The thing was, Jesse never really liked Spider-man all that much. The guy was a kook, everyone agreed on that. He wasn't really a mutant, and he didn't have armor like Iron Man. He was just a kid in brightly colored spandex who threw himself into gun fights and liked to toss webbing around.
On the other hand, Jesse was pretty grateful to the guy at the moment. He hadn’t particularly wanted to get mugged and Spider-man had even offered to take him home, which, given that Jesse had dropped his metro card somewhere along the way, was extremely appreciated. Jesse didn’t even mind Spider-man’s arm around his waist -- or at least, he didn’t mind that much.
Spider-man set him down gently on the roof of Jesse's apartment building and said, "Is this the right place?"
"Yeah. You're good at following directions," Jesse said inanely. He adjusted his backpack and blinked up at Spider-man. “Thanks for, um. Rescuing me from those guys.”
Somehow, Jesse could tell that the masked man was grinning. "No problem." His voice sounded kind of weird, like he was trying to disguise it. "I'll see you around."
"Right," Jesse said and watched as Spider-man threw himself off the building, whooping as he went. He shook his head in disbelief, then made his way down into his apartment. He fed his cats, made himself dinner, and then read until he fell asleep on his desk.
Jesse headed into class feeling tired and ready to just pass out, but he had to be there. There was only one seat open at the back of the lecture hall, so Jesse dropped into it with a sigh. He pulled out his notebook and a pen, ready to start taking notes.
"Hi," whispered the person sitting to his right. Jesse looked and sucked in an involuntary breath. The guy sitting next to him was startlingly good-looking despite the horrible plaid shirt and the hipster glasses. "I forgot a pen. May I please borrow one?" He had an English accent and terrible enunciation, which was somehow incredible charming.
"Sure," Jesse said, a beat too late. He leaned down and grabbed a pen out of his backpack. He passed it over and the guy smiled widely.
“Thanks,” he whispered before turning to hunch over his notes. Jesse looked down at his own notes and pulled himself together.
At the end of class, the hipster handed the pen back and said, “Thanks again!” before darting out of the lecture hall, looking slightly harried. Jesse watched him go, then shook his head and went to the library to study.
He began to see the English hipster everywhere on campus. Jesse would spot him out of the corner of his eye at the library or at the Starbucks. Occasionally he’d see him coming out of the journalism department’s offices. And of course, Jesse sat next to him in class, never fully on purpose, but not exactly on accident either.
"I'm Jesse," Jesse said the fifth time he wound up sitting next to the English hipster.
The English hipster looked up and said, "Oh! I'm, um, Andrew. Hi." And he smiled again before huddling under his jacket. Jesse hadn't honestly thought it was possible to meet someone shyer than himself, but Andrew was giving him a good run for his money.
Having exhausted his repetoire of extroverted behavior, Jesse sank back into his seat and went back to taking notes.
Jesse was starting to suspect that the Webbed Crusader was stalking him. It was true that Jesse lived in a slightly dodgy area and, okay, he had almost been mugged twice and he had been in a convenience store during a robbery, but still, it didn’t seem probable that Spider-man could be there all the time.
Jesse picked himself up off the ground, dusting off his jeans and reflecting that he was really going to have to find a new therapist now that his mild agoraphobia had been exacerbated by three mugging attempts.
Spider-man handed Jesse his backpack back and said, "You really need to find a better place to live."
"This is the only cheap place that will let me keep my cats," Jesse said defensively, clutching his bag to his chest. "Where am I supposed to go?"
"Anywhere but here?" Spider-man suggested. "I can't always be around, you know."
"You can't?" Jesse asked. "It seems like you're always around."
Spider-man fidgeted and said unconvincingly, "I was in the neighborhood."
"Of course," Jesse said.
“You, uh, look good,” Spider-man added before swinging away.
Two days later, Jesse came back from class to find notice about a new apartment on his door. Pets welcome, it said. It was fifty bucks cheaper than his current place and, better yet, it was close to campus.
"All right, I get the hint," he told the air, and he went inside to call the number.
That weekend, Jesse moved into the new apartment, which he was sharing with his cats and a cheerful red-head named Emma. She kept smiling at him knowingly, which made him suspect that she possibly knew that Spider-man had sent him, though he couldn't imagine why Spider-man would tell anyone. Unless she was his Lois Lane or whatever.
Jesse reflected that Hallie Kate would be very proud of him for that cultural reference.
On the other hand, it meant that Jesse didn't see the vigilante all that often anymore. Which he hadn't thought would be as disheartening as it actually was. It was just kind of nice knowing that there was someone who would notice and care if Jesse died unexpectedly. Other than his cats, anyway. Kafka leapt onto Jesse’s lap as he was thinking this and butted her head against his stomach. He stroked her absently, thinking about strange superheroes and how his desire to see him again was starting to outweigh his desire to stay inside and never go out ever.
He was still thinking this over when he almost walked straight into oncoming traffic the next day and was immediately swept up by Spider-man.
“You’re definitely stalking me,” Jesse said as Spider-man starting swinging back towards Jesse’s apartment.
“I was in the neighborhood,” Spider-man said. “Really.”
“And you took the time to save me from maybe getting hit by a bicycle messenger?” Jesse asked. Spider-man touched them down onto the roof of Jesse’s new building and half-slunk into the shadows.
“Yes,” said Spider-man. “Was I supposed to let you get killed?”
“Are you trying to protect me?” asked Jesse curiously. “I mean, I can see why, I’m so utterly appealing.” He gestured sardonically at himself.
Spider-man coughed and said, “You have a knack for getting yourself in trouble.”
Jesse couldn’t argue with that. Instead, he watched as Spider-man edged nervously towards the edge of the roof. Spider-man was about to leap into oblivion when Jesse said, "Wait!" and hurried forward. "Can I, you know." He gestured vaguely. "I mean. You like me, don't you?"
Spider-man coughed and said, "I don't play favorites," but there was something about his voice that just sounded off.
"You're lying," Jesse said, irrationally pleased. "And you told me I looked good last week."
"You did," said Spider-man, even more awkwardly.
Then Jesse did something completely out of character. He blamed the fact that Spider-man was interesting and apparently didn’t find him repulsive, and also the fact that he knew from intimate experience that Spider-man was strong and ripped underneath that skintight suit. He stepped forward and found the edges of Spider-man’s mask. He rolled it up over Spider-man's mouth, and he gently rested his fingers against Spider-man's lips. Spider-man opened his mouth and sucked the tip of Jesse's index finger into his mouth.
"This is," Jesse said, his voice going suddenly hoarse and cracked, "insane."
"I promise I don't kiss everyone I rescue," said Spider-man, and he hauled Jesse forward into a deep, desperate kiss. Jesse flailed a bit in surprise, then grabbed onto Spider-man’s broad shoulders and closed his eyes.
It was a good kiss. A great one, even. Jesse didn’t have that much experience with kissing, but even he could tell that Spider-man knew what he was doing. Jesse sighed and let himself relax into the embrace.
They clung to each other, exchanging kisses until Spider-man finally pulled away, telegraphing reluctance with every move. “I should -- go,” he said, his gloved hand stroking Jesse’s cheek.
“Probably,” Jesse agreed. “Crimes to stop. That sort of thing.”
“Yeah,” Spider-man agreed. He kissed Jesse again, then pulled his mask back down. “See you around.” With that, he leapt from the roof and Jesse ran to the edge to watch him go. He stayed there until Spider-man was nothing more than a tiny red dot against the New York landscape, and then he bounced down the stairs to his floor, a huge, silly grin on his face.
Jesse spent most of the next week walking around with that idiotic grin on his face, to the point where both Emma and Andrew remarked on it. Emma arched her eyebrows at him from her perch on the couch and said, “Did you get laid or something?”
“You should always bet on ‘or something,’” Jesse advised.
Andrew, on the other hand, smiled kind of shyly and said, “You look happy.”
“I’ve had a good week,” Jesse told him and he looked back at his notes. He wasn’t going to feel weird about his mild crush on Andrew just because he had kissed Spider-man. The guy probably did kiss the people he rescued, Jesse thought morosely, and he found his good mood diminishing in the face of his own pessimissm.
As it turned out, Andrew and Emma had apparently gone to high school together, because Jesse came back home on Friday to find Andrew sitting at their kitchen table. Emma was making pasta and gossiping about some girl Jesse didn't know. Andrew was smiling and laughing, and Jesse smiled a little in response until Andrew looked up and saw him. Andrew immediately huddled in on himself and said, "Hi."
"I didn't know you knew Emma," Jesse said, passing Andrew to drop his backpack in his room.
"We went to the same high school!" called Emma. "Andrew is a total sweetie."
"Oh god," said Andrew in a slightly miserable voice. Jesse frowned and wondered what was wrong. He walked back out into the common area and sat down next to Andrew. To his surprise, Andrew scooted a little away from him. Jesse felt absurdly hurt by this and listened in sullen silence while Emma and Andrew chatted amiably.
Slowly, though, Andrew’s chair edged closer until it was back to where it started -- maybe even a bit closer. Jesse ate the pasta that Emma put down in front of him and talked when Emma made an effort to include him, but he mostly just sat listening to them talk about mutual acquaintances, old jokes, and current politics. Something about the rhythm of Andrew’s speech felt familiar, though Jesse couldn’t quite put his finger on it.
Andrew left after dinner, saying, “See you in class!” and Jesse waved. Emma giggled for some reason and then busied herself with rinsing off the dishes.
When Jesse sank into the seat next to Andrew, Andrew gave him a quick smile before looking down at his desk. Jesse pulled out his notebook and waited for the professor to start speaking.
Halfway through the lecture, Andrew slid a note onto Jesse’s desk.
I am so confused. :(
Jesse blinked, not sure what was going on. Was this flirting? Or was Andrew trying to be nice? Or did he just want to mooch off of Jesse’s notes? After a moment of panicked thought, Jesse wrote, It’s easier if you draw a diagram on the back of Andrew’s note and slipped it back.
Andrew read it, then looked up with a confused look on his face. “Diagram?” he asked in a hushed whisper.
Jesse uncovered his notes so Andrew could see the chart he used to remember dates and political affiliations. Andrew’s face lit up and he said, “Ooh!” He hesitated for a moment, then asked, “Could you, um, show me?”
“I, uh,” Jesses stuttered, feeling his face heat up. “What?”
A girl in the row in front of them turned to glare them into silence. Jesse blushed harder and bit his lip. Andrew touched his arm and handed him another note.
After class. coffee? I’ll buy! :)
Jesse caught Andrew’s eye and nodded, then hunched back over his notes, feeling both elated and totally awkward.
The moment the lecture ended, Andrew said, “Oh my gosh, that was so embarrassing!” He laughed. “I didn’t mean to distract people or anything. But I really do need help with this class and you seem to take good notes.”
“I can, um,” Jesse said, shifting from foot to foot. “I mean, I do. Not to sound overconfident.”
“Hey, if you can help me not fail out, I don’t care how overconfident you are.” Andrew’s eyes widened and he hastened to add, “Not that you are! Or -- that I’ve noticed.”
“Oh, I’m the exact opposite of overconfident,” Jesse mumbled, acutely aware of people looking at them as they made their way up the aisles and out of the lecture hall. “You said coffee?”
“Right!” Andrew beamed at him, then seized Jesse around the wrist and started towing him out. Jesse’s chest seized up in a mild panic attack, and he tried to unobtrusively get Andrew to let go of him. Fortunately, Andrew released him once they were out in the hall. Jesse hoisted his bag and shoved his hands into his pockets.
“What is it that you need help with?” he asked.
“Well, everything.” Andrew scratched the back of his neck guiltily. “I kind of bombed the last essay.”
“Oh,” said Jesse inanely. “I can, um -- I’ll try to help. You may be a hopeless case.”
Andrew’s face fell and for a moment Jesse thought he’d screwed up. Then Andrew laughed and said, “Oh, you’re a jerk,” and punched Jesse lightly in the shoulder. Jesse made a face. “Come on,” Andrew added, rolling his eyes. “You’re going to help me pass this class.”
They went to the coffeeshop and huddled in a corner away from the main bustle of students. Andrew pulled out his notes and textbook before giving Jesse a hopeful look.
“Please help me,” he said, and Jesse leaned over to get a better look at his scrawled writing.
By the time an hour had passed, both of them had loosened up enough to talk a little about non-academic subjects. Andrew was quite funny, when he put his mind to it, and Jesse grinned and told him about his cats in return. Andrew giggled a lot, smiling, and Jesse's stomach flipped over a little.
Andrew thanked him profusely when they had finished, then glanced at his watch and swore. “Oh, no,” he said miserably, “I’m late. Mr. Sorkin is going to kill me.”
“Professor Sorkin?” Jesse asked, perking up. He had taken a class with Professor Sorkin during his sophomore year and had found him an intriguing and engaging teacher. “Why are you going to meet him?”
“He’s the advisor for the newspaper,” Andrew said miserably. “I take photographs, sometimes. I was supposed to give him some for this week’s edition.”
“Can I come too?” Jesse asked hesitantly. “I mean -- I would like to maybe write for the newspaper.”
“Oh!” said Andrew. “You write?”
“I try,” Jesse said with a small smile, standing up. They walked together to the Journalism offices while Jesse reluctantly outlined some of the pieces he had written in the past.
“I’m sure Mr. Sorkin’ll be glad to have another writer!” Andrew said enthusiastically. He bumped his shoulder against Jesse’s. “Maybe he’ll assign us an article together!”
Andrew dragged Jesse into the office with him even though Jesse protested that he could go alone. Sorkin sat behind the desk, his glasses perched on the end of his nose as he looked at a piece of paper. He looked owlishly up at them and said, “Andrew. Who is this?”
“Jesse Eisenberg,” Andrew provided promptly. “He wants to write for the paper.”
Sorkin’s eyes sharpened with interest. He set the paper down and leaned forward. “Eisenberg? Didn’t I have you in class last year?”
“Yes, sir,” Jesse said automatically.
“Don’t use sir, I hate that,” Sorkin said. “And I remember you, you were an excellent writer. I don’t often give out A’s, you know.”
Jesse remained quiet. He hadn’t known that at all, and he was suddenly feeling a lot prouder -- and more embarrassed -- by his high marks in that class. Andrew stepped on his foot, and Jesse said, “Ow,” then, “Thank you.”
Sorkin looked between the two of them, a slight smile on his face. “Okay,” he said after a moment. “Well, why don’t you two see what stories you can dig up? Come back this Friday with something for the pitch meeting and we’ll see how things go.”
“Thank you, Mr. Sorkin,” Andrew said, bobbing his head, and then he led Jesse from the room. “Do you have any ideas?” he asked, eyes hopeful.
Jesse thought for a moment, then said, “Maybe one.”
He wasn’t actually sure how to go about attracting Spider-man’s attention, so he lurked on the roof of his building for a couple hours with his textbooks in his lap. Sure enough, Spider-man swung onto the ledge just as it was starting to get dark.
“What are you doing up here?” he asked, looking down at Jesse.
Jesse scrambled to his feet, spilling books everywhere, and said, “Waiting for you!”
“Really?” Spider-man sounded surprised. “We should come up with a better plan than you lurking on your roof.”
“I could put out a flag or something,” Jesse said. “To tell people that I’m at home. Like the queen.”
Spider-man snorted and said, “What kind of flag?”
“I have a Soviet one stashed somewhere in the apartment,” said Jesse.
Spider-man threw back his head and laughed. “All right,” he said. “I think that sounds good. You’ll wave it out your window?”
“And we’ll meet up on the roof,” agreed Jesse, smiling.
“Yeah,” agreed Spider-man. “So what did you want to talk to me about, anyway?”
Reminded of what he wanted to ask, Jesse winced a little and said, “I need -- can I, um, ask you a favor?”
“Sure,” said Spider-man. “I can’t promise that I’ll agree.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Jesse said. “Of course. I just -- I’m working for the newspaper now and I was wondering if you could, uh, well. I mean, if I could interview you.”
“Interview me?” asked Spider-man. “About what?”
“Just -- I don’t know, your methods, your thoughts on crime?” suggested Jesse. “And if my friend could take a couple pictures of you, that would be great too.”
Spider-man flinched. “Pictures?” he asked nervously.
“Nothing without the suit!” Jesse said hastily. “And I won’t ask you anything personal.”
Spider-man shifted from foot to foot, then said, “Okay. But I want a kiss.”
“Oh,” said Jesse, blushing and grinning helplessly. “Yes. I, um,” and that was when Spider-man pulled his mask up a little as he moved forward to tug Jesse into his arms.
By the time Spider-man finally left, the sun had truly set and Jesse’s lips were buzzing. He pressed his fingers to his mouth and wondered if maybe this could all be some kind of fever dream.
“I have a story for us to write,” Jesse told Andrew when they met outside the journalism offices. “I, um, kind of know Spider-man? And he said he’d give us an interview.”
“Really?” Andrew asked, eyes wide. “Spider-man?” He narrowed his eyes. “You’re not screwing with me, are you?”
“Not at all,” Jesse said. “He said you could take pictures.”
Andrew nodded, blinking rapidly. Jesse frowned, wondering if there was something wrong. “I, uh, sure. Just, you know, tell me when it’s happening and I’ll be there.”
He didn’t say anything else until they were in the pitch meeting with Sorkin and Rashida the editor in chief. When Jesse laid out the interview plan, there was a brief silence. Then Rashida leaned across the desk and said, “If you pull this off, you’ll be on the cover.”
“Oh,” said Jesse, who hadn’t even thought about that. “That’s -- nice?”
“I have faith in you,” Sorkin said. “Andrew, you’re okay with this?”
“Sure!” Andrew said, voice a little higher pitched than usual. “Why wouldn’t I be?”
They all looked at him. Andrew ducked his head, looking embarrassed and shuffled his feet.
“So,” Jesse said after a moment of awkward silence. “We’ll, um, get back to you.”
“Sounds great,” Rashida said with a friendly smile. “See you guys later.”
They left the room together, Jesse lost in thought over how Andrew could possibly be more nervous about the situation than he was. He nearly tripped over a box lying half in the aisle between the cubicles and Andrew caught his arm in a tight, strong grip.
“Whoa,” Andrew said, sounding amused and -- slightly more American? “Careful, there.”
Jesse frowned and said, “Um, thank you.” There was a weird moment where Andrew was looking down at him with a strangely expectant look on his face. Jesse stared up at him, at the shape of Andrew’s mouth, and tried to breathe normally.
Andrew released him hurriedly and cleared his throat. “So,” he said, “you’ll call me when you have a time? For the -- thing?”
“Yeah, sure,” Jesse said, fumbling out his old and battered phone. “Here, give me your number.”
Andrew rambled off his number and then smiled. “Well, I’ll see you around the neighborhood!” he said and he hurried off, hoisting his backpack higher on his broad shoulders. Jesse narrowed his eyes, watching the way Andrew walked and trying to pinpoint why he was having a strange sense of deja vu.
Jesse hung out the Soviet flag and studied up on his roof again. Emma made him take sunscreen this time because she was convince he’d catch fire, which he thought was pretty ironic given that she was one of the palest people he knew, but he spread it on his nose all the same.
He tugged his baseball cap low over his forehead and squinted at the text until he heard the soft sound of footsteps. He turned to see Spider-man standing at the very edge of the roof. “Hi,” he said.
“I like the flag,” Spider-man said, not making a move to come any closer.
“Thanks,” Jesse said. “Did you want to set up a time for the interview?”
“I, um,” Spider-man said nervously. “I think -- next week? At this time?”
“Okay,” said Jesse, bobbing his head in agreement. “That sounds good.”
Spider-man paced restlessly for a moment, then said, “I should go,” and he dove off the building. Jesse frowned, feeling strangely let down.
He gathered his belongings slowly and returned to his apartment. To his surprise, Andrew was there, talking with Emma. "What are you doing here?" Jesse asked Andrew.
Andrew offered him a small smile and said, "I was in the neighborhood."
Jesse squinted at Andrew, thinking hard. Andrew's smile slipped a little. Then Jesse nodded. "Okay," and went to take off his cap.
Emma suggested they go out to dinner, so they trooped out to a cutesy sushi bar where Emma ate nearly half their bowl of edamame, looking slightly wild-eyed. Then she got a text and said, “Oh no, I have to go!” and high-tailed it out of the restaurant. Jesse watched her go suspiciously and looked back at Andrew.
Jesse bit his lip in embarrassment before admitting, “I think this was a set-up.”
“What?” Andrew asked vaguely before looking around and seeming to notice that they were now sitting alone together. When he realized that Emma had left, he said, “I am going to kill her.”
Jesse laughed and ducked his head before picking up his bottle of Asahi and pretending that he wasn’t totally freaked out by being on what might be considered a date. “I, um, got a date for the interview,” he told Andrew.
“Oh?” asked Andrew, not sounding all that interested. “When is it?”
“Next Friday,” said Jesse. “On the roof of my building.”
Andrew winced. “Friday?” he asked. “I don’t know if that will work. I, um, have a -- friend’s birthday.”
“I could reschedule,” Jesse offered.
“No, no,” Andrew said immediately, waving his hands. “Why don’t you just, um, talk to him and I’ll figure out a way to get pictures of him later?”
Jesse stared at him, the small beginnings of an idea starting to form. “All right,” he said slowly. “I’ll do that.”
Andrew coughed and looked down. “Good,” he said to the table. “So,” he added loudly, “what class did you take with Mr. Sorkin?” which effectively distracted Jesse from thinking any more about his tiny, insane hypothesis.
He rambled nonsensically about how great Professor Sorkin’s class was and then realized he had been talking for almost five minutes without break. He stumbled to a stop, embarrassed, and said, “Okay, I’ll shut up now.”
“No, no!” protested Andrew, eyes widening. “I’m interested. You’re interesting.”
“I’m not that interesting,” Jesse mumbled.
“Yes you are,” Andrew said firmly. “Stop being so -- you’re great, Jesse. You’re kind and you’re a good teacher and --”
“Okay,” said Jesse, turning red. “You can stop now.”
“But I like complimenting you,” said Andrew, smiling. “And I’m not saying anything that isn’t true.”
Jesse cleared his throat and said loudly, “So, where are you from? That accent isn’t American.”
Andrew gave him a look that said he knew exactly what Jesse was trying to do, but he started talking about growing up in England before moving to the States to live with his uncle and aunt. He apparently met Emma his first day of school in America.
“She was blonde then,” Andrew said. “Just walked up to me and introduced herself. We’ve been friends ever since.”
“She’s been a great roommate,” said Jesse. “She doesn’t object to my cats.”
“Your cats are adorable,” said Andrew. “Just like you.”
“You’re not real,” Jesse accused, turning even redder. “Real people don’t say things like that.”
Andrew looked embarrassed. “Am I being too -- over the top? People tell me I can be a little overearnest at times.”
“It’s kind of, um, refreshing,” Jesse admitted. “But please stop. I can’t -- it’s embarrassing.”
“I’m sorry,” Andrew said immediately, ducking his head. “I’m sorry, don’t -- don’t leave.”
“Leave?” Jesse asked. “Do people usually leave?”
“It’s been known to happen,” Andrew said. “I just -- really like you.”
“I don’t know how to respond to that,” said Jesse frankly. “Um, thank you?”
“You’re welcome,” said Andrew, smiling. “Thank you for not running off.”
“I wouldn’t do that,” Jesse said. “We’re writing an article together. That creates a bond.”
Andrew laughed as though he genuinely thought it was funny. The rest of dinner was taken up in discussions of classes and mutual acquaintances, of which they had many. After dinner was over, Andrew walked him back to the apartment despite his protests and then they both stopped outside the door, neither of them sure what to do. They moved in at the same time and ended up bumping noses. Jesse groaned and covered his face while Andrew started giggling, looking embarrassed.
"Okay," Andrew said, "this time we're doing it right," and he leaned down to kiss Jesse firmly on the mouth. Something about it - the taste, the feel, the smell of Andrew's skin -- seemed strangely familiar. But Andrew pulled back before Jesse could place it. "There," Andrew said, satisfied.
"Yeah," Jesse replied. "That's -- that's good."
"See you in class?" Andrew asked hopefully.
"Yes," Jesse said. "Definitely.” Then he went inside and picked up the first cat he found. “Oh, Trotsky,” he said to it, “what am I doing?”
“Are you talking to your cat?” Emma asked, peeking around the corner of her bedroom door. “How was your date?”
“It’s not a date because I didn’t know it was a date,” Jesse protested.
“He kissed you, didn’t he?” Emma asked. “I told him he should.”
“You did what?” asked Jesse. “You told him he should kiss me?”
“Did I just say that?” Emma said.
“Emma,” Jesse said miserably, “I think I might be seeing two guys at once. And you’re not helping.”
“Oh, Jesse,” Emma said sympathetically, “you’re really not.”
It took Jesse a while to process that, and then he sat up in bed, eyes wide. He scrambled out to grab a notebook and a pen and began writing a list. When he was done, he stared at it before slamming the notebook shut and shoving it under his bed. He wasn’t going to think about it; Andrew’s secrets were his secrets.
He tried not to think about it at all over the next week. He smiled shyly at Andrew when he saw him in class and did his best not to jump when Andrew rested his hand on his knee. When class finished, Andrew pressed a lightning-quick kiss to Jesse’s mouth before vanishing. Jesse licked his lips and sighed.
On Friday, he went up to the roof of his building with a book and waited. But the hours wore on and soon the sun had set over Manhattan, and Spider-man still hadn’t shown his face. Jesse waited, even as clouds started rolling in, but had to admit defeat once it started raining. He headed back down to his apartment and toweled himself dry before making some soup and eating it while Trotsky padded around his feet.
He was getting ready to retreat to his bedroom when there was a knock at the door. Frowning, Jesse went to open it; Emma had work until later that night and she wasn’t the type to forget her key.
To his shock, Spider-man was on the other side of the door. He looked battered and hurt, and he practically fell into Jesse’s arms once the doors had opened. Jesse caught him with some difficulty and towed him inside. He poked his head back out into the hall to check if anyone was watching before he slammed the door shut and turned to look at Spider-man, who had staggered over to his couch.
“You can take off the mask,” Jesse said. “I know it’s you.”
“What?” Spider-man said breathlessly, and it was definitely Andrew’s voice. With a sigh, Jesse walked over to him and knelt on the floor. With gentle fingers, he lifted Andrew’s mask off.
“I figured it out after our date,” he said softly, stroking a hand over Andrew’s hair. “You look like hell,” he added, taking in the bruise blooming on his cheek and his split lip.
“You should see the other guy,” Andrew said with an attempt at a smile.
“I don’t think I should,” Jesse said. “I’m going to get a washcloth and some bandages. Take off your suit.”
Jesse went to the bathroom to raid the first aid cabinet. He hurried back out to the living room to find that Andrew had straightened up, the suit pushed down to his waist. Jesse swallowed hard at the expanse of bare skin and made himself concentrate on the bloody scrape down Andrew’s side.
“This will probably sting,” he warned, sitting on the edge of the couch. He pressed the cloth to Andrew’s wound and winced when Andrew let out a pained hiss. “Sorry.” He let up some of the pressure and wiped away the blood as gently as he could.
“I’m --” Andrew said after a moment, “I’m sorry I stood you up tonight. I was detained.”
“I can see that,” Jesse said dryly. “You don’t need to apologize to me for helping people, Andrew.”
“How did you know it was me?” moaned Andrew miserably. “I thought I was doing well!”
“Your kiss,” Jesse said, turning red. “You kiss the same. And then you said some other things that made me think -- but I wasn’t sure until you came to the apartment.”
“I didn’t want to lie to you,” Andrew said. “Emma told me I shouldn’t, but I can’t just tell people who I am.”
“It’s okay,” Jesse said. “I understand.” He leaned forward to rest his forehead against Andrew’s. “Now, quiet. I need to clean this.”
Andrew huffed out a quiet laugh. “All right,” he said before lapsing into silence. When Jesse had cleaned away the worse of the gore and put some antibacterial gel on with a bandage over it, Andrew reached up to curl his hand around Jesse’s neck. “Thank you,” he said sincerely, and he kissed him heartily on the mouth. Jesse leaned into it, mindful of Andrew’s injuries, and let himself enjoy the moment.
Andrew spent the night curled up on Jesse’s bed, favoring his injured side. Jesse laid beside him, trying not to think too much about Andrew put himself in danger every day, or how Andrew had kept Jesse safe even when Jesse had hardly noticed him. After a while, he was finally able to doze off, warmed by Andrew’s bare back.
When he woke in the morning, Andrew was gone, but there was a note on his pillow. Jesse sat up and read it in the early sunlight coming through his window.
Jesse - thank you so much for last night. Again, I’m sorry. I hope you can forgive me for lying. I’ll be at the library if you want to see me.
Jesse got dressed and wandered out into the common area, where Emma was eating a yogurt. She beamed at Jesse and said, “So he told you his secret! Congrats, it took me forever to get that out of him.”
Jesse flushed and said, “I, um, kind of figured it out.”
Emma rolled her eyes. “Of course you did. Anyway, good luck, and put a tie on the door or something if you want privacy.”
“Emma, we’ve only been on one date,” Jesse said.
“Yeah, honey,” Emma said, “I know.” She patted his hand and went back to her room, humming. Jesse looked at the note clutched in his hand and smiled involuntarily.
Jesse went down to the library after he ate breakfast and found Andrew on the second floor, hunched over a laptop. Jesse sat down across from him and waited for Andrew to look up. Once he did, Andrew smiled at Jesse hesitantly and said, “Hi.”
“Hey,” Jesse said. “Are you feeling all right?”
“Great! Thanks to you.” Andrew reached out and rested his hand on Jesse’s. “Jesse, really. I can’t express how grateful I am.”
“I have an idea,” Jesse said with his attempt at a smirk. Andrew’s mouth fell open a little and his gaze visibly dropped to Jesse’s mouth. “But first, I wanted to ask if you were still up to do that article.”
“You still want to?” Andrew asked.
“Well,” Jesse said in an undertone, “it will help you with your cover, and we did kind of promise them.”
Andrew tangled their fingers together and said, “Anything you want.”
“Oh, Andrew,” sighed Jesse, but he could feel himself smiling hugely. Andrew lifted Jesse’s hand to his lips. Jesse blushed.
The article did, indeed, make the front cover.
“I don’t like the photo Rashida chose,” sighed Andrew when he saw it. “I look ridiculous.”
“You look hot,” Jesse said.
“Oh, hush,” said Andrew, poking Jesse in the stomach. “You can’t tell anything about me from this photo.”
“Lucky me,” said Jesse, “otherwise they’d be all over you.”
Andrew turned and kissed Jesse firmly. “And thank you for the article, Jesse,” he said sincerely. “It’s lovely.”
Jesse flushed; he had maybe been slightly gushing. “It’s only the truth.”
Andrew kissed him again, this time lingeringly. He stroked a hand through Jesse’s hair and smiled. “I don’t deserve you.”
“Yes you do,” said Jesse. Outside, they could hear the sound of sirens, and Andrew’s police scanner was crackling in the next room. “Go,” he added, shoving at Andrew lightly. “Go save the world or whatever.”
Andrew swooped in for one last kiss before stripping off to the suit and diving out the window, whooping loudly as he went. Jesse watched him go, fear and happiness at war in his chest, and yelled, “You better come home in one piece!”
“I will!” Andrew called back joyfully, and he swung out of sight.