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He's not sure what he expected.

When Ned found out about the whole Spider-Man thing he was excited, had a million questions, most of which Peter couldn't even answer. May was a different case, mostly worry and a little bit of pride all jumbled up and exploding in small arguments about safety and homework and curfews that left both of them exhausted.

Michelle is completely unimpressed. But he's not sure what he thought would happen, if- when he told her.

Certainly not that she figured it out on her own.

“It's not that hard if you're paying attention,” she says, the same as if it were a math test she aced.

“So you were paying attention to me?” He asks and she punched his shoulder. He wonders if she'll ever stop surprising him, if she'll ever do something that doesn't completely amaze him.

He expects questions. Ned had so many questions and May had her own laundry list of concerns. Michelle has exactly one.

“Have you met Black Widow?” she asks in the middle of a Starbucks, hunched over a book that's bigger than her head.

“Um, we fought together once,” he replies. “It was really cool. But… Well, not really.”

She looks up from her book, stares at him for a full moment with a frown. “Then what's the point, Peter,” she says, and finishes off her tea.

So while Ned geeks out during patrols and asks for all the details, fully embracing his role as Guy in the Chair, Michelle just reads in his room and teases him when he gets his ass kicked and glares at him when he misses decathlon.

She acts like it's another extraciricular, except less than because, “You can't even put it on your Common App, Parker.”

He's not sure what he expected, but he shouldn't have expected anything else. This is Michelle, beautiful, smart, and forever unenthused Michelle.

“It's good for you,” May says over dinner. “Can't let your head get too big, Peter. You won't be able to squeeze it into the apartment.”

It's a breath of fresh air sometimes. With everyone else, he feels like he constantly has to prove himself, prove that he's strong enough, prove that he knows what he's doing, that he's not a little kid, that he's doing the right thing.

Michelle doesn't care. She just wants him to show up to decathlon on time and bring her tea. The latter he can do always and the former he's still working on.

And if he feels overwhelmed and can't tell May because she'll worry and can't tell Ned because he'll worry, he can tell her. She'll let him rest his head on her shoulder or in her lap and mess up his hair until it sticks up at all angles and he’ll pour out whatever's bothering him.

And she'll always have a solution.

“You can borrow my notes,” she'll say. “Just let me redact some things. Can't be giving away my essay ideas.” Or she'll hand him some huge book on philosophy the next day. Or she'll kiss his forehead and say, “You're surprised? You've been a hot mess since birth, Parker.”

And some how it always makes him feel better.

 

He lets out a long groan that she pretends not to hear and he burries his face in his hands.

“Well, I know it's not homework, you perpetual slacker,” she says without looking up.

He groans again and it's pitiful, it's not cute. She totally doesn't think he's being adorable. He does not resemble a disappointed puppy or any other form of cute fuzzy thing.

He pushes a piece of paper toward her, across the library table. She's gonna have to look up from her book, which is ridiculous. She makes a point to finish her entire page and turn it before looking over.

It's a blueprint for his web slingers, probably improved in some imperceptible way. She squints at it and starts deciphering his scrawl.

“I can't get it to work,” he explains. “I mean the ones I have are great and I'm just being a little nitpicky but there’s so much to play around with and I wanna make sure they're the best they can be. But I can't even get it to work on paper and-”

“You forgot to carry the two,” she says, tapping the page, rolling her eyes. Peter Parker, everyone. Capable of understanding and applying high level mechanical engineering. Forgetting how to multiply.

She pushes the paper back at him, turns back to her book and finds her paragraph.

“Holy shit,” he breathes, staring at the paper and then up at her. “You're a genius.”

“No kidding,” she says. “You-” The rest of her words die in her throat because he's kissing her. In the middle of their school library. His hand on her shoulder for balance as he leans across the table.
It's brief, and she's a little shocked but she schools her expressions easily, ignoring the heat in her face.

He raises his eyebrows like a question. ‘Is this okay?’ his eyes ask, with his small soft smile and his hand on top of hers.

“Gross,” she says and returns to her book.

 

Tony calls him during his eighth period free and he nearly pulls a muscle rushing to accept the call.

“Hey kid,” Tony says and he hears something crash in the distance. “I'm throwing a party in the city. West 34th Street, you wanna come help me out?”

“Yes!” Peter says. “I mean, yeah. I don't think I have anything going on right now.”

“Alright, great, bring the suit. In case that wasn't clear.”

He's in midtown in twenty minutes, missing history with a flimsy excuse Ned conjured up. (Michelle is always great with excuses. In that no one every asks a follow up question, but terrible in that it's always somehow embarrassing for him.) He reaches 34th street and finds a giant robot in the middle of the street.

Is it bad that he gets excited?

He's flying around the area, swinging off the robot and the buildings and it's amazing, thrilling. He's on the top of the world.

And then Karen interrupts. “Peter, you have an incoming call from contact: MJ, heart-eyes emoji.”

“Heart-eyes,” Tony echoes over the coms.

“Oh no,” he says. School must have ended and it's a Wednesday and-

“Uh, accept the call,” he says and ducks out of the way of a flying traffic light.

“Uh, kid, we’re kinda in the middle of something,” Tony says.

“Peter,” Michelle says without any decernable intonation. Oh no, this is bad. He's dead. “Do you remember what I said at lunch today?”

“Um, that you'd leave me for John Boyega in a hot second,” he replies slowly.

“Yes, and the other thing,” she says.

“That if I missed two decathlon meetings in a row you'd be very angry but ultimately forgive me,” he offers.

“Close,” she replies. “Where are you? And if the answer is not on the way to the auditorium, maybe reconsider your answer.”

“Uh…” A parked car gets thrown at his head and he swings away with seconds to spare.

“Look, people are accusing me of favoritism,” she says. “They're implying that I actually like you.”

“They might've gotten that impression from the fact that we made out for fifteen minutes at lunch on Monday,” he offers.

“I'm putting you on speaker phone,” she says and he nearly trips over himself.

“Michelle!” He protests.

“I'm confrencing him in,” she says from further away, presumably to the team.

“That's not a good idea!” He says and something somewhere explodes.

“Alright, now that we're all here,” she says.

“Oh my God,” he says.

“Peter, name the most populated city in Azerbaijan.”

“Oh my God.”

“Wrong,” she says. “Betty.”

 

“So there's a girl,” Tony says, after, buying Peter dinner from a Korean place on 32nd.

Peter shrugs, tries and fails to stop a sappy grin from taking over his face. “There's a girl,” he repeats and crosses his arms over his chest.

“You told her?”

“She found out,” he says, not sure whether to be proud or embarrassed, probably both.

Tony hums. “She seems like a spitfire,” he decides. “I should meet her.”

“Uh, I'm not sure that's a great idea,” Peter says.

“Why? You embarrassed of one of us? It's her, right? Is it not her?”

“No, she's just already explained if she met you, it'd be less meeting and more hour long interview about the global, national and local consequences of the Sokovia Accords,” he explains.

His food is ready so he grabs the plastic bag off the counter, pokes around inside the bag to make sure his apology crepe for Michelle was there.

“Sounds interesting,” Tony decides. “Let's schedule it. I'm free… Hmm, next month, I'll send you some dates.”

“Um, okay,” Peter says slowly.

“And if you ever need any advice for girl trouble and stuff you can talk to… Pepper, actually,” he says and flips his sunglasses down. “That'd be the better call.”

 

“Hey, MJ,” Peter says slowly and she glances up at him suspiciously.

“What did you do?” She asks, crossing her arms over her chest.

“Nothing,” he squeaks. She raises an eyebrow. “So you know how we’re supposed to work on our history project after school?”

“I have not been hit by a bout of anterograde amnesia, Parker,” she replies.

“I have a thing,” he says. “And I can't make it.”

“A thing,” she echoes.

“An Avengers thing,” he whispers, glancing around the library.

“You can't reschedule?” He gapes at her.

“They're the Avengers,” he offers slowly.

“It's my GPA,” she responds, raising an eyebrow. She ends up in a black SUV with tinted windows, working on their history project in the backseat while they're driven upstate.

 

“This is Michelle,” he tells Tony, fidgeting a little, nervous and excitement and a whole lot of jittery energy from the long car ride. “Uh, Michelle, this is Mr. Stark.”

He was a little star-struck the first time he met Tony, his long time idol, now mentor. Michelle looks bored. He's really not sure what he keeps expecting.

She has her phone in her hand.

“Do you have any response to the criticisms of moving your base of operations two hours away from the most populated and targeted city in United States?” She asks and Peter feels like his head might be exploding.

Tony nods at him. “Spitfire,” he decides. “You weren't kidding.”

“You didn't answer the question,” she continues, raising an eyebrow. “Should I put you down as no comment?”

“MJ, they have a library here,” he says and tugs her off down the hall, waving at Tony.

 

Peter goes off to do Avenger stuff and she has a few hours to work on homework and stuff in the meantime. Only she finished all her homework hours ago and the library is pretty lackluster.

She decides to walk around a little. She's not snooping, if anybody asks. She's not trying to build a platform as an investigative journalist just in case.

She’s… lost. Sure, that.

The facility is large and pristine with identical looking hallways. She walks for at least a half hour before she comes across anyone.

“Hi,” she says to Black Widow, sticking out her hand. “I'm Michelle Jones. Spider-Man’s classmate.”

Natasha glances at her suspiciously, but shakes her hand.

“I'm a big fan,” she says. “Anyway, I was wondering if you had any comments about the Sokovia Accords.”

“I don't,” she replies, eyes narrowed. “Why don't we go find your friend?”

Natasha doesn't trust her. That's probably a good thing. She made it way too far through this place without anyone stopping her.

She lets Natasha lead her through the maze of hallways.

“Okay, so you're obviously the most competent Avenger,” she says and it echoes in the empty hall. Natasha raises an eyebrow.

“Flattery won't get you anywhere,” she replies.

“But the truth will set us free,” she says, shrugging. “Look, I don't know how well you know Spider-Man but he's a good kid. He's also an idiot so I was wondering if as the most competent Avenger, you could keep him from dying should the need ever arise. He's a bit of a reckless idiot, but he's also my reckless idiot. And it would be so much effort to find a new one. As it is I've been working his case for years.”

“You want me to protect your friend?” Natasha echoes.

“He can protect himself,” she says. “He is competent. I don't date complete idiots. I'm just saying that he has a hero complex the size of the national deficit so should he be about to do something colossally dumb I would appreciate if you could step in as a voice of reason. And I will owe you a favor.”

“A favor?” She repeats.

“I'm going to be very powerful one day,” she explains. “It's a good investment.”

“Alright,” Natasha says flatly. “Deal.”

 

“Okay, we have a problem,” Ned decides.
He already doesn't like the sound of this.

“About?” He asks.

“So you’re Spider-Man,” Ned says.

“Say that a little louder in our crowded cafeteria,” Peter hisses. He's maybe kinda paranoid since the whole Michelle thing.

Ned shrugs. Michelle is not at lunch. She's either in the library or stealing tea from the teachers’ lounge.

He misses her. He knows it's ridiculous.

“Anyway, you're the hero. I'm the guy in the chair. Who's Michelle?” He asks. “Cuz I'd say love interest, but I'm pretty sure she'd kill me.”

He looks around quickly because if somehow Michelle heard that…

“Dude, you can't even say that out loud,” he says, shaking his head.

“But she's not really the sidekick or the femme fatale or any of the tropes really,” Ned says.

“I don't think she really cares about the Spider-Man thing,” he says.

Ned frowns. “But it's, like, the coolest thing that's ever happened.”

“Yeah, but Michelle is cooler than literally everything,” he replies.

Ned rolls his eyes. “You're mooning so hard you're causing tides.”

He frowns at Ned, picks at his sandwich. “Michelle's in her own story,” he decides.

“Oh my God,” Ned says. “You're right. And you’re the love interest.”

 

Peter looks exhausted and the fighting hasn't even started. It makes something in her chest squeeze. She sometimes thinks falling in love with Peter was the worst thing that's ever happened to her. He just had to go and make her feel things.

There's a car by the curb with black tinted windows and it's from Tony Stark. He’ll be leaving any second but she's not actually going to run to him, it's too much effort.

“Hey, loser!” She calls instead.

His eyes are a little red-rimmed but they light up when he spots her and she curses him even more for making all this feelings bullshit worth it. She marches over to him, and resolutely does not feel anything when he grins, weary yet pleased.

“Here,” she grunts, shoving the stack of index cards into his chest.

“Um,” he says, taking the pack from her and studying it.

“The blue ones are for quizzing yourself, the green ones you need someone else to ask you,” she explains.

“For decathlon?” He asks.

“We have state qualifiers in two weeks,” she says. “Assuming the world doesn't end before then.”

“Yeah, I’m going to be trying to, you know, stop that from happening,” he says. “I'm not sure if I'll have the time.”

She rolled her eyes. “You'll have plenty of downtime. I saw your Instagram last summer.”

She fishes around in her bag and hands him a paperback novel.

“I finished this last night,” she says. “It's science-y. And lame. Like you.”

“Thanks,” he replied drily. He took a step back. She followed him.

“Not done,” she says, yanking a slip of paper out of her pocket and pressing it into his palm. “Here.”

He glanced down at the string of numbers.

“You want me to solve this numerical sequence?” He asks, raising an eyebrow.

“That's my phone number, genius,” she says, crossing her arms over her chest.

“I have your number,” he protests, eyebrows scrunching together.

“Yeah, duh, it's not for you,” she says. “Give that to the Black Panther if you see him and tell him to call me. I’m not gonna date him, he's too old. But I think we could have some insightful discussions about Wakandan foriegn policy, so tell him to hit me up.”

He nodded and something flickered in his eyes, deep and meaningful. Oh boy.

“Alright, last thing,” she says, already grimacing. “Five second hug. No making It weird and no thanking me afterward. And you're not allowed to mention this to anyone ever.”

“Deal,” he says, beaming at her. The Peter Parker dichotomy: weary and battle-ready, smiling goofily and hugging her.

She places her hand in between his shoulder blades, rests her chin on his shoulder for a moment because her neck is tired and plans out her witty response if he notices she's kinda hugging him back.

“Five,” she says after what is obviously more than five seconds. She pulls back, stares at his cheek for a moment instead of meeting his eyes. “If you die, I'll tell the whole world you go commando in the Spidey suit.”

“Michelle,” he says, just on the edge of whiney.

“So try not to die,” she says. “For your own dignity.”

He nods, grins a little, but it's lack-luster. She's never been afraid of anything in her life ever, but she's a little nervous about what something like this huge disastrous war will do to a soft soul like Peter’s.

“Alright,” he says. “I'll do my best.”

He doesn't make her any promises and she appreciates that. She heard edges of the argument he had with May a few minutes ago, has to pretend she didn't. He made her a lot of promises, probably doesn't have room for any more.

“Go get ‘em, tiger,” she says flatly, punching his shoulder. He snorts.

“Thanks,” he says. He leans in and kisses her cheek. He stand there for a moment, swaying back and forth on his feet like he wants to stay but can't think of something to say.

“Parker, the world’s ending, maybe haul ass,” she says, raising an eyebrow.

“Right,” he says, takes a step backwards. “I'll see you later.” He waves. She doesn't, but she does give him a thumbs up and squints while he walks to the car.

“Hey Spider-Dweeb,” she says before he climbs in. She considers for a split second telling him she loves him. It’d surprise him for sure, and she loves surprising him, she can picture his stupid, cute shocked face. But she second guesses herself. Now’s not the right time. She'll have time to mess with him when he gets back. “I paid to get those index cards laminated so don't you dare lose them.”

He smiles at her again and gets in the car, waves through the window like a loser.

She doesn't wave back, but she does flip him off and that seems to do the trick.

 

There is some downtime in this thing, more than he thought there would be, at weird times like noon or 3 in the morning and everybody who's not on watch is quick to pass out on the nearest flat surface.

Sometimes it's hard to sleep though, he feels too much on edge. He sits on the ground and quizzes himself with the blue flash cards because she'll know if he doesn't. Somehow. If he survived this.

He gets a few looks, has to tell Black Widow he's on a decathlon team, and then has to explain to Gamora (green skin! Oh God, he's basically in Star Wars.) what an academic decathlon is.

He checks his phone, which he has on him since he promised Aunt May, which works somehow no matter where they are, probably because of Tony.

He has walls of texts from Ned and about a dozen concerned voicemails from Aunt May every time he checks. It helps him feel grounded, like a little piece of home is with him. It reinvigorates him, reminds him what he's fighting for.

Michelle leaves one voicemail everyday, sends him pictures of the books she's reading, like nothing has changed.

“Hey, loser,” she says. “I just noticed you have an actual message for your voicemail. Who does that? Nobody uses voicemail anymore, geezer. ‘But you're leaving a voicemail right now.’” She uses a high-pitched voice for him and it makes him frown indignantly which is probably what she intends so he just ends up smiling and frowning and missing her. “Fun fact, this is actually a robot I got Ned to program. Anyway, you missed a great episode of Scandal and I will send spoilers if you do something dumb like die. You were on the news today. You looked super lame. Ned tried to pin it on the spandex, but I know the truth, nerd. Also Thanos looks like something my two year old cousin made with purple Play Do. Alright, I've got better things to do right now, bye.”

He never replies because he can't imagine how to sound normal, how to sound not terrified. He can text Ned and May reassurances but Michelle doesn't need those. He doesn't know what she needs from him, what she needs him to say, and he can't say what he wants to say, has to keep acting like he's okay.

He's starting to think he might not make it out of this. That he is in over his head, that he should have stayed home, that he's a kid and he's scared.

He replays Michelle's messages when he can, takes a few deep breathes. She speaks in certainties. “When you get back, I'm forcing you to try this new tea I found.” And, “I can't wait for you guys to put the smack down on Grimace because it'll be a great piece of supporting evidence for my history essay.”

She's certain everything is going to be fine. Her voice never waivers, she never breaks, she never stops being Michelle.

He remembers DC, knows that she can be afraid, she can be nervous in dire situations. He remembers her face in the garage in Astoria, the flash of relief he barely made out, like she was worried about him. Worried then, but steady as a rock at the end of the world.

She leaves him threats. “If you die, I'm giving Flash your Pokemon card collection.”

“If you die, I'm selling your signed Return of the Jedi poster. For 10 bucks.”

“If you die, I'll make May show me those photos of you as a toddler.”

She never sounded nervous though. Never like it was an actual possibility. He's had worse threats thrown his way for missing decathlon.

There were a few close calls, more than he’ll ever mention to May. A few moments where he thought it was over, that he'd had a good run and saved a few lives, but this was it. When he hit the ground and thought for a second of college, of the recommendation letter Tony promised, of senior privledges and graduations and a million things he might never see.

He thought of Aunt May, about how much he was hurting her, how he was all she had left and now he was halfway gone.

About Ned who had hugged him before he left and said, “You’re my best friend, Peter. I don't know what I'd do without you.” And he'd felt tears prick at his eyes because no one had ever been there for him like Ned, that he hadn't know what friendship was before he'd met Ned.

About Michelle and how there's no way she was bluffing. She would sell his baby hair on eBay and steal his Science Olympiad certificates and take over his Twitter handle to say a bunch of embarrassing stuff. About how she was getting better at hugs and shared some of her notes with him unredacted. About how he was almost fluent in her language, in all the ways she cared. How she had so many opinions and he still didn't know them all.

And he found he couldn't give up, couldn't roll over and stop fighting. He had a family and a future, and he got back up, threw himself back into the fray.

 

It's quiet without Peter around. Even though most of the time they're quiet, doing homework or reading or thinking.

She doesn't like it. Doesn't like feeling off, having her routine disrupted even for something this large.

Aliens come to take over the world. Part 2.

(Part 1 saw her in their middle school’s cafeteria for hours, sitting in the corner near Ned and Peter and reading, listening in on their hushed conversation, dealing out wry jokes instead of the comfort that got stuck in her throat.)

In the movies, alien invasions only last two hours. She has to deal with this nonsense for two weeks.

The second day, her feet take her on autopilot from the library to Peter’s apartment and she doesn't realize until May opens the door.

Her hair is messy and her eyes are red-rimmed and her shoulders are up to her ears with tension. She grins weakly and it shakes.

“Hi, sweetie,” May says, but it comes out in a tired sigh.

“Hi,” she replies slowly. “I, uh, forgot.”

May nods, smiles at her sadly, not with pity but with kind understanding.

“Me too,” she admits. “I forgot to do the dishes last night. It's his job on Tuesdays.”

“Peter would definitely become a superhero to get out of chores,” she decides and May exhales something that would probably be a laugh any other day.

They stand there in the hall for a moment.

“Do you want to come in?” May asks, fingers curling around the door.

She thinks about walking home, turning on the news and pretending it's to keep informed or for a current events project instead of just waiting for an update, to see him in his lame costume swinging across a battlefield, bruised and scraped but alive and kicking.

“Sure,” she says, and follows May into the apartment.

 

After everything, when the battle is over and the sun is setting, Peter is still standing, exhausted, aching, stunned, but still standing. He follows the rest of his teammates, just as tired and relieved. They end up in some deserted restaurant and Peter scarfs down as much as he can. Some of the others don't eat at all, just stare at the table with wide eyes and breathe.

They trickle back to the Avengers Complex upstate in respective modes of transportation. Peter gets to ride in the Milano and takes pictures of the ship when no one is looking because Ned is totally going to freak out.

He sends Aunt May a text letting her know he's alright and it's over. He sends some of the pictures he took to Ned.

He leaves Michelle a voicemail.

“I got a 37 out of 40 in the blue set and a 39 in the green. I also have a video of Captain America asking me calculus questions,” he says. “I didn't die so please don't touch my Legos. And I hung out with Black Panther, totally talked you up, so I'm kinda the best boyfriend ever. We're landing now. I'm in a space ship by the way. There's a talking raccoon and a tiny sentient tree. I'll tell you about when I get back. I… Uh, I'll see you soon.”

 

She can tell he wants to ask. When he sends her texts in odd spurts at odd hours, a small check in that he's okay and that he still has her index cards and her book, he sounds off even in a few words on her phone screen.

She knows him (and it's different than observing him before). She can tell he's scared and pretending to not be. And he wants to ask how she's not scared. Why she didn't ask him to stay like everybody else did?

Everyone is scared. She sees it in May’s eyes everyday when she helps around the apartment, sees it in Ned and the way his hand shakes when they're working on homework. She sees it everyone else too, the way New York’s edge is a little less sharp, how the streets are a little quieter and the people walk more urgently, more desperately.

And for some reason she's not.

She doesn't ask Peter to stay because she doesn't want him to, because he wouldn't stay no matter who asked, so asking would only hurt him when he did have to leave. Because if he did stay he wouldn't be Peter. Because he had the ability to do something, to help people and he couldn't live with himself if he didn't do something, the noble idiot he was.

The goodness in him, the need to help is what drew her attention to him in the first place. There was no doubt that he would go, but there was also no doubt that he would come back.

She knows he's scared, that he doubts himself some times, but she knows him. He's capable of a lot more than he knows. Not that she'll ever tell him that, but she can show him. She's not afraid because to be afraid means there's some unknown variable and there isn't.

She knows how this story goes and it ends with Peter back home, and winning their decathlon meet on Sunday.

 

He crawls in through his bedroom window in the middle of the night. Aunt May is probably sleeping well for the first time in weeks so he moves quietly.

He's bone deep tired but feels this warmth in his chest, the knowledge that he did something, he helped people, saved lives. The relief that it's finally over.

He shuts the window carefully behind him and collapses in his bed, on top of the covers and on a solid lump.

“Ack! Off!” His bed fights back, shoving at him in a disconnected attack of limbs.

“MJ?” He asks, rubbing at his eyes, squinting at her in the dark.

“‘S sleeping, asshole,” she grumbles, shuffling back against the wall, tugging him closer with a fist in his shirt. Well, not shirt, the top of his suit, dirt-crusted and torn. Tony promised him a new one by Sunday, but he's thinking about doing some redesigns first.

“Ew,” she mutters. She shoves at him, garbled out a string of noises that may be words. “Pajamas.”

He rolls off the bed, staggers around his room in a hunt for his pajamas, tries not to crash into anything in case he wakes up Aunt May. He thinks Michelle is asleep again by the time he makes it back to bed, wearing the first pajama-like materials he could find.

It's always weird to see Michelle asleep. She usually has two modes: reading and being smarter than everyone else in a room, often simultaneously. She's the most observant person he knows, always on top of a situation, analyzing and categorizing. It's weird to see her not paying attention, soft and small, scowling in her sleep but still looking peaceful.

He tumbles into the bed next to her. He stares up at the ceiling, his ceiling, in his bed and feels relief unlike anything else from today.

She grabs at his shirt again, pulls at him until he shifts closer and wraps her arms around his waist. He buries his face in her shoulder. Her hair tickles at his nose, her hands are cold against the small of his back but the sheets are warm.

“Missed you,” He says. His voice is loud in the silence of the room, even though he was whispering. Her hand shifts on his back.

“Shu’ ‘p,” she says. “Sleep.”

That sounds like a great idea. Sleeping. He's tired, so extremely tired, existentially tired.

She's so smart, he decides. He loves her.

He falls asleep in her arms, peaceful for the first time in weeks.

 

She wakes up to her shrill alarm, set even though they canceled school halfway through last week. (It was a good thing too. Not because of the end of the world thing, but because if Flash asked one more time whether she gave Peter mano, she'd have to put homicide on her college apps.)

She reaches blindly for her phone on the nightstand and hits the screen until it stops making noise. She glances around the room, eyelids heavy, mouth dry.

She's surrounded by Peter, tangled in his sheets and his limbs, and she feels a warmth in her chest which is uncalled for.

His hair is a mess, a disaster, a brown wheat field hit by a category five tornado. His face is pressed against her arm and he's snoring, just a little through his nose.

She's not going to watch him sleep though. This is ridiculous.

She sticks her arm back out towards the nightstand and tugs her book toward the edge. She has a hundred or so pages left and then she'll wake him up.

She shifts up slowly to rest her head on the wall. She's being nice just this once and not waking him. Not because he looks cute or anything but because he did just help save the world so he gets a free pass this once.

His head slides down to her chest and she rests the edge of her book on his temple and picks up where she left off the night before.

She's a fast reader (52 seconds a page, according to Peter), but she takes her time. It's a good book, the prose is very poetic.

He's still sleeping by the time she finishes. She gives him a few more minutes but still nothing. She climbs out of bed, less carefully than before, and walks over to the desk.

She gave him a whole lot of time to wake up, she decides and sits down on the edge of the bed, leans over slowly and starts balancing pens on his face.

It takes a lot of patience and precision but she has nothing better to do today. She gets to fifteen before her hand slips just a little and she pokes his eye.

He jolts up, kicking out and struggling to sit up. She snorts so hard she nearly falls off the bed, grabbing his arm to steady herself.

He looks at her sleepily and then at the pens covering his bed.

“What happened?” He asks, rubbing his eyes.

“I finished my book,” she explains.

He glances around the room, taking stock, looks at her for a moment, blinks a few times.

“Why are you here?” He asks.

She raises an eyebrow, squints at him just a little.

“I mean, not that I'm not the most happy to see you. Because I am,” he stammers. “But, um, why are you in my bedroom?”

“It's my bedroom now. I've colonized,” she announces. “I’m also May’s favorite because while you were off hanging out with the Avengers and those alien guys, I've been doing all your dumb chores. So really I should be asking what your doing in my room.”

He stares at her for a few moments and she thinks he might be asleep again.

“I think I need coffee,” he says and swings his feet over the edge of the bed.

“You're too late,” she says. “I've replaced all your k-cups with tea bags.”

He shakes his head. “Aunt May loves coffee.”

“Two weeks is a long time, Parker,” she says, hopping to her feet. “Maybe save the world a little faster next time.”

She starts for the door but he catches her hand.

“Okay, there are some k-cups left,” she admits and then he's pulling her into a hug, inhaling deeply, burying his face in her neck.

“Gross,” she complains and wraps her arms around him.

“Thanks,” he says.

“I'm not telling you where I hid them,” she replies. He’s never going to find them. It's gonna be great.

“No,” he says. “For… I don't even know. Just, thanks.”

Gross, she decides and shoves at his shoulder until he steps back. She kisses him, quickly so he doesn't get any ideas about her actually caring or anything.

“You're making me breakfast,” she says.

 

“MJ has been an angel,” Aunt May tells him, beaming, and he wonders when she started calling her MJ. Her eyes are still a little wet but she hasn't stopped smiling. She runs her fingers through his hair for the millionth time this morning, but he can't find it in him to complain.

Over her shoulder in the kitchen, Michelle sticks out her tongue at him and grabs the kettle from the stove. They didn't have a kettle when he left.

Two weeks is apparently a long time.

“She's excellent company,” May continues. “And she's much better at cooking than me.”

Michelle shrugs. “I just watch a lot of Food Network,” she says, like he didn't notice the leftovers in their fridge. Homemade leftovers, not take out. It's practically a miracle.

“It's nice having another girl around the apartment,” May says, patting the top of Peter's head. “Oh! And I finally have someone who’ll watch the Bachlorette with me.”

Peter chokes on his waffle. He can't breathe for a good minute. May rubs at his back, and Michelle sits down at the table with her tea.

“You watch the Bachlorette?” He asks.

She shrugs, like this isn't the most shocking thing he's ever heard, and he just battled a giant purple alien man with a glove of magic rocks.

“She doesn't watch,” May corrects, nodding to herself. “She takes notes.”

“I'm working on a thesis about the human condition,” she explains and blows on her tea.

May gives him a look, raising her eyebrows just a little. A look that says, “If you don't marry her, I will.”

He swallows and nods. Michelle steals one of his waffles and he thinks he should invite Ned over because he's never felt so at home.

 

“I love you,” he says and everything freezes.

She remembers the first time she saw Peter Parker and his hair and his soft eyes and his thin wiry frame before the whole superhero thing. Her eyes lingered on him for an extra moment and she thought about wandering the shelves of the public library and the way her gut pulled when she saw a good book, about how the title or the color or the font jumped out at her, how her gut said, “This is it.” How her gut did the same thing when she saw Peter.

May is in the kitchen putting away the dishes even though she offered to, and then offered to force Peter to. Ned is on his way and he and Peter are probably going to force her into a Star Wars marathon like they haven't seen those movies enough (she'll push for The Force Awakens like she usually does because… Well, John Boyega.)

And Peter is next to her on the couch, hand over hers, soft eyes staring at her.

Her heart jumps, the treturous bastard. Although it has a point. This is big. This isn't some lighthearted thing, not with the way Peter is looking at her. This is something huge and her stomach feels fluttery and there's a panic alarm beeping in her brain.

This isn't like the other sweet things he says. The times where she can snort and call him a loser and sock him on the arm playfully.

She can't brush this off. Brushing this off isn't messing with him, maintaining her rockstar mystique. Brushing this off would be mean, could hurt him. It's a line and she won't cross it.

She has to be serious about this.

She loves him back, duh. Lame. Gross. Ugh. But she wasn't planning on this.

Her plan was to pass him in the hallway one day, probably a Thursday, and say, “Buy me a tea afterschool. Also, I love you.” And then disappear to her next class.

It was a great plan. It would be hilarious. He's stop up the hallway and freak out. Ned would laugh at him. She'd tease him about it for years.

This wasn't the plan. She never even thought of him saying it, let alone saying it first.

It feels like she's been silent for hours and any second now his face is gonna fall because she's not sure how to say it back, just stare at him analytically and work to extinguish the fire in her brain.

“You don't have to say it,” he says, and he doesn't look sad, he's still smiling, still holding her hand. “It's okay if you don't feel it either. I just… I had to tell you. It was kinda crazy out there for a while and… I was thinking about a lot of things. I didn't tell you before because I thought it was too soon and I wasn't sure how you'd react, but those things don't seem as important anymore. You're awesome and I'm so glad your my friend let alone anything more and I love you.”

“Lame,” she mutters, in leu of the Other Thing. She grabs the collar of his shirt and kisses him.

 

Usually when she kisses him, it's something lazy, slow and careful, a little like she's bored even though her eyes always say something different. This time it's a little desperate. It makes his breath quicken and his stomach drop, and he knows even though she hasn't said anything.

Still when she tells him, on a Monday a week later, right before 9th period, in the middle of the hallway, he takes an extra three steps and then freezes. Five people crash into him, he nearly drops the pile of textbooks in his arms. He spins around and catches a glimpse of her grin before she ducks into class.

He buys her a tea and meets her in the library afterschool.

“Took you long enough,” she says and he frowns at her for a millisecond before he's grinning again.

She takes his hand and he rests his head on her shoulder, catches up on some sleep while she reads.

 

“Hello,” he says sleepily, voice staticky over the line, and she glares at her phone.

“Hang up,” she demands.

“MJ?” He asks, dumbly.

“No, the Archduke of Serbia,” she mutters. “Hang up.”

“But I'm awake,” he says slowly.

“I'm trying to leave you a voicemail,” she says.

“What?” He asks slowly.

“I'm gonna leave you a voicemail and you have to wait forty eight hours before listening to it.”

“What?”

“Hang up,” she demands and hangs up on him. The next call goes through to the voicemail and she assumes it's because he fell asleep again.

She takes a deep breath while she listens to his dumb voicemail message. He's such a dork. It's not fair.

 

“Alright. First off all, delete this immediately after you listen to it or I'm telling May about that time you broke your collarbone. Anyway, I love you. Duh. I'm not going to say I love you too, that's dumb. It was almost cool of you for that whole thing where you didn't get upset when I didn't say it back that first time. Almost, but you're a nerd so… I don't know if I'll ever be able to tell you how I see you, probably because it'll give you a big head and it'll sound like I actually like you, which I do but I can't sound it, you know how it is. I have a reputation to maintain here. But I think you're cute and dumb and I like what we have and I love you. There's a lot of things I don't say, and I'm not going to say because it's lame, but I hope you know anyway. You're a loser but you’re kinda my loser. Anyway, delete this immediately and if you bring this up ever, I'll deny it.”