Monday. The day everyone hated most. Peter was less than enthusiastic about going to school, which he used to love, but not so much following Liz's departure to Oregon and the whole Vulture debacle, as well as Aunt May finding out his double identity as New York's friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, which was succeeded by one of the only times he'd ever had his aunt hollering at him. She had finally relaxed—or at least, stopped shouting—once Mr. Stark talked to her—Peter wasn't a part of that conversation but he had a feeling he knew how it went—but she still ordered that Peter stop patrolling at eleven. The thought of Spider-Man having a curfew bugged him.
"Yo, Penis Parker!" Peter exhaled. The sound of Flash's voice was not a good way to start the day. Peter dodged being bumped by Flash's car, which Peter had heard Mr. Thompson made Flash drive despite being stolen—and subsequently damaged—by Spider-Man. He couldn't help the grin playing at his lips. "Move it!" Flash honked the horn, snapping Peter out of his thoughts.
Peter's shoulders sagged and he stepped out of the road, narrowly stepping on a skateboard that was just lying on the sidewalk. The brunet bent down and picked it up. Whoever owned it needed to keep track of their stuff. Flipping it over, he raised an eyebrow, observing the art that had been done by an assortment of Sharpies. The owner's name was there. Jackson Shanley. Peter nodded and headed inside; he'd never heard of the guy. He was probably new.
Jackson stood at his locker, staring at the empty metal box. He glanced around, seeing the pictures and little pieces of their lives other people had put up. His first day back and he felt lamer than ever. He dug around in his bag for a memento of some kind, eventually producing a picture he'd taken of Spider-Man in Times Square. The boy smiled, tucking the photo on the bottom of the door.
"You a freshman?" He turned at the sound of a voice laced heavily with ego. A boy, probably a year or two younger but at least a few inches taller, stood before him. He was flanked by a couple average looking guys. Jackson had more than enough experience with people like this so he crossed his arms and leaned against the open locker.
"Senior," he answered, looking at the darker-skinned male with distaste.
"You're a senior? But you're so tiny!" The goons laughed stupidly. Jackson rolled his eyes. If these guys were even half as moronic as he suspected, how the hell did they get into a school like Midtown? Rich parents, he assumed.
"Kick his ass, Flash," one of the guys said.
"What kind of nickname is Flash?" Jackson made a face. "Let me guess. You bust a nut in seconds? That charm of yours is gone in a flash?" Flash's face had begun to go red. "You're not intimidating, no matter how much you want to be. You seem more like a... What's the word I'm looking for? A nerd." Jackson snapped his fingers. "I got it. Decathlon. You're the fastest to hit the buzzer. Am I right?"
Flash didn't say anything. Jackson straightened up and he got chest to chest with the other. "Don't you know me? I know word travels fast in high school, any high school. I got a nice, long—rather unnecessarily overlong—suspension. Know why?" He didn't wait for an answer. "I put three people in the hospital, all intensive care. Want that pretty face all busted up?"
Peter had no idea but the second he saw Flash and two other guys harassing some poor kid, he had a feeling that the victim was none other than the skateboard owner. Said boy was dressed like a stereotypical emo kid: stylishly ripped jeans, sleeveless T-shirt, spiked bracelets facing outwards, eye shadow and a hairstyle that could easily rival Green Day. He put the artwork and the boy's outward appearance together. Peter kept his distance from the confrontation but his enhanced hearing picked up everything.
"Pretty, huh?" Flash scoffed. "I think all of this," he waved Jackson up and down, "is some cover. Looking tough isn't going to make you tough." He backed off and made to leave. "See you later, midget." His cronies laughed as they walked away.
Jackson turned back to the metal door and began counting. Clearly, he was trying to control his anger. Peter waited until ten before going over. On approach, he could feel his Spidey senses acting up. "Jackson?" The boy looked up as if daring him to say something about his look. "I think this is yours." He held out the skateboard.
Bright blue eyes instantly softened. "Oh, I'm sorry, man. Thanks." He took the board. "You probably just saw what happened. It took so much self-control not to deck that guy."
"Flash can be... a bit of a handful." Understatement of the century there, Parker.
"More like fucking tool. Dealt with many like him before. They're usually... well, bigger. I mean, I'm probably an inch or two smaller than him and I could totally kick his ass." Jackson forced his bag into the locker, utilizing a little extra strength. "Never caught your name, by the way."
Peter grinned. He liked this guy. "Didn't throw it. Peter. Parker." He held out his hand.
"Nice to meet you, Peter." Jackson returned the gesture. "Y'know, I've been meeting a lot of people with alliterative names. Peter Parker, Reed Richards, Wade Wilson..."
Peter couldn't stop thinking about Jackson. He was unlike anyone else he'd ever met. He overheard a couple girls in class whispering about him while he was making new web fluid. A snippet of their conversation included Jackson being an orphan and had a lot of behavioral problems, including having hospitalized a number of people before he disappeared. Peter couldn't imagine Jackson doing that to someone but he barely knew the guy. He just saw his good side, or most of it.
"You want to come over and build more Death Star later?" Ned whispered from Peter's other side.
"You know it." Peter shut the drawer and looked up, beaming. "You hear anything about this guy named Jackson?"
Ned glanced around and leaned over. "Contrary to popular belief, he's not new. He's been gone for a few months after his parents died." Peter knew the feeling. "Car accident, they say."
Peter glanced down at the closed drawer. "He seems kind of... might have some anger issues. And I think he's more than what he's dressed as. As in, more than a normal kid."
"You think he's—"
"I dunno. Maybe?"
"Mr. Parker, would you care to share your conversation with Mr. Leeds?" The teacher tipped her glasses at him.
He shook his head. "No, ma'am."
"Keep it for after class." Peter and Ned shared a look but silenced.
Jackson dreaded his return. He was good at keeping up the front. The emo kid persona was intended as a cover for people to leave him alone. So far, not going very well. He walked into homeroom and everyone was staring at him. He figured most of them were trying to figure out if he was new.
"Jackson?" He spun around to see a group of who were his sort-of friends before the accident. "Is that really you?" Jason stepped forward and looked at him with a mix of curiosity and sympathy.
Betty kept a distance. "Is it true? Wh-what you did?"
"What other senior is the size of a freshman?" They were used to his sarcasm. "Yeah. It's true. You know me. Good old unpredictable Jackson." He smiled a little. "But I'm okay. Really." He really wasn't but he hated being a burden on his friends. "Where's Liz?" She was the first girl he'd ever gone out with, in their sophomore year, before he came to terms with his preference for men. She supported it and they spent a lot of time talking about boys.
The group looked at each other. Betty cleared her throat. "Liz... moved. Her dad was involved in some underground criminal thing and didn't want her and her mom here for the trial." She rooted around in her bag for a moment and pulled out an envelope, handing it to Jackson. "She entrusted me with this for you."
Jackson took the letter and stared at it for a moment. "Thanks, guys." He smiled softly.
"Jackson." He looked towards the front of the room. Mr. Harrington gave him a smile. "Glad to have you back. I take it you'll be rejoining Decathlon?" He cleared his throat. "Once you've reassimilated, of course."
Jackson nodded. "Yeah. Totally." He did miss the team. There was probably a new crop of them, after his time away. "Wouldn't miss it for the world."
"Wait. Is that him?" Ned pointed a French fry at the popular table, where Jackson was sitting between Jason and Betty. "If he's hanging out with them, he probably knows—" He stopped, glancing at Peter, who was fidgeting with his web shooters under the table.
The brunet looked up. "Yeah. That's him." That sense was going haywire again. "And I'm feeling it. I wonder what he is."
It felt good being surrounded by his friends again. Jackson glanced up to see Peter and he put up his hand in a wave.
"You know Peter Parker?"
"Met him this morning. Cool guy." Jackson had a strange, tingling feeling Peter wasn't like most kids but he ignored it. "Why? What's up?" His friends glanced at each other. "What? It's not like he's Spider-Man. Come on."
Peter felt the back of his neck heat up. He caught the words out of Jackson's mouth.
"It's nothing major. Just... something's off about him. He disappears all the time. Like he went to the dance with Liz, and then he bailed."
"Uh-huh." Jackson popped a chicken nugget into his mouth. "Well then, I'm going to keep my friendship with him because you two are always busy with the news and probably making out when I'm not looking." Jason and Betty looked scandalized. "Please, just because I'm gone for four months doesn't mean I haven't noticed." He eyed their hands being dangerously close to each other. "Yeah." He picked up his tray. "See you lovebirds later."
Ned cleared his throat. "Incoming!" Peter dropped his web shooters into his bag under the table.
"Hey, guys." Jackson sat down across from them. He'd actually removed the eyeliner before lunch due to its uncomfortability. "I'm Jackson." He held out his hand—decked out with black nail polish—to Ned, who stared at him for a moment before returning the gesture. "Sup with you, Parker?"
Peter looked up and a gentle smile crossed his features. "Just... lost in thought, I guess."
"I get that. You guys doing anything after school?"
"We're building a Lego Death Star!" Ned blurted out. Peter glanced over at Jackson, expecting a laugh or derisive snort from the older boy.
Instead, a smile slowly spread across Jackson's face. "Dudes, I cannot even begin to tell you how big of a Star Wars nerd I am." He pulled out his phone to show them his lockscreen, which was a self-created portrait of C-3PO and R2-D2. "This took me three days to finish."
Both boys leaned forward in awe. "You... made that?" Ned's voice was hushed.
"Pete found my board this morning." He held it up. "If you look really closely," he pointed a finger, "there's Skywalker's lightsaber as the L in my surname."
Peter and Ned looked at each other, almost unable to contain their excitement over their new friend. "You want to come over?" That feeling was back but Peter pushed it to the back of his mind. He trusted too easily but Jackson seemed so cool, and he and Ned didn't have anyone at their level of nerdiness.
"You were on the Decathlon team?" Peter looked at Jackson in surprise. He never would have guessed. The elder shrugged and opened his locker, putting his skateboard inside. "You're coming to practice?"
Jackson nodded. "Yeah. I mean, I heard about what happened in Washington. Wish I was there." He was quiet for a moment. "Not like there there but Spider-Man is the coolest. I'd love to meet him sometime." He knew they'd have something in common to talk about.
You have, Peter's brain said but he shook his head. As cool as Jackson was, he couldn't tell him. That feeling kept creeping up on him, as if trying to signal Peter to do something. He'd have to consult Mr. Stark.
"You might want to second think coming though." He didn't want Flash to start his assault on Jackson again, although he knew the senior could take care of himself.
"Flash?" Peter nodded. "I'll be fine. Guy like him probably doesn't do well in a fight."
Peter opened the door and everyone's eyes on were him, many fearfully. "Peter?" MJ eyed him. "Do you know what he did?"
"Looks like it's truth time." Jackson grabbed a chair. "I did it. Okay? I put three people in intensive care. But, in all honesty, it was them or me. I mean, I wasn't just going to stand there and take a beating. I fought back. Needless to say, it didn't end well for them.
"I'm not normally violent. I have a temper, yeah, but can you really blame me? I mean, look at me." He stood on the chair. "I'm seventeen, five-foot-four and the gay son of two moms. Was. Point is, that's two targets on my back, one rainbow colored. I learned from a young age that I'd have to fight if I was going to survive." He got down and tousled his hair to its natural mess. "I hide behind this because it keeps people off my back." He sighed. "I'm a giant fucking nerd." He sat on the floor. "If it helps, I got the team to Nationals last year."
MJ and Peter looked at each other, the team and back at Jackson. "Humans and chimpanzees share a common ancestor. If you compared their genomes, you could determine—"
"How long ago the populations separated." Jackson didn't miss a beat. "Didn't get into Midtown on my good looks alone. Biology's my strong suit. That and Chemistry. I suck at math though."
Mr. Harrington entered the room, followed by Flash. "Jackson. Good to see you on top of it all, as always." Jackson shot him finger guns and gave the bully a smug look. He received a glare in response but no retort.
"Well, this is a nice surprise." May looked at her nephew, Ned and the boy she'd never seen before (Jackson had cleaned up before leaving school). Her aunt instincts kicked in and she gave Peter's shoulder a squeeze on her way out. "I'm going out. No loud parties while I'm gone!" As the door shut, Peter groaned.
"She seems nice." Jackson smirked and nudged Peter's side. "Bet all the guys go after her, huh?" Peter's cheeks reddened. "Hey! Kidding! Gay, remember?"
Peter's blush didn't deteriorate; he only mumbled something to Ned and led Jackson towards his room. "Make yourself comfy." As soon as he finished that sentence, Jackson had done so, laying across the top bunk. "How did you—" The senior was so quick, Peter was surprised his Spidey sense didn't catch it.
"What? You didn't see that coming?" There was a mischievous glint in his eye as he looked at the ceiling. "Are those—?" He reached up and poked at the glue-on solar system Peter had installed some time ago.
Ned had pulled the tote they kept their Lego in out of the closet. Jackson, propped up on one arm, watched them. "You guys are such nerds. Y'know, I knew there were others at school, just none as open about it as you two. That's a good thing." He added the last part quickly. He was about to invite them over but thought about it and didn't.
"You live with anyone?" Peter asked, absorbed in his construction. He was cautious around the topic of Jackson's parents.
"My older brother— well, stepbrother. He's always going away for one reason or another. Sent me a letter a few days ago, said something about Kamar-Taj. Dunno what that means." He shrugged. "He was on some missionary thing in Sokovia a couple years ago, roughly around the time with the Avengers. He doesn't talk much about it but I saw an article online that had a picture of him saving people. Joel's— far from the nicest guy in the world but he has his moments of good." Jackson always tread very carefully on bringing up what he and Joel could do. Last time it got out, it almost cost them their lives.
Sometimes, Peter wondered what it was like for Aunt May when he was left on her doorstep ten years earlier. When his parents were alive, he spent a lot of time with her and Uncle Ben anyway due to his parents' frequent business trips. It ate away at him inside just thinking that he could have done something. There was another part of him that insisted that there was nothing but it still haunted him on a daily basis.
Jackson, meanwhile, constantly struggled with the last time he saw his moms before they left and never came back. He wasn't exactly the most well-behaved kid but they knew he never did anything without a good reason. The day he was suspended after hospitalizing his classmates, he was the one who sat down with them to explain what happened. It was a mixture of things, mostly taunting about his size and sexual preference, and his sarcastic retorts led him to getting beaten up. He fought back in self-defense but got a little carried away. The revelation when he turned 13 came as a surprise to everyone but it quickly became the family secret, with Jackson swearing to never use them unless it was an emergency. Never once did he think of himself as a freak; he always knew he was different and, from the way everyone else he knew was, he didn't mind being weird.
A buzzing noise suddenly filled the room and Peter glanced at his phone to see a text from Mr. Stark, requesting his presence at the compound. It was one of those times he didn't want to be Spider-Man, just a normal kid building Lego with his best friend and a new companion.
"Stark internship?" Ned asked quietly and Peter nodded. "I should probably be getting home anyway. My mom's going out tonight and I gotta watch my cousins." He gave Jackson a small smile before exiting.
"I gotta... go." Peter looked a little sadly up at Jackson. "I have this internship with Tony Stark and he needs me."
Jackson hopped down from the bunk and pushed a hand through his hair. "It's okay. I'm just glad you're my friend, Pete. Not like anyone else was going to approach and be nice to me today. So... thank you."
"It's nothing, really." Peter was blushing again. "Everyone needs a friend. I'm always glad to help people out." Jackson's cheeks were red but he simply nodded and left the same way as Ned.
Peter quickly changed into his suit and departed out the window.
"I have reports that there are new superhumans in the city." Tony paced across the lab; he recognized the guy on the tablet but he wasn't letting Parker know that. "Side unknown but no harm has come to any citizens, so we can safely assume that they're good." He stopped in front of Peter. "Your objective is to meet this new hero, see what their intentions are. Do not, and I cannot stress this enough, do not intercept anything that seems off. Take note and act as if everything's hunky-dory. Got it?"
Peter nodded. "Kinda like that old movie Point Break?" Tony looked like he was about to respond but shook his head and went back over to his suit upgrade. "On it, Mr. Stark!" With that, he ran out of the room.
It was eight-thirty and Peter hadn't come into contact with any new superhero. He'd caught a guy trying to shoplift from a Best Buy, helped a little boy find his mother at the grocery store and assisted an elderly woman across the street.
"No way!" Peter was sitting on the exit stairs of a four-star hotel when he heard the voice. Glancing around, he spun around to find an individual in an imperial blue jumpsuit accompanied by a royal azure mask. "You're Spider-Man. Oh my God. I always wanted to meet you. You're legendary!"
Peter stood to his full height, which was probably three or four inches taller than the new arrival. "Yeah." He cleared his throat. "Yes. I am Spider-Man." He could have sworn that even through the darkened lenses that the other raised an eyebrow. "And you are?"
"Kid Psionic. Laugh and you die." The superhuman's voice was clearly male with a touch of—probably false—deepness. "Sounded better when I didn't say it out loud. Stupid online superhero name generator." There was also a sense of sarcasm that Peter knew he'd heard before. "But I'm new here and I mean no harm. Well, not to you or the Avengers, anyway... or what's left of them." Kid Psionic neglected to add Iron Man's dislike for him, mostly for his unending badgering for them to initiate him. Top that with his newly superhuman self trying to impress Stark after Iron Man saved him during the Battle of New York.
Peter bit the inside of his cheek. "Is your suit homemade?" Kid Psionic looked at himself and back up at him. "I'm not— It's actually really cool." There was a flicker of a smile that was gone as soon as it had come.
Then there was a scream from below. The two heroes gazed down to see a group of criminals in black ski masks wielding guns and heading into a bank. Peter was about to leap into action when he realized Kid Psionic was no longer beside him. The other was on the ground and disposing of the bad guys in a surreally capable fashion. But Peter caught it and swung down to put a stop to it.
"Wait!" Kid Psionic looked up, a crook's head in a dangerous hold. The criminal was pleading for his life. "Don't do it. There's a better way."
"What better way?" In a split second, a crack and the man hit the ground. "Sorry, Spidey. Sometimes it's the only way." Now Peter knew—even if he couldn't see it—that Kid Psionic was smirking. "See you around, Spider-Boy."
"It's—" Before he could reply, a flash of light and Kid Psionic was gone. "Karen, call nine-one-one." After an affirmative from the suit, he sighed. "And Mr. Stark. We have a problem."
Tony pressed two fingers to his temples. "I thought I explicitly said not to interfere."
"He wasn't just stopping them! He was killing them!" Peter was on the defense. "Am I supposed to stand by while another superperson starts murdering criminals?"
"Then call me or someone equipped to stop him." The teenager looked away briefly. "Kid, I just don't want you getting hurt. By the sound of it, Kid Psionic—what a stupid name—is not all there and shouldn't be messed with." He put a hand on Peter's shoulder. "Next time. Please." Peter had never seen Mr. Stark look so unsettled so he nodded.
"Okay. I promise."
Jackson sat at his computer. Joel had left a voicemail, saying that he wouldn't be home for at least another few weeks, and that there was a hidden stash of cash in the back of his liquor cabinet, should he want anything else. He went to Google and saw an article about a number of dead criminals and that Spider-Man had witnessed it.
"Jackson." He flinched and spun around to see Doctor Strange.
The boy stammered. "Uh, Doctor! H-hi." He put on his best poker face and crossed his arms over his chest in what was intended to be casual. "Wh-what are you doing here?"
"Your stepbrother asked me to check on you. He is currently— indisposed. Normally, I wouldn't but he had a hunch you may be lost." Jackson avoided the Doctor's gaze. "Jackson, what are you not telling me? There's guilt exuding from you."
Jackson chewed on his lower lip. "I've never felt like this before. All those other times, I believed I was doing good. But... the way Spider-Man was looking at me. I mean, of course I can't see what he's actually emoting but there was—" He looked at his hands. "Fear."
Strange observed the young man closely. He'd known Jackson for about a year and, despite the tough front he put up, there was a scared, insecure kid underneath who needed someone to guide him. Jackson's mothers were good people but he needed a male influence, and his stepbrother was not up to that, although the rough and short-tempered 23-year-old who came to Kamar-Taj was slowly evolving into someone better.
"Look, you need someone to talk to. I can't be here all the time so here's a phone you can contact us with." He pulled a burner phone out of his robe and placed it on the table. "Maybe try to take a few days off. Be a normal kid."
Jackson looked up and nodded. "Alright."
"Are you okay?" Peter slipped through the window, only to be immediately met by Aunt May, who wrapped him in a hug. "I saw the news. Do they know who the new guy is?" Patrolling always had her on edge and tonight was probably the first time she showed true terror for him being out there.
Peter hugged her back. "No, but he said he's one of the good guys." She looked at him wide-eyed. "Yeah. He and I talked a little. I think he's a few years older than me."
"I'm just glad you're safe," she said quietly, pulling back. "Your friends get home all right?" Peter nodded. Ned had texted him minutes earlier, asking about the other super; Peter didn't tell him anything. If Kid Psionic turned out to be someone with as many issues as Mr. Stark implied, he didn't want anyone he knew involved. He had yet to receive anything from Jackson.
May left him alone and his phone dinged. Peter pulled it out, lying back on his bed, and saw an incoming text from Jackson.
Hey Pete. Hope whatever you do with Stark went well. See you tomorrow. :)
He smiled softly. Jackson was like no one he met before. There was the sarcastic asshole half and the awkward nerd side, and he got more of the latter. Peter could never pull off hiding behind pretending to be someone else. Jackson acted tough and uncaring but Peter saw through that; he was good at seeing the truth in people.
Placing his phone on the nightstand, he changed into an old T-shirt and sweatpants and tucked himself in.
Jackson had taken Strange's words to heart and went to school the next day without any of the cover. His hair—although normally unkempt—had no gel, no bracelets or piercings. Just a normal 17-year-old in an Iron Man arc reactor T-shirt. The hot topic of the day was the new superhero in town, and Jackson simply blended in with everything else.
"Jacks!" Jason caught up to him, phone out. "You heard about the new guy, right?" No one knew; only his brother, the Sorcerer Supreme and Tony Stark, as well as several (now deceased) HYDRA agents. He wasn't letting his friends get hurt because of him.
He only shrugged. "Heard about, yes. Saw anything, nope." Jason eyed him warily. "What? Oh my God, do you honestly expect me, of all people, going out in a fucking jumpsuit and fighting bad guys?"
"Yes. I can definitely see that."
Jackson was quiet for a moment. "Funny." He put his arm around his shoulder. "Let's get to class, loser." They started walking. "Where's your girlfriend?"
"She's not my girlfriend!"
The rest of the day went by without incident... unless that included Jackson knocking Flash out for calling him an assortment of hurtful names, 'orphan' being the one that set him off. Jackson tried to offset Principal Morita from calling Joel to no avail. When finally handed the phone (and stepping into the hallway), Jackson was subject to an intense lecture about controlling anger.
"You're one to talk!" He finally interrupted his stepbrother. "I'm not the one who burned down a bar for kicking him out! I don't care that you're working on becoming Gandhi. You are in no position to yell at me. I haven't seen you in two months! You're supposed to be taking care of me since—" He exhaled. "Joel, he called me an orphan."
It was quiet. "Joel?" He could hear indistinct talking that sounded like Joel and Strange. "Hello?" Then the line went dead. "Oh, shit." He knew exactly what was coming.
A split-second later, there stood Joel, dressed in the same clothes Jackson remembered him leaving in: his favorite Sex Pistols T-shirt, skinny jeans and black Converse. "Where's your principal?" His voice was soft, a contrast to his normal monotone. Jackson jerked a thumb towards the office, and Joel put a hand on his shoulder before entering.
He didn't want to be around for this so he set off towards the Decathlon classroom. "Jacks!" He spun around to see Peter. "I can't believe you did that." Peter had been present while Jackson took a barrage of insults. He tried to stop it but Flash only responded with the typical "Penis Parker" and stepped closer to Jackson to insult him further.
"My brother's here." Jackson didn't actually expect Joel to show up. Peter saw the worry in his friend's expression. From what he collected from Jackson, Joel was entirely unpredictable and prone to frequent violent outbursts. "He's chewing out Morita as we speak."
"Come in and we'll just work on the next competition." Peter put an arm around Jackson, leading him inside.
Peter was relieved Mr. Stark gave him a night off and he, Ned and Jackson went for Thai. Peter and Ned watched Jackson in wonder as the upperclassman ate like he hadn't in days.
"Jackson?" The boy looked up, a noodle hanging out of his mouth. "You alright there?"
He wiped his mouth and chuckled a little. "Sorry. I, uh, don't get out often. This place is amazing." Another dish arrived and Jackson's smile widened. "Dude, this Khao Soi is the best." He fist bumped the waiter.
Looking up at the TV, which was still broadcasting news from the night before, Peter cleared his throat. "You think that new super in town is good? I mean, he defeated criminals— just not in the best way."
Jackson kept his eyes down. Normal kid, he kept repeating in his head. "I dunno. I mean, no one is as super as Spider-Man." Despite his alter-ego, he idolized Spider-Man. He just acted like he didn't when he was in costume. "He's the coolest Avenger."
Peter felt his face redden but he kept his cool. "Yeah. I guess. Kid Psionic does seem like a cool guy, even if he does it his way." Jackson once again cursed the name generator he got it from.
A phone buzzed and all three glanced down. Peter excused himself to take the call. "Hi, Mr. Stark."
"Kid, where are you right now?"
"At the Thai place with Ned and Jackson." There was a moment of silence. Tony cursed internally. "What's wrong? Someone need help?"
The man exhaled. "No. Just checking in. Making sure you're being responsible." He was having a conflict on telling Parker about his new friend. That kid Jackson was a nuisance but he also knew that he kept his secret identity to a very select few. "We'll have a briefing in the morning."
"Okay. Night, Mr. Stark." Peter put his phone away and glanced back at the table, where Ned and Jackson were in the process of debating the canonicity of the Star Wars Holiday Special, Jackson on the defense.
"I mean, come on, Chewie has to have a family somewhere. And, other than that, have we ever heard about them? If we're really going to get into it, there are novels released last year that act as a sort of recanonization of Malla's existence."
Ned looked at the older boy in awe. "Peter and I are nerds but you take it to an entirely different level." He glanced up at his friend. "Do you hear this? I think Jackson is the biggest Star Wars nerd I've ever met."
Suddenly, the Imperial March came out of nowhere, and Jackson made a face, pulling out his phone. "It's Joel. I should be going." He dug out some money and left it on the table. "It's on me." He ruffled Peter's hair and exited the restaurant, leaving the two sophomores watching after him.
"I talked your principal out of suspension." Jackson's shoulders sagged. "You still have a week of detention."
"You didn't." One of Joel's abilities involved memory manipulation. "I thought you were becoming a better person. Warping my principal's mind is not good!" Jackson threw himself on the couch.
Joel sat on the table across from him. "Buddy, you've had a rough year. That little prick was out of line. You stood up for yourself." He sighed. "I'm sorry I haven't been a very good guardian. I thought maybe if I took some of the good Doctor's trials, it would help me be able to care for you better." He smiled a little. "I love you, squirt."
"You're smaller than me." But a smile formed on Jackson's lips.
Kid Psionic sat on a rooftop, enjoying a sandwich when he felt a presence. He turned to see the all-too-familiar red-and-blue suit. "Oh, Spider-Dude." He nodded curtly and held out his lunch. "Want some?"
"I'm not here for— Did you get that from Delmar's?" Peter took a seat beside him, although a safe distance.
"You know it. The man knows what settles a young superguy's stomach." He scarfed the rest of it and dusted off his hands. "So, um, about a couple nights ago... I'm sorry." He rubbed the back of his neck. "I can be a bit brutal but no one's ever... I respect you, Spidey. Really, I do."
Peter fidgeted with his shooters and looked up at the other. He wasn't sure how to respond to that. "You're not gonna keep going around murdering bad guys, are you?"
Kid Psionic exhaled. "I'll try not to. That's as good as it's gonna get, dude." He held out his hand. "Truce?"
Maybe it was because he trusted too easily or because he could imagine that smirk on the other guy's face but Peter reached out and shook it. "Truce."
"Awesome. Now, for starters, there is no way you're a man. No offense but you sound like a barely post-pubescent teenager." Kid Psionic was satisfied when both of Spider-Man's eyes went up. "I'll be totally honest with you, Spider-Boy. I'm still in high school. I'm seventeen, turning eighteen in a few months."
Peter couldn't help but wonder. Did the guy underneath the jumpsuit go to Midtown? His voice was vaguely familiar. "I'm also in my late teens." Lie. "Graduated early." More lies. "I just seem younger than I actually am."
Kid Psionic seemed to accept this. "Wow. Okay. So you are a man. Sort of." He gazed over the side of the roof. "Ugh, another shoplifter." He turned to Spider-Man and offered his hand. "Shall we?"
Peter was about to ask why but the other took his hand, and then he felt a previously unheard of whoosh and suddenly they were on the ground. "What was that?"
"I'm magic." Kid Psionic shot him finger guns and took off after the robber, leaving Peter stunned and trying to collect himself from the dizziness. The superhuman returned a minute later, holding the young teenager by the collar. The boy, probably around 13 or 14, was struggling. "You got caught. Calm down. I'm not going to call the cops. I was you once." He put him down. "Now go inside and apologize." The kid looked at him with a quirked eyebrow. "Do it or I won't."
The boy obeyed, leaving Peter to look at his new friend. "How did you do that? Do you like have mind control?"
A chuckle escaped the smaller hero. "No. I'm just extremely persuasive. I also promised the kid I'd show him my powers." He pulled out a phone. "And all for a fucking iPhone Eight. Jesus, people still buy these every year?"
When the kid emerged, Kid Psionic tossed it to the manager. "He's sorry. Right?"
"Yeah." He had a very guilty look on his face. "Won't do it again."
"Damn right you won't." Kid Psionic slung an arm around his shoulder, his other around Spider-Man. "Let's go. Spider-Man, this is Luke. Luke, Spider-Man."
Peter glanced at the teenager, who was staring at him in awe. "Wow. You're amazing."
"Thanks." Peter couldn't help but blush under the mask.
"Okay!" Peter hung upside-down from the above overpass while Luke sat on the ground. Kid Psionic held up his hands, aiming for an old dilapidated building. It was then Peter saw that Kid Psionic's gloves had holes in the palms. "Ready?" He didn't wait for an answer when two medium-sized orbs materialized, one made of fire, the other ice, hitting the side of the brick wall, both blasted right through.
"Whoa! That's so cool!" Luke jumped up and ran to check the damage.
Kid Psionic shook his head fondly. "Yeah. Pyrokinesis, cryokinesis and the ability to teleport. My st— I mean, sort of living associate is super strong, can fly and has a regenerative healing factor."
"You can use all of this for so much more." Peter jumped down beside him. "Have you ever wanted to be an Avenger?"
Kid Psionic let out a derisive scoff. "Like Iron Man would let me."
"I know Iron Man. I could talk to—"
"You don't have to do that, Spidey. It's fine. I'm better off on my own anyway. I'm a lone wolf." He stared at Luke, who was about to break down the ice. "Kid, let's get you home before your parents start to worry."
Luke paused, starting to lower the rock he was holding. "My parents aren't exactly around. Dad's on a business trip. Mom..." He threw the stone against the icy wall, shattering it. "She left two years ago. Haven't heard from her since."
Kid Psionic bent down beside Luke. "Well, at least you know she's out there. I don't have any parents. Mine died. Few months ago." The dark-haired boy wrapped his arms around the super. "Thanks, kid."
A flicker passed Peter. He wasn't sure but now he was curious. There was no way. "I'll see you later. Gotta get home." He waved. Kid Psionic waved back before he and Luke vanished.
Peter lay on his bed, simply thinking about his theory on who Kid Psionic was under the mask. The height difference, the fact that he was a high schooler, the deceased parents... He pulled out his StarkPhone to see a number of texts from Jackson throughout the day. His suspicions quelled for the time being, he scrolled through them. It was mostly obscure Star Wars factoids and goofy selfies. He couldn't help the smile playing at his lips. The guy was a total dork; they were so alike, except Jackson seemed to have more going on in the background. He'd seen him without his bracelets and, for a very brief second, without long sleeves. It made Peter sad to see the cuts along Jackson's left arm.
Suddenly, his phone buzzed. It was an incoming FaceTime call from Jackson. He pressed the green button, only to be met with a dog. "Jackson?"
"There is no Jackson. Only Zuul!" A voice called out, and a hand made the dog's mouth move. "Jeez, you're a whole lot of fun." The Retriever got down to reveal Jackson, whose hair was more out of whack than usual. "Sup, Parker?"
"You named your dog Zuul?"
"What? Man, no one understands Ghostbusters anymore."
Peter grinned. "You don't want to cross streams with me?" His face reddened as soon as he said it.
"Oh my God. You are so gay for me." Jackson burst into laughter. "Kidding! Kidding. This is why you're my friend." He held the phone up, laying back. Zuul came up to his right and started licking his neck. "What is with you today? Only time she gets this affectionate is when she humps my leg." He turned to face the dog. "You've seen me with guys. I don't swing that way."
"We're having a decathlon meetup tomorrow if you want to come? It's at Bryant Park. Just some drills and stuff. General hanging out. You're one of us again."
Jackson wasn't exactly ideal about social interaction but it couldn't be all too horrible if Peter were there. He didn't like him like that. He had to remind himself. Sure, Peter was cute but in a dorky kind of way. He wasn't really looking for that kind of thing right now anyway.
Jackson had gotten home after making sure Luke was settled. He couldn't help but feel protective over the younger teen. Maybe he could take him under his wing. But he couldn't compromise his secret identity.
Zuul came trotting over and looked up at him. "I left you with a very sizable portion, Your Highness. Are you telling me you're hungry?" An affirmative bark and the boy sighed. "Fine. I'll treat you."
After slicing up some steak into Zuul's bowl, the brunet flopped down on his bed and pulled out his phone to call Peter. But he was stopped by an article on his Facebook feed: NEW HERO IN TOWN: FRIEND OR FOE? And there was a candid shot of him in full costume. "Fuck." He clicked the link and scanned it; it was mostly that one night and a lot of online debate. People saw him as a menace, but more viewed him as a vigilante, only offing people who were bound to repeat their crimes.
Shaking his head, he clicked the call button and called Zuul over to meet Peter.
Once they'd disconnected, Jackson pocketed his phone and went to make dinner. He needed to figure out a casual outfit for the meetup. While making curry, he went into his room and laid out a pair of jeans and his favorite Captain America shield T-shirt. He loved the Avengers but sided more with Cap on the whole Sokovia Accords thing. Digging around, he found the letter Liz left him. He hadn't read it yet. He opened it and pulled out the paper. She'd divulged that, despite his coming to terms with being gay, she would always remember that awkward guy asking her out. The note ended with her new address and a statement that she hoped that he found someone who loves him just as much as he was able to give love.
Jackson wiped his eyes. He hated that he wasn't there for her when she needed it. They acted a lot more like a couple than best friends; everyone pointed it out. He returned the letter to the envelope and put it on his side table. Continuing his pursuit for clothes, he produced a blue long-sleeved shirt. He didn't need people asking questions. It had been a dark time in his life and he didn't want to talk about it.
He sat at the table, laptop open, as he ate. Ever since his moms passed, he'd had to fend for himself, especially since Joel wasn't around all that much, even before he went away to Kathmandu. School was fine and patrolling was whenever he could, so he decided to look for a part-time job, just so he could feed himself. But a high school senior could only get so far, and, despite deliberation, ultimately settled on applying at a Chipotle. He could make worser decisions.
Peter arrived about half an hour before the agreed upon meeting time, finding Jackson seemingly asleep under a tree. He shook his head with a smile and approached the elder, sitting beside him. "Jackson?"
"Who are you and what do you want? I don't have any money." He opened his eyes. "Oh, hey, Pete." He rubbed his eyes. "I don't sleep very good most days." He gave the younger boy a fond hair ruffle. "When's everyone else getting here?"
Peter glanced at a nearby clock. "Soon." He leaned on Jackson's shoulder. "Jackson?" He asked after a minute of silence.
"You wouldn't— possibly— It sounds crazy. Forget it."
Jackson side-glanced him. "What are you talking about? What's up?" He nudged Peter's side, making him squirm. "C'mon, dude, what is it? Can't leave me hanging like that."
"It's—" Peter moved to get away, trying to come up with a way it didn't sound like he was Spider-Man. "I didn't want to ask but..." He motioned to Jackson's sleeves. The boy's face fell. "I'm sorry!"
"No. It's fine." Jackson took a deep breath and pulled up his left sleeve. "It's, um, not that big a deal. They're from a really bad time. Few years ago. Can't really pay for consistent therapy and a lot was going on. I found it an escape from the thoughts." He cleared his throat. "But I'm good now. Truly." He pushed it back down. "I mean, I got you and Ned, and my brother's doing really well with his... training. I can't say I'm all there but it's sure as hell looking up."
People were communing at the sidewalk. Jackson and Peter looked at each other before making their way over. "What's going on?"
"Hostage situation at the post office," someone responded. Peter turned to Jackson, only to find him gone.
"Jackson!" Peter looked around wildly. Where did he go? He was just behind him. The brunet sighed and ran into an alley, quickly changing into his suit. When he arrived at the front door, it opened to reveal Kid Psionic with two men in hand.
"Where did you guys learn to shoot? Stormtrooper academy?" He tossed them to the feet of the nearby police officers. "You're welcome!" He tilted his head at Spider-Man. "What? Even through the mask, I can tell you're shocked. I know, I can be amazing too."
One of the crooks, through his bleeding mouth, looked back at the hero. "There's another guy. With a bomb. And the postmaster's still in there." Kid Psionic stiffened; there was no way he was letting his favorite mail carrier die. He turned to go back inside but Spider-Man caught his arm.
"Get off, Spidey!" He yanked away and ran inside, looking for Mr. Rightmyer. The guy was like the dad he never had. "Postmaster Rightmyer? Sir!" He heard coughing from a distance and teleported into the mailroom, where he found the man up against the wall, an explosive device attached to his chest. "Fuck."
The leader of the criminals had a detonator in hand. "Don't want him blown up, do you?" Jackson shook his head, hands rising, seemingly in surrender. "Then open the vault. I've seen what you can do."
"Okay. I open the vault, you put the button down." He edged forward and a thin ice pellet emerged, drilling into the man's forehead. He swiftly kicked the device from his hand and blasted him into the far wall.
He bent down in front of the postmaster. "Mr. Rightmyer, are you okay?" His voice trembled slightly as he began to detach the wires.
"Who are you?" The older man's eyes opened. "You're a lifesaver, kid."
"Yeah, well, you know me." He shook his head, realizing he let it slip. "It's all gonna be okay. Just—" He carefully removed the bomb and set it aside. "Can you stand?" Rightmyer got to his feet, a little shaky. "Let's get you out of here."
They were met at the door by Spider-Man. "You got him?"
The next few seconds were a blur. Jackson had a hold on Rightmyer but somehow he lost it in movement, and found himself outside with an unconscious Spider-Man. He could hear people gasping and there was debris flying everywhere.
"Shit! Spider-Man! Spidey, buddy, wake up!" Kid Psionic bent down beside the other, trying to rouse him. "Jesus fucking Christ." He buried his head in his hands.
"What kind of damage did you cause this time?" Jackson looked up to see Iron Man. The boy stammered incoherently until Stark held up his hand. "He better be alive."
Putting his breathing in check, he stood, hands up in surrender. "Mr. Stark, please. I didn't mean for this to happen. I couldn't save the postmaster but I saved Spider-Man. That has to count for something."
Tony checked Peter's heartbeat and gently roused him. "What's going on?" Peter's voice was quiet and Jackson sighed in relief. "Mr. Stark?" He glanced at Kid Psionic. "You saved me."
"Better believe I did. I don't know what I'd do without you, Spider-Kid."
"I think it's time you two met." Jackson felt the back of his neck heating up. He started to protest but the face plate opened to show Stark's face, which wasn't going to have any of his complaints. "Take off the mask."
Jackson backed up, shaking his head. "I can't. Look, I'm really good at keeping secrets. For real. The only people who know are my brother, you and Doctor Strange. That's it. I've never told anyone else." He waved a hand towards Spider-Man. "I have no clue who he is under there—"
"Yes, you do."
"No! I don't! Please!"
Peter looked between Mr. Stark and Kid Psionic. "Mr. Stark, if he doesn't want to—" His mentor's glare silenced him.
The sound of Velcro and his friend hesitated before pulling the mask off. All of Peter's suspicions were confirmed. There stood Jackson, messy dark blond hair and all. His bright blue eyes were brimming with tears. "I'm sorry," he whispered, his head bowed.
"How?" Peter put a hand to his chest to retract his suit but Tony placed a hand on his shoulder. "You knew?"
Tony nodded. "I thought you could be a normal kid for once and have a friend who's not—what's his name—Ned. But this was too far."
Jackson shot up. "No." He took a step forward. "Peter?" Peter looked at Tony, who nodded, and he opened his mask. "Oh my God." Jackson sunk to his knees. "I wanted to—but I couldn't tell you, Pete. I wanted to be like everyone else, just once in my life. Have regular friends, a regular high school existence. But apparently even I can't have that." He shook his head. "I gotta go." Before Peter could open his mouth, Jackson was gone.
Ned and Aunt May blew up his phone with texts, making sure he was okay. But all Peter could think about was Jackson being Kid Psionic. The pieces fell into place but all those messages from him the day before were during hours they were together.
"Karen, can you get me all the information you can on Jackson Shanley?" The suit responded with an affirmative and the files started piling up. Criminal records: shoplifting, squatting, joyriding, assault. He'd even spent a month in juvenile hall when he was twelve. His outside behavior began to improve around fourteen. Medical reports revealed that Jackson had Noonan Syndrome, which stunted his growth. Report cards showed a highly intelligent student, having skipped seventh grade. There was no reference to vigilantism although there were surveillance videos from the old Avengers Tower, which featured Jackson in a poorly made suit begging to be one of them, and, most of the time, being shouted at by Mr. Stark.
An article stood out among the hundreds of files. Peter opened it and his face fell.
TRAGIC CAR ACCIDENT LEAVES TEENAGE WHIZ KID ORPHANED
He wanted to hug Jackson and never let go. Now he understood why he never talked about his past. But he probably wouldn't talk to him now that he knew. He decided to leave Jackson alone for the time being. With that in mind, Peter bid Mr. Stark farewell and swung home.
Aunt May fussed over him a bit before leaving him alone. He couldn't tell her; he wasn't quite sure who to talk to about it. He simply texted Ned to come over and keep building the Death Star with him.
Once he vanished, Jackson was in limbo for a while before finally choosing somewhere to go. He didn't return home, although no one was there. He wanted to talk to Joel but he didn't want to be that kind of little brother. So he went to Green-Wood Cemetery, where his moms were buried. He bent down in front of the joined gravestones. "I wish you guys were here. Things have gotten so bad now. There's this guy. Not like that. We've only known each other for a few days but he's the closest I've ever had to a best friend. He's like me."
He shook his head. "What do I do? I want to keep being his friend but it's gonna be so weird when we're—" He stopped at the sound of the all-too-familiar tire squeak. "What are you guys doin' here?"
Two blond boys came over, one tall and muscular, the other kind of skinny and in a wheelchair. "What? We can't visit our cousin now?" Chaz ruffled his hair. "Squirt, you know you can't keep us away, no matter how much you cuss us out."
"I'm so sorry about th—"
"Don't worry about it. You had every right to be emotional." Cameron glanced over. "They really are the best. You know Chaz and I are basically polar opposites, just like them."
Chaz sat down beside Jackson and gave him that charming grin. "Yeah. I appreciate good music and Cam's lame." He ignored his younger brother flicking the back of his head. "I remember when you were born, Aunt Sophie said exactly those words." He motioned to the headstone. "You're their miracle, Jacks."
"Aw, Chaz can be such a sweetheart sometimes, huh?" The elder of the two glared over his shoulder while Jackson blushed. To anyone else, Chaz was just like the kids at school. Before the accident, he treated Jackson more or less the same. Now he was like the older brother he needed. "What's got you all down anyway?" Cameron put a hand on Jackson's shoulder.
They didn't know. If he told them now, they'd be pissed he didn't tell them before. And Chaz was a loudmouth. If he found out his cousin had powers, he'd never shut up about it. But Joel wasn't around, he didn't want to face Peter at the moment and there wasn't really anyone else he could talk to.
"Look, I'm going to tell you guys something. You have to keep it quiet. Anyone finds out, I might not be your alive cousin much longer. Understood?" Chaz and Cameron looked at each other and back at Jackson, nodding. "I'm fucking serious, Chaz."
Chaz held up three fingers. "Scout's honor." Cameron was about to make a snide comment but stopped.
Jackson stood up and moved back. "Just don't be pissed that I didn't tell you. After nearly dying as a result of being one, I have to keep it really close." He concentrated and vanished, reappearing on their other side, and then up a nearby tree.
"God." Chaz and Cameron finished together, staring at Jackson in awe.
"You're a mutant? That's like the coolest thing ever!" Chaz was excited. Jackson found out on his own that his stereotypical jock cousin was a closet comic book nerd. "How could you keep this kind of bombshell from us?"
Jackson returned to his starting point. "You know how Joel got around?"
"Dude, your brother is worse than me."
Cameron jerked a thumb at Chaz. "It's true. Chaz has a new girl every couple weeks. Joel had new guys every night."
"Yeah, well, one of those guys was a closeted HYDRA agent. Had a wife, two kids and an proclivity for people in their early twenties." He shuddered at the memory. "Moms left me with Joel for a couple weeks and it nearly ended with us ripped apart for test subjects. That was why I didn't see him a whole lot until—" His moms had barred Joel from the house once they found out that he almost got Jackson killed. The only reason Joel had guardianship over him was because he didn't have anyone else.
Jackson sat down on the grass between Chaz and Cameron. "Can I stay with you guys for a while?"
"You are always welcome, Jacks."
"There's an explosion, the kid gets knocked out and, of course, that X-Men reject was there." Tony paced around the lab as Pepper and Rhodey let him vent. "Peter needed to know who he was dealing with."
The other two looked at each other. "So you exposed their identities to the other?" Rhodey raised an eyebrow.
Pepper folded her arms. "How is this expected to work itself out?"
Before Tony could respond, his phone rang. He picked it up and saw Happy's avatar. "What?"
"The kid's here to see you. Says it's urgent." Within seconds, Peter walked through the door and sat down in Tony's revolving chair.
Pepper and Rhodey took their leave, his fiancé giving him that knowing look on her way. "What's on your mind?"
"Why'd you make him do it?" Peter's voice was quiet. "I don't understand why I had to know who he was. Jackson's a really good guy, Mr. Stark. Sure he has problems, but don't we all? He even agreed to try and be better about not killing bad guys."
Tony took a seat across from the young hero and ran a hand through his hair. "Has he ever said anything about wanting to be an Avenger?"
"Said you wouldn't let him. I saw security footage from the Tower."
"He may act like he knows what he's doing. He's unpredictable and doesn't think through his choices. Remember how you texted Happy every day?" Peter nodded. "Shanley did that to us almost every couple hours, begging to try out. I'd say he was devoted but he almost unleashed the Hulk, nearly got us all killed when he caught Robin Hood and Nat off guard. But if there had to be one of us that likes him, I'd say it's probably Thor. I swear, the kid is a pantomath. That's why he talks so much. My point is, he's a royal pain in the ass and maybe you two shouldn't be hanging out."
Peter looked at his mentor in astonishment. "Wh—what?" Not hanging out with Jackson seemed like a punishment worse than losing his suit. "We go to school together!"
"You're two years apart. You don't share any classes. I know you did a background check on him. You've seen what he's done. I don't want him maneuvering you down the wrong path."
Peter didn't want to go behind Tony's back to spend time with his friend but it didn't seem fair. "But he saved me. He probably could have saved the postmaster but he kept me safe."
"Listen, kid, I'm not trying to ruin your life. Honest. Just steer clear of him for now and we'll see what happens. Deal?"
As per the original story, I will link characters to the face-claim I use for them.
Peter walked into school a couple days later. May made him stay home out of worry after the post office incident. He hadn't been in contact with Jackson; he'd had Ned over a lot after school. Things seemed as they were before he met the senior but there was a feeling of emptiness.
He stopped at his locker and rolled the combination. Whispers behind him alerted him to a juicy gossip and then an arm slid around his middle. There was only one person Peter allowed to do that. He turned to see the recognizable grin of his old best friend, Harry Osborn.
"Pete, buddy! How's it going?"
"Y-you're back." Peter blinked a few times to make sure he was real. Harry's father had sent him away to boarding school when they were twelve. "I'm good. Everything's good." He scolded himself internally; he wanted things to be good again.
Harry shook him a little. "That's great, man. What are you doing after— Hey, watch it!" Someone had collided with Harry, which knocked Peter off for a second. "Don't you know who I am?"
The offender looked up, and Peter felt that twinge of guilt he'd been holding onto. Jackson had reverted back to his emo kid cover but, this time, he only had one spiked bracelet. His left arm was wrapped in a white bandage poking out from the sleeves.
"I'm deeply sorry to have displeased the great Maharaja of douchebaggery." Jackson didn't miss a beat in insulting his former bully. Harry had always mocked him for his social standing. "Absolutely fantastic to see you. Was really hoping three years of getting the paddle would finally knock some sense into you. As always, I was wrong." He glanced at Peter. "Parker."
Peter didn't say a word; he just watched Jackson walk away. Harry was fuming; he remembered that smart-mouthed little pleb. The blond took a deep breath and returned his attention to his friend. "You know him?"
"Yeah. Jackson. He's—"
Harry didn't let him finish. "He's a commoner. How the hell could he come here? He has nothing. I'm not going to tell you who to hang out with but anyone but him."
To Peter, it seemed like the whole world was against him being around Jackson. He knew to agree with Harry was better than opposing him, so he nodded. "Okay." It was a vague agreement. "You want to meet my friends?" He figured getting Harry's mind off of Jackson would ease him a little.
The grin was back and Harry ruffled his hair. "Sounds great!"
Jackson had spent the past few days avoiding his group of friends and dealing with the aftermath of his identity reveal. He'd been staying with his cousins and, despite their attempts to get him out and about, he moped in his room. He lost the one best friend he'd had and he didn't want to be social.
He gently pulled on his long-sleeve shirt to avoid hurting his arm. It was still healing. The brunet grabbed his skateboard and rode down the block towards his own personal Hell. He very narrowly avoided being bumped into by Flash, who he simply flipped off.
Walking into school, the first person he saw was Peter. Quickly looking at the ground, he tucked his board under his arm and started forward, bumping into someone. He was about to apologize when he heard that all-too-familiar haughty tone. Just what I need right now, he thought. He looked to see the smug face of Harry Osborn. He wanted to give the younger the same going-away present but he didn't. Instead, he channeled his anger into sarcasm and insults.
When he was done, he couldn't help but smirk at the rise he got out of Osborn. It was always too easy. But it faltered once he saw Peter. In his head, all he saw was the unconscious Spider-Man and then the unmasked webslinger. Parts of him told him it wasn't really Peter, that it was just a Jedi mind trick. Now isn't the fucking time for Star Wars references, he snapped at himself.
All he did was keep walking. He could hear Osborn feeding Peter the typical bullshit about his lower class. It then dawned on him that the kid who was always hanging out with Osborn years ago was Peter.
He sat down in class and, ignoring the obvious curiosity of his best friends, opened his notebook to work on a drawing of Kid Psionic and Spider-Man.
"Jackson!" He jerked out of his zone to see the teacher glaring at him, and his classmates staring.
"Gould and Eldredge introduced the theory of punctuated equilibrium?" The teacher looked surprised; she'd suspected Jackson of not paying attention but he was right. She turned back to the board and he sighed in relief.
Jason leaned over. "Dude, what's with you?" He gazed at the artwork. "Wow. Anyone tell you that you're a regular Ross Andru?"
Jackson didn't answer; he only blushed. He wasn't really open with showing people his art but the response was always positive. He gave Jason a thumbs-up and put his notebook away.
Peter introduced Harry to Ned and MJ, and they all sat together during lunch. MJ was probably about to set the world record for eye rolling while the boys chatted about some obscure fantasy series. A crash got everyone's attention. Peter stood up to see Jackson on the floor, having been tripped by Flash.
Flash was insulting him left and right, but Jackson remained down. With his enhanced hearing, Peter picked up Jackson quietly saying to himself, "Don't do anything stupid." But his heartbeat was racing and he turned onto his back to look at his attacker.
"Wait!" Peter ran over and helped Jackson up. "Just... leave it. He's not worth it." The brunet looked at him, expression blank.
"You got a thing for him or something, Penis Parker?" Flash's friends laughed loudly.
Peter looked Jackson in the eye. "C'mon." The senior nodded and left the cafeteria with him.
As soon as they were a safe distance away, Jackson yanked himself away from Peter. "Why'd you help me?" His voice quivered. "I don't know how to deal with this." He scratched his arm.
"I'm not mad or anything. It's just... I dunno." Peter was at a loss for words. He wasn't sure how to explain what was going on in his head. "You're not—"
Jackson tilted his head. "What?" He looked down. "No. God, no. This is not what you think." He pushed up his sleeve and unwrapped the bandage, revealing a small semicolon on his wrist. "It's my reminder. I'm never doing that again." He gently rebandaged and rubbed the back of his neck. "Look, I'm really sorry I didn't tell you. I swear to every God that exists, I had no idea it was you. No offense but normal Peter Parker doesn't seem like the kind of guy who would become— y'know."
"I had my suspicions." Peter felt a relieved smile come to his face. "I mean, height difference, sarcasm, when you told me you were in high school."
"Damn. I should be more discreet." A broad smile crossed his features. "We're cool, yeah?" He held out his hand.
Peter was about to reach forward when Harry intercepted them. "The hell are you doing, pipsqueak?" He glared down at Jackson, who now looked bored.
"Oh, I see. You've appointed yourself as Peter's guard puppy." Harry was nearly a foot taller than Jackson. "Making sure anyone who's unworthy of his friendship stays away. You don't like me because I'm a churl." He could see the confusion on Peter's face and it only fueled him. "I may be common but at least I'm not a spoiled brat who complains to Daddy when things don't go his way."
The next thing Jackson saw was the beige tile floor as Harry had socked him in the face. "You stay the hell away from Peter, got it, freak?" The senior rolled onto his back once more and looked up at the seething boy.
"Comprende." His nose was broken and he quickly set it in place, with a sickening crack, which made Peter wince. "Thanks, Osborn. I really needed the reminder." He'd just see Peter later anyway. Jackson got up and fixed his sleeve. "Always a pleasure." And with that, he walked off.
Harry was still breathing hard. "Promise me you won't hang out with him." It was just as it was before. When Harry didn't like someone, he ruined that person's social standing and barred Peter from making contact with them.
Seeing as how, as Spider-Man, he wasn't Peter and Kid Psionic wasn't Jackson... "I promise."
Peter sat on the rooftop, just watching over the city. It had been an uneventful night. "Hey, Spidey." The voice from behind caught him off guard and he would have fallen off if Jackson didn't catch him at the last minute. "You'd think those Spidey Senses would warn you about me coming." Peter could practically hear the smirk in his voice, even before he pulled off the mask. "So, uh... hi. I guess this is the first time we've really talked as... Spider-Man and Kid Psionic. Your guard dog doesn't you know you're... Right?" He spun around, taking in his surroundings.
"No, he doesn't know." Peter opened his mask. "Harry can be a bit abrasive—"
"A bit? That is the biggest load of bullshit I have ever heard. And I've been around. I'm sorry, Pete, but your buddy is a narcissistic psychopath, just like his father. Whatever I said earlier wasn't wrong." Jackson took a seat on the edge of the building. "I hate that you had to see me getting hit though. I really don't know when to shut the fuck up."
"You're alright though?" Peter returned to his spot, right beside the other. Jackson shrugged. "I should have stopped him."
Jackson turned to face him. "Don't worry about it. I wouldn't oppose him if I were you. At school, I'll stay away from you. But up here and under the mask, we can be besties." He put an arm around Peter's shoulder. "Just don't tell Tin Man, yeah?" Peter couldn't help but relax. Being with Jackson was comforting; he rested his head on his shoulder. "You're awfully affectionate for someone who doesn't seem like it." He ran his fingers through Peter's hair, earning a content purr.
An alarm went off and both boys looked down at the fleeing criminal. Jackson rolled his eyes and shot an orb, casing the crook's feet in ice. He was then tackled by a cop. "You're good at that," Peter commented.
"Gotta be." He grinned. "Like I said, I'm magic. Or, if you want to get logical about it, I'm a mutant."
"Did you ever try out for the X-Men?" Peter was genuinely curious if Mr. Stark was the only one who told Jackson to go away.
"You mean the League of Abstinence. No thanks. I think you have to be a virgin in order to qualify. A little late for that." Peter remained silent. The only person he'd ever kissed was Harry, and that was three years ago. The brunet rubbed his arm, hoping Jackson wouldn't notice. But he did. "Oh. Sorry, Pete."
"No. It—it's fine." Peter smiled weakly. "I've only been kissed once. But it was years ago." He wondered what Jackson was like but they'd just become friends again. He didn't want to ruin that. "I never kissed Liz, if you're wondering that."
Jackson smirked. "Neither did I. She and I had an understanding. I've actually never kissed a girl. Guys, yeah, and more." He'd done things he wasn't particularly proud of, and he never told anyone. It was probably the main reason he never approached the X-Men; they'd root around inside his head. "So what's the deal with you and Richie Bitch? You two are like total opposites."
"Harry protected me from the other kids when we were eight. Being friends with him kept people off my back." Peter shrugged.
"I could've totally done that. I mean, if I wasn't two years older than you." Jackson messed with the boy's hair. "You know, the way he treated me today— it was just like back then. He used to just give me so much shit about being undersized and poverty-stricken. Didn't help that most of my classmates did it but since Harry was younger, it made it worse. Couldn't fucking deck him because it'd reflect bad on me."
Peter moved his head into Jackson's lap and looked up at him. "I can talk to him. He'll listen to me." Jackson opened his mouth to protest but Peter put a finger to his lips. "Just let me, okay?"
"Fine. But I better not be confronted by an angry fifteen-year-old with a father complex. I'm serious, Pete. I did a pretty good job today but I can't promise I might blast the prick in the face with a fireball next time."
"You're so angry." Jackson didn't respond; he simply gave Peter a half-serious cross look before smirking again and pushing him up.
"Let's go find bad guys."
About two weeks passed, and Jackson had dealt with Harry, but he kept it from Peter, not wanting him to worry. He and Peter were best friends; they both even addressed the title. However, their hanging out was limited to patrolling together, as Harry had Peter's company at school, and Decathlon afterwards. But Jackson looked forward to patrols, and Peter's birthday was coming up. He had the perfect gift, and he was already planning to give it to him after their sweep of the city.
They had arrived back on their usual rooftop, and Jackson pulled off his mask. "Hey, Pete, I, uh, wanted to give you something."
Peter's mask opened and he pushed a hand through his hair. "You don't need to—"
"It's your sixteenth birthday and you're my best friend, so I totally had to and I did." He picked up the bag he brought with him; Peter had been wondering what it was for. "I prepared a little speech. If you laugh, I swear—" He cleared his throat. "When I came back to school after my suspension, I didn't expect to gain a new friend, especially one whose nerdiness is on par with my own. You brought so much light into my life, and I'll be eternally grateful for that. I may not be entirely fond of the company you keep but the thing that matters most to both of us is what's keeping us together." He opened the bag. "Happy birthday, Peter."
With that shy smile in place, Peter looked into the bag and covered his mouth. "Jacks..." He gently took it and examined it; it was a detachable phone pouch with a carefully hand-drawn Han, Luke, Leia and Chewbacca. "This is..." He wrapped his arms around the smaller male. "Thank you."
Jackson simply enjoyed the embrace. Their friendship was purely platonic but the physical affection level was borderline intimate. "Pete?"
"I've seen you at school a lot lately—"
Peter smirked. "We do go to the same school, Jackson."
"Hysterical," Jackson deadpanned. "In all seriousness though, are you and Harry—"
Peter pulled back and looked into Jackson's bright blue eyes; they radiated innocence, although Peter knew better. Harry had been trying to maneuver them into a relationship but Peter was a little hesitant. He wasn't quite sure what he wanted. His heart wanted his best friend. And they've only been best friends for almost a month.
"Jackson, Harry and I aren't together. He wants it to be like that but I don't..." He licked his lips. "I want you."
More than anything, the only thing Jackson truly desired was Peter. He wanted to hold onto him, to protect him from people like Harry. "Petey..." Peter braced himself for the rejection. "I want you too." If Peter's eyes could get any bigger... "I love our friendship. I just don't want to fuck it up, like I do everything else. I—I mean, what if it doesn't work out? What if Tin Man found out? He'd probably lose his shit thinking I was trying to steal you away or something. If Joffrey discovered us together, he'd probably kill me... at least, to the best of his mortal abilities."
"I am willing to risk all of that." Those words left Peter's mouth and Jackson looked up at him. No one had ever been willing to put their life on the edge for him.
"Okay." Jackson leaned back into Peter's chest. "Tomorrow, no patrolling. We'll go on a date, of which I will pay."
Peter got to the fire escape and put his suit away before slipping into his room. When he turned on the light, he nearly had a heart attack when he found Harry sitting on the bed.
"Where do you go every night?" The boy asked calmly.
"Just... exercise. I gotta keep this in shape." He chuckled nervously. "What are you doing here?"
Harry stood up and reached out, running his hand along Peter's arm. "Did you think about what I said today? About you and me?" He leaned in, kissing Peter's neck. "I can give you stability, Pete. I can make everything better."
But can you not ruin my social life and then guilt me into staying with you? Jackson was an outcast, and he embraced that. Harry was self-absorbed and used money to get himself out of situations. Jackson cared more about making other people happy that he usually put Peter ahead of himself; sure, the guy couldn't talk himself out of a bad situation without ultimately using his powers but it was fun to watch. Like the time they came into contact with a drug deal, and Jackson tried to act cool before getting himself shot at.
"You found someone else, didn't you?" Harry gripped his arm roughly. "Who is it?"
Peter knew if he said Jackson, the calm demeanor would be gone instantly. The past couple weeks had been without any major incident. He did talk to Harry about leaving Jackson alone to no avail. Harry only did it when Peter wasn't around. Jackson never said anything but Peter could see the bruises.
"It's this guy I met on... online." He already knew Harry would probe for answers, and probably demand to meet him. "His name's..." If only he were a better liar. Then it came to him but Jackson was going to kill him for the impending favor. "Cameron."
Harry was eyeing him suspiciously. "Where does he go?"
Peter remembered Jackson telling him about his cousins; Chaz behaved like a stereotypical douchebag frat boy at school but actually wasn't that bad of a guy; how Cameron was permanently confined to a wheelchair following a suicide attempt. "The Horace Mann School. In the Bronx."
Harry seemed satisfied with this answer. The Horace Mann School was the top private high school in New York, and if this guy was prominent enough for such a place, he could accept Peter being with someone else. "I want to meet him. What's he like?"
"He's really smart, and he's funny. Really funny. He's the sweetest." Peter wasn't looking forward to the conversation with Jackson about this. "You'd like him."
The blond processed this for a moment. "Okay. How about tomorrow, after school? I mean, have you met him face to face already?" Peter shook his head. "I better come with you then. Make sure he's not really some creepy older guy trying to get into your pants." Peter could only nod. "See you tomorrow, Pete." And, just like that, Harry exited the room and, moments later, Peter heard the front door shut.
He pulled out his phone to text Jackson. You are going to kill me.
"Buddy, pal, kiddo, Petey... What the fuck?" Jackson was pacing back and forth along Peter's room. He'd teleported in as soon as he saw Peter's text. "Goddamn it. I'm not..." He sat down beside his friend. "I'm not mad. I'm not gonna say I know what you were thinking. The guy probably would've killed you if you said you were going out with me. Or, well, more than likely just killed me."
Peter leaned on Jackson's shoulder. "'m sorry." He was quiet. "You think Cameron would do it?"
Jackson sighed. "Yeah. He's a good kid. He also owes me big time." He pulled out his phone and texted Cameron. "I'm doing this because I care a great deal about you... and I don't want to die. Or get beaten up by a volatile jackass."
"Should I even ask how he owes you?" Peter had ideas but wasn't sure.
"It's cool. I just helped him get home after leaving the hospital." Cameron was unconscious when Jackson teleported them back to his house. Chaz was preoccupied with mandatory football practice, otherwise he would have done it. If there was anyone Chaz showed vulnerability to, it was Cameron. Jackson had taken a lot of abuse at the hands of his older cousin but they eventually formed a relationship similar to brotherhood. He glanced down at his phone. "He'll do it."
Peter stood awkwardly outside school the next afternoon. Harry was at his side, hovering protectively. "So did Cameron tell you how he was getting here?" Peter shook his head. "I'm giving him five minutes, then we're going."
At that moment, a 2017 Rolls Royce Phantom pulled up to the curb and the door opened. A wheelchair was placed out first, and then a boy with curly blond hair appeared, easily lifting himself into the chair. "I got it, Terry. You can go." He shut the door and turned around. He looked between the two boys, deducing which one Jackson said was Peter before wheeling over to the brunet. "Peter?" He nodded. "Cameron. Ja— I mean, it's a pleasure to finally meet you in person." Jackson had been very strict in not mentioning him whatsoever.
Harry looked a little taken aback by the boy's disability but seemed to roll with it. "You attend the Horace Mann School?" His blue eyes were focused on Cameron.
Cameron looked at him, eyebrow quirked. "Yes. My father, Charles Hammond the Second, was top of his class, ninety-eight." Jackson had also noted that while Peter was kind and extremely likable, the boy's friend Harry was a rich kid stereotype: arrogant, cruel and haughty.
"I like him," Harry whispered to Peter. "Way better suited for you than that boorish midget you call a friend."
Cameron was already put off by the blond but this unashamed insult of his cousin only deepened his dislike. No one talked about Jackson like that. He had enough going on that he didn't need people like this crapping on him. But he kept his cool. "Shall we? There's a coffee shop we can go to downtown."
Harry was about to insist on coming when Peter looked at him. "I got this. Really." Harry pouted for a moment before nodding.
"You got this, Parker."
Peter was surprised to discover that Cameron's nerdiness was basically on the same level with his and Jackson's that their conversation about Doctor Who almost distracted them from getting to their destination. They were sitting, having a discussion about their favorite Doctor when there was an explosion from down the street.
Everyone ran outside to see a figure teleporting around a black-haired man in green suspenders, throwing letters with razor-sharp edges.
"Can you spell me out? It's not that hard! Although I do like it hard." Peter covered his mouth to curb his laughter, leaning against the window to watch his friend do a solo. "K-I-D-P-S— Fuck!" He was struck in the chest with an I. "Look, I am fully aware that I have the worst superhero name ever but that does not warrant throwing letters at me!"
"Do you ever stop talking?" The villain was about to attack again when he was blasted into a building.
Jackson appeared beside the barely conscious baddie and sighed. He turned to the crowd and held up his hands. "I'm the good guy here! I mean, I'm not throwing giant exploding letters at people." Without turning, he blasted the man again in the chest. "Not during my speech." He looked up and spotted Peter and Cameron, and waved. "Hey, guys!"
They looked at each other. Peter wasn't sure if Cameron knew, and Cameron had no idea if Peter was aware. All they did was wave back.
Cameron followed Peter home before calling his driver. "Thanks for the great time, Peter," he said with a shy smile. "Jacks has been trying to get me out more." They'd exchanged social media and were already making plans to hang out soon. "He'll be here soon, if not already. I'm glad I helped you guys out." He got into the car and waved. "Later."
"Bye." Peter watched the car leave. He felt the presence behind him. "You did a pretty good job today."
"Well, I gotta prove myself somehow. I'm not all bad, Petey." Jackson, still in costume, wrapped his arms around Peter's waist. "You and Cam seem to get along nicely. Gonna leave me already?" Peter pretended to think about it, and Jackson gasped dramatically, hitting his shoulder. "How dare you!" He turned away, folding his arms in a pout. Then he felt something light on his cheek. He glanced back to see Peter.
Peter pulled back, a very obvious blush on his features. "I only want you."
"Good. Because I want you too, and I don't like sharing." He slipped his arm around Peter's waist. "So... what do you want? Mexican? Chinese? Thai?"
Peter just leaned into Jackson's hold and listened to him rattle off different countries of food they could get.
"I had an amazing night. Then again, any night with you is amazing." Jackson made sure Peter was home safely before leaving. He made a face. "Gods, I sound like a Lifetime movie."
The younger male stood at the window and beamed at Jackson. "Thanks for everything, Jacks. Things have changed because of you, for the better. Mostly." He added after a moment's thought.
Jackson took Peter's hand and kissed it. "I'm not gonna go off about all your good qualities. I don't want to sound like a broken record either, yet I will say this." He looked up at him. "You may be the Amazing Spider-Man but you're the Spectacular Peter Parker as well." He wondered if Peter could get any redder. "Night, Pete." And then he was gone.
Peter shut the window and, without a moment of hesitation, flopped down onto his bed with the biggest grin on his face. He was happier than he'd been in a long time.
"You're happy." He sat up to see May at the door. "Must be a girl." Peter felt his face reddening again. "Or a boy?" He nodded, and he could feel the mattress shift as his aunt sat beside him. "What's his name?"
"The boy you brought over?" Another nod. "Mr. Stark did call me about that." Peter looked at her wide-eyed. "Maybe I could hear about him from you? I think, for a mentor, Tony Stark behaves more like an overprotective father to his teenage daughter."
Peter leaned against the wall and sighed. "Jackson's not like everyone else. He's crazy smart, and he has a warped sense of humor. A little insane and a lot of baggage but he's the sweetest person ever. I think he really likes me, and I really like him back."
"And is he the other new superhero?" Peter chewed on his lower lip. "I wouldn't have assumed anything if anyone but Mr. Stark called to warn me."
"He's good. I swear." Peter knew what was coming next.
May leaned over and hugged him. "Bring him over tomorrow? We'll order in."
He wasn't getting out of this. He couldn't. "Okay."
Peter trudged into school the next morning and leaned against his locker, pressing his face into the cold metal. He groaned, dreading asking Jackson to come over for dinner. Knowing May, there would be embarrassment all around. He'd already seen her looking for old photo albums before he left.
"How was last night?" He whined again, this time on the inside, before turning to face Harry, alongside Ned and MJ. "I told these two about your hot date."
"He's growing up faster than we can see." MJ reached out and messed with his hair.
With a small sigh, Peter collected his math textbook and shut the locker door, only to be met with Jackson. "I know I'm overstepping boundaries right now, like I care," he side-eyed Harry with a smirk; the blond was growing annoyed with his presence, "but I was wondering if the smartest kid in school could give a poor, innocent upperclassman some math tutoring." He was still wearing eyeshadow and black lipstick but that stuck-out bottom lip made Peter want to melt. "Please? I'll do whatever you want."
"Is leaving one of those things?" Harry snapped.
"Relax, Buffalo Bill. I wasn't asking for your help. If I need assistance in putting the lotion in the basket, you'll be my go-to." Ned coughed to cover up his laughter, and Peter could've sworn MJ cracked a smile. Harry wouldn't physically harm him in front of Peter, although Jackson knew he'd regret this later. "What do I have to do to make you like me again? We haven't hung out in forever!" All the lies he told so he could be around Peter more often.
Glancing at his friends, Ned and MJ nodding in approval and Harry giving Jackson the deadliest glare he could likely muster at that moment, Peter shrugged with a blank expression. "Lunch in the library?"
Jackson instantly perked up and nodded before deliberately shoving past Harry on his leave. "See you in a few hours!" He called.
"He seems awfully chipper for being dressed like that."
Between third and fourth periods, Jackson was in a bathroom stall when he heard the door open, shut and—what he assumed was—something being placed against it. He rolled his eyes but finished up and pulled the lock back, only to be slammed into the wall.
"How many times do I need to teach you this lesson, you fucking loser?" Harry growled, leaning inches from Jackson's face, while holding him around the throat.
The brunet tried to choke out a response, hands scrabbling at Harry's arm. Then he was thrown against the nearby sink. He coughed, regaining his breath. "Seriously, dude. What do you do with your spare time, research the stereotypical asshole in high school movies? Jumping me in the bathroom, total cliché."
"I told you to stay away from Peter. Do you listen? No." Jackson doubled over, having another coughing fit, as the fist sunk in the stomach.
Did he regret that morning? He didn't. He genuinely liked Peter, and this—riling Harry up—was pretty fun too. "You don't own him. He can do whatever he wants, and if he wants to hang out with me... well, I'm obviously less of a raging psychopath than you." There was only one way he could put a stop to this, and, in usual Jackson fashion, he didn't really think it through. Harry was already coming towards him again when he put his hands up, palms out. "Stop right there, Osborn."
Harry complied but he shook his head with a smug look. "You're nothing but a pathetic piece of trailer trash. You don't deserve Peter."
"Well, he doesn't deserve a bitchy, self-righteous prick like you for a friend." Jackson could feel his anger rising. "If you go near him again, I'll destroy you."
Harry let out a derisive scoff. "Yeah? What are you going to do, you little shit?" He took a step forward, only to feel a freezing sensation in his crotch. "The hell did you do?"
Jackson lowered his hands. "Should wear off in a couple hours. Careful though. I don't think you want to break whatever you're packing." He grinned and moved towards the door. "And I'm supposed to be pitiful, remember?"
"I'll expose you, you fucking freak!"
"Go ahead. No one's going to believe you. To everyone else, I'm just poor, weak Jackson Shanley." He poked his head around the corner. "By the way, if you do try, I'll make you Reek."
"Is this him?" Ned put his phone up to show Peter; they'd been waiting for class to start, and Ned was perusing Peter's Instagram followers for the guy he went on a date with.
Peter glanced over and nodded. "That's him." He was looking forward to hanging out with Jackson when they weren't patrolling. "Cameron's pretty nerdy. We had a long discussion about our favorite Doctor. His is Baker."
"Whoa." Ned's eyes were fixated on his phone and Peter leaned over to see a video of Cameron—clearly before the accident—scoring a winning shot in a basketball game. "He's a jock and a nerd."
"Was." Cameron made no mention of sports. Ned looked at him curiously. "He's in a wheelchair." It wasn't his place to say how but he felt like Ned and Cameron would get along great.
Harry maneuvered slowly into the seat on Peter's other side, Peter quirked an eyebrow. "Hey, Pete, Ned."
"What happened to you?" Peter had a nervous feeling that Jackson had something to do with this. "Are you alright?"
Harry gave him a thumbs up. "Perfect." He exhaled once he got comfortable. "You're not really going to help the guy, are you?" His blue eyes watched Peter like a hawk.
"Tutoring is a good extracurricular," Peter mused. "And he has said he's bad at math. I think he got a C on his last test. I'm going to help him boost his grades." Ned was giving him this knowing look. "What?"
Harry was all too willing to watch Peter go out with a handicapped boy, especially since that kid was from one of the wealthiest families in the state. But hanging out with Shanley was entirely different. Perhaps the one true reason he loathed the kid wasn't just for his proletariat upbringing but also because—aside from Jackson being a notorious smart-ass—Harry had once met his moms. They were good people, and they clearly loved their son. He didn't have a mother, and his father neglected him on a regular basis. He was left in the care of an array of different nannies and caretakers. Harry would never admit it but he envied what Jackson had. When he came back, he couldn't help but feel a little sympathetic for the kid, seeing the news article about the death of his parents. He might have even offered his condolences, had Jackson's immediate reaction not been to insult him. Although he couldn't really fault him. Harry did bully him a lot when they were younger.
FLASHBACK – SIX YEARS EARLIER
Harry was annoyed. However, this wasn't unusual. Peter was the only person he wanted around. They'd become close after Harry stopped a bunch of kids from picking on him. Harry's current mood was due to their third grade class, as well as the fourth and fifth years, being on a joint field trip to the New York Hall of Science, and his and Peter's buddy was a fifth grader named Jackson. The kid was smaller than any ten-year-old should be and he never shut up. At that moment, he was chattering on about some Star Wars thing, which had Peter's attention.
"Hey, Pete, there's a Stark Industries exhibit in the room over there." Peter's eyes widened and he took off. Harry couldn't help but smile at Peter's admiration of Tony Stark. After all, Iron Man did commend him for apparently taking down a Hammer Drone. The blond turned to the older boy and picked him up by the shirt. "Leave Peter alone. He doesn't need your weird. What's your deal anyway? Don't you have friends your own age?"
Jackson squirmed and tried to pull Harry's hand off. He shook his head and put a hand on the other's face. "Peter's cool. You're the toxic influence. Now put me down!" He kicked Harry in the shin and stumbled back slightly when he was let go. He didn't want to get caught hitting him. Since he was older, he was supposed to be the mature one. Jackson pushed a hand through his messy hair and gave a nearby chaperone a wave. He turned back to Harry. "Look, I'll stay away from him, okay? But if he comes to me, then I'm not telling him to go away. It is impossible say no to that face."
Harry had no idea how long they'd been hanging out in the time he was gone, although Peter insisted that it was very recent. Of course he believed Peter. He never lied, or, if he did, he was really good at it. Maybe he'd better do a background check on that kid Cameron.
Jackson didn't want to go to class; after leaving the bathroom, he decided to take a long, hard look at his life up to now. He sat in the library through fourth period, just staring blankly into space.
"It's you and Peter, isn't it?" He startled and spun around to see MJ holding a stack of books. "It's not the kid in the chair. It's you."
"Yeah." He shifted over to make room for her, and she sat on the chair arm. "You're very observant, but you already know that." He smiled a little.
She placed the books on the nearby table and folded her arms across her knee, leaning in close. "What are your motives with Peter?"
The smile was gone as fast as it had come. "I'm not—" He stammered. "I don't have any ulterior motives. I truly like Peter a lot, and I'd never let anyone or anything hurt him." There was something about MJ that scared him. He just wasn't sure what.
She seemed to deliberate this before nodding. "Okay. How'd you get that other guy to cover for you?"
"He's my cousin." The bell rang and Jackson looked at the clock. Peter would be coming soon. He didn't want him to see him like this. Up to when MJ appeared, he was thinking about his early teens, and Peter was there, although he hadn't previously realized it, and he was still kind of sentimental.
MJ collected her books and gave him a nod before leaving, passing Peter, who was entering the library. She said something to him and left, and Peter sat beside Jackson, looking worried.
"Are you feeling alright?" Damn it. Jackson couldn't lie to those big doe eyes. "You can tell me anything, remember?"
Crap, shit, fuck. Jackson tried to control his emotions but a whimper escaped his lips, and he felt Peter wrap his arms around him. "Pete, not now," he choked out. "Please. Please back off. I don't wanna hurt you." He was relieved that Peter complied. "I can't— I've never told anyone." He was on the verge of a breakdown.
"When you're ready." Goddamn it, what did Jackson do to deserve such a sweet, devoted guy like Peter?
After a couple minutes of quiet sniffling, Jackson exhaled and turned to face Peter, who'd remained quiet the entire time. "I have to ask you something." Peter nodded. "Do you remember about four years ago when someone rescued you from a bunch of high schoolers?"
Peter blinked. How did Jackson know about that? It was just after Harry was sent away, and he was friendless. A bunch of tenth graders from a public school decided to beat him up, and some guy in a makeshift costume saved him. He always thought of him as his own personal super—
"That was you?"
"You were the guy? The one in the homemade suit?" Peter couldn't believe it. He never would have figured it out, and he was supposed to be smart.
Jackson nodded. "What I don't understand is how it took me this long to realize that was you. Maybe it was those dorky glasses." He grinned and Peter punched him in the shoulder. "Hey!"
Jackson had just come off his side job. A thirteen-year-old shouldn't have this kind of job, and if Joel ever found out, he would kill him. But he donned his handmade suit and went patrolling. He was still learning how to control his abilities, and using them for good was better than nothing.
"Leave me alone!" He couldn't place the voice but he knew that tone all too well. Some poor kid was getting harassed, and Jackson sure as shit wasn't going to sit back and let it happen. He appeared before the group of boys—all of whom had to be at least a couple years older than himself—and looked down at their victim, a boy who couldn't be any older than twelve, with black thick-rimmed glasses.
He cracked his knuckles and put his hands up. "Touch him again and I'll make sure none of you get the female experience. I promise." His hands lit up in flames and the guys ran off. With a smirk, he extinguished and sat down beside the boy. "You alright?"
"Wh—who are you?"
"Some call me a freak, a weirdo but I prefer J— I mean, Captain Awesome." He was more of a dork at that age, and he thought his powers made him cool. "No, wait, scratch that one."
"I remember Captain Awesome." Peter couldn't help the smirk playing on his lips. The look on Jackson's face was priceless. "You should use the name now."
"Okay, y'know what?" Jackson was about to really let him have it when he felt a familiar (and unwelcome) presence. "Great. What do you want? I don't need you standing there and judging me."
"You and Cameron aren't really a thing, are you?" Harry gave Jackson a dirty look before focusing on Peter.
"What a fucking genius!" Jackson scoffed. "No, Miranda Priestly, they're not. I used my cousin—who was all too willing, I might add—to cover for me and Peter being together. Because, despite what you seem to believe, you do not own Peter and he is free to go out with whomever he wants. That includes me."
Peter noticed how Harry was trying to control his temper, and stepped between him and Jackson. "I didn't tell you because you'd get mad and try to rip me apart from him. We can be friends but you can't start fights with Jackson every time you see him, even if he tries to aggravate you." He gave Jackson a look, to which the boy only shrugged. "Can you two please make peace?"
Jackson sighed overdramatically. "Fine. For you, hot stuff." He held out his hand to Harry. "C'mon, man. We're not kids anymore. Can we just start over?" The blond only looked down at him. "I'm not exactly a fan of you either. I already had enough problems at ten years old without an eight-year-old picking on me too." After a moment, he rolled his eyes. "I won't insult you... as much."
Harry looked over at Peter, who nodded in encouragement. He took Jackson's hand and shook it firmly. "Truce."
"Was that so—" Jackson started to sass but he caught Peter's look. "I mean, thank you."
"Focus." Joel concentrated on his intended location. He'd been having trouble with moving from place to place with the Sling Ring but he was slowly getting the hang of it. "Go." The man circled his right hand and stepped into the apartment, the portal closing behind him.
Jackson shuffled into the kitchen and dropped his bowl of food; Peter's webbing appeared from below to catch it. "Gods, dude! Trying to kill me with a heart attack? Fuck."
"Good to see you too." Joel smirked and picked up the bowl. "Nice web fluid, Spider—" He froze, glancing between the webbing and back up at the couch, where Peter had hastily put on the mask. "You know Spider-Man?" He looked at his stepbrother, who rolled his eyes.
"First of all, it's not really your concern who I associate with." Jackson sighed. "But yes. Spidey, this is my brother. Stepbrother. Whatever. Either way, he's basically my big brother. Joel, this is Spider-Man."
Joel held out his hand. "It's a pleasure to meet the Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man. Wait a minute, he knows who you are?" He rounded on Jackson, who looked slightly guilty.
"Look, he knows who I am. I know who he is." He sat beside Spider-Man. "I ever tell you about how Joel and I almost died because someone knew what we are?" Peter shook his head. "Well, we did because a certain someone can't keep it in his pants." Giving his brother a look, he nodded. "He can keep a secret. Relax. Besides," he put his arm around Peter, "we're sorta dating."
"You and Spider-Man?" Joel quirked an eyebrow. "Seriously? Spidey, you can do better." He ducked to avoid a fireball aimed at his head.
Jackson was pouting. "I have never seen you with a non-toxic relationship, asshole."
"I am excelling in my training, thank you for asking." He opened a new portal, stepping back into Kamar-Taj. "Gentlemen."
When the portal closed, Jackson made a face and pressed Peter's chest plate, opening the mask. "Now you see what I had to grow up with. When he's not being a moderately decent role model, he's a fucking prick. Not nearly as bad as— You know what I mean." He promised Peter he'd stop insulting Harry.
"I like him." Jackson was giving him that look. "I'm not leaving you, if that's what you're thinking."
"I'm easily jealous. Don't flirt with anyone, please." He buried his face in Peter's neck.
"You should see me flirt sometime."
"FRIDAY, status update on the kid." Tony looked up from another upgrade. He hadn't heard much from Peter over the past couple weeks. He suspected that Shanley had something to do with it. A screen pulled up from Peter's suit cam to show them making out. "Put it away!"
Pepper entered the lab and laid a tray beside her fiancé. "Playing overprotective dad again?" She briefly saw the footage. "They're kids. Let them be together. I don't think Jackson's going to let anyone or anything harm a hair on Peter's head." She'd been the one who occasionally comforted the young mutant whenever Tony shouted at him. "People can change, remember?"
Tony opened his mouth to reply but was simply handed a coffee. He sunk into his chair and ran back more suit cam before pausing at Peter holding onto Jackson. "What?" He muttered to himself and played the audio. Pepper was about to chew him out for listening in when she heard it.
"See? Even before they really became friends. Work on the suit."
Jackson sat beside Harry in the quad after school one afternoon. Peter had to go to his Stark internship, which he'd already disclosed to Jackson was basically being Spider-Man. He and Harry had never really been alone without some amount of back-and-forth. "So... um, are you as big a nerd as Pete?" The blond glanced over.
"Like you wouldn't believe. That's actually how we started hanging out. He and Ned told me that I'm the biggest Star Wars nerd they've ever met." Jackson shrugged.
"Jackson, I'm..." Harry didn't know how to apologize for all the time he spent making Jackson's life a living hell.
"It's fine. Let's just never talk about it again. We're cool." A part of him wasn't quite able to let go but a bigger part said to forgive and forget, and move on. After a moment, he sighed. "I'm sorry too. I shouldn't have provoked you so much."
Harry put an arm around him. "I've never seen Peter so happy the way he is around you. I'm—" He cleared his throat. "I'm glad he has you."
It felt weird having his former bully being so nice to him, especially since he was just beating him up a week earlier. "Well, if you want, I can help you find someone." He half considered setting Harry up with Joel but the seven-year age difference was already enough not to, yet they were so much alike. Then again...
"You'd do that for me?" He wasn't sure how to bring up what Jackson could do. It was an endless curiosity.
"Let me guess, your dad would be on your ass if you dated someone who's not, y'know, of status?" Harry nodded. "There's one person I know who matches your personality— That is not an insult, by the way. Do you have any problem with him being nineteen?"
"Why the last-minute call, Mr. Stark?" Peter watched his mentor silently pace back and forth for the past ten minutes. "Big bad? Rogue good guy? Is it because Jackson and I—?" He stopped; he wasn't aware if Tony knew about them being together. "I— I really like him."
He sat down beside him. "Peter. I'm not upset about you going behind my back to hang out with Jackson." Peter felt his cheeks redden slightly. "If something's going on at school... or at home, you know you can always come talk to me, right?"
"I know." Peter wasn't sure how to respond.
"Got you a suit upgrade." Peter lit up instantly.
Chaz looked down at Jackson and over at Harry. "What makes you think I'm into guys, squirt?"
Jackson rolled his eyes. "Really? Still in denial? Gods, you can't keep playing the dumb jock card. I know you're smarter than that."
"Is this some kind of mut—" Jackson punched him hard in the shoulder. "What the hell?"
"Shut up. This is why I don't tell you things." The smaller of the bunch turned to Harry. "Sorry, dude. I thought he was less of an ass but, as always, guess I was wrong."
"Why are you trying to set me up anyway? You don't owe me any favors, Jacks."
Jackson gave Chaz a look. "Dude, just because I'm being nice to you for once doesn't mean I owe you. You've been pretty cool to me since the accident—"
"That's because I finally realized how cool my little cuz is." Chaz ruffled his hair.
"Took you long enough, treating me like shit most of our lives. Point is, I want you to be happy. I hate watching you get all mopey at family gatherings, without someone to hang out with. This isn't really getting you a boyfriend. More of a bro."
Harry stepped up and offered his hand to Chaz. "Want to come back to my place and hang out? We'll order in and watch something?"
Chaz seemed a little hesitant but accepted the gesture. "Sounds like a plan." His other hand messed up Jackson's hair again. "Thanks, squirt."
As they left, Jackson stood there. "Why do I feel like I'll be hearing all about this tomorrow? The things I do to make people happy." He vanished.
"Dude, seriously, stop blowing up my phone." Jackson called Chaz to stop him from texting. He'd received over thirty messages in the past fifteen minutes about how awesome of a guy Harry was. "How do you know I'm not with Peter or doing something important?"
"Are you?" Chaz had that tone again, the one Jackson always wanted to hit him for.
"Well, no, but that's not the point. I never did this to you or Cam, like ever." He appeared behind his cousin and tapped his shoulder. "Hi."
Chaz spun around and picked him up around the middle. "Dude! Those powers are the coolest! You're just like Misf—" Jackson covered his mouth and glanced around quickly.
"Only I can do that." Chaz made a face and put him down. "You didn't tell Harry, did you?"
The blond tilted his head. "What do you mean? Like about you being a mutant?" He shook his head. "No. We talked a lot about comics, and he told me about Peter. I told him that, despite your inability to shut up when you're being sarcastic, you're actually a really cool guy." He rubbed the back of his neck. "Which reminds me. Uh, I'm really sorry about before, Jacks. Y'know..."
Jackson sat on Chaz's bed. "I did insult you a lot. Not like you didn't deserve it. No offense but you were a fucking asshole." He was quiet. "Did you ever find out who—"
Jackson looked uncomfortable. "You didn't. It was Lance and Nick..." They never talked about it. "Cam told me once. They were the ones who told him he was better off dead. That's why he stepped into oncoming traffic."
Chaz's expression was unreadable. Lance and Nick were his best friends, and he never understood why Cameron would do what he did.
"I'm sorry, dude. I should have told you before. I just don't want you getting in trouble for killing them." Jackson remained where he stood. "I did take care of it though. Cam lost the use of his legs. They'll never walk again either."
Chaz was about to ask but a door opened and Harry emerged from the steamy bathroom in a towel. Jackson groaned and turned away. "You don't like this, Jackson?" The rich boy teased.
"No. I'm seeing your best friend. Put some fucking clothes on. Jesus."
Harry passed Jackson and flicked the back of his head. "Chill out, squirt." He grabbed his cast-aside T-shirt from a chair. "What were you guys talking about?"
"Just making up for lost time." Chaz moved over to Harry. "I used to bully Jacks a lot."
"A lot," Jackson scoffed, pretending to busy himself with cleaning up. "We can't fix the past, but we sure can alter the future." He made a gagging sound. "I sound like a fortune cookie." He moved some dishes into the kitchen. "Alright. Well, now that I know you're not alone, I'll take my leave."
Harry opened his mouth to ask but he wasn't sure if Chaz knew. "Jackson, wait." The boy's hand was on the doorknob. "Can we talk? Privately?"
The brunet sighed. "If it's about what I think it's about, Chaz already knows. So do Cam and Peter." The fire alarm in the kitchen went off, and he glanced at an overheating microwave. "Idiots," he grumbled, not moving from his spot as he shot an ice orb, instantly quelling the smoke. "It's that, isn't it?"
Harry watched, jaw dropped, as a small ball of ice shot out of his palm. "Are you a mutant?" His voice was quiet and bordering on excited.
"Yes, Harry, I'm basically an X-Man. I'm just not part of the team, because I've had sex." He wasn't going to say anything about Peter but now they'd have to talk about it later.
Chaz perked up and sat on the couch, Harry beside him. "Show him what you can do!"
Jackson groaned and took his hand off the door.
Peter was anxious. Aunt May requested that Jackson come for dinner again. The first time was embarrassing enough, with his aunt and sort-of boyfriend making jokes about his baby pictures. Was Jackson his boyfriend? They never really approached the idea; they just enjoyed each other's company.
"How's your boyfriend, Peter?" He nearly startled into the air when he heard MJ's voice. His Spidey senses must be off, first Jackson (although there could be some reasoning), now MJ. "You're awfully jumpy these days. Got something to hide?"
Aside from the fact that he's everyone's Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man and sort of dating Kid Psionic, who was garnering quite a social media following? "Do you actually care?"
She shrugged. "We are friends. Should I care?" Peter rubbed the back of his neck. "Is it you and Jackson? Because you two belong together."
He looked at her with wide eyes. "R-really?"
"You got all moody after Liz moved, and he makes you happy. I have to slam the gavel Harrington gave me to get you two to focus. He's an even bigger nerd than you and Ned combined." Peter was blushing again. "If you haven't already told him how you feel, you should."
He had been wanting to approach the topic of boyfriends but he was unsure how Jackson would take it. "He knows and he feels the same—" He looked hesitant.
"If you're not careful, someone might end all that sexual tension." Peter stared at her, and she only smirked. "Go get 'em, tiger." With that, she left, leaving him to sink into the chair.
Jackson lay on his usual rooftop spot where he and Peter always met in costume. His mask was off and being used as a headrest. He heard the familiar web-shooting noise but didn't budge. "Hey, Spider-Bae."
Peter sat beside him and smiled. "Hey, Jacks." He ghosted his fingers over Jackson's chest, earning a purring noise. "I like you more without all the makeup."
"Thanks. I feel more free without having to hide behind that wall. I do like the piercings though."
He'd Googled how to do this and he was bound to make an ass of himself. "Um, so we've been hanging out for a while as sort of dating..." He cleared his throat. "Do you want to... be my boyfriend?"
Jackson's eyes opened and he sat up. "Peter..." He wanted to say yes, so much yes.
"It's okay, Jackson. It's not going to hurt our friends—" He was interrupted by Jackson's lips on his, and he melted into his embrace. Jackson had that ability to make him feel things he hadn't before.
The elder pulled back, smiling shyly. "Do I want to be your boyfriend? Fuck yeah."
They changed back into civvies and were on their way back towards Peter's when there were screams. Both looked up to see a flesh blob moving down the street.
"Okay. Points for weirdest thing to ever cross our streets." Jackson pulled his mask from his back pocket and went into action. "Dude, that's not cool!" The blob was in the process of destroying the Sixth Avenue NAACP office. "You gotta let it go, man. What happened to progression?"
Passerby had their phones out and Peter could hear whispering like wildfire.
"That's him, isn't it?"
"He's so cool."
"I wonder what it's like to do what he can."
Jackson had conjured up a fire/ice construct and thrown it directly into the monster's head, causing an explosion within seconds. He teleported in and out of the crowd, moving civilians out of the way of destruction. He reappeared beside Peter and was about to remove the mask when he was swarmed, people begging for pictures and autographs.
"Uh, hey, everyone. Just, uh, hold it down and I'll Facebook a meetup, okay?" Before anyone could respond, he took Peter by the waist and vanished.
"No powers." Jackson gave Peter the kicked puppy look, which, on any other occasion, would have Peter crumbling but not tonight. "I'm serious, Jacks. Aunt May had a hard enough time with finding out that I'm Spider-Man." She'd already put it together and Peter's silence on the matter only confirmed it.
"Fine. No powers." He figured he'd embarrass his boyfriend in the form of crude jokes and baby pictures. "We're so going out later." He left it hanging, and Peter already had a suspicion what Jackson meant. He opened the door to the smell of his favorite risotto from the expensive Italian place near Astoria. It was then he realized May went all out for Jackson coming over.
May emerged from the kitchen and gave Jackson a hug. From the embrace, the boy gave Peter a wink as he nestled into it; in reality, he loved the hugs because they reminded him of his moms. Not a beat passed for Peter to know what Jackson was trying to do, and he shook his head with a sigh. It was going to be a long evening.
Most times when they were together, Jackson seemed pretty at peace with the way his life was going. But, for some reason, he always ate like he'd been starving. It wasn't uncouth but he had five or six helpings of whatever was available. May had been prepared in ordering lots of food yet both she and Peter watched as Jackson self-served a fourth bowl of the Pasta e Fagioli. "What?"
"Uh, Jacks, do you get enough to eat when we're not together?"
Jackson had been dreading having this conversation. It was another little facet of his life that no one knew—except Joel. He put the spoon down and folded his hands in his lap. "Y'know how my moms died in that car accident five months ago?" Peter and May nodded. "And my stepbrother is now my legal guardian?" They nodded again. "There was a month where I was homeless, living in an alleyway. It was the worst time of my life... okay, rivaled only by the ten months I regret to call eighth grade but even then I wasn't having to scrounge for food. When Joel picked me up, I swore that I'd live every day to its fullest. That's why I patrol and try to save as many civilians as poss— I mean... oh." He grinned sheepishly.
"I already know, Jackson." May smiled reassuringly. "I'm grateful you're there for Peter when he's Spider-Man. I worry a lot."
Jackson reached under the table with his foot to rub against Peter's thigh. The startled look on his face was invaluable. "I would never let anywhatever touch even a follicle on his cephalic." May looked a little puzzled but Peter buried his face in his hands. His face was beyond normal red.
As they cleared the table to go to the couch, Jackson brushed past Peter with a smirk. "You are such an asshole," Peter mumbled. This made Jackson freeze in place and he turned to face his boyfriend with the biggest "oh shit" look on his face. "Jacks—"
"May!" He flinched a little at the volume of Jackson's voice.
She came out and looked at Jackson curiously. "What is it?"
"Has Peter ever sworn before?" Peter made it to the couch and put the pillow over his face. Jackson was struggling—and failing—to control himself. "He just called me an asshole."
May was in no position to reprimand Peter for swearing but she was surprised at this. "What do you have to say for yourself?" She strode over to where Peter sat and took the pillow.
"Nah. I'm just fuckin' with you, babe." Jackson jumped into his lap and looked up at him with that all-too-famous Cheshire cat grin. "I love you." He leaned up, pecking his lips.
This made Peter stop and reassess his life for about thirty seconds before glancing at Aunt May, who was watching him with no expression and down at Jackson, who wore the same mien. He had always pegged Jackson to be the one who said it first. He practiced this interaction in his head many times, and this wasn't exactly how he saw it turning out.
"I love you too."
"You—you mean it?" Jackson slid off Peter's lap. He didn't actually expect him to respond; he was just being an ass.
"I mean it." They looked into each other's eyes until Jackson looked away. No one had ever said that they were in love with him.
Jackson cleared his throat and rubbed the back of his neck. "Um, thanks, Petey." Lost for further meaningful words, he simply got back up and snuggled into Peter's chest. "Comfy," he murmured.
May smiled fondly and returned to the kitchen while Peter picked up the remote.
Jackson stared blankly at Flash, who was in the middle of insulting him once more. Getting knocked out once obviously wasn't enough for the kid to back off, and he'd promised Peter he'd be less violent, so Jackson stood there and took it.
"What's your problem, Jack-off?" This was new coming from Flash but an all-too-familiar name from his past.
A small smirk crossed Jackson's features. "Nice that you're finally—somewhat—referring to me by my first name, Eugene." He saw the punch coming seconds away and ducked, easily depositing the younger boy over his back, and to the floor. "This is why you really shouldn't start fights you have even the slightest doubt of not winning." Stepping over the kid, Jackson went on his way, only to be stopped by a door opening.
"Hey, Shanley." He cursed whatever entity brought this to him. It was Owen McDonnen, the only person Jackson found more obnoxious than Flash, and his right-hand man, Travis Cartwright. "What's up, buddy?" He draped an arm over his shoulder.
Normally, Jackson would have a sarcastic quip for dealing with McDonnen, which would only get him hurt, but the last thing he wanted was to meet Peter with a black eye. "I'm good, dude. You guys—" Suck each other off lately? Damn his internal snark. "What about you guys?"
"Not too good, Jacks. I have a C-minus in Chemistry. Thought maybe you could help me with that." It wasn't a question, and Jackson knew exactly where this was going. "You're a smart kid, Jackson. You know what'll happen if you don't, right, pal?"
He could feel Owen's grip tightening and quickly nodded. "Yeah. But how are you going to pass your exams if I'm the one doing it?" His face made contact with a locker. "I wasn't trying to be a smart-ass. I was serious."
"This works one of two ways, Shanley. You're the second smartest kid in school, first in our year. Don't want me having to ask your little friend Parker, do you?" Jackson knew he'd do it.
"Okay. Okay, I'll do it. Just leave Peter alone." He was let go, and he straightened his shirt. "Just tell me what you need."
Peter scanned the cafeteria. There was no sign of Jackson; he hadn't texted back in two hours. He was usually much better about replying. After a minute, he shrugged and settled back between Ned and MJ.
"Where's your boyfriend?" She asked, not looking up from her book.
"He's... around, I guess." Peter hoped Jackson wasn't in trouble. It had only been a few days since they told each other 'I love you', and it wasn't weird at all. Jackson was the same sarcastic dork, and Peter either rolled his eyes or went along with him, most of the time getting caught up in it. He hadn't told them yet. "He said he loves me."
The spoon in Ned's hand clattered onto the tray and MJ actually turned her attention to him. It was also the moment Harry arrived at the table, and now all three of them were watching Peter like a test subject. "And what did you say to that?"
"'I love you too'."
There was a collective silence amidst the general chatter of their surroundings, and then they all started talking at once.
"Are you insane?"
"Do you mean it?"
MJ put up her hands. "Okay. So you two are official now?"
Peter shrugged. "I guess? I mean, he's been over and he's very cuddly." Jackson was going to kill him when he found out he told them this. "He's never lied to me." After a second, he added, "Without good reason." His phone buzzed and he saw a text from Jackson. It was a simple 'Love you, Pete. Gotta get some studying done. See you later.' and a heart emoji. "Guess he's not joining us."
"More time to interrogate you." MJ snapped her book shut and tucked it into her bag before folding her arms in front of her. "Tell us more."
Jackson was making plans to meet up with Luke when Peter's voice made him perk up and he turned to see his boyfriend alongside Ned, MJ and Harry. "Jacks!"
"Hey, guys! What's up?" Jackson shoved his phone into his pocket and rocked back and forth on his heels.
Harry stepped forward. "Peter just told us about you guys. I'm sure I don't need to threaten to end you if you ever hurt Peter, right?"
"You don't need to. Chill. You know damn well I would never allow even a quark on his perfect body to get hurt." He slid his arm around Peter, whose cheeks were red.
"Hey, Penis Parker! Got a boyfriend now? Oh, hey, it's Jack-off." Although already in a fragile state, Jackson moved in front of Peter to confront Flash.
"Got a problem with it? If you do, you can tell me right now. I'll listen. It's twenty-seventeen, Flash. Get over yourself. If you spend this much time harassing people for being gay, you really need to catch up." His friends watched him closely. "What is it? Because Peter's practically the smartest kid in school? Feeling like second best? Because I'm a troubled orphan with Noonan syndrome?" He scoffed. "You don't need to pick on others to validate yourself. Maybe focus a little more on you and you won't find everything else so hard." He returned to Peter's side and led him away.
"What brought that on? Are you okay?"
He smiled a little. "Perfect."
They split up for their last few periods, and Jackson skivved off, not really in a learning mood. He flashed home to drop off his stuff, then appeared on the front step of Stuyvesant High School minutes before the bell rang in full costume.
"Hey, kid!" He pulled the dark-haired boy into a headlock. "Man, I've missed you."
"Gods!" Luke whined and tugged at the elder's arm. "Missed you too, asshole." He pried himself free and grinned at him. "Take me on patrol with you?"
Jackson mused it over. It couldn't be too bad. Crime had been pretty calm lately, and Luke deserved to see him in action. They kept in touch and the kid was trying to be better. "Alright." He pulled out his phone and checked his crime watch app on his phone and checked it to find new places. There was a bank robbery in progress at the M&T in Oceanside.
He could see the police cars surrounding the building. "Okay, stay here and out of the line of fire, got it?" Luke nodded. Jackson tousled his hair and teleported inside, startling everyone. He put his hands up, seemingly in surrender. "Everyone freeze!" The robbers glanced at each other and back at him. "Literally." Four orbs—two from each hand—shot out, encasing them in ice. With a sigh, Kid Psionic strode past one guy, taking the bag from his hand and giving it back to the teller, who gave him a grateful smile.
"Stop right there, mutie." Jackson raised his hands and turned to see one guy with a collar in hand. He recognized it as one that halts mutant powers and renders him vulnerable. "We can do this the easy way or the hard way—"
"I prefer the hard way. Hard and long. Gonna punish me, Daddy?" A new fireball was forming in his right hand. "I don't know how I feel about leashes but I'm all too willing to try." He let it fly, narrowly missing his target and into the door that was opening for several police officers. "Fuck."
Guns were drawn but his hands remained up. "C'mon, guys, I didn't mean to, I swear!" The lead criminal was apprehended and forced to the ground as six officers circled him. "We can talk this one out. Please? I really just wanna be good. No more killing bad guys. For realsies." One grabbed him from behind and twisted his arm behind his back. "Ow! Hey!" Then the collar was put on him. "I'm good! I'm trying to stop this! The fuck, man?"
"Shut up, kid." The police chief came forward and looked down at him. "Your aim nearly killed two officers."
"Look, I'm really not trying to hurt any of you. I was aiming for his hand. That's it. Please." He swallowed thickly. "Let me go."
"Sorry, kid. We gotta bring you in. Just to the station." Jackson was hauled outside and people were taking pictures of him with their phones. He saw Luke coming over. Go back! He mouthed. I'll text you later. The freshman stopped but nodded.
"This is not gonna help my social standing." He was pushed into the same car as the head crook, who was unconscious. Something caught Jackson's eye and he shifted over to see a Ꞓ on the man's head, just behind his ear. "What the fuck?"
Peter sat in Decathlon, wishing it could just be over already. MJ was running drills, and Flash was shooting him death glares. He'd texted Jackson to no response. He just hoped he wasn't in trouble. Jackson seemed off today, and Peter didn't know what it was.
"Peter!" MJ snapped him out of his daze with a bang of her gavel. The others stifled snickers as Peter nearly fell out of his seat. He wished Harrington didn't give her that thing. "Your boyfriend isn't here for you to goof off with." His face reddened slightly. "Are you still with us?"
MJ raised an eyebrow. "Okay. Then how about you enlighten us with the kind of mutation that does not usually change the length of a chromosome?"
"Inversion?" She eyed him for a moment before turning back. He sighed, looking at a recent YouTube video someone took of Kid Psionic in action. The footage cut out just as Jackson vanished, his arm around Peter's waist. "Oh no," he murmured. Someone was going to put this together.
A knock came at the door, and Jason and Betty poked their heads in. "Hey, Parker. Can we talk to you?" Peter glanced at MJ, who only rolled her eyes, and he followed the seniors.
"What's up?" The two looked at each other and back at him. "What's wrong?"
"It's Jackson. He spends all his time with you. That's not a bad thing. It's just— He seems off a lot lately. We're just worried about him." Betty squeezed Jason's hand.
Peter wasn't sure what to say. Jackson was acting a little different. Something was up. "I'm not really sure. He said you've been his closest friends for years. Is there anything around now that could be from his past?"
They looked at each other. Jackson maintained a generally composed demeanor as a front for his crazy. It was Jason who spoke next. "He took like two weeks off school in eighth grade. No one knew where he went, not even his moms. He showed up on my doorstep one night, soaked to the skin and mumbling something about not wanting to hurt someone. I never asked why." Then it clicked. "It was this week. Tomorrow night."
"I'm telling you, I didn't mean to threaten your guys. And I'm not taking off the mask." Jackson scooted away from the table once the detective reached out. "I almost ended up a science experiment last time someone found out who I am."
"Kid Psionic, you need to reveal your identity. It's the only way we can let you go." Jackson whimpered, fidgeting with his hands. The detective sighed and stood up, turning off the camera in the corner of the room. "I'll be the only one who knows." He returned to his seat and removed his badge. Then Jackson saw the name. Ionello. His friend's father was grilling him. He'd never met Jason's parents since they were always busy but they seemed to have no issue that he, Liz and Betty used to have a lot of sleepovers at their house.
Jackson took a deep breath and undid his mask. "Detective, I swear to you Jason doesn't know." Before he could ask, he pulled it over his head. "My name is Jackson Shanley. I'm a friend of your son's."
Ionello didn't personally know Jason's friends but, as far as he knew, they were all good kids. Never thrown a party or got into substances, but he knew of Jackson, having been at the site of his parents' death.
"I'm a good guy. I mean no harm to the innocent. I'm just a teenager with special abilities trying to make the world a better place." He scratched at the collar. "Can I go home? Please?"
The detective ushered in an officer, who unlocked the gadget, allowing Jackson to rub his neck. "I trust you, kid. Be careful, okay?"
"You got it. And don't worry, if I can keep this up, Jason never has to know. He and I have been tight since eighth grade. I wouldn't let him get hurt." He smiled and went out the door.
"Where were you? I've been texting you all afternoon." Peter paced back and forth in front of Jackson on the rooftop. "I hear about a bank robbery and then a mutant vigilante gets hauled in with the criminals."
Jackson held out his hand and Peter took it. "It was just a mishap, Pete. Tried to take down a bad guy and nearly hit a couple cops." Suddenly, it came flooding back. For a few hours, Jackson was able to forget about the fifth anniversary of the night he almost killed someone. "I'm not in trouble."
Peter hesitated for a moment. He clearly was but Peter didn't want to be that guy. Then again, someone had to be. "Jackson—"
A familiar whirring noise got their attention. The Iron Man suit opened and Mr. Stark stepped out. "Parker. Shanley." He looked between them. "We need to talk about this." He held up his tablet, showing the YouTube video.
"What the hell?" Jackson took the device and he covered his mouth. "Fuck!" He handed it back and crumpled to the gravelly pavement. "God-fucking-damn it." He buried his face in his hands. "Well—" His voice came out muffled. "If anyone's identity is compromised, better mine than yours." He emerged. "I'm sorry, Pete."
Tony observed the older teenager with interest. "You'd put your life on the line for Parker?"
"Definitely. He's not just my boyfriend, he's still my best friend. I know I have a sketchy past but I've never had anyone to really take care of before." Peter beamed down at him. "You know it." He looked back at Tony. "Never got to congratulate you on the engagement, by the way. I mean, you never liked me, so..." He shrugged.
Peter glanced at his mentor. "Who knows about Kid Psionic?"
"You two, Joel, Harry, Chaz and Cameron, Doctor Strange, most of the Avengers, um, the detective at the police station, who's also Jason's dad. Uh, that's it. For now." He blew his bangs out of his eyes. "And I trust all of them. I mean, I know which ones are more than likely to say something and if someone slipped up, they're gonna get a nice heart-shaped hole."
"Harry knows about you? Does he—"
"I don't think so. I mean, I froze his junk, so it was natural to assume something was up. He and Chaz are basically nerds in awe of my abilities." Never had he thought he'd be on good terms with Harry Osborn, but a lot has happened lately that he wouldn't have imagined possible. "By the way, I wanted to ask you about something. Does this..." He blasted what he saw on the villain's head into the concrete. "Ring any bells?"
Peter and Tony observed it closely, and looked at each other. "No."
"Shit. It was tattooed behind the ear of the head robber. Figured it's some kind of gang sign or cult symbolism. I'm betting on underground crime ring."
"Is there any point in telling you not to pursue this?"
"No. Two reasons: one, I'm not your problem. And two, I'm doing this alone. Sorry, Petey." Before Peter could respond, Jackson vanished.
Peter didn't hear from Jackson for the rest of the day. However, his face was all over social media. Someone from Midtown already pieced together the public display of affection between him and Kid Psionic, and then all of Jackson's physical attributes. And that was how Peter now stared at a Timely Atlas Infotainer article titled VIGILANTE KID PSIONIC IDENTIFIED AS MIDTOWN SENIOR.
"Seventeen-year-old Midtown School of Science and Technology senior Jackson Shanley has been identified as New York's newest superhero, Kid Psionic," May read from outside the door. "Want to explain this picture?"
Peter groaned and spun around in his chair, using a web to open the door, to see his aunt holding up the shot of him and a fully-costumed Jackson. "He said it was better it was his identity that got exposed over mine. I don't think anyone's put Spider-Man and I together yet." He moved onto the bed and stared at the ceiling. "You're going to tell me to keep my distance from him, aren't you?"
"Not exactly. Maybe keep your affections to yourselves while you're both in costume. You never know who could be taking pictures." She moved to close the door. "I'm ordering Mexican."
Peter didn't respond and continued to stare up. Tomorrow was going to be a rough day.
Jackson was awake all night but made no progress on solving the mystery of the symbol. However, he did see the article and was bombarded with texts from his friends. The majority consisted of "why didn't you tell us?" and "how did you get your powers?" There was no denying it but he still decided to pretend to be a normal kid. He rode his skateboard to school and, almost crossing the street, was struck by a car. He hit the ground on his back, looking up to see a grinning Flash.
"Hey, Jack-off! Going to use your freaky powers on me?" The brunet sat up, still rubbing his lower back. It was all rumors but everyone seemed to believe them. He wasn't going to give anyone a reason to confirm it. Stupid tabloids affirming everything without a reliable source. He made a mental note to seek out the author of the article.
He got out of the way, narrowly pulling his board out of harm's way, and gave Flash the finger. He needed to find Peter.
"Dude!" Oh no. Telling Jason and Betty was the thing he feared most. Jackson turned to come face to face with them.
"Hey, guys." He grinned weakly. "What's up?"
"Is it true?" Jackson couldn't read their expressions. "Are you really Kid Psionic?" There was no point in lying to them, so he took both of their hands and led them into the side alley.
"Look, I'm sorry I didn't tell you. It's not because I don't trust you. You two have always been there for me, and I'm eternally grateful. It's just— If you knew, you'd be in danger. When something like this shitstorm happens, bad guys will try and get to me through people I care about. I really don't want to have to rescue you two from some hostage situation that involves a bomb, okay?"
They looked at each other and back at Jackson, who groaned in frustration and held out both hands, each lighting up in fire and ice. "Happy?"
"Whoa." Jackson wondered why the hell he stayed friends with them.
Everyone was staring at him. Peter hated being the center of attention but had to remind himself that Jackson was faring way worse than he was. He stopped at his locker and spun the combination, only to feel his Spidey Sense telling him someone was behind him. He turned to see MJ, Ned and Harry.
"Well, I already knew, so I can't be all that mad at you." Harry ruffled his hair. "Ned's already figured it out. MJ, however—"
She looked at Harry and back at Peter. "Not really surprised. I already know you're Sp—" Peter clapped a hand over her mouth. She pulled back. "Boundaries, Parker." Then it hit her. "Oh. He doesn't know."
Harry glanced between them. "Know what?" Ned and MJ were giving Peter that look. "Don't act like I'm not here. What don't I know?"
If Jackson of all people trusted him, why couldn't Peter? Even though he was gone for three years, Harry had been Peter's closest confidant. Hell, he was his first kiss. But being Spider-Man was different. Ned and May found out by accident. Jackson was forced to reveal his own identity. He owed his best friend the truth. "Harry, I'm—"
The bell rang but Peter remained frozen in place. Harry rose an eyebrow. Peter glanced around the now empty hallway. It was just the four of them. It was now or never.
He hated it. That feeling of being the only thing people cared about. His first class was Literature, and he was not looking forward to dealing with his pestering classmates. The classroom silenced as he walked in and took his usual seat next to the window. However, the teacher was nowhere to be seen. "Where's Mr. Wallace?"
"We took care of him." Owen was at the front of the room. "We had this idea I'm sure everyone would like to explore." The blond held up a wrap-sealed copy of Detective Comics #225. "Comic books." Jackson groaned quietly. "Who are your favorite characters? What about real heroes? Villains? Why?"
Calls came from all over the room. Spider-Man. Black Widow. Iron Man. Loki. Thor. Wolverine. Jackson simply hid behind his textbook. He remained until a hand pulled it away, and Owen was smirking down at him.
"Jackson, I'm sure you're pretty well-versed in these kinds of things. What superperson stands out to you?"
"I..." Everyone was staring at him again. "I'm not... It's fake news. You'd think people who go here couldn't seriously believe a TMZ rip-off. I'm not—"
Someone hooked up their phone to the projector. "Then what's Kid Psionic's arm doing around Peter Parker? Aren't you two dating?" It was Travis. "Is Puny Parker cheating on you with Kid Psionic? No, wait, you've been seen with Spider-Man." The smug look evolved into an excited grin, and Jackson knew he put it together. "Is Peter Parker Spider-Man?"
He couldn't let a moment pass to allow that to sink in. "No! Peter's not—! He and I are practically joined at the hip. I'd know if he were going out fighting bad guys every night." There was only one way out of this that didn't jeopardize Peter's identity, and Stark's wrath. The things he did for love. Joel was going to kill him, resurrect him, then kill him again. And probably another dozen times afterwards. So he sighed in defeat. "You win." He stood up and vanished, appearing on the other side of the room, right beside Travis. Everyone's heads snapped from side to side.
"I'm Kid Psionic."
"Wait, you're what?" Harry stared at Peter. "You're joking. No offense, Pete, but you're not exactly— Y'know, Spider-Man material?" Peter's cheeks reddened. "I'm not saying you couldn't not be Spidey. It's just... I dunno. I mean, you totally could be." He sighed and ran his fingers through his hair. "Geez, gone for three years and my best friend's a superhero."
"It's only been about a year." Peter pulled his sleeve up to reveal one of his web shooters. He was surprised there wasn't more shock but was silently thankful Harry didn't make a bigger deal out of it.
Jackson appeared beside them. "Come on. We gotta go." He grabbed all four of them and vanished again. They arrived in the apartment. Harry, MJ and Ned needed to sit down, while Peter watched Jackson pace across the room.
"Jackson. What happened? Did you hurt somebody?"
The brunet stopped long enough to look up at his boyfriend. "No, babe, I didn't. I told them though. The truth." Peter's eyes widened. "I did it to protect you. McDonnen and Cartwright, the fucking pricks, started asking questions and it led to you. I just said that you and I are inseparable and there was no way." He sat on the floor. "Now everyone knows."
Peter knelt beside him and wrapped his arms around Jackson's shoulders. Jackson simply groaned and leaned his head on him. "Thanks, Petey. You always know how to make me feel better."
"Does a single day pass where there's no drama in your relationship?" MJ had already opened her book, eyeing Jackson over it.
"What would be the point if there wasn't?" Jackson cleared his throat. "I mean— I can bring you guys back to school but I can't go back... maybe ever. Might just go the way Joel did and drop out."
Peter looked him in the eye. "You're not dropping out." Jackson opened his mouth to reply but Peter put a finger to his lips. "No."
"Hey, what's this?" Harry and Ned observed a clear whiteboard in one corner of the room.
Jackson glanced over. "Don't touch anything. It's a case I'm working on. Osborn!" Harry had touched a pin. "You want to feel impotent again?" He immediately retreated.
"Is this the crime ring?" Peter approached and looked it over. There were mugshots of criminals, Post-Its with known locations and the like. At the top was a photo of the postmaster, who had a question mark, and an enlarged printout of the symbol. "They never found his body?"
"Nope. Makes me think he's in cahoots with whoever has the symbol. It was used in Saami. I can't find anything that could be an ulterior use though." He exhaled and spun around. "I gotta take you guys back."
The second time around was slightly less dizzying than the first. Peter took Ned and Harry to the bathroom while MJ simply gave Jackson a nod and went to class.
"Hey, squirt." Jackson rolled his eyes and looked up at the blond with the bad dye job, Travis right behind him.
"What? You assholes got what you wanted. I'm a mutant. Happy?" He went to his locker, and was annoyed to hear the footfalls behind him. "By the way, I didn't finish any of your assignments. If you're here for that, you can go fuck each other."
Owen leaned on the locker beside Jackson's and watched him empty it. "What's wrong, Jacks? Can't handle being here now that we know what you are? I know your dirty little secret." The shorter boy paused. "You know what I'm talking about."
Jackson was counting to ten in his head but Owen's voice kept breaking through, and he could feel Travis inching closer. "Whatever you think you know, you're delusional." He continued to pull books out, dropping them into his open bag.
"Am I?" The smirk only grew, and Travis grabbed his arms, pulling them behind his back. The redhead forced Jackson to face Owen. "If you were really as smart as you act like, you would have covered that birthmark on the inside of your right thigh."
"Shut up!" Jackson tried to pull away but both boys were much larger than him, and he couldn't face his hands out enough to blast them.
Owen grabbed him by the chin and looked into his eyes. "Just because you came here on a scholarship doesn't mean you're better than us, Jackson. Fortunately, we know exactly how to deal with your kind. Get the collar."
Travis pushed Jackson against the locker and held his wrists with one hand. "Man, Shanley, we're gonna have fun with—" The boy flew across the hallway into the stairwell. Owen backed off, hands up in surrender.
Jackson quickly slung the bag over his shoulder and tried to vanish but he couldn't control his emotions, thus rendering himself unable to go anywhere. "Goddamn it," he muttered. He couldn't risk anyone—least of all, Peter—finding out what he did. He pulled out the burner phone Strange gave him.
Peter sat in history, leg bouncing anxiously. It had already gotten around school that Travis Cartwright had to be taken to the hospital for several broken ribs, and Jackson was responsible. Eight people already—he was counting—asked him if he knew about Jackson's abilities before it came to light. He declined to answer.
"Mr. Parker?" He gazed at the teacher. "Do you mind telling us when the last Convergence was?"
He racked his brain for the answer. "November fifteenth, twenty-thirteen." The teacher nodded and returned to the board.
"You okay?" Harry poked him in the back with his pen. Peter nodded. "Thinking about Jackson?" He nodded again. "He'll be fine. Cartwright is an asshole. He more than likely deserved it. Should have taken McDonnen with him." Harry watched his best friend for a minute before poking him again. "How about we double date tonight? Chaz and I, and you and Jackson?"
Peter turned to look at him. "You and Chaz are a thing?" Harry only smirked and Peter couldn't help but smile.
"Please hold." Jackson looked at the phone questioningly. "Who's calling?" The monotone voice asked.
"Uh, Jackson Shanley for Joel Richardson."
"Joel Richardson is currently hors de combat. Can we leave a message?"
Jackson suspected that this wasn't true—Joel always answered when he called—but he went with it, figuring it was to get out of something. He knew all too well how his stepbrother worked. "What about the Sorcerer Supreme? Is he available? It's kind of urgent."
The voice didn't respond. Instead, less than a minute later, Strange came on the line. "Jackson. What do you need? We heard all about your... lack of discretion."
"Doctor, please. This isn't about me trying to protect someone else's identity by revealing my own. I really need to talk to Joel. Since he's my legal guardian, he's the one who needs to help me."
There was a pause, and the line clicked. "Seriously?" He put the phone down, and then a wormhole opened in the middle of the apartment. "Holy—"
Strange appeared. "Jackson." The boy looked around and stepped inside, the hole closing with a spark behind him.
"You're telling me the super who stopped you is this kid?" The criminal nodded at the picture. "Jackson Shanley is not a fucking super. He's a kid who I sort of watched over since he didn't have a father."
"I'm telling you it's him. I'm not bullshitting. TAI reported it." The man narrowly dodged a paperweight aimed for his head.
"Am I to believe that you—one of my highest profile bank robbers—actually listens to a tabloid? Get your head out of your ass and go do something useful."
The crook scrambled out of the office, leaving his superior to look at the photo. "There's no way." He scoffed and stored the Polaroid away in a file. "If Jackson's an Avenger, then my name isn't Carlton Rightmyer."
I have come up with the ending, which will segue into Infinity War. That's all I'm saying for now.
"Okay, this is new." Jackson looked around the darkened corridor. "Is this where you train?"
"Yes, this is Kamar-Taj." Strange nodded. "Your stepbrother is incapacitated at the moment." He noticed Jackson's raised eyebrow. "Yes, I as well initially thought it was a hoax. But he is seriously injured. Nothing magic can't fix." He led him down the hall to a door, knocking twice. Jackson could hear clutter before it opened, revealing a tall bald man. "Any trouble?"
The man nodded. "Less than when he arrived." He allowed them entry, where Joel was laid up in bed with bandages wrapped around his midsection.
"Look, Doctor, I promise I didn't antagonize him— Oh, hey, Jacks." He gave Jackson a brief smile before nodding to Strange. "A moment, please?" The Sorcerer Supreme and the bald man left, leaving Jackson alone with his brother. "Jacks, buddy... What the fuck? You give me unending shit for nearly getting us killed, and now you tell everyone what you are?" Jackson looked at his sneakers. Joel was rarely so harsh. "I'm not sure how I feel right now, possibly because of the morphine, but I'm just so..."
"I'm sorry. I am so sorry, Joel." Jackson took a seat on the chair beside the bed. "You know how I told you that Spider-Man and I are dating?" Joel shrugged. "Spider-Man is Peter Parker. And I am in love with Peter. He makes me feel things I don't think I've ever felt before. Good things. Happy things. Feels like life doesn't suck so much, especially since..."
Joel listened. Jackson was always open with his feelings, but he'd never heard him say he was in love. He put a hand on Jackson's shoulder. "Jacks... you really love him?" Jackson nodded. "I'm not gonna kill you. Just promise me one thing?" The boy looked up. "Be careful. I can't lose you, do you understand? You're all I have left, kiddo."
Joel had been disowned by his parents nine years earlier, and it never seemed to faze him. Jackson remembered a few nights where Joel had nightmares, calling out for his mom. It broke him to see his brother like that. He never met Joel's immediate family, but he recalled his moms talking about them. They said that Diane was a very critical person, and Joel never lived up to her expectations. His siblings were the picture of perfection. And his father was strict, so having the unruly Joel for a son was a problem.
"Joel, I—" Jackson felt tears prick his eyes, all of these things coming to mind. "I love you, big bro." He wrapped his arms around his shoulders, burying his face in his shirt. "I'm sorry."
"Hey. Don't get all sentimental on me now, squirt. I love you too." He chuckled lightly. "Why are you sorry?"
Jackson sniffled and looked into his eyes. "Because I never told you." His bottom lip quivered.
"Told me what?"
Jackson was terrified to tell Joel. He once told him that if he ever found him doing what he once did, he'd kill him. "Remember how you used to tell me that I could do practically anything and you'd never hate me for it?"
"Well, there was that one thing but yeah?"
"I did that one thing. When I was thirteen." Joel's expression was blank. "For a few weeks. I did what you did."
He swallowed thickly. "I lost my virginity to some guy who thought I was eighteen."
"You've been five-foot-four since you were ten. No sober person is going to believe you're over—" He paused. "Dude?"
Peter sat on the couch beside Harry and Chaz. Jackson wasn't answering his texts. He hadn't seen him since that morning, and he was starting to get worried.
"Where's Jacks?" Chaz gazed over at Peter, who shrugged. "He always texts Cam and I when he's gone so long."
Harry leaned on Chaz's shoulder. "You two are getting pretty comfy," Peter observed. He was glad that Harry found someone who chilled him out. He'd never say it aloud but his abrasive behavior was too much.
"Yeah, well, Chaz is comfortable. What?" Harry reached out and flicked the side of Peter's head. "You and Jackson always look so snug. I think it's because he's so small." Chaz snorted. "He agrees with me."
"Peter, you and Jackson are perfect together. Even when he's being a little shit, he's still the best little cousin ever. He forgives so easily, although I'm pretty sure he's holding a grudge somewhere deep inside." Chaz steered clear of upsetting Jackson further following the death of his moms, and moreso after the revelation that he was a mutant.
Harry played with Chaz's shirt. "He exonerated me. It's still weird. Like he absolved everyone who picked on him of blame. He's probably going to round us up and blast us to oblivion." Peter couldn't help but roll his eyes.
"Haven't I always tried to provide for you? Your moms are the people I wished most to be my parents. Because mine suck. Just one thing I never wanted you to experience. Go." Jackson opened his mouth. "Just go, Jackson. I can't look at you right now."
Strange led Jackson out of the room, and his cape wiped a tear from the boy's face. "Jackson, I need you to tell me what happened. I know it's hard but I promise you that it will be taken care of." The brunet took a deep breath and turned to face the man.
"When I was thirteen, I did some things I am not proud of. I—" He took a deep breath. "Does Joel ever talk about his past?"
Without missing a beat, Strange shook his head. "No. When he's not shooting off his mouth, he keeps to himself."
Jackson exhaled again before starting.
Having had enough of Harry and Chaz being adorable, Peter went to the apartment, where he simply took a seat on Jackson's bed. Something was definitely wrong. The past eight hours without so much as an emoji from Jackson concerned him to no end.
"Thanks for everything, Doctor. I'll contact you again when he's stable." Jackson appeared through a portal. It closed behind him and he turned to see Peter. "Oh, hey, babe."
Peter stared open-mouthed at Jackson and his arrival. "Where have you been? You had Chaz, Harry and I—mostly myself—on edge. What happened with Travis Cartwright?"
Jackson sighed. "Guess there's a lot I need to tell you. For starters, Cartwright is a fucking asshole who may not have deserved what I gave him, but, in hindsight, I am not ashamed." He sat beside his boyfriend. "McDonnen said some stuff about me, and I got pissed. It was more his fault for angering me so soon after successfully getting me to reveal my identity. He just has that face you want to punch, no matter what comes out of his mouth."
"Everyone's worried about you. Jason told me something about... eighth grade." Jackson stiffened. "If this is going to work, you need to be completely honest with me. No more secrets."
"Okay. I'll tell you everything. Probably best you get comfortable." Peter crossed his legs and looked at Jackson intently. "For starters, I have a house that I inherited but I can't live there. I tried, and it hurts too much. It's unbearable without my moms. Joel paid for this apartment, like straight up bought the whole fucking townhouse. He's actually planning to use it to shelter homeless young people." He swallowed. "Remember how I told you I was homeless for like a month?" Peter nodded. "Joel was for five years. His parents kicked him out when he came out. He was only twelve."
Peter listened. He only met Joel a couple times but the guy seemed far more damaged than Jackson. "Did he—" Jackson nodded. Peter came across a lot of escorts as Spider-Man, way more than he wanted to admit. "Is that what you did?"
Jackson hung his head. "Yes. For a couple weeks. I had this big fight with my moms and I left. I was never the most well-behaved kid." A tear slid down his face. "I lost my virginity and then almost killed the guy. My powers get out of whack when my emotions are all over the place." Peter reached out to wipe it away. "After that, I stayed at Jason's for the night, then went home and apologized. I never told anyone what I did, except for you and Joel. And now Joel hates me."
"I'm sure he doesn't hate you. I don't know how strong your relationship is—although I suspect it is—but he's worried about you. He probably just doesn't show it often. Am I right?" Jackson shrugged. "Do you want to just lay here?"
"Yes. So much yes." He buried his face in Peter's chest and laid them both back.
"Joel." The man hadn't left his room nor attempted to reach out for six hours. Strange folded his arms. "We need to talk."
He had to hold back his teenage snark before answering. "Yes, Doctor? If it's about how I spent my formative years, I don't want to talk about it." His voice cracked slightly. "I know he's a good kid. I told him repeatedly, just not that one thing. He could do anything else. Just not—" He wiped his eyes.
"I can see where he inherited his stubbornness," Strange mused. "I'm sure I don't need to tell you this but from what I've witnessed, your stepbrother puts everyone else ahead of himself. His boyfriend is his number one priority. He's forgiven people who made him doubt himself. For someone without a father figure, Jackson turned out pretty good."
"That was his moms' doing," Joel mumbled. "They were pretty much his mom and dad. Jacks' first concert was Bon Jovi because Megan was a rocker. He was only four; I was eleven. She took me too; she was more of a mom than my real one." He chuckled. "I spent a lot of time at their house. I was never a burden. Never told that I was a mistake." His eyes watered.
"Letting go of your past is difficult. You may never fully recover but you have to look at what you have now. I had some serious doubts when you arrived but you are one of my most accomplished students. You have people who care about what happens to you." Strange paused for a moment before adding in a low tone, "Myself included."
Joel sniffled. "Didn't know you cared." Much like most he spent time with, he suspected Strange tolerated him until he went away. "For what it's worth, you're the only instructor I've ever had who actually tried. And I thank you for that. I won't let you down."
"I know you won't."
"Hey, Jacks?" Peter didn't stop playing with his hair. He accepted Jackson's noncommittal grunt as a response. "Why didn't you stop Harry when we were kids?"
Jackson opened his eyes, looking up at Peter fondly. "Because you guys are younger than me. By then, I was already in trouble all the time. I didn't need to add beating up underclassmen to my record." He smiled a little. "The way you seemed to just go along with whatever he said made me curious about you. People already thought I was weird for hanging out with third graders, so I didn't want to seem creepy."
"You were never creepy. You just talked a lot." He was quiet for a moment. "Remember when I invited you to my birthday?"
"Hey, Jackson?" The 10-year-old spun around to see Peter Parker looking right at him. "Do you want to—" He trailed off.
Jackson tilted his head. He liked Peter, moreso when Harry wasn't around. "What is it, Pete?" He gave the younger boy a smile.
Peter dug into his pocket and produced a folded paper. "Come to my birthday?"
Jackson took the invitation and stared at it. No one ever invited him to anything. "Gee, I'd love to, Peter, but—" He couldn't say no to those big doe eyes. "I got this interview that day. My moms want me to go to a good middle school." It wasn't entirely a lie. He overheard them talking about sending him to private school, being gifted and all that, and maybe so he wouldn't get picked on so much. "It's one that needs me to come in and impress them with how smart I am." He held out his hand. "Thanks, Peter. We'll hang out some other time, okay?"
"I'm sorry I didn't come," Jackson whispered. "But thanks for thinking of me. You were always so nice to me. I guess I was scared what people would think of me going to an eight-year-old's party." He carried this whole I-don't-care-what-you-think-about-me attitude but, deep down, he really did. "If you were ever curious, I didn't get into that school. I did make a good impression but then they found all the reports of misconduct."
Peter kissed Jackson's forehead. "I guess I never really realized how unpopular you were. Thought you had better things to do than hang out with me—"
"Oh God no. I wouldn't have minded hanging out with you. Just not— I was more scared for you. Like I said, an eight-year-old and a ten-year-old. I dunno, it just rubs people the wrong way."
"You think we'd be anywhere different if we did hang out then?" Peter changed his position so he and Jackson were side by side.
Jackson mused this for a moment. "Maybe we would have been super gay for each other earlier on? We could make little superpowered spider-children?"
Peter smacked Jackson's shoulder. "You know that's not—"
"Will you relax? I'm kidding." He rubbed his shoulder. "You and your super strength are going to leave a mark. I didn't know I was the woman in this relationship." Peter looked ready to kill him. "Oh my Gods, that didn't mean to come out." Jackson backed up and fell off the bed. "Petey, I love you!"