"I just want to apologize for what's about to happen," Ned says to her, sitting down at her lunch table with a look in his eyes that spells trouble.
Peter sits down next to him. Trouble, right on time.
She squints at them both.
"What did he say?" Peter asks, frowning. "Ned, what did you say?"
"I preemptively apologized," Ned says, shrugging.
"Dude," Peter protests.
"What did you do?" she asks, steely as she can, succeeds in getting Peter to lean back a little.
"Um, so I was wondering if as a friend, you could pretend to be my girlfriend at a work function?" Peter asks, smiling hopefully. She turns her attention to Ned, raises an eyebrow. He nods in response, and she sighs. Peter frowns at both of them.
"Interesting," she says. "I'm going to need some more details."
"Yeah, Peter, tell her the details," Ned agrees.
"You're the worst," Peter says. It's unclear who he's talking to.
"So how did you get yourself into this one?" she asks.
"Well, um, Mr. Stark wanted to set me up on a blind date with one of his actual- I mean, other, one of the other interns," he says, tripping over his words. Ned places his head in his hands.
"Jeez, Parker," she mutters, shaking his head.
"Um, so I said I already had a girlfriend, which worked great at the time," he continues. "But, well, now there's this banquet thing on Saturday and I'm signed on for a plus one. So I was wondering that since you are my friend who is a girl you could help me out and pretend to be my girlfriend and I would owe you a huge favor, potentially owe you a life debt."
She takes a moment, staring at him until he's visibly uncomfortable, shifting in his seat but still grinning at her weakly.
"I'll think about it," she says and lifts her book up again.
A Brief Comprehensive Chart Concerning The Pros and Cons of Fake Dating Peter Parker:
Pro: Potentially owed life debt.
Con: Must go to a formal function.
Pro: A catered formal function.
Con: A formal function with rich bureaucrats.
Pro: Get more experience in this 'friendship' thing.
Con: Spending significant amounts of time with Peter Parker.
Pro: Finding out what it's like to fake date Peter Parker.
Con: Facing the inevitability that you will never real date Peter Parker.
Pro: Fake kissing?
Con: Dealing with emotions post-fake kissing.
Pro: Fuck it.
"Alright I'll do it," Michelle says. They've been standing on the subway platform in relative silence so it's a little startling. It takes him a moment to figure out what she's saying.
"Oh! Oh really? Cool," he says, turning to smile at her. She has her nose in her book but he can see her glance at him briefly.
"I have some ground rules," she says. "Just so you know. Non-negotiable."
A train goes rushing by on the express track. He nods at her.
"Sure, yeah of course," he agrees. "Whatever, dude, seriously."
"One, I will be wearing a suit to this banquette," she says.
"Alright, cool," he says nodding.
"Two, I asked you out," she says.
"Sure," he says.
"Three, I will be using a fake name," she says. "Four, I will require two to-go boxes, three if there's any form of shrimp. Five, in this fake relationship you worship the ground I walk on, understood?"
"Absolutely," he says, trying to nod seriously even though he's trying really hard not to smile. Michelle is maybe the strangest person he's ever met and it's always just so great.
Their train pulls up, loud and thundering. He feels the vibrations through the platform. The cool air washes over him as he steps in. Michelle makes a beeline for the last available seat. He raises an eyebrow at her and she shrugs, setting her book on her lap.
"Hey, I really just want to thank you again," he says. The train jolts as it leaves the station and he tries to act a little off balance even though the point is probably mute with Michelle at this point. "Ned thought for sure you were going to just laugh at me. So I really appreciate this."
She lets out a long breath, staring at him with an intensity he can't parse. She does this sometimes, just looks at him and he can never tell what it's supposed to mean, whether it's good or bad or anything at all.
"Whatever," she says, shrugging. "I wasn't doing anything this weekend anyway."
She turns her attention back to her book and he looks out the window so he's not just staring at her. It's kinda nice, just relaxing in a silence. That's the other thing with Michelle, things are never awkward. At least, not unintentionally awkward, not awkward when she doesn't deliberately want it, so silences are always comfortable, calm.
Her stop is before his and she stands as the train starts to pull up. He snags the seat, pulling his bag onto his lap.
"Six," she says. "Don't expect me to act all different on Saturday. You asked to fake date me, that's on you."
"Wouldn't dream of it," he says. He wouldn't want her to act differently anyway because Michelle is just so good at being Michelle.
"Alright, just keep that in mind because there is a very good chance I'm gonna get into a fistfight with a state senator," she says and strolls off the train.
He isn't ready.
To be perfectly honest he didn't think he would have to be ready. He thought it would just be a fun Saturday night with his friend, eating fancy food and meeting fancy people and that would be that.
And then he was here, waiting outside Michelle's apartment, and then she was here, walking down from her apartment and he just kinda stopped breathing.
Because she said she was going to wear a suit and he thought that was very Michelle and super cool and it made him smile a little because he had such a cool friend. He did not think about this: Michelle with her frizzy hair down, a glorious lion’s mane surrounding her, in a pair of black slacks and matching blazer, a white collared blouse and a pair of ballet flats, looking some sort of professional goddess.
“Hey,” she says, walking up to him. And he kinda forgets how to speak for a moment.
“Hi,” he says. “Hi, Michelle. You look… incredible.”
“Yeah I know,” she says, brushing her bangs back. “You clean up pretty nice too without the Hot Topic graphic tees.”
“Uh, thanks,” he says. His mouth feels really dry and also it’s kind of hard to breathe and also he can’t stop looking at her.
“So…” she says. “We just gonna stand here all night because I was kinda looking forward to those cocktail shrimp.”
“Right,” he says. “Right, um, the car is over here.”
“Car?” She asks, following him over to the black SUV. “Aren’t you like a toddler? When’d you get a license?”
“Michelle, we’re the same age,” he protests. He opens the door for her because if he didn’t Aunt May would probably appear and yell at him. Michelle rolls her eyes and slides in.
"Um, this is Happy," he says as he climbs in next to her. He closes the door behind him and glances out the window for a second because he's been looking at her for too long and it's starting to make his brain hurt. "He's our driver."
"Classy," she says.
"Happy, this is Michelle, my, uh... my girlfriend," he says, even though Happy gives him a look in the mirror that says he doesn't care.
Michelle slouches down in her seat, pulling her knees up and a book out. Just looking at her like that he feels like a weight has been lifted off his chest. Because it's still Michelle, his friend who looks ethereally beautiful right now but is still his really cool, really weird friend and he will not do anything to disrupt that.
She kicks her legs up into his lap and he jolts a little, glancing over at her. She shrugs, tilts her chin towards the front seat, Happy who has his eyes on the road but who is definitely scrutinizing everything about their interactions even with his general air of apathy.
Right. Right, his weird beautiful friend Michelle for all intents and purposes is his girlfriend for the night.
Oh, this is going to end very badly.
"We should make out," she says and almost kills Peter because he starts coughing really hard.
She's not sure where the thought came from, just that after the silence in the car as she read and he stared out at the rushing landscape of Long Island and their quiet walk up the driveway to the elevator, she had to say something important.
"What?" he splutters.
"In the elevator," she says, committing. "If they catch us making out, they'll be less likely to suspect we're conning them and we can get away with less PDA the rest of the night." See this is not just about making out with Peter Parker, this is the logical conclusion. Who'd want to make out with Peter Parker anyway? Not her. That’s who.
"We're not conning them," he says and visibly gulps when the elevator arrives. "We're just... exaggerating the truth."
Well, that's one way of putting it. Even though she's pretty sure they’re on different ends of this exaggerating scale.
She steps into the elevator, leans against the far wall and lets him press the button since she really doesn't know where they're going and she's pretty sure there's an inner eight-year-old to Peter that gets very excited about things like elevator buttons.
"We don't have to, obviously," she says, staring at her blurry reflection in the elevator. "But we definitely need a story. We could be going through a rocky patch. You spend so much time at your internship I feel like I don't even see you anymore. I could throw a drink in Tony Stark's face."
"Please don't," he says, but he's grinning again. He still looks a little nervous, playing with the sleeves of his blazer. "It's not a bad idea though."
"Alright," she agrees. "I could throw a drink at you instead. Fashionable exit. Should we have a code word?"
"No, I, um, I meant the kissing thing," he says. If her heart jumps into her chest it's because the elevator jolts. "If you're comfortable with it that is."
"I suggested it," she says.
"I know," he says, rubbing the back of his neck. "Yeah, I just wanted to make sure, you know? Because really, thank you again for this, this is like really awesome of you, just being here and stuff."
He's clearly going to keeping rambling and stuttering and knowing Peter like she does, there's a good chance he'll just keep going for the rest of the night.
So she pushes off the wall and takes a few steps so she's standing in front of him.
He swallows again and stops talking.
“Oh, okay,” he says.
She tilts her head down a little and pressed her lips to his.
For a moment they just linger there, eyes closed, lips touching. He has on hand touching her waist very lightly and hers are resting on his shoulders and it’s very stiff and awkward.
And then he tilts his head a little to the side and everything slots together just right. His hand is on her back and his curls are brushing against her forehead. It's sloppy, lacking any finesse, but it's earnest and soft and not as awkward as she thought a fake kiss would be. It's a comfortable kiss, like curling up in an old armchair with a hot tea.
She keeps her hands on his shoulders, gripping the fabric of his blazer, focuses a lot of her energy on keeping them there because if she gets her hands up to his hair like she wants there's a good chance she'll just never let go.
There's actually a lot of focusing going on because while she could very well get swept up in all this like it's a really good book, it would be pretty disastrous.
She’s been trying to play this whole “huge terrible crush on Peter Parker” card close to her chest, even though it was a pretty unfortunate card to have been dealt in the first place what with the whole untouchable anarchist vibe she’s been going for. It’d kinda suck to ruin that all now.
Because he definitely doesn’t feel the same, which is better honestly, good for him, to not have to deal with emotions because emotions historically are the worst.
Peter already has enough emotions anyway.
And it appears he’s trying to infect her with them because she’s most certainly feeling things from this kiss and it’s kinda the worst but also really great. Like there are just feelings exploding in her stomach and splattering all over the inside of her rib cage and it’s so messy. And sure now it’s fun, but it’s not going to be fun when she has to clean it all up later.
The elevator dings and she pulls back.
He blinks at her, frowning a little. And then he's leaning back into her space and kissing her again and that's a fucking trip, isn't it?
Someone clears their throat, which thank God because what was she going to do? Stop kissing him a second time.
Peter has the decency to turn very red and step away from her. They step out of the elevator before it closes on them, Peter keeping a wide berth between them.
The place is fancy and spacious and she not only sees an actual live jazz band but there's also shrimp on the food table and a crepe station by the ice sculpture.
She's disgusted by the flagrant spectacle of wealth when people are starving and without healthcare.
She also thinks this might be the best night of her life.
Peter seems too distracted by being awkward to appreciate it all. Tony Stark seems to notice them, just standing slightly out of the elevator and starts to head over.
“I’m gonna go get Pepper Potts’ autograph,” she announces, and marches off, digging around in her bag for the copy of Time Magazine she packed for this moment. She does not get too excited when Peter trails after her.
“Dating” Michelle, he realizes very quickly, is a lot like hanging out with Michelle. Which is mostly just following her around and listening to her talk about things. Michelle rarely talks about things, especially not in group settings but sometimes when he gets her alone she’ll just start talking, and once she does she usually doesn’t stop.
It’s great because underneath it all Michelle cares a lot about a lot of things.
And it’s good right now because it means he has a reason to just look at her and not say much. He’s not sure what to say.
He wants to ask her if she felt it, the way the earth seemed to move when they were kissing, the way it felt like his heart was exploding, like the opposite of his Spidey-sense, the absence of wrongness.
He wanted to kiss her again, again and again just to feel it in his chest.
But that would make things weird, that’s not what this was about, and he can’t make it weird.
Even though it’s still weird when people come up and tell them that they’re such a cute couple, because they’re not even doing anything, they're just hanging out, it’s just Michelle talking and him listening and that’s it.
He feels like maybe he’s being too obvious, maybe every thought that races through his mind is just projected outward immediately, and that’s why Michelle keeps giving him weird looks.
Sometimes she looked like she wanted to say something about it, all this energy in the air between them that’s his fault because he’s thinking things he shouldn’t be thinking especially not tonight when she’s already doing him such a favor.
She never does which is great but also he needs to know if it’s just him going crazy or if there’s something happening, something shifting, if she feels it too.
There’s a moment she grabs his hand, lacing their fingers together and his heart actually stops beating for a moment.
And then Tony is in front of them, glancing between him and Michelle, sizing them up as a couple.
He wants to ask if they’re believable, if it looks possible.
“Who are you wearing?” Tony asks Michelle.
“Your mom,” Michelle says.
Holy crap, he’s in love with her.
Tony nods and gives him a thumbs up. But that hardly matters because his heart is pounding and he’s out of breath and he’s kinda drowning in this tsunami of new information.
Not new, just dormant, subconscious.
And Michelle is kinda leaning into him because they’re supposed to be pretending to be in a relationship and he’s ruined it because he actually wants a relationship.
And suddenly all of his conversations with Ned about why this was a mistake make perfect sense.
Did Ned know? Does everyone know?
How did he not know?
Michelle and Tony are talking but he can’t process what they’re saying, can’t enter this conversation like he’s not suddenly hyper-aware of everything, of the warmth of Michelle’s side against his and the way they’re just holding hands.
Oh, this is bad. This is really really bad.
Things get worse.
Because it takes a while but he thinks he’s finally got himself under control, that’s he’s not sensory overloading on everything Michelle every second and is acting closer to normal than before, and he can finally hold a conversation with her.
And then she leads them away from the chocolate fountain and towards the orchestra.
"Do you know any Ella Fitzgerald?" she asks the bassist.
"Ask him if he knows Africa by Toto?" Peter mutters, nudging her with his elbow. She sends him a withering glare and it's perfect, everything is almost normal and okay for a moment.
And then she automatically gets her revenge because she convinces the band to play some Ella Fitzgerald and stands back from the dance floor a second to admire her work and then she turns to him and says, "Well, let's dance, Parker."
And shit, shit, shit, she's holding his hand again and tugging him onto the floor, weaving between the other couples and then she stops and turns. They're standing very close together and her face is close to his and then her arms go around his neck.
He's holding onto her waist, very lightly because his hands are already sweaty and gross, and they're swaying back and forth and back and forth and he's just trapped there, staring into her eyes and holding onto her and moving to the soft music.
Oh boy, this was bad.
“This is awkward,” she says, raising an eyebrow and his blood runs cold for a second he’s halfway to an apology, some sort of ill-advised confession to explain why things are so uncomfortable.
“I’m-“ he manages to say and he’s really not sure where that sentence is about to go when she cuts him off.
“You know this isn’t a middle school dance right?” She asks. “You don’t have to save so much room for Jesus.”
“Um,” he says. “What?”
She steps closer to him, and suddenly their chests are brushing and her cheek is next to his and her arms are tighter around him. He’s no longer staring at her which kinda helps but now he’s peering over her shoulder and his elbows are out by his side at some acute angles.
He hesitates for probably too long before he gives in and wraps his arms fully around her waist.
It’s kinda like a very loose hug and they’re kinda swaying in place. She makes a point to step on his toes and he can’t see her face anymore but he knows, he just knows that she’s smirking and feeling very proud of herself.
After a while he’s breathing evenly again, calming down just a little, and he’s not radiating tension anymore.
It’s nice. Fun even, because Michelle starts making wry comments about everyone she sees over his shoulder.
Sometimes her hands play with the collar of his shirt and his heart stops beating for a minute and he really, really, really wants to pull her even closer, hold her really tight and stay like that for the rest of the night, but then she says, “There’s a New Jersey Senator behind you that is fighting a battle with the fruit display and is losing.”
And he can laugh and pretend he isn’t burning from the inside out.
This is weird.
Like it was weird before when they realized it was approaching midnight and she said, "Well, that's all the time my fairy godmother gave me."
And Tony Stark said, "It's too late to drive back to Queens."
"Well, good thing we're not driving," she said.
"You should just stay in one of the rooms here," he said.
And Peter shrugged and said, "It's up to you."
And now here they are, in the doorway of a hotel room with one California king bed and a bathroom half the size of her apartment. And it’s still just weird.
"Neat," she says and Peter smiles at her.
Peter is weird too, has been all night. For a moment she thought it was because she was doing this wrong somehow, being too obvious or something, like she would ever fail to have a perfect grasp of all emotions and facial expressions.
No, he was just being weird.
She chalked it up to nervousness, but they're in private now and he's still looking squirrelly, staring at her and looking every but her at the same time.
She rolls her eyes and steps further into the room, placing her to-go box on the counter of the kitchenette. Peter follows, putting down her other two. She toes off her shoes and Peter takes off his blazer and folds it carefully on the chair.
She meets his eyes and for a moment they're just staring at each other and there go all those feeling again.
She grabs her bag and ducks into the bathroom.
Good, it's quiet and clean and the perfect place to take a moment, look herself in the eyes, give herself a little pep talk. She pulls her hair up into a ponytail, changes into her t-shirt and leggings.
"Pull it the fuck together," she tells herself, pointing for emphasis.
When she steps out, Peter is sitting on the very edge of the bed, flipping through the channels.
She flops down on the bed with her book, immediately burrows under the covers.
"Where did you-? Why did you pack a change of clothes?" he asks, glancing back at her.
"I was ready to commit to the whole drink throwing thing," she says.
"Really?" he asks, raising an eyebrow. "That was your plan the whole time?"
"No," she says. "You just really don't want to know what else I have in my bag."
He looks slightly impressed and slightly horrified, which is good, the proper effect she should have on people.
"You wanna watch anything?" he asks.
"It's one in the morning, aren't you tired?" she asks, squinting at him.
"No," he says. "Sorry. Are you?"
"No," she says. "My sleep schedule has been fucked since 2012."
"Well... maybe we should both actually get some sleep for once," he offers.
"Or," she says, taking the remote from him.
"Or?" He glances down to where their hands brushed.
"You make me a tea and we watch this documentary on Area 51?" she offers.
He smiles and bounces right off the bed, walking over to the kitchenette.
His face is all angles in the flickering glow of the TV.
She's not sure when or why they decided to turn the lights off, just that everything feels different, quieter and more solemn, more focused. She keeps glancing over at him, and then she'll look away and he'll glance at her, and on and on.
She's pretty sure the documentary ended a while ago. She's pretty sure they've spent the past half hour watching infomercials.
It may or may not be three in the morning and she's so tired her head is spinning and he yawns every ten minutes or so.
At one point they were both sitting up straight against the headboard. Now they're slumped down closer to the pillow and leaning into each other, shoulders pressed tight together. Pretty soon they'll just be laying down.
She glances over at him, forgetting for a second that they're supposed to be taking turns because he's still looking at her and their eyes are meeting now and it's dangerous, hums like electricity in the air between them.
"Hi," he says in a whisper.
"Hey," she says.
"Thank you," he says. His eyebrows furrow together. "For tonight. Just... thanks. It was... it was really fun."
They're really close together, just leaning against each other, pressed together.
"Peter," she says, and it feels like a warning but she's not sure who it's supposed to be for.
"Michelle," he breathes, and then they're leaning against each other and then he's kissing the corner of her mouth, kissing her lower lip, kissing her. It feels like it's all happening in slow motion, like molasses, sweet and slow and heavy.
His hand is on her cheek and his thumb is brushing against her cheekbone, light as a feather.
She wraps her hand around his wrist, feels his pulse pound against her fingertips.
"Peter," she says, again, barely breathing it, just moving her lips against his.
A shiver runs down his spine and he presses his forehead against hers.
She should probably stop this. She's not sure what all of this is, but she's pretty sure while it's great right now, it's gonna end horribly.
His lips are slightly parted and his eyes are squeezed shut.
She buries her hand in his curls and leans back in.
"What did you do?" Ned asks after the third day of terrible, horrible awkwardness.
Because today, Michelle just didn't sit down near them at lunch. He doesn't even know where she is and has only exchanged about five words with her all day.
"Nothing," he says, and he feels bad for lying to Ned but it's not like he can just tell Ned he had a life-altering realization that he wanted to real-date Michelle while he was in the middle of fake-dating Michelle. Or that he made out with her for god knows how long in the early hours of the morning with the television playing quietly in the background.
To be honest, he's not even sure it really happened on this plane of existence. Just that he woke up the next morning, his arms wrapped around her waist and his face pressed into her neck. And he really had to pee and by the time he came back she was up and packing her bag.
And then everything got really awkward. The ride back was just an hour and a half of painful silence and avoided eye contact.
"Dude," Ned says, because yeah, he's terrible at lying.
"I know," he says, hanging his head.
"Just fix it," he says.
Peter nods but he's not sure how he's going to when they've been skirting around each other all week.
Ned pats him on the back.
He ends up bumping into her on the way out of Chemistry. Literally.
Which is weird because he doesn't really bump into things anymore considering the whole superpowers and she's a master at walking down the hall reading.
She steps back a little and he places his hand on her arm to stabilize them both before realizing.
"Hey," he says, fiddling with his shirt sleeves.
"Hey," she says, holding her book to her chest.
"H-Hey," he says, again. She blinks at him for a few seconds, scrutinizing him. He's trying to think of something to say because he feels like most things he could say would make everything much worse but there has to be something that could make it better.
"Okay, bye," she says, stepping away.
Yikes. Yikes. He feels like saying nothing would definitely only make things worse.
"I'm sorry," he says. Her eyes narrow slightly.
"Good," she says. "For what?"
"Um, for Saturday," he says. "If... Well, I'm sorry if I made you uncomfortable or anything because of... you know."
"Alright, cool," she says.
"I just really value our friendship," he says, stepping closer. "And I don't want to ruin it."
"Obviously," she says. "I'm a gift."
He nods. "Yeah, so I just wanted to make sure that we're good. Cuz I would really hate it if things were weird because of Saturday."
"What was Saturday?" she asks with a tight grin.
"Um," he says. "We made out."
"Peter, Jesus Christ," she says with a long sigh.
"Oh," he says. "Oh, it was a... sorry."
"Look, you wanna pretend it didn't happen, cool, it didn't happen," she says, arms tightly crossed.
He's pretty sure he's doing the thing where he makes it worse. She's squinting at him and he feels like he's close to another realization, one that'll maybe make this not keep getting worse.
"Well, I don't want to pretend that it didn't happen," he says carefully because Michelle values honesty so he might as well be honest since he's pretty sure he can't make it any worse than it's already going.
She rolls her eyes, stared directly up at the ceiling for a few seconds. "Alright, Peter," she says. "So what do you want?"
"In all honesty?"
"Sure," she says.
"Kinda wanna kiss you again," he says.
"Jesus Christ," she says, throwing a bookmark at him.
"Um, ow," he says, but she steps forward and grabs him by the collar, hauls him in and kissing him senseless.
Yeah, okay, he maybe made it better.
"You're the worst," she says.
"Totally," he agrees.
"You know this isn't how fake dating is supposed to work, right?" she asks.
"Yeah, but this is better, isn't it?" he asks, smiling hopefully.
She rolls her eyes. "The worst." And she leans back in.