Peter thinks about how sometimes cats will run off for hours on end only to return with a dead animal at their owner’s doorsteps as a sign of love and devotion. Then he thinks about how he’s been splurging on different brands of tea at the corner bodega and offering part of his lunch to Michelle – MJ – every day for weeks now.
Then he thinks about slamming his head on the lunch table repeatedly. The only reason he doesn’t is because MJ would definitely use it against him at a later time. He doesn’t need to give her more evidence to support her claim that he’s a giant fucking dork.
She’s been compiling a list in the past months they’ve been hanging out. Still plays with Legos – DORK. Cuts the crusts off his pb & j sandwiches – DORK. Has the same lunch every single day – DORK. Falls asleep during MJ’s TED talk YouTube video spirals – DORK. According to MJ, this last one makes him a giant disgrace too. Peter can’t help it though; he can listen to MJ talk about social issues for hours on end, but as soon as she starts the video of the fastest spoken word poet, Peter’s conked out on her shoulder. Probably drooling. Because he’s a giant fucking dork. Especially around MJ.
He leaves the apartment earlier than usual now to browse tea selections in case he finds one MJ hasn’t tried yet. He’s lost his god damned mind, is what has happened. Christ.
Peter drops his head down to the table and groans. MJ kicks his shin and Ned laughs when Peter’s groans increase. Traitor.
She’s drinking tea from the mug with two mountains on it: one smaller labeled Mt. Everer and the larger labeled Mt. Everest. Peter bought her that mug. He’s quite proud of that mug. MJ must be as well because she’s used it every day for the past week.
Peter sighs dramatically where he’s got his face buried in his arms. If he looks up, he’s sure he’ll catch her snickering with Ned with that hint of mischief in her eye that he’s – unfortunately – too fond of.
He groans once more for good measure.
After Liz left and Peter decided to stick to being a teen who goes to school like everyone else, he really decided to commit to it. Somehow that meant MJ slowly made her way into his friend group of two. It just happened that she slowly started moving closer to him and Ned during lunch and now she always sits across from them making jokes at Peter’s expense.
Peter got to know MJ like he didn’t with Liz. And MJ is – she’s something special. She’s also ruining Peter’s life.
Here’s the thing: Peter likes MJ a lot. He’s got a giant-sized—a Hulk-sized—crush on her. He’s taken to buying her tea and sharing food with her and steadily inviting her over to build Legos with him and Ned, for Christ’s sake.
The people closest to him know it, too. Aunt May gives him the expected, “just be yourself” line while carding her fingers through his hair. He’s got his head pillowed on his arms and he’s groaned at least three times. This has become a problem.
“Dude, don’t be yourself,” Ned tells him with the wisdom of someone who’s seen Peter fall ass over tits while trying to mumble out responses to MJ while she’s looking at him.
(Why does she have to look at him? Every time she does, Peter gets lost in her scowl or starts thinking about her calling him a loser on a Friday night in his room while she drinks tea. Sitting on his bed. Where he sleeps!)
The other thing is, Peter doesn’t know how not to be himself. If the Spider-Man suit gave him more confidence on the streets of New York, it certainly failed to help him in his personal life.
So, he does stupid stuff like buy tea from the bodega and lamely offer it to her throughout the week during lunch period. The first time he’d given it to her, he’d stumbled his way through telling her how he’d seen the tea and thought of her. She’d accepted the tea packets with a pinched brow and a drawn out, suspicious “thank you.” And bless her, she hadn’t said anything the next two times Peter bought her tea and her Mt. Everest mug.
Ned, on the other hand, had laughed hard enough for the both of them, so Peter’s embarrassment never went away. His ears will probably never return to their natural shade.
Also, Ned = traitor, for sure.
But MJ drinks all the tea out of the mug he bought her and steals his food while looking him in the eye, so Peter figures he’s kind of winning at life right now.
Besides the part where MJ hasn’t suddenly and dramatically professed her love for him during decathlon practice, or after when they leave school together, or at lunch while she sips tea, reads, and makes profound judgements about his and Ned’s friendship, or every other Friday night when she’s finally opted to join his and Ned’s movie night.
She’s always smart comments, dry wit, and bored expressions. Or questioning Peter about his other extracurricular activities. (Peter figures he’ll tell her one day, granted she hasn’t figured it out already). She’s an enigma and Peter really can’t get enough of her. It’s a problem.
Peter’s concluded that she doesn’t like him like that. If anything, Peter’s convinced she must harbor ill will toward him for never responding to her calls and texts while he was busy battling Liz’s villainous father. He’s also convinced she’s just hanging around him to learn all of his weak spots so she can jab a sharp pin in each one.
Joke’s on MJ though because the suit is impenetrable. Or. He thinks it is. He’ll have to make sure with Karen.
Joke’s also on MJ because, whether she knows it or not, Peter’s already shown her his underbelly – every soft spot he has.
He tells Ned his theory and Ned stares at him for a solid two minutes and when Ned is that quiet, Peter knows he’s really said something stupid.
“Or,” Ned says in a voice that sounds like he already knows he’s right. “Or, she’s actually your friend. And she’s cool, Peter, so don’t mess this up for us.”
Ned’s just saying that because he finally has someone else on his side to veto Peter’s movie suggestions during movie night. Obviously.
But Ned might also be right. MJ is the coolest girl he knows and he’s lucky to call her a friend. He’s not going to go around screwing up a good thing just because he has feelings about the way she scrunches her nose in distaste during class lectures or the way she gets lost in her books or – god, the stupid way she drinks her stupid tea that Peter bought her!
Everything is STUPID.
Peter’s been having this inner monologue the entire length of the lunch period. The only way to clear his mind is to press his forehead against the cool surface of the table.
MJ flips the page in her book and in a monotone voice mentions that doing the same thing repeatedly is insanity.
Peter scowls at her because she’d been too smug if he actually agreed.
So, MJ does this thing where she pulls Peter out of his head a bit. He has all these thoughts rolling around in his head—a lot of them being about MJ—and she pulls him away from them. Calms him down a bit.
Today’s method is a scintillating game of fuck, marry, kill.
“Fuck, marry, kill: Leonardo DiCaprio, Ryan Gosling –”
“– Can I just kill myself instead?” Peter groans into the surface of the lunch table. It seems he does the most groaning here with MJ sitting across from him trying to ruin his life. While Ned sits beside him chortling into his ham and cheese sandwich.
MJ stopped steeping her tea bag in the second Peter interrupted her, but she continues now. “As I was saying,” she glares, “Leo, Gosling, or Matt Damon?”
Peter thinks long and hard about this for two seconds. “I’d have to marry Leo, right? He’d treat me real nice.”
“And Gosling wouldn’t?” MJ asks with a raised brow.
“Leo makes that private island money, though,” Ned says in a voice that doesn’t sound like Ned at all. Was his best friend replaced by some alien? A traitor maybe?
MJ lifts her mug in agreement with Ned’s statement. “I concede. Marry Leo. Who are you killing, Parker?”
She finally gives him her full attention. Which consists of her narrowing her eyes suspiciously. Having her full attention, no matter what that entails, makes Peter’s blood run hotter. Jeeeesus.
He clears his throat, “I’m gonna kill Matt Damon. He’s from Boston, right? Don’t wanna have to spend more time than needed there.”
MJ smirks and nods her head swiftly as if Peter passed a test.
Peter shoves a chip in his mouth and resolutely does not think about marrying MJ because that’s stupid and he’s sixteen years old. Jesus Christ, he berates himself, get it together.
Things go from bad to worse for Peter when MJ stops him after decathlon practice to talk.
(Everything is actually going really great. Spider-Man’s helping old ladies across the street, Aunt May hasn’t burned dinner all week, he and Ned have mastered the art of Legos, and Peter has consistently hit the buzzer faster that Flash has during decathlon practice. His pathetic crush on MJ is still wreaking havoc, but that has started to become a new normal for Peter.)
“Look, Peter,” MJ starts, leaning back against the table. “I really – We – the team – we really need you. You gotta help us out here. We need you to show up at the meets this time around, y’know?”
“MJ – no worries. It won’t be like last year. We’re gonna kick ass!” He worries the strap of his backpack and manages a smile. MJ doesn’t say anything right away, so Peter takes that as his cue to head for the door. He looks back, “You wanna stop for a sandwich on the –”
MJ grabs his arm and pulls him back to her. He’s closer now, he realizes. He gulps and looks up at her. He’s always known she’s a little taller than him, but this close, it really hits him. In the quiet of the room, just the sound of their breathing, and how close they are, he notices everything. Like how she squints her eyes a little when she’s looking at him. Or how she’s still holding onto his wrist.
“Peter, promise me, yeah? Don’t let me down.”
It suddenly feels like it’s a million degrees in the practice room. It feels like all the hair on Peter’s body is standing straight up. It feels like his breath is stuck in his chest, pinballing around in his chest cavity.
This is MJ being vulnerable, he realizes. She never lets anyone see her like this. But she’s letting Peter in on it.
“MJ,” he says softly. He reaches for her other hand to grab hold of her wrist. Another point of contact sends his blood hot. He gulps and starts again. “MJ, I’d never. I promise.”
“Yeah?” She asks, small smile taking shape on her face. Peter nods emphatically.
There’s a beat of silence before she continues. “What else do you promise, Parker?” She asks, searching his face for something.
Before he even realizes it, he says, “anything,” and means it.
“Promise you won’t freak out.”
“Promise,” Peter breathes, staring at her in shock. He doesn’t know what’s going to happen, but he hopes it’ll be good.
In a split second, MJ leans forward and kisses him mostly on the corner of the mouth.
As MJ pulls away, Peter has red sirens blaring in his head. There is a banner that flashes across his mind that says, “HIGH ALERT DREAMS ARE COMING TRUE PETER DON’T RUIN THIS.” Did Ned make the banner? He shakes his head. God, what does it matter? MJ just –
“I, uh, that. Did you,” he stutters and stumbles over his words. MJ laughs at him. It’s a good laugh.
“Peter, I know. And,” she shrugs, “me too.” She won’t stop smiling.
Dazed, Peter thinks don’t ever stop smiling.
“Wait. You knew?” He asks, shocked.
“Of course I knew. You bought me tea. I’m surprised you didn’t start quoting bell hooks at me,” she says around a little bit of a smirk. Peter must remember to Google bell hooks.
“I bought you tea,” Peter says slowly as if he’s just caught on to how absolutely gone for her he’s been.
There’s another beat of silence before Peter looks up to see her smirk turn into a small smile; her eyes are so bright like this. Like a sunflower blooming gold in the middle of the brown. Softly, she says, “You bought me tea, Peter.”
Peter blows out a breath and smiles. “I’m going to kiss you now – for real. I mean, can I? Kiss you? Unless –”
“Peter,” she snaps. She rolls her eyes too. Par for the course with MJ. “Do it already.”
So he does.
The first time was great. The second time is even better because when Peter pulls back, there is a hint of color on her cheeks and she sucks the corner of her bottom lip under her teeth.
“Quality effort, Parker.” She teases.
“Jesus Christ,” Peter grumbles as he leans his head down against the crook of her neck.
She throws her head back and laughs at his pain. He smiles against her skin. God, she’s something else.