FANDOM: Marvel Comics Universe
RATING: R for violence, language, and sexual overtones
DISCLAIMERS: Iceman, the Human Torch, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, and associated characters are owned by Marvel Comics. I'm not making any money from this little fanfic, so don't sue. The characters of Thirllkill (Joy Grave), Moonblossom "Jonesey" Jones, Detective Mike Conrad, and Ian Ward are my own creations. Any similarities to actual people are entirely coincidental. I make no money from the writing of this story. Please don't sue.
NOTES: I don't know when Johnny Storm and Bobby Drake first met. Assume that this story comes after their first meeting, but before they know each other well. It's definitely pre-Onslaught if that helps. I'm sorry if I made any continuity mistakes. I guess that would make this story slightly AU-ish.
FEEDBACK: Yes, please! soul_spinner@hotmail.com

Fire and Ice
by Soul Spinner

Bobby Drake was tired. No, not just tired; bone-deep weary. And numb. He found himself simply going through life, surviving. He remembered the younger, idealistic Bobby who was so full of optimism; eagerly fighting for the betterment of the world. But that was before the endless chain of fights that the X-Men never quite won all the way. Before knowing that the people they were fighting for would rather see them dead. Now each fight was merely a reflex, going through the motions, pretending he really believed he could make a difference in an uncaring and bigoted world.

It was their latest battle that shocked Bobby out of it, though. He was fighting automatically; it didn't matter who, they were all the same. He scooped up one of their adversaries from behind and carried him up, up along his ice ramp. And then he let go. The man started to fall, screaming in terror. If Storm hadn't swooped down yelling "Iceman, what are you doing!?!" and created an air cushion beneath the falling man, he would be dead. And Bobby would be a murderer. On the way back to the mansion in the Blackbird, Cyclops berated him.

"What did you think you were doing? That man could have died! X-Men aren't murderers!" Bobby simply nodded at their leader and avoided all the others when they landed. Jean tried to reach out to him but he brushed her off and went to his room. That was where it hit him.

"Omygod! I could've killed him. I didn't feel anything. Omygodomygod!" Bobby Drake, code named Iceman, mutant, and seasoned X-Man, broke down crying. The tears froze on his face, dropped to the floor, and shattered.

"We gotta do something 'bout Bobby," the man known as Wolverine prowled around the command center with the barely contained energy and ferocity of his namesake.

Cyclops set his palms flat on the table and said, "I've dealt with it."

"No you haven't!" Wolverine tensed and turned toward the red visored man. The contrast between the two men was striking. Scott Summers was tall, well built, and there was little doubt that he was a leader. Logan, however, was rather short, stocky, heavily muscled, and seemed barely in control of his predatory nature. Both men were dangerous, but anyone could tell which was the more deadly. "I've seen this before in war-weary soldiers. He's lost his spirit. He needs time alone to figure things out."

"The team needs him now. We're fighting--"

Jean Grey interrupted her love. "Logan's right, Scott. Bobby has battle fatigue. He needs time to himself. He needs to go somewhere where every day is not a life-or-death situation."

Professor Charles Xavier, the mentor and founder of the X-Men, had been sitting silently through all this. Now he nodded. "Bobby's going on a vacation."

Bobby got a hold of himself quickly and wiped away all evidence of tears. He made a decision. He wanted a normal life. He wanted a day where his only concerns were how much groceries cost and whether it would rain or not. He wanted to simply be Bobby Drake, regular person, not Iceman, mutant X-Man. He was going to quit the X-Men.

Packing was almost too easy. His whole life fit into a suitcase and a backpack. Leaving behind his home for the last several years of his life was easy, too. He tried to sneak out, avoiding all his teammates because he knew that saying good-bye would be to hard. The door was in sight when they all caught up with him.

"Ah, you must have extra-sensory perception, my comrade-in-arms." Hank McCoy bounded toward him, his hairy blue body blocking Bobby's escape.

"Here ah yer tickets, sugar. Y'all have a good time now!" Rogue pressed something into his free hand, her omnipresent gloves scratching his skin. Bobby stared at his friends dumbly. His mind hadn't quite grasped what was going on yet.

"I want to go, too! Las Vegas is, like, the coolest. Have fun!" Jubilee's enthusiastic hug almost bowled him over.

"You be careful in dat town, mon ami. Dere be all sorts of t'eves and card sharks dere." Gambit was leaning up against the wall, a cigarette hanging from his lip, shuffling a pack of cards.

"An' ah suppose ya don' know anythin' 'bout that, do ya?" Rogue punched Gambit lightly on the shoulder and he grinned, his glowing red eyes hiding the secrets of his past.

"I'll drive you to the airport, kid," Wolverine said gruffly and took his bags.

"Wh-what's going on?" Bobby finally managed to gasp out.

Professor Xavier came into the room and the X-Men respectfully parted for his hover chair. "We think you need a vacation, Bobby. I booked you on a flight to Las Vegas -- ("We know how much you've always wanted to go," Storm interjected.) -- and made reservations for your hotel."


"We shall brook no protest. You are going to be enervated. I insist!" Hank cracked a wide grin that showed his pointed canines.

They hustled him out the door and into Logan's Jeep. Through the whole swerving, bumpy, windy ride, Bobby couldn't get a word in edgewise. When he wasn't holding on for dear life with clenched teeth, the wind was blowing his words away or Logan was talking. Logan, not known for a gregarious nature, was giving him all sorts of advise about which shows to see and how much to gamble. His last words to Bobby as he left him at the curb were "Get your head on straight, kid, and then come back to us." Logan screeched out of the terminal, leaving Bobby to push his way onto the plane. As he sat down, Bobby Drake smiled his first real smile in a month. He was glad he had friends like the X-Men.

CLICK "Come on down and get the car of your dreams at" CLICK "-orry Billy Ray, but I love another, your half-uncle Geor-" CLICK "keeps whites white and colors bright" CLICK "and in other news, the price of gasoline is still rising." CLICK "here we see the natural habitat and nesting habits of the yellow su-" CLICK "had black eyes. They took me up to their space ship and experim-" CLICK!

'A hundred or more channels and still nothing to watch,' Johnny Storm thought, 'guess that's why they call it the idiot-box.' Johnny was so totally bored that the prospect of sleep sounded exciting. He had watched his brother-in-law, Reed Richards, doing one of his experiments for as long as it seemed even remotely interesting (about ten minutes). He had wandered over to his sister but she was busy making yet another new blue and white uniform for herself. Ben Grimm was too involved in the novel he was reading to even glance up. There were no rampaging super-villains rearing their ugly heads at the moment, no monster from outer space threatening the human race, there wasn't even a natural disaster to thwart. In fact, New York was quiet; even the crime rate was down, and that was saying something. In short, there was no need for the Fantastic Four at the moment, particularly one Human Torch.

Johnny had tried, but nothing had held his interest. He was just too full of nervous energy. Even flaming up and flying around the city, which usually exhilarated him, had been a let down. He had spied from his lofty height what looked to be a liquor store robbery. Figuring to get in a bit of fun, even though his usual foes weren't simple petty crooks, he had been just about to swoop down to catch the robbers, when his old rival/friend Spider-Man had swung in and wrapped them up in his webbing. He had all these great powers and an over-sized insect had beat him to the punch! So he had gone home and moped around the building some more; definitely feeling under appreciated.

Johnny stared blankly at the boob-tube, his mind apparently shut off. It took several blinding flashes to draw his attention back to the television where a commercial for the drink Thirst Quencher, with a bunch of showgirls singing about a contest ("just look under the bottle cap!"), was playing. He looked at that very same drink in his hand and dug into the crack between the cushions and the couch where he thought the cap had fallen, even though the likelihood of winning was about a million to one. His questing hand found the cap and he brought it up to his eyes.

Three rooms away, Ben Grimm finally looked up from his novel when he heard a whoop ... and what sounded like singing.

Moonblossom Jones sat in front of the books and sighed. Maybe if I do the accounts again, the numbers will be even, she thought and shook her head against the false hope. This place is a money pit. Even that stupid Thirst Quencher contest didn't bring in enough customers. I should have stayed in Canada and chanted Om Mani Padme Hum to the stars. Jonesey (if anyone called her Moonblossom they would soon have a headache or even a black eye) was the owner and proprietor of the Domino Hotel and Casino. She was a hard capitalist, rebelling against her Hippie parents and her flower-child name. The Domino was one of the oldest casinos in Las Vegas but it wasn't as flashy, big, or new as the great theme hotels along the strip. Jonesey had bought the hotel cheap but had still had to take out a pretty hefty loan. Well, her creditors wouldn't be too happy with this months receipts. What I need, she thought, is a really cool show. A bonanza, a spectacle. I need something hot...

The lights: A thousand different colors strobing at various intensities. The noise: Ranging from a dull roar to sharp spikes of ear splitting sound. The people: A surging tide of rustling fabrics, murmuring voices, and laughter of the best and worst sorts. Scents of perfume and alcohol, bath oil and sweat, with the overlaying touch of tobacco or even something more exotic. The color of food, the feel of reckless energy, the taste of new paint, the smell of hope and despair; sensory overload. Glitter, dazzle, glitz. Clashes, bangs, clangs, moans and groans. Las Vegas, the city of overwhelming sensation.

It was an experience. Bobby wasn't sure of what just yet, but it was definitely an experience. He got to the hotel around mid-day, unpacked, and went down for a leisurely swim. Sunbathing relaxed him somewhat, even with the gaggle of little girls screeching and splashing in the pool. The whole place changed, however, with dusk. Coming back downstairs after a shower and a nap, he was hit with the full force of the crowd. It was intimidating.

Flinching his way through the teeming mass of people, he finally made it to the relatively quiet (but still loud) restaurant. Most of the tables were filled up and he would feel pretty silly sitting at one alone so he found a stool at the bar. A coke and a half of a sandwich later, he was feeling a little better. He was considering what to do next when a drunken man suddenly bumped into him. Bobby reacted from pure ingrained instinct thanks to years of training in the Danger Room. A fist in the face, a jab to the solar plexus and the man was down and out.

"Oh!----I'm sorry!" he stammered out, trying to talk to the prone man. The other patrons of the restaurant were staring at him and babbling angrily. He backed away from the crowd and ran out into the even more confusing casino. He realized he was panicking and tried to breathe slowly.

"Hey, friend." Bobby turned around to see a guy who seemed oddly familiar, about his own age wearing sunglasses with black hair that was obviously dyed. "I saw what happened back there. It wasn't your fault, man." He stuck out his hand, "My names Johnny. Johnny uh-Smith. Nice-ta-meet-cha."

He took the proffered hand hesitantly. "B-Bobby Drake. I-I didn't mean to react like that. It was just . . . reflex."

"Hey, its OK" the man identified as Johnny said, "let me buy you a drink and you can tell me about it."

Bobby smiled slightly, liking the man already and charmed by his friendly manner. He followed him back into the bar.

Johnny had noticed the handsome, brown haired man that walked into the restaurant right away. The stranger had scanned the room expertly for threats. He walked like someone who knew how to protect himself. He took a place at the bar where he could keep an eye on the entrance and the door to the kitchen. Johnny could see that he was tensed as if for trouble and was continually watching the room for danger. Johnny had seen men like this before. 'Probably a military man,' he thought, 'most likely some sort of special forces guy. He looks a little uncomfortable with his clothes, probably used to a uniform.' Johnny watched him some more but the guy seemed to want to keep to himself and stay away from trouble. 'He probably hasn't had leave in a long while,' Johnny thought.

He went back to contemplating the curvy waitress who was serving french fries to the table across from him. He saw an odd movement out of the corner of his eye and looked back at the stranger just in time to see a drunk bump into him and the ensuing scene. Johnny started to get up to intervene but the guy ran out before he could do anything. The scared, guilty, and confused look on the strangers face convinced him that he hadn't meant to hurt the drunk; it had been instinctual. Johnny felt sorry for him and decided to go reassure the man.

He brought Bobby Drake back into the bar and got him a shot of Scotch. "Here, this will settle your nerves," Johnny said.

"T-thanks," he said. "You know I really didn't mean to do that. I've just been fighting for so long..." his voice dropped to a whisper.

"Its OK, the guy will just have a headache when he wakes up. Cheer up, fella."

"You don't understand. I could've killed him without any thought, just like the people we usually fight."

I was right, Johnny thought, he IS military. He decided to change the subject before the conversation got too intense and personal. "So, why did you choose the Domino for your vacation."

Bobby looked a little abashed. "I didn't choose. My team practically pushed me out the door. Said not to come back until I was totally relaxed and got my head on straight."

"Sounds like a good unit."

"Yeah, well ... I kinda got the feeling that our fearless leader," he said sarcastically, "thought I was a quitter. But I just couldn't take another battle right then."

"I'm sure he understands," Johnny said and poured him another drink.

"You're right. I'm just blowing off steam."

"Sooooo," Johnny said casually, "just what war were you all fighting?" He wanted to know more about this Bobby Drake. The guy seemed not to want to cause trouble, but it never hurt to be prepared. And he seemed somehow familiar.

Bobby immediately tensed again. "No one. Uh, I gotta go." He left the bar walking carefully in that not-quite-drunk-yet gait. Johnny stared after him, dismayed ... and very curious.

He probably didn't mean anything by it, Bobby thought angrily at himself. You just lost the chance of having a normal friend that doesn't fight off super-villains and save the planet every other week. He was just a nice guy, Drake, you're too suspicious. But then again, he thought wryly, paranoia is equal to life in my business. But, my was he gorgeous! Even with the bad dye-job! He went down the strip and wandered around Circus Circus, riding a roller coaster, watching people win prizes and playing games, et cetera. Finally, around midnight, he went back to the Domino and crashed into bed.

Over the next few days, Bobby set a routine of late rising, swimming in the afternoon, and wandering around town most of the night seeing the sights and taking in the shows. He especially liked MGM; all the lightening effects reminded him of Ororo Munroe, Storm. He only caught quick glimpses of Johnny Smith and he tried to avoid him. Bobby still felt guilty and embarrassed for running out on him. Plus, he knew he shouldn't make friends with anyone because if they found out he was a mutant, they would hate him. He was also still a little suspicious; the guy looked somehow familiar...

"This city must die."

Thrillkill liked that; direct and to the point. She had come here with the promise of murder and money, two of her favorite things.

"First, a killing spree. Then fire bombs and gas. I want terror in the streets. Finally, a nuclear bomb. I will take care of that."

"Ooooh!" Thrillkill licked her lips in anticipation. This was better then she had thought. She was being paid money for a slaughter-fest!

"You will be paid fifty thousand up front and another fifty thousand when Las Vegas lies in rubble."

She nodded to the shadows where the voice came from and picked up the packet of hundred dollar bills and a few thousands that appeared from those same shadows. The money was a good incentive but secondary to the fact that she loved to kill. Joy Grave had been born different from other people. She had been a sickly child because there had always been something lacking. When she was seven, she had found out what that was. Her father had been driving her to school one morning when a cat ran out in front of the car and met its death under the wheels. Joy had experienced a spasm of pleasure and a feeling of strength she had never experienced before.

In the following years, she had become the scourge of the neighborhood animals. Killing was good but it was just plain meat compared to the seasoning of terror, destruction, and despair. Soon, she started killing people. Torturing the homeless vermin of the streets and the prostitute and run away scum was her favorite pastime. Feeding on their fear and pain had given her abnormal strength until she could take down thirty grown men without breaking a sweat.

Eventually, her family had found out about the horrendous appetites of their Joy. She had dealt with them slowly and afterward went on a city-wide rampage of death. The cops never found her and the media labeled her a thrill killer, a name she had happily adopted. Ever since then, she had hired out her talents as a mercenary. I'm glad Patch gave this job to me rather than Deadpool or T-Ray. It's worth the trip from Chicago! she thought. This job seemed like her best yet. She left the room singing: "Death and destruction, doom and despair, these are a few of my favorite things . . ."

Behind her, the shadows stirred and whispered. "For you father, mother. For you Ellie. For you, my sweet Renay."

"Where are those damn dealers!?!" Jonesey yelled to no one in particular. Three of her card dealers were late for their shift and it had thrown off the timing of her casino.

"I don't know, boss, but my work day is over," said one of her snack cart girls, a perky little blond named Alicia. "I have to get over to night school. We're going to start on how to walk tonight." She was in a modeling and acting class.

Alicia put her coat on over her skimpy black and white uniform and walked out the side door. Jonesey went back to yelling and waving her arms around at the other people in the staff lounge. Suddenly, in between tirades, a scream ripped through the lounge. Everyone rushed outside where Alicia was staggering back to the door, her face completely white, whimpering. Jonesey rushed forward and the girl fainted in her arms.

"Take care of her!" Jonesey commanded the nearest employee and went in the direction Alicia had come from to investigate. The door let out into a brightly lit parking lot. It was too brightly lit; she could see everything. She stood there, stunned, until she heard footsteps behind her, an exclamation, and somebody retching.

"Call the cops," she whispered and heard the person behind her staggering away, still retching. She had found the three missing dealers ... or rather, what was left of them.

Something was wrong. Bobby could feel it in his bones. His battle-trained senses told him that death was in the air. After the fourth police car screeched to a stop in front of the Domino, he went downstairs to see what all the commotion was about. He joined the growing crowd being held back by a young, green-tinged cop. He noticed Johnny in the crowd, too. Pushing his way through the crowd, Bobby was almost sick when he saw the scene. The cars in the lot were practically painted in blood. Entrails were hanging from the lamp posts and the orange light made everything glisten. The limbs of about five bodies were arranged on the ground in a smiley face, and on three car antennas were the heads, swaying slightly.

Bobby turned away, a cold anger making his body shake. It'll never end, he thought. I can't escape it. But I can do something about it. His face hardened as he resolved that those people would be avenged. He curled a hand into a fist and it iced up. Seeing the owner of the Domino talking to a short police detective, he crept closer to listen.

"Who did this? Do you know what this'll do to my business? Do something! I-" Jonesey's voice cracked and she looked down at the ground, swallowing and trying to control her breathing.

"I'm sorry, ma'am," the officer said, "but we're over-loaded tonight. The feds have already been called. Might be a serial killer."

"What kind of creature would do this?" her voice rose hysterically. "They were torn to pieces!!!"

Suddenly, all the police radios started crackling. "Calling all units! Calling all units! 415 in progress. Officer needs help. 440, wanted suspect. Homicide and malicious destruction. Officers down. Suspect is unarmed but considered extremely dangerous. Appears to be a paranormal. Hard Rock Cafe. Repeat, suspect is at the Hard Rock Cafe. Proceed with extreme caution! Code 3."

"Shit!" The detective talking to Jonesey and all the other officers, except the young guy who was left behind to preserve the crime scene, dove for their squad cars and roared off, sirens blazing. Bobby used his mutant power and iced up. He followed the squad cars high above on his ice ramp. Another figure followed as well, except that this one was a bright, flying flame.

What I wouldn't do for a rocket launcher! Detective Mike Conrad was having a bad day. Murders had started piling up around sunset, each bloodier than the last. The only good thing that had happened to him tonight was meeting the Domino's owner, Moonblossom Jones. What a babe! he thought, then dodged a car being thrown at him. Not her though, he thought firmly and got back to concentrating on the woman across the street who was covered in blood.

Mike had arrived on the scene just as the woman had come out of the Hard Rock Cafe, which was going to need major remolding. She had immediately leapt over a car and killed two other officers. That was when Mike had decided to stay put on the other side of the street and opened fire. Other officers prudently followed his example and they were keeping her at bay while others went around the back to evacuate the remaining civilians and get her in the crossfire.

"You can't hurt me!" she taunted. "With each death I am stronger. I am Thrillkill!"

Appropriate, he thought wearily. God, I hate trying to stop paranormals. He'd only ever run into one before this. A mutant fire starter he had investigated when he had still been with arson. The sudden blast of heat that hit him was definitely not a memory of the little fires that the mutant kid had been able to create. He looked up and was completely flabbergasted. Now, usually, Mike was unfazed by something unexpected happening and would merely cuss up a storm, but when he saw what appeared to be a man who was on fire and flying ... well, that was enough to give anyone pause.

"Thrillkill, eh?" the blazing figure said. "I usually try not to hit women but, well, I'll make an exception in your case." The form of fire dove downwards toward Thrillkill. She lifted up a car and swung at him with it. Mike had the slightly hysterical thought that she was the batter and he the ball in a really weird baseball game. The flaming man tried to dodge the car, but it still hit him with a glancing blow anyway. The car knocked him away in a long arch. Mike thought the guy was a goner it until the catcher came into play.

Another man, seemingly made totally of ice, caught the flaming one. The man of ice traveled down an ice ramp of his own making to lower the man of fire to the ground right next to Mike.

"Hey, thanks man," the fire man said.

"Don't thank me yet. We still have to get that murderer," the ice man said.


"Yeah. We superheroes should work together."

"Uh ... guys?" Mike finally worked up the courage to talk to the two super-powered beings. "I'm afraid that Thrillkill got away."

"Which way did she go?" the icy man asked.

Mike mutely pointed and both the fire man and the ice man headed in that direction. The flaming one called over his shoulder as he flew away. "Don't worry officer, we'll handle this. Tell the other cops to stay back!"

Mike nodded and shakily got on the radio to the dispatcher. He thought stuff like this only happened in New York! "Dispatch, this is Conrad. Get it out to everyone not to follow the suspect identified as Thrillkill. An alternate paranormal, er, superhero team will take care of her for us."

"Please identify. Is it the Avengers?"

"No," he hesitated, "they are identified as Fire and Ice. They're on our side so let them deal with this." He looked out over the destruction. "And call the coroner."

"Last nights rampage of destruction ended with twenty-three deaths and an estimated billion dollars in damage all over the city. Both figures would have been higher, however, if not for the intervention of two paranormal crime fighters who the police have identified as Fire and Ice. The suspect, who calls herself Thrillkill, was apprehended by the two super-heroes late last night after a battle that raged up and down the Strip. Thrillkill is at a local hospital being treated for third degree burns and severe frost bite. She will be transported to the Vault this evening to await trial. Speculation is rampant as to the mysterious crime fighters identities and motivations. Fire seems to be able to fly and control fire while Ice seems to be able to freeze the very water molecules in the air. As to whether they are mutants or have been in Las Vegas all along..."

"I can't believe they didn't recognize me!" Johnny exclaimed. "I am, after all, a member of the nation's premier superhero team! I've been on the cover of several magazines!"

"There are a lot of paranormals floating around," Bobby said placatingly, "and you've got to admit that you've never been in this part of the country before, or with me for that matter. They probably think you're a mutant."

"Man." Johnny Storm shook his head ruefully. "So, what's one of the infamous X-Men doing here, eh? Um, Iceman, right? Reed often consults with Professor Xavier and Doctor McCoy about all that scientific mumbo jumbo. We've met before, right?"

"Yeah, in battle. I knew I recognized you from somewhere, even with the dyed hair and glasses."

"I was incognito. Just a normal guy on a normal vacation," Johnny grinned.

"Uh-huh. Ditto."

The two super-powered men stared at each other for a second before they both started chuckling.

"It follows ya around, too, doesn't it?"

"Yes. It does." All the laughter drained out of Bobby and he sighed. "I came here to get away from all the fighting. I must be cursed. Wherever I go, evil rears its ugly head. I'm tired of all the fighting. We put away one bad guy and another pops up. Then we put that one away and the first one gets out. Every battle I can feel Lady Death breathing down my neck. I must be crazy to keep on doing this." Iceman lowered his voice. "And the worst part is ... I can't feel the passion of the high ideals I used to have." His voice lowered even further to barely a whisper and shook. "I almost killed a man without a thought. I didn't care. I must be crazy."

"No," the Human Torch said with absolute conviction, "you're a hero."

Bobby looked up at the other man and saw himself reflected there. Even though they seemed almost total opposites, they were both part of a special breed of men and women. Even if neither of them had been granted special powers at all, they would still have been fighting to protect their world; whether they be fire fighters, police officers, doctors, or teachers. They were heroes.

"--We have breaking news! A mad man has stolen a nuclear device from Nellis Air Force Base in a daring daytime raid. He has escaped into the city. A spokesman from the Department of Defense has issued a statement imploring everyone to remain calm and evacuate Las Vegas in an orderly manner--"

"Looks like it's time to got to work," Johnny said. "Flame on!"

Bobby nodded and iced up. They were, after all, heroes.

"Do you know anything about the mad man who has stolen the nuclear bomb?!" Bobby and Johnny were at the hospital trying to get an answer out of Thrillkill. The police were searching the city and national guard units had arrived to help with the evacuation, but things weren't going so well.

"Kill you! Kill you!" Thrillkill was thrashing against her adamantium restraints. No nurses or doctors were allowed near her after she had managed to break one doctor's arm, so the Guardsmen had put in the IV's, which had already been knocked out by her flailing. They would take her to the Vault when the two superheroes were finished with her.

"Who did it? Where is he?" Iceman reached down and shook the prisoner.

"Shadows. The man in the shadows. He had the Devil on his shoulder." She giggled. "He paid me to kill. He paid me to kill all those he could see below him. He casts the shadow of death over the whole city."

"She's not making any sense," Johnny said, disgustedly, "let's get out of here."

They left the hospital and headed out into the dangerous night. People stopped and stared as they passed. After all, even in their crazy world it wasn't every day that you saw a burning man and a man made of ice walking down the hall.

"Wha-da-ya-mean ‘there's no back-up available'!?! How am I supposed to do the whole building by myself?" Detective Mike Conrad was having a very bad day. But then, so was everyone else in Las Vegas. The police force had it's collective hands full trying to help with the evacuation, prevent looting, and search for the mad man at the same time. The National Guard had been called in to help with the evacuation and keep order, but there still weren't enough people to go around. His precinct was sweeping buildings to make sure everyone had gotten out. Just his luck that he got the Stratosphere--the tallest building in Vegas.

Conrad worked his way through the building methodically. He found no one. People had apparently decided to follow orders for once. The detective winced once he reached the top. ‘God, I hate heights!' he thought.

The top of the Stratosphere held a roller-coaster. People seeking safe thrills rode the thing. Mike shuddered. If he had a choice, Mike never ventured more than ten feet off the desert floor.

"Hello? Anybody here?" he shouted. "Guess not. Well, looks like my job here is done," Conrad muttered under his breath. As he was turning to go back the way he came up, the detective bumped into someone.

"Oh! ‘Scuse me. Hey, what're you doing up here? An evacuation has been ordered!" The man looked to be in his mid-forties, with thinning brown hair and thick glasses. He was taller than Mike, which wasn't surprising because most men were. He seemed harmless enough--didn't look like a looter--but Mike couldn't help but feel creeped out by him. There was something in his eyes that wasn't quite sane...

"Did you hear me, fellow?" Mike asked while inching his hand towards his holster. Something was wrong. Instinct honed through years of police work were screaming at him.

"Yes ... officer. I heard you," the man answered. His voice was soft and cultured, like an English professor or a therapist. "It's beautiful up here, don't you think? You wouldn't even know that this city is infested with monsters."

"Um, look mister--" Conrad went for his gun, but he was too late. With surprising strength, the man backhanded the detective ... right over the railing. Detective Mike Conrad fell through the night.

"She didn't make any sense!"

"Thrillkill's insane," Bobby stated calmly.

"Well, duh!" Johnny said sarcastically, "Of course she's insane! They're ALL insane! Hell, WE'RE insane for doing this sort of thing on a regular basis."

Iceman glanced at his companion fondly. He was so cute when he was frustrated. "Ah, you know you love it. The adventure, the rush..."

Johnny turned and their eyes locked. The two superheroes shared a moment of perfect understanding. There was something else, as well. Something in Bobby's gaze that upset Johnny's equilibrium. Something lingering, wistful, and passionate. Johnny looked away and the moment was shattered.

"Yeah," Johnny said with a grin, his balance restored, "It feels good helping people."

"So where do you think this guy is holed up?" Bobby asked.

Johnny thought for a minute before answering. They were sweeping the city, looking for anything suspicious or out-of-place. The cosmic radiation that had changed Johnny Storm's life had imbued him with the power of flame and flight. The x-factor in his genetic structure that made Bobby Drake a mutant allowed him to control the very water molecules of the air, which let him transport himself with an ice-slide. They were quite a pair. Unfortunately, all their powers didn't seem to be helping in the search for the madman who had stolen a nuclear device.

"I don't even know where to begin," said a discouraged Human Torch. "She said that he paid her to ‘kill all those he could see below him' and that ‘he casts a shadow of death over the whole city.' But what does that mean?!"

"Below him, hmmm?" Bobby mused. "Could that mean that he's up high? What's the tallest building in Las Vegas?"

"The Stratosphere!" Johnny exclaimed. Fire and Ice turned as one and headed for the skyscraper. They were just in time to see the figure of a man being knocked off the top of the building.

"Go!" Johnny yelled to Bobby. Iceman was already on it. He caught the stunned detective and lowered him to the ground on an ice-slide. Johnny blazed straight for the shadowed man at the top of the Stratosphere.

Bobby made a quick visual assessment of the man he had caught. It was the same detective he had seen at the crime scene outside of the Domino and at the Hard Rock Cafe. The cop appeared to be stunned.

"Sir? Sir? Are you alright, sir?" Bobby asked. When the detective didn't answer, Bobby de-iced himself and checked the stunned detective's cranium for bumps. "Damn!" He didn't want to leave the injured man alone, but he had to go help Johnny. He looked around for help. The city seemed almost deserted but he was in luck; a lone car was comming toward him. He flagged the driver down and was surprised to see it was the Domino's proprietor.

"This man needs help. He's a police officer. Can you get him to a hospital?" "Yeah, sure," she said. Bobby nodded gratefully and iced-up before her startled eyes. He had to help Johnny!

The Human Torch spared a brief glance to see that Iceman had successfully lowered the victim to the ground before he flew to the top of the building to confront the madman there. He landed near the roller coaster and looked around. He had expected something a little more ... well, a little more dramatic than this. He was, after all, used to foes such as Doctor Doom or the Frightful Four. The enemy that stood before him was balding and pudgy with thick glasses. He was wearing a tweed coat and floods. He looked like a highschool science teacher!

He may look harmless, but THAT certainly doesn't! Johnny thought. The man was setting up a device that Johnny recognized as a nuclear bomb.

"Step away from the bomb!" Johnny yelled.

The man jerked and turned toward the flaming hero. Johnny's heart sank as he saw the maddness in the other man's eyes. "No no no no no, I don't have time for this!" the lunatic muttered. "I have to keep my appointment with Renay. She and Ellie are expecting me! We're going over to my parents house for dinner. Musen't keep them waiting, no sirree!" Johnny edged closer. The man suddenly fixed his gaze on the Human Torch and said with perfect lucidity, "If you come any closer, I'll push this nice little red button here and this whole stinking City of the Damned will go ka-blooey!"

Johnny tried to appear as non-threatening as possible but he was trembling. He couldn't seem to take his eyes off of the device the man held in his hand. He'd have to try to talk the psycho down, or at least distract him until Iceman could sneak up behind and disarm him.

"Who are you?" he asked in his most soothing voice. "Why are you doing this?"

"Why, for my Renay and our little Ellie, of course. Oh, and mom and dad, too. Can't forget them. This city killed them all, you know." The madman giggled and Johnny inched slightly closer.

"How? How did this place kill them, Mister...?"

"Ward. Ian Ward, that's me! They were here. All of them. I was supposed to meet them for dinner. But then a truck ... the guy was drunk ... the doctors said ... and they ... they ... Well, I'm late. I'm always late. My job at the base keeps me busy..." The man trailed off and closed his eyes. "I'm tired."

Johnny lunged as the man brought his finger down on the button to trigger the nuclear device.

Well this is just perfect, Jonesey thought as she drove her car away from her casino, This is just great. Some maniac kills my best employees and another decides to blow up Las Vegas. This has just NOT been a good week all around. Jonesey sighed and rubbed her eyes tiredly. When the evacuation order had been given, she had stayed around to make sure all of her remaining workers got out safely and to lock up the Domino good and tight. Not that it really matters now, she thought grimly, With all of this, tourism will take a dive. I'm already broke as it is. Face up, Moonblossom, you're out of business. Unless a miracle suddenly decides to happen, it looks like you're going back to living "poor but free" again.

Ahead of her on the road she saw a man trying to flag her down. Another man was laying, apparently insensate, in the middle of the road. With a start, Jonesey recognized one of her guests and that cute detective who had questioned her the day before about the carnage outside the Domino. She pulled over and got out.

"What's the problem here?" she asked.

"This man needs help. He's a police officer. Can you get him to a hospital?"

Jonesey was too worried to say anything more than "Yeah, sure." Then, to her complete astonishment, a sheet of ice decended over the man, whom she remembered from the hotel register as being named Dirk or Drake or something like that. Soon he was completely ensheathed in frozen water and was making a ramp of ice that spiraled upwards, all the way to the top of the Stratosphere.

Hmmm, Jonesey thought as she dragged the injured detective into her car, so one of my guests is the infamous Ice, savior of our fair city, eh? If we're all still here tomorrow, it looks like I just might have found my miracle...

Once Bobby reached the top of the building, he assessed the situation. Johnny was trying to talk the madman down. He didn't pay much attention to the nutcase's ravings -- something about his mom and dad and a doctor's ward -- but he could tell that Ian meant business. As the Human Torch distracted the bomb-wielding lunatic, Iceman circled around behind him. He needed to time it just perfect to stop the detonation.

"I'm tired."

The crazed bomber brought his finger down on the nuclear triggering button just as Johnny leapt forward. Bobby was closer. He froze the man and the triggering device solid while Johnny tackled Ian.

"Torch!" Bobby shouted as the two struggling figures crashed to the ground. The impact shattered the ice that encapsuled Ian's hand and the trigger went flying. Bobby lunged for the trigger while Johnny knocked Mr. Ward out.

Johnny grinned and sauntered over to his friend. "Hey, nice going, buddy!" He slapped Bobby on the back.

"Care, man! Don't jostle the merchandise. I hold the fate of millions in my hands here!" He tried to sound stern, but Bobby was smiling, too. Neither of them could wipe the grins of relief off their faces. It had been a close one.

"That's better, Icecube. It's good to see you smile," Johnny said. I like his smile, Johnny thought to himself. What is going on with me? Why am I thinking these thoughts about him?! A guy! Whoa, cool off, Hotstuff. The thought made Johnny grin even larger. Of all the people in the world, Iceman was perfect to help him "cool off." Oh well, I can't help it. Those dimples make him look so cute! And boy is he buff!

There was something in Johnny's eye that Bobby thought he recognized. Could it be that Torchie there wants me as much as I want him? he thought to himself. Maybe ... naw! You're just imagining it, Drake. Get a hold of yourself!

"Well, it's good to smile again. I'm glad I came here. Now go call the cops, Flamebrain!"

"What am I, you're servant?" Johnny muttered but he still turned away to do just that.

Mmm, nice butt, Bobby thought as his friend went to find a phone.

Bobby and Johnny were relaxing in the lounge of the Domino over some drinks. After the police had taken Ian Ward into custody the previous night, they had both immediately fallen into an exhausted slumber in their respective rooms. They'd spent the next day together, simply lolling about the swimming pool and talking. It had been a wonderful lazy day.

The two superheroes were deep in discussion over their drinks when Moonblossom Jones walked into her lounge. She spotted the duo right away and made a beeline to them.

"Good evening, gentlemen. And how are the Champions of Las Vegas doing today?" she asked, gazing at them with shrewd, knowing eyes.

"Um, champions?" Bobby said nervously. "I think you've got the wrong idea, lady."

"No, I think I've got the right idea, gentlemen. My name's Jonesey, by the way, and I run this joint."

"Fine place you've got here," Johnny offered up.

"Yes, it is," she answered, "and you two are going to help me keep it."


"I know your secret."

The two superheroes exchanged worried looks. Johnny didn't really have a secret to keep because everybody knew about the Fantastic Four, but Bobby sure did. The X-Men were outlaws. He was branded a mutant terrorist. If the authorities found out that Bobby Drake and the Iceman were one in the same, it could cause a lot of trouble for him, Xavier's School, and his teammates.

"Wh-what do you mean?" Bobby asked.

Jonesey smirked. "You're Ice. And I presume your companion here is Fire. You two saved the city yesterday." She paused. "Thanks for that, by the way." She shook her head. Jonesey hated using the two heroes like this, but she really had no other choice if she wanted to stay in business. "If you don't help me, I'll tell my new boyfriend the police detective just who exactly you really are."

"You're blackmailing us?!" Johnny said incredulously. Bobby was too shocked to say anything.

Jonesey sighed. "Look guys, I need your help." At their disbelieving stares, Jonesey withered a bit. "My ... the Domino is going under. I tried to bring in business with that Thirst Quencher contest, but I'm still deep in the red. I need something -- a show, a gimmick, a money-drawer -- something to bring in the crowds." She took a deep breath and continued. "I need you two. Just do a few shows for me, that's all I ask. Just one weekend. I'll advertise it and people will come. You're the Champions of Las Vegas! The great Fire and Ice! Just do this one thing for me and I'll take your secret to the grave."

The two superheroes didn't answer right away. Johnny was a bit worried about his friend. Bobby looked shell-shocked. He wasn't going to let his friend down. He had to do something. "A Las Vegas act, huh? I always wanted to be in show biz! What do you say, pal?"

Johnny turned to Bobby and Jonesey looked at the X-Man expectedly. All he could get out was "Um..."

Johnny turned back to Jonesey. "We'll do it!" "Greatness! Now, first we'll need some publicity photos and I'll have to order you some costumes. Something with sequins and maybe a cape..."

Bobby sat in the lounge of the Domino, totally stunned while it's owner and his new best bud talked lighting and ticket price. My life is just TOO bizarre, Iceman thought. Then, Johnny grinned at him sexily and asked a question. Bobby felt his body react to the smile. Then again, I like bizarre... Bobby Drake smiled and knew everything was going to be okay.

The End

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