The Proposal

Summary:
September 4, 2014: Reed Richards pops the question Susan Storm.

South Ozone Park

A quiet park in Queens, New York


Characters

NPCs


Mood Music: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kl8fsXuhFKU


The long collective enterprise of science has revealed the universe some 13.798 billion years old, give or take 37 billion years. The uncertainty of those 37 billion years has come about through variety of means, most notably the measurements of microwave background radiation, or the cooling time since the explosive birth of the universe, the Big Bang.

If you were to compress the local history of the universe into a single calendar year, then the universe would have begun on January 1st. It would not be until May that the Milky Way would form. Other planetary systems may have appeared in June, July, and August. But our Sun and Earth would not appear until the middle of September. Life would arise soon after.

Everything that humans have ever done occurred in the last three seconds. And so, when Reed Richards, once a child prodigy, then Mister Fantastic, and leader of the Fantastic Four, looks into Susan's eyes as they walk along a pathway in South Ozone Park, that they are made of stardust.

In those eyes, so beautiful and blue, he can see the fundamental forces of the universe, playing, giving it contours, shape, pigmentation, and above all, movement. And as he gazes, he thinks about the question he's been meaning to ask, the culmination of all the hard work performed by the forces of creation, but he doesn't.

No, the timing is not right. If the universe has waited more than 13 billion years for this moment, it can afford to wait a little while longer. Blushing, he turns his head, his gaze falling to a pond, "shall we feed the ducks?"

*

"Have we ever fed the ducks together?" a curious smile edges Susan's lips as she poses the question. The smile softens, "My mom," it softens more, "used to take us to the park to feed the ducks almost every week during the summer. Even after," she died, "I went for years."

While the universe ages another moment, the world continues to turn, and flecks of sapphire shine in Susan's bright eyes, the Invisible Woman's thoughts are fixated on something very different. This moment to be exact. Her hand reaches out to interlock fingers with Reed's, a simple act for a simple place. "I don't get out enough to just walk anymore." The strange stillness of the park that carries its own peace.

"New York is beautiful." She smiles. "Sometimes I forget how much."

*

Hazel eyes shift from forward to right, then to left, and then right again as Reed thinks, contemplating the question and several others. He never just thinks about one thing. His mind doesn't work that way. "I don't believe we have," he finally responds, a smile coming over his lips as he pulls out a plastic box that has a sandwich in it. As he removes the box, she may notice a hint of velet in there as well. Blue velvet. But he moves on to pull the top off the sandwich container, and holds it out to Sue's free hand, providing food for the ducks.

He listens to her story as he interlocks his fingers with hers, "we could, I mean, we should. And you're right, it is beautiful city." While most remember that she was born and raised in California, many forget that he is one too. He's spent so much time in New York, studying, working, adventuring, that sometimes it's easy to forget that he is a transplant.

*

The container is accepted with another curious cant of Sue's head. Her lips part, and her eyebrows draw together lightly. Her free fingers pluck at the sandwich, ripping off small chunks with light precision, and forming a little collection in the sandwich container. Each prepared piece is about the same as the last, and without being asked Susan explains, "So no one can say I'm unfair." Because fairness is clearly a huge concern in the duck world.

Finally, she tosses a few of the breadcrumbs towards the duck pond, prompting an easy grin. She inhales a deep breath and sidles a little closer to Reed, her eyes drifting from the pond to the skyline. And it's to the skyline she speaks, "The other day, when Johnny was eating Cheetos for breakfast," which may, indeed, be nearly every day, "when we were talking about blondes," of all things, "you said you were still collecting data. That maybe, even, a lifetime of data." Her head turns from the horizon back to Reed, and her blue eyes study him. It's more than a watchful gaze that Susan casts. There's an air of hesitation in her expression, but she's already drawn attention to what she wants to ask. "Did you mean it?"

*

Regarding the meticulous way she goes about preparing the bread, Reed can't help but allow a small smirk to form on his lips. Not having been to Duckworld or met any Duckworldians, he can't comment on fairness being a huge concern, but then she didn't say it verbally, he's just inferring it from her actions.

Reed's coat is warm to the touch, and the whole long of it brushes against Susan as she slides a little closer to him. "Yes, I remember the Cheetos breakfast. It was hardly a balanced diet, but, not entirely unexpected from Johnny." A crease forms in his brow when she starts talking about blondes, collecting data, and a lifetime of it. He can see where this is going.

How to play this? No, play is the wrong word. How to act? He closes his mouth, pulling his chin out, which makes small dimples in his cheeks to appear. He allows his bottom lip to lift up and envelop the top part, though this is a perfectly normal move, and is not aided by his powers. Then he finally lets out an honest, "Susan, you've known me long enough to know that under normal circumstances, I never say anything that I do not mean."

*

Those blue eyes fixate on each subtle change in Reed's expression. Apprehension around the question melts away as gentleness reflects in her eyes. She leans forward to very lightly brush her lips against his cheek. It's not quite the answer she was looking for, but his earnestness merits a response. Her lips twitch when she leans back to study him again, and mischief colours her expression, "So… that's a yes then?" Her head turns to look at the duck pond again, peeling her gaze away from him, to admire the ducks as they nab small pieces of bread. "I hope it's not just for science," the warmth in her tone reflects in her smile.

As she watches the ducks, she allows the conversation to return to her brother's breakfast choices: "It's going to catch up with him," the Cheetos breakfast, "probably. Assuming — " her nose wrinkles " — I doubt even radiation can keep a person svelte if they eat Cheetos for breakfast all the time." Her lips press together into a thin line.

*

"Yes," he states easily and unequivocally, "yes, it is a yes then, and no, it's not just for science. It's probably the single least 'about science' thing in my entire life." He gives her hand a gentle squeeze after she tosses some bread out to the ducks.

But then, she saves him, redirecting the conversation to Johnny's diet of all things. "I would never tell him this, but Johnny's metabolism burns an inordinate number of calories. He could theoretically live off lard and a few basic dietary supplements, if we'd let him. And… apparently, I don't need to eat." It was a strange discovery, when he realised that. He continues, out of pleasure and habit. His body benefits from eating, but it can survive without it.

*

Now that's a new piece of information, "You don't need to eat?" There's a skeptical arch of Susan's eyebrow when she looks back towards Reed. But more importantly, "Please never tell Johnny that. I would consider it a personal failing if he lived on Cheetos for the rest of his life." Her eyebrows draw together as she notes, "I still need to eat, right?"

Her teeth toy at her bottom lip and she hmmms again, "It's strange, you know? I mean. We've been the way we are for awhile now, and there's still so much we don't really know." And then Sue asks, "Unless you know a lot more…?"

*

Where others might have shaken their head in the negative, Reed only states, "No, my body no longer requires sustenance. My spirit," other men might have said soul, but that would be too much, even for Reed, "on the other hand, seems to require a great deal. You…" there is a pause, "Ben, Johnny, and our friends…"

Chuckling, he agrees on the Johnny front. He raises his free hand as if to mimic a boyscout, "my lips are sealed." And he does nod in the affirmative that she needs to eat.

But when she asks if he knows more, he hesitates, "I probably do. I've studied our condition more extensively than anyone. The pertinent details I've shared, or those I felt would be better left, unknown, like Johnny's metabolism. We've been changed, Susan, but we're still human. It would not be wise to start acting, or thinking, of ourselves as something else." In truth, he's already begun to think himself as something else. He alone knows what he has become. It is his burden, one of many he bears.

*

"Are we?" Susan asks gently as her head lulls to the side. Her smile fades, and, if at all possible, she leans into him more. Gently, her eyes lid. "Sometimes," her eyes open and she backs up slightly, allowing her enough space to catch Reed's gaze, "I worry that I won't just be invisible someday. That…" her eyes turn downwards, "that I'll just disappear."

She turns back towards the ducks, her expression serene as she tosses them some more breadcrumbs. And then, with a smirk she shakes her head, "And please don't tell me it's impossible. I do know the First Law of Thermodynamics and that energy is never create or destroyed just converted. It's just…" she shakes her head. "I like the way you look at me. What if there came a day when no one could see me. Ever."

*

Softly, tenderly, Reed explains how she does not turn incorporeal. When invisible, she remains tangible. He can hold her hands, he can stroke her hair, he can whisper in her ear. He uses a lot of technical terms, jargon, some of which even she has trouble understanding, but the tone is sincere.

He tries to reassure her that should she ever disappear, he would devise a way to give her an appearance, be it dust, paint, or holograms, to give her physical self an appearance. "And besides, if you ever did disappear, I would not rest, I would not sleep, until I had found you. And that's a promise."

It is at this point, sitting on the park bench with her, feeding the ducks, talking about how he would move heaven and hell to save her, that he decides to reach into his jacket pocket, pulling out a little velvet box. He slinks, not sinks, but slinks, moving like a serpent, shifting to a kneeling position…

*

The soothing does its work. The tenderness of Reed's words, his explanation of her newfound ability, and his reassurance that he would do everything to save her grants her a strangely humbled confidence. Confidence not in herself or her own abilities, but in what they do as a team. She can feel her cheeks growing hot with blush at Reed's promise, prompting her to toss some more breadcrumbs out to the ducks.

"I lo—" mid-word she turns to face Reed again, wanting to convey the full meaning of her words. But when she does, she realizes he's moved. Her lips part and her breath hitches in the back of her throat as she watches him mid-slink. Her eyebrows draw together and try as she might, she can't even finish what she was about to say.
*

Looking up at her, into those eyes that had so captivated him when they first arrived in the park, Reed Richards loses himself for a moment. He begins, "Susan Storm," and now wishes that she had a middle name, but like him, she had but one given name. "When we first met, you were," he pauses, a smirk playing on his face. He whispers, "considerably," and raises his voice when he says, "younger."

"I thought you were a kind and sweet girl, nice enough, but I had no idea that you would come to mean so much to me." He had thought about what to say to her so many times, but could never decide. There was so much he wanted to convey, and words seemed to fail him. She meant more to him than words could say.

"But you knew. Even then, you knew that we were, against all odds," and he says a word that seems awkward to him, destined to be together. You knew.” He repeats himself for effect. "Now, I can't promise you a normal life, one with a white picket fence, two point three children, or anything else you might have dreamt of when we first met."

"What I can promise you is that we will have a happy life. For as long as we are together, be it at the Baxter Building, Four Freedoms Plaza, in Atlantis, on Thanagar, Xander, Oa, or wherever the Fantastic Four takes us, but so long as we are together, we will be happy."

Oh, this is hard. He knew it would be difficult, but he failed to anticipate this level of difficulty. He's having trouble holding back his emotions, and he is not a man who suffers outbursts of emotion easily. As he looks into her eyes, he looks like he's on the verge of tears himself. Slowly, and with purpose, he begins to speak, graining confidence with each word.

"Susan Storm, will you do me the honour of joining me in," and he says another word that seems appropriate, but leaves a strange taste in his mouth, "holy matrimony?" And, forgetting to open the blue velvet box he holds out to her, he says again, "Sue, will you marry me?"

*

Tenderness, warmth, and love reflect in Susan's eyes. The smallest makings of a smile tug at the edges of her lips, and she blinks back tears as he speaks of their history and his promise to her. The question has her trembling, it's not unexpected with the speech or his posture. And it's not until the question is posed that she realises all the while she's actually been holding her breath.

She gasps for air, a hiccup-y sound, thanks to her tears of joy. "Yes," she whispers. A glance is given to the unopened velvet box, but at this moment, that doesn't even matter. There's a beat as she looks at him, eyes shining more thanks to accumulating moisture, but it's only one before she's sliding off the bench. Her hands reach out to cradle his face, her eyes clamp shut, and she leans forward to crush her lips against his. For now the box is forgotten because for Sue, while it's certainly an important piece of jewellery, that was never the point.

*

This had been a long time coming. They had been dating for years, and he was reasonably certain that her answer would be yes. But, even if it was a foregone conclusion, it was still a human custom, a ritual that they must go through. He seems amused at her hiccup-y gasp for air, and the tears running down her soft cheeks. As she leans in to cradle his face, and lean in to kiss him, he opens the box, remembering that it was part of the ritual.

He tilts his head as they kiss, parting his lips ever so slightly at the tender embrace. He closes his eyes, trying to memorise every moment, every sensation, so that he can play it back again and again in his mind. Today would not be forgotten.

When they finally part their lips, he looked up at her, holding out the ring, which looks… unique. It seems to be a modified gasket. Knowing Reed, it's probably from the space ship they travelled into space, though it has had some diamonds and other precious materials attached. It's a ring, it just didn't start out as one.

Taking it from the box, he holds it up for her to see, and wordlessly, breathlessly, then he slowly slides it onto her finger.

*

When the kiss is broken, Sue slides the sleeve of her jacket over her cheeks, catching all accumulated moisture in its folds. She sniffles hard as she watches him wordlessly, her hand trembling as the ring is slid onto her finger. Her smile extends when the realisation that it fits, sinks it. She shoots him another tender smile. Her eyes lock with his and she stares up at him. It's only now she manages to say what she'd started before he'd begun his proposal, "I love you."

She sniffles, fighting back those same tears that threaten to cascade down her alabaster face. She holds out her hand to admire her ring. "It's beautiful," she whispers. The smile that draws her lips upwards is impeded only by the pressure of her teeth, making it almost shy as she admires the ring's shape and design.

The hand is lowered and she slides back onto the bench, allowing herself a few moments to catch her breath. And at this moment, it's hard to know which sparkles more, the ring, or Sue herself.

*

Reed knows that this is a situation that calls for quiet reflection. He doesn't want to spoil it with needless talk. He just watches her, the way she smiles, how she tries to fight back the tears of joy, wiping them away with the sleeve of her jacket.

He returns the sentiment, "and I love you." He means it. Love is a strange emotion, hard to quantify, but when you feel it, you just know. She looks so beautiful, here in the park. He just wants this moment to last forever.

But it must ultimately end, as all do. He rises from his kneeling position, to give her another kiss, and rejoin her on the bench. He wraps an arm around her, pulling her into a tight embrace, and places his hand in her free hand, the one without the ring. "I love you," he says again.


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