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the scrawls we meet

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The thing about soulmates is no one gets it.

Some people got a few scrawled phrases, some people got a lot, some people got one, and some people got none.

Sometimes they’re all from the same person. Sometimes, there are weighty words that signal a change in a relationship, the start of a new phase, like:

I love you.

Or:

You are important to me.

Maybe:

Talk to me, please.

Most often, they are from separate individuals. Sometimes, the usual first greetings:

Hey!

Hello!

Dude?

Excuse me—

Sometimes, accidental things:

Sorry, didn’t see you there.

WATCH IT!

Hey, lady, you dropped your wallet!

These were the most common—the blurred lines of human interaction at its finest (or dumbest). Pure spontaneity, like the universe was apologizing by balancing out the entire idea of a predetermined soulmate.

And you were never sure, really, if you were supposed to fall in love with the owner of any of those tattooed words until it happened, and the words turned from their near-skin tone colors to black (or white, depending on what would have better contrast). What was (mostly) sure, was that falling once was likely the last time, but even that was prone to change depending on deaths and other natural causes.

(Love, you see, took work. Took a conscious effort to keep it alive. Many, many people forgot that, and, well.

Sometimes even soulmates in love could fail.)

As for placement: words were known to sometimes show up in matching places, or mirrored, but they could also be nowhere near each other when examined.

And the matching? Many experienced similar sensations, but few were known to feel nothing but a small, light tug, as if called by the words themselves. Sometimes, you could feel things that the other person felt. Sometimes, but it was uncommon.

(Plus, one could grow to start feeling things from their scrawls, little by little, as if adapting to their person or persons. It was weird.)

And of the above, a mix was always possible.

The only true constants about the scrawls was that they always arrived at birth, turned darker (or lighter—again, contrast) when spoken by their person, and always looked to be made by hand, but were never similar to the person’s actual handwriting.

It was their essence, as some would say.

Their person’s personality, their kindness or rage or evenness or anything, in written form.

(...But only in the stage of life that person was to be in at the time of utterance, because even multiple phrases belonging to one person were known to look different.)

It was something that could never be explained properly, though some could get close if they kept to vague descriptions and leaned heavily on shared feelings.

Much like the entire soulmate issue to begin with, really.

A confusing reality.

A puzzle of life.


MJ has five scrawls on her body.

Her left forearm reads: Cool shirt!

Her collarbone, dead center: Excuse me, do I know you?

Behind her left ear—the secret one her mother had found: Oh!

A band around her right calf: It’s dangerous to be here.

And, the one she thinks is her favorite, because it sounds stupid and hyper-cryptic—at the heel of her right foot: Cheese?

She thinks, perhaps, the idea of soulmates would irk her more if it was purely romantic, but the idea of knowing she had a chance at a lifelong friend was...slightly appealing.

She, at 9, would freely admit this.

She, at 13 and a half, would not.

Not for thinking it was lame, of course, to like the idea, but because she was highly aware of the distance she’d started setting between herself and others, and knew the disappointment of not having her words come to life—change, from their light brown to something darker, more permanent.

Much like a lifelong friendship.


It happens in freshman year of high school, at Midtown Tech, right before homeroom starts.

It’s the boy with the hoodie and dark, golden-brown skin, grinning as she passes.

“Cool shirt!” he says, teeth peeking out from behind smiling lips.

MJ blinks, feeling a warm, full sensation on her forearm.

The boy keeps smiling, and she thinks, He seems nice.

“You know Frida Kahlo?” she says, quirking a brow.

The boy’s eyes go wide, and she takes the empty seat beside him.

“I’m Ned,” he says, and he looks like he’s about to cry. “You—did you feel it?” he whispers—or, what he probably thinks is a whisper, but is honestly pretty loud.

MJ nods.

Ned grins again, and she’s glad the jumpy scrawl was for excitement and not like, a sign of a serial killer.

But then, he keeps staring at her.

A beat.

Two.

Oh.

“Michelle,” she says, nodding at him.

“Michelle,” he gasps, tapping his feet excitedly. “I’m super happy you’re not a serial killer.”

She blinks again, stunned.

“It’s just…” he starts sheepishly, unveiling his right forearm and the...staunch? scrawl on it. “...See?”

“Oh,” she says instead, “we’re mirrored.” She rolls up the left sleeve of her plaid overshirt and shows him.

The bell rings before anything else can happen, but they pass notes with numbers during homeroom before they get shuffled out to their next classes—separate, unfortunately, save for biology and history.

At least they had lunch.

(She saves the contact as ned, #1 somewhere between the last bell and the first traffic light she passes.)

MJ lets herself smile a little on her walk home after school because what were the chances?

Mirrored.

With a boy.

Whose scrawl was jumpy and loopy on her arm, as opposed to the straight-backed letters with barely softened edges on his.

Really.

A trillion to one.


The next one is stupid.

There’s a boy Ned hangs out with, who, apparently, has a scrawl right by Ned’s heart.

(The boy has Ned’s on his back, as if a warding shield for his own heart.)

Ned says his name is Peter, and they’d met in middle school. Says he’s a nice guy, but MJ’s a skeptic on the subject, even though she’s been talking to Ned for the past few days, and he seems to both be a genuine dude and a fairly good judge of character.

Peter had been out sick with a fever for the first couple days of school, but today he was here.

Today, he was at lunch.

MJ thinks he’s skinny and sounds five, but: smart. Very smart. Very interested in school and being part of school.

MJ also notices he hasn’t directly addressed her for the first ten minutes of his wild rambling about Tony Stark’s newest suit, and how he plans on building something just as good if not better, under the man’s own tutelage.

(It’s not his fault, honestly. She knows this. He seems the type to get absorbed and completely forget the world around him, which she gets.)

She decides to speak up when he goes and misses a bit of food as he swipes at his chin with a napkin.

It’s not something she thinks about before opening her mouth.

She says, “You’ve got some cheese—”

He says, “Cheese?”

His brows are furrowed, but then he blinks and leans back in surprise, squirming a little in his seat.

MJ, again, gets it.

She does, because the mark on her foot feels weird, and it tickles, and if they’re reacting the exact same way then, well, they might be—

“Right heel?” Peter asks, scrunching up his face as he lifts his heel from the floor.

“Yup,” MJ says, wrinkling her nose and lifting her heel, too. “Tickles?”

“A lot,” Peter laughs awkwardly, looking at MJ then at Ned. “So...us three, huh?”

“I’m gonna laugh if she gets May,” Ned says, grinning madly as he watches MJ for a reaction.

She quirks a brow, still keeping her heel off the floor. “Who?”

“My aunt,” Peter says, smiling. “She probably has the most marks I’ve ever seen.”

“Me and my parents got her,” Ned says, raising his brows. “It was so wild.”

MJ nods in acknowledgement.

She’s not sure if she wants to meet this “May”.

She’s not sure if she wants to take a chance at getting her heart broken again, loved for a time then forgotten by adults she’s blood-bound to.

Who knew, with how the soulmate business worked?

At least with Ned and Peter, she had high school to almost guarantee their being stuck with her, assuming neither moved away, or worse. She had something to hold on to. Something tangible, other than the words on her skin.

(And if they turned out to be bust, it’s only high school.)

She stares at the table, feeling their eyes on her.

Waiting.

Peter’s heel hits the floor.

RIIIIING!

“Peace,” MJ says, standing and leaving.

“She’s like that,” she hears Ned say when he thinks she’s too far and too mixed into the crowd of students to hear. “Cool, right?”

“Yeah,” Peter replies, barely within earshot. “Yeah, she is.”


Turns out she has social studies with Peter at the end of the day.

He gives her his number and sputters, “If you want to, uh—to talk, or anything—no pressure! I just—you know, you’re smart. And you seem cool.”

She says, deadpan: “Some would say ‘weird.’”

¿Porque no los dos?” Peter grins, waving as he skips off to the school exit.


MJ decides she likes these two nerds; likes having them as her friends, likes knowing they’re willing to invite her over every weekend and just…

Accepting.

Accepting their status as soulmates.

MJ wonders who the other words belong to, and if those people would be the same.

So far, she’s two-for-two for hyper, excitable nerds with big smiles and bigger hearts, and it’s a sharp contrast to the shell she projects, but the universe was right: inside, they’re similar.

Scholars, focused, driven.

They find themselves all joining AcaDec, with Ned and Peter both joining robotics and band.

MJ could. She has time for it. But.

She also needs to be alone, sometimes. Roaming the halls by herself, the girl with two soulmates who was known to flit in and out of their lives—or, that’s what the public eye could see.

Ned and Peter knew, though.

They let her hang around at the table beside theirs at lunch without questioning it. Usually, she slides to her seat across them, but sometimes.

Sometimes, she stays at the empty table, content with her books and her tea.

She texts them in class and out, but she never steps foot in the Parker apartment.

She keeps leaning back and forth between wanting to know who the great May and Ben Parker are, and letting her insecurities in parental figures win and backing out last minute.

Once.

Twice.

Enough times for Peter to stop asking, even though that was the one topic he would hound her on, because They raised me, Michelle! You’ll love ‘em, even if you don’t match.

That’s not the problem, she would say, walking away before he could argue further.

Sometimes MJ thinks about how she hasn’t given them the nickname from her childhood, even though it’s almost March and they’ve told her most anything she’ll get to know about them, and observes the rest for herself.

(Peter, for instance, confides in her and Ned about the Liz Problem™️, to which the replies were:

“But you didn’t match, right?” from Ned.

And:

“Dude, just go for it. Romantic soulmates are a bust, anyway,” from her.)

(It was the most they would get out of her about her parents for that entire year.)

Sometimes, between bookshelves and research papers, she considers.

Because they trust her.

And she’s starting to trust them.

Maybe they’ve earned it.


The rest of freshman year goes okay, it goes alright.

Enjoyable, even.

Enjoyable, until Peter gets sick.


They see less and less of Peter after he gets sick.

After the field trip.


At first, it made sense—his uncle passed away soon after, and he wanted to be alone for once.

MJ and Ned had decided to be Good Bros, showing up to the funeral and giving condolences—silent, which was her usual, but not Ned’s.

MJ didn’t get to talk to May that day.

She barely got to talk to Peter.


She leaves #2 loser a text that simply says:

cookies in your mailbox. share them with may.


And then it was summer, and family vacations became a thing.


But.


But September came.

September came, and Ned and MJ were still texting Peter, albeit receiving less on his end.

September came, and Peter backed out of robotics.

And band.

And then:

“I have to be here, in case Mr. Stark needs me—”

Flash makes a joke.

Cindy asks something.

Sally answers.

Liz reacts.

MJ lifts her head and says, “He already quit marching band and robotics club.”

(She has an idea as to why.

She keeps up with the news, after all, and coincidence was too unpredictable to count on to explain the timing of Spider-Man’s first appearance and the death of Ben Parker.

That, and he still has an unfortunate butt-dial habit, and it’s always, somehow, to her phone.)

She sees Peter in her peripheral, looking guiltier than she’s ever seen him.

She goes back to reading, feeling Ned bore into her form. Knowing he knew her disappointment.

That he shared it.

Both of their words feel like fire on her body, but different.

Ned’s feels like a roasting hearth in the middle of winter.

Peter’s feels like a candle close enough to burn, but far enough to fear that it was dying.


MJ is glad she found Ned.


MJ is also glad she didn’t give Peter her name.


MJ meets May that same week because Peter leaves his keys at lunch and Ned has a doctor’s appointment after school and can’t go.

She’s reached the stage of ignoring/forgetting the soulmate thing...but also not, because while it gave her Peter, it also gave her Ned.

(She’s trying desperately to fight herself to give up on the whole idea and to fight herself to keep on.

Neither side wins; they’re both stubborn, after all.)

She knocks on the door and momentarily forgets she’d never actually spoken to May before and says, when the older lady cracks the door open: “Hi, I’m Peter’s classmate—he, uh. Left his keys.”

She dangles the metal bits in the space between them.

May says, “Oh!”

MJ stares, frozen.

“You’re Michelle, aren’t you?” May says, a hand over her heart. Her arms have scrawls all over, and MJ barely registers half of them as pleading words.

She just nods in reply, swallowing.

She’s never felt the fuzzy, gentle buzz behind her ear before.

Never, but she’d gotten close when she was younger.

When her parents still stayed home after work.

When they still had time for her.

“I’m—sorry—I should go,” MJ rasps, turning sharply on her heels, pointedly digging her right foot farther into the old wooden floors than needed.

May grabs her shoulder but doesn’t turn her around. “You’re always welcome here, okay?”

MJ nods.

“...You still have the keys, sweetie.”

She turns her body enough to pass the keys, but the second May lets go of her shoulder, she speed-walks (with...some dignity) the hell outta there.

She hears May yell a Thank you!

She doesn’t stop.


Peter tries to say something to her the next day.

MJ tries to ignore the refreshing breeze behind her ear, and May’s motherly smile.

Peter balances on his heels, foregoing leaning on the lockers.

MJ wants to tell him to Stop lying. I know, and you’re worrying Ned.

He says, “Thanks for the keys.”

She says, “Get it together.”

Ned tries to alleviate the tension by asking if she wants to help him with English homework.

She nods, closing her locker and following the only boy worth being tied to in this school out to the steps and away to the community library.

Peter’s little candle sputters.

May’s hum—because it was a hum, not a buzz like she’d previously thought—grows louder, unheard of to anybody else but her.

Ned’s got his right arm locked to her left, like he always does when he knows she doesn’t want to talk, but she does want something there.

Something to hold on to.

Their marks tap along as they walk, and MJ releases a breath she didn’t know she was holding.

“He’s hiding something,” she says.

“I know,” Ned says, sadness lacing the words like a poison. A poison for himself.

“I wish he’d stop lying.”

“I’m going over tonight. To build the Death Star.”

“Think he’ll show up?”

“It’s his house.”

“Apartment,” MJ corrects sharply. “His apartment. That he shares with May.”

Ned stops walking. “Did you talk to her?”

Screw him for reading her.

Screw this system.

She used to be good at hiding things from people.

Now she’s got two dudes and a wise-looking ex-hippie just...knowing.

MJ touches the back of her left ear involuntarily.

Like a rookie.

“You matched!” Ned says, eyes wide. You know Frida Kahlo? slides past Cool shirt! as he pulls his arm from hers, cheering to an annoyed bus driver as they cross the street. “You matched with May!”

“I don’t know,” MJ says, frowning. “If, y’know, that’s a good thing.”

They make it to the next sidewalk.

Ned stops cheering. “Why not?”

“Just.” Huff. “Attachments.”

“Like…”

“Like Peter,” MJ says, rolling her eyes to keep sane, “but mostly like my parents.”

Ned stares at her, then at the ground, then at the steps to the subway.

They swipe their Metrocards and push through the turnstiles, hopping on to the F train, all in silence.

MJ knows what he’s thinking and takes back her earlier statement of hating that her soulmates just know, because for them, it works both ways.

“Yeah,” she sighs twenty minutes in, hand clenched on the train pole. “He should be here.”

The corners of his lips tighten, but his face stays neutral. “He wanted to know.”

“Yeah.”

“May’s different.”

“Seemed it.”

“Did you see her marks?”

MJ nods.

“Her patients,” Ned says. “At the nursing home.”

“Ah.”

The train slows.

They step off.

Ned kicks at the loose pebbles on the streetside. “She really wanted to meet you.”

“Well. She has.”

“Like, sit down and talk.”

The hum returns.

MJ wonders when it even left.

“How does she handle so many?” she says, squinting at the passing graffitied walls.

“May’s got a lot of love to give, dude,” Ned beams, puffing out his chest. “You can be mad at Peter, Michelle, but May’s super cool and you should hang out.”

“MJ,” she replies.

“Uh?” Blink. “Which one?”

“No—me,” MJ says, relooping their arms. “That’s my nickname. For friends only.”

Ned blinks again. “But...we’ve always been friends.”

MJ frowns tightly. “The universe saying we’re meant to find each other doesn’t equate to you being my friend.”

“I guess.”

“I know,” she says firmly.

“But we’ve been hanging out for over a year.”

“So you’ve earned it. Congrats.”

Ned squints. “You have such weird ways, master.”

MJ snorts. “Don’t tell anyone else, young padawan.”

“Even—”

Especially,” she cuts in, looking him dead in the eye.

“Okay,” he says, nodding resolutely as they reach the library doors. “Okay, I can do that.”


He does that.

He calls her MJ and the AcaDec team does double-takes but assumes it’s just another soulmate thing.

He doesn’t explain it to Peter.


Ned knows something.

He and Peter sit huddled at their usual spot at lunch, and MJ hears Ned annoying Peter about the latter’s...activities from the night before.

“We should tell her. She could help!”

“Too dangerous, Ned.”

(Oh. Okay.)

“She can handle herself.”

“I don’t want her to get hurt.”

(Oh...okay?)

Her ears strain to listen while she collects her food. Beside her, Liz is greeting the lunch lady. She waits until she’s done and about to leave, then:

“You think we can win this?”

Liz walks beside her. She’d never minded MJ or her oddball behavior, never minded being seen with the school’s self-imposed outcast. “It would be easier with Peter.”

MJ raises her brows briefly, as if nodding with them.

It would, wouldn’t it?

Just like, life, in general.

“Can you talk to him?” Liz asks when they’re standing by her table with Betty and the other homecoming crew.

“I’ve tried,” MJ frowns.

“Aren’t you guys—you know?”

Soulmates?

MJ shrugs. “Barely.”

Liz put her tray down and leads her to the empty side of the table, whispering, “You’re on the same spot, right?”

MJ nods.

“My parents said those and mirrored ones are the strongest bonds.”

“I don’t subscribe to the entire idea.”

“I know. But Peter does.”

“He’s doing a bad job at showing it.”

“One more time,” Liz says in hushed tones. “Talk to him one more time. Please?”

And, because Liz is a good person: “...Fine.”


I don’t care if you want to abandon me and Ned or whatever, but we really need you at Decathlon, Pete. Liz asked me to talk to you, so this is it. Bye.


Unsurprisingly, there is no reply.


(She knows he heard it.

She knows, because she felt a spike.)


Update: Ned knows.

Like, knows-knows.

He and Peter chat semi-openly about it because they have no concept of volume, so now MJ knows that Ned knows.

She can feel him trying to keep from saying anything out of loyalty to Peter, but somehow him finding out has MJ relaxing.

See, she doesn’t need to know.

She’s got time to think, and it does make sense to keep her out of it.

Ned probably found out accidentally, anyway.

...That doesn’t stop her from feeling her heel flare at odd times, the little candle growing to a roaring campfire every now and then.

It doesn’t hurt. It’s just.

Confusing.

Like adrenaline shooting up.

She wonders if Peter’s gotten hurt badly already.

If she felt it.

If Ned did.

If May did.


She kind of hates Peter’s guts right now.

She’s also sure he can feel it, because his right heel is always a little off the ground.

Good.

(It’s not because he won’t tell her he’s Spider-Man.

It’s because he’s pulling a whole will they/won’t they plotline with AcaDec and his classes because of him being Spider-Man, and it’s exhausting.)


Her heel flares up right before they get on the bus for Nationals, and she hears Peter run up apologizing and asking for his seat back.

Flash protests.

Mr. Harrington doesn’t think twice.

Liz gives MJ a hug. “Thank you.”

MJ frowns, brows creasing as she watches Peter get on the bus.

She says nothing.


Ned keeps darting his eyes from her to Peter and back.

(Liz stands in the aisle and quizzes them on the moving bus, which is probably not the safest thing in the world, but it’s getting the team fired up and that’s what matters.)

Ned’s words feel like a thrumming drum.

Peter’s feels the same, times ten.

She buries herself into her book and tries to ignore it.


Peter goes missing in Washington and Mr. Harrington is freaking out, but they’re going to be late.

MJ and Ned get stares pointed at them for obvious reasons, but MJ doesn’t know anything and Ned’s learning how to lie, so they all book it to the competition grounds.

(MJ’s getting annoyed that the marks seem to only pass on feelings when they want to, not when it’s like this, when people need to know things.)


Sometime before the last question, MJ’s heel starts to feel off.

Lost.


MJ wins it with a disinterested, “Zero.”

Ned hugs her, then Sally, then everyone but Flash, who runs screaming around the stage.


Ned walks beside her with hands wringing as the team walks across the street to the Washington monument.

“You don’t have to say anything,” she says, because her arm is tingling.

“I’m scared,” he says, eyes ahead.

Her heel is starting to feel like fire again. “He’ll be fine.”

Ned turns to face her. “Did he call you?”

MJ clenches her jaw. “No.”

He gulps. “There’s something you should kn—”

“Everyone’s going up,” MJ blanks, raising her book. “You should go. Talk later.”

“Oh. Oh—yeah, okay. Okay, MJ. I’ll see you later.”

Ned goes.

The fire grows.


“My friends are up there!” she yells, book forgotten. She can still hear the explosion, still see the blue-white-purple. She’ll be seeing and hearing it for a while.

She’s clutching her forearm, now—it feels sharp and like…

Like vertigo.

Empty and full and in a chasm all at once.

Spider-Man says something in Peter’s Fake Deep Voice™️, then begins his ascent.

MJ seethes as her heel starts acting up; she sits back down on the bench, back curled as she clutches her left forearm and leaves her right leg stretched out.


MJ finds out they were in the elevator.

She decides she won’t leave Ned’s side if he ever has to enter a tall building with no other options.


May and Peter take her home.

MJ had no say.

Or, she did, but she had no excuse.

Her parents weren’t coming.

Ned had to go early.

May wanted to make sure she was alright.

Peter sits in the back a seat away from her and texts her:

I’m sorry

She texts back:

just dont die


“Will you be okay here? Alone?” May asks, hand over her heart again.

(Peter ducks his head, making himself scarce as they talk.

He feels like loss.)

MJ wonders if that’s a habit of hers, or…

Nah. Couldn’t be.

“I’m used to it,” she says. “Thanks for the ride, Mrs. Parker.”

“May.”

“...May.”

“They’re here,” May says, hand still in place.

“Uh?”

May smiles. “Your words. They’re here.” She taps the space above her heart and MJ feels the matching taps behind her ear.

She’s not lying.

MJ smiles, small but true. “Yours is here,” she says, tapping behind her left ear.

May smiles so wide that MJ wonders if Peter’s related to her and not Ben. “Felt that.”

MJ nods. “Thank you. Again.”

“Get inside, hon,” May says, eyes shining.

“Okay.”

She does.


She doesn’t sleep.

She’s not sure if the others can, either.


Ned texts her at 3 AM for the next week without fail. 


Spider-Man stops showing up after the ferry incident.

MJ and Ned actually visit the Parker apartment, and MJ doesn’t back out.

Peter goes back to doing homework and rejoins marching band. He sits in detention like a Good Boy, and MJ sits with him and draws him sulking to show May later.

MJ notes his scrawl feels empty.


Ned’s trying to get Peter to tell her about the Badly Kept Superhero Secret thing again.

What used to be thrumming drums now feels like a warring tribal chant, and it’s driving her insane.

“This better be about Liz and not Spider-Man,” she hisses when they’re the only ones at the subway station.

Ned blinks. “You know?

“Of course I do—I’m a freakin’ genius,” MJ says, grateful for the reprieve. She runs a hand over her forearm, as if wiping away any extra feelings that don’t need to be there.

“I’m sorry,” Peter blurts out, stepping in front of her to catch her gaze.

Stop,” she hisses again, lifting her right foot at the motion. “Can you both just—stop? Please? All is forgiven—yatta-yatta—I can feel everything, please stop.”

Peter catches her by her forearms, and keeps her steady as she balances on one foot. “All?”

“All, if you promise to not ditch us again,” she winces, foot still midair. “And feel like, less, maybe. Both of you. You’re the world’s most physically taxing soulmates, I swear.”

Pause.

They grin at her.

She’s never openly called them that.

She thinks it won’t be the last time.


MJ wonders if projecting stoicism all the time is why her scrawls’ feelings are so strong.

Or maybe she’s just really in-tune with these guys, since May’s never hurts.

Who knows?


“Homecoming?” Ned asks her, eyes pleading. “Pleeeaaaaase, MJ?”

She squints. “What am I getting out of this?”

Ned pulls out a copy of The Book Thief from his backpack. “Signed.”

MJ takes the contraband. “Deal. I’m wearing yellow.”


MJ feels thrumming from her foot and is this close to finding Peter in the school so she can have Words with him about that thing they’d discussed literally two days ago, about feelings and not having too many.

(She knows it’s a losing battle but dang it, she gon’ try anyway.)

As fast at it arrives, it’s gone—replaced by a sweet, swelling feeling.

Contentment.

Joy.


(Ned’s happy Peter has a date, but he’s also a little concerned what with the whole not matching thing.

MJ tells Peter, “I’m proud of you for sticking it to the universe.”

Peter tells MJ, “Thanks for believing in me.”

Ned asks them, “Hang on—are we carpooling?”)


Ned and MJ look about ready to hurl, simultaneously stepping off the dancefloor to lean haphazardly on the nearest table. Abe and Sally stand by them, concerned looks on their faces.

(Ned had just made it back from a bathroom break and now MJ’s sure he wishes he’d stayed there instead.)

Cindy sees them from her spot with the other AcaDec members, surrounding a now-dateless Liz. She excuses herself, walking over quickly.

“What happened?” she asks, brows furrowed.

MJ shakes her head slightly, wincing as she glares at the floor. Abe grabs her a chair and helps her sit, and Sally runs off to find them water.

Ned clutches his heart, sweating. “I don’t...feel okay,” he grinds out, jaw clenched. Charles runs over with a chair for him, but he doesn’t sit—just curls into himself, trying not to spew all over the white blanket of the table. Sally hands him a cup, and he downs it in seconds.

“My shoe,” MJ manages to say between quick breaths. She gestures vaguely at her right foot, head now permanently propped up by her right arm. “Sal, my shoe—”

“I got it,” Sally says, taking off the offered sneaker. “Sock?”

MJ nods, labored.

Off it goes.

Ned sits, finally, caving. He forces himself to look at MJ, right arm forced away from his chest and held at a weird angle. “Yours,” he rasps, on the verge of hyperventilating.

“Sorry,” MJ says tightly, looking up. “Now you know how I feel.”

His eyes are in a frenzy. “I need to get out of this shirt.”

“C’mon, man,” Charles says, pulling him up with Abe’s help.

They help him walk to the bathroom, thankful he wasn’t freaking out long enough for the chaperones to notice.

“Are you okay?” Liz asks, apparently there now.

“Should be asking you that,” MJ says, closing her eyes.

“Your shoe’s off.”

MJ winces, sharp and nausea and pressure spiking from her right heel. “I’m not okay.”

Liz scans her face.

Sally tries to hand her more water.

Cindy helps keep her steady.

One minute.

Two.

Five.

Liz asks Betty to make sure none of the chaperones look over.

Ten.

Flash unwittingly distracts the room with upbeat mixes and a showman’s flamboyance.

Twenty minutes.

And then:

Exhale.

MJ frowns, feeling nothing.

Her eyes snap open, and she pulls up her foot, hiding herself behind the long curtain of the table.

There, still in thin strokes and gentle curves reads: Cheese?

She thumbs the question, a wave of calm hitting her immediately.

“What the hell?” she whispers, body regaining composure.

“You good now?” Cindy asks, handing her some more water.

MJ lowers her foot, and starts putting her sock back on. “I’m—I think.”

“Are you sure?” Liz asks, a hand on her shoulder.

“Gotta find Ned,” MJ responds quickly, grabbing her phone. “Thanks, guys.”

The girls look between each other, watching her leave the gym with the slightest of limps, worry etched on their faces.


MJ meets Ned halfway without having to text him. His suit jacket’s in his hands, bowtie stuffed in his pocket, and shirt creased beyond belief. The three top buttons aren’t matching correctly, and his right sleeve is rolled up halfway, her words out for the world to see.

“He’s okay,” Ned breathes.

“We need to check on May,” MJ rasps.


(May hugs them tightly and doesn’t let them go until Peter gets home, stuck in his old, battered Spider-Man suit, and unable to sneak past them to reach the bathroom.)


May says, “I’m proud of you,” and “You’re grounded for forever.”


Liz leaves the next day and she gives MJ and Ned a look that promises that she’ll keep their secret.


MJ gets appointed captain.

Mr. Harrington calls her “Michelle,” still.

She says, “Thanks. My—my friends call me MJ.”


Peter gets the suit back from Tony.


(He’s still grounded.)


“He should be out there,” MJ says after three weeks. She’s lounging on Peter’s couch, waiting for said boy to exit the shower so he, she, and Ned could go grab ice cream.

Ned chews the inside of his cheek, a hand scratching the base of his nape, where May’s Do you want anything to drink? sits in a single line.

“He worries me,” May says, scrubbing a pan.

“So do I,” MJ blanks. “So does Ned. So does every person you’ve ever matched with.”

“MJ.”

“Ned told me you had a ‘lot of love to give,’” she says, glancing at Ned briefly. “I think you shouldn’t mix in worrying about everything, too.”

“Kind of part of the package,” May laughs.

“We can share it,” Ned says, smiling softly.

May furrows her brows. “Hmm?”

“The worrying. We can share it. At least for Peter.”

MJ snorts. “Speak for yourself. I don’t worry about Pete.”

Ned quirks a brow. “So what was that look at the AcaDec meeting after homec—”

MJ jabs at his words, learning a while back that she could pass some physical messages if she thought hard enough and kept her focus on the recipient.

(It was a rare skill, and she feels a little special for having it.)

OW,” Ned hisses.

“What look?” May asks, pan forgotten.

“Nothing,” MJ says, frowning.

Ned hasn’t learned his lesson. “Her secret I Really Hope You’re Not Gonna Go Do Something More Stupid Than Usual Because Now I’m Worried look,” he says, right hand clenched in preparation for MJ’s inevitable retaliation.

It doesn’t come.

MJ quirks a brow. “That doesn’t exist.”

Ned waggles his. “You wanna bet?”

The doorknob to the bathroom jangles, and Peter steps out fully dressed, but is accessorizing with a confused look. “Hey, MJ?”

“Yeah?” she answers, not taking her eyes off of Ned.

“Why’s my heel feeling like...heavy?”

MJ purses her lips.

May stifles laughter.

Ned smirks, high into his cheeks.

Peter moves to the couch and says, “Are you okay?”

MJ sticks her tongue in her cheek. “With the state of our government? No.”

Frown. “Just you.”

“Haven’t been okay in a good while.”

MJ.”

“May’s going to let you swing around Queens again.”

Peter blinks, turning to his aunt. “You are?”

“I—Hey, I never said—” May stammers, looking to MJ.

MJ points to her ear. “Feelings lightning rod, remember?”

May sighs. “Fine. Yes. I am—”

“YES!” Peter yells, jumping to the ceiling.

“—But you have to be careful, got it? And no putting those two in danger.”

MJ raises hand. “I fully intend on sitting in a room with Ned and not doing cardio.”

Ned copies her. “I’m not gonna promise anything ‘cause I snuck out for five seconds at homecoming to help.”

“So that’s why you took so long in the bathroom,” MJ squints, clicking her tongue. “I was wondering why you felt scared while peeing.”

Ned rolls his eyes. “I saved Peter’s life.”

“And you’re going to sit in a room with MJ and do that from a safe distance,” May says pointedly, rinsing the pan.

“So I can go?” Peter asks, wide-eyed.

“...You can go.”

“After ice cream, spandex,” MJ says, getting up. “I was promised copious amounts of sugar.”


Peter thanks her exponentially when he swings through the city for the first time in a month, stopping by her house to drop off miscellaneous food items, like a cat who learned that people prefer real food instead of dead mice and bugs.


He does this all through sophomore year and the summer after, and MJ enlists Ned and May’s help in both eating some and distributing the rest to the homeless population of Manhattan.


“Wow, if this is how he treats you as a friend, I can’t wait ‘til you date,” Ned says, claiming his part of the horde of snacks.

“Keep dreaming, Ned. It’s healthy,” MJ laughs, hands on her hips. “So. How many of these do we need to feed the team for the Regionals trip?”

“This should do it,” May says, finishing a little pyramid at the spot by MJ’s bed.

“Thanks for financing your nephew and the club snack budget,” MJ says, grinning.

May quirks a brow. “What are you talking about?”

“...Uh, Peter’s spending habits?”

“Dude,” Ned says, furrowing his brows. “Peter’s been getting paid by Stark.”

“What?” MJ blinks. “Since when?”

“He got a part-time with the new suit,” he says, crouching to inspect the snack pyramid.

“Why spend it on me?

“Because you’re always hungry, and because you got him back out there,” May says knowingly.

MJ feels the back of her ear hum with energy that she can’t quite place.

She clears her throat.

“Just did my part. To uh, keep the neighborhood safe.”

“Sure, hon.”

Ned moves to a back pile and adds two more bags of potato chips to the pyramid. “Now it’s ready.”


They win, then they win again, at Nationals.

Cindy clinches it.

They celebrate at the Smithsonian, because it’s closer to the ground, and Ned and Peter get every possible Penny Pincher souvenir.


MJ draws everyone at least once.

They’re all smiling.


May finally gets a sit-down lunch with MJ before Halloween, and the teen finally tells her why she was afraid of meeting her during freshman year.

May hugs her at the end of it.

MJ says, “I don’t want to lose you.”

May says, “Even when you don’t have me, you’ve got me.”


The food piles up again.


“My mom thinks I’m hoarding in preparation for the apocalypse.”

Should I stop?

“Yup.”

Okay. Can I give you something else?

Sigh. “Just not food, and nothing big.”

Roger that!

Click.


Peter spends junior year writing her letters and notes and little smiley-faces (and not almost dying).


Ned spends junior year watching his friends “sort of” flirt with each other without really knowing it.


MJ spends junior year wondering why her heel always feel cozy.


MJ figures out why near the end of summer, right before senior year, and regrets it.

She regrets it so much, because she can’t figure out how to stop it, which in turn makes her wonder if Peter can feel it.


“Hey, MJ,” Ned says on the first Wednesday of senior year, and she knows she’s caught.

Act chill. “Yo.”

“Did you know your words keep feeling like butterflies?”

Nevermind. “Bye.”

(She hears him snickering as she leaves the library and retaliates by quizzing him with the hardest questions at AcaDec that afternoon.)


They hoard the back row of the bus for the MoMA trip, Ned’s arm looped with MJ’s, and MJ and Peter putting their feet up and knocking their right heels together.

It’s not particularly comfortable, but it’s their favorite way to travel, so.


MJ debates telling Peter when they hit lunch on the trip.

Peter waits until Ned’s asleep and drooling before asking her in a whisper: “Can I talk to you later?”

She feels something like a magnet.

There.

On her heel.

She nods.

He smiles.


The giant metal cousin of a pool tube floats into view.


MJ’s the only one to feel Peter’s fear three hours later.

It takes her a few seconds to figure out why.


(MJ would’ve felt the full brunt of the burning if she were spared.

Lucky her.

Only Ned and May and Peter knew it at its height.)


It doesn’t hurt when they come back.


(Well.

Mentally.

It definitely hurts mentally.)


Peter reacts differently than his 14-year-old self would’ve.

He never lets them out of his sight.

In school, on the street, at their place or his.

Every time they’re together.


MJ tells Ned her heel feels hollow.

Ned tells her his heart feels numb.

May listens, but says nothing.


Peter tells them what happened on Titan after two months.


MJ still doesn’t tell him what happened at 53rd St.

With her.

With Charles.

With Flash.

(She had made Ned and May promise after she got back.

They didn’t want to talk about it anyway.)


She finds out that the others feel it when she’s dreaming.

She tries to apologize and sweep it under the rug, but all they ask is for her to talk to them about it once she wakes up.


It takes her almost three months to say a word about the wind and breeze scaring her.

But that’s all they get.


The first time Peter sees her cry is smack dab in the middle of December, in his room.

MJ had a nightmare, napping on the top bunk.

Apparently, she was screaming.

Something about Charles.

Something about Flash.

Something about flying away.


Ned was on his way over, his right forearm seizing up when he starts parking.


Peter was making sandwiches.


May was reading on the couch.


Ned’s the one who calls Peter.

Peter, who says on the call: “I know, I’m here, I’m—MJ, wake up. MJ, hey—it’s just me, it’s just Peter—it’s—hey, hey—hey, it’s okay, I got you, it’s okay. Shh. I got you, MJ.


“They went first. You went first.”

“Did you know?”

“We all knew, Peter.”

We all knew.

A beat.

“Do...do you want me to keep hugging you?”

Nod. “And tea. Later. Just—stay. Please.”


(Cheese? is cold and afraid.)


(May’s already setting the kettle.)


(Ned bursts through the doors like he’s in a medical drama.)


(MJ jokes to Ned that future archaeologists are gonna have to pry his perfectly preserved skeleton from hers, because he clings tighter to her than usual, and doesn’t make room for either May or Peter.

He mumbles, “Hell yeah they will.”)


It takes until January to feel normal again, but all the matched words on MJ’s body start feeling warm again, and that’s all she’s wanted since the Purple Grape of Doom showed up in their backyard.


MJ wonders if the last two marks are from people who died for real.


One month later, she’s proven wrong.

...For one, at least.


Peter brings her and Ned to the Avengers facility.

Oh.

Wait.

No, he doesn’t.

They go, because they corner Happy and tell him to Hit the gas! because Peter’s out cold and bleeding from his side.

(It doesn’t hurt both of them, which Ned says is a good sign, MJ—don’t you think?

MJ just clenches her jaw and glares daggers at him, a hand gripped around her ankle. She digs into the thick leather with her fingers, attempting to stopper the pain.

Ned mouths, Sorry!

MJ mouths, Screw. You.)

Happy doesn’t even question that they know, because he sees the words.

He tells them thank you for keeping Peter alive this long.

(Sort of.

It’s gruff and sounds a little annoyed, but it counts.)


The med bay is both large and specialized, now home to foreign tech that MJ and Ned had only read about in articles during late night researching sessions.

Ned had stepped out a while ago to try to get the bloodstains off his skin and clothing, letting go of Peter’s hand for the first time since they’d found him in the alley.

MJ still held the other.

Peter lays on the bed, gash and eyes closed, snoring lightly.

The monitors beep in a constant rhythm.

MJ leans on his bedside, wondering when Tony and Happy would come back with May in tow.

“It’s dangerous to be here,” someone says from behind her.

It’s the first time someone’s said her words first, and she feels the circlet of bold-lettered words on her right calf light up with bright, airy flames.

Feels refreshing.

“My best friend almost died,” MJ frowns without turning, gripping Peter’s hand firmly. “I don’t really care if it’s dangerous, thanks.”

Snicker. “Just kidding,” the voice says, closer now. “It’s the medical room. It’s only dangerous if you’re a viru—oh, that felt weird.”

MJ turns.

Then does a double take.

Princess Shuri?

“In the flesh,” Shuri grins, hand outstretched. “I believe we are soulmates?”

MJ’s brow raises higher than she thought possible.

Her hand feels a squeeze.

She turns sharply.

“Hey,” Peter rasps, eyes on her.

“Hey,” MJ whispers, ignoring Shuri’s hand. “You said you found the person for ‘You are the definition of false advertising,’ here.”

Peter grins weakly, jutting his chin out at Shuri. “‘Sup, dude?”

“Getting sick of you being here, Parker,” Shuri grins back.

MJ swivels in her seat, squinting at the princess. “We matched with you.”

“Yes.”

“Did you see the big guy in the hallway? Had a hoodie that looked like a Jackson Pollock if all the paint was red? Probably smelled like iron and sewage?”

“...Ned?”

“You know Ned,” MJ blanks, lips forming a tight line. “Of course you know Ned.”

“He’s on my wrist,” Shuri says, grinning wildly, and reoffering her hand. “I got two today! Bast be praised.”

Peter squeezes MJ’s hand again.

MJ quirks a brow at him, but shakes Shuri’s hand.

“She didn’t get May last time I was here,” he laughs, before wincing.

“You cut your gut, Parker,” Shuri snorts, turning to MJ. “Don’t make him laugh too much, eh—um.” She taps her fingers to her chin, squinting. “Michelle...MJ? Right?”

MJ tilts her head, frowning. “How do you know my name?”

“Oh, Tony tells me a lot of stories, and Peter talks to him about you extensively—

MJ’s heel feels like the moon crashing into the sun and spinning and something

Something like pride.

For another person.

“I’m starting to get why you hate it when we feel too many things,” Ned complains, walking into the room with a new set of Stark Industries sweats on, clutching his heart and making a tight fist with his right hand. “Like, there’s a lot going on here, and—” Blink. “Oh, hi, Shuri!”

“You feel things?” Shuri asks, quirking a brow at them all. “Interesting.”

“You don’t?” Peter asks.

Shrug. “It’s more normal not to.”

“You sayin’ we’re not normal?” MJ asks with furrowed brows.

“Yes.”

MJ shrugs. “Fair.”

“Oh,” Ned says, pointing between the girls. “Are we a quad?”

“A quad squad.”

“We’ll need a better name,” Shuri says, rubbing her chin.

MJ’s hand is squeezed again by her bedridden buddy, and for a third time she turns to find him smiling at her.

(Ned’s eyes widen behind her, which she doesn’t see, but she does feel his mark turn into a lightbulb.)

She clears her throat. “Yeah, Spidey?”

Peter doesn’t say anything.

He just closes his eyes, smiling softly still, and wonders.

MJ inhales sharply, but it’s not pain.

It’s not unwelcome.

Not worrying.

“You okay?” Ned asks, stepping up.

MJ furrows her brows. “You didn’t feel…?”

“Mine comes and goes, remember?” he asks, concerned. “And it’s way weaker than yours.”

“I’m—” she starts, eyes darting to Peter.

Warm.

Full.

Content.

“—I’m good, Ned, thanks.”

“So, MJ,” Shuri says, cutting the tension. “I have to ask, for security purposes: are we distantly related, and if yes, do you have any plans to claim the Wakandan throne?”

MJ squints. “Specific.”

“We’ve had some problems.”

“...No, I’m pretty sure I’m just a regular mixed-race American teen.”

Shuri nods sagely. “I felt nothing, so I’ll take your word for it.”

“I thought you said you don’t feel things?” Ned asks, scrunching up his face in confusion.

“Oh, I don’t—or, not the way you three seem to,” she says, waving a hand. “Only when someone’s lying. It’s handy.”

“Human lie detector,” Ned says, breathless. “That’s so cool.”

“I’m going to enjoy this one,” Shuri says, pointing at Ned. “Easily impressed.”

Ned brings his shoulders up, contesting. “No, I’m not!”

“Lie,” Shuri smirks.

“This is gonna be fun,” MJ grins slyly.

Peter opens an eye. “You think that now,” he says, tugging her hand out of view from Shuri and Ned.

“I’m pretty sure I’ll think it for a while.”

“Sure, MJ.” He intertwines his fingers with hers. “Sure.”

Ned chokes on air, wincing and touching his heart. “What the—”

MJ lets go quickly. “My turn to make myself look less like a coven sacrifice,” she says stiffly, standing.

Shuri frowns, furrowing her brows. “That...sounded false, but I didn’t feel anything, so…” Blink. “There are extra clothes in the bathroom upstairs. F.R.I.D.A.Y. will show you.”

“Friday?”

Dude, you’re gonna freak out,” Ned says, wide-eyed with excitement. “I know you don’t usually, but you’re gonna freak out.”

MJ snorts. “Sure, Leeds.”


She freaks out.

For like one minute, but still.


...In a similar vein, May also freaks out, and Peter gets grounded again.

(But only for a week.)


Peter either loses courage or thinks she hated the gesture, because he spends the next few weeks brushing by but not...

Not doing anything.

If her heel didn’t ache so much, MJ would’ve thought she’d imagined the whole thing.

She doesn’t even know why she’s so scared of it now.

She was fine before the world almost ended—wouldn’t it make more sense to be bolder post-semi-apocalypse?


Ah.

It’s because last time they almost said something the world almost ended.

Okay.

At least now she’s aware.


(They don’t talk about it.)


Ned gets sick with the flu and MJ and Peter take turns visiting him but they still don’t talk about it.


“Hey, dude,” MJ says, slipping his homework and flash cards through the crack under the door. “Test on Friday. 15% of the grade.”

“Thanks,” Ned says weakly from behind the door. “Is Peter there?”

“Uhh, no.”

“Oh. Okay. How ya been?”

“Ned, we’ve been texting for the last hour.”

“How ya been for the last...three minutes?”

“...You feel like garbage mixed with May’s homemade energy bars.”

You feel like candy sprinkles that got stepped on.”

“Man, shut up,” MJ huffs, taking a picture of her flipping off the door and sending it to him.

Cackling, from the room.

“Feel better, aight?” MJ calls, knocking once with the bottom of her fist.

“Thanks again, buddy!”

“No prob, nerd.”

“I miss you!”

MJ laughs, knocking on the door twice more. “Miss you too, Ned.”


MJ asks May for advice on how to not panic.

May asks MJ why she’d need to know that.

MJ says, “I may have panicked.”

May says, “I have all afternoon.”


Soon, college apps distract them enough to forget about The Thing.


In fact, it distracts them so well that the only thing the three of them can feel for months is empty chasm.

Alternatively:

-driftwood in the middle of an open ocean during typhoon season

-Kobe retiring from basketball

-the state of rhinos in conservation


“I’m going to die, I’m going to die, I’m going to die,” Ned chants, pulling at his hair.

“It’s not time yet, dude,” MJ says, checking the clock on his laptop. “You have five more minutes.”

Five minutes,” Peter groans, lying like a starfish on the ceiling. “You know what I could do in five minutes?”

“Die,” Ned says, his face making contact with the desk. “Like moi.”

“You guys are babies,” MJ frowns.

They glare at her.

“I will remember this day,” Ned says evenly. “I will remember this day when Harvard starts sending things out next week.”

MJ frowns tightly.

Peter purses his lips. “You will curse this day.”

“Already doing that,” she quips, rolling her eyes lazily. “And get down, Boy-Spider, you can’t even click your login from up there.”


They get in.

Obviously.


Ned doesn’t forget.

He annoys heaven and hell out of her when it’s her turn to suffer the dreaded Last Five Minutes, but she gets in too and all is well.


...Nevermind.

MJ hasn’t gotten word on scholarships yet, for some reason.

Her parents refuse to fund out-of-state colleges, and now she’s not sure if she’ll finally be free of them and their empty house.


No big deal!

It was only Harvard!


Peter’s the only one sensing her caged animal anxiety at 2 PM on a Sunday, and swings over to attempt to calm her.


“I’m sure it’s just like, delayed, or something,” he says, watching her pace from his seat on the floor.

“Yeah, well, maybe I won’t get the grant. Maybe I’ll be stuck here while you and Ned go to MIT,” MJ huffs, falling face down on her bed.

Excuse me, do I know you?” Peter jokes, hopping up to her ceiling. “There’s no way you’re not getting the scholarship, MJ. You’re too awesome.”

Wait.

“Rewind?” she says sitting up, but she can feel it.

The thrumming.

The rush.

Right there, on her collarbone.

And there, on her heel.

Peter’s eyes are as wide as hers.

He lands on the edge of her bed, and just.

Stares.

At her.

“Peter,” MJ treads carefully, staring back with bated breath. “Last time? I messed up.”

Peter leans over.

He whispers, “Can I—?”

She whispers, “Go for it.”


(When their lips meet, she learns a new meaning for the word gentle.)


Hey, sweetie—are you okay?

“Yeah, May. Why?”

I know this sounds weird, but I think I felt something. From yours.

“Oh. Um.”

Hon?

“...So, I’m going to the park. With Peter. Like. Just Peter.”

Pause.

Pauuuuuuuuse.

Oho! Well, that’s nice! Tell him to use mints.

Oookay, May.”

Ha! See you later, sweetie.

“See ya, May.”

Click.


(There was a mix up with the emails.

She got a full ride.

With allowance.)


Sally pockets no less than $150 at graduation, solemnly bowing to MJ as they part ways as Midtown Tech alumni.

“I feel like I should be getting a cut,” MJ squints, silently acknowledging the They’ll date before grad/They’ll date after grad bettors leaving the school.

“Then I’d have to give Peter something, too,” Sally says.

“Point.”

Sally smiles. “Hey. I’m gonna miss you, Cap.”

“Same. Shoulda picked Harvard,” MJ jokes, offering an arm.

“Yale all the way,” Sally says, giving her a hug. “Take care of your nerds, huh?”

MJ snorts, the darkened scrawl on her collarbone peeking through her neckline. She wipes absentmindedly at her left forearm. “Yeah, yeah—make sure yours don’t get big heads at Yale.”

“Charles and Cindy are going to Stanford.”

“I know, I meant when they visit you and Abe,” MJ smirks. “The bad influence of the blue team.”

Sally rolls her eyes halfheartedly.

HONK!

“That’s mine,” Sally says, waving. “Later, Cap.”

MJ nods, watching her hop into the car with her family. “Later, Sal.”


Peter trips on air, barely catching himself and his burger as he walks over to his friends.

“That’s hot,” MJ deadpans, flipping to a new, clean page.

“Lie,” Shuri says, wrinkling her nose.

“Oh, he knows,” MJ blanks, scritch-scratching a passing dog onto the page. “But he blushes anyway.”

“Do not,” Peter grinds out, blushing.

“Lie,” Shuri snorts, sipping from her shake.

“Caught on tape,” Ned snickers, phone pointed at Peter.

“Betrayed,” Peter huffs, sitting by his girlfriend.

“You’re used to it,” MJ laughs, kissing his cheek.

“He reddens so easily,” Shuri grins, amused. “Look at that! It’s like a ten-second car!”

Peter ducks his head. “Aughhhhh. Worst soulmates.”

“Lie!” Ned laughs, beating Shuri to it.

(MJ grins smugly, sketching Peter’s face.

She gifts it to May.)


MJ wakes up at 4 AM because her heel and collarbone tag-team to feel too much and it snatches her from her first all-clear, all-fine dream in months.

She’d be livid if she couldn’t recognize the falling gut and clenched heart and overflow.

She’d been feeling it the past few days, both from herself and from Peter, but tonight’s is...different.

Stronger.

(Thankfully, Ned’s sensing seemed to be evening out again—since she and Peter got together, he was only getting distress signals.

Thanks, universe.)

She calls her boyfriend, sure he’s awake.

“...MJ? It’s late.”

“You’re not asleep.”

A statement, not an accusation.

Not a question, either.

You okay?

“Can you feel it?”

“...A little.

“I won’t tell you over the phone.”

Do you want me to come over?

“In...in the morning.”

It’s—”

“When the sun’s out, smartass.”

Okay.”

“Cool.”

Goodnight, MJ.”

“Peace, Pete.”


She gets up at the crack of dawn, opens her window, and waits.

His words feel like pillow fights and hot chocolate and the little things.

Knock, knock, on her window, as Peter lets himself in.

She grabs his face, kissing him slowly, deliberately.

Once, twice.

Thrice.

One for each word.

She rasps, “I love you.”

He rasps, “Oh, good, I’m not insane.”

She pokes his collarbone, right on the softly curved I of the blackening, stately Rewind?

He pulls her by the waist, lips landing on hers as he laughs. “Heh. I love you, too.”


Of course the universe decides Ned should feel something.


remembr how i said i stopped feeling stuff from u n pete

yeah?

u guys hit me in my kokoro this morning

[Seen by jedi master mj 12 minutes ago.]

mj?????

one sec I’m flipping off the aether


May drives her home one last time over summer, having asked her not to bring her car when she came over that evening for movie night.

“I’m going to miss you,” she says sadly, taking the longest route possible. “The apartment’s already so empty.”

“We’ll be back every weekend,” MJ says, but the ache behind her ear doesn’t weaken.

“I know. But you’ll get busy, too.”

“Thanks.”

May quirks a brow, turning to her at a red light. “Weird response.”

“Not for that,” MJ says, pursing her lips and ducking her head. “For. Stuff.”

“Stuff.”

“Not abandoning me.”

“...Feels nice to say it, doesn’t it?”

MJ makes an ehhhh gesture.

“Well, I’m glad,” May says, eyes back on the street. “And thank you, too.”

MJ looks at her.

MJ says, “For?”

May says, “Existing.”


Shuri calls them one day when she knows they’re having a study group.

“What’s up, Shu?” MJ asks, in the middle of a pencil balancing contest with Ned and Peter.

I got it!

“I don’t know what you’re even trying to got,” Ned squints, his pencil wobbling on his finger.

Our squad name, Leeds.”

“Ooh,” Peter says, cheating with his sticky fingers. His hand turns sideways as he leans over to the phone, but the pencil refuses to fall, holding on by the eraser.

(MJ kicks him.)

You ready?” Shuri says, buzzing with excitement.

“No,” MJ says warily, feeling her calf project the emotional equivalent of the Cyclone at Coney Island.

Lords Fourquaad!”

No,” MJ repeats, murder in her tone.

YES,” Ned cheers, throwing his hands up and dropping his pencil.

“I want a soulmate refund,” MJ groans, throwing her pencil at the phone.

“I win!” Peter says, doing a little dance on the floor. “Woo! Woo!

MJ raises a brow. “You’re a perpetual cheater, though.”

“I’m using my assets.”

Haha, you don’t have any,” Shuri says.

Peter frowns. “MJ says I do!”

MJ is bound by loyalty and romantic love.”

“Ned says I do, too!”

Leeds is just nice.”

“Serves you right,” MJ blanks, pulling her foot from it’s spot by his.

Peter pouts.

MJ sticks her tongue out at him.

“More importantly,” Ned says, crawling to the phone. “Are we getting shirts?”

Jackets.”

“Varsity?” MJ asks.

Only the best, Jones.”

“Wakanda cut?” Peter asks, scooting closer and touching heels with MJ again.

Shuri faux-huffs. “Boy, I said best, didn’t I?


They come in yellow and red and a spiffy grey, Shuri delivering them herself, clad in a matching orange.

“I thought you were joking,” MJ deadpans, staring at the jocks-but-nerds jackets.

“I never joke about fashion,” Shuri says with a low voice.

It’s dangerous to be here. seems, for once, dangerous.

Ned straightens his back, reaching to touch Shuri’s Is that performance art? at the bottom of his spine. “...You’re terrifying, you know that?”

(Peter’s already trying the designated red PARKOUR jacket, strutting around the ceiling like an amateur model to a non-existent crowd.)

Shuri grins.

“Yeah,” MJ says, looking slightly worried. “You know.”


Shuri visits them every time she’s stateside, delivering tea and coffee from Wakanda.

...And gadgets.

Did they almost get in trouble for pranking the dean of Harvard Business School?

Nope.

Know why?

Because they were using Shuri’s tech, and that stuff is undetectable.


Ned hits the Dean’s List in the first semester like MJ.

They mostly keep sane by devolving into Shuri and Peter’s level of memery.

May demands to be kept in the loop, and the Tony’s Worst Nightmare group chat is born.


Peter and Ned drag MJ with them on off-day road trips so she can draw weirdly-dressed tourists and they can eat food that is...somewhat cheaper than what can be found within the city limits.

They bring May, they bring Shuri.

...They stop bringing Shuri until she lets them put her in disguises because everyone knows her, but also because she heckles worse than Tony, which is bad when you’re trying to be lowkey.


MJ kisses Peter obsessively—(Shuri’s word)—every time he’s back from a month of them not seeing each other, because May was right, Ivy’s suck time like a Roomba in a circular room and Can you please stop almost-dying when I have a final paper due?

Doesn’t matter if Ned’s there.

Doesn’t matter if Shuri is.

Doesn’t matter if Tony’s driving the car.

Doesn’t matter if May’s literally two inches away, back turned and boiling pasta.

It’s always at least a full minute of MJ keeping one hand behind Peter’s neck and the other on her word on his collarbone and it’s sappy and delightful and the sun shining in a forest clearing.

It’s always his startled Hey, M—mmph! and a little flailing and an arm around her waist and the palm of his hand on her collarbone and sometimes even dipping her (briefly) so their right heels can knock together, feeling like campfire and smores.

It’s a hundred I love you’s all at once, with a dash of free expensive hot chocolate in your favorite mug.


(In later years, it’s I know you said romantic soulmates are a bust, but— and Of course I’ll marry you, weirdo and a library with a pillow fort in your bedroom and four little feet that apparently stick to walls.)


yo Ned, me and Pete have to stay late tomorrow

ok?

pick your godtwins up from school and go straight home

uhhh ok but why?

because we’re soulmates + May’s busy + Tony will be with us + we dont want Shuri to take them to the lab because of what happened last time

jus fyi i felt that last one

pick up is at 3

oki <3

thanks boi

<3333333333


So.

The thing with soulmates is no one gets it.

But the other thing—the more important thing—the thing people always forget, is:

No one really needs to.