Fandom: Fantastic Four movieverse
Pairing: Johnny Storm/Various
Summary: How Flaming is the Human Torch? Written for the lgbtfest prompt: "Johnny Storm, He doesn't think his bisexuality is anyone's business but his own - the media think differently. Sue is upset that he didn't tell her."
A/N: With thanks to valderys and lawsontl for the beta help.
Johnny Storm is no stranger to girls screaming in the bedroom, but it's not exactly his ideal alarm clock. He wakes in a tangle, his mouth dry as ash, and flounders for a moment, wrapped in heat, before he catches on. His first surge of panic makes the flames jump higher, and the screaming too.
“Oh my God!” He leaps to his feet, the remains of the bedspread falling apart around him, and manages to take most of the hot stuff with him. Across the smoking bed, last night's girl meets his eyes, her mouth working soundlessly between screams. The room is hers, and he gave it no thought when he fell into bed, but this morning he feels keenly that he's playing away from home. He extinguishes himself, and bats ineptly at the smouldering mattress. He notes she has had the presence of mind to grab a towel before she started screaming. This may not bode well.
“I’m so sorry...” he starts to say, and then pauses, far too obviously. Her brows come together like crossing swords. Oh shit, and he’s usually so smooth with names, and he remembers other stuff, like the sweet taste of Bacardi, her nails at his jawline, and he wants to say Cora, Colleen, or Collette, maybe? He hazards a “c” sound, but swallows it down when her eyes start to blaze.
“You were moaning in your sleep,” she accuses.
“Dreaming of you, baby,” he tries, like a reflex.
“I'm pretty sure that wasn’t my name,” she says with foreboding. He suddenly feels very naked, and flounders for his underwear, discarded in a wanton heap with last night’s tux. He stamps out a bit of bedspread that is licking at the carpet. When he straightens up again, he’s halfway decent. He meets her eyes, and they’re so hard it’s like walking at a wall.
“Careful,” he says lamely. “I might burst into flames again.”
Turns out she’s not quite ready to laugh about it. When she pauses for breath, he holds his hands out, palms raised.
“Look, I’m sorry,” he says. “I’ll write you a cheque…”
He means for the ruined bed, but she takes it all kinds of wrong ways.
It is so unusual for Johnny to be returning home from a party at a reasonable hour, reasonably sober, and in the company of his family with no plus ones, that the whole limo has been stunned into silence. Johnny stares placidly out the window, aware he is being frowned at, watching the city lights surge dimly through the tinted glass.
It wasn't exactly his kind of party, anyway. Just a benefit gig for some science project; Reed and Sue's baby really, and his presence just an extra for the cameras. Lenses have been taking a piece of him all night, seeking him out among the crowds and the bright lights and all the shiny surfaces. Johnny can stride through all that like he owns it – and he does – but he knows it for what it is. It's just he figures with the press that you ride or get ridden, and it's always been his nature to burn the brightest.
“Who was that guy you were talking to?” Suzie asks him out the blue, her voice casual with an edge. Johnny knows that edge, and it never spells sweetness. Where've you been, Johnny? What’s happened to my car, Johnny? What do you mean, they threw you out, Johnny?
He looks at her, direct and innocent, and makes a bit of a show of flicking through a mental filofax. After all, he's talked to a few different people tonight.
“He didn't seem like your type,” she persists. Johnny pulls a face at her.
“I don’t have a type in guys.”
“You know what I mean.” She turns to Reed.
“Isn't he one of your grad students?” Reed is staring out the window, lost in hypotheticals. He blinks back to the present.
“Who?” he says. “I didn't see.” God love him, Johnny thinks. Ben laughs, a sound like rocks breaking.
“That's a hot one off the press,” he says. “A whole room full of girls, and the Torch is talking to some science geek. What's the matter, matchstick, you having a down day?”
“He was into NASCAR,” Johnny says, which is true enough.
“Petrol heads,” Ben says dismissively, and immediately switches off in case Johnny starts quoting race stats.
Johnny returns to his window, still feeling the weight of Sue’s gaze, but she doesn’t push the subject. He fuels his own indignation to override the twinge. Tells himself he no longer needs her to default automatically to mom-mode, that he wasn’t even doing anything. Well, not really, anyway. Sue's disappointment has always been a blot on his horizons.
He contemplates pulling Reed aside later and confessing his little bedroom problem. Reed will be pragmatic about it, at least. There are fire precautions in the Baxter building, of course, but he can burn hotter than all of them. No way Sue won't get to know if Reed knows, but at least she can hear it second hand. It was kind of funny at first, and always a kick, but as time goes by, it's harder to admit he's not always the master; that sometimes the fire moves in him like his moods. He decides he'll tell Reed tomorrow, when Sue's scrutiny has faded to background noise.
Or, maybe not, is his first thought later, when he’s woken by alarms and crackling flames, and Ben Grimm, the least flammable of his house mates, is bellowing in his ear;
“Most people have wet dreams, matchstick!”
Well, at least he made his point clear, Johnny thinks, as he sits on the couch wearing nothing but cushions, the smell of burning linen still hot in his nose. Ben is leaning against the wall, his craggy shoulders shaking soundlessly – he's had a little too much fun with the fire extinguishers, and Johnny is still sticky from poorly aimed foam. Sue has her arms crossed at him, and he grins shamefacedly.
“Were you having a bad dream?” she asks him. Quite the opposite, actually, but she mistakes his hesitation for stoicism, and her face softens. Johnny figures this is the way to run. He shrugs, and tries to look vulnerable. Her brows immediately snap to scepticism. Damn it.
Reed is pacing back and forth in front of him, his mind already on the solution, not the cause.
“We can rig up a sprinkler system,” he is saying. “Improve the sensors on the alarms, so we get an earlier warning. Find you a flame-proof mattress.” He pauses to peer over his PDA and his eye travels doubtfully to Johnny's most strategic cushion.
“Maybe some flame-proof pyjamas, too,” he suggests kindly.
“I always sleep like this,” Johnny says without thinking. Reed clears his throat.
“Of course you do.”
“Well, not exactly like this,” Johnny says brightly, sensing fear. “I don't usually have a cushion.”
Sue pulls a grossed out face at him from across the room. He sticks his tongue out at her, and feels better when she smiles.
“If it weren’t for that, I’d be calling you a liar,” he says. Johnny’s jaw has hardened before he figures out that this is probably the build up for a joke about flaming undergarments.
“I have no pants,” he says blandly. “And at least I didn’t break the elevator. Or the bath tub. Or the couch.”
“Yeah, well, never mind, kid,” he says, and claps Johnny on the shoulder hard enough to rattle his bones. “Happens to the best of us.”
“Or give my girlfriend gravel burn!” Johnny calls to his retreating back. Ben may only have three fingers now, but it’s plain which one he means to raise.
When Reed is on task, he works fast, and that night it’s not the alarms but an impromptu cold shower that drags Johnny up from sleep in a haze of smoke and steam. He lies there, contemplating the ceiling, droplets running down his nose. Lets himself feel defeated for a moment, like a toll he has to pay. That done, he lets himself linger over the possibilities of defeat.
The slip of paper with the number on is in his bottom drawer, kept safe from fire and precipitation. Johnny’s fumbles for it with wet fingers, smudging the ink. He punches the keys of his cell phone somewhat harder than he has to, and shakes the water from his ear so he can hear it ring.
The bar is loud, and swathed in smoke, and fits around Johnny as comfortably as home. He's skating past the point of safely drunk now, and waving it goodbye. He’s not even listening to the guy, this guy - his date, if you must - but he can’t look away from how his lips push out words, or work around the neck of his bottle of bud. Johnny nods and laughs when pauses tells him he ought to, and he drinks, and he glows. His date’s eyes are wet and bright, and he sinks deeper and deeper.
“I was in NASA, you know,” Johnny tells him. Again, possibly.
“Yeah, I know,” the guy laughs, as though this is the most enchanting thing Johnny could possibly have said. He sucks on his bud, and his Adam’s apple jumps. Johnny’s throat burns bone dry.
The bar has a porch, a little space between doors, and it throws them together. They kiss, hard and clumsy, and the guy tastes of warmth and of second hand smoke. He is pushy with his tongue, and full of promise, clutching greedy handfuls of Johnny’s jacket. They tumble out into the night together, and into the pop of a flash bulb.
“Hey Johnny,” the photographer says.
Johnny untangles himself with what he hopes is great dignity.
“Hey asshole,” he says conversationally. Ride, or be ridden.
The photographer beams, as though they are all the best of friends.
“Who's this?” he asks. Johnny’s date has retreated behind him, hands resting softly on his hips.
“None of your business,” Johnny says. “Fucking paparazzi.” His tongue is full of syllables and thick with drink. His date gives a little wave from behind Johnny’s back, as though he’s just been introduced. The photographer only beams wider. Johnny contemplates punching that grin right down his throat, but his companion tugs at the back of his jacket, and he remains a human shield, half pushing and half being pulled, to a cab that’s purring on the curb.
In the back, they reacquaint themselves, and kiss away the bad taste. The guy remarks on the fever-hotness of Johnny’s skin.
“We’re going to be testing your smoke alarm,” Johnny tells him.
“Is that a euphemism?” the guy asks, gulping breath between kisses.
Johnny doesn’t say I hope so, but he really does.
When he wakes up and finds Sue perched on the edge of his bed, looking pointedly not at him, his heart kind of sinks.
She catches his movement out the corner of her eye and says,
“Seriously, Johnny, you could at least wear boxers.”
“Or, you could not bust into my room in the middle of the night,” he suggests, rearranging the sheets appropriately.
“It’s three o’clock in the afternoon.”
A technicality. Johnny squints at her. He seems to have out-slept the worst of his hangover, but his head doesn’t quite feel screwed back on right.
“Look ma, no flames,” he can’t help saying. Sue lays a paper on the bed beside him.
“No coffee? No toast? Hell, you needn't even toast it.” He rubs his eyes.
“I thought you might want to see this.”
Johnny looks at her for a moment before he reaches for the paper, not liking how her brow wrinkles even as her mouth quirks.
“Ah.” Last night pops back into his head, fully formed like a flash bulb. It’s not the most flattering of pictures. They really caught his drunk side, and his hands are in all sorts of interesting places. The headline is sprawled above the image, black as judgement. How Flaming is the Human Torch?
He meets Suzie’s eye again and she smoothes away her frown.
“I wish you'd said.” Her tone is casual, but again, the edge.
“A guy can’t have layers?” he says, and flops back down onto his pillow.
“Oh, I knew you had layers. I knew about the chicks layer, the cars layer…”
“Yeah, so I have another layer.”
“Who is he?” she asks, and then answers herself before he can speak. “I know, he’s that grad student. I mean, who is he to you?”
“Just some guy,” Johnny says. He remembers his name, but doesn’t want to share it; wants to keep it like a treasure.
“Is he the first?”
“Did you think I’d mind?” Johnny drops his eyes as he shrugs. He knew full well, in truth, she wouldn't; she's weathered worse and still wanted to keep him. It's just he wasn't ready yet for scrutiny, not even his own, and her not minding might have been loud, and gone on at great length.
“You don’t want to know about my crap,” is all he can articulate.
She arches an eyebrow.
“Not all of it, no. But this…”
“Maybe I minded,” he says to his pillow.
She kindly looks away from him and squints instead at the page.
“He looks cute,” she says at length.
“He is.” Johnny reaches and hooks the paper out her hand. “Asshole pap.” Smoke starts to pour between his fingers; in seconds, the page is swallowed whole, and just as fast the heavens open. Johnny dives beneath the covers, ineffectually.
“You’re like a one-man zoo,” a very wet Sue tells him when he emerges. “You need a keeper.” She leans to flick a drop of water from his nose. “Want to come face the world, then? You can hide behind me.”
“Gee, thanks, Invisible Woman." But he catches his shirt when she throws it at him, and feels better even as he puts it on. The press can give him their worst if they want to; he's nothing if not flame-proof.