The first time Peter sees Gwen in costume, he thinks he’s hallucinating.
He drifts away from the police barriers holding back crowds of pedestrians desperate to catch a glance of him. He rubs at the back of his neck. Goosebumps prickle beneath slick spandex. He needs to wash away cold, drying sweat; encounters with Venom always leave him shaken and unsure.
A smaller figure bounds out of a side alley. They have a satchel slung over one arm and a bundle of paper in hand. A short ponytail bobs at the base of their neck.
Peter thinks, immediately, that he’s mistaken—Gwen can’t be running onto a street Venom had inhabited seconds beforehand—but he knows her. He knows that blond hair, recently cut into a choppy bob at her shoulders. He knows the little jerk of her head as she spots him, the pointed grin she aims his way.
She jogs over. Peter’s heart jackrabbits in his chest. His palms are sweaty. “Gwen—”
“Shhh!” Gwen hisses furiously. “Secret identity!”
“Secret identity?” She gestures at her outfit, and Peter splutters. “Oh, really? Really? Gwen—“
“What are you wearing?”
Gwen stands in front of him, her shoulders squared. She’s unashamedly dressed in a Captain Marvel sweatshirt, the hood kept up by the band of her mask. Her ridiculous white rabbit mask.
The mask covers half her face. Her blue eyes shine beneath thick plastic. The mask is cartoonish enough to be cute, Peter supposes, with its rounded ears and pink nose.
Peter gestures at her mask. “Didn’t you wear that for halloween last year?”
“I did.” She reaches up and adjusts how the mask sits over her hoodie. Peter sees her thick fingerless gloves—they remind him of the pair Captain America wears into battle. Oh, no.
He looks down; she’s wearing bright blue athletic shoes. The expensive kind, made for running.
“What, is this supposed to be your costume?” Peter asks, a little choked. He tries not to shriek, knowing how close the tourists are.
“Yyyyup,” she says. “Now, about this drug scandal; Dr. Brooks isn’t involved like you thought, the real mastermind was a guy named—”
“Why do you have a costume?”
“Can we focus on crime fighting, please?”
“Gwe—!” She slaps a hand over his mouth. She looks at him sharply, before removing it. Peter chokes on an angry huff. “EXPLANATION, PLEASE?”
She sighs, but complies; “You’re doing good work out here, Spidey.”
Peter stares at her. Gwen takes a deep breath, and continues, “I know you wear a mask to protect people closest to you. I also know that that doesn’t work when the people closest to you are constantly appearing by Spider-Man’s side, like announcing to the world ‘hey, I’m close to Spider-Man! My face is very exposed and my name will properly appear in the newspapers, come kidnap me!’
“So, I figured if I wanted to assist you in fighting the good fight, I’d better protect my face and my loved ones, too.”
Peter blinks owlishly down at her. “Fight the good fight? Ohhhh nooo, Gw—”
“Identity!” she interrupts, and ignores his annoyed grumbling. “And no, not fighting. Helping. I want to help.”
“Like a side-kick?”
She thrusts a finger in his face threateningly. The people on the sidewalk are gawking. Some of them have their phones out and are snapping photos look ready. “I’ll kick your side, Pet—Spider-Man. Spider-Man. I’ll kick you in the side.”
“Okay, okay,” Peter says placatingly. “Not my side-kick, gotcha.”
“I’ll be your Q.”
“That,” Peter says slowly, “is kind of hot.” Gwen grins, and Peter grins back. Only Gwen’s smile is visible, big and dorky beneath her big and dorky mask. Peter falls a little bit more in love with her. “But it’s also reckless and I am insulted. I do not need a Q.”
Gwen’s stares at him, deadpan. “Oh, yeah? Who’s behind the drug scandal?”
“Dr… Dr. Brooks, right?”
“Nope. He was in jail when it started. It’s his son.”
Gwen thrusts the papers at him, and Peter stares down at the top one. It’s legal waffle, a lease for a warehouses, but at the bottom of the page there’s a signature that reads Richard Brooks. There’s an address on the second page.
“Oh,” Peter says dumbly. “So, Richard Brooks isn’t Dr. Brooks?”
“Dr. Brooks is an eighty-two year old man, and would have had a heart-attack if a spandex-wearing asshole jumped through his window. Richard Brooks is the megalomanic killing people to continue his drug smuggling ring.”
“Yeah, oh is right.” Gwen’s grin is triumphant. Peter wants to kiss it off of her. “Still don’t need a Q?”
Peter leans in. She presses her unclothed lips against his mask where Peter’s mouth should be, and feels him smile through the fabric.
“I may,” Peter says against her lips, “need a Q.”
The sky begins to lighten as they stumble home. By the time they drag themselves through the front door, dressed in unassuming street clothes, dawn has long since broken.
Flash, perched on the kitchen counter, peers at them suspiciously. “Is this going to be a thing?” Flash takes a bite of apple, and says around his mouthful, “Because if it is, I want in.”
“No,” Peter and Gwen say together.
Peter drags himself over to the kitchen, snagging an apple from the fruit bowl and jumping easily up onto the counter next to Flash. Despite Peter’s lanky thinness, there’s not quite enough room for them both. Their bodies press together from knee to hip to shoulder to accommodate them both.
It’s a strange sight, seeing them both munching at apples at 6am. Peter is rumpled, hair sticking up at all angles, blood smudging his jaw. Flash is wearing Fantastic Four pyjamas.
Strangely enough, Gwen thinks it’s cute. The both of them; they’re cute.
Her muscles ache from running all night—she hadn’t seen any action, that had all been Peter, but she’d run through the city, concealed by the shadows, picking up as much information about who was involved in the drug smuggles as she could. She feels accomplished, content in the knowledge that she’d done something to help.
“I could get used to this,” Gwen says. She strips off her hoodie and mask, throws it over a chair, and collapses onto a stool behind the breakfast bar.
“What?” Flash says through a mouthful of fruit. Peter digs into the bowl and throws her an apple.
She catches it easily. “This.”
Flash has started on an orange. Peter leans over and tries to snag a piece, but Flash frowns and moves the fruit out of reach.
Peter sighs loudly, eyes shuttering. Flash huffs and jams several orange slices forcefully into Peter’s unsuspecting mouth.
“There,” Flash says. Juice dribbles down Peter's chin.
“Fank ‘ou,” Peter tells Flash, and opens his mouth to show off the half-chewed fruit. Flash makes a face at him.
Gwen watches, enthralled. She feels fond, and amused, the beginning of something warm settling in her stomach. It’s been there for a while. It’s not quite love, but the possibility of it.
“Yeah,” she says softly, watching Peter and Flash nudge each other atop the counter-top, “I could get used to this.”
Peter, Gwen and Flash fall together after high school almost seamlessly.
They’re different people, with vastly different backgrounds and personalities, but somehow, their apartment has turned into an easy three person household. The three of them work. They click.
They take turn doing the dishes, and vacuuming, and taking out the trash. They have a chore roster hanging on the fridge. The thing is covered in tiny stickers and scribbles in felt tipped markers.
(“If we have to do boring adult things,” Peter had said, “then we will at least make them halfway fun. Now, pass me that sparkly, Avenger themed sticker sheet.”)
There are chores assigned to them individually. Peter, armed with pink rubber gloves, happily scrubs the bathroom with superhuman energy. Flash does the laundry. Gwen listens to science podcasts and mops the floors.
It is decided very quickly that Peter is not allowed to do the grocery shopping. He’s forgetful, and half the time he does remember to go shopping, he returns home hours past dinner with crushed food and half healed black eyes. Or bags of sugary cereal.
It’s easy, almost like breathing. They don’t notice the domesticity creeping up on them, until it—and each other—are already an unchangeable part of their lives.
The mechanic tentacle grips tight, cutting off Peter’s air. He flails and scrambles for purchase on the wet pavement, but Ock’s other limbs hold him down. The man cackles above him, ranting about the bots he’s sent to wreak havoc in all directions.
“There’s nothing you can do!” Ock says, laughing horribly.
Peter tries to form words, but there is no breath in his lungs. He chokes and thrashes, desperate for air.
“Oh, what a lovely sight,” Ock says. If Peter could breathe, he would gag. “You, dying. Choked out and desperate beneath me. You make such a beautiful image.”
The grip slackens the smallest amount, not enough for Peter to gulp in a breath like he so desperately wants to, but enough for him to choke, “Gross.”
Ock rears back, gritting his teeth. The tentacles tighten, digging into Peter’s skin. His lungs are burning. His eyes have long since given up tears.
“Is that how you want to be, then?” Ock asks, coolly. “Fine. Watch your precious New Yorkers suffer.”
He clicks a button on his suit, and one of his bots hauls a pick up truck into the air. Peter tries to shout, but it’s too late; the bot has thrown the car at a pair of frozen school children. Peter squirms in Ock’s grip, and the car falls to the ground in a brutal arch—
A blur of blue and white tackles the kids out of the way. The car misses them. The children are in a tangle of limbs under the protective embrace of a rabbit-eared Gwen.
“What the—” Ock shifts away, surprised, and Peter seizes the opportunity. He kicks Ock in the face, rolls away, flips to his feet, and webs Ock to the ground.
“You—” Ock begins. It’s him, this time, that’s held down and helpless.
“Me,” Peter says. He points at Gwen, where she’s helped the children to their feet and is pointing them towards safety. “And her.”
Ock snarls again, spitting promises of retribution, but Peter has already swung into the air. As he makes his way through the streets, double checking the status of the bots—their mechanic tentacles spread over the roads, parts and screws spilled like blood—he sees Gwen assisting an elderly man with a head wound and a scrap up his arm into an ambulance.
Peter smiles fondly, and swings higher.
It’s freezing tonight, snowing, near minus 0 temperatures. Peter can’t feel his toes in his thin boots.
“Everything is terrible.” He rubs his hands over his forearms and jumps from one foot to the other to try and get his blood pumping. “Is crime fighting really worth it? Why am I such a good person?”
His phone pings in his boot—the only place Peter can fit it—and he reaches down and pulls it out.
[Gwen (ง •̀∇•́)ง✧]: look down
Peter cocks his head, but obeys. He’s over a hundred feet in the air, standing on a crane’s arm, but he can just make out a pair of arms waving up at him.
[Gwen (ง •̀∇•́)ง✧]: i have a surprise
Peter swings to the ground easily. The pedestrians on the street startle, the ones immediately around him halting in their tracks to stare out right. He may be a common sight, but New York is a huge place, and apparently, superhero sightings still warrant gawking.
“Hey, stranger,” Gwen says. She’s wearing her rabbit mask over a Hulk hoodie today. In her hands is a thermos.
“Is that—” Peter starts.
“Our buddy made soup,” Gwen says. “It was his idea; you know how much of a mother hen he can be.”
On this crowded street, she says buddy, doesn’t say Flash, but Peter understands anyway. Peter has discovered that Flash really can be a mother hen on occasion. Peter wonders how he would’ve have taken that discovery in high school. He’d probably have used the information to try and one-up Flash. Get back at him, humiliate him.
Now, over a year since their graduation, Peter just thinks it’s adorable.
“Yesssssss.” Peter takes the thermos from Gwen, uncapping it and taking a drink. It burns his tongue, and he yelps and splutters.
“Careful,” Gwen teases. Her mouth screws up when she laughs, pink and kissable beneath the plastic mask.
Peter tries to blow on the soup—thick, creamy pumpkin soup—but gives up, musters his courage, and chugs half of it at once. It sits in his stomach hotly, the thermos still warm against his gloved fingers. Peter no longer feels the chill.
“You,” Peter says, swallowing another mouthful of soup, “are a godsend.”
“I know,” says Gwen.
Three hours later, Peter is cold again. So, so cold. He wished he lived somewhere else, somewhere warmer and more welcoming. Did they have crime in Australia?
Winter has stolen the sun from the sky, and the chill has sunken into Peter’s bones. He shivers, his teeth chattering together, and wonders if it really is possible for someone’s nose to freeze and fall off. Knowing his luck, probably.
His phone vibrates.
[Gwen (ง •̀∇•́)ง✧]: flash made cookies
Peter groans. He adjusts his position on the rooftop ledge, and types out a reply.
[Peter (✿╹◡╹)]: i'm filled with so much hate
[Gwen (ง •̀∇•́)ง✧]: they’re warm and gooey inside and taste like heaven
Gwen sends a photo. Choc chip cookies, fresh from the oven, are spread out over their counter. Flash is in the edge of the photo, smiling. Flour smudges his nose, his cheeks, and covers half his shirt.
Peter settles down properly on the ledge to finish texting Gwen.
[Peter (✿╹◡╹)]: don’t hurt me like this
[Gwen (ง •̀∇•́)ง✧]: flash is such an amazing cook
[Peter (✿╹◡╹)]: STACY PLS
[Gwen (ง •̀∇•́)ง✧]: the cookies are for you, you potato with eyes
[Peter (✿╹◡╹)]: wait what
Gwen sends him a location and Peter races there immediately, nearly tripping over his feet in his haste.
He finds Gwen in the darkened street, head tipped back to watch him swing closer. Her identity is hidden by her bunny mask, and so he wraps an arm around her—his other arm reaching out and snagging the container full of Flash’s cookies—and plants a kiss on her smiling lips.
“I love you,” Peter tells her.
Gwen grins. “Flash is the one who made the cookies.”
“Then I love him, too.”
She laughs, nodding. “Well, he did look adorable baking and covered in flour.”
Peter thinks of the photo she’d sent him and privately agrees. Flash’s proud smile, his bright blue eyes, his cheekbones defined under the flour—Peter’s stomach twists when he thinks about it.
“I’m very lucky to have you both in my life,” Peter says, and he’s only half joking.
Gwen is not joking when she nods, pulls him closer, and says, “Yeah. You are.”
Gwen and Flash have been friends for years, ever since Gwen volunteered to tutor Flash in high school (a poor excuse to corner him about his violent behaviour towards other students—towards Peter—but an arrangement that lasted right up until graduation). They know each other. They have their own traditions.
In the evening quiet, they stand together in the kitchen, cradling a cup of tea each, and peering over the counter without shame.
“Mmmm,” Flash hums.
“Mmmm,” Gwen agrees, taking a long sip of her hot tea. The two of them used to do this before, in high school, after Flash and Gwen had come out as bi to each other. They’d sit in restaurants with textbooks spread over their table, taking a break from studying, staring at the boys and girls that walked past.
It was a little terrible of them, maybe, but it had been fun, a way of indulging themselves. They had a code, too; whenever someone truly magnificent walked their way, they’d nudge each other under the table and murmur ten. Ten out of ten, supermodel material. Incoming.
On the rug, a spandex clad Peter continues to stretch languidly. He’s all long, slender limbs; a sloping waist, and delicate shoulders, and firm, subtle muscles. Peter has his back to them. He stretches his fingers to the ceiling, then bends in half, locking his knees as he wraps both hands around his toes.
Gwen and Flash cock their heads to the side, surveying the ass in front of them with serious consideration.
“Ten?” Flash whispers.
“Ten,” says Gwen, just as quiet.
On the ground, Peter arranges himself into a pretzel, still appearing oblivious to their staring. They make little happy sounds, staring at the long expanse of his arched back.
“We should stop,” Flash whispers. “This feels a little wrong.”
“He probably knows we’re here. I’m sure he can hear us. Super-hearing, Flash.”
Peter flips into a tall handstand, one leg pointed at the ceiling, the other perpendicular, toes stretched at the wall. The position pulls him out, showing off his strong arms and thighs and long, long legs. Flash groans as though he’s been punched in the stomach.
“In case you couldn’t tell,” Gwen tells him, sipping her tea, “Peter is an unstoppable tease.”
The next time Spider-Man goes out, Rabbit insists on coming along.
The both of them stretch together, folded up on the carpet in front of the TV, Flash watching from the breakfast counter. Peter sticks to simple yoga poses Gwen can mimic. Her hoodie bunches up when she folds herself down, and rides up when she stretches herself out.
“Impressive,” Flash says as she fumbles with her thick sleeves, trying to pull herself into the complicated twist Peter has managed.
“How do you do that?” Gwen’s fringe is falling into her eyes, and she’s sure her face has gone splotchy, but Peter looks fine. He’s not even sweating.
He smiles at her, and rolls onto the tips of his elbows. His elbows. His body curls above him, toes pointing back towards his head. He rests his face on his hands casually, and cocks an eyebrow at her.
Gwen flops onto the carpet in defeat. “See, Flash?” she says loudly. “Tease.”
Flash makes that low, punched out sound again. Peter laughs, and shimmies in place. His feet splay upward, like a dancers, but his upper body stays firm and unmoving.
“It’s just yoga,” Peter says innocently. “It’s not that hard…”
“We’re done stretching,” Gwen decides.
“Hm.” Peter’s feet curl, threatening to twist into another impossible position, but Gwen hauls herself to her feet and starts for the door.
“Patrol, bug boy,” she says. Peter jumps to his feet and follows her to the door. They’re intercepted by Flash. He scoops them into his large arms, squishing them into a hug.
“Be safe,” Flash says into Gwen’s hair. He lets them go with an unreadable expression.
During patrol, Gwen-as-Rabbit is the one to call the police and stay with squirming criminals until they arrive. She comforts sobbing victims-that-almost-were, handing over water for them to sip at as they calm. In her backpack, she has several tiny bottles of water, along with a taser, pepper spray, a first aid kit, and a fully charged phone.
They run into Electro around midnight. Peter rushes to confront him, plucking flying cars and civilians out of the air, and making sure no one is hurt.
In the background, Gwen sticks to the shadows like Peter had taught her, and works at setting up a firefighter’s hose.
Peter thinks Electro might see Gwen, use her to get to him, but he doesn’t. She melts into the shadows, her hoodie of the hour the black and dark red of Black Widow.
Rabbit isn’t a sidekick or even an assistant, really. Peter watches Gwen jump skilfully behind upturned cars, or talk to curious eyed children with an ease he’s always envied—and loved—her for, and thinks, that’s a hero.
They invest in long-range walky-talkies, and she whispers super-villains’ weaknesses down the line, things she’s spotted from simple observation or heavy research or watching him on live TV with keen eyes. He thinks it when those shrewd eyes save him; that’s a hero.
Three weeks after she first put on a too-big hoodie and a plastic mask, she tackles a reporter out of the way of a moving car, saving the woman’s life.
The woman staggers to her feet and blinks at Gwen. “You’re that—you’re that bunny everyones talking about.”
“Rabbit,” Gwen corrects. The mask is always the same, but today it’s paired with an Iron Man hoodie. (Between Peter, Flash and her, they have enough superhero themed merch to go around.)
“Rabbit.” The reporter looks at Gwen with wide eyes. “You saved my life. The woman shakes off the shock of her near-death and jumps immediately into reporter-mode. “Terry!”
A camera man—or rather, Terry—races over, camera balanced on his shoulder. “Ready when you are,” he says.
The woman grins, toothy and victorious in the way that only journalists snatching up a good story can be. “Rabbit,” she says, “will you let me interview you?”
Gwen blinks under her mask. “Um.”
“Please?” The journalist takes Gwen’s gloved hand in her’s, beseeching.
Somehow, Gwen finds herself agreeing.
“Gwen,” Flash starts later than night, around a mouthful of cereal.
“Yeah?” She doesn’t look up, too invested in the textbook spread out on the counter.
“Why are you on the news?”
She swivels around on the kitchen stool and sees her masked self, talking calmly and assuredly with the reporter from earlier. It’s turned down low, Peter asleep in the other room. The text at bottom of the screen reads, Rabbit: NYC’s newest vigilante.
“Oh,” she says. It’s not a bad oh. Outside the interview, the news program isn’t really saying anything bad about her. They mention her lack of powers and subsequent inability to cause as much damage. They bring up the people she’s saved and comforted, her relation with Spider-Man. How refreshing it is to have a hero that doesn’t wear gaudy spandex or superman-esque capes.
“People admire superheroes because they want to be like them,” says a balding man in a suit, and Gwen bites at her lip and expects a battering slew of insults. She’s surprised when the man smiles a little, and continues, “Rabbit highlights that. She embodies every ordinary person, out there fighting the good fight in jeans and sturdy sneakers and that stubborn New York courage.”
“I think you might have better press than Spidey,” Flash says, as Gwen stares at the screen. “Maybe they like you more?”
“No way,” Gwen says. “I know people may have hated him at first, but New York loves him now. You know that.”
Flash concedes her point with a reluctant nod.
“Well, they’re beginning to like you too,” Flash says. Gwen wonders if Peter feels like this all the time, stomach fluttering with something nervously giddy, flushed with a strange heat. She thinks she understands a little bit better why Peter fights so desperately for this city.
Peter is old friends with fear.
Nine foot lizards that want to tear you apart and destroy all lifeforms in your city? Scary. Crazy doctors with tentacles? Scary. The general rule is, halfway capable super-villains, even with their dumb names and worse outfits and cliche speeches about destruction, are scary.
When a gun is pointed his way, Peter’s heart still skips in his chest. Even after all these years in the suit, he’s still afraid sometimes.
But Peter knows how to deal with fear. He knows how to work through it.
Venom, though, Peter thinks, one hand against his racing heart, huddled behind a half destroyed brick wall, will never stop being terrifying.
“Come outtt ssspiderrr.”
Peter presses his other hand against his mouth to quiet his panicked breathing. Only Venom can scare him this much. His mere presence has Peter’s hands shaking, like an earthquake rippling through his body, threatening to tear him apart.
Venom shifts. Debris crunches underfoot. Peter can hear his agitated hissing, bare metres away.
Peter presses his hands tighter against his heart and mouth, choking back a whimper. Blood drenches his side; if the pain wasn’t enough, the sickening wetness would serve as a reminder of the deep tear in Peter’s side.
“Ssspidderr,” Venom calls.
Like every other time he encounters Venom, Peter wonders if this is it. If this is where he’s going die.
A man in an apron steps onto the street, wielding a broom in one hand. He points it at Venom. “Hey! You!”
People trail after the man. Some of them have their cellphones out, ready to call the police.
The man waves the broom at Venom. “You’re that freak terrorising Spidey!”
“Thisss is not your connccern.” Venom bares his teeth—multiple rows like a shark’s, jagged and spotted with Peter’s blood.
The man isn’t cowed. “Piss off,” he tells Venom. How the man manages to face the beast down without his knees knocking, Peter will never know. “Is Spidey near?”
“Ssspideerr, yessss. We will ffind.”
Venom shifts, face angled to catch Peter’s scent in the air. The smell of his blood must be thick; Peter’ll be found any moment now.
“No!” The man stabs a finger at Venom. “Listen to me, pal, I saw how badly you dealt with the SWAT teams a few months back.”
Peter remembers that, too. He’d been ambushed by Venom mid-patrol. Half an hour later, the both of them had been targeted by a SWAT helicopter mid-fight. They’d focussed their attention on Venom, and Peter was able to slip away so easily he had wondered if they were even after Spider-Man at all.
“You want me to call them again, huh?” The man gestures at the people behind him, one of them already dialling 911. “Because I can do that.” Venom rears back in fright—the SWAT team had had been tasers that the beast had disliked greatly. The man grins, and makes a shooing motion with his hands, as though trying to get rid of a stray cat. “Get out of here.”
Peter is amazed—one balding man in a cotton apron, straight-backed and unafraid, facing off against Venom and winning.
“Sssspiderr.” It turns and looks up, straight at where Peter is hiding. “We willll be back.”
Venom scuttles away on all fours, heading off the same way he’d come. Peter stays still. His heart won’t stop pounding.
“Spidey?” calls the strange man. “You there, buddy?”
A young woman steps forward, pointing at the blood smearing the sidewalk. Peter had been thrown there earlier, his open side painting the streets. “Dad…”
“Spidey,” the man calls, louder this time. Urgent. “We’re not gonna call the cops. I promise.”
The man ushers the girl back into the little shop. She goes, and returns with an armful of water, hot food, and bandages. They look so, so inviting.
The gathered crowd—only about six or seven including Peter’s saviour and his daughter, all of them dressed casually in sneakers and jeans and worried expressions—looks around, biting their lips. News Yorkers, people who are afraid for Peter, not of him. When did this become the new norm?
Gently, Peter unfurls from his ball, wincing as the movement jostles his injuries. He stands, and slips down into the street, half concealed by the shadows. He limps forward and curses his love for this city and its people. He can never refuse them anything.
The young woman spots him first. She smiles welcomingly, nudging her father in the side.
The man looks up, sees him, and says softly, “Hey there.”
Peter says nothing, frozen in the shadows. He wants Gwen—she would know what to do—but the thought of having her anywhere near Venom makes his heart seize in terror.
“C’mon.” The man approaches and touches Peter’s shoulder. He scans the vigilante for injuries. “C’mon, let us help.”
Peter says nothing, but shifts forward, just enough to let the man slip an arm around Peter’s waist and help him limp forward.
One of the onlookers—a dark skinned boy of about twelve, with huge green eyes and overalls—pulls a plastic chair over. Peter collapses into it. The boy stares at Peter with awe, and Peter is glad, for once. This boy doesn’t think Peter is weak for being injured, but strong, maybe, for being able to withstand such damage.
“Hi,” the boy says.
“Hey,” Peter says, voice rough. It’s the first time he’s spoken to these New Yorkers. The boy’s answering grin is worth it.
“Rough night?” asks the older girl.
Peter looks down at his side. An obscene gash decorates his torso, still leaking blood.
“You could say that,” Peter says.
The younger woman presses a wet towel against his smaller cuts—his grazed knees, his cut up hands—as the man sets about seeing to Peter’s side, armed with plastic gloves, pure alcohol, a needle and medical thread.
“This’ll hurt,” the man warns. Peter has done this himself before, in a locked bedroom in his Aunt’s house, trying to work with shaky hands, pressing his lips together to stop from crying out in the silence. This, surrounded by kind strangers, is much nicer.
“I know what I’m doing; I used to be in the military,” the man says, scrubbing at Peter’s injury with expert hands.
The younger woman gathers Peter’s hands in hers, cradling them close. He’s shaking, trembling horribly like he always does after facing Venom.
“It’s okay,” she murmurs, and Peter shakes his head, because no, it’s not. It won’t ever be, not with that beast still after him.
“That damned—” The man shakes his head angrily, though his hands remain steady against Peter’s side. He rubs alcohol gently into Peter’s wounds, the sting of it immediate and agonising. Peter tries not to flinch.
“What even was that thing?”
“Venom,” Peter says, voice flat.
The man shakes his head again. “I know that, bastard’s all over the news. But what is it? Or, er. He?”
“It,” Peter corrects. Eddie doesn’t count. Eddie is—not, anymore. “It’s… a long story.”
Food is laid out on the table. Peter pops several hot fries into his mouth, and swallows nervously when the man looks his way.
“Really,” Peter says. “Venom is a long, un-fun story.”
“That Venom is trying to kill you,” the young woman murmurs.
“Violently, yes, but lots of people are, sooooo.”
The older two look down at him disapproval. It’s not unlike the face Aunt May wears when Peter visits and she sees how thin he’s getting.
“You’re so brave,” says the boy quietly. “I’d be way too scared if something like that came after me.”
“I’m afraid,” Peter admits.
The boy cocks his head to the side, like a curious puppy. “You are?”
Peter answers honestly, “I’m terrified of Venom.”
“But you still fight it?” Peter nods, and the boy exhales. “Whoa. That’s—so cool!”
“Cool?” Peter is ashamed of his fear. It’s always with him. It sits beneath his suit like a layer of dirt he can’t wash away.
“You fight even though you’re still scared? That’s—that’s really brave.”
Peter ducks his head. He’s not used to having fans, let along interacting with them.
“Leave New York’s hero alone,” the man reprimands, squatting at his son like an irritating bug.
“Go finish sweeping up,” the man orders. The boy sighs, obediently collecting the broom and going back inside the family’s half-closed store. Peter had caught them in the middle of closing up.
“Sorry,” Peter murmurs, shifting under the guilt he feels welling up in his gut. “I should go…”
“Oh, shut up.” Peter moves to stand, to leave, but the man pushes him back into the plastic seat and continues swiping at his wound. “You’ve saved this city so many times, you at least deserve some TLC from a small store-owner and his kids.”
He does quick, efficient work. By the time Peter’s wound is bandaged tightly, the half-eaten food has barely had time to cool.
The man and his daughter help Peter stand on shaky legs.
“You going to be okay?”
“Yeah,” Peter says. “Thank you. Thank you so much.”
The man waves away his thanks, and Peter shoots a web, jumps into the air, and is tugged away as soon as he’s airborne. When Peter glances over his shoulder, he sees the young woman is half covered in his blood, the man almost drenched in it.
It occurs to him, suddenly, that Peter doesn’t even know their names.
The stranger’s stitches were strong and his bandaging trustworthy, but Peter still has to be careful with his movements. He stumbles coming into the apartment. He’s covered in blood and still shaking.
Gwen and Flash come out of their rooms, roused by the sound, and race to his side immediately.
Peter quickly explains—glossing over the gory, terrified parts of his evening as best he can—and Gwen and Flash help him over to the couch. They strip him of his gloves and boots and top, and take a seat beside him.
Last time Peter had come home shaking out of his skin, they’d watched half a season of Adventure Time—perfect for night’s like these, with its bright colours and simple, unrealistic plot lines. The time before that had been Mythbusters and then Say Yes to the Dress.
Tonight, they watch The Princess Diaries. Peter doesn’t care what they watch, never does when he’s floaty and far away like this. Flash, however, glares at Gwen when she slots the disc in.
“Really?” he demands.
She smiles smugly, though it doesn’t reach her eyes. “Really.”
Peter falls asleep around the time Mia arrives at the Ball soaked through in sweats. Flash fetches a blanket, finds The Princess Diaries 2, and settles in. They sit on either side of Peter, like keepers, protectors.
Peter sleeps easily between them.
The next morning is a Sunday, so none of them have go to work or class. The trio, including Peter, only half healed from last night’s run in with Venom, spend the morning on the couch, watching cartoons in their pyjamas.
A nasally voice fills the room after an episode of Teen Titans ends, and the next show begins, “My name’s Miles Morales, and I’m Spider-Man—”
“Wait,” Gwen says.
“Oh, my god,” says Flash, gleeful.
Peter stares at the TV with wide, horrified eyes. “What.”
Two episodes later and Peter is scowling. Flash rocks back, overjoyed and howling with laughter.
“I’m cooler than that,” Peter insists. His head is in Gwen’s lap, her hands carding through his hair, the rest of his aching body stretched out along the couch. “I wouldn’t—I don’t mess up that much!”
Flash, cross-legged on the floor in front of them, laughs into his cereal. “You kind of do.”
On screen, the cartoon Spider-Man, a fourteen year old by the name of Miles, trips on the edge of the building and lands in a dumpster.
“This might actually be worse than the Daily Bugle,” says Peter who has, in fact, tripped into a dumpster before. Web-shooting is hard. Peter is a good person and doesn’t deserve this kind of slander.
Peter hides his face in Gwen’s thigh. He presses his knee into Flash’s back gently. He feels better this morning, even with the TV playing embarrassing cartoon versions of himself.
The light reflects off their scrapes, highlighting the deepness of the bruising. Gwen’s arm is scrapped from the palms of her hands to her elbows, bleeding thick rivets of blood. Peter has a sizeable shard of glass buried in his thigh.
Flash scoops them up into hugs when they cross the apartment’s threshold. He helps patch them up, eyes crinkling with worry as he fusses over them. He gives them microwaved pizza and glasses water, and bundles them up in sweats.
“I want to come with you,” Flash says. “Next time, I have to come with you on patrol.”
“You can’t,” Peter says. “You—just. No, Flash.”
“Gwen does,” Flash counters, “and she doesn’t have powers, either.”
“I only go out occasionally,” Gwen says. Her hair’s in a braid and her sweats have holes in them, but Peter still smiles dopey at her when she comes to lean against the bathroom counter beside him. “And when I do, I stay as far as I possibly can from the fighting. I help Peter, but I don’t go up and physically help him punch out the bad guys.”
Flash gestures at the bloodied bandages along her arms, and she scoffs. “In this city, this could’ve happened taking the subway.”
Flash scowls. “Gwen!”
“Look, every other New Yorker on the scene could’ve been injured like this. I can’t be selfish because I got a little hurt, not when I have the ability to help.” She’s starting to sound disturbingly like Peter. That does not bode well. “We live in a dangerous place; we live with the chance that we might get hurt every day.”
Peter sighs from where he’s sat upon the bathroom counter, hands filled with blood soaked rags. “No, Flash is right,” he starts, “it isn’t safe and being a vigilante is too dangerous, Gwen. You could’ve gotten hurt a lot worse—”
They both turn, as if as one. Flash splutters in his anger, pointing an accusing finger at Peter, while Gwen says, “Don’t you DARE, Parker.”
Peter blinks at them. “Huh?”
“You,” Gwen stutters, “you little hypocrite!”
“‘Isn’t safe?’” Flash quotes, and scoffs, gesturing at Peter’s leg, still slowly oozing blood. “You were thrown through a window, Peter. Because of how unsafe your reckless hobby is.”
“Spider-Man isn’t a hobby,” Peter begins. This is a tired argument; all of them know Peter will continue to be Spider-Man until his last breath, but Gwen and Flash cannot help but make themselves sick with worry every time they see Peter in the middle of a blood bath.
“I know,” Flash says, “Spider-Man’s important, but—shut up, Peter.”
Peter glares halfheartedly at them. He cares, so deeply and desperately, about the safety of the people around him, sometimes to the point of unhealthy obsession. It’s something he’s working on, but he still has these urges to grab the ones he loves and bundle them up. Gwen’s bandaged arms makes something painful twist in his stomach. He wants to hide her away. He wants to shelter Flash and Gwen from what’s out there.
He can’t. They’re adults. But the possibility of them getting hurt still haunts him.
“Yeah, shut up, Peter,” Gwen parrots. Flash dabs at a small cut above her eye with disinfectant and she yelps. “Ow, watch it!”
He diligently works to fix Gwen and Peter up. Flash helps Peter limp to bed, throws their costumes in the laundry, and pretends he’s okay with watching them both patrol without him.
Peter is horrified by his friends’ growing love for Ultimate Spider-Man. Truly horrified. A little offended, too.
Flash fell in love with the cartoon almost immediately. His days obsessing over superheroes aren’t quite over. He lives for the fast paced action scenes.
Gwen, Peter suspects, simply thinks the cartoon version of Spider-Man is adorable.
She admits as much one lazy afternoon over a tub of ice cream they’re sharing. Peter’s thigh wound is mostly healed, and the bruises are a faded yellow under Gwen’s sweatshirt.
“Good thing this cartoon isn’t like real life, then,” Peter says. “Since, y’know. I’m so tough, and masculine, and not adorable.”
“Oh, Peter,” Gwen says. “It’s sweet that you think that.”
“Gwen, I’m not adorable.”
Gwen lays a hand on his cheek, leans in, and whispers, “You’re so cute.”
“Like a little baby deer.”
“All wide eyed, and with that fluffy hair; it’s a good thing you wear a mask, or no one would want to fight someone so cute.” Peter glares, arms crossed hotly over his chest. “Honestly, Peter, if you’re ever losing a fight, just take your mask off. They’ll surrender immediately.”
Flash pops his head around the corner, grinning. “I agree with Gwen.”
“You traitor! You eavesdropping traitor!”
“It’s not my fault you’re so adorable.”
Before, years and years before, during high school, a comment like that would’ve made Peter’s cheeks flame with quiet anger. Before, it would’ve been a taunt, said somewhere public. Flash’s tone would’ve been biting rather than soft and fond.
Now, Peter doesn’t hesitate to hop up and tackle Flash to the floor. They grapple at each other, play wrestling. Peter only uses half his strength but still wins easily.
“Say it,” Peter demands.
Flash shakes his head, cheeks flushed with laughter. “Never.”
“You’ll never make me talk!”
“You guys…” Gwen says from the couch. Her phone is out; she’s taking pictures.
“Say it!” Peter orders.
Peter shifts, pulling Flash’s arm behind his back. The taller boy winces. The hold is increasingly uncomfortable, but never ventures too far into painful.
“Alright, alright, fine,” Flash allows. He takes a deep breath, and says, “Peter isn’t adorable.”
“Say the other part too!”
“And he’s the manliest of men.”
Peter smiles triumphantly, and moves off of Flash. He turns to Gwen, who just sighs.
“See?” Peter says. “The manliest.”
Flash climbs to his feet. He ruffles Peter’s hair, making it fluff even further, and coos, “Whatever you say, little guy.”
Flash takes off, fully sprinting out of the apartment before Peter can grab him, cackling the whole way. Peter runs after him, hollering something about retribution.
Gwen shrugs, ignoring the distant shouting and the sounds of her roommates clambering up the apartment stairwell. She turns the volume on the TV up, and sets about eating the tub of ice cream by herself.
Peter munches at his sandwich and glares at the TV. Flash is sprawled in the middle of the couch, arms along the sofa’s back, Gwen and Peter tucked under each side. A plate piled high with sandwiches sits on his lap.
“Do you guys hate me?” Peter wonders. His onscreen duplicate is thrown through a window, a high-pitched scream tailing his descent. “Is this what this—cruel and unusual punishment?”
Gwen and Flash shush him. The Ultimate Spider-Man’s opening credits roll over cartoon Spider-Man’s splayed, groaning form, surrounded by shards of glass and bits of garbage.
Peter grabs another sandwich with a huff. “I have to live through this in real life, I don’t want to have to watch it in my free time, too.”
Gwen and Flash shush him again, louder this time. Peter grumbles into his crusts, but dutifully quietens.
A blonde in a rabbit eared mask and a Spider-Man hoodie punches Peter’s attacker across the face.
Flash stands up with such force that the platter of sandwiches is knocked from Peter’s lap. “Gwen!”
Peter stares at the carpet, strewn with their lunch. “Sandwiches.”
Flash gestures at the TV with his whole body. “GWEN.”
Peter gestures at the carpet. “SANDWICHES.”
“I’ll make you more later.”
“But I wanted these sandwiches—”
Gwen snatches Peter’s hand before he can stoop to eating sandwiches off their filthy floor. She grabs his chin and twists him towards their screen. Her 2D counterpart is helping Spider-Man off the floor and shaking his hand with a bright, beaming smile while Spider-Man gapes in obvious awe.
Peter stares. “It—Gwen.”
Flash bounces on his toes. “Gwen! Gwen!” He pulls real-life Gwen to her feet and twirls her around. “Gwen!”
“Me!” Gwen echoes, laughing.
“Gwen!” Peter says, jumping up with them. Flash and Gwen pull him closer, and the trio dance in the middle of their living room, surrounded by a dozen, ruined sandwiches, the TV flickering over the newest addition to the Ultimate Spider-Man cast.
The woman shakes under Peter’s hands. Her sweaty palms slide off his suit, too weak to grab at the fabric like she wants to. Her breathing is high, and shallow—she sways in charred canvas shoes, lightheaded.
“You’re alright,” he reassures. The woman gulps for air. Her eyes are distant; she can’t hear him over the ringing in her ears. “I have to go, there’s still people trapped up high—I’m sorry—”
A hand slides around the woman, tugging her from Peter’s grasp. Rabbit flicks a grin his way, cocking her head. “Don’t you have a couple dozen people to save?”
“Right,” Peter says. “Right.”
He goes. He swings high. He moves the steel beams that are trapping tenants, and carries unconscious people to the ground, and webs crumbling brick walls together, keeping the jumbled, fragmented buildings standing long enough for people to flee to safety.
When he comes back, ash smeared up his gloves, little bits of his suit burnt away, Gwen is still there. Civilians are gathered around her, drawn by the water bottles she’s handing out. Some shake under shock blankets. They all watch with scared, longing eyes as Gwen speaks, as steady and reassuring as any caped hero. She tells them that they’re going to be okay.
“Rough day at the office, hon?”
Gwen shrugs, noncommittal. “It was alright. Some jerk-off tried to destroy Midtown, but y’know, average day for New York.”
“No way,” Peter gasps, like he’s not standing in the burnt rubble of said jerk-off’s rampage. “Someone should really do something about that.”
Lightning crackles in the dusty grey sky, light bouncing against the heavy clouds. Thor rises into the air moments later, Iron Man at his heels; both of them carry unconscious men.
“Do something,” Gwen echoes. “Something like that?”
“How dare they. Stealing tomorrow’s headline right from under us.”
“Yeah, because J. Jonah Jerkface was going to write you such a flattering review?”
Peter opens his mouth to reply, but a little girl toddles away from her glassy eyed mother to approach Gwen. She bites at her lip when Gwen drops to her knees and smiles. There’s nothing but awe in her eyes. Peter, dusty and exhausted, can relate to the feeling.
Peter startles awake, choking on a breath.
Flash is there immediately, one hand outstretched to steady him. “Peter?”
“Venom,” Peter gasps. “Another nightmare about—about Venom.”
“That asshole again?” Flash asks. He hoists Peter up by his armpits, hauling him off of their tiny excuse for a couch. “Got to stop falling straight asleep after patrols, Pete.”
“I get tired,” Peter defends, loose limbed, fear still coursing thickly beneath his skin. Flash escorts him to his room with an arm wrapped over Peter’s thin shoulders. The shorter boy can’t help but learn into it, letting the warmth of Flash seep through his spandex suit.
“And then this is what happens; you end up getting nightmares and a stiff back.”
“I get thrown through brick walls,” Peter grumbles, as Flash helps tug his tight, uncooperative suit off. He steps into threadbare pyjamas. Flash pretends he’s not staring at the pale, taunt skin. “I can handle some sore muscles from napping on the couch.”
“Shut up and get into bed, Parker.”
“You gonna join me?” Peter flutters his eyelashes, puckering up his lips. “I might get lonely. The nightmares might come back. Doc Ock might crash through that exact window in the next hour, and then where would I be, without someone big and strong to protect me?”
Flash throws a pillow at his face, but obediently climbs into bed next to him. He flops down, sprawled over Peter’s king single. Peter puts his cold feet on his thighs.
Flash shrieks. Peter grins, and presses his ice cold fingers mercilessly against Flash’s throat.
“You little—” Flash reaches under the blanket and scoops Peter’s feet up. He grabs his arms next, rolling them over so Peter is tucked beneath Flash’s heavy arms. Peter’s face presses in the crook of his throat. Flash can feel his pleased smile against his skin.
“Oh, no,” Peter murmurs, not wanting to wake Gwen sleeping in the room next to theirs—she has an early shift in a few hours, “whatever will I do?”
“Guess you’ll just have to go to sleep.” Flash doesn’t move away from Peter. The other boy could easily untangle himself, could throw Flash through the nearest wall if he wanted to, but he stays. He stays, tucked beneath Flash’s arms, buried safely in the drowsy warmth of cocooned blankets and the shared heat of their bodies.
Peter hums and lets his eyes flicker shut. Flash waits a beat, and then says, “Venom, is he—”
“I don’t want to think about Venom,” Peter cuts him off. “I don’t—I just want to… lay here. For a while.”
“These nightmares are getting bad, Pete,” Flash says into Peter’s messy hair. “You’re getting them more and more often. Gwen and I… we’re worried.”
“You and Gwen are always worried.” Flash doesn’t push, after that. Peter doesn’t offer up any more about Venom, or his night terrors, or the increasing wounds piling up beneath his suit—the multicoloured bruises that alarm his friends, and the faint pink scraps, and the dried blood and mostly closed wound that cut sharply across his belly.
Instead, he curls closer to Flash, breathes deeply against his collarbone, and sleeps better than he has in weeks.
In the morning, Gwen rushes around with a toothbrush poking out of her mouth, hairbrush in hand. She bursts into Peter’s room, looking for a cardigan to steal, and pauses at the tangle of bodies.
Flash yawns awake. She makes a swiping ‘what the hell’ gesture with her hands, scrunching her nose up at him.
Flash tenses up. Here he is, Peter asleep and snoring on top of him, their legs slotted together, his wet lips against the skin of Flash’s shoulder, while Peter’s girlfriend crosses her arms in the doorway.
Gwen pulls the toothbrush from her mouth. “Why didn’t you invite me, too? What, I don’t deserve cuddles with two attractive men?”
“He had a nightmare,” Flash says dumbly.
Gwen can’t find one of Peter’s cardigans to pilfer, but she does find her jean jacket hiding in the boy’s wardrobe. She rushes away to finish getting ready, leaving Flash to fall back asleep, thinking about the heavy, warm weight of Peter, of the feeling of skin against skin and the naturalness of it all, and of how nice it might be, next time, to have Gwen nestled with them, blond hair against brown, both of them soft and sleepy underneath Flash’s arms.
The dishwasher’s broken. Peter won’t let them buy a new one or call someone, assured he can fix it. Uncle Ben taught him, after all, and he’s always hesitant to spend money (a side effect of his upbringing). It’s fine. He just needs to find the time to take a peek at it.
“You’re awfully jumpy tonight,” Gwen says, worried.
Flash peers around the kitchen island, and oh, great, now Peter has two concerned pairs of eyes focussed on him. “I’m fine, guys,” Peter reassures. “It’s nothing. Just tired, y’know?”
Neither of them seem convinced. Gwen pulls his hand out of the soapy water, holding it up and inspecting it under the kitchen light. Peter’s wet hand trembles in her grasp.
“Just tired, huh?” Gwen says. Peter snatches his hand back, shoving it under the water.
“Peter, man,” Flash starts. “If something’s wrong—”
“Nothing’s wrong,” Peter snaps. He’s too taunt, shoulders bunched under his shirt. He glares at the sink. Temped water swirls around his clenched hands, suds climbing up his wrist. “Nothing’s ever wrong. I’m fine. Can we just—can we just finish washing the dishes?”
Flash ducks back out of the room. Gwen gives Peter a long, measuring look, before nodding. She collects a stack of plates and steps back to return them to their assigned cabinets.
Peter inhales deeply. Exhales. Underneath the bubbly water, his hands haven’t stopped shaking.
Peter runs into Electro on a weekend afternoon. Taking the villain down is rather tedious, and Peter manages it in under an hour.
“Thanks, Spidey,” says the first police officer on the scene.
The smile he offers Peter isn’t forced or disgusted, but genuine and grateful. Peter grins hugely under his mask. He likes police officers. Most of them, anyway. The unbiased, uncorrupt ones. People who risk their lives and dedicate themselves to helping New Yorkers? Peter likes them. (And, it seems, they’re beginning to like him too.)
“All in a day’s work,” Peter says with a flippant gesture. “Anyway, Electro? Dude’s commonplace now. He’s not really shocking anymore, y’ know?”
The police officer groans. Peter high fives the man’s snickering partner.
Peter jumps onto the bonnet of the neighbouring police cruiser. He raises his wrist skyward, but before he shoots a web, a flash of black flits in his peripheral vision and he freezes. Blackness blurs again, to his right this time, and Peter finches so suddenly he slips and lands face first on the windscreen.
The officer stares down at Peter. “Are you okay?”
“Y—yeah,” Peter manages. He registers a hiss, the sound barely audible despite Peter’s superhuman senses. Peter gasps and presses his hand against his beating heart.
“Spidey?!” The man looks alert now, one hand hovering over his comm, the other reaching forward and helping Peter down from the car. “What’s wrong? Are you hurt?”
“No, no. I just…”
Peter looks around almost frantically, every nerve in his body alert.
“Be very careful tonight,” Peter adds. “Watch out.”
The man gapes at him, turning his vision upward, scanning the skyscrapers around them, as though expecting to see Venom climbing up the side of one King Kong style. It has happened before, Peter supposes.
“He’s—its—its here?” the man whispers, as though scared Venom might overhear him. His hands itch for his gun. “Its… watching?”
Peter swallows thickly and tries to ignore the way the back of his neck prickles, the way his heart won’t stop trying to beat out his chest, his sweaty palms, the way his entire being feels as though it’s suddenly made of tissue paper. His spider sense is ringing.
“It always is,” Peter says.
Flash steps out of the the grocery store, weighed down by that week’s shopping. His phone rings, and he adjusts the bags, reaching to answer it with one hand. “Hello?”
“Flash?” Gwen answers, high and breathless. “Where are you?”
“On my way home, just finished getting stuff for dinner. Why?”
“I think Peter’s missing.”
Flash stops dead on the sidewalk. His insides have frozen, fear clenched tight around his racing heart. He fumbles with his phone, pressing it harder against his ear to better hear his roommate.
“What do you mean ‘missing’?” Flash asks.
“I mean, he wasn’t working today, but I got home an hour ago and there’s no sign of him. I—I thought he’d gone with you, or gone to get take out, but I checked the kitchen and the dishes aren’t done, and the pizza isn’t eaten, and Peter’s phone is sitting out on the counter.”
Flash’s panic mounts; he remembers that morning, sitting at the kitchen bench with Gwen and Peter, talking about their plans for the day. He remembers Peter making a face but promising a whining Gwen to do the dishes, to call them if he went patrolling or would be back late. He remembers Peter grinning and telling them how much he was looking forward to eating the leftover pizza for lunch.
“Gwen,” Flash says. “Are you sure?”
“I’m sure. He’s not home. Hasn’t been home all day, by the looks of things.”
“Okay, okay, have you checked his phone? Maybe we should ring his Aunt?”
“Yeah, I was just—oh my GOD!” Flash hears a choked off scream on the other side of the line, the sound of something heavy crashing to the floor, and Gwen’s panicked voice. She repeats a litany of swears, and says over and over again, “Peter, Peter!”
“Gwen?” Flash fastens his pace, desperate to get home, jogging down the sidewalk. “Gwen, talk to me.”
“Peter just got home,” Gwen says, choked up. “He’s. He’s in a bad way, Flash.”
“What do you mean ‘bad way?’”
“There’s a lot of blood. Oh—oh god, Peter. Lay down on the couch for me, okay?”
Flash hears Peter’s muffled voice. “Is that Flash? Flash—it’s alright, Gwen’s being a drama queen—”
“Drama queen? You’re BLEEDING OUT ON OUR FLOOR, PETER!”
“Ha ha, yeah, but ’s no’ a big deal.” Peter sounds slurred, drunk. Flash knows the effects of heavy blood loss when he hears it.
“I’ll be there in a few minutes,” Flash says into the phone.
“Please hurry,” Gwen manages, sounding terrified and panicked and near tears.
Flash hangs up, pockets his phone, and sprints the rest of the way home.
Flash bursts into the apartment, panting heavily. He deposits the shopping bags by the door and rushes into their living room.
Gwen looks up at his entrance and furiously wipes away her tears. Peter is spread out of on the floor below her, half unconscious. He's covered in blood. Too much blood.
“What happened? Who did this?”
Gwen shakes her head. “He won’t tell me.”
Flash approaches Peter. He loops an arm around his shoulder, supporting him. The contact leaves Flash’s arm wet with blood.
“Please,” Peter says to no one.
“Peter,” Flash tries, reaching over to pat Peter’s shoulder. He wants to take it, rub his thumb over the back of his friend’s hand, but is too afraid Peter will flinch away from the intimate touch. “Peter, who did this to you?”
Peter’s breathing picks up, and he shakes his head.
“Peter,” Flash presses.
“Please,” Peter says again. He shifts, tries to get into a better sitting position, but a scream catches in his throat and he slumps to the ground, boneless.
Flash pulls away and curses. Gwen disappears into the bathroom to collect their first ad kit—the huge one, stocked up with enough supplies to patch up the entire apartment building—and Flash scoops Peter into his arms. He may have destroyed half their groceries in his carelessness run home, but Flash treats Peter gently, moving slowly and deliberately, terrified to jostle or spook him.
“Flash,” Peter says. It half sounds like an admonishment, half like a plea.
“We’ve got you,” Flash says. “You’re okay now, right, Pete?”
“No. No, I’m not…” Peter cuts off. His breathing picks up.
Flash’s gaze is serious. “Peter, who did this to you?”
Peter squeezes his eyes shut, like a terrified little kid. He will never admit it, but he can still feel phantom tendrils curl around his shoulders, sharp and strong enough to cut into his skin like a blade.
“Venom,” Peter whispers.
The painkillers force Peter to sleep that night. The following nights, however, he does not.
Flash and Gwen don’t hear him at first, but they notice the deepening bags under his eyes, the toilet flushes at 2am, and the soft clattering of typing late at night.
“Peter?” Gwen hovers in the doorway, dressed in a rumpled old shirt and tiny PJ shorts. Peter looks up from the bright screen of his laptop, hair comically puffed up, still in jeans and sneakers. “Peter, it’s 3am.”
“Oh,” Peter murmurs. “Um. My bad?”
“Are those your web-shooters?” Gwen frowns at the tiny mechanical pieces spread out over the unmade bedspread. Peter ducks his head guilty.
Gwen crosses his arms over her chest, peering at him. “What are you doing, then?”
“Okay, so they might be my web-shooters—”
“Are you going out patrolling? Your injuries aren’t fully healed yet.”
“No, no, I’m not going out patrolling until you guys give me the heads up. I’m not going to betray your trust like that.” Gwen lets out a little relieved breath at that; when they’d first moved in together, Flash having just found out Peter’s identity, they’d drawn up rules. Not going off to fight super-charged bad guys when one’s skin was being held together by thread and luck was one them.
“I…” Peter fiddles with a screwdriver, eyeing the schematics on his laptop rather than Gwen. “I want to get better. I want something to stop Ve—I want something to—I need to get better.”
“Your web-shooters are great already, Peter.”
Peter sighs. Unconsciously, his hand drifts to his bandaged side. “Apparently not.”
Gwen sits cross-legged on the bed next to Peter. She knows Peter would ignore any of her attempts at reassurance, and so opts for the next best thing; her hand sneaks out to tangle in his, and she lays her head on his shoulder, her blonde hair spilling out like rays of sun. They sit there for a long time.
They go out shopping when they have a free day. They buy an assortment of coffee drinks and look at clothes; Gwen looks at an expensive green peacoat, but Peter and Flash both make a face at it, and she shrugs and wonders off to procure more superhero hoodies to wear as Rabbit.
She doesn’t buy the green peacoat.
It’s fun; they get to spend the day wondering the city and mucking around in stores. The bustle of the city is comforting. They love New York, would die for it, and every moment given to just enjoying it is special.
Peter wonders around in a daze. His smile is a tiny, tight thing, just barely there, accompanied by deep, dark eyes. His hoodie remains on all day despite the warmth of the afternoon.
They try and lure him out of his slump by buying him chocolate milkshakes and greasy pizza. Peter’s smile grows a little, but it pales in comparison to his usual, blinding grin.
The duck into a crowded coffee shop, and manage to find an empty two person table and a spare chair. Their waitress beams at the sight of them, huddled into each other’s space, leaning in to better hear each other over the din of the store.
Their waitress has curly green hair and a sly smile. She lays their drinks down in front of them and says, “Here you go, lovebirds.”
“Oh, we’re not—” Gwen begins, a blush rising in her cheeks.
“Yeah, we’re just—” Flash tries. Peter sits between the two of them, fidgeting, words caught in his throat.
“Uh huh,” their waitress says, unimpressed. “Whatever you say.” She goes to leave, and throws casually over her shoulder, “Enjoy the rest of your date.”
It’s 2am, and they all have to go to work when the sun rises. They’re gathered in the living room. The TV is off. Nighttime New York is loud outside.
They’re spread out on the carpet, arms bumping arms, legs tangled, heads knocking together as they stare up at the ceiling. They all have trouble sleeping. It’s not often that their insomnia syncs up.
“Maybe…” Flash begins, quiet in the dark apartment. “Maybe I shouldn’t have quit the military? Maybe then my dad—”
“Your Dad can piss off,” Gwen says. Peter nods emphatically into the crook of Flash’s arm.
“What if I regret not joining up?”
“Do you?” Peter asks.
“If I were deployed, I wouldn’t be here,” Flash says. Gwen and Peter inch a little closer to him at the thought.
“There’s a lot of things you might regret one day,” Peter murmurs, “but you have to just live without fearing the ‘what if.’”
“I regret being a jerk in high school,” Flash says.
Peter laughs. “I regret not listening closer to my Uncle when he taught me how to repair a dishwasher.”
Gwen sighs hugely. “I regret not buying that pretty green peacoat.”
Peter and Flash boo and throw couch cushions at her. Gwen laughs and rolls away.
That weekend, Flash returns to the apartment, smiling, a handful of game discs cradled in hand. He’s giddy, excited; he’d been planning a game marathon for a while now. Tonight, there would be nothing but popcorn and soda and video games.
“Peter,” he calls into the apartment. “I bought popcorn and a can of Easy Cheese.”
Flash’s grin slips off his face, and he freezes. His grip goes slack and the bags slips out of his hands. The scene mirrors the one with Gwen several weeks earlier. Flash can’t breathe.
The other boy, left bloodied on the carpet, is distraught as he looks up at his roommate,
“Flash!” Peter’s eyes are huge, though his jaw is set. He’s a mix of soft gooey fear and hard edged anger. “Run!”
He ducks into the kitchen to grab a makeshift weapon, but doesn’t leave. He puts himself bodily between the writhing mass of black and Peter, frying pan held aloft. Peter groans behind him, still unable to move.
“Flash, please,” Peter mumbles around a mouthful of blood. Flash’s grip on the frying pan tightens. “Get out of here. It’s—it’s not safe.”
The black goo thrashes upward, agitated by the sound of Peter’s voice. It slithers forward.
Everyone and their mother knows about Venom’s hatred of Spider-Man. A huge tentacled monster chasing a superhero through the very public streets of New York? With the thing screaming in a hissed, alien voice? That gets noticed. Venom has been on the front page of every local newspaper at least twice.
Flash knows Peter’s fear, too. He’s seen the deep, bloody wounds, the way Peter will gasp Venom’s name at night before startling awake, a scream curled on his tongue. This thing scares Peter, terrifies him like nothing else can, and Flash refuses to let Peter face that alone. Not anymore. Not when Peter was him and Gwen.
“I don’t care,” Flash tells Peter, who tries to move, tries to climb bodily in front of Flash, but his leg is broken.
“Please. It’ll kill you.”
“It’ll kill you, Peter,” Flash says. He takes a deep, grounding breath. “But it’s going to have to get through me to do that. I won't let it hurt you again. Never again. This shit ends here.”
The black goo turns violent without warning, rearing up angrily at Flash’s steeled words. It charges at him. Flash squares his shoulders and readies his fry pan.
“Let’s go,” Flash mutters to the goo. “You and me, bitch. Let’s do this.”
Flash raises the frying pan and brings it down in a steady arch through the air just as goo reaches him. His hit misses Venom entirely, as the thing slumps into a liquid form and encircles Flash’s foot.
The thing slithers up his pant leg, up his thighs and around his torso, crawling over him like growing vines. It reaches his neck, and Flash goes slack, sinking to his hands and knees and panting desperately.
“What—what,” is all Flash can manage.
“No!” Peter claws at Flash’s legs, attempting to tear the black strands of goo off of his roommate. “Flash, Flash!”
Flash’s vision is encompassed by black. He falls unconscious to the sounds of Peter’s panicked, enraged screams and Venom’s hissed, “Finalllyy.”
Flash wakes to sobbing. He bolts upright and searches the apartment for the source of the sound.
“Flash?” a quiet, terrified voice asks.
“Flash, oh god, you can still talk!” Peter scrambles along the wood floors—still covered in blood and barely able to manoeuvre his own limbs—and settles in front of Flash. His outstretched hands hover around Flash’s face, like he wants to reach out and cradle Flash’s cheeks and jaw but will not let himself. “Flash, are you okay…?”
“I’m fine,” Flash says. “A little dizzy, but besides that…” Flash glances down at his hands. His skin feels strangely tingly. He jumps to his feet in a panic when he sees the inky blackness layered over his body. “What?”
“Venom,” Peter explains quietly. “It got to you. I tried to pull it off, even offered myself as a host, but it refused.”
“Right, you’re hurt, I have to bandage you up.”
“Now’s not the time to worry about me.”
“Okay,” Flash says, standing up. “First Gwen, then bandages.”
Gwen shrieks and throws a vase—the tacky one full of flowers they keep on the table by the door, a gift from Aunt May—at Flash when she arrives home.
“Gwen, wait!” Flash shouts, hands held out placatingly in front of him. “It’s me, it’s Flash!”
Her handbag, held aloft, ready to chuck at Flash, is dropped to the floor. Gwen stares at him, then shrieks again, and rushes forward.
“Oh, my god, Flash!”
“No, no, Gwen it’s alright, I’m fine.”
“Doesn’t want to hurt or control me, for some reason.” He shrugs. He feels silly, standing in their very ordinary living room covered in what is essentially a pitch black combat suit. Is this how Peter feels when he’s decked out as Spider-Man? “I don’t know. Peter is still kind of freaking out.”
Gwen looks over and gasps. Peter has managed to lever himself onto the couch, and though he’s slumped over, the blood soaking his clothes and the bandages Flash has applied are still visible.
“It happened,” Peter says quietly. “My worst nightmare; Venom’s taken one of you. This is all my fault.”
“No, no, Peter.” Gwen runs her hand up and down Peter’s back, soothing. At least he lets her touch him—Flash’s attempts at touching Peter while Venom covered him had been met with wide-eyed panic. “Flash seems fine. He’s okay. Right, Flash?”
“We’ll sort this out, Peter. It’ll be okay.”
Passing SHIELD agents can’t help but stare at Spider-Man and Rabbit. The two are sat outside the labs, their clasped together tightly. Spider-Man’s leg is in a cast. Rabbit’s face is pressed into the curve of his neck.
Some of the junior agents hover, only to be shooed away by their superiors. They work within the same agency that housed legends like Captain America, but can’t help but feel drawn towards the recognisable figures slumped together.
Another hero freezes in his tracks at the end of the hallway. His eyes are wide under his helmet.
“Is that…?” Nova begins.
“Spider-Man,” Iron Fist says, sliding up behind him, “and Rabbit. Looks like it.”
“No way,” hisses the younger boy. “No way.”
Power-Man laughs as he spots the two vigilantes at the end of the hall. “I told you, man. This hero business is serious. Full of A-listers and famous people. Cool, right?”
“So cool,” Nova agrees. Iron Fist sighs at him. “Hey, did you guys see that cartoon? We’re his, like, teammates or friends or whatever in that. I’m kind of annoyed that I don’t get more screen-time, though. Why does he get to be the title character?”
“Because he’s more famous?” Iron Fist guesses.
“Because I’m too handsome to be properly captured no matter how long I’m on screen?” Power Man says.
“Anyway,” White Tiger continues, shaking her head at the both of them, “it’s weird. I know the producers made Spider-Man have friends that are fellow superheroes, give off a sense of a supportive superhero community—” Nova snorts and Power-Man muffles a snicker under a broad hand; superheroes are all assholes. Internal superhero interactions are often chaotic, messy, and on occasion, violent, “but it’s weird… I feel like we should at least know them.”
They watch silently as a man in a lab coat emerges from a side room, Spider-Man and Rabbit perk up. The man says something curtly, shaking his head, and they both slump. Spider-Man lays his head miserably in his hands.
“Guys,” Power-Man says quietly. “We should go.”
Rabbit wraps an arm around Spider-Man’s shaking shoulders, and pulls him against her. He buries his face in the thick fabric of her hoodie, sliding both arms around her middle.
“I can’t just…” Nova stares down the hall. “Don’t you guys feel wrong? Look how upset they both are. Maybe we could help.”
“Really, Sam. What can we do?” White Tiger asks.
Power-Man lays a hand on Nova’s shoulder, but the shorter boy shakes him off, and starts forward.
He ignores them. The cartoon was made by people who’d never met him, and yet, something in his chest tugs him forward, pulling him toward the red and blue figure hunched in Rabbit’s arms.
“Excuse me,” Nova says.
Rabbit looks up and inhales sharply. “Oh!”
Nova clears his throat and pretends not to be intimidated. “I’m Nova.”
“I know,” Spider-Man says. His voice isn’t as nasally in real life, but Nova can hear how congested his breathing is. He suspects that underneath the mask, the older hero’s cheeks are wet.
Nova clears his throat. “I, um. I wanted to see if you were ok?”
This seems to have been the wrong thing to say—Spider-Man goes stiff and draws away from Nova. Rabbit’s mouth thins into a hard line.
“I’m fine,” Spider-man says coolly.
“I just…” Nova swallows.
You’re going to a superhero one day, Nova reminds himself. Helping people is what you do. Helping other heroes is what you do.
Nova squares his shoulders. He meets Spider-Man’s gaze, and says, “I want to help. Anything I can do, anything we—” he gestures to the end of the hallway, where White Tiger, Iron Fist, and Power-Man stand, shocked still by Sam’s ballsiness, “—can do to help, just let us know.”
Spider-Man considers him for a long moment. Rabbit bites at her lip, glancing between the two of them.
Spider-Man stands. He’s taller than Nova—older too, most likely—and Nova swallows.
The other hero sticks his hand out in front of him. “I’m Spider-Man.”
Nova takes his hand, shakes it, and says, “Pleased to finally meet you.”
“Hey, guys,” Flash chokes out, voice rough and weak from extended sedation. Gwen grips his hand tighter. His one Gwen-less hand is clutched in Peter’s sweaty palm.
“You back with us?” Gwen asks. She sounds tentative. Afraid. Flash frowns and tries to sit up.
Peter pushes him back down. “You’re still under observation.”
“My memories’ hazy,” Flash says. “Did I get hurt?”
“Not…” Gwen begins, glancing at Peter. “Not quite.”
He squirms into something upright, balanced on his elbows—diagonal, if not vertical—and looks down at himself. There aren’t bandages, no bloodied wounds or IVs creeping beneath his skin. There’s no imperfections at all, just a seamless wash of black covering every inch of him, like someone had dipped him into a vat of tar and then left him out to dry.
“Oh,” Flash says. He wriggles his fingers and toes, and they wave back at him. He shimmies a little, and his body wiggles obediently. No damage, then. Just a lot of weirdness. “Hey, this is kind of cool.”
“Cool?” The waxy pallor of Peter’s face is difficult to look at. “Flash this is… is…”
“Yeah, it’s cool,” Flash repeats. He sits fully up, ignoring Gwen and Peter’s little noises of protest, and swings his legs over the side of the bio-bed. “It’s kind of like I’m wearing armour. Like, kevlar infused to my body. Actually—could you imagine this get up with body armour underneath? Spiky shoulder pads and shit, maybe paired with those guns from Call of Duty, or something cooler like a lightsaber—”
“At least we know he’s alright,” Gwen says, laughing wetly.
“That would be cool,” Peter agrees, but he sounds a little shaky. The colour isn’t returning to his face. Neither of them have let go of Flash’s hands.
“Ah, I see you’re awake.” A man in a lab-coat steps into view. “I’m Dr. Connors, I’ve been overseeing your progress while you’ve been here.”
“What’s the news, Doc? Am I ever going to play football again?”
Connors offers a polite smile. “Your cells have fused with the symbiote, I’m afraid. I’m not sure if we can reverse the process. It’s reacting to your body in the same way the spider serum reacted to Peter’s. Like super blood, of sorts.”
“Tell me; are you feeling homicidal, power-mad, despotic?” Gwen asks.
“No more than usual,” Flash says. Peter’s face crinkles around a smile at the Star Trek reference.
“You’re going to be fine,” Connors gently cuts in. “Superhuman, but medically fine. You’ll probably develop very similar powers to Peter’s.” He ignores Flash’s little shriek at that. “But if you do start feeling homicidal, power-mad, or despotic, come back in for a check up, okay?”
“I promise,” Flash says through his euphoria. “You hear that, guys? I’m going to be the next Spider-Man. Watch out, Parker.”
Gwen presses a kiss against his smooth, black temple. Peter sandwiches Flash’s hand between both of his, holding it up like a prayer. None of them notice Connors politely slipping out of the room.
“What is this?” Gwen demands.
“Erm.” Peter lowers the spoon. His mouth is streaked with chocolate sauce. Through a mouth full of strawberries, he says, “N’thing.”
“Nothing,” Flash agrees, and takes a bite of his mini sandwich—strawberries bracketed by two slice of homemade shortbread. Chocolate sauce drips over his fingers.
Gwen drops her satchel bag by the door. She crosses her arms. “It’s betrayal is what it is. Next time you bang against the ceiling, I want in.”
Peter flails. Chocolate sauce gets flung onto the ceiling. “There’s no banging! No banging at all!”
“Unfortunately,” Flash says. Then, “How would we even explain that noise to the people living in the apartment above us?” Peter throws a strawberry at him. Flash catches it in his open mouth.
Gwen narrows her eyes at them. “Look at how much fun you assholes are having. Don’t make me come up there and teach you a lesson about excluding people.”
“You couldn’t reach us even if we were standing on the ground,” Flash heckles.
“Is that a short joke, you mothertrucker—”
Flash cackles. Peter sighs, slides a strawberry into a shortbread sandwich, and munches on it morosely. His lips are still covered in chocolate sauce.
Gwen fetches the broom from behind the fridge. She toes off her flats, and stands on the coffee table, swiping at them wildly. Peter yelps and skitters away, feeing more and more like a pest in his own home.
“You’re 6’2”, how come you’re the one that gets the wall crawling abilities, Thompson, you—”
“Hey, come on,” Peter tries, dodging the waving broom that swings his way. It misses Flash but almost hits Peter straight in the face. “I’ve done nothing wrong here! And there’s only three inches between our heights—”
“Three inches too many!” Gwen says, right before Flash jumps to the ground and picks her up. He scales back up to the ceiling, holding her carefully in his arms.
“Oh, right.” With a quick flick of his wrists, Peter spins a hammock made of web, just for Gwen. Suspended from the ceiling, it swings gently in the breeze wafting from the open window. It looks flimsy, like it couldn’t possibly hold the weight of a fully grown woman, but when Flash helps her recline back in it, it’s as strong as steel. She scowls at him.
“Long day at work, hon?” Peter asks.
Gwen snatches the shortbread container from him. She crams one into her mouth. “The longest.”
“Want some of the chocolate sauce, too? Peter’s obsessed. He was drinking it straight from the bottle earlier.”
Peter doesn’t even try to explain himself. Gwen hums, leans forward in the hammock, and pulls Peter in. She licks at his lips and sticky cheeks. Peter makes a surprised noise in the back his throat. Flash makes a punched out, breathy one.
“The chocolate sauce tastes okay,” Gwen allows, finally drawing back.
Shakily, Flash points to his reddened lips, the bare smear of juice visible there. “How about the strawberries?”
Gwen scoots forward. She almost falls from the hammock, but Flash steadies her with a hand against her thigh. Their lips meet, hot and wet. This time, it’s Peter that squeaks, just as punched out, just as breathy.
“The strawberries are okay, too,” Gwen says when they break apart. There’s a silence. Then, “About the banging against the ceiling thing…”
Peter throws a strawberry at her. Unlike Flash, her reflexes aren’t fast enough to catch it and it falls to the ground, a red smudge someone’s going to have to clean up later.
“Heck to the yeah,” Flash says, “lets do it.”
“Neighbours,” Peter reminds them.
Peter drops from the ceiling and quietly switches on the radio. Soft guitar strings float into the apartment. Peter walks his way back onto the ceiling.
Flatfooted and upside down, he extends a hand to Flash. “May I have this dance?”
Flash wheezes with laughter and chokes on a strawberry. Peter swoops in and pulls Flash to his feet before the blond can move away.
Peter leads them around the ceiling gently. He twirls Flash and gets dipped in return. Their palms slide together, hips brushing. Gwen watches, enraptured, on the hammock, slowly demolishing the packet of shortbread biscuits.
This is how Flash’s first week as a hero starts:
A man steps out onto the pavement. He glares at Flash from under the brim of his baseball cap.
“You’re that Venom prick,” he says.
“Um,” Flash says. “Not quite.”
Peter moves forward, shifting closer to Flash. The taller boy accommodates him, an instinctive hand placed on Peter’s shoulder-blades.
The man’s eyes go wide. “Spidey, get away from him!”
“He’s not—” Peter shakes his head. “He’s not Venom.”
“It’s Agent Venom, now.” Peter holds Flash out at arms length. He feels a little like he’s showing Flash off, showcasing the broad figure in seamless black with his intimidating, spiked shoulder blades.
“He’s a hero,” Peter says. “And he’s my friend.”
Flash grins. “Aw, shucks, Spidey.”
“And he’s also a sarcastic jerk, but I’d be kind of a hypocrite if I called him on it.”
The man falters. “But Venom, that monster who keeps trying to kill you in the papers—”
“I’m not Venom,” Flash insists, bristling at the idea. He’s not that beast. He’s not the monster that had ripped and torn into Peter again and again.
Gwen waltzes from the mouth of an alley, fingers flying over a Stark pad velcro-ed to her wrist. She pauses. The New Yorker snaps his open mouth shut, shaken by her appearance but doesn’t back down.
Gwen takes in the scene and sighs. “I was afraid this would happen.”
Flash blinks. “What do you mean—”
“Spidey and I both know how loyal you are,” Gwen reassures, “but the city watched Venom attack Spider-Man for weeks on end. And you’re wearing Venom’s skin.”
“I’m…” Flash’s shoulders slump. “I’m not that thing.”
“You’re not,” Gwen says.
“He’s not. If anything, he’s saving me. Venom would’ve killed me.” Peter says it without flinching, without any doubt, as though this is something he has thought about and accepted; one day, Venom would’ve killed him. “But now, it can’t. Its reduced to this—a costume for my friend to wear.”
The stranger—dressed in a baseball cap and faded jeans, who’s twice their age, who’s probably never interacted with a single vigilante before this moment—examines Flash carefully. Then, to Gwen and Peter, he asks, “You both trust him?”
“I do,” Gwen says.
“With my life,” Peter says, and ignores Flash’s hard swallow at that.
“Okay,” the man says easily, like that’s enough, that all it takes is these kids words for him to accept a possible monster in his streets. “Welcome to New York, Agent Venom.”
“Glad to be here.” Flash’s voice is quiet. There’s none of that blustering excitement that has been present all week.
“Promise you’ll look after these two, okay?”
“I will.” Flash huffs a long-suffering sigh. “Someone has to make sure these reckless morons don’t get themselves killed.”
“Hey!” Peter and Gwen say, while the man laughs and tips his hat and quietly accepts Flash.
This is how Flash’s first week as a hero ends:
Brackish water laps at the shore. Peter’s exhales fog in the freezing New York City, wispy proof that his body isn’t actually as cold as he feels.
“You’re shaking,” Flash notes. He wraps a hand around Peter’s shoulders and shoves their bodies together. There’s water logged spandex and the silky skin of Venom between them, but in the dark, it feels like nothing. It feels impossibly intimidate.
The sound of traffic is far off. Smoke drifts from the Brooklyn Bridge. Police sirens whine in the air.
“I’m always nervous on the first date. Some people are nervous fliers. I’m a nervous dater. It’s a very serious condition. Incurable, I’m told.”
Flash huffs against his temple. “You almost died, Pete.”
“No names in the field, remember?”
“Don’t change the subject.”
Peter goes loose against his roommate. Flash has a handful of inches on him, more muscle mass, and bulkier armour; Peter has never noticed the difference as much as he does now.
“I’m fine now.”
“But you almost—” Flash grits his teeth. “You almost died. I was getting Gwen off the bridge, and I wasn’t with you, and Goblin threw you off the side without your webs, and I thought—I thought—”
Peter wraps a hand around Flash’s shaking fist. “I’m okay, Flash.”
Bony elbows press into his torso. The cloying, swampy smell of the river is heavy on their skin, but Flash just presses closer. Holds Peter tighter. He lets his fist loosen. They don’t move, lain out on the rough city shore, water lapping at their toes, the Brooklyn Bridge a backdrop behind them.
Flash exhales shakily, and says, “No names in the field, remember?”
Peter’s laugh is lost beneath a hoarse shout and heavy footsteps crashing through patchy underbrush. He stiffens. His spider-sense is quiet.
“PETER? FLASH?” The footsteps grow closer. Peter’s sensitive ears make out heavy, panicked breathing. “PETER! FLASH!”
Flash twists on his side, and hollers, “GWEN!”
Gwen comes jogging into view. Blood drips from a shallow cut on her temple, dribbling over her white mask and down her cheek. Her sneakers and jeans are muddy and ruined. If Peter was upright, he would be able to see how badly she’s shaking.
“Flash,” she chokes, almost falling over in relief.
Flash opens his arm out in invitation and Gwen sprints the last few metres between them, mud squelching beneath her feet, and crashes into them. Flash tucks her next to Peter under his chin. She envelops Peter into her arms, and shoves closer to Flash—panicked and shaky and hoped up on adrenaline.
“I saw you go over the side, and then Flash jumped after you, and then I thought—” Gwen chokes on the syllables. Splayed out over Flash’s broad chest, she grabs a fistful of Peter’s spandex and holds on as she shakes.
“I’m sorry,” Peter says. He’s still a little slurred. Gwen presses their cheeks together. “You’re warm…”
“Of course I’m warm, I just ran half a mile up the river looking for you two.” She thumps Flash on his chest. “You scooped me up like some Tarzan knockoff and then just left me on the street! I had to watch from far away as the Goblin threw Peter over the edge. And then you followed him into the water and neither of you came back up—”
“It’s okay,” Flash says into her sweaty hair. He pulls her stained mask off and puts it next to theirs. It’ll take a long time to recover from tonight; days for their injuries to heal, weeks for the stress to fully fade, and hours upon hours for them to scrub and restitch and remake their filthy, torn costumes. But— “We’re okay.”
“You remember back in high school when you were in awe of Spider-Man?” Peter asks. “Remember how you said superhero-ing was glamorous and exciting and cool in every way?” Flash makes a breathy sound of agreement. “Well, this is what I was doing. Getting thrown into polluted rivers, almost drowning, and almost getting gutted by crazy super-villains every other night.”
“I want to go back in time,” Gwen decides, pulling Peter even closer, feeling his chilled, bony shoulders against her chubbier ones, “and find your fifteen year old self and smack him over the head.”
“You knew me in high school! You knew me before I was Spider-Man.”
“Sure, but I was too young and stupid to realise how dangerous this all is, and how small you were. If something had happened to you…”
Peter presses their hands together. Their fingers intertwine. “I was tough kid. I was just teasing Flash.”
“You had to go through this every other night,” Flash begins, flat on his back, gazing up at the starless smog of the city sky, “and then turned around and went back to school the next day, only to have me pick on you. You were—were out protecting people and risking your life, and coming to school probably injured, and then I roughed you up even more.” He exhales, and says, much more quietly, “God, I’m so sorry, Pete.”
“We’re not going to let anything happen to you now, Peter,” Gwen tells him.
Peter lifts his head from the soft curve of Gwen’s shoulder. His wet hair flops against his forehead. His lashes are wet and dark, thick fans against his ashen cheeks, eyes slanted almost closed. Flash’s breath hitches. Gwen draws closer.
Their lips meet, and the press is shaky. Peter’s mouth is cold and he tastes of the salty dirt of river water.
Gwen pulls back and laughs a little. “Gross, Parker,” she says, barely daring for anything louder than a husky, careful whisper.
Peter smirks at her. His eyes dip again, and he reaches past her, dropping down to kiss Flash. The other hero gasps into the press of their mouths. His arm instinctively wraps around Peter’s back. The warmth feels intense, amplified in the damp chill of the city.
Peter retreats. Flash’s lips are puffy and he looks a little dazed.
“Oh,” Flash says.
Peter exhales, and glances at Gwen to check if he’d misread the situation. “I’m—I just thought—”
Gwen swoops in and kisses Flash with more gusto. He’s a little warmer, and his mouth, like Peter’s, tastes of grunge and exhaustion, but he meets her kiss with energy, drawing up onto his elbows.
“Oh,” Peter says. If either of them were paying attention, they’d see Peter’s too big, goofy smile. “I am very much here for this. For the this. I am here for the this.”
When they break apart, Gwen says, “Shut up, Peter.”
Peter opens his mouth. Flash cups the back of Peter’s head and draws him into a breath stealing kiss.
“Shutting up,” Peter says into Flash’s lips.
They lay sprawled on the shore. Water laps at their feet. Mud gets on their back, and their faces, and into their gloves. There’s mud between their fingers.
They trade kisses in the starless dark like they’re making up for lost time. For the months that passed in simmering, unspoken quiet.
It takes them a long time to get back home.
Pre-patrol stretches—once a beautiful, sacred ritual full of gravity defying yoga on Peter’s part and non-subtle ogling on Gwen and Flash’s—is the bane of their existence.
“It’s not that hard,” Peter says. His thumbs are supporting his entire weight. Gwen hates him with all of her being.
She groans into the carpet. Her thighs are burning and her arms feel like lead and they haven’t even started superhero-ing yet.
“I take back all the mocking,” Flash whines. “My body wasn’t made to bend like this.”
Peter’s hand drifts up and tries to bend Flash’s knee back. They end up with Peter straddling Flash, legs and torso stretched out. Flash’s knee has somehow ended against Peter’s crotch.
“ERM,” Flash says loudly, because oh god.
“I…” Peter begins. He’s frozen in place.
“Don’t move,” Gwen instructs. “I want to burn this glorious image into my eyes.”
“Gwen!” Peter snaps.
“What! It’s hot!”
Instead of flushing and stammering, Peter curls into Flash and hides his face in the taller boy’s shoulder. Flash’s lips brush against his hairline, not quite a kiss. “Leave him alone, you big bully.”
“Sorry for thinking my super attractive boyfriends are hot. How dare I.”
Flash nods. “But Parker’s sensitive, remember?”
“Our poor, poor baby.”
Peter remerges from Flash’s neck. The blush is gone, replaced by a scowl. “The teasing feels very weird now that we’re dating.”
“Nah,” Gwen dismisses. “It’s flirting. We’re this adorable, flirty couple.”
“If Gwen ever becomes a super-villain, we’re screwed,” Peter says. “She’s too good at this; distracted her enemies. Wiggling her way out of things she doesn’t want to do.”
Gwen backs away from them. “I’m not stretching anymore—you can’t make me.”
“Stretching is good for you, Gwen.” Peter approaches Gwen slowly.“Do you want some help, maybe?”
“You’re cute, Pete, but you’re not that cute.”
“Maybe we should start up running?” Flash says. “Suicides were so much fun in gym, weren’t they, Stacy?”
Gwen flips him off. She opens the door, and leans against the frame. “You two can stay here and look cute and stretch. I, however, have a city to save. All by myself.”
Flash protests, “I only just got into the hero business. You can’t ditch me already.”
“New York City needs their one true hero,” Gwen says, tightening her sleek ponytail. She’s growing it out—soft, yellow strands that feel soft in Flash’s hands, or gets in Peter’s mouth when she presses closer in her sleep.
She runs off, leaving them there, her laughter echoing behind her. Flash makes to dash after her. Peter grabs his wrist and pulls him into a kiss before they rush after her together.
Several weeks later, they’re out shopping when they stumble into one of the many stores that exist solely for tourists, filled with tacky merchandise. There are the usual I <3 New York t-shirts and the I <3 Spidey t-shirts. Shelves are stacked with Avengers, Fantastic Four and Spider-Man merchandise.
From the neighbouring rack, Flash pulls out a pale blue t-shirt. A familiar bunny mask is sprawled on the front. The text above reads I <3 Rabbit in a loopy font.
Flash levels a knowing glance at her.
She stares at it. “What.”
“People love super-heroes,” he says simply, shrugging.
“Rabbit isn’t quite a super-hero,” Gwen says, self-conscious. It feels strange to talk in third person, but they’re both aware of the bustling street around them, the dozens of ears that might overhear should they say anything to give away their identities. “She doesn’t even have powers.”
“She doesn’t need powers. Not to earn people’s affections, anyway.”
Gwen stares at the t-shirt for a long moment. She’s seen, and vehemently ignored, some of the ‘play bunny’ comments online, and she is used to seeing superhero merchandise—goodness knows their apartment was full of enough of it—but now, when it’s her persona people are using to make money, she’s not sure how she feels.
“Rabbit isn’t a superhero,” Gwen denies loudly. She’s heard people call her a superhero before. She’s called herself one, too. But there’s something very different about seeing her face on a cheap cotton t-shirt, hanging beside similar Iron Man and Black Widow shirts. It makes everything feel too real. She can’t help but feel a little like a fraud.
“Excuse you.” Gwen turns, blinks, and stares. There, standing angrily with both arms crossed over her chest, is a teenager. Beneath her thick glasses and her face full of freckles, the girl’s glare is vicious.
“Pardon me?” Gwen asks.
“Rabbit is a hero,” she announces, haughtily. “She doesn’t have powers, but she is a hero. How dare you imply that she’s not—”
“Um,” Gwen says. She glances at Flash, who shrugs and grins a little. He’s clearly enjoying this. The bastard.
“—a hero. I mean, out of their little trio, Rabbit is just as important as Spider-Man. I admit, Agent Venom is… dangerous and unstable and more of a threat, but—”
“Hey,” Gwen says sharply. “Agent Venom is a hero.” It occurs to her that she sounds startlingly like the stranger had when she’d first started the conversation, but how dare she.
Flash laughs awkwardly. He pulls at Gwen’s arm. “Come on now,” he says. “No one cares, Gwen.”
“Peter cares, too!”
Flash ducks his head, a blush rising on his cheeks. “Gwen…”
“I don’t care,” the girl says, throwing her head back and glaring up at Gwen. “Agent Venom should be locked up for what he did to Spidey.”
“You know he didn’t do those things,” Gwen says. “You know Agent Venom is a completely different person to the Venom that was hurting Spider-Man.”
The other girl huffs. “Well,” she begins, not looking at either Gwen or Flash, “at least we can agree that it’s good Spider-Man has someone looking out for him.”
“God knows the meathead needs it,” Gwen says, more to Flash than to the stranger, but the girl smiles and the flash of her teeth looks like a white flag.
The girl nods. Flash smiles at his feet.
“I think we can agree that Rabbit is a badass though,” Gwen concedes, and receives two beaming smiles for her effort. She’s almost giddy. The t-shirt scrunched in her fist feels more like a privilege than something to be afraid of.
Tony meets them in the aftermath of a Sandman attack. Peter sits on the pavement, methodically pulling off his boots and tipping them upside down to empty them of sand. Gwen and Flash stand over him, laughing and making uncomfortable comments about the sand’s possible sentience and if Flint can still feel the handful of sand that’s made their way into Peter’s boots and gloves and pants.
“Don’t you have something better to do?” Peter asks, scrubbing at his tongue. He still tastes sand. “Sidekicks can go off without their mentors, you know.”
“Sidekicks?” Flash repeats, crossing his arms. He looks very tall from where Peter is sitting.
“Since when are you anyone’s mentor—” Gwen starts. Peter inches away from them, already having flashes of a future sleeping in his own bed for the next month, but a laugh interrupts him.
“Careful, kid,” Tony Stark says. “My girlfriend would throw me off the roof if I ever said something like that.”
Flash chokes on his tongue. Peter sighs. “Well, I have two partners to throw me off of roofs.”
Tony whistles. “Two partners? High five, Spider-Man. I certainly didn’t fight crime with them, but the last time I had two partners I was—”
“Don’t make our loving poly relationship gross, sir,” Gwen says tersely. “And Sandman has already been detained by SHIELD.”
Tony spreads his hands over his slate grey slacks and dark red button up. “Do I look like I’m here to fight a maniac made of sand? I’m here to talk to the kids of the hour. The media won’t shut up about you three.”
“He’s here,” Flash breathes, “for us?”
Gwen discreetly elbows him. Flash probably didn’t even feel it through the thick layers of Venom insulation, but he quietens and fiddles with his hands.
Tony pulls a duffel bag from his shoulder. It thumps loudly on the ground. “I come baring gifts.”
“Is this real life?” Flash wonders.
“Is it a sand proof costume?” Peter asks. He’s chafing. Sandman is quickly rocketing to arch nemesis status.
“It’s a new costume,” Tony says, “but not for you, buddy.”
Tony unzips the duffle bag. Peter and Flash look to their girlfriend. Beneath the flimsy rabbit mask, Gwen flushes red.
Tony waves an airy hand. “I saw you when you were visiting shoulder-pads over there at SHIELD. I didn’t stop to say hi; you were too busy crying or chatting with the geek squad—”
“Nova and the others?” Peter asks, cocking his head. They aren’t friends, not quite, not in the way the cartoon makes them out to be, but Peter respects the other heroes. They’re texting buddies.
“Glad to see you pulled through, by the way,” Tony continues, nodding at Flash. His gaze moves to Gwen next. “But buddy, bunny, kid—jeans, hoodies, and dollar store masks can’t be easy to fight in.”
Gwen drops to her knees by the duffle and pulls out half the costume. Reverently, she feels the discrete kevlar sewn in to white, pink and black poly fibres.
“If there’s anything you don’t like,” Tony says, “or anything you want to add, just ask. Outfitting superheroes is kind of a side hobby for me. It’s tax deductible and everything.”
“It’s perfect,” Gwen says.
“I want one,” says Flash.
“You’ve got an inbuilt superhero suit,” Tony points out, “but there are some gizmos in there, too, curtsey of SHIELD’s generosity and my genius. Try not to set them off indoors. They have a tendency to explode.”
Flash and Gwen clasp hands and jump up and down in their excitement. Tony grins smugly. Peter wonders if the Avengers also squeal when Tony gives them weapons and uniforms. He doubts it.
“Do I get something cool?” Peter asks.
“You get two superhero partners in hot costumes, with enough firepower to rescue themselves, you, and all of New York. How did you get this lucky, kid?”
Peter puts a hands over his smile. He can’t look away from Gwen and Flash going through the duffle bag, oohing and ahhing over the contents. They look like kids on Christmas morning.
“I don’t know,” Peter says, honestly. “Thank you, Mr. Stark.”
“Oh, yes,” Gwen says, spinning in a circle, arms outstretched. “Oh, YES.”
“Hell yeah,” Flash agrees. A concerning array of weapons is rolled out in front of him. The football shoulder pads he’d been using as makeshift armour are stuffed under his bed. His new armour, complete with kevlar and decorative spikes, has been pulled on over his t-shirt.
“I don’t know how I feel about those,” Peter says, eyeing Flash’s weapons. “I mean… guns?”
“I know how to use a gun, Parker.”
Flash fiddles with the black utility belt. “One of the few useful things my deadbeat dad taught me.”
Peter isn’t sure how to respond to that; Flash doesn’t enjoy talking about his dad. Gwen and Peter give him space and listen when he wants to talk, but he doesn’t like talking about his trauma so casually.
Peter understands, he’s the same. He keeps old wounds tucked beneath his breastbone, and only pulls them out and talks about them when it helps other people overcome their own demons.
But then, Peter’s old nightmare is hidden on Flash’s person. Now, Venom protects one of Peter’s loved ones from harm.
“Mr. Stark gave me a gun, too,” Gwen admits. Her small, silver handgun sits on the dining room table, waiting to be stashed somewhere safe. “My dad also taught me to shoot, but I’m not comfortable using it, I think.”
“I didn’t get any guns,” Peter says.
“Because you’re a notified gun enthusiast,” Gwen says drily. Peter shrugs. He’s freaked out about guns in the past, probably in front of other superheroes. He’s probably lectured other heroes about their use of guns, even.
Flash examines something in his hands. It looks vaguely explosive. “It’s okay, Pete. Gwen and I have enough firepower. We’ll protect you.”
Gwen pulls out a matching silver taser and flip knife. Her grin is a sharp, promising thing. “No one will get to you.”
“Um,” Peter says. He takes a big step backward.
“Ooh! Grappling gun!” Gwen dives back into the pile and pulls out just that. The grappling gun is sleek and matte black, like something out of a Batman comic. Flash holds up his hand and Gwen high-fives him.
“You look badass,” Flash tells her.
Peter—feeling underwhelming and naked in the oversized pyjamas he’d stolen from Flash’s room—nods reluctantly. Gwen poses, grappling gun aimed at the ceiling, head thrown back.
Her old costume, little more than jeans, sneakers, and a hoodie, didn’t do her justice. Her new outfit appears, at first glance, like a blend of Flash’s and Peter’s. Black fabric spreads from her chest to her feet, broken by blue shoes over her toes. Her face and arms are white, googles rimmed pink, a hood pulled over her head. Attached to the white hood are droopy rabbit ears.
The suit appears light-weight, as though similar to the spandex that makes up Peter’s costume, but when Peter he his fingers over it, he can feel the solidness of reinforced armour. It’s bulletproof. A dark pink utility belt is strapped around Gwen’s waist.
“You look…” Flash shakes his head, but he’s smiling.
“Like a hero,” Peter finishes.
Flash scoops up Peter and then Gwen, twirling them around in their living room. Gwen laughs and throws her arms around his shoulders, and Peter instinctively sticks to Flash as he’s swept off his feet.
It’s a surreal moment, trapped against Flash and Gwen, against kevlar and spandex and the jutting angle of the grappling gun. Peter is awfully, wonderfully small in cotton pyjamas.
“I can’t believe I’m dating two superheroes,” Peter says.
Flash sets them back on their feet. “Excuse me,” he says, “I can’t believe I’m dating the coolest superheroes in this city.”
“You’re both very lucky to have me,” Gwen agrees, and goes back to the pile of toys. By the end of the day, her utility belt will be full. By the next day, half the papers will have photos of the trio of heroes swinging through Manhattan, their individual colours mismatched and bold and somehow perfect against each other.
But it’s the New York Bulletin that Peter will find, and purchase, and bring home like a trophy. Peter has appeared on the front page for years, both as the source and the subject, but this bright photograph—Gwen gliding closest to the lens, soaring after the upward pull of her grappling gun, Flash a dancing figure behind her—is the one he is the most proud of.
The night is pushing into early morning. They’re sore and exhausted after patrol, sprawled out on the couch. None of them want to go to bed just yet.
“Put on the new Ultimate Spider-Man episodes,” Gwen says. Peter glares at their joint Netflix account, while Flash cackles.
“Put it on, put it on!”
The title card of Ultimate Spider-Man flashes over the screen. Peter sighs. The chirpy voice of his cartoon counterpart—Miles, a middle schooler that is simultaneously cooler and more embarrassing than Peter—floats through the screen, quickly followed by a deeper tone.
Gwen cocks her head to the side. “Who’s the redhead?”
“MJ? She’s Rabbit, remember?”
“No, no—him.” A teenager boy in a dark suit saunters onscreen and loops an arm over Miles’ shoulders. Miles beams back. MJ follows quickly, knocking hips with the shorter boy. They’re a picture, the three of them, pressed against each other with matching, knowing smiles.
“Wait a second,” says Peter.
“You don’t think—” Gwen starts.
Flash’s mouth hangs open. “If they made me a rich pretty boy, I swear to god—”
The screen darkens. When it comes to, the three figures are stood on a rickety pier illuminated by a flickering streetlight. They hold their masks in their hands, their faces bare, but their costumes are unmistakably them.
“They updated my costume!” Gwen says, smacking Peter’s knee. Onscreen, her character pulls on her mask. Her long ears brush her shoulder. The white of her costume seems almost ghostly under the dim light.
“That’s—that’s—” Flash waves at the screen, lost for words. His counterpart slips on his mask and the camera pans down, capturing the sleek lines of the Venom suit, the spiky shoulder-pads, the white spider symbol emblazoned on his chest.
“Took them long enough to include you,” Peter says, huffing. “I was getting ready to write them a strongly worded letter.”
Flash’s eyes are shiny as he watches Agent Venom, a cartoon hero modelled after himself. His face is so open. Is he thinking about how often he’d sat when he was a kid and watched heroes—in cartoons, and in the news, and in the very streets outside—and wished desperately to be one of them?
“I made it,” Flash says. Quietly, Peter slips his hand into his.
“Flash,” Gwen says, “are you crying?”
Flash stares at them, something desperate and hopeful in his eyes.
“Is this…” He glances at the two of them. He looks vulnerable, like this, standing in their kitchen with wide, hopeful eyes. “Is this going to work?”
Peter takes his hand in his, then takes Gwen in his other, linking the three of them. Gwen reaches over and scoops up Flash’s remaining hand. They stand like that, a tiny, three-person circle in their crammed kitchen, their dinner bubbling quietly on the stove behind Peter.
“Do you want this to work?” Gwen asks.
“Yes,” Flash says, low and wrecked.
Gwen moves to hide her smile against Flash’s shoulder, and he lets go of her hand to brace it against her lower back. Peter squeezes Flash’s hands.
“Then there’s your answer,” Peter says. Flash’s smile is blinding.
It’s a Saturday, still early in the morning. The day is still young but the sun is high and shining.
Gwen has a picnic basket looped under one arm. Flash has two more—Flash may have a huge appetite, but it’s Peter that will eat them out of house and home—cradled in his arms. Peter runs up ahead, checkered blanket folded safely in his satchel bag, laughing and smiling and running after the kids that dared him to a race.
Flash and Gwen hang back. The relief that fills them at seeing Peter careless after a long year of stress brings matching grins to their faces.
When they catch up to him, Peter has knelt down to inspect a proudly beaming boy’s costume.
“It's very realistic,” Peter says, eying the very unrealistic cotton Spider-Man costume the little boy has donned. “Careful, the Green Goblin might mistake you for the real Spider-Man.”
The boy throws his head back proudly. “I am the real Spider-Man! I can take him.”
Another little boy jumps in front of his friend, throwing up his fists and adopting a fierce expression. “I’ll beat the Goblin up! I won’t let anyone hurt Spidey!”
This boy wears black sneakers, black jeans, black gloves, and an Agent Venom shirt and mask. Peter’s smile widens.
“You’re a very good friend,” Peter tells him.
“Agent Venom and Spidey are the best of friends,” little Agent Venom informs Peter matter-of-factly. Peter grins at that, knows just how true it is. Or, rather, he also knows how nice Flash’s tongue feels when he—
“Nuh huh!” Another kid, a little girl in pigtails, jumps between the boys.
“Rabbit!” The two crow happily, hugging her on either side. The little girl grins under her too big rabbit mask and even larger hoodie.
“Wow,” Flash says, coming up to them. He pretends to gasp at the tiny trio. “What are three superheroes doing in Central Park?”
“Fighting crime,” tiny Spidey answers, thrusting his wrists up to the sky as though to shoot webs at the branches high above them.
“Taking down bad guys,” tiny Rabbit says. She has a plushy Loki—and Peter has a brief heart attack because what? They sell those to children?—clasped in her arms. The demigod’s hands are bound together with a jumprope, and his green cape has jam stains.
Tiny Agent Venom laughs and shakes his head. “We’re having a picnic,” he tells the older trio, pointing down the path to where a gaggle of adults on lawn chairs are eating sandwiches and drinking wine out of paper cups.
His two friends whine at him, because, “We’re fighting crime; the real Spider-Man and Agent Venom and Rabbit would never do something as boring as having a picnic!”
Peter grins, exchanges glances with an elated Flash and a soft eyed Gwen, and says, “Of course they wouldn’t.”
“Are you going to be okay, kid?” Cartoon Captain America put his hand on cartoon Spider-Man’s shoulder. He looks more wholesome and sincere than his real life counterpart.
Cartoon Spider-Man is out of costume. He has a bruised eye. He’s wearing a pair of cargo pants straight from the 90s. He smiles, showing off his dimples, and says, “Of course, sir.”
Across the road, a red-headed girl, MJ, sits at a bus stop, smiling at the young hero. Her unzipped bag sits at her feet. A rabbit ears pokes out the top. MJ’s eyes are bright.
Behind the bench, an older boy steps up, placing an easy hand on MJ’s shoulder. Harry—Agent Venom’s animated double—grins, the smile almost too big for his face. His teeth are very white. His face is full of freckles.
Miles stares at them with soft, dark eyes. “Yeah,” he murmurs. His stare couldn’t be pulled away from the teenage duo if Cartoon Steve even tried. “I’ve got help, Captain. I promise, I’ll be alright.”
Peter’s head is pillowed in Gwen’s lap, his legs curled up on top of Flash. He stares the TV with blurry eyes, half asleep, a crooked smile tugging at his lips.
“Maybe this show isn’t so stupid,” Peter says.
“Yeah?” Flash asks, rubbing Peter’s calves with one hand, the other arm thrown over the couch’s back to rub at Gwen’s shoulders.
Peter smile slips into something smaller but no less sincere.
“Yeah,” he whispers, and lets his eyes flutter shut.