“I’m not sure this is a good idea,” Peter said, hesitating.
“It’s a wonderful idea,” Ned said encouragingly. “You’re doing the world a favor. You have to redeem yourself. Also this is too good to sit on.”
“And Mr. Stark did mention the other day how he was hoping to drum up some good press for the Avengers,” Peter said. “This is totally humanizing. What better press is there than that?”
“Exactly,” Ned said. “And it’s not like anyone is going to know it’s you. This is basically Lorde’s secret onion ring Instagram, only with, you know, superheroes.”
“Right, right,” Peter said, then uploaded the video he’d taken secretly at Avengers HQ of a befuddled Captain America staring at a microwave with flames pouring out of it while in the distance Falcon was yelling, “I told you that bag was foil-lined!”
He captioned it with ‘way to go gramps. #seniormoments’
For a second Peter stared at his phone, like he was expecting it to somehow reject the post, but nope. It was now out there, forever, on the internet, on an account that could in no way be traced back to Peter Parker or Spider-Man.
“This wasn’t treason, was it?” Peter asked after a moment.
“Of course not,” Ned said. “It’s awesome. And you said no one even saw you take that video, so it’s fine.”
“Totally fine,” Peter said.
It wasn’t totally fine. It turned out to be totally amazing. By the next morning, Peter had gained thousands of followers -- on a single post -- and a good number of the comments were arguing over whether or not it really was Captain America.
“You know what we have to do,” Ned said when Peter met him at his locker.
“Prove it’s really him?” Peter said.
“Um, no,” Ned said. “You need to get pics of the other Avengers being awesome, and then continue to post Cap fails. It’s the only true way to seek revenge for the slight on your honor.”
“That seems kind of mean,” Peter said, but then he remembered the way Cap had smiled right before roasting him in front of all of his peers. “But okay.”
“When’s your next mission?” Ned asked.
“Well,” Peter said, “I’m not really on any missions per se. But I’ll be at Avengers HQ next Saturday.”
“Perfect,” Ned said. “Stock up on videos, so we can stagger it. We’ll learn from Lorde’s mistakes.”
The thing was, Aunt May had been less than pleased about Peter fighting in an alien invasion. She’d accepted that he wasn’t going to give up Spider-Man, but what she had done was somehow worse -- she’d called Tony up herself, behind Peter’s back, and had insisted that Tony give Peter actual superheroing lessons.
Tony had of course argued back, but at the end of the day he’d agreed to have Peter come to Avengers HQ twice a month for training sessions. The first one had mostly been Peter hanging out in Tony’s new lab, playing with unbelievably cool tech in between Tony making him test out new features on his suit.
Peter had taken the opportunity to say, “Dude, what’s up with the instant kill mode?” and Tony had gone squirrelly enough that Peter could reliably interpret it as “I worry so shut up about it already.”
It was almost sweet. It would be extra sweet if he didn’t have to worry about his suit accidentally slipping into murder-mode.
Testing out the suit is why he’d managed to get the video in the first place -- Karen’s constant monitoring was useful in so many ways.
In fact... He could probably go through his archives and find a few clips to keep the Instagram active until his next Junior Crimefighting Class.
Peter had just helped a frightened middle-schooler get their hoodie unstuck from a fire-escape -- “Smoking is bad, yo,” he said super-seriously, wagging his finger reproachfully -- when Karen chimed in that he had an incoming call from Tony Stark.
He swung away, figuring the kid could probably find their way back inside on their own, and landed on a nearby roof as he took the call. “Mr. Stark, hi, I’m kicking ass and taking names out here tonight--”
“Cut the bull, kid,” Tony said, pulling off his sunglasses and giving Peter a look. “Why is there footage of Iron Man doing a pirouette online?”
“I don’t know what you’re… I mean, what? That sounds like something I would like to see for the very first time,” Peter said, making what he hoped was an innocent face.
“Okay, this is embarrassing, stop,” Tony interrupted. “I see what you’re trying for here and I appreciate and support the cause.”
“Um, you do, Mr. Stark?” Peter said hesitantly. He spun a web-hammock -- he was getting really quick at those now, it was a shame he would never be able to put it on his resumes -- and hopped in. “I mean, I’m surprised, but this is awesome. You’re not going to shut it down?”
“No,” Tony said, squinting at him. “Wait, do you think--- Oh god, am I the grumpy dad? Have I become the grumpy dad who shuts down the fun? Parker, not cool.”
“I mean, wouldn’t that make you the not cool one? Like, hypothetically speaking,” Peter said.
“I liked you better when you were all starry-eyed and thunderstruck,” Tony said as sternly as he could, which, being Tony Stark, wasn’t very. Peter was thankful Aunt May hadn’t given him any parenting lessons yet.
Peter beamed at Mr. Stark hopefully. “So I get to keep posting things?”
“Just be discreet,” said the least discreet man on the planet as he hung up on the video call.
Peter didn’t even have to wait for his next Avengers HQ hangout, because two days later he posted a screencap of Cap caught mid-motion during the alien attack, looking for all the world like he was doing an Arrested Development-style chicken dance. “CA-CAW FREEDOM,” Peter captioned it.
Revenge was sweet. Cap couldn’t even get mad at him, because he’d also posted a picture of himself in full costume dangling upside down from one of his webs over Ant-Man’s head, captioning it, will you step into my parlor, and one of Iron Man’s suit letting out a puff of exhaust with the word poot written over it.
Then there was an incident with patrol and his phone which proved that his case would not, in fact, protect his phone from a ten-story drop. Aunt May looked at his shattered phone and said, “Did this phone die in the line of duty or because you were goofing off?”
Peter had been balanced on a tightrope at the time of the phone’s demise, attempting to to send Ned a pic of him midair. “Um.”
“That’s what I thought,” Aunt May had said, and had made no offers to get it replaced. Probably Tony would help out, but Peter felt weird about asking him for something like a new phone, and had switched to emailing Happy a nightly report instead of calling it in.
Then school happened, and he didn’t think about the account, or the fact that he’d been grounded from the internet -- there was a quiz he’d forgotten about, he mis-conjugated some Spanish verbs, and Flash decided that it was perfectly appropriate to build a tiny trebuchet and launch paperwads into Peter’s hair, something he didn’t realize until there were four nestled into his hair. He hoped there had only been four, anyway. That was all that had fallen out when he’d shook his head.
“You know all those people who claim high school is the greatest part of your life?” Peter said to Ned as he sat down for lunch. “Those people were the ones launching the paperwads from the pencil trebuchet.”
“It was a pretty neat design,” Ned said thoughtfully. “I wonder what its range would be if it were built to a larger scale?”
Peter gave Ned his best I thought you were my best friend look and Ned shrugged unrepentantly. Peter opened his mouth to share what he thought of that when he heard his name from the next table over.
Well. His code name. He glanced over and saw Betty and a contingent of her friends gathered around a tablet, watching something and laughing. He couldn’t tell what, exactly, they had said about Spider-Man.
Peter raised his eyebrow at Ned, who shrugged. Peter solved the mystery by going over and asking, “What’re you watching?”
“Oh, you know the Eagle One meme, right?” Betty said, “The one Spider-Man started?”
“I don’t?” Peter said, voice squeaking as he tried to figure out when the hell he’d managed to start a meme as Spider-Man.
“You are a failure to all nerd-kind,” MJ said from behind him, peering over his shoulder, watching as Betty pulled it up on her phone. It was the Ca-Caw picture of Cap except it was now captioned taste the freedom motherfuckas.
“Oh,” Peter said, thinking that his caption was funnier.
“It’s a whole thing now,” Betty continued, scrolling through countless images of Cap with various captions and sometimes sunnies photoshopped on his face. “Though like, I saw it on facebook so I’m pretty sure it’s going to die soon.”
“Wait,” Peter said, “How did Spider-Man start it?”
“He posted it? Like, I thought you were tight with him,” Flash said, giving him a strange look. “You don’t follow him?”
“I,” Peter said, because maybe he should have posted a few less pictures of himself on there, “have been too busy. With the internship.”
“Riiight,” MJ offered, poking him lightly in the side. Peter managed not to jump up onto the ceiling. He was pretty sure there had never been actual physical contact between them before.
Betty rolled her eyes. “But, anyway, the Captain America thing blew up, and like, apparently Spider-Man hates Captain America or something, so now Captain America is striking back.”
Peter whispered to Ned, “Why didn’t you know about this?”
“I told you, I got the motorized AT-AT Lego set,” Ned whispered back. “Nothing else exists in the world.”
“How is Cap striking back?” MJ asked, and she was smiling. Peter glared at her, and she smiled even more sunnily at him. It was disconcerting.
“Oh my gosh, watch,” Betty said, gesturing towards the screen.
It was a formal interview -- a stuffy-looking one, judging by the fact that Captain America was perched in an armchair and surrounded by lamps clearly trying and failing to create a homey ambiance. The interviewer smiled and said, “Captain Rogers, how do you feel about the current internet phenomenon that involves making light of a certain picture of you posted on a mysterious online account?”
Peter’s stomach did an uncomfortable lurch. They asked about memes in real interviews now? He hadn’t meant for the post to actually interfere with Cap’s life.
“Freedom isn’t something that should be joked about,” Captain America said seriously. Suspiciously seriously. “Though I understand it was done in jest, and that sometimes juvenile humor doesn’t take into account every nuance.”
The interviewer made a happy noise, clearly having received the soundbite they were hoping for. “And what about the assumption by most online that the one who posted it was your fellow Avenger, Spider-Man?”
“Who?” Captain America said innocently.
The interviewer’s smile turned up a notch. “Spider-Man? Fellow with a red suit? He’s on Youtube.”
There was a helpful graphic of the most popular Spider-Man imagine used by journalists: Spider-Man caught coming out of a Port-a-Potty with toilet paper stuck to the bottom of his shoe. Perfect.
“I’m not aware of any Avenger by that name,” Captain America said, smiling back in a way that Peter recognized. It was the sharp smile from just before the assembly. Probably it was the same smile he’d used right before punching Hitler. Peter knew that there wasn’t an Avenger named Spider-Man, but his tenuous connection to the group had until now been unspoken and something he’d hoped would change.
“Ouch,” Ned said beside him.
“Man, he just Mariah-ed Spider-Man,” MJ said, impressed.
“It’s totally brutal,” Betty said delightedly. “And like, obviously payback. Who knew Cap had it in him?”
“Remember when he trashed Spider-Man at our assembly?” added Flash. “Captain America is the man.”
Peter nudged Ned, who said very convincingly, “Though, I mean, Spider-Man did save us all from dying horribly inside a giant phallic symbol.”
There were a few mumbled agreements that that had been a pretty great moment, though it was clear that the tide of teenage opinion was shifting and that Captain America had insinuated himself into their hearts in his place. Peter sighed and returned to his lunch.
Ned sat across from him, shrugging at him. “Who would have thought?”
“You’re going about this the wrong way,” MJ announced as she sat down next to Peter.
Peter looked purposefully blankly at his lunch. “I think there’s only one way to open a milk carton?”
“No, dumbass,” MJ said. “Here, gimme a second.”
She dug around in her bag until she came up with her sketchpad, and flipped it open, holding out a drawing of Spider-Man hiding under a set of bleachers while Captain America laughed behind a podium. There was a tiny speech bubble above Cap’s head and in it was a picture of Spider-Man running into a brick wall.
Peter blinked a few times at it. “I still don’t get what this has to do with me.”
MJ rolled her eyes. Peter looked around for back-up but Ned just shrugged, clearly having little to no regard for Peter’s secret identity. MJ tapped the cowering Spider-Man and said, “Dude. Don’t play that game. The point is, this nonsense isn’t accomplishing anything.”
“The pictures weren’t nonsense,” Peter muttered. He’d been very proud. Karen had even chosen some of the screenshots he’d put up.
“Of course not, they’re pure gold. That one of Thor doing the Macarena was a gift to all humanity,” MJ said. “The nonsense is you not firing back at Cap.”
“I literally learned about it forty seconds ago?” Peter said.
MJ clearly found this an unacceptable defense. Ned patted his hand reassuringly. “We’ll help you defend your honor.”
“I have ideas,” said MJ.
“Okay,” Peter said, because he knew not to turn down help from an expert, “let’s hear them.”
The next day was Saturday, and Happy picked him up outside his building bright and early for his training session.
“Hey, Happy,” Peter said. “How’re things? Man have I had a week!”
Happy silently put up the partition in response, but Peter knew that he loved him, really. The drive upstate felt like it took eighty years without the internet to keep him entertained, and Peter was forced to resort to homework.
Tony met him as he walked inside Avengers HQ. “Discreet, huh?” he said, raising an eyebrow and lifting his gold-plated sunglasses up.
“Tell that to Captain Escalation,” Peter muttered.
Tony shook his head. “What’s your game plan?”
“I have a game plan,” Peter said cagily. MJ had been very clear about staying vague and keeping things close to the vest. “A girl from school is helping.”
Tony turned to Happy, who was just approaching. “Did you hear? Our little spider’s found himself a mate.”
“Can’t wait for the wedding,” Happy said.
Peter hoped that his cheeks weren’t as red as they felt. “Ha, ha, you guys are totally hilarious.”
Tony tossed something at him, and Peter caught it using super-human reflexes. He was delighted to see that it was a phone, and clearly a fancier one than the one Peter had accidentally destroyed. “Thanks! This is so awesome, Mr. Stark!”
“Yeah, yeah,” Tony said, waving a hand carelessly. “May wouldn’t let me give it to you before. Something about you needing to learn responsibility? Not my idea, for the record.”
Peter refrained from bringing up Tony taking away the Spider-suit for exactly the same reasons. He also managed to not comment on how Tony and Aunt May were discussing his punishments now and apparently having discussions about when to replace his broken phones. It was creeping weirdly into co-parenting territory.
He was already checking out the phone when Tony added, “Besides, I did offer monetary payment for a certain superhero feud. Will goods and services suffice?”
Peter nearly dropped the phone. “You heard about that interview then?”
Tony said, “Kid, it’s all anyone around here is talking about. You’re lucky you have me in your corner, everyone thought you were just being an asshole with the videos you were posting of Cap. Though honestly the tides didn’t really turn when I showed them that clip from your school; Cap is clearly winning.”
“Oh,” Peter said, realizing for the first time that from the outside it probably looked like he was the one picking the fight.
“Plus, it’s gone pretty public,” Tony said in what he probably considered his calming voice before pulling up a handful of articles on a holograph between them. Headlines included such gems as SPIDER-WHO???, SPIDER-DUDE BUSTS A CAP, and PLEDGE ALLEGIANCE TO SASS. Every image of Spider-Man was unflattering, despite the fact that he’d uploaded some seriously cool stuff to the Instagram, while in every image Captain America looked like a god made flesh.
“Wow, I really give them some terrible pictures to work with,” Peter said, focusing in on one of him dangling by his ankle from his own web, swinging wildly out of control. Karen had failed to mention she had chosen the super-sticky web fluid he was going to test out instead of the normal version. It had taken him twenty minutes to unstick himself.
“It’s truly a gift,” Tony agreed. “I thought my teenage years were embarrassing, but at least I was cool.”
“Keep telling yourself that,” Peter said. “So who’s training me today? Vision? Scarlet Witch? Thor? Please let it be Thor.”
“Black Widow,” Tony said cheerfully. Too cheerfully.
It turned out that Black Widow was Captain America’s bff.
“I would like to note, before the ass-kicking in the name of education commences, that I didn’t post a single picture of you,” Peter said as he walked up to the training mats, already apprehensive about how solidly he was going to get beat up.
“I know,” she said, raising an eyebrow. “Way to make a girl feel left out.”
So it was going to be like that. Peter did a few useless stretches and wished that he had his web shooters. What would MJ do? Probably something involving a middle-finger salute. Peter sighed and went with honesty instead. “I don’t actually have a death wish.”
To his surprise, Black Widow laughed. “Honestly, I was impressed by how much of an asshole Steve was to you, too. I think this is the most fun he’s had since he thawed out.”
Peter smiled back, albeit tentatively. “So he doesn’t actually hate me?”
She shook her head. “If he hated you, he wouldn’t be doing this. He’s a good man.”
“Well, obviously,” Peter said, strangely relieved that he was on the same page as Captain America. That final bit of uncertainty removed, he was pretty sure that he was going to have to go through with MJ’s plan. “Is he around?”
“Nope,” she said before sweeping his legs out from under him with no forewarning. “And talking during a fight is a distraction.”
Peter stared up at the ceiling for a moment. “If today’s lesson is to stop talking during fights, you’re barking up the wrong tree. Sometimes I can’t even shut myself up. I mean, that’s how I’ve ended up in this world where I’m responsible for the latest Captain America memes.”
Black Widow nudged him with her foot. He reluctantly stood up, preparing for his meeting with the mat. “You’re going to have to do better this time, you know,” she said, and Peter could tell by the slight smirk that she was both assisting Captain America in his side of the feud and looking forward to his next retaliation.
Peter was so, so glad that he had Ned and MJ on his side. He wouldn’t stand a chance against them on his own. “So’re you, Ms Black Widow.”
“You can call me Natasha, you know,” she said, doing something with her hands so quickly that even Peter couldn’t quite keep up. He ended up with an arm pinned against his back, face smooshed against the mat. It smelled terrible. Super-senses sucked.
“Sure, thanks,” Peter said, with absolutely zero intention of ever doing so. She scared him too much, he wasn’t ready to be on first-name basis with her.
The rest of the session went about like Peter would have guessed, though he did escape from one of Black Widow’s holds by running up the actual wall, which made her stare for a moment and say, “Huh.”
Then -- probably because Karen tattled on him, the snitch -- Black Widow gave him some pointers on how to gather intelligence. It was actually super helpful, and he said, “Thanks, fellow spider-person!” when Tony and Colonel Rhodes showed up to take him to lunch.
During the rest of his time at Avengers HQ, he received high-fives and nods of respect from almost every Avenger in residence. Falcon -- who wasn’t actually present, but happened to be on a video call with Pepper when Tony dragged Peter in -- did a threatening ‘I’m keeping my eyes on you’ gesture with two fingers and said, “Just you wait, bug boy.”
When they were in the hall, Tony gave him a skeptical look. “You sure that this girl you say is helping you is going to keep you from embarrassing yourself in this feud? Because I don’t want to have to bail you out of this.”
“You won’t have to,” Peter promised.
The press conference was being held outside the former Stark Tower. There was an assemblage of Avengers standing in front of a crowd of reporters, smiling and answering questions. Tony had already told Peter it was meant to be proof that the Avengers were a united, open group that had the citizen’s best interests in heart, and wouldn’t do anything destructive anytime soon.
It had been almost an entire week since the Captain America interview. The news had died down, just like MJ had promised, and she had deemed it the perfect time to strike.
So now he was standing in an alley, ready to web himself up and away. MJ stood beside him, giving him a blatant look-over in his Spidey-suit. It made him feel strangely self-conscious, like he should unseal it and let the suit sag, so that MJ wasn’t staring at quite so much of him.
Instead, Peter took a deep breath and said, “Are you sure?”
“Don’t be a doubter,” she said and pushed him lightly. “Get out there, tight pants, and defend your honor.”
“Right,” Peter said. “For the good of Spider-kind.”
MJ rolled her eyes.
Peter pulled his mask down, shot a web, and swung his way toward the press conference. He slung himself in a wide arc between the reporters and the Avengers, yelling, “Yo, Cap, what’s good?”
An hour later, Ned sent, congrats you broke the internet, to the group text.
You’re welcome, MJ sent.
Peter just sent back a celebratory selfie of Spider-Man standing on the Brooklyn Bridge, blowing a kiss off his middle finger towards Brooklyn.
After a moment’s hesitation, he put that one on the Instagram, too. Cap didn’t stand a chance in hell of winning.
Peter was sure of it.
A week later, a newly-defrosted Winter Soldier returned to New York.