The Selfish Spider
Rating: NC-17 (for sexual situations and profanity)
Pairing: Johnny Storm x Peter Parker
Fandom: Marvel universe (Fantastic Four and Spider-man)
Disclaimer: Not mine.
Summary: Johnny Storm was a jackass and could go join Fate in the club.
Comments: Well. I've been working on this thing for about a month -- before school even got out for me -- and I've only now gotten finished with it. Way too long. DX Anyway, this is basically my take on how our two favorite superheroes got together. Whch means that it's a pure romance story. Really. Nothing much else. (Maybe a wee bit -- or more -- of humor sprinkled on it, too.)
And just so you know, this is exactly why I do not write drabbles. Because they end up over 18,000 words long. TT Well. In some respects, you could say that I was writing this just so that I could write other drabbles based on this story. I just needed to set up my version of the basic events first.
I'd suggest grabbing some popcorn and chowing down because this is going to take a while.
The first time he met him, Peter was rushing through the streets of New York in an effort to get to his college Biology class on time. There had, of course, been an attempted bank robbery, and his conscience hadn't allowed him to leave without first taking care of the situation. (He sometimes wondered where this conscience was when it came to school, but then he remembered to blame the professors for making the classes easy enough that he could pass them without actually attending them the majority of the time.) As he dashed towards campus, he lamented over the stupidity of becoming a superhero while still in school because of how much of it he was forced to miss – and keeping his identity secret, he added, because if Spider-man's identity wasn't secret, then his teachers would surely give him a break. Well, that or they would force him to quit his – what they would call "vigilante" – extracurricular activities, but either way, the dilemma would be fixed.
Grumbling to himself, he didn't even notice the person walking in front of him until he crashed into him. (Where, he wondered, had his so-called "spider senses" wandered off to?) And the next thing he knew, a pain was kneading his skin as a similar headache began to drag its nails down the blackboard of his mind; the two combined almost succeeded in clouding out the fact that there was a warm body underneath his own. Startled, he brushed away the sparks that were zooming across his vision and rolled off whomever he had collided with (and it was a male, he hoped, because no woman he knew had a body that firm and muscled). He got up quickly and, after a couple rasping coughs, noticed that the other man had likewise recovered from the shock of the impact.
Peter rubbed his throbbing nose before offering a quick apology and rushing off. Class had started twenty minutes ago, and since his mind was so dead-set on making it for at least the last half of the lecture, he barely spared any thought for the guy who had the misfortune of being his crash-test dummy. It was only after class, when he was walking to his apartment at a much more sedated pace, that he thought about the incident. Wincing at his rudeness, he wished he could apologize some better way but the only thing that he could remember was a handsome face with bright blond hair, so the matter was officially dropped from his mind.
That is, it was dropped until he had luck enough to be watching the news when the so-called "Fantastic Four" made their first appearance (saving people whom they had – accidentally – put in danger in the first place). He could only gape at the irony when he realized that the Human Torch was the man he had accidentally bumped into.
Upon closer inspection, he was startled again to note that the other couldn't be more than a few years older than him.
Well, Peter thought to himself, it would be really awkward to apologize to him. I doubt he remembers, anyway. And – duh – that'd be just weird and would probably somehow involve me revealing my identity (either one) for no reason. So. Yeah.
Thus, even though he found it amusing to keep tabs on the newest celebrities of New York (who had been completely and utterly free in giving out their true identities, much to Peter's amazement and slight horrification), he never moved to apologize to Johnny Storm. (Despite the fact that he could have easily found him and done so, what with all the media hype.)
Then they met a second time. Perhaps "met" is an inappropriate word to use because there wasn't actually any contact or, in fact, words exchanged. But the way that their eyes locked for that one moment was enough to send tingling waves through Peter's body – he could have sworn that the gaze staring back at him had flashed with fire; had turned a strange and glowing orange if only for a second. Although, if that was indeed so, Peter didn't know what would have possibly caused such intensity. They were simply walking past each other – just like the first time, in fact, except that they were going down the street in different directions and (or perhaps because) Peter was strolling back to his apartment rather than rushing to class.
Walking at such a pace and letting his eyes roam, he immediately noticed that bright patch of blond hair bobbing in the crowd, and even though he walked with his eyes trained on the beacon, Peter never actually expected the other superhero to look at him. But he did. Just as they were passing each other, Johnny glanced at him and stared – held the contact, scorching, burning, until they looked away in unison.
That was probably when Peter would say that it really started. When he began walking down that specific street daily in an attempt to make contact again with the sun, a living holocaust. When they passed each other daily and when a spider spun a web to capture them both.
And the web, which had initially been only a feeble string, grew into a thicker rope each day, layered and crisscrossed and twisted into an unsolvable knot. It was a slow process, but had it not been so, Peter might not have realized what those tingling waves meant. He wouldn't have realized that the feeling was one he had only ever experienced with Mary Jane. Realized that he had an honest-to-God crush on Johnny Storm. When Peter finally comprehended this, an extreme embarrassment gave him all but paralysis and he avoided walking down the street for as long as he could bear.
Fate, however, was set against him, and after a week in which he avoided any possible run-ins with the Human Torch, he was given the job of photographing a press conference with the Fantastic Four for the Daily Bugle. When J. Jonah Jameson informed him where he would be going, it took everything in his power to prevent a loud groan from slipping out of his mouth. Even then, he couldn't prevent the slight roll of his eyes to the skies or the forever-relevant question of "Why me?" from echoing around his mind.
Nevertheless, he went without any complaint (he had learned long ago that doing so would only cause Jameson to smirk and chortle). He stood in the symposium crowd, dutifully holding his camera to his eye and filling rolls of film, and did his best to prevent a blush from gluing itself to his cheeks whenever he focused on Johnny Storm. He even almost succeeded in this, but then Johnny looked at him. And when that happened, Peter actually did let the groan escape his lips because he could tell that the Torch had immediately recognized him and there was no way that he would get out of a confrontation of some kind – whether it be, "What the hell is wrong with you? Stop stalking me," or "It was love at first sight. (I love your flowing brown hair and your golden eyes – they compliment each other perfectly.)" (Because no one had ever said the latter to him; not even Mary Jane.)
Of course, that didn't mean that when the conference was over, he wouldn't try to dart to safe ground. Because he did. And theoretically, Peter really should have made it; the other superheroes should have been thoroughly plagued by unwanted questions from unwanted reporters. But somehow Johnny managed to get away startlingly fast (when reflecting on the event, Peter supposed that he had simply flashed smiles at all the female reporters, thereby incapacitating them for a few moments, and hurtled through the males) – fast enough to catch Peter without being overtly suspicious. Upon reaching him, though, Johnny simply grabbed his arm, spun him around so that he was facing him, and stared.
Eventually the blond said, "You."
Blinking, Peter responded with a flat "Me."
And it was at that point that he realized the utter implausibility of the situation. Why did he have a crush on Johnny? More importantly, why did Johnny seem to reciprocate – or at least show some kind of interest in him – when he was known as a huge playboy? Did very many people really develop a relationship off of a scant few crossings in the streets? But, really, really, what was it about Johnny that he liked and felt attracted to? Since he was at least in part a reporter (and thus had reporter sensibilities), he decided to glean whatever scraps of information he could from the conversation.
"You're a photographer," Johnny said, but Peter wasn't sure whether it was a question or a simple statement.
"Yeah, for the Bugle. And you're a – ah, superhero." Just to test the waters, he added, "And a playboy."
Johnny looked startled when he threw that last bit out but quickly recovered with a snort and a grin. "Oh, really? I'm glad my reputation precedes me."
This caused Peter to blink for a few moments before stating, "It'd be rather hard to miss. But you like girls." And oh, he knew just how stupid and weird that sounded. (And gee, was he making things obvious, or what?)
If Johnny had been eating or drinking anything, the photographer was certain that he would have choked on it.
"Yeah, I do. You don't?"
Quite suddenly, Peter felt like he had somehow acquired the Human Torch's power, because there was no way that his face could naturally burn at such a high temperature. Completely red, he spluttered a few meaningless words before he left. That was it; Peter simply turned and ran, fleeing for his life and whatever dignity he retained.
Once he escaped the building in which the conference had been held and blended into the endless crowds of the Big Apple, Peter allowed himself to mutter, "Well, I do. But I'm also majorly crushing on you, for only God-knows why."
Except, he whispered to himself, I do know why. It's because you're suave and cool – snort – and have so many things I want.
Yet, despite what he thought, Peter didn't know why. He could hardly fathom getting over his crush on Mary-Jane, but here he was, eyeing someone else – and a man, no less. For a while, the only explanation he could offer himself was that he was lonely. It was an idea that he latched onto with frightening fervor, still clinging to the lingering hope that he would get over his humiliating infatuation in a few days; maybe a week or two.
Really, he was just trying to occupy his time, and his subconscious had provided him with a method. After all, his relationship with Mary-Jane had been cut off – it always went in cycles, ending and starting, ending and starting – but when she got back from Los Angeles, he would surely feel a renewed vigor and attachment to the beautiful woman. Yes, when she came home from filming that movie, they would probably get back together. They always did.
So, then, why was it that he currently felt nothing for her? Certainly, he still appreciated her company (or at least, he remembered appreciating her company the last time he met with her) but there was no longing in him. He didn't ever find himself missing her or wishing for her comfort – he couldn't quite remember what her touch or lips felt like, so he couldn't crave them.
Which was a complete paradox because he could crave Johnny Storm's touch, even though he had only ever felt him – physically, skin-to-skin – the one time when the other had grabbed his arm at the conference. He didn't know what the Torch would feel like, but he still hungered for him.
At first, this craving had only been suggestions, like the occasional thought that a caress of flames would feel comforting or that a brush of burning skin would be wonderfully soothing. They were things that Peter could ignore and pass off as strange, momentary desires. But then he started having dreams – some sweet, others raunchy – and Peter had always been of the opinion that dreams were an explicit window into the mind.
It was only then that he finally admitted to himself that he was truly interested in Johnny Storm. Not in childish adoration, but in serious I-want-to-get-to-know-you-and-love-you-and-have-sex-with-you kinds of ways.
Peter started walking down the street again.
Apparently, so did Johnny (or, at the very least, he kept walking, because Peter didn't know if the other man had ever stopped).
And just in case Peter had forgotten the vague schedule that they used to have he made sure to wander down that street as often as possible. Even after he figured out that the Torch frequented it mostly between the scorching hours of half after one o'clock, he still wandered around it – simply so he'd be there on the off occasion that the man decided to do the same. Of course, he hardly ever saw Johnny outside the allotted time period, but Peter tried anyway.
Eventually, he realized that he was acting like a obsessed little girl who wasted the majority of her days away dreaming of whatever boy band was currently famous and continuously going back to the same fansite just in case someone had updated with a tiny, inconsequential snippet of information. That was what he was doing: wasting his time hoping that the whims of someone else would accommodate his own.
But what else was he to do? His life basically dissolved into four categories: his work life at the Bugle newspaper; his school life at the university; his crime-fighting life as Spider-man; and his love life, which apparently consisted in its entirety of an oblivious (well – maybe not so oblivious) Johnny Storm. Between all of these, he didn't have any time to spare, but he found that his thoughts were being increasingly dominated by his lust. That meant, of course, that his mind and, by consequence, his life were being thrown out of balance –again. And Peter knew from experience that it would not be long before everything came crashing down upon his head.
Obviously, he didn't want this to happen. Yet the only thing that he could possibly do was stabilize his love life – and the only way of doing that was to resolve the issue with Johnny.
Which, he knew, was much easier said than done. Much easier.
Because, for one, stabilizing his love life entailed either realizing his crush or becoming disinterested. And despite how appealing that latter option looked, Peter was fairly certain that such a thing wouldn't happen very soon. After all, this fixation had lasted over a month and a half so far and didn't seem to be keen on dying down any time in the foreseeable future. Although, he considered, perhaps he could destroy it by getting so utterly rejected by Johnny that he would have to become disinterested. If he could only gather enough of his nerves together to confess, he was sure that his plan would work – there was, ultimately, no way that the Torch would reciprocate. No way in the entire universe.
Yet his traitorous mind did take note of the fact that, funnily enough, in the only conversation he had had with the man, Johnny, who had surely known why Peter was acting so on the fritz, hadn't said anything to shatter his hopes. He had skirted the issue, as if he was perplexed and amused – and not in a bad way – by the photographer's clear interest in him. This, little whispers told Peter, was surely a sign that there was a possibility of him getting an actual relationship with Johnny Storm.
He brushed off those murmurs and dedicated himself to confessing. Of course, he broke out into a cold sweat every time he so much as thought about blurting his not-so-secret secret, hence it took quite awhile for him to make any progress whatsoever. Each day he would go over his speech again as he walked towards his crush and move a little bit closer to where Johnny passed him in the crowd. But all the times he got within a few feet of the Torch, he was struck with a very horrible stomachache and fever, forcing him to abort the mission as fast as humanly (and spiderly) possible.
Naturally, those symptoms wisped away like smoke as soon as the other man was out of his line of sight.
It was all rather frustrating, especially since Peter was not born a patient person. As he waited each day for a new chance to complete his goal, he wondered over the fact that this impatience had never before conflicted so greatly with his horrible anxiety problem. Although, to be fair, that anxiety problem had improved ever since the advent of Spider-man – so much so that he'd almost forgotten about it.
Now, of course, he was constantly reminded of it, and as such, he developed the personal motto, "Love throws a wrench into the workings of everything." Peter speculated momentarily as to why anyone ever bothered with love, but then he remembered his own involuntarily capture by Cupid.
Which, of course, made him think to himself, If the stupid flying baby wants me and Johnny to get together, then he should really work harder. Seriously. Make Johnny do something! Make him fall in love with me. Yeah, right. I don't think that even Cupid can achieve a feat that great. Just let me fall out of love. That would make things so much easier.
But if there was one thing that Peter had learned from his time as Spider-man, it was that life was never easy. Thus, he kept walking down the street and picking up his nerves one by one in hopes of someday gathering enough to act.
Then Fate meddled with his life again, and he was just about ready to simply let Fate decide everything for him because it basically already did. He had to wonder why Fate loved him so much – he had never done anything for or to her (or him, depending on Fate's personification), so her (or his) fixation was completely uncalled for. Rather similar to his fixation on Johnny, actually.
That thought caused his mind to exit the train of Other Things and board the train of Johnny Storm, a thing that lately seemed to be happening more frequently and for longer periods of times. Peter even caught himself pondering methods and situations of confession, going through the consequences and effects and equations and variables of them, while he swung around New York as Spider-man. He could be in the midst of a dramatic rescue and thoughts of his crush would dash nude through his brain (and if such a thing wasn't the very definition of frustration, then he didn't know what was).
Ironically (or not), it was during a fire (that kept reminding him of Johnny, because really you'd have to be daft not to think of the Human Torch in such a situation) that Fate acted. Somehow the circuits of an apartment complex melted or sparked, and right as the flames began to lick the walls, Peter happened to walk by. And just like that, Spider-man arrived and jumped into the building to save whatever living creature hadn't been lucky enough to make it out before the blaze trapped them. (Interesting that there were so many fires in New York City. Really. A lot.)
In the midst of the dizzying fog of smoke, he found an unconscious teenager – who was probably only one or two years younger than he was – and slung her over his shoulder in a well-practiced motion. Quickly, he snuck through the growing flames, already beginning to feel slightly faint from the fumes – a rather foreboding thing, considering that he still had three stories to check and clear.
But then a strange thing happened: the fire died down. As he ran through the hallways, desperate for a window that wasn't blocked by an overwhelming conflagration, it struck him that the flames were weakening and beginning to snuff out. When he noticed this, Peter froze and feared that somehow something had gone wrong. His mind raced with irrational thoughts, drawing parallels to the eye of a storm. And, expecting the worst, he dropped to the floor and tried to shield the teenager's body with his own (a difficult thing when they had roughly the same body size – which isn't to say that Peter was small; just that the girl was rather large).
A minute or two passed before Peter comprehended that nothing dramatic was taking place. In fact, significantly fewer dramatic things were occurring than before he had ducked-and-covered – the constant low hiss of the fire had been silenced and the cracking of burning walls and foundation had all but stopped. It was so quiet that he could hear the murmur of outside discussions, three stories below.
Peter got up cautiously, and, upon finding the apartment devoid of any kind of immediate threat, he picked the girl up once again and slung out of a shattered window.
For once, he didn't find himself the center of everyone's attention when he landed. Instead, the crowd of anxious people was dividing its attention between him and – oh – the Human Torch. Yes. Of course. The Human Torch. The immature member of the Fantastic Four. The playboy superhero (or at least one of them). Johnny Storm. Storm. Storm. Sssssttttoorrrm.
Fate was a jackass.
The paramedics took the teenager away from Peter and placed her on a stretcher, but he wasn't paying much attention to all of that. Rather, he was looking towards the building, where the Torch was standing with his arms and hands splayed out. Peter could only guess that this was a remnant of what he had looked like when he had forced the fire to kaput, but, even without the maelstrom of flames, it was an intriguing picture.
His eyes snapped wide, however, when he saw Susan Storm walk up to her brother and tap him on the shoulder. Scanning the scene, he realized that the entire Fantastic Four was present, though Mr. Fantastic and the Thing were standing closer to the police and ambulances than to the building.
Dr. Richards spotted him staring and waved him over. That in and of itself was nearly enough to give Peter a heart attack – whereas everyone else in his generation idolized certain actors, actresses, and singers, he idolized scientists. And Dr. Richards was an amazing scientist, making him tied with Otto Octavius for the spot of Peter's (boyhood) hero. The college student wasn't sure whether he'd be able to contain his not-so-inner geek if he met the man, and how embarrassing would it be for people to find out that Spider-Man was a total nerd? Nevertheless, he'd have to be a total idiot to refuse a discussion with his equivalent of an old pin-up.
Tentatively, he walked over to Mr. Fantastic. By the time he made it there, both Storms had joined the group to form their entire superhero team. Needless to say, Peter was intimidated: as if facing his hero and his crush weren't enough, he had to face the Fantastic Four in all their glory – just their title was enough to daunt him, much less their actual presence. They were, after all, a popular and loved group of superheroes, and what was he? Just a lone, often-hated vigilante. It was enough to make him want to curl into a ball and die.
But he was Spider-man, and being hated so much gave him all the more reason not to act weak and give them a valid reason to scorn him. So he didn't (at least, he didn't think that he did) show his inferiority complex. Peter strode to the group with steps that held a purpose – but alas, he simply couldn't prevent his head from tilting slightly downward, as if in reverence.
Once they were all standing together, there was a short awkward silence. After sighing almost imperceptibly, Peter waved and forced himself to say with his cheeriest voice, "Hi!"
Dr. Richards smiled and put his hand out for Peter to shake, which he did. "Hello. I'm – er – well, I'm Mr. Fantastic, but you probably already know that. It's nice to finally meet the city's most prominent superhero."
"'Most prominent'?" Peter repeated and tried to prevent the shock from showing on his face before he remembered that he was wearing a mask. Embarrassed at this blunder, he was also quite suddenly aware of the fact that out of the superheroes present only Susan Storm was smaller than him. None of this was helping his self-esteem.
Johnny scoffed. "Duh. Whad'ya think when you're on the cover of all the newspapers and magazines practically every other day?"
To which Peter stuttered, "W-well. The majority of the time I'm on a cover because they think that everything I've done is a hoax, or – or that I'm secretly some super villain or child molester or something like that. Prominent, fine, I guess so, but if that's what prominent is, then I don't think that's something I should be celebrating."
After his grumblings, Susan Storm came over and patted him on the back – and although it was surely supposed to be a comforting move, it simply made Peter feel even more pathetic.
"We believe in you, at least," she declared and momentarily shot a glare at the police who were still milling around. "You know what? We've been wanting to meet you for a while now – and not meeting like this, like actually-getting-to-know-you meeting – so what would you say to stopping by our place sometime?"
Peter stared at her with wide eyes and then glanced around at the others to see what they thought of her suggestion. Dr. Richards had an encouraging smile plastered on his face, Johnny looked rather nonchalant about the entire thing, though there was a strange glint in his eyes that made Peter's spider senses prickle just the slightest bit, and the Thing – well, he thought that the man was okay with the idea, but he wasn't entirely sure since Ben Grimm's face seemed to be set into a permanent grimace. So he exclaimed, "Are you kidding? I'd love to! That'd be, like, the coolest thing ever!"
Susan Storm smiled. "Excellent. Why don't you stop by the day after tomorrow? I'll make dinner."
And so it was set. Looking back on the meeting, Peter decided that it was the key to all other events that happened afterwards; it was one of those apexes that, if changed, would have the fluttering effect of changing everything else. Had he not run into the Fantastic Four that day and had they not agreed to see each other another time, he might never have inched his way closer to Johnny Storm – he might still have been walking namelessly by the other man months later, blushing at the very mention of a storm or fire or fire storm.
But they had met and they had agreed to meet again in a few days, and as such, Peter would be forever in debt to Fate (though she – he – it – was still a jackass).
Of course, by the end of the two days, he was about ready to kill Fate anyway, because even though it was such a short amount of time, he couldn't contain his anxiety and impatience; he didn't think that he'd fretted as much in his entire life as he did during those forty-eight hours. The meeting was practically the only thing that he could think about, and even when he forced himself to think of other things that he actually deserved to be anxious about, his mind would somehow creep back to the Fantastic Four.
They were always stupid concerns, too. Things like: Oh, no, Susan Storm didn't specify a time exactly! What if I get there too early? Or too late? Okay, calm down – I know it's around dinner time, so probably between six and nine – hey! Hold on a second! She said, "dinner," which implies that we eat, which implies that I take off my mask. Oh, my God, do they expect me to do that? And so on and so forth.
This time, instead of realizing that he was acting like a little girl, he realized that he was acting like an agitated housewife. And while it was debatable whether he had ever been truly in touch with his manlier side (he wore spandex, for God's sake), Peter was fairly certain that he could usually aver to not acting like a female.
Falling in love apparently made men act like women. (Although, he realized how sexist that statement was – because who was to say that there were such fundamental differences between males and females and that all sex roles weren't just stupid inventions made and dictated by society? – and it made him frown, but how else was he to put it? He was simply wording it with standards that his world would understand. After all, if he didn't draw definite lines around the meanings and implications of words, then language would be rendered useless. And now, everything was suddenly getting much too theoretical for Peter so he was shutting up.)
It was all rather strange and suspicious. When he fell in love with Mary Jane, he had never felt so tumultuous – it was simple, pure adoration; the kind of love that made little butterflies quiver inside of him and made him want to lay the world at her feet. With Johnny, there were no butterflies. There were shocks and sparks that reverberated on his skin and prickled through his body. It was the kind of love that made him want to lay himself at Johnny's feet.
And it was an interesting thing, that: the reason why Peter's relationship with Mary Jane never seemed to last was because he was unable to give himself to her.
He thought of all this during one of Dr. Connor's lectures, and he very nearly dropped his pen and gasped. Amazed at himself, he was also quite worried that the world was ending, because he would be the first to admit (or perhaps second, if you counted Mary Jane) that when it came to matters of the heart, he wasn't the most adept – in fact, Peter was probably one of the most inept persons in the entire world. Yet, there he was, acquiring Buddha-worthy intellect.
In this daze of self-accomplishment, time buzzed past him until it was six o'clock on the day after tomorrow (which was, in fact, a Wednesday). The hour found him pacing around his small apartment, the earlier question of an appropriate arriving time at the forefront of his mind. The various answers were all bounding and jigging and mingling in his mind, and it was confusing enough just trying to think about them that actually deciding upon one seemed an awful lot like trying to keep track of one shape or color in a phantasmagoric dream. Peter must have been getting fairly close to walking a hole in the wooden floor with the amount of pacing he was doing.
Finally, when his small clock showed twelve after six, Peter threw his hands up in the air and took off the everyday clothes that he wore over his suit. He tugged his mask on and slipped out of the window with a grace that was certainly more feline than arachnid – except that when he paused to think about it, he realized that the two adjectives implied the same thing. When he moved, he moved with the barest hint of a touch, almost as if his hands and feet glided over what they danced on, and his muscles never strained or stopped; they simply flowed together, seamlessly, with his actions, and this way of moving was both a cat's and a spider's. And the language he used was so imperfect, but again, he was contemplating these things at the wrong place and time. He was swinging through New York City, after all, and you simply didn't consider philosophical things while doing that – just as you didn't while you were driving (at least, hopefully). Otherwise, you'd crash into a building. In fact, exactly how Peter almost did just now.
The last thought floating through his mind when he arrived on the roof of the Baxter Building was that the citizens of the Big Apple should be thanking whoever or whatever was up there in the sky (or, if you preferred, down there below the ground) that he didn't have a car.
Then he was at one of the windows, staring at it oddly because – well, was he just supposed knock on it? Or maybe somehow pick its lock or something (did windows have locks to pick in the first place?) and slip in? Which was probably an incredibly stupid thing to even contemplate. This was the Baxter Building, after all; the home of the Fantastic Four, so it wasn't like there would be no alarms or traps. Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman were smarter than that, at least. (Johnny Storm, he thought to himself, would probably leave everything unlocked as an invite to whatever female wanted to worm her way into his bed. Peter paused and wondered if he could try the same strategy.)
So there were obviously going to be snares and the like. Yes, there were. And he was Spider-man, and it had been so long since he'd had a challenge, so long since he'd had any kind of practice in dodging explosives and sneaking through things that Peter simply couldn't resist.
With an unusual smirk, Peter started to fiddle with the window. He tapped and scraped and dodged (the weird little fire balls were particularly amusing) and drew upon all those hours of training (whether they be for Spider-man or for boy scouts) until finally he managed to shift a window open a little more than a foot – if anyone ever asked him how he managed to do so, he would be distinctly unable to answer. Nevertheless, when he was able to slide through that opening, he couldn't prevent the definite sense of pride from tickling his mind.
And, ha, Goddammit, he did have a bit of masculinity in him. (You know, since he liked sneaking into things and taking the hard route when he probably could have just knocked.)
Once he had squirmed in, Peter clung to the wall and shifted to a spot that better smothered him in shadows; it wasn't like he'd let them detect him that easily after he'd gone through all that trouble just to get in. So he stayed in one of the uppermost corners, eyeing the famed base of the Fantastic Four.
It was everything the rumors said it was: large, with incredibly high walls, a majority of which were actually windows; mysterious electronic devices amassed in the middle of the room, quarantined by a lot of computers; waves of wires undulating over gargantuan patches of floor with various tools caught in the currents; white boards with incredibly long, complex formulas scribbled onto them; and massive piles of papers (that appeared to be filled with notes) all over the place. Looking at the place was like a dream come true for Peter: oh, how he'd love to tinker around in this room for hours – no, days – on end.
Maybe he could get Dr. Richards to let him. He very much doubted that it would happen – because who in their right minds would let an unknown mess around in their haven full of potentially earth-ending things? – but he could try, at the very least. And Peter would.
As he contemplated this, one of the doors opened to admit Dr. Richards. The man was in a lab coat – a fact that amused Peter to no end (he was only used to seeing Mr. Fantastic in his superhero outfit) – and ambling through the room, pausing at various places to trifle with some gadget or another. Strangely enough, he didn't seem keen on getting really caught up in a project, as if he was aware that he'd simply be dragged away prematurely.
Good, Peter thought, I guess I'll assume that means they remembered me. Um . . . Okay. Yeah, that's good. Now what?
Though he was somewhat depressed at having to give up his – if he did say so himself – brilliant hiding spot, it would be rather dull if he didn't reveal himself. As he was moving to pull away from the shadows, however, the elevator dinged and revealed the two Storm siblings.
As ashamed as he was to admit it, Peter's heart tha-thumped a little quicker when he saw Johnny – Johnny, with flames dancing on his head instead of hair and sparks flying off his shoulder blades and animated hands. (If Peter was a stereotypical girl, he probably would have sighed a dreamy breath of love-obsessed air at the sight of his crush and accidentally released his grip on the wall. And if this was a crappy love movie, he probably would have somehow managed to fall into Johnny's awaiting arms.) It was an interesting attribute of the Torch – you could always tell when he was upset or feeling any kind of intense emotion: right now, there was absolutely no doubt that he was arguing with his sister.
Susan Storm waved off and abandoned her brother when she saw Dr. Richards, who was watching them both rather intently.
"Hey – hey!" Johnny exclaimed at the brush-off. "We are so not done talking here –"
"Johnny," scolded his sister with a fair amount of irritation. "Yes, we are. We can talk about this later, anyway. How's the blue prints for the car coming, anyway, Reed?"
That last sentence certainly caught Peter's attention. Cars were, after all, the one thing to which all men would forever be able to relate. However, his concentration was redirected from the conversation to Johnny when the man wandered over to the corner that he was hidden in.
It made him rather nervous having someone so close to his hiding spot, but when the other gazed around the room, looked straight at Peter without realizing that something was out of place, and moved his stare to the skyline in the windows, he relaxed. And, seeing the image that the Torch made – with the light of the sunset reflecting off of him – Peter decided that it was finally time to reveal himself.
When Dr. Richards and Susan Storm had their backs to him, he crawled down the wall, and, with Johnny also turned away from him, he sidled right up behind the blond man.
"This is a really nice view," he said, loud enough that the Torch could hear but soft enough that the other two occupants wouldn't.
Not that it made that much of a difference, considering the yelp of surprise that rushed out of Johnny's lips. All three present of the Fantastic Four whirled around to face him and dropped into fighting stances. They even almost started throwing attacks at him until Peter held up his hands and exclaimed with haste, "Woah, woah! It's just me."
Upon hearing this, Susan immediately returned to a casual posture and sighed.
"Now, that was really uncalled for," she reprimanded with a smile.
"I know, but it was totally worth it. You guys should've seen your faces." He grinned rather goofily, but he wasn't quite sure whether the others could tell – whether his mask had crinkled in a revealing way or not.
"Yeah, well, you sure know how to make an entrance," Johnny stated dryly, studying the university student intensely. That small gleam of something in his eyes – the one that had made Peter's hair prickle – was there again, a bit stronger than last time.
Peter ignored it in favor of walking around the room and studying all of the objects in the room.
"So," Dr. Richards coughed, "how exactly did you get in? I know for a fact that the Baxter Building has pretty formidable defenses."
As he read the white boards, Spider-man snorted. "Yeah, you know because you set them up, right? Well, I, with my brilliance, got in through there," and he pointed up at the open window through which he had slid. He knew that he was a bad person when he got such satisfaction from seeing the disbelieving faces of the Fantastic Four.
"Nuh-uh, that's a tiny opening," the Torch retorted, but then he paused and seemed to scrutinize Peter for a second. "But then again, you do have a rather miniscule body . . ."
On no uncertain terms was that meant as a jibe at his small (but compact! – and anyway, he was only about four or five inches shorter than Johnny) size, and it was only years of bullying that allowed the brunet to simply shrug the comment off. And it was only years as Spider-man that allowed him to dare return the burn with, "You're right; it is a bit small. Or maybe you're just big because your fat-ass certainly wouldn't fit." (Said jokingly, of course, and he briefly thought he might have crossed some line that he wasn't supposed to – they didn't know each well, after all – but then he remembered that he was Spider-man, famous for making wise-cracks at people.)
"Well, it's not like I'm planning on crawling through any tight openings any time soon – oh, wait." Johnny snapped his fingers and looked thoughtful. "Yes, I am, but – heh – not that kind, and you know what I hear? The girls of this season like men who are a lot taller and bigger than them. And you, my friend, would have to find a girl about four feet tall for that to work."
Needless to say, Peter turned an absolutely stunning shade of red – almost the same as the one on his suit, in fact – and had to cough a couple of seconds to recover. He faintly saw Susan Storm scowl and mutter darkly and Dr. Richards mirror his own actions.
Even though he loathed to admit it, it was a really good comeback.
"I don't plan on crawling into any kinds of holes like that, thank you very much," Peter puffed, unable to think of anything better to say.
"Oh, oh, sorry, I didn't realize that you were one of those upstanding types – or maybe you're not. Maybe it's just that you'd rather have something go up your –"
"JOHNNY!" his sister shrieked, and judging by the warning that radiated off of her, the conversation had officially ended.
There was an awkward and tense silence before Dr. Richards cleared his throat and said, "So . . . Ah, how's life going for everyone?"
It was a welcome change in topic, despite how lame it was. But going into it, the only thing that Peter could think of was the look on Johnny's face when he'd made that last comment – there was the smug, I'm-totally-gonna-own-you expression, of course, but there was something else, too: a seriousness that revealed a suspicion.
And all that Peter could think to himself was, Crap, he's on to me. He knows or remembers, at least kinda . . . Shit, shit.
If Johnny was suspicious, though, he didn't purposely try to express it. In the end, it was actually Peter's own fault that the other man cracked and confronted him about it.
It was after about an hour or so of comfortable and casual talk, when they had all – and "all" now included Ben Grimm, who had walked in not long after the embarrassing argument between Peter and Johnny – settled down upon various surfaces – Dr. Richards and Susan Storm in office chairs, Johnny and Ben Grimm sprawled across opposing sofas, and Peter on a table (he had asked politely if he could sit there) – that the youngest of the group commented, "God, I just can't get over how awesome this place is. Oh, what I'd give to have a home like this." He sighed rather lackadaisically but perked up to ask, "Did you get money as superheroes for this place or what?"
"Well, partly," Richards replied kindly. "I get money for my research, but we get a fair amount from superhero duties."
Peter sighed. "Seeing this is almost enough to convince me to unmask myself."
"Oh?" Susan asked. "You don't get money for doing" – she waved her hands around emphatically – "this?"
Sighing again, he replied, "Well, I did one time, but after that, no one has even offered. Stupid, 'cause that first time the guy wrote the check out to Spider-man, you know? It's not like I could give my identity out just like that and I didn't really think twice about it, but then I tried to cash it – in this costume. As if walking into a bank as Spider-man isn't embarrassing enough, when I tried to cash it, they wouldn't let me. They said that any idiot can dress up as Spider-man and there was no proof that I was actually him." He snorted. "I had money that I could so use, but I couldn't actually get it. Ironic. Story of my life," and he made a broad gesture with his hands.
"So you're a bit short on cash or what?" Ben Grimm asked gruffly.
Giving a scoff, Peter said with liberal sarcasm, "You could say that. I guess I'm not the worst off, but it's still . . . Well, the place I live in is pretty close to the bottom of the line."
"Don't you work, though?" Susan inquired without the slightest hint of slander, despite the question.
"Yeah, but I also go to the University, so when I graduate I'm gonna have a massive debt. And it's not like working at the Bugle exactly gives you – " Peter realized his mistake the second after he let the words out of his mouth. And oh, how he wished he could take them back, because that glint was practically a glow in Johnny's eyes.
Johnny, who sat up ram-rod straight when he heard Peter. He sharpened his gaze and asked slowly, "The Bugle? You said you work at the Daily Bugle?"
Oh, shit, oh, shit, this isn't good – no, no, this sucks, oh, my God, was all that Peter could think and he hesitantly answered, "Y-yeah . . . "
"Would you, perhaps, happen to work as a photographer there?"
If the devil had an incarnation, it would look exactly like Johnny looked at the moment, with that I've-got-you-cornered-aha expression and the erect posture. It wasn't difficult to tell that he was getting ready to move.
"Um . . . W-well, you know, I do that sometimes, but – "
Peter had roughly the time to start pushing off the table before Johnny was in front of him, pulling his mask off.
It was only then that time seemed to slow down, and Peter really had to criticize time's . . . untimeliness. Seriously. A few seconds before would have been the perfect time to go slow-motion – because then he could have gotten away. But no, it waited until his mask was already coming off and he couldn't do anything to stop it.
Then, once the mask was off, there was a moment or two of complete stillness in which Dr. Richards, Ben Grimm, and Susan Storm stared at him in shock and Johnny stared at him in triumph and said rather loudly, "I knew it!" before Peter fell backwards off the table, the momentum of the earlier desperate push catching up to him.
Despite how very theatrical everything else seemed, the brunet told himself that at least there weren't any dramatic crashes; just a rather loud thud when his back connected with the floor. (What excuse did his spider senses have this time?)
"Crap," he groaned, before standing up swiftly and glaring vindictively at Johnny Storm. The effect, however, was lost because his entire face was – once again – a very stark shade of red.
On the other hand, the Torch was sporting a satisfied smirk and, as he and Peter were standing on opposite sides of the table, he leaned over languidly to ask, "So does this mean that Spider-man has a crush on me?"
Johnny Storm was a jackass and could go join Fate in the club.
Peter told him that. He bent over until their faces were only a few inches away and said, "You're a jackass."
Simple as that, with no embellishments or frills. (He was tempted to embellish it with a good solid punch but refrained.)
"Yeah, that's what makes people like me – it's how I get the girls. And, apparently, it's how I got you – but I'm not sure if I should even think about that," the blond said, still grinning and speaking loud enough for his voice to echo around the suddenly deathly quiet Baxter Building.
There was simply something about that last statement that bit at Peter's skin and muscles, so he punched the other man. Swiftly. Cleanly. And hard enough that a loud crack was heard throughout the room.
It gave Peter some satisfaction knowing that it was also hard enough to knock Johnny to the ground and back quite a few feet.
"Oh, my fucking God, you jackass!" the Torch yelled, after groaning and spitting out some blood. He clutched the cheek that had received the blow, and the brunet was positive that it was going to leave one hell of a bruise.
"No," Peter ground out, "you're the jackass! It's what makes people like you, right? Yeah." He snorted scornfully. "But when the people start liking you, since you're the jackass, you smirk at them, maybe get a little something from them, and once you have it – you leave! And if maybe the person who likes you is a little bit odd or different, you laugh in their face. They're not good enough for you! The only ones who are are dumbass blond bimbos who couldn't tell you what two plus two makes! You're so . . . Urgh, shallow!"
With that, he vaulted over the table, snatched his mask out of Johnny's now-lax grip, and stomped over to a very startled Dr. Richards, Ben Grimm, and Susan Storm. Peter stopped in front of them and said in a much nicer tone, "Thank you for your hospitality. This place is really cool, and . . . uh." He faltered and scratched his head, back to the awkwardness of Peter Parker. "I'd like to come back and talk some more if you guys ever wanted. This was really fun. Well, mostly." He shot an extremely dirty look at Johnny Storm before tugging his mask back on.
And just to spite the Storm brother, he scaled the wall and gracefully slid out of the window through which he had entered.
By the time he was back in his apartment, Peter had thoroughly calmed down. There was something about swinging through the skyscrapers of New York City that was surreal and soothing. Or perhaps it was simply that he'd spent all of his energy on the physical work-out of doing so (slinging around the Big Apple took a surprising amount of ATP) and was thus pacified.
Either way, he was able to look back on the event and pick it apart without his ire being triggered (at least, not terribly). And, to say the least, Peter was startled by his own actions. He had . . . well, he had yelled at Johnny for something that probably didn't even truly concern him, and now there was no doubt that the Torch absolutely loathed him.
Well, Peter thought to himself, at least now I've affirmed that I have no chance of ever being with him. God. That expression when he said – just . . . Urgh. But anyway, maybe I can start to fall out of love with him. You know. Since I now know that the chase is futile.
Of course, love didn't quite work that way and as such, he still awoke with lingering crush and sex dreams on his mind, tickling his senses and waving a feather under his nose. It was frustrating. Really, incredibly frustrating.
After two weeks, he was about ready to introduce his forehead to the lousy wooden desk that was planted in the corner of the room because the entire situation was so excruciatingly maddening. Peter was still so much in love that he wandered down that street daily – it had become something of a habit, it would seem, and the rue had somehow gained a certain allure that he simply couldn't resist. If it had been just that, though, he wouldn't have been bothered by his (rather pitiful and desperate) habits. No, the thing that kept wedging a hammer ever further into his self-esteem was the fact that not once since their confrontation had Johnny shown his face there – or, apparently, anywhere (if what the newspapers proclaimed was to be believed).
It was rather depressing to think that his predominant obsession was a person who scoffed at him and didn't even take him seriously. And yet, it made sense in a twisted way; because everything bad always seemed to happen to Peter – as if he took the bad luck away from other people, but in retribution had to shoulder their misfortune. Following that logic, perhaps he had saved a few wives and husbands in the past (thus allowing them continue their love) and was, as such, being denied his own love.
Or maybe he was just an idiot who fell in love with the wrong people. An idiot who was never good enough for anyone, despite how hard he worked; an idiot who did all the stupid things, so that even when he saved countless faceless people, he couldn't save himself.
Around two weeks after his disastrous meeting at the Baxter Building, Peter walked down that street once more but this time he was returning to his safeguard (or rather, his crappy apartment) from a horrible encounter – there had been a women, middle aged maybe and well-along in pregnancy, and she had been mugged before Peter could get there, but not only mugged, no, no, she was shot, too, laying on the ground with a sorrowful face staring pleadingly up at him, saying, "Save me, save me, I know you can," when, in fact, he could do absolutely nothing, powerless – and there was likewise nothing he could do stop them – the tears. His life was a miserable existence. That was the price. He made other people happy – at least he did when he could – but it only ended with his own life shattering.
To see people die, knowing that had you been there just a bit earlier, had you been just a little quicker and smarter, you could have stopped some atrocity was a weight that could crush any man. And Peter had never really been that strong in the first place.
All of these things, all of these despairing comprehensions, had never hit him with the intensity that they did that day, and they had certainly never mixed inexplicably with a memory of Mary Jane. A memory of her sage words, spoken a long time ago: "Sometimes you just have to let it out. The burden of life, isn't it? And even when it's stupid and you know it's stupid, you also know that it's tripping you up, and the best thing to do is just . . . cry. You know? Men are always trying to be impressive and macho, and they pretend to fight to let things out, but women . . . well, it's much more conservative and smarter, isn't it? You cry, it's only yourself, and the minute the tears stop, your throat clears up and it's like the rain has just stopped and the clouds have receded – and they have. Take my advice, Pete, and don't let this pride get in the way – no one's going to think any less of you if you cry. You, of all people, deserve that right."
There was no face to go with the words, just a surprising wisdom that Peter had never really considered or taken to heart until now. Now, only as he was trudging down a street that should have been a dead-end – it really should have, for poetic justice and all that – that he thought of and appreciated it. And as he walked and cried, he thought to himself, M.J., you're a really great woman. You are, you really are, and whatever man ends up taking up a space in your life is so lucky.
That man, however, would never be him. It simply wouldn't. There were too many holes in the web they had tried to force between each other; the problems that they had now would never go away because they were fundamental things, ones that were caused by the very nature of their personalities.
This revelation threw even more kindle wood upon the bonfire of emotions, until Peter cried not so much for any reason – they were all too muddled anyway – but simply for the sake of crying.
And strangely, even though he was right in the middle of a crowd of bustling people, he wasn't embarrassed. It was almost a surreal feeling; to be amidst a throng and yet to be unnoticed, uncaring. Those girls who had passed him by hadn't flashed startled expressions when they saw him nor had that businessman scrutinized him.
Maybe when it came to emotional issues Peter was taking the advice of a woman – of a dear friend. It was true. But he had a newfound respect for the wisdom of females and he suddenly thought that most other men would be much better off, with less stress, taking their counsel.
If he would have been to inform one person of this discovery, it would probably have been J. Jonah Jameson. Although, on second thought, perhaps not, because he'd probably be fired for suggesting such a thing. (Fired, only to be re-hired once his boss realized that that meant Peter wouldn't be there.)
It was possible that he was simply in a somewhat despondent mood because of the general happenings of his life, but no matter the reason, his boss had recently been scraping laboriously at his nerves. And not only Jameson, but his entire work life was bothering him. After all, it wasn't as if his cubicle at the Daily Bugle was worthy of any kind of envy (especially since it was located on one of Jameson's favorite routes to use to get to the bathroom), so whenever Peter was confined to its walls, he couldn't help but glance longingly at the door and be snappy when his boss stopped by to yell at him for some miniscule, idiotic thing or another.
A few days after that "Pathetic Walk of Girly-But-Okay-Because-Mary-Jane-Said-So Tears" (as he dubbed it) found him sitting cross-legged on his cubicle's floor, fiddling with the secretary's broken radio and flinching whenever he heard Jonah's voice erupt from a random side of the room. He was getting nowhere in the actual fixing of the radio, but he supposed that if he at least looked like he was doing something, Jameson wouldn't have anything to yell at him for when he walked by. (In any case, it wasn't as if he had anything better to be doing.)
Wading through a variation of angry, self-depreciating and depressed thoughts, he jumped when he heard someone clear their throats from the small doorway of his workspace. Embarrassed, Peter looked up and promptly dropped the piece of old technology that had been in his hands. (That probably didn't help any in the fixing aspect of it, Peter thought distractedly.)
For who should be there but the one and only Johnny Storm.
Peter's mouth hung open, but after a few seconds, he snapped it shut with a loud click and then mindlessly stuttered, "W-what are you doing here?" He stood up awkwardly and brushed imaginary dust off of his pants, all the while trying to decide whether to be mad or bashful.
Scratching the back of his head and avoiding the brunet's gaze, Johnny said, "Well – um . . . Well, I came here to apologize, I guess, for acting like a jerk before. It's . . . Well . . ."
So uncomfortable. Accordingly, Peter sat back down on the floor and picked the radio up again. When only silence greeted his ears, he looked up at the Torch and raised an eyebrow.
In an attempt to eliminate some of the discomfort, the blond asked, "So what exactly are you doing there?"
Twitching his eyebrow again, Peter replied (with a hint of condescension), "I'm trying to fix this stupid old hunk of junk for the secretary. It's not really working."
"But you're a photographer, aren't you?"
Peter sighed and placed the radio next to him before looking up at Johnny. "See, what I was going to say that night you cut me off to . . . unmask me was that I'm only the photographer sometimes. My main job here is actually to fix things – like the computers when there are errors and other stuff like that. I'm the technical aide, technically. I think. It might be called something different."
"Oh," was all that Johnny said. He looked like he wanted to add something else, but even when Peter waited, nothing more was uttered.
So the brunet filled the gap. "You . . . then, you just came to apologize?" And though he tried not to get his hopes up too much, he couldn't prevent just the slightest bit from curdling in his stomach.
"Yeah. Well, look, I know what I said was rude, and I – well, this isn't really my ballpark so it's weird, but if you wanted to . . . go get something to eat, I guess . . ." It was a rather self-conscious speech (that didn't even end properly), but it managed to carry an arrogance all the same – an intriguing mix that matched with Johnny's appearance and stance perfectly.
Standing and stepping up to the blond until their faces were only a few inches far apart, Peter locked eyes unwaveringly with the other man and said, "Well, this all depends on why you're doing this. If it's just to apologize on professional terms and more because you feel bad than anything else, then I'm afraid I might have to decline. Wouldn't want to get my hopes up, would you, only to make my dreams" (this was said with a liberal amount of sarcasm) "come crashing down? But if you're actually serious in this, then sure – I'd be totally thrilled."
Abruptly, he turned away and flicked some of his bangs out of his eyes, never quite managing to lose eye-contact with Johnny. He watched as the other stood there for a second, scrutinizing him, and as he watched, he realized what, exactly, he had just said – that he was trying to get another guy to ask him out. Seriously. And not just any guy. Johnny Storm. Awkward. But the blond actually seemed set on going through with it.
"Okay, well, as I said, this isn't my ballpark, like, at all, but I'd – what the hell – try."
"Why?" Peter knew that he shouldn't have asked it, but the words were out of his mouth before he could stop them.
Johnny suddenly straightened and regained his smug smile as he stated, "Well . . . I guess a few days ago I saw you – on the street, you know – crying and you made a . . . striking image."
"I never realized that you, Johnny Storm, were such a romantic." Peter quirked an eyebrow and thought to himself, There is no way that that's the only reason. If it is, then this . . . is going to be troublesome.
In response, the blond shrugged. "Well, you're not that bad-looking – for a guy – and you've got a . . . cute-ish personality, even if you punched me." He rubbed his jaw, though the bruise had long-since faded.
"I've got a 'cute-ish' personality because I punched you." Peter's voice gained a more frigid tone as he said, "Anybody who doesn't knock you down for comments like the one you made isn't a cute person at all."
The statement was received with a sigh.
"Look, I'm not always such a jerk."
"I'm not sure if I believe you yet or not but even if I didn't I'd probably still like you, for only God knows why," he muttered and glared down at the resilient but distinctly unfixable radio.
He got an odd look for that remark and, when he didn't elaborate, a nudge to continue.
"What do you mean?"
"What I mean," Peter said as he moved closer to Johnny until their bodies were almost touching, "is for the past couple of months, or however long it's been since we first started walking down that street, I've been trying to find ways to get rid of my stupid crush on you. But no matter what I do – even when I thought that you hated my guts because of our scuffle at the Baxter Building – I just can't stop obsessing over you."
"See, now," said Johnny with a fair bit of exasperation, "while that cleared some things up, it just calls for more questions. So: what do you mean by 'obsessing'?"
Peter wasn't sure whether he himself wanted to contemplate what he meant by it. After all, he wasn't particularly keen on thinking of all the sex dreams he'd had – no, damnit, he wasn't – or of any of the other things that had happened. But he knew that there was no way he'd be able to lie to the Torch, and as such, he said, "This isn't a good place to talk about these things. We're in the headquarters of a newspaper, for God's sake, and you're one of the Fantastic Four – and we've already said too much here." His voice got lower the longer he talked; finally, he was at a whisper when he muttered his next words. "Look, let's talk somewhere else."
In response, Johnny shrugged and started backing out of the cubicle. "Okay. Come on."
The brunet didn't budge. "I've still got around an hour before I can go."
With an overdramatic eye roll and sigh, Johnny snatched Peter's wrist and tugged the smaller man forward. "The first thing you need to learn if you're going to be with Johnny Storm is that, when imperative, duties can be shirked."
"Jobs cannot be shirked."
"Yes, they can, as you're about to find out."
Before Peter could protest any further Johnny gave his wrist a mighty tug and strode forward, dragging him along. He huffed in annoyance, an ire which only grew when he tried to wrench his arm free from the other's grasp and discovered exactly what all those bulky muscles meant. The only thing that he could do as he was jerked past the secretary was shoot her a bewildered and apologetic look that would hopefully make her feel bad enough for him that she would give J. Jonah Jameson an excuse on his behalf.
Once they were out of the building and upon the streets, where the skyscrapers could be seen bending around the clouds, a barrier shattered and the itch to turn back to the Bugle dissipated. It was as if his subconscious had told him, You've come this far; you might as well go all the way. Dork.
Nevertheless, Peter let Johnny keep a grip on his wrist – it was, after all, probably the closest he'd get to holding hands for quite a while (if ever) and it was convenient in the sense that they wouldn't be separated in the crowd.
Walking a bit faster so that he stood next to the Torch instead of behind him, he asked, "So where exactly are we going?"
"There's a nice restaurant a block from here – it has the regular stuff like hamburgers and fries, but it's really loud and no one ever hears or bothers to try to hear someone else's conversation, no matter who you are," the blond said and shrugged.
Peter, frankly, was startled by the amount of creative logic in the idea, but from what he'd puzzled out about Johnny Storm, it fit in the jigsaw. Because, as far as he could tell, the blond was utterly paradoxical and spontaneous: sometimes displaying quite a bit of intelligence while other times saying some of the stupidest things in the world; sometimes being extremely cruel while other times being incredibly nice and sympathetic; and sometimes acting like the most sexist, bigoted man alive while other times acting freely (and, for instance, taking Peter out on a date).
They stopped at a traffic light – he could see their destination across the street, and it looked more like a hard-rock café than anything else – and in the awaiting crowd, Peter noticed quite a few people glance at Johnny, some with expressions of awe and others with bewilderment. He covertly snorted in amusement but couldn't stop himself from thinking, Thank God nobody knows who I am. I don't think I could stand it if everyone always acted like I was a celebrity. Of course, it's perfect for Johnny. (The other man was grinning and winking at the people around him.) I wonder what the people would say if they realized that he and I are going on a –
The thought was cut off by the Storm brother tugging him forward a little bit and letting go of his hand – no, no, don't be disappointed, Peter, you knew he would be embarrassed to be with you, because he's got a reputation to uphold and, well, who wouldn't be in this situation? – to snake an arm around Peter's waist. To say that the brunet was surprised would be one of the greatest understatements of the century. His face was a bright puce as he turned to look at his – what? Boyfriend? – companion and maneuvered his facial features into a question mark.
"Well, you're just too pretty in a crowd to leave alone, aren't you?" he whispered into Peter's ear before pausing and thinking out loud, "D'ya think that maybe I have a thing for you when you're in a crowd? That's a really weird kink."
Peter coughed and shot back, "That, my friend, is called exhibitionism. And – this is probably going to be all over the newspapers, you know, and you're only making it worse by making these kinds of comments. I can just imagine the headlines: 'The Human Torch truly flaming?'"
"Ah, but see, maybe this is what I wanted; maybe this is a scheme of my devious mind to get you to realize that I'm willing to give up my superb reputation just for you and bend – wait a second, no, I don't bend for anyone, so you get to bend – to your wishes. And then, when you're more comfortable tonight or tomorrow or sometime in the near future, I'll snatch you away to my bed and fuck you. And we'll call it love and be together forever." Near the end of the last sentence, he adopted a high-pitched and incredibly girly tone so that the "forever" was drawn out in a squeal.
All that Peter could do was thank whatever higher being there was that Johnny had said that all under his breath. (Although, there was a girl to the Torch's left who started choking on laughter at the conclusion of the daring speech.)
The light finally changed and the crowd surged forward, the hand on Peter's hip unmoving and Johnny's lips ceaselessly hovering near his ear.
Peter belatedly responded, "That's an interesting definition of love. I wonder if it's the one you actually subscribe to, and how much of that lovely oration came out of thin air. I mean, I can believe that you'd do the sex part of it."
"I'm glad my potential, freak one-time-only-for-like-ever boyfriend is so insightful. Much more insightful than the girls I've been with –"
"Or rather, much more male than the girls you've been with," Peter cut in wryly.
" – and I'm glad you don't seem terribly upset over the fact that I'm trying to get into your pants less than an hour after this" – he tugged at the brunet's waist – "started."
They reached the entrance of the restaurant and much to Peter's disappointment, Johnny pulled away from him to open the door. Inside, the place reminded him strongly of – for a lack of a better comparison – Applebees; that certain casual but definitely middle-class air wafted within its perimeters uninhibited and there were many artifacts from pop culture proudly hanging upon the walls. But it was, as the blond promised, much louder. And indeed, it was no mystery as to why this was so, because all of the other customers were leaning back casually in their seats and conversing in deafening tones, occasionally barking mighty laughs.
The maitre d' jumped when she saw them – or, at least, Johnny Storm – and was already leading them to a table before they even said anything to her. (Peter wasn't sure whether this was because Johnny seemed to frequent the restaurant or simply because he was a member of the Fantastic Four. It was probably a combination of both, he surmised.)
Once they had been seated in a booth by the rather fidgety woman and had ordered their drinks, Peter picked up the menu and the loose end of their interrupted conversation.
"Is sex the only thing you think about?"
Johnny's eyebrows rose slightly before he said in indignation, "Of course not! It's not like you see me with a perpetual hard-on, do you?"
"You're so crude."
"What? Would you prefer me call it 'a constant erection of the penis'?"
"No – that's way worse!" Peter said as he squeezed his eyes shut and put a comically painful expression on his face. "And it's too technical for you."
"Ech – too technical? I'm insulted. I'll have you know I was smart enough to get into NASA's astronaut program." Johnny briefly scanned the menu before throwing it off to the side and focusing on Peter.
"'Was'? What happened?" Feeling compelled by the Torch's example to choose something quickly, he started to flip through the menu more fervently. He didn't get very far, however, because a hand suddenly caught his menu and caused any movement to come to a halt.
It was, of course, Johnny's hand. He tapped the card and said, "D'ya like burgers? They've got some really good ones here."
"Yeah, but I like spaghetti stuff better."
Leaning over to get a good look at where Peter was on the menu, the older of the two flipped through it until the page with "Pasta" came up. "I'm pretty sure their alfredo's good too. I dunno – I've never had it, but Reed likes it. Yeah," he said after he spotted something on the menu, "he always gets the chicken and broccoli alfredo."
"Sounds like a good idea," Peter said with a smile and, looking at Johnny, he was reminded very strongly that this was an actual date – or, at the very least, that Johnny was entertaining his wishes. "What are you going to get?"
"Oh, well, the same thing as always. The – ah – ribs basket."
With a snort, Peter said, "Ah, of course. A nice, manly dinner."
He got a funny look in response, so he elaborated, "Well, it's true – ribs are a proper hearty dinner, ya know? I'm just not sure if they're manlier than burgers."
"You know, you asked if the only thing that I think about is sex, but I think you think a lot more about it than I do."
"Ido no – "
"Nuh-uh," Johnny interrupted and shook his head, "you can't say that after what you just said."
Peter paused and retraced his steps in the trail of their conversation. On some level, what the blond said was exactly true, he realized – he did compare things on terms of sex quite a lot. "But, okay, the sex I was talking about before is like when two humans" – he quirked an eyebrow at the other man and forced his hands not to make suggestive gestures – "exchange fluids in some way or another, but the sex that you're talking about is like . . . gender sex. I guess I do categorize things by gender . . ."
"You know, the reason you do that's probably because you're insecure. Probably. Well, they always say you compare yourself to other people when you're insecure. And your mental processes reflect your mental state. That, at least, is my professional psychiatric opinion," Johnny said sincerely, though his straight face was obviously forced. Before Peter could retaliate, a waitress glided in and gave them their drinks.
The girl, who had pretty black curls and a distinct Asian look about her, asked them politely if they had decided what to order. The curt image was destroyed (at least, in Peter's opinion) when her gaze lingered on Johnny a bit longer than necessary.
"Yes," Peter said immediately and with a bit of ire. "I'd like the broccoli and chicken alfredo, please."
Johnny shot a rather amused expression the brunet's way as he said, "Yeah, and I'd like the ribs basket."
They both handed the girl their menus and, just to motivate her to move faster, Peter flashed her a rather dark glare. To his satisfaction, she scuttled off with only the occasional glance back.
"Obnoxious ditz," he grumbled vehemently.
"You know," Johnny mused, "I think this relationship might actually work. You're so small and you act so much like a girl anyway that I don't even need to close my eyes to imagine it."
"Hey – whatever. There isn't that big of a difference between males and females, anyway, and you're just using gender norms to categorize them. Bastard. Didn't you ever take a sociology class in high school?" Peter tapped his water glass at the end for emphasis.
With a roll of his eyes, the blond drawled, "And now you're using things like school to justify how you act like a girl. First stage is denial."
"No matter what stage I'm at, I think you're gonna realize I'm not such a girl if you try to – what was it? Drag me off to your bed and fuck me?"
"So, then, you agree to it. How about my place, seven o'clock?" Johnny said, and Peter honestly couldn't tell whether the man was joking or not.
"You want to have sex before, like, anything else?" the brunet asked incredulously.
For that, he got a look that couldn't have been saying anything other than, Duh, why are you even asking? And, when the Torch finally seemed to admit to himself that the question had been posed in earnest, he leaned forward and held up two fingers. "The second thing you need to learn if you're gonna be with Johnny Storm is that sex determines everything. Sex comes first. Plain as that." He then leaned back and spread out his hands, palms up. "If the sex is good, then the relationship will most likely work. If it's bad, then, well, sorry."
"You determine things on sex," Peter stated flatly, attempting to keep his expression neutral. It was a rather foreign concept for him, after all.
"Well, yeah, but I'm also the kinda guy who just generally tends to fuck first and think about it later, you know."
"You sure have this thought out beforehand."
Johnny snorted at him before shrugging and saying, "It comes and goes."
A few minutes passed in which they were both at a stalemate. Peter finally broke the (un-) silence with, "So you seriously want me to come over to the Baxter Building tonight to have sex with you so you can decide whether I'm worthy of dating."
"Isn't it a given, though, that the sex won't be as good because I don't think that either one of us has ever had gay sex."
His response was a smirk.
"Are you telling me that you – allegedly – obsessed over me for months but have yet to actually look up the facts of gay sex? What, no sex dreams? No curiosity? How did that obsession work? Doesn't seem very obsess-y to me"
Peter turned red. "Well, I might've, you know, kinda, just a bit, read a few things. Occasionally. Somewhere. Somehow."
"Uh, huh, sure ya did. So you know that at the beginning, you have to – "
"Yes," he cut in quickly, rather fearful of what Johnny would say otherwise. Anyway, there wasn't much point in having the Torch continue because, if he were honest with himself, Peter would admit that there was very little that the other man could say that he wouldn't already know; his – er – research had been fairly thorough. But Peter didn't like being honest with himself.
Amused, the blond continued, "And at the end, you've gotta – "
"Well, then, I'd say we're good," Johnny said genially and eyed their waitress as she made her way towards them with plates of food.
"Well, okay, I know I know this stuff, but how do you? I wouldn't imagine that you look at very much gay porn." The brunet, also, had noticed their waitress and lowered his voice more with each step she took towards them.
He didn't get an answer until their food had been laid out in front of them and he had (subliminally) shooed their server away.
As Johnny picked a rib out of his basket and began gnawing on it, he said in between chews, "Well, I knew I was gonna ask you out, which always ultimately leads to sex. And I knew you're a guy, of course, so – it's not like I wouldn't have prepared for it. Besides, I had to come to terms with the fact that I was gonna have sex with a guy first, anyway."
"Somehow, though, I still can't imagine you going into a shop and buying gay porn," Peter said and started to munch on his food.
"My friend, it's called the internet." The blond waved a rib at him. "Where've you been the last, like, decade? And besides, I can't exactly imagine you doing that either, so I'm guessing you used the internet, too."
That was something that Peter couldn't deny, so he just shrugged. And after that, the conversation turned to small talk for the rest of the meal. At the end, when they couldn't decide who should pay the bill, they had a thumb war in which neither won a spectacular victory, but in which Johnny at the very least won marginally. (If asked, Peter would have muttered that the Torch cheated by heating his hand up to near scalding point. But, then again, it meant that he didn't have to pay while keeping his dignity, so maybe his mutterings would be purposefully unintelligible.)
After everything was set right and they had snatched a couple of mints, they wandered back onto the streets, where Peter was struck by how much quieter it was outside than it had been inside the restaurant. Shaking himself out of his stupor, he looked at his watch. "So, ah, it's six. I dunno, I think that's a bit early for sex, doncha think?"
"Are you kidding? It's never too early for sex. But, then again, Reed and Sue weren't gonna leave for that conference until six – which means seven – and Ben hasn't got a date with his girlfriend until seven thirty. So . . . Wanna go clubbing?"
"I'm wearing a plaid sweater vest, Johnny. I don't think that's exactly club material. Besides, I've never been to a club – for a reason. I somehow doubt I'd fit in."
"I suppose you've got a point. Fine then, a movie?"
Right after the blond made the suggestion, the image that flashed into Peter's mind was one of a back row make-out session. He glanced over at Johnny suspiciously. "I'd be fine with that," was his cautious response.
"Awesome!" Johnny exclaimed and, grabbing his hand, started off towards a movie theatre that was about ten blocks away.
They ended up going to a really horrible B action movie, and the fact that there were only five other people in the movie theatre – four of them sitting in the seats closest to the screen, the other sitting around the middle of the theater – did nothing to placate Peter's suspicions. Especially when Johnny chose the very last row to sit in. All that the brunet could think was, Oh, Johnny, Johnny, you're being much too obvious.
Of course, that was probably the point. He didn't say anything about it, though, and after about fifty minutes of the movie went by with no incident, Peter began to let go of his suspicions. While he was forcing his tense muscles to relax and his eyes to focus on the screen, he thought to himself, Maybe now I can actually start paying attention to the movie –
It was then that the Torch decided to strike. Peter wondered if the other man had the entire strategy planned out before he'd even made the suggestion of going to the movies, but then thought to himself that – duh – he probably used this tactic on every female he met. This realization did nothing to lessen his desire to kick himself for letting his defenses down. And yet, these grumbled curses (God, I'm so stupid! Stupid, stupid Peter) were only half-hearted, because he really didn't mind the physical distraction that Johnny was providing. In fact, when he first felt the lips press against his neck, it took everything in him to suppress a shiver from rattling his body.
"What do you think you're doing?" he hissed, sounding a bit more malevolent than he actually felt, as he turned to look at Johnny.
The lips traveled from his neck to the side of his mouth, and the two suddenly had a frighteningly clear view of each other's eyes. Johnny's bright blue ones glinted with the light from the film as he murmured, "I think I'm making this movie a whole lot more interesting, that's what."
Peter snorted and felt two hands come to rest upon his hips. They began to inch him closer to the other man, but he was distracted from this fact when those lips found their way to his own.
They completely skipped the sweet and simple kiss to jump to a full opened-mouth French one, much to Peter's startlement – whenever he had kissed Mary Jane (and she, really, was the only other person he'd ever kissed), they'd started out slow and only occasionally moved to the more passionate stuff – but he didn't complain. It was, in a bizarre way, extremely refreshing and – no, no, he wouldn't say it, no, no, oh, goddammit, what the hell – arousing.
Funny that one minute Peter was grumbling about Johnny kissing his neck and the next they were pressed flush against each other in a (mind-boggling) lip-lock.
After that, things began to blur at the edges, encroaching further and further towards the middle until everything was hidden behind a veil of lust – pure, unadulterated lust that crackled at his skin and twisted in his mind. It was something that Peter had never really, truly experienced, and it was, most certainly, frightening – but thank God Johnny was there, at least; acting as a lightning rod that grounded him, because otherwise he would have been struck down (by his own nervousness). He would have run away.
Which, Peter realized, was an example of something interesting and nice about them (as a single unit) – they balanced each other out. Johnny, after all, was boisterous and out-going and never said "no" to anything: he was completely about the kicks that he got from things (including, in all likelihood, sex with another man) and thus never really bothered to think things through. He simply did whatever popped into his mind. On the other hand, Peter was timid and fretful and said "no" to many things: he always thought things through and, because of that, never gave in to momentary pleasures (except, he supposed, when he was Spider-man and got numerous adrenaline rushes from swinging around New York in ways that would put the most fearsome daredevil to shame).
By them being in a relationship (at least momentarily), not only were they wandering out of their niches in terms of what gender their partner had but also in their personality types. It was common knowledge that the Torch wandered around with the wild women, and Peter had only ever committed himself to Mary Jane, who was maybe-not-quite-but-almost as straight-laced as he was, so by placing them together . . . well, the brunet could only hope that Johnny was getting as many jolts from this as he was.
Jolts like the ones that kept running through his spine, almost like waves– much harsher and more abrupt. Peter continually felt them lash at him through the movie, and then when he and Johnny rushed out of the theater and to the Baxter Building as quickly as humanly possible, it was all that he could do to keep them at bay.
Of course, once they were within the rather-well-protected confines of the Fantastic Four's base (where no paparazzi would dare to venture for fear of losing a limb or more), there was no reason to hold them back – and, dammit, it wasn't at all his fault that, when the blond shoved him against a wall, harder, harder, until there wasn't nearly any space between Johnny, Peter, and the wall (Wall, I'd like you to meet Peter's back. Peter's back, Wall), his body trembled and his knees buckled rather stupendously. (And, fine, the Torch probably had a point in saying that he was practically a girl in the way he acted. Well. The blond had probably only specified such a thing so Peter knew that he wasthe one getting something shoved in him, not the other way around. No disputes and hands down. But still.)
Kiss after kiss, groping and sliding and grinding after groping and sliding and grinding, and it wasn't long before the two found their way to Johnny's gargantuan bed (and the size wasn't at all suspicious, no, no). Their motions were perhaps jerky here and there, but all things considered, Peter was rather amazed that everything fit together so smoothly.
Perhaps most especially, he was amazed that they fit together so well – physically, at the very least – because, though he was a bit embarrassed to admit it, he had harbored some doubts as to whether certain aspects of gay sex were actually possible without weirdness and a lot of pain. But, of course, when the blond pushed into him and began thrusting – yes, of course, it was weird, but there was no way around that because, well, there was another guy's dick inside him – the misgivings were dispelled. Because despite everything, the denouement arrived with Peter gasping for delicious air, recovering from a long dunk into hormone-driven and pleasure-filled waters.
Yet, as he peeled his hands off of Johnny's back, where they had previously been plastered quite thoroughly, he couldn't help but wince when he saw that his palms and wrists were slightly burned (as were, he later noted, various other parts of his body – namely, his inner thighs, which had been pressed against Johnny's sides and waist the entire time through). That was the one thing about sex with the blond that was completely and utterly unique and maybe a little undesirable. The flames that had begun to lick the man's hair and shoulders had certainly been amazing to look at, yes, but when Peter had the habit of clinging to – well – his sex partner (he supposed) it . . . left its mark. And it wasn't even just the flames: near Johnny's climax, the kisses they had exchanged had very nearly burned Peter's lips and made his skin crackle open.
He wondered how all the females with whom the Torch had slept had dealt with the tremendous heat and the fact that when the sex began getting really fiery, so did the blond's body temperature until the man was near boiling point – and, well, Peter didn't think that he'd be entirely comfortable sitting on anything for a while. (Some aloe vera was going to find itself in some very interesting places pretty soon.)
Sighing, Peter wiped the sweat from his forehead and felt the sting of the salt against his hands' tender skin as Johnny rolled off of him. The other man propped his head against his fist and simply stared at the brunet, face fairly expressionless – if a bit flushed. With a tender smile, Peter brushed his hands against both the blond's cheeks before weaving them into the man's messy pale hair and kissing his temples.
A grin sprung to Johnny's lips when he did this, and he was pulled flush once more against the other man's body.
"You really are girly," the Torch murmured against Peter's cheek, absently reaching over to a lamp on the bed table that was emitting a soft glow and turning it off with a click.
"Yeah, well, you really are a jackass. So I think we're even."
This earned him a snort.
Then a comfortable silence.
"So, are we sleeping now?" he asked.
And it was one of the best nights of sleep that Peter had ever gotten, despite the mild tinglings in his hands. When he awoke, he found that Johnny was still peacefully snoring – and the snuffles were reverberating in such a soothing manner that the brunet was lulled back into a faux dreaming state.
After a few minutes passed, he was dragged to a complete state of consciousness when he felt movement and heard the bed creak. Squinting his eyes open, he saw Johnny pull away from him and sit up with a great yawn. The blond made no other move, however – either content to rest or unwilling to move away from Peter's arms (that were hanging around his waist).
"So," he murmured, caught in a gazing contest with Johnny.
The other man ran a hand through his hair and, with a smirk, mussed the brunet's up.
Giving an overexaggerated frown, Peter sat up next to Johnny and returned the favor until he was satisfied that enough flaxen tufts were sticking out every which way. This, of course, earned him a huff. Peter grew smug at the expected reaction and was about to turn his attention to something else when he was tackled down to a side of the bed, precariously close to the edge. To say the least, he was startled, but his exclamation of "What the hell?" was choked off by laughter.
Because Johnny Storm was tickling him. And, dammit, Peter was ticklish – overwhelmingly so (he had a sneaking suspicion that his extreme ticklishness was somehow related to his spiderness). Only momentarily could he lament, however, about the injustice of his sensitivity before the comprehensible thoughts were driven out of his mind by the mad need to laugh and likewise get away from the source of his torment. Yet, despite his valiant attempts, he shook too much and wasn't able to concentrate enough to really do much to hinder the Torch; he could only roll onto his stomach and struggle unsuccessfully for the edge of the bed (it was so close, so close, and yet so far away!).
Eventually, Peter went for the verbal dissuasion tactic.
"S-stop! Please!" he cried, his voice utterly unstable.
He heard a rather loud snort.
"You kidding? This is way too fun," Johnny said and Peter was suddenly aware how close the other man was – the blond's words had been muttered into the back of his neck and he could feel searing puffs of Johnny's breath as they cut through the air.
The hands dancing on the skin at his hips slowly stopped moving until all movement seemed to die. Only Peter's heavy breaths could be heard through the room, and he abruptly realized several things about their current situation: one, they were naked; two, he was laying on his stomach on Johnny's bed and the Torch was also laying stomach-down upon him; and three, they had just had sex the previous night, so this was a decidedly awkward position. Really. Awkward. And if anyone were to walk into the room at the moment, there would surely be no doubt in their mind that the two men were rutting or had rutted within the past few moments.
Peter coughed in embarrassment and moved to get out from under Johnny, hoping that the man would get the idea and budge also. He did, and soon they were sitting once more.
"So . . . um . . ." The brunet faltered.
"Yeah. We should probably get showered and eat. I dunno – I'm not really planning to do much today, so if you wanted to do something . . ."
Quirking an eyebrow, Peter asked, "Does that mean I get a shot at your heart?"
Johnny chortled. "As if I've got a heart."
"Why, of course you do!" he exclaimed in a high-pitched voice. "All superheroes must have a heart of absolute gold to do what they do!"
With a roll of his eyes, Johnny grabbed Peter's wrist and dragged him towards a bathroom to shower.
Peter wasn't sure if they were any cleaner when they came out of the shower than when they went in because fairly early on they were distracted by other things (Johnny insisted upon showering together). However, it didn't concern either man much so there was no mention of it. They simply grinned at each other, making jabs and jokes and having an all-around good time.
And the rest of the morning went by in a laid-back way similar to how it started. Peter had to leave in the early afternoon because of a class and then work, but when he left, they agreed to go out again in two days.
To put it simply, Peter was ecstatic. For once in his life (or, at least, for one of the few times) things seemed to be going nicely – but, of course, this fact also put him on his toes. Because whenever things were going well for him something stupid happened and, well, he had only just gotten together with Johnny so there was still plenty of time for things to go wrong.
Not that he dared express any of his concerns. Peter would never admit it but he had something of a fear that whenever he voiced an idea that was of a particularly morbid nature, it would somehow come true. So he just generally didn't say anything at all.
However, when the first week went by and nothing terribly foreboding occurred – in fact, his affection for Johnny only seemed to grow with the more time he spent in the company of the other man – he began to ease out of his skin of caution. Slowly, very slowly, but steady nonetheless.
At the same time, the Torch seemed to be toning things down for Peter. It wasn't terribly noticeable at first, but as time progressed the tabloids certainly began to contemplate the subject. It was around a month after he and Johnny got together that headlines and stories cropped up, proclaiming that the playboy superhero hadn't been seen at nearly as many clubs and monster truck competitions (and other such motor displays) as of late. There were some rather wild and amusing speculations on what change had occurred to elicit such a thing, but hardly any of them were ever close to the truth – something for which Peter was grateful.
Interestingly enough, it was around the time that the articles started running that the rest of the Fantastic Four found out about his and Johnny's relationship. In retrospect, Peter was thoroughly befuddled as to why it took them so long to notice, but then he remembered how meticulous the blond had been in avoiding the slipping of the information. He had questioned Johnny once as to why he was keeping the other three in the dark and the other man had only gleeful replied, "It's totally a game! 'See how long we can keep the greatest minds in the universe oblivious.' Great, isn't it?"
Thus, he only slept over at the Baxter Building whenever Susan and Reed had a conference of some kind to go to, an event that would undoubtedly entail the disappearance of Ben Grimm (Peter wasn't sure but he had suspicious that, whenever those two were gone, the Thing didn't want to be left alone with Johnny, so he went over to his girlfriend's place for however long Dr. Richards and the Storm sister would be gone). The Torch seemed quite content with the situation, especially considering the frequency with which it happened. Really, Peter himself never realized how popular Susan Storm and Reed Richards were until it meant that he'd be (unquestionably) having sex each night they were gone for some convention or another.
It was on one of those sleep-overs that their secret finally wriggled out into sunlight. Not anything unusual; everything seemed as normal as their previous times together in the Baxter Building, but the single difference for which they hadn't accounted was Dr. Richards and Susan Storm's return to the building in the early morning, rather than around noon. And since Ben Grimm seemed to have some kind of magical radar honed in on the two, he returned to the building shortly after them.
Of course, just because they returned didn't necessarily mean that they would walk into Johnny's room (which, obviously, was where the blond and the brunet always slept). And, in fact, in was only because Susan Storm decided to make a nice breakfast of waffles that she bothered to check in on her brother at all (she knew that if he found out about the waffles – and he would – he'd pester her for days on end for not waking him up).
From what Peter heard, Susan nearly dropped the plate she was holding when she saw her brother sleeping peacefully – and rather naked – with his arms wrapped around another – rather naked – man (whom she was unable to identify because the brunet's head was tucked under Johnny's chin and turned towards the bed). But after she recovered, she returned to the kitchen wearing a contemplative look that begged Reed to question her. When she asked him and Ben if they'd ever considered that Johnny was gay or at least bisexual, they nearly choked on their drinks (whether it was coffee or juice).
"Your brother finds a different girl every other day, and I've never seen 'im with a guy. Nah, I can't imagine Johnny being gay," Ben Grimm said.
Nodding in agreement, Reed added, "I don't think he'd ever bring himself to such a thing. It's not really like he needs a guy when all the girls are throwing themselves at his feet."
Peter was told that Susan then pursed her lips and grabbed the two men's arms to drag them to Johnny's room (the particular tendency of dragging people places seemed to be genetic).
At his room's doorway, the two older male members of the Fantastic Four received the shock of their lives. In the form of one Peter Parker (again, not that they'd identified him yet).
Allegedly with a small triumphant smirk, Susan went over to her brother and tapped his shoulder to wake him. Wake he did but, as he sat up and stretched, the only hint of acknowledgement he gave to the other three superheroes was a "Damn. I was hoping the game'd last a while longer."
It was enough to cause Susan's gaze to snap onto him, ire clearly visible. "And what, exactly, is that supposed to mean?"
"It means," Johnny said with the beginnings of a rather smug tone, looking at Peter and messing with his hair as a way to persuade him awake, "that you guys are about a month late."
Peter slowly blinked open his eyes, sleepy stare caught on Johnny, while the rest of the Fantastic Four tried to find something to say. But then his gaze moved to the other occupants of the room and, panicked, he squeaked as he shot straight up in the bed. He then tried to hide his crimson face behind his boyfriend's back.
Suddenly, Susan Storm gasped. She stared at where Peter was attempting to hide behind Johnny before turning her gaze to her brother and saying incredulously, "You've been sleeping with Spider-man?"
After she said this, Ben Grimm and Reed Richards's faces lit up with recognition, their mouths forming small ohs and their eyebrows rising – well, Mr. Fantastic's rose, at least. The Thing didn't exactly have eyebrows. But the rocky skin above his eyes shuttered around a bit, and it at least looked like he was trying to raise his nonexistent eyebrows.
"Yeah, and I'd kinda like it, you know, if you guys left so we can get dressed," Johnny said, pointedly looking at the door.
Grumbling, the three took the (rather obvious) hint, but the female paused at the doorway to say, "So you know, the reason I was waking you was because I'm making waffles. So get moving if you don't want to miss out."
The two men quickly got out of bed and into the shower, where Peter was startled to find that Johnny didn't even try to do anything funny. Apparently, he thought wryly, waffles were enough of a motivation for the blond to reign in his monstrous libido. (He took note of that for future reference.) The Torch even almost got out from under the spray of water before his hair was washed, much to the brunet's indignation – he loved washing Johnny's because it was one of the few times he could touch the flaxen locks without fearing that his hands would accidentally get burnt off in the process.
Once out of the bathroom, they got dressed (Peter had begun bringing an extra set of clothes with him quite early on) and walked to the kitchen, the brunet lagging a bit behind Johnny to fidget. His nervousness didn't go unnoticed by the blond, and, when they reached the kitchen and Peter simply stood at the doorway in uncertainty, the Storm brother rolled his eyes. He went back over to Peter, grabbed one of his forearms, and tugged him into a chair next to him.
And despite the initial awkwardness, Johnny eventually nudged Peter into a conversation with Reed Richards and Susan Storm, and whenever the brunet faltered while saying something or started to lie low in a discussion, the Torch weaned him back into the chat. On occasion it was a bit annoying because Peter was lying low for a reason, but he mostly found it endearing that the other man paid so much attention to him.
The thing that he found most endearing about it, though, was the fact that this wasn't an isolated case; throughout the time they had officially been together, the blond had been almost doting upon him and Peter was vaguely amused when he realized that Johnny was acting somewhat like an uxorious husband. (Not in bed, though. Never in bed.)
It was strange, though. For a man who was so wild and carefree in life in general to be the sort who was extremely exalting towards his (here, Peter hesitated the tiniest bit) lover was rather baffling for the brunet. Baffling, and it was frightening in the sense that he occasionally found himself thinking that Johnny was sweet – sweet, a word that he never thought the Torch would embody in any way. A word that he shouldn't embody in any way (at least, if you went by the tabloids).
He kept these observations to himself. But for once, this wasn't because he was afraid of something – rather, he kept his lips sealed for selfish reasons; he didn't want anyone else to know the things that he found out on his own about his boyfriend, even if it was Johnny who found out. These things were his, after all, and he didn't want to give them away. Ever, to anyone.
I'm being greedy, Peter thought with a fair amount of surprise one day as he was, rather ironically, walking down the street. He was returning to his apartment after one of his university classes, and with the sun blazing high in the sky and casting a lucid hue of humidity upon everything, he couldn't help but think about the Torch and his little oddities.
Me being greedy, he thought again, and this time the meaning really sunk in. When it did, he nearly laughed because he could remember the "Pathetic Walk of Girly-But-Okay-Because-Mary-Jane-Said-So Tears" and the reason he had had such an emotional break-down – that he had realized that his life was so miserable because he was never selfish.
But now he was being selfish and his life was straightening out. Magically, beneath Johnny's unwitting touch, it was ironing itself out – like a piece of clothes that was perfectly fine but had been thrown into a pile and become horribly crinkled, but once you steamed it flat, once someone took the time to pull it out of the pile and smooth it out, it was brand-new and shining and beautiful.
Peter smiled at his analogy (well, it did fit quite perfectly and he had never been a poet so even such a small achievement cheered him) and looked up at the sun again. After a few seconds, however, he saw what looked like another sun bobbing about in the corner of his eye, and, startled, he turned to look at the mysterious object.
Though it went mostly unnoticed by the people around him, he turned an illuminated russet when he realized that the second sun was, in fact, Johnny Storm's hair. Apparently, his metaphors were just so appropriate that he unconsciously made them.
Despite his still-burning face, Peter began navigating his way through the crowd towards the Torch and before long, Johnny had noticed him, too. And he had to say, it didn't help his blush at all when he saw the other man look pointedly at his cheeks and raise questioning eyebrows
Then he was near the blond – so near he could see the ring of fire glinting in Johnny's eyes – and he had turned around to fall in step with him.
In amusement, the Torch said after a few comfortable minutes, "Do you remember before we'd gotten to know each other? You know, with the daily street-passing ritual?"
"Yeah," the brunet said slowly. Really, how could he forget?
"Well, we've broken it."
Looking questioningly at Johnny, he asked, "What?"
"We've broken it," the blond repeated and Peter was about to say something to express his annoyance at how he was being cryptic when he continued. "We don't pass each other by any more."
This caused him to blink and pause. After the words sunk into his skin, like a soft glow, Peter let a smile spread across his face. He grabbed Johnny's hand, entwining their fingers, and murmured in satisfaction, "Yeah. I like it better like this."