Ash

Summary: (Sequel to 'Burnout') Ten years after the Silver Surfer incident, eight-year-old John Richards asks his Uncle Ben why mama is crying.

Fandom: Fantastic Four

Pairings: Reed/Sue, Ben/Alicia

Warnings: Character death, spoilers

Disclaimer: Not mine

Author's Note: This won't make a lot of sense if you haven't read 'Burnout'

"Uncle Ben, why is mama crying?"

Standing on the Richards' front step, Ben blinked at the small boy who'd opened the door for him. He felt Alicia's grip tighten on his arm, heard their four-year-old daughter, Emma, make a small, worried sound. He looked past John, into the sitting room. Sure enough: Sue was on the couch, crying, as Reed tried to comfort her. Ben tore his eyes away from the scene: little John stared up at him, huge blue eyes questioning. The kid had inherited his mother's blonde hair as well as her bright blue eyes, and Ben had a horrible suspicion that he was going to be the spitting image of his uncle in ten years time… Oh crap. All at once Ben remembered the date and cursed himself for the worst sort of idiot for forgetting.

Johnny.

He should have realised that the media would be going crazy over the tenth anniversary of the Fantastic Four saving the world. Ben didn't watch TV much any more beyond vaguely registering the cartoons Emma watched, but he knew that Sue did. Ten years. Ten years to the day since Johnny had died. No wonder she was a mess.

All of a sudden Ben wasn't feeling much better. Despite the bickering and fights that might have looked nothing less than vicious to an outsider and the rocky start to their career together, he'd liked Johnny. Maybe Matchstick had spent too long living with Sue, or maybe he was just immature, but either way he'd tended to fill the 'irritating little brother' role automatically. It might not have looked like it, but they'd been friends. Just remembering the two of them dragging Reed out for his bachelor party or playing darts in the bar made his breath catch in his throat and his eyes sting.

Before, Ben would have said that he'd have given anything to be human again. But he knew now that he'd been wrong: he was human now, but it wasn't worth it. It hadn't been worth Johnny's life. If he'd been straight up offered the choice instead of having it made for him, to have a normal life with Alicia or to have Johnny still there…well, it wouldn't have been a choice at all.

Little John was still staring at him with worry and incomprehension in the familiar blue eyes, and Ben hoped for Sue's sake that the kid started looking more like his dad before he hit puberty. He patted the kid's shoulder gently and said simply; "She's crying 'cause of your Uncle Johnny."

John's small face wrinkled in confusion as he considered this; "But I don't have an Uncle Johnny," he said eventually, frowning. Ben sighed, and wondered how the hell you explained death to an eight-year-old kid. How you explained that mama was crying because her little brother was never coming home. I don't have an Uncle Johnny.

"I know you don't, kiddo. That's why your mama's crying."

END