Reality

Exploration

Cough cough. I stare in horror at the floor where my excretions land. Still, after all this time, my insides are all screwed up. Excess blood dribbles down my chin, staining my already bloody costume. Maybe Doom plans on finishing the DNA transplants today. One can hope. Then Doom walks in carrying a tray holding a needle and the powerful drugs they use to cloud my mind so I can't concentrate, dashing my hopes. If I cannot concentrate, I can't use my powers, which means I can't plan an escape. Doom seems to move in slo-mo, filling the needle with the drugs and wiping a spot blood-free on my arm. With the powerful drugs in my body, there is nothing left to do but think. Think and remember times when Doctor Doom had no interest in me. Think back to a time where my biggest problem was what experiment Reed was going to make me be the guinea pig of. I remember…

Life as I know it began when I was left on the Storm's doorstep as a young child, too young to remember much. Little Susan opened the door and found a terrified child on the doorstep. The Storm family unofficially adopted me. As I grew older I attached myself to Johnny. I have no clue why. When I had temper tantrums he calmed me down, and when I was sick, he took care of me. He became more of a father than the man who was supposed to be. He loved me and would do anything for me. Sue was the perfect sister, the person that would listen to my venting about disagreements with teachers and so-called "friends" teasing me about stuff. Even Reed is considered part of the family, though his and Sue's wedding is planned for late June.

When Dad was sent to prison under the false accusations of murdering a man, Sue was the one to take care of Johnny and I the best she could. When Sue won a scholarship to a prodigious college, Johnny found a job and let me go to my choice of a school in the area. Being the kid I was, I picked the one I thought looked the prettiest, so we moved from our modest home in Brooklyn to a rented apartment and made the proper arrangements. As a five-year-old, the whole prospect of moving was terribly exciting.

Sue met her future husband Reed Richards in college. The two nerds graduated early with honors. Sue and Reed found high-paying jobs as scientists soon after. Reed was hired to take a ship out to space to fix a satellite orbiting Mars. Sue convinced him to bring me along, knowing that Johnny wouldn't go if I was left behind, and he was needed as a pilot. Besides, where would I stay? We had no living relatives to look after me or anybody willing to look after a nine-year-old girl. Even if Reed disapproved, I still would have had to tag along. A few weeks before the end of fourth grade, my life truly began. Though now I tend to think of it as a deceiving hellhole, making it sound like tons of fun with lots of publicity and glamor. I was so wrong.

The journey started out with everything working perfectly. Thrilled with the whole adventure, I waltzed around the ship admiring the sheer awesomeness of being in space. It would make the perfect topic for the writing exams we had to take the year after. A few days in, Reed detected an anomaly somewhere close by. The anomaly turned out to be a cosmic storm, something almost completely unheard of. Unable to turn back, the steamy orange clouds hit us at full force. The storm carried us back to Earth and spit us out, rendering us unconscious for days before we were found.

I woke up in a strange room, nothing at all like the room I shared with Johnny in our apartment. Many tubes poked out of my skin and lead to heart monitors and other high-tech machinery. I felt surprised that Johnny wasn't there watching over me. My whole life, whenever I had to stay in bed, Johnny stayed with me. Since our beds were in the same room in the apartment, he would just talk with me until I fell asleep. The absence of my overprotective brother made the situation weird right from the start. Right away I could tell something was off. Yanking the tubes out of me, I stumbled out of the room trying to find Sue, the only person who has any idea what's going on involving us. She would know why we were in a medical center in God-knew-where. I found my family talking with a tall African-American man and an official-looking woman, both in military uniforms. Reed and Sue were wearing fancy clothing while Johnny wore nothing but a pair of sweats.

"-abnormal abilities, abilities none of us could have on our own. Sue can… invisible, Johnny can burst into …, and I can extend… what the laws of physics say are humanly…" Reed was saying.

I decided this conversation was worthy of my attention and snuck inside the room, making everything far easier to hear. They were too absorbed in their discussion to notice me standing in the doorway. Johnny looked unusually red and Reed had stress marks around his eyes. Sue just stared intently at the odd duo. Now it was the African's turn to speak. "What about the girl?"

"You mean Nikki? She hasn't come out of unconsciousness yet, Colonel. She's very young, so her body is probably having an extremely difficult time trying to rework itself," Sue explained.

I just had to clank my hand against the metal wall, drawing attention to myself. Giving up on staying unnoticed, I walked over to them. "What about me?" I wondered. "Who're you? What're you guys talking about? And why do you look so freaked out?"

"Weird stuff's been happening. I've discovered natural Jacuzzis," Johnny explained, answering only some of my questions. He demonstrated by snapping his fingers, creating a small candle flame.

I stared at the tiny flame in fascination. "You have powers? Cool!" I shrieked in excitement. I was super excited to learn that he could be someone from my favorite comic book series. Now that was something to brag about. How many people could claim their brother had superpowers? Not only that, but Sue's head turned invisible for a minute. Not just my brother, but my sister too? That definitely deserved bragging rights.

"Correction, Nikki. We already displayed abnormalities. You haven't," Reed said.

"He means we know we can do special things because we've already proven we can. You just woke up, so for all we know the storm didn't change you at all." Johnny changed Reed's explanation to words in my rather small vocabulary.

"Oh," I mumbled, my excitement draining away. Now my family had powers and I didn't. Typical. When I started combing my fingers through my hair to pull my bangs back, a nervous habit, my audience gasped.

"Nikki, do that again," Johnny whispered. He looked shocked for some reason.

"Do what?" I asked. All I did was pull my fingers through my close-cropped chocolate brown hair. I reached up towards my head but instead of feeling my hair, I felt nothing but air. How could I feel nothing but still have something running over my scalp? "Wow," I muttered when I let my hand fall. What felt like air turned out to be a shimmering pale pink hairbrush. It flickered a time or two, then disappeared completely. During the few seconds the brush existed, my energy started draining away, like I just played tag without stopping for breath in gym.

Reed stared curiously at the spot the brush disappeared from. "I imagine she just displayed her abilities," he told the Colonel.

o8o

Over the next few days, we were forced to stay at the rehab center to make sure nothing was wrong on the inside. Even though Sue told me not to, I practiced using my powers when nobody was around. No matter how hard I tried, I could not make an object bigger than a teapot and even then, only when I was feeling angry. I also discovered a limitation: my powers wouldn't work unless I sketched the object in the air. Call it weird or a product of my personality. Still, it was insanely cool. When we were discharged, Reed offered us a place to stay in a building he received from his boss. He tried to sound official by pretending to want to have tests taken, but I saw through his facade. He loved Sue and figured he should treat her family as such.

"So this is our new home," I said. "This is tons better than our old one." By old home, I meant the apartment. It became kind of crowded during the colder months, when I could not go outside. My eyes feasted on the various things that I had no idea what they were but still seemed important. I followed Reed into the elevator. The elevator dinged when we reached our destination, the 25 floor. Reed led us to a separate wing of the floor and pointed out several rooms.

"Take your pick," he told us. He gestured to the rooms.

I ran into what I deemed the largest. "Dibs on this one!" It was already furnished with a double bed, coffee table, coach, TV, and desk set.

"Who says you get the biggest room?" Johnny asked, laughing. He ruffled my hair playfully.

I broke free of Johnny's grasp and flopped on the bed. A poster here, a painting there, and the room would be the Nikki-Cave. I wanted to start decorating right away, but I figured Reed wanted to start the tests before he got distracted by world hunger or whatever. I was proven correct barely an hour later. I had been doodling on a piece of paper when Johnny's head peaked around the closed door.

"Nikki, Reed needs us," he informed me. He led me to the lab, a huge area taking up almost an entire floor.

"Someone's feeling mad sciencey," I commented when Reed came out of his office wearing a stained lab coat.

We followed him to a lab station as he said, "Not a mad scientist, just a curious man testing your new abilities."

"You know that was a joke, right?" I asked him as he began his extensive run-throughs.

Reed began by locking Johnny in a fireproof metal box. At his command, Johnny burst into flame. When he would not stop burning despite our warnings, Reed's built in fire extinguishers kicked in and sprayed Johnny with white foam. Johnny has always been one to do whatever he wants, not caring about the consequences. I couldn't keep myself from laughing my head off. He looked ridiculous. I whipped out my iPod and began snapping pictures. Definitely Internet material.

Next he examined Sue, ordering her to turn invisible. He studied her molecules, trying to determine just how powerful she was and how her powers worked. He also made her try to project her invisibility, which did not turn out well. She ended up accidently slamming us through a table and into a wall. None of us expected her to have so little control. As always, we paid for our mistake the hard way. Why it always has to end in pain, I have no idea. It just does.

I was tested last. Reed was worried most about me because I was so young and my body could suddenly fail me at any time. My heart might unexpectedly stop beating or my brain might stop issuing commands. Towards the end I attempted making more objects with my powers, but all the previous tests prevented me from doing so. I actually fell asleep in a chair while waiting for orders. Johnny must have found that pretty funny, because I woke up to him laughing. Sue and Reed were trying to contain their giggles as well. I should have figured karma would happen. It always does, especially with my luck.

o8o

A groan escaped my lips as I sank into my cozy bed a week later after a day of Reed finding out what makes me tick. Reed found my powers the most interesting, so he did more tests on me than everybody else. I could barely hold objects for ten seconds without feeling drained, so Reed made me strain myself by making them last longer. So far Reed only figured out what I was doing. I thought I was actually creating light, but he discovered I made the atoms in the air burst, making it look like sparkling light. My power is to control those atoms, bringing them to life through drawings. According to Reed I have the potential to do much more than simple light fixtures. He thinks I can mess with atoms that make up objects just by sketching more detailed images. Johnny said that meant I could make things explode or manipulate them. From a science point of view, I could understand why Reed was mostly interested in me, but from mine, it bored me to death. Seemingly endless tests were not my idea of fun, even with Johnny trying to make it bearable. Not even spinney chairs, an endless source of entertainment, could help.

I thought I was exhausted, but I imagined how Sue would feel in the morning. She opted to stay up late working on a surprise. The next morning Sue told me I would be going back to school as soon as I could keep my powers under control, but that plan quickly failed. We were riding in a cab crossing the Brooklyn Bridge when traffic suddenly stopped. Reed had to talk with Victor von Doom, the one other man who received magnetic powers on our ill-fated space flight. Creepy name for a creepy dude.

"Come on, come on, I'm on a schedule," the man up front muttered to the windshield.

Screams erupted before the man could continue complaining. A fire truck had been hit by another car and slid halfway off the side of the bridge. The car that had hit the truck swerved out of control and hit even more cars, causing the traffic jam. Somehow a fire started and threatened to blow up the vehicles nearby. The scene caused us to pause as the driver almost drove the taxi off the bridge while trying to avoid a car that suddenly became immobile.

"Reed, here's the real-life situation you've been waiting for," Sue said. She pushed Reed out of the seat and yanked Johnny out in one swift motion. "Nikki, are you coming or not?"

"Heck yeah!" I exclaimed, climbing out of the car and rushing to the downed truck. I stopped so I could observe what vehicle needed help the most.

"Johnny, try to stop the fires!" Reed shouted, taking control of the situation. "Sue, assist the bystanders! Nikki, help me lift this truck back on the road!"

Sue and Johnny hurriedly began their jobs. I ran to Reed, anxious to help the fire fighters stranded in the truck. "I know what to do!" I called. He stretched out to rescue the firemen holding on for their lives from the back of the truck. I drew a wall to push against the automobile. I made the glittering wall pull back towards me by adding ropes tied to beams above the bridge. I started to sweat with the effort, but I held it in place. Reed saved the last fire fighter and gently set him down on the bridge. The truck that had almost fallen a second ago now rested safely on the pavement.

"Now, even I have to admit that was phenomenal," Reed laughed. He looked just as exhausted as I felt.

"Nikki!" Johnny cried. He ran over and grasped me in a tight hug. "How does it feel to save your first life?"

"Awesome," I answered, beaming. Before we could move, the police that had arrived to help pulled out their guns. Some of the crowd tried to convince them we were heroes, but they took aim and fired. I was terrified a bullet would end our career before it could begin, but Sue created a force field that prevented the bullets from hitting us. We sprinted to the end of the bridge and hid behind a car. I couldn't catch my breath. Then Johnny said it was safe to leave and hotwired a car. When we arrived at the Baxter Building, our home, the media covered almost the entire street. A large white tent was set up near the door. We fought our way through the crowd to the tent. It was so crowded we could barely open the car doors. Chairs, tables, and televisions were set up inside the tent. Colonel Williams stood outside, waiting for us to arrive.

"Richards, you need to see this," he barked at Reed as a greeting.

We followed him to a TV, where our rescue was being showed on the news. They must have been showing it live and were replaying it. The camera switched from Sue escorting civilians, Johnny protecting a little girl from a fiery death, and the fire truck incident. When the broadcast finished, Colonel Williams switched off the TV and glared angrily at us.

"I won't pretend to understand what happened to you, Richards, but-"

Johnny walked outside before he could continue scolding us. He started answering some of the reporter's questions. He also loves publicity as much as he loves girls, which is saying a lot. Every other weekend he brought a girl home with him. I'm willing to bet by the time I'm 20 I'll have hundreds, if not thousands, of nieces and nephews running around New York.

"What might your codename be?"

"The Human Torch, but the ladies can call me Torch," he smiled into the microphone. Figures he wanted to appeal to the female part of the population.

"What about your seeming leader, the world-known scientist Reed Richards?"

"Mr. Fantastic, or my personal favorite, Stretcho."

"And what about the two others?"

"The blond is pretty obvious. The Invisible Girl. The brunette is… hmm, I don't know. She could be a lot of things."

By then, I stormed out of the tent and pushed Johnny out of the way. "FYI, its Invisible Woman, not Girl! And my name is Reality!" I screamed in the reporter's face. Johnny followed me inside the building when I finished. Or rather, I dragged him in by force. Only when we entered the elevator did I release my tight grip on his forearm.

"What were you thinking?" Sue spat out when the doors closed.

"Hey, this has the potential to be insanely cool. Might as well take advantage of it," he defended himself. They argued the whole ride up. When we stepped out of the elevator, I had had enough.

"Johnny, you know we're mad, so admit you did something wrong. Sue, let it go. Fighting doesn't help us, especially if we have to stay inside for a while. If you don't mind, I'm going to my room." I stomped into my living space and shut the door. Exhausted, I fell asleep at my desk.

Sue interrupted my doing nothing to tell me I would be going back to school the next day. "Your education is just as important as heroics," she reminded me, seemingly recovered from the argument.

Johnny woke me up early the following morning to give me enough time for a shower and breakfast. He wanted to drive me to school in replacement of a bus. Luckily for him the Baxter Building is only a twenty-minute drive from the school. He dropped me off in front of the building, waving goodbye as I opened the front door. I hurried down to the first floor where my locker and first class were located. I arrived a bit late so the hallway was empty. I grabbed the things I needed from my over-decorated locker and entered the room. When I did, my classmates broke into applause. "Why are you clapping?" I asked. They could not be that happy to see me return. The space trip coupled with the hospital stay and test taking barely lasted a month and a half. Plus I was never popular to start with.

"You're a celebrity." One of my two best friends, Mandy, pointed at the 50 inch television screen.

I stared in disbelief at the screen. The local news channel was on and displaying footage from our rescue yesterday again.

When the recording was almost finished, I heard the reporter saying, "-and the group dubbing themselves the Fantastic Four has become as popular as the Avengers almost overnight." She then began introducing our codenames while our pictures flashed across the screen. "The Human Torch," Johnny's photo appeared, "Mr. Fantastic," then came Reed's, "The Invisible Woman," Sue's came next, "Reality," my photo was shown last. "They might be the start of a new generation of heroes."

My teacher turned off the TV before the story was completed. "You have a lot of work to make up, Miss Storm," she informed me.

I hurried to my seat and found a pencil, ready to work. I rushed through my reading comprehension packet, my Periodic Table of the Elements quiz, and my math problems. Thankfully since it was nearing the end of the year there was not much work to make up. All I wanted was to go home. At lunch and recess tons of my classmates clustered around me. Even some of the teachers listened in from a distance. They wanted to hear a first-hand account of what happened. By the time the office dismissed parent pick-ups at the end of the day, I was ready to strangle whoever leaked the name Fantastic Four to the press. All day people had been making fun of me, coming up with stupid nicknames. Regular names I could handle. Insults to a name I had spent hours coming up with went too far. Reed was the one to pick me up. Luckily he did not want to talk. I just listened to my music in the backseat. When he finally pulled up to the Baxter Building, I ran inside and bounded up the stairs. My family was in the kitchen doing various activities. Johnny's head came out from behind the refrigerator door, my arrival interrupting his food raid.

"Hey, Nikki. Did your friends recognize you?" he teased.

"Yes, Mandy and Kati recognized me," I answered coldly. "Do you guys know someone came up with a name for us and told the media? On the news they called us the Fantastic Four."

"I'm not going to get angry now, but when I find out who did, I'll give him a piece of my mind." Sue glanced up from her paperwork and shot a look in Johnny's direction. She probably did not want to say some of the things she wanted to say in front of me. "You all have to approve your surprises," she continued. She went to another room and returned carrying a stack of blue material. She passed them out according to size. "Nikki, yours is the smallest one. Reed, Johnny, here's yours."

"Hey, at least it's catchy," Johnny commented on our new name as he left the kitchen.

We each went into separate rooms to change. I discovered the mound was a costume, composed of some new element. In the left corner a noticeable four was attached. I re-entered the kitchen and spun around, showing off every inch of my body. "What'd you think?"

"I personally think we all look fantastic," Reed offered, who had entered the building right before Sue passed out the uniforms. He seemed to direct his comment at Sue.

"Yeah, yeah, we know," Johnny said sarcastically.

"Let's test these babies," I suggested. I led the way to the elevator, pressing the button for the 31 floor; the floor I made into a training area. With Johnny's help we cleared out everything valuable so all that was left was obstacles. Reed was excited to test one of his many training programs we never knew he came up with. We fought for hours. After a quick pizza dinner, I said sleepily, "Good night, peoples." My first day back had been exhausting.

For the last couple weeks of the year I could hardly focus on my work and instead looked forward to several months of using my powers to help mankind. "Schooool's out for summer!" I sang out when I entered the building on the last day of school. The song was and still is a classic. Fourth grade ended sooner than expected, probably because I basically missed the last month of it. But hey, I'll take astronauts over teachers any day of the week.

"So that's why you've been excited all day," Reed joked. Living with Johnny and me softened him up a bit. My fun-loving personality and my brother's carefreeness started rubbing off on him a while ago. "Now that you're out of school, you can help me with some experiments I've had in mind. And before you say anything, they don't involve you."

"I don't think so. I have some things I would like to do right now. Maybe later," I informed him. I hurried away from Reed, heading towards my room. Luckily for me, everybody was too busy to watch the news. If they did, I would surely have been found out and punished. Sue did not want us going out as heroes alone if she could help it. When she puts her mind to something, and she catches you doing something against it, you're screwed. I changed into my jumpsuit, leaving my tank and shorts in a heap on the floor. Sneaking out of the house is no problem, if you know what window to use.

I jumped out the window and lowered myself gently to the sidewalk, landing next to a hot dog stand. Police sirens wailed in the distance. Their timing couldn't have been better. I followed them, floating above the city on an umbrella, Mary Poppins style. The crime was a simple one, a petty theft, nothing too difficult. I went home an hour later, a stop at an ice cream parlor slowing me down. Luckily I snuck along a few dollars for a cone. Hey, who can resist ice cream on a hot summer day?

The rest of the summer melted together. I started fifth grade like any other kid. On the first day Johnny surprised me with a new phone, the kind of phone I will never be able to completely figure out. My teachers let me keep it with me, but only if I promised to remind my family to call only if it was a real emergency. Random texts and prank calls cemented that. I promised and began my last year of elementary school.

o8o

In October, right after trick-or-treat night, Johnny bought plane tickets for us for some country in Africa. He chose Africa because it was someplace we had never been before, and we have been to a lot of places, especially with our new job. He called it a vacation, though it would last a single long weekend. Shortly after we arrived, we caught wind of a villain attacking some village nearby. Little did we know it was the sometimes heroic, sometimes villainous Death Angel. Death Angel is the slightly older sister of the hero Christmas Miracle. As a kid the Angel of Death possessed her. It never left and it only got worse the older she got. Talk about unlucky.

"We're the only ones around here," Johnny explained when I inquired the local hero's whereabouts.

"I thought Photon is supposed to be in Africa," I argued. The Avengers post a few reservists in the countries where few heroes live.

"You and I aren't in the position to question the Avengers," he responded. "We need to show this chic who's boss. Besides, no one can stop the most powerful heroes on the planet!"

"Thanks for the confidence. Let's go out there and kick some angel butt!"

Johnny drove as far as he dared. When we were a mile away, Johnny parked the car in an abandoned parking lot. He opened his door before he removed the keys from the ignition. He bent down and picked up my tall, lean frame as I closed the car door. Before I could ask what he was doing, he cried, "Flame on!" He burst into flame and flew high in the air at the sound of his battle cry. Instinctively I created a skintight protective dome around myself so I wouldn't be burned. Death Angel appeared soon after. "You attack from behind, I'll attack from the air," he instructed.

"Okey dokey," I joked. Johnny set me down far enough away so I wasn't noticed. Johnny flew off, leaving me on my own. I created darts and began lobbing them at Jessie. "Hey! Over here! You with the face!" I shouted, drawing her attention.

She glared at me, easily blocking my darts. "This pest shall be finished with quickly," she spat.

"This pest can defeat you way faster than you can say I can't," I shot back. I switched from darts to spears. She blocked them too, but she didn't expect Johnny to swoop down and blast her with fire.

"Quick! While she's distracted!" he called.

Heeding his advice, I recalled Thor's hammer and aimed for her stomach. If it works for Thor, it works for me. I moved my hand where I wanted the hammer to go. It hit her stomach square on. Death Angel was sent flying through the air. Instead of crashing into some random nearby building, she caught herself. She hovered in the air, her arms outstretched. The pale gold toga draped over her body flapped around in the wind.

"You dared anger the angel of death? Now you shall experience true pain!"

Gulp. "That doesn't sound good," I called out to Johnny, who was trying to get close enough to lob fireballs at her. He nodded, hearing my comment. That was all I saw of his reaction because Jessie used her powers to push us together, then sent us flying through the air. We crashed into a deserted log cabin hard. "Johnny?" I whispered. I groped for his hand, finding it a few inches away from mine.

"I'm right here," he whispered back before we both fell into unconsciousness.

I awoke to find Johnny still out cold. I tried to stand up, prepared to shake him awake. Trying hard not to pass out again, I shook him until he woke up.

"Huh? Why're you shakin' me?" he mumbled sleepily. The fight with Death Angel really took a lot out of us. His eyes slowly opened, then widened he noticed a close-up of my dirty face.

"It's okay. It's just me, Nikki." I tried to speak slowly while keeping my words clear. Way harder than it should have been.

He attempted to sit up, still dazed. "Nikki," he repeated.

My head pounded and my body ached. Now I know never to let that happen again, I thought. Superhero lesson number one: don't let yourself get thrown through buildings. "Yeah. Come on. You need to get up. We need to go home. Let's go."

Johnny let me help him up, then picked me up and flew us over the ocean. Every so often we stopped on a random ship for a break. Finally we made it back to America. Exhausted, I collapsed on a nearby bench. We had landed in an unfamiliar park far from home. Hopefully I wouldn't collapse in the middle of a street. I was in no shape for traveling long distances, considering I was literally put through a wall. Not like Johnny was any better. He could hardly stand on his own, much less fly us home. One day, my stubbornness will be the end of me, I sighed mentally. I knew we had to get home somehow, but I had no idea what to do. There was no way I would ask a stranger if I might borrow their cell. They most likely would have because of our status, but we weren't wearing our jumpsuits, just regular clothing. For all they knew, I was some crazy hobo. After some debate, I woke up Johnny and began the long trek back to the Baxter Building.

When we became too tired to walk, I found an abandoned building to rest. It reeked of rats and disintegrating food, but it would suffice. I carefully set Johnny down. I didn't realize that I should have been dead. I passed out as soon as my head hit the dusty floor. A decent rest later, I felt strong enough to use my powers as transportation. I drew the most basic of structure I could think of, a simple box with propellers large enough to hold the two of us. Using my powers in my weakened state drained me more than usual, but I made myself go on, glancing at Johnny's face whenever I felt discouraged. After days of exhausting travel in the same manner, home sweet home appeared. Thank God, home, I thought blissfully. I opened the door leading to the ground-floor lobby. Reed and Sue were standing in the center, discussing some trivial thing. When they noticed the newcomers they stopped talking and rushed over.

"Nikki, Johnny, you're back!" Sue cried. She rushed over to hug me, but she stopped when she noticed my grimace of pain and Johnny lagging behind. "What's wrong?"

"Well, long story short, Johnny and I were fighting Death Angel. She beat the crap out of us. Somehow we made it here. We hiked all the way here," I explained.

"Are you hurt? Wait, that was a stupid question. You're limping and bleeding." She reached out for my arm, probably aiming to help me walk.

I shrugged off her concern. "I don't need your help," I mumbled, sounding crueler than necessary. Days of constant pain made my normally small temper flare. I crumpled into her arms before she could walk away, proving that I did require assistance.

o8o

I woke up in less pain than when I fainted. My gaze flitted from posters of Dazzler [my favorite singer/superhero], the Black Eyed Peas [another favorite band], and James Cameron's Avatar [favorite movie] to Johnny's face. He sat in a chair next to my bed. His head lay next to my body, his eyes closed while snoring softly. Seeing his peacefully contented face brought some comfort. Already it felt somewhat normal. Memories from when I was little flashed through my brain. They showed a much younger Johnny sleeping on the floor next to my bed. I had had pneumonia and he insisted on being the one to take care of me. The memories fading away, I shifted my position slowly, in order for him to not wake up, but he did anyway.

"About time you woke up," he fake scolded me. He lifted his head from my bed and stood up.

"How long was I out?" I asked. It felt like weeks, but that could not be possible. Only if I thought as hard as I could I could faintly remember the dreadful ordeal.

"All together, a little more than a week."

"A week? How can that be?"

"Reed says you used most of your energy getting us here. It didn't help that we haven't eaten for a long time and Sue could only force some water down."

I couldn't believe I was out of it for a week. There went my social life. "Well, now that I'm awake, might as well be doing something." I tried to climb out of bed, even though I felt awful.

"Oh no you don't." Johnny prevented me from pulling back the covers. "You need to stay in bed. All you need to worry about is relaxing and eating something. Sue says if you go much longer without food you'll get sick."

"Fine, I'll stay in bed," I succumbed. I sank back into the pillows. Johnny left the room with the news of my awakening after re-covering me with my blankets, limping slightly. Shortly after he returned with Reed and Sue. Sue was carrying a tray filled with an assortment of breakfast foods.

"Nikki, you're awake! It feels like you've been unconscious forever. You need to eat all of this, not eating for over a week isn't good for you," Sue informed me.

"Later I need to test you to find out what happened. But for now, just worry about consuming this and resting," Reed told me.

They left the room when Reed finally managed to drag Sue away from my side. When they left, Johnny plopped down on the chair again to talk.

"You know, you remind me of Dad. He never wanted to lie around in bed when there was something better to do. You're the exact same way."

"Johnny, you amaze me sometimes," I said, my voice barely audible through a mouthful of food. Never before had I felt that hungry. I spoke the truth. Sometimes his connections really didn't make sense.

"I'm serious. You're adopted, but you look just like Mom. I remember staring at old pictures of her after you joined the family and realizing how much you look like her. If I didn't know you were adopted, I would think you are their true child. You're the perfect mix of the best parts of them."

"I change my mind. You don't amaze me, you scare me." I shoved the last forkful of eggs into my mouth and shoved the tray away. "Here, I'm done."

Johnny picked up the tray. "If you feel up to it, your teachers sent over some work for you to do. I'll bring it in."

I spent a few days trapped in bed, only allowed to watch TV, read, and do schoolwork. And, of course, draw. When Reed gave me a clean bill of health, I went back to school. I laughed, socialized, and partied with my classmates as the holidays grew closer. On the day before the start of Christmas break, I told Johnny I would take myself home so I could have some alone time. When we were dismissed I walked over to the track next to the middle school next door. I changed into sneakers, left my backpack on the bleachers, and began running laps. I became completely lost in thought, so I didn't notice the red, white, and blue garbed man leaning against the fence. When I ran past, he coughed to draw my attention. "Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't see you. Wait a minute, aren't you… Captain America?"

"Yes, I am," he answered. "I presume you are Nikki Storm, codename Reality?"

I just stood there staring, my mouth open wide enough to attract flies. Real intelligent, Nikki. "Yes?" I squeaked, my reply sounding like a question.

"Reality, the Avengers have been monitoring you for quite some time. We think you have great potential that is virtually untapped. Ever since your debut you have displayed great power. From what I hear, you also have a winning personality, making you the perfect candidate. We don't offer this chance to just anybody, so you should realize how unique you are."

"What are you saying?"

"What I'm trying to say is we want you to be an Avenger. You're that rare type of person that comes around once in a century. I hope you'll consider it?"

"Consider it? Why would I have to think about joining one of the most powerful and amazing teams in history? Of course I accept!"

"Great. You can come over to the mansion after Christmas. Don't worry about transportation; one of my teammates will pick you up before you have to return to school. Wasp will send you a message confirming the date and time. Welcome to the team, Reality."