Bricks collapsed as the villain’s body was thrown into the building, leaving dust and police sirens in the air. Peter waved his hand in front of his mouth and coughed.
“Nice kick,” he choked out. “Bit heavy on the twirls and pizzazz, but hey, we all start somewhere.”
Gwen set her hands on her hips and the eye lens on her suit narrowed. “I’ve been doing this for two years, Peter. I’m not new. Also, don’t think I didn’t notice those three flips— three— you did while actually arriving at the scene.”
“I’ve got twenty years of experience on you, kiddo. I think I’m allowed a little fun.”
She rolled her eyes and turned on her heel to walk away. Peter casually speedwalked to catch up to her, hands resting behind his head.
“So, how’re you?” he asked. “It’s been a while since we’ve seen each other. That whole deal with the, uh, colliding worlds and such.”
Gwen shrugged and shoved her hands in her pockets. “Same as usual, I guess.” She paused. “Do you think this is going to be the norm now?”
“Just- you know.” She waved behind them, where police were cleaning up the scene and handcuffing the villain. “Interdimensional crime. Losers trying to take over other universes just because they can’t get a foothold in their own.”
Peter glanced over to her and raised an eyebrow. “Well, probably. Since it’s been brought up as a possibility ever since Kingpin. Hey, maybe it’s just all like Halloween now- the thing with the, uh, the thin veil between worlds, except it’s a thin veil between dimensions.”
“Sure,” Gwen snorted. “That sounds scientifically sound. Thanks for the hypothesis, Dr. Spider-Man.”
“It’s possible,” Peter protested weakly. “Actually, before I have to leave—got my own dimensional duties back at my place, you know, very difficult work, much too advanced for you-”
“Back to grovelling at MJ’s feet?”
“-I’ll have you know we are on very good terms and talking about hanging out again—anyway, wanna grab a quick bite to eat? My treat. Actually I never keep money on me, never figured out where to put the pockets on this thing, plus the inflation here could be real bad. Your treat?”
Gwen laughed and punched him in the arm, making Peter wince and rub at his bicep.
“Sure, but you owe me. There’s a mexican food truck just down the way, and they have great burri-”
Two hands grabbed her shoulders and spun her around until she met two wide eyes.
“Don’t–” Peter said softly, “–eat burritos.”
She stared at him blankly. His hands tightened until she brushed them off.
“I’m serious,” he told her. “Do you know what burritos do to you? Do you know what they do to your body?”
“They tear you up.” Behind the white lens, his eyes were wide, pupils shrunk, darting back and forth across her mask. “Listen to me, Gwen. I know my stuff. I'm going to give you some advice. You cannot eat burritos while wearing the suit. It's just not a good idea. You-”
“-you're gonna need to go to the bathroom seconds after you finish the damn thing, and then what do you do? Where are you going to find a bathroom in the ten seconds before Niagara Falls floods out-”
“That is the most disgusting thing I've heard.”
“-and even if there's, I don't know, a particularly tempting bush nearby, it'll take you ten minutes minimum to peel out of your spandex without hitting all the wrong pressure points.”
“Peter,” Gwen said firmly, pushing his hands off her shoulders, “I’m not- I’ve been doing this for two years. I can take off the suit in three seconds.”
She distantly wondered why, out of all things, that was the part she decided to mention. Maybe it was just the other issues she could bring up were too nonsensical, or too gross for her to want to discuss.
“No amount of experience can prevent a natural disaster when you hit the wrong spot,” Peter told her very seriously.
Gwen stared at him blankly. Then, very slowly, she put her head in her hands.
“Trust me, kid.” Peter patted her back comfortingly. “Just skip over the burritos. No one wants to lose control in their pants. Though- uh, looks like we can’t really go eat anywhere, considering the concerning rate at which the portal to my world is closing. Talk to you later, Gwen!”
Long after he had left, a police officer approached Gwen with apprehension, since she hadn’t moved for a good two minutes. He carefully stuck a finger out and poked her. When she didn’t react, he relaxed and tried to poke her again.
His hand was caught in a crushing grip. Gwen shot him a glare, and he shivered.
“Don’t,” she said softly, “do that again.”
Whether she was talking to the police officer or the world in general was still in question.
Before the other Spider-People had to go back to their own dimensions, Miles decided to exchange contact information with the ones that had phones. Phone numbers, Discord handles, emails- either they didn’t exist, or they belonged to someone else. They even tried Telegram after some desperation, but that was also a dead end.
Finally, while sitting on Aunt May’s couch, Peter had one last suggestion: Skype.
The moment he said that word, Gwen, Miles, and Peni all recoiled. Skype was a constant. There was no better or worse version of Skype across dimensions; for all of them, it worked enough that they had accounts, but it was always too frustrating to actually use.
By all means, Skype should have been the last thing to work. It was too buggy. They could barely contact people in their own dimension. After Miles was back in his dorm, with Kingpin defeated, he took out his phone and absentmindedly sent a message to the Skype handle Gwen gave him, then immediately passed out.
When he woke up and checked his notifications, he practically squeaked to see that Gwen had messaged back.
They had been chatting for a few weeks before Gwen had seen Peter again.
“And he just- he said there will be a… a natural disaster?” Gwen whispered incredulously.
“Why are you being so quiet,” Miles whispered back.
“Because this is something that no one should hear.”
Miles sighed. “And yet you still tell it to me.”
“Yeah, I mean- someone’s gotta know. And I feel like he’ll try to go after you next. This is a warning.”
He turned to lay on his side. The phone was propped up against the guard railing of the bunk bed, giving him a great view of Gwen's bedroom ceiling.
“I dunno, Gwen,” he said. “Peter’s a loser, but he’s not stupid. Once I saw him memorize a series of random letters and numbers just by watching someone type in a keyboard. Maybe you should take his advice?”
The view on his screen changed when Gwen turned it so he could see her disappointed expression. “His advice was to not eat burritos while wearing the suit.”
“Then don’t eat burritos while wearing the suit.”
“Oh my god, it’s-” She huffed so her cheeks puffed out. “What would you do if he tried to give you advice like that?”
“I’d say okay until he shut up,” Miles replied without hesitation.
“...You got me there.”
He rolled to lay on his back again. Gwen sighed loudly enough to crackle the speaker, and Miles heard Ganke shift on the bottom bunk.
“Careful,” he stage-whispered, “my roommate’s still asleep. You might wake him up.”
“I mean- it’s so stupid. Why did he have to tell me that? In the middle of the street? It was so gross.”
Miles shrugged, even though he knew Gwen couldn’t see it. “I don’t know. Maybe he just wants to impart his hard-earned knowledge? He probably had to figure a lot of stuff out when he first started wearing the suit.”
For a few seconds, he got no response. His muscles tensed as the thought of, oh, Gwen has been Spider-Woman for two years, there was a lot of stuff she had to figure out by herself too, seeped like ice through his mind.
She cleared her throat and told him quietly, “Yeah. You're right. I guess I technically understand his intentions, but it was just so... disgusting , and I kind of felt babied by it.”
“Maybe you should feel babied. You're, like, 14. When was the last time you let an adult take care of you?”
“I don’t- who cares.” Whoops, that was definitely annoyance in her voice. Miles’ stomach churned, face hot from shame. “Well, whatever. It’s fine. I’ll talk to you later, Miles.”
The call ended. Ganke snored. There was an insistent pressure behind Miles’ eyes, and he sniffled.
That was stupid of him. The conversation started out fun- complaining about Peter doing weird things never went wrong before. What made him try and tell Gwen that he was worried about her? That even though she’s trying to make more friends, getting more involved with her bandmates and the other Spider-People, he still didn’t know what her parents were like? Who was taking care of her?
Miles rolled onto his stomach and shoved his face in his pillow. His eyes burned, but he refused to let himself cry. It wasn’t a big enough deal. Friends got annoyed at each other sometimes. Gwen would call him back tomorrow and act normal.
After that thought, his phone ringed. Speak of the devil.
He blindly reached over and patted his mattress until he found it. With ease of practice, he answered the call without looking.
“Hey, kid, I heard you, uh- wait, are you crying?”
Miles lifted his head to glare at his phone, where Peter's nose filled the entire screen.
“I'm not crying,” he said petulantly. His voice was muffled with snot and his eyes were rimmed red.
The image shifted until Miles could see a single eye, which stared at him disbelievingly. “Sure, kid. You’re convincing me.”
“I’m not. Why’d you call, anyway?”
“Ah, I just heard- never mind.” The sound of nails on stubble crackled the speaker as Peter scratched his chin. “Did I ever tell you about, uh, the baby powder? And the chaffing?”
Miles snorted wetly. “Yeah, you did. You definitely did.”
“Good, because that’s important information you don’t want to learn the hard way. But I think there was another thing along those lines I forgot to tell you, so I want you to look me in the eyes-”
“I can barely see your face, Peter.”
“God- just-” There were shuffling sounds. The screen went completely dark. Peter’s face reappeared in full view, eyebrows scrunched together in concentration. “Does this work? Can you see me now?”
“Great, now look me in the eyes and promise me that you’ll never use vegetable oil.”
This time, Miles belted out full-on laughter that he quickly covered with a hand. “Never- what?”
“You heard me. Never use vegetable oil. Now, I know it can get tempting, what with how hard the suit can be to shimmy on sometimes, but trust me-”
“Oh my god.”
“-and don’t—no interruptions—don’t use vegetable oil as a form of lubricant. It’s a terrible idea. Your skin will break out.”
Ganke groaned loudly. Miles tried to stop laughing. He ended up choking on his own breath.
“Stop dying. Anyway. You’re going to get a lot of acne in a lot of places and the people are going to call you Pimple Peter. Just an example, not based on reality. Definitely not. Stop laughing, this is a serious matter.”
Miles wheezed loudly. The bottom bunk creaked, and Ganke sleepily said, “Whaaa...?”
Hurriedly turning down the volume on his phone, Miles waved at Peter to be quiet and whispered, “Sorry, just uh- just watching a funny video. Go back to sleep.”
A second later, there were snores.
“Before I got so rudely interrupted,” Peter continued, “I was also going to mention that the clean up is impossible. Stop groaning. You can’t clean the suit after ruining it with vegetable oil. You’re going to have to scrap it and that’s a huge waste of spandex. Trust me, you can’t replace that shi- wait. How old are you? Twelve? I can’t swear in front of a twelve year old.”
“I’m thirteen,” Miles told him indignantly.
“Oh my god.” Peter’s eyes widened and his mouth hung open. “I was joking. Exaggerating. You’re thirteen? Holy shi- wait, fu- oh my god. I need to stop myself. Uh- just remember, kid: baby powder, not vegetable oil. And stay in school. Don’t do drugs.”
He fumbled with his phone, and Miles saw a blur of dark beige and peach as Peter tried to hang up. It took a few seconds of muffled swears and furious tapping noises until the phone disconnected.
“Damn,” Miles whispered into his pillow. “Should’ve listened to Gwen.”
“Wha- Miles?” Ganke said, yawning. “Stop talking so loud. You’re too young to say such bad words.”
Without another word, he rolled over and fell back asleep.
Peter flopped back onto the concrete roof, gravel crunching beneath him. “God, sometimes I think things like wow I haven’t seen Doc Ock in a while, wonder how he’s doing, maybe I’ll run into him and we can have a fun bout of fisticuffs like old times, but I always end up remembering why I’m glad to see him in jail.”
Miles collapsed face down next to him, getting a faceful of gravel in the process. “Is Doc Ock usually a man? Or is that just your universe?”
“I’d like to think that it’s at least two universes that he’s a man, considering that the Doc Ock we just fought didn’t belong to mine.”
“Wouldn’t there be slightly more women Doc Ocks than men?” Miles turned his head toward Peter, rubbing dust all over his mask. “Considering that while, technically, there is as equal of a chance for there to be as many men as there are women, about 51% of the world population is women, so would 51% of all Doc Ocks in existence to be women?”
Peter shrugged. His shoulders made grating sounds on the concrete. “That presumes that in an infinite amount of universes there is a finite amount to count. I don’t think we are allowed to put percentages on these things.”
“Does that also mean that we can’t presume to think that there is an equal amount of men and women Doc Ocks?”
“Uuuuuuugh,” Peter groaned, rubbing his hands on his face. “I don’t know. I’m making this all up. I have no idea how infinities work, kid, don’t make me pretend to know answers.”
Miles snickered tiredly, then fell silent. His muscles ached. His suit was ripped. There was a numb area right around his ribs and back, where he got punched into a wall, and he was afraid that he might be regretting that later.
He sighed. “Well, I better start heading home. Don’t want to miss curfew.”
As he stood up, Peter chimed, “Don’t want to miss the closing of your dimensional rift either.”
Miles nudged him with his foot. “You don’t want to miss the closing of your dimensional rift.”
“Eh.” He waved a hand. “I’ll get to it. Didn’t you have a curfew? Get to bed, young man.”
“If you say so,” Miles said with a shrug. “See you later, Beter-”
“The B. does not stand for Beter.”
“-yeah, whatever.” He walked to the edge of the building, and whipped a hand out to shoot a web. It flew two feet forward and flopped five stories to the ground. He tried again, with worse results.
Miles whined. “Gosh darn it.”
“Hey now, don’t go saying any swears around here.” Peter sat up. “What’s going on?”
“I’m out of web fluid again.” He took a step back away from the ledge and went to pace the length of the rooftop. “This stuff is so expensive to make when you can’t get a job.”
Peter shrugged. “It’s not really inexpensive even when you do have a job, but I guess that depends on the kind of job you have.”
“It’s just- I asked my parents for money a few times, but then they started asking me what I needed it for, and I panicked and said ice cream once so I don’t think I can keep doing that.” He started trying to tug his hair through the mask, stretching the spandex and getting it to ride uncomfortably high on his chin. “This is so annoying. I’m just going to... I don’t know. Set up a Go-Fund-Me for web fluid so I don’t have to keep mowing lawns.”
Peter stood up and cracked his back, saying with a grunt, “Well, I know how it can be—I had to deal with problems like that too, you know, though I don’t think inflation is quite as bad in my world—and let me tell you, looking back on it, I have no idea how I managed through my teenage years.”
The man walked over and tugged Miles mask off, ignoring the “Hey!” to ruffle his hair.
“That’s not something I’d wish on anyone,” he continued with his lips quirked up. “Let me give you some advice, kid-”
Miles groaned loudly and slumped his shoulders.
“Hey, this is actual advice- not, uh, not that the stuff I told you before wasn’t true. I give great advice, actually, I don’t deserve this reaction. So, here’s my advice.” Peter set a hand on Miles’ shoulder. “Ask Aunt May for help.”
He nodded decisively, but Miles stared on in horror.
“I can’t do that,” he said.
“Why not?” Peter asked.
“It’s just- okay, I guess it makes sense, since Aunt May was the one who gave me the suit and the web-slingers in the first place, but- Peter, I can’t just barge into her home and ask for more stuff. I’d die. I’d literally die.” He looked ready to collapse back on the ground.
Peter shrugged and scratched his chin. “Nah, I don’t think she’d mind. She’d actually love to help you.”
Miles stared up at him, eyebrows drawn together and worrying at his lip. “I don’t know. Are you sure? I mean- it’s been, like, half a year I guess, but her nephew just died. I don’t want to take his stuff from her.”
“Yes, I’m sure she wouldn’t mind.” He collapsed on his butt, crossed his legs, and patted the ground next to him. Miles obligingly sat back down. “See, her nephew’s Spider-Man, right? Well, was Spider-Man. The nephew part was most important to her, but I know she’ll always want to help all the Spider-People out there too. Why else would she take in a bunch of different Parkers and Porkers when they didn’t know where else to go?”
“I... guess that makes sense?” Miles scratched his head. “I dunno. I still don’t want to barge in unannounced, but maybe I can make... cookies? Can I bring cookies? I only ever baked cookies with my mom.”
Peter nudged his shoulder with his own. “Trust me: it’s fine. Give her cookies if you want to, I guess, but she’d also be happy to see Blonde Peter’s stuff put to good use.”
“Stop calling him Blonde Peter,” Miles said.
“What else am I supposed to call him? Being blonde was his distinguishing feature.”
Miles hesitated. “Once, uh- once I heard Peni call him RIPeter.”
Peter froze. His expression went blank. Slowly, his hands came up to cover his face, and he screamed, sound muffled by his palms.
“Sorry,” Miles said.
“It’s fine. You’re fine.” He took a few deep breaths and scrubbed his face. The spandex of his mask squeaked. “It’s- I shouldn’t say that it’s funny, should I? It’s a bit morbid. Poor Peter- RIPeter- god I will never be able to call him anything other than that.”
“Sorry,” Miles said again.
Peter blindly waved a hand at him. “Don’t be sorry. You’re doing great. Just visit Aunt May, alright? Here-” he shoved a bottle into Miles’ chest, and he scrambled to hold it, “-I always keep a refill of web fluid on me. You should probably start trying to do that too. Anyway. Don’t miss your curfew, it was nice seeing you, and, uh, do your homework?”
As he stood up to jump off the roof, Miles heard him mutter, “Yeah, kids should do homework, that was a good thing to say, you did great Peter.”
Peter slung off back to his home, and Miles pulled out his phone to look up cookie recipes.
“Oh,” Aunt May said. “You didn’t- you didn’t have to do this.”
She seemed sincere. Miles didn’t blame her. He sheepishly lowered the plate of blackened cookies from where he presented them, smiling nervously.
“Yeah,” he said. “I’ve never really baked anything myself before? I mean, I’ve made spaghetti, but never cookies, and I think I left them in too long.”
“That’s why you need to use a timer,” she told him helpfully.
“Thanks,” he said blandly.
She stepped aside and gestured for him to walk in. He did so with trepidation, clutching the cookies to his chest as a lifeline.
“So, did you want these?” Miles asked. His voice was squeakier than it usually was. “You can keep the plate. It's actually a paper plate. You can throw it away- or recycle it? I think you can recycle paper plates. Do you recycle?”
Aunt May smiled at him and directed him to the kitchen table. “Don't tell anyone, but I actually don't recycle. It's too much of a hassle.”
He set his plate on the table and set his hands in his lap, wringing them together.
“Anyway, Miles,” she said, “not that I’m not happy to see you, but is there a reason you decided to visit?”
“Um,” he said. His palms were sweaty. He got struck with the sudden fear that Aunt May somehow knows his palms are sweaty. “I kind of got a question?”
Miles cleared his throat. “Okay. So. I’ve kind of been having problems with my web fluid? Or I’ve been having problems with not having any web fluid. And, uh—Other-Peter said this was a good idea, so if you don’t want to give me any more of your stuff I think that’s A-okay and you should blame him for it—but... is there anything that R- your Peter left that I can use? Like. Web fluid, for example.”
Aunt May leaned back in her chair and crossed her arms. “Well, I admit I’m not sure if that stuff has a shelf life, but there is quite a lot of it in the basement. You can take as much as you need; I have no use for it.”
His shoulders slumped; he didn’t even notice how tense he was until he relaxed. “Thank you so much. You are literally saving my life.”
“Don’t mention it,” she waved off. “Would you have even stopped by if Peter didn’t tell you to, or would you have just kept trying to make it yourself? I know my Peter had to get a part-time job just to support his vigilantism, though I didn’t exactly know it at the time. You’re not old enough to even do that.”
“Yeah.” Miles rubbed his neck sheepishly. “I kind of almost didn’t come by, even after he told me to. Peter has said some really weird things before, so sometimes I don’t really know whether to believe him or if he’s just... joking.”
“Well, let me give you some advice,” Aunt May said. “Peter’s always been pretty ridiculous, I can give you that. But he’s still a smart guy. He usually knows what he’s talking about. Now-”
She stood up, and went to a cabinet, pulling out flour, sugar, and chocolate chips.
“Let’s see if I can teach you how to make chocolate chip cookies without burning them.”
The sewers were a nasty place. Even villains usually avoided them unless they had to make a quick getaway, and so far Gwen has been lucky enough to have never visited the sewers.
But the one time Peter B. Parker decides to make a social visit, he accidentally brings an eight-foot-tall reptile man along with him. Gwen’s read comics. She knows crocodiles live in sewers. Having to fight in them was inevitable, and it was all Peter’s fault, no matter how many time he said he didn’t know where the crocodile man came from.
“I don’t even know his name!” Peter yelled, zipping to the ceiling to avoid snapping teeth. “Stop blaming me for this!”
“My name is Harold!” the crocodile man- Harold- yelled back. “I’ve said this five times! Stop ignoring my witty banter, Spider-Man!”
Gwen shot out a web and caught his arm, pulling back to stop him from punching Peter. “Your banter isn’t witty, Harold! It’s just small talk with a weird vibe!”
Harold roared, spittle flying in her face. She ducked under a fist, twisted on one foot, and this situation was a bit too familiar and-
-a fist caught her ribs and she slammed into the wall.
It felt like she blacked out for maybe a second, but the next time she opens her eyes Peter was kneeling in front of her and patting her cheek.
“Are you okay?” he asked. “Harold’s down now, about to be taken off by police- who I guess are going to have to hand him off to the police in my world.”
Gwen tried to sit up and hissed, a sharp burning pain stabbing at her side. “I’m... fine.”
“Yeah, uh huh, no you’re not. Let me see.”
He gently felt along her ribs, stopping when she whimpered. Another soft press on her left side and she felt her eyes water.
“Sorry,” he said. “Just wanted to make sure nothing’s broken. Good news is I think you only have a cracked rib- only thing to do about that is get some rest and try not to aggravate it for the next day or two.”
She nodded. Peter twisted and sat next to her, feet flat on the ground and elbows on his knees.
“So, what happened back there?” he asked. “You’re usually pretty good about kicking butt. Not that you weren’t this time, but, uh, you did get a bit... stiff.”
Her chest ached. She wanted to draw her knees up, cross her arms and bury her face, but a cracked rib meant she just leaned back against the wall and stared up to the ceiling.
“I don’t know,” she told him. “It just... it just kind of reminded me of Peter, I guess.”
“You mean m- oh. Oooooooh.” Gwen could see the gears turning in his mind, how some giant reptilian man might remind her of a Peter. “Yeah, I uh. I understand now.”
“Yeah, sorry it’s stupid, I know. It’s already been a couple of years. I should be over it.” She brought her right hand up to cover her eyes. “I know I should stop freezing up at random times, but- I was about to do this, like, upper kick while pushing off the ground, right? And I did the same to him. But like... I use that move all the time. There is no reason for me to freak out like that.
Peter didn’t say anything for a few moments. But then there was an arm around her shoulder, comfortingly squeezing without jostling her ribs.
“I get that, kid. Trauma- you’re in high school, right?- trauma is hell. There’s no rhyme or reason to it, and there are things you can do to make it better, but that doesn’t mean you should hate yourself for needing to make it better in the first place.”
Gwen sniffed. She used the hand that was already covering her eyes to rub at her nose through the mask. “You know, when you say stuff like that, you kind of remind me of him sometimes.”
Peter shrugged. “Well, he was some other version of me, right? I’d expect to bear some resemblance to him.”
She turned her head to stare at him critically. “I mean, you look nothing like him. Like, not at all. You’re an old man, and also he had a nice face and didn’t hang out with raccoons all day. You look more like an uncle that never picks up trash and doesn’t own a vacuum.”
“Wow, thanks,” Peter deadpanned.
“I mean, maybe if he got older and had no faith in the world he could’ve been a little like you,” she mused. “...But he was supportive, and my best friend. And I guess he’d give good advice sometimes.”
Peter moved to ruffle her hair, only succeeding in knocking off her hood and tangling the strands under her mask.
“Glad I could help, kid,” he said fondly.
Miles jerked awake, panting and sweating and having the fading vision of someone pointing a gun to his head. He leaned forward, hands cupping his chest, and set his forehead on his knees.
He could feel his heart beating, so strong it seemed like if he moved his hands it would tear out of his chest and fall to his mattress. It was almost something he wished for; feeling his heart so thoroughly wasn’t something he appreciated.
Knowing from experience that he wouldn’t be falling back asleep that night, he crawled out from bed—careful not to wake his roommate—and put on his Spider-Man suit. Jumping out the window and quietly swinging away was a practiced maneuver.
Finding muggers and robbers was easy too, but in recent weeks, subduing them had been harder. After getting five new bruises and a headache to nurse until morning, Miles decided to take a rest on a rooftop.
Being Spider-Man... had been getting really hard. There was one guy who had been trying to break into a house, and when Miles landed in front of him, he said... something. Something he couldn’t even remember.
It was something that made him think Uncle Aaron would’ve said that and it gave the robber enough time to bash him in the head with the butt of a gun. Things like that had been happening more and more often, with the grounding realization that he would never see his uncle again.
One time, in school, an apple fell on the ground and someone jumped on it. It made a sickening crunch, juice spewing everywhere, and for the next five minutes Miles forgot he wasn’t hiding behind a pile of rubble, listening to Spider-Man’s skull get bashed in. It made him late for class, piling on to the missing schoolwork and missed curfews. His teacher pulled him aside two days ago to ask him if he was trying to get himself expelled again.
Miles didn’t know what to do. He couldn’t sleep, couldn’t think, his thoughts were filled with these dead people and growing fuller with the things he sees stopping crime in the streets. His mom called him the other day, asked him how he was feeling, and he wanted to talk to her but there was too much he couldn’t say.
He hugged his legs and rested his chin on his knees. It was getting closer to spring, so the night was a balmy 45 °F. His phone was in his pocket; there were a lot of people he could call. His dad would be happy to hear from him, no matter the time.
Instead, Miles pulled it out, navigated to Skype, and called Peter. He waited for two minutes until he got an answer.
“Guh,” Peter said. He wiped drool off his chin. “Bit early, isn’t it?”
“So, how's Aunt May been doing? You been keeping up with her? She's not actually my Aunt May, you don't have to answer that if you don't want to.”
“Yeah, uh. Actually.” He cleared his throat. “Could I ask you a question?”
“Sure thing. I'm a fountain of knowledge.”
He cleared his throat again, even though it made his head throb more. “How did you cope with the whole... death thing? With your Uncle Ben?”
Peter didn't answer at first. Miles started to regret asking, then Peter said, “Hang on for a moment.”
The call ended. He sat in tense silence, bruises sore and head hurting too much to think.
Peter B. Parker landed gracefully next to him, collapsing roughly. His face was bare and his shoes didn’t match.
“So, Miles, what were you saying before?” he asked. “About coping with death?”
And that question- despite everything else, despite the cracked bones and detention and flashbacks- that was the thing that made him break down.
He tore his mask off, tears already running down his cheeks, telling Peter that he wasn’t doing well in school even though he was trying, that his parents have been calling him every day, that criminals have been getting more and more hits in and his sleep schedule was nonexistent. Peter sat by, listening, rubbing his back through it all.
“And I- I don’t know what to do,” Miles finished, voice cracking. “I want to feel better but- I don’t know how to and it seems impossible and I don’t know how much longer I can keep doing this.”
He rubbed his face roughly. His gloves were harsh and probably leaving marks, but they soaked up the wetness well enough.
Peter’s hand grabbed his shoulder. “Miles, listen to me. I’m going to help you all I can right now, okay? But you need to tell your parents about this- some of it, at least. Tell them that you saw Peter Parker die in that earthquake, or that you’re having serious problems getting over your uncle’s death. They’ll get you actual help, alright? I know they will.”
Miles nodded. His chest felt a bit lighter, though nothing had actually been fixed. He couldn’t stop the worry, though. That if he told his parents anything they’d figure him out, and that the “actual help” Peter mentioned was a therapist, which sounded even riskier.
“I don’t know,” he finally said. “I- I want to. But I’m not sure if I can.”
“I understand,” Peter told him. His arm draped across Miles’ shoulders, hugging him close. “I’m not a professional, though. I know my Aunt May would’ve gotten me a therapist after my Uncle Ben got shot if she was able, let me tell you that. I kind of still wish that I talked to someone at the time. It might’ve saved me a lot of grief.”
Miles snorted, then immediately regretted it when snot shot out of his nose. Peter handed him a tissue.
“Where’d you get tissues from?” he asked nasally.
“I came prepared,” Peter answered.
Peter was still hugging him. Miles leaned into the contact. The wind was blocked, so the cold night air felt a bit warmer.
“Thanks for everything.”
“I’ll always try to be here when you need me, Miles. Remember that.”