“Don’t you get it? I already lost you once before. I can’t go through that again.” Her voice cracks, and she looks down so that he won’t see the tears brimming at her eyes.
Peter’s eyes soften. “MJ…..” he pleads, one hand over his stomach like he hadn’t just gotten fucking shot on what was supposed to be a standard patrol.
“It’s just-" Peter tries again, only for her to turn away completely.
“Don’t ‘it’s just’ me, Parker. Normally, I’d be scared for you, but we could get through it. But this isn’t normal, and it never will be normal. You disappeared, and I had to deal with it. I’m sorry.”
“What are you saying?” Peter’s voice turns frantic. “MJ, please-"
All he’s talking to is air.
“Did something happen with you and Peter? You both have been kind of mopey lately.”
MJ stiffens in her seat, and her hands still over the keyboard. She can’t bring herself to meet Ned’s inquisitive gaze.
“Oh,” she says, for a lack of anything better to say. “Uh. We’re not together. Anymore.”
“Oh,” Ned responds in surprise. “Can I ask what happened?”
Suddenly she can’t breathe. MJ flashes back to their final conversation, and all the blood on her and his hands; she remembers the time-
She knocks out of her reverie to see Ned has gently placed a hand on her knee, looking at her in concern. “Hey, I get it.” And maybe he does; he had also spent that year without his best friend, not knowing if Peter would ever return.
“I have to go,” MJ says abruptly, standing up, knocking away Ned’s hand, and leaving before he can say anything.
She can’t tear her eyes away from the TV screen in Harvard’s rec room. Spider-man to the rescue , the flashing headline reads. MJ watches as Peter swings around frantically, trying to save everyone. Of course he would try to save everyone.
She finally averts her eyes. Peter was her past, she reminds herself firmly, as if she hadn’t once considered him the love of her life. Considers. Considered. She doesn’t know anymore.
MJ can’t sleep, and as the edges of the sun’s rays begin to break through the surface, she sneaks out without leaving a number, or a trace.
Sure, the guy whose name she hadn’t managed to catch had been hot and buff, with all eyes for her, and sure, the sex had been amazing, but she can’t get the image of a skinnier but still muscular brunette with messy hair and a crooked smile out of her mind.
“No more random drunk one night stands,” she says to herself, once she’s safely in her dorm. And that’s that.
After four years away from the city, MJ misses it. Luckily, the New York Times (!!!!) offers her steady pay and a position that sounds promising, so she packs her stuff up and heads home.
She wonders how he’s doing, and where he’s going after college. Ned, who’s also returning to New York from Boston, with plans to move in with Betty after grad, says nothing.
The familiar voice, albeit one she hasn’t heard in half a decade, startles her. MJ’s hand shakes as she takes a deep breath, careful not to spill her coffee.
“Peter.” She wishes she could say his name as if it didn’t mean anything to her. She turns around, eyes finally falling upon the idiot who hadn’t changed a bit in 5 years. Typical. “You work at the Times too?”
Peter grins, an expression so familiar to her MJ is nearly overwhelmed with the sensation. “Nah. I just started at TechBot, the company that shares the building. Ned’s here too! I guess you both got sick of Boston,” he adds on jokingly.
“Oh. Yeah, I guess,” she responds, hoping it doesn’t sound as awkward as she feels. She has a slight urge to kill Ned for not at least giving her a head’s up. “Well, I’d-"
“How you’ve been?” Peter, being Peter, soldiers on, and MJ wills herself to have strength.
“...Good,” she finally settles upon a decent answer. “Listen, I have some stuff-"
“Let’s catch up! It’s been so long. I want to know everything that’s happened to you,” Peter says, and it’s so genuine and earnest and Peter of him that MJ finds herself reluctantly agreeing despite herself. It figures that even though she’d been the one to break up with him, Peter still cared.
Peter still cares . The thought doesn’t quite sit well with her, but MJ brushes it aside.
“...And that’s how Brian fell for me, literally.”
“Awww,” MJ comments, not really knowing what to say. After all, how does a normal person respond to their ex’s story about they got with their current significant other?
“That’s cute,” she adds, seeing Peter expectantly waiting for a more elaborate reaction. She swears she sees him deflate a little once he realizes that’s all he’s gonna get, but dismisses it as a fragment of her imagination.
“So what about you?” Peter asks, taking a sip of his espresso. “Seeing anyone?”
MJ coughs awkwardly. “Not really. I dated on and off in college, you know how it goes.”
“Yeah,” Peter responds, staring wistfully off into the distance. “Nobody special, though?”
“Too busy,” MJ taps her pen on the table. That part is actually true; she’s still settling in, trying to catch her breath.
“Off saving the world?” Peter reasons, smiling widely.
“Of course,” MJ replies. “Someone needs to do the dirty work and expose the evils of capitalism to the general public. Speaking of saving the world, I guess you’re still going strong as-?” She makes a vague hand gesture.
Peter’s smile drops ever so slightly, but almost immediately returns to its dazzling grin. “Yeah. Like you were saying, someone needs to do the dirty work.”
They’re both actively avoiding the elephant in the room. MJ clears her throat.
“Anyways,” she says. “This was really fun. We should do it again.”
Peter’s smile is nearly blinding.
One meetup blurs into another, and soon they’re having fullblown text conversations and near daily Facetimes. As if nothing has changed.
But things have changed, and for the most part, MJ doesn’t mind. Really. But when Peter’s out with Brian, and it’s just her and Ned, the truth is painfully obvious.
“How are you, really?” Ned looks at his friend in concern, as they peruse their menus.
“Fine. I’m dealing. I mean, I’m really happy that Peter’s happy, and that we’re friends again.” MJ responds shortly, staring at the menu items a little too intensely. Ned nods, wisely remaining quiet.
“It’s just-" MJ abruptly slams the menu shut. “Am I crazy for feeling this way? I’m the one who broke up with him, for fuck’s sake. I couldn’t handle him being Spider-man. He deserves to move on. God, I can’t believe I’m pining for a lipless white boy,” she huffs, ignoring the painful sensation around her nose that usually occurs when she’s about to cry. Michelle Jones never cries.
“You’re not crazy,” Ned is quick to reassure her. “You still care for him.” You still love him ; the sentence hangs between them, unsaid.
“Yeah,” MJ finally breathes out. “I do.”
When Maria asks her out, MJ’s caught off guard. Pretty girls have that effect on her. Pretty girls who actually return her feelings (for once) definitely have that effect on her.
“You’re….into me?” She stutters, stunned and disbelieving. Maria laughs, and god, she could listen to the anthem of the angels forever.
“How could I not be? You’re cool, smart, and passionate, not to mention drop dead gorgeous,” Maria responds somewhat abashedly, tucking a loose strand of hair behind her ear. “I’ve had a crush on you since you started here. So, will you go on a date with me?”
For the briefest of moments, MJ hesitates. The image of a boy with a bird’s nest for hair and a stunning grin flits through her head.
“Yes,” MJ says, her own grin spreading across her face. “I’d love to.”
For the second time in her life, MJ is in love.
Peter and Brian quietly call it quits after three years together. Peter claims the breakup was mutual. MJ doesn’t ask.
They don’t talk about Spider-man.
“So I guess you and Maria are getting pretty serious, huh?”
“Yeah,” MJ replies dreamily. She’s just finished describing to Peter the new apartment she and Maria had found and their plans of moving in together.
“Yeah,” MJ repeats, running a hand through her hair. “She’s my dream girl. Like. I think we could even get married.”
“That’s great,” Peter tells her genuinely, and she looks up to see him smiling at her. “I’m glad you’re happy.”
“Yeah,” MJ responds, returning the smile. “Me too.”
They still don’t talk about Spider-man.
All good things, she supposes, must eventually come to an end.
After five years together, MJ and Maria find that they have different plans for the future. MJ doesn’t want kids. Maria does. It’s a dealbreaker.
“So I guess this is it, huh?” Maria declares, tears brimming in her eyes. “I’m sorry it had to end this way, Michelle, but just know I’ll always love you.”
“I’ll always love you too,” MJ tells her honestly; though her eyes remain dry, she’s equally emotional. “I will always want what’s best for you.”
“Touché,” Maria says, kissing her cheek. “I’ll see you around.”
When the door slams shut, MJ’s fingers instinctively type in his number on her phone.
Life is good.
After half a decade in a relationship, MJ finds that she doesn’t really mind being single. She hangs out with her coworkers, she hangs out with Peter, and she hangs out with Ned and Betty, who have finally tied the knot after ten years together.
She’s happy. Sure, she watches Ned and Betty eating cake off each other’s plates with a slight twinge of envy, wondering how a high school relationship, of all things, managed to stay strong for so long, but it’s okay. She’s fine.
But when, out of the corner of her eye, MJ spots Peter and a wedding guest she doesn’t know - one of Betty’s college friends, she supposes - not so subtly heading towards the exit, holding hands and giggling madly, she - oh .
It turns out that the crush, the one she’d put away for good when she got together with Maria, may not be as gone as she had previously thought. Perhaps it had never even left.
MJ spends the rest of the night feeling slightly sick, downing shot after shot to avoid the truth.
“How you holding up?”
It’s the one year anniversary of her breakup with Maria, and MJ had planned to spend it binge watching Netflix and eating ice cream. What she hadn’t expected, however, was for Peter to show up at her door, with his own tub of ice cream and consoling words. He’d remembered .
“I’m fine,” MJ replies around a mouthful of ice cream, laughing at Peter’s disgusted expression. It’s the truth; even though a tiny part of her heart pangs for what she and Maria had, her head is clear, which probably has something to do with the boy - no, man - sitting next to her.
They’re laughing, too caught up with the dialogue of a hilariously bad movie when MJ looks over, sees Peter with a speck of ice cream on the corner of his lip that he must’ve forgotten to wipe off, looking so content and happy and adorable that she can’t stand it anymore. Without fully realizing what she’s doing, MJ leans forward and kisses him soundly, effectively cutting him off in the middle of his sentence.
It only takes a second for Peter to start kissing back, and it’s glorious, and wonderful, and breathtaking. After over ten years and with their high school lives firmly left behind, MJ had nearly forgotten the sensation of his lips on hers, and -
All too soon, Peter pulls away, his eyes filled with concern. As quickly as the world had righted itself, doubt and uneasiness creep in.
“MJ, wait,” he says, and her blood runs cold. Of course he isn’t interested, she thinks bitterly. Who still has feelings for someone they dated in high school?
“MJ, look at me.”
Reluctantly, she looks up to see Peter’s gaze upon her, soft and steady. He doesn’t look completely disgusted, so maybe not all hope is lost.
“MJ,” Peter says again, cupping her face, and god, it’s so gentle and protective that it makes her want to burst into tears on the spot. “Last time, me being Spider-man was a dealbreaker for you-"
And suddenly MJ understands; after all, she had left him when he needed her most. Although she doesn’t regret leaving and prioritizing herself, MJ still feels a tiny twinge of guilt at how badly Peter must’ve struggled as well. And yet here he still is, this beautiful man, still wanting to save lives and be with her.
MJ leans forward and presses another light kiss to Peter’s lips as she carefully thinks through her next words. Peter waits, smiling ruefully.
“Peter,” she starts, clearing her throat. “Eleven years ago, I was different. I’d just gone an entire year without you, not knowing if I’d ever see you again. Seeing you so dangerously close to death again only a short span of time afterwards scared the hell out of me.”
“It still scares me,” MJ continues, seeing Peter’s face fall.
“But,” and at that one word, his eyes shine with a new hope, “I love you, and loving you means being there for you. I’m sorry I couldn’t be before, but I’m here now.”
Peter’s eyes are still shining at the end of her speech, and she looks away from all that intensity.
“Besides,” she adds on as casually as she can muster, because the tension is too much, “You and Ned need all the help you can get. It’s only a matter of time before the city perishes under your combined stupidity. And capitalism, of course-"
She doesn’t get to finish that sentence, because Peter’s lips are on hers again and he’s murmuring yes, yes, yes , and she doesn’t end up thinking about capitalism and its evils for a while.
“MJ!” Ned exclaims, half surprised but mostly happy as he arrives at Peter’s apartment. He looks between his two friends, back together and content. “It’s good to see you. Are you offcially back on the team?”
“Yup,” she replies noncommittally, reaching out to give Ned a high five.
“Ready?” Peter asks, turning on his suit. MJ grins.