New York City
Two weeks ago...
"Johnny, you don't even know where this Rhydin is..." Sue Storm, Johnny's older and much wiser sister argued after re-reading the mysterious letter of invitation her younger brother had received from an equally mysterious courier, along with his reply, for the umpteenth time. "Meeting girls is not a good reason for wanting to join this group," she continued, unsurprised and with obvious disapproval.
Johnny rolled his eyes at his sister's reaction, though he had expected as much. At least, he was saying good-bye this time and not just going off on his own without any explanation. "Suse, they need heroes, and I'm a hero," he pointed out, matter of factly, not meaning to boast, though it certainly seemed that way.
In truth, they were both heroes, in one way or another, and part of a team that had been dubbed The Fantastic Four, but for some reason, he was the only one of the four who had received an invitation, which pleased Johnny to no end, but worried his overly-protective older sister.
It was Sue's turn to roll her eyes in irritation. As older sister, it was her job to take care of her younger brother, especially since their parents had died. Even as a full-grown adult, Johnny had a bad habit of getting himself into trouble and needed someone to look after him, or so she thought. "How do you know it's not a trap?" she asked, pointing out the obvious. It was no secret they had enemies, people who would do anything for a chance to exploit or destroy them, and being the youngest, she felt her brother was the most vulnerable of the four, despite his abilities.
Johnny's expression softened when he realized his sister was really worried, and he smiled. Not the charming, debonair smile of a playboy trying to impress a woman he found attractive, but the warm, caring smile of a brother who, despite his sarcastic sense of humor, truly cared about her and knew without being told how she felt about him. "Sue, don't worry. I'll be okay. It's not like I'm going away forever. It's just another adventure."
"That's exactly what worries me," she replied, frowning worriedly. They'd already had enough adventure to last a lifetime, and Johnny was only twenty-five. She wasn't ready to lose him yet, like they'd lost their mother and father.
Not one for elaborate displays of emotion, Johnny pulled his sister in for a brief hug and kissed her on the forehead. "I'll be fine. I promise."
She was still frowning when he let go of her, and she gave him that same worried look. "Don't make promises you can't keep, Johnny."
"Who me? Never." He smirked. "Hey, maybe we should have a farewell party. In honor of, you know, me. Or a parade. Yeah, a parade with confetti and everything. Oh, we could have a float with me surrounded by supermodels and waving to the crowd. How do you like my parade wave?" He demonstrated, raising a hand, curling it slightly, and moving it slowly to and fro, like he'd seen people do time and again at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade.
Sue heaved a sigh and rolled her eyes yet again. "You're impossible, you know that?"
He grinned back. "I know. That's what makes me so special." Besides the fact that he could fly at supersonic speeds and immerse himself in fire, not to mention other talents and abilities he thought too numerous to mention and not all of the superhuman variety.
"You're special, all right," a gruff voice resounded behind them, and Johnny turned to find a large man who looked like a living rock just entering the room. His name was Ben Grimm, otherwise known as The Thing, and despite their constant bickering, he and Johnny were, in fact, good friends. "Short bus special. Where you off to now, kid? Got a fire to put out in some hottie's panties somewhere?"
"No," Sue replied, frowning at them both. "He's accepting the invitation to join some group calling themselves The Avengers in some place called Rhydin."
"Avengers, huh?" Ben echoed, scoffing. "Ain't that name already been taken?" he asked, scratching his head, but not really scratching his head. It was just out of habit.
"Not in this universe," another voice chimed in as the group's so-called leader - a man named Reed Richards, AKA Mister Fantastic - joined them. "You've been reading too many comic books, Ben."
"Yeah, well, guy's gotta do something with his spare time. Which I have too much of, by the way," Ben replied, glumly.
"Maybe you should get a girlfriend," Johnny suggested. "I hear Lady Liberty is looking for a companion. You gotta admit. She is kinda hot... for a statue. I think it's the toga. What do you think?"
"Listen, smart mouth... You want I should rearrange your face?" Ben warned, shaking a rock-filled fist at the youngest of the foursome.
"I've been doing some research," Reed continued, ignoring the bickering of the other two. "It's kind of interesting."
"Oh, no," Johnny muttered, rolling his eyes at Ben and affecting a snore at what he knew was going to be a long-winded lecture on something that was more than likely way over their heads.
Sue was frowning her almost constant disapproval at both of them. "Layman's terms, Reed, for the children."
Reed blinked out of his thoughts and arched both brows at the trio, failing to understand why they were always so confused by what seemed perfectly logical to him. "All right. I'll dumb it down for you. Basically, this Rhydin exists at the center of the known universe and in near proximity to a gateway known as the Nexus. From the Nexus, you can access any destination in Time or Space."
"Okay, but what does that mean?" Johnny asked, still a little confused.
"It means, Jonathan," Reed began, with all earnestness, "that from the Nexus portal, you can travel to or from any destination that your little heart desires in the blink of an eye."
"Any destination?" Johnny repeated, blue eyes wide, his imagination running wild.
"Well, within reason," Reed replied. "I wouldn't go mucking around with the past, if I were you."
"Back to the Future," Ben warned quietly, bumping the kid with a stony elbow. "You might erase yourself."
Johnny nodded his head, his mind still whirling with the possibilities.
"Johnny," Sue interrupted, knowing her brother better than any of them and knowing where his mind was more than likely leading him - to grand adventures, not unlike those of James Bond, where he was the hero who saved the day and won the girl. "Don't do anything stupid, okay? Do whatever it is they want you to do and come home. All in once piece. Please?"
Once again, Johnny smiled in hopes of reassuring his sister. Grand adventures? Him? Never. Well, maybe one or two. "Be home before you know it, Susie-Q."
"So, how's he gonna get there, smart guy?" Ben piped in, turning his attention back to their leader, once again.
"Oh, well... There are instructions in the letter on how to open a portal. Piece of cake really. All we have to do is..."
Ben held up a hand. "Save it. I already had a nap." He didn't need to know the details. All he needed to know was that Richards could get the kid there and safely. He'd never admit it, but he cared about the youngest member of the team as if he was family. That's sort of what they were, after all, or what they had become. A family of freaks, maybe, but a family nonetheless.
"Okay, so, when do I leave?" Johnny asked, full of anticipation and excitement for his next great adventure.
"Two weeks, give or take," Reed replied. He wanted enough time to make sure he got the calculations right. If he was off by just the tiniest fraction, the kid could be lost forever with no way home.
"Two weeks?!" the siblings exclaimed in unison. Johnny thought it was too long, and Sue too short. They glanced at each other, almost knowing the other's thoughts.
"Gives me enough time to say good-bye, I guess," Johnny said, sighing dramatically while making a mental list of girls he needed to call before he left, starting in alphabetical order with a girl named Allie. He might need to get out his Little Black Book (AKA LBB) for this one.
"You'll be back, like a bad penny. They always come back," Ben quipped, hoping he was right.
"You know, I've never understood that saying. The hell is a bad penny anyway?" Johnny replied.
"If you don't get it, I'm not explaining it to you," said Ben, not wanting to admit that he didn't really understand what it meant either. It just sounded good.
"I'm worth a lot more than a penny. I'm priceless," Johnny grinned back at the man and gave him a playful shove. "Someday, I'm gonna have my face on Time Magazine. Jonathan Lowell Spencer Storm," he said, fanning his hand through the air, as if reading a headline, "Man of the Year. Now, that's priceless."
"Person of the Year," Sue corrected quietly, slightly annoyed at her brother's over-inflated ego and obviously chauvinistic attitude.
Ben snorted in derision. "Gotta become a man first, kid."
Johnny turned to administer the proper retort, which involved something about his companion having a problem with a certain part of his anatomy despite being constantly hard as rock, but Sue muffled any attempt with a hand across his mouth.
"Enough," she scolded. "If you're serious about this, then we've got work to do." She turned from her brother to address the team as a whole, hands on hips, looking very much like the mother hen of the group. "Well," she started, "don't just stand there. Get to work!" She narrowed her eyes as Reed and Ben left, one in quiet contemplation of the laws of physics, while the other grumbled to himself at being scolded like a child.
Alone with her brother once again, she turned to face him, reaching upwards to lay her hands on his shoulders, that worried expression back on her face. She reminded him of his mother, what little recollection he still had of her. "I hope you know what you're doing, Johnny. I don't know what I'd do if something happened to you."
Johnny offered that reassuring smile once again. "I'll be fine, Suse. Cross my heart and hope to..." He started to draw an X across his chest, but she stopped him with a look.
"Don't say it. Just..." She frowned again. Though they weren't saying good-bye just yet, she was having trouble fighting back the tears. "Just come home safely, okay?"
"Will do, Sis." He wrapped his arms around her in a rare hug. "I promise."
She hugged him back, knowing there was nothing she could do to talk him out of it, once his mind was set. All she could do was trust he knew what he was doing and hope he'd keep his promise. It was little comfort, but she had no choice. In two weeks' time, she'd have no choice but to say goodbye. She just hoped it wouldn't be forever.
((Author's Note: Just a brief note, this particular incarnation of Johnny Storm is loosely based on the films and some of the comic book character's history. However, as the comics tend to be extremely complex, I will be taking some artistic liberties with the character, so in essence, this will be something of an alternate version of Johnny Storm. I will try to stay as true as possible to the original character concept, but will more than likely deviate from it somewhat. Please forgive any inaccuracies and deviations, which are, in my opinion, necessary in order to bring this character to Rhydin. Thanks for understanding and for reading!))