Actions

Work Header

It’s a School Night, Why are You Out Saving the World?

Chapter Text

When Jefferson Davis thinks of him and Aaron, he thinks of tectonic plates. They used to be close, back when the two brothers kept the same company, did the same deeds. They pushed each other up, the force of their loyalty to each other and the clients that hired them rumbling the world like earthquakes and leaving destruction behind.

Some people change; some stay the same. Jefferson learned the value of self-discipline, the importance of law. He drifted away, towards his new career as a police officer, towards the kind and selfless Rio, towards the idea of a family and a stable, safe life. The process was slow, the change in his heart gradual.

The next time Jefferson looked up, he and his brother were continents apart.

Flash forward, and he found himself wholly distracted with-- and woefully under prepared for-- a son. Miles took more than his mother’s name; it was clear from a young age the kid was every bit as charismatic and brilliant as her. If Miles was all incredible grades and sunshine smiles, Jefferson would have no reason to worry.

But Miles wanted something more. He wanted to leave his mark, to root himself like a plant and bloom on every surface he could paint over or get a sticker on. Vandalism, graffiti, tagging, he did it all. As benign as it seemed, it was still against the law Jefferson clutched to so carefully. It’s what Jefferson and Aaron started doing when they were young, a taste of rebellion before it turned into something dangerous and sinister.

So when Rio told their son, “Ah, Mijo, what beautiful stickers,” Jefferson said, “I know what you’re gonna do with that; it’s not art, it’s vandalism.”

While Rio said, “You should invite your friends over more often, Miles!” Jefferson interjected with, “I don’t like the company you’ve been keeping.”

When Miles brought home his usual stellar, gold star grades, his mother would kiss him on the cheek and say, “Miles, ¡Mi girasol!, I knew you would do great this year!”

“You better make sure to keep that up next year.” The words always stumbled out before Jefferson could stop them. Sometimes he would catch himself, ruffle his son's hair and tell him how proud he was of him, and he was, so proud. Proud of how bright and kind his son was turning out to be. He knows he doesn't say it enough, of course. He'd have to be blind not to feel Miles drifting away, shying from the sky high expectations and strict rules Jefferson has set up to keep his son safe . Drifting towards his Uncle Aaron, who claimed to have quit the mercenary scene, but had done little else to turn his life around.

Jefferson didn’t want to push his son away-- nothing in the world could make him want that. No matter the intentions, though, fear had settled in snug and heavy, making a home in his heart and keeping him tossing at night. The fear that Miles would make the same mistakes his father had, would get into the same illegal, immoral, dangerous work that seemed to run on his side of the family. Jefferson feels like a rope in tug-of-war-- pushing his son, trying to pull him closer, then pushing him again even harder. So frayed from the constant game that he's about to snap.

When Miles is accepted into the best academy Brooklyn can offer, both by merit of his knowledge and what could only be called the will of God, Jefferson is left wavering somewhere between relieved and terrified. The prestigious boarding school was full of high-achievers and the best teachers New York had to offer; it was his hope Miles would flourish at the academy in a way he never would be able to in the public school. He could have a greater shot at life than his parents, a better start than Jefferson could have ever hoped for.

But then he would be gone during the week. With so much time away from his family, and Jefferson could already see how gaping wide the chasm between them would become, how impossibly far away his son would be.

So he insists on driving Miles to school. As usual, he can’t bite back his harsher words, and Miles is clearly uninterested, mostly content with staring out of his window and pretending to listen, giving half-hearted answers and pushing Jefferson and his expectations away in the way only a teenager can. So when they make it to Visions Academy, Jefferson pulls back the the best he can and makes sure to say what’s really important for Miles to hear.

“I love you, son.”

Miles doesn't blink, stepping out of the car, grabbing his bags, and easily closing the door with one foot. He tacks on a mumbled, "Yeah, I know, Dad."

Jefferson scoffs. House rules had always been mandated, clear as day. When a Morales family member says I love you, you best say, I love you too. Miles knows better than that.

And, well, might as well have a bit of fun while laying down the law, right? Jefferson reaches for the squad car’s loudspeaker.

You gotta say it back."   Jefferson’s voice blares out from the car, causing every head within a twenty foot radius to swivel to the scene.

Miles’ shoulders fly to his ears as his face tints red. He twists back around to stare at him incredulously. “Y-you’re really gonna make me say it--”

I wanna hear it!”

“No, for real? Right infrontofeverybody--”

I. Love. You. Dad.”

A sigh, eyes and shoulders rolling, head tipping back as if asking the heavens for patience. Hah, try raising a thirteen-year-old graffiti artist, then see if you still need to ask for patience. Everyone’s eyes were on Miles, drawn to the commotion as his face starts to go from red to almost purple.

“Dad… I love you.” It was snappish and unenthusiastic, but as long as he said it, the family rulebook was appeased.

That’s a copy.”

Jefferson rolls away from the school, confident Miles will thrive in the scholarly environment, fit in with peers that thought at his same speed and aimed for high grades like he did.

Later, Jefferson would regret calling Miles out the way he did. It certainly didn’t do anything to bridge the ever-growing distance between the two, but…

Rules were rules. They were what kept kids like Miles from doing something they'd regret some years down the line. No matter how small the rule broken, Jefferson couldn't afford to let it go or turn a blind eye.

Kids need structure. They need to be taught clear expectations and need to experience consequence so that they could grow right. Strict was best for Miles, even if he couldn’t see that now.

It doesn’t stop the chasm from growing.


 

Being a police officer, Jefferson Davis has seen a lot of revolting crimes. Homicide, gang violence, domestic abuse. It almost makes him ashamed that the quickest way to get his blood boiling at that very specific someone is breaking the law and they shouldn’t be temperature was, well…

Spider-Man.

Maybe it was the fact that the webslinger was New York’s darling-angel sent from above. The way even Jefferson’s fellow officers had fallen for the charm, the funny jokes, the ‘diabetes level’ sweetness and friendliness that was apparently signature to the arachnid-- enough to look the other way when he was vigilante-ing it up right in front of them. Officer Davis knew better, that the bug-eyed mask hid a skilled actor that only wanted the thrill and attention that came with punching giant lizards and swinging through the city like a demented acrobat.

Spider-Man thought he could do the PDNY’s job better than an officer could, thought he could just pop into any crime scene, say something smart, and leave with the credit. The law was the law. Vigilantism was illegal for a reason; if Officer Davis was on the same scene as the spider, he would actually do his job and arrest the one breaking the law for years. No buts about it.

It was the Wednesday of Miles’ second week at school, when New York experienced its second earthquake. Officer Davis was on patrol, walking the streets when the ground rumbled beneath his feet. Only it wasn’t a normal aftershock, Jefferson sees the structures in front of him glitch and warp and dance with vibrant color.

Jefferson doesn’t understand what he’s looking at, but if the past ten years taught him anything, it was that wacky, non-sequidous situations always involved Spider-Man.

Later that night, after he and Rio embraced and ate their dinner and settled down to relax, a crash from Miles’ empty bedroom has them both shooting up, and Jefferson opens the door to confront the intruder.

“Police, put your hands up—” he pauses as the 'intruder' rises quickly, revealing himself to be Miles, a tight expression on his face and hunched in upon himself. "Miles?"

Without a word, Miles runs up to him, clinging to his father and shuddering into his chest, and everything on Jefferson's mind-- Spider-man, the earthquakes, the strange aftershock-- falls to the wayside in the face of his son's blatant distress.

"Woah, woah, easy, it’s okay," Jefferson says softly, hugging his son back. It's been awhile since Miles has embraced him like this, like the world was falling to pieces around him and his father was the only one who could make it better. Jefferson wished he was in a position to appreciate it, but worry was quickly overpowering everything else.

Rio approached, eyes wide with concern, and placed a hand in Miles’ hair. “¿Qué pasa, Miles? Was it the earthquake?”

Miles pulls away from the hug, breathing a little too fast. His eyes shone with unshed tears, and he looked up at his dad with a meek, watery expression, like he was six years old again with scraped knees and a heavy heart.

“Do you really hate Spider-Man, Dad?”

Jefferson felt his eyes widen, his cheeks puffing as he exhaled slowly. Miles had never particularly cared about Spider-Man before, and Jefferson absently wondered what had brought this on. Of all the things he expected Miles to say, this was certainly out of left field. “Well, yeah…”

Rio gave her husband a soft smack on the arm.

“What am I supposed to say?” Jefferson half-whispers. He was usually the type to tell it like it was, and Spider-Man was a headache. He was the headache.

But Miles was clearly distressed, and Jefferson’s filter, for once, keeps him from saying what Miles doesn’t need to hear.

“Can I sleep here tonight?”

The filter, having already done a job for the day, decided to check out as Jefferson replied, “Miles, it’s a weeknight. And you made a commitment to that school--”

Rio interrupted him with a poorly-executed stage whisper. “He’s clearly upset.”

Jefferson amends his answer, forcing his words softer. “All right, you can stay here.”

Miles nodded, entire body growing slack. He waded to his bed as if gravity was pulling him down, turning on his side and pulling the covers over him without changing out of his clothes.

They found out what had distressed Miles so seriously that night. He must have seen it before they did; a news report flickered across the screen of their TV, newscaster’s voice somber and unusually quiet.

Spider-Man was dead.


 

Miles left for school early the next day, early enough that he didn’t say goodbye to his mom or dad. Jefferson tries not to let it bother him.

Work was relatively quiet for Jefferson; it seemed as though the world had paused for a unified breath, taking a moment of silence for the late hero. Nearly every figure was clad with a cheap Walmart mask or a sharpie-drawn spider somewhere on their person. People moved sluggishly as the city marched through a collective, oppressive cloud of grief. Jefferson had never seen anything like it.

Jefferson can’t make himself feel all that torn up about it. His opinions on masked vigilantes was a constant block, he was never as close to Spider-Man as the city seemed to be.

But it was a shame. Only twenty-six years old, leaving behind a wife and an aunt. There was a taste of bitterness in the back of his throat when he thought of Peter Parker’s life cut short, that if the man had only done the right thing and followed the law, he would still be alive for them.


 

It was late in the afternoon, Officer Davis making his rounds in his patrol car when his radio burst to life with static.

Altercation in Forest Park involving… multiple… spider-people?”

Jefferson had expected copycats, though this felt a little soon. Without missing a beat, he replied, “I’m on my way now,” switching on his sirens and taking a sharp right towards Forest Park.

He was almost at the address when something swings into view; a rapidly moving blob of color and fabric hanging by a thread. The way it moves is impossible to mistake, and Jefferson gets the feeling that it isn't just some copycat Spider-Man looking for a thrill.

It takes him a while to find the alleged spider-person, whose jerky, graceless movements were difficult to follow from the streets. But Jefferson eventually tracks them down to a small, enclosed alleyway. He exits the car, slowly moving towards the alleyway with one hand on his hollister.

The spider-person is crouched in front of something on the ground, back to Officer Davis, hunched form seeming very small in the gaping alley. Upon closer inspection, Jefferson identifies the figure as a male, and dark skin peeks out from behind the cheap Spider-Man costume that was all at once too baggy and too small. There was still a price tag hanging from the neckline. All in all, the guy looked ridiculous.

The spider-man gives the barest of flinches when Jefferson cautiously clears the chain link fence between them.

Jefferson realizes with a start that the spider-man is crouched in front of a body, lying prone on the hard concrete.

Pulling out his service weapon and swiftly pointing it at the imitation spider-man, Officer Davis yells, “Put your hands up!”

The spider-man's hands rise up, and he slowly stands. His body is wound tightly, like a rubber band stretched between two fingers ready to snap. Jefferson feels the same way as the spider-man seems to hesitate, then--

Jefferson doesn’t blink. He'd swear in front of a judge that he doesn't. But between one second and the next, the spider-man is gone, as if he'd vanished into thin air. Officer Davis doesn't allow himself to linger on that for longer than a moment before turning his attention to the only evidence that the spider-man had been there at all.

The realization hits him like a train, a punch in the gut. It’s his brother, Aaron, who lies prone. Jefferson doesn’t register scrambling to his brother’s side, but he is there in an instant, pressing to fingers into his neck and praying feverishly to whoever would listen.

He doesn’t find what he’s looking for.


 

Jefferson tries to hold on to his anger. He calls for the arrest of the new Spider-Man, and furrows his brow and punches the wall and makes no move to slow his pounding heart.

Unfortunately, his temper had always been like a spark, bursting forth and extinguishing just as quickly. Soon, he is too exhausted to hate Spider-Man, too heavy and cold to stay angry.

The grief that hits him next is so much worse.

Lost years loom in front of him, the distance he kept from his brother gaping like a fresh wound where there had only been a scar before. Where he had allowed (forced) himself to heal. He wants to rip that lost time away, wants to fill his head with memories that never happened, hugs that never existed, laughs that never sounded.

Jefferson and Aaron were tectonic plates, drifting further and further until their whole world changed. Jefferson couldn’t do this again, couldn’t lose years, couldn’t lose trust or closeness or affection. The realization that follows hits him with the same rattling force as an earthquake.

Aaron wasn’t the only family member Jefferson pushed away.

That night, he visits Miles, knocking softly at his dorm room. The shadow behind the door shifts, but Jefferson isn’t surprised when the door doesn’t open.

“Miles, sometimes people drift apart,” he says, voice tight and thick in his throat. “I don’t want that to happen to us.”

The door stays shut. The barrier between them is a sharp reminder of Jefferson's shortcomings. His heart feels like it's cracking under the weight of what he wants-- needs to say.

“It’s just-- I’m so hard on you because--” The words have to be pushed past something hot and heavy in his throat, and Jefferson falters slightly. Then, it's as simple as letting his pride for his son swell in his heart until it's nearly fit to burst, this time with something much more powerful than grief. "I see th-this spark in you-- it's amazing. Whatever you decide to do with it, you’ll do great.”

He presses his palm on the door, letting his forehead fall against the cold wood panels. The pressure behind his eyes threatens to spill over under the combination of overwhelming sadness and equally overwhelming love for his perfectly imperfect son. Jefferson hits himself, wondering how he could have possibly waiting this long, until something like this happened, before telling Miles what he should have told him a long time ago.

"I love you, Miles." Jefferson's failures feel like a mountain on his back. Tectonic plates, pushed and pulled by rules and expectations, and not nearly enough care.

Jefferson finally lets go and adds, "You don't have to say it back, though."


 

There’s another earthquake, strong enough to throw people off their feet. Strange enough, that buildings glitch and twitch and clip like stubborn bugs in a video game. And this one doesn’t stop, not like the others. It keeps going, long enough to launch something like an investigation.

Officer Davis and a number of other PDNY officers are sent to the epicenter, where Wilson Fisk is holding a Gala in Spider-Man’s honor-- well, was holding a gala. By the time Jefferson makes it there, the place is trashed and empty, plates and glasses smashed on the ground, tables overturned by the earthquake still raging on.

His investigation leads him to the basement. If Jefferson didn’t know what he was looking at before...

The whole thing is dizzying and overwhelming and his him reeling back. The basement level is a swirling mass of color and objects and whole buildings, mish-mashed together like a chaotic collage and moving like a nauseating, life-sized kaleidoscope. And in the center of the storm is the unmistakable silhouette of Wilson Fisk, dueling it out with Spider-Man.

Not Peter Parker, no. This one is wearing a black suit, instead of vibrant red. Jefferson had only seen two convincingly-superpowered spider-people in his life, and process of elimination pins this Spider-Man as the one who was crouched...

In front of Aaron’s body. The one Jefferson tried so hard to hate. The Spider-Man who was currently losing a fight. Badly.

Fisk is an absolute mountain of a man. Spider-Man is downright tiny in comparison, and the sheer difference of their size gives Fisk enough of an advantage to bring Spider-Man to the ground, leaving him crawling and struggling and grasping painfully at his side. It’s straight-up brutal to watch, and Jefferson barely even registers his bias against this Spider-Man fizzling away in the face of such a one-sided fight.

With a guttural yell, Fisk brings his fists down. The resulting crack echoes all throughout the splattered mess of a basement, and when the dust settles, Spider-Man is lying motionless on the ground, eye-lenses closed into little more than slits.

Wilson Fisk is turning New York City into a horrible, gaudy Picasso painting using the technology in his basement, and yet the thing that surprises Jefferson the most that night is when he opens his mouth and whispers, “Get up, Spider-Man.”

His pulse racing, eyes wide, Jefferson finds himself hoping they didn’t just lose their newest Spider-Man. “Come on, Spider-Man, get up,” he says a little louder.

Peter Parker died, leaving his family behind. Jefferson finds himself wondering if they were close, if he held his wife and aunt as tight as he could or if they were kept at arm’s distance. He wonders if any of them regret lost time, hushed secrets, harsh words.

He wonders who would miss this Spider-Man.

“Get up, Spider-Man!”

Relief pumps through his veins when bug-eyes blink sluggishly open, white lenses peering crookedly towards Jefferson from their spot on the ground. When Spider-Man begins to move, twitching and fighting just to get to his knees, Jefferson knows, somehow, that his words did something.

Spider-Man gets up. And he wins.


 

Not long after the earthquake stops and Spider-Man disappears, Jefferson gets a call from his son. He barely looks at the screen before he answers, pressing his phone to his ear, more frantic than he'd ever really admit to.

“Hello, Miles? H--”

“Hey, Dad.” He sounds-- fine. But exhausted, too, like he had been awake for way longer than he should have. That new school of his must be working him to the bone, and Jefferson feels himself soften almost ridiculously at the thought of how hard his son must be trying.

Jefferson glances over that for now in favor of asking the most important question. “Are you alright?”

“I’m fine.” Miles’ words come out sounding more like a drawn-out sigh than an actual sentence. “I just wanted to call, but you’re probably busy, so…”

“No!" Jefferson shouts, louder than he meant to. He clears his throat slightly, and goes on more composedly, "No, I can talk.”

Jefferson pauses for a moment, running through a million things he wants to say. About Aaron, about school, and expectations, and Miles’ art and passion and spark.

He doesn’t get nearly far enough when the phone cuts out, leaving him tapping at the screen and cursing his phone carrier.

“Officer!”

Jefferson startles, nearly dropping his phone. Spider-Man just appeared, in thin air, right in front of him and where did he even come from?

“Thank you for your brav-ery,” Spider-Man says. There’s something strange about his voice, like he’s trying to talk with peanut butter stuck to the roof of his mouth. The large, white lenses of his costume stand stark against the black suit, and it makes Jefferson feel a bit scrutinized.

“It was, uh, no problem,” Jefferson says, feeling more than a little awkward talking to a mask. “Now, I don’t agree with your methods, but I-- oof!”

Jefferson finds himself wholly distracted and woefully underprepared for the sudden, full-body hug he finds himself in. Spider-man is clinging to him tight, cheek pressed against his chest like a child hugging a teddy-bear.

It’s awkward. It’s weird, and awkward, and Jefferson doesn’t really know what to do, except wait for Spider-Man to break away.

He finally does after several moments, pulling back and saying, “I look for-ward t’working wit’ you,” in that same strange inflection. Spider-man begins to move away, saluting Jefferson with two fingers and calling out, “I love you!”

Jefferson doesn’t really catch it at first, letting out an I-didn’t-quite-hear-that polite chuckle. When his brain catches up to his ears, he can only stutter out a dumb, “Wait, what?”

“And uh, look behind you!” Spider-Man calls from several feet away, voice seemingly recovering from whatever made him sound like his jaw dislocated.

Jefferson looks behind him, and is greeted with the sight of Wilson Fisk, strung up between two buildings, stuck like a fly in a massive web. It takes him an embarrassingly long moment to pick his jaw up from the floor.


 

The new Spider-Man was strange. As he's helping secure the Kingpin and get him ready for transport (did Spidey really have to string up the perp thirty feet in the air?), Jefferson goes over their meeting with his sputtering, fried brain.

There were a lot of little things that were strange. The way he just popped in from nowhere, how he talked, how he… hugged Jefferson and said he loved him? How does that fit in with normal human behavior, really?

The answer smacks him in the face a moment later.

Jefferson used words like ‘small’ to describe this Spider-Man in the past, but assumed it was only compared to his surroundings. He looked small in the alleyway, because he was crouched and hunched over. He looked downright diminutive fighting Fisk, because Fisk is more refrigerator than man and anyone would look tiny next to him.

But when they were talking, Spidey’s owlish eyes blinked up at him, head tilting back just to make eye contact. When he hugged him, he didn’t even make it to Jefferson’s shoulders. No, this Spider-Man really was a tiny thing, and that wasn’t all.

The weird voice he put on. Spider-Man wasn’t chewing three gumballs at once, he was trying to make his voice sound deeper.

He hugged Jefferson and said he loved him. Jefferson, who encouraged him when he was struggling and in pain and probably scared, because--

Because Spider-Man was a child. An honest-to-God, young child. Jefferson feels like he’s having a minor heart-attack when he thinks about how he took on Fisk by himself, how he very nearly lost. Did Spider-Man’s parents know he was here? Jefferson feels sick when he thinks about how worried he would be if his son was out fighting supervillains all alone-- and on a school night, too!

The last Spider-Man died. He was a super-powered, fully grown man with ten years of experience under his belt, and he still died doing the same type of thing this Spider-Man was doing now.

Jefferson finds his mind racing with plans. First, he was going to give his thankfully-normal-son a hug as soon as possible. Second? He was going to help Spider-Man stay safe, whatever that meant.

And so, Operation: Stop Spider-Man is a go.

Chapter Text

Jefferson doesn’t expect to run into New York’s newest Spider-Man right away; after all, he had actively looked to arrest the last one to hold the mantle and never once seen him in person. Taking into account his past luck, Jefferson assumes Operation: Stop Spider-Man wouldn’t actually get headway for another ten years.

“Hey, Officer!”

… But it seemed lady luck has other plans. The one interrupting Jefferson’s on-foot patrol was just the spider he was hoping to see, waving amicably from a nearby rooftop as if it were completely normal.

Officer Davis chuckles, turning and walking towards the young wall-crawler’s perch. “Good to see you, Spider-Man!” he calls up.

“Hey! Good to see you too! Uh.” Spidey hops up on the roof wall’s ledge, scratching at his chin and looking off to the side. “Think you could help me out a second, man? I’m kinda new at this, so I’m not sure about, like, procedure or anything…”

Jefferson takes a moment to look around, but no one seems all that interested in the loud conversation the pair were having with several stories between them. Never change, New York. “What do you need help with?”

Spider-Man’s eye lenses crinkle up at the bottom, giving off the impression of a pleased smile. Hopping back on the roof, Spider-Man makes his way to the other side of the building, opposite the street.

Officer Davis feels like following what was technically a masked criminal into an alley isn’t the smartest way to end his patrol, but this Spider-Man didn’t exactly come off as a malevolent schemer. Jefferson remembers big eye lenses blinking up, remembers two small arms wrapping him in a hug like he was the safest person in the world. He remembers Spider-Man, and steps into the alley.

Only to drop his jaw on the floor when he turns the corner, and is met with the sight of a man, wrapped from his neck to his ankles in web and strung up between two walls.

“Okay, so like, I know Peter used to leave the bad guys for you guys like this, but I don’t know if like, he called the police or let someone else do it or... I didn’t really just wanna leave him here, ‘cause what if no one finds him? He’d just be stuck here, right?” Spider-Man talks from where he’s sticking to the wall, looking thoughtfully at the ‘bad guy’. “So I was wondering if you guys had like, a procedure or a system with Peter that I should start following--”

“The procedure is to call nine-one-one and leave it to the police,” Jefferson says, hands on his hips.

Spidey’s eyes widen for a second. “But if I did that, then this guy would have-- oh, hold on.” He hops to the opposite wall and starts picking at a bundle of webs. “He was gonna mug someone with this, they would have been blasted into next week if I just-- Oh!” Spidey pauses, hitting his temple with his palm.

“I should have told the victim to call the police! And I forgot to leave one of these.” Spidey stops pulling at the bundle of webbing and turns, slapping the forehead of the guy stuck like a fly in a web. When he pulls back, there’s a sticker reading Courtesy of your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man in colorful bubble letters.

To his credit, the man doesn’t say anything, letting out only a tired sigh as if resigned to the idea he deserved to be humiliated by a kid in a onesie.

Jefferson holds up his hands, feeling his patience start to thin. “Hey, hold on son, you can’t just go around webbing up folks all willy-nilly.”

Spidey finally pulls apart the bundle, losing his balance slightly when he needs two hands to hold whatever he has. “Yeah, I know! I didn’t! He was gonna use this on someone!”

Dropping onto the ground in front of Officer Davis, Spider-Man shows what’s in his arms. It’s large and gun-like with a sort of claw at the barrel. Jefferson feels his heart stop when he realizes it’s some type of weapon.

“Put that down! You don’t know what’ll set that thing off!”

“Don’t worry! It’s super busted, so I’m just gonna take it and--”

“You are not taking that thing!” Jefferson can feel the situation spiralling out of control, like a helicopter with a missing blade. “You are turning that into the police!”

“But I know I’ve seen something like this before! If I find out where it came from, I can stop it at the source--”

“That is not your job!”

“It is my job,” Spidey curled his hand and did the ‘web shooting’ gesture a couple of times, “I’m Spider-Man!”

Jefferson pinched the bridge of his nose. “You don’t have to be.”

“Well what else am I gonna do with freaky spider-powers?”

At this moment, Jefferson realizes Operation: Stop Spider-Man is less of a game plan and more of a mission statement. How, exactly, did one stop a kid with superstrength? It wasn’t like Jefferson could ground him.

Persuasion was really the only option. “You could do something else. Like focus on school.”

Spidey’s eye lenses flattened at the top, and Jefferson got the impression that the kid wasn’t super jazzed with the conversation’s turn. “I got straight A’s.”

“Then you could use your powers for something else, right? Like, I don’t know, dance?”

“...Dance.”

There was a moment of silence, and then, from the mugger currently webbed in the air, “I think dance would be a good idea. Like ballet maybe--”

“No one asked you, man,” Spider-Man sighs, shifting the claw-gun so that he was holding it with one arm. “Look, I can’t just stop being Spider-Man. It’s like Peter Parker always said: with great power comes great responsibility.”

“The performance arts are very responsible! And very legal!” Jefferson taps at his temple.

“Okay, so I’m just gonna take this thing--”

“Don’t you dare.”

“--And let you figure this guy out.”

Officer Davis crosses his arms. “You aren’t leaving here with that thing.”

Spider-Man gives an overly dramatic sigh, tilting his head back as if asking the heavens for patience.

“Well, you got me. Guess I--” Spider-Man cut himself off, pointing frantically. “Look behind you!”

Jefferson does not, in fact, look behind himself. Instead, he looks down at Spider-Man, putting on his best unimpressed-dad-glare learned from thirteen years of experience with--

Pop!

Jefferson doesn’t blink. He knows he doesn’t. He would swear in front of a judge he doesn’t. Spider-Man straight up disappeared. Right in front of Officer Davis, taking the weapon with him and frolicking off to throw himself into who knows what kind of trouble.

Not the smoothest start for Operation: Stop Spider-Man.


 

“I don’t know what I’m going to do with him!”

“Mmhm.”

“How am I supposed to help him if he can teleport or disappear whenever he wants?”

“Are you sure you saw that right, Mi Amor?”

Jefferson and Rio sat on their couch, TV flickering in front of their eyes. Rio is at least trying to watch, one ear on her show and one on her confused mess of a husband. Jefferson, on the other hand, is too preoccupied to enjoy it.

“Come on Dad, everyone knows Spider-Man can’t teleport,” Miles looks up from his seat at the dinner table where he is going through some of his textbooks, taking his time home for the weekend to organize a bit.

Se volvió un ocho hoy. Don’t worry about it, Miles,” Rio says, giving her husband a teasing smirk.

Jefferson let himself relent a bit, making a show of rolling his eyes through the fond smile on his face. “Everyone knows, do they? How do you figure that?”

Miles shuffles through his books, pulling one out and showing the cover. It’s a Spider-Man comic book, crumpled and torn and generally in poor condition. “‘Cause all his powers got put in here.”

“Where’d you get that?” Jefferson asks.

“My roommate gave it to me.”

“Yeah. And you know those comics are about Peter Parker, right? I’m talking about the new kid.”

“Spider-Man’s still Spider-Man.”

Jefferson hummed, turning back to the television and letting Miles get back to his work. Maybe there was some truth to what his son said; Peter Parker or no, Spider-Man had never… not been a vigilante. Jefferson wasn’t going to get anywhere with the new Spider-Man if the only thing he said was ‘say no to crime and stay in school’ like a D.A.R.E. officer.

But he couldn’t just let it go, either. Spider-Man nearly died taking on the Kingpin; it was only a matter of time before another super-criminal came along. It was one thing when Spider-Man was an adult making (poor) decisions. It was an entirely different thing when the new Spidey probably couldn’t even drive yet. If you’re young enough to have a bedtime, you’re way too young to be fighting the ‘Hypno Hustler’ or whatever villain New York decided to spit out that week.

But Jefferson knew from experience that his way, the way that came naturally to him, with strict rules and consequences, would only serve to push Spider-Man away until he was unreachable. No, he would have to do something else, say something different--

“You gotta say it back.”

Jefferson startles, twisting to face Miles, who was leaning on the back of the couch with a lazy smile.

Seeing his dad’s confusion, Miles repeats, “I said ‘I love you’. You gotta say it back.”

Jefferson smiles and ruffles at Miles’ hair with one hand. “Love you, son.”

Miles’ expression drops a fraction, almost imperceptibly. For a moment, he opens his mouth to say something, but the moment ends just as quickly, and Miles pushes away from the couch.

“Goodnight, Dad. Y buenas noches, Mami." Miles turns with a yawn, grabbing his books and heading to his room.

“Don’t forget about tomorrow!” Jefferson calls, as an afterthought.

“Wouldn’t dream of it!” Miles says, expression brightening in anticipation. With one last goodnight, Miles closes his door.

Since Aaron died, Miles noticeably became more friendly with his dad. Jefferson is glad for the change in attitude, but can’t help but feel like something was off this the way his son was now acting. It was less ‘tectonic plates drifting oceans apart’ and more…

It was like Miles was putting on a show. There were more smiles and ‘I love you’s and hugs, which seemed perfectly genuine on their own...

But with no tears, no frowns, no negative attitudes or teenager-y moods, it started to feel a bit-- not fake, that wasn’t the right word-- but not perfectly open either.

Miles and his uncle had been birds of a feather. Jefferson knew that Miles loved Aaron, but since his death, Miles had neatly sidestepped every conversation involving him. Jefferson just hopes that spending some time with his son tomorrow will help break down Miles' act into something Jefferson can work with.


 

...was spotted at midnight last night during a home invasion in Brooklyn. Witnesses say this ‘new Spider-Man’ had electrical powers, unlike Peter Parker…”

Jefferson did his best to ignore the news playing in front of a nearby food truck, widening his stride. Miles had to speed walk to catch up, backpack hanging off one shoulder and using the other arm to stifle a yawn. As much as Spider-Man’s daily escapades threatened to send Jefferson into cardiac arrest, today was Miles’ day.

As part of his at-home mission (Operation: Be More Supportive), Jefferson had made the effort to find Miles a nice, privately-owned wall to put up some of his art. A coworker mentioned having a cousin with a bodega in Midtown looking to bring some color to the brick on the side, so Jefferson showed off some of his son’s work and boom! A responsible, supportive father-son activity all set up for the weekend.

Jefferson remembers how Miles teared up at the idea, and wonders why he didn’t think to do something like this sooner.

After arriving at the bodega and having a quick word with the owner, they were all set to go.

“This spot’s actually pretty nice,” Miles says, hopping to the wall and pulling his backpack off his shoulder.

“What, you think I don’t know how to find these spots?” Jefferson watches as Miles pulls out what must have been a million spray-paint cans in vibrant hues. “You’re dad’s still hip.”

Miles flips through his sketchbook, stopping occasionally to consider a design. Under his breath, he mumbles something like, “You’re so old, man.”

Jefferson wants to be offended, but his son’s soft expression tells him the comment wasn’t mean spirited, so he lets it go.

Jefferson’s never seen Miles work before. Well, that wasn’t exactly true; he busted Miles in his squad car once when he was in the middle of tagging the back of a street sign. He grounded Miles for two weeks and had him scrub the sign clean.

But this was different. Watching his son dance around, picking each can and spraying with what looked like recklessness but was actually practiced precision, Jefferson found himself almost baffled. He knew Miles had talent, but what he was doing now went way beyond what Jefferson had ever been able to do in his time.

“Hey, Dad, could you help me out a second?” Miles holds a red can above his head, stretching his arm as far as it could go while he stood on tip-toes.

“Sure. What do you-- woah!”

The second Jefferson was near the wall, Miles scales his dad like a cat climbing a tree, jostling his glasses with his knee. Jefferson stumbles a bit, trying to regain his balance as Miles continues with his work perched on Jefferson’s shoulders.

The scene is at once familiar, and Jefferson feels as though he were viewing his own memory through a stage curtain. The nostalgia hits him like a punch in the gut, and he has to swallow before he tries to speak.

“You know, your uncle and I used to do this kinda thing.”

The hiss of the paint can stops.

“I know, Dad.”

“Except I was the one standing on his shoulders.”

Miles doesn’t offer any commentary, noise of the spray can resuming.

“I used to be half his height, can you believe that? Never imagined I’d grow to be twice his size.”

Miles hops off his shoulders. It has Jefferson scrambling for a moment, worried Miles would hurt himself, but he lands easily.

“I got my essay back,” Miles says, switching the red can for black. “Got a ninety-six percent on it.”

Jefferson’s first instinct is to say something like ‘I expect you to keep that up’ or ‘shoot for a hundred next time’. Or maybe he should point out the obvious subject change. But part of Operation: Be More Supportive is pushing past old habit to offer encouragement, which is also a new rule written in the family code.

“Nice. I knew you’d show those teachers what’s up.”

“And I didn’t get any write-ups last week,” Miles says as he leans in to the wall, about to spray paint only inches from his face.

“Whoa, back up. Don’t want you breathing that stuff in.”

“Sorry.”

“Yeah-- just, be careful.”

Jefferson is sure three weeks ago, Miles would have at least rolled his eyes. Heck, three weeks ago, he was getting a call home every other day about Miles running from the principle or pulling some girl’s hair or saying something smart to a teacher. Miles’ attitude had seen major improvements, and Jefferson can’t help a smile from growing on his face.

The two of them step back to take in the day’s work. It’s beautiful; big and vibrant and full of life in the Midtown walkway.

Jefferson nudges his son’s shoulder. “I’m proud of you, Miles.”


 

Jefferson was starting to think weekends were far too short. Sunday came and went in the blink of an eye, and soon Miles had packed for his week away at school.

Te quiero mucho, Miles,” Rio says, kissing her son on each cheek and tightening her hug.

Te quiero tambien, Mami." Miles says, pulling away and hopping down the front steps.

Jefferson calls after him, “Bye, work hard, love you!”

Once he lands on the sidewalk, Miles turns and calls,“Love you, Dad!”

Rio and Jefferson stand on the porch and watch until they can’t see Miles anymore.


 

He’s only halfway into his Monday when Officer Davis is called to an altercation. Spider-Man is fighting armed men through the streets of Williamsburg, and that’s all the information he gets before he has his siren is on and he’s headed to the scene.

Civilians gather to watch like it’s a street performance and not a highly dangerous crime in progress . It takes Jefferson all of two seconds to assess where he’s most needed, and starts ordering people to clear out.

Spider-Man has enough to worry about as it is. There are about five armed men focused on trying to take him down, two taken down and webbed up, all wearing what Jefferson recognises as the same claw-gun Spidey ran off with last week. Only these are less ‘busted’ and clearly functional, leaving both gashes and burns in the pavement. Spider-Man was dodging and flipping and drawing fire from the crowd, but seemed to have trouble getting close. Officer Davis feels his heart skip a beat when gunfire lands way too close to Spidey’s head, and soon he finds himself biting his nails over the fight in the street.

“You got this, Spider-Man!” Jefferson yells, almost without realizing.

Spidey’s head turns, and when he catches sight of Officer Davis, the lenses of his mask crinkle upward.

It takes them more than a minute, but Officer Davis keeps civilians out of the way. And Spider-Man wins.

Later, after ample backup has arrived and arrests are being made, Spider-Man bounces on top of Jefferson’s squad car to say, “Thanks for the help again, Officer,” with a quick salute before swinging off.

The whole interaction has him thinking. Back home, with Miles, Jefferson had a whole new system of doing things. Not just scolding and consequences, but encouragement and compromise. Maybe he could cross his at-home parenting with his, er, on-the-job ‘parenting’.

And so, Operation: Stop Spider-Man was amended to Operation: Offer Spider-Man Encouragement and Help Where Needed In Order To Eventually Soften The Kid Up To The Idea Of A Less Terrifyingly Dangerous Extracurricular Activity.

Or, to shorten things up, Operation: Be More Supportive 2.0.


 

When a Brooklyn bank is robbed, Officer Davis only has to cut open some webs and make arrests. His job is made easier, so he makes sure to thank Spider-Man on his way out. Spidey practically glows at the praise.

A few days later, the police get a call about a disturbance involving the Shocker in Lower Manhattan. When Jefferson gets there, Spidey seems to have the whole thing in the bag already, so he just cheers him on from the side. A few other officers get in on it, and the next thing he knows, Spider-Man has a mini audience. He seems to enjoy the attention.

Jefferson is on break Thursday of that week, enjoying the sun on the patio of a sandwich shop he likes. When Spider-Man swings by, rustling the umbrella of his table, Jefferson offers a wave. He doesn’t expect Spider-Man to drop down on the pavement looking for conversation. They don’t talk about much more than the weather, but it’s nice anyway.

The next time Spider-Man happens to swing by, he and Jefferson exchange a high speed high-five that has his hand stinging for hours.


 

Scorpion is fighting Spider-Man, tearing through a neighborhood in Queens, and Jefferson is the first officer on the scene. He ran about ten red lights to make it happen, and has to try to calm his racing heart before he runs out to meet the scene. Because Scorpion was a real, established supervillain that gave Peter Parker plenty of trouble, and the thought of this new Spider-Man going at him alone has Officer Davis’ stomach rolling.

Scorpion and Spidey are going at it on a nearby roof, metal stinger glinting each time it comes down. Spidey tries to get in closer, but the Scorpion’s tail has better reach than he does, and he’s kept at too much of a distance to shock. With only one bad guy, one good guy, and no civilians in the way, Officer Davis might be able to get a shot in.

Pulling out his service weapon and pointing up, Jefferson makes his presence known. “PDNY, put your hands up!”

Scorpion, of course, doesn’t acknowledge him, only continuing his attack. But Spider-Man breaks his concentration for a moment to swivel his head and call out. “Hey, Officer! Nice to-- oof!”

Jefferson nearly has a panic attack when Spidey’s knocked off the roof, but instead of a hard landing, he manages to stick to the trunk of a nearby tree. Without Spider-Man in the way, Jefferson has a clear shot at the Scorpion. He takes it, and manages to hit the villain’s shoulder. Scorpion drops to his knees with a strangled, furious sounding yell, gripping his injured shoulder.

“Hey, man,” Spidey says, a couple of small branches stuck to his costume. “I lost my webshooters down here somewhere, could you--”

“¡Te mataré, insecto!”  Scorpion calls from the roof.

“--could you help me look for them?” Spider-Man finishes, tugging a bit at the tree he’s stuck to.

Jefferson nods and begins his search a little further out from the tree, looking in the grass for anything that could be a webshooter. “Sure thing, Spider-Man. Just be more careful, please?”

“Sure, sure, I’ll just, uh,” Spidey starts to sound a little out of breath, tugging harder where his hands and feet are stuck to the bark of the tree.

Jefferson squints at the odd scene. “You doin’ alright there, Spidey?”

Spider-Man continues to tug more frantically. “Yeah, fine, just kinda stressed out and not very relaxed, so--”

Spider-Man’s lenses go wide, taking up nearly half his face. With one last violent tug, he rips away from the tree and flips away just as it explodes into splinters. When the dust clears, a very pissed-looking Scorpion is left standing in the lawn.

The treesplosion causes Jefferson to stumble back, tripping on a bush with a yelp. He’s sure the moment looked clumsy and ridiculous, and hopes the two dueling superhumans were too busy to notice.

Something in the bush glints and catches Officer Davis’ eye, and he picks it up and turns it around in his hands. It’s made of metal, red and circular like a bracelet. Jefferson is pretty sure that’s what a webshooter would look like, and turns to Spider-Man.

Spidey and Scorpion had moved to the street, Scorpion’s back to Jefferson. That made things easy. Jefferson lifts the webshooter, waving it around until it caught Spidey’s eye. Spidey’s eyes crinkle up in a smile, and he throws the ‘peace out’ sign to Scorpion before--

Pop!

Spider-Man disappeared, leaving Scorpion confused and disoriented. And Jefferson. It leaves Jefferson confused and disoriented, too.

“Thanks!”

Jefferson leaps back with a yell when the empty air in front of him speaks and plucks the webshooter from his hand. A strand of webbing thwips out, catching the Scorpion on his back, and Spider-Man materializes as he’s launched through the air. It only takes one tap from a super-charged taser-hand before Scorpion is out, and Spider-Man wins.


 

“Thanks, you really saved my butt back there,” Spider-Man says, shaking Officer Davis’ hand.

Jefferson almost says something normal, but in a world of superpowered children fighting metal insect men in the streets, he doesn’t suppose it’s too out of left field to say, “Why is your hand covered in bark?”

“Hm? Oh.” As Spidey begins to work on peeling tree bark from his glove, he turns to leave. When he does, Jefferson catches sight of something dripping from his glove to the pavement.

“Seriously, Officer, thanks for the--”

“Wait. Pull back. Where are you hurt?”

Spidey hit reverse, walking backwards and showing off where his suit was ripped open on his arm. “It's not bad, really, he just grazed me.”

Jefferson grabbed the injured arm, gently, for a closer look. The gash was about an inch long, bleeding sluggishly.

“Seriously, it looks worse than it is. Probably,” Spidey says.

Jefferson doesn't need to be a detective to understand that Spider-Man is putting on a show, a brave face. There's a slight tremble to the arm Jefferson is holding, and Spider-Man keeps swallowing and rubbing the fingers of his free hand together.

It would scare anyone to go up against a force like the Scorpion. Jefferson feels himself soften, almost ridiculously, at how much guts it must have taken for the kid to not show fear fighting for his life in the suburbs of Queens.

“I don't have anywhere to be. I can drive you to a doctor to get this looked at--”

Spider-Man yanks his arm out of Jeffersons grip. “No doctors!”

“Do you want that getting infected?” Jefferson says, voice rising.

Pop!

Now that Jefferson knows it's invisibility he's looking at, not teleportation, he throws his words out as quickly as he can before Spidey has the chance to run off too far.

“Fine, we don't have to go to a doctor! But you can't just leave it alone, either.”

Jefferson spots another blot of red on the pavement, and follows it nearer the clump of police cars in the street.

“My wife’s a nurse. Let her look at it, please?”

There's a few more drops of red behind one of the cars. Jefferson moves until he's standing a few feet away.

“She won't ask questions, you won't have to pay anything. And I won't be up all night wondering if you're alright out here.”

There's a few moments where Jefferson fears Spider-Man is already long gone, not having heard a thing of what he's saying.

But then big eye lenses swim and flicker into view, blinking up at Jefferson with more trust than he feels like he's earned.

“I guess…” Spider-Man grips his injured arm with one hand. “I guess that's a good idea.”


 

It’s hard not to sound confusing when you’re calling your wife to tell her you’re bringing a superhero to her house to bleed all over the furniture. But Rio’s always been the type to take things in stride, and she’s already at the door when Jefferson pulls in front of the house.

“Uh, hello. Ma’am,” Spider-Man says, putting on his ‘grown up’ voice. Jefferson has to stifle a laugh.

Rio gasps, seemingly unable to help herself from letting out a soft, “Qué lindo," as big bug eyes blink up at her. Catching herself, she says, “Sorry, it’s just,” Rio leads Spidey inside, motioning for him to sit at one of the kitchen chairs.

“I didn’t think--” Rio opens the family first aid kit, kept large and well stocked at Jefferson’s insistence, “I thought you’d be...”

She pauses, holding her hand up, parallel to the ground. Taller.

Spider-Man's eye lenses go flat and slanted near the top, generally unimpressed like he heard that a lot. This time, Jefferson really does laugh.

Rio starts to poke at the gash, clucking to herself and leaving to grab a towel. Spidey watches her with curiosity, kicking his feet back and forth while he waits.

“Where do you usually go when you get hurt like this?” Jefferson asks, taking a seat in one of the chairs.

“Usually I just sleep it off and I’m fine.”

“What.”

Spidey starts to pick at his suit, not meeting Jefferson’s eyes. “Yeah, I think I have fast healing, so that’s, uh. Really convenient.”

Rio shares a look with her husband as she walks back over, wet towel in hand.

“Well, normally this would have needed stitches. But I can see it’s already starting to heal over,” Rio says as she works. “I’ll just clean it and put a bandage on, and you should be fine.”

“Ah, but next time something like this happens, you know where to find us,” Jefferson adds.

Rio nods in agreement. “Yes, you’re welcome here anytime. Oh!” She motions Jefferson to the desk. “We’ll give you our number, too! Just in case!”

As Jefferson moves to write down the number on a sticky note, Spider-Man clears his throat and says, “Thanks. You’re-- that’s really nice.”


 

When he’s all bandaged up and ready to be on his way, Spider-Man hops down the front stairs of the house as Rio and Jefferson say their goodbyes.

“Be careful out there!” Jefferson says as Rio waves.

“I will,” Spider-Man says, turning with a wave. “Love you, Dad!”

Everything freezes as the words sink in. Jefferson feels his eyes widen, and Rio’s grip on his shoulder slackens.

Pop!


 

“He called me Dad, ” Jefferson says later, as Rio rubs his shoulders.

She gains a teasing look. “Should I call up Miles and tell him he has a new brother?”

“This is serious! What if he gets hurt out there--”

“Jeff--”

He lets his head fall in his hands. “I feel responsible enough for him as it is!”

“Jeff!”

Attention caught, Jefferson peers out at his wife.

“I know you’ll do right by that boy. Just have patience.”

Chapter Text


The past couple of weeks may have been bursting with Spidey activity, but that didn’t mean Jefferson wasn’t thinking about what to do with Miles. Between work and dealing with the ramifications of a death in the family, Jefferson had been reading up on grief in teenagers. With each passing day, he found himself more and more anxious about sending Miles to that boarding school to deal with Aaron’s death alone. Did he have good friends there yet? Did he know he could call or come home any time he needed? Did he have teachers he could trust and confide in? Jefferson had already tried to be cautious and tip-toe around the issue, but he felt it was time to face it head on; to do his job as a parent and make sure his son was alright.

The day Officer Davis and Spider-Man face the Scorpion (yikes) and Jefferson invites Spidey into his home for the kid to slip and call him ‘Dad’ (adorable), is the day Miles is due home from school for the weekend. He’s running later than usual, and Jefferson skips over the natural parental panic and instead assumes Miles must have stayed late doing homework or something similar.

But that doesn’t change the fact that Jefferson has plans, so he calls Miles.

“Hey, Miles,” Jefferson starts.

Oh. Uh, hey. Dad,” Miles says in a low voice, clipped and awkward in a way Jefferson is familiar with. “I’m guessing you wanna talk.

His son knew him too well. “I know you probably got school stuff going on right now, so how about, when you’re done, we meet at that one pizza place nearby-- Gir-Ghirardelli’s?”

You mean Giardini?

“Right-- and we can talk there some.”

Am I-- wait.” Miles pauses to take a breath. “I’m not like… in trouble? You’re not mad?

Jefferson found himself sighing. Had it really gotten to this point? Where a talk was synonymous with punishment? “No, no. You’re not in trouble. It’s just talk.”

Just talk. Okay.


 

“You know, I’ve realized something,” Jefferson says, taking a bite of pepperoni pizza.

Miles hasn’t touched his food, fidgeting in his seat. “I-- yeah?”

Jefferson wants to kick himself when he sees how nervous Miles is. He just says ‘we need to talk’ and leaves it at that? Maybe the ‘gentle’ approach could use more nuance; there was no point in switching up his approach if it was anxiety-inducing anyway.

So with that, it was time to get to the point. “I realized I want you to be open with me, when I haven’t been… exactly… open. With you.”

Miles foregoes picking at his pizza to look up at his dad, eyes wide and shiny.

And Jefferson pulls at the words he's rehearsed, the confession he's planned, to say, “Your uncle and I had a falling out. I never told you why.”

Miles face twisted in surprised confusion, and Jefferson took that as an invitation to keep going.

“Your dad wasn’t always a cop.” Shame rose like heat, and he had to swallow it down.  “Aaron and I-- we did things I wasn’t proud of. And then I decided to quit, and he decided not to.” Jefferson rubs a napkin between his hands until it was a ball, rough on his skin. “I think it killed him.”

Miles looked down, brows furrowed as he processed the words. “You came here to talk… about Uncle Aaron?” His fingers start to tap on the table, rapid and jittery. “Nothing… else?”

Jefferson found himself suspicious. Had Miles expected the talk to be about a bad grade? Discipline issues at school? Whatever it was, Jefferson hadn’t heard of it yet and he found himself ready to grill his son for answers, but--

That wasn’t what he was here for. Jefferson had to readjust his head to let it go, but whatever it was, it could wait.

“Not unless there’s something else you wanna talk about. I just wanted to let you know that, with all this going on, you can come to me. Or your mom, or anyone else.”

Miles’ face closes off, though not unkindly, as he goes back to picking at his pepperoni. “Thanks, Dad. But I don’t really want to talk.”

“It doesn’t have to be with me, it can--”

“Can we talk about something else? Please.” Miles scrubs at his eyes as his voice grows thick.

Jefferson can’t really think of another subject.


 

Miles spends a lot of his weekend out of the house, wanting to hang out with the friends he left behind at his old school. He comes home on Sunday with a couple of scrapes, and Jefferson walks in as Rio is fussing over them.

“Miles, what happened to your chin?”

Estoy bien, Mami. It’s no big deal.”

Her voice takes on a teasing note as she taps at the scrape and begins to chant, “Sana, sana, colita de rana--

Mami, ¡no soy un bebé! ” Miles yelps as he tries to turn away.

She ignores him and continues, “--si no sana hoy, sanará mañana.

Rio finishes with a kiss and a bandaid, and Miles is finally set free.

As that’s going on, Jefferson flops heavy on the couch, flicking the TV on and surfing until he found an interesting news channel.

... These armed criminals have been popping up all over New York City. Spider-Man has shown up at multiple of these altercations, causing some to wonder if he’s connected…"

Jefferson huffs and rolls his eyes as Miles makes his way to the couch.

“So. Mom said you accidentally adopted Spider-Man,” he says. “I thought you hated superheroes. Something change your mind?”

Miles is sitting up with his hands between his knees, smiling like this was the most interesting topic of the year. And maybe it was; Jefferson was sure knowing a superhero gave him at least ten ‘cool dad’ points.

“Hey, hey! Don’t get any ideas, okay?” Jefferson says, using one hand to ruffle Miles’ hair. “The point is to get him to stop the vigilante thing before he hurts himself.”

“Oh.” Miles’ face drops into a thoughtful frown. “Well, what if you can’t stop him?”

That… was a good question. One he’d asked himself before, without coming to a decent conclusion. He still didn’t have an answer.


 

The next day, Jefferson is home when his phone goes off. It’s a number he doesn’t recognize, with a local area code.

He picks it up, starting with, “Hello?”

Hey, Officer.” The voice on the other end is hard to hear, muffled like they were talking through several layers of fabric. The nickname, however, is easy to recognize.

“Spider-Man?” Jefferson could already feel a stress-headache coming on. “You need help? Are you hurt?”

No! No.” There are a couple words that came after, too muffled for Jefferson to understand, before Spidey continues more clearly, “I just had a quick question. Or two. And please don’t think this is creepy or anything, but I looked you up on--”  More indiscernible lines, “--and I was wondering if your name was Jefferson Davis?”

That was a lot to unpack. Had Jefferson really not introduced himself? And was it really that easy to find his identity? Maybe he should look into re-evaluating his online privacy. Later.

“Yeah. Why?”

You related to Aaron Davis?”

Jefferson can’t help the surge of bitterness that rises with the image of Spider-Man, hunched in an alley, and his next words come out more curt, “My brother. What’s this about?”

There is a longer stretch of muffled chatter, “--so I think whoever it is is supplying these other crooks.”

“Wait, start over. What was that first part?”

I was wondering if you knew who Aaron Davis got his Prowler gear from. They’re probably responsible for all the armed crimes that’s been going down lately.”

Jefferson felt his heart sink. Spider-Man shouldn’t get involved in the thing that killed Aaron.

“I haven’t properly talked to my brother in years. I didn’t even know he was the Prowler until he died.”

Please, if you even have an idea of where to start, I need--

“No. You need to drop this whole case. The police will handle it.” That stress headache continued to grow, until it was pounding behind Jefferson’s eyeballs.

The longer it takes to catch the guy making these weapons, the more people get hurt!”

“That’s their job to worry about it!”

I can’t just do nothing!”

“Yes. You can.”

I’ve already tried doing nothing, I can’t let it happen again-- ” Spidey cuts himself off with a sharp inhale. “Sorry to bother you about this. I’ll let you go.

“No-- no, no, don’t hang u--”

Jefferson is interrupted by a click. He has to sit back and scrub his hands down his face, looking at the ceiling through his fingertips. What was he doing? Stopping Spider-Man was impossible, barring Raft-levels of imprisonment, and just thinking about the kid in that situation made Jefferson sick to his stomach. Supporting Spider-Man was… a plan. One that felt a bit disingenuous, if he were being honest. He didn’t believe in the wall-crawler code of asking permission from no one to do dangerous, violent work. It was what Jefferson left behind years ago, packaged as altruism instead of bare-bones pragmatism. How could he pretend to be okay with that? He didn’t think he could.


 

Jefferson is in his station’s breakroom the next day, gnawing on a plain bagel and watching the news on TV with half lidded eyes. Something about a dog museum opening? Most normal thing to happen in NYC for ten years, so thank God for that.

“Oh, yes!” One of Jefferson’s coworkers speaks up from another table, turning to his friend and showing her his laptop screen. “Another livestream!”

“You’re obsessed with these Spidey-hunters, man,” she says, causing Jefferson to perk up from his corner of the breakroom. “You ever get off Twitter?”

“Shh! Shh!” Coworker Number One shoves a finger in his friend’s face as he leans closer to the screen. “This is a seriously good stream. Look! He’s actually in the middle of a fight right now!”

Before Jefferson knows what he’s doing, he launches to his feet and rounds the table the two officers are sitting at.

“Oh, hey. This is actually pretty cool. I thought these streams were usually just with him swinging around--”

“Excuse me,” Jefferson interrupts the second coworker, “but how are you watching that?”

The two other officers look away from the feed of-- oh God, is Spider-Man fighting the Rhino?--  to look up at Jefferson.

“It’s this community that keeps track of Spider-Man sightings and posts about ‘em!” the first coworker states, eyes brightening, “their Twitter handle is ‘@spideyhuntersofnyc’ if you wanna--”

“Yeah, on second thought, can I just--” Jefferson squeezes himself between the two others, situated to watch the screen. The female coworker seems annoyed at the intrusion, and the male coworker just seemed delighted at the prospect of sharing his hobby.

Officer Davis, on the other hand, could almost feel himself tear in two. Spider-Man honestly isn't doing so hot, a couple shoulder touches seem to be failed attempts at stinging through the Rhino’s tough armor. There's only so much time before ‘dodging and flipping’ was no longer a viable strategy, especially since--

Oh man, the Rhino is armed, which isn't his typical style. Judging by the wail of sirens in the background, the stray, erratic purple blasts of the Rhino-sized claw-gun might have already gotten someone hurt.

Sitting between his coworker’s excited chatter, Jefferson feels frayed as a rope in tug-of-war, watching the kid he’d grown to care for getting knocked down, over and over, without real backup or support. Should he leave work, take his squad car to the scene? He wouldn’t have time to check with his supervisor, it wouldn’t exactly be within regulation, but what else could he do--

“Ooooh, ouch,” says the female coworker, like she’s watching a sports match. Like Spider-Man didn’t just get blasted out of sight, to a nearby rooftop while Rhino made a break for it and God this is what dying of a heart attack feels like--

The camera of the livestream wobbles as its owner debates between trying to follow Rhino or staying focused on the spot Spidey disappeared from. In the end, neither reappear into view.

The male officer speaks up as Jefferson stands to move out of the breakroom. “Did Spider-Man just…”

Lose.

For the first time in his short run, Spider-Man lost.


 

The scene of the Rhino brawl is a mess. Three civilians and four officers injured, Spider-Man nowhere to be found. The longer these weapons were out in the open, the more this type of thing would keep happening, and it was only a matter of time before someone got killed. Jefferson can’t help but feel responsible; he didn’t necessarily have solid information, but maybe seeking answers sooner would have prevented this whole mess.

Ah. There it was, like a light bulb in his head. Jefferson never tried to make sense of Peter Parker’s motto; the whole thing sounding like a mess of responsible-sounding words that ultimately meant nothing when you were going against the law. It never made sense to Jefferson before, but it was starting to.

He would have to do some digging, both in his own past and in police and public records, but maybe he could help end this whole mess, sooner rather than later.

Jefferson files a report of his findings after he’s found them, and his next problem is contacting the little wall-crawler who would hopefully-- and he can’t believe he’s thinking this-- work faster than local law enforcement. It takes him longer than it should to remember Spider-Man already contacted him with a phone number, and digs through his call history until he finds the right number.

Hello? Who’s this?” The voice on the other end is boyish, but unfamiliar.

“I’m sorry, who is this?” Jefferson asks, double checking the number to insure he didn’t make a wrong call.

Asked you first, dude.

The date and time for the number seemed right, and Jefferson answered, “This is Officer Davis,” please don’t be the wrong number, “I’m looking for Spider-Man.”

There’s a pause on the other end. “Oh. Uh. Spider-Man isn’t here right now. Can I take a message?”

“Do you know where he is? I got some info he asked for.”

Well, I guess I could text him and ask. Please hold!”

There is an excruciatingly long pause, the only sounds being breathing and the tap of fingers against a screen. Jefferson is in the middle of pulling down on his face when the kid on the other line speaks up again.

He says he’s on some apartments by Foam Party. Thinkin’ about stuff. You know where Foam Party--”

“Yes.”

Okay. Well. He’s to the left of Foam Party. And don’t tell him I sent you!”

And with that, Spider-Man’s… friend? Relative? Hangs up.


 

Jefferson never thought he’d be grateful for Foam Party or terrible apartment security, but he also never thought he’d have to go looking for a superhuman on a rooftop in Brooklyn. These past few weeks were certainly full of new experiences.

He finds Spider-Man slouched against the brick wall of the rooftop-access stairwell, resting his chin on one of his hands. When he sees Jefferson, his eye lenses grow wide as frisbees as he sits up a little straighter.

“D-- Officer Davis?” he asks. “What are you doing here?”

Jefferson takes a seat next to Spidey, his joints protesting the hard brick and concrete. “You alright? I saw what happened earlier.”

“Oh. Yeah. Kinda sore. Needed a quick roof-nap, but I’m fine.” Spider-Man suddenly puts his head in his hands and groans, “I can’t believe I lost a man the size of- of a tank.

“Could’ve been worse,” Jefferson says. “I remember Parker losing the Sandman down a water line. Our whole street had sand in the tap water for days.”

Spider-Man let out a short huff. “What about the time he accidentally flung one of Goblin’s glue bombs at a crowd?”

“Don’t remind me. I spent three hours helping the EMTs cut people loose.” Jefferson gave an exaggerated sudder. “I had to shave the back of this super fluffy, hairy dog to unstick it from a stop sign.”

Spidey burst out laughing. “I didn’t know that! I’m imagining it looking like, I dunno, it walked into a cheap barber shop and asked for that ‘Mufasa’ look--”

Jefferson couldn’t help joining in the laughter, as Spidey pauses to hug himself and take a breath.

“--but it wound up with this janky hyena cut--”

“That’s actually pretty close!” Jefferson lets out a few more chuckles before sighing. “There were a lot of haircuts that day. So at least today wasn’t… You know. That.”

“Yeah. I guess I forgot even Peter made a bunch of mistakes. I wish I could ask him about--” Spidey cuts himself off, sobering as he taps the ground with his fingers. After a moment of deliberation, he turns to Jefferson.

“I’ve been meaning to say this for a while. I guess I didn’t really know how. But…” Spider-man pulls his knees to his chest, looking smaller than Jefferson is prepared for.

“I’m sorry about your brother.”

The words hit Jefferson like a hammer, leaving his head ringing like a gong, so unexpected that he has to pull his hat down further into his eyes and swallow too hard. There's a burning, nagging question he's had since this Spider-Man swung, clumsy and untried, into Jefferson's life-- the same day he came to the realization that he would have to bury his older brother.

His next words come out quieter than he means, “What were you doing? With Aaron.”

Jefferson hears a harsh breath come from the one sitting by his side, when he notices Spider-Man’s shoulders are shaking. “I’m sorry,” he says, cut off by a hiccup and a harsh sniff. “It was my fault.”

Jefferson is flung back into the memory of this little Spider-Man, crouched on the ground of a grimy alley in Queens. He was too angry and afraid to see it at the time, his perception of the child in the Spider-Man costume warped and blurred with grief. But slumped over, with his hands over his face, like the world was collapsing in around him-- the kid's shoulders shook then, too. Just like they were doing now.

“He died because he wouldn’t kill me.” Spider-Man scrubbed at his eye over the mask, pushing the lens up. “And he only found me in the first place because I wasn’t--” another hiccup, “--wasn’t careful enough.”

Jefferson feels something swell painfully in his chest, and his eyes burn with sympathetic tears in a way they hadn't in a long time. It was just so hard to watch this kid cry like his heart was breaking over things he couldn't help and situations he never should have been in. A kid who went out into the city everyday to face villains and thugs twice his size for people who repaid him by following him around; recording his pain and hardships for the world to see. Jefferson... he doesn't want to be a gawker on the sidelines, another adult for Spider-Man to worry about and put on a show for only to retreat to a deserted rooftop alone to beat himself up even more over his mistakes. It wasn't right for any kid to feel this way, and Jefferson couldn't swing around on webs or climb up walls, but he knew a thing or two about encouraging downtrodden kids.

“My brother made his own choices. I wonder sometimes-- if I didn’t cut him off, if maybe I could have helped him make better ones.” Jefferson slings one arm over Spidey’s shoulders, pulling him close and rubbing his arm. “Rhino, Kingpin, Aaron and me; you’re surrounded by adults making terrible decisions. That’ll never be your fault.”

“I thought you’d be mad.” Spidey straightens with another sniff. “Even just a little bit.”

Jefferson can't help but huff fondly. Superhero or no, Spider-Man really was a kid. “I’m over being angry about this stuff. Let’s just focus who we can help, right now.”

Spider-Man takes a moment to process the implication of the statement. His eye lenses crinkle up near the bottom when he finally seems to understand. “I thought you didn’t like superheroes?”

“Yeah, well,” Jefferson stands, stretching and popping his back, "Changed my mind. I got a name you might like to know. I’ll give it to you, on two conditions.”

Spider-Man stands as well, giving his eyes one last rub. “Yeah? What’s that?”

“One: If you’re going out to work on this case, you tell me where and when so I can get you help faster if you need it.”

Spider-Man nods, clearly delighted at the prospect of a team-up. “Yeah, sure! I can do that!”

“Two: The minute it seems like it’s too much or too dangerous, you drop the case. Let it process normally.”

Spidey seems less jazzed about that particular condition, but he nods anyway. “So what’s the name?”

Officer Davis let out a sigh and rubbed at his temple. He was really about to endorse this, wasn’t he?

“I know this might come as a surprise, but Aaron and I both used to be hired muscle. Some mob stuff, some gang stuff, some minor celebrity stuff, you get the idea.”

Spider-Man nods, seemingly eating up every word. Jefferson supposes ‘criminal turned cop’ is a pretty interesting story.

“Our weapons supplier was considered the best in the business. Folks called him ‘The Tinkerer.’”

“Oh! Yeah, I think I heard Rhino say something like that today!”

“Yeah, well, I never knew his full name. Quit the business and forgot about him. But I decided to do some digging, and it turns out he was arrested a few years back; his sentence ended just a couple months ago.”

“Just in time to make the latest Prowler gear.”

“Exactly. Records say his name’s Phineas Mason.”

Spider-Man punches one of his hands, lenses slanted with determination. “Sounds like a lead!”


 

Officer Davis puts in some overtime at work, so he asks Rio to meet up with him for dinner to make it a date night, and to fill her in on the newest developments in law and wall-crawling.

“I just don’t know if I’m doing the right thing here.”

“This may be the best outcome you could hope for, Jeff. At least he isn’t doing this by himself.”

“Maybe.”

After dinner, the two link hands and wander on the sidewalk, glancing through the windows of quiet shops. Jefferson is eyeing some sunglasses when he feels Rio tug on his arm with a soft, “Mirá.

“What?” he asks, looking at his wife. She jerks her head in response, prompting him to look across the street.

They’re in a more run-down part of Brooklyn, lined by shops without much infamy. The place is quiet and uncrowded for the city, making it easier to pick out what Rio is referring to. She’s motioning at a figure sitting on a bench across the street, sneakered feet crossed and reading a newspaper big enough to obscure their entire upper body. Jefferson doesn’t know why Rio would point that out. Was it the clothes? The fashion sense was a little strange as far as he could see, with basketball shorts over leggings. Though, for all Jefferson knew, that could just be the new trend with the youth, along with black, red-tipped gloves--

Wait.

The two of them exchange a look before crossing the street, speed-walking towards the bench.

“Spid--”

“Shh!”

The newspaper rustles as Spider-Man turns to look at Jefferson and Rio. Upon seeing him closer, Rio has to stifle her laughter through her hands.

Spider-Man is wearing a faded blue jacket on top of his normal costume, hood up. The jacket isn’t zipped; anyone looking at him head-on would see the spray-painted red spider logo on the front. His big, buggy eye-lenses are only partially obscured by a pair of sunglasses.

“It’s my disguise,” says the one who can turn invisible. A soft snort betrays the fact Spidey is in on the joke of his outfit. “Like it?”

What are you doing?” Jefferson asks.

Spider-Man goes back to burrowing his nose in the newspaper. “Stakeout. Found a source who says Phineas Mason walks here every day. Probably home or, hopefully, an evil lair.” He shuffles around his jacket pocket for a moment, pulling out a crumpled piece of paper. “So keep an eye out for this guy.”

Jefferson hands the picture of Phineas Mason to Rio, who considers it before handing it back to Spider-Man.

“I thought I told you to keep me updated on where you were for the case?” Jefferson says.

“Oh. I just figured, since I’m not actually doing anything major yet...”

Jefferson gives Spider-Man his best unimpressed-dad look.

Spidey looks at the newspaper even harder. “Sorry.”

“We’ll let you get back to your reading,” Rio says. With a couple of final goodbyes, the two leave Spider-Man for the car; Jefferson doubts Spidey will find the Tinkerer on his first steakout. At least, he hopes not, when it had already been a long day and Jefferson just wants to lay on his couch for a while.

But fortune had not been kind to him for weeks, and it wasn’t about to start now. Rio and Jefferson only see him because they were on the alert anyway, only recognize him because they saw his picture minutes ago.

Rio turns to her husband with a grimace. “I’ll wait for you in my car.”

“Yup.”

“Text me in an hour or I call the police.”

“Good call.”

With that, Jefferson wrenches the door of his patrol car open and grabs his duty belt, fastening it around his waist before loosely following the alleged Tinkerer at a very safe distance, taking a slight detour to head back to where he left Spider-Man sitting. When he gets there, however, he finds the bench empty, newspaper stuffed haphazardly in a nearby trash can.

Jefferson curses softly under his breath before heading back to the path Mason was taking, having already lost a visual. Wasn’t this all just going swell--

His walk is interrupted when a pair of sunglasses clatter at his feet.

Psst!” Spidey’s form warps and swims into view, hanging upside down by a thread only a few feet from where Jefferson is standing. His jacket flops around him, pulled by gravity as Spider-Man’s mask shifts with what Jefferson can easily imagine as an ear-to-ear grin.

“Does this mean we’re teaming up?” Spider-Man says, holding his hand up for a fist-bump.

Jefferson sighs and shakes his head. He was really going to team up with a vigilante to follow someone without a warrant, wasn’t he?

Well. Not the worst thing he’s ever done.  

Jefferson returns the fist-bump.


 

The pair follow Mason away from the more populous commercial street, to an empty feeling industrial complex. The buildings are worn, windows cracked and shattered, concrete crumbling.

“Of course! Empty warehouse, perfect for supervillain things!” Spider-Man whisper-yells from his perch on a bent streetlamp. He bounces like a frog to stick to the building Mason disappeared in, peering in one of the busted upper windows. Once he's done, he jumps back to the ground in front of Jefferson.

“Ok, I think that looks like a good way in, so, uh, hold on.”

“Hold on to w-- Agh!” Jefferson is caught off guard when Spider-Man grabs him to zip them both up to the window. They land inside on a concrete upper-level walkway, and Jefferson needs a moment to stop his head from spinning.

Spider-Man taps rapidly at Jefferson’s shoulder. “Look down there!”

On the lower level, Jefferson can see tables and shelves spilling over with metal and tools and about a million sharp looking bits. If Jefferson had any doubt in his memory of the Tinkerer’s face, he could be sure this was the right guy.

The Tinkerer in question was typing at an older computer on one of the desks, complicated-looking goggles resting on his head.

“Okay, we got the guy. Now what?”

Spider-Man was asking him? If anything, Jefferson was more out of his element than the superhuman.

“Okay, you take--” Jefferson makes a sweeping motion towards the tables of dangerous-looking scrap, “--all that. Anything that looks like a weapon, make sure it’s out of reach. I’ll worry about the Tinkerer.”

“You sure?” Spider-Man asks.

“Yeah. Tinkerer’s just a guy. And a nerd, if I remember right. I can take him, and even if I can’t?” Jefferson motions at Spidey. “I got backup.”

“Okay. Right. Sounds good.”

With that, Spider-Man jumps, disappearing in midair with a pop!

Jefferson moved towards the stairs, staying low and out of the Tinkerer’s sight. Once he’s within a decent distance for a clean takedown, he unzips his taser from his duty belt.

There’s a loud crash from his right when the tables and shelves of the warehouse are cocooned in a swath of webbing, one of the tables falling from its place.

What--

The Tinkerer doesn’t get out two words before Jefferson comes out at him, taser raised and yelling, “PDNY, hands up!”

Tinkerer stumbles backward, wacky goggles flying off his head. Using one hand to unclip the handcuffs from his belt, Jefferson continues his march forward, making himself as obvious and threatening and distracting as possible to keep Tinkerer's eyes on him. But too fast for Jefferson to react, the villain pulls a small, strange-looking gun from under his desk chair. Jefferson doesn't have the chance to be nervous, because In the amount of time it takes for Tinkerer to level the gun up, a string of webbing is snatching it straight out of his hand. The villain only has enough of a moment to shoot a baffled glance at the ceiling, where the gun dangles midair, before Officer Davis tackles him to the ground, securing him to the leg of the heavy desk with the cuffs.

“Hey! That was super easy!” Spider-Man says, dropping down from the ceiling by a strand of web. “We make a pretty good team!”

“Yeah, I’d say,” Jefferson says, straightening up and giving Spider-Man a slap on his narrow back, and even though Jefferson put quite a bit of force behind it, the kid doesn't budge an inch.

“What? Spider-Man? I thought Rhino took you out!” the Tinkerer sputters from his place on the ground.

Spider-Man jumps to the ground with an unnecessarily fancy flip. “Takes more than one shot to take me out. Nice try, though.”

Tinkerer’s eyes wandered for a moment, looking past the two of them. Jefferson followed his line of sight to a clock, mounted on the furthest wall.

“Guess we’ll just have to try again.” Tinkerer gave a toothy grin before inhaling and calling out, “IT’S SPIDER-MAN, HE’S H-- mmf!

He’s cut off with a glob of webbing.

“We have to get out of here, we don’t know who he was calling,” Jefferson says, already making strides to the stairway.

“Good call. Right behind-- uh oh.”

Spider-Man jumps back with a handspring as the far wall explodes outward in a blast of purple energy that looks horribly familiar. The scare is enough for Jefferson to trip on his own feet and fall behind the metal staircase. Launched in the opposite direction, Spider-Man sticks himself halfway up the first level's wall. Jefferson can't hold in a few quiet coughs in the cloud of gritty dust that rises from the debris that used to be a solid concrete partition. As the dust slowly clears, Jefferson peers out from under the stairs to see the massive, bulky silhouette stepping through the newly busted breach in the wall.

“The little Spider-Man? Here?" The deep, rumbling voice almost seems to shake the ground. It goes even deeper and more threatening as it goes on to say, "Can't wait for our rematch."

The Rhino comes into view, and Jefferson’s mind switches from ‘this isn’t going too bad’ to ‘things couldn’t be worse’ in a single, panicked heartbeat.

Rhino charges Spider-Man, who flips out of the way with ease. He swings his way through the warehouse’s new door, voice echoing out from the other room. “You’ll have to move faster than that!”

Rhino lets out an angry roar, following Spidey without thought. Jefferson knew what Spider-Man was trying to do: he was trying to keep Rhino from discovering Jefferson or stepping on one of the building’s two squishiest occupants.

Jefferson was done gawking from the sidelines. During their earlier fight, Spidey struggled because he couldn’t sting Rhino through his armor and couldn’t keep him down by webbing him up. Maybe Jefferson could use one of Tinkerer’s inventions to break down Rhino’s defences?

Making his way over to the shelves, Jefferson began to pull at the thick casing of webbing. The stuff was stronger than it looked, and he makes little headway, even as the ground shakes with every distant stomp of Rhino’s feet.

One particularly jarring thud has something clattering to the concrete floor of the spacious warehouse. Looking over, Jefferson recognizes it as the small gun-like weapon Spidey took from Tinkerer. The man in question mmmf’s angrily when he sees Jefferson run to pick up the weapon, seemingly trying to get the Rhino’s attention and alert him of Spider-Man’s ally. Luckily, Rhino seems to have the peripheral vision of a dog in a cone, and Jefferson attains the weapon with little trouble.

Next comes the obvious problem of landing a hit. Jefferson doesn't know what this weapon does; it could open a black hole for all he knew. But today’s theme seemed to be ‘making uncharacteristic gambles’ so, he keeps an eye out for an opening--

Spider-Man is flung through the crumbled remains of the partition, hitting the wall just behind Jefferson with a crack.

“You okay?” Jefferson manages to ask, even though his heart is currently seated in his mouth.

The only answer he gets is a muffled, “Ow.”

Jefferson doesn’t get a chance to answer back, interrupted by thundering footsteps. As Spidey works on peeling himself off the concrete, Jefferson takes the most grounding breath he can manage, planting himself in front of where Spider-Man is still digging himself out from the wall-crater. This also happens to place him in the path of the giant, charging figure, so he levels his mysterious weapon at it with hands that don't shake.

His aim is off. He knows before he pulls the trigger, he went way too low. The deafening blast that follows hits Rhino’s foot, and Jefferson expects he will barely stumble.

But instead, Rhino full-on trips, catching his fall with his knees and hands.

“Oh, wow! Nice shot, keep going!” Spidey says.

Jefferson doesn’t need to be asked twice, taking his shots at both of the sewer grate-sized hands on the ground. A hard substance bubbles out at the point of impact, fusing Rhino to the ground beneath and stopping him in his tracks.

Spidey's skinny shoulders drop about four inches as he relaxes with a long sigh, and Officer Davis finds himself following his lead, breathing out and letting adrenaline run its course. The short break is interrupted, however, with a guttural roar and an ear splitting crack.

“He’s breaking free!” Jefferson yells, raising his gun once more and aiming it at the Rhino’s single free leg.

“We gotta bring him down! Like, all the way down!” Spider-Man says, swinging forward. Without free hands, Rhino is helpless to stop the little spider from getting in his face. With an exaggerated, “Hey,” Spider-Man taps Rhino’s nose, and it’s over.

Or it should have been. The sting rockets through the supervillain's body with a flare of electricity, causing his arm to spasm violently enough to break free. Spider-Man tries to jump away before he’s squashed by the Rhino’s massive hand, but his own hands catch and he’s sent crashing into the already unsound wall behind them. Jefferson feels his stomach lurch when the impact causes the wall to crumble, and he loses sight of Spider-Man.

“Ah--” Jefferson curses, running to the wall and pausing only to fuse the rest of Rhino’s unresponsive form to the warehouse floor. “Spider-Man? Can you hear me? Spidey?”

There’s a light, crackling groan, and Jefferson follows it to where Spidey's arms and head are sticking out of the rubble like a stunned animal. “Spider-Man!”

“M’fine. I-- ouch-- just, give me a second.”

Jefferson’s limbs turn to jelly with relief when Spider-Man answers, waving his hand around as if to shoo away Jefferson’s worry.

“I’m fine, just gotta--” Spider-Man grunts as he pushes himself to his elbows, moving boulder sized rock with-- well, not with ease, but he was definitely moving it. Jefferson was pretty sure that it would take at least ten normal people to do the same thing, and Spidey was approximately the size of the average middle schooler.

After he makes it to a low crouch, he waves at Jefferson with one hand. “Okay, pull me out pull me out pullmeout -- ow!”

Jefferson doesn’t waste any time grabbing the arm, giving a sharp tug until Spidey lurches forward, safely out from beneath the concrete.

“You okay?” Jefferson asks, frantically searching for signs of injury, pulling him closer, patting down his twiggy arms. Spidey slaps his hands away, embarrassed, and Jefferson only backs up enough to give him an unimpressed look.

“I’m fine, I’m fine. Just, you know. Rocks.”

“You gave me a heart attack!” Jefferson pulls Spider-Man into a crushing hug.

“Ow!”

Less crushing. Jefferson tries to breath through the after effects of face-numbing worry and adrenaline, and hardly a few seconds go by before exhaustion hits him like a train and he’s slouched, holding the kid he almost lost.

His mouth moves without him telling it to, words rushing out like a leak, “I love you, son.”

The accidental words come out effortlessly, as if they had any business being able to come out so easily to this kid he met a couple weeks ago. As Spider-Man stiffens under his hold, pulling away, Jefferson can feel his vision warp and sway.

Similarities, hints, and coincidences line up and click into place, like the pieces of the world's craziest puzzle, like stars connecting into constellations to give them sense to the naked eye. The friendliness and the stickers and his brother and all the time spent away. The way his head only comes up to his sternum and how Jefferson's arms could wrap around him twice over with room left to spare. The pieces come together with the force of tectonic plates colliding, and the truth forces its way into his perception and his mind and up his throat in a strangled--

Miles?

Bug-eyes widen and stare up at him for a long moment, breath hitching before speeding up again. The spell is broken by the distant sound of sirens-- Jefferson realizes that more than an hour must have passed since he left Rio, and Rio is anything but unreliable.

Spider-Man is the first to move, and Jefferson scrambles when he hears the tell-tale pop!

“Wait!” He reaches out, grabbing at empty air and tugging when his hands catch at something. When he pulls back, he’s left with an empty glove, black spray-paint taunting with more he didn’t see.

“Miles?” Jefferson stands, looking for any hint of his son in the shadow of the warehouse. “Miles!”

He’s interrupted by the buzz of his phone in his pocket, and he nearly drops it in his haste to get to it.

Miles. The contact name bores into his eyes, and he can’t unlock his phone fast enough.

>Sorry, Dad. I think I need a minute. Meet you at home.

Jefferson has to blink back tears to answer.

>Okay. See you there.

Should he say something else? That Miles isn’t in trouble, that he loves him so much, that they would figure this whole mess out together?

Jefferson can’t finish his next message before the police arrive.


 

Jefferson fills Rio in on the car ride home. She doesn’t say much at first, listening with pursed lips and wavering eyes.

Once the news settles in, she only asks, “Why didn’t we know sooner?”

The question is more than fair. How could they not see their son in the mischievous, free-spirited wall crawler? The energy, the creativity, the spark present in both facets of Miles’ identity were so apparent-- his parents should have seen it. Jefferson should have known.

Or maybe part of Jefferson had known. How Miles’ Spider-Man so readily clung to him like static-- maybe Jefferson didn’t find it as strange as he should have because, on some level, he knew his role as father.

Miles is sitting at the kitchen table when they arrive home, his mask laid out on the wood surface and hoodie zipped over his uniform. He’s still wearing his other glove.

“Hey, Mom. Dad.” He’s messing with the first aid kit, in the middle of placing a band-aid on his right cheek.

¡Ay, bendito! Is it bad?” Rio asks, rushing over and grabbing at Miles’ face. “¿Dónde te duele?”

“No, I’m fine, I’m fine. Just tired.” Miles pulls her hand back, gently, and looks between her and Jefferson.

“Listen. I am… so sorry. I just-- after Uncle Aaron happened-- and I didn’t want to not be Spider-Man but I also didn’t want to lie but I didn’t know what would happen if I didn’t--!”

Miles is talking too fast, breathing too heavily, and there's a sheen in his eyes that turns Jefferson's heart into a sad, pulpy mess.

“Woah, woah, slow down,” Jefferson says. “This is a little...” His head bobs as he tries to search for the right words. It’s not like this scenario was covered in any of the parenting books on his shelves, chapter titled, ‘What to Do When Your Teenager Turns Out to be Spider-Man’ .

“This is a lot,” Jefferson amends. “This is...”

Jefferson has to take a seat.

As Jefferson rubs at his face, Rio takes her own seat, look far-off and thoughtful.

“You literally called him ‘Dad,’” she whispers, as Jefferson puts his head down.

“We’re the worst parents ever,” he groans into the table.

Miles begins to wave his hands around, shaking his head. “No! No, I mean? There are like a million kids I could’ve been! Why would you guess me?”

“The spray-painted suit?” Jefferson says, looking back up.

Rio adds, “Who says ‘I love you’ to someone they just met?”

“And…” Jefferson trails off a moment. “Aaron was close to that stuff. And you were close to Aaron.”

Miles’ expression falls. “I got bit. While I was with him.”

“When?”

“End of August.”

That was before Jefferson allowed his rules to loosen. All the trouble he went through to keep Miles safe and in-line, and he got bit by a super-spider anyway. Today was just full of bombshells.

What are we going to do? Jefferson thinks to himself. Rio actually says his thoughts out loud.

“I know, this is weird, and scary, and super un-normal,” Miles says. “But I made a promise. I won’t stop being Spider-Man.”

Stopping Spider-Man, supporting Miles, keeping his son safe, keeping his son happy-- unrelated goals suddenly clash to become mutually exclusive. Jefferson finds it hard to decide if that makes his job easier or a million times more difficult.

From tectonic plates pushed away by rules and expectations to stage performers keeping each other happy at the expense of honesty. Jefferson couldn’t let his relationship with Miles move backwards, but what could he do instead? Rejecting Spider-Man meant rejecting Miles, but accepting Spider-Man meant Miles was in danger.

There had to be something in the middle. A compromise between structure and freedom, safety and honesty.

Rio is the first to speak up after a longer silence. “I saw you on TV the other day. You saved three people from a house fire.”

Three people and a dog, Jefferson saw that too. Jefferson also saw Spider-Man take on Fisk to stop an earthquake from tearing the city apart. He saw Miles move against Rhino, against Tinkerer and Scorpion, because he cared about helping other people more than his own safety or the fact that he was so scared he couldn't relax enough to unstick himself when he had to. Miles did good, because it’s just what he was.

Jefferson and Rio exchange a long look.

“We’re going to have to rewrite the whole family rulebook,” Jefferson says, pulling out a black-and-red glove from his pocket and handing it to Miles.

Miles can’t seem to stop his eyes from misting as he pulls both his parents into a hug.


 

If you live in New York, you might have noticed there’s a new Spider-Man in town. It would be easy to brush him off as a copy and look at him the same way you always looked at Spider-Man in the past. But Peter Parker is gone, leaving the city in the hands of someone so much like him-- with his flashy moves and stark determination and penchant for attracting trouble like a magnet. But as time goes on, you’ll begin to spot the differences beyond just the spray-painted suit and extra powers. You might notice his insatiable need to place his mark on the world, branding every scene with a sticker, or the erratic, unpredictable way he swings around the city like the world was his playground and danger was his friend.

You might even notice he has help in the suit in a way Peter Parker never did, one certain police officer going out of his way to cheer him on, to hand him food in a bag and ruffle his head like the mask isn’t even there.

That Spider-Man’s name is Miles Morales. And for, like, two months, he’s been giving his one-and-only dad heart attacks before his curfew kicks in. But Miles knows his dad will be there anyway, cheering him on in and out of the mask. And he wouldn’t have it any other way.