It goes a little like this:
Johnny punches his time card at seven on the dot because a) he’s fucking punctual like that and b) the Subway he works at still uses time cards like it’s nineteen fifty-two or something. Absolutely ridiculous, but whatever, it’s a job.
Not that he needs one, except Reed had totally insisted on account of Johnny was buying way too many pairs of Air Jordans and ‘sPenDinG iRrEsPonSibLy’ or whatever the fuck.
So Johnny gets to waste four to eight hours standing behind a greasy counter flecked with lettuce bits, staring at the door and waiting for some kind of natural disaster to occur that’ll let him get off work early—like an earthquake or a really bad fire or something. Not anything that would hurt anyone, but maybe something just terrible enough that the possibility is there and they’d have to evacuate or something.
Man, how nice would that be?
Johnny’s boss, who’s actual legal good Christian name is Chad, is a complete douche.
He’s made a hobby out of randomly snapping at Johnny for things he has no control over, or for standing around when there’s literally nothing to do and no customers to serve. Like, Johnny is fast, okay? He makes the subs quick and restocks like no other and mops like a fucking beast. No speckle or smear or crumb can escape him.
The one saving grace—the Virgil to Johnny’s Dante, his mentor and angel and adopted weird aunt—is Miss Jean.
Jean is probably fifty years old. She’s definitely less than five feet tall, and she’s platinum blond in that ‘I sit in the sun so long I turn into human jerky’ way. Johnny’s favorite thing about Jean, however, is the private concert he gets every shift he shares with her.
Jean absolutely belonged on Broadway. She would’ve played a mean Dolly in Hello, Dolly! or something. No, Johnny doesn’t know theater. Not even a little.
It’s just… He had a phase, okay? It’s over. It’s very over. He’s not that boy anymore.
Anyway, Jean is the most dramatic person Johnny has ever had the honor of knowing. She’s the type to flip her hair over her shoulder and call him, “Sweetie,” and then follow that up with “that sweater does not go with your eyes. That shade of grey makes you look like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, baby.”
One time she offered him something that looked like a listerine tab and asked if he wanted to trip with her. He’s still not sure if she was joking.
She carries a bouquet of Tootsie Pops tied together with a scrunchie in the front pocket of her apron. “Sustenance,” she says when she gives one to Johnny. The sugar from the one lollipop is his crutch, his prayer, the whisper of nutriment that carries him through the shift.
He loves Jean. He stays strong for her.
Jean has her elbows on the counter as she listens to a customer rattle off an order.
“And add olives, and um, carrots? And extra swiss.”
“Baby,” says Jean, “I will not make that sandwich for you. Turkey and salami? And carrots? And honey mustard? No. No, I won’t do that to a person. That’s cruel and unusual.”
The customer stares at her for a long minute like his brain is short circuiting.
This shit is the reason Johnny hates his job so much. Well, this and Chad. And to be here on Halloween of all days, the holiest time of the year? God, why had he agreed to pick up Marie’s stupid shift so she could babysit her kid? Why does he have to be so kind-hearted and gracious?
“I’ll just get provolone and turkey, then,” the dude says, and Jean rings him up with a disappointed tut.
“One white people sandwich,” she says to Johnny, who snorts and starts slapping it together.
“Toasted at least?”
She looks at the guy waiting in line like she’s trying to figure out what to write for his obit, the poor soul. “No.”
“What a shame.”
“Tell me about it.”
It’s as he’s throwing together the blandest sandwich known to man, and Jean slips out to take her smoke break, that a group of teenagers walks in.
This in itself is not unusual. If one were to take a survey, they would find that Subway’s biggest consumers are stoned teens and lonely middle-aged white dudes in khaki shorts and bucket hats who make dad jokes that Johnny has no patience for, like, “I’ll take a Long Island iced tea.”
What the fuck is Johnny supposed to say to that?
These kids are all dressed up though and it’s because of the costumes that Johnny doesn’t recognise one of them for two whole seconds.
And then he does.
And he squeaks.
Johnny drops the tongs he’s holding and ducks behind the counter, covering his mouth with his hand. Then he scrambles to pull his phone out of his pocket. He pulls up Jean’s contact.
I need you to come back inside and take this customer’s order
Jean I cannot be seen by them
The gravity of the situation you don’t understand
If I were to be spotted—
the mortifying ordeal of being KNOWN?
just eat the cigarette there’s no time
COUNTING CRUMPLED ONES IN THE BACK
It’s too late; Jean doesn’t reply quick enough because she texts with one actual finger and one of Them rings the bell up front. “Um, is anyone back here—? Oh, hey. Why are you on the floor?”
“Hmm? I’m not on the floor.”
They stare at each other.
The girl—who is wearing like, the coolest Princess Leia costume Johnny has ever seen in his whole life—blinks. Then she says, “Okay...?”
Johnny sighs. He stashes his phone and crawls over, careful not to stand up so he will not be seen by the Luke to her Leia (and God, oh God, what does that mean? Are they dating? Is she his girlfriend? How is Johnny supposed to go on knowing this information? How is he supposed to function with this dilapidating depression making his stomach all heavy and his thoughts all dark? Oh, sweet death, mercy upon him—)
“So what can I get for you?” he whispers.
Fake Leia looks at him like he’s on literal crack which, like, understandable. “Uh, just—a meatball sub, a steak & provolone, two veggie delights and then,” she rolls her eyes and says, “one ham and swiss on french bread with mustard and pickles, smushed down real flat.”
Johnny enters the order. “Any drinks?”
“Uh,” she leans back, “hey assholes, what do you want to drink?”
They all shout back different sodas, each of which Johnny punches in as fast as possible so they can both End This. “Fifteen seventy five,” he whispers.
Fake Leia hands over a twenty. Johnny hands back her change.
“Thanks,” Leia says dryly. She seems, generally, pretty dry. Johnny bets one of the veggie delights is hers. On another note, dry is like, best case scenario right now. He, for example, is not dry. His armpits are swimming pools for mosquitoes. He is a stress sweater like no other. God, he hopes they can’t smell him from across the room. That would be so grievously bad.
Leia goes back to her group of friends. They consist of: a Chewy who looks more like the failed first character design for Bear in the Big Blue House, a pointy-hatted witch, some sort of fedora-wearing whip-wielding someone, and fucking Luke Skywalker.
Johnny is internally screaming. Just screeching so violently and loudly; a guttural yelling from the deep cesspool that is his stomach.
Johnny starts making the sandwiches. He’s roasting bread like a speed racer and spreading mustard like a fucking prodigy. Bobby Flay wishes he made a sub like Johnny does.
The back door opens and Jean comes in smelling like she literally caught on fire.
“Did you actually eat it?” Johnny demands hoarsely. His voice? Gone. His dignity? In a pit somewhere.
“Pretty close,” says Jean. She pulls on a clean pair of gloves and checks the orders on the receipt, and then dives right into helping put them together. “So what’s the four-one-one on Barnum, Bailey, and the dancing bear over there?”
Johnny exhales hysterically. “I simply cannot be seen by the one in the tunic. I simply cannot.”
“Why, is he an ex or something?”
“Or something,” Johnny says, applying unnecessary force with the sandwich presser. He bets the pickle sandwich is for Him. He seems extra enough to have a very specific order like that. Fuck him. Johnny’s brain is that scene from Spongebob where the mini Spongebobs in Spongebob’s brain are running around and trashing all the filing cabinets of his memories.
The Demonic Space Boy looks over his shoulder.
Johnny looks down as quickly as he can, cheeks flaring hot.
“Your hair is smoking, baby,” Jean mutters, cutting a sandwich in half.
“Shit.” Johnny pats it out, trying to hide his face behind his shoulder.
Luke Skywalker approaches the counter with an expression that says he’s sat in the nastiest, grodiest gum on the subway.
Johnny does his absolute best to feign innocence. “Was there something wrong with your fountain drink, sir?”
“My drink?” Spidey asks, and then laughs hysterically. “My drink? Well yeah actually, it’s totally flat, but what else can you expect from a Subway? No, good sir, my complaint is to do with your face.”
“Now hang on just a second—” Jean starts to say, all defensive like a mama bear, but Johnny jumps in front of her.
“My face? What about your face? You think you can just waltz into this fine establishment where I happen to work like it’s no big deal?”
Spidey scoffs. “I’ve literally counted eight cockroaches since I walked in.”
Johnny wouldn’t be surprised if that wasn’t even an exaggeration. Sometimes he’ll snap his fingers to summon a little flame and Jean’ll get the air freshener from the bathrooms, and they’ll literally just roast the roaches for fun in their free time. He sniffs regardless because Spidey doesn’t know that. “Says a lot about you that you’re still willing to eat here.”
“You’re stalking me,” Spidey replies with narrowed eyes.
Johnny has to snort. “Oh yeah, I totally subjected myself to a job at Subway just to spend five minutes like twenty feet away from you while you choked down your fucking Cuban.”
“Well I mean the alternative is that you just voluntarily work here for no other reason, which in my opinion is kind of worse—”
“What the hell is going on out here?”
Johnny actually yelps at the sound of Chad’s voice. Like, it’s bad. He sounds like a puppy that just got its tail stepped on.
Chad looks furious, for his part. The worst he can do is fire me, Johnny thinks. It’s the worst he can do and I hate this job anyway but Oh God the look of disappointment on Sue’s face—
“Is there a problem, kid?”
At that, Spidey’s brows draw together and he leans back with affront. “Um, no?”
“Then I suggest you go sit back with your friends,” Chad says. “We got a lot of work to do back here. No time for chit chat.”
Johnny’s ass is probably smoking. Fuck. Fuck. This is the single most embarrassing moment of his entire career.
“Yeah,” Spidey says slowly, giving Chad a suspicious, well-deserved once over. “Will do.”
Johnny clears his throat. “Your sandwich,” he says weakly, sliding it across the counter. Jean gingerly sets down the rest of them.
Spidey takes the stack of subs and looks right at Johnny. “Your boss is a douche,” he says.
Johnny’s reply is something like, “Hmmgff.”
Spidey walks back to his table. Chad glares at Johnny. “Scrub the ovens,” he grunts, and retreats back into the dank, wood-panelled room he calls an office.
“Yeah, okay,” Johnny grumbles under his breath, going to grab the weirdly phallic scrub-brush they use to get the burned cheese off the oven walls.
Jean mutters something like, “Rat-faced little bastard man,” under her breath.
Johnny watches Spidey & Co dive into their sandwiches, removing the necessary memorabilia inhibiting access to their assorted mouth holes. Chewy, Johnny notes, does not remove his hood. He converses in only vaguely-accurate Chewbacca noises and pointed nods. The witch finds this incredibly entertaining. Indy’s back shakes with silent mirth.
Johnny sighs dramatically and turns to the oven, rolling up his sleeves. “Jeanie, if I get salmonella or—I dunno—AIDS in this oven, will you pray for my soul?”
“I’ll make sure you’ve got the most restful eternal rest of anyone,” Jean says gravely. “You should consider haunting Chad, though.”
Johnny leans into the still-warmish oven and scrubs as hard as he can at a particularly stubborn burnt cheese bit. It must be muenster. What an asshole of a cheese.
“I’d consider haunting a handful of people in this Subway tonight,” Johnny says. He gives up on the scrubbing, mutters “Flame on!” and uses his fiery fingertip to blaze the cheese into ash. Convenient.
He turns to peek over his shoulder because he’s incorrigible.
“Fuck shit fuck oh no,” he mutters frantically as his whole hand catches on fire because Spidey has Leia by the buns and seems to be attempting to swallow her tongue.
His heart? Broken. His head? Pounding. His hand? Smoking.
There’s a delicate knock on the countertop.
Johnny whirls around, shoving his smoldering fist behind his back.
His jaw drops to Perth Amboy.
It’s pretty goddamn typical that his first words are, “You’re the Tiktok boy.”
And it is, Johnny is sure. His mortal eyes are not deceiving him, his vision is 20/20. Party City Indiana Jones also happens to be the internet’s most lovable farm boy. The guy has like, over a million followers on that stupid app and even more on his Instagram and Johnny is one of them.
What can he say? He loves himself a good twink, and @peachykeener69 does not disappoint—but he never exploits that stuff; instead he posts fifteen second videos about the progress of his baby chicks, and stupid clips of himself dancing like one of those inflatable balloons in front of a car dealership. He’s also a damn good artist and fixes up cars to boot, and while Johnny’s kind of lightly mooned over the guy a few times and maybe stalked his accounts a little, he wasn’t like, crushing.
But he is now. It’s instant, like getting struck by lightning or something.
This boy with his messy brown curls and those dainty collarbones peeking through the unbuttoned collar of his shirt has Johnny’s heart and for the love of all that is holy, Johnny cannot remember the guy’s first name.
The guy’s lip quirks up into this sharp cut of a smirk, and he’s got a jawline that an artist would kill to sculpt. Johnny wants to and he’s not even a sculptor.
“Uh, yeah, that’s me,” he says, and tips his Indiana Jones hat. “Howdy.”
Johnny’s heart is dancing faster than Charli D’Amelio on x75 speed. He can’t breathe. His mind is a mess of pretty pretty pretty and hhhhhhnnnnngggg.
“Is there like, anything I can do for you?”
Take you out on a date sometime? Kiss you senselessly until we both forget to breathe? Give you a handy in the back of that mustang you repainted last month? Marry you, but like, casually?
Tiktok’s most lovable cowbob grins. “Just a refill. They’re like fifty cents, right?”
“Huh? Oh yeah,” Johnny extracts himself from the oven and wipes his hands on his apron. “But like, it’s fine. You don’t have to pay.”
“Why, ’cuz I’m famous?”
Because you’re cute, Johnny thinks, and thank the sweet gods above that he doesn’t accidentally say it out loud.
“Oh, thanks,” says The Prettiest Cowboy ever, and oh god oh no Johnny really said it out loud, didn’t he? God, he’s a disaster, an actual disgrace, he belongs in the sewers with the rats. “You’re smokin’,” Indy adds.
Johnny’s face heats up. “Thanks.”
“No, like, literally—your hair?”
Johnny’s eyes widen. He yelps and pats his head. “Oops.”
“You should probably get that checked out, man.”
“Oh no, it’s uh, it’s normal for me.”
The Not-So-Lone-Ranger blinks. “Huh. That’s pretty cool.”
Johnny thinks his knees are going to give out, genuinely, and he’s really nervous about it because then he’ll hit his chin on the counter on the way down and chomp his tongue in two.
Not only is Rootin Tootin Guns A-Shootin ’ not freaking out over Johnny’s abysmal flirting skills—he also doesn’t know who Johnny is. This is a dream come true. Johnny hasn’t met someone who hasn’t known who he is in years. It’s the freshest of fresh starts. He can practically see their future cottage on the—prairie, or whatever. Wheat field. The swamp. Shrek house?
He’d totally put on the weird overalls and paint his face green and make a catchphrase as iconic as “Get out me swamp!” if it meant he could say “Get out WE swamp!”
Johnny realizes he hasn’t answered him. “Thanks,” he croaks. He pinches the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger. “I’m a fucking disaster.”
“No—no, it kinda—” Cowboy clears his throat. “It kinda works on you.”
Johnny feels God in this Subway tonight.
“Oh,” he says. “Oh! That is very good news. The best news, such good news I am so glad—”
Johnny cuts off as a crash comes from the corner of the shop.
Spidey Skywalker is on the ground cackling. On the table lies some sort of board game looking thing and his friends are staring at him like he’s got a screw loose. Johnny is pretty sure they aren’t far off.
“Shit,” says Country Boy I Love You. “The idiot spirit has loosed itself from his brain.”
“I thought his brain was the idiot spirit.”
“You know him? Gosh, I’m sorry.”
Johnny snorts and feels his cheeks go bright red. “I’ve met him once or twice, yeah.”
“This seance is not working at all,” the witch announces.
Chewy gurgles in agreement.
And then, like the troll from the dungeon, Chad bumbles out of his office with armageddon in his eyes.
He walks right up to Johnny and pulls him away from the register by yanking on the back of his shirt. And like, Chad is a big dude; six feet at least with muscle to match his height—not to mention the steroids he probably shot up in high school to get a football scholarship (Johnny’s seen the little marks on his arms).
He guesses that didn’t pan out because the guy is twenty-five and managing a sandwich shop.
“What did I tell you? Keep the damn racket down, okay? I’m trying to have a video conference with the district manager—”
“Spirits!” Spidey shouts suddenly, “eat my ass!”
Chad’s eyes widen. “Is he—are they summoning demons in my shop?”
It’s not your shop, Johnny almost says. Chad would probably snap his neck like a twig though, so he keeps his mouth closed until he’s given a shove by the shoulder. “Get them out of here now. No seances allowed in the Subway.”
And under normal circumstances, Johnny would probably agree with that. The last thing this stupid restaurant needs is a ghost haunting the toilet. But this is Chad, who blows some serious chunks. Like, he just generally sucks, and on bad days like today he can be a Serious Actual Dick.
So Johnny says, “No.”
“No?” Chad demands. “What the hell do you mean, no?”
Sure, Johnny never wanted this job anyway and he fantasises about doing something to get fired at least three times a week, but he still gets a swooping feeling in his stomach at the thought of what he’s about to do.
“You heard me,” Johnny says, ripping himself away. He then climbs onto the counter where the stupefied Cowboy is still standing, wide-eyed and open mouthed. Johnny throws his stupid, sweaty visor down. “I QUIT!”
“Get down from there!” Chad snaps.
“No! I’ve had it with your bullshit! This place sucks serious balls! It doesn’t even have a working AC! The only reason it’s even bearable is Jean—Jean, my love, the light of my life, I’m so sorry that our time together has come to such an unfortunate end. Chad: lick my taint. Good day, sir!”
He turns to Cowboy. “Exqueeze me please, I have to get down before he kills me.”
Cowboy is looking up at him with an expression Johnny has never seen directed at himself before. It’s pure, unadulterated reverence; absolute joy and delight. He beams up at Johnny. “You wanna go somewhere?”
They make the next logical pit stop:
Cedar Grove Cemetery.
It’s not that Peter is desperate to go liven up the old stomping grounds or anything, but it’s the spookiest night of the year and Wanda keeps insisting they’re too old for candy (which, frankly, Peter thinks is an unresolved trauma she needs to address immediately). They’re all in costume. They’ve got a frickin’ speed dial for ghosties and ghoulies on hand. It just makes sense.
Plus, he and May hide a big picnic blanket under a vent cover on the outside of the Mausoleum, so they’ve got the comfy factor going.
The sun is just dripping orange over the horizon when they settle in Peter’s usual spot with the wrappers of their sandwiches and their soda bottles, Johnny Storm in tow.
Not that Peter minds hanging out with Johnny—he really is one of Peter’s best friends—but he feels like a clown being spotted without his makeup: bare ass naked. His security blanket has been ripped out from under him.
It also doesn’t help that he’s fairly certain Johnny signed his own death warrant just by seeing him, considering Peter’s track record.
But that’s not even the weirdest part of it.
The weirdest part is that Peter’s hick weirdo haystack pal is mooning at a human Zippo and the Zippo is mooning back.
Like, okay. Okay, okay. Peter isn’t the most aware person out there, some might say, but the heart eyes are so enormous right now that he’s fairly certain they’re being picked up by the International Space Station as abnormal activity on Earth’s surface.
And the nerve of them to be doing it while sitting on top of Ben’s coffin.
Peter is officially unfriending them both on Facebook.
Harley pulls a six pack from fucking nowhere and passes them out. Everyone except Ned takes one because Ned is pure and good and the most adorable little Hufflepuff Peter’s ever had the good pleasure of knowing. He always insists on being the sober friend every time so he can make sure they all make it home okay.
They lay out a bunch of candles around Ben’s headstone. “Light 'em up, would you, J?” Peter asks.
Johnny flushes and clears his throat. “I would, see, but sometimes I have trouble concentrating it to just like one place on my body and I really, really don’t wanna burn all my clothes off on accident.”
Peter snorts and pulls a matchbook from Wanda’s Bag of Holding. “If you can’t summon the flames directly from hell, store bought is fine.”
Johnny grins and completes their Spooky Vibes aesthetic. They sit in a circle on the worn, moth-eaten blanket. Wanda lays the board down. “Spirits, we call out to you,” she says, “be warned that this session will only allow good vibes. Negative energies are not welcome in this place tonight.”
She pauses for dramatic affect, and then, “Everyone place your fingers—and paws, Chewy—on the planchette.”
They do so. Wanda takes a deep breath and starts manually swirling it over the alphabet to like, warm it up or something, and then: “Guide us.”
For a few long, cricket-ridden seconds there’s nothing.
Then the planchette jumps.
“Who is this?” Wanda asks.
It jumps again: B. E. N.
And Peter’s heart jumps right into his throat. He can’t swallow. It takes him a second to remember how to speak. “Ben?” he whispers, voice raw.
The pointer starts jumping around at such a rapid pace they have a hard time keeping hold of it.
W. E. L. L. W. H. A. T. D. I. D. U. E. X. P. E. C. T. U. R. F. U. C. K. I. N. S. I. T. T. I. N. G. O. N. M. E. K. I. D.
MJ has to write it all down. Then she reads it out and Peter just laughs. Holy shit, it’s Ben .
“Uh, how are you?”
D. E. A. D.
“Yeah, I got that, thanks.”
H. O. W. A. R. E. T. H. E. M. E. T. S.
N. I. C. E.
Peter can’t stop grinning. MJ looks at him with wide eyes. “How are you not more weirded out right now?!” she demands.
“I’m sorry, have you met me? Have you watched the Rick and Morty episode that is my life? This is literally the least strange thing that’s ever happened to me.”
The planchette jerks again.
H. O. W. I. S. M. A. Y.
Peter’s stomach goes all melty and he smiles. “Groovy.”
S. E. M. I. C. O. L. O. N. D.
“Wait, wait,” Johnny cuts in, “what the fuck is happening?”
For a split second Peter considers hissing at him to shut his Flaming Pie hole and let him enjoy this strange, brilliant, and horrifying moment of contact with his best buddy.
But he is a nice boy, a good person. He will not do that to Johnny, who is his bro: the one who always, always has his six.
“We’re sitting on my dead Uncle’s bones.”
The planchette zooms.
N. O. T. B. O. N. E. S. Y. E. T.
“Yeah, how are we supposed to know how decayed you are?” Peter agrees. “We’ve never watched a body decay.”
“I’ve watched grass grow,” Harley chimes in. “Probably not all that different.”
“It’s like, the exact opposite of human meat decaying.”
The second the words ‘human meat’ escape Peter’s mouth, Johnny takes a deep chug of beer and MJ beams at Peter like he’d said: ‘let’s go commit arson and make out in the soft orange light.’
R. U. G. O. I. N. G. T. O. I. N. T. R. O. D. U. C. E. M. E.
MJ reads out her script and then blushes blackberry purple over her cheeks.
“Uh,” says Peter. “This is Harley, he’s dressed as Indiana Jones because he’s an absolute heathen and refuses to cooperate with the group even when I threaten to weep at his feet.”
“I am no Han Solo and you know it.”
Peter’s enhanced hearing is the only reason he picks up Johnny’s mumbled I mean I hope you’re some kind of solo. He... hates it?
He doesn’t hate it?
To be decided.
Peter is interrupted by the scrape of the pointer on the board.
W. H. Y. D. O. U. H. A. V. E. B. E. E. R.
“Is your uncle trying to dad me?” Harley demands.
U. D. I. D. N. T. E. V. E. N. C. H. O. O. S. E. A. G. O. O. D. O. N. E.
M. I. C. H. E. L. O. B. ? O. L. D. M. A. N. A. S. S. K. I. D.
“Hey!” Johnny snaps, offended on Harley’s behalf.
“No, he’s right,” Harley mutters sadly.
Wanda is gripping the planchette as it rapidly dances across the board to the tune of Ben’s beer rant.
His few loves: beer, the Mets, and Ellio’s frozen pizza.
MJ, squinting at the board and scribbling notes, says, “Is he even coherent? Is he having a stroke?”
“He’s dead, so no,” Peter deadpans.
“I wish I’d like, met him,” MJ says. “He’s the good kind of nuts.”
H. I. M. I. C. H. E. L. L. E.
H. A. V .E. U. 2. H. A. D. S. E. X. Y. E. T.
“Never mind!” says MJ.
T. H. E. R. E. S. A. C. O. N. D. O. M. I. N. T. H. E. L. E. F. T. C. R. A. C. K. O. F. T. H. E. C. O. U. C. H.
U. S. E. I. T. 4. E. M. E. R. G. E. N. C. I. E. S.
“Oh my—” Peter’s eyes widen. “Ben, stop, you’re embarrassing me.”
L. O. L.
“You’re laughing? Are you kidding me? Nem Zich a vaneh!”
L. U. V. U. 2.
And it’s weird, because for a split second instead of the cool night air, Peter feels warm all over—almost like two big beefy arms are wrapping around his body from behind and squeezing, and his hair actually moves like an invisible force is ruffling it. Fucking Ben. Peter is gonna cry in front of his homies and he’s never gonna live it down.
I. S. T. H. E. M. C. W. R. A. P. S. T. I. L. L. A. R. O. U. N. D. ?
Peter can’t help it: he bursts into laughter. Like real, almost violent belly cackling.
What a guy. Peter misses him so damn much it aches.
W. H. Y. R. U. L. A. U. G. H. I. N. G. I. M. D. E. A. D. S. E. R. I. O. U. S. H. E. R. E.
Peter sniffles a little and then says, “No, Ben. They heard the only man in New York who still bought the thing croaked and they took it off the menu in your honor.”
T. H. A. T. S. T. O. U. C. H. I. N. G.
H. O. W. A. B. O. U. T. T. H. A. T. C. H. E. S. T. H. A. I. R. U. W. E. R. E. W. O. R. K. I. N. G. O.—
Peter snags the pointer before Ben can finish his word. “Cool! Seance over, I guess!”
Wanda, giggling—her laugh is like a little snuffle, Peter is all toasty in the chest area—snatches it back and lets Ben continue.
R. U. D. E.
“That’s me,” Peter sighs. He sits for a minute and then scoots forward on the blanket until he’s right in front of Ben’s stone. He tosses his arms around it and leans his cheek on the rough top.
T. H. I. S. I. S. N. I. C. E.
“Yeah,” Peter agrees.
D. I. D. U. E. V. E. R. G. E. T. T. H. E. C. H. I. P. S. U. S. N. U.C. K. O. U.T. 4. T. H. A. T .N. I. G. H. T. ?
“I’m gonna pee on your grave,” Peter declares seriously. “No cap, Ben. I’ll take out my wiener in front of all my friends.”
“Ned’s right, Peter’s crazy, he’ll do it,” MJ pipes up. She’s smiling softly at Peter and he wishes he had like, three more arms so he could hug her and Ben at the same time.
“Dicks out for spooky season,” Harley says. He’s looking at Peter all soft too, but it makes Peter want to sock him in the stomach.
Even Johnny has stopped looking like he’s five seconds from fainting or screaming and running for the hills. He’s got his hands tucked into his armpits and a doofus smile on his doofus face, and what the fuck was this night, really? No really, someone explain it. Ben? Can Ben read Peter’s mind now? Oh god.
Ben, if you can read my mind make the little pointer write bagel bites, Peter thinks loudly.
But Ben says, T. I. R. E. D.
And Peter’s heart just sinks, because yeah, they’re sitting here in a graveyard six feet above his uncle’s coffin, but for ten whole minutes he’d really forgotten. Ben is here, all around them, but he’s under them too.
“Oh,” Peter whispers. “Oh, okay.”
S. O. S. O. R. R. Y. P. E. T. E. Y. P. O. O.
And it’s a testament to how fucking sad this is that none of his friends make fun of the nickname.
“That’s alright,” Peter says softly. “I—I’ll come back?”
T. U. E. S. D. A. Y. ?
“Yeah,” Peter nods. “Tuesday. Bye, Ben.”
B. Y. E. B. A. B. Y.
The planchette stills. Peter stares at it for a long minute while his eyes burn and then his cheeks start to tickle from the tears falling. Then MJ reaches out, grabs his hand, and kisses them away. “I’m okay,” Peter promises her, offering a small smile and a squeeze of her palm. “I’m good.”
Ned offers a lament-ridden gurgle and pats Peter on the shoulder.
Harley raises his beer. “To Ben fuckin’ Parker,” he says. “May he hover invisibly over our shoulders while we pee for all of eternity.”
They all raise their cans and clumsily echo the stupid toast and Peter chugs half his stale drink so he can numb the pain a little.
Johnny is amazed by one thing more than any other tonight, and that thing is Indiana Jones’ Mary Poppins-esque fucking endless supply of beer.
Ridiculous. Absolutely unprecedented. There is no way so many beers should fit in his little farmers market style tote bag.
It’s enough that they’re all feeling it a little while they wait on the subway platform—except Chewy who doesn’t drink, and Petey Poo who Johnny knows has an enhanced metabolism (he’d deduced it mostly because of the guy’s incredible taco-eating abilities).
The whole feeling is sort of somber, like the night fell onto their shoulders and now they’re bearing the brunt of it. It’s weighty and unsettling.
If Johnny is this unseated after feeling the warmth of that unfamiliar spirit for only a handful of minutes, he can hardly imagine the cold spot Peter must feel in its absence.
They climb into the subway car in a herd, and Johnny can’t help but watch the little kids in costumes hopping around like little sugar-coated maniacs. It feels like a breach of decorum, like they should be at Uncle Ben’s memorial service or something instead.
Peter’s eyes are red-rimmed. Johnny doesn’t think he’ll ever forgive the universe for that, whether they’re madly in love for the rest of forever or not.
“You know,” Michelle says idly from where she sits on the shiny orange plastic seat, her chin tucked over Peter’s shoulder, “once you summon spirits with us, you’re a homie for life.”
“Yeah,” says Hopalong Cassidy. “You’re one of us for keepsies. Communing with the dead is just too buck wild for strangers. Your binding oath of friendship is basically just a lowkey NDA. Less paperwork, more Mario Kart and cheetos, same amount of no narcing.”
Johnny presses a palm to his chest and says, “I’m honored.” He’s not even embarrassed about how thickly it comes out. He’s emotional. He met his long-time crush’s dead uncle tonight after being let down by said crush after being fired in front of said crush after meeting his new crush in front of said crush.
Seriously, Johnny doesn’t know how any of them are still on their feet.
“We collect friends like loose buttons,” says Wanda. “First it’s you three. Then you brought me into it with Skittles. Then you picked up a stray lamb from Tennessee. Now it’s the Human Torch.”
“The who?” says Harley at the same time Ned gurgles aggressively and Peter, still glazed, says, “If you all were buttons, I’d store you in a cute little tin for safekeeping. That way I’d stop losing all my important shit. Oh, hm, where’s Harley again? Button tin. Oh, can’t find MJ? Button tin. Need to watch Star Wars but can’t emotionally handle Tony? Must be a Tuesday. Button tin. Hi, tiny button Ned.”
Johnny looks at Peter’s friends (his friends?). It’s like they’re acting out the five stages of grief.
“I’d be happy to be a button in your tin,” Johnny blurts.
Billy the Kid looks over at him. He’s got this smile on his face, and Johnny recognizes it because he’s seen it on Sue. It’s the older sibling smile—the just maybe you’re good enough for my kid smile.
Peter holds up a grabby hand from his seat.
“Get over here, Firefly,” Peter grumbles. “If you’re part of the group you get an initiation hug. Either that or I pee on you to mark my territory. Take your pick.”
“What is it with you and threatening to piss on things? What the fuck.”
Johnny lets go of the pole he’s grasping and wades over to the seat next to Peter, dropping heavily into it with a sigh.
Peter loops his arm around Johnny’s nearer elbow and plops his head on Johnny’s shoulder.
He’s got a real brick head. That boulder Spongebob rides in that one old episode, that’s Peter’s head.
Johnny looks at them, from Chewy to the witch to TikTok lover boy and around to Leia and Luke on his left.
He feels something stir in his stomach, like he knows even now that this is the start of something weird.
They drop Wanda off first, all perched on the steps of the Brooklyn townhouse where she lives with the other Rogues. They linger and josh around for a few minutes outside, still kind of tipsy and heavy with sadness.
Then Wanda unlocks the door.
Bucky, who is sitting beneath the window with a sniper rifle, stares back. “Hey.”
“Uh, what the fuck, Barnes?”
Bucky shrugs. “Didn’t want any trick-or-treaters walking up.”
“So you were gonna shoot em?!”
“No,” he argues petulantly, “I was gonna shoot any HYDRA sons of bitches dressed as—fuckin’ Teenage Mutant Ninja turtles, or whatever.”
Peter pinches his brow and screams delicately.
“That’s the Winter Soldier,” Johnny states, eyes wide. “That’s—what the fuck?”
“Relax, Flashlight, he’s not that exciting,” Peter says, and by this point the other Rogues have come down to see what all the fuss is about, and MJ and Wanda are hugging goodbye, and the whole entryway is crowded with so many bodies it’s ridiculous.
“Man, are you dressed as a Subway worker?” Sam asks Johnny.
“Uh, yes,” Johnny says, blinking. “Yes, this is a costume.”
“That’s Sam,” Peter says to Johnny, even though Johnny already knows this. “He’s dating my aunt. It’s really gross. I tried to drown myself in the toilet once when I caught them kissing.”
Johnny clicks his tongue. “That was me with Sue and Reed back in the day. You kind of get used to it.”
“Gee, I hope not.”
Wanda starts passing out kisses on cheeks and Peter grins when he gets his. He says, “Night, Sabrina,” and she snorts.
Harley tips his hat to her. “It was a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Madame,” he proclaims in an exaggerated, gravelly British accent. “As for the rest of you, you’re fucking batshit and I never want to see any of you again in my life. Merry fucking Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”
Peter and Johnny go along with it, shouting “Hear, hear!”s and “Very well!”s. Ned gargles again, loud enough and actually good enough this time to get them all to laugh.
They shove out the door. Harley takes his hat off and drops it onto Peter’s head. “You know what I think?”
“What do you think?”
“I think we should nugg it up. I’m talking like, a twenty-piece each. A serious nugg sesh.”
Peter nods. “I can think of no arguments. Let’s nugg it.”
They all stumble down the steps and into the night, arms linked and voices loud. Peter hasn’t felt this good in a long time.