Ned had learned, fairly quickly, that having a superhero boyfriend actually sort of sucked.
Like, sure, sometimes it was pretty exciting, him and Peter taking down bad guys together. Well okay, it was mostly Peter taking down bad guys and Ned googling thing to help Peter take down bad guys, but it was still cool. And sure, there were perks, like guaranteed invites to Stark events, that time Peter had gotten Natalie Portman to call him for his birthday, (“Her cousin knows Thor,” Peter had said with a shrug when Ned had asked him about it), and just the general awesomeness of having a boyfriend who is insanely flexible.
Though this mostly just balanced out the huge amount of suckiness that was having to keep Peter’s double identity secret, missed dates, injuries, being constantly worried about Peter being in danger, and the shockingly common occurrences of kidnapping whenever a villain put together that Ned knew Spider-Man.
“Wait, so I have to help you move into your dorm because you got kidnapped? That doesn’t even make sense. Besides, you have not been kidnapped that much,” Peter retorts, shifting the precariously balanced stack of moving boxes in his arms.
“I’m just saying, being able to use your powers for my own personal gain helps make up for the kidnapping. Also I’ve been kidnapped, what like, seven times? Which is a lot considering most people are kidnapped, never.” Ned says, watching the floors tick by.
“So what you’re saying,” Peter says, “is that the average person kidnapped twice per year factoid is actually just statistical error. Average person is kidnapped zero times per year. Spiders BF, who lives in Queens and is kidnapped ten thousand times each day, is an outlier and should not have been counted.” He readjusts his stack of boxes, which Ned knows from packing must easily weigh over 100 pounds, but Peter jostles them so they’re balancing on one arm like it’s nothing and tugs playfully on the hem of Ned’s shirt with his now-free hand. “Oh c’mon, that was funny.”
The elevator dings on the ninth floor and they shuffle down the hall around some freshman’s helicopter parents who are grilling the poor RA on something or other.
“I would also like to say, for the record,” Peter says, watching Ned fumble for his dorm card, “The the last time you got kidnapped you were much more concerned about having missed your ortho appointment than physical peril.”
“Dude, you know the receptionist is like, crazy mean about missed appointments,” Ned protests, kicking the door open and dumping his box on the bed.
Peter sets his stack of boxes on the desk, which creaks ever so slightly in protest, and he pauses for a moment before moving them onto the floor instead.
“Well there goes desk sex, I guess,” Peter says, sitting backwards in the desk chair, arms crossed on top of the back rest.
“Glad to see you’ve always got your priorities in order,” Ned says, setting his laptop case on top of the desk.
“Hey. Hey, c’mere,” Peter says, reaching out for Ned’s hand when he doesn’t move closer. “C’mere,” he says again, sitting up farther in the chair while he pulls Ned down towards him, mouths meeting somewhere in the middle.
Ned kisses back, indulging him, but he pulls away when Peter bites his lip. “Don’t think I don’t know that you’re trying to distract me so you don’t have to go get the rest of my stuff.”
Peter pushes Ned’s fringe up from where it had started to fall into his face. “See, it’s keen and intelligent observations like that remind me why I love you.”
Ned kisses him again. “Cute. Now go get my stuff.” Peter groans and pouts, but it’s mostly for effect and he stands to leave without any additional protest, grabbing Ned’s dorm card so he won’t get locked out.
“When’s the roommate moving in?” Peter asks, looking over the empty half of the room.
“Uh, I think later today,” Ned says, already distracted by unpacking. He’s exchanged a few polite, if somewhat stilted, emails with his roommate who insists, god knows why, that Ned call him Flash. Though, Ned supposes almost anything is better than Eugene.
Peter sighs like his life is very difficult. “Should have gotten a single,” he sing-songs on his way out the door.
“Should have applied for student housing!” Ned chimes back but Peter just makes a kissy face in response, letting the door swing closed behind him.
Ned starts unpacking, making his bed first so he can use it as a staging station. He puts the boxes with his school stuff on the desk to deal with later and focuses on getting his clothes unpacked. It’s only about ten minutes until he hears a quick double knock on the door, Peter already gone for the next load by the time Ned opens the door, his things neatly stacked against the wall of the hallway.
Ned brings the boxes into the room, kneeling on the floor to rummage through his box of electronics, wanting to set up his power cords while his desk is still light enough to move. His back’s to the door so he only hears Peter come in, quicker this time, only three or four minutes since he left.
“That was quick,” Ned says, trying to detangle his phone charger from where it's wrapped itself around his Lego Storm Trooper alarm clock.
“What?” Someone decidedly Not Peter says behind him, and Ned turns in surprise.
He recognizes Flash from his Facebook photos, all coiffed hair and popped collars, but he’s shorter and more fragile-looking in person than Ned had expected.
“Oh hey, sorry I thought you were-” Ned stands, chucking his alarm clock more heavily back into the box than he really should and it thuds loudly. “I’m Ned.” He holds out his hand for Flash to shake, but he, surprisingly, pulls Ned into one of those bro half-hugs.
“Good to meet you, man,” Flash says. “I’m guessing this is me then?” He gestures at the empty bed and desk.
“Uh, yeah,” Ned says. “Unless you wanna be on this side. I just sort of picked randomly, I don’t care. We can switch.”
Flash flops down onto the bare mattress. “Nah, this is good,” he says tucking his arms behind his head.
“Don’t you have...stuff?” Ned asks.
Flash gives him a look. “Yeah, the movers are supposed to be here in half an hour.”
This pretty much confirms Ned’s suspicions that Flash is rich. Though he looks like that kind of self-conscious rich person who feels the need to insist that they’re not that rich, that they’re really “Upper Middle Class.” Though, that makes his choice to live in a slightly cheaper double room a bit of a mystery.
Ned’s still pondering this a few minutes later, Flash lazily swiping through something on his phone, when Peter returns with the rest of his boxes. He drops them on the floor loudly, betraying their heaviness, before he spots Flash lounging on his bed. Peter gives him a quick panicked look but Flash hasn’t even looked up from his phone.
Ned waits for about thirty seconds, putting down the textbooks he was piling onto the shelf above his desk, all ready to do the boyfriend introduction. He figures it probably won’t be a big deal, but on the off chance his new roommate is a huge homophobe Ned wants to know early on so he can request a switch. Flash doesn’t seem to notice they’re staring at him though, even when Ned clears his throat loudly.
Peter raises an eyebrow at him and Ned shrugs.
“Oh, hey,” he says finally. “We’re gonna go get some food.”
“‘Kay, cool,” Flash says, looking up, giving Peter an unimpressed once over and then going back to his phone.
Peter makes a small offended noise, somewhere between a scoff and a huff and Ned has to bite on his cheek to stop himself from laughing as he pulls Peter out of the dorm by the hand.
They grab dinner at a diner Peter had foiled an attempted robbery at during junior year, so there’s a Spider-Man homage mural along the back wall. And Ned doesn’t say anything, but he figures Peter is trying to give himself an ego boost. Especially after Ned had told him that Flash had actually been pretty chill to him, bro hug and all.
“He’s my roommate, why do you care?” Ned says, for what must be the third or fourth time since they’ve gotten there, and they haven’t even gotten their food yet.
“I don’t care,” Peter blatantly lies. “I just, I don’t want him to judge me, he doesn’t even know me.”
“Hi, welcome to every day of my life, babe,” Ned says, scribbling with a crayon on the brown butcher paper rolled over the table.
“What?” Peter says. “What do you mean?”
Ned sighs. “I mean people judge the fact that I’m your boyfriend all the time cause you’re like, a prime white physical specimen and they’re like, what’s he doing with that chubby Asian guy? Or if I’m lucky they’re, like, body positive but probably still racist.”
Peter’s mouth twists and he makes an unhappy noise, reaching for Ned’s hand across the table and running a thumb along his knuckles.
“Look, you don’t gotta get all sad about it, I’m just saying. You can handle one dude not liking you.”
“I know,” Peter says, “I just. What if he hates me and I never can come over and you start to forget what I look like and one day you just pass me in the street like a stranger and I die sad and alone because your roommate hates me?”
“You put a lot of thought into that one,” Ned says.
Peter pouts, resting his chin in his hand, but after a long moment he perks up. “Do you really think I’m a prime physical specimen?”
“I regret ever saying anything ever,” Ned says and rolls his eyes, but his heart swoops in his chest as Peter determinedly writes N.L.AND P.P. 4EVER in large block letters on their table.
Peter’s not-technically-an-Avenger-phone goes off as they’re leaving the diner, but he ignores it and walks back to Ned’s dorm with him, kissing him more soundly goodnight than usual in the lobby of his building before bounding off to do some sort of dashing heroism.
In their room Flash’s stuff is piled on his side, and most of it in still-new boxes, stuff from IKEA and high-end electronics.
There’s a fat orientation folder, bright Columbia blue, sitting on his bedspread and Ned chucks it with the pile of stuff on his desk without looking at it. It’s not even that late but he’s tired from moving in, even if Peter did do most of the work, so he shoves the rest of his unopened boxes under his bed after digging up some blue tack.
Flash appears about half an hour later with Chinese takeout when Ned’s about three quarters done sticking all his stuff to the wall; photos and movie ticket stubs, his Midtown Tech pennant and little drawings MJ had thrown at his head during class that he’d dutifully kept and flattened down.
“Hey man,” Flash says, dropping his bag on top of the mini fridge. He gives a long glance over at Ned’s wall. “I didn’t know you went to Midtown Tech,” he says with an odd lilt.
“Oh, uh, yeah,” Ned says, carefully.
“I went to Brooklyn Tech,” Flash says with a shrug, pulling a carton and some chopsticks out of the bag and flopping down on the bed. “So we’re like sworn genetic enemies I guess.”
Ned must get a look on his face, cause Flash sits up and backpedals. “I mean not really, I’m just- you know everyone says Midtown Tech is better. That’s actually where I wanted to go- and look we can at least make fun of Stuyvesant together.”
There’s a long awkward lull where Ned tries to think of something cool to say that isn’t just ‘haha yeah’, Flash looking at him expectantly. One side of his collar has come un-popped and Ned’s brain can’t help but liken him to a dog with it’s ear flipped inside out.
Ned’s about three seconds from considering the merits of faking an illness when his phone starts ringing and he scrambles for it gratefully.
“Hi!” Peter says, sounding cheerful on the other end of the line. Ned’s had enough experience from three years of backseat vigilante-ism to recognize the slightly breathy thrill Peter gets in his voice when a mission’s gone well.
“Heya,” Ned says, angling towards his desk. “How’d work go?”
“Good!” Peter says, he must be high up, a bridge maybe? Ned can hear the wind and the distant whooshing sound of cars. “Mr. Stark says hi.”
“He does not,” Ned says at the same moment Tony says “No I didn’t” somewhere behind Peter. Ned’s ongoing bizarre rivalry with Tony Stark was not exactly the outcome he’d expected from dating a superhero. And while wanting to go into the tech industry on Tony Stark’s personal shit list wasn’t exactly in his own best interests, at least Ned had the excuse of being a petty teenager and not a grown adult who should, arguably, know better.
He sees Flash drift over towards his bed out of the corner of his eye, looking down at something Ned can’t see from this angle.
“Babe?” Peter says, and he must have said something that Ned was too distracted to catch. “Hmm?”
“I just said I’m going home for the night but did you want to meet up tomorrow after orientation?”
Ned looks over at the orientation packet precariously balanced on the stack on his desk, “Yeah, I uh, I literally haven’t even looked at my schedule yet, I’ll text you, okay?”
“Sure,” Peter says, “Oh, okay, we’re really leaving for real. I’ll text you in the morning. Okay bye, I larb you!” He says in a rush.
“I larb you too,” Ned says, Peter huffing a happy laugh before the call disconnects.
“Did you just say ‘I larb you too’?” Flash says behind him,
“Yeah,” Ned says, turning and leaning against his desk chair, “It’s sort of our...thing. We started doing it as a joke and it just sort of...” He trails off, more distracted by the picture frame Flash has in his hands.
Ned had only brought two framed photos to his dorm with him. One with his whole family at DisneyWorld when he was a kid, all of them in Mickey Mouse hats in front of the Castle and the other one is a prom snapshot that May had taken. They must have taken two dozen posed shots, but this was a candid shot of them sitting on a bench in Central Park, both of them looking off in the distance at MJ attempting to climb into a tree in her dress for, as she’d put it, an action shot. They’re both laughing, Peter’s arm curved over Ned’s shoulder, their legs crisscrossed together.
Ned bites his lip and shoves down the urge to grab the frame out of Flash’s hands.
“So that was your...boyfriend earlier?” Flash says, Ned’s shoulders curling at the way he says boyfriend.
“Yeah,” Ned says flatly.
“Oh hey, no I’m not saying like-I don’t have a problem with it. You having a boyfriend I mean, you know it’s like, hashtag same love or whatever.” Flash says, handing him the picture frame, “I was just sort of surprised that you’re dating a white dude, that’s all.”
Ned blinks, “Um, why?”
“Because white men are terrible,” Flash says, with all the conviction of a third year gender studies major and Ned is so taken aback that he starts laughing so hard he chokes and Flash has to run to get the RA.
The next day they have dorm orientation and any fears Ned had about Flash not liking him dissipate when he stays glued to his side all morning. After what feels like an endless cycle of ice breaker games and brightly coloured info packets about STIs and dorm etiquette they’re finally walked over to campus proper for afternoon academic sessions.
Flash checks his watch. “I have like half an hour before my stuff starts, do you wanna grab some Starbs?”
“Some, what?” Ned says, double checking his schedule for the fourth time to confirm his session doesn’t start until 2 pm.
“Starbs? Buckies?” Flash says slapping him on the shoulder and guiding him through the throngs of freshmen on campus, “Starbucks Ned, c’mon, my treat.”
Flash is practically already pushing him through the cafe door so it seems pointless to protest that he doesn’t actually drink coffee. Ned orders an ungodly expensive iced tea and watches, half in awe and half in horror as Flash orders the longest, douche-iest sounding coffee he’s ever heard.
“I’m gonna grab us seats,” Ned says, worried that may be an empty promise in the packed cafe, but he manages to luck out, hovering just close enough to an pair of stressed looking business women to grab their spots when they get up.
He dicks around on his phone while he waits, playing all 17 of the snapchats MJ has sent him since last night, including some notable shots of her having climbed onto the roof of some building at Stanford in what looks like a bedsheet toga.
The last one is a selfie video, pulled tight around her face, “What the fuck is this bullshit?” She says, turning the camera around to a graffitied Spider-Man logo on the wall before flipping back to her looking unimpressed.
About two months after Peter and Ned had started dating Peter had decided that they should tell her about the Spider-Man thing, they spent so much time with her and she seemed to be circling closer to the truth all the time. It’d just seemed easier to tell her rather than have her find out accidentally, or have her find out because she’d been put in danger. But when they’d sat her down to have the conversation she’d insisted that whatever Peter was up to she’d wanted to figure out on her own.
“I have a pretty good idea anyways,” She’d said with a shrug, and she must have because it was only a week later when she’d chucked a crumpled up piece of notebook paper at them in bio, Spider-Man the only thing written on it.
Ned swallows down how much he misses her as Flash finally appears with their drinks. “The barista had to make mine three times,” Flash says as if this is a great injustice, flopping down onto the armchair horizontally, legs dangling over the side as he passes Ned his iced tea.
It’s sort of gross because Ned forgot they don’t sweeten their tea, but he takes a long sip anyways, holding back a face, “I mean your order is pretty complicated and it’s really busy.”
“They were doing it on purpose,” Flash huffs, “They didn’t do it right til I asked to talk to a manager.”
“Oh dude you didn’t, c’mon it’s not worth it for the sake of having caramel syrup instead of hazelnut.”
Flash looks at him over the top of his sunglasses, “I have allergies Ned,” He says, very seriously.
Ned pauses for a second, “Oh, well, did you tell them that?”
“No,” he pouts, “But I shouldn’t have to.”
“I mean yeah you shouldn’t,” Ned says, “But-”
“Well I mean, you’re wearing sunglasses inside.”
Flash swings his legs forward so he can lean in closer to Ned, “What does that have to do with anything.”
“You’re not….great with people are you?” Ned says carefully.
Flash stares at him for a long moment and Ned wonders if this is how he makes his roommate into his archnemesis, but Flash finally huffs, throws his sunglasses onto the table and sighs, “Is it that obvious?”
“A little,” Ned admits and Flash groans, putting his head in his hands. Ned leans forward, patting him on the shoulder. “It’ll be okay buddy.”
“I’m so baaaad at this stuff. I’ve like, always been bad at it but at least when I was a kid like, when you got cool shit people will want to hang out with you. So my parents were super worried and they like, made me apply to be in a double and I was so pumped cause you’re so chill and nice but also you have a boyfriend and I’m sure you’ll have a million other friends by the end of the week cause you’re good at this shit. ” He says all in a rush.
Ned blinks at him, not really sure what to say and Flash rubs a hand over his face, “Sorry this is like, very pathetic. You’re just so...well adjusted.”
“My mom’s a psychologist,” Ned says with a shrug, “And if it makes you feel better Peter spent most of last night paranoid that you hate him.”
Flash perks up, “Really?”
Ned sighs and takes a drink from his iced tea. This is going to be a long day, he can tell already.
He finally manages to get Flash bundled off to his architecture orientation session, waving him off like an overprotective parent on the first day of kindergarten. Ned doesn’t have anything better to do so he heads off early to his own session and there’s about half a dozen other freshmen already loitering around the doorway to the lecture hall.
He feels oddly self conscious finding a spot along the wall where he can wait, the nervous hum of freshmen-ness crackling like static electricity, everyone trying very hard to look nonchalant. Ned scrolls through his texts, just one new one from Peter confirming that they’re meeting when his biochem orientation ends, though Ned knows all plans made with Peter are tentative at best.
He’s debating seeing what MJ’s up to, but before he can remember how many time zones apart they are he hears an,“Oh my god? Ned?” behind him. He whirls around, Liz fucking Allan fast approaching, her arms already stretched out and before he can even say hi she’s got him pulled into a tight hug.
“I knew it was you!” She says right in his ear and Ned’s inner 15 year old is screaming internally because Liz Allan just appeared out of thin air and is hugging him and he can smell her perfume and he may love Peter but there’s some crushes you just don’t ever really get over.
Liz steps back. Her hair is longer and curlier than Ned remembers, pulled into a high ponytail. She’s wearing a blue t-shirt with the CS@CU logo on the front and a pair of long dangly silver earrings. Ned feels like someone has cranked the thermostat up about 20 degrees and hopes it’s not obvious his heart has started thumping wildly.
“It’s so funny,” Liz says, “I saw you over there and I was like ‘that looks just like Ned Leeds’ and here you are! Are you here for orientation?”
“Uh, yeah,” Ned manages, his brain finally catching up to thought process that isn’t just holy shit Liz. “Are you, uh, like, in charge?”
She grins at him, “I mean I’m not in charge of the whole thing, but I am one of the orientation leaders. Honestly I’m so glad you’re here it’s always nice to have a friendly face in the crowd.”
“Yeah I bet,” Ned says, but Liz is looking over her shoulder at one of the other blue shirted kids who seem to be setting up.
“Look I have to go help, but we should definitely grab a bite after or something,” Liz says touching him gently on the arm, his inner 15 year old screaming.
External 18 year old Ned says, “Yeah okay, cool,” instead and Liz flashes him another smile before jogging off to help with a banner.
After everything with her dad, Liz had ended up deleting all of her social media accounts, not wanting to be hounded all the time by reporters while the trial was going on, and if she’d ever remade them, Ned had never gotten a friend request.
Which meant, he realized with a cold little tingle down his spine, that she probably didn’t know that he and Peter were dating now. Which okay maybe wasn’t the end of the world, Ned’s sure after everything that happened that she’d not been particularly upset about the one ruined almost-date they went on two and a half years ago. But there was a big difference between being okay with your weird ex dating someone and having dinner with them.
Ned can’t pay attention during orientation, but it seems to mostly be information that they’ve already been told anyways. So much for an Ivy League school assuming their students are smart. He sends a flurry of texts to Peter which remain unanswered, and tries to remember all the soothing breathing exercises May taught him.
When orientation, finally, finally ends Ned slips out as quickly as he can, hoping he’ll be able to catch Peter before he arrives, but he’s already waiting outside of the lecture hall. Ned groans internally, the one time in two and a half years Peter has been early to meet him anywhere and it’s today.
“Hey,” Peter says when he spots him in the crush of CompSci freshman. He’s perched himself on the edge of a larger planter with some sort of tropical looking tree growing out of it. He’s wearing a chem department shirt pulled haphazardly over a plaid button up and Ned knows he must have run from his orientation here so he wouldn’t be late.
“Hi,” Ned says, his voice sounding oddly pinched even to him.
“What?” Peter says, standing, “What’s wrong?”
Ned takes a deep breath, “Liz Allan. She’s here and she’s one of the orientation leaders and I sort of said we would get food after and she’s literally coming over here right now and she doesn’t know we’re dating and-”
“Wait, wait, wait,” Peter says, reaching out and planting a reassuring hand on Ned’s arm, “Go back. Liz Allan is here?”
“I texted you! Like five times!”
“I was in orientation!” Peter says, “Okay, okay, this is fine. We can go have dinner with Liz, that isn’t weird.”
“It’s a little weird,” Ned says after a long pause.
“I’m trying to be optimistic!” Peter says, running a hand through his hair.
Ned frowns, “Look I think we should just-”
“Ned!” Liz calls suddenly, navigating easily through the crowd of freshmen, “Hey I- Oh. Peter. Hi.” She says, smile faltering only just slightly. “I should have known you’d be around here somewhere, can’t break up the dynamic duo.”
Peter smiles and it manages to only look slightly panicked, “Liz, hi, oh my gosh this is so crazy that you go here.”
“Is it?” She says tilting her head, her dangly earring touching her shoulder, “I mean it’s one of the best programs in the country.”
Peter opens his mouth and then shuts it quickly before trying again, “I just meant more it’s weird that we all go here I guess. But good weird. Uh, serendipitous.”
Liz huffs a laugh, “Same old Peter. Did you want to get food with us? Ned and I were going to grab something.”
Peter gives Ned a look, “Sure, yeah I’d love to tag along with you on this dinner arrangement you made.”
“Okay, great,” Liz says, “I’m just going to run to the bathroom quick and then we can figure out a good spot to go.”
Ned nods and he and Peter both stay silent watching her retreating back until she disappears around a corner.
“You made plans without me?” Peter says, like this is the worst possible betrayal. Like this is the thing he should be focusing on.
“Priorities, Parker,” Ned says, “We have to tell her we’re together. Right? I mean it’s weird if we don’t.”
Peter chews on his lip, “It’s kind of weird to tell her unprompted though. I just...I don’t want to seem like I’m - we’re, rubbing it in or something.”
A pack of engineering bros shoves by them, laughing loudly and Ned’s still trying to catch up with Peter’s train of thought.
“I just-,” Peter says, shoving his hands deep into his pockets, shoulders up around his ears like a little kid, “Her dad’s in jail and Oregon sucks - probably, I’ve never been - and I’m just,” his shoulders drop and he looks up at Ned through his eyelashes, “I’m just really happy.”
Ned inhales, “Peter you’re allowed to be happy. And lying to someone isn’t really a nice thing no matter your intentions.”
Peter looks up at him, mouth twisting unhappily and eyebrows crinkling together. “I love this,” Ned says absentmindedly, reaching out to tap the little crease he gets between his eyebrows. “Dude, look she’s your ex-almost, so you can tell her or not and I’ll go along with it, okay?”
“Okay,” Peter agrees, just as Liz rounds the corner again, phone already in hand.
“Hey,” She says, “So there’s this really good Japanese place a few blocks away, or I’ve heard people raving about this like, Jewish-Korean barbecue fusion place,” She looks up at them expectantly, biting her lip. “Thoughts?”
“I’m in love with Ned,” Peter blurts, lurching forward just slightly, “We’re dating. We’re in love.”
Liz tilts her head, eyes darting between the two of them for a long moment, “Um, okay. So Japanese then?”
It turns out Betty Brant had told her, a long time ago, back when Peter and Ned first started dating. Or quite possibly right before then when a lot of people just thought they were sneaking around together (they had been sneaking around together, but for superhero stuff, not for hanky panky behind the bleachers like everyone seemed to think).
“I did keep up with Midtown gossip,” Liz says on the walk to the restaurant, “I was in Oregon, I wasn’t dead.”
Ned would be lying if he said it wasn’t slightly awkward, since there’s not exactly protocol for going for dinner with your former crush who had a thing with your boyfriend. But by dessert they’re laughing about some nonsense that Mr. Harrington had gotten up to in Liz’s absence and she’s leaning over the table to show them pictures of her dog, her house in Oregon, her new apartment, and her boyfriend.
(Peter makes a face at the latter, “He looks like Dane Dehaan” he says under his breath, as if this is somehow a bad thing.)
It’s going well enough that Ned feels like he can sneak off to the bathroom without anything too awkward happening in his absence and when he walks back to the table, Peter’s got his phone out, flipping through filters to take a snapchat of Liz, “Okay now look pretty!” He says aiming.
“Peter you don’t have to tell her to look pretty, she’s Liz Allan,” Ned says, sitting back down.
Liz laughs, “I should have dinner with people who used to have crushes on me more often, it’s very good for my self esteem,” She leans over on her elbows to get a glimpse of the picture.
“You sending that to MJ?” Ned asks.
“Who?” Liz says, “I thought it was for Michelle.”
Peter shakes his head, “It is, she goes by MJ now.”
Liz purses her lips, “I leave for five minutes and suddenly everyone’s dating everyone and changing their names.”
Peter laughs, but Ned can see him flinch ever so slightly and it’s not a surprise when he suddenly grabs for his wallet.“Okay, I’m paying - don’t even start with me Liz, I owe you for homecoming. And Ned I honestly probably owe you for something, sometime, somewhere.”
“I don’t know why you thought I was gonna fight you on this one,” He says, as Peter stands, leaning over to kiss Ned on the side of his head as he climbs over the bench.
Liz gives Ned a long look when Peter’s safely out of sight, trying to flag down a member of the wait staff. “He’s very in love with you,” she says, “When you were gone he told me that you make him feel like he’s a sunny side up egg and his heart is the yolk and when you smile it’s like it’s getting poked with a fork and going all runny. Which was an interesting way of putting it, but the sentiment was sweet.”
Ned can feel his face flushing and god there’s really nothing like a compliment from your boyfriend delivered by your high school crush to make you feel 15 again.
“Don’t be embarrassed!” Liz says, reaching out to touch his hand, which does not help in the slightest, the flush creeping up around his ears and he’s never been more thankful when Peter returns with a handful of lollipops.
“Ready to blow this pop stand?” He says, pulling the plastic off a red sucker and sticking it in his mouth. He’s still wearing his chem t-shirt haphazardly over his flannel and Ned can’t help but fix his collar when he stands, pulling it out from where it’s been trapped under the t-shirt.
Peter gives him a look, tilting his head, “You face is very red,” he says, reaching out to cup Ned’s cheeks in his hands, words slightly muffled by the lollipop in his mouth.
“I told him the egg thing,” Liz says, grabbing her jean jacket.
“Lizzzzzz,” Peter whines, hands still on Ned’s face, “I told you that in the strictest of confidences!”
“I know,” Liz says, “But now we’re even for homecoming.”
Peter pouts, dropping his hand, “Alright, fair.”
“C’mon sunnyside,” Ned says, taking Pete’s hand and letting Liz take the lead out of the restaurant
Liz walks back with them to Ned’s dorm and she leaves them both with huge hugs, her number newly programmed into their phones and half a dozen promises to meet up again soon.
“I cannot believe we crushed on literally the nicest, smartest, most amazing person in the universe,” Ned says watching her jaywalk into traffic with the confidence and nonchalance only a native New Yorker can have.
“Welllll,” Peter says, “Second nicest, smartest, most amazing person in the universe.”
Ned nods, pulling the door to the lobby open for him, “You’re right, I did forget about Natalie Portman.”
Peter laughs and reels him in, arms going up around Ned’s neck, “What colour is my tongue?” he asks sticking it out for inspection.
“Red red.” Ned says, hands settled on Peter’s hips, and he should care more that this is the lobby of his dorm, but there’s almost no one around anyways so when Peter tips his head down ever so slightly and when they kiss it tastes like red red. The giddy sort of kisses that remind Ned of their first few weeks of dating, Peter’s mouth warm and careless against his own.
It’s Peter who finally breaks away, but they stay pressed up together, faces close, and he looks at Ned, impossibly fond, one of his hands reaching up to card through Ned’s hair.
“We probably shouldn’t do this in your lobby,” Peter says, but doesn’t move away.
Ned’s trying to come up with something clever in response but he never gets there because at that moment Flash comes tearing out of the elevator.
“There you are!” Flash says, as Peter and Ned take a step back and make room for Jesus. “I texted you like, 25 times! We have to do our roommate agreements! Where were you?”
Flash says this like it’s a matter of life and death and Peter gives Ned a small private look.
Ned says, “This is Peter,” instead of answering Flash’s question.
“Yes, hello,” Flash says, uninterestedly, and Ned makes a mental note to point that out as a thing people don’t really love, “C’mon.”
“I can meet you upstairs,” Ned suggests but Flash is having none of it, already poised to frog march him to the elevator if need be.
“I’ll text you!” Peter calls after him as Ned is dragged off, Flash already talking about fridges and guest privileges and laundry schedules.
The first week of classes passes in a whirl of pointless syllabus lectures, turning up to everything too early and not quite having figured out how to live with another person yet. His older sisters skype call him on Friday and interrogate him about classes and his new roommate and Peter.
“We’re just saying that you’re in college now and you might want to consider re-opening your options,” Sara says, leaning close to the web cam, “You’re going through a huge new experience and you’re going to be meeting a lot of new people. Do you really want to be tied down right now?”
Ned rolls his eyes, “Can you please not criticize my boyfriend for like, one whole call?”
“We’re not criticizing him,” Charlotte blatantly lies, “We’re just worried maybe you’re settling at a time when you should be keeping your options opened.”
He takes a long soothing breath and resists the urge to hang up on them, “Don’t you want to know about my classes or my roommate or something?”
“I think the fact that you’re avoiding the question means there’s something there you need to discuss,” Charlotte says, pushing her glasses up onto her forehead.
“Don’t go all pseudo-analytical on me, I already get that enough from mom,” Ned says, “Only she likes Peter and doesn’t harass me about him all the time.”
“You don’t have to get all moody about it Eddie,” Sara says, “We’re just trying to look out for you.”
“Alright, okay,” Ned says, his phone vibrating beside him with an incoming text, “Look, my terrible boyfriend is here to take me to lunch so I have to go.”
“We love you, make good choices,” Charlotte says, “But just think about-”
Ned disconnects the call before she can finish.
Most of the time he doesn’t really mind being the baby of the family. Sure, in some ways it was weird having siblings who were so much older than him, but as a kid it had just guaranteed that he’d have someone to watch out for him or get him into R rated movies. But all that older sibling love and affection had backfired into intense protectiveness the moment he’d started dating Peter.
He actually hadn’t known for weeks afterwards that all three of his older siblings had taken to cornering Peter one by one and threatening him should anything ever happen to Ned’s person or his heart. And while Ned could sort of appreciate the sentiment, he was mostly concerned about what they could possibly have said to Peter that had rattled someone who fought bad guys for fun in his spare time.
Peter’s unnervingly quiet all the way to the main campus dining hall, responding to all of Ned’s questions with “mhmm” or shrugs or shakes of the head. He figures Peter is probably just hungry but by the time they’re halfway through lunch and Peter is still giving him monosyllabic answers while poking at his food he’s beyond worried.
“Okay seriously,” Ned says, “Dude, what is wrong? You’re freaking me out.”
Peter looks up at him, mouth open slightly in surprise before giving his head a shake, “I’m sorry. It’s totally stupid, I’m sorry. I’m fine,” He manages a half decent apologetic smile but Ned has been trained in the fine art of Peter Parker’s bullshit for too long to be thrown off by it.
“You’re not nearly as good a liar as you think you are,” Ned says. He pushes his own tray out of the way and leans in closer, lowering his voice, “Did you get hurt?”
“What? No,” Peter says, and then after a moment, “Well okay I actually did bang up my leg pretty bad last night but it’s fine now. And it’s not even that anyways it’s just,” Peter takes a long sigh, ending in an annoyed groan, “I think I have a new archnemesis.”
“You what!?” Ned’s heart leaps in his chest. Peter deals with a lot of shitty people, how could he not? But most of them were so slap dash and petty that they never amount to anyone you could really call a nemesis, much less an archnemesis. Especially since most of the more dangerous people he’d tangled with had been in the context of doing work with the Avengers, and not anyone who had any sort of beef with Peter personally.
“Oh god no- sorry not like a -” Peter waves his hand in the air vaguely, “Not like a Spider-Man thing.”
Ned looks at him unamused, “Okay, you gotta drop that from your casual everyday vocabulary if you’re just going to use it to be melodramatic.”
“I can have an archnemesis in my normal life,” Peter protests.
“God you are such a drama queen, okay continue - don’t frown at me, you know you are.”
Peter raises his eyebrows challengingly, but continues, “You know how I’m taking that intro to theatre studies class for my arts credit?”
“Well we have to do these like, online weekly discussions to make up for what would be in-class participation. And this week the question was ‘is theatre, theatre because it is life or is theatre, theatre because it is not life?’And I picked not life because that’s what made sense to me right, like it’s not real life and that’s why you can do whatever you want and some ass clown just started picking a fight with me out of nowhere. Like completely tearing apart everything I said and just being a rampant asshole for no reason.” Peter says with a huff, arms crossed on the table.
“Maybe it just came off badly in text cause of the lack of tone differentiation?” Ned suggests.
“I mean maybe if it had just been one message,” Peter says, “But uh- not after all this”
He pulls out his phone, pulling up a screenshot of the forum, Expand Replies (57) under Peter’s original post.
“Yikes,” Ned says, “They had a lot to say.”
“Well some of them are me. Maybe like half? But I’m not going to just let someone lecture me about a subjective opinion. And we get participation marks anyways I just, ugh, they’re just such a douche,” Peter ends finally, with a ferocity Ned can’t ever recall being targetted at any actual bad guys.
“Well, I’m sorry they’re such a jerk,” Ned says halfheartedly after just a bit too long. “If it would make you feel better I can probably hack the system and change all their replies to webdings or something.”
Peter looks up at him, “You would really do that?”
“I mean I’d rather not because getting kicked out on your first week of college is super lame, but would if you really wanted me to.” Ned says.
Peter looks at him like he offered to lasso the moon, with such adoration that Ned feels embarrassed for himself, “I love you and I larb you.”
Which weirdly seems to settle it and they don’t talk about Peter’s new, literally, melodramatic archnemesis for the rest of lunch.
They go to the library afterwards, snagging two cubby desks beside each other, Peter’s legs kicked out to the side so his feet bump against Ned’s. It’s weird to look up from his readings and find they’re not still sitting in some forgotten corner of the library at Midtown Tech, because other than the location nothing’s really changed. Ned with his hand-me-down Spacemaker pencil case, still covered in stickers, different coloured pens and highlighters for all his classes. Peter wearing thick noise cancelling headphones, mouthing the words as he reads through his chem textbook.
It makes Ned’s heart ache for the rest of the decathlon team. Cindy and Sally and Abe and Charles, who are all sprinkled across the country at their own Ivy League Schools. But mostly he feels the deep shadow where MJ should be, squinting across at them to correct their grammar or tell them to get a room.
Ned thinks, in a lot of ways, he probably misses her more than Peter does. All the times the two of them had been left alone together while Peter had been out moonlighting as a superhero, both before Ned had known that’s what he’d been doing, and after. The memorable evening at Liz’s party when she’d come and sat with him on the back porch, her ruffled dress pulled over a long sleeve shirt like a little kid on Halloween, forced to wear a warm shirt under their princess costume. They hadn’t talked about much that night, didn’t really talk at all actually, but maybe it was the people you could sit in silence with that were the ones really worth keeping around.
Peter finishes his work first and starts to get antsy, pulling his leg up onto the chair so he can rest his chin on his knee, tapping absentmindedly on his calf. “Continuing to reply to that guy in my theatre studies class is a bad idea right?” he asks in a stage whisper.
“Yes,” Ned says flatly.
“Okay,” Peter concedes, flicking idly through his textbook before thumping it shut again, “I kinda wanna though.”
“If you’re bored you should go do something...well, maybe not less self-destructive, but less academically self-destructive,” Ned says, trying to keep his voice low as he spots someone at a desk near them shoot them an annoyed look.
“I don’t wanna ditch you.”
“Dude, I’m gonna be here for at least another hour,” Ned says, and that’s probably a conservative estimate at best.
Peter considers this for a long moment, “Yeah okay, actually I think I’m gonna bounce.” Someone shushes them loudly and Peter winces. He throws his school stuff haphazardly into his bag, leans over to give Ned a goodbye kiss
“I will see you later,” Peter mouths and mimes it, pointing from his chest to his eye to Ned and then tapping his watch. Which really turns out to be a pointless exercise in quietness when he pushes the chair back into the desk a little too hard and it thumps loudly.
“Shhhh!” the shusher says again, and without saying anything, both Peter and Ned in perfect unison lean over and flip them off.
Two hours and one frantic text to Liz later - are all of the readings like this I think I’m dying - Ned makes it back to his dorm, chucking his bag haphazardly onto his desk chair and flopping down on his bed face down.
“Hey man,” Flash says, turning in his desk chair, “Are you going to this mixer thing tonight? It sounds kinda dumb, but also free food, so I’m totally going.”
“Ask me again in half an hour, my brain is totally melted right now.” Ned says.
Ned can’t see Flash, what with his face planted in his duvet, but he can hear the judgemental look on his face, “You went to Midtown Tech, is it really that much more difficult for your intro classes? Aren’t you like, a computer hacker-slash-genius? ”
Ned pushes himself up onto his elbows so he can give Flash a look, “Who told you that?”
“Your boyfriend,” Flash says.
“What? When?” Ned frowns, trying to remember when Peter and Flash would have even been in the same place at the same time without him.
“I dunno, Wednesday? You went to the bathroom and he like, immediately started bragging about you and how you got that Pym Tech job and stuff.”
“Oh Jesus,” Ned says, “Sorry about that. And I mean okay, like I am really good at this stuff but all of our readings are just stupidly dense and it’s like, you’re already dealing with taking an abstract concept and translating into language and then I have to take that language and make sense of it in my mind so I can then understand that abstract concept. And it’s already hard enough without having someone throwing in all these goddamn SAT words.”
“Huh,” Flash says, and turns back around in his chair, that clearly the end of that.
Ned frowns but he’s too tired to push the issue so he just lets himself recollapse into the bedspread and doze off.
When he wakes up it’s to the distinctive sound of angry typing. He pushes himself up into a sitting position, wiping off where he’d drooled on his chin, that post nap half delirium clinging ever so slightly to everything in the room. Flash hasn’t moved so it’s probably been less than half an hour Ned figures.
“So what’s the deal with the mixer thing?” Ned asks, stifling a yawn.
“Just gimme a sec I wanna finish this reply while I’m on a role,” Flash says, fingers tapping aggressively on the keyboard, the distinctive repetitive tap tap tap of him hitting the backspace button before starting off again.
They end up showing up to the mixer late enough that everyone’s already huddled off into little groups. Flash had spent half an hour getting ready, poking and prodding at his hair in the mirror, changing his shirt twice before circling back to what he’d already been wearing.
He chats with a few people he recognizes from their hall, Flash loitering nervously behind him like a shadow, practically clawing Ned on the arm when he turns to go check out the snack table.
“I’m just getting something to eat, I’ll be right back,” Ned says, and pushes down the mental image of a toddler clinging to their mother’s leg when a babysitter arrives. “Talk to someone.”
“Who?” Flash says.
“It’s a mixer. Just pick someone and say hi,” Ned says, giving him a little shove into the crowd. The snacks table is pretty picked over at this point but Ned grabs a cookie and a glass of neon pink punch before winding his way through the crowd to find Flash, miracle of miracles, actually talking to a girl.
“Hey,” Ned says tapping him on the shoulder so he can join their circle.
“This is my roommate Ned. This is Hallie, we have a class together.” Flash says and Hallie waves. She’s tall and willowy with deep bronze skin, and something about her sends a pang of recognition through Ned.
She must feel it too because she tilts her head and squints at him thoughtfully, “Do I know you from somewhere?”
“I think so,” Ned says slowly and he can see Flash’s incredulous look out of the corner of his eye.
“Did you go to Camp Olympia? Upstate?”
Ned shakes his head, “Nope, I only ever went to Lego robotics camp.”
She chews her lip, thinking, her eyes widening suddenly as she lights up with recognition, “Did you used to dance at Curtain Call?”
“Yeah!” Ned says, “Oh my gosh, yes! I remember you. We had jazz together right?”
“Oh my god, yes! Ned! How are you?” She says, leaning forward to give him a hug and Ned ignores Flash glaring daggers into the side of his head.
“I’m good,” Ned says, “Do you still do dance?” He had to drop out after eighth grade, his mom refusing to let him continue taking dance on top of all his academic extra curriculars. It hadn’t been a big deal, dance having been something his mom put him in as a self-confidence booster as a kid, but he did miss it.
“I don’t anymore,” Hallie says, “But I was thinking about maybe trying to start back up again, I heard there’s a few recreational dance clubs on campus so I’m going to check those out.”
“I can’t believe you did dance,” Flash says, in the exact same way the assholes in middle school used to, and Ned shoves down the compulsion to smack him upside the head.
“Yeah jazz, hip hop and tap,” Ned says as neutrally as possible, “I did ballet for a while but it wasn’t my thing.”
Hallie reaches out and touches Flash on the arm, “Ned’s a great dancer.”
“Well I’m going to get a drink, I’ll let you talk,” Flash says huffily before breaking off into the crowd.
Hallie leans over and watches him go, “Is he okay?”
“He’s not always the greatest with people,” Ned says with a shrug, “Besides I think he thinks you’re cute and is annoyed I’m drawing attention.”
“Really!?” Hallie says perking up a little bit, “Hmmm, good to know.” She chews thoughtfully on her straw, “Do you remember when we did that Little Mermaid routine to Under the Sea? Those costumes.”
“Don’t remind me. Peter literally has that group photo framed on his desk still,” Ned says. As the only boys in their class the two of them had been Sebastian and Flounder to twenty girls dressed as mermaids.
“Oh you still know Peter?” Hallie says, “You were both always so close.”
Understatement of the century, “We’re actually dating now,” Ned says, and tries not to sound too smug, knowing that at least half of their class had carried a torch for Peter and his perfect pirouettes.
“That’s so great! Gosh it’s so funny how stuff turns out,” Hallie says, beaming at him as Flash returns empty handed but looking less grumpy.
“I’m allergic to literally everything here,” Flash says but Ned’s only half paying attention, his phone vibrating in his pocket with an incoming call from Peter.
“Hey, sorry it’s Peter, I should take this,” Ned says.
“Tell him I said hi!” Hallie says.
Ned makes his way to the outskirts of the crowd near the elevators, “Hello?”
“Hey!” Peter says, “What’s up?”
“Uh, at a mixer thing with Flash,” Ned says, “Why? What’s up?”
“Nothing, nothing, I just uh, May just told me that her shift tomorrow got moved so she’s going to be out in the evening. If uh, you wanted to come over.”
Ned huffs a laugh “Yeah, okay. I’m going home in the morning but I’ll come over after dinner.”
“It’s a date,” Peter says cheerfully.
“You could have just texted me.”
“I knoooow but I like hearing your voice.”
Ned snorts, “Dude that’s so gay.”
A girl walking by shoots him a look and he holds his breath for a moment wondering if he’s going to get a lecture on homophobia by some straight girl, but she just keeps walking.
“Oh hey also, one of the girls we used to have dance class with goes here now. I think Flash might try and put the moves on her. Hallie? Do you remember her?”
Peter hums into the phone, “Maaaaaybe? I’d need to see her face honestly.”
“She’s nice and she said to tell you hi.”
“Well please pass along my greetings to mysterious dance girl,” Peter says, “I hope she and Flash will live a long happy life together. I’m gonna head out to do rounds, have fun at your mixer thing.”
“Okay babe,” Ned says, “Be safe.”
“I laaaarb you,” Peter sing-songs
“I larb you too,” Ned says.
Flash and Hallie have moved over to the comfy chairs and are looking pretty cozy when Ned returns, Hallie with her head tipped back laughing as Flash hand gestures wildly.
“Hey guys,” Ned says, grabbing a chair across from them, “What’s so funny?”
Hallie beams, “Flash was just telling me the most hilarious story about this jerk in his online class.”
“Oh,” Ned says, hesitantly hoping a coincidence, for once, can just be a coincidence. “Yeah, intro to theatre studies, some moron who thinks that the defining characteristic of theatre is that it’s not like real life,” Flash scoffs, “I mean, how simplistic can you get. It’s crazy, don’t you think Ned?”
Oh, this is very, very, bad.
“Yes,” Ned says, “Crazy.”
MJ is shockingly unsympathetic, even for her.
“I just don’t get what the big deal is,” She says, blurry over the video call. She’s sitting on the floor cross legged with her laptop in front of her. She’s wearing these ridiculous long striped socks and an oversized Sanford sweater that’s more of a dress, her hair piled haphazardly on top of her head.
“So they disagree about some stupid theatre stuff, who cares?” MJ continues.
“Uh, I do.” Ned says, “I don’t want my boyfriend and my roommate to hate each other and make my entire life an uncomfortable mess for the next 10 months.”
Ned’s in his bedroom at his parent’s house, his dog, Padme, sitting with her head resting on his knee, not having let him out of her sight since he got home that morning.
MJ rolls her eyes at him, “You’re spending too much time with Peter, you’re turning into a bigger drama queen than he is. Which is a pretty daunting task, I salute your noble efforts.”
“Remind me why we’re friends again?” Ned says.
MJ leans in very close to the camera, “Who ever said we were friends?”
“Hurtful,” Ned whines, “Don’t be mean to me, Michelle, I’m having a crisis.”
“Edward, the Financial Panic of 33 AD was a crisis, this is, at best, a kerfuffle.”
“Fine, fine, you’re right. I’m sure it’ll all work out just fine.” Ned says, even though he doesn’t really believe it, and MJ doesn’t seem to either, narrowing her eyes and tilting her head.
“Oh no dude, this is definitely going to blow up in your face.” MJ says happily, snapping her gum.
“Thank you for this vote of confidence,” Ned says, “This is really what I needed to hear.”
“Anytime buddy. But enough about you, let’s talk about me,” She says, and launches into a twenty minute story about how she accidentally started rushing for a frat. Which did at least help explain the toga pictures a little bit.
They talk for almost two hours, and when they hang up Ned tells MJ he loves her, and even though it earns him an eye roll before she hangs up, he can tell it’s one meant with love.
He spends the rest of the afternoon hanging out with his mom and his older brother Daniel who’s still living at home while he finishes his PhD in Art History at NYU. He hasn’t seen his dad yet since he’s off working at the weekend dental clinic.
“I heard Sara and Char gave you the third degree so you hung up on them,” Daniel says, leaning on the kitchen island, carefully measuring scoops of matcha powder into the blender.
Ned raises an eyebrow. “Is this the intro to a lecture, cause if so I have something very important to do in another room.”
Daniel laughs, over the whirring of the blender, “We’re just watching out for you, little bro.”
“Ugh, I’m going to go help mom,” Ned says, and spends the next twenty minutes folding laundry while his mom details the latest going ons with her renegade rooftop garden club she runs, much to the dismay of the co-op board.
He’s got his arms full with towels still warm from the dryer when Peter texts him, back to back to back his phone frantically pinging to keep up.
I just found out the most fucked up thing abt flash
Will tell you when you get here
Ned’s heart jumps into his throat. He’d figured Peter would probably put it together, but not so soon. He shoves the towels into the closet haphazardly, checking his watch. He’s supposed to have dinner with his family before he heads over to Peter’s, but his stomach pitches wildly at having to sit there and make small talk with his dad while Peter works himself into a rage over Flash.
He grabs his wallet and keys, poking his head into his parent’s bedroom, “Hey, mom.”
“Hmm?” She says, not looking up from her game of Candy Crush on her iPad.
“I know I said I was going to stay for dinner, but Peter just texted me and he’s really upset about something and is it okay if I go over now? I’m worried about him.” Ned says in a rush, feeling guilty even if it’s only partly a lie.
His mom frowns up at him, “You haven’t even seen your dad yet.”
“I know, I know. I’m sorry.”
She gives off a long sigh, “Alright fine. But I want you back before midnight, and no running off in the morning, we’re having family brunch since you’re skipping out on dinner.”
“You’re the best, I love you, sorry, bye!” Ned says, already halfway to the front door.
“Make safe choices!” She calls after him, and Ned swings the apartment door shut behind him before this can turn into another talk about condoms and the joys of safe sex.
He’s more than halfway to Peter’s apartment by the time Ned considers that it is actually possible that Peter might have unearthed some other weird fact about Flash, but somehow that is still not very reassuring. Especially, since Ned figures anything he finds out about Flash will eventually lead him around to the truth.
Peter answers the door in a soft looking pullover, his hair extra floofy like it gets when it’s just a little humid out, and a little bemused smile on his face when he sees it’s Ned.
“Oh, hey, you’re early!” Peter says, and he looks so adorable that Ned’s heart jumps up to his throat for entirely different reasons, “I thought you were the takeout guy.”
Peter steps into his personal space, pulling him into the apartment by the sides of his open button up shirt. Ned kisses him with the door still open, Peter’s hands half tucked into the sleeves of his sweater, coming up to cup Ned’s jaw.
Peter breaks away, shoving the apartment door closed, and for a second Ned thinks he’s going to push him against the door to continue. But instead he puts a hand on Ned’s chest, pushing him arm’s length away, and squints at him.
“What’s wrong,” Peter says, a statement not a question, “C’mere, sit down.” He leads Ned over to the couch and sits him down, Peter sitting up on his knees beside him.
It’s what he came over to do, well okay no he came over to do some other things, but it’s what he came over early to do, so he may as well get it over with. Ned takes a long deep breath and rips off the bandaid, trying to sound as level as possible.
“What did you find out about Flash?”
Peter’s eyebrows jump, “Oh god, no it’s not bad,” he smacks a hand to his forehead, “Sorry ah, context is hard over text, I can see why you thought- but it’s not it’s just really weird and funny.”
Ned blinks, trying to decide if Flash being Peter’s online rival could be considered weird and/or funny.
Peter runs a hand through his hair, “Remember, uh, sophomore homecoming? When the thing with Liz’s dad happened?”
“Yes and I saved your life,”
“You did save my life,” Peter says, smiling at him softly and there are practically hearts in his eyes, “But no, after, remember when I borrowed that car?”
“The Audi? Yeah why?”
“It was Flash’s car. He added me on facebook and I was just looking through his old posts and stuff and he had this whole thing about how Spider-Man had borrowed and trashed his dad’s car. I guess he was sort of seeing some girl from Midtown for a while. How’s that for a crazy coincidence?”
“You added Flash on facebook!?”
Peter squints, “How was that the most interesting part of that story to you?”
“No, I just-” Ned starts, worried all over again that even if Peter hadn’t put it together than Flash might, before remembering that Peter was on Facebook as Peter Benjamin. God bless May for being worried about identity theft and internet predators after seeing one too many daytime talk show reports segments on keeping your kids safe online.
“Ned? Hello? You just what?” Peter asks.
“Oh, I just uh, I’m glad you guys are friends,” Ned finishes lamely.
Peter makes a little quizzical face but seems to accept it anyways, leaning up on his knees, scooting closer until he’s almost sitting in Ned’s lap. And if the way Peter kisses him makes Ned forget what he was so worried about in the first place, well he’s only human after all.
“Shall we retire to the boudoir?” Peter says when they finally pull away, a few minutes later.
“Peter Parker, I think you might be trying to seduce me,” Ned says, still catching his breath a little.
“Might!?” Peter says with mock annoyance and pulls Ned up off the couch and towards his room. Holding his hand on the short walk like they’re off on a stroll to the boardwalk, and not about to go have sex on a bunk bed.
Though, Ned has learned, that bunk beds and sex don’t exactly mix, and that having two beds, just means having two equally disappointing options: hitting your head on the ceiling, or hit your head on the bed frame. Sometimes instead they’ve just dumped the mattress on the floor or made a nest of blankets. But there’s a frantic quality to Peter tugging him into his room, slamming the door shut too hard, and Ned let’s himself be pushed onto the bottom bunk without any real fuss, Peter crawling in on top of him.
It’s been a while and it shows. Between Spider-Man stuff, moving to campus, starting classes and the unpredictable schedule of May’s shifts at the hospital - not to mention the weird combo of Daniel’s overprotectiveness and his mom’s sex positivity that made it too awkward to try to do anything at Ned’s place - there just hadn’t been a lot of chances to be intimate. But Ned’s a big believer in making up for lost time.
He’s not sure how much later it is - ten minutes? Maybe fifteen? -when there’s a curt knock on the apartment door. Peter sitting up too suddenly and smacking his head on the bed frame for the top mattress.
“Ah fuck, jesus,” he says, rubbing at the back of his head, “Oh shit that’s probably the food, hold on.”
Peter climbs out of bed rummaging around on the floor for his sweater, an already impressive smattering of hickeys starting to bloom along one side of his neck.“One sec, sorry,” Peter says, grabbing some cash off his desk, hurried as he opens the door, leaving it half open.
Ned hears him pad over to the front door and unlatch it, the faint murmur of someone else’s voice, before he hears the front door swing shut again.
“Hi, Mr. Stark,” Peter says voice pitched loudly.
“Ha ha you’re hilarious,” Ned calls into the hallway.
“Nice hickeys, kid,” Tony Stark says out in the hallway, and Ned bolts up in bed, smacking his head even harder than Peter had and yelping in pain.
“Ned?” Peter calls, “Uh, sorry Mr. Stark, one second.”
“Oh yeah sure, no worries, gotta check on loverboy,” Mr. Stark says.
Peter appears in the door a second later, pulling the door shut with a bang, for which Ned is immensely grateful. He grabs his shirt off the floor, already half out of bed.
“Why is Tony Stark here!?” Ned stage whispers, pulling his shirt back on.
“I don’t know!?” Peter says in a panicked half whisper, “Are you okay? That sounded like it hurt.”
Ned touches the side of his head where he’d smacked it, “Uh, am I paranoid or am I bleeding?”
“Oh jesus, Ned,” Peter says, crossing towards him, “Let me look.”
Ned tries to stand still but it’s hard knowing that Iron Man is sitting in his boyfriend’s living room on the other side of the wall. Which would be weird enough even if he hadn’t kind of sort of manipulated him into getting a paid summer job the last time he’d seen him without the buffer of a Stark party between them.
“It is bleeding a little,” Peter says, dabbing at the side of his head gently with his fingers, “It’s probably fine though, I don’t think you smacked it hard enough to be concussed.”
“Well thank god for small mercies,” Ned deadpans.
“You can stay here, I don’t think he’ll stay very long.”
Ned frowns, “No dude it’s way weirder if I stay in here, he’ll think you’ve tied me up or something.”
Peter gives him a long look, “...Would you be into that?”
“Not the time.”
“Right, sorry,” Peter says, “Uh, also your shirt’s inside out.”
Ned groans and fixes it while Peter sneaks back out to the living room, his voice drifting sharp and clear over Mr. Stark’s.
“Well, well, well,” Mr. Stark says when Ned appears from Peter’s room a few minutes and one mirror pep talk later, “If it isn’t the Pym Tech Prodigy.”
“Hi Mr. Stark,” Ned says sheepishly.
“Sorry for crashing your lovenest, but the Spiderling here doesn’t take very good care of his toys,” Tony says gesturing to where Peter’s suit is laid out across the table in the breakfast nook. There’s a long thin slice along one of the legs, corresponding exactly to where Peter currently had a long scratch like cut on his thigh, raw and pink but almost entirely healed.
Peter makes an annoyed scoff, leaning against the counter, “You came all the way to Queens on a Saturday night for this?”
“I was in the neighbourhood,” Mr Stark says vaguely, pulling a vial out of the inside pocket on his blaser. “You got a butter knife or something?” He says to Peter, who goes to rummage around in the cutlery drawer.
Mr. Stark pops the lid off the vial, using the knife to scrape out a small amount of the bluish-grey substance out, carefully spreading it over the tear in Peter’s suit. “Nano adhesive?” Ned guesses, leaning over to get a better look.
“You probably shouldn’t use this anymore for food,” Mr. Stark says, handing the knife back to Peter who frowns down at it for a second before throwing it in the trash.
“If May asks I’m telling her you were the one who ruined her cutlery,” Peter says and reaches over to touch the layer of greyish adhesive on the leg of his suit.
“Ahh bup bup,” Mr. Stark says grabbing his arm, “Do. Not. Touch. Let that sit for a few hours, the top layer will harden and you can just peel it off.”
“Oh that is sick,” Peter says, leaning over until his nose is practically touching it, “You, uh, got anymore of that I can have?”
“Yeah, fat chance kid,” Mr. Stark says, “Besides, isn’t Pym Tech getting into nano adhesives right now? Last thing I need is my tech ending up in someone else’s hands.”
“Oh my god,” Ned snaps, “Will you lay off? I didn’t take the Pym Tech job because I have a problem with you, I took it because they were actually going to pay me.”
It’s out of his mouth before he can think through that maybe yelling at Tony Stark, genius, billionaire, Avenger, and his boyfriend’s weird superhero mentor, was maybe not the smartest way to handle this situation. But seriously it’s been two years and about a million snide comments coming.
It had taken Mr. Stark longer than either Peter or Ned had expected to start asking questions about how exactly Peter had managed to hack into his suit and disable his protocols, and Peter had buckled under questioning. Which had lead to Mr. Stark pulling up in front of their school one afternoon during junior year in a terrifying nondescript black car and laying it all out for Ned. Anyone who could crack his tech was worth having on his team Mr. Stark had figured, and he’d offered him a summer internship with Stark Industries.
Ned had honestly not been planning anything nefarious when he’d asked Mr. Stark if he could get something in writing to show his parents, especially since word of Peter’s issues with his own ‘internship’ had gotten out. Bringing up that Tony Stark wanted to hire him, backed up with an in writing internship offer, when he’d been in the midst of interviewing for Pym Tech hadn’t been some sort of master plan. And even if it had been, who could blame him for doing everything in his power to get a paid gig with one of the most innovative tech companies in the entire world?
Tony Stark, actually, that’s who could blame him. He had not been impressed, making jabs and off handed comments anytime they happened to be in the same room together. Which was more often than Ned had expected, with Peter bringing him along as his plus one whenever he got an invite to a Stark event. (Which Ned had to admit, were still fairly fun even if they usually involved a few rude comments in his direction and the occasional awkward presence of Mr. Morita, who was an old family friend of Mr. Stark’s.)
Ned braces himself for Mr. Stark’s rebuttal but all he gets is a huffed laugh, “Okay, fair point. You’re still not keeping this though,” He says, tucking the vial of nano adhesive back into his blaser.
Peter gives Ned a wide eyed confused glance but Ned doesn’t have any answers to offer except a shrug. Mr. Stark already clearly ready to leave.
“Okay, don’t do anything stupid while this dries,” Mr. Stark says, “I better not see you on twitter in that onesie you call a costume.” He pulls open the apartment door, and then after a long moment turns back, “You know Ned, Pepper always said you had gumption, maybe we’ll see if we can put together something for you next summer. Paid of course.”
“Yeah, yeah, okay, that’d be really cool Mr. Stark,” Ned blurts, his brain still trying to keep up with this bizarre flip of events.
Mr. Stark gives them a weird little ironic salute and then he’s gone.
“Dude, what the hell just happened?” Ned says, collapsing onto the bench of the breakfast nook.
“I have no idea,” Peter says, “Also I cannot believe he’s gonna pay you, I don’t even get paid!”
“Honestly he probably just wants to piss of Hank Pym,” Ned says. Even though Hope van Dyne had told him that the whole Stark-Pym rivalry was entirely one sided on her dad’s end. Apparently Howard Stark used to send them Christmas cards every year and invite her dad golfing all the time before he died.
“I cannot believe you’re being competitively head hunted,” Peter says, leaning over to kiss him on the side of his head, careful to avoid where he’d smacked it. “I can’t even get a job at Subway.”
“Don’t worry,” Ned says, “I’ve always wanted a Trophy Boyfriend.”
Peter gives him a little indignant scoff and then they’re both laughing, growing louder in fits and spurts that by the time there’s another knock at the door, the delivery guy for real this time, Ned practically has to peel Peter off the floor to answer it.
They eat Chinese food straight from the carton, sitting cross legged on the kitchen floor, their knees touching.
“Tell me a secret,” Peter says, digging around with his chopsticks for that last stray piece of lemon chicken. It’s a game they play sometimes, pulling out little facts about themselves they’ve never told anyone else before. It’s gotten harder though, over the years, Ned feels like there’s almost nothing left that Peter doesn’t know about him.
“Hmmm,” Ned says, “My mom didn’t let me have gum as a kid because she thought I was going to get it in my hair, so after school sometimes I would buy a pack of the grape Hubba Bubba and chew it all on the way home. Or one time, in the shower.”
Peter laughs, eyes crinkling, “Why did she think you were gonna get it in your hair?”
“I think maybe Sara did it once or something so it was just outright banned,” Ned bumps Peter’s knee with his, “Your turn.”
Peter hums, “Do you remember that time the fire alarm got pulled in December in sophomore year?”
“Holy shit was that you?”
“I’m not done,” Peter whines, “Remember when they dismissed us early and then we went and got lunch at Delmar’s?”
“And I got that call from Mr. Stark right in the middle so you ordered for me and you got my order just right and even got them to smush it down like I like it.”
“Peter this isn’t a secret I was there for all of this,” Ned says.
“No, I know but the secret part is, I’m pretty sure, in hindsight, that’s when I fell in love with you.”
“Because I got your sandwich order right?” Ned says skeptically.
“Because you know me so well I didn’t even have to tell you,” Peter says.
“Oh,” Ned says, feeling heat rise to his face, “Well now I feel like a jackass.”
“Yeah, you’re a total dick,” Peter says, leaning forward to kiss him, half-empty cartons pushed to the side as Ned’s hands come up to rest on his shoulder blades.
“I love you too,” Ned says between kisses, and Peter laughs into his mouth. And he’s about to suggest they maybe move back to Peter’s room when he hears the distinctive clack clack of May’s key chains bumping against each other as she opens the door. “Nooooo,” Peter whines, sitting back on his heels and pouting as the front door swings open.
May’s in the Wonder Woman scrubs Ned had bought her last Christmas and she looks down at them with a mix of gentle bemusement and exasperation. “Hello boys,” She says, dropping her bag and keys on the counter, “Having a nice time down there?”
“Maaaay,” Peter whines, “We weren’t even doing anything.”
“Well thank god,” She calls, already heading towards her bedroom, “Because that would not be even remotely sanitary.”
Peter stands, and offers a hand to Ned, “I’m sorry.”
“Nah it’s fine,” Ned lies, pushing down annoyance and disappointment, “I pick May over Tony Stark any day.”
They end up on the couch, watching some stupid trivia game show and May emerges from her room in flowy yoga pants and a Stevie Nicks t-shirt. She makes them frozen margaritas in an unspoken apology for coming home early and crashing their night and Ned spends the rest of the night curled into Peter’s side, happily tipsy and yelling answers at the tv until he dozes off.
Peter wakes him up around 11:30, the tv turned low on a Pierce Brosnan James Bond movie. May drives him home so he doesn’t miss curfew, Peter kissing him sweetly on the stoop of his building and promising to text him tomorrow.
Maybe it’s the alcohol talking or his newfound truce with Tony Stark giving him an unfounded boost of confidence, but Ned falls asleep thinking that this whole Flash and Peter thing is really nothing to worry about. Everything’ll work itself out just fine.
It doesn’t. And it doesn’t get worse, exactly, but it becomes a background simmering thing. Ned getting biweekly updates from Flash and Peter about what an absolute moron the other is for their thoughts on phenomenology or verfremdungseffekt or Arthur Miller or lumpy reception or... or… or… or. A never ending spiralling fight that Ned was more than exhausted by on both sides after four weeks of it.
He feels like he’s being melodramatic, especially since this is arguably the least dangerous fighting Peter gets into on a consistent basis, but Ned’s never had to live with any of Spider-Man’s nemeses.
It doesn’t help that on a real life level Flash and Peter have completely hit it off. Bonding over razzing Ned, their mutual love of blue food and a deep rooted obsession with Crash Bandicoot. Flash’s weird little hero worship man crush on Spider-man probably doesn’t hurt either. Ned’s come back to the dorm a handful of times to find them playing Mario Kart on the Wii Flash had brought, the tv monitor mounted on the wall in a way that was definitely against dorm regulations.
Just yesterday Flash had burst out in snorting giggles while they’d been working on homework, coming over to show Ned the text Peter had sent him, that gif from Finding Nemo with the fish going ‘I’m obnoxious!’, and the text omg cute pic of you.
“- So I said,” Peter says, Ned tuning back in to the conversation, “I don’t care how many times you’ve seen Hamilton, you’re completely misreading Lin-Manuel Miranda’s vision to further your own agenda. And like, I would know seeing as I’m the one who’s actually met Lin-Manuel Miranda. I mean I couldn’t tell him that obviously, since like what am I gonna say? I rescued him from some third rate megalomaniac who wanted Lin to write a musical about his greatness? But the point still stands.”
“Hmm,” Ned says, noncommittally, fiddling with one of the little plastic cups of creamer on the table.
“You okay?” Peter says, breaking off from his tirade, “You look stressed.”
“Sorry,” Ned shakes his head, “Uh, Flash and Hallie sort of officially, well they didn’t break up cause they weren’t dating, but they’re not hanging out anymore. He’s just been a lot the last few days.”
Peter makes a sympathetic noise and takes a sip of his tea, “That’s too bad.”
Ned does actually feel pretty bad for Flash, the way his thing with Hallie sparked and then abruptly flickered out. Though, he’s not going to miss getting sexiled at the drop of a hat, getting texts last minute to maybe avoid the dorm for a few hours, thanks bro you’re the best. At least Ned and Peter only sexile him on their pre-agreed on schedule.
“Anyways, as I was saying about the Hamilton thing-” Peter starts up again, before, miracle of miracles, Liz appears out of the crowd and gives them a wave. Ned has never been more thankful in his life to see her, actual angel that she is.
“Hey guys!” She says, her heels clicking loudly on the floor as she makes her way over to them, “Fancy seeing you here.”
“Hey Liz, what’s up? Here,” Peter says, pulling out one of the chairs at their table with his foot.
“I can’t talk long,” She says, tossing her hair over her shoulder, “I’m just here to put up a poster for our midterm exhibition on Saturday.” She holds up a poster from the stack on her lap, and Ned recognizes her style from two years worth of posters and banner at Midtown Tech.
“Oh hey that looks awesome,” Peter says, leaning over to get a better look at the poster, “Is it like, for art students only?”
Liz scrunches her nose, “No it’s open to the public.”
“We should definitely go,” Peter says, “Here let me just put it in my calendar.”
“That’s so cool that you’re still doing art stuff, are you doing a double major?” Ned says, feeling oddly left out.
“Nah, just a minor,” Liz says, “Can’t tear me too far away from comp sci. Speaking of which, a little birdy told me you’re thinking of declaring for computer engineering instead of comp sci and I want you to know if you abandon me to the engineering bros I will officially never forgive you.”
“Professor Lu,” Liz says, “I’m her T.A.”
“Well I’ll definitely keep that in consideration when I make my decision,” Ned says and Liz grins at him.
“I should get going, but I hope you guys can come on Saturday,” She says, standing and tucking her chair back in.
“Oh absolutely, count us in, right babe?” Peter says.
Ned nods, “Yeah we’ll be there.”
“Cool,” Liz says, collecting her posters and turning to go.
“Oh Liz, wait,” Peter says, “Ned and I are going to that movie night on the quad tonight, Ferris Bueller, you should come if you’re free it’s going to be super fun.”
Liz opens and shuts her mouth quickly, pressing her lips together, “Oh, I’m uh...going to see my dad later, so I don’t think I’ll be back in time.”
“Oh,” Peter says, deflating in on himself, “Yeah, no. Okay. Another time then.”
She nods, “I’ll see you on Saturday.”
“Yup, Saturday,” Peter agrees, forcing a small smile. When Liz turns out of sight he folds in on himself, pressing his head to the wood of the table.
“You did the right thing,” Ned says, running a hand over Peter’s hair.
“I know,” Peter says, muffled by the tabletop, “It still sucks though.” He crosses his arms in front of him and brings his head up, resting his chin on his elbow. “I just wanna listen to Uptown Funk twenty five times in a row and have a nap now.”
“Don’t we all Peter, don’t we all,” Ned says, and sits with him stroking his hair until both of their drinks are cold and they start getting the evil eye from a barista.
Neither of them have anywhere to be so they go on a wandering walk through campus, Peter having perked up substantially, swinging their hands between them. “We should invite Flash to Liz’s art thing, get him out of the dorm. Introduce him to some cute girls,” Peter says, and then after a long beat, “I wonder if he’d like Liz.”
“Liz has a boyfriend,” Ned says, “Besides I don’t think our romantic entanglement with Liz needs to get anymore complicated than it already is.”
“Fair,” Peter says.
“We gotta find him someone that looks like Saoirse Ronan, she’s like, his absolute dream girl.” Peter makes a face, “What’s wrong with her? She’s cute.”
“I guess,” Peter says, “But I’ve never been able to forgive her for the shit she pulled in Atonement. And I am frankly surprised you can given that it was poor Natalie Portman who suffered.”
“Babe. Please tell me you know that was Keira Knightley.”
Peter gets a look on his face like he’s trying to rearrange his entire worldview, “What about the Pirates of the Caribbean movies?”
“Also Keira Knightley.”
“Oh. Oh I said some very weird things to Natalie Portman then,” Peter says.
“Or you said some even weirder things to Keira Knightley,” Ned says, and he just manages to duck in time to miss Peter’s attempt to smack him.
It’s not nearly as difficult as Ned thought it might be to get Flash to come to Liz’s art show. He’s been moping around the dorm all week, listening to, of all things, early career Taylor Swift, but Ned supposes the opportunity to dress up and schmooze is too tempting to resist.
They’re just about to leave their dorm, Ned double checking the directions Liz had sent them when he gets a text from Peter. Or rather he gets a text Karen transcribed from Peter talking and sent him, which reads;
running late go without me be there asap-oh SHIT
Flash is still fiddling with his hair, in the mirror and Ned resists the urge to smack his hands away from it.
“You look fine, c’mon let’s go,” Ned says, still debating whether or not he wants to wear a hat.
Flash sighs dramatically, “Aren’t we waiting for Peter?”
“He got held up at work, he’s going to meet us there as soon as he can,” Ned grabs a brown fedora from the top half of his wardrobe, “What do you think? Is the hat too much.”
“Yes, jesus, you look like Indiana Jones,” Flash says.
“How is that a bad thing? Doesn’t everyone want to have sex with a young Harrison Ford deep down?”
Flash considers this for a long moment and then shrugs, “Perhaps, but you my friend are not a young Harrison Ford.”
“Fine, no hat,” Ned says, even though deep in his heart he knows he can pull them off.
They walk over to one of the fine art buildings in relative silence, Flash scrolling through his twitter feed.
“Oh dude look,” Flash says holding up his phone, “Spider-Man just defused a bomb in the subway tunnels.”
Ned takes a long deep breath through his nose because, jesus, of course he did.
“He’s honestly so much cooler than any of those mainstream super heroes you know? Like the Avengers moved out of the city, but he’s still out here, watching out for us,” Flash says awe in his voice as he retweets the pics and the article.
“Mmm,” Ned says noncommittally.
“You’re from Queens right? You ever run into him?”
“Yeah sure we hang out all the time,” Ned says, and Flash laughs. It’s funny how sometimes the best way to keep a secret is to tell the truth.
“Oh dude,” Flash says, looking up from his phone, “Did I tell you what that asshole in my theatre class said this time?”
“If it’s about Brecht again I honestly don’t really care,” Ned says, which he thought was a pretty clear deterrent but it doesn’t stop Flash from jumping into a long tirade about what should and shouldn’t constitute queer theatre for the rest of the walk. (Ned feels like Flash, by virtue of being a straight dude, is probably wrong on this one, but he can’t really bring himself to care enough to have a strong opinion).
They’re just on that edge between being uncool-y early and fashionably late so Liz spots them right away in the still thin crowd.
“Ned!” She says, coming over and giving him a big hug, “Who’s your friend?”
“My roommate Flash, meet Liz,” Ned says.
“Hi,” Flash says more sheepishly than Ned thought was possible, but Liz Allan always did have that effect on people.
Liz shakes his hand and Flash looks a little dazed, “Where’s Peter?”
“He got held up at work, but he’ll still be here,” Ned says, and Liz frowns, and he knows they’re both thinking about homecoming. “I’m actually gonna call him right now and see where he is.”
He skirts around the edges of the crowd, finding a quiet spot and dialing Peter, surprised when he actually picks up and it doesn’t just go to voicemail.
“Hey! I’m on my way,” Peter says out of breath.
“Please tell me you don’t smell like a subway tunnel.”
There’s a long gap on the line, “...How did you even know about that?”
“Twitter,” Ned says, waving at a girl he recognizes from his astronomy class.
“I took a super quick sink shower and changed so I think I’m okay,” Peter says, “I’ll just tell people I’m sick and avoid hugs.”
“God your life is so weird.”
“Save me some food before everything gets picked over,” Peter says in lieu of a goodbye, his priorities, as always, a mystery to everyone.
Ned makes his way back over to Flash. He’s drifted away from Liz, a drink in his hand, staring up dazedly at an abstract painting. All brash brush strokes and broad lines.
“Hey,” Ned says, bumping Flash softly in the shoulder, but he doesn’t look away from the painting.
“Peter,” Flash says voice flat and hollow.
“Oh yeah he’s on his way he should be here in fifteen,” Ned says.
“Liz asked me if I got along with your boyfriend. Peter. Peter Parker,” Flash says like Ned hadn’t said anything, and the bottom of Ned’s stomach falls out. Online classes attach your full name to anything you post, of course Flash knew his nemesis’ last name.
“Look-” Ned starts but Flash turns abruptly fixing him with a glare that could melt, well maybe not metal, but plastic at the very least.
“No shut up. Shut up. All this time Ned! You lied to me!”
“I didn’t lie.”
“You lied by omission it still counts! I thought you were my friend but all this fucking time you’ve been letting me run my mouth and what? Turning around and having a good fucking laugh with Peter about me!?”
Ned blinks, “Peter doesn’t know.”
Flash opens his mouth, clearly about to continue his tirade before this new information settles over him, “What?”
“I knew it was you but I didn’t tell him. Because you’re my friend and I was so glad that you guys actually get along and I didn’t wanna fuck everything up because I really like being your roommate and I didn’t want you to hate me by proxy. But look, clearly I just made it happen anyways and I’m sorry. I’m really sorry.”
Flash blinks rapidly, “Wait, I. What? You didn’t tell Peter?”
“No, of course not, what kind of asshole do you think I am?”
Flash opens his mouth and seems to forget to close it, processing this information. “Oh,” he says finally in a small voice. “I just figured you’d be on Peter’s side.”
“I mean, it’s not like you’re bullying him. It seems like you’re both on pretty equal footing,” Ned says. “Besides, uh, honestly I don’t really care about theatre studies, it’s not like you’re arguing about anything that really impacts real life.”
Flash frowns at him, “That’s disrespectful to the discipline.”
“Look,” Ned says, rubbing a hand on his forehead, “I don’t care if you wanna keep fighting about this stuff for an online class, but please, please, I am asking you as a friend-slash-roommate. Please don’t tell Peter.”
Flash considers this for a long moment, turning back to look at the painting, before sighing dramatically, “Fine. Fine I won’t tell him, but I’m not going to be any nicer in discussions if he’s being a dumbass.”
“Thank you,” Ned says, and Flash just rolls his eyes and wanders off to look at some sculpture work. Ned’s heart is still racing so he goes and finds a bench and puts his head between his knees and just breathes for a while.
Peter comes skidding in about twenty minutes later, a little windswept, but mostly not looking like someone who was crawling around the subway tunnels an hour before. Ned’s managed to mostly put himself back together and is weaving idly through the exhibition, when Peter finds him.
“Hey!” He says, leaning over to give Ned a kiss on the cheek, “Sorry about that. Where’s Flash?”
“Uh, somewhere,” Ned says, giving a quick look around for him, he’d given him a bit of a space and he figured even if he wasn’t going to tell Peter, his wasn’t exactly a face Flash wanted to see right now. “Let’s go find Liz,” He countered before Peter could protest or ask where his snacks were, the trays of catering long since picked over by the time Ned had remembered his request.
“There he is!” Liz says beaming when she spots them, breaking off from where she’d been chatting with her boyfriend - he looks less like Dane Dehaan in person, but there’s still a fair resemblance - to greet them.
“Better late than never right?” Peter says in lieu of a hello and gives a little shrug, hands firm in his pockets. “Oh, I’m just getting over a cold,” He says, when Liz leans in to hug him so she reaches over and pats the top of his head as an alternative, “Would you be willing to give us a little guided tour of your work Ms. Allan?”
Liz laughs, “Right this way Mr. Parker, Mr. Leeds.”
She walks them through her three pieces, talking about her influences and her process and honestly most of it goes over Ned’s head, but there’s something comforting about her familiar lines, and shapes, just verging on the abstract. Ned keeps an eye out for Flash, spotting him once or twice from afar before he disappears back into the crowd and he feels bad for ditching him, even if it’s probably what Flash would prefer right now.
Ned can’t avoid him forever though, and as people start to clear out he spots Flash loitering by the door. Liz’s busy talking to a professor but she offers them a little wave as they walk off.
“Hey man!” Peter says, bounding over, “We thought you’d disappeared.”
“I like enjoying art alone,” Flash says stonily.
“Uh, okay,” Peter says, give Ned a private little ‘what the hell?’ glance. “Are either of you hungry? We could go check out that new crepe place over by the law library I’ve heard it’s really good.”
“I’m not really hungry,” Flash snaps, “I think I’m just going to go back to the dorm. Night guys.” He says, and stalks off before either of them can stop him.
“Wow,” Peter says after a long beat, “He must be really torn up about that girl.”
Thank god for conveniently timed yet unrelated incidents.
Ned holds the door open for Peter and they step into the cool night. It’s raining ever so slightly, and everything is soft and hazy, lights bouncing off of puddles and slick pavement.
“I feel bad,” Peter says, “The crepe thing was dumb, I bet the last thing he wants to do is get dessert with a couple. I should text him.”
“No!” Ned says, too loudly, “I just mean, it’ll probably make him feel worse if he thinks we’re pitying him.”
Peter bites his lip considering, “Yeah I guess you’re right. Dessert is still on the table, if you’re interested though? I kind of skipped dinner because of the bomb thing.”
The crepe place is closed by the time they get over there so they just end up getting slushies from a 7-Eleven and taking the long way back through campus to Ned’s dorm.
“Looks like Flash’s still up,” Peter says, putting a hand to his brow to look up at the window of their dorm.
“You know which window is mine?” “Of course I know what window is yours I scoped it out like, two days after you moved in.”
“You’re gonna get foiled by an RA one day, that’s exactly how the Spider-man stuff is gonna come out,” Ned says shaking his head.
“I needed to know! What if you were in danger and I needed to get to you quickly? I’m not going to start tapping on windows and asking which one is yours.” Peter says, and Ned has to concede that this is a fairly reasonable thing to be worried about given their track record.
“I’m sorry tonight was kind of weird,” Ned says, “Normally I’d invite you up to watch a movie or something but-”
“A snuggling couple is probably the last thing Flash wants right now,” Peter says, “I get it. It must be hard, to be roommates with one half of the best most awesome, most perfect, most in love couple in the world.”
“Stooop,” Ned says, grinning despite himself.
“Listen we practically invented love,” Peter says, “I’m pretty sure before we met no one had actually ever been in love before.”
Ned laughs, “They’d only ever like-liked each other.”
“Romeo and Juliet? Nah. Anthony and Cleopatra? Whom? Victoria and Albert? Cousins so that’s gross, sorry Monarchists. ”
“You’re ridiculous,” Ned says and kisses Peter before he can protest.
Peter still has his eyes closed when Ned pulls back, a dreamy little half smile on his face and Ned falls in love all over again.
“Your mouth is very blue,” Ned informs him.
“Yeah well your mouth is very...good,” Peter says, and pulls a face, “That didn’t come out right. Just, c’mere come back and kiss me more.”
Ned’s perfectly content to continue making out in front of his dorm for a little while longer, but Peter pulls away, suddenly alert, his attention cast off somewhere in the distance.
“Something’s happening,” He says, voice soft but serious.
“Are your spidey senses tingling?”
“I said that one time!” Peter pouts.
Ned hums, “I mean okay, but it still wasn’t a good enough reason to use the word tingling.”
Peter gives a half ‘fair enough’ nod, attention turned back to whatever it was he’d heard, “I’ll text you when I get home,” He says, leaning in for a last kiss before setting off at a run, “Okay, love you, bye!” He throws over his shoulder.
“Superheroes,” Ned says rolling his eyes.
Flash is in fact still awake when Ned gets up to their room, but he’s in bed already with his iPad and a thick pair of noise cancelling headphones so he figures that’s as much of a Do Not Disturb as you can create when you live with another person in one small room.
And even though Flash being mad at him and Peter is better than Flash and Peter being mad at each other, Ned’s not going to pretend he’s happy about the rift between them. Especially after they’d managed to become friends despite being wildly different on almost every level.
“Night,” Ned says, when he climbs in bed and rolls over to turn off the light, but Flash either doesn’t hear him or ignores him.
Bizarrely, it’s actually Peter who manages to make everything alright with Flash again. Ned has back to back lectures on Tuesdays but neither Flash nor Peter have class and it’s normally Tuesday afternoons when Ned comes back to his dorm to find them camped out on the floor playing Super Smash Bros.
With everything going on he doubts Peter would have come over, and even if he had it’s even less likely that Flash would let him stay. So, he’s surprised, to say the least, when he opens his room door to the two of them sitting together on Flash’s bed, watching something on Flash’s tablet.
“Uh, hey guys,” Ned says, not sure which part of this he should address first.
“Ayyy Ned!” Flash says, pulling out an earbud, “You never told me your boyfriend blows at paintball.”
“What?” Ned says, dropping his bag on his desk chair.
“Excuse me? You seemed to find me perfectly fine with my skills when I was helping you take down that birthday party of 15 year olds,” Peter protests, “Until your traitor ass turned on me.”
“Don’t hate the player hate the game,” Flash says, stretching out his legs and kicking Peter off the bed playfully.
“Hey!” Peter says, coming over and wrapping his arms around Ned and giving him puppy dog eyes, “Babe defend my honour.”
“Uh, hi,” Ned says, still processing, “You guys went paintballing? Together?”
“Yeah, in Long Island City, May gave us a lift ‘cause she was heading over to go to IKEA.”
“You never told me Peter’s aunt is smoking hot Ned,” Flash says, pulling open a pack of Twizzlers, “I was imagining like, idk, some old lady, but she’s so foxy.”
“Ugh, please stop,” Peter says, still hanging around Ned’s neck.
“You have paint in your hair,” Ned says, brain finally catching up with what the hell is going on. Peter inviting Flash to go paintballing, while surprising, isn’t exactly out of character, but Flash agreeing to go and now chilling with Peter in their room is. A little more startling.
“Ned you gotta see this pic,” Flash says, hopping off his bed and flicking through his phone, which is one of those paper thin too big to hold in your hand properly high tech ones.
“Must the humiliation continue,” Peter says, finally detangling himself from Ned and flopping onto his bed, “Please tell me you’ll still love me when you see my shame.”
Flash holds out the phone for Ned, the photo pulled up on the screen. The two of them in white paintball armor, a very pouty and paint splattered Peter with his arms crossed unhappily while Flash looks smug (and significantly less paint splattered), his arm slung over Peter’s shoulder.
“You know what, this picture is so good I’m gonna make it my new lockscreen,” Flash says and Peter groans.
“Has anyone ever told you what a sore winner is?” Peter says.
Flash pushes the sleeves up on his blaser, “Hey would a sore winner have taken you out for sushi after?”
“He did,” Peter says, looking up at Ned, “He did take me for sushi after cause May wasn’t done yet.”
“She really does love IKEA,” Ned says, remembering a particularly long trip he’d been dragged on during their junior year when they’d spent almost 6 hours wandering around the Brooklyn IKEA, only for May to walk away with nothing but some new cups and a pack of placemats.
“Man, those Spider-man rolls we got were so good, I feel like there is an unfilled niche for superhero themed food,” Flash says, grabbing a comb and moving over so he can fuss with his hair in the mirror, adjusting his popped collar.
“I was personally disappointed by the lack of spiders,” Peter says and winks at Ned like he’s oh so smart.
Flash is preening in the mirror, checking himself out from all angles, “This looks okay right?”
“You got a hot date?” Peter asks, flopping over onto his stomach.
Flash roles his eyes, “It’s a group project meeting for my architecture class, but hey you never know who you’re going to bump into.” He slides his sunglasses on, “Alright have fun kids, I’ll see you later.”
“Handshake!” Peter protests, scrambling off Ned’s bed, “Look we made a handshake at lunch.”
It’s not remotely close to how complex Ned and Peter’s is, just a double fist bump into an explosion and then finger guns, but Ned feels something bright spark in his chest. Outloud however he says, “I’m so glad you guys finally found someone you could be your true obnoxious selves with.”
Which earns him a double flip off from Flash as he leaves the dorm.
Peter comes back over and melodramatically flops onto Ned’s bed, his head at the foot of the mattress, hands folded over his stomach as he looks up at Ned expectantly.
“So, you let him beat you at paintball.”
“Well, ‘let him win’ is maybe an overstatement, that dude is good with a gun,” Peter grins, “But hey, sometimes the cure for a broken heart is shooting someone a bunch of times with a paint gun. ”
“Well it’s definitely the cure for something,” Ned mutters, shoving Peter’s feet over so he can sit down. “I’m glad you guys had fun, I think that’s exactly what he needed. I’m really glad you guys are friends.”
“Well we bonded over our mutual love and respect for you,” Peter says, and then pulls himself into a sitting position, arms wrapped around his bent knees.
“Mutual larb?” Ned says, leaning close to Peter.
Peter takes the bait, leaning over to close the gap between them, “Mmm, that too.”
He’s not frowning exactly when he pulls away, but there’s something just ever so slightly off when Peter pulls away, running a his thumb absentmindedly over Ned’s eyebrow.
“What’s up?” Ned says carefully, “Is there something you want to talk about?”
“Kinda? I guess the paintball thing wasn’t just something I did to be nice to Flash,” Peter takes a long deep breath and lies back down, as if the burden of whatever’s on his mind is too great to handle sitting up. “I uh, I bumped into Liz this morning.”
“I thought things were mostly okay with you guys now?” Ned says, trying to keep his voice as neutral and soothing as possible.
“Yeah, no it’s all totally fine, I just,” Peter starts, and then takes another long deep sighing breath, “I guess she could tell I was having a lot of guilt still around her, and like obviously, she thinks it’s about decathlon and homecoming, and-”
Ned nods solemnly, even though he’s pretty sure Peter’s got his eyes surely fixed on the ceiling.
“She just said she was hurt at the time but now with everything with her dad, she said she gets how much the grief of losing someone can truly fuck up your life. Even long after everyone just wants you to be okay and move on and all the weird-ass things you’ll do because of it. I mean she was nicer about it, and she didn’t say fuck. And she was really willing to say that she knew it wasn’t the same, cause her dad is still here but it is kind of the same in a way I guess.”
Ned reaches for Peter’s hand, and he clasps back tightly. Peter almost never talks about his uncle’s death, not even in this sort of vague convoluted way. It was funny, in a morbid sort of way, how much in hindsight Ned, and everyone else, had attributed Peter’s erratic behaviour to grief.
“I guess it’s just nice to know someone forgave me for messing up their life, even if it wasn’t for the reasons they thought.” His voice breaking ever so slightly on the last word. Peter wipes a hand over his face, more in annoyance than anything else.
“Do you want some water?” Ned says, and Peter nods, still gazing up at the ceiling. Their water jug is empty so Ned goes to refill it in the bathroom, letting the taps run so it’ll actually be cold. When he comes back in Peter’s sat himself up, one leg tucked under the other, his eyes are a little red and watery but he seems okay otherwise, staring at the framed picture of them at prom Ned has on his desk.
“Here,” Ned says, handing him a cup of water.
“God, I love you,” Peter says, taking Ned’s hand and kissing the back of it, “I love that picture of us.”
“The best photos of us ever taken and it’s all thanks to MJ,” Ned says.
Peter laughs, “Jesus don’t tell her that, she’ll never let us live it down.”
“Listen, I’m sure she already knows. MJ always knows,” Ned says, moving to sit beside Peter who reluctantly drops his hand so they don’t end up in a weird tangle.
“Do you remember in sophomore year, right at the beginning before you knew about the Spider-Man stuff and you kept inviting me over anyways, or asking me to do things with you, or texting me to check up even though I was being all weird and kind of avoiding everything for Spider-Man stuff?”
Peter chews his lip, “I never really thanked you for doing that for me. For sticking by me when you just thought I was sad, and for staying when the answer was like, yeah I’m sad but also I got bit by a radioactive spider.”
“I mean it was sort of the coolest thing that had ever happened to me,” Ned says, “But you don’t have to thank me for that, you were my best friend. I mean you’re still my best friend, obviously, but we make out a lot more now.”
“Truly friends with benefits,” Peter says, reaching over and putting his cup on Ned’s desk. “The benefit is that we’re in love,” He adds after a long pause, leaning forward to kiss Ned on the forehead.
“Can another benefit be that we’re the kinda super chill in love where I can have a nap while you just hangout here?”
“Counterpoint,” Peter says, “Let’s be extra super chill in love and just have a nap together, because even letting yourself get beat at paintball is tiring as hell.”
“You have superpowers Peter,” Ned says, “You probably don’t even have any bruises anymore.”
“It still huuuurt,” Peter whined flopping down on his back and Ned settles in beside him, curling into his side so his head rests just over Peter’s heart.
It’s all very cozy and sweet and Ned dozes off easily with the steady beating of Peter’s heart as a metronome.
It’s less sweet when he wakes up to Flash putting his phone camera right in his face and Ned startles so hard that he falls out of bed and brings Peter onto the floor with him. But Flash only laughs at them after he’s sure they aren’t hurt, and takes them to his favourite Guatemalan restaurant where he tells the server it’s Ned’s birthday and gets him a free flan in apology.
Also, the pictures of them napping are pretty cute anyways, so Ned forgives him.
Because this is Ned’s life, and as the poem says, nothing gold can stay, everything manages to run smoothly for about a week before imploding again. Ned’s readings are finally starting to make some goddamn sense, Peter and Liz have stopped awkwardly dancing around each other, and even though Flash will occasionally enter the dorm saying “You’ll never guess what stupid shit your boyfriend said this time,” it doesn’t seemed to have had much lasting effect on their burgeoning friendship.
It’s still midterms though, so they’re all busy, and on top of that some z-list villain that Peter dealt with in high school has resurfaced, and while she’s not much of a threat, Peter’s off dealing with that in between frantic study sessions.
Ned pulls two almost all-nighters back to back with MJ on a skype call so they can yell at each other if they fall asleep. Though MJ has the advantage of being 3 hours ahead of him so it’s fairly one-sided on the nodding off to yelling front. In a way though, Ned’s lucky that all of his midterms are done by Thursday morning and he sleeps a blessed 14 hours while Flash drinks ice coffee and crams for his two Friday exams.
Flash’s gone though when Ned gets up on Friday morning and he spends two hours disassembling and reassembling his Lego Knight Bus just to enjoy the ability to relax and do something unproductive without also having to panic about being unproductive.
Peter comes over around noon, and plants himself at Ned’s desk studying for his online theatre studies midterm, muttering terms under his breath while Ned dicks around on social media.
“Ha, it’s you,” Ned laughs, turning his laptop screen to show Peter some fanart of Spider-Man someone had tweeted with the caption ‘Spider-Pan’, his suit design recoloured in the pan flag colours. “Oh holy shit they’ve got a red bubble, I’m getting a sticker,” Ned says.
Peter huffs out an amused exhale through his nose, “Spider-Pan,” He says turning back to his notes and then a long few minutes later, Ned already passed through the online cart, he looks up at Ned very seriously. “The Bi in the Chair.”
“Where’s my sticker, America?” Ned says, coming over to kiss Peter on the back of the head and grabbing a stack of books he’s been meaning to return to the library. It’s a good excuse to get out of the room for Peter’s exam slot at 1:30pm. Peter is the smartest person Ned knows, and Ned knows his fair share of very brilliant people, but even after all their years in dance class and high school the way Peter gets when he’s taking a test, completely laser focused on what he’s doing, freaks him out a little bit.
Ned bumps into a couple of people from his comp sci class in the lobby of the library and they spend a while bitching about the exam and speculating on how well they did. None of them seem super confident but Ned had felt like the whole thing was pretty straightforward. He’s not an asshole so he just nods and makes sympathetic noises at the right moments.
It’s only 2:05pm when he gets back to his dorm, but there’s not much else Ned can think of to do to kill time, having forgotten to even bring his phone with him. He honestly has no idea how long Peter’s going to need for this exam and he opens the door cautiously in case he’s still in his zone of laser focus.
He’s not even at Ned’s desk anymore, lounging on Ned’s bed with his phone in hand.
“Hey!” Peter says, leaping off Ned’s bed with a level of joyful intensity that normally accompanies foiling a particularly nefarious plot.
“Hi, your exam go well?”
“So easy,” Peter says, “I was done in like, ten minutes,” He’s practically bouncing on the balls of his feet. “Also Daredevil texted me and apparently he picked up whatsherface in Hell’s Kitchen so I have nowhere to be.”
“That’s so freaking cool that Daredevil just like, sends you a text. Is there a group chat for all the New York vigilantes?” Ned says, “Oh my god, does Daredevil use emojis?”
“Ned, focus,” Peter says, “I have nowhere to be,” he repeats slowly, reaching out and putting Ned’s hands on his hips.
“Yeah.” Peter says, snaking his arms up around Ned’s neck.
They’re pressed together entirely and it’s, very very distracting but Ned knows if he doesn’t ask now he’ll never get an answer. “...okay but does Daredevil use emojis?”
Peter takes a step back, opening his mouth and then closing it firmly, deciding instead to just take matters into his own hands and tackles Ned onto the mattress.
“Holy shit,” Ned says, about an hour later, finally catching his breath, and burying his face in Peter’s neck, “Holy shit, we are so good at sex.”
“That was next level,” Peter agrees, his hand tracing lazy patterns on Ned’s back, “I mean not that it’s not usually great or anything-”
“No, I agree that was...holy shit.” Ned says, and kisses Peter on his shoulder.“I can’t believe we invented sex.”
“Mmmm,” Peter agrees, “And love and friendship.”
“The world is lucky to have us.”
“Your hair is doing some very interesting things here babe,” Peter says, attempting to flatten down where Ned’s hair was now sticking at a bizarre angle.
“Ehhh leave it, I think it’s time for a nap anyways,” Ned says, but Peter groans and sits up, rolling out of bed and groping for his clothes which have ended up scattered across the room and pulling on his boxers.
“Come back,” Ned whines.
“I don’t want to be completely naked when Flash gets back,” Peter says, “You live here, you’re allowed to be, it’s weird if I am.”
Ned rubs a hand over his face, “He has an exam in like, 15 minutes, he’s not gonna be back for a while.”
Ned’s never really been one to believe that the universe, or fate, or God, or whatever you wanted to call it, was particularly concerned with his small individual life and choices. That sure maybe nothing out there was looking after him per say, but he also figured that meant that there also wasn’t some cosmic force out there actively trying to work against him. Or at least he didn’t most of the time.
Flash choosing that moment to start panickedly banging on the door was really testing that belief.
“Ned!? Peter!? GUYS!? Fuck I don’t have my student ID! I know you have the room right now you don’t even have to let me in but I have my exam in like 15 minutes and I can’t take it without my ID!” Flash says, voice coming loudly through their door, threaded with panic.
“Fuck!” Ned says, pulling a blanket off the floor and covering himself. “Peter?”
“I got it,” Peter says, the task defaulting to him as the person wearing the most clothes, even if that was a contest he was only winning by one right now. “Where is it?” he calls loudly through the door.
“On my desk! It should be right beside my pencil case,” Flash calls, “Please hurry I have to go!”
Peter crosses over to Flash’s desk rummaging through everything determinedly, shoulders hunched and then suddenly, something seems to come over him, his back going ramrod straight.
“Did you find it?” Ned asks, “Here I can come-”
“No,” Peter says, “Yeah I found it.” He opens the door, just a crack and Flash’s hand flails inside, searching as Peter shoves it into his hand.
“You’re the best I love you guys!” Flash calls and followed by the thump thump thump of his retreating footfalls.
“See I told you he had an exam in 15 minutes,” Ned says, trying to break the weird tension, but Peter doesn’t even acknowledge he’d said anything. “Peter?”
Peter wheels around on his heel, his eyebrows tensed together, “Did you know Flash’s first name was Eugene?”
Oh fuck. Oh fuck.
He doesn’t even need to say anything it’s so clearly written all over his face, “Un-fucking-believable,” Peter says, snatching his clothes off the floor. He’s hurriedly getting dressed, shoving his legs into his jeans, his shirt snapping angrily when he shakes it right side out.
“Look, you have every right to be mad at me but if you’re going to yell at me can you please let me put some clothes on first,” Ned says and Peter stops for a second and gives him a long look, one shoe already on, the other in his hand.
He scoffs and shakes his head incredulously, “Don’t bother,” Peter says, shoving his second shoe on, grabbing his bag off of Ned’s desk chair and making sure the door slams behind him on the way out.
Ned knows it’s bad when he still hasn’t heard from Peter by Sunday. He’s sent dozens of texts and at least five voicemail messages, all without a single response. He knows it’s worse when MJ keeps texting to check up on him, MJ for god’s sake, the one person Ned knows who still uses a flip phone.
The thing is, Ned knows on the surface, this fight doesn’t seem like a big deal. And ultimately it’s not even really about Flash or disparate opinions about theatre studies, it’s about the fact that he and Peter have never really kept secrets from each other. Not even when they were just two kids in dance class who bonded over being the only boys in the room.
And yes sure okay, Peter had kept the whole Spider-Man thing from Ned, but he’d always felt deep down that even if he hadn’t accidentally found out that Peter would have told him eventually. Though, Ned feels less sure about this now. He feels less sure about everything.
“God you’re melodramatic,” Flash says to him Monday night, which is sort of the nail in the coffin, “It’s just a fight, you’ll be back to being grossly in love any day now.”
Ned ignores him and tries to focus on his astronomy readings.
“What are you even fighting about anyways?” Flash says, turned around in his chair like a high school English teacher trying to be hip with the kids, “Did he find out I’m the one he’s been fighting with in our online class?”
Ned bolts up and gives him a look, “How-?”
Flash shrugs, “We had a new discussion topic today and he didn’t pick a fight with me, I thought he maybe saw my student card. Eugene,” He says with disgust, “What the hell were my parents thinking honestly?”
“Wow you almost managed to talk about me for thirty seconds before deferring to yourself.”
“Fuck you Ned,” Flash says, “Just call him, and, I don’t know, cry?”
“Why would I cry?”
“To show you’re sorry,” Flash says, “I don’t know, you’re the one with the boyfriend don’t you know how to handle this?”
“We don’t really fight that much,” Ned says, and it’s mostly true. They have little snits all the time, missed dates or snide comments that cut too deep or just plain misunderstandings, but when those happen Peter will actually talk to him about them. Instead of just storming out and not talking to him for days.
Flash seems unimpressed by this, grabbing a jacket off his desk chair, “Ugh okay I can’t sit in this room with your negative energy right now.”
“Okay, bye then,” Ned says, half-heartedly turning back to his astronomy textbook.
“Nuh-uh, you’re coming with me,” Flash says, grabbing his arm and pulling until Ned gets up, “Movie night on the quad. C’mon they’re showing Pacific Rim you love that shit. I’ll even buy you a popcorn cause that’s the kind of nice friend I am.”
“The kind who forcibly drags me out when I don’t want to go?” Ned grumbles, pulling on his Midtown Tech hoodie.
“Yeah I’m a gift,” Flash says and practically frog marches him to the door.
Flash is texting someone as they walk towards the centre of campus so he doesn’t notice the car. At first Ned thinks he’s just imagining it, the high end but non-descript black car circling the block, but the hair on the back of his neck stands up as it passes by for the third time in five minutes. Ned’s been kidnapped a few too many times for this kind of coincidence to just pass by him.
“Flash,” He says, trying to keep his voice as calm and even as possible.
“Hrnnngh,” Flash says loudly, “Hold on one sec I gotta send this text.”
The car circles again, and Ned gives him a little jerk on the arm of his jacket, “Flash, c’mon, walk fast.”
Flash whines, “We’ve got like twenty minutes until it starts we’re fine.”
Ned’s heart is pounding in his chest, and he can see the car again in his periphery. Should he just make a run for it? Yeah he’s not the fastest but a car wouldn’t be able to follow him into the interior of campus and then he could call Peter and-
But he can’t leave Flash behind, what if someone nabs him, or god forbid, kills him for his secondhand connected to Spider-Man. “Flash we need to go,” He says, as seriously as he can, but it’s already too late the car slowing down along the curb.
“Look if they grab me you run and then call Peter okay?” Ned says, placing himself between Flash and the car “Listen to me. Call Peter.”
“Dude what are you talking about?” Flash says finally looking up from his phone, his eyes going wide as he looks over Ned’s shoulder towards the car and dear god, please don’t let them have guns or-
“Evening gentlemen!” Tony Stark says, bright and nonchalant, “Nice night for a walk.”
Ned whips around, his mouth gaping open and then quickly shuts. What the fuck?
“It is yes, sir” Flash says in a rush, “A nice evening, I mean, Mr. Stark, sir.”
“What are you-?” Ned starts, but then realizes. Peter. “What happened?” He says, taking a step towards the car, “Is Peter okay? Where is he?”
Mr. Stark gives him a bemused little smirk, “Oh god kid, you think I’d roll up like this if something terrible happened to your boyfriend? He’s fine. Get in the car.”
“I-What?” Ned says, still trying to play catch up, the overwhelming flood of relief that Peter’s fine clouding everything else.
“Get in the car, Ned.” Mr. Stark says again, pulling the door open, “C’mon I don’t have all night.”
“How do you know Iron Man?” Flash hisses under his breath, equal parts envious and impressed.
“Peter’s job thing,” Ned says vaguely, “Look I gotta go I guess.”
“No wait, Ned you have to come to-”
“I’ll text you okay.” Ned says, and then Mr. Stark is practically yanking him inside the car and pulling away.
“Owww,” Ned says, sitting up from where he’d slid onto his arm on the leather upholstery, “Uh, not to be rude, Mr. Stark, but what the hell is going on?”
“Something important,” He says vaguely, “Put your seatbelt on kid.”
“Rockefeller Plaza?” Ned says, looking out the window as the car pulls to a stop, “Please tell me this isn’t part of some sort of talk show.”
Mr. Stark takes off his sunglasses and rubs his eyes, “Jeez kid, anyone ever told you that you like to make a lot of negative assumptions?”
“You just kidnapped me off the street,” Ned points out.
“Get out of the car Ned,” Mr. Stark says.
There’s a young professional looking woman in a sleek black dress waiting to usher them over to Rockefeller Center through a weird side access door and into an elevator. Ned racks his brain trying to come up with some kind of explanation for all this, but it’s so bafflingly bizarre it defies anything he can come up with, like the meandering plot of a dream.
“Look, kid,” Mr. Stark says, finally, “When you’re in my line of work, focus is one of the most important tools you have at your disposal. And when that focus is disrupted it means you’re putting not only yourself in danger, but everyone around you. Do you understand what I mean?”
Ned doesn’t really, but he’s probably talked back to Tony Stark enough for one lifetime so he just says, “Um, sure.”
“And I’m the first one to admit that it’s not always easy to own up to your mistakes, but sometimes you really just need to put your personal feelings aside and be the bigger person,” Mr. Stark says, patting Ned on the shoulder, “You know what I’m saying don’t you kid?”
“Uh, yeah I think so,” Ned lies.
“Great,” Mr. Stark says, “I’m glad I could help you come to this conclusion.”
The elevator dings and he pushes Ned forward, into a swanky looking, but completely deserted, bar. “Welcome to Bar SixtyFive,” Mr. Stark says, taking a step in and throwing his arms out, “Pretty swanky right? Amazing views. Not as good as Avengers Tower to be sure, but not too shabby.”
Ned nods, and god maybe this is just a weird dream after all, because the more Mr. Stark talks, the less and less Ned feels like he understands what’s going on.
“C’mere, lookit this,” Mr. Stark says, grabbing him by the elbow and leading him onto the terrace. It’s a little chilly this high up and Ned wishes he had a proper jacket and not just his hoodie right now as he looks through the ten foot high glass panels that encase the terrace out over the city, which spreads out beneath them in a patchwork quilt of light.
There’s a dull ache in his chest when Ned realizes that this must be how Peter sees the city all the time.
“Uh, not that this isn’t really nice Mr. Stark,” Ned starts carefully, “But what exactly is going on?”
Mr. Stark holds up a finger in the universally recognized ‘one second’ gesture and looks down at his watch, “Three. Two. One.”
There’s a thump as Peter lands on the roof behind them in full Spider-Man gear, “Hey, Mr. Stark listen, I know you said you needed me asap but is there anyone else who could possibly handle this?” He says in a rush, “Because I really need to be on campus right now so I can apologize to Ned, cause I set up this whole thing to get him there at the right time and if I don’t get back he’ll-” Peter cuts off, spotting Ned standing behind Mr. Stark.
“Well,” Tony says, clapping his hands together, “I think my work here is done. No need to thank me, just make sure you show me your undying gratitude for all of time.” And with that, he spins on his heel and exits, leaving them alone on the terrace.
“Hi,” Ned says, feeling shy and exposed suddenly, even though he’s not the one in the skin tight bodysuit.
Peter pulls his mask off, closing the space between them quickly, but stopping short a good arm's length away from Ned, like he’s scared to be too close. “You’re- You’re supposed to be at Pacific Rim right now.”
“Iron Man telling you to get in a car and come with him is a pretty persuasive argument,” Ned says, rubbing the back of his neck awkwardly.
“Yeah I know that feeling,” Peter says fairly calm, and then bursting out in true Peter ‘Drama Queen’ Parker fashion, “I can’t believe he did this, I had a whole plan and it was going to be super romantic and amazing. I had to tell Flash verfremdungseffekt is actually effect to get him to agree to help me, and you know how I feel about that being total garbage.”
“You’re talking to Flash?” Ned says, which, despite all this nonsense, is still pretty high on the weirdness scale of this situation.
Peter sighs, sitting on one of the tables, “We’ve called truce because some things are more important than who’s right about the virtues of lumpy reception.”
“Most things are more important than that,” Ned says, trying to break the tension.
“You’re more important than that,” Peter says, and then sighs, “Look what I’m really trying to say, is that I’m sorry.”
“What?” Ned says, “No, I’m sorry. I should be apologizing to you. Even Tony Stark thinks I should be apologizing to you. Peter I lied to you, that’s not okay.”
“I mean, yeah, but I stormed out before you could even explain yourself. And obviously I don’t love being lied too, but you had a valid reason to not tell me. I really like Flash now but if I’d known back at the beginning of the semester that he was the douchebag in my class, I might not have given him a chance. And it’s not fair to expect you to live in an uncomfortable roommate situation just so I can more accurately be mad at someone.”
“Peter,” Ned says, “I lied to you. We don’t lie to each other, ever.”
Peter gives him a weird look, gesturing down at his suit, “Um?”
“That’s different you were trying to protect yourself.”
“I mean weren’t you just trying to protect yourself too though,” Peter says, reaching out for Ned’s hand.
“I don’t think this is really on par with having superpowers,” Ned says, “But if it makes you feel better I forgive you, obviously.”
“I forgive you obviously too,” Peter says, voice suddenly soft and reverent.
“Why didn’t you just call me then?” Ned says, not wanting to push his sudden good luck, but he can’t help it.
Peter sighs, “Well when I told May what happened she was really on your side about the whole thing and I guess I just felt embarrassed. Especially because you kept sending me these heartbreaking messages and I felt like nothing I could say would be good enough. Uh, also because - don’t get mad it’s totally fine - I got a little bit shot and was sort of down for the count for most of yesterday.”
“It’s healed! It’s fine!” Peter protests, “Honestly it barely hurt at all. I just wasn’t paying enough attention cause I was stressed about you being upset.”
Oh. Oh. All that weird stuff Mr. Stark had said to him was starting to make a lot more sense.
“So, Pacific Rim?” Ned says, grinning despite himself, “Little first date throwback. Did your little speech include the words Drift Compatible?”
“Several times,” Peter admits, “It was very romantic.”
“Too bad we’re stuck at this dump,” Ned says, gesturing at the view spread out below them.
“Well, it’s no quad yard filled with people that’s for sure,” Peter says, “Though, that actually might be for our benefit because Karen keeps telling me I should kiss you.”
“She sounds like a smart lady,” Ned says, pulling Peter into his space and resting their foreheads together, “I think you should listen to her.”
“My thoughts exactly,” Peter says,and then neither of them say anything for a good long while.
They settle back into a mostly comfortable routine. Flash had been too busy immediately after their failed movie night grilling Peter about his connection to Tony Stark to focus much on their bizarre online rivalry. And while there’s the occasional snit, and Samuel Beckett’s name has become a banned term in their dorm, Ned doesn’t have any worries leaving the two of them alone in a room together.
“See, I told you it would work out just fine,” MJ says over skype.
“You actually said the exact opposite of that,” Ned counters.
MJ purses her lips together and squints at him, “Did I?”
“I swear to god if you go all existential on me,” Ned says.
“Listen I’m not the one who-” MJ cuts off abruptly, “Ugh, hold on there’s someone at the door gimme a sec.”
Ned can hear the sound of the door opening and then the soft hush of another voice. MJ pops back into view, “Hey listen buddy I actually have some plans that just came up so I’m going to blast, can I call you back tomorrow?”
“Plans?” Ned says, “With who?”
“It’s with whom,” MJ says, as a cute blonde girl appears in the camera field behind her.
“Hi MJ’s friend!” She says, giving a little wave at Ned, “Sorry I’m stealing her for lunch.”
“Oh my god you have a date,” Ned says, bursting out a triumphant laugh, “Oh my god she’s so cute.”
“I regret telling you anything ever,” MJ says.
“I want details! You better text me later,” Ned says, “MJ I swear. What’s her name? Are you dating?”
“Goodbye Edward,” MJ says, and then a long pause as her finger hovers over the end call button, “Her name’s Gwen,” She says almost under her breath and hangs up before Ned can ask any follow up questions.
“Our girl is growing up!” Ned texts Peter who’d gone with Flash to their professor’s office hours to find out their post midterm standings. Ned had sort of wanted to tag along just to find out what his reaction would be to learning that the two students who had been antagonizing each other all semester were actually friends, but honestly finding out about this Gwen thing was more than worth it.
Ned should probably be doing homework, but instead he dicks around on social media, gives a stellar review to the person who made the Spider-Pan stickers (Peter’s is proudly stuck to the inside of his biochem binder), and ignores yet another passive aggressive email from his sisters.
He’s debating whether he’s ready to commit to watching a 40 minute long youtube review when Flash and Peter come banging back into the dorm.
“Hey, how’d it go with your prof?” Ned says, shutting his laptop as Peter flops down onto his bed dramatically.
“Flash, you tell it I’m too annoyed to do it any justice,” Peter says, throwing an arm over his eyes, “I cannot believe we’re paying good money to be treated like this.”
“Oh jesus,” Ned says hesitantly, “What happened.”
“Well first you need to know that our professor is one of those white guys who grow a beard to make up for having a personality who think that Oleanna is a misunderstood masterpiece rather than a disgusting pile of misogynistic abuse fantasy,” Flash says, sitting on his own bed with a huff.
“Yeah but Caryl Churchill’s the one who’s overrated,” Peter scoffs.
“Like, I hear you saying words, but you gotta know all of this means nothing to me,” Ned says.
Peter pats his knee, “I’ll explain later babe.”
“Oh you really don’t have to.”
“Anyways,” Flash continues, “We go in to ask about our marks-”
“The look on his face when he realized who we were, and that we’re friends?” Peter grins, “Priceless.”
“God, I fucking know!” Flash says, laughing, “I wish I had a picture.”
“Does this story actually...go somewhere?” Ned asks lightly.
“I’m getting there,” Flash says indignantly, “Anyways, he pulls up our marks-”
“And made the other person go in the hall when he showed us, as if we’re not immediately going to tell each other-”
“-And this asshole marked us down for class participation marks. Even though we’ve both participated in every discussion-”
“-Like, yeah okay, maybe we’re a little...blunt with each other sometimes,” Peter says.
“Right but we’re actually having a conversation with each other, unlike all those other people who don’t even read the discussion questions properly and just comment ‘Great idea!’ on everything, fucking gag me,” Flash huffs.
“But no apparently we’re the ones creating a ‘non-inviting learning environment’
Ned looks between the two of them incredulously, “Incredible.”
“What?” Peter says, sitting up.
“All this time, all I needed was to give you guys a common enemy,” Ned shakes his head.
Peter and Flash exchange glances, “Actually yeah that probably would have, worked.”
“Yeah, c’mon Ned,” Flash says, “You didn’t think of that earlier, aren’t you supposed to be some kind of genius?”
“Ugh, I take it back,” Ned says standing, “I wish you would go back to hating each other it’s much quieter.”
“Baby, no, we looove you,” Peter croons, grabbing Ned’s forearm and clinging onto him.
“Ned’s our favooourite,” Flash says, joining in and attacking him from the other side.
“Oh my god, get off, I’m meeting Liz for coffee in fifteen minutes and I’ll drag you there with me if I have to.”
“Not a great deterrent,” Peter says, but he lets go, choosing instead to bounce onto the bed and plant a kiss on Ned’s forehead before he can protest. “Besides, Flash and I have decided to have a bit of a rematch after our little paintball misadventures.”
“I still don’t know why you think you’re gonna be any better at laser tag, Parker.” Flash says, letting go of Ned and re-popping his collar from where it had drooped.
“Oh my god. You better not come back from this hating each other again, I’ll kill you both myself,” Ned says grabbing his wallet and keys, Peter giving him a short goodbye kiss.
“Hey we’re just trying to follow that old saying,” Peter says, “The boyfriend of my enemy is my roommate.”
“That’s not what people say,” Ned says.
“Mmm, but they should,” Peter says, and Ned laughs and reels him in for one last kiss.
“Oh my god, get your tongues out of each other’s mouths and let’s go,” Flash says, pushing his sunglasses onto his forehead.
“I larb you,” Peter says, finally pulling away and grabbing his stuff.
“I larb you too,” Ned says.
“Yes, yes, we all larb one another,” Flash says, “C’mon let’s go.”
“Alright, alright,” Peter says, “You know one day you too will find love.”
Flash snorts, “I don’t need love I’ve got a cool car. Oh hey speaking of which, did I ever tell you about the time Spider-Man borrowed my car?”
“What? No way that’s so cool, you should definitely tell me all about that in detail,” Peter says, letting Flash lead him out of the dorm, blowing a kiss over his shoulder.
Ned figures even though having a superhero boyfriend still sucks sometimes, ironically it’s having Peter Parker as his boyfriend that really makes up for it.