Reed Richards leans back in his office chair and rubs his chin with his free hand.
“Is there something I can help you with, Dr. Richards?” The eager clipped tones of the Baxter Building’s main command computer brings him back to the present.
“No, thank you, H.E.R.B.I.E. I was just reading an article about identities and defensible trademark. It seems that there has been some recent movement in the mid-level courts on the ability to protect a public persona, especially as it applies to superheroes.” Reed squares his tablet to line up precisely with the desk blotter and smiles.
“Not that I expect that we’ll have any trouble. Having our identities public is a big help on that front. It’s pretty good news for some of our friends and acquaintances, however.”
“Um...” H.E.R.B.I.E. squeaks out.
Reed frowns. “Is there a problem?”
“N-no, of course not, Dr. Richards!” Several windows quickly close on the main screen in the far wall, replaced with the latest specs on the testing for the upgrade to the fabric for the seats in Johnny’s car, a color-coded diagram of the heating elements of a brand-name toaster and a recipe for vegan cheesecake.
Reed closes his eyes briefly, but when he speaks, his voice is patient.
“H.E.R.B.I.E., you know that if there is a problem I need to know about it so I can fix it. We can’t let things go like we did with the closet. If you had let me know sooner, we wouldn’t have lost all that equipment. Remember when we had the talk about what we need to do in exigencies?”
“I-I am fairly certain that there is no need for alarm, Dr. Richards,” H.E.R.B.I.E. hastens to assure him. “Absolutely sure, actually. No need at all for your attention. Johnny assures me of that.”
Two more windows pop up on the screen, one showing an animated depiction of birdflight, the other apparently some clickbait article that was actually called ‘Top 10 Evil Ways to Use Technology’. Reed makes a mental note to check that out later, but persists in the conversation.
“Mm.” Reed was certain that he couldn’t afford to turn his attention to anything else until this was sorted through. Something to do with trademarks?
“Okay, that sounds fine, then,” He keeps his voice reassuring.
“Say, I just had some windows on the main display blink out, could you reopen them for me?”
“Of course, Dr. Richards, it would be a pleasure!” The ever eager-to-please artificial intelligence (though perhaps that was overstating it a bit, the poor thing) restored two mostly-text windows to the front.
Still aggressively casual, Reed retrieves the tablet and hits the button to sync to the main screen. Both windows were actually just web pages, and he sighs in relief. It couldn’t be that bad if it were just something from the internet. He thumbs open the first one.
“H.E.R.B.I.E., I noticed some fluctuations on the numbers we ran this morning for the new communicators. Could you re-run the simulations for electrical and hydrostatic interference?”
“Right away!” H.E.R.B.I.E. began to hum a jaunty tune as he ran through the calculations again. Reed is so used to the somewhat awkward rendition of the Jeopardy theme music that it doesn’t really register any longer. It is much better than ‘Fat Bottomed Girls’, thank goodness. He quickly scans down the pages on his screen.
It looked simple enough, one logo and mostly text. A bit like a message board, actually.
Play with... Huh.
The rest of the page was a listing in chronological order of what seemed to be...fiction of some sort.
“[AU] [FrostIron] [Challenge Response] [Explicit] Nearly Christmas - Tony works his hardest in the toy factory to increase production while Loki-Claus has to deal with his brother’s meddling with the weather, how will Tony relax his wintry master?
Posted 1h 41m ago in Avengers.”
Wait - Avengers? Tony? As in Tony Stark? What...?
“Loki-Claus?” Reed mutters out loud.
He hesitates, then switches to the other web page. It seems to be for a specific story on the same website.
Between a Rock...
Summary: The tension is mounting between Ben and his best friend Reed. How much longer can he keep his hands off the cute and oblivious scientist?
Tags: [Fantastic4] [Ben Grimm/Reed Richards] [friends to lovers] [hung Reed] [bottom Ben] [labsex] [hottt]
Reed gasps and closes the window without reading further, blushing furiously. H.E.R.B.I.E. doesn’t notice, caught up in his processing and his enthusiastic rendition of ‘Happy and You Know It’.
Even after a brief hesitation to collect himself, his face is still hot from embarrassment and... something. Shame? It must be shame. What else could it be?
Reed swallows and hits the little magnifying glass icon to bring up a field for a web search. His fingers tremble a bit (does he really want to know this?) as he types in the author’s name - TheIgnitionSwitch - and quickly scans the results.
Johnny Storm/She Hulk. Johnny Storm/Spiderman. Johnny Storm/Black Widow. Ben Grimm/Reed Richards.
Reed fumbles the tablet at the sound of the office door opening, fumbling it twice before it hits the floor anyway. Ben’s deep chuckle makes it hard to breathe as he comes up behind Reed and bends down to retrieve it.
“You’d better watch it, doc. I know you gotta fix the stuff, and Johnny breaks enough to take up most of your time as it is.”
Ben hands the tablet to Reed, who takes it quickly, pressing the button to turn off the screen as soon as he has it in his hands.
“Hey,” Ben says with concern. “You feelin’ alright? You look like you’ve got a fever.” He lays the back of his craggy orange hand on Reed’s forehead before Reed can think of anything to say.
Reed is startled at how warm Ben’s rough skin is. He’d never noticed it before. He had the data, of course, but...
Reed snaps back from his thoughts to see that Ben is still staring at him with quiet anxiety in his big blue eyes.
“I-I’m fine, just a bit hot... I mean, I...” Reed shakes his head and snaps his mouth closed. This is certainly one of those times it is best to just keep any words to himself.
Ben is nodding slowly. “Sure, I guess you’re not too hot.” He looks away in embarrassment and rubs the back of his neck absently.
“I was just comin’ in to see if you wanted supper. I made bacon and eggs and loaded up ‘Three Headed Shark Attack’ on Netflix. Thought you might want to make fun of the science while we eat.” He looks hopeful.
Reed feels the blush come back full force and he stammers. “Uh. Yeah, sure. I mean, that sounds like fun.” He doesn’t miss the flash of pleasure in his friend’s face at his agreement. Something he’d never noticed before, at least not consciously.
Did...did Ben actually like him?
“I’ll... I’ll be right out. Just going to put this away.” Reed gestures with the tablet and Ben smiles agreeably.
“I’ll just serve up, then. Don’t get caught up in something in here, though. Cold eggs are gross.”
Reed nods in agreement and stares thoughtfully after Ben.