and the answer was already there before she spoke. "I'm ashamed that she knows," she admitted. "Thinking badly of her choice means thinking badly of her, and she tries so hard to please everyone. It's not like I disapprove of Johnny, not at all. He makes her happy. But if she thought, even for a moment, that I thought he wasn't good enough, she'll make herself miserable trying to straighten out a kink that isn't there, and ..." She sighed, shaking her head again. "I'm overcomplicating things, aren't I?"
He rubbed his thumb against her chin, smiling reassuringly. Despite his confusion a little earlier and the fact that he hadn't known her or her sister very long, he knew Lucy well enough to have a little insight into what she might she might be thinking and feeling and where it might be coming from. "A little. It's hard to let her go, isn't it? You two have been together a long time."
His smile brought hers out, however small it might be. "Am I that transparent?" she asked, feeling more than a little bit foolish now. "It isn't as though we haven't been apart before, and this time I'm not leaving her on her own. She's not leaving me on my own, either. But it won't be just us anymore. I won't be responsible for her anymore." She snorted faintly, pushing off her lean to hug her arms about his waist, resting her cheek against his chest. "I suppose looking after Liv is a habit I'll have to break. I was never very good at it, to begin with."
His arms went around her back to pull her close against him, as he rested his chin gently on the top of her head. "You just have to trust her, Luce. Trust them both. It's obvious she loves him, and she cares about you a lot. You're not losing a sister. Neither of you are. I'd never take that away from you, and I don't think Johnny would either." He smiled at the thought of the two of them teasing each other like old friends or even like siblings. "He seems pretty fond of you," he told her as he held her close.
Without realising it, he'd laid out her fears in one sentence. She loves him ... she cares about you. Second place was never going to be a happy spot for Lucy to inhabit, not in her sister's heart, and yet that was exactly the place she expected Liv to inhabit in her own. A double standard, for the double trouble that they undoubtedly were. But she smiled when Steve commented on her friendship with Johnny. "We had a rocky start," she told him, glad she'd told him everything about that rocky start ages before he'd ever set foot in the apartment and met Johnny. "We'd have killed each other by now if he hadn't fallen for Liv instead. We're just too alike."
"And I'm boring in comparison," he said frowning, almost wishing he hadn't, but the statement just slipped out of his mouth. It was something Liv had said. He had recognized a lot of himself in Liv and knew he was nothing like Johnny, and if privately wondered if Lucy would ever get tired of him. "Opposites attract, or so they say," he muttered quietly as he held her close, pressing his cheek against her hair and breathing her in.
Lucy frowned, lifting her head to meet his eyes with fierce insistence. "Don't you ever say that about yourself," she told him, her voice firm and honest as ever. "You are not boring." Her eyes narrowed as she considered him for a moment, memories of conversations with Liv during the days following the fire looming in her mind. "You promised me you weren't going to leave me," she reminded him, her voice still fierce, but lower now, for his ears only. "I promised you the same in return. I love you, Steve. Don't you ever think that is going to change. Because it won't."
His eyes met hers, unable to hide his own self-doubts from the intensity of her gaze. "I'm not leaving you, Lucy. I'm never gonna leave you. I just don't want you to get tired of me, I guess. I know I'm not very exciting. I'm about as exciting as watching paint peel, I guess," he admitted with a frown, knowing that wasn't exactly true. Oddly, it wasn't something he'd ever worried about until now, until he'd met Johnny and seen how much fun they had together. "I haven't had much time for fun in my life. I'm not sure I know how to have fun anymore." He tried to remember when the last time was that he'd done something fun, something silly, something outrageous and he couldn't think of a single thing.
"Then I'll show you how," she promised him without a second thought. "Johnny did the same for Liv. Trust me when I say that this time last year, watching paint dry was more interesting than spending time with my sister. And now look at her." She unwound an arm from his waist, stroking her fingers against his cheek fondly. "If she can learn how to have fun, you definitely can."
He smiled down at her, having no choice but to believe her, glad that she, at least, believed in him. "I know I'm not going to play strip chess, unless it's just you and me." He leaned in to drop a kiss against her forehead, feeling a little better now and hoping she did, too. "We should go help your sister clean up. She said dinner would be here soon."
"Why? She's only just outside the door," Lucy grinned impishly. "Eavesdropping like any good sister would." There was a soft intake of breath from the other side of the door, and a whump of sound, followed by footsteps hurrying away. Lucy snickered, untangling herself from Steve to open the door and reveal the pile of rags Liv had dropped in her haste to escape before she really was caught listening at doors.
"You really have to work on that," she called out, and was answered with a quiet, "No, I really don't," from the living room.
Steve chuckled at their antics, almost wishing he'd had a brother or sister who knew him as well as they seemed to know each other, but then if he had, they'd more than likely be gone by now anyway. "Maybe we should have given her something worth listening to," Steve remarked, with a smirk and a twinkle in his blue eyes. Either Lucy was rubbing off on him, or he was starting to relax a little. It was more than likely a little of both.
"Don't you want to save your strength for the sex competition later on tonight?" Lucy countered cheekily, pausing the washer to throw the rags in with Johnny's clothes. "I bet we'd win." She snickered, straightening up to take advantage of his twinkle with a slow kiss, grateful that he'd come to talk her out of her dwindling mood. If Steve had thought Lucy and Johnny were silly to watch, he was likely to get a good dose of Lucy and Liv to round things off for him while the Human Torch was at work.
That slow kiss seemed to do the trick, pulling him out of his own dour mood. He lost himself to her kiss for a moment, blue eyes drifting closed, lips warm against hers, not as warm as Johnny's but it didn't matter. Liv belonged to Johnny, and Lucy was all his. "I don't want to compete, Lucy. I just want to be everything you need and want. That's all," he said as their lips parted and he opened his eyes, leaning his forward affectionately against hers. He almost couldn't wait to get her alone again, but he'd have to wait at least a little while yet. "You make me happy," he told her quietly, reassuringly.
"I'm glad," she murmured back to him, the tip of her nose touching his as she smiled for him, his smile that no one else would ever see. "Because you make me happy, too. Even if you do need to work out when I'm teasing sometimes," she added with a mischievous sparkle in her eyes. "Honestly, Steve, if we were going to have a sex competition, it certainly wouldn't be against my sister. Personally, I'm holding out for soundproofing on the bedrooms in this place." She flashed him a grin, bouncing up to touch a last kiss to his lips before taking him by the hand and leading him out to where Liv was waiting for them.
"We could stay somewhere else while we're here," he suggested, not wanting to pull the twins apart, but if it was privacy they wanted, they were most likely not going to get it sharing an apartment with Liv and her firecracker of a boyfriend. He touched his lips to hers before allowing her to draw him back into the apartment where Liv and quite possibly dinner was waiting.
Dinner was, in fact, keeping warm in the oven, and Liv was obsessively polishing cutlery by the time they got back to the kitchen. She looked up as the pair of them came back into view, her cheeks flushing again with the knowledge that Lucy had caught her eavesdropping. "Everything all right?" she asked sweetly.
Lucy laughed, reaching over to take the cloth out of her sister's hands. "Like you don't know the answer to that yourself," she grinned, looping an arm around her little sister's shoulders. "Where are we eating, then? Couch, or table?"
Steve let go of Lucy's hand as she reached for the dish cloth, noting the condition of the kitchen, which seemed nearly as good as new. Little did he know how hard Liv had worked to make the place spotless before they'd arrived. He glanced at the window, curious what Liv's boyfriend was dealing with. "Is he usually gone long?"
Half-strangled by her sister, Liv lurched off balance, knocking into Lucy, who in turn knocked into Steve with a cheerful laugh. "Couch," the quieter twin said, unwinding her sister's arm from her throat. "There's no need to stand on ceremony." She flickered a smile to Steve, while one hand deliberately prodded Lucy in a ticklish spot. As her sister erupted into reflexive giggles, Liv answered the question put to her. "He's usually gone between two and six hours," she told Steve. "It depends how serious the fire is, and how soon he got there after it began. I'm hoping he'll be back before long, though."
Steve hardly budged as Lucy lurched into him, chuckling at the twins' antics, glad to see Lucy in better spirits and not angry at herself any longer for something no one blamed her for but herself. Up until that moment, Steve didn't even know Lucy was ticklish, but the thought of tickling her in such a way brought a faint flush to his face. He nodded in acknowledgement of Liv's statement, a little curiosity lingering with regard to her boyfriend's abilities, though he was mostly just trying to make small talk. "Can I help?" he asked, looking around for something to carry into the living room. Plates, cups, napkins, anything to be of help.
Organising any meal in which Lucy was involved was a little like marshalling a small army, no doubt making Steve feel very much at home as Liv handed out orders, content to be in charge in her own home. In a matter of minutes, they had settled themselves on the couch and on the floor, sharing out slices of Johnny's perfect pizza. The twins were happy to keep the conversation flowing, though it was Lucy who kept it going most, as much for Liv's sake as for Steve. She knew that until Johnny came home, her little sister was going to worry quietly in the back of her mind. As the hours progressed, Steve found himself drawn into the tight knit that existed between the sisters, gathered as close as Johnny had been and given his own place in the dynamic - quieter, yes, but no less important. Even when it came to washing dishes and plates, leaving the remnants of the pizza in the oven for Johnny's return, the quiet captain was included, subjected to his fiancee's appallingly out of tune singing as the twins danced around him in the kitchen, filling the little apartment with lively, familial sound and joy.
It was hard for Steve to resist the jovial mood that was permeating the apartment, but he was smart enough to know that it was all Lucy's doing. He didn't have to have psychic powers to know that Liv was worried about Johnny, and the more time that passed since he'd been gone, the harder Lucy seemed to try to distract her sister from her worries. He felt a little awkward, but for Liv's sake, he did his best to try and blend and before long he was laughing as much if not more than the other two. It was a strange feeling, really. He couldn't remember when the last time was that he'd really and truly laughed or when he'd felt like part of a family. Liv and Lucy had done that for Johnny, and it seemed they were extending that familial invitation to include Steve, as well.
Another two hours passed with no Johnny, and while Liv was doing her best to act like nothing was wrong, Steve could tell it was starting to weigh on both twins, and he wondered what would happen the first time he had to go out on his own, leaving Lucy behind. There were never any guarantees, but if anyone seemed adept at handling fire, it was Johnny Storm. After a while, the trio had fallen into quiet, friendly conversation with Steve patiently answering any and all questions, which came mostly from Liv, happy to take her mind off her missing boyfriend. He was just about to explain what was going on back home in New York, when a heavy thump was heard coming from the balcony just outside the living room.
A heavy thump. As interested as she was in what Steve was telling her, Liv's attention was immediately turned toward the balcony door, to the shadow beyond in the evening dusk of the city. She offered Steve a quiet apology and a smile, rising up onto her feet to pad over and open the door, stepping outside to greet Johnny when she noted the expression on his face.
Left on the couch, Lucy followed that movement with her eyes, a faint frown on her brow as she noted the quietness of Johnny's return. One arm draped over Steve's shoulders, she touched a kiss to his cheek. "I think something's wrong."
Steve mirrored Lucy's frown, knowing as he did from his own experiences - especially those of the latest crisis back home - that things didn't always go as planned, whether you were considered a superhero or not. "At least, he's back, safe and sound," he replied quietly back at Lucy, his gaze following Liv as she made her way out onto the balcony. He remained where he was for now, allowing Liv and Johnny some privacy, until and unless Lucy thought they should investigate further. She was a doctor, after all, and Steve knew she'd only be able to sit still so long before she'd have to see if Johnny was all right with her own eyes.
Johnny only said one word when Liv joined him on the balcony. There was only one person he wanted to see at that moment and it was her. "Livvie," he said, his voice breaking on a sob, as he practically fell into her arms, needing her more than ever. He looked tired and was clearly distraught, but appeared uninjured, just as healthy as when he'd left a few hours earlier.
Liv's heart went out to Johnny before his mouth opened, knowing even before his voice cracked on that sob that something horrible had happened while he was working. Only one thing hurt him like this, and even as she gathered him into her arms, stroking her hands against his back, combing her fingers through his hair, she offered up a silent prayer for whoever had been lost. Her lips turned gently against his neck, offering whatever comfort he needed to take from her as she held him. "It's okay," she whispered softly, the gentle sway of her body rocking him just enough as he clung to her. "Take your time, sweetheart."
Johnny clung to her, like a man clinging to a lifebuoy, desperately trying to contain the flood of emotions that were threatening to drown him. He didn't want her to see him this way, but he couldn't contain the grief and the guilt he was feeling inside, and he sure as hell didn't want Steve or Lucy to know what had happened. He'd stayed away as long as he could, grappling with trying to contain himself, but it was getting dark and he knew Liv would worry if he didn't return home. For now, he just clung close, too distraught to explain what had happened, not trusting his voice to break again if he dared speak.
Liv had only seen Johnny even close to this once, and though it worried her deeply that he didn't seem to be able to speak, she was just glad he had come home. It didn't matter that she'd left Lucy and Steve to their own devices in the apartment; all that mattered was being here, with Johnny, for as long as he needed her to be there. She murmured to him, soft comforting sounds that didn't really translate into words, the stroke of her hands a constant soothing motion against his back as he shuddered in the grip of the tumult that had gripped him.
He drew comfort from Liv's presence, from the murmured words of reassurance, and the quiet patience with which she waited for him to compose himself and explain, if he could find the words to explain. When he finally lifted his head from her shoulder, his face was suspiciously wet, blue eyes swimming with tears. "I'm sorry," he apologized for his own weakness, wiping a hand across his face in a useless effort to dry the tears that didn't seem to want to stop.
Her head tilted back to find his gaze with her own as he lifted himself from her shoulder, hands stilling against his back but still holding on, offering him the same comfort of her embrace without expectation. "Don't be sorry," she told him very softly, unwinding one hand to gently catch his, knowing he could hurt himself constantly wiping at eyes that still wept. She wasn't sure she wanted to know what had hurt him so deeply, but at the same time, she knew he wouldn't be able to set it aside until he had told someone. "Just take your time, love. There's no rush."
The tears didn't remain long, practically evaporating on his face almost as soon as they appeared, almost in mockery of his grief. I can't even do that right, he thought to himself, knowing she wanted to help him, but had no idea what had happened. Some hero, I am, he thought again. Heroes are supposed to save people. I'm nothing but a failure. He shrugged his shoulders, unsure where to begin, and drew a deep breath to steady his voice. "It was kids, Liv," he started. "Why are there so many damned orphans in this city?"
Just his opening words were enough to bring home what was causing the heartache, her soft eyes brimming with tears of her own as she gathered him in close to her once again. "Oh, Johnny," she whispered, loving and sad in the same moment. "I don't know. It seems as though there are more children in need of homes than the orphanages can cope with."
"It isn't fair," he mumbled as she gathered him close once again, feeling like his heart was breaking all over again. "I tried, Livvie, I did, but it was too late. The fire was faster than I was." Could I have gotten there faster? he wondered, knowing he'd gotten there as quickly as he could, the first on the scene, but it was already too late. His words trailed off, his voice breaking. He wasn't used to losing, and he didn't like the way it felt to lose. It wasn't a game he was playing. There were people's lives at stake.
"Shhhh ..." She rocked him again, soft and gentle, knowing she had nothing she could say to help him through this. Her mind flickered to Lucy, the doctor, and Steve, the other hero - people close by who knew what he was feeling, who might be able to help him come to terms with it. Liv was the only person in their close-knit unit who hadn't ever lost someone it had been her job to save. "I know you did everything you could. But sometimes, even a miracle isn't enough." It sounded so callous to her even as she said it, as though she didn't care that a life had been lost, and she hated herself for it, but she knew he had to accept that sometimes he wasn't going to be able to save everyone.
"I'm supposed to be a hero. I'm supposed to save people," he pointed out, lifting his head again, angry tears turning to vapor almost as soon as they spilled over onto his face. "What good is it to be a hero if I can't save everyone?" he asked, struggling with the question, with the idea that no matter how hard he tried, there would be always be failures. It was the successes he had to focus on. Though one child may have perished, he had managed to save the lives of several others. Lives that would more than likely have been lost if he hadn't arrived as quickly as he had.
"You do save people," she pleaded with him softly, stroking her fingers to his cheek as she gazed up into his angry face. "Every day, Johnny, you save someone, and not just by being a hero. A smile in the right place to a complete stranger having a terrible day saves them. Making people aware of what you and your colleagues do, and how they can help you - that saves people, too. You are a hero, but even heroes are still human. We all fall, one time or another." She was struggling to make him understand, not having even a slice of experience to compare with his, wishing she knew the right thing to say, or to do. Anything to make him realise that the loss of one life did not mean he was anything less than the hero she knew him to be.
He sniffled back the tears as she stroked his cheek and tried to reason with him. He knew she was right, but they were only words, and it still hurt to know he'd lost even one person that he'd wanted to save. He drew a slow breath before he spoke again, leaning his forehead against hers, feeling weary. "Kids shouldn't have to live like that," he told her quietly, hoping Liv and her sister had never had to deal with anything even close to what he'd had to witness today. "I don't understand it. When my mom died and my dad..." He broke off, biting his tongue, as he always did whenever he mentioned his father, as if it was a sore subject for some reason. "I just don't understand how people can let that happen. They're just kids, Livvie," he continued.
"Sometimes living like that is better than what's waiting for them at home, if they have a home," Liv told him softly, hating the truth of it. "People don't just let it happen; there are places all over the city trying to make things right for those kids who live on the streets. But they can only do so much. Just like the rest of us." She rose up onto her toes, touching a gentle kiss to the corner of his mouth. "Maybe, after you've eaten and slept, you'll be able to think about it more clearly." Maybe you'll think of something you can do about it.
He frowned into her kiss, though he was comforted a little by her words, honest, sincere, and thoughtful. "I'm not hungry," he said with a further frown, glancing at the door and almost dreading stepping through it. He knew beyond that door was Lucy and Steve, probably waiting for Liv to rejoin them, wondering where he had been. What was he supposed to tell his idol? That he was a failure? That he'd never be a hero, like Steve was. He'd never even come close.
Liv watched his gaze flicker to the door, and it didn't take a mind-reader to guess what was going through his mind. It also didn't take a genius to realise that he was on entirely the wrong track. Knowing that Lucy would be listening in any way she knew how, Liv was fairly certain Steve already knew what Johnny had told her. She frowned up at her boyfriend, sliding her hand into his firmly. "Well, hungry or not, you're going to eat," she informed him, laying down the law in a soft voice that was totally unsuited to being firm. She turned, reaching out to push open the door into the living room, fully intending to pull him with her back into the warm safety of their home and family.
"You going to make me some toast and tea and tuck me into bed, Miss Broderick?" he asked, a tiny hint of teasing in his voice. It was what he always did for her when she was in a bad mood, and though he didn't really care too much about the toast and tea, he wouldn't have minded the tucking in part so much. He relented, not really having much choice. He couldn't very well stay out on the balcony forever. He had to face the music, so to speak, sooner or later. That music just happened to be Liv's sister and Captain America, for God's sake. He shuffled after Liv, following her back inside, looking more than a little rough around the edges.
"Better," Liv promised him, pleased to hear the faint tease in his voice. "I'm going to bring you pizza and beer, and then I'll tuck you into bed." She drew him into the living room, closing the door behind them, and gently steered him to a chair. Lucy was momentarily nowhere to be seen, but she appeared barely a moment after they re-entered, beer in one hand, pizza in the other. The twins knew each other better than they liked to advertise, after all.
Steve, too, was nowhere to be seen, excusing himself for a moment to fetch something from the bedroom, something he'd brought back for Johnny, something that seemed more important than it had before. Johnny's smile flickered briefly when he saw Lucy, like a flame that couldn't stay lit, before it faded altogether. "Hey, Luce. Where's your other half?" he asked, noticing Steve seemed to have disappeared into thing air, unsure if he was relieved or disappointed by that fact.
"He's just getting something," she assured Johnny, bending to set the food and drink down on the coffee table near him. One hand gently rubbed through his hair with sisterly affection. "Eat up, Everlast."
Grateful to Lucy for getting there ahead of her, for making sure she wouldn't have to leave Johnny's side, Liv smiled fondly, drawing him down into a seat to settle beside him, refusing to relinquish his hand. She had nothing more she could really offer him in the wake of what he had told her, but she was hoping that the others would be able to help.
Johnny settled himself on the couch at the twins' behest, glancing at the slice of pizza that was waiting for him on the coffee table. "Did he like it?" he asked, hoping Steve had approved of Johnny's choice for dinner. He wasn't sure why, but Steve's approval meant a lot to him. Maybe it was because he'd never really had a big brother, and his father hadn't been much of a father. There was Reed and Ben, but he felt they merely tolerated him more than anything else. The only one he felt any real connection to back home was his sister Sue, and while she'd tried to be a mother figure to him, they both knew she could never really fill those shoes. He realized, not for the first time, that he and Sue were as much orphans as Liv and Lucy.
Lucy snickered softly, thumping down into a corner of the couch, opposite the Human Torch and her sister. "I think he did," she told Johnny, making an effort to be upbeat, not to sink into too much seriousness. He wouldn't appreciate it if he thought his mood had brought them all down. "We had enough of a battle saving those slices for you!"
Johnny actually smiled, though the smile was weak. It was good to be surrounded by people who cared about him, who cared enough to save him a few slices of pizza, even if they would have rather gobbled it all up themselves. "Next time we'll order him his own pizza with the works," Johnny promised, his mood lightening a little. He reached for the plate and took a bite, only realizing when he did how hungry he was. He groaned in delight at the taste of it, the harrowing experience of the fire forgotten for the moment. He followed that slice with a healthy swallow of beer, swigging down half a bottle before it got warm.
"We should get into the habit of ordering two when everyone's together," Liv mused, quietly relieved as Johnny seemed to relax into the lighter atmosphere Lucy and Steve seemed to have worked to keep up for him, even if Steve was nowhere in sight. "Keep this a regular thing."
Lucy nodded, nestling into the cushions at the corner of the couch comfortably. "Absolutely," she agreed. "Trust me, Johnny, you haven't seen anything yet. That girl there can put away a large pizza all by herself if no one stops her."
Johnny arched a brow as he looked between the set of twins, knowing they were doing their best to cheer him up, and it was working, at least a little. "Not gonna get fat on me before the wedding, are you, Liv?" he asked, with a completely straight face. Which wedding he was talking about was anyone's guess.
Steve cleared his throat gently to let them know he had returned as he stepped into the living room from the hallway that led to the master and guest bedroom. He was holding one arm behind his back, as if to hide something from view. "Am I intruding?" he asked, politely.
The thought of Liv getting fat in less than a week was silly enough to set both women laughing, but it was Lucy who laughed hardest, guessing pretty accurately that it wasn't her wedding Johnny was referring to. That was a happy development she was more than content with, after all. "What, don't you want a cuddly woman with ample boobs to snuggle with at night, Everlast?" the elder twin asked impishly.
For her part, Liv took this teasing with a pinch of salt, sticking her tongue out at Johnny fondly through a resigned smile over the cover of Lucy's cackles. She was the one who noticed Steve's entrance first, curiosity lighting up her gaze as she noted his stance. "Of course not, Steve," she assured him. "Come and sit on your fiancee before I do something dreadful, like tickle her until she widdles."
"Liv's got ample boobs as far as I'm concerned," Johnny remarked with a small, tired smirk. He finished off his beer and set the empty on the table, his gaze darting to Steve, even as he drew an arm around Liv. The next thing on his list was a shower and a good night's sleep, but he wasn't yet ready to leave the warm companionship of the trio who surrounded him and be left alone with his thoughts.
Steve glanced between the three of them, looking only slightly uncomfortable with the twins' teasing. It would take time, but he was slowly getting used to their verbal repartee. It was the talk of boobs and widdling that made him cringe. "I'm not changing her diaper if she widdles," he remarked, in a meager attempt to make a joke. He lowered himself onto the arm of the couch, leaning toward Johnny to hand him the comic book he'd given to Lucy and asked to have autographed. "This belongs to you," he told the other man, noting the look on his face, the weariness, the anguish, as much as he was trying to hide it.
Lucy's smile didn't hide anything as she realised what Steve had in his hand, her body leaning back into his as he settled himself on the arm of the couch behind her. He'd been a little confused when she'd asked him to sign it, but had done it anyway. Perhaps, now that he'd met Johnny, he understood why it meant so much. "I don't wear diapers, as a rule," she commented cheerfully. "But then again, my knickers don't usually last a full day without being torn off one way or the other."
As Johnny wrapped his arm about her, Liv leaned into him, giggling softly as Steve inserted himself into the warm grouping, pleased that he felt comfortable enough to join in, however awkward he might feel about it. Her gaze lowered to the comic book as it was offered over, and she felt her smile warm further, deep gratitude rising on her face as she realised what it was. Something that was bound to get a real smile out of her heartsore lover, if nothing else.
And there was another small hint that Steve did indeed possess a sense of humor, no matter how deeply buried it might be. "You don't wear knickers, honey." Not technically, anyway. He wasn't quite sure what the lacy things Lucy wore beneath her clothing were called exactly. They didn't seem to serve much purpose other than to entice. He turned back to Johnny with a serious look on his face. He didn't want to dampen the mood, but he'd guessed what was bothering him and needed him to understand that being a hero didn't come without a price.
"I lost someone close to me once," he told the other man. "I blamed myself for a long time after he died. Thought I should have done more, done something to save him. Sometimes I even wished it had been me. They say everything happens for a reason, but that's not really true. Sometimes things just happen for no reason at all, and no matter how hard you try, you can't figure out why. You can drive yourself crazy with all the what ifs and if onlys. In the end, you have to decide for yourself if you did everything you could, if you did your best. No one can ask more from you than that. And if you think you did, then that's all that really matters."
Johnny's smile faded as Steve attempted to impart some wisdom on the other man, who he gauged was about his age, give or take a year or two, less experienced at this whole hero thing, but just as passionate, just as capable, if not more so. Johnny quieted, turning serious, taking his hero's advice in like a sponge soaking up water. He turned his glance to the comic book in his hands, running a finger across the signature that had been carefully scrawled on the cover, which didn't read Captain America, as Johnny had expected, but Steve Rogers - the man behind the icon. Johnny knew that comic book upside down and inside out and knew exactly what friend Steve was referring to. Though he hadn't lost a friend today, he understood what the man was trying to tell him.
"Thanks," Johnny said quietly, taking his eyes from the comic book to look back at his hero, even more impressed now that he'd actually met him in person, knowing what made the man who he was.
Beside him, Liv was quiet, her cheek resting gently against Johnny's shoulder as she felt him absorb what he was being told. Nothing she could have said would have made a greater impact than hearing Steve tell him that he had done well, that there was nothing wrong with feeling a failure so long as he didn't let it pull him down. That he couldn't save everyone, but what truly mattered was that he had tried. She could never have put it into words that made so much sense and meant so much, deeply grateful to Steve for just being there when Johnny needed him.
Lucy watched the men just as quietly as Liv did, seeing things in a slightly different light. Where heroes fought against the bad and the unjust, the wrongness in the world, she was a doctor. Her entire life was a race against Death, which was no more wrong than life itself. She knew, better than anyone in this room, that some things you just can't fight, and accepting that had been one of the greatest challenges of her life. But just because she had accepted it, didn't mean she didn't still fight just as hard for every person who came under her care. She smiled gently as Johnny thanked Steve, glad to see that the horror of his own failing was fading. The deep pain would never leave him, but perhaps he would learn to accept it, the way so many had before him.
"You save as many as you can but you can't save everyone," Steve continued, needing to make sure Johnny understood this completely, or it would drive him crazy, more than likely sooner rather than later. He leaned close to brush a kiss against Lucy's cheek. "If you'll excuse me, I'm gonna go unpack." The three of them more than likely knew he wasn't going to do any such thing, that he was just making an excuse to leave Johnny in Liv's more than capable hands. "It's been a long day." He left it up to Lucy whether she wanted to follow him or stay with her sister. Moving to his feet, Steve glanced at Johnny again. "I'd be honored if you'd stand up at our wedding, Johnny. I can't think of anyone I'd rather have for my best man."
Johnny's brows lifted in surprise, though he'd already heard Steve and Liv discussing that very thing earlier. Steve Rogers wanted him to be his best man? How could he say no to that? "It's me who'd be honored, Steve. Maybe I can return the favor someday."
Steve flashed a warm smile that was a little too much like Johnny's for comfort. "Maybe you will," he replied, nodding toward Liv before starting back toward the bedroom again to relax for a while and allow the little group some privacy.
Steve was infinitely more subtle than Lucy. Sensing that the time for group chats and reassuring words among more than a loving pair was over, the doctor stretched her arms up high into the air as Steve slipped away, feigning the world's most unconvincing yawn. "Gosh lummy, I think I'm just too tired for all this lovey dovey nonsense," she declared, flashing a wink over to Liv and Johnny as she moved to stand up. "I think I'll go and educate my fella about the finer points of women's underwear, what do you think?" She grinned, bending to hug Johnny, dropping a kiss onto his cheek before she squeezed Liv in a find embrace. "Nighty-night, lovebirds."
Liv giggled softly as Lucy walked away, fairly certain that the finer points of women's underwear wasn't going to be the only topic of conversation in the spare room tonight. She twisted, curling her arms around Johnny as she looked up at him, her smile gentling. "We'll have to get you a suit," she murmured, not really paying any attention to what she was saying. "Maybe you should take Steve shopping tomorrow, have a little male bonding while Lucy drags me all over the city looking for the perfect pair of shoes."
Johnny chuckled a little at Lucy's leavetaking, and leaned into Liv's embrace. Despite his affection for Lucy and his obvious admiration for Steve, it had been a long day, and he was just as happy the other couple had decided to retire early, leaving him and Liv alone to do the same. "You don't think he really needs a lesson in women's underwear, do you?" Johnny asked quietly, wondering if he needed to bring Steve up to date on the finer points of women's lingerie. They were way past knickers, that was for sure. "I can't believe he asked me to be his best man!" Johnny exclaimed as the reality of it set in. "I thought you two were just trying to screw with my head." He made a face at the idea of shopping, wondering what it would be like to drag Steve around the marketplace in search of a suit. "Are they getting married here or back home?" he asked, somehow having missed that detail.
She laughed softly, resting easily against him as they talked. "I think, if he does need a lesson, Lucy will make sure he knows every last detail intimately," she suggested through her somewhat impish smile, nestling comfortably into the wrap of Johnny's arm about her. "No, he really did ask me if I thought you'd be interested," she assured him as he accused her, however lightly of screwing with him. "But I did get him to ask me twice, just so you two would over hear." She smiled her soft, sweet smile, tipping her head back to look up at him as he queried her on the details of the wedding. "Back home," she told him. "In a church in Brooklyn, I think they said. Someone called Fury is sorting out all the details at that end. Apparently there's even going to be a hotel suite for us to stay in overnight."
"Fury?" Johnny echoed, that name not sounding familiar to him at all, despite his being from New York and being part of another group of superheroes that was fairly well known there. "So, why shop here when we can do that back home?" he asked, wondering what the delay was and why they weren't going back through the portal sooner. "Think I'll have time to drop in on Sue while we're there?" he asked, hopefully, a little of the light returning to Johnny's eyes, now that he was no longer thinking about the one he couldn't save.
"I think Lucy has something she wants to get here," Liv told him, carefully not giving away what that something was. Lucy had intimated it to her under the cover of all the taps in the kitchen gushing while Steve was tidying the living room earlier. It was supposed to be a surprise, and as much as she loved Johnny, Liv knew he'd fold and tell Steve everything at the first little hint of pressure. She smiled at the light rising in his eyes, wondering - not for the first time - just exactly what he thought she was going to do. "Well, obviously we will," she told her lover laughingly. "You don't think you're getting away with taking me to New York without going to see your sister, do you?"
Fortunately for both Steve and Johnny, Steve had no idea Lucy was planning any kind of surprise. As far as he knew, they'd come to Rhy'Din for one reason and one reason only, and that was to meet her sister and bring Liv and Johnny back to New York with them for the wedding. Even that little bit Liv had just told Johnny had his eyes lighting up with curiosity. "What does she wanna get him?" he asked, but before she could reply, he was sidetracked with more talk of his sister, and the familiar look of excitement lit up his face. "Wait til you meet her, Livvie. You're gonna love her. She's gonna love you. I mean, what's not to love about you both? And you both love me, so..." He was rambling on again, in his usual hyperactive fashion, as if everything that had happened earlier in the day was forgotten, at least for now.
Liv smiled as Johnny rambled on, warmed and calmed by this return to his usual spirits as he wittered on about his sister and her husband and their soon-to-be-born baby. It seemed as though he'd found his even keel again, thanks to Steve's gentle interjection into his misery. Although she knew that the pain and upset of the evening wouldn't entirely leave him, it was good to know that Johnny hadn't lost himself to that terrifying sense of failure. And who knew? Maybe after visiting his sister in New York and making sure that Lucy was well and truly married, he'd pull something out of that shock and grief to spur him on to bigger and better things. She knew he could do it; now all he needed to do was believe in himself, to make those unknown dreams come true.
[size=9]((Captain America and The Human Torch in the same room! The girls have got their work cut out for them, haven't they? :grin: Magniflorious thankidoodles to the genius mastermind behind the boys!))[/size]