Chapter 1: The Clueless Inkling
"Smile!" Ben said with a cheesy grin, holding his camera up.
Peter and Ned both gave big, toothy grins in their nice, but not too nice, suits.
The 8th Grade Semi-Formal was in a little under an hour, and the two boys planned on having a good time snacking in the corner together. Ned's parents and Peter's Aunt and Uncle were trying to convince them to dance, or worse, ask someone else to dance.
No, no. That wouldn't happen. Peter and Ned were fully aware that school dances were the breeding ground for gossip and embarrassment. They were smarted than that. Much smarter. They'd lay low, per usual, and people watch. It was their thing.
Once the photos were done, the adults started fussing over how "adorable" they looked again. The pre-teens shared an exacerbated look.
Peter was well aware of how scrawny he was. He could clearly see the acne and the braces. He also knew that carrying an inhaler in your pocket because your asthmatic, and not being able to see three feet ahead of him with glasses, were what his classmates called "turn offs."
Similarly, Ned was aware of his height and his weight being not-so proportional. He knew his skin was oily and that he couldn't kick, dribble, or throw a ball for his life. He heard girls talking about how they wanted boys they dated to be taller than them.
The boys knew, but they didn't care. In fact, they each other's biggest fans. When one day they had been teased a little bit too much, Uncle Ben quickly talked them down.
"If someone doesn't like you for who you are on the inside, they're not the one for you. You shouldn't spend time and energy getting upset about a person's superficial opinion." He had said.
The boys heeded that advice. They loved themselves, and they loved each other. They were best friends. Everyone else was merely a stranger.
They chatted together excitedly about upcoming movies and which ones they'd have to see opening night.
When they got to the dance, they each loaded up a plate of junk food, headed for the corner, and sat down together.
"Why don't men where dresses or skirts if girls wear pants?" Ned asked curiously, popping a piece of candy into his mouth.
"Well... kilts are a thing... Why? Do you want to wear one?" Peter wondered as he watched a group of girls nervously look over at a group of boys, then giggle.
"Nope, just curious." Ned responded.
Peter watched as one of the girls, Tracy Stevens, from the group he was watching nervously walked over to the group of boys and asked if one of them, Corey Santiago, if he wanted to dance. Corey nodded, and then they did just that.
"Stacy and Corey are finally interacting" he told Ned, then ate a cheese curl from his plate.
"It's about time. Maybe people can finally start talking about something else."
"They're probably just gonna keep talking about boys and girls." Peter admitted. He knew his grade. It wasn't hard to guess what their topics of conversation would be.
"Peter, I bet if you asked Mary Codler to dance, she'd say yes." Ned stated.
"Why do you say that?" Peter asked, putting the Twizzler in his hand down and looking at his friend.
"Because you're smart, and you look good tonight, and you're a good person." Ned explained.
Peter flushed slightly, but shook his head nonetheless.
"I don't want a girlfriend." He stated matter of factly.
"Dancing doesn't make you boyfriend and girlfriend, Peter." Ned stated with a small laugh.
"I don't want to dance, either. I want to sit here with you and eat junk food." Peter replied seriously, picking the Twizzler back up and biting it.
"Thanks, but if you have the chance to dance with someone, take it. Don't let me hold you back." Ned said more shyly this time. Peter looked at him like he had four heads.
"You're joking, right?
Ned shook his head. To him, Peter looked handsome. Peter was handsome. At some point, all the girls in school would catch on to that. Ned didn't want to get in the way of Peter's happiness. Friends didn't do that.
"Ned, you're my only friend. If someone wanted to join us, they can, but I don't exactly see a line forming. I'm not going to stop doing something that makes me happy, liking hanging out with you, to try to woo some girl that's never bothered to say a word to me". Peter replied sharply, looking at his best friend with determined eyes.
If anything, Peter thought, Ned would be the one getting asked out. He didn't flinch when strangers touched him or have abandonment issues. He was normal. He was smart, and funny, and perfect. He'd be sharing his best friend in no time.
Ned just blushed and looked down at his plate.
“Well let’s at least consider the fact that it could happen. What then?” He asked shyly.
“I’m confused,” Peter admitted, pushing his plate away for a moment.
“Isn’t there a thing where friends aren’t as close when one of them is in a relationship? What if Mary Codler asked you to dance? What would happen?” Ned questioned worriedly.
Peter almost laughed at what his friend was suggesting, but was actually more scared of it than anything.
“Are you trying to get rid of me?” He asked anxiously. “If you don’t want to be friends anymore, I get it. I just don’t want to have a girlfriend. I’m not ready. You know why I’m not ready, Ned. Please don’t make me.”
Ned’s eyes widened and he quickly shook his head.
“No! Gosh, no, Peter! I’m not trying to get rid of you! I just don’t find it so hard to believe that you’d be asked out in the next year. We’re going to High School, after all.” Ned explained.
“I wouldn’t say yes, Ned. Why is that so hard for you to understand?” Peter wondered.
“I don’t know… Maybe you’d just want more than just one friend… Maybe you’d get sick of me…or something.”
“NED!” Peter scolded, hitting his friend lightly on the arm. “You’re the only friend I want. Stop talking like you’re less than me somehow. You’re a heck of a lot better than I am. You know me, Ned. You know I’d never let you go.”
Ned just blushed some more.
“Okay,” he said, “I get it.”
“Good.” Peter said shortly, picking up his plate of food again.
There was a beat of silence in which Ned frantically wracked his brain for a new, less embarrassing topic of conversation.
"So... what Lego build do you want to do next?" The boy asked, hoping to change the subject.
"Oh my God, Ned, Ben showed me this insane NASA one online. It's only available for a limited time, though, so maybe we can beg for it as a middle school graduation gift!" Peter piped up, and Ned's jaw basically dropped to the floor.
"NASA! How many pieces? Do you know?"
"Like 20,000 or something like that!" Peter replied excitedly, and then the got engrossed in their conversation that the time started to tick by a bit more quickly.
When it was announced that there was one more song, the two boys agreed to get up and dance. They'd be in their corner, of course, but goofing around to that cheesy Dirty Dancing song Ben always quotes was a nice change of pace.
They each took turns twirling each other, epically failing at ballroom dancing, then laughing at themselves for it. Peter even jokingly ran at Ned to do the “iconic lift,” as Ben called it. They both wound up falling to the ground in hysterics rather than completing the trademark move.
“Parker! Leeds! Be careful!” A teacher nearby yelled as they tried to calm down their laughter. It took until the song was over and all the lights were on for them to do just that. None of their other classmates seemed to exist.
When Peter slept over Ned's house that night, the two hardly made it through one episode of The Clone Wars before falling asleep on the couch. Their heads were at opposite ends, but their legs were knotted together under the blanket Mrs. Leeds had laid over them.
It was good night between good friends. That was all anyone could ask for.
Chapter 2: Ch-Ch-Changes
When Peter Parker had the NERVE to go get ripped overnight. Thank you, Spider.
This chapter is short, but the next is long, so I'm gonna say that makes up for this.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
When Peter woke up the morning after the spider bite, he had a lot of readjusting to do.
No prescription glasses, only really dark sunglasses.
Ear plugs. He needed those.
Since when did he have muscle?
His anxiety was dialed to 100.
He was sticking to everything. Gloves didn't help.
And since when could he touch his toes?
Ben and May wouldn't let him go to school, especially after a whole night of squirming, throwing up, and groaning in pain.
He figured it had something to do with being bitten by that spider on his field trip. That was the only explanation. He 150% could not say that, though, because the last thing the Parkers needed was a lawsuit on their hands. He didn't want to be at the center of suing a multi-million dollar company over one night with a fever. No, he'd be fine. He was fine.
He wasn't fine. None of the symptoms went away, but he was too scared to tell Ben or May that. They didn't know about the spider, and it was definitely too late to tell them.
He adjusted to the hearing and the sight...sort of. He tried. He couldn't stay in his bedroom forever, though, so once he figured out how to unstick himself from things, Peter went back to school.
He purposely wore the most baggy clothes he owned. If he walked into school with a ripped body and no glasses, people would definitely know something was off. The last thing he wanted was attention.
"Can I have contacts?" Peter asked his aunt and uncle at the breakfast table. Trying to look through his glasses when he no longer needed them was impossible. He had a pounding headache.
"I thought you didn't want them?" May asked curiously.
"It'd be one less thing to carry, I guess. I think it might be a good idea."
His aunt and uncle nodded, then told him they'd order some. Peter was grateful for that small miracle. Now not wearing glasses wouldn't look so strange.
Then, despite wanting to hide under his covers, Peter left to start is day.
He really didn't want to, but he refrained from using sunglasses or ear plugs on the way to school. He had to adjust. He had to be normal.
However, the only person that he was actually worried about was Ned. His best friend had a tendency to see straight through him. He'd have to be one step ahead.
"Ned! I got contacts!" He told the boy eagerly when he got to school.
One step ahead.
"Woah, Peter." Ned gasped, grabbing his best friend's face and examining it.
"I'm still getting used to it. It's a little dizzying." He lied, hoping to provide an explanation for how uncomfortably enhanced his eyesight suddenly was.
"I'm sure you'll adjust soon." Ned replied optimistically, as Peter opened his locker.
"Yeah, it's just a weird sensation not having my glasses on" Peter replied, taking a notebook out of his bag and putting it in his locker. It took him a good five seconds to unstick his fingertips.
Maybe he could sneak into one of the labs during lunch and check out his fingers under a microscope. He really needed to figure out what was going on.
Then, out of nowhere, all the hairs on his body stood up and he had a spike of anxiety pinpointed towards his left side. Instinctually, Peter took a step back from his locker. At the same moment, and egg splattered against his locker right where he had been standing.
Peter immediately looked back to see Flash and a few of his buddies quickly fleeing the scene.
How had he known to move?
"Peter," Ned grabbed his attention, "that was so lucky."
Peter turned back to look at his best friend with furrowed eyebrows.
"Lucky? My books are covered in raw egg." He complained, even though something like this wasn't knew to him.
"Lucky it didn't hit you, I mean." Ned explained, gathering some of the mess into his hand.
"I should've expected Flash to let off some steam after two days without his punching bag." Peter shook his head at himself.
"Don't call yourself that." Ned responded quickly. He hated when Peter put himself down. The bullying drove Ned crazy, but Peter taking it was even more maddening.
"It's fine, Ned. I'm just not feeling up to getting pushed around today. I have a massive headache and my body's still in this weird post-fever state." Peter excused.
"Okay, but still, you're not a punching bag." Ned sighed.
"Yup... are you still sleeping over tonight?" Peter deflected.
"If I can."
"Yeah. Come over. I'm not contagious." Peter replied.
Ned showed up that night around 6, and after 4 hours of straight Star Wars, the boys were ready to turn in.
Peter stripped to his underwear and changed into an old t-shirt. When he turned around Ned was gaping at him.
"Man, you get one fever and you come back a new person" Ned exclaimed, looking him over.
Since when was Peter so ripped? Why had he not noticed this before? For some reason, Ned couldn't look away. From Peter's biceps to his calves... Ned was speechless.
"What do you mean?" Peter asked nervously. Which secret did he give up this time?
"Well, have you always been that jacked?" Ned asked. Peter's eyes widened and he looked down at himself.
"What?" He fumbled, trying to act like he had absolutely no idea what his friend was talking about.
"Peter." Ned gasped, stepping forward and poking his best friend's core. It was hard as a rock.
"Asthma attacks are a solid way to work up core strength, if you didn't know." Peter excused, hoping that'd be the end of it.
"You're joking, right?" Ned laughed, still unable to look away from his best friend's body.
What was happening? What was he thinking? Look away, Ned. Peter will notice.
Ned shook it off and met peter's eyes.
"Ned, the only exercise I ever engage in is gym class, and that's because it's mandatory. If you think I suddenly put on 20 pounds of muscle, you're mistaken." Peter said firmly, then crawled into his bed.
Ned, having no response, climbed the ladder up to his own. Well, it basically was his.
They both wished that that was the end of the conversation, but it wasn't. Not even close.
Now Ned couldn't stop noticing Peter, and Peter couldn't stop worrying about that exact thing.
Trying to explain his sudden lack of asthma was almost as challenging as the whole muscle thing. There was literally nothing Peter could say other than that he didn't know, because he definitely couldn't tell anyone the truth.
It was more than just the noticeable stuff, though. He was acting like a spider.
He had a strong urge to make webs, and so he went to the chemistry lab after school every day to work on a solution.
When he made the webs, and shooters for them after, he wasn't satisfied. Suddenly he was more interested in crouching in the corner of his ceiling than sitting at his desk.
Frankly, all he really wanted was to tell Ned. Ned would know what to do. Ned would know how to help.
He couldn't though. He just couldn't.
On the opposite side of things, Ned was trying so hard to figure out what was off about his best friend that he actually started to lose sleep over it. He was having so many thoughts.
And the two boys simply didn't talk about it while they were together. They wouldn't dare to break their normalcy. Because of that, Peter hid and Ned worried.
Little did Peter know that time was ticking on his chance to hide from his new self.
Little did Ned know, Peter was about to break.
Did I tell you it would be a slow burn? Yeah, ssslllloooowwww.
Chapter 3: "And We Have Ned"
"It's you and me, baby. We'll be okay. We're tough." May said as she pulled Peter into her arms.
"And we have Ned" Peter mumbled, reaching his arm out for his friend. Ned took Peter's hand and was pulled into the hug.
Ned has to watch Peter go through A LOT while they're friends. This night is no exception.
This chapter is...tough. I'd like to establish trigger warnings for loss of a loved on and suicidal thoughts. Be safe, folks.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The moment he had seen it on the nightly news, Ned ran six blocks to Peter's apartment. There was a police car parked out front, but by then it was quiet. It had happened on the streets somewhere, not in this building, but Peter would be there, right? God, Ned hoped Peter was there. He hopped in the elevator, hit the button for the 6th floor (because God knows he can't climb up there faster than the elevator could), and bounced anxiously as it went up. When the doors opened enough for him to fit through, he sprinted down the hall to Peter's door.
It was open, and for the first time in 15 minutes, Ned hesitated.
Two police officers were talking with May. The woman was pale, her eyes swollen and red, and her cheeks shining with tears. In the background, Ned saw Peter.
He would never unsee it.
His best friend was curled in a chair tucked into a corner. His eyes were hollow and lifeless, and he was covered in blood.
Ned felt his feet moving towards his best friend.
"Excuse me!" An officer stepped in front of him before Ned even realized he was halfway across the room.
"He's alright. He's family." May said quietly, and Ned gave her the most gracious smile he could given the circumstances.
When the officer sat back down, Ned hurried to Peter and knelt down in front of him.
"P-Peter..." he stuttered, horrified by the way his friend looked.
Peter sniffled and looked at Ned.
He wanted to say thank you to his best friend for coming. He wanted to cry in his arms, or at least hold his hand.
That couldn't happen, though. Peter was sitting in his punishment - in hell. He was covered in his uncle's blood, his dead uncle.
Dead because of you, Peter.
The boy bit down on his lip and forced himself to look at his bloody hands again.
"Peter," Ned repeated more firmly this time, "talk to me."
Peter shook his head, squeezing his eyes shut and clenching his fists. They were sticky and cold.
Ben's blood. Your fault.
"Can I touch you, Peter?" Ned asked cautiously, wanting to hug him.
Peter shook his head again.
"G-g-go," the boy managed to say, "m'b-bad."
I'm bad for you. I'm bad for everyone around me. I'm a curse. My parents died when they went on a trip without me for the first time. Ben died because I did nothing when I was right there. I'm gonna hurt May. I'm gonna hurt you. I deserve to be alone. I'm supposed to be alone.
"No." Ned said firmly, no room for argument. "You're not bad, Peter. You're the best thing that's ever happened to me."
"'M a curse" Peter swallowed.
"You're not a curse." Ned argued.
"I k-k-ki-killed B-b-b..." Peter bit down on his lip so hard that he drew blood. Ned reached up and cupped his cheeks.
"You did no such thing, Peter Parker. Don't you dare think that sort of thing."
"He's...he's gone." Peter's voice cracked.
He wanted to scream. He wanted to die.
"I know, Peter. I'm sorry. It's not your fault, though." Ned replied shakily.
Peter opened his eyes and looked at his bloody hands again.
"It should've been me." Peter then whispered, his voice rattling and his eyes filled to the brim with tears.
"Peter." Ned snapped, causing the boy to flinch and the adults in the room to look over at them.
"Do not say that. Never say that again." Ned ordered.
"It should've been me" Peter repeated, breaking into heavy sobs and falling forward off his chair and into Ned's arms.
While Ned wrapped his arms tightly around his best friend and ran his fingers through blood-stained brown curls, May was repressing her own scream of agony. It was hard enough to lose her husband. She couldn't lose Peter. The mere thought of it made her nauseous.
"One of us can stay with you if you'd like." The female officer suggested as they stood up to leave. May politely shook her head, but thanked them anyway.
"If you need anything, call this number, alright?" The male cop stated, handing May a piece of paper. Soon enough, they were gone.
May glanced back at the two boys behind her. Peter was shaking with sobs in Ned's arms, and Ned was whispering quiet assurances to him.
She wanted to go to her nephew. She wanted to hold him. She needed to lay down, though. She really needed to lay down.
May stood, moved towards the couch, and curled into a ball on it. She just needed a few minutes. Just a few minutes.
An hour later, Peter was still curled in Ned's arms and May was still frozen on the couch.
Ned knew it was up to him to move the two of them forward. There was no one else left.
"Peter," he said softly, "let's get you cleaned up."
"I can't." Peter squeaked, his eyed burning at the idea of washing his uncle's blood down the drain.
"I'll help you." Ned assured him, shifted onto his knees.
Slowly, Ned managed to help his best friend to his feet. On their way past May, Ned grabbed a blanket with his free hand and laid it over her.
When they made it to the bathroom, Ned sat Peter down on the toilet lid.
"I'm gonna go get you a change of clothes, alright? Just take a few deep breaths for me." Ned instructed, then hurried to Peter's bedroom. He quickly grabbed Peter's favorite sweatpants, his favorite science-pun shirt, and the big, soft sweatshirt that Ben and May had called his "panic sweatshirt." It was his father's, and he'd been crawling into it since he was six.
Next, Ned grabbed socks and underwear, then headed back towards his friend.
"Okay, Peter. Do you want to shower? Can you do that? If not, that's okay." Ned asked gently.
Peter shook his head, gaze frozen down on his bloody heads again. He couldn't move. He couldn't speak. He couldn't breathe. He couldn't live.
Ben's dead and it's your fault.
"That's okay. It's okay. I'm gonna clean you up, alright?" Ned responded, closing the door. Ned put the clean clothes on the floor, grabbed a face cloth, and wet it under the sink.
The moment he started to wipe the blood off of Peter's face, the boy started to cry again.
Ben's blood. He died right in front of you. It's your fault.
Ned swallowed and wiped his friend's face clean, then wrung out the towel under the running water.
Seeing the blood of a man that was practically family to him wash down the sink made him sick to his stomach, but he couldn't think about it. Peter and May needed him. He wouldn't fail them.
"There we go, Peter. A little bit closer to being done. Can you stand up for me?" Ned asked, but he was already lifting the boy up to his feet.
When they stopped in front of the sink, Peter let out a pained sound, pulling his hands closer to his chest.
"It's alright, Peter. It's alright. Just relax and close your eyes. You can't leave it on your hands forever."
Peter listened, and Ned gently pulled his arms down and under the water. He scrubbed Peter's hands and forearms down with soap and warm water until there was no blood left, then looked his friend over.
Blood was still in Peter's hair, and seeing as his shirt was very densely stained, it had probably gone through onto his chest. Ned let out a heartbreaking sigh, then turned the shower on.
"I don't want to," Peter said so quietly that Ned barely heard it, "I'm clean enough."
"Peter, all I want you to do is stand under the hot water for a few minutes. It'll feel good, alright? You've really gotta wash your hair. You feel better afterwords." Ned replied.
Peter glanced at the shower, sniffled, wiped his eyes, then nodded. Ned turned around so Peter could undress, then listened as his friend stepped into the shower.
Ned was right, the hot water felt nice. What wasn't nice was the red that was swirling down the drain. Peter looked down at his chest and imagined there was a bullet hole there. There should've been a bullet hole there. He should be the one in a body bag. He should be the one that they'll put in the ground.
His thoughts were getting darker and darker as he watched the blood wash off of him. He probably made it two minutes before he dropped to his knees and started throwing up.
In a moment, the curtain was open, the water was off, and Ned was wrapping a towel around him.
"Let it out. It's okay."
You just washed what was left of Ben down the drain like he was nothing.
Peter's stomach clenched and he leaned forward towards the drain, throwing up again.
Ned wiped his mouth with the corner of the towel once Peter settled down.
"Better? Or is there still more?" Ned asked.
There was nothing left in Peter's stomach.
"Better," he croaked, closing his eyes and leaning into his friend.
"Okay, let's get you in your coziest clothes, then" Ned stated, rubbing Peter's back.
"Don't be sorry."
"I'm sorry." Peter took a shaky deep breath, then started to stand. Ned helped him up, then handed him his clothes.
When Peter was dressed, Ned led him back into the living room. May was still curled up on the couch, and Ned lightly tapped her shoulder.
"Can I get you anything?" He asked worriedly as Peter sunk down onto the opposite end of the couch. May sniffled and sat up, giving Ned a weak but genuine smile.
"I'm alright, honey. Thank you."
Everybody in the room knew that she wasn't alright, but Ned didn't want to make her speak. Instead, he gave her a hug.
"Thank you." May bit her lip, really not wanting to cry anymore. Ned backed up and gave her a small smile, then headed into the kitchen. He filled up two glasses of water, and gave them to each of the Parkers.
"Okay, you two. We're going to watch a really stupid reality TV show, and we're going to cuddle. You need to take a mental break for a few minutes. I know you'll feel guilty, but my mom says it's only gonna be worse if you don't have an escape." Ned stared blatantly.
Peter and May just watched him silently as he put on the one show he knew they all secretly loved: House Hunters.
It took a few episodes, but eventually May would comment on how nice the place was, and Peter would voice which house he thought they'd choose. Eventually, the two of them both wound up snuggled against Ned, but the boy didn't mind.
What he did mind was the fact that Peter hadn't looked at May once since Ned had arrived.
It was guilt. Ned knew it was guilt. He couldn't help if he had no idea what happened, though. All he could do was sit with them and comfort them, which he was willing to do until the day he died.
When the time came to go to sleep (around 4am), May decided she would stay on the couch. Her reasoning didn't need to be explained. Ned understood. He got her a pillow from her room and made sure she was comfortable before taking Peter back to his own bedroom.
After he supported his best friend back to the room at the end of the hall, Peter sat on the edge of bed and looked at the floor. Ned sat down next to him, and waited quietly until his friend was ready.
The two sat in silence for close to ten minutes before Peter finally worked up the ability to make a sound.
"He...he and I got into a f-fight... we were fighting" Peter said very quietly, his hands fidgeting uncomfortably.
Ned put his hand on top of them, and Peter immediately clutched onto it.
"I had been out... I was being stupid... he was angry... he had every right to be angry, but I was angry too... It was stupid. I was stupid." Peter continued.
"Why were you angry?" Ned asked.
"I was frustrated with myself...with my life. I just wanted to be alone for a few hours...and I came back past curfew. I hadn't texted or called or anything. He had every right to be angry."
"So did you."
"No, Ned... he-he started yelling at me when I walked in the door... I didn't want to hear it so I started yelling back."
Peter swallowed, then took a breath. Ned gave his hands a reassuring squeeze.
"I told him... I told him that I didn't ask to live with him and May."
Peter's voice cracked, and Ned felt a tear fall onto his hand.
"He said if I hated it, I could leave... and I left. I f**king left...and Ben came after me..." Peter started to curl in on himself, and Ned immediately pulled him into his arms.
"And I saw an old man being robbed but I kept walking...and when Ben-"
Peter bit his knuckles, trying to hold in the wails and screams of pain that were aching in his chest.
"Ben didn't walk past it. He got involved. I heard it. I ran back to him...the guy...the guy saw me and freaked out and pulled the trigger."
He wanted to scream. He needed to scream.
"I tried to stop the bleeding. I- I tried to help him but I..." Peter sobbed into his best friend's shoulder.
"I couldn't... I-I couldn't. He told me it was okay... but it wasn't. It was my fault. And he-he...in my arms."
Ned rubbed circles on his friend's back, trying to comfort him.
"He's never coming back. Because of me, he's never coming back. He's gone. He's gone like my parents and it's my fault and it should have been me." Peter howled, pressing his face into Ned's neck.
Ned felt his own tears running down his cheeks, now.
"It was a freak thing, Peter. It's not your fault."
Ned didn't know how else to help besides holding his friend. He wanted to do more. He needed to do more... but he couldn't. He couldn't bring Ben back.
"I wish it was me, Ned. I wish it was me." Peter sobbed, and now Ned really couldn't hold back his tears.
"Peter." He snapped, pushing the boy away until he was at arm's length. "You can't change what happened."
"He-he...It hurts" Peter gulped.
"You'll be okay, Peter. He's not angry at you. He never was. He was just scared."
"I'm a curse."
Ned shook his head adamantly.
"No, Peter. You're the best thing that's ever happened to me. I couldn't live without you. You're not a curse. You're a blessing."
"I'm just gonna lose you. I lose everyone. I'm a curse."
"Last time I checked, May and I are still here. Ben was Ben, Peter. He threw himself in the line of danger all the time, willingly, to protect people. It's who he was. It has nothing to do with you.
"Now focus on me, Peter. I'm here, and I'm not going anywhere. I'm not leaving your side - not tonight, not ever. So relax. Go to bed. I'll be right up on the top bunk." Ned said firmly.
He gently pushed Peter down towards the mattress. The boy obliged, curling into a ball. He tugged Ned down too, though, and soon the two friends were both tucked into the bottom bunk, Ned's arms wrapped around Peter.
"Thank you," Peter said quietly, "for coming and everything."
"I always will." Ned replied, and Peter nuzzled into him a bit more.
Ned knew rationally that Peter was clingy and touch starved. He knew Peter, especially after losing Ben, needed to be held.
That didn't stop the fact that Ned never wanted to let go, though. It didn't change the fact that Peter being in his arms felt right.
It was a best friend thing. They were best friends. Because of that, they curled into each other and stayed that way all night.
When Ned woke up, he didn't move a muscle. Well, not until Peter woke up. When that happened, Ned was trying to stop the fall of tears and clean up another round of panicked vomiting.
Eventually he managed to haul the boy into the living room and into a chair. May was talking to the police department on the phone, her eyes red-rimmed and her jaw clenched.
When the call ended, she looked up at the two of them.
"How'd...how'd you sleep?" She asked, feigning normalcy as best she could.
"Fine, May. Thank you. Is there anything I can do? Do you want some breakfast?" Ned asked.
"I don't really have an appetite." She admitted, glancing at her phone, then putting it down beside her.
"May, if you need me to make calls or organize things, I will in a heartbeat. Don't feel bad about asking." Ned told the woman, sitting down next to her.
She gave him a soft, appreciative smile, then looked over at Peter. He was curled in a ball in his chair, looking away from her.
"Pete-Peter... can you come over here, honey. Can we talk?" She pleaded weakly. Peter didn't respond. He couldn't.
"Please, baby." May begged, her eyes watering. "I don't blame you, Peter. I just want you to talk to me."
Ned leapt into action. He practically lifted a reluctant Peter up out of the chair, dragged him towards May, and dropped him on the couch.
May grabbed his hand and held it tightly.
"Peter, I hear you making yourself sick. I hear you saying that it should've been you..." May said wetly, then swallowed a pit in her throat.
Peter squeezed his eyes closed.
"I want you to know that I'm not angry or upset with you, Peter, because it wasn't your fault. And if I had lost you... if I lose you... God, Peter I would die. Please just talk to me, okay? Please don't put this all on your shoulders." She asked of her nephew.
"I-I didn't... I could've..."
"No, Peter. It was just his time, I suppose. Please just look at me." May argued.
Somehow, Peter managed to look up at his aunt.
"He thought I hated him."
"He knew you loved him, Peter."
"He was all you had left."
"You're all I have left, and I wouldn't change that for anything."
Peter bit down on his lip and his face scrunched up. Tears betrayed him by falling.
"It's you and me, baby. We'll be okay. We're tough." May said as she pulled Peter into her arms.
"And we have Ned" Peter mumbled, reaching his arm out for his friend. Ned took Peter's hand and was pulled into the hug.
"Of course." May embraced Ned as well and they all clutched onto each other.
They'd be okay.
AAAANNNDDD that's that. As I said, slow burn. I don't know when the next chapter is going up purely because I haven't read it over yet and it might just suck. That'd be unfortunate, but yeah. It happens. Okay, have a nice day everyone! (COMIC CON IS IN 2 DAYS)
Chapter 4: Spider-Peter?
Set during/after Spider-Man: Homecoming, Ned finds out Peter's secret identity and has lots and lots of thoughts as a result.
This was so painful for me to write. It didn't come naturally. I sort of had to force it. I hope it's decent.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
"He should be home soon. You can just hang out in his room." May smiled as Ned entered their apartment with the Death Star in his hands.
"Thanks May!" He smiled, shuffling into Peter's bedroom and plopping onto the bed.
He pulled Peter's covers over some dirty clothes on the boy's bed, then sat down with the Death Star proudly in his hands.
He never minded waiting for Peter like this. When they were together, Peter was constantly trying to put on a front. When he was gone, the room was purely Peter. Not superficial, not perfect, not "fine," just Peter.
The little things were what Ned liked the most. The picture of Peter's mom on the shelf by the door. The picture of him, his parents, and Ben and May by his bed, as well as a photo of him and Ben. The little Iron Man mask on the top shelf of his closet and a half-full photo album next to it were two of Ned's favorite things. It was the stuff they didn't talk about that Ned knew was the most important to Peter. That's why they meant the most to him, too.
After a good five minutes of looking around at a room that had barely changed over the past few years, Ned heard the window opening.
Not creepy at all.
Stay calm. Stay calm. Stay calm.
In the hope that it was Peter who was about to come through it, Ned chanced looking. What he saw made his jaw drop to the floor.
Spider-Man, the Spider-Man, was crawling in the window.
Speechless and confused, Ned watched as the colorful crime-stopper crawled onto Peter's ceiling. He reached up to pull his mask off.
Ned knew he should probably say or do something, but he was too awestruck. The mask was pulled off, and if it was possible, Ned's jaw dropped even further.
He knew that mop of curls.
Spider-Man...Peter?...Spider-Peter?...kept crawling towards the door, shot a web at it, and carefully started to close it. Then he dropped to the ground soundlessly and closed it the rest of the way.
That couldn't be Peter. It wasn't Peter.
But when Spider-Man turned around, it was no longer the friendly neighborhood superhero. It was Peter Parker, and his eyes were wide in horror at the sight of Ned.
The Death Star fell out of his hands and he didn't even care.
The next few moments were a blur. Peter took the suit off and was deflecting everything Ned said, then May came in (May didn't know?), and then all of a sudden Peter's eyed were sharp and Ned was snapped out of whatever sort of daze he had fallen into.
It wasn't normal to see Peter like that. It wasn't right.
"Ned, May can not know! I can't do that to her right now." Peter snapped.
Then, Peter's tone lost it's power, and his stare went from angry to pleading.
"You know? I mean with everything that's happened with her...Please."
Ned promised he wouldn't tell, but couldn't help the questions that started spewing out of his mouth.
How on Earth was Peter Parker Spider-Man?
How was that possible?
Suddenly he was walking home, and the more he processed it all, the more he wanted to turn around. There was one thing he couldn't get off of his mind.
Peter risked his life every night. Everyday. He could die as Spider-Man.
And what about the news of Spidey getting shot? Stabbed? Spider-Man swinging around New York with a clearly dislocated shoulder?
It had all been in the news. That was Peter.
Ned felt sick to his stomach.
He could lose his best friend. He had already almost lost him hundreds of times.
Ned couldn't get the worry to go away. He could barely sleep that night.
Peter didn't seem at all fazed by the fact that he could get hurt or die. Ned caught on to that quickly, and he hated it.
There was no hesitation on Peter's part throughout all of Homecoming weekend and the time leading up to it. It was admirable, but it was dangerous. It was brave, and awesome, but it was dangerous. It was so freaking dangerous and it made Ned want to scream.
He was supportive, of course, but the thought of Peter dying or getting hurt paralyzed him.
And not only did Ned have all of that to deal with, but he also had to deal with the fact that he 150% was not okay with Peter having a crush on Liz, but he didn't know why. He was still supportive, though, of course.
But Liz had only invited them to the party once they found out. And Liz and only invited Peter to swim once he caught them going down. She didn't like him as much as he liked her, and it drove Ned crazy.
He'd bet that that would change if she knew he was Spider-Man. He figured a lot of people would suddenly become their friends. Ned knew the real Peter, though, and he loved that scrawny little nerd.
"Are you angry at me for not telling you I was Spider-Man?" Peter asked not long after all those events took place.
"No." Ned replied shortly, because it was a ridiculous question.
"Seriously, Ned. I'm sorry I stopped hanging out with you as much. I just- I need it. I need Spider-Man."
"You don't have to apologize, Peter. I know you. I know why you need it."
"It's just... when May found out, she hated the idea of me being in danger so often..." Peter fiddled with the Lego piece in his hand.
"Yeah, I mean, if you think I like that side of it then you're insane, Peter. You don't exactly stop to consider the consequences of running into a burning building or trying to end a gun fight." Ned admitted, pulling two of the plastic pieces apart then sticking one on the tower they were making.
"I know the consequences Ned, but my life doesn't mean any more than those that I'm saving. If I have the power to help, but I don't, people will die or get hurt. Just...just like Ben."
Peter swallowed and put the Lego down. Ned put his down as well.
"You aren't fair to yourself, Peter." He said.
"The spider bite had already happened. I would have healed. I could have done something."
"Peter, I commend what you do. You're my hero because of what you do. But... but can I just be selfish and say that you coming home to May and I needs to be the top priority?" Ned begged.
"If it's between my life and someone else's then-"
"I know, Peter, but please just lie and say it to make me feel better." Ned interrupted.
Peter looked down guiltily, taking a shaky breath.
"I'm doing it to protect you guys."
"I know, and I appreciate that more than you know. I won't ask you to stop. That wouldn't be fair. Just, please, promise me that you'll always come home." Ned pleaded.
His best friend looked back up at him and nodded.
"I'll always come home, Ned. Don't worry." Peter said firmly.
Ned could breathe again. He picked up a Lego and added to the tower. Peter watched him for a moment, then joined in.
"Do you think Liz hates me?" Peter asked quietly, pushing the pile of Legos around as he looked for a certain one.
"That's not possible." Ned shook his head.
"It's impossible to hate you. You're literally the most likable person on this planet." Ned explained.
Peter's cheeks flushed as he was quick to deny his friend's opinion.
"There are lots of people that hate me, Ned. The vulture guy, Flash, basically every bad guy in Queens..."
"Flash doesn't hate you. He just looks for people to take his insecurities out on. Everyone else you listed hates Spider-Man, not Peter Parker. There's a difference. They don't actually know you." Ned argued.
"Regardless," Peter shook his head, "do you think she never wants to see me again?"
"You're being biased. Look at it from her point of view." Peter pleaded, forgetting the Legos altogether.
"Peter, she's not mad at you. If I were in her shoes, you ditching me at Homecoming would be the least of my worries." Ned said firmly, but he was lying.
He genuinely didn't think Liz was mad. That was honest. It was the idea of Peter ditching him at a dance that had given Ned a terrible feeling. He pushed it away, though, because the thought made no sense.
No sense at all.
Ned exhaled and let out whatever odd feeling was in him, then focused on his best friend again.
Peter was fiddling with one of the threads on the carpet.
"I just feel guilty, I guess." He mumbled, glancing up at Ned.
"Which is okay."
"Yeah, but what the next relationship? Or the one after that? How could anyone stand to be around me?" Peter questioned.
"You don't have to worry about that." Ned answered.
"Why?" Peter asked.
"I'm still here, aren't I? I didn't get angry when you went MIA for hours each night." Ned replied.
"That's different." Peter replied quickly.
"How?" Ned pushed, confident in his case.
"Y-you don't...expect anything of me..." Peter replied with red cheeks.
"That's a terrible way to put it." Ned laughed, shaking his head. He scooted forward and put both of his hands on Peter's shoulders reassuringly.
"You don't owe anyone anything, not even your time. Liz knew you were going through something. Everyone did. It's not being held against you." Ned clarified firmly, and Peter finally gave in, nodding. Ned dropped his arms to his sides.
"Thanks, Ned. If only everyone on this planet was you." Peter blushed, then sighed and started to fish through the Legos again.
"Anytime." Ned smiled, the complement echoing between his ears.
Ned was thankful for his best friend. They were thankful for each other.
Is this slow burn killing anyone as badly as it's killing me? Yes? Don't worry. The next chapter is when the ball starts rolling a bit more quickly. Hint: SNUGGLING. Get hyped.
Chapter 5: Completely Normal
It's starts with Ned comforting Peter after another nightmare. That had happened loads of times before. So why was there a rush in his stomach when Peter fell asleep in his arms?
And Flash calling them gay doesn't mean they are. They're two perfectly normal friends. Right?
Sorry for the wait! I hope you guys enjoy!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The sound of Peter crying is what woke Ned up at 3:27am on Saturday morning.
Ned wasn't new to them. Peter had been having them since before they'd even become friends. He had one during their first sleepover, and that one had been so bad that Ben had taken Peter to sleep in a different room.
Looking back, Ned knew what that dream was about, but at the time he'd been horrified and unsure of how to act or what to do. He'd gotten used to them, though. As much as he can, at least.
Peter's life seemed to be a breeding ground for nightmares. It was no secret. That's why Ned was descending the ladder from the top bunk and going to his friend as fast as he could.
Peter was already awake, his hand pressed tightly against his lips to keep his sobs silent.
Ned hurried to his best friend, sitting on the edge of the bed.
"You-you didn't have to c-come down." Peter sniffled, sitting up.
"But here I am. Was it a number, or a new one?" Ned asked quietly.
A number meant it was either the reliving of one of Peter's many trauma's, or a repeated nightmare.
1. The death of his parents.
3. Being in the crash with his parents but being the only one to survive.
4. Being orphaned further.
5. The spider bite.
6. Ben's murder.
7. Ben's murderer.
8. Being a disappointment to those around him.
9. Not being able to save May.
10. Not being able to save Ned.
11. Homecoming night.
12. Buildings falling on him.
13. Tony Stark dying.
Those were some of the main ones.
"Number" Peter answered, clinging to Ned's arm.
Ned thought for a moment, remembering the list. He knew that Peter would have said the number if he wanted to talk about it, so he took a different approach.
"You're alright," Ned said calmly, "I'm right here and you're okay."
Peter tried to believe that but he was shaking and he felt so terrible.
"You're going to be alright. I'm right here next to you. I'm okay. May's okay. Everything's normal. Feel my heartbeat." Ned grabbed Peter's shaking hand and put it on his chest. The boy froze.
Ned let go of Peter but the hand didn't leave his chest. He was sure to take big enough breaths that Peter could feel him breathing, too.
"It hurts." Peter said weakly, closing his eyes.
"I know, but you're right here with me and you're okay."
"What if... what if..." Peter fumbled.
"Take a deep breath." Ned interrupted.
Peter tried, then tried again.
"Sync it with mine."
Peter felt Ned's chest rise and fall under his hand, and he tried to mimic it.
"Good job. That's good." Ned encouraged.
"You're here in your bedroom in Queens, and you're with Ned Leeds, and you can calm down." Ned repeated the same things he said almost every time, but they somehow always worked.
Peter put his other hand on Ned's, grabbing it, then took a deep breath.
"May's having a really good dream one room over. She's perfectly okay, just like you and just like me." Ned continued.
The tension faded and faded until Peter dropped his forehead on Ned's shoulder tiredly, and Ned wrapped his arms around his friend. Peter curled into him even more. Before either of them had really had a chance to process it, they were under Peter's covers, and Ned was curled around him like a koala. It was the only thing that got Peter's shaking to stop. He knew from experience.
Now, the teen with wet cheeks could feel Ned's chest rise and fall with each breath, and he subconsciously kept trying to snuggle further and further into him.
Ned was safety. Ned was normalcy. Ned was a good dream. Peter needed him.
"I'm right here." Ned whispered as a mop of curls was tucked under his chin.
"I'm sorry." Peter whispered, allowing himself to acknowledge how embarrassing it all was. His cheeks started to flush, but the thought of not having Ned's arms around him just sent him deeper into panic.
"You don't need to apologize." Ned laughed lightly. The soft vibration against Peter's back sent a wave of comfort through him.
"Most friends don't have to do this, though. I'm sorry I'm not normal."
"We aren't like most friends." Ned countered. "Besides, this is better."
Peter's cheeks flushed, and he was thankful Ned couldn't see. Why did his cheeks flush? He had no idea. Meanwhile, Ned was trying to figure out what the heck he meant by what he just said.
Better than what? And what's better?
Maybe if he slept on it he'd know?
Regardless, it didn't take long for the two boys to fall asleep. Despite whatever terror Peter had just awoken from, drowsiness won over. As soon as Ned realized Peter was asleep, he allowed himself to relax and was out like a light before it occurred to him to go back to his own bunk.
Peter woke up around 9am with Ned still fast asleep and wrapped around him. He didn't move a muscle.
You don't want to wake Ned up. That's why you're not moving. He deserves to sleep. That's why. It would be rude to wake him up.
You're a clingy person. Everyone knows that. There's nothing wrong with this. Right?
Peter closed eyes and focused his heightened senses on his best friend.
Warm hands. Steady breath. Soft hair. Old t-shirt. Socks. Thump-thump thump-thump of his heart.
Peter was so comforted by it all that he managed to doze off again.
When he woke up the second time, it was knocking on his bedroom door that had done it. Both him and Ned had been jolted awake, and when they heard the door opening they instinctively scooted away from each other. Ned wound up tumbling onto the floor haphazardly, and Peter whipped around to see if he was okay just as May peaked her head in.
The woman furrowed her eyebrows and looked back and forth between the two boys, who were clearly flustered.
"Ned, hun, why are you on the floor?" She asked, tilting her head. Ned looked at Peter, unsure of what exactly to say.
It was normal, right? Friends cuddled, right? Ned was just helping him calm down.
"I had a nightmare. Ned was helping calm me down when you knocked on the door and gave me a heart attack... I sort of pushed him off the bed..." Peter lied, genuinely impressed with himself for coming up with something so quickly.
May seemed to take a second to decide whether or not she believed him, but eventually her face softened and she stepped into the room and headed straight towards them.
"I'm sorry, Ned." She apologized, but he gave her a thumbs up to assure her he was okay. May sat on the edge of Peter's bed and looked closely at him. "How are you?"
"F-fine. I'm fine. Ned helped." Peter stammered.
"Was it a number?" May asked, and Peter nodded. There was a sad sigh in response, and then her hand was on his.
"Thanks for looking out for him, Ned." May smiled, causing Ned to blush a bit and smile back.
Finally, May stood up and began to head for the door.
"My shift is until 6pm. Try not to reek too much havoc." She smiled at them.
"Love you, May."
"Love you too. I'll see you later." May replied kindly, then left and closed the door behind her.
The awkward silence that set in the moment she left was suffocating. Eventually, Peter and Ned managed to make eye contact.
Neither knew what to say, and Ned was still sitting there on the floor.
They both considered making a joke, but neither of them found what had happened between them funny. Even if it wasn't normal, which it was, it wasn't bad. It was good and normal.
"Breakfast?" Peter managed to get out, breaking the silence. Ned nodded frantically and managed to get to his feet.
Normal but good. Good, but normal.
With that train of thought, both boys allowed themselves to move on and start the day.
It was that next Monday when they realized maybe it wasn't exactly "normal."
They were at academic decathlon practice when Ned noticed the goosebumps on Peter's arms. The library was a bit chilly, but Peter's lessened ability to thermoregulate after the bite made cool feel like chilly, chilly feel like cold, and cold feel like freezing.
The protective side of Ned couldn't ignore the discomfort of his friend, and before he knew it, he was sliding his sweatshirt off.
"Nitrous Oxide" Peter answered a question stiffly from next to him. Ned finished pulling the sweatshirt over his head then handed it to Peter as MJ confirmed he was right.
Peter looked at Ned, who gestured for him to put it on, and then smiled gratefully.
MJ kept rattling off questions but Peter stopped listening. He was eagerly climbing into the hoodie that was a few sizes too big for him, then letting out a relieved breath as warmth filled him. It smelt like Ned, and still held the boy's body heat.
He gave his best friend a thankful look, then tried to focus.
Flash was looking at him, though, and not in the way he normally did. Peter tried to ignore it, but the other teen wouldn't look away.
When the practice ended and Mr. Harrington was gone, Flash finally said what was on his mind.
"How much more gay can you two get, Penis?" He asked, tugging on the sweatshirt.
Peter instinctively backed away from him, crashing into Ned in the process.
"What?" He asked, tugging on the straps of his backpack.
"I called you gay, and I'm starting to think I'm not far off." Flash taunted, crossing his arms.
"Seriously, Flash? Even I could see Peter's goosebumps. It's not gay to be polite." MJ rolled her eyes as she walked past them.
"Yeah, I figured he needed it more than I did." Ned shrugged, and Peter looked back at him.
Yeah. It was because he was cold. It was only because he was cold. Right?
"Sure. You aren't fooling me, though." Flash hummed, then started down the hallway. Peter and Ned were left standing there silently.
"It's not weird." Peter said matter-of-factly to his friend, ignoring his reeling thoughts.
"No. No, of course not. Flash was being an idiot, per usual." Ned agreed, shaking his head and starting to walk. Peter joined him down the hall.
The conversation ended there, but Peter kept Ned's hoodie on until the final bell.
He asked to borrow it again on Thursday.
It was a good sweatshirt. That's why. That's the only reason why. It was soft and perfectly oversized. It wasn't from a second hand store like most of Peter's clothes. It was nice. It was good.
What was wrong with that?
"Do you wanna watch a movie?" Ned asked as Peter pulled on a pair of socks, then started to climb up to his ceiling.
"Sure, which one?" Peter asked as he crawled over to his bunk bed, then started digging around it until he found some spare web fluid. He was running low and didn't want to forget. Once he got ahold of it, Peter crawled away from the bed and dropped to the floor effortlessly.
Ned would never get used to it.
"I'm really feeling Jurassic Park, actually." He replied, causing his friend to smile.
"Nice choice" Peter complemented while attaching the web fluid to his suit.
"I'll go find the DVD!" Ned scurried out of the room and towards the living room. When he saw that the television was on, he hesitated. May was watching one of her favorite shows, curled up under some blankets.
Ned couldn't help the disappointment that had swelled in his chest, because he had been waiting to watch another movie with Peter since the weekend before. Something had happened. Whatever it was, it had continued throughout the week. Something was, well, off. Not exactly in a bad way, though. All Ned knew was that he needed to be alone with Peter. That's what his gut was saying.
Because of that, they needed to watch a movie.
But May's using the TV.
"My laptop has a DVD slot."
Ned nearly yelped in surprise as he realized Peter was right behind him. For a moment, he feared that he had been saying all of his thoughts out loud.
Had Peter noticed that weird something too?
Ned watched as Peter casually grabbed the movie from the shelf under the TV, kissed May on the head, then rejoined him.
"Are you okay?" Peter asked, finally noticing how tense Ned had gotten.
The friend started to pull himself together, and managed a nod. Peter, who Ned couldn't help but notice (with a strange feeling in his stomach) was still wearing the sweatshirt he had leant yesterday, continued towards his room hesitantly. Ned followed him and closed the bedroom door behind them.
Alone with Peter.
The feeling in the room changed drastically the moment the door clicked shut. Clearly Peter felt it too, because he froze while reaching for his laptop. The two boys looked at each other, unable to ignore whatever the heck they were both feeling.
"Ned, do you feel like something's...off?" Peter asked shyly, turning to face him with a worried look on his face.
Ned swallowed anxiously, then nodded.
So they both knew something was wrong, but neither of them knew what was wrong? Great. Peter's eyes dropped to the floor as he started to fidget.
"I think, maybe, Flash's comment kind if threw me off a little..." he admitted, then suddenly tried to busy himself with setting up the movie. He grabbed his laptop and the DVD, then plopped down on his bed.
"Me too...but it shouldn't have because it doesn't apply to us, right? Lending you my sweatshirt doesn't make us... it doesn't mean we're... right?" Ned replied.
"No, of course not. Let's just watch the movie." Peter shook his head, forcing normalcy.
It didn't feel good or normal to either of them, but for the sake of their friendship and saving a very awkward conversation, the two boys got settled on the bottom bunk and began watching a movie they had already seen a dozen times. It was all okay until Ned panicked at a jump scare and grabbed Peter's arm.
His brain was telling him to let go, especially because that moment freaked him out every time they watched it, but Ned had to force every ounce of his being to pull his hand away.
When he did, Peter wished he hadn't.
What's going on?
And when the movie ended, Peter not only wanted Ned's hand to still be on his arm, but he didn't want Ned to go up to the top bunk, and Ned didn't either.
It was normal, though, because they were best friends. Why did they have to sleep in different bunks when they were both already on one, and the lights were off? If anything, it'd be weird if Ned were to change beds. Plus, they were best friends, not "gay," as Flash put it, so it shouldn't bother them at all.
Since Ned wasn't moving, Peter assumed he was thinking the same thing, and Ned was. The credits were long over and they had just been sitting in a deafening silence.
Unwilling to let more time pass, Ned closed Peter's laptop and put it on the floor next to the bed, then snuggled up under the blankets silently. Once Peter realized that Ned was actually staying, he laid down too.
Neither of them said a word, but their thoughts were so loud they didn't notice. When they each managed to dull down their thoughts, it wasn't hard to sleep. And when Peter woke up from another nightmare, as he did more often than not, the respectable distance between them closed almost immediately.
With the feeling of Ned's breath on the back of his neck, Peter had no trouble falling asleep the second time.
With the feeling of Peter in his arms, Ned fell asleep almost as quickly.
But it was good and normal, because they were best friends.
Not long after, when May was checking on them before heading to bed, she found herself smiling softly, and carefully closing the door so as to not wake them up. She understood what they were failing to see as easily as 1+1=2.
Shannon (Parkrstark) better get ready for the next chapter because it's specifically designed to drive her crazy. (hint: "The moment he did, the two boys felt a sharp *whoosh* in their chests, but it went unacknowledged."
Chapter 6: All of this Silence and Patience, Pining and Anticipation...
They just want to be closer, and closer, and closer....
A short one but a fluffy one.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Three weeks had passed and Ned and Peter sharing a bed was now completely normal to the two of them. It was good and normal. Good. Normal.
Except, of course, for when they'd become bed-hogs and wound up sprawled out over each other when morning came. If that happened, they simply wouldn't acknowledge it. A small readjustment put it behind them.
Eventually, Peter forced himself to bring his own sweatshirt to school. He missed Ned's, but Flash's persistent comments were getting in his head and he wanted to move on because of that. He had already noticed May acting weird when him and his best friend were together, and that was bad enough. If he wasn't careful, the "gay" comments would get in his head and (God forbid) make him antsy too.
Meanwhile, Ned was having his own freakout just a few inches away.
The question of what it all meant was nearly giving him a headache. Did Peter think he liked him? As in...liked him? Did Ned like him? What would that do to their friendship if he did?
Where is the line between best friends and something more? Why did Flash have to say something?
They needed a distraction. That was it. They needed to think about something else.
"Do you think we'll win the next decathlon against Bayview?" Peter asked, rolling onto his side to face Ned. Ned adjusted to face him as well.
"Probably, yeah. Bayview's all talk, but they don't come close to you in Physics or Michelle in English." Ned replied.
"Or you in technology" Peter added with a small smile.
"Sure" Ned chuckled, his eyes falling on Peter's hair. That mop of curls was something Ned always loved. Peter self consciously gelled them down far too often.
Almost forgetting Peter was awake and watching him, Ned reached out and ran a hand through his friend's hair. The moment he did, the two boys felt a sharp whoosh in their chests, but it went unacknowledged.
"Your hair's getting long" Ned mumbled, more focused on the soft curls running through his hand.
Peter was frozen, his heart beating so loudly that he could practically hear it and his stomach feeling upside down. When Ned's hand lingered, rather than being pulled away, Peter had no idea how to react. All he knew was that he liked it.
Ned's index finger was twirling around one of the curls at top of his neck. A chill was running down Peter's spine, but a good kind of chill.
Ned briefly wondered if Peter would pull away, but after a few seconds he saw the goosebumps on the back of the boy's neck, and he saw Peter's eyes close.
He's okay with it.
Ned didn't want to change that, so he just kept carefully running his hand through Peter's hair, twirling it around and occasionally scratching his scalp a bit.
Were his cheeks as red as Peter's?
Neither of them could have given an answer on as to how long they'd been laying like that, but eventually the late hour of the night caught up to Peter and he founding himself drifting.
Part of him felt so comfortable that falling asleep sounded like heaven. Another part of him didn't want to miss a second of time with his best friend.
Put your head on his chest.
The thought caught him off guard, and it worried him to think that carrying out that action would take things too far. It would cross the line of friendship, surely.
Well...would it? Ned cuddled Peter after nightmares frequently. How was this different?
It's not. It's normal. It's probably weirder if you just keep laying unresponsive. Put your head on his chest.
Peter swallowed, then hesitantly scooted closer to Ned and used his best friend's chest as a pillow. Ned froze in the same way Peter had, then continued playing with Peter's curls.
He hoped Peter couldn't feel how hard his heart was hammering.
This is normal.
Peter could, but all he could think about was how happy he was in that moment, and that's how he knew something was wrong, but he didn't care. Screw the consequences. He liked being that close to Ned.
That week, they boys had done homework together in Peter's room every night, and Ned had slept over almost every night. Physical contact with each other was becoming more and more normal. Good and normal.
They'd rush to get their homework done after school so they could spend the rest of the night completing Lego builds, watching tv and movies, and (admittedly) cuddling. It wasn't exactly cuddling, though. It was a friends version of it. Everything was the same, but it was platonic, not romantic...well...yeah, mostly.
They were just hanging out. It was perfectly normal.
Anyway, May was working the late shift and the two boys were just finishing a rerun of Mythbusters when the electricity went out and the apartment went dark.
"Shit" Peter cursed, sitting up. He immediately went to the window to see how bad the blizzard had gotten. Seeing as visibility was limited to about ten feet from the window, it wasn't hard for Peter to guess the cause of the outage.
"School's off tomorrow. Guaranteed." Ned smiled as he appeared next to Peter.
"Heat's off too. We should've gone to your place." Peter sighed, rubbing a hand over his face tiredly. How would May get home? Did the hospital have power? The anticipation of the cold air that would soon flood their apartment sent an early chill down Peter's spine.
"Better get ahead of it, then. Let's light some candles and get you in a sweatshirt, spider-friend." Ned replied, lightly grabbing Peter's arm and tugging him away from the window.
"Better let me lead the way, though." Peter laughed, putting Ned's hands on the backs of his shoulders and guiding him through the dark apartment. Ned could have easily been scared of bumping into something, but Peter's lack of hesitation as he walked was reassuring.
"Remind me to get enhanced eyesight before the next power outage." Ned chuckled as his friend carefully pressed a flashlight into his hand once they stopped. Ned clicked it on and then left Peter's side to dig around for candles and a lighter.
"There should be a lantern in the closet next to the bathroom!" Peter hollered as he pulled on an old sweatshirt. Ned found it easily, then turned that on as well.
Soon, the two of them were sitting facing each other on the couch again, Peter wrapped in the warmest blanket he had. Ned was checking the weather reports on his phone. Candles had been lit, and battery powered lights had been gathered. It was just bright enough for the two boys to see each other clearly.
"The storm won't calm down for another few hours. It'd be nice if your building would get a better backup generator." Ned mumbled, pulling a blanket onto his lap.
"They're too cheap for that, Ned. You're talking about the people that won't take down the 70s wallpaper in the lobby because two cans of paint are, and I quote, too expensive." Peter rolled his eyes.
Ned grimaced at the thought of the lobby's decor, but scooted a bit closer to Peter so he could pat his shoulder reassuringly.
"I'm sure the power will be back by morning, though. Don't worry."
Peter just sighed and cuddled into his blanket a bit more. The temperature was already down a few degrees, and for a spider-kid, that wasn't fantastic.
"Cold?" Ned asked. Peter shrugged casually.
"I'm good for now. You?"
"If you need to borrow a sweatshirt, feel free. You'd probably fit into that Mets one that was Ben's." Peter suggested.
Ned was grateful, but he could never put that sweatshirt on. It meant too much to Peter.
"Thanks... I'm surprised my mom hasn't called to make sure I'm alive, yet. She definitely thinks I'm out sledding in the streets." Ned laughed.
"You've spent so much time over here in the past few weeks, though. Maybe she's just used to it."
"She also probably thinks May's here." Ned added.
"But she's not leaving the hospital anytime soon, so it's just us." Peter sighed, tossing his phone onto the coffee table.
It's just us.
Peter and Ned looked at each other, both realizing the same thing at the same time.
Just them, snowed in, until morning.
"Can we talk?" Peter found himself asking without meaning to. He wanted to take it back, but Ned nodded and scooted a bit closer.
Now he had to say something.
"Um..." Peter tried to think of something as Ned watched him curiously.
Of course, the stupidest, most stereotypical teenage boy statement leaked out of his lips.
"Do you like any girls right now?" He asked.
Ned faltered, looking away for a moment, then shook his head and met Peter's eyes again.
"Do you? I think Michelle might have a crush on you." Ned replied.
"No...wait, what?" Peter asked seriously, scooting closer to Ned and nearly demanding more information. Their knees were past the point of touching and were practically folded together.
"She's asks me about you a lot." Ned shrugged.
"What does she ask?" Peter questioned eagerly.
"I don't know, general stuff." Ned laughed.
"What does that mean?" Peter pushed.
"Why? Do you like her too?" Ned asked suddenly.
"Not in that way, no." Peter replied, seeing Ned visibly relax just after.
"Oh," he breathed, "well she asked how I felt about you and Liz..."
"And what'd you say?" Peter raised his eyebrows and leaned forward.
Ned's cheeks flushed, and he avoided answering at all costs.
"She also asked if you liked anyone now, and if we talked about that stuff together."
"Ned, how did you answer?" Peter urged.
"She asked me what we do when we hang out, and asked if there was any time where we weren't together."
"She also asked about how I'd feel about you dating someone."
"Ned." Peter interrupted, and Ned finally stopped talking and looked at him.
When did they get so close to each other?
Ned, flustered as ever, took a deep breath but didn't break eye contact with Peter.
"Why won't you tell me your answers?" Peter asked quietly, possessing no urge whatsoever to widen the gap between them.
Friends didn't sit with their faces six inches apart, but Ned had said they weren't like most friends, so why did it matter? If Peter was going to be this close to anyone, he was glad it was Ned. He was happy, and warm, and comfortable. He didn't want to change that by leaning back. He actually wanted to move closer.
In fact, he almost felt the urge to-
Ned was seeing it in his eyes, and Peter saw it reflected in Ned's.
...and now Ned was leaning closer, and so was Peter...
The eye contact finally broke as they closed their eyes. They could feel each other's warmth before it even happened.
And when their lips touched, it didn't feel normal but it did feel good.
Remember to brush your teeth, kiddies! Fluff causes cavities!
Chapter 7: Risk and Reward
Who'd be the one to say it?
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The moment was perfect.
Then, after what felt like a reasonable amount of time, the two boys separated and looked at each other with wide, confused eyes. Their cheeks were bright red, and neither of them wanted to be the first one to speak. Yet, somehow, it was the most blissful silence they had ever experienced. The two were engulfed in the moment, and the implications had not settled yet. Together. The feeling of each other's lips was still lingering, and they felt warm.
And that's when Ned's phone rang.
Both the boys nearly jumped out of their skin, and continued to be startled as Ned dug into his pocket then pulled the device out. Ned sighed when he saw who was calling, then put the phone to his ear.
"Hey, Mom." He sighed, feeling Peter's eyes on his.
"Yeah, it's out but we're all set."
"I know, Mom."
"I've gotta go."
"Yeah, I will. I love you."
Ned hung up the phone, put it on silent, then set it down next to Peter's. When he looked at his friend again, the warmth that had been pulling them together was now stale and uncomfortable. The weight of realization was so heavy that they had to look and move away from each other. They had crossed the line. They had definitely crossed the line.
Oh, God, they had really crossed the line.
"Peter..." Ned breathed, unsure of what he'd even say beyond that.
His best friend just swallowed nervously.
How on Earth could that have happened? Why then? Was there something wrong with them? Did they really, actually, do that?
The apartment was silent, but their thoughts were screaming.
Now what? They had done something friends didn't do and now things would have to be different, right? Could they still be friends? Were they more than friends? Should they regret it?
There was no roadmap to follow.
"I get it if you want to act like that didn't happen." Ned said cautiously, having willed himself to get something out.
"No! I mean- if you want- do you- should we?" Peter stammered, his eyes still glued to the floor. He was steadily losing control over his emotions with the more time that passed. Him and Ned had...had...
"I don't know" Ned replied, lost.
"What do we do?" Peter asked.
"I don't know." Ned repeated.
"Was Flash right?" Peter questioned, looking at his friend. (Friend? Were they friends? )
"Peter..." Ned looked at him pleadingly.
"Ned," Peter replied, "we just..."
"Do you want to forget it happened?" Ned asked, nearly snapping out of frustration with it all. He wished Peter would give a straight answer so he didn't have to.
"Do you?" Peter asked, raising his eyebrows.
"I asked you first." Ned argued.
"But you're the one who said we aren't like most friends." Peter pointed out, unable to come off of defense for some reason.
"Just answer the question, Peter." Ned nearly begged.
"Why can't you answer it, huh? Why couldn't you tell me your answers to Michelle's questions, either?" Peter bickered.
"Because-" Ned cut himself off by closing his eyes and taking a deep breath. Was the kiss not an answer? Did that not show how Ned felt? Did he have to say it? Admit it to himself and Peter all at once?
"Do you want to forget it happened, or do you want to talk about it?" Peter asked simply, knowing he had Ned in a corner.
"Talk about it" Ned said tiredly, resting his head on the back of the couch.
"Me too." Peter then replied in a small voice.
"You couldn't have just said that when I asked?" Ned let out an exacerbated laugh.
"I wanted to be sure you wanted to talk about it." Peter responded.
"Me too." Ned said.
The boys looked at each other tiredly.
"One of us is gonna have to talk first, though." Peter pointed out.
"Yeah, and it's your turn." Ned stated.
"Or we could go at the same time." Peter suggested.
"But one of us will hesitate, AKA you, and it won't actually be at the same time. Let's start with a simple question, okay. We can each ask yes or no questions, and there's no lying. Whatever you say won't hurt my feelings, I promise." Ned assured his friend, even though he was equally as nervous.
"O-okay..." Peter stammered, starting to fidget.
Ned took a deep breath. His first urge was to grab Peter's hand when he starting to nervously fidget, but this didn't seem like the time or place for that.
"Can we agree it was both of us that leaned in?" Ned asked.
Peter swallowed then said "yes."
"Was your first reaction good?" Peter asked awkwardly, and Ned nodded.
"Was your first reaction good?" Ned then asked, and Peter nodded as well.
"Would you be upset if I had said I liked Michelle?" Peter then asked, and Ned hesitated. He wanted to fib, but he didn't.
"Yes." Ned said quietly, then mentally shook it off. "Did Flash's comment make you upset because it made you overthink things?"
"Yes." Peter nodded. "Do you think he was right?"
"I don't know."
"That's not a yes or no" Peter laughed.
"But I don't know!" Ned defended. "Do you think he was right?"
"I don't know either." Peter then admitted, and the two shared an awkward laugh consisting of red cheeks and heavy sighs.
"Well how can we figure that out?" Ned asked, even though he knew. Peter knew too. Neither of them were willing to go down that route yet.
"What if we just...uh..." Peter scratched his head.
"We could just keep going about our night and see what happens." Ned proposed.
"See what happens?" Peter asked, needing more explanation.
"We'll act like we did what we did, then just moved on after rather than having this conversation." Ned clarified.
"Oh...yeah, sure..." Peter nodded, but he made no move to look away from his best friend. Ned remained just as still. The eye contact persisted.
"We could play a board game." Ned suggested lightly, wanting to scoot closer to Peter but resisting the urge. Meanwhile, Peter was resisting the urge to curl up into Ned for warmth as the air got colder.
"Sure...yeah." Peter replied, but they both remained still.
"We could...uh...play...uh" Ned swallowed. And they both just sat there, frozen, because they couldn't just move on.
"I-I think we might have to keep talking about it." Peter breathed, and Ned nodded.
"I think Flash was right, Peter." Ned said under his breath, shamefully looking away.
"Or we're just really close?" Peter suggested anxiously.
"Peter, we...we kissed."
He said the word. It was out there and he couldn't take it back.
"So what? Why does it have to be a big deal?" Peter asked despite the fact that it felt like a huge deal to him.
"Well are we dating or are we best friends?" Ned asked stressfully.
"I don't know much about dating, but I know that's not how it works."
"Peter...Have we been crushing on each other but justifying our feelings and behavior by telling ourselves we're really close friends?"
There it was.
Deny. Deny. Deny.
"Of course not, Ned. We're just so close that most people don't get it, which is okay." Peter justified.
"Peter, think about it..."
"There's nothing to think about. It's entirely possible that I picture you being by my side for the rest of my life in a non-sexual way."
"But non-platonic relationships aren't always sexual." Ned replied.
"I know but what I mean is that we're best friends and yeah we cross the line sometimes, but does it matter?" Peter felt like he was trying to walk up a downwards escalator. There was no escaping what he knew, and felt, and believed. Not logically, at least.
"It matters to me. Does it not matter to you?" Ned asked his face softening with something much too similar to hurt for Peter's taste.
"It does, Ned. It just... I'm just... I don't want to talk about it just yet, I guess. I want things to be normal." Peter tried to explain.
"I want things to be normal, too, but they don't feel normal when we're kissing and cuddling and being anything but normal." Ned reasoned, wishing this conversation would somehow get easier.
"Then what do we do?" Peter asked, running a hand through his messy curls. Ned couldn't help but watch, and Peter couldn't help but notice.
"I guess we either fully embrace it, or we stop it altogether, if you want..."
"I don't want to stop." Peter said quickly, unable to keep it from leaving his mouth.
"You don't?" Ned asked, blushing once again.
"I don't want to act like this with anyone but you, Ned." Peter replied sharply.
"Well, same. Now what?" Ned asked.
"Honesty? Painfully honest honesty?" Peter asked, wrapping his blanket a bit tighter around him in a mix of anticipation and fear.
He clearly likes you back, Peter. What are you afraid of? Not being normal? Losing one of your only friends? The opinions of others? Commitment? Entering your first real relationship, which is something you've feared since you were a kid? Not being enough for one of the people you love most?
"Okay," Ned breathed, "then let's do it."
Nervously, Peter nodded.
"I like you...like, a lot." Peter started, reminding himself to not be afraid, but honest instead.
Be honest. Be honest. Be honest.
"I feel the same way." Ned replied shyly.
"I think you're attractive."
Don't scream. Don't scream.
"I've always thought you were much more handsome than you gave yourself credit for, even before the spider bite." Ned admitted while holding his breath.
"I've always pictured you when I've pictured having a family in the future." Peter managed to get out.
"The day we played together for the first time in 4th grade was one of the best days of my life." Ned stated.
"I love wearing your sweatshirts, and I purposely left mine at home so I could wear them." Peter confessed.
"I purposely brought one everyday because I like seeing you wear them."
"When I get nightmares when you aren't here, I imagine your arms around me."
"I really, really like being with you." Ned blushed.
"It felt good to kiss you." Peter admitted.
"I wish I was your first kiss." Ned replied.
"You were in my eyes." Peter then assured him.
The two boys actually had to take a moment to collect themselves. Their hearts were racing so fast that they could barely keep up. So much information had just been thrown out there. It was almost hard to breathe.
Peter listened to the steady thump-thump of Ned's pulse and waited until it had calmed down. He purposely kept his eyes away from his friend, but he was clinging to every breath and movement. The words he had just said and heard were echoing and echoing and echoing.
Is this real?
By the time Ned calmed down, Peter was relaxed as well, and so he tried his best to restart the conversation.
Think about something to talk about. What's going on in life? Him and Ned. Does anybody know? Flash? May? May has been acting weird.
"Maybe May knows" he wondered aloud, finally looking at his best friend again.
"Maybe. She's been awkward around us lately. How do you think she'd have found out?" Ned asked.
"Maybe she saw us...you know...cuddling..." Peter said uncomfortably.
"That would do it." Ned sighed.
Peter cringed at the very idea of May's eventual talk with him about it, because he was sure it was coming. Ned took a deep breath beside him, but Peter was still taking a moment to try and shake away the idea of May giving him the "girl talk" but with Ned.
"Okay... so we've established our feelings...what's next?" Ned asked.
"Next?" Peter looked up at him, unsure of even where to begin.
"Yeah. What- What are we?" Ned asked nervously.
"Good question. I have no idea. What do you want?" Peter asked, and the back and forth begun again.
"I want what you want." Ned replied.
"Well I want what you want, so what do you want?" Peter hit the ball back into Ned's court.
"I want you to tell me honestly what you want." Ned crossed his arms, frowning at Peter.
"Ned." Peter whined, dropping his face in his hands. Shouldn't the fact that they were best friends make this easier, rather than harder? Why couldn't either of them speak?
"Peter, I feel like we already are something, but we just don't know it..." Ned replied tiredly.
"Well how do we know what we are?" Peter asked, his heart beating faster at the thought of what they both knew was coming.
"Should we...find out? Like, try it again?" Ned's cheeks flushed and he could muster the courage to finish the sentence. When Peter realized what Ned was asking, his own face went red.
"S-sure...yeah" He breathed, then hesitantly scooted forward towards his best friend.
Peter loosened his grip on the blanket around him once Ned was just inches away again.
Ned waited for Peter to lean in, and Peter was waiting for Ned to lean in, and neither of them were moving because of it.
It took a good thirty seconds of awkward anticipation before the two completely broke down in laughter.
Ned wiped at his eyes and Peter held his sides, both of them unable to continue being serious around each other. They told themselves to pull it together but that was just too hard. The only point where they could calm down was when they stopped thinking about the potential kiss altogether because Peter had lost his grip on his blanket and started to shiver.
"I can make you some tea!" Ned proposed, rushing to get another blanket to drape around his shoulders.
"Are you cold too? I have to admit, this feels pretty pathetic." Peter sighed, burying himself in his sweatshirt.
"Actually, yeah. It's got to have dropped a few degrees already." Ned replied, laying a fuzzy blanket over Peter's shoulders.
"We definitely need May to get home. She'd bully a space-heater out of the landlord at least." Peter sighed as Ned sat down next to him.
"Well, we can try but neither of us are very intimidating." Ned laughed lightly, looking at his friend. He earned a frown in response, but even Peter knew that even in his mask it was hard to be intimidating. Scaring people just wasn't in his nature.
"Oh my gosh, Ned! My suit has a heater! I'm an idiot!" Peter exclaimed, jumping up and running for his room. He came back with the suit on and a sweatshirt over it. He left the mask in his room.
When he sat back down next to Ned, the boy was smiling at him shyly with red cheeks.
"What?" Peter asked with a nervous laugh, pulling a blanket over his lap and handing the other to his friend.
"I'm still not used to it. I keep forgetting that Spider-Man and you are completely the same person, but the suit is just...cool." Ned explained, wrapping the blanket around himself. Peter snuggled deeper into his sweatshirt.
"How on earth do you forget that?" Peter laughed, unable to imagine himself as anything but Spider-Man at that point.
"Well, you're my best friend, and you were long before you got superpowers. You haven't changed much in my eyes." Ned admitted, shrugging.
Peter couldn't help but smile. Gosh, he loved Ned. He loved him so, so much. And that's when Peter got that feeling again, and he started to hope Ned had the feeling too. At the growing realization and soft joy on Ned's face, Peter saw he had the okay. He was just starting to move closer when his phone rang.
Ned jumped in surprise but then stifled a laugh.
Peter picked up his phone, saw who was calling, and answered it.
"Peter Benjamin Parker, don't you dare consider going out in this blizzard." Tony Stark said firmly the moment the phone was against Peter's ear.
"I'm not going out there, Mr. Stark. Why did you think I would?" Peter asked.
"FRIDAY sent me an alert saying you had put your suit on and activated the heater." Tony explained.
"Yeah, because the power's out and that means so is the heat."
"Your building doesn't have a backup generator?"
"To cheap for that, Mr. Stark. Not all of us are billionaires." Peter laughed. That was close to becoming a catch phrase for him when Tony forgot just how limited Peter's wealth was.
"Is May there?"
"No she's at work. Ned's here."
"Let me know when the temperature in your apartment gets below 55°. I'll be taking you both to the tower if it does." Tony replied.
"You don't have to do that, Mr. Stark. We'll be okay." Peter excused.
"Really? Because according to Karen's data, you're shivering. You aren't a good liar, Spider-Boy. I know all about your issues with the cold and thermoregulation. I'll be checking in soon, alright?"
"Yeah, okay. See ya, Mr. Stark. Thank you."
Peter hung up the phone and placed it on the coffee table, then looked at Ned again, who was clearly trying to hide a look of amazement.
"What did he want?" Ned asked curiously but calmly.
"He wants to take us to the tower if the temp in here gets lower than 55°. He asked me to call him, but there's no doubt in my mind that this suit is sending the data to him without me having to." Peter answered.
"Avenger's Tower? Are you kidding?" Ned's eyes widened and he sat up straighter.
"Yeah," Peter laughed, "not forgetting I'm Spider-Man now, are we?"
"That's not fair! You know I love the Avengers!" Ned pushed Peter playfully.
"Well they won't be there. Half of them are still on the run. You'll be stuck with me".
"Not stuck with you, Peter. I'll get to be with you."
"I'm nothing special, Ned. You said yourself that I haven't really changed."
"I've always thought of hanging out with you to be a privilege." Ned disagreed.
"Well, me too." Peter nodded.
"So tell me more about this family you picture us having." Ned teased, but he was still genuinely interested and hoping for an answer.
Peter's face turned pink rather quickly, so he immediately tried to play it off.
"Nothing. I don't remember saying that. You called me handsome, right?" Peter asked, raising his eyebrows.
"You know, that must have been in your head. I pretty sure I didn't say that." Ned replied, trying not to look as embarrassed as he felt.
"Sure" Peter smirked, shrugging, then running his hand through his hair. As always, Ned couldn't help but watch. Peter, noticing, suddenly felt bashful. He snuggled further into his sweatshirt, eyes on his friend.
"If we were to date, how would a date be different from the way we already spend time together?" Ned asked suddenly, catching Peter off guard.
Date? Oh goodness, it's actually happening. It wasn't in your head, Peter. Oh goodness.
"I wouldn't know. Maybe that's a question for the internet?" Peter responded. Ned nodded silently, breaking eye contact and biting his lip bottom lip.
Lip. Lips. Ned's lips. His lips. They had kissed.
Peter's heart fluttered a bit.
"D-do you think we should try that? If we're officially not normal?" He found himself asking, nervous, but also comfortable because he was with his best friend.
Ned looked up at him almost immediately, but took his dear sweet time letting Peter sit anxiously before nodding and smiling.
"Cool" Peter exhaled, relieved.
"Cool." Ned agreed.
"What do you wanna do?" Peter asked awkwardly, willing himself to shift a bit closer to his friend. If it was out there and clear that there was some sort of intimacy between them, no matter how awkward, then maybe they could get away with not overthinking things.
Ned pressed his lips together as his pulse sped up, noticing Peter's small movement and feeling an excited drop in his stomach because of it.
"This is so strange. Everything feels different, but at the same time it doesn't." Peter mumbled, dropping his head against the back of the couch.
"Yeah, I know, like I'm still trying to figure out what's okay and what's not." Ned agreed with a sigh, also dropping his head against the couch.
"Like what?" Peter asked, furrowing his eyebrows.
"Like...you know..." Ned breathed as he shrugged, only confusing Peter even more. Giving in, Ned scooted closer to his friend, reached out, and ran a hand through the soft brown curls of his head. Without him meaning to, Peter's closed his eyes. It had been instinctual since his mother was alive and playing with his hair the same way.
"That's okay. You can do that." Peter purred as Ned scratched his scalp lightly.
"Good," Ned breathed, "I'm glad."
"Anything else?" Peter asked, melting under Ned's touch. He had always loved it when people played with his hair, but this felt like it was on a whole different level... in a different building altogether...
"Sorta" Ned then mumbled, dropping his hand. Peter opened his eyes and looked at him curiously.
Ned met his eyes, then begun to lean forward in a way that was unmistakeable. Cheeks flushing, Peter closed his eyes, and there it was again.
It was soft, short, gentle, and sweet. And when their lips came apart, neither sat back. They lingered close to each other, processing it.
Not normal, but really good. Really freaking good.
Free. Loving. Comfortable. Heaven.
Peter couldn't think straight with Ned's face that close to his, so he leaned in and kissed his friend again.
Ned moved his lips and leaned into Peter more, deepening the kiss that they both knew wasn't out of curiosity this time. It remained gentle, however. It was slow and it was patient. Peter's heart skipped a beat as he felt Ned falling over him, and soon they were laying on the couch together, kissing as though they were making up for years worth of lost time.
And it meant so much to both of them.
Gentle. Deep. Patient. Passionate. Slow. Real.
It was everything that their friendship was, but with something extra. It was perfect.
When they did separate, they didn't move far apart. It was just enough distance to look each other in the eyes. Even that was a bit too far.
"We waited way to long to do that, Peter Parker." Ned smiled, and it was true, and Peter agreed.
"It was worth the wait, Ned Leeds." Peter replied quietly. He shifted under Ned so his friend could lay down as well, and soon they were on their sides, legs intertwined and eyes locked. Ned draped his arm over Peter, resting a hand at the nape of his neck.
"Are we gonna tell anyone?" He asked, absently twisting a finger around a curl.
"When it feels right, I guess. We could just let everyone figure it out for themselves." Peter suggested.
"It doesn't feel like there's anything to announce." Ned agreed.
"We're still the same people, yeah. The only difference will be the kissing." Peter started to feel the cold hair nip at his rosy cheeks.
"So... you want to be a couple?" Ned asked, unable to help the twinge of nerves that came with that statement despite the fact that he and Peter had been nearly making out less than a minute ago.
In response, Peter leaned forward and touched his lips to Ned's.
"It's possible that I would be okay with that." He said softly, moving back again.
"This is gonna be a really interesting relationship." Ned blushed.
"You get to date a superhero." Peter chuckled, watching for Ned's reaction.
"I get to date Peter Parker, the smartest, nicest kid in school." Ned objected, kissing Peter softly and quickly.
"Well I get to date Ned Leeds, the most loyal friend on the planet, so I win." Peter rebounded gleefully.
"I'm still winning, actually. I get to date my best friend." Ned smirked.
"So do I!" Peter laughed, playfully whacking the other boy on the arm. Ned just shared his laughter, kissing Peter gently once again. When he pulled away, Peter started to follow him, craving a little bit more. Ned laughed, kissing Peter again but deeper and longer this time. It was still patient and gentle, though. It was always patient and gentle.
"It feels so good to be honest." Ned breathed, resting his forehead against Peter's. "It felt like I was hiding."
"Which sucked." Peter agreed.
"Yeah, especially because we were hiding from each other...if that makes sense?"
"It does. I was always afraid of crossing a line I couldn't even see." Peter nodded lightly.
"But we made it out alive!" Ned perked up.
"Now what?" Peter laughed lightly, burrowing his face into Ned's chest. Ned curled around Peter as they laid there in the cold, dark, apartment.
"We can be happy."
"Sounds like a good plan." Peter replied, his voice muffled against Ned's chest. Ned smiled, then pressed his lips to the top of Peter's head, and closed his eyes.
"Talking about feelings is tiring." He mumbled, breathing in the smell of his best friend.
"Yeah. M'sleepy" Peter replied, completely and fully relaxed.
"Yeah..." Ned agreed.
Without trouble, they dozed off.
A while later, the sound effect of a smartphone camera woke them up very suddenly.
There's someone standing over you.
Before Peter could process what was going on, he was falling off of the couch and listening to the unmistakeable sound of Tony Stark's laugher.
"Jesus, kiddo, I'm only going to send it to May." Tony assured him, holding out a hand.
No danger. Good.
When Peter's head was clear enough to grab it, he realized just how freezing he was. Tony carefully pulled him to his feet and immediately wrapped a blanket around him.
"It's 44° in here, Spider-Boy. I checked to see why you hadn't had called me and I see you've been asleep for an hour while I had a mini heart attack." Tony sighed, wrapping his arms around Peter, then looking over at Ned, who was shivering with both anxiety and a lack of warmth.
"Get your stuff, Ned. You're coming with us." Tony told him, and Ned managed a nod before he shot to his feet.
"H-h-how are w-we g-getting back-k?" Peter asked as Tony walked him towards his bedroom where the mask and gloves to his suit were.
"I hired a personal plow truck. We'll be right behind it in a stark car with 4 wheel drive. That is, if you don't freeze to death in the next five minutes." Tony replied, moving Peter a bit more quickly.
"Mis'er Stark, m-my hands aren't even b-b-blue yet." Peter joked, holding up his hand as they arrived in his bedroom. Tony didn't hesitate to grab it at the same time that he grabbed one of the gloves to his suit off his desk, then started to slide it onto Peter's hand. Once the gloves were on, Tony grabbed the mask.
This is when Ned came in to check on them. Peter gave him a weak, shaking smile as Tony pulled the mask down over his face.
"Assessment, Karen." Tony ordered as Peter's world came into more focus and his head and hands started to warm up, making his whole body feel better as a result.
"Peter's body temperature is low, but rising, sir. It is suggested that he leave the suit on until his vitals are stable." Karen replied out loud so that Tony and Ned could hear.
"Okay. I can work with that." Tony sighed, turning to Ned.
"How are you?"
"Good. Good, sir, thank you." Ned fumbled, wrapped up in his parka, boots, scarf, hat, and gloves.
"Good to hear. Mind helping me wrap up your friend in winter clothes until we can't see the suit?" Tony asked, grabbing a winter hat off of Peter's shelf, then fastening it onto the teen's head.
"I'd love to" Ned laughed, smirking at Peter then running to the hall to get a winter coat.
The moment he was gone, Tony turned Peter around and put his hands on his shoulders.
"Anything you wanna tell me, underoos? Particularly about the Nicholas Sparks-level cuddling I walked in on?" Tony whispered as he raised an eyebrow.
"Uh, what? No! What?" He stammered, standing up straighter despite his achingly cold joints.
"I won't judge you, Pete. It'd actually be kind of adorable." Tony assured him, still in an incredibly quiet voice.
"Please stop." Peter begged, hearing Ned returning.
"I'm not trying to torture you, kiddo. I'm just making sure you're happy." Tony sighed, picking a pair of sweatpants up off the floor and handing them to Peter.
"I'm happy." The teen replied, taking the pants and climbing into them just as Ned came in with the jacket.
Peter pulled the jacket on, as well as another pair of gloves and a scarf, then shoved his suited up feet into his winter boots as best as he could. Tony grabbed his backpack for him and Peter grabbed his phone. They then blew out the candles and switched off the lanterns, finally getting to leave.
"Ready?" Tony asked, eyeing the two boys, who each nodded eagerly.
"Good. Follow me." Tony waved them along, and soon they were in the back of a car, driving through the craziest blizzard they had ever seen.
When the car slipped a bit on the snow, Peter reached towards Ned and grabbed his hand reassuringly. Ned gave him a small smile, holding his hand back. When Tony looked back at them in the rearview and saw Ned's unmistakable heart eyes, he pretended he didn't notice it.
When they got to the tower and the two boys retreated into Peter's room rather than tracking down Vision and trying to politely dissect him, there was no doubt in Tony's mind. He felt his phone buzz in his pocket and pulled it out, seeing May's response to the photo he had sent her.
May: Awe! Definitely saving that! I'm still waiting for them to catch on!
Tony smiled and typed back a response.
Tony: I have a feeling that they recently did, considering the poorly hidden handholding on the ride over.
The man sighed and stuffed his phone back in his pocket, then headed to his lab.
"Karen, can I take the suit off?" Peter asked anxiously as he closed the door behind Ned.
"Yes, Peter, but I suggest putting on some warm clothes in its place." Karen replied in her usual tone. Peter was ripping everything off as soon as he heard the permission. Once he was free of his extra layers, he tapped the spider on his chest and felt the heat of the suit slip away. When he pulled off the mask, he saw Ned purposely facing the other direction.
"You've seen me do this a hundred times, Ned." Peter reminded him, grabbing his sweatpants and sliding them on.
"Yeah but it feels invasive now." Ned replied, crossing his arms uncomfortably.
"You've watched me change before, have you not? We're still best friends, Ned." Peter picked up his sweatshirt but didn't pull it on.
"Maybe." Ned mumbled.
"Then turn around." Peter urged.
"No. Now it's just awkward." Ned laughed, looking down. Sighing, Peter walked around his friend and stood in front of him.
Ned wasn't good at hiding his glance, and as a result Peter lightly grabbed his chin and tilted his head up.
"We're still best friends," he repeated, "but we're also boyfriends."
At this, Ned blushed and let a small smile peak out. It was weird for him to hear, and weirder for Peter to say, but it still felt right.
"Fine, but right now you're also supposed to bundled up." Ned reprimanded.
Shaking his head with a laugh, Peter obediently pulled his sweatshirt on.
"Look at you! All cozy!" Ned teased, picking up Peter's scarf and wrapping it around the boy's neck.
"I don't need the scarf, Ned." Peter laughed. "I feel fine."
"Better safe than sorry."
"I jump off of buildings for fun. I'm not a safe person." Peter laughed, sliding the scarf off and putting it around Ned's neck instead.
"And you crawl on ceilings with no fear of falling." Ned added.
"I'm sticky." Peter supplied, putting his finger on Ned's arm, sticking to it, and lifting it in a way that looked impossible. Then, when he knew he had proved his point, he unstuck and dropped Ned's arm.
His friend grabbed Peter's hand and inspected it as if he could see whatever it was that was giving Peter such a bizarre ability. He'd never, ever get used to it.
"It's like we're superglued together one second, then completely independent the next." He gaped.
"Your awe is adorable. It never gets old." Peter smirked.
"Watch your tone. I know where you live." Ned joked, stepping forward playfully.
"Too bad." Peter breathed as Ned's lips got closer to his.
"Yep." Ned replied, his lips just barely touching Peter's. It was enough that it was a tease, and when Ned backed up, Peter nearly lost his mind.
"No, no, no!" He followed Ned as the boy turned away and started to head for the door.
"Yes, yes, yes." Ned laughed, putting his hand on the knob. Peter slid in front of him and leaned back on the door.
"Can I help you?" Ned asked, his eyebrows raised.
"You could stop messing with me." Peter suggested.
"Oh, did you want me to kiss you?" Ned laughed, making Peter's cheeks burn red for the millionth time that day.
"Well, yeah. Kind of." Peter blushed, suddenly embarrassed by the thought of how desperate he looked. Ned had teased him, right?
Ned smirked, then leaned into Peter and kissed him for real this time.
Peter sank slightly against the door, trying not to ruin the kiss by smiling. He nearly failed, though...especially when Ned's hand found the small of his back and lightly pressed the two of them together a bit more. His knees nearly gave out under him.
Almost melting, Peter found Ned's free hand and intertwined their fingers. He never wanted to let go.
Thanks for your patience! I fixed up this chapter a lot over the past few days because...well... I had my first kiss the other day... and now that I know what it's like I had to do some edits. EEK. I really, really like this chapter.
Chapter 8: Oh No
May and Tony walk in on Peter and Ned. Are any of them ready for the truth to come out?
I'm SO SORRY for how long you all have waited for this chapter. I'm so, so sorry.
"May! There's still a travel ban! How did you get here?" Peter wrapped his aunt in his arms. She had just walked in while they were putting breakfast together.
"Remember where you are, Peter." May laughed, kissing him lightly on the forehead.
Right. Avengers Tower. Tony Stark. Billionaire. Rules didn't apply. Blizzards were hardly roadblocks, even the worst one in two decades.
"Still doesn't seem possible, but I'm rolling with it." Peter sighed, taking May's jacket for her.
"Hi, Ned! How are you?" May noticed the other boy with a grin.
"Good! I'm grateful for the snow day!" Ned beamed, and Peter smiled at him. Noticing, May started looking back and forth between the two of them, and it got really quiet really fast.
"May! Good to see you! I have a guest room set up so you can catch up on some sleep! Do you want breakfast first?" Tony waltzed into the room, breaking up the discomfort of Peter and Ned's secret.
"Thanks, Tony. I think I might just hit the hay, though. I grabbed a bagel at the hospital and, frankly, I'm exhausted." May sighed, pulling off her hat and scarf.
"But you did make, like, seven hours of overtime so that's a plus." Peter grinned, nudging her playfully.
"And my feet feel it." May laughed. "I'll see you two in a few hours."
"I'll show you your room, then." Tony gestured for her to follow.
Eagerly, she followed Tony's guidance out of the room and down a hallway.
"Thanks again for letting us stay here. I swear to God, our landlord overcharges us for that dumpster of an apartment building." May said to Tony just as the man led her into the guest room. He closed the door behind them.
"What's going on?" May asked with wide eyes as Tony turned to her.
"I walked in on this earlier." Tony said excitedly, then turned to a screen on the wall.
"FRIDAY, play the footage from the hallway upstairs at the time I left my room." He said calmly, bouncing slightly on his toes.
"Tony, don't you think this is an invasion of pr-"
May stopped speaking as footage of her nephew and Ned holding hands as they walked towards the stairs. Her hand went up to her mouth.
"I figured I should share that..." Tony breathed, reaching up and closing the footage as the boys moved out of sight of the camera.
"This is driving me crazy, Tony." May laughed in an agonized way, rubbing her hands over her eyes. "I just want to know if they know."
"I think they do, considering they didn't leave Peter's room at all until this morning. I expected Peter to at least give Ned a tour or something." Tony replied, leaning back on the dresser behind him. "Typical teenagers. Keeping secrets. I think I'm rubbing off on Peter."
"Oh there's no doubt about that fact, hot shot." May raised her eyebrows, then headed back for the door. She opened it again and rested her head on the edge.
"I'm going to go sleep," she said, "but please keep your eyes open for me."
"Will do." Tony replied with a nod, stepping out respectfully.
They knew it wasn't their business, but the thought of the boys not being honest out of fear of judgement was something they couldn't stand.
In the kitchen, Peter and Ned were each having a bowl of cereal while discussing their upcoming chemistry test.
"It's definitely being pushed back, though." Peter stated just before scooping some more cereal in his mouth. A drop of milk spilt down out of the corner of his mouth, and Ned was quick to wipe it away with his thumb. Peter smiled as he swallowed.
"You're overwhelming me with all this behavior." He laughed when his food was down.
"Behavior?" Ned raised his eyebrows.
Peter just laughed, leaned forward so he could kiss his best friend on the cheek.
"Oh" Ned breathed as his cheeks flushed.
"Yeah, oh. Now what do you want to do today?" Peter sat up straight and started eating again.
"Be with you, obviously." Ned shrugged, reminding himself mentally that he should probably stop staring at Peter and start eating. He picked up his spoon and attempted to do just that. It was a struggle.
"Yeah, but doing what together? Do you want a tour of the tower? Do you want to watch movies, get ahead on homework, play video games, annoy Vision and Colonel Rhodes?" Peter asked.
Ned just gaped.
"You're a real person, right? You're Peter Parker, the dork that builds Legos with me? I can't process that you're a real person right now." Ned put his spoon down, reached out, and poked his friend.
"What?" Peter laughed, putting his own spoon down.
"Peter," Ned said seriously, "a very attractive and intelligent best friend of mine is offering to give me an exclusive tour of Avengers Tower, where we can hang out with superheroes, and he's a superhero, and somehow he still wants my company?"
Feeling his cheeks flood, Peter looked down at his lap with a shy smile.
"You somehow still want the company of an emotionally unstable freak."
"I'm going to pretend I didn't hear that. It was so false that it actually hurt my ears." Ned replied, finally starting on his cereal.
Peter laughed and sighed, then picked his spoon back up.
"You're difficult." He told his friend. Ned just smiled silently after swallowing his cereal.
It was after a day's worth of exploring, when they thought May and Tony were both preoccupied, that the two boys lost focus on the movie they were watching. The honeymoon phase, fueled by the exciting secrecy of it all, kept them in a whole other world.
It started when Peter glanced at Ned, his cheeks blushing at the memory of the previous twenty-four hours. The movie was forgotten once Ned noticed his friend's gaze.
Ned grabbed the remote, pressed pause, then faced Peter.
"Your cheeks are really red, Peter." Ned teased, lightly poking him. Peter tried to play off the embarrassment with a light laugh, but Ned saved him the trouble by carefully holding his cheeks and kissing him once again.
Peter smiled, closing his eyes.
The world blissfully slipped and slipped away until they were unable to notice the elevator door's opening behind them. May and Tony froze the moment they saw what was happening.
It was May's gasp that caused the boys to finally jump apart and look towards the two wide-eyed adults.
There was stunned silence shared throughout all of them, accompanied only by quickly changing glances in many directions.
Peter's and Ned's faces were nearly the shade of a tomato.
Nobody wanted to speak, so it was May who was finally able to cut through the tension a bit.
"Did we um...did we interrupt something?" She stammered, taking a step out of the elevator.
Peter looked between her and Tony, then he looked at Ned, who seemed horrified.
"Um...we, uh..." he stammered, feeling sick.
The fear was unbearable for May to see, so she tried her best to calm the two boys down.
"Why don't we talk, alright? The four of us? There's nothing to be scared of, so relax. I just want to be, well, caught up?"
Peter took a shaky deep breath and nodded in response. He looked towards Ned for comfort as the two adults made their way towards the chairs near them.
Ned was also taking a nervous deep breath, so Peter put his hand on his friend's for support.
When the adults were situated, their eyes went straight to the handholding. Peter hated the starring, but he wasn't going to let go.
"Alright, boys. Let's jump right in. We'd be lying if we said we haven't noticed the handholding and cuddling recently." Tony admitted, making Peter and Ned look at each other again.
"But we want you to know that whatever it is that's going on between you two is perfectly okay with us, as long as you're both happy and healthy." May added.
Peter waited for some sort of sign from Ned regarding how to respond. What he got was a calm, subtle nod.
Peter looked back towards his parental figures.
"Ned and I, um...realized, uh... that we, um..."
Ned gave his hand a reassuring squeeze.
May and Tony were watching patiently, not pushing him to say more than he wanted to. For some reason, the lack of push made it harder. Because once he admitted something like this, there was no going back, right?
He'd no longer be the version of himself that he's always been. That Peter Parker preferred friendships over relationships. That Peter Parker was innocent and naive, only knowing what he knew because of circumstances thrust upon him. That Peter Parker was unproblematic. That Peter Parker was straight. That Peter Parker was normal.
Did he want to take the leap?
If it was with Ned, yes. Of course.
It still wasn't easy to say, though.
"We're...closer than friends normally are." He managed to get out.
"Closer, as in...?" May wondered, even though they all knew what Peter meant.
"Well..." Peter started, glancing at Ned, then back at May and Tony.
They saw him struggling, so Tony started nudging him in the right direction.
"Closer, as in you're best friends that hold hands?" He asked.
"No, we're more than friends. Happy?" He managed rather stiffly, squeezing Ned's hand.
"Actually, I'm Tony. Happy's downstairs." Tony smirked. "But yeah, I'm happy."
Peter rolled his eyes.
"Alright. Finally. Now, when did you realize this?" May asked.
"Finally?" Peter raised his eyebrows.
"Yes, now tell me." May laughed.
"Yesterday." Peter replied, glancing at Ned again.
"Care to share the details?" May asked, crossing her arms.
"No, not really." Peter replied, sinking a bit further into the couch.
"Well, how serious is this? Do I need to put you two in separate bedrooms?" Tony questioned.
Peter's eyes widened and he sat up straight again.
"You're joking, right? It hasn't even been 24 hours!" He looked back and forth between Tony and May.
"We don't know what happens behind closed doors." Tony shrugged, making May laugh.
Peter looked at Ned, who seemed equally as petrified.
"We're best friends, we build Legos and talk about our classmates behind closed doors. Nothing's different." He explained anxiously.
"I thought you said you were more than friends?" May questioned.
"Yeah, but- but we're... all we've done is kiss!" Peter replied, flustered. He was starting to squeeze Ned's hand a bit too tightly, so he forced himself to relax.
"We're only joking, Peter." May assured him, trying to lighten the mood.
"It's not a joke." Peter replied without hesitation, defensive.
"We know. We're trying to let you know that we aren't upset about you two being together. We're happy, actually." May responded calmly, leaning forward and rubbing Peter's knee comfortingly.
"Okay... can this conversation be over, then?" Peter asked anxiously. He looked towards Ned, who was still sitting in an uncomfortable silence.
"Yes. I'm sorry if we found out before you were ready to tell us." May replied sadly.
Peter just forced a small "it's okay" smile in her direction.
"I love you." May said gently, guilt ridden in her voice.
"I love you too, May."
"You don't have to be uncomfortable, kiddo. We aren't looking at the two of you any differently." Tony said sympathetically, trying to end the conversation on a higher note.
"I know..." Peter breathed.
There was a beat of silence before Ned finally joined the conversation.
"Um... I was sorta hoping to tell my parents myself, if that's alright." He said shyly, looking towards May.
"Of course, sweetie! This is just between the four of us right now. Nobody else will know until you two have the chance to tell them." May replied quickly.
"Not even Happy has an inkling." Tony added.
"Thank you." Ned said quietly, then took a steadying breath.
"So..." Peter mumbled, "are we done now?"
May sighed lightly, then nodded.
"Sorry again, kiddo." Tony apologized, standing up. He ruffled Peter's hair lightly, then headed for the kitchen.
May was slower to leave, glancing back and forth between the two boys.
"I want to remind you that I'm okay with this. As long as you two are happy, I'm happy." She reminded them, then stood and joined Tony in the kitchen.
Peter couldn't help the way he pulled his hand away from Ned's uncomfortably. It just happened.
Ned looked at him, but Peter's eyes were on the ground.
"I'm sorry, Peter..." Ned said quietly, moving his own gaze towards the ground.
"No, it's okay. It's fine." Peter replied quickly, but with no energy in his voice.
Had he just come out without being given the choice to? And what exactly did he come out as? He hadn't had even gotten the chance to think about it. Wasn't this supposed to be something he had time to figure out?
And was Ned upset with him for putting him in such an uncomfortable situation?
Should he have answered their questions more confidently?
Were him and Ned going too fast?
Did his aunt and father figure/mentor really just walk in on him and Ned kissing?
Was he actually in a real, romantic relationship with his best friend?
How was he supposed to feel?
What was he supposed to think? Say? Do?
"Peter, are you okay?" Ned asked nervously, but still quietly enough so that the adults across the room wouldn't hear.
"Mhmm" Peter hummed, exhaling and looking up at him. Ned seemed relieved that the eye contact was back.
"Do you wanna talk alone?" He asked, trying to read Peter's expression. Peter nodded, though, and Ned didn't hesitate to stand up.
Silently, the two boys walked down the hall a bit until they were out of earshot. They leaned against opposite walls, each just a little bit sick to their stomachs.
There was a long beat of silence in which Ned watched Peter stare firmly at the ground, his jaw tense.
"I know that was hard, Peter. I understand if you aren't comfortable...if you need time." Ned swallowed, having to force the words out.
Peter closed his eyes in disappointment, wishing that the last ten minutes had never happened.
"Maybe we should just move a bit slower...maybe that would be better." Peter suggested quietly, scared of how it sounded.
He liked Ned. He loved Ned. Why was he so…so scared? Upset? Terrified?
"Anything you want, Peter, really. You don't have to be afraid of hurting my feelings." Ned replied. His voice sounded soft and fragile, yet honest and genuine.
Every word hurt.
"I don't want-" Peter took a deep breath. "I still really like you, Ned..."
"I like you too, Peter. I don't want you to be uncomfortable."
"Alright, but we'll go slower. I want to go slower too." Ned stood up straight, putting on a straight face.
The two boys make eye contact, nodded, then awkwardly made their way back to the living room. They didn't hold hands. They didn't kiss. They stayed apart.
When they sat, they sat farther away from each other then they had been before.
All Peter wanted to do was apologize profusely to Ned, and to reach out and take his hand again. He felt as though his arms were bound to his sides, though. Mentally, he was leaning off the edge of a cliff, using all his balance and willpower to touch his fingers to his friend's.
But he couldn't reach, and he was frozen there in his place on the couch.
At the same time, all Ned wanted was to curl into a ball and be invisible. Because no matter how happy he had been for the previous 24 hours, he hadn’t had been ready either. And he didn’t want Peter to be uncomfortable. The was the last thing he'd ever want.
So they barely spoke for the rest of the night, and their goodbye the next morning was limited to a quick hug.
May and Tony couldn't help but notice, and they too wished they could have gone back in time and not taken the elevator when they had.