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All I Ask of You

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The day had been far too long and far too short at the same time. Too long because Annie’s classes had no point, but too short since she did not wish to leave. Annie had many reasons for not wanting to move to New York City. Namely because of how much she had already done in and for Seattle.

           “Hey, Ann, you gonna do a last check?” Harper asked, putting their hood on over their red hair.

           Annie shook her head, some black hair getting in her face, “No, last night was the last time I run around here, my parents said we’re leaving asap.”

           “Damn, that sucks. I’m heading home with you then,” Harper replied.

           Both of them walked along the rainy Seattle streets. The sky was cloudy and the water drizzled down. Annie had taken off her hoodie that day, wanting to feel the rain for the last time for what would probably be awhile. Maybe people would be relieved to go somewhere with less rain, but the drops that varied from ice cold to a humid warm had been something so familiar to the dark haired girl.

           Two years of Annie’s life had been spent attempting to use her powers to keep Seattle somewhat safe. It had taken what felt like forever for her to realize that she could use her powers. Better yet, that she could use her powers in order to become loved. After a few years of haphazardly keeping energy and electricity manipulation under wraps, Annie felt like she was just wasting her time. What was the point of having any kind of ability if she wasn’t going out and using it?

On top of the normal horrors of puberty, the seemingly normal girl found out that she wasn’t as normal as anyone could have originally thought. The powers essentially making her turn into a literal physics problem and that was putting it lightly. Physics was the one subject that simply didn’t make any sense. Hence the reason as to why Annie hadn’t exactly hit the national headlines. Then again, it just felt like crime was heavily packed over in New York City, but maybe that was just because of the Avengers.

           Harper had been there as Annie first figured out her powers. The whole ordeal was a complete accident, of course no one purposely attempts to electrocute their friends. She just let herself absorb the electricity of a street lamp, but put no thought into it. If it hadn’t been for Harper pointing it out and quickly moving to the side when Annie went to poke them. Both teens knew that something was wrong and quickly discovered just how abnormal Annie actually was.

It was also the same ginger who helped Annie come up with a hero identity. Which incidentally was Annie’s favorite restaurant in the whole city. What more could she say other than that she completely panicked when asked for her name? It wasn’t like she could afford to use her real name. If Annie had learned anything from other heroes around the country, it was to try and keep who she was a secret at almost all costs.

           “Hey, at least you’ll have Broadway, and tall buildings, ooooh, and theTony Stark. Maybe you could talk to him about becoming an Avenger,” said Harper, giving Annie a playful nudge as their shoes splashed through a shallow puddle.

           Annie laughed, rolling her dark brown eyes, “Oh, please, I really doubt that Iron Man has time to cater to a teenager.”

           They continued to talk about what could happen in New York. Both did their best to sound excited, though they fell into silence rather quickly. Life just wouldn’t be the same without Harper there to give some makeshift advice and Annie gliding from buildings in the rain. Not to mention her performance school that had taught her so much about being in musicals. The same school that Annie had managed to practically take over when it came to the sopranos in the theater and choir departments.

Being the White Swan wouldn’t happen again until Annie moved. Even then, how could she do anything without knowing the area? It would probably be weeks before she could be any form of use. Maybe talking to Iron Man would be her best bet. Though that felt more like she was giving up too soon. New York could be easier to navigate than she thought, but that was probably wishful thinking. Either way she would be damned if she didn’t attempt to navigate the Queens area on her own.

The rain continued to drizzle, unconsciously mirroring the feelings both Annie and Harper seemed to hold back for each other’s sake. Crying wouldn’t keep Annie in Seattle and it wouldn’t let her take Harper to New York either. They had to stop in front of a rather tall apartment building, and Annie’s feet felt stuck to the cement. Although going inside would have been a good idea seeing her now drenched shirt and soaked hair. It looked as black as night and was probably a tangled rats nest. Still, she wasn’t in a rush to go inside and get her suitcase.

           “So… I guess it’ll be awhile before I see you,” Harper murmured, shattering the silence.

           Annie nodded, hugging her damp friend, “Yeah, but I’ll call when I land…”

           “And just about every day after,” Harper finished.

           “Right,” Annie said just before a car horn honked, “Ah crap, it looks like I gotta go. I’ll miss you, Harper,” she added, waving at her ginger friend before rushing to the apartment to grab her remaining things.

           Getting to New York was rather uneventful. Normally, Annie would be energized with all the travel in the air. The particular smell that airports had ended up intoxicating her. This time, she just wanted to be left alone. Still, airports and parents were never known for giving privacy.

           Ordinarily shoving headphones into Annie’s ears made it clear that she wasn’t about to start talking to anyone, but this time it felt like all her parents wanted to do was talk to her. As if talking about it would make them understand why she didn’t want to leave. Sure, she was going to miss Harper, but that was bearable. Leaving the city she had been protecting , however, made it feel like she was just walking out on a job without a two weeks’ notice.

           “You know that school has a theater program,” her father said, purposely being loud enough to speak over her music.

           Annie paused her music, “But it’s a science school, the theater program is gonna be mediocre at best.”

           “And maybe it’s better you focused on science instead of acting, Annika, you know it’s impractical,” the balding man replied.

           She shook her head, “I’m not interested in that though, I want to act or write. Is having impractical goals such a terrible thing?”

           “Now, Ann, that’s not what your father said. What he means is that this change will be good for you,” her mother explained, attempting to stop an argument from ensuing in the middle of the SEATAC airport.

           Annie gave a sigh, tucking her dark, tangly hair behind her ear, “It might be good for you, but that doesn’t mean it is for me.”

           “Now you’re just being overdramatic. You’ll have friends in no time, and you’ll be just fine in the drama department,” her father concluded.

           The conversation was finished, Annie couldn’t argue anything. All of her points were about theater and being White Swan. One of them her father believed to be impractical and the other would start far too much drama for it being early evening in an airport terminal.

           After what felt like forever, which was actually halfway through the first act of  RENT and twenty pages of a beaten up copy of The Phantom of the Opera, Annie had finally been boarded onto a nonstop flight to JFK. Flight attendants walked up and down the airplane’s aisle, telling people to keep their trays up or for them to store carry-ons into the overhead bin. They were giving some kind of rundown about emergency exits on the off chance the airplane decided to drop out of the sky.

           Before she knew it, the plane was circling Seattle, going higher and higher. Raindrops raced down the window as Annie looked at the Space Needle, seeing the sun start to set. The landmark got farther and farther from her until Annie could no longer tell what building was what.

           The flight felt longer than anything else. Jumping up three time zones didn’t help her either. It was well past dark when the plane landed. Nevertheless, JFK airport had her feeling like she was packed in a can of sardines. All Annie wanted was to get into the new apartment and crash on the floor.

           A taxi picked up Annie and her parents. It was true, the city really never slept. That was evident with the amount of traffic in the middle of the night. While it wasn’t backed up, it was enough for her to wonder what everyone was doing. So many questions circulated around Annie’s mind as her dad opened the door to the new apartment.

           Since her parents went straight to bed, Annie didn’t have much time to memorize the details of the place. Instead she went into the bathroom to call Harper. There wasn’t much to say aside from the fact that she was alive. If nothing else, it would be Saturday, meaning Annie wouldn’t have to worry about getting to school on time. Not that she looked forward to going to a school that she doubted would ever take fine arts seriously. Still, none of those concerns stopped Annie from passing out on the ground of what was meant to be her room at four in the morning.

           After getting a whopping four hours of sleep, Annie woke up to sounds of traffic. It was simply blaring in the streets to the point it drove her crazy. Can’t we save the honking for later? she wondered. Sluggishly, the girl walked around the new apartment, finding a place different from what she noticed in the middle of the night.

           Though the setup of the apartment wasn’t exactly what Annie worried about. Instead she could hear and feel a grumbling in her stomach. It was a reminder that the last time she had eaten was lunch the day before. Then she realized that the fridge was completely empty, meaning either she waited for her parents to do something about it or she was going to run off and do some exploring for food.

           Looking at the clock, she decided that going out to find food was her best option. Her parents probably would’ve just told her to go out and find food anyhow. So she dug through her suitcase and threw on jeans and a hoodie. If she was going to go out and explore, she was at least going to try to not look like some sort of hobo. At least, that was what she claimed as she brushed through her wavy hair and stared at her tanned reflection in the mirror. It was time to forage for food in a completely different city which she knew nothing about.

           “Hey, mom, I’m gonna go out and get some breakfast,” Annie said quietly, not wanting to wake either of her parents.

           Her mother groaned in response as Annie left the apartment. The streets were louder than they were inside and the buildings seemed to crowd around her. How anyone could find this much overcrowding normal, she had no clue. Sure, traffic happened in Seattle, but the place wasn’t nearly so claustrophobic. There was a completely different energy about the city and she could practically feel it. Her powers felt like they had been turned up, energy almost everywhere she moved to. It was practically insanity. Annie had no clue what to make of the situation.

           It took walking a few blocks before Annie found a small bakery. She got some coffee and a muffin. As she waited, she messaged Harper, a mischievous grin on her face, knowing that it was around five or six in the morning back home. After around five minutes, she got what she ordered and left the bakery. The only problem was she couldn’t remember where to go. Hell, she didn’t even remember what her address was. All the tall buildings looked so similar and she’d forgotten to look at the street signs. The morning was clearly going splendidly.

           How was she supposed to go about asking for help? As if anyone couldhelp Annie in the first place. She was looking for an apartment building in a city that she knew nothing about. It didn’t help that both of her parents were ignoring her texts. Maybe they weren’t awake, but that didn’t make the sudden ghosting any less inconvenient.

           Resigning herself to defeat, Annie went back to the bakery and sat at one of the tables. If nothing else, it beat waiting out on the sidewalk where there appeared to be a few shady-looking people. Not even one day and she was already clueless. Being the White Swan would have to wait. At least until she figured out where she was going.

           The bell rang as the door opened, and Annie heard someone walk in. She couldn’t help but listen in on the exchange that was going on behind her. Though she didn’t look behind her, she didn’t want to seem like a stalker.

           “Good to see you, Ned, your usual I assume?” asked the lady at the counter.

           “Uh, yeah, that and some green tea,” responded who she could only assume was Ned.

           Annie looked over to see who Ned was, faking that she needed to pop ber back. He looked about her age. If she grew a pair, she could ask him for help. Oh, but I’ll probably just end up bothering the guy. she thought to herself, running a hand through her hair. That was when the one thing she hadn’t expected to happen happened, Ned started to talk to her. Had she done something wrong? Was he some kind of mind reader and just knew that she was hopeless.

           “Hey, do you mind if I sit here? My friend’ll be here soon. Sorry, there’s not much space,” Ned said, nodding to the chairs.

           Annie nodded, “Um, yeah, that’s cool,” she replied, checking her phone again, hoping to all the powers that she could pray to that her parents would just send an address.

           “Have you been here before?” asked Ned, sitting across from her.

           Annie shook her head, “Can’t say that I have.”

           The bell rang again and Annie jumped a little. She looked over, seeing another guy and he walked over. As the guy approached her and Ned, she assumed this guy was probably the friend Ned had mentioned. He was kind of cute in a geeky type of way. If the situation had been just a bit less humiliating then she may have taken more time to stare.

           “Okay, Ned you won’t believe what happened last night-” the guy got cut off by Ned as he pulled out a chair and quickly sat down.

           “Look at the person I met!” exclaimed Ned, gesturing to Annie.

           Annie smiled a bit and gave a small wave, “Um… hi, I’m Annie.”

           There was a long, awkward pause between the three teens. It was clear that was when Annie was supposed to leave, and it was painfully obvious that what the other guy wanted to talk about was private. Looking at both of the guys, it was either about video games or getting laid, she was positive, maybe even both. That was what most guys talked about, or that was what she had noticed whenever she was around guys for a little bit too long.

           “Oh, right, I’m Peter by the way,” the guy added, giving Annie another chance to leave.

           Annie still didn’t get up to leave, though she knew she should have. At the same time, she wasn’t about to make herself even more lost. Maybe if she said something they could help her. Still, she didn’t want to bother them more than she already was. Though the time for her to leave without it being weird had passed approximately fifteen seconds before.

           “Are you new?” Ned asked.

           “Uh, yeah, actually, I moved in last night, well, this morning actually,” Annie replied.

           She finally saw a chance open up for her, “Um… about that whole being new thing, I don’t know where my apartment is.”

           Both guys looked as if they were concerned, but also as though they were trying to not laugh at the same time. She couldn’t blame them, it was easily the dumbest thing she had admitted to. Who didn’t at least know the address to their home? A part of her just wished she could wake up and find out the whole experience had been some sort of crazy cautionary dream.

           “Well, that’s not too terrible, do you have the address?” Peter asked, looking a bit worried for her.

           Annie sighed, shaking her head “Nope, I have no clue where I live.”

           Ned grinned, “You came to the right people.”

           “Okay, then what do I do? I mean, do we walk around until I see something familiar? All these buildings look the same,” she said.

           “How far did you walk?” Peter questioned.

           Annie shrugged in response, “Like… a few blocks. I turned a few times, but that’s all I remember.”

           “So you could be on four or five different streets, that’s not terrible,” Peter replied.

           Ned pouted a bit, “Yeah it is, all that walking, dude!”

           “I agree, that’s super extra, I was just gonna chill until one of my parents text me back,” Annie said.

           “Hmm… well, we can’t just leave the new girl all alone. Where’d you come from anyways?” Ned asked, looking at her.

           Annie took a drink from her coffee, “I’m from Seattle, so far, I like the west coast way better.”

           “Oh, come on, where’s your Queen’s pride?” Ned teased.

           “In a box that’s in a moving van that’s never getting unpacked. West coast best coast, end of story,” Annie retorted.

           Peter laughed, “I’m sure you’ll change your mind, but do you know what school you’re going to?”

           “Oh, jeez, I don’t even know where I live, let alone my school. I think it’s town-something…” she trailed off in thought.

           “Midtown?!” Ned exclaimed.

           Annie shrugged, “I think so? I’m not totally sure.”

           “Oh boy, I think you’re going to school with us!” Ned responded, beaming.

           “Nice! But the real question is if you guys gonna chill with me until I find out where I live,” Annie commented.

           Ned shook his head, “No, you’re hanging out with us and I say you get a small tour.”

           “You sure? I mean, I don’t wanna bother you guys if there was something else you needed to do,” Annie said.

           “It’s really nothing, we were just gonna hang out and maybe study,” Peter replied, taking another drink of green tea.

           Annie grinned, “Well, if you both insist, I guess I don’t have a good enough excuse to say no.”

           So the three teens left the bakery with their drinks. The air was chilly as the autumn air became wintery. Annie shoved her right hand into her hoodie pocket, holding onto her coffee with her left one. Looking around, all she could see was how crammed together everything was.

           “There’s basically no sky, what the hell?” Annie commented as they walked.

           Ned gave a small shrug, “That’s what rooftops are for.”

           “Or you could get in trouble and have a superhero save you and ask them to fly you around,” Peter suggested.

           “So, like Spider-Man?” asked Annie.

           “Wait, you know Spider-Man?” Ned replied giddily.

           Annie frowned, “Not personally, but he’s on the news sometimes. Especially after that whole weapons deal about a month ago. I mean, the guy’s daughter isn’t too far from where I lived.”

           “Well, Peter actually knows Sp-” Ned was cut off.

           “I have an internship at Stark Industries, I’ve seen Spider-Man a couple of times,” Peter quickly explained.

           “Woah! That’s super neat! Maybe I could get in on that,” Annie said as the guys led her into a library.

           They walked into a library where the shelves were far taller than her. Not to mention how many books there seemed to be. Maybe New York wasn’t the absolute worst. It had to have an infinite number of books. She could have probably asked for anything and it would have been there. A part of her just wanted to suggest they just do nothing other than grab a random book and read. Something told her that it wouldn’t have been so difficult to convince them

           “I’m not sure it works that way,” Peter responded.

           The three teens wandered around the library. They even went a round a few other places too, attempting to show Annie where the best places to go were for different things. She fit in just fine with Peter and Ned. It was working out great and Annie felt like she understood enough to even be White Swan that evening. All she needed was her home address. Some of the buildings started to look different from each other. Maybe she just hadn’t been looking close enough to notice the differences beforehand.

           Not that she would ever explain her abilities to those guys. They seemed nice enough ,but she had only known them for a few hours. The only person who had known back in Seattle was Harper, and that was only because they watched Annie as she discovered her powers in the first place. It was also Harper who had helped her to become a hero, she owed her friend so much.

           Eventually, Peter had to run off to his internship and Annie finally got a text with her address. Ned and Annie agreed that all three of them should hang out again on Sunday. It would be Annie’s last moments of freedom before going back to the normalcy of the week. Granted, there was no way that going to a new school could ever be normal. At least she wouldn’t be going in with no friends. Her odds of finding some reason to like the move were starting to increase the more she realized she had made friends.

           Ned helped Annie get back to her apartment, and they both parted ways as well. She walked into the apartment, telling her mom about the people she just met. It made her feel oddly normal for having just moved in. Hanging out with people was the type of thing that Annie was supposed to be doing. For the first time that day, she felt like she didn’t have to argue with her dad about the move. It was still stressful to think about Seattle being unsafe, but it would be fine. That city had gone decades without her, and she wasn’t giving up on using her powers. Not when it left her feeling a certain type of rush that she doubted anyone could understand.

           When Annie made the excuse of wanting to watch Star Wars with her new friends that night, her mom bought it. She had her suit folded up in a purse and felt so grateful that she actually met people that day. It was the perfect excuse for her to be out late. Better yet, for being out as White Swan for the first time. Was it an impulsive and rash decision, most likely, but that was not about to stop Annie from going out and attempting to kick some ass. It wasn’t like she was defenceless and it wasn’t like she was new to being a superhero. She hadn’t been trying to protect Seattle only to be stopped because of a city that was larger. Sure, Queens on its own was exponentially larger than Seattle, but what would the difference really be?

Chapter Text

With winter being on the horizon, the days were shorter and it wasn’t long until Annie was in the dark with her suit on. It was just silver leggings with a hoodie and mask, but it had more meaning behind it than the homemade look gave off. There were so many fond memories and Annie could even smell the last remnants of Seattle in the fabric.

            She could almost remember the whir of Harper’s sewing machine. It had been their idea, running with the name Annie had randomly come up with. Annie loved the outcome with Harper adding white, fairly intricate wings that connected the arms to the body. Although, it had been beaten up over time, the suit still hid her identity just fine. The last thing she needed was some pissed off evil dude tailing her at school. As long as the now off-white hoodie was able to keep her warm, she was going to be fine.

            For being New York City, there wasn’t anything too crazy happening. There were a couple pot dealers, but she didn’t see the point in going after them. Unless they were about to kill someone, she didn’t see the harm that they could do. It was just a calm, chilly night, which felt wrong for being in such a huge city.

            Of course, that was until Annie heard shouting. She tiptoed to the alley and was about to steal some electricity from a street light before going at the robbers when a bright red and blue figure jumped down from the top of a building. Obviously, it was Spider-Man, and of course he would steal her thunder. A part of her wanted to insist that he was overrated, maybe he was, but Annie couldn’t bring herself to be bitter. He was better prepared and had a nicer suit.

            Instead of fighting robbers and doing neat things with her powers, Annie did small things. Though, she could see Spider-Man swinging his way through the city. Maybe she would meet him someday. Hell, she could have even passed him on the street. It was a big city, so she didn’t dismiss the possibility. There was no way to know.

           

            The first day of school had Annie feeling small knots in her stomach, but she wasn’t as anxious as she had thought. It was only thanks to Peter and Ned, but she was excited either way. They had even gone to Manhattan the day before to see Times Square. Mainly because Annie apparently needed to see all the touristy places, but it was really because the boys wanted to go to the Hershey’s store.

            That little bakery they had met at became their meeting place because Annie was positive she would get lost on her own, even with using a GPS to get there. After their first meeting, Peter and Ned didn’t doubt it. They were more than happy to help her get to school. The trio walked to school through the traffic, horns honking all over the place. Rush hour was just beginning and it was only seven in the morning.

            “This place is way too clogged, I mean, people aren’t even honking at anything,” Annie said, looking around at the busy streets.

            “I don’t even notice it anymore,” Ned replied with a shrug.

            Annie shook her head, her eyes still trying to take in the vehicles along with the tall buildings, “I don’t think I could get used to all this.”

            Classes were a bit awkward with some teachers introducing her. Given the choice, Annie would rather pretend she had been there the whole time. She already had friends in the school, and she wasn’t sure that she wanted more than two. All she wanted was people she could talk to, she didn’t want to become te popular new girl. Though it was pretty easy to just blend in, taking notes and listening to the music on her phone if she wasn’t talking to Ned or Peter. English was the first class she didn’t know anyone in.

With Peter and Ned, she’d had a class with at least one of the pair. It was their self-proclaimed jobs to ensure that Annie didn’t spontaneously combust from anxiety. She didn’t have the heart to explain that she was extroverted most of the time. Meeting new people wasn’t what she minded, it was suddenly being forced to meet too many people at once. All the unfamiliar faces were a bit weird for her, but it would just take some getting used to.

 The teacher placed her next to someone named Michelle since that was where an empty desk was. English was probably one of Annie’s easiest subjects, only because her dad took some of his college literature essays back home to grade. Growing up around someone who was constantly correcting students made it easy for Annie to make different mistakes instead. Though Annie ended up being quiet during the class discussion since she didn’t have a copy of The Great Gatsby on her. Instead, she noticed that Michelle wasn’t talking at all and didn’t seem to have a reason to be on the outside of the talk like Annie did.

            “You seem new,” Michelle said bluntly.

            Annie shrugged, “And you seem like you didn’t read the book that the class is talking about.”

            “Yeah, The Great Gatsby is overrated,” Michelle replied.

            Annie shook her head, “But it’s not, and besides, I’ve read it before. I’ll tell you what to say if you help me find my next class.”

            Both would have helped each other anyways. Annie liked having the chance to truly meet new people, while Michelle saw Annie’s class was just down the hall. Despite disagreeing on virtually everything, they couldn’t stop talking to each other when they were supposed to be getting through some symbolism worksheet. Maybe it was because they were both so levelheaded and knew what they were talking about. Being able to talk to someone who didn’t agree with Annie, but wasn’t a jerk about it was refreshing to say the least.

            “So why are you here?” asked Michelle, pretending to write something down.

            Annie frowned, “Like in a spiritual way or…”

            “No,” Michelle laughed, “why did your parents move here?”

            Annie sighed, shaking her head as she scribbled some nonsense onto the paper, “That was dumb… my dad’s teaching literature at Colombia.”

            “Holy shit, really?! That’s insane!” Michelle nearly exclaimed, quickly earning a scolding look from the teacher.

            By the time the class was over, Annie had another friend. Classes went by as they normally could for a first day at a new school. Lunch ended up being one of the least dreaded events of the day thanks to now having three friends.

            She sat across from Ned and Peter, Michelle was at the other end of the table, pretending to ignore them. Though Michelle would jump in with something to say every once in awhile. It felt like Annie had been there for the whole school year. Blending in with her new friends was simple, especially when they were all so nice. Well, Annie figured that Michelle would say otherwise, but that hardly mattered. The calm vibe that was at the table quickly shifted when another male approached the table.

            “Penis Parker, I see you found the newbie,” the guy jeered, a smirk on his face.

            “Flash, quit being a dick,” Ned replied, glaring.

            Flash rolled his eyes, “Whatever, I just came to tell the new girl she could get a friend upgrade.”

            “Um… the new girl has a name,” Annie muttered, continuing to eat her food.

            “Well what is it?” Flash asked, leaning against the lunch table.

            Annie smirked, “Knulla Dig, people call me Knulla though. But I’d say I found some pretty neat people, so I won’t take you up on that offer.”

            “You’ll change your mind, Knulla,” Flash replied before walking away, shaking his head.

            There was a long, awkward pause as they thought about what was just said. Annie shrugged a bit, going to her food. Being able to act tended to leave Annie being pretty good with lying to people.

            Ned broke the silence, “Dude, why?”

            “I didn’t like him, so I told him fuck you in Swedish,” Annie said, shrugging again.

            “Wait a minute, you know Swedish?” Peter questioned.

            “Oh no, I only know a couple cuss words in it. I’m not that cool, my mom knows a bit,” Annie responded.

            The group continued to eat in silence. As classes resumed, Annie didn’t have anything terribly eventful happen. It was just an average first day. She had homework and if she was behind, she would have to eventually catch up. Though her main issue was definitely physics class.

            It had always been a main flaw of hers, and it was easily her most ironic one. Ever since Annie was eleven she had her powers. She was a human physics equation, and that was why the subject always left her frustrated. Of all people, she should have been a genius when it came to physics, but she just couldn’t wrap her head around the subject.

            When the school day ended, Annie left her physics class to go home. She was stuck on her own. Peter, Ned, and even Michelle had clubs to go to after school. So Annie put in her headphones and walked back to her apartment.

            Walking back to her apartment, Annie didn’t get lost, but that was only because of the GPS on her phone. A part of her was tempted to explore the city on her own. What stopped her was her lack of money. She left it all at home. Besides, she didn’t have a job so she needed to save what she had.

            “How was your day, sweetie?” her mom asked as she entered the apartment.

            Annie shrugged, “It was alright, I think I’ll be okay there. I mean, I already have some friends.”

            “That’s good. Oh, the moving van showed up, so I need you to unpack your stuff,” her mom replied.

            Annie nodded, picking up her boxes from the ground, “Alright, I’ll get some of it done.”

            Though Annie really wanted to go out and see the city again. Maybe this time Spider-Man wouldn’t steal her thunder. She had to show that she mattered even while being new. Regardless of whether or not he had a cooler suit than her, she wanted to prove that she could be just as good as him.

            Annie unpacked most of her clothes and blankets, but she couldn’t stop staring out her window. It had always been difficult, making excuses to be out of the house. She had gotten in trouble for it too, since she would rarely be where she claimed. Of course, that beat the idea of telling her parents that she was actually a superhero.

            Upon finishing, Annie laid on her finally made bed. The evening was very uneventful, having gotten done with nearly all her homework, so she asked to leave to go study. Maybe she could find a way to prove herself.

            “Hey, can I maybe go study at one of my friends’ houses tonight?” she asked when she walked into the living room.

            “With whom?” her dad asked, looking up from what appeared to be some papers.

            “With this one girl, Michelle, she wants to help me with physics,” Annie said, hopeful, making sure to add, “You are the one who wanted me to focus on science.”

            With a little bit more convincing, Annie finally got to leave. Constantly lying did leave a bad taste in the brunette’s mouth, but it was necessary. She knew that her parents would never let her glide along in a makeshift costume fighting robbers and the occasional villain. It was insanely dangerous, but she felt like she was wasting her time if she didn’t use her powers.

            Things were turning out to be quite a bit crazier than the previous night. As Annie glided from building to building, energy catching in the makeshift wings, she saw something. It appeared almost as though someone was being beaten up in an alleyway. It was her chance to show what she could really do. Well, mainly a chance to help someone get out of a tough situation.

            Quickly, she glided down, simply absorbing the energy into herself, “Let her go,” Annie demanded.

            “Or what, you’ll kill me?” a scraggly man slurred.

            Of course the guy was drunk! Still, Annie wasn’t scared, quite the opposite, actually. She channeled some electricity from the street light near her and used some of the electricity on the man. Not much, just enough to give him a slight shock. Enough to make him realize she wasn’t some loon in a dumb costume.

            It was enough for the girl to get free, though the girl seemed to fall down. The girl was injured, but Annie had to make sure this guy didn’t just get away. It was too dark for Annie to see what she looked like. He tried to run away, but Annie quickly set up a barrier of energy around him. Now the man was unable to leave, she looked over at the girl.

            “Hey, are you alright? I can call for help if you need,” Annie said.

            The lady shook her head, “I don’t need that, you should really let him go, he’s just drunk.”

            “No, he wasn’t ‘just drunk’, he hurt you. I can’t let him go like that,” Annie replied sternly.

            “But he’s a customer… if I don’t… it’s not gonna end up well for me. Just let me do my job,” she explained with an anguished tone, rubbing her ankle.

            Shit, Annie thought, it almost sounds like a trafficking ring. Getting a better look at the lady, she appeared to be a girl. It was possible that she was around Annie’s age. Leave it to her to find a potentially huge network of organized crime before she could even memorize her way home. This wasn’t the sort of thing she dealt with in Seattle, and she was left staring blankly. Thank the lord for her mask otherwise she would have looked like such an idiot.

            Annie frowned, “So you have to do this? Like, against your will?”

            “Well, I don’t mind. If I do well at this then Dar- my pimp treats me very well,” the girl responded.

            Seeing that the drunk man had passed out, Annie let down the barrier so she could get to the girl. She sat next to her, and Annie saw that the girl couldn’t possibly be much older than herself. The girl’s short, curly dark hair seemed to be stuck to her face from sweating.

            “I’m gonna get you out of this, it’s not right that you’re hurt. We need to get you to a hospital,” Annie said, noticing what seemed to be signs of injection on the other girl’s arms.

            The girl shook her head, “No, I don’t need some girl in a silly costume helping me.”

            “But you obviously do, and I’m going to regardless,” Annie replied, though she was definitely not going to admit that she had no clue what to do.

            There wasn’t anyone to talk to, or a way to figure out how to help this girl. Unless she physically hid this girl in her room, which was impossible, there was no way for Annie to take care of this on her own. Though as she thought, she could hear some footsteps and looked up to see what was going on.

            “Why the hell aren’t you working, whore? And who the fuck is this?” asked a rather large, clearly sober man.

            “I’m a customer,” Annie replied drily.

            “The fuck you are, and what the fuck are you doing with my whore?!” the man yelled.

            The man kept getting closer and closer. Annie could smell the cigarette breath off of the guy, and she could tell just how much taller he was than her. It wasn’t like she couldn’t handle this guy. He was just a regular man and she had powers. She absorbed the energy that she could feel through the streets and shoved him back into the wall.

            He tried to struggle against the barrier Annie held up, a blue green hue appearing the more force she put into keeping the man against the wall. This had to have been the guy that the girl had been talking about.

            “Hey, wait… what?” Annie heard another voice as well as light footsteps.

            Annie turned to see Spider-Man. It felt insane to actually see the guy so close up. Still, this was her chance to show just what she could do. She shoved the man back again, only making him angrier. Just as Annie stole more electricity from a different street lamp, Spider-Man wrapped the guy in webbing against the wall.

            “I so had that!” Annie exclaimed, crossing her arms, the barrier of energy going away.

            “Who’re you?” Spider-Man asked before Annie could complain anymore.

            Giving a sarcastic curtsey, Annie said, “White Swan, at your service.”

            “Um… what the hell’s happening? I can’t get up because my leg’s fucked, and you just… webbed my pimp,” the girl commented, sounding rather distressed.

            Annie gave a nod, “Right, erm… we’re gonna help you out.”

            “You said something like that already,” the girl retorted.

            Spider-Man seemed to give what Annie could only guess was a confused look, “Don’t we just take her to a hospital?”

            “No! That’s where they’ll look first. You guys shouldn’t have done anything,” the girl trailed off.

            “Alright, alright, I’m thinking… do you have anywhere to go? I mean there’s gotta be a place that can help you,” Annie rambled, “What’s your name anyways?”

            “It’s Tina, and, look, I can help myself.” Tina insisted, attempting to stand up as she used the wall as a crutch.

            “You’re in pain and can’t even walk. You need help,” Spider-Man replied, concern etched in his voice.

            “How do you-” Tina was cut off.

            “Spidey senses, I know when things are happening and how people are feeling,” he explained.

            Annie sighed impatiently, “Or you could’ve just noticed that she’s limping around. We need to focus, Spidey, find somewhere for Tina to go. Like a church or a convent or a homeless shelter… a place that could take care of her.”

            Spider-Man nodded, picking up Tina, “Yep, also, I saw a church with a homeless shelter a few blocks away… sorry, I should’ve asked if I could pick you up, I-I meant to, but I don’t know you could get anywhere easily without… well without falling.”

            They ended up walking, and that was when it all truly hit Annie: she was walking with Spider-Man. She had actually spoken to Spider-Man. Harper was going to completely flip. Especially if she brought up the fact that the guy kind of sounded like a dork. It was true, though, he sounded just as confused as she did.

When they finally got to the church, Tina insisted on going in herself, using the wall as a crutch. Though Annie wasn’t about to leave until she was positive that Tina was going to be staying in the building. Then both heroes left to go back to the spot. Wanting to make sure that they could arrest the piece of garbage that Spider-Man webbed to the wall

            The only problem was that when they got back the guy was gone. It looked like something had cut through the webbing. Something told Annie that wasn’t how things were supposed to work. Of course, she didn’t know how webbing was supposed to work in the first place, but the narrowed eyes on Spider-Man’s costume concerned her a bit.

            “You know this means there are more of them, sex slaves and pimps, I mean,” Annie said.

            Spider-Man nodded, “Yeah, I know. It’ll get sorted out though, you have nothing to worry about.”

            “Exactly, because I’ll be taking care of it,” Annie insisted.

            Spider-Man paused, “You don’t need to, you’re obviously new.”

            “I’ve done this for long enough. Besides, you sound like a fetus,” Annie retorted as she crossed her arms.

            “Um… excuse you. Fine, we can work together on it,” Spider-Man replied, sighing a bit, “Mr. Stark is gonna freak if I tell him you’re doing this.”

            “Well then just don’t tell him. Now, if you don’t mind, I’ve gotta get home before my parents flip,” Annie said, running off so she could remember how to get home. The last thing she wanted was for Spider-Man to know that she was so new that she couldn’t even remember how to get back home.

            When Annie got home that night, she called up Harper, her heart racing with excitement, “You’re never gonna guess what happened!”

            “You saw a roadkill pigeon?” Harper mused, sketching audible in the background.

            Annie rolled her dark brown eyes, as she worked on some trigonometry homework “No, and ew… I met Spider-Man!”

            “Wait… no shit? I feel like you’re lying to me… so you seriously met him?!” Harper asked, the sketching sound stopped.

            The dark-haired girl laughed, “Yes, I did, now let me tell you everything.”

            “Well then stop with all the lead-ins and tell me about Spider-Man already!” they exclaimed, and Annie had to take the phone away from her ear because of how loud Harper yelled.

            After laughing, Annie started to retell all the crazy events of that night.

Chapter Text

The next morning was different for Annie. Mainly since she stayed up until past midnight to tell Harper about the previous night. Annie couldn’t leave out the fact that he was borderline insufferable with him acting like he knew what he was doing. There was no way that he could possibly know any more than she did, not when he was clearly her age. It was just so obvious that the other superhero was a teenager. The way he acted and spoke just screamed that he was around her age.

            She sleepwalked her way through a good amount of the school day. No amount of caffeine was enough to keep the girl from dozing off and spacing out of her classes. Ned questioned it, but Peter seemed rather tired too. Annie just claimed that she stayed up reading Pride and Prejudice. That was the book she was seen with, she just hoped that no one pointed out that she was less than twenty pages into the classic.

            “Better than me, I was up watching conspiracy theories,” Peter said, talking over a yawn.

            As badly as Annie wanted to press further, she knew that she had no right. If she asked too many questions then he probably would too. The last thing she wanted was to blow her own cover when she hadn’t even been in the city for very long.

            Days were starting to go by with a sort of simplicity. Well, everything except for her theater class. There was already a set hierarchy that Annie just wasn’t a part of. She was automatically thrown to the bottom of the metaphorical food chain. The worst part was that most of the class was filled with girls, hardly any guys. Even then, most of those guys could barely act. It was all a joke to her after getting out of a performing arts school where she’d had a minor role in the spring production.

            The black-haired girl felt she was better than everyone else, but no one bothered to realize it. Needless to say, it left her feeling rather hopeless and left out of the normal theater kid shenanigans she was used to. Then there were other issues that were completely unrelated to her acting and singing abilities.

            Truth be told, Annie had no clue how she was supposed to meet Spider-Man again. They never discussed a meeting place or a time. It wasn’t like she had any way to text him or something. All she could do was hope that the art of coincidence was on her side. It was a little bit fishy to her. Why would he claim they could work together and then not offer a place to meet?

            Physics was still the death of her and it was as irritating as ever. How was she supposed to ever really use her powers if she didn’t even understand their concepts? She hated how the main reason she could use her powers was due to past coincidences and accidents that occurred. Why couldn’t she have sucked at something like history or English? Nope, she was terrible at something that she would genuinely need. Not to mention that she was in a school geared towards science, so Annie was practically fighting to get a C in the class as it was.

            At least there was Peter. Annie would bother him continuously in the class. Though something told her that he didn’t mind her constantly pestering him. They worked together on a worksheet, but it was more like her asking a million questions and writing down what he did.

            “You’re almost hopeless in this class,” Peter commented as he wrote down more work.

            Annie sighed, “I know, I don’t even know how to do anything. It wasn’t like this in Seattle at all.”

            “Um… well, maybe I could help you for a bit after school,” Peter suggested.

            Annie thought a moment before nodding, “Sure! I can’t stay long though, my parents want me home kind of early tonight.”

            It was a lie, but what else could she tell him? I have an important meeting with Spider-Man that should’ve happened days ago? Like hell was she about to do that. At that point she should have just started telling everyone on the street that she was a superhero.

            The day finally ended, and the both of them left the last hour class to get to the library. They both seemed to be a little tense. However, both were far too preoccupied to notice the other. Still, they both got out their stuff to study.

            “So, it turns out I don’t have much time myself, the internship needs me to do some stuff,” Peter explained.

            Annie shrugged, “That’s fine, I just needed a crash course anyways. I’m not gonna become an expert in an hour or two.”

            “Right, so what do you wanna cover first?” he asked.

            “Well, how about energy balance? I mean, I just think I should probably know that, I kinda bombed the quiz about that,” she replied.

            Of course Annie chose the one thing that appeared to relate to her powers the best. It took a lot of drawing to get the girl to have any type of understanding. Peter’s drawing of a rollercoaster was mediocre at best, but Annie didn’t mind. The picture did kind of help her understand how energies were supposed to work together. It actually felt like it was making sense. Though they both had to leave rather soon, and Annie found herself lost in the city again.

            Her phone had died because she forgot to charge it after calling Harper the night before, so her GPS was obviously useless. It was a complete pain for her, and she had no one to talk to about it. Then there was the possibility of Spider-Man looking for her, or worse, he was already figuring things out before she could. She just wanted to scream or cry with her frustration kicking in, feeling as though making it back to her apartment and running off within the next fifteen or twenty minutes would make up for days of lost time.

            “Um… Miss, are you alright?” an extremely familiar voice asked.

            Annie turned, her jaw dropping when she saw who the voice belonged to, “Oh, uh, yeah? I’m good, just a bit lost.”

            “I can help with that,” Spider-Man replied.

            She shook her head, “That’s okay, you probably have more important stuff to do.”

            “Nonsense, I’m the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, I gotta keep it local,” the hero insisted.

            They stood in silence for a bit. Annie contemplated explaining that she was White Swan. Though she didn’t feel like giving herself away just yet. Even if Spider-Man seemed to be alright, she wasn’t about to let down her guard that easily. He had left her hanging for days, she wasn’t about to trust someone like that. The only reason she wasn’t pushing him away was because she knew that she couldn’t remember which way she was supposed to go to get to the apartment building.

            “Oh, come on, miss, let me help you,” he pleaded, his eyes seeming to get bigger.

            Annie shrugged, “Alright, you got me, I actually have the address right here.”

            She dug into her jean pockets before pulling out a piece of paper with the address of the building. The writing done messily in black ink from when she asked her mom what the address was and she wrote it down for Annie.

            “Hey, you’re not too far off. I’ll just walk you there,” he offered, and Annie wasn’t sure how to say no.

            There was a huge awkward silence between them. Annie wanted to ask if he was looking for someone. That would be too odd of a question, so she decided against it. Still, she really wanted to know who this guy was, and if he even bothered to think about what happened a few days before. She wanted to have the chance to catch him by surprise and make him feel like the awkward one.

            “You seem new,” Spider-Man commented as they walked.

            Annie gave a half-hearted laugh, “It’s that obvious? I’m guessing it’s because I was lost.”

            “Yeah, you were pretty clueless, but it’s a big place. And here you are,” he replied, stopping in front of the building.

            She nodded, “Oh, right, thanks.”

            “Well, I’ll see you around, miss,” he said, about to web away.

            “Um, it’s Annie, I’ll see you around maybe.” she responded as she entered her building.

            Walking into an empty apartment, Annie took some time to charge her phone and get food. Knowing she would likely run into Spider-Man again felt somewhat assuring. Working with someone would probably help her to feel less insane about everything that was going on. On the other hand, she didn’t want to end up with little credit. Not to mention that she needed to give him a hard time for completely leaving her hanging.

            Once dressed in her suit, Annie glided out of her window, catching the energy. She looked around, truly able to see the sky. The first thing she did was use her vantage point to try and retrace her steps. Seeing everything did help her to put it all in perspective. She could even see the church and the homeless shelter next to it.

            Annie went inside of the shelter when she landed, hoping to find someone. It made her feel a bit odd, the way she just went in. Finally, she saw an old man in a robe.

            “Hey, um, Mr. Priest Sir, I need to talk to you,” Annie said, approaching him.

            “Oh, yes, I was told I might see some odd-looking people. Tina is doing well,” the priest replied.

            Annie straightened a little, the girl really had expected to see them again after all, “Can I speak with her? It’s important.”

            “She said that she does not wish to see anyone at the moment,” he responded.

            Annie frowned, “Please, I wanted to talk with her.”

            “I will keep the wishes of my patrons,” he stated firmly.

            She nodded, “Okay, I guess I’ll go then.”

            It was then that Annie saw the girl. Annie rushed over to the side room. There were so many questions she had. She had no clue as to where she would start. The girls just looked at each other. She waited for the priest to leave before rushing into the room to talk to Tina.

            “I have some questions, and I understand if you can’t answer them,” Annie started, unsure if she was making the best decision.

            “I don’t wanna talk about it, I’m not your charity case,” Tina said, turning away to leave the room.

            Annie nodded, “Yeah, right, of course, but Tina, if you help me… well, we could save a lot of other girls. Surely that means something to you.”

            “Look, I get that you think you’re helping, but you’re just getting in the way. I’m finally healing up, getting cleansed. That priest guy has been so helpful. I don’t wanna ruin that,” Tina replied.

            Annie stopped for a moment, “But I could get rid of those terrible people, they wouldn’t be around to ruin it for you.”

            “And then what? Others will come anyways. It makes no difference, I don’t want to have any part in anything else that happens,” Tina retorted.

            Annie sighed, “You’re missing the point, it makes a difference for the people involved, Tina. For the people that are like you.”

            “Well, my point is that I’m out. I don’t wanna be involved anymore, I’m done,” replied Tina, seeming to have a firm tone.

            Annie frowned, but relented, “Okay, I guess I’ll go then, but you’ll have to talk about it to someone eventually. It’s your choice if it’s me or the police.”

            Walking out of the church, Annie felt relieved for the mask that covered her face. It kept her from looking as defeated as she felt. Besides, that Spider-Dude had probably done all that work anyways. Maybe that was why he never gave a meeting place. Maybe that was why he left her hanging for a week. And maybe she wasn’t going to end up making a difference.

            Still, she walked along, looking for trouble. There wasn’t much for her to do aside from scaring off some thief. It had been a half hour since she gave up on finding Spider-Man. Then, just as she finally gave up any type of hope, she saw the red and blue guy. She could hardly contain just how infuriated she was. It was her chance to truly prove herself. Before approaching him, she gathered all the energy she could from the busy New York streets.

            “Where the hell were you?!” Annie exclaimed, using the energy to shove Spider-Man backwards.

            There seemed to be an expression of surprise on the guy, or his eyes were all the way white at least. He tried to say something, but Annie hit him again before he could say it. So instead of getting hit around, he went to fight back. It wasn’t long before they were both fighting. The only thing was that they weren’t fighting to kill each other. It was more like they were arguing without saying anything at all.

            Annie continued gathering energy, using it to deflect webbing and to get in more hits. They both kept going, but Annie wasn’t quite used to such an intense fight. She hadn’t thought that he would fight back and actually be difficult. It was to the point Annie spent more time dodging attacks rather than giving them. As they continued to fight, she wondered if it was the best idea.

            Odds were that she should have thought ahead and decided against fighting against someone who was obviously better prepared for a fight than she was. After all, she wasn’t completely sure of what she was doing. She didn’t want to use any electricity if she could help it. Her plan hadn’t been to hurt the guy, just to get her point across. Though she quickly forgot what her point even was.

            “Okay, okay, I think we should-” Annie started, putting her hands up in surrender.

When she put her hands up, her right wrist was webbed to a brick wall. Needless to say, Annie had seen better days and had made better decisions. As she tried to pull her wrist away, she quickly realized it was in vain.

            Spider-Man approached her, “Okay, um, so Swan Lady, what was all that about?” he asked, sounding as awkward as ever.

            “Well, you webbed me to this motherfucking wall, and now you can’t even remember my name?! Why don’t you tell me what all this was about?” Annie exclaimed, rolling her eyes as she spoke.

            “S-sorry about that, miss, it’s been a long week. A-an-and you attacked me,” he pointed out.

            Annie sighed, “I know, you’re right… sorry it’s just… I don’t know. How long am I long am I stuck like this anyways?”

            “Oh, right. Just a half hour or so,” said Spider-Man with a shrug.

            Annie bit her lip in thought, “Or, instead of waiting for that long we can figure out how that one guy got out so fast.”

            “Actually, I was gonna leave and come back later. You do some serious damage when you’re mad,” he replied, slowly backing up.

            She glared, “You were the one not taking me seriously. I was mad, I wanted to prove you wrong. It’s like… I could’ve blown something up and it would make no difference,” she trailed off, “I talked to Tina. She’s not any help.”

            Maybe Annie had been relying a little too heavily on Tina. After everything that the other girl must have gone through, Annie didn’t fully blame her for not wanting to talk about it. Though at the same time it was awful, the first real mission she was starting to formulate, she couldn’t even make any headway on.

            “Look, Swan, it’s not your fault. If she doesn’t want in, you can’t force her. I know it’s hard, but you can’t save everyone,” he pointed out.

            She nodded, “You’re right, but I’m still gonna figure this out.”
            “Not on your own, I wouldn’t let you,” he said.

            Annie huffed, frowning, “And why not? I’m powerful enough for it.”

            “You’re new. If you thought I sounded like a fetus earlier… then you sound like… like an unfertilized egg,” Spider-Man countered.

            She rolled her eyes, pursing her lips, “I’ve been doing this for long enough. You just haven’t been around to see it.”

            “Sure, Jan,” he deadpanned.

            She scoffed, “If I hadn’t been there when I was that girl would’ve been worse off. Hell, she could be dead in a dumpster if I hadn’t been there!”

            “Maybe, but just look at your costume, you’re a disaster waiting to happen, I would know. You don’t have any armor or anything that could allow you to make a mistake,” he maintained.

            It wasn’t an incorrect statement, which was why Annie stayed silent for a few moments. God, this hero was insufferable. She couldn’t figure out why people seemed to like him so much when all he did was talk down to her. He talked as if she didn’t have any powers at all. The whole conversation left Annie longing to slug the guy, but that would just leave her back at square one. Maybe if she could just prove him wrong in a different way. That was when her eyes glinted with the hint of an idea.

            “Disaster, maybe, but smarter, without a doubt,” Annie stated.

            The city was teeming with energy and she gathered what she could of it. When she pulled, the energy finally allowed her to break free from the wall. Annie couldn’t help but give a mocking shrug as she used electricity to disintegrate the webbing to ash. The black dust that was left over scattered and was hardly even visible when she finished wiping it off of her hands.

            Spider-Man stood there with his arms crossed. With the mask on, Annie kept on trying to figure out what type of emotion he had on his face. Of course, that was impossible for her, especially with the silence between the two superheroes. It was a heavy silence where, if nothing else, Annie knew that Spider-Man was thinking about something. The problem was that she couldn’t tell what that was.

            “So, you gonna say anything, Spidey?” she asked, rocking back and forth on her heels.

            There was another silence before he started speaking, “What the- how the- you just… what do you even do?!”

            “Oh, that’s a great question… I mean, I’ve had these powers for years, so I guess I screw around with energy and electricity, I don’t really know for sure,” she explained with a small shrug.

            Spider-Man paused, seeming to take a moment to think, “If you really think you can handle it, fine. But you’re not doing a trafficking case alone, Swan.”

            “Okay, but if you doubt me for one second, I’m out. I’ve worked alone before and I’ll do it again,” Annie responded.

            He shrugged, “Fine, maybe you have, but that was before. You’re not doing that anymore.”

            “And why not?” she countered.

            He started to pace, “Well, you’re looking for a fight. You don’t have anyone here to give you advice. I-I guess I just don’t want to see you by yourself when you don’t have to be.”

            That was true enough, and it left Annie wondering if he was as condescending as she had initially found him to be. It was clear that she didn’t have anyone there to help her. There wasn’t anyone close by for Annie to confide in. Sure, there was Harper, but they were across the country. It wasn’t like they could sit and gossip over a cup of coffee or go over different costume designs. Asking her parents was completely off the table. Then she couldn’t get over how sincere Spider-Man had sounded.

            After a few moments of silence, she relented, “Okay, Spidey, partners it is. But then what’re we doing about the trafficking?”

            “Well, we know whoever’s behind it knows how to get away quick,” he replied, seeming to be staring at nothing, almost as if he was in thought.

            Discussing the situation pointed out a handful of conclusions. Annie needed a better White Swan suit, they needed to find the headquarters, and they were both were definitely high school students. Had an adult been there, both heroes would have been barred from the operation. They wanted to make a difference on their own, if nothing else, they agreed on that. If Spider-Man hadn’t wanted her on the mission then he would have made that clear earlier. Hell, he wouldn’t have bothered to have the conversation that they were having.

            Suddenly having to work with the person Annie perceived as insufferable and cocky changed things up a bit. She still found Spider-Man to be infuriating, but she also found that he meant well. It was better than someone who was impossible to deal with and had a massive ego.

             They didn’t have a plan yet, but they would in time. It was hard to have any sort of plan when they had no clue of what they were even doing. Annie felt that at the bare minimum, she was clever enough. If nothing else, it was nice to not have everything going on be just inside of her head.

            Annie sighed a bit, "But what about Tina?"

            "Well, I can try convincing her instead. It might work, I don't know though," Spider-Man responded before seeming to listen to something else, "We should probably get home, it's pretty late."

            It had been late, and when Annie snuck back into her apartment, she claimed that she had taken a long nap. Thankfully her parents took that excuse and she went back to her room to call Harper. They were the only person that Annie could use to talk things through with.

            "Hey, did you finally meet Spider-Man again?" Harper asked as soon as she picked up the phone.

            Annie laughed a bit, "Hello to you too, Harper. And yes, I kinda fought with him, but it's all okay now."

            "That's not something you hear every day. So are you guys, like, friends now? Or do you still find him to be overrated?" Harper questioned, seeming to mock their friend.

            Annie scoffed, "I don't know what you're insinuating here, but I guess… we're actually just working together right now."

            "Well, that's good. Just don't let emotions get in the way of the job too much. Well, you know what I mean," they replied.

            "Woah, woah, woah. What?! I don't have any feelings towards that guy. I've only talked to the guy for the total of an hour!"

            "Mhm… you say that, but then you got so defensive."

            "I most certainly did not! You take that back!"

            "I will when you stop fangirling over the guy, but I gotta go, I'll talk to you later, Ann, bye!" Harper said before hanging up.

            The click of the phone being hung up left Annie laying on her bed to see that it wasn't quite midnight. What she needed to do was get the reading for her history class done, but the sheets on her bed were just too soft and warm. Annie couldn't bring herself to get off of her twin bed to walk over to her backpack and get the textbook. Before she could even realize it, her eyelids drooped down. Not long after, her eyes were closed and she drifted off to sleep with the light on.

Chapter Text

            After a couple of weeks, it was nearing the end of November and Annie had secured herself as the stereotypical theater kid. Constantly listening to showtunes and memorizing monologues faster than she could memorize equations. She started to move up the metaphorical food chain, gaining the respect of a few of the people in the theater class. Mainly the girls who sang in lower vocal registers. It was like the girls that shared choir and theater could smell another soprano from a mile away. They didn’t outright say anything rude to the newer girl, but they would seem to leave her out of anything they talked about during breaks. So Annie found herself finding friends in some of the alto section instead.

            Outside of the world of theater and singing, she had found some form of friendship with Spider-Man. Well, it was more of a frenemy relationship. They were both on the same side, but they had completely different ways of solving problems. The conflicting ideas sometimes got to be a bit much, but they often ended up finding a way to compromise. Especially after the other hero had managed to talk Tina into working with them on the case. Not to mention the solid friendship she had with Peter and Ned along with the interesting friendship she’d acquired with Michelle.

            “Holy shit! You guys, did you see what he spring musical’s gonna be?” Annie asked, practically slamming her books on the lunch table as she grinned at the two boys sitting across from her.

            Ned shrugged, unwrapping his sandwich, “What about it?”

            “It’s West Side Story and auditions are right before winter break,” she replied, a mischievous glint in her brown eyes.

            Peter gave a look, thinking he was catching on to why Annie was telling them, “And you’re going to audition, right? That’s one of the musicals you keep listening to and tearing up about.”

            “Well, no shit, Sherlock, it’s super sad and of course I’m auditioning! But I want you both to audition too! Oh, come on you guys, it’ll be fun!” Annie pleaded, batting her eyes as she sat down and pulled out her lunch.

            “I mean, as much as I would like to I have the-” Peter was cut off.

            “Stark internship, I know. However, Pete, having multiple things on your resume looks better though, it makes you seem rounded,” she replied insistently as she opened a bad of potato chips.

            Ned laughed, “You know what? Fuck it, I’m in, it could be fun. But I’m not too sure about what they’ll think of my voice.”

            “Oh please, you were doing that off-key stuff on purpose and you know it,” Annie stated as she popped a chip in her mouth.

            Peter frowned, “W-well why can’t I just be a techie person instead?”

            “Because I heard you singing when we were all watching Aladdin last weekend. You could easily get the lead,” Annie responded before leaning forward, “Please? I don’t wanna do this alone, but either way I definitely have to do this.”

            Ned shrugged, “It would be fun. Come on Peter, you can pull some strings, can’t you?”

            “I’ll think about it,” Peter relented, running a hand through his hair as he appeared to be thinking about something.

            Annie ran to the other side of the table to hug Peter, “Great! I can help both of you come up with the perfect audition material. All you guys have to do is practice singing it, I promise!”

            After lunch, the day consisted of Annie going through all the music on her phone. Along with her constantly bugging Peter and Ned about audition song ideas. Then she was worrying about what she was going to sing. The songs needed to be nice enough, but not overused at the same time. She was positive that if Ms. Beauregard heard one of the girls sing “Popular” one more time in her class that she was going to scream. Granted, Annie felt the same way after having heard every other girl use that damn song for an audition when she was in Seattle. Annie worried about the audition so much that she forgot about the other, much more important issues she was dealing with. Issues that included going and attempting to get Tina to finally say something that could help herself and Spider-Man to find out who was running that trafficking ring.

            Well, it wasn’t that she forgot about Tina, it was for the best for Annie to have something else to focus her energy on. If she let herself stay up another moment worrying about what happened to Tina, she would probably never get any sleep. Then she would just be useless all the way around. Granted, Annie had been getting a minimal amount of sleep even with her and Spider-Man insisting on not working with Tina every single day. She wasn’t supposed to work on it, but that didn’t mean Annie didn’t feel her hands grow a little clammy whenever she thought about the night she found Tina.

            Truth be told, Annie had been trying to come up with plans and ideas. It was a no brainer for her, all those girls could be her age or younger didn’t get to sleep easily. Why should she? Besides, coffee was just the perfect fix for a bit of sleep deprivation. Albeit it was probably irresponsible and definitely terrible for Annie to go out stopping crime and go to school and stay up until two in the morning. It was a wonder she hadn’t gotten a cold yet, especially when all her suit consisted of was a hoodie and a pair of leggings. Though she started putting more shirts underneath the hoodie to keep warm. She needed to get that new suit as soon as possible.

            Although, the change of her mental energy was welcome, it was clearly obvious that Annie had to be fixated on something. It was even more noticeable when someone could just look over her shoulder to see three lists with all kinds of colors on the paper, some things crossed out. People probably thought she was being obsessive, and they wouldn’t have been wrong. Though, that never worried Annie or her parents, she’d always had phases where she went a million miles a minute.

            By the end of the day, Annie had only been able to find Peter, it seemed that Ned had left early for a doctor’s appointment. Which meant that Peter was going to end up listening to Annie talking his ear off about musicals while they worked on physics homework in the library. Of course, Annie wasn’t sure if she was bothering him or not, but she continued talking anyways. If he wasn’t stopping her, Annie assumed that her constant rambling wasn’t aggravating him.

            “Come on, just listen to them, all those musicals are on Netflix,” Annie begged as they were putting their books back into their bags.

            Peter shook his head and sighed as he glanced at the multicolored mess that was Annie’s list, “You know I don’t have time for that.”

            “But, Pete, you could do so good! At least listen to the soundtracks, that’s all you really need to do,” she continued before adding, “Besides, if you can find time to have Star Wars marathons, you can find time to watch a couple.”

            He shrugged a bit, “I’ll see, I’m not sure what’s going on with my internship tonight. And Star Wars nights are untouchable, and you know that.”

            They had been staying after school to help Annie with physics for the last couple of weeks. Annie managed to prove that she wasn’t completely hopeless at the subject, she just needed a different way of looking at the problems. Though there was still a long way for her to go. With Midtown being a science school, she needed to ace those physics tests in order to be competitive in academics. At least, that was the excuse she gave for caring about the subject so much. In reality, Annie could have passed the class on her own, but she wanted to know more so she could eventually understand her powers better. Although, getting the chance to hang out with Peter was an added bonus.

            Thankfully, Peter didn’t seem to mind. He would always be the one to end the sessions. After that, he would walk Annie home, him joking that she would probably get lost again. She didn’t stop him, though, she knew that being a girl and walking home later in the day was rather risky. Then, Annie would suit up and meet Spider-Man at the same place that they dropped Tina off. It was their only lead with the trafficking ordeal, but Tina was rarely any kind of help.

            The lack of help confused Annie, and she could tell that it confused Spider-Man as well. She wouldn’t let up on who her real family was or where she’d come from. It was impossible for Annie to understand, but she knew that she would never truly understand Tina. There was no way to truly understand the things she went through. Especially when she wasn’t always clear about what she did when talking to the heroes.

            Tina had let up on a few things. Things like how the pimp had gotten the black-haired girl started on heroin. How Tina had been moved from Nevada to New York due to demand. She never had anyone to help get her out. All Tina could do was lose herself in her clients. At least, that was the way she had put it. Annie felt pangs of hurt, wishing that she had somehow been able to be there and help Tina before everything had gotten as bad as it was. Even though she knew that it would have only meant Annie would have found a different girl in the alley that night.

            It turned out that Tina was seventeen. An age so close to Annie’s that in left knots tightening in her stomach. Had Annie ever been close to ending up in Tina’s situation before? The thought quickly left her mind, knowing that it would have done nothing more than keep Annie awake in the middle of the night. Still, despite how cruel the pimp was, Tina refused to give up the man’s identity. Neither Annie nor Spider-Man could understand why that was. In her mind, it almost sounded as if Tina were in love with the guy. Maybe it was a depressing form of Stolkholm Syndrome, but that didn’t make it any less complicated.

            Point blank, there wasn’t much of a case. Tina had yet to give away any information that could lead anywhere. Perhaps that was the point, making the pair of heroes feel like they knew something. Though, when both of them looked back on it, they only knew the nature of the situation. Until that particular day when Tina gave the slightest lead that Annie had barely even noticed.

            “How’d you even get wrapped up in this?” Annie asked, shifting in the seat that surrounded a table of the dining hall.

            Tina paused, “Are you just meaning if I got into pot before smack or if I was kidnapped or what?”

            “Not quite. Like, were you raped and thrown into a scam or was it a drug deal gone wrong? Runaway maybe?” she prompted, thinking of some of the stories she’d read to help give herself some ideas.

            Tina shrugged her shoulders, “He offered me a modeling job while I was alone at the mall, gave me this card. Said I was real pretty, it started simple enough. It was just a photoshoot or two. Then a trip to his studio out of town, and we went there more and more…. One day he showed me to a friend and I ended up fucking him. It happened so gradually, I guess I didn’t realize.”

            “And how’d you get into drugs? Did you… do… uh, did you do something… with your um… with your pimp?” Spider-Man asked. Annie was positive the guy underneath was redder than his costume.

            “You mean was my pimp my dealer and did I fuck him too? I guess saying no would be a lie…” Tina said in response, seeming to be thinking about something.

            The charges against Tina’s pimp just stacked in Annie’s head. Drugs, trafficking, dealing, statutory rape, rape in general, the list just continued growing. Annie was almost certain that murder fit into the mix somewhere. It was obvious that the man who Tina appeared to care for was worse than a piece of garbage.

            When it seemed that Tina was getting irritated with both heroes, Annie suggested that they leave for the evening. All Annie wanted was to finally crack Tina open, just so she could understand the other girl better. If only she could establish more trust with Tina, maybe then she’d trust Annie a little bit more. Though maybe it had to do with the fact that Annie was in a costume the whole time. Maybe if she met Tina while not being a superhero it would go differently, but she doubted that the opportunity would ever present itself.

            “So, Spider-Kid, what do you think we should do for dinner?” Annie asked as they walked out of the homeless shelter, the sky already darkened.

            The male sounded like he rolled his eyes at the nickname, “Well, Bird-Girl, I was thinking about getting something from that hot dog truck that’s about a block away.”

            “You’re kidding right? You can’t actually smell that far away, can you?” she questioned with a small laugh, following Spider-Man.

            He laughed a bit, “I-I actually can. My senses are dialed to eleven, it kinda sucks.”

            “Well yeah, you’re in a huge city where everyone’s doing something at all times. I don’t think I could handle it,” she said as they stopped in front of the hot dog truck.

            Annie just got a normal hot dog, but Spider-Man always got a ton of food. He blamed it on a scarily fast metabolism, but she never really paid much attention to it. The people working the truck were a bit surprised to see a couple of heroes just getting food. She couldn’t understand why, everyone had to eat at some point. At least it got both of them a sort of discount. They were familiar with Spider-Man, and Annie guessed that they just figured she was a friend or a hero by association.

            Getting dinner after talking to Tina had become routine for the pair. That was when they got to talk about everything that happened. If they were going to have any major breakthroughs, hopefully it would be over some dinner while on the top of a skyscraper. It was a nice feeling, getting the chance to see the sky and all the buildings around. The city was prettier when she was able to see everything without feeling as though everything was stacked on top of itself.

            “Alright, Spidey, lift me up, my dude,” Annie said, standing next to him with a hot dog in hand.

            “You sure you don’t wanna try using your powers to lift yourself up? I’m telling you, I think you could do it. That would be way cool.”

            “Eh, maybe later, I don’t feel like ruining my hotdog while trying to learn a new move.”

          Spider-Man had an arm around her waist before he shot up to the top of the building they stood next to. Then they both sat on the roof, starting to eat. Being with each other like that made things private but casual. Annie found Spider-Man to be kind of funny sometimes. Sometimes it felt like she had known him for years and that they were good friends. Friends who shared being a hero in common. It felt like nothing would have changed if they knew each other in person. Though the guy could be insufferable when he brought up everything he had already done. It felt like he talked about stealing Captain America’s shield just to irritate her a bit.

            “Anyways… you noticed that lead, right?” Annie asked, interrupting his fifteenth recount of Germany as she took another bite of her hotdog.

            His eyes seemed to squint in thought, his mouth slightly opened in confusion, “How was any of that a lead?”

            “We know how the guy finds girls. I’m a teenage girl, if I went to the right place at the right time and got a card or something like she did, we’d have a name,” she explained.

            Then the eyes on his suit widened, becoming completely white, “No! You can’t do that! Swan, if you’re not careful then… I’m not sure you could get things to go the way you want.”

            “It would just be a card, jeez, I wouldn’t need to do anything else,” she insisted, finishing up her food.

            He glanced at her, “You know it would be more than that. You would over investigate. Normally… normally that’s fine, but he has other people.”

            “Okay, but we could take them down together, I get us on the inside and we trap them together. You know, doing what the cops obviously aren’t,” Annie replied.

            Spider-Man sighed, “It’s too dangerous, and it relies on you being in the right place at the right time.”

            “But we both have powers, they don’t have any! We could take them so fast and they’d never see us coming!”

            “You don’t know, there’s so much more that Tina isn’t telling us and I doubt she would know all that much about whatever organization it is anyways.”

            They argued over practicalities and leads for the whole time they were up there. Annie thought it was nice that Spider-Man cared about what she did. Despite that, she was going along with her plan. He couldn’t stop her, she wouldn’t be in costume anyways. Like she’d claimed before, she just wanted to get a card. Something that could be more evidence. She figured that if the guy really wanted more supply in New York that he wouldn’t be too hard to find if she looked carefully.

            Both of them agreed on just keeping their identities secret. There was no reason for either of them to know. If anything, it would only complicate their weird form of friendship. She also liked the type of anonymity it gave her. It was like they knew each other, but the reality was that they knew absolutely nothing about each other.

            Granted, Annie had a list of people she suspected. Flash, Peter, and a couple other guys were on the list. Though when Annie asked Peter about his internship, the stories felt real enough. Still, every skinny guy that was a few inches taller than her was put on the list and Peter was certainly up there, but he wasn’t the prime suspect.

            Then again, it was bold of her to assume Spider-Man went to Midtown in the first place. Queens was a huge area, the guy could have been in so many different schools. He was probably some guy that went to a school across from where she went for all she knew. For all she was aware, she didn’t know his secret identity personally anyways. It was possible that she had never even walked past him on the streets.

            That would probably make more sense anyways for the fact that Annie liked to think that she knew the voices of the handful of people who she knew in New York. Not to mention Spider-Man’s seemingly unique personality. The odds of Annie knowing Spider-Man when she cross referenced personality with height and build, there were only two or three guys that Annie could really suspect. Perhaps, the mystery of who Spider-Man really was would remain unsolved in her mind.

            Besides, Annie had better things to keep herself awake at night. Between the promise she had made to Peter and Ned alongside the makeshift mission with Tina, the young hero was swamped. It didn’t’ help that it felt like Harper was beginning to get tired of Annie focusing on the same two things, claiming that she needed to get a hobby or a love life. Something to keep her from obsessing so much about the problems around her.

Chapter Text

            What Annie needed to do was redesign the White Swan costume. Remaking her beaten up costume into a dream suit was easier said than done. It wasn’t even designing the suit that made things difficult, though drawing was far from her forte and the suit hardly ever looked proportional to an actual body. The difficult part was finding the time to draw inconspicuously without anyone seeing just what she was doing. Getting caught drawing her suit and having someone figure out her superhero alias would have been the death of the girl.

            On a chilly, late November morning, Annie laid on the dark yellow carpet of her bedroom while sketching the suit. She didn’t lay on her pillowtop mattress because of how likely it was that she would crawl under her purple comforter and fall back asleep. There were various showtunes playing in the background coming from her laptop that was sitting on her desk across the room as she tried to work. It wasn’t just any showtunes, though, they were a playlist of all the possible audition songs she had been thinking about between Ned, Peter, and herself. Even songs for future use for herself were being thought of. Annie simply couldn’t get herself to stop multitasking.

            Besides, part of what had convinced Peter and Ned to audition was her promise to find the songs for them. That promise was easier said than done, though. Finding simple songs that weren’t overused was quite the challenge. Only because she was normally looking for soprano pieces, not tenor and bass ones. Though the time spent in her room was cut short when she decided that the solution to her losing focus due to being tired was coffee instead of getting more much needed sleep after the long night she’d had coupled with regular patrolling and talking to Spider-Man.

~*~*~*~*~

            “Did I ever tell you about the time I stole Captain America’s shield?” Spider-Man asked, shoving some nachos supreme in his mouth.

            Annie rolled her eyes as she swallowed some of her taco, “Yep, only every other time we get food, you say something about that damn fight in Germany.

            “Oh… well, I mean I fought Ant-Man while he was giant… Germany was really cool, you know. You would’ve probably liked it,” the male replied with a shrug.

            Annie’s jaw dropped, “What the hell?! That guy was, like, my idol!”

            “He’s a war criminal… you know that, right?” Spider-Man questioned, his eyes squinting almost as though he were accusing her of something.

            Annie gave a small shrug, “He’s a good guy though, morality is perceptive… you’re just getting all defensive because you have your dick out for Tony Stark.”

            “Do not!”

            “Do too!

            “I wasn’t getting defensive, Swan, but you’re siding with people who were helping a murderer,” the male hero pointed out.

            Annie scoffed, “You and I both know James Barnes was a prisoner of war first. That was mind control, all that shit wasn’t his fault.

            “But he killed people, that’s not right. It was someone’s fault,” Spider-Man replied.

            Annie shook her head, “Then blame the people who put him in that situation. Not the guy who was caught in the middle of everything.”

            “So… what you’re saying is that if you were in Germany we wouldn’t have been on the same side, would we?” he questioned.

            She shook her head, tugging on her white hood, “I’m afraid not, Spidey… but we argue a lot anyways, does that surprise you?”

            Spider-Man shrugged in response and they both ate in silence the rest of the time. Though, Annie wasn’t sure how to feel about it. She hadn’t been involved in the fight, and maybe that was for the best. The side she’d been on was decided to have been in the wrong, but she wasn’t sure she cared. Maybe she just needed to stop thinking about it.

            “Um… anyways, are there any girls you’ve been crushing on?” Annie asked in an attempt to change the subject.

            Spider-Man looked over quizzically, “You’re asking me about girls?”

           "Well unless you’re into guys, that’s totally cool too. I was just wondering, obviously you have a life outside of this,” Annie responded.

            Spider-Man sighed a bit, “Okay, fine. I guess that there’s this one girl…”

~*~*~*~*~

            Of course, the coffee machine was still unpacked and most likely buried in one of the boxes that was supposed to have been unpacked, but between her parents and herself being busy it just wasn’t done. That also meant that there probably weren’t any coffee grounds either, so she wasn’t going to bother digging through all the unpacked boxes that were left precariously around the apartment. She had been living in the new apartment for nearly a month and she still couldn’t make coffee there.

            “Hey, dad, I’m going to the corner store for some coffee, you want something?” she asked, watching as her father was creating a slide show on his desktop computer. It was most likely for one of his university lectures, and he would most likely come back and complain about how nearly none of his students had nearly enough passion for the topic. That was how it was with Annie’s dad, people were never interested in his passions even if they actually were.

            It took the black-haired man a few moments to look up from his computer screen, “Oh, um, yes, could you get me a black coffee?”

            “Yep, have fun making that lecture, dad,” Annie commented as she pocketed the money that her father handed her.

            The man hardly looked up from the computer as she left. That didn’t exactly surprise Annie, but sometimes it left her feeling a bit ignored. Sometimes, more often than not in reality, it felt like he barely noticed her. It felt as though she could get up and run away and he would never even notice. It wasn’t that Carter Hardwick was neglectful. At the end of the day, he would seem to care about her in his own odd way, but work often came before her. Annie had commented on it before, but he would just point out the amount of money that he made from being a professor. It was to the point that she had stopped trying to point out that maybe, just maybe, he should focus on her and her mother a little bit more than he did. A part of her just wished that money didn’t matter.

            Most of the time, Annie wouldn’t bring up how much her mother made from being a lawyer. Let him justify his bullshit, she thought as she walked down the block. It wasn’t like she had ever gotten him to stop, and she had spent years trying to do just that. A cool breeze cut through the black leggings Annie wore and she tugged her dark blue hoodie around herself. The late November chill proved that Thanksgiving was less than a week away, meaning that Christmas as well as the audition were just around the corner.

            Walking into the store, the first thing she felt was the warmth of walking inside, the heated air feeling amazing against her cool legs. Then, Annie did a double take as she scanned the store. A girl with crutches and short, kinky black hair seemed to be looking around at some of the candy and chips. It was definitely Tina, there was no question about that.

            The initial plan was to avoid her at all cost. She didn’t have to go anywhere near Tina, there was no reason to even talk to her in the first place. It wasn’t like the other girl would outright accuse her of being a superhero, but that didn’t ease her racing heart. While, walking over to her to see how she was doing did feel tempting, Annie doubted that it was worth it. She just wouldn’t take any risks, not today when she was still rubbing the sleep from her eyes. However, there was only one way to get to the coffee and that involved passing by Tina. They were complete strangers, though, it would be fine. Her costume had kept her hidden for a few years, it could continue to do so for ten seconds or less. At least, that was what Annie kept telling herself in attempt to calm herself down. There was nothing for her to worry about. Although, that wasn’t going to plan when walking behind Tina completely surprised her. It had caused Tina to fall, of course, she couldn’t just leave Tina on the ground like that.

            “Shit! I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you like that, oh my god I am seriously so sorry,” Annie rambled, offering a hand to help the other girl up.

            Tina had a frown as she accepted the hand and used a crutch to get herself to stand back up, “You coulda said something. Ya know, told me you were coming behind me.”

            “R-right, I’m really sorry about that. Seriously, I could get you something to make it up to you,” Annie offered, looking at the linoleum floor.

            Tina shook her head, “No, I don’t need your pity.”

            “It’s not about that, I just wanna help,” Annie insisted, crossing her arms.

            Tina huffed, “I don’t need it.”

            “But, Tina, you do, just- “

            “How do you know my name?”

            Annie gulped and choked on the mixture of saliva and air in her throat. Her light brown face turned into a shade of bright red. She mentally kicked herself as she tried to think of an excuse. Only, there wasn’t one. It was just her being stupid and not thinking before she spoke. Maybe she should have just laid on her bed and slept instead of trying to persevere through her exhaustion.

            Tina blinked, “Um… don’t die?”

            “I uh… I work at the soup kitchen,” Annie replied with coughs in between some of her words.

            The other girl glared, her dark brown eyes almost looking like they turned completely black, “That’s bullshit and you know it. Are you stalking me?”

            “No, not that at all, I swear. Woah woah woah, you can put that crutch down I’m not gonna hurt you… put that crutch down… ow! Fucking hell!” Annie exclaimed as the crutch dug into her foot, earning a few weird looks from the handful of people in the store.

            The crutch only dug into her foot more. It was placing just the right amount of pressure to where it was nearly unbearable. Annie couldn’t even stop a barrier of energy from forming and then bursting, pushing the crutch off. Thankfully it had just been Tina and herself there to see it. What left Annie worried was whether or not she would do something else like that again. It wasn’t like she was trying to make a point, it just kind of happened. Almost as though she had lost control for a split second, but she stopped worrying as much once nothing else happened.

            “Oh… you’re-“

            “Not here, okay? Let me buy my coffee and get you something too. Then we can talk about it,” Annie pleaded, her light brown eyes widened as she hoped that there wouldn’t be any confrontation right in front of so many people.

            Tina gave a sigh, almost like she was still contemplating her decision, “Okay, fine… but you owe me a huge explanation.”

            “Of course, yeah, I’ll do that. And you’ll get it. Just not this second, okay?”

            Getting two cups of black coffee and a bottled, sweetened black tea took all of five minutes. The whole time, the brunette’s heart was racing and she felt like she could throw up all over the polite cashier. No one had ever found her out before this. Yes, people had gotten close, but that hardly meant anything unless they actually knew her true identity. There were now so many ways that Tina could get back at her. Though, Annie hoped that wouldn’t be the case. At least, that was what she kept thinking as she stuffed the change into her hoodie pocket. If more people found out who she was, she would probably spontaneously combust and then she would never have to deal with keeping secrets ever again.

            “Also, we gotta take a detour to my place, this extra coffee was for my dad,” Annie explained as she walked out of the store with Tina, the cold air practically slapping her in the face.

            A cold breeze passed through again, causing Annie’s long, dark hair to get in her face. With both hands holding onto the corner store coffees, she couldn’t get the annoying strands of hair out of her face. All she could do was keep her mouth closed so none of her hair would get into her mouth. She had already choked on her own spit, she didn’t want to choke on her own hair next. At least her hands were warm. She couldn’t imagine holding a cold drink in the chilled weather.

When she glanced at Tina, she felt a pang of guilt as she saw the other girl moving slowly with her crutches and cold drink. There she was, dragging the other girl around when that was probably all Tina had gone through for who knew how long. Still, Annie knew that her dad would probably say a few things if she didn’t get him his coffee. Plus, Annie hadn’t planned on seeing Tina in the first place. Then again, it wasn’t like Annie was keeping the other girl hostage. She had questions and wanted answers, answers that Annie did feel were justified.

            Once the girls made it to the apartment building, Tina cleared her throat, “Do I go up with you?”

            “Yeah, j-just say you’re my new friend if anyone asks,” Annie replied, leading the way into the tall building.

            Getting to the apartment, Annie didn’t know what was sadder, that her dad never questioned Tina walking in or that the landlord asked a bunch of questions about the other female. Thankfully, Tina played it cool as they left. It wasn’t that Annie wanted her dad to give Tina the third degree, but she wanted her dad to act like he cared more often. She wished he would have said hello or who he was, something that she thought normal parents did. Sure, Annie wasn’t their blood-related child, but she thought that meant that her parents had made the conscious choice to care about her. The more Annie grew up, the more it felt like only her mom had made that decision.

            Tina huffed as they continued to walk some more, “Where are you taking me? This hobbling around hurts like a bitch,”

            “Just across this street. You just gotta be patient,” Annie responded, rolling her eyes a bit.

            “Says the one who’s not on crutches.”

            “Says the one who tried to crush my foot.”

            “Touchè.”

            Annie and Tina made their way into the library. It took a moment to find an empty space where they wouldn’t have to worry about being overheard. Though, it took a bit, Annie hadn’t thought it took that long. However, the sigh that Tina let out seemed to say otherwise. The enclosed room was walled with green glass. Annie wasn’t sure where to start, so she took a big drink of her black coffee.

            “So, what’s your name anyways?” asked Tina.

            The other girl swallowed the warm liquid, “Annika, but everyone just calls me Annie.”

            “Hmm… so what’re you really trying to do, talking to me?” Tina asked, opening her tea.

            Annie bit her lip in thought, “With what? With you or with my own image as a hero or?”

            “No, obviously, why’re you helping me?”

            “Because you deserve better than you’re getting, than you’ve gotten in the past.”

            “How would you know what I deserve?”

            “I know because no one, and you listen to me Tina, no one deserves to be hurt in the way that you were.”

            “You really think that?”

            “Yes! Of course I do. I’m not a hero just for the glory… then I would’ve quit a long time ago, because there’s not much glory in it all.”

            Tina nodded a little bit, “So, that Spider-Man guy… what’s your deal with him?”

            “Honestly, I have no fucking clue. I know he’s a bit… ah what’s the word for it?”

            “Awkward yet cocky?”

            “Sure, but his heart’s in the right place, I wouldn’t say cocky… anywho, I thought maybe we could be friends or something like that.”

            “Oh, no way. You’re saying that to break me down and find out more about me and to get me even more roped into whatever it is that you and that other guy have planned.”

            “It’s not that at all! You need someone to talk to. I know what it’s like to be alone, just let me help you, could you do that?”

            Of course, Annie wanted to know more relating to the case she was trying to crack that had everything to deal with Tina. Why wouldn’t she want that? But the poor girl in front of her was in desperate need to talk to someone. It was written in the bags under her nearly black eyes. She needed someone there for her, anyone. If talking to Tina in the past had told Annie anything, it was that she was exceedingly lonely. Odds were that Tina couldn’t get through what was happening if she were left alone. Annie worried that she would just go back to the man who had treated her so cruelly. She could get away with it too, given how little information she and Spider-Man had.

            “You won’t tell your hero friend about any of this, will you?”

            “No, I-I’m not trying to be involved like that. This is just me being normal and trying to be your friend simply because that’s what I want.”

            “Normal people don’t hang out with homeless teens,” Tina pointed out, her dark eyebrows raised.

            “Eh, I was never super normal to begin with, powers or not.”

            For the first time in weeks, Annie found herself getting to Tina. It wasn’t by much, but they were just talking. Not about the past that led them to the positions that they were currently in, no, they talked about regular things. Favorite movies, getting jobs, starting at new schools, the things that regular friends talked about on a regular day. Things like how Tina wouldn’t be going to Midtown, but rather some normal high school somewhere in the neighborhood. Annie wished they would be at the same school, though, for the sole purpose of no longer being the token new-girl.

            They continued talking for hours. Tina didn’t say a thing about being trafficked, but she listened as Annie blabbered on about the school musical and her other friends. Occasionally, Tina would say something, but she tended to avoid saying anything of substance. As much as Annie wanted to comment on it, she knew it wasn’t the time or the place.

            Though, they did have to go home eventually and when they got to the homeless shelter, Annie hugged Tina.

            “If you need anything, call me, I gave you my number for a reason, okay?” Annie said, looking at Tina dead in the eyes.

            Tina gave a nod that seemed reluctant, “Okay, but I’m safe now, honestly. I’m just trying to finish school and get back on my feet.”

            Annie gave a nod, “I know, but I also know that shit happens. So when it does, I’m here.”

            It didn’t matter if Tina would tell her anything about being hurt or not. Annie truly did just want to help. For a moment, being successful or powerful wasn’t what mattered to her. That was all the motivation that she needed to throw herself back into being a multitasking hero who kept promises to as many people as she could. Whether she knew them that well or not. It gave her enough energy to continue getting things done at a million miles a minute. Maybe trying to do things so quickly wasn’t the best idea, but that hardly mattered to Annie either.

            That Monday, Annie had gone through the day with more energy than she thought she could have had. There was this spring in her step as she finally felt herself accomplishing some of her goals. At least, she had better ideas for the auditions that she could hardly wait to tell Peter and Ned about. Not to mention how the suit she had a sketch of in her dresser drawer was starting to come together. Though, it didn’t seem that the boys were talking about anything that she was thinking of.

            “What time do you want us over on Thursday?” Ned asked Peter as Annie sat down.

            Annie cocked her head, “What’s so special about Thursday?”

            “Um… I don’t know, maybe the fact that it’s Thanksgiving? Come on, get with it!” Ned exclaimed, sounding incredulous.

            Peter nodded a bit, “Yeah, did you have any plans for Thursday? I mean, I’m sure my aunt would love to meet you. I mean, it could be fun.”

            When the girl took a moment to step back, she could remember her mom saying something about her dad being gone on some literature conference in Philadelphia for the holiday. Her mom had wanted to do something, but there was still so much happening with getting settled in and it just being the two ladies in the apartment that day anyhow. Though, perhaps she could get the chance to bring Tina along too. To show that she was being serious about just being friends for the sake of friendship, not to get ahead.

            “Well, would it be okay if there were two other people? I could make some food to help make up for it,” Annie offered before adding, “I make a great potato salad.”

            Peter shrugged, “I don’t see why not, but you don’t need to make anything… who were you thinking about?”

            “Oh, well, there’s my mom and then this one girl I met a few days ago, Tina, she’s kinda lonely and I think she could use the whole, having-people-around thing,” Annie explained, giving a tiny shrug, “She might not even come because, well, she doesn’t know you guys. It could be fun though!”

            Peter spat out his chocolate milk, the liquid getting all over his food. His eyes seemed to widen a bit and he looked like he was trying to say something to Ned with his eyes. Why Peter was reacting this way, she had absolutely no clue.

            “Is it because you’re nervous about meeting girls or something?” Annie asked teasingly with a small laugh.

            Peter shook his head, “No, uh, I just… needed to cough and I kinda did… you’re not bringing her to set one of us up, are you?”

            “No, no, it’s not that… I met her when I was getting coffee and I almost knocked her out. She’s been having a rough time and I wanna help,” Annie replied.

            Peter nodded, “Yeah, we got that… um sure, that’s fine,”

            Despite the words leaving the other boy’s mouth, Annie couldn’t help wondering if he had been telling the truth. Something told her that he was hiding something, but she didn’t have the ability to find out what. There was a reason as to why he had been so surprised, and she couldn’t understand why that was. Maybe it was because he didn’t know Tina and he really did have to cough. Something told her that wasn’t the case, though.

            However, Annie didn’t have enough motivation to figure out what was going through Peter’s head. Besides, it wasn’t like she was a mind reader. She controlled energy, not people. That was probably for the best, even if that meant she wasn’t able to know what Peter was doing. More importantly, how Ned was involved in whatever it was Peter was doing. Though, perhaps she was just looking into it too much and needed to get a full night’s rest before she started jumping to conclusions.

Chapter Text

            “Wait wait wait, so that’s why you moved?!” Harper exclaimed.

            Annie flopped on the bed, her phone at her ear, “Yep… my dad couldn’t keep it in his pants, so that’s what made him take the job after the start of term.”

            “That’s such bullshit!” Harper yelled, making Annie hold her phone away from her ear because of how loud they were being.

            She sighed, looking up at the plain ceiling, “I know, like, my mom’s been so anxious since Dad left for that conference and I was the dumbass who commented on it. And then she told me about his affair with Melanie.”

            “Hold up, Melanie, like your tutor, Melanie?”

            “Yep, that’d be the one.”

            “Holy shit! That’s fucking disgusting!” Harper exclaimed again, Annie now just turning down the phone volume, assuming her friend would continue to yell.

            Annie knowing that they couldn’t see, “I know! And then she started crying and I didn’t know what to do. I thought my parents had their shit together. Oh, but do you wanna know how she found out?”

            “Um, do I really wanna know?”

            “It doesn’t matter, I’m telling you anyways. Long story short, Melanie had a massive pregnancy scare and apparently my dad said he was going to marry her if that had been the case, so she was lying about it to keep my dad!” Annie exclaimed, far too enraged to have a hard time explaining.

            There was a long pause and Annie could only hear breathing over the line, “Oh honey, that’s terrible… men, and your old tutor, are scumbags.”

            “No not all men, just my dad… I mean, how could he? This whole time I thought he was a workaholic, but he was banging my tutor half the time,” she huffed.

            Harper stopped, “Wait, not all men… is there a guy? It’s Spider-Man isn’t it?”

            “No! God no! Spider-Man’s like a partner-”

            “A love partner,” Harper sang.

            “No, once we finish this thing, that’s it. Hopefully I never need to work with him or anyone else again. Now I won’t tell you about the guy.”

            “So there is a guy?”

            “Well, maybe, I don’t know really. I haven’t been here for a month, I can’t just fall for any cute guy who’s kinda nice to me.”

            “So he’s cute?”


            “Are you sure this is the right place?” Annie’s mom asked.

            Annie nodded, “Yep, Tina, can you knock for me? I’m very small and I currently I have no hands, you can imagine the stress I’m under.”

            It was true, early that morning Annie had made a pot of coffee with the, now unpacked, coffee maker. Then, as she went through the massive amounts of caffeine she made a potato salad before Tina came over. It turned out fairly well despite her making the salad last minute. Though, she had stayed up so late talking to Harper that she hadn’t been busy working with Spider-Man. Not that she was too worried about it, he probably didn’t even miss her.

            “Yeah, sure,” Tina responded, rolling her eyes which, in Annie’s mind, was almost the same thing as laughing for the other female.

            Tina was no longer on crutches, instead she wore a large boot, so she didn’t need to worry about the crutches anymore. Even though she had only known Annie for who she was for less than a week, Annie felt close to the other girl. Mainly because she felt that Tina had no one else to go to just for talking. She knocked on the door and the three ladies stood waiting. There was some commotion on the other side as well as a couple of voices before Annie heard the door open.

            “Oh, hello! Which one of you is Annie?” asked a thin woman who was definitely taller than Annie.

            Annie cleared her throat a little, “Um, that’d be me.”

            The woman who she could only assume was Aunt May smiled, “Well, it’s great to finally meet you! Peter has told me so much about you. I’m his aunt, but you can just call me May.”

            “Oh, it’s nice to finally meet you as well! Um… this is my mom and this is my friend, Tina,” Annie replied, nodding at the other women respectively before adding, “Also, do you have anywhere I can set this down?”

            May nodded, “Let me take that, it looks heavy. Peter and Ned are down the hall in his room if you wanna see them.”

            When the heavy bowl was taken from Annie’s arms, she thanked the woman as she felt the weight lifted from her arms. The glass bowl had been heavier than she thought. It was for the best, though, Annie often ended up craving potatoes when she was overly stressed. Just because she wasn’t telling everyone about her problems didn’t mean she wasn’t stressed.

            Once Annie made sure that no one needed her help in the kitchen, Annie led Tina away. There was another woman who she could only assume was Ned’s mom, and she quickly introduced herself before finally making it to the small hallway. She could hear both boys talking before she was even that close to Peter’s room. Of course, she hadn’t meant to overhear the conversation, but it was so odd that it left her with more questions than answers.

            “Yeah, anyways, there was this robbery and she wasn’t there, which was fine, I guess. I’m not about to ask about where she was.”

            “Dude you’re getting way too obsessed with h- this game,” Ned said in response when he saw Annie and Tina.

            Annie gave a tiny wave, “Hey guys, this is Tina, and I see you two dorks are geeking out over some video game.”

            “Um… yeah, a video game, yep. A fun game, yeah,” Peter stammered, his face turning a bright red.

            Ned nodded, “Yep, and… he’s trying to beat this one girl,”

            “What, so girls aren’t allowed to be good at video games?” Tina asked with a small smirk.

            Peter shook his head, “That’s not the problem, it’s not that, she just… I mean she’s… it doesn’t matter, actually.”

            Annie and Tina sat on the carpeted floor, making a circle where Annie was between Peter and Tina. They all stayed silent for a bit, an awkward quiet settling over the room again. It was quiet enough for Annie to notice the soft music Peter had playing in the background, but it was too quiet for her to truly place what it was. Ned and Peter looked like they were both trying to say something without talking, and Annie was just so curious to know about what it was, but there was no way that she was just going to ask them.

            “Um… is anyone gonna start talking? I got dragged over here by your friend,” Tina said, breaking the silence.

            Ned forced a laugh, “She seems like the type to do that.”

            “Hey! Is this about the musical?” Annie asked, crossing her arms.

            Ned shrugged, “You’re just a little pushy, that’s all.”

            “I gave you the sheet music, you just gotta sing it,” Annie told him with a small huff.

            Ned pouted, “But ‘Singing in the Rain’? Really?”

            “It’s a classic!”

            “Classic is just a nice way of saying it’s older than shit.”

            “Well then you find audition songs.”

            Peter cleared his throat, “Um, I liked the song you picked for me.”

            Ned smirked, “That’s just because you li-”

            “It’s cool, I mean, forget Ned… it’s just cool,” Peter said.

            Tina laughed, nudging Annie, “So, what’s the song that’s so cool?”

            “Oh, it’s this one song from the Percy Jackson musical, it’s when Percy’s being all angsty, lots of belting and showy. It’s perfect for an audition, just edging on being known but probably left unused, but also current and relevant…” Annie trailed off as though she had just come to some kind of realization.

            “Yeah, something current… I’m kidding, I don’t mind either way,” Ned told her with a small chuckle.

            Annie nodded as she gave him a slight grin, “I know.”

            “Okay, good, I wouldn’t just let you get slaughtered by all those theater demons,” Ned replied.

            Peter coughed a bit, looking from Annie back to Ned, almost as if to say that Ned shouldn’t be so pessimistic about things. Though, it didn’t bug Annie much at all.

            “Not that you won’t do great, but-”

            “I get it. I’m still the new girl and I’m insane for trying so hard in the first place,” Annie said with a small shrug.

            Tina shook her head, starting to look a bit bored, “So what do you both do anyways?”

            “Oh, um, just normal stuff, you know,” Peter started.

            Ned nodded, “We built a lego Death Star almost a month ago, that was pretty cool.”

            Tina raised an eyebrow, “That’s normal?”

            “Well… no,” Peter admitted, looking down at the floor.

            Annie smiled a bit, patting Peter’s shoulder, “Maybe not, but it’s interesting, I mean, Star Wars is way cool.”

            “You think so?”

            “Yeah, is it here?” she asked.

            Peter quickly got up, “Yeah! It’s over here, I’d move it, but then I’d probably break it on accident and that would probably suck.”

            Annie got up to see the model as Tina and Ned gave knowing glances. If Annie had been paying attention, she would have seen how red Peter’s face had gotten when she had started talking to him. Though, she was too busy seeing how he looked when he was so excited. Seeing him with that light in his eyes as he talked was more than enough to distract from her family issues. It was like Peter was just a literal ball of happiness and sunshine and she couldn’t stop herself from being excited for him. His personality was just that infectious.

            “You had enough concentration for that?” she asked.

            Peter frowned, “Why do you sound so surprised? Did you think that I couldn’t do it?”

            “No, no, you just seem like the type to do a million things at once,” Annie explained, smirking a bit.

            Peter gave a nervous laugh, “No, that’s a you thing.”

            “Is not!”

            “Is too!”

            “Are you guys done making googly eyes at each other?” Tina asked, glancing at the pair.

            “I wasn’t making anything,” Annie insisted.

            Ned laughed, “Okay, sure, Jan.”

            Peter and Annie went and sat back down, neither of them saying anything. Though it did make her wonder about Peter. If, in a completely hypothetical scenario, he did like her, did she feel the same? It wasn’t like they were complete strangers. They were friends and he was easily the sweetest guy she knew. Not to mention how his sweet, puppy dog eyes had almost made her heart melt a moment ago. Maybe she did have feelings for him, but she didn’t want to be wrong. He was one of the only friends she had and she didn’t want to screw it up over something she thought that she felt. What if she only liked him so much because of how she so desperately wanted to be around someone who was happy? Then if she decided to be with him and she broke it off with him because she didn’t need that anymore, where would she be?

            “Okay, Tina, if you’re gonna be friends with us then you’ve gotta know your Hogwarts house. I just can’t believe you know this already,” Ned claimed.

            Tina looked at him, “Well, how do I figure that out?”

            “We find a test and give it to you,” Ned replied as though that were the obvious solution.

            Annie felt her phone vibrate in her back pocket, and she pulled it out. When she looked, she frowned once she saw it was her dad. It was just a simple Thanksgiving text. Nothing much, and normally that would have been enough for her. Now, knowing what her father had been doing while she was busy trying to be a hero, it would never be enough.

            For a few minutes, she did think about responding and what she could say. She could just pretend things were normal. Hell, she could decide that she wanted to tell him that she hated what he had done. There were too many options and none of them actually accomplished anything like what she wanted. The problem was that she didn’t even know what she wanted to say to him. Not over text, anyways.

            Pocketing her phone, Annie looked to see Tina taking a quiz on Ned’s phone. That left her and Peter there to sit awkwardly. She quickly realized she couldn’t be anything with Peter other than friends. It was one thing to hide her powers and being a superhero from a friend. If she were lying to Peter while they were even closer, she’d hate herself for it. Not to mention how intertwined they both were with him interning for Tony Stark, the same hero that Spider-Man worked with. It was already a matter of time before Peter put things together, and she would rather not dig a deeper hole for herself. If he found out while they were friends, she didn’t know what she would do, but if they had been dating and he found out, she worried there wouldn’t be any real excuse for keeping a secret like that.

            “Gryffindor! That’s like me!” Ned exclaimed.

            Tina nodded a little, “That’s the brave one, right?”

            “Yeah! And Peter’s a Hufflepuff, those are the loyal ones, and Annie’s a… well, what house are you?” Ned asked.

            Annie started to laugh, “Well, if you looked at my sweater, you’d see that I’m in Slytherin.”

            She moved her long, dark waves behind her shoulder to reveal the Slytherin patch on the black sweater. Another laugh came from her lips as she saw the looks Peter and Ned seemed to be giving her. Perhaps it wasn’t the best sweater to go with her outfit, but it had been a bit chilly and she had spent too much on the thing to not wear it whenever she pleased.

            “But you’re so nice!” Peter protested.

            Ned shrugged, “Actually, I can see it.”

            Annie squinted her brown eyes, “Are you trying to call me evil? Because Slytherin is actually for ambition.”

            “I guess that fits you,” Tina mused.

            Ned sighed, “That’s what I meant, come on, you haven’t even been here a month and you wanna be the lead in a musical.”

            “Ugh, thanks, Ned. At least someone really gets it,” Annie said, giving Peter a teasing grin.

            Peter held his hands up in mock surrender, “Okay, I stand corrected.”

            The four teens continued to talk and laugh about different things. It was enough to help Annie forget about the previous night. Just hanging out with friends like normal people did. Tina even seemed to have a small smile on her face. Any anxiety Peter had appeared to have, melted away. She noticed him talking more and his posture relaxing.

            Eventually, Aunt May knocked on the door to tell them that the food was ready. It seemed to be a great set up of foods with turkey, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, potato salad, yams, stuffing, and pumpkin pie. Everyone had what they wanted, some of the group getting seconds. Then there was Peter, grabbing fourths as they were all sitting in the living room.

            “Did your dad text or call?” Annie’s mom asked.

            Annie gave a small nod, “Yep.”

            “Did you say anything?” she questioned, taking a bite of pie.

            Annie nodded, her knee bobbing up and down as she swallowed the last of her pie, “Yeah, he’s doing alright. Maybe you should call him tonight.”

            That was a huge lie, but she didn’t want to say anything in front of her friends and their parents. Maybe telling her mom to call her dad had been the best dig that she could to get her mom for even asking in the first place. They didn’t need to know all of the problems that were going on in her life. Sure, she had known Peter and Ned for awhile, but she didn’t want to bother them. Then there was Tina who Annie wanted to help. Complaining about how shitty her father was wouldn’t help at all.

            The point was that Annie didn’t want to ruin how nice everything was. Still, that didn’t mean that the previous night wasn’t still etched into her mind. She was still thinking about it far too much.

            “Maybe all of us children should leave you adults alone to talk about adulty stuff,” Peter suggested, snapping Annie from her thoughts.

            Aunt May laughed a little, “Go on, I’m sure all out adult stuff is boring to you kids.”

            Peter and Ned got up, heading back to Peter’s room as Annie and Tina quickly followed. It was all Annie could do to not sigh in relief about not having to talk to her mom about her dad for just a little while longer. Why couldn’t her mother have asked after they were back home? Hell, how come no one even told her the real reason behind why they had moved in the first place? She knew her mind had wandered a bit too far when Ned moved her to the side a little so she wouldn’t walk into the doorway of Peter’s room.

            “Oh, thanks,” she mumbled sheepishly.

            Everything started simply enough, all of them complaining about their schools. Though Peter seemed to look concerned when Tina was saying more than Annie. She simply nodded along, occasionally saying something. However, she was too busy thinking, staring at the carpet to be much of a conversationalist.

            A dark brown hand waved in front of Annie’s eyes, “Hey, Earth to Annie,” Tina said.

            “Oh, sorry, I guess I just zoned out a little,” she said, tugging her sweater around herself.

            Peter frowned, “Are you cold? I have blankets or hoodies if you want.”

            “No, it’s fine, thanks though,” Annie replied.

            Ned shook his head, “Well, I’ve been thinking about not auditioning.”

            “Oh, well, it’s not like I could stop you,” Annie responded with a small shrug.

            Peter elbowed Ned, “He’s gonna audition, but what’s wrong?”

            “Nothing, seriously, I’m just a bit tired,” she claimed, looking at the others.

            “Seriously, you’re being less…” Tina trailed off.

            “Energetic?” Ned suggested.

            Annie sighed, “Really, I just didn’t get much sleep, I was talking to Harper all night.”

            “Okay, but you’re always tired, dude. You’re being more than tired,” Ned pointed out.

            “He’s right, but what did you talk to Harper about?” Tina asked.

            Annie shook her head, “Nothing, I don’t wanna ruin all of us hanging out.”

            Peter wrapped an arm around her shoulders, “You couldn’t do that, come on, you helped us meet Tina… not to mention you made a great potato salad.”

            “The only reason I’m even here is because my dad banged my tutor for two years, so of course my parents decide to uproot everything from Seattle without even asking if that's what I wanted,” Annie explained, her breathing starting to become uneven.

            Peter quickly got up, draping a blanket around Annie’s shoulders, “Hey, that’s not your fault.”

            “I-it’s not that. It’s that in a perfect world I’d still be there. A-and I’d rather be there, I mean, you guys are great and all, but-” she cut herself off when her voice broke.

            As tears started slipping from Annie’s dark brown eyes, Peter pulled her in for a hug. Ned joined in, and Tina had a comforting hand on Annie’s shoulder. Annie cried into the blanket to stifle the sounds of her crying.

            “Hey, of course you prefer Seattle, that’s your home. I’d wanna leave here too if I were you,” Peter told her.

            Annie wiped her tears on the blanket, a dark, wet spot forming from her crying, “I-I’m sorry, I kinda fucked this all up.”

            “No, you didn’t ruin anything. It’s better you have us now instead of being alone later,” Peter said.

            Tina nodded, “Exactly, and we all get like that, it’s not your fault.”

            “Thanks, but just let me be sorry, okay?” Annie replied, looking up at her three friends.

            Peter was about to counter her, but Tina and Ned gave him a look. No one said anything for awhile, letting Annie cry for the sake of getting her emotions out. While having her friends there to hold her and comfort her was nice, she still felt like she should have kept her mouth shut. If nothing else, the blanket smelled so much like Peter that it immediately confirmed any of the feelings she wondered about having for him.

            Getting to her room that night, Annie noticed another message from her father, reading, “We need to have a talk when I get back.” Quickly, she turned off her phone and turned out her light to go to sleep. Hopefully, Spider-Man wouldn’t question what she had been doing instead of helping to stop crime. Maybe he didn’t even miss her. Hell, maybe he wished that she’d stayed in Seattle too. Not that he had ever said it, but she had a feeling that he preferred being the only hero in the neighborhood. Though, that was for her to wonder when she wasn’t tired.

Chapter Text

            Saturdays were meant to be spent being White Swan while claiming to be hanging out with friends. They weren’t supposed to be for letting her father explain himself or justify his cheating. However, because he offered to take her to the matinee of Phantom of the Opera, she had been won over. Granted, she would be stuck hearing her dad’s side anyways, it would either be over a bribe or him cornering her while she was in the apartment with him. Ever since her mom said she told Annie why they really moved, her dad had been waiting to tell her more. All Annie wanted was to move on and forget about it all, that was the best way to get over the news that she never wanted to hear.

            Annie ate some chicken nuggets and looked over at her dad. Forcing her to sit and talk before the show was probably for the best. If he had waited until after, she would have booked it and called Peter or Ned, even MJ or Tina if she had to. Listening to her dad justify being the root of all the issues in their small family was not how Annie felt a lunch at McDonald’s should be spent either, but there were too many things going on that she didn’t have a say in that she didn’t have the motivation to cut her dad off.

            “I know what you’ve been expecting me to say,” Carter Hardwick started.

            Annie swallowed a chicken nugget, “You couldn’t possibly know, and even if you did, I’d bet I’m right.”

            “You know, you’re not as perceptive as you think. Before your mom said anything, did you know anything was wrong?” he asked, drinking the black coffee he bought for himself.

            Annie looked down, “I knew it was weird that Melanie quit tutoring me and that we moved.”

            “But you know what else? Why your mom and I didn’t divorce?” he asked.

            She shrugged, “Because me not having a broken home mattered more to mom than your need to tap it without wrapping it?”

            Her father’s forehead creased as he sighed, “Well, that factored into it… but do you remember your mother’s partner at the firm?”

            “Yeah, Jim, cool dude, what about him?” Annie prompted.

            “They were seeing each other as well, I suppose she left that out, didn’t she?” he questioned.

            Annie blinked, her grip tightening on the flimsy plastic cup her caramel frappe was in. Her dark eyes looked up to meet her dad’s. It had to be a lie. There was no way that both of her parents had been the bad guy in the relationship. Who was the victim supposed to be then? Could it be her even if she hadn’t known what was going on?

            It was silent while Annie took a few drinks of her overly sweet iced coffee. There wasn’t exactly a manufactured response or a pre-ingrained retort for her to deliver. She couldn’t just run away, there wasn’t someone she could run to and ask to help her ignore everything going on around her.

            All she could do was slowly nod, “Oh… she forgot that, I guess… well, anything else you wanted to say?”

            “Actually, yes, you know how you were adopted right?”

            “What does that have to do with anything?”

            He cleared his throat, “It’s the way you were adopted, well, the way you had been found.”

            “Now what the hell is that supposed to mean?” she spat.

            “Hey, I need you to calm down.”

            “Why should I? I was doing great back home and you move me here without hearing me out and I find out why we’re even here… and now you’re gonna distract me with my birth parents or some bullshit like that?”

            “You don’t know what you want and you don’t know the full story. Besides, acting isn’t sustainable, I’m doing what’s best for you. One day you’ll understand.”

            “But you’ve never asked what I wanted or even what I like. It’s like you don’t care about anything I work on.”

            “Now you’re being self-centered.”

            “Because fucking my tutor was such a selfless act, wasn’t it?”

            “You say that like your mother-”

            “I’m mad at her too, okay?! Just tell me about ‘how I was found’ or whatever because apparently that’s gonna be enough of a distraction for me to stop being pissed at you.”

            “You were found in a lab, being experimented on. You were a test tube baby. There, now you get that truth you were looking for,” her dad responded with a shrug.

            Annie’s jaw dropped, and her eyes widened as she quickly shook her head, “That’s gotta be some kind of messed up joke, Dad, seriously.”

            “Annika, it’s true. I don’t know what that means for you, but I felt like you needed to know,” he replied.

            She closed the box of remaining chicken nuggets, “Right, because you thought now was such a great time.”

            “Ann, I-”

            “Whatever, we’ll be late to the show. Let’s go.”

            It was difficult to know what to do with the new information. All of it was nearly too much for Annie. She couldn’t even bring herself to cry or say anything more. Her entire body seemed to numb itself on instinct, almost like it knew if she really took long enough to feel anything that she would end up breaking down in the middle of the McDonald’s that was only a few blocks away from the theatre she was going to. That show was the only thing keeping her anywhere near her dad. The tickets he had purchased last minute were nowhere near each other, and Annie knew that was for the best. Annie had no clue how she would have been able to sit next to her dad for two and a half hours straight after everything he had said. Especially when she had a feeling that she was going to crack and end up crying eventually.

            The theatre was nearly packed, and Annie sat in the seat that was printed on her ticket which was nice and far away from her dad. He wasn’t someone she was sure she could ever manage to talk to again. Sure, he wasn’t the only guilty one out of her parents, but he was also the one who never bothered to see why she enjoyed the things that she did. It felt like he would never notice what she liked unless it was something she liked. When it came to classic novels, they were fine, but the minute Annie admitted that the only reason she was about to start War and Peace was because of the musical made based on it, the conversation would run dry.

            What she needed was a chance to process everything. Though, it seemed like there wasn’t enough time for that. Even in a room full of patrons, all she could think about what how different she was from everyone. Sure, she was dressed somewhat nicely in a floral dress and a grey cardigan, making her seem just as normal as the other people there. However, no one else she knew of was an abandoned science project.

            Watching the musical, Annie came to multiple realizations. They ranged from the obvious like how she would kill to be Christine when she was old enough to truly make something out of herself. When she would be able to spend all of her time acting instead of having to wait for a class or rehearsals for some after school production. Then there were the less clear realizations like how Annie could only relate to Erik, the phantom. No one else was like him, he had abilities that no one else was able to compare to, and he seemed to be just as lonely as she felt. At least, that was what she gathered by the end of the first act.

            Tears were in her eyes as intermission started, but at least that wasn’t completely frowned upon. She quickly wiped under her eyes, attempting to keep her eyeliner and mascara from smudging. Whether she succeeded or not was to be determined because she couldn’t see her reflection all that well from the phone screen in the dimly lit seats. That wasn’t why she was turning her phone on, though. Her dad had to be kidding himself if he thought she was going to go home with him. No, she was going to call someone to walk back with her, so she first messaged Peter.

            Pete, can you do me the biggest favor of all time?????? -Annie

            Yeah, what do you need? -Peter

            Meet me on Broadway in an hourish????? It’s kinda important and kinda a long story and I don’t have time to tell it all rn -Annie

            I’ve got the internship, I’m so sorry -Peter

            It’s cool, see ya later then -Annie

            There wasn’t long left in the intermission, and Annie needed to get someone to help her. She scrolled through her contacts, pression on Ned’s name.

            Hey are you doing anything??????? -Annie

            Not really, what’s up??? -Ned

            Could you meet me on Broadway soon, like an hour? If not it’s cool, but yeahhhh…. -Annie

            Yeah! I’ll be there, everything okay? -Ned

            It’s a long story, but I’m fine -Annie

            Okie dokie! I’ll be there dude -Ned

            The house lights started to dim down and Annie turned off her phone again as the second act began. She watched as all of the brightly colored costumes crossed the stage for the first song. While she had seen the musical before, it was never while she was in the audience. Seeing the dancing almost made her forget everything going on.

            Forgetting everything was for the best, she didn’t want to have a complete mental breakdown on Ned when he came by. That would only leave her feeling terrible and probably leave Ned feeling as confused as ever. So instead she tried to focus on the musical, only the musical. Though, that wasn’t much better of an option as the plot continued.

            What was worse was that Annie knew exactly what happened, she knew that Christine was going to have to face Erik again and that Raoul was going to try and save Christine. Despite knowing all of that, Annie still felt tears falling down her face. Whether it was because of her dad or because of everything happening in the show, she wasn’t completely sure. Either way, Annie was positive that her makeup was smudged all over her eyes, but she didn’t make a move to wipe her eyes. Not when it was only halfway through the second act.

            It was seeing Erik proposing to Christine that truly made Annie start crying. She knew that Christine would reject him and that he would kidnap her, and that Raoul would just run off to save Christine. By all rights she shouldn’t have been connecting with Erik so much. She was a soprano who just wanted to get by and perform but got thrown into situations from being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

            Still, hearing Erik’s singing about how lonely he had been all those years felt much more relatable. No one else was different in the same way she was. Though, she wasn’t a murderer, at least, she didn’t think so. Maybe the only reason she hadn’t cracked all the way was because no one rejected her for her powers. Then again, only one person knew she had powers and they lived across the country.

            By the time the show finished, Annie’s eyes were irritated from her sweater rubbing tears away from them. She quickly filed out of the theatre with almost everyone else hoping that if she left quickly enough that her dad wouldn’t catch her. He didn’t see her, or he did and chose to not talk to her. Either way, Annie ran a hand through her dark curls as she made her way back outside to the chilly December air.

            Maybe a dress hadn’t been the best idea, but there were so many emotions coursing through Annie that she hardly noticed how cold it had gotten. It took a bit of walking around on the street to finally see Ned, and she rushed right over to him. She didn’t want to be around a crowd of strangers for longer than she had to.

            “There you are! I was gonna call you if I didn’t see you soon,” Ned told Annie, hugging her.

            Annie gave a small shrug, “I was watching a musical and-”

            “Is that why you’ve got that raccoon-eyes look going on?” he asked.

            Annie sighed, “It’s a sad musical okay? I mean, no one super important dies, but it’s just… it’s emotional, ya know?”

            “Yeah, and because of this, we’re getting you some chocolate or something. Do you wanna talk about why you’re here alone, though?” Ned questioned, starting to walk towards Times Square.

            Annie shook her head a little, “Not really, it’s just more family drama that was also a bribe that I was dumb enough to take.”

            “Meaning?”

            “Meaning my dad wanted to clear his name by taking me to McDonald’s and Phantom of the Opera.”

            “Are you gonna tell me what he said?”

            “Probably not, it’s kind of a lot.”

            Ned nodded a little, “Got it, we’ll just get some chocolate and take the subway home and we can talk about literally anything else.”

            “That sounds like a fucking plan, Ned, let’s go!” Annie replied, a small smile on her face.

            They continued walking in a comfortable silence, but Ned must have noticed the expression on her face change as she started to think again. He cleared his throat a little and nudged her, nodding at all of the terribly done costumes pretending to be Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck.

            “Fucking hell, Ned, those are so creepy, I’m out,” Annie said, pulling Ned away by the wrist.

            Annie pushed past a few people who were trying to hand her and Ned CDs and other different items. The area was just so crowded, and Annie felt her legs getting cold as she led the way into the Hershey’s store. While that store was crowded too, there was at least chocolate and a heater making the experience bearable.

            “Alright, you can get anything, it’s on me, dude,” Ned said.

            Annie shook her head firmly, “No, that’s not okay, you don’t have much money. Besides, weren’t you saving up for a Lego Sandcrawler thing?”

            “That’s not important, you’re not doing too well-”

            “I’m fine. My family just sucks,” Annie insisted.

            Ned shrugged, “Not doing too well, bad family life, same difference. I’m getting you something and you’re picking.”

            “But that model-”

            “I can keep saving up for it later, right now, you need the emotional support that only chocolate can give.”

            It didn’t matter how much Annie protested, Ned continued to insist as he picked up a package of mini cookie crunch bars for himself. Though, Annie really didn’t think he needed to pay, Ned felt that it was the least he could do. Whereas Annie was starting to feel like she owed him for getting from Queens to Manhattan right when she asked.

            Ned sighed a bit, “Come on, I’m insisting. You know you’d do the same thing for me.”

            “Maybe… maybe I wouldn’t,” Annie countered as she picked up a bag of fun sized Almond Joys

            He shook his head, “You would, I mean, you’d say that you wouldn’t, but then you would anyways.”

            By the time Annie thought of something else to say, Ned had taken the bag to pay for everything. She didn’t even have a chance to protest again because he was paying. Though, being around someone else was enough to make her feel normal for a little bit. Especially as they walked back to the subway station to get back to Queens.

            They talked about little things until there was another quiet between Ned and Annie. The two teens sat next to each other on the subway, eating their candy. People poured in and left as they went to different places as they waited to get through the Queens Midtown Tunnel. It had taken a little effort to get in fast enough so they both had seats, but Annie was quick enough for both of them.

            “So, you saw that musical… was it any good?” Ned asked.

            Annie gave a small nod, “Yeah, it was great actually. Phantom’s always been one of my favorite musicals. Right up there with The Great Comet, but that got taken off Broadway before I even moved here. Which is a shame because it had a lovely soundtrack… on the bright side, it means I can use one of the songs from it for my audition. But I would rather get to see it… sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself.”

            “No, you’re fine. I think it’s really cool you know all that stuff. I know Peter thinks the same thing, I’m sure Tina does too. You’ve got your ‘thing’, ya know?”

            “My ‘thing’?”

            “Yeah, like Peter and me are great at science and MJ is always reading and writing… you’re good with theater stuff. You really shouldn’t be at a science school, though,” Ned pointed out.

            Annie laughed a bit, “Oh, you don’t need to tell me twice, my dad was the one who pulled that. There’s who knows how many great performing arts schools here, I could get mentored by someone, dammit, but he suddenly decided I needed to be more practical. As if he has any room to talk.”

            “That’s a shame… but seriously, I’m not sure if you’ll do great at the audition, favorites and stuff, ya know? But if anyone were gonna pull off getting the lead role after being here for a month, it’d be you,” Ned told her, smiling a bit.

            Annie smiled back, “You know what? That’s the best thing anyone’s told me in ages, thanks, Ned.”

            When the subway finally stopped at the right place, Ned walked Annie back to her apartment. They stopped talking about anything remotely serious, instead talking about the new Star Wars movie coming out in about a week. There were so many theories they were going over. If there wasn’t much reason to be excited for Christmas, Annie had plenty of reasons to be excited for Star Wars, even if she probably wouldn’t get to see it right away.

            That evening, Annie finally got the chance to suit up and she wasn’t taking crap from any petty criminals. It was pretty normal for her to go all out with her powers when she was busy being royally pissed off. She wasn’t over her parents both turning out to be terrible. Not to mention how pointless everything felt.

            All she could do was exert the energy out through using just a bit too much of her powers. While it left her a bit short of breath, Annie was able to really feel something when she felt energy coursing through her. She was breathing quickly as she shoved back a man so he was thrown nearly three blocks away.

            “Jeez, Swan, I’d hate to see what that guy looks like,” commented an all too familiar voice.

            Annie turned around, fighting to roll her eyes, “He was trying to mug an old lady, he probably deserved it anyways.”

            “Not to say I disagree, but have you ever thought of a more pacifist approach?” Spider-Man asked, jumping down into the alleyway Annie stood in.

            Annie shrugged, “Maybe I’ve considered it, and maybe that doesn’t interest me too much. Anyways, we don’t work together again until Monday, what’re you following me around for?”

            “Your powers just keep sending all these shockwaves around the city. I-I mean, normal people can’t tell, but I kinda can. You know, senses dialed to eleven and all,” he told her, his hands behind his back.

            Annie nodded, “Yeah, so I’m working a bit more today than normal, is that really such a bad thing?”

            “Well, if you’re hurting people, then it kind of is a bad thing,” Spider-Man pointed out, leaning against the wall.

            “They’re bad people, Spidey, they did shitty things and I’m stopping them.”

            “But there’s more than one way to do it.”

            “I don’t need your moral compass today.”

            “I feel like you do.”

            Annie huffed, starting to walk away. The only reason she didn’t say anything was because she knew he had a point. At the same time, why should she even care about anything else? It felt like there just wasn’t any point in her trying to save people.

            As she walked further, Annie noticed Spider-Man following her and she tugged the white hood of her suit more as she looked up at him. It was almost as if he was trying to be obvious. When she saw him give a little wave, she knew that he was doing this on purpose.

            “You should give me a lift!” Annie called out.

            Spider-Man nodded, jumping down again, having an arm around Annie as he webbed the top of the building. They made it to the top and Spider-Man patted the spot next to him on the ledge for Annie to sit next to him. She sat, seeing her silver leggings and black combat boots dangling from the ledge, cars driving back and forth beneath her feet.

            It was already pretty dark because of how close to winter it was getting. The weather was cold enough that Annie had a couple shirts beneath her hoodie in an attempt to make sure she wouldn’t freeze to death. Though with the combination of emotions she felt starting to cancel each other out, Annie couldn’t bring herself to feel much at all.

            Sometimes that happened on its own, where after going a million miles a minute Annie would simply stop and it felt like there was nothing. Those were the times when it felt like nothing could touch her and she was invincible. Even with Spider-Man next to her, the one person who could ever come close to understanding her, she felt like there was no one else in the world.

            “Um… I don’t really like it when things get quiet. I-I’m sorry if I’m interrupting your thinking, but seeing you fight like that… w-well it worries me,” he started.

            Annie looked at the masked hero, “Hey, hey, you don’t need to worry about me. I’m just a little pissy today.”

            “Then explain you leaving for a few days with no warning. Y-you leave for a few days and come back. If you need to talk-”

            Annie frowned, “I don’t wanna talk about it. It doesn’t fix everything happening in my life. I just… stuff happens and I can’t sneak out or I can’t get myself to because I know I’ll be a liability.”

            “What’s that supposed to mean?” he asked, his eyes squinting.

            She shrugged, “Like, when I get told something, or things go wrong I’m not gonna be any help. I mean, I get in the way a lot already, I’m sure-”

            “You don’t. Maybe we don’t agree on everything, but it beats being the only hero wandering around. Come on, think about it. There’s two million people in Queens, right?”

            “Yeah, your point being?”

            “Well, we each get a million people. Then less bad things can happen. I mean, one million’s a huge number, that’s more than enough for both of us.”

            Annie breathed out, seeing her breath fog in front of her, “Hypothetically, yeah, that works… but not all of us have Iron Man supplying us.”

            “Well maybe that could change. Maybe we could work together for more things! Come on, we understand each other in a way no one else could.”

            “I don’t know about right now, but maybe someday. After we finish everything with Tina, we could think about that.”

            Getting back into her apartment, Annie found herself feeling just as numb as she had felt since her dad told her everything. Though, she did feel like she could get through it one way or another. Things weren’t completely bleak, she wasn’t entirely alone. Still, she didn’t want to talk about what had her thinking far too much.

            Just as she was about to turn off her light to go to bed, Annie’s phone went off. Peter was calling her, and why he was calling her when it was almost midnight she had no clue. Still, she picked it up.

            “Hey?” Annie answered.

            “Hi… I um… I’m sorry I couldn’t help you.”

            “Don’t worry about it, Ned helped me. Why’re you calling so late? Not that I mind, just, you should be sleeping.”

            Peter gave a nervous laugh, “I could ask you the same thing, but I had a question. How would you like to see The Last Jedi with me and Ned on Thursday night?”

            “Wait, like, the premiere?” Annie questioned.

            “Yeah, it’d be kinda late, but would you like to? Mr. Stark gave me three tickets and you said something about liking that type of thing, so I thought you’d like that and-”

            “Pete, I’d love to!”

            “What about your parents? Are they gonna be okay with it?”

            “They can go fuck themselves. If they won’t let me I’ll sneak out,” Annie told him.

            The conversation didn’t grow much from there, both of them sounding as tired as ever. She could hardly believe that he’d asked her. If she hadn’t been so conflicted, she would have felt like it was close to a date. Except it wasn’t, Ned was going to be there. They were all just friends.

                Annie was being silly, there was no way Peter could like her like that. Especially if she ever told him the things her dad had told her. And after seeing what lying did to her parents, she didn’t want to be in a relationship if Peter didn’t know she was a superhero, and she didn’t want him knowing. Though, being friends wasn’t too bad either. She still got to see Peter smile his dorky smile and geek out over nearly everything. Things were going to get better eventually.

Chapter Text

            Days came and went, passing Annie by to the point that she could hardly comprehend that it was already Thursday. Somehow, the minutes had turned into hours which melted into days, and she hadn’t been aware of it. With how slowly she seemed to do things while she was out living the somewhat normal portion of her life, it felt like it should have been Monday. At least, if she could get herself to feel anything.

            Ever since she found out just how she had been made, Annie felt like someone had thrown her into a lake with a brick tied to her ankle. No matter how hard she tried to get to the surface, it was always just a bit out of reach. It wasn’t noticeable to anyone else except herself. She couldn’t truly get to anything, as though nothing were real or everything was just out of her reach. Though, she kept on as she always had, but it was impossible to hide just how off she was after almost a week.

            “I don’t think she’s turned a page this whole time,” Peter commented as Annie looked up.

            Her eyes looked up from the John Green book she had been trying to read, “I’m just a bit tired, not deaf.”

            “Yeah, but you’ve been tired all week, how’re you gonna stay awake for the movie tonight if you can’t even get through lunch?” Ned pointed out.

            Blaming the sluggishness on being tired was simple enough. The only person who had any idea of the truth was Tina, and that was only because Annie was positive the experiments gave her the powers she had. She hadn’t mentioned it to Harper just yet. Mainly because Annie wasn’t ready to think about the questions that swirled about in her mind on the subject.

            “Okay, what’s your point? Also, I can totally watch Star Wars tonight,” Annie responded, stealing a couple chips from the family sized bag in the middle of their lunch table.

            Ned gave a small laugh, “Well, we were actually talking about tonight. And Christmas.”

            “Oh, shit! I need to get you both things, don’t I?” she said, running a hand through her thick, long hair.

            Ned shook his head, “Nah, don’t worry, we have no clue what to get you.”

            “Oh, I kinda just want a cat… not that I expect you guys to get me one,” Annie told them, closing her book.

            Peter blinked, “Really, that’s it?”

            “Yeah, it’d be nice, but if I don’t get one that’s cool too, like a stuffed cat would work… anyways, one day at a time. What’s the deal with tonight?” she asked, changing the subject.

            “How about the bakery for some food and coffee?” Ned suggested.

            Annie nodded, “I like the way you think, we can talk and theorize and stuff.”

            “Okay, sounds great, except coffee’s disgusting,” Peter quipped, looking at the other two.

            Ned smirked, “Then you can get your flowery green tea lattes or whatever it is you’re into these days.”

            The bell rang, causing the trio to leave for their classes. Annie coasted through her theater class, hiding out in a practice room. Everyone in the class was required to audition for the musical as a grade, so that was what the students were supposed to be working on. In reality, half of them were claiming to be working together in the hall when they gossiped about everything going on in the school. Though, Annie had normally been driven to work on her audition with the teacher while also asking for private practice.

            However, this class was different from the others because she was taking a nap on the tackily-patterned carpet next to the piano. She could barely get herself to sleep during the night. The audition was less than a week away, and looking at her sheet music caused her stomach to tie into knots.

            Even thinking about having to sing on that auditorium stage was enough to make Annie want to throw her sheet music across the room. Her palms couldn’t stop sweating as she imagined auditioning in front of the theatre and choir teachers. If she couldn’t get her parents to back her up when she practiced at home, then who was really backing her up? Not that Annie felt like she could take her parents seriously anymore. Nevertheless, who was she supposed to trust or look up to?

            Tears welled in her dark eyes, but she blinked them back, hearing someone knock on the door to tell her class was nearly over. Everything was caving in on her, and if she hadn’t been able to control her emotions, she would have broken down days ago. It was almost like she was playing a game of chicken with her own feelings. She won if she got as close as she could with vaguely explaining everything that happened without crying. Though, if she blurted everything out then she would lose.

            It wasn’t like she had anyone she could tell anyways. Sure, Harper was just a phone call away, but what could they do? Comforting someone two thousand miles away was easier said than done. Tina already knew the basics, but Annie already claimed none of it bothered her. After all, Tina couldn’t help out much either. They didn’t even go to school together. Michelle could have been an option, but Annie didn’t feel they were close enough for her to rattle off her problems. Then there was Ned who had already helped her. She couldn’t ask him to solve her issues when he’d already made a thirty minute trip to help her get away from her dad.

            That left Peter, and there was no way she could go to him with her problems. While, yes, he never seemed to judge her before, that could easily change. Her image could change by telling anyone, but for some reason, Peter’s opinion mattered the most. Although, if she had bothered to pay attention, Annie would have noticed Peter constantly glancing at her. Hell, she would have heard all of what Peter and Ned had whispered about her in the middle of their shared classes.

            When school had ended and Annie had left to put on her suit, she didn’t remember, but she was walking right between a gang and some small blonde girl. The girl couldn’t have been older than fourteen, why these men felt a need to harass someone like that, Annie had no clue. The men were tall and muscular, much different from Annie’s shorter and somewhat thin frame, but they didn’t have powers. There were a million different ways things could go wrong, but Annie didn’t think about it. Instead, she created a barrier around herself to protect both the girl and herself. If they shot at her or through anything, the energy would catch it.

            “The hell are you doing?” A man in a ski mask demanded.

            Annie shrugged, “I don’t know, keeping you from hurting this girl?”

            “Oh we just wanted to have some fun, come on,” another guy pouted.

            Her eyes narrowed, and looking at the small blonde girl Annie stood in front of, she thought about Tina. There wasn’t anything she could say, and all she could hear over the sounds of the city traffic was her own heartbeat. Outside the dingy alleyway, there was a whole world of electricity, and Annie could feel it at her fingertips. Her powers were the only thing that she could feel so vibrantly. Going around the shield she made, Annie shot out electric sparks at the men, hoping to get them to just run away.

            Suddenly everything seemed to blur together as Annie felt bullets hit into the shield, nearly knocking her back. The girl got up and ran off, but she stopped her from being shot at. No one was getting shot, but Annie couldn’t up the electricity she was giving without causing too much harm. That was when she heard the all too familiar thwip of a webshooter.

            Spider-Man came down right between Annie and the men. Her pulse quickened as she moved the energy to protect Spider-Man along with herself. All of the energy in the city was practically limitless, so her barrier blocked a couple more bullets as the other hero webbed the men to a dumpster and the wall.

            “Miss me?” he asked, and Annie could have sworn he was smirking under that mask.

            Annie shot a glare at him, “What the fuck was that?! You could’ve gotten shot!”

            “Well, I knew you’d protect me,” Spider-Man replied with a small shrug as they walked away, hearing police sirens in the distance.

            She sighed a little, “But I was doing this myself. I actually had it I-”

            “If you did much more, you would’ve started an electrical fire.”

            “And it wouldn’t have gotten that far!”

            “Sure, Jan. You didn’t see just how much energy you were using.”

            “No one got hurt.”

            “Because I was there. But seriously, you’ve been like this for days, what’s wrong?” asked the masked vigilante.

            Annie sighed, leaning against a lamppost, “Nothing’s wrong, I’m just a bit pissy, that’s it.”

            “You’ve said that every day for almost a week. Swan, you can talk to me,” he told her, moving almost like he was going to hug her.

            She shook her head, stepping back a bit, “We… I shouldn’t be telling you all my personal shit. We wanted to keep those things separate right?”

            “Sure, that was before you got like this. We should talk if it would help you, and you need help,” he replied, stepping up to her again.

            Annie frowned, looking at the ground, “Spidey… I’m not gonna talk to you about it, but I’ll talk to someone, okay?”

            “Do you mean that?”

            “I wouldn’t just lie to you.”

            “Okay, I’m trusting you here,” he paused, looking at the clock on a building, “Shit, I gotta run, see you around!”

            Before Annie could even say anything, Spider-Man was already webbing away. She took a look at the clock, seeing there was still another half hour before Annie needed to get to the bakery. It was a good idea to run home and tell her parents she was leaving. Whether or not they would let her was another thing in and of itself. Still, Annie was going to make it one way or another.

            Using the trick Spider-Man had been so convinced she could do, Annie rushed up the side of a building and glided off of it. Maybe that hero knew what he was talking about, but Annie didn’t want to get too close for him. Mainly because that would lead to both of them figuring out each other’s identities. From there, both of them were a petty argument away from revealing their secret identities to the world. Well, maybe Spider-Man wouldn’t do that to her, but she wasn’t too sure. Annie didn’t put the idea past herself, she could see herself doing that depending on what happened.

            It didn’t take long to get back to her bedroom, sliding into the bedroom. Her room was freezing from being open while it was so cold, and closing the window did nothing to fix it. Quickly, she changed back into the regular clothes she had on earlier that day. She had fifteen minutes left to get to the bakery and she didn’t want to keep Peter and Ned waiting. They were the two people keeping her from shutting down.

            Annie tried the bold approach, simply walking out of the apartment, throwing her old letterman jacket on. A purple, silver, and black jacket with theatre and dancing patched across the back. She’d gotten it at the end of her freshman year, just after she had played a minor character in the spring production. The jacket smelled like rain and coffee, it reminded her of Seattle and she had her hand on the door handle before she finally heard someone.

            “Just where do you think you’re going?” her mother asked.

            Annie turned back and shrugged, “Out, with friends. I can’t keep them waiting.”

            “You’re leaving now? We have dinner ready,” she replied.

            Annie shrugged again, “Well, I guess it’s just you and dad. I guess you guys actually have to talk to each other. I’ve heard that solves problems between people.”

            “Don’t give me this attitude, get into the dining room and tell your friends you can’t go out,” her mother insisted, crossing her arms.

            Annie suppressed the urge to roll her eyes, “I’d rather be with them than with you and Dad, pretending like nothing’s wrong when there’s so much tension everytime I’m in a room with you two.”

            “You take that back,” her mother snapped.

            Annie turned the doorknob, “I will if you let me go… actually, I’m leaving either way. Later.”

            She opened the door and left as fast as she could, practically sprinting down the stairs for a few flights. Then she took an elevator, certain that her parents weren’t going to follow her all the way down. Besides, Annie knew that this wasn’t going to be the last time she used her parents’ clearly crumbling relationship to get what she wanted. Was that such a terrible thing? Perhaps, but they should have thought that through before lying to Annie for far too long.

            Before she knew it, her legs had carried her down the dark streets to the bakery. Walking alone like that was a bit on the dangerous side, but she didn’t want to tell Peter or Ned that she didn’t want to walk on her own. She had a feeling that she had been dragging their trio down more than anything else, but she wasn’t about to say anything.

            “You made it!” Ned greeted with a big grin once Annie walked in.

            Annie forced a laugh, “I’m two minutes early.”

            “Well… you said you’d sneak out if you had to. I figured that takes time,” Ned replied with a shrug, “Peter’s always late, so I got him his drink already.”

            Annie nodded, “Yeah… I didn’t do much sneaking out, but my parents… well, I don’t really care about what they’ve got to say.”

            The bell jingled as Peter walked in, “Care about what who’s got to say?”

            “Oh, nothing, the point is… well, I don’t know,” Annie said before ordering her coffee.

            Talking with Peter and Ned helped her to feel normal, but Annie still felt like she was just an arm’s length away from reaching the surface. Just because she’d told Spider-Man she’d talk to someone didn’t mean she had to, did it? She still wasn’t sure of who she could talk to. How could she explain just how blurry and heavy everything felt. Annie kept up with her friends, talking and even making a couple jokes herself.

            The bakery was going to close soon enough, and the three friends decided to leave, their drinks keeping their hands warm. Looking up at the sky that was lit up from the street lamps and lights from the rest of the city, there were so many clouds that Annie couldn’t make out the brightest star. She found her steps getting shorter and falling behind.

            Peter quickly grabbed Annie’s wrist, “Hey, we don’t need to lose you in the middle of the city while it’s dark.”

            “I could handle myself,” Annie replied, drinking her coffee.

            Ned shook his head, “Neither of you could handle yourselves. I, on the other hand, obviously would.”

            Peter seemed to look at Annie suspiciously before shaking his head a little. Though, she was now wedged between Peter and Ned who were making sure that she didn’t end up behind them again. It left her feeling warm, knowing that Peter and Ned both seemed to care about her.

            Making it to the theater, Ned had already finished his drink and laughed at Annie and Peter, “You guys have to throw away your drinks.”

            “Actually, Peter, give me that in a sec,” Annie messed around with the lining of her jacket, haphazardly sticking her drink and then Peter’s into the lining, “We’re gonna be fine.”

            The drinks were kept in place by her hand against the drinks, keeping them lined with her side, “And, Peter, if this spills, you can just help my dry clean this for Christmas.”
            “That’s not even a letterman from our school,” Ned noticed.

            Annie nodded, “Yeah, it’s mine from Seattle, are you surprised?”

            “No, he’s not… it’s just… you look, well, you look cool,” Peter quickly interrupted before going up and getting the tickets.

            There wasn’t much talking as they went to the theatre, Annie handing Peter his drink and taking hers out of her jacket. Peter called sitting between Ned and Annie, claiming that he got to be between them because he was the reason they had tickets in the first place. Though, Annie felt her face grow a bit red at the thought of sitting next to only Peter for the movie. No one could tell, though, the room was too dark for that.

            Once the movie started, none of them were saying anything. While Annie couldn’t see how Ned was reacting, she could see how Peter watched the movie. Even then, Annie didn’t pay much attention to him either. That was until not too far into the movie Princess Leia had been sucked out into space and she felt herself gripping onto a hand. For a second she looked to the side, wondering if Peter was even noticing.

            Though, he must have because later on Peter was tightly holding her hand later on when Snoke’s head was cut off. When the sound cut out after the ships crashed into each other, forget it. Annie had no clue who was holding on tighter. That was without mentioning how much Annie was crying because she was more than willing to use everything going on in the movie as a perfectly good excuse to cry. Especially when Finn had nearly died.

            She wasn’t sure how she hadn’t wrenched Peter’s hand off when Luke died, but then she had to let go because of how hard she was crying. By the end of the movie, Annie knew that her mascara was probably smeared all over her face. Yes, she was emotional because of the movie, but it had been impossible for her to get to any kind of surface for a week and she just felt like the tiniest part of her was getting through.

            “Jeez, what did you do to her, Pete?” Ned asked, barely hiding laughter at seeing Annie wiping her tears.

            Peter shook his head, “I-I didn’t do anything, I mean… I don’t know what you’re talking about, I-I wasn’t…”

            “Luke died! What the fuck kind of bullshit was that?!” Annie exclaimed as people moved to leave the theatre.

            Ned shrugged, “I mean, it had to happen… I thought Leia was toast though.”

            “I-I just can’t believe they killed off Snoke, that was insane,” Peter said, starting to stand up.

            Ned sighed, “Yeah, yeah, but Finn and Poe had almost no screen time together, that was totally uncalled for!”

            Annie followed the other two, though she was still thinking about Peter holding her hand for most of the movie. What if he hadn’t noticed, or what if that didn’t mean much? She shook off the thought and checked her phone to see what time it was, it was nearly midnight. The air outside the building was freezing and nearly hurt to breathe in.

            Peter’s teeth were chattering as they started to head towards Ned’s house, and Annie saw just how cold he looked despite being in a hoodie with a sweater underneath which had another shirt beneath that. It concerned her a bit, knowing he’d offered to walk both her and Ned back. The December air was pretty unforgiving, Annie feeling a bit of chill through her jacket and hoodie.

            There wasn’t much she said, and she listened as Peter and Ned continued talking, it was starting to feel soothing for her. She kept up with them because Peter was walking so slow from being so cold. Making it to Ned’s place, they said goodbye before Ned ran into his building.

            Peter and Annie didn’t say anything for a little while, but then Annie took off her old letterman and draped it over Peter’s shoulders.

            “No, I-I don’t need this,” he said, shivering.

            Annie rolled her eyes, “You’re freezing, just take it.”

            Peter sighed, putting his arms through the sleeves as they continued walking. They walked rather slowly despite how cold it was. Annie would never admit that she was starting to shiver herself, she knew Peter would give her the jacket back.

            Almost a block away from her apartment building, Peter paused under a light, “Okay, this is really forward but… I’m worried about you, Annie.”

            “I-I don’t know what you’re-” she was stopped.

            “You’ve been so tired, but it’s not even like you’re not sleeping enough. Besides, I don’t think I’ve seen anyone cry so much at a Star Wars movie,” Peter told her.

            Annie paused for a moment before shaking her head, “I-it’s not… we’re not… I don’t think you’d think of me the same way.”

            “I doubt that, but there’s only one way to know that,” Peter pointed out, his brown eyes looking at hers.

            She broke the eye contact, looking at the cement, “W-well, I guess I should start with how I found out my mom was cheating on my dad, yeah…”

            “That’s not it and you know it,” Peter replied, holding onto her arms, “Come on, we’re friends, right?”

            “I’m Erik,” Annie blurted out.

            Peter’s eyes squinted in confusion, “Wait… what?”

            “Erik, like the phantom, you know, the guy with the mask who’s forced to hide in the dungeons because he’s too different,” she replied, her words leaving her moth faster and faster.

            Peter shook his head, “You’re not a killer, and you don’t have a grotesque face… I’m confused.”

            “Well, I can’t be Christine, she’s always pulled into situations and end up doing the right thing. Then I’m definitely not brave enough to be Raoul, so that leaves Erik,” she explained.

            Peter frowned, “I feel like you’re more of a Christine… but are you gonna actually explain this?”

            Annie bit her lip, “I-I mean, yeah, of course… I’ve always known I was adopted, and my dad and I were arguing and… well, he told me I was a test tube baby. It’s like I’m not even real, you know? And Erik’s treated like he’s not a real person, so maybe I’m just like that,” she replied, her voice cracking.

            Peter quickly pulled her into a tight hug, “Hey, hey, you’re real. You know that? Come on, I’m hugging you right now, right?”

            “I-it’s not that, but… if I wasn’t made, you know, normally… can I even feel emotions? D-do I even have real thoughts? What if I’m just manufactured?” Annie felt tears streaming down her face as she buried her face in the rough wool of the letterman he wore.

            Peter squeezed her a bit before pulling a back so he could see her face, wiping the tears from her eyes, “Did you feel like that before you found out?”

            “No but-”

            Peter looked at her, his chocolate brown eyes staring into her russet ones, “Then you’re still the same person you were before you found out. You’re still the same person who forgot how to get to her apartment a month ago and still the same girl who’s making her two best friends audition for a musical. What happened before you were born isn’t your fault.”

            “Y-you think that?”

            “Of course,” Peter looked into her eyes.

            Annie could feel her heart melting and she could feel herself finally getting to the surface. He was so close to her that she could feel his breath hot on her face. They stared at each other, and just when Annie felt herself about to tiptoe up, her phone went off.

            “Shit, I-I need to get home. I didn’t sneak out, but what I did wasn’t much better,” Annie said, starting to rush across the street, Peter just behind her.

            Peter laughed a bit, “Yeah? Well, I should give you your jacket back.”

            Annie shook her head as they were stopped in front of her apartment building, “No, you were cold.”

            “But, Ann, I can’t just-”

            “Keep it, it suits you,” Annie said, entering her building before Peter could say anything else.

Chapter Text

            The annoying tone of Annie’s alarm went off, causing her to jolt awake as she checked her phone. Looking at the date, her heart nearly jumped from her chest. It had suddenly become Wednesday, the last day of school before winter break, and the same day she was going to audition. A black polka dot dress hung on her doorknob, something that both she and Harper had agreed on when Annie called the previous night, freaking out over the audition.

            Though, she should have gotten more sleep rather than worrying about if she was going to be able to belt out her high notes properly without her voice giving out and cracking on her, Annie simply couldn’t help herself. When it came to theater, she had far too much to prove. She had simply practiced too much and too hard to fall short in the fashion department. So despite the cold wind that Annie could see blowing snow around when she looked down from her window, she still pulled on the dress. If she wanted to be Maria, she needed to look the part.

            Her dad had already left, Annie could tell from how the coffee was made, but the pot was half empty. The shower could be heard in the background as she shoved the homework she’d managed to slog over the previous night into her bag. She scarfed down a bagel before looking at the time and pulling on a jacket, leaving the apartment.

            “Why’re you wearing a dress? It’s freezing!” Ned exclaimed as he, Annie, and Peter got off the subway.

            Annie gave a small shrug, “Why aren’t you wearing a dress, hm?”

            “Because I’m not crazy, there’s snow outside,” Ned replied, holding onto one of the straps on the ceiling.

            Annie held onto Ned’s backpack, “Okay, fine… I wanna look good for the audition today, you know? This is my only chance to prove myself and show off and, well I’m not sure if it’s gonna work.

            “You’ll get it. I mean, you gotta, you’ve been thinking about nothing else,” Peter pointed out.

            Ned smirked, “That’s not the only reason you think she’ll get it.”

            “Hm? What would that be?” Annie asked, turning to the other male.

            Peter’s face tinted pink before Ned started speaking, “Because he thinks that you look-”

            “The part… yeah, you look like a Maria, you know?” Peter said, glaring at Ned pointedly.

            Annie rolled her eyes, “Come on you two, I’m trying to stay chilled out for today.”

            “Well, good luck with that, I feel like if you were worried for our auditions, then you’re gonna be an absolute nightmare today,” Ned pointed out with a small laugh.

            Annie huffed a bit, “That is not true. I’m confident in myself… I just wasn’t sure what to expect from the two of you.”

            Though it was difficult to not see how Annie’s shoulders seemed to slump despite herself. Her worries were simple, she had worked too hard for too long to not get exactly what she wanted. What if that wasn’t enough? What if she couldn’t ever be enough in anything? No, she knew that she needed to toughen up and completely ignore everything that had been holding her back earlier.

            “You’ve been kinda quiet, you sure you’re good?” Peter asked as they walked into the school.

            Annie nodded, straightening her back, “Yep, I have to be. I mean, you and Ned were just fine. I can do it too, this is a science school, there’s no way any of the girls here are better than I am.”

            “Well, yeah… about me though, I’m not so sure the teachers are gonna, well I’m not sure they’ll cast me right,” Peter started as they headed to their first classes.

            Annie laughed a bit, “What do you mean by that? Of course they’ll cast you right, that’s the point of them auditioning you… and you killed it.”

            She hadn’t asked him about that night after the movie. It seemed like he wasn’t repeating the same actions that he had done. A couple of days after, she’d gotten her jacket back. Annie had only admitted it to Harper, but she hadn’t worn it since because it smelled like him and it was rather comforting. Still, that night felt like it had been forever ago, and she didn’t even know how to approach the subject. She had simply told herself she had just been emotional and was looking to the wrong places.

            “That’s not quite what I’m meaning…” Peter trailed off.

            She cocked her head a bit, “Then what do you mean?”

            “Um… well… uh I’ll tell you later, don’t worry about it. Do you want me and Ned to watch your audition?” he asked as they walked into their class.

            Annie nodded, “Yeah, of course! I really need you guys, you’re both the closest friends I have here.”

            Getting through her classes without overthinking the audition that was to come. She knew the song like the back of her hand, there was no way she could mess it up. At the same time, what if her voice cracked when she belted out the higher notes? No, there was no way she could mess up like that. Not after everything she had managed to do back in Seattle. Only, things had been different back then.

            She had been great the previous year, sure, but she was so much different. Had she been the same person she was when she started out as a freshman, there was no way she would have been around Ned and Peter as much. Her image had mattered just a bit too much, but she also had so much more conviction back then.

            Her classes had gone far too fast for her to really think about anything that had happened. Not to mention the stress of just finishing up her finals. Though, it was thanks to Peter that her physics work wasn’t completely hopeless. The rest of her classes weren’t unbearable, but physics just left her with some sort of mental block. That was how it had always been, and she never decided to question it.

            At the same time, it was all she could do to not ask to be excused and get to a practice room so she could go through her song just one more time. Even Michelle wasn’t letting her do anything like that, knowing that Annie would probably sing until her throat was raw from belting. Then, she would end up being useless during her audition and there would be no way in hell that she could ever be Maria.

            Her actual theatre class appeared to be at a standstill. Some of the girls who had never seemed to care before were suddenly begging for more time. Those were the ones now taking practice rooms and singing until their voices cracked, unable to hit the high notes. Annie hoped that all the time she had spent around her teacher getting advice had been enough. If nothing else, the teacher knew her name. Then again, so did all of her other teachers.

               Finishing the school day off with her last physics class of the semester, Annie’s knee was bobbing up and down. The actual test had been the previous class period, and that left Annie sitting as quiet as ever, knowing that once the bell rang she would have to walk straight to the auditorium. How had she managed this the year before?

            “Hey, remember all those times you told me ‘those other girls ain’t shit’?” Peter asked, looking at her.

            Annie shrugged a bit, “I shouldn’t be cocky, that’s how you fuck yourself over, right?”

            “But were you cocky before?” he asked quietly, looking like he was writing or drawing something.

            She frowned a bit, “I was a grade-a bitch… like, Flash but even worse if we’re being honest.”

            “Well, that worked out for you, yeah?”

            “I mean, it depends on what you mean by ‘worked out’, but kind of.”

            “I just think… y-you’ve done too much to stop thinking you know what you’re doing. I-I mean, come on, you went to a performing arts school, yeah?”

            Annie nodded a little, “Yeah… but that doesn’t make me a genius by any means.”

            “You don’t have to be a genius, you just need to know enough, and I think you do,” Peter told her, his chocolate brown eyes meeting hers.

            She sighed a bit, “Well, you’re right… actually, really right. You’re still staying around to watch, though, right?”

            “Yeah, yeah, of course. Unless you don’t want that, then I-I can just go off the my internship.”

            “Please tell me you’re getting some of Christmas off.”

            “Y-yeah, Mr. Stark would probably like a few days for just himself.”

            “Then we’re hanging out, and you’re not getting out of it.”

            The bell rang and Annie got up, smoothing out the skirt of her dress. She knew what she was doing, she always had. Pretending like she might not be good enough wasn’t an option. Above all else, Annie needed to prove that she wasn’t wasting her time when it came to acting. That this was what she was good at and that it was what she really loved more than anything else.

            Thankfully, she wasn’t the first girl to be going, she was the second. The poor girl who had gone before her was nothing but a confidence boost to Annie. That girl had sang what was arguably the pitchiest rendition of “Popular” that she had ever heard. If every other girl was like that, then Annie knew that she was going to be a shoe-in. There was nothing to worry about and there never had been anything worth worrying about when it came to auditioning in a school full of people who obviously spent more time programming computers than memorizing their lines.

            “Annika Hardwick, come on up,” Ms. Yancy called.

            Annie walked onto the stage, her black flats not making a sound on the auditorium stage. The audience was lit up just enough that she could see Peter and Ned sitting to the side, a few rows behind the teachers. Though the stage lights felt so warm against her tanned skin, but it only made her stand up straighter.

            The teacher cleared her throat, “You are auditioning for the part of Maria, correct?”

            “Yes,” Annie answered, feeling her heartbeat increasing.

            Was asking her friends to watch her a good idea? Maybe having Ned there was, but she had different feelings towards Peter than she did for Ned. Ned was a friend, someone she could talk to about anything without it getting awkward. When it came to Peter, there was something that she never bothered to address, but it left her reading into every moment of silence just a little bit too much.

            “Well, your pianist is ready, so whenever you’re ready,” Ms. Yancy told her.

            Annie blinked and took a deep breath before nodding the pianist in, “We’ve done this all before, we were angels once, don’t you remember?

            As she started to sing, her nerves began to melt away. There wasn’t anyone in front of her, she was simply by herself. No one was around and no one could tell her that she was off at all. The only thing she heard was the piano playing the lilting melody. She didn’t even feel like herself, instead she felt like a young Russian girl who was singing about all of the good moments with the man she was so in love with. Never mind how that ended up changing by the end of the musical, she just needed to focus on this one moment.

            “This winter sky, how can anyone sleep? There was never such a night before!” her voice swelled.

            While she would never be able to admit it, she couldn’t stop thinking about that night when Peter talked to her. The night that left her wondering if he felt the same way she did. Only, she knew that it wouldn’t be right, being with him. Not if he didn’t even know she had powers or that she was actually a superhero. She couldn’t keep that from him if they were any closer. It was already difficult, lying to him and Ned all the time.

            “You and I, you and I, you and I,” she belted out before cutting off the pianist with her hand closing, there was a pause that was filled with silence before she breathed again, “And no one else.

            Upon finishing, there wasn’t anything to be heard. Not that Annie had been expecting a standing ovation or anything like that, but she hoped that the teachers were impressed. She could feel the heat of the stage lights on her skin, and she could feel the sweat beading on her forehead.

            “Very well done, we will have the cast list decided when you come back from break, happy holidays, Miss Hardwick,” Ms. Yancy said with a small smile.

            Once Annie was back in the hallway, she was relieved to see Ned, but couldn’t help noticing that Peter had ran off. That was another reason they would probably never work out, he was constantly running off to that damned internship. Had he even stayed the whole song? Of course he had, right?

            Ned hugged Annie, picking her up with ease, “That was great! You know that? That was fucking awesome and I need you to know that!”

            “I hope so, I’ve been worried that my voice would crack towards the end there, but well, I guess it worked out,” she said as she was placed on the ground again, the pair heading out of the school.

            Ned laughed a bit, “You hope so? It was easily the best thing I’d heard all day. You had nothing on the one girl who went before you, trust me.”

            “I know that, but what about all the other girls who go after me?” she pointed out, pulling her hoodie out of her backpack and pulled it on over her dress.

            Ned shrugged, “They must’ve ran off after they heard you give a kickass performance. They’ve got nothing on you, and don’t say I didn’t tell you when you get the lead.”

            “You really think that?”

            “I feel like modesty doesn’t work too well on you when you seem to know that it was a pretty great audition.”

            “Well damn, okay, I’ll take your word for it,” she said with a small laugh.

            “You should.”

            That evening, Annie had many shirts beneath her White Swan hoodie and even another pair of leggings underneath her regular silver ones. With the weather getting colder and colder, she found herself wishing that she had a real suit with all kinds of technology behind it.

            Of course, the moment she thought about technology, Annie felt someone tapping her on the back. She turned, about to energy blast the offender, but quickly stopped when she saw the all too familiar Spider-Man mask.

            “Hey, you looked cold so I got you something,” the hero said, handing her a cup of hot chocolate.

            Annie shook her head, “You really didn’t have to do that.”

            “Yeah, I do, I know how cold it gets. So I’m just being a little helpful. Call it getting into the Christmas spirit,” Spider-Man replied.

            She rolled her eyes, “I know you’re gonna say we should work together more-”

            “It would be great! We would be able to fight all those bad guys together and- and you would have a better suit,” he pointed out.

            Annie let out a sigh, “Well if you wanna stop the bad guys, there’s a guy shoplifting right there across the street.”

            “Wait really?”

            “Um… yeah, he’s literally running away, it’s so fucking obvious,” she said, starting to run for the guy.

            Once she was close enough, she set up a barrier around the guy, keeping him from being able to run away. Then Spider-Man ran in right behind her and webbed his arms to the wall. Annie went up to the guy, finding small stocking stuffers in his pockets and beneath his hoodie.

            “Please, please let me go, these are for my kids. I don’t make enough to get them gifts this year, but I- well I don’t need them knowing that,” the man said.

            “That doesn’t mean you can just steal stuff, man,” Spider-Man said, crossing his arms, “You’re a criminal.”

            Annie frowned, “Spidey, his kids, though.”

            “No, no, I get it. I just don’t have the money, you know? But you guys do what you gotta do,” the man said, seeming resigned.

            Annie shook her head, grabbing at the webbing, “No, you get that to your kids. Just don’t steal again. Now, I need you to hurry up outta here,” she said, blasting the webbing off from the wall.

            “Thank you, thank you so much!” he said before continuing to run.

            Annie held Spider-Man back, silently cursing herself because she knew that it wasn’t right, but she couldn’t help feeling for the poor man. Who knew what his life had been like? When she was certain that the man was out of sight, Annie dropped her powers.

            “What the hell?! He was a bad guy, we’re supposed to stop guys like that,” he started.

            Annie sighed, “I know, but he didn’t… if he had kids, well, how would you feel about seeing your dad get thrown into jail for Christmas?”

            “But what if he’s done worse?”

            “What if this is all that he’s gonna do?”

            “Swan, I just, I don’t think you made the smartest choice here, and I can’t believe you would just stop me like that!” he replied as they walked.      

            She shrugged, “I felt bad, okay? Learning that your parents are shitty people sucks, I don’t care what age you are.”

            “And you would know a lot about that?”

            “Actually, yeah. So I’d know more about this situation than you ever would, okay? Okay.”

            “Woah, Swan, I’m sorry you don’t have a great home life, but you can’t just let every criminal off the hook because they have lives.”

            “Can’t I though? No one was hurt, he wasn’t going to hurt-”

            “You don’t know that.”

            “And neither do you. It wasn’t our place,” Annie insisted, “Now, I’m gonna run off and help some more people, and you’re gonna run off and stop following me for right now.”

Chapter Text

"Are you totally sure we should do this, Ned?" Peter asked, looking at the phone number dialed.

Ned rolled his eyes, "Yeah, Annie said we could call them if we needed help with Christmas gifts. Christmas is in two days, so we need to figure our shit out."

"And what if we're intruding? O-or she was just screwing around with us?" Peter questioned.

Ned sighed, "She wouldn't do that. We're calling this person, okay? That's that."

Ned pressed the call button before Peter could protest anymore. Then he took the phone from his friend's hands and turned on the speaker. The phone rang as they both waited for a response. Neither of them were able to figure out what to do for gifts. They hadn't planned on getting anything for Annie, but once she started bragging about how amazing their presents were going to be, they felt like they definitely needed to do something. Even if Annie insisted that they didn't need to do anything for her.

"Harper Higgins, daughter to the CEO for Higgins' Fabrics Emporium. If you're calling to harass me because of some shit my parents pulled, I can tell you I'm just as tired of them as the next guy. If you're meaning to harass one of my siblings, press one..." they paused for a moment.

Peter glared at Ned, only for Ned to clear his throat, "Um, yeah, we're not here for any of that... we have some super important questions."

"Ugh, there's no way anything's more important than my 'me time' but go off I guess," they replied, an eye roll almost audible in their tone.

Ned shrugged a bit at Peter, "Well, you see, we're calling you because Annie gave us your number."

"What the fuck is she doing giving out my number like it's fucking... never mind, why are you calling?" Harper demanded, more sketching being heard on their side of the line.

Peter coughed a bit, "She said that if we had any questions about gift ideas for her to call you."

"Of course she did, because I know her better than she knows herself. Anyways, what about gift ideas?" they questioned, seeming to sound less annoyed.

Ned and Peter looked at each other before Peter spoke up, "We don't know what to get her. Like, at all."

"Well did she give you any ideas?" they prompted, shuffling of papers being heard in the background.

Ned sighed, "She said a cat, but-"

"Oh fucking do it!" Harper exclaimed, "Hold on, I'm turning this into a video chat so I can finally see you guys."

There was a click and a pause before Harper's face came into view, a pale person with a ginger pixie cut showed up in front of Peter and Ned. They adjusted the phone so Harper could see the two of them. Peter sighed a bit, still not sure if this was the best idea for all of them. It almost felt like he was peeping in on the life of someone he shouldn't even be aware of.

"Okay, so getting her a cat would be fucking ingenious. You guys wanna know why?"

"Um... why?" Peter asked, giving a quizzical expression.

Harper grinned, "Her dad hates cats with a burning fucking passion. But seeing as he royally screwed up for multiple reasons, that doesn't matter at all."

"Where do we even get the cat? Like, what kind of cat does she like? What if something happens to the cat because of her parents?" Peter started rambling.

"Dude. It's a cat. How hard could it possibly be?" Ned responded.

Harper smirked, looking up from the sketch she was doing, "I like that one, which one are you?"

"Oh, I'm Ned."

"Ooooh, so if you're Ned, then that means this other guy's gotta be Peter. Annie's told me so much about both of you!" they exclaimed, grinning brightly.

Peter nodded, "Y-yeah, that'd be me, but what do we do about the cat?"

"Go to the animal shelter. Get a cat that's like, two or four years old. Split the cost and take care of it until Christmas. She'll love you both forever. Unless only one of you is looking to be loved by her for forever,” Harper said, giving an almost knowing wink.

Ned smirked a bit, looking at Peter, “We’re gonna split it, but we need help with looking at the cats, ya know? So would you mind us going and video chatting you while we look? You’d know better.”

“Damn right I would, and of course I’ll help, anything for my best friend!” Harper replied, “But I need to get some fabric cut out for a project, so I’ll talk to you two nerds later.”

When they clicked the end call button, Peter and Ned were both left looking at each other. Both boys knew exactly what they needed to do, but were unsure on how to get what they were looking for. Especially when the both of them were just about broke from not even having jobs.

Ned huffed a bit, “Well, what if we got someone else in on this?”

“Like who?” Peter asked, flopping onto his bed.

Ned shrugged, “Like Tina. I know you’re worried about her figuring out your identity and shit, but she’s gotta have something, right?”

“I guess you’re right… we could go find her later, maybe.”

On the other side of town, Annie and Tina were running all around the mall as they both fought the crowds. Annie was mentally kicking herself for putting off gift shopping until the last minute, but she had been waiting for Tina to get paid at the part time job she had gotten to keep her busy. It wasn’t the money that was any issue, it was finding something for her two best friends.

“I don’t get why you tried to oversell yourself,” Tina said as they both walked into a comic book store.

Annie sighed a bit, “Because I wanted to sound like a good friend and like I know them super well.”

“Well, do you?” asked Tina, a dark eyebrow arched.

Annie shrugged a bit, “Maybe? I know they like nerdy stuff and they’re both super into science and shit like that.”

“Hm… I’m not sure what you should do then, maybe some cool action figures or something,” Tina replied, messing around with a scrunchie on her wrist.

Annie huffed, looking at some figurines and ran a hand through her hair, only for it to catch on tangles halfway through, “Ugh, I should’ve just kept my mouth shut.”

“Probably, but it’s a little late for that. Come on, you said Peter’s interning for Tony Stark, right?” she questioned.

Annie looked around before nodding, “Yeah… He’s got all these Stark Industries sweatshirts. They actually look really cute on him, but that’s not what you were meaning, was it?”

“Not at all, but you’ve got it bad. I was gonna say, you should get him some super nerdy-looking planner,” Tina suggested, pulling up her extremely kinky hair into a ponytail.

Annie nodded, “That’s actually a pretty good idea, but I’m gonna pick these up, too,” she said, grabbing two sets of Magic cards.

The girls wandered around the mall, Annie keeping an eye on what Tina seemed to look at for longer. Right when they had walked in, Tina had told Annie that she didn’t want anything from anyone. How she didn’t want to be given useless things that she wasn’t going to be needing later on. Still, Annie knew that there wasn’t anyone else who was that close to Tina, if no one else was going to get Tina anything, then it had to be her.

Laying low and being friends with Tina certainly had its pros and cons, but it was mostly pros. While Tina never talked much about anything before they had met in that alleyway, she would talk about her school. Even if it wasn’t a very high-class school, Annie could tell that Tina liked the routine of everything and how she tried to stay busy at all cost.

They headed into a stationary store, looking at all the notebooks and pens. It was more than Annie knew what to do with. Who really needed all this paper? Yet, Annie couldn’t help noticing how Tina stared at the nicely bound notebooks and fine, colorful pens. She could recall Tina being told by her legally required therapist that she should write her feelings down more often. So when Tina turned away to go towards the planners, Annie picked up a couple leather-bound journals and colorful pens.

“You said he was nerdy, right?” Tina asked, gesturing at all the planners with science puns written on them.

Annie nodded a bit, “Yeah, that’d be right.”

She decided on a notebook with some physics pun that she vaguely understood and was thankful that Tina had gone back to looking at the different items in the store. Seeing a Spider-Man pen almost caused her to roll her eyes, but she decided to pick it up anyways. Peter had claimed to know him earlier, after all. It would probably be dorky, but she threw it in with her purchase anyways.

Once she paid for everything, her and Tina walked out, only for Annie to stop off at a lego store to buy a gift card for Ned. She couldn’t remember what it was he wanted to get for the life of her, so she figured a gift card would be the next best option. Looking over her shopping that she had done for her three new friends, she decided to call it a day.

“You’re sure you don’t have anyone else to get something for?” Tina questioned.

Annie nodded with a small laugh, “Yeah, I’m good, I got stuff for my parents and for Harper way earlier.”

Peter and Ned walked around the cat side of the animal shelter. Ned was left in charge of the video chatting because it seemed he was way better with talking to Annie’s best friend. It just bothered Peter a bit about how they were able to read almost right through him. Though both guys were looking around, waiting for Tina to come in as well.

When the girl finally walked in, her already very curly hair made even more frizzy from the rain that was outside, Ned finally called Harper. Tina raised an eyebrow, seeming to question just who the other two guys were calling. As they waited for an answer, the trio looked at all the different cats and kittens that mewed at them, seeming to be begging for attention.

Harper’s face came into view on the phone screen, “So… did you guys find anything?”

“Well, not exactly. Uh, you see, we kinda don’t know where to start,” Peter said.

Harper sighed a bit, “She likes basically all cats, she’s like… a whore for cats.”

Ned turned the camera to the cats all in their kennels, “Which one?”

“The one with the funky spots on its face with that funky looking tail!” Harper replied.

Tina turned and got one of the adoption counselors, pointing to the cat that had a sign in front of him showing that he was named, very creatively, Spot.

Ned and Harper just started talking as Peter and Tina followed the counselor into the adoption room, dragging Ned in behind the both of them. There, everyone was able to pet the cat, well, except for Harper who was all the way across the country. Spot seemed to be sweet enough, leaning into all the pets that were given, seeming to favor Tina the most out of all of them.

“What can I say? I’ve got a thing for cats,” she said as she tightened up her ponytail.

Harper coughed a bit after having watched the others play with the cat, “I think that’s the one, get him!”

“You’re sure about this?” Peter asked.

Harper nodded, “Well, yeah, I wouldn’t lie to you about my best friend. Especially when it’s obvious you need advice in that department.”

With that, the three who were left over decided on Spot, splitting the cost of the cat. Peter had volunteered to keep him until Christmas day. Ned and Tina got the food and cat litter while Peter took care of the toys for the little guy.

Though, at the end of the day, Peter found himself playing with the cat, relieved that Aunt May wasn’t mad at him for taking a cat into their house. As cool as a cat seemed for a present, Peter wanted to get something for Annie on his own. Of course, he had no clue who to turn to, so he picked up his phone, calling Harper up again.

“I totally called that you would be calling me on your own time! How can I help you?” Harper asked, a smirk audible over the phone line.

Peter felt the cat leaning into him scratching his ear, “Well… I wanted to get something for Annie that was just from me, th-that sounds kinda stupid but-”

“Not stupid at all. I’m here for this, but if you hurt her I’ll walk to your apartment and gut you like a fucking fish, you got it?” Harper replied.

Peter was silent for a moment or two, “Um… yeah, we’re just friends though.”

“Hmm… okay, go off I guess, but the thing is that Annie literally never knows what she wants. So you gotta go off of everything you’ve ever talked to her about, especially if it’s something she’s emotional about. Do you know anything like that?” they prompted.

Peter sighed a bit, “You mean, like, get her something she’ll cry over?”

“Well, kind of. Like, something that she’s only talked to you about so it’s personal. It’s a hard thing to do, but if you wanna get her something she’ll love, that’s the one-way ticket to her heart,” Harper said.

Peter coughed, “I-I uh… I’m not trying to win her over. W-we’re really just friends.”

“That’s what they all say, Peter, goodnight!” they cheerfully responded before hanging up.

 

Chapter Text

            Christmas Eve felt almost like a desperate attempt for Annie’s parents to make up for the last couple months. Though, it obviously wasn’t enough and Annie couldn’t help pointing that out every chance she got. Whether she was being too harsh or not, she really couldn’t be bothered to give a damn. However, she would have been lying if she said she didn’t enjoy constantly pointing out their mistakes and affairs whenever she wanted to get away with something.

            Of course it pissed her parents off, but it probably pissed them off more that Annie wasn’t wrong. It was using their failing marriage as a scapegoat that led to Annie being outside in the winter evening with a small wrapped package. The odds of running into Spider-Man were pretty slim, it was a holiday after all. Despite it only being six at night, the sky was dark with only streetlights, cars, and electronic billboards there to light the way.

            The temperature drop that winter brought always left Annie cursing her choice to be a superhero instead of a street magician. She had even put a few shirts underneath the white hoodie she had on and she was still shivering. Stealing some electricity to attempt to warm up was her best bet, but even that wasn’t exactly working.

            With the streets bustling with the absolute last-second holiday shopping, it was difficult to find any real crime going on as she lurked in an alley. That was when she heard a jump. Without giving it a second thought, Annie swerved around and launched the ball of electricity that was in her hand at none other than Spider-Man himself.

            He quickly sidestepped the electricity and held his hands up, “Hey, it’s okay, it’s just me.”

            Annie sighed a little, “You can’t just sneak up on me like that! If I hit you then that’s who knows how many volts straight to your chest.”

            “Oh, it’s cool. Mr. Stark made my suit electricity-proof. Sorry I scared you, Swan. Merry Christmas, by the way. What’s that you’ve got in your hands there?” he asked, talking as though Annie hadn’t told him to leave her alone a week ago.

            Annie glanced down and the package, “Um… it’s not much, but it’s for you, actually. Kind of a ‘Merry Christmas, sorry I yelled at you and I actually do kinda enjoy working with you’ present.”

            “Well that’s great! I got something for you too! It’s not much either, but uh… it’s something I thought you’d like,” he replied, handing her something that was in a paper bag.

            Annie handed him the wrapped parcel and took the thing he gave her, “You seriously didn’t have to,” she said, pulling out a long sleeved shirt.

            “I should probably mention it’s got a little heater in it. I know you said to not follow you, but I saw you kept getting super cold and I uh- well I sort of stole it from Mr. Stark,” Spider-Man said sheepishly as he unwrapped his present to find a Santa hat.

            Annie smiled a bit, “Thanks, that’s way awesome. I wasn’t really sure what to get you that you didn’t already have, and I know it’s super cheesy and I totally get it if you don-”

            “It’s great, Swan, really, I love it, thanks,” he replied, hugging her.

            She laughed a bit, “No problem, I’m just sorry I’ve been such a bitch, and I should probably apologize in advance for when the exact same thing happens again for whatever reason I decide to get mad again.”

            “Hey, I get it. You’ve been alone awhile and you’re not used to having yours truly making things a bit easier on you,” he claimed.

            She rolled her eyes and sighed, “Actually I get more nervous when you insert yourself and expect me to cover you. I mean, come on, my powers could crap out on me.”

            “I don’t think that would happen, obviously your powers work better when your more emotional, so they work better when your stressed,” he said, shrugging.

            Annie frowned, “You’re not wrong… but still, it’s so damn stressful.”

            Feeling a huge sense of accomplishment at fixing things with Spider-Man, Annie was able to get back to her apartment with a weight lifted from her chest. With gifts already bought for everyone, there wasn’t exactly anything worth worrying about. Instead of going out to hang out with her parents, Annie spent the remainder of her night reading.

            By the time morning rolled around, Annie was in the same clothes that she had been when she was reading. She couldn’t remember putting down her book or being on her bed in the first place. Still the computer monitor across from her confirmed that it was Christmas morning, and she crawled out of bed, heading out to the kitchen where a small Christmas tree was set up.

            Underneath the fake, silver tree were a handful of presents. Two of them were for her parents and there were a few for Annie. She could tell that they were probably trying to compensate for the affairs, but she couldn’t have cared less. A part of her just liked having a scapegoat. Besides, it was more of a “being bitter about how her dad tried to explain her being a failed science fair project” thing rather than being angry about her parents cheating on each other.

            The whole infidelity thing was their thing to solve and Annie wanted no part in it. She padded over to the coffee maker and put some water and more grounds in it before starting the machine. As it heated up, Annie checked her phone, tempted to call Harper and wake them up extremely early simply to be a pain in the ass. After a few minutes, she was just about to pick up her phone to dial her friend when she saw Harper’s contact name on the screen.

            Annie answered, trying to not laugh and wake up her parents, “What the hell are you doing awake at like… four in the morning?”

            “Because I know you and that you’d probably wake me up anyways,” Harper replied, a smirk audible in their voice.

            Annie rolled her eyes, finding a mug to pour her coffee into, “Okay, but that doesn’t explain why you’d wake up so early.”

            “Bold of you to assume I ever even went to sleep. I had gifts to wrap,” they said, sighing a bit.

            Annie chuckled lightly as she poured some coffee in her mug, “Who are you spending all this time wrapping presents for?”

            “My parents. If I wrapped all their presents for their godforsaken business partners then they said they would give me ten grand to do whatever I wanted with,” they responded.

            Annie frowned a bit, “What do you need ten thousand for, exactly?”

            “I’m splitting it up between charities and college. Did I mention that I heard back from NYU?” they asked.

            Annie raised an eyebrow, retreating to her room and sitting at her desk, “Nope, I didn’t even know you were graduating early.”

            “Oh, well, surprise, I am! And I heard back from NYU and their fashion program, so I’m just about set up to start there in September,” they said, yawning.

            Annie’s jaw dropped, “Wait, so you’re, like, going to NYU, like, Manhattan?”

            “Yeah, is there another one that I didn’t hear about?” Harper retorted.

            Annie grinned, “That’s fucking awesome! You’ll be here with me and you can finally meet my new friends, it’ll be great!”

            “What’ll really be great is when I can get out of this hellhole,” they muttered, huffing a bit.

            Annie rolled her eyes, “Harper, you’re the kid of a CEO, people would kill to be in the position you’re in.”

            “But what good is any of it if they’re not gonna pay for any of my school? They’re basically kicking me out after graduation, which might be for the better. I could just be talking too much,” they replied.

            Annie took a sip of coffee, “Yeah, that might be it, you should get some sleep. You got my present in the mail, right?”

            “Yep… I may or may not have opened it already,” Harper admitted.

            Annie sighed, “Well, by the sound of that I’m guessing you liked it.”

            “Obviously! New colored pencils like I’d been talking about… oh and I ate half of the almond butter you got me last night, whoops,” they said.

            Annie shook her head, “Of course you did. Well, I’m glad you liked it.”

            “Speaking of liking presents, I hope you liked what your friends got you. Especially that one Peter guy, he sounds really into you,” Harper started.

            Annie felt her face go red, “I doubt it. He’s just a really nice guy. Besides, things are really complicated at the moment… the last thing I need is a relationship.”

            “What’s so complicated about dating the guy you’ve been wanting to kiss?” Harper asked.

            Annie stared at her coffee, only her breathing audible over the line, “Because there might be more than one guy I wanna kiss?”

            “You know I hate it when you answer something like it’s a question. For fuck’s sake, please tell me you’re not into both of your guy friends? Or is it that one girl, Tina? You’ve been around her a lot, or Michelle?” Harper started to trail off.

            Annie coughed, “No, none of them. Ned’s just my friend and Tina’s got her own shit. I don’t know if I know Michelle enough to be crushing on her.”         

            “Then who?”

            “It’s stupid, really.”

            “Not if it’s making you question everything you’ve been feeling for weeks.”

            “I think I like Spider-Man. It’s just… he’s so damn infuriating, but I never wanna fight with him so we always get through our arguments and he’s just really sweet and funny and… I don’t know what to do, Harper.”

            “Funny, you like them both for the same reasons… maybe you should wait it out,” Harper suggested, “But I gotta sleep otherwise I’m gonna blow up my parent’s place and then we’ll have a bigger problem than your boy troubles.”

            “Alrighty, well I’ll talk to you later, then. Have fun sleeping,” Annie replied before the line went dead.

            When Annie’s parents finally woke up, she made her way back into the kitchen. Though it was just her dad pouring himself a cup of coffee. Seeing him, Annie was just about to slip back into her room, but he already saw her so instead she sat at the dining room table. She was halfway through her cup of coffee and it was still warm.

            “How’d you sleep?” he asked.

            Annie shrugged, “Alright, I guess.”

            “You must’ve been pretty tired, I walked in and you had your book on your face,” her dad replied, chuckling a bit at her.

            Annie looked up at him, “So you moved me?”

            “Well, yeah. I’m your dad, Annika, and sometimes I screw up, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t care about you,” he told her as he sat across from her.

            She nodded, looking at her cup, “Right… are you being nice because you’re about to talk about getting a divorce?”

            “No. God, no, Ann, we moved so we could fix things. We wouldn’t drag you out here to just give up now,” he said.

            She sighed, “Okay, good. Otherwise I think I’d run out of here if you pulled that today.”

            “I wouldn’t do that, we wouldn’t,” he assured her.

            “We wouldn’t do what?” her mom asked as she padded into the dining room.

            Her dad paused, drinking some coffee, “Get a divorce and tell her today.”

            “Oh, sweetie, no. We’d stay married until you were an adult just so it wouldn’t feel like we moved for nothing,” added her mom.

            Annie nodded again, not saying anything for a moment, “So… um… should we get to the fun gift giving thing? I kinda said I’d meet my friends to exchange gifts and stuff.”

            “Yeah! Of course, of course! You’re gonna love what I got you,” her mom said, pulling a bagged present from next to the tree.

            The gifts weren’t as much of pleas for forgiveness as Annie had expected. That was for the best, though, otherwise she may have felt a pang of guilt for using them so she could get out more often. She noticed that they did seem to get them with her interests in mind, though. Some soundtracks and books. Even a hoodie or two, her parents liked what she got for them. It was always hard with adults because the things they wanted were things that she would never get enough money to buy. Hell, some of the things they wanted had nothing to do with money. Not that she could blame them.

            “Also, there’s one thing that we also got that we can’t really give you,” her dad began.

            Annie’s russet eyes squinted, “What do you mean?”

            “Well, tomorrow we’re leaving for a couple’s retreat to try and fix things. We thought the least we could do is make a real effort at trying,” her mom explained.

            Annie nodded, smiling a bit, “When do you get back?”

            “January second, we’ll be back early because classes start up the day after,” said her dad.

            She smiled at the both of them, “Th-that’s great, actually, thanks you guys.”

            “We thought you’d appreciate it because of how much these problems were meaning to you,” her dad replied.

            The day passed by easier and for the first time in weeks, Annie felt comfortable as she moved around the apartment. Knowing that her parents didn’t just stop caring did leave her feeling lighter. Not to mention the ideas that were flooding her mind as she fully realized that they would be gone through new year’s. Though, those were plans to talk about when she saw her friends next.

            Before she knew it, it was time to get to Peter’s apartment where she was supposed to meet up with Peter, Ned, and even Tina. Apparently they had talked to her before they asked Annie to come. It raised plenty of questions that Annie wasn’t even sure of how to ask. Still, she left her apartment with some ginger snaps that her dad had made as well as the gifts for each of them.

            She made it to the other apartment without any issue and she knocked on the door. It had been so cold outside and Annie was left wishing that she had chosen to wear a better jacket rather than a sweatshirt. Not to mention how the presents had been kind of difficult to carry while walking a few blocks in New York traffic. Despite the holidays, the streets were as busy as ever. Though, maybe she shouldn’t have been so surprised.

            Aunt May opened the door, smiling, “There you are! The others have been waiting. Merry Christmas by the way! How’s your day been?”

            “Merry Christmas! I’ve actually been pretty great. My dad baked a ton of ginger snaps and I thought you might like some,” Annie greeted, nodding at the top box which was a tin.

            May took the tin off the top of the pile, “Thank you, this is lovely!”

            “No problem!” she replied, waltzing right into Peter’s room.

            “Hey, look who decided to show up,” Tina commented, getting up to help Annie with the boxes.

            Annie rolled her eyes, “Whatever, you guys told me to show up now, so there’s obviously something you’re all hiding.”

            “You don’t know that!” Ned protested.

            Annie smirked as she sat down on Peter’s bed, “Right, well I got all of you presents, so I expect only the best from each of you.”

            “Annie! I told you not to get me anything,” Tina responded, crossing her arms.

            Annie shrugged, “Well then I guess my hand slipped and wrapped something up for you.”

            “You’re gonna love what I got you, go on, open it,” Ned insisted, handing her a box.

            Annie opened it only to get a litter box and cat litter, “Um… okay, it’s great…”

            “I told you it was a weak idea, I got you this,” Tina said, handing Annie a bag.

            Annie got a food bowl with some cat food and she raised an eyebrow, “Did you guys… no. There’s no way.”

            “Okay, you’ll love this,” Peter insisted, starting to burst out laughing as he handed his haphazardly wrapped gift.

            Annie ripped the paper only to get cat toys, “Okay, there’s no way you guys got me a cat. No, I couldn’t, really, you guys.”

            “Who said anything about a cat? We didn’t get you a cat,” Ned replied, only to be stopped by a meow that came from Peter’s closed closet.

            Annie looked at the three of them and stood up, walking over to the closet and opened it. There was a cat carrier and in the carrier was a cat with patches all over its face and a crooked tail from where it had probably been broken in the past. She picked up the carrier and opened it, coaxing out the cat. Her eyes were wide and her mouth was opened and grinning. No words were able to leave her mouth.

            Tina smirked a bit, “I’m guessing we did good.”

            “What’s his name?” Annie asked.

            “Well, the shelter named him Patches,” Ned said.

            Annie scoffed, “That’s a dumb name… I think I’m gonna name him… Erik, yeah, definitely Erik.”

            “Like The Phantom of the Opera? Come on,” Ned commented, laughing a bit.

            Annie sighed, scratching the cat behind the ear, “I really can’t thank you guys enough, now I feel like I totally fucked up with what I got you guys.”

            “Nah, there’s no way, let’s see them,” Ned insisted.

            Annie handed each of them their presents, trying to gauge their reactions. Of course, none of them were exactly a pet that had been carefully hidden from her for the time that she had been there. At least they each kinda meant something though. Well, she hoped that they would.

            Peter smiled, tugging the Santa hat on his head down a bit as he looked at the planner and pen, “It’s great, thanks,” he said as he opened it, reading the inside of the planner.

            Because she hadn’t wanted to confuse Peter with the gift she wrote something. Though, it was possibly influenced by other feelings that were running through her head at the time. The note read: Peter, I know that half the time you’re a disorganized mess (in the best way, duh) and figured this might help in case you get super stressed. Even if it doesn’t, you can always call me or something. I don’t really know where I was going with this, but Merry Christmas!

            Ned laughed a bit, beaming at the lego store gift card, “This is perfect! I could get a Millenium Falcon set with this, thanks so much!”

            Tina carefully unwrapped her present, “I really didn’t need anything…” she looked at the journals and pens, “How’d you know?”

            “I saw you in that stationery store… my hand slipped and bought a few things,” Annie claimed, shrugging.

            The group spent so much time talking in that circle, somehow all huddled up on Peter’s bed. They squished between each other, and that was when Annie asked them to come to her place for new year’s. She’d even told them to spend the night if they wanted. It had been Ned’s idea to call and ask Michelle to join them. By the time they all left for their homes, Annie had plans for while her parents were gone.

            When she got home carrying her cat and all the things to take care of him as well, her dad didn’t even try to protest it. All he said was that she had to take care of him and that he wouldn’t do it for her. Erik was a really sweet cat, wanting nothing more than to lay on her bed and be petted. At least, that was how he was acting right then. A part of her figured he’d start running all over the apartment like crazy in a day or two.

            As she opened one of the plastic packages of toys, Annie noticed a small box. When she opened it, there was a necklace of a masquerade mask necklace. Her jaw dropped, hardly able to believe that Peter had gotten her anything aside the stuff for the cat. She really didn’t need or want anything else. Though there was also a folded up note that read: Annie, I know you said you just wanted a cat, but I thought you should have something else to. So I thought I’d let you know that you’re more of a Christine because you’re too good to be anything else.

            That not was the only thing that she could think about until new year’s eve. It wandered into her mind when she worked with Spider-Man a couple of times that week. He was constantly wearing that Santa hat and Annie wore that shirt with a heater in it under her sweatshirt all the time. Though, just when she started bantering a little bit too long with Spider-Man, she couldn’t help but think about how much Peter had cared. It made her wonder if Spider-Man would do the same for her if he had the chance.

            One right after the other, Peter, Ned, Michelle, and Tina came on in. It wasn’t like Annie had a huge party planned out, she just didn’t want to be alone for the holiday. Not when she could have the chance to stay up late with her friends. Even though Christmas had passed, Peter was still wearing a Santa hat like he had on Christmas.

            “Pete, isn’t it a bit late for Santa hats?” Annie asked, toying around with the pendant on her necklace.

            Peter’s face reddened, “N-no, I wouldn’t say so.”

            “I think she’s got a point, unless you’re wearing it for a specific reason,” Michelle said, looking up from her book as she laid on the couch.

            Annie chuckled a bit as Peter seemed at a loss for words as she poured some hot chocolate for all of them, “Don’t worry, it’s cute.”

            “Enough flirting, you two, otherwise you’re both gonna need to find a room,” Ned commented, flipping through the channels on Annie’s television.

            Peter frowned, “I-I wasn’t… we weren’t doing… a-anything.”

            “So you weren’t flirting?” Annie asked, raising her eyebrows suggestively.

            He shook his head, “N-nope.”

            “Oh, okay,” Annie said, handing him a cup of hot chocolate.

            The night went on as a group sleepover should. The group watched some dumb comedies while eating food and drinking warm drinks. It felt like things were just fine, and even Tina appeared to be relaxed around all of them. Both her and Michelle seemed to enjoy being left on their own to read or write while Ned, Peter, and Annie were left to do most of the talking.

            As midnight drew closer, Annie looked at the others, “Hey, what do you guys think of some champagne to ring in the new year?”

            “I can’t have any… I’ve been going straight, but I can watch you guys to make sure no one does anything dumb,” Tina offered.

            “Alright, what about the rest of you guys?” Annie asked as she got up from her comfy chair.

            Ned and Peter shrugged, “I guess it’s cool with us,” Ned replied.

            “You could hit me up with two if you wanted,” Michelle responded.

            Annie laughed a bit, “Okay, I’ll be right back.”

            In a few minutes, Annie was back with a glass that was generously full for everyone. She’d filled the glass for Tina with some sparkling cider because everyone deserved a nice new year’s drink. It was five minutes until 2018 and Annie had a decent feeling about the new year. They all talked about what they really wanted to do for that year and all the things that they hoped would happen.

            “I just wanna get an apartment and start over, you know? Just have everything be fresh and to move on finally,” Tina said, cheating and sipping some of her drink before midnight.

            Michelle nodded, “Fair enough, I want some more books and more time to read them, honestly.”

            “If I managed to pass this next semester I’d be happy, but really I just want to prove I can do stuff, like, theatre or something else, just I don’t want to be doubted,” Annie admitted.

            Ned sighed a bit, “I wanna hack some stuff, nothing huge, but just enough to where it’s super cool.”

            “Yeah… I-I think I want my internship to go further, I’m doing a lot already, but I wanna do more,” Peter said, looking at the clock.

            Ned grinned, starting to count down, “Five. Four. Three. Two. One…”

            “Holy shit it’s the new year!” Annie exclaimed, drinking her champagne.

            They all started drinking, Peter seeming to be almost unaffected by it. Michelle went back to her book, drinking and not paying too much attention to the others. Ned and Annie, however, were tipsy halfway through their glasses. Everything seemed to be so funny and Annie wasn’t sure why. And Peter looked so damn cute and she wanted to pull him close and kiss him. She wish she’d done that already, why hadn’t she?

            By the time she finished her glass, she wasn’t exactly herself when she talked to her friends, “Y’know, ‘m real glad y’guys came… I woulda been so depressed if I’re by m’self.”

            “Yeah, me too, ‘m happy I came,” Ned replied and the pair started laughing, “Y’know, ya should talk to Peter, he wants to tell ya somethin’.”

            Annie giggled, pulling Peter closer a bit by his sleeve, “C’mon, tell me in my room.”

            She dragged him right to her room and she sat on her bed, patting the space next to her. When he sat down she had her arms around him and buried her head into the crook of his neck. Annie hummed happily, starting to play with Peter’s hair.

            “What did ya wanna tell me?” Annie asked, looking up at him.

            Peter shook his head, “You’re drunk, it’s a terrible time to tell you.”

            “Oh c’mon!” Annie whined, pouting.

            Peter sighed, “Nope. But did you wanna tell me something?”

            “Well, yeah, you’re real cute, just all the time. An’ I can’t understand why you won’t like me back, but everyone says you do,” Annie replied.

            Peter smiled a bit, his cheeks flushing, “Really?”

            “Yeah,” she said, looking at him and yawning, “I should sleep though, I feel like you’re trickin’ me into sayin’ too much.”

            Peter nodded, pulling back the covers and helping her lie down, “Can ya stay with me?” Annie asked.

            Peter thought about it a moment and nodded, “Sure, yeah.”

            Annie pulled him close, wanting to feel him so close to her and Peter didn’t mind. Though he also wondered how much of it was real and how much of it was just her being drunk. At the same time, he didn’t want her thinking he was a creep, so when she fell asleep he left the bed and slept on the floor.

Chapter Text

            On the day school started back up again, Annie missed her alarm. Of course she had, she’d stayed out until around two in the morning taking care of a mugging with Spider-Man. Though, her parents thought she was fast asleep, so her dad was surprised when he walked into her room to still see her conked out.

            When he woke her up, Annie had hardly any time to get ready and she shoved on the first clothes that she saw and practically bolted out the door with her backpack. From there, she practically sprinted out of the apartment building, wishing the elevator would have gone just a little bit faster. She looked at the time, seeing that if she could speed walk and sprint at some points, she would make it there on time.

            After slipping and sliding on some ice, she made it to the subway to see only Peter who looked like a lost puppy. It made sense when she noticed that Ned wasn’t anywhere to be seen. Though, they all knew that he was pretty sick with some kind of stomach flu when he threw up at ten in the morning on new year’s day.

            She rushed over to Peter as they got on the subway, “Sorry, I totally overslept!”

            “That’s actually kinda surprising… we find out about the audition stuff today, don’t we?” Peter asked as they found a place to sit.

            Annie’s jaw dropped, “Oh shit, we do, don’t we? Dammit, what if I totally messed up the audition and I’m not even in the production?”

            “Hey, it’s okay, you’re gonna be fine. I listened and you sounded amazing,” he replied, looking at her.

            She sighed a bit, “Yeah, I might have sounded amazing, but what about every other girl who sounded amazing?”

            “Come on, you’ve said it a lot, the people here aren’t into theatre as much as you,” he said.

            She nodded a little, “I mean, I guess you’re right… but really I was just trying to get myself into being overconfident to make up for nerves and shit.”

            “Either way, I’m sure you did great! You don’t have anything to worry about,” Peter insisted, nudging her a little.

            While Annie and Peter were able to talk to each other just fine, it did feel like someone was missing simply because Ned wasn’t there. Well, that and the fact that Peter never mentioned anything about Annie’s drunk ramblings while she had been a bit drunk. She never mentioned it either, she just pretended to be a serious lightweight and like she had just blacked-out. At least, that was what she said when Tina asked if she remembered anything.

            Maybe he hadn’t said anything because Peter figured he didn’t feel the same way she did. That was fine, Annie wasn’t even sure if she had a crush on two guys or not. It wasn’t like she had the time to sit at night figuring out if she liked Peter or Spider-Man more. The answer was simple, things would be easier with Peter and she would definitely be happy, but she would never be able to stop wondering about what it would be like to be with another hero. In the end, it was easier to just not bother with either of them and just stick to having two friends who she liked a whole lot.

            By the time the pair made it to the school, Annie was too concerned with finding a heater to stand in front of to be thinking about the auditions. Though, when Peter mentioned it and pulled her in the direction, she was about ready to kick him. However, her stomach was churning too much and she felt like if she said anything that nothing but bile would come up.

            The postings in front of the drama room had a cluster of students around them. Her nails dug into her hands before going up to the mask pendant on her neck to play with that. All she could feel was her heartbeat and she couldn’t even hear what anyone else was saying as she slowly walked up to the cast list.

            It took a few moments of looking at the paper for Annie to realize what was printed. The first time, her eyes barely skimmed the letters. The second time, she read the names. The third time, she actually understood. She couldn’t stop a hand from cupping her mouth to stop her from screaming out of excitement. Right next to Maria was her own name, and when she looked the list over again, she saw Peter’s right next to Tony. Whether she would end up thanking the universe for that in the long run or not was yet to be seen.

            She hugged Peter tightly, “Oh, I told you so! Didn’t I? I so told you that you’d get it!”
            “H-hey, th-this… this is great. Um… I uh… I can’t believe it,” Peter responded, his face flushing.

            Annie pulled away from him, looking at his eyes, “Something’s up, what’s wrong, Pete? I mean, I know Ned’s not here right now, but… but you could tell me.”

            “I-it’s nothing, seriously… this is pretty cool, actually,” he said, running a shaking hand through his hair.

            Annie sighed, “Is it because Ned’s the understudy for Bernardo? Because I’m pretty sure I could talk the teacher into switching Flash off of it if you wanted.”

            “I doubt that, but, it’s not that it’s just-”

            “Hey, hey, hey, Penis Parker! I see you got the lead, must be a serious fag or something, right? If that’s even the right word for it,” Flash said, cutting off whatever conversation Annie and Peter were having.

            Annie rolled her eyes with a sigh, “Don’t you have something better to be doing?”

            “I’m just saying I’m surprised anyone would let someone like… like that be the male lead in this show, just sayin’,” Flash replied with a shrug.

            Seeing Peter wasn’t saying anything and looked almost pale Annie glared, stepping up to Flash, “I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about, but I’d get out of my sight if I were you.”

            “Or what, like you could do anything, besides, I’m just stating facts, Annika,” Flash claimed, crossing his arms.

            Annie glanced out of the corner of her eye to make sure no one was watching them before jamming the heel of her vans into his foot and kneeing him in the groin before pulling Peter off, “What the hell is he going on about?”

            “I-I um… nothing, i-it’s cool. J-just Flash being… w-well, Flash,” Peter stammered as Annie practically dragged him to their first class.

            On any other day, Annie wouldn’t have bothered to question Peter stumbling over his words. It was just something that happened every once in awhile, but she noticed that he almost looked like everything around him was causing him pain. As if the fluorescent lights and idle white noise of their government class were torturing him. She had seen him like that before, but never knew what to do. Somehow, Ned would just help and take care of it, but Annie didn’t even know what was going on with him. If it was anxiety induced or if he just had a migraine.

            “Pete, you doing okay?” she asked, poking him a bit.

            Peter flinched and moved away a little, “Y-yeah, ‘m alright.”

            “If you say so,” Annie replied, frowning.

            Obviously, Annie couldn’t stay the whole day with Peter, they had to get to their classes that they didn’t have with each other. Though, there was a Start-of-Term assembly made for the end of the day, and Annie was determined to figure out just what the hell was going on with him. She’d even tried messaging Ned, even calling him a few times. Though, whatever he had was keeping him far away from his phone because by lunch, Annie was left at a loss of what to do.

            All she could do was keep Flash off of Peter’s back. It must’ve been something that bastard said, but she wasn’t sure just what it was. When she tried remembering it, she couldn’t think of anything that would make Peter nervous. She sighed a bit, looking at the clock and then at Peter and then back at the clock. Ten more minutes until the assembly that she had every intention of ditching.

            A part of her worried that if she didn’t figure out what was getting Peter so wound up, that he would do something stupid. While she never knew Peter to be the kind of guy to do anything dumb, she also didn’t know him to say less than a few sentences all day. Even at lunch he just sat and stared at his food. Normally the guy was eating everything and then even some of her own lunch because she was rarely super hungry.

            Ned was usually there to sneak Peter out of class, asking her to cover for the both of them while they were out of the room. It was a perfect system, but Annie had no clue what was wrong and she just wanted to help. She’d never seen it get to the point that Peter was shaking so much and it made her want to cry. Though, she didn’t cry about it, he was the one hurting, not her.

            It almost reminded her of Harper before they came out as nonbinary, Harper would get nervous. Almost like they wanted nothing more than to rip off their own skin. Annie never understood the feeling, and she was grateful for it. It made her wonder if there was something that Peter had been keeping from her this whole time. Not that she blamed him, they’d only known each other for a little over a month. Sometimes it took awhile before knowing everything about someone else. She certainly understood that.

            What she couldn’t understand was the chip on Flash’s shoulder. He wouldn’t stop alluding to Peter being something that wasn’t human. It made Annie sick and she longed to punch him in the nose. Only, she didn’t know how to punch right, the last time she’d done that, she hurt her hand more than the other person’s face.

            After Annie also noticed that she had all kinds of notes from the lecture, but Peter only had a few words on his notebook paper. The class was messing around for the last five minutes. It was getting kind of loud, and when Annie wanted to try talking to Peter again, but his head rested on the table, covering it with his arms.When the announcement came, telling students to head to the assembly, they both got up.

            “D-do I h-have to go?” Peter asked, looking at Annie with wide eyes.

            Annie chuckled a bit, “Bold of you to assume I would’ve let you go. Where do you go when you’re… well… out of it?”

            “U-under this one staircase,” he said, starting to lead her over there.

            Flash somehow popped up and had an arm around Peter, “Yo, Penis Parker, did ya tell her yet?”

            “Get off of him, Flash,” Annie snapped.

            Flash sighed a bit, “Well, did he tell you? I mean, you had to notice he’s nervous about that male role he got.”

            “Go fuck yourself,” she replied, about to step between them, though Flash would have easily been able to pummel her.

            He chuckled, “Or what? You don’t really care about this… this thing do you?”

            “You need to get off of him,” she repeated, looking back at Peter who looked like he could barely breathe.

            “Oh c’mon, I’m just having fun, you could help me if you wanted,” Flash replied, holding Peter against the lockers.

            Annie bit her lip, wanting nothing more than to electrocute the asshole. She could feel the electricity from the lights, it would be so easy. Then, Flash would be off of Peter and she could help him. Her fists clenched, electricity swirling in them, but she wiped her hands on her pants instead.

            She shook her head, “No, I want you to leave him alone.”

            “You don’t actually care about that tra- wait… you don’t know, do you?” Flash asked, still holding Peter against the lockers.

            “Don’t know what?” she asked.

            Flash chuckled, “Penis Parker, did you not tell her?” he asked, not getting a word out of Peter who looked so pale and he was breathing so quickly.

            “Tell me what? Never mind, it’s not important, get the fuck off of him!” Annie snapped, getting in Flash’s face as she tried to pry him off the lockers.

            “Fine, defend the tranny, but don’t say I didn’t warn you,” he responded, letting go of Peter before running off. Though, not before she discreetly stole all the charge out of his phone.

            Peter sank to the ground, hardly able to hold himself up. For a moment she really considered using the energy around her to help lift him a bit more. The way he seemed to be unable to pay attention, she felt she could get away with it, but seeing the cameras in the hallway told her otherwise.

            “Hey, Pete, can you hear me?” she asked, kneeling down next to him.

            When he didn’t say anything she frowned, “I need you to help me get you under that staircase.”

            He nodded and while she tried supporting Peter, he had to do most of the walking and he curled in a corner where the wall and underneath of the stairs met. When she reached to comfort him, he sort of pushed her away for a bit. She was still processing what Flash had been going on about. Obviously she figured out what Peter was being so nervous about when Flash was talking, but Annie didn’t care about any of that. If he would have just let her say something to him, but she had a feeling that he needed to be on his own for a bit.

            So she pulled out a book and started reading, checking the time. They had an hour and a half to kill. What in the world anyone would need that long to talk about was beyond her, but she wasn’t going to pressure Peter into anything. Instead, she looked over at him to make sure he wasn’t going to hurt himself.

            “A-are you gonna ask about it?” Peter questioned, looking at her.

            Annie shrugged, “Only if you want me to.”

            “Y-you’re not mad or scared or disgusted or anything? I-I mean, I wouldn’t blame you,” he said, his voice thick with tears.

            Annie marked her page and scooted over to him, “Hey, no. I could never… you’re you, Pete, I couldn’t be… I wouldn’t. Dammit, they don’t really write scripts for this kind of stuff,” she said, laughing a bit.

            When Peter didn’t respond, she shook her head, “Sorry, that was a dumb thing to say, wasn’t it?”

            “I-I didn’t wanna tell you,” he started, “A-and then w-we were friends a-and… y-you didn’t notice so I…” Peter choked on his tears.

            Annie frowned, holding his hand, though he quickly drew back, “Of course I didn’t notice, I don’t notice lots of things… and you’re wrong, it’s not ‘were friends’, it’s we are friends, okay?”

            “Y-you don’t need to lie to me… a-almost all my friends ditched me, y-you just feel bad,” he insisted.

            Annie blinked, “Okay, I’m sorry, what? I’m literally right here and you’re just over here, pushing me away.”

            “W-well, are you gonna leave?” Peter asked, looking at her with blotchy eyes.

            She looked at him, “You’re joking, right? I’m pretty sure if I ditch you here, you’re gonna fling yourself off the stairs or something really stupid.”

            “Nah… I’d be okay,” he replied, looking down again.

            Annie pursed her lips, “No, you wouldn’t. I’ve never seen you like this, but you’re… you’re not okay.”

            “I-I am,” he insisted, crossing his arms.

            She shook her head, “Nope. You’re not, and I get it… well, actually I don’t. Not really, I’ve never been outed, though, I guess there’s not much to out.”

            “S-so you’re not leaving?” Peter asked, looking back at her.

            She hummed a bit, “Well, let’s put it this way, are you still just as much of a nerd?”

            “Y-yeah.”

            “And are you still helping me with physics?”

            “Yep.”

            “And are you still the smartest guy I’ve met?”

            “Smarter than Ned?”

            “That’s off topic, but yeah.”

            “Th-then I guess so.”

            Annie smiled a bit, “Well, then you’re still the same guy I met in that bakery, it’s that simple.”

            “I-I’m getting top surgery in a couple weeks… do you think it’ll hurt the musical?”

            She shrugged, “I doubt it, if I have anything to say in it, which I will, you’re gonna be stuck with that part.”

            “What if it’s too much? I-I mean, everything’s too much for me now… I don’t know if I could…” he trailed off.

            She shook her head, “What’re you meaning?”

            “Like… the lights and noises and people are too much already and sounds, what if I can’t… wh-what if I screw up a-and this happens again?” he started to ramble.

            “Then I’ll help you and we’ll work with it, hey… you need to slow your breathing again,” she said, reaching for him.

            This time, Peter didn’t pull back and instead pulled her into a very tight hug. Annie didn’t realize he had such a tight grip before, but she hugged him back, breathing slowly and deeply. The events reminded her a little bit too much of times Harper would flip out over their body. She held Peter as tightly as she could, though, having always been a few inches shorter and smaller in general made that rather hard. Somehow, that didn’t stop Peter from managing to shrink into her for a good while. It was hard for her to tell if he was crying or not, but his bloodshot eyes gave it away when he looked at her.

            All Annie could notice was just how close they were, she could feel Peter’s heart beating. It had been going a million miles a minute, but now she could feel that his heart rate went down. His breathing wasn’t nearly as fast, and she had a feeling he was doing okay. Well, enough for her to not have to keep holding onto Peter, but there they both were, sitting under a staircase in each other’s arms.

            Seeing Peter look away, Annie cupped his face in her hand and turned it so he was looking at her. It was like he wanted to keep crying, but he physically couldn’t. His eyes looked so raw from wiping them with his sweater. She should’ve said something earlier and she hadn’t. How could she have been so oblivious? Everything made sense when she knew Peter was transgender. She’d always wondered where Flash got “Penis Parker” from, and that was one of a handful of things that made sense to her.

            They hadn’t moved at all, she was still touching his face and he wasn’t moving away. If she leaned in a little bit more, their lips would be touching. Annie could hear him breathing softly, and her heartbeat was getting slightly faster. Nothing was stopping her, except her own mind thinking about everything that could end up happening.

            If she kissed Peter, did that mean they were together? What if it turned out he didn’t feel that way about her? If they were together, then what would she do about Spider-Man, whom she without a doubt had feelings for as well. She would only complicate things further by hiding the fact she was a superhero. After thinking of all that, Annie only then wondered if it was right to even think about kissing Peter when he was like this.

            Still, most of Annie’s head just couldn’t listen to everything that would go wrong. Peter was right there and she wasn’t sure when she would get another chance to be this close to Peter again. It wasn’t like she would ever be able to make something happen with Spider-Man, not when Peter made so much more sense.

            Just when she barely felt herself move closer to Peter, the sound of the final bell rang out. Both Annie and Peter jumped, separating in that moment. That moment made the decision for her, and they both got their bags.

            “You okay, though? Like, can you walk and stuff?” Annie asked as they got out from under the stairwell.

            Peter nodded, pulling the bag onto his shoulders, “Yeah, I-I just kinda wanna go home for right now.”

            “Alright, I’m walking you home too, though,” she replied as they left the building through a side exit.

            They didn’t talk about anything that happened while under the stairs. Instead, Annie went on, gushing about how great it would be to work with him on the musical. She didn’t want to make him uncomfortable, so she ended up doing most of the talking, which was fine by her.

            After she ended up rambling and repeating herself for the third time, she sighed, “Does Flash do that shit a lot?”

            “No… I mean yeah… b-but not like that,” he started.

            She nodded, “Okay, I’ll remember that.”

            “Why?”

            “Oh, nothing. I might pull some strings later,” she said, shrugging nonchalantly.

            When she got Peter back to his apartment, Annie waited for Peter to go back to his room before telling May what happened. She mentioned everything except the part where she almost kissed Peter.

            It took awhile, but Annie finally got into her White Swan costume and went around patrolling. The shirt she had underneath did keep her warm, but it didn’t stop her from feeling that something was missing. By the time she slid back into her bedroom, she hadn’t seen Spider-Man at all.

Chapter Text

            “What do you mean you’re gone for the next two weeks?” Annie asked, not crossing her arms because she was holding back a criminal against the wall until the police could get there.

            Spider-Man shrugged, “Um… well, I gotta go to this family trip… I couldn’t get out of it.”

            “So, you decided to tell me this at the same time that you ran out of web fluid… because… why?” she asked, shaking her head and trying to hide that she was rolling her eyes.

            He sighed, “B-because I forgot?”

            “Jeez, no wonder you’re a hero. You suck at lying,” she replied, “Now tell me what’s actually up.”

            Spider-Man’s eyes squinted, “Well, I figured if you were using your powers on someone else, then you couldn’t use your powers on me or anything.”

            “Now, why would I be doing that?” Annie questioned.

            He shrugged, “You said you use your powers on accident when you get surprised.”

            “Not like that, Spidey, it’s if you came behind and totally surprised me. Anyways, didn’t you say your suit was protected against that?” she asked, tilting her head a bit.

            Spider-Man nodded, “Yeah, but that doesn’t mean getting blasted back sounds like fun. I just didn’t want you to be mad at me.”

            “Well, I’m not, you deserve the break, just, next time, don’t forget your web fluid, you’re kinda useless without it,” she responded, taking the shield down when she saw some police officers coming.

            They got a away from the officers, not feeling like dealing with any prying questions. All that mattered to either of them was that the guy got caught and, most likely, arrested. Besides, it was starting to get late for Annie. Even if Spider-Man was going on some last-second vacation, she sure wasn’t. She couldn’t help wishing that she was the one getting to leave the area for awhile. Granted, several people visited New York City for vacation, Annie was beginning to lose the appeal of the city.

            Not that it was a terrible place to live, she was with a group of people who were probably the best for her. It allowed her to grow from her previous year of head games with other competitive theatre kids in her old school, but she did miss Seattle. Mainly for the constant rain and her best friend.

            Annie huffed a bit as she got to the top of a building, “Well, that’s it for me tonight. Have fun on your little vacation, Spidey,” she said, looking around the rushing traffic below.

            “Well, I’ll try. Just do your best to hold down the fort, okay?” he replied, putting an arm around her shoulder.

            Annie didn’t step back, but didn’t try to get closer to him either, “You don’t need to worry about me, I know what I’m doing.”

            “I-I hope you’re right, you know I told you if things get really bad-”

            “Go talk to Mr. Stark, yeah, obviously, I know the drill. But that’d jeopardize everything with Tina,” Annie countered.

            Spider-Man shook his head, “But that doesn’t matter if you get yourself hurt.”

            “Hey, I’ve always told you that I could do it on my own just fine. Just trust me, okay?” she said, turning to face him.

            He nodded a bit, “Right, I just don’t want you doing anything stupid.”

            “That’s not gonna happen, promise. Now, it may not be a school night for you, but it is for me, so I’m gonna head to bed,” she told him, stepping back and starting to glide back to her apartment.

            The next day, Annie could hardly think straight. One of her best friends was going into surgery, and something told her she was far more nervous than Peter was. Of course, she had been the one reading about top surgery horror stories and surgery horror stories in general. Not to mention all the days she’d spent binge-watching Grey’s Anatomy in the past. Anything could go wrong and Annie was far too aware of that.

            Ned seemed far more relaxed about the whole thing. In fact, it was almost like Ned knew something that she didn’t. Something that would basically ensure that he was going to be just fine and that Annie was worrying over literally nothing. Though, he was pretending to play into Annie listing her worries.

            She seemed to focus her entire being onto the spring production of West Side Story, claiming she was worried sick that Peter wouldn’t be able to catch up with his part as Tony. Being the lead was stressful, and Ned knew that thanks to Annie saying so at least fifty times within their first period.

            Ned sighed, starting to roll his eyes a bit, “Look, we can go talk to Peter after school, you know?”

            “No way! Doesn’t he have to be in post-op and kept for observation for, like, twenty-four hours?” Annie asked, finishing up some trigonometry homework.

            He shook his head, “Only if he’s got some debilitating condition, which he doesn’t.”

            “Okay… we can make it to him after play rehearsal,” she said, scratching out some silly mistake she’d made.

            Ned laughed a bit, “I don’t get why you’re making me come to those things, Flash already got the part, I’m just the understudy.”

            “For now,” Annie’s voice dropped, “You should know me, I’ve got a plan, it’s gonna be full-proof, I’m telling you.”

            Ned raised an eyebrow, “And this amazingly-concocted plan that somehow involves me despite it being for your idea of revenge would be…”

            “Not telling, you might end up giving it away. Plus, I’d love to see the look on your face when I totally succeed,” Annie claimed, smirking a bit.

            There was no way Annie was about to let anyone get away with hurting Peter like that. Maybe it was because she really liked him, and maybe it was because she couldn’t stand Flash. To think that she had compared herself to him in the first place. Sure, she had been a bit cocky and egotistical, arguably she still was, but she had never been so awful to anyone on purpose.

            Her plan was far from full-proof, and Annie was well aware of that. Convincing the teacher to make Flash to be Peter’s understudy would take a lot of convincing. She would have to word everything just right, and a part of her knew that it would probably end up biting her in the back at the end of the day. Still, Annie was so set on getting back at Flash that the risks to it almost didn’t matter to her.

            The school day went by quickly when Annie was actually making an effort to do well in her classes. She needed to take at least halfway-decent notes for Peter. Both Ned and herself had promised to get him his work while he was resting and recovering from the top surgery. It wasn’t that Annie didn’t care about her schoolwork, but she did feel like their were bigger things in her life than schoolwork. There was a musical to worry about and superhero duties on top of that.

            Once the last bell rang, Annie rushed to rehearsal, hoping that she could get to the teacher fast enough. The last thing she needed was for anyone to be around to witness her attempt at revenge. She didn’t even want Ned to be there because she was positive that he would tell her it was a terrible idea. Even though, deep down, Annie knew it wasn’t the best idea, nothing would keep her from what she had planned.

            “Hey, Ms. Salazar, I’ve been meaning to talk to you,” Annie said, relieved to see that no one showed up to the auditorium yet.

            Ms. Salazar looked up from her papers, “What is it?”

            “Well, you see, I’ve been doing some thinking. And, I mean, I really don’t mean to try and boss you around, but at that performing arts school, we had the second best performer as the understudy to the lead,” she started.

            Ms. Salazar slowly nodded, “Where are you going with this?”

            “Um… you see, I feel that Flash is just such a good actor, and that it would make more sense to have him understudy for Peter,” she explained.

            The teacher looked up at Annie, “I see what you’re meaning, but why are you telling me how to cast my musical?”

            “Because I feel like my opinion has value given my experience,” Annie replied.

            Ms. Salazar nodded again, “Right, so you feel you can just do my job and that you know better?”

            “No, of course not! I just want this production to go great, it’s kinda gonna be my baby until closing night,” she said, standing up straighter.

            As others started to come into the room, Ms. Salazar sighed, “I’ll give it some thought, but don’t expect me to take everything you say to heart just because you’re the lead female.”

            “Of course not, I just wanted to see what you thought, I’m gonna look over my lines,” she responded, walking off.

            Feeling somewhat accomplished, Annie sat on the edge of the stage, reading her script and looking over the harmonies for the songs. Some of the notes seemed simple enough, a part of her worried that Peter wouldn’t be able to harmonize for anything. Then again, she would just work on it with him. He was able to make time to help her with physics, she could get time to rehearse with him on their own.

            After being wrapped up in her own part, looking at her lines that were highlighted in pink, she heard steps on the stage approaching her. She didn’t think much of it until she recognized the shadow to be Ned’s.

            “What did you do?” Ned asked, his eyebrows furrowed together.

            Annie grinned a bit, looking up at him, “I fixed everything, now Flash isn’t in the main cast and you can be. It’s perfect, isn’t it?”

            “Um… newsflash, that didn’t happen. Flash is still his main part and now Peter’s understudy too,” he answered, shaking his head.

            She gave an incredulous look, snapping her script shut, “You’re playing with me, that’s not… ugh you gotta be fucking joking.”

            “Wish I was, but you kinda made things worse. If you’d told me-”

            “You’d have told me it was dumb and I wouldn’t have listened. So I screwed up… we just gotta make sure Peter doesn’t back out,” she said, keeping her voice down.

            Ned sighed, “You know that’s easier said than done. As much as he’d love to hang out with you for a few more hours, he’s been talking about backing out.”

            “He better not, I’m not about to kiss Flash, even if it is a staged one,” Annie replied, running a hand through her hair.

            Ned shook his head, “You seriously dug yourself a hole.”

            “And I’ll figure it out, okay? We’re just working on the beginning dance sequence anyways, it’ll be cool,” she said, even though she knew that it was far from cool.

            For the first time in awhile, Annie was so relieved that rehearsal was over. She and Ned couldn’t get on that subway fast enough. They didn’t say too much because Annie knew that there wasn’t much to say. It was obvious that she had been dumb, thinking that she needed to get back at Flash for a problem that wasn’t even her own. A problem that she should have ignored for Peter’s sake.

            The January air was just as cold as the December air and it cut right through Annie’s oversized sweater and scarf. She tried to think of just what she was going to tell Peter. If Ned was right about Peter wanting to back out, which he probably was, then Annie needed to convince him otherwise.

            “You know, if you wanna get Peter to stick with everything, you should really make a point that you want to play his love interest,” Ned suggested as they walked up to Peter’s apartment building.

            Annie raised an eyebrow, “Are you suggesting that I flirt with one of my best friends to manipulate him?”  

            “Not quite, just, he likes you, and I think you like him. But neither of you are doing anything about it. I think this’ll either make everything great or completely wreck both of you,” he replied.

            Annie huffed, “I’m a professional, I don’t do showmances, performing is more than enough stress on its own, but a relationship? You gotta be kidding, Ned.”

            “Right, that’s why you tried to get back at Flash with the musical. Something I’d bet money he doesn’t care about, but right, you’re the expert,” Ned said, not even hiding the fact he was rolling his eyes.

            She sighed a bit, “Okay, fine, maybe I get ahead of myself sometimes, but shut up, we’re here.”

            “Just saying, he like-li-” Ned was cut off thanks to Annie elbowing him after she knocked.

            May opened the door, smiling at both of them, “Oh, it’s so great to see both of you, come in. Pete’s been sleeping, but I think he woke up a little bit ago. He probably figured you guys were coming.”

            “Yeah, Annie’s been worried sick about him,” Ned teased.

            “Well, yeah, he’s my friend and he just had surgery,” Annie claimed.

            May chuckled a bit, “He’s doing just fine, go on.”

            The pair walked into Peter’s room, Ned knocking on the doorframe before they both walked in. When Annie walked in, she saw Peter laying in bed, looking like he had just been taking a nap. It made Annie wonder if trying to talk to him was a good idea. Her hesitation had to have been obvious because Peter let out a weak laugh.

            “I’m tired, not dead,” Peter said, smiling a bit.

            Annie nodded, “Yeah… so, I’m guessing it went alright?”

            “Yep! I should be just about back to normal in two weeks,” Peter replied.

            Ned dug into his backpack, “Which reminds me, I got your notes.”

            “Oh, so did I!” Annie said, getting into her bag as well.

            It took awhile for all three of them to stop talking, but Annie backed out first. She had to get some patrolling done. Spider-Man was relying on her and it was finally her chance to prove she could be independent and that it would all work out just fine. That she wouldn’t jeopardize everything with Tina.

            When she left, she ended up having to change in an alleyway. That was probably her least favorite place to change because she knew how risky it was for someone to just go up to her and find her out. In hindsight, it would have been smarter for her to go home, but she also felt like she needed to use her powers. Especially after being so infuriated with herself.

            Knowing what talking to Ms. Salazar had gotten her into, Annie would be the first to admit she screwed up. By all rights, Peter should have been allowed to say no to the lead role because it was stressful, but she did want to spend more time with Peter. Not to mention that she did actually like him, but she didn’t want to get romance wrapped into her already insane life.

            Well, that and she still couldn’t decide between Peter and Spider-Man. It felt like they both had such great qualities and that she couldn’t go wrong. Only, deep down, Annie knew that if she went with one that she wouldn’t stop having feelings for the other.

Yes, Peter was sweet and he was so obviously safe and she could talk to him without wanting to roll her eyes all the time. He was obviously the best choice because she knew him for who he was. She liked that he was so nice and smart and loyal, of course she did. The point was that she was starting to know him so well. It felt like by the time the school year ended, she would know just about everything about him. Even if he was always gone because of that internship.

            The only problem was that she would only end up wondering about what things could have been like with Spider-Man. Who was the guy anyways? He seemed so familiar, like she would know what she was getting herself into if she went for him. Annie was positive that he was flirting with her half the time anyways. Sure, she flirted back, but if it wasn’t for her bringing everything back to reality, there probably would have been something there the whole time.

            It was while she was thinking and gliding along that Annie noticed some poor, old lady getting her purse snatched. She hopped down, getting right between the mugger and the lady. When she got the purse out of the man’s hands, Annie handed it to the lady with a smile.

            After helping the lady find her way, she started to get on her way when the mugger came back. Annie had her hands up, more than ready to fight. There was something about the guy that had her a bit concerned, but it wasn’t anything she felt that she needed to think on it.

            “Look, if you wanna be arrested, just say so,” Annie said, shaking her head.

            The man laughed, “Oh, you think I’m the one who’s gonna get hurt here, real funny.”

            “Um… yeah, I kinda have powers, I’m gonna pulverise you,” she deadpanned.

            Seeing that the man wasn’t stepping down, Annie gathered some energy to push him back. When he just walked back up to her, she sighed a little. Maybe the guy was just a little bit messed up in the head. She didn’t want to hurt him, only because she knew that Spider-Man would ream her for it later if she did.

            Instead, she kept pushing back until he brought out a knife and charged at her when she least expected it. Annie blocked it, but just barely. It had been dangerously close to her stomach. She couldn’t get stabbed to death on her first day working alone.

            “Yo, where’s ya spider buddy?” the man asked.

            Annie shrugged, “Guess he couldn’t make it, kind of a shame.”

            They ended up going at each other again, Annie starting to use electricity to get him to leave her alone for a moment. Only, it was as though he knew something she didn’t, but she had to go with what she knew was going on. That worked for a bit, until she heard someone behind her. She shielded herself quickly avoiding another knife.

            So many questions entered her mind, but she was doing what she could to keep the two guys off of her. She wasn’t sure if she could concentrate on both of them at once. Her powers weren’t the issue, her abilities were. If she went all out, she’d end up killing both men, but at the rate she was going, Annie was going to get herself killed. Something that she was certain she’d get reamed for.

            Though, when she was defending herself from one, the other snuck behind and jabbed her in the thigh. Annie felt the knife, but no pain until there was a slight tingle. In that moment, Annie threw him back with everything she could muster and the force got the other man away from her as well.

            Everything seemed to stand still until she felt her thigh start to tingle. Then, there was nothing but heat, searing hot pain that caused her to scream. Tears welled in her dark eyes. She had to get somewhere, she needed to get home or to a hospital. Sure, she was in her costume, but if she could just get to her room, there had to be something stupid she could say that would be a good enough excuse.

            Her apartment was too far away, and a hospital was out of the question if she was still in her costume. Though, there was one person she knew who was close by. He would have to help, she hoped that he would. Annie gritted her teeth and she scaled a building, gliding from place to place, each time crying out because of the pain she could feel the pain more than anything she had ever felt before.

            When she landed on Peter’s fire escape, Annie silently prayed that he was awake. She knocked on the window. There wasn’t anywhere else for her to go, and Annie wasn’t sure if she could ever get to her apartment without something to help her heal.

            Her knocking became furious when he didn’t respond. He was probably asleep, and Annie knew he should be resting. Getting to him was just as dumb as going to the hospital, Peter was going to figure her out. She started to wonder if he would ever answer.

            Then there was Peter’s face looking at her, his chocolate brown eyes staring at her in fear.

Chapter Text

    For a moment, Annie thought that Peter had figured her out. As terrified as she normally would have been, her pain clouded that fear. If nothing else, she was almost certain that Peter wouldn’t hurt her. So when he opened his window, letting her in, she figured that he already knew who she was.

    He pressed a finger to his lips, “Just try to keep it down, my aunt’s finally asleep,” he whispered, his voice groggy and low.

    “R-right, ah, shit,” Annie muttered, biting down on her arm to stop herself from crying out from the pain.

    It was then that Peter saw the blood on her leg, “Oh, I-I’ll get something for that, just hold on, you can sit on my bed.”

    Annie nodded a bit, sitting on the bed. The room was a bit different, she had never been in it while it was really dark outside. She looked over at Peter’s digital alarm clock on a desk, seeing it was just half past ten. If she took too long to get home, her parents would wonder just what she was up to. She didn’t need them asking too many prying questions. More importantly, she didn’t know what excuse she would use for having a stab wound right in the side of her left thigh.

    “Hey… I found some stuff. Look, it’s gonna hurt a lot and I don’t really know what I’m doing,” Peter said, having a bunch of supplies in one arm while wiping the sleep out of his eyes.

    Annie grimaced, “Great, just make it quick… please. Um… could I maybe borrow that pillow of yours? I just… I probably shouldn’t bite my arm so much.”

    “Y-yeah, of course… wait, shouldn’t you go somewhere to get this checked out?” Peter asked, looking up at her with concern.

    Annie shook her head, “N-no, I just kinda stopped when my leg gave out, ya know?”

    “I guess… but… y-you’re that White Swan lady, aren’t you?” he questioned, wetting some cotton pads with peroxide.

    She buried her face in the pillow, feeling like a million needles were stabbing into the wound and tears pierced her eyes again, “Y-yeah… how do you know?”

    “Oh,um… I’ve uh… seen you around before,” Peter claimed, a claim that Annie felt was a lie, but didn’t feel she was at liberty to ask.

    What amazed her was that Peter just didn’t recognize her at all. Maybe it was because he was tired, or because she didn’t normally sound like she was in so much pain. She couldn’t say anything more as he continued to clean the wound. A part of her wanted to scream until the pain went away, but she was positive that if May got involved that her cover was blown for sure. Annie was already toeing the line she never liked to mess around with. It was why she tended to avoid people she knew while out patrolling.

    Then again, Annie had never seen Peter around while she was out trying to save the city. Though, it wasn’t like she was paying attention. She did glide from building to building a lot, and she knew that. That had to have been why he knew who she was.

    “I-I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I-it’s not as deep as I thought, y-you should be okay,” Peter said, yawning a little bit.

    Annie nodded, tears blurring her vision and Peter shook his head when he saw, “Hey, hey, hey. You’re fine, I just need to get the blood to stop. I-I’ll bandage it up, but I’ll have to rip this tear a bit more.”

    “J-just do it, that’s fine,” she said, not wanting to meet his gaze.

    Sure, Harper would probably kill her if she asked for a new suit, but Annie needed it. While there was no way that she would get it for another couple weeks, Annie knew that she could patch it up so it would hold out for that long. Those thoughts managed to take over her head instead of the pain from her thigh. It felt more like a dull ache after what looked to be fifteen minutes.

    Peter found some scissors, cutting the silvery spandex material and wrapped a bandage around it, “I’d try to stay off of it.”

    “Well, no can do… I’m subbing in for a friend right now,” she replied with a sigh.

    Peter frowned, looking at her, “I think your friend would understand if you’re out of commission for now.”

    “Maybe he would, but I don’t think most other people would,” she said with a small shrug.

    He shook his head, “I mean, I can’t stop you… but I think it’s a bad idea.”

    “Well, it’s not… but I need to do it,” Annie insisted, “Speaking of staying off my leg, I gotta bounce.”

    Peter grabbed her wrist, pulling her down before she could get up, “Please, get some actual help. I-I’m not a doctor, but just… be careful, will you?”

    “Yeah, yeah, of course, I’ll be fine… but I really gotta get home,” Annie said, starting to get up again.

    Peter frowned and nodded a little, “Okay, but I really think that your friend would understand… just, trust me on this?”

    “Okay, okay, okay, I’ll be okay. I won’t do anything too stupid, you don’t need to worry about me, I’m the superhero, remember?” she pointed out, pushing up her mask a bit so it wouldn’t slip off.

    He sighed, letting go of her, “Alright, I just hope you’re right.”

    “Of course I am,” she responded, limping out of the window and onto the fire escape.

    As she managed to glide herself back to her apartment, Annie couldn’t help realizing how close of a call that had been. What really had her mind reeling was how he hadn’t just recognized her right away. She had done a terrible job of keeping herself reserved as possible, but that was when an explanation that made far more sense than Peter being overly tired popped into her mind. If he’d just gotten through a surgery, then that meant he had to have been on pain killers, that had to be why he hadn’t been able to see right through her. With how close they were, or how close she felt that they were, she was positive that he could have figured it out. Maybe if he had been completely in his right mind he would have figured it out. Either way, she needed to find a way to get this by her parents.

    That answer came from Harper having the positively full-proof plan which would keep Peter from ever suspecting he had been helping her the whole time, as well as getting the chance to brush the truth away from her parents. Annie changed back into her regular clothes once she got to her apartment and took off the dressings for the stab wound. It began to get a little bit of blood, and she found one of her shirts and a pocket knife.

    Her phone rang at such a loud volume that she hardly had to pretend to be scared by it, but she let out a cry like she had stabbed herself with the knife on accident. When she picked up the phone, she picked it up to Harper who was sighing a bit, commenting on how Annie owed them big. Annie knew that already, even with Harper all the way across the country, they were managing to help her a ton. Especially when Harper knew that meant they would have to send in a slightly new suit.

    Ever since Annie had first gotten herself beaten up, Harper knew they would need to have a couple other prototypes of the suit lying around. Though they weren’t extremely technologically advanced. There was only so much Harper could do when their parents were CEOs to a fabric company. Annie claimed she really only needed the suit, and for the most part it was true. Normally her powers were enough to keep regular criminals from hurting her, but she just hadn’t been thinking straight.

    “Annie! What happened, honey?” her mom asked, running into the room.

    Her dad followed right next to her, “Yeah,you were screaming… is that blood?”

    Annie winced a bit, looking at the pocket knife she had put blood on, “Y-yeah, I was cutting this really annoying tag off of my shirt and… well… Harper called and… well… i-it scared me.”

    Actually saying the excuse out loud was what made Annie feel like it was the dumbest thing she had ever spoken. Though, Harper had been the one to claim that was why the excuse was genius. It was so dumb that no one could question it.

    “Well, that doesn’t matter, we need to get you to a hospital,” her mom insisted.

    Annie sighed a bit, trying to still pretend like she was in terrible amounts of pain, “Obviously.”

    “You should be able to go to school tomorrow, though,” her dad said.

    Sure enough, Annie had been able to get stitches on the stab wound without her parents questioning a thing. She was able to get to school the next day, though the doctor insisted she use crutches as a precaution. If it had been up to Annie, she would have just hid the fact that she had been injured at all. Instead, she would have to hope that people would believe her dumb story for the next few days.

    Thankfully they had bought her made up excuses and there were only a few days left before Spider-Man was scheduled to come back. As much as she hated to admit it, she did feel like something was missing without the masked hero. It had only taken a couple days for Annie to be well enough to go around patrolling, and less than that to haphazardly stitch up her suit as she waited for Harper’s delivery.

    Every once in awhile, she would find herself looking over her shoulder, about to talk to someone who wasn’t even there. Maybe they really were partners and it was just starting to hit her. After having been alone while running around Seattle for a couple years, Annie had been so certain that she could have handled being alone again. That being alone would have been nice and welcoming because she wouldn’t have some masked guy telling her about the time he got to fight Captain America and Ant-Man.

    However, it did give her a chance to get farther on Tina’s case. Something she did out of the suit because it made things feel more natural. Annie had started meeting Tina at the shelter and then wandering along, talking. If they kept in the middle of public, Annie knew that they would be less likely to be watched because of how many people were around.

    “I know… I only have five more months until I’m eighteen, and I know that means I can get charged for everything… but I can’t go against him,” Tina started, pushing back her frizzy, kinky hair.

    Annie nodded, “Right, I know that, but there’s no other way to get you out free and to get him behind bars. If you tell me who this guy is-”

    “Then he’ll be after me, you should know that. He’ll know I’m trying to go out against him. It’s a fight I won’t win,” she insisted.

    Annie pulled the sleeves of her hoodie down, “I know that, but you won’t be alone. You’ll have me and Spider-Man and we’ll keep you safe. No one will hurt you.”

    “You can’t promise that.”

    “Yeah, I can.”

    “You shouldn’t make a promise you won’t be able to keep. That’s just dumb, Annie, you should know that,” Tina replied, sighing exasperatedly.

    Annie frowned, “Look, you don’t deserve to get in trouble for something you couldn’t control. You’re so much better now, you’ve been getting better. You can’t throw that away.”

    “And I won’t, we’ll work it out. But I’m not getting anyone charged with anything,” Tina said.

    “What if I found him? What if I got to him on my own?” Annie asked.

    Tina scoffed, “That’s impossible, he’s not just down the street or something. You can’t just stumble across him.

    “Why not? You managed to, why couldn’t I?”

    “It’s not… it’s not that easy, you should know this by now. Look, you can’t save everyone. You should stop trying to save my life and just be a supportive friend,” Tina responded, sitting on a bench.

    Annie sat next to her, “What if I could do both?”

    “I don’t know how you’d do that, but I feel like I can’t stop you,” she relented.

    Annie shrugged, “You’re not wrong there,” she paused to look at the time, “Shit, I gotta go, I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?”

    “Alright, but it better not be another one of these conversations again. I need someone to talk shit about all of my awful classmates with. You know, normal topics,” Tina said.

    Annie smiled a bit, “And you’ll get that, I just… I don’t want to see you getting hurt.”

    It didn’t take too long for Annie to get up to Peter’s apartment. Over the two weeks of helping him stay on top of his classes, she didn’t even have to knock to get into the apartment. May was so used to seeing her around that she saw Annie as someone else who basically lived there. Though, Annie knew she wouldn’t have as much of an excuse to go over to his apartment with him being back at school in a matter of days.

    “Yeah, I know it’s been awhile, but I still can’t stop thinking about it. How am I supposed to know if she’s okay or not?” Annie could hear Peter talking and she stopped, peeping on the conversation.

    “You’ll know when you get back, but I’m sure she’s fine. You said it yourself, she’s a hero, like Iron Man,” Ned replied.

    Annie heard Peter sigh, “But what if she’s not? What if she fell off of one of those buildings or something? What if she’s-”

    “Dude, if she was dead that would be news, you wouldn’t have to sit around wondering,” Ned insisted.

    Annie walked into the room, “If who was dead?”

    “Oh um… no one… it’s n-nothing,” Peter stammered.

    Ned smirked a little, “Right… he got a little super visitor awhile ago and he’s worried she got herself killed.”

    “Well she didn’t look too great, she was bleeding a lot and she kept trying to leave. I-I don’t know why she came to me,” Peter said, running a hand through his hair.

    Annie coughed a bit, her eyes widening just a tad, “Wait, wait, who’s this exactly?”

    “Um… she said she was White Swan… she showed up bleeding and injured and I was worried about her. And I haven’t seen her since,” Peter explained.

    Ned shrugged, “It’s hard to see anyone when you’re home sick for a couple weeks. I’m telling him she’s just fine.”

    Annie quickly nodded, “Yeah, she’s probably just fine, you just don’t see her around much. I saw her gliding around a couple nights ago.”

    “Wait… you know her?” Peter asked.

    Annie shook her head, “Oh, no, that’s… nope. Just have seen her around. Ya know, like I see Spider-Man swinging around once in awhile.”

    Having dodged another narrow bullet that would rip right through the identity she had worked to keep secret, Annie had managed to relax. The three of them focusing on school work for a little while until Ned claimed he needed to go home. Incidentally, he said it right as Annie mentioned the musical, which Annie found meant they were supposed to be talking about something.

    “Um… ah… about the musical, I’m-”

    Annie cut Peter off, “You have to do it.”

    “Wait… what, I can’t I-I don’t have time,” Peter began.

    Annie shook her head, “No, you have to stay. Please, I wouldn’t want anyone else to be Tony.”

    “Look, I know you want us to work together b-because we’re friends, but I-”

    Annie cut him off again, “No, you don’t get it. Flash is your understudy. If you back out, I have to stage-kiss Flash. I’d sooner smack the shit out of him.”

    “Wait… what?” Peter asked.

    Annie sighed, “I tried to get him as your understudy so Ned could be in the musical too, and it backfired. So now you definitely can’t ditch me.”

    “Did you seriously? Annie! I can’t believe you would do that!” Peter exclaimed.

    Annie shrugged, “I know, I know, it was stupid and I’m stupid and it was impulsive and I shouldn’t have done that and-”

    “You’re not stupid… but now I really can’t ditch you, can I?” he replied.

    Annie nodded, “Glad we’re on the same page, I hope you’ve been looking at the script, because I’m not kissing Flash… anyways, I should probably get outta here, my parents want me home kinda early.”

    The whole way home, Annie hadn’t mentioned the fact that she would much rather kiss Peter than Flash. Not because she hated Flash, which she did, but because she really did like Peter. Though she also liked Spider-Man, kissing Peter on a stage wouldn’t mean anything. Well, it didn’t have to mean anything. She would get to pretend for just a bit every day to know what it was like to be with Peter.

    When they finally rehearsed for the first time, Annie couldn’t believe that she was going over lines with Peter, it just felt so real. It was to the point that she wasn’t even bothered when he said he had to duck out a few minutes early. He promised he would work on learning his lines and swore up and down he was listening to the songs for the musical.

    Annie didn’t worry because she wanted to get into her new suit and finally see Spider-Man for the first time in a couple weeks. Even if he was obnoxious and drove her crazy, it was something she missed more than she would care to admit. That was what she thought as she got into the suit that had just the slightest bit different designs. Nothing that gave her suit more power, it was just a bit of a different design.

    “Swan!” an all too familiar voice yelled out.

    Annie turned to see Spider-Man, “Hey, Spidey, it’s been awhile.”

    “You made it!” he exclaimed.

    Right when Annie was about to continue playing it off like she had been just fine the whole time. Like she hadn’t missed their banter and having someone around. Like she hadn’t gotten herself hurt. Like she didn’t miss having Spider-Man around, he ran up and engulfed her in a tight hug. He picked her up with little difficulty and Annie hugged him back. She’d never let herself get so close to Spider-Man before, but she quickly realized she didn’t want to be away from him.

  1.     Annie laughed a bit when he put her down, “Yeah, I guess I did.”

Chapter Text

            Weekends were starting to become Annie’s favorite part of the week for one main reason. That was the time she was able to get Peter by himself so they could do some extra rehearsing. Something recommended by Ms. Salazar in order to ensure that both Peter and Annie were getting their parts together. Though, the two ended up getting sidetracked almost every Saturday morning. It was so easy to do when they were just on their own in Annie or Peter’s apartment. Neither of them could focus on the script for too long. One of them would mess up a line and end up laughing and then they would get off topic.

            “Okay… do you even know what these harmonies sound like?” Annie asked, arching an eyebrow.

            Peter shrugged a little, “I mean… I’ve listened to the music once.”

            “So you haven’t seen the movie? You’re the male lead and haven’t seen the movie? You’ve got to be kidding!” Annie exclaimed, “You’re killing me here!” she added, flopping on her bed.

            Peter laughed, offering a hand to help her sit up, “Sorry? I mean, I’m trying here. You’re the one leading all of this, seriously.”

            “You’re seriously kidding, I’m pretty sure Ms. Salazar regrets making me the lead,” Annie admitted, taking Peter’s hand and sitting up.

            Peter shook his head, “No, you’re hitting all those crazy high notes and you’ve got that accent, you’re doing great. There’s no way she doesn’t like you.”

            “You really think so?”

            “I know so, and you’re kinda the more experienced out of everyone… you went to an actual acting school,” Peter pointed out, smiling.

            Annie huffed, “Don’t do that…”

            “Do what?” he asked, grinning.

            “That whole confidence thing where you tell me that I’m the best when I’m totally not.”

            “You know… I think you’re just being humble.”

            Annie sighed, grabbing a hair-tie from her nightstand, “I mean, I guess… but that’s not the point. What do you say we do something kind of illegal?”

            “Like what? Are you breaking into the liquor cabinet?” Peter asked.

            She rolled her eyes, laughing a bit, “That was one time and it was a holiday, but no, it’s a different type of illegal, come on.”

            Annie got on her computer, opening a browser, “Besides, this is slightly less illegal because bootlegs are only illegal if you’re downloading them. And it’s gonna be better than the 1961 movie.”

            “What’re you doing?” Peter asked, sitting at the edge of her bed.

            Annie grinned mischievously, “Totally not showing you the 2009 West Side Story revival to show you some of my ideas. You said you speak Spanish, right?”

            “Um… yeah, why? Do you?” he questioned, watching as Annie was looking up something.

            “Well, I can sing it, and my dad said I was, uh, found in South America so… my point is, adding more Spanish lyrics in some spots. Hell, during the regular dialogue even,” she explained as she clicked on a video, “Okay, also, this isn’t even on Broadway anymore, so we couldn’t even see it legally if we had the money.”

            Peter sighed a little bit, laying across her bed to get comfortable as the bootleg started up. Annie ended up laying down next to him, trying to forget that she was right next to Peter. That her parents weren’t home and that she was supposed to be working on having chemistry with Peter. As if that was so difficult. How in the world was that going to be hard? It was the easiest thing in the world. With his messy curly hair going everywhere because it was obvious that he’d been running late that morning. The way he stared at her monitor, his eyebrows furrowed together in concentration.

            Maybe Ned had been right, she just needed to tell him and this was the perfect way to get closer to him. It wasn’t like they weren’t close already, and it wasn’t like she wouldn’t be seeing him after the show was over. This was simply an excuse to be around Peter, and she couldn’t help enjoying every second of it.

            Everything felt just perfect, laying next to Peter, just barely touching. That was until the first kiss happened on the screen. They both seemed to avoid looking at each other until Annie coughed a bit.

            “D-do we have to do that? Kiss, I mean, I mean… you’re cool, but I’ve… I-I’ve um… n-never uh… I-I’ve never kissed anyone before,” Peter admitted, his face going a bright red.

            Annie giggled a bit, if her heart wasn’t racing she would have closed the small space between both of them right there, “Hey, I’ll let you in on a secret, most of the time we won’t. It’d be more like this,” she said, leaning in so close that it was almost painful to not close the space.

            “And we just get really close like this, and we don’t even have to kiss. Unless you want to,” Annie said softly, pressing her lips to his cheek, less than an inch away from his lips.

            Peter’s eyes widened, “I-I think we should just stay like this… um… yeah, I-I probably wouldn’t be that great, a-at kissing I mean.”

            “Hey, I’m sure you would be just fine, but I’m not gonna push you or anything,” Annie said, pulling back a little bit.

            Peter nodded, “Right, s-sorry… I just don’t want my first kiss to be fake, ya know?”

            “Who said it had to be fake?” Annie asked, raising her eyebrows.

            Peter shrugged, “I figured that it would be… I mean, we’re acting, aren’t we? I know… I-I know we’re working on chemistry for later on, but that doesn’t mean we’re not still acting.”

            “Oh… yeah, you’re right… well, does that mean that there’s someone else?” she questioned, trying to smile.

            Peter shrugged again, “Well, I-I don’t know, it kinda depends. It’s sorta complicated, kind of a long story, actually.”

            “Right… well, I’m not gonna press, but I’m sure whoever the lucky person is, they’re lucky,” she said, wishing she hadn’t said anything.

            What in the world had Ned been talking about? Annie wasn’t sure what he meant about Peter liking her, he was obviously so unsure that it made her doubt he saw her as anything other than a friend. It wasn’t that she blamed him, and being friends with Peter was great, but a part of her wished that she had just kissed him when she still had the chance. At the rate things were going, Annie figured she would never get that chance again.

            Neither of them said a whole lot after that, just laying next to each other. It seemed like they were both a little bit more tense than they had been in the first place. Though, Annie figured she would just need to keep herself quiet. Maybe if she had told him that she didn’t want it to be fake then it would have turned out differently.

            By the time the bootleg ended, Annie couldn’t even get herself to start crying. She was so still, and she didn’t want to end up crying in front of Peter. Sure, she could have blamed it on the musical, but then it would have been all the more obvious that something wasn’t right.

            “So… um I need to get to my internship,” Peter said, getting up.

            Annie nodded, “Right, well, have fun, don’t die.”

            When he left, Annie turned over, staring up at the ceiling. She wasn’t sure what to say or even think. On one hand, Peter didn’t seem to have any feelings for her. There was someone he wanted to be with who he wasn’t even talking about. As if it wasn’t bad enough that he didn’t seem to feel the same way she did, he didn’t even want to talk about who he did feel that way towards. Then, on the other hand, she couldn’t stop thinking about Spider-Man.

            With that, she dug around for her suit, knowing she would have to work with Spider-Man at some point anyways. Putting it on, Annie could hardly believe that she had gotten herself into the most unlikely love triangle. It made her feel sick to her stomach. She just couldn’t understand what made her mind decide that both Peter and Spider-Man were just about perfect for her.

            She left through her window as usual and glided around the city, scouting around for what was going on. Though, she was also keeping an eye out for Spider-Man as well. It felt like they were starting to get genuinely close and that almost felt wrong. If they got close enough, she was going to end up revealing her identity. Something that she wasn’t sure she wanted anyone to know about, even if they were a superhero as well.

            “Hey, how’s it hanging?” Spider-Man asked, lowering himself upside down, finishing up a churro.

            Annie shrugged, “Could be better, could be worse. I just kinda wanna sleep for awhile.”

            “Oh, come on, what’s up? You can tell me, you know that, right?” Spider-Man asked, frowning a little bit.

            She shook her head, “Nope, not happening, my good sir, not today. If I tell you too much then you’ll figure out who I am and I’m not playing that game today.”

            “But maybe that would be a good idea. I have to keep an eye out for you in order to find you. If we knew each other, it would be like a support group for teens with superpowers,” he suggested, grinning.

            Annie couldn’t help realizing that they were so close, “Nope. I’ve played that game before and it sorta bit me in the ass later… but that’s a story for another day. We need to talk about Tina.”

            “Oh, come on, Swan, we’re gonna keep working together, why not tell me now? We really would get each other, I think we’re close enough already,” he replied.

            She frowned, “I really don’t think that’s a good idea. Today’s been super complicated already.”

            “What’s complicated about this? Come on, I don’t even know your name, you could at least tell me that much,” he said, reaching out to cup her face.

            She didn’t push him away, “I-I shouldn’t, come on, Spidey, we shouldn’t be doing this, it’s not right.”

            “Only because you’re not looking at this the right way. Come on, we could be something, don’t you think?” he asked, moving his other hand to pull up his mask.

            Annie quickly moved her hand to his mask, keeping it down, “No. W-well not right now. I don’t know you, we can’t do this. Come on, use your head.”

            “You don’t really think that, do you?” he asked, looking at the ground.

            She stepped back, “I don’t know… but I don’t think this is something we should be doing.”

            “R-right, yeah, you’re right. I just… I need a minute or two. I’ll see ya later,” he said, getting quieter as he pulled himself up, swinging off.

            Annie swore under her breath, pulling her hood up as a breeze went through. What was she supposed to have done? Should she have kissed him or told her who she was? She had no clue what she should have done, and he couldn’t have come up to her at a worse time. Right as Peter left her questioning everything, Spider-Man literally swung in and tried to claim that they could be something.

            Not knowing what to do, she went back home so she could change. Annie knew that she at least needed to see Tina one way or another. If nothing else, so she wouldn’t feel like her life was slowly turning into so weird high school romance novel.

            When Annie did get to the shelter, she was in her normal clothes and sitting across from Tina at a table.

            “Come on, you know who he is, you can seriously do some damage! We could find someone to guard you. Hell, I could,” Annie pleaded.

            Tina rolled her eyes, “I don’t know how many times I have to tell you I just want to start over. If you wanna be helpful, buy me a bus ticket to… I don’t know, Vermont or something. I could just leave and start all over and not worry about any of this.”

            “But they’ll wonder what happened to your education, your legal documents. You need to think about this,” Annie responded, crossing her arms.

            Tina shook her head firmly, “I don’t want to worry about that. I just wanna start over. Shit, I’ll pretend I hit my head and suffered from amnesia if that would let me start over.”

            “But then you don’t get justice or revenge-”

            “Maybe I don’t want that. Maybe I just want outta here. Is that so bad? I turn eighteen soon enough. If I don’t get out of here, people are gonna start wondering what’s up with me,” Tina said, cutting Annie off.

            Annie sighed, running a hand through her hair, “I don’t think that’s a great idea though. Maybe if this were the eighties or something, but it’s not.”

            “So you want me to give names and testify and risk my life? You want me to do that because you think, you don’t even know, you think that. And I would end up risking my neck for that?” Tina responded, incredulous.

            She frowned, “I just… I feel like it’d make things easier for you later on.”

            “I’d be giving my name to people who could just make my life a literal hell. No. It’s not happening,” Tina insisted.

            After arguing for even longer, Annie couldn’t help feeling like there was just no way for anything to end up going right. She couldn’t even get herself to cry, it felt like her problems just weren’t her own. Almost as if she wasn’t quite herself, but she knew that was just a side effect of being lost in her own thoughts.

            Annie went back to her apartment and laid on her bed again, closing her eyes and tried to sleep off all of the issues she felt that she was piling on for herself. It wasn’t too difficult to get to bed, and by the next morning she felt mostly back to normal. She didn’t even ask Peter about who he had been talking about, he didn’t seem like he wanted to talk about it. A part of her wondered if he tried to say something to whoever that lucky person had been.

Chapter Text

            “You know, he probably did that because it’s, like, two days before Valentine’s Day, right? It’s capitalism’s fault, really,” Harper said, their voice coming through Annie’s phone.

            Annie groaned, burying her face in her pillow, “But, he literally tried to just kiss me. Like, there’s no context to it or anything. And then don’t even get me started on Peter! He’s just acting like nothing even happened.”

            “Well, in all fairness, are you asking him about it?” Harper asked.

            Annie’s face went red as she turned over to be able to speak, “No, but I also wasn’t the one who made things weird that day!”

            “Um… you were the one who leaned in to kiss him, just putting it out there,” they pointed out.

            Annie sighed a bit, pouting, “I thought you were supposed to be on my side! Come on.”

            “Hey, I’m just telling it to you honestly, but how’re things going with the Sticky Boy?” Harper questioned.

            She huffed a bit, “You’re worse than I am with the nicknames, I swear.”

            “Don’t change the subject, you’ve seen him afterwards, right?”

            “Yeah… we don’t talk about it either. But that makes sense, he’s like my coworker or something. It’s better we just avoid it,” Annie said, getting up to pace around her room.

            Harper laughed, “Right, okay, that’s so hypocritical! You’re just mad that the guy you like who you’re comfortable with won’t like you back.”

            “Ugh… just because you’re right doesn’t mean you’re interesting!” Annie snapped, flopping back onto her bed, the phone pressed to her ear.

            Annie could just hear Harper shrugging, “Hey, I’m just giving you the facts. If you want something to happen-”

            “That’s the thing! Nothing can happen. If something happens, then I’ll feel like I have to tell Peter. And then if I tell Peter then obviously Ned’ll figure it out. Those two don’t keep secrets at all. And then if they both know, then how do I know that won’t get out even more?” Annie responded.

            Harper sighed, “Then you’ve gotta just move on. Especially if you’re against starting something with Sticky Boy.”

            “That name’s never gonna stick-”

            “That was a shitty pun and you know it!” Harper accused.

            Annie shrugged, “Maybe, but the point is that I feel like telling him too much would end up biting me in the ass. I just… I don’t know what to do.”

            “The answer’s simple, go about your single life and go for neither. At least, until you change your mind. Which means no impulsive kissing during a rehearsal or something,” Harper warned.

            A couple weeks after the conversation, Annie knew that she made the right choice. It had to be the right decision. Obviously being a hero was not the easiest thing to do, but how else was she supposed to use her powers? Besides, she had been doing so well at keeping her identity secret, and she didn’t want to ruin that over some guy.

            Except that it was all too clear to Annie that Peter wasn’t just “some guy”. A part of her wished that she had to do more acting to see Peter as her love interest. It was so easy to see him as a love interest, that it was almost too easy. The way she simply couldn’t stop smiling at him whenever they were on stage together had nothing to do with her acting. Having Peter there made her understand why in the world Maria had went for Tony so quickly.

            Not starting some kind of romance with Peter was something easier said than done. Every time she was close to him, she kept seeing the reasons she liked Peter in 4000k high definition. A part of her almost wished that she was acting alongside Flash so she could just get over Peter.

            Of course, it didn’t help that they were still close friends. While Annie had gotten closer to MJ over time and Tina somewhat trusted her and then Annie had also hung out with Ned more times than she could count, she couldn’t deny that she was close with Peter. That was partially why she liked him so much in the first place.

            Then there were days when Annie knew that she just couldn’t win with Ms. Salazar. She would pick every single little thing Annie did. At least, that was how it felt. Sure, she liked to make a point that she knew what she was doing, but the point was that Annie did know what she was doing.

            When it had been made obvious Annie knew what she was doing, Ms. Salazar would pick at things which were more or less out of her control. Things like when Annie had a sore throat and couldn’t talk, making her virtually useless on the stage. Thankfully, Annie had gotten over it enough to hit her high notes.

            Though, Peter tried to get her to not sing so much because he was convinced she would only hurt herself. However, he wouldn’t get all that far, given Annie wasn’t about to give Ms. Salazar another reason to criticize her.

            Just as Annie was positive Ms. Salazar couldn’t say anything more about her, she began to get comfortable. She knew her lines inside and out. West Side Story had been her go-to musical for rainy weekends where she was stuck inside. Needless to say, she and Harper had seen the movie more times than she could count. Then she couldn't stop listening to the 2009 revival, and it was constantly stuck in her head.

            It wasn’t until the choreography for the rooftop scene that Ms. Salazar found anything to say. The teacher didn’t even wait for the singing to start before saying something.

            “You know, I have it written down that Peter’s supposed to pick you up during the dance scenes. Like this one and a few later on,” Ms. Salazar started.

            Annie nodded like it was obvious, “Right, and?”

            “Well, I’m just not sure he’ll be able to lift you,” she continued.

            Annie pursed her lips, “So… why would you write that in? You don’t expect him to become a lifting champion by opening night, do you?”

            “I’m simply saying that if he can’t lift you, it may be your responsibility to make it so he can do so,” Ms. Salazar replied, shrugging.

            It was then Peter walked up to the both of them, “H-hey, I think I could do just fine. I-I mean, no one should have to do anything.”

            “Um… it’s cool if you can’t, Pete, I know what she’s saying,” Annie said, turning around to go up to the set, her fists clenched.

            Peter quickly followed after her, getting to his place. Annie could tell that he was confused, and she couldn’t blame him. It was an underhanded comment that she understood just fine. She simply hadn’t expected to hear something like that from a high school theatre teacher of all people. Being told to lose weight was something she expected from a ballet teacher, and had been the reason she dropped the activity in her eighth grade year.

            Ms. Salazar may as well have asked her to leave for all it was worth, but Annie was so determined to not give anyone the satisfaction of seeing her drop the lead role that all she could do was go up to the makeshift terrace. She hoped that Peter was telling the truth. If he overestimated himself, Annie wasn’t going to hold it against him, but that wouldn’t stop her from holding it against herself.

            Once Peter was on the terrace with her, Annie quickly learned that he was stronger than she thought. He picked her up with such ease and it left her feeling lighter than a cloud. A part of her wanted to look up and give Ms. Salazar a knowing smirk, but she was far too invested in the scene, in being with Peter to even think about any of that.

            “Tonight, tonight, it all began tonight, I saw you and the world went away,” Peter sang, his voice just hitting the notes.

             Annie breathed before coming in,“Tonight, tonight, there’s only you tonight. What you are, what you do, what you say.”

            The way the harmonies were just managing to mesh together showed that, if nothing else, she and Peter were going to be just fine. It was so obvious to Annie that Peter was a natural. The way his brown doe eyes seemed to be looking at only her left her heart melting. Her knees felt so wobbly, she wasn’t sure how in the world she was still standing.

            Of course, the feeling of being up in the clouds and in Peter’s arms quickly faded away at the end of rehearsal. It ended up being the place she always wished she was, while wishing she could be anywhere else. In a place where she didn’t have powers or superheroes or rude directors and she could just be with Peter. A place where Peter even felt the same way she did, and she was never torn between him and Spider-Man.

            Fighting crime had gotten to be fairly routine and Annie was quickly learning new ways to get around the city faster thanks to her powers. Before she knew it, she was sitting on a rooftop, waiting for Spider-Man to show up. She hummed some of the instrumental parts from earlier that day as she looked at the busy streets.

            “Swan! You made it!” Spider-Man greeted, sitting next to her.

            Annie nodded, “Yep, I kinda always am.”

            “Not always, you take days off now and then,” he pointed out with a shrug.

            Annie nodded again like it was obvious, “Dude, don’t you take a day off once in awhile?”

            “No, if I do that… then everyone who dies that day… that’s my fault,” he said, looking at her.

            She shook her head, “It sounds like you need a day off.”

            “Seriously! We have these powers… no one else can use them, it’s just us and some others,” he insisted.

            Annie sighed, “Okay, then how do you categorize everyone who gets hurt while you’re fighting crime?”

            “That’s even more so my fault! I’m out there and I couldn’t save those people, what kind of hero does that?!” Spider-Man exclaimed, huffing.

She frowned, looking at the traffic, “It’s not your fault, you know that right? I’m not just saying that for no reason. It’s literally not your fault, Spidey. This city is literally too big for you to save everyone every night. You can’t blame yourself.”

            “How do you not blame yourself?” he asked.

            Annie shrugged, leaning back, “No clue. Honestly, I guess I justify it by claiming that it’s a miracle I use my powers at all. Sometimes I think I’d get rid of them if I could.”

            “No! You can’t do that, your powers are so cool and then if you got rid of them… well, we wouldn’t see each other anymore, would we?” he questioned, crossing his arms.

            She shook her head, “Probably not… actually, I’m not sure we should see each other so much after we finish helping Tina.”

            “What?! No, come on, Swan, we do make a good team. We’ve been working together this whole time. The last time we didn’t… you got hurt.”

            “And maybe that’s why I should go back to being on my own.”

            “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard you say.”

            Both of them kept talking until the next thing happened, a convenience store robbery. They had gotten there just in time for Annie to see Tina hiding behind some shelves, crouched down in one of the aisles. Seeing it made Annie want nothing more than to rush over and make sure she was okay.

            It was terrifying, dealing with armed people was always terrifying for Annie. The thought of how easy it would be for someone to get hurt and how quickly that would happen left her heart beating quickly. She and Spider-Man both got the robber apprehended and Annie raced over to Tina.

            “Hey, hey it’s okay, honey, it’s okay,” Annie said, approaching Tina.

            Tina shook her head, crying, “I-I know that voice.”

            “What do you mean?” Annie asked, looking around.

            Tina drew back, “H-he’s back! I-I need to get outta here!”

            “Hey, no, you’re fine. He’s getting arrested. If it’s him, he’s not gonna be bothering you,” Annie said, starting to think everything through.

            In that split second, Annie knew that she wasn’t going to tell Spider-Man. Not right away, at least. Tina trusted her and she knew that was certain.

            “Okay, here’s what we’ll do. You’re gonna go to my apartment, I’ll invite a classmate or something and we’ll all just chill there. Strength in numbers, right?” Annie said, looking at her.

            Right then Spider-Man pulled on Annie’s arm, “Come on, we’re technically vigilantes, remember?”

            “Yeah, yeah, let’s go. I’ve got something to get to anyways,” Annie replied, rushing out of the convenience store.

            He huffed a bit, “Okay, see ya later then.”

            By the time Annie was able to message MJ, Tina was already laying across Annie’s mattress. When Annie got into her apartment, her parents didn’t even question anything.

            “Sorry about the last second guests… some stuff’s going down,” Annie had said before rushing to her room.

            Tina was still crying as Erik sat curled up in Annie’s chair. It was so clear that whatever was going to happen was going to make taking care of Tina difficult, but she also felt that it was okay. If she could get MJ over there too, it would look like a normal girls’ night in.

            Annie had picked MJ because she knew that she didn’t question a whole lot. Tina could freak out over anything, and MJ wouldn’t bat an eye. Something that she knew Tina desperately needed.

            When MJ did get there, she didn’t question a single thing. Instead she went right to her book she was reading. It made the atmosphere calm, something she knew Tina needed.

Chapter Text

            After having Tina over that night, Annie had finally managed to figure out how to settle into a routine. In the mornings she’d get ready for school, grab some coffee, and meet Peter and Ned before getting on the subway. From there, Annie would go to school and get to her classes, having a chance to hang out with Peter and Ned during lunch. After school, she would go to rehearsal and the production was finally coming together. Once that was done, she would go around and patrol for awhile, only stopping for dinner with Spider-Man. Then, some days she would hang out with Tina, just to make sure that she was doing okay. Finally, she would get home at around midnight if she was lucky. Normally she would make it look like she was home before staying out late, but sometimes Annie would simply walk into the apartment late into the night. Sometimes she’d do her homework, other times she would sleep.

            Either way, the days had blended into weeks. Then the weeks turned into months that simply flew by thanks to her busy routine. It was to the point that Annie didn’t have much time to worry about guys outside of rehearsal. Even then, that portion of her life was starting to come to a close with tech week just around the corner. Something that she could hardly wait for and also hoped would never come.

            On one hand, Annie just wanted the chance to be over Peter and to be able to see him as just a friend. Besides, without the musical, her schedule would be freed up and she could focus on helping Tina. Her eighteenth birthday was coming up and she was about to get some sort of job, and Annie was trying to help her get set up. Especially when Tina was positive that her pimp was coming to get her. Something that Annie was positive wasn’t the case, but was looking into it with Spider-Man. The only problem was that neither of them were finding anything.

            However, on the other hand, Annie didn’t want to stop having excuses to constantly be attached at the hip with Peter. Not to mention, she wasn’t looking forward to the four or five hour rehearsals that getting the show together would take. It was quite the opposite, and she wasn’t sure how she was going to explain to Peter that he definitely couldn’t leave the rehearsals since he was the male lead.

            Instead of worrying about everything that was to come in the next week or two, Annie was waiting for Peter, Ned, and MJ to meet her at the mall. Ned had been the one to suggest it simply because he just wanted to hang out with everyone. While Annie had tried to get Tina to come, but the other girl had to work and Annie knew there wasn’t anything she could do about that.

            She had accidentally ended up at the mall around a half hour early, so Annie used her time by walking around the different stored. Though, in her opinion, she looked like a weirdo with how she was walking around on her own while also looking out for her friends. The mall was pretty big, and when she stopped paying attention to where she was walking, she ended up getting lost.

            It wasn’t anything serious, and she was texting Ned a little bit. A part of her was wishing that there was a map of the mall somewhere, but even then, Annie knew that she would only confuse herself. There was a man standing against the entrance of Sears. At first, Annie didn’t think anything of it, deciding to wander around until, hopefully, one of her friends showed up. Then, she took a second look at the guy and her russet-colored eyes widened.

            One thing she hadn’t forgotten was the time she’d argued with Spider-Man over some guy who stole something, claiming that he had kids. She remembered letting the guy go because she wanted him to see his kids. More important than all of that, she recognized the guy standing there to be the same guy she had let go all those months ago.

            Looking over at the man again, Annie wanted to make sure she wasn’t going up to someone she had never talked to before. She was positive it was the same guy, he looked the exact same. So, with a stroke of confidence, Annie walked up to him.

            “Hey, uh, sorry to bother you, but could you tell me how to get to the food court?” Annie asked, playing with a loose string on the sleeve of her hoodie.

            The tall man nodded, pushing up his glasses, “Yeah, sure, just go straight, then turn left right after the pet store, and go up the escalator and you’re there.”

            “Awesome! Thank you so much!” Annie replied, smiling brightly.

            The man coughed a bit, “Also, while you’re here, could I ask you something?”

            “Um, yeah, sure,” she said, starting to notice that there was the slightest scent of alcohol on his breath.

            He gave a smile, “How would you like to be a model?”

            “Oh? A- um… I mean, I couldn’t be… I’m not really the modelling type. I’m more of an actress,” she admitted, wanting to step back.

            He shrugged a bit, “That’s no trouble, you still need headshots though, no?”

            “I… well,” Annie paused for a second, realizing the opportunity she had right in front of her, “Well, yes. Yes, I do.”

            He smiled, his yellow teeth clashing with his pale skin, “Perfect! Let me give you my card, think on it and call me if you wanna take me up on that offer.”

            “Of course! Thank you, Darren,” Annie said, looking down at the card before turning and walking away.

            Her heart was beating at a million miles a minute. It was almost hard for her to breathe. A part of her was kicking herself for letting him go. If her hunch was right, then she knew exactly how to fix Tina’s problem. Whether or not anyone would agree with the plans forming in her mind was another story entirely. One way or another, she was going to get involved.

            When she finally made it to the food court, Peter was sitting at a table, periodically scrolling through his phone. Annie walked up behind him, hoping to finally catch him off-guard for once. Though, when she tapped him on the back, he still wouldn’t flinch.

            “I swear, it’s like you know I’m coming,” Annie said, sighing a bit as she sat across from him, looking at the business card in her hands.

            Peter raised an eyebrow, “Well, maybe I do… what’s that you’ve got there?”

            “Oh, I ran into this dude. Said I would make a good model, and I mean, I could use some new headshots,” Annie replied with a small shrug.

            Peter frowned, “You know, I’ve been taking photography this semester. I could do them for you… Ann, this guy, uh… h-he looks sketchy.

            “Come on, it’ll be fine and it’ll be professional. Besides I might not even go for it… he kinda smelled like alcohol,” she responded, trying to sound concerned.

            He sighed a bit, reaching for the card, “Seriously, you shouldn’t do it. Actually, um… the guy kinda looks like… looks like some guy… a pretty, uh, sketchy one. You should just give it to me so you won’t do anything stupid.

            “Right, says the guy who’s asking for the card. It’s not a big deal, Pete, really,” Annie insisted, not wanting to give up the only real lead she had on the whole ordeal.

            Peter frowned, looking back at her, “But it’s a huge deal, there’s lots of things that could happen. You could get hurt, or something stupid could happen.”

            “Oh, come on, it’s really not a big deal. I might not even call the dude,” she claimed, pulling the card back and putting in in her pants’ pocket.

            “What’s not a big deal?” asked Ned with MJ trailing just behind him.

            Peter shook his head with a sigh, “Nothing, it’s nothing.”

            Annie raised an eyebrow, rolling her eyes a little bit. Why Peter was suddenly being so protective, she had no idea. If she had no context to the situation, then there was no way she would have gone up to the man in the first place. Though, there was also no way she would be letting go of everything she just found. There was only one thing left to ensure she was right, and that was showing the card to Tina.

            At the same time, Annie didn’t know what to make of the earlier conversation since Peter wasn’t saying much about it. Which was fine by her. The last thing she needed was for everyone else to question just what she was doing.

            However, what she did noticed was Peter and Ned whispering to each other while the four teens were hanging out. It would have been a lie to claim that it didn’t bother Annie, but she also didn’t want to say anything about it. Not when things were going nicely.

            Then there were still moments where Annie wondered just why Peter was caring so much. If it was because they were friends or if it was because he wanted to be something more and was jealous. At the same time, if she was going to say anything, she wasn’t going to say it before the production was done. The least she could do was keep herself from starting a showmance. Especially when she had kept herself from doing just that for months.

            It hadn’t been easy either, and there were times that Annie genuinely couldn’t tell if Peter was acting or not. She had almost actually kissed him so many times that she’d lost count. Every time he lifted her, she felt just as weightless as she had felt the first time.

            “Oh, hey, Annie, I made something for you… I knew how much this musical meant to you, so I drew you something,” MJ said, pulling a sketchbook from her bag.

            Annie looked, blinking in shock, “Oh, really?! You didn’t have to! I mean… I’m sure it’s great, but seriously you shouldn’t have.”

            “Shut up, you haven’t even seen it yet. It’s just a little sketch, not the Mona Lisa,” the other girl replied, rolling her eyes.

            Annie shrugged sheepishly, “Yeah, but it shows that you think we’re good friends.”

            “Well, yeah, we kinda talk a lot and I’ve been doing lighting stuff and I’ve had so much time on my hands,” MJ responded, pulling a paper out of the sketchbook and handing it to her.

            The picture was of the balcony scene, but it was so obviously Annie and Peter that it wasn’t even funny. There was more detail than the stage’s set would normally give. She tried to not pay attention to how it looked like she wasn’t planning on looking away from Peter at any point in the drawing.

            Annie smiled, holding it, “This is so amazing! You really worked on this?”

            “Well, yeah, I didn’t have much else to do, and you two are always oogling at each other. Just kiss him already,” she said, sighing a little.

            Annie shook her head, “Oh, I couldn’t do that. He likes someone else, or, that’s what he told me.”

            “He’s probably just saying that because he thinks you’re acting the whole time,” MJ pointed out.

            She shrugged, “Okay, maybe I’ll say something after the show’s done… you’re not kidding me, right?”

            “How could I be?! I’m positive that idiot’s asking Ned for advice right now, just look over at them,” she replied.

            Annie squinted her eyes, “You sure about that?”

            “Hey, nerds! Whatcha talking about?” MJ asked, going up and nudging Peter and Ned.

            Peter jumped, wide-eyed, “U-um… nothing just… uh… yeah, nothing.”

            “I’m right,” MJ insisted.

            With those thoughts in mind, Annie started to wonder again. What if he was asking Ned for advice? Did that mean he did like her? Or was she simply thinking too hard about it? Either way, she couldn’t stop thinking about Peter and then about Tina and her brain kept circling around itself.

            That night when she finally saw Spider-Man, Annie wasn’t quite sure what she should say. How could she even get to explaining her hunch? She was debating whether she should even tell the guy. On one hand, her thigh would still feel tingly after getting stabbed, and Annie didn’t want to end up hurt again. On the other hand, she also knew that there was a chance Spider-Man wouldn’t go for her plan at all.

            After helping an elderly man across the street, Annie finally ran into the masked hero. She was about to sneak up behind him when he turned around like he knew she was right there. Which, after he’d told her about his spider-senses, wouldn’t have surprised her if he knew that she was there.

            “Swan! Hey, what’s up?” he asked, leaning against a wall.

            Annie shrugged, “Um… not much.”

            “Sure, Jan. Seriously, what’s up?” Spider-Man questioned, crossing his arm.

            Annie sighed, “Well, you see… what happened was… um… well… you gotta understand if I’d known at the time… ugh, you were right, okay? You were right.”

            “I need a bit more than just that I was right. We argue kind of a lot. Are you saying I was right about us needing to stay a team?” he replied, tilting his head.

            Annie bit her lip in thought, “I’m still thinking about that one. But um… do you remember right before Christmas?”

            “Um… you’re gonna need to give me some more context,” he said, shaking his head.

            She sighed, messing with the white sleeves of her homemade suit, “Well, we were stopping that one thief, and I went ahead and let him go and we argued about that? Um… funny story… I found who may be Tina’s pimp? Yeah…”

            “Wait, you what?! Swan, what the hell did you do-”

            “Hey, before you start to really flip your shit, I wasn’t looking for the guy. I was just chilling at the mall and I ran into him… and, well, he’s super sketchy. Like, he offered me a modeling job and-”

            “Woah, woah, woah. Stop it there, did he give you a card?” he asked.

            Annie nodded slowly, “Y-yeah… why?”

            “That happened to my friend! Sh-she got this card and I think she’s gonna talk to the guy. We gotta stop him,” he insisted, standing up straight.

            She frowned, “I thought I was the only one… well, anyways. You think we gotta stop him?”

            “Uh, yeah, I’m not sure my friend’s gonna listen to me, she’s kinda impulsive sometimes… but I’d blame myself if anything happened to her,” he admitted, starting to pace.

            Annie looked, smirking a bit, “Wait, like, there’s an actual girl? Do you have a crush?”

            “Maybe. I-I guess I like her, but that’s not the point, Swan.”

            “Hey, this is news to me. I wasn’t sure if there was a girl in your life. Or a guy. I don’t know which way you swing. Get it? Because you-”

            “I swing around. Yeah, I get it. And it could’ve gone either way, really. But that’s not the point. We need to get him,” he said, pacing back and forth.

            Annie nodded in agreement, “Yep. But you know who’s been formulating a plan all day? Yours truly, I’ve got, like, five different plans. It’s all up to you.”

            “Okay, shoot,” he said, stopping.

            Annie sighed, “Well, first I’ll make sure we’ve got the right guy. And then, I’ll call and ask for a modeling session or whatever. Then, we’re there instead of just me. And after that, we take him down. It’s full-proof!”

            “You won’t do anything on your own?” he asked.

            “No. Of course not.”

            “Okay, I’m trusting you on this one. If you got hurt I’d blame myself too,” he told her, hugging her tightly.

            Annie laughed a bit, hugging him back, “Hey, you don’t need to worry about me, I’ll be fine, Arachnerd.”

            “Arachnerd?”

            “Yeah, do you like it? I thought I’d give you a new nickname,” Annie replied, grinning.

            Spider-Man shook his head, “Yeah, it’s somewhat creative at least.”

            By the end of the night, Annie showed Tina the card. Despite Tina claiming to have never heard that name in her life, the look in her eyes said everything. It was obvious that Annie had managed to find the right guy. She was going to fix things the best that she could.

            Though, in the meantime, Annie had to get through hell week and the few shows they would end up doing. The only problem was that they had never managed to get through to the end before. Annie had almost no confidence in the production turning out all that well. However, she did enjoy the times in rehearsal, but she definitely didn’t want to deal with having to pretend that Peter was dead or dying.

            “Parker, you can’t hold her while she’s crying, you’re supposed to be dead,” Ms. Salazar said, “From the top of the scene.”

            Annie took a deep breath, having to wipe her eyes. It wasn’t hard for her to be emotional at the idea of Peter dying. All she had to do was put herself into a likely situation where it could happen. She always thought of a situation where she had to save Peter and she just couldn’t do it.

            “Maria!” Peter yelled, and Annie ran right into his arms when the sound effect of a gunshot rand through the auditorium.

            Annie acted like she was holding Peter’s weight, which was surprisingly light, “You’ll be alright, we’ll be alright… Hold my hand and we’re halfway there

            “Hold my hand and I’ll take you there,” he sang, and Annie could already feel tears stinging her eyes.

            “Somehow,” Peter’s body felt so still, “Someday,” he wasn’t singing, “Some… where.

            Annie finished the phrase with tears almost falling from her eyes as she sobbed over what was supposed to be Peter’s dead body. When she asked him to audition for the musical and be Tony, this wasn’t the part she had been thinking of. What she did feel was almost a twitch from Peter, and that was just enough to ensure that she wouldn’t stay crying for too long.

            Her monologue started and she was waving around a gun, threatening to shoot the other males around her. She pointed the gun everywhere before she threw it to the side, and then she went back to crying over Peter.

            “Te adoro, Anton,” she said, kissing Peter on the forehead.

            “Cut, take five, Annie,” Ms. Salazar said, and Annie walked to one of the chairs.

            Peter followed right behind her, pulling her into a tight hug, “I-I’m so sorry, Annie, are you okay?”

            Annie looked up at Peter, “You can’t be serious.”

            “Are you okay? Are you okay, Annie?” he asked, a grin starting to form on his face.

            She huffed, “You’re sweet, but I could kill you right now.”

            “Yeah, right, come on. You care about me,” Peter insisted, tucking some of her hair behind her ear.

            Annie smiled a little, “Okay, okay, fine. You’re hilarious. But really, I’m gonna have to cry over your fake-dead body, like, a lot more times. I’ll be fine.”

            “Fine, okay, just know I’m here for you okay? Seriously, if you need anything,” he insisted, hugging her again.

            Annie buried her face into his chest, “I know, thanks, Pete.”

Chapter Text

    The thought of performances would ordinarily cause most people to be nervous. Yet, the morning Annie woke up on opening night, she never felt more awake. For the first time in months, Annie grabbed a cup of coffee simply because she enjoyed the taste. Not because she felt like she would crash in the middle of her first period without it.

    Her mood was the polar opposite of Peter’s. While she was sitting straight and confident and laughing, he seemed like he couldn’t stop shaking. Annie understood what was going on, she wasn’t an idiot. It was obvious that he was nervous for the performance. They had just gone all the way through the musical for the second time the night before and it was apparent he didn’t think that was enough.

    Before classes started, she put an arm around him, “Hey, Pete, you doing alright?”

    “Oh, um… y-yeah, I-I’m fine, i-it’s all good,” Peter claimed, rubbing his palms on his jeans.

    Annie shook her head, “Look, I’m not gonna press… you’re nervous. And that’s normal, but don’t make yourself sick or anything, okay?”

    “He won’t, he’s just super excited to actually ki-” Ned was cut off.

    “Y-yeah, right. I mean, you’re not nervous? How?” Peter asked, wanting to change the subject from whatever Ned was about to say.

    Annie shrugged, “I’m not sure, I guess I just feel like I know my parts well enough. And the worst that’ll happen is you forget something. But I’ll be right next to you for most of the time anyways. You’ll be fine!”

    “She’s right, you guys have been working on everything for months now… like, you started in what? January or February? It’s May, dude! You guys are gonna kick ass and I’m gonna watch it!” Ned exclaimed, hugging both Annie and Peter.

    Annie laughed, grinning, “Hell yeah we are! It’s gonna be great, the pit’s all together. Shit, even Flash has his lines down! Everything’s gonna go great!”

    “Okay… I-I guess we can’t have Flash taking the part,” Peter admitted with a small sigh.

    Ned and Annie exchanged grins, “That’s the spirit! We’re making tonight our bitch!” she exclaimed.

    “Language, Annika!” a teacher called out.

    “Sorry, Miss, she’s just excited!” Ned called back, “Oh, I’m just so proud of both of you! You’ve both just grown so much. Like, Peter’s getting more social and getting out more. And Annie, you’ve... you’ve figured out how to walk to your apartment without getting lost. I’m so proud.”

    Annie rolled her eyes, “Oh, come off it, we still gotta get through our classes.”

    “Yeah, I-I’m gonna go, I’ll see you two later,” Peter said before walking off to his class.

    Ned shook his head, “He’s just worried about disappointing you, so he’s nervous.”

    “Okay, but he literally couldn’t do that! This is Peter,” Annie replied, sighing.

    Ned nodded, “I know that, and you know that… but obviously he doesn’t know that. And we should get to class.”

    It was somewhere in the middle of Annie’s English class that she heard Flash talking obnoxiously loud. They were supposed to be reading a short story, but it was impossible to concentrate when Flash wouldn’t shut up. What was worse was Annie could hear everything he was talking about.

    “Yeah, there’s gonna be a huge after-party after closing night. My house, Saturday,” Flash said.

    MJ sighed a bit, “You know, you should just tune him out, it would probably be better for you to do that.”

    Annie sighed, “Maybe… but I can’t just do that.”

    “Oh… nah, only the people I invite can come, I want it to be with some close friends,” Flash claimed, and it felt like he was talking loud enough for Annie to hear on purpose.

    Annie huffed, “Okay, fuck this.”

    “What’re you doing?” MJ asked, “Because you probably shouldn’t do whatever you’re thinking about doing.”

    She sighed, brushing some of her dark hair from her face, “It’s not nearly as bad as you’re acting like it’s gonna be. I can tell you that.”

    “Don’t say I didn’t warn you when you end up getting expelled for beating the shit out of someone,” MJ replied, shrugging.

    Annie rolled her eyes a bit before turning around, “Hey, Flash? Are Peter and I going to that party?”

    “Um… I think that’s pretty obvious, Hardwick. You and Penis Parker aren’t going anywhere near my house,” Flash insisted.

    Annie tilted her head a bit, “Well, look at you, just ruining my week… hey, I also heard you’re a DJ, right?”

    “Yeah, the best in the school. But I guess you wouldn’t know that,” he said with a smirk.

    She nodded slowly, “Yeah… about that… I was listening to Ned DJing the other night, and I’ve gotta say he’s pretty great at it. I almost wonder-”

    “I know where you’re going with this, and no. I’m not inviting you just because you think your little friend’s better than me,” he responded.

    Annie laughed, “Right, of course not. But I do think that means you’re scared of the competition. Just saying.”

    The conversation was stopped because of the teacher getting annoyed with everyone talking while they were supposed to have been reading. Though, Annie didn’t mind. She had some sort of plan to get Flash to make up for being awful to Peter. This was something which had been forming in her head for some time, and she had the perfect opportunity.

    During the last few months, the only thing keeping Annie from pinning Flash to the wall and beating him to death was Peter. She knew he hated it when she talked about fighting Flash. Though she also knew that she could definitely win in a fight against Flash. Granted, that was true for everyone. If she wanted to, she probably could take down anyone in the school with her powers.

    When the bell rang for class to get out, Annie stood and started walking with MJ to her next class, only for Flash to tap her on the shoulder. She turned, giving a sweet smile.

    “Okay, so I’ve thought about it. And you and your friend can come. But no Penis Parker,” Flash said.

    Annie bit her lip, pretending to think, “Right… ditch my co-star but bring his best friend instead? I don’t think so. We’re a package deal.”

    “But I don’t want him-”

    “Then I’m saying Ned’s the best DJ in the school, and that’s all I’m willing to say on the subject,” Annie said with a shrug.

    Flash huffed, “I’m not having that. Fine, he can come.”

    “Well, now you see, dear Eugene, stage-brother, the least you could do is convince Peter that you’re gonna stop being an asshole to him. Then we can see about all that DJ stuff after closing night, okay?” she asked, grinning.

    He pursed his lips, looking down at Annie, “Fuck, you’re kidding, right?”

    “If I’m not there, you’re DJing abilities are revoked,” she insisted.

    “Wait, how the hell would you even do that?”

    “I know some people. Now figure out what you’re gonna do,” Annie said before turning to leave.

    Annie was more than aware that she had no clue how to accomplish any of what she was threatening. However, she also could tell that she had struck a nerve. Either she had a stroke of genius or she messed things up all over again. Though, the thought of screwing up didn’t bother her. She was far too elated for that.

    Nevertheless, there was nothing quite like Flash going up to Peter in the middle of lunch, profusely apologizing. The look of pleasant surprise on Peter’s face was something Annie just couldn’t get over. She stuffed her face with her sandwich to keep from laughing at Flash.

    Then Annie tried to look intrigued by her phone screen rather than Ned’s reaction to Flash giving Ned a gig. She had a hacking fit to hide that she was losing her mind, trying to not laugh. When it was all over, Annie gave Flash a small nod.

    “So… not that I’m complaining or anything, but what the hell was that?” Peter asked, shaking his head.

    Annie shrugged, smirking, “I’ve no idea. Nope, none at all.”

    “What did you do?” Ned questioned.

    She shook her head, “Nothing, nothing. I didn’t do anything. Nope. Nothing.”

    “Bullshit, Annie, you’re terrible at lying,” Peter pointed out, crossing his arms.

    Annie sighed, “Okay, okay, I didn’t do anything that you wouldn’t approve of. No beating the shit out of him. Just being smarter. And um… you’re welcome.”

    “Okay, what did you do?” Ned asked.

    She laughed a bit, having to pause to gain composure, “So… he was um… he was talking about a party after closing night, right? Well… I insulted his DJing abilities… and talked him into being less of a dick to you guys.”

    “Okay… I’ll give you that. Do you do that sort of thing a lot?” Peter questioned.

    She squinted her eyes and tilted her head, “What sort of thing?”

    “Get people to do what you want, like, manipulate them and stuff,” he explained.

    Annie hummed in response and shrugged, “I mean, I guess… I used to do that all the time in Seattle. But I only use my powers for good now,” she said with a wink.

    There was nothing that could have snuffed out the seemingly perfect mood of the day, and Annie was all too aware of that. She was even more aware of that as the time for opening night drew nearer. Of course, there was always something to be slightly jittery about. Maybe there would be quite a few people in the audience, but that was what Annie thrived on.

    While Annie would have preferred her parents make it to all the shows, she knew that they were busy. If nothing else, they were showing up to opening night. That was more than what they had gone to back in Seattle. She was constantly checking her phone and smoothing her dress over and over again. Her knee was shaking up and down as she sat down in the dressing room. Not because she was worried about the show, but because she was worried about the audience.

    A knock tore Annie out of her thoughts and she turned around, “Peter! Hey, what’s up?”

    “What if I screw this up? I mean, you’re really into this. Like, this is what you love and I don’t wanna ruin it for you. Because, sure, I know everything now, but what if I blank?” Peter said, walking into the room as he started to pace back and forth.

    Annie frowned a bit and shook her head, “Here’s the thing… I um… well, I know I kinda forced you into this, and I’m sorry about that. But you’re gonna be fine. Everyone’s gonna mess up, hell, I’ll probably mix up a line or two. And you know what? That’s okay, because unless someone’s reading the script in that audience, it won’t matter.”

    “That’s easy for you to say. You used to go to school for this! I can barely act without stumbling over everything,” he replied, running a hand through his hair.

    She sighed a little, “Look, I did go to school for theatre. And you know what happened because of that? I was kind of a huge bitch. I mean, I could tell you all kinds of stories about all of the kind of awful things I did, but the point is that this,” she gestured around herself, “Is great! I’ve never been able to work with someone I genuinely enjoy being around like this. And frankly, you could stutter and stammer your way through everything, but that wouldn’t take away from everything we’ve done.”

    “Hey, places, Parker,” Ms. Salazar said, peeking into the room.

    Annie chuckled a bit, hugging Peter, “Well, that’s enough of me being preachy. Now, you go and kick some ass.”

    Alone again, Annie knew that there would only be so much time before she had to get to the stage as well. It was going to be a blur, that much she was positive about. If nothing else, she knew that her parents were watching. Hopefully they would like it, but even if they didn’t, Annie wasn’t sure if that would hurt her at all. The people she really cared about were already proud of her.

    Truth be told, Annie had almost invited Spider-Man, she had been so ecstatic about the musical. Though, she also didn’t want to get too close to the guy. Even after months and months of working with him, she still was the slightest bit hesitant.

    When Ms. Salazar came and got Annie, she quickly went to the side of the stage, knowing that her first scene was coming up. Before it was her time, Annie breathed in and out before making it to the stage. It was the one place she knew things wouldn’t go wrong on. She even trusted Flash for the few minutes she was acting with him.

    The production passed like the blur she had expected it to be. Every scene with Peter left her wishing it could have been just a little bit longer. Just a little bit longer in his arms, just a little bit longer with him beside her. Although, the one thing she wished she didn’t happen at all was that damned death scene.

    It never got any easier to deal with. If anything, it kept getting more and more difficult. She was relieved that was part of her last scene since more often than not, she cried off most of her stage makeup. That was what had happened during the dress rehearsal and was what happened at the end of opening night.

    “Not too shabby, I think some parts could have gone smoother,” her dad said once Annie came out after the show.

    Annie sighed, rolling her eyes, “If you wanted smoother you should’ve put me in a performing arts school.”

    “Hey, you don’t get to act like a diva just because you’re a lead,” he replied.

    “You know, she’s not wrong. Maybe we should’ve signed her up for one of those instead,” her mom started.

    Annie stepped back, “Well, thanks for coming… um… if you’re gonna start arguing, I’m gonna head out with my friends. I won’t be too late!”

    She scrambled off before either of her parents could say anything. By that point, Annie was waiting to hear when they were going to get a divorce. It felt like that was only a matter of time. They didn’t yell, but Annie could tell that they were constantly at each other’s throats and it left Annie wanting to get away from both of them all the time. A part of her was wishing they hadn’t shown up in the first place, but at least it showed that they were trying to care about her, even if it meant they were constantly arguing.

    However, Annie had no intention of leaving with Peter or Ned or MJ. There wasn’t any time for that, a show wasn’t any excuse for her to slack off for one night. If she could suit up during hell week, she could pull it off after a few shows.

    Whatever Spider-Man was doing, it was pretty close to where she was because she saw him swinging off. Annie rushed to catch up with him.

    “Yo, Arachnaboy! You’re around here pretty late,” Annie commented, messing around with a streetlight.

    Spider-Man turned around, jumping a bit, “Yeah? You think so? I think you're one to talk.”

           “Maybe, but it's a school night, and you school as an excuse way more often than I do,” she said, shrugging a little.

He shook his head, “I guess I'm making sure you don't do anything stupid.”

“Hey, we had a plan and we're gonna stick with it, okay?” Annie insisted, crossing her arms.

Spider-Man slowly nodded, “Okay, I'm really trusting you here. Saturday night at midnight, right?”

“Yep, of course. I might be a bit late to it, but I set everything up,” she replied.

The plan was fairly simple, and Annie was almost positive that it would work out. Once it was over, Tina would be able to do anything she wanted. What was even better was that she hadn't even told Tina anything. Annie could only imagine the look on Tina's face when she found out there wasn't anything to worry about.

    All Annie had to do was call the number on the card and set up the appointment. She knew exactly where the guy’s “studio” was. It was just a matter of getting the man webbed up. Something she should have done when they had him before Christmas. If only she had known or really thought things through. Their problem would have been over months ago and Annie could have been worrying about just about anything else.

    Not that she wanted to be focused on whether she liked Peter or Spider-Man more. She had stayed true to going for neither of them. It was a lot easier than choosing one and then still wondering what would have happened with the other. Something that neither guy deserved given they were both genuinely good people whom Annie didn’t want to hurt.

    That night, Harper had called Annie when she got back into her apartment. It was the one thing that kept her parents from grilling her about getting back at one in the morning. Granted, her mom was surprisingly easy to get through. Not that Annie would ever complain about it, she needed her parents to stay off of her back. Especially when she was doing so well at keeping her superhero identity a secret.

    “You know what? I’ll bet you ten bucks that Peter’s been Spider-Man this whole time,” Harper said between bites of what had to be chips.

    Annie scoffed, “No, that’s literally impossible. Peter’s way too sweet and soft for that!”

    “But he’s always able to pick you up like you weigh nothing! And Spider-Man’s super strong and used to picking you up already from what you’ve told me,” Harper pointed out.

    Annie shook her head, setting the phone on speaker so she could get into some pajamas, “Ability to lift me doesn’t mean anything. He can still be strong, but that doesn’t change the fact that he just isn’t the same as Spider-Man. Come on, Harper, I’d know if he was Spider-Man. We would’ve had this talk months ago!”

    “Okay. Then explain that Stark Internship thing,” Harper said simply.

    Annie sighed, “Working for Tony Stark as an intern means nothing. He probably just gives the guy coffee.”

    “Listen to me! Billionaires don’t just give kids internships for no reason. I’m the child of billionaires and they don’t do jack shit for me. Why would Tony Stark ever want anything to do with some kid? Unless he has powers and needs help,” Harper explained.

    Annie paused before shaking her head again, “No. That really can’t be it. I’m telling you, I know both of them and they’re different.”

    “Whatever you say, Ann, I’m going to bed. You should too,” they replied with a small huff.

    Those words circled Annie far more at the end of the Saturday night performance. It was closing night and she kept wondering at every lift and exchange of glances if there was a chance that it was Peter. Still, each time, she couldn’t see it. Peter was too gentle with her and he was too timid to be web-slinging around the city.

    Besides, if he was Spider-Man, then he wouldn’t have been going with her to Flash’s party. That wouldn’t get done until some ungodly hour and Annie was going to slip off before then. Although, not before having the chance to hang out around her friends for just a bit longer. It was going to be a night to remember and she wanted to spend at least a little bit of it with the people closest to her.

    Flash’s house was almost obnoxious. It was the epitome of the upper-middle class mentality that Annie knew Harper would have been complaining about as soon as the neighborhood came into view.

    “I don’t understand why we’re doing this. I don’t even care about this guy,” Peter said as they stepped into the house.

    Annie nodded slowly, “Yeah, but I care that he tried to beat the shit out of you and that he hurt you. If it took me doing something petty to get under his skin, then so be it.”

    “I don’t really care, I get to DJ half of the night. But you guys don’t need to stay, my mom’s picking me up,” Ned told both of them.

    “Oh thank the Lord! I’m so tired, I’m probably gonna bounce after a couple hours,” Annie admitted.

    The party was fairly stereotypical and it wasn’t Annie’s first time at one by any means. Performing arts students were brutal towards each other, but the way they constantly held huge parties showed something far more different. However, it was obvious that Peter was far out of his comfort zone. Ned, on the other hand, seemed to be having the time of his life, already talking to other students at their school.

    Peter looked around with slightly wide eyes, and Annie pulled him to the side. The last thing she wanted was to see him get overwhelmed. She was holding his hand through the crowd of people as they looked around for a less crowded area. Though, not too far away because Annie did want to see a little bit of how the DJ contest she had set up was going to turn out. She wasn’t sure if she would see the outcome, but she wanted to see as much as she could before she needed to leave.

    “Is this a bit better?” Annie asked, flopping onto a couch in what had to be a TV room.

    Some people went in and out, but it wasn’t nearly as crowded as the kitchen and living room. It was quieter, though speaking at a normal level felt more like a loud whisper.

    Peter nodded, sitting next to her, “Yeah, I think so.”

    “Cool… so um… you did your first musical. What did you think?” Annie asked, pulling up her legs onto couch.

    He shrugged, “I mean, it was nice um… hanging out with you. And we had more of an excuse to be around each other. I’m gonna miss that.”

    “No one said we had to stop hanging out all the time, unless you wanted that. But I really liked hanging out with you,” she said, her eyes darting back and forth from her hands to his face.

    Peter bit his lip, “Well, then we need to keep doing that, I guess. Rehearsing wasn’t too bad. But I’m not sure I could ever do that again. I don’t know how you love that! All those people? And you broke down so hard at the end every time.”

    “Hey, all in the name of acting. You’re here, I’m here. And I guess I won’t make you audition again… but I um… I had fun,” she admitting, tucking her hair behind her ear, feeling it was slightly tangled.

    He nodded, “Yeah, it was fun, but I don’t think I could see you break down like that again. At least, not without being able to help you.”

    “Well, if that ever actually happens, you’ll be here. I mean, I’m not an old friend, but I know you pretty well,” she said, looking him in the eyes.

    There wasn’t much to be said for awhile. Aside from both of them being obviously exhausted, there wasn’t much between them. They stayed on the couch, extremely close, but they weren’t wrapped around each other. Annie was terrified of what would happen if she got a bit too close to him.

    Then a slow song came up and Annie grinned at him, “Come on, I love this song. We should dance. It’s a mandatory party thing.”

    “Um… okay,” Peter said, getting up.

    The pair stood up and Annie had her arms wrapped around Peter’s neck while his hands were around her waist. They stood like that, swaying back and forth slightly for a little bit.

    “Okay… I might wish I didn’t say anything later but um… were you actually acting? Like, I mean, were you faking it when we were together?” Annie asked.

    Peter blinked, “Um… w-was I supposed to be? I-I mean, I didn’t wanna make things weird.”

    “No, no. I mean acting is what you’re supposed to do, but did you have any sort of real feeling there?” she asked, looking at him, “Because I hate doing showmances because they never last. But if it’s after the show and you wanna be like that… we could be. Just um… forget I said anything.”

    He looked at her and shook his head, “Hey, I-I’ve been meaning to say something about that for awhile and I-” he was cut off by his phone, “Crap, I’m so sorry, I’ve gotta go. Jeez I’m late, um… Aunt May’s gonna kill me!”

    “Wait, you don’t need to say anything now, but could we maybe talk about it later?” Annie asked, frowning.

    He nodded, rushing to get his things, “Yep, yeah, sure, we can do that. I’ve gotta go. See ya!”

    Annie stood, checking the time on her phone. It was close to midnight and she needed to get out too. Which caused her to stop, thinking about what Harper had been saying. Though, she didn’t have time to think about anything like that. Not when she had to get somewhere herself. If Peter was Spider-Man, which she still was unsure of, that would solve everything in her head.

    That was what she thought when she stood outside of the address and saw the bright red and blue suit.

    “Spidey! You made it! Sorry I was a bit late. I got carried away with some… um… with some homework. Anyways, I’m here,” Annie said, adjusting her mask.

    Spider-Man didn’t say anything for a moment, “I know… I know you really care about Tina. So you can’t freak out on me here. She’s up in that studio. I didn’t do anything because I thought we should figure it out together.”

    “What the hell?! We gotta go up and save her now! How the hell did she get… she didn’t know!” Annie exclaimed, about to run to the building.

    He sighed, “Hey, come on, we’re supposed to work together.”

    “No, we’re supposed to get this guy away from Tina. If I wasn’t here, you should have gone up and saved her! Come on, which window?” Annie asked.

    “I don’t think what you’ve got planned will be be-”

    “Which fucking window, Spider-Man?” Annie repeated, glaring at the guy in front of her.

    He shook his head, “Okay, it’s the one on the fifth floor. Just… be careful, okay?”

    “No promises,” Annie said before stepping back a bit.

    She felt the energy in the air around her. It wasn’t hard to blast it up to that window so it shattered on impact. Quickly, Annie ran up to the window to see Tina and the same man from earlier.

    Annie stood as tall as she could, “Let her go. Now.”

    “No, why should I? She’s going to testify against me,” the man said.

    “You’re what?!” Annie exclaimed.

    Tina frowned, “I-I thought about what you said and… I’m sorry.”

    “No, it’s not your fault, but this… this isn’t okay. Get the fuck out of here,” she shouted, shoving the man back.

    He laughed a bit before pulling out a gun, “I can ruin everything right now.”

    “Great, I can block those, ya know?” Annie asked, rolling her eyes.

    He smirked, “Wanna bet?”

    The gun fired, but Annie just couldn’t block it. Almost as if it was made of something more complicated than she could understand. She had to stagger away from the bullet when it passed through her barrier.

    “We’ve been watching you and your friend. He’s making sure you don’t get yourself killed, right?”

    Annie felt her mouth go dry. In that moment, Annie could only think of one thing to get him to stop. She blasted an electrical outlet and there was a sound and so many sparks that she knew she had made the wrong choice on instinct.

    The world went black for a few seconds, but Annie quickly realized she was breathing in smoke. Last time that had happened, she did it to sabotage someone’s dressing room. Annie coughed a bit, and saw Tina so close.

    “Hey, hold on!” Annie shouted, moving closer before feeling the weakness of the floor.

    Tina looked at Annie, trying to reach her, but before Annie could reach her, the flooring collapsed and Annie was hacking. Tears were in her eyes from the smoke and she could only feel her heart pounding in her chest. Annie tried to block the fire when she hopped down to Tina and coughed a bit.

    Tina hacked up blood, “Y-you missed it, didn’t you?”

    “M-missed what?” Annie asked, holding her clothes over her nose.

    Tina smiled a bit, “H-he tried to shoot at you again. I took it for you instead.”

    “Tina what the fuck?! No! I’m supposed to save you! I-I can’t, you can’t, come on!” Annie said, though she saw the blood starting to pool around Tina’s heart and stomach.

    Tina coughed up blood, “S-sorry.”

    Annie couldn’t breathe and she knew that Tina wouldn’t be able to breathe in a couple minutes either. She tried to use her powers to drag Tina out, but by the time she was out of the building, her body was already limp. It felt so warm, but Annie couldn’t hear Tina breathing at all.

    The sight of a dead body made Annie’s stomach churn and she felt bile come up her throat and she ran to a dumpster, vomiting into it. She felt tears blurring her vision, but she did see a red and blue figure getting people out of the building. That was when Annie took her chance to run off.

Chapter Text

 

Sunlight streamed through a window, and Annie slowly opened her eyes. Her eyelids felt as though they were being weighed down, but she couldn’t get herself to turn over and go back to sleep. It wasn’t that Annie had anywhere to be, but she couldn’t get around to drifting off again. Not that she had been able to sleep for long.

Upon waking up, she could barely remember making it inside the apartment. After running off, Annie hadn’t paid attention to where she went. All she could see was Tina’s bleeding body and all she could smell was smoke. She could still feel the heat from the flames lapping at her, singeing parts of her suit.

Somehow, she had made it back to the apartment in one piece. What she did remember was that her parents were both asleep, so she must have gotten back early in the morning. No one knocked on her door, so she didn’t make any move to get out of bed. She couldn’t get herself to sleep, and she couldn’t remember when she had gotten to sleep. Though, she did know that it took her what felt like forever.

It was impossible to close her eyes and not see Tina’s dead body. Annie flinched when she heard the door to her room open, but was only met with her cat padding into the room. She turned so she was laying on her stomach, her face buried in the pillow so all she could see was black. Yet her mind kept going back to Tina.

When it was obvious she wasn’t going to be getting any more sleep, Annie got out of bed and looked at her phone. It was blown up with calls from Harper and many text messages as well. How she still had her phone in the first place, she was unsure.

Sorry things went bad last night. Call you later? Annie typed, sending it to Harper before throwing on some clothes before going out to the kitchen. The coffee pot was half-way empty, and Annie poured herself a cup. It wasn’t like she could tell her parents what happened. She couldn’t tell anyone about what happened.

“I see you finally woke up, how late did you stay up?” her dad asked, taking a drink of his own coffee.

Annie shrugged, “Not sure, got home pretty late.”

There wasn’t much to be said, and Annie worried that if she spoke too much that she would start crying. Instead of thinking about talking about the last night, Annie stared at her coffee and drank it. She knew that her mom was probably stuck at work, looking over some case. Though, as long as her dad was a teacher, he’d likely keep having weekends off like she did.

As long as she didn’t ask questions, she didn’t care. Neither of her parents asked about what she was doing half of the time. It was almost like they were keeping her out of whatever issues they were having to the point that they stopped being parents altogether.

In a way, Annie could make sense of it. She couldn’t use them against each other and they couldn’t use her if she just wasn’t involved. Though, she also felt like her drooping eyelids and how intently she stared at her dark drink were all signs that she needed something. Whether that was a hug or just an affirmation that she was going to be okay, she didn’t care.

A knock on the door was what cut through the silence in the apartment. Her dad got up to answer the door when Annie sipped some of her coffee in response to the knocking. If it had been only her in the apartment, she likely wouldn’t have answered the door in the first place. Though, her dad clearly hadn’t had an eventful night like she had, given he was opening the door.

“Um… hello, what may I do for you?” her dad asked, looking at the woman who was now in the entryway.

The woman gave a small smile, “Does Annika Hardwick live here?”

“Yeah, Annie, get over here,” he said, waving her over.

Annie set her coffee down on the kitchen counter and walked over to the door. The lady who was asking for her was dressed in a pantsuit and seemed to be someone official. It left a knot in the pit of Annie’s stomach. Only, she wasn’t sure why that was. Then again, she had no way of knowing why someone would want to speak to her. After the night that had happened, it could have been for anything.

The lady smiled, “Could I take her, maybe speak to her alone for a few moments?”

Annie looked between the lady and her dad. At this point, she was positive she could have ran away with the lady and he wouldn’t have batted an eye. Then again, she also wanted him to say no. To not let her go until he knew exactly what was going on. Something that she was positive was wishful thinking on her end.

“Yeah, sure, does she need to go somewhere?” he asked.

The lady nodded, some of her blonde curls bobbing up and down, “Yes! That would be perfect, thank you.”

“Alrighty, Annie, go get a jacket. She’ll be right out with you,” he said.

Quickly, Annie scrambled to her room and grabbed a grey hoodie. It wasn’t going to be cold, so she knew that her black leggings and vans would work fine. Why in the world her dad was letting this happened was beyond her. For all she was aware, she was being kidnapped by someone who had a vendetta against her. Not that it would matter. If she absolutely had to, she would use her powers to keep herself safe if that was needed. Only if that was what was necessary. After last night, Annie didn't want to do anything with her powers.

Once out of the apartment with the woman, she felt the knot in her stomach growing. Why wouldn't it? She was in an elevator with a complete stranger who she knew nothing about at all. It was obvious that under any other circumstance where she had a caring parent, Annie wouldn't have ever left the apartment.

"I'm sure you're wondering why I wanted to meet with you," the lady started.

Annie sighed, "Yeah, I guess."

"Well, I just wanted to have the chance to tell you about the situation that we have on our hands without your father having the chance to freak out over it," she explained.

Annie crossed her arms, "What 'situation' are you on about?"

"Have you met this man before?" she asked, pulling out a picture of Darren Lancaster,  the same man who was there last night. The man who killed Tina. Who tried to kill her. Who she shouldn't have let go so easily all those months ago.

 

Annie slowly nodded, "Um... yeah. I was supposed to have a photoshoot of sorts. Headshots, ya know? I kind of wanted some new ones."

"Right. So you were supposed to have a meeting with him at midnight last night, correct?"

Annie's eyes widened, "Y-yeah, look, I know the time's weird, but that was what worked best after I had my closing night show and that was when he was free afterwards."

"Did you go?"

Annie shook her head, "No, I-I was at a party last night. I kinda ended up staying out too late. Some things happened at the party and... are you the police or something?"

"No, not by any means. You don't have to worry about me. I'm Linda Vanger and I work at an anti-sex-trafficking non-profit organization. Did you hear about the fire last night?" she asked.

There were two ways for things to go. Either she played dumb or played far too knowledgeable about what was happening around her. She didn't know how covered the fire had been. Things caught fire all the time. It was New York, weird things happened and most of the time it was never questioned. Then again, she didn't want to seem like she knew too much. Not when she claimed that she hadn't been anywhere except for a party. In a way, it was a solid alibi. There was no way a normal person could have made it to that building all the way from Flash's house.

Annie shook her head again, "No, what're you talking about?"

"Well, at the building you were supposed to happen there were a couple of vigilantes who may have been trying to stop that man. Clearly, something went wrong and the building caught fire. There were several reported gunshots according to witnesses who were neighbors. But that's not what concerns me," she explained.

Annie bit her lip, "Th-then what does concern you?"

"Tina Burnstock, do you know her?" she asked, pulling out a photo.

Annie nodded, "Y-yeah, we're kinda friends. She's been having a rough time and I've been checking in on her. Why?"

A part of Annie wished she could just drop the act as they started walking down the street. The lady didn't seem to want to hurt her. That much was clear. What Annie wasn't clear on was how she'd react knowing that Annie was the vigilante who had tried to stop that man earlier.

"I-I'm afraid that your friend was killed. By what, I'm not sure. She showed several gunshot wounds to the chest and abdominal areas, and I'm sorry if this is a lot for you to hear right now," she said.

Hearing the words out loud made everything feel all the more real. There was no way around it. Tina was dead and it was all real. The previous night hadn't been some kind of nightmare that she could wake up from. What she was dealing with was now simply her reality. Tears began to sting Annie's dark eyes and she stared at her black shoes, trying to even out her breath as they walked.

"I know that this is probably a lot for you to hear and is likely a lot for you to handle. Look, we can go and get some coffee or tea if you would like. I know this lovely cafe a few blocks from here, all on me," Linda said, leading Annie.

Annie couldn't think of anything else to say, so she nodded, In that moment, Linda could have held a gun to her head and she wouldn't have batted an eye over it. It was impossible to know what she was supposed to do. How could she tell anyone the truth of what happened? That she had been there. That Tina had died right in front of her. That she'd had the chance to incarcerate the man who was probably doing just fine months ago. That she didn't incarcerate him because he said something that was likely a lie. That she was just some dumb girl with powers she couldn't use. That she just wanted to go home and sleep for days. That she had no clue how in the world she would function when she would have to go back to school the next day.

Linda held the door open for Annie, and it was a small coffee shop. Not an evil lair or a sketchy apartment building.

"What would you like?" she asked, smiling at Annie.

Annie shrugged a little, "Um... some green tea."

The green tea reminded her of Peter. Then of how he seemingly ran off from her the night before. Right when she needed him the most. She could have had the chance to make things normal and to live like a normal person. Maybe he just didn't feel the same and needed the chance to get out of the situation. She didn't know, and a part of her wanted to text him and figure out what was going on with him.

Linda led her to a table and sat across from Annie, "I really am sorry for your loss. However, I can't say that the rest of the news will be any easier to process either. You see, Tina was a sex trafficking victim. She wanted to speak out about her experiences. So she came to us."

What had made Tina decide to suddenly choose to tell everyone about her experiences? Annie could remember when all she wanted was to get on a bus and leave. That felt like it was yesterday, and that she would see Tina walk right in. It felt like everything was just some big, demented joke that everyone but her was in on.

Annie sniffed a bit and looked up to meet Linda's bright blue eyes, "Okay, what is it? What happened?"

"We think Tina was kidnapped out of malice, that she had things to say which threatened other bad people. Look, I can't tell you the entirety of the case-"

"Why not? You're already telling me everything else. Don't you think that this would make far more sense to me if I knew what the hell was going on?" Annie snapped before she heard their drink orders being called out. She shrunk back into her chair, "Sorry, I know it's not your fault. Just... keep going."

Annie stood to grab the drinks and took them from the counter and brought them back to the table, setting Linda's in front of her.

Linda nodded, "It's alright. I'm sure this is a tough time for you, knowing what had just been happening. Anyways, we believe Tina was where she was due to foul play. And it is my suspicion that she wasn't murdered by the vigilante."

"Right, then what did happen?" Annie asked.

Linda sighed a pit, taking a drink from her cup, "We believe that she was killed by the same man who kidnapped her in the first place."

"Okay, this is great and all, but what does it have to do with me?" Annie asked, blowing on her green tea.

Linda licked her lips and her eyes darted across the room, "You were in some of the evidence. Your appointment was in a book that was somewhat damaged, but we were able to read what the contents were. It contained plans for your abduction."

The last words seemed to hang in the air for a long time. Annie knew that she shouldn't have been surprised. She had known exactly what she had been getting herself into. It was obvious that she had thrown herself into a risky situation, and she knew that what she had done was something that she should have put more though in.

However, what Annie hadn't been expecting was for someone to point out that she had almost been abducted. That she had almost been thrown into a situation where she would have ended up like Tina had been. Stuck in an alley with some drunk creep.

Had she been a normal person, Annie wouldn't have been there. Then again, had she been a normal person, she wouldn't have gone up to the man in the first place.

Annie didn't know how long she had been quiet for, "What do you want me to do?"

"We were hoping to have you testify in the trial. At least, say what happened in your experience with him,” Linda explained.

"So... I'm guessing that the fire didn't kill him," Annie replied, sipping her green tea.

Linda shook her head, "Nope, actually, Tina was the only casualty. But he's in the hospital for injuries and smoke inhalation."

It almost felt satisfying to know that he had suffered. To know that she had gotten in some kind of hit before everything went down. That she had caused something to happen. Granted, she also had no clue what would happen if she testified. What if she cracked? Sure, everything was fine right then while she spoke to Linda, but she was talking to someone on her side. How would she hold up once people started grilling her?

She couldn't just lie her way through everything. At the same time, if she didn't say anything, then it was likely he would only get murder charges. But her identity would be in jeopardy, and she wished that her dad hadn't let her leave the apartment so quickly. She wished someone could tell her what the best solution was.

"I understand if you need a moment. You shouldn't have to, but it would help to convict him if you said what happened and testified because of the plans that he had in place for you at the time," Linda said, taking another drink from her cup.

Annie bit her lip in thought and shook her head, "I'm sorry, I can't. If there's any other way I could help you, I'd be more than willing to."

"Well, this is more of a desperate question which I doubt you have an answer to. But do you happen to know the identities of Spider-Man and White Swan?" she asked.

Annie choked on her drink, coughing up a lung, "Of course not, I've seen them around, but hasn't everyone?"

"While I would never charge either of them with anything, it is likely that they'll be suspects for the arson unless something else can be proven," she said, "But I feel like if I got them to testify against the charges, we could have an even better case on our hands."

Annie shook her head, picking up her tea, "I-I'm sorry, but I don't know anything. I... I wish you luck, but I need to get home. My dad's probably wondering where I am."

"Fine, but if anything happens, don't say that I didn't warn you," she said, shrugging.

Annie couldn't get out of the coffee shop fast enough, and she felt the knot in her stomach turn into a lurching feeling. She was suspect for an arson that she did commit, but she hadn't meant for it to happen. It was a dumb decision and she wished there was some way that she could just go back and fix it. Maybe if she had listened to Spider-Man, things would have been easier.

She took a moment to pause in a convenience store and checked her phone, scrolling through the news. Sure enough, there were articles covering the entire situation. It talked about Tina's being trafficked and how both she and Spider-Man were suspected of arson and, in extension, murder.

Her stomach dropped and she felt bile come up, and she ran to the bathroom, going to the first stall. Vomit came right out of her mouth, but there hadn't been much to throw up in the first place. Not that it made much of a difference. Annie still felt the wave of nausea overcoming her. She was in so much legal trouble that she had no idea where she was supposed to begin with the whole thing.

One of the articles' comment sections had all sorts of theories. Some claiming her to be a monster. Was she? Annie shook her head, those were people on the internet who had nothing better to do than comment their dumb conspiracy theories on obscure news sites. A few comments down, however, there was the address to which hospital the man was being held in. That he wasn't even being charged with criminal activities yet. Everyone blamed Spider-Man and herself.

Did anyone bother to realize that she wanted to keep people safe? It felt like no one realized that she hadn't meant to hurt anything or anyone. Still, knowing the address made her wonder what would happen if she ever got found out.

Was it possible that she could simply throw away the suit and be done with everything? It was the slightest bit likely, but she knew that Spider-Man wouldn't be able to do the same thing. At the same time, he wasn't responsible for anything, and she was positive that he had been in there getting people out of the building. How had he not gotten to her or Tina in time? Maybe the smoke was too thick. When she woke up she could remember that the floor had weakened to the point that it collapsed on itself.

Once she got out of the convenience store, Annie found her feet carrying her to the address of the hospital that was listed. Why that was, she wasn't sure. It was highly unlikely that the comment was true. If it was, then obviously someone would end up losing their job.

Still, she kept walking in that direction and she was in the hospital before she could even fully realize it herself.

"Hey, I'm here to see Darren Lancaster, he's my uncle and I heard about the fire and... I wanna make sure he's okay," Annie said, hoping that the lie was convincing.

Either the receptionist wasn't paying attention or she really hated her job, because she let Annie pass through without a second thought. She knew that what she was doing was wrong, but she didn't want to do anything. She just wanted to see if it had been true.

She couldn't fathom the anger that was inside of herself, or any of what she was feeling. It felt as though she was going to be sick, but there wasn't anything to throw up. Her heartbeat felt like it was pulsating in her head.

“Thought that you’d show up at some point,” he mumbled, looking up at Annie.

Annie paused, staying in the doorway, “I don’t understand.”

“You’re that girl from last night. The one with the powers,” he said, staring at her.

She pursed her lips, “Y-yeah, I guess I am.”

“And I killed your friend, you know that, right? I shot her so many times I’m surprised she didn’t drop dead right away. And you… you did nothing, you were useless the whole damn time,” he replied, starting to sit up.

Annie felt her throat tighten, “I-I… you can’t, I’m not… stop,” she tried to start talking, but she couldn’t figure out what the right words were. What was she supposed to say.

“You failed her. You failed everyone there, you almost killed everyone there, you know that? You’re practically a monster!” he exclaimed.

It felt like she couldn’t breathe and everything around her was completely ice. A sensation that she had never felt before was starting to constrict her. She needed to breathe, but she felt like she couldn’t.

Of course, she had to breathe at some point. Whether she breathed or her body made her, she wasn’t sure. What she was sure of was that she had done something. The hospital machines went haywire and Darren was staring at the ceiling blankly.

“Help! Someone get help!” Annie yelled, stepping back into the hallway, her hands covering her mouth.

She couldn’t blink, and everything around her seemed to slow down. It was clear that Darren wasn’t going to talk to her again.

What had she done? Annie stepped backwards and out into the waiting area when she was asked to leave by the doctors. She sprinted out of the hospital, unable to get out of there fast enough. Why had she even gone? She shouldn’t have gone, she should have gone home.

Tears blurred her vision again as she walked around aimlessly, trying to call someone who could help. There had to be someone who would pick up. Obviously not her parents, they wouldn’t do anything about it.

Calling Harper only made Annie leave a voicemail. They were probably doing something important anyways. That was fine, she called Ned, another voicemail. Then, she called Peter and she heard the line pick up.

“Hey, what’s up?” Peter answered.

Annie could barely breathe, “I-I-I don’t know where I-I-I-I am a-and I-I don’t know what’s happening.”

“Woah, okay, Annie, what’s wrong, just tell me where you are, I’ll come and get you. Are you gonna be okay?” he asked, his words coming out faster and faster.

A sob broke out of Annie’s mouth. How could she even begin to say what was wrong? What would she even say to him? Even if she did tell him everything, what would he do? Would he think she was a monster?

“Y-yeah, I-I’m just being silly, s-sorry, I-I gotta go, bye,” she said, hanging up the phone.

There was only one thing she could do. She definitely couldn’t put that suit on. Not when she couldn’t control her own powers that she thought she knew how to use. And especially not when she was definitely a criminal and all the charges would come up eventually.

All she could think about were the words Linda had said. How long ago had that been? It felt like five seconds ago. She had no clue how she got back to her apartment building. Though, she didn’t go up to her floor. Instead, she went up further and further. She kept going all the way until the roof.

She wasn’t even sure if she knew what she was doing, but nothing felt quite right. Maybe it was lack of sleep or because of her powers or simply everything that had happened. Maybe it was everything combined. The air was starting to become humid, and she could feel that through her hoodie.

Perhaps, things would be easier for her if everything just stopped. If she could just get everything to stop, maybe things would be better for everyone else. Annie stood at the ledge, still barely able to see through eyes swollen with tears.

Then right as she was about to step off, she felt something sticky on her hand that pulled her back. A familiar red and blue figure was in front of her and she looked up, her eyes wide.

Spider-Man was looking at her, the eyes of his suit so wide that she couldn’t see the black outline.

“Please, let me help you. Y-you’re really scaring me here,” he said, pulling Annie closer.

Annie didn’t say anything, she wasn’t sure if she could.

“Seriously, Annie, what’s wrong?” Spider-Man asked, reaching out to embrace her.

Annie drew herself back, “Please… d-don’t touch me… h-how do you know who I am?”

“Okay. Well, I remember you from the one time I uh… I walked you home,” he said, his arms at his side.

Annie nodded, “R-right…”

“Seriously, what’s wrong? Because what i just saw… that was fucking terrifying,” he told her, crossing his arms.

She shook her head, “I just… I don’t know what I’m doing… and I think it would just be easier if I quit while I’m ahead.”

“No. Y- you can’t do that. Look, I don’t know what’s wrong or anything, but I can tell you that there are people who would never forgive themselves if you died. There are people who you mean the world to,” he replied, wishing that he could just hold her.

Annie looked at the ground, “R-right, yeah, you’re right. I-I’m sorry that was really dumb and… I’m sorry.”

“Hey, don’t think that you need to be sorry. You’re hurting and you need help, okay? I don’t know how much I can help you, just… just promise you’ll be careful?”

Annie started walking back to the doorway before turning back to him, “I’ll try.”

Chapter Text

It had been impossible for Annie to get any kind of sleep that night. While she hadn’t gone back up to the roof, she wasn’t sure everything that happened afterwards was much better. The memories of the day wouldn’t stop replaying in her mind.

School was no different, and it didn’t matter how much coffee Annie tried to drink. She hadn’t looked at herself in the mirror, but she did remember throwing up in the middle of the night. Though, she could imagine that there were bags under her eyes from not sleeping. Why she had decided to go to school was beyond her. At the time, it made sense, but once she was surrounded by so many people, she couldn’t remember why she hadn’t just said she was sick.

Of course, Peter and Ned were the first people to see her, and Peter seemed to look at her as if there were something wrong with her. Maybe she was simply reading into it too much, but something didn’t feel right. Peter wasn’t supposed to know about what happened the last few days. He was supposed to still see her as completely normal.

“H-hey, are you alright?” Peter finally asked a few minutes before their first class.

Annie quickly nodded, “Yeah, I’m fine… just a bit tired, that’s all, really.”

“Are you sure? I know… I mean… I heard about Tina. Seriously, if you need anything, just tell me,” he told her, his eyes wide.

At first, Annie thought it was just Peter being his usual, nervous self. She hadn’t even thought about the party at all. That felt like it had happened months ago. The musical felt like it had been even longer ago. Yet, it had only been a couple of days, and some part of her was aware of that.

Still, she couldn’t shake the feeling of Peter looking like he had seen a ghost. Though, it was likely Annie focusing in too much on everything around her. She had no idea what to think of everything around her, but she knew that she wanted to go home. At least, she wanted to curl up in her bed and try to sleep the rest of the day away.

Things didn’t start to make any sense until lunch. She hadn’t gotten anything from the line. The plan was to sleep for the whole lunch period. It occurred to her that she hadn’t eaten breakfast either. Her stomach didn’t hurt, so she assumed it didn’t matter.

Ned and Peter already sat at the table, and Annie tried to offer them a small smile. They didn’t try to say much to her. If they had, she likely would have ignored it because she put her headphones on, trying to find some music.

Before she could pick a song, she could hear Peter and Ned talking right through her headphones. At first she was going to snap at them to shut up, but then she heard what they were talking about. She rested her head on the table, pretending to sleep.

“It’s Mr. Stark, do I take it?” Peter asked.

“Uh, yeah, dude. It’s probably about Saturday night.”

What would Peter know about Saturday night that would have to deal with Tony Stark? She wanted to rip off her headphones and demand what was going on.

Peter cleared his throat a bit, “You sure? I mean, Annie’s right there.”

“Yeah, sleeping. She’s listening to music and sleeping. She’d be more likely to tell you to shut up than listen to what you’re saying,” Ned pointed out.

Ned was wrong. That much was obvious to Annie who was trying to not fall asleep. Whatever Peter was talking about was private and if it was about Saturday night then it probably involved her. But why would Peter be worrying about something she did? Well, he likely didn’t know it was her.

“Hey, Mr. Stark. Yeah, um… yep. I saw the news. No, I don’t know where she is,” Peter sighed, “I didn’t see her after the fire started. I looked around for her yesterday, she isn’t anywhere.”

Annie felt her blood go cold. As much as she had tried to push it out of her mind before, it was obvious that Peter was talking about her. Well, not about her, but White Swan. And she was White Swan. He was looking for her.

“Hospital? No, no, sir, she would never hurt anyone. I-I don’t know what happened there, but I haven’t seen her since the fire… no, I’m not covering up for her, Mr. Stark. I’ve been trying to find her, but she isn’t anywhere.”

Her heart pounded against her chest. There wasn’t a way to make what was happening more obvious and she knew that. Peter was trying to find her, and he knew White Swan. Only, there was only one person who knew her that well to claim she wouldn’t try to hurt anyone. Spider-Man.

“Please, Mr. Stark, I’ll keep looking for her. A-and when I find her you can talk to her. But when I find her… if I do, she might be more likely to show up without being accused of murder. I don’t know if you can fix that or not, but it might help. Seriously, she… she just doesn’t know what she’s doing. Okay… bye, Mr. Stark.”

“So… still no luck with her?” Ned asked.

“No… I haven’t seen her at all. And I don’t know where she is or… well, I don’t know if she’s even… you know,”

“Alive?” Ned suggested.

“Yeah… the fire started so quickly and I don’t know what happened, but I couldn’t find her or Tina. Well, then I found Tina and… w-well I-I had to tell Mr. Stark,” Peter explained, sniffling.

“Hey, I’m sure she’s fine… she’s probably just scared. You’ll find her, you’re Spider-Man.”

There was all the confirmation she had been looking for. If things had been normal, Annie would have known exactly how she felt about Peter being Spider-Man. Right then, she felt torn. If Peter knew she had listened in, would he hate her for it?  Her thoughts were cut off by their continued conversation.

“I didn’t tell you about yesterday, did I?”

“No, you didn’t,” Ned said.

Peter sighed, “Well, I’m looking for White Swan, and I get a call from Annie… and sh-she’s crying to the point she can’t even talk. A-and I told her to tell me where she was and then she basically hung up on me. So I uh… I went to her apartment building and I was still in the suit, but I figured it would be okay. Well, not okay, but I wasn’t sure if it was over Tina or the party or…”

“Wait, what about the party? Did something happen?”

“I’ll tell you later, Ned, I hope it wasn’t about the party…. Anyways, I get there and I see Annie on the roof and I get up there and she was… she was about to throw herself off,” Peter’s voice grew thick from tears.

“Wait, Annie tried to kill herself?! And you didn’t, like, take her to the hospital or anything? What the hell?”

Peter sighed, “I-I didn’t know what to do. I mean, I stopped her, but fuck… that was terrifying. If I hadn’t gone there, she wouldn’t be alive. A-and I tried to hold her and tell her it was going to be okay, but she just pulled back from me like she thought I was gonna hurt her.”

“Dude, she was probably freaked.”

“Yeah, I know, but that was fucking terrifying… and she doesn’t look like she’s doing much better today. Just… just try to keep an eye on her, I know I can’t take care of her all the time.”

The bell rang, piercing right through everything and Annie couldn’t hide that she flinched from it. She pulled her headphones out, hoping Peter and Ned didn’t think she heard anything. Obviously they were counting on her not listening in on everything. From how in depth Peter got on everything, Annie felt like she was hearing someone narrate her life from the past couple days.

Classes passed Annie by and so did all the study prep for her finals. At least her theatre final was done. Everything had still been okay during the closing night performance, and her teacher made sure everyone was aware the performances were great.

In a way, it was a relief to hear Ms. Salazar complimenting her instead of constantly criticizing every single thing she did. Why the teacher seemed to have done that so often was beyond her, and she tried to not let any of it bother her. Granted, she did a terrible job when it came to pretending to not care about what the teacher wanted. Despite everything, theatre was still something that she wanted to keep in her life.

If only she could just get passed everything that had just happened.

She wasn’t going to tell Peter that she knew he was Spider-Man. She wasn’t going to tell Peter she was White Swan. She wasn’t going to tell Peter anything. If he just couldn’t find her, that would put an end to all of her problems and she knew it. Maybe letting Peter think she was dead was for the best.

Things would have to fix themselves eventually. Queens functioned before Annie had moved in months ago, and they would continue to function as she stopped using her powers.

The problem with her powers was that she didn’t trust them anymore. What if something happened again? Peter was right, she didn’t want to hurt anyone. More importantly, she was going to do everything in her power to make sure something like that didn’t happen again. She didn’t want anyone to touch her or hold her or even be close to her. Of course, it was slightly unrealistic, but as long as someone just didn’t attack her with a long bear hug, Annie felt like she would be fine.

“Annika, could you come up here for a minute,” Ms. Salazar said, gesturing to her desk.

Annie nodded, going right up to the desk, “Yeah… um what’s up?”

“I wanted to apologize for my actions during the production. Looking back, I realize that i may have said some unnecessary things, and I understand if you wanted to drop this class,” Ms. Salazar explained.

Annie quickly shook her head, “No, I-I want to stay in the class, but… why were you acting like that in the first place?”

“I feel that bribing your way into the lead role is cause for a lot of eyebrow raising, but your father offered up quite a bit.”

Annie’s jaw dropped, “Wait… h-he what?!”

“Oh dear, I’m sorry. I thought you knew, I thought it was part of your idea… but yes, he bribed me into giving you the lead role,” Ms. Salazar admitted, staring at her desk.

Annie stepped back, “Oh… I um… I’m sorry, I didn’t want anything like that… sorry.”

At that point, all Annie could wait for was the final bell to ring. Her dad wasn’t even talking to her about anything that mattered. He wasn’t acting guilty. Yet he rigged the entire musical for her. Sure, she was almost positive that hse had given that role her all, but she wouldn’t have wanted it if she knew what her dad had in mind.

Finally, the last bell did ring, letting Annie out of her last class for the day. She wanted to get home on her own, but Peter ran up next to her. Any other day and she would have wanted to talk to him for hours on end, but she felt like she needed to get away from him. He was looking for her when she wanted nothing to do with her powers.

“Hey, you doing okay?” Peter asked, putting an arm around her shoulders.

Annie quickly shrugged him off, “Y-yeah, I guess.”

“Annie, really, I-I know that you’re not. You look like hell.”

“I’m fine, really. You don’t need to worry,” she insisted, walking with Peter, “Where’s Ned anyways?”

“He needed to make up a test… anyways, I’m serious, if you need to talk to anyone-”

“I do have other friends. I’m not alone, I’ll be fine,” she snapped, quickly looking down, “Sorry, I just… I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay, we don’t have to talk if you don’t want to,” Peter replied.

The walk into the subway station was silent, and Annie had a gnawing feeling in her gut. She needed to apologize or tell him or something. At the same time, she didn’t want Peter to see her any differently than he already did. It was obvious that he was scared. Not scared of her, but of what he thought she was going to do.

As they started heading in the direction of her apartment, Annie felt a knot in her stomach while they stayed silent.

“Did you eat anything? Sorry, I know you said you didn’t want to talk, but… I’m just a bit worried,” Peter started.

Annie frowned a bit, “Um… not yet, but I’ll eat something when I get home.”

“Okay… just, I know you don’t want me worrying, but I hate seeing you like this,” he replied.

“Like what?”

“Well, this is the longest I’ve talked to you all day, and I mean… I just wanted to tell you that I know what it’s like to lose someone you’re close to. A-and if I could help you, I would, but you have to tell me.”

Annie stopped in front of her building, “You actually think that you could understand what it’s like? Do you think for one second that you can compare everything going on in my life to whatever happened to you?”

“Annie, I know you’re-”

“No, you don’t fucking know anything, so please, for one goddamn second, just stop pretending like you know what I’m dealing with! Because I can tell you think you’re helping, but you’re not.”

Peter stepped back, his eyes wide and glassy with tears, “I-I’m gonna go.”

Annie quickly realized what she had said, “Peter! Wait, I didn’t…”

But he was already down the street, and he had every right to leave.

She had tried to message Peter or call him, but he wasn’t responding to her. Not that she blamed him. Annie hadn’t meant to snap at him, and the pressure from staying quiet about everything had finally caught up to her.

Finally, a video chat notification had popped up from Harper, she quickly answered it.

“Woah, Jesus Christ! You look like hell!” Harper exclaimed.

Annie shrugged, “I just got back.”

“Seriously… have you eaten at all today?”

Annie shrugged again, “I had some goldfish.”

“Goldfish isn’t a fucking food group, Ann, go grab some actual food,” Harper said, their ginger eyebrows arching up into their hairline.

Annie left for a few minutes, coming back to her desktop computer with a plate filled with a couple bread slices, cheese, deli meat, and lettuce.”

“Shit, you’re really going through it,” they commented.

Annie nodded, “No shit, I’m being accused of murder and other things.”

“Actually… those murder accusations got dropped. I’ve been following the story this whole time. The building burned because of faulty wiring and the one dude had bad luck with some of the medical equipment. You’re totally cleared.”

Her jaw dropped, “I know what happened, and you’re not gonna believe it but… Peter’s Spider-Man.”

“Coulda told you that one… tried to tell you, actually.”

“No, there’s more to it. I was listening in on him and Ned and Peter was talking to Tony Stark… and he’s trying to find White Swan, so he’s trying to find me. So… he was trying to convince him to get the charges to be dropped somehow. I guess he thought that would coax me out or something,” she explained.

Harper tilted their head and ran a hand through their ginger pixie cut, “Okay, so did you tell him?”

“No… I um… well I said some dumb shit and I guess we’re not talking and… well now I don’t know what to do.”

Harper looked at Annie through the screen, “You really did it this time, didn’t you?”

“Yeah, I did. Do you think I can fix it?”

“Sure you can, but you’ll have to tell Peter.”

Annie groaned, “I thought you would say that.”

Chapter Text

It was two weeks after Tina died. Two weeks after Annie had literally murdered someone, well, not murdered. Two weeks after she figured out Peter was Spider-Man. Two weeks after she hadn’t completely apologized for what she said to Peter.

In all fairness, he was ignoring her. Not that she blamed him, she screwed up. The problem was that she didn’t even know if Peter was over it. Granted, Annie couldn’t say too much. She didn’t say much in general over those two weeks. There weren’t many people she could talk to. MJ was the only person Annie sat around during that time. Not that it was a bad thing, Annie sat with her because she didn’t ask questions. Questions that at first everyone had asked, until she consistently refused to answer

Tina’s funeral came and went, and Annie went alone. At first she wanted to ask someone to go with her, but no one would have understood why it hurt her so much. Sure, everyone knew that Tina had been her friend, but no one knew that Annie did feel like it was all her fault. If she hadn’t been so insistent or impulsive. If she had just been a little bit smarter. If she had listened to peter that night. Maybe, just maybe, things would have turned out different, and maybe Tina would still be alive.

Hell, Annie knew that she would have figured out Peter was Spider-Man eventually. It would have made life easier a few weeks ago, but it currently made things worse. She should have told Peter right away, but then she yelled at him instead. And she understood why Ned avoided her as well. They were best friends. She knew that Harper would have done the same if it had been the other way around.

The real question was, what was she waiting for? Annie barely talked to anyone, and she still didn’t let anyone touch her for very long. No one questioned it after she walked into her classes with dark bags under her eyes for a week straight. Everyone assumed it was just the way things were. That it was because of finals week, and she let them think that. It was easier than owning up to murder and having destructive powers.

Yet, something felt wrong without Peter and Ned being around. They didn’t look over at her, and it was like she’d never existed to either of them.

It hurt, but Annie also felt like she understood. When she tried to ask Ned, he told her about Peter’s Uncle Ben. How he’d died a little over a year ago, and Annie felt guilt gnawing at her ever since. That was obviously before Peter told him what happened, and Annie hadn’t thought she hurt him so much. Maybe that was for the best, but she wanted to make up for it.

She needed to have a reason to keep going. That was what she thought as she messed around with the mask charm on her necklace Peter had gotten her.

After school on one of the last days, Annie had went her usual way to the subway station. It was almost impossible to not see Peter and Ned, but she had tried to keep her space from them. She doubted they wanted to see her, but now she just couldn’t take not talking to either of them.

Though she knew that she had mainly hurt Peter. So she quickly chased behind them, having to nearly jog to keep up with them. Not because they were trying to lose her, it was simply how fast everyone went.

“Hey, Peter, c-can I talk to you?” Annie asked, breathing heavily.

Peter looked at Ned and he frowned a bit, “Maybe later? L-look I gotta run.”

“Really? Or are you just angry at me? I-I wanted to-”

“Seriously, I need to run, like now, I’m sorry. You can call me later or something, okay?”

Annie felt a lump in her throat and she couldn’t say anything, “Th-that’s what you said before.”

“And I really need to go,” Peter insisted, his eyes darting around.

Ned nodded, “Yeah, he’s gotta get to his internship.”

“C-can’t I… wait, just wait a sec…” Annie started, but Peter and Ned quickly wove their way out of the crowd, leaving her in the middle of a moving crowd.

Defeated, Annie left the subway tunnel. That whole internship thing was a lie and she knew that now. She had half a mind to say so, but she hadn’t wanted to make things worse. On the sidewalk, she was suddenly stopped when she just couldn’t breathe. All she could smell was smoke and she choked, starting to hack.

There was a fire. There had to be a fire. She didn’t know where it was. There wasn’t any sign of flames or anything. When she looked to see who was next to her, it was some businessman smoking a cigarette. The smoke left her paralyzed. She couldn’t walk and she couldn’t get herself to move for a few moments. How was she supposed to move when she thought so certainly that she was going to die mere moments before.

Quickly, Annie fished her phone out of her jacket pocket and dialed Harper’s number. It didn’t pick up the first time, but she kept calling over and over until the line finally clicked.

“Annie, what’s up? Sorry, I was finishing up some school stuff,” Harper answered.

Annie kept breathing heavily and quickly, “I-I can’t breathe.”

“Wait, what?”

“I-I can’t breathe and I can’t move and I don’t know where I’m going,” Annie explained, trying to gasp for air as she felt herself nearing her apartment building.

Harper paused for a moment, “Hun, you need to slow down and you need to go home. I want you to eat something and then go to sleep. You haven’t been doing either of those things, have you?”

“That’s not important! It doesn’t change everything that happned if I eat or if I just starve for the rest of my life! It makes no difference!” Annie yelled into the phone.

“Hey, hey, take some deep breaths. You’re gonna be-”

“I’m not gonna be okay or whatever. I-I can’t even let people touch me, Harper! You haven’t been here! No one’s been talking to me, i-it’s like they know!”

“No one knows, Annie. Come on, if Peter knew, he would have said something by now.”

The line started to crackle and Annie glanced behind her shoulder. That was when she saw something that nearly caused her to drop her phone altogether, “I-I need to go, bye.”



All the way in Seattle, Harper couldn’t believe what they were hearing. Annie hung up on them and their heart nearly stopped. What if she was going to do something stupid? They couldn’t stop Annie from doing anything.

“Shit, okay, think… if you can’t do something… there’s gotta be someone… oh, perfect!” Harper exclaimed, rambling to themself as they pulled up the rest of their contacts.

Peter’s number was still in their phone from Christmas, and they dialed it, “Come on, come on. You gotta pick up.”

They had to keep dialing over and over again before someone finally picked up, “Um… hi? I gotta go I’m busy.”

“I genuinely don’t care Peter. I need you to check on Annie. Like, now.”

Peter was silent for a moment, “I really can’t. I told her to call me back later. That’s gotta work because I can’t see her at any other time.”

“Peter! This is way more than whatever teenage-drama bullshit you both have going on. I don’t know all of what you’re fighting about right now, but I’m not getting into that,” Harper replied, running a hand through their ginger hair, their hands shaking.

Peter sighed a bit, “Then what’s going on?”

“Annie was… well I think she was having a panic attack. Look, she’s been through hell and back. And I can’t get there in time to help her right now. I need you to go over to her and make sure… well, just make sure she isn’t gonna do anything stupid. Can you do that?” Harper asked, “And I fucking swear if you say you’re too busy, then I’ll kick your ass when I do get over to New York.”

“Hey, I got it, I-I’ll get going. I-I’ll let you know what’s going on… or she will… you’ll find out what’s going on. I should go then. Um… bye.” Peter stammered before hanging up the phone.



For a moment, Annie thought she was just seeing things. It was possible, she was going delusional, seeing things that scared her. Constantly thinking of things that left her wanting to throw up. She hadn’t eaten much and she barely slept at all. The odds of her making something up in her head. Making up her own worst nightmare all over again… that was perfectly possible, wasn’t it.

She didn’t say anything at first. Instead she walked towards where she had seen him again. The dark, wet spot was all she needed to see to know that she wasn’t going insane.

More importantly, Annie knew what she had to do. There was no way Peter could do this by himself. He didn’t know Carnival. Carnival was supposed to be gone in the first place. And then if he was anywhere, he was supposed to be in Seattle.

Annie sprinted up to the elevator and could only hope that it would carry her up faster. Neither of her parents were home just yet. She ran into her room, pulling out the suit she had hidden in an old shoebox under a couple of yearbooks. It still smelled like smoke and it made her sick. Still, she pulled on the suit.

Peter couldn’t face anything like Carnival alone and she knew that. She’d already hurt enough people, and she didn’t want to risk hurting Peter. But more importantly than all of that, she didn’t want Peter getting hurt if she could have a say in any of it.

The suit had scorch marks all over it and she noticed it looked like she rolled out of a fire. When she had gotten home that night, she didn’t pay much attention. She just wanted it hidden somewhere that no one else would ever find it. Yet, there she was, hopping out of her window, using her powers, she left the room.

She landed in an alleyway. First, she needed to find Peter, and then she needed to explain everything. Well, everything about Carnival. Everything else that she had gone through could afford to wait.

It was then she saw that same Spider-Man suit swinging just ahead of her. She saw as Peter noticed her, the eyes of his suit going wide. He immediately jumped down from the rooftops he was slinging off of.

“Swan? You’re alive!” he exclaimed once he landed, running towards her and enveloping her in a huge hug.

Annie’s eyes widened, “W-wait, you really shouldn’t… please just let go, please.”

Only it was too late and before he could hear her, Annie had involuntarily blasted him off of herself. She couldn’t stop herself from screaming.

She rushed to where he was, “Shit, Peter, I-”

“Wait… how do you… who said I was Peter?” he asked, trying to get up, but he ended up staying down.

Annie shook her head, “Not important, are you okay? Shit… I-I didn’t mean for this to happen and I-I’m sorry. I-I’m a monster, I shouldn’t have come-”

“No, no, don’t you dare say that! It’s fine. See? I’m still alive, yeah?” he replied, trying to reach for her.

She opened her mouth to argue with him when she heard someone else enter the alleyway. As soon as Annie heard the familiar sounds of laughter, all of her muscles tensed. Annie looked behind her only to see Carnival. The same person she was supposed to be warning Peter about, and it was all happening too quickly for her to know what was going on.

“You’re not the only one still alive. Did this little darling tell you what she did to me?” Carnival asked, stepping forward.

Annie quickly stood up, getting in front of Peter, “I’m not your darling.”

“Bold words for someone with shaky legs,” Carnival pointed out, his clown makeup contorting into a wicked grin.

Annie quickly put up a shield, not wanting to mess around with whatever was going to happen. It was hard to tell what he was going to do. What she did know was that Carnival literally fed off of misery. It was his goal to get miserable people dead, and suddenly everything connected.

She stood there, checking from the corner of her eye to make sure Peter was still there, “Maybe so, but at least I’m not alone.”

“Are you so sure about that? Everyone’s left you. You don’t even have your friends with you. No one knows what you’ve gone through. There’s no purpose in you continuing to go on.”

Annie grimaced, sending an almost uncontrollably strong burst of electricity to him. It wouldn’t do much, and she knew that, but if nothing else it would stop him for a moment.

“H-hey, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. I-I’ve been looking for you this whole time. I-I just couldn’t find you, I thought you were dead. But you’re not! You’re okay, and I don’t know who this guy is, but we’ve worked together before-”

“You need to rest. I just threw you into the side of a building,” Annie replied, having forgotten to keep the shield up.

Right as Carnival was about to run and attack Annie, Peter webbed his arm to the other side of the alley.

“You really think your simple powers are enough to stop me?” Carnival asked, laughing.

Annie quickly blocked a burst of power from him, “They were last time.”

Right behind Annie, Peter stood up and he waited for her to take the shield down when she attacked and he snuck out of the barrier. Annie didn’t even noticed, hearing the thoughts she’d been thinking for the last two weeks running in her head at rate that almost made her want to electrocute herself if she could figure out how. All of Carnival’s energy was located on her. She was an easy target. No energy barrier could block thought manipulation.

“You know, most people don’t like it when you poke around their head,” Peter said, trying to web Carnival.

Annie’s eyes widened when she saw what Peter was doing, and she couldn’t tell if he knew what was going to happen. Even though she knew Carnival would break right through the webbing like she could, and then he would hurt Peter. But she was too slow.

It all happened so fast that she barely noticed Carnival not focusing on her. Peter was knocked against the wall again, looking like he was just barely awake.

NO!” Annie screamed, blasting everything she could think of at Carnival, tears stinging her eyes as she ran to Peter, making sure to keep the shield up.

“Peter, stay with me, please. Just stay awake, come on, Pete,” she repeated.

She couldn’t see what Peter’s expression was under the mask, “H-how do you know who I am?”

“That’s… that’s not important, just stay with me, please, Peter, I need you,” Annie whispered, her voice cracking/

Peter saw the mask charm on the necklace around her neck, “Annie?”

Annie saw him pass out and she shook her head, “No, no, no, wake up, Peter!”

“I always loved seeing you so hysterical, but you were never like this before,” Carnival commented, pacing back and forth, the clown makeup on his face twisting into an evil grin.

Then, for just a moment, Annie felt a wave of nothingness. No hysterics. Peter wasn’t going to be able to help her. It was all on her and she had to save him. And she would be damned if she didn’t do just that or get herself killed in the process.

Constantly blasting energy and converting everything should have left her wiped, but she couldn’t bring herself to notice how exhausted and slower her actions got over time. At least, until Carnival finally got a hit in, blasting her back.

She couldn’t feel anything except the cold cement. It was slightly wet from rain earlier, and if she looked, she could see Peter passed out. At least, she hoped he was passed out. She should have taken the mask off so she could see.

There was no way she’d be getting up any time soon. If anything, she felt her eyelids start to flutter shut. The world felt heavy.

Annie could have sworn that she saw a red and gold suit land close by, but that had to be a hallucination. Except that it wasn’t, and she knew that she was seeing Iron Man himself.

In that exact moment, everything went black.

Chapter Text

Annie awoke with a start, her eyes darting around the unfamiliar room. All she could remember was being just an arm’s length away from Peter and then hearing Carnival laughing as she saw Iron Man land feet away from her. Looking around, it was obvious she wasn’t in the alley anymore.

What worried her the most was that she had no idea where Peter was. What if he was dead? If he died, she knew that it was her fault, and she wasn’t sure if she could take the blame of someone else dying. She felt her throat close off and her heart started beating faster.

The machine next to her started beeping. When had she gotten to a hospital? How long had she been out for?

“I see you’re finally up. Don’t worry, it’s only eight.”

Annie turned to see Tony Stark and her eyes widened a bit, “Wait, eight in the morning or the evening?”

“Evening. You’ve been out for about… four hours? Better than I was expecting, you took a lot of hits,” Tony commented, sitting in the chair next to her hospital bed.

She shook her head, “Yeah, not the first time. I don’t care about that. How’s Peter? Is he… actually, I don’t wanna know.”

“Hey, take it easy, Pikachu, the kid’s still passed out, but he’s gonna be fine. You don’t have anything to worry about,” he told her.

Annie slowly sat up, “Okay… if he’s okay, what about Carnival?”

“That’s what that second rate clown calls himself? He’s still running around, but I got him to run off long enough to get both of you here,” Tony explained, glancing at the machines.

“Okay… but if Carnival’s out there… shit! Wait, sorry, I probably shouldn’t-”

“It’s no big deal. You’ve been through enough to be allowed to cuss. About everything you’ve been through… we’ve been checking on your vitals and your powers are kind of interesting. You know about basic bodily systems, right?” Tony asked.

Annie nodded, “Yep, I’ve been to health class.”

“I’m gonna pretend you’re not trying to sass me. Anyways, I was expecting your powers to be neurological or blood-related, but it’s actually hormone related. Did you always have your powers?”

She shook her head, “No, I got them, like… when I started puberty I guess. It’s been awhile. What’re you getting at?”

“I think that with the right research, I could come up with something that would stop your powers altogether. At least, something that would help to control them. That is, assuming you didn’t do anything you were accused of on purpose.”

Annie opened her mouth, about to say something, but the lump in her throat stopped her. All she could do was shake her head, “I-I didn’t… I-I just… s-sorry.”

“Hey, it’s alright, you didn’t do it on purpose, right?” Tony questioned.

She shook her head, sobbing, “N-no, of course I didn’t. I-I was trying to protect Tina. Sh-she got shot and she lost too much blood by the time I got her out. A-and the hospital was an accident. I-I went there, a-and I shouldn't have. B-but I’m not sure I want to get rid of my powers.”

“That’s understandable. I’m not forcing anything on you. If you want to keep your powers, we can work on ways to help you when stuff like this happens. But if you wanted to do something else, I completely understand,” Tony replied.

Annie wiped her eyes, looking back at Tony, “I-I heard Peter… um… when he was talking about how I was nice and wouldn’t hurt anyone. Did you believe him?”

“Look, the kid’s got great intentions, but I didn’t know you. I still don’t, so I didn’t believe him. But now that I’ve seen you fight a little bit, I can tell you’re not someone who needs to go to jail.”

“I-I wasn’t going to use my powers again. I just wanna make that much clear. But I saw Carnival, and I knew Peter couldn’t face anything like that alone, if he’d gotten hurt and I hadn’t done anything… it would’ve been my fault.”

Tony nodded, “I know how that feels. Hey, I think you’re good enough to go visit him. He just might not be up yet.”

Annie didn’t need to be told twice, she pulled the sensors off and got out of the bed.

“Wait, do my parents know I’m here?”

Tony ran a hand through his hair, “Um… they think your at your friend Harper’s.”

“And they believed that? Harper lives in Seattle. Sorry, my shitty parents definitely aren’t your problem,” Annie said, heading out before Tony could say anything.

When it occurred to Annie that she hadn’t asked where Peter was going to be. Though it turned out she got lucky and that he was only next door to her. The relief that rushed through her when she saw Peter laying there was unbelievable. No, he wasn’t awake, but she could tell that he was definitely alive. That was all that mattered to her.

He looked so peaceful laying in the bed, his eyes closed. It looked like he was resting and he seemed to be just fine. Annie sat next to the hospital bed, and she held his hand. For the first time in over two weeks, she didn’t question whether or not she should touch someone else.

After what had happened, her blasting him on accident was suddenly one of the least of her worries. She wanted to fix everything she had said earlier. It was dumb and she wanted to make up for it. All she could do was hope that he would believe her.

Of course, that entailed Peter waking up. Something Annie was beginning to wonder about. What if he was in a coma? No, if that were the case, Tony would have said so.

What was she even supposed to call Tony Stark? Just his last name? Or Iron Man? Tony was obviously out of the question. Did it even matter?

Annie eventually found herself falling asleep again, her head resting on Peter’s bed. What woke her up was the feeling of Peter stirring as he started to wake up.

She sat up, holding his hand tightly. Annie didn’t remember tears being in her eyes, but she suddenly felt them falling down her face. And she tried to quickly wipe them and blink them back, but she couldn’t stop herself.

His eyes opened slowly, “Annie, what’re you doing here?”

Annie tried to open her mouth to say something, but all that came out were sobs. All she could think of was how she almost hurt him and how she lied to him for weeks and how awful she had been. There was no way she could begin to justify any of it.

“H-hey, it’s okay, don’t cry,” Peter stammered, quickly pulling her close.

Annie tensed up before relaxing into the hug, crying onto his shoulder, “I-it’s not okay… I-I’m sorry, f-for everything.”

“No, you don’t need to worry about anything… I-I can’t believe I didn’t put any of it together earlier. If I knew, I could have done something I-”

“I didn’t want anything done. If I wanted help I would’ve said so…” Annie claimed, looking at him, her eyes still filled with tears.

He shook his head, “No, you, you needed help. I thought it was just Tina, but if you’re… if you’re White Swan, then you’ve been through more than that.”

“Pete, you don’t get it, I heard you… when I was supposed to be sleeping, I-I heard your conversation. I figured out you were Spider-Man. I-I knew you were looking for me, but I didn’t want anyone knowing what happened. So I just didn’t do anything… and then Carnival showed up so I had to do something and I knew you couldn’t have done it alone. I-I wanted to help you and then I hurt you instead.”

“No, you didn’t. Don’t you dare say that. You helped me, trust me. If it wasn’t for you, I think I’d be dead. That dude would’ve killed me. A-and so what? You threw me against a wall, you caused a couple accidents. But I know you, you didn’t mean to,” Peter told her, not letting her go, “And now that I know you’re both the same person, I’m positive it was an accident.”

“Maybe it was but that doesn’t matter, I-I’m a monster, I keep hurting people. And if you didn’t have that suit on I could’ve killed you. Th-that’s why I didn’t want anyone even touching me,” she started, resting her head on his shoulder.

Peter frowned, holding her tighter, “You’re lots of things, but you’re not a monster. You’re a hero, you saved my life. You didn’t want anyone to be hurt, and that shows you’re not a bad person. You’ve just been through a lot. At this point… I think we all have.”

Annie couldn’t bring herself to say much else. He knew everything that she had been scared for him to find out. It was the most they had said to each other in weeks, and she was glad that they were finally saying something to each other.

Then again, just knowing that Peter was alive was more than enough for her. It was obvious that they were both going to be okay. Though, Annie wasn’t sure if she could ever do anything without thinking about everyone she had hurt, but at least she didn’t feel like she had to keep it all a secret. The crushing punch of guilt that she felt inside of her was lessened thanks to knowing that she wasn’t on her own.

She didn’t remember falling asleep, but she woke up with a giant knot in her neck from sleeping with her head on Peter’s bed. Maybe she needed more sleep than she had been thinking, or she was just catching up from weeks of barely getting any sleep. When she woke, she still felt exhausted, but she also couldn’t get herself to go back to sleep.

Though, she didn’t have to worry because Tony walked right in as she stretched her neck to the side, getting a series of almost ungodly-sounding pops out of the way as he came in.

“What the hell was that?!” Tony exclaimed.

Annie shrugged, “It’s been a long night, I guess.”

“Hey… why’re you guys being so noisy… ‘m tryna sleep,” Peter mumbled, pulling a blanket over his head.

Tony rolled his eyes, “You’ve been asleep for over twelve hours, this is important.”

“So’s my sleep,” Peter muttered fighting for the blanket when Annie pulled it off.

“What’s up?” she asked, keeping the blanket for herself instead.

Tony shook his head, “I’ll start when you two stop flirting.”

Annie felt heat in her cheeks, “W-we’re definitely not-”

“Good, then you stopped. Now I need you guys to listen. This Carnival guy is seriously coming after both of you. And it’s clear to me that you can’t face him just yet. Now, that’s not to say you two don’t know how to use your powers, but you both almost got killed. Before I get into this a bit more, school’s getting out soon, yeah?” Tony asked.

“Yeah, the last day’s tomorrow, which reminds me, we gotta get going if we’re gonna be on time,” Peter replied, starting to scramble to get up.

Tony chuckled, “You two are expected to show up late, doctor’s appointments or something along those lines. If you’re really worried, you can ask Pepper. But the thing is, right after school gets out, I wanna take you two off to a more lowkey area. Somewhere this Carnival guy won’t look.”

“Wait, but Mr. Stark, who’s looking after the city? I-I can’t just leave everyone here,” Peter frowned, running a hand through his hair.

Tony sighed, “Look, kid, I don’t know when that guy’s coming back and I’m not risking something like that happening again.”

“Hey, I’ve dealt with him before… he kind of shows up whenever. It could be once and then you don’t see him for months, or he’ll come back right away. It’s better that we just stay out of the way until we know what we’re doing,” Annie explained, her eyes darting between both Peter and Tony and then back at the ground.

Tony nodded, “Exactly. So I’m taking you guys to a more low-key area. Ever been to Lake Tahoe? I think it’s pretty nice around this time of year.”

“Wait, what?! I can’t go all the way across the country. I-I don’t care about some villain, what about everyone else who’s getting hurt?” Peter demanded, his brow furrowing.

Annie pursed her lips, “They were surviving before you became Spider-Man, they’ll be fine now. Besides, what use would you be to any of us if you’re dead? If you happen to know, then please, tell me. But I’m not losing someone else, Peter, I can’t handle that.”

“Pikachu makes a good point. Also, I might mention, I’ll let you bring your ‘guy in the chair’ so he can figure out a thing or two,” Tony added, turning to leave.

“Wait! Mister Sir! I have someone like that, they’re just… they’re not here right now. My friend, Harper, they know about everything, they’re in Seattle right now,” Annie explained.

Tony shrugged, nodding a little, “Maybe I can do something about that… we’ll see.”

With that, he left the room, leaving Peter and Annie on their own. It took both of them a long time to say anything. Annie seemed to be interested in peeling off the aglet on her shoelace while Peter stared at some of the machines in the room.

The hum of the electricity made for an awkward silence that weighed down on both of them. After their tearful reunion which happened hours before, neither of them knew what to say.

“Seriously, though, I um… I’m sorry,” Annie said, glancing up for a moment.

Peter shook his head, “Y-you don’t need to be. I just… I thought that you kinda…”

“Died? Yeah, that’s what I’m sorry about. I should’ve said something earlier. I know you were worried, I just… I guess I thought it would make things easier. I didn’t really think it all through,” she admitted.

“I know. You didn’t think about anything, I-I mean, you did a lot of stupid stuff, but you’re okay. I’ve done a lot of dumb stuff. You’re doing fine,” he insisted, reaching over to hug her again.

Annie hugged him back, holding onto him tightly, “I just… after I yelled at you, I didn’t want you knowing everything that happened. I didn’t want you worrying about me. I-I mean, everything makes way more sense, but it was all my problems. Everything was my fault.”

“No. It wasn’t, I should’ve told Mr. Stark. And I know I’m gonna get an earful about it later, but I should’ve told him. And we wouldn’t have been involved at all in the first place. All of this would’ve been fine and-”

“You and I both know I would’ve gotten involved anyways. I appreciate it, I really do, and I’m glad I’m an enemy of the state or anything like that… but people died because of all the dumb stuff I did… a-and that’s changed a lot.”

“I know… and I know we never talked about it, but… when you tried to… when you were gonna jump off that building… I-I really thought I was gonna lose you, and I knew that I didn’t want that.”

“I’m so sorry… I-I just didn’t know what to do. Shit, I still don’t know. But I heard everything, I-I know I scared you and I don’t wanna do that again, but… I was so alone and I killed someone.”

“He was a bad person, Annie. I don’t want every bad guy getting killed, but you didn’t mean to. A-and you have me, you’re not alone.”

“So… you're not mad?”

“No, I was kinda pissed, my uncle died a year ago, and I thought I knew what was going on. A-and I never thought you were going through something different. I should've known…” he shook his head, “Doesn't matter, though. You're okay.”

They started to move on to subjects that were less serious, but they did have to get to school at some point. At different times to stop any suspicion. Annie was in a car, alone with Tony Stark, who she still was unsure of. Years of hearing about him made it seem like he was a god or a king, but in reality, she felt like she knew even less about him than she thought.

“You know, you did some really idiotic things. So idiotic, that if I knew you earlier, I would take whatever suit you had away,” Tony said, breaking the silence.

Annie pursed her lips, “Don't remind me. I already know.”

“What I was going to say is, you're smart. If it weren't for Peter knowing who you were in person, I never could've guessed who you were otherwise. And all this? You can't blame yourself. You're not taking any heat, you can relax,” he added, keeping his eyes on the road.

Annie nodded slowly, “Right, so about that camp thing… how am I convincing my parents to let me go to California for the summer?”

“If I remember right… you said they were shitty parents. Think of something.”

As the car stopped, Annie nodded again, “Okay, one last thing, whatever I say… could you vouch for me?”

“I don't see why not.”

Having that in mind, Annie got out of the car and headed to the entrance of the school.

Chapter Text

The last day of school was more than welcome in Annie’s mind. After slogging through finals, she wasn’t sure if she was going to be able to make it. However, with the smallest amount of things sorted out, she couldn’t help feeling like things were getting put back into place. It wasn’t perfect and things were nothing like they used to be, but it was nice to still be around the people she had considered her friends.

MJ didn’t comment when she saw Annie talking to Peter and then Ned again. What was going through her mind, Annie was unsure. For all Annie knew, MJ was already completely aware of everything that happened. She was incredibly observant.

One last problem remained, Annie still needed to convince her parents to let her go across the country for what would likely end up being most of the summer. While she had a couple of ideas, a part of her was unsure if they would work.

“Hey… um, Annie? You there?” Peter asked, waving a hand in front of her face.

Annie blinked, sitting up, “Yep… yeah, um… how mad do you think Stark’s gonna be if I don’t go on that trip thing?”

“Wait… you’re going to? Pete, why didn’t you tell me?!” Ned exclaimed.

Annie shook her head, “Wait… you didn’t get the whole ‘I’ve been White Swan this whole time’ memo?”

“Nope. Peter, you owe me five bucks, though,” Ned said, smirking, “Anyways if you’re… then does that mean you… you doing okay?”

She shrugged, “Could be better, could be worse. But I really need to know.”

“Well… I don’t know. I think he said that he really needed you there. It’s kinda dangerous to have you over here,” Peter said before digging in his pockets, “Also, I think I’m broke right now, so you’re gonna have to wait, Ned.”

Annie rolled her eyes, “I can’t believe you two sometimes… but anyways, I’m just trying to figure out what I should do about it. Like, how should I go about getting my parents to agree… because there are a couple of ways I can go about this. You know, like, one very calm and convincing way and an underhanded, kind of rude way.”

“You’re gonna go with the rude way anyways, why try acting like you’re conflicted,” MJ said, leaning against the wall, “What’re you convincing them to do?”

Annie jumped a bit, “Oh, theatre camp. It’s all paid for, I just need them to agree.”

“Well, don’t have a whole mess like you did with Flash and you should be fine,” MJ replied, walking off.

It was true, if it didn’t blow up in her face, then Annie knew exactly what she had to do. She had a few convincing points that she had been holding onto mainly for the sake of hiding her superhero identity, and if she had to use the biggest one that would cause the most damage, she knew that she would have to use it at some point that day. No one else knew except for Ms. Salazar, her father, and now, herself.

There was no way her parents were going to agree to her going to Tahoe, and Annie was all too aware of that. How Peter and Ned were going, she had no clue. Peter wasn’t all that secretive or that great of a liar, if Aunt May knew, it wasn’t a surprise to her.

Then there was the fact that she wouldn’t get to see Harper until the end of the summer. Was that worth it? Sure, she would avoid Carnival for a couple months, but really that was only prolonging the inevitable. At the same time, it gave her an excuse to disappear and sort everything out that had happened. That was something she needed to do without her parents around and without the business of the city and seeing everything that was happening around her.

If nothing else, the last day went by smoothly, though she had to ensure that her plan wasn’t about to blow up in her face. She wasn’t going to have something like the Flash situation again. At the same time, there wasn’t any way for things to get much worse in her mind.

She’d already lost a friend, killed someone, almost completely destroyed her relationship with two of her closest friends, and almost got Peter killed. Not to mention that the villain she thought was on the backburner had popped up in the city she lived in. How much more unlucky could she be?

“Hey, Ms. Salazar, just wondering… you weren’t kidding or lying when you said my dad bribed you right?” Annie asked.

Ms. Salazar looked up and nodded slowly, “It was all true. Y-you’re not going to bring this up to anyone, right?”

“Now, that depends. Um… you see, you and my father are at fault, but you took the money-”

“Are you extorting me, Annika?”

Annie shrugged, “Depends on what you mean by extorting. I’m just stating facts, but out of curiosity… what’s the production for this upcoming year gonna be?”

“I don’t know that for sure yet, I still have to talk to the other teachers involved first. You wouldn’t really try to fire me, would you? I’m tenured,” Ms. Salazar stated.

Annie smirked, “That also depends on if you tell me what the production’s gonna be before everyone else knows. Look, you screwed me over throughout the whole production-”

“And you seemed fine then.”

“Well I decided your word of apology wasn’t enough. Here’s my email, thank you for your cooperation,” Annie replied with a sweet smile, leaving a sticky note on her teacher’s laptop screen.

Within a few moments the bell rang, and Annie walked out of the room with a small smile on her face. If she could get revenge on her teacher, she could convince her parents. She looked at Tony Stark’s contact information one last time. If she really wanted, she knew that there was a chance she could convince him to let her stay in New York.

Only, she didn’t want to stay in New York. What she would have to do is get Harper to meet up with all of them. If Ned got to tag along, it was only fair, and Tony hadn’t said no in the first place.

Peter caught up to Annie after school, “Hey, you good?”

“Never better, why?”

“You look like you’re about to commit mur- I shouldn’t joke about that… s-sorry, you look like you’re about to fight someone. Just… don’t do anything stupid,” Peter stammered, looking at her.

Annie chuckled, “Oh, no, what I’m doing is fucking genius. You want me going with you and Ned or not?”

“I do, but if you can’t figure something out without making things worse, we can work something out,” Peter insisted.

“No, I’m doing this my way. I’ve done a trial run, I’m at the best condition I can be to do some convincing.”

“Convincing or manipulating? Annie, I know you’ve been through a lot, but you shouldn’t take it out on your parents.”

Annie scoffed, “You weren’t there, were you? Right, you ditched me when things really went to shit, didn’t you? And I forgive you for that, but you don’t know what my life’s looked like since… everything. My parents watched me stay up until four in the morning on a school night. They let me go to school when I was throwing up out of anxiety. They left me alone when I was crying in my bedroom because I had no one. Whatever I end up saying to them, they deserve. Not everyone has a cool aunt like you do.”

“Okay… forget I said anything,” Peter said, looking at his shoes.

She shook her head, “Shit, Pete, I’m sorry… I just… it was hard, and it still is and… I shouldn’t take it out on you, that was the first problem, none of this is your fault.”

Peter turned around to pull her into a tight hug, “I-I know… but I don’t like that I left you alone when I kinda knew you weren’t doing great-”

“I was being a bitch. You had every right to ditch me for awhile. It’s okay, seriously,” Annie said, burying her face in the crook of his neck.

Even though they had only started talking again for not even a full day, Annie felt things were far better than they had been. They were doing more than just talking and a part of her was almost certain that Peter had the same complicated feelings she did. Only, she didn’t want to be with him if she was going to be irritable all the time.

Granted, it was between snapping or crying. She couldn’t do both and she didn’t want to cry because she knew once she started, she wasn’t going to stop.

Eventually Ned joined them and they headed back to their apartments just like nothing had happened. Well, except for Ned constantly asking Annie about her powers. It would have been annoying if it hadn’t been someone she liked talking to.

Of course, she had to get home at some point, and she was more than ready to talk to her parents. In her head while she was in the elevator to her floor, she was thinking over the points she was going to make.

Having one parent who was a lawyer and another who was a professor meant she had to outsmart them. Though, in that same line, Annie knew that she would have the element of surprise on her side. And maybe even added points of shock value if her mom didn’t know what was going on.

When she opened the door, she could tell her parents had been talking. The way they were suddenly sitting up so straight and still, almost as though they had been caught doing something they weren’t supposed to be.

“Aren’t you supposed to still be at school?” asked her mom.

Annie shook her head, “Nope. If you paid attention, you’d see it’s the last day of school. Meaning it’s summertime.”

“Now, don’t talk to your mom like that, she’s very busy,” her dad responded.

Annie set her bag down before sitting in the comfy chair across from her parents, “You’re one to talk… but never mind that. I have some super awesome news for you guys!”
“Which is?” her mom prompted.

Annie sighed a bit, getting the words in her head again, “Well, you see, it just so happens that Peter works with Tony Stark, you know Stark Industries type of Tony Stark, and he loved seeing me play as Maria in West Side Story , claimed I had loads of potential. And you know what the best part is? Well, you see, he kind of offered to have me go to a prestigious theatre camp for most of the summer over in Tahoe.”

“Annika Clarissa Hardwick, we do not have the money that can be spent by you going to a camp for what’s going to be a hobby for you. End of discussion,” her dad snapped.

Annie nodded slowly, “Hm… is it really though? I wasn’t all the way done, you see, I told him that you don’t have any value for the fine arts despite claiming theatre would help to build my character. And you know what that amazing man said? He said that he would take care of all the expenses. Food, transportation, the camp, everything. You just need to say yes.”

“No. We can’t steal his money-”

“Carter, he’s a multi-billionaire. He could likely pay for everyone in that school to go and still have more than enough money to take care of himself. I don’t see why not,” her mom said with a shrug.

Her dad’s nostrils flared a small bit, “I will not have anyone feeding her information that she can ever be an actress.”

“Really? Do you mean that, Dad?” Annie asked, sitting up.

He nodded, “Yes, it’s impractical.”

“Okay, riddle me this: I got the lead role in a musical production where my teacher hated me and tried to prove my incompetence. She liked others better, and it was obvious. So… why did she give me the role at the end of the day? It’s a funny little thing, isn’t it?” Annie inquired, starting to stand up.

Her dad shifted a bit, “You must’ve gotten lucky. She’s not the only teacher casting.”

“Right. Maybe that was the case. I would have bought that if Ms. Salazar hadn’t apologized for her behavior. And then she said she only picked me because you bribed her, Dad. Now, excuse my language, but why the fuck would you bribe her like that if you wanted me to give up acting?”

“Wait. You what ?! Carter! You did what?” her mom exclaimed, looking at her husband.

He sighed, “She wasn’t supposed to say. And it was just a high school production and I wanted to make things right after telling you about your birth. It was wrong and I have learned from my mistake.”

“But she’s getting an opportunity. If you didn’t want her to have it, then you should have thought of that before rigging her audition,” her mom replied, shaking her head.

His gaze hardened, “You’re not going. You’re probably lying about the whole camp so you can run off and do whatever you want.”

“Actually, let me call the man himself. He’ll clear everything right up for you,” Annie said, taking out her phone to call Tony.

All she could do was hope that he remembered that he promised to go along with whatever she came up with. And she waited with the phone on speaker as the dial tone rang out into the quiet living room.

“Stark Industries, Tony Stark speaking. Miss Hardwick, what can I do for you?”

Annie smirked, “It’s true that you said you were willing to pay for the acting camp over in Tahoe, correct? My parents were doubting the situation and are shocked.”

“Yes, of course, everything will be covered. You will leave to travel in a couple days and come back towards the end of August,” Tony explained, leaving Annie to hide her relief that he was playing along.

Her dad looked like his eyes were about to pop out of his head, while her mom’s jaw dropped, “We will take the opportunity! Thank you so much, Mr. Stark.”

“Anytime, your daughter is an amazing actress. Is that all?”

“Yep, thanks Mr. Stark, goodbye!” Annie said before hanging up the phone.

The room was silent for another moment, “You can’t just let her leave.”

“Why not? You guys keep me out of your situation so much so that you don’t pay me any mind. You won’t notice I’m gone,” Annie replied, looking at her dad.

Her mom sighed, “Carter, we need time to sort out our marriage too. We don’t want her over here having to deal with that. It’s for the best.”

“I’ll go pack my bags,” Annie said, walking to her bedroom and closing the door.

When she picked up her phone, she called up Tony again, hearing him pick up, “Hey, thanks for playing along.”

“This is some serious stuff, I’d be willing to say I was taking you to a church retreat if that’s what it took,” Tony replied.

“Either way… we’re leaving in a couple of days then? My friend… they won’t be here by then. Can’t we wait? They’re the closest thing to a sidekick I have,” Annie pleaded.

Tony sighed, “I told you, I’ll see what I can do.”

With that conversation at an end, Annie put her headphones in once she got irritated with hearing half of what her parents were saying. Their voices didn’t raise, but the occasional word standing out got to be too much for her, so she eventually started listening to some music.

Though, if she had listened harder, she could have heard what was being said.

“Elsa, you can’t seriously think that she’ll ever make it out there,” Carter Hardwick said, rubbing his eyes.

“I don’t get a say in that, clearly. You have done so much behind my back when you said you wouldn’t. And you keep talking about divorce like it’s the only way-”

“It is. We’re making this place toxic for her.”

“But staying apart won’t fix much either. So you know what? I’m going to prove that I love our daughter more than anything else. And you’ll have to deal with the fact that she is intelligent and witty, and you will let her take any opportunities given to her. Whether we’re living together or not, I don’t care that we adopted her. She is our kid and I won’t let her be deprived,” Elsa said, her lips in a thin line.

Annie didn’t hear what was said, rather she stuck to messaging Peter and Harper. She didn’t want to end up listening in on something she wouldn’t want to hear.

Chapter Text

Throughout their whole life, Harper wasn’t normally the type of person to worry. They knew that Annie would do something dumb, but would eventually get better. Only, they found themself pacing their bedroom the longer Peter took to call back. It wasn’t like they could complain to Annie about it, that was the one person Harper couldn’t seem to reach.

So when Harper’s phone vibrated on their nightstand, Harper practically leapt across the room. Only to find that the number was unknown entirely. Still, they hit the answer button anyways.

“Harper Higgins, child to the CEO for Higgins’ Fabrics Emporium. If you’re calling to harass me because of some shit my parents pulled, I can tell you I’m just as tired of them as the next guy. If you’re meaning to harass one of my siblings, press one. If you were meaning to call me, I can’t understand why because no one should have my number,” Harper greeted, their voice coming out in a monotonous tone.

The voice on the other line chuckled, “You remind me of myself, Harper. It’s Tony Stark speaking.”

“Oh shit! I mean, um… excuse my language. Can I ask why?” Harper questioned, starting ot pace and nearly trip over some leftover fabrics on the floor.

Tony sighed, “You were the last person Annika Hardwick contacted. I was figuring that you were a close friend of hers.”

“That’d be true… is she okay?” Harper asked, sitting on their large bed.

“Yes, she’s in a stable condition. I’m assuming you know of her powers.”

“Oh… um, yes. Completely aware. I must say, I take credit for her suit.”

“You wouldn’t want to take credit for that right now. It’s all singed up. Look, I’m gonna get to the point. Since you’re Annika’s friend and confidante, I trust you would be interested in knowing that an old villain of hers showed up today.”

Harper’s eyes widened, “Oh fuck… shit, sorry, jeez… you’re kidding. I thought that dude was taken care of… wait, which one. Sorry, there were a few now that I think about it.

“Um… not sure. He kinda looked like a creepy clown guy, not sure what he does but I got him to run off, you know anything about that?” he questioned.

They got up, starting to pace around their room, “That’d be Carnival… I’m not a hero, just a designer, so I don’t know what he does… not really. I just know he’s one of the really bad guys ‘cause Annie hated talking about him. So, this isn’t some kind of joke?”

“Afraid not, this is looking like a serious situation. Now, how busy is your summer?” Tony asked, typing being audible on the line.

Harper thought a moment, “Just orientation in a couple weeks. I couldn’t get it any earlier, but then I was gonna chill with Annie, honestly.”

“Perfect. If I moved up your orientation date to… let’s say… the day after tomorrow, could you get here and join us for a sort of retreat?”

They blinked, “If you could do that… I’m game. But why are you doing this? I know how rich people work. There’s always a method or a catch or some dumb conditions.”

“Just keeping your friend and who I think is her boyfriend out of trouble.”

Harper laughed, “Oh, you mean Peter! I could’ve told you he was Spider-Man from the start and I don’t even live over there. Not that that’s important… but seriously, what’s the catch?”

“Do you have any better suit ideas than the one I just saw?

“Well, yeah. Of course I do! It’s just hard to make a decent superhero suit when you can’t access all the really good fabric without turning heads. I could make something a million times better given the resources.”

“Then the only condition for you is that you get to make a suit and you have to work with me.”

“That’s it? No last-minute strings?”

“Nope. I’ll send you the plane tickets, hope you’ve got some good suitcases.”

“That’s not an issue. But before I go, I need one favor.”

Harper could almost hear Tony rolling his eyes, “You’re asking me for a favor?”

“Hey, it’s nothing that difficult, and depending on your attitude, you might have some fun with it. Don’t tell Annie I’m coming. Make it sound like I have no clue, can you do that?”

“Sure, I can do that. Just… why?”

“I wanna surprise her. She needs a nice surprise.”

It was impossible to tell whether or not Harper could trust that man, but they also knew there wasn’t much of a choice. Their best friend was in Tony Stark’s hands, and Harper had no clue how to feel. So they knew that they’d have to wait until they finally got to New York.

Everything was finally packed up and Annie looked at Erik, sitting next to her desktop which was unplugged, trying to bask in the sun. She sat on her made bed, checking her phone again, wishing she could just tell Harper what was going on. However, Tony insisted that she couldn’t tell a soul about what was happening. It made no difference how many times Annie talked about how Harper knew everything. That they would be helpful. How if Ned was going it was only fair if Harper got to come too.

Even Peter was trying to convince Tony, but then he stopped for some reason, and Annie didn’t get it.

There was a knock on the apartment door, and Annie rushed with her giant suitcase and backpack to get the door. Peter was behind it, smiling a little bit. His first instinct was to hug her despite the oversized backpack she had on getting in the way. She laughed a bit, hugging him back.

“You alright? You’re acting like you haven’t seen me in years,” Annie commented.

Peter shrugged, “Well, I kinda left my stuff with Mr. Stark last night and told him I was hanging out with you. Saves gas and stuff, ya know?”

“Tony Stark’s a billionaire. He’s not worried about gas money… what’s up?” Annie asked, letting Peter into the apartment.

He plopped down on the couch, “Not much. Where are your parents? They’re almost never here. Isn’t your dad a professor?”

“Oh, I’m not really on speaking terms with him right now so… I guess you could say when it would normally be both of us here alone, one of us is out.”

“School just got out a day ago.”

Annie nodded, “Yep. My dad’s been working over at the library to grade the last of the finals he has to do. I kinda used him to get away with this trip… but that’s not what matters. Now, why are you actually here? Not that I don’t mind having you around, it’s nice… hanging out with you I mean, like, just the both of us.”

“Um… y-yeah. Th-the both of us… about that. You remember Flash’s party?” Peter asked, looking down at his hands.

Annie slowly sat next to him, almost hesitating, “Unfortunately. What about it? I-I really don’t wanna talk about that night-”

“I-it’s nothing bad, promise! I-I just wanted to say um… wanted to um… the dancing… an-and we were talking… and you were saying something about showmances? I-I wanted you to know that I… I know I left… but it was only because I had to go a-and-”

“I get it. I told you I didn’t want to talk about that night. I was serious,” Annie replied, cutting him off.

Peter quickly nodded, reaching over to hold her hands, “Right… sorry. I-I wanted to say I did feel like being with you… I had for awhile.”

“Woah, Peter, we can’t just… you’re not… are you being serious? I-”

“D-do you not feel the same? S-sorry, I’m making things awkward, I-I just ruined this, didn’t I?” Peter asked, looking at Annie, letting go of her hands.

Despite that night being so ingrained into Annie’s mind, she had almost forgotten about the party that had happened earlier. It felt like that was on an entirely different plane of existence. As if everything before Tina’s death had been a different life entirely. She still couldn’t smell a cigarette or slightly burning food without thinking of the burning building. Where she stood with Peter hadn’t mattered as long as he was next to her. Was it supposed to matter if they were something? Could she be with him? It wasn’t that she didn’t like him, but so much had changed.

She shook her head, “No, you didn’t ruin anything… it’s just… I don’t know if we could make it work. I-I’m not… it wouldn’t be… Peter, you deserve so much better-”

“Don’t do that.”

“What?”

“That! Where you go around acting like I won’t care about you after everything that’s happened, a-and I know there was that gap, but you were the one who pushed me away. You’re not gonna find anyone else who can come close to understanding what you went through. A-and I’m not going anywhere unless that’s what you want, but people change, you’re supposed to change.”

“Not like this! People changing and going through stuff isn’t the same thing as getting accused of a murder you did and then getting it covered up the next day! And… I didn’t forget about that one time you tried to kiss me while I was White Swan,” Annie said, starting to bite at her nails.

Peter frowned and sunk down in the seat, “I-I just… I liked you too, but I didn’t want it to be fake the whole time… a-and I thought well, when you’re a superhero, you’re amazing and I thought if anyone was gonna understand my life… i-it was stupid.”

“You really don’t get it, do you? Peter... I liked you and Spider-Man at the same time. Shit, who am I kidding with liked, I still like you. A-and I racked my brain for months trying to figure out if I should choose between both of you and, well, you’re Spider-Man so it all makes sense now, but I chose to go with neither. You made a choice, Peter, and I’m not even sure if you realized it,” she replied, her lips drawing into a thin line.

He turned to look at her, “Okay, but you’re kidding yourself if you didn’t think all of this was gonna be figured out at some point. What matters is that you’re the same person all the way around. W-we both liked the same person twice and at the same time. A-and if you don’t like this idea, forget I asked, but… what if we… forget it, it’s stupid.”

“No, keep going, what if we what?” Annie asked, looking at Peter, crossing her arms.

Peter’s eyes darted from Annie to the floor then to his hands and all around the room, “I-I was wondering what if...well, what if we tried to be together? W-we don’t have to if you don’t want… but we’d be away from everyone else except some other people and I could help you get through everything and we could see if it wouldworkoutandsorrythisisstupidforgetit-”

“I’d like that, actually,” Annie admitted, seeing Peter’s eyes widen in surprise.

“Y-you would?”

“Yeah… we’ll be away from everyone, and I think it would’ve happened anyways,” she explained, “Not that that’s a bad thing, it’s great I’d be kidding myself if I thought I could keep acting like there isn’t something here.”

A smile spread across Peter’s face and Annie could feel her heart melt just a little, his soft puppy-dog eyes staring into her own. One of her hands reached up to cup his face, the sleeve of the cardigan she was wearing brushed against his cheek. Their noses were almost touching, very little distance between both of them. Annie’s eyes fluttered shut and she was just about to lean in.

After waiting for months, Annie wasn’t sure if she could keep going without knowing what it was like to kiss Peter. Knowing that he felt the same way she did and that he didn’t care that she was far from where she had been a few weeks ago gave her some form of assurance. Her lips were just barely hovering over his when a knock at the apartment caused her to jump.

“Shit, sorry, that’s probably Stark… I’ll um… go get that,” Annie muttered, getting up from her couch to answer the door.

Annie had expected to see Tony Stark or that one driver guy, Happy she believed his name as, and the last thing she needed was either of them to think that she was overly obsessed with Peter. Or that being with Peter was going to be a distraction when she needed to focus on other things. So of course she felt like she had to answer the door quickly.

Although, if she had taken a moment to assess the situation, she would have known that Tony probably already assumed she and Peter weren’t simply hanging out. Either way, Annie swung the door open, and her jaw dropped.

“Close your mouth, Annie, you’ll catch flies,” Harper commented with a knowing smirk.

Annie was quick to hug Harper tightly, “I thought you weren’t scheduled to be in New York for another week! How’d you get here?! Did you hear about everything that happened?! I was asked to not tell you and-”

“I pulled that string. Tony called me that day you got your ass handed to you. I told him to play it off like I wasn’t coming,” they admitted, hugging Annie back.

Annie smiled, “I’m just glad you’re coming, it’s been insane, I don’t know where to start!”

“Well we’re driving so you have a long time to tell me what’s up. Hey, is that Peter? Nice to see you in person,” Harper said, waving at Peter, moving to help Annie with her things.

For the first time in weeks, Annie felt like things were starting to just barely clear up. With Harper threatening Peter to beat the shit out of him if he did anything to hurt Annie, it was clear that something was going to stay constant. She was always going to have her best friend regardless of what happened.

Chapter Text

“So… we’re seriously going on a road trip… all the way across the country?” Harper asked dryly as Tony pulled out into the traffic.

Tony nodded, “Yeah, we gotta keep Underoos and Pikachu under the radar. And if the press saw that Pep and I had four teenagers, it would be noticed.”

“But… we went to Germany on a plane,” Peter pointed out.

“You know there’s an ocean between New York and Germany, right?” Annie asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Precisely. And I needed to get over there quickly. If it were up to me, I would drive everywhere,” Tony replied.

Harper sighed, “This is gonna be such a long drive. You should’ve just let me stay in Seattle and meet up later.”

“But what about orientation?” Annie asked.

“Psh… I don’t need classes or to know where my stuff is! I don’t wanna be stuck with all you guys for a four day drive. No offense,” Harper said, pulling a sketchbook out of their bag.

Ned turned around to face Harper, “But we’re the fun crowd! We can play all sorts of games and look at all the landscapes and stuff!”

Harper scoffed, “Don’t kid yourself, I’m gonna probably take a nap and if anyone wakes me up, I might commit murder- wait… I shouldn’t joke about that…”

“You don’t need to protect me. I can take death jokes. Isn’t laughing about stuff supposed to be therapeutic anyways?” Annie questioned messing around with her cardigan sleeve.

“Well, I’d keep things business as usual if I were you guys. If anyone starts asking questions, we don’t need them finding out two of you are overpowered teens and one of that one of them has a body count,” Tony said, keeping his eyes on the road.

Pepper turned around to face the others, mainly looking at Annie, “He doesn’t mean that-”

“But he does. And it’s fair, I kinda killed a dude… I mean, at least it was a bad guy and not some innocent guy,” Annie said with a shrug.

Harper frowned, “I should’ve gotten over here sooner-”

“Nope. No. We’re not doing this shit right now. It’s way too early in the day to start crying about stuff,” she responded, pulling a huge book from her backpack.

Tony nodded, “Well, whenever you do decide to talk about your life story, just don’t do it in public or near cameras.”

“Says Tony Stark of Stark Industries , but okay,” Harper retorted, looking up from their sketch.

“Hey, maybe we should talk about something else,” Peter suggested, “Like, what book are ya reading?”

Annie glanced up at Peter who was turned in his seat to look at her, “Oh, just some light reading.”

“That looks like it’s as big as a dictionary!” Peter exclaimed, staring at her book.

She shrugged, “Maybe it is… actually, that would be dry as hell to read. It’s War and Peace, actually.”
“You’re kidding.”

“Nope, look at it for yourself, I started it last night,” she replied, handing him the book.

Peter blinked, “No way, you had to have started it after school.”

“No, I just don’t sleep much,” she replied with another shrug as she took back her book.

Ned looked back at Harper and Annie, “I just don’t know how you guys can do anything without getting sick.”

“Well, when you have parents who are crazy rich, you get used to trips. I mean, it’s normally an airplane , but same difference I guess,” Harper responded, swearing under their breath when they hit a bump.

The conversation stayed fairly light-hearted, and Annie paid more attention to her book. She hadn’t been able to sleep, but that was beginning to become something that was normal for her. It was either stare at her dark room and watch her cat run around or do something that was moderately productive.

In all fairness, she had been meaning to read the book for some time, but hadn’t had the time. Between being a hero and play rehearsal, Annie barely got her homework done. However, with a long drive ahead of them, she felt that getting the book read would be a breeze.

“How does she do that?” Ned asked.

Harper raised an eyebrow, “Do what?”

“Ignore everything we’re saying and keep reading that book. I tried reading it, it’s the dullest thing ever. Who cares about a bunch of Victorian Era people anyways?” he responded, shaking his head.

“I do, clearly. And it’s not Victorian Era… I doubt she was even alive at the time. So it’s actually the Regency Era, which is only if we go based off of what the English labelled their time periods. And if you really tried to read it, you would know it’s Russian anyways,” Annie interjected, still staring at her book.

Peter chuckled, “That’s actually brilliant, how do you know that?”

“My dad’s an English professor at an Ivy League school. If I didn’t know that, he’d disown me. If he didn’t do that already,” she replied with a weak laugh.

Pepper turned around, “You’re kidding right? Your dad wouldn’t actually do that, would he?”

“Heck if I know, I kinda ratted him out for rigging my audition… oh, yeah, by the way, Peter, I probably wasn’t supposed to get the lead. So there’s that,” Annie sighed, “Anyways, he probably won’t as long as my mom has anything to say about it, but who knows.”

“Well I doubt anyone would go to such drastic measures,” Pepper insisted.

Harper nodded, “Yeah, Annie’s always had a flair for the dramatics, this isn’t anything new by any means. Like when she first got her powers… oooh , she thought that she was getting cancer and that she had a funky tumor. It was actually kinda funny.”

“Was not!”

“Definitely was.”

Tony coughed, “Okay, kids, I’m not supposed to be a babysitter, but I need you to all settle down.”

Harper smirked, “Shoulda thought about that one before you went ahead and took four teens across the entire country.”

“Besides, what’re we gonna do? Wake the Amish?” Ned asked, looking at the fields as they drove through what was clearly no longer New York City.

Tony sighed, “Maybe I should’ve thought this through. Maybe I should just stop here and have all you guys walk.”

“Bet! I can be pretty damn resourceful,” Harper replied with a smirk.
Ned nodded, “Yeah! And besides, Peter’s literally Spider-Man, he could figure something out!”
“Hey, Peter’s not the only one with superpowers,” Annie pointed out, looking up from her book again.
The banter was distracting enough for Annie to not think about everything going on. Not that she felt like there was a whole lot to think about that she could get away with. Hell, by all rights, Annie knew that she shouldn’t be alone in the first place. Not after everything that had happened, she wasn’t even sure if she trusted herself. So she tried to focus on what everyone else talked about, but every once in a while her mind would simply wander off and she couldn’t help but think of everything at once.

It wasn’t a smart idea, and Annie knew that. At least, some part of her did. However she zoned out entirely, focusing on her own thoughts for the time being. She hardly realized how long she had been thinking until she felt the minivan they were all in slow down. They were stopping at some gas station in the middle of nowhere, and the way she jolted was easy for Harper to notice.

“What got into you?” Harper asked, raising an eyebrow.

Annie shrugged, “Wasn’t expecting… well the slowing down I guess.”

“Right… well do you wanna run around the gas station with us?” they asked, pushing the seat down in front of them and got out of the minivan.

She shrugged, “Why not?”

Annie got out of the car, realizing that her legs had been seriously asleep when she got out and stood on the weathered asphalt. It almost felt like there wasn’t any ground there, and she quickly tripped over her own feet. Before she could, Peter caught her.

“You gotta be careful,” he said, not letting go of her until she was standing properly.

Without a word, Annie hugged him tightly. Her strength almost surprised Peter, but he was quick to hug her back. They stepped apart when Tony coughed a bit.

“Please tell me this isn’t a thing,” Tony said dryly.

Harper laughed, “Please, this is long overdue. Oooooh , Peter, you should’ve heard all the things Annie’s said about you! It’s actually super cute!”

“W-what’re you talking about?” Peter asked, his cheeks reddening.

They grinned, “Oh, just about how sweet you always are and how your eyes-”

Annie cut Harper off by trying to jump on them and close their mouth, “Not important! Let’s get some snacks!”

“Wait, you should know what Peter’s said about Annie! It’s sweet! Clearly we’ve got a lot to talk about,” Ned said, leading the way into the gas station

Harper nodded, “Oh, hell yeah we do! Come on!”

Peter looked at Annie, “So… what was that about my eyes?”

“Oh um… nothing, that was like… oh jeez, look at the time. We gotta blast if we’re gonna make it to Chicago tonight,” she said, slowly backing up.

He chuckled a bit, “It’s okay, you don’t have to tell me, come on, we should go inside at least.”

It took Annie a moment to agree, but she eventually stepped forward. As they walked into the small convenience store, her hand had just brushed against Peter’s. She nearly pulled her hand back, but Peter laced his fingers between hers.

“Y-you know, I don’t remember exactly what I said when I was talking about your eyes and stuff, but I definitely know it was when we were doing all that rehearsing and… well, it’s just really hard to not crush on you when I was spending so much time with you. And… I don’t know where I was going with that, but yeah,” she trailed off, feeling her face heating up the more she spoke.

Peter squeezed her hand, “I get it, I mean… I liked you before, and I wasn’t even sure which… well um… part of you? I guess that’s how I’d say it. It’s like… well, I don’t really know.”

“Annie! Look over here, they’ve got cheap ukuleles over here,” Harper called out, waving Annie over.
She walked over with Peter, “Oh, I should get one! I’m definitely getting one! That’s, like, the one instrument I know how to play! Well, unless you count vocals… but I had to play it for my musical last year!”

“You’re not getting that,” Pepper said.

Annie frowned, “But it’s my money, I literally have so much because, ya know, guilty parents… well, guilty parent, benefits!”

“You’re not getting it because I can get you a way better one. You shouldn’t buy some cheap, plastic instrument. I’ll find one that you’ll love when we stop for the night.” Pepper insisted.

Annie shook her head, “No, I couldn’t possibly accept that! I’m not even that good, you don’t gotta spend a bunch of money on me.”

“Well, you gotta learn to accept expensive things, Harper and I are gonna be working on your suit. That’s gonna be worth… well, let’s not go into that,” Tony added, walking up.

“Come on, these people are filthy rich, richer than my family. Come on, just take the thing that hasn’t even been given to you,” Harper said, running a hand through their ginger hair.

Annie sighed, “Okay, fine, but just know I can be perfectly capable of providing for myself.”

Once they grabbed all sorts of junk food, they piled back into the van where Annie once again tried to read her book. Her concentration on everything everyone else was saying dwindled. Though they did switch seats so Peter was in the back next to Annie instead of Harper.

Everything had gone to a calm state of things once a lot of the candy and snacks they bought had been eaten. Annie was reading about how Natasha was madly in love with her cousin, something Annie would occasionally point out to everyone else. She was resting on Peter as she read, Peter occasionally glancing at the words on the page.

After a couple of hours, Tony had to put on some classic rock music to keep from getting bored while driving for hours on end. It didn’t ruin Annie’s concentration and she actually felt herself starting to fall asleep from how tired she was. For the first time in weeks she felt like she was going to get some decent sleep. That was until she felt Peter shift his position.

“Hey, um… Mr. Stark, I don’t feel so good,” Peter said, his face paling.

Tony turned back, “Shit, kid, are you sick?”

“I feel like I’m gonna…” Peter held his hands over his mouth.

Annie jolted up, not wanting to get thrown up on and she found one of the plastic bags and handed it to Peter. Though the car was slowing down, it was anyone’s bet if they were going to stop in time.

Once the car did stop, Peter bolted out, not hesitating to throw up on the side of the road.

“Um… has he ever been on a road trip before?” Harper asked, continuing their sketch.

Ned shrugged, “I mean, yeah… like bus rides… but not cross-country.”

Tony had been out with Peter, making sure that he was okay. And when Peter got back in the car, Annie positioned herself so he could lay on her instead. Either way, they both ended up falling asleep until they stopped for the night right outside of Chicago.

Chapter Text

It was almost the same thing every night since Tina had died. And it had only been worsened by her dumb decisions right after that had occurred. Sometimes it was the fire and not being able to breathe and Tina dying. Other times Annie was stuck in that burning building but she was constantly falling and she was being choked by the smoke the whole time until she had to wake up. Every once in awhile, it would be Darren trying to kill her and then she would kill him instead.

All of those things that she tried to avoid thinking about would suddenly hit her in the middle of the night. Some nights were better than others, and there had been one night where she simply hadn’t remembered what she had dreamed about. Still, that didn’t take away what repeating those moments did to her.

When she woke up in a cold sweat, the red numbers on the digital clock on the nightstand showed it was just after three. There was a small chance of getting back to bed. And if she didn’t quite make it, that wasn’t a big deal either. No one would question her going to sleep on a car ride. Still, she wanted to sleep, but she knew that laying in that hotel bed wasn’t going to do the trick.

So she got up from the bed, putting on some slippers and grabbed her key. Annie quietly opened the door and shut it. The last thing she needed was to wake Harper up. This was something that she needed to take care of. She just needed some of that lemon chamomile tea that was complimentary to the hotel and relax for a bit longer.

What she hadn’t counted on was someone else being awake and in the lobby at the same time. Not the hotel staff, she figured some poor soul was going to be stuck cleaning or doing some odd task during the earliest parts of the morning.

However, when she noticed Peter in the lobby, staring at the different teas, Annie almost contemplated going back. What if he tried to make her talk about it? Sure, maybe she was supposed to talk about what happened, but she didn’t want to. She wasn’t ready yet. There was a chance that she would never be ready to talk about it.

At the same time, he was her boyfriend. Well, that was what she figured. If they were supposed to be together, she knew that it would make more sense to talk to him. There wasn’t any reason for her to turn back and go to her room. Maybe she didn’t want to talk about everything, but that didn’t mean he didn’t need to talk.

There wasn’t any reason for him to be up so late, or maybe they were both up early, either way.

“You shouldn’t go with green tea. I know you love that stuff, but it has caffeine,” Annie said, coming up from behind him.

She laced her fingers between his, giving a gentle squeeze.

Peter looked at her, “You look exhausted, you should go back to sleep.”

“I could say the same to you,” she replied, leaning her head on his shoulder.

It was true, Peter had slight bags under his eyes. Sure, he hadn’t been doing so great on the car ride over, but she knew it was more than that. She didn’t need to be a mind-reader to know that there was something bothering him. It was obvious from the way his eyes kept looking around and the way that his grip on her hand was tightening.

“Anyways, what’re you doing up?” he asked, letting go as he picked out a tea bag and got some hot water.

She shrugged, “Bad dream, kinda normal, but it’s really not. So I guess I just can’t sleep. Um… what about you?”

“Just couldn’t get to sleep, the blankets here don’t really trap heat very well. I’ve been freezing all night,” he replied, stepping to the side.

Annie looked over at Peter. As she got her tea, she couldn’t help wondering if that was the truth or not. It was hard to tell. On one hand, she knew he got cold a lot, but at the same time it felt like something to cover up something bothering him.

They both sat on a couch in the lobby that was in front of some news channel. The volume was almost all the way down. There were closed captions, but they were hardly in sync with the program.

“Do you wanna talk about it?” Peter asked, “Um… the nightmare, I mean. You just said it was kinda normal.”

She shook her head, “No, not really… not yet, anyways. It’s kinda a lot… so I’m just gonna sit here and drink my tea and get over it.”

“It’s not that easy, you do know that, right?” he questioned, putting an arm around her.

Annie let out a dry laugh, “Yep, I know. It’s not the first time shit’s gone down for me. I mean, even if I wasn’t in this position, there are plenty of things I’ve dealt with.”

“I get that… I mean, without all this, there’re other things… I mean, my uncle would still be dead, I’d still get beaten up by Flash-”

“But not anymore. I’d wreck him before he even thinks about touching you, and that’d be the case regardless of if I had powers or not,” she insisted, still waiting for the water to cool just a bit more.

Peter smiled a bit, “You mean that?”

“O-of course I do. It’d make things a bit easier. That time he was beating you up it was harder because I knew I couldn’t use my powers. That would’ve really screwed things up,” she said, resting her head on his shoulder.

He sighed, “Yeah… I get that, but I mean, my uncle was… well, is the reason I do all this stuff.”

“So you were close with him?”

“Well, yeah, he was the closest thing I had to a dad. And I mean… I told you how I got my powers, right?”

Annie  yawned a bit, “Radioactive spider bite if I remember right.”

“Yep, um… it was crazy and I didn’t know what was happening. I mean, I used to have to wear glasses and I didn’t need them… and I could feel and see all this stuff at once. And it really sucked and I didn’t tell anyone… I-I mean we’ve never had a whole lot of money, there was no way we could afford to go to the hospital for something I was probably overreacting about,” he started.

She raised an eyebrow, “So… you didn’t figure out what was going on or try to tell anyone because of your anxiety?”

“I don’t have anxiety! I just didn’t wanna cause problems,” he insisted.

“So your anxiety stopped you from telling everyone you were getting powers,” Annie responded, giving a teasing smile.

He sighed, “I didn’t know at the time. But I did wake up, like, super strong and stuff. Which was weird, and just as I was starting to figure out what sort of things I could do I went to this corner store, right? A-and there was this guy who stole some stuff and robbed the guy at gunpoint… and ya know… I couldn’t do anything about it. B-but you know what? My uncle caught the guy a-and… he didn’t have anything to protect himself with. I-I could have, I-I should have done… just something. That guy shot my uncle and he died right in front of me and I… I should have done something!”

Hearing Peter obviously try to pause to keep it from sounding like he was crying was what made Annie set her drink on the coffee table and setting his next to hers. She turned and wrapped her arms around him tightly. Peter quickly clung onto her and she could hear him sniffling and it was painfully obvious he was crying.

“You know that’s not your fault, right? The only person who’s responsible is that asshat who had the gun. Not you,” she whispered, gently running her fingers through his soft hair.

Peter was quiet for a moment, “But I had my powers then.”

“But you didn’t know how to use them. It’s not a terrible thing that you didn’t want to get yourself hurt. You were scared,” Annie insisted, tilting his head up so she could look at his eyes.

He looked down and then back at her, “Being scared isn’t enough. B-but anyways, that’s why I decided to be a hero. I mean, it’s not fair that things like that happen… and being away from all of that makes me wonder how much I’m gonna miss. How many people are gonna get hurt?”

“Hey. You have to take care of yourself and make sure you don’t get yourself killed first. If Carnival showed up in the middle of one of those simple fights, you’d be screwed. Trust me, this is for the best,” she said, rubbing his back.

Peter shook his head, “But all those other people are getting hurt and it's my fault. I should've just stayed there.”

“No. You need to be here, I know that this is hard for you, but you've been Spider-Man for how long?”

“Around a year… give or take.”

She nodded, “Exactly. And the city has been around for way more than one year. It can survive and the people will be okay for a couple months. You need a break.”

“How can you do that?”

“Do what?”

“Just leave and not feel like every bad thing that happens is your fault? I mean, you've taken breaks before, and you didn't seem bothered then.”

Annie sighed, “It's a long story, but in a nutshell, I didn't ask for powers. I just kinda woke up one day and had them. I mean, I'm basically someone's abandoned science fair project. If anything, doing this sort of thing, saving people, is just to keep me feeling human. Like, if I'm being helpful then there's a point to me. But if I'm not there for a bit, no one asked for me to be there… I don't know, it's one of the few things I don't feel bad about.”

“You know you’re not some abandoned science project, right? Because it’s really important to me that you know that.”

She let out a dry laugh, “That’s sweet of you to say, but I was literally a test tube baby. The only reason I’m even alive is because I was actually a baby by that point. And in case it wasn’t obvious, I was seriously screwed around with. So… yeah, abandoned science project.”

“But you’re way more than that, I’m not just saying that because you’re my girlfriend. You know how when you first found out, you were freaked because you thought that meant you weren’t a real person?”

“Um… yeah, I mean, it’s been on the back-burner, but it’s still a thing I’m freaked about… but anyways, what about it?”

“Well, I never thought for one second you weren’t real. I-I don’t know about you, but if I were completely fake, I wouldn’t care about anything.”

“I mean, I kinda don’t… that’s the problem.”

“Okay, that’s bullshit. If you didn’t care, you wouldn’t be up at three in the morning because of a bad dream. You’re just being hard on yourself. And I need you to realize that,” he told her, his arms wrapped around her waist.

Annie looked at him and then at the ground when she felt tears in her eyes, “But it’s true, I shouldn’t be here, I don’t belong at all, like… I-I’ve hurt people, shit, I’ve hurt you.”

“And people do that, you need to give yourself more credit.”

Then his hand was cupping her cheek and he was looking in her eyes. Annie couldn’t get herself to look away.

“I-I really don’t, I mean, I can’t eve-”

Peter cut her off, kissing her gently on the lips. Annie almost jumped, but was quick to relax into the kiss. That was, until Peter quickly pulled back and let go of her entirely.

“Shit, I’m sorry… I should’ve asked, or something… that was really uncalled f-”

Annie had no trouble cutting him off with a kiss, pulling him closer by the collar of his shirt. From there her arms wrapped around his neck. Her fingers were in his curly brown hair and Peter relaxed into her embrace as the kiss continued.

Eventually neither of them could breathe and they pulled back a little. Annie rested her forehead against Peter’s. His cheeks were flushed pink and he had a nervous smile on his face. And his eyes… they were practically glowing and Annie felt her breath hitch just by looking at them.

“You know how I um… cut Harper off when they were telling you about one of the things I said a while back and how I said I totally didn’t remember?” Annie asked.

Peter nodded.

“Well, I remembered the whole time, and the thing is, well, your eyes are so… jeez, I’m only saying this because it’s so late, or early or whatever, and just… they’re amazing and I can’t think of the right words but they make my heart just melt every single time… and that’s actually really dumb now that I’m saying it out loud, and sorry,” Annie stopped her rambling and looked at her slipper socks with little pandas on them.

Peter shook his head, “That’s not dumb, it’s sweet, and it’s cute. Y-you really thought that?”

“The whole time… oh, jeez, look at the time, there’s enough time for me to get through one REM cycle, gotta blast,” Annie replied with a laugh before grabbing her tea and getting up.

Peter stood up after her, “You know, you’re allowed to have feelings. You’re supposed to, and I could tell you so many things that I’ve thought about before.”

“Like what?”
“Like I should’ve kissed you after the movie. I mean, I-I don’t know if you remembered back in December, but I wanted to kiss you then and I should have but I was way too nervous, and, you know what? Yeah, lemme walk you to your room,” he agreed, wrapping an arm around her shoulder.

By the time Annie went back to bed and woke up in the morning, it felt like the previous few hours had been a dream. There was no way Peter had actually kissed her. That was something she had been working up to for months and for it to happen in a hotel in Chicago at some ungodly hour of the night was surreal.

Needless to say, she hadn’t been expecting things to turn out like that. Then again, she couldn’t have imagined something better. She couldn’t have imagined being around anyone else at the time. Hell, she hadn’t planned on anyone being there to begin with.

It had taken so much self control to not wake Harper up, but Annie knew that just because it was hard for her to sleep, didn’t mean that Harper would appreciate being woken up before nine. However, what neither of them had counted on was the hotel phone ringing at the most obnoxious pitch.

“Phone… get the fucking phone… or I’ll smash it,” Harper grumbled into their pillow as Annie used her powers to shove to move the phone to get the ringing to stop.

Once she sat up, she rubbed her eyes, “I think we gotta get going.”

“Nope. Tony Stark can suck it, ‘m sleeping,” Harper replied before turning over.

Annie sighed, “I was able to shove the phone, I can shove you off the bed too.”

“Oh c’mon!”

“You can sleep in the car. Or get coffee.”

“The hotel coffee tastes like mud!” they whined as they sat up.

Annie shrugged, “Then sleep in the car, I’m gonna throw on some clothes and leave, so you’re on your own.”

“You’re awfully awake.”

“Couldn’t sleep.”

“Nope, it’s way more than can’t sleep. I haven’t seen you this awake since… is it Peter?”

Annie rolled her eyes, “No… ‘course not.”

“Hm… sure, Jan. I say you’re full of it, but go off.”

After throwing on some leggings and a sweatshirt, Annie headed out of the room before being stopped by Harper.

“Isn’t it getting too warm for those?”

She shrugged, “If it gets cold, I can give it to Peter.”

“So it is about Peter! If he hurts you, I’m so gonna kill him!” Harper exclaimed as they shoved some toiletries into their bag.

Once everyone was ready and the minivan was loaded with everyone’s bags, they all piled into the car. Though both Harper and Ned seemed to know that they needed to let Annie and Peter stay next to each other. It was almost obvious that Peter had talked to Ned about what had happened.

And with how big a deal Harper had ended up making of the whole thing, it was easy to see why Tony gave a suspicious look.

“Did something happen last night?” Tony asked.

“Nope!” all the teens responded in unison before laughing.

Pepper shook her head, “Just let them be.”

With that, they were on the road again, heading through some of the most boring and desolate corn fields known to mankind.

Chapter Text

“Okay, it’s official, there’s nothing in all of Nebraska,” Harper stated, staring out the window.

It had been hours since anyone had seen anything aside from the open road and the yellowing prairies. There wasn’t anything interesting to look at, leaving all four teenagers with nothing to do aside from find every single possible way to be the most annoying people on the planet.

Annie was trying to get through War and Peace , though she was doing better than trying. She was around two hundred pages in. Granted, that had more to do with her not sleeping than anything else. If she slept on the drive at all then she wouldn’t have been nearly as far as she was.

Harper had given up on sketching around halfway through Missouri. There were too many bumps on the interstate for them to get anything done. Not to mention that Tony had already put a cap on how many times they were allowed to cuss at the road. So naturally, they were left with nothing to do.

No one let Peter do anything except sit and sleep after he got car sick the day before, and it was for the best. Deep down, Peter had to know that, but it also meant that he couldn’t really do anything except talk about different stuff with Ned.

Meanwhile, Ned was easily having the time of his life. Sure, the drive was definitely a bore, but having everyone in that minivan was easily the best part of it. Getting the chance to go all the way across the country while seeing everything along the way was great. And he never missed a chance to point that out.

“I think if I had a dollar for everytime you said that, I’d be a trillionaire,” Tony replied, “And if it’s any consolation, we’re about to stop in Wyoming.”

Annie raised an eyebrow, “Isn’t that in Canada?”

“No, it’s above Colorado and under Montana. Definitely America,” Ned said, shaking his head.

Peter gasped, “Oh, yeah! It’s that Area 51 place that’s actually not real. Mr. Stark, are you taking us to get abducted by aliens?!”

“Are you kids being serious? First singing Wizard of Oz all the way through Kansas and now this?”

Pepper laughed, “Come on, they’re just having fun. At least, I hope so.”

“Well yeah, I might be a dumb actress, but I at least know all fifty-one states,” Annie deadpanned.

Harper smirked, “I’m telling you, Ned, we gotta dye her hair blonde!”

“Oh hell no! I might actually kill you if you do that,” she exclaimed.

Everything went oddly silent. The only thing that could be heard was the car and the faint tones of classic rock.

Annie rolled her eyes, “Come on, it’s a joke. If I don’t joke about it now then it’s gonna be a touchy subject for a really long time.”

“M-maybe it should be,” Peter said.

She shook her head, “No, because as far as the rest of the world’s concerned, I did nothing wrong. Anyways, um… what’re we getting for dinner?”

It was hard to not get worked up over the situation. Annie figured that right then was the perfect time for her to get over everything. Plus, she hadn’t thought about what she’d said. But if she could make light of it, then everyone else should have too.

They didn’t have to deal with thinking about what she’d done periodically. That by all rights, she should be getting thrown in prison or into a juvenile detention center. Or somewhere that people went when they killed someone else.

Except, what was she supposed to do if it was an accident? Wasn’t it supposed to be different since that guy was a criminal? But then she couldn’t help reminding herself that she had let him go months ago. That if she had just listened to Peter, all of that could have been figured out months ago. In a way, it really was her fault, but she didn’t know how to even begin to talk about it.

“Not sure, you do you kids feel about McDonald’s?” Tony asked.

Harper huffed, “I swear if we have to go to another fast food place, I’m gonna scream. You’re literally a billionaire. The least you can do is take us to a Denny’s or a diner or a burger place.”

“Harper… isn’t that a bit much?” Ned asked.

They shook their head, “Nah, he’s a billionaire, do you know how much money that is? Because I definitely do. And in case you didn't know, its kinda a lot."

           "But you don't have to be a jerk about it," he muttered.

While Ned and Harper started to get into an argument, Peter and Annie began laughing. No one seemed to question Annie and Peter periodically using each other as pillows. Though Peter ended up sleeping on her more often than the other way around. And while Annie wasn’t about to say so in front of everyone else, she liked playing with his hair as he kept drifting off. Or feeling him leaning against her shoulder and kissing him on the forehead when no one was looking. At least, when she thought no one was looking.

“Seems they’re getting along great,” Annie said, smirking a bit as her eyes darted between the others and Peter.

Peter shook his head, “They’ve been doing this for the whole day.”

“Oh, that’s just Harper. If they’re not being a smartass then that’s when you should be worried,” she assured him as the minivan was cut off by a huge semi truck.

“You’ve gotta be fucking kidding me!” Tony exclaimed.

Pepper chuckled, “Language, honey.”

“What?! I’m the adult here!” he responded incredulously.

“Look, all I’m saying is that a million seconds lasts twelve years, one billion would last for almost thirty-two years, it's fucking wild!” Harper pointed out.

Peter laughed, “So… this isn’t too crazy to you?”

“Oh, not at all. Trust me, I’d take this over walking on eggshells with my dad for months on end. This is way better,” she told him.

While they kept watching the grass and cows pass by, Peter wrapped an arm around her. There was only so much left of the day, and the sun was just starting to set.

“Awww, look at the happy couple!” Harper cried out, seeing Peter just about to kiss Annie on the cheek.

“There better not be any funny business back there,” Tony warned.

Pepper rolled her eyes, “They’re in a minivan with you, I don’t think anything would be happening.”

Annie felt her face heating up and she buried her face in the crook of Peter’s neck. Why couldn’t she just catch a few more minutes alone with him? Just enough time to curl up to him and hold him without anyone pointing it out and making a huge deal out of it.

At the same time, it was huge. She’d been wanting to be with Peter for months. And then there was that point where it was hard to tell if she liked him or Spider-Man more. She really wished that she had just gotten over her worries and just went for it earlier. It would have saved her so much time, but she couldn’t think about what would have happened if things were different. If Peter wasn’t Spider-Man and if he wasn’t as honest with her as he was being.

Maybe it was obvious that Annie was thinking about something, or Peter was just being really affectionate, but he hugged her close. It made her lean up against him and she rested her eyes for just a little. Though, all she could really remember was Peter gently playing with her hair.

“Oh, come on, she barely slept at all last night, just let her rest for a little while,” Harper pleaded.

Tony huffed, “I’d let her sleep, but we need to get into the hotel rooms.”

“Seriously? I’ll get everything for her,” they insisted.

“No, no, I’ll get it for her, I can take it super easy,” Peter said.

It was Peter shifting slightly that had woken her up. Though she kept her eyes shut for just a bit longer before opening her eyes. The last thing she wanted was Peter feeling bad for waking her up.

She sat up and rubbed her eyes, “You know, you guys aren’t good at being quiet. Where are we anyways?”

“Some place in Wyoming. And it’s kinda late, so you know what that means? We gotta go get dinner!” Harper exclaimed.

“It’s more than just some place in Wyoming, it’s the state capitol! We should stay and tour around,” Ned said, getting out of the minivan to grab his luggage.

Pepper laughed, “You know, we need to get all the way over at a decent time. We can do more touristy stuff in Tahoe.”

“Yeah, besides, there’s not much to tour here anyways. Come on, what is there here?” Harper asked, gesturing around.

“Well, there’s a nice sky. Haven’t seen that in awhile. Seriously, Peter, you gotta see this,” Ned practically pulled his friend out of the minivan, Annie following right behind.

Once in the room, Harper couldn’t stop teasing Annie. Pointing out that they definitely noticed that she was constantly cuddling up to Peter. That they couldn’t understand why she hadn’t done anything sooner.

Annie pulled her brush from her suitcase, raking it through her wavy hair, “I’m surprised you haven’t figured it out yet.”

“Figured out what?”

“Why it took me so long… come on, you know that I can’t just ignore all the shit with Greg. I mean, I could for awhile. Like, until I moved away, but when I first started liking Peter, well, come on. I couldn’t just make the same mistake twice,” Annie said, yanking her brush through a rats nest that had formed in her hair.

Harper frowned, looking at the sketch they had been trying to do earlier, “You’re right… I didn’t really think about it. While you’re at it, you should probably tell Peter about your baggage.”

“You can’t be serious. It’s been over a year, and no. No don’t look at me like that. What happened with Greg and what he ended up doing wasn’t my fault,” Annie insisted, setting the brush on the nightstand.

Harper closed the book, “But he deserves to know anyways. How many things did he tell you about that he was scared of telling you?”

“But it means nothing now!” she exclaimed, sitting on the bed.

They shook their head, “It means a lot now. With Carnival running around New York. You know what he’s capable of and what he can do. Peter deserves to know too.”

“I know… but can’t it just wait? Things are already difficult, I just want a little more time with him. Well, more time for things to be as normal as they’re gonna be. Please, this is the best things have been in weeks, Harper. I’ll tell him at the cabin or wherever we’re going. It’ll matter there more anyways.”

“Fine. But if that ends up hurting you-”

“It won’t. Greg’s not even around anymore. You know that. Carnival is, but he isn’t, there's no reason for me to make a big deal of it. Especially when it won't make much difference."

Right then, there was a knock at the door. There wasn't supposed to be anything to worry about, but what if someone heard? She just wanted more time to keep things normal. However, if she had been overheard, then she wasn't so sure how that was going to work out.

Although, it was obvious that Harper did not hold the same worries that she did. When they opened the door, it was only Peter and Ned coming to get them for dinner. Which was supposed to be at an unspecified location.

Harper huffed, “I swear, if it’s McDonald’s, I might actually kill this guy. Enough said.”

It ended up with them going to a burger place in the downtown part of Cheyenne called Two Doors Down. Something which Harper was quick to voice their relief over.

“Oh, come on, some chicken nuggets never hurt anyone!” Ned protested.

They rolled their eyes, “So you say, but I even look at another chicken nugget, I’m gonna throw myself out of the minivan.”

Annie slipped an arm around Peter as they sat in the large booth, “See? Told you they like him.”

“Yeah, so Harper’s always like that?” Peter asked.

“Hey! I can hear you two talking shit!” Harper snapped.

“I thought I grounded you from cussing,” Tony said, taking his seat.

Harper grinned, “Well, actually, you said I was banned from cussing at the road. I’m cussing at my dear friends. They’re not the road.”

“We’re friends?!” Ned exclaimed.

“Um… yeah? You’re a chill dude, a um, hoot and a half if you will,” Harper replied, as Tony rolled his eyes.

The man sighed a little, pinching the bridge of his nose, “Okay, fine, Harper, you’re grounded from cussing for the rest of the night.”

“What?! This is a violation of my first amendment rights,” they scoffed before messing around with the napkin around their silverware.

Annie laughed, “Actually, it’s really not, but whatever you say, Harper.”

“No one asked you!” they snapped, crossing their arms.

When the waitress made it to their table, which was full of laughing and chaos mainly thanks to Harper. They were the first to order, getting a burger that was supposed to have a few slices of pineapple on it. Ned went for the spiciest burger that they had, asking for them to try and make it as spicy as possible. Peter asked for the burger that had avocado on it. And Annie, wanting to continue the trend of odd toppings went with a burger that had an egg on it. Getting to the adults, Tony got a blue cheese burger, also wanting to continue the odd pattern. However, Pepper unintentionally wrecked it by ordering a normal cheeseburger.

Tony shook his head, “I’m disappointed. I thought you were gonna get that tortilla burger and keep this trend of funky burgers.”

“Oh? That was supposed to be a thing? Well, sorry about that,” Pepper responded, giving a shrug.

It was easily the most relaxed things had been in Annie’s opinion, and she couldn’t help smiling a little bit as she felt Peter’s hand reach for hers under the table. Everything that had happened was still on her mind, but she couldn’t stop herself from feeling like things were falling into place. She had her closest friends and she was finally with Peter.

For just a little bit, she had a chance to really forget everything from earlier. No one knew aside from everyone at the table. And they weren’t holding anything against her. Annie knew that everything was going to get fixed. It had to.

Chapter Text

“Can we please, please, please listen to a musical? Just one, the whole way there, I won’t ask again,” Annie begged.

“Nope. Driver gets pick in music,” Tony replied as they continued down the interstate.

After a decent continental breakfast, they were all back on the road. It took Annie sitting though the same classic rock playlist halfway across Wyoming before she said anything. Which, in reality, had been pretty impressive given it had been the same playlist as the day before.

“Come on, just one? I told my parents it was a theatre camp,” Annie pointed out.

Tony sighed, “And we aren’t even there yet.”

While Annie hadn’t said anything, that didn’t mean the argument was over. Though, it did take her a few moments to formulate a decent plan. It wasn’t that the songs were bad, but she’d heard them more than enough times and the same forty songs was starting to become more and more apparent to her every single time. Didn’t that guy have a different playlist to listen to?

That wasn’t the point, though. The point was that she knew the songs and that she was almost positive that the others knew the songs just as well. What was about to happen was either her dumbest idea or most brilliant. If nothing else, it would give everyone something to do aside from staring at miles and miles of yellow grass and the occasional cow or horse.

She nudged Peter who was starting to doze off again, “What’s that about?”

“If I do something kinda crazy but kinda fun… would you go along with it?” Annie asked.

He nodded slowly, “Yeah, why?”

“‘Cause I’m gonna do something kinda crazy but kinda fun. And if I’m the only one I’ll look like a dumbass, but if everyone joins in then I’m making a point,” she explained.

Peter raised an eyebrow, “And I can’t know ‘cause why?”

“It wouldn’t be as spontaneous.”

Right as the next song came on, Annie started to sing as loudly as she could to the music. She looked over at Peter, hoping that he would catch on. Soon enough they were both singing and Harper and Ned were quick to join in. All of them belting out and not caring about whether or not they were off key. They all tried singing all the parts including the instrumental riffs.

And when Tony didn’t appear to bat an eye at any of them, they all continued singing. Though, Annie was starting to be obnoxious on purpose. It didn’t matter if anyone them had already known the songs beforehand, they had played enough during the trip for any of them to at least know the chorus.

“Are you guys done yet?” Tony asked, finally deciding to say something.

Annie shrugged, “Depends on if we can listen to something else. Otherwise, we’re just getting started, Sir!”

“Okay, will you guys settle down if I change the songs?” Tony asked, starting to sound more exasperated than angry.

After all of them arguing and trying to deliberate over what to listen to, they had gotten nowhere. Annie thought it would have been easy to get everyone to just agree to listen to a musical and then relax and enjoy the open road ahead. Only, it seemed everyone else had other ideas.

“We’re not listening to The Last Five Years , that makes you cry without fail. We should just listen to some nighties alt-rock and call it a day,” Harper insisted.

Tony could still be heard, occasionally putting in his two-cents, “I’m with them.”

“Oh come on! Seussical then?” Annie asked.

Harper shook their head, “Nope. Also makes you cry without fail. This isn’t ‘let’s contribute to Annie’s daily mental breakdown hour’.”

“What if we listened to disco? I think that’d be pretty cool. I mean, it includes a bit of everything, right?” Peter asked, looking between everyone.

Annie raised an eyebrow, “What decent musical came from the disco era?”

Mamma Mia ! You taught me about that one,” Peter pointed out.

Ned had dropped out of the conversation a few minutes ago, and he seemed rather immersed in his phone. What he was doing wasn’t being paid attention to. It was really just Annie and Harper doing most of the debating.

Ned’s head suddenly shot up, “Got it! Hey, Mr. Stark, I’m gonna sync my phone with the car. I got the perfect playlist.”

“Um… except you literally didn’t say anything for most of this,” Harper pointed out, crossing their arms.

Ned grinned, “Except I was listening. I got a little bit of everything. I know what Peter likes, and I think I know which things Annie likes that doesn’t make her cry, and then there was you. You said nighties alt-rock. Which, incidentally is exactly what I listen to all the time. It’s all covered.”

Harper nodded slowly, “Alright, you’re one of those smart and silent types. I can appreciate that.”

“Also, can I just put this out there? Literally anything could make me cry right now. Because, ya know, those daily mental breakdowns,” Annie said, leaning back in her seat.

Pepper, who had been quiet for most of the drive that day, turned around, “You should get mental help for that.”

“Maybe later. You need parental consent for that, don’t you?” Annie asked.

Pepper nodded, “I’m sure they’d be willing to get you help.”

“Except they don’t know what I’d need help for. That’s kind of the real kicker there. They don’t know about the whole powers deal,” she admitted, opening her book again.

Everything settled down and went back to normal with Annie positioned to use Peter as a pillow. She focused on her book and occasionally on the rolling hills of yellow grass. It seemed like everything had settled down. Minus Harper and Ned constantly sounding like they were in a constant debate about something Annie couldn’t quite make out.

That was, until they both started to get louder about the subject that had them both so talkative.

“I’m way more help. Like, if it wasn’t for me, Annie wouldn't even have a suit!” Harper exclaimed.

Ned shook his head, “But you’re not the one who can hack a suit.”

“Don’t gotta hack something if I was the one who made it. Besides, hacking a suit sounds like something you shouldn’t have done. But what do I know? I’m just a college student,” Harper responded nonchalantly.

“Hacking that suit was one of the dumbest things you guys did, for the record,” Tony interjected, trying to stare down Peter and Ned at the same time through the mirror.

Annie smirked, “As if you wouldn’t have hacked a suit for your all-time best friend.”

“Would’ve been a hell of a time. Lots of googling, probably would get arrested, but I wouldn’t have done it for you last year,” Harper admitted.

She nodded slowly, “Fair enough. I was a serious bitch at that point.”

“Okay, how bad were you? Because you keep talking about how awful you are and I’m not seeing it,” Peter said, sitting up so he could get in on the debate.

Harper smirked, “That’s ‘cause you’re in love with her.”

“N-no, we just started dating… th-that’d be weird,” Peter stammered, his face going red.

They shook their head, “Nah, you both got it bad. And I know about Annie’s side of the story. Ned, what do you say?”

“Definitely agree. But also, I’d say aside from being pushy, you’re not that bad,” Ned replied.

Harper laughed, “You really didn’t tell them about anything, did you?”

“Well, you see, it wasn’t necessary. And there was, like, that one time I said I was worse than Flash… but that was also before he tried beating the shit out of Peter. Now, I was never that bad,” Annie explained.

Tony nearly hit the brakes on the car in the middle of the highway, “Who tried beating the shit out of Peter?”

Annie pretended like she hadn’t seen Peter shake his head, “Well, you see, Ned was sick and Flash was being a jerk about Peter being the lead in the musical. And I didn’t know he was trans at the time, but then Flash outed him and tried to beat him up. And, well, I couldn’t do a whole lot. I didn’t wanna electrocute the dude, but I was close.”

“Pete, why didn’t you tell me?” Tony asked.

He shrugged, sinking back into his seat, “Never mentioned it… um… besides, Annie took care of it.”

“You’re telling me you could’ve gotten Tony Stark on that dude and you didn’t?!” Harper exclaimed, facepalming.

Peter huffed, “This wasn’t about me, this was about Annie.”

“Way to throw me under the bus, Pete,” Annie replied with a teasing smirk, “Anyways, you guys know how I was at a performing arts school, right? So, the fall production was The Sound of Music and I was the understudy for Liesel. Which was great, except the girl who played Liesel was actually the worst-”

“Because you have room to talk?” Harper asked.

Annie rolled her eyes, “Anyways, like I was saying, that girl was kinda mean and I wasn’t gonna take that. So I sabotaged her dressing room by electrocuting one of the electrical sockets. It basically ruined the room and that girl was convinced she’d been messed with, but there was no proof, ya know, because I used my powers that no one knew about. And she left so I ended up getting the part.”

“And this is where things get great,” Harper commented.

She sighed, “Okay, I get it, I did some stuff. Anyways, you guys’ve seen Mean Girls , right?”

Peter and Ned nodded.

“Okay, then you might see where this is headed. So the girl who I replaced in the show was basically the Gretchen of the group, right? And I ended up swooping in and replacing her in her own friend group. Which was great… I mean, not great, probably sucked for her. And I kinda did half of this for some kinda cute guy… um… I’ll get into that later. But I think that explains enough already,” she explained.

Peter looked at Annie, “You’re joking, right?”

“Nah, I mean, if we’re being real here, I caused the fire because that Darren guy was trying to kill me and Tina. So… I mean, I did the first thing I could think of, and there was a different problem. Except I wasn’t expecting to be blown back and… um, yeah, I think I’m done,” Annie trailed off, looking down at her hands.

Harper smiled a little, “Hey, that whole blowing up the room thing was still pretty damn iconic.”

“And arson. By all rights I should turn you in,” Tony called back.

Annie grimaced, “Yeah, maybe so, but then you’d wanna turn Peter and Ned over here if half of what Peter told me about trying to fight that vulture dude.”

“Touche,” Tony replied.

Pepper sighed, “He was only joking. If we thought you guys were gonna run around blowing things up for no reason, I don’t think he’d be driving you kids around for this long.”

Once again, the drive settled down, even though there hadn’t been a definitive answer to whether Harper or Ned was the better superhero assistant. A topic which would probably would never get answered.

Eventually it got late and Tony pulled off at Wendover, a small town right between Utah and Nevada. It was fine for everything except for the fact that everyone’s phones were an hour off from each other. They were right on the line for where the time change was.

It made for some fun conversations later in the night when Annie was sprawled out on her bed, completely immersed in her book. Whereas Harper had been trying to get some sleep for the last fifteen minutes.

Harper eventually turned off the lights, only for Annie to use her powers to turn it back on without batting an eye. She heard Harper grumbling as they reached out to turn off the light. Annie only turned it back on. The process continued a few more times.

“Look, I know you’re going all insomniac on me, but I need sleep. It’s midnight,” Harper whined.

Annie looked at her phone, “Nah, it’s only eleven.”

“Not according to the clock right here. Now either leave the room or go to bed,” they grumbled before turning out the light.

Annie sighed a little bit. She wasn’t in any mood to get out of the room. Her hair was tied up in a messy bun, and when she looked at herself in the mirror earlier, she had serious bags under her eyes. How in the world Peter hadn’t said anything about her, she had no idea. Not to mention that she hadn’t changed her leggings or her sweatshirt that advertised her old school’s theatre program. She wasn’t planning on it either, but still she knew that she wasn’t going to get to sleep anytime soon.

After getting into her slippers, Annie grabbed her book and the key before seeing her phone had a text notification.

Spidey: Fifth floor, vending machines

Annie saw that the message was from five minutes before. She tried to wrack her brain to figure out what Peter wanted. It could have been anything. Something from him wanting to get a midnight snack together to needing something to talk about.

Still, Annie got into the elevator, pressing on the five and waited for the elevator to do its job. After a few seconds, Annie was there and it was just a matter of finding the vending machines and Peter. Thankfully, there were a few signs and Annie saw one pointing to where the vending machines were.

That was when she saw Peter pacing around the hallway and his eyes were darting all over the place. After a few seconds, he saw Annie and ran right to her, wrapping his arms around her tightly. She dropped the book, hearing the thick paperback hit the carpet with a soft thud so she could hug him.

“Hey, what’s wrong?” Annie asked, hearing his ragged breathing.

Peter pulled back a little, looking at her with his eyes full of tears, “I-I… I was tryna sleep a-a-a-and I did a-a-a-a-a-a-a-and th-the building… it fell a-and I-I couldn’t br-br-”

“Hey, it’s okay, you’re okay, no buildings are falling. You’re alright, Peter, it’s okay. Do you wanna sit down?” she asked, picking up her book and leading the way to the stairwell.

Peter nodded, following Annie through the door to get to the stairs. Annie sat down on one of the landings and Peter sat next to her, laying his head in her lap. She frowned a little, gently running her fingers through his hair. The last time she had seen him so shaky and scared was when Flash had hurt him.

Annie bit her lip, trying to think of what to say, “Do you wanna talk about it?”

“Y-yeah, ya know how I’ve told you about Vulture?” Peter asked.

She nodded slowly, “Yeah, what about it?”

“Well, I-I didn’t tell you about what he did… that night I really fought with him and stuff. H-he used one of his weapons to make his warehouse collapse and it fell on me… all of it. If I didn’t have powers, I woulda died… a-and it’s less of a thing now, but every once in awhile… well I dream about it. S-sorry, you were probably asleep and I woke you up. I just… didn’t wanna be alone,” he rambled, sitting up.

Annie frowned, her eyebrows furrowing as she reached out and pulled him into a hug, “I wasn’t asleep. A-and I get it. The nightmares, I mean. But you weren’t bothering me. If I was asleep, I wouldn’t be here.”

Peter didn’t say anything and instead rested his head in the crook of Annie’s neck. They stayed like that for awhile. While Annie could hear slot machines from the lower floor, Peter seemed to calm down. It was a miracle no one had decided to go up the stairs.

After a little longer, Peter looked up at Annie, “You should probably get some sleep.”

“I’m not tired,” Annie claimed, though she did feel her eyelids starting to droop.

Peter smiled a bit, kissing the top of her head, “You’re exhausted, come on, lemme take you to your room.”

It took some more of Annie being stubborn on the subject before Peter helped her up and they went up the other few flights of stairs between their floors. The whole time, Peter didn’t let go of her hand. Though, when they were in front of her room, they held each other for what felt like a long time.

“Well, I guess this is goodnight,” Annie murmured before quickly Peter on the lips.

Peter was caught slightly off guard, “I- um… yeah, goodnight.”

With that, Annie unlocked her room and was half-tempted to wake up Harper just to be ornery, but decided against it before flopping on her bed to go to sleep.

Chapter Text

“Please tell me we’re all getting our own rooms when we get there, I don’t think I can deal with Annie staying up and pulling all-nighters,” Harper said, glancing back at Annie.

She shrugged, “Don’t act so innocent. You were up talking with me half of the time.”

“Yeah, when you weren’t reading your book and it wasn’t after midnight,” they pointed out.

Annie laughed, “I wasn’t kidding when I said I can’t sleep.”

“Don’t worry, you guys all get your own rooms. Hell, you kids get your own cabin. I don’t know about Pepper, but I don’t wanna end up being kept awake by you guys talking all the time,” Tony said, not looking back at them.

Pepper shook her head, “He says that, but he just about never sleeps himself.”

“See? Not sleeping is totally normal!” Annie claimed.

“It’s really not, you’re a little young to be awake all the time, don’t you think?” Tony asked.

Annie shrugged a little again, “I don’t know, I mean, I guess I’m a little young to be a superhero too, but here we are, going to a lake for Superhero Camp.”

“Hey! If your parents ask anything, it’s that theatre camp you talked about,” Tony warned.

“So… does that mean I get to do theatre stuff? Because my dad’s probably gonna be on me half the time and wanna see what I’m doing. I’d bet on it,” she replied.

Tony sighed, “Are you serious? I don’t know anything about that stuff.”

“We’ll figure it out. I’m sure that you’re talented enough to come up with something,” Pepper assured.

Peter nodded, “She really is. You should’ve seen her during the musical, she was actually great the whole time… I-I don’t know how anyone can do that all the time.”

Annie laughed a bit, “Come on, it was pretty easy to do, I mean, I didn’t have a whole lot of acting to do.”

“Is this really turning into you two flirting?” Harper questioned, turning back in their seat.

Ned nodded, “Yep. It’s to make up for all the time they wasted pining after each other for months.”

“I know, but is it gonna be like this the whole time?”

“Yep. You should’ve seen Pete, like, a week after she moved in. He kept talking about how we needed to invite her out more and then he started getting sappier. It was pretty cute,” Ned said.

Harper smirked, “Better than Annie, she was debating about whether or not she liked Peter or not for, like, months. Except she liked him the whole time and-”

“And we’re literally right behind you,” Annie pointed out, feeling her face heat up.

Peter nodded, “Y-yeah, maybe you guys should talk about that um… not around us.”

“I agree. If you’re gonna talk about us, do it behind our backs like any other self-respecting human being,” Annie said with a smirk.

“Oh come on, you guys have been doing great at keeping any of your teenage-angst bullshit out of the drive. Save it for the cabin when I’m not crammed in a car with you guys,” Tony responded.

Harper shrugged, “I mean, it’s not like we’re all stuck in a small, metal death-trap in the middle of nowhere. Like, this is literally the desert. Aliens could come and pick us up.”

They kept up with the banter and occasional bouts of silence for the remainder of the drive. Though, Annie mostly slept through the last stretch of the drive. After not sleeping much, if at all, the night before, she still couldn’t avoid the fact that her eyes were so droopy and that all she wanted was to get some more rest.

It somehow felt like the drive was never going to end no matter how much she fell asleep. Though Annie did start to notice the difference from the desert into the woods as they made it into California. There were more pine trees everywhere.

Eventually, Annie knew that she was tired and wasn’t running on enough sleep to function, but she couldn’t get herself to go back to sleep. So, instead, she went back to reading her book.

“What’re you reading about?” Peter asked, his head leaning on her shoulder.

Annie shook her head, “A lot. I mean, there’s all these families and right now, it’s all focusing on Pierre’s new religious awakening. It’s really weird, but super interesting.”

“Only you would say that,” Ned pointed out.

Annie rolled her eyes, “Just because you didn’t like any of the books I recommended to you, doesn’t mean that they’re not any good. Pride and Prejudice is literally one of the most amazing love stories I’ve ever read. And I swear, if you even think about talking about The Phantom of the Opera I will fight you right here.”

“I’m supposed to make sure none of you kids come out of here dead, can we try to keep that as a goal?” Tony asked.

Pepper turned around, “Jane Austen is a great author!”

“Case and point. You just don’t get invested enough in the characters. Harper never cared for classics either,” Annie said, marking her spot.

Harper scoffed, “Not true! Just all the books you talk about are actually really boring. I don’t make the rules.”

“Oh come on! They are the classics and are timeless pieces of art! Just read it within the context of the time period and you’ll see that Jane Austen is a genius. And then don’t even get me started on Dickens. If you realized he was criticizing the rich-”

“Then he should’ve gone out into the streets and called for a revolution, Annie!” Harper cried out.

Annie sighed, “I feel like that’s what Les Mis would be discussing… but go off, I guess.”

Instead of reading the classic novels Annie kept claiming were great, she kept pausing to talk about how they were great. And as much as she hated that she was pulling on everything that her dad would talk about when it came to teaching English, it made for some good points. Though, Annie didn’t admit that half of the reason she liked reading so much was because of acting. She felt like that was a given.

“You know, you guys are making this drive really hard on me. I don’t wanna drive us off this ledge,” Tony said, focusing more on the windy road.

Pepper laughed, “It’s gonna be fine. He’s just giving you guys crap because he’s actually enjoying hearing you guys talking.”

Peter seemed to be hating the very last stretch of drive where it was nothing but constant twists and turns. It was to the point that he had to keep his eyes closed for most of the time. Though, that didn’t stop him from talking either.

And while it felt like it had taken forever to get to the cabins, the minivan eventually came to a stop in front of a handful of cabins. They all looked like they could hold at least five people inside them. When surrounded by the tall trees and water, the place looked mesmerizing. There were even a few fire pits for campfires.

“Alright, we’re here, let’s get going,” Tony said, getting out of the car.

It didn’t take long for everyone to unload their things and then to find their rooms. Tony decided to leave everyone else to their own devices when he split Pepper and himself off from the teenagers. Each one which already seemed to be set up as if Tony had told someone that they were coming.

When Annie made it to her room, she only knew it was hers because of the ukulele sitting on the bed. It was only then that she remembered Pepper had told her that she’d get her own ukulele that wasn’t cheap and plastic. And she heard Peter shouting about how he had a polaroid camera from the other room.

Harper walked into Annie’s room, “Hey, I got this really cool setup going on and I think I’m gonna be making you a suit in my room the whole time, I got all these fabrics and a neat little sewing kit.”

“Nice!” Annie responded, taking out some of her things.

Harper sighed, “And I think you gotta tell them tonight. Because, I mean, if you don’t say anything tonight then you’re never gonna say anything.”

“I don’t wanna force it,” Annie said as she pulled out some clothes.

Harper rolled their eyes, “And we’re back to square one. Naturally or not, you gotta talk about it now before you end up lying about everything. Which I mean, they don’t even know who Greg is, so I mean, you’re just keeping all this stuff from them.”

“I didn’t think it was gonna matter. I wanted to just kinda start over if I had to move. How was I supposed to know that I ended up failing?” Annie pointed out.

Harper sighed, “Doesn’t matter. You gotta talk about all of it. I’m gonna make you do it because you need to.”

Annie sighed, turning around, “Okay, fine. I’ll talk about it tonight, happy?”

“Beaming,” Harper deadpanned, walking out of the room.

It wasn’t easy, trying to figure out what to say. Annie hadn’t counted on needing to say anything, period. It was that simple. There hadn’t been any reason to talk about what had happened at her old school. Well, aside from the fact that it was a performing arts school, but other than that, Annie felt there wasn’t any importance to it.

After dinner, they were all hanging out in the living room of their cabin. Peter sat on the couch upside down, Ned sat in the middle of the floor, putting together what seemed to be an intricate Lego set. Harper was seeming to mind their own business and sketching, though Annie could tell that they were thinking of doing something else. She was next to Peter, still getting through her own book

“Hey, do you still have your Heather Macnamara costume?” Harper asked, their blue eyes glinting.

Annie sighed, “Yeah…”

“Come on, don’t you ever just… I don’t know, think about that whole year? I mean, it was pretty wild, don’t ya think?” Harper asked, their eyebrows knitting together.

Annie sighed, “Okay, so um… look, guys… I uh… fuck. I um… well, I guess I haven’t completely talked about everything that I maybe should’ve? And I-I doubt it’d help with Carnival much, if at all, but I mean, it’s kinda important. Except that I really doubt that it’s gonna mean anything, but I’m being peer pressured into talking about it.”

“Hey, it’s gonna help. A lot,” Harper said, putting down their sketchbook.

Peter got up, frowning a little, “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing, really… I mean, it all happened way before I even knew you existed,” Annie started, “And I definitely need you guys to realize that.”

Ned shrugged, “I mean, you burned a girl’s dressing room down. There’s not much else that could really surprise me.”

“Thanks, Ned,” Annie said, sighing a little.

Harper smirked, “It gets worse than that if I’m being honest with you here.”

“How bad could it really be?” Peter asked, putting an arm around Annie, which she shrugged off.

Annie shook her head, “It’s kinda bad… hence why I haven’t told you guys about any of it. Well, that and the fact that you guys didn’t really need to know until now.”

“Why didn’t you say it right after the whole thing with Carnival?” Peter questioned.

Harper let out a dry laugh, “Isn’t it obvious? She didn’t want Stark knowing because it’s some kinda sketchy stuff, ya know? I have lots of opinions on this stuff, but I mean, I covered for her after all of it.”

“Okay, okay, I get it. I guess I should say that the guy that was kinda cute that I stole from the girl I replaced in The Sound of Music is Greg. And he was kind of a psycho now that I think about it, but I mean I didn’t realize what I was getting myself into at the time, you know?” Annie started, tucking some of her dark hair behind her ear.

Harper shook their head, “That’s how a lot of people’s dumbest stories start off. For some guy that was kinda cute.”

“Hey, I get it, I was a dumb freshman. You know what? I’ll go ahead and really start from the beginning here. The person who got me into theatre in the first place and why,” Annie decided, “Look, I used to do ballet instead. I was a dancer, and I mean, I was really good. Except, I’ve always been just a little bit curvy, ya know? Of course you do… well I started getting that way during junior high right as I started being a superhero. And I just needed to get rid of that extra weight. So um… I uh just wouldn’t eat anything.”

Harper frowned, “Yeah, and you know what happens when your a superhero and you don’t eat enough? You end up passing out in the middle of the alley and getting your ass kicked. Have any of you guys had to pull your passed out friend off of the street and get her to a hospital?”

“Annie, that’s not a bad thing… I mean, it’s bad because that could’ve killed you, but that’s nothing to be ashamed of,” Peter said, looking at Annie.

She nodded, “Yeah, I know that, trust me. I know, but anyways, that’s when Harper decided to get me completely into acting. Which is, if anything, part of the reason why I got into acting. Now, Greg was really cute and we had to act together and we had to spend a bunch of free time together, right? Almost like being in a real relationship, and that was how I ended up dating him. What should’ve been a red flag was when he figured out I was White Swan in, like, a week. And, I get it, some people are more observant, but it was like he figured it out with no clues.”

“I always said that he definitely looked in your things like some creepy spy. You know that’s what happened, right? I kept trying to tell you, but you wouldn’t ever-” Harper was cut off.

“I know, he was actually a creepy stalker. I should’ve really known something was wrong when we never rehearsed anything but a stage kiss and then on opening night he actually kissed me on the stage in front of everyone. Except I thought it was actually amazing. You know, just the surprise of it all. And I thought he was someone I could trust because he tried to be there for me,” Annie explained.

Harper scoffed, “Yeah, right, until he fucking killed someone.”

“Okay, in all fairness, I thought he was trying to help me. This gang was starting to heavily go after me and I think one of them started to figure out my identity because he just outright attacked me. A little crazy, but what was even crazier was when Greg took out a knife and stabbed the guy to death. Which, I thought was okay since he was trying to hurt me. Well, that’s what Greg said. And things were pretty okay aside from Harper hating Greg. But I kinda ditched them for awhile. Then, there was the spring production with Seussical and we ended up being love interests, which was great at the time. Well, until closing night. Mind you, Carnival kept popping up every now and then, but I didn’t understand the dude until later,” Annie explained.

Peter frowned, “What does he do?”

“Um… well, his goal was always to make people so miserable that he could kill them and feed off of their misery. But I also figured out that he can mimic any natural powers,” she said.

“So… he couldn’t copy my web fluid?”

Annie shook her head, “No, but it turns out that he can control people if he tries hard enough, but it’s only to make people miserable. See, Carnival was controlling Greg the entire time. I only knew Greg before I started crushing on him. Then he was controlled for the rest of the time. So I uh… technically dated my worst enemy for awhile. And here’s where Harper and I disagree. I think that Carnival still has feelings for me because there were plenty of times he could have killed me and didn’t. Harper has other theories, but I think that if we’re gonna defeat the dude, that’s something to look into.”

“Wait, wait. What happened to Greg? Did he get caught with murder? Did he remember you?” asked Ned, having stopped trying to put together the legos.

Harper sighed, “You should probably tell them.”

It was the one thing that Annie had tried to avoid. There wasn’t any relevance to Greg in her opinion. She knew that it wasn’t her fault, but she hated talking about anything to deal with him. It hadn’t mattered beforehand.

Annie’s face hardened, “He didn’t remember a thing. From October to May, he couldn’t remember a thing. So he didn’t even know me except for, like the one or two times I talked to him before everything. A-and I just moved on from it and figured I just wouldn’t try anything with him. But I didn’t have to avoid him for very long because, well, he um… he killed himself over the summer. I mean, that’s what everyone says, but no one could really understand the suicide note… well, I did… but um… I’m gonna go.”

Annie stood up from the couch in a seemingly calm manner and walked towards her room.

“Hey, Annie,” Peter started, about to get up.

She stopped him, “I just… I need a sec.”

When Annie went to her room, everything was quiet. No one could think of anything to say, and Annie wasn’t sure if she wanted to be left alone or not.

“I didn’t think she’d react like that… I mean, I knew it was touchy, but, she probably doesn’t wanna see me right now,” Harper said, staring down their sketchbook.

Peter sighed, “Should I go check on her?”

“If that’s what you’d normally do, yeah. She won’t wanna talk to me, but she might wanna talk to you. Or at least, try to make her feel better,” Harper replied, running a hand through their ginger hair.

Peter nodded slowly, “She’s gonna be okay, right?”

“I don’t know… she’s been in a serious manic state for the whole week, not sleeping, constantly not wanting to do much. And then she’s suddenly sleeping for hours on end, and she’s probably really depressed right now. Or blaming herself. Just… go check on her, I shouldn’t have to tell you,” Harper sighed.

Ned nodded, “Yeah, they’re right. Go on.”

It didn’t take much to find Annie, she was pacing around the room. Peter opened the door slowly and quietly. There was a moment before Annie even noticed someone had come in. That was when she turned around and tears were in her eyes.

“Hey, Annie, you know-”

Annie cut him off, “I-I don’t know. Look, when I thought this would be good for us, I didn’t think I’d be over here giving you the whole… everything.”

“You did all this thinking that it was gonna be a good thing. That’s not your fault. You know that, right?” Peter asked, reaching over to hold her.

Annie stepped back, starting to pace again, “That doesn’t matter. All this bad stuff happened and I thought I moved on from it.”

“Then did you think you were just gonna move on from everything that happened with Tina?” Peter asked.

She stopped and turned to Peter, “In case it wasn’t clear, I haven’t moved on from any of the shit that happened earlier. And why the fuck are you talking about Tina? I was the one who was friends with her. I was the one who was there for her the whole time. A-and I get it, okay?! I keep fucking everything up a-and I keep making people die. But Greg? That’s the one person I refuse to take the blame for. I just… you didn’t need to know everything, okay?!”

“You know I just wanna help, right? I get it, okay? There’s some shit that happened earlier, but you’re obviously not like that anymore. That’s great, but you need to talk about it,” Peter sighed, frowning.

Annie shook her head, “I don’t need to talk about anything. I told you, I just need a minute.”

“No, there’s something wrong. A-and I know I can’t fix all your problems, but dammit, you gotta at least let me try,” he said, looking at her.

She shrugged, “What’s there to say? It’s already happened, and I just gotta get over it. At least a little.”

“Okay, but that doesn’t work!” Peter exclaimed, “Did you forget about that time you tried to jump off your apartment building? If you hadn’t called me and… and if I weren’t me… you’d probably be dead.”

Annie pursed her lips, “And maybe things would be better.”

“No, that’s not how this works, Annie, you don’t get it. You mean so much to me, and you care so much more than you say. And just because things didn’t go right earlier… that doesn’t mean that you get to just kill yourself over it. I never told you, did I?”

Annie crossed her arms, sitting on the bed, “Never told me what?”

“How fucking terrifying it was to see you like that. I mean, it was one thing to see you all happy the night before and you were… you were talking about how you had feelings for me… it was great. And then just the next day… you called me and I could barely hear anything you were saying. I freaked out and I wasn’t sure what was wrong. But you called me while I was on patrol, so I thought you were just going home or something. So I went to your building and then… then I just see you standing at the very edge and I could just tell you were gonna jump. And if I’d been a second later, I don’t know if I could’ve saved you. A-and if you died, I-I’d blame myself,” he finished, tears welling up in his eyes.

Annie got up and hugged him tightly, “I-I’m so sorry… I-I just kinda… kinda forgot you had to see that.”

“N-no, I-I can’t believe I never put it together. But, I don’t know what I’d do if I just… lost you, especially like that. So don’t you dare say that things would be better without you,” Peter murmured, holding her tightly.

Chapter Text

It still took most of the night for Annie to get to bed, though she had spent most of it talking to Peter. The guy was so stubborn and refused to leave her alone until he was positive that she was okay. Which, what had she expected? After several months of knowing him, Annie had never known him to just drop something.

What she hadn’t expected was for Tony to walk right into the house, yelling for everyone to get up. Why in the world did they have to get up so early? They had the entire summer ahead of them.

“Come on, you need to get up,” Tony said, knocking on her door.

Annie groaned, “Why?”

“Because I made breakfast,” he replied.

Annie sighed, “Can’t you make it later?”

“It is later,” he stated, “It’s after nine.”

“That’s not later!” Annie exclaimed.

“Just get out of bed,” he said, and Annie could almost hear him rolling his eyes.

Annie took a few minutes, but she eventually made it out of her room. While she was the last one out, she was also willing to bet she was the one who had gotten the least amount of sleep. She had been awake until four in the morning. Though it beat waking up in the middle of the night.

Once she was out in the kitchen, Harper handed Annie a cup full of coffee, “You look dead.”

“It’s because I didn’t sleep much,” Annie replied, taking the cup and taking a drink of the bitter liquid.

Peter frowned, “I don’t know how you can drink that stuff plain.”

“Because this isn’t the first time she’s gone weeks with low sleep,” Harper responded, sitting down, “I’m telling you, ya gotta get tested for manic depression.”

Annie shrugged, “I’ll do that once I turn eighteen. That’s the only time they’ll be able to do anything about it.”

“Why are we saying she has manic depression?” asked Tony.

“Oh, because I go through weeks where I just go completely crazy and productive and get no sleep, but I throw myself into everything. And then I just crash for a few weeks and can’t get myself to do much. I don’t really know why , but I have a few theories,” she explained.

Pepper frowned, “Maybe you couldn’t get diagnosed, but you  could at least find better ways to deal with it.”

“Yeah, but I don’t wanna give up my identity or anything. The last thing I need is for my parents to find out. Plus I only have, like, two more years before I move out. It’ll all work itself out,” she said, taking another drink.

           Tony shook his head, “That’s beside the point. I’m gonna start training you guys today, though, you both need to work together more.”

“But Mr. Stark, we’re already working together,” Peter pointed out.

Annie sighed, “Yeah, but half the time I couldn’t stand you and the other half of the time we weren’t really working together. It was really just me and my chronic dumbassery.”

“She’s kind of right. If you’re gonna team up, which you need to do if anything’s gonna work out with this whole Carnival business. You have to be coordinated,” Tony said, taking a bite of pancakes.

Peter nodded slowly, “Okay, but how do we even know what to do about Carnival? My webbing didn’t even stop the guy.”

“Because he mimics powers. Remember how I basically blasted off your webbing when we fought that one time? He can do the exact same thing,” she replied.

“Wait, you guys fought? I thought you were all in love with each other?” Tony asked, looking between them.

Harper shrugged, “It took a hot minute. And then another few hot minutes.”

“Oh yeah, I remember that day! Peter was flipping out about it and talking about how he needed to come up with something that couldn’t be destroyed by her. And then the whole musical thing happened and I guess we all forgot about it,” Ned said.

Annie set her cup down, “Okay, I got it! The real key here is getting webbing that I can’t break. Except, I don’t know how to do that. I don’t even really know everything that I can do.”

“Which is why we need to do this. We’ll train you against all Pete’s web settings,” Tony decided.

Annie grimaced, “There’s not a better way of doing things?”

“Think of it as an experiment. We’ll come up with some things for you too, don’t worry,” Tony assured her.

“And what am I doing for the suit?” Harper asked.

Pepper shrugged, “You should probably work on a sketch.”

“I literally have so many. This has been my brainchild for years now. I’ve always wanted to make a kickass suit because there are so many variations,” Harper replied, grinning.

“Well, then work on picking one, and Ned, you’re gonna help them for right now,” Pepper replied, “I’ll help you guys if you need anything.”

After breakfast, Annie finally took the time to get out of pajamas and into her regular leggings, shirt, and combat boots. She was not looking forward to getting trapped in webbing all day, but she knew that was the only thing that any of them could think of.

Plus she felt like it would make up for all the times she had been somewhat of a jerk to Peter. Not to mention it was still time with him. Though, she really did also want to make up for lost time with Harper. It had been months since she had seen her best friend and it was still so refreshing to finally see them again.

Although, Annie also knew that Harper was going to be enjoying themself with finally getting a chance to work on a legitimate suit. It was going to be a long summer, but it felt like it was going to be her one chance to figure out everything that was going on.

Well, at least, she felt like her prospects were good until she got covered in webbing for the umpteeth time. And, while she was perfectly capable of blasting off all the combinations, it was beginning to get tiring.

Annie sighed, “Can I just say that I can’t get out of this one? Then could we maybe have me do something else aside from being a test dummy.”

“Do you have any better ideas?” Tony asked.

“I mean, are these all from the same web fluid?” she countered.

Peter paused, “I mean, yeah, why wouldn’t I… oh.”

“Yeah, the same chemicals would still have the same effect. So… we’ve been doing nothing for the last two hours. And I’m exhausted,” Annie said, crossing her arms.

Peter sighed, “Okay, but what would you not be able to break out of?”

“I don’t know… maybe it’s not about what I could break out of but more so what wouldn’t react well to being blasted,” she suggested, “I mean, I’m not a science nerd by any means, but I think that would maybe make sense.”

“Actually, that’s a great idea. Except, I’m not sure how we would test it. We don’t want to hurt you… but I think we’re on a better track,” Tony agreed.

Annie sighed, “But maybe that’s the only way.”

“No, it’s not. We’ll figure something out, but I’m not hurting you, got it?” Peter responded.

It was clear that even after everything that was said the night before, not much had been fixed. Sure, they both cared about each other, and Annie didn’t exactly want to get hurt, but she wanted to fix what was going on. If that meant that she was possibly going to get hurt in the process, she felt like it would be worth it in the end.

However, it seemed that she was the only person who thought that. Even Tony ended up siding with Peter. It didn’t matter what she ended up saying, both of them insisted that there would have to be a different way to test what she could and couldn’t handle without doing anything to her.

“You’re not a science project!” Peter exclaimed, pacing around the living area.

Annie scoffed, “Tell that to the laboratory in Brazil!”

“You’re not there. You’re here. And I’m not about to do anything that could get you hurt. You wouldn’t do anything to hurt me, so why would you make me do that?” he asked.

“Because there’s nothing else we can do. And most of this was my fault anyways, I mean, how could it not be?”

“Okay, so, you screw up once-”

“Several times”

“And you expect me to… punish you for something you didn’t mean to do? I can’t do that. I’m not about to just let you go out and hurt yourself.”

“Peter, this is about more than that. You wouldn’t be hurting me. You wouldn’t have to do it like that. You’re thinking of the worst case scenario.”

“Yeah? Then what’re you thinking?”

“If I have a new suit, and it wouldn’t be susceptible to whatever we come up with, then I’d be fine. We could test it out, no one gets hurt.”

“And you think that would happen?”

“Trust me, I know Harper, they’re brilliant. And it can get worked out, okay?”

“You’re not just saying that?”

“Who’s not just saying what?” Harper asked, looking between the both of them.

Ned stood in the doorway, “I think they were fighting.”

“What? Nah, we’re good, we’re fine,” Peter claimed.

Annie rolled her eyes, “We were fighting, but now we’re fine.”

“Okay, well, Ned and I finally picked a really cool design. And, actually, he’s really good at drawing. You should see some of his ideas,” Harper said, sitting on the couch and opening up a sketchbook.

Ned shrugged, “I mean, it’s okay, it was just some ideas for a suit for you Peter… I mean, I just got kinda bored.”

“Shut up, you’re really good,” Harper said, showing Annie and Peter the pictures, “See? He’s great!”

After finally making it through the day, Annie had no trouble getting into her bed. If anything, she made it there earlier than any of the others. There was something about having to constantly use her powers that left her feeling completely drained.

She ended up passing out on her bed, not having any issue with feeling exhausted enough to sleep. Everyone in the small cabin ended up falling asleep not too long after. The way their makeshift camp was going, it felt like they were all going to go back to New York completely exhausted.

While Annie was asleep, she quickly started to toss and turn. All she could smell and taste was smoke. It choked her from the inside and she couldn’t breathe. Her lungs constricted and she felt the flames starting to get onto her.

She tried to move, to scream, to do something , but she couldn’t get anything to happen. It was like she was stuck in the spot she was in. And she wasn’t sure if she was listening right, but Annie could have sworn she heard Tina screaming.

Why couldn’t she get herself to just move a little bit? She needed to start moving before she stopped breathing.

Then, she finally got the chance to move herself forward a little, but the moment she did, everything below her collapsed. Annie could see everything around her being covered with large flames as she fell.

Annie woke with a start, almost ready to scream. It was only then that she finally felt like she could breathe again. That didn’t fix the wave of nausea that overcame her as she started to breathe faster and faster.

All she could hear was the ever increasing rate of her heart. There was bile coming up her throat, and she rushed out of her room to get to the bathroom. She vomited into the toilet, and she felt tears stinging the back of her eyes. As badly as she wanted to cry out, she didn’t want to wake anyone up. This was something that she needed to get through by herself. Except, she had no idea how she was supposed to do that. She couldn’t get her breathing to slow down, and her hands shook so badly that she was almost unable to flush the toilet.

She couldn’t hold still enough to rinse the taste out of her mouth. There had to be something that she could do. Maybe some tea would help.

Nightmares weren’t uncommon after everything that had happened, but she couldn’t remember the last time one of them felt so real. Like she was actually dying.

Since making tea was the only idea she could think of, Annie made her way to the kitchen, holding onto the walls to make sure she wouldn’t fall over. How could she not get herself to do some of the most basic things? Maybe, if she just kept forcing herself to try and do something for once, she would calm down.

Except, the more she kept trying to force herself, the more she kept shaking. Annie looked through the cabinets. Surely there was some kind of tea in one of them. It took looking through the cabinets and knocking some of the thing off the shelves before she found something that she was pretty sure was tea. Only, tears kept clouding her vision and she could barely see what she was doing because every time she blinked, she felt more and more tears falling down her face.

Then, she went to get the tea kettle and once she let go of the counter, her legs started to buckle. Annie felt a sob come from her as she hit the cold floor. Maybe if she just pushed herself up she could keep going. The thing was, she didn’t want to get up. She couldn’t bring herself to stand up.

“Hey, Annie?”

She looked up to see Peter, his eyes wide. He sat next to her and he slowly wrapped an arm around her.

“Hey, are you alright?” he asked, turning her face to meet his.

Annie shook her head, sobbing. She was quick to cling to him and buried her face into his chest. It still felt like she could just barely breathe.

“I-I-I-I c-ca-can’t breathe,” she stuttered between short gasps.

Peter frowned, holding her close, “It’s okay, you need to slow down before you pass out, okay? You’re okay, nothing’s happening right now.”

“B-b-b-but th-the fi-fire.”

“What fire? Oh… no, there’s no fire here, you’re safe, alright? I’ve got you, I’m holding you. And I’m gonna help you get up, okay? Do you want me to carry you?” Peter asked, keeping his voice soft and low.

Annie nodded, wrapping her arms around his neck. Peter then picked her up, taking her over to where the couch was. He set her down and sat next to her and ran his hands through her hair as she cried, helping her to stop hyperventilating.

“I-I know it wasn’t real… but, dammit, it was so real. I-I-I couldn’t move and then the building collapsed from under me,” she started, shaking her head, avoiding looking at Peter.

“It’s okay, I um… I heard the toilet flush… a-and I kinda couldn’t sleep again, and I heard you crying… Annie, you need to do something about this.”

“This isn’t the type of thing that happens, though. This isn’t normal.”

“Which is why you need to do something, maybe you could talk to Mr. Stark or something.”

“Or, crazy idea, I can just fix this myself. I-it won’t happen again.”

“If you don’t tell someone, I will.”

“Peter you-”

“This may not be something that happens, but I know you need some type of help. I don’t want you to get hurt and I don’t like seeing you like this.”

Annie took a deep breath and nodded, “Okay, fine, I’ll talk about it tomorrow.”

“Good,” Peter said, pressing a kiss to her forehead.

Neither of them said very much after that. As much as Annie still didn’t want to tell anyone about what was going on, she knew Peter was right. What was more, she knew the others would have said the same thing.

Peter was the first one to start nodding off again, quickly waking up again, “Maybe we should get back to sleep.”

“Do you think we could maybe just stay here?” Annie asked.

He nodded, “Yeah, sure.”

They positioned themselves so they were both lying on the couch, holding each other. Annie’s head rested on his chest, laying there for some time before she finally went back to sleep.

Chapter Text

Light started to leak into the room, slowly causing Annie to wake up. She started to move herself only for Peter to pull her closer.

“You should stay,” he murmured softly.

Annie smiled a little, “M’kay, but we have to get up soon.”

“Nah, just stay asleep,” Peter mumbled, pressing a kiss to her forehead.

She laughed a little bit, resting her head in the crook of his neck, “If you say so.”

It didn’t take much convincing to get Annie to stay laying down on the couch with Peter. They were a tangle of arms and legs after both of them shifting around during the night. Peter was playing with Annie’s hair gently, only to end up getting his hand caught in the tangles.

“Sorry, I um… oh jeez, I’m so sorry,” Peter said, trying to get his hand out.

Annie giggled, “It’s fine, and you’re really pretty.”

“Yeah?”

“Yep,” she replied, kissing him on the cheek.

She didn’t have a hard time getting lost in Peter’s eyes. The light was reflecting off of them, making his eyes look like they were glowing with the golden rays of sunlight. He smiled softly, and Annie still couldn’t believe that they were together. Sure, it was just them trying to be together, but she couldn’t imagine not being with him. His eyes kept darting from her own to her lips and then back to her eyes and she found herself doing the same thing. Annie quickly pressed her lips to his.

Both of them jumped when they heard a click and looked up to see Harper and Ned standing with Peter’s polaroid. The other teens looked like they were doing their best to not burst out into laughter.

“You guys are so cute!” Ned exclaimed.

Harper smirked, “I told you that this was gonna happen at some point. You owe me some ice cream, my dude.”

“Wh-what? I-I don’t think this is what it looks like,” Peter stammered, his face starting to get red.

Annie sat up, “I think it’s exactly what it looks like.”

“You guys stayed up really late,” Harper said, “And you guys were doing some romantic beautiful stuff, and you fell asleep in the care of each other’s arms… or something like that. Point is, we caught you red handed and we now have a picture of you two being so damn cute.”

“Actually it was a midnight mental breakdown, but same difference,” Annie deadpanned.

Harper looked at Annie, “You’re joking, right? That’s supposed to be a joke, yeah?”

“No, I found her while she was having this huge panic attack, but I mean, it got taken care of… that didn’t make it sound much better, did it?” Peter said, sighing.

Annie shook her head, “I know, it’s not great, but I’m gonna talk about some mental help or whatever. I mean, we all know this is because of the Tina deal and the dude I killed.”

“Who killed a dude?” Tony asked, walking in, “You’re all actually up, what happened?”

Pepper sighed, “There doesn’t have to be something happening for them to all be up right now.”

“Um they’re literally talking about murder, something’s happening that I don’t think we were supposed to hear. But oh well, what’s going on?” Tony questioned, looking at the teens.

Annie grimaced, “Great, I didn’t think I’d have to do this in front of everyone. But we all know I killed someone on accident, and that’s kinda wearing on me on top of everything else… so I kinda wanna maybe possibly eventually, if it’s not too much trouble, look around at some options for me as far as therapy goes?”

“Yes, we can definitely look at some options, we can talk about it after breakfast,” Pepper offered.

Peter had an arm around Annie, “See, that wasn’t too hard, was it?”

“Shut up,” Annie muttered, leaning against him.

“Hey, no PDA in this house. I don’t need any weird mutant babies when we get back,” Tony said, looking at them.

Peter tilted his head, “I don’t think that’s possible, Mr. Stark.”

“Yeah… um… you kinda need… well, I don’t wanna give a sex ed lesson to a grown man-”

“I’m just giving you two shit, go get something to eat and then go ahead and talk to Pepper. Pete, I think I figured out something that might solve our problem earlier,” Tony said before leaving.

Even though Annie knew it was right, and it was her only real option at this point, she wasn’t sure if she wanted to go and talk to Pepper about everything that had happened. What if all that happened was that she’d have to tell her parents? Wasn’t that the only way she could get any real kind of help? Annie knew that the minute she told her parents about everything, it was over. There was no way that either of them would keep everything a secret. That and she could kiss her chances of being a superhero goodbye. She wouldn’t be able to make up for her mistakes, and she wouldn’t be able to help defeat Carnival.

At the same time, she wouldn’t have to lie about going all the way across the country if they were going to tell her parents at the first sign of trouble. Then again, there were other things she could use as an excuse for a therapist. Lying parents, previous eating disorders, stress of losing someone who had still been her friend, there were options for her.

Maybe she needed more help than she was caring to admit in that moment.

After breakfast, Annie walked to the other cabin. It was sunny outside and she could still smell the pines everywhere. The air was so clean that she couldn’t imagine going back to New York without feeling like she was choking on smog.

She walked in, closing the door gently behind her. It wasn’t hard to find Pepper since she was sitting on a computer. Annie cleared her throat before tucking some of her hair behind her ear.

“Oh, so sorry, Annie, I was just taking care of some work,” Pepper replied, turning around.

Annie shrugged, “It’s no biggie, if you um… if you need me to wait a minute, I can just chill here or come back later.”

“No, you don’t need to do that. I can take care of this stuff later. So, where do you want to start?” Pepper asked, turning back to make sure the computer was closed down.

Annie frowned, “Well, you see, I want help for the… well, is it bad if I say everything? But I don’t want my parents to know or anything. Like, the thought of them knowing I killed a guy or that I was trapped in a burning building is a bit too much. Hell, I don’t even want them knowing I have powers.”

“You can say everything, I don’t know everything you’ve gone through, but I’ve heard some things. And just hearing you talk about certain things is enough to tell me that getting you some kind of help is a good option. Of course, I wasn’t about to force you to get anything that you didn’t want to, but now that you’ve come to me, we can look at some options,” Pepper said, looking at Annie.

“What sorts of options?”

“We can get you therapy, and we can work around things based off of what your parents already know. So, what issues do they have an idea about already?”

Annie rocked back and forth before starting to pace, “Um… it was years ago, but I used to have anorexia, well, most likely. That’s another can of worms… but they know that when Tina died, she was my friend. They’re having a ton of relationship problems. That’s enough to see a therapist too, right? I mean, if you’ve heard them go off with each other, I’d say they need some sessions too. And then… oh! My ex killed himself last summer, that’s not a fun thing to deal with.”

“Oh, that’s quite a lot to deal with in the first place… see, if they consent to it, I can find you a confidential psychiatrist who wouldn’t tell about your identity and you would be able to trust. I’ve been trying to get Tony to go see her because she’s a genius, honestly, but that’s not the point.”

“Wait, so I still have to wait for them to agree? I mean, that’s cool that I could probably get them to agree, but I’m not sure it looks that great travelling this far and then calling my mom and being like, ‘Hey, can I get a shrink? I’m kinda going crazy’... that’s not gonna go over super well.”

Pepper nodded, “I know that, see, there’s already a lot they don’t know about. Honestly, this kind of lying is almost illegal, but I know why Tony wants to do this. And I feel like this is the perfect time to do it. We can start with some trial sessions over Skype. From there, we can figure out if you like that form of therapy or not.”

“So we’re just gonna act like I’m not seeing anyone until I get home?” Annie questioned.

“Yes, do you think you can convince your parents to see someone when you get back?”

“Oh yeah, at this point I could probably ask to go halfway across the world and one of my parents would agree. And when one of them agrees, I just go with their decision. That’s the only good thing about having parents that can’t stand each other anymore,” she said, shrugging.

Pepper frowned a little, “I know that it’s not exactly my place, but how is your family life?”

“Oh jeez… it’s rough, honestly. The only reason my parents haven’t figured out I’m a superhero is because when I was getting the hang of it, they were cheating on each other. So they moved to try and solve it. And it turns out that even when they’re not cheating it just doesn’t work. Which sucks, like, I’m adopted for Christ’s sake! Adoptive parents are supposed to be prepared and literally can’t be more planned. I’d get it if I were an oopsie baby, but I’m not,” Annie paused, plopping herself into a chair, “Sorry, you probably didn’t want a sob story.”

The woman shook her head, “No, you’re more than fine. You need someone to talk to about this sort of thing. Someone who can actually help you. I get it, kind of. My parents never divorced, but they were miserable the whole time. It feels like it’s your fault, doesn’t it?”

“Everything feels like it’s my fault, actually.”

“It’s not. You’re a teenager and you’ve just made a few mistakes. That’s fine, they’re being fixed. And some of those mistakes were going to happen regardless. A lot of those things are completely out of your control, and you’re better off knowing that it’s not all on you.”

“You really think that?”

“I know that, Annie, and it’s pretty clear to me that you want to get better,” Pepper insisted.

Annie shook her head, “I only said anything because Peter said that he would do something if I didn’t.”

“But the point is that you chose to take that into your hands. You’re responsible for yourself, and that’s going to make things easier for you later on, trust me.”

They both sat in silence for a while. Annie had never talked to Pepper much before. Then again, she had only known Pepper for around a week or so, but she hadn’t expected to find someone that so clearly believed in her. It was almost like having another mom, one that wasn’t constantly gone for work.

Pepper smiled a bit, “So, do you wanna set up an appointment?”

“Yeah, let’s do that. The guys are probably waiting for me to go and help them with some weird web fluid thing,” Annie agreed.

“Alright, then let’s get this figured out.”

It didn’t take much time to reach the psychiatrist. Doctor Stevenson sounded like she was almost excited to hear from Annie. Why in the world someone would be excited about her sob story was beyond her. Maybe the lady really wanted to help her. Or she wanted to hear about her powers. Either way, Annie had an appointment in a few days and she would figure out if she liked talking through her problems or not.

When she left to go help Peter and Tony, she paused at the door, “Um… Miss Potts-”

“Call me Pepper.”

“Okay, um… thanks, I’ve never really tried to fix this sort of thing before, and I have no clue what I’m doing. Just thank you for helping.”

Pepper smiled, “It’s no trouble. If you need anyone to talk to, you can stop by at any time.”

Annie left the cabin smiling, and she went down to the workshop. Hopefully the guys had something figured out while she had been gone. Though, something told her that if anything was going to defeat Carnival, they were going to need a little bit more than the right web fluid.

But that was something to worry about in a couple months.

Chapter Text

It was easier said than done to come up with the proper web formula for Peter. Even with one of the biggest tech geniuses in the world, they were getting nowhere. Not that it surprised Annie, she had never been a genius when it came to science. Naturally, getting anything that would be somewhat helpful was nearly impossible.

Nearly.

“Come on, there has to be something that if she tried to push it apart, it would either not budge or would make things worse,” Tony said, starting to pace around the room.

Peter nodded, “Yeah, I know. It has to be something super weird and high tech though.”

“Why? I mean, can’t it be something so stupidly simple that you guys are overlooking it?” Annie asked, looking between the both of them before spinning around in an office chair for the umpteenth time that day.

Tony rolled his eyes, “You really think that I haven’t already thought of some pretty basic stuff? I’m an expert on this, and we have multiple people thinking about this.”

“Yeah, but even with two people who know a lot, we have nothing,” she pointed out.

Peter sighed, “Then do you have any ideas? They’re your powers, you should know what you’re limited to.”

“I know that if I shock an electrical socket that it causes a fire… you guys have to realize I’m not that smart when it comes to this stuff. I just run around and blast stuff all day. If you could drain all the energy out of the universe, then maybe that would do it,” she said, running a hand through her hair.

Peter paused, “What if the webbing just absorbed energy? No one would get hurt, but the energy would just keep being absorbed and it would be a trap.”

“But that sounds way too complicated. Do you have a formula for something like that?” Annie questioned.

Tony stopped walking, “We would figure it out. We might be on borrowed time, but we can sort this sort of thing out.”

“I don’t know… that seems too difficult. Like, I feel like it needs to be something that would do more than trap and that it could have a simpler concept than an ever-absorbing web fluid,” she replied, crossing her arms.

“Well then what do you think? You haven’t offered a single suggestion this whole time,” Tony said.

Annie huffed, “That’s what I’ve been thinking about. I mean, it’s kinda on the tip of my tongue… like, what if it’s something like… oh I got it!”

“What is it?” asked Peter.

Annie stood up and looked at them, “Okay, so, Peter, you remember environmental science when we were going through that one unit with the minerals in the ground and attraction and all that stuff, right?”

“Um… yeah, the geology one?”

“Yeah, that’s the word! Okay, and I’m gonna focus on that attraction thing for a hot minute. So you have magnets and they basically stay together because they’re attracted to each other, right?”

“Yeah…”

“Exactly, so when people started making bombs and Mr. Jackson got off track that one time and he told us that it wasn’t splitting things apart that caused the explosion, but it was the particles coming back together that did it.”

Tony nodded slowly, “Where were you going with this?”

“That’s what I’m getting to! If we make a magnetic web fluid and I tried to blast it, it would split apart only to come back together harder and then backfire, right?”

Peter’s eyes widened before rushing to Annie and picking her up, “Ann, that’s brilliant! This is… this is a great idea! We just gotta make it small and it’ll work great, right Mr. Stark?”

“It’s the only real idea we have, so it’s worth a try. I think it’ll work, though. That’s actually a good idea,” Tony agreed.

Peter kissed her on the forehead, “It’s a great idea, actually. He’s just a little surprised that you said something.”

“Hey, I can say some smart stuff every once in a while, give me a little credit,” Annie smirked.

Tony chuckled, “Just watch the PDA you two. Still don’t want any weird mutant babies running around when we get back to New York.”

“Yeah, ‘cause that’s totally possible,” Peter responded, rolling his eyes before setting Annie back down on the chair.

Aside from spending time with Peter and Tony while trying to work out what to do about Carnival, she had also been trying to figure out how she felt about having to see someone. It was something that she knew was supposed to be good. Obviously, she didn’t like having breakdowns or not being able to sleep, but she also didn’t like bringing it up too often.

She would end up talking about things that had already happened. Things that she felt like she should have been over by then. It was obvious that the world hadn’t ended. People weren’t out for her head and no one said anything about her superhero alter-ego being the cause of destruction or murder any longer.

It was something that shouldn’t have been bothering her. At the same time, what if getting help made her forget about all the things that happened? Annie couldn’t afford to forget about people like Greg or Tina. She wanted to move on, but some of the things that happened were things she needed to remember so she wouldn’t make the same mistakes. If she was going to do anything idiotic or impulsive, it needed to be in a new way. That way, she was at least showing that she was trying to improve herself. Though, it still felt like that was easier said than done.

Then there was the nagging feeling that the therapist lady was just going to tell someone exactly who she was. That she was going to get turned into the authorities and then she would be inevitably screwed over and then ruined. All because she couldn’t control her emotions for a few weeks.

Needless to say, Annie was starting to wish that she hadn’t said anything in the first place and that she could just go on with her day. Maybe she could just say that she wasn’t feeling too great and that she would just reschedule the appointment. That was still an option, wasn’t it?

However, it was starting to become clear during lunch that there was no way she would be able to get out of it. Which, Annie knew was a good thing, but she couldn’t help her hesitation. There were so many risks that she wasn’t so sure about taking. At the same time, no one there would make her do something if it was going to be too risky.

“Hey, Annie, you ready for your appointment?” Pepper asked once everyone was nearly done eating.

Annie shrugged, “I mean, I guess, I don’t really know.”

“It’s almost like you need a therapist because of your therapist already,” Harper noted, “But you need that.”

“I know, but… I just don’t talk to many people about this sort of thing. Thinking about it feels weird,” she explained.

Harper shrugged, “Yeah, well, it’ll feel less weird if you just go ahead and do it, you know?”

“They’re probably right,” Peter added, “You need this sort of thing, and I mean, you won’t really know about how this is gonna be until you try it.”

“Yeah, but that doesn’t make it less… I don’t know, weird, I guess? I don’t even know this lady, and I know that’s supposed to make things less biased or whatever, but it still feels weird? But we’ll see,” Annie said, sighing.

Still, despite her worries, she was right in front of a computer about to have a skype appointment. Maybe that was what really made things feel weird. When she thought about therapy, she always thought of a couch that she could lay down across and blabber about all her problems for an hour or so.

Instead, she sat at the dining room table in her cabin, knowing that she was not going to have the stereotypical therapy experience. Then again, what had she expected in the first place?

Just as her thoughts were starting to wander, she saw another face at the screen, “Hello, are you Annika Hardwick?”

“Um yeah, just call me Annie… and you’re um… sorry, it kinda slipped my mind.”

“Doctor Stevenson, but you can call me Hannah,” the woman replied.

Hannah looked like she was middle aged and good-natured. At least, she looked like she was a mom to a couple of kids or something of that nature. And Annie could already tell that she was reading into this just a little bit too much. Hopefully that wouldn’t mean that she was starting things off awkwardly.

Annie took a deep breath, “So um… I’ve never done anything like this before, I mean, I guess that’s kinda obvious, but… yeah, what do I talk about?”

“Well, I don’t want to make you talk about anything you’re uncomfortable with just yet. So, just tell me about yourself. Your basic life, no need to get into anything too gritty unless you want to,” she explained.

Annie nodded slowly, “Okay, well, I’m mainly a theater geek. Like, I love musicals and stuff a lot, and I’d say I’m pretty good at acting or whatever. I mean, I’m not going to Broadway right after high school, but I don’t suck either… you know?”

“It sounds like you’re really passionate about it. What else is there?”

“Well, let’s see… I have powers, I’m not totally sure where they came from, but I was a test tube baby so that’s probably part of it. I mean, I don’t know if you already knew about that or not, but I’m actually a superhero. Which, I mean, that’s normally pretty cool. Saving people’s good for the dopamine and whatnot, right?”

Dr. Stevenson nodded, “That would be correct, what do your relationships look like?”

“Oh, I have my best friend, Harper. They’re really cool and they make clothes for fun and wanna be a fashion designer later on. And then there’s my boyfriend, Peter. At least, I’m almost positive we’re official? Either way, he’s really sweet and helpful. You know, one of those people you just can’t help liking. And then there’s Ned, and he’s really awesome. Super geeky, but also really funny. We’re pretty close too. Actually, they’ve all been helpful with all the stuff that’s been going down.”

“So those are the people you’re not related to, what does your relationship with your parents look like?”

Annie pursed her lips, “Can I be super blunt about them?”

“Of course, they’re not here and I want to understand you so we can work together.”

“Okay, well then, for starters, my dad can choke. He’s an asshole, excuse my language, but it’s true. All he’s done is lie to me to justify his hypocritical behavior. So, we’re not on great terms at the moment, and I don’t care to fix it at the moment, honestly. And then there’s my mom, she’s a weird case. On one hand, she’s not the best by any means, but she’s better than my dad. So I mean, if they split up, which I’d bet money that they’re gonna do that before I graduate, I’d rather move in with my mom. Plus, she makes more money anyways,” Annie replied, running a hand through her hair.

Dr. Stevenson nodded slowly, “It sounds like things are tense at home, do they know you’re a superhero?”

“Oh, no! If that happened, I would be so screwed. Because then they’d end up finding out I committed arson twice, killed a dude, and was possibly in some weird way responsible for my ex’s death? But that’s a story for another session,” she said with a weak laugh.

It continued like that for some time. Annie would explain a chunk of her life while Dr. Stevenson appeared to understand and then would ask another question about the basics of her life. Sometimes it got a little bit off-track, but that didn’t truly matter. At least, it didn’t matter to Annie. There was plenty of time to get better.

“So, our session is nearly over, but I think that I have an idea for how to proceed with treatment,” Dr. Stevenson told her.

Annie blinked, “Um… alrighty, what is it? You’re not gonna make me take a bunch of pills or something, are you?”

“No, not at all. Actually, I want to try a different form of therapy. Have you ever heard of drama therapy?”

She shook her head, “Nope, but it sounds kinda self-explanatory. I just act my way through my problems, right?”

“Yes and no. It would end up looking more like roleplaying to help you think through coping mechanisms as well as solutions to your problems. And I’ve never tried this before, but I feel like this would be the most interactive plan that you would enjoy.”

Annie thought for a moment, “You know what? I think you’re right.”

Maybe therapy wasn’t going to be as painful as she thought it was going to be.

Chapter Text

“Wait you wanna what now?” Ned asked, raising an eyebrow at Harper.

Harper sighed, “Okay, I’m just saying it would be super fun to pull an all-nighter with everyone.”

“But we’ve already been having a huge long-term sleepover, why do we need to stay up all night?” he shook his head.

Harper pursed their lips, “It boosts morale, and I barely know you and Peter. And you two barely know me. The only one who would probably not be surprised by all our shenanigans would be Annie.”

“Don’t overestimate me,” Annie piped up, stirring her lemonade with a straw, “Besides, it would be super fun!”
Peter chuckled, “You’re just saying that ‘cause you already pull all-nighters.”

“Actually, I’ve been sleeping a little bit more lately, not a whole lot, but it’s better,” she said, shrugging.

Harper nodded, “See? We already have one person who’s just gonna be up regardless. And it’s sounding like Peter’s game. So, Ned, what’re you gonna do?”

“Okay, fine, but shouldn’t this just happen naturally?”

“Maybe, but I don’t think any of us would do this very well naturally. No offense,” Harper replied.

“So, how’s it starting?”

Harper looked around the small kitchen, biting their lip in thought, “We could have a fire and roast marshmallows for a few hours.”

“No!” Annie exclaimed, “S-sorry, I just… I don’t do too well around smoke at the moment. I wouldn’t wanna screw everything up.”

Peter reached over, holding her hand, “Hey, it’s okay. We just won’t do that, we can do a lot of other stuff.”

“Exactly, that was just me pulling something out of my ass. No one said I had great ideas in the first place,” Harper pointed out with a small laugh, “We could watch some movies or something.”

“We could try to make some snacks too, make them s’mores themed or something,” Ned suggested.

Harper nodded, “Yeah! That’s brilliant, see, I should have you do the planning and stuff.”

“I mean, the real goal is to just stay up all night, right?” Peter asked, “That’s easy enough, Mr. Stark’s giving us all of tomorrow off.”

“Well, I’d hope so, I think if we work on that webbing fluid any longer I’m gonna bash my head into a wall,” Annie claimed, taking a sip of her drink.

Harper grinned, “Can’t say the same, the new suit’s coming along great. And I have Ned working on another possible idea, but it’s a little bit different than the original ideas.”

“It’s been awesome, I’ve also been working on an AI because Peter has one. It’s just a matter of making it compatible, which is a piece of cake,” Ned explained.

Over the couple of weeks they had been in the middle of the woods, so much had gotten done. Yet, there was also so much that still needed to be looked at. There was also the fact that Annie didn’t want to leave. Everything was so easy and calm. If something got to be too much for her, she had the time to work through it.

Still, that didn’t mean things were perfect. Annie was still petrified by the smell of smoke, and she still hadn’t quite explained what happened in that burning building in the first place. Quite frankly, she didn’t see a point in reliving it.

Except, her subconscious still loved to bring it up. Two therapy sessions didn’t fix all her problems. Not that Annie had expected such a miracle to happen. Though, she did figure out how to stop herself from throwing up and nearly passing out.

Breathing exercises were more helpful than she thought they were going to be. Actually, she ended up enjoying therapy more than she had originally counted on. It wasn’t like it was the highlight of her day or anything, but she didn’t hate it. In reality, it was her chance to realize whether or not her problems were that bad.

Much to her surprise, they sort of were.

“Anywho, aside from the suit, I’ve also just been noodling around with some new designs in general. You know, just some fun portfolio stuff. I doubt you’d wear anything like this to school. I mean, I would, but no one can really match my energy,” Harper added, passing Annie their sketchbook.

Annie took it, looking through the wildly colored suits and ball gowns, “This is awesome! I think I’d wear one of those dresses to a dance or something.”

“You serious? Yo, Peter, would you wear one of the matching suits?”

Peter looked over Annie’s shoulder and shrugged, “I mean, I think so, I just… I don’t know, I don’t really like sticking out too much.”

“Okay, Peter, but you’re literally Spider-Man! One of the coolest dudes on the planet!” Ned exclaimed, “If you won’t wear one, I definitely will.”

Harper grinned, “Really?”

“Yeah, I’ve been watching you sketch them out, they’re fucking awesome!” Ned responded, “You should just make a cool hat to go with one of those and it would be, like, ten times cooler.”

“Oh jeez, I’ve been trying to figure out hats, but they haven’t been super high on my priority list. But, there’s still time.”

Peter looked at Harper, “You know we need that suit as soon as possible, right?”

“You do know that I would drive myself crazy working on one project at a time, right?” Harper retorted, “And like I said, I’ve got a couple ideas up my sleeve there too.”

The four teens kept talking about what they were working on until Annie saw her phone light up with an email notification. It could have been anything from one of her parents to a coupon from the Hershey’s Store. Still, she was going to err on the cautious side and check it anyways.

It was from Ms. Salazar and she quickly opened it on her phone. Only for it to be followed by her standing up from her chair and jumping up and down.

“This is awesome! You guys will never guess what happened!” Annie exclaimed, beaming.

Peter bit his lip, thinking, “Um… you got into an acting school?”

“Nope. But it is related to acting.”

Harper smirked, “You’re such a noob at this, let the best friend try. It’s got something to do with a future production, doesn’t it?”

“We’re doing Rent ! Do you guys know how awesome that is?!” Annie asked, looking at the others.

Harper’s jaw dropped, “What do I have to do to be put in charge of costume design? Come on, I would make killer costumes and you know it!”

“I don’t know, but she did me a solid because I might have, maybe, possibly, blackmailed her before school got out? But it’s no biggie. I already know who I’m gonna audition for, but what about you guys?” Annie asked, looking at Ned and Peter.

Peter chuckled nervously, “I got enough of being in front of people. I think I could help publicize? Maybe, I mean, I really like working with cameras, actually.”

“If I don’t get a part this time, I’m gonna riot!” Ned exclaimed, “I wanna be Collins. His part’s awesome!”

Annie grinned, “That’s the spirit, my dude! I’m gonna audition for Mimi, and with this summer ahead of us, you can bet your ass I’m getting it.”

“Yeah, I saw the movie on Netflix when it was on there for, like, a month,” Ned explained.

Harper smirked, “Oh, you don’t even know all the good shit then. We gotta show him the actual full musical! It’s way better, trust me!”

“Yes! And we can get it totally legally, and it’ll be super awesome! Let’s do it tonight!” Annie suggested, smiling.

Peter shrugged, “I mean, I wanna see what character you’re gonna audition for. You’ll kill it though, you always do.”

“Oh shut it, you’ve only see me do one character where my main job was to fall for you. Which, I clearly didn’t have any trouble with.”

They didn’t have to do much convincing to get Tony to agree to letting all four teens stay in their cabin and have some pizza for the night. It was also easy enough to get a hold of the youtube video of the full-filmed version of Rent on Broadway.

Actually, Tony seemed more than happy to leave all of them so he could have a fancy dinner with Pepper. He claimed that it was just going to be boring adult stuff, but Annie could tell that those two were probably going to have a little bit too much fun. Especially with a day off planned for the next day. It was something that was none of her business, and she wasn’t about to make it her business either.

“Alrighty, who’s ready for one of the best musicals of all time?” asked Harper, “What? It’s fucking legendary, it covers AIDS, gay people, people who aren’t cis, and drug abuse. Larson was ahead of his time and his death is nothing short of an artistic tragedy.”

Annie sighed, nodding, “You’re right. Now let’s get this show on the road! We’ve got a ton of junk food that needs to be eaten and songs that need to be sung.”

“It’s always a sing-a-long with you, isn’t it?” Peter asked teasingly.

She quickly nodded, “Yep, glad you caught on, Babe.”

And it was definitely a sing-a-long. Not one where every pitch was hit perfectly, but one where there was a lot of energy. Especially with Harper and Annie getting into it, trying to pull off all the choreography.

Though, Ned got pretty into it at the parts he could remember well enough. Peter tried, but it was hard when he clearly didn’t know the lyrics. Annie had no trouble pretending like Peter was Roger. And it was all fun and games until the second act started.

“Maybe we could just call it good here,” Annie suggested, “Who needs to know how it ends anyways?”

Harper nodded, “I agree, I don’t wanna see the last part.”

“Oh, come on, how bad could it be?” Peter questioned, “I’ve never seen this before, it’ll be fun!”

Annie frowned, “You don’t know what you’re getting into here.”

“I mean, she’s not wrong,” Ned said.

Please ?” Peter pleaded, looking at Annie with his sweet brown eyes.

Annie glared at him, “You’re lucky you’re cute. Fine, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

Of course, as anyone who has seen Rent before knows, the second act was short, but also filled with nothing but tears. There wasn’t a whole lot of singing along aside from a killer rendition of “Take Me Or Leave Me” from Annie and Harper, something they had definitely worked on a long time before.

Instead, Annie and Peter were cuddled up to each other, crying. While Harper and Ned sat in front of the screen, crying and then eventually hugging each other.

“Oh, thank fuck, I thought she was gonna die,” Peter commented, breathing a sigh of relief.

Annie nodded, “Yep, but I’m still not over Angel dying. I’ve never gotten over that, honestly.”

“Yeah, me neither. It’s bull, but I get it, but it’s still bull,” Harper said, wiping tears from their eyes.

Ned smiled a bit, “Yep, that’s why I wanna be Collins because I can be sad for the rest of the musical and it’s totally normal!”

“Depends on who Angel is… oh! What if Flash is Angel?” Annie murmured, getting up to pace around, “No, that wouldn’t be a thing. He’s too… transphobic for that? Yeah, that’s the word.”

Ned shook his head, “No, Flash would drop if he got Angel… I think he’d be Benny. But, I do know that you’d kill it as Mimi.”

“She reminds me a lot of Tina,” Peter said softly, looking at the ground.

“Yeah… yeah, she does, doesn’t she? Not that that’s why I’d try out as her for that, I mean, that’d be silly. That’s totally not a coping strategy I’d use.”

Harper got up on the couch, putting an arm around Annie, “If you did, that’s okay too. You said you were gonna do some kind of drama therapy thing. That would play right into it, right?”

“Maybe? I don’t know… just, maybe it would get me over all this stuff, you know?”

Peter looked at her, “That’s good. You should at least try to see what you can do. And I doubt it would be a bad thing either way.”

“It’s the only thing I can really think of, you know?”

Ned shrugged, “Maybe if you talked about what happened with Tina, that could help, right?”

“Maybe… I don’t know, that would be like reliving it, wouldn’t it?”

Peter frowned, “No different than most nights, right?”

“I-I don’t know what you’re talking about. The worst of the nightmares are way behind me. I don’t wake up screaming. I-I’m not reliving anything and I don’t want to.”

Harper rolled their eyes, “You’re being full of shit, Annie. We all literally know that’s not true.”

“Okay, you guys really wanna know what happened? Fine. I’ll tell you exactly what happened. I went up into that apartment like a dumbass, right? Of course, you all know that-”

“Annie, you don’t need to-”

Annie cut off Peter, “No, clearly I do because none of you seem to get it, okay? Okay, where was I? Oh, right, Tina was trapped, you wanna know why? Because I convinced her to speak up and to testify against Dar- that awful man. And he got angry and him and some other guys were around. A-at least I think that was the case. Because he already knew what you were doing, Peter. Okay? That was fucking scary! And I thought it was just some normal shit where I’d block some bullets and get everyone out safe and sound. But he had… he had some kind of bullet that… it went right through whatever I put up. So I was scared, okay? I-I didn’t know what to do, so I blew up an electrical outlet, a-and I got thrown so hard I passed out.”

“Seriously, if you don’t wanna talk-”

“No. You’re all pushing me to do it, have been since the whole thing happened. You don’t get to chicken out just because it’s too much to handle! So, where was I? Oh, right, I passed out. When I came to, the building was burning, a-and Tina was there… she must’ve lost a lot of blood by then. I-I couldn’t tell, I was just trying to get us out, but the building was collapsing and I couldn’t breathe. B-but I had to get her out. So I tried anyways. B-but it was too late and she was dead before I got her out. So forgive me for not being able to get over it. Forgive me for trying to keep you guys from all the shit I’ve been going through. Y-you know what, fuck it! I’ve been having all kinds of nightmares about it. I-I hate going to sleep because I can’t stop them. A-and I would keep throwing up and having panic attacks. Sorry for not being able to handle some of the shit I’ve been through.”

Annie held her face in her hands, trying to keep herself from crying. When she felt Peter reaching to pull her in, she put up a barrier to keep anyone from touching her.

Peter frowned, “Hey, you’re right… I don’t understand. But I can try to. I mean, y-you know about the whole deal with almost being crushed by a building, and my uncle… it takes time to get through. Even then, you don’t really get over it, but you try to.”

“It’s been awhile, but I kinda get it. At least, that whole feeling of being alone,” Harper started.

Annie looked at Harper, “Is this about your parents sucking?”

“Well, more about them literally not giving a shit about me. Remember the Stark Expo? Well, my parents are super rich, so we went. We went a lot, actually. And of all the days we could’ve gone. We went on that one night when all hell broke loose. So… I freaked because before I could figure out something was happening, my parents ran off. Scared of dying I guess… well, so am I. This one family picked me up in the middle of it. I never figured out who they were, but I remember the kid had an Iron Man mask on,” they finished, tears brimming in their eyes.

Peter’s jaw dropped, “I think that was my aunt and uncle! You had longer hair.”

“Holy shit, really?!” Harper exclaimed, smiling a bit.

He nodded, “Y-yeah, I think so!”

Ned looked up and the others, “I don’t know if this really fits, but my dad was abusive… it was a long time ago, so I don’t remember much of it. But sometimes I get really anxious at weird things and I wonder if it had to do with him. My mom won’t talk about him at all, which is probably for the best, but it really makes me think sometimes.”

Annie got rid of the barrier, tears streaming down her face as she found herself in the middle of a group hug. It felt like a wave of pressure was lifted from her shoulders.

“Sorry, I-I shouldn’t have snapped like that… just… sorry,” Annie murmured.

Harper chuckled, “It’d take a lot more than that to get rid of any of us. You’re good, I think we all kinda needed this.”

Chapter Text

“I can’t believe it took us a whole month to talk Mr. Iron Dad over here to let us get ice cream,” Harper said with a light smirk.

Tony sighed, “You better watch it, we can go back home still.”

“Oh, come on, Mr. Stark! We’ve been doing nothing but working hard all this time, we need a break," Peter insisted as his eyes darted over to the pickup for ice cream.

Annie nodded eagerly, "I agree. Besides, the fluid is coming along great and my suit's nearly ready so I'm not wearing an over-glorified jumpsuit anymore."

"Hey! It was a good over-glorified jumpsuit that got you a long ways," Harper defended, waving her ice cream cone like a weapon.

Annie grinned, "Oh, I know. Just imagine how powerful I'll be with a decent suit... you know, I think that I could totally out-do Spider-Man if given half the chance."

"Yeah, right. In your dreams. I've been web-slinging around New York for way longer than you."

"And I've been a superhero for longer. Your point?" Annie asked, licking her ice cream.

Pepper shook her head slightly, "I'm just so proud of you guys. I never doubted any of you, but I always thought that it was insane you were all working so hard on something like this."

"It's because they're super cool heroes. Come on, they're basically Avengers!" Ned exclaimed.

Tony shushed them, "Could you guys keep your voices down? You know, it would be great to get you guys all hiding out across the country only for your identities to be revealed because you feel the need to yell out everything."

"Oh, calm down, we're only having fun. Besides, why isn't the Avengers dealing with this sort of thing? I mean, a big monster dude who probably wants people dead and can do so by mimicking powers seems like your kind of job. Just putting it out there," Annie claimed with a small shrug.

Tony sighed, "The Avengers are kind of complicated at the moment."

"You mean that you guys all broke up because of those Accords."

"That's not what I said."

"It's what you meant. I may just be some theater kid, but I'm not an idiot."

"Never said you were."

"Then admit it! You guys broke up because you couldn't agree over some pieces of paper that technically make what we're doing illegal. That's the real reason the Avengers aren't taking care of this. Because it's not a well-known enough threat for you guys to get the government on our side. This all has to be secret because it's so illegal," Annie responded, sighing.

Tony rolled his eyes, "Fine, it's illegal."

"I mean, let's be real here, legality isn't really morality," Harper pointed out.

Everyone looked at them, seeming a little surprised at Harper's input.

"What? I took a legal class for an elective one year. It was fun! I know how to get away with murder!"

Annie smirked, "That sounds more like you."

"And I wanted to see if I could change my parents' inheritance."

Ned tilted his head, "I thought you said that you didn't want any of their money."

"I don't! Trust me, it's not worth it. But it might be worth my other family members getting some money. Just, I don't want it going to that damn lizard!"

Annie nodded, "Yeah, that's fair enough. That lizard's a really weird thing to invest money into anyways."

"If you called it a lizard to their faces, they'd only say that it was a priceless heirloom of sorts and that it isn't a real lizard."

Annie sighed a little bit, "I still think it's complete bull that people are allowed to do that with money in the first place."

"Oh I know! People like them shouldn't even be allowed to have money, but here we are I guess," Harper said, taking another lick of their chocolate ice cream.

Peter sighed, "You know, it's taking them a while to get that ice cream..."

"Well, some of us didn't order the freaking suicide sundae thing that they have here," Annie pointed out teasingly.

Ned pouted, "Hey! We're sharing it and it's gonna be freaking great. You're just jealous that you didn't think to join in on our ice cream escapade."

"Actually, I'm relieved. I just wanted my cotton candy ice cream and that's what I got," Annie claimed.

Peter shook his head, "I don't know how you can eat that. It's like diabetes in a cone!"

"Because a ten scoop sundae has way less sugar than a cone."

Peter huffed, "I have a killer metabolism. And I have Ned on my side. We're gonna kill it and you're probably not even gonna finish your ice cream."

"That's a total lie!"

"Bet!"

"Fine, what happens if I win?"

"Um... I don't know. But I know that if I win, you have to kiss me?" Peter offered.

"Okay... now you're making me start to root for you," Annie replied with a wink.

Harper scoffed, "You two are so disgusting with your PDA and constant flirting! I think we should just let those two go out on a date on their own already. Just so I don't have to deal with this."

"Agreed, it's even worse than when they first started liking each other. It's so cute i think I could throw up from it," Ned said.

The teens ended up laughing, and that was when they saw the large sundae Peter and Ned were going to try to eat. It was several scoops and those scoops were enormous in and of themselves. They all looked at the ice cream with wide eyes.

"Well, I was rooting for you. Until I saw you guys got the Godzilla of sundaes. Good luck," Annie said, eyeing the ice cream.

Ned grinned, "Come on, Peter, we've totally got this! We'll show them for sure."

"Yeah, maybe you won't get a kiss if I win," Peter remarked.

"Oh, you're being full of it, Spidey!"

Tony shushed them again, "Remember what I said about not revealing identities?"

"Come on, Mr. Stark, no one's listening. You're just being paranoid about it. We're gonna be fine. Everyone's thinking Spider-Man's just on some sort of summer holiday or something probably. But I doubt anyone thinks he's here," Peter assured.

Annie and Harper went back to talking about Seattle, which mostly entailed Harper complaining about their parents and how everything had been going downhill ever since Harper had insisted on going to NYU for college.

"It's like they don't even think fashion design's a real major!" Harper exclaimed.

Annie shrugged, "I mean, some people don't think musical theatre is a real major either."

“Well, be realistic, is it a real major?” Tony asked.

Annie blinked, “It is.”

“How is it useful?”

“The skills you get from acting and a good stage presence are actually really beneficial. Not all of us want to be lawyers and professors. Some of us wanna win Best Actress at the Tony Awards after getting a Bachelor’s from Julliard.”

Pepper grinned, “You know what? I think that’s a good plan. Do you enjoy acting?”

“Yeah, it’s kind of my thing. You know, everyone has something they’re super good at. Like Harper has fashion, Stark’s got the whole leading superheroes thing, you have being a phenomenal CEO down to an art, Ned is a freaking wiz at random trivia facts which is beautiful, Peter is a science genius, and I have my acting,” Annie explained.

Peter beamed, “You think I’m a genius?”

“Well, yeah… hey, don’t look too cocky or I’ll take it back,” she said with a huff.

After a lot of talking and eating ice cream, there was still a few scoops of ice cream leftover from the sundae. Not wanting to waste any perfectly good ice cream, they decided to get to-go cups. It left Harper and Tony questioning what in the world the others were thinking.

"Oh come on, you and I both know that you'll be grateful once it's midnight and you're starving and you can just binge eat some ice cream," Annie pointed out, nudging her friend.

Harper sighed, "Okay, fine, I'll take it, but I'm not sure how accurate that is."

"Okay, you're just not used to not having your parents and everyone else around. You'll understand later," she said.

Once they were back at the cabins, Tony pulled Annie to the side.

"Hey, can I talk to you for a minute?" Tony asked.

Annie shrugged, "Depends. What're we talking about and is it gonna actually be a minute?"

"I think it's pretty important. And it might take more than a minute," Tony admitted.

She sighed, "Okay, what is it?"

Annie leaned against an evergreen tree, looking at Tony. What in the world he was about to talk to her about seemed to be wearing on him for around an hour. He looked like he was ready to start pacing back and forth for the next day.

"Do you know who your biological parents are?"

"No... why?"

"Have you ever been curious about it?"

"Um I guess. I mean, wouldn't anyone be? My current parents all that great. I don't really expect any better from parents who let me be experimented on, but I guess I think about it now and then. But again, why?" Annie asked, frowning.

Tony ran a hand through his hair, "Okay, this might be a little bit much. And keep in mind I may be totally wrong about this. You see, I was in Brazil around sixteen or seventeen years before. I might have fooled around. At the time I was a lot more thoughtless than I am now. And-"

"You think you're my biological dad, don't you?"

Tony nodded, pursing his lips together.

Annie sighed, "Okay, this is definitely a lot to process. But you might not even be my real dad. It's, like, a one in a million shot, right? But... if I think about it, we have similar hair colors and eye colors. But dark brown is such a common color too! It's totally impossible. Come on, Stark, be real here."

"But it could also be very possible. Don't tell me you haven't thought about it before."

"Okay, I've definitely thought about it before, but in all fairness I look at many adults that bear any kind of potential resemblance to me and look at them. And I can't help but wonder. You know better than to think that this would happen."

"But it's likely. And it's not totally beyond the realm of possibility, you do realize that, right?" Tony asked.

Annie bit her lip in thought, "So what you're saying is that you definitely want me to go and get a DNA test and try to find out which scumbag let me become some abandoned science experiment."

"It could be a good idea. You don't have to, but it might give both of us peace of mind."

"And what if you're actually my biological dad?"

"Well, I don't have any real rights towards you. Technically I never did since i didn't bother to track down the mom. But we would both know, and even if I can't take you in-"

"I wouldn't want any of your money, Stark. You better hope that you're not my biological father. There's no way you'd be able to make up for all the years I've spent wondering about where I come from. And more important than that, you can't make up for letting me become someone's science project," Annie insisted, crossing her arms.

Tony ran a hand through his hair, "I know, trust me, I know. My dad wasn't too great either, I know how it goes."

“Except you don’t. With all due respect, at this rate, I won’t have one good for nothing dad, but two.”

Tony paused for a moment and looked like he was about to say something, but his mouth stayed closed. That was when Annie fully realized what she said.

“Hey, wait, I um… I’m sorry, I didn’t-”

“No, it’s okay, if that’s how things turn out, you’re kind of right.”

“No, it was uncalled for. You didn’t have any real way to know. And besides, it’s still up in the air. It’s both true and untrue… so I guess we could call it Schrodinger’s father?” Annie suggested.

“That’s not quite how it works,” Tony said with a slight laugh.

“Hey guys! I just realized something that’s super important! And we gotta get it sorted out asap!” Harper yelled, sprinting right up to them.

Annie frowned, “What is it?”

“Good news or bad news?”

“Bad news first,” Annie said.

“Right, so, a lot of my original concept art for the White Swan design is still in Seattle with my parents… so we really need to go back there, like, yesterday.”

“And the good news?” Tony prompted.

“Oh, yeah! I think the new suit’s done! You’ll love it, it’s a freaking masterpiece if I do say so myself.”

Annie nodded, “Well, if there’s any place that’s good for me to test it out, it’s Seattle. I’m feeling like we need a field trip.”

Chapter Text

After nearly a week of preparations, Annie still hadn’t seen her new suit. Harper was insisting on keeping it a secret until they got to Seattle. It left Annie apprehensive, but excited all the same. While there was plenty to worry about, Annie finally took the time to realize that it wasn’t her job to be worried.

It wasn’t her fault that Carnival was going crazy all over New York, he was the one who managed to follow her. Just like it wasn’t her fault that Tony was possibly her biological father. At least, that was what she had learned thanks to the therapy session she’d gone through in the last week.

While she wasn’t sure she wanted to admit it, there was something that Annie loved about therapy that she just couldn’t get from everyone else. It was the one time she was finally sat down and given the chance to sort out her thoughts. Obviously the bad dreams and overall declined mental state weren’t going to be fixed by a few therapy sessions. There was a lot to be done, but Annie didn’t mind that as much.

“You know, I’d wager that you didn’t finish this suit until last night and that you knew this was going to happen,” Annie said, shrugging a bit as they piled into a small private plane.

Harper rolled their eyes, “Whatever you say, but it’s so awesome that it’s getting its own space in the tiny overhead bin. You’re so going to love this!”

“Look, you guys can keep bickering over the new suit, but I’m trying to figure out why we can fly to Seattle but we had to drive here in the first place,” Ned interjected, sitting down.

Harper shrugged, “Who knows, I definitely don’t.”

“Different modes of transportation makes it less likely for you to be tracked. No one’s going to think we’d be in Seattle if we’re operating over here,” Tony explained.

Peter sat down, “You know, I didn’t mind the road trip too much.”

“Says the person who got car sick on the way,” Annie pointed out, sitting next to him.

Tony and Pepper sat a little bit away from the teenagers who were quickly getting into a conversation about whether or not the road trip qualified as a good time. It was clear Harper was the most adamant about their distaste on being stuck in a car for the better part of a week. Which quickly turned into Annie trying to figure out more about her new suit.

“Is it mostly white or is it mostly silver? And if it’s silver is it too flashy?” Annie pressed.

Harper laughed, “You’re acting like I would let you walk out looking like a human disco ball. I would never do that to a friend!”
“But it has both colors! And more, it’s so awesome and I think you’re gonna love it!” Ned exclaimed, “Like there’s this one part that-”

“Ned, shut it! I want her to be surprised! It’ll be way more satisfying to see Annie freak out over it in around… well I don’t know how much time, but it’ll be worth it,” Harper claimed.

Peter shook his head, “I’m with Annie, I definitely think you guys didn’t have it done until last night.”

“See? It looks fishy! Thanks, Pete,” Annie said, wrapping an arm around his shoulders.

Harper sighed, “You know what we’re gonna have you two do?”

“Hm?”

“Annie, you’re gonna take your boyfriend on a date today and show him around the city. Ned and I are gonna take care of my parents. This way, you two can get out all your annoying PDA and it’s all good,” Harper replied.

Ned laughed, “I don’t think that’s gonna do it.If anything, I feel like it's just gonna make them worse."

"Well, that's rough. I don't have to deal with it when we get back. I'm going to a totally different school from you guys," Harper responded.

Ned pouted, "You wouldn't just leave me alone with them like that, would you? That's so mean!"

"Well, when you put it that way... yes, I would definitely leave you to deal with them on your own. You can take it!" they said with a wink.

Annie rolled her eyes, "You know Peter and I hear everything you're saying, right?"

"You know you guys are so cute it's painful to watch, right?" Harper retorted.

It didn't take much time for them to reach Seattle. Odds were, it was the shortest plane ride Annie had ever been on. Granted, she had only needed to fly once and that was from moving to New York. She seemed to be the one that was waiting for the plane to land. Her nose was pressed against the window, trying to catch a glimpse of something. Though, there wasn't anything to be seen through the clouds.

Peter shook his head, "I don't get it, it's so cloudy."

"That's the best part!" Annie replied excitedly.

He tilted his head to the side, "Yeah? Why's that?"

"I mean, it's almost always cloudy and then it gets rainy and the smell of the rain, that's freaking amazing! And then it's cloudy, but not, like, an oppressive cloudy? And then it gets sunny sometimes, but not so much that it's obnoxious. I don't know... it's just home," Annie explained, turning to face him.

Peter kissed her forehead, "You should get excited like that more often, it's cute."

"Okay, we've had enough of the cute coupley thing, let's get you to see this suit!" Harper exclaimed, rushing off of the plane.

Ned grinned, "It's so awesome, you don't even understand what kind of work we had to put into this thing. It is the best science project I've ever had to work on."

"Meaning we failed. A lot. That's why it took a hot minute, but it was so worth it because you're going to flip your shit, come on, we gotta show it to her!" Harper called out, hoping that would make Tony and Pepper hurry up.

Tony and Pepper eventually got off of the plane, "Well, we can't exactly do that right now. We gotta find somewhere private. Remember how we don't want anyone thinking that there's any reason to suspect us of doing anything?"

"Also meaning that we just don't want anyone thinking that I have powers. Do you guys know how rough that'd be if people figured out I was just born with crazy energy and electricity powers? I'd probably get imprisoned by the government and be forced to live out the rest of my days as a living physics equation," Annie pointed out.

Pepper raised an eyebrow, "Where'd you get that from?"

"Can't trust the government, obviously," Harper explained.

Annie nodded, "And it's easily my number one, absolute worst fear of all time."

"Hey, you don't need to worry about that happening. I wouldn't let it happen," Peter insisted, reaching to hold her hand.

Annie squeezed his hand, "I know."

"Okay, maybe we need a better vibe than this for unveiling a hella cool suit," Ned said, looking at the others.

Harper grinned, "Yep, this is gonna be so great. It's everything I've always wanted to make for you, but didn't have the chance to because I couldn't get the right material without drawing massive suspicion to the both of us."

"I've seen it, and I think it's something that might work," Tony told them.

Harper scoffed, "Might work? It's easily the best thing that you've ever seen in your life. I believe you were about two steps away from offering me a job for my design skills, no?"

"Not happening. I don't need a suit maker," he replied.

They shrugged, "Okay, but those shades of purple clashed so hard when you were wearing a suit that one time. Just saying. You need to do complimentary or the exact same shade for ties and pocket squares. I don't make the rules, I just enforce them."

"Are you trying to get a job or get shipped back to New York?"

"Both," Harper claimed, "Now where's the cool little side room place we can go to?"

Tony sighed, "If you'd keep quiet, maybe we'd get there faster."

"It definitely doesn't work like that."

After what felt like forever to Annie, they finally got to a room where they could unpack the small briefcase that held the new suit. Harper also looked like their hands were shaking just a little bit. They set it on an empty table.

Annie stared at the brown, leather briefcase and didn't move. How was she supposed to even begin to open it? If she did, that was almost too much of a move for her in some way. She'd have to leave behind the old suit. Which was for the best, but was she even ready to test it out? It was only then that she realized she hadn't tried being a superhero since everything with Carnival. There was no way she'd be ready.

Harper looked at Annie and then back at the briefcase, "Um... you gonna open it?"

"Y-yeah, sure," Annie replied and stepped up to the table and unlatched the briefcase.

Once the briefcase was opened, Annie's dark eyes widened and she covered her mouth with her hands. She jumped up and down screaming and hugged Harper tightly. The suit was a blend of white and different shades of grey. Somehow it was exactly what she had always imagined whenever she tried to think about what she wanted to look like when gliding around the city.

Harper laughed, hugging back their friend, “You know? I think this means I was successful. See, I wanted to keep the original look we had going. I wanted to have the same half-face kinda domino mask where everyone sees your eyes, but I had no clue what to do with the hood. That’s mostly aesthetic and you can choose if you want it up or not.”

“It’s perfect, I-I can’t… you thought of everything!”

“Um… actually that’s my job. You have an amazing AI and it’s synced up to your phone so you can contact whoever,” Ned explained.

Annie grinned, “Wait, so I get to have a little, like… Siri type of thing?”

“Yeah, but it doesn’t have to be named Siri, it’s whatever you’d wanna name it. Keeping in mind I programmed it so that it kind of sounds like Idina Menzel,” he said.

Annie’s jaw dropped, “You’re kidding! I owe you both big time!”

“Hey, just go out there and patrol the city one last time, that’s all you gotta do,” Harper said, “And one more thing… you know the feathered texture around the sleeves?”

“Yeah.”

“They’re secret pockets and I stashed some knives in them for you in case things get out of hand,” they explained, “But anyways, get suited up and test it out!”

Before Annie really knew what she was doing, she was in the middle of the city, feeling the new suit clinging to her body. It had been quite a few months since she had last been in the city, but it didn’t take long for her to get to the top of a building and start almost right from where she had left off.

It was just an average day, no major crimes, but that didn’t change the fact that Annie was more than happy to do what she could. Even if it was something as simple as helping a lost kid find his parents, that was better than nothing.

After a couple of hours filled with testing out the new suit was when Annie’s AI decided to start talking.

“Harper is contacting you, would you like to answer?” asked a voice.

Annie nearly dropped from the rooftop she was on, “Um, not yet, hold on, you’re the suit AI?”

“Yes, I have been programmed to mesh with your personality as needed.”

“Do you have a name?”

“No.”

“Oh, can I give you one?”

“I suppose.”

“I’m gonna name you Eve!”

A little while later, Annie caught up with Peter when she learned Harper and Ned were still trying to get back the same designs they came to get in the first place. Not that Annie minded, they could take as long as they wanted to. She just wanted more time in Seattle, but she knew that no amount of time was going to prepare her to leave.

“Hey, you said you wanted to show me something?” Peter asked once she was back in normal clothes.

Annie nodded, “Yep! Only the best coffee house in this entire city. There’s a lot of coffee places, but this one is the best. I’ve tried all of them.”

“Yeah? You seem almost obsessed.”

“Well, in my defense… yeah, it was a huge obsession. But it was something my dad and I used to do. But since he can choke, you’re gonna come with me instead,” she replied with a small smile.

As they walked, raindrops started to hit both of them. Peter started to move a little bit faster, but Annie still went at the same pace.

“It rains in Queens too, you know,” Peter said.

She shook her head, “It’s not the same, I don’t know how to explain it.”

“You know… you don’t need to. This is the happiest I’ve seen you in months,” he told her, squeezing her hand.

Annie’s eyes lit up, “Hey, maybe this is super weird, but am I the only one who’s always wanted to kiss in the rain?”

“I feel like you’ve done that already.”

“Not with you,” Annie pointed out.

Peter laughed a bit before pressing a quick kiss to her lips, “Now let’s get out of the rain!”

“Well, we’re basically here,” Annie replied, opening the door of the coffee shop.

“Annika Hardwick, you’ve got a lot of nerve coming here,” said the barista.

Annie stopped, “Um… I’m just wandering around.”

“With… I wanna know who your new boy toy is,” she responded, batting her eyes.

Annie sighed, “Peter. He’s a friend.”

“Who I just saw you kissing two seconds ago.”

“I just wanted to order some coffee,” Annie said, “So maybe we should just get this over with.”

“But you’ve been gone so long! How many more relationships did you screw up?”

Peter opened his mouth before Annie spoke up, “That wasn’t me, you know that. Anyways. I’ll have one caramel latte and one green tea latte.”

Maybe Annie wasn’t going to miss Seattle as much as she had originally thought she was going to. If she had known what was going to happen, or who would be there, she would not have gone.

Chapter Text

After what felt like hours, Peter and Annie finally got their drinks and left the coffee shop. Neither of them said anything for a few moments, and Annie was almost positive that she knew there was going to be some kind of question about what in the world had just happened. The worst part was, Annie wasn’t even sure what she would say about it. Even though, if it had been nearly nine months before, she would have had far more to say.

“So… I’m just a friend?” Peter asked.

Annie’s jaw dropped, “No, I just…”

“You didn’t want to tell her. Fine, but why? And are we going to be like that when we go back home? Because I want to know now before something like that happens again,” he said, looking down.

Annie frowned, “That was Jen, I didn’t want to tell her because she would see some form of weakness coming from me. And she probably would’ve brought you into it. I didn’t want that for you.”

“Well I could’ve taken it. You shouldn’t choose what I can and can’t handle. We’re not even going to see her again, so why does it even matter?” he questioned, looking over at her.

She sighed, holding onto the hot cup a little tighter with one hand and then using her free hand to pull Peter into an alleyway, “Look, I told you about everything that happened. Jen and Greg were a thing, I stole Jen’s role and I stole her kinda boyfriend. It was stupid, I was stupid. And she blames me for Greg killing himself, which is fine… well, not really fine, but that’s it’s own thing. And when I left, I thought I wouldn’t see her again, and then I see her and everything just kind of short circuited.”

“That’s supposed to make me feel better because… why?”

“Because, it’s not gonna happen again. Peter, I like you, I want to be with you. Trust me, if I didn’t think this was gonna work out, I would’ve said something by now.”

“Do you promise?”

Annie nodded, “Yeah, of course. Now let’s go find Ned and Harper.”

Though, they didn’t have to go far to find Ned and Harper practically sprinting down the street. Harper was dragging Ned, seeming completely confident in their direction. Ned, on the other hand, looked like a chicken running around with its head cut off.

“Hey… guys… Christ, that was a workout,” Harper panted, “We needed to find you quick…. Wait, you said… you were…” they paused for another breath, “Gonna be at the coffee shop.”

Annie grimaced, “About that… we got the caffeine, but Jen was there. Figured you wouldn’t wanna see her again.”

“Oh yeah, I totally hate that bitch. If you’d just listened to me the first time when I told you to not bother with her, you would’ve been fine,” they said.

Ned cleared his throat, “What about the actual important thing?”

“Oh, right… um… you see, when I was snooping around my parents’ place, as you do, there was a news broadcast. And, well, what had happened was, well-”

“Harper, just spit it out,” Annie said, taking a sip of her coffee.

Harper shook their head, “Carnival’s causing all kinds of destruction in the city. You guys need to get back there and, like, destroy him or something.”

“Y-you’re kidding, right?” Peter asked.

Ned frowned, “It’s not your fault, Peter, you guys needed to come up with something. We don’t know if Mr. Stark knows yet, but we figured that we should tell you guys as soon as we found out.”

“I knew something like this was happening. This is why I didn’t think leaving was a good idea. Just, we needed to stay closer. Now we’re over here and we need to get there. How bad is it?” Peter asked.

"It's pretty bad, but it's something that can wait another day. We can't just hop on over to New York, Peter. I know that's not what you wanted to hear, but you know it's true. We just all need to take a deep breath and find Tony and Pepper quickly and we'll figure it out," Harper assured with a small smile, "Now, let's go get some coffee because I'm actually exhausted from all that running and sneaking around."

Annie grinned a little, "Oh yeah, how did the whole 'running around my parents' house' deal work out?"

"It went about as well as you could expect. The tuatara guy almost got us caught. But Ned was actually a freaking great lookout," Harper said, heading in a different direction.

Ned shrugged, "What can I say, I'm waiting for the CIA to sign me up already."

"I figured you'd be waiting on SHIELD or something like that," Annie commented.

Peter pouted, "I thought you were just gonna stay my guy in the chair for the rest of our natural born lives."

"I'd love to do that, but being guy in the chair pays about as well as being Spider-Man does," Ned responded.

Annie laughed, "That was some serious shade."

"Whoops... I was only pointing out the obvious," Ned said.

The teens continued down, Harper and Annie leading the way as the rain started to clear up to a slight mist. Annie wasn't sure what she should say to Peter, of there was even anything else that he wanted her to say. How in the world was she supposed to know? Everyone always claimed that girls were difficult, but Annie was finding guys to be just as difficult, if not even more so. Sure, Annie wasn't always blatant with what she wanted, but would it have killed Peter to tell her what she could have done to make things better? Then again, they had sort of been interrupted before they could really get anywhere.

Still, Peter reached out for her hand, holding it tightly. Annie breathed a small sigh of relief. Maybe he did believe her. There was no reason for him to not believe her, right? She hadn't done anything that was meant to hurt him before, and she wasn't going to start now. If anything, she wanted to try and protect him. A part of her wasn't even sure if she wanted to go back to New York. Why couldn't they just stay in Seattle? Why couldn't they just go back to Lake Tahoe and then never go anywhere else? Life would be so much easier and she could deal with whatever baggage she had there. Then, maybe if things cleared up enough, they could both consider going ahead and travel around for a little bit.

Except, Annie knew that she was neglecting some of the more obvious facts. They both had to go back to school once the summer was over. Not to mention, they both had powers. Peter always felt obligated to help people, and Annie knew that if she didn't use her powers, she would more than likely go insane. That was what had nearly happened last time. And maybe that was because she had completely isolated herself, but she also didn't doubt that ignoring her power had contributed at least a tiny bit.

"Okay, we're here, the second best coffee shop in this lovely city," Harper chirped, opening the door.

Peter looked around, "YOu don't think they'll get mad that we have some other place's coffee?"

"Not if we buy a pastry or something. Granted, most places don't care as long as you're just not loitering around. It's a city, Peter, just think about what you would normally do," Annie told him, squeezing his hand a little bit.

Ned sighed, "I um... I kinda left my wallet in my room."

"No worries, I'll cover it," Harper said, pulling out their wallet.

He shook his head, "You really don't need to do that."

"But I really insist."

"But you shouldn't, you're gonna be a broke college student."

"But it hasn't happened yet, I'm fine on money."

"But I don't want you to."

"Shut up and let me pay for your damn coffee," Harper sighed, shaking their head.

The barista looked between the four teens and smiled uncertainly, "Hello, what can I get you all?"

"I'll have one black coffee, and he'll have..." Harper trailed off.

"Um... a caramel macchiato," Ned finished.

Annie looked between Harper and Ned before leaning towards Peter, "Five bucks that they admit to having crushes on each other before we leave Lake Tahoe."

"That's gonna literally be in less than twenty four hours. Not gonna happen. I'm not taking the bet," Peter whispered.

She smirked, "Because you're scared of losing."

"No, I don't want you losing your money."

"Fine, whoever loses has to take the other out on the date of their dreams."

Peter looked at Annie, "You know it's so not going to happen. Ned hasn't had a crush on someone in ages."

"Because he hadn't met Harper yet. I know chemistry when I see it."

"Like how you know physics?"

"Shut up, Arachnerd, are you taking the bet or not?" Annie asked, crossing her arms.

Peter sighed, "Fine, I'll take it. But you better be ready to plan out the best Star Wars marathon that I've ever had."

"Deal, that's gonna be so easy. I just need to show up."

"You're lucky you're cute," Peter replied, rolling his eyes.

Annie gasped, "That's my thing! You're the cute one."

"I beg to differ."

"Yo, Lovebirds, are you getting anything or not?" Harper asked, looking between peter and Annie.

Annie thought a moment, "Yep, let's get one of those freaking huge chocolate muffins."

After finding a table and waiting for Tony and Pepper, the teenagers seemed about as calm as they could get. Which really meant everyone but Peter was relaxed. He, on the other hand, was shaking like crazy and looked like he was about to stand up and pace around the whole coffee shop.

“That’s not gonna make waiting go by any faster,” Harper remarked.

Peter sighed, “I know, but people are getting hurt.”

“People get hurt without some crazy monster terrorizing them,” Annie pointed out, “If we didn’t do this, we’d be going into a fight completely blind. Remember what happened the first time?”

“Hey, in all fairness you shocked me.”

“Not the point. We both still almost died, and that’s just what would’ve happened over and over again. But I feel like we’re actually ready now. And I would rather go into something knowing that things were going to turn out okay than end up dying.”

“Do we always need to talk about getting killed?” Ned asked.

Harper shrugged, “It’s an angsty high schooler thing, just saying.”

Right then, Tony and Pepper made it into the coffee shop, “Alright, kids, we gotta go. We’re leaving tomorrow morning.”

“Can’t we just leave now, Mr. Stark?” Peter asked.

Tony shook his head, “Not a great idea, you guys are gonna have it rough leaving tomorrow as it is, leaving now would make it a bit worse. And we don’t even have our things together.”

“I think having one last night with everyone together like this would be good for us,” Annie said.

Pepper nodded, “Exactly, and then after all this is over, we can let you guys all recoup together.”

“I don’t remember agreeing to that,” Tony said.

Pepper raised an eyebrow, “So you were just going to have them all go back home so suddenly?”

“Either way, we need to go now! How can you think otherwise?” Peter asked.

Annie reached for his hand, “Because, it won’t make too much of a difference. Carnival is slow-acting, we’ll get it figured out. Trust me.”

“Your girlfriend’s got a point, we can leave after we’re all rested and packed tomorrow, so let’s get a jumpstart on both of those things,” Tony replied.

Annie nodded, getting up. It still felt odd, thinking about whether or not Tony was her biological father. The odds weren’t completely there, but crazier things had happened to her. But she wasn’t going to mention it to the others until she was positive it was true or not. And she wasn’t sure if Tony had done the same either.

And before she knew it, they were on the plane to go back to Lake Tahoe. Was she ready to leave again? It still felt like there was something about the city that she just couldn’t get anywhere else, but there were also things back in New York that she couldn’t get anywhere else either. She stared out the window intently, just trying to grasp the last bits of her home that she could.

Peter wrapped an arm around her, “Hey, we’ll come back here sometime, okay?”

“Well, yeah, I’d drag you back here if I had to,” she responded, smiling at him.

No one ever said that she couldn’t just visit Seattle every once in awhile. How could anyone just leave somewhere that they loved? Sure, there were things she didn’t like, but there was so much more that she cared about.

Chapter Text

When they landed, it was still light out. Granted, that didn’t say very much since it was summer, but the sunlight in Tahoe was far different from the overcast skies in Seattle. Still, it all just reminded Annie that they hadn’t been in Seattle for very long in the first place. Which made sense, they didn’t want to draw attention to themselves. Except, she still felt like she hadn’t been in the new suit for long enough to face such a huge threat. But then again, would she ever be prepared?

She tried not to think about how prepared she was for what was going to end up happening. It was easier to think that she was. To keep thinking about how she had defeated Carnival at one point. At the very least, she had made it so it took him a long while to finally come back. Maybe if there was someone else and maybe with better equipment, she could finally get it done for good.

Those were the handful of thoughts that kept her from trying to convince everyone that they didn’t need to go back just yet. Though, the thought of coming up with any sort of excuse to keep them there was tempting.

Being in the cabins with everyone put everything into a sort of limbo. Sure, all the experiences she was having were real. Everyone who was there, she was going to end up seeing again regularly after all this was over. However, things would more than likely never be as calm as they were in that moment and she knew it. She would have killed to stay there with everyone for longer.

Once they were back at the cabins, Annie tried to get a head start on packing up her things. Only, as she started to pack up her things, she got distracted by everything around her. She picked up her ukulele and started to strum something on it.

It wasn’t anything special, but it was the song she had to learn for the Seussical over a year ago. That was the song she always reverted back to when she couldn’t remember the chords to the other songs she had been trying to figure out.

“That was really good,” Pepper commented, causing Annie to jump a little bit.

The girl turned and smiled a bit, “Thanks, I had to play it for this one musical awhile back, it was pretty fun to learn.”

“Well, I’m glad we got that for you.”

Annie sighed, “Hey, what’re we doing for dinner?”

“Oh, I think we were just gonna sit around the fire and make some hot dogs and s’mores or something like that,” Pepper replied.

Annie frowned a little bit, “Um… jeez, I really hate being ‘that person’ but um… could we maybe not do a fire? I mean, we can, I just um… I can’t do smoke really well. It freaks me out, and I mean, I know I’m gonna probably have to deal with smoke later and it shouldn’t be a big deal, you know what, um… forget it, that sounds great.”

“Hey, Annie, when you say that it freaks you out, what do you mean?” Pepper asked, sitting next to Annie on the floor.

She shrugged, “Just, well, I think about the fire and then about Tina and then falling through that one building, and I can’t breathe… but I need to get over it at some point, right?”

“That’s something we need to know about. We can help you sort this sort of thing out, but we aren’t going to start by placing you around a fire where smoke is probably going to end up choking you one way or another.”

“Oh, come on, I gotta get over it sooner or later.”

“Except you’re definitely not ready. You need a chance to face that issue in a more healthy setting when you’re more prepared.”

“But I don’t have time for that, I-I gotta face Carnival, and… honestly, if I could do it on my own again, I’d rather do that than risk getting anyone else hurt. This would be like getting myself prepped.”

“Absolutely not, we’re going to change plans because having you suffer a panic attack isn’t healthy, okay?”

Annie huffed, “It would be fine, I promise.”

“You can’t promise that.”

She frowned, her hand running over the smooth wood of the ukulele, “Okay, maybe not, but I can’t be weak right now.”

“You’re not being weak.”

“That’s easy for you to say. You’re freaking awesome, I mean, you’re out there being a CEO of a major company and you face all types of stuff through that alone.”

“And I manage that by knowing where my limits are. You shouldn’t force yourself into situations for no good reason. That’s how you end up getting yourself hurt.”

“So you don’t think I’m being a bother for that?” Annie asked, looking up.

Pepper shook her head, “Not in the slightest, and for the record, I’d have to say that you’re freaking awesome yourself. There are only a few people in the world who can manage going out and saving the day and not think very much of it. And you’re one of those people.”

“Oh please, I just glide around and make barriers.”

Pepper laughed a little, opening her arms, “Come here.”

Annie hugged Pepper tightly, “You and Tony are super close, right?”

“That would be a word for it,” Pepper responded, smiling.

Annie sighed, “Has he ever mentioned what he would think about me being his kid?”

“Well, if I’m being honest, Tony didn’t want to mention the possibility to you. But he wouldn’t stop talking about it, so I finally got him to go ahead and tell you. And you know what? He doesn’t get why you like theater as much as you do, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone try to read up on it so quickly.”

Annie’s jaw dropped, “Wait… he tried to research theater stuff? But… why?”

“I think he wanted to see why you liked it so much. And I don’t think he gets it now either, but I also think that he would be proud of you anyways. See, I think if you stay confident in what you’re doing, he’s going to be proud anyways. Hell, I think it’d be that way even if you don’t end up being his kid.”

-Annie smiled, “I mean, that’s more than my dad’s ever done.”

“Well, I’m not going to tell you what you should do with your own dad, but I’ve always found that the family I make over time ends up meaning more to me than the people I grew up with,” Pepper offered before letting go, “And I’m going to go order some Chinese for tonight.”

“I’ll try to get some packing done.”

During dinner that night, everyone tried to ignore what was going to end up happening soon. It probably would have benefitted them to talk over their plan another few times, but none of them wanted to acknowledge the risk involved. So instead, they all talked about nothing. All of them went on about small things that they could think of. Anything that didn’t even remotely involve the plan.

The plan had several ways in which it could go wrong. Of course, the whole point was that there would be at least two people against one. If things got to a certain point, Tony said that he would join in. Granted, the closer the time came, the more Annie felt like he should just be right with them the whole time. She almost wanted to see if it was possible to get a few other Avengers in on the plan as well on short notice. It would make everything easier, that was for certain.

But Annie wanted to prove herself. She had to. That was the one shot she had to get over everything that had happened.

The greater part of the evening was spent packing up everything. Though, Annie kept moving around her room sluggishly, slowly folding up clothes and organizing her suitcase. How in the world had she managed to fit so much into her suitcase to begin with?

By the time she had finished, it was nearly midnight and Annie still didn’t feel like she was going to get to sleep any time soon. Just thinking about facing Carnival made her pulse rush. What if she went to use one of the knives and he ended up getting a hold of it instead? Or what if the new web fluid backfired? What if, no matter what she did, this crazy villain she had spent the better part of her superhero career trying to defeat ended up beating them anyways?

She paced the room back and forth, continuing to think into every intricacy. There was no way that she was the only one, but as long as she just kept her door shut, maybe everyone would think she was asleep. By all rights, she needed to sleep, but how could she?

Then there was a soft knock at her door. She definitely wasn’t the only one up. Granted, the fact that she still saw a light on in the other cabin could have told her that to begin with.

Annie opened the door to see Peter, “Hey, what’s up?”

“Can’t sleep,” Peter said with a shrug, walking in as Annie let him in.

She laughed a little, “Me neither… and I think we’re the ones who’re actually supposed to get sleep.”

“Well, then clearly we’re doing a bad job,” Peter said with a small smile.

“Are you scared?”

“Hm?”

“About tomorrow, are you scared?” Annie asked, her brown eyes gazing at his.

Peter ran a hand through his hair, “Um yeah, you?”

“Terrified. I mean, I think we have a shot, we work pretty well together and all, but I also worked pretty well on my own. That didn’t get me nearly as far as I thought it would.”

“Why do you say that?”

Annie sighed, sitting on the edge of her bed, “I mean, the first time back in Seattle, I thought I’d blasted him into just not existing. And then I see him in New York, it makes me feel like I don’t really know what I’m doing, like, at all.”

“Hey, how could you have known any better?” Peter pointed out, sitting next to her and pulling her close, “And now we know what we can do better. And do you know why? It’s because you’re here to tell us.”

“But what if it doesn’t work again?”

“Then we’ll keep on looking for something that does work,” Peter told her, kissing her forehead, “It’s gonna be okay.”

Annie, hugged him tightly, “I really hope so.”

“You know, you’re better at this than you’ve been giving yourself credit for. We’ve been practicing for this for months.”

“Yeah, but I’ve barely had time with these knives, what if I, like, stab myself?”

Peter shook his head, “You won’t, trust me. That Carnival dude won’t be expecting it,  though, it’ll help you if you’re stuck.”

“You’re right.”

Annie stared at Peter, their foreheads pressed together. She closed the gap, pressing her lips against his. Every time, kissing him ended up feeling just as right as the first time. He was holding her close, his arms wrapped around her waist. She found her fingers becoming entangled in Peter’s hair, and he pulled her so she was in his lap.

After a few moments, Peter went to slowly lay down, but they were so entangled in each other that they landed on the bed rather clumsily, forcing them to break apart. They both laughed before colliding right into each other again, right back to where they had left off.

Eventually they broke apart, laying on their sides facing each other. Annie smiled a little before nuzzling into his chest. She felt Peter’s arms wrapped tightly around her as she closed her eyes.

“Um… should we turn off the lights?” he asked.

Annie opened her eyes and sat up, “Oh, right. I got that.”

She concentrated on the light switch across the room, manipulating it so that it would simply flip itself off.

“Wait… do you have telekinesis too?!” Peter whispered excitedly.

Laughing, Annie pressed a kiss to his cheek, “No, I just started figuring out how to get potential energy to turn kinetic on a smaller scale. Pretty neat, right?”

“It’s amazing… you’re amazing, actually,” Peter paused, “Did you want me to stay with you? I know I just kinda invited myself, I just thought you would be up and um… yeah, I can go if you want.”

She pulled Peter closer, her lips brushing over his again, “No, I want you here.”

Chapter Text

Getting back to New York was more than likely the easiest part of the plan. Which was a shame because Annie felt so warm in Peter’s arm. She knew that it was only a matter of time before they had to get up, but she buried her head in his chest anyways. And while she couldn’t tell if Peter was up or not, he did pull her closer.

Right as she felt herself starting to drift back to sleep, the door opened. Annie pretended to not hear, squeezing her eyes shut. Just trying to hold onto the moment for a few minutes more.

“Come on, love birds, we gotta get going,” Harper said, turning on the light.

Peter looked over at Harper, “Five more minutes.”

“Um you guys should get up now before Stark sees. I know you guys can’t really do anything, but I’d bet he’d flip anyways,” Harper pointed out, “I’m doing you both a favor, now get up.”

Annie sat up, frowning, “You know, I really hate it when you’re right.”

“Hey, you’re the one who got to sleep with your boyfriend, so I don’t wanna hear it,” they insisted.

Annie perked up a little, “Why not? Is there someone you wish were your boyfriend?”

Peter’s eyes darted back and forth between the two friends, “I-I’m gonna go get the last of my stuff together. See you guys!”

“Well? Is there someone?”

Harper rolled their eyes, “No, definitely not. Who would it be anyways?”

“Ned. You like him, don’t you?”

“Well yeah, as a friend. He’s alright…” Harper trailed off.

Annie smirked, “More than a friend.”

“Annie, I can’t. I’m gonna be in college, you’re all still in high school. It wouldn’t work, maybe if I were still in high school too, but… oh forget it.”

“Ha! Peter owes me.”

The ginger scoffed, “Did you really have a bet going over this?!”

“Well, yeah. I’m willing to bet that if you and Ned had half a chance you guys would’ve done the same with me and Peter.”

“Actually… now that you mention it,” Harper shook their head, “Would you look at the time-”

“Wait, you guys were talking before all this?!”

“Well, we had to, for Christmas. And I told him that I was willing to wager you would both be a thing by the time the musical was done,” they claimed, “And it’s your flighty attitude that cost me the bet.”

Annie shook her head, “I really can’t believe you guys. Can’t say I’m surprised, though.”

Harper laughed, “Yeah, yeah, I get it, disappointed but not surprised. Whatever, I gotta get packed.”

With that, they left Annie’s bedroom, leaving her to change into a different set of leggings and another hoodie. It was going to be hot outside, but she already knew it was going to be chilly in the plane. Then, she looked around her room and the closet, making sure she wasn’t about to leave anything important behind.

Really, she just didn’t want to leave her room. Because that meant she would be one step closer to leaving. One step closer to the more complicated phases of the plan that had so much potential to go wrong.

Except, if she didn’t leave the room then, someone would come and get her later and then she wouldn’t be able to have the chance to enjoy the coffee she could smell brewing in the kitchen. It was probably Harper’s doing. The more she thought about it, the more Annie wondered if anyone even bothered to get any sleep to begin with.

In a way, there was something in this for all of them. Annie already knew her reasons, and Peter was probably going to help her even if she told him to go. Tony and Pepper were just responsible for ensuring that they didn’t die from this, and in a situation where everything could go wrong, there was much to worry about. Harper was the one who created her suit. If something went wrong because of a suit malfunction, she knew Harper would beat themself up over it. Ned seemed to always be there for Peter, and she would have been surprised if he wasn’t nervous for him.

Annie left her room with her suitcase in tow, setting it in the living room next to her backpack where the scroll of her ukulele could be seen poking out. Then, she went into the kitchen, pouring herself a cup of black coffee, sitting at the dining table. She heard the front door open as Tony and Pepper stepped into the cabin.

“Alright, you kids ready?” Tony asked.

“Are we supposed to give an honest answer?” Annie asked, taking a sip of coffee.

Tony sighed, “I’m saving the pep talk for New York.”

The environment was almost exactly like it was during dinner, everyone trying to focus on everything but what going back home would entail. Harper kept on talking about how they could hardly wait to start their fashion classes. Not to mention, they were pointing out that they had done a phenomenal job with Annie’s suit.

“I mean, come on! Do you know how hard it is to find a white fabric that’s easy to wash? I had to work with a whole predetermined concept here!” Harper exclaimed.

Ned shook his head, “Couldn’t you have changed the color scheme?”

“No, the aesthetic! Like, that’s been her look. Just like the hood, that’s almost part of her mask.”

“Why didn’t you just give her a legit mask?” Peter asked.

Annie sighed, “Long story short, I kept getting all sweaty and I couldn’t breathe. Plus it was always raining. So if you can imagine the feeling of a wet sock… just put it on your face.”

“Waterproof it?”

Harper shook their head, “Oh, wow, Peter, never would’ve thought about that. If only I had any way to waterproof fabric without my parents getting weird about it.”

“They’re that nosey? They seemed like they didn’t care about what you did when we were there,” Ned commented.

They sighed, “My parents don’t care about what I do if it doesn’t involve taking what they need. When Annie was trying to get a costume together, I only had white, silver, and some black fabrics.”

- “Aren’t they rich though?” Ned asked, raising an eyebrow.

Tony shook his head, “Just because someone’s rich, doesn’t mean they’re gonna give their kid a whole lot.”

“He’s right… besides, imagine going up to your parents and saying ‘hey, I’m gonna make a superhero suit for my best friend, just let me take all this really great material for free’... I’d rather ask them to forgive me for calling their tuatara an overrated lizard.”

Annie snickered, “Do you think they would?”

“Hell if I know, and I’m not about to find out,” Harper insisted.

What Annie couldn’t remember to save her life was when they got onto the plane. They had been having breakfast and joking around, and then they were suddenly in the air. Headed straight back to New York. There was no way for Annie to squeeze her way out of this. It wasn’t like she could afford to do that anyways.

After what she had put everyone through, she owed it to them to at least try. Even if she had no idea what was going to happen. The worst of it was that everyone expected her to know. By all rights, she did have more experience in this case. And the thought that she was the only one who knew the most about Carnival made her stomach churn.

Not exactly the best feeling when sitting next to the window on an airplane.

Originally, she was taking a nap, her head rested against Peter’s shoulder. Then, she was up again and no one else seemed to be talking. Granted, they were all beginning to run out of topics that could avoid Carnival. She knew that they would need to start going over the logistics of the plan again, but maybe they would just never reach New York. Perhaps the plane would just keep going, and they would land in some cute European country and they could all keep enjoying the calm state things were in.

Peter snapped Annie from her thoughts as he kissed her cheek, “You’re thinking awfully hard.”

“How could I not be?” Annie retorted.

He wrapped an arm around her, “I get it, I can’t stop thinking about it either. But you know what?”

“What?”

Peter smiled softly and whispered, “You owe me a Star Wars marathon.”

“I so do not!”

“Yeah you do, Ned said nothing about Harper. I win by default.”

Annie eyed him, “But Harper said they did like him.”

“Seriously? When?”

“After you left. They were giving me crap for having you in my room, so I gave them crap about Ned. Only problem is that Harper’s not gonna do anything,” Annie explained.

“Sounds like you’re making something up.”

“You’re just mad because I won.”

“I thought you meant both had to admit it.”

“I never said both.”

“You said crushes on each other. I win. After all this is over, we’ve gotta watch all the movies.”

“All of them?” Annie asked, “Even the prequels.”

Peter smirked, “With that tone, especially the prequels.”

Somehow, talking about what would happen later, in the last weeks of summer, got Annie’s heart rate to slow down just a bit. If Peter wasn’t questioning the likelihood of them making it, then she shouldn’t either. They were going to defeat Carnival one way or another, and they were going to have that Star Wars marathon because Peter was right. Then, they were going to go back to school, and they would keep being a team. She would audition for the school musical, and Peter would do whatever sciency thing his heart desired.

The point was, they were going to turn out okay. This was just one last obstacle they had to get through. After that, they could put everything that had happened behind them.

And maybe, just maybe, she could forgive herself for what happened with Tina.

A couple hours later, Tony went to the pair, “Okay, we have a bit of time before we land. We gotta go over this again.”

“Right. I show up and seduce Carnival an-”

“That’s not the plan, Annie,” Tony deadpanned.

She shrugged, “I think it would work. Anyways, I get the dude’s attention. Then, I get him all riled up. Maybe even get him to do some fighting to tire him out.”

“Good, and Pete?”

“I trail Annie the whole time, stay hidden, and then I use the new web fluid. He’ll try to break out of it which’ll make it explode and then he should be in a weakened state.”

Tony nodded, “Good, and your suits have your vitals monitored around the clock. If there’s a simultaneous spike then I’ll rush in. Once that happens, you two get yourselves out.”

“Noted. And if we’re in danger but the monitor isn’t working?” Annie prompted.

Tony sighed, “Then there’s a worse problem on our hands.”

“Lovely.”

Soon after that, they were left to their own devices until they started to descend on New York. That was when Tony pulled Peter to the side. Probably to say something about how the kid was like a son to him. If any of them should have been getting their DNA tested to see if they were Tony’s kid, it was Peter. Maybe even Harper, but that was a stretch.

Then, it was her turn and Tony was talking to her, “Is this that obligatory pep talk you mentioned earlier?”

“This would be it, yeah.”

“That didn’t sound too peppy,” Annie remarked.

Tony sighed, “We still haven’t gotten those test results back just yet. Not sure if that’s for the best just yet, but… you’re a good kid. You’ve been doing what you can, and you gotta realize that whatever you do today, it’s because you believed it was for the best.”

“Because that’s worked out so well.”

“Hey, do you want the pep talk or not?”

Annie frowned, “Sorry, continue.”

“Everything you’ve done, you did it thinking that was what needed to happen. And I know you’re gonna go in there doubting yourself. I’ve been there, but it’s gonna work out.”

She tilted her head, “And how could you be so sure?”

“Because you’re gonna do what it takes to get Peter out of there alive and vice versa. You two are a great team at the moment and that’s gonna do more good for you guys than anything else.”

“So you think we’ll be okay?”

Tony nodded, “Yeah, I never doubted that.”

“Okay, and do you think we’ll stop Carnival?”

“That’s the one thing I’m not sure about, but I feel like this is the best chance we have. Unless you have something hidden up your sleeve that you never mentioned.”

“Nope, I’ve told you guys everything I can remember.”

“Then this is probably the best way. Don’t stress it too much. You’re too young to feel responsible for an entire city. Both of you are, honestly.”

Annie raised an eyebrow, “Then why haven’t you stopped us?”

“Because you’d both run off and do your own things. You’d get hurt from making dumb mistakes instead,” he pointed out.

“Hey, when I’m fighting Carnival, I’ll be fighting someone with the same skills I have… how do I best that?” Annie asked, mentally smacking herself for not thinking to ask about it earlier.

Tony paused, thinking about the question, “You know those powers more than he ever would, but even if that doesn’t help… look for different tells. Everyone’s got something, an old injury or a ritual of sorts before they attack.”

“Wait, what’s mine?”

“You tend to have a performance aspect. There’s a certain rhythm to what you do, and sometimes it’s like you’re stopping for the sake of spectators. You’re always putting on a show of sorts.”

With that in mind, Annie felt her heart rate getting faster and faster as they got closer to landing. Her hands were clammy and just a bit shaky, and when she stood up to get off the plane Annie didn’t think that her legs would be able to hold her up.

It was like the first time Annie had ever performed. All the way back when she was still a kid, before she had any idea she had powers. Her first ballet recital ever at the age of seven. Of course, she didn’t remember it all that well. The song selection and the choreography were a blur. She couldn’t even remember the names of all the girls in her dance class. What she did remember was being positive that she was going to screw up. That she would come in at the wrong time, make a wrong step, or something completely beyond her control would happen.

No matter how hard Annie tried to remember, she couldn’t figure out if the recital had gone well. What she could remember was how her parents cheered her on afterwards and, more importantly, that she was certainly well past that day. She couldn’t remember the last time a performance made her nervous.

However, she could remember feeling the fast heartbeat in her chest from the last time she faced Carnival. As she finished putting on the suit, Annie felt like the same little girl who was terrified of her first recital. She messed with the new belt that rest on her waist as she went back to the others.

“I added some stuff in there for you. I know you might not need it this time, but there’s some stuff to generate electricity with. You could probably fit whatever else you need in the little pockets,” Harper explained, “I guess I’ll probably never be done with this suit.”

Annie laughed a bit and hugged them, “It’ll be perfect either way, trust me.”

Before she knew it, she was wandering through the back alleys of New York. It was pretty hot, and Annie could even feel the sun. She didn’t think it was right that the sun was shining like that. While she walked, Annie noticed that the shoes Harper had built in were almost exactly like ballet slippers. Fitting.

There wasn’t anyone around just yet, and Annie was wondering if Carnival was even out today. Maybe he was more scared of her than the other way around. However, the jumbled feeling in her stomach told her otherwise.

Except the point was to attract the enemy. Her tell was making a show, so that was exactly what she was going to do. It wasn’t like Peter was going to have any trouble with following her around the city. So she got up to the top of a skyscraper and started to glide from building to building. The feeling was just as freeing as it had been in Seattle.

Right in midair was when she felt the energy beneath her give out from beneath her. There was only one person who could do that. Annie had only barely stopped herself from splatting onto the ground beneath her.

“Fancy seeing you here,” she quipped, dusting herself off, “You should come out, it’s not polite to fight someone when they can’t see you.”

Carnival slowly walked into the alley, “Well if it isn’t my darling!”

Annie flung a blast of electricity at the clown, “Let’s get one thing straight. I’m not your darling. I never was.”

“But weren’t you? How was being with Greg any different from being with me?”

A nasty taste entered Annie’s mouth, “Because I chose someone who wasn’t you. You’re the one who tricked me.”

“But it was still me either way. And that is probably why I have no plans to hurt you today.”

Annie took a deep breath, “You’re full of it,” she said cooly.

Peter was nearby, she could just barely make him out from behind Carnival. He was a few blocks down, but she knew he was there. The plan was working better than she had assumed. Except, there hadn’t been any actual fighting yet, and something simply felt off. As though there was something that was happening that she didn’t know about.

“But who else knew your favorite songs and your dreams and how you like your coffee?”

“They’ve changed. And new people know them. People who are exactly who they say they are,” she replied, clenching her jaw.

At the end of the day, it didn’t matter if those things changed or not. Carnival had known her so well at one point.

But that was over a year ago.

Carnival was about to say something, but Annie didn’t bother to wait to hear what it was. There wasn’t any audience watching her to make the next move. What he said was going to mean nothing to her. She lunged forward, sending a burst of energy his way.

Both of them quit talking and stuck to fighting. Annie focused on staying in the moment. All she had to do was keep him distracted and not get herself killed in the process. If she could just remember to not pause or show off, she would be fine. She focused on fighting in the way she learned over the better part of the summer.

A lunge here, a sudden dip there, and in any minute she knew that Peter was going to do his part. Annie focused on fighting him, as though there wasn’t going to be anyone there to save her. At some point, she started to wonder if anything was going to happen.

“There’s something coming over the top of you. You may wanna dodge that,” Eve said, nearly catching Annie off guard as she stepped back.

Then, Carnival was suddenly pinned to the ground in webbing. The new webbing. It had a more silvery color, and Annie stepped back.

“You think you’re clever, don’t you?”

Annie shrugged, “You could say that.”

“I’ve gotten out of this stuff before,” he stated, looking like he was about to attempt an escape.

They hadn’t specified this part of the plan, but Annie knew that if things went right, they needed to get out before they got hurt by the explosion. She grabbed Peter’s arm and ran for it. Not too far, she could still see exactly what was happening. Though, Annie did pause for a moment to push Peter’s mask up just enough so she could kiss him. There was the sound of an explosion right behind her.

“I love you.”

“I know,” Peter said with a cheeky grin as he pulled his mask back down.

Annie rolled her eyes, “I try to have a cute moment during a mission and this is the thanks I get?”

“Yeah… um you might wanna see this,” Peter said, turning to where Carnival was.

It seemed that he was steadily pushing himself out of the webbing. The explosion hadn’t been enough to weaken him. In fact, he only seemed angered.

Everything in Annie said that she needed to run. She needed to get Peter and they needed to leave before things got worse. Someone else could handle this. They could get Tony to handle this, some other heroes. She wasn’t supposed to do this.

Yet, she remained planted and looked at Carnival, watching carefully as he slowly but surely got himself out. Annie rushed to him, trying to give every attack that she could think of. Carnival quickly countered and got the upper hand easily enough. Peter tried to help, but couldn’t get between both of them right away.

When he did, Carnival simply swept him away into the wall. Annie winced, looking to Peter for a second to see if he was getting up. He was, but Annie couldn't afford to watch something like that happen again. So in a moment’s notice, Annie pulled out one of the knives and had it pressed against Carnival’s throat.

“We never agreed on weapons.”

Annie glared at him, “And we never agreed on you showing up here.”

“So we’re playing that game, hm?” Carnival smirked, managing to wrench the knife from her grip.

Her eyes widened and she jumped out of the way. Where was Tony? Why wasn’t her AI doing anything? This was the type of thing they were supposed to get help for. She really knew that she shouldn’t have used the knife, but it was too late to change that decision.

“Wondering where your assistance ran off to?” he asked, turning the knife in his hand, “All those devices… that can all be turned off with a simple electrical pulse. It takes time, but nothing that a nice, opening conversation can’t take care of.”

Tony didn’t even know that they were in trouble. She froze, so certain that she was going to get her throat cut. Carnival was approaching her and all she could do was back away. Her heartbeat was the only thing pulsing in her mind.

However, Peter had a different plan when he sprinted and attempted to web the knife from Carnival’s hand. He missed by millimeters and Carnival quickly turned his focus to the other hero. Annie attempted to separate them, but she was overpowered and there was a knife pressed to Peter’s throat.

“No, this is you and me. Let him go!” Annie snapped, tears stinging her eyes.

Carnival laughed, “Then he wouldn’t have involved himself. But I’m not completely unreasonable. Come with me. If you come with me, I will leave all this behind. Your boy will stay unharmed. But you must stay with me for forever.”

“And if I tell you to screw off?”

“Then you don’t have a sidekick.”

“Don’t do this! We can figure something out!” Peter begged.

But the lack of space between the knife and Peter seemed to say differently. If she left, everything would be solved. Peter would be safe. She couldn’t be with him, but she’d rather he was safe.

“You’ve done nothing but manipulate me. You know that right?” Annie asked, starting to pace, “This whole time. It’s always been a fear game and you’re always hoping to make everyone miserable. And maybe that makes you feel better, I-I don’t know-”

“Make your choice already.”

“I’m not finished! You’re giving me a choice, but it isn’t one. Not really.”

Peter’s voice was shaky, “Y-you can’t do this. You deserve a chance to move on.”

Annie couldn’t see his face under the mask, but she was positive he was crying. The right choice was obvious, but it wasn’t easy.

“Fine. I’ll go. Now let go of him!” Annie exclaimed.

The knife was dropped to the ground in seconds.

“The least you can do is let me say goodbye,” she said emptily.

Peter rushed to her, holding her tightly, “You can’t do this,” he whispered.

“Just trust me,” she whispered, “It’ll be okay. Go get someone, a-anyone.”

He nodded stiffly before letting go. Annie felt her hands shaking as she turned to follow Carnival. Maybe he could get to Tony before anything could happen. She looked back for a moment and there wasn’t anything on the ground. That was when it hit her.

Perhaps no one would be able to find her. She didn’t know where this guy was going to take her. If she didn’t get this taken care of right then, she would probably never get out of this.

Striking too early was far too predictable and she knew that. The timing had to be perfect. Maybe some small talk as in order. Something to get over her nerves.

“You know what really sucks?” Annie asked, kicking a rock.

“Hm?”

“I won’t get to go to homecoming. Again, you know how much that sucks? Because that guy you almost killed was actually pretty cool.”

Carnival hummed, “I don’t like that you care for him more than you ever cared for me.”

“Sucks for you, I guess.”

“Is that the kind of animosity you would have towards the one who spared that boy’s life?”

On second thought, her temper was wearing thinner and thinner by the second. Without even taking a moment to second guess or see if anyone was there, she pulled out the next knife and jammed it into Carnival’s back as many times as she could get in before he turned around.

It didn’t feel like there was anything happening to her, but Annie saw the other missing knife stabbed into her side. She just kept going and going and then there was no one and the other knife clattered to the cement.

Carnival simply vanished and there was a man in the oddest robes in front of her. Looking from the now empty area to the man, Annie held the knife up. She pushed herself back.

“I wasn’t here for you,” he said, sighing, “He was causing a massive disturbance to the city and there was potential for him to destroy the Sanctum.”

Annie blinked, “Am I losing too much blood? Because half of what you said made no sense.”

“Who I am isn’t important to you. But for what it’s worth, you would’ve only got yourself killed with that constant stabbing. You realize that, right?”

“Sure, let’s say that I did. What did you do that worked so much better?” she asked, looking at the stab wound she had.

The man rolled his eyes as he adjusted his cape, “He’s in a different dimension now.”

“Wait just one minute. You could just make him disappear and not be my problem anymore like that,” she snapped her fingers, “And you didn’t do this until now because… why?”

“He wasn’t a threat.”

“You and I have huge definitions of what a threat looks like. He terrorized Seattle over a year ago and he’s been here for months. Where the hell were you?!”

“I’m responsible for this stone and the Sanctum. Nothing more,” he said firmly as he started to do what looked like a spell.

Annie scoffed, “You’re really just going to leave me here bleeding on the streets?”

“You’ve survived a stab wound before.”

She opened her mouth to counter.

“And your friends are here anyhow. Good day, White Swan.”

With that, he disappeared through a portal. Annie stared straight ahead, trying to think over everything that happened. It was then that she felt a searing pain and she lay in a fetal position on the ground.

She hoped the man was right because the pain was suddenly too much for her to think of anything else. It was impossible to so much as move. As she shut her eyes, she was certain that she heard rushed footsteps.

Chapter Text

Recovering from the injury was surprisingly easier than Annie originally anticipated. The stab wound ended up being shallower than they all thought. It just caused immense pain, and Annie still felt a soreness in her side. However, if that was what she had to go through in order to finally see Carnival disappear for good, then she truly couldn’t care less.

What did end up concerning Annie was the mysterious man she encountered. No one wrote of what she saw necessarily, but almost everyone insisted that he wasn’t important. But Annie would beg to differ. If there was someone out there who could just shove whoever he saw as a threat into another dimension, it was very much so the point. This guy had been running around for who knew how long, and she seemed to be the only person to know about him.

No amount of internet searching was pulling up anything. It was likely that she was never going to find him. However, what concerned her was that he not only knew her, but he knew she had been stabbed before. She didn’t trust the guy, and the only other person who seemed to put a lot of thought into it was Peter.

“So he really just showed up out of nowhere?” he asked, frowning.

Annie nodded, “Yep. Right after Carnival stabbed me. And I starting kinda yelling at him, and then he just left because you guys were coming.”

“Right… okay this isn’t about the dude, but… do you think we would’ve made it in time if he hadn’t been there?”

“Y-yeah, I got him by surprise. So I think I could’ve even met you guys halfway.”

The truth was that Annie had no idea if she would have ever seen any of them if it hadn’t been for that guy. As angry as she was for him not doing something earlier, the timing was undeniably convenient.

Peter sighed, pulling her in for a hug, “I can’t believe you were gonna do that. You didn’t even know I would be fast enough.”

“And I didn’t know if he was gonna cut your throat or not, but I wasn’t about to watch that happen,” she said, hugging him back tightly.

Neither of them had much time to process just what her decisions had meant for the both of them. Actually, Annie still didn’t believe that she was going to be stuck with Carnival for forever. There was no way she would have let that happen, but she couldn’t bear the thought of watching Peter die in front of her. And thankfully, neither of them had to worry about anything bad happening. School was about to start soon and they were going to have to go home.

Right then, Harper ran into the computer room the couple was in, “You’ll never guess what happened! It was so freaking insane and you guys just can’t guess it! I wouldn’t have ever guessed, you guys!”

“Well, you gonna tell us?” she questioned.

Harper squealed, “I’m officially Tony Stark’s fashion assistant! It’s now a paid position and everything. My parents can suck it! I got a job with someone who’s more successful than they’ll ever be!”

Ned quickly followed into the room, “Yeah! It was wicked awesome, you should’ve been there.”

“That’s awesome! I didn’t know that was a thing, but I’m so proud of you!” Annie exclaimed, grinning as she went to hug Harper.

They all left for their homes in that mood. Annie, Peter, and Ned went to their apartments. Harper left for their dorm room. It left Annie in a car with just her mom, since her dad was back at the university and trying to get an early jumpstart on prepping his classes. Not that being in a car with her dad felt like a better option by any means of the word. He would ask too many questions because he always seemed to doubt what she was doing.

As Annie sat in the passenger seat, a short newscast came on the radio station they were listening to. It was about the huge fight that happened with Carnival. She even heard her own hero name being put in it. For once, it was something that was positive. That was a nice change of pace, to say the least. Clearly, it wasn’t going to bring back Tina, but it was a start to making up for what she did.

After a commercial came on, her mother sighed, “I worry about heroes like that.”

“Yeah?”

She nodded, “They put their lives on the line, and that Swan lady and that Spider guy… they can’t be that old. I wonder if their parents know.”

“What would you do?”

“I guess I would hope they’re being smart. I don’t know how anyone could handle it. You haven’t been up to anything like that, have you?” her mom asked.

There was a pregnant pause in the car as Annie went to think of something to make up. Except, before she could, they both started laughing uncontrollably.

Her mom truly had no idea after all of it was said and done. Words couldn’t describe how relieving it was to know that she didn’t know. A part of her wondered if her mom had any suspicions. Of course, that would involve her mom knowing about her powers anyways. Odds were that her dad would be the one to suspect, and there was no way she was going to tell that man.

“Oh, also… I have a boyfriend now,” Annie piped up with a smile.

Her mom pulled into the parking garage, “Really? Who is he?”

“You remember Peter?”

“You did always seem to be drawn to him. I think you guys would be cute. Just make sure to be careful. Don’t do anything stupid.”

Annie scoffed, “Can we not do another one of those awkward sex talks again? It was bad enough the last time.”

“And did you do anything?”

Annie rolled her eyes, “The guy ended up having amnesia, it wouldn’t have made a difference either way. And then he died… but things are going way better with Peter!”

“Well what helps is that I know you were both friends before.”

The rest of the day melted into the next and into the next and Annie quickly realized that she was about to start her junior year of high school. It wasn’t that she was worried about it, but she wasn’t sure she wanted to go back to school. Although, she did start to have a routine of sorts again. Mostly, it was running around patrolling with Peter and trying to not get too off-task. Not because they were too busy flirting to do anything, but because they would get distracted by the smallest things.

Sure, that sort of thing happened when they first started teaming up, but when it was apparent that they were both close to begin with, it was only worse. Although, a lot of it ended up dealing with Annie wanting to find the weird wizard guy she met. It was nice that there was someone who seemed to care about her theories.

And before she knew it, Annie was leaving school one day almost a week after it started when she finally got a call from Tony Stark.

“Hey, meet me at that ice cream place a few blocks from your school. The results came in,” he told her before hanging up.

Probably so she couldn’t ask about the results. In all fairness, it would have only irritated Annie if she found out those results through a phone call and nothing more. But what if he already knew? What if this whole ice cream thing was just a way to admit that he was her biological father? Or maybe it was a way to celebrate that they weren’t related and could just go back to their normal lives. Not that her life had ever been normal to begin with.

Annie didn’t even know what she wanted the results to entail to begin with. A part of her couldn’t help wondering what it would be like to rub it in her dad’s face. To say that she had a genius billionaire for a real father. But then there was the fact that she had biological parents the whole time and Tony never bothered to double check if someone like her existed in the first place.

So when she got in and saw that Tony had a bowl of cotton candy ice cream on the side of the table she went to sit at, she started to wonder even more. Until she saw that the envelope in the center of the table was closed. For some reason, she always assumed he would already know before she did. That he would break the news and hand the papers to her regardless of what the results ended up being.

“It’s… um… it’s closed.”

“Great observational skills,” Tony remarked.

Annie rolled her eyes, “Okay, sorry I just thought with the ice cream and stuff… you were gonna kinda already have all the answers or something.”

“Oh, no, this is to prepare both of us. But you should open it,” he said, sliding the envelope over to her side of the table.

She nodded as she took the envelope, tearing it open. While a part of her didn’t want to look at it, the other part of her needed to know. So she unfolded the paper and found herself reading it over and over again.

“Um… well, you’re off the hook,” she murmured, staring at the paper in disbelief, “Isn’t this supposed to at least give me some idea of who else is a match?”

Tony frowned in confusion before looking at the paper for himself, “Well… it’s all in a database. If your parents aren’t there-”

“I thought you were gonna use a worldwide database,” Annie responded.

He nodded, “I did… whoever your parents are, they just don’t want to be found I guess.”

“Oh…” she trailed off, staring intently at the saturated pink and blue swirls of her ice cream.

Tony sighed, “Look, kid, we can do more extensive searches if that’s what you want-”

“No. I don’t want that. If they never wanted me, or if they were forced to do whatever it took to get me in this position now… I don’t want to know.”

Tony nodded slowly, “Are you sure? I know a few ways to pinpoint that sort of thing. Honestly, it’s the least I can do for making you think I was your dad for a bit.”

“No, you don’t understand, I don’t care. Those people… they could be dead for all I know, we definitely wouldn’t speak the same language if they’re alive. So why should I throw all this time and effort into finding a family that I already have? Like, I have my parents, well, I have my mom, I have you, I have Pepper, there’s Harper, and Ned, and obviously there’s Peter. I don’t need to waste my time on something that’s only gonna hurt me in the long run,” Annie explained as she took a spoonful of her ice cream.

He smiled a bit, “I gotta hand it to you, you’re a smart kid.”

“Well, you can’t just spend a whole summer with a few people and then not feel close.”

“Yeah, you’re right.”

“And besides,” Annie paused for another bite of ice cream, “If anyone would be your kid, I feel like it’d have to be Peter. You know he looks up to you, right?”

Tony gave an incredulous look, “What? He does?”

“Yep, before I knew the whole Spider-Man thing, there were times he wouldn’t shut up about you.”

“You’re joking.”

“Look, I can act and I can tell some freaking great jokes, but it’s true. Call up Ned sometime if you don’t believe me. Actually, don’t, you should just use your ears next time,” Annie said with a small laugh.

In a way, it was a relief to know that nothing changed. She still had no clue who her biological parents were and that was more than fine. Everything she said had been true. There was no point in looking for people who never cared enough to check in on her in the first place. Not when there were plenty of people who cared about her and were right there.

Life was finally getting into a good rhythm, and Annie was comfortable with how things were going. The nice routine of being at school with her friends and getting ready for her audition in December was a relief. And then she could run over and hang out with Harper whenever. It definitely beat only occasionally calling and texting about everything that happened. And things felt stable for the first time in months.

Before Annie knew it, Halloween was right there. Her birthday passed a few days before, but she insisted on not doing anything about it until it was actually Halloween. However, Peter didn’t bother to listen to her and gave her his present on her actual birthday.

It was a photo album. Not just of them, but of their friends and people Annie cared about too. Most of it was from the summer, but Annie didn’t mind that one bit.

What she did mind was Peter’s idea for a Halloween costume.

“Oh, come on!”

Annie shook her head as she stuffed her textbook back into her bag, “I’m not going as White Swan.”

“But it would be a great couples costume!”

“We literally got caught kissing one time, for like, two seconds and everyone thinks we’re lovebirds or something.”

Peter wrapped an arm around her, kissing her cheek, “Well, they’re not wrong.”

“But we both know you knew those people were coming. You did it on purpose,” she pointed out with a small laugh.

So maybe there was one tabloid insisting that White Swan and Spider-Man were in a passionate, heated relationship. When or how it started was what they didn’t know. Well, they didn’t know anything in reality. And Annie was pretending to hold it over Peter, but they both had too much fun making fun of the article.

“Seriously? You two would never be convincing,” Flash interjected, rolling his eyes, “Penis Parker over here is too… lame and you’re…”

Annie glared at Flash, “Too what?”

“Domineering?”

She sighed, “Right… too strong to be a hero. Got it,don’t you have someone else to bug?”

“No, I was gonna ask you about your dad throwing last year’s audition for you.”

Annie paused, looking between Peter and Flash. There was a long pause that seemed to grow awkward and tense. And then Annie burst out laughing. Before pulling Peter away and walking off. It just wasn’t worth the time and effort to try and say anything to Flash. She knew that all too well.

Peter reached over for her hand, holding it as they walked out of the school, finally reaching Ned.

“Dude, did you see the article?!” he exclaimed.

Annie smirked, “The one about the whole passionate love affair between me and Peter? Well, my bad, not me and Peter?”

“Yeah! Aren’t you guys worried?”

Peter shook his head, “Nah, they’re not gonna figure it out from that. They talk about us like we’re adults, dude. This was actually great for covering us.”

“You’re thinking like I do… that’s not good, I’m the one chronically scheming everything around here,” Annie insisted.

“You two make no sense sometimes, but I know it pissed off Flash. Probably because he didn’t think Spider-Man was taken,” Ned responded, laughing a bit.

It had been nearly a year since Annie moved in, but it felt like she’d been around Peter and Ned for forever. Actually, it felt like Harper had been in their group since forever too. Maybe being a suit designer threw them into a good place in their group in the first place, Annie wasn’t sure. They’d always been friends, though, so Annie felt it only made sense for Harper to be there.

Which was exactly why Harper was already spread out on the couch at Peter’s apartment when the trio arrived. Their classes got done well before the high school’s classes did, and Harper always made sure to rub it in.

“How’d you get in here?” Peter asked.

Harper stayed on the couch, “Oh, your aunt let me in. She’s a freaking gem, by the way, and I was helping her do some laundry and then she had to leave to get candy for tonight.”

“You know this isn’t your place, right? It’s really important to me you know that.”

They laughed, “Of course I know that, Pete! But Annie’s apartment is so dull and lifeless right now… okay, that’s a lie, but if I see her dad for more than two seconds, I’m gonna throat punch the guy.”

-It wasn’t something Annie had talked about to anyone except for Harper, but her parents were talking about separating. Annie didn’t want to start blabbing around and worrying about it until they physically told her it was happening. So far, it was just something she and Harper accidentally overheard her parents talking about while hanging out. They’d gotten just a bit too quiet and then way too curious.

Obviously, Annie had seen something like that coming from a mile away. Even after all the stuff her parents did to fix things, it clearly wasn’t working. Annie wasn’t going to be the one to say anything, but she wasn’t about to stop it either. At least, as long as it meant she would get to spend the overwhelming majority of the time with her mom.

However, as far as her parents knew, she didn’t know anything. Though, she’d have to be blind to not notice the light tension in the house.

“Okay, a bit violent, but fair enough,” Peter conceded.

Annie looked around the living room, thinking of something else to talk about, “So did we all bring costumes?”

Harper grinned, “Obviously! I’m gonna be a piece of candy corn! And I got your Christine costume done, you’re gonna love it!”

“Is it in the bag on the coat rack?” Annie asked, her eyes catching a long, black bag.

They nodded, “Figured that would work as a good birthday present. Congrats on being alive for a solid seventeen years… give or take since you were a lab project.”

“Oh, shut up,” Annie retorted, rushing over to tear off the plastic bag to reveal the blue, purple, and silver star princess dress.

Harper smirked, “I dare you two to top that.”

“This is so freaking awesome! I can’t believe you got all the detail done on this so well. How long did it take you?!” she exclaimed.

They shrugged, “I kinda started getting the base of it all when we were all together over the summer. It was my side project. Ned helped a little bit too, so I’m giving him massive props for not squealing.”

“Hey, I can keep a secret pretty well!” Ned insisted.

Peter nodded, “Yeah, he’s kept my Spider-Man thing pretty well… okay there was one time, but other than that he’s been great.”

“I’ve never almost gotten Annie found out. She just screws herself over.”

Annie rolled her eyes, “You forgot the one time that you were chewing me out for committing arson a bit too loudly.”

“Okay, you should’ve been caught for that, though.”

“Maybe, yeah, but that doesn’t mean that everyone needed to know that I was some weird chick with powers,” Annie pointed out, “But enough of that, I’m gonna run and change into this thing!”

Harper laughed, following her into Peter’s room, “You’re gonna need some help with the back, hun.”

A few minutes later, Annie was in the Christine Daae costume and Harper was in their candy corn costume. Somehow, the glittery jumpsuit didn’t look tacky. Probably because of how the orange in the costume matched Harper’s hair color almost perfectly.

Peter looked over at Annie wide-eyed before rushing and spinning her around, “You look amazing!”

“Thanks,” she said, laughing a bit as he set her down.

The guys went to go change into their costumes as Annie and Harper focused on their hair and makeup. Harper was really driving home the candy corn look with a headband with a candy corn colored bow on it. They were also basically painting their face with orange, yellow, and white glitter.

Whereas Annie was more focused on looking exactly like Christine and getting the tie back just right with the crown and the cute little wand accessory she had.

“You know, if I’m careful enough, I can make it look like my powers are coming through the wand,” Annie said, shutting off the lights with her power.

Harper grinned, “That’s wicked cool, I feel like you should totally do that at least once!”

The guys came back out with Ned dressed up as Harry Potter and Peter as Luke Skywalker. All in all, Annie was definitely going to claim that it was a successful Halloween as the four of them left the apartment to go and get some trick-or-treating done.

There weren’t any good college parties that Harper got invited to and they definitely weren’t about to go to Flash’s Halloween party either. Maybe it was childish to run around asking for candy, but they put in too much effort to really care about being too young. And if things really didn’t work out, Peter would probably just call Tony and they could get all the king-sized bars in the world.

Chapter Text

It was another normal morning. Well, not quite normal since there was a field trip, but it wasn’t like anything crazy was going to happen. Annie was sharing a seat on the bus with Peter, and she was using him as a pillow while she took a nap. The night before had been completely revolutionary. Only because she finally figured out what her audition song was going to be, but that took hours of work. She wasn’t even sure if she was going to patrol that night or not. Maybe she would, if only because Peter would be there.

Right when she was comfortable, however, Peter shifted and caused Annie to knock her head into his collarbone.

“Jesus Christ! What the hell was-” she stopped herself.

Outside the window, there was a huge doughnut-shaped spaceship in the distance. At least, Annie assumed it was a spaceship. Somehow, no one else seemed to notice it. She looked at Peter and she already knew exactly what he was planning on doing. There was that look of determination in his eyes that he only seemed to get whenever there was something that was clearly dangerous happening.

Annie leaned over and whispered, “I’m coming too.”

“What?! No way.”

“Yes way, we’re a team, remember?” she pointed out, “You don’t just get to pick and choose that.”

Peter sighed before nodding, “Fine, you’re right.”

He then turned behind him to get Ned to cause a distraction. Annie made a mental note to get a hold of Harper in case they hadn’t seen. How no one else was seeing this amazed her. Still, she shook the thought away and made a mental plan of how to get out of the bus without anyone seeing.

“We’re all gonna die!” Ned shouted.

Right as everyone rushed over to the side they were sitting on, Annie pulled Peter over to the other side, and he shot a web to get them out of the bus through the open window in the back. It would have been so easy to catch both of them, but if no one say the spaceship then she guessed it didn’t make much of a difference.

Before she knew it, they were in their suits and headed straight for the spaceship. Even though everything inside of her was screaming to just stay there. She ignored the thought, there was no way she was letting Peter just go by himself if she had any say in it. And she did.

As she followed him, gliding, she sighed, “Hey, Eve, can you do me a solid?”

“Of course, what is it?”

“Can you call Harper real fast?”

“Yes, dialing ‘my idiot best friend’.”

Annie kept going as she heard the dial tone before there was a click, “Dude are you seeing this?!”

“That’s what I was calling you about. I’m headed right there,” Annie said.

Harper sighed, “I figured… just, be careful, okay? Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll be smart about it. I’m good with this type of stuff, and I’ll look great while doing it.”

“Whatever you say…” they trailed off.

Right then, a huge alien-looking thing almost hit her, “Okay, super sorry, Harper, but I gotta go there’s a big alien thing, love you, bye!”

Just like that, Annie was thrust into fighting some aliens that she knew nothing about. But they were giving her a lot of energy to work with, so she wasn’t complaining. She was just barely listening to what Peter and Tony were talking about, though she couldn’t remember when he showed up. Not that the fact he was there surprised her.

“Yeah, I want you kids to protect the wizard,” he said, gesturing to another alien that was a little bit away.

It caught Annie’s attention, “Wait, what wizard?”

“The one over there, don’t let them get the necklace,” Tony told her, “Good luck!”

Annie sighed, rushing over with Peter. When she got a second glance, she gasped. That was the wizard. The same guy who kind of saved her life. She would have to ask about everything later, there wasn’t any time to focus on anything but what they were supposed to do.

Peter shot a web at the wizard, and Annie used an energy barrier to keep him where he was. However, whatever the alien was using seemed to add more energy at a faster rate than she could take. They were losing ground, literally. Annie felt herself being lifted up off the ground. If Peter wasn’t going to let go then that meant they were headed straight for the spaceship.

“Peter, what do I do?!” Annie yelled, feeling her heart rate pick up and her hands grow shaky the further up she was lifted without anything below her.

He quickly grabbed her hand, giving her just a bit more confidence, “Hey, Mr. Stark, we’re getting beamed up.”

“Seriously? You make a Star Trek reference now?” Annie asked, rolling her eyes.

If nothing else, it managed to keep her from freaking out. Although, she was beginning to realize that she couldn’t breathe as well. Almost as soon as there was a piece of the ship for her to hold onto, the air seemed to get thinner. She couldn’t quite hear what Peter and Tony were talking about. But there was energy. Maybe it wouldn’t work but it was worth a shot. She created a barrier of energy around her face. It wasn’t the best way to breathe, but it gave her something.

That was when she looked up at Peter, “Did you get a costume change or something?”

“Um… you could say that. Come on, um… let’s get back,” he said, looking like he was about to drop off.

Annie looked at him, “Cut the crap, Peter, you just don’t want me going up to space with you. I get it. But I’m a big girl, and I can handle this.”

“Ann, we gotta go back.”

“You’re not gonna leave him here. I know that. Besides, I have a few words for that wizard dude. He has a ton of explaining to do.”

Once it was obvious that he wasn’t going to lose Annie any time soon, Peter started to look for a different entrance into the ship. Annie was more focused on keeping her energy barrier intact. If she lost concentration, she’d probably die. After a few moments, Peter found a way in, sneaking Annie inside as well.

It was about what she would have expected for an alien spaceship. She looked around, but it seemed like Peter was losing his mind over the tech. If the situation didn’t feel like it was going to affect the fate of the world, she probably would have let him look around a bit more.

“Come on, we gotta find them,” she whispered, pulling him further into the ship.

Peter frowned, “Why are we whispering.”

“In case there’s any more aliens. Stay on guard,” she told him, making sure that she could feel the energy and electricity coursing through the ship.

First, Annie saw the wizard and the alien. It looked like the wizard was being tortured, and it wasn’t looking too good. She didn’t know what was in the necklace, but she could see it was glowing. Quickly, she pulled Peter down with her so they wouldn’t be seen by the alien. That was when she heard it.

“...loyal piece of clothing,” Tony mumbled.

Peter jumped down, “Speaking of loyal-”

“What’re you doing is… Annie too?”

Annie sighed, hopping down, using the energy to make her land quietly, “Yeah.”

Tony looked between the both of them. The last time she saw him look at them with such irritation and moderate anger was after they nearly blew up the lab back at Lake Tahoe. Maybe they should have gone back to Earth.

“H-hey, I can explain,” Peter stammered, his eyes darting from Annie to Tony.

Tony looked at Peter, “Really? Do either of you realize what this is? You guys aren’t just going on a field trip to space. This is a one-way ticket-”

“Yeah, yeah I-I get that, but… the drop was too far down to really take Annie with me properly, a-and then the suit ended up landing on the ship and she was still there. I-I mean, you were still here too and the suit’s pretty intuitive, Sir, a-and so I guess it’s kinda your fault I’m here,” Peter paused.

Annie covered her mouth to keep herself from laughing out of shock. Then she elbowed Peter. What in the world was that boy thinking?

“Um… not that it’s my fault but um-”

Tony glared at both of them, “There’s no way in hell you guys thought this through.”

“I did,” they both said in unison. Annie raised an eyebrow, but nodded at Peter to go first.

Peter sighed, “W-well, you can’t be a neighborhood friendly Spider-Man if there’s no neighborhood… okay, that didn’t really make sense, but you know what I meant.”

Tony rolled his eyes, “Okay, what’s your excuse.”

“There’s a few. One, did you really think I was gonna just let Peter stay in space and spend all my time worrying about him like an idiot? And two, I never really made up for everything… you know, Tina and Carnival were kinda my fault and I never really solved either of those problems,” she said, shrugging.

Tony sighed, “Okay, fine, look down there, that’s the wizard, what do you guys do?”

Right as Annie was about to suggest a plan, Peter cut in, “Have either of you guys seen this really old movie, Aliens ?”

The plan he came up with was better than anything Annie had in mind and Tony seemed convinced, so that was what they went with. Annie was in her position. She had to be backup and make sure the alien was the only one who went through the hole. So far, the alien wasn’t facing them and the wizard didn’t even know they were there.

That was when Tony started speaking to the alien. Now that she thought about it, the guy kind of looked like Squidward, but that wasn’t important. What was important was paying attention to what was happening, but the alien was so full of himself.

“My powers are far more superior,” the alien said, stepping towards Tony.

Annie rolled her eyes before muttering under her breath, “Bet.”

“Maybe, but the kid’s seen more movies,” Tony responded.

That was the signal, and Annie jumped right into action, not even hearing the blast as she made the knives around the wizard move away. Then came the harder part, there was so much energy that it almost felt like her powers were on high alert. She moved to pull everyone back by reversing the energy. What she never bothered to consider was that she was just some teenager literally going up against the cold, dark void that was space.

Though, everything ended up being just fine, and Tony patched up the hole. So she went right up to the wizard.

“I need to talk to you,” she said, crossing her arms.

The wizard nodded slowly, “I don’t need to talk to you. Now, are we going back to Earth?”

“The ship’s on autopilot and headed straight for Titan,” Tony said, looking at the screens.

He shook his head, “We cannot take the time stone to Thanos. Not under any circumstances.”

That seemed to send Tony into a raving rage. He started to go on about how he was going to fight Thanos. As soon as he mentioned Thanos being in his head for years, Peter and Annie exchanged glances.

Annie frowned, “Did he ever-”

Peter shook his head.

“Now we’re stranded thousands of miles away from Earth with no backup!”

“Um… we’re backup,” Peter interjected.

Tony looked at the pair again, “No. You’re both stowaways.”

“Okay wait, who are they? Are they your wards or something?” asked the wizard.

“I’m Peter actually-”

“Doctor Strange.”

Peter gasped, “Oh, we’re using our made up names! I’m Spider-Man.”

“Um… I’m Annie, or White Swan. Whatever works.”

The wizard, or Dr. Strange, went right back to Tony, “Look, we can go to Thanos, but if it comes down to it being between you, the boy, the girl, or the time stone. I’m choosing the time stone.”

“Right, good to know that you have a moral compass,” he commented before going up to Annie and Peter to mockingly dub them, “Congrats, you’re both Avengers now.”

With that, they were all kind of left to their own devices. It was the perfect time to finally get some answers for questions that had been in Annie’s mind for months. This time, she didn’t hesitate to go right up to the man.

“So… what’s up, Doc?” Annie asked, taking off her mask so it hung around her neck.

Dr. Strange rolled his eyes, “Very original. What do you want?”

“Answers, lots of answers. And if you’re gonna choose a piece of jewelry over me, then this is the least you can do.”

He scoffed, “This is not a piece of jewelry, this is the time stone. One of the six infinity stones. It literally controls time as we know it.”

“Okay, okay, whatever, I have a question or two for that too then… but I’m starting from the top. Where were you when Carnival was in Seattle? Because I was facing off against him on my own. Do you get that? I was barely even fifteen at the time-”

“That was your choice.”

“Because I have powers! So answer the damn question, where were you?” she asked, frowning.

He shook his head, “I barely even knew what I was doing at that time. I’m not sure if I was even in charge of the Sanctum at the time.”

“Right… okay, and that time stone thingy… actually, I can answer this one myself,” Annie paused, starting to see if she could take any energy from the time stone.

At first, Annie felt fine and she could see that her hands were glowing green and it was starting to travel up her veins. Then it took more effort, but then she fell to the floor, feeling dizzy.

The man sighed, “It’s an infinity stone. No one can just sap all the energy out of one of those things. Though, you might be able to.”

“Well I’m not your average person,” Annie said, pushing herself to stand back up, “That kinda made me feel sick, though.”

He looked at her, “How badly do you want to save the universe?”

“Um… pretty badly. Kinda the only way I can make up for… never mind, you wouldn’t care about that. What’re you on about?”

“It’s possible that if you sapped out all the energy of the stones… Thanos wouldn’t be able to complete his goal. But it would almost definitely kill you, and that’s if it worked. It might not.”

Annie looked at him, “But I could save the universe… you, Stark, Peter, everyone back home, they’d be okay?”

“If he’s defeated, yes.”

She nodded slowly, “I’ll keep that in mind.”

Before she knew it, they were headed right towards a planet. Probably the place they were going to meet Thanos. She had no clue what the guy looked like, but she was pretty sure that she knew what she’d have to do. First, they needed to land without dying.

“You gonna help your… boyfriend?” Dr. Strange asked.

Annie shook her head, “Nah, he’s basically a genius. I’m just damage control.”

“Nah, as in he isn’t your boyfriend, or nah, as in you’re not helping.”

She laughed, “Nah as in I’m not helping. Peter’s freaking great. You might not wanna protect him, but I do.”

There wasn’t much more time for talking as they started to his a rocky landing. Annie put up a barrier to protect the four of them, and it seemed like Dr. Strange was right on the same page as her. If they all got through this, she’d probably ask him how he managed to do it.

“Hey, guys, for the record, um… I’m really sorry if an alien comes and puts her eggs in me,” Peter mumbled, hanging upside down.

Tony looked at Peter, “You, I don’t want another pop-culture reference out of you for the rest of the trip.”

“Um… what I’m trying to say is something’s coming.”

That was when a group of complete strangers flooded the scene. They were under attack, and Annie was quick to block a hulking, blue man. She pushed him back, and ran off. No one else seemed to have any powers like she did, so she wasn’t too worried for herself. But she took her eyes off of everyone else and she suddenly saw Peter had a gun to his head.

“I swear if you even think about shooting him, I’ll electrocute you until you’re fried to a damn crisp,” Annie growled.

Tony sighed, “If you shoot my guy, I’m gonna shoot your guy.”

“Go for it, I can take it,” said the blue man.

An alien who looked like a cross between a praying mantis and a lady cried out, “Don’t, he can’t take it!”

“You’re right, he can’t,” Dr. Strange agreed.

The man pointing the gun at Peter removed his mask, “Look, I’m only gonna ask you one question. Where is Gamora?”

Tony took off his mask, “I’ll do you one better. Who is Gamora?”

“I’ll do you one better! Why is Gamora?” the blue man asked.

Then the man started blabbering on about Thanos, and Annie was still watching carefully in case something happened.

“Wait, what master do you serve?” Dr. Strange asked.

The man scoffed, “What am I supposed to say, Jesus?”

“So he’s from Earth,” Tony remarked.

He sighed, “I’m from Missouri.”

“That’s on Earth, you dipshit.”

The man shook his head, “Wait, who are you guys?”

Peter took off his mask, “We’re the Avengers, man!”

With that, they all quickly realized they were on the same side. At least, they weren’t serving Thanos in any sort of way. So that meant they would be able to team up. Maybe she wouldn’t have to do anything that would potentially kill her.

They were standing around, and Tony was attempting to come up with a plan, and Annie was mentally making the note to do what Dr. Strange suggested. Well, he never suggested it, but all the same she never would have tried it if he hadn’t mentioned it.

“Is that guy really yawning?” Tony asked incredulously.

The man, who she learned was Quill gave a shrug, “They’re not used to making plans. We’re more of the winging it type.”

“We are not winging it with Thanos.”

Peter looked over at the other two, “What do those guys even do anyways?”

“Kick names, take ass,” the lady replied.

“There was the dance-off to save the universe,” the blue man added.

Peter furrowed his eyebrows, “Like in Footloose ?”

“Exactly like in Footloose ! Is it still the best movie ever made?” Quill asked.

“Um… it never was.”

Annie laughed, “ Mamma Mia was, like, a gazillion times better.”

“The hell is Mamma Mia ?”

She gasped, “It’s a jukebox musical, it’s got a ton of ABBA-”

“Wait, what?! That’s how much changed?”

“I guess so, anyways, you gotta listen to it and watch it, it’s a freaking masterpiece-”

“We’re not letting Flash Gordon get you wrapped up in musicals.”

The other alien lady looked over at Dr. Strange, “Does your friend do that often?”

Tony approached the wizard, and he sighed, “I was looking into all the alternative futures.”

“How many were there?”

“Fourteen million six-hundred-five.”

“How many did we win?’

“One.”

The word cut through Annie’s heart like a knife. There was only one shot, and it had to be the one where she sacrificed herself. That had to be the only way, she bit her lip in thought. She quickly held Peter’s hand. If she didn’t do this, then none of them were going to win. She had to do this.

Annie kept that in her mind as they went over the plan time and time again. Dr. Strange never spoke to her about the energies again, and she wondered if that meant she was just supposed to do this. And before she could really consider the weight of what she had to do, she was hiding behind wreckage with Peter.

“I love you, you know that, right?” Annie asked softly.
Peter nodded, “Yeah, of course. I love you too. We’re gonna get through this, alright? I don’t know when we’ll get home, but we’ll get back in time for your audition next month for sure. We can take a few days off from all this. We could go see one of your musicals or something-”

She cut him off with a quick kiss when she heard another ship land, “That would be lovely,” she whispered.

It took everything she had in her to not let the tears stinging at her eyes fall. She couldn’t. Then he would know what she had in mind, and he’d try to stop her. But this was the only chance they had. He’d get over her, right? He had to.

She was lurched right into battle when she was the least prepared for it, and she attacked Thanos head on. Except, he wasn’t interested in her. That was fine by her, the less he noticed her the better. She wanted to make sure everyone stayed safe. Peter seemed to be having a great time until Thanos grabbed him by the neck and smashed him into the ground.

“That’s my boyfriend, you artificial grape-colored nut sack!” Annie screamed, letting out one of the largest bursts of energy she could manage.

Quill couldn’t help laughing, “You definitely lucked out. She’s a keeper.”

Annie then focused on the gauntlet. She didn’t want to just start off by killing herself. Not when there was the tiniest chance that it was unnecessary. Instead, she focused all the energy of the planet into that one gauntlet.

Things were starting to look decent enough. She could audition, and maybe, just maybe, she could even make it to her therapy appointment that was supposed to have been that day. Once the gauntlet was off, they could figure it all out from there.

Someone landed in a ship, but Annie wasn’t about to worry about who was there. She needed to focus on this, and they were starting to make a lot of headway on it.

The person who landed started asking around about Gamora. Annie really wondered just who in the world Gamora was. Probably someone important because as soon as the person who landed accused Thanos of murdering Gamora, Quill got a very specific look in his eyes.

“Hey, Quill, look, you need to keep your cool, come on, we’ve almost got this thing off,” Tony pleaded.

It wasn’t any use, Quill started to punch Thanos and yell at him. She looked at the man, shaking her head, there wasn’t anything she could do to stop him. So when Thanos was snapped out of his trance, they were all flung to the side. She noticed Peter caught the alien lady, and her energy broke her fall.

They were all together within minutes. Except for Dr. Strange and Tony. She knew what that meant and she felt tears stinging her eyes.

“Hey, I-I know this doesn’t look good, but it’ll be okay,” Peter told her, pulling her in for a hug.

Annie hugged him back tightly, “You’re right. It’ll be okay, you’ll be okay,” she paused for a few moments before kissing him, “I love you.”

“A-are you sure you’re okay?”

She nodded, “Yeah, I’m positive, and you’re gonna be okay. Just trust me.”

Then she pushed him back before rushing off. She kept everyone else back just to give her a head start. When she got to where the main battle had been. Tony had something stabbed into his chest. There was no way he was going to survive that, but she needed to do this. Peter still had his aunt and Ned and Harper and everyone else. So she fixed her eyes on the purple stone in Thanos’s gauntlet. She started to pull the energy, and she knew that Dr. Strange and Thanos were too busy talking to notice. It started off and she was okay. She actually felt a pretty big surge of power, but she could only take so much. It was starting to feel like she was going to throw up. Everything was starting to spin, and she didn’t feel quite right. She refused to let go. This was something she had to do, and if she didn’t then more people were going to be hurt.

Peter would forgive her for doing this, right? He would have to. Maybe someday he would understand.

Right as she started to feel herself black out, she was shoved down. She could barely move, but she could have sworn she saw Thanos standing over her.

“Clever, but not quite enough,” Thanos said, turning back to Dr. Strange.

She watched him with the time stone, and she couldn’t quite make out what Quill was doing. Thanos was done before anything else could happen.

“What the fuck?!” Annie exclaimed, “Y-you said that I could-”

“That wasn’t part of the plan,” Dr. Strange said, “I never said it would work for sure.”

“But that was the only shot we had!” she cried.

He shook his head, “You should stick with your boyfriend.”

Almost like he heard, Peter made it to her, “You… what did you do?”

“N-nothing you need to worry about.”

“You were gonna sacrifice yourself, weren’t you? Annie, you don’t have to kill yourself to make up for everything,” Peter snapped, his eyes filled with hurt.

Annie buried her face in her hands, “It was supposed to work. You would’ve been okay, everyone would’ve been okay.”

“We can still be okay, come here,” Peter held her in his arms, stroking her hair, “I never would’ve forgiven myself if you died like that.”

“Yes you would’ve, it’s what I wanted,” she said, burying her face in the crook of his neck.

He sighed, “I don’t know how I would’ve done it, though.”

“That’s not what matters. I know you, you’d be fine.”

Peter tilted her face up, “You really don’t realize just how important you are.”

“Obviously I do or I wouldn’t have… you know.”

He sighed, helping her up, “Let’s go see the others.”

“I’m still pissed at that Quill guy.”

Peter laughed dryly, “I’m sure you are.”

It was right as they started to get back that it happened. First it was the alien lady, then it was the blue man. Quill was next. Annie saw Dr. Strange fade away too.

That was when she literally felt energy slipping from her, “Peter!”

He turned to her with wide eyes. Annie was trying to keep herself together, literally. She was barely forcing herself to stay together.

“Hey, hey, you’re gonna be fine. W-we’ll get home, a-and you can audition for your musical. W-we need to have that Harry Potter marathon still-”

“Peter, I love you so, s-so much. P-please tell me you know that,” she felt herself still fading to the point she couldn’t speak without losing concentration.

He nodded, tears falling from his eyes, “O-of course, I know that. I love you too, so much. But you have to let go, Annie. I love you, but you need to let go now.”

Annie looked at him and shook her head, but he kissed her forehead, “Please, you can’t keep doing this.”

And with that, she fell into a pile of ash. There were a few reasons Peter wanted her to let go. The main reason was because if she stayed for another few moments she would’ve heard what he said next.

“Mr. Stark, I don’t feel so good.”

Chapter Text

Back in New York, all schools had been released early because of the potential threat. People were recommending an evacuation, but everything still seemed to be fairly calm. After the ship left the city, there wasn’t much to worry about.

That was precisely why Harper and Ned were sitting in the booth of a diner a few blocks away from Ned’s apartment. His mom still had to work regardless of them advising finding somewhere safe. Harper knew they could have probably made up with their parents, but they knew that their parents never would have let Ned come with. Annie maybe, but she was up in space.

Harper wasn’t about to just leave Ned in the dust.

“When do you think they’re gonna get back?” Ned asked, sipping on his milkshake.

Harper shrugged, “Who knows… I’d say they’ll be back soon enough. I don’t know what this was all about, but can you imagine either of them not coming back?”

“Yeah, you’re right…” Ned trailed off.

Harper reached across the table and held his hand, “Ned, they’ll be fine. You know that they’ll both protect each other.”

Though, that was what worried Harper deep down. That Annie would just go a little bit too far the next time it came down to it. It was a silly fear though, there was no way Peter would let that happen. And from the looks of it, Iron Man went onto that ship too.

They had to be coming back.

“You’re right, I’m just worrying too much,” Ned conceded.

They smirked, “Exactly, ‘cause I’m always right.”

For a few moments, everything seemed like those words were true. Besides, there wasn’t anything to worry about. The spaceship left hours ago. The real covered fight was all the way in Wakanda. Harper could already see Annie teasing them for ever doubting that all of them would come home. All this worrying was silly.

Still, it was too quiet for either of them to be comfortable. So Harper started to talk about one of their new projects for class. They had no idea how to do it, and there wasn’t even a true concept they were talking about. However, Ned wasn’t complaining and he was actually prompting them to keep speaking.

“I mean, maybe I could just update the suit? Or I could do a completely different design and outfit?” Harper sighed, “I have no idea.”

Ned thought a moment, “Maybe you could do a literal suit, like a tux or something? That would be cool.”

“You think so?”

“Yeah.”

Harper took another drink of their milkshake and stirred the straw around, “Do you think we’re gonna have to go to school tomorrow?”

“I don’t think I will, but they’ll probably open universities,” Ned replied.

They nodded, starting to stare off into space. It wasn’t like they were staring at anything in particular, just around where the waitress was hanging around, cleaning up. The waitress was picking up some of the plates and Harper saw it.

At first, Harper just thought they had been staring into space for too long when there suddenly wasn’t a person where they could have sworn the waitress had been. It was an easy mistake to make. What made them realize something was wrong was when the plates clattered onto the floor, and they jumped.

Ned heard the crash too and turned, “The hell was that?”

“I um… there was someone there, but now there isn’t…” Harper trailed off before seeing a plane crash into a skyscraper.

Ned’s eyes widened, “Okay, what’s going on?”

“What should we do?”

Both of them were clearly thinking the same thing. With taking one look outside, people were vanishing into dust. There were people screaming in the streets. It was quickly becoming a mass hysteria situation. They needed to go somewhere safe.

Harper grabbed Ned’s hand and bolted out the back of the diner, “Come on, I might have an idea.”

“Where are we going?”

They shrugged, “You know where I’ve been making all my projects? It’s a super secret and super safe room. If we go there, we should be fine.”

“Are we just gonna stay there?”

“Until things die down. So maybe, like, a day or two? We’ll be fine.”

With that, Harper led Ned down the alleyway, hoping to avoid everyone going crazy in the streets. For a moment, Harper let go of Ned and immediately felt their stomach sink. They didn’t know what was causing people to disappear, but Harper breathed a sigh of relief when they saw Ned was right behind. And for a moment, instead of running, they hugged him tightly.

Ned hugged her back, “I think we’re okay.”

“Y-yeah, I think so too. Is there anyone you can think of checking in on?” Harper asked.

He nodded, “Aunt May, if she knows about Peter going into space… and if she’s still around… we should take her along too.”

“You’re right. We’ll stop there first then. Maybe steal some food and stuff,” they agreed, rushing to the apartment building.

Even with many people gone from whatever happened, there were still plenty of people who could fill the streets. Harper led the way, pulling Ned behind as they got up to the level of the apartment. It was suddenly so quiet once on the floor, that Harper almost didn’t want to knock. Maybe it was better to not know and to hope for the best.

Ned was the one who knocked, and there was a long pause. Both of them stood still, looking at the door. After a few seconds, it opened.

May looked at both of them and hugged them, “Thank goodness you’re both alright. You’re both fine. I know it’s a long shot, but do you know about anyone else?”

“No, it’s just been us. I’m sorry,” Ned replied.

Harper looked down, “I don’t know if it’s really gonna be safe here right now. I um… I have a really protected sewing room, and I can get us all there and we can stay there for a couple days. It might be for the best.”

“What if they come back?” May asked.

“Well, they were with Tony, so if anything happens, we’d know, like, right away. I promise, it’s our safest bet. Because I feel like people fading away is the least of our worries now,” Harper said, remembering the plane crash from earlier.

It wasn’t like they had many options. There was no way of knowing who was alive and who wasn’t. All Harper knew was that Ned and May were fine. But they couldn’t imagine Annie or Peter disappearing. If the rest of them had been left alive, they had to be okay too. Maybe it was just on Earth anyways, and they were safer up on whatever planet in outer space.

Chapter Text

I'm not sure how people get notified on here, but I felt anyone being notified should know I just published the sequel to this and I hope you enjoy what's been done so far! https://archiveofourown.org/works/19144675