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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I love you, son.”

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

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

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

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

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

I wanna hear it!”

“No, for real? Right infrontofeverybody--”

I. Love. You. Dad.”

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

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

That’s a copy.”

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

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

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

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

It doesn’t stop the chasm from growing.


 

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

Spider-Man.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do you really hate Spider-Man, Dad?”

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

Rio gave her husband a soft smack on the arm.

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

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

“Can I sleep here tonight?”

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

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

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

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

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

Spider-Man was dead.


 

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

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

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

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


 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

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

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

The grief that hits him next is so much worse.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He wonders who would miss this Spider-Man.

“Get up, Spider-Man!”

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

Spider-Man gets up. And he wins.


 

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

“Hello, Miles? H--”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Officer!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

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

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

The answer smacks him in the face a moment later.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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