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Five Times MJ Doesn't Need Rescuing

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1

MJ is having a good time: cheap coffee, a book on warfare in times of superheroes, and for once no stupid comments on her latest blog post (yet). There is no Decathlon practice this afternoon, so when class ended she made her way to a fair trade, non-franchise coffee shop where woke students such as her gather and not talk to each other.

But clearly someone didn’t get the memo.

Someone stands over her, casting a shadow over her book, and when she looks up she comes face-to-face with a guy who probably shops wherever Flash gets his clothes. She squints her eyes the way the Decathlon males—including Mr. Harrington but most especially Peter—are scared of. This doesn’t dissuade Knockoff Flash, who flashes (ha) an over-confident smile at her and says, “Hi. You here alone?”

She decides that looking at him for too long might be misconstrued as interest, so she returns her gaze back at her book and turns a page. “Very observant,” she says. “Can you go away? You’re standing in the light.”

“Whoops,” he says, and he moves away, but then he sits across from her. “Sorry, babe.”

She opens her mouth, ready to deliver the one-liner that would send this creep crying in the bathroom, but then Peter Parker shows up, all sweaty and disheveled like he just got out of a quickie in an alleyway, which honestly is how he looks every time she runs into him outside of school and sometimes even at school. Not that MJ doesn’t know why Peter is actually like that, but Peter doesn’t know that she knows, and it’s more fun to come up with ridiculous sexual explanations and watch him turn the most interesting shade of red. Besides, it’s not her secret to tell, not even to the boy who has the secret.

“Hi MJ,” Peter says, trying and failing to be nonchalant. “Sorry I made you wait.”

MJ squints her eyes at Peter, and unlike with Knockoff Flash, she gets the desired reaction. Peter looks like he can’t decide if he should turn red or pale, and looks constipated instead. Adorable. She keeps her stare several seconds longer, partly to mess with him further but mostly so she could commit this face in memory because she so needs to sketch this later.

Peter refuses to back down, stubbornly staring back at her. She doesn’t mind. He has very nice jawlines and she’s not above being superficial every once in a while.

“So,” Knockoff Flash drawls, and Peter starts, “this twerp your boyfriend or something?”

“No,” MJ says, but her voice is drowned by Peter’s, who steps forward and extends his hand, saying, “Yeah. I’m Peter.”

Knockoff Flash stands up, towering over Peter, and takes Peter’s hand to shake it. “Peter, hu-uuuuuuh?” His voice turns high in the end, like a dying animal, and he makes a move to pull his hand away but Peter holds tight. Poor guy.

“Yeah. You mind? You’re kind of sitting in my chair.” Then Peter lets go, and Knockoff Flash nearly stumbles due to the force he has been exerting to pull away from the handshake. He scampers away, muttering “freak”, and Peter takes the now-vacant chair with a very pleased expression.

MJ rolls her eyes. “Oh, my savior, you defended my honor. Whatever can I do to repay you.”

Peter throws her a wounded look, which should really be restricted by law because he already looks like a puppy by default. “Gee, you’re welcome.”

“What you just did reinforces the harmful bro code not hitting on another man’s property, and so he left not because he respected my wishes to be left alone, but because you,” she kicks his shin, “acted all macho and claimed me as your territory.”

“What would you have done, then?” Peter asks, and it surprisingly doesn’t sound petulant. He sounds curious, like he really wants to know something about her, and it’s doing weird things to her insides.

“I was going to tell him that he looks like he’s wearing the Mandatory Fuckboy Uniform, and that overcompensation isn’t going to change the fact that no one will ever love him. If that doesn’t work, I’ll flip the bird and tell him to fuck off. And if that also doesn’t work, I’ll throw my coffee at him.” It’s not like it’s her first time getting hit on by creepers.

“Wow,” Peter says, impressed. “Sounds like a waste of coffee, though.”

“The coffee’s already cold and he’s way too lame to warrant the pepper spray.” After a pause, she adds, “Which I will use if the coffee doesn’t work, but I doubt it would get to that. You saw him.” And broke his hand, maybe. So dramatic.

“Okay,” Peter says, raising both hands. “Okay. Obviously, you don’t need anyone to rescue you. But hey, you get to finish your coffee?”

This makes her almost smile. Almost. “Whatever, dork.”

“Hey, do you mind if I do my homework here? I kinda don’t feel like going home yet and Ned is out on a date with Betty.” Which means from now on he will probably hang around her whenever Ned is not available. She’s not sure how she feels about this.

She kicks his shin, not even trying to be gentle about it. “Just shut up already.”

 

2

When MJ resurfaces from her book, it’s already dark outside. Peter’s sleeping across from her, his cheek squishing papers and pen and arms oddly slack on his sides. There is also some slight drooling. A faint sound of vibration comes from somewhere, but it’s not her phone.

Kicking Peter lightly on the shin, she says, “Hey, loser.”

“Mmmmmmbfuahhhh?”

Update: the drooling situation is most definitely not slight. Also, he has ink smeared on his cheek, and her hand itches to wipe it off.

“I know you’re into some weird kinky shit, but you shouldn’t be using a vibrator in public places.”

“I—what—” Upon realizing that she was referring to his phone, he shoots her a Look. She suspected before that the whole secret identity thing was to protect the people around him or something martyr-like and heroic like that, but maybe it’s just so the criminals take him seriously. Acting stern does nothing to change his whole puppy face. It just makes the puppy seem like he’s pretending to be not scared of the house cat.

MJ shrugs in a deliberately careless way and Peter nudges her shin with his foot, which is probably meant to be a kick the way she always kicks him, and it’s pathetic even though he probably could break her leg easily if he wanted to. But he would never, because he’s Peter, and so that sad excuse of a kick is a gesture she finds somehow endearing, and again she rues her existence as a hormonal teenager.

Peter takes out his phone from his bag—she glimpses something offensively primary-colored in there despite his best effort to be discreet about it—and picks it up. “Hey, May—” He recoils, pulling the phone away from his ear even though the volume is already too low for MJ to eavesdrop on. “I’m fine, I’m sorry, I fell asleep doing my homework—yeah, I’m with MJ at this café—” His aunt clearly says something interesting because Peter blushes, and oh look, even the tips of his ears turn pink. “It’s not—” A sigh. “Look, just save some food for me, please? I’ll be home soon. Larb you too.”

MJ snorts. From what she has gleaned from Ned and Peter’s conversations, Thai food is the Parker household’s staple, but ‘larb you too’? That’s a first for her.

“Shut up.”

“Did I say anything?”

Peter sighs again. It seems like he does that a lot, lately. She doesn’t like it. “It’s late, so I’ll walk with you,” he says. He begins tidying up his things.

“Trying to find out where I live, Peter?”

He ignores her question. “Look, I know you’re super badass and probably also the type who fights dirty if necessary—”

She’s internally preening, if such a thing is possible, because Hell Yes she’s badass. Outwardly, however, she frowns and asks, “Are you calling me a cheat?”

He throws his hands up. “What—no—it’s a compliment!”

“Relax, I was just messing with you.” After a pause, she adds, “If I have a stun gun, which is completely illegal because a. I am a minor and b. it’s prohibited in the state of New York, I would totally electrocute someone’s balls off.”

Shuddering, he says, “That’s a terrifying mental image.” He picks up his bag and she follows suit.

“Thank you.”

“And you only said it’s illegal, not that you don’t have one.”

“Mhm.”

Peter opens his mouth for a few seconds, then closes it and shakes his head. “I’m not going to ask. Plausible deniability.”

“For once, you did not make a dumb decision. Congratulations.”

They go quiet then, having reached the sidewalk. MJ makes a vague hand-wave gesture and sets off towards the direction of her home.

He follows her.

It is sorely tempting to squint her eyes at him again, but she already used that move today and repeated usage may create an immunity against it, so she simply says, “I thought we established my badassery already.”

“I know, but—”

“You’re a butt.” Not her best, but hey, Sturgeon’s Law.

Again, he ignores her with all the grace of a hatchling. “I just feel better if I actually see you home. In person.”

This time, it is her who sighs. “If we do get mugged, I’ll be the one saving your ass anyway.”

Even under the dim streetlights, she can see his internal struggle on his face, and somehow, it’s not as funny as usual. She wonders if he has any plans at all to tell her, if she is good enough to be part of his inner circle, if he trusts her enough.

If he likes her enough.

If he likes her.

He probably does, otherwise he wouldn’t walk with her, but then maybe that’s just his ridiculous sense of duty. He’s clearly sleep-deprived and flaky because he patrols the city whenever he can. Maybe MJ is just another citizen.

After what feels like forever, Peter says, “Yeah, you’re probably right. Still, though—” He trails away, out of arguments.

She pretends this does not at all hurt her, even though she can’t make herself say anything in reply either. A shrug is all she offers him, and he seems to understand the cue for silence.

They reach her home without incident.

“Well, bye,” he offers weakly.

She shuts the door in his face.

 

3

Everything hurts. A palm-sized bloodstain mars her sheets, fresh. There’s a matching one on the back of her sweatpants.

It’s been three years since MJ got her first period and she can’t believe she has roughly another thirty years of this.

On the bright side, she now knows why she was so touchy with Peter last night. Fucking hormones. She shouldn’t have shut the door in his face. Sure, she likes to act like she doesn’t care about him to mess with him, but it is an art of precision. Too much and Peter would be legitimately hurt. She doesn’t want to hurt him; she wants him to like her. By pretending she doesn’t like him. And then get angry and shut the door in his face when he doesn’t let her in on his secret despite her hard work in pretending not to like him.

Never let it be said that Michelle Jones does things the easy way.

She somehow manages changing and putting the bloodstained item in the laundry pile. She’ll deal with those later. Or maybe her brother would. He’s an ER nurse; some menstrual blood is tame compared what he sees everyday. On the other hand, it’s probably shitty of her to make him do extra housework when he’s already working extra shifts. Maybe she’ll wash it herself when tomorrow, when the pain isn’t so bad anymore.

Two things she requires to survive the day: ibuprofen, which is always in stock at home, and chocolate. The ibuprofen she takes just before leaving. For the chocolate, she stops by a bodega on the way to school.

She gets a little bit of everything: dark, milk, with cashew, with almonds, and even with raisins because she actually likes raisins. When she’s about to pay, something colorful catches her eye: gummy worms. She dislikes gummy worms; too sour and too silly-looking. Before her brain catches up, she grabs a pack of it and adds it to her purchase.

The chocolate gets her through the day. She eats it bit by bit, breaking it off under the table and sneaking it into her mouth when the teacher is not looking her way. At the gym, she lies still on her back and closes her eyes. When Coach Wilson asks her what she’s doing, she says she’s doing yoga.

“That ain’t yoga.”

She doesn’t bother opening her eyes. “Sure is. Shavasana. Corpse pose. Look it up.”

There’s a pause, which means he really is looking it up, then a long-suffering sigh as he walks away from her. Score.

She wakes up to familiar-sounding whispers. Peter and Ned. Of course.

“We should probably wake her up,” whispers Ned.

Pause. Then, Peter whispers back, “Good idea. Go ahead.”

“Dude, no, I want to live. You do it.”

“She may or may not have a stun gun. I’m not risking it.”

“No way.” And then, as if it is humanely possible for Ned Leeds to become even geekier, “Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus.

She keeps her eyes closed, still, and says, “Too late.”

She can almost hear them freeze, and sure enough, they stand there petrified when she finally opens her eyes and gets up to roll the mattress.

She leaves them, and unable to resist, she throws behind her back, “You have awakened the dragon.” Which, great, now she’s as lame as they are. She blames the period.

She runs out of chocolate during World History, despite having bought an indecent amount of it. At least the ibuprofen still has an effect.

The pain returns with a vengeance in the middle of Decathlon. She balls up her fists as tight as she can, feeling her nails press into the palm of her hands.

Peter’s elbow nudges hers, and when she looks at him, he mouths, you okay?

Yeah, she mouths back.

Unconvinced, he starts calling Mr. Harrington, but then she stomps on his foot, hard. His face doesn’t betray the pain even though she gave it her best, but he stops trying to make a scene. She’s the captain. She can’t quit practice midway, not when she has a championship title to defend.

When it’s her turn to be quizzed, she answers every question correctly.

 

4

One painful hour later, the Decathlon meeting comes to and end and she can’t wait until she gets to cuddle her electric pillow. Peter follows her out the gates, offering to walk her home. Again. Even though it’s not even dark yet. She’s not sure if she should feel insulted. Any other boy and she would cry sexism, but Peter is a bona fide superhero. Odds are, she is safer when she’s with him, at least physically. Emotionally, there’s only so many times one can describe the squirming in one’s stomach as butterflies before the novelty fades and it just gets annoying.

“Is Leeds ditching you for Brant again?”

“What? No.” At her look, he amends, “Okay, yeah, he did. But that’s not why. I just want to make sure you get home okay. You look kinda peaky.”

“I told you, I’m fine. It’s a monthly event.”

“Oh.” Then, when comprehension fully dawns on him, “Oh.” Then he shuts up, but still walks with her nonetheless. He changes the subject to Game of Thrones, which she hasn’t watched because she doesn’t have HBO and she is against piracy and she’s not sure if buying the DVDs is worth it.

“But you quoted it!” Peter exclaims.

“I read the books.”

“Of course you do,” Peter says, and he sounds almost fond. “I tried, but I can’t get through A Feast for Crows.”

They spend the rest of the way discussing theories and whether GRRM will die before he finishes the books. MJ’s money is on yes, because look at the way he describes food. This is one man who will one day get a heart attack from too much cholesterol. Peter argues that GRRM is the bringer of death, and thus it is inconceivable that he will die before he finishes his job.

No one mugs them.

She doesn’t keel over on the sidewalk.

Before she shuts the door in his face again, she makes sure to throw him the pack of gummy worm she bought this morning. Then, through the peephole, she sees a dopey grin bloom on his face and she has to restrain herself from making the same face.

 

5

MJ’s night goes from 0 to 100 real quick.

One moment she’s just walking home, rapping along Guns and Ships as loud as she pleases, then someone pulls her into an alleyway mid-Lafayette! And then the guy yells at her, waving around a knife in a way that is more likely to hurt himself than her, and she can’t hear what he’s saying because she still has Daveed Diggs in her ears. With the hand that’s not currently clutching a pepper spray in her jacket pocket, she pulls out one earbud. “Sorry, what were you saying?”

This makes him angrier, and she can feel his spittle hitting her face as he tells her to hand him all her money.

“Okay, sheesh. Hold on a sec.”

Then she unloads a canister full of capsaicin in his eyes.

MJ wouldn’t call his screams music to her ears, because she has excellent taste in music, thank you very much, but damn if it isn’t satisfying. She can’t waste her escape window, however, so she makes her way back to the main street. She only makes it a couple of steps before he calls her a cunt and promises to rape her.

Now, she can’t let that slide, can she? Funny how people have different screams for different types of pains.

She hears a light thud behind her, but keeps her gaze fixed on the man curling up and whimpering on the ground in front of her. She calls out, “Wrap him up, will you? I can’t wait around until the cops come.”

Spider-Man comes up to stand next to her, peering down at her handicraft. “Wow. What did you do to him?”

She shakes the pepper spray canister in front of his face.

“I can see that,” he says, gesturing to the guy’s red, swollen face, “but why is he clutching his crotch?”

“Oh. I kneed him.”

“Huh.”

“Shouldn’t you be questioning me? For all you know, I’m the one who mugged this guy.”

He shrugs. “If you do go around mugging people, I think you’d have enough respect to at least wait until the song is over first.”

All she says is, “Can’t argue with that logic,” even though inside she’s wondering how good his hearing is. It took him a while to arrive, so he must have been pretty far away, at least two blocks or so. If his hearing is good enough to pick up her singing from two blocks away, are his other senses enhanced, too? If so, then he can definitely—

“Do you smell that? It’s like something’s burnt.”

And there it is.

“Gotta go. School night. Bye, Spidey!”

 

+1

Ned Leeds and Betty Brant are nauseating.

Betty sits with them at lunch every other day now, and the pair have taken to feeding each other, and which is gross. The only bright side to this is that this gives her plenty of time to practice communicating with Peter using looks and smirks and kicks under the table. They have gotten pretty good at it, running non-verbal commentary on their friend’s young love.

MJ tries to snark them once, and Peter glares and kicks her harder than usual, and she shuts up.

“He’s never had this before,” Peter says later when there’s only him and MJ and the lovers are off on a date again.

She knows. She also knows that Ned is insecure about how he looks, hiding it behind jokes and geekery, acting like he doesn’t care, but he does. And Betty is sweet and kind and they pair up well. Still, “I have a moral obligation to report crimes and I’m sure that counts as indecent exposure.”

“I know—just—you don’t have to look. Do something else.”

“I can’t. Can you?”

He sighs, and she’s not sure if it’s of exasperation, fondness, or jealousy. “I wish.”

So they go back to non-verbal. They’re in the middle of a very intense discussion—Peter waggling his eyebrows and MJ miming puking—when Ned inexplicably looks away from Betty, sees them, and proclaims that they are disgusting and should get a room. What a hypocrite.

Ned’s comment leads Peter to blush and squeeze his milk carton so hard he spills milk all over his front, and MJ can’t help but laugh like she has never done in public, snorts and all, until tears well up her eyes and she’s gasping for breath, slumped on the table.

When she finally pulls herself together she wipes the tears away and looks up and Peter’s looking at her with the widest, softest, most stupid-looking smile in the history of Peter Parker’s stupid smiles (all his smiles are stupid) and MJ pretends she doesn’t feel blood rising to her cheeks.

She blames her teenager hormones when she later asks him if he wants to come over “and read and not talk to each other or whatever.”

He looks like she just clubbed him over his head. “Yeah,” he finally breathes out. “I’d love that. I mean, cool. Yeah. Cool. Okay.”

They eventually decide on watching Netflix. He sits at the end of the couch and she leans against the other end of the couch, her calves on his lap and their popcorn bowl in hers. Then, in the middle of an argument on what to watch, his phone vibrates. He lifts her legs away from his lap with one hand like it’s no big deal and reaches into his pocket with another. Upon seeing the caller ID, his face falls.

“Sorry,” he says, “I gotta take this.”

He walks away, his voice low as he talks to whoever is on the other side, but she hears enough to know that she’s going to have to finish all the popcorn alone.

When he returns, his face is forlorn. “I’m so sorry, MJ—”

“I know.”

“I tried getting out of it, I really did, but Mr. Stark really needs me and—”

“Yeah. Whatever.”

“Next time?” He sounds uncertain, and she knows she has to be careful not to snap too hard at him.

She shrugs. “Sure.”

When he’s at the door, she calls out, “Hey, Peter.”

“Yeah?”

She doesn’t know what to say. The words, ever her loyal friends, escape her. Everything is either too bitter, or too corny, or too cliché. Hypothetically, anything you say can be the last thing you tell someone, but this is not a hypothetical situation. Peter will go to a very certain danger, and he doesn’t know, but she will be monitoring twitter and news channels as soon as he shuts the door. But what should she say, when she’s not even supposed to know this fact?

“MJ?”

Eventually, she decides to say, “Don’t let a bus hit you on the way.”

He laughs. “I won’t.”

Then he closes the door, leaving her free to punch the closest throw pillow. When she’s done, she turns on the first news channel she finds.

It’s a gigantic dragon the size of a building.

Peter is fighting an actual acid-spitting, scaly, green dragon, together with the remaining Avengers, in Time Street Square.

The whole thing is broadcasted live, news choppers hovering over the scene. She sees glimpses of the Defenders helping with evacuation while the fighting continues, the dragon seemingly impervious to Iron Man and War Machine’s weaponry.

Eventually, Vision shoots laser from his forehead into the dragon’s eyes, blinding it, and after even more fighting, they manage to pinion its wings. Peter spins his web around the dragon’s legs, and then around its snout to muzzle it—MJ clutches her pillow tight, breath bated, as he narrowly avoids the acid spit—and finally, finally it is over.

Stark calls for one of his jets to transport the dragon who-knows-where, and there’s still commentary running in the background about the extent of the damage, what this incident means in the grand scheme of things, theories on where the dragon came from, and just who is Spider-Man? She listens to it, half asleep, her energy drained by an hour of worrying and being scared for Peter.

MJ starts when she hears knocking, not from the door, but from the window. Outside is Peter, still in his suit, the front of his mask pushed up to reveal his bruised face.

She opens the window and Peter grins feebly at her. “Hi. I need somewhere to crash?”

She’s not sure how to react to any of this, so she doesn’t. “Done with the internship?” she asks instead, stepping aside and gesturing for him to come in. Her brother is staying with his boyfriend tonight, so the apartment is all hers.

He comes in, all the way looking at her as if expecting her to suddenly yell and spring a trap on him. “Uh, yeah.”

She sniffs the air and wrinkles her nose in distaste. “You smell disgusting. Go shower and change,” she orders, pushing him towards the bathroom.

He obeys her, and she watches his movements closely. He doesn’t limp, so his legs are fine. His arms should also be fine if he swung all the way from Times Square. But he holds himself stiffly, and when he pokes his side he says, half-heartedly, “Ow.”

“Your ribs? Are they broken?”

“Probably just bruised, fractured at most. It’ll be fine in a couple of days.”

She moves to jab his side again, but this time he dodges smoothly. “I’d rather you not do that,” he says.

Okay, so it hurts more than he wants to admit. Fine. “I have an ACE bandage. We can wrap it after you shower.”

“Why do you—”

“Plausible deniability, remember? Just take a damn shower. Or do you need me to wash your back?”

Peter flushes, and the parts of his face that are bruised turn an even darker purple. “Nononono. I’m fine. Shower, yeah, okay.”

He brings his backpack into the bathroom, and when he comes out he’s already wearing normal clothes, except he zips the hoodie up to his chin. “I, um,” he starts, then flushes again, “I can’t put on the T-shirt.”

MJ pats the couch and he sits down gingerly. Then, she kneels between his legs and flicks the zipper of his hoodie. “Off with this.”

“W-w-what?”

MJ shows her the roll of ACE bandage. “Relax, weirdo. If I were propositioning you, the pants would go first.”

“Oh,” he breathes, relieved—or maybe disappointed, she’s not sure—and then he unzips and takes off the hoodie.

Another time, she might be able to appreciate the abs, but right now she’s focused on the constellation of bruises, her mind going through every hit, every impact that created each. On his left shoulder are burnt patches of skin, patterned like blood splatter. They’re scrubbed clean, the wound gaping and raw. She’d have to bandage it after.

She’s quiet as she wraps the ACE bandage around his ribs, but then he says, “MJ?”

“Hm?”

“You’re not freaking out.”

Oh, if only he knew. “Nope.”

“Did you know? That I was Spider-Man?”

“Since Washington Monument.”

He starts to laugh, then abruptly stops, wincing. “You are very observant.”

MJ ducks her head to hide her smile from him. “Damn straight.”

When she’s bandaging his acid burns, she asks him, “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I never told anyone. Mr. Stark tracked me down. Ned and May found out by accident. Liz’ dad recognized my voice.”

Which makes her the first person he’s revealed his identity to. “Okay, then why did you tell me?”

“I didn’t want to, at first. I want to keep you as safe as possible. But between you, May, and Ned, you’re probably the least vulnerable. That mugger’s balls were burnt, MJ. Burnt. Do you know how scary that is?” That’s the highest praise anyone has ever given her.

“So you revealed your alter-ego to me because I electrocuted someone’s balls? Damn, should have thought about that long ago.”

He huffs, which is as much laughing as he can manage with his ribs right now. “I knew you actually had a stun gun.”

“Well, Mr. Parker, I’d have to kill you now. Can’t have people finding out about my life of crime.”

“Please stop making me laugh.”

“Oh, so my sense of humor is not why you bared your soul and abs to me?”

Peter huffs again. “Actually, it kind of is.”

Feeling blindsided, she leans back to look at him properly. “What?”

“Your sense of humor. You—you’re funny. And you mess with me a lot, but you’re also really kind, and really smart. I knew you at least suspected something, but you just teased me and didn’t actually pry. You invited me to hang out and not talk. And when I showed up at your window all beat up, I was scared you would freak out like Ned or May, but I hoped you wouldn’t, and turned out you didn’t. Freak out, I mean. And you didn’t cry, like May would, or ask for a play-by-play, like Ned would. I love them, but it gets too much sometimes. Like today. So I came to you.” He has his face turned away from her, the tips of his ears red.

“Wait.” Her head spins with all this information Peter just dumped at her. He just told her, in a roundabout way, that he needs her. Wants her to be a part of this other life he leads. “Let me get this straight: you wanted me to know about you being Spider-Man because I already knew, but I acted like I didn’t know and didn’t want to know?”

He keeps his gaze away from her. “It sounds dumb when you put it like that, but yeah.”

“Peter,” she says, and she cups his cheek in her hand, careful not to put too much pressure on the bruises, and turns his face towards her. “It’s not dumb.”

“It’s not?” He sounds so hopeful.

MJ frowns. “Listen carefully, because this is the only time I’m telling you this. I’m happy you trust me with your secret.”

And he makes that smile again, the wide, soft, stupid-looking one he made when she laughed at him earlier today, and her mind short-circuits, lizard brain taking over, and she kisses him.

It’s just a quick press of lips, then she pulls back, her mind already concocting a witty retort or an excuse or an apology, but then he leans forward, kissing her back, and whoa.

She pushes him back a bit too roughly.

His eyes are wide open and wild, and she lifts one hand to shut him up for a while as she’s catching her breath. “Sorry, it’s just—”

“Too fast?” he asks.

She nods. “Too fast.”

He nods back. “Okay.”

“Netflix?”

“Sure.”

She makes more popcorn and he puts his hoodie back on, then they bicker again about what to watch. When they finally decide and the title card is playing, he takes her hand and intertwines his fingers with hers.

She doesn’t pull her hand away.