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Time To Pretend

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Most patrons of New York’s subway either see it as a means to an end, getting from where they are to where they’re going, constantly back and forth; or as a filthy, disturbing and probably cursed look at humanity’s seamy underbelly, a necessary evil if you don’t have the kind of income where you can take cabs or Uber yourself across the five boroughs.

MJ’s not either. She likes it, the chaotic, the weird, the surreal, the unglamorous nature of so many people packed into metal tins together.

It’s also great for people watching, and sketching other weirdos of all kinds. Sometimes she just rides it even when she’s not going anywhere. Just to sketch people.

Not that it doesn’t present its fair share of obnoxious and/or creepy dudes who occasionally think a girl with headphones on, who is clearly concentrating on her notebook, is someone they should attempt to talk to/take up personal space of – but she’s been riding the subway since she was a kid, and she may not have superpowers but she knows a few ways to protect herself.

if you’re out can you pick up milk? thanks :) x

She shakes her head, but she isn’t mad at it. Living with boys is challenging, but at least growing up with just her Dad has meant she understands them. You have to make sure you don’t become their mother though, which is why she makes sure that she’s not the only one buying milk or bread or toilet paper. And certainly not the only one cooking, if everyone’s around.

She smirks anyway, as she texts Peter back. fine, but can you order pizza for tonight?

already on it...get home soon tho we’re too keen to watch the new episode! x

She likes that he often puts an x on the end of his texts, but doesn’t expect to do the same. Because sometimes she will, but she’s not really the gushy, love you bae on every conversation end and text type. But he doesn’t try to make her that either.

A rush of affection brought on by this thought leads her to reply, i’m getting there okok see you soon x

***

“Ah crap, I always forget about that one!” Peter yells, rapidly backing away.

“Get outta there, get out man!” Ned yells back, but it’s too late – the screen comes up with a message saying that Ryder’s dead and they have the option to quit or go back to the last save point.

Ned sighs. “Come on, Pete. Jeez.”

Peter laughs. “I’m sorry, Ned.”

They’ve been taking turns replaying Mass Effect: Andromeda on their old PS4, and it’s been fun. Kind of nostalgic, a reminder of when things were much less stressful – no college classes, no part time jobs, and in Peter’s case no saving the city (and very very occasionally, the world). Back then, even though school was stressful, they were playing them and dreaming about when they’d be older, have more to do than play video games all weekend.

Then, after he’d gotten the powers, and the suit, and a taste for the excitement of out-sized grown up battles, not just helping around the neighbourhood but something that felt real and adult – everything he’d found fun before seemed so much less exciting. It felt like an opportunity to grow up without having to wait two or three more years. And what did having a credit for marching band or science club matter when you might be allowed to join the world’s foremost superhero team? What did college matter when that could be his job and he wouldn’t have to spend more and more years studying to get there?

If that him could see into his future at this moment, he might be disappointed – twenty years old, living with and still playing video games with his best friend on a Friday night. But the older he gets, the more he looks back on that version of himself, he thinks about how he’d been so hurried to be an adult that he’d proved why he wasn’t ready to be one. And the older he gets, the more fights he gets into, he realises this is exactly where he wants to be – a part time superhero trying to protect the people he can, but one who can go to college and plan for a normal future, one who can spend Friday nights with the people he cares about, with pizza on the way, waiting to watch an episode of their favourite show together, like usual. It’s the sort of thing that seems so boring when you’re younger, but having seen the lives of a few more full-time supers it’s made him realise how important having a life out of the suit is.

And he wouldn’t trade that for a spot on any famous superhero team.

He hears the door, and Ned nods, smiling. “Go get it.”

He walks into the hall to see MJ opening the door with a filled bag from the mini-mart down the street in one hand, and can’t help smiling.

She puts on an unimpressed expression when she sees him, though her eyes are warm. “Don’t just stand there Parker, help me with the shopping,”

He laughs and follows her into the kitchen. It’s not super large, or new, but for a three bedroom apartment in Bed-Stuy, it’s a miracle. One that they could afford only because of a few lucky factors and connections – Tony had even offered to let them rent in one of his investment property apartments, but they ended up deciding they didn’t want to be relying that heavily on him and just accepted his offer to introduce them to some brokers that would do them a good deal on rent.

“I meant to just go in for milk, but then I ended up getting a few things we needed and suddenly I have this full bag. But, this does mean I don’t have to buy house basics for a while, so I’m pretty stoked about that,” she says, deadpan as usual, as they put the food away.

“You’re a true hero,” he jokes, and she smirks.

“About time you recognised. Hey, maybe instead of just foiling bank robberies or car jackers you could buy last minute groceries for people in need. You could start a whole business, it could be lucrative, Peter,” she teases, with a crooked smile.

He turns to her, having put the milk away. “I think I’ll stick to my way of helping. Why are you so mean to me?” he asks, mock-affronted.

“Obviously, it’s because I like you and it’s the only way I can get your attention,” she deadpans, smiling though as he wraps his arms loosely around her waist.

“Sounds familiar,” he snorts and she kisses him.

It’s always been like that with her – you think you’re leading the dance and she’s following, until she makes a move that makes you realise you were always following her, she was just smart enough to make you think otherwise. It had been kind of nerve-wracking in school, trying to figure her out, but he doesn’t mind it now. It’s kind of one of the reasons he loves her.

“Hey, lovebirds,” Ned calls out from somewhere in the hallway. “I’m just letting you know I just got a message from Seamless and the pizza should be here in like ten minutes.”

Peter sighs, grinning and calls out, “Ok, we’ll be out soon, Ned.”

MJ smirks, and then looks at him like something’s occurred to her.

“Hey, shouldn’t Flash be here? Doesn’t he finish at like 4:30 on Fridays?”

He nods. “Yeah, actually – he texted me to say he should be out soon, but that was like over an hour ago...”

She frowns at him, confused. “You haven’t texted him since?”

“Ned and I got into a very intense section of Mass Effect, ok?”

She shakes her head, smiling. “Nerd.”

“Look who’s talking, Academic Decathlon Captain,” he returns, not at all offended.

“Ugh, you’re both nerds.”

They turn to see Flash in the doorway to the kitchen, attempting to look casually disgusted. Unfortunately for him, his relief at finally being home is palpable, and his resolve to keep even a vaguely disgusted expression must be being tested further by them smiling at him.

“Didn’t hear you come in, Flash.” MJ replies.

“And hello to you too,” Peter adds.

***

Spring, 2 Years Ago

They are enjoying lunch after a particularly painful physics exam when Ned brings it up.

“God, what are regular school exams like? That was intense, and I usually find physics fun.” Peter complains, ashen-faced.

“I know, I’ve seen the T-shirt.” MJ deadpans. He smiles a little. “Well, it’s not like college will be easier. Especially if you’re hoping to make the engineering program at NYU.”

“Me too,” Ned agrees, and then looks at her. “Are you going to live in the halls?”

She narrows her eyes a bit. “Not sure. It’s pretty expensive, and I’m not sure I want to give up having my own room. But it’s a long fucking commute back and forth to Queens from Manhattan.”

Ned nods. “Yeah, I know. I’m looking into group apartments but I don’t think my mom’s cool with me moving out to live with strangers. She worries. Both of them do.”

“What about you, Peter?” MJ says, poking him.

“Ow, ok well y’know I applied for MIT on the advice of a certain person, “ he begins, and Ned taps his nose knowingly, and MJ rolls her eyes.

“Typical, I’m sure he could get you in but don’t you wanna see if you can do it yourself?” she snarks.

He frowns. “Easy, I said I applied. He kept asking about it. But I didn’t tell you guys I also applied for NYU.” Ned beams instantly at this. “I really like the program, and I’d like to be able to stay in the city if I can. May’s my only relative...” he breaks off somewhat awkwardly, and looks down. “Whatever. I don’t really want to move away, for a lot of reasons.”

“Hey dorks, what are we talking about? I definitely crushed that exam.” Flash takes this moment to sit down with them.

Since they’ve become friends because of a variety of high school and non-high school related dramas, Flash has begun to sit with them sometimes. Most of his insults are half-hearted and somewhat affectionate, now. He’s kind of less of an asshole, surprisingly. Not totally not an asshole, but a smaller one.

Ned scrambles to cover the slightly sadder mood that’s settled over the table. Peter doesn’t often play the orphan card, or mention his parents much so the college question is clearly stressing him more than he lets on.

“We’re talking about where we’re gonna live for college. If MJ and I get into NYU, we’re wondering if it’s worth living in the halls, or just staying home and commuting across to Manhattan all the time.”

Peter, on Flash’s other side now, gives Ned a small, grateful smile.

Flash nods, thinking. “Well I mean, I could live in halls at Columbia but they tell me single rooms go really quick, and fuck living with a roommate. They’d probably go through my shit. And my dad says he’ll pay for partial rent on an apartment, but I have to find people to live with first...”

“And I’ve applied to NYU too, so that’s something I’m wondering about too.” Peter adds.

Flash glances at him quickly, then back to Ned and MJ. “Well, I mean whatever, but it’d be so much less of a fucking hassle if I didn’t have to interview strangers to live with me, soooo...”

“Yes?” MJ prompts, eyes narrow.

He scowls at her. “I’m saying, do you dorks wanna find an apartment, that my dad will partly pay for, with me this summer, so we can move in before term starts?”

Ned smiles widely. “Awesome! Thanks Flash, the moms are gonna be much happier that I’m moving in with friends. They worry.”

Flash makes a dismissive noise, but can’t help a smile edging out on his lips.

Even MJ smiles, genuinely. “My Dad’ll be happy too. You’re alright, Thompson.”

“Yeah, actually my aunt’ll be thrilled. Thanks, Flash.” Peter says, wearing the first big smile he’s had since he got to school in the morning.

Flash looks at him briefly, half smiling. “Whatever, better the devil you know right?”

“So that took forever, and then I had to get an Uber here and the driver was super weird,” Flash complains.

“Your life is a constant hardship. I had to wait nearly half an hour for the C train because it got held up, and then I went to the minimart after I spent 45 mins on the subway with an old lady sleeping on my shoulder.” MJ drawls, giving him a look.

He frowns at her. “You like the subway though. You like the weirdos.”

“That’s true,” Peter replies, and she nods.

“Welcome home then. Pizza should be here in a few minutes, according to Ned,” she says, with more of a smile.

He can’t help smiling at this, at them. He’d not really paid her much attention at first in school, then as their paths crossed more he found her constant contrarian shit-stirrer behaviour almost as irritating as Peter’s earnest, know-it-all, goody-two-shoes shtick, and now he’s come to appreciate it about her. The way she isn’t afraid to call either of them out, the way he’s realised they have a similar sense of humour. The way she can give Peter shit like he does, even though neither of them really mean it that much anymore.

“Who’s ready for some time travel and robots then?” He asks.

***

As he sits with his friends, the ones he never would have pictured being his closest friends at this age, drinking beer and eating pizza and talking about the show they’re watching, he thinks about how he had been looking forward to this all day. As a teenager he would have thought staying in on a Friday night to watch a TV show would have been the nerdiest, most Peter Parker thing no one cool would willingly do. But his views on a few things have definitely changed since then.

Home is a strange concept. He had grown up in a big house, with parents who wanted him to do well and had given him a lot to ensure he did, and he’d thought that was home. He got along ok with his parents – his dad put a lot of pressure on him to do well, but he at least made up for that by providing him with resources to do so. But it was never like this; they weren’t the type to watch movies together and curl up on the couch together. But here – even though he wouldn’t usually admit it, unless he was very drunk – here actually felt like home. It felt like a place he wanted to come back to, with people who were mostly happy to see him, who actually surprisingly wanted him to be here.

And even weirder, he wants to see them. He wants them here, even Ned, for fuck’s sake. He doesn’t fully understand how he fell in with these weirdos, when exactly he decided to throw in popularity and those friends, but he doesn’t regret it. Well, mostly. They are roommates, and that’s not always pizza and beer and time travel, but it’s mostly great.

He’s sitting between MJ and Ned - who’s on the end of the couch – but he’s a little closer to MJ. She’s leaning back into Peter’s chest, and he’s got an arm around her. He can feel a hand tickling the arm that’s close to MJ. He smiles, looking at the TV.

Peter’s not even drunk, just buzzed, but he’s such a lightweight that a move like that betrays how comfortable he must be. He meets Peter’s fingers briefly, and a shot of warmth travels through his fingers and up his arm. That’s another thing he would never have pictured, in all the time he spent both hating and obsessing over Peter.

It’s something he likes about Peter, now that he can admit to himself that he likes anything about Peter at all. He doesn’t like to think someone’s feeling left out. It’s a very sweet and earnest part of his personality, at odds with both him and MJ’s. Maybe that’s why it works though.

Ned gets a text from Alice as soon as the show finishes.

“Is that your giiiirl?” Flash teases, sounding a little buzzed but not much.

He looks at him. “As a matter of fact, it is. Do you guys need me, or can I go call her?”

They all shake their heads, waving him away, looking too comfortable to mind anyway.

He asked out of politeness, but really he knows when he’s becoming the unnecessary cog. Not in a bitter way, because there are lots of times they just hang out as four friends, and he doesn’t feel like the odd one out, but times like this - even though he’s happy to - definitely require him to get out of their way at a certain point.

They wouldn’t say it, of course. But it’s a look they all get, comfortable and unguarded, especially if there’s drinking involved. Maybe they’re not even aware they do it, like an unconscious tic.

Well, anyway, he’s very happy to leave them alone and talk to his girlfriend. After all, his life doesn’t revolve around them.

Summer, 1 Year Ago

It’s one of those summers that makes you feel like you’re sticking to everything, pavement melting the rubber soles of your shoes as you rush home.

Flash hates summers like these, especially now he’s not got a pool in his backyard. It’s very hard to feel like you’re crushing it and looking fly as hell when you have pit stains not twenty minutes after you step outside.

The air-conditioner broke and their fans can only do so much.

“This sucks, guys.” MJ says darkly, from the floor in front of one of them.

“Mhm,” Ned agrees, unmoving and sweating like crazy.

“We could...there’s aircon at the cinema,” Peter suggests half-heartedly.

“I’m not seeing the eighth Minions movie or Transformers Nine or whatever the fuck. Not even for air-con.” MJ grumbles back.

“Fuck that.” Flash agrees, wishing he didn’t feel so stuck to the plastic of the chair beneath him.

Peter frowns. “Or we could just sit around and complain about the heat, sure.”

Ned sits up suddenly. “Beach.”

Flash looks over at him, narrowing his eyes in confusion.

Ned grins widely. “We could go to Coney Island boardwalk. I mean, it’s still early, it’ll still be hot as hell when we get there.”

“What are we, tourists?” Flash interjects. “It’ll be packed.”

MJ holds up a hand from the floor. It’s amazing how she can command control of the conversation when she’s not even on the same level as them all.

“I haven’t heard a better idea. Let’s go be tourists,” she says, matter-of-factly and Peter grins at her.

He gets this look around her, and it shouldn’t be surprising – they’ve been together around two years now, and Flash has been around for most of that. It’s just so immensely fond.

It’s not like he’s unhappy – of course not. Relationships are stressful and college is enough pressure without having to deal with someone else needing things from you; he’s happy to hook up with people he never sees again. But being around them all the time – he can’t think of the last time someone looked at him that fondly.

It’s just that he misses that. If he ever even had it. Can you miss something you’re not sure you’ve ever had? It’s nothing more than that.

***

Flash has to admit though, as packed as it is at the boardwalk, Ned was totally right.

He hates that. It’s happening all too often for his liking.

Even as much as he hates to ride the subway, it was kind of fun taking it to get to the beach.

Sometimes he forgot why he was hanging out with these weirdoes, and then there were days like today where he felt like a weirdo and wholly included with them, and he loved it.

Not that he’d totally admit that to them. He’d never hear the end of it.

But even in the gross heat, the sweaty strangers, he was feeling the excitement – even from MJ, who usually never let on if she ever felt anything more than light amusement or irritation – and being reminded of how good it felt just to indulge in childish freedom, and stop worrying about readings and college and parents and everything for once.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m making a movie,” Peter says, like it’s obvious.

“On your phone?” Flash says, trying to sound more unimpressed.

Peter grins. “Cinema verite, man! And like I’m gonna bring anything better to the beach. This is just a fun record of this summer.”

Flash rolls his eyes. “Because this summer’s been so much fun.”

“You haven’t enjoyed any of it? What about your birthday?” Peter contends, still filming.

Flash huffs, but he can’t help smiling at the memory. His parents had said they’d be out of the country and weren’t able to take him to the usual celebratory dinner – he had planned a younger celebration-houseparty for the weekend, but it had bummed him out more than he’d expected. So the three of them had taken him out to an out-of-the-way Japanese place, gotten bombed on sake and ended up in a small karaoke bar, where he had proceeded to kill it on Uptown Funk . As much as he could remember of it.

“There it is!” Peter jokes, grinning. He used to think that smile was awkward and goofy but now he’s come to like it. It’s hard not to like when it’s on you; it’s so warm. It’s not like he thinks about it often¸ though. It’s not like he thinks about it at all.

“Whatever, aren’t you going to go in ever?” he deflects.

“MJ’s just setting up our stuff so no one pinches it, but then you better be coming in with us.” Peter replies, looking at them.

“I’m right behind you,” Flash says, smiling.

Sitting on the beach, having swum, and now tanning – Peter bemoaned this, as he has to wear copious amounts of sunscreen or he’ll quickly turn an unattractive pink-red, much to the amusement of his less pale friends – Flash looks out at the water.

He’s not looking at Peter and MJ playing, splashing about and generally looking like they don’t notice that anyone else is around them, even though it looks like a population the size of Queens’ is enjoying the water. He’s just looking out at a random focal point on the water. What’s to say he’s not looking at that girl in the bikini next to them? He could totally be staring at her.

Ned sits down heavily on the towel next to Flash.

“Heey, Flash. How’re you?” he says contentedly. “Was I right, or was I right?”

Flash doesn’t reply, so Ned follows his gaze.

“Hello? Flash?” Ned asks.

“What?” Flash snaps, and then feels guilty. The most annoying thing about getting older and supposedly maturing is that he’s losing his ability to be an asshole to people without feeling anything about it. It was a lot simpler before.

“Sorry, Ned,” he says, in a nicer tone. Ned goes back to smiling almost immediately.

“That’s alright. Seems like you were pretty focused for a moment there,” Ned says, calmly.

He looks at him, confused. “Focused? On what?”

Ned shrugs. “I dunno. Looked like you were looking at MJ and Peter.”

He instantly bristles. “Well, I wasn’t! I was checking out the hot-ass girl next to them, ok, Sherlock?”

Ned shrugs again. “Ok.” he says simply.

They sit in silence for a moment. “I don’t even know why you’d think I’d be –“ Flash starts.

Ned sighs deeply. “Ok, I wasn’t going to say this, but maybe now’s a good time.” He looks out at Peter and MJ in the distance.

“I’m not sure if you like MJ, or if you like Peter, or both, or if you’re jealous of both –“ Ned starts, and Flash chokes out a splutter.

“What? I don’t – that’s –“

Ned looks at him and he shuts up a moment. “But from an outside perspective it’s obviously one of them. And I think it might feel better to at least figure that shit out, y’know? At least you’d know.”

Flash is for once, speechless.

They sit in silence again.

Ned is prone to asking such obvious or childish questions sometimes you forget he’s actually very intelligent and unexpectedly observant. For someone who frequently can’t read social situations he’s involved in, he’s surprisingly insightful about others.

“Shit, Ned.”

He can’t turn out to be right about this.

***

Of fucking course he’s right. When is the universe ever fair?

It did drive him out of the apartment in search of a bar. He needed a drink, or several if he was going to take Ned’s unexpected advice to heart; and he couldn’t really be around them right now.

MJ had asked what was up with him on the way home, and he’d brushed it off. She was the kind of person to take that at its word, though, so she said nothing more about it.

He didn’t figure it out that night. He did forget about it though. With the help of a dark-haired girl from the bar.

A couple of nights later he crashes into the apartment, drunk and having failed to find someone at the bar he wanted to go home with. It wasn’t like he was going to the bar every night, and he was keeping up with school fine he just suddenly found himself with very little time to spend at the apartment.

He knocks on Ned’s door loudly. It wasn’t that late, and besides Ned liked to stay up and play video games against other internet people.

“Neeeed,” he stage-whispers. “Ned, I gotta –“

Ned opens the door, and the glow of his computer screen alerts Flash to the fact he is indeed still playing video games.

“Jesus, Flash, you smell like a brewery!”

Flash shakes his head. “I had a few drinks, Mom. Are Pete and MJ asleep?”

Ned shakes his head. “They’re out somewhere tonight, I dunno.”

“Aw, that’s nice,” Flash replies, and dissolves into giggles.

Ned looks at him, worried. “Maybe you should sit down, buddy. Sit on my bed, but if you throw up or fall asleep, I will murder you, ok?”

Flash nods drunkenly. “Sure.”

He settles on the bed. It’s so comfortable he might have to risk Ned’s wrath and threats of murder to stay here.

“So...” Ned begins, awkwardly. “Haven’t seen you much in the past few days...”

“It’s your fault,” Flash interrupts. “I wish you’d never said that stuff at the beach, I’m so fucked...”

Ned frowns. “I’m sorry, I was just trying to help –“

“Well, you didn’t, you just made everything a thousand times worse, ok?” Flash huffs grumpily and closes his eyes for a second.

There is an awkward silence.

“Flash, dude, I’m sorry but also if you pass out on my bed I won’t hesitate to push you off, ok?” Ned says after a moment.

Flash huffs again, but opens his eyes.

“So, where you been?” Ned asks tentatively.

“Figuring shit out,” Flash says slowly.

“Did you...go back and crash at your parents?” Ned guesses.

Flash snickers. “No, I’ve been meeting new people. Very hosp –hosid – hospitable people.”

“Uh, that’s nice?” Ned says, sounding puzzled. “Where?”

Flash gives him a look. “At the bar, you nerd. Lots of lovely girls and guys at the bar.”

“Oh. Ohhhh.” Ned says sheepishly. “I’m sorry if I freaked you out, I know I don’t always say the right thing...”

Flash snorts.

“...but I mean, I just thought at least if someone suggested it to you, it might be better than just living in denial...” Ned tapers off. “I’m sorry, I’ve had Red Bull and I might be talking crap I honestly don’t know –“

“Shush,” Flash cuts him off, rubbing the bridge of his nose. His head is spinning.

“Fine, but you came in here, jeez.” Ned says, spinning his chair back to his computer.

“Wait, wait, wait –“ Flash says, yawning. “So, you’re the one with the advice, iiiif maybe I liked, say, Peter –“

Ned snorts, causing Flash to seize the nearest small object, a pencil, and throw it at him. “Ok, sorry, not cool,” Ned says, still grinning. “But I frickin’ knew it! You’re not subtle. You were basically obsessed with him in school.”

“I wasn’t –“ Flash attempts a weak lie. A sudden thought breaks through Flash’s drunken haze and makes his blood run cold. He stares at Ned frustratedly. “You don’t think he fucking...knows? Oh my god. Shit.”

Ned shakes his head. “It took him forever to figure out MJ liked him, I think you’re ok. Let’s just say you’re lucky our friend has other things to worry about.”

“Thank fuck.” Flash says, and his heart begins to return to normal pace again. It is lucky for him that juggling a girlfriend, burgeoning adulthood, family, friends, college and superhero duties leaves Peter a little scattered and oblivious at times. He’s not even supposed to know about the last thing, but he kind of found out by accident senior year. It fucking made sense though, like he never properly explained what he even did in the prestigious “Stark Internship”, and thinking about it he was exactly the kind of person who would think it was “his duty” to fight crime in one of the cities with the highest crime rates. It starts to freak him out if he thinks about it too long though.

“So...” he draws out the word, awkward, but drunk enough to ask. “If you were in my situation, what would – what would you do?”

Ned frowns. “No judgement, but like that question requires me to think of what I would do in a hypothetical where I have romantic feelings for my best friend, and that’s a bit too weird.”

Flash frowns and shakes his head. “No, no, like – like it doesn’t have to be him, just like what would you do if you had feelings for a room-roommate? And they were abso lutely not interested? What the fuck should I do, Ned?”

Ned throws his hands up. “How should I know? I’m at home planning to game probably through the night, which I love but while my best friend is out on a date with his girlfriend. Why would I have good relationship advice?”

“You’re the one who started this whole thing, and now you’re quitting? God, Ned!”Flash groans, irritable. He closes his eyes. He just wants to sleep now.

“Ok, ok, you’re right, I should have thought about it. I’m sorry.” Ned says, sounding genuinely guilty.

Flash shakes his head slowly. “S’ok. S’already there, I guess.”

Ned looks pensive. “Ok, well...you can’t date him, obvs, but is it just him or is it like...other guys...I’m not judging, like, my moms have taken me to enough rallies and Prides to, uh, not...”

Flash blows a raspberry. It might be totally fucking awkward, but he does actually appreciate Ned attempting to try and talk about it with him.

“I don’t know, it’s like, it depends...” he says slowly. Then, figuring that he’s already having the awkward conversation and may as well do it properly, “I used to think it was just girls. Now I think it’s more..guys? But, like, also girls? Sometimes? Fuck, I don’t know...”

Ned nods, taking it surprisingly maturely. “So, you’re like..bi, then? Cool.”

“I guess...” he chuckles. “I don’t think I’ve ever said that to anyone. Cheers, Ned.”

Ned smiles. “Awesome.”

There’s a moment of quiet. He feels like he could probably fall asleep right now, in his clothes. I mean, sure Ned threatened murder, but would he really bother pushing him off the bed? He can’t fathom getting up right now.

“So maybe...the best way to get past it is to actually date someone? Might take your mind off it?” Ned suggests suddenly. Bless him, he’s actually trying to give advice like Flash hadn’t just complained about it.

“Mhm, what’s wrong with just hooking up with people? Certainly helps take my mind off it.” He replies vaguely.

Ned sighs. “I don’t know, dude. But really, like, how else are you gonna get over this? Hookups are brief. You might need something longer-term.”

Flash nods, closing his eyes again. “I haaate it when you’re right...”

Ned chuckles.

Just a moment’s nap. Just a minute.

“Flash, I swear to God, if you fall asleep I will spray you with the water sprayer...”

***

Fall, Nine Months Ago

 

Peter loves his life, he does. It’s just very full.

Years ago, he was disappointed he wasn’t really a full-time superhero team member, because how cool that seemed – especially compared to the more mundane parts of his life. But since realising how much that mattered, it had filled up and now he couldn’t imagine having the time or the energy to be full-time on call for the whole world. It was tiring trying to protect the relatively small area he did now.

But you can’t give “got beaten up by a criminal with superpowers” to your professor as an excuse for why you haven’t finished a problem set. You can’t ignore your girlfriend, especially when she’s in the same course at the same university as you. Not to mention, wanting to have time for the two other friends you’ve managed to keep because they live with you and you see them every day, while also wanting to have time with your girlfriend-friend, who also lives with you.

Not to mention, making time to go see your aunt, when you can.

Not to mention occasional check-ins from certain superheroes, although thankfully not too much.

Flash had suggested a party for his birthday, but he was always trying to throw parties. The thought was vaguely exhausting. What he hadn’t expected was MJ to agree - or Ned for that matter. But they’d convinced him that it would be fun, and now it was happening.

*

Flash doesn’t look so excited as they put snacks out.

“Not feeling it yet?” Peter asks, half-joking.

“What?” Flash says vaguely, looking confused.

“You just don’t look as pumped for tonight, and I hope you are going to get pumped because this party was your idea,” Peter continues, half-joking, but a little more worried now.

“Oh, uh, right,” Flash replies with a weak smile. “No, I’ll get there. Long day is all.”

Peter stops setting up red plastic cups and looks at him seriously. “Are you ok? You’ve been a bit – up and down, lately...”

“I’m fine, ok? When do you ever have time to notice, anyway?” Flash retorts. Peter’s used to this from him now, it is kind of how he operates when uncomfortable, but it still stings a bit.

“I know I’m busy a lot, but I’m still your friend. It’s not like I don’t care what you’re up to.” He reacts, and goes back to setting up cups.

Flash huffs an irritated sigh. “Ok, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have snapped.” Apologies this quick are a small miracle from him, but he’s getting better at it.

Peter smiles quickly. “Don’t worry about it. As long as you’re ok.”

Flash nods. “I am. Thanks.”

Peter attempts to steer the conversation onto lighter topics. “So, are you picking Alex up or is he going to make it here from his place?”

Flash pours some chips into a bowl and then pauses. “Damnit.” He straightens up again and frowns. “We broke up yesterday. It’s not a big deal.”

Peter doubts that. “Oh man, that sucks, I’m sorry. Why didn’t you say anything?”

Flash shrugs. “I – tonight’s supposed to be fun, I didn’t wanna bring down the mood.”

Peter frowns at this. “You can tell us these things, you know.”

“I know,” Flash repeats, in a slightly mocking tone, although Peter knows now it’s more from uncomfortableness whenever conversations get too heavily “feelings-y”.

“You probably don’t want to hear this, but I am sorry about it. I liked Alex. Unless he did something crappy, then obviously I hate him.” Peter continues, tentatively.

Flash, surprisingly, chuckles weakly at this. “No, no – It was a mutual thing, just...we want different things. And I don’t think I’m cut out for relationship shit, you know?”

Peter nods. “It’s not easy. But I’m sure – I’m sure you’ll meet someone who it’ll work out with. You’re not as much of an asshole as you pretend, Flash. I should know.”

And he should, given the years Flash seemed directly focused on mocking and trying to make his life difficult at every turn. That they should even be here together after graduating, voluntarily, as friends preparing for a party one is co-throwing for the other is some kind of bizarre miracle.

Flash gives him a strange look that he can’t quite read, and then laughs. “Yeah, maybe. Guess I’ll see.”

***

He’s actually enjoying this party, despite how tired he felt earlier. He hasn’t had time to really drink recently, and he’s on his third drink and feeling pretty good. It feels good to let it all go, at least this once.

He brings back another drink for MJ, and she grins. “This is why you’re my favourite boyfriend.”

“Out of the many people you’re currently dating, simultaneously,” he chuckles.

She nods and takes a sip before saying, “Got it in one.”

“Well, as long as I’m your favourite then,” he says, laughing.

“Of course,” she smirks and leans in to kiss him.

*

He finds Flash again in a corner of the party.

“Flaaash!” he says, grinning. “I usually find you dancing by this point, c’mon!”

Flash smirks. “I’m just taking a breather. I promise I haven’t been hanging out here the whole time.”

“I hope not. Are you having fun?” Peter says, unable to stop smiling. He’s drunk, but it’s not like the party is rowdy enough to get broken up by cops who’d ID everyone.

Flash nods. “I am having fun.”

“Ok, good. I don’t want you to be sad. I don’t want any of my friends to be sad.” Peter says, still grinning. He has a habit of saying what comes to mind when drinking, and has almost told several people tonight something that would expose his other identity, but he’s keeping enough of a lid on it.

“God, Parker, you’re such a fucking sap when you’re drunk,” Flash replies, but his expression is so appreciative and warm it fails to sound cutting at all.

“Well at least I don’t think I can rap when I’m drunk, Flash, ” Peter retorts, laughing.

Flash laughs. “I dunno man, I’m thinking I’m gonna kill some Kanye in about an hour.”

Peter laughs, shaking his head. “Come on, come dance with us!”

Flash looks at him for a moment. “Did I remember to give you your gift yet?”

Peter shakes his head. “Present? You didn’t have to –“

Flash rolls his eyes exaggeratedly. “And yet I do every time, surprisingly. It’s a birthday, you dork.”

Peter laughs. “So where is it then?”

“Jesus, give me a second to get it will you?”

He ends up waiting outside Flash’s room for Flash to grab the present. Flash returns with a flat, square package wrapped in brown paper.

“And you wrapped it and everything! Aw, thanks man,” he says happily. “Oh shit, Flash, this is so cool!”

It’s a few years old now, but it’s still one of his favourite albums – although up til now he’s only had the digital copy. He’s been obsessively into Gorillaz, working back from when this album was released (to be fair, he wasn’t exactly conscious of much pop or indie music when their first album came out, being about four) since it came out, and now Humanz ’ holographic LP cover shimmers up at him. He smiles even more, looking at it.

“It’s amazing, thank you!” he says, throwing his arms around Flash with drunken appreciation. Soberly, he probably wouldn’t try but he’s learnt that he’s an affectionate drunk and that can’t be stopped. Flash surprisingly doesn’t fight him off, though.

“I can’t believe you got this, wow,” he says delightedly, having pulled back from the hug.

“Ah, I mean, most of that tutoring money goes on rent, public transport and dates right? Probably not a lot left over for vinyl. I just found a copy while I was in the store looking for new records to make mixes with...” Flash says casually, although he looks almost embarrassed. Like he didn’t expect it to go over so well, but why would that be bad?

“Awesome, thank-you. I’m going to put this away in my room, and then I’ll drag you on the dancefloor with us if I must...” Peter says, cheeks beginning to hurt from smiling so much.

“Right behind you,” he hears Flash say.

***

A few days later, MJ is eating breakfast at the dining table with Flash, while Peter and Ned are out.

She was planning not to bring it up, her philosophy being more that people will talk when they want to – something she definitely identified with. But knowing what had been going on with Flash recently felt different – like the better friend thing to do would be to ignore her misgivings about prying and actually ask him.

He did look like he was contemplating life by watching his cereal bowl.

“Soooo...” she begins, and Flash’s eyes flick up to her and then back to his cereal. “Breakups suck, huh, buddy?”

He looks up at and frowns. “What?” he asks plainly confused.

She sighs and rolls her eyes exaggeratedly. “Ok, I could have worded that better. I don’t know how to ask this, but I’m just – trying to figure out if you’re ok. And if you need to chat. Ugh.”

He still looks confused, but also vaguely amused now. “Doesn’t seem like you want to?”

She narrows her eyes slightly. “I...want to. I’m not great at advice or whatever. But you are my friend, and I wanna...be there if you need it,” she cringes slightly. “No matter how – school therapist that sounds.”

He cracks a half-smile. “Thanks.”

In high school she used to tell people, and act like they were good friends, mainly just to mess with him because he was so confused by it. Also, the weird kids were the best to hang around, and as much as he pretended otherwise, he was just as weird as them. At a certain point she realised she actually did consider him a friend, and by that point she’d seemingly made several friends without totally realising it. He wasn’t so bad, once you understood how to be his friend.

“Y’know, it’s been a week and the thing I really miss,” Flash muses suddenly. “It’s so fucking lame, but like just – things like eating together. Sleeping in with someone else. The stupid stuff you take for granted.”

She nods slowly. “Every so often, Peter’s out, doing his thing , and he doesn’t come home till way later than he meant to, or he comes in at 2 am with a scraped-up face and weirdly, the first thing I think is not ‘Oh God, what’s happened to him’, but like – if that morning was the last 7 am raging at the alarm and having to get up, if that morning was the last time we’re eating cereal and arguing over some TV show. Like, if it was the last normal, mundane day. I would miss that first.”

He looks surprised by the depth of her answer. She is too. It’s definitely deeper than she’d meant to get before nine in the morning.

“Yeah. It’s the stupid little things you miss,” he agrees. “And whether you’ll ever have them again.”

She shakes her head. “Look I’m not exactly great at relationship advice. But I think you’ll get that again. And in the meanwhile you’ve got me and Peter,” she says with a small smile. “And Ned, of course.”

He grins faintly. “It’s not exactly the same. But, I’m glad I have you guys anyway. I guess. ” He says, making a face, breaking the awkwardly emotional mood.

She smirks. “Good talk.”

“Good talk.” He agrees, with a slightly wider smile.

***

Present Day

“So my editor’s on me to do this story, and I don’t know, it just seems a bit of a fluff piece,” May says, picking at her dumplings.

“Yeah, but if I know you, you can at least do a really well-written fluff piece,” Peter replies, twisting his chopsticks around some noodles.

May beams at him.

He hasn’t seen May in a few weeks, which is more than usual but they’ve both been busy. They make an effort to see each other at least once every fortnight, usually. They’re each other’s only living relations, now his grandparents had died, but that was when he was younger, one not long after the other, a couple of years after their only son.

He’s over at her apartment, which is still strange. Even though he moved out two years ago, coming back always feels for a moment like he’s a kid again. The old single bed in his room seems so small now. But it’s also a comforting feeling, being back. It reminds him of when he had less going on, of making dinner and watching Luther and things together.

“I guess I can do it. But we both know it’s beneath my talents,” May muses.

“Well, you know what Tony says, sometimes you get to do the fun things, and sometimes you have to do the boring things you hate because you agreed to it months ago and then forgot about it,” Peter says, trailing off.

May nods. “Universal wisdom, definitely,” she says wryly, and Peter grins.

She looks at him casually, though he can see something concerned in her look. “So, how’s that whole...thing , going?”

She knows about it, although sometimes he wishes she hadn’t had to find out. But in another way, he’s glad she does because keeping secrets from her always felt weird and wrong. It wasn’t like he was a particularly wild teenager (excluding the costumed crime fighting) and so he had always just told her what was going on in his life. It’s not like he’d had much to hide. She had definitely not been happy – and an angry May Parker was the kind of person to yell at a powerful billionaire without caring – but she’d mostly gotten used to the idea that he was going to try and help people in his own way.

He was aware that it probably wasn’t good practice that at least five normal people close to him knew his other identity, but then again it’s not like he’d called a press conference and then announced it to the entire world. So, he didn’t think he was doing too badly.

He looks at her. “It’s going well. I mean, I haven’t been seriously injured in almost a year.” He can’t help joking a little about it, but she thwacks him with the discarded Chinese takeout menu, shaking her head.

“Peter, don’t do that to your Aunt, alright? I worry enough. I think I’ve aged several years just from stress.” she scolds, but then smiles a little.

He nods apologetically. “I’m sorry. And if you have, I can’t see it.”

She smiles at him. “Aw, shush.”

He smiles back. “I swear, Aunt May, I’m not even in the big leagues. The big guys rarely ever need my help. And I can handle the small stuff.”

She sighs. “I wish you didn’t have to, though. You’ve certainly got enough on your plate. Which reminds me, how are your classes going?”

He gives her a look. “I like helping people, though.”

She returns his look. “Ok, I give. But I do wanna know how college is?”

He smiles, appreciatively. “Oh you know, just stressful and getting harder every semester. Although we’ve been learning about some pretty cool stuff recently.”

She shakes her head, smiling. “Which is great, and I’m very happy I’ve instilled a positive work ethic in you, Pete, but are you remembering to have fun? When I was in college a million years ago, I remember that being an important part of it.”

He laughs. “Yeah, I’ll just add to the list of everything I’ve got to keep up with. No, I’m good. The house is fun. We even throw parties sometimes, so there you go.”

She laughs too. “Well I’m glad.”

They eat in silence for a bit.

“So, how are you then? Doing anything fun?” He asks. He has to ease into the love life questioning, although she does not vice versa.

She narrows her eyes suspiciously. “Well I joined a new gym, I’m sure it’s all very thrilling to you,”

He gives her an unimpressed look. “That’s great. Have you...met anyone new recently?”

She looks taken aback. “How do you even...”

“I can’t...reveal my sources.” He lies, trying to put on an innocent expression. Truly, he had not even meant to, but he had accidentally happened to spot her on the street with an unknown man while patrolling between rooftops one night. At first he had just watched them to make sure she wasn’t in danger, but then he’d realised they were holding hands and she seemed to be smiling at him.

She looks a little sad. “It’s not a very serious – We’ve been on two dates, so you don’t need to – worry...”

He is surprised by that. “Worry? Why would I be worried? I’m glad for you, Aunt May,”

She sighs, still looking sad. “I know you loved your Uncle. And I loved him. I miss him every day. And there’s a part of me that will never be over him, and I would never do anything to disrespect his memory, but...”

He shakes his head vehemently. “Of course I miss him. But, it’s been so long since...” he breaks off for a second, and coughs. “Most of all I just want you to be happy, Aunt May. I know you gave up a lot to look after me, you deserve this.”

She smiles at him, misty-eyed, and puts her hand over his. “You’re an incredibly good kid, you know that?”

He smiles. “I’m trying to be.”

*

As they wash up, May looks at him.

“Oh I’m sorry I got sidetracked and never asked – how’s MJ?” she asks curiously.

He grins. “She’s good. I have to work to keep up with her in our course, she’s so on top of it.”

May grins. “She’s a smart girl, I’ve always liked her. Keeping you on your toes then?”

He raises his eyebrows at the dish he’s wiping up. “As always,” He pauses. “No, I –  I don’t know what I’d do without her.”

May elbows him. “Aw, you’re growing up so fast,” she teases him and he makes a face, blushing slightly.

They wash up quietly for a moment. “And how’s Flash?” she asks, with a sidelong look at him.

“Uh,” he says, putting a plate away. “Good, yeah. Also very busy with school. Pre-med is apparently crazy,” he says, somewhat aware that’s not really what she’s getting at.

He hasn’t exactly explained their whole situation to May, because that was a conversation he really wanted to avoid having with the only mother-like person he had, but somehow she had guessed at something in the vicinity of the truth.

“So that’s all...good?” she asks, casually.

“Uh, yeah,” he says, looking at the glass he’s wiping, feeling himself blushing a little again.

“And you’re being...safe-“ she begins, and he makes a strangled noise.

“Oh my god.”

She laughs. “Ok I’ll stop embarrassing you.”

She puts the plate she’s wiping down and looks at him, smiling. “Peter, I was young once, it’s not like I don’t remember what it’s like to be – I’d just hate for you to get hurt. And I’d hate for them to get hurt too. I like them.”

He sighs, feeling awkward and looks at her. “I know it’s weird. I don’t always get it, either, and it’s complicated and I know there are issues to deal with. But like, it’s hardly the weirdest part of my life, I mean. When you’ve been in fights with alien gods and whatever, it kind of changes your perspective on things, you know?”

She chuckles. “Yeah, you might have a point there. I sometimes,” she pauses to put a plate away. “I forget how much you’ve seen. I still think of you in a more normal time, before things got so crazy.”

He gives her a disbelieving look. “Was there ever a period in my life we’d consider super normal? I was eleven when the Battle happened. Before that was my parents. I’ve grown up in a weird world, anyway...maybe my generation is just working out different ways of living in it?”

She nods, smiling. “Point taken.”

She puts away a glass, and then says with a grin, “I mean, it’s not that new. I went to college in the 90s, I’ve seen some things. What was that movie with Lara Flynn Boyle?”

He grimaces, then grins too.

***


Fall, Nine Months Ago

Flash was feeling pretty good. Well, if you took away the awesome way break-ups felt. And the fact that even though he was actively trying to get over any feelings that might have mistakenly and horrendously transferred themselves onto one of his roommates, being single made being around said roommate’s relationship with another roommate, who was one of his closest friends, harder to deal with.

But whatever, fuck it, he had passed his mid-terms really well last semester, and he had somehow managed to find himself with time on his hands and no creeping work that he hadn’t done, so he was going to celebrate. It was a Saturday, anyway.

He was lining up shot glasses on the kitchen counter when he heard someone come in.

“Jesus, dude. It is eleven a.m.

He turned to see Peter, wearing sweatpants and a tshirt, drying his hair with a towel and looking concerned. Flash truly hated the pathetic little jump his heart did seeing this. That action wasn’t nearly that cute, c’mon - and he besides was wearing one of those embarrassing physics is fun, and it’s a wonder I have such a cool girlfriend shirts of his, and he had a few grazes on his face and arms from when he’d come home late two days ago. It was times like that he couldn’t forget about that other thing he did – mostly he was just stupid-faced, dorky, good friend of his Peter and he almost did forget – and the real consequences it had. He didn’t like to think about it too much.

“Don’t judge me, it’s a Saturday,” he replies, trying to put those thoughts out of his mind.

“It’s Saturday morning,” Peter protests half-heartedly.

“You know what they say, it’s 5pm somewhere,” he says flippantly.

“So you aren’t planning on doing much else today then?” Peter asks, stretching, then wincing.

It shouldn’t have made him feel a twinge of anxiety. But it did. Did MJ feel this way all the time? He hoped not. It would be a fucking nightmare, you’d never get anything done.

“You alright?” He tries to say it as casually as possible.

Peter does that blatantly transparent thing where he smiles and says, “Yeah, I’m fine,” and is obviously lying. Like they didn’t notice when he came in like that, like he wasn’t obviously beat up. Honestly, Flash had no idea how he was even a superhero, he had no poker face.

But he just nods at Peter and says, “Cool.”

“So, why are you up so late, then?” he adds, hoping to cover any awkward silence.

Peter sighs. “I really needed the sleep-in apparently. And it’s one of the few days I don’t have class or tutoring or work to catch up on.” He rubs some sleep gunk out of his eye. It’s not attractive. “Not that I have any idea what I actually want to spend my day doing. MJ’s visiting her dad all weekend and Ned’s at that wedding with his Moms,” he continues, and looks over at the shot glasses and back. “And you’re spending today apparently getting wasted. By yourself.”

Flash smirks at this, raising his eyebrows.

Peter looks at him confusedly, understands and shakes his head rapidly. “No... No, no, no Flash! I’m gonna have a chill weekend.”

“C’mon man, you said it yourself, what are you doing today anyway? Don’t make me drink alone.” Flash wheedles with a grin, bullshitting but also suddenly aware of much less sad it would be to have a friend to get drunk with, than just getting fucked up on his own. Although the likelihood of Peter agreeing is pretty low, to be honest.

Peter looks around, in protest and then sighs. “Every-time I drink with you I get wicked hangovers.”

“You’ve had worse though,” Flash points out, feeling Peter’s opposition starting to crumble as Peter nodded his agreement, trying not to smile and failing.

“Come on, I’ve been through a painful breakup. I don’t wanna drink alone. It’ll be fun!” Flash says, throwing his last card out.

“You know, you can’t keep using that.” Peter concedes long-sufferingly. “But, you know what? I’m not supposed to be going out in the suit, MJ said she’d kill me if she heard I did.”

“Yeah, I wouldn’t test her. But it’s not bad advice either, you look like you could use a break.” Flash adds.

Peter looks at him shrewdly. “Fine, let’s do it. Do we have to start with the shots though, or can we start with a beer and go from there?”

Flash cheers. “There he is!”

*

Peter wakes up, and winces instantly.

Is someone shining a high-intensity spotlight directly onto his face? He blinks blearily, is greeted by bright sunlight and shuts his eyes again.

His mouth feels dry as all hell, and the sunlight is doing nothing for the headache currently making him want to either throw up or die.

A thought is forming feebly in his mind, and if it didn’t feel like it was being devoured by fire ants he’d be able to understand it.

His and MJ’s bed is away from the window, and he usually closes the blinds at night. And the sun never comes in like this even when he doesn’t.

He opens his eyes slowly, and realises he’s not in his own room.

*

Flash opens his eyes and wonders which idiot left the curtain open. It was probably him last night, but fuck that guy for being stupid enough not to close the curtains.

He’s just wondering, slowly if the pain and energy it will take to be get up and close the curtains will be worth it for not having fucking sunlight in his face right now, when he hears a yell nearby. Very nearby.

He opens his eyes and instinctively jumps in shock, and then swears at the sudden pain from moving. And also because of what he’s seeing.

Because either he’s still having a drunken dream (and it’s not like he’s never had one like this before) or he’s woken up in the same bed as Peter. Peter looks more a mix of worried, confused and hungover though than he’d ever pictured nocturnally.

This is bad. He can barely remember what happened last night, and certainly can’t remember when he fell asleep, or how he got here.

And if something had happened, it was a cruel and horrifying twist that he couldn’t remember it. But it can’t have.

He is shirtless, but then he often sleeps without a shirt. And he’s pretty sure he’s wearing underpants, but he can’t look away from Peter to check for sure.

Peter looks bug-eyed from stress, but hasn’t said anything, but keeps looking at him in horror.

All he can think is that if Peter somehow catches on that he’s only really horrified by the memory loss and the fact he doesn’t exactly know whether anything happened, but not the idea of something happening, that would be bad. World-shakingly bad. What are aliens invading your city next to your roommate, ex-enemy and friend finding out about the carefully guarded secret massive crush you have on them? Nothing. It would be a fucking nightmare.

He jumps to talk before Peter can say anything. “Fuck, look, I know this looks bad,” he starts, and Peter makes a strangled noise, but doesn’t move from where he’s standing next to the bed. He’s not wrong, standing there in only his boxers.

No, nothing happened. He makes very certain his eyes are not anywhere they shouldn’t be as he continues. “But like...do you remember anything happening? I don’t. And I think I’d remember if I – well, if we –“

Peter’s cheeks colour, and bless him, it endearingly really stands out against his pale skin. Then he mentally scolds himself. None of that right now, thank you, brain.

“I – ah, God - knew something like this would happen if I let you talk me into drinking with you.” Peter complains, rubbing the bridge of his nose.

Flash glares at him, feeling somewhat affronted. “Oh, you knew we’d end up waking up in bed together with basically no memory of the night before? You think this is fun for me? You’re literally the last person...”

Peter glares back at him, mouthing wordlessly.

“Ok, well maybe you’re – I mean, no I didn’t think – I’m a bit – wait, is that –“ he splutters, and then trails off, looking behind Flash.

Flash follows his gaze and notices something red crumpled up on the chair, but then has to look away because the bright sunlight is making him want to die.

Peter runs over to it, pulling the curtains closed when he gets there. Flash could kiss him for this kindness to his head, but he doesn’t say it.

“What the hell...” Peter says, picking up the bundle. “Why is my suit in here...God I hope I didn’t go out in it...”

Flash is hit by a sudden blurry, vague notion of laughing, dancing and an out of focus red figure that must have been Peter, wearing the suit.

“I don’t...I don’t think so...You must have been just wearing it, and then...taken it off when you fell asleep?” He says slowly, squinting at it.

Peter nods, then his eyes widen. “Shit, that’s it! The monitor!”

Flash glares at him again. “I’m too fucking hungover for this, Peter. What the fuck are you on about?”

Peter nods, then winces. “There’s this annoying thing in my suit, a camera in the eyes, and I hated it until I realised how useful it was to have a record of things people did and said while I was wearing it. I can use it to confirm that nothing happened!”

Flash scowls. “Ok, you need to calm down because your voice is loud and I want to die.”

Peter looks at him. “Don’t you want to know that nothing happened with the last person you would want it to?”

Flash frowns and scoffs. “Fucking, of course. When can you start?”

And he’s pretty sure that they’ll find nothing. It’s not the first time he’s woken up from a blackout drunk hookup, and even if your brain doesn’t remember, your body does. It feels different than right now.

But that doesn’t mean they won’t find anything. He’s not sure Peter will like him if they do.

*

So that’s how he finds himself sitting next to Peter on the couch, although he’s wary of not being too close, as he goes through the footage on his laptop.

By the time Peter had the idea to put on the suit, they were evidently already pretty wasted, but it’s less fun watching it back even on fastforward when he’s hungover and irritable.

“Ok, well thanks for convincing me to drunk dial, what, five of the emergency numbers I have for various supers I’ve worked with? That’s gonna be a fun one to explain.” Peter grumbles.

“Hey, you were the one who did it, ok?”  Flash protests.

“Oh, and Tony. Cool.” Peter adds, sighing.

“Hah!” Flash sniggers. “You drunk dialled a billionaire!”

Peter scoffs. “He’s definitely gotten up to worse.”

They’re getting up to the end of the video though, and he can’t totally hide his trepidation.

He puts on a disinterested expression and watches from the side.

But even though it’s lot of embarrassing drunk bullshit, nothing happens to incriminate him. And as he thought, definitely nothing happened between them more than Peter drunkenly pulling the suit off and then passing out on his bed in his boxers soon after.

“Well that’s a fucking weight off my mind,” he says, jumping in first, trying to stick to his story. Although he’s not lying – as much as he was curious if anything had happened while they were drunk, the fact that he couldn’t remember it robbed the idea of any joy so he was glad it hadn’t. He was safe, once again.

“I know right,” Peter sighs, looking deeply relieved. “Not gonna lie, I was definitely a bit freaked out, waking up in your bed, oh my God. Fuck. Thank God nothing happened. Thank God.

The repetition jars in Flash’s mind. Thank God. Thank God. ThankGodThankGodTHANKGOD.

He moves back like he’s been stung, trying to figure out why he suddenly feels so winded.

It should be fine. He’s home free. No secrets were revealed. But looking at Peter’s happy, relieved, stupid little face is making him want to punch it in a way he hasn’t felt so deeply since high school, before they were friends.

“Thank God, right?” he says darkly, and he can feel himself getting angry but it’s like he’s not controlling his actions anymore. “Thank the fucking Lord!”

“Yeah, I mean,” Peter begins happily, and then looks at him. “You ok?”

He laughs, jumping up, but it sounds odd and edging on hysteria to even his ears. “Am I ok? Am I fucking OK ?

Peter looks baffled, and a bit worried. “I don’t know what –“

“No, I’m not fucking OK. Parker! ” He yells, feeling angry but also as surprised as Peter looks by this. “I’m not OK! You know I specially looked for and ordered your stupid birthday present online, and then I sent it to my parents’ house, so you wouldn’t accidentally find out how much effort I put in?”

Peter looks completely taken aback and confused by this sudden outburst. “No, I didn’t –“

“I fucking spend so much time either trying not to think about you, or look at you, you and MJ and you both have such a cute relationship and it’s so great, and it doesn’t fucking matter whether I’m looking or not,” he continues rapidly, angrily. He’s kind of horrified that he’s decided that after getting away scot-free from this morning, he’s decided to burn it down himself but it’s been going on too long anyway.

“What?” Peter says, looking completely lost.

“It doesn’t fucking matter because I think I’ve been deluding myself that you were ever going to look at me like her, and I hate that I know that! I hate how pathetic you make me feel! I hate that you’ve made me a loser! I hate you, Peter, I really fucking hate you!” he yells, and it’s weirdly cathartic, even though also every part of him hurts and wants to crawl into a hole and die.

Peter looks like he’s just been slapped, but doesn’t take his eyes off him, though he blinks a few times rapidly. “I don’t understand...what did I do, Flash?”

He laughs again, even hollower and more hysterical. “You know, for a smart guy, you’re a total moron a lot of the time.”

Peter seems to register the insult but says nothing.

He figures he’s already ruined things between them anyway, so why not humiliate himself more with his last secret?

“You know what makes me the most pathetic? I had a great relationship, and I really liked him, but even he could tell how I felt about you. Even he decided he didn’t want to compete. How fucking stupid of me.”

Peter looks stunned, and hasn’t moved. Flash almost wishes he would get angry, or yell back at him but it’s not his style.

“You like me.” Peter says it like he’s testing the words but doesn’t believe them. “You like me?”

Flash huffs in exasperation and near-hysteria. “Like you? You’re the fucking reason I...I mean, I might have asked MJ and Ned to move in anyway, but you were...” He can’t finish the sentence, and looks away.

“Oh.” Peter says, very quietly, eyes like dinner plates. “Wow.”

He feels a stab of anger and hurt at his next thought. “I can’t do this, fuck. I – it doesn’t matter, because you’re never going to, and I just – it fucking sucks, being around you guys all the time, and you’re my friends and I’ve been hanging in but I can’t do this – shit.

“What are you saying?” Peter says, putting his laptop on the couch beside him, and getting up.

He looks at Peter, angry but tired as well. “I’m saying I’m fucking tired, and I need to get the hell out of here!”

“Like, moving out? C’mon you’re our...you’re our friend! We care about you! I care about you!” Peter protests.

“It doesn’t matter, Pete, this fucking... weird little experiment, our friendship, it’s over! It has to be,” he replies irritably, just wanting to get on with taking a nap and then figuring out what the fuck he’s going to do now.

“No, don’t say that! You’re my friend. You don’t just decide that’s over! I don’t understand how I pissed you off, if you’ve been sitting on this since we made plans to move in, what did I do?” Peter replies indignantly, sounding hurt. It makes him almost wish he’d never freaked out, because he doesn’t hate Peter at all but the friendship is already over anyway. He turns away, fully intending to go back to his room.

“What did I fucking do, Flash?” Peter asks, and he can tell it’s serious because he and MJ often tease him for how little he actually says ‘fuck’, preferring lower level curse words. Thinking about that hurts, oddly, though so he stops.

He turns back, full of possibly misplaced anger and indignance and hurt, and yells “THANK GOD! Thank God? I’m that fucking repulsive? You were so fucking glad that nothing had happened!”

Peter now looks offended and taken aback. “Are you fucking kidding me? I’m pretty sure neither of us would be happy if something had happened and neither of us could remember it.”

Flash glares at him. “Of fucking course, but beside that you – don’t pretend you weren’t thrilled to get off the hook. You know, maybe not to you, but I do pretty well for myself, ok, it’s not such a disgusting thought to most people!”

Peter mouths at him in wordless exasperation. “I was freaked out because I was terrified I’d cheated on my awesome girlfriend, your good friend, in a major way, ok? I wasn’t even – it wasn’t top of my mind whether it was or wasn’t a gross idea to me!”

He looks at Peter in frustration, feeling less sure of his anger. “Well I’m glad you didn’t. That doesn’t change anything, I’m still fucking leaving, ok, cause I can’t fucking stand –“

He doesn’t finish his sentence and it takes him a few microseconds to realise it’s because he’s being kissed. He automatically leans into it, but as soon as it started it stops.

Peter stands in front of him looking shocked and angry, but also strangely reckless.

*

Peter sits on the very edge of the couch, not looking at Flash, who is sitting on the other end and isn’t looking at him.

He’s spent the last half hour trying to figure out what just happened.

He’d been freaked out this morning, and had then had a great idea to soothe his mind, and then he had soothed it. He’d worked out he hadn’t drunkenly cheated on his girlfriend, who he was insanely in love with and attracted to, with a good friend and roommate; and to celebrate he had soberly cheated on his girlfriend with said friend, although not to nearly the same degree he’d feared earlier.

He is still trying to cope with the news that his high school bully turned snarky friend turned roommate and surprisingly good friend had held feelings for him for quite a long time. And, he thought with a lurch of guilt, that he might not totally be incompatible to those feelings?

How did that happen? Worse, would it happen again? Did he want it to?

No. He clearly couldn’t be trusted to think clearly about that. No, he only has one thing to do: figure out how to tell MJ, earlier rather than later, and hope she doesn’t break up with him and move out. It was just one kiss, though.

He is so deep in thought he doesn’t hear the wheelie bag down the hall.

“God, I’m exhausted.” Ned says, grinning all the while. “Hey kids. What’s new?”

Flash looks at Ned, flicks to him (which he can only tell peripherally) and gets up. “I have to go,” he says automatically, and walks as quickly as possible away.

He looks after him numbly.

Ned gives him a confused look. “What’s going on with him? Breakup stuff?”

Peter nods robotically. “Y-yeah.  Breakup stuff.”

***

Present

MJ looks out the apartment window, at the other buildings around them. It’s not much of a view, but it makes her feel grounded, and she likes it.

She’s not that girl who is waiting by the window, angsting at home that something will happen to her boyfriend as he does his noble work. She refuses to be that girl, because that girl doesn’t get her own life: she isn’t working in a diner part time to pay for rent, she doesn’t have complex college assignments to keep up with, and isn’t too busy to sit and spend her life worrying about her boyfriend.

But on nights where she’s feeling unusually nervous about what he’s doing, it’s nice to have another one to share the load with. That girl definitely doesn’t have that in any story.

She moves away and goes to cue up the movie.

“Well, dinner’s cooking, should be done in about half an hour,” Flash says, coming out of the kitchen.

“Cool. I’m just finding Cabin In The Woods on this thing,” she replies casually.

“Can’t wait,” Flash says, coming over to hand her a beer out of the two bottles he’s holding.

She grins at him as she takes it. “Thank you very much”

*

MJ watches the characters on screen running away from the zombie redneck torture family that want to brutally murder them and feels more or less comfortable.

Flash leans a little more into the cushion between his head and her stomach, turning to look at the screen more.

It’s kind of bizarre that it feels so comfortably familiar - to be watching a movie like this, when it’s only something they’ve gotten into the habit of in the last few months.  But then again, that goes for a few things right now.

It’s an unspoken rule, in a way, that they always watch horror movies together if Peter’s out doing his thing, and they don’t want to say that they’re anxious about it. It’s like a shorthand – neither are the kind of people who want to admit, even just to each other, that they’re feeling like that. So they watch horror movies. Together.

*

The movie finishes and they both cast an anxious eye at their phones, very aware they haven’t received any texts.

“Good movie. Always fun,” Flash says casually.

She nods, “Always good.”

There’s a silence.

“God, this is fucking ridiculous,” Flash exclaims. “I mean, he’s probably busy, fighting some dudes. Or, more likely, getting his ass handed to him.”

She laughs, aware that it’s a bizarre coping mechanism, but it works. “Yeah, I mean, if he’s anywhere near as chatty as he is with us, you almost feel sorry for them.”

Flash smirks. “Yeah, well I feel sorry for me, stuck worrying about that dork.”

She nods, smirking back at him. “You’ll get used to it.”

He sighs. “I guess this is what I signed up for. What a goddamn sucker.”

She laughs.

“Do we have more to drink?”

*

She hears Peter trying to quietly crawl into bed and assumes it’s somewhere around three-a.m, given they were still awake about a hour and a half before that and he wasn’t home yet.

“Oh look who’s home,” she whispers, looking at him blearily.

From what she can make out in the darkness, he looks guilty. “Sorry, I was trying not to wake you,” he whispers.

“I don’t wanna be that girl, but could you maybe remember to send a brief text when you have...a second?” she drawls, frowning at him.

Flash grumbles between them, and opens his eyes a crack. “Hmmph. S’we know you’re not dead. S’chill.”

She can almost make out Peter’s smile, even though he apologises in an appropriately subdued whisper.

“You guys...smell like vodka?” He mentions suddenly.

She grins, “Fun night.”

Flash giggles softly into the pillow. “Sssleep now, dorks.”

She giggles at this.

“Are you guys mad at me?” Peter whispers, still sitting up.

She shakes her head, impeded by her head not wanting to leave the pillow. “No...Shhnow. Bed. Peter.”

“But-“

“C’mere Pete,” Flash says, drunkenly patting beside him.

She sticks out an arm to grab his hand and pull him down.

They fall asleep with their hands laced together, resting on Flash’s bicep.

***

Fall, Nine Months Ago

Peter sits and waits. MJ will be home from her shift soon, and then he’s wondering if he should tell her. She had gotten back from visiting her dad and had had to go almost straight back to work; and she is often tired after a shift and dealing with people – not her favourite thing – but also, the longer he leaves it the more it will seem like he was deliberately deceiving her. And, worse the potential for her to somehow find out not from him, although Flash is the only other person who knows.

He hasn’t seen Flash since he left Sunday night and it’s now Monday night, and he can’t work out whether he’s grateful or worried about this – but every time he’s tried to send a text he’s had no idea what to say. “Hey bud, sorry I kissed you and then didn’t say anything after, hope you’re ok and nothing bad’s happened to you,” isn’t exactly great.

He hears the door and his heart jumps. Why does it feel like right now he’d take getting his ass kicked by super-powered villains or thrown across a hangar from a great height rather than this?

She has bags of groceries and he runs to help her with them.

“How was your day?” he asks casually.

“Thrilling as usual. This rude lady tried to complain to the manager because she thought I wasn’t being nice enough, even though she was being totally obnoxious herself. But Jack was like, mhm, yeah sure, I’ll make sure she gets punished, and then as soon as she left he told me that he noticed she was being a dick and not to worry about it. So, that could have gone worse,” MJ says, smirking,

“Yeah, that’s great, Jack’s a good guy,” he replies, putting the milk in the fridge. He can’t quite concentrate.

MJ gives him a funny look. “What’s up with you? You’ve been spacey since I got back.”

His stomach jolts again. “What? No, I’m – I’m fine, I don’t...” he stutters out, attempting a casual smile.

She narrows her eyes at him, and he sighs.

“I, uh, have to talk to you about something but I don’t want to put it on you if you’ve had a shitty day and you just want to chill,” he says carefully, and watches for her response.

She raises her eyebrows. “I’m not going to be able to relax with you being this wound-up next to me, you may as well tell me.”

He scrunches up his eyes, feeling his heart thumping.

He’d made some stupid mistakes in the past, but he had never tried to hurt anyone, seriously. This was worse, because he had no idea what her reaction might be, but he was terrified he was going to hurt her, and that would be the stupidest mistake ever.

His hesitance is making her narrow her eyes again in suspicion.

“So, on the weekend I was drinking with Flash – he’s, obviously, still dealing with the break up, and I didn’t want him to have to drink alone, and I was trying to keep my promise to you and not go out in the suit –“ he babbles, and MJ gives him a get-on-with-it look.

He nods. “So, uh, it’s a long story, but basically the next day we got into an argument and he freaked out and told me he liked me, like romantically. Obviously. And then I kissed him. I had a wicked hangover, but I was totally sober, and I don’t know why I did it. But I’m really, really sorry I did.” He feels slightly better for the words being out there now, even though he also feels like he wants to throw up as well.

He waits, holding his breath, for her reaction.

She looks surprised. Then she bursts out laughing – but not the kind that edges on hysteria, laughter to keep from crying – it sounds like her genuine laugh. It does nothing for his nerves, although he is more confused than before. Somehow, this hadn’t been one of the reactions he pictured her having.

She stops laughing, and says in a more sober tone. “Sorry, I know I have a habit of laughing in inappropriate situations. This is serious. Not funny.” Even as she says this there is a grin tugging at the corner of her mouth.

He looks at her in bewilderment, almost speechless. He unsticks his throat and says, “So, how do you...what do you think?”

It’s not an elegant question but as always, she’s upended how the situation might go normally and started down an unexpected path, and he, as always is wondering how to react to it.

“What do I think?” she whistles. “I thought if he was ever going to admit it, Flash would kiss you first. But I should have realised you can’t bear to see people hurt. Especially people you care about.”

He is, once again, taken aback. “What?”

She raises an eyebrow. “That’s why you did it. Well, I don’t know if it was the only reason, but you saw he was hurting, and somehow that was because of you, and you wanted to make it better. That’s what you do.”

He doesn’t say anything, but nods slowly. Because she’s right, not for the first time, and he shouldn’t still be surprised at how well she knows his mind, but he still is. He feels another rush of affection and love for her, which becomes a stab of fear when he remembers he’s not in the clear yet.

“Wait, you’re not...mad? I kind of thought you would be...” he says slowly, still confused.

“Mad? Of course I’m mad,” his stomach twists uncomfortably. “You totally made me feel like that was going to be so much worse !” she exclaims.

“Worse?” he gets out, voice squeaking a little from shock.

She shakes her head and walks closer to him. “You idiot, Peter, I was sure you were about to say you were thinking of moving to a different country because Tony goddamn Stark said so, or something like that. Next to everything like that, this feels like...easy to take.” She sounds frustrated.

He looks at her, not believing his luck. “But I – I kissed someone else! I did a shitty thing to you!”

She gives him another funny look. “Well, do you want to break up?”

He feels another stab of panic. “No, no I don’t!”

She smiles tiredly. “Well, then stop expecting this to follow some kind of script. Look, if you’d gone out and hooked up with some random person at a bar or whatever, I might feel different. But...this is our friend we’re talking about. I’ve always kind of known he liked you like that. It’s never really bothered me.”

“You knew?”

“I had my theories. He wasn’t exactly subtle,” she smirks.

He properly lets out a breath for the first time since he told her, feeling the knot of anxiety in his stomach beginning to unwind, and can’t help smiling.

There are many times when being with her is more complicated then he’d like it to be, and he can’t figure out why she’s done something, and he’s too tired to want to try. Maybe down in the deepest part of his subconscious, at his most frustrated, the thought might exist that a relationship with a more “normal” girl might be easier – but what’s normal? It’s not a conscious thought anyway.

But then there are times like these when he is struck full-force by how lucky he is to know her, as both a friend and a girlfriend. The beauty of her unconventional and often hard-to-predict way of thinking, and how much she really does understand him, and how crazily grateful he is that she’s exactly who she is and no one else.

He can’t help but kiss her. “Thank-you,” he says happily, resting his forehead against hers. “I love you.”

She looks at him. “I love you too, even if you are an idiot every so often.”

He can feel himself blushing slightly, but he can’t stop smiling.

“So what are you going to do about Flash?” she asks, sending him uncomfortably rocketing back to Earth.

He coughs awkwardly. “Uh, I...”

She frowns at him. “He is still our friend, Pete. You need to at least clear the air there...where is he, anyway?”

He nods seriously. “I don’t know. He went out yesterday and I haven’t seen him since then.”

She looks him seriously in the eyes. “Promise me you’ll talk to him as soon as you can. Or I will be mad.”

He nods. “He’s definitely next on my list of apologies.”

He sighs, and she leans into his chest, allowing him to hold her. He has no idea what he’s gonna say to Flash, beyond ‘I’m sorry’, but this conversation has made him more confident in facing it.

***

Present Day

Flash thinks this lecture might actually kill him, he’s so tired. It’s the kind of tiredness that comes out of nowhere, you walk into the lecture theatre and you’re fine and then fifty minutes later you’re struggling to keep your eyes open as you race to jot down notes.

This lecture is his latest, and he hates being in class after the sun has set. He’s not thrilled at the idea of having to take the subway home after this either, but even he can’t afford to constantly take cabs across the city.

When the lecture finishes he quickly says his goodbyes, and rushes out. It’s not full snowstorm weather yet, but it’s getting pretty fucking cold outside anyway, and he puts on his scarf hurriedly.

He squints, getting outside, and realises Peter is waiting there. With what looks like hot drinks. Flash has to actively work to hide the rush of gratitude and affection he feels, and even then he feels like his grin gives it away.

“Hello,” he says. “This is out of your way isn’t it?”

Peter beams, handing him a steaming drink. “I can’t come and bring you coffee after class?”

Flash takes it suspiciously, and narrows his eyes. “Some shit went down near here didn’t it?”

Peter freezes, still grinning. “It can’t be... both?” he replies sheepishly. “C’mon, I went to the cafe nearby that you like. And I waited out here in the cold for several minutes! Admit it, you think I’m amazing.”

Flash rolls his eyes, but cannot help smiling. “That’s not a thing anyone would ever call you.”

Peter feigns hurt. “See if I bring you drinks in the future.”

Flash laughs. “I’m sorry, let me try again. Thank you, truly amazing engineering nerd-boy, I don’t deserve to be brought drinks by someone so cute. That work?”

Peter grins. “Damn straight. Have you eaten yet? What were you thinking of doing?”

“Maybe getting a kebab?” he says. “Or we could go to the diner. I could eat like three of their burgers right now.”

Peter nods. “Plus, MJ gets off her shift at 8:00, we can go home with her. There’s been a few muggings around there – “

Flash raises an eyebrow. “You think she can’t handle herself?”

Peter grimaces. “No, I just don’t want her to have to, I mean isn’t that better –“

Flash smiles. “I’m just fucking with you, I agree. It’s cute that you want to protect her.”

Peter looks at him, and smiles. “I’d do it for you too.”

Flash sips his coffee – which is really good, damnit, he did go to the good cafe – and grins into it.

*

The wind is getting biting enough for it to be glove-wearing weather. Flash doesn’t mind it so much, when it’s not buffeting his face like a thousand tiny ice-picks as he walks home alone.

It’s also a great excuse for handholding. He knows he shouldn’t have to excuse it to himself, but it wasn’t something he was too familiar with. Especially with a guy, he hates to admit to himself. Alex had hated this, and in hindsight he couldn’t blame him at all but he had only been figuring this out since he started college. It wasn’t easy to forget some people’s looks the times he had decided to let Alex hold his hand as they were walking somewhere.

So it was a work in progress, and he wasn’t just able to overcome that anxiety just because of this new thing – but he was getting more comfortable. Well, comfortable enough to walk several lengths of the way to the diner hand in hand.

It was easier at night. And he knew that this city had honestly seen so much weirder than this fairly average occurrence on a daily basis, but it didn’t mean everyone was totally cool with it.

Peter looks at him, and grins.

“What?” he asks, wondering if he’s got something embarrassing on his face, but can’t keep a grin from breaking out.

He shakes his head. “Nothing.”

“C’mon, you’re going with that? You are the worst person to not have a poker face, jeez,” he snarks.

“I have a poker face! I think you know I’m great at keeping secrets,” Peter protests.

Flash laughs incredulously. “Only when no one suspects them! You have no poker face!”

“Hey, I’ve gotten better at it as I’ve gotten older.” Peter defends himself, only the slightest bit indignantly, still grinning.

“So again, what are you smiling about?” he asks, still smirking himself.

Peter laughs. “It’s dumb, but if you must know , I’m just – glad I’m here right now. Not anywhere else.”

Flash has to look away for a moment because he knows he’s now grinning like a dork too, but he feels his hand squeezed for a moment.

He would have thought Peter wouldn’t be cool with the hand holding thing either – he had even less experience with this sort of thing (and by even less he meant nothing previously, so) but he’d been the one to initiate it after a while. He asked first, even, of all the dorky and sweet and him things he could do. MJ posited a theory when just the two of them were hanging out – that it was very him, he’d never want to seem like he was rejecting something of Flash that was second nature with her. And that he was always desperate to prove himself in any situation, to show that he was already on everyone else’s level.

Then he’d worried maybe Peter was only pretending to be ok with it, but when he brought it up once, he just laughed and weaved their fingers together, beaming like an idiot.

***

MJ is pairing ketchups and topping up coffees when she sees them come in, and her night instantly gets better.

“I’ll prepare our best table,” she deadpans.

*

They didn’t have to come to ‘escort’ her home, because she can generally handle herself – but she knows Peter’s a worrier, and maybe there have been some dangerous incidents around here recently, so she doesn’t mind putting his mind at rest. And also, she doesn’t mind the company.

Not that Flash doesn’t worry – they’re similar types of people, so she shouldn’t have been surprised to realise that he actually worries and cares a lot more than anyone gives him credit for (not to mention how much stress he puts himself under). He just internalises it a lot more. But she can tell in his snarky jokes about Peter worrying and making them come and walk with her that he’s glad to do it.

They don’t hold hands when they’re walking like this – she knows Peter probably would, but none of them are that keen on drawing too much attention to themselves, and Flash has a thing about holding hands even when it’s just two of them anyway. In a way, she can’t decide what side she comes down on – she’s always been used to keeping a low profile, and has never wanted to draw a lot of attention; but also, she’s never cared what people thought about her before, so the thought of not doing something because of that makes her want to do it just to stick it to them. But it’s not really about what she’s comfortable with, so she doesn’t argue the point.

“So I’m like falling asleep, and Cartwright is fucking, just, droning on and on and my notes are a mess. Lucky I was recording the lecture because I was barely taking anything in. God he’s such a fucking bore,” Flash is complaining, but with half a smile.

She laughs. “Cartwright...is that the one that always smells like soup?”

“Every time I talk to him! I don’t get it. Does he bathe in it?” Flash says incredulously.

Peter laughs. “Maybe he has soup-er powers,” he suggests to groans of disgust from both of them.

“Boo!” Flash jeers.

“Ugh. You should be ashamed,” MJ scolds, shaking her head in mock-revulsion.

This just makes Peter laugh more. “Come on, that was funny!” he protests, his sadly wrong and embarrassing sense of humour rearing its ugly head again.

“I can’t believe I’m dating that dork,” she says, rolling her eyes at Flash.

Flash nods in disbelief. “I know the feeling,”

This only makes Peter grin more.

***

 

Fall, Nine Months Ago

Peter hadn’t meant to bump into Flash, coming home for what seemed like the first time since what happened. But he had, and it had been awkward.

Just before he completely lost the nerve, he addressed Flash as he half-retreated from their brief conversation.

“Wait, Flash. Can we talk? Like here, or at the park or wherever you want really, but I really would like to talk to you.”

Flash turns around awkwardly, but with the same attempting-to-be-casual look on his face. “Uh, I guess, yeah. Early morning walk, 7:30 tomorrow?”

Peter smiles, though it’s subdued. “I’m there.”

He had felt an odd pang of nostalgia over the idea. They’d had a program of trying to go for early morning jogs at least three times a week, and the idea was meant to be for the household but Ned and MJ had heard them out and promptly cracked up, so it ended up just being the two of them racing each other around the park.

It had somewhat fallen away with everything else they had going on, and then that weekend had happened.

*

It is getting a lot colder in New York, and Flash can see his breath in front of him.

He’s not really sure why he’s up so early, in the cold, on a walk outside. He hadn’t been planning to deal with it so soon. But Peter asked him so earnestly, sounding so full of honest guilt that he’d decided to agree to this talk.

It’s reminding him though, unfortunately, of their jogging sessions. He would always try to beat Peter, and sometimes he did, but he had a feeling Peter was letting him win. His whole spider-thing seemed to give him increased strength; he wouldn’t be surprised if it gave him increased speed and stamina too.

They stopped in at a cafe for coffees, and now they’re holding the steaming takeaway cups, heading down a path in the park.

“So...” Peter begins, to break the awkward silence.

“So?” Flash replies shortly.

Peter half-laughs nervously. “Yep. Right. To, uh, business,”

Flash glares at him, and Peter nods rapidly.

“Yep. So, what I wanted to talk about was, obviously, Sunday night,” Peter stumbles out, voice anxiously higher than usual. Even though Flash knew this was what the talk was going to be about, he still feels a wrench of panic.

It’s worse than before – that was just a secret, it wasn’t real – but this is something else. He still can’t understand at all what happened on Sunday night. Maybe that was why he agreed to this talk.

“Yep,” Flash says quickly.

He can tell Peter’s looking at him, and he focuses very hard on taking a sip of coffee and not looking at him.

“I’m – I’ve been trying to figure out what I was going to say when I saw you, but you know I’m not good at being slick – so I’m just going to say what I’ve been wanting to. I’m really sorry, Flash,” Peter says earnestly, and he sounds so remorseful that Flash wants to say everything’s fine already, just so he’ll go back to his usual stupidly cheery voice. It’s not fair at all.

“Sorry that you kissed me? Because you regret it?” he retorts flatly.

“No!” Peter exclaims. “I’m  - I don’t know. But I think that – I kind of took advantage of you. I didn’t mean to, but I did, and that’s what I’m sorry for. I think...it was unfair of me.”

Flash sighs, feeling annoyed. Peter, for all the stupid things he does, can often say exactly what you needed to hear without even realising it. He hates that he’s already less annoyed because of it.

“It was,” he says. “And to my friend, who you’re lucky to be dating. Are you going to tell her?”

“I did.”

“How did she take it?” he asks, perversely interested.

Peter gives a weird sort of laugh. “Yeah – as always, not how I expected it. You know how she sometimes laughs at inappropriate moments?”

Flash almost chokes on a sip of his coffee. “Really?” he splutters, laughing.

Peter nods, cheeks flushing. “Yep. But she wasn’t mad.”

Flash is surprised, but then again he isn’t. Knowing her. “Wow.”

Peter pauses a moment, taking a sip of his coffee. “She said she was mainly surprised you didn’t kiss me first.”

Flash looks at him. “So she knows about that then?”

“I didn’t tell her. C’mon, this is MJ we’re talking about. She’s observant,” Peter says defensively.

“Right.” Flash blows a cloud of breath in front of him.

There is another silence that grows more awkward by the second.

“I accept your apology, ok?” Flash says, deciding he may as well.

Peter looks instantly so much more relieved. “Thanks, Flash,”

“So, why did you do it?” Flash asks, and notices that Peter’s new smile freezes.

Peter looks at him strangely, like he’s attempting to speak, then looks away.

When he looks back again, he says. “I – I don’t know.”

This irritates Flash again. “Really? All of that, and you don’t know?”

Peter looks guilty again. “I don’t –“ he stops and starts again. “I – couldn’t stand that I made you so upset. I don’t know why, but I just wanted you not to... hate me , like you said.”

Flash feels slightly guilty remembering that. But he’s mostly still annoyed.  “And the way to do that was to kiss me? After I just told you how I...felt?”

Peter cringes. “I know, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I’m a total asshole.”

Flash huffs. “You’re not even that. And that’s what annoys the hell out of me.”

There is silence again. “So that was it. The only reason,” Flash says, and he can’t believe he has. He has no idea what he’s looking to get.

Peter drinks his coffee determinedly.

“I – it’s complicated,” he says, and stops in his tracks, forcing Flash to stop too. “I’m still trying to unpack it here. I never expected this – and I don’t know how I feel, and I can’t even really think about that because I’m dating someone, who I love a lot, and I would be totally lost –“

Flash claps to stop Peter’s anxious babbling. “Hey, stop freaking out. I’m sorry. It doesn’t matter.”

Peter looks at him, and sighs. “But it does, now.”

*

If before had been difficult for Flash, it seemed like a breeze compared to the strange situation he had stumbled into now.

Before had at least been something he understood - unrequited crush, no problem. Nothing he hadn’t experienced before, even when he hadn’t totally been aware of it.


But this - he wasn’t mad at either one of them, really, and he didn’t think they were at him; but it wasn’t exactly normal between them. More often than not they were finding ways to avoid each other without seeming like they were doing it.


To be honest, he didn’t know where he stood with either of them.


It actually almost made him mad, when he stopped busying himself with anything else and thought about it. It was so typical of them - with any other couple you’d know what to expect from them. You kiss or get kissed by someone’s boyfriend or girlfriend, you can usually predict how both parties will react: either the ‘wronged’ party will hate the both of you, or they’ll get past it and both hate you.


But of course they’re not like that. MJ has to be different and Peter has to be painfully earnest and maybe he’s mad at them.


In his most jealous of thoughts he wonders if he’s not partly annoyed that they reacted so well to something that might have broken others up. Fucking hell - both of them, who are just such a good couple and are just so perfectly into each other and he wasn’t the one who did it. He didn’t even ask to be in this situation.


But mostly he’s just uncomfortable around them now, because seeing them makes him jealous and he hates that he now recognises that feeling, and he doesn’t even want to talk to Ned about it. Before, it was fucked up, but like, it was something explicable. Now he feels like even Ned, who has been pretty understanding, would just look at him in disbelief.


He runs into MJ alone in the living room one day and attempts to back off without her realising, but she does. She looks at him, familiarly scrutinising.


“Do you wanna get some food? I’m starving. And I don’t feel like cooking,” she asks, straight-forward.


He goes to disagree, but instead finds himself saying, “Yeah, I guess I could use a break from studying.”


She stands, grabs her backpack and jacket, and he follows after her wondering what he’s doing.

 

*


MJ sits across from Flash, and they eat their burgers. In silence, but not it isn’t pointed. They’re eating.

It’s annoying that he’s been avoiding her. Peter, she can understand, but she didn’t do anything. They were friends, weren’t they?

“So, why the hell are you avoiding me?” she asks point-blank, putting down her burger.

Flash chokes on a bite of his burger and coughing, takes a sip of water.

“Jesus, you could give me some warning,” he chokes, scowling.

Well, she wasn’t exactly the type to sit around and tiptoe around a subject.

She raises her eyebrows at him, and he rolls his eyes back.

“Really?” he asks.

“Really,” she replies matter-of-factly.

He huffs a kind of annoyed laugh.

“It’s weird! Do you not think that? I would’ve have thought you of all people would get that...”

She frowns at him. “Right, because I’m just that kind of cliché girlfriend and I can’t have my own reactions to things.”

He sighs, looking annoyed. “I’m not – does this have to be about feminism – “

She gives him a look and he quavers slightly and backs down. “Ok I didn’t mean that. But I don’t mean you should find it weird or be mad because that would be ‘normal’...I’m just – and it’s not just you I’m avoiding, ok?”

She nods. “Yeah, fair enough. But why are you avoiding me? You know I don’t care about what happened. I care that one of my best friends thinks he can just stop hanging out with me,” she says, looking at him.

He gapes at her, looking frustrated and then sighs again. “You know this isn’t how this is supposed to go, right?”

She scowls at him. “God, Flash, there are billions of people on this planet. There are eight million people in this city alone! You think they all live their lives in the exact same little narrative?”

He scowls back but nods. “Ok, ok. But like, why aren’t you mad? It’s not like he said...” he stops, “I mean he hasn’t really said anything definite. But he definitely didn’t say it was a fucking...mistake. I guess I don’t really know where the fuck that puts any of us?”

She nods. “You know, I wanted him to talk to you. Not in a possessive, ‘stay away from him’ way, but cause I was worried about you. And maybe it’s easier for me, because I’m in this relationship and I’m not so worried about this, but I can’t help feeling like this doesn’t have to be horrible and dramatic. You’re my friend.”

Flash shakes his head. “No offence, but that sounds fucking...crazy, to me right now.”

She sighs in frustration. “Why?”

He half-laughs. “There are only two or three possible outcomes here - it’s elementary-school math,” He says counting on one hand. “A) Highest chance: Nothing changes. You and him stay together and it’s great, and he forgets about it, and I have to just get over it. B) I decide it’s too weird, and I leave and you guys figure out how you’re going to get another roommate to cover what I do in rent quickly. Which I don’t really want to do.”

“Thanks,” she drawls.

He frowns back at her. “Or, C) Lowest and unlikeliest of chances, but: he doesn’t forget about it. This weird thing breaks up my best friends, and we probably all end up having to move out because it’s too ‘horrible and dramatic’.”

She rolls her eyes. “How can you say that? When I was a kid aliens were a thing in fiction. Then they were suddenly an occasional reality. How can you expect things to unfold in only the ways you can imagine? It’s so...boring.”

He stabs at a fry on his plate with his fork forcefully, and stuffs it in his mouth.

After he’s finished eating he says, “I don’t get what you want. Isn’t it easiest for you if I just shut up and take option a? What other good option is there for you?”

She feels sad then, in spite of herself. In spite of the fact she’s kind of annoyed at him.

She softens her expression slightly. “Sure, it might be easier on the surface, dude, but any situation where you’re just sitting there, pretending things are fine and that there are no feelings? That’s a shit situation. I mean, I thought everything was fine before because you’d moved on, but if it’s gonna be like that but worse because none of us can plead ignorance...fuck that. You’re too important to me, to both of us, to all of us for that matter. I can’t stop you from moving out if you have to, but I just...can’t believe that the only options are you being miserable or moving out?”

He looks at her and she expects more irritation from him, but he unexpectedly breaks into a small smile.

“I want it to not be that, fuck. I don’t know. Maybe I will get over it.”

She shrugs. “Whatever’s best for you. But, I think Peter wouldn’t want those options for you either.”

He looks down and picks at some leftover fries, long cold by now probably. “Well I think I can’t make my own decisions until he figures out his. And I don’t even fucking...I don’t even know what I want them to be.”

She nods in understanding. “Yeah, I know.”

He looks at her curiously. “You were pretty cool about what he did. Would you do that if he’d kissed some girl at a bar or something?”

She cocks her head to one side, considering him.

“I don’t know. It’s hard to know how I feel about things sometimes until I actually experience them. Maybe not though. I don’t know, Flash...you’re one of my best friends. It’s like...I trust you way more than that hypothetical person. And I think you deserve to be happy much more than them.”

He raises an eyebrow. “Potentially with your boyfriend?”

She laughs. “Maybe. I don’t know. I don’t own him. He’s not a puppy.”

He laughs too, looking surprised. “Just has an annoying tendency to look like one when he’s upset.”

“God, I know. It’s ridiculous.”

They sit smiling in silence.

“Look, I just want you to be happy, you dork. Sorry to be all feelings , but whatever. You’re one of a very small group of people I actually care about, and I don’t want to lose you,” she says, suddenly caught up in a sneak attack of sentimentality.

He nods, looking more serious. “Yeah, I don’t wanna lose you either.” He grins a little ruefully. “You guys are the only ones who really like me.”

She chuckles at this.

Somewhere she’s aware that most people’s reaction to their boyfriend kissing one of their best friends is usually negative, and that this is not just “normal” but probably the right reaction. And yet – though she was initially surprised for a moment, which had presented as an attack of inappropriate laughter – thinking about it she wasn’t particularly horrified. It had kind of made an odd sort of sense.

*

“I’m not gonna tell him. Or tell him more.” Flash says one day, somewhat to MJ’s surprise.

“What?” She raises an eyebrow across the table at him.

Peter is out visiting his aunt, and Ned is with his moms so it’s them at breakfast.

“I’ve thought about it, and it happened, I’m over it.” Flash says nonchalantly, not meeting her eye.

“You’re over it?” she deadpans.

He shrugs, but she can tell it’s manufactured apathy.

“Whatever, it’s my life,” he says, with an edge of irritation.

She cocks her head at him, squinting sceptically and he gets up and grabs his empty bowl. “Thought you’d be happy,” he mutters as he leaves for the kitchen.

Happy for what? Happy for him to continue to bury himself under his own protective layers of snark and sometimes dickishness?

Happy for her and Peter to pretend that wasn’t happening? Happy to awkwardly paper over what had happened and how it made their friend feel?

No. She wasn’t happy.

*

Peter gets a call at midnight from MJ.  

“Hey, why didn’t you come to this party we’re having so much fuuuun!”

He blinks, having been writing a paper for the last few hours and feeling his eyeballs dry out.

“I would have but, this assignment, you know how it is,” he says, smiling.

“Dork,” she laughs. “I’ll be home in probs an hour.”

“Are you ok to get home? I don’t want you to get the subway this late if you’re drunk.”

She blows a raspberry. “I’ll be fiiiine.”

“I can come get you if you want, we can take an uber?” he suggests, even though it will certainly mean he can’t eat lunch out for next week.

“It’s midnight! You don’t need to, anyway.”

He sighs. “Can you stay at a friend’s?”

“Boo!” she jeers. “Laaame. I want to go back to my own apartment.”

He shuts his eyes for a moment, and opens them again. “OK, I think Flash is at a museum thing with his parents about two blocks from you. I’ll call him and see if he’s still out and can pick you up.”

“Ugh, fine, mom, ” she replies.

He hangs up with her, and texts Flash. He might not even be still out, but he wasn’t back yet. Unless he was avoiding them again. Which could be likely.

yes i’m still out what do you want

He tries not to take it personally.

 

***

Flash had actually been glad to get away from the endless benefit that his parents had dragged him to, even if he didn’t want to admit that to Peter. He’d agreed months ago, but it was so much fakery and rich old ladies asking him about his medical degree, and he couldn’t get out fast enough.

When he’d been able to herd MJ into a cab - she’d been more affectionate than usual on seeing him, which was his first clue to how drunk she was - he texted Peter that they were on their way.

“I thought Peter was supposed to go to that party with you?” he asks her, watching the street pass by outside her window.

She nods. “He had to work on a paper. Whatever,” she shrugs. He’s lived with her long enough to pick up when she’s faking apathy or not being bothered.

“Are you annoyed he didn’t come?” he asks. There’s no point in beating around the bush, and she’d do the same for him.

She snorts. “No, what? I don’t want him to fail an assignment just to come to a dumb party with me.”

“Sure,” he says, waiting.

“I mean …” she says, slowly. “It was fucking fun, and I don’t need my boyfriend to come with me to have fun with friends.” she continues, pronouncing the word boyfriend like she’s mocking herself.

“Granted.”

She smirks. “But like...it would have been cool for him to be there. It’s not like we’re flooded with party invites, we’re engineering students.”

Flash can’t help sniggering at this. “Yeah.”

“Whatever, it’s not like I care about that bullshit usually but I’m just…” she trails off. “He takes a lot on. He should - he needs to chill out sometimes.”

Flash chuckles again. “I’ve only been saying this for years.”

MJ looks at him and cracks up. “I don’t think it would mean much from the king of stressing out.”

“I’m not-” he protests but can’t help cracking a small smile.

 

“I don’t want to be that girl, yknow?” she says abruptly. “Like, I know he can handle himself, but he’s still like one skinny college kid and he acts like he can take on anything but after that…”

Flash is almost afraid to look at her. As blunt as she generally is, she’s rarely this unguarded. He feels almost like he shouldn’t be hearing this.

“I get scared too, you know,” he blurts out, almost just to fill the silence. “He can be such an idiot , and he’s so reckless sometimes…” he says and trails off. Well. He hadn’t even realised he was thinking that.

She looks at him. “Thanks, Flash.”

He nods awkwardly.

“So you do love him?” she asks in a casual way, but even blunter than is usual for her.

“No!” He knee-jerks immediately, more annoyed than he meant to sound. “I don’t know.” He shakes his head. “I think it’s kind of a moot point?”

She shakes hers too. “I knew you hadn’t given up.”

 

“What about that sentence suggests I haven’t?”

 

“You’re still wondering about it. And honestly, I don’t think it’s as hopeless as you want to think.”

“Well, it’s not really my call, is it?” he says quickly. He sighs. “This is the weirdest period of my life.”

“Welcome to my life,” she says, sniggering.

She rests her head on his shoulder, looking tired but content. “Whatever happens, I hope we’re still friends at the end. You’re cool, when you’re not trying.”

He laughs.

 

She yawns. “I love you too, y’know.”

“Yeah, you too,” he says quietly, smiling

.

***

 

They walk through the door an hour later.

“You missed a hell of a party, Pete,”  MJ says, grinning.

“Looks like it. Do you want some water?” Peter says, smiling back.

She nods. “I can get it myself though.”

She walks off toward the kitchen, leaving Peter and Flash standing in semi-awkward silence.

“Haven’t seen you much lately?” Peter ventures after a moment.

Flash nods. “Yeah. Thought I should – give you some space.”

Peter doesn’t say anything for a moment, like he’s wondering whether he should say more.

“You uh,” he starts quietly, and coughs. “You don’t need to do that. We miss you.”

Flash smirks slightly.

“And, I miss you.”

 

***

 

The next morning Peter finds MJ nursing a coffee and a hangover, having gotten up before him, perhaps in a stubborn attempt to prove she’s not so affected by it. She’s not a morning person at the best of times, but she looks especially irritable today.

He gets himself some coffee, and sits next to her at the table.

“Good morning,” he says nonchalantly.

“Not especially,” she grumbles.

He can’t help smiling, and MJ swats at him.

Then something that hasn’t happened in awhile happens. Flash walks into the kitchen, makes himself some coffee and a bowl of cereal and joins them at the table.

Peter doesn’t want to acknowledge that it’s not normal so he just continues reading his book and drinking his coffee.

“Morning,” Flash says casually.  

“Morning,” he replies, just as casually.

They continue, and might have been able to pull of a very casual breakfast, if MJ hadn’t let out a frustrated noise and banged her mug down on the table.

They both look at her in surprise, and a little worry.

“I’m too hungover for this shit, ugh,” she sighs, and Flash looks at him questioningly. He can only shrug back.

She looks at both of them and glares into her coffee.

“Ok, I guess we have to do this now,”

“Do what now?” he asks, and Flash looks awkward.

She sighs again. “We’re not sitting here and ignoring the elephant in the room.”

“Well if this is about the hero stuff, I already –“ Flash starts but she narrows her eyes at him and he stops.

“You know what it’s about.”

No one says anything.

Peter feels a chill up his spine. “I thought you weren’t – mad...” he trails off.

She shakes her head and her expression softens.

“I’m not mad.”

Peter lets out a breath that he didn’t realise he was holding.

“But I’m tired of ducking around each other and pretending everything’s like before. It’s not, and that’s ok, but we clearly need to talk about it because you guys are never going to.”

“What...do you mean?” Flash asks, unconvincingly.

She shakes her head irritably. “Maybe it’s because I’m hungover, and hungry, and grumpy about it but you know, as much as I care about you guys, you FRUSTRATE me so GODDAMN MUCH sometimes!”

“Why?” Peter asks, feeling like he should be catching on quicker but not picking up the thread.

“For smart guys you don’t think outside of the box much.” He tries to protest but she gives him a look and he stops.

“Aren’t you tired of following such a binary script for this thing? You both look at this like you have only two paths to follow, one-zero, one-zero, one-zero, MJ-Flash, MJ-Flash, MJ-Flash. Me or him,” she says meaningfully, like it’s obvious.

His brain finally sputters into gear. “I don’t – I don’t get what you want-“ he gets out, feeling like he hasn’t studied for a test, and worse it’s on something he should know easily, like 11 th grade physics. “I don’t even have two options. I’m hurting one of you no matter what I do,” he says, frowning.

He can’t help flicking eyes over to Flash who looks frozen and is very steadily avoiding looking at him.  

“Why? Why do you have to be hurting one of us?” she contends, seriously.

He gapes at her, unsure of why she’s being so obtuse. Not to mention how awkward this conversation is when they’re all here. Thankfully Ned’s still out with his girlfriend.

“Because – I can only – It’s not like I can...” He trails off incredulously.

“Why the fuck not?” she laughs, kind of like she’s explaining basic concepts to a child, but not meanly. “We’re a post-millennial generation, we’re already fuckups, we’re already in debt, we’re already weirder than our parents generation. Who says we need to be like them? Who says we need to do things exactly as they did?”

Peter goes to say something in rebuttal and then stops. His eyes flick over to Flash, who seems similarly stunned.

“You’re not suggesting that we...” Flash says disbelievingly.

She looks at Flash now. “It’s unexpected, sure – but we’re all scientific people here, right? What is more a part of the essence of scientific breakthrough but unexpected discoveries?“

She turns to look at them both, and he thinks he hasn’t seen her so animated in years.

“Think of – Alexander Fleming, who would have never discovered penicillin without being gross enough to leave dirty petri dishes out when he went on holiday – or fucking, Tony Stark, being kidnapped and dropped into a cave and letting that change his company’s direction forever! This could be our petri dish! Our cave in the desert! Our moment to jump into the unexpected and see where it takes us.”

There’s a stunned silence when she finishes.

“Fuck, I think that’s more words than I’ve heard you say in the time I’ve known you,” Flash says, and MJ rolls her eyes at him, and then she smiles.

“So you want to just...bring me into your thing? You want that?” Flash asks, a little sceptically.

She laughs. “Well I figured, why is there only one annoying nerd in my relationship?”

Flash laughs in mock-indignation, and Peter half-heartedly protests with a “hey!” He knows she’s just teasing though.

Her expression softens slightly. “Look, I’m not sure how you feel, Flash, but you’re one of the few people I...love or whatever, and I already care a lot about you. I want you to be … happy. I think you would be. With us.”

He looks to Flash, who looks like he almost can’t believe he’s having this conversation, then he smiles tentatively. “I would be so happy. I fucking – love you too, you and ... Peter.”

They both look at him on this, and he experiences a jolt of fear. What if he says the wrong thing? What if he hurts one of them? What if he hurts both of them?

He can’t speak for a moment, mouth moving but no sound coming out.

Then a funny thing happens. He gets out of his head, for once.

“Yes. Yes! I’m not … promising anything, and honestly this is crazy it’s not like I’m not busy enough already –“ MJ and Flash give him matching unimpressed looks. “But, God, Yes...I – don’t have to choose. I love you. I love you both! Fuck...”

He knows he’s sort of babbling, but he can’t help it. The pure unadulterated relief is crashing over him like a powerful narcotic, and it’s making him delirious.

 

***

 

Two days later, when MJ and Ned have class, but Peter and Flash have a rare few hours off, Peter notices Flash looking at him like there’s something he wants to ask, then looking away whenever he catches Peter’s eyes.

They’re bringing in some groceries they bought to the kitchen and it’s seemingly giving Flash a good reason to not make eye contact as he puts things away.

“What is it?” he asks.

Flash shakes his head. “Nothing.”

He grins. “Come on, I think after all this you can be honest with me.”

Flash groans. “Ok fine, it’s really lame but...” he takes a sudden, steadying breath. “I’m not just like...a fun new thing for your relationship am I?’ he says, and winces, but still looks so worried in that moment, it causes a pang in Peter’s chest.

He stops putting away the cheez-its and walks closer to Flash, shaking his head.

“My life is pretty complicated, already, Flash. And it’s not like I can say I didn’t finish the problem set because I was busy preventing a robbery, and yes, that’s where this black eye came from, Professor Hartnell.” He grins. “I wouldn’t have made it even more complicated for just anyone – only a nerd, former bully, and friend that I ...  have loved before I realised it.”

Flash looks sort of stunned, and very soft, and it makes him want to take his face in his hands and kiss him. So he does.

***

Ned hadn’t thought that things could get more complicated for him than ‘finding out your best friend fights crime and kind of has super powers’. Sure, in the wider world, things could get a little weird, I mean what with what you heard about (or happened in your own backyard), but in his small circle of people, he thought that was the most complicated secret he’d ever stumble upon.

Oh but he’d been naïve.  

Things were definitely weirder lately. They almost never did things together as a group of friends anymore, and the others had definitely being weird around each other for a while, but that seemed to have settled down a little.

Also, Flash had seemed to be quietly avoiding Peter. If he didn’t know better he’d think something had happened...but probably one of them would have spilled the secret by now if it had.

It wasn’t that they weren’t hanging out, the three of them. It was something different.

And it wasn’t just that. Flash wasn’t drunkenly coming to him to complain about his love life so much anymore, but that didn’t mean he seemed back to normal. Something was going on with him, definitely.

They were slowly getting back to casually watching TV together sometimes as a household. And it almost seemed normal – Peter and MJ on one end of the couch, him on the other end, Flash on the lounge chair next to them.

But it wasn’t normal. There was a weird vibe in the room. Flash seemed unusually focused on staring at the movie on the screen, and MJ hadn’t even protested when he’d suggested they watch one of the Fast and Furious movies – a definite sign she was distracted. Ned had even caught Peter looking away when he caught him looking at him.

He pauses it as someone drives a car out of a helicopter onto the top of a speeding truck.

“Hey!” Flash protests.

“Ok, what the hell is up, Peter?” he says turning to look at him. He looks like he always does when he feels guilty about something but is pretending he has no idea what someone is talking out. Ned frowns. He got used to that one in school before he found out about Peter’s secret. And that was by accident!

“What?” Peter protests, looking confused.

“Don’t give me that look, that’s your what-no-I-don’t-have-a-secret-identity-I-just-have-a-lot-of-work-for-this-Stark-internship look! You can’t fool me!” Ned rebuts dramatically. Peter looks appropriately chastened.

He looks at MJ, “You let me pick a Fast and Furious sequel without a fight , and when has that ever happened? And you,” he looks back at Peter, “have not made a SINGLE joke or complained about the various crimes against physics this movie commits, which isn’t like you at all!”

Peter looks more guilty at this.

“I’ve done nothing but actually watch this movie, though.” Flash says defensively, awkwardly crunching a chip.

Ned looks at Flash. “Which is suspicious in itself.”

“You picked it!” Flash protests incredulously.

“As a test, to see if I was just imagining you were acting weird! And I was right, hah!” Ned says, maybe a touch too dramatically, but he’s kind of enjoying himself too much to stop now.

“What’s going on?” he asks, looking at them with what he hopes is a piercing stare, but probably isn’t.

He isn’t imagining it: their eyes do flick over to each other, betraying an awkward unspoken conversation.

Flash raises his eyebrows at Peter who very slightly shakes his head, to which Flash nods a little, to which Peter’s mouth goes in a thin line that Ned can pretty much read what he’s trying to convey. MJ rolls her eyes at Peter, who deflates and nods very slightly.  She turns to him.

“You know how Peter and I are a couple and you live with us and it’s not a big deal because we’re your friends anyway? Basically –” she starts, but Peter cuts her off, looking awkward and paler than usual.

“A lot’s happened recently and I can’t tell you and no it’s not a hero thing – “ he babbles, then takes a breath and looks at Ned. “Basically it’s what MJ said except, uh, all your roommates are dating now. Is that weird? I’m sorry I didn’t tell you, I had a lot to...work out.” Peter finishes and looks at him, almost scared, which is ridiculous because Ned knows he’s been in much more terrifying life-or-death situations. Not that he actually really understands what he just heard.

“Ok – wait, what? Is MJ dating Flash? Or are – are you dating him? But MJ said you’re a couple, I –“ he trails off.

Peter just looks to MJ for help and she sighs. “Multiple choice, Ned. All of the above. Is that a problem for you?”

He thinks about it for a second. Once you got over the initial unexpected shock, it wasn’t really that freaky, to be honest. He’d had his mild suspicions that Flash’s feelings might not be so one sided, but he was hardly going to tell Flash that when he had no idea if he was right, or if Peter knew, or what that might do to MJ. Who apparently had felt a similar way? Who knew? It wasn’t like he was going to question them about it. And you grow up in an “unconventional” family, although hardly, “unconventional” relationship set-ups seem much less weird.

“Nope. Fine by me,” he says simply, smiling.

Peter audibly lets out a relieved breath. “Really?” he says, smiling.

Ned shrugs. “Nothing you really do now really is weirder than the time you crawled into your room from the window, across the ceiling and dropped onto the floor wearing that suit. That was like, the peak. It’s like, oh is that all? You didn’t just take off to Europe for the weekend with a bunch of super-powered people? Eh, whatever.”

Peter laughs, blushing as he, MJ, and Flash join in too.

****

MJ and Peter have gone off to bed – by themselves, he’s not thinking of moving into a room already shared by two people any time soon – and Flash is helping Ned with cleaning up odds and ends before he goes to bed himself.

It’s a weird feeling this, he can’t remember the last time he felt so happy and relaxed. He’s a med-student; it’s been kind of a dim memory until now.

Ned stops for a moment. “I don’t know if it’s cool for me to say this, but I did put up with a lot of drunk whining from you, so – “ Flash grins. “You seem happier. I’m glad it worked out well.” Ned says, then he pauses. “Although it was clearly way more complicated than I thought.”

He nods. “Yeah.” He looks down and then looks at Ned. “Thanks for being there, man. I was pretty – fucking miserable at times. I’m glad you’re my friend, or whatever.” He can’t help cringing a little – he’s not used to genuine sentiment, although he’s trying. It makes Ned laugh though.

“No problem, man, me too. And, bonus, hopefully no more drunk whining at my door!”

Flash laughs at this. “Fuuuck off.”

 

***

 

Present Day

It’s some absurd hour when Peter’s phone buzzes.

“Mmph,” MJ grumbles, only awake enough to register the noise as interrupting her sleep.

Peter reaches a hand out, somehow not waking up Flash even though he definitely bumped him in his half-asleep haste. He’s a heavy sleeper – he could probably sleep through an earthquake, or another alien invasion.

He’s about to switch it off, without reading the text, when it starts ringing loudly.

MJ grumbles louder and swats at him sleepily. Flash lets out a solitary snore.

He answers it quickly when he sees who it is.

“Yes? Yes. Totally. Be there soon,” he says as quietly and professionally as he can.

MJ looks at him blearily. “Important?”  

“Sorry,” he whispers. “It’s Them.”

She gives him an understanding nod. “Go get ‘em,” she whispers, and then gives him a stern look, only barely visible in the early morning gloom. “If you get yourself hurt I’ll kill you, though.”

He smiles at her. “I know. I’ll do my best not to.”

“You better,” she says quietly.  

He leans down to kiss her. “Love you,”

She smirks sleepily. “Nerd. Love you.”

He presses a light kiss to the top of Flash’s head. “Tell him I said bye.”

Flash smiles slightly in his sleep.

***

It’s some kind of party for them – they throw them when they’ve pulled off a pretty difficult win, and as with the few parties he went to in high school Peter is standing by the food area.

It’s not that he doesn’t mingle ever, and he’s not so intimidated by them now, but tonight he’s just feeling out of place.

Steve walks up to him and smiles warmly.

If Tony’s like a weird, cool uncle to him, Steve’s become something like the older brother or favourite cousin that you might not see much, but always treats you with adult respect and seems genuinely interested in what you’re saying.

He’s glad they’re on the same side again, at least right now, because he always liked hearing about him as a kid – the skinny kid from Brooklyn who became a super-being and took on the Nazis.

“So, are you hiding?” Steve asks, not chiding,

Peter can feel his cheeks warm briefly. “No – I – I’m just really keen on this blue cheese dip. It’s really good. I should ask Tony where he got it. Or Pepper.”

Steve laughs. “I understand that. It’s kind of daunting to be at these things sometimes, when you’re the oldest guy at the party.”

Peter grimaces at this. “Yeah, or the youngest.”

Steve nods. “True.”  He looks at the food table. “So, that blue cheese dip then?”

Peter grins. “It’s good.”

His phone buzzes, and he looks at it.

Flash’s sent him a snapchat of him, bored while studying. He laughs at the caption he’s put on it.

Steve looks over at him, questioningly but still smiling. “What is it?”

“Oh just a snapchat,” he says and Steve gets that slightly glazed look in his eyes like that one time when he tried to explain digital music file formats to him.  Peter can’t help but smile.

“It’s like a dumb photo sending service,” he explains and Steve smiles sheepishly.

“Good to know,” he says, and Peter laughs.

“From your girlfriend?” he continues.

He’s taken aback and blurts a correction without thinking. “No, uh, boyfriend.”

He almost cringes but avoids it. Steve looks a little confused, but not disgusted or anything. He was from a fairly different time, after all.

Steve looks like he’s wondering whether to ask something. “So you’re not with your girl....MJ anymore? That’s a shame, she sounded like she kept you...on your toes... ?” he asks, trailing off awkwardly.

He shakes his head as soon as his brain allows him to parse the sense. “No, no, we’re still – we’re still together.”

Steve frowns a little. “You’re not –“

Peter realises what it sounds like and shakes his head vigorously, feeling his cheeks heating up a bit. “No, no! I’m not – I’m not cheating on her, or anything,” he explains quickly. “I – it’s kind of complicated,” he sighs. “We’re all together.”

This party was already going so great, and now he’s oversharing about his love life to Captain Freakin’ America.

Steve nods thoughtfully. “Well that’s good. She sounded good for you,” he says simply.

There’s a moment of silence. “You probably think that’s super weird right?” Peter asks. “I bet sometimes you look at all of us and you’re just like, what the hell, like not that you hate it but some things are just so alien.”

Steve gives him a funny look. “Some things, maybe. I still don’t understand TiVo. Or why there’s so many shows dedicated to the most boring things I could think of, and yet they are nowhere near “reality”. I think video messaging is some kind of miracle and everyone just accepts it as a given that you can see and talk to someone over the other side of the world instantly. Some fashion choices I don’t get.” He smiles wryly at this.

Peter nods slowly, not sure where he’s going with this.

Steve smiles, but again it’s slightly rueful. “But having met with actual aliens, what is genuinely weird and alien among you all now is rarer than you might think. I know you think I was born 80 years or so before you, what about your life would be common with my experiences?”

Peter nods again, just because he feels like he should.

Steve nods too. “I came from a working-class neighbourhood in Brooklyn, and this was when it was genuinely poor, full of all kinds of people who didn’t have much but their differences. Lots of immigrants and the like – I was the skinny, sickly son of people who were Polish once removed.”

Peter must be showing his confusion more than he means because Steve shakes his head a bit.

“I guess what I’m saying is, it’s not like it is now. We didn’t really ever discuss these things openly. But people in our neighbourhood – if we heard that Rita and Maria who lived together on the third floor of our building weren’t just close friends, or that ex-soldier down the way and his wife might share more with Gerry, their artist boarder than just dinner – we didn’t necessarily think it was so weird. Or at least it wasn’t our business – but I also never thought it was that horrifying,” Steve says, looking again like he’s hovering on saying something.

Peter waits, kind of unable to say anything at the moment.

Steve sighs. “Just – when you’ve lost your parents, you see some people lose or have lost their entire families, how are you going to begrudge someone else a chance to be happy?”

Peter nods, and swallowing, says quietly. “I didn’t know your parents died before...Do you mind … was it because of the war?”

Steve looks surprised and shakes his head. “No, they contracted a disease and died around the same time. It wasn’t as easily treatable then. It wasn’t treatable at all, actually.”

Peter considers this. “Mine died when I was eight. Technically I’ve known my aunt longer than I knew them, but it’s like – I always remember the feel of them? Even when their faces become blurry in my memory?”

He really hopes he doesn’t start crying in front of Steve Rogers.

Steve nods in understanding, some distant emotion in his eyes; the look of someone who has lost a lot of people. Peter’s only lost three, but they were three quarters of his early support system. It mattered.

“I feel that way about mine. It was such a long time ago. I barely remember it. But I remember them. The feel of them.”

He shakes himself a little. “Sorry to bring you down. This is why I’m not good at parties.”

Peter chuckles a little.

Steve looks at him. “So, no I don’t think you’re weird. This world is weird. If you’ve found people that help you get through it, don’t worry about what any of us think. Hold on to it. You deserve it, Peter.”

Peter smiles. “Thanks, Steve. Flash is actually going to be thrilled that Captain America gave us his stamp of approval.”

 

THE END