Red Dragon Inn
Dreamweaver's Lair => From the Dragon's Mouth => Crash and Burn => Topic started by: Olivia Storm on August 03, 2014, 06:51:24 AM
Settling into life on Maple Grove had proven to be far easier than Liv had expected it to be. Even more encouraging was how well Fliss had taken to being a part of their little household. For such an uncertain teen, she had a work ethic that was enviable, not complaining about the three hours of schooling Liv did with her in the mornings, or the intensive control training Johnny was working on with her in the evenings. Between times, the teen did as she pleased, and yet had not once crossed the line Liv and Johnny had laid down. It was encouraging to see. Right now, Fliss was in the pool with Bella, dog and girl splashing around wildly, enjoying the heat of the sun and the coolness of the water, while Liv lay on the grass a little way away, ostensibly reading something Jon had asked her to look over, but actually just dozing and sunbathing.
Johnny, for all his braggadocio, was not particularly fond of the sun, claiming it gave him a sunburn, which was a little ridiculous for a man who could burst into flames at a moment's notice, but what he was really afraid of was the water. He'd been avoiding getting anywhere near the pool for weeks, but he could only make so many excuses and avoid it for so long, especially when Liv and Fliss spent so much time there. "I thought I might find you here," he said as he arrived poolside, hands on his hips as he glared down at both wife and almost-daughter with a worrisome frown on his face.
Liv looked up, shading her eyes as she smiled at her husband, understanding his worried frown. "It's such a beautiful day, sweetheart," she offered warmly. "Come and doze with me." No, she wasn't going to force him into the pool if he absolutely refused to do it, but it would be nice if he could at least relax while Fliss was in the water. A shriek from the pool announced that Bella had discovered a new game - climbing out and then pouncing back in, deliberately on top of the teen girl she was playing with.
He was trusting enough not to be wearing his ever-present fire-resistant second skin today, shedding it for a pair of worn out blue jeans and t-shirt, bare toes peeking out from a pair of sandals - a rarity for him. It was a hot day, and it seemed a little silly to get too over-dressed though the heat of summer didn't really bother him much. He sprawled down onto a chaise lounge, flinching a little when Bella splashed into the pool. It wasn't that he hated water exactly. He was perfectly capable of taking a shower without incident, for example, and even the pool didn't bother him that much. It was large bodies of water that bothered him more than anything; that and torrential rainstorms. "What are you reading?" he asked, glancing over at the reading material that seemed to have been mostly forgotten, at least for the time being.
"Mmm?" Liv blinked, glancing at the forgotten sheaf of paper with a faintly guilty smile. "Oh, it's the proposal for that half-way house Jon wanted to set up with Mataya," she told him, rising up onto her elbows comfortably. "They found a likely looking building, but the survey says there's a vast amount of work that needs doing on it before it would even be fit for its current purpose, much less being re-purposed. Jon wanted my opinion on it."
"Sounds like a worthy cause. So, what's your opinion?" he asked as he kicked off his sandals and leaned back to relax, arms behind his head. "Hey, try to keep the water in the pool!" he shouted over at Fliss and Bella, though he wasn't angry. It was no big secret that Johnny wasn't a big fan of water or that he couldn't swim. "If anyone can make it happen, it's Jon and Mataya," he added, though in his opinion, you could make just about anything happen if you threw enough money at it.
"Well, yes, but I hate to see money wasted," Liv pointed out, relaxing back beside him. His yell made her grin - she could easily imagine what he was going to get for it. "If they don't mind spending so much money just to make the building suitable for re-purposing, then they should go for it, but personally I would recommend that they find somewhere that isn't derelict and work from there." She smirked at the sound of paws scrabbling on paving and braced herself as Bella came flying across the patio and onto the grass, leaping joyously onto Johnny to soak him as much with her own drool as with pool water to the sound of Fliss' gleeful laughter.
"Why not just build something new?" he asked, though he imagined they probably preferred to renovate something that needed renovation rather than build something from scratch. "Oh, no!" he exclaimed as he heard that same sound of paws and knew he was about to be pounced. "Bella, no! Down, girl!" he exclaimed, eyes wide as he tried to scramble off the chaise to his feet and wound up on the ground instead with a wet dog all over him.
It was just as well he was in position to receive an answer to his question, because Liv was in no position to give one. She was laughing too hard at the sight of their playful Beauceron bounding around him, tongue lolling out, tail wagging, and dripping liberal amounts of chlorinated water all over the Human Torch.
From the pool came the sound of the instigator egging the dog on. "Go on, Bella, give him a kiss!"
Johnny winced not only at the soaking he was getting from the dog, but from the licking, though he couldn't help but chuckle at the love Bella was trying to lavish on her master. She'd just been excited to see him after all, so how could he get angry about that? "Alright, alright, I love you, too!" he told her, fondly burying his fingers in her wet fur. "And you, young lady!" he scolded from where he was sitting on the grass with Bella between his legs, dripping pool water all over him, which was causing steam to escape from his with a quiet hiss. "You're an instigator!" he called over at Fliss.
Arms folded on the edge of the pool, Fliss grinned back at Johnny, completely unrepentant. "Yes, I am," she agreed cheerfully. "And you totally walked into it!"
As the teen cackled, Liv sat up, gasping for breath as she wiped tears of laughter from her eyes. "Oh, good grief," she gasped through her giggles. "Remind me never to get stuck between you two on a plane."
Johnny arched a brow at Liv's remark. "Why would I take a plane when I can fly?" he asked curiously. A mischievous smirk played over his lips as he ruffled Bella's wet fur. "Go say hi to Mummy, Bella!" he told her, giving her a friendly shove toward Liv.
"What? No!" But no, the magic word "mummy" had been spoken, and Bella turned her attention to dripping all over Liv who was distinctly unprepared for the cold against her warm skin. She squeaked as she laughed, wrestling with Bella until the dog got bored and returned to pounce Fliss in the pool once again.
Johnny burst into a fit of laughter now that the shoe was on the other foot, though it had been Fliss who'd put Bella up to it and not Liv. Still, Liv had laughed at his expense, and it was only water. As for Johnny, he was already nearly dry again.
Liv turned narrowed eyes onto her husband, though she was still laughing a little. "I will find some way to make you pay for that," she warned him, brushing the water from her skin as Bella dive-bombed Fliss with a loud, delighted bark. "You look distinctly over-dressed for lounging beside a pool, love."
"You both know how I feel about the water, Liv," Johnny replied with a frown. Though he wasn't really shy about flaunting his chiseled torso in public, he didn't really feel all that comfortable about being half-naked in front of Fliss, for some reason.
"I'm not proposing that you leap into the pool, love," she assured him fondly. "But you'll never get used to the water if you insist on coming near it fully dressed. You can't even sit on the edge with your feet in the water as you are, can you? Not without soaking your jeans."
"I'll only heat up the water, Liv," Johnny pouted. There had been a time when, like any normal kid, he'd wanted to learn how to swim and have fun in the water, but it had just never happened, and then he'd become what he was, and he'd avoided water as much as possible ever since.
Liv twisted, fixing him with a look he'd only seen a few times before. Unfortunately, every one of those few times had resulted in him losing the discussion. "Johnathan Storm, if you don't stop pouting, I'm going to force you to take a bath every night until you give in and paddle in that pool," she informed him, her voice low enough that only he could hear her. She would never do this within earshot of Fliss.
"But..." he heard himself saying, sounding like a schoolboy, rather than a full-grown man, and sulking like one, too. Thankfully, Fliss was too busy with Bella to notice, but he thought he probably wasn't setting a very good example. "Will you be right there?" he asked, feeling a little ridiculous asking.
Liv's expression softened as she took his hand. "Of course I will," she promised him. "All I'm asking you to do is dangle your feet in the water. Nothing more. And Fliss knows not to splash you or try to pull you in. We'll get you used to the water first, before we try swimming in it. Okay?"
He wasn't sure why it was so important to them, except that they wanted him to have as much fun as they did in the water. It was something he hadn't really thought much about or missed until he'd met Liv - or so he'd told himself. "Okay," he agreed reluctantly, taking her hand as he pulled himself up off the ground.
"Good boy." She kissed his cheek, deliberately turning into him to stroke her fingertips up beneath his t-shirt affectionately. "Please tell me you're at least wearing boxers under those jeans," she added in a quiet murmur of amusement. "Half-naked is infinitely better than completely naked in front of a teenager."
"Of course I am!" he exclaimed, looking almost shocked at the suggestion that he wouldn't be. "You think I wanna get my junk caught in the zipper?" He didn't dare admit that it had happened on more than one occasion. There were more reasons than the obvious for wearing that second skin of his, though he wasn't wearing it today.
Liv giggled softly, gently leading him by the hand around the edge of the pool to where the steps led down into the shallow end. She let go of him with an encouraging smile, and settled herself on the edge of the pool, with her lower legs in the water. "Take your time, love," she told him softly, glad that Fliss seemed to have worked out what was going on and had distracted Bella from pouncing Johnny again.
"How..." Johnny glanced over the edge of the pool curiously. "How deep is it?" As if that mattered. If he fell or was pushed in and it was over his head, he knew he'd panic and sink like a stone. Trying to turn his flame on wouldn't work six or seven feet under water.
"At this end, it comes up to just below my boobs," Liv told him with a smile. "It's easy to stand up and have your head above water at the shallow end, Johnny. And the human body naturally floats," she added. "So if you do end up in the water, don't flail about. Just let yourself relax, and you'll float upward to the surface."
He frowned down at the water, realizing there was no possible way he could drown, unless he did something really stupid, but it offered little comfort. Still, he knew he was being a baby, and it wasn't much fun to just sit there and watch. "Okay, but no splashing!" he warned, though he knew she couldn't make any promises where Bella was concerned.
Liv's smile gentled once again. "You can always sit on the steps," she suggested. "You'd be in the water, but in a far shallower part, and Bella would be able to include you in her games."
He considered that, thinking it was a pretty reasonable idea. It would allow him to be included without having to fully immerse himself in the water. "Okay," he agreed once again, tugging the t-shirt from his head and tossing it onto the chaise lounge he'd vacated shortly before.
Smiling, Liv slid from the edge of the pool into the water, walking through the coolness to the steps and settling herself on the second down from the surface - plenty of head above water space for Johnny when he got there eventually. Unable to resist, Bella paddled over to see her, clambering up the steps and shaking the water from her fur before leaping joyously back in. "Oh, you -" Liv laughed, wiping the water form her face. "You two are as bad as each other."
Johnny found himself smiling at Bella's antics, even though he wasn't all that fond of being splashed. He secretly wished he'd been brave enough to take swimming lessons as a boy. It was a bit of a contradiction for a guy who was well known for being a daredevil. Johnny pulled off his jeans and tossed them onto the pile of discarded clothes, wishing he could just jump in and have fun, but instead he moved over to the steps and slowly lowered himself into the water.
With Fliss and Bella apparently taking it in turns to drown themselves and each other in the deep end under the adults' watchful gaze, Liv slid close against Johnny's side, curling her arm through his to entwine her fingers between his own. Her lips gently brushed his cheek. "So ..." she said fondly, "how was work this morning?"
"Thankfully quiet," he replied. It might be boring to sit in the station house and do nothing all morning, but at least no one was blowing up the Marketplace or setting fires anywhere. He smiled at the kiss, his fingers linking with hers. "She's a great kid, isn't she, Liv?" he asked, glancing over at Fliss and Bella, his heart swelling with joy at the knowledge that all of this little family was his.
"She is," Liv agreed, a proud little smile on her face for the teenager they had welcomed so quickly into their home and their lives. The summer was proving to be a wonderful time to bond with Fliss - which was probably just as well, because Liv imagined that some problems might arise when she started attending school in the autumn. "I almost can't believe how comfortable she is with us. She's a very special girl."
"She has a very special mother," he added quietly for Liv's ears only. Though they weren't exactly Fliss' adoptive parents just yet, if things kept going the way they were going, it was only a matter of time.
"One day, perhaps," Liv murmured softly, resting her cheek against his shoulder. "I hope so. I know she's only been with us a few weeks, but I would miss her a great deal if she chose to go elsewhere now. I'm even getting used to the random piles of underwear all over her bedroom floor."
Johnny chuckled at that, almost forgetting he was partially immersed in pool water. Liv had a tendency to do that to him. It was a gift she probably didn't even know she had, but it had been what had initially drawn him to her, rather than her older sister. "If that's the worst thing she does, that's not too bad. I was a handful. I don't know how my sister put up with me."
"It's called sisterly love, sweetheart," she teased him affectionately, brushing the tip of her nose to his. "And I highly doubt you were as terrible as you make yourself out to be. Sue certainly doesn't think so."
"Oh, no, I was a terrible kid and an even worse teenager!" he insisted, though he wasn't as bad as he thought. He had been a little wild as a kid and a bit of a rebel, but it wasn't the kind of rebellious behavior as was usually seen in teenagers. He'd never hung around with a bad crowd or gotten into trouble with alcohol or drugs, and though he liked girls - and they liked him - he'd never gotten anyone pregnant. His rebellion was more of a personal nature, and anyway, he'd turned out okay.
"Mmmm," his wife murmured, lowering her voice to speak into his ear, doing her best to distract him from the water that surrounded them. "Do you think if I ask very nicely I could sleep with this terrible teen of yours? He sounds like he could do with a kitten to tame him."
"What, do you want to corrupt him?" Johnny asked with a smirk. The water in the immediate vicinity was definitely feeling warmer with him immersed in it, but so far, it seemed there were no other terrible side effects for or from the Human Torch.
"Give him a taste of how good it's going to get when he grows up," she teased him with a giggle, emerald and diamond flashing on her finger in the sunlight as she stroked her fingertips against his jaw.
A complaint rose from the other side of the pool. "Aww, c'mon," Fliss laughed. "If you're gonna smooch, can you at least save the lessons for after dark? I bet you could get him swimming in a few days if you did the skinny dipping thing!"
"I think you'd have to go back in time to do that, Liv," Johnny pointed out with a chuckle, blue eyes bright at the caress of his cheek. Fliss had been with them long enough to have witnessed a few mushy moments, but very few arguments. There was no hiding the fact that they adored one another. "Don't give her any ideas, Fliss!" Johnny warned with another chuckle.
"Actually, I think that's a very good idea," Liv agreed unexpectedly.
For such a modest, private person, it was rather shocking to hear her say that, and Fliss burst out laughing at the thought of her foster parents getting naked just so one could teach the other how to swim. "I'm so glad my bedroom is on the other side of the house, now," she giggled, swimming over to them with enviable ease. Bella followed her, finally beginning to tire, and climbed out of the pool, shaking the water from her fur and lying down in the sun to dry off.
Johnny frowned a little as Fliss swam toward them, only slightly paranoid of other people in the water, but she trusted him, so the least he could do was trust her. He noticed how easily she made her way through water, envying them both for their lack of fear. Even Bella could manage in water over her head without panicking, though with dogs it was instinct. "Who taught you to swim?" he asked, directing his question to Fliss, though he was just as interested in Liv's answer.
"Agnes," Fliss told him easily, resting one step down on her elbows and letting her legs float just beneath the surface of the water. "I got freaked out by water a lot when I was little, and I didn't really even try until last year. Agnes used to take me and one of the other girls to the lake every day last summer, and she taught us how. I still get freaked out in really deep water, but at least I know how to swim now."
"You're really fond of Agnes, aren't you?" he asked, wondering if Agnes had any children of her own or if there was some stipulation against adopting her own charges.
Fliss nodded. "I got lucky that when she got the job at the Seven Towers, I got moved there about a month afterwards," she confided. "And she tried really hard to keep me out of the special unit. And she convinced you to give me a chance. She's pretty awesome. She says she could never have kids of her own, because there are loads of kids who need her more."
Johnny swapped glances with Liv at Fliss' last remark, both of them knowing that was in good part what had prompted them to seek out a child for adoption. Maybe someday they'd increase their brood, but for now, they had agreed that Fliss deserved their undivided and sole attention. "Sounds familiar," Johnny murmured quietly, more to himself than to either of them.
Liv smiled faintly, understanding the quiet murmur from her husband. Her fingers squeezed his gently. They might currently be unable to have children of their own, but she knew Lucy wouldn't give up until there was nothing more she could do. She had faith that her twin wouldn't string them along for too long before saying yes or no.
"Hey, d'you think I could write her a letter?" Fliss continued, looking up at them hopefully. "I mean, she set all this up, and she should know how good things are, right? I'm real happy here with you guys."
"Of course you can write her a letter!" Johnny replied. "You can even visit her if you want. Let her see how well you're doing." He felt relieved to know she was happy here. He thought she was settling in nicely, and even the Granger clan had welcomed her with open arms. The true test would be when autumn rolled around, and she had to start school.
"Awesome!" Delighted with the freely offered permission, Fliss forgot about Johnny's discomfort with water in general and surged up from where she rested, throwing her arms around his neck and hugging him tight. "Thank you!"
Leaning back, Liv grinned, always pleased to see those moments when Johnny seemed to be being embraced by fatherhood unexpectedly.
He flinched just a little, expecting to be splashed or dunked or some equally mischievous attempt at play, as surprised as ever to find Fliss throwing her arms around his neck to give him an affectionate hug. He glanced over at Liv a moment, unable to hide the surprise from his face, though he returned the hug a bit awkwardly, the water evaporating almost immediately due to his elevated temperature. "You're welcome," he replied, a little uncertainly, obviously unaccustomed still to such open demonstrations of gratitude.
Of course, Fliss was nowhere near as gentle with Liv, fully aware that her foster mother was a far stronger swimmer than either of them. She lunged from Johnny's arms onto Liv and dragged the woman down beneath the water in a flail of limbs, both of them popping up barely moments later, spluttering and laughing.
"You little -" Liv laughed, dunking Fliss under the water once again, only to have the teen grab her leg while she was underwater and pull the dark-haired woman off balance once again. Fliss bobbed up with a grin, flashed Johnny a wink, and swam as fast as she could to the other end of the pool to avoid retribution as Liv came bursting up out of the water once again, shaking her hair from her face and shaking a laughing fist in the teen's direction. "I will make you eat spinach for a week!"
Johnny laughed at the two of them as they played in the water, a lazy bark from Bella, as if to remind them that she was part of the family, too, even if she was too busy sunning herself to take part. "She'll turn you into a regular Popeye!" Johnny called to Fliss across the water. Despite his happiness at being part of this little family, he was secretly envious that he didn't feel comfortable enough in the water to join them. In another moment, Bella had joined him, lounging beside him as if to keep him company, but staying out of the water.
"Parp parp!" Fliss yelled back, and flipped over into the water again, amusing herself with widths as Liv crawled back onto the steps, wiping her face dry.
"I do believe I was just ... what's the phrase? Pawned by a teenager?"
"Pawned?" Johnny echoed, unsure of that phrase. "If you mean she got the best of you, I think you're right!" he said leaning back to lounge in the water, relaxing just a little.
Liv giggled, stretching out beside him. "I'm doomed to be the smallest person in our family forever," she complained cheerfully, certain that little Jamie was going to be as tall as his father, and Fliss was already the same height as her.
Even Lucy was taller, but only by a smidge that hardly counted. "Is that such a bad thing?" he asked as she stretched out beside him. "I happen to like you that way."
"I'd be worried if you didn't," she teased him affectionately. "Oh, by the way .... we have a date night planned for next week, so no volunteering for additional shifts. Fliss is going to stay at the big house overnight, too, so it will be a proper date night. If you stand me up, I will not be impressed." She grinned at him, soft brown eyes sparkling with promise.
"Date night?" Johnny echoed, blond brows arching upwards. "Just the two of us?" he asked, unsure if she meant a true date night or if they were double-dating again. It had been a while since they'd been to New York, but he had a feeling this date had nothing to do with Steve and Lucy.
"Just the two of us," she confirmed. "So you should think about what you'd like to do. The Wonderplex is open again, maybe we could go there." She smiled at him, remembering the first time he'd taken her on a tour of that amusement park. He unlocked a very slight adrenaline junkie for a short amount of time, and had been rewarded for it in his own dressing room. It had been a long time since she had been quite that uninhibited.
"I don't know," he replied thoughtfully. Did she want to do something romantic or something exciting? "We should take Fliss to the Wonderplex sometime," he suggested, but that didn't really answer her question. "Why do I have to decide what to do? Oh, I know! What about the theater? What's showing there now?"
"Um ..." For someone who knew her boss' schedule off by heart and had an enviable capacity to remember just about anything, Liv was momentarily at a loss. She hadn't been expecting Johnny to suggest the theater. "Uh ... Alfie, I think," she managed eventually. "Yes, The Firebird's last night is the 9th, so it'll be Alfie."
"Alfie?" Johnny echoed, making a face. "Don't they ever do anything exciting there? It's always Shakespeare or some boring drama or musical I've never heard of. Why don't they do something fun like..." He had to consider a moment. "Like, uh..." He frowned, unable to think of anything off the top of his head.
Liv laughed, poking at his stomach playfully. "You do know what Alfie is about, don't you?" she asked him. "It's really not as bad as you seem to think it is. They made a film of the play with Michael Caine in the '70's, and then updated it with Jude Law about ten years ago, I think. It's based entirely around sex."
"Of course I do!" he insisted indignantly, though he really didn't. "They're gonna do a play about sex?" Johnny asked, obviously surprised. "How does Vicki feel about that?" But then, there was very little of Jonathan Granger the multiverse hadn't seen now that he'd starred as Christian Grey.
"I imagine she'll be cheering him on and rogering him silly every night when he gets home from work," Liv laughed, stretching out comfortably in the lapping water. "You know what she's like. Besides, the last Fifty Shades... comes out in October. I think Alfie will get a good audience just because of that."
"You know, I bet I could strut my stuff for money," Johnny remarked, a little indignantly again. Okay, so Jon was an Oscar-winning actor; he was still practically flashing his package on the big screen for equally big bucks.
"You're supposed to be modelling for Miranda again some time soon, aren't you?" his wife pointed out fondly. "And I would rather you didn't display everything that's mine for all and sundry." She glanced up, careful to make sure Fliss wasn't looking in their direction, and laid her hand directly over the goods. "Mine."
"Am I?" he asked, completely forgetting. It was lucky he had Liv around to remember these things for him. He arched a brow as she showed him just how possessive she was of him in no uncertain terms. "I don't think you have to worry about that, unless they decide to do a Firefighter's calendar," he teased back with a grin.
"Even then, you keep your hose out of sight," she told him, leaning over to kiss her husband tenderly. She was immensely proud of him for relaxing in the water, though she didn't dare point it out. She had a feeling that the moment he realized, he was going to get tense again.
There was a splash from the far end of the pool as Fliss pulled herself out, squeezing the water from her hair. "I'm all pruney," she declared, apparently oblivious to the affectionate moment being shared by her foster parents. "I'm gonna dry off and get dressed."
Without any prompting, Bella got up from her spot beside Johnny to accompany the teenager. The two of them were practically inseparable these days, and Johnny thought they were good for each other. "Okay. Don't go too far. I'm taking my girls out for dinner tonight!" he called after Fliss as she started toward the house. He turned back to Liv with a smirk on his face. "Don't worry, Livvie. You're the only one who gets to play with my hose."
"I had better be," she laughed, watching as Fliss and Bella dripped their way back into the house. As OCD as her cleaning could be on occasion, she was slowly learning to let some things go - she couldn't stay on top of a dog, a teenager, and the Human Torch and expect to stay sane, after all. "We're going out to dinner, are we?"
"Yeah," he replied with a playful grin as he poked her nose with a finger. "Have you got a problem with my spoiling my girls once in a while? Bella can stay at the big house for a few hours and keep Cosmo company."
"Now why would I have a problem with that?" She kissed the end of his finger impishly. "Is this a dress up sort of occasion, or come as you are?" The smile was just a little bit wicked. Liv had been hoping for an opportunity to get Fliss dressed up for a while, and had decided to pin her hopes on Humphrey's birthday party.
He shrugged, only having decided a moment ago, so he wasn't quite sure whether dinner should be formal or casual or somewhere in between. "What do you think? Any preference?" he asked, brushing too-warm fingers against her cheek.
"Well ..." Liv made a show of thinking about it, but she was a little too soft-hearted to spring a formal occasion on Fliss without warning. "As much as I want to get her into a dress, I'm not so cruel as to do it on just a few hours' notice," she admitted with a chuckle. "She knows it's coming for Humphrey's birthday, I won't insist on a dry run."
Another thought occurred to him, but he thought it might be a little too soon for it. It did bring a thoughtful frown to his face though. "Do you think it's too soon for a trip to New York?"
Luckily, Liv understood what he was getting at with that. Johnny was desperate to introduce the girl who would be their daughter when she was ready to the rest of their family, all of whom were in New York. "Maybe we should ask her over dinner," she suggested mildly. "She seems comfortable with us, perhaps it's the right time."
He wasn't so sure about Tony or even Reed, but he wanted Steve and Lucy and Jamie and Peggy and Susie to meet their hopefully soon-to-be daughter and officially welcome her to the family. "You know what she's going to say. She's going to worry about screwing up. She always worries about screwing up."
"She might not worry so much this time, knowing that we'll be there with her," she pointed out quietly. "She has a much closer support system these days, and she knows that Steve and Lucy are pretty easy going. She has a lot more control these days - I haven't even seen a spark for at least a week."
"And I'll be there in case something happens, but..." There was that frown again. "I don't think she's ready to meet Tony yet." There it was, and while he worried what she might say about that, this was too important not to discuss. It was no big secret that Johnny wasn't overly fond of Tony Stark, but just because they were related by marriage didn't mean they had to be best friends. That place was reserved for Steve anyway.
"No, she isn't," Liv agreed without a fight. She wasn't too fond of her big brother herself, but insisted on calling him once a week anyway, regardless of whether or not he actually picked up the phone. "Not unless he's put on a very short leash to meet her, and I don't think even Pepper can do that for more than half an hour."
"I don't know about Reed either," Johnny admitted. Though Reed was likely to be more interested in Fliss' DNA than her feelings, he knew at least Reed meant well, which was not something he could say for Tony. "I'd like her to meet Peggy," he said, leaving the "before it's too late" part out. Peggy Carter was no spring chicken, and though she was in good health for a woman in her nineties, everyone knew she wasn't going to live forever.
"Yes, so would I." Liv's smile was a little sad as they touched on Peggy. She was extremely fond of her great-aunt, dreading the day that Peggy's age would catch up to her. "They should get a chance to know each other."
"Maybe we should go visit for a few days before school starts," Johnny suggested, though in the end, it would be Felicity's decision to make, not theirs.
"That would be nice," Liv nodded, hugging into him as they lounged in the pool, her head resting on his shoulder. "It would be nice to visit them without an ulterior motive for once." She giggled; neither she nor Johnny were the best at concealing any ulterior motive they might have. Steve and Lucy always caught them out.
"What ulterior motive?" Johnny asked, chuckling at his wife's giggle, which he found adorably girlish. "They're family! We don't need an ulterior motive!" he pointed out with a grin. Any excuse to visit New York was good enough for him. "Think your boss will give you a few days off?"
"When has he ever said no?" Liv countered with a grin. Jon really was far too lenient on her, but then, when she was working, she did far more than the average P.A. with a startling amount of efficiency. She was possibly the best investment he had ever made, and he knew it.
As much as Johnny teased her about her boss, he was actually fond of the man and couldn't really argue with his generosity or the generosity of the Granger family, in general. "I think I can get a few days off, so long as I give them enough notice," he added. "Should we ask Fliss tonight, then?"
She nodded, brushing a kiss over his heart just because she could. Despite the warmth of the sun, Liv had grown accustomed to the heat that radiated from her husband, all the more susceptible to the cold when she was away from him these days. "Yes, I think we should," she agreed quietly. "I can't see her saying no, not once we reassure her."
That decided, he circled back around to the topic of dinner. "So, where should we go?" he asked, sliding an arm around her, almost forgetting they were half immersed in water. It wasn't much different than a bathtub really, so long as they stayed in the shallow end.
She considered the question for a moment, and the perfect idea popped into her head. "I know," she said, a slightly mischievous smile on her face. "We should go to that cafe around the corner from the Shanachie - Incredible Edibles. A little bird told me that Elena De Luca is the new manager and chef."
"Sounds like a plan," he replied, leaning over to drop a kiss against her forehead. He didn't really care where they went, but he didn't think any of them were in the mood for something formal tonight. "But before we do that, we have to get out of the pool and get dressed," he reminded her, and now that he was there, he had finally relaxed and was feeling lazy.
"Seems a shame to get out now you're so relaxed," she murmured affectionately, propping her head up to look down at him. "I'm proud of you, you know. A month ago, you wouldn't even have considered doing this."
"It's not exactly swimming, Liv. I'm just relaxing in the water," he pointed out, though she was right. There was just something about pools and larger bodies of water that put him off. He didn't have any problem with showers and bathtubs though.
"It's not a big step to go from relaxing to floating, and from floating to swimming," she pointed out gently, smiling at him. "Shush and let me be proud of you. I know what you're like when it comes to water."
He was about to protest, to point out it was a huge step, at least for him, to go from relaxing to floating, It was something he really doubted he could do, but he said nothing, closing his mouth at her shushing with a small frown.
Liv knew that look, her smile turning just a little bit determined. "Lift your legs up," she told him, gently curling her arm beneath his head. "I won't let anything happen to you, I just want you to experience this. Trust me, sweetheart."
"I've done this in the bathtub, you know. It's not the same thing as swimming," he told her, that doubtful frown still on his face, though he did as he was told.
"But trusting yourself to float is something you need to learn," she told him gently, glancing down as he lifted his legs. "Now relax as much as you can. I've got you; you're not going to float away, and you're literally about a foot from the step I'm sitting on."
"I can't," he said, tensing up as soon as his legs were no longer weighing him down. For a guy who was used to flying, feeling weightless should be a cinch, but for some reason, it wasn't. Johnny was convinced he was going to sink like a stone.
"Yes, you can," she promised him. "I know you can." Leaning down, she kissed him, soft and gentle, but deliberately distracting, giving him the little growl that only he had ever heard as her lips plied his, all the while keeping his head above the water with her arm beneath his neck.
The kiss helped to distract and relax him a little, but he knew what she was up to. Still, he wanted to please her as much as he could, and logically, he knew he wasn't going to drown in only a few feet of water. He kept his arms where they were, trying to forget he was in the water, allowing himself to relax as much as possible.
She smiled as she felt just a little of his tension ease, nuzzling tenderly to him. "That wasn't so hard, was it?" she murmured softly, stroking her fingers against his cheek. "You can put your feet back down now, if you want to."
He didn't need her to tell him twice, forcing his legs back under the water and welcoming gravity back into his life. "You must think I'm pretty silly," he said, frowning up at her.
Liv shook her head, always gentle, always patient with him. "Of course I don't," she promised him confidently. "You have years of wariness and fear to get over, that doesn't happen overnight. Just the fact that you're willing to even try to make a start is a wonderful step forward, Johnny."
"You know what scares me the most?" he asked, opening up a little about the fears that troubled him. He was usually fearless, almost to the point of recklessness, except when it came to water. "I'm afraid of my fire going out," he said, knowing that sounded silly, but it was no secret how much he enjoyed being the Human Torch. Water was fire's natural enemy. Water was the one thing that could be his doom. That and lack of air, but that was another story.
"Ah." Liv nodded, finally understanding a small piece of the puzzle. Johnny had not been considered a "normal" human for a long time; he had grown so used to his powers, so dependent on them, that the thought of being without them genuinely terrified him. "But that's why we're doing this, isn't it?" she said gently. "So that even if your fire goes out and you're in the water - and that, love, is a big if - you will be able to swim to shore and reignite your flame. Speaking of which ..." She took his hand, raising it out of the water between them. "Make a flame for me. Right here, right now. Sitting in the pool."
"Now?" he asked, arching a brow, a little surprised at the question and wondering what her point was. The water turned to vapor almost instantly, hissing as it evaporated, leaving his hand dry. "I don't see the point," he told her, with a quizzical look on his face, though he had yet to create the flame she was asking for.
"You will," she told him with a soft smile, knowing he wasn't being deliberately difficult. It was just unfortunate that Johnny often couldn't guess what it was she was going to say, when it seemed perfectly obvious to her. "Flame on, please."
He didn't bother to say the words, turning his hand palm upwards and uncurling his fingers to produce a small flame in the middle of his hand which quickly grew in intensity until it enveloped his entire hand. It was his little secret that he never really needed to say the words at all. He was in perfect control of his abilities, and it had just become a habit born of an excitable nature.
Liv sat back, her smile deepening, and waited for the penny to drop. Of course, it might take a while - she loved her husband, but he had his thick as two short planks moments like everyone else. But she was sure that, sooner or later, he was going to realize that he was sitting in water, and still had his flame.
Ah, but he couldn't produce a flame wherever he was immersed in the water, and that was Johnny's point - and his fear. "What do you think would happen if I tried to fly?" he asked. "If I needed to fly?" He wasn't very likely to encounter any danger or enemies in their backyard pool, but it wasn't out of the realm of possibility that it could happen somewhere else at some point in the future. She had seen firsthand how he'd just barely made it home in a rainstorm.
"To be honest, love, I think the combination of upward thrust from you, and the geyser of steam you'd produce going so hot so fast would catapult you into the air," she pointed out. "It seems to be the combination of water and cold that affects you, not simply water itself."
"You think so?" he asked, brows arching curiously. He had never really thought it out. His mind didn't really work that way, not like Reed who would have insisted on experiments and formed some scientific hypothesis filled with lots of big words to explain what happened when Johnny got wet. He was half tempted to put Liv's theory to rest, but if he did, that would be the end of his boxers and he didn't want Fliss catching a peek of him naked. "But if I were submerged, then I wouldn't be able to produce any flame at all," he reasoned.
"I don't think so," Liv told him gently. She stroked her finger along his arm. "Your skin is covered with tiny hairs. Those hairs trap air when you go into the water, so essentially you're actually in a bubble. I don't know for certain, and I'm not exactly a genius scientist, but I think you can flame underwater. And I think that you could use that underwater flame to propel yourself out of the water with the steam you'd produce. Not the stealthiest of actions, admittedly, but I don't see why it shouldn't work."
Johnny closed his hand into a fist, extinguishing the flames with Liv so close. "You almost sound like Reed," he told her with a thoughtful frown. Or Lucy. Or Tony. Or half a dozen other people who he thought were a lot smarter than him. It made his brain hurt thinking about it too hard, but in order to put her theory to the test, he'd have to submerge himself in deeper water, and he wasn't about to do that. Still, if she was right, then what did he had to worry about, except maybe drowning?
She raised a brow. "I know a way you can test it," she suggested. "Next time you run a bath, just plunge your hand in and flame only that part of yourself. You don't have to submerge yourself entirely to test a theory that I came up with, love. And I would never ask you to."
"I can do that now," he told her. Why wait for a bath? Besides, he mostly took showers, but that was irrelevant. "Liv..." he started with a serious frown on his face that usually preceded some revelation or other. "When I first came here, before I met you, I came here because I wanted to be a hero." There was a point to his story, if he could find the right words.
She knew that tone and that expression, and had grown to understand that it wasn't because of anything she had said or done. It was his own internal workings making themselves coherent. So she settled beside him, gently teasing her fingers through his hair. "You are a hero, even if you can't see it," she told him softly. "I happen to know there's one very special teenager who calls you her hero, not thirty feet away from where we are now."
He glanced over at the house where Fliss was inside getting dressed, while Bella kept her company and watched over her almost as protectively as he and Liv, his gaze lingering on that house a moment before turning back to the woman beside him who'd become his wife. "That's my point, Liv. I came here to be a hero, but I've learned that you don't have to have any special powers to be a hero. You're a hero, Liv. You're my hero. You saved me from myself when I didn't even know I needed saving. You put meaning in my life. Every time I looked at Sue and Reed, I wondered if I'd ever have that kind of love in my life. I was jealous, envious. I didn't think I'd ever meet anyone who would love me and understand me the way that you do. And..." He paused a moment, blinking some tears from his eyes. "You're the best thing that ever happened to me, Livvie. I love you more than words can say."
"Oh, sweetheart ..." She curled her arms around him, drawing his head to her shoulder as her lips brushed over his hair. "That's the way I feel about you. I always have, right from the beginning. I spent years not feeling good enough, not matching up to the standard I'd put on Lucy, thinking I would always be second best. And then you chose me. You have done more for me in two years, than I've done for myself in a lifetime. I couldn't love you any more than I do; you're a part of me. There's never been anyone else in my heart, or in my life. Only you. And there will never be any one else."
He knew he wasn't very good with words and wasn't quite putting into words what he wanted to say. What did any of this have to do with the water? Not a damn thing, except that he wanted her to know what she meant to him and how much he loved and appreciated her. He'd meant to tell her something else about something that had happened when he'd first arrived, but it no longer mattered. Nothing that had happened before he'd met her seemed to matter. "I love you, Livvie," he told her, deeply touched by her words, as she took him into her arms. "I don't know what I'd do without you."
"There's no need to think about it," she told him, drawing back to share her smile with him tenderly. "You've got me. And we've got Bella, and Fliss, and our whole family just a portal step away." She leaned close, touching her lips to his. "And if you can manage to keep your voice down, you'll get your end away later, too," she added impishly.
"How much later?" he asked, with a small smirk of his own, as he lifted his head from her shoulder to meet her lips, his arms going around her, forgetting once again that they were still lounging in the pool with an impressionable teenager only a short distance away.
She giggled against his lips, glad that she had finally cracked the secret of how to rescue his mood before he could grow melancholy. "After Fliss is in bed," she told him, kissing the tip of his nose. "Speaking of which, we should get dried off and dressed if you're going to wine and dine your girls tonight."
"I said that a while ago," he told her with a chuckle, amused at the kiss to his nose. He may have only made small progress today, but at least it was progress, and he couldn't deny that he was happy here with her and Fliss and Bella. He finally had a family and home of his own. Whether or not he was a hero, he was a hero to them, and maybe that was all that really mattered. "Yes, dear," he told her. "Just one more thing..."
"Mmm?" Liv raised her brows, wondering what he was planning now. She didn't mind him stalling, enjoying spending a little time together in the pool without needing to be concerned about whether or not the dog or the teen were going to drown each other.
But he wasn't planning on spending any more time in the pool. A mischievous smile touched his lips as he pushed off the side of the pool until he was waist deep in water, unafraid of drowning so long as she was there with him and he remained in shallow water.
Liv watched, a slow grin beginning to rise on her face as she touched the edge of a faint suspicion. Was he really going to test her theory right here and now?
He was only immersed to his waist in water, so perhaps it wasn't a true test, but it was a start, and it was far too tempting for him not to try it. "Stand back, Livvie!" he warned her, extending an arm toward her so she'd keep her distance. Though he'd taken her flying with him before, he wasn't quite sure what to expect and didn't want any harm to come to her.
"Okay!" His obvious excitement was infectious enough that Liv was grinning widely as she escaped the pool, tucking her bathrobe about herself and gathering a towel into her hands to protect his modesty if this came off.
He back a little father into the pool, as deep as he dared, which admittedly was only about chest deep and drew a deep breath to gather his courage, though there was nothing to be afraid of. He closed his eyes a moment as if he was concentrating on something and before long, the water around him started to ripple as if it was coming to a boil as his body temperature rose.
Watching Johnny from a place of relative safety by the house, Liv wasn't surprised to hear Fliss come back out to join her. "What's he doing?" the teenager asked, her voice hushed as though she were afraid of breaking Johnny's concentration.
Liv smiled, looping an arm around Fliss' shoulders as the two stood together by the back door. "Just watch," she said quietly. "I think he's about to prove something to himself."
As it happened, Fliss didn't have long to wonder. Johnny opened his blue eyes, feeling the heat raging inside him. "Flame on!" he shouted the two words familiar to anyone who knew him well, pushing off the bottom of the pool to propel himself upwards, the heat doing the rest as he burst into flames and shot upwards into the sky like a rocket with a cry of exuberant and almost childlike delight. In that moment, he knew it was good to be Johnny Storm.
The two girls by the pool let rip with a loud cheer, whistling and catcalling as Johnny shot into the sky, joined by Bella's barking as the dog burst from the house to run in circles beneath where Johnny flew. Applauding, Liv and Fliss hugged one another, each as delighted for Johnny as the other, glad to see him slowly overcoming the fears that held him back from truly enjoying the summer with them.
As far as Johnny was concerned, flying was by far the best part of being the Human Torch. He reveled in the ability and no matter how many times he soared through the sky, it continued to give him a rush of adrenaline and pure joy every time. The flaming form of the Human Torch shot across the sky, flying in circles, leaving spirals of flame in a trail behind him which soon dissipated as he circled around to head back toward the house.
Laughing, Fliss allowed herself to be shepherded back inside the house once it became clear that Johnny was coming in to land, calling Bella with her. Neither girl nor dog were going to get an eyeful of the Torch's goods. Liv moved to meet him, holding the towel out as she grinned. "You know, I'm willing to bet that you enjoyed that."
He was coming in hot and fast, but had such perfect control that he touched down on the ground without any trouble, extinguishing the flames as soon as his feet hit the ground, as naked as the day he was born. "You'd win that bet," he told her with a grin. "So, I guess we proved your theory right, for now."
Braving the heat as it eased around him, Liv wrapped her arms around his waist, settling the towel securely about his hips as she kissed him. "Congratulations," she told him. "Now we have something to celebrate as well as just enjoying dinner together." Her nose brushed his tenderly. "I'm so proud of you, love."
He shrugged one shoulder as she wrapped the towel around him and kissed his nose, a soft smile on his face. "It was your idea," he pointed out giving her the credit. "All I did was prove you right."
"But you did it," she reminded him with fond familiarity. "I love you, Johnny." She kissed him again, soft and gentle, and drew back, taking his hand in hers. "Come on, let's get dressed. No tight pants."
"I love you, too," he told her, returning her kiss and linking his fingers with hers, so she could lead him back toward the house. Laughing at her remark, he knew it probably had something to do with Fliss. "And here I thought you liked me in tight pants."
"Oh, I love the look of you in tight pants, but not trying to get you out of them," Liv laughed as she drew him back into the house. "And I think Fliss might enjoy teasing you a bit too much if your trousers creak with every step you take."
"You don't seem to have too many complaints when I wear my uniform," he pointed out helpfully as she led him inside. While she might like him in tight pants, he didn't really share her fondness for them, but the uniform was another matter. "What do you think would happen if I picked her up for school in my uniform?" he asked with a mischievous grin.
"It's fun peeling you out of your uniform," his wife informed him playfully as they headed for the stairs. "So long as you don't have an erection, darling, I don't think she'd mind too much."
"Ewwww," came from the kitchen as they passed. Fliss was pulling a face at them. "Can you go and talk about your interconnecting bits where I'm not?"
Johnny laughed at Liv's remark, laughing even harder when he heard Fliss' voice from the kitchen, as if she was the voice of reason, rather than the pair of mature adults. "She's the one with the one-track mind!" Johnny exclaimed with a chuckle. "If we're not downstairs in half an hour, send out a search party!" he teased as he and Liv started up the stairs.
"Like hell!" was shouted up after them as Liv pulled her husband up the stairs, the little house ringing to the sound of laughter from all quarters. Whatever the ups and downs, they'd found their balance as a family. Not even Johnny's form-fitting uniform was going to make a dent in the solid relationships he had made with three little orphans who loved him deeply - the wife, the daughter, and the dog. They were making things work as a family, and that, it seemed, was as essential to him as the very elements themselves. Life really was almost perfect.
[size=9]((Conquering his fears, one step at a time. That would never have happened before Fliss arrived! Many thanks to Johnny's player for being awesome as always!))[/size]