Peter and Ned cackled as they leant over Ned’s phone in the middle of the cafeteria. On screen, Flash Thompson was talking to the camera, using wild hand gestures as he rambled. The video was called SPIDER-MAN: SCIENCE EXPERIMENT OR GOD?????
“One witness even said that Spider-Man claimed to get his powers from a ‘spider god’!” Flash said. “With beings like Thor and Loki just coming and going from our planet, is it really so difficult to believe that Spider-Man could be a god like them? However, Thor and Loki never hid their identities, seeing as they didn’t have lives on this planet. Why would Spider-Man wear a mask? Well, I think, if he got his powers from a ‘spider god’ like he apparently claimed, that would make him from Earth, and doing a god’s bidding, rather than being a god himself.”
Peter wiped a tear from his eye as he laughed.
“Oh my god,” he wheezed, trying to stop himself from clenching the table in his fist and squeezing it into nothing. “I can’t believe he’s taking the whole ‘spider god’ thing seriously.”
“Why did you even say that?” Ned asked with laughter in his voice.
“I don’t even know, it sounded funny at the time-”
On screen, Flash jumped to the next theory, that Spider-Man was not just an experiment, but a government one.
“Hey, remember when I said we should do a conspiracy theory video about Spider-Man?” Peter said, taking a bite of his sandwich. Ned nodded, not looking away from his phone. “I really think we should do it now.”
Harley stared at the computer screen in dismay.
“Two-hundred and sixty-three subscribers,” he said.
“Practically YouTube famous,” Peter agreed, then pushed Harley’s chair so it span to face him. “Consider this: we make a better YouTube channel.”
Harley raised an eyebrow. “Is this just so you can one-up him? Because I don’t need that in my life right now. I’m trying to get into college and if my name is attached to something like this-” he points to Flash, paused on screen, mid rant, “no one will ever accept me, no matter how many glowing letters Tony writes.”
Peter frowned. “You’re getting Tony to write you a recommendation letter?”
“Obviously. If he’s going to act like my surrogate father, then he might as well.”
“Surrogate father?” Peter asked, deadpan.
Harley shrugged. “He’s already rich. He doesn’t need to go to 7-Eleven for scratchers.”
Peter huffed. Harley’s big move was comedy to hide genuine traumatic experiences that changed his life. Come to think of it, that was Tony’s too. And Peter’s.
They had some shit to work through.
“Okay, okay, my idea isn’t like Flash’s. It’s bigger. It’s better. It’s got multiple layers of planning and actual Avenger interviews. And with the fact that we’re not random kids on the internet – we’re Tony’s random kids, we’re guaranteed more views.”
Harley sighed heavily, then span his chair back to look at Flash on screen. “I’m listening.”
Part one to the plan was actually to mess with Flash a little, because the video was going to take a long time to plan. Harley couldn’t help with this part, seeing as he didn’t go to Peter’s school, so instead his job was getting the filming equipment and finding good locations in the compound to film with Pepper’s guiding hand.
Meanwhile, at Midtown, Peter winked at Ned as they walked into Academic Decathlon (for once, on time).
“You know what’s really weird?” Peter said to his best friend as they walked in the room. He said it a little louder than necessary and made sure he didn’t look around to see if Flash was listening. “The other day, I saw Mr Stark with some sort of spandex on under his clothes?”
Ned frowned. Their acting was not great. They were going to need to get better at this for their documentary. “Why would he be wearing spandex?”
Peter shrugged. “I don’t know. It was weird though, like other than the armour, I’ve never seen Mr Stark wear red in his life.”
They sat down at the table and Peter finally looked around the room, seeing Flash watching with a curious expression. A moment later, Flash’s nose was back in his book, but Peter knew he’d sparked the interest.
Two nights later, Flash had posted a new video.
TONY STARK: DOUBLE THE TROUBLE? SPIDER-MAN REVEALED
“Has Tony Stark been Spider-Man this entire time?” Flash asked the camera. “Well, it’s more likely than you think. Tony Stark is in pretty great shape for a man his age, so when an insider who works with the man himself came to me and said that he’d spotted Stark wearing red spandex beneath his clothes, it wasn’t difficult to put two and two together.”
The three boys, sitting at the computer, laughed so hard they cried. Behind them, Tony watched on with a worried expression.
“A man of my age?” he asked, his voice quiet. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Peter choked on his lemonade when he saw Tony looking like a kicked puppy, staring forlornly at Flash’s face on the screen.
Peter made sure that he talked about his hunt for Spider-Man’s true identity in school. He made sure he wasn’t quiet about it. He made sure people were listening, no matter what looks they gave him over the idea.
They were a few days into filming; that weekend they’d be recording all of Tony’s scripted interviews as well as the ominous phone call. They weren’t going to be releasing it for another two weeks, of course, and the phone call technically wouldn’t take place for another week, but they couldn’t use up all of Tony’s time with the video, when it turned out he also had a job.
Eventually, their loud discussion about Spider-Man worked, and Flash cornered them in the hall.
“I hear you losers are making a documentary as you search for Spider-Man’s identity,” he said instead of hello.
“Yeah,” Ned replied. “We’re making it with this guy Peter knows, Harley-”
“You’re stealing my idea,” Flash interrupted.
“Yeah. I make videos about Spider-Man theories. I’m getting pretty popular, too.”
“Oh!” Peter said, as if he’d just remembered them. “I think I saw one of those once! We’re not making a documentary about theories, though. We’re actually gonna find the guy.”
Flash scoffed. “Yeah and I’m the Queen of England.”
“No, really,” Ned insisted. “Peter’s job with Tony Stark means that we can use Stark’s technology to track Spider-Man’s movements, and maybe figure out where he hangs out, maybe where he lives-”
“If Mr Stark found him once, I’m sure we can, too,” Peter agreed.
Flash glared at the two of them, looking at them both in turn. Peter saw him wrestle with the idea of asking to be a part of it and then decide against it. “Whatever, losers,” he said. “Just don’t steal my idea. I don’t want you guys getting all the credit for something I’ve been doing for months.”
“Totally,” Peter agreed, watching Flash stalk off in a mood.
The next day, they made sure to talk to MJ, loudly in Flash’s presence, about how most of Spider-Man’s patrols were just outside of Midtown. They’d skewed these results during their investigation, of course, to keep eyes off the place, but it was Flash, so they thought they’d throw him a content bone for the fun of it.
“Yeah,” Peter agreed, seeing Flash’s head tilt to the side to hear them better. “We did the research, and it seems like Spider-Man is spotted in the Midtown area less than anywhere else. Which is curious, you know? Is he trying to avoid the criminals here or is there someone he knows here, that he doesn’t want to lead the bad guys back to?”
After the first round of interviews with Tony, Peter’s mentor was changing into another outfit, so it could look like another day, while they reviewed the footage. Peter snorted at how close Harley had zoomed into Tony’s face.
“I didn’t even think of that,” he said, bumping knuckles with Harley. “That’s fucking hilarious.”
Behind them, Ned’s phone pinged with a notification.
“Flash made a new video,” Ned announced, his voice giddy. “Oh my God, listen to the title: IS SPIDER-MAN IN CAHOOTS WITH MIDTOWN CRIMINALS?”
“What!” Peter cries, turning Ned’s phone to get a look. “This is what he took from that?”
“I thought you said Flash was Spider-Man’s biggest fan,” Harley said, eyes still on Tony’s interview.
“He is,” Peter insisted. “He’d never say a bad thing about the guy.”
Turns out, Peter was right. They watched the video minutes later, Tony rolling their eyes but peering over their shoulders to watch anyway. The title was total clickbait, and it was clear Flash didn’t believe a word of it.
“According to recent research,” Flash said, failing to cite where he’d gotten the research from, “Spider-Man’s least patrolled spot is Midtown. A few questions arise from this: why does he avoid the area? Is it because he’s got someone he cares about there? Or is it because he’s made a deal with the more prolific Midtown criminals to stay out of their way?
“Now, of course, I believe that if Spider-Man were to make a deal like that, it would be to save someone’s life, and Spider-Man, with his personal contacts to Tony Stark and the Avengers, would be able to take down any Midtown criminals who threatened him – so the question then becomes, what does Spider-Man have against Midtown?”
“God, he’s gonna freak the hell out when he sees the doc,” Harley said with a grin.
“You think we could bug his room and get that on camera?” Ned replied.
The doc aired and the next day, Flash couldn’t help himself, approaching Ned and Peter with wide eyes.
“You know I think you’re losers,” he started.
“Good morning to you too, Flash,” Peter replied, but he didn’t have it in him to be annoyed. That morning, Harley had screamed down the phone at him that his stupid fucking idea is totally genius we hit a hundred thousand views you incredible piece of shit, so Peter was feeling pretty great.
“But I saw the video you posted last night, and I want to know what the hell’s going on. When did the phone call happen?”
“A few nights ago,” Peter replied, turning to use his locker. They’d made sure to act distant and quiet at school for the past few days; looking over their shoulders a lot and whispering to each other to keep up the act. Peter looked back at him now, almost suspicious. “Why? What do you know about it?”
“I don’t know anything about it,” Flash said, fast. “But I want to know what you know.”
“All we know is in the video,” Peter said. “But we’re still looking. We’ll get him.”
“Even though you got that phone call?”
Peter took a breath and nodded, as if he was trying to be determined. “Yeah. There’s a lot to unravel and I think we can do it.”
It was then that Flash asked if Peter and his friends wanted to be in one of his videos and talk about their documentary. Ned had to hold back a bark of laughter, and Peter kept an award-winning straight face at the question. (Harley, later, would snicker so much he’d slide right off his chair.)
“I’ll ask Harley,” Peter replied, “but I think we can make time for it, yeah.”
“Well, this’ll be in the next part,” Peter said in Flash’s living room. He was in Flash Thompson’s living room. What a world he lived in. Ned and Harley flanked him on the sofa, and Flash sat to the side like an interviewer. The video would be called EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH ‘WHO IS SPIDER-MAN?’ CREATORS and it would be the most popular video on Flash’s YouTube channel after Peter would retweet it with the caption part two progress spoilers!! “But we recently went out at night, just searching for the guy.”
“Really? How’d it go?”
“Peter got weird,” Harley said. “He thinks he’s being followed.” This video would later shoot down a lot of claims about the documentary being faked; a YouTube account (albeit a small one) with months of videos, and the group continuing to follow their story without fault.
“I am being followed,” Peter retorted. “Or, at least, it feels like it.” He was wearing the same MIT hoodie that would be seen in the videos, and Pepper had left a meeting to briefly do his make up and make him look more tired than he actually was. The faint bags under his eyes would sell it. “I’m pretty sure I saw the same cars this morning.”
Harley rolled his eyes but Ned jumped in. “It’s totally creepy. Peter’s said he saw some cars follow us while we were searching, plus the creepy phone call?”
“Pete’s gonna die,” Harley summarised. “Almost 100%.”
“Dude.” Peter elbowed Harley before Flash got the interview back on track.
“Recently, an insider from the compound said that they saw Tony Stark wearing red spandex beneath his clothes,” Flash said, “what do you think about that.”
Peter had to stop himself from rolling his eyes. He was the one who said that! He couldn’t go and say otherwise while making the doc!
Luckily, Harley jumped in. “Tony Stark in spandex is not an image I want to think about.”
“No way,” Ned agreed. “I think if that’s true, that look would be for Pepper Potts’ eyes and no one else’s.”
Later, Tony would watch this video and promptly text all three boys that they were grounded for, first, even starting the rumour that he wore spandex beneath his clothes (which would be brought up by shouting press with cameras for the next two months) and second, for implying that he would look anything less than incredible.
The Flash Interview, as the boys called it, was just a blip on their radar of the shit they were pulling off. Flash’s subscribers leapt to a thousand, but didn’t go much higher, but his views were firmly in the same area, considering his next few videos addressed theories that resulted from the boys’ documentary.
When the second part came out, Flash practically had a conniption on camera, especially when he filmed himself watching the documentary. When Spider-Man dropped down in front of Peter in the alley (cough – when Harley jumped down from the fire escape in the suit – cough), he fell off his chair and had to watch the encounter again.
Only a day later, he published a video saying that he went to school with Peter and Ned, which was how he knew them, and Peter was genuinely unaware of what the conspiracy video was. He’d even taken a camera and filmed it when he went to talk to Peter.
The footage was shaky as he approached Peter at lunch.
“Hey, Parker,” Flash said. Since Peter had agreed to do the interview, Flash had suspiciously picked on Peter less and less. Even the name Penis had been dropped from his vocabulary. “Why aren’t you finishing the documentary?”
On camera, Peter looked up from his lunch and frowned. “Everyone keeps asking me that today. I know it looked like some big thing, but it’s all worked out now. It was blown out of proportion, you know?”
Ned rolled his eyes at the answer, as if he’d heard it ten times that day. (He had, everyone was asking.)
“Spider-Man, on camera, threatened you,” Flash said, and his strangled voice told the audience it was the hardest thing he’d ever had to say. “And you don’t want to talk about that?”
“What’s done is done, Flash,” Peter replied. “Can you stop filming?”
The video cut to a few minutes later, where Ned and Flash were standing against the wall. The camera caught Ned in a close up.
“He’s seriously been acting like that all day?” Flash hissed.
“Yeah, since he reappeared – he was gone for a day, remember? He won’t tell anyone what happened. Not even Mr Stark and they’re really close.”
The camera cut again. And then: “How did you even get Tony Stark to edit your video?”
“Peter asked him and said please. I’m telling you, Mr Stark is wrapped around Peter’s little finger and Peter doesn’t even realise.”
Watching that video, later, Tony huffed. “I’m not wrapped around his little finger.”
“Yes, you are,” Harley, Pepper and Ned replied at the same time. Next to them, Peter opened and shut his mouth, gaping, as Tony frowned, mouthing Am not.
Eventually, the craze died down about Spider-Man. Flash’s videos, after a tumultuous journey of SHOULD WE STILL SUPPORT SPIDER-MAN? to SPIDER-MAN SAVES QUEENS, were back in support of the webslinger, just like most of New York was.
Peter stopped providing good content when he didn’t go back on his word, though occasionally Flash would purposefully post photos from Academic Decathlon that Peter was in, because his likes always went through the roof for those posts. They weren’t friends, exactly, but they were acquaintances, and they weren’t hostile – which was something Peter never thought he’d see.
One thing he was dying to see, though, was Flash’s video when he revealed his secret identity. But a few notable videos came first.
SPIDER-MAN KICKED FALCON AND WINTER SOLDIER’S ASSES IN GERMANY FIGHT
It opened with the video Peter posted on Instagram and cut to Flash grinning like a madman at the prospect. In that video, he called Peter one of his friends, and went over all the news that had come out of the Germany airport fight, adding into the mix how Spider-Man had clearly – from their reactions – kicked the asses of Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes.
IS HARLEY KEENER ACTUALLY SPIDER-MAN?
“Now I’ve been seeing this one recently,” Flash started, “and despite having met and interviewed the guy, I’m pretty convinced. I mean, Keener may have been present when ‘Spider-Man’ phoned them during Who Is Spider-Man Part 1, but we’ve got to consider Parker’s theory that Spider-Man has people on his side. Could someone Keener entrusted the secret to have made that phone call? Keener came under Tony Stark’s wing over five years ago, but moved to New York more recently, around the time the Stark Spider-Man suit first premiered. What if the original Spider-Man was someone else? And if Keener had people he paid to keep them on his side, would he have been able to pay them from Tony Stark’s fortune? I’ll cover these questions and more during today’s video – make sure you like, comment and subscribe for more theories and conspiracies about New York’s webslinging superhero.”
IS THERE MORE THAN ONE SPIDER-MAN?
“I’ve talked before about how there might be more than one webslinger. Maybe he’s one of many. Maybe the original ‘onesie suit’ Spider-Man, as Tony Stark calls it, is a different Spider-Man to the one we have now. But this week, Harley Keener posted on his YouTube channel a video called Tony Stark Spills Coffee All Over Himself, just to be nine minutes of two Spider-Men dancing. Of course, this caused more than a minor riot – I mean, two Spider-Men!”
DOUBLE FEATURE: TWO SPIDER-MEN APPEAR ON CRIME SCENE
Flash appeared to be tugging his hair out during this video. “TWO SPIDER-MEN. TWO. WHAT HAVE I BEEN SAYING FOR THE PAST YEAR. TWO.”
On the day Peter Parker would reveal his identity, he scrolled absently through Flash’s videos. There were hundreds of thumbnails of Flash, Spider-Man and, occasionally, Peter, in various poses and with shocked faces, caught in a brief still.
Flash had never once predicted Spider-Man to be Peter.
Not once before the documentary, and certainly not once after it.
“He’s gonna shit himself,” Harley commented, slapping a hand on Peter’s shoulder. “I wish I was there to film it.”
“Don’t worry,” Peter said with a smile. “You can film the press instead. You got your cameras set up?”
“Oh yeah, I’ve got all the angles,” Harley said with a grin. “I can’t wait.”
Peter gnawed on his lower lip, looking back to the videos. There was someone out there – a lot of someones, actually – who considered Peter to be a superhero. Despite how sure he’d been the day before about telling the world his identity, there was a splinter of doubt in his mind. What if Peter Parker didn’t live up to the hype? What if they preferred Spider-Man before they knew who was beneath the mask.
Harley, not one for sentimental talks, shoved himself into the armchair beside Peter. It wasn’t big enough for two but he did it anyway, sending Peter a pointed look.
“You’re gonna be a great Avenger, dude,” he said. “Like, the best one. No doubt in my mind. You’re gonna kick ass, take names and save the world. Got that?”
Peter smiled and Harley nodded, satisfied. He tried to pull away from the chair but Peter lurched forward, wrapping him into an embrace he didn’t really want.
“Peter,” Harley groaned, rolling his eyes back as if he were dying from physical affection. “This is gross. Why are you doing this?”
“Thanks, Harley,” Peter said.
Harley blew out a breath. “Yeah. Okay. I’m great, I know. Now will you let go?” He tried to pull away and Peter made sure he didn’t use any of his strength to make him stay, but- “Peter, let go.”
“I’m not holding you back,” Peter said.
“Oh my God, what- Peter.”
Peter’s hands were flat against Harley’s arm, and he stretched his fingers to prove it.
“You’re so fucking sticky. What the hell, Peter? What scientist thought this was a good idea? What scientist was like, yeah, you know what we need? A sticky asshole in red spandex. Totally. He’s super strong, got great metabolism, and can stick to anything.”
Peter laughed into Harley’s shoulder, and the other boy rolled his eyes, unable to hold back a smile.
“Yeah, yeah, now unstick yourself. We’ve got a big day and I can’t watch the press conference if I’m stuck to you up on stage.”
Only three hours after the press conference, Peter’s phone pinged with a notification.
I WENT TO SCHOOL WITH SPIDER-MAN AND DIDN’T KNOW IT
The video aired two hours after Peter’s video of him laughing for five minutes straight. Peter pulled Harley and Ned away from their screens to watch Flash’s video. It was already steadily gaining views as the entire world was searching for information on Peter Parker now.
It opened with Flash Thompson looking dead-eyed into the camera lens.
“Are you FUCKING KIDDING M-”
It cut to him breathing heavily, pinching the bridge of his nose. “PETER-FUCKING-PARKER.”
He was close to the camera, then, rage glowing in his eyes. “Peter. Fucking. Parker. Peter. Fucking. Parker. I went to school with that asshole for four years. He was on this channel. He looked me dead in the eye and said that he had no idea who Spider-Man was. HE SAID HE SAW TONY STARK WEARING SPANDEX UNDER HIS CLOTHIN-”
Flash was then holding his phone. “I have his phone number. Listen to this shit.” He dialled Peter, and Peter, watching, vaguely remembered missing Flash’s call earlier as he watched Twitter explode. On screen, Peter’s outgoing voicemail was on speaker. He’d changed it minutes after the press conference.
“Hey! This is Peter Parker – AKA Spider-Man! Please don’t leave a voicemail, I won’t listen to it. Send me a text if you need me or call the Avengers or something if you need Spider-Man! Bye!” Flash, staring at the camera with hate in his eyes, cut the call off as the beep rang out.
It cut again, to Flash standing up close. “I’m gonna beat the shit out of that kid one of these days. You hear me, Parker? HALF OF MY VIDEOS HAVE NO BASIS BECAUSE YOU MADE SHIT UP AND SAID IT IN MY VICINITY-”
If Peter Parker laughed so hard he fell out of his chair, only his best friends needed to know. He did Flash a favour though and shared the video on Twitter, watching as people gif’ed Flash saying Peter. Fucking. Parker. and turning it into the newest Spider-Man reaction meme.
And if he invited Flash to the compound a few weeks later and introduced him to a few Avengers, well that was just to clear his conscience.