"Nice place, Reed. You seem to have moved up in the world. Nice equipment. Reminds me of the first lab I built after school."
Reed moved around his desk, and sat down. "I'm not interested, Victor. Just - sit, and we'll begin processing all this. We're definitely pressed for time, and these computations are liable to take forever."
Victor's steps were more silent than ever, and the creak of the chair barely rose over the hum of machinery and purr of air conditioning. Reed waited for another comment. When none came, he turned to his keyboard and began pulling up graphs.
"So how do you plan to proceed? Got some gorgeous little involved scheme up your stretchy sleeve?" Victor's breath tickled when it shifted the hair over Reed's ears, and Reed made a mental note to stop oiling the rollers on his lab chairs. He could hear the slight rasp as Victor shifted behind him, and resisted turning his head. If Reed could smell the leather over metal, Victor was too close. Reed leaned over the arm of his own chair, away - toward his PDA. When he shifted back with it in his hand, Victor was arm's length away again, at the laptop, doubling Reed's screen, and opening another program.
"I understood the scheme was yours, Victor. You have been in closest contact with him. You've got all the information. So how do we separate this - surfer? - from the board? From your on-board video it's hard to tell how the interface is managed, and how the being's power is transmitted. How precisely did it attack you?" Reed downloaded the last of the data from the PDA and turned his chair slightly. He should monitor proximity, then maybe people couldn't surprise him.
"I'm not sure. Felt like - well, electricity, obviously, but something more - a gravitic push, maybe? I think the bond with the board is sonic or something similar. I think it's a wave-based link." Victor didn't look from his program, and Reed finally looked at him, though perhaps inspected was a more apropos word. Victor looked the same - well, a little more rigid, which was logical, and some jagged edges - essentially the same though. It might have been simpler if he'd been different, if the scars showed, if Reed could have blamed his own reactions - overreaction - on appearance, instead of on memory.
"I hate you. I hate all of you."
Reed shook his head. "I've unlocked all the satellite data that was recorded before we lost the sensor, can you see it?" He tried to shut out the icy voice that rang in his ears, concentrating on his equations.
"Already looking. I suppose you've noticed the geometric relation of the craters? Do you want me to check your equations for it?"
"But the world is at stake, and I'll do what I have to." It was funny how Reed couldn't hear Victor move in the same room, but he could hear his voice from miles away and hours ago. Years ago even. "You can't, Reed, you can't -"
"If you like. I believe the data are properly reported, however. What happened to - that General Hager is desperate enough to accept your assistance?" No, too callous yet to ask about the mask. Ego-stroking seemed to be called for, if any actual progress was to be made today.
"I offered. And he was gracious enough to accept willingly. I'm glad to see you haven't changed at all, Mr. Fantastic. I thought you might have gone commercial, wanted me to sign an endorsement before working with me. It's clear, though, that you're still easily led. Right to the altar, even, I hear. Five times, Reed? Surely, you could have found some way to get out of it by now."
So much for being considerate. "So just exactly what effect did the surfer's strike have on you, Victor? Looked quite powerful, certainly. Seems like that level of power combined with the radiation should have rather more lasting effects. Are you sure you don't want someone to look you over? There may be some lingering effects you haven't noticed."
"Don't worry about me. I've - Hello again, Susan. Too bad about the dress, sweetheart. Hope you can wear it for something else."
Reed groaned subvocally. It had only lacked this. Now he didn't know when Sue entered the room?
"Reed, I thought you should see the news, some slightly different effects are being reported now than after the New York attack. Also, I'm bringing some food in half an hour or so."
"Thank you, Sue. I have no idea how long we'll be here." He paused. "Susan, I'm sorry. I wouldn't - I would never have -"
"I know, Reed. I understand. I'll be back. Sandwiches ok? Victor? Sorry, it's still leftover wedding food. Caterers don't give refunds for acts of surfers."
Victor huffed a little under his breath when Susan left; her shoulders tensed a little, Reed thought. It wasn't fair, Victor being forced on them, raking up all this ancient history. Susan had enough to deal with, disasters to monitor, public relations to patch up after Johnny's little games, trying to wrangle him to the altar without any of the aforementioned interrupting. It was a wonder that she was still trying, really.
"Johnny's been quite the busy boy while I've been - gone." Victor looked up at Reed, still standing after Sue left. Reed quickly sat down. Eyelashes like that were - nothing he needed to be concerned with.
"He's been maximizing our marketability. Or something like that. I'm not completely informed, but it seems to involve as many sponsors and endorsements as can possibly fit their insignia on our uniforms. And, on occasion, an extremely tedious party with far too many people no-one knows, but that we all must be very polite to. Of course, if - well, it used to be you that organized all that kind of thing."
"Huh. And here I'd thought you would have rewritten all that in your head, too. Like everything else. I remember what actually happened, but no-one else seems to. Has one of you got a finger-snap of forgetfulness, in addition to all your other useful talents? Can I get a shot of that? I could do with some forgetting."
Reed sighed again. "Yes, Victor. The universe took a magic potion and the world has forgotten all your great and merciful acts, and now believes you the root of all evil. Especially money, fame, status, and sex.' He did not just say that. Fuck.
"Who equates me with sex?" Victor's voice shifted. "Susan never did. She never saw me at all, I think. She saw my surroundings, and my accomplishments, but her eyes never lit for my face." His chair creaked, and his voice sounded hollow, echoing off the opposite wall. Reed swiveled, and the light on his companion's bent head seemed to gleam for an instant, angular shapes throwing odd shadows over the workroom.
Reed reached out, unthinking. Victor had always shone to his vision, he'd not realized everyone didn't catch that sparkle in the edge of their vision, that tiny something that drew the eye, and the - the something in Victor's smile that had always snagged Reed's gut, made him catch his breath. "I -" Notwithstanding Victor's betrayal, he couldn't watch this pain. One hand gripped Victor's shoulder.
Victor froze, but didn't turn. "Don't. Just - don't, Reed. Don't try to cover it over. It's festered all these years, there's nothing you can say now that can hurt me any more or less. Just - leave it."
"No, Victor, that's not -" Victor seemed to levitate out of his chair, and when he stopped moving his back was against the wall, his eyes wide. Reed wasn't sure how he ended up smashed against Victor, arms on either side of the taller man's head, their faces breaths apart, but it felt like home. "That's not what I was going to say, Victor."
"What - what were you going to say? Hmm? Something about old times, or bygones, or how you missed me? How you think of me all the time? That every time you make love to darling Susan you think of me?"
"Don't be vulgar. It never became you." Reed waited until Victor opened his mouth for a rebuttal, and pounced. He tasted different. Not a lot, just a little more tang - mineral, maybe, or the flavor of ozone. He kissed the same though. Pushy, demanding, and arrogant, but never quite sure enough of himself in this one arena to make a move on Reed. Ironic.
Reed anticipated Victor's next move with an extended ankle. He'd been practicing his knots, these past few months, a sturdy half-hitch coming in handy in numerous different situations. Victor didn't struggle much, but when Reed moved his mouth away, he sounded amused. "Don't make me fight you, Reed. I can't do it without hurting you, and I didn't come here for this."
"Fine, then. Let go of my arm. What?" Victor had frozen in place, staring behind Reed at the open door. Reed looked over his shoulder, but saw nothing. When Victor struggled again, Reed released him, and watched bemusedly as Victor closed his programs, picked up the laptop and turned back to Reed.
"I'm going to go work elsewhere. Johnny's got his own office, right? I'll use that, he'll never miss it. Call me if you find that correlation."
Reed sat down, deflated, and tried again to concentrate on his work, but he couldn't get past Victor. What had put him off? He'd seemed to be participating - well, enthusiastically, but then - the door. Susan had closed the door when she left, Reed was positive. He turned in his chair to check it now. Closed. Victor always liked things in order.
Reed turned back to his screen, and jumped when small, strong hands started to massage his shoulders. "What's wrong, honey?" Susan spoke softly, leaning over his shoulder. "You're awfully tense, you're not going to get very far here if you can't relax and concentrate."