Things have been hard for Ben. Not everyday but enough of them he hasn't been able to really get beyond his grief and guilt. There's been good days like when he fought those A.I.M. nutcases who freed The Wizard (okay maybe that wasn't a good day since they got away) or the time they fought four of Spider-Man's nutjobs who thought they could handle the FF. Then there were the really bad days like when Ben found out Doom was joining the FF or when that little creep Bentley got in Ben's face about Ben's usefulness after all the big brain villains joined up with the FF. With how close Ben had come to hitting the little guy and Ben had to admit the truth in his words, Ben had decided to take a few days to himself and left the Baxter Building. Reed and Sue knew how to get ahold of him.
And the new white uniform of the newly minted Future Foundation just didn't go with his orange rocks very well. And why did they have to change from the Fantastic Four to the Future Foundation anyway? Yeah, Johnny was gone but Spidey was working out despite Ben's initial misgivings and they'd had fill-ins before. They were still the Fantastic Four when She-Hulk took Ben's place weren't they? And why didn't they call Jen to fill in? Why'd it have to be Spidey? Oh yeah, Johnny's request.
"I'm sorry," Alicia says as she sets the tea service on the coffee table, breaking Ben out of his brooding. "I don't have any Splenda, Ben. Just sugar."
"It's fine, Alicia," Ben says reaching for the cup and saucer she holds out. As she sits across from him he watches her and that old familiar ache for her beauty pierces his heart again.
She lifts her cup to sip the tea, Darjeeling. Ben mimics her move with a smile remembering a time when he couldn't even open doors without breaking them and all the patience Alicia had shown as she helped him learn to use his new body.
"You haven't called," Alicia says jumping straight in.
Carefully Ben puts down the bone china cup before answering. He finds he can't look at her so looks down before replying, "I know, I…"
"You haven't called since that night."
"And you didn't speak to me at the funeral."
"….I know. I'm sorry. I've been kinda keeping' to myself. I…I…I'm just haven' a hard time with…." Ben swallows to clear the lump in his throat. "Bein' with you…it shoulda been the best thing ever. Now I look at you and all I can think about is how I couldn't save my friend…my brother. I feel so guilty, Alicia."
"Are you looking at me right now?"
"Good. Because I want to make sure you hear me when I say there are two things you're going to have to deal with…Johnny's gone. And I love you."
"No. You need to know that I am not going anywhere. You need to know that I need you as much as you need me…and, most of all, that Johnny would want you to be happy. I promise you…things are going to get better…There's nothing to be afraid of."
Ben sits there lost in her words and can't help but wonder at the fear and sense of forwboding they leave in his heart.