Baxter Building, New York
At the Fantastic Four’s kitchen table sat Ben Grimm and Guy Gardner. In front of Ben was a plate loaded with pancakes, scrambled eggs, and half a dozen pieces of bacon. Opposite him, Gardner was drinking from a cup of coffee while pouring through the sports pages of the New York Post. The quiet was broken when Johnny Storm, rejuvenated still from his encounter with Spider-Woman, entered and plopped himself down at the table between them.
“Good morning,” Johnny said with a smile as he reached over towards Ben’s plate. “What are we having?”
Ben tried in vain to swat Johnny’s hand away but the smaller man snuck a pancake and several pieces of bacon away with a cheeky grin. He slid them onto a small plate and began tearing apart the pieces of bacon with his hands and wiping them across the syrup-soaked pancakes.
Grimm gulped down a mouthful of scrambled eggs and then gestured to Johnny with his fork. “Someone’s feeling chipper this morning. Did your girlfriend call last night?”
“For the last time,” Johnny murmured with a roll of his eyes. “She’s not my girlfriend. Why won’t you people get that through your thick skulls? From the sound of her voice, she’s barely out of high school, for Pete’s sake.”
Ben shot Guy a mischievous look. “What do you reckon, Carrot Top?”
Grimm gave a solemn nod. “Of course."
Guy set his newspaper down on the kitchen table with a sigh. He stared at Johnny for a few moments, affecting all the inspective mannerisms he would whilst sat at a SHIELD interrogation table, peering over at Ben with a knowing smile.
“Sounds like Pyro-Boy’s protesting a little too much to me. There’s definitely something going on there.”
Johnny was about to protest when the sound of footsteps in the kitchen doorway stopped him in his tracks. His sister Sue had arrived home in the dead of the night. They had all gone to bed by the time she had arrived – at least, all but Reed and Harrison Wells, who seemed to be working around the clock in the Baxter Building’s lab. Sue sat between Guy Gardner and her brother and offered the men a warm smile.
Ben smiled. “And good morning to you, too. Sounds like you had a pretty big evening last night, even by your brother’s lofty standards.”
On the front page of the copy of the New York Post between Guy’s hands was the fiery Spider-Man logo that Johnny had burned into the New York skyline. The headline read: “FIREMAN FROM MARS?” – which didn’t seem to make a great deal of sense, but after the incident in Central City, everyone was on high alert on the ‘little green man’ front. Thankfully for Sue, SHIELD had managed to keep Creel’s attack on the Triskelion out of the news – a training exercise, they had said.
“You could say that,” Sue nodded modestly. “Helping Thor take down the Absorbing Man wasn’t on my to-do list when I set out for Washington in the morning. Right place, right time, I guess.”
Guy reached over and poured out a cup of coffee for Sue. “Sounds more like a case of wrong place, right time to me.”
“Yeah, well, at least you got a chance to give Hill a piece of your mind,” Ben chuckled. “God knows that highfalutin stormtrooper has had it coming for a while.”
Sue bristled at the comment. She wasn’t sure how to explain that their conversation hadn’t quite gone the way that Ben imagined it. In fact, nothing about the day before had gone the way that she had intended. She took a sip of her coffee and then placed the mug on the table, her hands wrapped around it for warmth.
“Any word from Reed?” Sue asked the table. “How’s work on the craft coming along?”
“We’ve not heard a peep since Wells got here,” Ben shrugged. “You probably know more than the rest of us put together. Even Stretch must sleep sometime, right?”
Sue shook her head.
“Your guess is as good as mine. He’s been staying in a room by the lab since we got here. You know what Reed gets like when he’s working on something. There’s no room for distractions – I’m not sure if he’s been eating or drinking, let alone getting any sleep.”
A glint of silver from around Sue’s neck caught Johnny’s eye. “You stop off at Macy’s on the way back from Washington or something?”
Sue slipped the necklace off from around her neck and tossed it across the table.
“Thor gave it to me. He said that if we ever needed to contact him, all I’d ever need to to do was touch that rune and say his name and he’d be there. Figured it’d come in handy in the event we ever found ourselves needing reinforcement.”
Johnny’s finger ran along the length of inscription. He couldn’t fault his sister’s logic. With the Silver Surfer around, there was every chance Galactus would be showing up soon enough. They’d need all the help they could get then.
“I speak to a girl one time and you never let me hear the end of it,” Johnny said as he dangled the pendant towards Guy and Ben. “But Sue gets given a necklace by a literal god and you say nothing?”
Ben snatched the pendant from Johnny’s hand. “Suzie ain’t got the kind of record you’ve got, Matchstick.”
Guy and Sue burst out into laughter at the comment. Johnny shook his head dejected and scoffed down the last few pieces of bacon. When the laughter continued, his cheeks began to redden with embarrassment. Though his encounter with Spider-Woman had helped him feel a little more like the Johnny Storm of old, he still wasn’t quite accustomed to being the brunt of every joke again.
The pointedness in his own voice caught Johnny off guard when he spoke. “Yeah, well, I think Namor might feel a little differently about that.”
As soon as the words had left his mouth, the laughter had stopped. A cloying awkwardness took its place – made worse by the sound of cutlery scraping against plates and Guy flicking through the pages of the New York Post. Johnny looked to Ben for help breaking the silence but was met with a bemused shrug. Eventually Sue emptied the contents of her coffee cup and stood up from the table.
She planted a sympathetic kiss on Johnny’s forehead. “It’s good to see you’re feeling better, baby brother.”
With that she made her exit and left the three men to their devices. Ben waited until he was sure that she was out of earshot and then shot Johnny an admonishing look.
“Well done, kid. You managed to piss off the only person in the whole world that has to love you unconditionally.”
Ben stood up from his seat and scraped what remained of his food into a waste bin. Once he’d rinsed his plate clean, he walked out of the kitchen and left Guy and Johnny sat at the table alone. Johnny’s biue eyes looked to Guy for reassurance.
“Don’t even bother,” Guy said without looking up from the sports section. “That little stunt you pulled yesterday has landed me with weeks of paperwork. So if you’re looking for someone to rub your belly and tell you that you didn’t overstep the mark, I suggest you look elsewhere.”
Johnny let out a defeated sigh. He eyed the rune-inscribed pendant on the kitchen table. What would Thor do? Probably down a couple of flagons of mead and wrestle a frost giant, Johnny thought with a smile. It wasn’t until his smile had begun to fade that he realised he hadn’t thought of home in over-twenty four hours – he wasn’t sure whether to feel happy about that or guilty – but he knew that it meant something.