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A Different Kind of Mask

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“So, you remember the plan, right?” Matt whispered. The sirens in the distance picked up, the sounds of the police officers on foot growing louder. 

“You’re blind and I’m just a scared teenager,” Peter said back, nodding. “Got it.” 

Peter rubbed at his cheeks, bringing colour to them, and pinching his arms until tears of pain prickled his eyes. He huddled into himself, making himself look smaller, and adopted a wide-eyed, terrified expression.

Matt shifted over and attached himself to Peter’s arm, looking like any normal, bewildered blind person. No powers here. Nope. 

“Let’s do this,” Peter murmured.

  


 

 In the back of the cruiser, Matt sat hunched into his seat. Face withdrawn and pinched, shoulders arched, and an arm around Peter’s shaking form. The teenager’s face was pushed into Matt’s shoulder, crying softly. 

The kindly officer in the front seat kept glancing back at him, biting at her lip, concerned. Peter noticed out of the corner of his eye, and brought an arm around his midsection, folding even further in on himself.

“You’re amazing at this,” Matt whispered.

Peter began to laugh, but quietly caught the sound in his throat, choking. He disguised the sound as a small, desperate sob.

Oh, poor kid,” the officer in the front seat said. 

“He’s sensitive,” Matt told her. He rubbed a hand over Peter’s back and gently patted his hair.  

Peter pulled away. His breathing was hitched, his cheeks tearstained, his huge brown eyes wide and wet. Matt may not have been able to see how truly heartbreaking Peter looked, but he could hear the pain in Peter’s wrecked voice, and silently applauded his performance.

“I w—want to go—o home,” Peter choked, voice thick with tears.

“Lots of stuff to do before that happens,” the officer driving said gruffly. 

“P—please,” Peter said, desperately. 

“Son,” the driver began

“Soon,” the kind officer said.

“Not soon,” the driver argued. “You know how long these processes take. They were found in a shady area, after a huge crime bust went down, for no apparent reason. You know how suspicious that is! We have to—”

“Please,” Peter said again. “Please—god, god.” Peter’s breath hitched and then picked up, panicked. He screwed his eyes shut and shook terribly. “Please—the last time I was in a police car, my Uncle had just—just—” Peter cut off with an audible sob.

“His uncle was murdered less than 18 months ago,” Matt murmured to the officers. “In front of him. He watched his uncle die.” The officers exchanged looks. Under Matt’s arm, Peter sobbed harder. “He’s still very emotional about it.”

“Oh, dear,” the kind officer said, biting at her lip. “I’m sorry to hear that.” 

“They were very close; he’s an orphan.”

“Oh, goodness…”

Matt visibly tightened his hold on Peter, pulling the teen closer to him. He pushed his jaw into the boy’s hair, sighing sadly. They huddled together in that backseat, clothing rumpled and torn, looking like innocent kicked puppies. Perfect.

“I wish I could’ve done more for his family,” Matt admitted sadly. “His Aunt is elderly, you see, and they only have each other. Family friends of mine, the both of them. But with my blindness… I can’t do half as much for them as I want."

“You seem very close,” the kind officer noted. “That’s so sweet.” 

“Matt’s the best,” Peter murmured into Matt’s shirt, just loud enough for the officers to hear, just quiet enough to sound like a wholesome truth, slipped out due to the frequency Peter thought it. 

The older driver narrowed his eyes—though they had softened a great deal, now less hostile, more sad. He cleared his throat and asked, still suspicious, “What were a couple of nice boys like yourself doing out together in such a shady area, anyhow?”

“Like I said, Peter’s a family friend,” Matt told him. “He helps me get around the city sometimes. Place like New York, it’s hard enough to navigate normally, but being blind makes things just so much more difficult. Peter helps me out.” Matt adopted a soft, nostalgic tone. “He’s a good kid. He helps a lot, makes being blind just a little bit easier… Besides, in exchange for guiding me around, Peter gets a babysitter. It makes his Aunt happy, she’s so busy trying to pay the bills nowadays, and she worries so terribly…”

The kind officer cooed at them, touched. The driver hmmed, and pressed, “Alright, but why were you in that area?” 

Peter sniffed, looking up at the officers from under his wet lashes. “It’s my fault,” he admitted in a small voice. “I—I got frightened, some people mugged us…”

“It’s not your fault, Pete,” Matt said, brushing a hand over Peter’s hair. 

Peter shook his head. “It is. When those guys grabbed us, I freaked out, I should’ve helped you and kept it together, but I just grabbed your arm and ran. I got us so lost, and in such a bad area…”

The kind officer looks them up and down; their story fits beautifully, explaining the pair’s torn and ruffled clothing, their matching bruises and Peter’s split lip.

Peter began to cry again, thick tears soaking his flushed cheeks once more. “I’m—I’m so sorry for the trouble, sirs.”

The kind officer had a hand over her heart, her eyes so big and wide with sympathy Peter thought she might start crying too. The gruff driver had practically melted, looking at the two of them in mirror with a soft, worried expression.

“Were can I drop you off?” the driver asked.

Peter blinked through the tears. “Huh?”

“C’mon, we’ll take you straight home. I’m sure that Aunt of yours is out of her mind worrying by now.”

“We don’t have to go to the station?” Matt asked tentatively. 

The driver smiled kindly. “I think you’ve both been through enough for one night, don’t you think?”

“Really?” Peter asked shyly. Matt had to concentrate on not gaping at the younger hero; no matter how many times they did this, it was never any less strange, hearing Spider-Man sound small and meek, sobbing, terrified to the level Peter’s persona was. 

If it had been anyone else with less skill—or, rather, experience at blatantly lying and manipulation—or anyone who looked more threatening, more obvious in their strength, and Matt wouldn’t have had a secret identity anymore. The officers would’ve handled them roughly, felt their suits underneath their clothes and hiked them up to expose their recognisable costumes. 

If it had been Wade with him tonight, Matt would’ve been in prison by now. Or dead. Most likely dead.

“Really,” the driver said. “Go home, get a good night’s rest. Forget about all this, alright?”

Peter hugged Matt around the neck and cried harder, in happiness this time. Matt could feel the boy’s face, a wet mess, against his neck. He’d be annoyed if he wasn’t so grateful.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” Peter babbled.

Matt wrapped an arm around Peter’s shoulders and allowed himself to smile.  

“Thank you,” he said.

  


  

“You are brutal.”

Peter grinned around his pizza. “You bet your ass I am! I leave no survivors!” 

“Truly,” Matt said, “a wonderful performance.”

“I know,” Peter said, showing his teeth.

They ate in companionable silence, enjoying their take out. The whole not being in jail thing made the pizza taste so much better. 

As soon as the cruiser had dropped them off and disappeared around the corner, Peter had let his head fall back and full on cackled like a super villain, rubbing his hands together and everything, a mad glint in his eyes. Perhaps his years in the mask were finally getting to him…

Now, Peter was warm and comfy, and thankfully less manic. He had long since washed the tears from his face, ordered pizza, and claimed Matt’s couch as his own.  

“How did you do that?” Matt asked.

“I have this friend,” Peter explained in between mouthfuls of pepperoni. “MJ. Most amazing actress in New York, I tell you. She taught me a thing or two about acting. And manipulation. And being a badass.”

Matt nodded and took another bite of his pizza, still a little confused. He finished the slice and began to grab another before saying, “Pete?” 

“Yeah?”

“You make a good crybaby. A real natural, truly. Suits you.”

Peter threw his pizza at him and Matt ducked away, laughing.