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if i roll my eyes it means i love you

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Peter has never actually talked to her.

In that he's never started a conversation. She's always the one to initiate, making some remark about him or to him and/or Ned, at lunch, during debate meeting, in the hallways when he least expects it so she can watch him jump and swallow a high pitch squeal.

But he never starts a conversation. With her, at least, though she can't really remember ever seeing Peter Parker start a conversation, except maybe with Ned but she doesn't count that.

She's very observant, she notices these things, stacks them away, carefully adding and organizing information, fitting together tiny pieces of a cosmic puzzle. She's not obsessed with him. She just notices things.

(Well, she is a little obsessed with him which is the root of this whole problem.)

She likes being secluded from the world, acting like an outside observer. She likes knowing things, but doesn't like doing things or being a part of things. She's content to sit in the corner and read her book, or pretend to read while the world plays out around her.

She's content with coming off as weird and distant. She likes that she automatically weeds out people who are too put off by her books and her hair and her glares to approach her.

She wonders if that's it. If Peter is too scared of her to start a conversation. He should be, she decides, but he also really shouldn't be. She bites, but only verbally and he can handle it. He's Spider-Man, he can't really be scared of her.

(He hasn't confirmed that he's Spider-Man but she knows, put that puzzle together fairly quickly because he's maybe the world’s worst liar. She's like 92% sure and she will catch him one of these days when she's bored and wants to watch him freak out.)

He could just not like her.

Peter’s a good guy. If he didn't like her, he probably wouldn't say anything, just let her sit near them at lunch and make weird comments that show she's been paying attention even though she’s reading.

But at the same time… when she does say something, sometimes, not all of the time, he'll smile at her, really softly, one of his dumb puppy dog smiles, and his eyes will crinkle and his brows will furrow together and his hair is all floppy and…

She's not obsessed with him.

She's an artist… kinda. She just likes to notice these things. Observant, she's observant.

And sometimes he'll say something dumb and problematic, and she'll turn an unimpressed glare his way and he'll freeze a little and raise his eyebrows and apologize before listening to her rant for a few paragraphs before nodding and apologizing again.

It's really not fair.

He has to like her. At least a little bit. At least in an acquaintance way. At least.

Which is totally fine. She can work with that.

 

She decides to run an experiment because she's an intellectual and he's a scientist. This is foolproof.

She decides that she's not going to say a single thing to or about Peter Parker. She'll just watch what happens. Well, she's also gonna try to stop being so obsessed with him.

(It's totally not her fault though. He just thinks he can walk around this school being super smart and ripped somehow and having deep soulful eyes and those soft smiles. He's simultaneously a toothy-grinned nerd and something dark and mysterious and it should be illegal. God, what a loser. She hates him. God.)

There is one exception to the experiment and that's that she's now in charge of the decathlon team that he's a part of and she may be just a little obsessed with Peter Parker but if he comes between her and a second nationals trophy…

At first nothing happens, but it's alright. She's patient. She's maxed out on books checked out of the Queens Public Library, so she's ready for the long haul.

After a few days, he and Ned start sneaking glances at her across the lunch table. They'll say something super geeky and embarrasing, always loud enough for her to hear, but she doesn't say anything and then they just glance over at her slowly before exchanging a look. She pretends not to notice, reads the same line a few dozen times until they go back to whispering about nerd stuff.

They never say anything. Well, once Ned does, asking her opinion about their upcoming history test and she rolls her eyes and says something snarky about Rutherford B. Hayes’s foreign policy.

Which gets Peter to snort. Which is great. But not the point, so she returns to her book for the rest of the lunch period.

It lasts a week and a half, and with every passing day, Peter looks at her more and more. Which wasn't intended. But cool. This is interesting. He waves at her in the halls, and scoots a little closer to her side of the lunch table and talks a little louder so she doesn't have to strain her ears.

However after day six, the looks turn concerned. The waves lose their energy. The puppy smiles turn to guilty frowns.
Interesting, she notes, and turns back to her book. She's not sure what results she was anticipating, and these are still pretty inconclusive. But she feels like she's learning something.

He approaches her during lunch on a Thursday. Ned is out sick so it's just them at the lunch table, and when he walks into the cafeteria, he just walks right over and sits down on her side of the table.

“Hey,” he says, and she checks a box off in her head. There we go, conversation initiated. Experiment concluded, time to analyze the results.

“Loser,” she replies, looking up from her book. He's blocking half of the window with his head and the sunlight glows around him. God, this is so lame.

“Do you hate me?” He asks, and if she didn't know better, she'd think he was pouting.

“Yes,” she says, and turns back to her book. He huffs out something's that's probably a laugh.

“I, uh… You're being sarcastic right?” He asks. She thought that was a given. Most of the things she says are sarcastic. “It's, uh, hard to tell. Are you mad at me?”

“Why?” She asks. “Did you do something?”

“I'm not sure,” he says, shrugging. “I can't think of anything, but I just get the feeling… Like I dunno, you're acting weird.”

“I'm always weird,” she says.

He nods. “Yeah, but it's different. You seem, uh, distant. Is everything okay?”

“Yes,” she says, and decides not to elaborate.

“Okay, cool,” he says. “That's good. You'd tell me if things weren't okay though, right?”

“Why, Peter?” She asks, leaning in a little. “You think you can handle my secrets?”

“Um…”

“I'm totally joking,” she says, after letting him sweat. “I was running a social experiment. Don't worry, you passed.”

“Cool,” he says, slowly. “You can't pass an experiment though.”

She rolls her eyes. “You're such a nerd.”

Somehow that makes him smile. “So, uh, is this experiment on going? You need help with any variables?”

“No, it just ended actually,” she says.

“Oh?”

“Yep.”

“How were the results?”

“Inconclusive.”

He doesn't ask anything else, but he stays there for the rest of their lunch period, eating quietly while she finishes the next four chapters of her book.

 

Then they're at decathlon practice and everyone is taking a snack break and he comes up to her again, rubbing the back of his neck and smiling sheepishly.

“So that experiment was about me, right?” He asks.

“I don't know. Did you feel like you were being experimented on?” She asks, raising an eyebrow.

“I've never been experiment on before, so I don't know,” he replies.

She nods. That's a good answer.

“Have you ever noticed that you don't talk to people?” She asks.

“I talk to people,” he protests, voice going high pitched like it always does when he gets indignant. Why is this so endearing? This shouldn't be endearing. This is so lame.

“You let other people talk to you first,” she says. “I was just testing my theory.”

“Okay,” he says. And their snack break is over.

 

After decathlon, she grabs her book bag, seventh million pounds of it, and starts making her way down the halls, towards the train station.

“Hey, wait up,” Peter calls. His footsteps thud against the linoleum like he's jogging so she doesn't slow down or turn around, just keeps marching along.

“You again?” She says when he's next to her. He matches her pace and it's infuriatingly satisfying.

“Are we friends?” He asks.

“No,” she replies and keeps walking.

“Okay, you're joking. Right? It's really hard to tell.”

“I'm usually joking, except when I'm usually deathly serious,” she says.

“Look, I've never really had a lot of friends. I mean, it's basically just Ned. And my aunt. And I never really noticed that I wait for people to talk to me, but I think it's because of that. So… I was just wondering if we were friends.”

She rolls her eyes because she said it that one time and she doesn't feel like saying something that genuine again. Especially not when it's just the two of them walking down the empty hallway towards the train station and it’ll probably sound super lame and like she actually likes him which can not happen.

“And also you're like always reading or drawing or writing and… I dunno, I don't want to bother you because you'll probably kill me, and you probably have more important things to do anyway.”

“No kidding,” she says.

“Look, I'd like to be your friend. I mean, I’ve always sort of considered you a friend, because of lunch and decathlon and stuff, but I wasn’t sure. So I just want to know if it's okay to, like, start conversations and ask you to hang out and do friend stuff?”

She keeps walking, takes a few seconds to get everything in her brain in order and think of a nonchalant witty reply.

“Sure, why not,” she says, studying his sudden smile out of the corner of her eye. “It should be interesting.”

“Alright, cool,” he says, bouncing a little with this energy that would almost be infectious if she hadn't expunged her brain of any excitement receptacles.

“See ya tomorrow, nerd,” she says and turns right where she knows he turns left. Not because she's obsessed with him.

She’s not obsessed with him.

 

She didn’t realize she had opened the floodgates. She figured he liked her well enough, was pleased to discover he considered them friends, but she didn’t know.

He sits next to her in english and stops by her locker after geometry and starts a debate with her at lunch about Star Wars while Ned watches on in amazement. And that's just the first day.

“I’m gone for one day and you replace me with Michelle?” she hears Ned tease, in gym while she lies down across the bleachers and reads.

“I didn’t replace you,” Peter responds. “Michelle’s just… she’s our friend. And she’s really cool.”

“Well, yeah,” Ned says. And that’s that.

That's that and then he's everywhere. She’s taking a nap in the library and suddenly he’s there, asking for Jane Austen recommendations. She’s stealing tea from the teacher’s lounge and he’s there keeping watch for her.

Suddenly, they’re friends, like friends who act like friends, not occasional exchanged one-liners, but entire conversations and plans to hang out.

He texts her on a Saturday morning and then ten minutes later they’re sitting next to each other at a Starbucks. It’s a Tuesday afternoon and they’re studying for midterms together. It’s a Friday night and they’re eating greasy pizza and arguing about Leia’s golden bikini. It’s a Monday morning and he buys her a tea from the cafeteria and she buys him a pack of gummy worms from the bodega.

Somehow she has one of his hoodies and her pink highlighter has his teeth marks on it because he’s disgusting. He has three of her Gloria Steinem books in his locker and he wears her brown cardigan every other Thursday.

She’s closer with Ned now too, which is even more unexpected. He fixes her computer and she helps him with an English essay and one day he says, “You have a crush on Peter?”

“No, I’ve been plotting to kill him,” she corrects, and he nods, raising an eyebrow. He turns back to his comic and she turns back to her book, and Peter is off doing something dumb and probably heroic but she doesn’t care.

“Don’t say anything,” she tells him before the lunch period is over. “I have a reputation to maintain.”

“Don’t worry about it,” he says, grinning.

Ned so far has proven to be good at keeping secrets.

 

Speaking of, he still hasn’t told her he’s Spider-Man, but he and Ned epically suck at being discreet. At this point, it’s a miracle their entire grade doesn’t know.

She's holding onto it, has to plan this out. So even though sometimes she and Peter have phone calls in the early hours of the morning and she says genuine things that she could never say in person and he divulges insecurities and his own laundry list of tragedies, she doesn't say anything. She keeps this one secret like he keeps his.

There'll be a right time, the perfect time, maybe when he misses a decathlon practice or when he bails on a study session, so he'll freak out and get all wide-eyed. Then she can just whip it out and watch him splutter and choke. It'll be hilarious. She might even laugh.

But right now he always looks so guilty when he has to make excuses, or else she's actually feeling a little pissed after waiting for two hours of waiting at the library and needs to concentrate on seeming uncaring. She keeps finding excuses to not bring it up.

It's fine, she'll get around to it eventually. Or he will. Maybe. They're friends now, it's inevitable.

But then… She's at home when she hears it. She doesn't have any extracurriculars and Peter and Ned made the usually excuses to go sneak off and she was at the library the day before. So she's at home, deeply absorbed in her book, curled up on the couch with a blanket and her tea on the coffee table, living the peak of winter aesthetic, and then the Ellen show is interrupted by a red flash of breaking news.

A part of her already knows. She closes the book around her fingers and sits up.

“We interrupt your regularly scheduled programming to bring you breaking news about an ongoing event in Astoria, Queens where a battle between local hero Spider-Man and another masked villain going by the name Mysterio is currently in progress,” the announcer says before they cut to live helicopter footage.

It's pretty cool, she decides. She saw him in action in Washington and it was insane, surreal. Breathtaking, while she squinted, staring up and up in awe and fear so intense she didn't censor herself, just pleaded with anyone up there to please protect them, please not her friends. Not her friends and not Peter.

She watches the choppy footage on the screen now, with less of the fear, watches him swing through the air and dart around with all this grace and agility.

It must be amazing for him. He loves all this action junk, nerdy sci-fi movies and fantasy action series, and there he is in the center of it. Must feel like dream come true.

He totally takes the other dude out. Keeps him away from civilians and then knocks him to the ground. She can imagine the goofy pleased grin beneath his stupid mask, probably the same one he has when he one-ups Flash in Bio. He gives a little kid a high five, gets a free pretzel from a vendor and the announcer starts to wrap up with a, “We now return you to the Ellen show.”

But then the other guy, who's stupid name she's already forgotten but never will again, gets back up and throws Peter across the street into a parked truck before anyone can even scream.

She's in a millisecond, standing on top of the couch cushion with her book pressed to her chest as Peter staggers to his feet before getting hit again. He's thrown again and lands in an alley between two buildings. The chopper loses sight of them and no one comes out of the alley.

No one knows where they are. The news anchor chatters aimlessly, nervously for full minutes with the camera trained on the alley before it really sinks in that they're both gone.

For a moment she considers that her last image of Peter might be him in that costume with a gash in his shoulder, struggling to stand back up. But no, her last image of Peter was him smiling sheepishly back at her as he and Ned ran off to “do nerd stuff.”

But no, this wouldn't stand. Her stomach was churning, chest tied in a bunch of knots, but her brain was already five steps ahead, just like always.

She's very observant. She's good at putting together puzzles. And she's kind of obsessed with Peter Parker.

 

Within ten minutes she's outside of Peter's apartment building with a set of colored highlighters, a printed map of Queens and a baseball bat tucked in her mom’s softball bag.

“Leeds!” She shouts, monotone, again and again until he comes to the window.

“Michelle?” He asks, eyes wide.

“Let me in,” she demands.

“What-?”

“Buzz me in, Ned,” she orders firmly, signature squinty glare, and he scrambles from the window.

“Peter’s, uh, at the store,” he says when he opens the apartment door for her. “He's renting a movie, Rise of the Planet of the Apes. You won't like it.”

It's a practiced excuse. Like he said it to himself a few times while she dashed up the stairs.

“Ned, there are no stores that still rent movies,” she replies, pushing past him, spreading her map across the coffee table, setting the softball bag down. “Now tell me what you know so we can find him.”

“Find who?” Ned asks.

“Find Peter,” she says, rolling her eyes. “Spider-Man. Whatever stupid code names you losers use.”

“He told you?” Ned asks, indignant and shocked and it'd be amusing but she really doesn't have time. “Dammit, that's not the secret he was supposed to tell you.”

She immediately decides not to ask, even though she really, really wants to.

“He didn't tell me,” she says. “I figured it out. Probably before he told you. I'm kinda the smartest person that you know.”

“You what? How?” He asks.

“Ned,” she says. “I don't know if you watched the news or what, but I'm pretty sure Peter just got himself kidnapped by some supervillain like an idiot. Maybe we can table this discussion.”

“Right,” he says, and sits down next to her at the coffee table. “I, uh, called Mr. Stark like fifteen times but he hasn't replied.”

“Tony Stark is on a three day diplomatic trip to Wakanda,” she says because she read an article about it in the paper this morning. “No external communications.”

“Oh no,” Ned says, a little like he's about to pass out.

“We can't wait for him either way. Who know what this creep is capable off?” She says. She pulls out her red marker. “They were fighting up and down Steinway. They ended up in this alley across from the Key Foods on Ditmars. At least that's what I saw on the news. What do you know?”

“Peter was talking to me up until he got thrown into that truck,” Ned says. “Then the line went dead. But his tracker showed him in the alley before it stopped working.”

“You nerds have trackers?” She says, shaking her head. “Never mind. It's been twelve minutes and thirty four seconds since he disappeared. Let's do this.”

She starts drawing lines.

 

She's always been protective of Peter Parker. Since she realized that the goodness that exuded from his smile and his eyes wasn't an act but something real. Since she first sat down at their lunch table and he waved at her, a weird little salute and a grin that made her heart thump and her eyes roll. Since the time he quoted her while calling a teacher out about intersectional feminism.

Flash made fun of Peter’s voice cracks and Michelle dropped some hot sauce in his soda. Allison Carter made fun of his big dopey grin, and she stole all her ponytail holders.

Even before she discovered her more mushy feelings concerning him, she felt the need to extract revenge for an injustice leveled toward Peter. Because people like Peter with their sweet smiles and their goodness and the heart they wear a little too close to their sleeve, people like Peter are rare as gemstones and shouldn't be thrown in the dirt.

 

She pulls on her coat, thick and an unfortunate bright purple, picks up her baseball bat and a kitchen knife and pockets the map with all the color coded lines and directions and circles.

“What are you doing?” Ned asks warily.

“Going to get Peter,” she replies.

“We're just kids,” Ned protests.

“I'm five months older than him and like a million years more mature,” she says.

“But he has super powers.”

“And I have a can of pepper spray in my coat,” she says. “We can't just leave him there.”

“Of course not, but we can call the police or the Avengers or something.”

“The police might arrest him. The Avengers will take a long ass time to get here. Ned, Peter is our friend and he needs us.”

That seems to settle over them for a moment, strengthens her resolve, gives Ned some courage.

Ned brings his phone and they grab their Metrocards and get on the bus to Astoria Boulevard.

 

It's dark as midnight out because it's mid-afternoon in the winter, and even the shadows seem to be ready to jump them as they march their way to an alleyway.

There's a garage behind the apartment building that wasn't attached to any lease. According to a few police reports they listened to over Peter’s staticky radio, there were strange noises coming from inside. It was rusty and graffitied and the lock came loose with a few jiggles.

“Stay here,” she tells Ned in a whisper before they get too close.

“No way, I'm helping you guys,” he says.

“If things go south, someone needs to be able to call the police,” she says.

“I thought you said we shouldn't call the police,” he protests.

“We shouldn't at first but I don't want to die here, Leeds,” she says, rolling her eyes.

“Look, I can totally help. I took down this guy who was attacking Peter at homecoming. Totally saved his life.”

“Alright, but there's only one bat, so somebody has to wait out here and since it's my bat...”

“Fine.”

“Fine,” she replies. She tosses him the can of pepper spray. “Here. Just in case.”

“Alright. If you need me just scream really loudly.”

She doesn't want to open the garage door since that'll be a dead give away. She doesn't know what she's going to find in there and the element of surprise is a good idea so she creeps around to the back and opens the door back there.

It's dark in the garage. There's only a slight blue glowing from a single light in the ceiling. There are a few tables and racks pushed against the wall and a chair towards the center of the room with Peter in his stupid costume, struggling against some thick rope that ties him to the chair.

Her heart is pounding a little too fast but a wave of relief crashes through her. She walks forward slowly. She doesn't see anyone else in the garage but there are a lot of places to hide.

“Hey loser,” she whispers when she's close enough and Peter jumps so hard he nearly breaks out of the rope in shock.

She managed to chuckle a little.

“Michelle,” he hisses. “What are you doing here?”

“Looking for a bathroom,” she replies.

“This isn't what it looks like,” he says, glancing down helplessly at his costume.

“Peter, I sure hope it's what it looks like because anything else is disturbing,” she says. She's maybe enjoying this too much.

She grabs the kitchen knife from her pocket and kneels next to the chair, starts hacking at the rope while carefully avoiding his skin.

“You're terrible at keeping secrets,” she says, inane chatter like they're at lunch. “I mean you get bit by that spider on our field trip and then like a week later you're totally ripped and a month after that Spider-Man shows up. And then somehow a Queens superhero ends up in DC the same weekend we’re there and the same weekend you bailed on us.”

She has to keep talking. Because if she isn't talking she's going to have to think about the blood dried on his temple and the bruise on his cheek and the fact that she's literally cutting him out of a chair.

“Michelle,” he says hopelessly. “You can't be here.”

“I can be wherever I want, Parker. That's sexist,” she says. One of the ropes snap and she breathes a sigh of relieve.

“This is really dangerous. You shouldn't be here. You should-”

“Dude, shut up,” she says starting on the next rope. He's breathing heavy, all jittery as she cuts away, making it through the next two ropes.

“Michelle,” he whispers. “I, uh… I was gonna tell you, but…”

“Later, Parker,” she says, grateful the darkness hides her find grin. “Read the room.”

She makes it through the fourth rope and there are still three more- this is excessive- and then the door is slammed shut.

“Shit,” she says, grabbing her bat and hopping to her feet. The creep from the news is standing five feet away from her.

“Who are you?” The guys grumbles, voice deep and intimidating. Peter thrashes in his seat.

“Your costume looks even tackier in person,” she says, before swinging her bat at him. She manages to club him in the side and feels this rush from the action.

She wonders if this is what Peter feels everyday, the thrill of fighting, of knowing you're doing something good.

But this guy is made of something more than the usually freaks on the streets and she gets kicked right in the ribs and thrown into a rack on the far side of the garage.

“MJ!” Peter shouts. Everything aches but she lifts her head up, throws Peter a thumbs up which he doesn't see because he's busy snapping the other ropes with bare grit and determination and his bulging biceps.

She knows he's ripped (very observant and all that) but wow. Just wow. That was something.

He springs to action, and she decides that he's got this one and lays back down, stares at the ceiling for a few seconds.

Her back hurts, but she can wiggle her fingers and toes. Her ribs hurt but she pushes at them a little and decide they're just bruised.

All in all not bad for her first foray into the crime fighting game.

Things are crashing and thumping and she watches the fight, turning her head to the side. It's even crazier this up close and personal. Peter’s a total badass. Sweet, nerdy, puppy dog Peter Parker is totally beating the crap out of this guy. Holding his own in this fight like a champ.

Winning this fight like it’s no more challenging than their geometry homework.

“Michelle,” he says, scurrying over to her side once the fight is over. Eyes wide and worried, voice all high pitched with concern. “Oh my God, Michelle.”

“Shh,” she says, batting at his hand when he reaches out for her kneeling next to her on the pavement. “I'm taking a nap.”

“Are you okay?” He asks. “Oh my God.”

“I'm fine,” she says, sitting up. “My coat’s really padded. I'm fine.”

“That was so dumb. Why did you do that?” He demands. God, why is he so endearing?

“I had nothing else going on today,” she says, grunting as she stands up. Not because she's hurt but because she's tired.

“Mich- what? That-”

“You're cute when you're flustered,” she says, and immediately blames it on the concussion she doesn't have. “Now do your web thing on this guy and let's go tell Ned to call the police.”

“Ned is here?” Peter says. He might have an aneurysm.

 

They have first period together the next day and when she sits down he has his head buried between his arms on the table.

“Hey loser,” she says and places a cup of coffee of his desk before kicking her chair back, balancing on the back two legs.

He groans, glances up at her and then at the coffee.

“Thanks,” he mutters and she nods. It's his usual Starbucks order with a bunch of sugar and syrups like he needs more energy. She memorized it the first few times they went to Starbucks together.

Thy have a few minutes before class starts so she doodles in her notebook a little and tries not to stare at him out of the corner of her eyes.

“Since October? Really?” He asks, sounding all indignant and petulant.

She shrugs. “I'm observant,” she says. And obsessed with him. “Also you're terrible at lying.”

“I'm not terrible-”

“Peter, one of your excuses was that your cat died. You used it twice. You don't have a cat.”

He groans again, drops his head back to the desk. He mumbles something and she rolls her eyes.

“I'm gonna assume you just apologized for lying to me for the past year,” she says. His eyes look all guilty again. He's so frustratingly adorable.

“Everyone knows, don't they?” He repeats, frowning.

“No,” she says.

“But you figured it out,” he says.

Because she spends way too long studying him, her eyes subconsciously follow him around the room, when he's not there she notices. She can tell when he's lying, watches his hands fidget and his nose wrinkle. She picks up on the way he limps just a little or favors one side.

Because she's obsessed with him and she wouldn't be very good at it if she didn't notice things like this.

“Yeah, but I'm smarter than like everybody else here,” she says instead.

Peter sighs. “Yeah,” he agrees. “You are.”

Her heart skips a little. She rolls her eyes instead and reaches across the aisle to flick his forehead. He scowls and then the teacher walks in.

 

She has to change for gym, and she does it in the corner of the locker room but somebody still sees the bruises on her ribs. They're not that bad. She wasn't lying when she said her coat had a lot of padding. But it's noticeable and then people are talking about it because people are terrible.

She tunes out the whispers but she can't tune out Peter stumbling up to her, looking like he's about to puke because apparently he overheard some of the greatly exaggerated rumors.

“You said you were okay,” he says, paler than she's ever seen, fear in his eyes.

“I'm fine,” she says, rolling her eyes.

“But you- Michelle,” he says.

“Dude, seriously. Stop freaking out. I'm fine,” she insists. His concern is something heavy on her shoulders and she doesn't want to think about it too much or she'll start feeling something stupid.

“But…” he says, voice shaking.

He looks like he's gonna cry. Shit, is she gonna make him cry? Oh no. Oh no. She doesn't think she could handle something like that.

“Hey,” she says, and reaches over to pat his shoulder. “Peter.” It's as awkward as anything and her nose scrunches up with just how terrible this moment is. Why can't anyone in this school just keep their mouth shut?

He stares at her for a good minute and it's so uncomfortable she wants to die. She wants one of his web shooter so she can zip out of this moment and run away.

“Can I hug you?” He asks.

They're in the middle of gym class and he looks like he might actually cry. She can't say no though.

She can't say yes either so she just nods and he steps forward and wraps his arms around her waist. He's shorter than her, but his chin rests on her shoulder, and he's warm and solid and real in front of her.

She pats his back, hesitant and painfully awkward, and she looks up at the ceiling like it has the answers.

“Thank you,” he says. He's all choked up. This is too much. She wants to wrap her arms around him and squeeze him tight but they're in the middle of gym class and this is too much.

“It's just a hug, Parker,” she says, voice calm and deadpan. A really awkward hug at that.

“No, for coming to save me,” he says. “I mean, I would have probably been fine, but… You're a really good friend, Michelle.”

She shrugs, which is really weird in a hug. “Yeah, sure, whatever,” she says, like it isn't one of the nicest things that's been said to her.

He pulls back after an eternity and his eyes are dry, thank God. He smiles sheepishly, runs a hand through his stupid floppy hair.

“You are, too,” she says quickly. “Nerd.” And then she buries her nose in her book again so he'll stop looking at her like that.

 

She's not sure what she was expecting, now that he knows that she knows. Things don't change that much, but there aren't any more excuses or lies between them.

Now when he's off stopping crime, she sits in his room with Ned, sprawls across his top bunk with a book and teases them, loud enough for the communicator to pick up. When he comes back all scraped up, but beaming with his hair all messy from his stupid mask, she hides her smile behind her book and rolls her eyes at him.

He keeps smiling at her, all dopey and sweet and she doesn't know what to make of it so she sticks her tongue out at him.

Everything is so similar to how it used to be but there's this new edge, this new thing in the air around him, now that they're sharing this secret. The way they can exchange looks and know that they're thinking the same thing and no one else knows.

It hits her during Christmas break. Ned is off on vacation somewhere warm, and when they hang out (basically every day) it's just the two of them.

They're friends. Like really close friends. She's never had friends like this before, people she would trudge through mountains of brown slushy snow for on the Tuesday before Christmas.

She's never had people who would want to spend time with her outside of school, freezing their asses off to get to the public library. Friends who are content to sit in absolute silence while she reads. Friends she keeps no secrets from and who keep no secrets from her.

It's ridiculous, so unbelievably lame.

“You okay?” Peter asks, because they're in the middle of a library and she's probably making a face.

“No one is ever okay while the patriarchy remains intact,” she replies, swats his hand away when he reaches for her book.

“You've been reading the same page for the past two and a half minutes and I know your average speed is fifty-two seconds per page,” he says.

“Very observant,” she replies. “Nerd.”

And then something else hits her.

Peter is totally obsessed with her. She's felt him watching her lately, always flips him off and keeps working. But she never thought about it like she should have.

He's obsessed with her.

“It's a good page,” she says and decides to hold onto this discovery.

He peers over her shoulder, basically resting his head there, to read it so she kicks him in the shin.

She thinks about it. For a long time. Peter is obsessed with her. This isn't a guarantee he likes her the same way she will never admit to liking him, but it's a pretty good sign.

But what is she even gonna do? She never planned on Peter liking her back, just semi-stalking him for the next few decades.

This is terrible. She's gonna have to do something about her feelings. Cuz God knows, Peter's probably gonna go do something dumb and lame like fall in love with her.

She spends a full week stressing about it non-stop. Mostly because she already finished all the homework they had over the break and they're spending all this time together.

At least when they get back to school she has some other things to focus on. But she still feels this pressure, like she's gonna have to talk to him about this. She hates talking about feelings. Is Peter even really worth it? Well, probably, but talking about feelings is gonna suck.

Peter can tell something's up and Ned looks so fed up with them. It's terrible and she doesn't have time for this stress and she totally blames him for everything.

 

It's right after lunch on a Wednesday and the hallways are emptying out when he gets an alert on his phone about an armed robbery in progress a train stop away.

“Can you cover for me in English?” He asks, eyes wide and nervous, but also already thrumming with adrenaline. Like she's not going to.

“I'm going to tell Mr. Bateman you have explosive diarrhea,” she decides.

“Michelle,” he whines, actually whines. God, he should be annoying but he's downright endearing and it's not fair.

She kisses his cheek, but he's shorter than her so she ends up kissing his temple and it's oddly intimate. He stares at her, eyes bugged out.

Oh no. This is bad.

“Don't be an idiot,” she says, orders, pointing to the exit like he's an actual puppy.

“MJ,” he says, stunned, frozen in place.

“Bank robbery,” she says, and he snaps out of it and goes jogging down the hall.

“If you're late for decathlon, I'll actually murder you,” she calls after him. Her face is hot and her stomach is all flutter and she trudges off to class, infuriated.

 

He is late to decathlon, shows up five minutes after practice ends out of breath and smiling apologetically. She sends him a scathing glare and he actually takes a few steps back.

She continues packing away her flash cards and highlighters, satisfied by the power she wields. He rushes over and starts helping her clean up.

“Sorry,” he says. “It turns out the bank was really a-”

“I don't care,” she says, even though it sounds interesting.

“Oh, okay,” he says. “Sorry anyway.” He collects her pencils and markers and starts packing them into her pencil case and she just watches him.

“I’ll let you quiz me for our double free tomorrow,” he offers and looks up to her staring at him intently. “What? Are you gonna actually kill me?”

He's Spider-man, he shouldn't seem so concerned by her.

“Don't make this a big deal,” she says sternly, stepping around the chair between them. He raises an eyebrow. She rolls her eyes and buries her fingers in his curly, messy mask hair and leans down to kiss him.

He makes a squeaking noise and his hands come up, hovering at her sides before they settle on her waist. She's never done this before and she knows he hasn't either (obsessively observant of him).

It should be a disaster, starts off stilted and awkward before they start to relax, before she stops squeezing her eyes shut so tight and pursing her lips and just… goes with it.

It's nice, soft and sweet and very Peter though she's not sure what that even means. Just that she's enjoying this a lot more than she thought she would, their lips moving together, her hand deep in his hair, his body warm and solid in front of her, and that her stomach bottoms out and she feels all fluttery and light.

“Okay cool,” she says, pulling away when it feels like her heart might explode.

“Um,” Peter says, staring at her, practically slack-jawed. God, how lame.

“Pass me my pencil case,” she says, but ends up leaning over because he doesn't seem to hear her.

“What…?” He trails off, blinks a few times. Oh God she broke him. They'll still probably be able to win the decathlon but it'll be a lot harder. Flash really sucks at science no matter what he says and he's just annoying about it. This was a mistake.

She tosses her pencil case into her bag and zips it up.

“Okay, I'll see you tomorrow morning, loser,” she says and slings her bag over her shoulder.

He grabs her hand as she steps away.

“Michelle,” he says. She faces him, crossing her arms over her chest.

“Yeah?” She says, almost failing at sounding disinterested.

“I…” He stammers. And then he kisses her again. It lasts for a second or two before he's pulling away. “I really like you.”

“That's super lame,” she says and punches his shoulder.

He winces, grabbing at arm. It was a light punch, but he was just fighting a bunch of bank robbers in a spandex suit. She winces in response, places her hand gentle over where he's probably bruised like that'll make up for it.

“Shit,” she says. This was a terrible mistake. Feelings suck. “Sorry. Sorry.”

He laughs shakily and for some reason looks guilty like it's his fault.

“Look, I've been totally obsessed with you for like years,” she adds, like that'll make up for it. “But whatever.”

“Really?” He asks, eyes lighting up with hope and other mushy stuff.

“Come on, you're not that dumb, Parker,” she says, rolling her eyes.

“You like me?” He asks.

“Less and less the longer this conversation goes on,” she replies. He beams and somehow they end up kissing again, standing in the middle of an empty auditorium.

“MJ- Oh God!”

They both jump back as stare at Ned as he stares between them.

“Oh man,” he sighs. “This is gonna be weird now, isn't it?”

“No!” Peter protests, voice squeaky.

“Obviously,” she says over him. “I'm always weird. What did you nerds expect?”

She shifts her bag on her back and marches towards the door.

“Hey,” Peter calls. “Should we, uh, talk?”

“Absolutely not,” she says, brushing by Ned on her way out. She can feel his pout on the back of her head.

“Hey, Peter,” she sighs, glancing over her shoulder. He perks up like a puppy. God, how infuriating.

“If you don't return my copy of Ringworld tomorrow, I'm breaking up with you.”

She watches his face light up and immediately turns around before he can see her smile.

“Shut up,” she says to Ned and shoves her way through the auditorium door. “See you tomorrow, losers.”