Falling in love was supposed to be magical, not literal, but years later, that's how Johnny Storm will tell the story of how he fell in love with Spider-man.
One second he's easily (and gracefully, obviously) dodging a barrage of the Sandman's best sand blasts, the next he's struck hard by a blast across the abdomen and pain washes through him. It's enough to knock his flames out and he's busy free-falling to his probable death when something warm collides into him and a pair of strong, capable arms grab him.
Flying without being on fire to do it is incredible. Being alive is incredible. Spider-man, his rescuing hero, is incredible.
"My hero," Johnny coos.
Spider-man drops Johnny unceremoniously, thankfully onto the roof of a nearby apartment block, before turning his mask towards the battlefield. "Is the Sandman attacking the city for some nefarious purpose or just trying to kidnap you again?"
"Probably both." Johnny squints down at the battlefield where several of the X-Men have finally joined the mêlée. "Is it me, or do we always seem to end up battling our opposites?"
"I guess people do put sand on fires to douse them out."
"I meant his epic ugliness," Johnny says, "but that works too."
Spider-man snorts and looks back out on the battlefield and the X-Men that have turned up on scene. "It would be nice to have a good decent battle against someone weak to our natural strengths for a change," Spidey admits.
"You mean like... back when it was Spider-man versus the Human Fly?" Johnny side-eyes Spider-man while he rubs his hands as if it will help bring his fiery plasma back faster so he can rejoin the fray; even if shooting the breeze with Spider-man is fun, it's always much more relaxing when there isn't a supervillain rampaging across the urban landscape taking sandy pot shots at them. "It's not like the Sinister Sixteen stopped existing just because you wanted them to."
"Shut up and get busy flaming," Spider-man mutters, swinging off before Johnny can go full-on plasma and attack alongside him. Johnny watches the swift blur of red and blue spandex appreciatively.
"I love that dude," Johnny sighs, fondly. And then freezes. Metaphorically. Although his newly reawakened fire douses out at the same time in commiseration with the gut punch of emotion, so not entirely metaphorical, because hot damn. It's true. Johnny's actually in love with Spider-man.
He should probably do something about it. Johnny lights himself back on fire and leaps towards the battle. There'll be some paparazzi lurking around the scene somewhere. Johnny's sure at least one of them will leap at the opportunity for a Human Torch Exclusive.
"Hey, Johnny, are you in here?" Ben calls, poking his abnormally large rocky head through the living room door.
Johnny is in the living room, sure, but his brain feels like he's somewhere else. Because he feels like he must be out of his mind. He looks again at the photo and the damning headline.
"That's not what I said," Johnny says, shaking his head and staring at the newspaper in his hands. "That's seriously not what I said!"
He's so busy shaking his head in disbelief that he doesn't even notice that Ben's sidled up behind up until the newspaper is snatched from his hands by one of Ben's boulder fists.
"Hey, I was reading that," Johnny snipes.
"You know how to read?" Ben looks up from the paper just long enough to splay his rocky fingers across his chest. He looks back down and does a double-take. "Wow. I thought Spider-man was a bud. No wonder you don't have more friends if this is what you say about them."
Johnny snatches the paper back from Ben with a scowl. "I said WHO wouldn't be gay for Spider-man," Johnny snarls, yanking the paper to his chest before peeking down at it again. He'd posed for photos after the battle, but they've used one of the mid-battle action shots of him fighting alongside Spider-man. Johnny looks pretty good mid-flame, heh, eat your heart out, ridiculously photogenic guy.
The headline reads THE HUMAN TORCH, WHO WOULDN'T BE GAY FOR SPIDER-MAN in giant block letters above the photo. The quote's almost right in the article, except for instead of the compliment Johnny intended, it reads: "Johnny Storm, aka the Human Torch, who wouldn't be gay for Spider-man spoke to us today…"
"I totally didn't say that," Johnny insists.
Ben gives him a weird look. To be fair, which of Ben's looks aren't weird, though. "The papers will misquote anyone. Why do you care this time? It's not as bad as the time with the headline about Sue's pants."
"Nothing's as bad as the headline about Sue's pants," Johnny agrees darkly. He looks down at the photograph again, wondering why it's not Parker's name in the photo by-line. His best friend normally gets all of the Spider-man shots used in the Bugle. Johnny makes a mental note to text him later and ask. Maybe he'll just ask Parker out for drinks. Johnny needs to drown his sorrows, and hey, if it's with someone who can put in a good word for him with Spider-man, that's neither here nor there, is it?
"I'm sure Spider-man will be crushed you're not gay for him," Ben says, reaching out to pat Johnny on the shoulder soothingly. Johnny dodges as he texts Parker. He's been the victim of Ben's empathy before. Ben forgets he's got the strength of a tank sometimes. Usually around Johnny.
"I guess it is more like I'm bisexual for Spider-man, anyway," Johnny muses. "I hadn't really gotten as far as the sexuality crisis realization. I've gotten as far as realizing I'm in all-encompassing love and—"
Ben interrupts Johnny's moment of realization that he'll have to change his Facebook profile orientation tab by laughing. Long and loud.
"Hey, rude," Johnny says, pocketing his phone and moving his hands akimbo, staring at Ben in disbelief. "Don't laugh at me! This is a big deal. I'm in love and the papers say I couldn't even be gay for him, don't look at me, I'm crushed about this."
"Johnny," Ben says, slowly because his transformation has made him a literal blockhead, if you ask Johnny. People rarely do ask him things. "You fall in love every few days. And then out again."
"I do not," Johnny says, aghast, because his love for Spider-man is pure and true.
"Think about it, if your brain isn't overheated," Ben says. "The stripper from Reno."
"Doesn't count. Everyone gets bamboozled by strippers. It's the feathers."
"Even if I cautiously allow that," Ben says, "what about Crystal? Alicia? Lyja? Alicia again?"
"Lyja was all three, actually," Johnny says, rubbing at his nose. "It was a thing. There was some alien princess roleplaying involved, it was pretty hot—"
"Then you decided you were in love with Tony Stark."
"Everyone crushes on Tony Stark at some point."
"I guess I'll allow you that one," Ben concedes after a moment. "What about last summer when you decided you were going to marry Chipotle?"
"Ugh," Johnny sighs with feeling, "why won't any of you let me forget that?"
"Because some branches still sell the Human Scorch special sauce?"
Both Johnny and Ben shudder in unison.
"The thing is," Ben says, "you need to give it a few days, kiddo. Just to be sure it's real and not one of your crushes."
Johnny glares at him darkly. "Was there a real reason you came to bother me?"
"Oh, yeah," Ben says. "Sue said that the X-Men passed a message on after the Sandman battle and I should bother you for the details not her?"
"Oh. Yeah. Professor X's issuing some sort of boring warning thing. Something about Kang, Noh-Varr, time pockets – just be careful walking out alone, blah, blah, blah," Johnny waves a hand impatiently. "Let's get back to the important thing – do you think Spider-man pads his spandex? Or is that butt completely natural? What do you think? Hey, where are you going? Ben? Ben! I'll find someone else to talk to! Someone with a brain!"
"You do that," Ben calls as he leaves, waving at Johnny without looking back.
Johnny glares. Some days Ben is decent, but most days, Johnny can clearly understand why he's known as the Thing. Johnny sighs. Maybe he will have more luck with one of his brainier teammates. Reed's an intelligent guy. Unlike Ben's rock-brain he should be able to understand difficult things like words.
Johnny sidles into the lab where Reed's neck is looped over three different benches so he can stare into a pimped-out microscope while still holding onto an experiment on a different table involving an inordinate number of eerily-bubbling test tubes. Johnny takes a moment to think about approaching the largest mass of Reed's body, but eventually decides standing near Reed's ears will probably be the most helpful thing.
"Hey, Reed, we should totally talk," Johnny says, folding his arms and watching his freaky brother-in-law's stretch out one of his arms across the room so he can adjust the microscope dials.
"Yes," Reed says. "Yes."
"Well, that's more like the response I was hoping for," Johnny says. "I'm in need of an opinion."
"Interesting," Reed says.
"Interesting, I guess that describes it?" Johnny tilts his head. "Yeah, I'll go with interesting."
"Fascinating," Reed breathes.
"Yeah. Yeah. Fascinating absolutely works," Johnny says, nodding. "I'm in love with Spider-man and it's fascinating."
"Curious, though," Reed murmurs.
"I guess it is. And I don't really understand," Johnny sighs, sinking against the counter. "It's like, past like. I've gone from barely tolerating the guy to fighting with him — reluctantly — straight through to love without even a pitstop in the crush territory. The crush territory is the best part."
"Absolutely," Reed agrees.
Johnny muses on it. "Is it possible to get oxytocin from being bridal carried through the air on a spiderweb? I'm not saying it's an orgasmic experience — I'm not saying it's not — but it's supposedly the cuddle hormone too, right? Can you get a Thing-sized dose of oxytocin from a spider-carry?"
"Hormones," Reed says. "Yes. Perfect."
"I thought so," Johnny says. "Wearing spandex is like being colorfully naked in public, I always thought so. Ha. Spider-man has totally dosed me with cuddle hormones, that rascal."
"I'm sorry," Reed says, finally turning from his microscope to face him, and Johnny's about to thank him for the stellar support — because hey, who has time to listen to Johnny these days? — when he notices Reed's baffled expression, "did you say something?"
Johnny stares. "I've just been standing here bleeding my heart to you! For five minutes! Did you hear any of it?"
Reed at least has the grace to look embarrassed. "Something about oxytocin, maybe?"
"You suck, Reed," Johnny yells, living up to his surname and storming out of the lab.
It's a sad day when Johnny has to get the listening ear he wants from his own sister. Maybe she's busy doing complicated equations on five different monitors at once and might be a little tetchy, but at least she'll listen to him spill his emotions like they're going out of season.
"Hey, Sue," Johnny says, plonking himself suavely in the spare chair in her lab.
"Whatever favor you want the answer is no," Sue says, not even looking at him.
Johnny holds his chest and affects a wounded expression. "Why must you always think the worst of me?"
"Uh," Sue says, swiping at one of the displays, "a lifetime of experience?"
"Well you're wrong," Johnny says, "something you've also had a lifetime of experience with, so I'm sure you'll deal." Sue makes a disgruntled noise in the back of her throat but doesn't rise vocally to the bait. Say that for the Storm siblings, they do know when to pick their battles. Usually mid-battle. Where's the fun in adrenaline-rushing danger without an added dose of sibling friction to spike the way? "I just came to my beloved older, wiser sister—" Sue snorts at that one. "—for some life advice."
"Life advice, huh?" Sue glances at him for a second, obviously to check whether he's bullshitting her or not. Obviously there's something genuine on his face because her tone softens, although she doesn't stop working. "Okay, hit me with it. But if it's that you want me to convince Reed to figure out how to give you a moving tattoo—"
"While I still maintain that would be hella cool," Johnny says, "no, this is more… love advice."
"Love?" Sue's eyebrows rise in unison. "Please don't tell me Chipotle want to name another burrito after you."
"Actually they do, but that's not what I wanna talk about," Johnny says. He watches his sister at work for a couple of seconds, admiring her focus, although he'll never say that out loud. He's the Storm with the massive ego. It wouldn't do for them both to have big heads. "I'm in love." Sue inhales to say something. "And not puppy love, or a crush, or an infatuation, actually in love. Dizzy love, my mattress makes it feel like I'm floating love, I can't eat without thinking about him love, I keep looking for him every time I turn a corner love."
Sue's hands don't even falter at him, even though Johnny's dating history is girls, girls, girls. She's a cool sister. Again, something Johnny will never tell her. "Yeah, that sounds familiar. Like the first time I saw Reed. I can't count the number of times I'd be sitting in the refectory between lectures and my head would just snap to the doorway every single time it opened, hoping it would be him." She sighs disgustingly, a warm smile on her face. She reaches out and pauses her work, turning to Johnny with an earnest expression. "So what advice do you need? What did he say?"
"I haven't told him yet," Johnny says. "I tried talking to Ben and Reed about it—"
"Ugh, they're both useless," Sue says, gesturing dismissively. "Do you think he returns your feelings?"
Johnny shrugs. "I mean, I hope so? We spend a ton of time together. I know he's got my back. He's funny as hell, when we talk he pushes me, y'know? Like he knows my limits and wants me to reach the good ones more often."
"Aw, little bro," Sue says, reaching over and fondly slugging him in the arm, "you are in love."
"Yeah," Johnny says, his cheeks heating. He thinks of Spider-man's strong arms around him, of the hours they've spent fighting crime and winding each other up. "Yeah, I am."
"So tell him," Sue says. "Peter's a great guy. Maybe you can even persuade Reed to take him on as an intern again, reduce some of his research load. I always said he shouldn't have gotten rid of him that time, Peter's the smartest guy after Reed that's even stepped foot in this building."
Johnny stares at Sue. "I'll tell him," Johnny says, slowly, "but why are you suddenly gushing about Peter Parker? I mean, I am seeing him tonight. Do you think Peter will put a good word in with him for me?"
Sue stares back at Johnny, mirroring his own expression, two lunatics suspecting the other of complete madness. "Uh, Peter Parker's the guy you're in love with, right?"
"Uh, no?" Johnny shakes his head, baffled. "I'm in love with Spider-man. Peter's cool, he's just a bro."
"Does Peter know that?" Sue asks. Her crazy stare has softened into something else, something like sympathy. "You've been spending a lot of time with him."
"Well, yeah," Johnny says. "Peter's the man. But there's no way he gets me like Spider-man does. Peter can't understand the woes of the superhero life, man."
"What woes?" Sue turns back to her work, shaking her head. "Compared to what some of the other superhero groups have had to face, we've had relatively cushy times."
Johnny glances back through the doorway to check that the gym doors are still open and he raises his voice just enough. "Except they didn't have to suffer Ben."
"I heard that!" Ben yells back, his voice slightly muffled by the distance.
"It would have been wasted if you hadn't," Johnny yells.
"My advice is still the same," Sue says, rolling her eyes at Johnny and turning back to her work. "You're in love with the guy, then tell him. Brace yourself, though. People don't always react to things the way we want them to."
Spider-man probably will stop laughing. Hopefully sometime soon. Hopefully before Johnny doesn't start crying.
At first Johnny had thought it was a nice bit of luck. Finding Spider-man moments after he left the Baxter Building to find him, mere seconds before he was about to flame up and leave Spidey a sky message; it felt like luck hearing a couple of cops get radioed about a bank heist with the superhero in question. But apparently the universe has allowed him to find Spider-man so quickly because it wants Johnny to have a ruptured spleen or whatever other bodily injuries happen when the person you are madly, epically in love with starts laughing as soon as you reveal your heart to them.
"But I'm not joking," Johnny insists. "I'm in love with you, Spider-man. Deeply. Devoted. Eternally."
Spider-man straightens a little, before starting to howl in laughter again, clutching at his stomach. "Just give me a moment, flame brain. I, hahaha, I—I haha—have to have a moment to process this."
Johnny's sad pout at least has the decency to morph into a displeased scowl as he stares at Spider-man laughing himself into a probable hernia. "Dude, c'mon, I'm vulnerable here."
"Sorry," Spider-man says, although he doesn't sound too sorry. He makes a valiant attempt to breathe deeply and straighten up again, although he makes some little hiccupping sounds which betray how much effort it's taking to take Johnny seriously. "Sorry. It's just—Dude. C'mon. Last week you were in love with a Mexican restaurant chain. It's nice to rank alongside food. Very validating for my poor self-esteem."
"That was just a—Hey, a guy has layers, y'know," Johnny says, and yeah, he's kind of sulking, but it's not like he doesn't have a reputation for melodrama. At least he doesn't sulk as much as Steve Rogers. "Layers which means a guy can have different types of affection which doesn't make any of them less valid. I have tons of layers. Like a certain Mexican restaurant chain's burrito bowls has layers."
Spider-man's head tilts. "You know they're just salads, right?"
"Sssshhh. Burrito bowls."
Spider-man is probably squinting behind his mask. Johnny can't see his expression, but he recognizes the way his mask creases a little. "I'd be less inclined to hospitalize you right now if it hadn't been for your beautiful words about me in the Bugle. I deeply appreciated that quote."
Johnny stares, mortified. "I didn't say that! I swear! I said who wouldn't be gay for Spider-man."
"Ryan Reynolds, apparently," Spider-man mutters.
Johnny continues to stare. "What?"
"Nothing," Spider-man says, and then he squares his shoulders. "Much like this conversation. Bye, Johnny. Call me when you're in love with the next thing. I hear Subway sandwiches sometimes anthropomorphize their brand into human mascots, you might get lucky there."
Johnny opens his mouth to protest but Spider-man's already swinging away, chuckling to himself as he goes. How did that go so badly? Johnny needs a drink. Lots of drinks. In a row. Thank goodness he already has a drinking buddy lined up for the night.
Hopefully Peter Parker's liver is up to the challenge.
Johnny's not even fashionably late to his meet-up with Parker, which speaks a lot to the state of his mind and mood at the moment, because being fashionably late is a skill Johnny usually takes pride in. It takes a certain kind of suave to be able to waste time like Johnny can. He's no amateur to the concept. But disappointment has clearly affected his skills and he's on time.
Parker's not there yet. Johnny might even get offended, but he realizes the hypocrisy – normally he leaves Parker sitting alone in these dives for up to an hour before sauntering in. At least now he can get a drink in before Parker arrives.
Parker doesn't oblige him much on that front, though – Johnny manages to order two beers and Parker plonks himself on the stool next to him barely a minute later, taking one of the beers like Johnny hadn't ordered both for himself. "Thanks," Parker says, chugging down half the bottle like it's going out of fashion. "I've had a hard day, you have no idea how much I needed that."
Johnny squints at Parker and takes in several details quickly – the disheveled hair, the unfitting pants, the bruise on Parker's cheekbone – and manfully resists the urge to start talking about his own problems first, although it's a mammoth effort and Parker should appreciate the amount of willpower Johnny's displaying right now. "Hard day?" Johnny prompts, because the faster Parker gets it out, the more time Johnny can spend on his own woes.
"Yeah," Peter says, slugging down more of the beer before wiping his mouth and rattling off his annoyances. "Work delayed my paycheck, I'm three weeks behind on my rent and had to crawl out of my window, my pants snagged on the third floor window meaning Mrs. Malley saw me half-naked, I had to borrow a pair of her dead husband's pants which, smell them, they smell of moldy pork fat. My ex gave an exclusive interview to the Bulletin instead of us, and I just had the maddest interaction with a, uh—" Parker looks suddenly shifty. "A colleague." Parker slumps back into his chair, breathing hard like he's just run a marathon. "Your bad day? Did the barista put 1% milk in your coffee again?"
From anyone else that might be mocking, but Johnny gets genuinely upset when the hot girl at his favorite coffee place keeps messing up his order, and Parker's the only one who seems to understand his pain. "No," Johnny sighs. "Worse."
"Yeah?" Parker says, and signals the bartender for two more beers. Johnny really appreciates having Parker as a friend, he really does. "Tell me about it."
Johnny sighs, unable to keep it in. "I tried to tell Spider-man I was in love with him and he thought I was joking." Parker's empathetic expression goes cold. Johnny can feel his face go slack. Parker had been the one person he'd been relying on to understand. "I'm not joking. Do you have any idea how it feels to be in love and ridiculed for it?" He lets out a rough exhale. "No one but my sister will give me any support on the matter and it's ridiculous."
"It is ridiculous," Parker says, his voice tight and low, and Johnny looks at him expectantly, because surely Parker's going to be kinder after that agreement. "Because you can't be in love with a costume. And it's mean to play with people's feelings, Johnny. Especially with your track record—"
"Everyone is in love with Tony Stark. It's a universal truth!" Johnny protests. "The only person it's amusing on is Captain America and that's because he thinks he's the only one. And that Tony hasn't noticed."
Parker's face does something complicated and pathetic. "Can we not talk about the Avengers? Ever?"
The Avengers do seem to be a sore spot for Parker. "Aw, just because they don't recognize Spider-man as a real Avenger," Johnny says. "I think he deserves it too. Hey, do you think if I could talk to Tony Stark I could get them to take Spider-man as an Avenger and then Spider-man would realize I'm being serious about being in love with him?"
"Are you serious right now?" Peter demands.
"No, you're right," Johnny sighs, a little mollified. "Even if I managed to have a conversation with Tony Stark I'd just stare at his face. You're absolutely right, Peter."
"And that's another thing," Peter points out, still in that annoying low voice, "Spider-man's face. He has one and you've never seen it. What if he's absolutely hideous?"
"I thought I was supposed to be the shallow one in this friendship," Johnny says, squinting at Peter, appalled. "I love his face anyway. And his ass. Even if the Bugle is right and he pads it."
Peter's eyes narrow. "Like you've never tried to pad your butt when you wear spandex."
"Never," Johnny declares, instantly. "My ass is amazing, I would never hide its natural beauty."
"The foam melted when you tried, didn't it?"
"Like ice-cream on a sidewalk in July," Johnny sighs. "And Reed won't waste his unstable molecule formula on anything cosmetic."
"You're being ridiculous," Parker says, shaking his head. "I don't know why I'm surprised."
Johnny's good humor melts a little. "You're right," he says, his voice harsher than he wants it to be. "I have had ridiculous moments in this past year. But this is something I'm serious about. And I'm hurt and offended that someone I've considered a really good friend doesn't have my back on this."
Parker looks stunned, like someone's punched him in the face. He tenses his jaw and puts his second beer down to look Johnny right in his eyes. "And as a friend, I have the responsibility to intervene when you're acting irresponsibly," Parker says, slowly. "Do you even know Spider-man? What's his favorite color?"
"How does he drink his coffee?"
"By lifting up his mask?"
"Does he want kids? A house? A family? Does he have a job? What's his favorite movie? What's his opinion on drugs? Abortions? Politics? Crime? What's he allergic to?"
"I, uh—" Johnny thinks about it. "It doesn't matter. I love him. That's all just window dressing."
"No, it's not," Parker says, shaking his head like he really believes Johnny's an idiot. "I know all those things about him. You don't."
"Well, you're friends," Johnny says, "not anything else."
"So love excludes friendship?" Parker says. "Because I promise you, if you're not friends with someone you're in love with, it's not gonna work in the long term."
"Hey," Johnny says. "Spider-man and I are friends too. Sure, we're missing some—some domestic trivia – but we've spent years fighting alongside each other. And we get on great. Screw you for saying Spider-man's not my friend."
"I'm just saying you know excruciatingly little about him," Parker says. "And screw you for making me feel bad about wanting to protect both of my friends."
Johnny glares at Parker. "I thought I was friends with both of you, but I'm starting to think I'm wrong. I don't think you can actually be my friend when it's sounding like you're—Like you're crazy jealous of my relationship with Spider-man!"
Parker's cold gaze darkens a little more. "And you have no idea why that's the most ridiculous thing you've said all day."
"I thought we were friends," Johnny says.
But before he can even qualify that further, Parker says, "Then maybe you thought wrong."
Johnny opens his mouth to say something else, but Parker suddenly sags and turns back to his drink, his eyes almost blank, his face slack. It's like someone's burned all the fight out of him. Like Johnny is the one in the wrong here.
He doesn't understand. His gut is suddenly heavy and his cheeks are hot and why are his eyes suddenly stinging like this is a big deal? Johnny's had spats with people before that he thought were friends and suddenly turned out not to be. This shouldn't be affecting him this much.
It's a combination, he thinks, of total and utter rejection. He'd been counting on Parker. To be let down by both he and Spider-man is epic betrayal. Parker is the one who should be feeling awful, not Johnny.
"I'm going," Johnny says to Parker's back, throwing a couple of twenties onto the bar.
"Yeah," Parker mutters, without turning around.
Johnny's fuming as he walks out of the building, although the anger doesn't keep him warm for long as he strides along the sidewalk, hands shoved angrily into his pockets. His fingers graze his cell phone and he thinks about texting Parker something spiteful. Except as he walks along, the cold of the evening starts to creep in, through his jacket to the skin below, and Johnny's getting colder with each step.
Is Parker right? Is Johnny being ridiculous? No, Parker's the ridiculous one. Of course he knows Spider-man. You can't not know someone you fight alongside. He knows all the best things about Spider-man. He knows Spider-man has a good heart. Surely that's the most important thing to even know about someone?
But Johnny doesn't know the little things. Would Spider-man be happy settling down with a guy? Does he like the left or right side of the bed? Is he a democrat or a republican? Does Johnny care about that? Opposites attract and marry all the time. Johnny's positive he could make it work with Spider-man. Although what will their conversations in the future be like?
Witty. They'd be witty. Screw Parker for making him think about this thing. Love isn't something to think about. It's something to feel. Johnny feels like he's in love with Spider-man. But... Parker isn't a superhero. He doesn't know what it's like to fight alongside another super, to know they have your back no matter what. Parker's concerns are probably what any decent friend would have brought up. Damn. Damn. And Johnny's stormed out of there like the hothead he literally can be.
He'll have time. Parker's the type to drown his sorrows for a little while longer. Johnny can turn back now and catch him and apologize. In fact, if Johnny calls him now, then he can be sure Parker will be there. Johnny will be mature and apologize and hey, that's the kind of man he wants to be for Spider-man.
He turns on his heel, plan fully in mind, and slams directly face-first into a very cold, very ominous looking purple cloud of energy.
Johnny's had more than his fair share of one night stands where he's woken up a little fuzzy on how he's gotten there, so it's not too much of a weird feeling to be lying in a soft comfortable bed with another person lying on top of him, pressing kisses into Johnny's skin like he's something special.
He lies there for a moment more, enjoying the sensation. Whoever he's picked up is some sort of a master, because they're managing to kiss all of Johnny's sweet spots. His body curls in appreciatively to the hot, warm body pressing him down as his brain tries to process how this has happened.
The last thing he can remember is... an argument. He argued with—With Parker, at the bar. And then he left in a cloud of anger, and he was going to turn back to bravely apologize, and—
And he walked face first into one of those time anomalies floating around that the X-Men had specifically warned him about. The ones where Johnny was supposed to avoid by not walking around at night.
Johnny's eyes snap open to see Parker smiling at him fondly. Parker? Peter Parker? The bruise from the bar is gone from Parker's face, and all of the anger and exhaustion are gone too, replaced by something much warmer, and his face is larger—No, it's just moving closer, closer into a kiss.
The kiss is warm, nice, and somehow familiar. Johnny's body is responding without much thought, automatically pressing back into the kiss, like his body already knows how to fit against Parker's wow very muscular physique. How much do cameras even weigh? Parker's seriously endowed. Johnny's hands drift lower automatically. Wow. Seriously endowed.
"You sleep well, babe?" Parker asks, pulling back from the kiss just a small amount, Johnny can feel his warm breath on his skin. Parker's hand cups Johnny's cheek, his thumb lightly glancing the corner of Johnny's mouth, sparking nerves right along Johnny's body. Wow. Parker knows how to rev up Johnny's engine. Parker glances down and then back up at Johnny, smirking. "I don't know if we've got time for that."
Time. That's something Johnny should be focusing on. Time is important somehow in this moment. Time—means nothing at all, as long as Parker keeps kissing him like this. He's going to overuse the expression but wow.
Parker's murmuring nonsense against his skin, half sentence fragments that sound desperate. "Can't believe, almost lost you, went out of my mind—" and he can keep murmuring as far as Johnny's concerned as long as he doesn't stop touching him, doesn't stop making Johnny feel so good.
A loud beeping sound rends the air and Johnny wants to curse, because whatever it is makes Parker pull away, reaching to the side of the bed, tugging the addictive heat of his body away from Johnny. Johnny watches him warily, tracking Parker's ridiculous back muscles. When does Parker fit in so much workout time with his hectic job?
Parker elegantly sits up in bed, something clutched in his hand, the item still beeping loudly. Johnny has enough time to register that it's an Avengers identcard before Captain America's masked face appears on the small screen.
Johnny's brain is bamboozled by some sort of anomaly misadventure; he's allowed to overuse wow.
"Really?" Captain America's voice buzzes through the card.
"Well, if you call at dumb o'clock in the morning, you're always gonna risk seeing me or my husband butt naked," Parker says, a laugh in his voice. "It's not the worst you've seen."
"Don't remind me," Cap says, in a long-suffering tone. "And I'm sorry to interrupt, but I need you down by the wharf, it's happening again."
Parker nods. "Be right there," he says, disconnecting the card and palming it. He twists in bed and gives Johnny an adoring look. "Sorry, duty calls."
Johnny stares, about to demand to know why Parker is suddenly working with the Avengers, why do they need a photographer, but he's distracted by Parker leaning in again and kissing him thoroughly.
"Damn," Parker says, "I do love how you look in our bed." He crawls backwards and Johnny stares at how beautiful Parker is naked, how good he looks with his hair ruffled by Johnny's hands. Parker snags up a pair of pants from the floor, too quickly tugging them on, picks up a bag and heads for the door. "I'll change in the lounge so you don't get distracted. Rest, darling. I'll be back as soon as possible."
"Sure," Johnny croaks.
"I love you," Parker says, smiling softly, and then he's gone.
Johnny stares at the door and blinks a few second, his brain slowly starting to clear now that Parker's not around to distract him. Professor X warned him about Kang and Noh-Varr and... time pockets. And Johnny walked into something suspicious and purple that made his stomach lurch and the world go black, which… was probably one of the warned-about time pockets.
Johnny's walked into the future.
Maybe he can somehow trademark the word wow?
Okay, so it's the future. Johnny is in the future. He looks around the cream-decorated room, but aside from a large-screen television hanging up on one wall, two large windows covered in billowing cream curtains and a set of built-in storage, this room is mostly empty. He tugs the covers down and critically glances at his body, like there might be a clue there. Huh. Apparently age doesn't do much to the size of some important things, anyway. His stomach is still toned and flat, so that's good, it can't be too much into the future. Or sex with Parker is athletic and energetic enough to keep his body up. Or maybe Parker does all the work, whatever it is with the Avengers, and Johnny's a kept house-husband with a lot of time to work out.
The bed is comfortable and the memory of Parker kissing him is pleasant, but curiosity thankfully kills both cats and boners, so it's easier for Johnny to get up and out of the warm bed. He finds himself smiling automatically as he opens the closet doors and pulls out some clothes to tug on. It's when he's tugging the pants on that his brain kicks a little more into gear.
So that's why Parker got all snotty about Johnny being in love with Spider-man! Because Parker is in love with Johnny. The cliché works again: wow, wow, wow. No wonder Parker was so angry at Johnny talking about being in love with another man. Johnny remembers Parker saying I love you in such a fond, wondrous tone, and magnanimously vows to forgive Parker for being so angry. And sure, it's a shame that Spider-man's obviously too straight to return to Johnny's feelings – because really, what else could be the reason for Spider-man obviously rejecting him? – but Parker's more than enough compensation. Those muscles. That talented mouth. And, as Johnny realizes when he reaches for a t-shirt, Parker's obviously smart enough to put a ring on it.
He marvels at the simple wedding band on his finger, and he ransacks his memory of Parker's hands on him, and his brain neatly supplies that yeah, Peter had a ring on too. "Nice work, Peter Parker," Johnny says, approvingly. "Or should that be Peter Storm?" Because Johnny can't fathom changing his name. Clearly Peter will have changed his. Or maybe Peter kept his name too. Johnny has some research to do.
Johnny explores a little in the bedroom first, because it's nice to have a head's up on future decoration decisions. Why actually decide when you can just replicate what you've already seen? The en-suite bathroom is very nice, a separate shower and bath big enough for two, and enough of Johnny's favorite bottles to convince him that he definitely lives here permanently. There's a collection of sex toys and condoms and lube in the bedside cabinet that Johnny approves of, and a very nice collection of clothes in the storage. When Johnny peeks out the window, he's used to the view: they're in the Baxter Building. This isn't his regular bedroom, so Reed must have given Johnny a larger suite when he married Parker.
There's nothing conclusive in the bedroom about what time it is, so Johnny cautiously tries the main door and peeks his head out into the rest of the apartment. It's an all-in-one deal, a corner for a kitchen leading to a dining table big enough for a large party, and a lounge of movable furniture pieces, so you can separate them into seats or push them into one large couch. There are bookcases full of books, which have got to be Peter's, because Johnny's strictly an e-tablet kind of reader. And best, behind him, the wall is full of photographs.
Of course it is. Johnny's married to a photographer. Johnny is married and he's not even freaking out about it. Maturity, thy name is now Johnny Storm.
There are a lot of photos of the Fantastic Four – in uniform and without, formal and candid – and there are a lot of photos of Parker's lovely Aunt May with the both of them. Johnny had been so jealous of Parker's close loving relationship with his Aunt, and it looks like Peter's been generous enough to share her. Johnny lingers on one photo where Aunt May is kissing Johnny's cheek. And there's a whole wall of wedding photos and Johnny laughs, because somehow they got all the Avengers and X-Men to come to their wedding. He traces a finger over a large portrait of just Johnny and Peter. They look so happy. Then there's another large photo of Johnny, only it's more candid, and it's moving, and Johnny's about to compliment technology when he realizes the truth. It's a mirror.
Johnny freezes when he realizes it, and his reflection freezes too. Well, he is older. That's an inescapable truth. He's older than the wedding photos and much older than he remembers being that morning. His hair is shorter, maybe a little thinner, and maybe Johnny will admit there are a couple of lines there that weren't before, but he still looks good. If it's more than five years into the future, Johnny's going to clap himself on the back for aging spectacularly well.
His stomach grumbles, so he pats it sadly and heads over to the kitchen, but when he gets there, the cupboards are practically empty. There's a whole cupboard full of just camera equipment, which makes Johnny shake his head fondly until he gets to the fridge and all that's in there is condiments and a few bottles of water. Not even any beer.
He pulls a face, shuts the fridge, and scowls at the note which reads GO SHOPPING, IDIOT. Ugh. Johnny's future self has not been that kind to him. He glances up at a nice wall clock that looks like Sue's taste. It's seven-thirty. Maybe Sue's up and making breakfast.
It's only as Johnny's exiting the apartment that he has a sinking feeling in his stomach that it's obviously been five years minimum (he will not accept the amount his hair has receded otherwise), and maybe his sister's not there, maybe she's moved, maybe she's dead—and the panic tastes like acid in the back of his mouth and his heart pounds as he rounds the nearest corner and realizes which apartment he's living in, it's just the one near the larger apartment that Sue and Reed ostensibly have but really is where they all tend to hang out when not doing their own thing, but what if that has changed too--?
Johnny lets out the breath he hasn't realized that he's been holding when he pads into the main room and he can see Sue's blonde head bobbing around the kitchen through the open doorway. He sags against the sofa. Oh, thank goodness. Whenever this future is, his sister's alive, and that's so, so important.
He's about to open his mouth and call good morning when two other figures appear in the kitchen doorway and barrel straight towards him. Thank goodness they're just little figures, because Johnny's enough in shock to be knocked over by any massive force. He gets a glimpse of two happy faces under a mess of pale hair before he's tag-teamed by the obviously-related pair of children.
"Uncle Johnny!" the tiniest of the two, the girl, shrieks.
"Good morning Uncle Johnny!" the boy adds, louder, as if he has to outdo his sister in volume. "Uncle Peter went to work, we seen him on TV already."
"With Iron Man and Captain America AND WOLVERINE, Uncle Johnny," the girl says.
"Really?" Johnny says, politely. He starts walking, which is difficult with two children attached to his legs, but he perseveres: as an uncle, this will be a necessary skill for this future and he should work on it now while he has the chance. It's always nice to have a head's up.
"Really really," the girl says.
"Franklin, Valeria, stop using your poor uncle as a climbing frame," Sue chastises, smiling widely at Johnny as she carries a pan to the table. "Morning, Johnny."
"Good morning, Sue," Johnny says, and can't help but return her wide smile, even while he's inwardly mocking Sue's naming skills, because Franklin? Valeria? Those kids are damn lucky they have an awesome, cool uncle to help train them how to be awesome and cool, because without him they would have no hope at all.
The boy, Franklin, tugs at Johnny insistently until Johnny sits down next to him, and Valeria pulls herself up onto a chair too big for her, and pushes a half-drunk sippy cup of water over to him with a solemn expression, staring at him expectantly until he picks it up.
"Yum," Johnny says loudly, pretending to take a sip.
"Your mouth didn't even touch it," Valeria says, indignant.
"Because I'm clever like that," Johnny says.
"Stop harassing him," Sue says, sitting down with a pile of food balanced neatly onto a large platter. She starts dishing it out onto plates, neatly ignoring Franklin's questing fingers as he tries to snag an extra pancake.
"Uncle Johnny," Franklin says, "why did Uncle Peter go on his own? Are you not a superhero anymore?"
Johnny opens his mouth but pauses helplessly, because his nephew (did Johnny say wow yet?) has a point. How come Parker gets to go off and mosey with the Avengers and he doesn't? Surely flames beat photography as a superpower?
"I asked you to stop harassing your uncle," Sue says, glaring at Franklin. Franklin pulls a face.
"Sorry, mom." At Sue's prompting head nod, Franklin turns back to Johnny. "Sorry, Uncle Johnny. I guess I'm just so excited that you're back that I forget you still need to rest."
Johnny has to fight the urge to stare, because none of it makes sense. Franklin's excited that Johnny's back? Back from where? Did he leave Parker? Did something happen?
"Come on, eat. You need to get your strength up," Sue says, passing him a plate heaped with food. Apparently time travel gives a guy an appetite, because Johnny forsakes the mug of coffee to inhale the food; he has to swallow back a comment too about how Sue's cooking has obviously improved.
Johnny doesn't have a great handle on how he's going to continue to pretend to be his future self, so he's glad when Franklin and Valeria take up most of the conversation, even though appallingly the two small children seem to be arguing about string theory, and Johnny doesn't think they're talking about yo-yos. He focuses on the food instead, and on planning what to do next. Obviously he needs Reed, so that's the plan: survive dinner, find Sue's egghead husband, and get back to the past so he can start romancing Parker.
He reaches for his coffee, still bemused by the fact that Sue's youngest is a toddler shrieking about the laws of physics, and pulls a face when he realizes that favoring the food has meant his coffee is now cold. He puts it back down and waves his hands over it, expecting the usual rush of flame to come out and heat it back up.
Nothing happens. Johnny frowns at his hands and the coffee and tries again, clenching his abdominal muscles in the way he does when he needs his powers fast. Nothing. Johnny looks up and around, shocked, and then stares at his mug. "My powers," Johnny mutters, meaning to add it to his mental to-do list, something to ask Reed about.
His hand is suddenly covered by Sue's smaller one and he looks up to see her looking at him with a serious expression, her eyes a little moist. "We're working on it, Johnny. I swear." She throws him a tremulous smile and Johnny returns it automatically, trying to hide how much he's rocked by the raw emotion on her face.
Parker mentioned something about nearly losing Johnny. Whatever nearly took him has obviously taken his powers. What a bummer. Maybe the future's not as bright as it's seemed so far.
"Mom, we're gonna be late," Franklin says. Sue's concerned expression vanishes into something closer to panic and she gets up, busily picking up plates and stacking them into a dishwasher, yelling instructions at the kids. Johnny watches, bemused, until Valeria tugs him over to the hall and demands that Johnny lace up her shoes for her. Their exit is a whirlwind, and Johnny's left standing alone in the family room, with Sue and Valeria's goodbye kisses warm on his cheek.
He feels like he's been smacked in the gut by something large and heavy. Becoming an uncle to two kids in one day is quite something. Something awesome, Johnny thinks, as he catches a glimpse of crayon drawings on the fridge.
Johnny swallows, feeling lost and abruptly out of place. Reed. He definitely needs Reed. Cautiously, he walks to Reed's lab. Nothing too much on the way seems to have changed and he doesn’t run into anyone. He doesn't know what he's really expecting to find once he's gotten into the lab. Technology, especially with Stark Resilient on the scene, tends to expand at an exponential rate. Who knows what technology is around now?
When the automatic doors slide open into Reed's lab, though, nothing much has changed — at least on the surface — at all. The lab is still white, humming with the pitch of technology, and Reed is stretched around the room like an unravelled large intestine. Johnny grimaces.
"Hi," Johnny says.
Reed's head — at least, where Johnny's assuming Reed's head is, his arms and legs are kind of looped around each other quite a bit — bobs a little, and he says, "Huh," in a quiet, distracted voice. "I guess that makes sense."
Johnny matches Reed's tone with their last conversation and groans. "Sometimes things don't change at all," he says, extra loudly, pushing at Reed's stretched body and hoping the physical clue will wake Reed up to the realization he's not alone with his science any more.
Reed looks up at him sharply, his body snapping into shape so quickly Johnny nearly gets whiplash just watching it. His shoulders hunch under his lab coat, so Johnny can't tell whether Reed's crouching or just stretching them out. "If you're going to dress me down about my actions during the war again," Reed says, his voice oddly tight, "I don't have the time. I don't regret my decisions, I only regret—"
"War? What war?" Johnny asks, and then tenses up, because holy crap, war? Is that what he came back from? Maybe this whole idea to keep timelines pure is a good idea, because Johnny's abruptly unsure that he wants to know. "No, no, not here to talk about war. I'm here to talk about time pockets."
"Time… pockets?" Reed's eyebrows slant inhumanly high.
"I don't know, time clouds, maybe?" Johnny shrugs. "I may have sort of possibly… fallen into one?"
Reed's expression goes from defensive to curious and delighted in less than a second and he leaps forward. "What? Where?" Reed shakes himself and recovers from his excitement enough to ask, "When?"
Johnny rubs the back of his neck and tries not to wince too openly — his older face has enough wrinkles as it is. "I walked into a glowing purple cloud. Woke up in bed, very naked. Started on 67th street, down near Chinatown, very clothed, 2011?"
"Ah," Reed says, moving around the largest console to come closer to him, his eyes bright as he tries to read Johnny's face like a book. "Back when you thought you were in love with the burrito restaurant."
"Oh, c'mon," Johnny says, shaking his head, "not even."
"Tony Stark, then?"
Johnny exhales. "No. Spider-man!"
Reed looks impossibly amused at that, like it's the funniest thing in the world.
"I didn't come to the future for you to laugh at me, man," Johnny says, irritated by Reed's obvious amusement and literally stretching smile. Yeah, given that he's apparently now married to Peter Parker, it is amusing how much Johnny protested that he was madly in love with Spider-man. It's just not as funny as Reed seems to think.
"Have you let anyone else know that you've time traveled?" Reed says.
"Uh, no. Duh," Johnny rolls his eyes. "I know the protocol. Don't step on ants, don't try to pry too much, the sanctity of the time-space continuum, blah, blah, blah—"
"The sanctity of the—" Reed blinks. "Wait, you... remember a briefing I gave you? You?"
"Hey! I resent the implications of your surprise," Johnny says, scowling. "I'm not just an exceedingly pretty face. I graduated as a pilot. You can't graduate as a pilot by being a total dumb-ass. Ugh, I can't look at you right now." He averts his gaze and it lands on a nearby glass cage, a sphere of light blue crackling energy hovering inside it. He turns to give it a closer look. "Hey, what is this thing? It's cool." He reaches out a hand, only for Reed's arms to stretch forward immediately, making a steel barrier snap down around the glass case.
Johnny frowns at Reed's panicked expression.
"It's from the negative zone," Reed explains, the rest of his body contracting to meet up with his hands, still hovering around the cage. "Moving it can destroy reality as we know it."
Johnny huffs a breath, moving away from Reed and his perennial tension. "Don't I know the feeling. Fell asleep in love with Spider-man, woke up married to a photographer. With a fantastic ass. Wow. Like, firm. Total handfuls of joy, I gotta tell you." He holds up his hands in illustration.
"So you've told me before," Reed says. "Multiple times." He looks green for a moment. "I'll look into it for you, but it's gonna take some time." Johnny leans against the nearest counter and Reed's expression lurches comically. "Some alone science time."
Johnny rolls his eyes. "You and Sue are always so tetchy. I can't believe two people with brains your size can't handle a little multi-tasking."
Reed looks like he wants to facepalm into the next century. "Go hang out and try not to ruin the timeline."
"Got it," Johnny says, already backing out of the room. This might be the future, but he knows Reed's expression when he's had enough Johnny Storm for the day. Usually Johnny belligerently stays for a good hour after that expression starts to show but as he's kind of stuck in the future, he'd probably best stay on Reed's side.
"And remember—" Reed starts.
"Don't tell anyone you're from the past," Johnny parrots back Reed's words from the briefing, trying not to think about how it was last month for him, and years for Reed. Time travel's enough to give anyone a meltdown.
Unfortunately Reed's brain is faster than Johnny's feet, and when he gets back to the apartment he shares with Parker, Johnny heads for the nearest computer-looking screen in the main room which seems to be a double for a TV too, only to find the Internet's mostly been censored and most of the channels blocked. Dammit. He tries his regular haunts anyway, the browser predicting what sites he's aiming for, and the only site that loads is his favorite free porn site. Alas, nothing much seems to have changed on there since 2011.
Johnny sighs, and decides to take on a hands on approach, guessing that Reed has probably locked the building up so he can't get out. Well, they're already pretty loaded as it is, it would probably be horribly unfair for Johnny to look up lottery numbers. He spends a while going through drawers, mostly just finding boring stuff like clothes and utensils and more photography equipment. There's a closet full of racing trophies and crayon drawings from Franklin and Valeria, and a box full of Spider-man memorabilia which is stuffed into the bottom of a drawer underneath the sofa. Clearly Johnny has acquired a bit of a Spider-man stash. It's probably secret. Johnny blushes and hides it again, not wanting to get his future self in trouble with his husband, but he's definitely impressed with his future self's haul, because there's a full Spider-man suit in among the photos and comics that looks almost like the real thing.
It's an innocuous book on one of the shelves that catches Johnny's attention and holds the most interesting find: it's a scrapbook. The handwriting on the spine and inside the book is weak, flowery — Johnny would probably guess it's Aunt May's writing — but that's not the part that Johnny spends a lot of time on. What he does focus on is the photos. If there were a lot of photos on the wall, there are triple that in the album, of him and Peter. Arms around each other and smiling at the camera. Posing in front of a range of tourist destinations.
Johnny's favorite is a candid snap at Disney World, where Peter's in the middle of a tugging war between himself and Tinkerbell. Johnny lingers on that one, fingers unconsciously tracing the edge of Peter's laughing face, and something in his chest tightens. His own expression in the photograph is indescribable — the Johnny in the future is just staring at Peter like he's the only thing worthwhile in the whole universe.
A lump in his throat, Johnny turns the page too quickly, and a neat bundle falls out of the back. He ducks to pick it up to find it's a bundle of letters. He shouldn't pry. This should be a future for him to discover as it happens, one day at a time, because what if he looks too far and this doesn't happen? What if something he finds out now stops it happening then?
He looks anyway, for a brief moment, and swallows hard at the fragments of text he sees when he flickers through them.
"I miss you so much, Pete. Come home soon. "
"Don't do anything stupid without me there, flame brain. I need you in one piece."
"Those pants should be illegal. Did you paint them on? Tell me the truth."
"Thanks for turning up to my viva, dumbass. Just what I wanted to do, explain string theory to Professor Connors with a hard-on."
"We're getting married tomorrow, Pete. MARRIED. I can't believe it, and yet I can't picture anything else."
"I'm in bed next to you right now. You're asleep and you're mine."
Johnny swallows hard, his cheeks heating, and he bundles the letters up again, hiding the rest of their secrets in the back of the book again. He feels like he's just been caught peeping at a sacred, too-intimate thing. The feelings on those pages, in the photographs— it's almost like he's on fire, and hey, Johnny knows what that feels like explicitly.
He really is in love with Peter Parker in this time. And Peter loves him right back.
Johnny will deny forever that he might sort of cuddle the album for a few seconds, but a few seconds only is the time he has to deny, because a thumping sound in the bedroom grabs his attention immediately. Johnny reacts instantly, leaving the book to one side and reaching for the nearest weapon-shaped thing — a baseball bat resting on a shelf on the wall, covered in writing.
He pushes open the door of the bedroom, bat ready to strike, and drops it when he sees what the sound is. He walks forwards happily towards the familiar sight.
"Spider-man!" Johnny says. "How are y—mfffmfffhffmm?"
Okay, Johnny's hallucinating. He's definitely hallucinating. Because there's no way that Spider-man just finished crawling into his bedroom and then, on seeing him, launched himself forwards and lifted up his mask enough to kiss Johnny senseless. There's no way it happened, and no way it's still happening.
Johnny sinks into the kiss without thinking, because it's Spider-man, and he loves this guy, and his hands are automatically sliding to Spider-man's shapely ass, an inch away from knowing if it's padded or not for sure, when his brain freezes.
He doesn't know Spider-man's favorite color. Or how he drinks his coffee. Or if he wants kids, a house, a family, or if he has a job or a favorite movie, or an opinion on drugs, abortions, politics, crimes, or if he has any allergies.
Parker likes dark blue, takes coffee as black as it comes, has talked about adoption and buying his Aunt May's house from her. He takes photographs but interns at labs sometimes, has made Johnny watch Fight Club seven times, and has so many opinions about everything that sometimes Johnny has to remind him to breathe mid-rant. He doesn't seem to have any allergies, but he does get a bit shifty when people pull out bug spray, so he's probably allergic to chemicals or something.
Johnny pushes Spider-man away from him and stares, appalled. Spider-man tilts his half-revealed face at Johnny, obviously confused.
"No," Johnny says, firmly. And wow, he's proud of himself right now. Legitimately proud. The man of his dreams and he's saying no!
"Uh," Spider-man says and steps back, hands hovering over where they were securely curled around Johnny's shoulders, "what?" He tilts his head at Johnny.
"No," Johnny says, again, even stronger. "I'm sorry but I'm married. Happily married. I'm loyal to my Peter and I don't care if you and I are having an affair, it stops now." He might even stomp his foot down in punctuation, but he'll never confess to being that level of melodramatic later.
Spider-man's mouth moves laxly for a minute in concern, and then he reaches off and actually tugs off his mask. Johnny's mouth is similarly slack until the mask is thrown to one side and he can identify the familiar bed hair style that Parker doesn't spend an hour faking like Johnny does. Parker's eyes narrow in worry. "What's wrong with you?"
Johnny's smile widens without intention. "Roleplay? I— you are the best husband ever," he breathes, staring wide-eyed at Parker. "Except I totally am, because the superhero I'm in l—have a crush on—is kissing me and I push him away for the love of my husband. Damn, I'm good at this matrimony thing."
"Okay," Parker says slowly, stepping back a little. "You're acting kinda weird – did Reed talk science to you again? You know that gives you delusions of genius."
"Hey," Johnny says. "Also, yes. But hey."
Parker's expression at least changes from surprised concern to a softer fonder look. "Mood's kinda gone. Guess I need to shower anyway." He turns away from Johnny and starts to peel the Spider-man suit off. It's a really good copy, Johnny thinks. They probably paid top dollar to get it done. Parker's really a swell guy to indulge his Spider-man kink. "Had to clean up a six-car pile-up down on the bay intersection single-handed because Logan thought it was funny just to sit and watch."
"Logan—" Johnny starts and realizes. "Oh, Wolverine. Sure. You're Spider-man. Thwip, thwip." He makes pretend web-slinging gestures.
Parker flings him an inscrutable look and finishes peeling off the suit, not self-conscious at all, even though he's bare-ass naked under the spandex. He kicks the last of it away and he pauses on the threshold to the en-suite bathroom. "Since when do you let me shower alone, Storm?"
Johnny swallows. Parker naked is… well, it's quite the sight. "Um," Johnny says, "never?"
Johnny usually has no trouble seeing himself as a kind of suave guy, but he feels none of that projected elegance when he stumbles forwards towards the bathroom. Parker just tosses a smile at him over his shoulder as he reaches to turn the shower on. It's one of those large overhead ones with the awesome kind of pressure that's almost magical after a long supervillain fight. Johnny's mouth goes dry just watching the muscles shift in Parker's shoulders as he adjusts the spray for them.
"You're gonna come in with your clothes on?" Parker tilts his head and steps backwards into the shower, apparently owning all of the gracefulness in this twosome. "Are you okay, babe?"
Babe. Ooh, does that endearment ever do things for Johnny. He finds himself almost struck dumb by the image of Parker under the hot spray. The water's already cascading over his beautiful body, flattening his mess of hair down around his face, and Johnny just wants to be in those arms already. He strips in record time, forgetting to be clumsy until he steps into the shower to join Parker and slips.
Parker catches him, amusement wide on his face until he realizes Johnny is trembling and then his expression shifts to such tenderness that Johnny can feel it like an actual thump to his chest. Johnny had fallen before during the Sandman battle, and Spider-man had caught him, and he'd mistaken that moment for falling in love, but yeah, that was a mistake. Because this is falling, and this is being caught, and everything Johnny's thought in the past about love has been completely wrong. Parker's hands move to cup Johnny's face and hot water surges around them like it's becoming what Johnny's feeling right now. "Johnny?" Peter says, and oh— yeah, he'd asked if Johnny was fine.
"I'm fine," Johnny says, although that's not quite true. He feels like he's been smacked over by a boulder. "I'm just—" He doesn't know how to phrase it, not without sounding crazy, not without being selfish — because this moment isn't his to take. This is a stolen moment, a future that might not happen, a future that Johnny so suddenly needs to happen, because Parker is holding him like he's something special, something precious, and Johnny can't fathom a world without this now.
"Yeah," Parker says softly, pushing their foreheads together. "This last year's been pretty nuts, right? I'm just so glad I've got you back." He'd said that before. Where had Johnny even gone? Parker moves back a little even though it makes the water stream onto their faces, and he looks at Johnny with such raw emotion that it's a good thing he's being held upright. "Hey," he says, voice gentle, one thumb rubbing Johnny's face, catching the corner of his mouth, lighting up all kinds of reactions in all kinds of places around his body. "Hey. You and me. We're gonna make it. Death couldn't even get between us, remember?"
Death? Something of his real shock must show in his face, because Parker's tender expression turns into something else, something fierce and protective, and he tugs Johnny closer into an embrace, Parker burying his face in Johnny's neck, and death— that's terrifying— and maybe it explains why Johnny has no powers any more if he died— and he can't wrap his head around it, because this is a perfect future, and he's so happy, and Parker seems happy too, and if Johnny went and died on him— even if he's somehow come back—
Parker obviously realizes Johnny's headspace isn't entirely right, because he presses a line of protective kisses along Johnny's jawline before reaching for a sponge and washing Johnny from head to toe. It's not even sexual, not really — this is probably the first shared shower in Johnny's mind that hasn't been an excuse for sexual shenanigans. He wonders how many of these tender showers have taken place in their shared past. He becomes fiercely jealous of himself and in frustration he almost yanks the sponge from Parker's hands in order to return the favor. He's so desperate to be as kind to Parker that he doesn't realize he's scowling into the task, something he finally notices when Parker laughs at him and grabs onto Johnny's face again, thumbs smoothing out across his brow.
"You're adorable when you're frustrated," Parker says.
"You're adorable," Johnny returns, pouting, which just makes Parker laugh into the water even louder. Parker's hands drop, linger on Johnny's hips, and he's still bright with amusement, his eyes shining clearly through the steady stream of water. Even though the steam is rising and curling around their bodies, and Johnny's eyesight is blurring from the unrelenting spray of the shower, and all he can see now is Parker's eyes and Parker's mouth, the thought is too much, building up in his gut, spilling out on his tongue before he can claw it back. "You're beautiful."
Parker blinks and reaches out to turn off the water, a shy smile sparking a blush onto his cheeks. "Shut up, charmer," he mutters, reaching out to snag a bath towel from a heated rack that's big enough for him to slide around Johnny and loop around the both of them at once. Johnny obligingly moves with him so they can get out of the stall and move towards the bedroom. "We all know who's the looker in our twosome."
"Uh, yeah," Johnny says, unable to stop looking Parker directly in the eyes. Parker's eyes are hypnotic up close. Have they always been this beautiful? How could Johnny not have noticed? It's like he's missed for so long the intense light of the full moon, too distracted by squinting to see a distant star that probably died already thousands of years ago. Parker's face does something delightful and maybe it's the heat of their bodies together, or maybe it's just that blush still hovering on his cheeks, but Johnny can't help himself from saying, "You." And it's like Johnny's brain is connected directly to his mouth, or maybe it's his heart, because he says, with a deep seriousness he's startled to realize he means completely, "I love you, Peter Parker."
"I love you back," Parker says, and kisses Johnny even though he can't seem to wipe the widest smile in the world from his face.
Johnny has to kiss him back, even though all these kisses and words are stolen moments from himself, and damn, that's probably the worst part of all of this. Because this isn't a feeling he could have come up with overnight, or on a whim — he's probably been in love with Parker for a while now, and that means Sue was right. Ugh, she's going to be impossible about it.
When he can finally pull back from Parker's mouth, Johnny's definitely pleasantly light-headed. "To clarify, I definitely love you, and not Spider-man," Johnny says.
Parker shoots him an odd look, tinged with unmistakable fondness. "Thank you?"
"Not that I don't adore Spidey," Johnny clarifies. "We're buds, pals, battle bros. But... you're the one. It. You're it for me, Peter Parker."
"Incoherent ramble aside, I think that's the nicest thing anyone's ever said to me," Parker says.
"Well, I'm an idiot who needs to try harder in the future."
The oddness in Parker's expression has completely faded to pure fondness. "You do fine, flame brain."
Johnny ducks his head, bashful, and Parker's halfway through suggesting that they drop the towel and maybe dry off the fun way when the door opens.
"My eyes," Reed howls, and Johnny smirks when he sees Reed has extended his head backwards so far it's now by the front door of their apartment, while Reed's body is still near them.
"Not the worst you've walked in on," Parker yells, but he drops the towel and throws a pair of sweats at Johnny's face. Johnny hops into them and side-eyes Parker surreptitiously as he dresses too. "I've told you all time and again - you walk in, you suffer the consequences."
"There's morally something wrong here," Reed mutters. Then, more loudly: "I need Johnny in the lab, Peter. Sorry. It's urgent or I wouldn't have risked my sanity."
"Lab?" Parker questions.
"Oh," Johnny says. "Just a thing. A— powers thing?" He shoots Reed a questioning look, but Reed's still looking away, one hand stretched backwards now too to clamp over his eyes. He looks back at Parker and says with more certainty, "It's a powers thing Reed wants to try."
"It won't take long," Reed promises. "Three minutes, and you can, uh— resume your activities?"
"I won't be long," Johnny promises Parker, even though, if this all means that Reed has solved the whole time travel problem, it'll actually be years until this Johnny is back in this room. He feels very jealous of his future self to be coming back to this.
"You better not be," Parker says, forehead crinkling as he presses forwards to steal one last kiss from Johnny.
Reed makes a strangled noise — obviously he'd uncovered his eyes too soon.
"I've found the signature of our Johnny," Reed says as soon as they hit the lab. "I should be able to open another portal close to where your future counterpart should be waiting. I've been able to calibrate it so that the time disturbance on the other end is smaller than on this end."
"Do I learn to speak Reed in the future? Because right now, I'm not exactly fluent."
"While hours have passed here, only a minute should have passed in your time," Reed says. "Meaning you'll have had little chance to mess with your past. You don't get much better at following instructions."
Johnny considers several witty responses and settles on, "You suck, Reed."
"I'm getting you home," Reed says, rolling his eyes. "You could be nicer."
"Yeah, but then you might think I was possessed or something," Johnny points out. "In a world where aliens exist that can mimic our appearances exactly, you'd think you would appreciate me staying true to character."
"I'm not sure appreciate is the right word."
"Parker seemed to appreciate me just fine."
Reed makes a low wounded sound, like an animal in pain. "Let me just put the co-ordinates into the portal manager, and we'll get you home in a jiffy."
Johnny mouths jiffy where Reed can see it, and Reed pointedly ignores him, turning his back on him so he can focus onto a large white device in the corner of the room and starting to fiddle with a panel covered in a large number of levers and dials.
The machine seems to be warming up, a ball of white energy starting to dance between two upright poles on a round steel platform to its right-hand side, when the lab door opens. It's Parker, of course it is, and Sue and Ben, his large rocky form denting a counter in their excited entrance.
"What the hell are you two doing with the micro bridge?" Sue's expression looks dark. "Hon, I thought we agreed you wouldn't mess around with it, not with what happened with its—"
"I'm not messing around with it," Reed says. "I'm just—" He looks over helplessly at Johnny, like he's going to somehow be a help in this situation. Ha. Reed keeps glaring at Johnny. Oh, he's actually supposed to help.
Huh. Johnny's not used to being allowed to explain technical situations. "Oh, I— Uh. Temporal anomaly. I sort of— There was a—" He throws a glare back at Reed.
Parker, Sue and Ben all look entirely confused. At least it's not an unusual feeling for Ben, Johnny supposes.
"Slow down," Parker says. "Stop panicking, and put it in Johnny english."
"Johnny English? I love that movie."
"Johnny," Parker says, squinting like he's developing a migraine. Johnny can empathize. Science is the primary cause of headaches in Johnny's personal experience. That, and, uh, dealing with him.
"I accidentally walked into a time cloud," Johnny says, wincing. "Reed's just sending me home."
Parker's mouth drops open a little, and then his expression edges towards something more in the annoyed spectrum. "When did you accidentally walk into a… time cloud?"
"A few hours ago," Johnny says, which isn't really a lie. Parker sighs loudly. "2011," he adds, shoulders sagging. Parker's eyebrows rise in unison. Reed, for once, saves him with a beautifully timed interruption.
"I'd better get you back before you find anything else out that you shouldn't," Reed says. "Up on the portal, Johnny."
Johnny looks over at Parker, mouth opening to apologize, but Parker shakes his head. Well, he's probably used to the scrapes and shenanigans that Johnny's talented at finding himself entwined in. Johnny climbs up onto the portal, and after an unsure look at Reed, steps into the middle of the white energy. It's quite nice. Warm. Like being hugged by a vibrating blanket.
"Just get my Johnny home safe and sound," Parker says, addressing Reed directly. "Both of them."
"Of course," Reed says, punching more things into a machine. "Ah yes, there we are." He brings up a hazy image on a screen, of Johnny in the past, his younger body, leaning against a wall looking annoyed and thumbing at Johnny's cellphone. "Looks like we'd best get you back before he calls anyone he shouldn't."
"Oh," Parker says. "Oh. No, I don't think he will." He suddenly sounds very sure.
"Uh," Johnny says, "about the whole pretending to be older me thing—"
"It means you actually listened to Reed's time travel briefing," Sue says. "It's impressive."
"I'm not just an exceedingly pretty face," Johnny defends, instantly.
"I'm a qualified pilot," Parker says with a weird drawl, like he's mimicking someone. Wait. He is. He's mimicking Johnny. His beloved husband, Johnny decides, is kind of mean. It's kind of a turn on.
"You can't graduate as a pilot by being a total dumb-ass," Sue adds in a gruff voice, the worst impression of Johnny she's ever heard. They're right, though. He probably does say it a lot and his future self has probably not exercised restraint when the occasion has arisen to make the perfectly valid point. "Ugh, I can't look at you right now."
Sue and Parker share a comfortable-looking laugh. Johnny rolls his eyes.
"Get me out of here, Reed," Johnny says.
"Activating the rift now," Reed says.
"Ha," Ben booms, as the white energy encircling Johnny starts to turn purple and he can smell the vague scent of burning on the air. "2011, though. Wasn't that back when you hadn't even clicked yet that Peter was Spider-man?"
"What?" Johnny howls. "Whaaaat?"
Parker's eyes widen and lock with his for just the briefest of seconds, and then the time cloud turns icy cold around him and steals Johnny away.
Travelling this way around through time is apparently much easier than the other way around — Johnny's still leaning against the wall in the same stance he briefly saw his other self using.
His cellphone is still warm in his hands, too. The screen is blank and Johnny lifts it up for a second to check his own appearance. Young, taut, bright skin shines back and Johnny sighs in relief. He's young again. Yes. He thumbs the lock screen back into life and unlocks the display to see it's the same date he left and just two or three minutes later. Reed is a genius, but then, Reed knows that already, so Johnny doesn't have to tell him.
He takes a moment to just breathe, enjoying being back in the right body. Plus, if he focuses on his breathing, he's not thinking about how much of an idiot he is. Peter Parker is Spider-man. Johnny really needs to hustle on trademarking the word wow, because it's so very applicable to his whole life.
His future self had been doing something with his phone and Johnny panics for a moment, wondering what it might be, and he quickly thumbs through the call history. No new calls. It takes a moment longer to find the messages and the most recent one — a single text to Parker, Peter: "WE NEED TO TALK. COME OUT THE BAR AND TURN RIGHT. I'M WAITING FOR YOU."
Johnny's mind lingers on his experiences in the future for a moment. One weird panic alights in his mind, and he snaps his fingers and nearly cries when he sees the flame sizzling upwards. He snaps it back off when a passer-by glances at him in shock and Johnny beams at them until they disappear, his mind racing at what he's going to say to Parker in the here and now. Parker's going to tell him off when his future self switches back, obviously. So if Johnny's going to be in trouble anyway, he should probably have some fun while he can.
When Parker appears at the end of the street, his shoulders distinctly slouched and face fearful, Johnny's heart tumbles in his chest helplessly. Not even a burrito bowl has ever made him this happy. He knows he's standing on the sidewalk, but he feels a little like he's floating.
"I'm sorry," Parker says, as soon as he's in hearing range, pre-empting Johnny's suave hi that he was going to lead with. "I am, I'm sorry, I should have been way more supportive of you. I'm a terrible friend."
Johnny stays leaning against the wall, regarding Parker with a carefully neutral expression that's semi-killing him, because it's taking a lot of his willpower to fight off the smile that wants to crawl onto his face and never leave.
"It was just a surprise," Parker says, slowing and stopping a heartbreaking distance away from Johnny. Johnny can feel the gap like an ice pick to the heart. Okay, so it's only a meter, but it feels like a thousand miles. "But I'm okay now. And I promise, I'll support whomever you love, one hundred percent." His eyes travel over Johnny like he's a book to be read.
Johnny's never been a literature kind of person. He's more of an action guy. He straightens up, taking his time with the movement, thrilling at the way Parker's eyes linger on him, almost unconsciously drinking in the sight of him. He looks like that at Johnny all the time and he'd missed it before. He won't miss it now. He moves forwards, Parker's eyes wide behind his glasses, until they're standing in each other's personal space.
"Peter," Johnny says, his voice level. "I'm in love with Spider-man. One hundred percent."
There's a flash of a horrible expression on Peter's face, and it's too much, even as Peter's face is turning away, and oh, that's how Johnny's thinking of him now. Peter, not Parker. Peter. His Peter.
Johnny reaches forwards, one finger hooking under Peter's chin, forcing him to meet his eyes. "You challenged me earlier and I responded… well. I'm a hothead."
"Flame brain, you mean," Peter corrects, but then he looks ashamed, like he shouldn't be speaking. When this is over, Johnny's going to kiss that expression permanently away from his face.
"Yeah. That." Johnny takes a moment to lift his hand higher rub his thumb over Peter's cheek, the pad touching the corner of Peter's mouth, and by the way he shudders, it's obvious Peter likes the gesture just as much as Johnny did when Peter's future self did it to him. "You said I didn't know a thing about Spider-man. But you also know that's not true, don't you?"
"I— I don't—"
"He likes blue," Johnny says. "Dark blue. He takes his coffee as black as you can get it. He's talked about adoption, and for a future home, well, I'll probably need to stay near my sister, but I'm sure once we hang up our spandex, maybe his amazing Aunt will want a couple of super roommates—"
Peter's eyes turn moist and he's blushing, the same way as his future self, streaks of color that Johnny wants to map with all his fingers.
"He takes photographs but interns in labs," Johnny says, thrilling when Peter pushes his face into Johnny's palm. "And he's weirdly obsessed with Fight Club, and he has a thousand opinions on everything under the sun, and also what I've discovered is an understandable dislike of bug spray—"
"Shut up," Peter breathes, "shut up."
Johnny's about to say, "Make me," because he's always going to be that kind of a guy, but Peter turns out to be the kind of guy who takes things into his own hands. Literally. His hands are back around Johnny's neck where they belong, and his mouth is where it belongs too — hot and against Johnny's, again and again.
"Johnny," Peter breathes, like he's something special.
"I'm kind of mad about the giant bug," Johnny finishes, crinkling a dimpled full smile at Peter, unable to keep it from his face any more. Future Peter's going to give him so much shit for this moment, but it's totally worth it.
"I thought—" Peter says, sounding miserable. "I thought you didn't know."
"Yeah, I know," Johnny says, magnanimously. "But hopefully you've kind of caught the clue bus now."
Peter looks at him, slightly suspiciously.
Shit, Johnny's never so suave about knowing something unless he's cheating. Peter's known him long enough to pick up something like that. A distraction would probably be a good idea right about now. "So how about you come to dinner with me, Peter Parker?"
The distraction is successful. Peter smiles, like he's entirely lit up with happiness just from the suggestion. "I should probably go and shower first. I'd like to go on a date with you not smelling like moldy pork fat."
"That's probably fair," Johnny allows, and he reluctantly lets Peter out of the circle of his arm — but not very far. He snuggles into Peter's side as they walk.
Peter side-eyes him. "What, you think you're getting an invite to join me?"
Johnny hums. "I'm kind of considering instigating a shower-related rule."
Peter's expression is a mixture of dubious disbelief and interest. "What sort of rule?"
"Maybe not yet, but… in the future," Johnny says. "A rule along the lines of… no showering unless I'm there."
Peter ducks his head, adorably blushing again. "I, uh, I'm amenable. I think I could live with that sort of rule."
"You do," Johnny says, certainty of their beautiful future together brimming into his grin.
Johnny thinks about it and opts for the lie. Peter can bust him for it later. Years later. "I said, me too."
"Oh," Peter says. He smiles shyly across at Johnny. "Good."
Johnny just nods. There aren't any better words. Good is exactly what this whole situation is.