december 13, 2020 — december bingo scene — reed richards & sue storm

The facts, empirically speaking, were these. He had retained his laboratory access. Well, not his laboratory, a laboratory — lacking some of the custom built instruments and advanced technologies that he was used to, but serviceable. That was an advantage, the only one that Reed had catalogued so far. Other than that, there was a cell phone, building access keys, and a wallet that identified him as Reed van Allen. Already he was running a few theories in his mind. Simulation. Alternate universe. Mind swap. Memory wipe. Telepathic intervention. Some combination thereof. Too soon to know for sure. More evidence needed. All he had to do was stay calm and observant.

The reconnaissance was limited — not surprising. Whoever had done this was very good, had covered all their bases. Phone contacts seemed like strangers he had passed by- unknown but familiar. A glance at the news showed current events not too far off from his own, seemingly deviating at the common nodes that birthed alternate timelines. Research by van Allen that Reed could nearly see his own signatures in. None of his own abilities had survived the journey, which he resolutely chose to take as a good sign of it could help explain the psychic silence in his mind where he usually felt Sue's presence. He could have kept going, night have turned some of the medical equipment in the empty lab on himself for further diagnostics but the cell phone rang instead and the contact name put a jump in his heart rate that Reed couldn't attribute to himself or Allen any certainty until the voice on the end was completely unmistakable. His wife in any universe, timeline, would always find a way to him.

It was a shot in the dark, though not completely in the dark. Reed. Van Allen. Sue should have put it all together sooner but there'd been a lot going on. She'd arrived there eventually, hadn't she? With the hope that she was right. A breadcrumb leading her to Reed, her Reed, in whatever bizarre existence this was. Then they could work on finding Ben, since she already had account of Johnny.

"Reed?" She bit the inside of her lip, pacing the path she'd been walking before she hit the button to call, in the backyard of the house where she'd woken up. Her house — no, Stella's house. "Please tell me it's you, if it's not I don't know who else to try."

Instinct was never the realm Reed worked best in, and the second after he trusted it, he was rewarded with the relief of having done the right thing and the thudding heartbeat that came from realizing how easily it could have gone differently. "Sue, Sue, " Reed repeated just from the shock and joy of hearing from her. It was like listening in different dimensions, a voice that wasn't quite his wife but resonated somehow just the same - Reed filed the observation away for later analysis.

"Where are you?" He was standing now, pacing as he tried to meter out his questions logically, avoiding the ones he didn't want the answers to yet, like where were Johnny and Ben were, or the ones that would force him to say the words he hated most: I don't know. “Are you alright?”

Hearing her name without having to tell him who it was, it was like a huge weight lifted from her shoulders. She stopped pacing, free hand coming up to rest over her heart as she took a deep breath, exhaling fully as her husband - wonderful, genius, amazing husband - rattled off questions at her.

"I'm at my house — well, not my house, but you know what I mean." Sue looked up at the building, so different from what she was used to but nice all the same. "I'm alright, other than not knowing what's going on. Oh, and my powers aren't working. Are yours? Where are you? You're okay? God, I'm so glad I found you."

Power loss, another data point, but one Reed hardly had time to add to his mental note before rushing to confirm, "Full ability regression. When I woke up, I couldn't feel you there, I was...” he trailed off rather than admit to the worry in the back of his mind, persistent no matter how he tried to ignore it. After a lifetime of adventures, he knew Sue was more than capable, but the fear never left him.

"I'm fine, uninjured, and just as confused as you are. But, if you want a laugh, I’m in a laboratory of some kind, medical." Leave it to Reed to always find a way towards science, not that much seemed funny right now, but waking up this morning on a couch in a lab break room had an irony to it. "Can you tell anything else? City? Country?" With any luck reuniting wouldn't take a road trip or a plane ride, but they'd seen worse.

Sue made a quiet sound of acknowledgement. Waking up alone in a body that wasn't hers, not knowing what was happening, where her family was, there had been a definite panic — and then a quick switch into trying to figure shit out, because panic didn't help anyone. And Reed was in a lab, because of course he was. It was good to know some things would always be true, and that they had a place to gather and try to figure things out.

"City, San Francisco." She'd pulled the address off some mail, searched it to pinpoint where she was exactly. "West Oakland, precisely. I have a car, I can come to you. Where are you? If you say New York or anywhere on the east coast, I'll book a flight."

New York would have been a blessing, something familiar in a maddening situation. "Assuming there's still a New York in this world,” Reed said reasonably. Everything was an unknown until proven otherwise. Thankfully, before that train of thought could go any further, Reed realized he was staring out the window at the Golden Gate bridge in the distance. "I'm not far,” he added. "Downtown — maybe 30 minutes. I'll send you the exact address."

"I'll see what else I can figure out while you're on your way," he added, springing into leadership mode, even if half their ranks were location unknown. “Be safe, and get here soon.”

Well thank god for small favors. Sue made her way inside to get dressed properly, find the car keys, double check everything in case she was forgetting something before heading out to the address he'd texted. It felt like the longest drive, every light turning red, traffic getting in her way. It was irritating and seemed purposeful even though she rationally knew it wasn't. She made it as quickly as she could, letting herself into the building and following the directory to find her way to Reed's lab.

And even seeing the back of him, the familiar posture of him standing over a table and working on something in front of him, made her breathe easier. Even though she knew when he turned around it would be a different face than she was used to. That didn't matter. "Reed?"

The thirty minutes felt like far longer and for once Reed knew it wasn't a symptom of their alternate reality. He almost wished she'd stayed on the phone with new on her way downtown even if Reed knew that was hardly efficient. The lack of answers was weighing on him. Typically Reed loved a puzzle to solve, found exciting intellectual possibilities in the unlikeliest of situations, but this didn't feel like an innovation — just dead ends. Still, Reed buried himself in the research he'd promised Sue, tinkering on one of the lab computers to see if he could get a hint at any ruptures in the time/space continuum in the last 24 hours. What he wouldn't give for a spectrometer.

It was the voice behind him that pulled him back out of his work, almost like old times. When he turned, it was the woman from his phone, the voice on the call, a face he could almost recognize even as he knew it wasn't his wife. If he lingered on it too long he could see the resemblance like looking through a kaleidoscope but Reed didn't take the time, striding to where she had entered and asking, "Sue, is that you? Do we need the identity protocols?" His gut instinct was telling him it was really her, the real her, but in a line of work like theirs, inventing a way to confirm it had gotten them out of a few sticky situations in the past.

Identity protocols, right. Because there was so much that could be wrong, more than was evident on the surface. At that moment, Sue didn't care. She really didn't. That brief second on the phone when she thought maybe there was a whole country between them, that it'd take hours to get to where he was, it'd been so unsettling that being face to face with Reed, this Reed who was still hers underneath it all, was such a relief. Much like Johnny, she could see the man she knew beyond the unfamiliar face. She hadn't even considered identity protocols with her brother, and she didn't feel the need right then either.

"Screw identity protocols." She stepped closer, cupping his face in her hands, fingers tracing along his jawline as she leaned up to kiss him. That was confirmation enough for her.

With his eyes shut into her kiss and hands where they settled on her waist as she'd stepped close, Reed had to agree - identity protocols were no match for the way he just knew in his heart it was her. Paradoxically, that was exactly the proof he was looking for, Sue had always been the one to show him that faith could go so much further than fact. "I'm so glad you're here," he confessed, knowing she would hear both the emotion and the practicality in the statement and appreciate them both. "I need your help."

"We need to start ruling out some possibilities about what's going on here, but I don't know where to start. What do you remember? Have you heard from Johnny or Ben? We need as much data as we can get.” Starting with a team roll call, but apparently nothing from their home world had come through. Reed's mind was racing once again and the work seemed insurmountable.

Sue's hand slid to the back of his neck, fingers threading into the hair at the nape of it. She felt so much more secure being able to physically touch him, prove he was there — much like how Johnny had poked her earlier, proving to himself she was real. His hands on her waist were as familiar as they were strange. It was much easier to ignore the strange part of it when she could see so much she recognized in the man in front of her.

"I'm here, we can do this." She gave him another quick kiss, because she could but mostly because she needed to. "I don't remember anything strange happening before I woke up this morning. Johnny's at the house." She pulled her phone out of her pocket and flipped through the pictures, pulling up a picture of him to show Reed. "No word from Ben on my end."

Reed had underestimated now stressed he was feeling before, apparent to him only now as Sue’s fingers through his hair had his breathing settling almost before he realized it was elevated. He would have wrapped his arms twice around her if his powers remained, and if there wasn't so much to do. Johnny was found but not Ben. Too many possibilities there to consider except to hope that either he got in touch soon or he was back home working the problem from the other side. It never felt good to be a family divided, but hopefully there was an advantage in it.

The photo of Johnny though, again there was that deja vu feeling. "I know that man," Reed murmured with realization. “I mean, I somehow know that's our Johnny, but that photo...” Quickly he thumbed through the contacts on the phone he'd woken up with and revealed the same young man. "We're connected."

There was a relief that came with knowing they were all connected still. Maybe Ben was hidden in the contacts of their phones as well, just not found yet. They were all still in each other's lives, whatever this alternate place was. Sue let out a breath as she glanced from his phone back up to meet his eyes. "So we all still know each other. It's a start."

She pulled back slowly, not wanting to but knowing there were more important things than the comfort that came from settling in his arms and staying put. "What have you figured out so far?" Her arms folded across her stomach as she moved forward toward the computers where he'd been working. "Have you eaten yet today?"

If he could just unfocus his eyes in the right way, for a second Reed was certain he would slip through the veil and be back in his own lab, with Sue as usual inquiring about his research. But when he stroked a hand thoughtfully over his beard to begun answering her, it was another reminder that his body and his life wasn't his own.

"So far I was just setting up an algorithm to search local news for anything that is a known symptom of multiverse distress, but no hits yet." He trailed her to the terminal showing his work in a few keystrokes. "Then I was going to investigate the equipment storage to see what I might be able to put together to read some ambient radiation myself.” Sheepishly, he added, “Meals hadn't really factored into my strategy yet."

Her gaze skimmed over the screens, taking in what he'd been working on. She hadn't been able to do much from the house with only a laptop at her disposal, but Reed was always going to be the one better at this part of things, no matter the technology available. "I searched the news, forums, standard internet places for any kind of buzz but nothing came up out of the ordinary. Thought maybe if there'd been something noticeable someone might be talking, but I guess not."

Slipping the phone out of her pocket, she unlocked it and scrolled through the apps. "I figured you hadn't. I'll order something." While she was sure her brain would provide, as it had done already for passwords, pins, any details she needed to know, she was grateful all the important stuff like payment information was saved already. One less thing to worry about.

His wife was a different kind of brilliant mind, with a different approach to problem solving, and as he watched her take action with the phone in her hand, a not-unfamiliar appreciation for her came over him. Genius as he considered himself, Reed needed his team, his family. Finding Ben had to be a top priority if they were going to figure this out.

"These phones, the muscle memory, all that background knowledge," Reed observed, noting the ease with which Sue used the foreign device and reflecting on how intuitively he'd operated the computer as well, "I can't explain that, but it's the biggest advantage we have so far." He dragged a hand down his face again, a habitual gesture when faced with a problem he couldn't yet figure out. "I'm sensing there's nothing to do yet but keep our eyes open." The waiting game — one he usually dreaded.

Sue had been about to pocket the phone again but looked down at it instead, thumb running over the lock screen. It was strange, how much had been retained somehow. So much she didn't have to think about, simply instinctively knew. It was a huge advantage considering the extra level of difficulty that would have been placed on them without it. There were bigger things to worry about than not being able to unlock phones, use computers. Better to focus their time, energy, brain power on that.

"And we will." She reached for his hand, giving it a squeeze. "We have each other, that's an advantage too. Even without powers, we can handle whatever this is."

"You are my greatest superpower," Reed agreed, squeezing her hand in response. It had been so long since he'd gone through anything truly alone, he almost wasn't sure if he could function without the family around him in one capacity or another. Hypotheticals weren't worth the effort of focusing on now, however, especially when they seemed so harrowing to consider, so he redirected himself.

"Tell me about driving down here. Did you notice anything?" He focused again on the San Francisco skyline outside the laboratory's pane glass windows. "This world seems so similar to our own, I'm almost waiting for the other shoe to drop."

His comment made her smile, fingers lacing with his as she kept hold of his hand. It was cheesy but sweet, and she knew he meant it in the least cheesy, most genuine way possible. Sue knew what he meant, too. They were such a team - the two of them, and the four of them - that trying to deal with anything like this individually was hard to wrap one's mind around. It's why she'd felt relief to find her brother in the house with her that morning, and such huge relief to find Reed.

"You mean other than feeling like the world was trying to keep me from getting here?" She laughed lightly, shaking her head. "Not actually, just traffic getting in my way. It seems normal. Not overly normal, like it's compensating for anything, but simply... normal. Like you said, so similar to our own. Nothing has stood out to me as different apart from the obvious."

Against the impulse to start pacing again, Reed heaved a sigh. "Normal," he agreed. "What do they say? Almost too normal." Like a cornball sci-fi movie. That could easily be the MO of several known threats, but Reed would have expected the sinking horror to commence far earlier. It was all strange, but no perceivable threats thus far.

"It's too fleshed out, too real to be a simulation unless it's a highly advanced one. What's really beginning to worry me — if this world is as complex and populated as it seems, whose lives have we taken over?" Another Reed with his own research and his own laboratory, maybe even his own family out there. It was lucky that the first person to light up his phone was Sue, but there was no telling who the next person would be. "And if our minds are here, where are theirs?"

Sue could practically feel the gears in his head start up again, not that they'd ever fully stopped. He wouldn't be Reed if that genius brain of his wasn't working overtime to try and solve the puzzle. And there had to be a solution, had to be. They couldn't wake up in new bodies, a new place, no powers, for absolutely no reason. Someone or something was behind it, there was bound to be a reason, and if anyone could figure out what was happening behind the scenes, it was her husband. He didn't need superpowers for that.

"Believe me, I'm already concerned about that. Stella," Sue let out a slow exhale, gesturing to herself, "Is a medical doctor and I'm worried her being... gone is going to be bad for people. I may know a lot of things, but obstetrics and gynecology are not among them. Do you think maybe it could be a swap, and now their minds are in our bodies?"

"I'm absolutely concerned about that," he agreed with a nod, "The possibility of civilians with our abilities with no warning or training has too many possible negative outcomes, small and large scale. It was bad enough when we went through it." Reed had always believed that their powers came to them because himself, Sue, Johnny, Ben? They were the only people who would have been able to handle them, both physically and emotionally. Hell, they'd been trained astronauts, and still had suffered during the transition.

But there was the other side to consider as well. "Not to mention, no one here knows that their Reed and Stella aren't who they appear to be." Echoing Sue's gesture, Reed waved at himself, a body and face that wasn't his own. "Forget about the medical knowledge for a second," because Reed had already assumed his wife was more than capable of at least mastering the basics if she had to, "Could you pass as Stella to her friends and family? We're not an undercover team." At least not if they could avoid it.

Rubbing her hand over her forehead, Sue sighed as she pushed it back through her hair, raking it away from her face. It had been difficult for them, nearly impossible looking back. Each one of them had their own concerns and trials with their powers, and the thought of some kid - because that's what Johnny looked like now, a kid - suddenly having Johnny's powers at his fingertips was terrifying. The damage he could cause without meaning to, without knowing how to control it, was terrifying.

"I highly doubt it," she said dryly, shaking her head. "I don't even know who they would be, other than John—Liam, we figured out is her brother. And we can't just hide out and hope for things to switch back, we have no idea when that might happen or how. If we're stuck here, stuck in these bodies, we have to figure out how to manage it without drawing attention."

Stuck. Able as Reed's mind was, it wasn't until Sue said the word that the possibility even occurred to him. It was his Achilles heel, the way his own ego refused to believe there was a problem he couldn't solve, but facing down the total lack of clues now, Reed practically gulped around the strong likelihood that Sue was right. "It's just temporary," he said, unsure if he was reassuring her or himself, "We will figure this out. Right now, we triage."

Again watching Sue's familiar gestures in a new body was disorienting, and Reed decided to lean into that, pulling out his phone again and letting habit take over to enter a passcode, open the messages. "Lets start here. Johnny is Liam, Stella's brother. Who is she to Reed?" The contact thread under her name was bare of any details, just a few brief exchanges that scrolled up quickly into a first sent message Really great meeting you. Lets connect again.

There was that Reed Richards spirit. Nothing unsolvable, everything possible, all it would take was an unknown amount of hard work, science, and maybe inventing a thing or two. It made Sue smile a brief moment before she joined his efforts, pulling out her phone and starting to dig deeper than the cursory surface glance she'd given everything earlier. "Fortunate for us, Stella appears to be Type A."

As detailed as the planner she'd found at the house was, the same could be said for the calendar in the phone, the information under people's contacts, everything. Unfortunately under Reed's it simply had his professional information, hardly a help. She went back to the calendar, scrolling through the days until a familiar address caught her eye. "Wait, that... Stella has Liam's work schedule, he works here."

He leaned over his wife's shoulder looking at her phone. "That's convenient," he noted with some satisfaction, "We'll be able to keep operating as a unit without any suspicion from others." How interesting — certainly these people weren't as close as the Fantastic Four (although truly, who could be), but some of their relationships appeared to be echoed across the multiverse divide. Perhaps that was a reason for the transference, Reed hypothosized mentally, a resonance of some kind. It would certainly fit the pattern of colliding universes. "We should cross-reference the contacts lists," he suggested, "See if any other patterns emerge."

Moving back to the computer terminal he'd started from, Reed added the results of his own digging, "It's a technology company. Medical devices, innovation at the cellular level. Some of it is quite interesting. But, I can repurpose some of the client tracking software to run through these devices and output a network of social connections, save us a little time there." He was already typing, but spared a glance over at his wife. "Not our first bodyswap, I know, but I never get used to seeing a you that's not you."

"If the three of us are connected like that then Ben has to be here somewhere." Sue held her hand out as soon as he mentioned cross checking the contacts, figuring she could do a cursory check while he came up with an algorithm or something of the like to dig deeper.

She gave a hum of acknowledgement at his plan, gaze flickering back and forth between the phones as she scrolled through the contacts. Between phone numbers, social media, underlying metadata, they'd find any connection there was able to be found. She glanced over at him at his comment, raising an eyebrow. "I know, it's strange. Definitely not something to get used to, no matter how many times it happens. I've got no complaints," she added, sending a wink his way.

Her reassurance about Ben comforted him, part of their usual partnership, trading comfort and promises until every problem was solved, but it was Sue's wink that had him laughing and rolling his eyes playfully back at her. After all the years of their relationship and no matter all the pressure of their situation she could always make him feel for an instant like the stressed grad student setting eyes on her for the first time. "Stop flirting with me," Reed deadpanned, with a smile at the edges of his mouth, "I'm a married man."

"Actually,” he added, "the Reed that owns this body proper went to sleep on the lab couch last night, not a lot of family there. Of all the things I don't miss.” Reed was of course no stranger to the late nights working, but his family rarely let him spend that much time in his laboratory alone. If they weren't checking on him they were working alongside him, supporting him.

Sue laughed lightly, shaking her head. "I'm sure she won't mind." Honestly, the body Reed was inhabiting was quite handsome, as she was sure he would agree who she currently was wasn't anything to sneeze at. It was always an adjustment to experience her husband's mind and mannerisms coming from a different form than reality, but to her it didn't matter what he looked like. Physical features were only part of what attracted her to him, but his intellect and personality had always drawn her in the most.

"Well that won't happen tonight," she added, both phones held in one hand as she stepped over to run her hand over his back, up to rub his neck gently. "I've got a whole house — minus a room for Johnny. No more couches for you."

This time Reed was happy to let Sue's touch on his neck be a distraction, willingly turning away from the desktop to face her. "Always saving me from myself,” he remarked, both a laughing exaggeration and a real statement of appreciation. She was, as usual, exactly right — they had braved many worse situations without each other or without a bed to sleep in. Sue had always made Reed feel like anything was possible, but even better for a scientist like himself, she proved it too.

Still, it would be a huge comfort to sleep next to her at night, a semblance of normalcy in a strange situation. "Something tells me this univese's Reed hasn't had the pleasure of that,” Reed said, thinking of that vacant message window, “So let me accept on both our parts."

They both had their strengths, and Sue was happy if hers was to draw Reed away from his nonstop mind, get him to still for even a few minutes. She adored how smart he was, how intent he was at learning the answers to any questions that popped into his head, but never wanted that drive to exhaust him. A tired night was one thing, but exhaustion was another. Unnecessary. Her fingertips traced up into the hair at the nape of his neck, curling it around her fingers as he spoke.

"Okay, sweetheart." She leaned up and pressed a kiss to his cheek. "We'll see what we can figure out here then head home." Her phone drew her attention with a buzz and she glanced down briefly before patting him on the chest. "Let me go get your food downstairs, then we can start for real."

There was, as always, work to do and problems to solve, but just as Sue was always able to pull him out of his head for a moment or two, so too did Reed take a beat to watch her head for the elevator. It was too simplistic to say that she took care of him. Sue certainly did that, but she also challenged him, corrected him, encouraged him. If he was braving a strange world, not for the first or the last time, finding his wife (or rather, being found by her) so soon was what would make figuring it all out possible. He almost wanted to go after her, tell her that, but of course, she knew it all already.

So instead he returned to the task at hand, working through the evidence to find the truth that existed just behind it. If anyone could figure this out, it was them.