This is what I get, Michelle thinks, grimly surveying the small (but quickly growing) collection of boxers and socks spread out on her bed. This is what I get for having the audacity to actually care about something for once. Heaving a sigh, she looks out the window, gaze landing on the ‘something’ in question – a scraggly stray tabby with wide green eyes and a perma-smirk that, in retrospect, should’ve set alarm bells off in Michelle’s head. The cat stretches indulgently, soaking up the late afternoon sun from its perch on the fire escape outside Michelle’s window.
In any other situation, Michelle would’ve found the whole thing endlessly amusing – if it were a Tumblr post, she’d reblog with a minimum of three tears-of-joy emojis in the tags without a moment’s hesitation. But as it was, these illegally obtained goods were appearing on her doorstep (or windowsill, to be more precise), effectively making this hypothetical Tumblr reblog a decidedly less-than-hypothetical real-life problem that she now has to deal with. Funny from afar; not so much when you’re the poor fool who has unwittingly become a part of the joke. She was now living proof that it really is all fun and games until it actually happens to you.
“So, I’ve got a klepto cat on my hands.”
Peter looks up as Michelle drops into the seat across from him. “A cat?” he asks around a mouthful of sandwich.
Michelle wrinkles her nose in distaste. Boys. “Yeah, it’s a furry, carnivorous mammal that meows, coughs up hairballs and has zero moral qualms about eating your face the moment you die.”
“Since when?” Peter asks, setting down his sandwich and deftly sidestepping her sarcasm.
She shrugs, unpacking her own lunch. “A week, give or take.”
“Oh.” His brows furrow. “So then why didn’t I see it when Ned and I were over the other day?”
“Because,” she pulls out a cup of yogurt and sets it on the table, “technically, she isn’t my cat.”
“Meaning what, exactly?”
“Meaning,” Michelle says distractedly, reaching back into the bag, “that she’s a stray that likes to chill on the fire escape outside my window and doesn’t refuse the bowls of food I leave out for her.”
“Ah. And you didn’t think to mention this until now because…?”
She stops her rummaging and fixes him with a dry look. “Because, Parker, it wasn’t some life-changing event that I thought needed broadcasting to the rest of the world. People feed strays all the time and I’m certainly not the first.” She peers into the crinkled bag in her hand and gives it a slight shake. “Shit – did I forget to pack a spoon?”
“Here.” Peter hands her his spoon. "I'm not using mine."
“Also, fair point about feeding strays.”
“Mmhmm.” Michelle peels back the film on her yogurt cup. “So now that we’ve established that I’m semi-fostering a stray cat and that that act in itself is not at all out of the ordinary, can we get back to the actual issue at hand here?”
“Which is that this cat is kleptomaniacal. Or so you suspect.”
“And you think this because…?”
“For about three days now, she’s been bringing me the contents of some dude’s underwear drawer.” Michelle pauses, considering. “I think we should go ahead and add underwear fetish to her diagnosis as well.”
Peter shrugs. “I don’t know… It sounds to me like she’s just, you know, being a cat.”
“'Being a cat' is bringing me dead mice or birds. Repeatedly ransacking a teenage boy’s underwear drawer is not normal cat behaviour – it’s psychopathy.”
“Or maybe she’s just super eccentric.”
“Mental disorder is often mistaken for eccentricity.”
“And vice versa.”
Michelle waves him off. “Let’s just agree to disagree, shall we?”
Peter shrugs, picking his sandwich back up and taking a bite. “Fine with me.”
“Also,” she eyes his tray, “is that white chocolate macadamia?”
“You gonna eat it?”
“Nope. You want it?”
“You know it.”
The plated cookie slides across the table. “All yours.”
Klepto (yes, that’s the moniker Michelle has chosen to bestow on the feline underwear-bandit) continues her daily underwear-nicking spree. But none of what she brings back (just your typical boys' boxers and socks with blandly generic patterns and designs) is helpful in putting a face to the underwear.
That is until Day 11, when Michelle comes to home to two new surprises on the outside ledge of her bedroom window: 1) the personalized, limited edition Captain America socks she’d custom-ordered and gifted Peter for his birthday, and 2) Spider-Man’s mask.
And just like that, Aunt May’s seemingly random questions about Peter’s underwear preferences (“Boxers, briefs, boxer briefs, trunks or jockstrap? I read somewhere that jockstraps are best for high-intensity sports and avoiding panty lines. Maybe we should get you a couple of those while we’re at it?”) make a whole lot more sense, and (more importantly), Michelle finally has her suspicions about Peter’s “internship” with Stark Industries confirmed.
(The fact that Klepto’s been stealing from Peter of all people this entire time, Michelle finds endlessly entertaining. As for finding out that Peter's "internship" was less fetching coffee and making photocopies and more shooting webs and scaling buildings? Well, let’s just say that as far as identity reveals went, none could get more anti-climatic than having a cat do it for you.)
Michelle spoils Klepto with a feast of meats and cheeses that night.
“So get this – Klepto brought home Spider-Man’s face the other night.”
When Peter chokes on his fries, it takes every ounce of Michelle’s willpower not to stand up in the middle of the cafeteria and yell “I knew it!” She settles for a silent snicker and a mental high five.
“W-what?” Peter wheezes between coughs.
“It would seem that in going about her normal cat business, my uber eccentric cat managed to locate and raid Spider-Man’s secret lair because her latest offering was this.” She pulls up a photo of Spider-Man's mask on her phone and holds it out for Peter to see. She smirks as his eyes cross then bulge in their sockets. “Hands down probably one of the coolest things to exist. I especially dig Karen, the built-in AI. I mean, what's not to love about a disembodied feminist with a wicked sense of humour?”
“How do you even know any of this?”
“Because I tried it on,” Michelle replies breezily, swiping to the various selfies she’d taken while wearing the mask.
Peter blinks dumbly at the screen. “You did?”
“Well, yeah. Wouldn’t you?”
He clears his throat, lifting his gaze to meet hers. “So, uh, what’re you planning to do with it?”
“Probably auction it off on eBay. How much do you think it’ll go for? I was thinking maybe in the high hundred-thousands. I mean, I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who are just dying to get their hands on top-notch – not to mention highly classified – Stark tech and would be willing to pay truckloads for an opportunity to reverse engineer the crap out of it.”
Peter blanches. “Wha – MJ, you can’t be seri—”
“Relax, Parker. I’m only messing with you. Yeesh. Has anyone told you that you’re super high-strung?”
"I'm going to return it, obviously."
“You’re chummy with Spider-Man, aren’t you?” Michelle leans back in her seat, picking an imaginary piece of lint off her sweater. “Just tell him his mask’s safe and sound, and that he can swing by my place to pick it up at his earliest convenience.”
“Or,” Peter starts hopefully, “you could give it to me and I’ll give it to him the next time I see him.”
“Nah,” she says with a shake of her head. “I’d prefer a direct handoff, cut out the middleman, as it were, and avoid any middling intermediaries. No offence.”
“So, that’s settled then,” Michelle pronounces, leaning over to steal a fry off Peter’s plate. “I’ll leave it to you to give him my address? Wouldn’t want New York’s friendliest vigilante traversing the NYC skyline unmasked, now would we?”
Peter sighs and slumps. “No, we wouldn't.”
Later that day, after a Decathlon practice that just wouldn't seem to end, Michelle comes home to a sight she thought she’d never see: Spider-Man (aka Peter Parker in red and blue spandex) sitting cross-legged on her fire escape, engaged in a battle of wills with a cat whose expression could best be summarized as “Who is this fool? And doesn’t he know I have better things to do than stare at his dumb face?”. And as if that weren’t hilarious enough, there was also the fact that the neighbourhood vigilante was attempting said staredown with his face obscured by what was essentially a red balaclava with goggles, a crude prototype of the sleekly engineered mask currently sitting in her desk drawer. Hardly what she’d call fear-inducing.
Dropping her bag on the floor, Michelle zigzags across her room, first retrieving the mask from its hiding place, then padding over to the window on the opposite side of the room. She pushes the window open. “I see you’ve met one another,” she says in lieu of a greeting, leaning out, forearms braced against the window frame.
Spider-Man turns to her, breaking eye contact with Klepto, arms folding over his chest. “Oh, we’ve met. Victim,” he points to himself, then turns the finger to the unaffected feline, “criminal.”
Michelle snickers. “What will people say when news spreads that Spider-Man, of all people, has become the victim of a literal cat burglar?”
“The irony is not lost on me,” he grumbles in response, tugging at his mask self-consciously.
Though the plan had been to rib him a bit more, at his somewhat defeated tone and posture, Michelle decides instead to take pity on him. No need to kick a puppy when it’s down and all that. “Here,” she holds the mask out towards him. “Do everyone a favour and take better care of it, will you? Maybe invest in a safe?” He takes it from her. “Because Karen is fucking badass and it’d be a shame not to have her around to look out for you the next time you find yourself scaling another 555-foot building.”
“Oh, and while I have you here,” Michelle ducks back into her room and grabs the garbage bag of undergarments stowed under her bed. “Would you do me a solid and deliver this to our mutual friend Peter? There’s a week’s worth of boxers and socks in there that I’m sure he’d like to get back.”
She suppresses a smirk as Spider-Man goes slack-jawed underneath his mask. “How do you know Peter’s missing underwear?”
She shrugs. “I’m an observant person.”
He eyes are skeptically. “Uh huh, and how’re you so certain that those—” he points at the garbage bag “—are his?”
“Well, first off,” she reaches into the bag and pulls out a pair of socks, “I gave him these limited edition Captain America socks. Secondly,” she flips over both socks to reveal the jagged PPs that have been stitched into the cuffs. “I watched him monogram these socks for two straight home economics classes.” She shakes her head. “It was painful to watch, him hunched over his sewing machine, pulling and redoing practically every damn stitch. I may not know everything about him, but I can tell you this much: that boy cannot sew to save his life.” She drops the socks back into the bag, which she then shoves out the window. “Anyway, just get them to him. Please. Save him from having to further endure discussions with his aunt about which underwear style is most aerodynamic or slimming or whatever.”
Spider-Man looks at the trash bag then back at her. “Alright.”
“Cool.” Michelle pulls away from the window and reaches up to close it. “Well, I’ll leave you to your inner city ziplining and whatever else it is that you do on school nights.”
Spider-Man puffs up indignantly. “Hey, I resent that you think all I do is go joyriding—”
“Dude, chill,” Michelle interrupts, eyes rolling. Superhero or not, he was still such a boy. “I’m just teasing, okay? Because in all seriousness, I’ve seen you in action firsthand and I can tell that you genuinely care about helping people.”
“Yeah, so don’t get so wound up about what other people think or say, especially when that person is me. Just go out there and do your thing. Help make this city better and know that the thankless work you do doesn’t go unappreciated.”
“Um, okay. Thanks.”
“Yeah, don’t mention it.”
Aunt May: Wait, so your underwear and socks are no longer MIA?
Aunt May: And how exactly did that come about?
Peter: The details aren’t important.
Aunt May: Um, yes, they are. I want the full story when I get home.
Peter: *Expressionless Face* Okay, fine. But on one condition: the jockstraps go back.
Aunt May: Sorry, kid, but undergarments are final sale.
Peter: *Distraught Face* Noooooooooooooooooo!