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people in my hometown are pointing to the sky, do they truly see me? will they scream or sigh?

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The smile. That was what did her in, in the end. The cute little grin he got after discussing some nerdy shit with Ned, or the silent smile he gave after answering a question right during chem that Flash didn’t. When he was concentrating on his notes or an assignment, his mouth twisted into an adorable smile.

 

The most frustrating part was that he didn’t even know he was doing it.

 

Now, let’s get this straight; Michelle Jones was no love-sick teenage girl. No, not like all those other girls in her grade. But when Peter Parker smiled, Michelle though she would die. Every. Single. Time.

 

It started in 7th grade- that lonely time, especially for Michelle, when she was figuring herself out. In 7th grade, Peter Parker still hadn’t filled out yet. He had a face full of acne, and hadn’t quite figured out how to wash his hair the right way. But, neither had any of the other guys in her grade. 7th grade also marked the time that Peter started getting that goddamned smile. He started doing extremely well in his science classes, and the smile dubbed ‘the concentration smile’ started to form.

 

At this point, Peter was already a mystery to Michelle.

 

In 8th grade, Peter learned how to keep his hair clean, at least. He was still as gangly as ever, and only ever talked to Ned Leeds. Peter developed the smile known to Michelle as the ‘I’m not paying attention to anything just daydreaming’ smile. Flash moved to their school halfway through the year from some rich-ass town in Georgia, and immediately was everyone’s best friend because, whaddya know, he hella plugs.

 

Michelle was still watching, though.

 

They started Freshman year at Midtown High, and Peter’s acne miraculously went away. In the beginning, he was still a beanstalk, but sometime mid-winter, he bulked up. Gone was the gangly frame, gone were the loose-fitting clothes. Peter got that ‘I know something you don’t’ smile, and once Spider-man started showing up, he started doing the infamous ‘OhmygoshNeddidyouseethis’ smile.

 

It was really fucking Michelle up.

 

Let it be said that by this point, Michelle had given up on trying to deny anything; she had a massive crush on Peter Parker, and he didn’t even know she existed.

 

Other things happened Freshman year besides Spider-man showing up. When Peter’s uncle, Ben, died, he was gone for a week. He came back with circles under his eyes and none of his homework done. He also came back with the ‘I’m not fine but I’m going to keep saying it until you believe it’ smile.

 

Liz Allan also made an appearance. With her cute nose and spunky personality, it was no wonder she caught Peter’s eye. What stung Michelle was the fact that they were nothing alike; Liz was beautiful, kind, thoughtful. Michelle was moody, mean, and, well, Michelle. Nothing like Liz.

 

Still, when Liz approached Peter after his uncle died, Michelle saw something light up in him. He joined Academic Decathlon, and his momentarily forgotten smiles returned. After the first semester ended, when Michelle got back her report card (4.0, thank you very much), Liz asked Michelle to be a part of AcaDec.

 

“I got the lists for top in each class, and you and Peter are in the top 10. I’ve noticed you reading a lot too, so I thought maybe you’d like to join Academic Decathlon? We meet most days during free period, so if you want to stop by you can.” When Liz saw the skepticism in Michelle’s gaze, she stood her ground. “If you have any questions, we’re in Mr. Harrington’s room. We could totally use some freshmen on the team, so please think about it!”

 

It was easy to see why Peter was so enamored with her.

 

When Michelle finally decided to go to a meeting, she was met with enthusiasm, from none other than Liz Allan. Michelle had to admit, she was nice.

 

“Michelle! I’m so glad you decided to come see what AcaDec is all about! I was just asking Peter some questions, but if you want to step in you absolutely can!”

 

From his place next to Ned at the table on the far end of the room, Peter waved at Michelle.

 

That day marks first contact with Peter.

 

At the end of Freshman year, Peter gets ‘the Stark InternshipÔ’. He ends up going to Berlin for a few days, and comes back jittery and excited. He’s not telling Ned much about it though, which confuses Michelle. Normally, Peter doesn’t stop talking to Ned about anything, so it’s unlikely he’d keep details of what he did in Berlin a secret from Ned.

 

All he says is, “I’m not really supposed to talk about it, Ned.”. Odd.

 

Then Sophomore year starts. Peter drops out of band and robotics, two clubs that he loved. All for ‘the Stark Internship’. What the fuck, Peter?

 

Suddenly, the devoted Peter Parker becomes a flake. He was the best on the AcaDec team, and then suddenly he’s gone. Flash starts to tease him more, which is odd, because before they’d been on somewhat friendly terms. Asshole.

 

Not only the strange behavior, but then Peter is somehow even more ripped. Like, seriously, this boy should not hide those muscles as much, because they’ll get him somewhere. With some girl.

 

Not that Michelle thinks about it a lot. Nope, no way.

 

And now Michelle sits near Ned and Peter at lunch and she learns so much more about him. She learns that his Aunt May is a journalist and she can’t cook for shit. She learns that Peter’s favorite Star Wars movie is Return of the Jedi (“Seriously, Ned, it’s the most underrated Star Wars movie- I don’t know what you’re talking about it was great!”), and that he really wants a dog. Along with this, she gets to see a lot more of his smiles, ones that have been around for a while but are really repping this year (‘Nerding out with Ned’ and ‘Hah beat that, Flash’).

 

Then Nationals happen. Michelle gets to see what this so-called ‘Spider-man’ is all about, and she’s in awe. And unsurprisingly, Peter is a huge flake again, and not even Ned will tell anybody what’s going on with him, even though he obviously knows. The monument explodes and then Flash and Liz and Ned and everyone else are safe, but Peter’s absolutely nowhere to be seen, and he only shows up right before the bus leaves.

 

She sketches Peter when he’s in detention, but he doesn’t have a smile there. They start talking more; one of the benefits of hanging out in detention, she guesses.

 

One day, about a week and a half into his detention sentence, the teacher leaves him and Michelle alone in the room, but only after making Peter promise he won’t run off again (“I swear, I won’t do it again!” “Sure, kid. Seriously, what is your deal?”) (That last part is directed towards Michelle. She shrugs.)

 

“Why are you in here?”

 

The question catches Michelle by surprise. She wasn’t expecting Peter to talk to her, but if it means she can see a new smile, Michelle is in.

 

“You’re in a crisis, Parker.”

 

“So?”

 

“Fun to draw.”

 

And that’s it. That’s all it takes, though, because suddenly the floodgates have been opened. He texts her that night, having gotten Michelle’s number from the AcaDec group chat.

 

parker >>: hey have you done that chem hw yet?? Im confused on number 6

 

Michelle Jones >>: ur asking me?? I thought you were supposed to be the science nerd

Michelle Jones >>: Maybe if you actually payed attention instead of wallowing in self-pity all the time you’d understand it.

 

parker >>: ok fine ill ask ned

 

And that’s it, but it was more of a conversation with Peter than she had ever had before, and it was more than enough.

 

Homecoming rolls around, and at this point, Peter has been unusually unflaky. He shows up to the dance with Liz, and Michelle has to admit they both look good. But then suddenly he’s gone and Liz looks hurt, because Peter was her date, ya know?

 

Michelle thinks about following him and beating his ass, but then she takes a second glance at Liz, and the look on her face could make the devil cry. She ends up spending the night with Liz, making sure she’s okay.

 

And the next morning, the news is going around that Spider-man made Liz’s dad get arrested, because apparently he was stealing shit from Tony Stark? Anyway, Liz ends up moving to Oregon and Peter is absolutely devastated. You can tell he’s feeling sorry about something, and he tries to apologize to Liz for probably the thousandth time, and this is the first time in three years that Michelle wants to punch Peter in the face for a legitimate reason, but she doesn’t because she’s sure that he could take her down with a simple finger flick- or even worse, a smile.

 

And oh great, now Michelle feels shitty, because while Peter was an asshole big enough to rival Flash, still, all she can think about is his stupid smile.

 

That stupid fucking smile made her want to punch him and kiss him at the same time, and it really wasn’t good for her health.

 

--

 

“Sally and Jason, Tiny and Abe, Michelle and Peter, Ned and Flash, Cindy and Betty…”

 

Shit. She was with Peter. And his goddamned smile.

 

The assignment wasn’t that hard; all they had to do was read a book of their choice over break (the catch: it had to be from 1950 or earlier) and create a summary in the form of a presentation.

 

They had the whole period to choose a book, but seeing as It was the Friday before winter break, they had to work on it over the holidays.

 

“Hey MJ.” Peter put his stuff down on the table in front of Michelle. “So, I know that you read a lot, do you have any ideas for what we could do? Something not too hard to read, but not so easy that I’ll get bored, ‘cuz that’d really kinda suck.”

 

Michelle looked up at Peter with a bored expression. Yeah, maybe she had a huge crush on this boy, but so what? She could still act like she didn’t give any shits.

 

“Literally pick any book and you’re set. It’s not that hard.”

 

“Okay…” Peter made the ‘concentration smile’, and it sent Michelle for a loop. She really needed to get a grip. “Charlotte’s Web?”

 

“1952. Try again loser.” Michelle opened the book she had been reading. On Tyranny. It was a new publication, but it was only so-so. She’d read better.

 

“To Kill a Mockingbird?”

 

“1960. You’re getting colder”.

 

“Oh, I know! Lord of the Flies.” Peter said this with such confidence it almost made Michelle laugh. Almost.

 

“1954. Go just a little bit earlier, dumbass.”

 

“Anne Frank?”

 

“In the right time-period, but we’re looking for fiction, not a diary.” Michelle felt Peter’s eyes on her. She stubbornly kept her eyes on the page.

 

“Stuart Little. That is the last book I will name, MJ. You could at least come up with a few ideas.”

 

“That’s fine. I have nothing against E.B. White.”

 

“Ok. Do you have the book? Because I was gonna find somewhere online that I could download it, but if you have it, you’ve probably read it and so maybe I could borrow it?” Michelle finally allowed herself to look at Peter. He was close, closer than she expected him to be, and of course he had another stupid smile on. It made her heart twist in her chest, and to be honest, Michelle wasn’t ok with it.

 

“Don’t dog ear the pages,” was all Michelle could say, because now Peter was fixing her with his ridiculously hazel eyes and now she can’t think. She was definitely going crazy.

 

“Sweet! When do you want to meet up? I’m free if you need me to be, pretty much all break.”

I’m free if you need me to be. The words sent Michelle for a loop when she heard them, even though she knew he didn’t mean them as anything more than what he said. She really needed to stop over-analyzing things.

 

“Yeah call me,” Michelle managed to squeak out. It was too much, Peter a few inches from her with his adorable (is that what she’s calling it now?) smile and his hazel eyes focused on nothing but her.

 

The bell startled her out of her seat, and she took off. She needed to get out of there, clear her head. As she nudged her way out of the classroom, she stole a glance back at Peter. He was smiling softly to himself as he packed up his things.

 

She was fucked, if that interaction was anything to go by.

 

--

 

Fast forward a few days, and Michelle’s sitting in a coffee shop, sipping her tea while quietly reading a book. It’s cold out, hovering right around freezing. It’s warm in the shop though, and people are coming in and out and it’s making the windows steam up and honestly this is what Michelle lives for. The people outside are rushing from shop to shop, scrambling to get last minute holiday shopping done, and it makes Michelle feel grounded.

 

She’s here, in this small café while other people don’t even know she exists, don’t care. They go on with their lives, their lives which are paths that never cross, and it reminds Michelle that she’s human and insignificant in so many people’s life, but that doesn’t stop her from living.

 

Winter brings out this sentimental cheesy shit that secretly lives deep down in Michelle.

 

And so it’s winter break, and she’s here in a coffee shop, reading her third book today, even though she probably should have called Peter by now, but she doesn’t want to, not yet. Peter is responsible, he can call her.

 

But then there’s a commotion outside, and suddenly people are yelling and a guy is there in blue and red spandex and he’s urging people to safety and it suddenly hits Michelle that this is Spider-man. Like, the guy who saved her friends in D.C., and the guy that caused Liz to move to Oregon.

 

And, yeah, Michelle knows that Spider-man hangs out in Queens, but it never occurred to her that Spider-man hangs out in Queens. Like yeah, they live in the same city and they’ve ran into each other before, but that was in D.C. and it never hit her that they could run into each other in New York.

 

Before she knows it, Michelle is running outside, and she sees what happened more clearly than she could before, behind the steamed windows of the coffee shop.

It honestly looks horrible; there’s a gaping hole in the side of the building on the other side of the street, and Spider-man is swinging in and out of the rubble with people in his arms, getting everyone he can out of the burning building before it collapses.

 

She could smell the lingering scent of gas- there must’ve been a gas explosion, or something similar. There’re emergency responders starting to show up, and Spider-man darts back inside to get one more person, and then. It just, collapses.

 

With Spider-man still inside.

 

Michelle ignores the police and firefighters trying to clear everyone away and darts across the street. She clambers over piles of concrete and steel. He saved her friends once; now it’s time to save him.

 

There’s smoke all around Michelle, and all she can think is ‘how the fuck did she get here’, because one minute she’s cozy inside of a steamy shop that smells like coffee, and the next she’s being suffocated by smoke and being bitten by the frosty air, two situations which normally would never mix, but here she is.

 

“Spider-man?” She calls out, hoping to get a response.

 

From somewhere in the cloud of dark soot, she barely catches the response. “Here!”, the voice yells, and Michelle follows it.

 

He’s there, crouching, holding a huge slab on concrete on his back. In between his legs is a little girl, trembling and clinging to him. Michelle rushes over and takes the girl by the hand, slowly leading her out of the chaos. Michelle doesn’t even pause to wait for Spider-man, but when she hears the crash that signals the concrete had been dropped, she hopes that Spider-man got out safely.

 

By the time they make it past the fallen stone and ripped rebar, Michelle is wheezing and coughing and the girl is still sobbing, and the EMTs rush over to them, asking if they’re okay.

 

“The girl first,” Michelle manages to wheeze out, and then she’s being given oxygen and a blanket is being wrapped around her to fend off the nipping cold.

 

And then she can think again. She’s back in the coffee shop, and the adrenaline is wearing off and she’s exhausted. And her book and phone are tucked safely in her bag, accompanied by a slip of paper that hadn’t been there before.

 

Meet me at Yellowstone park.

-sm

 

She knew where that was. It wasn’t too far from her house, in Forest Hills.

When Michelle finally gets to the park, she’s a shivery mess. Her fingers and toes are numb, and she’s pretty sure her lungs are starting to freeze from the inside out.

 

But there he is, hanging upside down from the monkey bars, texting on his phone.

 

“Hey, loser. Glad you aren’t dead.” This catches Spider-man by surprise; he drops his phone and falls from the monkey bars, but somehow manages to land on his feet.

 

“Oh, hey!” He walks over to Michelle, and she half expects him to hug her, except he doesn’t, he stops about a foot away from her. “I need to thank you for today. You risked your life to go in after me, and I honestly don’t think I could’ve saved her without you.”

 

Michelle knows who he’s talking about, but she doesn’t know how the girl is doing, and whether the smoke inhalation was too bad. “How is she?”

 

Spider-man takes a second, then answers. “Her name is Brittany, and she’s at MediSys Richmond. They’re treating her for mild burns and smoke inhalation, but she’ll be fine.” The eyes on the costume narrow as he looks at her. “What about you? Are you okay?”

 

Michelle tries to take a deep breath, but coughs in the process. At Spider-man’s concerned (if you can really call shifting eyes concerned) look, she nods. “I’m fine, really.” She finishes her coughing fit. “Not that it’s any of your business, web head.”

 

“Are you sure? There was a lot of smoke there and- “ Michelle’s look makes him cut off. “Okay, at least let me bring you home. It’s cold out, and that combined with the smoke can’t be good for your lungs.”

 

Something about his voice is familiar. He reminds Michelle of someone, but she can’t place who.

 

“Do I know you?” She asks, looking for body language that might give her some clues.

 

“Uh, I’m pretty sure you don’t, miss. I’ve never met you before in my life.” That’s odd; you’d think he’d remember saving a bunch of kids in D.C.

 

“Really.”

 

“Yes.”

 

“What about D.C.?” At his puzzled look, she goes on. “You seriously don’t remember rescuing a bunch of kids from a falling elevator in the Washington Monument?”

 

“No, no, I do, but I don’t remember you being there? I mean, I remember a kid prioritizing a trophy above everybody else, and this really pretty- oh. Ohhhhhh, you were on the ground, weren’t you? I kinda, vaguely remember now. Thanks for that memory jog.” Spider-man nodded as he said this, and Michelle was still trying to place where she knew him from. “Anyway, could I please take you home? It’ll probably be much faster than the subway, and a lot warmer, too. Please?”

 

Michelle thinks for a moment, then makes up her mind.

 

“You know Peter Parker, right?” This catches Spider-man by surprise, the eyes in the suit widening as he gives a slight nod. “Tell him to call me. I need to give him a book so we can work on our English project.” His eyes narrow in confusion.

 

“So, like, do you want me to take you home, or?”

 

“99-40 63rd drive. Apartment 6A.”

 

Spider-man looks at her for a few seconds before opening his arms for her to step into.

 

Why Michelle is choosing to trust him, she has no idea, but before she knows it, he has his arms wrapped around her and they’re flying above rooftops. It’s breathtaking, and then it’s over. Just like that. They’ve landed on the fire escape outside her kitchen window, and when she peers inside, she can see her brother and sister laughing at the table, and her mother cooking something on the stove. She turns around and Spider-man is still there for some reason, looking at her thoughtfully.

 

“What? Why aren’t you gone yet?” She says this with no emotion whatsoever, and so Spider-man just stays there. “Seriously, dweeb-man, this is getting creepy.”

 

Spider-man seems to be shaken out of a trance, and blinks a few times. “Sorry, sorry,” he mutters, but still doesn’t leave.

 

“So are you gonna go or what?”

 

“Will I see you around more?” 

 

They speak almost at the same time, and his question catches Michelle off-guard.

 

“If it means we get to go flying around the city, maybe. Let’s just not do it when it’s cold as balls, though.” She answers his question first, and he seems satisfied with the answer. He turns to leave, so Michelle says something else. “How will you find me?”

 

“Wouldn’t you like to know?” With that, he steps off the fire escape, and Michelle can see him swing onto the tree across the road, and then he’s gone. She knocks on the window and startles her older sister so bad she pees her pants, and suddenly the whole family is in a laughing fit that can only come from times with family.

She doesn’t see Spider-man watching from the roof of the next building over.

 

--

 

They’re at Peter’s apartment three days later, and Michelle is freaking out. It’s two days before Christmas, and they only have a week and a half left of their break, so Michelle is just summarizing the book for him.

 

“Isn’t what you’re telling me pretty much the entire assignment?” Michelle gives Peter a dirty look, because of course it is, she’s basically doing the entire project, but then Peter gives her a smirk that is another form of that problematic smile and Michelle wants to find something and punch it because there is no reason that any boy should make her feel like this.

 

“MJ? You okay?” She realizes that she’s been staring at Peter for longer than necessary, and it’s probably weirding him out.

 

“Yeah, yeah. I’m fine, loser,” she says, shaking herself out and focusing on the cover of the book she’s trying to explain to Peter.

 

She manages to keep her mind on the task at hand, but it’s incredibly hard because she keeps noticing the small smiles Peter keeps giving her, and since when did he have a dimple? You’d think that with all the years of absolutely not liking Peter, she’d have noticed.

 

Before she knows it, it’s 7 o’clock, and Peter’s insisting that he walks her home, because, “yes, Michelle, I know that you can in fact take care of yourself but I’d much rather make sure you’re safe, and besides Aunt May would be very disappointed in me if I didn’t at least offer.” Also, “it’s 7 o’clock in the middle of winter, so it’s dark, and cold out, and now you have someone to complain to.”

 

And yes, she is a feminist, but there’s something grossly romantic about your person (she refuses to call it a crush) walking you home at night that she can’t deny she wants.

 

When they step outside, Michelle can feel the cold nip of the air biting at her nose. She shivers and wraps her arms around her waist, because goddamn, it’s cold out. There’s something about the night that seems to be holding a promise, one that it made months ago.

 

Beside her, Peter clears his throat.

 

“So, uh, I’ve like, never been to your house before, so you’ll have to tell me which way to go.”

 

“The closest subway station is Rego Park. It’s about a ten-minute walk from there. You’ll want the E, M, or R train.” For some reason, Michelle feels like she has to whisper, but Peter doesn’t say anything. He just starts walking down the street, so Michelle follows. “If you get a chance, you should read the book. It might make our project a bit easier.”

“I’ll see if I’ve got time.”

 

They get to the Forest Hills metro station, and Michelle relishes in the heat of the underground system. They board the train, and make the two stop jump in relative silence. Once they exit, Peter hesitates, and follows Michelle when she moves down the street.

 

She feels something, wet and cold on her nose, and she stops. She looks up, and the gray clouds above her are starting to let down gentle flakes of snow.

 

“Michelle,” Peter whispers, and a shiver runs down her spine. She turns to face him, and he’s standing closer than she thought. “It’s just snow,” he finishes, and Michelle feels silly for stopping, but only for a minute.

 

“No, Parker, it’s not just snow. It’s the first snow of the winter,” she says before she can stop herself. She hears Peter chuckle.

 

“Well, you’re not wrong. I didn’t realize it meant that much to you.” Peter’s eyes find hers for a moment, and he takes a step closer. Michelle can’t move. “We might have a white Christmas, for once this year.”

 

Michelle shakes herself out of her sudden still. “It’s not all about Christmas, Parker. What about Kwanzaa? And Hanukkah?” She continues to stare at him, challenging him with her eyes. Peter takes a step back and avoids her gaze.

 

“Well, of course there are other holidays,” he says, defensively. “it’s just that, Hanukkah already ended, and, well, I guess I forgot about Kwanzaa. But, I don’t celebrate it, so it’s not really on the front of my mind?” He says the last part with a question, but Michelle laughs it off.

 

Ok, she’s got this. She has her emotions under control now. She’s good.

 

“It’s fine man, I was just giving you shit. Now we’ve just wasted 5 minutes that could have been spent walking and so now I’m that much colder, so it’s your fault.” She starts walking, not looking back to make sure Peter’s following her. He is though, her can hear his footsteps behind her.

 

“Hey, you’re the one who stopped in the first place!” He’s beside her now, and she can feel his gaze on her. Determined to not look at him, she keeps her gaze firmly ahead.

 

“You’re the one who mocked me for stopping. ‘It’s just snow’ my ass. Idiot.” She adds that last part as an afterthought.

 

“Whatever, MJ.” Michelle hears the smile in his tone, and bumps her shoulder against his. Somehow, she can feel the heat radiating off him, which, now that she thinks about it, doesn’t really surprise her. He’s like a giant space heater.

MJ bumps his shoulder again, but this time doesn’t move away. Peter is about to take a step to the side when she reaches out and grabs his wrist, keeping him there. She can feel him look at her again, feel the question in the air.

 

“I’m cold and you’re warm and it’s your fault that I’m cold so you’re warming me up,” she answers his unspoken question and he splutters.

 

“What- I didn’t- it’s not my fault you’re cold! You should’ve worn another jacket!”

 

“And look like a human-sized marshmallow? I don’t think so, dumbass.”

 

Peter pulls his wrist away from her grip, but doesn’t move his body away. They walk the rest of the way in silence, collecting snowflakes in their hair. When they finally get to Michelle’s building, Peter tries to go with her to her door, but she makes him stay outside.

 

“I won’t die in the two seconds it takes me to get to my apartment, loser. Go home now, try not to freeze your ass off.”

 

Peter shakes his head in defeat, but still smiles. “Goodnight, MJ.”

 

When she gets up to her apartment, she looks out the kitchen window and sees Peter looking up at her. She flips him off, but she can see him laughing. He gives her a wave before turning and heading back the way he came. Part of Michelle wishes she had let him come up with her.

 

When she turns away from the window, she sees her mom standing in the doorway.

 

“Who’s the boy?” She asks, and Michelle doesn’t know what to say.

 

“He’s just Peter,” is all she says, and she brushes past her mother to her room before she can ask more.

 

Just Peter.

 

---

 

Christmas evening finds Spider-man outside her kitchen window. How he managed to find a time when the rest of her family wasn’t in the room is a wonder to Michelle. She unlocks the window and steps onto the snowy fire escape.

 

“Hey!” he says, and opens his arms to her. “Do you want to fly around the city with me?”

 

She steps closer, and Spider-man wraps his arms around her. Suddenly, they’re up in the sky again, but this time, Michelle actually feels the rush of the wind in her hair and the cold air stinging her lungs.

The first time, she had been in shock from the collapsing building, and she had been exhausted. Now, though, she feels alive, and the high of being 5 stories above the street makes her laugh with a giddiness she hadn’t felt in a long time.

 

Just as last time, it’s over before she knows it, but this time they’re standing on a roof of a building, the Manhattan skyline in the distance.

 

“Do you ever get tired of that?” She breathes.

 

“You know, I don’t. There’s something about flying across the city like that, that makes you want to never stop. It makes you want to keep going and going and going until you run out of city, and even then, you don’t want to stop.” Michelle looks at Spider-man and shivers. She hopes he doesn’t notice, but he does.

 

“Are you cold?” He asks, and she looks and him, bewilderment in her eyes.

 

“Are you frickin’ serious? It’s 30° degrees outside, and you’re telling me you’re not cold?”

 

Spider-man scratches the back of his neck sheepishly. “Actually,” he says, “my suit is heated, so I like, don’t get cold.” She stares at him for a minute, then decides to sit.

 

“Well, when you decide you want to share some of that heat of yours, please let me know.” She doesn’t know why she’s acting so calm. Actual Spider-man just came up to her kitchen window and wanted to take her somewhere, and she let him? She’s literally met him twice before now, and for all Michelle knows, he could be an axe murderer or something.

 

Michelle decides that he’s not.

 

Spider-man pulls out a familiar-looking backpack from behind a whirlybird vent, but Michelle just can’t place where she knows it from. He tosses her a sweatshirt, and she pulls it on. It doesn’t do much to combat the cold, but it smells like-

 

Peter.

 

And suddenly the whole world makes sense, the last two years, all of it.

 

He’s Spider-man. This changes everything.

 

“Why did you bring me here?” She asks, looking up at him. He sits next to her, and she can once again feel the heat through the suit. Makes sense; she’s always thought that Peter was like a space heater.

 

He’s silent for a few minutes, then he looks at her.

 

“To be honest, Michelle, I don’t know.” He’s doesn’t say anything for a second, then continues. “Peter told me to tell you he liked the book. Said he actually read it. He also told me to give it to you, so…” He holds out the book, which he must have been carrying in the backpack.

 

Michelle eyes him.

 

“I never told you my name,” she states, and she sees the eyes on his costume go wide.

 

“I, uh, Peter told me!” He blurts out the answer nervously, and Michelle almost laughs. As cute as he can be, Peter really is dumb sometimes.

 

“Sure, loser. Also, Peter can tell me he liked the book himself.”

 

There’s a few more minutes of silence, then Peter speaks up again.

 

“I’m lonely.”

 

This catches Michelle by surprise. The last thing she expects is for Peter to be lonely, not when he has Ned and his Aunt May by his side.

 

“I’m like, really lonely,” he says again, and Michelle doesn’t know what to do. “I mean, I have a few friends, and my family, but they just… they don’t get it. My best friend thinks that me being a superhero is the coolest thing in the world, but sometimes I just need someone to talk to that won’t just go, ‘but you’re Spider-man!’ like he always does. I can’t tell my aunt because, like, she’ll try to convince me not to do this anymore and I just need someone to talk to, you know? I love doing this, but no one knows what it’s like. And yeah, I doubt you will either, but you seem like a chill person and you won’t judge, right?”

 

Michelle takes a deep breath, the sudden confession totally unexpected.

 

“Why me though?” She questions, and Peter sighs. He sits down on the edge of the roof next to her.

 

“Because when you came into that building after me, I noticed you. You were a hero; you saved that little girl, and you saved me too. I was… I wasn’t feeling all too good about the experience. You calling my name cleared my head, and I pulled myself out. I…” Peter takes a shaky breath and stops talking.

 

“You can talk to me, Peter.” The words are out of Michelle’s mouth before she can process it, and Peter freezes.

 

“You know?” He says, slow and quiet.

 

“Duh, loser, I just said your name.”

 

“How’d you find out?”

 

“This sweatshirt. It smells like you.”

 

“How do you know what I smell like?”

 

“I’m observant, dumbass.”

 

He doesn’t say anything for a while, but relaxes into Michelle’s side.

 

“Ned had a thousand questions,” Peter says eventually, and when Michelle looks at him, he’s staring at the ground 50 feet below him. At some point, he must have taken his mask off, because now she can see Peter’s face, but there’s not a smile on it. He doesn’t look like a teenager, not right now. He looks like an adult who’s seen reality, someone who knows the true danger of life. He looks miserable.

 

“What was the funniest one?” Michelle says, and a small smile starts on his face.

 

“He asked me once if I laid eggs.”

 

“You said yes, right?”

 

Peter shakes his head and laughs. “Of course I didn’t, MJ. I’m not a girl. He also asked if I could summon an army of spiders. To which I said no, but that would be pretty sick if I could.”

 

There’s another silence, but this time it’s Michelle who speaks first.

 

“How did it happen?” She says, quietly.

 

“If you can believe it, I got bit by a radioactive spider. Freshman year, right before Uncle Ben died.” Peter inhales sharply, and Michelle stays quiet. “Sometimes it’s hard, you know? Like, I know I’m Spider-man and everything, and I’ve fought alongside Iron Man and Black Widow and the other Avengers, but I’m not one of them. All I am to Mr. Stark is a high school kid who can stick to walls. I’m alone, but they all have each other. Ned doesn’t know what it’s like, and May doesn’t like me talking about it. I have this responsibility, but then it’s like people don’t see me or what I do and it’s all pointless. I get scared, more scared than I should.

 

“No, it’s more than scared, MJ. I get terrified. I’m terrified that you or Ned or May will get hurt because of who I am, that I’ll die and never get to see any of you ever again, that I’ll get another building dropped on me. I’m afraid that something’ll happen and I won’t be able to save everyone. That I’ll be Peter Parker, but that someone will need Spider-man and I won’t be able to help. I’m scared that someday I won’t be needed anymore and I’ll be forgotten, and then I’ll just be a guy who dresses up in a red and blue leotard and swings around the city. That I’ll fuck up and people will die, because of me.

 

“I’m scared shitless that one day I won’t be able to do anything, that Spider-man will fail and everything I’ve ever done won’t matter anymore.”

 

Michelle doesn’t know how to respond, so she grabs Peter’s hand. He jumps at the contact, but doesn’t take his hand away from hers.

 

“Tell me it’ll be okay?” He asks softly.

 

“It might not be though. Maybe one of the things you’re scared of will happen, but there’s nothing you’ll be able do about it. And that’s okay. You can’t be everywhere, Peter. You can’t save everyone. It’s okay to be scared, I’m sure I would be too. You repeat that to anyone, you’re really a dead man.” Michelle leans her head on his shoulder, even though she sits taller than him. It’s uncomfortable, but Peter seems to relax more when she does it so she doesn’t move.

 

“What’s your favorite place to go?” She asks after a while. At Peter’s confused glance, she elaborates. “Like, when you have nothing to do. What’s your favorite place to just hang out?”

 

He gets up and holds out a hand. “I’ll show you.”

 

She takes it, and then they’re swinging across rooftops and alleys again. Michelle closes her eyes, and she’s flying. Peter is solid against her, and she’s holding onto him tighter than anything she’s ever held onto before. She opens her eyes, and suddenly they’re over the East River. It’s farther than she thought they’d go; they’re in Manhattan now. He finally comes to a stop on the top of the World Trade Center.

 

He doesn’t let go of her, and she doesn’t step away.

 

“I come up here on nights that I can’t sleep. It only takes about 15 minutes to get here, and if May’s asleep, she doesn’t even notice that I’m gone. I’m sure she’d have a fit if she found out that I came all the way into Manhattan, but she can’t exactly do anything about it. I used to come sit on top of Avengers Tower, but Mr. Stark sold it and I don’t exactly think the new owners would like me doing my homework up there. I like the Trade Center because it’s basically a huge ‘fuck you’ to the guys who brought the Twin Towers down in the first place. You take down a massive trade center, and we just build a bigger one in its place, ya know?”

“Peter,” she says, and he looks at her. “Shut up.”

 

She kisses him, and the entire world stops.

 

It’s sloppy, and honestly kinda weird, but it’s perfect and then her brain catches up with what she just did and she has to take a step back.

 

She looks at Peter, and he’s giving her the most adorable little half-smile, one that’s slightly confused.

 

“What was that for?” He asks, laughing nervously.

 

“I told you to shut up, loser. Now take me back home, it’s fucking freezing up here. Also, you and I have a book report to finish tomorrow and I’d rather you be awake to finish it.”

 

Peter laughs for real this time, and she gets a full smile.

 

“Merry Christmas, MJ.”