Susan Storm-Richards a.k.a. the Invisible Woman lies in bed. Reed Richards, her husband, Mr Fantastic, is next to her. This is how the dream day begins for Susan. She is in bed, asleep. Her sheets are cool and she is dreaming of the planet Vesuvius in a galaxy, far away from this one. Specifically, of a garden her husband took her to once, with the most gorgeous, unique alien flowers. Then, she is in that liminal place between sleeping and waking, feeling a very familiar weight as her husband steals over her, and kisses her awake. ‘Good morning, sexy’ Reed remarks. ‘Happy…happy anniversary’ Reed adds. ‘Mmmm…. back at you, lanky’ Susan replies, turning to Reed, gazing into his eyes. Reed informs Susan that he sent Ben and Johnny on a field trip to Dimension W, and HERBIE took Franklin and Val to the Big Apple Circus, and the New Avengers are on high alert. ‘Which means..’ he begins. ‘We’re not leaving this bed for the next twelve hours’ Susan concludes. ‘Nope’ Reed tells her.
At least, that’s how the dream day begins. This, conversely, is how the real day begins, as Susan wakes in bed, boiling and sweating under her sheets, with Reed’s alarm clock blaring. She counts to thirty in her head, waiting for him to stretch his arm and shut it off. But, surprise, surprise, he is nowhere to be found. So, Susan shuts the alarm off for him, by slamming it with invisible force, breaking it. She sits up in bed and realizes that she shouldn’t have done that, but today, their wedding anniversary, is not the day for Reed to be - suddenly, Susan sees a note from Reed and she reads it: “…scientific errand of the utmost importance… unavoidable trip to Washington DC, then Vienna… be back soon, have a great day, Xoxoxo, Reed” Susan quotes from the letter. She finishes reading the note and counts to thirty - something else she has been practicing a lot lately.
Getting out of bed, Susan knows that this is what she signed on for when they married all those years ago - Reed and his genius don’t belong to her, he and it belong to the world. And she loves him for that, she does. But just once… can’t she come first?
Susan enters the kitchen, which is a mess with dirty pots and pans strewn about and cereal boxes not put back in the cupboard. She sighs, ‘So much for anyone else remembering today…’ she thinks to herself. She gets into her Fantastic Four costume, and tells herself that it is just another day, that it doesn’t matter. ‘Reed loves you. You know that. He doesn’t have to show it. Or say it’ Susan thinks to herself. And, luckily for Reed, Susan has plenty to keep herself distracted, as later, she finds herself going up against Mole Man and one of his horrid creatures. ‘Just like old times - eh, Mole Man?’ Susan calls out to him. She likes talking that way in case there are any reporters within earshot. The press loves it when they declaim in sound bites.
At 4:17 that afternoon, Susan is standing with the other soccer moms, watching her son’s soccer game. The woman to her left, married to a reporter for the Bugle, is complaining that her husband has long hours and that she never sees him. Susan tells herself that she is not being insensitive on purpose, just that the woman doesn’t know any better. Susan’s cell phone rings. She hates the way her heart fills with hope at the possibility that it might be Reed. She wonders if this is normal, after all these years, or if it is pathetic? Either way, she answers on the second ring, trying not to sound too desperate. ‘Hello?’ Susan asks. ‘Oh, hi, Alicia, how are you? Fine, I - oh, thanks for remembering. No thing with Reed, he’s -’ Susan answers Alicia Masters’ questions, as Alicia cuts her off, having heard all of the excuses before. Alicia is a good friend, better than Susan deserves, the way she is always complaining to her about Reed. Which is why she agrees, against better judgment: ‘A girls’ night out? But I don’t need to be - no, no it sounds…yes, Alicia. Yes, of course, I’d love to’ Susan concludes, and she starts counting to thirty once more.
Later, Susan checks herself out in the mirror after donning a blue dress to wear out. She reminds herself that she has had two kids, survived flying through a storm of cosmic energy and lives with three of the most emotionally arrested men on the planet - but she has still got it, thanks very much. There is no word from Reed yet. Susan tells herself that it is just another day. She knows that Ben is playing poker with the boys, Johnny is at Spamalot with Kourtney and HERBIE is watching DVDs with the kids. ‘See you later, Roberta’ Susan waves to the receptionist as she leaves the building. ‘Have a good evening, Mrs Richards’ Roberta replies. Susan realizes that she really is a free agent tonight - that is, if you don’t count the motley crew assembled to “show her a good time”.
A limousine is outside waiting. The blind Alicia Masters sits in thy back of the limo, while the three people she invited stand alongside it. Jennifer Walters, the sensational She-Hulk. ‘Let’s bring it, ladies!’ Jen exclaims, dressed for a night of dancing. The rocky Sharon Ventura a.k.a. She-Thing is also present. ‘I can’t believe anyone still had my number!’ Sharon smiles. And, because of that hilarious team-up the Fantastic Four had with the X-Men a few months ago, Emma Frost is also here, although Susan is not sure why she agreed. ‘I hear what you’re thinking, dear Sue, and believe me when I tell you that I’m asking myself the exact same thing’ Emma scowls. Susan sighs, ‘On the other hand… if you’re going out in New York and it’s just the girls, the last thing you want it some creep hitting on you’ Susan decides.
And shortly, in a nightclub, the five women are standing around their leaner with glasses of alcohol in hand, when a skinny bald man approaches them. ‘Well, well, well, lovely ladies. Allow me to -’ he begins, to which Emma snaps ‘Introduce yourself? Before turning to him and telling him not to bother, as she has scanned his filthy, filthy little mind and what he is imagining is not going to happen. ‘Not tonight, not ever’ she declares. ‘Uhm…I…’ the man utters, taken aback. Emma brings her glass to her mouth and tells the man, who is still hanging around, that he has five seconds to leave before she re-wires his synapses so he will have trouble performing even the most basic of bodily functions. ‘Ciao, love’ she adds. The man turns and walks away, ‘Emma…’ Susan begins, but Emma tells her that the man was hideous. ‘What did Oscar Wilde say about beauty? That it’s a kind of genius?’ Emma asks. ‘Fine, but you’re not the only woman here, Emma’ Sharon points out. Sipping her drink, She-Hulk announces that she thought he was kinda cute.
From drinks in SoHo to clubbing in the Flatiron District, a new place called “Pillows” of all things. Susan thinks that it is nice to be sweating from dancing and not from, for example, getting pummeled by Diablo. She looks across at Jennifer and sees a beautiful, powerful, vivacious woman, at the moment dancing in a sea of shirtless men who probably think she is a drag queen, but let that pass, and she wonders what people think when they look at her. Susan knows she isn’t one for regrets, or for wallowing in any kind of depression - she learned a lot from Alicia - but what is wrong with a little self-reflection every now and then? As she continues to dance Susan wonders what is bad about asking “What might my life be if not for… x, y or x?” She wonders whether she would have been married to a movie star - would she be one?
Dancing nearby, Emma telepathically declares ‘We live in a world where Katie Holmes is a movie star, Susan. If she id it, you certainly could have’. Susan frowns and asks Emma what she is doing in her thoughts. ‘Eavesdropping, some might say. Sorry, darling, but you were just being so loud’ Emma replies, and so Susan begins to count to thirty.
Later, from Pillows to Ray’s Papaya for hotdogs and coconut juice. The women sit at the counter, as Sharon remarks ‘All right, Sue, now that we’ve loosened you up a bit… what is it with you and Namor?’ Before Susan answers, She-Hulk returns to the counter, carrying several hotdogs, she tells the girls that these are all hers, and theirs must be still cooking. ‘Honestly, Sharon? Nothing. I mean, I think Namor’s handsome, sure, and I appreciated his attention - up to a point - but… nothing’s ever happened between us’ Susan claims. ‘Really? Not in all those years? How utterly boring’ Emma mutters. Susan admits that they have kissed a couple of times, but claims they were “Beauty and the Beast” moments. ‘If Hank McCoy were here, he’d make you take that back’ Emma points out. Sharon asks Susan if she has never cheated on Reed. ‘No’ Susan replies. ‘Not even when he’s… I don’t know… ignored you for weeks on end?’ Sharon asks. ‘Never, no’ Susan responds. Sharon asks her if she has surely thought about it at least.
‘Sharon -’ Susan starts to reply, but Emma tells her not to lie. ‘You know, Emma, I really hate that you can read minds. And seriously - why did you come?’ Susan retorts. Holding her hot dog, Emma tells Susan to hush, and declares that they have all contemplated straying at some point or another. ‘Though none of us have had an opportunity so… tantalizing, shall we say?’ Face full of hot dog, Jennifer asks Emma what she means by that. ‘Wait, are you talking about Sue’s thing with the Black Panther?’ Alicia asks. ‘Alicia! That was supposed to be our secret!’ Susan gasps, while Sharon looks on in horror, and Emma looks pleased with herself. ‘Susan Richards! You had a “thing” with the Black Panther?’ Sharon shouts. ‘Yes - no - not really -’ Susan begins, to which Emma asks her why she is blushing. ‘Spill it, sister’ Jennifer demands. Alicia hangs her head and apologizes to Sue, claiming that she thought it was common knowledge. ‘Omigod, I love the Black Panther. He is so sexy and mysterious’ Sharon exclaims. ‘I f you don’t Ms Goody-Goody, I will’ Emma declares. Susan isn’t sure if it is the Cosmopolitans, or the high she is on from dancing, or the fact that her husband hasn’t called her once this entire day - so she decides “why not spill it”, ‘All right, ladies…’ Susan begins, announcing that her little “brush” with the Black Panther began, as these things often do, innocently enough…
(Flashback, years ago)
Inside the Fantastic Four’s chopper, the Invisible Woman tells Mr Fantastic that she doesn’t like making a nuisance of herself when he is obviously being brilliant, but she wants him to tell her more about the exotic hovercraft they are riding. Reed tells Susan that there is not much to tell, except that it seems to be powered by magnetic waves… and that it was an unexpected gift sent to them by an African Chieftain called the Black Panther!. ‘Never heard of ‘im! But does anybody got any Dramamine?’ the Thing calls out. ‘Hey, can we swing by Metro College and pick up my good buddy - the way-out Wyatt Wingfoot?’ the Human Torch asks. ‘The Black Panther?’ Susan thinks to herself. ‘He sounds so mysterious and powerful and… and handsome!’ She wonders if that is why she is suddenly, inexplicably, uneasy.
Susan wishes that the first time she met the Black Panther was magical or kinetic or even civil, but truthfully, they met him in his man-made jungle deep in the heart of Wakanda, as he confronted them, boasting that they must prepare to be hunted for the time has come for the Black Panther to stalk once more. Susan gasps, and wonders why the Black Panther is hunting them, and why she is suddenly, oddly, titillated? Surprised by the unexpected attack, the Fantastic Four were like lambs to the slaughter, Susan especially, with the Black Panther’s arms wrapping around her shoulders, as he grabbed her, enclosing himself within her force field. ‘No so fast, Invisible Girl!’ the Black Panther exclaims. ‘You’re as fast as your namesake… you leaped inside my force field before I could seal it!’ Susan tells him.
‘Uhm, no offense, Sue, but so far this story…’ Sharon begins, her voice trailing off. ‘I believe the term is “bites”’ Emma mutters. ‘Listen… you asked for it, not me’ Emma replies. ‘- yes, why don’t you skip the rest of the fighting, Sue - that’s all you super heroes do when you meet anyway - and tell them what came later’ Alicia suggests. ‘Oh, you mean after we made our peace with T’Challa and after we’d joined forces to defeat Klaw, when I cornered my husband to ask -’ Susan begins.
‘Reed, darling, I hate to be a pest when you’re so obviously preoccupied with something my feminine mind couldn’t possibly fathom, but the Black Panther has asked us to stay in Wakanda for a few days, and, well…’ Susan’s voice trails off as she stands behind Reed wearing a pink dressing gown, while Reed doesn’t glance up from his microscope. ‘What’s that, Sue darling? Oh, yes - of course we can prolong our visit. That would give me a chance to continue researching this strange glistening ore called… vibranium!’ Reed replies.
Susan is excited about extending their stay in Wakanda, so much so that she can’t keep still, and restless, find herself walking the halls of T’Challa’s palace while everyone else - Reed included - slept. Suddenly, she hears someone playing the piano. She wonders who it could be and follows the music, which leads her into a chamber where the Black Panther, unmasked, sits at the piano. ‘Susan Richards! Approach me!’ he calls out, and tells her that he hopes his playing of Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A Minor did not disturb her sleep.
‘Uh… no, Lord T’Challa!’ Susan exclaims, while thinking to herself ‘On the contrary, his playing entrances me - though I mustn’t let him know!’ Susan claims that she was having trouble sleeping and she thought a leisurely stroll might help calm her, while thinking to herself ‘Though there’s little chance of that now!’ The Black Panther ceases his piano playing and takes Susan’s hand. ‘A splendid idea!’ he tells her, adding ‘What better person to show you Wakanda’s night time wonders than he who is Wakanda himself?
And that is exactly what the Black Panther does, leading her out of his palace and into the night air, to a place that was like a paradise, a Garden of Eden, and Susan tells him that as they cross a bridge through some lush landscape. ‘Well said, Susan Richards! Tell me - have you ever seen such natural beauty? Such plants and flowers?’ T’Challa enquires. ‘Once, yes… on the distant planet Vesuvius…’ Susan smiles, while recalling her time on that planet with Reed, asking him ‘What kind of flower is that?’, and how he told her that speaking in botanical terms, it is plant, not a flower. The Black Panther looks unimpressed and tells Susan that he was actually referring to flora indigenous to the planet Earth. ‘I… I’m sorry if I offended you, T’Challa’ Susan replies, awkwardly. He tells her that it is of little consequence, and offers to take her to the Black Lagoon.
‘Wait, was it really called that?’ Sharon asks as the ladies leave the diner. ‘As in “Creature from…”?’ Jen begins. Susan explains that she thinks it is more as in “Lagoon belonging to the Black Panther; therefore it is called… the Black Lagoon”. ‘Here’s where it gets good…’ Alicia smiles. Emma declares that unless Susan relates how she accidentally stepped on a mound of ravenous fire ants on her way to this Black Lagoon, she sincerely doubts it, as Susan continues her story:
The Black Panther leads Susan deeper into the jungle, until they arrive at a clearing. ‘Behold, Susan Richards! The splendor of mighty Wakanda!’ he exclaims. At seeing the Black Lagoon, Susan gasps, and tells Lord T’Challa that it is magnificent. Putting his hand into the water, the Black Panther reveals that they are warmed by a state-of-the-art process he developed in tandem with Wakanda’s greatest scientists called thermal dynamics. ‘Care to join me for a dip?’ he asks. Susan gasps, as the question thrills her and fills her with dread. ‘I can’t say “yes”, can I?’ she asks herself, before replying that she doesn’t have a bathing suit. The Black Panther tells Susan that it is of little consequence and assures her that to preserve her modesty he will avert his gaze whilst she slips into the lagoon’s tepid waters. ‘I… I really shouldn’t but…’ Susan thinks to herself, before announcing that she will, and as she slips into the water, she tells herself that this is just a moment in the jungle and nothing more.
The Black Panther stands on the edge of the lagoon and announces that his costume is made of a strange, otherworldly, water-repellant material, although he can’t remember what it is called, but declares that doesn’t matter, as he also wishes to swim au naturel. As his naked, muscular form dives into the water, Susan pushes her hair back off her face and gasps that he speaks French, the language of love. She decides that it doesn’t matter, for what else happens she mustn’t look at him until he is safely obscured by the waters of the Black Lagoon. A few seconds after hearing the splash of the Black Panther entering the water, Susan uncovers her eyes, and turns - but she cannot see him. ‘T’Challa?’ she calls out. ‘He couldn’t be underwater still…could he?’ Susan wonders, deciding that no one can hold their breath that long - at least, no one human. ‘Black Panther?’ Susan asks. ‘Here, Susan Richards…!’ a voice responds.
‘…behind you!’ the Black Panther declares as he appears behind Susan, floating on his back. Susan tells him that he startled her, to which he assures her that she needn’t be afraid. Susan wonders how he can tell, and decides that she must act nonchalant. ‘Oh, Black Panther, really! After swimming with the sensational Sub-Mariner, not even sharks scare me!’ Susan boasts, before remarking that she thought cats didn’t like water. As they move closer together, T’Challa declares that he is no ordinary cat. ‘And you, Susan Richards, are no ordinary woman’ he adds. Glancing sideways, Susan tells him that it is nice someone thinks so. ‘Good Lord! Did I actually utter those words aloud?’ she asks herself. Their heads bob above the water, inches away from each other, ‘Susan Richards, you and this scientist, Reed Richards… you are married?’ T’Challa enquires.
Susan realizes that he is getting so close to her, their feet touch as they kick to stay afloat in the water. ’Yes, T’Challa, and… happily so’ Susan responds. ’Because the way you’ve been looking at me…’ T’Challa begins. ’Yes…?’ Susan asks as they gaze into each other’s eyes, their noses almost touching. ’I thought perhaps… no! Better not to say it aloud! Because once something is said… or done…’ the Black Panther declares, pulling away. ’…it cannot be unsaid… or undone’ Susan concludes. They turn away from each other in the water, and Susan apologizes to the Black Panther, claiming that the water has suddenly turned cold, so they had best get out. ’I… yes! Let me avert my panther eyes once more while you emerge from the Black Lagoon and clothe yourself’ T’Challa replies.
Which is just what happens. They dress and make their way back through the jungle, back to the Black Panther’s palace, lingering a moment too long at her bedroom’s doorway. ’If we had, no one would’ve known… you are such a beautiful woman, Susan Richards!’ T’Challa declares. Susan tells him that he is a handsome man, one of the most handsome she has ever met, but they would have known. And, with that, as silently as the animal he is named for, the Black Panther departs, leaving Susan to her life. ’Oh! Reed! You’re…. you’re awake! But I thought…’ Susan exclaims as she re-enters the bedroom, to find Reed still with his face over the microscope. ‘Hmm? What’s that? Oh, Susan, were you out-and-about? I hadn’t noticed!’ Reed replies without looking up. Such as it was back then.
Unsurprisingly, after their awkward night at the lagoon, the Black Panther was less keen on having the Fantastic Four stay in Wakanda, and the next morning, he tells the Fantastic Four that he is sorry to see them leave. ‘But rest assured that our paths will cross again and that I consider you friends - a word the Black Panther does not use lightly!’ he announces.
The Human Torch smiles and holds up a sonic fishing pole. ‘Wyatt’s gonna lose it when he sees all the groovy going-away gifts the Panther’s given us!’ he declares. Holding up some contraption, the Thing looks confused and tells the Torch to speak for himself, as all he got was some nutty kinda toy. Reed tells Ben that is quite enough, as the Chieftain of Wakanda is a wonderful man, as generous as he is powerful and as warm-hearted as he is wealthy. ‘Wouldn’t you say… Sue?’ Reed asks. Susan is smiling to herself, ‘Oh, Umm… yes, Reed, darling! That’s… that’s exactly what’s going on! I’m completely enchanted… but I’m also ready to go home now! Can we?’ she asks as she wraps her arms around Reed, who smiles and tells her ‘Of course we can, you silly girl!’ And with that, they depart.
Susan tells the other ladies that they flew back to New York in a gyro-cruiser of the Black Panther’s own invention, with her trying her best to forget her midnight swim with the Panther, and what could have been. ‘That’s your story? But…’ Sharon begins. ‘No offense, Sue, but…’ Jen remarks. ‘…I know. Nothing happened. I tried to tell you…’ Susan replies. Alicia calls out to Emma, telling her that she can hear her doing something, to which Emma announces that she is calling for their car, as she is done playing well with others. Sharon tells Sue that she is a smidge disappointed in her. ‘Me, too. The Black Panther is totally -’ Jen begins. ‘-hot, I know’ Susan concludes, adding that she thought about it, more than she ever did with Namor, which is saying something, but that for good or bad, she and Reed signed on for the long haul. ‘Really, darling? Then how do you explain that time when you were almost divorced?’ Emma smirks.
Susan ignores her and declares that no moment in the jungle is worth putting that at risk. ‘Awww…but - I mean - you’re still made at him for forgetting your anniversary, aren’t you? I mean…you have to be, right?’ She-Hulk asks. Alicia replies that if she is, she is entitled to. ‘For Reed to continue pulling these stunts after all these years is… well…’ her voice trails off. ‘What? Unforgivable? Or is it just -’ Susan thinks to herself, as Emma walks over to the limousine which arrives, she tells Susan that whatever she is about to think, she doesn’t want to hear it. Susan sighs and starts to count again.
As Susan is dropped off back at the Baxter Building, the sun rising over the skyscrapers nearby, the women in the limo wave goodbye, and Susan tells herself that she loves this time of day when the dawn sky is streaked with blues and yellows and pinks. She knows that as much fun that this night was, she is going to be paying for this all-nighter for weeks - another reminder that she is not a teenager anymore. Walking into the lobby, Susan greets Roberta, and asks her to hold all of her calls until Thursday. Roberta welcomes Mrs Richards back, ‘I trust you had a good time’ she adds.
‘Did I?’ Susan thinks to herself, before checking in on her son, Franklin, who is still asleep, she recalls that before getting married there was nothing she enjoyed more than a girls’ night out, flirting, dancing and dishing. ‘But now that I’m older…things have shifted a big, haven’t they?’ she admits, brushing Franklin’s hair off his face. Nothing makes her happier now than simple actions like that. ‘Or discovering, yet again, my daughter’s artistic streak’ Susan tells herself as she checks on Valeria and picks up the drawing in her crib.
And entering her bedroom, she finds her husband waiting for her. ‘That outfit’s quite… my God…you’ve still got it’ Reed remarks. Susan tells herself not to melt. ‘Remember, he didn’t -’ she begins, before asking him ‘Why didn’t you -?’ to which Reed stretches his neck over towards Sue, ‘I’m so sorry I didn’t -’ he says. They both pause, and hands on hips, Sue asks him if he was really in Washington. ‘No, that was… I was trying to surprise you, Sue. So I wrote that note, thinking I’d be back before lunch, but then…’ Reed’s voice trails off, before he drops to his knees as Susan exclaims ‘Let me guess: you discovered…a previously unknown dimension that mirrors our own. Complete with…younger versions of ourselves. There was danger, lives were at stake, you saved untold universes…’ her voice trails off. ‘…something like that’ Reed replies. They sit on the edge of their bed and Reed tells Sue that he is sorry, adding that there wasn’t a way for him to call.
Susan tells Reed that she is still confused, and asks where he was before he got derailed - if not Washington? ‘Getting you an anniversary present, of course’ Reed replies. ‘A present…?’ Sue asks. ‘Behind you, honey’ he tells her, and Susan looks over to a cabinet, where a vase containing an exotic plant has been put. ‘Oh, Reed, it’s…’ Sue begins. Reed asks her if she remembers that vacation they took to Vesuvius once. ‘Remember those gardens?’ he asks. Susan tells Reed that it is beautiful and asks how he managed to get the Vesuvians to part with it, as the plants in those gardens are unique - there is only one of each. As Susan examines the plant closely, Reed takes her hand and tells her that he explained to them how much she loved it when they saw it all those years ago. ‘And how much I loved you and still love you’ he adds.
‘Okay, now you can melt…’ Susan thinks to herself, ‘Reed…’ she begins. They gold hands and press their bodies to each other as Reed admits he didn’t think he would be gone all day. ‘I know’ Susan tells him. Reed admits that he is not the most romantic, spontaneous soul in the world. ‘No, but that’s not…that isn’t what I signed on for’ Susan assures him. ‘Nevertheless, I promise you: next year, no matter what -’ Reed begins, but Sue shushes him and tells him that he doesn’t have to say it, for after all these years, she gets it. ‘I love you, Susan. You bring light…and life…and joy…and meaning to my days. Now and forever’ Reed tells Susan. ‘Me, too, you lanky, nutty professor’ Susan smiles - and she realizes, that this is how the dream day ends.