"Celebrity heroes," Clark groused for the fourth time as the elevator climbed the heights, his tone one of mixed disgust and envy. He held up a thick hardcover volume, the collected works of Dr. Reed Richards, and thumbed through the entirety of the pages like a kid riffling a flip-book.
Richard tried yet again unsuccessfully to suppress a smile, turning it into a yawn in a vain attempt to equalize the pressure in his ears. "You're just grumpy you got roped into doing a feature in New York," he stated, a truth so plain Clark gave him an offended glance for even bringing it up.
"I do my best to stay out of New York," Clark replied, as close to pious as Richard had ever heard him. "Others have it well covered. You didn't have to come, you know." There was a hint of plaintiveness under the stiff formality.
Again Richard tried not to smile. "Well, I am your introduction. I knew Johnny Storm in college and that's how we scored this interview in the first place."
"About that," Clark changed tracks quickly, going steely on him, "how well did you know Johnny Storm again--?"
His snitty inquiry was cut off by the chime of a helpful, quiet 'ping' and the elevator doors slid open on a war zone.
"--CANNOT believe your nerve, having people over to the top level -- reporters, no less -- but I guess it's just too much to expect any kind of consideration--" The tirade came with surprising volume from a tall skinny fellow wearing a white lab coat over a casual gray polo and khakis.
"Why?" demanded a handsome blond man with close-cropped hair, gesturing broadly in response. "We have people over all the time!"
"Johnny, we do NOT have people to the Baxter Building--" the lab-coated man retorted, raising his voice.
"Aw, come on - well, fine, I have people over," the blond, Johnny, amended, turning in a half-circle and shaking his head. "And it's not like they're tabloid, Reed, come on! Give me some credit. They're from the Daily Planet."
"Well, that's just great--" Reed began, then broke off as he spotted them. "Oh. Uh. Hello there. Um. Reporters?"
"Press pass," Richard confirmed, lifting his up, then slipping it back into his pocket.
"Richard White!" Johnny broke out into a huge grin, veering toward the elevator. "You guys made it! Great. This is great. Right, Reed?"
"Right," Reed echoed, sounding about as thrilled as Clark had been to come here.
Clark had on his serious face when he extended a hand and asked, "Mr. Fantastic, I presume?" so Richard kept a lid on his smirk.
Though the man was fifteen feet away, he lifted his chin and put on an equally polite face and extended his hand in return. It stretched the distance, all fifteen feet of it, and Reed's hand clasped his as the man walked toward him; his arm shortened as he closed the distance, until they stood there shaking hands.
"That's an interesting power," Clark said diplomatically, looking down at the man's hand with a quizzical expression.
"Usually gets me a lot of embarrassing questions from the press," Reed said, quirking his brows and giving Clark a sheepish smile. "Uh, and you are..."
"Clark Kent," Clark replied brightly, and they broke the handclasp. "Good to meet you. I, er, came to interview you about the strides you've made in biochemical tissue reaction to simulated cosmic rays."
"Really?" Reed looked over his shoulder at Johnny, who shrugged. "Johnny said you were here to do a feature on famous metropolitan superheroes and couldn't get a hold of Superman."
Richard coughed and Clark aimed a narrow glance of warning in his direction.
"Well, no," Clark said slowly. "I don't know what Richard told Johnny to secure the interview, but I found your work on the application of the flux properties of the proton particles to be particularly fascinating."
Richard threw an incredulous look his way. If by 'read' he meant he'd literally flipped through them in thirty seconds...well, wow.
"Oh, you've read my papers?" Reed uttered, looking excited. "You understood it, then?"
"Yeah, I--" Clark began, his eyes lighting up, but he was interrupted by a throaty female shout from upstairs.
"Damn it all!" On the upper level that surrounded the lab floor, a slender woman with long blond hair clattered onto the metal catwalk, grasping the rail in both hands and peering down to the level below. "You guys here!?"
"Sis!" Johnny said, angling his head and giving her a casual wave. "What's going on?"
Richard waved too, spotting Sue Storm, the older sister he'd flirted with the few times he'd met her, which she had greeted at the time with amused tolerance.
At that precise moment, she didn't see him. "Johnny, Reed!" Sue Storm shouted, hurrying down the steps to the broad floor of the lab. "The Green Goblin just struck Central Park in the middle of a science journal photo op and he's tossing bombs at innocent bystanders! We've gotta go."
"The Green Goblin? Fantastic!" Johnny exclaimed, heading for a wide window on the far side of the lab and unlatching it, throwing it wide. "Maybe I can get Spiderman's autograph. Flame on!" He leapt from the casement, bursting into flames at once.
Sue Storm reached the lab floor and eyed first Clark, then Richard with confusion. "Visitors? Richard - hey, it's good to see you!"
"Sue," Richard replied, giving her his best I'm-a-good-boy grin. "It's been a while."
Clark's head turned in his direction, and Richard got the sense he'd be grilled thoroughly later for any possible omissions.
"Sue?" Reed Richards said, putting a hand on the woman's shoulder and drawing her with him toward the door. He cast a sharp look at the two of them. "We have to go."
Richard held up both hands as if ordered under house arrest. "I'll plunk myself right at this table, here, and I won't touch a thing," he promised.
Reed hesitated, then nodded. "Thanks - we'll be back. I look forward to speaking with you later, Clark." They were already at the elevator, which opened smoothly. Then they were gone.
"We'll be here," Clark said, until the doors of the elevator slid shut. His jaw firmed, and he glanced toward the window, then at Richard, managing to look guilty and earnest all at once.
"Go," Richard said, patting his shoulder.
"You sure?" Clark prompted, giving him the woobie expression.
"Go," Richard repeated, gesturing for the open window Johnny had left behind. "Just...make sure to get back before they do, okay? Otherwise I'm going to have to pretend you went to the bathroom, or...something."
"Right," Clark said, and headed for the open window with the sky in his eyes.
The Green Goblin had about five minutes of fun wrecking havoc on a street full of crowded people before Johnny Storm and the Thing arrived on the scene, forerunners of the entire team of the Fantastic Four. Together the team contained the explosions and collateral damage. As the Goblin looped around for another volley, he was tackled head-on by Spiderman, who'd gained distance with a major web catapult.
As they tussled, the Goblin spilled out a spiral of assorted bombs, spraying pain and shrapnel every which way. His hoverjet shot onward and Spiderman dove for the bombs, shooting jet after jet of webbing in a frantic attempt to contain them all.
With a maniacal cackle, the Green Goblin banked his hoverjet and headed for the park once more, shaking loose a cluster of bombs into both hands.
Like an arrow released from a bow, Superman shot into his airspace, blowing him off course with a negligent-seeming puff of his powerful breath.
"What is this, a bloody superheroes' convention!?" the Goblin screamed, zigging one direction, zagging the other, then throwing a cluster of pumpkin bombs to the left and right of him.
Superman angled for one set of bombs, checked mid-air when Mr. Fantastic waved him off as the bombs halted at a wave from Invisible Woman's hand, then he and the Flaming Torch sped after the Goblin's hoverjet together.
All in all, a miserable afternoon for the bad guys.
The elevators opened with that polite 'ping' Richard recalled from their arrival and three of the Fantastic Four team stepped out of the elevator, jostling and elbowing one another in the grip of high spirits.
"Great job with the fire hydrant quenching that last wave of lit bombs, there, Reed," Johnny was congratulating Mr. Fantastic.
"Richard!" Sue said, striding forward, casting an annoyed glance at the two men. "Sorry we just left you here like that." She looked around.
"No problem," Richard replied, nonchalant. He stood from the desk. "How'd it go?"
"Uh, great," Reed answered for her, casting a look around himself. "Say, where did Clark go?"
"Oh... bathroom," Richard said, rubbing at the back of his head and throwing a quick furtive look around the room.
A flushing noise verified that report.
Moments later Clark was joining them, bright-eyed as a puppy ready to shake a paw. "What did I miss? Oh, you're back!"
"Look, sorry but I'm going to need to re-schedule that interview," Reed began, as Johnny scrambled past him, gave him a high-five in passing, and vaulted up the steps to the upper level three at a time. Sue was tugging at Reed's hand, flushed and grinning.
"That's all right - look, Dr. Richards, something came up on my end too -- we'll call you, okay?"
"You sure?" Reed asked anxiously, but he was already headed for the upper level at Sue's urging.
"No worries," Richard said, and he was being steered into the elevator with an unexpectedly decisive hand at his elbow.
"You seem pretty pleased," Richard commented as they headed for the elevator. He bit back the remark *for a man who was griping every step of the way here.* He most pointedly did not raise recall of the phrase 'celebrity heroes' bandied about much earlier that day. He knew Clark could probably hear it in the air between them anyhow.
Clark shrugged a bit. "I've got no complaints," he said, casting a smile Richard-ward. "They get the job done."
This time Richard didn't see the need to even try to suppress his grin. "All right, let's go to the nearest hotel, tiger. I'll drive if you buy me dinner afterwards."
"Hey Richard...how long do you think it takes to go down fifty flights?"