Johnny Storm found him on a Friday afternoon, wearing the kind of beseeching look that filled Peter with dread.
“I need to ask you a favor,” he said.
“No,” Peter said, swinging away.
“You didn’t even hear what it was!” Johnny shouted, flying after him.
“Don’t need to!” Peter sang out, twisting to the right as Johnny came up on his left. “It’s always a bad idea. Now skedaddle, Torchy, I got things to do.”
“You don’t understand,” Johnny said, stopping in front of him so Peter was forced to drop his swing and land neatly on a rooftop down below. It was an attention-getting move, even if he didn’t really believe Johnny would let him plummet face-first into his burning chest. “I really, really, really need your help.”
“Johnny,” Peter said, scowling under the mask. “I am going to go fight crime now and if you get in my face again I will web you to a wall and let a public news station find you. Public. News. Station.”
He should’ve known that wouldn’t be the end of it.
Johnny cornered him, plainclothes, no mask to protect him, while he was getting a hot dog from his favorite cart.
“You drove me to this,” Johnny said, still in his Fantastic Four uniform with his hair sticking up at all angles, like he’d been running his hands through it. He grabbed Peter by the shoulders and shook him. “I want you to know that – you forced me to do this.”
“What?” Peter said, clutching his hot dog like a lifeline.
“I wanted to do this in private, like civilized people!” Johnny said. “I wanted to discuss it! Reasonable, right? But you wouldn’t give me the chance!”
“What are you talking about, clearly crazed celebrity I’ve never seen before in my life?” Peter demanded, right before Johnny got down on one knee.
Peter dropped the hot dog.
Johnny grabbed his hand.
“No,” Peter said, mouth working even as his brain struggled to process what he was seeing before him: Johnny Storm, on bended knee.
“Peter Benjamin Parker,” Johnny began, his grip on Peter’s hand whiteknuckled and his voice way louder than necessary.
“No,” Peter said, again.
“Would you do me the honor,” Johnny continued as if he’d never spoken, his eyes blazing and his voice steadily rising louder and louder. People were staring. People were staring and Johnny Storm was proposing to him in front of his favorite hotdog cart.
“Stop talking,” Peter begged, “please, please stop talking. I will pay you. Many dollars.”
“Of being my husband,” Johnny finished, practically shouting, and the crowd around them erupted into screams and cheers. Peter hated tourists.
“I have to,” Peter began, desperately searching for an excuse as a million strangers shouted in excitement and his favorite hot dog cart owner wiped away a single tear, “go fall down a well now.”
Johnny, to his credit, immediately spirited them both away from the scene with the speed and agility of a man who couldn’t buy a pair of jeans without landing in the gossip column. It didn’t make Peter feel better. Everything felt very far away, like it belonged back in a world where Johnny had never proposed to him in front of a million strangers. A better world.
“I need a paper bag to breathe into,” he said. Johnny’s hands were blazing where they touched him, one flat against his back and the other wrapped around his arm.
“Do not throw up on me,” Johnny hissed. “I told you, I wanted to do this in private –”
“Oh,” Peter said, verging on hysterical, “you wanted to propose to me in private, that makes it so much –” he wanted to say better, but he couldn’t, because he was pretty sure he was having some kind of allergic reaction and his throat was closing up. He spluttered instead, waving his hands around.
Johnny rolled his eyes and shoved him into the Baxter Building’s elevator.
“Look,” he said as the door slid shut. “Can I just – can I explain, please? Without you murdering me?”
“You have twenty seconds,” Peter said. “Make them count.”
“Right,” Johnny said, sticking his hands in his pockets and casting his eyes towards the heavens. “I guess you’re not going to buy that I just couldn’t live without your radiant visage in my life one second longer?”
Peter was torn between wanting to burst into laughter and wanting to stick his head between his knees so he could breathe, so he split the difference down the middle and said, “Oh, hahaha,” while he slumped against the wall and pressed his face into his hands.
“Yeah, okay,” Johnny said. The doors dinged open and Johnny wrapped his hands around Peter’s wrists, tugging him gently out of the elevator. “C’mon, breathe, please? You’re going to ruin my plan if you suffocate yourself.”
Peter contemplated trying it, just to be petty.
“Pete,” Johnny said, “I’m kind of in trouble here.”
“Yes, because I’m going to strangle you,” Peter said, complete with appropriate hand motions.
But then Johnny pushed both his hands into his hair and said, “It was in the Negative Zone, okay?” and for one second Peter’s heart stopped.
“I needed to get out,” Johnny said. “I needed to save my family, Pete. I needed allies. Most people were in it for the escape or the giant blood-soaked revenge battle. But some people wanted deals, promises so I – I maybe agreed to marry somebody?”
“I can believe that,” Peter said, finally finding his voice. “One hundred percent.”
Johnny huffed out a breath, tilting his head back and lacing his fingers together behind the back of his neck.
“I don’t want to get alien married, Pete,” he said, looking up at the ceiling. “I really don’t. It’s been months, I thought - I don’t know, I guess I thought they forgot but they sent me, like, this pamphlet, and I’m pretty sure it’s law there that I get to be pimped out to like, the entire royal family? And maybe once I’d’ve been up for that party, but that ship’s sailed. And there’s really no way to get out of it according to their laws unless I like, have quote-unquote prior commitment? And I just – I wanted to get home, Pete, you know? I would’ve said anything to get home –”
“Torch,” Peter interrupted, grabbing him by the shoulders. He shook him, a little bit for the satisfaction and a little bit to shake some sense into him and, more than he wanted to admit, just so he could feel Johnny warm and alive under his hands. “I get it, okay? I’ll save you from your creepy extradimensional alien Sister Wives marriage.”
Johnny had the nerve to beam at him.
“You’re a lifesaver,” he said. “Maybe literally? I don’t really know what’s in their atmosphere.”
“You should’ve led with the sob story,” Peter said. “Instead of getting down on one knee in the middle of New York.”
“I thought my way was more romantic?” Johnny said, all perfect, infuriating smile.
“Because Human Torch Gets Dumped, Weeps in Public is such a better headline,” Peter said, slumping.
“You wouldn’t dump me,” Johnny said, grabbing Peter around the waist in a loose hug. “You love me, man.”
“It’s the Stockholm Syndrome,” Peter said.
“You can totally divorce me once this all blows over,” Johnny said.
“Promises, promises,” Peter muttered.
Johnny pulled back so fast he almost got whiplash, but he was beaming brighter than a Colgate commercial. “Okay! Let’s do it. Let’s get hitched!”
“Oh my god, wait, no,” Peter said, “I changed my mind, wedding’s off.”
Johnny ignored him, throwing his arms around Peter and hauling him back in for another long hug. Peter gave up the ghost, like he always ended up doing when Johnny was involved, and hooked his chin over Johnny’s shoulder. At least he was getting his very own human space heater out of the whole marriage deal.
“Is that your phone buzzing or are we going to have a talk about the wedding night?”
“Oh,” Johnny said, disentangling himself so he could fumble for it.
Johnny’s thin, impossibly sleek phone made Peter think of his own considerably less thin and sleek phone, which made him think of all the people staring while Johnny got down on one knee. His brain shorted out for a second, but he was pretty sure there was something important about that moment, something besides Johnny’s beseeching eyes and the ringing words, Peter Benjamin Parker, will you do me the honor --
“Oh no,” he said. “Those tourists had cameras.”
“Oh hey,” said Johnny. “We’re trending on twitter.”
Peter got about a hundred phone calls in the next hour.
He kept staring at his ringing phone, head in his hands, letting every single call go through to voicemail, like magically they wouldn’t all be about Johnny’s extremely public, extremely fake proposal.
“Peter,” Aunt May began, voice frantic, and Peter might’ve blacked out for a moment -- oh no, Aunt May -- because when he came back to himself she was saying, “engaged,” and “my neighbor knew before me,” and “you know you could have just told me,” which was more or less the point Peter slithered halfway off the couch in shame.
“Peter,” Captain America said on the next message, because Peter thought it couldn’t get any worse. “You’re on the news and I don’t know if I should be congratulating you or leading a rescue mission. Call us back.”
The third message was from Carol and Jessica, who took turns fighting for the phone so they could laugh at him.
“I knew it,” cried Harry on the fourth message, “I knew it! I mean, I thought it’d be Spider-Man, but I knew it!”
“PARKER!” JJJ yelled, and Peter could just see that one vein in his forehead, before Betty stole the phone and hissed, “Holy – heavens, Jonah, holy heavens, please, think of your blood pressure -- Pete, the Human Torch --”
“Peter, call your aunt,” said John Jameson, stern.
“Peter, call me back,” Aunt May’s second message said, sterner.
“I’m going to crawl into a hole and die now,” Peter said, in the lull between messages.
“That’s cool,” Johnny shouted from the next room over. “Widowers are very in right now. I’ll buy some mourning sunglasses, maybe get one of those little hats.”
“Wow, Tiger,” drawled Mary Jane, the very last message. “That’s a pretty literal jackpot.”
Peter freely acknowledged that the talk with Aunt May could’ve gone worse; he wasn’t disowned and at no point did she sound like she might cry, which was good because if Aunt May started to cry Peter was pretty sure he would too. He’d always been a sympathetic cryer.
She did ask him if he was alright about five times. And if someone was listening. If they needed a secret codeword. Whether Johnny had anything incriminating on him. If he was cooperating with some kind of police investigation. Whether he’d ingested any strange substances lately. Et cetera.
“You know you can tell me anything,” she said, for the dozenth time, after he kept answering in the negative. “It’s just -- you never mentioned anything about this, and now -- engaged?”
He got it, he really did. He and Aunt May rarely went a day without speaking at least once. They e-mailed, they texted. It was a constant source of frustration, how much funnier her snapchats were.
“I’m just trying to understand, Peter,” she said at last.
“Believe me, me too,” he muttered under his breath.
“What was that?” Aunt May asked. He cringed.
“Nothing, nothing, just,” he paused, tried to come up with something she’d accept. He’d been crawling out of her house dressed in spandex for years - he should’ve been better at lying to her. Then the guilt about wishing he was better at lying to his aunt set in and he was back at square one all over again. “Whirlwind romance?”
Aunt May’s silence was heavy. Peter fidgeted, picking at some lint on his left sock, prepared to wait her out. Thirty seconds in, Johnny wandered by. He took one look at Peter and raised his eyebrows; Peter elaborately mimed a noose.
Johnny snorted and said, inexplicably, “Good luck, babe,” before he wandered right back out again. Peter sat there, frozen, wondering if Aunt May had heard.
“Oh,” she said at last, her tone conveying that a) she absolutely had and b) definitely had opinions. “I didn’t realize you were with him right now?”
He could hear the accusation in that question: or are there any other strapping famous young men you’ve been keeping secret from your dear old aunt, who raised, clothed and fed you?
Was guilt a superpower? He was pretty sure it was a superpower.
“Yeah, well,” he said. “His place has got like. Tinted windows. Anti-paparazzi laser grid. Attack dogs.”
“Peter,” she said.
“Okay, fine, you got me,” he said. “There are no attack dogs.”
“Peter, please,” she said. “Be serious for one minute. I need to know - are you happy? Is this - does he make you happy?”
Peter thought back to half an hour ago, when Johnny had jumped over the back of the sofa, said, “Gotta confirm this real quick for Perez,” and took a selfie of himself planting an obnoxious kiss on Peter’s cheek.
“Do not give that to gossip mongers!” Peter had said. Johnny was already gone, phone held aloft so Peter could see him playing around with filters. “Do not put it on instagram!”
Johnny did give it to the gossip mongers, and he did put it on instagram. Peter didn’t know why he bothered.
“Yeah,” he said. “I’m happy.”
For Johnny, alive and in one piece and almost like his old self, Peter would do a whole lot worse than marry him.
“Can I ask you a question?” Peter asked, lying half-off the couch. He could hear, actually hear, the paparazzi outside, and wondered faintly if any of them would actually try to climb the building or if there really was some kind of laser grid.
Johnny, sitting on the floor with his back resting against the couch, said, “You can have a ten carat ring and not a cent more.”
“Stop,” Peter said, knocking his heel against Johnny’s shoulder. “My head hurts enough as it is. I wanted to ask: why me?”
Johnny shifted around, crossing his arms on top of the couch cushions and resting his chin on them. “Why not?”
“Seriously?” Peter said. “Why not? You asked me to marry you in front of a thousand tourists, my aunt is beside herself because I didn’t tell her about my ‘lifestyle choices’ and there’s a whole dimension about to be really mad at me, and all you can give me is: why not?”
“Alright, fine,” Johnny said. “It was my secret, undying love.”
Peter tossed a throw pillow at his face. “I’m begging you here -- be serious for five minutes. It’s not like you’d have trouble finding someone to marry you. Why me?”
Johnny shrugged, mouth twisting to the side. “I don’t know - I trust you. We get along.” A shadow crossed his face, so brief Peter was barely sure he saw it at all. “Pete, you’re -”
Whatever Johnny was going to say was cut off by the ding of the elevator and the arrival of the rest of the Fantastic Four. Instantly there were voices everywhere, Sue shouting and Franklin stammering. Ben, laughing, apparently uncontrollably. A pair of rocky hands grabbed Peter around the shoulders, lifting him clear off the ground.
“Mazel tov!” Ben said, squeezing. “Knew you two crazy kids would work it out eventually.”
“We’re not really getting married,” Peter said, slapping at Ben’s shoulders until he was set back on the ground.
“Sure ya ain't,” Ben said, “and I’m my own sweet Aunt Petunia.”
“Okay, for real, because I’ve been wondering about that,” Peter said, rubbing absently at his ribs.
“What were you thinking?” Sue said, standing in the doorway with her hands on her hips
“Um, hey?” Johnny protested, waving one hand in the air. Peter could see twitter open on his phone screen and lost all pity he might’ve held. “Offended here. Why wouldn’t he want to marry me?”
Sue shot him a look.
“Leaving that loaded question aside - proposing in the middle of the city, Johnny?” she said. “Really?”
“I’m a celebrity,” Johnny groused, crossing his arms. “I can do what I want.”
“Wrong,” Peter said. “Disturbing and wrong.”
“Regardless,” Reed said, snaking one hand out to take Peter’s. “We’re very happy for both of you! I have to admit, it is something of a surprise --”
“It’s definitely that,” Sue said, handing Val off to Reed.
“I’m a man of mystery,” said Johnny, his voice edging into a whine.
“And it’s not a real wedding,” Peter clarified. There was a moment of silence before he rushed to add, “I mean, we’re really getting married, but we’re not - you know --”
“We’re friends with tax benefits,” Johnny cut in. Sue was staring at him, eyebrows raised sky high, and Reed looked strangely disappointed. There was a long, tense moment between brother and sister, before Johnny relented, throwing his hands up in the air. “Sue, what was I supposed to do? I’m just trying to save my hide --”
“We would have worked something out without a sham marriage to Spider-Man!” Sue shot back, voice rising dangerously high. To Peter, she added, “No offense, Peter. You know we love you.”
“Thanks?” Peter said, while Johnny practically exploded with, “Of course we love him, that’s why it’s perfect!”
“Johnny. Other. Room,” Sue said, pointing. “Now.”
“Sue!” Johnny started, getting to his feet. Peter felt kind of like he should duck and cover, but Reed and Ben didn’t seem particularly worried so he stayed where he was, awkwardly trying to become one with the corner.
“Jonathan Spencer Storm,” Sue said, and apparently that was that. Johnny made a noise that was half-outrage and half-defeat, then turned and stalked off, Sue hot on his heels.
Reed seemed unconcerned.
“Well!” he said brightly, grinning a little wider than anyone without superhuman elasticity would be able to. “Welcome to the family! Not that you weren’t before -”
Peter cut him off before the warm fuzzy feeling he got whenever the Fantastic Four welcomed him threatened to swallow him whole. “It’s okay, Reed, I get it.”
“It’ll be good, having you around again,” Reed said, beaming, while Ben snorted. “We’ve missed you.”
“You and Bichead under one roof?” Ben said. “In less than holy matrimony? Oy gevalt.”
A little hand tugged at the hem of Peter’s shirt.
“I call Flower Girl,” Valeria said primly.
“Deal,” said Peter.
They shook on it.
The actual ceremony was a small, private affair. It was just him, Johnny, the rest of the Fantastic Four, Aunt May and John Jameson Sr.
There was also the floating portal filled with otherwordly alien diplomats. The Justice of the Peace looked kind of weirded out about that one, but he handled it like a New Yorker. Peter was proud.
Peter had invited Jonah for kicks, but apparently he’d barricaded himself in the office with half a liquor store sometime shortly after the announcement. Peter wondered if maybe offering to sell him some photos would be too mean.
It was all over pretty quick - “Do you, Peter Benjamin Parker, take Jonathan Spencer Storm,” etc -- and then it was just Peter and Johnny, now apparently Peter-and-Johnny. Peter didn’t feel any different - the suit he was wearing was still too stiff, and his palms were sweating. It didn’t feel like what he was sure everyone single in the entire world imagined being married to Johnny Storm must be like.
Outside it was a different story - what looked like roughly half the city’s population was gathered around the steps, holding what Peter was pretty sure was every single camera in the world.
“Now this,” he said in an aside. “This is what I always pictured being married to you would be like.”
“Stop with the face,” Johnny told him, snagging him tight around the waist. “People are going to think this isn’t the happiest day of your life.”
"I think you’re getting a little too invested."
"And I think you’re not smiling hard enough," Johnny replied, hand hot and heavy at Peter’s hip. "There’s nothing the press loves more than newlyweds, except if they’re famous newlyweds. So smile and make me look good.”
"I am going to web your hands to your own ass," Peter said between clenched teeth. He could already hear the episode JJ was about to have.
"Save it for the honeymoon," Johnny said.
Something fragile and wavering, like his common sense, snapped inside of Peter, so he absolutely couldn’t be held accountable for dipping Johnny Storm in front of a huge crowd of paparazzi.
“See?” Johnny said, breathless. His hands were whiteknuckled where he’d grabbed Peter by the arms. “Now you’re getting it.”
“I’ll drop you,” Peter said in an undertone.
“You won’t,” Johnny dared. “C’mon, give the press what they want.”
God help him, Peter had never been able to let a dare from Johnny Storm go.
Johnny’s mouth was just as hot as the rest of him, the curl of his hand around the back of Peter’s neck grounding. For a moment Peter forgot about the photographers, about their sham marriage and even about Aunt May standing five feet away - there was only the soft, easy press of Johnny’s lips against his.
Then Valeria threw a handful of rice at them.
Peter broke away, heart hammering against his ribs. Johnny stared back up at him, arms still twined around Peter’s neck, and licked his lips.
“Well, baby,” he said, grinning. “You can light my fire.”
Peter didn’t drop him despite the overwhelming temptation. He hoped that counted for something, karmically speaking.
Because the universe hated Peter and wanted him to suffer in new and interesting ways, it took all of fifteen minutes of their family-only wedding party for Aunt May to decide she absolutely adored Johnny.
“You’re just afraid I’m going to realize I married the wrong Parker,” Johnny said, cozied up next to Aunt May at the table and absolutely beaming, the smug bastard. “Too late.”
“I want an annulment,” Peter said.
“Peter Benjamin Parker,” Aunt May chided, laughing. “Is that any way to talk to your new husband?”
“Yeah, Peter Benjamin Parker,” Johnny chimed, grin growing wider by the second. “Is it?”
Forget the annulment, Peter was going to fake his death and start a new life pretending to be his own clone. He caught Johnny’s gaze, pointing his middle and index fingers first at his own eyes and then at Johnny’s, then slipped into the kitchen amidst Johnny’s peals of laughter.
He tried to slip into the kitchen, anyway. The invisible force field in the doorway had other ideas.
“Don’t even think about it,” Sue called out.
“You know there’s no rule about the groom seeing the cake, right?” Peter said to Ben, who was standing guard on the other side of the force field with Val and Franklin on his shoulders.
“Do what the lady says and back it up,” he said, licking frosting off one rocky thumb. “I don’t make the rules.”
Peter threw his hands up and stalked back to the table, throwing himself down into the chair next to Johnny. Across the table John Jameson Sr. caught his gaze, eyes dancing, and mouthed, “In-laws.”
“You have no idea,” Peter told him.
The cake was a five tiered monstrosity and at its very top was a tiny brunet groom standing next to a Human Torch action figure. Johnny’s eyes lit up, pretty literally, when he saw it.
“We got a Spider-Man, too,” Ben whispered to Peter. “Fer after.”
If Peter got a little choked up at the thought - nobody ever needed to know.
Later Sue and Reed led a sleepy but protesting Valeria off to bed while Ben and John talked about sports, Franklin contributing a mile a minute. Johnny was still seated at the table, idly flicking through his phone. There was a small, contented smile on his face that made Peter want to smile too.
“I like him,” Aunt May said, pulling Peter off to the side.
“That’s a shame, I can’t stand him,” Peter said, laughing when Aunt May playfully swatted at his arm. “Okay, okay. I know you had reservations.”
“Why would I have reservations about my only nephew marrying a famous playboy superhero out of the blue?” Aunt May said.
Guilt was definitely a superpower.
Aunt May slid one hand around the back of his neck, tugging him down so she could plant a kiss on cheek. “Stop making that face. You know all I’ve ever wanted for you is just - this. You, being happy.”
Her eyes were suspiciously wet. Peter’s felt prickly, his throat tight.
“So it’s a bad time to tell you I’m just planning on taking him for everything in the divorce, huh?” he said.
“I might believe that if you weren’t smiling at him every time I turn around,” she said, which was completely unfair - it wasn’t Peter’s fault he kept smiling at Johnny. Johnny was just infectious that way, always had been, and lately whenever Peter looked at him he was just reminded that Johnny was back where he belonged. With his family, with him. All the smiling was understandable.
“Peter,” Aunt May said, breaking him out of his reverie. His gaze had drifted back to Johnny again - he was smiling down at his phone in a way that probably meant bad things for Peter. “Be happy. It’s a happy day.”
“M’always happy,” Peter mumbled, tactfully ignoring Aunt May’s scoffing. “You like him? Really? You approve?”
“I approve,” Aunt May said. Then she quietly added, “Your uncle might’ve taken a little while to come around - he’s a little too flashy for Ben. But he would’ve, sooner or later.”
Peter tried to swallow the sudden lump in his throat. He only just managed to choke out, “Yeah?”
“Might’ve taken one of those little red cars first,” Aunt May said, smiling.
“Doable,” said Peter. He bent to kiss the top of her head, burying his nose in her hair. “Thank you.”
Aunt May palmed his cheek and said, “Don’t thank me, just don’t end up in space.”
Peter bit his tongue before he said been there, done that.
“I love her,” Johnny said as the elevator closed. “She’s great.”
“You can’t have my aunt in the divorce,” Peter told him, stepping up to the windows.
Sue had left with May and John so she could whisk them invisibly away from the crowd. It was still chaos down below, and the cheering, swarming throng was starting to remind Peter more of New Year’s Eve in Times Square than the celebrity-hungry crowd of parasites he’d been expecting.
He wondered if he’d ever stop being surprised by the sheer joy that followed in the Fantastic Four’s wake.
“Not even on the weekends?” Johnny said, coming up behind him. He put one hand up on the glass, gazing down at the crowd below with an expression Peter might’ve thought was awe, if he didn’t know better.
“Not even every other Christmas,” Peter said.
“You’re just jealous that I’m the fun husband.”
“That’s not a thing,” said Peter. “You okay?”
“Sure,” Johnny said, flashing Peter a quick smile - not the billion dollar superhero celebrity one he wore in public, but the slightly crooked one Peter had always privately thought of as the real Johnny Storm. “Why wouldn’t I be?”
“You’re the Human Torch and everyone loves you,” Peter hummed.
Johnny reached out, tangling his fingers in Peter’s hair and pulling him close, smacking a kiss against the side of his head. “Now everybody loves you, too. Go ahead, bask in my glory.”
Peter elbowed him. “Now I know why all those celebrity marriages end over a weekend.”
“Regrets already?” Johnny asked.
“Only all the same ones I had this morning,” Peter said. “You?”
“Nah,” said Johnny. “It’ll be fun! Just like when we lived together, except with rings.”
“We remember our roommate phase very differently,” Peter said. He pressed his shoulder against Johnny’s and looked down at the city beneath them and tried not to think too hard about the tight feeling in his chest.
He had his best friend back, he was getting to keep him, and there was nothing wrong about wanting that.
The light flipped on.
“Pack it up, newlyweds,” Ben said, balancing a slab of cake on one hand. “My stories wuz pushed back fer yer blessed union, and there’s no way I’m watchin’ you make moon eyes at each other. Ain’t there a honeymoon you should be on?”
Peter couldn’t sleep.
He was back in the room he’d stayed in once or twice over the years when he’d stayed over at the Baxter Building. It wasn’t the same room he’d slept in when he was with the Future Foundation; that had been on the guest floor, not on Johnny’s. Taking his place on the team was one thing, and if Johnny had left Peter his family then Peter knew he’d have been fine with him staying in his rooms, but Peter just couldn’t do it.
He’d talked to Sue about it a little, too late into the night just days after Johnny’s will had been played.
“I can’t go back up there,” he’d said. “I just feel like -”
“Like you’ll turn the corner and he’ll be there,” she’d said. “I know. Me too.”
Thinking about it still stole the heat from Peter’s bones, like Johnny’s absence had sucked all the warmth out of the world.
He rolled over, glanced at the numbers on the clock and then climbed out of bed. One of his suits was already hanging in the closet.
Outside the air was cold and damp with the promise of early morning rain. Peter felt like he could see the entire city from the top of the Baxter Building, but it probably wasn’t the best idea to linger. He swung away, looking for some trouble. Late night there was always some kind of trouble.
Or at least, late night there was always one of his favorite 24-hour noodle joints. One or the other.
The night delivered him some trouble two doors down from his haunt of choice, the one where nobody ever batted an eye about Spider-Man swinging in at 4 AM.
The Shocker saw him roughly three seconds after he saw the Shocker, and let out a groan Peter thought was just a touch melodramatic.
“Oh, great. You.” he said. “That’s just what my night needs.”
“Hey, Herman, there’s no need for that tone,” Peter said, landing lightly atop the nearest street sign. “You’re not exactly a sight for sore eyes yourself.”
Normally that would have gotten him a shockwave punch or, worse yet, a terrible comeback, but instead the Shocker just shifted on the spot, bringing a hand up to rub the back of his neck. “Aw man, Spidey, sorry. I wasn’t thinking.”
“I - what,” Peter said, wondering if he’d fallen into an alternate universe where he and the Shocker were partners in crime. “Did you get in hit in the head?”
“Look, I may be a supervillain -” Peter resisted the urge to snort “- but I’m not a totally evil dude, okay? This has gotta be a bad night for you.”
“Right, yeah, definitely. Feeling real - something, here.” The Shocker nodded in a very understanding fashion. Peter really wished they were just fighting like usual. “But just to recap, this is a bad night for me because…?”
“The Torch getting married to that Parker guy,” said the Shocker. “That’s rough, buddy.”
Peter’s jaw dropped. He wondered how obvious it was under the mask. “Did I get hit in the head?”
“Look, Spidey, it’s no secret in the villain circle, y’know? You and the Torch having a thing,” the Shocker said. “My ex got married a while back too and lemme tell you,” he broke off with a whistle. “So what I’m saying is, I get it.”
Peter’s ears were ringing, and not because he’d been tossed into a car by a pair of shock gauntlets.
“I like it so much better when we fight,” he said. “I don’t know who’s been telling you this stuff, but me and the Torch are just friends. I’m happy for him, sure -”
“Hey, Spidey, buddy, it’s okay,” the Shocker said. “I’ve got eyes, y’know.”
“Hard to tell under that mask,” Peter muttered. “Shocker, seriously, I’m completely fine! Don’t you want to rob something? Seriously, I can cover my eyes and count to a hundred -”
“Nobody’s going to mess with you tonight, Spider-Man,” the Shocker said. “Sign of respect. You do what you need to do, just don’t take it out on yourself too much, okay? Plenty of fish in the sea.” A pause. “Granted, none with an ass like Johnny Storm’s, but -”
“La la la!” Peter clapped his hands over his ears. “I am not listening to this! I am not hearing this!”
“I’m gonna call it a night, head home,” the Shocker said, throwing Peter a quick salute. “You take care, Wallcrawler.”
He turned and headed up the block, towards the subway, leaving Peter balanced on his tiptoes on a street sign, feeling like he’d been hit in the face with a brick.
“What just happened,” he said to himself.
If the newscaster had been outside of the Baxter Building, Peter never would’ve stopped. But he’d been out swinging for two hours and nobody wanted to fight him, because apparently everyone thought he was deep in mourning for a love that had spurned him for another.
A guy trying to stick up a liquor store had offered him a beer. Peter had said no, thank you, and then webbed him in the face.
“You sure about that beer, Spider-Man? Maybe something stronger?” said the store’s owner, looking both shaken and sympathetic. Peter had to leave before he started webbing civilians.
He was hanging upside down from a lamp post just about to turn in and go drown his sorrows in whatever remained of his own wedding cake when a reporter stuck a mic under his nose.
“Spider-Man, can I have a moment?” she asked. “As a close, personal friend of the Human Torch, you must have something to say about his marriage.”
“Isn’t it a little past your bedtime?” Peter said, swinging himself up and shooting a webline towards the top of the nearest building. It caught and he gave it one good tug before he launched himself up and away.
Then, two minutes later, he reversed directions, swinging back the way he’d come. Sure enough she was still standing where he’d left her, conferring with her cameraman.
He landed on the sign above their heads with enough impact to make it shake.
“Hey,” said Spider-Man. “You still want that interview?”
The reporter’s whole face lit up.
“Wait, wait,” Ben guffawed, valiantly fending off Johnny’s smoking hands. He hit the rewind button. “We gotta watch it again.”
“No!” Johnny howled. Ben shushed him, grabbing him by the back of his shirt and hauling him back onto the couch.
“Of course I’m happy for the Human Torch,” Spider-Man said on the screen, hand pressed to the webs on his chest. “He’s a great guy, good friend -- but y’know, I’m kind of relieved, too? Just between you, me, and our millions of viewers -- guy had the biggest, most embarrassing crush on me.”
“Why,” Johnny demanded, head in his hands. “Why would you say these awful lies.”
“Lies,” Ben scoffed, “and I’m best friends with the whole o’ Yancy Street.”
“What can I say? You make it easy,” Peter said, arms crossed on the back of the couch.
“And it was just getting awkward,” Spider-Man continued on screen, “with all the sparky eyes and the unasked for back massages and the constant flaming -- get it? -- love declarations --”
Johnny made a noise like a trodden weasel.
“-- so anyway, I’m glad he’s found somebody more his speed, y’know? Nice stable guy, Peter Parker,” Spider-Man said, cheerily. “Though I gotta say -- Parker, if you’re listening: you can do better.”
“I hate you,” Johnny said as the recording came to an end. “So much.”
“You love me,” Peter said blithely. “You married me.”
“I’m divorcing you,” Johnny said. “I’m calling Jen and I’m divorcing you.”
“Matt will represent me,” Peter replied, faking a yawn.
“Ugh, we’d be in court forever.”
“Zip it, lovebirds,” Ben said, hitting rewind. “Howzabout we watch that again?”
Johnny melted the remote.
If the press was a problem, the kids were worse.
“You look familiar,” Bentley 23 said, squinting at Peter.
“One of those faces,” Peter said, edging away from him.
“Really familiar,” Bentley continued, squinting with an unnerving amount of intensity for a baby self-proclaimed supervillain.
“I’m married to the Human Torch,” Peter said. “My picture is everywhere.”
“Mm,” hummed Val smartly, her face hidden behind a scientific journal. Peter shot her a look. She lowered her magazine just enough to stare guilelessly back at him. Peter was going to go ahead and blame too much time spent with good ol’ Uncle Doom.
“I think it’s nice,” said Onome, beaming up at Peter. It somehow made him more uncomfortable than Bentley’s open suspicion.
“I’m gonna be watching you,” Bentley said, pointing first at himself and then at Peter. “You mess with the Torch, you mess with all of us.”
Peter found himself equal parts creeped out and charmed.
“Your fanclub found me,” he said when he finally shook off Bentley’s suspicion and the Moloids’ enthusiasm and made it back up to Johnny’s floor.
Johnny was lying stretched out over his couch like a giant cat in a beam of sunlight, the newest Stark tablet in one hand. Peter had seen it earlier when Johnny had unboxed it at the kitchen table and Reed had gotten a slightly crazed look in his eye. Peter was pretty sure something tragic would happen to it before the week was out.
“Just so you know, I didn’t condone those tattoos,” Johnny said.
“What?” said Peter. “No, shut up - I meant the kids.”
“Oh,” Johnny said, looking surprised. He sat up. “The kids have a fanclub? They interrogated you? Even Franklin and Val?”
“Val mostly laughed at my pain,” Peter admitted.
“Yeah, she does that,” Johnny said with a worrying amount of pride. He dropped the tablet on his coffee table, stretching. The afternoon sunlight glinted gold off his ring.
The rings were surprisingly simple. Peter had feared for the ostentatious, but the bands were plain gold. At first it’d felt strange wearing it - he’d been hyper-aware of the ring’s weight around his finger - but after a day or two it felt normal. Natural. The gold was always warm, just like Johnny.
He found himself playing with it without realizing, twisting it around, rubbing his thumb over it.
“You want me to go talk to the kids?” Johnny asked.
“Nah,” Peter said, giving into the warm soft afternoon sunlight and flopping on top of Johnny. He threw his strength into it, easily pinning Johnny beneath him. Johnny squawked, flailing. “Someone should think you’re too good for me.”
“Clearly you haven’t been looking at my twitter mentions,” Johnny said, squirming, but after a moment he gave up and went limp beneath Peter.
Peter smiled, idly twisting his ring around his finger.
A reporter accosted him on the sidewalk and for one terrifying moment Peter thought that glint in her eye meant that the secret was out, for good this time, no takebacks, or maybe that he’d forgotten to put a real shirt on and was wandering around downtown with his spider-shirt showing.
He was late to lunch with Harry, who was in town for the weekend. He had threatened to storm the Baxter Building if he didn’t see Peter.
(“Not really funny, Har,” said Peter.
“I’m completely serious,” replied Harry. “Don’t test me, Parker.”)
“Mr. Parker,” she said. “Or is it Mr. Storm? Do you hyphenate?”
“He’s Mr. Parker,” Peter said, mouth on autopilot like always. Inside, he was screaming for help. “I’m Mr. Storm. We figured - why not just switch? It’s a new thing, like naming a kid Apple or Seven-Up.”
He cringed inwardly as soon as the words left his mouth. Mentioning kids was probably a bad idea - that’s what married people did, right? Acquired children? Maybe the FF would let them borrow Bentley.
“A new trend?” she said.
“You know that Johnny Parker,” Peter said, doing the world’s saddest jazz hands. “Always a trendsetter?”
“Speaking of children,” the reporter said, Peter’s worst nightmare manifested, when a hand came up out of nowhere, settling heavy on his shoulder, and next thing he knew he’d been yanked against Harry’s side.
“Hey, c’mon, they’re newlyweds,” Harry said, squeezing Peter’s shoulders. “Little soon to be thinking about little adopted alien mutant Parker-Storms running around, right?”
“Storm-Parker,” Peter said.
“Stop helping, Pete,” said Harry, and then he preceded to pull him away from the situation with the kind of speed Peter guessed you needed if your dad was Norman Osborn.
“My knight in Hawaiian print,” he said breathlessly.
“I’m on vacation,” said Harry.
“It’s November,” Peter pointed out.
“I’m on vacation,” Harry insisted. “And you’re an idiot.”
The restaurant Harry dragged him into was a quiet, out of the way place where their waiter didn’t seem at all phased to be serving the son of the Green Goblin or the Human Torch’s new husband.
“How’re the kids?” Peter asked after their menus had been whisked away. Harry slid his sunglasses into the pocket of his shirt. He looked relaxed. Peter couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen him look relaxed.
“Good,” he said. “How’s Johnny Storm?”
Peter groaned, tipping his head back while Harry laughed at his pain.
“You knew this was coming, Parker! You got surprise gay celebrity hitched! Did you think you weren’t going to hear about it? Look,” he said, sobering up, “I’ve never been crazy about Storm, but if he makes you happy, then I’m happy.”
“Har,” Peter started, but Harry just shook his head.
“Besides, May says he makes you very happy,” he continued, grin wicked.
“Harry, please, I’m begging you,” Peter said, hands clasped in supplication, “you have got to stop gossiping with my aunt.”
“Who else am I gonna hear the good stuff from?” Harry shrugged. “Except for MJ. Speaking of, we’re getting drinks with her after this so the two of us can gang up on you.”
“Oh my god,” Peter said. “I blinked and I’m back in college.”
“You’ve got better hair, but yeah,” Harry said.
“Look who’s talking.”
“Haha,” Harry said, sipping at his water. “Seriously, Pete - Johnny Storm? How did that even happen? The Venn diagram of your lives kind of just has Spider-Man in the middle.”
“Everybody starts somewhere,” Peter said, shrugging. Harry didn’t seem satisfied with that answer. “Seriously, we met a few times, and I don’t know - we clicked.”
There had been a couple more fireballs than that, but it wasn’t, as far as things went, untrue. In a weird way he’d been in Johnny’s orbit ever since the day Johnny had given that talk at Midtown High. It made him feel strange to think about it that way. Nearly half his life with Johnny Storm in it.
“How long has it been going on?” Harry asked. “Not that he doesn’t seem like the weekend in Vegas kind, but - well, you’re not. I figure you had to be seeing him for what? A few months?”
“More or less,” he said with another shrug. It seemed the safest answer.
Unexpectedly, Harry’s eyes softened. “Were you guys together when he - y’know?”
“Y’know what?” Peter repeated, suspicious.
“When everybody thought he was dead,” Harry said quietly.
“Oh,” Peter said, stunned silent. He licked his lips, throat suddenly tight. Johnny’s presence was so big and warm and all-encompassing, it was too easy to forget the time he’d been gone. Or maybe Peter had been trying to forget; he closed his eyes against the sudden sting.
“Christ, Pete,” Harry said, reaching across the table to lay his hand over Peter’s. “And you just dealt with that? All on your own?”
Peter shook his head. “It’s not - we weren’t -”
“Hey, no,” Harry said in a tone of voice Peter had never heard him use before. “Sorry, I shouldn’t have - look, let’s talk about something else, right? I can tell you all the embarrassing stories about Normie. That way Uncle Pete can repeat them all at his wedding and I’ll still get to be the cool dad.”
“Okay, Har,” Peter said, blinking a few times too many. “Sounds great.”
“Let me walk you home,” MJ said, slamming the door of Harry’s cab shut. He tipsily waved at them through the window, face lit up by the blue glow of his phone. Peter waved back, mostly sober - which didn’t account for all the soft fuzzy feelings.
He made a face as the cab drove off. “Better not. The excitement’s died down, but that doesn’t mean the Four don’t still have people camped outside.”
“When have the Fantastic Four ever not had people lined up at their door?” Mary Jane asked, slipping her hand into the crook of his elbow and squeezing. “And if you think I’m scared of the paparazzi then you’ve forgotten who you’re talking to.”
“Right,” Peter hummed as they started walking, knocking his shoulder against Mary Jane’s. “How many shoes have you lost throwing at guys?”
They walked in companionable silence for half a block before Mary Jane said, “Sooooo about your sham marriage...”
“Get it out of your system,” Peter said. Mary Jane threw her head back, she was laughing so hard. A guy passing by nearly tripped over his own two feet staring.
“Shut it down, MJ, you’re scaring the tourists,” Peter said. She shook her head, still giggling. “Alright, seriously, it’s not that funny.”
“It’s pretty funny,” she said, then abruptly punched him in the arm. “Unless you’re trying to tell me that you and him are actually living together in wedded bliss?”
“We’re just friends.” Peter rubbed at his arm, silently lamenting once again being the only sober person. “Ours is a marriage of convenience, MJ.”
“I was in a play about those once,” she said. “I know how they work out. You’ll both be madly in love with each other before the week is out.”
“Because I look like the kind of person Johnny dates,” Peter said. Mary Jane threw him a look he wasn’t sure how to read.
“No, but you do look like the type he marries,” she said.
In the lobby of the Baxter Building she kissed him on the cheek and wished him good night.
“Don’t throw anything at anybody!” he shouted after her as the elevator doors started to close. “Text me when you get home!”
“Don’t you have a husband to nag?” she threw back, waving over her shoulder. He leaned back against the wall and groaned.
Sue was in the kitchen when he made it upstairs, pouring out a cup of tea. She looked up when he entered, eyebrows quirked.
“Good night?” she asked.
“Yeah,” Peter said, cracking the fridge. “Nothing too exciting or spandexacular. Just spent the day with Harry. He’s doing pretty okay.”
“Was that Mary Jane?” Sue asked. “I saw red hair on the monitors.”
“Yeah, Harry and I met up with her,” he said. “We had drinks. She mocked my very sacred vows to your brother. The usual.”
“Sounds nice.” Sue’s smile was a little strained around the edges. “She walked you back?”
“Yeah,” Peter shut the fridge. “Is everything okay?”
“Look, Peter,” Sue sighed, crossing her arms. “You’re an adult and what you do in your personal life is your own business. Please don’t think I’m intruding. But as long as you’re technically married to my brother, I really think it’s best that you avoid other relationships - or at least conduct them in private.”
“Um,” Peter said, awkwardly twisting the top off a bottle of water. “Sue - MJ and I aren’t back together.”
“Oh,” Sue said.
“Yeah,” Peter said. “Considering what everyone’s been like with just the marriage? There’s no way I’d put Johnny through that.” He cleared his throat, feeling inexplicably nervous. “As long as I’m married to him, that’s - that’s it for me.”
Next thing he knew Sue had grabbed him up in a hug, chin digging into his shoulder. He returned it after one surprised second.
“I mean, it’s a giant sham,” he said. “But it’s my giant sham.”
Sue pulled back. “I’m sorry, Peter. I jumped to conclusions. I just… I’m being overprotective, I know. But we only just got him back.” She slid her hands down to his wrists and squeezed, then let go. “Everything scares me.”
“Me too,” Peter confessed.
“Okay. Good.” Sue laughed, swiping at her eyes. She schooled her expression into a more neutral smile as Johnny came down the hall. “Speaking of the man himself…”
“Yeah, hey,” he said, leaning into the doorway. “Pete, did you tell the Daily News we switched last names?”
Peter was out swinging when he saw the smoke. He twisted around in mid-air, feet connecting with the side of the nearest building - a shriek followed the thump. He had to love those big glass windows. A new webline hit the top of the nearest building and he was off, following the sirens and screams.
The ice rink at Rockefeller Center was filled with Doombots. Peter didn’t know why he bothered being surprised anymore.
Johnny flew overhead, a fiery streak just ahead of the rest of the team, and Peter swung out to meet him.
“Hey, hubby,” he said.
“Babe,” Johnny returned, his grin flickering through the flames. “What are you doing in this neck of the woods?”
“You know me, I can never resist a good ol’ fashioned robot brawl,” Peter said, landing neatly on his toes at the top of the flame in Prometheus’ outstretched hand. It seemed an appropriate perch. “Where’s my favorite dictator?”
The doombots, bless their cold metal hearts, all seemed a little lost, slipping and sliding across the rink.
“In Latveria, probably,” Johnny scoffed, circling overhead. “He won’t show.”
“What?” Peter said, hand pressed to his chest. A doombot skidded a little too close to comfort, so he webbed it right in its creepy little face. “Am I not good enough for His Tyrannicalness? I’m hurt. I’m offended, is what I am.”
“It’s not you, it’s him,” Johnny said.
“Victor’s always been peculiar about the holidays,” Reed said, snaking onto the scene.
All at once the doombots snapped to attention, like they had some kind of Richards sensor built in. Which, Peter supposed, was probably the case. In a split second they went from cute and clumsy to murder machines - Peter had to spring out of the way to avoid a bright green laser burst.
“We’ll head over to Latveria sometime,” said Johnny, hurling a fireball. “Nothing says holiday spirit like the burning effigies of all your loved ones. Maybe he’ll add a new one this year.”
“Wow, a burning effigy for Chanukkah,” Peter said. “That Peter Parker is one lucky man.”
What happened next was a blur. One of the doombots Ben had been crushing turned its gaze on Johnny, whirring a little as if in contemplation, and then it fired a mist that snuffed Johnny’s flames. Just like that, he was painfully vulnerable. Peter should have moved, should have shoved Johnny aside or behind him, but the doombot was faster.
Next thing he knew Johnny was on the ground, skidding across the rink’s frozen surface to hit wall with a loud thud.
Sue screamed. Ben roared. Peter launched himself at the doombot.
Back once upon a time, he probably thought it’d be cool, fighting robots in Rockefeller Center, but in the moment he just felt panicked and sweaty, his heartbeat loud in his ears, and all he could think about was how Johnny wasn’t getting back up.
“Hey, hey,” Ben said, catching Peter by the shoulder. “I got this, okay? You go check on Johnny.”
Sue was crouched beside her brother, a shield thrown up to keep them safe. Peter knew it was there because he crashed into it. Sue’s head snapped up, eyes wide. She gave Peter a shaky, apologetic smile.
The force field opened up just enough for him to slip in besides them.
“He’s okay,” she said.
Peter let out a breath, turning to press his masked face against her hair.
“Thank you,” he said, to Sue and the universe and Johnny’s thick skull and no one in particular.
He ran his gloved fingers across Johnny’s face, stopping just short of what was going to be a spectacular bruise. He hissed in sympathy when Johnny winced.
“Did I stop ‘em?” Johnny asked, voice hoarse but thankfully free of any slurring. Peter shut his eyes briefly.
“Yeah, Torch,” he said. “With your face.”
“I’m a man of many talents,” Johnny said, struggling up on his elbows. “Hey, quit it. I’m okay.”
“You’re flattened,” Peter said, holding him in place with one hand on his shoulder. Johnny wrapped his hand around Peter’s wrist, squeezing - I’m okay. Peter let out a breath, some of the cagey tension falling away.
Sue gave them an odd look as she stood up and brushed the ice from her knees. Peter gestured at Johnny.
“Do you wanna,” he started, only for her to cut him off.
“No, you look like you’ve got it from here. I’m going to go help Reed,” she said, even though Ben and Reed had the robot situation well in-hand.
“Weird,” Peter mumbled.
“Sisters,” grumbled Johnny. He was making a face, glancing somewhere over his shoulder. He squeezed Peter’s wrist again then let go.
“Don’t look now,” he said. “But I think we’re about to be a scandal.”
Peter turned and found, behind the police line, a whole mob of photographers with lenses trained on them. Peter bit back a groan. “How do you live like this?”
“I said don’t look,” Johnny said, but he sounded sympathetic. “Come on, help me up. Platonically.”
Peter manfully kept his hands above Johnny’s waist. It didn’t matter - the tabloid headlines poured in the next day: SPARKS FLY BETWEEN TORCH AND SPIDEY and STORM CAUGHT IN THE SPIDER’S WEB.
“I like this one,” Johnny said over breakfast, holding up his phone: BACHELOR SPIDER-MAN SEDUCES MARRIED MAN TORCH.
“That’s offensive,” Peter said. “How do they know I’m single? I could be married too!”
“You are, technically,” said Reed, as Johnny ducked his head to hide his grin.
“Married to someone else,” Peter said sullenly, loathe to relinquish the point.
“Like you could do better,” Johnny said, idly drawing a flaming heart in midair.
The Bugle was by far the worst, heaping its usual pile of insults and aspersions on top of Spider-Man and his devious, criminal motives, while also going out of its way to make pointed comments about Johnny, his playboy ways, and the doubtlessly tattered state of his sacred wedding vows. Peter Parker, on the other hand, was cast in glowing light as a saint who had never done anything wrong to anyone ever. It was almost like Jonah cared. Peter could have shed a tear, but he was probably just going to send Jonah an extremely rude e-mail telling him to stay out of his marriage instead.
“What have I said about tech at the table?” Sue asked, exasperation tinged with amusement.
“It’s not allowed,” chorused Franklin, Valeria and Reed, who looked especially dejected.
“But Sue,” Johnny whined, while Peter rolled his eyes, already sliding his phone back into his pocket, “Pete’s never had fun publicity drama before! Not as, y’know. Not Spider-Man.”
“He’ll get used to it,” Sue said.
“You gotten used to it?”
“To being attacked by an enchanted construction crew?” Peter said, ducking low to avoid a hit and then kicking up, hitting the Wrecker square in the chest. He twisted away before the Wrecker could return the favor, swinging out and landing on a nearby rail. “Yeah, mostly.”
“That’s not what I meant and you know it,” Luke huffed, shoulder pressed up against a splintered concrete wall, holding it in place. Iron Man was on the ground by his feet, armor sizzling and immobilized but alright, if all the complaining over the comms was any indication. Peter leapt down to help Luke, putting his back into keeping the building from coming down on them. “Married life - how’s it treating you?”
The shield went flying by, followed by Steve’s voice. “Gentlemen, is now really the time?”
“I’m just saying,” Luke said. “I invited you to my wedding.”
“It’s true,” Carol said, flying by overhead. “We all invited you!”
“You’re not even married!” Peter yelled up at her.
“But if she was she’d have invited you!” Jessica Drew said, aiming a venom strike at Piledriver.
“Is this really happening?” Peter demanded, shifting until his back was against the wall. “Really? You’re all mad at me because I didn’t invite you to my wedding? My wedding for my fake marriage?”
“Would’ve gotten you something off your registry, man, that’s all we’re saying,” Luke grumbled. “Nice blender or whatever.”
“Oh my God!” Peter said, planting his heels so he could throw his hands up.
In hindsight, maybe getting hit by Thunderball was the best thing that could have happened to him in that moment. By the time Peter had wrestled him onto the ground and into the special handcuffs Tony had designed the other three had been rounded up, and all there was left to do was limp through the cleanup.
“Spider-Man,” Steve called. “Come help me lift this.”
Steve tactfully waited until Peter was busy hefting broken sidewalk out of the way before he said, “So, about your marriage…”
“If you tell me you’re mad I didn’t make you a groomsman, I may scream,” Peter said, dusting off his hands.
“I wouldn’t dream of it,” Steve said.
“I wanted to be Maid of Honor,” Jessica interrupted. “What happened to spider-solidarity?”
“Jessica,” Steve said.
“What? I’m helping. I’m being helpful.” Jessica tipped her head to the side, shaking concrete dust out of her hair. “So how long are you staying married?”
“What?” Peter said.
“Well you guys have to split up eventually, right?” Jessica said.
“Spider-Woman has a good point,” Steve said. “Have you two talked about that?”
Forget talked about it, Peter hadn’t even considered it. It had just been so comfortable, being around Johnny. It had been comforting, too, being able to look across the room and just have him there. For all they joked, somehow Peter had never pictured actually divorcing Johnny.
But that was probably the wrong thing to say about your fake-real husband.
“Yeah,” he said. “Of course we’ve talked about that. The whole - divorce thing. Why wouldn’t we?” His laugh sounded slightly strangled to his own ears. “Just big ol’ divorce plans, sitting around the corner so we can go back to our lives! Single and ready to mingle. Yep.”
Steve and Jessica exchanged a significant look.
“Yeah,” Jessica said, jerking a thumb over her shoulder. “I’m gonna be over there.”
Steve looked like he was about to say something, but Peter held up his hands in front of him and said, “Cap, please. Just don’t right now. This is my thing.”
Steve’s hand landed heavy and reassuring on Peter’s shoulder. “You know where I am if you need a friendly ear.”
He moved off down the street, leaving Peter standing there in the rubble wondering how he’d never even thought about divorcing his husband.
A low whistle broke him out of his reverie. Wolverine had his feet kicked up in an alleyway, waiting for his healing factor to take care of the very last of his injuries.
“This is why you elope, bub,” he said, saluting Peter with one claw.
“You can’t see the look I’m giving you under this mask,” Peter said, “but rest assured, I am glaring at you.”
Peter planned to talk to Johnny about the divorce, really. That day, even. They needed to make a plan, discuss their options. What would they say when they called it off? Blaming it on Johnny’s playboy ways would be easy, but just the thought struck an odd, hollow note in Peter’s chest.
Better to find a way to lay it on him.
He heard the laughter before the elevator doors opened.
Johnny was in the living room. He had Franklin up on his shoulders while Ben squared off at the other end of the room, Val tucked into the crook of one rocky arm.
“Onwards, noble steed!” Franklin cried, pointing one finger at Ben. Peter leaned back against the doorway, arms crossed, and watched the ensuing battle.
Five minutes later Johnny was on the floor with both the kids sitting on his stomach. He looked up and caught Peter’s eye.
“Hey, Avenger,” he said, freeing one hand so he could wave. “Saw you on TV.”
“It’s true, I’m very famous,” Peter said, pushing himself away from the wall and kneeling down in front of Johnny. He grabbed Val, settling her on his knees before shooing Franklin onto the couch.
Johnny flipped himself onto his stomach, bare feet crossed at the ankle in the air. His hair was mussed and his smile was relaxed and easy. Peter wished he had his camera.
“Something the matter?” Johnny asked.
“No,” Peter said. They could talk about their inevitable divorce some other day. Right now there were more important things, like pretending he couldn’t see Franklin planning a sneak attack in his peripheral vision. “Everything’s great.”
The sound of shattering glass woke Peter when it was still dark outside. He rolled over, only to find Johnny standing in his doorway, illuminated by the light from the hall.
“Torch?” Peter asked. When there was no reply, he raised himself up on his elbows, squinting. “Johnny? What happened?”
Johnny was shirtless, dressed only in a pair of boxers, and he was looking at Peter like he wasn’t quite sure what he was seeing. Peter struggled out of bed.
“What’s wrong?” he said, starting forward. “Is it Reed? Is it -- Johnny, the kids, are the kids okay?”
“They’re fine,” Johnny croaked.
“What was that noise?” Peter asked. “Johnny, you’re freaking me out, what’s going on?”
“Just broke a mirror. It’s fine.” Johnny said. “Take your shirt off.”
“What?” said Peter, understandably.
“Can you just --” Johnny said, miming something that looked less like removing a shirt and more like a couple steps of the Macarena. His hands were trembling. “Pete, please, just take off your shirt?”
It was, sadly, not the strangest thing Johnny had ever asked him to do, and he looked desperate, still standing in the doorway, so Peter shrugged out of his shirt, holding it out for Johnny to see.
Instead, Johnny practically fell forward, gripping Peter by the upper arms.
“Thank God,” he said, voice shaking, eyes fixed on Peter’s chest.
“Johnny?” Peter said, leading him to the bed. Johnny sat down heavily, bracing his elbows on his thighs. He buried his face in his hands, swearing under his breath. Peter knelt in front of him and put one tentative hand on his knee.
“I had the worst dream,” Johnny said at last, and his next words made Peter’s blood freeze: “I was back in the Negative Zone.”
“Okay,” Peter said, calmer than he felt. Who wouldn’t have nightmares in Johnny’s place? Peter had them, and it hadn’t even been him. “Want to tell me why that has anything to do with my current state of undress?”
“I was in the ring.” Johnny pushed his fingers up into his hair, palms over his eyes. “I lost. They dragged you in. The axe came down on you instead of me.” He stared at the floor and sliced one hand through the air. “Cleaved you straight through. I watched everything after.”
The blank way Johnny said all of that sent chills up Peter’s spine.
“It was just a dream,” he said. He took one of Johnny’s unnaturally warm hands and pressed it to the center of his chest. “See? Still in one piece.”
Johnny didn’t look relieved.
“I wasn’t worried they killed you,” he said in his dry, rough voice. “That’s not how it works.”
“How what works?” Peter asked. “Explain it to me, hot head, because I don’t get it.”
Johnny shook his head. “I can’t, Pete.”
“C’mon,” Peter said, “you barge in here, it’s 3am, I take my shirt off for you…” He cracked a grin he didn’t feel, waggling his eyebrows, but Johnny’s grim face stayed. Peter’s smile fell. He squeezed Johnny’s hand, still held to his chest. “Spit it out, Flamebrain.”
“I can’t,” Johnny repeated.
“Johnny,” Peter started, and then all of a sudden Johnny was kissing him.
It wasn’t like the kiss outside the courthouse, Johnny pliant and easygoing in his arms, putting on a good show for his adoring public. His lips were too warm and Peter didn’t know what to do, so he just sat there like a rock while Johnny curled a hand beneath his jaw and knocked their foreheads together and made a sound like his heart was breaking a little.
“Sorry,” he said after a moment, warm lips brushing the corner of Peter’s mouth as he spoke.
“No,” Peter said, surprised at the steadiness of his voice. Johnny stared at him, eyes wide and bright in the darkness, face painfully open. “I mean,” Peter continued, throat dry, hysteria creeping over him, “we’re newlyweds, right, that’s --”
Johnny fell away from him, sagging like his strings had been cut. He buried his face in his hands and groaned.
“Can’t you be serious for two seconds?” he said, words muffled by his palms.
Apparently not, because before Peter could stop himself he said, “What, because our marriage is a joke now?”
“Yes!” Johnny pulled his hands away from his face. His eyes sparked in the darkness, yellow-orange embers blinking in and out of life as they drifted towards the floor. Peter opened his mouth to say something, anything, but then Johnny was dragging in a harsh breath from between clenched teeth. The embers faded into wisps of smoke. “You drive me crazy. Yeah, because our marriage is a joke -- what do I have to do, skywrite it?”
“I think I should get Sue,” Peter said, but he was frozen in place.
“Just let me say it,” Johnny said, grabbing Peter’s hands and holding them in his own. Peter’s fingers were longer but Johnny’s impossibly warm palms were broader, and their hands slotted together as naturally as they ever had. Johnny’s eyes were fever bright. “Just let me say it once, Pete, you’ve got to know --”
“That doesn’t mean you have to say it!” Peter hissed, and there it was: the admission of guilt. He snapped his mouth shut so quickly he bit his own tongue.
“Yeah, jackass, I do!” Johnny said. “I love you, okay?”
Peter’s heart was caught in his throat, beating a mile a minute. Johnny’s face was more open than he had ever seen it.
Peter opened his mouth, but for once in his life he couldn’t think of anything to say.
Johnny’s face fell. “Guess this is what finally shuts you up, huh? What, Pete? You seriously got nothing?”
Finally, Peter managed to croak out, “How long?”
“Not that long,” Johnny said, gazing at the floor the way he did when he was lying. “Look, just like - five years, maybe? By your count.”
“By my count?” Peter repeated. Johnny shifted again, and suddenly he looked years older.
“Yeah,” he said. “It’s more by mine. Obviously.”
It took Peter a second to remember: time passed differently in the Negative Zone. For him, Johnny had been gone months - but it had been two years for Johnny. He felt like he’d been punched in the stomach; he couldn’t seem to get any air.
It was too dark in the room, weighing down on him, oppressive. He reached out blindly and switched on the bedside lamp, flooding the room with a soft glow. Johnny looked even worse in the light, ashen-faced with red-rimmed eyes.
Peter couldn’t look at him, but he couldn’t stop either.
“You never said anything,” the words fell from his lips, numb. “You never shut up, how could you never have said anything - five, seven years, Johnny?”
Johnny shrugged. “Don’t know. You were always with somebody perfect.”
“And you weren’t?” Peter pushed, unable to help the laughter bubbling up in his chest, even though nothing was funny. Johnny Storm had been in love with him for years - it was the least funny thing he could imagine. “You’re not? Johnny Storm, admitting he’s not perfect - I’m in an alternate universe.”
Johnny’s eyes flashed again, molten hot. “I didn’t know what it was, okay? I figured you just made me crazy, like you make everyone crazy.” He caught Peter’s hand before he could object, squeezing once before he let go. “But then I had time to think. Really think.”
In the Negative Zone, he didn’t say. Peter’s head spun and his breath froze, thinking about Johnny, trapped and alone where no one could get to him. Where his whole family thought he was dead. Where Peter had just accepted that Johnny was gone.
“Guess the dead really can’t come home again,” Johnny said.
“You’re not dead,” Peter said, grabbing him by the shoulders. Johnny’s superhuman warmth did nothing to chase away the chill. “You didn’t die.”
Johnny’s smile was a small, reassuring thing. “I’m just back, is all. Doesn’t change it.”
Peter felt like his heart was caught in a vise, like he was being squeezed from the inside, and he couldn’t stop staring at Johnny’s mouth or thinking about the first moment he’d seen him again, standing on the other side of the portal, saying his name. Johnny had been lit from behind by the Negative Zone’s sickly light, battle worn and weary, but in that moment he had been the best thing Peter had ever seen.
Peter had grabbed him and held him and thought he’d never let go of him again.
It was the ding of the elevator that broke the spell.
“Matchstick?” Ben called. “Bug? The alarms’re goin’ off, everything alright up here?”
Peter scrambled back so fast he fell off the bed.
“Pete?” Johnny said. “What the hell?”
“I gotta,” Peter said, climbing to his feet. He grabbed a pair of jeans from the floor, pulling them on over his boxers, “I gotta go, I gotta get some air, just - hit the Rhino, I don’t know, don’t follow me, alright?”
He looked up at Johnny and instantly regretted it. Johnny’s face was so naked, red raw eyes and clenched jaw, and all Peter could think about was him in the Negative Zone, alone and dying and thinking about plain Peter Parker out of all the people he’d left behind.
He smacked into Ben on his way out, hard enough to bruise, but he didn’t stop. He just kept going, one foot in front of the other until he was practically running for the elevator. He slammed the heel of his palm against the lobby button, throat too tight and head spinning.
The last thing he saw before the doors shut was Johnny’s face.
“He did it on purpose,” Peter said into his steepled fingers, staring straight ahead. “He married me on purpose, who does that?!”
The only answer he got was silence, which wasn’t a surprise. Still, no matter how many times he got it, it sent the same pang right through his chest, like he’d been run through. It had taken him years to realize it would never not feel like he was dying too, and years more to accept that.
“God, Gwen,” he said, running his fingers through his hair. “What am I going to do?”
“You could start by checking your phone, for one.”
Peter started, whipping around. Mary Jane was standing behind him in an old hoodie with her hair up in a messy ponytail, looking grudging in the face of the 6 AM sunlight. She held a greasy brown paper bag in one hand.
“Hey, Tiger,” she said.
“What are you doing here?” he asked, brushing the grass off his jeans as he started to get up, but she ruined it by flopping down next to him.
“Visiting. Stop monopolizing Gwen,” she said, leaning back on her palms on the dewy grass. She gave the headstone a lopsided smile. “Hi, Gwen. Peter been boring you?”
“I don’t think my famous sham husband deciding he’s been in love with me this whole time is actually boring, MJ,” Peter said, settling back down next to her.
“We should all have his problems, huh?” Mary Jane said, skimming the toe of her sneaker gently against Gwen’s headstone, almost a caress. She put on a falsetto and whined, “Oooh, my celebrity husband is in love with me, how terrible!”
“MJ,” Peter said, rolling his eyes. She slid her arm through his, tucking her head into his shoulder. “It’s not funny.”
“Yeah, okay. I know,” she said.
They sat like that for several long minutes, both blinking stinging eyes in the morning’s early rays, Mary Jane’s bright hair ticking Peter’s cheek and her shoulder wedged uncomfortably into his armpit.
Finally Mary Jane said, “It is kind of funny.”
Peter groaned, dropping his head to the side so his cheek was pressed up against the top of her head.
“Don’t mock my crisis, please,” he said, then, untangling just enough to look at her face, asked, “How’d you know where I was, anyway?”
“The hubby had a freakout,” she said. “Started texting everyone. Anyway, I figured -- this is where you would go.” She smiled. “Never say I don’t know you, Peter Parker.”
Peter scrubbed at his face with both hands. “MJ, what am I going to do?”
“Bask in C-List fame forever?” she suggested, raising both eyebrows. He groaned, burying his face in his hands, and she laughed. She tugged at his arm, slipping her hand into the crook of his elbow again. “Come on. Bagels now, anxiety attack after.”
She reached into the bag at her side and shoved a warm paper package into his hands. He unwrapped it, taking a bite without thinking, and nearly choked.
“Strawberry cream cheese, MJ?”
“What, I’m supposed to run out and get your favorite at the asscrack of dawn?” Mary Jane said, sucking pink cream cheese off her thumb. “We’re visiting Gwen. She gets to pick.”
Peter groaned. “Love you, Gwendy, but you’ve got awful taste in bagels.”
They both sat there for a moment, elbows brushing as they ate, and then Mary Jane said, “So, what are you going to do?”
Peter felt slightly hysterical laughter bubble up and promptly squashed it back down.
“I,” he started, stopped, and stuffed half a bagel into his mouth. Mary Jane turned and fixed him with the look.
“Are you in love with him?” she asked. He should’ve known better than to think MJ would ever be anything but direct. Peter swallowed hard, and the panic must have shown on his face because all of a sudden Mary Jane’s hands were over his. “It’s okay if you are -- and it’s okay if you’re not, too, it’s just -- you did sham marry him. It’s not like you’re getting anything out of that.”
“Yeah, no fame and fortune at all,” Peter joked, plucking at the grass.
“You don’t care about that,” Mary Jane said. Peter threw her a look and she rolled her eyes. “Yeah, I know, but you really don’t care about that -- you’ve never cared about any of that stuff, Peter, not really.”
“I was jealous of him,” Peter said, the words leaving a bitter taste in his mouth. “I spent years being jealous of him.”
“Yeah, you and the rest of the world,” said Mary Jane.
“It’s different, I --” Peter started, only to have Mary Jane seize him by the wrist.
“Peter. Stop,” she said, amused but firm. “It’s okay. Do you know how many times I looked at Johnny Storm and thought, man, if only? The money, the fame, the ability to heat up pizza bagels anywhere?”
She wiggled her fingers in a poor imitation of flames, grinning. It made Peter laugh; some of the panic caught in his throat ebbed away.
“What, and miss all the fun times we had in that apartment with the leak in the ceiling? And the DVR that only recorded on Tuesdays? I kept you in style, Miss Watson,” he said. Then, finally, he could get the words out. “I don’t know.”
In love was Gwen’s arms around him on that bike and her dimples when she smiled, her hand caught in his. In love was the tight feeling in his chest when Harry was up so high nothing could bring him down, and the strangling sensation when, inevitably, he crashed. In love was Mary Jane in the apartment with the leak in the ceiling and the faulty DVR and her calling to say she’d got the part.
“Okay,” Mary Jane said.
“I mean. I love him,” he continued. “Everybody loves him, c’mon, he’s the Human Torch. He’s one of my best friends.”
“Pete,” Mary Jane said. “It’s okay.”
“I just,” Peter inhaled sharply, feeling that one sharp tug of panic on the first freefall, before the webbing connected with the nearest skyscraper. He held his hand out in front of him, staring at the ring. “I feel like myself when I’m with him.”
Mary Jane put her head down against his shoulder, waiting him out. It took him a while to get there, absently mindedly plucking at the grass.
“And I like being married to him,” he said at last. “I just - like waking up and knowing where he is. Watching stupid TV with him. All of it, honestly.” He hesitated. “If I’m not in love with him now - then I could be.”
“Well, that’s good,” Mary Jane said. “I’ve always liked you best honest.”
“And I should just -- be honest, right? With him?” At Mary Jane’s nod, Peter huffed out a laugh. “It’s not that easy, y’know, for a guy who spends half his life in a mask.”
“You never do anything the easy way,” Mary Jane said. “You know that.”
“Yeah, but it’d be nice to pretend,” Peter said.
“Said the superhero to the actress,” laughed Mary Jane. She stood up, dusting the grass from her knees, then reached down to pull Peter to his feet.
“Ready to face the music?” she asked.
“Ready to go crash in my clone’s basement, more like,” Peter grumbled. Mary Jane ‘aww’ed, smacking a kiss to his cheek.
“See?” she said. “Not like your life can get weirder.”
Peter supposed she had a point there. He threw the headstone once last smile and said, “Bye, Gwendy. Wish me luck.”
“Remember the Human Torch, Gwen?” Mary Jane whistled. “He turned out nice.”
“MJ,” Peter groaned.
“What?” Mary Jane said, hooking her arm through his. “You’re the one who married him.”
Johnny was sitting in the kitchen when Peter got back, elbows up on the island, back bowed. His phone lay abandoned on the tabletop. Sue was seated across from him, speaking quietly, and Peter suddenly felt guilty that he hadn’t called.
Sue looked up and spotted him and that was it: no backing out now.
He rapped his knuckles against the doorframe, cleared his throat and said, “Hey, honey, I’m home.”
Johnny swivelled around, looking, in a word, terrible. Peter suspected he didn’t look a lot better.
“You came back,” Johnny said, surprised.
Peter tried not to wince. “Yeah, well. All my CDs are here.”
“Not funny,” Johnny said. “Nobody owns CDs anymore.”
Sue got up, pausing briefly to touch her brother's arm. When she looked at Peter he expected her expression to be hard - there he is, the man who broke my brother’s heart, later I’ll stick him in an invisible box in the subway and let him live out the rest of his days as a mime -- but she just closed a hand over his shoulder.
“Please don’t turn me into a mime,” he said. It earned him that look she got sometimes, like she wasn’t sure she shouldn’t drag him down to Reed’s lab to get his head checked over.
“Don’t scare us by running off like that again and we’ll see,” she said, squeezing his shoulder before she left.
Johnny was still slumped at the table, and Peter couldn’t get his feet to move. He cleared his aching throat and said, “So. When you made that joke about your secret undying love…”
“Pete, stop,” Johnny groaned. His eyes were bloodshot and his hair was terrible. He was wearing a Daredevil t-shirt in what could have only been an act of spite. Peter remembered the scrape of Johnny’s stubble against his jaw and felt his heart speed up a little bit.
“I ramble,” Peter said. His mouth felt too dry, his shirt too itchy. “I’m a rambler. You know that.”
“Look, you’ve got to know - it wasn’t about that, okay? The marriage? It wasn’t,” Johnny said suddenly, standing up from the table. “I wasn’t trying to - trick you into being in love with me or anything. I know I’m a jerk, but I swear -”
“Torch,” Peter interrupted, hands held up in front of him.
“I just, I trust you, alright? I trust you and I like just hanging out with you. You were the only one I wanted to be around,” Johnny’s voice cracked. “That’s what it was about. The other thing just… got in the way.”
“Johnny,” Peter said, softer this time. “Obviously you didn’t marry me because you’re in love with me. That’d be ridiculous.”
“Right!” Johnny said, looking relieved. Then, “Wait. Are you making fun of me?”
“Little bit,” Peter said, unable to help a grin. Johnny stared at him in disbelief for three seconds, then swore viciously before he started to laugh.
“You’re such a jerk!” he said.
Johnny’s laugh had always been contagious; it buoyed something in Peter, set something free. He caught Johnny by the elbows and reeled him in still snickering, so he didn’t realize until the last second what Peter was doing.
The kiss was clumsy. Peter was too nervous, too determined to get it right, and Johnny too shocked. Johnny’s hands came to rest at his waist, gently like he thought Peter might flee again, which - fair. His fingertips were ten points of heat against Peter’s skin.
Peter sighed a little, grip on Johnny’s shirt relaxing, and maybe that was when Johnny realized he wasn’t going to run again. He made a small, soft noise, just a stuttered intake of breath, and grabbed two handfuls of Peter’s shirt, reeling him in.
The kiss was hot and wet and still a little clumsy, like neither of them knew what to do with each other yet. Peter’s nose kept getting in the way. He laughed when Johnny made a frustrated noise, curling a hand at the back of his head.
“Okay,” Johnny said, pulling back an inch. His breath ghosted hot over Peter’s lips. “Maybe it was a little bit because I’m in love with you.”
Peter’s breath stuttered, his heart pounded. He grabbed Johnny around the waist and lifted him easily, just holding him there like he had the day he got him back before setting him down on the island’s edge.
“Can I…” Peter started, then stopped. Johnny’s eyes were wide, his face flushed.
“Yeah.” Johnny grabbed Peter’s face between his hands, locked his ankles around Peter’s legs. “Whatever you want.”
“I’m not kissing you while you’re wearing Matt’s face across your chest,” Peter said, pushing his hands up underneath Johnny’s soft, faded, probably stupid-expensive shirt.
“Caveman,” Johnny growled, waggling his eyebrows the way that always made Peter crack up.
“Pete,” Johnny said, so soft Peter almost missed it, and that was it - it was as simple as that.
Kissing Johnny was somehow even better when Johnny started laughing into his mouth, breaking away to kiss the corner of Peter’s lips, the side of his nose, the space next to his eye. Peter felt like his heart might break.
“Sorry,” Peter said, sliding his hands up Johnny’s sides. He squeezed lightly. “I shouldn’t have run off. I’m a jerk. You know I’m a huge jerk.”
“Takes one to know one,” Johnny replied, winding his arms around Peter’s neck. He dipped his head down, resting his forehead against Peter’s. “It’s okay. It’s my fault.”
“Stop,” Peter said, skimming his fingertips along the curve of Johnny’s jaw, the shell of his ear, the hair at the nape of his neck. “I’m trying to kiss my husband here.”
“Not that I ain't happy for you lovebirds,” Ben’s voice cut in, “but some people hafta eat in this room.”
Peter jumped, twisting around as best as he could with Johnny still wrapped around him like an octopus. “Ben! We were just - we uh. We…”
Ben looked tired and unimpressed, standing in the doorway with a giant, empty mug.
“We’re busy,” Johnny said. “Go to Starbucks.”
“I ain’t going to Starbucks when Stretch built us a better machine right here in my own kitchen, where I should be able to eat breakfast without looking at you two slobberin’ on each other. I’m comin’ back in five,” Ben grumbled, turning and shuffling away. Over his shoulder, he called, “You hurt him, Webs, I’ll break you.”
“What just happened,” Peter said. Johnny didn’t bat an eye. “Shouldn’t he have been, I don’t know - surprised?”
“Nah,” Johnny said. “He knows.”
“How does he know?” Peter asked, trying to lean backwards to get a glimpse of Ben. Johnny refused to let go enough to let him.
“Everyone knows,” Johnny said. “Sue, Reed. My five-year-old niece knew, Pete. I’m not subtle.”
“I didn’t know,” Peter pointed out.
“Yeah, well,” Johnny shrugged. “You’re an idiot. You’re lucky I’m so in love with you.”
The casual way he said it threw Peter for a loop, like it was just a fact - the sky was blue. Mysterio’s outfit was stupid. Johnny Storm loved him.
He ran his hands up Johnny’s thighs, swallowing hard before leaning in for another kiss. “We have four minutes before he comes back - you sure you want to spend them telling me how stupid I am?”
“It was my first choice,” Johnny murmured. “But I’ll settle for my second.”
“I’m sorry,” Johnny said. “About everything.”
Peter was sitting up against the headboard, Johnny sprawled out at his side, face pressed against his hip. Peter could feel his lips form the words before he really registered them, the only barrier between them Johnny’s soft navy sheets.
“Tell me something,” Peter said, twining his fingers through Johnny’s and pulling their joined hands into his lap. “And promise to be honest.”
Johnny shifted, leaning on his elbow. He looked like he wanted to say something, but he only shrugged one bare perfect shoulder, eyes shuttered.
“If we hadn’t gotten married,” Peter said. “If none of this had ever happened… would you have ever told me?”
“Don’t know,” Johnny said. Peter was privately sure that was as good as a no. “Didn’t really plan to tell you even with the marriage. I just… wanted to be close.”
That was too much for Peter to hear. He slid down the bed until they were nose to nose, raised his hand to card Johnny’s hair away from his face.
Johnny was just looking at him like he couldn’t quite believe what he was seeing, so Peter grabbed his hand again, running his thumb across Johnny’s ring. He raised his eyebrows. Johnny blew out a breath, ducking his head.
“Okay, smart guy,” he said. “I’m the one who got us here. You choose where we go next.” His eyes dropped to their rings and his mouth twisted. “Whatever you want, that’s what we’ll do.”
“I think you should take me for coffee,” Peter said, shrugging. Johnny looked back up, surprise written all over his face.
“Uh,” Johnny said. “Okay…?”
“In your fancy futuristic space kitchen,” he continued. “And you should introduce me to your family.”
“You’ve met my family,” Johnny said, looking at Peter like he was crazy.
“I could stand to meet them again,” Peter said. He leaned against Johnny, shoulder to shoulder, fingers intertwined. “That okay?”
Johnny leaned over to kiss him. The angle was awkward, but Peter’s eyelids fluttered shut anyway.
“Yeah,” Johnny said, turning to press his smile against Peter’s shoulder. “That sounds okay.”
The next morning Peter crawled through the window at 8 AM, bone-tired with the suit sweat-stuck to his skin. Johnny was asleep, starfished out with the blankets kicked to the foot of the bed.
For one long strange moment Peter just stood there in the doorway, looking at him.
He grabbed his camera and climbed onto the bed, up on top of Johnny. Johnny grumbled, trying to roll away, so Peter pinned him in place with his knees and raised the camera.
“Morning, sunshine,” he said, snapping a shot. Johnny groaned and threw his hands up in front of his face.
“You’re so creepy,” he said, cracking an eye open.
“I’m inspired by your radiance,” Peter replied, leaning in close with the camera.
"Make like the rest of the common people and admire me from afar," Johnny groaned, twisting away as far as he could with Peter's knees pinning his hips.
Peter got in two good shots before Johnny’s hand shot out, snagging Peter around the wrist. Peter let himself be pulled down onto the bed with limited dramatics.
Johnny grabbed the camera and turned it to face them, selfie-style.
“It’s not a Stark Phone,” Peter groused, but then Johnny was shifting so they were nose to nose. He kissed Peter through the mask, a little off center -- his bottom lip met Peter’s top.
The camera went off with a click.
“The Human Torch with another man?” Peter said. “Scandal. You’re married, Mr. Storm.”
“What can I say?” Johnny murmured. “You knew my reputation when you agreed to marry me.”
“I’m devastated,” Peter said. “I’m taking you for everything in the divorce.”
“Yeah?” Johnny asked, rolling Peter’s mask up over the bridge of his nose. “You can have it.”
“What?” Peter said.
“In the divorce,” Johnny said. “Didn’t make you sign anything, remember?”
“I was kidding,” Peter said.
“I wasn’t,” Johnny said. “When you want to walk away --”
Peter kissed him, partly to shut him up and partly because Johnny was making his heart ache.
“Shut up,” he said. “You married me, stupid.”
“Yeah,” Johnny said, settling his warm hands at Peter’s waist. “I know. I was there, stupid.” His face broke out in a brilliant, blinding grin. “We’re totally married.”
“We can do all that fun married stuff,” Peter said, snorting laughter when Johnny waggled his eyebrows. “Like joint taxes.”
“Married people taxes,” Johnny said, rolling his eyes. “Unf, baby, tell me more.”
“I take it back,” Peter said. “I don’t want to see your taxes. What do those even look like?”
“Wouldn’t know,” Johnny said. “Reed always does ‘em.”
“Oh, well,” Peter said, “if Reed’s doing them…”
Johnny thwacked him on the shoulder, so Peter grabbed his wrist and tumbled them over. Johnny half-laughed, half-yelled, wrapping both of his arms around Peter, and the next thing Peter knew they were hitting the floor, taking half the bedding with them.
Peter laughed, surrounded by soft sheets and fluffy carpet and Johnny’s warm arms. “You’re my nemesis, Torch, you know that?”
“I’m okay going full Mr. and Mrs. Smith if you are,” Johnny said. “But I call Angelina.”
“That’s a dealbreaker,” Peter said, laughing as Johnny rolled them over. “Wipe that look off your face. I need a shower.”
“What a coincidence,” Johnny said, winking. “So do I.”
They stumbled into the kitchen twenty minutes later, damp and rumpled and late to breakfast.
“Good morning,” Sue said, raising her eyebrows at them.
“I’d say so,” Johnny smirked, leaning over to kiss Peter’s cheek before he fell into his seat and made a grab for the rest of the toast.
Franklin dropped his spoon. “Wait, now you’re actually married?”
“What can I say, little man?” Johnny reached out and ruffled his nephew’s hair. “He put a ring on it.”
“Yeah, got it out of a box of Cracker Jacks and everything,” Peter said.
Reed was beaming at them.
“This is wonderful!” he said. “We can double date!”
Sue snorted, tweaking Reed’s collar. “Sure, honey. To Mars, maybe.”
“It’ll probably be Latveria,” Peter said.
Ben coughed loudly and slid the Post across the table. Peter looked down to see himself on the cover, looking awkward with a beanie shoved down over his unruly hair and his hands in the pockets of his coat. Mary Jane was on his arm, laughing with her head thrown back, her bright hair catching the sun.
ACTRESS EX-STINGUISHES TORCH’S FLAME? read the headline.
Johnny looked at Peter, looked at the headline, and then looked at Peter again before he cracked up.
“Stop the bus,” Peter groaned. “I want to get off.”