The last thing Johnny remembers is flying into Galactus, trying to help the Surfer save the world. He wakes up in the Surfer's arms, gasping for breath, and feels fire swirling in him. He shoves it down, pulling away to vomit all over the dirt.
The Surfer, Norrin, tells him they're in another world. A world that never had a Fantastic Four. A world without Reed, without Ben, without Sue.
He doesn't reply. Every time he goes to speak, his throat closes up. He just lets Norrin pull him to his feet and lead him to the nearest town. He has no wounds beyond complete exhaustion, but his suit is tattered. Norrin supports most of his weight.
Norrin leaves him at the edge of town, collapsed on the ground. "Forgive me," Norrin murmurs, but he doesn't even look up when Norrin goes.
It's only a few moments before a passerby notices him and calls for help.
Johnny Storm is dead. Johnny Storm died in Galactus' gut, when he fell into another world and left behind his family.
When they ask for his name, he says nothing. When they ask what happened, he closes his eyes. He doesn't speak for almost a year.
Ethan Jensen is a retired college professor. He's the one who found the young guy collapsed at the edge of town. He stayed with the boy in the hospital and then took him home. He and Elsie are already taking care of their infant granddaughter, and it's not hard to take in another kid.
Since the kid never tells them his name, Elsie decides to call him Jake, after her father. He helps around the house, reads everything he gets his hands on, and does something to Ethan's computer that makes it run three times as fast.
Nine months after he moves in, he finally speaks. He thanks them for letting him stay, for treating him like a son. He promises to start paying his own way now.
Ethan and Elsie assure him he doesn't have to, but a week later, Jake Jensen joins the army.
Any time there's an explosion, Jake Jensen has to fight down his instincts and grip his gun tighter and ignore ignore ignore the flames. He's not the Human Torch anymore. This isn't the Human Torch's world.
This is Jake Jensen's world, and Jake Jensen is a computer genius who just happens to be a special ops soldier, so Jake Jensen aims and pulls the trigger and ignores ignores ignores the fire calling a different name.
(He also ignores ignore ignores the voice whispering he can't hide forever, and that a supernova is swirling inside him, a fire hotter than the sun, and one day, one day he'll explode.
The voice sounds like his sister, but she isn't here, so Jake Jensen ignores ignores ignores and hacks something meant to be unhackable and rambles on about movies and trivia and random facts about cats.
Because this is not Johnny Storm's world.)
Jake breathes in slowly, trying to be silent. Cougar is somewhere behind him, setting up much quieter than Jake could ever be or has ever been. Clay is to his left, staring through binoculars. Aisha is to his far right, waiting for the signal.
And Pooch is somewhere in the compound, needing rescue.
It's not really Jake's fault, but no one will ever be able to convince him of that.
Clay nods to Aisha, gestures for Jake to stay at his present location monitoring the bad guys' communications, and then they start towards the smallest building.
Jake keeps breathing, but something is bothering him, something that feels familiar and warm, and then the main building of the compound explodes, knocking Aisha and Clay onto the dirt.
Jake really hates fire when he doesn't know its coming. If he'd had a little more time, he could have saved those kids in Bolivia.
Aisha and Clay are down, Cougar is cursing, and Pooch is somewhere in the flames and wreckage. Jake closes his eyes, feeling for the fire that always burns inside him, and then he lunges up and forward in the same movement because he has to save Pooch.
Jake Jensen is engulfed in fire as he pulls all the flames burning in the compound to him. They wreathe around him, burning out as he consumes them, and Cougar is still yelling, but Aisha and Clay aren't moving yet, and he still hasn't seen or heard anything from Pooch.
And anyone in the compound who isn't Pooch doesn't survive the fire.
He finally finds Pooch, Aisha has dragged Clay to Cougar's location, and Jake turns off the flames.
"Holy fuck," Pooch gasps out, staring at him. "What the fuck?"
Jake smiles, bent nearly double and breathing shallowly. "So, there might be some more in my past than I let on," he laughs, and desperation and grief builds in the sound.
Straightening, Jake fights the fire trying to explode back out, the supernova always swirling at his core. He closes his eyes, forcing someone whose name he hasn't even thought in half a decade down down down. He's not that guy anymore. He can't be that guy. Johnny struggles fiercely, but Jake eventually wins.
When he opens his eyes, he's on the ground, curled in on himself, surrounded by his team. He pretends he didn't look for other people, just for a moment, and he pretends that the ashes still moldering in the destruction aren't calling someone else's name.