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you are the song my heart has been trying to remember

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i.

 

 

Michelle favors her own company 97% of the time. She relishes in the hours that she spends alone, free from the scrutiny of others. 

She has no friends, she doesn't plan on making any friends, and she's content with this fact. However, she doesn't anticipate the loneliness that she feels upon transferring to a school of peers who have all known each other since middle school. 

Their homeroom teacher, a man who looks like he should bottle his sleep and consume it periodically, introduces Michelle to her new classmates. She surveys the sea of faces that stare back at her. The luminescent bulbs in the fixtures on the ceiling buzz uncomfortably above her head. She coughs. The passage of time itself seems to lag and hang, stagnant in the air.

He directs her to a desk in the back middle of the room. She starts moving before he's finished his sentence. 

As she pushes her way through the aisle closest to her seat, she catches the eye of a boy two rows ahead of her. His eyes light up and he grins at her. 

She feels her stomach tie itself into a knot and twist. Hard. 

He's gangly and dorky and he's blabbering to the kid next to him at a speed that could most likely land him a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records. 

But he smiled at her.

Her attention is split for the rest of the class period; she hears the words streaming out of her instructor's mouth as she observes the boy with glasses. (Well, the posterior of his head.)

She imagines how easy it would be to draw the loops of chestnut framing his neck. The sharp points of his shoulders. The dimples she's convinced herself were present in the apple of his cheeks. 

At one point the teacher explains that the Fibonacci sequence makes itself apparent in approximately every aspect of nature. Michelle agrees that she doesn't need mathematical proof of a golden ratio when people like brown-haired four-eyes exist. 

She's not obsessed with him. She doesn't even think he's all that. He just has a nice smile and he acknowledges that she exists. AND she's bored. So sue her if she can't rid herself of the desire to capture his aura on her brand new sketchpad. 

Her artistic hankering passes the time well, and the bell rings before she's packed away her notebooks. She watches as her classmates shoot up from their desks and flee, paying no mind to one another as they topple out of the door. 

It's literally 9 in the morning, she thinks, as she leisurely tucks her schoolbooks into a section of her backpack that isn't already inhabited by novels. 

She takes her time zipping up her bag and passing the loops over her shoulder. She thanks her teacher and spares one last look at the seat previously occupied by her brain's morning muse.

That's when she sees it: a thin blue zip-up jacket haphazardly perched across the back of his chair. She sighs. Turns to glance at the clock. Rolls her eyes, and swiftly drapes the jacket over her free arm. 

Fuck it. 

She waits until lunch to proceed with her impromptu search and rescue mission. She's not going to let this act of charity work mess with her punctuality. She drops her stuff at the end of a long table, away from the casual lunch-goers of Midtown, and fishes the coat out of her bag. 

Peter Parker, reads the tag in messy sharpie. She commits the name to memory before scouring the cafeteria for the face that's managed to monopolize her imagination all day. 

She instead succeeds in locating the owner of the ears whom Peter had been talking off. 

She wastes no time in her approach, desperate to be rid of this newfound item of clothing and on track to finish her latest bell hooks read. 

"Where's the other one?" She stares down at him as he jumps, twisting from his position on the cafeteria bench to look at her. 

"You scared me," he says, not answering her question. He blinks up at her and she folds her arms across her chest. 

"Your friend left a jacket in Harris's class," she explains. "Do you know where he is?"

"Peter?" 

She narrows her eyes in lieu of a response. 

"He's signing up for robotics. The club sheet's across from Warren's room. I can giv—" 

She turns on her heel and starts walking out of the lunchroom before he can insist on giving Peter the jacket himself. She isn't sure why she's so determined to be the one to hand it back to him, but she is. So she's going to. 

She sets off toward the science wing, grateful for her immaculate sense of recall to remind her of the school map. She toys with one of the sleeves in her hand and notices a bleach stain on the inner collar. 

Then she spots him. Pen in hand, squinting at the array of sign-up sheets stapled to the corkboard. She advances as quietly as she can.

He doesn't notice her presence until she is no less than 4 feet behind him. She clears her throat. He almost throws the pen. 

"Peter Parker," she greets. She holds the garment out to him, maintaining her distance across several vinyl floor tiles. 

The surprise in his demeanor dissipates as his eyes flicker between her face and the fabric in her hands. 

"Oh! Oh, thank you," He says, carefully accepting the jacket. He pauses for a second as if to think. "...Michelle! Thank you, Michelle.”

"No problem," she answers with a nod. 

They both stand in awkward silence for a few beats. This is her strong suit. Her specialty, if you will.

He nervously laughs and reattaches the pen to its string. "Erm, well," he starts. "I should probably... I should get back to Ned. For lunch. To eat."

She nods at him again.

He shuffles backward, continuing to face her direction before nearly smashing into a set of lockers. At that, he rotates on his axis and speed walks the remainder of the hallway. 

"Thanks again!" He shouts as he rounds the corner, his voice reverberating through the almost-empty corridor. She watches his figure until he is completely out of sight.

Once she's sure he is gone, she redirects her attention to the lists hung before her. A knawing curiosity forces her to seek out every copy of his name. 

Chess Club. Robotics Lab. Marching Band. 

Her eyes continue to travel until she finds the last sprawl of his handwriting. Academic Decathalon. 

She almost laughs out loud but instead scoffs to only herself. 

"What a nerd," she whispers. She peers up and down the rows of lockers. 

She quickly uncaps the pen and jots her name below his.

 

 

ii.

 

 

It doesn't take long after her appointment to captain for MJ to run meetings flawlessly. Hell, she basically studied every move Liz ever made prior to her move to Oregon, so starting anew was no big deal. 

She takes her leadership to a new level by assigning books to each of the club's members. Every. Single. Week. It's really just her unique way of keeping the school's library in use. 

Does she expect everyone to read their individual books front to back? No, of course not. But she does expect them to uphold some sense of responsibility.

Which is why she can't help but be angry when she finds the copy of "A Brief History of Time,that SHE personally checked out for Peter. Using HER library card. Because HE lost track of his own. 

She finds the volume tucked under a small stack of chairs as she tidies up, following the end of practice. 

Figures. 

She groans audibly and places it into her already-too-heavy bag. Scans the room for any other misplaced possessions. Concludes that her job is done, and locks Harrington's door with her set of keys. 

However, MJ grows increasingly more irritated as she continues her trek home. Her shoe becomes untied, she nearly trips as she boards her train, and her mom calls to inform her that she'll be working the night shift. 

It seems as though the universe is encouraging her to be petty. So petty she will be. 

She smiles to herself as she drafts a text to Peter. And hey, it's not like she wants him to suffer or anything. But a little heat never killed anyone. 

MJ: hey pete. will need that book back by tomorrow. thanks. 

She waits by her phone with a smirk plastered to her face.

3 minutes pass. A ding. 

idiot: book?

...

idiot: oh, duh

idiot: yeah no prob! 

MJ: no prob meaning you have the book?

idiot: of course i do 

She briefly contemplates pushing him down the stairs. But if her theories about his "extracurricular activities" have any truth to them, she knows he can easily brush off a fall down a few measly stairs. Psychological torture, it is.

MJ: cool I'll just come grab it from you now 

idiot: sorry, WHAT????

She grins to herself and powers down her phone. She knows where Peter lives, which is a mistake on his part.

Their friendship began with awkward back-and-forth conversations about fiction. She'd butt into Peter and Ned's discussions over lunch. Correcting them about minute details that genuinely hold no weight in real life became the best part of her day. 

"No, dufus, Legolas didn't even have blonde hair in the books. Tolkien never specifies it anywhere," or "Actually, the references to the Godfather in Return of the Jedi suggest that Francis Ford Coppola exists in their canon." 

These intrusions, despite their twinge of distaste, were her first real invitation into their friend group. After that, trio movie nights became a fairly regular occurrence. 

Thus, she knows her presence at the Parker residence is expected if not welcomed. She shoves a beanie over her curls and swipes a coat of chapstick over her lips as she makes her way out of her apartment. She convinces herself it's because they are chapped and not because she'll be in Peter's direct proximity. No ma'am. 

 

It takes her 13 minutes to arrive at the front of his apartment building. Another 5 as she waits for someone entering to let her in. She considered calling up for him but wants her attendance to be as much of a shock as possible. 

She opts for the stairs, as is habit after the many elevator mishaps Peter has divulged. 

MJ knocks not once, not twice, but five times. She hears several slams from inside, along with a symphony of bangs. 

Caught him in the act

The door swings open with more force than necessary to reveal a beet-red Peter Parker, glistening with sweat. His chest heaves.

"Hey MJ," he says between pants. He's trying to hide how out of breath he is. "What brings you around these parts?" 

She nudges past him.

"Aha so actually I was not expecting anyone tonight—" 

"Cut the shit, Parker." She sizes him up with her eyes and simultaneously praises the heavens above that they granted her an additional two inches. His breathing has steadied. His shirt's fully inside out. 

"Em—" 

"I don't care about... whatever you've got going on with," she gestures to all of him, "this."

"But!" She takes a step closer to him. He takes another back. "I do need my book back." 

His face falls. She *almost* feels bad. 

"I," he drags the word out, "think maybe it's in my locker. At school" 

She glares at him. 

"Whaaaat," he whines. 

She glares harder. 

"Okay, okay, okay, maybe it's in my room somewhere." 

"In your room somewhere," she repeats. 

He gulps. She watches as his adam's apple surfaces and rolls down the length of his neck. She forces her gaze back up. 

"Mhm," he hums. He shifts his weight nervously. 

"I just don't think that's true, Peter."

He sighs. He directs his eyes to the floor. Mumbles something to the carpet. 

"What was that?" She asks, hauling her bag onto the available counter space. 

"I don't know where it is," he says, a fraction of a decibel louder than before. 

She rolls her eyes at him in a way that she hopes won't be mistaken for fondness. (Even if it's virtually indistinguishable from the way she normally rolls her eyes at him.) 

"Where do you think you may have left it?" 

He glances back up at her and pouts.

Fucking God dammit. 

"If I knew I would tell you, Em, I promise!" 

She hates herself for being so easy. 

She tears her eyes away from his and painstakingly unzips the bag, dragging out her reveal as long as she can. Finally, pulls the book out and waves it in front of his face. 

His pout is replaced with a scowl. 

"EM JAAAY," he groans. "You're so mean to me." 

"Do you have a vendetta against Steven Hawking or something?" 

"MJ."

"Your capability to keep track of your things is positively lackluster, Peter Benjamin Parker." 

Another groan.

"I thought you liked physics." 

 

 

iii.

 

 

MJ would've never admitted to having a crush on Peter Parker. Not before the snap, at least. Certainly not before being blipped back into existence 5 years later, back into a world that continued circling the sun without half its population.

But then she did come back. She came back and her family was okay and her best friends didn't live a single day without her. She shouldn't be grateful that they technically died as well, but she is. The small part of her that is relieved to have disappeared and come back rather than the alternative is also relieved that Peter and Ned didn't move on with their lives. 

MJ might be tasked with finishing the entire school year that she technically just wrapped up (well... wrapped up 5 years ago), but she won't be doing it alone. And that is a blessing in her opinion. 

And cruel and barbaric as it may be to expect a bunch of teenagers to resume living like half a decade hasn't passed without their knowledge, Mr. Harrington decides to chaperone a trip to Europe. 

She assumes the purpose is to distract them from the hellish catastrophes that have uprooted their universe as they know it. In that case, she might argue that they deserve 24 all-expenses-paid trips to Europe. And fucking Narnia, honestly. 

So it ends up being just MJ's luck that her single calamity getaway from the universe goes bad. Worse than bad. 

It was going pretty well for a matter of hours. She almost spoke to Peter on the plane ride, she caught him peeking at her on the gondola. She held some pigeons, learned some Italian. 

But the longer the trip lasts, the stranger it gets. And more dangerous. 

In what world do monsters made of lava and fire and shit spring up out of the ground with the intent to kill everyone in their wake? Well, believe it or not, it's this one!

She notices that Peter's disappearances last longer and longer and he seems more and more exhausted.

In Prague, he leaves the opera without so much as sitting down, and she follows him. She sees chaos and destruction and she knows he knows something that she doesn't. So when he returns HOURS later and approaches her shaking like a bundle of nerves, she presumes it's because he's FINALLY going to let her in on his secret. 

MJ is mistaken, however, and ends up having to interrogate him about being Spider-Man. Before she has time to wonder what he wanted to talk to her about otherwise, another threat unveils itself and she has to knowingly watch Peter swing into the epicenter of danger. 

The triumph of being proven right about Peter's secret identity holds no flame at all to the terror that takes her body hostage as she thinks about what could happen to him.

He's a superhero, sure. But he's also Peter. The same Peter who packs peppermint tea at lunch, despite his allergy, because he likes to make her smile. The same Peter who spends hours at a time looking for lost dogs and cats whenever he sees a sign. The same Peter who has populated her imagination for years. 

Her Peter.

Before he leaves for the nth time that trip, he tells her that everyone who knows about him, about Mysterio, and about this whole shitshow is in danger. 

She should feel more afraid than she does. But more than anything, she's mad. She's mad because the universe decided to assign a boss fight to a 16-year-old kid who doesn't even look at people the wrong way. 

She suddenly has to worry about losing both her best friend and her hometown hero in one fell swoop. Who can even prepare for something like that? 

 

"How do you do it?" She asks Ned, the night before. 

"Do it?"

"Live with the understanding that he could die each and every time he leaves."

Ned's face softens and he pats her shoulder.

"He'll always make it back to us, MJ." 

She retires to her room. Sits on the edge of her bed. Stares at the unmoving curtain, swirling shades of rust and amber. She wills the window to slide open, to reveal an uninjured Peter. The window remains shut.

Her fingers trace the text of Yehuda Halevi. She practices her breathing.

"'Tis a fearful thing to love what death can touch," she whispers to the ceiling. She doesn't remember falling asleep. 

They're in the middle of London when it goes down. Peter's been gone for days. She harbors an ache in her bones that she can only attribute to dangerously low levels of rest (or the fact that the one person she came on this trip for may or may not be dead at this very second.) 

They— being herself, Betty, Flash, Ned, and this well-dressed man who claims to know Spider-Man— manage to escape a platoon of killer drones by hiding out in a vault. 

The older man picks that moment to hand her a chain with broken bits of black glass. She doesn't have time to ask what it is.

MJ winds up wielding a medieval Morgenstern mace. If her entire brain wasn't preoccupied with Peter's safety she might've even celebrated her 1-0 win against the corrupted technology demon.

Instead, she blindly dashes past the array of debris littering the streets of London. She grips her weapon with whatever strength she has left. She may be a novice to the whole "fighting bad guys" deal, but she's more than prepared to take out anyone in her way. 

Michelle is taking no prisoners. She has one single initiative. One ambition driving her every bodily movement. 

Find Peter.

 

 

iv.

 

 

She swears that dating him makes her smarter.

Not that she wasn't just as smart before she fell in love with local bug boy, hero of heroes. 

But something about getting to see him as often as she wants, surrendering against the brazen, *previously* untapped affection she feels for him. Something about it just opens her up.

She learns his favorite puns. Discovers the perfect size of charcoal pencil to shade in the swoop of his eyebrow. Refines his popcorn seasoning preferences. Identifies the songs that make him chant the most riotously. MJ knows which alleys spawn the greater percentage of criminals and which rooftops provide the best view of the sunset. She even teaches herself how to stitch after Peter slams himself into her fire escape head-first. 

Her attentiveness toward him is added to a list of things that she does intuitively; a Michelle brass tacks. She overcooks her toast, she burns candles until their edges are even, she waters her violets at dusk. She pays attention to Peter. 

And even despite her newfangled wealth of wisdom regarding all things Peter Parker, the whole thing feels effortless. 

Being in love with him is like reading the summary of a book that you've read a hundred times for the first time. She already knows himShe just understands him better now.

So it's no surprise to her that he decides to neglect his shift at F.E.A.S.T. to visit her at work. It is their two-month anniversary, after all.

He half-skip half-hops up to the doors of Peter Pan's, stopping to admire the peeling decals.

"Man, the artwork out here sure is nice," he chants, much louder than necessary. "Whoever painted these deserves a raise!"

She rolls her eyes as far as she can. Subtly reaches behind her for his favorite flavor of donut. 

He strides up to the register with one of his signature wrinkles-around-the-eyes grins. 

"Hey." 

"Hi."

She sways forward on her heels to rest her chin in her hands. He leans just enough to fiddle with a turquoise thread that has come astray from her sleeve. 

"I missed you," he murmurs. 

She scoffs lightly and pushes the wrapped donut across the counter. 

"You saw me last night, dork."

"And I'll miss you when you bend down to tie your shoe," Peter sighs as he dips a finger into the frosting. 

She doesn't spare a glance down to her feet. She thinks it's because she wants to keep looking at him. It is *also* because she can't afford him the satisfaction. 

"Whatever you say," she hums, matching his gaze. 

They stand there, beaming at each other like idiots until the bell on the door chimes. Sweltering New York heat infiltrates the air-conditioned haven and breaks MJ out of her Peter-induced stupor. 

"JONES," her boss barks from the kitchen, "I better hear a transaction occur in the next 30 seconds or so help me, God—

MJ directs her stormiest frown to the man hidden behind the wall before turning back to Peter and the customer directly behind him.

"Will that be all, sir?" She bats her eyelashes for added emphasis. 

"Mmm, no, I don't think so," Peter says, unable to keep the smile out of his voice. He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a sheet of paper folded in half along with a five-dollar bill. He winks at her and drops both into the vacant tip jar*.

(*Tip jar that she isn't technically permitted to classify as a tip jar and is actually just a cup that she keeps empty and visible on the counter.)

"I'm giving this back to you, you know," she calls after him, gesturing at the cup. 

He waves at her behind his back. 

"I get off in 2 hours!"

 

MJ isn't sure how she manages to finish the rest of her shift without opening Peter's mystery stationary, but she does. She floats along on jelly legs, slinging pastries and shitty coffee until the clock strikes 7 pm. 

She overturns her cup. Pockets Peter's note and his irresponsibly spent cash. 

"I'm taking off, Sasha," she shouts, hardly sparing a glance over her shoulder as she bounds out of the shopfront. 

She waits to open it until she's back in the sanctuary of her bedroom, free from the oppressive rays of the sun. She unfolds it with an abundance of caution that can only be justified by the fact that the damn thing has been burning a hole in her subconscious all evening. 

It takes her no time at all to recognize his game. He's written her a riddle.

"Heat rises, but so does knowledge; I have a floor but no ceiling; to visit me is the closest one can get to the sky… that is, of course, unless you know a guy who can fly... P.S. meet me here! Love, Peter :)" 

She squints at the words like her eyes will persuade them to reveal their meaning. Unfortunately, that does absolutely nothing for her and she's beyond desperate to see Peter. She resolves to deal with it on her way out.

MJ is positive that he's planned something delightful for her. That's just how he is. He's the kind of person who sets the bar so high that everyone else falls short in comparison. And he doesn't even have to try. It's one of the many things she loves about him.

By contrast, Michelle Jones is an overachiever to her very core. She's a closet romantic, a sap with a heart of gold (but will deny that fact if confronted about it.) And she's had her sights set on Peter's entirely too-gravitational face since the moment she laid eyes on him. 

Ipso facto, she has curated the most foolproof, most flawless, most Peter anniversary present that she possibly can. Hell, she's honestly worried that she's only further complicated the business for future MJ. But that's a problem for another day. 

She changes out of her work attire and into a cream button-down, completing the look with jean overalls. She'll simply suffer in the heat or get used to it. 

A quick (perhaps prolonged slightly) glance in the mirror convinces her to braid and pin her bangs out of her face. She's started frequenting the practice ever since Peter stopped her one day and told her how much he likes it. Not that she'll ever admit that publicly. 

Finally, she decides that she's satisfied with her appearance and ready to brave her date. She grabs Peter's gift, his scribbles of cipher, and takes off in whichever direction she sees fit. 

In a stroke of luck, her formerly aimless wandering ends up leading her to Peter's exact location. She didn't need the riddle because no shit he's on Midtown's roof. 

"Peter!" She yells, peering up at the sky from her point of vantage on the school grounds. "I really don't think we're supposed to be here during the summer!"

He chooses that occasion to leap down to the grassy clearing directly next to her. She beams at him with the kind of smile she reserves for his eyes only. 

"Well, we can't get into any more legal trouble than I'm already in, so..."

He takes a step closer. She impatiently grasps to tug on the lapels of his flannel, dragging his lips to her own. 

His hands find purchase on the small of her back and work dually to hold her balance while pulling her ever-closer.

She momentarily considers an existence where this is all they do: sneak around in dying light, giddy with tenderness and pleasure, far removed from the Jamesons and the authoritarians and supervillains alike. Maybe being with him is actually making her more stupid. 

They break apart and MJ uses the opportunity to memorize every freckle across the length of his cheeks. She keeps all the shades of brown in his eyes, the shine of his lips, the crook in his nose. 

"You're so beautiful," Peter announces, mirroring her exact thoughts about him. 

She admires him so much that she finds it hard to breathe. 

"Alright," she whispers. "You can swing me now." 

 

 

 

 

MJ is convinced that she's losing the plot. 

One morning she wakes up and nothing is right. Her head aches and her room is freezing and she feels a stir in her gut, wailing at her like it wants out.

She has no clue what to do. And she always knows what to do. So she swallows her doubts and carries on because it's what's necessary. 

Then the nightmares commence. 

They invariably start the same: at the beginning, she is in love. She loves someone with kind eyes and warm arms, and they love her too. She knows because they smile at her when she isn't looking. They kiss her forehead and laugh at her jokes. 

Suddenly, the hyperbolic storm clouds roll in. Her world turns dark and cold and the person who previously illuminated her in a golden glow has disappeared. The wind picks up and flashes of blue and red whiz past her field of vision. 

She knows they need help but she can't move; her feet are encased inside the earth and her screams don't make it outside of her mouth. 

They end with her falling. Plunging into obscurity, grappling for hands that she cannot reach. 

She awakens back in her bed, in her apartment, in the city she's spent her entire existence in. But she never feels alleviated. She still heaves for air. Clutches the glass pendant clasped around her neck. Cries softly into her pillow for fear of falling back to sleep. 

The objective portion of her brain sums it up to restlessness. Anxiety about attending MIT, about finally starting her life. 

She knows that can't be it.

Restlessness is not the reason she speedruns 3 nightmares a night just to sink into another right after. Restlessness does not explain the way her eyes search through crowds of faces for a particular one that she cannot picture. Probes the channels of her imagination for a name she can't remember. 

Something is missing. Plain and simple. 

 

The night before she moves to Boston, she can't sleep. The nightmares have only slightly decreased in frequency, but her brain still feels fuzzy. 

She chooses to fight the clock. She makes herself a cup of tea and sends Ned a text asking how he likes his dorm so far. 

Practically everything in her bedroom is packed away into cardboard boxes, save for her comforter, pillow, and various wall decorations that she's elected to leave at home. A burning candle on its very last leg infuses the air with vanilla and nutmeg. 

She's gone through every checklist four times. She has all the essentials. Signed up for all the correct classes. Purchased all the necessary textbooks. 

But something's wrong. And it's tormenting her. She's never felt more akin to the narrator of "The Yellow Wallpaper" in her life. 

The boxes in her room make her claustrophobic. They mock her; her aggregate high-school life as she knows it is contained inside recyclable squares. The aroma of her candle is making her nauseous and her tea has gone cold. All at once, she craves the outside air like it's her vis vitae. 

MJ abandons her mattress, seeking respite in the warm breeze passing through her fire escape. Breathes in for 5 seconds. Holds it. Breathes out. 

She scrolls through her playlists, selecting one simply called, "P." (She can't seem to remember making it. The thought makes her head hurt, so she ignores it.)

She's fairly certain that the artistic stylings of Billie Holiday will soothe her soul, at least enough to get some rest. The first jubilant keys of "I'll Be Seeing You" carry through the air, and MJ finally feels her body loosen. 

That's when she hears it. A tiny shift against brick. An infinitesimal tug of fabric. 

She spins away from the balcony, her head snapping up toward the source of the noise. 

And there he is: in all his spandex-clad glory. Spider-Man. Perched against the exterior of MJ's apartment building. 

"FUCKING SHIT," she yelps, nearly dropping her phone five stories.

He angles himself away from the brick, waving around his free hand like a lunatic. 

"I'm so so sorry, M— ma'am, I didn't think you'd be ho—awake, and—" 

She slumps back against the terrace to regulate the breath she just previously had a handle on.  

He continues sputtering out apologies and sentence fragments until she holds up a hand. 

"Okay, okay, okay," she says. He goes silent. "Just warn a person next time, dude." 

His shoulders slump and his chin drops. She stares ahead, willing herself through another bout of deja vu. 

"Of course, miss. You don't have to tell me twice! I really am so sorry about that," he issues her a half-hearted salute and makes an advance to web away. 

"Wait," she tells him without thinking. Her mouth is functioning without the consent of her brain. "Don't I know you?"

He freezes. Turns to look at her through his mask. 

"Uhm."

"I seem to recall you being at pretty much all of our school field trips. Even after the blip," she continues. "Midtown? School of Science and Technology?" 

"Oh. Oh yeah, sure," he coughs. 

She squints at him. Steps a single foot closer. He flattens even further. 

"Well. You're already here. Might as well stay a little longer," MJ suggests against her own will. She can't make herself shut up. 

"Um," he repeats. Her eyes do not waver. "Okay, um. Yeah, I guess I can hang around for a minute." 

She exhales. Why'd she just ask the vigilante of Queens to metaphorically stomp ground with her? Why did he agree to it? Maybe she really is going crazy. Her inner monologue works overtime, turning out a thousand thoughts a second.

But Spider-Man hops down to her balcony and they all cease. 

The entire platform is only 4 feet across and he's splayed across the edge farthest away from her. It almost makes her laugh. A masked man, who, only minutes ago was camping right above her bedroom window seems intimidated by her.  

"So," she starts, "what brings you to my apartment building?" 

He rubs the back of his neck. 

"I uh, I really didn't think you'd be awake." 

"That's not what I asked," she deadpans. He chuckles nervously. 

"I guess I just used to come here somewhat often, and it had been a minute since I stopped by," he explains. He sounds genuine. MJ doesn't tolerate liars. 

"Alright. Now ask me something."

"Sorry?"

"I can't sleep, and you scared the living shit out of me so now we're establishing a rapport. Consider it a community initiative," she declares, running her hand along the galvanized steel beams. 

"Okay, umm," he pauses to think. "Why can't you sleep?"

"You don't want to know my name?" 

"No— I mean, yes, but—" 

"My name's MJ," she says, quieter than she intends. "You can call me MJ."

"MJ," he whispers. Her nickname sounds familiar coming from him. Safe

She smiles to herself, hoping that he won't notice despite the soft glow of her room. 

"I think I lost something important," MJ tells him. "That's why I can't sleep." 

"I'm sorry," he responds. He audibly swallows and shuffles his feet. 

She looks up at the sky. The moon blooms bright overhead. What's normally clouded with smog and light pollution is now speckled with millions of stars. Long burnt-out twinkling orbs constructed of gas and space dust wave at them from several light-years away. 

In her peripheral vision, she sees him looking at her. She glances at him and the whites of his mask immediately shift away. She smirks. 

"Did you know that they've sent spiders to space?" She voices aloud. "They can build webs even without the influence of gravity. Isn't that amazing?" 

"That's incredible," he exhales. They're both quiet for a moment. "I've been to space."

"Really?" MJ asks. 

"Yeah. It was insane." 

"You've been to another planet and all you're willing to tell me is that it was insane," she teases. 

"Listen," he exclaims with a giggle. "A lot happened! It was overwhelming!" 

MJ discovers that talking to him is the easiest thing in the world. She feels like she's done it a hundred times, in a hundred other lifetimes. He laughs at comments of hers that turn most people away. He listens when she wants him to listen and he talks when she doesn't have anything to say. 

For the hour that they spend perched on the fire escape of MJ's room, she hasn't dwelled on her issue once. The fog in her brain has dispersed. She can relax. 

Before he departs from her balcony, she runs inside to retrieve a sheet of paper from a notebook resting atop her self-proclaimed art box. She rips the paper in half, hurriedly scrawling the address of her dorm at MIT. 

She carries it out to him along with the pen she'd just used. 

"This is where I'll be living as of tomorrow," she says. "Well, minus holidays, obviously." 

He accepts the note, folding it in half and placing it in a pocket she didn't even know existed. 

"And um," MJ shifts her weight. "I was wondering if there's a way I could contact you. You know, in case, like, I don't know... I get into some kind of trouble." 

He laughs under his breath. 

"I don't think you will, MJ. But," he gently takes the pen from her hand and scribbles the digits to a number. "Just in case."

She grins as he hands her the other half of the paper and pen. She squeezes it in her grip as if it'll turn to dust otherwise.

"Well."

"Well," she repeats. 

"I guess I'll be seeing you around," he murmurs. 

"I'll see you, Spidey." 

 

He flies out into the night, leaving her with only a conversation of memories. She thinks that she's content with it. After all, she's positive that she'll be seeing him again. 

She glances at the note again. 

"Your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man- (718) 224-1783 :)"

Her lips quirk and she approaches the box currently housing her notebook. She retrieves it with the intention of sliding the scrap under the journal cover for safe keeping. 

However, another sheet comes unwedged from the pages as she opens it. She picks it up and does a fucking double take. 

The truant paper consists of a riddle, addressed by someone named Peter. 

Who just so happens to have the same handwriting as Spider-Man.