Ned squints. “Dude. How many pictures of MJ do you have on your phone?”
“Uh, not a lot?” Peter says, munching on his pencil as he reads his textbook on the ceiling. “Why?”
“So 60% of 382 is ‘not a lot’ now?” Ned says, scrolling through the aforementioned phone. “I knew you liked her, but this is a lot.”
Peter frowns, jumping down. “That can’t be right,” he says, motioning for his phone back.
“I wasn’t counting videos, either,” Ned says, returning the phone. “Please don’t stalk her, Pete, she’s the Timon to my Pumbaa. Except nicer. And more of a genius.”
“I don’t stalk,” Peter says, scrolling through his photo album.
“I don’t! I didn’t stalk Liz!” But wow, I do have a lot of photos of MJ...when did that happen?
Ned shrugs. “Fine, ‘don’t be a stare-y creep’ then.”
Peter points at him with his phone accusingly, hopping with excessive energy. “I stopped doing that, and you were in the same boat, dude.”
“That’s fair,” Ned nods, lips pursed. “But there’s like, zero chance of that happening with MJ for me, so don’t be super obvious, I guess?”
Peter facepalms, crumpling to the floor. “I don’t do that to MJ.”
“Peter, bro,” Ned balks, “are you seriously asking me for proof?”
Peter’s saved from having to make an embarrassingly bad excuse by a knock, knock-knock on their dorm door.
“Are you decent?” MJ calls, already opening the door.
Ned furrows his brows. “Why do you even ask when you’re going to open the door anyway?”
“Habit,” she says simply, greeting him with a secret handshake. She juts a thumb out to Peter’s direction. “Plus I like to keep loser-king on his toes.”
Peter doesn’t know why Ned would think all he does is stare at MJ with lovesick eyes.
He’s perfectly capable of glaring at her like a harbinger of death.
“Aw, did you fail a paper, Pete?” she teases, swiping a hand over his hair. She leans over him, smirking as she casts a shadow. “You enjoy it, don’t be sour.”
He pouts. “Did you bring ‘em?”
MJ grins, taking off her backpack. She gets down on the floor, unpacking the bulging mass of faux-leather and zippers. Three neatly packed sandwiches marked Parker Special in loose cursive plop in front of Peter, followed by three Ned is #1’s landing onto Ned’s lap.
“Dude, I love you,” Ned breathes, carefully raising the sandwiches.
“As you should,” MJ says, nodding once.
“Can’t, my mango-shaped organ is already occupied,” she quips, smirking.
“You’ve said,” Peter mutters, trying not to be a curious cat.
MJ quirks a brow, intrigued. “Oh? Is that jealousy? From Peter Parker?” Her voice drops low. “Are the Avengers aware that you have a vice?”
“I think they only know about him being accident-prone,” Ned quips.
Peter frowns deeply, betrayed by both friends. “‘m not jealous. You’ve just said, is all.”
“You know him, if that helps.”
“The tall guy who works in the library?”
MJ snorts. “That would be nice, actually,” she says, turning to Ned. “Think I should ask him out?”
“You’re gonna dump him eventually for the Blanket Burrito, so no,” Ned says, getting up to shove his sandwiches into the fridge.
MJ snaps her fingers. “You’re right.” She turns back to Peter. “And no, it’s not that guy.”
“How come you only ask Ned about that stuff?” Peter says, quirking a brow. “And what’s the ‘blanket burrito’?”
“‘Whom’,” Ned says.
“I think it’s ‘who’ for that one, actually,” MJ amends, chin in her hand. “But anyway—the Blanket Burrito, my second-tier Watson,” she says, tilting her head at Peter, “is the greatest person I have ever met. And I’m gonna marry that sucker, if he makes the mistake of falling in love with me.”
“That doesn’t sound too bad,” Peter comments with blinding speed, and Ned drops a sandwich in the background.
“You—” MJ starts, clearing her throat.
Peter tries not to flinch.
Is she blushing?
“—you say that, ahem, but you’re biased. Which is why I ask Ned these things—he’s good at being objective.”
“...He yells at me to do house calls as Spider-Man. Weekly.”
“He’s objective when he needs to be,” MJ says, waving a hand lazily. “AKA, 90% of our conversations.”
“You’re just mad you don’t get the girl talk stuff,” Ned laughs.
“I mean, let’s be fair, he gets basically everything else,” MJ mediates. “Just not the Blanket Burrito stuff.”
“I promise, Pete, you’re not missing much,” she says, turning to the other college student.
“Heh,” Ned says. “But he is missing mush.”
MJ elbows him reflexively, then immediately apologizes.
Ned glares at her.
“Honest mistake,” she coughs.
Peter tries to catch her eyes for a clue because she’s definitely blushing now, and he needs to know why.
“You like this guy a lot,” he says, trying not to sound disappointed.
“He’s pretty important to me,” MJ says, holding his gaze.
“We should probably meet him, if he’s gonna be your endgame. ‘Cause he’ll be stuck with us, too.”
She pulls out another sandwich from her bag, expression unreadable as she takes a bite. “Told you, goober, you already know him.”
Peter furrows his brows.
“I got it!” Peter says, snapping his fingers. “Hezzy! From the bookstore!”
MJ stares at him, and his invisible second head. “Hezzy. From the bookstore.”
Peter’s voice drops to a whisper as he leans over to her ear. “The Blanket Burrito guy.”
MJ’s face contorts to something between laughter and If We Weren’t Friends, I’d Think You Would Need To See A Psychiatrist. “Dude, you’re still on that?”
“I’m serious about meeting him.”
“You—” You’re him, numbskull. “—you need a new hobby.”
“MJ, c’mon—if you guys go out,” he winces, visibly, bless his soul, “I want him to be cool with us. Or at least Ned. Not everyone would be cool with you and Ned.”
“You’re willing to back off being my friend if I date a dude that’s cool with Ned, but not you?” she asks, surprised.
It’s not that surprising.)
Peter shrugs, taking out his phone and opening Tetris. “Duh.”
(Butterflies are real, and MJ has a lot.)
She coughs. “You winced.”
“Well,” he says, game paused as he hangs his head, “like, it’ll suck for sure, and it’ll take a while for me to get over it, but. Eventually? Of course. If you’re happy, I’m good.”
(Update: Butterflies have turned rabid; she’s not sure if even her beloved family doctor can treat this.)
“That’s…” Screw you, Blanket Burrito. “...That’s impossibly sweet.”
“And unnecessary, insectoid,” MJ adds, laughing abruptly. “I’d never date someone who wasn’t cool with my best friends.”
Peter watches her laugh like the idea is the silliest thing she’s ever heard, and something about her eyes and the lights in the coffee shop cause him to say, “Hey, one sec,” as he lifts his phone for a picture.
She wrinkles her nose, complying.
“Thanks,” he whispers.
“You’ve gotta have hundreds of photos of me by now,” she laughs again, but it’s subtler.
And the tea by her is still steaming.
And the music playing is slow, and calming.
And he’s about to ask if she can forget the enigmatic Mr. Burrito for a second.
Maybe like, consider kissing him first, see how bad that goes before she heads to her first choice.
But, because this is Peter’s life: his stupid phone rings.
“That’s not Beyoncé’s Love On Top,” MJ notes, and huh, was she locked onto his eyes this whole time?
It’s his special ringtone. “Uh-huh.”
“You might wanna go, Peter.”
‘Wanna’ is a strong word. “Sorry. Work obligations.”
She snorts, shoving him. “Git.”
“That Tim guy from your Ethics class?” Peter asks when they’re hanging around the quad by her dorm.
“That would be tragic, considering he’s gay.”
Ned pulls an awkward face, trying not to laugh as he offers a comforting head shake to Peter.
MJ tilts her sketchbook, balancing it on her knee so the boys can see. “Yea or nay?”
“That the guy that was trying to eat his fro-yo earlier?” Ned asks.
Peter nods. “Good accent.”
“...Now you’re just showing off.”
“Taste of your own medicine,” she says, sticking out her tongue. “So, yea or nay? I have class in ten.”
“Yea,” Ned says, pointing at the man’s clothing. “I like the folds.”
“I think,” Peter says, getting up, “this deserves a—”
MJ covers her ears, and becomes an armadillo. Ned holds her sketchbook, their motions in sync from over two years of practice.
She peeks, grateful the quad is mostly empty. “You done?”
“Cool. Wanna be my boyfriend?” she asks flatly.
Peter squints. All signs point to Fake, Not Real, Imaginary, Other Synonyms, but his heartbeat speeds up anyway. “...I’m gonna say ‘yes’, because I want to see where this is going.”
“Great,” MJ smiles sweetly, standing up and gathering her things.
...He feels the rolled notebook hit his arm half a second after the warning bells in his head go off.
It feels like a weak pillow attack.
MJ tchs. “And now, I’m breaking up with you.”
“Ned,” she seethes, turning. “Et tu?”
“Don’t mind me,” he says, turning his phone so she can see, “just wanted to have a souvenir of your first day together.”
(Peter’s heart is hitting race car-engine levels and he’s hoping the group of students just entering the quad are doctors-to-be, because he’s not sure how much more of this joke he can take.)
“I’m outta here. Later, nerds,” MJ says, flipping them off as she walks away.
Ned turns to Peter. “So on a scale of 1 to Your Face Right Now, how badly are you hoping the Blanket Burrito guy isn’t in her History of Art and Architecture IV class?”
Peter’s voice comes out like a whisper. “You mean her class right now?”
“My face. Times ten.”
Ned claps his shoulder. “He’s not there, Pete. You don’t know anybody there.”
“Oh.” She said I knew him. “Right.”
“Peter, what the hell,” Ned groans, throwing his head back on the chair. Peter’s phone is in his hand, again, somehow, the thief, and he’s going through his friend’s photo gallery.
As a check up.
“Those are the same ones,” Peter protests, snatching his phone away.
“There are new ones! Back it up if you’re gonna, or I’m showing her,” Ned threatens, facepalming. “It’s so bad. So bad.”
“They’re all portraits of her smiling, you freaking sap.”
“You watch K-dramas with May as they come out, and you’re calling me the sap?”
“You,” Ned points, “are a walking K-drama.”
“I’m not that bad.”
Ned looks like he’s about to explode faster than Mayon, but he wipes down his face instead, muttering, “Talino raw, sabi sakin. Hintayin lang daw, sabi sakin. Tsk. ‘La kasing MU-MU dito.”
Peter squints. “Bad enough that you tangent in Tagalog?”
Ned stares at him, exhausted. “Bad enough, dude. Bad enough.”
On the weekend, on the train back from the city:
Peter sits beside MJ, Ned on her other side. Ned’s busy chatting her ear off about a new design he’s coming up with for super-prosthetics, and their regular counterparts. She listens, like she always does, sketching people as she fires off questions to him on the side.
Anyone else would think she’s annoyed that he’s talking to her while she’s busy, but they know her being critical is coming from genuine concern, not from being Ticked Off™️.
Somewhere between Roosevelt Island and Jackson Heights, Peter remembers meeting one of her law classmates from the year before: taller than MJ, probably Russian. Got along with him and Ned pretty well, once they brought up Star Wars. He hasn’t seen him since, but that wasn’t new with their schedules.
What was his name?
MJ blinks, startled midway through a question on battery life. She coughs. “Try again, but in English.”
Peter scrunches up his face, and she snorts.
Her mistake—his phone is out.
“Tch. C’mon, loser, that’s my bad angle.”
“You don’t have a bad angle,” he laughs lightly, and there’s...something.
Something very nice.
In the air.
Or just in general.
Something beautiful about being in a stinky subway car with too many people and too many ads, and yet.
Yet, somehow, finding a smile from a friend to be the only thing he can see.
(Ned manages to stand without either of them noticing.
He takes a picture.)
Peter is convinced it’s Tían from the dorms.
They’re laughing in the hall (“entryway”, they call them) and she high-fives him, and he’s sure now.
Like, he looks super old (her words), but maybe that’s her thing?
(Even though she’s explicitly stated a preference for babyfaces, because she has one.
Exception to the rule?)
She makes her way back to her room, and Peter mentally prepares to have his heart broken into tiny, sad, little versions of himself.
“You and Tían seem close,” he tries to say casually, leaning on her door frame.
Trying, failing—same thing.
MJ drags his sorry behind into her dorm, nodding at Ned as she enters. She locks the door. “Yo Ned, why’s Peter such a dunce?”
“He has no filter,” Ned starts, looking at her pointedly. “Kinda like you.”
“I choose to take that as a compliment.”
“That would be a delusion, but go for it.”
“Tían,” MJ says, turning to Peter, whose hand she is still holding, whoops, dial that back. “Um,” she says, letting go, “Tían’s my pottery buddy.”
Peter quirks a brow.
“You know how Mather has a pottery room?”
“He’s my supplier,” she says, moving to her bed. She rummages under it, pulling out bags upon bags of materials. “So.”
(He spots something poking out of one of the bags, and errors out.)
“I already told you before, right?” MJ says, quirking a brow at her boys. “He looks like, thirty-five. Babyfaces, boys. That’s where it’s at.”
Ned looks so close to saying something, but Peter steals the show with the Deer Saved From Headlights, Now Indebted To Savior look he’s giving MJ.
She clears her throat. “You uh, you okay there, Pete?”
“That’s a lot of clay.”
“And a nice Spidey.”
Her face scrunches up. “What—” she says, turning.
I hate myself, she yells in her brain, spotting the baked, ceramic Spider-Man logo she’d forgotten to not bring back to her dorm.
“Can I keep it?” Peter asks shyly, taking out his phone to snap a pic.
MJ frowns. “Pay me, it’s art.”
“You’re art,” he says immediately, then: “‘Your’, no ‘e’, I swear—that, that would—uhhhh—be weird.” He takes out his wallet so he has something to do other than run his mouth.
“Try molding Peter, he looks a lot like red clay right now,” Ned laughs, a hand up to try and stifle it.
“I wasn’t serious about the payment, dork,” MJ blanks as Peter tries to hand her a twenty.
His ears are red. “It’s for ignoring the thing I said.”
“Are you giving me hush money?” she feigns a gasp. “Me, a law student?”
“I can’t win,” he says, pouting.
Do not stare at his lips—Ned won’t let you live it down, MJ thinks, electing to nudge her friend instead. “C’mon, homework doesn’t do itself.”
Peter wonders if compiling this many images of his friends and family versus doing actual homework is still under ‘regular procrastinating’ or like, ‘hyperfixation’.
He decides he doesn’t care, and continues the scrapbook.
(Just kidding. He finishes his homework, too.
...At like 5AM, with Ned protesting about the lamp light, but still.)
Ned and MJ have stopped talking about the Blanket Burrito.
Peter thinks it’s a tactic to make him forget, but after three weeks of no mention, he gives it up, too.
They hang out like usual and somewhere down the road—the end of the year—they’re huddled in someone’s dorm room, throwing markers at each other with sleep-sapped minds.
And someone falls asleep.
And someone nudges someone else.
And Someone Else whispers, “Hey, you’re brilliant, and I’m kinda in love with you, and it’s liiiike the third day we’ve been up, straight, and I had too much sugar—you were right—and uhhh, yeah, I hope whoever you love loves you back, ‘cause then they could make you smile forever, and that’s important, ‘cause your smile is everything.”
The end credits of Rogue One.
MJ asks him out.
Ned’s YOOOOOing the entire time, trying to find a passerby to care with him.
Except they’re in his apartment in Queens.
And May’s still at work.
“You gonna say ‘yes’, or do I have to go crawl in a hole and regret my life decisions now?” MJ says, only slightly faltering.
“Uh. Uh-huh. Uh-huh, huh,” Peter replies, frozen. “Huh.”
“I’ma take that as a yes, but just in case, I’m gonna. Head out. Now.” She nods slowly, backing out of the apartment with long strides. “Peace, Ned.”
“YOOOOOOO!” Ned replies, still pointing between them.
They go out for ice cream because winter breeds masochism, and because they miss Ned and want him around whenever they’re exploring.
They end up buying takeout from an overpriced vegetarian place near MIT, and meet Ned back at the dorms for an impromptu movie night.
Ned chucks popcorn at them every now and then, because he can, and Peter manages to catch most of them in his mouth, because he can.
“Are your dates always going to include me?” Ned asks, finally passing Peter the bowl.
“You can be our chauffeur,” MJ says.
“Do I get paid?”
“So with tutoring.”
MJ grins. “Exactly.”
“How third-wheely are you feeling right now?” Peter asks.
Ned thinks for a moment, then shrugs. “Zero percent.”
“He’s a natural,” MJ laughs.
“Guess we’re doing something right?” Peter says, daring to snake an arm around her hips.
“One percent,” Ned says, watching with laughter in his eyes, “but secondhand embarrassment is making it worth it.”
Peter frowns at him. “Rude.”
“Shoulders,” MJ says, leaning on him so he can reach up comfortably. “You must earn the waist.”
He moves his arm up. “Okay.”
There’s something unbelievably honest about how he says such a simple word, and she finds herself wondering how hard life must be for people who fall for jerks with no boundaries—because here’s a superhuman with a featherlight touch, and an auto-response of Okay and Whatever you want and I understand and Tell me if I’m wrong and Sorry.
Would that everyone could find themselves a Peter Parker.
Spider-Man still gets dragged away on an Avengers mission every now and then, and Peter makes contingency plans for his growing scrapbook and digital gallery collection.
He has Ned take candids of MJ (with her permission), or selfies with them (and, sometimes, May) together. Sometimes, Ned sends back a video.
One time, it’s MJ and a static shot—she’d taken it herself.
Peter’s watching it in his hotel room, surrounded by pillows and white, and wishing he could treat all of them to a vacation that didn’t end in him having to fight someone.
“So. When you get back? I need to talk to you. It’s good. It’s really good.”
MJ’s just. In her room. Wearing the faded blue hoodie he’d lent her from before they started dating. Wearing Harvard sweats. Smiling and trying not to.
He misses her.
A Spider-Man sketch fills the screen.
“Here’s you, by the way. I hate drawing your suit. Why would you put a web design on it? That’s stupid. For drawing, I mean. It looks cool in practice.”
She lowers the drawing. “I know I could’ve like, texted all of this, but I know you’re kind of addicted to my face, and you might’ve freaked out, but it’s good. I promise.”
Peter has to wake up at six and it is twelve-fifty and he doesn’t care because he misses his girlfriend. His best friend.
MJ smiles sadly. “I miss you.”
She waves at the camera.
Peter waves back.
Peter knocks twice on her door, before letting himself in. “I’m ba—mmph? Mmrph…”
“...I love you,” MJ breathes, pulling away slowly.
“Aw,” he says, earning a frown from her. He hugs her waist: achievement unlocked. “Heh. I love you, MJ. Missed you.”
“Shoot, that was adorable,” Ned says from behind him, phone up and filming.
“See?” MJ says, arms around Peter’s neck. “If you weren’t here, we wouldn’t have video proof of this moment.”
“What I’m hearing is, I’m an integral part of this relationship.”
“Friends first, dude,” Peter says, motioning him over.
MJ frees an arm to accommodate him. “Everybody needs a Ned Leeds, Leeds.”
“My heart, you guys,” Ned chokes up. “My heart.”
Ned does, actually, become their chauffeur.
He thinks it’s an excellent way to pass his humanities courses and laugh at both of his friends’ flirting habits.
Mutually beneficial, really.
Possibly tilted to his side, honestly.
How many memories does he have of Peter causing MJ to stammer, for instance? Or MJ prompting Peter to snuggle her side?
Or both of them taking pictures of each other?
So much so that Ned starts giving MJ a side-eye for her phone’s 80% Peter content?
“Is it really that surprising?” she says, frowning.
Peter’s out getting “not beat up” by a cat stuck in a tree a block over, so they sit on a blanket in the park, food already dug into.
(“There’s no point in waiting—if he needs us and we’re hungry, it’s a bad move, and if the bugs get to it first, it’s a bad move,” she’d said.
“You’re just lowkey always hungry,” Ned had squinted.
“That is also very, very true.”)
Ned smiles. “Nah. It’s sweet.”
“Like 'toothache', or 'root canal'?”
“Depends on the day.”
“Root canal,” Ned nods. “Because you’re blushing.”
“Am not,” MJ says, blushing.
She flips him off, grabbing her phone. “I hate you.”
“I’m your right hand man.”
“Oh?” Ned says, quirking a brow. “Really? You and what friends?”
“May,” MJ quips. “Who, by the way, likes me more.”
“Everyone likes you more, it’s a mystery of the universe,” he says, sticking out his tongue.
“I’m a gravitational force.”
“Or a gravitational farce.”
“...How long have you been waiting to use that?”
“Longer than Peter’s been waiting to ask you out,” Ned says solemnly.
MJ whistles. “Dedication. I dig it.”
He pounds his chest twice, then throws her a peace sign. “Respect it.”
“Pass the pastries and I’ll think about it,” she says.
Peter comes back a few minutes later to a kiss from his girlfriend that tastes vaguely of the juice he’d packed from the Avengers facility.
“Hey,” he frowns.
“Hi,” MJ smirks, openly drinking from his thermos. “What’s good?”
“Can we fire her as a friend?” Peter asks Ned.
“Nope,” Ned says, chomping down on—
“Hey, c’mon, that’s my last one!”
“‘snooze, ya lose,” Ned replies, guiltlessly finishing off the chocolate croissant.
Peter looks between them, hands up in exasperation. “I can’t believe this.”
“Yeah you can,” MJ says, passing him the thermos. “I didn’t finish it, I’m not heartless.”
Ned laughs, calling back Peter’s attention.
“Gotcha,” he says, lowering his phone and pulling out half a croissant from his bag. “Here’s your half.”
“Evil,” Peter hisses, crouching around his meal.
“‘Kay, Gollum,” MJ laughs, patting his head. “There’s more in the cooler, don’t sweat it.”
Peter frowns, trying to seem intimidating.
Because they’d stopped by the bakery, apparently, and had more of his favorite goods.
“Not evil,” he murmurs, chomping down on another chocolate croissant.
Ned and MJ ruffle his hair simultaneously, laughing.
It’s going great.
It’s going super great, pun intended, because he has to save half of Harvard one day because of a fire, and MJ lets him be extra touchy-feely for the next two weeks after that, which means: more cuddles, and therefore more pictures.
Well, okay, the fire wasn’t a good thing, and she almost lost her laptop and the sketchbook she’d just started, but.
Overall, y’know, not too bad.
“Did you inhale any smoke? Any cuts? Sore? Anything?” Peter asks in the aftermath, as himself.
“I am being smothered and it isn’t by fire,” MJ says pointedly.
“I—” Man. “Don’t be, I’m sorry. That wasn’t funny.”
“It was, a bit,” Peter says, hugging her.
“I’m okay,” she whispers, hugging him back. “You got me.”
“Okay,” he whispers back. “I love you.”
“I love you. More. A lot. You’re great.”
“You gonna argue that?”
MJ laughs, kissing his cheek. “I will always argue that.”
(It’s the first time Ned doesn’t get a picture, but someone from the school paper does, and MJ clips it from the newspaper the day it comes out, and forwards a screenshot of the digital copy to Peter.
The clipping stays in a pocket at the back of her sketchbook.)
Summer means passing out on the front lawn of your best friend’s house because it’s too hot and you probably should’ve said yes to the glass of water being passed to you oh, say, fifty minutes ago?
Summer also means your girlfriend, who knows the approximate time your superhuman/part-mutant body takes to recover from such things, has prepared more than one bag of modified henna to bring over to your (shared) best friend’s barbecue.
“Ned,” MJ says, nudging the twenty-year-old. She pulls out the henna paste. “You ready to make history?”
Ned looks like he’s about to cry. “MJ, did I ever tell you that you’re my favorite person?”
A single tear escapes his right eye, and he looks up to the heavens, presumably saying thanks. “You’re my favorite person,” he says, eyes closed as he commemorates the occasion. He inhales and holds out a hand. “Paste me.”
“I hate you.”
MJ smirks, patting his (matted, kind of disgusting) hair. “Now, now. No need to shower on the adoration.”
“This is going to take two weeks to get off.”
Ned pulls a similar smirk, and Peter loses faith in humanity.
“...Where’d you get the henna, MJ?” Peter asks, squinting at them both.
“You don’t need to know,” she says, picking off the dirt on his face so the flower-covered IRON MAN IS LAME scrawl across his cheek could be clearly seen.
Ned’s starts looking like a haunted house attraction, and Peter’s heart speeds up from more than MJ’s touch.
Gulp. “Heyyyy, Ned. Buddy. Pal. Guy in the chair.”
“Pete. My brotha. My dude,” Ned says, tipping his visor.
“Where, uh—where’d the henna come from?”
Peter knows the second Ned grins.
“Where else?” Ned says, assuming Mafia Bodyguard Position. “Shuri.”
“It’s...it’s gonna take more than two weeks, isn’t it?” Peter sighs, lying back as he accepts his fate.
“Have fun,” MJ smirks, kissing him.
MJ walks into the med bay like a storm.
...In that she was a mess, and everyone within five feet of her knew to stay away.
She wasn’t angry, really.
Just very, ah, done, you know?
“It looks bad,” she deadpans to Shuri, (tea) caffeine-fueled and red-eyed. She’s clutching a paper bag at her side, a thick book inside.
“He’s fixable,” Shuri replies calmly, eyebrows raised at the sight of her friend. “You wanna take a seat?”
“It looks really bad, Shuri.”
“Dr. Cho had to re-mix some things, but he’ll be okay, MJ.”
“I kicked his shin before he left.”
“I’m sure he appreciated it.”
“Usually, the tactic is to use kind words to help the injure—”
“Not Peter,” MJ huffs, broad shoulders sagging. “That jerk who made the bomb.”
“He’s kinda dead.”
“Deserved prison. Cheater.”
“I thought you hated the prison system?”
“I do, but I hate that guy more.”
“I get it,” Shuri says, hugging her friend.
MJ winces. “Sorry.”
Shuri pulls away. “Hey, I got this. The suit took the brunt of it.”
The air is too clean and Peter is too bruised and burned, but MJ catches the unsaid.
I will lose no one to an explosion.
“Is Ned here?” MJ rasps. She was in the city when it happened, and Ned had stayed back at MIT for the weekend. “Or May?”
Shuri shakes her head. “You got here first.”
“He’s awake?” MJ says, nodding at Peter.
“Should I sit outside or…?”
“Ten minutes on the bench,” Shuri says, helping her out. “Get some camomille, then come back.” Pause. “But don’t spill it on him.”
MJ squints. “Seriously?”
Shuri shrugs. “You’re capable of anything.”
“I’m not a bully.”
The princess quirks a brow.
“I’m just very blunt, HRH Smartass,” MJ says, brows furrowed.
“...So you’re feeling better?” Shuri grins.
“I’m getting tea,” MJ starts slowly. “And you are gonna tell Ned and May I was totally cool about this.”
Shuri tattles on her to Peter fifteen minutes later, when he wakes up fully, because that’s what friends are for.
And, because she didn’t say anything about not telling him.
Also, she’s late.
“Heh,” he grins when MJ walks in, the paper bag from her favorite bookstore tucked under an arm.
“She told you,” MJ grinds out.
“There’s an almanac in this bag, and I’m not afraid to use it.”
“Lie,” he rasps. “You wouldn’t hurt me. You’d never hurt me.”
“That’s debatable, and hinges on retribution.”
Peter’s immediate frown breaks her heart. “You think I’d hurt you?”
“No! No,” she replies quickly, moving to his side. “Of course not.”
“So retribution for…?”
“Pulling stupid stunts like trying to hug a literal bomb,” MJ blanks, looking him over with furrowed brows.
(Peter wants to wipe away the frown forming on her face, but Shuri will kill him if he messes up his IVs, so he keeps still.
He’s still, uh, himself.)
MJ catches his gaze. “Just FYI, I’m glad May didn’t get here first. You look terrible.”
“I feel fine,” he says weakly.
“You will feel fine,” she corrects. “Right now you feel like—” she says, makes a falling motion with her hand, and mouths a silent boom as she splays out her fingers.
Peter squints. “Maybe.”
“Do you want me to?”
“No, I just want you to be honest.”
Peter thinks he’s got about three seconds to amend his mistakes before MJ realizes he’s a big dummy who thinks protecting her from what he feels is a good idea and decides to break up with him to spare herself future heartache, so:
“I feel like that but times, maybe, three? Four?”
“Oddly specific,” she says, tilting her head. She squints. “I...will take it. But. Oddly specific.”
“I think you’re great,” Peter rasps.
“I think you’re high on meds,” MJ nods, checking his IVs.
“Am not. That’s just fluids. I can’t get high.”
She purses her lips.
“...It’s killin’ you, isn’t it?” he smirks.
Squint. “It’s too easy. No challenge.”
“You’re smart, you’ll think of something.”
“Hmm. Not now. When you’re better. And not at boom-times-three-or-four.”
“May’s here,” MJ whispers, kissing his forehead. “Try and heal a little faster, Spidey. I can’t stall her forever.”
Peter winks at her.
(It’s an attempt, that’s what matters.)
She laughs, and takes a picture. “Ah, good. A weird one.”
“Weirder than my eyebrows?”
“Weirder than me,” she blanks, walking out. “Nothing is weirder than your eyebrows.”
Their lives continue in a run-of-the-mill manner, mostly, but there’s something at the back of Peter’s mind that just won’t let up.
That mystery man.
The Blanket Burrito.
MJ’s One True Love.
Sure, he hasn’t been spoken of in more than a year, but…
Peter’s got a history of insecurity, okay? It’s not something he’s proud of hanging on to, and he’s gotten better about it.
On the Spider-Man side of his life.
“Karen, do you think MJ would marry me? Eventually?” he asks on a rooftop, after patrol.
“She has said so.”
“So I shouldn’t worry about the Blanket Burrito, right?”
Peter remembers Tony made Karen, and therefore she has sass and is sly as heck.
He swings back to his and Ned’s dorm, sneaking in like a pro.
MJ loves you. MJ’s honest. You could ask her, rip it like a bandaid. Get it over with.
...Cry like a baby right after, but at least you had the fifteen months, right?
Peter has a terrible sense of timing, which isn’t news, but it makes for a fun story to tell May every other month or so in case she’s forgotten.
He picks a weekend when they’re hanging out in Queens, studying in Peter’s room for their last exams before (undergrad) graduation. Ned’s at the table, MJ’s on the bottom bunk, and Peter’s on the floor.
Operation: Bandaid Of Heartbreak is a go.
“Okay, okay,” Peter says, breaking the silence. He motions vaguely with his hands, ducking his head slightly so MJ knows he’s addressing her. “Don’t kill me. Please? But, it’s like, been more than a year, and you’re still dating me, and I still don’t really know if you ever got over that Blanket Burrito guy, or—”
Ned turns so slow that it makes him think his friend is half-zombie. His face says, You? You’re Spider-Man? I entrust my life to you? So do millions of other people? C’mon.
Gulp. “Um. What’s up?”
Ned looks at MJ, and she’s at the point of just…
Peter’s back is to her and she feels like she wants to either a) throw up a rainbow or b) fight a supervillain, because wow. Wow.
She made that joke eons ago, and all he did was try and make sure the guy was decent.
She made that joke, and all he wanted was for her to be cool, chill, happy.
Well, well, well.
Let Michelle Jones never forget how wonderfully blind Peter Parker is, so help her God.
“Peter,” MJ laughs, shoving him with her foot, “you do know you’re the Blanket Burrito, right?”
“I’m—” he frowns, brows knitting together. “I am?”
“Sometimes I wonder how you started thinking it was a good idea for him to say something first,” Ned says to MJ, and Peter realizes they’ve had conversations about him.
A lot of conversations. About MJ liking him.
Jokes about getting married to him.
Very serious jokes.
About him being the greatest person she’s ever met.
And she’s met May.
He sits. “I need. A minute.”
“Good thing I asked you out,” MJ quips, eyeing him.
Peter turns to face her, his face bright red. “You said. Um. Some things. About. Him—me? Me.”
“Yeah?” she says, tilting her head inquisitively.
“About...stuff,” he says slowly.
“There was a lot of stuff, yes.”
“He’s freaking out ‘cause you said you were gonna marry him,” Ned quips, already back to studying.
“Ah,” MJ says to the ceiling, trying to keep a straight face. “Yeah. I did, didn’t I?”
“Uh-huh,” Peter nods.
She drops her eyes down to his. “What say you, Pete?”
“I say that’s gonna kill me and bring me back to life,” he blanks. “In like, a really good way.”
“...Are we engaged?”
Peter stares at her like Dude, I don’t know? It was your idea first.
“Sure, okay,” MJ nods, pursing her lips. “I expect a ring made of vibranium.”
“It’s gonna have a science joke.”
“Of course. I also expect that.”
“...We’re being way too calm about this, aren’t we?”
“It’ll register in 24-48 hours, like a shipping label.”
“Congrats,” Ned says, before chugging a glass of water. “Do we tell May?”
MJ squints, lips still pursed in deep, deep thought. “I will leave that to my fiancé.”
“That’s the coolest thing I’ve ever heard,” Peter breathes. “Like, my heart’s skipping. A lot.”
“Yours is going super fast, too. I can hear it.”
MJ shoves a hand to his face, playfully shutting him up. “Don’t make it weird.”
“‘ou’re ‘on’a m’uhrry meh, i’s alrea’y w’uhrd,” Peter manages to get out, between her hand trying to smother his mouth.
“Did you get my thumbs up?” MJ asks Ned, who messes around on his phone for a minute as a reply.
“Uh-huh,” Ned grins, checking the picture. “This is cute, you guys.”
MJ frees Peter’s face, laughing. “Send it to me, I’m gonna draw it.”
“Can we hang it in our place?” Peter asks, crawling to Ned and checking the picture himself. “Aw. We’re perfect.”
“We’re weird,” MJ says when her phone vibrates. She opens the file, turning to Peter in surprise. “Oh, shoot, we are, though.”
“You’re welcome,” Ned smirks, tipping an imaginary hat.
“All hail Ned Leeds!” Peter says, mimicking the sound of a crowd.
“You’re hired as photographer,” MJ smirks.
“But he’s my Best Man,” Peter frowns.
“Actually, I might just. Stay in the middle,” Ned says.
“You’re not officiating,” MJ frowns.
Peter stands resolutely. “I know how to decide who gets Ned,” he says, grinning mischievously.
“I’m not up for a tickle fight,” MJ deadpans, but her eyes widen slightly in fear.
He takes out his phone. “How many pics you got?”
Of Ned? goes unsaid.
She quirks her brow, checking her phone. “Uh, I wanna say…'a lot.’”
“Lemme have Karen scan.”
She hands over her phone, squinting. “We’re using a multi-million dollar AI to decide who gets Ned as Best Man or Dude of Honor?”
Ned gasps. “I’d be called a dude in an official ceremony?”
MJ nods, smiling widely.
“Pete, you better have less photos of me than her,” Ned hisses. “You could always get May! Or Shuri. Or Tony.”
Peter ignores him, mask on and letting Karen finish her scan. “Got it—results up on the laptop.”
“‘Peter: 104 photos, MJ: 155 photos—YES!” Ned cheers, crashing into MJ. “I accept my Dude Duties,” he says, cloaking her in a hug.
“You just thought of that?” she asks, unperturbed by the sudden impact.
“You’re doing so well,” she says proudly, patting his back.
“You’re gonna get a really bad science joke,” he squints.
“That’s fair,” she grins, flipping him off. “You’re already gonna be stuck with me.”
“I’m gonna have the coolest job in the world,” Ned stage-whispers, choking up.
“...You’re Spider-Man’s Guy in the Chair, Leeds.”
“I said what I said, MJ.”
“It’s like I’m nothing to you,” Peter balks, watching Ned smother his fiancée with Ned Hugs.
“That’s fine—you’re basically everything I’d ever want or need in another human being,” MJ quips.
“Dude of Honor, Ned. Not marrying you.”
He squints, but returns to hugging. “You have made...a good point.”
“Scooch,” Peter says, laughing.
They slide over to one side of the bed, and he plops down on Ned’s other side.
They stay there, basking in the silence.
“Hey guys?” Peter says after a while.
“Yeah, Pete?” Ned replies.
MJ just hums.
“...We still have to study for finals.”
Ned clicks his tongue, getting up. “...Ah. Dangit.”
“I don’t want to,” MJ frowns, exhausted. “I just read more words than the entirety of what I absorbed in high school.”
Peter gently nudges her up.
He laughs, the word he thinks of reminding him of a time that held much more confusion than three exams on Engineering and BioTech.
He’s happier where he’s at.
Peter nudges her again, grinning. “Git.”