He needed help. He needed to know. Thor would be the first guy he should goto since the whole mess was started by his uncle, but things are kind of crazy with the Future Foundation and the Fantastic Four, not to mention the New Avengers, so he needs to stay close. He couldn't disappear for the time it would take to fly to Oaklahoma and Asgard.
Doctor Strange is another possibility, and since Ben had business near Greenwich Village today anyway, why not take care of two birds with one subway token.
Of course as soon as Ben had knocked on Strange's front door he got sucked into some sort of nightmare.
"Sweet Aunt Petunia! Strange ya got'a work on yer interior decorating," he yelled out as he fought with the tentacle that was wrapped around him. He grabbed it and dug his fingers in to get a good grip before pulling and tearing it apart.
"Benjamin! Are you a sight for sore eyes!" Strange called out from inside what appears to be a cocoon of webbing. Two vaguely human shaped tenebrous shadows crouched over the cocoon and hiss at the intrusion. "Or ears I should say rather. Be careful, I believe this is some attack from the Nightmare Realms."
"I'm comin'," Ben calls out before more tentacles come, tentacles that turn to thick vines which remind him of the Slenderman nightmares. He can feel the fear buildings again and he finds himself coughing. His sight is fading too. "Assumin' I can find ya."
The fear is sticky tar sweet and reaches into his heart. He tries to fight it, to be brave, but he finds himself trembling like when he was a kid and fell down the sewers with the rats. He's drowning in the fear and can't find his way out.
A memory brushes his heart then. It's FDR, and it's like he is reaching out to that kid in the sewer, the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. The kid stands and remembers Captain America leading the Allied Forces through the darkness, but the fear pushes back, drowning him again.
Then he hears another bit of broadcast advice. Fear is the mindkiller.
"Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration," he whispers into the tunnels. "I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me." He stands and opens himself to the fear, pulling it in. "And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see it path." Ben opens his eyes to Dr. Stranges' entryway and the paradaemons. "Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain."
He picks the shapeless, tar-skinned pair up and pulls them close before saying, "Boo," and releasing them. They tear and fade as shadows at dawn, and Dr. Strange is left blinking and dazed on the rug in the corner. "You okay Doc?" Ben asks helping him up.
"Yes, I am now. Thanks to you." Strange says recovering himself. "May I help you with something?"
Ben dusts off some imagined dirt off Strange's housecoat. "Nah, I'm good. Just thought I'd stop by fer Dim Sim if Wong has up for it?"
The laughing clown stumbles into view only to fall and burst into pieces, springs and bolts flying.
Shadows shift and stutter into tentacle shapes that beckon and threaten.
He runs, scared of the silent echos of footfalls only to stumble and fall into a deep shadow. His body suddenly grows heavy, too heavy to lift. He can barely breath through the coughing and the weight of his chest. His muscles stretch and tear, growing. Then there is a cold fire stab of pain in his right hand, a hand now covered in rock. He looks and sees a giant hammer and feels himself fall into the fear again.
Ben starts awake, panting and still feeling the burn of the hammer in his hand. He takes a moment to catch his breath before he stands and heads for the door. He has to leave Milliways before whatever the hell that thing is in the forest wakes Angrir.
"Okay Benjy, you wanna be in the gang, ya have ta spend the night in the Warehouse," Micky, the leader of the Yancy Street Gang was saying as the rest of the gang shoved Ben towards the abandoned building everyone knew was haunted. Ben tried his best to stay brave but he had been expecting a beating not this.
"Fine, I can take whatevers ya can dish out!" He declared though he wanted to run, especially when the alley cat yowled. Several of the gang did jump but Ben managed not to.
Jamie, the most recent member pulled open the board of the fence while Tommy gave a mock bow, "After yous." Ben ducked through the fence and the board slammed shut. He stood there, gathering his courage and clenched his fists before stepping forward. He could do this, he knew he could. It'd just be a few hours and then they'd know he was a tough guy and they could count on him.
The fog grew and made a good try at hiding the warehouse but Ben knew where the door was. Once last look at the sliver of moon and then back to the door with a gulp and Ben stepped forward only to whip around towards the figure he knew he saw out of the corner of his eye. But nothing was there. Shaking his head, he scowled. So they thought they could scare him? Pretend to be ghosts? Fat lotta good it'd do them.
The hinges creaked as he forced the door open and he nearly screamed when he felt something brush on the back of his neck and he spun again but nothing was there. He saw all the graffiti though, the circles with the x's and couldn't shake the feeling he knew them or that they were somehow watching him. He shook his head again laughing at himself. Idiot.
Fifteen minutes later and he can't get the feeling of being watched out of his head. Shadows continue to reach for him and cobwebs always seem to wrap around him. He's coughing too and has decided to hide in an office for the night. If he doesn't wander, nothing can find him right? He found an old desk and curling up in the hollow below, he's almost comfortable. His eyes close as he suddenly feels drowsy but snap open when he hears the office door creak open slowly and whisper of footfalls tantalize.
His eight year old body struggles against the hands that hold him while his father stumbles back towards the fire escape. "Let me go!" he yells out as the doorbell rings and his father barely catches himself on the windowsill.
His mom shakes her head in disgust and crosses the room to answer the door. Ben notices Daniel's fingers are long and skinny, too long. [Deep in his sleep, Ben rolls over and struggles against what's coming; tearing his blanket.]
The police are at the door and his mother smiles. "We're sorry about the noise, officers. We'll keep it down." She says in the age old lie.
"Ma'am, is everything alright?" the younger officer asks, looking uncomfortable and worried.
"Of course it is. My husband and I were just arguing."
"Ma'am...Mrs. Grimm," the older officer says with a stoic expression. "I'm afraid we've got some bad news for you. Your son, Daniel has been shot."
That's not right, dream Ben thinks. Daniel's right here. He turns, looks up and screams at the tall slender man whose faceless head brushes the ceiling.
Ben starts awake, the scream still echoing in his throat and swallows. Maybe he'll do without sleep.
When the time comes to end the fun,
I'm the one that gets the business done,
ain't no one in the world that can get in my way
I've found a place among my friends,
and I'll be there up until the end
the first family to make me forget I was so grim
That's why I finally feel like one of the guys...
~Kirby Krackle, One of the Guys
Alicia found Ben behind the stage as the final act played their last song. Using his shoulder for balance, she lowered herself to sit on the curb beside him.
"Sorry, the crowds were gettin' ta me," he murmured by way of explaining why he was hiding. She sat silently giving him the time to say what really was bothering him. "Will they ever trust me again?" he whispered finally.
She leaned against him and took his hand. "With time," she said with all the love she felt for him. "They thought they lost their hero but he returned. They need time to trust that and so do you." She stood then and pulled on him to stand as well. "They will forgive you and trust you. In fact, listen…"
Ben turned his attention from her and his thoughts to listen and heard the crowd, thousands of New Yorkers singing, "It's clobbering' time, it's clobbering' time..."
"Come on, they want their hero," she says pulling him up just as his phone rings.
"Hold on," Ben says pulling out his ear piece. "Yeah Reed?"
"Ben...we need you, can you come back?"
"'Course. How soon?" Ben replies unable to hide the thrill in his voice.
"About an hour?"
"I'll be there." He says to Reed hanging up. He stands and holds out his arm to Alicia. "Better not keep the crowd waiting."
Will you still hold me tonight?
And if I open my heart to you
And show you my weak side
What would you do?
Would you sell your story to Rolling Stone?
Would you take the children away
And leave me alone?
~ Pink Floyd, The Final Cut
Ben's been sitting in Alicia's hospital room off and on for nearly six hours now and Alicia is still unconscious. The doctors assure him she will recover, that it will just take time, but he's never really been one for waiting. He'd pace but knowing him he'd hit a wire or tube and mess something up, so he waits watching her breath.
The door opens and Susan pokes her head in. "How's she doing?" She asks as if everything were okay.
"Doc's say she'll be fine an' there's been a couple'a times she's almost woke up..." Ben replies his voice trailing off. He hangs his head down as he really can't met Susan's eyes.
"Good," Susan replies. "Come with me."
It's the last thing Ben wants to do but he has to face the music sooner or later. Sooner means he'll be able to get back to Alicia. Susan leads him to the next room where Reed waits. "Where're the kids?" Ben asks without thinking about it.
"Jen's watching them for us," Susan replies closing the door.
"Guys, I am so sorry. I'll move out..." Ben starts to say before Susan puts her hand on his mouth to quiet him. She hugs him and says. "Shh, we're just glad you're back."
Reed comes over and hugs them both. "I swear Ben, I have never made a device specifically targeted for you."
"And I have never blamed you for Johnny's death. I know you did the best you could and you would have taken his place if it had been possible."
Ben squeezes his eyes closed to hid the tears and hugs them back until his Avengers phone rings.
At the Avengers mansion all the various teams mill about not sure why Captain America called them.
"So until we get Stark Tower rebuilt, we'll have to share the mansion with you," Stark is saying to Luke. "Shouldn't take too long with Stark technology and Damage Control's manpower."
"Do we even have enough rooms?" Mockingbird points out.
"What about bathrooms? Are we going to need a schedule?" Spider-man quips.
"Guys!" Ben calls out to get everyone's attention. "I just wanna say it since everyone's thinking it, this is all my fault. If I hadn't picked up that dang hammer. But I did an' I'm sorry. I've just been havin' a bad time of it lately. I can pack up my stuff to make room.."
"That won't be necessary Ben," Captain America says grabbing his shoulder as Stark walks up.
"Can you guys give us a minute," Stark says to the room, before turning to Ben. "I heard about your plan to help rebuild and I and Stark Resilient would like to help."
"Sounds good," Ben replies still downcast. "But ya should talk ta Jen Walters, Danny Rand or Matt Murdock as I'm not in charge of it. I set them up so there's no conflict and they're setting up a legal trust to ensure folks what own property get a fair deal."
"Okay," Stark replies sounds slightly disappointed.
"Anyway Ben," Cap says with a slight glare at Stark. "Wait, can I have everybody's attention? Thank you. I would just like to say you all did amazing things and you have my up most respect. We saved the world," He turns to Ben then and salutes him, "and you saved New York, Ben. By stepping up and leading the heroes left in the city, you saved many lives, lives that would have been lost without you. And I would just like to say thank you. Thank you all."
Later that night Ben makes it back to Alicia's room just as she stirs. He freezes, scared of finally facing her. How can he ever account for nearly killing her?
"Ben?" she says to the room blindly.
"Yeah," he says, a bare whisper.
"Come here," she says sitting up, holding out her hands and like a puppet he comes and stands near her where she can reach him. She feels his face and chokes out a sob. "Oh it is finally you." Tears cascade down her face in her relief.
"Babe, I'm so sorry," he chokes out but she quiets him with a finger on his lips.
"Shh...I told you before, when it comes to us, you never have anything to fear. I love you and nothing will change that. You are back, that is all that matters."
Pleadin' with your eyes gonna make you some peace some day
You got mud on your face
You big disgrace
Somebody better put you back in your place
~ Queen, We Will Rock You
It's been hours since the world was saved and Ben is busy working with rescue workers; cleaning up and saving those that can be. He hasn't rested, hasn't allowed himself to rest and there is still so much work to do. So far he's been out here on his own; no other heroes have arrived but then a lot of them are far away right? He works deliberately and carefully, keeping his head down to avoid the stares of the people of Yancy Street. He can't ignore them but he can keep working. They leave him alone as they stare, seemingly unsure what to do, until an old woman marches right up to him and yells in his face, "MONSTER!" She spits at him and he just stands there exhausted and deserving it until a couple of kids from the Yancy Street Gang politely lead her away.
Ben takes a deep breath and gets back to work.
Reed and Susan are the first to arrive to help him. He knows they need to talk but the rescue and clean up effort takes all their attention. Later the rest of the Avengers show up and he can see in all their faces how tired they are, how much this fight took out of all of them.
The reporters and TV camera show up soon after and it isn't until the Yancy Street Gang forms a barrier between him and the TV vans that Ben is able to get back to work. He glaces over and sees the old woman who called him a monster being interviewed as well as a little girl who holds up a lost dog poster. Idly, he wonders where she found a copier to make them but when she comes up to him he sees that she drew each one by hand. "Have you seen Buster?" she asks him nervously and he leans in to get a good look at the border collie.
"Nah, but I'll keep my eyes open. When did he go missing?" He replies.
"Last night when the robots attacked."
Twilight comes and Ben still hasn't seen any sign of the dog and he fears the worst. All day he's seen the girl walking around with her flyer and asking anyone who would listen and his heart just broke ever time he saw her. He grunts as he carefully lifts a large slab of wall that's fallen on a subway entrance and almost drops it when he hears barking underneath. He lifts it the rest of the way and sees an excited Buster dance back and forth. "Come on boy," Ben says gesturing for the dog to join him as he looks around for the girl.
"Hello?" Calls a voice weak in pain and exhaustion.
"MEDIC!" Ben calls and races down the stairs to the dog and the woman Buster had been protecting and keeping warm. Her leg is broken pretty badly and she's pale. Kneeling Ben rests a careful hand on her shoulder to let her know it's going to be okay. Her eyelids flicker and she says, "Penny?"
The medics take her, Penny (the little girl with the flyers) and Buster away toward New York General and everyone goes back to work now that the excitement's calmed down. Ben makes it to an alleyway before he loses it, sobs breaking free. He doesn't hear the old woman come up.
"What are you doing?" she asks.
Startled he jumps and then glares. "Don't worry about it."
"You saved that child's mother and dog," she replies, ignoring his glare.
"What's it matter, I'm still a monster right?"
She laughs then. "What monster weeps for a little girl? Why do you weep anyway? The girl is safe, her dog is found and her mother is safe."
"I just...I spent all day convinced I had killed that girl's dog." He doesn't know why he's telling her this, likely because he hasn't really spoken with anyone all day. "Guess I'm just relived."
She nods. "I can see that. And no, you are not a monster. Not any more. As I said, a monster does not weep for a little girl. A monster does not work all day to fix what he has done. This morning maybe you were a monster but now you are a hero. It's like your Yancy Street boys have been telling any reporter who would listen, a man has a right to fix his mistakes and that is what you have done and will continue to do. Now come, I have food and then you can go back to fixing."
Ben stands at the edge of the broken office building and looks out at the city. From ten stories up he can see an awful lot and he doesn't like what he sees; fires in a few places, looting, screaming and general mayhem and if that weren't enough, giant robots with the swastika are advancing. Part of him looks at it all with shame and guilt, part of him looks at the whole thing like troop movements, and part of him looks to see where help is needed the most but all of him burns with an anger more potent than phosphorus. He also notes the grouping of Avengers nearby on the ground and decides to head there with Franklin and Val. He needs to find them protection before he can go hunting for the Serpent and any other "Worthy" he can find. He feels it then, the Serpents' power flares and his palace, his center of power appears; a castle floating above the Lower East Side.
"Huh, don't see that everyday," Ben says. "Let's get down there." He turns and heads towards the stairs, the elevator would be quicker but he doubts the safety of it given the damage the building has taken. Franklin and Val follow him and pause with him when he stops at the hammer.
"You should leave it," Franklin suggests.
"And risk some other schmuck picking' it up? Not likely," Ben replies reaching for it.
"But what if…" Val starts to ask.
"Ain't nothin' ta worry about kids. I ain't got no fear left in me but I got plenty o' pissed."
It takes them five minutes to make it down the stairs and join the Avengers at what remains of Avengers Tower. He can feel the Serpent is gone but his influence remains, fear so strong you can taste it. The people needed help, that much was clear and yet the Avengers were guarding a pile of ruble.
"What in the dad blamed Sam Hill are you guys doin'?" Ben shouted by way of greeting. Several of the Avengers immediately went on guard and Ms. Marvel turned as if to blast him so he dropped the hammer and held up his hands. "It's me…really me."
"Stand down everyone!" Luke Cage yells and hurries forward to Ben. "Thank God, you're free."
"Thank Franklin ya mean. What's goin' on?" Ben asks grimly.
"Stark's in Asgard making weapons we can use, Cap's in Oklahoma chasing after the Serpent and we're making sure either one can get to where they need to go."
"So no one's protectin' the city?!?" Ben asks incredulously.
"We only have so much resources," Ms. Marvel says. "If Cap and Iron Man don't succeed, we all fail."
"So ya give up what yer fightin' fer ta win? THAT"S DAD BLAMED BULL!"
"Woah Ben, calm down. Carol is right. We can only do so much."
"Fuck that. City ain't falling while I got breath. You yahoos stay here and play general's solders, I'm takin' the fight where it's needed." Ben turns and walks off with the kids leaving some very confused Avengers behind.
"Grimm, take care of those kids first!" Wolverine calls out just as Ben turns a corner. He waves a hand in reply.
"What was all that?" Jewel asks.
"Man's lost it all," Luke answers with a hint of grief. "He thinks he's got nothin' left."
"He's walking death's road. I just hope he let's the kids off." Wolverine adds.
"What the hell?!?!" Spider-woman says. "Why are we letting him go?"
"Man's got a right...especially after what happened." Wolverine replies.
"We don't have the time to hold Grimm's hand and guard this. Man wants to go out, I can't stop him right now. Best to give him free reign so he'll get the kids to safety first."
"Thank you for reminding me that all men are insane," Jewel says shaking her head but staying where she is.
Then the wall of the front entrance explods in a blast of energy and in walks...
"Is that...?" the doctor asks.
"Thing? Ben?" Spider-Man begs as the monster strode towards him. The waiting room froze until, as one, the people ran screaming in panic. Spider-Man just stood there however as the hopelessness of it all was just too much. Angrir cocks back the hammer to strike and...
"Spider-Man?! MOVE!" The doctor yells and suddenly his body is working again. He leaps clear of the strike, just barely.
"Ben! We all have our cranky days, but this is a little much," he quips, falling on old habits. "We can talk this out, buddy. I will need my head to do that though." He adds as Angrir continues to swing. "Look alive!" He says, turning a dodge into a shove at a frozen bystander. "And clear this place out!"
"This is insane...you have to get him out of here!" The doctor yells as she punches the elevator button over and over in panic while covering the injured mother on the gurney from debris.
"Working on it!" Spider-Man yells back as the vital signs monitor he had just used as an impromptu dismount was hit by the hammer and went flying towards the doctor and patient to explode against the side of the elevator. "NO!" Spider-Man yells and hits Angrir full on in the forehead. Angrir doesn't even flinch but hits him back to send him flying.
"Spider-Man! We can't get upstairs, we have to do this here," the doctor calls out, pulling out the paddles as the expectant mother's heart has stopped. "I need more time!"
"Ben...BEN!" Spider-Man calls out to be a target and hope to get through whatever is wrong with Ben. His hand feels like it is broken and he tries his best not to flex it. "Listen to me...you can beat this. Whatever's got you. Whatever's happened to you...you can beat it." He takes a step forward as Angrir's attack falters. "You're one of the best people I know. You're not going to hurt anyone. Come on, Ben...you can do this."
"Spider-Man..." Angrir replies, "Die."
"Make it stop!!"
"It's Ben Grimm--It's the Thing!!!"
"We need medics over here, someone call--"
"The Thing?! Never! He wouldn't--"
"He's lost it!"
"Drop the hammer and lay on the ground." The Red Hulk commands.
"Do you really think that's the way this is going to go?" Angrir asks with a smile as he turns and charges.
"I had to ask," the Red Hulk replies before leaping to meet Angrir's charge. Bystanders are knocked to their feet as the two titans clash, each fist strike like dynamite. Even the ground shudders in sympathy as Angrir clotheslines Red Hulk with the hammer and then hammer slaps him. A punch to the stomach and then a backhand to the jaw. Red Hulk finally recovers to kidney punch Angrir before grasping the hammer and hitting Angrir with it.
It is a valiant fight but five minutes later, Avengers Tower falls atop Red Hulk. When the dust and debris settle, Angrir stands triumphant. His triumph is short lived as the starfish shriek the Serpents commands. The Odinson has been found!
"During a time of already significant panic among the people of New York...and indeed, the people of the world...we're reporting live from yet another escalating event. We're witnessing mass destruction on a scale unlike anything I've seen before. Rescue teams and civil authorities have been unable to evacuate danger zones quickly enough to avoid terrible casualties and riots are breaking out across the city, only adding to the disorder and confusion. The decimation of property...the potential loss of life...to call what I am seeing cataclysmic would not be an exaggeration. Reports are unconfirmed, but it appears that the source of this destruction is The Thing! The Future Foundation's Ben Grimm appears to have undergone a sudden and ghastly transformation...a mutation, perhaps...and he's rampaging through the city. It is unclear if this change in his physical form--this apparent change in his state of mind--is some further manifestation of his abnormal physiology or if this might be something else...perhaps, as some have already speculated, something contagious."
[OOC: Everything that occurs within the red velvet room is my own bit of canon. Most of all else is Marvel canon.]
Two days ago...Sin unearths the Hammer of Skadi at a secret Thule Society research facility deep in the Arctic wastes. When she grasps the hammer she becomes possessed by the goddess Skadi and sets about to free her father, a primordial Norse deity only know as the Serpent whose power centered on fear.
36 hours ago...Ben Grimm woke from the return of a disturbing dream, a dream in which he kills the other members of the Fantastic Four after their crash landing with his bare hands in revenge. He confesses this dream to Susan Richards and can't help the fear that part of him is capable of such a hideous act.
24 hours ago...Skadi frees the Serpent from his deep sea prison. The Serpent calls to his Worthy, the generals who fought with him before. In New York, a peaceful protest turns violent as someone hurls a brick at Steve Rogers.
18 hours ago...Deep Space telescopes chart incoming celestial objects heading for Earth.
12 hours ago...Ben walks out of the Baxter Building intending to take a few days off from his family and the villains Reed has invited into their home.
6 hours ago...Ben has tea with Alicia. Alicia tells Ben he has nothing to fear.
2 hours ago...Reed calls Ben as one of the seven recorded celestial objects which came from deep space has landed at the heart of Yancy Street. Thinking Ben would want a hand in investigating some thing which could be a threat, Reed invites Ben along. Ben agrees.
And the new white uniform of the newly minted Future Foundation just didn't go with his orange rocks very well. And why did they have to change from the Fantastic Four to the Future Foundation anyway? Yeah, Johnny was gone but Spidey was working out despite Ben's initial misgivings and they'd had fill-ins before. They were still the Fantastic Four when She-Hulk took Ben's place weren't they? And why didn't they call Jen to fill in? Why'd it have to be Spidey? Oh yeah, Johnny's request.
"I'm sorry," Alicia says as she sets the tea service on the coffee table, breaking Ben out of his brooding. "I don't have any Splenda, Ben. Just sugar."
"It's fine, Alicia," Ben says reaching for the cup and saucer she holds out. As she sits across from him he watches her and that old familiar ache for her beauty pierces his heart again.
She lifts her cup to sip the tea, Darjeeling. Ben mimics her move with a smile remembering a time when he couldn't even open doors without breaking them and all the patience Alicia had shown as she helped him learn to use his new body.
"You haven't called," Alicia says jumping straight in.
Carefully Ben puts down the bone china cup before answering. He finds he can't look at her so looks down before replying, "I know, I…"
"You haven't called since that night."
"And you didn't speak to me at the funeral."
"….I know. I'm sorry. I've been kinda keeping' to myself. I…I…I'm just haven' a hard time with…." Ben swallows to clear the lump in his throat. "Bein' with you…it shoulda been the best thing ever. Now I look at you and all I can think about is how I couldn't save my friend…my brother. I feel so guilty, Alicia."
"Are you looking at me right now?"
"Good. Because I want to make sure you hear me when I say there are two things you're going to have to deal with…Johnny's gone. And I love you."
"No. You need to know that I am not going anywhere. You need to know that I need you as much as you need me…and, most of all, that Johnny would want you to be happy. I promise you…things are going to get better…There's nothing to be afraid of."
Ben sits there lost in her words and can't help but wonder at the fear and sense of forwboding they leave in his heart.
Ben picks up one of the hammers not knowing what it is and is transformed into Angrir the Breaker of Souls. While he is possessed he destroys his old neighborhood of Yancy Street, nearly kills his OTP Alicia Masters (who's blind if you want to work that in), levels the Avengers tower (which would be a lot like a second twin towers for the MU) until finally receiving a fatal blow from Thor and being "made better" by Franklin Richards who can manipulate reality.
After all this, there is a war coming which is in the current Fantastic Four series and is being billed as the War of the Four Cities. At the height of the opening attack on Manhattan in this war, Johnny Storm returns form the Grave to save the day and give Ben the hope he desperately needs. This storyline is still ongoing so I don't know if you want to deal with it or just allude to Johnny's return.
"Let's pounce on them!" Luke Cage says as they all sit waiting on the roof of a Bed, Bath & Beyond in Maine as the sun goes down. Ben had been glad to hear from Luke for a chance of some action to distract him from his grief but a stakeout was not what he had in mind.
"Luke Cage; impatient man," Jessica Jones, the hero formally know as Jewel, replies.
"Really." Ms. Marvel agrees.
"I'm with Cage," Ben adds already bored with waiting. He needed action not sitting around. Sitting around thinking is all he's been doing for weeks now.
"You used to be a private eye, Jessica; you're used to doing a stakeout," Danny, aka Iron Fist, points out.
"I love a stakeout. This is the best part."
"The best part is the clobbering," Ben deadpans.
"Hold on...shhh..." Wolverine hisses.
"What's going on, Logan?" Luke asks.
"Shhh, means SHHH!!!"
"Avengers...I am broadcasting live from Barrington, Rhode Island," they each hear as Mockingbird reports on their bluetooth head sets.
"Is there movement?" Luke asks into his earpiece.
"Oh there's movement," she replies. "We have some truly scary-looking human growth hormone experiments moving all their stuff in."
As they had been talking Ben was watching the trucks come in and the guys begin to unload some stuff that looked very high tech and heavy experimental equipment; not quite like Reed's but definitely along the same lines, maybe AIM? As the talking continued (arguing about when to spring the trap and the legality of when), Ben clenched his fists open and closed, getting more and more impatient. He didn't care about technicalities like legal search and seizures. These guys were ex-Hammer agents trying to set up shop, that was enough for him. Finally he can't take the debating any more.
"But they're going to. That's why we're here." Luke is saying to Jessica.
"But they haven't done anything yet," she replies.
"But they are. Do ya know how I know?" Ben interrupts.
"No," Jessica says startled a bit by Ben's interruption; he had been so quiet up until then.
"Watch this," he says and does a passable impression of one of the Hulk's leaps towards the building the ex-HAMMER agents are using.
Back on the Bed, Bath and Beyond's roof, Wolverine says, sarcastically, "Okay, he'll distract them."; while Spider-man says, "Guess what time it is?"
Ben crashes through the roof yelling, "It's Clobberin' Time!" to land in the middle of a bunch of startled toughs with extra bulging muscles. He cracks his knuckles and looks around. "Who's first?"
"Code Blue! Code Blue!" one of the doctors working to save Mockingbird yells as they rush to surgery, fighting to stabilize her.
"What do we do, Doc?" Spider-man asks Dr. Strange numbly.
"There's...there's nothing we can do here."
"We should call her ex-husband," Ben says gruffly. How was he going to tell Clint he may have gotten his ex-wife killed? Why did he rush into that fight before everyone was ready? Is another hero going to die because of him? Maybe it was time to hang up the tights before he got anyone else killed. If he did that, though, what else did he have?
Johnny is gone. Annihilus and his army were set to invade Earth but Johnny stopped them by blocking the gate to the Negative Zone. He saved us all and I couldn't do jack to save him without risking what he was fighting for. I'm including a DVD of the cameras in Reed's lab so you know how much a hero your uncle was. I...I gotta go.
When I can, I'll be back to help you with this. I'm sorry I'm not strong enough for you. I hope you can forgive me.
Love, Your Uncle Ben
"Bentley?" Val says in reply.
Bentley watches the read out of the image enhancer but the army of insectiods is like a cloud and he really doesn't need the numbers to know how dire things are. "Sixty-three seconds until the Annihilation Wave hits."
"One minute, Uncle Ben," Val says tonelessly. She wishes it could be some other way but facts are facts. "We're simply out of time."
Ben thinks back on the week he's had and can't argue that now would be a great time to go. "Well, then..it's been fun. Get everyone on the other side Johnny."
"You've got to be joking!" Johnny says taken aback.
"Not this time pal. Because of you, I just had one the best weeks of my life. No way I go out owin' you."
"C'mon! There's gotta be something you're not thinking of...right?" Johnny begs the kids. "Isn't there anything else?"
The kids look at each other one more time hoping for a miracle but no one has anymore ideas.
"No." Val says and the kids turn back to the portal and begin walking through.
"Okay...that settles it then," Johnny says as if he accepts the choice.
Bentley takes one last look before stepping through. "They're here. Incoming."
"Tell Alicia..," Ben starts to say but then turns when he sees Johnny move as if to hug him. Aw cripes man, kid's gonna make me cry. Instead Johnny grabs Ben's collar and waistband, spins and throws him towards the portal. "Johnny! What're you...NO!" Ben manages before he's through the portal.
Johnny reaches and activates the energy button before Ben can race back.
"You stupid dumb...Open this back up! OPEN IT!!" Ben yells.
"We can't," Val says looking downcast. "There's no time left! If he's going to activate the vibranium shield it has to be now."
"I could make more time." Franklin offers still feeling the buzz of his returned powers.
"No. That's not...that's..." Ben's really tempted, really, but then he thinks, And have another M-day or Onslaught on their hands. Damnit, I'm sorry Johnny I just can't risk the world for you. "Val, just tell him how to work the thing."
Val looks up to Johnny. "Okay Johnny, listen closely. Enter the access code (4-3-2-1), that'll engage the failsafe lockdown. This will also randomize the access code, so no one on your side - including you - will be able to open it again." She pauses and wants so badly to apologize but it's just facts right? She's not sending her uncle to his death. There's really no other choice, the facts speak for themselves. "Dad will have a backdoor built in. We'll be back."
Johnny knows this last isn't going to be any help for him but smiles for Val anyway. He knows she's trying to make him feel better, to give him some hope. Behind him the first barrage of energy attacks begins. "Entering the code." He reports and then looks to Ben. "When you see Reed and Sue...you tell them...tell them this is where I made my stand."
The gravity of the situation has frozen Ben in his tracks. He can't move and his limbs feel leaden. HIs chest tightens.
Johnny turns back to the portal's instruments. "Engaging the locking mechanism."
A sudden spasm grips Ben and he nearly collapses from a sudden weight. His skin feels like it's suddenly drying out and hardening. "Urk! Wai..." Panic hits and he wants to fight the situation. He starts pounding on the energy shield. "Wait! No!" He feels like he could smash through anything as a sudden energy surge washes through him. He could save Johnny...but then damn the world. "NO!NO!NO!" Too late he's back to his old self (When did 'his old self' mean the Thing?) and Johnny's still in another universe sacrificing himself.
"Unbelievable." Johnny says and Ben just gives him a look.
"You don't wish it any more than I do," Johnny says and holds out his hand to the energy shield. Ben raises his and touches Johnny's through the shield. Johnny pulls back first as the blasts from the Annihilation Wave are nearly on top of him.
"So. This is it." Johnny says over his shoulder as he turns to face the Wave which now covers the horizon as far as he can see. "A billion to one." He laughs a little. "You think I'm afraid of that? You Think I'm Afraid Of That?!?! FLAME ON!!!!"
Ben can only watch as the vibranium shield closes. "Oh God, John..." he manages before all his strength leaves him and he falls to the floor. Grief and guilt well up inside him and overwhelm him.
Smothering...pulling him down...
Drowniing...washing everything away...
Until he feels Franklin and Val crawl up beside him...
Gotta be strong.....they need me.
It should've been me.
"Okay Artie, let's get a look at what we're dealing with. Bentley, give us a countdown." Val says from the controls for the portal within the Negative Zone. All together there are five of them; herself, Artie, Bentley, Alex and Mogg.
Bentley (the younger clone of the Wizard) pulls out an image enhancer and reports, "As expected, the initial invasion force was to secure, and dilate, the portal. The larger Annihilation Wave is in a defensive perimeter positioned some two hundred fifty thousand kilometers away. Assuming they've been alerted and aren't going to just bomb us - and the gate - to death from above...figure maximum velocity, landing disembarking...maybe four minutes. Is that going to be enough time?"
"Has to be," Val says studying the blowout schematic of the locking mechanism of the portal Artie has projected via his powers. "Man, this is a nightmare."
"Uh-huh," Alex agrees looking over her shoulder. "Triple redundancy, integrated software and hardware."
"Quantum encoding...there's no reprogramming the locking mechanism."
"The Reed is very, very clever," Mogg the moloid says.
"Super, Dad," Val replies, "just freaking super. Ideas?"
"Remote access?" Artie offers.
"The locking sequence has to be keyed after shield activation."
"We would need a big enough power source, a transmission superstructure, tech-specific architecture...and probably more time." Alex says.
"Which we don't have." Val counters.
"Wouldn't matter," Bentley says lowering the image enhancers. "You're not accounting for background radiation or data sinks. Your chance of success is around point-zero-zero-eight percent. Think harder."
"Any idea if we enhance the energy shielding on our side that we can hold them off longer?" suggests Mogg.
"Yeah, we could use the building's primary dynamo," Val muses.
"Maybe," Bentley replies. "If the shield was powered by the building's main generators. Wait...are we factoring in that Annihilus does or does not possess the Cosmic Rod?"
"Figure he does."
"Pffft...point-zero-zero-five percent. We would be much better off just nuking this place." Bentley goes back to looking through the image enhancers while the other four look at each other as if considering.
"We could do that," Alex says.
"Would it completely rupture the portal?" Val asks. "That could be doing their job for them."
"Not sure. But even if it didn't, the dead zone from the fallout should buy us enough time..."
"So, again," Val says interrupting him. "Stall? That's our best idea? And with what bomb?" She tempted to look at Bentley to see if he has one but she doubts he'd have a nuke...no, he doesn't have his backpack.
"You're also forgetting that even the enhanced shield wouldn't maintain full integrity in proximity to ground zero. We could die of radiation leaking through into the lab." Mogg counters.
"No other choice, cost of doing business..." Artie says.
"We have to stop them," Alex says with a shake of his head. "It's sure there's some fissile material in one of the labs."
"Chance of success: eight percent." Bentley comments. "I find the idea of building another bomb very exciting."
"So that's it then?" Alex says feeling a hint of Oppenheimer's chill.
"No," Val forces herself to say. Too many variables and not enough of a success rate. Yet there is one course that has a hundred percent chance of success. "Still too much risk, Alex. The odds aren''t good enough. Someone's going to have to stay behind."
"Behind me, children." the Dragonman calls out around the gout of fire he's breathing at the alien invaders swarming the Negative Zone Portal room. It had been a nice quiet day. The kids were in the lab working and Ben and Johnny were looking over paperwork. Then ninjas attacked. They had made their way to the N-zone Portal and locked it open before Alex Power pinned them to the ground using his powers over gravity. But then the real trouble began.The ninjas collapsed in on themselves, revealing them to be insectoids. Worse yet they were carrying eggs. Eggs which hatched and grew instantly to human size. It was an ambush but fortunately Ben and Johnny were able to get everyone together so no one had to face this onslaught alone.
"NO!" Val calls out in answer to Dragonman's order. "We can't leave the gate open. Uncle Johnny! You have to reach the other side of the room, there's a fail-safe"
"They're focusing on me and Ben. We're being overrun, Val," Johnny calls out as he flies over Ben who busy blasting away with the big gun Val had given him earlier. "Can't get to it. Alex?!!"
Lousy time for me to be powerless, Ben thinks but keeps firing. Really could'a timed this better.
"Trying, there's too many of them," Alex calls out as two of the Moloid children use the karate moves they'd been studying on one of the larger insectoids. "I...think we have to run for it."
Leech, the mutant kid who's a living power dampener, yells out, "Punch! Punch! PUNCH!"
"Oh," Val says reaching for a spanner.
Damnit. Ben thinks but calls out, "Somebody wanna shut that kid up? I'm tryin' real hard not ta get killed over here."
"Why is he...?" Johnny asks turning to look at Leech just as Val hits the kid over the head with the spanner.
"Leech wanted someone to knock him out." Val says to Johnny's horrified look.
"Why would...?" Johnny begins to ask and Val hooks her thumb at Franklin.
"Whoa," Franklin says as all the reality warping powers at his command come flooding back. "BUG SPRAY!" he calls out and blasts every insectoid in the room before running and hitting the fail-safe for the N-zone portal. "Got it. Shield's up."
"Okay. So someone want to tell me when Franklin got his powers back?" Johnny says a little mystified.
"You should pay closer attention Uncle Johnny. It's been pretty obvious if you knew what you were looking for. Why do you think Dad has Leech rooming with him?"
Ben has to agree with Val as he'd figured it out a few days ago. Still wouldn't do to make Johnny look bad. Well not in front of the kids. Okay, not in this situation. "Backup's on the way," he says instead. "Called the Avengers, time to clear out of here and wait for the cavalry."
Val looks to Ben with a mix of fear and sorrow on her face. "I don't think we can do that, Uncle Ben. The shield isn't going to hold. It wasn't made for this. If the main controls hadn't gotten destroyed by the bugs, I could activate the vibranium shielding on the other side from here..."
"So what are..." Johnny starts to ask.
"We have to go through and turn it on manually and we have to do it right now. Before everyone over there knows the doorway is open."
"No way." Johnny says.
"Not happenin'." Ben echos though he trusts Val's judgement and sees she's right.
"Listen, we just need a couple of minutes. Franklin could probably buy us that by himself. I only need some of the Future Foundation," Val argues.
"I could totally squash them," Franklin says as an arm pushes through the shielding of the portal. "See?" he says blasting the insectoid.
Val pushes a strand of hair out of her face and meets both her uncle's eyes. "There's a second Annihilation Wave waiting to invade Earth and we're all that stands in it's way. Tick-tock, super heroes."
Ben and Johnny look at each other but they know there's really no choice. "Reed's gonna kill us," Johnny says.
"Reed? Na, it's Sue who's gonna kill us." Ben replies.
"Okay, everyone," Johnny says turning to the assembled kids and the Dragonman robot. "Ben's already called for the Avengers, so backup'll be here as soon as they can. But right now, we have to go through there and fix this thing. While we're gone, the Dragon is in charge. Anything that comes through that portal that isn't us, you burn to a crisp, understand?"
"Yes sir," the Dragonman replies as all the kids nod their heads.
"All right then," Ben says arming his big gun and turning to the portal, "here we go."