Aunt May hears his footsteps on the stairs, calls his name. He spins on his heel and gives her his most charming smile while he backs out the door.
“I’m going out, Aunt May. Don’t wait up.” He closes the door before she can ask where he’s going, what he does every night. He still doesn’t have any answers for her.
He waves a final goodbye through the glass and turns quickly away. His vision fills with grey and he feels two strong arms wrap around him. He’s dead. He’s totally dead. Some bad guy has found out where he lives. They’re gonna crush the life from his body and then go inside and murder Aunt May. This is as bad as it gets.
The arms tighten a little more before giving him room to breathe.
“That’s it. It’s okay. We’re gonna make it through this.”
“Flash?” Peter asks. He pulls his head free and looks up. Sure enough, Flash Thompson is holding him. Well, this is almost worse than the double murder thing. “Are you … hugging me?”
Flash nods, a sympathetic frown on his face. “It’s okay, buddy. I got you.”
“I-I-I’m sorry.” Peter shakes his head. Has he been hit with some sort of hallucinogen recently? “Why exactly have you ‘got me’?”
Sorrowful understanding further twists Flash’s features and he relaxes enough that Peter can break free without using any of his super strength. “You haven’t heard. You know, for a dork you don’t spend all that much time on the internet.” That should be an insult but the way Flash is looking at him, Peter’s not really sure it was meant as one. “I’m probably the last person you want to hear this from, which might actually be a good thing because it’ll give you some excuse to vent your anger…”
Flash is rambling and Peter's backpack is weighing heavy on his shoulder, reminding him of all the things he should be doing more than this at the moment.
“Listen, Flash, as … odd as this has been, I do have places to be, so--”
“Gwen is cheating on you.”
Peter’s voice dies in his throat. He’s not really sure how to respond to this news. It’s patently absurd. Gwen is not cheating on him. She wouldn’t.
“You’re wrong,” he says.
“I’m not, man. I’m sorry.” Flash sounds so sincere that Peter’s almost sorry to take this good deed away from him. Except that Flash is a dirty liar and should know better than to say these things about Peter’s girlfriend.
Peter hitches his backpack a little higher on his shoulder and pushes past Flash. Flash stumbles back but isn’t dissuaded. He follows after Peter, phone in hand. He holds it up in front of Peter’s face, so close it totally blocks Peter’s view of the street and becomes a bright blur of yellow and red and blue. Peter reels back until the image on the screen comes into focus.
It’s a grainy image, taken from a distance with a shitty camera phone and then blown up to focus on one small section, but anyone who knows Gwen can still recognize her. Peter’s carrying her and she’s got her forehead rested against his while she clutches his neck fiercely. He remembers that day. It was last week. She’d somehow gotten in the middle of some monster mayhem over at Oscorp and gone flying out a window. Peter’d snatched her up and taken her to safety a few blocks away where this had happened. She couldn’t kiss him because of the mask, but the moment had been just as intimate.
Of course, it’s not Peter in the picture and it’s not Peter who did all that. It’s Spider-man. Shit.
“Shit,” Peter says.
“Exactly.” Flash nods, grateful Peter’s finally getting it. He throws an arm around Peter’s shoulders and turns them both down the street in the opposite direction Peter wants to go. “We’ll get through this, man, you and me. I want you to know, I am no longer a fan of Spider-man on Facebook. That's how much I'm here for you." He hitches his arm a little tighter around Peter. "There’s a boxing match on tonight and we’ll order pizza and laugh at dirty jokes. And, if you’re ready for it, we can talk about her. Don’t worry! I won’t say her name! There will be a firm, no G-word rule while we have man-time.”
“‘Man-time’?” Peter echoes. What he wouldn’t give for a supervillain right now.
“And, Parker,” Flash says seriously, stopping them so he can look Peter in the eye, “I want you to know this and know that I really mean it, okay?”
Peter nods because that’s apparently what Flash wants him to do.
“You can cry. Men cry, Peter, and as your fellow man I am bound by the sacred rules of manhood not to tell anyone if you do. You get me?”
Peter kind of feels like crying right now. It must show on his face because Flash’s mouth thins into a sad line.
“I know, buddy, I know.”
“Oh my God!” Gwen cackles and falls off her chair. Serves her right.
“It is not funny!” Peter says. He’s got his mask off and is sitting on her windowsill. It’s later than he usually comes by, due entirely to Flash and his weird fixation on male solidarity.
“Oh no, it really is,” Gwen says as she catches her breath. She smiles sweetly up at him. “You and Flash are bros now. You can be his wingman like on How I Met Your Mother-- ooh! Ooh! Is he gonna be your sidekick? Are you gonna design him his own spider outfit?”
“Gwen,” Peter groans and hides his face in his hand.
“What’s his name gonna be? Spider-lad? Arachna-boy? Stephen Colbert?”
Peter’s shaking his head in shame and instantly stops when she gets to the last one. “Wait? What?”
Even from several feet below him on the floor of her room with tears on her cheeks (tears. That’s how funny she found his night of torture), she still manages to look at him like he’s an idiot.
“Stephen Colbert got a species of spider named after him by begging and pleading and generally making a nuisance out of himself. Which I imagine is how Flash will become your sidekick.”
“Spider-man doesn’t have a sidekick,” Peter says.
“Yet.” Gwen rises from the floor and leans into her window until her face is inches from his. “But I hear he has stolen some smoking hot girl from her dorky boyfriend,” she says, her warm breath falling over his face in sharp contrast to the cool night air.
“Really? I heard the boyfriend was way cooler than Spider-man, that she shot the web-head down.”
Gwen frowns in mock confusion. “She must not have been very smart, then. What kind of a girl would choose a superhero, always getting into trouble, over a-”
“Shut up,” Peter says. He slips a hand behind her neck and kisses her.