Red Dragon Inn
Dreamweaver's Lair => From the Dragon's Mouth => Crash and Burn => Topic started by: Lucy Rogers on August 31, 2014, 08:25:31 AM
New York certainly was something of an eye opener for a magically inclined teenager who had never been outside of Rhy'Din City in her lifetime. Fliss wasn't entirely sure how she was supposed to react to the crowded, noisy streets, the crush of people, deeply grateful that Liv and Johnny had hemmed her in on both sides. She would never forgive herself if she set fire to something by accident here, where the explanation would be so much harder to give. She couldn't help being nervous, though - she was being taken to meet the rest of her new family's family, namely Captain America and his wife, son, and friend, and later on in the week, Mr Fantastic, the Invisible Woman, and their son, too. It was ever so slightly nerve-wracking.
Holding tight to Johnny's hand, trusting him to keep a lid on any sparks she let off, Fliss swallowed hard as Liv took a quick step forward, opening a gate to lead the way toward a large house. "Are we here?"
"We're here!" Johnny announced, confirming the fact that they'd arrived at their destination. He gave Fliss' hand a little reassuring squeeze as Liv stepped forward to take the lead. This was her sister's house, but it was also the home of Johnny's boyhood hero, both of whom had become close friends. "Don't be nervous. They're gonna love you!" he told her, leaning over to give her cheek an affectionate and unusually warm smooch. Bella let out an expectant bark as if to let the inhabitants of the house know they had arrived.
"Even if I set fire to their house?" Fliss whispered as they followed Liv and Bella to the door. She had expected Liv to ring the bell and wait, but hadn't counted on just how close the twins were.
Liv produced a key and let herself in, gesturing for the others to follow her as Bella announced herself with a loud bark. "Lucille, you have guests!" the younger twin called with a grin, laughing as her sister called her something not very complimentary from what sounded like her lab in the basement.
Johnny chuckled at Fliss' ever-constant worry. "You're not gonna set fire to the house!" he told her, confident in her growing sense of control over her abilities, even if she lacked confidence in herself.
"Olivia Storm, one of these days I am going to feed that grin to you backwards," Lucy was threatening as she stalked up the steps from the basement to greet them, but the grin on her own face was bright and warm. She swept her little sister up in a hug that lifted Liv's feet off the floor, winking at Johnny and his little friend over her sister's shoulder.
Fliss' jaw dropped. She'd been warned that Liv's sister was her identical twin, but it was different actually seeing them. She leaned close to Johnny, talking out of the corner of her mouth. "How'd you tell them apart?"
"The hair's different," he whispered back, tilting his head conspiratorially toward Fliss, adding, "And Lucy is bossier." Anyone who didn't know better might have a hard time telling the twins apart, but Johnny had been around the pair long enough to know the differences, however slight. "Where's Steve?" Johnny asked, flashing a grin over at Lucy. "You holding him captive in the house somewhere?" he teased.
"In here!" a male voice called from the kitchen.
"Oh, he's convincing the other man in my life that carrots are the best thing ever," Lucy clarified as Steve called out to make himself known, finally releasing her sister with a chuckle. "Bossy, am I?" she added, poking Johnny in the chest. "Sure you want to go there, Everlast?"
Beside Johnny, Fliss found herself giggling. While Liv was all softness and easy to love, she couldn't help but be impressed by a woman who was completely unafraid to treat Johnny Storm like an errant teenager himself. Liv flashed her a warm smile, encouraging the teen to relax a little more.
"Bossy! I didn't say bossy," Johnny interjected, looking as guilty as sin. He had never been a very good liar. "I said, uh, flossy. Meaning you floss a lot." Yeah, right, not likely. Johnny was smiling warmly, despite Lucy's admonishment. "You're not bossy, Luce. You're... what's the word? Assertive!"
"A bully," Liv piped up cheerfully, nudging her sister as Lucy spluttered at both of them with playful indignance.
"You are both very lucky that I love you," she informed her sister and said sister's husband, turning her warm grin onto the teenager lurking behind Johnny. "You must be Felicity. I'm Lucy."
Fliss bit her lip, feeling shy and awkward, but managed to smile a little in answer to the warm welcome. "Nice to meet you, Lucy," she stuttered softly, holding tighter to Johnny's hand as Lucy chuckled and stepped back, leading the way to the kitchen and the other members of the household.
Johnny chuckled at Liv and Lucy's banter. There had been a time when he had almost come between them, but that time was long past. They were family, and Johnny had become part of that family, along with Steve and now Fliss. "Come on, Fliss. There's someone else I want you to meet." Now that she'd met Lucy, he led her by the hand into the kitchen to meet his own personal hero, who was almost as much his twin as Lucy was to Liv.
"Oh, hey, Everlast," Lucy said over her shoulder, "I have a theory to run by you, when you have a second." That was all she said, but the cheeky look in her eye suggested that she'd been making her sister's fertility a priority recently. Stepping into the kitchen, she pulled a truly awful face for the benefit of her son, who laughed aloud and threw his handful of carrot sticks at random and with force.
Liv was giggling as she moved to greet Steve, hugging her brother-in-law with far more ease these days than they had first shown around each other. "You look like you're under siege," she teased the big man, tweaking little Jamie's nose affectionately.
Steve frowned, taking this carrot-eating thing way too seriously. "Do you see how she undoes everything I do?" he asked with a long-suffering sigh. "Luce, I am trying to teach him to eat carrots, not throw them!"
"Whoa!" Johnny exclaimed as the handful of carrots went flying across the room. "That kid's got an arm. Sign him up for the Yankees!" Bella added her two cents with a friendly bark, just to remind everyone she was there.
Laughing, Lucy dropped into a seat by the counter, taking over carrot duty so Steve could greet their visiting family. "I do not undo everything you do," she objected. "I make life interesting."
"You make life difficult, you mean," Liv giggled, moving over to the fridge to investigate the contents for drinks. One thing both sides of this little family had achieved was absolute comfort in each other's homes.
Lingering in the doorway behind Johnny, Fliss was staring again - this time not at the natural born twins, but at Steve. Her mouth fell open, amber eyes flickering back and forth between Johnny and his idol. "Uh ... isn't this, like, incest or something?"
Johnny let go of Felicity's hand now that they'd reached the kitchen so he could go over and greet his nephew and flex the little boy's bicep. "Do you see this muscle? He's gonna be as big as his dad someday!"
Steve rolled his eyes, accustomed to Johnny's playfulness, not to mention his hero-worship, and set the bowl of carrots on the counter. There wasn't going to be much more carrot eating going on, it seemed, as little Jamie was giggling distractedly at his silly uncle.
"We're twins from different mothers!" Johnny exclaimed with a grin over at Fliss before turning back to tickle his young nephew. "How come he hasn't got a Fantastic Four shirt? I'm gonna get him a Fantastic Four shirt, then we can be the Fantastic Five. How would you like that, Jamie? Gimme five!" He held up his hand for the eventual hand slap.
Abandoned at the doorway, Fliss looked on the verge of panicking, rescued when Liv held out her hand to the teen. With quick steps, Fliss hurried across the kitchen to grab hold of the proffered hand, thumping down onto a stool next to Liv, who smiled encouragingly. "Don't mind Johnny," she assured the girl. "He and Jamie always do this. Steve, I'd like you to meet Felicity."
Steve didn't bother to apologize for Johnny, assuming Felicity knew how hyperactive and distracted the other man could get sometimes, especially when he was happy. He offered a warm smile to Fliss, as he extended his hand. "Nice to meet you, Fliss. Welcome to New York." Upon further inspection, she might notice that though there were uncanny similarities between Johnny and Steve, there were some slight differences.
With just a little encouragement from Liv, Fliss ventured her hand into Steve's, offering him a shy smile, grateful that only Lucy and Jamie were as hyperactive as Johnny in this house. "Thank you, Mr. Rogers," she nodded nervously, still gripping Liv's hand as tightly as she could. Beside her feet, Bella nudged at her, as though trying to reassure her favorite human that there was nothing to worry about. "Are-are you really Captain America?"
Steve took her hand and gave it a gentle, but firm squeeze before letting go, returning her shy smile with a somewhat shy smile of his own. "Call me Steve," he insisted, flushing just a little at her question. It was always a little embarrassing to admit to his alter-ego, mostly because he was too modest. "Yeah, but it's not a big deal. I'm just Steve or Dad here."
"Not a big deal!" Johnny echoed. "You're just the greatest superhero who ever lived!"
"Am I allowed to call you uncle?" Fliss asked, the question itself remarkably daring for someone who was still convinced she was going to set light to this house before the end of the day. "'Cos, you know, I've got a Mom and a Dad now, and you're married to my Mom's sister, so that sort of makes you my uncle, right?"
She looked earnestly up at Steve, utterly unaware of the shocked, touched, gobsmacked expression on Liv's face as the woman stared at the teen girl. They'd had Fliss living with them for a few months now, but had not discussed any further what their ultimate hope was. To hear her suddenly refer to them not only as her parents, but as Mom and Dad, was the most wonderful thing Liv thought she had ever heard.
Steve's smile softened, not just because he was touched that Felicity wanted to call him uncle, but because she apparently was feeling comfortable enough with Johnny and Liv to want to refer to them as her parents. "I'd be honored to have you call me uncle," Steve replied, turning to Johnny finally with a chuckle. "That's debatable," he told the other superhero, though he didn't want to argue about it now.
"Oh, yeah?" Johnny countered, not letting it go. "Name one superhero who's more awesome than you."
"The Human Torch," Fliss interrupted Johnny's argument with charming bias - she was familiar enough with feeling awkward about being different to be able to recognize it, even in a superhero.
Beside her, Liv had gone very quiet, Lucy murmuring softly to her to keep her sister on an even keel. The last thing they needed was for Liv to burst into tears because she was so pleased with the thrown-away mentioning of her as being a mother.
Johnny couldn't help busting out laughing at Fliss' remark. "Oh, well... That goes without saying," he replied, furrowing his brows as he glanced over at Liv and Lucy, as if he was trying to figure out what that was all about. In all his hyperness, he apparently had missed Fliss referring to them as Mom and Dad. "What's the matter?" he asked, looking a little confused. "Did I miss something?" It was right then that Jamie threw the last carrot on his tray at the Human Torch, pegging him right in the forehead.
As Lucy burst out laughing, unable to stop herself from praising her son for his unerring accuracy, Liv finally managed to raise a smile, twisting to pull Fliss into a tight hug. "Thank you, sweetheart," she whispered to the teen, who squeezed her tighter for a moment, drawing back with a smile of her own.
"How long do you think it'll take for Dad to notice?" Fliss asked with playful warmth, hoping she hadn't completely derailed everything with her unexpected declaration of her place in their family.
Johnny crossed his eyes and then blinked as he got winged by a carrot from the pint-sized pitcher with a powerful arm. It took him a minute to realize that he had missed something, though he wasn't quite sure what, until he overheard Fliss talking about her father. But she didn't have a father. In fact, wasn't he her father? Foster father? Adoptive father? He furrowed his brows over at the pair, looking a little confused. "Wait, Dad? You mean me?"
"Well, yeah," Fliss nodded, her tone suggesting that it was obviously him, even if she had never called him Dad before. The big amber eyes they'd both learned to read were just a little wary, however, uncertain how he was going to react to her choosing to call him her father when she hadn't discussed it with him yet.
Steve chuckled a little as he exchanged knowing glances with Lucy and went about freeing their young son from the highchair and carrying him from the room to give the little family a few minutes of privacy. Meanwhile, Johnny's mouth had dropped open and he looked between Liv and Fliss, as if he couldn't believe his own ears.
With Steve putting himself in charge of the little monster that was their son, Lucy turned her attention to cleaning up quickly before slipping out after him, leaving Johnny, Liv, and their daughter in privacy for just a little while.
Still squeezing Liv's hand, Fliss' expression began to grow more and more concerned as the silence went on, until finally Liv had to speak. "Johnny, you need to say something," she reminded her husband softly, just as shocked and pleased as he was, but apparently better at handling it.
Liv's voice helped pull Johnny out of his state of shock, blue eyes suddenly brimming with tears. Apparently, he was as touched as Liv had been by the teenager's simple declaration that they were her parents. It seemed in that moment that all their worries over whether Fliss felt loved or like part of the family disappeared in an instant. "You want to call me Dad?" he asked, as if he could hardly believe what he'd heard and needed some reassurance.
Fliss hesitated, not sure what to say that wouldn't make him cry or upset him any further. She glanced at Liv, reassured a little by the encouraging smile on the woman's face, and swallowed, looking back at Johnny with a worried smile of her own. "I kinda already do," she admitted quietly. "But I'll stop if you want me to."
"No, no, I..." Johnny stammered, having trouble finding his voice, though only a moment ago, he'd been babbling like an idiot. "Does this mean you want to stay with us for good?" he asked, not wanting to get his hopes up too high without knowing for sure what it was that the girl wanted.
At a loss for words, Fliss nodded, genuinely uncertain in the face of Johnny's unreadable reaction to her little declaration.
She needn't have worried, as Liv knew only too well, but Liv herself was too delighted by that little nod to encourage her husband to reassure the girl. "You do? Oh, Fliss, that's wonderful!" She wrapped her arms around the teen once again, hugging her tightly.
"I don't know what to say," Johnny whispered. He wasn't as good at expressing his feelings as Liv was, or so he thought, and he was suddenly feeling strangely awkward. Family was everything to him and to know that Felicity had put so much love and trust in them was more than Johnny could have ever hoped for. This was what he and Liv had been hoping for and working toward, but to hear it from her lips struck him to the core and brought him close to tears.
With Fliss tucked into her arms, Liv met his gaze over the girl's shoulder, true delight in her eyes as she extended one hand toward him, beckoning with a finger. He didn't need to say anything; he just needed to accept this amazing news and make sure Fliss knew he didn't mind it at all. "Come here," she told her husband, inviting him to wrap up his little family in his warm arms.
Johnny didn't need to be told twice. He went straight to Liv, wrapping both his girls up in his too-warm arms and holding them close, hopefully dispelling Fliss' worries and fears with that hug. He had no words just yet. Anything he might have said was stuck in his throat.
The teenager twisted to rub her cheek against his shoulder as he enveloped them both in his embrace, aware that even Bella was wedging herself awkwardly between their legs to share in the familial affection.
In the doorway, Lucy was blatantly spying on them, a bright, proud grin on her face as she glanced back at Steve. "Didn't see that one coming."
"It's good for them," Steve whispered back, balancing a squirming toddler against his hip before turning for the living room to let the little family have their moment in privacy.
Johnny clung to both Liv and Fliss, laughing a little when Bella nosed her way in. He lifted his head, tears of happiness shining in his eyes, as he smiled at his wife and daughter. "I guess we just have to make it official then."
"I suppose we do," Liv agreed, her own expression bright with warmth and love for her family as Fliss sniffled a little, happy but slightly overwhelmed by the reward she'd been given just for calling them her parents aloud. "I wonder if Agnes can fast-track that, too," she mused, kissing Fliss' wheat-blonde hair affectionately. It would be fantastic if Fliss was irrevocably theirs before she started at school.
"I'm sure she can," Johnny remarked. "Agnes is a miracle worker." He kissed first one, then the other, a bright smile on his face. "I love you both," he said, a rare declaration of love for his girls, chuckling as Bella made herself known once again and he unwound one arm to rub her head. "You, too, Bella!"
Laughing, Liv and Fliss relaxed their grip, looking down as Bella demanded a little affection for her trouble. Fliss slipped out of the embrace altogether, crouching down to hug the hyperactive dog, her beaming smile all anyone needed to see to know she was happy.
Liv hugged Johnny tightly, kissing his cheek. "We'll have to wait until she's in bed before we cry on each other," she warned him in a low voice, knowing she was going to cry happily for at least a few minutes when she let go.
He nodded his head, swiping a few tears from his eyes before Fliss could see them and sniffling suspiciously. He didn't really want Fliss to see him crying and misunderstand him or think he was weak. They were really too young to be Fliss' biological parents, but that hadn't stopped them from fostering her and going forward with the adoption. He cleared his throat to try and regain his composure and steady his voice. "We, uh... we should really go give Steve and Lucy the good news." And where the heck was Peggy?
"You really think they don't already know?" Liv laughed softly, wiping his face dry as she extracted herself from his arms, leaning down to stroke Fliss' hair. "I expect they're regaling Peggy with the news as we speak."
The teenager looked up from her intense round of affection with the dog, a little confused by the mention of yet another name. "Who's Peggy?"
Johnny exchanged glances with Liv, unsure how to explain Peggy. He thought Liv should really explain who she was, since they were related by blood, though Peggy Carter had made a deep impression on the Human Torch. "I think maybe you should explain that, Liv," he suggested.
Liv laughed softly, rolling her eyes at her husband. "Peggy is my great-aunt," she explained to Fliss with a smile. "And she was also a very close friend of Steve's before he went into the ice. She can be a little intimidating, but she's going to love you."
Fliss bit her lip again, her hand pausing in mid-scratch on Bella's back. "Are you sure?"
"What's not to love?" Johnny countered with an easy-going grin. There had been a time when he'd been in Felicity's shoes, when he'd worried what Peggy and Steve and even Lucy would think of him, but that time was over, and there was no reason to think they wouldn't like Fliss. In fact, he thought if they could put up with him, Fliss should be a shoe-in. Johnny's only real concern was Peggy's age. She wasn't getting any younger, and he wanted her to meet their prospective daughter before it was too late. "Where is Peggy, anyway?" he asked, though clearly neither Liv nor Fliss knew the answer to that question.
Liv shrugged, not entirely sure herself. She knew Peggy had had a bad summer so far, though, anxious to see her great-aunt for herself. "In the living room?" she suggested. "She's too stubborn to stay in bed, even if she needs to."
Fliss frowned, rising onto her feet, brushing her hair back out of her face. "Is she ill, then?"
Johnny wasn't quite sure how to answer that either, and from the look on his face when he looked to Liv, wasn't really sure what was going on with Peggy. "She's just..." How did one call someone old without coming right out and saying it?
"Really very old," a new voice interjected, and Liv looked up with surprised delight to find Peggy herself standing in the doorway, leaning heavily on her walking stick and eying the three of them with that sharp gaze of hers. The old woman smiled at her niece, and turned her gaze onto Johnny. "I believe that was what you were trying say, yes?" she asked. Only someone who knew her could spot the tease in her expression - luckily for Johnny, he was one of those privileged few.
"No! I was going to say spunky!" Johnny replied with a grin of his own for the elderly woman who had taken both him and Liv into her heart. He moved over to help her, even if she didn't need his help, hoping she wouldn't whack him with her walking stick for offering, but first he leaned in to brush a kiss against her cheek in greeting.
Peggy laughed, the sound more fragile than they were used to, but embraced Johnny with her free arm, kissing his cheek in return. "Oh, I am far too old to be considered spunky," she argued cheerfully, leaning on him with reluctant gratitude. "These days, I'm an old harridan." She turned her smile onto Liv and Fliss. "And who is this?"
Liv glanced at Fliss, squeezing her arm about the teen's shoulders. "This is Felicity," she introduced the girl, deep pride lighting up her face as she added, "our daughter. Fliss, this is Peggy."
Peggy beamed, evidently delighted by that little introduction. "And a pleasure it is to meet you, Miss Fliss," she said to the nervous teen, before poking Johnny in the ribs. "Mr. Storm, steer me to the living room and a large armchair."
Johnny beamed with equal pride and joy at Peggy's introduction to their daughter. He couldn't imagine being any prouder or loving any child more than he loved Felicity, even if she wasn't born of their blood. It seemed they were a family of orphans, including Bella, and that was just fine by him. Orphans needed love just as much as anyone, maybe more. "Yes, ma'am," Johnny answered, turning slowly to guide Peggy into the living room and into the comfort of a cushy armchair.
Liv and Fliss followed, the latter holding tightly to Bella's collar. Fliss didn't think she would ever be forgiven if she let the dog go and that resulted in the elderly matriarch of the family ending up in hospital with two broken hips. "She likes you," Liv murmured to her with a gentle smile that deepened when they reached the living room and found Lucy flat on her back, flying Jamie like an airplane on her bare feet.
Steve was sitting on the floor nearby, watching and laughing along with his wife and son. He glanced over as the rest of his family emerged from the kitchen and would have gotten up to help Peggy if Johnny hadn't beaten him to it. He frowned a little as his gaze lingered on Peggy. He had been in love with her once, but that had been a long time ago. It hurt to see her slowly fading. By rights, he should have been aging with her, but it seemed fate had had other plans.
Johnny slowly led Peggy to a chair and helped her get settled, chuckling a little at the airborne toddler. "You want me to take him flying, Luce?" he teased, knowing she would never agree to that, at least, not until he was older.
"Not today, Everlast!" Lucy laughed back at her brother-in-law, swaying Jamie from side to side on the soles of her bare feet as the tiny boy gurgled and laughed, kicking his feet in delight.
Released from Fliss' grip, Bella bounded across the room to pounce on Steve as Liv drew the teen over to say hello to Peggy properly, enveloping her aunt in a warm hug.
"Partypooper!" Johnny teased back with a grin as he eased Peggy into a chair, laughing when Steve uttered an audible, "Oof," as he was unexpectedly tackled by Bella.
"Okay, okay, I love you, too!" he sputtered, laughing as Bella made her affection for the big man known, as if she sensed the dip in his mood.
"When he's old enough to drink responsibly, you can take him flying," Lucy told Johnny cheerfully, grinning up at her little boy. "Isn't that right, Jamie? When you're old enough to pay for your own therapy to get you over a sudden fear of heights, you can fly with your Uncle Johnny!" The little boy laughed, looking over at Johnny with his big grin wide and open.
"But that won't be for years!" Johnny replied with a pout. "What do you mean fear of heights? Being able to fly is the best thing that ever happened to me!" Er, he looked a bit sheepish for a second, tossing an apologetic smile toward Liv. "I mean besides you, Livvy."
Liv laughed, shaking her head to reassure her husband. She knew what he'd meant, even if he felt the need to make sure everyone in the room was on the right page with him. "We'll talk about it later," she teased, earning a louder laugh from Lucy.
"Careful, Everlast," his sister-in-law teased him as well, bouncing Jamie up off her feet to catch the little boy in her arms. "Besides, you might swallow those words when you hear what I've got to tell you." She grinned, more than a little pleased with herself, it seemed, releasing Jamie, who toddled over to thump down on his backside next to Bella and his father.
"What, are you pregnant again?" Johnny teased, leaning over to snatch Sweet Baby James off the floor. "Come here, little man. Your Uncle Johnny will show you how to fly!" Fortunately, all Johnny did was fly him around in the air above his head supported by Johnny's very capable hands, making a vroom sound as he did.
Steve looked startled a moment when Johnny snatched his son up off the floor, but relaxed when he saw he wasn't really taking him flying.
"Uh ... don't babies, like, throw up if you swoosh them around after they eat?" Fliss asked from where she was sat with Liv and Peggy, not quite brave enough to join the more raucous end of the room just yet. Fun though Johnny was, he was not the best person to hide with when you were nervous. Liv, on the other hand, seemed to have elevated it to an art form.
"Throw up?" Johnny echoed, immediately lowering baby James from his flying escapades and holding him at arms' length. "You wouldn't throw up on your favorite uncle, would you, Little Cap?"
Lucy cackled at the worried look on Johnny's face, twisting to set her head in Steve's lap as she watched the two boys playing. It said a lot for how comfortable they all were with each other that barely half an hour after arriving, Liv, Johnny, and even Fliss, were ensconced in conversation and activity that didn't make anyone the center of attention at all. "I can't wait until you get thrown up on for the first time," she told Johnny, linking her fingers with Steve's affectionately.
"I've been thrown up on!" Johnny countered, taxing his brain for proof of such a statement. "Steve threw up on me at his bachelor party!" Johnny said, before setting the little tyke back on the floor and taking his hands to waddle him over toward Peggy.
"I'm sorry, but I don't remember it that way, Johnny," Steve pointed out politely, as ever.
"Odd, because I don't remember it that way, either," Liv pointed out with a giggle. "I remember you and Lucy being so drunk you had to be tucked into bed, and Steve carrying you into the apartment over his shoulder." She smiled sweetly up at Johnny, taking Peggy's teacup from her so the old lady could gather her great-great-nephew into her arms and hug him warmly.
Johnny's jaw dropped wide open. He either didn't remember it that way or didn't want to admit he remembered it that way. Truthfully, Johnny didn't remember much about what had happened that night, but if there was any vomit involved, it was most likely his.
Steve stepped in to either rescue him or simply set the record straight. "I can't really get drunk," he admitted, though he had tried more than once.
"Well, I must have been thrown up on sometime." Johnny let go of Jamie's hands and he dropped onto his rump right in front of Fliss. He pointed a finger at Liv. "Emily! Emily threw up on me!" Thankfully, he hadn't snapped his fingers.
"Yes!" Liv agreed with a laugh. "And Ben did, just last week!"
Fliss cracked up next to her, utterly at a loss as to how to take the sheer enthusiasm with which Johnny and Liv were now regaling the room with tales of vomit. She was laughing so hard, in fact, that she didn't notice the flames flickering over her fingertips, but one tiny little person did, fascinated by the pretty display.
Johnny smiled smugly, as if he was proud of this fact, and turned back to stick out his tongue at Lucy. As distracted as he was by the silly banter going on around him, Johnny didn't notice the flames flickering on Fliss' fingertips.
Thankfully, Steve was quick enough to get to his feet and snatch Jamie away before the little boy got burned. "Felicity, your fingers," he told her as gently as he could.
It wasn't so much the warning, delivered so gently, that damaged Fliss' sense of comfort. It was the sight of the little boy being snatched away from her, as though she was a dangerous freak who couldn't be trusted. Abruptly, she dropped her gaze, clenching her hands tightly. "Sorry," was just about audible from behind her curtain of hair.
Liv drew an arm about her shoulders, calling Bella over with a cluck of her tongue, and the Beauceron loped over to them, burrowing her head into Fliss' lap. "It's okay, sweetheart," she promised the teen. "Don't worry about it."
But it wasn't Fliss Steve was worried about, so much as Jamie. The little boy was too inquisitive for his own good sometimes. Steve frowned, not wanting Fliss to think he'd been scolding her, especially on her first visit to their home. "Say hello to your new cousin, Jamie," he told the little boy as he dropped him in Felicity's lap.
With Liv's arm around her shoulders, Fliss couldn't flinch away as the toddler was deposited in her lap, startled to find herself face to face with a grinning one year old. She looked up at Steve in shock - she was slowly growing used to the trust Liv and Johnny showed her, but to have it from someone else, someone who was now trusting her not to hurt his son ... she truly didn't know what to say. Whatever she might have said, however, was utterly lost in a yelp as Jamie grabbed a handful of her hair and pulled. "Ow! You little cheekbox!" Laughing, she turned her attention to the toddler, her upset forgotten.
Liv looked up at Steve with a warm smile, mouthing, "Thank you", for the risk he had taken.
Steve smiled warmly back at Liv, but didn't say a word, his gaze drifting to Fliss and Jamie, satisfied that his son was safe for the moment. He knew she would have felt a lot worse if she'd accidentally hurt Jamie and so, he'd acted fast in order to prevent that from happening.
Johnny seemed to only just realize that something had happened with Felicity. He wasn't quite sure what, but it wasn't all that hard for him to figure out.
"Luce, you were about to share some news with Johnny and Liv, weren't you?" Steve said, changing the subject as he dropped down onto the couch near Lucy.
"Hmm?" Lucy looked up from where she was still lying on the floor, glad she hadn't reacted to the flame herself. She would probably have sent Fliss running for the door if she'd been the one to notice first. "Oh, yes." She grinned, raising herself up onto her elbows as she looked at her sister and brother-in-law. "I think I've solved your problem."
"What problem?" Johnny asked, flopping down on the floor somewhere near Liv and Fliss, drawing Bella into his lap. It seemed he'd completely forgotten about their request to Lucy for help with their reproductive issues, or maybe he'd just been distracted by adopting a daughter of their own.
"Pacman may never need to be afraid of the ghosts ever again," Lucy intoned mischievously, wondering how long it was going to take for either one of them to catch on, and actually being rather discreet, given the little ears in the room.
Distracted by Fliss and Jamie, Liv was oblivious to this conversation, which meant the responsibility was Johnny's for now.
"Pacman?" Johnny echoed, looking completely stupefied. Was Lucy making a joke or was she trying to tell him something in some sort of code. "I'm not following you, Luce. I haven't played Pacman in years."
Steve wasn't much help either as he was trying to keep an eye on Jamie, not just for the little boy's safety but for Felicity's sake, as well.
"Oh, for goodness' sake," Peggy chuckled, rolling her eyes. "Johnathan Storm, you really do need to listen with more than your ears sometimes. Even I understood that reference, and I'm not supposed to know about the details in the first place!"
Lucy snorted with laughter as she sat up, checking to be sure that Fliss and Jamie were engrossed with each other before she spelled it out. "I think I've found a way for you two to naturally conceive," she said quietly.
Johnny looked over at Peggy, furrowing his brows as he tried to sort out in his head what the Pacman reference could possibly mean, but not really getting it until Lucy spelled it out. "Oh," he said quietly, quickly followed by a much more enthusiastic, "Oh!" He flushed, looking suddenly like he might burst with excitement as he glanced over at Liv to see if she'd been listening. His gaze drifted to Fliss, and his heart sank. He didn't want the girl to get the wrong idea if she overheard.
Which was why Lucy had made sure the teen wasn't listening. She chuckled, pushing herself up onto her feet, and gestured for Johnny to come with her. "You've been volunteered to help with dinner," she informed her brother-in-law, jerking her head for him to follow her. She would tell Liv later, if Johnny didn't get there first.
"But..." Johnny started, not quite getting her hint, though he moved to his feet. "I always burn everything!" Despite his protest, he followed her to the kitchen, realizing somewhere along the way that she wanted to get him alone to explain the Pacman reference.
"You can look manly while holding a knife, then," was the last anyone in the living room heard from Lucy as she closed the door behind them, reaching out to give Johnny a thump on the arm. "I was trying to be discreet, numbnuts," she chuckled, rolling her eyes at him.
"Well, how am I supposed to know Pacman means... what does it mean? Maybe you should have used Ms. Pacman. I mean Pacman is a boy, person, thing... and Ms. Pacman is a girl," he argued, though the point was moot. He assumed Pacman represented the egg and the ghosts were supposed to be his sperm. A poor analogy at best, in Johnny's opinion, but it was beside the point. "What did you find out?" he asked, impatiently.
"All right." Lucy leaned back against the counter, knowing she was going to have to put this in layman's terms and then some. "Sue hacked Reed's computer and printed me out his initial findings on the radiation and its effects on your bodies, and there was a surprise in there. Did you know that he experimented with suppressing the level of radiation in his own body? Successfully?"
"He did?" Johnny echoed, all of this news to him, and also a little over his head. If she started going into scientist mode, he swore he was going to start snoring. "Is it the radiation that's messing things up?" he asked, trying to remember what she had told them before. "Wait..." he smirked, as if he had just realized something. "Did you say Sue hacked Reed's computer? Did she find any porn in there?"
Lucy stared at him for a moment before snorting with laughter. "Not the point of the conversation, Johnny," she reminded him, trying not to laugh too hard. "Basically, yes, it's the radiation that's the problem. But it's only a problem during the initial joining of cells. In other words, once your swimmers find a home in one of her eggs, the radiation doesn't cause any more problems. So ... I think I've come up with something that will suppress the radiation in your system for a few hours, long enough to do the dirty with my little sister."
"Oh!" he exclaimed, able to understand most of that. It seemed pretty basic, after all, though he wasn't quite sure what she had in mind to suppress the radiation that seemed to be the problem. "Is that how Suse got pregnant?" he asked curiously, wondering why Reed wouldn't have shared that information with them.
Lucy smirked. "You really want me to discuss your sister's fertility problems with you?" she asked merrily. Not that she would, of course; being a doctor made keeping confidences a way of life.
"No, of course not," Johnny said with a frown, perhaps taking her question too seriously. "I was just wondering if they had the same problem. So," he continued, a little uncertainly. "How do we suppress the radiation?"
"They had the same problem," she assured him gently. "The way the radiation affected them made it difficult, but not impossible." She smiled, reaching over to gently ruffle his hair, the way only Lucy seemed to be able to get away with. "What it comes down to is a slightly adjusted immuno-suppressant that you'd need to take, which would stop your cells from attacking hers for the appropriate amount of time before they bond naturally. Right now, it's an injection, but given a little more time, I'm fairly sure I can make up a suspension that you'd be able to drink."
Johnny winced, not at the hair-ruffling, but at the thought of needles. Lucy knew better than anyone of his aversion to needles, but in the end, he knew it would all be worthwhile. Or so he hoped. "I need to talk to Liv and Fliss about it." Yes, Fliss. She was part of the family now, and this was going to affect her as much as it was them. He didn't want her to think they no longer wanted her just because there was a possibility they could conceive. He was frowning worriedly again as he thought about it, though he and Liv wanted a baby of their own with all their hearts.
"Of course you do," Lucy agreed with a nod. "I wouldn't expect anything less of you, Johnny. And knowing you, and knowing Liv, I don't think you're going to jump at this opportunity. You're wrapped up in Fliss right now, and rightly so. But now the option is there, if you want it. It's not an insurmountable problem anymore. Okay?"
"Do you really think it could work, Luce?" Johnny asked, not so doubtful of her abilities as he was of himself. It had hurt knowing Liv's inability to conceive was because of him, and he didn't want to get her hopes up for nothing, just to have them dashed again. He loved her too much for that.
"I wouldn't be telling you if I wasn't confident," Lucy told him quietly. That was one thing he could feel absolutely certain of - she was not going to experiment on them. She would only give them something if she truly believed it would work for them. "It's mostly Reed's work, but I've adapted it for you and Liv. I really do think it will work, Johnny. When you're ready."
Johnny took that to heart, seriously considering Lucy's words before offering a small, but slightly nervous smile. "Thanks, Luce," he told her, leaning over to give her a one-armed hug. "I think you should be the to tell Liv. I'm not good at explaining scientific stuff."
Hugging her brother-in-law, Lucy grinned, relieved that he'd taken the news relatively calmly. "I'll tell her," she promised him. "And then you two will need to talk about it, before you tell Fliss. But somehow I can't see either of you trying this until you've had her for at least a year." She smiled, pinching his cheek teasingly. "You're such a cute dad!"
He chuckled at little at her teasing, batting her hand away from his face. "More like a big brother, really. I'm not that much older than her!" He was secretly thrilled that Fliss trusted them enough that she'd referred to them for the first time as her parents, but Johnny couldn't help worrying what other people would think when they learned they'd adopted a teenager.
"Doesn't matter," Lucy shook her head. "I've been playing Mum to Liv all our lives, and I'm only half an hour older than she is. Fliss wants you as her dad, that's all there is to it."
"I guess I must be doing something right," Johnny said, a little amazed at that thought himself. He'd been told to grow up for so long, the realization that he actually had surprised even him. "Are you and Steve thinking about Baby Number Two yet?" he asked, nudging her arm with a teasing smirk.
"I refuse to have two babies in diapers," his sister-in-law informed him, though she could never be sure if her husband's super-sperm were going to overwhelm any contraceptive she tried. She blushed a little, though, betraying that the bold, fearless Lucy did have a softer side, too. "I want a little girl," she confessed quietly. "Jamie's wonderful, and I couldn't ask for more, but I'd like to give Steve a daughter to cherish."
Johnny smiled at the thought of a niece, but more so at the thought of Lucy and Steve having more children. He was sincerely happy for the two of them, who he thought of as family, though neither shared his bloodline. "You gonna name her after Peggy?" he asked. That thought, however, led to another that caused his smile to fade.
His smile wasn't the only one to fade. Though she tried to hide it from Steve and Liv, Lucy was fully aware of just how much Peggy was deteriorating. She looked down at her hands for a moment, her expression utterly serious. "I think I might leave that for you two," she said in a tight voice. "I don't think Steve could handle it." There was a pause, and she finally said what had been preying on her mind for weeks. "She's not going to make it to winter, Johnny."
"What?" Johnny said, clearly shocked and dismayed by that bit of news. He wasn't blind or as stupid as he might seem. He could tell Peggy's health had deteriorated, but he didn't think she was doing as badly as Lucy seemed to think. Then again, Lucy was a doctor, and Johnny was not. "Is it just age?" he asked in a quiet voice, curiously, obviously concerned. Somehow, he knew Steve was going to be devastated.
Lucy nodded, a little bit devastated herself. But at least she had prior warning, she could begin to grieve before the worst happened and Steve needed her to be strong for him. It would tear him apart to lose Peggy so soon after finding her again. "We almost lost her in March," she said softly. "She came through the winter, and her body nearly gave up. I don't think she can face another winter. Her heart's going to give out some time before Christmas."
So, good news and bad. Wasn't that always the way of things? Johnny supposed that was all part of life. "Does he know?" he asked, meaning Steve. He knew how much Peggy meant to not only Steve, but Lucy and Liv, too. How was he ever going to tell Livvie?
"He knows she's fading, but she asked me not to tell him how quickly," she said, wrapping her arms around herself tightly. "I think Liv should be able to guess that it won't be long. She's really going to need you, Johnny. All of you. I can't hold them both up on my own."
Johnny's heart went out to Lucy, and he wrapped her in a brotherly hug. Very different from the days when they had been dating, this hug was warm and full of caring. "I will, Luce. Don't worry." He didn't want to point out the obvious - that no one lived forever. It didn't seem fair that Peggy was fading already, but she'd lived a long life, and at least she'd been able to enjoy her last few years with those who loved her like the family she was.
Lucy leaned into him, letting just a little bit of her tension go. She knew Liv would spot the signs that Peggy was on her way out, but she dreaded talking to her sister about it. Having Johnny know, having him prepared to catch Liv when that part of her world came crashing down, it meant more than Lucy could tell him. "I'm really glad you're my brother," she whispered softly. "I don't tell you often enough, Johnny, but I do love you. You're family."
Despite the circumstances, that made Johnny smile. It was good feeling like part of a family and knowing he was loved and appreciated by those who he cared so much about. "I love you, too, Luce," he told her, brushing a too-warm kiss against her cheek. "We'll make Peggy's last months special. Promise."
"We will," Lucy nodded. "Which is why I'm commandeering your weekends from here on in. You, Liv, and Fliss are going to come and stay at least overnight on Saturdays every week, okay?"
"I'm sure we could take some time off to visit more than that if you want," he suggested, though he wasn't so sure about Fliss. She'd be starting school soon, and he wasn't sure if she'd be allowed much time off, even for special circumstances such as this.
"You're only twenty minutes away, at most," Lucy reminded him. "If it comes to it, you could probably be here every day and not have it impact on work or school too much." She shrugged, leaning back against the counter once again. "Peggy doesn't want a fuss," she told him quietly. "To be honest, I don't think she would even have told me, if I wasn't a doctor. She doesn't want anyone to worry, or to make a fuss of her. She just wants to fade out easily, and we can help her do that in the knowledge that she is loved and she will be missed."
"We'll do whatever we can, Lucy. Peggy means a lot to me, too. She's been good to me." That was an understatement as far as Johnny was concerned. He was still frowning sadly, unable to hide his worry. "It'll be good for her to be around Jamie and Fliss."
"It'll be good for them, too," Lucy said quietly. "I'm sorry, I really didn't mean to dump all this on you. I was intending to talk to you about it tomorrow." She sighed, rubbing a hand through her hair. "For what it's worth, I think you're a great brother, and you're turning into a fantastic dad. Anyone can see that Felicity adores you."
Johnny got the feeling she was trying to change the subject, and he didn't want her to have to linger on the sadness of Peggy's fading too long, though it was something they would all have to face. Johnny just hoped he'd have the chance to tell Peggy how much she meant to him before it was too late. Then again, no one really knew just when their time would be up. "For what it's worth, I think you're a great sister, and a wonderful mother. Peggy's happy here with you and Steve. I'm happy for that."
"Be even happier she taught me how to cook," Lucy drawled with a faint smirk, glancing up as a familiar toddler's laugh filtered in through the window. Her face lit up with a laughing smile as she spotted what was going on outside - Fliss, playing with Jamie, while Bella ran circles around them, tail wagging like a loony.
Johnny chuckled at that comment, muttering something like," Maybe I should have her give me a few lessons." Though in truth, he was a far better cook than he gave himself credit for. Johnny frowned a little again as he followed Lucy's glance over at the window. "She's really trying to keep it under control, you know. Her abilities, I mean. She's a great kid, Lucy. A real blessing. She just needs to believe in herself a little. She's really grown on us."
"Steve didn't mean to upset her," she answered gently. "If I'd been the one to notice, I would have over-reacted, and I doubt she would have wanted to stay. I know she's a good kid, and I know that you'll be very happy as a family together. I really am happy for you."
"I know he didn't. He was just looking out for Jamie. She is getting better. You should have seen her when we first met her. She was scared to death. She's so afraid of screwing up all the time. It's like she almost expects to fail." Not like him at all, no.
"Puberty is hard enough without having other complications," Lucy nodded, twisting to look at him as she finally started to actually assemble dinner. "She's very lucky to have you, you know. Liv's going to love her, no matter what she does, no matter how hard things get, and a teenager needs that. But you're showing her that being a firestarter isn't the beginning and the end of what makes her who she is. She can look at you, learn from you. She already has learned from you. Is it any wonder she wants you to be her father?"
"I guess," Johnny replied, shrugging, obviously not very confident in himself, despite Liv and Lucy's encouragement. "I just want her to be happy. That's all." He turned as she started to fix dinner, but before he could ask if she needed help, his gaze wandered to the window again. "I just hope everything goes well in school. You know how other kids can be."
Lucy couldn't help smirking at that. "Johnny, can you think of anyone who would mess with a teenager who can set fires?" she asked gently. "A teenager who can say that the Human Torch is her father, and has Captain America for an uncle, and the Invisible Woman for an aunt?" A stray thought crossed her mind, and she looked aghast for a moment. "Oh god, you're not thinking about introducing her to Tony this week, are you?"
"Oh, hell, no!" Johnny replied, looking her way again. It wasn't any big secret that Johnny was less than fond of Tony Stark. He had no intentions on introducing Fliss to the pompous *ss of a man, until he was sure he could behave himself. "I don't think Tony has a paternal bone in his body," Johnny remarked, perhaps a bit harshly, but honestly.
"Good call," Lucy agreed. She wasn't that fond of Tony herself, but kept the peace for Steve and Liv's sakes. She wasn't about to open her home to him, brother though he may be. "At least wait until Fliss is completely comfortable in her own skin. I'm sure Liv would be able to keep a lid on Tony if she absolutely had to, but no one wants to put her in the middle."
"No, we're going to see Sue and Reed," he explained. While he wasn't overly fond of his brother-in-law, he wanted Fliss to meet his family, as well, and that included Reed Richardson.
"Well, that's good, too," Lucy chuckled softly. Sue had been bending her ear for months about wanting to meet their new niece; it was a relief to know they'd be able to debrief together over the next playdate. "By the way ... I cannot believe you set me and your sister up. You have the luck of the Irish, Everlast." She flashed him a grin. "I've never had a best friend before."
Johnny chucked and shrugged. "Well, I am part Irish, or didn't Sue tell you that?" He hadn't done all that much, other than arrange a meeting. He'd had a feeling Lucy and Sue would get along well, so long as the conversation didn't revolve around him. "Can I help you with anything here?" he asked, as he looked to the food preparation going on in front of him.
"Actually, yes, you can," she informed him cheerfully, pointing at a packet of chicken. "Slice into strips, and flash cook for me, would you?" Proving that, for all her faults, Lucy Rogers did know her brother-in-law very well indeed.
"Flash cook?" Johnny echoed arching a brow. Did she mean for him to do what he thought she meant? "Are you sure?" he asked, as if she might not know just what she was asking for.
"Wouldn't say it if I didn't mean it," she pointed out, jerking her head toward the fire extinguisher standing on the counter with a smirk. "Just don't set fire to the front of the fridge. I will personally castrate you if Jamie's first picture of Steve goes up in flames." She winked at him, but the threat was definitely one to pay attention to.
Johnny craned his neck to take a look at the drawing on that graced the front of the fridge. "Oh, right. Jamie really captured Steve's likeness in that one," he teased. The drawing was mostly a bunch of scribbled crayon marks that Jamie had drawn and then pronounced to be "DaDa", but Johnny had a feeling that drawing was precious to them. He knew his way around Lucy's kitchen almost as well as if it was his own, easily finding a knife and a cutting board to get started on slicing up the chicken. "So, what are we having?"
She sighed thoughtfully, looking down at the collection of veg she was fiddling with. "Stir-fry?" she suggested, still a little at a loss in the kitchen, but confident enough by now to throw things together at random and come out with something edible. "We can mash some of it up for Jamie. How's that sound?"
"You're the cook, not me!" he exclaimed with a smile, though he did a lot more of the kitchen duties back home than he would admit to. "So, is he... you know... his father's son?" Johnny asked, not quite knowing how to put it, but curious as to just how much Jamie took after his famous father.
Lucy glanced at him, wondering what he was getting at before rolling her eyes. "You're nearly as bad as Steve," she chuckled, "although I don't think you're asking for the same reasons. Jamie is disgustingly healthy, slightly advanced for his age, and clever enough to run rings around you." She snickered, loving to tease her sister's husband.
"I guess that answers that question," he said with a chuckle as he went about slicing the chicken into strips. "Luce, if Liv and I ever do have a baby... Do you think... I mean..." He wasn't quite sure how to ask. Baby Franklin wasn't showing any signs of abnormal or special abilities yet, as far as Johnny knew, but that didn't mean anything.
"There's no way to tell in advance," she answered the unspoken question as honestly as she could, tossing vegetables into a wok to begin cooking. "With Franklin, they have no idea, and he's the product of two doses of radiation. Your baby would be inheriting it only from you - who knows how it might manifest? It could be that any unusual abilities wouldn't show themselves until puberty, or they could be displaying them when they're two years old. I'm not a geneticist, Johnny, I can't make that prediction."
"But if he or she did inherit some kind of abilities, would he be a firestarter, like me and Fliss? 'Cause, the way I figure it, the radiation picked up on something different in each of us, otherwise we would have all had the same abilities. I don't know. Reed tried to explain it to me once, but it just sounded like blah blah blah to me."
"I honestly don't know," she said, but it was an intriguing thought. It would certainly explain what had been happening in her lab over the last couple of weeks, though she wasn't likely to admit to some of what she had been doing. She doubted Liv or Johnny would approve, even if it was accepted practice. "It could be that a baby of yours would develop some fire related abilities, but equally your DNA matched with Liv's might bring out something completely different."
"So, we're going to end up with a Super P.A.?" he asked, with a teasing smile that wasn't entirely serious, but was still curious. There was no way of knowing, he supposed, until the time came. And then another thought came to mind. "Oh my God, Luce! What if we end up with twins?"
She laughed at his sudden shock. "That only just occurred to you?" she asked in amusement. "Your wife is a twin, your odds of having them yourself is magically increased just by that fact, Everlast." She grinned at him, finding it only too easy to imagine Johnny Storm with twin babies and Fliss hanging off various body parts.
"Well, no, I mean..." he stammered, not really wanting to admit that the thought had occurred to him before, but he hadn't really thought about it too much in a while, as he'd had no idea whether or not they could even have children. "I just don't want Fliss to think we don't love her." He was finished with the slicing and was just about ready to do a little flash cooking. "How do you want me to do this?" he asked, wondering if she wanted it done in a pan or what.
"Which is why I suggest you wait at least until I've got it sorted into a suspension, rather than an injection, before you start worrying about making it work," Lucy told him. "It's going to take another few months for me to get that into a potent enough form, and then I'll have to manufacture it into a form that will last in a fridge for more than a couple of hours. Seriously, Johnny, this isn't an instant fix - you will have plenty of time with Fliss. And knowing you two, she already knows about the baby problem, doesn't she?"
"You mean I won't have to be a pin cushion?" he asked, brightening. He really hated needles, as she well knew from the first day they'd met at Rhy'Din General Hospital. He didn't wait for an answer regarding the chicken and rummaged in the cupboard for a pan, which he then set on the stove, though he didn't really need it. "Of course she does. We haven't kept any secrets from her." At least, not until now.
"Do you really think I'm going to let you try and administer medication with a syringe, Johnny?" Lucy laughed at the thought of that - between Liv's hatred of hurting her husband, and Johnny's tendency to go pale and faint at the sight of a needle, she doubted they'd have enough time to even cuddle, much less conceive, were that the case. "I will provide you with something to drink, given time. And I think it's good that you're being so open with Fliss." Her smile softened as she realized what their honesty meant. "No wonder she adores you two. She knows that you chose her out of a whole city to be a part of your family. I would have worshiped parents if they'd done that for me."
"We're a family of orphans, Luce," Johnny reminded her. "Steve, too." If anyone knew Steve's history, it was Johnny. He'd been a long-time fan of Captain America before he'd ever met Steve Rogers. "She just seemed to need us, you know?" he remarked as he placed the strips of chicken in the pan.
"No, we're not orphans, not any more." That was one thing Lucy was very firm on. "We're family, and that's all we need to be." She shook the wok thoughtfully, considering rice. "And to be honest, Johnny, you and Liv need someone to need you. It's called being a parent. What do you think, should I do rice or noodles?"
He smiled warmly at her comment, glad to be accepted as part of their family. "Hmm, I think noodles," Johnny replied with very little consideration. "Because noodles are more fun!" And if there was one thing about Johnny, he was all about fun. He tried to make even the little things in life fun, if he could. "Oh, I almost forgot to tell you! They're teaching me to swim!" He turned the flame on his first two fingers and went about searing the chicken without need of a stove.
"Really?" Now this really did surprise Lucy - she knew all about Johnny's aversion to water. One of their first epic fights had been about his reluctance to skinny dip with her when they'd been dating. "That's amazing, Johnny, well done!" Knife in hand, she hugged him. "I'm so proud of you. And them. What did they do, withhold all hugs and kisses until you paddled?"
"Not exactly," he said. "Small steps, Luce. I'm not ready to swim laps yet." He was hugged, heedful of the knife, putting out his own flame until she was through hugging him. "Maybe there really is hope for me yet, huh?"
"There's always been hope," she told him, smiling as she stepped back to agitate the wok once again. "I just wasn't the right one to encourage you. We would have killed each other." She laughed. "And I wouldn't change a thing."
"Things work out how they're supposed to, I guess," Johnny said with a light shrug, though no one would ever be able to convince him there had been a purpose behind his mother's death. He turned his attention back to his cooking, a little bit lost in his own thoughts.
"The sum of your experience makes you who you are," Lucy said quietly. She, too, had experienced her share of the bad with the good, and though she regretted some of it, she had no regrets about where it had brought her. "It sucks big hairy balls sometimes, but there does seem to be some method to the madness."
"Yeah, sometimes it does," he readily agreed, though he didn't really want to linger on the past and the losses they'd both suffered. "But we have a lot to live for, Luce. You have Steve and Jamie and Peggy, and I have Liv and Fliss." Not to mention other friends and family members. "We've done pretty well, haven't we?" It was a little ironic to think back on their first meeting. They'd been a disaster waiting to happen; it had really been Liv who had saved them.
"I'd say we have, Everlast," she agreed, her smile returning as she nudged his hip with her own. "Okay, this will all be ready to go in about ten minutes, so you get the joy of corralling the family into the dining room and setting the table." She flashed Johnny a cheeky grin. "I'm enjoying playing Mum today, so shoo."
"Me?" he exclaimed, looking a little surprised by this, wondering how he ended up getting talked into cooking in the first place. It wasn't so much that he thought it was woman's work; he was just surprised Lucy had picked him to help out, rather than her sister or Steve.
"Yes, you!" She laughed, nudging him once again. "You can't get away with calling yourself a guest in this house any more, you know. You brought your daughter to visit, you are officially just one of us. So chop, chop!"
"I already chop chopped!" he teased back with a chuckle, though it was more like he had sliced, rather than chopped. "All right, Miss Bossy. I'm going!" he told her as he grabbed the plates and cutlery and started toward the dining room. "Dinner's ready!" he called to the others, wherever they were.
"Oh, marvelous!" That was Peggy, who had obviously been listening out for that signal. "Someone fetch the children - I rather think it's going to take me half an hour to reach the table, so you have plenty of time." Liv was audible laughing as she moved to help her great-aunt to her feet, and from outside came the sound of Fliss cajoling Jamie into being excited about dinner. It really was just one big family. And in that moment, everything was perfect.
Anyone looking in from the outside would have seen only an extended family, close and affectionate. There was no need to know about the disparate backgrounds, the unusual abilities, the unorthodox beginnings. It was, as Lucy said, family, and that was all that mattered. Even hours later, when the children were asleep, when Peggy had retired for the night, and Johnny and Liv were ensconced in their bedroom, the house felt full and comfortable in a way that made Lucy smile as she stepped out of the shower.
Letting her hair down, she slipped back into the master bedroom, rolling her aching shoulders. "I have reason to believe your son is trying to turn me into Wonder Woman."
Steve was relaxing on the bed, arms behind his head in a plain white t-shirt and shorts. Unless Lucy insisted, he rarely went to bed without clothes on. You never knew when you were going to have to get up in the middle of the night, especially with a small child in the house. "I've never met her, but I bet you'd look great in the costume," he remarked with a smile.
She laughed, dragging a brush quickly through her hair. "Well, that's Halloween sorted then, isn't it?" she teased fondly, dropping down onto the bed, one hand affectionately rubbing against his thigh. There was a pause, and she offered him a slightly guilty smile. "Would it be very wrong of me to admit to being a little bit jealous of my little sister?"
"Hmm, who should I go as? Superman?" he asked with a teasing gleam in his blue eyes, but the look faded as soon as she turned serious. "Jealous, why?" he asked, rolling onto his side, propped up onto a elbow to look over at her.
She snorted softly at the thought of her husband dressed up as Superman, holding onto her towel as she settled onto her back. One thing she had always been with Steve was unfailingly honest, a hallmark of behavior that belonged to him alone. "Because she has a daughter," she admitted quietly, turning her head to look at him. "I know I said I didn't want a little girl when I was pregnant, and I have absolutely no regrets about Jamie. None at all. Maybe I'm growing up, maybe I have more confidence in myself now. Liv and Fliss were so happy together on the couch, and with Johnny, too. Next time, I think I'm going to hope for a little girl for you to be manly and protective over."
Steve arched a brow, not really surprised that she wanted another baby, but that she suddenly seemed to want a daughter. She had never really mentioned it before. "You want another baby, we can have another baby, but I can't guarantee it will be a girl," he pointed out. Unless they did something to make sure it was a girl.
Lucy laughed softly, rolling onto her side to face him. "Having another child isn't just my decision, love," she reminded him fondly, stroking her fingertips against his cheek. "And I know there's no guarantees. Maybe this is just karma. Liv's spent her whole life being quietly jealous of me, maybe fate or whatever thought it would be a good idea to give me a taste of what it's like."
"Have you considered how Liv is probably envious of you?" he asked, reaching over to brush his fingers against her cheek. "We have a child of our own. As much as they love Fliss, she's not a baby. They'd didn't get to raise her." He found it a little ironic how somehow the tables had turned.
"I know she must be," Lucy sighed softly. "I can't even begin to imagine how hard this past year has been for her, for them. But they're on track now. They have an amazing daughter, someone who chose them just as they chose her. It doesn't matter that they didn't get to raise her; they are there for her now, and they always will be. It's not the same, but at the same time, Liv knows what it's like to be constantly overlooked when people choose to adopt. I'm so proud of them, I don't know why I'm feeling this way. It's ridiculous."
Steve listened quietly while Lucy tried to sort out her own feelings. He wasn't quite sure why she was jealous when they had a son of their own and there was no reason to think they couldn't have more children in the future, unless it was about something else. "Lucy, do you want to adopt?" he asked, wondering if that was at the heart of the matter.
She sighed once again, dropping onto her back as she pushed her fringe out of her eyes. "I don't know," she said quietly. "I really don't know why this is hitting me so hard." But that was a lie. She knew exactly why she was feeling that way, and she didn't like it one little bit. "No, I do know why," she told her husband. "And I don't like it."
"Do you want to talk about it?" he asked, ever patiently and just a little confused. He'd thought Lucy was happy with their little family, such as it was and had no idea what all this was about.
"It's just my competitive side coming out again," she groaned. "I hate that part of myself, especially when it flares up around Liv. And the worst part is, Liv wouldn't even know why I'm behaving like a bitch." She rolled to face him, huffing out a breath as she laid out what she was feeling. "Johnny asked if we were going to have a second child, and he asked if we would name a daughter after Peggy. I didn't think twice, I said that I would let Liv have that honor, and in the moment, I meant it. But now my nasty, bitchy side is flaring up and saying that Liv gets everything she wants, and I'm the eldest, I should have a little girl named after Peggy. Just so Liv can't." She winced at hearing herself say it. "I hate this part of me, Steve. Liv's been suffering for a year not being able to have a child, and as soon as I come up with a way it would be possible for her, I turn into the bitch from hell. Someone should slap me."
Steve thought about that a minute. Though he wasn't a therapist or knew how to analyze people, he had good gut instincts, and he knew his wife better than almost anyone, except maybe her sister. "Okay," Steve said, trying to get as gentle as he could. "Maybe instead of thinking about what Liv wants, you should think about what you want for a change. I mean, there's no reason why you can't both name a daughter after Peggy, if you really want to. That's what middle names are for. It's not a competition, Luce, and you don't always have to give Liv her way either. In fact, if Liv knew that's what you were doing, I'm willing to bet she'd tell you to stop."
"You think I'm being silly, don't you?" she asked, one brow raised above a rueful smile. "Thinking too much and upsetting myself over nothing."
"No, I don't think you're being silly, but I do think you're thinking too much." Steve inched closer, brushing a little hair away from her cheek. "Look, if you want to have another baby, we'll have another baby. If you want to adopt, we'll adopt. Whatever you want to do is fine with me, but we should do it because it's what we want, not because we're trying to keep up with Johnny and Liv."
"I know," she admitted. He was right; just one of the many reasons she confided so easily in him. Steve could always find the heart of the problem, especially when she was going in circles. "And the truth is I don't want another child, not yet. I want to enjoy Jamie while he's still small, and I want to enjoy us, as a family, before we dive back into 3 a.m. feedings and a mountain of laundry every day." She rolled into him, pressing her face into the curve of his neck. "I love you."
"Then you have to be happy for Liv without worrying that she's got something you don't. I love you, Luce. I love Jamie. I love our life together. I'm happy here with you, and I wouldn't trade this life for anything," he told her softly, leaning in to brush a soft kiss against her lips to show her he meant what he said.
Lucy smiled softly, curling her fingers to his cheek as he kissed her. "I wouldn't, either," she promised him. "You've given me everything, Steve. I know I'm neurotic and difficult, and I have strange moods, but I do love you. I wouldn't change anything, not for the world."
"Then try to be happy for Liv and Johnny and happy for us. You're living your own life now, Luce. You need to let go of Liv and let her live her own life, too, and make her own decisions." He smiled down at her as she curled her fingers to his cheek, still leaning close. "I envy you sometimes, you know."
"I'm trying," she assured him, laughing a little as she added, "In every sense of the word, I know." Brushing a tender kiss to his lips, she met his gaze with faint confusion. "Why on earth would you be envious of me, love? My life didn't begin until I ran you off the road and took you home."
"Yes, it did. It began a long time ago. I know how much you've done for Liv, how much you've sacrificed. Liv knows, too, and loves you for it. She looks up to you and wishes she was more like you, so it works both ways. I know nothing is perfect, but at least you've always had each other." He hadn't had any siblings, and though Bucky had been more like a brother than a friend, they didn't share the same bloodline.
Gentle fingers stroked his skin as he spoke, understanding a little of that loneliness. "You're not alone, Steve," she promised him softly. "You won't ever be alone again. You have a family who loves you - not just me and Jamie, but Johnny and Liv, and Peggy. Fliss will come to love you the way we all do. You're right, I need to let go of her. But I refuse to let go of you. Ever."
"Promise?" he asked, even though he knew she meant what she said. She'd married him, after all. She had said her vows, and he'd said his. He loved her, and perhaps even more importantly, he trusted her. "She's always going to be your sister, Luce. But she has a life of her own now, and so do you, and that life is with me," he added with a smile, not really wanted to talk about Liv and Johnny and Fliss anymore tonight.
"Yes, it is," she murmured, lips brushing his with each word as she smiled once again, her upset forgotten under the intensity of his attention. "Promise." Easing closer, she gently pushed him onto his back, swinging a leg over him to straddle his hips, leaning down to kiss her husband with every ounce of love she could muster. "Always."
He made no argument as she straddled his hips and pressed a kiss against his lips, weaving his arms around her waist to pull her down close against him. He returned her kiss with equal ardor, lighting the fire of desire between them, though whether they followed through or not was up to her. He was just as happy to have her close.
And Lucy was always happy to be close to her Steve, never prepared to let an opportunity pass her by without showing him how much she loved him. In many ways, the twins were very much alike, though Liv had a little more restraint than her sister. Two bedrooms away, the younger twin was in exactly the same position with her own husband, but she was feeling playful. And poor Johnny had no ticklish spots he could hide from his wife these days.
Johnny was trying hard not to wake the baby or keep anyone else awake with his laughter, but it was hard when his wife was teasing him relentlessly until he was crying with laughter. Of course, he could have stopped her anytime he wanted, but they were both having too much fun.
Beaming with delight at having him willingly at her mercy for once, Liv wasn't about to let her opportunity pass her by, clever fingers seeking out all those vulnerable spots as Johnny struggled not to laugh too loudly. She bucked and swayed over him as he squirmed, giggling along with her helpless husband.
But he didn't allow her supremacy over him for too long. He was just too ticklish for that, and just when she least expected it, he turned the tables on her flipping her onto her, wrestling on their bed for dominance, and starting to make a bit of a racket.
More than a bit of a racket. Liv squealed as Johnny flipped her onto her back, arms flailing as she realized the edge of the bed was between her shoulder-blades. She was already laughing when Johnny wrestled his way on top of her and gravity joined in, flipping the pair of them off the bed entirely.
Who knew what the rest of the family thought was going on in there as the two of them suddenly found themselves on the floor with an audible thud. Johnny looked stunned for a moment, waiting tensely for either the sound of a baby crying or someone pounding on the wall to shut them up, but neither ever came. After a moment of stunned silence, he could help but chuckle as he muttered a quiet, "Oops!"
Still and silent with him for the brief moment it took to realize they hadn't disturbed anyone, Liv slammed a hand over her mouth as she burst out laughing once again, soft brown eyes dancing with playful mischief as she looked up at her husband. She didn't quite know what had gotten into her tonight, but she was enjoying being silly for a little while.
"Do you think anyone heard us?" Johnny whispered down at his wife, finding himself in a very uncompromising position atop her, which didn't do much to hide the fact that he'd found this all not only amusing but arousing. How couldn't he with his wife's body pressed tightly up against his?
She shrugged, getting a grip on herself enough to be able to lower her hand from her mouth. "Maybe Steve decided to have this room soundproofed after last time," she whispered back impishly. It hadn't actually been their fault that Bella had woken up at four in the morning with a desperate wish to run around and play with everyone, but the barking had woken up everyone else in the house.
Johnny looked around, taking that statement seriously for all of thirty seconds. "Nah, he'd have to rip out the walls to do that!" But thankfully, no one seemed to have heard them or at least, no one had complained about the noise. "You know," he started, though of course, she didn't know until he was ready to tell her. "We should really get our own place, so when we do visit, we don't have to disrupt the whole house."
"Or maybe we could ask them for permission to build a guest suite at the far end of the garden," Liv suggested with a faint smile. She knew where Johnny was coming from, but part of the fun of having a big house was being able to make room for family when they came to visit. "Besides, we haven't disrupted anything, have we?"
"No, I don't think so..." Johnny frowned a little. There were a few things he knew that Liv didn't as yet. One happy bit of news and one sad. He wondered what was going to happen once Peggy passed on. "Do you think..." he started, with that thoughtful worried frown of his, as he rolled off her, but remained on the floor. "Do you think if we poked around Rhy'Din, we could find a fountain of youth?" It wasn't just Peggy he was thinking of, but Humphrey, too, though he wasn't trying to play matchmaker in the least. He just didn't like to see them suffer and get old, though they had both lived long, full lives.
He didn't need to say anything further for Liv to understand at least part of what he was talking about. She'd spent several hours with Peggy today; she could guess what it was the old woman wasn't telling her. Swallowing hard against the lump that rose in her throat, Liv sighed softly. "I think she'd dunk you in it before ever allowing herself to be regressed back to youth," she said quietly. "She's ready to go. Even if I'm not ready to let her."
"I don't want her to go," Johnny said, voicing what everyone in the house was feeling about Peggy's impending demise. No one lived forever, after all, unless they were immortal to begin with. He didn't want talk of Peggy to dampen Liv's spirits, but it was something they both had to face.
"We can't stop it." Liv rolled onto her side to face Johnny, her soft eyes wet with unshed tears. Lucy might well think that Liv couldn't handle knowing in advance, but the younger twin was more perceptive than she was given credit for. "Lucy told you, didn't she?" she asked her husband softly. "Does she know when?"
"Yeah, she told me, but it's not that hard to figure out," Johnny said, reaching over to brush a too-warm finger against Liv's cheek. "I'm not sure I'm supposed to tell you, but Lucy doesn't think she'll make it to winter," he told her, as gently as he could.
It was something of an education watching Liv try and hold back tears. She didn't want to cry. Peggy had lived a long life, and had found her family once again in the last years of that life. It would be wrong to feel sad before she was taken away from them. "Okay," Liv managed in a faint whisper, nodding as she drew herself painfully back under control. "Then we make the next few months all about Peggy."
"Really?" Johnny said, brightening a little. This was exactly what he wanted to hear. While their jobs and lives back in Rhy'Din were important, life would go on without them for a little while. "Lucy suggested we come for a visit every weekend, and I'd really like Fliss to get to know Peggy before... before it's too late." The frown appeared on his face again, a small crease forming between his eyebrows.
"Well ..." Liv swallowed once again, wiping her eyes as she calmed down, turning her impressive mind onto the problem ahead of them. "Fliss wants to study Earth History, doesn't she? And I think the first semester's module is on the second world war, so Peggy is going to find herself volunteered to help with Fliss' homework, I think. And we can do every weekend. We can come on the bank holidays. I'll talk to Jon about shortening my availability to him for the next little while - I'm sure he won't have a problem with it, so long as I'm still doing my job."
Johnny nodded his head in agreement to Liv's plan. Was it any wonder that Jonathan Granger had dubbed Liv the Best P.A. Ever? But Liv's boss wasn't Johnny's main concern. The Fire Brigade needed him, counted on him even, but right now, his personal life took precedence. Someone else would just have to be a hero for a little while. "I can either take a leave of absence or shorten my hours for a while. I'm sure they'll understand." It was only temporary, after all, and Johnny was a natural at fighting fires.
Liv rolled into him, wrapping her arms around her husband tenderly. "Thank you for telling me." she murmured. "I know Peggy and Lucy probably don't want me to know, so I won't give it away."
"You need to know, Liv. I know how much Peggy means to you," he replied as she wrapped her arms around him. She meant a lot to him, too - probably more than he'd ever let on. He forced the subject away, a warm smile appearing on his lips. "Think we should go back to bed or just spend the night here?"
"I know how much she means to you, too," Liv murmured to him, kissing his cheek tenderly. Drawing back, she felt a small smile flicker into place in answer to his own. "Are you going to tuck me in as well, Mr. Storm?"
"Eventually," he replied back with that warm smile turning a little playful. "I had something else in mind first, if you don't mind, Mrs. Storm."
"Oh, really?" Despite the upset that could so easily have derailed their evening, Liv was smiling, easing her arms around his neck as she slithered closer to him over the floor. "Dare I ask what you have in mind? Or should I close my eyes and be surprised?"
"I have a little surprise for you in my pants, but I don't want to spoil it," he teased back, as pulled her closer, rolling onto his back so that she was atop him again. That surprise was perfectly obvious to both of them, despite his teasing.
She giggled as he drew her over himself, chest to chest, nose to nose, brushing soft kisses to his lips. "Sparky wants to play, does he?" she purred softly, and there was the gentle hint of the kitten only he had ever seen in her tone. Johnny had unleashed the wild side of Olivia shortly before they had been married, and ever since, he could count on being surprised himself every once in a while.
"Maybe," he replied, his arms going around her waist to lock at her back. "Do you have any objections?" he asked, with a playful gleam in his bright blue eyes.
Very slowly, she leaned down to him, the soft brown eyes he knew so well glimmering with teasing intent as her lips brushed from the corner of his mouth to the curve of his ear. "Nope," she whispered, and a low growl reverberated from her to him as she gently bit his neck, careful not to leave a mark where anyone might see.
His body reacted to her teasing as she might expect, his temperature rising even higher than usual, but not high enough to set him aflame. He didn't bother worrying about whether they were on the floor or the bed. All that mattered was that he was with his Olivia, and who knew? Another year or so from now, maybe they'd be making a baby of their own. A little brother or sister for Fliss to adore, and to bring them ever closer together, as a family.
[size=9]((Good news and bad news ... It looks like this little family is going to get slightly smaller before it expands again. Humungus thankidoodlies of infinite gorgeousness to my partner for indulging me!))[/size]